Book Reviews: The Killers Are Coming by Jack Bludis and Unreasonable Doubt by Vicki Delany

The Killers Are Coming
A Ken Sligo Mystery
Jack Bludis
Bold Venture Press, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-5410-9677-6
Trade Paperback

Killers is a throwback to the old-fashioned, hard-boiled PI noir genre told in the first person.  Ken Sligo returns home to Baltimore from overseas at the end of WW II and has no wish to go to work in the family business operating a butcher shop in a local market.  Instead, his estranged brother arranges an introduction to a local bail bondsman (and possibly a low-level gangster) and he becomes a private eye tracing bail skippers.

Then one day, he is asked to follow a woman dancer at a local theater, reporting on who she sees, talks to and any other activities.  This assignment leads Sligo far from the original purpose as the trail becomes more convoluted. Also complicating his life is his pending testimony in a murder trial of one of the men working for the bondsman.  Naturally, Sligo’s testimony is unwanted either by his erstwhile employer, or by the accused.

Having lived in Baltimore for a time, I found it nostalgic to read about the city, and especially the notorious East Baltimore Street which housed the seedier elements of the burg, including bars, burlesque houses and strip joints.  For those who enjoy this type of novel, it is an excellent example of light reading, with some aspects of a Mickey Spillane mystery, especially the violence and sex, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2017.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Unreasonable Doubt
A Constable Molly Smith Novel #8
Vicki Delany
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0513-2
Hardcover

The author turns her attention in this entry in the Constable Molly Smith Mystery series to a wrongful conviction controversy in the form of a character named Walter Desmond, who was found guilty of murdering a young woman, and remanded to the penitentiary.  After 25 years, an appeal exonerates him based on new evidence and a sloppy police investigation.  Upon his release, he decides to return to the little town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, where he encounters considerable resentment.

Complicating his visit, a number of attacks on women occur: on the wife of Police Sergeant John Winters; on Molly’s mother, Lucky; and a visiting Dragon Boat team member.  Naturally, suspicion falls on Desmond.  Meanwhile, the original murder case is reopened, and Winters investigates the cold case with little hope of finding the killer.

The novel demonstrates how the mindset of a largely insulated population works. Most minds are made up; the police said Desmond was guilty and, despite the appeals court saying he is innocent, they still believe him to be guilty.  And it also shows the dramatic difference between old-time cops and modern professionals.  This is the tenth novel in the series, although Molly plays a small (but crucial) part in it. Winters occupies a central role.

The author has written an interesting take on the subject, especially with regard to the advisability of whether Desmond should, so to speak, return to the scene of the crime to find out why he was picked to be the murderer, or just remain in Vancouver and not face a hostile population.

An excellent series, well-written and always thought-provoking, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2017.

Book Review: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman

What You Break
A Gus Murphy Novel #2
Reed Farrel Coleman
Putnam, February 2017
ISBN 978-0-3991-7304-2
Hardcover

Michael Connolly has Los Angeles, Ian Rankin Edinburgh, Laura Lippman Baltimore; the late Robert Parker Boston; Tim Hallinan Bangkok.  Others write about localities they know.  And Reed Farrel Coleman not only lives in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York, but takes us on a guided tour, in this novel featuring his somewhat flawed ex-cop Gus Murphy, still suffering after the death of his 20-year-old son, John Jr.  Gus, divorced after the death blew up his marriage, lives and works at a second-rate motel, driving a van to and from MacArthur airport and a LIRR station, picking up and dropping off passengers to and from the Paragon and providing security services in exchange for a free room.

The night bellman, Slava, who had once saved Gus’s life, is a close friend. When his friend’s past catches up with him and his life is threatened Gus is faced with a dilemma: sacrifice his friend or attempt to help him.   Meanwhile, another of Gus’s friends, the ex-priest Bill Kilkenny, asks him to take on finding out why wealthy Miceh Spears’ granddaughter was murdered.  The two plots move along simultaneously along the highways and byways  stretching from Queens County and Brooklyn right across Long Island.

