Book Review: Bears With Us by Marilyn Meredith, Murder in the Dojo by Sue Star, and Blind Goddess by Anne Holt

Bears With Us
Marilyn Meredith
Mundania Press, 2011
ISBN 978-1606592649
Trade Paperback

I’m tempted to make puns in regards to the latest Tempe Crabtree mystery by Marilyn Meredith. However, I’ll fight the urge and just be amazed at how much story can be put into 218 pages. Meredith knows how to deliver the fun into reading a mystery. There’s never a dull moment, but how could there be with bears in the mix?

In this latest story, Deputy Crabtree has a full platter. A teenager commits suicide and Tempe cannot quite understand the reaction from his enigmatic family. Another woman wants, nay demands, Tempe do something to keep a young man away from her daughter. A family’s life is repeatedly disrupted by the mother’s dementia. These incidents are on top of the usual drunks and speeders Tempe handles. However, topping the list of problems is an increase of bears rummaging through garbage, breaking into homes and attacking people. When a woman goes missing and later is discovered dead, it is at first thought to be the result of another bear attack. Tempe is on the case, however, and will uncover the truth.

I really enjoyed these characters. Each is so well defined. The action is swift and the writing is tight. Meredith packed so much story into one book I kept turning pages to learn what happened next. She knows how to provide just enough tension and action to move the story. I’m an instant fan. This book is loaded for bear. (Yeah, sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, May 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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Murder in the Dojo
Sue Star
D.M. Kreg Publishing
Ebook
Also available in trade paperback

It’s kicking karate action with the first in a new series from Sue Star. Murder in the Dojo brings in the finest of martial arts, betrayal, and of course, a dead body. Karate instructor Nell Letterly is forced to turn detective when faced with the threat of arrest. With a fine cast of characters, this one is sure to get the heart pumping and the punches flying.

On the day Nell Letterly is supposed to meet her new employer, Arlo Callahan, and start as an instructor in his Boulder, Colorado karate studio, she finds the dead body of the former instructor. Within days, evidence and suspicions fall directly upon Nell. With no help from the police, she decides to find the killer herself. There is no shortage of suspects: Callahan’s wife, a jealous instructor, a disruptive student, an ex girlfriend, an enigmatic janitor. With obstacles on all sides, Nell has to use not just her deductive reasoning to fathom out the killer, but her martial arts experience to save her own life.

As a martial artist myself, I must favor anything related to this sport. Weapons, self defense, tournaments, instruction, and philosophy. I think Star delivers a fine tale with all the necessary elements of martial arts to whet the appetite for another round…or would that be round house kick? Either way, Murder in the Dojo is the right combination of mystery and martial arts.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, June 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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Blind Goddess
Anne Holt
Scribner, June 2012
ISBN
Trade Paperback

Anne Holt shows that corruption can run deep in places other than Washington and Moscow. With Blind Goddess, the viewfinder is focused on Oslo where lawyer and police are, once again, at odds with each other and nobody is sure how high up the chain crime will climb.

Investigators Hanne Wilhelmsen and Hakon Sand  take on the case of a murdered drug dealer. They even have the killer in custody and a lawyer as a witness. A few days later, the body of a shady attorney is discovered and evidence quickly connects the two killings. Wilhelmsen and Sand must wade through the murky clues, contend with disappearing files, and endure personal attacks only to discover the conspiracy is more wide spread than expected. After they arrest a suspect, they find themselves in a race against time to put their ducks in order.

No real surprises in this book as it seems nearly every lawyer is dirty. It’s the putting together of the puzzle pieces which keeps the story moving and interesting. Holt holds back on the revelations of a pesky reporter and a series of number codes until the very end. Still, Blind Goddess is excellent escapism fun for mystery readers. I highly recommend the Hanne Wilhelmsen series.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, June 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Reviews: The Sparrow’s Blade by Kenneth R. Lewis, Headhunters by Jo Nesbo, The Cut by George Pelecanos, The Infernals by John Connolly, and Feast Day of Fools by James Lee Burke

The Sparrow's BladeThe Sparrow’s Blade
Kenneth R. Lewis
Krill Press, February 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9821443-8-1
Trade Paperback

As in this author’s debut novel, Little Blue Whales, which was warmly received, this one also takes place in Cutter City, OR, and features Kevin Kearnes and Thud Compton.  It is now a few years after the harrowing experience described in the earlier book in which they were almost killed, and their roles have changed:  Kearnes, the former Chief of Police, is now with the Dept. of Homeland Security in Portland, and Compton has replaced him as Police Chief.

The book opens with Kevin traveling to Cutter City with his fiancée Britt McGraw and his sons by a former marriage, to be married as well as to visit with the Comptons.  Little did any of them know that a sword on display at the local library, a relic of World War II when a Japanese pilot dropped two bombs in the vicinity and then crashed, would result in the turmoil that it did when it is stolen.

