Book Review: No Middle Name by Lee Child

No Middle Name
The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Stories
Lee Child
Delacorte Press, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-3995-9357-4
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Lee Child’s iconic anti-hero Jack Reacher is the stuff made of legend – a larger-than-life man who is “loved by women, feared by men, and respected by all”.  Now, following twelve consecutive #1 New York Times bestsellers, Child offers the ultimate Reacher reading experience . . . which includes an exciting, all-new Reacher novella, as well as Child’s eleven previously published short stories featuring Reacher. This pulse-pounding collection marks the first time that all of Lee Child’s short fiction starring Reacher has been available in the same place at the same time.  No Middle Name begins with “Too Much Time,” a new work of short fiction that finds Reacher in a hollowed-out town in Maine, where he witnesses a random bag-snatching but sees much more than a simple crime.  In his trademark tight and propulsive prose, Child sets Reacher and his “lizard brain” off for a case where there is more than meets the eye – and Reacher, as always, won’t rest until a wrong is righted.

The longest of these tales runs 68 pages, with most falling between 36 and 53 pages in length, the shortest running 4, 6, 10 and 11, but no matter the brevity or length, these are all tales of Jack Reacher, and that’s pretty much all it takes to make it a must read.  The very first, referred to in the previous quoted paragraph, was written contemporaneously, in 2017; the others between 1999 and 2016.  Reacher’s brother, Joe, makes an appearance more than once, which I found very interesting (Joe has been in previous books).  As readers know, Reacher is a military cop, at present 35 years old, a major with twelve years in, with rare attributes:  He is brilliant, with admirable reserves of intelligence and strengths (both mental and physical, at 6’ 5” and 250 pounds.   In one of the tales, which takes place in Paris, Reacher is 13 years old; in another, he is 16, and in another he is approaching 17.  One story is in Georgia, in 1989.  A few of the stories take place in New York City, primarily in sites in or around area bars in Greenwich Village.  (In another, Shea Stadium is referenced, with, unfortunately, the Mets losing to the Cubs by two to one.  (Full disclosure: I am a die-hard Mets fan.)  But Yankee Stadium gets a mention as well, although without a game in progress.)  And two of the tales take place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, interestingly.

So obviously there is a wide range of geography and time found here, but the most (only?) crucial thing can be summed up in two words:  “Child” and “Reacher.”  And what could be better than that?

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2017.

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Book Reviews: A Perfect Manhattan Murder by Tracy Kiely and Closing the Book on Santa Claus by Ron Chandler

A Perfect Manhattan Murder
A Nic and Nigel Mystery #3
Tracy Kiely
Midnight Ink, May 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7387-4524-4
Trade Paperback

If one reads a lot of crime fiction in various sub-genres, categorizing this novel is easy, just read page one. Indeed, the first paragraph will do it. Echoes of the best of the Golden Age mysteries from England, of the sophisticated not-quite-family-fare motion pictures of the late thirties and early forties, are here.

For the lover of the so-called Cozy Mystery, brought cleverly and carefully to the Twenty-first Century, this is a definite winner. For anyone hooked on Michael Connelly, Lee Child, the darker, more explicit often bloodier and more violent modern thrillers and even true mysteries, this novel could be a little disappointing. Still, for a clever plot, sharp, whizzing dialogue among the principals and scene after scene with the moneyed, beautiful people of New York, parading through elegant up-scale venues, I recommend this story.

Nic and Nigel Martini(!) are back in New York. Nic is a former NYPD detective who left the force to join her husband in a private investigator enterprise on the West Coast. They have been invited by a school chum of Nic to the Broadway opening of a play written by another schoolmate of Nic and Harper’s named Peggy McGrath. Readers are introduced to the players and soon, a thorn appears. The thorn is the husband of Harper. He is a prominent, curmudgeonly, popularly disliked, New York theatre critic who doesn’t seem to practice discretion or restraint in his articles. Predictably, he is soon found dead—murdered. His wife, Harper, is of course accused of the deed and Nic and Nigel swing into action to prove Harper innocent.