Coleman even delves into the social and economic differences between various localities, with the Long Island Expressway sort of dividing north (white and wealthy) and south (for the most part poorer) and how enclaves protect the richer from others.  The novel takes a penetrating look at Gus, his personality and psyche, his assets and flaws.

A good read, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2017.

Book Reviews: Baby Shark’s Showdown at Chigger Flats by Robert Fate and The Right Wrong Number by Jim Nesbitt

Baby Shark’s Showdown at Chigger Flats
Baby Shark #5
Robert Fate
Robert Bealmear, July 2012
Ebook

For readers of racing, abrupt and heavily plot-driven novels, here’s a fine example. Plus, it’s very well written with unusual and intriguing characters set in the blasted climate of the vast Texas oil fields. The action begins in the very beginning. In Fort Worth, Texas in 1960. Otis and Baby are on their way out of their office to a surveillance job. By the time the chapter ends, one guy has been dispatched by car bumper, another by .38, a third would-be assassin by heavy-duty handgun slug and at least one thug semi-crushed where he sat in their vehicle.

The cops show up of course, and some minor nicks and scrapes are duly attended to. Meanwhile, snappy dialogue between Otis and Baby and a few other characters effectively establish the characters, professions and attitudes of some characters. And, importantly, we get the foundation of the plot. A vanquished adversary, a very bad person, has been released from the Texas Penitentiary on compassionate leave. Now, word is out he wants revenge, and he has a lot of help.

Well, there is almost no let-down in pace, narrative voice or dialog between the characters for the entire novel. A delightful, bloody thriller of a crime novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Right Wrong Number
An Ed Earl Burch Novel #2
Jim Nesbitt
Spotted Mule Press, February 2017
ISBN: 978-0-9983294-0-6
Trade Paperback

This novel is filled with wrong numbers. Nearly every character is wrong, is one you would not enjoy having dinner with. Most of us would be afraid to walk down a dark street or even have a beer with any of them for fear of getting caught in the violent wash of a sudden shoot-out. Make no mistake, this is what we call a nasty, hard-boiled murder story. There’s no mystery here. The bad guys are carefully identified and described. There are no good guys, even the cops are at best flawed and mostly getting through life by bending the rules whenever necessary.

This exciting, roiling, novel is set in Texas and the action, nearly constant, runs from throttlings in Houston to gunfire, rape and murder in Dallas, as well as several points in between. The southern border to Mexico is breached as well. The story follows ex-cop, and former homicide dick, former footballer, Ed Earl Burch. He is paying in pain for his history and the loss of his gold shield due to questionable actions. He is over-weight, under-paid, living half the time from paid gigs as a private detective who has a rep that he’ll take on any sort of case. He seems to live the rest of the time wound up in the naked, sweaty limbs of ex-wives, current girlfriends and sundry other females, all of questionable social status. The sex is often violent, sometimes brutal, explicit and frequent.

Burch becomes entangled in a complicated arrangement involving the transfer of large amounts of cash and illegal hard goods among banks and assorted gangs across international boundaries. Burch agrees to aid the wife of one of the principals in trying to wrest large chunks of money from her mate. Her attraction to Burch is not so much in desperately needed coin of the realm as it is in the use of her body. Their sex is frequent and frank and varied. The more they plan and maneuver, the more collateral damage occurs, to foe and friend alike.

The pace of the author’s writing is mostly fast, furious and relentless. Occasionally he lapses into rambling philosophical observations, but those too are well-written, as is the entirety of the novel. This is certainly not a crime novel with universal reader appeal, but it will have strong appeal to a particular segment of the reading public.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2017.
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: Celine by Peter Heller

Celine
Peter Heller
Alfred A. Knopf, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-451-49389-7
Hardcover

Celine is one of the most fascinating and hard to describe books I have read recently. In many ways, it is really two books in one. In the prologue, readers watch a happy family outing turn tragic and meet the little girl who will eventually be Celine’s client. If you are a reader who generally skips prologues, DON’T skip this one. It is important.

