Book Review: Compromised by James R. Scarantino—and a Giveaway!

Compromised
A Denise Aragon Mystery #2
James R. Scarantino
Midnight Ink, February 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5040-8
Trade Paperback

The body of a teenage girl is found in a dumpster—she’s beautiful, even in death, and is surrounded by six dozen red roses. Santa Fe police detectives Denise Aragon and Rick Lewis , along with FBI Special Agent Tomas Rivera, investigate. Their job is complicated by the fact that their witness, former model Lily Montclaire, is not being entirely truthful with them. Montclaire is currently working for ruthless attorney Marcy Thornton, who is involved with Judge Judy Diaz. The detectives are sure that Thornton and Diaz used the victim for sexual purposes, but can’t connect her to the murder without Montclaire’s help. Montclaire only wants to save her own skin.

When the detectives contact the waste disposal company that owns the dumpster, E. Benny Silva Enterprises, they discover that Benny Silva and his twin brother are involved in a multi-million dollar lawsuit that they want to come to a speedy decision. Marcy Thornton and Judge Diaz are not moving fast enough for them.

Scarantino’s detective, Denise Aragon, is the character that makes the story breathe in jagged, sharp gasps. The reader slowly discovers her disturbing and violent backstory, and it puts her obsession with bodybuilding and Krav Maga, the Israeli self-defense system, into perspective. She is hard as nails, wears her hair shorn so that the scars on her scalp are visible, and her arms bulge with muscles she has worked obsessively to develop. Also proud of her heritage and her family’s ties to the Santa Fe area, she emerges proud and triumphant in the books final scene at the Santa Fe Fiesta. Compromised is the second book in the series, after The Drum Within.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2017.

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To enter the drawing for a gently
used advance reading copy of
Compromised by James R. Scarantino,
just leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Tuesday night,
April 4th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock by Terry Shames

an-unsettling-crime-for-samuel-cradddockAn Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock
A Samuel Craddock Mystery Prequel
Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-63388-209-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When the Jarrett Creek Fire Department is called to douse a blaze on the outskirts of town, they discover a grisly scene: five black young people have been murdered. Newly elected Chief of Police Samuel Craddock, just back from a stint in the Air Force, finds himself an outsider in the investigation headed by the Texas Highway Patrol. He takes an immediate dislike to John Sutherland, a racist trooper.

Craddock’s fears are realized when Sutherland arrests Truly Bennett, a young black man whom Craddock knows and respects. Sutherland cites dubious evidence that points to Bennett, and Craddock uncovers facts leading in another direction. When Sutherland refuses to relent, Craddock is faced with a choice that will define him as a lawman—either let the highway patrol have its way, or take on a separate investigation himself.

Although his choice to investigate puts both Craddock and his family in danger, he perseveres. In the process, he learns something about himself and the limits of law enforcement in Jarrett Creek.

It’s the early 1980’s, a time we like to look back on as more enlightened than the Vietnam War era but, in a rural Texas town, racism is still very much in the open, whether blatant or subtle.

I’ve had a remarkably hard time getting started with this review and it’s because Terry Shames has really plucked my emotions and, in some ways, memories. Samuel Craddock is one of my very favorite lawmen and his series is, I think, very tough to beat; An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock may just be the best installment yet (and will be on my list of favorite books for this year).

In the early 1980’s in a small town in Texas, nothing much happens but there’s a pretty severe drug problem, particularly among the younger set. In fact, Samuel was appointed chief of police, with no experience or training, because the city administrator thought his youth and brains were better suited to coping with the issue than the current chief. So far, he hasn’t really made inroads but then a terrible thing happens, a fire with five fatalities.

The house was located in Darktown, the community where all the local black people live. This is segregation, of course, but it’s not talked about or even acknowledged and racism is alive and well. Unfortunately, Samuel is officially kept out of the investigation since, according to state law, the highway patrol has jurisdiction over suspicious deaths in small towns, and then the Texas Rangers also become involved. Samuel keeps a hand in peripherally while also looking into what he believes may be a connection between the drug situation and whatever led to the killings.

