Book Reviews: Infamy by Robert K. Tanenbaum and Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman

Infamy
A Butch Karp-Marlene Ciampi Thriller #28
Robert K. Tanenbaum
Pocket Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-4767-9321-4
Mass Market Paperback

This novel is not up to the usual standards of the author.  Usually, the first half of the book recounts a situation which sets the stage for the other half, which, ordinarily, few do better than Mr. Tanenbaum: a dramatic courtroom scene.  So it is with Infamy.  Unfortunately, however otherwise well-written the novel is, the courtroom scene is flat and perfunctory.

The novel opens with an intelligence raid by a secret U.S. Army unit in Syria which was supposed to capture at least one suspect.  Instead, they find the suspect had shot and murdered other important enemy subjects and obtained important documents which point to a conspiracy to evade sanctions on ISIS and Iraqi oil.  Butch Karp, the New York DA and protagonist of the series, enters the plot when a U.S. Army Colonel is shot and killed in Central Park, and slowly a conspiracy begins to unfold.

There are all sorts of subplots and side issues which add little to the tale, except to make it more complicated than it really is.  This reader was clearly disappointed, especially when the author decided to vent his own political views, sometimes crudely or bluntly chastising those holding conservative views.  It’s too bad, because basically Infamy began with a solid idea, but lost its way along the way from front cover to back cover.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2017.

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Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet
A Jesse Stone Novel #16
Reed Farrel Coleman
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-3991-7144-4
Hardcover

This is the fourth Jesse Stone novel Reed Farrel Coleman has written in the series begun by the late Robert B. Parker.  And he has kept the faith.  Moreover, he has done something the master never did.  He brings in Spenser to play a minor role in solving the mystery which begins with the death of an old woman, a member of the founding family of Paradise, and the ransacking of her home.

Jesse, still reeling from the death of his beloved Diana in his presence, is slowly drinking himself into oblivion.  But that doesn’t stop him from performing his duty as Police Chief, despite the hindrance of the Mayor and her hatchet woman.  The plot basically revolves around the recovery of a supposedly long lost tape made by a now has-been rock star in time for his 70th birthday party.

Coleman performs up to the standards of the late master, while offering a clever plot of his own, written in a slightly different style (few can duplicate the pithy sentences of a Parker novel).  He gives us a deeper insight into Jesse’s personality and presumably shows the force of his iron will.  Well at least let’s hope so.  Presumably we’ll find out in the next volume in the series.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2017.

Book Reviews: Where Hope Begins by Alysia Sofios with Caitlin Rother and A Conspiracy of Ravens by Terrence McCauley

Where Hope Begins
Alysia Sofios with Caitlin Rother
Pocket Books, September 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4391-3150-3
Hardcover

This is an interesting and at the same time, an appalling story. How is it that even relatively uneducated people, mostly women, can succumb to such abuse for years without speaking up? After all, this family, under the destructive thumb of their patriarch, Marcus Wesson, wasn’t living in some isolated desert camp. They lived in a home in an urban center, Fresno, California. Some of them worked, even if most never went to school and while they were obviously in thrall to an evil man, some of them, especially Marcus’ wife, Elizabeth, should have spoken out.

It is also hard to accept that this “family” was not known to local authorities.

Reporter Alysia Sofios is assigned to a case of mass murder of nine children in their home. She soon breaks protocol by becoming intimately involved with the surviving family, helping them create a more normal life. The book is the story of that deepening involvement and the reporter’s gradual entanglement with the Wessons. Finally, although her intentions are benign, echoes of Marcus Wesson’s control and manipulation of his offspring seem to be descending on Alysia and her decisions regarding the family going forward.

