Book Review: Death of an Honest Man by M.C. Beaton

Death of an Honest Man
A Hamish Macbeth Mystery #33
M.C. Beaton
Grand Central Publishing, February 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4555-5831-5
Hardcover

All the familiar characters and nuances of the Hamish Macbeth mysteries are present in this novel.  That does not diminish the charm of the tale, which begins with a new arrival in the Scottish sergeant’s patch, one Paul English.  The newcomer prides himself for stating honest observations, which are really insults. For instance, telling an overweight woman she’s fat, or the minister his sermons are boring.  And, of course, there’s always Chief Inspector Blair and his hatred for Macbeth, and his constant attempts to take credit for crimes Macbeth solves.

Well, English’s mouth actually results in his misfortune, and he is murdered.  With any number of potential suspects, Macbeth has his work cut out for him.  A couple of subplots round out the novel: first is Macbeth’s fixation on his wild cat who apparently is no longer with him, and he finds and nurtures another in the hope that it is his lost pet; and then there is the constant loss of his assistants to the food industry.

The addition of a new novel to this long-running series is always a joy to read and “Honest Man” is good fun, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2018.

Book Review: Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson

Quiet Neighbors
Catriona McPherson
Midnight Ink, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-4762-0
Hardcover

We all live in neighborhoods, some loud and raucous, some quiet and peaceful. In either case, we may know a good deal about those who live in those sheltering houses, and we may not. We might also be surprised to learn somethings good or not so good about our neighbors.

Neighborhoods are a collective façade behind which we often protect our privacy, letting others make assumptions without question until something upsets the even and normal fabric.

People have secrets and this is a novel of revelation, of history and secrets and the results of false assumptions. In some neighborhoods, or tiny towns, such as this one on the Scottish coast, the insertion of a new force, such as a stranger, can be benign or upsetting.

London librarian Jude comes on vacation with her husband to this tiny town of bookshops, fabric stores and teashops. It’s a quiet Scottish town and Jude discovers an odd bookstore nestled amongst other quirky shops. Lowland Glen Books turns out to be a treasure trove of used books. But the place is, to say the least, not well organized. But the store and its proprietor offer some quirky calm in the midst of Jude’s deteriorating life and marriage.

Weeks later, she needs a place to go to ground in a hurry and for unfathomable reasons, the town around Lowland Books rises in her memory and there she goes to hide. The mystery of her need to hide is one of the many mysteries so carefully unraveled as this story progresses. She needs shelter and a job wouldn’t be amiss, either. When the bookstore owner, possessor of his own secrets, offers her the job reorganizing the bookstore, and a roof over her head, the situation seems heaven-sent.

Naturally, in a small community like this, Jude discovers some people with secrets of their own and when a young pregnant woman, claiming a relationship with the bookstore owner, shows up, more yarn begins to unravel.

The revelations, the discoveries, intertwined with startling personality bends, are masterfully handled, retaining and enhancing wide-ranging literary comment, examination of some life styles and amazement as the sometimes slyly revealed truths come to the fore. Any reader who loves mystery, countervailing personal forces and a persistent, forward-moving narrative, will find this novel interesting and difficult to put  down.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 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.

Book Review: Judgment of Murder by C.S. Challinor

Judgment of Murder
A Rex Graves Mystery #8
C.S. Challinor
Midnight Ink, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-5009-5
Trade paperback

For a mystery, this British entry into the field is so low key that I think even I might have a more exciting life. Scottish barrister Rex Graves’ old mentor, Lord Murgatroyd–also known as Judge Murder, has passed away. Phoebe, his daughter, thinks he may have been murdered, although the evidence is flimsy. An unlocked window? A not very valuable stamp album gone missing? None of it seems very convincing, but Rex travels from Edinburgh to Canterbury upon her invitation to see what he makes of the situation.

