Book Review: An Aegean April by Jeffrey Siger

An Aegean April
A Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis Mystery #9
Jeffrey Siger
Poisoned Pen Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-4642-0945-1
Hardcover

Summary: A respected citizen with an idea as to how to end the refugee crisis in Greece is slaughtered outside his home. A man, himself a refugee involved in the humanitarian aid for refugees movement is found at the murder scene and is charged with the crime.

Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis returns in his ninth case when he is asked to investigate the murder of a well known and respected citizen on the island of Lesvos. Lesvos is the destination for many of the refugees passing though Turkey on their way to Northern Europe, and the small island is overwhelmed with the numbers.  The murder victim, Mihalis Volandes, thought he had a solution for the refugee problem, however he was having trouble getting anyone with authority to listen. The night he was killed – slaughtered really – outside his home, a young man, Ali Sera, a refugee himself, had received a message asking him to meet with the victim at Volandes home. When he arrived, he found the victim sliced nearly in half. When the police arrived, they found a bloody Sera standing near the body.

Chief Inspector Kaldis is asked to look into the crime since while Sera was at the scene, much of the evidence doesn’t support him as the murderer.

Siger has chosen to have readers know very early on who the murderer is and tells the story from a shifting point of view. On one hand we are with Kaldis and his team as they investigate, but we are also with the killer as he moves through the aftermath of the crime. A third voice, that of Dana McLaughlin, a worker with a non-government organization (NGO), is heard occasionally. Sera was one of her workers. This allows readers  from almost the beginning know exactly how despicable the murderer is and how savvy the Chief Inspector is. Through Dana, readers are given a composite shot of how many things can go seriously wrong when idealistic people with good intentions become involved in high profile situations. Siger paints a grim picture of humanity. It is a picture of profiteers making money on the backs of the very people they are supposedly helping.  Surely Dante has a special ring of hell reserved for such people.

On a brighter note, the book is set during Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter. Readers are treated to the ongoing preparations for Easter. Highlighted are some things unique to the Greek Orthodox faith, others even more unique to those living in Greece and finally, things that many Christian readers of any denomination will recognize. I read the books for the crime fiction, but the parts I personally enjoy the most are the glimpses into Greek culture. Siger does not disappoint in this part in An Aegean April.

As with the other books in this series, Siger has taken a political issue in Greece, mixed in a heavy dose of Greek Culture and served up a delicious tale straight from the headlines that is almost as much travelogue as it is crime fiction. While An Aegean April is the ninth book in the series, each stands very much on its own merits. There is a large cast of characters who appear to varying degrees throughout the series, but sub plots are wrapped up in each book so readers can pick up any book in the series to read without feeling lost trying to straighten out the characters.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, December 2017.

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Book Reviews: Girl in a Bad Place by Kaitlin Ward and Code Red by Janie Chodosh

Girl in a Bad Place
Kaitlin Ward
Point, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-10105-8
Hardcover

Commune. A calm word, calling forth images of folks immersed in wilderness; frolicking with forest creatures, blissfully coexisting with Mother Nature. Idyllic, sure; but Mailee certainly didn’t anticipate the sad-looking metal shacks she saw upon arriving at the Haven. No matter how odd and uncharacteristic the visit to this remote area may be; she is determined to be positive; after all, this peculiarity is the only thing Cara has shown interest in all summer.

Mailee never expected a super-celebratory Senior year. The ache of Cara’s loss lingers and her home is still shrouded by a palpable dark cloud of sorrow and anger, sucking up all hope of happiness. Moreover, Mailee has noticed changes in Cara that cause concern. So, even though “…nature is gross. And filled with spiders,” Mailee is willing to make the pilgrimage as pleasant as possible.

The founder, a man dubiously dubbed Firehorse, seems more like a shifty, misogynistic pig than a peace-loving-Earth-boy and everyone else emanates a surreal, suspicious, semi-aggressive vibe. Initially surprised that Cara is smitten; Mailee is soon stunned by her best friend’s frenzied fascination of the creepy cooperative.