The pace is upscale, the dialogue is excellent and the author’s descriptions of place and atmosphere greatly enhance the overall feeling. Then, there is Skippy. Skippy is one of the largest and most unusual characters readers are likely to encounter. He is an adorable, lovely giant Bullmastiff. Skippy is three years old and fills up the room when he saunters in and sprawls on the carpet.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 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.

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Closing the Book on Santa Claus and Other Holiday Stories
Ron Chandler
CreateSpace, March 2015
ISBN: 9781508434900
Trade Paperback

Author Ron Chandler is a free-lance writer. This collection of nine holiday stories is aimed at people for whom the holiday season can be a bit much. Overwhelming, even. Heavy on the narrative side, the stories are all well-put together with a reasonable cast of varied characters and settings. Readers will find a range of emotional tides, all relating to human relationships and ultimately holiday satisfaction, if not the highest grade of cheer.

Probably the most interesting if bizarre story, is “Inside the Glamorous Life of Lady Plum,” in which the Lady in question experiences a startlingly wide range of life experiences. Like most collections of short fiction, the quality of the writing is a bit uneven, but overall readers should be satisfied. All in all, the slender paperback is a pleasant distraction from the pressures of the season.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 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 Hard-Boiled Detective 1 by Ben Solomon

The Hard-Boiled DetectiveThe Hard-Boiled Detective 1
Ben Solomon
The Hard-Boiled Detective, August 2014
ISBN: 978-0692269947
Trade Paperback

Sounds. They’re stuck in your head. A muzzle blast from a .38. Garfield’s rasp. Bogart’s lispy rhythm and Cagney’s high-pitched rants. The sea, restless, running past Key Largo punctuated by blasts of tommy guns echoing off the greasy walls of that Chicago garage on St. Valentine’s Day, so long ago. And of course you remember the looks, the swaying hips, the invitation to whistle from the women who graced and sometimes motivated the greed, the sex and the violence in the hard-boiled crime story.

Well, here they all are, reborn in slinky, sly and quippy dialogue and crashing plot, pulsed by dangerous swinging saps, out of control thugs, cops and robbers. From the slimy Mr. Jupitor to the gunman with the roscoe in the dark doorway behind Jimmy Shin, the action never lets up and the dialogue races on.

Here they are, eleven tales of the hard-boiled, urban warrior, stalking his targets down the soft summer ribbons of asphalt, and always with a smart retort, even as the pistol fires. Ben Solomon has got it just right.

Richard Prather would be pleased, I think.

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

Book Reviews: Still life with plums by Marie Manilla, Danger Comes Home by Judy Alter, and Plan X by Rory Tate

Still life with plumsStill life with plums
Marie Manilla
Vandalia Press, October 2010
ISBN 978-1-933202-60-0
Trade Paperback

Still life with plums is a collection of short stories wherein Ms. Manilla shatters a couple of commonly held, preconceived notions.  I am fairly knowledgeable in the literary world.  I know the lingo.  A short story is like a novel, it has a beginning, middle, and an end, like a novel does; it is just…..shorter.

I treasure short story and essay collections for those times when there is but a small, stingy window of opportunity to read.  Particularly, I love that I can enjoy just a little bit, then move on to That Which Must Be Done without a longing look at a partially finished novel, quietly beckoning me back.

Not so, in this case.

First, Ms. Manilla’s collection of short stories is equivalent to a bag of Lays’ potato chips…..I can’t be the only person that remembers the “Betcha can’t eat just ONE!” commercials.  Despite the fact that the stories are completely stand alone, I could not read “just one” story at a time.  Instead, my vegetable soup boiled over, clothes wrinkled in the dryer, and at one point, I am pretty sure I let the shower “warm up” for about a half an hour, because…. I. Could not. Stop. Reading.

