Book Review: Written in Blood by Layton Green—and a Giveaway!

Written in Blood
Layton Green
Seventh Street Books, November 2017
ISBN:978-1-63388-361-1
Trade Paperback

In Written in Blood, author Green introduces readers to Detective Joe “Preach” Everson. Following a common path, Green has given readers a flawed protagonist, though Preach’s baggage goes well beyond the ordinary. After suffering a tragedy as a young man, he had a sort of breakdown and fled his hometown of Creeksville, North Carolina. His life path from then until the book opens took him to Bible college, time as a church preacher, a prison chaplain and then as a police officer in Atlanta, where another incident led to another breakdown.

Here we reach the first thing about the novel that just doesn’t quite work. Preach has returned to his hometown and has been hired as a police detective even though he has not been cleared to work from his breakdown. He promises to see a therapist who happens to be a relative. One has to question what police force would hire an emotionally unstable person as a detective and what therapist would risk his or her reputation and licensing to sign off on a deeply troubled soul who has suffered at least two emotional breakdowns to serve as a detective. But let’s accept this as written for the sake of the story.

Preach is barely on the job when he and his partner Kirby are called out to a murder scene in a bookstore. Kirby notices some odd marks on the body which he correctly surmises may be a clue. With the help of Ari, a law student who works part time in the bookstore and is an avid reader, they determine that the crime has been staged to resemble the murder of the pawnbroker  in Crime and Punishment. As I’m sure you can guess, this is the first in a series of murders that happen around town, each with a literary connection. This theme is not new by any means to crime fiction, but for the most part Green does a good job of putting his own twist on the theme.

The two things I liked most about Written in Blood are the character development and the  literary tie-ins to the crimes.  I understand that some avid crime fiction fans do not care for wordy descriptions, but I found the detailed descriptions of the various people very helpful in visualizing them. The murders being staged like murders in well known works of literature was done well.  While I was familiar with all of the works used, I found that I had forgotten some of the details of the various crimes. I loved this part in a geeky sort of way, though I’m not sure a reader unfamiliar with the books would be quite so on board.

Besides the improbability of Preach actually being hired as mentioned before, the only thing that left me a bit cold is that while the focus never exactly was off the murders, the plot took some odd and meandering detours along the way through just about every depravity known to man. I think the book might have been a bit better had those parts been shorter.

Overall, Written in Blood is a good start in what could be an interesting series.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, February 2018.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Written in Blood by Layton Green,
just leave a comment below. The winning
names will be drawn on Friday night,
  April 6th, for one Advance Reading Copy
and one finished trade paperback copy. This
drawing is open to the US and Canada.

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Book Review: Holmes Entangled by Gordon McAlpine—and a Giveaway!

Holmes Entangled
Gordon McAlpine
Seventh Street Books, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-63388-207-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Sherlock Holmes, now in his seventies, retired from investigations and peaceably disguised as a professor at Cambridge, is shaken when a modestly successful author in his late-sixties named Arthur Conan Doyle calls upon him at the university. This Conan Doyle, notable for historical adventure stories, science fiction, and a three-volume history of the Boer War (but no detective tales), somehow knows of the false professor’s true identity and pleads for investigative assistance. Someone is trying to kill Conan Doyle. Who? Why? Good questions, but what intrigues Holmes most is how the “middling scribbler” ascertained Holmes’s identity in the first place, despite the detective’s perfect disguise. Holmes takes the case.

There is danger every step of the way. Great powers want the investigation quashed. But with the assistance of Dr. Watson’s widow, Holmes persists, exploring séances, the esoterica of Edgar Allan Poe, the revolutionary new science of quantum mechanics, and his own long-denied sense of loss and solitude.

Ultimately, even Sherlock Holmes is unprepared for what the evidence suggests.

There are certain authors and/or characters who draw the attention of other authors who come up with story ideas involving these real and fictional people. Jane Austen and her Bennett sisters, not to mention Darcy, come to mind, Agatha Christie is another and, of course, there are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. There have been many tales based on the great detective (and Dr. Watson) beyond those written by his creator, including whole series, and a few that I’m aware of that focus on Conan Doyle himself.

Here we have a tale that has Conan Doyle asking senior citizen Sherlock Holmes to look into a case after he has been cunningly disguised and in retirement for quite some time. At first, Holmes refuses to look into why Conan Doyle is the target of an assassin but he’s pulled in mainly because he can’t stand not knowing how Conan Doyle identified him. And thus begins a story of seances, encounters with such personages as Edgar Allan Poe and his C. Auguste Dupin, hints of nefarious activities by powerful organizations and even the possibility that alternate worlds exist.

Purists probably won’t care much for this latest Holmesian effort but the rest of us can enjoy the fun of a criminal investigation by the great detective mixed with a dip into the possibilities inherent in science fiction. Not being a purist myself, I was wholly entertained.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2018.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Holmes Entangled by Gordon McAlpine,
just leave a comment below. The winning
names will be drawn on Friday night,
  March 30th, for one Advance Reading Copy
and one finished trade paperback copy. This
drawing is open
to the US and Canada.

