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.

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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.

Book Review: Blood and Wisdom by Verlin Darrow

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

Aria Piper runs a New Age Spiritual Center near Santa Cruz, California. Karl Gatlin is a private investigator but has training as a counselor. The two are connected because they were both interns at the same center, though Karl decided he was much more cut out for a career as a PI than counseling people through their personal troubles. However, when Aria begins receiving threats and a beheaded body turns up at Aria’s center, she turns to Karl to investigate. That is the basic set up for the book, however, if readers are expecting a straight forward PI book, they are in for a surprise or two as this is a book that never quite settles on what sort of a book it wants to be. It has a little bit of something for just about everyone, but I was left wondering if there was enough of any one thing to satisfy anyone.

The number one strength of the book is the character development. What an interesting cast of characters Darrow has given readers! First we have a main character who is a PI with psychotherapy training, a second main character who is running a spiritual center which might or might not be a cult, some sort of flaky “enlightened” folks, some seriously bad dudes and lastly my favorite, Larry the dog who has so many human traits it is sometimes hard to remember he is a dog.

The second strength is the off beat humor in the book. This is really not my favorite type of book (think Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey), but I do appreciate their craft and Darrow has the skills to carry this type of humor off.

I would like the author to firm up what genre he is writing though. Suspense, thriller, PI novel, or something completely different. Also, as fascinating as the odd set of characters were, sometimes their idiosyncrasies became a distraction from the plot.

Blood and Wisdom is the debut book for author Verlin Darrow. While I did have some issues with the book, there is definite potential for him as an author. It will be interesting to see what the next book brings.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, August 2018.

Book Review: Tail of the Dragon by Connie di Marco—and a Giveaway!

Tail of the Dragon
A Zodiac Mystery #3
Connie di Marco
Midnight Ink, August 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5106-1
Trade Paperback

Murder in the office place! Imagine that. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.

That said, when the body of a prominent, though not well-liked attorney is found with his throat cut, with so many wronged people to choose from, the motive is hard to find. Enter astrologer Julia Bonatti, drawn into the investigation by chance when she agrees to fill-in on her old job during the boss’s assistant’s vacation. She’ll try to discover the murderer at her boss’s instigation by checking her astrology charts, but contradictory information awaits her there.

Slowly, Julia discovers several death threats have been sent to various people at the firm, including the murdered man. Even finding the connection between the three is tough, and as Julia, with the cooperation of an intriguing PI her boss hires, comes closer to getting to the motive, another attorney in the firm is murdered. Worse, Julia’’s astrology charts indicate she may be next.

The motive may come as a surprise. So does the perpetrator. A surprise to Julia, too, which is a nice touch with so many possible killers out there. Shudders. Not a place I’d want to work.

If I have a complaint, it’s that I’m not interested in precise street names and addresses. I don’t even know if they’re real for the city of San Francisco, so to me they were something to skip over. Other reader’s opinions will, of course, vary. The book is well organized, well paced, and well written.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

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To enter the drawing for a very
gently used print advance reading copy of
Tail of the Dragon by Connie di Marco,
leave a comment below. The winning name
will be drawn on Sunday evening,
September 16th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Review: Murder on the Left Bank by Cara Black

Murder on the Left Bank
An Aimée Leduc Investigation #18
Cara Black
Soho Crime, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-927-2
Hardcover

When a dying man shows up in Eric’s offices asking for help to right wrongs of the past by delivering a ledger to authorities, against his better judgment Eric agrees to help. Really his task is pretty simple. He would have his nephew deliver the ledger to the designated person and that would be the extent of his involvement. But from the beginning things go wrong. The nephew was on his way to meet his girlfriend so instead of making the delivery, he hid the ledger and went to meet his girlfriend.  They were attacked and the nephew was killed. The room was tossed, but the ledger wasn’t found,  Now Eric wants his nephew’s murders found and the notebook delivered.

Aimée Leduc has more than enough to keep her busy between raising her daughter as a single parent and running her private investigation business. After her father’s death, Aimée pledged to stick to cyber crimes and security problems, but when Eric Besson shows up in her office seeking help locating a missing ledger which may contain information that would implicate her now deceased father she is drawn into another dangerous case.

Aimée tracks down the surviving girlfriend and numerous other people who might have insight as to the ledger’s location. Before long, she realizes she is being followed putting everyone she speaks to in danger. It was when it became clear that her own daughter was now fair game to those seeking the ledger that Aimée agrees to have her daughter’s father and Aimée’s estranged mother whisk her daughter away for safety.

There is a high body count in the book but in the end, things work out and Aimée finds out a little bit more about her father’s life in the police.

This was one of my favorite books in the series so far.

Aimée Leduc returns in Murder on the Left Bank, the eighteenth book in the series.  Readers who have followed Aimée from the beginning must be pleased with how the series has evolved over the years keeping the stories fresh. For readers who have never sampled the series, Murder on the Left Bank is a fine place to start. There is a back story, but readers are given enough to not feel left behind.  Either way, enjoy!

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St.Clair, June 2018.