Book Reviews: Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon, Need by Joelle Charbonneau, and The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Come Rain or Come ShineCome Rain or Come Shine
A Mitford Novel #11
Jan Karon
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-399-16745-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Over the course of ten Mitford novels, fans have kept a special place in their hearts for Dooley Kavanagh, first seen in At Home in Mitford as a barefoot, freckle-faced boy in filthy overalls.

Now, Father Tim Kavanagh’s adopted son has graduated from vet school and opened his own animal clinic. Since money will be tight for a while, maybe he and Lace Harper, his once and future soul mate, should keep their wedding simple.

So the plan is to eliminate the cost of catering and do potluck. Ought to be fun.

An old friend offers to bring his well-known country band. Gratis.

And once mucked out, the barn works as a perfect venue for seating family and friends.

Piece of cake, right?

In Come Rain or Come Shine, Jan Karon delivers the wedding that millions of Mitford fans have waited for. It’s a June day in the mountains, with more than a few creatures great and small, and you’re invited—because you’re family.

By the way, it’s a pretty casual affair, so come as you are and remember to bring a tissue or two. After all, what’s a good wedding without a good cry?

Like so many others, I’m a longtime fan of Mitford and its wonderfully normal citizens, quirks and all, and I’ve laughed and cried my way through every book in the series. Come Rain or Come Shine fits right into the mix and I loved being back in the center of this delightful place. It’s even better that the story centers on one of my favorite characters, Dooley, adopted son of Father Tim and Cynthia, and his upcoming wedding to Lace Harper.

There’s a lot going on in Dooley’s life all at once—graduation from vet school, starting his clinic, getting married—but that really isn’t so unusual and it’s even less unusual that money could be a little tight at such a time. What’s so heartwarming is the way others in the community come together to make this wedding happen, good evidence of the affection the townspeople have for one another.

I do wish there had been more of Father Tim and Cynthia but this is the way life evolves from one generation to the next, isn’t it? Truthfully, there isn’t any real plot here but that’s not what comfort fiction readers look for and the important things, the characters, just sail off the page and into the readers’ hearts.

Technically, this is not part of the original Mitford series but more like an offshoot. When it’s all said and done, I don’t really care because I love this book as much as the earlier ones. I do think there’s a bit too much headhopping and, because of that, I heartily suggest that readers new to the series start at the beginning because, otherwise, you just won’t get the full effect and you won’t understand the characters. Guaranteed, you’re going to love Mitford and it’s citizens 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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NeedNeed
Joelle Charbonneau
HMH Books for Young Readers, November 2015
ISBN 978-0-544-41669-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

“No one gets something for nothing. We all should know better.”

Teenagers at Wisconsin’s Nottawa High School are drawn deeper into a social networking site that promises to grant their every need . . . regardless of the consequences. Soon the site turns sinister, with simple pranks escalating to malicious crimes. The body count rises. In this chilling YA thriller, the author of the best-selling Testing trilogy examines not only the dark side of social media, but the dark side of human nature.

One of the many things that concerns me about today’s society is that we’ve been teaching our children to expect far more than they’ve ever earned, a sort of privilege in which many of them believe that all good things must come their way. Such is the darkness at the heart of the social networking site, NEED. It’s a hopeful sign that Kaylee recognizes the fallacy behind what NEED offers but she joins anyway. She’s a smart girl, though, and it doesn’t take her long to begin to realize the truly awful things happening and the demands that teens are facing in exchange for having their needs met.

The action takes off exponentially and tension continues to build as teen and adult readers alike go along for the rollercoaster ride until a most satisfying ending. If I have any reservations, it’s that I don’t really think that teens, despite their feelings of privilege, are quite this gullible (although they DO tend to behave like sheep and follow the latest fads just because everybody else does). I also think there are way too many narrators but, on the whole, I do recommend this. It’s not Ms. Charbonneau‘s strongest work—she’s one of my favorite authors—but it kept me up at night and that’s a good thing.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Katarina Bivald
Sourcebooks Landmark, January 2016
ISBN 978-1-4926-2344-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…

Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy’s funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor―there’s not much else to do in a dying small town that’s almost beyond repair.