Book Review: A Welcome Murder by Robin Yocum

A Welcome Murder
Robin Yocum
Seventh Street Books, April 2017
ISBN: 978-1-63388-263-8
Trade Paperback

Steubenville, Ohio, residents come front and center in this engaging if somewhat rambling novel of drug dealing, infidelity, teen-aged pranks, civic wrong-doing and, of course, murder. Hence the title. While the title refers to a single death, several other characters would be cheerfully done away with by many readers.

That doesn’t take anything away from the delightful atmosphere created by the author with fine, accurate writing and an insouciance rarely found in crime fiction. Johnny Earl is a BMIT, a big man in town with a spectacular athletic career in high school and serious prospects for a pro career in baseball. A knee injury wipes that out and Earl returns to Steubenville where he fashions a new career selling cocaine and other illegal drugs.

Busted, he serves seven years. Now released, Earl returns to his home town intent on retrieving a large stash of cash he secreted in a bolt hole in case he had to leave town quickly, a plan interrupted by Earl’s arrest and imprisonment.

Several of his school classmates, a wandering wife or two and various law enforcement agencies tangle over his maneuverings and then, the man who nailed Earl is murdered. He is a most hated man and there are several suspects from the Sheriff, a classmate of Johnny, to the sheriff’s wife, Earl‘s lover, and two convicts Earl encountered while in prison.

Those two are neo-Nazis, planning to create a separate white male-dominated nation within the boundaries of the United States. They are after Johnny’s cash stash.

Eventually things get sorted, the FBI agents are sent packing, as are the nasty neo-Nazis, the killer is revealed, and….well, does Johnny get his cash? Read the book. I recommend it.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Deep Dark Descending by Allen Eskens

The Deep Dark Descending
Allen Eskens
Seventh Street Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-63388-355-0
Trade Paperback

Minneapolis homicide detective Max Rupert never got past his wife’s Jenni’s death over four years ago—the verdict was that she was killed by a hit and run driver. But a former friend who is a defense attorney sent him a CD that contains a recording of two men discussing the murder of Jenni. Jenni stumbled upon something that she shouldn’t have, perhaps in her job as a hospital social worker, that leads to a contract being put out for her murder.

When Max learns that she was murdered, he is determined to hunt down the killers. With copies of evidence from police files that he is not supposed to have, he begins to follow a trail that he hopes will lead to the man who ordered his wife’s murder. He becomes obsessed with revenge. On a frozen lake near the Canadian border he comes face to face with his wife’s killer.

Readers who enjoy the intense, gripping mysteries of John Sandford and Steve Hamilton may want to add USA Today bestselling author Eskens to their “to read” list. The Deep Dark Descending is his fourth book.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, November 2017.

Book Review: Where I Can See You by Larry D. Sweazy

Where I Can See You
Larry D. Sweazy
Seventh Street Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-63388-211-9
Trade Paperback

Disgraced Detroit detective Hud Matthews has come home to a small lakeside Michigan community. His old friend, Police Chief Paul Burke has wrangled him a job in order to restart his career, even though both men have doubts. Hud had hardly been able to wait to get away when he was eighteen. He came back to bury his grandmother and to finally solve the mystery of his mother’s disappearance when he was eight.

Almost the first thing to happen is a murder, once which also leaves a young boy motherless. Why was she killed? The motive is obscured, and as Hud and the rest of the department strives to figure it out, more murders occur in rapid succession. What, wonders Hud, is the tie between these different people?

Overall, Hud’s desire–no, make that obsession–to find out what happened to his own mother, overrides every part of his life, and every relationship, whether with women or old friends. Even his job, which hangs by a thread at best, and rampant murder loses focus to his quest.

As a general rule, I love Sweazy’s books. HIs entry from last year, See Also Deception, was one of my favorite books in 2016. Unfortunately, for me, this one didn’t make the cut. The writing, as always, is excellent. But for me, the plot just didn’t quite meld and I found the characters, including Hud, unsympathetic, even though I felt for a child who lost his mother and never knew why.

The setting, however, is terrifically written. If you’ve ever been to one of these old, almost forgotten resorts, you’ll get the exact feeling Sweazy has provided in this book. Wonderful descriptions and atmosphere.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Desert Remains by Steven Cooper—and a Giveaway!

Desert Remains
A Gus Parker and Alex Mills Novel #1
Steven Cooper
Seventh Street Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-63388-353-6
Trade Paperback

There’s a serial killer on the loose around Phoenix. All the victims are young women. All are tortured before death. All, inexplicably, have paintings on the rocks around where the bodies are dumped (usually in caves) depicting the manner of death. The murder sites provide no clues, otherwise. The killer is evidently up to snuff regarding crime scene detection. Detective Alex Mills is under the gun to solve these crimes quickly, but he’s also under pressure by another detective, former FBI agent Timothy Chase, who’d just love to have Mills’ job.