Not much, as it turns out. But he makes a few phone calls when he gets back to Edinburgh, and oddly enough, is put in danger by a man the judge had put in prison, but who has been released.

Meanwhile, a schoolgirl from the area has been kidnapped and is feared dead. It happened not far from the judge’s house, and is a subplot that runs through the story. Actually, it’s the most interesting part, as the characters in this story did not intrigue me, nor were they particularly sympathetic. The most interesting is Rex’s pal Alistair, who also has the most action. Turns out the judge’s daughter is a tippler and a would-be man eater, not that that sort of thing works on a man like Rex.

The dialogue seemed mundane to me, and old-fashioned in the extreme for people who carry mobile phones and drive a Jaguar, but it does get the job done. In the climax, all the ends are tied, the plot holes explained, and everyone gets their due.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: A Strange Scottish Shore by Juliana Gray

A Strange Scottish Shore
Emmeline Truelove Series #2
Juliana Gray
Berkley Trade Paperback, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-425-27708-9
Trade Paperback

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, especially if the story veers toward the mythical and takes place on one of Great Britain’s coasts, you’ve probably heard of selkies, a seal-like creature that comes ashore, sheds its skin and lives like a human. At least for a while, until the sea calls it back.

A Strange Scottish Shore opens when a wall in an ancient Scottish castle is breached and a box is found which contains a suit of peculiar texture. The year is 1906, and while the suit seems to be of a modern rubberized fabric, researchers Maximilian Haywood and his assistant, Emmeline Truelove, ascertain it is the skin of a selkie who in ancient times came ashore from the sea and married the first laird.

But then weird things begin happening. People appear and disappear. Emmeline’s “special” friend Lord Silverton disappears one night. A strange, evil seeming young man appears, and Emmeline meets and speaks with an oddly familiar young woman who gives her a warning. Who are these people? What do they want? Where do they come from, and where do they go so suddenly? It’s a mystery that will take Max, Emmeline, and Silverton from the present, into the past as well as into the future, with danger dogging their steps at every turn.

The unique story premise is intriguing, to be sure. The characters, for the most part, are strong. The dialogue seemed a bit wordy to me, and sometimes, a bit superfluous. A reader will find many twists and turns, and effortlessly, which is the best way, learn a bit about old Scottish castles, the lives of our ancestors, and even the myths they believed in. The ending holds a bit of a surprise, and I think you’ll find it all to the good. As to where the selkie skin (or suit) came from, and to whom it belonged, well, you’ll just have to read the story to find out.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, January 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Reviews: A Strange Scottish Shore by Juliana Gray and The Gardener’s Secret by Jamie Cortland

A Strange Scottish Shore
Emmeline Truelove #2
Juliana Gray
Berkley, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-425-277089
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Scotland, 1906. A mysterious object discovered inside an ancient castle calls Maximilian Haywood, the new Duke of Olympia, and his fellow researcher Emmeline Truelove north to the remote Orkney Islands. No stranger to the study of anachronisms in archeological digs, Haywood is nevertheless puzzled by the artifact: a suit of clothing that, according to family legend, once belonged to a selkie who rose from the sea and married the castle’s first laird.
 
But Haywood and Truelove soon realize they’re not the only ones interested in the selkie’s strange hide. When their mutual friend Lord Silverton vanishes in the night from an Edinburgh street, their quest takes a dangerous turn through time, which puts Haywood’s extraordinary talents—and Truelove’s courage—to their most breathtaking test yet.

After Miss Emmeline Truelove sets off by train to Scotland to join her employer and colleague, Max Haywood, the late Queen Victoria appears, not an unusual occurrence, to warn her that she’s being followed, no surprise to Emmeline. Then, her friend and would-be suitor, Marquess Frederick Silverton, boards the same train and chases after the stranger who jumps off. Clearly, we’re off on an adventure.

