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.

Advertisements

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.

Book Review: Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann—and a Giveaway!

Trial on Mount Koya
A Hiro Hattori Novel #6
A Shinobi Mystery
Susan Spann
Seventh Street Books, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-6338-8415-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

November, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo travel to a Buddhist temple at the summit of Mount Koya, carrying a secret message for an Iga spy posing as a priest on the sacred mountain. When a snowstorm strikes the peak, a killer begins murdering the temple’s priests and posing them as Buddhist judges of the afterlife–the Kings of Hell. Hiro and Father Mateo must unravel the mystery before the remaining priests–including Father Mateo–become unwilling members of the killer’s grisly council of the dead.

Anyone who is a fan of Agatha Christie will recognize the tip of the hat this book is to her And Then There Were None with the isolated setting and the killer who picks off the victims one at a time and that really adds an element of fun to the story. This unusual pair of sleuths—a Portuguese Jesuit priest and his shinobi companion/bodyguard—have come to this remote temple because Hiro has been ordered to deliver a message to an Iga spy but they soon find themselves looking for a murderer among the monks and a couple of visitors. Although each investigation these two have conducted has its own peculiarities, this time Hiro is off-center, partly because of a personal sorrow but also because he comes to believe his friend may be in real jeopardy.

Along with the investigation, we also learn a little about the Buddhist religion in the 16th century and why the killer might be posing his victims, one by one, as the judges of the afterlife. The juxtaposition of the Buddhist tenets with those of a Catholic priest is striking and sheds more light on the relationship between Hiro and Father Mateo, two men who are vastly different and yet so respectful of each other. Each brings a unique perspective to the investigation and they are made even more interesting by their positions in feudal Japanese society.

Ms. Spann, as I’ve come to expect, creates vivid settings—her ability to evoke a visual understanding of the surroundings is full of the small details that bring them to life—and her characters are so fully fleshed out as to make our sleuths seem like people we actually know. It’s not just the two investigators that draw the attention, though; others are just as memorable, such as their housekeeper, Ana (a favorite of mine from earlier books).

Wonderful use of atmospheric language, very appealing players and an intriguing plot make Trial on Mount Koya another brilliant entry in this series I’ve come to love. Hiro and Father Mateo are among my very favorite historical investigators and I can barely wait for their next adventure, Ghost of the Bamboo Road, due out later this year.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2019.

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

Re-issue/New Cover Reveal

Claws of the Cat
A Hiro Hattori Novel
A Shinobi Mystery, Book 1

A master ninja and a Portuguese priest investigate the murder of a samurai in medieval Kyoto. May 1564: When a samurai is brutally murdered in a Kyoto teahouse, master ninja Hiro has no desire to get involved. But the beautiful entertainer accused of the crime enlists the help of Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit Hiro is sworn to protect, leaving the master shinobi with just three days to find the killer in order to save the girl and the priest from execution. The investigation plunges Hiro and Father Mateo into the dangerous waters of Kyoto’s floating world, where they learn that everyone from the elusive teahouse owner to the dead man’s dishonored brother has a motive to keep the samurai’s death a mystery. A rare murder weapon favored by ninja assassins, a female samurai warrior, and a hidden affair leave Hiro with too many suspects and far too little time. Worse, the ninja’s investigation uncovers a host of secrets that threaten not only Father Mateo and the teahouse, but the very future of Japan.

Re-issued by Seventh Street Books, April 23, 2019.

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

Giveaway

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment
below. There will be two winners. One
winner will receive a trade paperback copy
of Trial on Mount Koya and the second
winner will receive a trade paperback copy
of the re-issued Claws of the Cat. The drawing
will be held on the evening of Thursday,
April 25th and is open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: A Knife in the Fog by Bradley Harper—and a Giveaway!

A Knife in the Fog
Bradley Harper
Seventh Street Books, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-63388-487-8
Trade Paperback

Jack the Ripper and Arthur Conan Doyle clash in this story and with the help of Dr. Joseph Bell, on whom Doyle supposedly based his fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, an investigative trio is created. More fun yet, is that the Dr. Watson of the story is not Doyle himself, but a woman, Margaret Harkness, a writer of extraordinary wit and intelligence, who lives in the East End.

History says the man who claimed the sobriquet “Jack the Ripper” was never discovered, although the gruesome murders he perpetrated upon the prostitutes of Whitechapel abruptly ceased. No one actually knows why. In this story, the author shows the reader why, and frankly, I can’t imagine a more fitting reason.