You certainly wouldn’t open a bookstore. And definitely not with the tourist in charge. You’d need a vacant storefront (Main Street is full of them), books (Amy’s house is full of them), and…customers.

The bookstore might be a little quirky. Then again, so is Sara. But Broken Wheel’s own story might be more eccentric and surprising than she thought.

A heartwarming reminder of why we are booklovers, this is a sweet, smart story about how books find us, change us, and connect us.

Being a former bookstore owner and current bookblogger, it’s only natural that I would be drawn to a book about, well, books and the love of books. As it turns out, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend was not exactly what I thought it was going to be but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of this quiet yet quirky story.

From the beginning, I had to suspend a lot of disbelief. For instance, I found it hard to credit that Sara would leave Sweden and her life behind just because she lost her job even though her life really was all wrapped up in that job and in her correspondence with Amy. I also found the willingness of the townsfolk to have Sara move into Amy’s house more than a little puzzling.

Putting those issues aside, this is an appealing story and, having had a bookstore myself, I totally get Sara’s desire to share her love of books with the town. There’s something truly uplifting about finding the right book for a person or just in helping them experience the joy of escaping into whatever world a particular book offers. I don’t mean to sound silly about it but being a bookseller is a passion that never goes away and I know that librarians and individual readers lending books to their friends feel the same joy. That goes for today’s book bloggers, too, who simply have to tell people about the books they want others to know about. Because of all that, and Sara’s general aimlessness, I did believe in her idea of having the bookstore.

The other aspect of the tale that I found interesting is the juxtaposition of the dying town, Broken Wheel, with the nearby more prosperous town of Hope. Without knocking the reader over the head with the comparison, Ms. Bivald brings the two towns into the full light of day and watching what happens to Broken Wheel and to Sara when she opens her bookstore is endearing to say the least. Bookstores really can be the heart of a community and that’s why I long to be running one again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

Book Review: Eastward in Eden by Terence Faherty

Eastward in EdenEastward in Eden
An Owen Keane Mystery
Terence Faherty
The Mystery Company, October 2013
ISBN 978-1-932325-49-2
Hardcvover

From the publisher—

Two years after witnessing a devastating suicide, Owen Keane, metaphysical detective, travels to rural Kenya, hoping to lose himself where no one will think to look for him. Instead, he finds another mystery: the murder of charismatic stranger who claimed to be the reincarnation of a long dead warrior hero. To solve the mystery of his own future, Keane must pay for a life with a life.

I have a friend named Jim Huang. Well, “friend” is a term I’m using sort of loosely because Jim and I have known each other almost entirely online over the past 10 or more years but we’ve only met in person a handful of times at various book conventions. Still, even though we don’t have a friendship in the real face-to-face sense, I have a great deal of respect for him, both as a fellow bookseller (former in my case) and a book publisher.

So, when Jim asked if I’d be interested in reviewing one of his publications, I jumped at the chance because I know the quality of the books and authors he chooses to work with. (Disclaimer: he’s actually published me in a manner of speaking as I participated in two mystery reference books he put together.) I had never read anything by Terence Faherty but I’d seen Jim promote his books before; Eastward in Eden is the fourth Faherty book Jim has re-issued or published new. I’m happy to say my faith was fully justified.

This is the 8th Owen Keane title so, naturally, I’ve missed a lot of backstory but it really didn’t matter as I never really needed anything more than the hints dropped here and there about Owen’s immediate past. That past is important, though, because he has come to Kenya, very much out of the norm for him, for an unsettling reason. Instead, he finds himself at the heart of a murder investigation very different from any he’s worked on before, and Kenya itself begins to have an unexpected effect on him, especially through the mingling of two faiths that are very different and yet very much the same.

There are aspects of this book that remind me of the Precious Ramotswe series, especially the setting. She’s in Botswana while he’s in Kenya but they share a sense of gentleness and comfort and, well, a feeling of a life that is simple but satisfying, free of the trappings of so-called better societies. Even the murder of a man insisting he is the reincarnation of a warrior hero is down to basics as is the ensuing investigation. The local authorities may not have all the fancy forensics tools but they still manage to find and follow the clues with the not insignificant help of Owen Keane.

