Book Review: A Midsummer’s Equation by Keigo Higashino

A Midsummer’s Equation
A Detective Galileo Mystery #3
Keigo Higashino
Minotaur Books, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-2500-2792-4
Hardcover

In The Devotion of Suspect X, the author created not only a first-class, original crime novel, but a singular character: a physicist, Manabu Yukawa, dubbed Dr. Galileo, who turned out to be an excellent amateur detective.  In this sequel, he applies the same scientific logic in helping to solve a murder, although the police believed the death to be an accident.

The new novel is a twisted tale full of unexpected turns in the plot.  It begins with the visit of a fifth-grade young man to a seaside resort on the Japanese coast, to a dilapidated inn run by his uncle and aunt, where he befriends Yukawa, who takes him under his wing, teaching the boy about various scientific principles and helping him with his homework. At the same inn a retired Tokyo homicide detective checks in and is soon discovered dead, presumably after a fall onto rocks lining the coast.

The story is far from a simple murder mystery and has its roots in the past.  The plot is full of surprises.  As was its predecessor, A Midsummer’s Equation is distinguished not only by the scientific content as applied to the case, but the moralistic conclusions as well.  Once again Higashino has written a clever tale that is deep and satisfying, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2017.

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Book Review: Hard Latitudes by Baron R. Birtcher

Hard LatitudesHard Latitudes
Mike Tavis #4
Baron R. Birtcher
Permanent Press, May 2015
ISBN: 978-1-57962-390-6
Hardcover

The fourth entry on the Mike Travis series is just as good as the earlier books, and that is high praise indeed.  The novel begins with the protagonist looking back at incidents that began eleven years prior, and an intricate and fascinating tale it is.  It starts in Macau in 1994, with an act of violence whose repercussions are felt in different far-flung parts of the world and do not, initially, involve Mike in any way.

Mike, 6’2” and a retired LAPD homicide detective, since leaving LA has been living in Hawaii, where he runs a chartering service for private scuba and luxury cruises out of Kona, on his 72’ sailing yacht, the Kehau, after running a similar operation off the Southern California coast.  Mike is the son of a very wealthy man, which he tries to forget, mostly with success, nor make others aware of it.  When his brother, heavily involved in the family business, calls from LA and tells Mike that his “indiscretions” have come back to haunt him in a big – and very public – – way, Mike makes immediate arrangements to return to LA to help him out (making his relationship with his significant other, Lani, even more problematical).

Along the way the author reflects on the history of both South Central LA in late April 1992, during the time of the riots, when he was still on the police force, as well as descriptions of the natural beauty of Hawaii, about which he says, e.g., “Twilight is my favorite time of day to walk the Kona waterfront.  The flickering lights of the village begin to cycle on, piercing the encroaching darkness, the heat of the day leeching from the concrete and up through the soles of your sandals while cool wind drifts in off the water.”  He pays tribute to LA as well, describing the sunrise as presenting a sky that is “a purple so deep that it appeared to bruise the sky.”  At the same time, he also says “Every time I come back to this town, it slithers back inside me.  I had never intended to be a cynic, never imagined I would feel such contempt, and especially had never wanted to lose hope.  I wanted to believe in greater things, like grace, like justice, like integrity; I wanted to believe in heroes or a higher purpose.”

The narrative is interspersed from time to time with the events set into motion in Macau over a decade ago.

Mike’s efforts on behalf of his brother as a “reluctant pi” have repercussions that place both him and his brother in jeopardy, as well as Mike’s former partner on the LAPD, Hans Yamaguchi, who assists him in his efforts, which have unexpected and serious consequences.  In addition to this story line, this is a tale of sexual slavery and human trafficking, not for the faint of heart I might add, with fairly frequent violence (happily, for the most part not graphic.)  It is a gripping story, beautifully written, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2016.

Reviews of a Few Shorts

Stand DownStand Down
A J. P. Beaumont Novella
J.A. Jance
Witness Impulse, July 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-241848-7
Ebook
Also available in mass market paperback

From the publisher—

Life has shifted for J. P. Beaumont. After a tragic accident that devastated—and ultimately disbanded—his Special Homicide Investigaton Team, he accepts that he has left homicide detection behind at this point, but he has a lot of unanticipated free time on his hands. He’s keeping busy with renovations on the new house that he and his wife, Mel Soames, the newly appointed chief of police in Bellingham, Washington, have bought. But new fixtures and paint palettes can occupy only so much of Beau’s daily life, and Mel is encouraging him to return to where he is needed: investigating crimes.

