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 Review: The Woman in the Camphor Trunk by Jennifer Kincheloe

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Title: The Woman in the Camphor Trunk
Series: An Anna Blanc Mystery #2
Author: Jennifer Kincheloe
Narrator: Moira Quirk
Publication Date: December 6, 2017

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Purchase Links:

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The Woman in the Camphor Trunk
An Anna Blanc Mystery #2
Jennifer Kincheloe
Narrated by Moira Quirk
Jennifer R. Kincheloe, Ltd.,
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook
Also available in trade paperback from Seventh Street Books

From the author—

Los Angeles, 1908. In Chinatown, the most dangerous beat in Los Angeles, police matron Anna Blanc and her former sweetheart, Detective Joe Singer, discover the body of a white missionary woman, stuffed in a trunk in the apartment of her Chinese lover. Her lover has fled. If news gets out that a white woman was murdered in Chinatown, there will be a violent backlash against the Chinese. Joe and Anna plan to solve the crime quietly and keep the death a secret. So does good-looking Mr. Jones, a prominent Chinese leader who has mixed feelings about helping the LAPD and about Anna.

Meanwhile, the Hop Sing tong has kidnapped two slave girls from the Bing Kong tong, fuelling existing tensions. They are poised on the verge of a bloody tong war that would put all Chinatown residents in danger.

Joe orders Anna out of Chinatown to keep her safe, but to atone for her own family’s sins, Anna must stay to solve the crime before news of the murder is leaked and Chinatown explodes.

There’s something about turn-of-the-century fiction that really appeals to me and I can’t truly put my finger on just what it is. Maybe it’s the knowledge that things are on the very edge of tremendous change and that life is going to become quite different as well as a good deal less innocent.

Anna is the epitome of these coming changes. Raised in a privileged society, she yearns for something that will engage her intelligence and her interest in people who aren’t nearly so well off and she’s willing to fight for her ambitions (although “ambition” isn’t entirely the right word). Having found that she’s good at detective work—she’s curious and very smart, not to mention bold enough to go after what she considers justice—she goes where no woman has gone before, so to speak, throwing societal mores to the wind. Anna isn’t allowed to be an actual detective but she gets a lot done as an assistant police matron.

This time, Anna is involved in investigating the murder of a white woman in Chinatown which, of course, exposes her to a world very different from anything she’s known before with tongs, brothels, opium dens and the like. At first, she’s assigned to work with Joe Singer but, due to some unfortunate circumstances, she soon has to develop her own leads, much to the dismay of every man she knows.

With a lot of humor from Anna, we get a good taste of how things were at that time and how a feisty young woman could get around some of the restrictions placed on women (and the painful consequences of defying society). The narrator, Moira Quirk, does a wonderful job of bringing Anna to life and, in fact, she makes me think of an older Flavia de Luce transported to America in an earlier day. The combination of Ms. Kincheloe’s well-researched and lively story and characters along with Ms. Quirk’s talent make for a wonderful tale, the first I’ll be adding to my list of favorite books read in 2018.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

About the Author

Jennifer has been a block layer, a nurse’s aid, a fragrance model, and on the research faculty at UCLA, where she spent 11 years conducting studies to inform health policy. A native of Southern California, she now lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and two teenagers. She’s currently writing book three in the Anna Blanc Mystery series. Book two, THE WOMAN IN THE CAMPHOR TRUNK, came out in Fall of 2017 from Seventh Street Books.

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Goodreads // Pinterest

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About the Narrator

Moira grew up in teeny-tiny Rutland, England’s smallest county, which is fitting as she never managed to make it past five feet herself.  Moira’s work spans the pantheon of the voiceover world: plays for BBC radio, plays for NPR, video games, commercials, television promos, podcasts, cartoons, movies and award winning audiobooks. She’s won Multiple Audie Awards, Earphone Awards, as well as Audible’s prestigious Book-of-the-Year Award. She has lately set foot in front of the camera again, appearing in “Pretty: the Series” and the Emmy-winning “Dirty Work.”