Each tale is totally different from what I’ve come to expect in a “short story”.  These yarns don’t have a nice beginning, identifying a goal with a tidy, closure-type ending.  Rather, the reader is treated to a glimpse into a story well under way.

For example; the very first story, “Hand. Me. Down.”, captures but a moment, in the day of the life, of a family as they pile into the station wagon (with paneling) to retrieve a relative from the train station.  In 18 pages, I was moved beyond belief.  I was in that car, sharing an identical background with this family, I was invested and immediately empathetic.  Sadness and rage battled inside of me as I turned the pages, knowing that no matter how the story ended, I knew how the lives of the car riders would end up.  How does Ms. Manilla do this?  I do not know.

Every single story in this collection is just as engrossing.  The main character, Lucky Baby, from Crystal City, is so remarkably crafted that I simply can’t get her out of my mind.  The woman that came from less than nothing made no move to have such a fabulous life, she “lucked” into it….well, sort of.  Actually, her willful determination to hear only the positive allowed her to create her warm, fuzzy place in her world.  She manages to become so set in her resolve, that everyone around her compulsively feeds this image.  I find this devastating, and I can’t stop the internal battle of wanting to seek this fictional person out for a giant hug, or a well-earned shoulder-shake.  That part doesn’t matter. My point is, more than two weeks and four books later, Still life continues to haunt me.

Treat yourself and/or a friend, with this captivating, fascinating collection of stories. I promise that you will be glad you did.  Me, well, I’m counting down the days until June 17, 2014 when Ms. Manilla’s Patron Saint of Ugly is released.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2013

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Danger Comes HomeDanger Comes Home
A Kelly O’Connell Mystery
Judy Alter
Turquoise Morning Press, July 2013
ISBN No.9781622372478
Trade Paperback

Kelly O’Connor is a mother, a wife, and a real estate salesperson, with a nose for trouble.  Kelly is lucky in that she has some very good friends who help out in a pinch and Mike Shandy, her husband, is a police officer who lends a hand when necessary.

Kelly’s current project is attempting to convince reclusive diva Lorna McDavid to allow her to list Lorna’s residence or at least remodel.   So far the only thing she has convinced Lorna of is that Kelly is more than capable of doing her grocery shopping and any other chores Lorna thinks up for Kelly to handle.

When Kelly begins to discover that food items in her own home are missing she goes on alert and finds that her daughter Maggie has a young girl with wrinkled clothes and stringy hair stashed in the family’s guest house.  When Kelly talks to the two girls, she discovers that Jenny Wilson is terrified of her father and has run away from home and Maggie has taken her in.  It seems that Jenny’s father, Todd Wilson, is supposedly in some kind of banking business and strange men come to the house at night to conduct their business.  Todd also has been violent with Jenny’s mother Mona.

Keisha is Kelly’s assistant and friend and is willing to step up and help Kelly not only with Jenny’s problems, but to try to find out what is going on with Joe Mendez, another of Kelly’s protegees.  Joe is running around with his former gang friends and his wife is terrified.  Keisha also steps in to help out Kelly with Lorna McDavid.

Mike helps in any way he can without putting his job as a police officer in jeopardy.  Judy Alter has given this reader a fun read and I know any friend of Kelly’s would never have a dull moment.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, March 2014.

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Plan XPlan X
Rory Tate (Lise McClendon)
Thalia Press, June 2013
ISBN: 978-1490384009
Trade Paperback

Let me start by stating plainly this is a terrific novel. It is riveting, moving and deals sensitively with the regeneration of the soul of a young infantry Second Lieutenant from Montana. Cody Byrne is our main character, back from a tough tour in Afghanistan where she had a close encounter with an IED. Rescued, she returned undamaged in body but torn in soul, to a town where she is becoming a respected police officer.

It develops that her father whom she doesn’t know, works for a mysterious British agency and her brilliant mother a scholar, long separated from Cody’s real father, appear to have questionable roles in a convoluted, international plot.