In the meantime, she is struggling to gain control of her new situation, cast into a department where some are welcoming—and some are not. It’s been a few months, and the tension in the police department is rising, but Beau realizes Mel has to tackle things in her own way, so he refrains from advising. But when Beau shows up one afternoon to survey the construction at their new house and finds Mel’s car there but no sign of her, his investigative instincts kick in. Suddenly he’s back in the game—except this time, his heart is on the line as well as his professional dignity.

There are many ways that J.A. Jance shows herself to be a remarkably good writer and Stand Down is one of the best examples. This is a short work but, in just these few words, Ms. Jance paints a living picture of Beau and Mel and their lives. When she takes us through the ungodly hours when everything changed for them, I had tears in my eyes and that just doesn’t happen to me when I’m reading a short because I don’t usually get invested without a full-length novel. Not so this time. My emotions were right out there on my sleeve.

And then Ms. Jance throws out a line like this, guaranteed to make me smile:

It was enough to piss off the Good Fairy.

Ah, yes, back on track again, this time Beau’s search for a missing person who just happens to be his police chief wife. No longer a working homicide detective—not by his choice—Beau reverts to character immediately and, by the time this case is resolved in an odd sort of way, his future is laid out for him. Next on the horizon is a new venture, Dance of the Bones, coming in September 2015. and I can hardly wait to see where life will take this died-in-the-wool cop.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.

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Drunken FireworksDrunken Fireworks
Stephen King
Read by Tim Sample
AUDIOWORKS/Simon & Schuster Audio, June 2015
ISBN 978-1-4423-8964-9
Unabridged Audio Book

From the publisher—

In this new tour-de-force from Stephen King—unavailable in print or any other format—a salt-of-the-earth Maine native recounts how a friendly annual summer fireworks show rivalry with his neighbor across the lake gradually spirals out of control…with explosive results!

In what came to be known by the locals as the 4th of July Arms Race, Alden McCausland and his Ma let a financial windfall go to their heads. When they set off a lovely fireworks display one Independence Day, the neighbors across the lake, the wealthy Massimos, decide to out-sparkle them. That’s all it takes to rile up Alden and Ma, determined that they will make known to the Massimos and other lake dwellers what a good fireworks show is all about.

Unfortunately, as you might expect in a Stephen King tale, all does not end exactly well (but nearly so). This is one of King’s more “mom-friendly” stories—a little bit of language but nothing horrific, just an entertaining anecdote about a rivalry between neighbors.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.

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Summer RainSummer Rain
An Inspector Banks Short Story
Peter Robinson
William Morrow Impulse, June 2015
ISBN 978-06-241380-2
Ebook

From the publisher—

Inspector Alan Banks confronts one of the most puzzling cases of his career— when a tourist claims that several decades earlier, in a previous life, he witnessed a murder committed nearby.

Banks doesn’t believe in the supernatural. Or superstition. But when evidence of a crime comes to light, he begins to wonder: How did this mysterious visitor know about a killing possibly committed before he was born?

When Jerry Singer announces that he was murdered 32 years ago, DCI Banks is skeptical, to say the least, but it’s a boring day so he decides to look into this highly questionable event. After all, what if this purported murder really did happen? Besides, Inspector Banks would much rather sniff around a possible cold case than do paperwork.

The mystery here is slight but Summer Rain is a nice introduction for a reader new to the series. Mr. Robinson unquestionably has a way with words and his description of the Yorkshire Dales takes me back to the one trip I made there many years ago. The Inspector Banks novels can be comfortably read as standalones and I have, in fact, missed a few here and there but I’m really looking forward to In the Dark Places, coming out in August.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.

Book Review: After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

After I'm GoneAfter I’m Gone
Laura Lippman
William Morrow, February 2014
ISBN 978-0-06-208339-5
Hardcover 

Felix Brewer flees the country after his conviction leaving his wife, three daughters and a girlfriend behind.The book opens in 1976 with Felix’s departure for Canada. The rest of the story is told in a slow reveal on two interwoven timelines. The first begins in 1959 when Felix meets his wife, Bambi. Each segment jumps forward a number of years, usually five, until we get to 2012. The second timeline begins in 2012 when Sandy Sanchez, a retired investigator of cold cases, decides to reopen the murder case of Felix’s girlfriend who disappeared ten years after Felix left whose body turned up 2001.

