Book Review: A Perfect Shot by Robin Yocum—and a Giveaway!

A Perfect Shot
Robin Yocum
Seventh Street Books, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-63388-417-5
Trade Paperback

Fans of Chuck Logan may find this book an attractive addition to their library of crime thrillers. Yocum tends toward the more brutal and darker side of the genre, but there are definite similarities.

Decades after his last-minute basket to help the Mingo Junction Indians win the Ohio state high school basketball championship, Duke Ducheski has finally realized his dream—to open a fine restaurant in his home town and get out of the steel mill that dominates his home town. He also pledges to himself to avoid becoming involved with the nasty crime family that rules the valley.

Steel manufacturing in this Ohio valley is not the only enterprise dominating the town. The other presence is the mob, a tight-knit group of entrepreneurs who control the gambling, drug sales and prostitution action in town. The mob boss is aging Salvatore Antonelli. His principal enforcer is a local boy named Tony DeMarco.

When Duke opens his restaurant with some assistance from his long-time high school buddies Moonie and Angel, things are looking up for the forty-year old divorced mill worker, and then he disappears. His disappearance is triggered by an elaborate plan concocted by Duke to rid himself of the heavy arm of Tony DeMarco, and of other obligations. He enlists the aid of former school buddies and a grandfather-like figure who owns an established bar in town.

For anyone who has experienced small-town dynamics, long-time established disagreements and feuds, the slow revolutions of time and the maturation of certain individuals, rings true. The author has established a true town character, as well as the characters of both principal and peripheral players.

The novel is characteristic of the author’s work, painstakingly detailed, accurately nuanced, as is the dialogue. There are several violent encounters throughout the novel, most of which result in reduction of the population.

Everything in the book is true to the premise and well written. Fans of this style of crime fiction should be very happy and I recommend the novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2018.
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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To enter the drawing for a trade
paperback copy of A Perfect Shot
by Robin Yocum
, leave a comment
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The winning name will be
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Book Reviews: A Measure of Murder by Leslie Karst and Mile High Murder by Marcia Talley

A Measure of Murder
A Sally Solari Mystery #2
Leslie Karst
Crooked Lane Books, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-68331-493-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Sally Solari is busy juggling work at her family’s Italian restaurant, Solari’s, and helping Javier plan the autumn menu for the restaurant she’s just inherited, Gauguin. Complicating this already hectic schedule, Sally joins her ex-boyfriend Eric’s chorus, which is performing a newly discovered version of her favorite composition: the Mozart Requiem. But then, at the first rehearsal, a tenor falls to his death on the church courtyard–and his soprano girlfriend is sure it wasn’t an accident.

Now Sally’s back on another murder case mixed in with a dash of revenge, a pinch of peril, and a suspicious stack of sheet music. And while tensions in the chorus heat up, so does the kitchen at Gauguin–set aflame right as Sally starts getting too close to the truth. Can Sally catch the killer before she’s burnt to a crisp, or will the case grow as cold as yesterday’s leftovers?

Good food and good music go together beautifully but not so much when death—most likely murder—is in the mix. Sally Solari had looked forward to singing in the chorus performing this special piece but gets drawn into the peculiarities surrounding Kyle’s death. She has very little spare time in her life for this, though, because she’s working at both her family’s restaurant and the one she recently inherited from her aunt but Sally is a Type-A Energizer Bunny who can be downright exhausting. In fact, the one weakness (in my mind) was that, because Sally is often off chasing leads, we don’t get to spend as much time as I would like in the restaurants but then I’m an unofficial foodie 😉

Nobody wishes death on people but Kyle was not a pleasant person and, quite frankly, he won’t be missed by many other than his girlfriend, Jill. It isn’t long before possible motives seem to pile up and Sally becomes suspicious about several possible killers but I have to say it took me a while to settle on one. Before Sally can bring the perpetrator to justice, she becomes a target herself.

