Book Review: Twentymile by C. Matthew Smith @cmattwrite @LatahBooks @partnersincr1me

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Twentymile

by C. Matthew Smith

November 15 – December 10, 2021 Tour

Book Details:
Genre: Procedural, Thriller
Published by: Latah Books
Publication Date: November 19, 2021
Number of Pages: 325
ISBN: 978-1-7360127-6-5

Goodreads

Purchase Links:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Latah Books

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Synopsis

Twentymile by C. Matthew Smith

When wildlife biologist Alex Lowe is found dead inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it looks on the surface like a suicide. But Tsula Walker, Special Agent with the National Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch and a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, isn’t so sure.

Tsula’s investigation will lead her deep into the park and face-to-face with a group of lethal men on a mission to reclaim a historic homestead. The encounter will irretrievably alter the lives of all involved and leave Tsula fighting for survival – not only from those who would do her harm, but from a looming winter storm that could prove just as deadly.

A finely crafted literary thriller, Twentymile delivers a propulsive story of long-held grievances, new hopes, and the contentious history of the land at its heart.

Praise for Twentymile:

“[A] striking debut . . . a highly enjoyable read suited best to those who like their thrillers to simmer for awhile before erupting in a blizzard of action and unpredictability . . .” Kashif Hussain, Best Thriller Books.

“C. Matthew Smith’s original, intelligent novel delivers unforgettable characters and an irresistible, page-turning pace while grappling with deeply fascinating issues of land and heritage and what and who is native…. Twentymile is an accomplished first novel from a talented and fully-formed writer.” James A. McLaughlin, Edgar Award-winning author of Bearskin

Twentymile is packed with everything I love: A strong, female character; a wilderness setting; gripping storytelling; masterful writing. Smith captures powerfully and deeply the effects of the past and what we do to one another and ourselves for the sake of ownership and possession, for what we wrongfully and rightfully believe is ours. I loved every word. A beautiful and brutal and extraordinary debut.” Diane Les Becquets, bestselling author of Breaking Wild and The Last Woman in the Forest

My Review

When I was ten years old, my family went on our first tent camping trip for our summer vacation, the first of many such trips over the coming years. The Great Smoky Mountains, specifically Balsam Mountain Campground not far from the small village of Cherokee, was our destination that summer and several more and I quickly came to love the area, the wonderful things to see and do, hiking small sections of the Appalachian Trail, and especially the history, highlighted by the outdoor play, “Unto These Hills”. That play was my initial experience with outdoor theater and, all these years later, I still remember it well; I knew the story of the Cherokee Nation but the play really made me understand. Growing up, I also camped in that setting as a Girl Scout, both trooper and leader and, to this day, it’s my favorite part of the Blue Ridge.

It’s that memory and love of the Smokies that made me take immediate interest in the description of Twentymile and I’m so very glad I decided to read it. I was quickly absorbed by the characters, good and bad, and the story behind the belligerence and vicious nature of Harlan and his family. They reminded me of the movie “Deliverance” and the reality of today’s anti-government survivalists but I also had a certain compassion for their belief that their land had been stolen—the same thing happened in my home state, Virginia and, while these families were given compensation, nothing truly makes up for it.

Tsula is a remarkable woman and everything about her rings true in her search for the truth in Alex’s murder. She’s a law enforcement officer I’d like to see much more of and, while I think there were some flaws in this book, I’ll gladly read more if this becomes a series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2021.

