Book Review: The Devil Amongst the Lawyers by Sharyn McCrumb @StMartinsPress

The Devil Amongst the Lawyers
A Ballad Novel #8
Sharyn McCrumb
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, June 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-55816-1
Hardcover

Set in 1935 in a small town in the Appalachian mountains, a young schoolteacher is accused of murdering her father. Since Erma Morton, the suspect, is reported to be beautiful and people love a good murder story with an attractive woman at its center, journalists from all the big city newspapers flock to town to report on the trial. The question is, are they going to write the facts, or just the myths of hill country life?

That’s where Carl Jenkins, a more local small town reporter with big ambition comes in. He wants the truth, but with Erma not talking and her enterprising brother running the show, the truth may be difficult to pinpoint.

Extraordinary steps must be taken, and Carl enlists his young cousin, Nora Bonesteel, to help him. After all, people will talk with a twelve-year-old girl when they won’t an adult man. And Nora is gifted with the “sight.” If anyone can discover whether Erma killed her father or not, it is Nora.

I was disappointed with the story, in part because it starts out repeating the tale of the 1916 hanging of an elephant in Kingsport, Tenneesee. A true story, sickening, that I’ve read about before. I skipped it this time.

Perhaps the inclusion of the incident colored my view, but from that beginning I never really got into the “meat,” if meat there was, of the plot. I didn’t relate to or care abut the characters, with the exception of Carl and Nora. The story moved slowly and a great deal of the novel was given over to flashbacks concerning another journalist, Henry Jernigan.

But read the novel for yourself. See what you think. After all, Sharyn McCrumb writes wonderfully literate books. This one will plunge you deeply into 1935 mountain folk life.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, January 2021.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Six Dancing Damsels: A China Bohannon Mystery

Book Review: Child’s Play by Merry Jones—and a Giveaway!

childs-playChild’s Play
The Elle Harrison Series #3
Merry Jones
Oceanview Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-60809-191-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Since her husband’s murder two years earlier, life hasn’t been easy for Elle Harrison. Now, at the start of a new school year, the second grade teacher is determined to move on. She’s selling her house and delving into new experiences―like learning trapeze.

Just before the first day of school, Elle learns that a former student, Ty Evans, has been released from juvenile detention where he served time for killing his abusive father. Within days of his release, Elle’s school principal, who’d tormented Ty as a child, is brutally murdered. So is a teacher at the school. And Ty’s former girlfriend. All the victims have links to Ty.

Ty’s younger brother, Seth, is in Elle’s class. When Seth shows up at school beaten and bruised, Elle reports the abuse, and authorities remove Seth and his older sister, Katie, from their home. Is Ty the abuser?

Ty seeks Elle out, confiding that she’s the only adult he’s ever trusted. She tries to be open-minded, even wonders if he’s been wrongly condemned. But when she’s assaulted in the night, she suspects that Ty is her attacker. Is he a serial killer? Is she his next intended victim?

Before Elle discovers the truth, she’s caught in a deadly trap that challenges her deepest convictions about guilt and innocence, childhood and family. Pushed to her limits, she’s forced to face her fears and apply new skills in a deadly fight to survive.

I first encountered the work of Merry Jones almost four years ago and, at the time, I thought there were flaws in The Trouble with Charlie but I still found the tale intriguing and looked forward to future books. Next for me came In the Woods (a different series) almost two years later and, while I didn’t care for that one as much, I didn’t give up on Ms. Jones. Something about her books kept drawing me back and, to my mind, that says a lot about an author’s ability to engage a reader.

Now comes Child’s Play, third entry in the first series and my interest in Ms. Jones has been paid off in spades. This book is the one I consider to be her breakthough novel and I’m truly glad I had the opportunity to read it.

Here we have a dark, disturbing study of the repercussions our actions can have years after the fact, tangled with the impact a troubled home life has on children, sometimes leading to dire events. Elementary school teacher Elle Harrison has to cope with a memory disorder but she remembers Ty Evans well enough, a young man recently released from detention after serving his time for killing his abusive father. When people connected to Ty’s past and present begin to die, Elle can’t help wanting to believe Ty when he insists he’s not the killer but she can’t forget his past nor completely trust him. With continually rising tension and plenty of twists and turns, Elle’s nerves go on high alert but certain truths that come to light are way beyond what she ever anticipated.

