Book Reviews: Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina, The Devil in Her Way by Bill Loehfelm, and Touch & Go by Lisa Gardner

Gods and BeastsGods and Beasts
Denise Mina
Reagan Arthur Books, March 2013
ISBN: 978-0-316-18852-4
Hardcover

Alex Morrow, DS with the Strathclyde police, is back in the newest book by this Scottish author.  The twins with whom Morrow was pregnant in the last book, the wonderful The End of the Wasp Season, are now a few months old.  As the new book opens, she is deep into what is referred to as “the Barrowfields investigation,” when a new case comes her way:  One week before Christmas, during the course of an armed robbery in a busy Glasgow post office, an elderly man who was patiently waiting in line suddenly is seen to assist the gunman, but not before handing his young grandson to a stranger, soon after which the grandfather is brutally murdered by the robber, who makes a clean escape.  The only clue the police have is the fact that the alarm system was not working the morning of the crime.  And the additional fact that the innocent bystander to whom the young boy was entrusted turns out to be much more complex than he at first appears.

I have had nothing but praise for the several earlier novels by Ms. Mina that I have read, and would like to say that this newest book was equally wonderful.  But I have to admit that I found it slow-moving and felt almost disjointed, as the several story lines unfold, including rampant control of the city by gangs (mostly involved in the drug trade, said to be worth more than a billion pounds a year in Scotland); police corruption; and a goodly amount of political discussion.  The final pieces don’t fall into place until nearly the very last page.  I should perhaps add that Paddy Meehan, the protagonist of several of Ms. Mina’s earlier books, makes a couple of peripheral appearances here.

I will still look forward to future offering from this author, but this one didn’t come up to the high level reached by its predecessors for this reviewer.  Oh, and should one wonder, the title is from Aristotle:  “Those who live outside the city walls, and are self-sufficient, are either Gods or Beasts.”

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2013.

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The Devil In Her WayThe Devil in Her Way
Bill Loehfelm
Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 2013
ISBN: 978-0-374-29885-2
Hardcover

Maureen Coughlin made her initial fictional appearance in The Devil She Knows.  Now, at the age of 30, after being a waitress for nine years, living through a series of unrewarding relationships, and residing with her mother on Staten Island, she decides to become a cop.  When the test for the NYPD is postponed, she applies and is accepted for the police academy in New Orleans.  And that’s where this novel begins, with Maureen serving her probationary trial period under the tutelage of Preacher Boyd, a wizened, jaundiced but savvy veteran NOPD police officer.

The plot, such as it is, follows Maureen and Preacher from her graduation from the police academy through her probationary period. On her first day, she answers a domestic call where she is brutally punched by a man bursting through the door.  While backup officers recover two pounds of weed, while she looks on from the street, a young boy seems to want to tell her something, but is warned off by someone across the street.  This sets the stage for an ever-inquisitive Maureen to pursue what turns out to be a major investigation, including murders, best left to homicide detectives, a specialty to which she aspires.

As a protagonist, Maureen leaves a lot to be desired.  Perhaps it is too early in her career to wish for more and she will develop more fully in future installments.  As a rookie, as her training officer reminds her often, much of what she attempts is none of her business. Sometimes it turns out OK, others, not so much.  The novel starts out slowly, and does not grab the reader, at least this one, until virtually the final pages  The author, who also moved from Staten Island to New Orleans, interweaves various post-Katrina observations throughout the book, reminding the reader of the devastation which still plagues the city.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2013.

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Touch & GoTouch & Go
Lisa Gardner
Signet, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-451-46584-9
Mass Market Paperback

This standalone opens with the kidnapping of Justin Denbe, his 45-year-old pill-popping wife Libby, and their 15-year-old daughter, Ashlyn [who would seem to be wise beyond her years].  The author switches back and forth from Libby’s 1st person p.o.v. to third person throughout, having the effect of making Libby and her family not just ciphers, or “the victims,” but equally protagonists for whom the reader feels empathy.  This is nominally a police procedural about that kidnapping, filled with the expected quotient of suspense, but ultimately it’s much more than that:  it’s about a family which seemingly has it all, from their opulent Back Bay house in Boston to the hundred-million-dollar construction business headed by Justin.

While bringing back characters known from Ms. Gardner’s previous novels, 29-year-old corporate investigator and former Massachusetts State Police Trooper Tessa Leoni and Boston’s “reigning super cop,” Detective Sergeant D.D. Warren, other cops called into the case include New Hampshire detective Wyatt Foster and his former lover, FBI Special Agent Nicole “Nicky” Adams.  There appear to be no leads as to who pulled off this apparently very well-planned abduction, or any motive, as the first full day goes by with no ransom demand or other contact.

The suspense continues along pulse-pounding and unexpected paths right up until the end.  I found the novel even better than I had expected, although I had read and enjoyed a few of the author’s books in the past, and I will eagerly await the next one.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2013.

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Book Review: Where Angels Fear to Tread by Thomas E. Sniegoski

Where Angels Fear to Tread
Thomas E. Sniegoski
Signet/Penguin Group & Brilliance Audio, 2011
978-1-4418-1764-8
Unabridged Audio Book

Remy Chandler isn’t your normal, run-of-the-mill Boston PI.  He’s got another side to him, a side most people don’t get to see.  Usually that’s a good thing.  If you get to see the other side of Remy, it usually means bad things: you are dying and he wants to offer comfort, you have seriously irritated the man and he needs a lot of strength to handle you, or he loves you.  Remy’s other side is that of an angel, the angel Remiel of the host Seraphim.  Remiel’s power is not something to mess with, since it taps into the power of the Almighty, and we know what S/He can do when he’s ticked off.