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Read an excerpt

HARLAN

CHAPTER ONE

May 10
The same moment the hiker comes upon them, rounding the bend in the trail, Harlan knows the man will die. He takes no pleasure in the thought. So far as Harlan is aware, he has never met the man and has no quarrel with him. This stranger is simply an unexpected contingency. A loose thread that, once noticed, requires snipping. Harlan knows, too, it’s his own fault. He shouldn’t have stopped. He should have pressed the group forward, off the trail and into the concealing drapery of the forest. That, after all, is the plan they’ve followed each time: Keep moving. Disappear. But the first sliver of morning light had crested the ridge and caught Harlan’s eye just so, and without even thinking, he’d paused to watch it filter through the high trees. Giddy with promise, he’d imagined he saw their new future dawning in that distance as well, tethered to the rising sun. Cardinals he couldn’t yet spot were waking to greet the day, and a breeze picked up overhead, soughing through shadowy crowns of birch and oak. He’d turned and watched the silhouettes of his companions taking shape. His sons, Otto and Joseph, standing within arm’s length. The man they all call Junior lingering just behind them. The stranger’s headlamp sliced through this reverie, bright and sudden as an oncoming train, freezing Harlan where he stood. In all the times they’ve previously made this journey—always departing this trail at this spot, and always at this early hour—they’ve never encountered another person. Given last night’s thunderstorm and the threat of more to come, Harlan wasn’t planning on company this morning, either. He clamps his lips tight and flicks his eyes toward his sons—be still, be quiet. Junior clears his throat softly. “Mornin’,” the stranger says when he’s close. The accent is local—born, like Harlan’s own, of the surrounding North Carolina mountains—and his tone carries a hint of polite confusion. The beam of his headlamp darts from man to man, as though uncertain of who or what most merits its attention, before settling finally on Junior’s pack. The backpack is a hand-stitched canvas behemoth many times the size of those sold by local outfitters and online retailers. Harlan designed the mammoth vessel himself to accommodate the many necessities of life in the wilderness. Dry goods. Seeds for planting. Tools for construction and farming. Long guns and ammunition. It’s functional but unsightly, like the bulbous shell of some strange insect. Harlan and his sons carry similar packs, each man bearing as much weight as he can manage. But it’s likely the rifle barrel peeking out of Junior’s that has now caught the stranger’s interest. Harlan can tell he’s an experienced hiker, familiar with the national park where they now stand. Few people know of this trail. Fewer still would attempt it at this hour. Each of his thick-knuckled hands holds a trekking pole, and he moves with a sure and graceful gait even in the relative dark. He will recognize—probably is just now in the process of recognizing—that something is not right with the four of them. Something he may be tempted to report. Something he might recall later if asked. Harlan nods at the man but says nothing. He removes his pack and kneels as though to re-tie his laces. The hiker, receiving no reply, fills the silence. “How’re y’all do—” When Harlan stands again, he works quickly, covering the stranger’s mouth with his free hand and thrusting his blade just below the sternum. A whimper escapes through his clamped fingers but dies quickly. The body arches, then goes limp. One arm reaches out toward him but only brushes his shoulder and falls away. Junior approaches from behind and lowers the man onto his back. Even the birds are silent. Joseph steps to his father’s side and offers him a cloth. Harlan smiles. His youngest son is a carbon copy of himself at eighteen. The wordless, intent glares. The muscles tensed and explosive, like coiled springs straining at a latch. Joseph eyes the man on the ground as though daring him to rise and fight. Harlan removes the stranger’s headlamp and shines the beam in the man’s face. A buzz-cut of silver hair blanches in this wash of light. His pupils, wide as coins, do not react. Blood paints his lips and pools on the mud beneath him, smelling of copper. “I’m sorry, friend,” Harlan says, though he doubts the man can hear him. “It’s just, you weren’t supposed to be here.” He yanks the knife free from the man’s distended belly and cleans it with the cloth. From behind him comes Otto’s fretful voice. “Jesus, Pop.” Harlan’s eldest more resembles the men on his late wife’s side. Long-limbed and dour. Quiet and amenable, but anxious. When Harlan turns, Otto is pacing along a tight stretch of the trail with his hands clamped to the sides of his head. His natural state. “Shut up and help me,” Harlan says. “Both of you.” He instructs his sons to carry the man two hundred paces into the woods and deposit him behind a wide tree. Far enough away, Harlan hopes, that the body will not be seen or smelled from the trail any time soon. “Wear your gloves,” he tells them, re-sheathing the knife at his hip. “And don’t let him drag.” As Otto and Joseph bear the man away, Harlan pockets the lamp and turns to Junior. “I know, I know,” he says, shaking his head. “Don’t look at me like that.” “Like what?” Harlan sweeps his boot back and forth along the muddy trail to smooth over the odd bunching of footprints and to cover the scrim of blood with earth. He’s surprised to find his stomach has gone sour. “No witnesses,” he says. “That’s how it has to be.” “People go missing,” Junior says, “and other people come looking.” “By the time they do, we’ll be long gone.” Junior shrugs and points. “Dibs on his walking sticks.” Harlan stops sweeping. “What?” “Sometimes my knees hurt.” “Fine,” Harlan says. “But let’s get this straight. Dibs is not how we’re going to operate when we get there.” Junior blinks and looks at him. “Dibs is how everything operates.” Minutes later, Otto and Joseph return from their task, their chests heaving and their faces slick. Otto gives his younger brother a wary look, then approaches Harlan alone. When he speaks, he keeps his voice low. “Pop—” “Was he still breathing when you left him?” Otto trains his eyes on his own feet, a drop of sweat dangling from the tip of his nose. “Was he?” Otto shakes his head. He hesitates for a moment longer, then asks, “Maybe we should go, Pop? Before someone else comes along?” Harlan pats his son’s hunched neck. “You’re right, of course.” The four grunt and sway as they re-shoulder their packs. Wooden edges and sharp points dig into Harlan’s back and buttocks through the canvas, and the straps strain against his burning shoulders. But he welcomes this discomfort for what it means. This, at last, is their final trip. This time, they’re leaving for good. They fan out along the edge of the trail, the ground sopping under their boots. Droplets rain down, shaken free from the canopy by a gust of wind, and Harlan turns his face up to feel the cool prickle on his skin. Then he nods to his companions, wipes the water from his eyes, and steps into the rustling thicket. The others follow after him, marching as quickly as their burdens allow. Melting into the trees and the undergrowth.

PART I:

