Book Review: An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock by Terry Shames

an-unsettling-crime-for-samuel-cradddockAn Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock
A Samuel Craddock Mystery Prequel
Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-63388-209-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When the Jarrett Creek Fire Department is called to douse a blaze on the outskirts of town, they discover a grisly scene: five black young people have been murdered. Newly elected Chief of Police Samuel Craddock, just back from a stint in the Air Force, finds himself an outsider in the investigation headed by the Texas Highway Patrol. He takes an immediate dislike to John Sutherland, a racist trooper.

Craddock’s fears are realized when Sutherland arrests Truly Bennett, a young black man whom Craddock knows and respects. Sutherland cites dubious evidence that points to Bennett, and Craddock uncovers facts leading in another direction. When Sutherland refuses to relent, Craddock is faced with a choice that will define him as a lawman—either let the highway patrol have its way, or take on a separate investigation himself.

Although his choice to investigate puts both Craddock and his family in danger, he perseveres. In the process, he learns something about himself and the limits of law enforcement in Jarrett Creek.

It’s the early 1980’s, a time we like to look back on as more enlightened than the Vietnam War era but, in a rural Texas town, racism is still very much in the open, whether blatant or subtle.

I’ve had a remarkably hard time getting started with this review and it’s because Terry Shames has really plucked my emotions and, in some ways, memories. Samuel Craddock is one of my very favorite lawmen and his series is, I think, very tough to beat; An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock may just be the best installment yet (and will be on my list of favorite books for this year).

In the early 1980’s in a small town in Texas, nothing much happens but there’s a pretty severe drug problem, particularly among the younger set. In fact, Samuel was appointed chief of police, with no experience or training, because the city administrator thought his youth and brains were better suited to coping with the issue than the current chief. So far, he hasn’t really made inroads but then a terrible thing happens, a fire with five fatalities.

The house was located in Darktown, the community where all the local black people live. This is segregation, of course, but it’s not talked about or even acknowledged and racism is alive and well. Unfortunately, Samuel is officially kept out of the investigation since, according to state law, the highway patrol has jurisdiction over suspicious deaths in small towns, and then the Texas Rangers also become involved. Samuel keeps a hand in peripherally while also looking into what he believes may be a connection between the drug situation and whatever led to the killings.

Besides the arson, murder and drug investigations, we also meet Jeanne, Samuel’s beloved wife who wishes he hadn’t taken this job and his brother and sister-in-law who are never going to be named Parents of the Year. Local reporter Bonnie Bedichek will become an important, if annoying, aide in Samuel’s plans and Truly Bennett, an enterprising young man, is helping Samuel learn how to work with his brand new 20 head of cattle, Samuel’s personal dream. These people, along with many other characters, are so well-drawn that they come to life on the page and you can’t help having an emotional attachment to them, thanks to Ms. Shames‘ fine hand.

Because this is a prequel, it’s not a bad place to start the series but I think readers will do just as well to read the five books published earlier from the beginning. One way, you meet Samuel in the early days before he really knew what he was doing but was honorbound to try, and you get a taste of what influenced his later years. The other way, you learn to truly appreciate this man’s abilities, his experience, his grace, if you will, before finding out what he was like as a young, untried lawman. Take your pick—you can’t go wrong 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

Book Review: The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens—and a Giveaway!

the-heavens-may-fallThe Heavens May Fall
Allen Eskens
Seventh Street Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-63388-205-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Featuring three characters from the bestselling book-club favorite The Life We Bury, this novel explores a riveting murder case told from two opposing perspectives.

Detective Max Rupert and attorney Boady Sanden’s friendship is being pushed to the breaking point. Max is convinced that Jennavieve Pruitt was killed by her husband, Ben. Boady is equally convinced that Ben, his client, is innocent. As the case unfolds, the two are forced to confront their own personal demons.

Max is still struggling with the death of his wife four years earlier, and the Pruitt case stirs up old memories. Boady hasn’t taken on a defense case since the death of an innocent client, a man Boady believes he could have saved but didn’t. Now he is back in court, with student Lila Nash at his side, and he’s determined to redeem himself for having failed in the past.

