Book Reviews: Amnesty by Aravind Adiga and All the Way Down by Eric Beetner @AravindAdiga @ScribnerBooks @ericbeetner @DownAndOutBooks

Amnesty
Aravind Adiga
Scribner, February 2020
ISBN 978-1-9821-2724-4
Hardcover

Danny, an undocumented Sri Lanken living in Australia, has gradually fashioned for himself a satisfactory life. He has acquaintances with whom he socializes and a woman friend about whom he is serious. And now he has a problem. He may have important information that will help local police solve a nasty murder. If he steps forward as his world view requires, he may be deported because he’s illegally in the country. On the other hand, he may hold the one fact that will solve the case.

The novel is not so much a murder mystery or thriller as a thoughtful if sometimes wandering essay on the life of honest hard-working illegals and the pressures and vicissitudes of that life. There is little overt drama in the story, rather a character-peopled tale in which the author adeptly channels his protagonist Danny into more and more tension as he wrestles with a decision which will, in either path, affect a great many people.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2021.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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All The Way Down
Eric Beetner
Down and Out Books, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-64396-010-4
Trade Paperback

This enthralling crime novel starts with a bad cop called on the carpet. Dale Burnett, risen to detective grade, has allowed his need for money to gradually bend his ethics, in a city already badly out of tune with ethics and morality. He assumes the worst but is given one chance at redemption.

It turns out, the Mayor’s daughter has been captured and is being held by one of the city’s most dangerous and brutal gang leaders. Since Burnett is now known to the gang, law enforcement believes an alternative to a frontal assault is a better option. Burnett is tasked with going into gang headquarters and rescuing the young woman.

Of course, Burnett takes this limited opportunity to risk death and retrieve his good standing. What follows is a rousing and ever more dangerous series of encounters with the gang leader and his murderous minions. With the considerable assistance of the mayor’s able daughter, Burnett engages the forces of evil.

The scene is very limited, all the action takes place inside a single large former factory building, so some of the common characteristics of action novels such as weather, are missing. Nevertheless, the pace is relentless, the tension high and the outcome uncertain until the very end.

All The Way Down is a fine thriller of a novel with surprises on almost every page, sustained action and relevant character development. The mayor’s daughter is a strong, important component of the fabric of the story.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Merlot Murders by Ellen Crosby

The Merlot Murders
A Wine Country Mystery #1
Ellen Crosby
Scribner, August 2006
ISBN 978-0-7432-8990-0
Hardcover

Lucie Montgomery is drawn home to Virginia, to the family vineyards, when she receives news her father has died in a shooting accident. She has been living in French wine country after an automobile accident crippled one of her legs. From the moment she arrives in Virginia, barely in time for her father’s funeral, she is beset with demands for money. Some are to repay a small fortune in loans in order to keep the winery running, which may mean selling the vineyard that has been in the family for more than two hundred years. There are even those who want to be paid for snippets of information when it comes down to solving the mystery.

You see, all too soon it becomes clear her father did not die in an accident, but was murdered. Then, after speaking with her uncle Fitz, he, too, is murdered. And when Lucie is run off the road one night, it becomes apparent that she, too, may have become a target. Why? Is it because she refuses to sell the property, sure that the business can be saved when properly run? Her brother and her sister, co-inheritors, certainly have differences of opinion.

So who is the killer? One of her family? Or could it be the mysterious consortium who wants to buy the property to build a theme park?

This is one of those books that has a good mystery. It also teaches the process of winemaking in a most engaging way. However, I’m sorry to say my enjoyment stopped there. I found the characters singularly unlikeable, even Lucie. The brother was an obnoxious cad, and Lucie herself a terrible judge of character. I guess if you want to read about a dysfunctional family along with the wonderfully descriptive details of the vineyard, this will suit quite well.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham @michaelrobotham @ScribnerBooks

Good Girl, Bad Girl
Michael Robotham
Scribner, July 2019
ISBN 978-1-9821-0360-6
Hard Cover

Cyrus Haven is a forensic psychologist and he has been asked to evaluate a young woman, Evie Cormac, who is demanding to be released from a children’s home.  Six years ago Evie was discovered hiding in a secret room where the body of a man, who had been brutally tortured and murdered, was found.  Cyrus is intrigued by Evie, who has never revealed her real name, how old she is or where she came from.