Moving on to the first chapter readers are introduced to Celine, one of the most interesting protagonists I’ve met. In her sixties, she works as a PI specializing in reuniting families but is also an artist using mostly found items that can be best described as macabre. For instance, in the opening scene she is creating a sculpture of  the skeleton of a mink looking down on it’s own skin drying on a rock with a crow’s skull nearby. Celine suffers from emphysema from her many years of smoking. There is a sadness about her that readers should realize right away explains much of what she does. She has suffered many losses in her life from her father’s absence from his family to the death of her sisters. But even as her story unfolds, we sense that Celine has lost even more.

Fast forward to the call from a much younger woman who has read about Celine’s work in a college alumni magazine. The woman, Gabriela, has also suffered losses in her life. The first painful loss was her small cat who disappeared when she was seven. But that loss is quickly overshadowed by a much bigger loss, that of her mother. As terrible as that was it was at least clear cut. Her mother drowned. Sadly that brought about the loss of her father at least emotionally. But it was  the actual death of her father many years later that  haunted her and brought her to Celine. Her father, a world renowned photographer, supposedly was killed, and possibly eaten, by a bear just outside of Yellowstone. No body was ever recovered. Gabriela has long questioned the circumstances surrounding her father’s death. Too many things in the investigation just didn’t quite add up. Celine takes the case and proceeds to Wyoming to investigate.

From that point on, the book shifts from Celine’s investigation and flashbacks to her own story.  In the end, readers find out what became of Gabriela’s father, but sadly, the mystery of Celine’s deep sadness is not fully revealed. I am hoping that there will be another case for Celine. Readers (and Celine) want closure.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St.Clair, March 2017.

Book Reviews: Carl Brookins: The Case of the Purloined Painting and The Case of the Yellow Diamond

The Case of the Purloined PaintingThe Case of the Purloined Painting
A Sean Sean Mystery #1
Carl Brookins
North Star Press of St. Cloud, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-8783-9708-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  When an American Army unit arrived at the end of World War II, some soldiers appropriated items in what appeared to be an abandoned building.  A small painting by a mid-level Polish painter is used by an ex-GI to float a bank loan which results in the founding of a manufacturing firm in Minneapolis.  Now the painting and the ledger become the center of murderous attempts by the descendants of the veteran to conceal the painting’s journey.  World-wide efforts at repatriation of stolen art from World War II is a major ongoing effort and the story links to that effort as international operatives descend on the Twin Cities.  Enter private detective Sean Sean.  He is a short but effective operative who, unlike many PIs of the modern era, doesn’t sleep around, doesn’t shoot people unnecessarily, and has many friends among various local law enforcement agencies.

The title of this novel puts one in mind of the great Erle Stanley Gardner, most if not all of his Perry Masons novels bearing titles which begin “The Case of . . .” But this book borrows nothing from great writers of the past; it is entirely Mr. Brookins’ own.  And that is a good, no, a terrific, thing.  Not entirely surprising, since I’d read many of this author’s reviews, and his writing is simply great.

The publisher’s notes quoted above reference the protagonist’s short stature.  He is, in fact, just over five feet tall, to the six foot tall Catherine Mckerney, massage therapist with her own school, variously described as his lover, his apartment-mate, friend and sometime partner.  Sean has been an active private investigator for a couple of decades.  He describes himself as a “tracer of lost persons, collector of evidence of malfeasance, revealer of fraudsters and thieves. . . not only am I very good at my job,I’m also persistent.”  Three days after the discovery of a body in the Mississippi River, on which body was found a “faint series of numbers tattooed on one forearm,” indicating that the man had been in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII, Sean finds himself with two different new clients, each of whom relates a tale that his instincts soon tell him are related.  The first of these is a woman who tells him she witnessed the scene on the bridge which culminated in the body of a man being thrown to his death.  The second is a man who hires him to find a woman he’s been dating who seems to have disappeared.  This latter client soon neither returns calls nor shows up at Sean’s office.