Vividly told from two opposing perspectives, the truth about the stunning death of Jennavieve Pruitt remains a mystery until the very end.

Although I haven’t read the second book by Allen Eskens, I very much enjoyed the first one and have kept tabs on him, you might say, through reviews by some people whose opinions I respect. When the opportunity arose to read this third book, I jumped right on it and, let me just say, I don’t know why I haven’t kept up with him. Shame on me.

Although these books are not precisely what readers mean by a “series”, The Heavens May Fall features Max Rupert, homicide detective and older brother of Alexander Rupert, also a detective and the lead character of the second book, The Guise of Another; Max also appeared in the first book, The Life We Bury. In that particular book, he played a strong role but, again, wasn’t the lead. This third book is his opportunity and, my goodness, I do like this detective, warts and all.

Max has a lot on his plate, not least of which is that he’s still grieving for his wife, dead several years now. Coping with that heartache is a part of who Max has become but he’s usually able to compartmentalize it. His friendship with Boady Sanden could end up being another wrenching loss as the two men are on opposing sides in the trial of Ben Pruitt in the horrific murder of his wife but Boady has his own demons. This is his first defense case since he believes he failed an innocent man and the stress of this one and the strain between him and Max may prove to be his undoing.

What follows is gripping police work as well as the kind of defense preparation we’d all like to have in such a situation and, as normally happens, the two have critically different goals and outcomes.

A first-rate thriller, The Heavens May Fall is also a compelling story of two men and how their pasts influence the present and Eskens has a masterly way with words whether it be during an emotional scene or while on the hunt for a killer. Not every writer can do that as well as this one can and, to my mind, Eskens is one of the best writers around. His stories tug at my mind and my feelings but they also carry me away on a rising tide of tension and suspense; add to that, this story has a humdinger of a twist at the end. I will certainly not delay reading the next book when it comes out.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2016.

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Book Review: The Ninja’s Daughter by Susan Spann—and a Giveaway!

The Ninja's DaughterThe Ninja’s Daughter
A Hiro Hattori Novel #4

A Shinobi Mystery
Susan Spann
Seventh Street Books, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-63388-181-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Autumn, 1565: When an actor’s daughter is murdered on the banks of Kyoto’s Kamo River, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo are the victim’s only hope for justice.

As political tensions rise in the wake of the shogun’s recent death, and rival samurai threaten war, the Kyoto police forbid an investigation of the killing, to keep the peace–but Hiro has a personal connection to the girl, and must avenge her. The secret investigation leads Hiro and Father Mateo deep into the exclusive world of Kyoto’s theater guilds, where they quickly learn that nothing, and no one, is as it seems. With only a mysterious golden coin to guide them, the investigators uncover a forbidden love affair, a missing mask, and a dangerous link to corruption within the Kyoto police department that leaves Hiro and Father Mateo running for their lives.

Each time I read a new book in Susan Spann’s series featuring a pair of most unusual private investigators, I find more to like and that’s the case this time, too. Father Mateo and Hiro Hattori have completely solidified their status among my very favorite sleuths. A more likeable and appealing duo would be hard to find.

Also, once again, Ms. Spann has broadened my knowledge of the culture and mores of 16th-century Japan, most especially in the way class distinctions were viewed. I doubt that today’s actors would appreciate knowing that the murder of one of their own would evoke absolutely no interest or concern in the eyes of the law but that’s the rigidity of the class system in place at the time. When the Kyoto police consider that the clearly murdered Emi was not murdered simply because no one cares about an actor’s daughter, the Portuguese Jesuit priest is understandably outraged. His samurai companion, on the other hand, discovers an even more compelling reason to investigate, quietly and, he hopes, without alerting the authorities.

Political machinations are also at play and I find this aspect of the series, and this book, to be just as interesting as the murder investigation. I always learn something when I read one of these books and, in The Ninja’s Daughter, I picked up bits about the particular kind of Japanese theater called Noh as well as the societal class distinctions, not to mention some of Hiro’s own family history and, of course, there’s a cracking good mystery and highly intelligent sleuthing.