As a former attorney, Sally is probably more qualified than most amateurs to investigate a crime and that lends her snooping a certain credibility other amateurs don’t have but her rationale still doesn’t hold much water. That’s okay, however, because (1) this is a cozy and sleuths in cozies don’t need a lot of justification and (2) I enjoyed this mystery as much as the first in the series. Let’s face it, Sally and her family and friends are fun to be around—I especially enjoyed re-connecting with Javier and Eric—and we’re rewarded at the end with a handful of recipes that just might entice you to try them out. I’m feeling the munchies for the grilled cheese sandwich right now 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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Mile High Murder
A Hannah Ives Mystery #16
Marcia Talley
Severn House, April 2018
ISBN 978-0-7278-8768-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Hannah Ives embarks on a trip to the Mile High City on a fact-finding mission. But is she about to get ‘high’ on murder?

It’s a well-known fact that some of the Reach for Recovery cancer support group survivors Hannah Ives works with take marijuana. Recreational use of the drug may be illegal, but a few, like Maryland State Senator Claire Thompson, are prescribed it on medical grounds.

Claire has co-sponsored a Cannabis Legalisation Bill and wants Hannah to be part of a fact-finding task force that testifies before the Maryland State Senate.

Before long, Hannah is in Denver, Colorado – the Mile High City – staying at a B&B with a group of pot pilgrims and medical refugees – some of whom, like her, are on a mission for information. But when one of the group is found dead, and a closer inspection of the body reveals they may not be who they seem, Hannah is plunged into a dangerous cocktail of drugs and death.

Hannah Ives has been a comfortable fictional friend for a long time now and I’m always happy to see a new book come out. This time she gets involved in “research” to bolster State Senator Claire Thompson’s hopes to get a marijuana bill passed in Maryland, one to broaden and organize the specifics of already passed legislation that legalized the drug for medical use. To do this, they have to go to a state where recreational pot use is already lawful so they head out to Colorado, Denver to be specific. As a long-term cancer survivor, Hannah doesn’t need medical marijuana but Claire has a prescription and is inclined to use it even if she’s at risk of being caught breaking the law.

Hannah decides to go, mainly because she’ll have a chance to testify before the senate, a taste of the old days when she dealt with bureaucrats on a regular basis. This seems like a fairly simple task but Hannah did try to tell Claire that Hannah seems to attract dead bodies, a lengthy list of them, in fact. Still, they didn’t expect to find themselves so completely surrounded by hippie types and a million different ways to indulge at their “bud-and-breakfast”, Bell House…nor did they expect a fellow guest to be a victim of foul play.

I think the mystery here is a little less suspenseful than in Hannah’s previous adventures but I still had a good time learning all the ins and outs of legalized marijuana and watching Hannah do what she does so well, identify a murderer. Fans will be happy to see her again (and, Paul, her lovely Navy professor husband) but new readers might want to start with at least the first book to have a better idea of who Hannah is.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

Book Review: The Grave Soul by Ellen Hart

The Grave SoulThe Grave Soul
A Jane Lawless Mystery #23
Ellen Hart
Minotaur Books, October 2015
ISBN: 978-1-250-04770-0
Hardcover

Guthrie Hewitt is in love and on the verge of asking Kira Adler to marry him. At his first meeting with her family, he asks a couple innocent questions about Kira’s dead mother and sister that brings on an unexpected reaction. Then he overhears a comment that leads him to suspect there’s some past criminal business—business Kira knows nothing about. Worse, out-of-the-blue, Kira returns to her family home and suddenly has no time to explain her absence or tell him what’s going on. Determined to get to the bottom of her secretive actions, Guthrie hires restaurateur and P.I. Jane Lawless to discover Kira’s family secrets.

This story has a convoluted plot that will keep you wondering straight through to the end. Are the people Jane is pursuing guilty of murder or are they simply trying to bury the sadness of two accidental deaths? When Jane takes a job with Kira’s father, he seems just another man trying to make a go of his business, but is he?

