Book Review: Devil by the Tail by Jeanne Matthews @JMmystery @DXVaros

Devil by the Tail
A Garnick & Paschal Mystery #1
Jeanne Matthews
D. X. Varos, July 2021
ISBN 978-1941072974
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

What’s a 20-something Union war widow to do in 1867? Start up her own detective agency with a former Reb POW, of course!

Quinn Sinclair, who uses the name Mrs. Paschal professionally, and her wryly observant partner Garnick get two cases on the same day – one to help a man prove he didn’t kill his wife, another to help a lawyer find reasonable doubt that his client killed her ex-lover’s new bride. As the detectives dig deeper, they unearth facts that tie the cases together in disturbing ways.

This tantalizing tale of 19th Century Chicago comes complete with corrupt politicians, yellow-press reporters, gambling parlors, and colorful bawdyhouse madams. At every turn in the investigation, Quinn discovers more suspects and more secret motives for murder.

Not least among her worries, someone seems intent on murdering her!

Historical mysteries appeal to me a lot, depending on the time period, but I have to say I haven’t encountered many books focused shortly after the Civil War. The setting alone of Devil by the Tail gives this series debut a special element that is fresh and intriguing.

Ms. Matthews takes things a step further, really a leap further, by pairing a northern lady with a former Confederate POW, surely not an every day occurrence, and the compatibility of the two was the best part of the story. (In today’s world of hostility and mean spiritedness, we could use a healthy dose of their willingness to get past their differences.)

Well, having said that, I have to backtrack a little to say that the plot here, the work that Quinn Sinclair (using the name Mrs. Paschal) and Garnick are doing as private  detectives, is just as compelling as their choice to partner up. Since this is Chicago of the 1860’s, Quinn naturally has a lot of societal barriers in her way and I love her ability to find ways around them as well as Garnick’s’s willingness to aid and abet her rebellion against the rules.

When Garnick and Paschal accept a job looking into the case of a man wrongfully accused (so he says) of killing his wife, they have no idea how murky things are going to get, especially when a second case, to prove reasonable doubt that a woman murdered her ex-lover’s bride, starts to look like there may be a connection between the two crimes. The seedy underbelly of 1867 Chicago with its brothels and yellow journalism is on full display and adds greatly to the reader’s fun. On top of the detectives’ professional work, there’s also the interesting question of what will happen in Quinn’s unpleasant dealings with her inlaws.

Ms. Matthews is well known for her vividly descriptive settings and her impeccable research, not to mention the authenticity of her language, and I enjoyed Devil by the Tail so much that it’s going on my list of best books read in 2021.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2021.

Book Review: Traces by Carl Brookins—and a Giveaway! @carlbrookins @BPPress

Traces
Carl Brookins
Beaver’s Pond Press, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-64343-897-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Mystery, danger, and international intrigue confront Lockem and Kane in their second high-stakes adventure, Traces. As we wander through life, we leave evidence of our passing: footprints, DNA, connections with others. Our trails are sometimes large and vibrant, often pale and uncertain. Marjorie Kane is a retired exotic dancer who, after years of headlining in upscale venues, gradually descends into performing in meaner clubs. Looking for new adventures, she meets Alan Lockem, a retired army intelligence officer interested in continued service. Together, Lockem and Kane take on unusual and sometimes dangerous jobs to help troubled civilians and former colleagues. When Lockem is asked to retrieve a flash drive storing military records, it seems simple enough. But encounters with foreign spies, an armed home invasion, and interactions with international, federal, and local police complicate Lockem and Kane’s efforts to unravel and understand the traces of these crimes and aid their old colleagues across the pond.

When I met Marjorie Kane and Alan Lockem in their first adventure (see my 2018 review of Grand Lac), I was really drawn to this couple who are so unique and, yet, so very normal. Marjorie, in particular, naturally attracts a reader’s attention merely by her past as an exotic dancer but the point of this duo is that, like many people, they’ve reinvented themselves in their later years and they’ve done so successfully and with panache, not to mention taking much pleasure in their new lives as private investigators of a sort.

This time, Lockem and Kane set out on what should have been a fairly uneventful job but turns out to be their own personal spy thriller. Who could have guessed that Minnesota could be a hotbed of international intrigue and military secrets along with some serious danger for our investigators, these people who could be any happy, comfortable couple in any middle class neighborhood?