A cast of characters and a glossary of Japanese words are highlights and make this even more enjoyable while secondary characters Ana, Luis and Gato feel like family to me as they must to the priest and the shinobi. A reader new to the series will be comfortable starting mid-stream since the author gives enough background information to allow the book to work as a standalone.

I had a hard time sleeping while I was reading because I just didn’t want to put it down. Susan Spann has one of the very best historical mystery series being written today and The Ninja’s Daughter has earned a spot on my list of favorite books read in 2016. I’m already anticipating Hiro’s and Father Mateo’s next adventure.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2016.

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Pre-order Links:

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Amazon // IndieBound // Seventh Street Books

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About the Author

Susan Spann 2Susan Spann is a transactional publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Susan has a degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University, where she studied Chinese and Japanese language, history, and culture. Her hobbies include cooking, traditional archery, martial arts, and horseback riding. She lives in northern California with her husband, son, two cats, and an aquarium full of seahorses.

Connect with Susan

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Follow the tour:

Monday, July 25thBuried Under Books
Tuesday, July 26thReading Reality
Tuesday, July 26th:Book Dilettante
Wednesday, July 27thIn Bed With Books
Thursday, July 28thWorth Getting in Bed For
Friday, July 29thWordsmithonia
Friday, July 29thWrite Read Life
Monday, August 1stHoser’s Blook
Tuesday, August 2ndLavish Bookshelf
Wednesday, August 3rdNo More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, August 4thA Holland Reads
Tuesday, August 9thOpen Book Society
Thursday, August 11thLuxury Reading
Friday, August 12thSJ2B House of Books
Monday, August 15thBooks and Tea
Monday, August 15thMusings of a Bookish Kitty
Tuesday, August 16thA Fantastical Librarian
Wednesday, August 17thBroken Teepee

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Book Review: Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty—and a Giveaway!

Rain DogsRain Dogs
A Detective Sean Duffy Novel #5
Adrian McKinty
Seventh Street Books, March 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63388-130-3
Trade Paperback

Detective Sean Duffy of the RUC is back. In this dour, gritty novel of late Twentieth Century Northern Ireland, frustrations run high. A visiting British journalist, Lilly Bigelow, has apparently gone for the high jump off the castle keep at an ancient fortress near Carrick in Northern Ireland. It is your classic locked room mystery.

The place was locked up tight and all visitors gone. Only one man, the 60+ aged caretaker is on premises and his inspections revealed no other living human. Yet early on a frosty morning said caretaker discovers the suicided body of the young woman.

Ready to close the case as a legitimate suicide, Duffy and his team learn the coroner is adamant that she was killed-murdered-the night before. It becomes clear that the caretaker didn’t murder the woman so who did, why, and how did the murderer get in and out of the place, called Carrickfergus Castle? The fascinating solutions to these questions and attempts to arrest the perpetrator form the central plot of this firmly constructed novel. And there is no sagging in the middle.

The pace of the story is neither plodding nor racing about. There is time for several textural and atmospheric contemplations. It is the talent of the author showing in that these occasional asides enhance and enrich the novel and provide readers with a deeper sense of the principals. Well—researched, Rain Dogs is a witty, dark and thoughtful experience. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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To enter the drawing for
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by Adrian McKinty, just leave
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Book Review: A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum—and a Giveaway!

A Brilliant DeathA Brilliant Death
Robin Yocum
Seventh Street Books, April 2016
ISBN 978-1-63388-128-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Amanda Baron died in a boating accident on the Ohio River in 1953. Or, did she? While it was generally accepted that she had died when a coal barge rammed the pleasure boat she was sharing with her lover, her body was never found.
 
Travis Baron was an infant when his mother disappeared. After the accident and the subsequent publicity, Travis’s father scoured the house of all evidence that Amanda Baron had ever lived, and her name was never to be uttered around him. Now in high school, Travis yearns to know more about his mother. With the help of his best friend, Mitch Malone, Travis begins a search for the truth about the mother he never knew. The two boys find an unlikely ally: an alcoholic former detective who served time for falsifying evidence. Although his reputation is in tatters, the information the detective provides about the death of Amanda Baron is indisputable—and dangerous.
 
