Book Review: Death Rides the Ferry by Patricia Skalka

Death Rides the Ferry
A Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery #2
Patricia Skalka
University of Wisconsin Press, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-299-31800-0
Hardcover

Door County Sheriff Dave Cubiak becomes involved in a forty-year-old mystery when a woman no one knows is cleverly murdered. On a ferry crossing between Washington Island and the Door County peninsula, no less, which provides some difficult motive, means, and opportunity questions for Cubiak to solve. Her murder comes at a bad time, since the island is hosting an important music festival featuring the viola da gamba, an instrument similar to a cello. Forty years ago, during the first festival held on the island, an extremely revered instrument dating from the sixteenth century had been stolen. It isn’t long until Cubiak finds connections between this murder and that theft.

A second murder, perpetrated in the same odd manner, and also taking place on a ferry, draws in many of the same people from forty years ago. But when Cubiak’s wife, Cate, is threatened, the sheriff’s hunt for a murderer becomes personal.

Author Patricia Skalka is a master at evoking the atmosphere of a summer vacation island. One can almost feel the water lapping at one’s feet, and the mash of waves against a boat’s hull. The music, the vendors, and the diversity of people create an ambiance almost palpable.

The people, both victims and those who’d harm them, are not exactly bastions of society. Apparently everyone has secrets to hide and agendas they are determined to fulfill.

But Cubiak, his deputy, and his wife, Cate, are all tip-top people you’d want to know and root for. The personal life of Cubiak and Cate figure into the plot as well, so there’s something for everyone.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

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Book Review: The Second Goodbye by Patricia Smiley

The Second Goodbye
A Pacific Homicide Novel #3
Patricia Smiley
Midnight Ink, December 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5236-5
Trade Paperback

The Second Goodbye by Patricia Smiley is the third book in her contemporary police procedural series, featuring Detective Davie Richards in the Pacific Division of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Davie’s lieutenant is determined to clear the backlog of cold cases and has all his staff working them when current crimes do not occupy their time. He’s given Davie a case that was closed out as a suicide but the original case detective thought something was off about it and the lieutenant thought so too. He wants Davie to review and investigate to find sufficient grounds to re-open it. She also is looking for the drive-by shooter of a gang member, whose hard-working conscientious family is still distraught by their son’s death.

Sara Montaine’s death was ruled a suicide because no one was around her when she was shot in a gun dealer’s store. Davie can’t seem to get a fix on who the victim was. Her stepson thought she was a gold-digger, the animal rescue she supported and a neighbor thought she was wonderful. That she appeared to live comfortably without a job before she married also raised a lot of questions.

Not surprisingly, no one in the gang member’s circle is willing to talk to Davie about the drive-by shooting but she continues to ask questions of anyone who was even peripherally known to the victim, leading to a painful and anonymous assault in the yard of one of the apartment houses where she was interviewing potential leads.

I liked the unusual plot, which unfolds at a steady pace to reveal surprises throughout with a credible motive and solution at the end. Mostly the police procedure seems accurate. Davie took a chance or two too many in this book, operating on her own when she should have taken a partner and thereby putting herself in jeopardy a little more than she needed to. Still, overall solid entertainment and worth any mystery reader’s attention.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, October 2018.

Book Review: Death of an Honest Man by M.C. Beaton

Death of an Honest Man
A Hamish Macbeth Mystery #33
M.C. Beaton
Grand Central Publishing, February 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4555-5831-5
Hardcover

All the familiar characters and nuances of the Hamish Macbeth mysteries are present in this novel.  That does not diminish the charm of the tale, which begins with a new arrival in the Scottish sergeant’s patch, one Paul English.  The newcomer prides himself for stating honest observations, which are really insults. For instance, telling an overweight woman she’s fat, or the minister his sermons are boring.  And, of course, there’s always Chief Inspector Blair and his hatred for Macbeth, and his constant attempts to take credit for crimes Macbeth solves.