It’s hard to find someone to root for here but it’s an intriguing story and I found myself reading the book quickly because I wanted to know what had happened. Gradually we watch the three daughters grow up, marry, we get to know what happens to the wife, the girlfriend, a few friends of the family and even the investigator and his family. Slowly, bit by bit, the complicated plot is revealed. I think the story suffers from a cad like Felix being at the heart of it but ultimately it’s all about the impact of his actions on those who loved him, even if he didn’t deserve them.

But it reads like a true story and from the author’s note, we know similar things have happened. I wanted to know what happened to Felix, his family and his girlfriend and that curiosity kept me reading. Throughout, there is a long slow reveal, due to the style of the book shifting in time backwards and forwards and I was surprised time and again.

It’s an intriguing read.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, June 2015.

Book Review: Peter Pan Must Die by John Verdon

Peter Pan Must DiePeter Pan Must Die
John Verdon
Crown Publishers, July 2014
ISBN 978-0-385-34840-9
Hardcover

This is the fourth entry in the series featuring retired NYPD detective David Gurney who, according to New York magazine, is “the most successful homicide dick in the history of the Big Apple.” Now in his late 40’s, he and his second wife, Madeleine, live on an old farmhouse in the rural Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, leaving New York City three years earlier (“the city where they’d both been born, raised, educated, and employed”) after 25 years on the job. Dave has agreed to help out his old friend, Jack Hardwick, with whom he has a long and somewhat fraught history: Jack had had a ‘forced departure” from the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation after a difficult case they had worked on together. (Hardwick is described as having “a sharp mind and sound investigative instincts . . . concealed behind a relentless eagerness to offend.”)

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Book Reviews: Blessed Are the Dead by Malla Nunn, Let the Devil Sleep by John Verdon, All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosley, and Guilt by Jonathan Kellerman

Blessed Are the DeadBlessed Are the Dead
Malla Nunn
Emily Bestler Books/Washington Square Press, June 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-1692-7
Trade Paperback

The iconoclastic South African detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper returns in this excellent third installment in the series, replete with poignant observations on the effects of the rigid apartheid system in the country in 1953.  Cooper, who remains in the dog house for past transgressions, is plucked by his superior to solve a murder in an attempt to resurrect his status.

Accompanied by black Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala, he finds the body of a 17-year-old Zulu girl, daughter of a chief.  There are no clues at the scene, and the two have to scrounge for leads and face obstacles from the natives and landowners, each with their own agenda. The victim herself was involved in both the white and native African worlds, so that the detectives have to cope with the guarded secrets of both communities.

The characters drawn with deep accuracy to depict the characteristics of the South African society at the time are real and flawed.  The novel brings the reader into the corrupt atmosphere of the country with careful descriptions and sharp prose.  Another welcome addition to the adventures of a colorful detective, and it is most highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2012.

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Let the Devil SleepLet the Devil Sleep
John Verdon
Crown, July 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-71792-4
Hardcover

In his third appearance, retired NYPD detective David Gurney probably wishes he never answered the telephone.  By doing so, he ends up in a most precarious situation when a journalist who had written a laudatory profile of him when he was a top homicide detective asks him to look over her daughter’s shoulder.  The daughter has a chance to have her thesis idea converted into a TV series: “Orphans of the Murder,” a series of interviews with the families of the victims of a killer known as The Good Shepherd.  The homicides had taken place a decade earlier.

Gurney reluctantly agrees, but then becomes more and more involved in the case, which he believes was mishandled in the original investigation.  Of course, as he continues to look into it and raise questions, he makes no friends in the establishment, especially the FBI which had assumed control of the case.  And complicating his efforts is the Good Shepherd’s attempts to forestall and kill the TV series.

The novel begins as Gurney is slowly recovering from three gunshot wounds, one to his head, as a result of his last exploit.  And, of course, no Gurney story would leave him uninjured as a result of his determination to solve a case.  While the plot is logical and straightforward, a lot of the writing is repetitive, especially Gurney’s relations with his second wife, Madeleine, and his son, Kyle. That said, the story moves forward at a swift pace and has an unforeseen conclusion, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2012.

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All I Did Was Shoot My ManAll I Did Was Shoot My Man
Walter Mosley
NAL, February 2013
ISBN: 978-0-4512-3916-7
Trade Paperback

Leonid Trotter (“LT”) McGill is a 55-year-old African-American man, a former boxer, con man, fixer and over-all reprobate turned [relatively honest] PI is one of the more unusual characters in mystery fiction. Married, he has little if anything to do with his wife.  As far as his three children are concerned, he acknowledges that two are not his, but he loves and nurtures all.  His collection of friends and associates are as unconventional as he is.  And so are the books in the series, all somewhat bizarre but very enjoyable.

