Book Reviews: Death and the Viking’s Daughter by Loretta Ross and Ghosts of Guatemala by Collin Glavac

Death and the Viking’s Daughter
An Auction Block Mystery #4
Loretta Ross
Midnight Ink, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5237-2
Trade Paperback

Auctioneer Wren Morgan with her fellow workers is preparing for an auction of a strange night club that was constructed on the plans of a Cincinnati nightclub that was the scene of a disastrous fire. A small level of nervousness is apparent.

At about the same time, her fiancé Death (pronounced Deeth) Bogart is tasked by a museum director to look into an apparent theft of a painting, a painting worth more to the owners due to the subject than for its artistic merit.

While preparing the site for the coming auction, a resident collapses upon seeing a figure in the nearby woods who looks like his long-missing daughter. Meanwhile, Wren and Death (pronounced Deeth) are looking for a home to buy. They find one at the end of a roadway not far away where a man, name unknown, is buried beneath rosebushes in the yard.

Get the picture? This is not a complicated mystery, but it has several threads that are cleverly woven together in this carefully and very well-written novel. Eventually all these threads will come together, along with tension-filled meetings between Wren and Death’s parent groups.

The tranquil setting becomes well-used as a foil against the tension that builds up. Private investigator Death Bogart wends his careful way through a variety of interesting experiences all while worrying about presenting a positive image to his about-to-be in-laws. A fun and intriguing novel that I recommend especially for those readers who are not wedded to intense and brutal violence on the page.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Ghosts of Guatemala
Collin Glavac
NIMA, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-9991631-6-7
Trade Paperback

Here is a terrific idea with some interesting characters in imperfectly realized circumstances. The novel begins with a bang, the attempted assassination of a Guatemalan drug czar. The scene is potent, rife with tension and murderous action. Unfortunately, although the assassination is successful, the assassin also dies in the attempt.

We then switch to scenes of dissention, corruption, loss of confidence and general incompetence in an important US government agency, the Central Intelligence Agency. Then commences a long and wandering dissertation about the life and development of a Seal, one John Carpenter. Sometime later in his career, he is mysteriously detached from the Navy to become an agent for the CIA, specializing in Latin America.

He is tasked with retaliation against the Guatemalan drug cartel, an assignment which takes the narrative deeply and in considerable detail inside that country. The narrative is wordy, resulting in an overlong novel which levels criticism against the U.S. government, the CIA specifically and the American public in general.

A good editor would have reduced the novel by at least a third and in the process elevated the action and tension. While some of the characters are unusual and more than passingly interesting, the novel’s potential is largely obscured in wordiness and a somewhat negative attitude.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: No Substitute for Mimes by Carolyn J. Rose and Mental State by M. Todd Henderson @CarolynJRose @DownAndOutBooks

No Substitute for Mimes
Subbing Isn’t for Sissies #12
Carolyn J. Rose
Carolyn J. Rose, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-7342412-0-4
Trade Paperback

Set in the fictional town of Reckless River, Washington, residents are by turns, bemused, irked, and barely tolerant as their quiet town is besieged by a group of mimes.

Suddenly, they seem to be everywhere. And they are stealing things; small things, useless trinkets. But then, the stolen items reappear. Residents become increasingly bewildered and irritated, but that fails to suppress the turbulent life of substitute teacher, Barbara Reed. Her principal seems bent on handing her the most problematic assignments at the local school where she is a long-time fixture.

Reed’s life is crowded with a large number  of idiosyncratic individuals from a couple of cops, a wealthy retiree, some relatives and a host of friends. And there is a dog with few manners.

The novel is awash with incidents frequently involving several of Reed’s friends, especially local crime news reporter, Stan. People who like this kind of story in which the mystery or crime often takes a back seat to various social activities, will likely be enthralled.

The book is well-written, moves through town at a measured pace and arrives at a surprise ending that engages most of the town.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Mental State
M. Todd Henderson
Down and Out Books, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-948235-33-4
Trade Paperback

Royce Anderson, rogue FBI agent is on a personal crusade. He’s trying to nail the man who killed his brother Alex, a prominent professor of law at a prestigious law school in Chicago. Local police have tentatively ruled Alex’s death as a suicide. Royce is unbelieving, unimpressed, sure his brother would never have done such a thing.

But if Alex’s death wasn’t suicide, what was it? With almost no additional help, except that he sometimes receives along his troubled, occasionally stumbling way, the narrative wanders across the Eastern Seaboard. Indeed, because part of the story involves prior activities by the law professor, there are some undeveloped international elements as well.

The story follows a conflicted and disturbed agent, Royce Anderson, as he uses all his considerable skills and experience to confront and best some very evil and very well-connected people. There are some serious problems, not the least of which are interesting elements of the story which are undeveloped and some major jumps in points of view which may unnerve readers. The occasional political asides add little to what could have been a serious gripping thriller.

