Book Review: Valley of Shadows by Steven Cooper—and a Giveaway! @TheStevenCooper @SeventhStBooks

Valley of Shadows
A Gus Parker and Alex Mills Novel #3
Steven Cooper
Seventh Street Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-64506-000-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A cop. A psychic. And a dead socialite. Who killed Viveca Canning and where is the Dali masterpiece that hung on the walls of her estate? So many people had a motive. Phoenix Detective Alex Mills is on the case with the help of his sometimes-psychic buddy Gus Parker. You won’t find another duo like them. And once you hop on the wild ride, you won’t want to get off. Who will survive a doomed flight over the Pacific? Who tried to blow up an art gallery? Who saw Viveca Canning as a threat and shot her twice in the head? Those questions hound Gus and Alex as the case unravels. It’s an art caper wrapped in a murder mystery. The Valley of the Sun becomes a Valley of Shadows, where everyone has something to hide and the truth lies beneath Phoenix in a labyrinth of tunnels and dungeons.

There’s a lot at stake for Gus and Alex. With the case swirling all around them, the future of Gus and his rock n’ roll girlfriend hangs in the balance. For Alex, it’s a test of family loyalties as a health scare for his wife brings him to the breaking point.

A really good crime novel is dependent on two major components, vivid characters and intriguing plot, and there’s no doubt that Steven Cooper‘s Valley of Shadows has both, in spades. I have to say, though, that Mr. Cooper also has given his readers a setting that has to be considered the third and, perhaps most unforgettable, element.

At first glance, Alex Mills is a typical police detective but his friendship with Gus takes things to another level. After all, most of law enforcement looks at psychics with jaundiced eyes, but these two men have moved well beyond any distrust and, in fact, value each other’s contributions to crime solving. In this story, we’re also treated to in-depth looks at their personal lives, adding much to our understanding of them.

As for this particular case, the various threads lead Alex and Gus in a myriad of directions, largely because they uncover so many potential motives for Viveca Canning’s murder. From a simple art heist to greedy children to a cult and everything in-between, all must be considered and proven invalid before they land on the truth. Along the way, the tension continues to rise and I had to keep turning those pages as fast as I could while also wanting to savor the author’s wonderful wordcraft.

I’ve spent just a few days in Arizona but I was struck by how much Mr. Cooper immersed me in the surroundings, the desert sun and sand, the beautiful scenery. Somehow, I feel that this is where Alex and Gus belong and I definitely want to visit with them again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2019.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Giveaway

To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Valley of Shadows by Steven Cooper,
leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Wednesday evening,
December 11th. Open to residents
of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Queen’s Gambit by Bradley Harper @bharperauthor @SeventhStBooks

Queen’s Gambit
A Mystery Featuring Margaret Harkness
Bradley Harper
Seventh Street Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-64506-001-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Spring, 1897. London. Margaret Harkness, now in her early forties, must leave England for her health but lacks the funds. A letter arrives from her old friend Professor Bell, her old comrade in the hunt for Jack the Ripper and the real-life inspiration for Sherlock Homes. Bell invites her to join him in Germany on a mysterious mission for the German government involving the loss of state secrets to Anarchists. The resolution of this commission leads to her being stalked through the streets of London by a vengeful man armed with a powerful and nearly silent air rifle who has both Margaret and Queen Victoria in his sights. Margaret finds allies in Inspector James Ethington of Scotland Yard and his fifteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who aspires to follow in Margaret’s cross-dressing footsteps.

The hunt is on, but who is the hunter, and who the hunted as the day approaches for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee when the aged empress will sit in her open carriage at the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral? The entire British Empire holds its breath as the assassin, Margaret, and the Queen herself play for the highest of stakes with the Queen’s Gambit.

I wouldn’t want to have lived in the Victorian era but I really do enjoy reading books set in the period and, with an author’s effective worldbuilding, getting immersed in it. Bradley Harper does that for me very well.  Not only can I envision myself settling in for a chat with Margaret and all her friends; I think I would truly like these people should they suddenly become real today (many actually were real more than a hundred years ago).

I did miss having more of Margaret’s interactions with Arthur Conan Doyle and Professor Bell as I had enjoyed those characters so much in the first book but James and Elizabeth were delightful additions to the cast. Also, Queen Victoria comes across as a woman to be reckoned with, perhaps a sort of role model for young women who resist their “place” in the world. Margaret is one of those young women, a journalist and author who dares to overstep the bounds of her time.