Unlike many more sophisticated policemen, Chief Constable Mwarai is willing to include Owen in his investigation when it becomes apparent that this visitor to the area has the intelligence and experience to be of considerable assistance. He’s no “real” detective but he learned a lot by reading his favorite mystery stories. He thinks his way to a solution but not without taking the reader on a bit of a wild ride and the twists and turns kept me guessing all the way; the mix of history, religion, political maneuvers and the taking of land by backhanded and evil means gives Owen a plethora of leads to follow.

This is Terence Faherty‘s first Owen Keane novel in 14 years and while I can’t say it’s been far too long since I haven’t read any of the earlier books, I can declare that I’m very glad to have made Owen Keane’s acquaintance and really hope that Mr. Faherty will continue enchanting new readers and all those who I’m sure have been missing the former seminarian turned detective. As for me, I’m off to find the first title, Deadstick, to start at the beginning of Owen’s journey.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2013.

Book Reviews: The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura, The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die by Colin Cotterill, and Buffalo Bill’s Dead Now by Margaret Coel

The ThiefThe Thief
Fuminori Nakamura
Translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates
Soho Crime, January 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61695-202-0
Trade Paperback

This novel is an interesting idea in need of fulfillment.  Somehow, it leaves the reader somewhat confused.  It recounts the development of a pickpocket who generally only removes wallets from rich people.  Along the way, the author philosophizes about the “profession” of picking pockets, including a little history of some of the more famous practitioners of the art.

The thief himself tells the story in the first person.  However, for all he has to say about his work and life, we learn very little about him and exactly why what happens to him in the end occurs.  Or, really, about any of the other characters.  They all seem to be symbols of something, but none is precisely explained.

Tightly written, the book is a fast read.  But on reaching the conclusion this reader, at least, wondered what it was all about.  Hopefully, in a future work, the author will turn his talent to a more fully developed plot and characterizations, of which The Thief indicates he is capable.  The book is worthy of note, and therefore is recommended despite the above reservations.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2013.

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The Woman Who Wouldn't DieThe Woman Who Wouldn’t Die
Colin Cotterill
Soho Crime, February 2013
ISBN: 978-1-616-95206-8
Hardcover

This newest in the Dr. Siri mysteries not only takes on the Laotian coroner’s obsession with contact with the dead, but provides us with a lot of background on the good doctor and his wife and the role they played in the revolution. At the same time, the novel is a first rate mystery.  It begins when Dr. Siri is offered a “vacation” upriver to supervise the recovery of the brother of a Lao general whose body is supposedly at the bottom of a river, lying in a submerged boat for many years.

The general is prodded to undertake the excavation of the boat by his wife, who is influenced by a woman clairvoyant who was supposedly shot to death, only to reappear after the body was burned on a pyre.  The woman claims she can speak to the dead and knows where the body is located.  Wary but open to the suggestion that the woman might teach him to be able to contact the dead, Dr. Siri goes along.

Meanwhile, Dr. Siri encourages his wife, Madam Daeng, to write an autobiography, from which we learn a lot about her earlier life as a participant in the liberation forces.  This book, as were previous entries in the series, is an education into the people and culture of Laos.  The dialog is wry and often humorous, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2013.

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Buffalo Bill's Dead NowBuffalo Bill’s Dead Now
Margaret Coel
Berkley Prime Crime, September 2013
ISBN: 978-0-425-25225-3
Mass Market Paperback

This novel, the newest in the widely acclaimed Wind River Mystery series, is a little different from its predecessors.  While still featuring Vicki and Father John, the thrust of the book is well in the past: the late 19th century, to be exact, when Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show toured Europe featuring various Indian groups, including Arapahos like Chief Black Heart.

It appears that the regalia worn by the Chief went missing when the tour came to an end, only to be discovered when the building in which it was hidden was being demolished.  The items were purchased by a local rancher and donated to the museum at the St. Francis mission. However, en route from Germany the shipment is hijacked, and Vicki and Father John, as usual, have to come to the rescue.  The mystery includes the murder of the donor, who might have known more about the stolen goods.  Complicating the investigation is a feud between two Arapaho families with lineage back to the principal players way back when.