Besides the arson, murder and drug investigations, we also meet Jeanne, Samuel’s beloved wife who wishes he hadn’t taken this job and his brother and sister-in-law who are never going to be named Parents of the Year. Local reporter Bonnie Bedichek will become an important, if annoying, aide in Samuel’s plans and Truly Bennett, an enterprising young man, is helping Samuel learn how to work with his brand new 20 head of cattle, Samuel’s personal dream. These people, along with many other characters, are so well-drawn that they come to life on the page and you can’t help having an emotional attachment to them, thanks to Ms. Shames‘ fine hand.

Because this is a prequel, it’s not a bad place to start the series but I think readers will do just as well to read the five books published earlier from the beginning. One way, you meet Samuel in the early days before he really knew what he was doing but was honorbound to try, and you get a taste of what influenced his later years. The other way, you learn to truly appreciate this man’s abilities, his experience, his grace, if you will, before finding out what he was like as a young, untried lawman. Take your pick—you can’t go wrong 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

Book Review: The Last Sin by K.L. Murphy

The Last Sin
A Detective Cancini Mystery #3
K.L. Murphy
Witness Impulse, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-249163-3
Ebook

From the publisher—

Detective Mike Cancini has seen some dark days, but his skills are put to the test when a priest is discovered, brutally murdered in a run-down church in Washington, D.C. The man who discovered the body is none other than Cancini’s longtime friend and confidant, Father Joe Sweeney. The murdered priest, Father Matthew Holland, was adored by the congregation, and it seems clear that this was a crime of opportunity in a deteriorating neighborhood.

However, Cancini soon learns some shocking details from the church secretary, and begins to suspect that Father Holland was not as saintly as he may have appeared. This new information leads to a trail of bribes and decades of corruption polluting the church. Cancini must confront his own struggles with his faith and uncover the truth of the conspiracy before more people are killed.

It’s rare for me to know in just the first few pages that I’ve found a book that truly grabs my attention and hangs on with a vengeance but that’s exactly what happened with The Last Sin. What I expected to be a fairly routine police procedural (which I’m very fond of, by the way) turned out to be much more.

When a priest is killed at St. William in Washington, DC, everyone is truly surprised. Who would have wanted Father Matthew Holland dead, this priest in a rundown church located in one of the city’s poorest communities? Certainly, Detective Michael Cancini wasn’t prepared for such a thing and he’s very surprised when he sees the elderly priest who found the body. Cancini is a lapsed Catholic but he’s kept close ties with Father Joe Sweeney.

Naturally, such a crime is high profile and Cancini’s connection to Father Joe causes a momentary blip but that’s soon overcome and he and his partner, Smitty Smithson, begin the arduous task of investigating what seems to be a senseless murder, aided by another pair of detectives, Bronson and Jensen. As things develop, it becomes clear that there’s a lot that needs looking into what with hints that Father Holland, who had a rocky past, may have been involved in criminal activity, perhaps even corruption of a different sort, and those aren’t the only possible motives. By the time Cancini figures out what really happened, Father Joe is missing and a killer just might escape justice.

There are a number of aspects of this novel that stood out to me. Ms. Murphy has a certain quality in her writing that’s a nice blend of pathos, tension and passion and she has a real grasp on how to put words together in such a fashion as to compel the reader onward. The mystery—and its denouement—here was not at all what I expected and, although I had not read the first two books, I never felt I was missing information.

Finally, there are the characters. Cancini has found a place for himself among my favorite police detectives and Smitty is not far behind. What really struck me, though, were the nuances of Cancini’s interactions with other people, including less stellar detectives, a local reporter and Father Joe himself. Even the killer is a very interesting player, the type that fascinates students of abnormal psychology. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Mike and Smitty and will begin by reading the first two books. In the meantime, The Last Sin is going on my list of best books read in 2017.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon

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An Excerpt from The Last Sin

CHAPTER 1

Sunday, February 21st: The Day Of

The smell of incense lingered in the air, temporarily masking the odor of rotting wood. Father Matthew Holland inhaled. The bitter scent stung his nose. Three years had passed since he’d taken over the church and nothing had changed. Even with the increased attendance and community outreach, the church offerings remained meager. Without offerings—without money—the parish church would die.