A bomb destroys a lab at Montana State University in Bozeman. Cody Byrne is assigned to track down the family of one of the victims, a British national member of the faculty in literature. His name is Agustin Phillips. Augustin Phillips is a name known to Shakespearean scholars.

Cody soon discovers that little concrete knowledge about Augustin Phillips is to be had in Bozeman, Montana. His personal records are spare, suspiciously so. All of that makes Cody Byrne, a conscientious cop, all the more focused on finding and notifying his deceased relatives.

The trail ultimately leads Cody first to Quantico, then to The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and London and the hallowed stone halls of some of the world’s great institutions of higher education. In addition we are treated to some interesting insight into the murky workings of several dark security agencies. And all the while questions of Shakespearean authenticity looms over the entire plot.

Now, I admit to being a Shakespeare groupie. I tend to skate over problems in anything directly related to the Bard. And there are problems. At times, the author’s interest in the psychological dimensions of Cody’s family situation interfere with the forward progress of the story, or maybe it’s the other way around. Characters seem to show up at times when they are vital to assist Cody. She is rescued by outsiders perhaps too many times. But she is strong and  perseveres and, importantly, she begins to see how her relationship with her parents affected some of her life decisions and now, how the reaffirmation of family ties is hastening her healing.

There are a lot of ends in this novel, some of which are loose and some of which are tied up very satisfactorily. The cover is not indicative of the circumstances of the novel and was a poor choice. Nevertheless, the tension persists in fine form, character exposition is excellent and I was very satisfied with this unusual crime novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Reviews: If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth, Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters by Suzanne Weyn, and Chillers Book Two by Daniel Boyd, creator

If I Ever Get Out of HereIf I Ever Get Out of Here
Eric Gansworth
Arthur A. Levine Books, August 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-41730-3
Hardcover

This Middle-Grade novel comes out this month (August 2013).  The timing is serendipitous, as the book begins with an “Indian” (Native American) entering Jr. High.  While, on the surface, his trials and tribulations appear to be based on ethnicity and, in turn, poverty, the facts are that many students entering Jr. High (or Middle School) this year will experience the same taunting, teasing and bullying that Lewis tolerates.  Maybe a student will be singled out due to ethnicity, body shape, hair color, name or wardrobe.  The results are the same, which is why I strongly recommend this book.  Although a work of fiction, the core issues are very, very real and kids need to know that they are not alone.

It is so easy to recognize exclusion and to immediately attribute it to race, ethnicity, size or social class, when maybe that is not exactly the case.  The old chicken or egg.  Yes, maybe Lewis was ostracized, at first, because of his red skin and low socioeconomic standing.  Maybe, that initial reaction caused him to be defensive and to toughen up.  But, what about the next year?  Is it possible that he carries the defensiveness with him?  If so, maybe people are turned off, not by the color of his skin, but by the prickliness in his personality.

Another aspect of this book that I truly love: friendship.  As Lewis leaves behind the kids he has grown up with to attend a “White” school, he begins to learn the difference between true friendship and friendship by default.  He sees that although he has grown up with and hung out with someone almost every day of his life, that person may not actually be a true friend; whereas a new guy, free with unsolicited advice, may turn out to be the best friend he’s ever had.  This is the most realistic portrayal of a true friendship between boys that I have ever seen.  The strength and loyalty become clear based on actions and secrets kept hidden, rather than articulated enthusiastically as tends to be the case with girls.

This story, set in 1977 and filled with Beatles and Paul McCartney references, is remarkably well-written.  The prose is not flowery or lyrical; rather, it is a bit raw—exactly as it should be for the subject matter.  The simplicity is deceiving.  Mr. Gansworth manages to say more, with fewer words.   I experienced many emotions while reading this book.  I felt sad for the nastiness Lewis is constantly faced with, I felt frustrated with him for not trying a bit harder—for seeming to be too stubborn.  The random acts of kindness filled me with joy, and the show of true friendship renewed my hope.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2013.

