Book Review: Dig Your Grave by Steven Cooper

Dig Your Grave
A Gus Parker and Alex Mills Novel #2
Steven Cooper
Seventh Street Books, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-63388-480-9
Trade Paperback

This is the second mystery involving Phoenix police detective Alex Mills and his psychic friend, Gus Parker. The 25th anniversary of the disappearance of a university student while on spring break in Mexico is approaching. A young woman went to a party and never returned. But now men are dying, found in cemeteries in graves they have dug for themselves. Cryptic notes, which they wrote, are with their bodies. Moreover, these dead men aren’t just anybody. They’re all extremely wealthy men, prominent in the community. It’s Gus, with his paranormal abilities, who makes a connection between the men and the girl’s disappearance, but it’s Alex who breaks the case.

Meanwhile, Gus is happy with his girlfriend, famous musician Billie Welch. But someone keeps poking around her fabulous house, breaking through the security. Threats are made. But are they aimed at Billie or at Gus?

Material is often humorously posed in Cooper’s novels, but it’s all serious stuff. The story proceeds at a good pace, the characters for the most part are compelling, although some of the rich men’s wives seemed a little stereotyped to me. And the end comes to a satisfactory conclusion, as all books should do.  But even so, there’s something about this one that keeps me from totally believing the premise and freely suspending my disbelief. Bad people a little too wonky and over-the-top? Maybe not a lot of sympathy for college kids on benders? Someone waiting twenty-five years to make a move? I’m not sure. If any other reader out there can put her finger on it, let me know. That said, I truly did enjoy the book and can recommend it.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2019.
https://carolcriggercom.sitelio.me/
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

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Book Review: The Wedding Crasher by Nikki Stern

The Wedding Crasher
A Sam Tate Mystery
Nikki Stern
Ruthenia Press, May 2019
ISBN 978-0-9995487-3-8
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A brunette in a bridal gown turns up in Pickett County, Tennessee, throat slit and ring finger missing. She’s the latest victim of the Wedding Crasher, a serial killer who murders women just weeks before their weddings.

Samantha Tate is Picket County’s yoga-loving, poker-playing new sheriff, a former Nashville homicide detective who struggles with her inner demons. To catch the meticulous murderer, Sam will have to follow her instincts and ignore her worst impulses. Can she stop the Wedding Crasher before another bride-to-be dies?

Nikki Stern ticks a lot of my boxes in The Wedding Crasher with a female lead who is in law enforcement, a non-urban police procedural, a Southern setting. Small wonder, then, that I enjoyed this book from beginning to end. Speaking of the beginning, this one is in your face as we meet Sam Tate at a gruesome crime scene, no footdragging leading up to it, and that’s another one of my boxes.

Sam has her own issues from the past but she focuses on this string of brutal crimes with the help of Abdi Issen, her lead detective, and FBI agent Terry Sloan who’s been working these cases for several years. The first four murders happened once a year in the spring but then the killer skipped a year. Why? Is there a connection with a trauma from Sam’s past?

That trauma comes out in dribs and drabs but it helps us see how Sam’s core has grown and changed over the years, making her who she is today. This sort of thing can dampen my enthusiasm for a character because it’s often overdone but Ms. Stern handles this part of the story with finesse.

All in all, this is an intriguing look at a serial killer investigation with a lot of twists and turns, always a plus in crime fiction, and I’m looking forward to Sam’s next story.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2019.

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An Excerpt from The Wedding Crasher

The dead woman lay in the clearing like a macabre version of Sleeping Beauty. She was dressed in a long-sleeved, high-necked ivory gown, set off by luminescent pearl drop earrings and a matching necklace that almost hid the dried blood around her throat. Her head rested on a satin pillow, her silky walnut hair spread behind her like a fan. The right hand held a bouquet of wilted flowers and rested on her chest underneath the left, absent the fourth finger. The ring finger.

Sheriff Sam Tate stood to one side of the grim tableau, arms folded, and took it all in: the victim; the tall white-haired man who knelt by the body; the deputy who walked the scene in throwaway boots, snapping pictures; the pale young man in running gear sitting on a rock, head almost to his knees; the uniformed officer who squatted beside him.

Sam had dressed in her standard uniform of pressed black slacks and a spotless white shirt. A shaft of early-morning sun bounced off the polished badge at her left breast pocket. On her right wrist, she wore a utilitarian watch. Three small studs twinkled along one earlobe, her single visible concession to a rebellious streak. She’d pulled her unruly dark locks into a tight braid. Ray-Bans shielded her green eyes, though not the line that formed between her brows.

One of the victim’s low-heeled white pumps had dropped off to reveal a slim ankle in hosiery. Stockings, not pantyhose, held up by an old-fashioned garter. Sam didn’t need to look.