The priest sat down on the front pew, his robes gathered around his feet. His gaze shifted to the empty pulpit. Two large and colorful plants graced the altar, but they weren’t enough to hide the worn carpet or faded paintings, nor could the soft candlelight make him forget the plywood that covered the cracked stained glass. There was so much to do, so much need. He sighed and looked to the cross over the altar. Not for the first time, he asked for forgiveness, for understanding. There would be money now—he’d made sure of that—but at what cost? He’d done it for the church. His pulse quickened and his stomach clenched. Bending forward, he forced himself to take one deep breath after another until the moment passed.

He loosened his cleric collar and yawned. The evening’s mass had been long and difficult. The drunks in the back of the church had refused to leave, in spite of the old deacons’ best efforts.

“S’our right to be here,” the man with the long, stringy hair had said. His words slurred, he’d leaned forward as though he might topple straight into the next pew. “Worshipin’ God,” he’d said, although it had sounded like something else judging by the gasps from the congregation. The drunk had pointed a dirty hand toward the altar. “Here to see Father Holland. Tol’ us to come anytime.”

The drunk had swayed again, and his companion had reached out with a strong arm to catch him. Father Holland’s mouth had gone dry at the sight of the tattoo on the man’s forearm—a black dagger plunged into a white skull. Three drops of blood extended in a single line from the tip of the dagger to the man’s wrist. He knew that tattoo, knew what it meant.

The awkward moment had passed although not before Father Holland caught the disdain on the faces of the ladies in the choir. Still, none of the parishioners had said a word, all looking to him instead. He’d hidden his trembling hands in the folds of the heavy cassock and swallowed. “St. William is open to everyone, our members and our guests. However, since we are about to have communion, I would ask that everyone who is not singing remain quiet. Guests may come forward for a blessing, of course.” He’d been careful to keep his voice steady. Thank the Lord it had been enough. The man with the oily hair had quieted down and then stumbled out during the Eucharist. His friend with the tattoo had stayed a moment longer, then followed.

Silence filled the sanctuary now. Father Holland rubbed his hands together and shivered. He could still feel the cold eyes of the tattooed man and the curious glances from the congregation. The man’s presence at the evening mass had been no accident and no drunken whim. The message had been clear.

After the church had emptied, he’d walked to the corner market and made the call. He’d done the best he could. Money changed everything. It always did. He opened his hand and stared at the crumpled paper with the phone number. He was not a stupid man. Nothing came without a price. He murmured a prayer until his shoulders relaxed and the drumbeat of his heart slowed.

His stomach growled, the gurgling loud and rumbly, and he realized it had been hours since he’d eaten. Breaking the quiet, a sound came from the back of the church, a click and a swish as the heavy outer door swung open. He stood and smoothed his cassock. Dinner would have to wait. He strained to see, but the vestibule was dark. “Who’s there?” he asked.

The door clanged shut and heavy steps sounded on the dingy marble floor. Father Holland replaced his collar and ran his fingers through his hair. There was only silence. The hair on the back of his neck prickled. “Is somebody there?” he asked again.

A figure shrouded in black stepped out of the dark.

Father Holland stiffened. “Why are you here?”

From the shadows, the eyes of the visitor glittered in the candlelight. “I’m a sinner, Father.”

Father Holland’s shoulders slumped. “We are all sinners in God’s eyes.”

Excerpt from The Last Sin by KL Murphy.  Copyright © 2017 by Witness Impulse. Reproduced with permission from xxx. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

K.L. MURPHY was born in Key West, Florida, the eldest of four children in a military family. She has worked as a freelance writer for several regional publications in Virginia, and is the author of A Guilty Mind and Stay of Execution. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, four children, and two very large, very hairy dogs.

To learn more about the Detective Cancini Mystery series or future projects, visit her Website, Twitter and Facebook pages.

