Book Review: Justice by Joseph Badal—and a Giveaway! @JoeBadal @suspensemag

Justice
The Curtis Chronicles #3
Joseph Badal
Suspense Publishing, November 2019
ISBN 978-0-578-55928-5
Trade Paperback

A lot of action, a lot of characters, a tight story and several clichés. For anyone looking for an action-packed beach-read here’s one that should fill the bill. The story is tight, cleanly presented and nicely resolved. It spans the Western Hemisphere from the United States to Nicaragua and back.

Mathew Curtis and his wife, Renee, travel the globe. He’s a medical man, a former doctor, who travels the world lecturing about his company’s orthotics products. His wife often travels with him, in part because they have been targeted in the past by a smart but deranged human trafficker.

Lonnie Jackson is a wealthy, evil schemer with a world network of drug dealers and smooth-talking recruiters of young women, ostensibly for low-level but honest jobs in western cities. The reality, of course, is quite different. Jackson blames Matt and Renee for his family’s deaths and has waited years for revenge.

Jackson is living and thriving in Nicaragua. Matt Curtis comes to Costa Rica next door for a medical conference. Jackson plans a vicious kidnapping and murder. Meanwhile in Washington and Bulgaria, plans and events crawl toward a vortex of insane violence. The question is always, will Renee and Matt survive and be reunited?

The pace of the novel is relentless, the writing is strong and spare. For some readers, the patterns will be a problem. The bad guys have rotten teeth and terrible breath, the CIA and most of the U.S. government is corrupt to some degree, the good-looking and smartest, most adept, people are the small group of Matt’s friends, former military men, who come together to help in the direst of circumstances, using all their skills and expertise.

There are a couple of interesting twists toward the end of the story which are truly unexpected. They provide an intriguing basis for later novels, grab reader’s attention and remain just out of reach for fans of this novelist.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Justice by Joseph Badal, leave
a comment below. The winning name
will be drawn on Monday evening,
January 20th. Open to residents
of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Glass Houses by Louise Penny

Glass Houses
A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel #13
Louise Penny
Minotaur Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-2500-6619-0
Hardcover

From the publisher:  When a mysterious figure appears on the village green on a cold November day in Three Pines, Chief Inspector Gamache, who now resides there, knows something is wrong.  Yet since no laws are being broken, he does nothing.  But a shadow falls over Three Pines, and unease sets into the community.  Soon the figure disappears, and not long after, a body is discovered.  During the ensuing investigation and later, when a trial begins against the accused, Gamache considers the events he set into motion long ago, disastrous means to an uncertain end, and if there will be a reckoning.  “This case began in a higher court,” he says at his testimony.  “And it’s going to end there.”  And regardless of the trial’s outcome, Gamache understands that in the end, he will have to face his conscience.  A gripping and haunting mystery, “Glass Houses” explores what Gandhi called the court of conscience and asks us, when the chips are down, is there a court that supersedes all?

This is the 12th book in the series, all of which take place in and around the aforementioned Quebec village of Three Pines, variously described as lost, hidden in the hills, and not on any map or GPS, in the middle of nowhere, and a place where “getting lost was almost a prerequisite for finding the place.”   All the residents of the village are present, and the many fans of the series will welcome them: Gamache, former Chief Inspector of the Surete, a post now held by Isabella Lacoste, Gamache now the Superintendent, heading up the division that oversees Homicide and Serious Crimes; his wife, Reine-Marie; Myrna, a large black woman who runs a new and used bookstore and was once a prominent psychologist in Montreal [referred to by others in the novel as “a verbal speed bump”]; Ruth Zardo, an eccentric, award-winning and “demented old” poet, and Rosa, her beloved pet duck; Gabri and Olivier, the lovers who run the bistro and the B&B; Monsieur Beliveau, the grocer; Clara Morrow, an artist and portraitist; as well as Henri, Gamache’s German shepherd; Jean-Guy Beauvoir, second in command in the Surete [formerly Gamache’s second in command] and now married to his daughter; and Madeleine Toussaint, the first woman in charge of Serious Crimes and the first Haitian to head up any department. Three Pines, and its residents, remain as charming as ever.

