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.

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Book Review: Desolation Mountain by William Kent Krueger

Desolation Mountain
Cork O’Connor Mystery #17
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-4746-3
Hardcover

Stephen O‘Connor, Cork O’Connor’s young son, has always had visions presaging tragedies.  This novel is based on one in which he sees an eagle shot from the sky and a menace he can’t identify at his back.  And then a plane carrying a U.S. Senator and her family crashes on Desolation Mountain.  Cork and Stephen subsequently join others attempting to find survivors and clues.

Soon, some of the first responders go missing, and father and son begin to investigate.  Then Cork inadvertently meets Bo Thorson, a character from a long ago novel, then a secret service agent, now a private investigator.  They join forces, but soon Cork begins to doubt Bo’s role.  The area is overrun with representatives of various federal agencies and is cordoned off.

The plot centers on the meaning of the vision and solution of the cause of the crash.  This is the 18th novel in the series, and provides, for the first time, a deeper look into Cork and Stephen’s relationship.  As is a constant in the series, it is well-written, and the descriptions of the North Country graphic and excellent.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2018.

Book Review: The Woman in the Woods by John Connolly

The Woman in the Woods
Charlie Parker #16
John Connolly
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-7192-5
Hardcover

The Charlie Parker series blends a traditional-thriller-mystery with elements of otherworldliness.  This, the 16th novel in the series, as usual, does both.  When a tree falls in the Maine woods exposing the remains of a woman, and her afterbirth, the Jewish lawyer Moxie Castin notes that a Star of David was carved on a nearby tree, leading him to retain private detective Charlie Parker to shadow the police investigation and discover what happened to the infant, since no baby was found buried near or with the mother.

So much for the traditional mystery.  At the heart of the novel are the occult features, especially the baddie Quales, who does not hesitate to murder anyone with whom he comes into contact in his quest for a rare book of fairy tales supposedly with inserts needed to complete an atlas which would change the world by replacing the existing God with non-gods.

There probably is no other author like John Connolly.  His novels offer complicated plots, well-drawn characters and make-believe to keep readers turning pages. His works, in addition to the Charlie Parker series, includes standalone novels, non-fiction and science fiction, as well as literature for children.  Obviously, The Woman in the Woods is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 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.

Book Review: Robert B. Parker’s Old Black Magic by Ace Atkins

Robert B. Parker’s Old Black Magic
A Spenser Novel #47
Ace Atkins
Putnam, May 2018
ISBN: 978-0-399-17701-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Iconic, tough-but-tender Boston PI Spenser delves into the black market art scene to investigate a decades-long unsolved crime of dangerous proportions.  The heist was legendary, still talked about twenty years after the priceless paintings disappeared from one of Boston’s premier art museums.  Most thought the art was lost forever, buried deep, sold off overseas, or, worse, destroyed as incriminating evidence.  But when the museum begins receiving detailed letters about the theft from someone claiming to have knowledge of the whereabouts of the paintings, the board enlists Spenser’s help to navigate the delicate situation. Their particular hope is to regain the most valuable piece stolen, The Gentleman in Black, a renowned painting by a Spanish master and the former jewel of the collection.  Soon the cold art case thrusts Spenser into the shady world of black market art dealers, aged Mafia bosses, and old vendettas.   A five-million-dollar-reward sets Spenser and pal Vinnie Morris onto a trail of hidden secrets, jailhouse confessions, murder, and double-crosses.

 

For some reason I had allowed myself to fall behind in reading the “new” books in this wonderful series, just as wonderful when authored by Ace Atkins, of which this is the newest.  The preceding entry in the series was Little White Lies, which I finally caught up to in the last few weeks.  With apologies for redundancies, as I said in my review of that book, “the author has captured many of the expected patterns of Robert B. Parker’s writing.  But Mr. Atkins, besides giving us a very absorbing tale, has retained some of the most typical Parker patterns, e.g., nearly every character’s choice of clothing and headgear is noted, particularly caps declaring the owner’s love for a particular local sports team, whether Braves or Red Sox.  (In fact, very near the end of the book we find Spenser escaping a close call and thinking “I’d hoped these guys didn’t plan ambushes like Branch Rickey planned ballgames.”)  One character appears dressed in a “light blue guayabera, his white hair loose and scattered as always, with some black reading glasses down on his nose.’  There is also a lot about food.  When he prepares a Cobb salad for himself and Susan, and she hands him a vodka martini, he thinks “You couldn’t eat a Cobb salad without [it].  It was a law in California.”  Then there are the nicknames, e.g., “Fat Freddy,” “Famous Ray.” The terrific plotting and action are always present, as Spenser goes about solving “the biggest theft in Boston history,” a painting worth sixty or seventy million.

