Book Reviews: See Also Proof by Larry D. Sweazy and Operation Stop Hate by Jessie Chandler

See Also Proof
A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery #3
Larry D. Sweazy
Seventh Street Books, May 2018
ISBN: 978-1-63388-279-9
Trade Paperback

Marjorie Tremaine, a freelance indexer living just outside Dickinson, North Dakota in 1965 is still mourning the untimely death of her husband. Their dog, Shep offers only limited comfort. The local Ladies Aide visits regularly, in spite of harsh winter weather on this northern prairie, but Marjorie is still struggling with her life and latest assignment.

The unsettling news that a local teen girl has gone missing comes as almost welcome relief to Marjorie. Here’s a local puzzle to help solve. Working with the new county sheriff, out looking for the missing girl in front of a looming snowstorm, she stumbles on a body. The dead man was well-liked and well-known throughout the county. Thus the author sets up wide possibilities for whom the killer might be. And the murder of this young man on the heels of the girl gone missing adds to the possibilities.

The author is adept at setting up complex situations that capture readers’ attention. His characters feel authentic to the locale and the time. Two elements come to dominate this novel and affect the actions of nearly all the characters most of the time. Weather is the most dominant and in this novel snowstorms of blizzard proportions are looming, a part of the immediacy, or just leaving the scene.

The other element is Marjorie’s old Studebaker truck. It’s a typical farm truck of the era, too much abused with heavy work assignments, too little maintenance owing to lack of funds and always in need of a boost from the block heater. Never completely put off, this reader felt at times he was more intimately involved with the troublesome Studebaker than the main plot. Nevertheless, the truck plays an important role in the success of the story, protecting Marjorie at crucial times.

The author uses the character of the residents, of the land itself, and of the unique relationships between all of them in this engrossing well-written story of a terrible and an uplifting time in the life of North Dakota.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 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.

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Operation Stop Hate
The Operation Series Book One
Jessie Chandler
Train Wreck Xpress, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-63304-803-4
Trade Paperback

A rousing adventure into the way federal, state and local law enforcement agencies study and take action to protect the nation against religious and political hate groups and their attacks on our people, especially LGBTQ folks. The novel follows the actions of Special Agent Cailin McKenna, a valued if occasionally erratic, member of a national force dubbed National Protection and Investigation Unit.

NPIU is called in when two shootings occur at two Minneapolis schools. Several law enforcement agencies participate in attempting to pin down connections when it becomes possible that the shootings are linked. McKenna is upended when she discovers one of the shooters may be a boy she thought she rescued from the streets.

McKenna’s life is further complicated by unwanted oppressive attention from her former lover, Elisa, an obsessive-compulsive ad exec who seems to be losing her grip on reality. McKenna, faced with opposing forces on the job and in her love life, has a tough time navigating the investigation. All of these conditions are presented in an interesting matrix of events and emotions.

There are a large number of really good characters in this book, consistently and interestingly presented. They move through McKenna’s orbit and fulfill important roles.

The novel moves apace and if there are a bit too many words devoted to the high emotions of McKenna’s love life, the entire story is presented in a tasteful way that never loses sight of the primary and most serious plot, revealing the motivations and political efforts of hate groups in our society. I recommend this novel for its current social connections and excellent readability.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 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.

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Book Review: The Sorbonne Affair by Mark Pryor

The Sorbonne Affair
A Hugo Marston Novel #7
Mark Pryor
Seventh Street Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-6338-8261-4
Trade Paperback

The seventh book featuring Hugo Marston, former FBI agent and now head of security for the U.S. embassy in Paris. Helen Hancock, an internationally famous romance author, is staying in Paris working on her latest opus and teaching a seminar on writing with a small group of students. She reports a hidden camera in her room of the exclusive hotel where she is staying. Shortly thereafter a hotel employee with a gambling problem is found stabbed in a hotel stairwell. When images from the camera in Helen’s room are found on his laptop, the police assume that he intended to blackmail Helen to pay his gambling debts. Helen has a rock-solid alibi for the time of his murder, leaving the police to wonder who else he’d tried to extort. Then a video showing Helen in an embarrassing situation, clearly from the camera hidden in her room, finds its way onto the internet, causing much consternation to her fans and upsetting her publisher. Two more murders follow in short order, complicating the investigation being conducted by Hugo and a Paris police lieutenant.