Ultimately, the emotional/straightforward style of the narrative becomes a little tedious. Still this is a story well-told and should be examined by members of every social service agency in the country where suspicions of out-of-the ordinary family situations arise.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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A Conspiracy of Ravens
James Hicks Series #3
Terrence McCauley
Polis Books, September 2017
ISBN: 978-1943818716
Trade Paperback

A classic thriller from an experienced, award-winning thriller writer. This is by no means McCauley’s first rodeo. I do confess that while the link of the title to an earlier book, A Murder of Crows, is apparent, the meaning of the title in the context of this novel is obscure to me.

The story is another fraught episode in the continuing saga of James Hicks, now Dean of a super-secret intelligence operation, privately funded, operating as much as possible in secret from somewhere in the Northeast. The group is called The University. Most of the operatives and executives are labeled with college-centric titles. Hence, the former Dean of the agency is called the Trustee.

Mr. Hicks leads a rambunctious organization of marvelously talented shooters, mission planners, analysts, translators and the most advanced technicians in the world. This University operates a highly sophisticated satellite system designed to monitor and counter both friendly (CIA) and unfriendly (China, Russian GRU) computer and surveillance, banking and law enforcement systems.

Ducking drone-carried bombs, machine and shotgun-toting killers, Hicks zooms about the world, thwarting killers, meting out hard-fisted lethal justice, all with the help of a wonderfully varied cadre of close and talented associates.

The characters are distinct, consistent, lethal and fit into the thriller mode comfortably. For fans of this kind of crime novel, everything is presented in plain, straightforward, brutal and realistic language. The one truly intriguing and off-kilter character, Roger Cobb, plays an unusual, really close, friend of Dean James Hicks, a character worth a closer look.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

A Few More Teeny Reviews

a-goose-creek-christmasA Goose Creek Christmas
Tales from the Goose Creek B&B #5
Virginia Smith
Harvest House Publishers, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-7369-6878-2
Ebook
Also available in trade paperback

From the publisher—

Al’s Goose Is Cooked!

Forced into early retirement, Al Richardson knows what his wife will say when she hears the terrible news. Millie will insist that they open their B&B early. Where will that leave him? Carrying luggage and waiting tables? No way! He needs time to come up with another plan. With the help of an unlikely accomplice, Al spends his days scanning want ads and frequenting out-of-town coffee shops in an effort to hide his secret from all of Goose Creek—including his wife.

Millie is too busy to notice Al’s odd behavior. Between planning a huge Christmas party and holding tight to the reins of newcomer Lulu Thacker—whose tacky decorating schemes are sure to infuriate Main Street business owners—she has no time for anything else.

One thing is certain: In Goose Creek, no secret stays hidden for long. The most holy of holidays is swiftly approaching. Is Al in for a Merry Christmas or a Marriage Crisis?

Having first met the lovely town of Goose Creek last summer, I’m still completely in love with these characters and their very common issues, told with compassion and humor. I think Goose Creek is a wonderful representation of small town life and there isn’t a single character that doesn’t have at least one small redeeming factor. This time, Al is afraid to tell Millie that he’s been laid off (well, forced into retirement) just before Christmas—I was laid off just before Christmas years ago so I can attest to the nightmare—but, fortunately for him, she’s caught up in the turmoil over some outlandish Christmas decorations. I chortled my way through this tale while Millie and Al and all their neighbors and family dealt with the vagaries of real life and I can’t wait for the next episode.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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rogue-waveRogue Wave
Boyd Morrison
Pocket Books, December 2010
ISBN 978-1-4391-8958-0
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

A minor seismic disturbance in a remote section of the Pacific causes barely a ripple of concern for Kai Tanaka, acting director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu. But when an airliner en route from L.A. to Sydney vanishes in the same location, Kai is the first to realize that a mysterious explosion has unleashed a series of massive waves destined to obliterate Hawaii. In just one hour, Kai will lose all he has ever known–including his wife and daughter– unless he can save them from nature’s most destructive force.