I have to say some readers will probably find Child’s Play a bit too violent and emotionally wrenching but I appreciated how Ms. Jones handled some very disturbing topics including the horrifying aspects of true psychosis. For anyone looking for a riveting book you won’t want to put down, this is a fine candidate.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2017.

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An Excerpt from Child’s Play

I was the first one there.

The parking lot was empty, except for Stan’s pickup truck. Stan was the custodian, tall, hair thinning, face pock-marked from long ago acne. He moved silently, popped out of closets and appeared in corners, prowled the halls armed with a mop or a broom. In fourteen years, I couldn’t remember a single time when he’d looked me in the eye.

Wait—fourteen years? I’d been there that long? Faces of kids I’d taught swirled through my head. The oldest of them would now be, what? Twenty-one? Oh man. Soon I’d be one of those old school marms teaching the kids of my former students, a permanent fixture of the school like the faded picture of George Washington mounted outside the principal’s office. Hell, in a few months, I’d be forty. A middle-aged childless widow who taught second grade over and over again, year after year, repeating the cycle like a hamster on its wheel. Which reminded me: I had to pick up new hamsters. Tragically, last year’s hadn’t made it through the summer.

I told myself to stop dawdling. I had a classroom to organize, cubbies to decorate. On Monday, just three days from now, twenty-three glowing faces would show up for the first day of school, and I had to be ready. I climbed out of the car, pulled a box of supplies from the trunk, started for the building. And stopped.

My heart did triple time, as if responding to danger. But there was no danger. What alarmed me, what sent my heart racing was the school itself. But why? Did it look different? Had the windows been replaced, or the doors? Nothing looked new, but something seemed altered. Off balance. The place didn’t look like an elementary school. It looked like a giant factory. A prison.

God, no. It didn’t look like any of those things. The school was the same as it had always been, just a big brick building. It seemed cold and stark simply because it was unadorned by throngs of children. Except for wifi, Logan Elementary hadn’t changed in fifty years, unless you counted several new layers of soot on the bricks.

I stood in the parking lot, observing the school, seeing it fresh. I’d never paid much attention to it before. When it was filled with students, the building itself became all but invisible, just a structure, a backdrop. But now, empty, it was unable to hide behind the children, the smells of sunshine and peanut butter sandwiches, the sounds of chatter and small shoes pounding Stanley’s waxed tiles. The building stood exposed. I watched it, felt it watching me back. Threatening.

Seriously, what was wrong with me? The school was neither watching nor threatening me. It was a benign pile of bricks and steel. I was wasting time, needed to go in and get to work. But I didn’t take a single step. Go on, I told myself. What was I afraid of? Empty halls, vacant rooms? Blank walls? For a long moment, I stood motionless, eyes fixed on the façade. The carved letters: Logan School. The heavy double doors. The dark windows. Maybe I’d wait a while before going inside. Becky would arrive soon, after she picked up her classroom aquarium.

Other teachers would show up, too. I could go in with them, blend safely into their commotion. I hefted the box, turned back to the car. But no, what was I doing? I didn’t want to wait. I’d come early so I could get work done without interruption or distraction before the others arrived. The school wasn’t daring me, nor was I sensing some impending tragedy. I was just jittery about starting a new year.

I turned around again, faced its faded brown bricks. I steeled my shoulders, took a breath and started across the parking lot. With a reverberating metallic clank, the main doors flew open. Reflexively, I stepped back, half expecting a burst of flames or gunfire. Instead, Stan emerged. For the first time in fourteen years, I was glad to see him. Stan surveyed the parking lot, hitched up his pants. Looked in my direction. He didn’t wave or nod a greeting, didn’t follow social conventions. Even so, his presence grounded me, felt familiar.

I took a breath, reminded myself that the school was just a school. That I was prone to mental wandering and embellishing. And that children would stream into my classroom in just three days, whether I was ready or not.

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About the Author

Merry JonesMerry Jones is the author of some twenty critically acclaimed books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has been translated into seven languages. Her previous Elle Harrison novels have been THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE and ELECTIVE PROCEDURES. Jones lives with her husband in Philadelphia.

