Book Review: Alabama Noir edited by Don Noble @AkashicBooks

Alabama Noir
Edited by Don Noble
Akashic Books, April 2020
ISBN 978-1617758089
Trade Paperback

Yet another in the successful and popular series from this publisher, Alabama Noir contains pieces by sixteen fine authors who have, based on the works herein, fully grasped the meaning of “noir.”

The stories, all set in areas of a state sometimes considered perplexing and “different,” range from deeply dark and fraught to some definitely tongue-in-cheek and mildly humorous. Some, like Ace Atkins “Sweet Baby,” come with a surprising twist, others like “Exhaustion,” by Anita Miller Garner, are more straight-forward in their dark plotting.

The book is organized by the editor into four sections: COLD COLD HEART, YOUR CHEATING HEART, I’M SO LONESOME I COULD CRY, and THE ANGEL OF DEATH. A following section provides pictures and short biographies.

As with all the noir series from Akashic, every fan of dark, fraught, short stories will find several pleasurable stories well worth their time.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2021.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Usual Santas, Foreword by Peter Lovesey

The Usual Santas
A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers
Foreward by Peter Lovesey
Soho Crime, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-61695-775-9
Hardcover

Here’s a collection that is sometimes amusing, sometimes dark, sometimes teaches a lesson, and is always entertaining. Set in most time periods, the stories will take the Christmas season all around the world. Thieves, murderers, revenge seekers and even cranky old women take their turns in making a memorable holiday.

In an outstanding collection, to my personal taste (yours most certainly may differ), some stand out. In a book with three different sections, the first being “Joy to the World: various acts of kindness at Christmas,” the lead-off story is a hoot. Suffice it to say, “don’t mess with ninety-year-old ladies. In “An Elderly Lady Seek Peace at Christmastime” by Helene Tursten, Maud is sick of the man in the apartment upstairs abusing his wife. The blows, the cursing, the sobbing destroy every vestige of her peace. And so, she takes matters into her own hands.

All the stories in this section are surprising. With a cast of authors like Timothy Hallinan and Teresa Dovalpage, among others, it’s what you can expect.

The second section is “Silent Night: the darkest of holiday noir.”  My favorite—or perhaps I should say, most standout story, one that stays with me, is by James R. Benn titled “Red Christmas.” The tale involves a discharged soldier arriving in a small town to give details of his friend’s death in a North Korean POW camp to the parents. He just doesn’t quite know how to begin. As he remembers back to their time in the POW camp, the events are dark indeed. Colin Cotterill, one of my favorite authors, also has a story in this section, as do Henry Chang,   Ed Lin, Stuart Neville, and Tod Goldberg.

The final section, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, and other Holiday Secrets,” will certainly give a fresh slant on cozy kisses, peace on earth and all the other tropes whether 1920s  Bombay with Sujata Massey or Niccolo Machiavelli and Cesarev Borgia, those fine sons of Italy, with Gary Corby.

The foreward by Peter Lovesey, along with the final story in the book, gives fair warning. Be prepared to see the season in a whole new light. Could it be the Christmas star? Because every story is a shining star.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: Copper and Goldie by Rosemary and Larry Mild

Copper and Goldie
Rosemary & Larry Mild
Magic Island Literary Works, September 2019
ISBN 978-0-9905472-5-9
Trade Paperback

On the cover of the book it states – 13 Tails of Mystery and Suspense in Hawai’i.  In the first of the 13 short stories we meet Sam Nahoe, a Detective Sergeant  in the Homicide unit of the Honolulu Police Department, who with his partner have been called out to check on a man who his neighbour says hasn’t been answering his phone or her knocks on his door. The detectives break into the apartment and find the man is dead, shot in the back while sitting at his desk.

The Detectives call in the forensic team and then proceed to check the  apartment for clues.  The following day, armed with evidence, they return to the apartment building, but things go awry and in an attempt to save his partner from being shot, Sam takes the bullet.

After months of rehab Sam has to make a difficult decision which sets him on a new path.

Each story involves Sam, now a cab driver with a new partner, Goldie, a Golden Retriever.  He and Goldie drive around town in search of fares and find themselves dealing with a variety of people including robbers, kidnappers and vengeful wives.

Together Sam and Goldie are up to the challenge and the stories of their encounters with various criminals and how they deal with them is light-hearted fun and an easy read.  Perfect to pass the time on a plane, bus or train ride. And what could be better than taking a few cab rides around the beautiful island of O’ahu solving mysteries.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, January 2020.

Book Review: Deadly Southern Charm ed. by Mary Burton and Mary Miley

Deadly Southern Charm
A Lethal Ladies Mystery Anthology
Edited by Mary Burton and Mary Miley
Wildside Press, March 2019
ISBN 978-1-4794-4839-5
Trade Paperback

The Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia Chapter has been releasing anthologies for quite some time and, for this latest volume, a few “friends of the family” have joined in on the fun.