Nearly two decades after her death, Travis and Mitch piece together a puzzle lost to the dark waters of the Ohio River. They know how Amanda Baron died, and why. Now what do they do with the information?

There is so much good to be discovered in this novel that I hardly know where to begin. I’m kind of compelled to say that A Brilliant Death is, well, close to brilliant, never mind the fact that Brilliant is the name of the town in which the story takes place.

Friendships between boys are not featured anywhere nearly as frequently as those between girls. That’s no doubt at least partly because there’s so much drama in girl friendships while the guys just sort of seem to hang together without a lot of hoopla…until, of course, a girl comes between them. Anyway, the friendship depicted here between Travis and Mitch is a terrific story all on its own. I really appreciate the way these two boys are truly there for each other, especially in Mitch’s understanding of how awful Travis’s life is and how much he wants to help. It’s not one-sided, though, as Travis also cares very much for Mitch.

I also thought Mr. Yocum had a terrific idea in making Mitch the protagonist rather than Travis, the one who is driven to find answers to the mystery of his mother’s death. There are other mysteries, too, such as why was Big Frank such a loathsome individual? Why did women keep marrying this awful excuse for a human being? Did Travis die on graduation night and, if so, why? Would Brilliant survive once the steel mills began to close?

And thus Mitch’s tale of what happened in Brilliant, Ohio, begins in the summer of 1953.

I do have to mention one oddity that bothered me a bit. At times, there are two speakers in the same paragraph and I really don’t know if this was a failure of formatting in the pre-publication electronic galley I read or if it also happens in the final electronic and/or print editions. It happened enough that I noticed it but it certainly didn’t hamper me from having a most enjoyable read. Robin Yocum is a fine writer and I can’t recommend A Brilliant Death highly enough.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2016.

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Book Review: The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake by Terry Shames—and a Giveaway!

The Necessary Murder of Nonie BlakeThe Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake
A Samuel Craddock Mystery #5
Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books, January 2016
ISBN 978-1-63388-120-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

“She was a dangerous girl and people think she’ll be a dangerous woman.”

Nonie Blake is back home from a mental institution where she has spent the last twenty years, and people in Jarrett Creek are worried. Maybe too worried, for within a week of her return, Nonie is murdered.

Chief Samuel Craddock thinks the only possible suspects are members of her tight-lipped family. Ever since Nonie tried to kill her sister when she was fourteen and was sent away to the institution, the family has kept to itself.

Clues are scarce and Craddock is stumped. So he checks with therapists at the mental hospital to see whether they can add anything useful to his investigation. But he discovers that she has not been there for ten years. Now Craddock has to find out where Nonie has been all this time.

Soon Craddock finds himself dealing not only with murder, but layers of deception and secrets, and in the midst of it all—a new deputy, one Maria Trevino, sent by the sheriff to beef up security in the small Texas town.

Back when I was a bookshop owner, I developed a real fondness for mystery series based in Texas and Florida and I know plenty of other readers also are particularly drawn to them. Such authors as Tim Dorsey, Carl Hiaasen, Rick Riordan, Susan Wittig Albert, Bill Crider, Joe R. Lansdale, Susan McBride, Leann Sweeney, Nancy J. Cohen, Mary Anna Evans, Kathy Hogan Trochek, Elaine Viets and Randy Wayne White were my early-on favorites and more have joined the fray in recent years. None top Terry Shames in my opinion.

One of the most wide-spread rumors about living in small towns or rural areas is that everybody knows everybody else’s business and there is a lot of truth in that but it’s also true that secrets are kept in small towns. That’s what Samuel begins to discover after Nonie Blake comes home unexpectedly and then is murdered just a few days later. Where has Nonie really been all these years? Did her family, ALL of her family, forgive her for the heinous attack on her sister and why did she do it? Perhaps most perplexing, did the family keep to itself all this time because of a natural embarrassment or have they been hiding even more secrets?