The plots of the series books, while intricate and complicated, tend to be odd.  And the present installment is no different.  In the past, LT framed a young woman who shot her boyfriend three times, when she came home to find him in bed with her best friend.  Since she was destined to go to jail anyway, he planted evidence in her locker of complicity in a $548 million heist from an insurance company.  Some years later, LT finds the “false” information that led to her conviction following which his lawyer gets her released from prison. As a result, a number of events take place, including an attempt on LT’s life, along with the murders of several others.  Of course, it’s up to him to solve the case.

Written in a style that sometimes defies belief, the complexity and insight of the novel and, especially, the LT character, are overwhelming.  With each book, development of LT as a person deepens, and the reader gains substantial knowledge of the man.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2013.

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GuiltGuilt
Jonathan Kellerman
Ballantine, February 2013
ISBN: 978-0-345-50573-6
Hardcover

The team of psychologist Alex Delaware and LAPD homicide detective Lt. Milo Sturgis has been solving cases for a long time.  But not like the crimes described in this latest installment.  It starts out with the discovery of a child’s bones, which appear to be old, perhaps dating to the 1950’s.  Soon, however, a fresh set of bones is found in a nearby park.  And on the other side of the park, a murdered young woman.  Are all these connected?

Following the familiar plot line, the detective follows procedure, and the psychologist thinks off the wall.  And together they find the path to solving the mysteries, a tough road.  Looking into the history of ownership of the first site provides little guidance.  And there isn’t much more to go on in the case of the new set of bones or of the murder victim.

The hallmark of the series is the interchange and quips between Alex and Milo, and Guilt is no exception.  The author has perfected the novels, plotting and characters to such a high degree as to make each new entry a joy to read.  And the newest book conforms to that ideal, and certainly is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2013.

Book Reviews: Reunion by Carl Brookins, Crashed by Timothy Hallinan, Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman, and When the Past Haunts You by L. C. Hayden

ReunionReunion
A Jack Marston Mystery
Carl Brookins
Echelon Press, 2011
ISBN No. 978-1590806685
Trade Paperback

Jack Marston, a former investigator for the Navy, is now a student service director at City College in Minneapolis.  Jack is living with Lori Jacobs and Lori has just received an invitation to the reunion of the Class of 1989 in the town of Riverview. Lori isn’t too excited about going but Jack encourages her to accept the invitation.   Lori accepts but wants Jack to attend the reunion functions with her.

The couple travel to Riverview to attend.  There are some interesting sounding events set up for the attendees at the reunion.  Jack takes a walk outside on the first night and finds a dead body and this won’t be the first murder to happen during the reunion.

Lori didn’t expect things to remain the same in Riverview but it isn’t the town that she remembers.  It seems that there are a lot of shady dealings going on and certain people will go to any length to keep their secrets hidden.  Jack is using his investigator skills to attempt to figure out what is actually going on in this crooked town and Lori is helping with her knowledge of the people.

The couple’s investigations lead them to a discovery that puts their lives on the line.  Can Jack possibly figure out a way to save them both before they become the next victims?

Reunion is a book that I didn’t want to end and I was surprised when the complicated plot and the actual murderer was finally revealed.

Carl Brookins is a retired professor, author and reviewer.  I would recommend Reunion as well as The Case of the Greedy Lawyers, another Brookins novel.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2012.

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crashedCrashed
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, November 2012
ISBN No. 978-1616952747
Hardcover

Junior Bender is a burglar but he has some rather unique ways of approaching his jobs.  Some of his methods will have you rolling on the floor laughing but they seem to work for him – at least most of the time.  There are a few moments when the reader wonders if Junior will survive to steal another day.

An LA crime boss is producing a porn movie starring Thistle Downing. Thistle is a former child star who was loved by her fans but time has taken a toll on Thistle and she is currently living in a drug-induced stupor, destitute and uninsurable.  The movie would bring income to Thistle but would only send her further down her current path of destruction.

Junior is blackmailed into accepting the free-lance job of finding out who is sabotaging this movie.  His job is to keep the movie on track. The problem Junior is running into is that he likes Thistle and knows the movie is not the best thing for her even though she needs the money.  Junior sets out to fulfill his obligation but at the same time do right by Thistle and this isn’t an easy thing to do.  Junior has some very interesting friends who lend a helping hand  along the way.