DRIFT

TSULA

CHAPTER TWO

October 26
By the time the two vehicles she’s expecting appear at the far end of the service road, Tsula is already glazed with a slurry of sweat and south Florida sand so fine it should really be called dust. She hasn’t exerted herself in the slightest—she parked, got out of her vehicle, waited for the others to arrive—but already she longs for a shower. She wipes her brow with an equally damp forearm. It accomplishes little. “Christ almighty.” Tsula grew up in the Qualla Boundary—the eighty square miles of western North Carolina held by the federal government in trust for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians—and had returned to her childhood home two years ago after a prolonged absence. This time of year in the Qualla, the mornings are chilly and the days temperate, autumn having officially shooed summer out of the mountains. In northern Wyoming, where she’d spent nearly two decades of her adult life, it takes until mid-morning in late October for the frost to fully melt. Tsula understands those rhythms—putting on layers and shedding them, freezing and thawing. The natural balance of it. But only miles from where she stands, in this same ceaseless heat, lies the Miami-Dade County sprawl. It baffles her. Who but reptiles could live in this swelter? Tsula raises her binoculars. A generic government-issued SUV, much like her own, leads the way. An Everglades National Park law enforcement cruiser follows close behind. She looks down at her watch: 11:45 a.m. Tsula flaps the front of her vented fishing shirt to move air against her skin. The material is thin, breathable, and light tan, but islets of brown have formed where the shirt clings to perspiration on her shoulders and chest. She removes her baseball cap, fans her face, and lifts her ponytail off her neck. In this sun, her black hair absorbs the heat like the hood of a car, and she would not at all be surprised to find it has burned her skin. For a moment, she wishes it would go ahead and gray. Surely that would be more comfortable. The vehicles pull to a stop next to her, and two men exit. Fish and Wildlife Commission Investigator Matt Healey approaches first. He is fifty-something, with the tanned and craggy face of someone who has spent decades outside. Tsula shakes his hand and smiles. “Special Agent,” he says, scratching at his beard with his free hand. The other man is younger—in his late twenties, Tsula figures—and dressed in the standard green-and-gray uniform of a law enforcement park ranger. He moves with a bounding and confident carriage and thrusts out his hand. “Special Agent, I’m Ranger Tim Stubbs. Welcome to Everglades. I was asked to join y’all today, but I’m afraid they didn’t give me much other info. Can someone tell me what I’m in for?” “Poachers,” Healey answers. “You’re here to help us nab some.” “We investigate poaching every year,” Stubbs says, nodding toward Tsula. “Never get the involvement of the FBI.” “ISB,” she corrects him. “Investigative Services Branch? I’m with the Park Service.” “Never heard of it,” Stubbs says. “I get that a lot.” Whether he knows it or not, Stubbs has a point. The ISB rarely, if ever, involves itself in poaching cases. Most large parks like Everglades have their own law enforcement rangers capable of looking into those of the garden variety. Federal and state fish and wildlife agencies can augment their efforts where necessary. At just over thirty Special Agents nationwide, and with eighty-five million acres of national park land under their jurisdiction from Hawaii to the U.S. Virgin Islands, this little-known division of the Park Service is too thinly staffed to look into such matters when there are suspicious deaths, missing persons, and sexual assaults to investigate. But this case is different. “It’s not just what they’re taking,” Healy says. “It’s how much they’re taking. Thousands of green and loggerhead turtle eggs, gone. Whole nests cleaned out at different points along Cape Sable all summer long. Always at night so cameras don’t capture them clearly, always different locations. They’re a moving target.” “We’ve been concerned for a while now that they may be getting some assistance spotting the nests from inside the park,” Tsula adds. “So, we’re keeping it pretty close to the vest. That’s why no one filled you in before now. We don’t want to risk any tip-offs.” “What would anyone want with that many eggs?” “Black market,” Healey says. “You’re kidding.” Healey shakes his head. “Sea turtle eggs go down to Central America where they’re eaten as an aphrodisiac. Fetch three to five bucks apiece for the guy stateside who collects them. Bear paws and gallbladders go over to Asia. All kinds of other weird shit I won’t mention. And, of course, there are the live exotics coming into the country. Billions of dollars a year in illegal animal trade going all over the world. One of the biggest criminal industries besides drugs, weapons, and human trafficking. This many eggs missing—it’s like bricks of weed or cocaine in a wheel well. This isn’t some guy adding to his reptile collection or teenagers stealing eggs on a dare. This is commerce.” Tsula recognizes the speech. It’s how Healey had hooked her, and how she in turn argued her boss into sanctioning her involvement. “Sure, most poaching is small-potatoes,” he told her months ago. He’d invited her for a drink that turned out to be a pitch instead. “Hicks shooting a deer off-season on government land and similar nonsense. This isn’t that. You catch the right guys, and they tell you who they’re selling to, maybe you can follow the trail. Can you imagine taking down an international protected species enterprise? Talk about putting the ISB on the map.” “So maybe that’s what’s in it for me,” Tsula said, peeling at the label on her bottle. “Why are you so fired up?” He straightened himself on his stool and drew his shoulders back. “These species are having a hard enough time as it is. Throw sustained poaching on top, it’s going to be devastating. I want it stopped. Not just the low-level guys, either. We put a few of them in jail, there will always be more of them to take their place. I want the head lopped off.” Tsula had felt a thrill at Healey’s blunt passion and the prospect of an operation with international criminal implications. Certainly, it would be a welcome break from the child molestation and homicide cases that ate up her days and her soul, bit by bit. It took three conversations with the ISB Atlantic Region’s Assistant Special Agent in Charge, but eventually he agreed. “This better be worth it,” he told her finally. “Bring some people in, get them to tell us who they’re working for. We may have to let the FBI in after that, but you will have tipped the first domino.” Their investigation had consumed hundreds of man-hours across three agencies but yielded little concrete progress for the first several months. Then a couple weeks ago, Healey received a call from the Broward County State Attorney’s office. A pet store owner under arrest for a third cocaine possession charge was offering up information on turtle egg poachers targeting Everglades in a bid for a favorable plea deal. Two men had recently approached the store owner, who went by the nickname Bucky, about purchasing a small cache of eggs they still had on hand. It was toward the end of the season, and the recent yields were much smaller than their mid-summer hauls. Since many of the eggs they’d gathered were approaching time to hatch, the buyers with whom the two men primarily did business were no longer interested. The two men were looking for a legally flexible pet store owner who might want to sell hatchlings out the back door of his shop. Tsula decided to use Bucky as bait. At her direction, he would offer to purchase the remaining eggs but refuse to conduct the sale at his store. The strip mall along the highway, he would explain, was too heavily trafficked for questionable transactions. But he knew a quiet place in the pine rocklands near the eastern border of the park where he liked to snort up and make plans for his business. They could meet there. “Do I really have to say the part about snorting up?” Bucky had asked her, scratching his fingernails nervously on the interrogation room table. “I really don’t want that on tape. My parents are still alive.” “You think they don’t know already?” Tsula said. “You don’t like my plan, good luck with your charges and your public defender here. How much time do you figure a third offense gets you?” At his lawyer’s urging, Bucky finally agreed. The plan was set in motion, with the operation to take place today. “So how are we looking?” Healey asks. “Bucky’s on his way,” Tsula says. “I met with him earlier for a final run-through, got him mic’d up. We’re going to move the vehicles behind the thicket over there and wait. I’ve scouted it out. We’ll be concealed from the road. The purchase will take place about 12:30. As soon as Bucky has the eggs, we make our move.” “I’ll secure the eggs,” Healy says. “You guys reel in some assholes.” Tsula looks at Stubbs. His jaw is clenched, his eyes suddenly electric. “I’ll ride with you when it’s time, if that’s alright,” she says. “Keep it simple.” They move their vehicles behind the wall of climbing fern and ladies’ tresses. Tsula exits her SUV, takes a concealed vantage point behind the brush, and raises her binoculars. To her left, a breeze has picked up and is swaying the distant sawgrass. A golden eagle circles effortlessly on a thermal, its attention trained on something below. Directly beyond the thicket where she stands, a large expanse of grass spreads out for a quarter mile before giving way to a dense stand of pine trees. To her right, that same open field stretches perhaps two miles, bordered by the service road on which Healy and Stubbs had just come in. All is silent but the soft hum of the breeze. Bucky’s rust-colored compact bounces up the road around 12:15 and disappears as it passes on the opposite side the thicket. Minutes later, a mud-flecked pickup on oversized tires proceeds the same direction up the road, dragging a dust plume like a thundercloud behind it. Tsula turns, nods to Healey, and climbs quietly into Stubbs’s cruiser. She inserts her earpiece and settles into the seat. Stubbs looks over at her expectantly, his hand hovering over the ignition. Tsula shakes her head. “Not yet.” *** Excerpt from Twentymile by C. Matthew Smith. Copyright 2021 by C. Matthew Smith. Reproduced with permission from C. Matthew Smith. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio

