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.

Book Review: Death on the Riviera by John Bude

Death on the RivieraDeath on the Riviera
British Library Crime Classics
John Bude
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-4642-0569-9
Trade Paperback
*****

Detective Inspector Meredith and acting sergeant Freddy Strang of the British Criminal Investigation Division are sent  to the French Riviera in search of forger Tommy  ‘Chalky’ Cobbett, a master counterfeiter who has been busy flooding the area with fraudulent thousand franc notes.

Since this is 1953, they have little to go on to track down their quarry. The French police tell them that black market notes have been offered to tourists in the area, so they hang about the bars and cafes with little success. Not a bad assignment, the two agree. A chance meeting puts them on to a man, possibly German or Dutch, who frequents a certain bar on Thursday nights, who is suspected of passing the notes.

Villa Paloma is the  residence of rich Brit and part time Riviera resident  Nesta Hedderwick and her odd collection of houseguests: niece Dilys Westmacott, dodgy artist Paul Latour, playboy Tony Shenton, Mrs. Hedderwick’s flighty companion Miss Pilligrew; Kitty, a raven haired young woman in questionable circumstances,  and later Bill Dillon, a fellow Brit who had met the detectives en route to the resort town.

While taking in the art at a local museum, Freddy Strang bumps into Dilys Westacott, unaware that she is connected to their investigation. He gives her a false name, reasoning that he’s undercover, but has some fast explaining to do when he meets her again in his official capacity.

A reprint of a 1953 edition, Death on the Riviera is a classic British golden age mystery. With the crafty detective, his naïve sidekick, and a house full of suspicious characters, this is fun for lovers of Agatha Christie. John Bude is the pen name of Ernest Elmore, a  popular writer who was a co-founder of the Crime Writers’ Association with John Creasey.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, May 2016.

Book Reviews: The King of Fear by Drew Chapman and The Vulture by Frederick Ramsay

The King of FearThe King of Fear
A Garrett Reilly Thriller
Drew Chapman
Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, February 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4767-2591-8
Trade Paperback

A rousing episodic thriller with thoughtful implications for today’s economic world. Smoothly written and discerning readers can tell after just a few chapters that the author has written for series television. The structure of the novel falls neatly into segments with alarm, partial resolution and danger or abrupt cliff-hanger, every few chapters. That isn’t a bad thing, even if it gets predictable.

Readers of thriller fiction and television crime series aficionados will recognize many of the characters assembled in these pages to help the protagonist, Garrett Reilly, meet and best an insidious foreign plotter who is attempting to destroy America’s economy in one massive attack. The novel ranges over the entire world allowing readers to experience both spare and flowery location descriptions and to introduce a large number of unusual and talented characters. Character descriptions with background information is plentiful throughout the book as are a large number of competing organizations.

Lead defender, Garrett Reilly, is wanted by the FBI and the New York Police as a person of interest in the murder of the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. While dodging law enforcement, Reilly goes back to work for the Federal government as the only economist with the talent and intelligence to possibly save the nation’s economy from this massive attack. He leads a group of rag-tag hackers, thinkers and off-the-grid creative young people called Ascendant, a secret government experiment in cyber exploration.

It all has the frightening feel of reality and real possibility. A good solid thriller.

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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The VultureThe Vulture
An Ike Schwartz Mystery #10
Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen Press
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0476-0
Hardcover

This tenth book in the Ike Schwartz series sends Ike and his college president wife Ruth into turbulent hiding from a wealthy, vengeful oligarch. A huge bomb destroys the sheriff’s vehicle and soon another explosion of a large propane tank eliminates his cabin in the woods where his wife, Ruth, is said to be hiding. Ike and Ruth are believed to be dead.

The cliché, ‘ripped from the headlines,’ is very appropriate here. A ruthless, obscenely wealthy oligarch who believes himself to be the savior of a failing nation, has created a kingdom on a huge private tract of land. From this base he hopes, one day, to launch a government takeover. The kingdom is located in, of all places, Idaho. Martin Pangborn’s radical racist militia has been dubbed the Fifty-first Star. He is the classic case of the public ultra-conservative hiding the most despicable of slimy self-indulgent beings. The intellectual duel between the sheriff of Picketsville and the bad guys is almost biblical in its structure and resolution.