The tale is one that touches upon art work and other stolen property taken during or just after the war in Europe, whose descendants are still searching for them, a search that is ongoing.

Mr. Brookins makes the reader very palpably feel the brutal weather of February in Minneapolis.  I loved the author paying homage to both Raymond Chandler, a wonderful mystery writer of days of yore, and the very current [and also wonderful] author named Michael Connelly, and acknowledges a beloved mystery novel discussion group named after Dorothy L. Sayers, appropriately named DorothyL.  I also loved his note, after an evening at a blues bar:  “Blues music is a label not given to precise definitions.  It bears some similarities to crime or mystery fiction in that regard.”  A sentiment with which I must agree.

Highly recommended.

Next up for this reader is Mr. BrookinsThe Case of the Yellow Diamond – I can’t wait!!

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2016.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Case of the Yellow DiamondThe Case of the Yellow Diamond
A Sean Sean Mystery #2
Carl Brookins
North Star Press of St. Cloud, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-8783-9816-4
Trade Paperback

The title of this novel, as was the case with Mr. Brookins‘ last book, The Case of the Purloined Painting, puts one in mind of the great Erle Stanley Gardner, most if not all of his Perry Masons novels bearing titles which begin “The Case of . . .”   And this book, as was the last one, is also absolutely delightful, with the author’s trademark sly sense of humor much in evidence throughout.

This book deals, as did the last one, with events which took place in the waning days of WWII.  In this book, those events began in the Pacific Theater, and involve “thefts, smuggling, and the acquisition of wealth and influence through illegal means.”  The tale opens with the protagonist, Sean Sean, entering his office and finding a dead body lying on the floor.  He immediately calls his good friend, Minneapolis Police Detective Ricardo Simon. What follows is a flashback to Sean being hired a few weeks before by Josie and Tod Bartelme to assist in their efforts to locate the wreckage of a B-24 bomber that had taken Josie’s granduncle to his death near Yap Island, “a speck of coral in the Pacific Ocean.”  In the ensuing investigation, the dead man had been the principal suspect.

Members of both families and even Josie’s college buddies had offered their assistance, and financed their efforts as well.  Josie and Tod were planning to embark on a trip to the Pacific to continue their search for the wreckage, and hire Sean to assist in their efforts, notwithstanding that it had taken place nearly 70 years ago.

The protagonist, just over five feet tall, lives with the self-proclaimed love of his life, the six foot tall Catherine Mckerney, a successful massage therapist with her own school, with whom he shares her apartment in  Kenwood, Minnesota as well as his home and ranch in Roseville.  Sean has been an active private investigator for a couple of decades, the sign on his door reading “Sean Sean, Private Investigator, Ltd.”  He describes himself as a “tracer of lost persons, collector of evidence of malfeasance, revealer of fraudsters and thieves. . . not only am I very good at my job, I’m also persistent.”  Sean says of himself “Family dynamics were always convoluted and frequently hard to sort out, which was one reason I didn’t do divorces.  Give me a nice clean street robbery or random serial killer any time.”  In this instance, that is an understatement

The cast of characters is large, mostly consisting of family and friends of Sean’s clients [including one particularly oversexed and buxom female], some of whom try to dissuade him from continuing his investigation, even going so far as to bad-mouth him in the industry, putting them at the top of Sean’s list of suspects, which grows exponentially with incidents of murder, attempted murder, and vandalism taking place.

In his last book, the author paid homage to fellow mystery writer Michael Connelly; this time around the references are to Carl Hiaasen, Bill Crider, James Lee Burke, and Wilkie Collins. I love it!