Cyrus is also called in to investigate the murder of a local girl, a champion figure-skater, Jodie Sheehan, who is found on a local footpath.  Jodie, a pretty and popular high-schooler, appeared to have a perfect life, but as Cyrus delves into the lives of the girl’s family and friends, he learns all is not as it seems. Jodie had a secret and one that Evie knows something about.

Cyrus himself has a tragic past and the fact that he’s chosen an occupation where he helps victims and people who’ve been put through emotional trauma makes him doubly interesting. The characters are three dimensional and easy to like. And as the inside cover of the book says ‘Cyrus is caught between two cases – one girl who needs saving and another who needs justice.’

Robotham lives in Australia but sets his novels in England.  He has won numerous awards for his previous series,  where his protagonist is Joseph O’Loughlin, a psychologist who works with Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz in London.

Good Girl, Bad Girl is a fast read…I couldn’t put it down… and I was happy to learn that this book is the start of a brand new series.  Hooray is all I can say… Can’t wait for the next one!!!!

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, July 2019.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 3

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

 

Deep Cover Jack
The Hunt for Reacher Series #7
Diane Capri
AugustBooks, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-940768-70-0
Trade Paperback

If you’ve never tried any of the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child, you need to read at least one before you tackle this series because this is all about the “other side” of the equation, the law enforcement folks who think they need to apprehend Reacher because he’s such a horrible person, a desperately wanted man. Well…our FBI Special Agents, Kim Otto and Carlos Gaspar have learned a few things by the time we get to this seventh book and they’ve picked up a little help along the way from other interested parties but they haven’t yet caught the man. Will they this time when they head for Houston? Hmm…if you know Jack, you know their chances are on the slim side but will they at least get close?

This is an intriguing, entertaining companion to the Jack Reacher series and, yes, Lee Child himself speaks highly of it. Oh, and before you think these must be the most incompetent agents ever if they’ve been chasing him through seven books, think again. Try it, you’ll like it 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Stalking Jack the Ripper
Stalking Jack the Ripper Series #1
Kerri Maniscalco
jimmy patterson, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-316-27349-7
Hardcover

As you might surmise from the name of the publisher, this is “presented” by the megawatt author James Patterson himself and, if I do say so, this is a good ‘un. Audrey Rose Wadsworth loves to spend time in her uncle’s lab learning medical stuff but gets drawn into a serious criminal investigation, that of the gory deaths of some women of ill repute. With the assistance of Thomas Cresswell, apprentice to her uncle, Audrey Rose really wants to get justice for these poor women as well as bring a killer to justice but the stakes get even higher when the long arm of the law reaches out to someone close to her.

I like the Victorian era, young adult mysteries and the Jack the Ripper case (plus I love the cover) so trying this was a no brainer for me. Mounting clues and hair-raising theories lead to a horrifying discovery but, throughout it all, Audrey Rose maintains her intelligent, thoughtful focus even if she can’t be completely objective. The next case for this young lady and the charming if annoying Thomas, Hunting Prince Dracula, involves another string of killings while Audrey Rose studies forensic medicine in Romania and I can hardly wait to dive in.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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March of Crime
A Murder-By-Month Mystery #11
Jess Lourey
Midnight Ink, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5263-1
Trade Paperback

This cozy series has been fun and frothy since the beginning and I continue to like them a lot, especially because they never seem to get stale, if you know what I mean. They have plenty of humor along with tension and Mira Ross might as well be called the Jessica Fletcher of Battle Lake, Minnesota, since people seem to drop like flies in her vicinity. No wonder this mild-mannered librarian has aspirations of being a private eye!

One thing that intrigues me about cozies is the myriad ways authors find to present a dead body without offending sensibilities and I think Ms. Lourey has outdone herself and everyone else this time. Lifesize dolls are kind of creepy anyway (to me at least) but when one turns out to be an actual corpse sitting proudly right next to Mira, well I ask you, how could she NOT want to snoop? Mira and her assorted crew of cronies and nemeses are soon hot on one trail or another and I chortled all the way to the end.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Enemy Within
Scott Burn
Scott Burn, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-9978429-1-3
Trade Paperback

There have been people throughout history who have had visions of the future, some believable, many more not so much, but I had to have a lot of sympathy for the 17-year-old Max who has been seeing hellfire and damnation at the apparent end of the world. In his situation, I’m not sure I wouldn’t at least consider his way of ending these horrific sights that just won’t stop but one thing that would prevent me from  doing such a drastic thing is my own suspicion that I’d bungle it. And he does, landing himself in an institution.