I want to read more and more about Junior.  He is a character that is full of charm and certainly has some interesting escapades.   Crashed is written in a totally different style from the Bangkok series.  This novel proves that Timothy Hallinan can entertain us with more than one type of novel and I for one want to read everything he writes.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, January 2013.

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Don't Ever Get OldDon’t Ever Get Old
Daniel Friedman
Minotaur Books, May 2012
ISBN No. 978-0312606930
Hardcover

Buck Schatz has been married to his wife, Rose, for 64 years.  Buck can be pretty set in his ways but when Rose speaks Buck does listen.  Rose insists that Buck go to the hospital to visit Jim Wallace.   Jim is dying and is asking to see Buck.  Buck uses the excuse that he can’t drive to the hospital but Jim’s daughter Emily Feely agrees to drive him.  Jim and Buck have never been close but they did spend time together in a POW camp back in 1944.

Jim confesses to Buck that he had seen Heinrich Ziegler in France in 1946.  Ziegler was not a happy memory for Buck.  Zeigler was head of the POW camp and was very cruel to Buck, partly because Buck was Jewish but mostly because Ziegler was simply a very cruel individual.  Buck had heard that Ziegler was dead but Jim states that not only was Ziegler alive but he had given Jim a gold bar to let Ziegler go.

Buck having fulfilled his agreement to visit Jim is more than ready to return home and daytime TV.  A retired homicide detective, Buck has had many dangerous adventures in the past but is now pretty much content to just stay at home, visit the Jewish Community Center on occasion, eat Rose’s cooking and smoke Lucky Strikes.  Buck carries a “memory book” jotting down notes of things he needs to remember because at 87 a person can’t be expected to remember everything.  Buck can’t understand why he can’t light up a Lucky in public and that is just one of the many things Buck finds unacceptable.

But it seems that Jim Wallace told more than one person about Ziegler and the fortune in gold bars that Wallace seemed to think Ziegler possessed so soon Buck is very popular because some of these people think Wallace told Buck how to get his hands on the gold bars.

It turns out that Ziegler is still alive.  Buck’s grandson Tequila decides he will help out his Grandpa and find Ziegler and the gold bars.  So in spite of the fact that Buck isn’t too keen on this idea the two set out to bring home the treasure.  Buck’s almost forgotten detective instincts take over and soon the two have a very exciting adventure.

Don’t Ever Get Old is a joy to read, a wonderful story with great characters.  I am sure that all of us know some elderly person that has a lot of Buck’s attitudes.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2012.

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When the Past Haunts YouWhen The Past Haunts You
A Harry Bronson Mystery
L. C. Hayden
Books by Hayden, February 2012
ISBN No. 978-1470074791
Trade Paperback

It would be difficult to find a happier married couple than Harry and Carol Bronson. Harry is retired from the Dallas police department and enjoys traveling with Carol.  Harry has been involved in a number of mysteries in spite of the fact that he is retired.

Carol Bronson would be the first to tell you that there are no secrets between her and Harry.  However, Carol is going to find out that this statement is not entirely accurate.  Harry has a huge secret that he has never discussed with his wife.  This secret is a sister that he has pushed to the back of his mind and never mentioned her existence to his wife.

Lorraine, Harry’s sister, had a terrible fight with Harry’s parents.   She immediately left home and Harry had no further contact with her until recently when she began calling him.  Lorraine begs Harry to come to Pennsylvania and meet with her.  Harry finally agrees and they meet in a state park that had been a location for good childhood memories for both brother and sister.  However, before the two had a chance to reconnect Lorraine was shot and killed right in front of Harry and there was not one thing Harry could do to save her life.

Even though it was too late to reconnect with his sister, Harry is determined to learn all that he can about her life since she left home.    As Harry traces Lorraine’s life by following up on any information he can discover, he learns that she lived quite a different life than he imagined.  He also learned that she had never forgotten her brother and was always very proud of Harry and his accomplishments as a police officer.

Harry’s quest to learn everything about Lorraine’s past since she left home puts his life in danger but he has no intentions of giving up.  Harry intends to uncover all of Lorraine’s secrets and to bring her killer to justice.  Harry feels that this is the very least he can do for the sister he has ignored for all these years.  Lorraine’s life has involved people from every walk in life, from pimps to millionaires.   Harry is in for many surprises as he investigates.

L. C. Hayden has written an exciting book that keeps the reader on edge every step of the way.  I have read several L. C. Hayden novels and would recommend them.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, March 2013.