All the characters fans of the Ike Schwartz crime novels will know are here, and they all have important roles to fill in weaving together a host of fibers aimed at entrapping Mr. Pangborn. Pangborn has been at pains over the years to corrupt and insert law enforcement personnel, ordinary murderers, civic officials at various levels, up to the Senate of the United States. So, the plot is tangled, textured and complicated. Or at least the moves to resolve an up-to-the-minute plot are so.

Anyone reading this fine novel who is aware of public affairs in this country during the last decade will recognize some of the incidents and many of the players. Fast-paced, filled with emotional ups and downs, the author has fashioned an excellent and enjoyable reading experience.

As is usual, I received a free copy of the novel from the publisher with no expectations whatsoever.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2015.
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: On a Desert Shore by S.K. Rizzolo

On a Desert Shore Tour Banner

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Title: On a Desert Shore
Series: A Regency Mystery #4
Author: S.K. Rizzolo
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: March 1, 2016
Genre: Historical Mystery

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Purchase Links:

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Book Depository
| Books-a-Million | Chapters | IndieBound

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On a Desert ShoreOn a Desert Shore
A Regency Mystery #4
S.K. Rizzolo
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-4642-0545-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Protecting an heiress should be an easy job for Bow Street Runner John Chase. But the heiress—daughter of rich London merchant Hugo Garrod and a slave-housekeeper on his Jamaican property—is no conventional society miss. Educated to take a place among Regency England’s upper crust and marry well, she has failed at London’s social scene and lives isolated among the Garrod family in Clapham. And someone is playing her malicious tricks, some of which recall her island heritage of Obeah.

John Chase needs to determine whether Marina is indeed a victim—or is herself a delusional and malicious trickster. If the trickster is real, is it her rejected suitor and cousin Ned Honeycutt? His demure sister? Their devoted aunt who acts as the Garrod housekeeper? A clergyman friend? Everyone around Hugo Garrod has a stake in how he disposes of his immense wealth.

Meanwhile Mrs. Penelope Wolfe, an abandoned wife, flouts convention by earning her living with her pen. She’s in love with barrister Edward Buckler and hesitant to further scandalize society by breaking any more rules. Hugo Garrod invites her to join his household and put her pen to work. Her assignment takes her into an exotic world where menace lurks at every turn of the garden path and the façade of propriety masks danger.

To solve the case, Chase must grasp the enigma of Marina, an expert in self-concealment, who challenges his assumptions and confronts him with difficult truths. And, with the aid of Penelope and Edward Buckler, reveal a clever killer.

On a Desert Shore stretches from the brutal colony of Jamaica to the prosperity and apparent peace of suburban London. Here a father’s ambition to transplant a child of mixed blood and create an English dynasty will lead to terrible deeds.

I’ve been trying for many years to figure out why the Regency period appeals to me so much in both historical fiction and mysteries (and real history) but I can’t quite put my finger on it. My attraction to the era comes and goes; back in my 20’s (the dark ages), I was really into Regency historical fiction, then I fell off, then I went back to those and mysteries, then I fell off again and now I’m back once more. It seems I can’t stay away but I do know that part of my liking for it is a deep-seated love of American history and this period was certainly important to the left side of the pond.

Anyhoo, there are particular authors that I can always count on to carry me away to the Regency and S.K. Rizzolo is one of them, without fail. I love the history of the Bow Street Runners, the beginnings of London’s police, and John Chase really brings the Runners to life. Having to cope with two distinctly different cultures in his latest case brings out the best in him, piquing his natural-born curiosity and his (perhaps) unusual intelligence. When Hugo Garrod engages Penelope Wolfe to interview him for a magazine piece at the estate, she goes against the best advice of her dear friend Edward Buckler because she is in real need of income since her ne’er-do-well husband abandoned her.  It’s only natural for Chase to accept her help in finding the culprit behind the malicious events surrounding Marina, given their successful collaborations in the past, and Edward finds it impossible to remain uninvolved.

A highlight of this series is the attention the author pays to various social issues of the day and in this book she tackles the British feelings regarding slavery and racism, specifically bringing it out in the story of a biracial daughter of a wealthy British merchant and his determination to introduce her to society. That girl, Marina, comes into her own during this very stressful time but what exactly is causing her so much difficulty in the rarified world of British society if not the facts of her birth?