Spenser’s love of jazz is always present, from Coltrane playing from speakers in a restaurant, to the final scene where Tony Bennett “reached for the tree of life and picked him a plum,” and Spenser saying “The Best Is Yet to Come,” to which Vinnie replies “You better believe it.”  I loved the author’s tip of the hat to another terrific mystery writer, Hank Philippi Ryan, reporting on Boston’s Channel 7 with a live shot from a crime scene.  Set against the high-society art scene and the low-life back alleys of Boston, this is classic Spenser doing what he does best.  As was Little White Lies, Old Black Magic is also highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2018.

Book Review: A Major Production by Thomas B. Sawyer

A Major Production
A Barney Moon, P.I. Mystery Thriller 
Thomas B. Sawyer
Tom Sawyer Productions, Inc., April 2018
ISBN 978-1-7320918-0-1
Trade Paperback

What could be an entertaining caper story is marred by inattention to formatting and editing details. Barney Moon is an irascible New York private investigator sent on a case to Los Angeles, his least favorite city. Since he doesn’t drive, he teams up with college student Melodie Seaver, who drives him  while he investigates an inept scheme by a couple of disgruntled federal agents, the murder of a mobster’s wife, and a threat to Barney himself.

The reader is distracted by the unconventional punctuation and formatting. Business names and agencies are italicized, generic nouns are capitalized, and some words are both italicized and underlined. There is an overly generous use of hyphens, dashes, and ellipses. Compound nouns are hyphenated, as are some nouns and their modifiers. Some of this can be explained by the author’s background, which includes many years of screenwriting. Emphasizing words by italics and bolding may be a common practice in screenwriting, but it’s not the norm for novel readers, who can find it distracting. There are also numerous other errors which should have been corrected in proofreading. Not recommended.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2018.

Book Review: Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies by Ace Atkins

Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies
A Spenser Novel #46
Ace Atkins
Putnam, May 2017
ISBN: 978-0-399-17700-2
Hardcover

For some reason I had not read this entry in the Spenser series created by Robert B. Parker, but have finally caught up to it, I’m delighted to say.

From the publisher:  Connie Kelly thought she’d found her perfect man on an online dating site.  He was silver-haired and handsome, with a mysterious background working for the CIA.  She fell so hard for M. Brooks Welles that she wrote him a check for almost three hundred thousand dollars, hoping for a big return on her investment.  But within weeks, both Wells and her money are gone.  Her therapist, Dr. Susan Silverman, hands her Spenser’s card.  A self-proclaimed military hotshot, Welles had been a frequent guest on national news shows, speaking with authority about politics and world events.  But when he disappears, he leaves not only a jilted lover but a growing list of angry investors, duped cops, and a team of paramilitary contractors looking for revenge.  Enter Spenser, who quickly discovers that everything about Welles is phony.  His name, his resume, and his roster of associates are nothing but an elaborate fraud.  But uncovering the truth won’t be easy, as he’ll have to keep his client from falling back into the mystery man’s tangled web, all while staying a step ahead of trained killers.  As the trail winds from Boston to the back roads of Georgia, Spenser will need help from trusted allies Hawk and Teddy Sapp to make sure Welles’s next con is his last.

 

The author has captured many of the expected patterns of Robert B. Parker’s writing. (Mr. Parker died in January 2010.)  But Mr. Atkins, besides giving us a very absorbing tale, has retained some of the most typical Parker patterns, e.g., nearly every character’s choice of clothing and headgear is noted, particularly caps declaring the owner’s love for a particular local sports team, whether Braves or Red Sox.  Connie Kelly’s early appearance notes that she “was dressed in a white sleeveless silk top with a black pencil skirt adorned with chrysanthemums and a pair of black open-toe heels that highlighted her shapely calves. Her toes had been painted a festive red.”  In her next appearance “she wore a very short red floral dress and black tights with black suede booties,” with a purple cardigan.  She explains what attracted her to Mr. Welles thusly:  “I wanted a tall, successful, and interesting man.  Someone who liked to travel and took time to enjoy sunsets.”  Well, she got all of that and a lot more that she could have done without.  Spenser is now living in the area of the Charlestown Navy Yard, where Pearl the Wonder Dog keeps him delightful company.

This is another exciting entry in the series, thoroughly entertaining, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2018.

Next up for this reviewer is the next in the series by Mr. Atkins, another Spenser novel, Old Black Magic.