Shortly after the book opens, a trial is about to begin, the defendant being accused of the above-mentioned murder, Gamache being a key witness, the judge one Maureen Corriveau, handling her first murder case, a murder which seemingly had no motive behind it.  The identity of the defendant is withheld from the reader until much later in the novel.  The villain in the piece, a figure known as “the cobrador,” is a fascinating creation, apparently with its origin in Spain, in fact a Spanish debt collector, who followed and shamed people into paying their debts.

There is much here that is timely, dealing as it does with issues of drug/opiod use/abuse [present in our newspapers on almost a daily basis], and political corruption, among other things of national importance today.  As always the writing is never less than elegant, and the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2017.

Book Reviews: Bad to the Bone by Linda O. Johnston and SALT by Daniel Boyd

Bad to the Bone
A Barkery & Biscuits Mystery #3
Linda O. Johnston
Midnight Ink, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-4628-9
Trade Paperback

Everyone in Linda Johnston’s latest cozy mystery owns a dog, and they all want to feed their furry friends treats. That’s a good thing for Carrie Kennersly, a veterinary technician who owns Barkery & Biscuits, a bakery that sells healthy snacks for pets. The store is next to her people bakery, Icing on the Cake. A large pet food company, VimPets, wants to buy some of Carrie’s recipes to add to their line of products. Jack Loroco, the local sales representative for VimPets, has been trying to convince her that it would be a win/win situation for her.

Enter Wanda Addler, a VimPets employee who is trying to woo Carrie to deal with her. She’s attractive, brash, and not above manipulating people to get her way. Wanda has discovered that Jack is dating local city councilwoman Billi Matlock, and threatens his job security. When Wanda is found stabbed to  death in the parking lot behind the Knobcone Heights Resort, both Jack and Billi are suspects.

An  entertaining mystery set in a resort town in southern California. Two recipes are included—one for people and one for dogs.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, June 2017.

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SALT
The World After CARBON
Daniel Boyd & Predrag Ivanovic (Illustrator)
Caliber Comics, November 2016
ISBN 978-1-9423516-9-6
Trade Paperback

I open a new Daniel Boyd graphic novel feeling the same anticipation-tingle-of-excitement that I get pulling off the top of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.  Diving into SALT: The World After CARBON was like my first taste of Boom Chocolatta! Cookie Core.  Immersed in fond familiarity, awaiting the unexpected ingredient, it was so easy to indulge and just enjoy.

Until the caffeine kicked me into the adventure and the ferociously fast-paced action invaded my mind, capturing my focus.  Art erupts from the pages.  Adrenaline-inducing drama, cliff-dangling suspense and baseball are accounted for and in full force.  Corrupt politicians ignore the environmental impact of hydro-fracturing, causing conflict with the folks that want clean water; a right-here-right-now-relevance.  The Cookie Core is an unlikely combination of West Virginians that dismiss and destroy stereotypes by performing super-heroic actions, otherwise known as doing exactly what they’ve always done—sticking together to fight the good fight.  Nature Ned is a delightful addition, definitely a deeply desired, chocolate cookie crumb.  The River Rat reprise is the caramel that is not like the other things and shouldn’t belong, but inexplicably works perfectly.  And serves as a reminder of this author’s ornery streak.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Boyd’s recent release.  It pleased me tremendously and gave me plenty to think about, but…..without the ice-cream headache.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.

Book Review: Die I Will Not by S.K. Rizzolo

Die I Will Not Tour Banner

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Title: Die I Will Not
Series: John Chase Mystery Series #3
Author: S.K. Rizzolo
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: November 4, 2014
Genre: Historical Mystery

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Purchase Links:

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Amazon US  //  Amazon UK  //  Book Depository

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Die I Will NotDie I Will Not
John Chase Mystery Series #3
S.K. Rizzolo
Poisoned Pen Press, November 2014
ISBN 978-1464203220
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Unhappy wife and young mother Penelope Wolfe fears scandal for her family and worse. A Tory newspaper editor has been stabbed while writing a reply to the latest round of letters penned by a firebrand calling himself Collatinus. Twenty years before, her father, the radical Eustace Sandford, wrote as Collatinus before he fled London just ahead of accusations of treason and murder. A mysterious beauty closely connected to Sandford and known only as N.D. had been brutally slain, her killer never punished. The seditious new Collatinus letters that attack the Prince Regent in the press also seek to avenge N.D.’s death and unmask her murderer. What did the journalist know that provoked his death?

