Book Reviews: The One That Got Away by Joe Clifford and Murderabilia by Carl Vondereau @joeclifford23 @DownAndOutBooks @CarlVonderau @midnightinkbook

The One That Got Away
Joe Clifford
Down & Out Books, December 2018
ISBN: 978-1-948235-42-6
Trade Paperback

An upstate small town where almost everyone has at least one scurrilous or dangerous secret, is the fall setting for this story. Alex Salerno is the flawed, inept and persistent hero of this long and winding tale.

A decade ago she was one of several girls in the town, located in upstate New York, who was abducted and held for unnamed assaultive practices in a dark space. Waiting there, she knew the other girls had been killed. And then, a small miracle, she is rescued by the local detective who becomes her lover. Her abductor now resides in prison.

The experience, naturally, has permanently damaged Alex’s psyche and her life in New York State, at least as she relates it, is fraught, unrooted and filled with booze, drugs and impermanence. For uncertain reasons she has now returned to her home town to meet a reporter who may or may not be preparing a story for the local paper on the history of that time when so many young women and girls had been abducted and murdered.

She knew her abductor was in jail and the reporter was focusing on the later disappearance of another teenager named Kira Shanks. The rambling torturous plot is further obscured by the belief in some corners of this conflicted community that the man now held in a nearby mental institution was not responsible for Kira Shanks disappearance.

As the plot slowly unwinds and layer after layer of a depressing community are revealed, against her better judgement and with menace ever closer, Alex Salerno persists in sticking her nose in unwanted sometimes dangerous places. She is physically and mentally abused and even her tenuous family ties in the town are stressed. The narrative blends the viewpoints of several characters and at times readers may be confused as to who is speaking. Ultimately some of the mysteries and secrets of this town are resolved but one is left wondering about the future life of Alex Salerno.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2020.
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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Murderabilia
Carl Vonderau
Midnight Ink Books, July 2019
ISBN 978-007387-6130-5
Trade Paperback

A dark, intense story of murder and family destruction, this novel, after a slow start, will engage readers in a way that will leave them in thoughtful contemplation of family relationships.

Will McNary has a successful career as a private banker who works with individual clients on their financial investments and other monetary activities. He’s married with two young children and living in San Diego. His life is generally calm and ordinary, although he’s feeling a little heat in the form of competition from other officers of the bank. His sister Polly and their aging mother share an unsettling secret.

When Will was a child of only eight, his father was sent to prison for murdering and butchering several women. He compounded his heinous crime by posing and photographing the women, pictures that were circulated and sold on the underground market. McNary’s father was convicted and when the novel opens, has been in prison for more than thirty years. Now, a copy-cat killer linked to Will’s father has emerged, one who appears to be targeting Will and his family.

The story follows Will along a sordid twisting trail as he attempts to protect his loved ones, help law enforcement find the vicious copy-cat, and plumb the emotional depths of the knowledge that he is the son of an incredibly twisted killer.

The novel is well-written and once moving along its trail, enthralling. I hesitate to call it a page turner, however, for those readers attracted to the truly dark side of humanity in several of its manifestations, this carefully crafted story is insistently engaging.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2020.
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: The Black Kachina by Jack Getze

The Black Kachina
Jack Getze
Down & Out Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-943402-69-4
Trade Paperback

San Diego Reporter Jordon Scott finds himself on the trail of a hot story involving a missing bomb, a terrorist and falling in love with a tough military officer at the same time. These are the interesting plot lines in this unusual novel. Author Getze is a former LA Times reporter so he knows the territory and if the activities of this fictional reporter at times get a little questionable, well, this is realistic fiction, after all. Scott is a bright, good-looking, aggressive reporter who, while pushing leads on the loss of an aging USAF bomber in the mountains of southern California, encounters Colonel Maggie Black, USAF.

Black is an intriguing character. A former combat pilot—unusual in itself—she can no longer fly due to loss of one arm, but she’s actively working with a secret unit of the service on special weapons. She’s bright, good-looking, aggressive and dedicated to her assignment. While monitoring a test flight carrying her experimental weapon, she discovers the flight has crashed and her weapon is missing.

Then we have the third character in this novel, he of the title. Kachina’s are an intimate part, along with their influences, of the lives and lore of southwestern native tribes and bands. Whether or not they, like other religious icons, were real, their influence is wide and important. Asdrubal Torres believes in Kachina and he comes to believe, aided by his hatred for the white man, that he is destined to return the Salton Sea and surrounding area to its original state as the huge Lake Cahuilla in the Santa Rosa Mountains. Asdrubal Torres will become a modern Kachina.