Intertwined in the tale are descriptions of what it is like living on a reservation, now and in the distant past, and the effect on the lives of Native Americans.  The plot is well-presented, with the requisite suspense to keep the reader wondering what comes next.  The real question, always present, is the relationship between Vicki and Father John and what, if anything, will ever develop.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2013.

Book Reviews: Accidents Waiting to Happen by Simon Wood, Vanishing Girls by Katia Lief, All Mortal Flesh by Julia Spencer-Fleming, Sacrifice Fly by Tim O’Mara, and If You Were Here by Alafair Burke

Accidents Waiting to HappenAccidents Waiting to Happen
Simon Wood
Thomas & Mercer, November 2012
ISBN:  978-1-612-18402-9
Trade Paperback

Josh Michaels, a young man with a wife and little girl he adored, while driving back to his home in Sacramento, California, is forced off the highway and into the river in what appears to be an accident born from what he thinks of as reckless stupidity on the part of the other driver.  But the actions of that driver, before he gets back into his car and speeds away, convince Josh that it is anything but. Josh survives the ‘accident,’ but starts to doubt his ability to continue to survive the ensuing events, all appearing to be accidents by increasingly obviously [to him] staged attempts to end his life. Josh is staggered as he comes to this unavoidable conclusion and cannot believe that he is the target of a killer, but has no choice but to accept this fact and attempt to figure out who wants him dead, and why, if he is to survive.  To make matters worse, if that’s possible, past indiscretions and errors in judgment are now coming back to haunt him.

At Chapter 4 the reader meets “the professional,” the man hired to kill another person, a woman, as well as Josh.  Who has hired him?  Is there a connection between the two intended victims [something not readily apparent]?  And what is the motive?  As ‘the professional’ himself muses, “a seemingly motiveless murder was just as hard to solve as a well-planned accident.”

Simon Wood has fashioned an exciting and well-written novel of suspense, with a nail-biting conclusion during which this reader held her breath in anticipation of what new horrors might be in store.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2012.

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Vanishing GirlsVanishing Girls
Katia Lief
Harper, July 2012
ISBN 978-0-0620-9504-6
Mass Market Paperback

Karin Schaeffer, ex-NYPD and now a private detective, working with her husband at MacLeary Investigations, in the newest book by Katia Lief, becomes embroiled in the hunt for a serial killer dubbed The Working Girl Killer.  As you might guess, the victims have all been killed in the same manner, with the same exact type of weapon, and were all prostitutes.  Seven young women had been found dead across Manhattan, then two in Brooklyn.

At 38, Karin is now seeking an undergraduate college degree in forensic psychology.  She has not had an easy time of it, having survived the murder of her first husband and her daughter six years ago, and just recently had a miscarriage.  She dotes on their little boy, Ben, though still grieving for her losses.  As the book opens, Ben receives a text from Billy Staples, a detective at their local precinct in Brooklyn and Mac’s closest friend, from a crime scene that Billy believes to be where the serial killer has left his latest victim.  Eerily, a little girl is found badly injured several blocks away after what is believed to be a hit-and-run accident.  The cops feel the two things could somehow be connected, as the location and timing seem to rule out coincidence.

Billy had been fighting his own demons.  He has been hunting this killer for over a year. At the same time, Mac and Karin believe he is having hallucinations, suffering from PTSD after a horrifying incident when the woman he loved had tried to kill him, instead leaving him blinded in one eye; he had been forced to shoot her dead.  The current investigation triggers all his symptoms again, and envelops Karin as well to a very personal degree.

It is an interesting plot, telling a very dark tale that stayed with this reader for quite a while after turning the last page.  I have to admit, however, that after having read – –  and loved! – – the author’s two previous books, You Are Next, and Next Time You See Me, I felt this one did not live up to the expectations I had for it.  And though it was an interesting read, in the end I was disappointed.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2012.