Three other boys have found each other but know that they’re missing one and can’t do what they’re supposed to do without him. Who are they? Suffice it to say, there’s a new unclaimed satellite in orbit and things are about to get very unsettling for us and for our survival on this planet.

This was such a fun story with aliens and other cool science fiction-y stuff. Technically speaking, this is Young Adult but I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good apocalyptic story full of adventure and mayhem, not to mention some pretty appealing characters. I hope we’ll see more of Max before too long.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
Matthew Sullivan
Scribner, June 2017
ISBN 978-1501116841
Hardcover
Narrated by Madeleine Maby
Simon & Schuster Audio, June 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

As a former bookstore owner, I naturally had to read this and, while I enjoyed it, I also had some reservations. The Bright Ideas Bookstore is a strange sort of place, attracting some rather odd people called the BookFrogs, some of whom seem to spend all their waking hours just hanging out, rarely buying anything. And, since Lydia Smith was Joey Molina’s favorite bookseller, you have to wonder why he would commit suicide in the bookstore, leaving his supposed favorite to find him.

But so he does and he leaves all his worldly goods to Lydia leading her to puzzle over certain things that pique her curiosity, not only because she thought Joey was a nice young man but also because she seems to have an odd connection to this mystery, a connection that takes her back to a most unpleasant murder-tainted past.

The ebook of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore grabbed my attention despite my initial reluctance and I decided I wanted to try listening to the tale. Narrator Madeleine Maby has a pleasing tone with identifiable vocalizations and I do think the audio edition helped evoke emotions a bit more easily than the written version. Bottomline, while the rampant dysfunction in these characters’ lives made me somewhat unsettled, the mystery itself was engaging.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

Book Reviews: Dick Francis’s Bloodline by Felix Francis, Phantom by Jo Nesbo, Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith, and Crow’s Landing by Brad Smith

Dick Francis's BloodlineDick Francis’s Bloodline
Felix Francis
Putnam, October 2012
ISBN 978-0-399-16080-6
Hardcover

The second standalone written by Dick Francis’ son follows the same formula that served the father so well:  A mystery set in the English racing world, populated by the trainers, jockeys and track officials. In this case, the plot involves the Shillingford family, especially race-caller Mark and his twin sister, jockey Clare.  When Clare rode a horse that came in second when it should have won, he believed Clare lost on purpose and over dinner they had a heated argument.

Later that night, Clare fell 15 stories from a London hotel to her death, an apparent suicide.  Bereft, Mark starts asking questions, seeking a reason for her death.  What was the meaning of a short written message which the police believed to be a suicide note, but really is ambiguous?  What, if anything, does the discovery of several blackmail victims in the racing world have to do with her death?

The author shows the same talent as Dick Francis for creating suspense, pitting danger and personal jeopardy for his protagonist on the way of solving the mystery.  And the reader will be hard put to tell the difference in the writing between father and son.  It is virtually indistinguishable.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2012.

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PhantomPhantom
Jo Nesbo
Translated by Don Bartlett
Knopf, October 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-96047-4
Hardcover

In the three years since the conclusion of The Leopard, Harry Hole has been serving contentedly as a non-violent enforcer based in Hong Kong, collecting money owed to his employer.  Then one day, he ups and returns to Oslo when he learns that Oleg, the drug-using son of the love of his life, has been arrested for the murder of a fellow junkie. The police consider the case closed, so Harry acts independently to investigate.

And along the way he finds himself immersed in the midst of Norway’s large drug problem.  Hole uncovers a trail of violence and disappearances, police and political corruption, and Harry himself becomes a target of the mysterious drug lord Dubai.  The novel is a bleak story of damaged individuals hooked on drugs, and the sleaziness inherent in the activity.