I have a fondness for disaster stories and Boyd Morrison hit every one of my hot buttons with Rogue Wave (which has also been published as The Palmyra Impact and The Tsunami Countdown). When I picked this up, I was already familiar with the author’s talents in the action adventure and thriller fields and I was not disappointed in the least. The tension doesn’t just ratchet up as you go along with the story—it’s high octane from the very first sentence, letting up only for occasional scenes to let us know where certain characters are. We’ve seen what happens in real life with giant tsunamis and Rogue Wave is a top-notch depiction of such an event with characters you can’t help caring about and the overwhelming feeling of doom is compelling. I highly recommend this for anyone who loves disaster and Mother Nature thriller tales.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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Getting Old Is the Best RevengeGetting Old Is the Best Revenge
Gladdy Gold #2
Rita Lakin
Dell, 2006
ISBN 978-0-440-24259-8
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

“NEVER TRUST ANYONE UNDER SEVENTY-FIVE!”

That’s the motto of the Gladdy Gold Detective Agency. Don’t laugh: having solved a case of serial murder, Gladdy and her eccentric neighbors are building their reputation between canasta games and pool exercises–hunting down everything from lost pocketbooks to missing octogenarians. And when a jealous woman sets them after her wayward husband, and a flasher strikes their retirement complex, two seemingly unrelated cases collide with a third: a series of dastardly murders targeting Florida’s wealthiest wives.

But when the girls win tickets for a luxury bingo cruise, they hit the jackpot. Because this ship is carrying not only Florida’s fiercest bingo competitors but also a killer–and it’s up to Gladdy and her friends to stop him before one of them becomes his next victim….

This book was my first introduction to the Gladdy Gold series and I’ve read all but two now, not in any particular order. There have been other senior sleuth series that I’ve enjoyed but this one really finds the sweet spot for me. These retirees are funny and nosy and clever (most of them) and I love the way they’ve decided they’re too young to just rock their lives away. I also appreciate the way the author isn’t the least bit afraid to make use—and fun—of senior citizen sterotypes. I mean, you know, a bingo cruise?? If you’re looking for pure fluffy fun, this would be a good book to start with.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

Book Reviews: Innocence by Heda Margolius Kovaly and Trap by Robert K. Tanenbaum

innocenceInnocence Or, Murder on Steep Street
Heda Margolius Kovaly
Translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker
Soho Crime, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-6169-5645-5
Trade Paperback

This murder mystery was written to disguise a political tract describing the author’s life in Communist Czechoslovakia during which her husband, an ardent party member and an assistant minister of trade, was falsely arrested, jailed and murdered.  Both had survived Nazi concentration camps.  The form the book takes was to somehow evade the censors and it surreptitiously tells his story as part of the plot, describing one of the characters.

Essentially, the plot revolves around the murder of a detective on a street on which a movie theater is located.  There are seven women who serve as ushers, each with a secret life, complicating the investigation into the death.  The stories of their lives unfold, together with the secrets they share with each other.

The promotional material recounts the author’s fame as a translator, and especially her love of Raymond Chandler.  It is doubtful that this work measures up to his standard of writing, and has to be judged on its own merits.  On that level, the reader has to cope with various obfuscations and, of course, the obscure Czech names and places which divert attention.  The conclusion is somewhat disappointing and really is somewhat ambiguous, whether by design or inadvertence.

The author really is known for her memoir, Under A Cruel Star, in which she describes her time in Auschwitz and the early years of Communism in her native land.  For its historical importance, the present novel deserves to be read.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2016

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trapTrap
A Butch Karp – Marlene Ciampi Thriller #27
Robert K. Tanenbaum
Pocket Books, April 2016
ISBN 978-1-4767-9318-4
Mass Market Paperback

The customary courtroom drama in the Butch Karp series takes up about half of this novel, but it isn’t as dramatic as most of the prior episodes.  Although the legal description is proficient, it is highly technical in nature and less dramatic than many of the previous legal battles, which are always a highlight of a Robert K. Tanenbaum story.  This tale is a mixture of a Karp family saga, hate crimes, deranged arsonist and bomber, religious beliefs combined with Nazi sympathizers and events during the Holocaust and World War II, and the conflict between the public school system, the teachers union as led by corrupt officers and charter schools.  How’s that for a mouthful?