How these forces maneuver their complicated way through the limitations and dangers of modern technology and personal relationships forms the texture, structure and movement of this interesting and intriguing thriller. I recommend it.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 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: Room for Doubt by Nancy Cole Silverman

Room for Doubt
A Carol Childs Mystery #4
Nancy Cole Silverman
Henery Press, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-63511-235-1
Trade Paperback

 

From the publisher—

When radio reporter Carol Childs is called to a crime scene in the Hollywood Hills at five thirty in the morning, she’s convinced it must be a publicity stunt to promote a new movie. That is, until she sees the body hanging from the center of the Hollywood sign. The police are quick to rule it a suicide, but something doesn’t add up for Carol. Particularly after a mysterious caller named Mustang Sally confesses to the murder on the air and threatens to kill again.

With the help of an incorrigible PI, her best friend, and a kooky psychic, Carol is drawn into the world of contract killers and women scorned. As she races to find the real killer, she finds herself faced with a decision that will challenge everything she thought she knew.

Journalists of one sort or another are always good mystery protagonists, aren’t they? Naturally nosy, they’re in a profession that gives them a modicum of justification to be in the middle of an investigation and they almost always have access to resources the typical cozy sleuth doesn’t have. They also have a built-in platform, assuming some editor or producer doesn’t put the kibosh on things. Carol Childs is just such an amateur sleuth.

When Carol’s boss sends her to the scene of a death by hanging, it’s more to simply report rather than a true investigation but she can’t help thinking the police detective jumped to the wrong conclusion when he calls it a suicide. She doesn’t have any real evidence, just a gut feeling, but a local private investigator, Gerhardt Chasen (Chase), soon convinces her there might be a whole lot more to this story.

Along with her investigating what turns out to be quite a controversial set of killings, Carol has a personal side that’s an equally important part of the story and I enjoyed my first adventure with her. She’s one of those people with a kind of glamorous job but a pretty run-of-the-mill home life, warts and all, and I found myself quite comfortable with her. In fact, she reminded me a little of myself at her age for some reason although I didn’t have a psychic hanging around or, for that matter, a PI hooked on lollipops.

Without giving anything away, I should warn readers that this particular mystery doesn’t end the way you might expect but you’ll have to make your own decision about whether the ending is satisfactory. It was for me, even though it wasn’t exactly right, and I appreciate the author’s willingness to go a ways out on a limb. We crime fiction readers don’t see this sort of thing every day 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Book Review: Haunting Investigation by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Haunting Investigation
A Chesterton Holte Mystery #5
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Smoke & Shadow Books, December 2015
ISBN: 978-1-943052-01-1
Hardcover

First of all, detective Chesterton Holte is a ghost, and only newspaper reporter Poppy Thornton can see or hear him⏤aside from her Aunt Jo’s old dog and the cat. And the only reason he’s haunting her is because he directly led to her father being executed as a spy during World War I and this is his way of making it up to her.

The year is 1924 and the country is still reeling not only from the war, but from the millions of lives lost to the Spanish Flu. Women are taking jobs usually considered the male prerogative and Poppea Thornton is one of them. She is a budding newspaper reporter, up to now assigned to the society pages as she is one of Philadelphia’s upper crust. But when one of society’s own is murdered, Poppy, to her satisfaction, receives the job of reporting the news. In her duties, she meets a handsome police detective, which serves her well when she becomes the murderer’s target, but it is the ghost, Chesterton Holte, who helps Poppy root out the clues.

Against a whole lot of opposition, Poppy works hard and diligently to make her way in a man’s world.

I liked the characters. I formed good pictures of Aunt Jo, cousin Stacy, the widow, and all the others. The setting is well done. I enjoyed the descriptions of the cars, the attire of the day, and especially, the food and drink⏤lots of drink. And during prohibition, too, wink, wink. However, the murder methods seemed odd to me. Also, there didn’t seem to be any real resolution to the story, ending more with a whimper than a bang. Even so, I enjoyed the journey with Poppy and Holte and Detective Loring. One assumes it is to be continued.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Peak Season for Murder by Gail Lukasik

Peak Season for MurderPeak Season for Murder
A Leigh Girard Mystery #3
Gail Lukasik
Five Star, September 2013
ISBN 978-12-4328-2729-8
Hardcover

Door County, Wisconsin, is a vacation spot known for art galleries, live performances, and trendy restaurants. It’s a place where the well-heeled summer people and tourists meet with the locals who live there year round. Leigh Girard, Door County Gazette reporter, is investigating the death of a formerly homeless man, Brownie Lawrence. Brownie’s friend, Ken Albright, is accused of his murder, and while Leigh attempts to prove his innocence, she discovers Brownie had assumed another man’s identity.

The Bayside Theater is a Door County institution, and this season’s cast seems to be shadowed by a past mystery. Twenty three years ago local actress Danielle Moyer vanished after starring in a play. Her body was never found. Nina Cass, the theater’s owner and actress, has hired her ex-husband, actor Nate Ryan, for the season. Ryan, who was one of the players when Danielle Moyer disappeared, is out of rehab and still a heartthrob but his good looks are fading. Former ballerina Gwen Shaw is also one of the players, along with Shakespearean stage actor Julian Finch, and young actress Harper Kennedy.