The prior novels were forceful, clearly showing Harry’s tortured soul, and his unswerving ability to dig, dig, dig to the heart of a case, honestly and insightfully.  Phantom accomplishes these ends, but to some extent is confusing at the end; whether the author did this purposely or not yet remains to be seen.  As usual, the novel is translated faithfully and excellently, and the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2012.

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Agent 6Agent 6
Tom Rob Smith
Grand Central Publishing, January 2013
ISBN: 978-0-446-58308-4
Trade Paperback

The conclusion of the trilogy featuring Leo Demidov is sweeping, from his early days as a KGB agent to his exile in Afghanistan and beyond. Especially interesting is the Russian occupation of that beleaguered nation and the beginnings of the United States involvement there as Russia lost face in its defeat.

More important to the plot is the intrigue, obfuscation, double-dealing and plotting of the Soviet Union and United States during the Cold War.  The story begins with Leo meeting a Paul Robeson-like character in Moscow when he was an agent, and the consequences in the years following.

Tightly plotted, despite its length, the novel reminds us of the challenges of the years during which the two superpowers confronted each other. The characters are real, from an over-zealous FBI agent to the unfortunate victims of those countries’ invasions of Afghanistan.  An absorbing thriller to bring The Secret Speech and Child 44 to a satisfying finish.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2013.

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Crow's LandingCrow’s Landing
Brad Smith
Scribner, August 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-7853-6
Trade Paperback

Sometimes a protagonist has to go looking for trouble; other times trouble has a way of finding the protagonist.  In the case of Virgil Cain, trouble usually finds him – – in spades.  In a previous entry in the series, he was arrested for murder and had to break out of jail to exonerate himself.  In the current novel, he just goes fishing, and lands in a heap of difficulties.

When he anchored in the Hudson River, the last thing Virgil expected to reel in was a stainless steel cylinder containing 100 pounds of pure cocaine.  But that’s what happened when he lifted his anchor and the cylinder was attached.  As a result, he becomes involved with a crooked policeman who seizes the cylinder and Cain’s boat, the original owner of the contraband who threw it overboard seven years previous, and others, all seeking to make a score by taking possession of the dope.

It is a well-drawn tale, with little real mystery but plenty of plot and action.  A well-written story, tightly developed, Crow’s Landing is the second in the series, and definitely warrants a third. Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2013.

Book Review: Bears With Us by Marilyn Meredith, Murder in the Dojo by Sue Star, and Blind Goddess by Anne Holt

Bears With Us
Marilyn Meredith
Mundania Press, 2011
ISBN 978-1606592649
Trade Paperback

I’m tempted to make puns in regards to the latest Tempe Crabtree mystery by Marilyn Meredith. However, I’ll fight the urge and just be amazed at how much story can be put into 218 pages. Meredith knows how to deliver the fun into reading a mystery. There’s never a dull moment, but how could there be with bears in the mix?

In this latest story, Deputy Crabtree has a full platter. A teenager commits suicide and Tempe cannot quite understand the reaction from his enigmatic family. Another woman wants, nay demands, Tempe do something to keep a young man away from her daughter. A family’s life is repeatedly disrupted by the mother’s dementia. These incidents are on top of the usual drunks and speeders Tempe handles. However, topping the list of problems is an increase of bears rummaging through garbage, breaking into homes and attacking people. When a woman goes missing and later is discovered dead, it is at first thought to be the result of another bear attack. Tempe is on the case, however, and will uncover the truth.

I really enjoyed these characters. Each is so well defined. The action is swift and the writing is tight. Meredith packed so much story into one book I kept turning pages to learn what happened next. She knows how to provide just enough tension and action to move the story. I’m an instant fan. This book is loaded for bear. (Yeah, sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, May 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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Murder in the Dojo
Sue Star
D.M. Kreg Publishing
Ebook
Also available in trade paperback

It’s kicking karate action with the first in a new series from Sue Star. Murder in the Dojo brings in the finest of martial arts, betrayal, and of course, a dead body. Karate instructor Nell Letterly is forced to turn detective when faced with the threat of arrest. With a fine cast of characters, this one is sure to get the heart pumping and the punches flying.