He’s back, she thought, adding a curse for good measure.

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About the Author

Nikki Stern is the author of the inspirational HOPE IN SMALL DOSES, a 2015 Eric Hoffer Montaigne Medal finalist, and the thriller THE FORMER ASSASSIN, a 2018 Kindle Book Review category finalist. Her essays are included in three anthologies and she co-authored the interactive Café Noir murder mystery series, published by Samuel French. Eight of her short stories have been published in various online journals and she was a Mark Twain Royal Nonesuch finalist for her short story “Long Away and Far Ago.” Nikki is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

Catch Up With Nikki Stern On:
nikkistern.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

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Book Review: ToxiCity by Libby Fischer Hellmann

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Title: ToxiCity
Series: The Georgia Davis PI Series, Book 3
Author: Libby Fischer Hellmann
Narrator: Beth Richmond and Derek Shetterly
Publication Date: September 20, 2016

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ToxiCity
The Georgia Davis P.I. Series, Book 3
Libby Fischer Hellmann
Narrated by Beth Richmond and Derek Shetterly
The Red Herrings Press, September 2016
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

A prequel to Libby Fischer Hellman’s Georgia Davis PI series.

There’s an inventive killer at large in Chicago in this dark thriller and police procedural from best-selling crime writer Libby Fischer Hellmann.

When three bodies turn up in rapid succession, all in landfills or waste disposal dumpsters, rookie cop Georgia Davis is drawn into the investigation. Teaming up with her detective boyfriend Matt and his friend, Detective Sergeant John Stone, Georgia must work out who’s responsible for the killings, but there’s little evidence to go on. The case also tests the strength of Georgia’s relationship with Matt – complicating the situation is the daughter of a real estate mogul, who also happens to have her eye on Matt.

Who’s behind these gruesome killings in this normally quiet neighborhood? Why are children developing cancer? And will Georgia’s relationship withstand the demands of this particularly complex investigation?

Find out in ToxiCity.

Oftentimes, police procedurals are rather linear, taking the reader down a straightforward path from crime to solution, but that is definitely not the case with ToxiCity. Here, we have a tale full of complexity and a plethora of twists and turns leading to answers that are tinged with a bit of ambiguity. I couldn’t help having some sympathy and certainly a good deal of understanding for the killer even while deploring that person’s actions.

Adding to the ins and outs of the investigations is the look into Georgia Davis’s early days as a cop. Georgia is young but that can’t fully excuse some of the dumb things she does or her overwrought emotional reactions when things don’t go her way. On the other hand, we also get to see the beginnings of her investigative talent, her sharp intellect and keen desire to figure things out.

As narrators, Beth Richmond and Derek Shetterly do fine work and both have good pacing and clear voices with just the right emotional tones when needed. There is not a lot of distinction between characters but I found that didn’t get in the way of my enjoying the story.

Bottomline, this is a good entry in the series but I would encourage readers not to assume “prequel” means this should be read first because you could end up not liking Georgia. Much better to meet her in the two previous books when she’s matured a little 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2019.

About the Author

Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago over 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Fifteen novels and twenty-five short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first.

She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few. She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony and four times for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year. She has also been nominated for the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne, and has won the IPPY and the Readers Choice Award multiple times.

Her novels include the now five-volume Ellie Foreman series, which she describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24;” the hard-boiled 5-volume Georgia Davis PI series, and four stand-alone historical thrillers set during Revolutionary Iran, Cuba, the Sixties, and WW2. Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s “25 Criminally Good Short Stories” collection. Her books have been translated into Spanish, German, Italian, and Chinese. All her books are available in print, ebook, and audiobook.

Libby also hosts Second Sunday Crime, a monthly podcast where she interviews bestselling and emerging crime authors. In 2006 she was the National President of Sisters in Crime, a 3500 member organization committed to the advancement of female crime fiction authors.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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About the Narrators

Beth Richmond

Narrator Beth Richmond has recorded more than 100 audiobooks in the last decade from her studio on the Mendocino coast. Among her favorites are those from Georgia Davis series. “It is a privilege and pleasure to return repeatedly to such a vividly drawn character and world. Ms. Hellman’s books live inside me now, as if they were memories from my own life. What fun!”

She can be reached at brich@mcn.org

Derek Shetterly

Derek’s love for performance began onstage in the 3rd grade as the star of “Captain Hook”.   Hooked, he was, and stage acting carried him through high school and into college. In 1988 he earned a BA in Radio/Television from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, with a minor in Theater.  For the next 15 years, Derek worked in radio as an on-air talent. But his main interest was in creative production; writing scripts became a forte, and performing the characters, a passion. In 2003, Derek took a leap of faith to devote his career to self-employment in voiceover work.