Well, English’s mouth actually results in his misfortune, and he is murdered.  With any number of potential suspects, Macbeth has his work cut out for him.  A couple of subplots round out the novel: first is Macbeth’s fixation on his wild cat who apparently is no longer with him, and he finds and nurtures another in the hope that it is his lost pet; and then there is the constant loss of his assistants to the food industry.

The addition of a new novel to this long-running series is always a joy to read and “Honest Man” is good fun, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2018.

A Trio of Teeny Reviews

Trimmed to Death
A Bad Hair Day Mystery #15
Nancy J. Cohen
Orange Grove Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-0-9985317-6-2
Trade Paperback

This is a series I’ve been enjoying ever since the author came to our store and, if I recall correctly, met with one of our book clubs. Nancy may have also participated in a big mystery authors gathering we hosted but I honestly am not sure about that and my records from back then are gone, burned up in a computer surge. At any rate, we go back to at least 2000 or 2001 and I haven’t missed a book since. There’s a reason for that—these are really good books with a protagonist I like a lot and, unlike some amateur sleuths, Marla Vail has a brain.

This time, hair salon owner Marla has entered a baking contest at a farm festival and joins in a scavenger hunt during the wait for the judging. As you might expect, Marla finds a body in the strawberry field, a competitor in the contest. Naturally, she’s compelled to investigate, especially after a friend asks her for help. Fortunately, her husband, Dalton, is tolerant of her stepping in even though he’s the investigating detective.

As Dalton says upon seeing the body, “Good God, Marla. Not another one.” Not a surprising comment after so many bodies over the years but at least he’s used to Marla doing her sleuthing thing 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

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Bono
The Amazing Story of a Rescue Cat Who Inspired a Community
Helen Brown
HarperCollins/ABC
ISBN 978-0–7333-3804-5
Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1-4607-0797-5
Ebook

Look at that cover—is that not just about the cutest cat you ever saw? Of course, that’s what I say about pretty much any cat I see, especially rescues, but there’s something about Bono that really catches the eye, right?

Helen Brown has written about cats before or, rather, cats and her own life, telling tales about how these little beasties have influenced her and made her life so much more complete. This time, Helen was talked into fostering a cat for just one month while visiting New York City but Bono turned out to be not at all like the sweet, docile sweetie she envisioned; instead, Bono was an opinionated, demanding guy with special needs, badly in need of a forever home.

Needless to say, Bono and Helen develop a fierce fondness for each other and their story is one of love and the search for Bono’s forever home. I cried and I smiled and fell in love with this beautiful Persian as I’m sure you will.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

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Darkest Before the Dawn
A Sgt. Windflower Mystery #7
Mike Martin
Ottawa Press and Publishing, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-988437-13-2
Trade Paperback

There’s something about Canadian police procedurals that really appeals to me and I can’t really put my finger on it. Sure, I love the whole idea of red-jacketed Mounties on their grand steeds—who doesn’t?—but those guys don’t show up all that often and most of the procedurals are with cops and detectives that could just as easily be found in Phoenix or Cleveland. I do know one thing and that’s that Canadian police procedurals tend to have a gentler tone, easier on the psyche than many American books of the same subgenre.

Now, as it happens, Sgt. Windflower really is a Mountie based in a small village in Newfoundland. Even tiny towns in remote places have their issues with crime and, not surprisingly, this one is also dealing with the dissatisfaction of its youth. Still, life is pretty pleasant until Winston and his colleagues are faced with a a rash of violence and financial crimes and he starts looking into potential connections to the Dark Web.