Website // Facebook

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: Lucky by Henry Chang

Lucky
A Detective Jack Yu Investigation #5
Henry Chang
Soho Crime, March 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6169-5784-1
Hardcover

The protagonist in this series, Jack Yu, is a Chinese detective.  The action centers in New York’s Chinatown.  The novels offer a brutal look into the poverty and violence, the gangsters and crime of the society.  The “Lucky” of the title is Jack’s boyhood friend, a Chinatown gang leader name Louie who was shot in a Chinatown OTB establishment and lay in a coma for 88 days, finally awakening on Easter Sunday.

Jack believes his blood brother friend has run out of luck, and tries to get him to enter the witness protection program.  But Lucky eschews Jack’s advice, and upon his recovery after leaving the hospital puts together a small crew in an attempt to regain his position as the crime boss of Chinatown.  He masterminds several daring operations against other crime bosses’ gambling dens or massage parlors, stealing large sums of money.  It is a race with one of two results.

Meanwhile Jack is called upon to perform his duties as a New York City cop, giving the author the means to describe the culture and people of Chinatown (and the satellite areas in Queens) , portraying the streets, buildings and environment as only a native can.  Henry Chang writes simple, hard prose, tightly plotted.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2017.

Book Reviews: The Irregular by H.B. Lyle and Earthly Remains by Donna Leon

The Irregular
A Different Class of Spy #1
H.B. Lyle
Quercus, November 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6814-4026-2
Hardcover

It’s not easy for an author to come up with an original idea for a novel, much less a plot involving Sherlock Holmes.  But that is just what H.B. Lyle has done, albeit the great detective here only playing a minor cameo role, offstage, as it was.  Instead, he has grasped an historical development, the forerunners of Britain’s MI5 and MI6 in 1909 and using the “best” of the Baker Street Irregulars,Wiggins, as a protagonist.  Not only Holmes, but no less a personage than Winston Churchill plays a minor role in the plot.

The story revolves around Vernon Kell, who apparently headed up the original efforts to establish a counter-intelligence operation in Great Britain, hindered by his inability to find good agents until his friend, Holmes, suggested Higgins.  A substantial portion of the novel recounts Higgins’ exploits and a good deal of background on how the Baker Street Irregulars came to be.  And, of course, we learn a great deal about the conspiracies pre-dating World War I and espionage efforts by Germany and others not only to obtain secrets but also to sow discontent and confusion in London.

The novel is exciting, interesting and fast-moving.  It is an historical mystery, the beginning of what is promised to be a new series, and a welcome one. The author captures the atmosphere of 1909 London with sharp observations and dialogue.  We look forward to its sequel with great anticipation.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2017.

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Earthly Remains
A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery #26
Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2017
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2647-4
Hardcover

Commissario Guido Brunetti, in the midst of interrogating a suspect, suddenly collapses (intentionally, to prevent a colleague from committing a foolish act) by faking a heart attack. He is taken to the hospital, where no evidence of an attack is found, but just high blood pressure.  While waiting for the results of tests, he concludes that he no longer enjoys his job, and after discussing it with his wife, and on the advice of the attending doctor, decides to go away from it all alone.

His wife sets him up with a villa owned by a relative on an island in the lagoon, where he intends to rest, row and read.  He rows with the caretaker, Davide Casati, whom he befriends.  Incidentally, Casati and Brunetti’s father won regatta years before.  All goes well until Casati is found drowned following a violent storm.

Brunetti then undertakes to investigate the circumstances of Casati’s death to determine whether it was an accident or suicide, despite his self-imposed sabbatical.  Along the way, the Commissario learns a lot about his friend, nature, and our failure to protect the environment, as well as the result of one’s actions during our lives.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2017.

Book Review: The Deep Dark Descending by Allen Eskens

The Deep Dark Descending
Allen Eskens
Seventh Street Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-63388-355-0
Trade Paperback

Minneapolis homicide detective Max Rupert never got past his wife’s Jenni’s death over four years ago—the verdict was that she was killed by a hit and run driver. But a former friend who is a defense attorney sent him a CD that contains a recording of two men discussing the murder of Jenni. Jenni stumbled upon something that she shouldn’t have, perhaps in her job as a hospital social worker, that leads to a contract being put out for her murder.

When Max learns that she was murdered, he is determined to hunt down the killers. With copies of evidence from police files that he is not supposed to have, he begins to follow a trail that he hopes will lead to the man who ordered his wife’s murder. He becomes obsessed with revenge. On a frozen lake near the Canadian border he comes face to face with his wife’s killer.