Then Jane is beaten, concussed, and her memory of who she is and what she’s doing in this stormy Wisconsin town destroyed. It takes all of her many friends and her own determination to answer not only Guthrie’s questions, but her own.

Characterization is apparently one of author Ellen Hart’s strongest talents. I found every character to be well fleshed out and interesting, both the good and the bad. If I had any problem with the story it was that Kira’s secrecy with Guthrie seemed a little odd. But then, where would the mystery be without it?

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: The Old Deep and Dark by Ellen Hart

The Old Deep and DarkThe Old Deep and Dark
A Jane Lawless Mystery #22
Ellen Hart
Minotaur Books, October 2014
ISBN: 978125004769
Hardcover

You know you are in the grasp of a master story-teller when the ground becomes unstable underfoot in the first four pages. Given her longevity and varied output in the crime fiction genre, it is not surprising. Nor is it unusual that you have to read the entire novel to learn the neat resolution of that first chapter.

By turns clever, thoughtful, gut-wrenching and uplifting, this novel is very contemporary in its themes. The author’s long-time protagonist, Jane Lawless, now a licensed private investigator in Minneapolis, in addition to carefully overseeing the operation of her restaurant, faces complications at every hand, some of which are reflected in her sexual orientation. Yes, there are more and deeper examinations of gay and lesbian themes in this than readers will have encountered in earlier Lawless adventures. However, as always, Hart is tasteful and circumspect in her writing.

Long-time buddy, the ever flamboyant Cordelia Thorn has purchased and is restoring an ancient, historic theater building in downtown Minneapolis. As is the case with many buildings that suffer several alterations, there are oddities in this building, as well as several tales relating to more turbulent and law-skirting times. Seeking to create yet another restoration of the old building leads Cordelia and Jane down dusty narrow stairways and through ancient locked doors.

What crimes lie beyond those doors relate in surprising ways to a current case of murder that involves Jane and her father, Criminal Defense Attorney, Raymond Lawless, together with the family of a nationally known Country-Western singer and his inner circle and family.

With prudent care and thoughtful reveals, Hart entices readers to keep reading and turning pages. Her ability to parcel out important facts, bit by bit, is of a high order. The entire story is brought together in a complete and eminently satisfactory manner after Jane and Cordelia sort out several mis-directions. A most enjoyable experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2015.
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 Reviews: Brooklyn Bones by Triss Stein, Highball Exit by Phyllis Smallman, and Nightrise by Jim Kelly

Brooklyn BonesBrooklyn Bones
Triss Stein
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0120-2
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

Erica Donato has a difficult personal life:  Her mother has passed away, she is estranged from her father after he moved away to Arizona with the new woman in his life, her husband died in a tragic accident at age 26, leaving a 24-year-old widow and three-year-old daughter, now fifteen, and she is trying to raise a teenage daughter on her own. Erica is a historian, in grad school, and working in a museum on a part-time internship, receiving a small paycheck and getting academic credit for the work.

During the course of extensive renovation work in her century-old house in one of the less-upscale parts of Park Slope, Brooklyn, a skeleton is found, hidden behind a wall, apparently that of a young girl, and it appears to have been there since late in 1972.  Both Erica and her daughter, Chris, become determined to try to ascertain who the girl was and why she died.  Her daughter says “I feel like I found her so I owe her something.  I feel like she wants me to find out about her.”  Erica agrees, thinking about “this refuge that no longer felt so safe, where a girl my daughter’s age had seemingly disappeared a long time ago.  I didn’t want to think about who must have been looking for her way back then, or the terrible sadness if there was no one to look.”

As the two start to investigate the history of the house, bad things start to happen to people in their lives, both of long standing, and new ones, and Erica is repeatedly warned to stop asking questions, to her and her daughter’s peril should she fail to do so.

The tale is an intriguing one.  The book seemed to sag a bit in the middle, but quickly picks up again, and I found this a very interesting novel, one that makes me want to read more from this author.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2013.