The stories included here all have two things in common—they revolve around a mystery in some way and they’re set in the South. I’m not generally a fan of short stories unless they’re by an author whose work I already like a lot but I’m a pushover for Southern fiction so reading Deadly Southern Charm was a no-brainer.

As you might expect, I didn’t unreservedly love every single story but each one did have something I appreciated and I had some favorites. Country Song Gone Wrong by Sherry Harris had some surprising moments and Frances Aylor’s The Girl in the Airport tickled my fancy while Deadly Devonshire by Samantha McGraw reminded me of a cozy series I’m fond of. On the grittier side, Burn by K.L. Murphy satisfied my need for a little darkness and Ronald Sterling’s Just Like Jiminy Cricket was creepy enough to set my Spidey sense on high alert.

All in all, Deadly Southern Charm is an entertaining compendium of stories that whiled away a couple of rainy days for me, a most satisfying read that I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2019.

Contributors—Frances Aylor, Mollie Cox Bryan, Lynn Cahoon, Judy Chalkley, Stacie Giles, Barb Goffman, Libby Hall, Bradley Harper, Sherry Harris, Maggie King, Kristin Kisska, Samantha McGraw, K.L. Murphy, Genille Swope Parente, Deb Rolfe, Ronald Sterling, S.A. Warwick, and Heather Weidner.

P.S. Disclaimer: Until January of this year, I was a non-author member of the chapter, only giving it up when I moved from Richmond, VA, to St. Augustine, FL. I do admit to a certain predilection for the organization and its members but I’ve done my best not to let that creep into my reading/reviewing of Deadly Southern Charm 😉

Book Review: Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays ed. by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley

Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays
Edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley
Wildside Press LLC, June 2014
ISBN 978-1-4794-0309-7
Trade Paperback

As Rhys Bowen says in her introduction to this collection of holiday short stories, “Who hasn’t wanted to commit a murder at a family holiday celebration?” If these fourteen stories are any indication, I think she must be right.

When I read the book’s title, Homicidal Holidays brought Christmas to my mind, but come to find out, Halloween is actually more popular⏤at least when it comes to crime.

Even “Talk Like A Pirate Day” is represented in the collection. Cathy Wiley has penned a clever little mystery that asks the question, did the pirate reenactor who stepped off a pier in the midst of a staged sword fight commit suicide, or was he murdered? “Dead Men Tell No Tales”–or do they?

You might not think Groundhog’s Day a subject for criminal activity, until a man becomes so bedeviled by his town’s resident groundhog’s always accurate weather predictions, that he is moved to kidnap Missisquoi Moe. This fine tale is by Barb Goffman.

In addition to the above authors, look for stories by Rosemary and Larry Mild, E.B.Davis, Shaun Taylor Bevins, Art Taylor,Shari Randall, Meg Opperman, Carla Coupe, Timothy Bentler-Jungr, Linda Lombardi, Debbi Mack, Clyde Linsley and Donna Andrews.

Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, and St. Patrick’s Day all come in for rousing good stories, and with five Halloween and four Christmas stories, you’re in for a few hours of good fun.

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

Book Reviews: Ink by Alice Broadway and Back Roads by William Bitner, Daniel Boyd and Jason Pell

Ink
The Skin Books #1
Alice Broadway
Scholastic Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-19699-3
Hardcover

In Saintstone, the destiny of the soul is determined not by a deity, but by the government. From birth until demise, the body is marked to illustrate the life being lived. At death, the skin is flayed, then bound into a book. If the soul is worthy, the book goes home with the family. If not, it is obliterated by fire and the person is forgotten forever–as if everyone’s collective memories merge with the smoke, dissipate, then disappear.

Leora easily understands this definitive divide and especially embraces it when she loses a loved one. An absence so overwhelming can bring even the staunchest believers to rock bottom. Surfacing secrets shove the bottom away, resulting in a figurative free-fall of uncertainty and doubt.

Hearing something often, particularly from people most admired, certainly makes that thing seem true. Perhaps Leora has been purely parroting the comfort and confidence contrived by her firm trust in her faith. As Obel’s new intern, she is shaken when she attempts to answer his apparently innocuous questions, but finds herself floundering.

His queries feel bold, almost blasphemous. Leora has never had reason to doubt the separation of the despicable blank people from the marked, but when called to support her stance with facts and logic, she is speechless, then stunned. Seeing every single thing in a new light can be disconcerting. No longer knowing who to trust or what to believe, terrifying.