C. Matthew Smith

C. Matthew Smith is an attorney and writer whose short stories have appeared in and are forthcoming from numerous outlets, including Mystery Tribune, Mystery Weekly, Close to the Bone, and Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir Vol. 3 (Down & Out Books). He’s a member of Sisters in Crime and the Atlanta Writers Club.

Catch Up With C. Matthew Smith:
www.cmattsmithwrites.com
Twitter – @cmattwrite
Facebook

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Tour Participants

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews,
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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for C. Matthew Smith. There will be TWO winners. ONE (1) winner will receive (1) $25 Amazon.com Gift Card and ONE (1) winner will receive one (1) signed physical copy of Twentymile by C. Matthew Smith. The giveaway runs November 15 through December 12, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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Book Review: Truth or Dare by M.J. Arlidge @mjarlidge @orionbooks

Truth or Dare
A Helen Grace Thriller #10
M.J. Arlidge
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd., November 2021
An Hachette UK Company
ISBN 978-1-4091-8846-9
Trade Paperback  (CA)

Detective Inspector Helen Grace is back in another thrilling and hard to put down read. A rash of random crimes; an arson at the docks, a car jacking gone wrong, a murder in a park, all happening within days of each other are tying Inspector Grace and her team in knots. The powers that be are breathing down her neck, pushing for results, but little progress is being made.

Helen feels defensive and tries to reassure her bosses that her team are working hard…. but in truth she’s at a loss. On top of this Detective Sergeant Joseph Hudson, an officer with whom she had an affair when he first joined the team, seems to be determined to dole out some payback after she ends their relationship. He has been undermining and questioning her every move on her handling of the spate of puzzling crimes and intent on following an unsubstantiated lead of his own, ignoring her orders and creating tension within her team.

Helen has a strong feeling that the crimes are connected…in some bizarre way. But while acknowledging this as merely a hunch, and totally off the charts, she trusts her instincts.

Slowly but surely she starts to see a pattern emerging. However, Hudson goes behind her back to push his own investigation and suggests to the bosses that Helen is losing it and should be removed from the case.

Her confidence has taken a hit and her team continue to struggle, but it’s fascinating to watch as she deals with the ambitious and spiteful colleague intent on replacing her, while she also unearths solid facts to prove she is indeed on the right track.

The plot while rather bizarre is very believable with an ending that will leave you breathless! Yes, Detective Inspector Helen Grace is often unorthodox in her methods to uncover the truth… but she takes us on one heck of a ride.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, September 2021.

Book Review: Striking Range by Margaret Mizushima @margmizu @crookedlanebks

Striking Range
A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #7
Margaret Mizushima
Crooked Lane Books, September 2021
ISBN: 978-64385-746-6
Hardcover

Margaret Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 mystery series is one of my favorites and always on my MUST READ list. I wish we could get more than one a year! Striking Range is #7, and the stories just keep getting better, with more character development and expansive plots.