An odd man named Hunter Spillane later disappears after attacking Emmeline and Max at a house party in Scotland. When James Magnusson, Earl of Thurso, shows them a box found in a castle’s ruins, the mystery deepens and yet holds a hint of their own recent past. Affairs of the heart and Emmeline’s visions of her deceased father and the late Queen add to the mystery they must solve without undue attention from others.

In a blend of mystery and fantasy, people literally come and go through centuries in a time-traveling kind of vortex as the puzzle begins to come clear and a beautiful woman named Helen tells an incredible tale. The story itself is highly entertaining but it’s the various characters who really engaged me and kept me turning pages. Now, I need to find the first book and do some catching up.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Gardener’s Secret
Jamie Cortland
World Castle Publishing, June 2017
ISBN 978-1629897318
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Vince Giardini is believed to have perished in a plane crash over the Rockies, his beautiful wife, Dannie, becomes the target of handsome and charismatic, Eddie Haywood who is a psychopath with a borderline personality disorder. After discovering she needs a gardener and a handyman to care for her mansion on AIA, he applies for the position.

As his fascination with her intensifies, he vows to make her his one way or another and he begins to stalk her. Danni knows she is being stalked, especially after the break-in. Alone, without Vince, she has no one to save her from Eddie’s devious plans except her friends, Sal Catalano, her husband’s partner and Peter Langley.

A plane crash sets the tone for this tale that drips menace on the page, particularly when Eddie Haywood sets his sights on Danni Giardini. Eddie is the kind of man who makes women shudder, not only because we know what he is but also because of his public persona that keeps his nature hidden. It’s the kind of facade that we fear because it’s so easy to not really see the monster beneath.

Occasional inconsistencies pulled me out of the story such as the time when Danni rushes to meet her friend, Lainey, because she’s late for their lunch date but she stops at a coffee shop and reads part of the newspaper. Also, Danni can be annoying, with a sense of entitlement that comes from being rich and bored. Another example is when Sal, Vince’s partner, flies from Denver to Palm Beach hoping to give the bad news to Danni before the airline does. Why on earth would anyone do that, knowing a telephone call is almost certainly going to reach her first? As it turns out, there was no help for it since she was away from her home and her phone but he didn’t know that. There’s also a scene in which a pregnant woman drinks wine and there’s no indication from her or the man with her that this is just a once a week thing.

Despite content and editing flaws of this sort, the tale moves along, building suspense about the missing man, the one who wants to do harm and, eventually, a murdered woman. Tension rachets up a few chapters in and, for the rest of the book, the main thing that threw me off was something that I expect might be more common in romance books than in the genres I’m used to. I can’t say what it is without spoiling but it had to do with the interactions of certain characters and, since I rarely read romance per se, I’m not holding it against The Gardener’s Secret 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

Book Review: Thief’s Mark by Carla Neggers—and a Giveaway!

Thief’s Mark
A Sharpe & Donovan Novel #8
Carla Neggers
MIRA, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-778-33031-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

A murder in a quiet English village, long-buried secrets and a man’s search for answers about his traumatic past entangle FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan in the latest edge-of-your-seat Sharpe & Donovan novel 

As a young boy, Oliver York witnessed the murder of his wealthy parents in their London apartment. The killers kidnapped him and held him in an isolated Scottish ruin, but he escaped, thwarting their plans for ransom. Now, after thirty years on the run, one of the two men Oliver identified as his tormentors may have surfaced.  

Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan are enjoying the final day of their Irish honeymoon when a break-in at the home of Emma’s grandfather, private art detective Wendell Sharpe, points to Oliver. The Sharpes have a complicated relationship with the likable, reclusive Englishman, an expert in Celtic mythology and international art thief who taunted Wendell for years. Emma and Colin postpone meetings in London with their elite FBI team and head straight to Oliver. But when they arrive at York’s country home, a man is dead and Oliver has vanished. 

