Book Review: The Deep End by Debra Purdy Kong

The Deep EndThe Deep End
A Casey Holland Mystery #4
Debra Purdy Kong
TouchWood Editions, September 2014
ISBN 978-1-77151-093-6
Trade Paperback

Casey Holland, the protagonist in this series by Debra Purdy Kong, in which this is the fourth entry, “a criminology student and an experienced security officer,” has just started her first shift as a volunteer at Fraserview Youth Custody Center, a juvenile detention facility just outside of Vancouver housing 25 youngsters, supposedly only for a few days each.  Soon after her shift starts, she is startled to find that a friend’s 15-year-old grandson, Justin, is a resident there.  Then, later on that same evening, Mac Jorgenson, the 230-pound man in his late fifties and the director of the facility, dies right in front of Casey, from an apparent heart attack, although it develops that the circumstances were suspicious.  A helluva way to start a new job – – and that’s only the beginning.

Casey’s life is not without its own drama:  Her boyfriend, Lou, who she’d known for over ten years, had moved in with her two months ago.  32 years old, she is the legal guardian of a 13-year old girl, Summer, a “surly, self-absorbed teen,” whose mother is incarcerated, serving a life sentence for 2nd-degree murder.

Fraserview is somewhat shabby, with insufficient staff in the evenings, and is rumored to be on the verge of closing within the next several months.  Casey is a criminology student and an experienced security officer, but finds herself challenged here when there is a second death and rumors of illegal activity, and is fearful that Justin may be either involved, or in danger himself.  There is no lack of suspects, and Casey feels it her duty to try to find out the truth, fearful for Justin’s safety.

Casey is a very interesting protag, and though I had not read any of the prior entries in the series, the author fills in the background and the history of the characters, so that was not a problem, and I found the tale very absorbing.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2015.

Book Reviews: The Perfect Coed by Judy Alter and Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

The Perfect CoedThe Perfect Coed
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Publishing, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-9960131-0-9
Trade Paperback

A coed, one of Professor Susan Hogan’s American Lit students has gone missing, and a few days later, her body is finally discovered in the trunk of Susan’s car. Why was this particular coed,who seemed the perfect student, daughter, girlfriend, murdered? Why was Missy Jackson’s body hidden in her car? That’s what Susan and her boyfriend Jake, a security officer at the university, wants to know. However, they’d better work fast because she may be fated to be the killer’s next victim. Unless the cops hurry up and arrest her for the murder.

Lots of suspects are introduced for the reader to choose among in the quest to deduce the murderer. Lots of twists and turns and red herrings to either help or to hinder. Lots of threats and scary, tension filled scenes thrust the story along, and the ending is a satisfactory conclusion with just the right amount of final explanation.

The only thing that bothered me–and I’m not sure that’s the right word–is why Susan is so “prickly,” (a word used in the back cover blurb to describe her) especially with her loved ones and her supporters. I found her reluctance to accept help or to even discuss measures to preserve her own life distracting at times.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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Elizabeth Is MissingElizabeth is Missing
Emma Healey
Harper, June 10 2014
ISBN 978-0-0623-0966-2
Hardcover

“Elizabeth is missing” is the sole notation made on most of the innumerable notes that Maud Horsham constantly makes and puts in any available pocket, as a hoped-for aid to her increasingly failing memory.  Maud is in an advancing state of dementia, and more often than not cannot remember where she is, or with whom, even when the latter is her daughter, or her granddaughter (sometimes mistaking the latter for the former).  But she knows that her best friend – – indeed, just about her only remaining friend, as she remembers “The others are in homes or in graves” – –  appears to be missing.  She takes any path she can conjure up to try to solve the mystery, resorting to putting an ad in the local newspaper for any information anyone may have as to her whereabouts.

