A Trio of Teeny Reviews @ajhackwith @AceRocBooks @DeanStPress @GrandCentralPub

The Library of the Unwritten
A Novel from Hell’s Library #1
A. J. Hackwith
Ace, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-98480-637-6
Trade Paperback

In a unique way of looking at what Hell must be like, there are books that never got finished, or even started, by their authors and someone—Claire—has to be in charge of those books. Why? Because the characters in those stories can escape and create havoc, of course 😉

When one particular hero goes on the run, looking for his creator, Claire is in hot pursuit along with her assistant and a demon. They all soon discover they’re really on a quest to find a particular powerful artifact, the Devil’s Bible, that Heaven also wants and a fallen angel is determined to redeem himself by recovering. If Claire and her crew don’t find it first, Heaven and Hell are likely to explode into war with Earth caught in the middle.

To put it simply, I loved this book that’s full of adventure, mystery, humor and a wealth of marvelous beings and, when it comes time to re-read it—and I’m very sure I will—I think I’ll try the audiobook for a fresh take.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2019.

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The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye
The Anthony Bathurst Mysteries #3
Brian Flynn
Dean Street Press, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-913054-39-7
Trade Paperback

Gentleman sleuth Anthony Bathurst and Scotland Yard’s Chief Detective-Inspector Richard Bannister work together to discover how three separate cases are indeed not separate but intertwined to a fare thee well. Blackmail, murder, indiscretions, thievery, hidden identities and a “magnificent blue-shaded emerald”…all come together clue by clue in this delightful traditional mystery full of red herrings that had me coming and going, always eager to follow the next lead.

Aficionados of Golden Age mysteries will want to get their hands on this long-forgotten book as soon as possible. You might say it’s criminal that Brian Flynn‘s works fell into a black hole many years ago but, now that new editions of some of his titles are being released, we all have a chance to savor a journey back in time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2019.

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Old Bones
Nora Kelly #1
Preston & Child
Grand Central Publishing, August 2019
ISBN 978-1538747223
Hardcover

We’ve met Nora Kelly before in some of the Pendergast novels and I’ve always liked her so I’m delighted she has her own series now. Along with Nora, we meet another character from the past, Corrie Swanson, who used to be a Goth teen with purple hair and attitude. Her connection to Pendergast when he hired her to drive him around during a case led her to become an FBI agent and she’s still trying to corral her mouthy rebellious streak.

When historian Clive Benton convinces archaeologist Nora Kelly and her employer, the Santa Fe Archaeological Institute, to undertake a search for and excavation of the Lost Camp, an offshoot of the Donner Party’s known snowbound locations, no one expects the FBI to intervene in the dig on site. Agent Corrie Swanson has been investigating the possible ties among a string of grave robberies and a missing person and has, perhaps precipitously, connected them to the dig. Her arrival at the site leads to a shutdown and murders and she and Nora are forced to work together to find the killer(s).

Although the identity of the killer(s) was a bit too predictable, I thoroughly enjoyed Old Bones and relish the promise of more collaborations between Nora and Corrie with a little Pendergast thrown in 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2019.

Book Review: Queen’s Gambit by Bradley Harper @bharperauthor @SeventhStBooks

Queen’s Gambit
A Mystery Featuring Margaret Harkness
Bradley Harper
Seventh Street Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-64506-001-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Spring, 1897. London. Margaret Harkness, now in her early forties, must leave England for her health but lacks the funds. A letter arrives from her old friend Professor Bell, her old comrade in the hunt for Jack the Ripper and the real-life inspiration for Sherlock Homes. Bell invites her to join him in Germany on a mysterious mission for the German government involving the loss of state secrets to Anarchists. The resolution of this commission leads to her being stalked through the streets of London by a vengeful man armed with a powerful and nearly silent air rifle who has both Margaret and Queen Victoria in his sights. Margaret finds allies in Inspector James Ethington of Scotland Yard and his fifteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who aspires to follow in Margaret’s cross-dressing footsteps.

The hunt is on, but who is the hunter, and who the hunted as the day approaches for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee when the aged empress will sit in her open carriage at the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral? The entire British Empire holds its breath as the assassin, Margaret, and the Queen herself play for the highest of stakes with the Queen’s Gambit.

I wouldn’t want to have lived in the Victorian era but I really do enjoy reading books set in the period and, with an author’s effective worldbuilding, getting immersed in it. Bradley Harper does that for me very well.  Not only can I envision myself settling in for a chat with Margaret and all her friends; I think I would truly like these people should they suddenly become real today (many actually were real more than a hundred years ago).