Mattie Cobb, Timber Creek K-9 Deputy, has been investigating her own sad background, and after almost being murdered believes she can finally get some answers. Her dog, Robo, trained in drug detection, tracking, and smart enough to do almost anything, is her crime-fighting, always-got-your-back partner.

Mattie is about to enter the Colorado state prison to question a prisoner when the place goes on lock-down and the man she was to meet is murdered. Her last chance at finding answers appears gone unless she can find another lead.

Saddened, she returns home where Cole Walker, who is the local veterinarian and Mattie’s special guy, is about to deliver a female who is bearing Robo’s first litter of puppies. A young, very pregnant woman brings in her dog. A few days later the woman is found dead, murdered, but there is no trace of the missing newborn.

What follows is a race to find the baby and catch the mother’s murderer.

Excellent action, realistic characters, and a fine blending of the lives of a veterinarian and a K-9 cop will keep you reading. In every book the reader learns something that pertains to the work involved in each profession. Fascinating reading. And while I guessed who the bad guy was right off the bat, it didn’t detract in the slightest from my enjoyment of the story and reading about Mattie, Robo, Cole, and the rest of the gang.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2021.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Six Dancing Damsels: A China Bohannon Mystery

Book Review: The Heron’s Cry by Ann Cleeves @AnnCleeves @panmacmillan @MinotaurBooks

The Heron’s Cry
The Two Rivers Series #2
Ann Cleeves
Macmillan, September 2021 (CA)
ISBN 978-1-5098-8967-9
Trade Paperback
Minotaur Books, September 2021 (US)
ISBN 978-1-250-20447-9
Hardcover

This is the second book in a new series by Ann Cleeves known for two popular series, both picked up for Television viewing; Vera with DI Vera Stanhope and Shetland with DI Jimmy Perez. This new series is set in North Devon in an area off Bideford Bay where DI Matthew Venn grew up and where the first book, The Long Call, is debuting on television.

In this novel Matthew and his team are called to crime scene at the home of a group of artists. Dr. Nigel Yeo has been murdered, the victim of a stabbing. His daughter Eve is one of the artists. She works with glass and was expecting her father that day to help her with her work but instead she finds his dead body stabbed with a shard of glass from one of her broken pieces.

Nigel Yeo is well known in the area and seems to be the most unlikely person to be a victim of such a horrible crime. Devastated by the discovery of her father and having lost her mother not that long ago she can think of no reason for someone to kill him. Eve is also a friend of Matthew’s husband Jonathan, who runs the local Community Center, and Matthew knows he’ll have to tread carefully in this investigation, sensitive to how it affects the close knit community.

Matthew and Detective Jen Rafferty set out to interview everyone Dr. Yeo has had contact with in the past few months. Dr. Yeo had recently retired and has taken on a few new challenges including looking into the suicide death of a young man with mental issues.

When another body is found, killed in the same way as Dr. Yeo, it would appear someone is trying to point the finger at his daughter, Eve. Matthew and his team are frustrated as they attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding these murders before more deaths occur. Who is lying? Who would gain from these deaths?

This second Matthew Venn mystery is complex and intriguing. The community where he lives with his husband is well known to the author and comes across as a character in and of itself.

Ann Cleeves writes an interesting and enjoyable tale here and with each book the reader becomes more involved with these characters and I for one look forward to another entry, hopefully not in the too distant future.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, October 2021.

Book Review: Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning @MickiBrowning @crookedlanebks @partnersincr1me

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Mercy Creek

by M.E. Browning

October 11 – November 5, 2021 Tour

Synopsis

In an idyllic Colorado town, a young girl goes missing—and the trail leads into the heart and mind of a remorseless killer.

The late summer heat in Echo Valley, Colorado turns lush greenery into a tinder dry landscape. When a young girl mysteriously disappears, long buried grudges rekindle. Of the two Flores girls, Marisa was the one people pegged for trouble. Her younger sister, Lena, was the quiet daughter, dutiful and diligent—right until the moment she vanished.

Detective Jo Wyatt is convinced the eleven-year-old girl didn’t run away and that a more sinister reason lurks behind her disappearance. For Jo, the case is personal, reaching far back into her past. But as she mines Lena’s fractured family life, she unearths a cache of secrets and half-lies that paints a darker picture.

As the evidence mounts, so do the suspects, and when a witness steps forward with a shocking new revelation, Jo is forced to confront her doubts, and her worst fears. Now, it’s just a matter of time before the truth is revealed—or the killer makes another deadly move.

Purchase Links:
Penguin Random House // Barnes & Noble // Indiebound // Amazon

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Mercy Creek
A Jo Wyatt Mystery, Book 2
M.E. Browning
Crooked Lane Books, October 2021
ISBN 978-1-64385-762-6
Hardcover

A missing child is guaranteed to cause all sorts of heartache and that’s certainly borne out in Mercy Creek. Police procedurals come in all shapes and sizes but, to my way of thinking, the most effective are those that allow the reader into the characters’ psyches. Ms. Browning does this quite well but then takes us further by giving us a compelling plot.