Nevertheless, readers with patience will be drawn to Royce’s side as he struggles to avenge his brother and save an innocent man, although at the price of several other lives hugely disrupted.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Our War by Craig DiLouie @CraigDiLouie @orbitbooks @SDSXXTours

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Book Reviews: False Flag in Autumn by Michael Bowen and Footprints in the Butter by Denise Dietz @BowenMysteries @DeniDietz

False Flag in Autumn
Josie Kendall Washington Crime Stories #2
Michael Bowen
Farragut Square Publications, October 2019
Ebook

When reading detective/thriller/political fiction, one likes to believe that the author did adequate serious research or has reasonable experience or understanding of the primary field. Here is a novel that demonstrates such deep dives into political research, and apparent extensive knowledge of the political scene in the United States, it is just a little scary.

Josey Kendall is political spinmeister working for a small agency in Washington, D.C. She’s young, experienced and possessed of sometimes amazing and practical understanding of the way politics work in the modern republic. Ms Kendall not only understands how connected to media campaigns must be, but often how to manipulate that same media to achieve desired results. Kendall’s problem, if she has one, is her basic honesty sometimes gets in the way of the objectives her company’s clients desire.

Louisiana has one Congressman who is beholden to no one more than himself and is willing to do almost anything to stay atop the money machine. The novel begins with a contract for Josie’s company to frighten the aforesaid Congressman Bilbo into line with certain corporate interests by establishing a viable opponent for his re-election. Josie accomplishes the goal with alacrity and moves on but the untimely death of a local hood at Bilbo’s hand and the apparently botched investigation of the shooting bothers her. Circumstances draw Josie and her husband Raf more and more into the dim world of alternative and dark politics where they gradually discover not just the event referred to in the title, but something far more dangerous. The swamp was never deeper nor slimier.

The writing is crisp, fast moving, and frequently acerbic with well-placed caustic observations. The narrative is a fine commentary on modern politics and it moves with ever growing tension. The characters are many and varied and carefully drawn. Never do they step outside their roles.

In sum this novel will appeal to fans of the author, to political junkies, and to readers of detective fiction everywhere.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2019.
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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Footprints in the Butter 
An Ingrid Beaumont Mystery #1
Denise Dietz
Delphi Books, 1998
ISBN: 0-9663397-2-x
Re-issued by Worldwide Library, October 2004
ISBN 978-0-373-26511-4
Mass Market Paperback

I think you have to come at this book with the right frame of mind and stay in it until you are finished.  Ingrid Beaumont and her ganglionic mutt are all over the murder of Wylie Jameston, who is anything but—wily.  Remember that phrase, ganglionic mutt.  The author uses it a couple of times and it appears on the jacket as well.

A wisecracking artist who constantly tells riddles and elephant jokes is murdered at a reunion of his high school class, of which the amateur sleuth, Ingrid, is also a member. With little discernible reason, Ingrid decides to charge in with Hitchcock, the mutt of reference above, and solve the murder, since it appears to her the cops are never going to manage that task.

There are lots of characters in this book and several scenes which by turns will make you laugh and shake your head or grind your teeth in frustration.  The solution is complicated and there are lots of characters to keep track of.  At times an unfocused sub-plot involving Ingrid’s ex, who may or may not be her ex, threatens to obscure the main theme which is that high school reunions can be hell.

I laughed some, ground my teeth a good deal, and wished the author had had an editor with a firmer hand at times. There’ll be more adventures with Ingrid and her ganglionic mutt.  In spite of its problems, this is the kind of mystery and engaging writing which will attract a large and loyal following.

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

Book Review: T-Minus by Shannon Greenland @SEGreenAuthor @EntangledTeen @XpressoTours

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T-Minus
Shannon Greenland
Published by: Entangled Teen
Publication date: August 6th 2019
Genres: Thriller, Young Adult

A terror with no answer needs a girl with no limits.

I am the daughter of the first female POTUS, and today is about to become the longest day of my life…

24 hours—that’s how much time I have to save my mother before terrorists assassinate her. But now my father and brother are missing, too. This goes deeper than anyone thinks. Only someone on the inside would know how to pull this off—how to make the entire First Family disappear.

I can’t trust anyone, so it’s up to me to uncover the conspiracy and stop these madmen. Because little do they know, they picked the wrong person to terrorize.

My name is Sophie Washington, and I will not be a victim. No one, I repeat no one, is taking me or my family down. But the clock is ticking…

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo

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Once I got past the rather eyebrow-raising premise of this book and let myself go with the flow, so to speak, I had a good time watching Sophie fight back when the unthinkable happens to her family. What makes her story so intriguing is that her family is the First Family, not your everyday family in the local neighborhood. To say the stakes are much higher is not an overstatement.