What leads up to the courtroom scene are a series of events and even a murder or two.  The Teacher’s Federation president is attempting to head off a bill in Albany which would result in an audit that would expose him and his cohorts for stealing funds from the union’s coffers.  The author certainly knows better than this premise.  Certainly unions are subject to regular audits.  But for the plot to work, this fact has to be ignored.

So the battle between proponents of the charter school legislation, who want a mandatory audit of the Teacher’s Federation, and the corrupt union and public officials, ultimately sets the stage for the dramatic trial.  As side issues, we have a scraggly group of Nazi sympathizers who conveniently serves as a red herring in the lead-up to murder charges, and Karp’s twin sons’ wishy-washy approach to their religious beliefs and late (by several years) Bar Mitzvah.

All in all, however, this was an enjoyable read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2016.

Book Reviews: The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo and In the Blood by Lisa Unger—and a Giveaway!

The Dead Will TellThe Dead Will Tell
A Kate Burkholder Novel #6
Linda Castillo
Minotaur Books, July 2014
ISBN 978-1-250-02957-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Everyone in Painters Mill knows the abandoned Hochstetler farm is haunted. But only a handful of the residents remember the terrible secrets lost in the muted/hushed whispers of time—and now death is stalking them, seemingly from the grave.

On a late-night shift, Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is called to the scene of an apparent suicide—an old man found hanging from the rafters in his dilapidated barn. But evidence quickly points to murder and Kate finds herself chasing a singularly difficult and elusive trail of evidence that somehow points back to the tragedy of that long ago incident. Meanwhile, Kate has moved in with state agent John Tomasetti and for the first time in so long, they’re both happy; a bliss quickly shattered when one of the men responsible for the murders of Tomasetti’s family four years ago is found not guilty, and walks away a free man. Will Tomasetti be pulled back to his own haunted past?

When a second man is found dead—also seemingly by his own hand—Kate discovers a link in the case that sends the investigation in a direction no one could imagine and revealing the horrifying truth of what really happened that terrible night thirty-five years ago, when an Amish father and his four children perished—and his young wife disappeared without a trace.

And, as Kate knows—the past never truly dies . . . in The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo

An unsolved horrific crime from years ago seems to be connected to a new series of deaths but why? And is it possible the only surviving victim of that long-ago home invasion could be behind the current crimes?

Painters Mill certainly isn’t the kind of town where you’d normally come across crimes as dark as these but Kate Burkholder is determined to bring peace back to the small yet diverse community. If that means stirring up old emotions, so be it; vengeance may be at the heart of everything that’s happening but 35 years is a very long time to wait, isn’t it? Kate’s investigation begins to reveal  more than she could ever have anticipated and, in the end, she’ll be confronted with a murderer who’s as cold-blooded and twisted as she’s ever met.

Kate is a cop I’ve grown to admire more and more mostly because of her intelligence and her compassion but also because her Amish background colors her personality and her ability to do her job. Being police chief is never an easy position to be in but Kate takes it in stride and has truly earned the respect and devotion of her team. The job isn’t everything, though, and her relationship with John Tomasetti keeps her going in those inevitable dark moments.

Tomasetti has his own issues in The Dead Will Tell when he learns that one of the men who allegedly killed his own family has escaped the justice he so richly deserved and watching him and Kate struggle with this was as elemental to the story as Kate’s current investigation. Ms. Castillo is great at coming up with a plot that keeps the reader on edge but it’s her character development that really shines throughout each book. These two have become old friends I want to spend time with and I’ll be looking forward to our next encounter.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2014.

Click here to listen to the first chapter of The Dead Will Tell.