Maybe Mailee was willing to—temporarily—omit meat and dairy from her diet as a show of support; but as Cara raves, Mailee researches. The line between commune and cult begins to blur. Against her better judgment, Mailee agrees to attend a celebration at the commune with Cara. Guessing that she will need to provide more than moral support; Mailee has no idea how dangerous and dire the circumstances will be.

A bad place can be literal, figurative, or even both at once. Sometimes, as in Cara’s case, a metaphorical bad place leads to an actual bad place. In the same way that a phrase can mean more than one thing, this keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat, compelling conundrum is not just a suspense-filled mystery, but also a survival story. One about learning to live in spite of loss, loyalty, and the immeasurable value of friendship.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2017.

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Code Red
A Faith Flores Science Mystery, Book Two
Janie Chodosh
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-929345-28-1
Trade Paperback

Faith Flores is a bit of an atypical protagonist insofar as she’s somewhat rough around the edges. Of course, considering her circumstances, she’s a remarkably well-adjusted adolescent. Knowing the bare minimum about her father, really raising herself—while doing her best to take care of her addled, addicted mother—Faith’s occasional avoidance of silly social graces seems just about right. Above-average intelligence and a freaky-fast mind also, understandably, contribute to her curtness.

Having recently figured out ‘who-done-it’ when her mother was murdered (Janie Chodosh’s Death Spiral, A Faith Flores Science Mystery), Faith needs a change of scene as much as something to wholly occupy her inquisitive intellect. And so begins her internship in Santa Fe where she will be assisting in studies of genetically modified chiles. The fact that her always-absent-father supposedly inhabits this town certainly won’t distract her (she wishes) but the headline “A New Drug for Northern New Mexico” just might.

Smoothing the story with more than soul-soothing songs, we have violin virtuoso, Clem. Quite frankly, there is no going wrong with a dude named after Vassar Clements <bows deeply to Ms. Chodosh> and this young man is no exception. Aside from his evident awesomeness, for the first time ever, Faith feels a possible connection…perhaps he can identify with her “…own mixed race too-brown-to-be-white-too-white-to-be-brown ethnicity…”.

Santa Fe has several surprises in store for Faith and suddenly, her luxurious length of time here seems lacking. To focus on the inexplicably angry threats against her lab and GMO crops, grab a few minutes here and there with Clem, and attempt to take advantage of opportunities with new-found family; Faith definitively does not have time to delve into the intrigue of Liquid Gold, the latest in dangerous dope. Unless there’s a link that would render her choice irrelevant.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2017.

*Not to go full-out-nerd on you but when I began writing this review I realized that I still felt relatively ignorant about the term “GMO” & the arguments against it. This Mental Floss article saved the day: What is a GMO?

 

 

Book Reviews: Run by Kody Keplinger and Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton

Run
Kody Keplinger
Scholastic Press, July 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-83113-0
Hardcover

To say that Agnes and Bo are polar opposites would be grossly overstating their similarities….at least at first glance.  It is difficult to imagine what the serene, docile blind girl would discuss with the most promiscuous wild-child in the small southern town.  It is initially inconceivable that the two would form a bond built on trust and whole-hearted acceptance.  Run isn’t a SnapChat view of two teenagers’ lives.  Ms. Keplinger uses a wide lens to clearly capture the vast and complicated contributing factors that affect not only how other people see the girls; but also their own perceptions of themselves.

That is not to say, however, that this is a dark and heavy tome.  Contrarily, I found this to be immediately irresistible and I ended up reading the book in one day.   It is so easy to become immersed, then invested in a story that is told from two points of view.  Ms. Keplinger spins the tale in that fashion, with a fantastic little tense twist.  True to her very core, Bo’s side of the story is happening right now, present tense, in your face—exactly the way she lives her life.  Agnes takes us back—remembering, yes….but also, considering and contemplating.