Catch Up with Merry online:

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Follow the tour:

01/26 Blog Talk Radio w/Fran Lewis
01/26 Review @ Just Reviews
02/01 Review/showcase @ Books, Dreams, Life
02/02 Review @ Wall-to-wall books – Giveaway
02/03 Review/showcase @ CMash Reads
02/04 Showcase @ The Pen and Muse Book Reviews
02/05 Review @ Book Babble
02/06 Review @ Buried Under Books – Giveaway
02/07 Interview/showcase @ BooksChatter
02/08 Guest Post/Showcase @ The Book Divas Reads
02/09 Showcase @ Mythical Books
02/14 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
02/15 Review @ fuonlyknew
02/20 Guest post & Review @ Jersey Girl Book Reviews
02/21 Interview @ Writers and Authors
02/22 Interview @ Jean BookNerd – Giveaway
02/23 Review @ Books Direct
02/23 Review @ JBronder Book Reviews
02/24 Review & Guest post @ Blog Rockin Book Reviews – Giveaway

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To enter the drawing for an ebook
copy of Child’s Play, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be drawn
Thursday evening, February 9th and the
ebook will be sent out after the tour ends.

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Partners in Crime Book Tours

Book Reviews: Accidents Waiting to Happen by Simon Wood, Vanishing Girls by Katia Lief, All Mortal Flesh by Julia Spencer-Fleming, Sacrifice Fly by Tim O’Mara, and If You Were Here by Alafair Burke

Accidents Waiting to HappenAccidents Waiting to Happen
Simon Wood
Thomas & Mercer, November 2012
ISBN:  978-1-612-18402-9
Trade Paperback

Josh Michaels, a young man with a wife and little girl he adored, while driving back to his home in Sacramento, California, is forced off the highway and into the river in what appears to be an accident born from what he thinks of as reckless stupidity on the part of the other driver.  But the actions of that driver, before he gets back into his car and speeds away, convince Josh that it is anything but. Josh survives the ‘accident,’ but starts to doubt his ability to continue to survive the ensuing events, all appearing to be accidents by increasingly obviously [to him] staged attempts to end his life. Josh is staggered as he comes to this unavoidable conclusion and cannot believe that he is the target of a killer, but has no choice but to accept this fact and attempt to figure out who wants him dead, and why, if he is to survive.  To make matters worse, if that’s possible, past indiscretions and errors in judgment are now coming back to haunt him.

At Chapter 4 the reader meets “the professional,” the man hired to kill another person, a woman, as well as Josh.  Who has hired him?  Is there a connection between the two intended victims [something not readily apparent]?  And what is the motive?  As ‘the professional’ himself muses, “a seemingly motiveless murder was just as hard to solve as a well-planned accident.”

Simon Wood has fashioned an exciting and well-written novel of suspense, with a nail-biting conclusion during which this reader held her breath in anticipation of what new horrors might be in store.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2012.

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Vanishing GirlsVanishing Girls
Katia Lief
Harper, July 2012
ISBN 978-0-0620-9504-6
Mass Market Paperback

Karin Schaeffer, ex-NYPD and now a private detective, working with her husband at MacLeary Investigations, in the newest book by Katia Lief, becomes embroiled in the hunt for a serial killer dubbed The Working Girl Killer.  As you might guess, the victims have all been killed in the same manner, with the same exact type of weapon, and were all prostitutes.  Seven young women had been found dead across Manhattan, then two in Brooklyn.

At 38, Karin is now seeking an undergraduate college degree in forensic psychology.  She has not had an easy time of it, having survived the murder of her first husband and her daughter six years ago, and just recently had a miscarriage.  She dotes on their little boy, Ben, though still grieving for her losses.  As the book opens, Ben receives a text from Billy Staples, a detective at their local precinct in Brooklyn and Mac’s closest friend, from a crime scene that Billy believes to be where the serial killer has left his latest victim.  Eerily, a little girl is found badly injured several blocks away after what is believed to be a hit-and-run accident.  The cops feel the two things could somehow be connected, as the location and timing seem to rule out coincidence.

Billy had been fighting his own demons.  He has been hunting this killer for over a year. At the same time, Mac and Karin believe he is having hallucinations, suffering from PTSD after a horrifying incident when the woman he loved had tried to kill him, instead leaving him blinded in one eye; he had been forced to shoot her dead.  The current investigation triggers all his symptoms again, and envelops Karin as well to a very personal degree.

It is an interesting plot, telling a very dark tale that stayed with this reader for quite a while after turning the last page.  I have to admit, however, that after having read – –  and loved! – – the author’s two previous books, You Are Next, and Next Time You See Me, I felt this one did not live up to the expectations I had for it.  And though it was an interesting read, in the end I was disappointed.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2012.