This is where backgrounds and life experiences come into play and Lockem and Kane prove themselves to be resilient and up to the task at hand. These are intelligent people with more than a little street smarts and that’s why I like them so much, along with a hefty dose of just plain likeability. Mr. Brookins has crafted a story full of interesting twists and a pair of protagonists I hope will be back with many more adventures 😃

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2020.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for a
paperback copy of Traces,
leave a comment below. The
winning name will be drawn on
Monday evening, November 23rd.
Open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Of Mutts and Men by Spencer Quinn @ChetTheDog @ForgeReads

Of Mutts and Men
A Chet & Bernie Mystery #10   
Spencer Quinn
Forge Books, July 2020
ISBN: 978-1-250-29769-3
Hardcover

The story opens with Chet and his partner, Bernie Little of the Little Detective Agency, in hot pursuit of an art thief. Across rooftops, no less, and when the thief jumps from one roof to another, he drops the painting. But Chet, superb partner that he is, catches the painting in mid-air. He saves the thief also, whose leap has fallen short, almost by himself. Except Bernie is there and hauls them both in. All in a day’s work, which lands them a new client.

Unfortunately, when the partners show up at the client’s place of business, they find him dead. Since Bernie—and Chet, that goes without saying—distrusts the inept sheriff in charge, they take on the job of finding the killer. It’s what they do best, and as you’ll see, though investigating is not without peril, they’re very good at it. Pay or no pay, something Chet always worries about, Bernie not so much. Just like Bernie always worries about the aquifer in the dry California desert country, but Chet not so much.

From this, if you haven’t read any of Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie novels, you might not realize that Chet (the jet) is a police-schooled dog who failed his final test, and Bernie is, indeed, a private eye. If you haven’t read the novels, why not? You’re missing out, especially as each novel just seems to get stronger. I think Of Mutts and Men is arguably the best one yet. The reader can always count on an excellent mystery/adventure, always the very best of characterizations with lots of action, and stories rife with humor. In other words, riveting page turners.

Chet is the narrator, and believe me, he’s a great one. Yes, Chet is the dog. But he’s not a humanized dog. Not at all. He thinks how a dog thinks and acts like a dog acts. Love, loyalty, and a healthy appetite all wrapped up into one package. The story gets my highest recommendation.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, May 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Reviews: Solving Cadence Moore by Gregory Sterner and 19 Souls by J.D. Allen @SternerGregory @aperturepress @JDAllenBooks @midnightinkbook

Solving Cadence Moore
Gregory Sterner
Aperture Press, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-9973020-8-0
Trade Paperback

An intense novel fashioned in a very creative and unusual way, Solving Cadence Moore struggles to match its creative vision. It is rooted in the modern radio podcast phenomenon. Charlie Marx, successful radio podcast creator and star has a fine and lasting career in a fairly volatile professional area. He’s progressed through solid talent and the support of a major broadcasting executive, but he wants more. He thinks he’s found a vehicle, a ten-year old mystery.

Young talented and striking-looking (cliché?) Candace Moore is at the beginning of her career as a star vocalist and song creator. When she disappears and no trace has ever been found of her, the mystery endures and grows. Marx believes he can solve the murder and he exaggerates his proof to his boss in order to gain permission to create a star series of podcasts.

Things begin to fall apart when production time is squeezed down and witnesses become reluctant. Marx endures long and tense confrontations with his boss, with members of his production team and with some witnesses he turned up.

The novel, frequently written as a radio script, is long, tedious at times and is shot full of disagreeable language, confrontation after confrontation, and little consideration for the reader. Nine chapters divide a 362-page story. Long involved arguments detailing strengths and weaknesses of character’s positions, often with little or no descriptive language tend to give the narrative a slow and steady progression. Readers will assume, perhaps correctly, that the profession of radio broadcasting, especially when focused on the dramatization of true events, is replete with the kind of competition and repetitive tests of wills fostered by strongly opinionated, testosterone supplied males.

In sum an excellent idea burdened by a limited exposition, resulting in relief that the novel is done, rather than disappointment for the final period.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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19 Souls
A Sin City Investigation #1
J.D. Allen
Midnight Ink Books, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5403-1
Trade Paperback

An interesting if troublesome book about the search for a deteriorating psychopathic serial killer. The story has several things going for it, an unusual killer, a raft of police and FBI characters, and at least three sort-of-legal private searchers. The least likeable of the three, a shambling, bumbling private investigator named Jim Bean works alone, except when he needs help, which is frequently. The other two, O, a bounty-hunter, and Bean’s obligatory cyber/research expert add a little to the narrative, although O adds the least.

The setup is excellent and would have been even better if Bean wasn’t portrayed as so constantly second-guessing himself. A woman hires him to find her long-lost brother. She promptly drugs and seduces Bean which interferes with Bean’s thoughts and emotions, often at crucial junctures.