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In the Blood UngerIn the Blood
Lisa Unger
Pocket Books, July 2014
ISBN 978-1-4767-0823-2
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

Someone knows Lana’s secret—and he’s dying to tell.

Lana Granger lives a life of lies. She has told so many lies about where she comes from and who she is that the truth is like a cloudy nightmare she can’t quite recall. About to graduate from college and with her trust fund almost tapped out, she takes a job babysitting a troubled boy named Luke. Expelled from schools all over the country, the manipulative young Luke is accustomed to controlling the people in his life. But, in Lana, he may have met his match. Or has Lana met hers?

When Lana’s closest friend, Beck, mysteriously disappears, Lana resumes her lying ways—to friends, to the police, to herself. The police have a lot of questions for Lana when the story about her where-abouts the night Beck disappeared doesn’t jibe with eyewitness accounts. Lana will do anything to hide the truth, but it might not be enough to keep her ominous secrets buried: someone else knows about Lana’s lies. And he’s dying to tell.

The trouble with lies is that they grow exponentially, seeming to take on a life of their own. Lana has lied so much and for so long that getting to the truth might be something like finding one’s way through a maze but the real question must be “Why?” Why does Lana lie and why does she continue to do so when finding her missing friend should make her want to be honest?

The manipulative Luke is one of the more disturbing children I’ve come across, probably because we don’t want to believe that our young can be evil. They can, of course—Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy were seemingly innocent boys at one time—and watching Luke in his determination to know Lana’s secrets is, for lack of a better word, creepy. The true creepiness, though, comes from the anonymous voice we hear alternating with Lana’s.

The unknown can be a truly frightening thing and Lisa Unger is a writer who turns simple thoughts and events into riveting psychological terror. In the Blood is one of her most intense studies of the human mind yet and, as a really good thriller writer will do, she kept me up at night, unable to sleep until that next page was turned…and the next and the next.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2014.

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To enter the drawing for a hardcover copy of
The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo and a mass
market paperback of In the Blood by Lisa Unger,
leave a comment below. The winning name will
be drawn Tuesday evening, July 8th.
This drawing is open to residents of
the US and Canada.

 

 

Book Review: Alpine for You by Maddy Hunter

Alpine for You
Maddy Hunter
Pocket Books, February 2003
ISBN 0743458117
Mass Market Paperback

Emily Andrew, currently unemployed, agrees to go along with her grandmother on a seniors’ tour to Switzerland. After all, what can go wrong when you’re surrounded by a bunch of, well, old people? And she can fend off the advances of the smarmy tour escort without too much trouble.

She should have known better. First, the hotel has no reservation for her and her grandmother. The food is less than appetizing and she’s been stuck permanently at a table full of people she’d just as soon avoid. Then, she discovers that apparently at least one person can’t handle smarmy tour escorts and the man is found dead in the middle of their first night in Lucerne.

Since he died under questionable circumstances, the police are called in and Emily meets the detective, Etienne Miceli, the man of her dreams, the man whose children she wants to have, the man who can make her toes curl just looking at her. This may turn out to be a great trip, especially as she’s been asked to take over as tour escort and all her trip expenses will be paid. There’s a real tour guide with them so being an escort couldn’t be but so tough, could it?

Then again, anyone who thinks a classroom full of kindergartners must be horrendous has never had to deal with 30 senior citizens—cranky, eccentric, lascivious, demanding. The only bright spot is that Etienne seems to return her interest despite the fact that she always looks like something the cat dragged in, thanks to lost luggage, endless rain and fog, and a few dives into rivers and lakes to retrieve an errant toupee, among other things. And then more bodies start to appear and this is, after all, her problem since she’s the group’s escort, solver of all dilemmas.