He has never looked back, and continues as a full-time professional voiceover talent, based in Oregon. In addition to audio books, Derek’s voice is on countless corporate narrations, eLearning modules, radio and television commercials and several documentaries. He has met his calling, is in his element behind the mic,  and so grateful to be doing what he loves every day. When he’s not narrating, or walking his faithful terrier “Max”, he’s probably on a mountain bike or planning his next travel adventure.

WebsiteLinkedIn

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Book Review: Flowers over the Inferno by Ilaria Tuti

Flowers over the Inferno
A Teresa Battaglia Novel #1
Ilaria Tuti
Translated from the Italian by Ekin Oklap
Soho Crime, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-64129-068-5
Hardcover

Set in a quiet village in a small community in Northern Italy, the naked body of a man has been found with his eyes gouged out. Detective Superintendent Teresa Battaglia is sent to investigate. A woman in her mid sixties, Teresa has earned a reputation as a highly experienced detective and profiler. But Teresa is beginning to feel the pressures of ailing health. She has Diabetes, and of late she has been dealing with periods of mental fatigue, and wonders if this is a portent of worse things to come.

A new assistant has been assigned to Teresa and she’s not sure whether to trust him or not. The local police try to downplay the death of one of the locals, but she is sure there is something sinister lurking beneath the surface and she intends to pursue the case.

Several children in the village have been aware of sinister happenings as well as experiencing strong feelings of being watched. More victims have the authorities wondering if a serial killer is on the loose. And when an infant is kidnapped the urgency to find the child escalates.

I found Detective Battaglia interesting and very human. Her concern for the victims is uppermost in her thoughts as she digs into the strange history of the area. And while finding the infant alive is her priority, she is also questioning her own state of mind and whether she will succeed. I thought at times the plot wandered somewhat without focus and direction. But the climax and ending worked well as the secrets of the past were revealed.

Detective Battaglia may possibly return in another tale as this is possibly the first in a proposed series.

Meanwhile…check it out….

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, May 2019.

Book Review: Dead Man Running by Steve Hamilton

Dead Man Running
An Alex McKnight Novel #11
Steve Hamilton
Putnam, August 2018
ISBN 978-0-3995-7444-3
Hardcover

Alex McKnight has had a long rest:  five years since he appeared in the last novel in this great series.  And he needed it for this, the 11th novel in the series.  It seems a tourist traveling in Europe remotely checks his home where he recently installed security cameras, and discovers an illegal entry.  Moreover the intruder, Martin T. Livermore, is having sex on the marital bed.  It turns out the female is dead.

Police capture the culprit, who refuses to speak to anyone but Alex McNight, who is thousands of miles away in the upper Michigan peninsula.  He promises to lead McNight to his possible seventh victim, who may be alive.  Alex accedes to the perp’s wishes and, along with all kinds of law enforcement personnel, is led into a trap where only McNight and Livermore, who then escapes, survive.  Thus begins a grueling chase to save the victim as well as capturing Livermore.

Actually Livermore, with his superior intellect, sets up a challenge for Alex, based on an obscure relationship between the two, unknown to McNight.  The author maintains a steady tension throughout the novel, a characteristic for which he is famous. At the same time, the plot develops in countless deviations as Livermore keeps Alex on the run until the novel concludes in an unexpected fashion.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2018.

Book Review: Gone to Ground by Rachel Amphlett

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Title: Gone to Ground
Series: A Detective Kay Hunter Novel #6
Author: Rachel Amphlett
Narrator: Alison Campbell
Publisher: Saxon Publishing
Publication Date: July 4, 2018

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Audible // iTunes // RachelAmphlett.com

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Gone to Ground
A Detective Kay Hunter Novel #6
Rachel Amphlett
Narrated by Alison Campbell
Saxon Publishing, July 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

While attending a crime scene on the outskirts of Maidstone, DI Kay Hunter makes a shocking discovery.

The victim has been brutally cut to pieces, his identity unknown.

When more body parts start turning up in the Kentish countryside, Kay realises the disturbing truth – a serial killer is at large and must be stopped at all costs.

With no motive for the murders and a killer who has gone undetected until now, Kay and her team of detectives must work fast to calm a terrified local population and a scornful media.

When a third victim is found, her investigation grows even more complicated.

As she begins to expose a dark underbelly to the county town, Kay and her team are pulled into a web of jealousy and intrigue that, if left unchecked, will soon claim another life.

Once again, Rachel Amphlett has delivered a terrific British police procedural and visiting again with Detective Inspector Kay Hunter and the people she cares about was well worth the wait for this episode.