I did miss having more of Margaret’s interactions with Arthur Conan Doyle and Professor Bell as I had enjoyed those characters so much in the first book but James and Elizabeth were delightful additions to the cast. Also, Queen Victoria comes across as a woman to be reckoned with, perhaps a sort of role model for young women who resist their “place” in the world. Margaret is one of those young women, a journalist and author who dares to overstep the bounds of her time.

After her adventures with Doyle and Bell, I found this latest undertaking a little less engaging which is more than a little ridiculous when you think about it. I mean, Margaret and company are involved in international intrigue and trying to prevent anarchists’ terrorist activities; what more could I possibly want? Let’s just chalk it up to my own fascination with Jack the Ripper and the efforts of the Victorian police 😉

One of my favorite parts of this book is the Afterword in which Mr. Harper provides tidbits of very interesting information regarding the people and events depicted in this novel based on facts. After an ending that made me tear up more than a little, I’m truly anticipating the next book featuring the intrepid Margaret Harkness, should there be one, and I certainly hope there will be.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2019.

Book Review: Blood and Wisdom by Verlin Darrow

Blood and Wisdom
Verlin Darrow
The Wild Rose Press, June 2018
ISBN: 978-1-5092-2086-1
Trade Paperback

Failed therapist Karl Gatlin, now a California private investigator with a small practice and lots of contacts, is asked to look into threats and a headless body. The request is by a former fellow student. Client Aria Piper, now the leader of a growing spiritual center, is naturally disturbed by the events, apparently aimed at intimidating her. She believes the perpetrator is the leader of a nearby cult and she wants Gatlin to make the threat go away. If he’s unsuccessful, she could lose her property and her livelihood.

Because the author is a psychotherapist, Gatlin’s interview of his client devolves into an exploration of motivations as much as it covers prior activities and leads. The novel is rich in both, plus an impressive cast of characters, on both sides of the law, from gang-bangers to bad cops to suspicious students, clients and business members. They all have to be sorted out and Gatlin and his team of researchers, bodyguards and local cops all have to be vetted, one way or another.

Set in California with widely spaced sites, Gatlin spends a good many pages driving from place to place while admiring the scenery. There is no question the views are rich and varied and Gatlin is loath to drive anywhere without describing it in some detail. The unwinding course of the plot is deliberate, complicated and at times amusing. This is not a fast-paced, slam-bam shoot-em-up scramble. Oh, there are a few gun duels, lots of cogitation, some off-site hacking and it all comes together in the end with a clever resolution. Readers should just be prepared for a fairly long and winding road to trail’s end.

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: Run Away by Harlan Coben

Run Away
Harlan Coben
Grand Central Publishing, March 2019
ISBN 978-1-5387-4846-6
Hardcover

First I have to confess I am a big fan of Harlan Coben. His latest book RUN AWAY is a complex tale about the Greene Family who live in New York City. Simon Greene and his wife Ingrid have three grownup children, Paige, Sam and Anya. Simon runs a financial company and Ingrid is a Pediatric Surgeon.

Life had been fairly normal until Paige, away from home attending Lanford College, became involved with a man named Aaron Corval, a drug addict. Stunned at the changes in their daughter, they tried to intervene, but Paige refused to listen and to their horror, left college with Corval and became an addict.

Months have passed and now, unbeknownst to his wife, Simon has been trying once again to find Paige with the intention of persuading her to leave Corval and enter rehab. A tip takes Simon to Central Park where he does find Paige, but Corval confronts him. A fistfight ensues and while Paige escapes, bystanders call the police. Simon is arrested.

A month later Aaron Corval is found brutally murdered in a run-down apartment in Mott Haven, The Bronx. The police pay Simon a visit. When he asks about Paige, thinking she might be a possible suspect in Corval’s death, he learns she is missing. Simon and Ingrid decide to check out the apartment where Corval was killed in the hope of finding a clue to where their daughter might have gone. They find no trace of Paige but as they leave they are confronted by a couple of armed drug dealers and in the contentious exchange Ingrid is shot.

Meanwhile we are introduced to two new characters, Ash and Dee-Dee and quickly realize they are killers, working their way through a list of people they have been hired to kill. While there seems to be no connection between the victims there is a strange and eerie logic to what they are being paid to do.

A combination of guilt, frustration and anguish over all that has happened to his daughter and wife (who is still in hospital), drives him to attend Aaron Corval’s funeral in the faint hope he’ll unearth a clue to where Paige is hiding. He gets an opportunity to talk to Corval’s step-mother at the bar she runs but learns little. But when he is approached by a woman who turns out to be a Private Detective looking for a missing young man they discover both Corval and the missing man were both adopted. Can this be the connection that will unravel the mystery?