As was the earlier book, this one as well is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2016.

Book Reviews: Cover Me in Darkness by Eileen Rendahl and Dating Death by Randy Rawls

cover-me-in-darknessCover Me in Darkness
Eileen Rendahl
Midnight Ink, December 2016
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5020-0
Trade Paperback

How do you live with yourself when you believe your little brother was murdered by your half-mad mother, apparently with your help? Amanda Sinclair has tried to put her youthful past behind her, has grown into an important job as a lead quality control testing scientist for a new and exciting company.

Out of that past she receives word that her mother has committed suicide. Far from settling her emotions and closing a door on that episode, she slowly begins to realize that the woman’s death may somehow be linked to the upcoming release from prison of the leader of a cult to which her mother once belonged. Beset by emotions, Amanda concentrates on final verifications of a new product in her lab and the results are raising questions about some of the reports already submitted.

Add a wise and sympathetic cop, suspicious but supportive colleagues and the keen observations of a talented author and here is a novel to be remembered.

While I’m not sure about the title, I strongly endorse this dark emotion-filled novel of suspense. It is very well written, insightful, thoughtful and the central character, Amanda Sinclair, comes alive on the page. The pace and the setting are well handled and easily evoke the locale. Although not for the more timid reader of murder mysteries, Cover Me In Darkness, is well worth the time and attention of serious readers.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

dating-deathDating Death
Beth Bowman Private Investigator #3
Randy Rawls
White Bird Publications, April 2016
ISBN 978-1-63363-151-9
Trade Paperback

Randy Rawls writes a sort of brawling, booted, western-style detective novel. Except this detective is located in southern Florida. Beth Bowman takes no back seat to anyone and in her third adventure actually accepts an insane assignment from the local chief of police. She’s to bodyguard a flamboyant local pol who is due to spill all about crime in their city. Beth is to try to keep the pol alive until he can testify. It doesn’t go well, naturally and now Beth has to try to locate the killer.

That investigation doesn’t go well, either and after a number of fairly exciting adventures, Beth falls in with a homeless shelter operation wherein the street folks domiciled there happen to be the best undercover operatives in the city. So Beth, unable to get necessary help from officialdom, goes to the amateur league. You already guessed it. After stumbling over some pretty obvious clues and missing some others, everybody ends up on the same page and justice prevails, but not before a few dead bodies show up.

Well written and perfectly organized, Dating Death is a good weekend confection.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2016.
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: Fields Where They Lay by Timothy Hallinan

fields-where-they-layFields Where They Lay
A Junior Bender Mystery #6
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, October 2016
ISBN: 978-1-6169-5746-9
Hardcover

Junior Bender, burglar extraordinaire and sometime detective to the underworld, serves as the narrator of this unusual Christmas tale.  He is roped in to investigate, on behalf of a Russian mobster and owner of a dying shopping mall in Los Angeles, why there has been a spiking increase in shoplifting in recent months a few days before Christmas Day.  Junior, who hates the Xmas atmosphere, is immersed in the Holiday cheer of shopping, Santas, and piped-in popular songs, much to his chagrin.

While undertaking his task, he becomes involved in a few side ventures, including looking into the death of one of the shopkeepers, witnessing the death of another, and discovering the real problems at the mall, typical of similar establishments fading away all over the nation as shoppers turn to other outlets.  Another involves his burgeoning friendship with one of the two Santas on the premises, helping him to recover a favorite item apparently stolen from his home.  One side benefit, however:  he is able to get his own holiday shopping done despite his procrastination.

This novel probably is the most cerebral in the six-book Junior Bender series, with long passages on the business of shopping malls, their dying days, observations on the Holidays, people in general, and his own life and loves.  In fact, he faces a crisis with his own lover and her reticence to divulge anything of her past.  On the whole, Junior solves a unique problem in his typical fashion, with ingenuity.

This is an excellent series, and one that continues to be recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2016.