Red herrings abound here and I was repeatedly led down a garden path, so to speak, a very positive effect for me. No matter what kind of mystery I’m reading, it’s the puzzle that draws me in, the hunt for the truth, and this author kept me guessing, not only about what happened to Lena but also about the psychology behind the crime and the dysfunction of some of the characters (actually, almost everyone, Jo included, to some extent).
 
Bottomline, this is a nicely crafted detective tale and my only quibble is that I think I might have understood Jo a bit better if I had read the first book. Guess I’ll have to remedy that now 😉
 
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2021.

 

An Excerpt from Mercy Creek

Chapter One

Everyone had a story from that night. Some saw a man, others saw a girl, still others saw nothing at all but didn’t want to squander the opportunity to be part of something larger than themselves. To varying degrees, they were all wrong. Only two people knew the full truth. That Saturday, visitors to the county fair clustered in the dappled shade cast by carnival rides and rested on hay bales scattered like afterthoughts between games of chance and food booths, the soles of their shoes sticky with ice cream drips and spilled sodas. Detective Jo Wyatt stepped into the shadow of the Hall of Mirrors to watch the crowd. She grabbed the collar of her uniform and pumped it a few times in a futile attempt to push cooler air between her ballistic vest and sweat-sodden T-shirt. The Echo Valley Fair marked the end of summer, but even now, as the relentless Colorado sun dipped, heat rose in waves around bare ankles and stroller wheels as families retreated toward the parking lots. An older crowd began to creep in, prowling the midway. The beer garden overflowed. Within minutes the sun dropped behind the valley walls and the fairground lights flickered to life, their wan orange glow a beacon to moths confused by the strobing brightness of rides and games. Calliope music and the midway’s technopop collided in a crazed mishmash of notes so loud they echoed in Jo’s chest. She raised the volume of her radio. The day shift officers had clocked out having handled nothing more pressing than a man locked out of his car and an allegation of unfair judging flung by the second-place winner of the bake-off. Jo gauged the teeming crowd of unfamiliar faces. Tonight would be different. # Carnival music was creepy, Lena decided. Each ride had its own weird tune and it all seemed to crash against her with equal force, following her no matter where she went. The guys in the booths were louder than they had been earlier, more aggressive, calling out, trying to get her to part with her tickets. Some of the guys roamed, jumping out at people, flicking cards and making jokes she didn’t understand while smiling at her older sister. Marisa tossed her hair. Smiled back. Sometimes they let her play for free. “Let’s go back to the livestock pavilion,” Lena said. “Quit being such a baby.” Marisa glanced over her shoulder at the guy running the shooting gallery booth and tossed her hair. Again. Lena rolled her eyes and wondered how long it would be before her sister ditched her. “Hold up a sec.” Marisa tugged at the hem of her skintight skirt and flopped down on a hay bale. She’d been wearing pants when they’d left the house. The big purse she always carried probably hid an entire wardrobe Momma knew nothing about. Lena wondered if the missing key to grandma’s car was tucked in there too. Marisa unzipped one of her boots and pulled up her thin sock. Lena pointed. “What happened to the bottom of your boot?” Her sister ran her finger along the arch. “I painted it red.” “Why?” “It makes them more valuable.” “Since when does coloring the bottom of your shoes make them more valuable?” Marisa’s eyes lit up in a way that happened whenever she spoke about clothes or how she was going to hit it big in Hollywood someday. “In Paris there’s this guy who designs shoes and all of them have red soles. He’s the only one allowed to do that. It’s his thing.” “But he didn’t make those boots.” “All the famous women wear his shoes.” She waved to someone in the crowd. “You’re not famous and you bought them at Payless.” “What do you know about fashion?” “I know enough not to paint the bottom of my boots to make them look like someone else made them.” Marisa shoved her foot into her boot and yanked the zipper closed. “You bought your boots from the co-op.” She handed Lena her cell phone. “You should have bought yours there, too.” Lena dutifully pointed the lens at her sister. “Take a couple this time.” Marisa leaned back on her hands and arched her back, her hair nearly brushing the hay bale, and the expression on her face pouty like the girls in the magazines she was always looking at. Lena snapped several photos and held out the phone. “All those high heels are good for is punching holes in the ground.” “Oh, Lena.” Marisa’s voice dropped as if she was sharing a secret. “If you ever looked up from your animals long enough, you’d see there’s so much more to the world.” Her thumbs rapidly tapped the tiny keyboard of her phone. In the center of the midway, a carnival guy held a long-handled mallet and called out to people as they passed by. He was older—somewhere in his twenties—and wore a tank top. Green and blue tattoos covered his arms and his biceps bulged as he pointed the oversized hammer at the tower behind him. It looked like a giant thermometer with numbers running along one edge, and High Striker spelled out on the other. “Come on, men. There’s no easier way to impress the ladies.” He grabbed the mallet and tapped the plate. “You just have to find the proper motivation if you want to get it up…” He pointed with his chin to the top of the game and paused dramatically. “There.” He craned his neck and leered at Marisa. Lena wondered if he was looking up her sister’s skirt. “What happens later is up to you.” Never breaking eye contact, he took a mighty swing. The puck raced up the tower, setting off a rainbow of lights and whistles before it smashed into the bell at the top. He winked in their direction. “Score.” Twenty minutes later, Marisa was gone. # Lena gave up looking for her sister and returned to the livestock pavilion. Marisa could keep her music and crowds and stupid friends. Only a few people still wandered around the dimly lit livestock pavilion. The fireworks would start soon and most people headed for the excitement outside, a world away from the comforting sound of animals snuffling and pawing at their