The story takes place in Texas, Nevada, California and Indiana. As the target descends gradually, logically, and cleverly into madness, the tension rises and more bodies litter the ground. Largely well-written and edited there are a few point-of-view shifts that are momentarily confusing but taking it all together, the novel is worth its price.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 6 @nancyjcohen @JSpencerFleming @MinotaurBooks @CharlesFinch @BevLongBooks @HarlequinBooks @SusanSpann @SeventhStBooks

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

Easter Hair Hunt
A Bad Day Hair Mysteries #16
Nancy J. Cohen
Orange Grove Press, March 2020
ISBN 978-09997932-7-5
Trade Paperback

Marla Vail is visiting Tremayne Manor to do her hairstyling thing for Blinky Morris so she’ll be ready for the Easter egg hunt but, after the hunt when Marla is helping to look for unfound eggs, she finds something else, a dead body dressed as a bunny. When it’s discovered that Blinky is missing, the very pregnant Marla jumps right in to investigate,  as fans will expect. Her poor husband, homicide detective Dalton, is right by her side, knowing full well he can’t stop her.

Marla is a character that becomes more appealing with each adventure, largely because she’s an intelligent woman who takes things in stride and doesn’t continually do stupid things. Dalton is her equal and recognizes how good she is at sussing out the facts and following leads; he long ago gave up trying to keep her out of investigations and the pair make a good team. This time, they’re dealing with a plethora of clues and suspects and the twists and turns abound. I’ve followed this series from the beginning and I’m already anticipating the next book because Ms. Cohen never lets me down 🙂

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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Hid from Our Eyes
A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery #9
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Minotaur Books, April 2020
ISBN 978-0-312-60685-5
Hardcover

It seems like years since the last Clare and Russ story because, well, it has been and when I first heard about this one, I was SO excited. I’m not the least bit surprised that Ms. Spencer-Fleming is still at the top of her game.

Three different but very similar cases over a period of many decades have involved three police chiefs but Russ, the current chief, was once accused of the second killing. As this third case ramps up, Russ is under enormous pressure to find the killer before suspicion focuses on him again. Are the three cases really connected in some way or could there be a copycat killer? Who were these young women and why were they targeted or is it possible one or more were, in fact, not murdered?

Russ’s wife, an Episcopal priest and mother of a new baby, has her own issues going on but of course she’s going to help Russ and she brings a lot of intelligence and creative thinking to this case, as she always does. The personal lives of Clare and Russ are given as much weight as the investigation, enough so that I felt like I was seeing old friends again but that didn’t take anything away from the mystery of these three deaths. Leads take them in all directions and I was forced—forced, I tell you!—to stay up late into the night to keep reading. An intriguing plot and great characters make for a story I can heartily recommend but readers new to the series will enjoy it more by starting with the first one.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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The Vanishing Man
A Charles Lenox Mystery #12
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books, January 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-31137-5
Trade Paperback

In this second prequel, Charles Lenox has recently become known as the young man who bested Scotland Yard in a perplexing case and he’s called upon by the Duke of Dorset to help with an art theft. It seems a second painting was left behind and the Duke is concerned the thieves will return and, if they do, it’s possible a family scandal will be revealed as well as an enormous secret involving a priceless artifact. It isn’t long before there are other crimes and Lenox must delve into long-kept secrets that threaten the family as well as himself.

Fortunately, Lenox has the assistance of his friend, Lady Jane, who once again proves herself to be an intelligent ally, and a coterie of secondary players who bring real depth to the story. This particular adventure drags a little here and there but it’s still an engaging puzzle, especially the question of why the more valuable painting really means so much to the Duke. Mr. Finch brings Victorian London and its people to life again and I really do think this is one of the very best series with the setting and time period.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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Ten Days Gone
An A.L. McKittridge Novel #1
Beverly Long
MIRA, February 2020
ISBN 978-0-7783-0958-1
Mass Market Paperback

Hunting a serial killer is no doubt one of the most difficult things a police department may ever have to do but, this time, detectives Rena Morgan and A.L. McKittridge are also faced with the nearly impossible task of preventing a fifth murder once the likely victim has been identified. Tess Lyons already suffers psychological damage from previous events and is anything but ready to understand her present danger. Meanwhile, leads in the case are sketchy at best and the detectives are caught up in a cat and mouse game with few obvious answers until they find a petition signed by all four of the murdered women. Figuring out why the petition and the ten day intervals are important may be their best chance to stop this killer.