On the day Nell Letterly is supposed to meet her new employer, Arlo Callahan, and start as an instructor in his Boulder, Colorado karate studio, she finds the dead body of the former instructor. Within days, evidence and suspicions fall directly upon Nell. With no help from the police, she decides to find the killer herself. There is no shortage of suspects: Callahan’s wife, a jealous instructor, a disruptive student, an ex girlfriend, an enigmatic janitor. With obstacles on all sides, Nell has to use not just her deductive reasoning to fathom out the killer, but her martial arts experience to save her own life.

As a martial artist myself, I must favor anything related to this sport. Weapons, self defense, tournaments, instruction, and philosophy. I think Star delivers a fine tale with all the necessary elements of martial arts to whet the appetite for another round…or would that be round house kick? Either way, Murder in the Dojo is the right combination of mystery and martial arts.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, June 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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Blind Goddess
Anne Holt
Scribner, June 2012
ISBN
Trade Paperback

Anne Holt shows that corruption can run deep in places other than Washington and Moscow. With Blind Goddess, the viewfinder is focused on Oslo where lawyer and police are, once again, at odds with each other and nobody is sure how high up the chain crime will climb.

Investigators Hanne Wilhelmsen and Hakon Sand  take on the case of a murdered drug dealer. They even have the killer in custody and a lawyer as a witness. A few days later, the body of a shady attorney is discovered and evidence quickly connects the two killings. Wilhelmsen and Sand must wade through the murky clues, contend with disappearing files, and endure personal attacks only to discover the conspiracy is more wide spread than expected. After they arrest a suspect, they find themselves in a race against time to put their ducks in order.

No real surprises in this book as it seems nearly every lawyer is dirty. It’s the putting together of the puzzle pieces which keeps the story moving and interesting. Holt holds back on the revelations of a pesky reporter and a series of number codes until the very end. Still, Blind Goddess is excellent escapism fun for mystery readers. I highly recommend the Hanne Wilhelmsen series.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, June 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Reviews: County Line by Bill Cameron, The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by Marcus Sakey, Camouflage by Bill Pronzini, Tigerlily’s Orchids by Ruth Rendell, and Hell Is Empty by Craig Johnson

County Line
Bill Cameron
Tyrus Books, June 2011
ISBN: 978-1-935562-52-8
Trade Paperback

Before even attempting to evaluate this novel, it must be pointed out that at the beginning and end of the book as well as in between segments there are QR barcodes, purportedly featuring bonus material and extras.  To do so, of course, one must own a smartphone and download an app to view the material.  Since I have no need or desire to own such an instrument (what’s wrong, am I anti-American?), I don’t know how much, if anything, I am missing, especially what the barcode at the end of and within the novel provides.   Since I had a feeling of incompleteness after finishing the book, I wonder.  And if that is information I need to judge the novel, then it not only is a disservice to the reader who chooses not to utilize it, but a poor gimmick to sell smartphones and cellular service.  As it is, I found it only a distraction, as well as questioning whether it was necessary for a full appreciation of the book.

As far as the novel is concerned, it is incisively written, with good character development.  It begins when go-getter Ruby Jane Whittaker, founder and owner of a three-store chain of coffee shops in Portland, Oregon, goes off on what is to be a two-week trip.  When she doesn’t return, two of her boyfriends take heed, and undertake to find her. The effort takes them to San Francisco to see her brother (who becomes a hit-and-run victim before their eyes), then to a small Ohio town where Ruby Jane grew up and then back to Oregon.  The effort raises more questions than it does answers.

Another section of the novel retraces Ruby Jane’s earlier life in Ohio, and provides some background to the mystery, which is finally brought to a violent finish, albeit leaving this reader wondering whether or not that really is the conclusion, or just laying the groundwork for the next book in this series.  If you own a smartphone, OK, you can take this as a recommendation.  If not – – well, the choice is yours.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes
Marcus Sakey
Dutton, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-525-95211-4
Hardcover

Daniel Hayes wakes up on a beach in Maine, half drowned and with a loss of memory.  This sets the stage for a slow, dramatic tale as he attempts to reconstruct his life.  He finds a car nearby which is apparently owned by someone named Daniel Hayes from Malibu, CA.  Is that him?