While I hesitate to use comparisons in reviews, I genuinely feel that I would be remiss if I did not say: this story, to me, feels important in an Eleanor and Park kind of way.  Although it is undeniably Bo and Agnes’ story; their parents do play a key role.  Just like the teens; adults can be guilty of making and sticking to snap judgments.  Also alongside adolescents; adults have plenty of room to grow.  I’ve no doubt Run will have mass appeal in the YA world and I’m pretty confident that there are plenty of Not-So-Young Adults that will dig it, too.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2016.

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Death in the Tunnel
A British Library Crime Classic
Miles Burton
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-4642-0581-1
Trade Paperback

First of all, a short synopsis: Sir Wilfred Saxonby dies as he takes the five o’clock train home. He’s in a locked compartment, shot through the heart by one bullet, the pistol that fired it under his own seat. His death seems straightforward enough, the only odd thing being the fact the train was traveling through a long tunnel at the time. A very noisy, very dark tunnel. And there were the mysterious lights the engineer and fireman saw on the tracks, changing from red, which slowed the train, to green again, when the train sped up.

Was Sir Wilfred’s death suicide, or was it murder?

That is the question posed to Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard. Terribly puzzled himself, Arnold calls in Desmond Merrion, an amateur expert on criminology. Together they set out to discover the truth in this convoluted plot.

See. No spoilers.

Death in the Tunnel was first published in 1936, the author contemporaneous with Agatha Christie. The plot plods, in my most humble opinion, although the premise is classically intriguing. The characters never really come alive, composed, for the most part, of talking heads. I never really see them. The action, what there is of it, seems constrained. Nobody, even the dead man’s children, seems to care all that much.

Writing styles come and go. Perhaps the British version of that day was more stilted, although Christie, Sayers, Creasey, among others, always struck me a writers of good stories. American author Mabel Seeley, from the same era, brought the reader into her characters’ world, always with a sense of danger involved.

As a puzzle concept, Death in the Tunnel, delivers. As a rousing good story, I can only say, “Not for me.”

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Reviews: The Killers Are Coming by Jack Bludis and Unreasonable Doubt by Vicki Delany

The Killers Are Coming
A Ken Sligo Mystery
Jack Bludis
Bold Venture Press, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-5410-9677-6
Trade Paperback

Killers is a throwback to the old-fashioned, hard-boiled PI noir genre told in the first person.  Ken Sligo returns home to Baltimore from overseas at the end of WW II and has no wish to go to work in the family business operating a butcher shop in a local market.  Instead, his estranged brother arranges an introduction to a local bail bondsman (and possibly a low-level gangster) and he becomes a private eye tracing bail skippers.

Then one day, he is asked to follow a woman dancer at a local theater, reporting on who she sees, talks to and any other activities.  This assignment leads Sligo far from the original purpose as the trail becomes more convoluted. Also complicating his life is his pending testimony in a murder trial of one of the men working for the bondsman.  Naturally, Sligo’s testimony is unwanted either by his erstwhile employer, or by the accused.

Having lived in Baltimore for a time, I found it nostalgic to read about the city, and especially the notorious East Baltimore Street which housed the seedier elements of the burg, including bars, burlesque houses and strip joints.  For those who enjoy this type of novel, it is an excellent example of light reading, with some aspects of a Mickey Spillane mystery, especially the violence and sex, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2017.

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Unreasonable Doubt
A Constable Molly Smith Novel #8
Vicki Delany
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0513-2
Hardcover

The author turns her attention in this entry in the Constable Molly Smith Mystery series to a wrongful conviction controversy in the form of a character named Walter Desmond, who was found guilty of murdering a young woman, and remanded to the penitentiary.  After 25 years, an appeal exonerates him based on new evidence and a sloppy police investigation.  Upon his release, he decides to return to the little town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, where he encounters considerable resentment.

Complicating his visit, a number of attacks on women occur: on the wife of Police Sergeant John Winters; on Molly’s mother, Lucky; and a visiting Dragon Boat team member.  Naturally, suspicion falls on Desmond.  Meanwhile, the original murder case is reopened, and Winters investigates the cold case with little hope of finding the killer.