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All Mortal FleshAll Mortal Flesh
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Minotaur, February 2013
ISBN 978-1-250-01855-7
Trade Paperback

All Mortal Flesh, the fifth in the Clare Ferguson/Russ Van Alstyne series, finds Clare, the parish priest in the small Adirondack, upstate NY town of Millers Kill, and Russ, the local police chief and married man she loves, having just wrenchingly ended their relationship.  The following day, an even more devastating event occurs:  Russ is told that his wife, from whom he had recently separated when he told her of his love for Clare, has been brutally murdered.  Loving Clare, yet still loving his wife, matters are only compounded when both Clare and Russ are considered prime suspects, not only by the police but by the local gossip-loving town residents.

With her usual adroit skill, Ms. Spencer-Fleming has written another wonderful tale of these very human protagonists in this book, available for the very first time in a trade paperback edition.  The sense of place is vivid, and the wintry weather graphically evoked. There is a slam-bang ending with a final unexpected and stunning turn as this suspense-filled tale concludes.  An excellent and fast-paced read, and one that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2013.

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Sacrifice FlySacrifice Fly
Tim O’Mara
Minotaur, October 2012
ISBN: 978-1-250-00898-5
Hardcover

Raymond Dunne is a very dedicated schoolteacher, working with eighth-graders in a middle school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and taking the welfare of his students very seriously.  In particular, one of the most promising, Frankie Rivas, has obtained a scholarship to a private high school on the basis of his baseball skills and the fact that Ray has called in a favor from their coach.  When Frankie fails to show up for school for a couple of weeks, Ray decides to try to find out why.  His visit to the home of the boy’s father results in his discovery of the man’s dead body.

Ray’s involvement at that point derives as much from his concern as his teacher as from the fact that Ray is a former cop.  His feelings when he walks into his old precinct are made palpable to the reader, his emotions roiling as he remembers back five years, when “you fall thirty feet, and your whole life changes.”  Among those changes are the physical ones; Ray has an umbrella with him every day, knowing it has to rain sometime; besides, it means he doesn’t have to carry a cane.

Frankie and his younger sister are nowhere to be found, and Ray follows up every lead he can find in order to locate the two children and ensure their safety.  Then the pace, and the suspense, move into higher gear, beyond the “controlled chaos” of Ray’s classroom, and the stakes go up as well.

When one has a terrific protagonist [with a valuable friend, a wannabe cop, nicknamed “Emo”], a well-developed plot, writing that makes the Brooklyn streets come to life and, as the title might imply, a lot of baseball references, what more could one ask?  [Well, this reader had to get past the fact that Ray is a Yankee fan, although he does don a Mets cap when the situation requires it.]  This is a wonderful debut novel from a writer whose next book I will anxiously await, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2013.

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If You Were HereIf You Were Here
Alafair Burke
Harper, June 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-220835-4
Hardcover

In her ninth novel, and second standalone, Alafair Burke introduces McKenna Jordan, a writer for the fictitious NYC Magazine.  Before her marriage five years ago, she was McKenna Wright, who had spent four years as an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, a job she lost in the aftermath of a police officer’s shooting of a 19-year-old youth, there being a question as to whether or not the boy had been unarmed, the gun found nearby planted.  McKenna’s zealous investigation into that incident, accusing the officer of homicide and perjury, ultimately caused her disgrace and ended her prosecutorial career.  This was soon followed by another, only slightly less traumatic event, when one of her best friends, beautiful West Point grad [and daughter of a two-star general] Susan Hauptmann, disappeared without a trace.

Now, all these years later, a cell-phone photo comes into McKenna’s hands showing a mysterious Superwoman, a female crime victim who had plucked her attacker’s body from the subway tracks to safety, who McKenna believes is that same friend, who she had become convinced was long dead.  Susan, an athletic 32 years old who had been deployed in the Middle East prior to the time of her disappearance, could have easily been capable of the feat in the subway station.

There ensue a series of bizarre and seemingly unrelated incidents that this reader never saw coming, including but not limited to a mysterious private operative [hitman?  private detective?  something else altogether?], a dead cop, someone hacking into and forging e-mails, and no clue as to who is pulling the strings.  The author somehow manages to tie them all up in a relentlessly intriguing plot.