After her adventures with Doyle and Bell, I found this latest undertaking a little less engaging which is more than a little ridiculous when you think about it. I mean, Margaret and company are involved in international intrigue and trying to prevent anarchists’ terrorist activities; what more could I possibly want? Let’s just chalk it up to my own fascination with Jack the Ripper and the efforts of the Victorian police 😉

One of my favorite parts of this book is the Afterword in which Mr. Harper provides tidbits of very interesting information regarding the people and events depicted in this novel based on facts. After an ending that made me tear up more than a little, I’m truly anticipating the next book featuring the intrepid Margaret Harkness, should there be one, and I certainly hope there will be.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2019.

Book Review: The Body in Griffith Park by Jennifer Kincheloe @jenkincheloe @SeventhStBooks

The Body in Griffith Park
An Anna Blanc Mystery Book 3
Jennifer Kincheloe
Seventh Street  Books, July 2019
ISBN 978-1-63388-540-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Los Angeles, 1908. Anna Blanc is a former so-so socialite, a flailing police matron, and a killer detective.

Ex-heiress, Anna Blanc, is precariously employed by the Los Angeles Police Department, reforming delinquent children and minding lady jailbirds. What she really wants is to hunt criminals and be alone with Detective Joe Singer–both no-nos that could get her fired. On a lover’s tryst in Griffith Park, Anna and Joe discover the body of a young gambler. Anna can’t resist. She’s on the case.

With a murder to solve and her police matron duties piling up, a young girl shows up at Central Station claiming to have been raped by a man from Mars. The men at the station scoff, but Anna is willing to investigate. Meanwhile, Anna begins getting strange floral arrangements from an unknown admirer. Following the petals leads her to another crime–one close to home. Suddenly pitted against Joe, Anna must examine her loyalties and solve the crimes, even if it means losing the man she loves.

With sentences like this, it’s impossible not to love this book:

Anna arranged her face matrimonially—that is, she
tried to look grown-up, haggard, and a bit sour.

Doesn’t that bring a visual right to mind?

Anna Blanc is a young woman determined to find a place for herself in a time and society that doesn’t encourage women’s independence and she’s chosen to do so in the LAPD, decidedly a bastion of male privilege and dominance. Anna’s boss and only female colleague, Matron Clemens, is a hard taskmaster (taskmistress?) but Anna has proven her detecting skills several times now.

Meanwhile, Anna is carrying on a clandestine romance with Detective Joe Singer and, if they’re caught, Anna could be fired. Knowing that, the lovers go to extraordinary lengths to keep their liaison a secret and they may or may not be entirely successful; in fact, we know they’re not but the powers that be are still in the dark. Regardless, their efforts are inventive and frequently amusing.

On one of their trysts, while Anna and Joe are ostensibly looking for a truant, they discover a corpse. Joe immediately thinks it’s a suicide but Anna is not so sure and her detective talents kick in and, once she points out several observations to Joe, he can’t help but agree. Before all is said and done, a variety of cases will have Anna going in all directions, albeit surreptitiously, and we’re also treated to more of her family drama while Joe continues to support her as best he can in his 1908 manly way.

And who keeps sending Anna bouquets of beautiful flowers?

This is the second book I’ve read in this series—not sure how or why I’ve missed the first one—and I’m an ardent admirer of Ms. Kincheloe‘s obvious research into the early part of the 20th century. More than that, she brings Anna and her surroundings to life, making me want more. I guess I’ll have to go pick up The Secret Life of Anna Blanc while I’m waiting for book #4 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2019.

Book Review: The Book Artist by Mark Pryor @MarkPryorBooks @SeventhStBooks

The Book Artist
A Hugo Marston Novel #8
Mark Pryor
Seventh Street Books, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-63388-488-5
Trade Paperback

The Book Artist is the eighth in Mark Pryor’s series featuring Hugo Marston, ex-FBI profiler and current chief of security for US Ambassador J. Bradford Taylor stationed in Paris.  The book begins with Hugo and the Ambassador attending an art exhibition at which, you may not be surprised to learn, a murder occurs.  Hugo offers the detective in charge the benefit of his expertise in solving such cases but his offer is quickly rebuffed.  Soon after, the detective in charge makes an arrest of a friend of Hugo’s but Hugo, convinced the wrong person has been arrested, sets out to find the real murderer and free his friend.

Unfortunately, Hugo soon learns about the death of someone close to him and also that the killer is likely after Hugo too.  Distressed for his friend, concerned for his own safety, and worried about another friend being in jail for the murder at the art exhibit, Hugo has, as they say, a full plate which is soon made fuller by the death of another friend.  Determined to solve both cases and stay alive, Hugo enlists the help of his boss but is it too late?