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All Mortal FleshAll Mortal Flesh
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Minotaur, February 2013
ISBN 978-1-250-01855-7
Trade Paperback

All Mortal Flesh, the fifth in the Clare Ferguson/Russ Van Alstyne series, finds Clare, the parish priest in the small Adirondack, upstate NY town of Millers Kill, and Russ, the local police chief and married man she loves, having just wrenchingly ended their relationship.  The following day, an even more devastating event occurs:  Russ is told that his wife, from whom he had recently separated when he told her of his love for Clare, has been brutally murdered.  Loving Clare, yet still loving his wife, matters are only compounded when both Clare and Russ are considered prime suspects, not only by the police but by the local gossip-loving town residents.

With her usual adroit skill, Ms. Spencer-Fleming has written another wonderful tale of these very human protagonists in this book, available for the very first time in a trade paperback edition.  The sense of place is vivid, and the wintry weather graphically evoked. There is a slam-bang ending with a final unexpected and stunning turn as this suspense-filled tale concludes.  An excellent and fast-paced read, and one that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2013.

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Sacrifice FlySacrifice Fly
Tim O’Mara
Minotaur, October 2012
ISBN: 978-1-250-00898-5
Hardcover

Raymond Dunne is a very dedicated schoolteacher, working with eighth-graders in a middle school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and taking the welfare of his students very seriously.  In particular, one of the most promising, Frankie Rivas, has obtained a scholarship to a private high school on the basis of his baseball skills and the fact that Ray has called in a favor from their coach.  When Frankie fails to show up for school for a couple of weeks, Ray decides to try to find out why.  His visit to the home of the boy’s father results in his discovery of the man’s dead body.

Ray’s involvement at that point derives as much from his concern as his teacher as from the fact that Ray is a former cop.  His feelings when he walks into his old precinct are made palpable to the reader, his emotions roiling as he remembers back five years, when “you fall thirty feet, and your whole life changes.”  Among those changes are the physical ones; Ray has an umbrella with him every day, knowing it has to rain sometime; besides, it means he doesn’t have to carry a cane.

Frankie and his younger sister are nowhere to be found, and Ray follows up every lead he can find in order to locate the two children and ensure their safety.  Then the pace, and the suspense, move into higher gear, beyond the “controlled chaos” of Ray’s classroom, and the stakes go up as well.

When one has a terrific protagonist [with a valuable friend, a wannabe cop, nicknamed “Emo”], a well-developed plot, writing that makes the Brooklyn streets come to life and, as the title might imply, a lot of baseball references, what more could one ask?  [Well, this reader had to get past the fact that Ray is a Yankee fan, although he does don a Mets cap when the situation requires it.]  This is a wonderful debut novel from a writer whose next book I will anxiously await, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2013.

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If You Were HereIf You Were Here
Alafair Burke
Harper, June 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-220835-4
Hardcover

In her ninth novel, and second standalone, Alafair Burke introduces McKenna Jordan, a writer for the fictitious NYC Magazine.  Before her marriage five years ago, she was McKenna Wright, who had spent four years as an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, a job she lost in the aftermath of a police officer’s shooting of a 19-year-old youth, there being a question as to whether or not the boy had been unarmed, the gun found nearby planted.  McKenna’s zealous investigation into that incident, accusing the officer of homicide and perjury, ultimately caused her disgrace and ended her prosecutorial career.  This was soon followed by another, only slightly less traumatic event, when one of her best friends, beautiful West Point grad [and daughter of a two-star general] Susan Hauptmann, disappeared without a trace.

Now, all these years later, a cell-phone photo comes into McKenna’s hands showing a mysterious Superwoman, a female crime victim who had plucked her attacker’s body from the subway tracks to safety, who McKenna believes is that same friend, who she had become convinced was long dead.  Susan, an athletic 32 years old who had been deployed in the Middle East prior to the time of her disappearance, could have easily been capable of the feat in the subway station.

There ensue a series of bizarre and seemingly unrelated incidents that this reader never saw coming, including but not limited to a mysterious private operative [hitman?  private detective?  something else altogether?], a dead cop, someone hacking into and forging e-mails, and no clue as to who is pulling the strings.  The author somehow manages to tie them all up in a relentlessly intriguing plot.

Another well-written book by this author [who gives a tip-of-the-hat, without needing to name his completely recognizable protagonist, to Lee Child, which I loved], and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2013.