Mind you, Sophie isn’t entirely alone in her fight against whoever the bad guys are. In fact, a strong and very appealing element here is the connections among Sophie’s friends and, of course, her family. Trust is in short supply among the people who are supposed to protect her family but she reaches out to the teens in a special training program that she believes she can count on.

As you might expect in an action adventure tale, the potential outcome is high risk as is the level of tension and the pace is unrelenting. Occasional flashbacks gave me a few moments to calm down just a little and I appreciated that although perhaps they occurred a little too frequently. There are plenty of false leads and red herrings along the way but I have to say the ending held some surprises (that’s a good thing) as well as satisfaction,

With today’s attention to domestic terrorism, this story packs an especially vivid wallop, whether it’s realistic or not. Sure, an attack of this type on the president and her family is less likely than an attack on a school or food festival but the point is that literally nothing is beyond possibility when extremists have an agenda. Frightening stuff, indeed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2019.

About the Author

Things you should know about me: I write novels! Some have won awards. Others have been bestsellers. Under Shannon Greenland (my real name) you’ll find spies, adventure, and romantic suspense. Under S. E. Green (my pen) you’ll find dark and gritty fiction about serial killers, cults, secret societies that do bad things, and whatever else my twisted brain deems to dream up. I’m on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I also have a website and a very non-annoying newsletter where you can keep up to date with new releases, free stuff, and my mild ramblings about my travels. I have a very old and grouchy dog. But I love him. My humor runs dark and so don’t be offended by something off I might say. I mean no harm. I live in a small Florida beach town, but I’m most often found exploring the world. I eat entirely too many chips. I also love math!

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

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Book Review: The Middleman by Olen Steinhauer

The Middleman
Olen Steinhauer
Minotaur Books, August 2018
ISBN 978-0-2500-3617-9
Hardcover

A thriller wrapped in a mystery which cannot make up its mind where it is going, or even coming from.  At the heart of the plot, Special Agent Rachel Proulx of the FBI is studying and preparing a report on terrorist groups.  Consequently, she spearheads the FBI’s efforts to monitor a group whose leader does not favor active terrorism, but cerebral efforts to change society.

The FBI plants an undercover agent in the group and he is forced to act as a sniper on July 4, 2017, shooting a Congresswoman spearheading an investigation into a couple of financial institutions,  Three other members of Congress are killed, although the Congresswoman is only shot in the neck and survives.  One of the other three is also a leader in the investigation of the financial companies.  So much for peaceful demonstrations, and the group is now classified as a terrorist organization.

What remains is for Rachel and the undercover agent to team up and try to find out what really took place along the way and discover the answers to unexplained questions and events, making these attempts while outcasts from their own FBI.  While the novel is constructed to move along and keep the reader interested, it is buried in obscurity and sometimes difficult to follow.  For the most part, the story meanders back and forth, past to present, adding little to forward movement.  It really is a tale of conspiracies compounded by double-crosses, but not a bad read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2018.

Book Review: High Crimes by Libby Fischer Hellmann

High Crimes
The Georgia Davis PI Series #5
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, November 2018
ISBN 978-1-938733-95-6
Trade Paperback

High Crimes by Libby Fischer Hellmann is the fifth book in her Georgia Davis private investigator series. It closely reflects the unsettled U.S. political climate of the past two years. Dena Baldwin is the leader of a resistance movement that begin after the U.S. presidential election of 2016. At the beginning of a major protest demonstration in Chicago, a sniper shoots her and several of her colleagues from a nearby hotel roof and is presumed to have killed himself with a bomb. Baldwin’s mother hires Georgia to learn more about the killer and what prompted him to kill her daughter, since the local police and the FBI have drawn a blank. Sifting through the backgrounds of more than 40,000 members of the organization to identify potentially problematic members is the only lead she has, and she enlists tech support to help her. She learns the victim’s estranged father is a political lobbyist in Washington, DC, with questionable associates, giving her another avenue for her research. And the shooter’s sister has vanished, leaving Georgia to wonder why.

In the meantime Georgia’s lover is pressing her to move in with him. Georgia is seriously considering it, as her younger sister and baby have taken over her small apartment. But when she mentions it to her sister Savannah, Savannah takes the idea as a sign of abandonment, creating family complications that Georgia is at a loss to deal with.

Georgia balances family needs against a progressively more complex investigation, creating an involved mystery with multiple threads that come together in a credible but not-too-neat conclusion. Well-written, smoothly paced. For fans of books with strong women leads, private investigator mysteries, and contemporary political thrillers.

Libby Fischer Hellmann is a versatile award-winning writer with two crime series, stand-alone thrillers, and many short stories in her bibliography.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, November 2018.