In the meantime the convicted bank robber from the last case Hugo worked as an FBI agent has managed to obtain parole and disappears from the United States. Tom Green, Hugo’s former FBI partner and current tenant, is convinced that the man is heading for Paris to obtain revenge upon them both. Tom is something of a hothead and Hugo serves as a brake on his impulsive actions, leading to a lot of dialog along the lines of “I’m going to….” “No, no, that would be (dangerous/illegal/not good/(fill in the blank)”.

Pryor loves Paris, every inch of it. The people, the food, the streets and parks, the architecture, all are glowingly described. The book is well worth reading just for the travelogue.

In an interesting twist, the crisis with the bank robber that would lead to both Hugo and Tom leaving the FBI is described in a series of flashbacks presented in reverse chronological sequence. That is, the scene foreshadowing a showdown with their boss over what he considered their mishandling of the situation comes early in the book and the initial scene where Hugo and Tom realize they are witnessing a bank robbery is at the very end of the book, while the contemporary crime is treated in straightforward as it occurs order.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, July 2018.

Book Review: A Perfect Shot by Robin Yocum—and a Giveaway!

A Perfect Shot
Robin Yocum
Seventh Street Books, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-63388-417-5
Trade Paperback

Fans of Chuck Logan may find this book an attractive addition to their library of crime thrillers. Yocum tends toward the more brutal and darker side of the genre, but there are definite similarities.

Decades after his last-minute basket to help the Mingo Junction Indians win the Ohio state high school basketball championship, Duke Ducheski has finally realized his dream—to open a fine restaurant in his home town and get out of the steel mill that dominates his home town. He also pledges to himself to avoid becoming involved with the nasty crime family that rules the valley.

Steel manufacturing in this Ohio valley is not the only enterprise dominating the town. The other presence is the mob, a tight-knit group of entrepreneurs who control the gambling, drug sales and prostitution action in town. The mob boss is aging Salvatore Antonelli. His principal enforcer is a local boy named Tony DeMarco.

When Duke opens his restaurant with some assistance from his long-time high school buddies Moonie and Angel, things are looking up for the forty-year old divorced mill worker, and then he disappears. His disappearance is triggered by an elaborate plan concocted by Duke to rid himself of the heavy arm of Tony DeMarco, and of other obligations. He enlists the aid of former school buddies and a grandfather-like figure who owns an established bar in town.

For anyone who has experienced small-town dynamics, long-time established disagreements and feuds, the slow revolutions of time and the maturation of certain individuals, rings true. The author has established a true town character, as well as the characters of both principal and peripheral players.

The novel is characteristic of the author’s work, painstakingly detailed, accurately nuanced, as is the dialogue. There are several violent encounters throughout the novel, most of which result in reduction of the population.

Everything in the book is true to the premise and well written. Fans of this style of crime fiction should be very happy and I recommend the novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 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.

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To enter the drawing for a trade
paperback copy of A Perfect Shot
by Robin Yocum
, leave a comment
below.
The winning name will be
drawn Fri
day evening, June 1st.
This
drawing is open to
residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Heart of Stone by James W. Ziskin

Heart of Stone
An Ellie Stone Mystery #4
James W. Ziskin
Seventh Street Books, June 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63388-183-9
Trade Paperback

Ellie Stone is in the Adirondacks visiting her aunt for the month of August. She is lounging on the dock while her aunt swims (nude) when the sheriff comes  and after hassling her aunt for nude swimming asks Ellie to come with him to photograph a death scene. He needs her to do this because Ellie has an expensive camera and the sheriff has no camera at all. She goes. There is a high cliff that dare devils use to dive from into the lake below. It is not the wisest sport as there is rocky ledge that juts out which divers have to miss. From the looks of things, these two did not miss the shale shelf. Ellie notices some oddities at the scene such as the way the two are dressed and the station wagon parked so close to the edge of the cliff. When the state police become involved they find even more odd things. While one of the victims is a stranger to the area, the other is a young man staying at the music camp. It seems more than a little odd that these two would be stunt diving together.