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Dr. Frankenstein's DaughtersDr. Frankenstein’s Daughters
Suzanne Weyn
Scholastic Press, January 2013
ISBN 0-545-42533-9
Hardcover

Imagine being orphaned at birth, knowing nothing of your mother or father, only to find out 17 years later, that your father was on the run and considered a lunatic.  Despite this, the mysterious man owned a castle and had managed to amass a huge amount of money, which he left for the daughters he never knew.  Oh, and he happens to be Dr. Frankenstein.

Okay, that part is really a bigger deal to the reader than to the main characters.  No one knew what Dr. Frankenstein had accomplished.  The name did not bring to mind a flat-headed, greenish/gray man that walked like a robot with his arms outstretched.  None of the characters in the book compulsively shout out “It’s aliiiive!” at the mention of Frankenstein’s name.

The discovery of their father’s name, along with the receipt of a gargantuan inheritance, begins the story of twin girls, Giselle and Ingrid.  Although identical, Giselle is considered “the beauty” as she is quite fond of her looks and spends a great deal of time primping.  She wants to entertain the world.  Ingrid is absorbed with the practice of medicine.  The book is set in the early 1800s;  women were forbidden to obtain an education.  Ingrid had to do her studies behind closed doors or dressed as a man.

The girls quickly relocate to the castle.  As Giselle spends day and night cleaning and decorating the castle, Ingrid obsesses over her new treasure, her father’s journals.  Giselle is planning a huge party to fill the castle.  Ingrid couldn’t care less about the party, aside from coaxing Giselle to invite prominent doctors and researchers so that she could discuss her new theories about limb regeneration.  As life goes on, Ingrid becomes quite taken with an injured man in a small cottage near the castle, Giselle continues working feverishly, and the town becomes nervous as men begin to go missing.

The initial premise of the book is intriguing enough for anyone to grab it off of a bookshelf.  Once in hand, the story quietly snares the reader and draws him in.  On one hand, the readers see a bit of romance begin to bloom. It is sweet, but clearly complicated. Will love prevail or will the fear of heartache keep it dormant?  Worse, will a slow, painful and untimely death rip them apart?

On the other hand, the reader begins to sense mystery and danger slowly surrounding Giselle, like a fog creeping in.  Men are disappearing.  Some are later found, as mangled corpses.    Who is doing this?  The reader (having the advantage of knowing about Dr. Frankenstein’s creation) may believe that the monster is exacting revenge on the unsuspecting and totally unaware girls.  But that seems a bit too pat, so surely, it is someone else, right?

I won’t tell, but I promise that if you read the book, the answers to these questions will surprise you.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2013.

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Chillers Book TwoChillers: Book Two
Daniel Boyd, creator
Transfuzion Publishing, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-9857493-6-1
Trade Paperback—Graphic Novel

I’ve always been a spooky little girl.  Growing up in West Virginia, I was surrounded by “True Ghost Stories”.  I could tell them all by the time I was 8 years old.  A couple of years later, a teacher called my mom to tell her that I was reading “inappropriate books” by John Saul and Stephen King.  To which my mother replied, “Yep.”  I’ve seen every episode of The Twilight Zone…..multiple times.  I love “scary”; the creepier the better.  I long for the blood in my veins to turn to ice, to feel the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand up, the feeling that I must look over my shoulder…..several times.  I continue to seek this out in books.  Yet, I have been missing something: The Graphic Novel.  Well, specifically Chillers, followed by Chillers: Book Two.

I believe Mr. Boyd explains the “Graphic Novel” best as an “…accommodating venue for short story telling of the fantastic.”  To me, graphic novels are overlooked by self-limiting.  People who happily plough through horror novels may turn up their noses at the suggestion of a graphic novel.  It is embarrassing to admit, but I was one of those people.  I was wrong.