On the whole, Darkest Before the Dawn and, I believe, the whole series, is a feel-good kind of story. Sgt. Windflower and his family, including Lady the Collie, have a happy life. Winston, a member of the Cree tribe, has dreams that he ties to his First Nation status and sometimes interprets in his criminal investigations and those investigations are good puzzles. At the same time, we get to spend a lot of time with the family and with Sgt. Windflower’s fellow officers, not to mention the townspeople. All in all, this was an exceedingly enjoyable read and I intend to go back to the beginning of the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

Book Review: Charity Island by Dennis Collins

Charity Island 
Dennis Collins
Dennis Collins, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-692-76295-0
Trade Paperback

Rick Todd has an ideal—well, sort of—job as the caretaker on a lonely but idyllic island in Lake Michigan. It’s not far from the shores of Michigan and when he stumbles across the body of a young woman on the beach he realizes that his peace and quiet are going to be disturbed. He does the right thing, he calls the local authorities. What he doesn’t realize is how lengthy and complicated the search for answers to this simple appearing death will become.

The local medical examiner arrives on the Sheriff’s patrol boat and soon determines that the woman didn’t drown after falling off a passing boat, she was strangled. What’s more, she has an Adam’s apple. Sidney Benson is a middle-aged doctor, comfortable in his active role as the county medical examiner and he has carefully protected eyes for his secretary, Jennifer.

These two become the central law enforcement characters in this story which, while it is certainly a police procedural in most ways, it also features several chapters in which readers are treated to the dark maneuverings of Sammy, the local drug czar and his thugs. Their attempts to keep track of Sid and the rest of the county law forces and the violent way Sammy solves small problems is interesting and will keep readers turning the pages.

The characters are nicely described and the narrative moves forward in a way to keep readers’ interest. There are a few brief digressions into politics, but nothing to distract readers. A fun and interesting story.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2018.
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: The Shadow Killer by Arnaldur Indridason

The Shadow Killer
The Flovent and Thorson Thrillers, Book 2
Arnaldur Indridason
Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb
Minotaur Books, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-12404-3
Hardcover

Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, was occupied by British troops even if that country was neutral in World War II, and in the months before Pearl Harbor, U.S. Troops relieved the Tommies [as they were called] so they could return home and face the possible Nazi invasion.  Iceland, of course, was a prominent way station for naval shipping across the Atlantic, with U-boat activity quite active.  In the midst of this activity, a man is found murdered, shot in the head by a weapon commonly used by American troops.

The investigation is undertaken by Flovent, the only detective with the Icelandic CID.  He enlists the help of a U.S. military policeman by the name of Thorston.  Together they center their attention on a family of German extraction, a paralyzed doctor, his son and his brother-in-law, the headmaster of a school, as well as the doctor’s brother who lives in Germany.  The victim remains unidentified, while initially believed to be the resident of the apartment, when it turns out he was a boyhood friend of the resident, the doctor’s son, who is in hiding and becomes the focus of a hunt.

Various subplots complicate the story as Flovent and Thorston delve into possible leads, including any possible role of U.S. Intelligence and a possible visit to the island by Winston Churchill. The sharp prose and excellent translation enhance this second novel in the series.  Mr. Indridason continues to provide us with top-notch thrillers, and we look forward to his next effort.

The novel is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2018.

Book Review: Shares the Darkness by J.R. Lindermuth

Shares the Darkness
Sticks Hetrick Murder Mystery #7
J.R. Lindermuth
Torrid Books, September 2016
ISBN 978-1-68299-196-1
Ebook

The title of this interesting crime novel is from a line by Edna St. Vincent Millay, quoted in an opening page just before the novel opens. Flora Vastine, a police officer about to leave for duty is interrupted by a neighbor who complains that her adult daughter, Jan Kepler, is missing. Jan is a teacher at the local school and an inveterate birder. But Mrs. Kepler is very worried. Flora agrees to check at police headquarters.

The novel spins through a number of crimes in the small town of Swatara Creek and Officer Vastine is at the center of most of them, while the search for Jan Kepler continues. Expertly interspersed with the crimes, perhaps a few too many for such a small town at once, are some personal relationship crises which serve to balance the crimes and provide readers with a sometimes intensive look into the workings of small town police departments and of small towns more generally.

The pace is generally leisurely and insightful but readers will be compelled to follow the characters and the developments in a realistic small community where the final solution to the murder reveals more about the living than it does about the dead woman. An excellent and thoughtful novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.