This is indeed a twisted tale but at no time did I lose focus or interest in what was going on. As always the author did a commendable job of juggling the different story lines as they sped toward an exciting and satisfying conclusion.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, April 2019.

Book Review: Wrong Light by Matt Coyle—and a Giveaway!

Wrong Light   
A Rick Cahill Novel #5
Matt Coyle
Oceanview Publishing, December 2018
ISBN 978-1-60809-329-8
Trade Paperback

Rick Cahill is a San Diego private eye. He comes out of the hard-bitten lonesome cowboy tradition, one who spends a lot of time second-guessing himself and even agonizing over missteps and mistakes. But he is wedded to Truth. When he takes on a client, most of the time that client is law-abiding and honest–mostly.

Cahill’s history is, however, checkered and as a result, his new client, a radio talk-show host, with a sultry, warm voice that promises much in the dark hours of the night, does not immediately receive the kind of intense attention one usually expects from a PI in these novels. He needs to respond to a former contact or client whose demands for attention are fraught with intense danger for Cahill from the very beginning and Cahill’s activities and plans to protect the talk-show host are frequently interrupted by this other, persistent, obligation.

The novel is well-paced although Cahill’s sarcasm and jaundice occasionally drag the reader away from the main narrative. There are probably too many verbal cracks, tongue-in-cheek observations and philosophical bon mots than needed to fill out our perceptions of the main character, but the persistent drive of the narrative will overcome that minor difficulty, as it will slice over the occasional repetitious language.

With those minor caveats, I recommend the novel for fans of the hardboiled, down at the heels, persistent and upright investigator, one who feels deeply his past mistakes and missteps.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 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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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Wrong Light by Matt Coyle, just leave a
comment below. The winning name will
be drawn on Monday night, April 1st.
This drawing is open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Dead Man Running by Steve Hamilton

Dead Man Running
An Alex McKnight Novel #11
Steve Hamilton
Putnam, August 2018
ISBN 978-0-3995-7444-3
Hardcover

Alex McKnight has had a long rest:  five years since he appeared in the last novel in this great series.  And he needed it for this, the 11th novel in the series.  It seems a tourist traveling in Europe remotely checks his home where he recently installed security cameras, and discovers an illegal entry.  Moreover the intruder, Martin T. Livermore, is having sex on the marital bed.  It turns out the female is dead.

Police capture the culprit, who refuses to speak to anyone but Alex McNight, who is thousands of miles away in the upper Michigan peninsula.  He promises to lead McNight to his possible seventh victim, who may be alive.  Alex accedes to the perp’s wishes and, along with all kinds of law enforcement personnel, is led into a trap where only McNight and Livermore, who then escapes, survive.  Thus begins a grueling chase to save the victim as well as capturing Livermore.

Actually Livermore, with his superior intellect, sets up a challenge for Alex, based on an obscure relationship between the two, unknown to McNight.  The author maintains a steady tension throughout the novel, a characteristic for which he is famous. At the same time, the plot develops in countless deviations as Livermore keeps Alex on the run until the novel concludes in an unexpected fashion.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2018.

Book Review: The Fairfax Incident by Terrence McCauley

The Fairfax Incident
Terrence McCauley
Polis Books, June 2018
ISBN: 978-1-947993-05-1
Trade Paperback

Set in Manhattan in the years between the World Wars, Nazi spies are stepping up their game. WWI set many (most) of the American populace against anyone of German ancestry, and the rising Nazi party is using their resentment to recruit men, money, and resources to a battle they believe this time they’ll win. From those highly placed in society to the lowliest, loyal Americans will need to be vigilant and ruthless in rooting them out, because murder and blackmail are the Nazi’s standard operating tools.

Charlie Doherty, a New York City police officer, at great personal risk saved a wealthy, highly-placed gentleman’s son when the boy was kidnapped. After Charlie was discharged from the force by his crooked boss, Mr. Van Dorn set him up as a private detective. Now, on Van Dorn’s recommendation, a Mrs. Fairfax has asked him to look into her husband’s apparent suicide. What Charlie finds as he investigates is not only a gathering of cold-eyed killers, but a beautiful seductress and a plot that will rock the country.

The novel, fast-paced, full of tension, and featuring great characters reads like old noir, pulp fiction. This is one of those books you don’t want to put down, and I, for one, will be looking for the next Charlie Doherty adventure.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2019.
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.