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Follow the tour:

3/13 Guest post/showcase @ The Book Divas Reads
3/14 Interview @ Mythical Books
3/15 Showcase @ Bound 2 Escape
3/16 Showcase @ Books, Dreams, Life
3/17 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
3/18 Showcase @ A Bookaholic Swede
3/20 Review @ Buried Under Books
3/21 Guest post @ Mystery Suspense Reviews
3/22 Showcase @ The Bookworm Lodge
3/23 Guest post @ Books Direct
3/24 Interview @ BooksChatter
3/25 Showcase @ A Bookworms Journal
3/26 Showcase @ The Pulp and Mystery Shelf
3/27 Showcase @ Tome Tender
3/30 Review/showcase @ CMash Reads
4/03 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
4/10 Review @ Beths Book-Nook Blog

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Book Review: Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina

blood-salt-waterBlood, Salt, Water
An Alex Morrow Novel #5
Denise Mina
Back Bay Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-316-38056-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  A wealthy businesswoman disappears from her Glasgow home without a trace, leaving her husband and children panicked but strangely resistant to questioning.  Tracing the woman’s cell phone records, police detective Alex Morrow discovers a call made from an unlikely location.  A sleepy seaside community, Helensburgh is the last place you’d go looking for violence.  But Morrow’s investigation uncovers disturbing clues and a dead body in a nearby lake.  When a connection to someone close to her surfaces, the case gets more personal than she could have imagined.

In this newest book featuring DI Alex Morrow, she is assisted by DCs McGrain and Thankless [the anticipated jokes I looked for never appearing, surprisingly], working out of the London Road Police Station of Police Scotland.  There is a lot made of the upcoming referendum on independence, with every inhabitant apparently wearing stickers identifying which side they were on.

There are a number of men and women introduced who indulge in local crime, many of them having spent time in prison.  It became a bit difficult to distinguish among them after a while, I must admit.  One who stands out, however, is Danny McGrath, Morrow’s half-brother, “a well-known and feared Glasgow gangster until he was sentenced to eight years for conspiracy to commit murder . . . who was carrying on his business vicariously from prison,” who appears almost exclusively in Morrow’s preoccupation with him.  “They all knew that the black economy was essential.  Men like Danny were responsible for twenty percent of global GDP. If justice was done and they were all imprisoned, the world economy would collapse.  Civilisations would fall.”

The title references the two substances, salt and water, that can wash away the first of them, blood.

The novel is engrossing, although I found this entry in the series somewhat hard to follow, as were its characters.  However, this author always provides interesting narratives, and as all her earlier novels, it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2016.

Book Review: The Ville Rat by Martin Limon

the-ville-ratThe Ville Rat
A Sergeants Sueno and Bascom Mystery #10
Martin Limon
Soho Crime, June 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61695-391-1
Trade Paperback

When the body of a beautiful Korean woman washes up on the shore of a frozen river, it sets off an investigation that carries Ernie Vascom and George Sueno, two irreverent 8th Army CID agents, into areas far afield from just a murder inquiry.  The event takes place during 1974 in South Korea, not far from the DMZ.  Not only do they have to fight higher-ups in the chain of command, but must determine the motive for the killing.

Despite the fact that Pres. Harry S Truman “desegregated” the armed forces years before, the novel graphically portrays how black and white soldiers maintained their separate ways when off duty, convening in all Black or all-White bars for recreation. And in the midst of this enters the Ville Rat, the so-called nickname of a former GI who caters to the Black bars by supplying Colt 45 favored by the Blacks because of its higher alcohol content.  The Ville Rat holds a key clue to the investigation and Ernie and George desperately try to find the illusive person to solve the case.

As a police procedural, the novel is juxtaposed between a detailed investigation and the seamier side of Army politics and Korean night life.  The Ville Rat is the 10th novel in the series, each reflecting the author’s deep knowledge of the Korean people and culture, much less of the army and its officers.  This newest entry is no exception, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2016.

Book Review: The Drowned Boy by Karin Fossum

the-drowned-boyThe Drowned Boy
An Inspector Sejer Mystery #11
Karin Fossum
Translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson
Mariner Books, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-5447-0484-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  Carmen and Nicolai failed to resuscitate their son, Tommy, after finding him drowning in their backyard pond.  When Inspector Skarre arrives on the scene, Carmen reports that Tommy, a healthy toddler with Down’s syndrome, wandered into the garden while Nicolai was working in the basement and she was doing housework.  Skarre senses something is off with Carmen’s story and consults his trusted colleague, the famed Inspector Sejer.  An autopsy reveals Tommy’s lungs to be full of soap.