The novel demonstrates how the mindset of a largely insulated population works. Most minds are made up; the police said Desmond was guilty and, despite the appeals court saying he is innocent, they still believe him to be guilty.  And it also shows the dramatic difference between old-time cops and modern professionals.  This is the tenth novel in the series, although Molly plays a small (but crucial) part in it. Winters occupies a central role.

The author has written an interesting take on the subject, especially with regard to the advisability of whether Desmond should, so to speak, return to the scene of the crime to find out why he was picked to be the murderer, or just remain in Vancouver and not face a hostile population.

An excellent series, well-written and always thought-provoking, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2017.

Book Reviews: Nantucket Five-Spot by Steven Axelrod and Every Boat Turns South by J.P. White

nantucket-five-spotNantucket Five-Spot
A Henry Kennis Mystery #2
Steven Axelrod
Poisoned Pen Press, January 2015
ISBN 978-1-4642-0342-8
Hardcover

Nantucket Island is the setting for this full speed ahead thriller and it stars. Axelrod is adept at inserting appropriate attractive descriptive language in his manuscript and the location of his stories about the adventures of poetry writing police chief Henry Kennis trying to maintain law and order on a restless, tourist-driven island off the Massachusetts coast.

His characters, and there are many, are weird, strange, excellent, upstanding, careful, bright, thoughtful and good-looking specimens. Some of them are patient, evil, criminal and inept. When this author feels the need to bump up the action, he just inserts a new character who may or may not have anything significant to do with the central. So there are small side plots dealing with immigration, smuggling, fighting in the Middle East and so on.

The Chief of Police, a central character in the novel, is beset on all sides by criminal elements and by law enforcement who are often portrayed as rigid and impatient. A possible terrorist bomb attack on a holiday concert by the Boston Pops Orchestra is the apparent target. Law enforcement agencies from every level descend on the poor police chief who must struggle against their incompetence, short-sightedness, and his personal romantic feelings about one of the federal agents.

Plots within counter-plots and world-wide maneuvering infest the pages of this novel. What saves it is the almost relentless action and there is plenty of that, however unlikely in a few places. There’s even an occasional funny bit.

If I was vacationing in a place like Nantucket and wanted some relaxing light-weight down time, this novel would definitely fill the bill.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2016.
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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every-boat-turns-southEvery Boat Turns South
J.P.White
The Permanent Press, September 2009
ISBN 978-1-57962-188-9
Hardcover

For a great many people the incalcuable persistent rhythms of the seas that surround us, the tides, the fog, crashing surging waves, all serve to remind us of the vast unknown. Water has no permanent shape, it cannot drive a nail. It can form long-enduring shapes on the shores of our continents and drive islands into clusters we label archipelego but no island lasts forever. In the north, when winter comes and water in the ponds freezes into temporary hardness, something often urges us to look to warmer circumstances closer to the equator. We revel in the snow and crave the sun-baked climes of the tropical island.

There are a thousand stories of sailing voyages, likened to the human voyage of life and like life, those voyages are, in turn, filled with storm and peace, ecstasy and sorrow. Here is one such filled with rich images, turbulent emotions, sadness, joy and death. After years separated from his family, second son Matt returns to his home on a journey of expiation. The family torn apart by the death of the favored first-born, needs to heal, at least a little and Matt tries to make that happen. Of course he fails and in the process weaves a tale of life in the islands off our southern coast, replete with passion, drugs, storms, smuggling, love and mixed results. For the sailor there’s great and kindly detail, for the rest, the relentless drive of the author’s poetical structure and language carries us alongside Matt to an uncertain conclusion.

At times the exalted language and structure may bother some readers, just as other readers may find the quantity of technical detail confusing and off-putting. For those, I suggest trying to relax with the story, enjoy the scenery and the passion, but stay with Matt through his adventure in this fine poetical novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: Sherlock Holmes The Missing Years: Timbuktu by Vasudev Murthy and Shakespeare No More by Tony Hays

sherlock-holmes-the-missing-years-timbuktuSherlock Holmes
The Missing Years: Timbuktu
Vasudev Murthy
Poisoned Pen Press, January 2016
ISBN 978-1-4642-0452-4
Hardcover

A fine pastiche that will take its place in the ever-growing libraries of Holmesians around the world. In the persona of Dr. John Watson, the author has crafted an intriguing tale of world journeys, strange and strangely twisted criminal characters and adventures at every turn.