Then he decides to cross the country in an effort to find out who he is, after fleeing a cop attempting to arrest him in Maine. Dan is a scriptwriter, and his efforts are like episodes on a TV show.  When he gets to Malibu, he sneaks in to what turns out is his home.  So he has a name.  And a home.  Then he finds out a female character on a television show is his wife who apparently was killed when her car went over a cliff.  While he searches for answers, the plot thickens.

And quite a plot it is.  Interspersed with fairly crisp prose are simulated scripts, sometimes fantasy, others integral to the story line.  The reader is kept off-balance with the question of whether Dan fled to Maine because he killed his wife.  And when that question is answered, a whole new mystery arises to keep one turning pages.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Camouflage
Bill Pronzini
Forge, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2564-8
Hardcover

The Nameless Detective in this long-running series is supposed to have semi-retired.  It just isn’t so.  He’s still working four or five days a week, and it’s a good thing, because it makes for good reading.  In the first of two cases described in this novel, he takes on a new client with what at first appears to be a simple ‘trace’ case.  The oft-married client asks Nameless to locate his ex-wife so he can get her to sign a Catholic Church form to pave the way for an annulment, so he can marry the next, an apparently well-to-do prospect.  Tamara, who is now running the agency in wake of Nameless’ “semi-retirement,” locates the ex-wiife, and after she refuses to sign the papers the client visits her, after which he storms into the office saying that it’s the wrong person.  This leads to the ensuing mystery to be solved.

The second plot line involves Jake Runyon, Nameless’ partner, who has finally developed a relationship with a woman, Bryn, who has a nine-year-old son who is in her ex-husband’s custody.  It appears that the boy is being abused, but by whom?  The father, or his fiancée, who is living with him and the child?  The complication of the girl’s murder and the subsequent admission by Bryn of having committed the deed lays the groundwork for some detective work by Jake to find the real culprit.

As in the previous more than two score books in the series, the tightly written novel, accompanied by terse dialogue and seamless transitions, take the reader forward effortlessly.  The author’s eye for detail is penetrating, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Tigerlily’s Orchids
Ruth Rendell
Scribner, June 2011
ISBN: 978-4391-5034-4
Hardcover

Ruth Rendell novels are a study in human relationships, and this book is no exception.  It takes a look at an assortment of tenants living in an apartment house block in London, particularly one building, but also a couple of homes across the way.

An inordinate amount of space is devoted to one tenant, a young, handsome youth, Stuart Font, who recently inherited some money and bought his apartment.  He decides to have a housewarming and invite all the other tenants.  His married lover forces him to invite her, setting the stage for her husband to invade the apartment and harm Stuart, who is later found murdered in a nearby park.

The mystery, of course, is who the murderer is.  But it is almost superfluous since the interaction of the various characters is the prime focus of the novel:  One woman who is determined to drink herself to death; three young girls, students of a sort, one of whom falls in love with Stuart, who in turn is obsessed with a beautiful young Asian in the house across the street after discarding his married lover; an elderly couple who once had a one-night stand in their youth and find each other again; the caretaker couple, the husband of which enjoys spying on young girls and watching pornography on his computer.  Among others.

The author’s eye for detail is sharp, and the personality descriptions vivid.  For a crime novel, the mystery is virtually irrelevant, but certainly the character studies are vital.  For that reason alone, the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Hell Is Empty
Craig Johnson
Viking, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-670-02277-9
Hardcover

This, the seventh novel in the Walt Longmire series, is perhaps the most harrowing.  It starts out simply enough, with Walt, the Sheriff of a Wyoming county, and his deputies transporting three murderers to a rendezvous with two other local Sheriffs and Federal officials.  One of the felons, a psychopath who says he hears supernatural voices, has indicated he killed a young Indian boy years before, and offers to locate the bones for the officials.  There is a rumor, also, that he has secreted $1.4 million, perhaps in the grave.

This sets the stage for a harrowing experience for Walt, as the convicts escape, killing FBI agents and taking two hostages with them as they climbed Bighorn Mountain.  A determined Walt follows under blizzard conditions, which almost kills him.

As in previous entries in the series, the geographical and environmental descriptions are awesome.  The reader can feel the cold and ice as they penetrate Walt’s body and inundate the mountain peak in glasslike cover and snow-filled mounds.  Another excellent book, full of Indian lore and supernatural phenomena.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.