bedding. Marisa was probably hanging out near the river with her friends, drinking beer. Maybe smoking a cigarette or even a joint. Doing things she didn’t think her baby sister knew about. Lena walked through an aisle stacked with poultry and rabbit cages. The pens holding goats, swine, and sheep took up the middle. At the back of the pavilion stretched a long row of three-sided cattle stalls. The smells of straw, grain, and animals replaced the gross smell of deep-fried candy bars and churros that had clogged her throat on the midway. Near the end of the row, Lena stopped. “Hey there, Bluebell.” Technically, he was number twenty-four, like his ear tag said. Her father didn’t believe in naming livestock, but to her, he’d always be Bluebell—even after she sold him at the auction to be slaughtered. Just because that was his fate didn’t mean he shouldn’t have a name to be remembered by. She remembered them all. She patted his hip and slid her hand along his spine so he wouldn’t shy as she moved into the stall. She double-checked the halter, pausing to scratch his forehead. A piece of straw swirled in his water bucket and she fished it out. The cold water cooled her hot skin. “You did good today. Sorry I won’t be spending the night with you, but Papa got called out to Dawson’s ranch to stitch up some mare.” He swished his tail and it struck the rail with a metallic ring. “Don’t get yourself all riled. I’ll be back tomorrow before you know it.” If she hadn’t been showing Bluebell this afternoon, she’d have gone with her father. Her sutures had really improved this summer and were almost as neat as his. No one would guess they’d been made by an eleven-year-old. If nothing else, she could have helped keep the horse calm. Instead, she’d go home with Marisa and spend the night at Momma’s. She wondered if Marisa would show up before the 4-H leader called lights out in the pavilion or if Lena would have to walk to her mom’s house by herself in the dark. She reached down and jiggled the feed pan to smooth out the grain that Bluebell had pushed to the edges. “That’s some cow.” The male voice startled them both and Bluebell stomped his rear hoof. Lena peered over the Hereford’s withers. At first all she saw were the tattoos. An ugly monster head with a gaping mouth and snake tongue seem to snap at her. It was the carny from the High Striker standing at the edge of the stall. “It’s a steer,” she stuttered. “And my sister isn’t here.” “Not your sister I wanted to talk to.” He swayed a bit as he moved into the stall, like when her mother drank too much wine and tried to hide it. Lena ducked under Bluebell’s throat and came up on the other side. She looked around the pavilion, now empty of people. “Suspect they’re all out waiting on the fireworks,” he said. The first boom echoed through the space. Several sheep bleated their disapproval and Bluebell jerked against his halter. “Shhhh, now.” Lena reached her hand down and scratched his chest. “All that racket’s just some stupid fireworks.” “Nothing to worry about,” the man added. He had the same look in his eyes that Papa’s border collie got right before he cut off the escape route of a runaway cow. A bigger boom thundered through the pavilion. Halter clips clanged against the rails as uneasy cattle shuffled in their stalls. Her own legs shook as she sidled toward Bluebell’s rear. He matched her steps. “What’s a little thing like you doing in here all by yourself?” “My father will be back any minute.” Her voice shook. He smiled, baring his teeth. “I’ll be sure to introduce myself when he arrives.” A series of explosions, sharp as gunfire, erupted outside. Somewhere a cow lowed. Several more joined in, their voices pitiful with fear. “You’re upsetting my steer. You need to leave.” “Oh, your cow’s just fine. I think it’s you that’s scared.” He spoke with the same low voice that Lena used with injured animals. The one she used right before she did something she knew would hurt but had to be done. “You’re a pretty little thing,” he crooned. “Nice and quiet.” Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. She stood frozen. A warm trickle started down her leg, and the wet spot expanded on her jeans. He edged closer. “I like them quiet.” # Jo ran. The suspect veered off the sidewalk and slid down the hillside toward the creek. She plunged off the side of the embankment, sliding through dirt and duff, closing the distance. She keyed her shoulder mic. “Entering the creek, heading west toward the Animas. I need someone on the River Trail.” Narrow-leaf cottonwood and willows shimmered silver in the moonlight and wove a thicket of branches along the water, herding the suspect toward the cobbled stream bed. Jo splashed into the ankle-deep water. Close enough now to almost touch. Her lungs burned. With a final burst of speed, she lunged. Shoved his shoulder while he was mid-stride. The man sprawled into the creek. Rolled onto his feet with a bellow. A knife in his hand. Without thinking, she’d drawn her gun. “Drop it!” Flashlight beams sliced the foliage. Snapping branches and crashing footsteps marked the other officers’ progress as they neared. Estes shouted Jo’s name. Her eyes never left the man standing just feet away. “Over here!” She focused on the man’s shoulder, watching for the twitch that would telegraph his intentions. “You need to drop the knife. Now.” Her voice rose above the burble of the stream. “Or things are going to get a whole lot worse for you tonight.” She shifted her weight to her front leg and carefully shuffled her rear foot until she found firmer footing and settled into a more stable shooting stance. “Drop the knife.” She aimed center mass. Drew a deep breath, willed her heart to slow. The knife splashed into the creek near the bank. “On your right.” Estes broke through the brush beside her. “Get down on your knees,” Jo ordered. “Hands behind your head.” “It’s my friend’s truck,” the man said. Jo holstered her gun and moved forward while Estes covered her. She gripped his fingers and bowed the suspect backward, keeping him off balance while she searched him for weapons, then cuffed him. “Not according to the owner.” She double-locked the cuffs while Estes radioed dispatch they had one in custody. An explosion above the treetops made Jo flinch. Fireworks slashed the darkness and burst into balls of purple and green and dazzling white that sparkled briefly, then disappeared. *** Excerpt from Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning. Copyright 2021 by M.E. Browning. Reproduced with permission from M.E. Browning. All rights reserved.