Looking at life through Leora’s eyes is humbling. As she adamantly, albeit ignorantly, explains why the evil White Witch, the first blank, does not deserve to be remembered; it begins to be easier to see what actually is, as opposed to what Leora has always been told. Accepting that real knowledge is indeed power, Leora learns, then she plans. The young girl’s tremendous growth, against all odds is enlightening and empowering.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2018.

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Back Roads
William Bitner, Daniel Boyd & Jason Pell
CreateSpace, March 2017
ISBN 978-1544194806
Trade Paperback

Definitely distinct, yet stitched with a common dark thread, these short stories flow with an inexplicably familiar feel while featuring fresh frights.  Each author seems to settle back and spin yarns with a natural knack for story-telling that evokes an avalanche of emotions. A strong, soft, somber voice speaks.  Instinctively, I am in.  I felt the crisp cold of the mountain air instantly freeze the inside of my nose, heard the ripples and rush of the rivers and felt my heart in my throat and my body tense as turning the page felt like taking a hairpin curve at high speed on a steep mountain road.

Creatures creep from the dark, formative…to spark a spooky image, while monsters mangle with brilliantly bold detail that may make you squeeze your eyes shut.   Substance makes these shorts stand out, as if the writer has wrung a bit of his soul into the words to sneakily seep into the reader.  In some instances, real-life-right-now social, environmental and health issues blur the line between sci-fi and reality, bringing a chilling sense of foreboding along with the ugly, unfiltered view of cruelty and corruption.

I love that these stories show scenic, wild, West Virginia and portray the people honestly; quietly quashing inaccurate stereotypes; humbly highlighting the genuine good.  To me, this book is a treasure chest filled with rare, remarkable jewels that will bring me pleasure every single time I open it.  I enthusiastically recommend it to voracious readers, as well as reluctant ones.  In merely minutes, engage in a tumultuous, terrifying escape….and I mean that in the best way possible.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2017.

Book Review: The Usual Santas, Foreword by Peter Lovesey—and a Giveaway!

The Usual Santas
A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers
Foreword by Peter Lovesey
Soho Press, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-61695-775-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

This captivating collection, which features bestselling and award-winning authors, contains laughs aplenty, the most hardboiled of holiday noir, and heartwarming  reminders of the spirit of the season.

Nine mall Santas must find the imposter among them. An elderly lady seeks peace from her murderously loud neighbors at Christmastime. A young woman receives a mysterious invitation to Christmas dinner with a stranger. Niccolò Machiavelli sets out to save an Italian city. Sherlock Holmes’s one-time nemesis Irene Adler finds herself in an unexpected tangle in Paris while on a routine espionage assignment. Jane Austen searches for the Dowager Duchess of Wilborough’s stolen diamonds. These and other adventures in this delectable volume will whisk readers away to Christmases around the globe, from a Korean War POW camp to a Copenhagen refugee squat, from a palatial hotel in 1920s Bombay to a crumbling mansion in Havana.

Includes Stories By (In Order of Appearance):
Helene Tursten, Mick Herron, Martin Limón, Timothy Hallinan, Teresa Dovalpage, Mette Ivie Harrison, Colin Cotterill, Ed Lin, Stuart Neville, Tod Goldberg, Henry Chang, James R. Benn, Lene Kaaberbøl & Agnete Friis, Sujata Massey, Gary Corby, Cara Black, Stephanie Barron and a Foreword and story by Peter Lovesey.

Short stories are not my usual cuppa but, for some reason, I feel differently about it during the Christmas season. Maybe their brevity appeals to me because I’m so busy with other things at this time of year and like to sandwich in a story here and there, more satisfying than just a chapter or two of a full-length novel.

Christmasy short stories can be a lot of fun and those included in The Usual Santas certainly are but some of them are definitely darker and they take place around the world (as might be expected from authors from Soho Press which focuses largely on non-American work). And what a terrific group of authors these 18 are!

From Timothy Hallinan comes a story about Chalee, a street kid in Bangkok who draws a special picture for a younger child and Stephanie Barron takes us back to 1804 Bath, England, telling the tale of sleuth Jane Austen who has been invited to join Lord Harold Trowbridge’s family as they celebrate New Year’s Eve, not anticipating that she’ll become involved in the theft of a magnificent necklace. Mette Ivie Harrison offers a look at a Mormon community just before Christmas when two families’ sons are about to go out on their missions while Peter Lovesey has Fran and Jim Palmer going on a small adventure—supper with the unknown Miss Shivers—where Fran learns a secret from her past, a secret that is overshadowed by an encounter with a very special young man.

Those are just a sample of the gems in The Usual Santas and I highly recommend this anthology to anyone with a fondness for Christmas tales.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2017.

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I’d love to send somebody my very
gently used print advance reading
copy of The Usual Santas. Leave a
comment below and I’ll draw
the
winning name on Wednesday evening,

  December 20th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.