This is when Mills asks “intuitive medium,” that’s a psychic to most of us, Gus Parker to lend a hand. Parker’s messages from beyond the pale have helped Mills solve crimes before, but this time, even the psychic is hard-pressed to read the messages left behind.

I don’t usually read serial killer books. I guess I prefer my murders to be one-on-one for a reason other than pure evil. And I don’t usually like books written in present tense. Those things said, now forget about them. The book is tense and exciting, a real page turner. The characterization is excellent for all the main characters and most of the more minor ones. Gus, with his dog Ivy, hit a real chord with me. Situations that could’ve made this character run-of-the-mill are absent, a wonderful surprise. The dialogue is clean and carries the story forward. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Desert Remains to any mystery reader, and most especially if you like a little woo-woo in your stories. And I do.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Desert Remains by Steven Cooper,
leave
a comment below. One winning
name will
be drawn Tuesday evening,
October 17th. This drawing is o
pen
to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Betrayal at IGA by Susan Spann—and a Giveaway!

Betrayal at IGA
A Hiri Hattori Novel #5
A Shinobi Mystery
Susan Spann
Seventh Street Books, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-6338-8277-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Autumn, 1565: After fleeing Kyoto, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo take refuge with Hiro’s ninja clan in the mountains of Iga province. But when an ambassador from the rival Koga clan is murdered during peace negotiations, Hiro and Father Mateo must find the killer in time to prevent a war between the ninja clans.

With every suspect a trained assassin, and the evidence incriminating not only Hiro’s commander, the infamous ninja Hattori Hanzō, but also Hiro’s mother and his former lover, the detectives must struggle to find the truth in a village where deceit is a cultivated art. As tensions rise, the killer strikes again, and Hiro finds himself forced to choose between his family and his honor.

One of the most delightful private eye duos is back! I know it’s only been a year since their last appearance but it seemed like eons because I love them so much.

Hiro and Father Mateo are a most unusual pair, this Japanese shinobi and Portuguese priest that are linked together by contract. Hiro was assigned the task of protecting the Jesuit from all the dangers that can befall a foreigner in the midst of feudal Japan and he has done so with honor and careful attention to the things that could get Father Mateo in trouble. A very large pitfall is the culture and societal demands of this world of shoguns and samurais and Hiro is particularly concerned that the priest understand how to behave as they approach Iga, Hiro’s home. It’s Father Mateo’s first visit and Hiro himself hasn’t been home in some time.

Adding to the potential problem is the enormous tension that’s palpable in the feasting room when they arrive slightly late. A group of delegates from the Koga clan has come, supposedly to seek common ground with the Hattori clan to prevent war but at least one in the visiting group is overtly hostile and suspicious. Fuyu’s attitude of extreme distrust seems warranted when another member of his clan falls over, clearly dying from poison moments after beginning the feast.

In what is essentially a locked room mystery, in this case a locked compound, Fuyu immediately accuses the Hattori clan of murder and hostilities escalate until this room full of trained assassins are all prepared to kill each other. Hattori Hanzo, host and commander, suggests that Hiro and Father Mateo be appointed to solve the crime and bring the killer to justice but they have only three days to do so. The prime suspect? Midori, the woman who prepared the feast, Hiro’s mother.

This entry in the series is my favorite so far for a lot of reasons. Emotions run high, the tension is at breaking point and the pressure on Father Mateo and Hiro has never been so intense but we also get a good look at Hiro’s background and family, the forces that made him who he is. Family and an old love are at the core of the story and the closed community of medieval Japan is immensely interesting but, as always with this pair, the investigation is enlightening in many ways, especially considering the lack of modern-day crime solving forensics. The intriguing 16th-century setting and Ms. Spann’s knowledge of the era and place are the icing on the cake for this addition to my list of best books read in 2017.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Books-A-Million
Amazon // Indiebound // Seventh Street Books

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About the Author

Susan 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 10th: Suzy Approved – author guest post
Tuesday, July 11th: In Bed With Books
Thursday, July 13th: Clues & Reviews
Monday, July 17th: Reading Reality
Tuesday, July 18th: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, July 19th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, July 20thBuried Under Books
Monday, July 24thWrite Read Life
Tuesday, July 25thAll Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Wednesday, July 26thMama Vicky Says
Thursday, July 27thPatricia’s Wisdom
Friday, July 28thHoser’s Blook
Monday, July 31stBewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, August 1stA Dream Within a Dream
Wednesday, August 2ndJathan & Heather
Thursday, August 3rdOpen Book Society
Friday, August 4thBook Dilettante

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To enter the drawing for a
print copy of Betrayal at Iga
by Susan Spann, just leave

a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Monday
night, July 24th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US and Canada.

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