The common theme throughout Chillers: Book Two is “da bus” to Hell, driven by Peterr Jesus.  Someone always gets on the bus, but it is certainly not always the person the reader expects.  While I appreciated the common eerie factor shared in each story, I delighted in the uniqueness as well.  A welcome surprise was my immediate appreciation of the illustrations.  The artwork is simply amazing and always succeeds in setting the absolute perfect background for each tale.

Mr. Boyd’s “Sin Flowers” shows that sometimes, revenge is the only answer….even if it means boarding Peterr’s bus.  Although this is quite the chilling little tale, there is also love, survival, but maybe one too many disappointments.

As a perfect wrap-up to ‘Shark Week’, Mr. Bitner’s “Live Bait” introduces a cantankerous, flippant old man with complete disregard to human life.  Well, until it is his own life at stake.

Another tale includes tracking and devouring cryptids, such as the Yeti.   One story demonstrates how, sometimes, promises must be broken in order to bring closure and justice.  A personal favourite of mine features a money-grubbing, nasty broad getting her comeuppance in a grizzly, yet oddly comical way.  First time I’ve caught myself wincing and chuckling at the same time.  Yet another creeped me out so much that I never want to see a painting of myself, or, quite frankly, anyone or anyplace I care about.  Still get chills thinking of that freakshow.

I relished each and every macabre adventure in this book, and I highly recommend it to all fans of horror.  Read it.  If you dare.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2013.

Book Review: Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices edited by Terrie Farley Moran

Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices
Edited by Terrie Farley Moran
L&L Dreamspell, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60318-423-6
Trade Paperback

What’s better than pizza? How about murder. And nobody does murder better than New Yorkers. In this anthology, 22 authors who live in and around New York present short tales of crime. Stroll down littered streets, converse with inhabitants from all walks of life. Take a few trips into the heart of the city, pick up and examine some unique slices of life…or rather death.

In “Tear Down,” an elderly woman fears retribution will come if her old house is demolished and secrets are revealed. A mother in “The Doorman Building, a Greenwich Village apartment, receives visits from two of her son’s college friends and one of them is murdered. A Russian stripper is recruited by the U.S. government to take down some bad guys in “The Brighton Beach Mermaid.” A rookie tracks down a killer in Catherine Maorsi’s “Justice for All.” “Only People Kill People” has an interesting main character…a gun. A gambling man discovers just how “Out of Luck” he is when he thinks good fortune is headed his way.

There are many other tales of murder and misdeeds in this book. From the ferry to the Village and from Queens to Alphabet City. I liked the classical and timeless stories, plus a few fresh and unique tales. The stories range from present day settings to life from decades ago. Most are quick bites but each is delicious. Sometimes I run into anthologies where I’d rather skip a few stories. Not this one. This one gives a heaping portion of New York and when I finished, I didn’t feel gorged, just pleasantly satisfied.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, April 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Reviews: Cut, Paste, Kill by Marshall Karp, Long Gone by Alafair Burke, Before the Poison by Peter Robinson, and A Darker Shade of Blue by John Harvey

Cut, Paste, Kill
Marshall Karp
Minotaur Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-37824-0
Trade Paperback

A woman, the wife of the British consul in Los Angeles, is found stabbed to death in the ladies room of a posh hotel, a scrapbook recalling her transgression, killing a young boy leaving a school bus while DWI, nearby.  Lomax and Biggs, the comic LAPD homicide detectives, catch the call. Then they learn that the FBI has been investigating two other murders with identical MO’s for the previous two weeks.  Each victim was guilty of some offense but had escaped punishment for one reason or another.  And we have the makings of another serial murder mystery.

Additional murders take place, and the wisecracking detectives, teamed up with the FBI, are hard-pressed to solve the case.  Meanwhile, Lomax and his girlfriend are pre-occupied with caring for a precocious seven-year-old girl when her mother has to go to China to tend to her dying parent, and Biggs volunteers to write a screenplay based on a concept of Lomax’ dad (two ex-cops driving an 18-wheeler and solving crimes on the road, entitled “Semi-Justice”).