I only discovered the Hugo Marston series a few months ago when I came across The Paris Librarian and loved it.  I can’t believe I missed this excellent series!  On the bright side, though, I have six more books in the series to read plus, of course, whatever Mark Pryor writes next.  Lucky me – and you too if you haven’t yet read this series.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, July 2019.

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.

Book Review: A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary by Terry Shames

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary
A Samuel Craddock Mystery #8
Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-63388-490-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

After using an online dating site for senior citizens, town favorite Loretta Singletary–maker of cinnamon rolls and arbiter of town gossip–goes missing. Chief Samuel Craddock’s old friend Loretta Singletary–a mainstay of the Jarrett Creek community–has undergone a transformation, with a new hairstyle and modern clothes. He thinks nothing of it until she disappears. Only then does he find out she has been meeting men through an online dating site for small-town participants. When a woman in the neighboring town of Bobtail turns up dead after meeting someone through the same dating site, Craddock becomes alarmed. Will Craddock be able to find Loretta before she suffers the same fate? Finding out what happened to Loretta forces him to investigate an online world he is unfamiliar with, and one which brings more than a few surprises.

It’s just another day in Jarrett Creek for Samuel Craddock when his good friend, Loretta Singletary, asks him to get involved in a church ladies’ issue, something he decidedly doesn’t want to do and he’s almost relieved when she has to leave to meet a friend. He does momentarily wonder why she seemed so skittish but police chief duties soon distract him. It isn’t until various people start realizing that they haven’t seen Loretta that he becomes not exactly alarmed but very curious.

Loretta is the essence of a settled, unremarkable woman so, when Samuel hears that she might be involved in online dating, he’s truly surprised. This is really out of character for her but what really disturbs him is that she has literally disappeared and, when he hears that a woman in a neighboring town is also missing, Samuel and his chief deputy, the energetic and opinionated Maria Trevino, begin to investigate in earnest. Following the few leads they develop soon brings them to the realization that Loretta could be in serious trouble and they don’t have much time to find her.

One thing I can always count on with a Samuel Craddock book is that, while typical police procedural action might be limited, Samuel has the mind and life experience that make him a thoughtful, intuitive investigator and he’s nearly always a step ahead of me. He notices things and he really hears what people say but, most of all, he recognizes that the unexpected is often the truth. He’s not perfect—modern social behavior sometimes baffles him and he can be reluctant to open up about himself—but he’s the kind of man I’d trust to have my back.

Samuel’s stories always focus on a particular issue and, this time, it’s the potential dangers of online dating, especially for older women…and men…who may be particularly vulnerable. Ms. Shames handles the topic quite nicely without  belaboring the point. To lighten the mood a bit, we’re also treated to the comings and goings of the townsfolk and the almost-feud over the annual goat rodeo.

This has been one of my favorite series since the very first book and I’m still just as entranced with Samuel Craddock and the denizens of Jarrett Creek. Once again, I stayed up all night and it was time well spent—who needs sleep when Terry Shames has a new book out?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2019.

Book Review: Idyll Hands by Stephanie Gayle—and a Giveaway!

Idyll Hands
A Thomas Lynch Novel #3
Stephanie Gayle
Seventh Street Books,
ISBN 978-1-63388-482-3
Trade Paperback

Not to mince words, this is an excellent novel. The story travels between 1972 in Charleston, Massachusetts, and 1999 in Idyll, Connecticut. In its emotional beginning, Susan, the sixteen-year-old sister of a new policeman, Michael Finnegan, is running away from home, at least for a few days. Why, we don’t know for sure.

Twenty-six years later, in a town not far from Charleston, the new chief of police in Idyll, Connecticut, named Thomas Lynch, is confronted with allergies and the preserved bone of an unknown woman or girl, the cops in that town have named Colleen. The bone is from a body unknown and unnamed found years earlier.

And so the story begins. As it unfolds, Michael Finnegan, now an experienced detective and his boss, Chief Lynch, working together and separately, among the small force of law enforcement people, confront questions of other missing young women. And throughout the novel, the hard loss of Finnegan’s still missing sister is always present.

In carefully measured chapters, the search for the woman found in the grave in Idyll is laid out and the detectives draw ever closer to the murderer. At the same time, detective Finnegan continues to pick away at random small clues to the enduring mystery of his sister’s disappearance.

Scenes are carefully and sometimes elaborately described; the pace of the novel is intense, and readers will be treated to a small cadre of police individuals whose emotional investments in their careers are carefully laid out, along with the civilian sides of life. Readers will also be treated to an interesting look at the process of crime detection in this town where the authorities are anything but idle.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Idyll Hands by Stephanie Gayle, just leave
a
comment below. The winning name will

be drawn on Thursday night, May 9th.
This drawing is open to the US and Canada.