Ellie is in a good position to investigate which as a newspaper reporter she is inclined to do. Ellie has spent time in the area most of her life and knows many of the people who are staying at the nearby arts camp. She also has an uncanny ability to snoop out the truth.

This is the fourth Ellie Stone book and I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand I like the mystery presented in Heart of Stone a great deal. I also enjoyed Ellie on vacation, away from her job. On the other hand, the author has a tendency to be overly wordy. In the previous books, I found that this added to the atmosphere of the book. It gave the books a feel of more substance. It seemed to me that  in this book he ramped up the wordage even more. More than once I wanted to shout, “just get on with it!”  The overuse of language was just annoying.

In spite of the language, it is still Ellie Stone who is a most likable protagonist. I would recommend the book and hope that Ziskin can curb the need to use more words when fewer will suffice.

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

Book Review: A Reckoning in the Back Country by Terry Shames—and a Giveaway!

A Reckoning in the Back Country
A Samuel Craddock Mystery #7
Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-63388-367-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Lewis Wilkins, a physician with a vacation home in Jarrett Creek, is attacked by vicious dogs, and several pet dogs in the area around Jarrett Creek disappear, Police Chief Samuel Craddock suspects that a dog fighting ring is operating in his territory. He has to tread carefully in his investigation, since lawmen who meddle in dog fighting put their lives at risk. The investigation is hampered because Wilkins is not a local.

Craddock’s focus on the investigation is thrown off by the appearance of a new woman in his life, as well as his accidental acquisition of a puppy.

Digging deeper, Craddock discovers that the public face Wilkins presented was at odds with his private actions. A terrible mistake led to his disgrace as a physician, and far from being a stranger, he has ongoing acquaintances with a number of county residents who play fast and loose with the law.

OK, let’s deal with the elephant in the room. Yes, dogs are a crucial part of this story and they’re involved in bad things. Yes, harm is done BUT it’s important to note that most of it is offpage and it’s not gratuitous in the least. The central theme, that of dogfighting, is an evil in our world, one that causes many people to look the other way because the horror of it is so difficult to comprehend. Even if you’re squeamish about animals being harmed, I strongly encourage you to read this book to learn more about how this works and why it so often seems to escape scrutiny that could help stop it. Besides, all the dog activity here is not bad; there’s a little fellow named Dusty you won’t want to miss.

Dogfighting is not what brings Samuel to the home of Lewis and Margaret Wilkins, though, and discovering why this man is missing keeps him busy around the Thanksgiving holiday. This is a lake family, meaning vacationers, so they’re not well known in Jarrett Creek and Samuel is the only member of the police department on hand. He’s doing the best he can but no one is prepared when a body is found, a body that has been savaged.

Technically speaking, the investigation of a violent death should be run by the Department of Public Safety but they rely on Chief Craddock to get things started. It doesn’t take long for him to see that this is going to be complicated and leads take him in several directions. Dr. Wilkins was apparently not a pleasant man and he had some serious problems including a malpractice suit and high stakes gambling. There’s also the question of how and why dogs would have attacked him.

On a more personal note, Samuel has reason to question his relationship with Ellen when he meets another woman and he also takes in a tiny puppy he found near the crime scene. He won’t keep the dog, of course, because he doesn’t want one but Dusty is there for now and Samuel’s resistance just might be futile. Certainly, he offers a bit of a distraction as Samuel and his deputy, Maria, follow those disparate leads to come to a final conclusion.

I was just as puzzled as Samuel almost to the very end and, even then, there were a few surprises. Once again, Terry Shames has captivated me with not only a terrific story but with Samuel himself, a man of great integrity and the wisdom and confidence of his years but one who isn’t afraid to challenge himself on a personal level. A Reckoning in the Back Country is going on my list of best books read in 2018.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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

To enter the drawing for a trade
paperback copy of A Reckoning in
the Back Country by Terry Shames,
leave a comment below.
The winning
name will be drawn
Monday evening,
May 14th. This
drawing is open
to residents of the US and Canada.

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.

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.