Another well-written book by this author [who gives a tip-of-the-hat, without needing to name his completely recognizable protagonist, to Lee Child, which I loved], and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2013.

Book Reviews: Dying for Justice by L.J. Sellers, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, The Informant by Thomas Perry, The Ridge by Michael Koryta, and One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Dying for JusticeDying for Justice
L.J. Sellers
Spellbinder Books, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9832138-3-3
Trade Paperback

Detective Wade Jackson, with the violent crimes unit of the Eugene, Oregon Police Department, an investigator with the best track record of closing cases, has never worked a cold case before.  In the fifth and newest entry in this terrific series, he is faced with two of them, one in particular of a very personal nature:  the murder of his parents, ten years earlier.  Convinced that the man who has been imprisoned for the crime, now terminally ill with cancer, is innocent, he is determined to find justice for them, and peace for himself.

The second case has to do with Gina Stahl, now 46 years old, who has been in a coma for two years, believed to be the result of a suicide attempt.  When she awakens for the first time, she quite lucidly tells the authorities that she had been attacked by a man wearing a ski mask but who she believes was her ex-husband.  That investigation is complicated by the fact that her ex is a police officer.

Jackson ultimately works both cases, assisted by 32-year-old detective-in-training Lara Evans, the chapters for the most part alternating p.o.v. between the two.   The tale, as much as anything, is one of dysfunctional families in general, and siblings in particular.  The author’s expertise in creating deeply human characters is again much in evidence, together with a plot that keeps picking up speed as it hurtles to an ending that, quite literally, sent chills up and down my back and arms, and just as that was settling down, the ending had me again in goosebumps.  Ms. Sellers’ books just keep getting better and better, and accordingly this is her best one yet.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2011.

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Crooked Letter, Crooked LetterCrooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Tom Franklin
Harper Perennial, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-059467-1
Trade Paperback

Whether this novel is a mystery, or a story about two men, or a tale about the Deep South, it is a riveting look into the characters, their development and their environment.  Larry and Silas, one white and the other black, were boyhood friends for a short time in rural Mississippi more than a quarter of a century before (where children were taught to spell the name of the State and river: M, I crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I humpback, humpback, I,).  They are tied together by more than just an apparent crime that changes both their lives.

Larry is a shunned outcast in the town as the result of the disappearance, and presumed murder, of a girl with whom he supposedly had a date as a teenager.  Silas moved to Chicago with his mother, but returns to the small rural town, eventually serving as its only constable.  Now their lives intertwine again as Larry falls under suspicion when the daughter of the town’s leading citizen disappears. The situation makes Silas face the past, something he’d rather avoid.

As a mystery, the novel is intriguing.  As a description of life in a small Southern town, it is vivid.  As a tale of racial conflict, it is mesmerizing.   The complex analyses of the characters, their motivations and actions are profound, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

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The InformantThe Informant
Thomas Perry
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-547-56933-8
Hardcover

As in his earlier novels [and I’m thinking particularly of the wonderful Jane Whitefield series], the devil is in the details, and this author excels in conveying the meticulously planned and executed steps taken by his protagonist, so that credibility is never an issue. In this standalone – actually, a follow-up to Mr. Perry’s very first novel, The Butcher’s Boy [for which he won an Edgar award] – that eponymous character returns, twenty years older.  Although he goes by any number of other names, that soubriquet is the name by which he is known, both to the authorities and to the mafia members who variously employed him, betrayed him, and then became his victims.  The Butcher’s Boy kills without compunction.  It is, after all, what he does best, taught since childhood, simply as a job, or a way to stay alive, or to seek revenge for the aforementioned betrayal.  Rarely is it personal.  Although somewhat more so of late.

Well-trained from the age of 10 by an actual butcher, whose “side job” is in “the killing trade,” beyond the necessary skills he is also taught “Everybody dies.  It’s just a question of timing, and whether the one who gets paid for it is you or a bunch of doctors.  It might as well be you.”