This first in a new series is delightfully fresh, with a great deal of humor, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Decidedly a cozy, it does have a little bit of a sexual edge but it’s all talk, mostly very funny. I’m really looking forward to more from author Maddy Hunter and am happy to note that the wait won’t be too long as the second in the series is due out in September 2003.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2002.
Review first published on murderexpress.net in 2002.

Addendum: after too long a wait (no fault of the author’s), the 7th in the series, Dutch Me Deadly, was released in February 2012 by Midnight Ink. It’s on my Nook now and I can hardly wait to read this next in a series I’ve really missed.

Book Reviews: Outwitting Trolls by William G. Tapply, Gideon’s War by Howard Gordon, and The Whisperers by John Connolly

Outwitting Trolls
William G. Tapply
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-53127-0
Hardcover

Unfortunately, this is the final Brady Coyne novel.  It was completed shortly before William G. Tapply’s death last year.  He left behind a substantial body of work, including 25 books in the Brady Coyne series alone.  Mr. Tapply was a masterful storyteller.  Reading his books has always been an immense pleasure, and he will be greatly missed.

Brady Coyne, of course, is a Boston attorney, specializing in a few private cases and kept up to snuff completing the drudgery of a mountain of paperwork by his long-time secretary.  He is rescued from this tedium when he receives a phone call from a former close friend and neighbor, informing him that she is in her ex-husband’s hotel room where she has just found him stabbed to death.  Brady had just had a reunion with the victim the day before for a drink after a hiatus of a decade.

Naturally, Brady accepts the woman’s request to represent her, and she quickly becomes the number one suspect.  It’s up to Brady not only to support his client’s emotional state, but to protect her from the police and come up with the necessary clues to identify the realmurderer.  While  it’s not a complex plot, it is well-told.  This book, as all his others, is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2011.

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Gideon’s War
Howard Gordon
Touchstone, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-7581-1
Hard cover

Aficionados of action movies or television will certainly enjoy this novel, authored by someone already identified with endeavors like writing or producing such works as “24,” “The X Files,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.”  All of the characters in these efforts are firmly embedded in the plot, with enough action, killing and mayhem to satisfy even the most jaded of viewers or readers.

The tale involves two brothers and the twisted politics of Washington power plays.  Gideon Davis is a quiet UN negotiator specializing in obtaining compromises among factions, attempting to secure peace around the globe.  His brother, Tillman, apparently is involved in an insurgent Muslim faction in a fictional southeast Asian country aiming to unseat the sultan, who the U.S. President believes can bring democracy and peace to the nation.  The President, upon learning that Tillman has offered to surrender to Gideon on an offshore drilling rig, sends him flying off to accomplish the task.

Then all the action starts.  Page after page.  There is enough to keep the reader guessing, while the plot surges ahead at a lightning speed. The writing is smooth and the story well-told.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2011.

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The Whisperers
John Connolly
Pocket Books ,June 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-6524-9
Mass Market Paperback

There is always the element of the supernatural in a Charlie Parker novel.  And The Whisperers is no exception.  However, reality plays an important part in the theme, giving the author the opportunity to reflect on the horrors of war and its effects – especially combat stress – on the lives of those who fought them.

There are veiled references to the condition in the Iliad; during the Civil War it was known as “irritable heart;”  “shellshock” was the term used during World War I and its aftermath; for World War II it became known as “battle fatigue” and “war neurosis;” then “post-Vietnam syndrome”; and today “post-traumatic stress disorder.”

The plot involves a group of Iraqi veterans (all from Maine, Parker’s bailiwick), who return home to set up a smuggling operation.  One by one they commit suicide, and Parker is retained by the father of one of them to learn the reason for his son’s death.  This leads Parker to travel an unexpected path.

As a result, we meet some old friends, Angel and Louis, who always manage to cover Parker’s back.  But more important, Parker has to work with an old nemesis, The Collector.  And the eerie Herod, a man with strange tastes, and his shadow, the Captain.  The characters and the plot interweave on various levels, with prose that mesmerizes the reader.  The book is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.