Leigh is interviewing the cast members for an article, but a series of misfortunes haunt the theatre. On the opening night of the first play, a swarm of bats converge on the stage, causing Gwen Shaw to trip and break her arm. During rehearsal for “Merchant of Venice,” a real knife is substituted for a prop, and Julian is cut.

This is the author’s third Leigh Girard mystery. She has a wonderful feel for language and uses it well to describe the characters and the setting, but doesn’t neglect the plot. Leigh is a character with a lot of backstory, but it is revealed a little at a time, as you come to appreciate her perseverance and curiosity.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2015.

Book Review: Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond by Jayne Barnard—and a Giveaway!

Maddie Hatter and the Deadly DiamondMaddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond
Jayne Barnard
Tyche Books, September 2015
ISBN 978-1-928025-33-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Miss Maddie Hatter, renegade daughter of a powerful Steamlord, is scraping a precarious living as a fashion reporter when the story of a lifetime falls into her lace-gloved hands.

Baron Bodmin, an adventurer with more failed quests than fingernails, has vanished in circumstances that are odd even for him.

While he is supposedly hunting the fabled Eye of Africa diamond in the Nubian desert, his expeditionary airship is found adrift off the coast of England. Maddie was the last reporter to see the potty peer alive. If she can locate the baron or the Eye of Africa, her career will be made.

Outraged investors and false friends complicate her quest, and a fiendish figure lurks in the shadows, ready to snatch the prize . . . at any price.

I stopped reading steampunk a while back, mainly because I got tired of it and I felt as though each one was pretty much the same as the last. Then, one fine day, Jayne Barnard offered me a copy of this book for review and I was immediately drawn in by the title and by this oh-so-wonderful cover. Is that not one of the best covers you’ve seen in a while? And, OMG, the bird! Tweetle-D aka TD is one of the most charming birds I’ve ever come across even if he is made of brass and, quite frankly, Maddie’s snooping would have gotten  nowhere without this very special little sparrow.

Like any intelligent, forward-thinking young woman of her day, Maddie has no intention of writing about fashion for the rest of her career but she needs a miracle to propel her into something more exciting. That miracle kind of falls into her lap when the eccentric Baron Bodmin disappears during his expedition to Egypt in search of a fabulous jewel and his airship is found floating aimlessly without its pilot. Maddie is literally on the spot in Cairo and this is her chance but she has to be very circumspect in her investigations lest her society parents catch wind of her decidedly improper activities.

Keeping the proper rules of conduct in mind as much as possible but allowing for a few daring “missteps”, Maddie and her wonderful TD set off to get the scoop and solve the mystery while they’re at it. How could she possibly predict the twists and turns this inquiry will bring about as a missing person case becomes murder?

Egypt was another lure that enticed me to read Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond. Years ago, many more than I like to think about, I spent a week in Egypt and was completely captivated by the country and its people and it’s one of a handful of foreign lands I really want to visit again. In today’s climate of unrest and violence, that’s not likely to happen, so I enjoy Egypt vicariously through books such as those written by Elizabeth Peters. That love of Egypt was only one of the reasons I wanted to read this book, though, and Ms. Barnard reeled me in with one of the most delightful tales I’ve read in a while. It’s a lovely mix of mystery, science fiction, humor, froth and adventure that can be found in the best steampunk and I can’t wait to read Maddie’s next exploits. Write faster, please, Ms. Barnard!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2015.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy of
Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond
by Jayne Barnard, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be drawn
Thursday evening, November 26th.
This drawing is open to residents
of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Time to Retire by Jon Foyt

Time to RetireTime to Retire
Jon Foyt
CreateSpace, October 2013
ISBN 978-1480075696
Trade Paperback

Looks like the Sunset Gardens Retirement Community may not be the best place for a certain clientele to think about retiring. The codes are uber strict there, and it’s going to take money—sometimes a lot of money—to live there. Especially when rates on just about everything keep going up. The question is, just where is all this money going?

The suicide of a Sunset Gardens Homeowner’s Association board member brings reporter Willy Herbst, not so far off from retirement himself, in to write about the retirement community as a whole. But strange things keep popping up, which draws Willy deeper and deeper into the puzzling aspects of this case. Along the way, Sally Saginaw, a younger intern at his newspaper, is assigned to help him out, and together they uproot some real surprises.

The story drifts a bit. Is it a full-out mystery, or an exposé on retirement communities and the people who live there? Certainly we find that old folks are not immune to learning criminal ways, given the chance. Especially when it comes to money.

Sally is a character who seems to have been added to the story to prove Willy is not quite over the hill, although a romance between them stretches belief. On the other hand, she is on hand to help when Willy, the victim as some of these nefarious folks strike again, is run down by a car.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.