As the danger mounts, new questions arise about Oliver’s account of his boyhood trauma. Do Emma and Colin dare trust him? With the trail leading beyond Oliver’s small village to Ireland, Scotland and their own turf in the United States, the stakes are high, and Emma and Colin must unravel the decades-old tangle of secrets and lies before a killer strikes again.  

My favorite mystery setting, an English village, and a pair of FBI agents who are definitely out of their geographic element…what more could I want? Throw in an art thief (which I’ve always found fun and exciting, probably because these art thieves are daring and, well, sort of James Bond-ish, even the women) and a heinous crime from the past and the stage is set for an engrossing read.

Emma’s grandfather is an art detective in the private collector realm and has a strange tale for Emma and Colin. It seems that he’s had a break-in by someone apparently interested in items connected to one Oliver York. To add a little more mystique, Oliver used to be an accomplished art thief but then became an MI5 agent. Emma and Colin have years-long ties to Oliver through both of his professions but, when a dead man is found at his home, the case becomes ever-expanding and eventually involves multiple countries and law enforcement organizations.

While this is part of the Sharpe & Donovan series, it’s essentially a standalone and focuses largely on Oliver. He is a fascinating man and he makes it easy to understand why cops and robbers sometimes can’t help liking and even respecting each other. Emma and Colin are a delightful couple as well as being really good agents and Oliver’s colleague, Henrietta, is a force of nature but it’s Wendell, Emma’s grandfather, who really stole my heart. All in all, Thief’s Mark was a grand introduction, for me, to this series and the rest of the books are going on my wishlist right now.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

************

Purchase Links:

         

    

************

About the Author

Carla Neggers is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 60 novels, including her popular Sharpe and Donovan and Swift River Valley series. Her books have been translated into 24 languages and sold in over 35 countries. A frequent traveler to Ireland, Carla lives with her family in New England. To learn more and to sign up for her newsletter, visit CarlaNeggers.com.

Connect with Carla:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

************

Follow the tour here.

************

To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Thief’s Mark by Carla Neggers
, just leave
a
comment below. The winning name
will be drawn on Friday
night,
September 22nd and the book will be sent
out after the tour ends. This drawing is

open to residents of the US and Canada.

************

Book Review: Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina

blood-salt-waterBlood, Salt, Water
An Alex Morrow Novel #5
Denise Mina
Back Bay Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-316-38056-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  A wealthy businesswoman disappears from her Glasgow home without a trace, leaving her husband and children panicked but strangely resistant to questioning.  Tracing the woman’s cell phone records, police detective Alex Morrow discovers a call made from an unlikely location.  A sleepy seaside community, Helensburgh is the last place you’d go looking for violence.  But Morrow’s investigation uncovers disturbing clues and a dead body in a nearby lake.  When a connection to someone close to her surfaces, the case gets more personal than she could have imagined.

In this newest book featuring DI Alex Morrow, she is assisted by DCs McGrain and Thankless [the anticipated jokes I looked for never appearing, surprisingly], working out of the London Road Police Station of Police Scotland.  There is a lot made of the upcoming referendum on independence, with every inhabitant apparently wearing stickers identifying which side they were on.

There are a number of men and women introduced who indulge in local crime, many of them having spent time in prison.  It became a bit difficult to distinguish among them after a while, I must admit.  One who stands out, however, is Danny McGrath, Morrow’s half-brother, “a well-known and feared Glasgow gangster until he was sentenced to eight years for conspiracy to commit murder . . . who was carrying on his business vicariously from prison,” who appears almost exclusively in Morrow’s preoccupation with him.  “They all knew that the black economy was essential.  Men like Danny were responsible for twenty percent of global GDP. If justice was done and they were all imprisoned, the world economy would collapse.  Civilisations would fall.”

The title references the two substances, salt and water, that can wash away the first of them, blood.

The novel is engrossing, although I found this entry in the series somewhat hard to follow, as were its characters.  However, this author always provides interesting narratives, and as all her earlier novels, it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2016.