While working as a hit man, his philosophy was simple:  He had “resisted the camaraderie that some of the capos who had hired him
tried to foster.  He had kept his distance, done his job, collected his pay, and left town before buyer’s remorse set in.  He made it clear that he was a free agent and that he was nobody’s friend.”  He has been out of the US for over twenty years, now over 50 years old, and afraid he had gone soft.  But his skills are not diminished.  He leaves no witnesses.  The ones who aren’t dead never notice him entering or leaving a crime scene:  “He was a master at being the one the eye passed over in a crowd.”  And the authorities – –  with one notable exception – –  haven’t a clue.  That exception is Elizabeth Waring, of the Organized Crime & Racketeering Division of the Department of Justice.  She connects the dots and has no doubt that he has come out of retirement and is the one now murdering Mafiosi at an alarming rate, and sees in him, potentially, “the most promising informant in forty years.”  Of course, to fulfill that possibility she must get him to agree and, even more difficult, keep him alive, as “he wasn’t worth anything dead.”  They embark on an ambivalent, and somewhat fluid, relationship, equal parts grudging respect and fear of
the danger the other represents, somehow both earning sympathy.  The author’s trademark suspense as the end of the novel draws near had this reader literally holding her breath.  I loved this book, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

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The RidgeThe Ridge
Michael Koryta
Little, Brown and Company, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-05366-2
Hardcover

Mixing mystery with the supernatural, Michael Koryta has developed works that are eerie and fascinating, and The Ridge is no less than captivating.  The plot is somewhat complicated, and it takes a while to follow the thread.  And, of course, it requires suspension of disbelief.  But it does hold the reader from start to finish.

The story involves a particular area in Kentucky where over a century or more, a series of accidents and deaths occur.  In the midst of a forest, a drunkard has built a lighthouse.  For what purpose?  Then the man who built it is found dead by his own hand, oddly enough leaving a note asking chief deputy Kevin Kimble to investigate it. Meanwhile, a big-cat sanctuary has opened across the road, and the lions and tigers are uneasy in their new surroundings.  What does it mean?  Are there sinister forces at work?

Written with a keen eye, the novel moves rapidly from scene to scene. The characters are well-drawn and the surroundings described vividly, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

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One Was a SoldierOne Was a Soldier
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Minotaur Books, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-33489-5
Hardcover

In the tiny Adirondack town of Millers Kill, in upstate New York, a group of seven recently returning veterans are attending therapy sessions, PTSD the common factor among them, affecting each differently.  There is also a 25-year-old woman, ex-Army.  Each is finding the transition back to civilian life a difficult one.  They are a rather disparate group, variously described as “the doctor, the cop, the Marine and the priest” or, less kindly, “a cripple, a drunk, a washed-up cop . . . , ”  any or all of whom might be at risk for suicide.

Against all odds, Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne are, finally, going to get married, and fans of this wonderful series can breathe a sigh of relief.  Clare, an Army Major and an Episcopal priest originally from southern Virginia, has just returned after serving eighteen months in a combat zone.  Russ, the police chief from Millers Kills, in upstate New York, is now widowed [after 25 years of marriage], and they no longer have to hide their love.  But believing that he has never gotten over his wife’s death and that he is starting to have second thoughts, she starts having second thoughts of her own. For his part, Russ thinks “What did she want out of marriage? Specifically, marriage to a guy fourteen years older, who thought God was a myth and whose job could get him killed.”

The chapters of this newest book from Julia Spencer-Fleming, her seventh and her strongest yet [high praise indeed], alternate between these two major plot points, until they merge when one member of the therapy group is found dead and Russ is the lead investigator.  Clare is convinced, all evidence to the contrary, that it was murder.  In denial, perhaps, because that might threaten her own sense of safety, fighting, as she is, her own demons.  Russ, too, is ex-Army, had served in Vietnam, and is mindful of the problems faced by returning vets.

There are several plot twists, including wholly unexpected ones near the end, and the precision of the way they are woven into the tale completely satisfying.  In addition, the book makes the reader aware that aside from the obvious politics involved, one tends to forget the toll on lives lost and ruined by wars now lasting over a decade.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.