Readers who enjoy the intense, gripping mysteries of John Sandford and Steve Hamilton may want to add USA Today bestselling author Eskens to their “to read” list. The Deep Dark Descending is his fourth book.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, November 2017.

Book Reviews: A Legacy of Spies by John le Carré and The Trespasser by Tana French

A Legacy of Spies
John le Carré
Viking, September 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7352-2511-4
Hardcover

The Cold War may have ended many years ago in real life, but not for John le Carré, who has now written a fascinating book derived from two of his earlier George Smiley novels, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  Smiley merely plays a background role in Legacy.  Instead, Peter Guillam, his disciple, who retired from the Circus (the British Secret Service) to the family farmstead in southern France, plays a central part in the story.

Peter receives a letter summoning him to London where he is instructed to review files and interrogated about an operation during the Cold War in which an operative and a source were killed.  It would appear that a potential parliamentary inquiry or even a civil action blaming Peter and others for the deaths and seeking monetary damages, brought by the offspring of the two unfortunate victims, is possible.

As Peter reviews the material, le Carré recreates the times and travails of the period, as we relive through the actions of the characters conditions in East Berlin and the spy craft during the Cold War.  It is history recreated with all the tensions of the period, excellently written with humor and panache.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2017.

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The Trespasser
Dublin Murder Squad #6
Tana French
Penguin, August 2017
ISBN: 978-0-1431-1038-5
Trade Paperback

Antoinette Conway and her partner, Stephen Moran (who she brought on board in the Dublin Murder Squad after working with him in a previous novel) are the newbies in the elite Irish police group, and as such, only receive humdrum domestic dispute assignments.  Until one day the gaffer hands them what turns out to be a murder case of a pretty young woman.  The case turns out to be anything but a simple lovers quarrel.

Antoinette, the only female on the squad, takes a lot of guff from other members (who want her anywhere else), and her resentment shows throughout the book.  While she enjoys her work, she contemplates leaving for an offer in the private sector.  Meanwhile, she has a murder to solve as her first lead detective case and goes about it diligently if somewhat misdirected by an experienced detective assigned to work with the partners for reasons not revealed until the end.

One criticism I made in the previous novel by Tana French was that it was tedious and slow reading.  The same is true of The Trespasser.  One has to plod through a couple of hundred pages of continual repetition before it all begins to make sense.  And then, and only then, does the reading become enjoyable and worthwhile and the plot begin to come together.  The novel would have been rated at a higher level had it not been for this criticism.  Certainly, Ms French writes well and creates clever plots.  One could wish she would now turn her attention to some judicious editing.  That said, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2017.

Book Review: Pacific Homicide by Patricia Smiley

Pacific Homicide
A Pacific Homicide #1
Patricia Smiley
Midnight Ink, November 2016
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5021-7
Trade Paperback

Pacific Homicide introduces LAPD Homicide Detective Davie (Davina) Richards, a newly promoted officer with a reputation for getting the job done no matter what it takes. She is also the daughter of a former LAPD officer whose last case led to the embarrassment of the District Attorney who now oversees “officer involved shootings.” This sets up the first of two plots in Pacific Homicide.

While her dad is now retired, the attorney has set his sights on Davie as a way to get his personal revenge for his embarrassment. Before her promotion, Davie shot a suspect to save her partner’s life. The shooting was ruled justifiable, but now, the DA has  reopened the investigation of the shooting.

The first case she catches in homicide as lead detective is of a badly decomposed body of a woman found in the sewer system. The case leads Davie into the world of Ukrainian immigrants which although not a new plot in crime fiction is done well in Pacific Homicide.

There are several things that are especially likable in this book. First, Davie is a great protagonist. She’s passionate and hard working. She goes on with her job regardless of the investigation that could end her career. Secondly, the police procedural details ring true. The author seems to know her way around a police department.

Also, the pace of the book is perfect. The author gives the reader enough new material frequently enough to keep us guessing while we try to solve the young woman’s death. And she plays fair. I was surprised at how the case was ultimately resolved, but thinking back over the book, the clues were there.

I would recommend this book for people who enjoy strong women protagonists, police procedurals, books set in Los Angeles.

I had assumed that this was to be a series, and indeed, I checked and the second book in the series, Outside the Wire was just released.

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