A.L. and Rena are a well-matched partnership, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and they complement each other in their search for a wily killer. The pacing is a little slow but Ten Days Gone shows promise and is the first in what I hope will be a long-running series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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Ghost of the Bamboo Road
A Hiro Hattori Novel #7
A Shinobi Mystery
Susan Spann
Seventh Street Books, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-6338-8550-9
Trade Paperback

Even in 16th-century Japan, a list of agents, in this case the shinobi agents of Hiro Hattori’s own clan, can cause deadly problems if it falls into the wrong hands. Hiri needs to warn his clan that a rival warlord is in possession of the list so he travels to a small village where he believes a fellow agent to be on a mission. Accompanied by Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit he protects, along with their housekeeper, Ana, and Hiro’s cat, Gato, he sees that the agent is missing. Hiro and Father Mateo are then drawn in to the investigation of multiple murders that are believed to have been caused by a ghost in the eerily half-deserted village but the situation becomes even more pressing when Ana is accused of stealing from the inn’s proprietor. And where is the missing agent?

Ms. Spann never fails to entertain me and educate me as well since her stories are full of medieval Japanese history. I love the primary characters and their interactions with each other; for instance, Gato always manages to get in the thick of things but Father Mateo can only suffer around him, being highly allergic. The two men have grown to be quite fond of each other (not that they would say so) and the priest accepts the shinobi’s protection as gracefully as he can manage while Ana is irascible and, yet, attentive. The author has a way with words and conveys the times and the setting vividly, so much so that I can practically smell the tea served in the teahouse. My only regret after reading this entry is for the too-long wait for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

Book Review: A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman @Difreeman001 @KensingtonBooks

A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder
A Countess of Harleigh Mystery, #1
Dianne Freeman
Kensington Books, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-4967-1687-3
Hardcover

Frances Wynn may have been born American, but as the widowed Countess of Harleigh, she is highly placed in English society. Her marriage was not for love. Her mother wanted a title for her daughter, and the impoverished Wynns wanted American money to keep the estate afloat. Still, when her husband dies in another woman’s bed–right under Frances’ nose, so to speak–a situation is set in motion. To the heir’s and his wife’s dismay, as soon as her mourning year is over, Frances buys a house in town and vows no more money will be paid into the estate’s upkeep.

But then a letter is sent to the police which accuses Frances of being complicit in her husband’s murder. Murder? And then, in the upper-crust London homes where Frances visits, expensive items begin disappearing. Lily, Frances’ younger sister arrives from America to become an English debutante, and quickly becomes involved with several young men. Could one of them be the thief?

Inspector Delaney of the Metropolitan Police begins questioning Frances’ innocence, and her neighbor, with whom she has a history, becomes her defender. Together, the three attempt to unravel the mysterious goings on. But then a man is murdered in Frances’ back garden and Lily may have been kidnapped.

Still the question looms: Was Countess Harleigh’s husband murdered?

Freeman has penned a Victorian mystery with excellent, well-developed characters, and set them into an amusing plot. This story comes to a satisfactory conclusion, leaving the characters to continue on to yet another intriguing tale.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, January 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: A Dangerous Man by Robert Crais

A Dangerous Man
An Elvis Cole and Joe Pike Novel #18
Robert Crais
G.P.Putman’s Son, August 2019
ISBN 978-0-525-53568-3
Hardcover

After paying a visit to his Bank, Joe Pike is sitting in his Jeep Cherokee when he notices the young female Bank Teller who’d been helping him was being shoved into the rear of a car. Pike, once a member of the LAPD, decides to follow the car, and when it comes to a halt at a traffic light, he quickly rescues the woman, and together with her kidnappers, they wait for the police.

Isabel Roland, Izzy to her friends, has no idea why the two men tried to kidnap her. She explains to the police what happened and later when she calls Joe to thank him again she mentions that one of the men told her that he knew her secret, but Izzy thinks they must have the wrong person.

A few days later the police appear outside Joe’s house. They tell him that the two kidnappers made bail but they have been found murdered. Joe is worried about Izzy and after the police leave he goes to her house to check on her… She’s missing.

Joe calls on his friend and business partner Elvis Cole to help him find out what or who is behind these troubling events. As Elvis investigates he uncovers a decades old crime involving a whistleblower at a corporate level, and millions of dollars that went missing. But just how Izzy is connected is still a mystery.

This is a fast paced fun read, and if you haven’t been following these two friends then you can jump in here without needing to know too much about their past relationship. As a long-time fan, it’s always a treat to catch up with Elvis and Joe.

Check it out! You won’t regret it.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, September 2019.