I will go no further with the material from the back of the book for fear of spoilers.  But the ensuing tale, dark almost by definition as it deals with the death of a 16-month old child, is a wonderful psychological thriller such as we have come to expect from this author.

The child had just learned to walk.  And he had certainly been a challenge to his parents, very young as they are: 19 and 20, respectively.   DI Sejer, of the Sondre Buskerud Police District, has no proof, but his instincts tell him that there is something wrong with Carmen’s version of the events, and soon his younger colleague, Skarre, starts to feel the same way.  What ensues is an intriguing tale, which begins in mid-August, ending in the summer of the following year.

Sejer, now 55 years old, has always been a fascinating protagonist.  His beloved wife had died of liver cancer, and he has for company only his daughter, Ingrid, and his Chinese shar-pei dog, Frank Robert, who is almost as much a presence as the humans around him.  Sejer has of late been troubled by dizzy spells, although he puts off having himself checked out until nearly the end of the book.  The reader does not find out the truth about the child’s death until about the same time, in a not entirely unexpected, but still stunning ending.  Well-written and with wonderful descriptions of the characters, both outwardly and with some insight into their inner selves, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2016.

Book Review: Cold Heart by Karen Pullen—and a Giveaway!

cold-heartCold Heart
A Stella Lavender Mystery #2
Karen Pullen
Five Star, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-4328-3257-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Motivated by her mother’s long-ago unsolved abduction, Stella Lavender has joined the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation only to be severely challenged by her first assignment: undercover drug agent. Stella works nights, buying drugs from paranoid drug dealers, gathering evidence to send them to prison or turn them into informants. She’s great at the job because, as her boss says, “you don’t look like a cop.” But the physical danger and the necessary betrayals are getting to her. When she sees a chance to work homicide, she’ll always take it.

One afternoon Stella gives a hitchhiking teenager a ride to her babysitting job in a wealthy neighborhood. Horror awaits them–the father lies dead in a pool of blood, and his toddler is missing. Stella joins the murder investigation as the puzzle quickly grows. Most importantly, where is the toddler? A dizzying array of plausible suspects provides more questions than answers.

At the same time, Stella’s personal life offers plenty of distractions. Her grandmother Fern, a free-spirited artist with male admirers wrapped around every one of her paint-stained fingers, needs Stella’s help with expensive house repairs. And Stella’s attraction to three very different men means her romantic life is, well, complicated.

Cold Heart draws the reader into a darkly delightful page-turner as Stella rummages through every strata of society in her relentless and sometimes unconventional pursuit of a cold-hearted murderer who won’t stop at just one victim.

If you’re not careful, sometimes what you wish for turns out to be much more than you think it’s going to be. Stella Lavender is good at what she does, working Narcotics, but she really wants to get into the Homicide division. When she picks up a hitchhiker, she has no idea that she’s about to walk smack into a murder case but she’s more or less prepared for that. What surprises her are the connections she discovers she has to the case, kind of a six degrees of separation thing.

The fact that Stella made a drug buy just the night before from the man who’s now lying dead is just one of those links and she soon finds that her personal life isn’t as separated from work as she’d like it to be. For instance, could one of the many men who orbit around her charismatic grandmother be somehow involved and is Fern hiding things from Stella? Are other people being attacked because Stella herself is really the target and, if so, why? Most importantly, what has happened to the dead man’s toddler daughter, Paige?

There are a few too many coincidences in the plot but a plethora of leads and suspects kept me guessing for quite a while and the characters, particularly Stella, are interesting. I liked her very much and appreciated her determination and even her occasional rule-bending. Stella Lavender is a cop I could be friends with 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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Just by leaving two comments,
you’ll have a chance to win a
print copy of the first book in
the series, Cold Feet. Leave
one comment today and one
on yesterday’s guest blog by
Karen Pullen. The winning name
will be drawn Thursday evening,
January 26th. This drawing is
open to residents of the US.