The excellent portrayal of the characters, coupled with the tension of the plot, maintain reader interest on the same high level of the predecessor book.  The level of writing remains at the high level of Little Blue Whales which presumably will continue in the forthcoming The Helical Vane.  Needless to say, Sparrow (the name for the sword, btw) is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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HeadhuntersHeadhunters
Jo Nesbo
Vintage Books, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-94868-7
Trade Paperback

Turning his attention away from his highly regarded Harry Hole series, the author has written a compelling standalone.  While the background of Roger Brown, as a top headhunter of corporate officials in Oslo, provides some interesting and useful information on how to judge and place candidates, it is the main crime plot and character descriptions that are undeniably gripping.

Roger seems to have it all, except sufficient income to pay for the art gallery he has helped his wife, Diana, establish and operate. Thus, to supplement his need for cash to deal with the operating deficit, he steals art from candidates he interviews for jobs.  Until, that is, he encounters Clas Greve, whom he meets one evening at his wife’s gallery.  And the plot thickens.

Jo Nesbo, in this novel, has proved he is an author capable of writing almost anything.  It is superbly formulated, with humor and irony. The plot has more twists and turns in its concluding pages than a mountain road.  It needs no further recommendation other than to go get a copy and revel in a job well done.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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The CutThe Cut
George Pelecanos
A Reagan Arthur Book/Little, Brown and Company, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-07842-9
Hardcover

In the first novel of a new series, we are introduced to Spero Lucas, a just-returned Iraq war veteran, working as an investigator for a Washington, D.C. defense attorney with a sideline of recovering “lost” property for a 40 per cent cut of its value.  In the caper he undertakes in this initial foray, he seems to bite off more than he can chew.

The attorney is defending a top marijuana peddler, and the client asks for Spero to visit him in jail.  He tells Spero that his deliveries are being stolen and he is out of money, and would appreciate recovery of either the merchandise or the cash.  The assignment takes Spero off into all kinds of action, some of which is kind of far-fetched.

Mr. Pelecanos is well-known for his characterizations and his use of the nation’s Capital as background, and this book is no exception. Somehow, however, using Spero as an example of a footloose vet just returned from the desert just didn’t quite ring true.  Some of his friends who served with him there do exhibit the plight of wounded, disabled marines, or just plain still unemployed, somewhat more realistically.  That said, the novel is written with the author’s accustomed flair, and the plot moves at a rapid pace.  Certainly, the action is vivid, and the reader keeps turning pages.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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The InfernalsThe Infernals
John Connolly
Atria Books, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4308-4
Hardcover

This novel, the sequel to The Gates, picks up 18 months after the events described in that book, after young Samuel Johnson [just turned 13], assisted by his faithful dog, Boswell, repelled an invasion of earth by the forces of evil.  The two books are quite a departure for the author, whose Charlie Parker mysteries are highly regarded and widely read.  These are categorized as YA books, laced with pseudo-scientific and amusing footnotes.  [It should perhaps be noted that the tenth Charlie Parker novel, The Burning Soul, has also been released.]

This time around Samuel, accompanied by four dwarfs and the truck in which they were riding, an ice cream truck and its vendor-driver, and two policemen and their patrol car, are instead transported by the ogre Ba’al in the form of Mrs. Abernathy to the netherworld to present the boy to her master, the Great Malevolence, as a gift in an effort to regain his favor.  And so we follow their adventures as they experience the strange land and seek a way to get back home.

Written at times with tongue firmly in cheek, the little nuggets of information on a wide variety of subjects are both informative and often just plain funny.  A very enjoyable read that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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Feast Day of FoolsFeast Day of Fools
James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4311-4
Hardcover

Against the bleak terrain of southern Texas, a morality play featuring Sheriff Hackberry Holland is played out.  It begins with a man who escapes his captors, who had planned to turn him over to Al Qaeda, for a price, for his knowledge of drone technology.  Not only is he sought by his former captors, but the FBI, among others, as well.  Hack, and his deputy, Pam Tibbs, become involved in the interplay.

This is a complicated novel, one in which the author delves into a wide variety of moral and ethical values, adding Hack’s past experiences as a POW during the Korean Conflict, to raise additional questions of right and wrong.  And bringing in The Preacher as a counterpoint further adds to the complexity of not only the plot, but also Hack’s integrity.

James Lee Burke’s prose is as stark as his descriptions of the Texas and Mexican landscapes, and the characters he introduces are deftly portrayed, both good and evil.  He has presented an intricate plot in this, his 30th novel, and the fifth featuring the Texas sheriff.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.