And her friend Elizabeth is not the only ‘disappeared’ person Maud is trying to track down.  Even 70 years later (which doesn’t matter so much when one has no idea of time frames), Maud is still trying to find her sister, Sukey, missing since the time after the London blitz, when Maud was 15 years old and England was still trying to recover from the war, enduring rationed food and bombed-out homes.  The narrative, such as it is, jumps back and forth in time, from looking for her sister to searching for her friend, sometimes for both at seemingly the same time.  It is often difficult just to follow where Maud is, both for Maud herself as well as for the reader.

This book is unlike any I have ever read.  Maud is the first-person narrator, and that narrative is as disjointed as Maud’s mind, conveying, quite convincingly, that state of being.  I must admit to a feeling of ‘there but for the grace of G-d go . . .’ well, I, or indeed any of us.  The novel is one that literally haunted me well after I had finished reading it, and I suspect it may do that for many readers.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2015.

Book Reviews: Murder in Retribution by Anne Cleeland and The Blood Promise by Mark Pryor

Murder in retributionMurder in Retribution
A New Scotland Yard Mystery
Anne Cleeland
Kensington Books, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-7582-8797-7
Hardcover

The theme of the story centers on the unexpected marriage of Doyle and Acton, the Scotland Yard chief inspector, previously the most eligible bachelor in the police force, and the resentment it causes with co-workers, Acton’s family and close friends. Acton is obsessed with Doyle’s safety following a suspicious illness. As they investigate several murders suspected of being drug lord and Russian gang related, further attempts are made on Doyle’s life. A subplot to the investigation of the murders is trying to determine who and why someone would want Doyle dead.

Acton arrests an infamous criminal suspected of murder, not with any proof of the murder, but on an illegal weapons charge as it is illegal to carry a concealed weapon in England. Doyle begins to wonder if her husband might be involved in some of the unscrupulous activities going on behind the scenes.

Acton becomes a character who does wrong for the right reasons. Interestingly, along with his wife, we are able to forgive him and be content that his actions remain undiscovered. Isn’t there a bit of Robin Hood in each of us? We secretly want to see justice done when the bad guy can’t be convicted and cheer when the doer dispatches him and rides away in the night, unseen.

I enjoyed comparing our current TV detective shows, (Castle, Bones, Sherlock Holmes) with the inner workings of the Scotland Yard department. Occasionally, certain words, the titles of the detectives and initials of law enforcement departments, CID, SOCO, DCS, probably familiar to the English reader, were confusing, but it was a small thing and didn’t detract from the story. Other specific English terms and vocabulary words lent an English flavor to the story.

All in all, I found this a very good book with compelling plot, charming characters, and the interesting setting of English towns and countryside. I would recommend the story to a reader who enjoys a police detective story.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, June 2014.
Author of Black Cat’s Legacy.

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The Blood PromiseThe Blood Promise
A Hugo Marston Novel #3
Mark Pryor
Seventh Street Books, January 2014
ISBN 978-1-61614-815-7
Trade Paperback

I had a mixed response to The Blood Promise. There were many things I liked about this book. First, it is the third in a series but I didn’t feel that I missed anything by not reading the other two as well. Second, there were several moments of heart-felt emotion, especially surrounding a specific death. And finally, there were interesting ties from past to present.

Unfortunately the issues I had against the book outweighed the things I enjoyed. I love to read, especially mysteries, but this one challenged me. When writing a book, an author often chooses between detail and pacing. For me, this author made the wrong choice on several occasions. In the first chapter alone there is excruciating detail for a scene with a character that we never see again. At first the details are interesting, but rather than use it to set the stage, more and more detail is layered on until I had to force myself not to skip ahead to get to what was important.

Pacing is an issue that went well beyond the first chapter for me. In fact I struggled through the first half if not 2/3rds of the book until I truly became caught up in the story and read to the end.

Another issue I had was language choices. While most of it was perfect, I found myself stumbling over the odd use of slang in an otherwise professional or formal discussion. This happened with various characters in different settings and I found it off-putting.