Her artist husband Jeremy is no reliable ally, so Penelope turns anew to lawyer Edward Buckler and Bow Street Runner John Chase. As she battles public notoriety, Buckler and Chase put their careers at risk to stand behind her while pursuing various lines of inquiry aimed at N.D.’s murderer, a missing memoir, Royal scandal, and the dead editor’s missing wife. As they navigate the dark underbelly of Regency London among a cast driven by dirty politics and dark passions, as well as by decency and a desire for justice, past secrets and present criminals are exposed, upending Penelope’s life and the lives of others.

A long time ago, or what seems like a long time in one’s reading life, I “discovered” S.K. Rizzolo’s first book, The Rose in the Wheel, and fell in love with the characters and the setting and the time period and the author’s writing style. In a word, I was smitten. Then came Blood for Blood the following year and this was no sophomore slump. I could hardly wait for the third book but wait I did…and wait and wait and wait.

Finally, I gave up, thinking the author had decided not to continue writing, and I mourned the death of the series. Imagine my surprise and delight when, 11 1/2 years after the second book, I found out the third was coming out. Die I Will Not has been high on my TBR list ever since I was invited to take part in this blog tour.

So, what’s the verdict? Well, I did enjoy it quite a lot but, somehow, a bit of the charm is gone. Perhaps that’s because it’s been too long and my recollections of the first two books had become a little “shinier” than reality but, on the other hand, it could be that my reading expectations have changed in all those years (I know they have) or that the author’s touch has faded just a little. I don’t really know why I’m not so enthralled by this third book but I DID think it’s quite good.

Not being especially well-versed in the details of Regency London, I can’t say if Ms. Rizzolo’s setting is 100% accurate but it certainly has the feel of being right and I easily immersed myself in Penelope’s London. I’m sorry her worthless husband is still around but, of course, divorce wasn’t really possible in those days except at great cost and with dire social consequences so I suppose we’ll have to continue putting up with him. (Maybe, some day, Penelope will figure out a way to “dispose” of him without getting caught.) Penelope is a strong-minded, intelligent woman and it’s not surprising she would want to follow this latest potential lead to the truth about her father and an old unsolved murder. She’s very lucky to have two such stalwart friends to help.

The other two main characters, John and Edward, were just as I remembered them and they remain my favorites of the three. I’m particularly interested in the exploits of the Bow Street Runners, precursors to our modern-day police, and John didn’t let me down in the least. There are many twists and turns in this mystery and the characters—and the reader—have to keep their wits about them.

Regardless of any hesitations I might have, I’m delighted that Penelope, John and Edward are back and I do hope that we’ll see them again next year.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.

About the Author

S.K. RizzoloS.K. Rizzolo is a longtime Anglophile and history enthusiast. Set in Regency England, The Rose in the Wheel and Blood for Blood are the first two novels in her series about a Bow Street Runner, an unconventional lady, and a melancholic barrister. An English teacher, Rizzolo has earned an M.A. in literature and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.

 

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

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Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Book Reviews: Onion Street by Reed Farrel Coleman, Enigma of China by Qiu Xiaolong, and Evil and the Mask by Fuminori Nakamura

Onion StreetOnion Street
Reed Farrel Coleman
Tyrus Books, May 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4405-3945-9
Hardcover

[The book is also available in trade paperback, ISBN 978-1-4405-3946-6]

After seven novels in the Moe Prager mystery series, a retrospective is in order, especially after Moe has undergone surgery and chemotherapy for stomach cancer.  The occasion follows the funeral of a boyhood (and best) friend, after which his daughter, visiting from Vermont, asks him why he became a cop, and what follows is a story by itself.

Moe looks back to events in 1968 when he and his friends were attending Brooklyn College.  The Vietnam War was raging, radicalism was in the air, and Moe was at loose ends.  One night his girlfriend is found in a coma on the street, apparently having been viciously beaten, and suddenly Moe has a mission: to find the man who beat her up, taking him on a journey that later led him to become a policeman and PI.