I so enjoyed being back in the company of Penelope, John and Edward and it’s their personal stories that really draw me in with the crimes they work on being the icing on the cake. The ways they find to get to whatever truths are eluding them are entertaining and sometimes inspiring and, once again, Ms. Rizzolo takes us along for a delightful journey.  The last few sentences leave the reader wanting more and I really wish I could twitch my nose and bring that fifth book into being right now 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

About the Author

S.K. RizzoloS.K. Rizzolo earned an MA in literature before becoming a high school English teacher and writer. Her Regency mystery series features a trio of crime-solving friends: a Bow Street Runner, an unconventional lady, and a melancholic barrister. On a Desert Shore is the fourth title in the series following The Rose in the Wheel, Blood for Blood, and Die I Will Not. Rizzolo lives in Los Angeles.

For more information visit S.K. Rizzolo’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Google+, and Goodreads.

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Follow the tour here.

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“Fans of traditional whodunits with a closed circle of
suspects will enjoy Rizzolo’s fourth historical featuring
savvy Bow Street Runner John Chase.” – Publisher’s Weekly

“This fourth outing for Chase (Die I Will Not, 2014, etc.)
blends thwarted love, class and racial issues, partly convincing
historical details, and solid sleuthing.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Bow Street runner John Chase is hired to protect a young
heiress from Jamaica, and Mrs. Penelope Wolfe is engaged
to live in the woman’s household as an added layer of
protection. Together, they must work to uncover a ruthless
and diabolical killer. An engrossing fourth historical
adventure (after Die I Will Not).” – Library Journal

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Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Book Reviews: The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg and Murder in Megara by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer

The Lonely Hearts ClubThe Lonely Hearts Club
Elizabeth Eulberg
Point, January 2010
ISBN 978-0-545-14031-7
Hardcover

Penny Lane Bloom—her parents met at a makeshift shrine in a Chicago park the night John Lennon was shot—should hate the Beatles, but she accepts her parents’ fandom. After all, her older sisters are named Lucy and Rita, and all the family’s vacations have been spent in Liverpool.

The summer before her junior year in high school, long time friend Nate is pressuring Penny for sex. She resists, but she knows she and Nate are perfect for each other. But when she stops by for a surprise visit, he’s on the couch—with another girl.

While staring at one of the many Beatles posters in her room, Penny’s brainchild is hatched. She’ll quit dating loser guys, getting lied to, and enjoy the benefits of being single. It’s the Lonely Hearts Club, and if Penny is the only member, it’s just fine with her.

Reluctantly, her best friend Tracy joins her, and so does popular cheerleader Diane, who had just broken up with the school’s most popular athlete. Diane decides to quit cheerleading and with the support of the girls in the club, tries out for basketball.

This is an upbeat debut novel about girls and friendship. There is brief mention of sexual activity, underage drinking, and eating disorders, but it’s mostly about solidarity among girls. It’s a funny and fun choice for young adult readers.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, January 2016.

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Murder in MegaraMurder In Megara
A John the Lord Chamberlain Mystery #11
Mary Reed & Eric Mayer
Poisoned Pen Press, October 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0406-7
Hardcover

The eleventh novel is this fine historical series shows the usual careful and extensive research that are hallmarks of this writing team. The deposed Lord Chamberlain has left Emperor Justinian’s Court at Constantinople and taken his household to his family holdings near the seedy town of Megara which at that Byzantine time was part of Greece. It was located near Corinth and Athens. His appearance is not welcome as he upsets the routines and rhythms of the place and causes numerous rifts and tears in alliances both above and below board. Corruption is well-known and runs smoothly if not lawfully in Megara and John is causing waves. Within days murder is afoot and local authorities are quick to accuse the newcomer and members of his household of several crimes including murder and blasphemy. Sorting out the threats, staying out of jail and returning to favor of the Roman Court, not to mention staying alive, appears to be a pretty tall order.

The plot moves steadily forward, the pages of the novel are thickly peopled with interesting people and readers will enjoy the intimate views and thoughts of both high and low-born citizens. Since followers of the series understand that certain characters, regardless of the negative vicissitudes of life visited upon them, will survive, however there are several likeable and vulnerable characters about whom to speculate. Excellent enjoyable novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 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.