Not only is the humor twisted, but so is the plot, which keeps the reader twisting with every unanticipated turn in the story.  The one-liners come often enough to take the hard edge off a grisly subject and a detailed police procedural.  A welcome addition to the series, in which this is the fourth entry, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Long Gone
Alafair Burke
Harper, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-061-99918-5
Hardcover

The author has written six previous novels, but this is her first standalone, so her familiar characters and themes do not apply. Nevertheless, she has demonstrated an ability to take an idea and run with it, in this case two separate themes with some common threads.

The main plot involves Alice Humphrey, daughter of a famous motion picture director and his Academy Award-winning wife.  Somewhat estranged from her father, and wishing to demonstrate her independence, she presently is unemployed when a “dream” job falls into her lap.  It turns out to be part of a plot against her and her dad, but that is as far as we should go in divulging the plot.  A subplot involves a missing teenager.  The commonality of the two themes involves the effects of the relationships between the mother of the missing girl and Alice and the law enforcement personnel with whom each is involved.  Enough said.

Ms. Burke has amply demonstrated in the past her knowledge of the law and the various people involved in enforcing it, and this novel shows her insights into how detectives go about their business.  Here empathy for the female characters is obvious, but the male characters seem to be stereotypes.  On the whole, however, the novel is an excellent read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Before the Poison
Peter Robinson
Hodder & Stoughton, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-444-70483-9
Hardcover
Also available in the US from William Morrow & Company, February 2012

Diverting his attention from the popular and successful Inspector Banks series, the author has written a murder mystery of a different genre.  Instead of a police procedural, he has undertaken to use a variety of literary devices to unravel the truth behind a death that took place sixty years ago.

It begins when Chris Lowndes, reeling from the death of his wife, decides to buy a home on the Yorkshire Dales.  He purchases Kilnsgate House, a large, bleak, isolated structure in which he hopes to recover from his depression, and, perhaps write a sonata instead of the incidental music for motion pictures which he did for many years on the West Coast of the US.  No sooner does he take possession than he becomes haunted by its past: Grace Fox, the former owner, was accused and convicted of poisoning her husband, a respected local physician.  And she was hanged for it.

Chris becomes so obsessed that he endeavors to “discover” the truth, initially convinced that she was innocent of the charge.  The author leads the reader (and Chris) from supposition to fact, alternating excerpts of Grace’s wartime diary (she was a nurse, first in Singapore, then escaping the Japanese, suffering a series of devastating experiences, finally serving in France before returning to her husband at Kilnsgate House) and various interviews with aged characters, including her younger lover now living in Paris and a man who as a seven-year-old lived with the Foxes for a time as an evacuee at the beginning of World War II.

The shifts in the plot, as Chris conducts his “investigation,” are truly ingenious, keeping the reader off balance to a fare-thee-well.  The characters are well-drawn, and the author undertook deep research to create Grace’s diary.  While the novel may seem at times somewhat dry and slow to read, it constantly draws the reader forward and is well worth reading, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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A Darker Shade of Blue
John Harvey
Pegasus, February 2012
ISBN: 978-1-60598-284-7
Hardcover

Of the 18 short stories in this collection, four feature Charlie Resnick, seven north London detective Jack Kiley, and one in which they both appear.  Each, of course, is a well-known protagonist featured in prior John Harvey novels.  And their characters come through even more strongly in a short story.

As Mr. Harvey writes in an introduction, the short story form gives an author greater latitude to experiment with an idea or character to learn whether or not use can be made later in the novel format.  The extremely well-written, well-constructed short stories are a prime example of that observation.

Not lost in the shuffle is Harvey‘s fascination with the world of jazz, nor his descriptions of London and outlying areas, especially the more depressing aspects of English life and the world of crime.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.