It is a hard-boiled tale involving all the worst elements of the period, bomb-throwing radicals, dope pushers, rotten cops and the like.  It also is a deep moral story involving right and wrong.  The humor of past Moe Prager novels is missing from Onion Street, but that is completely understandable: it is not a light-hearted subject with deaths strewn along the way.  And some of Moe’s various actions can be questioned, while his intentions are always honorable.  All in all, it is a very human saga, and we get to know Moe a lot better in a serious way.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2013.

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Enigma of ChinaEnigma of China
Qiu Xiaolong
Minotaur Books, June 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-02580-7
Hardcover

Chief Inspector Chen faces more than a riddle in this latest chronicle of life in Shanghai.  He has to weigh his role as a cop and party official against the truth.  As a result of the supposed suicide of the head of the Shanghai Housing Development Committee following his exposure of massive corruption, Chen is asked to act as a consultant in the police investigation.  The premise is that the result would be a verdict of suicide, burying the case, and Chen’s “endorsement” would seal it, he being known as an incorruptible cop.

The case, however, develops into far more than what the authorities wish, especially when the detective in charge of the case leans toward a murder charge.  The corrupt practices came to light from exposure over the internet, giving the author license to look at the conflict between the loosening of Chinese “democracy” and the conflict with the needs of the one-party system to “harmonize” political crimes.

In a way, the novel takes place on three levels.  First, it is a straightforward police procedural.  Then, as in all of the books in the series, it is a serious look at present-day China.  Lastly, there is some degree of romantic interest, introducing a female journalist who not only provides Chen with much assistance in his investigation, but a sexual attraction as well (although, at least to this point, unconsummated).  The novel follows the similar pattern of including snippets of Chinese poetry along the way to make points.  The one negative comment concerning the novel is the inconclusive ending. But, perhaps, that is to be resolved, along with Chen’s love life, in a future volume.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2013.

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Evil and the MaskEvil and the Mask
Fuminori Nakamura
Soho Crime, June 2013
ISBN: 978-1-616-95212-9
Hardcover

In this author’s second novel to be excellently translated into English, a story in an extremely different genre takes the reader into the realm of crime noir of an unusual nature.  It tells the story of an 11-year-old boy whose father informs him that he is to be trained to become a “cancer” on the world, creating havoc and misery wherever he goes.  The family, it seems, has developed a long line of such evil, each generation spawning one such monster.

So the training begins, and a young girl is brought in to become a companion to the boy. They fall in love, part of the father’s plan to subject the boy to “hell” at some future date.  Instead the boy, three years later, murders his father and consequently ends up just as he might have had the original plan come to fruition.  He spends his life thereafter trying to hide from the very fact that he has committed the ultimate crime and, at the same time, trying to protect the girl from evil.

The prose is as simple and straightforward as the tale is twisted.  It is a far different effort from this author’s previous novel, The Thief, which also described an antihero, albeit of a different stripe.  This book is a complicated crime novel with deep psychological undertones into the minds of warped persons.  It is told in the first person by the protagonist as he endures the horrors to which he is subjected, yet demonstrating his efforts to overcome the onus of what he has done and his background.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2013.

Book Reviews: Safe Harbor by Rosemary McCracken, Revenge from Beyond by Dennis Wong, and Mannheim Rex by Robert Pobi

Safe HarborSafe Harbor
Rosemary McCracken
Imajin Books, April 2012
ISBN 9781926997452
Trade Paperback

Family is very important. Rosemary McCracken‘s suspense filled mystery shows us the value of family ties, especially when the unexpected happens. Set in around the New Year in frozen Canada, this book brings in various issues of family life with the overlying mystery of murder and killers on the loose.

Pat Tierney’s world is full of her two daughters, a new boyfriend, her dog Maxie, and her Toronto based financial investment career. Her world gets turned upside down when a strange woman leaves a five year old boy at her office claiming he is Pat’s late husband’s son. When the woman is murdered and the boy’s family is apathetic about the boy’s plight, Pat ends up caring for the child. The police suspect the killer is also out to get the boy and wouldn’t hesitate to remove any other obstacles. Digging into the case, Pat finds a connection with a refuge for immigrants seeking citizenship. Against the advice from her new boyfriend and the police to stay out of the case, she can’t help but be involved, especially when danger seeks her out.