Dead bodies are never pleasant to see, of course, but the level of brutality in first one killing and then more is beyond what some of Kay’s homicide team have ever seen. There’s no question they’re dealing with a serial killer but this kind of violence usually means there’s something personal going on and, yet, these victims seem to have no connections with each other. Each facet of the investigation leads to more questions and, if there’s any common thread, it may be a resort hotel that specializes in business team-building activities. Still, Kay and her colleagues are on a rollercoaster and the last nugget of information is a stomach-churning bombshell.

On the personal front, Kay’s veterinarian husband, Adam, who brings patients home frequently, is now tending a sweet little goat who has all the annoying habits of, well, a goat, but Kay still prefers her over the snake Adam brought home one time. It’s also nice to see Kay and Adam socializing with her colleagues and doing their best not to talk shop if only for an hour or two. Barnes, in particular, becomes more fleshed out in this book and I like him even more than I already did while criminalist Harriet is becoming more and more vivid in my mind.

Alison Campbell has become one of those narrators who, in my opinion, live and breathe the main character and she quite simply nails not only Kay’s persona but also does a wonderful job with the other characters. It’s not easy for a narrator to do opposite gender voices but Ms. Campbell does men really well and all her voices are distinct from one another.

Great stories, wonderful narration, characters that have become friends—what more could I want? I do hope there will be many more books to come.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2018.

About the Author

Before turning to writing, Rachel Amphlett played guitar in bands, worked as a TV and film extra, dabbled in radio as a presenter and freelance producer for the BBC, and worked in publishing as a sub-editor and editorial assistant.

She now wields a pen instead of a plectrum and writes crime fiction and spy novels, including the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the Detective Kay Hunter series.

Originally from the UK and currently based in Brisbane, Australia, Rachel cites her writing influences as Michael Connelly, Lee Child, and Robert Ludlum. She’s also a huge fan of Peter James, Val McDermid, Robert Crais, Stuart MacBride, and many more.

She’s a member of International Thriller Writers and the Crime Writers Association, with the Italian foreign rights for her debut novel, White Gold sold to Fanucci Editore’s TIMECrime imprint, and the first four books in the Dan Taylor espionage series contracted to Germany’s Luzifer Verlag.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads // Instagram

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Book Reviews: The Dark Clouds Shining by David Downing and The Cutting Edge by Jeffery Deaver

The Dark Clouds Shining
Jack McColl Series #4
David Downing
Soho Crime, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61695-606-6
Hardcover

With this, the fourth Jack McColl spy story, David Downing concludes the series.  It takes place just as the civil war in Soviet Russia is ending and developments are dire with respect to the original high hopes that accompanied the Revolution, and the nation suffers from all kinds of shortages, especially food for a starving populace.  Jack is not faring any better, languishing in jail for assaulting a Bobby, when his Secret Service boss visits him and presents Jack with a way to get out if he accepts an unofficial assignment.  Jack is disillusioned by the slaughter of so many in the Great War and can’t abide spying for his country any more, but accepts the assignment to get out of jail.  So he goes to Russia to learn what other British spies are planning at the behest of MI5.  And unknown to him, he will again meet with the love of his life, Caitlin, who is now married to one of the men involved in the MI5 scheme which Jack was sent to investigate and possibly foil.

The author’s ability to recreate the environment of the historical period, along with descriptions of the economic and political atmosphere, is outstanding, as is the recounting of the action resulting from the hunt by both Jack and the Cheka, the Russian secret service and forerunner of the GPU, for the plotters.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2018.

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The Cutting Edge
A Lincoln Rhyme Novel #14
Jeffery Deaver
Grand Central Publishing, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4555-3641-2
Hardcover

What starts off as a murder mystery turns into a multi-faceted conspiracy in the latest Lincoln Rhyme novel.  It begins with the murder of a prominent diamond cutter in the heart of New York’s jewelry district on 47th Street, although the murderer apparently left behind a small fortune in gems, so the motive remains obscure.  A young apprentice walks in during the murder and is shot at but is saved when the bullet hits a bag filled with rocks instead.

Subsequent murders take place, ostensibly by a psycho who is out to save diamonds from being defaced as engagement rings and who trails young couples in the act of making purchases and killing them.  Meanwhile Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are analyzing the few clues available and seeking to locate the apprentice, who is hiding from view.  Then a series of explosions take place, believed to be earthquakes in the heart of Brooklyn.

And as a sidelight, Rhyme agrees for the first time to assist a defendant, a murderous Mexican drug lord on trial in Federal court for illegal entry and murder, by reviewing the evidence in the hope of establishing an error.  This gives the author another chance to fool the reader with another twist.

Of course, the whole plot is premised on Mr. Deaver’s ability to surprise readers by leading them down a path only to divert them finally by revealing something else in the end.  The series is long- standing and always diverting, especially when forensics are analyzed and explained.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2018.