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Highball ExitHighball Exit
Phyllis Smallman
Touchwood Editions, November 2012
ISBN 978-1-927129-79-1
Trade Paperback

Billed as “a traditional mystery series serving Jack Daniels instead of tea,” this is the fifth in Phyllis Smallman’s Sherri Travis mysteries.  The protagonist, who co-owns a restaurant/bar with her lover, Clay Adams, is going through difficult financial times in the current economy, and uneasy romantic times in her relationship with Clay.  As the book opens, “Aunt” Kay arrives at Sherri’s house in a police cruiser, and tells Sherri that her former waitress, 21-year-old Holly Mitchell, has been found dead, in what the police declare to be a suicide:  There was what appears to be a suicide note with an empty highball glass sitting on it; it is their belief that she washed down some pills with a strong drink.  Three months behind in mortgage payments, and terrified that she will lose the Sunset Bar & Grill, she finds a temporary solution to that problem when Aunt Kay persuades her to look into the young woman’s death, made more urgent by the fact that there is no sign of Holly’s baby, telling her that she will take care of the outstanding payments if Sherri will give her a week of her time.

Now thirty-one, Sherri’s life had not been an easy one:  Married when she was 19, she had survived the murder of her cheating husband, been kidnapped by a psychopath, and now takes martial arts classes, goes to the shooting range, and is never without her can of pepper spray, in spite of all of which she regularly suffers from panic attacks.  Her current inquiries puts her life in danger from totally unexpected quarters, as she enters a world of drugs, sex workers, and perversion, but she is determined to get to the bottom of Holly’s death and to find her baby.

The book is filled with interesting characters, starting with Elvis, “the only egret in all Florida who preferred hotdogs to fish;” feisty “Auntie” Kay, who had known Sherri from the age of five; Sherri’s father, Tully, and Sherri’s former mother-in-law, Bernice, who are now romantically involved, to Sherri’s consternation.

This was a thoroughly entertaining novel, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2013.

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NightriseNightrise
Jim Kelly
Crème de la Crime/Severn House, February 2013
ISBN: 978-1-78029-033-1
Hardcover, 244 pp., $28.95

This was a book that I enjoyed immensely, despite the fact that at times it moved rather slowly for me, probably because many of its frames of reference were unfamiliar, coming as I am from the “other side of the pond.”  Even extending to the title, although I supposed it was meant to evoke the opposite of sunrise, and is defined by the author at one point as the moment when one sees “the first star clear in the sky.”

Philip Dryden had been a Fleet Street reporter, a job he’d left for one on the local paper to be near his wife.  I found him to be a very original protagonist, one made very human and vulnerable when, on the opening page, he is introduced to the reader as the father of an infant son, following somewhat traumatic circumstances:  His wife “had been badly injured in a car accident a decade earlier – – trapped in a coma for more than two years.  She would never completely recover.  They’d been told a child was impossible.”    But, almost miraculously, here he was.

Also in the opening pages, Philip is told by the police that his father has just been killed in an auto accident, the body burned beyond recognition, only the vehicle itself providing the identity of the owner.  This is a second near-impossibility:  His father had died 35 years before, drowned during the floods of 1977, the body swept away and never found.  The thought that he might have survived and simply chosen not to return to his family is, to say the least, stunning.

There are other story lines here, and a faint suspicion allowed that somehow they may be linked..  A West African man, seeking asylum in England but being forced to return to Niger, has been refused, without explanation, the return of the body of his infant daughter, buried, he is told, in an unmarked grave, and he and his wife seek Dryden’s help.  Then there is the mystery behind the murder of a local man whose already dead body had been hung from an irrigator in an open field.  When another murder occurs, a very personal one for Dryden, his efforts to solve these crimes are redoubled.

The novel is very well-written, suspenseful, and with a totally unexpected ending.  This is the sixth book in the series, but the first one I’d read.  I was happy to discover it, and shall definitely look for the previous entries.  This one is certainly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2013.