 

About the Author

M.E. Browning writes the Colorado Book Award-winning Jo Wyatt Mysteries and the Agatha-nominated and award-winning Mer Cavallo Mysteries (as Micki Browning). Micki also writes short stories and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines, and textbooks. An FBI National Academy graduate, Micki worked in municipal law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a captain before turning to a life of crime… fiction.

Catch Up With M.E. Browning:

MEBrowning.com // Goodreads // BookBub // Instagram – @mickibrowning
// Twitter – @MickiBrowning // Facebook – @MickiBrowningAuthor

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for M.E. Browning. There will be TWO winners. ONE winner will receive (1) Amazon.com Gift Card and ONE winner will receive one (1) physical copy of Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning (U.S. addresses only). The giveaway runs October 11 through November 7, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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Book Review: All Fall Down by M.J. Arlidge @mjarlidge @orionbooks

All Fall Down
A Helen Grace Thriller #9
M.J. Arlidge
Orion Fiction, June 2021
ISBN 978-1-4091-8842-1 (CA)
Paperback
Orion, June 2020
ISBN 978-1409188407 (US)
Hardcover

I’ve been a fan of this author since 2014 when Eeny Meeny, the first in this bestselling British series featuring Detective Inspector Helen Grace, was published.

All Fall Down, the 9th entry in the series set in the coastal town of Southampton, has been described as Chilling, Mesmerizing and Gripping, descriptions I’m hard pressed to disagree with.

Eight years ago a group of five teenagers from a local high-school, taking part in a Duke of Edinburgh challenge, were tortured physically and mentally by Daniel King, a man who held them captive in an isolated house.  Four of them escaped but the fifth was murdered by King, who set fire to his house and fled.  He was never found or brought to justice.

Now, after receiving a frightening phone call telling him he has one hour left to live, Justin Lanning, one of the four survivors of that torturous ordeal, is found murdered. It isn’t long before D.I. Grace and her squad of detectives start to wonder if King is back and his plans are to kill the remaining survivors.

As the Police try to warn the other survivors, the perpetrator appears to be one step ahead.  D.I. Grace’s frustrations grow as her superiors, pushing for a quick result, question her decisions.  The killer continues to challenge the detectives, one of whom has become Helen’s lover.  He’s ambitious and reckless and Helen begins to wonder if she’s made an error in judgement. This baffling case however is her priority.  But will she figure out the truth before more lives are lost?

D.I. Grace is a strong woman you quickly come to admire.  She’s multi-faceted, something of a loner, who would like nothing better that to have a solid relationship, a man in her life.  Over the previous books she’s had her share of self-doubt, and recriminations, but she’s fought hard to be where she is and I look forward to spending time with D.I. Grace and her team with each new novel.

Next up for D.I. Grace is Truth or Dare.   I can’t wait!

Respectfully submitted,

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, August 2021.

Book Review: Fallen by Linda Castillo @LindaCastillo11 @MinotaurBooks

Fallen
A Kate Burkholder Mystery #13
Linda Castillo
Minotaur Books, July 2021
ISBN 978-1-250-82803-3
International Edition
ISBN 978-1-250-14292-4
US Edition
Hardcover

I’m always eager and excited to receive a new Kate Burkholder novel by Linda Castillo. FALLEN is the title of the latest entry in this acclaimed series and most definitely another winner.

Kate Burkholder is the Chief of Police in Painters Mill, a town with an Amish community. Kate grew up here, the daughter of Amish parents, but left her family to pursue a career in law enforcement, returning to take on the job of Police Chief. She is well respected in town and feels her knowledge of, and connection to, the Amish gives her an added insight.

When the badly beaten body of a young woman is found in a local motel, Kate is called to the scene, shocked to learn that the victim is Rachael Schwartz, a rebellious Amish girl who grew up in Painters Mill, but left her friends and family over fifteen years ago.

Kate remembers Rachael as an out of control teen and from her own experiences can relate to Rachael breaking the bonds of family and leaving to make a life for herself. But why has she returned to Painters Mill? And who would have hated her so much to end her life so viciously?

Kate and her team are up to the challenge. She talks to Rachael’s parents and her best friend, Loretta, hoping to find some clue to explain Rachael’s return, but no-one seems to know she was coming to town. Looking into Rachael’s life since leaving Painters Mill, Kate uncovers a strong feisty character who made a name for herself backing down from nothing and no-one, even writing a tell-all book on her Amish life; a book that had incited anger within the community.

A lead is followed and the tension escalates when a second death shifts the focus. But Kate is more determined than ever to uncover the truth and find the killer.

Rachael was a woman who enjoyed raking up past secrets but only for her own advantage. And as Kate moves closer to the startling truth she finds herself in mortal danger. Will the killer succeed in keeping the secrets of the past under wraps?

Returning to Painters Mill and catching up with Kate, her work colleagues and the man in her life is an added bonus to this thrilling ride.

Linda Castillo doesn’t disappoint…. Pick up a copy of FALLEN. You’ll be glad you did.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, July 2021.