Then there were the coincidences (slashed tires) and odd leaps of faith or intuition that kept the story moving from one plot point to another. And finally, after reading to the end, I returned to an early chapter to reread it. I felt that the author had not played fair with his audience in the use of language early on and ultimately found the “why” to be somewhat believable but not something I truly accepted as reasonable.

Then there was a death which served no purpose that I can see as no evidence was found that lead to the killer and no one was concerned that in all likelihood the main character was the actual target. There was no whys, no extra precautions taken, no acknowledgement that if the killer tried once, he or she would try again, which they never did.

All in all this was a struggle for me to finish and while the pacing picked up, the payout wasn’t worth it.

Reviewed by Erin Farwell, February 2014.
Author of Shadowlands.

Book Reviews: Darker Than Any Shadow by Tina Whittle and Eleven Pipers Piping by C.C. Benison

Darker Than Any ShadowDarker Than Any Shadow
A Tai Randolph Mystery     
Tina Whittle
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2012
ISBN: 978-159058-546-7
Hardcover

The second entry in the author’s intriguing series featuring a gun shop owner and a corporate security officer is a winner. Heavily populated with interesting characters, the turbulent love affair between the protagonists informs and leavens what could otherwise have been a run-of-the-mill mystery. Indeed, the identity of the killer, while important to the story, was, to this reader, not as compelling as the characters, and the milieu.

The setting is Atlanta, Georgia, during the run-up to a major poetry slam competition. Some of the characters have known each other from childhood and others seem to have uncertain, even mysterious backgrounds. It’s hot in Atlanta, and gun shop owner Tai Randolph is mentoring her long-time friend, rising poet, Rico. There are teams of competing poets as well as individual efforts and a surplus of egos swirling around as participants prepare.  Then murder intrudes.

The relationship developing between our principal “investigator,” amateur tho she is, Tai Randolph and her lover, Trey Seaver, is much more than casually interesting to observe. Seaver is a former cop with a high level of crisis and SWAT training, excellent skills and more than a little rigidity as regards the rules of life and the law. The almost constant battles between the lovers as they try to accommodate each other is a fascinating piece of this very entertaining novel. I recommend it strongly.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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Eleven Pipers PipingEleven Pipers Piping
Father Christmas Series
C.C. Benison
Delacorte Press, October 2012
ISBN: 978-0-440-33984-7
Ebook
Also available in hardcover

When this book arrived pre-armed as a traditional British mystery, I was prepared for just that. Upon reflection I should not have been surprised at the depth of character development, the intricate plot with several surprising twists and turns, the careful and even loving development of understanding and human insight residing in the pages.

The writing draws one in almost instantly and never really lets go until the end. Yes, the book is long, yes there are many characters and yes, there is an important if sprawling back story that is vital to an understanding of the present-day machinations of the characters.

The Reverend Tom Christmas, widower, father and rather recently appointed Vicar of the hamlet of Thornford Regis, is still learning the ins and outs of the social and political life of the town and its inhabitants. Father Christmas is the focus of this novel, and the entire story devolves through his kindly if somewhat distorted lens. Father Christmas is dealing, you see, with the still unsolved murder of his wife a few years ago. This novel follows Twelve Drummers Drumming and will be followed soon by Ten Lords A-Leaping. Therein lies a clue as to what this novelist is all about, something worthy of a reader’s time and attention.

The author employs an interesting literary device. The novel begins with an elaborate and newsy letter from Father Christmas’s housekeeper to her mum, an interesting device used to impart vital information that is mostly outside of the ken of Father Christmas. Periodically Madrun Prowse writes these letters which help readers follow the action. The town hosts a musical aggregation called Thistle but Mostly Rose pipe band gathered, as the novel continues, to celebrate the birth of poet Robert Burns at a sumptuous dinner. At the dinner as the plot swiftly develops amid a rare snowstorm, and readers will meet nearly all of the forty-some characters in the book.

Eleven Pipers Piping is a warm, thoughtful if long, traditional English mystery in all the best possible ways. Well and nicely written, the narrative takes the reader by the arm and carries her comfortably through an enthralling and heartfelt story.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.