There doesn’t seem to be any Safe Harbor in this book for the main character. It’s a tale where the average person delves into being an amateur private investigator. I liked the links with Pat’s investment firm, the clients, her coworkers, and the influential people in her life such as her daughters and boyfriend. McCracken does a good job with showing family values in some of the subplots. It’s a fast but enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, July 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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Revenge from BeyondRevenge from Beyond
Dennis Wong
Proverse Hong Kong, January 2012
ISBN 978-988-19935-1-9
Ebook
Also available in trade paperback

Take a trip back to ancient China’s Tang Dynasty. Where the Emperor rules and those under him speak in his name. Lawlessness is still common and murder abounds, for all the usual reasons. The same holds true for politics and corruption.

Quan Wu-Meng is just beginning his leadership in the Sui-chou District’s court. Almost immediately, the young judge encounters a murder. A struggling painter is found dead in his bed and Quan, along with the Coroner, begins the investigation. Quan must connect the following evidence: missing paintings, a political candidate with a shady background, and most intriguing, a dream begging for interpretation. The situation intensifies when the body of a rice merchant is discovered after an arson. However, there are more surprises ahead. Can Quan figure out the clues before those in power remove him from office?

Although I’m wary of mysteries set in foreign locales, this one was a quick and enjoyable read. The Chinese culture is explored, but I felt very in tune with the characters. This is a simple story with the culprits fairly easy to deduce. However, there are some very interesting bits of deduction, including a fascinating experiment to determine how a corpse didn’t die from a fire. The punishment for guilty parties is very extreme, but we’re talking about Imperial China. I’d love to read more Quan.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, September 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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Mannheim RexMannheim Rex
Robert Pobi
Thomas & Mercer, November 2012
ISBN 9781612184487
Trade Paperback
Also available in Kindle format

A monster fish. A depressed writer. A boy with a dream of becoming famous. A sheriff with some serious sociopath issues. These all combine to make for an excellent thriller by Robert Pobi. Don’t expect this to be some cheap Jaws knock-off. This goes so much, uh, deeper.

Gavin Whitaker Corlie, horror novelist, is a widower who can’t seem to get over his wife’s death. Contemplating suicide, he decides to move out of the crazy city. Buying a house in upstate New York on the shore of Lake Caldasac, he settles in to get his life together. Within a few days he encounters Finn Horn, a teenage fishing enthusiast who is slowly dying of cancer. All is not serene in the community lost in time. There have been strange disappearances on the lake and the local sheriff is not a big fan of rich city slickers. With more people missing and dying, danger lurking from local law enforcement, and winter approaching, Corlie and Finn make plans to capture the monster in the lake.

Pobi is a magician with words. His vivid descriptions took me lakeside and alongside with Corlie and Finn as they trolled on the water. This is a novel to display in any collection. Pobi is an author other authors need to read to learn how to write. The only disappointment about the book is that it had to end…or does it? Don’t think it’s over because the last chapter will shock your senses.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, December 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Review: Party Doll by Steve Brewer

Party Doll
Steve Brewer
Steve Brewer, February 2012
Ebook available in multiple formats

Strippers and dirty politicians pretty much go together, correct? In Party Doll, author Steve Brewer not only brings them together, but adds in a private detective, a nosy reporter, and some fun for all. Albuquerque heats up with some expected fist fights and, of course, murder.

When Albuquerque private eye Bubba Mabry is hired by a strip club owner to find one of his dancers gone missing, there are not a lot of leads. His wife, star reporter, is working on a corruption scandal involving the state fairgrounds. Slowly, pieces start falling together and Mabry realizes the dancer’s disappearance may be connected to the scandal. Mabry finds himself involved with big bad bouncers, a United States Attorney, and federal marshals. As more people enter the picture, Mabry gets in deeper and must discover who is desperate enough to commit murder.

Okay, please forgive me and don’t call me a pig, but when the story started off in a strip club and the humor flowed like water, I was hooked. Party Doll is a light-hearted typical PI story but still enjoyable. It’s a fast read with memorable characters. Brewer even pokes a little fun at fiction writers in one scene. A thoroughly fun little story and I wouldn’t mind reading something else by Brewer if I ever had the chance.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, June 2012.
Author of Night Shadows and Beta.