Although the quasi-romance aspects of the story seemed a bit half-hearted, I felt all the characters suited to the parts they played. The writing is good, the characters well fleshed out, and the action well depicted. The historical aspects of the setting and the attitudes of the people, both high and low, including politics and racial/class discrimination, are very well done.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2019.
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

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

To enter the drawing for a print copy
of A Knife in the Fog, just leave a
comment below. The winning name will
be drawn on Sunday night, April 7th.
This drawing is open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: A Stone’s Throw by James W. Ziskin

A Stone’s Throw
An Ellie Stone Mystery #6
James W. Ziskin
Seventh Street Books, June  2018
ISBN 978-1-63388-419-9
Trade Paperback

A Stone’s Throw strikes me, for some reason, as more indicative of the 1940s or 50s than of the 60s. Lordy, Lordy, didn’t people just smoke, then? Or at least the characters in this book do. But that’s only a small, amusing detail in a book with a heroine as downright cool as Ellie Stone.

A Jewish “girl reporter” –yes, I’m reminded of Lois Lane–who is determined to make it in a man’s world, Ellie is Johnny-on-the-spot when a fire destroys a rundown barn on an abandoned property. The property used to be the center of a horsebreeding operation, until a long ago fire put an end to it. Owned by the wealthy, and politically important Shaw family, the barn is deemed to be no particular loss until Ellie walks through and discovers two bodies, both burned beyond recognition, in the ashes. Who are they? Ellie is determined to find out.

Even then the sheriff isn’t terribly concerned, and it isn’t until Ellie starts investigating that secrets are revealed which will involve many in the horse racing community of Saratoga Springs, New York. Owners, trainers, jockeys, and bookmakers all have something to hide, and it will take Ellie and a cadre of quirky friends to discover the truth.

The writing is good, the dialogue snappy, the setting appropriate. Most of all, the subject of horse racing, which is dear to my heart, a hoot to visit. I’m worried about Ellie, though. Her lovelife is a bust and I’m afraid she may have a drinking problem, although a full bottle of Dewars proves a godsend. A fun read.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: The Devil’s Wind by Steve Goble—and a Giveaway!

The Devil’s Wind
A Spider John Mystery #2
Steve Goble
Seventh Street Books, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-63388-484-7
Trade Paperback

A second helping of pirate noir is served up by author Steve Goble. Former pirate Spider John signs on to an honest job on the ship “Redemption, ” but shortly after the ship puts out to sea, Captain Brentwood is murdered in his locked cabin. Spider John is joined on this ship by his ex-pirate friends, 15 year old Hob and one eyed Odin, who brags of sailing with Blackbeard, wrestling giant squid and screwing mermaids. The crew must avoid the Royal navy ships, who are pursuing Spider John and his friends for piracy and espionage, and evade the ruthless pirate Ned Low, on the prowl in these waters.

There are suspects aplenty in the other crew members and passengers: Sam Smoke, a pirate suspected of being a spy for Ned Low; Abigail, the captain’s beautiful daughter, who has caught the interest of Nicholas Wright, another sailor; Rufus Fox, an educated man and tinkerer; and Hadley, a former slave.

These are not the Disney-fied pirates of the theme park, but pirates who are scarred, filthy, and curse with a vengeance, ie “bubble headed lobcocks.” At one point Spider John muses, “He suddenly wished he owned all his fingers and all his teeth, and perhaps a razor and some soap.” No swashbuckling to be found in these pages, only a cast of interesting characters, lots of seaworthy action, and a right smart plot.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2018.

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

To enter the drawing for a print copy of
The Devil’s Wind by Steve Goble,
leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Thursday evening,
December 6th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Review: The Bloody Black Flag by Steve Goble

The Bloody Black Flag
A Spider John Mystery #1
Steve Goble
Seventh Street Books. September 2017
ISBN 978-163388-359-8
Trade Paperback

Avast landlubbers! Author Steve Goble introduces a new detective in this first book of a new series. Spider John Rush, a former pirate, is trying to find his way back to his wife Em and his son Little Johnny, now age eight. Spider had served on a whaling ship and then on a pirate ship. Now he signs on to a ship sailing to Jamaica, in hopes of making some money, with his friend Ezra Coombs.

Ezra and Spider were on Lama, which went down in a storm.  Ezra’s grandmother had been hung as a witch and his mother also. Spider’s gram had been burned. It was a bond they shared. The two escaped from Boston ahead of an angry mob.  Ezra is accused of being the son of a witch by a tattooed crew member named Tellam from Salem.

Ezra is found dead on deck, with a flask beside him, murdered in cold blood by a shipmate. But which one? In this adventure on the high seas, set in 1722.  Spider uses his skills of observation and the tools of his trade as a ship’s carpenter, to discover the murderer. A clever twist on the amateur detective character—fans of historical mysteries and seafaring tales will enjoy sailing with Spider John and the crew.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2018.