For the most part the author has immersed himself into the very English character of the long-time companion and associate of the iconoclastic Sherlock Holmes. A man whose brilliance and observational talents are second to none, is accurately portrayed in print as a man often given to boorishness and impatience. Here we see him in a somewhat softer portrayal as he entices Dr. Watson to follow him first to the Continent and thence to the central wilds of Africa. It is of course, not yet the Twentieth Century and Holmes is in pursuit of the missing half of a treasure map written in an ancient text, long since lost to the turn of the world.

The adventures and the characters are many and worth pursuing and if we are occasionally jolted forward into the Twenty-first Century, by a peculiar grammatical construction, that only enhances the enjoyment readers will discover. A very worthwhile reading experience, indeed.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2016.
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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shakespeare-no-moreShakespeare No More
A Jacobean Mystery
Tony Hays
Perseverance Press
ISBN: 978-1-56474-566-8
Trade Paperback

This novel, set during Jacobean times in England, is a worth addition to the growing Shakespearean canon. The narrative purports to be chronicled by a constable in Stratford on Avon in the years following Shakespeare’s retirement from the stage. Shakespeare has returned to the family home and promptly begins to sow discontent and turmoil. It isn’t much talked about but the actor and playwright, though a family man, had a roving eye and didn’t much mind if the woman he pursued was married to someone else. One of the women he pursued is the wife of our narrator, Simon Saddler, wool merchant and town Constable.

When the novel opens, Shakespeare lies dying and he calls Saddler to his side to accuse another or poisoning him. After his death, Constable Saddler, in spite of his distress over his wife’s infidelity, Simon determines to investigate the allegation. This turns out to be a dangerous decision. Political maneuvering in these times was often deadly and the King’s supporters were not reticent about using assassination as a tool.

Readers familiar with this period of English history will recognize some of the characters and scenes deftly built into the story. The novel is well-paced, drawing on a variety of sources to weave this speculative and very enjoyable tale into a carefully grounded narrative. The inclusion of a cast of characters and a good “Author’s Note,” at the end all adds to a positive experience for any reader.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Evil Turns by Jane Tesh

Evil TurnsEvil Turns
A Madeline Maclin Mystery #5
Jane Tesh
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0521-7
Hardcover

Madeline Maclin and Jerry Fairweather are a power couple to be sure. Based in the (fictional) town of Celosia, North Carolina, although Jerry comes from “old” money, they make their living via Madeline’s detective agency and Jerry’s job as a breakfast cook in a restaurant. Sounds mundane, except that she is a former beauty queen, and he is a former con man. At least she trusts he’s a “former” con man.

The story begins with the discovery of a young man’s naked body, found in the woods with symbols written over it. The symbols seem to point to witchcraft. The question is, is it connected with a coven from twenty-five years ago, or a present one that is based on a popular movie and book series?

Meanwhile, a wealthy woman has demanded the town’s backing as she bulls her way forward with plans to celebrate Celosia’s centennial. This includes a musical play written by and starring herself, with the other residents compelled to contribute talent, time and money. And if they don’t, look out, or they may just be murdered. At least that’s what happened to city councilman Harold Stover who adamantly protested against the play because the town can’t afford it. Who else wanted to kill him except Amanda Price, in a hurry to get all opposition out of the way?

That’s what Madeline has to find out, with a lot of help from her husband.

This is book five of the series. I’ve read one or two others, and I’m always up for a visit with this pair. I love the setting, the small town, and Madeline and Jerry as well as Denisha and Austin, who are a couple of neighbor kids who look on Jerry as a willing playmate.

I did have one problem with the story, and that concerns the number of characters introduced. Perhaps they expanded the pool from which to select the murderer, but with so many, it was a little hard to keep track. The whole town was involved!

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, June 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.