Adding more tension to Chief Craddock’s job this time is the addition of Maria, a female Hispanic cop, to the force, appointed by the sheriff. It’s not that Samuel is biased against her but this is a town that has suspicions about strangers and her ethnic background plus her gender in a “man’s” job don’t help. Meanwhile, when Samuel agrees to teach his friend, Julie, how to cook a fine meal for a date, I found myself grinning during the entire episode, starting with the trip to the grocery store. Also, spending time with Samuel on his small cattle ranch and with Ellen, the art gallery owner who’s beginning to make him feel more than a little attracted, portrays the Chief as a nicely well-rounded guy.

It’s that normal side of life that adds a dimension to this series I appreciate so much. In some ways, I’m reminded of Donna Leon because we get to know the character so well, not just the police work. Samuel Craddock has become one of my favorite lawmen and I’m always assured there will be a good mystery to keep me guessing. That puts Terry Shames in my very short list of authors I always have to read and The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake is an excellent addition to the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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Murder of Nonie Blake by
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Book Review: A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn and See Also Murder by Larry Sweazy

A Curious BeginningA Curious Beginning
A Veronica Speedwell Mystery #1
Deanna Raybourn
NAL/New American Library, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-451-47601-2
Hardcover

I didn’t want to leave the world Deanna Raybourn created for this book. Her writing is sumptuous.

It’s 1887 in a small English village. Veronica Speedwell has just buried her aunt, the last of her family. She’s free to return to traveling the world, collecting butterflies for fun and profit. But hours after the funeral, her house is burgled. A stranger approaches her warning of danger and offering help. She is suspicious, but when he says he knew and loved her mother, she can’t just walk away. Veronica was a foundling. She must learn more about him, and her parents.

The stranger leaves her in London, with Stoker, a reclusive naturalist, and a promise of revelations to come. What comes is news of the stranger’s murder. Veronica and Stoker embark on literal and figurative journeys of discovery that involve a surreal circus, kidnapping and old, dangerous secrets. Their relationship begins in mistrust. Veronica is intensely independent, in the vein of the great Victorian women explorers. Stoker is deeply damaged, estranged from family and society. Gradually, as danger tests them over and over, they begun to understand and appreciate each other.

I found their journeys fascinating, the ending satisfactory in several ways. May this be the first of many books about this couple.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, October 2015.

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See Also MurderSee Also Murder
A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery #1
Larry D. Sweazy
Seventh Street Books, May 2015
ISBN: 978-1-63388-006-1
Trade Paperback

A fascinating idea, an unusual location, an investigator with an interesting profession, and some odd characters all combine into the potential for a truly outstanding mystery novel. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite come off, due to an occasional wandering focus.

The author has chosen to concentrate on the mental meanderings of the principal character caught up in a tangle of competing emotions and relationships. Marjorie Trumaine is a professional indexer for a big East Coast publisher. Her life revolves around details and accuracy. The publisher sends her galleys of upcoming books and her responsibility is to check and double check facts and the consistency of facts. Publishers are unhappy when reviewers point out that the killer’s red getaway sedan on page five somehow morphs into a green dump truck on page twenty.

Marjorie Trumaine lives quietly in a small North Dakota town where she does her work and goes about life. A neighbor and his wife are butchered and the sheriff discovers a possible clue. It’s an amulet clutched in the hand of the deceased, covered with odd markings. The sheriff hands over the amulet to Marjorie Trumaine in the hopes her investigative skills will provide answers, including who murdered the couple.

Trouble begins almost immediately. Immersed in the investigation, Marjorie begins to see lurking shadows and hears strange noises. People she once saw as friends and good neighbors, she now looks at with tinges of fear and suspicion.

The first person narrative is clean and precise and readers will develop clear images of life in small North Dakota towns late in the previous century. Perhaps too many images. Eventually, of course, Marjorie discovers the truth about the amulet and the murders while adroitly avoiding the killer’s attempt to stop her.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.