Remy is working a missing persons case for a woman.  She and her husband brought their child Zoë to Boston in hopes of finding some treatment for her autism.  Zoë has an unusual talent: her pictures seem to depict future events.  Zoë’s mother is convinced that her husband had kidnapped Zoë for nefarious purposes.  Apparently in their misspent youth, they joined a cult and promised their child to the god Dagon, to serve as his human form.  They reneged and Dagon is not happy.  Has Zoë’s father changed his mind about their decision?

Also hunting Zoë is a woman who can get pretty much anyone to do whatever she wants – she is the original Delilah, back again.  She believes Zoë holds the key to her happiness and she is willing to do some pretty unpleasant things to get happy.  Delilah is being pursued by Samson (yeah, that Samson) and his numerous offspring; they want to kill her.  And Dagon is looking for her as well.  The field is pretty crowded, and most of these people have no scruples at all.

This is Sniegoski’s third book in the series.  I’ve listened to the second book (Dancing on the Head of a Pin) and enjoyed that one as well.  Sniegoski’s Almighty is VERY Old Testament.  Remy doesn’t always understand why the Almighty does what s/he does (and that s/he is totally ME – not Sniegoski), and still he believes it’s all for the best in the very long run.  Remy’s world has nothing of fairies, elves, trolls, and the like; it’s all Heaven and Hell and the denizens of both.

Both books are read by Luke Daniels.  Once in a great while, a character will sound vaguely like another character, but not often enough for it to be a problem.  I think his characterization of Marlowe is superb; Marlowe is Chandler’s dog.  Other than that, Daniels does a good job; I’d listen to him reading other works any time.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, May 2011.

Book Review: Murder of a Sweet Old Lady by Denise Swanson

Murder of a Sweet Old Lady
Denise Swanson
Signet, 2001
ISBN 0451202724
Mass Market Paperback

Poor Skye Denison. Her life just keeps getting more and more entangled in the little hometown she’d like to escape for a second time and now she’s involved in another murder, this one of someone very dear to her. Some of Skye’s family resents her snooping and the rest of her family can’t keep their noses out of her business. Her job as school psychologist has all kinds of students, parents and school officials riled up at her and her love life is, well, unsettling to say the least. She’s even managed to miff the local survivalists. Oh, yes, and now Bingo the cat has moved in.

Will the local cops ever take Skye seriously? Will her mom get over her snit? Is the killer after Skye or is it a low-life parent with a grudge? Where is the missing caregiver? Why do some of her relatives look at Skye as if they just smelled something peculiar? And will she still have a boyfriend when all is said and done?

Denise Swanson has followed up Murder of a Small-Town Honey with a story that is every bit as delightful as the first in the series, a true cozy that is charmingly entertaining while having a well-developed mystery plot and plenty of red herrings. Ms. Swanson‘s characters are nicely defined—I could visualize every one of them, good and bad—and Skye herself is so likable because her life is just as messed up as yours and mine. Murder of a Sweet Old Lady firmly entrenches Denise Swanson on my list of favorite mystery authors.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, 2001.
Review first published on murderexpress.net in 2001.

Book Review: Dark Lover by J.R. Ward

Dark Lover
J.R. Ward
Signet, 2005
ISBN 0451216954
Mass Market Paperback

This isn’t your Twilight tween-vampire-romance. In fact, this book shouldn’t be read by anyone under the age of 21 or at least 18! And don’t let the word “romance” turn you away so fast.

Take everything you know about vampires: fangs, feeding on blood, regeneration, turning to mist or bats, immorality, steaks to the heart, turning to dust in the sun, turning humans into vamps etc… put it all in a box and set it aside because J.R. Ward’s vampires aren’t your run of the mill vamps. Ward’s species includes warriors and the civilians and Doggen they protect.

Now, think big… like 6’9 with shoulders and thighs that would put Conan to shame, think leather and steel-toed boots… biker, not 80’s hair band. Picture long black hair, wrap around shades, and the most ticked off, mean expression imaginable. Now you have just seen Wrath, the King of his race and the last pure-breed vampire, the leader who refuses to lead and only continues to live for vengeance. Oh, and he has no use for humans… at all.

Let’s return to that box and see what Ward’s vamps have. Fangs- check. Feeding on blood- check but only on vamps of the opposite sex. Human blood just isn’t strong enough for them to live off of. Regeneration- check for the warriors of the race, not so much for the others. Turning to mist/bats- no bats here but they can dematerialize to travel. Immortality- not really. All vamps can be killed almost as easily as a human, though the warriors are a bit tougher. Think slow aging as opposed to being immortal. Steaks to the heart- check or any other mortal wound would do it. Turing to dust in the sun- check, these vamps still can’t go out during the day. Oh and turning humans into vamps- doesn’t happen. You’re either born with the vamp blood or not.

Now, think pale… as in albino but without the red eyes, think undead…as in soul-less, not the roaming zombie kind and lastly, think of how babies smell after a bath… yes I said babies smell… as in baby powder. You now will recognize a Lesser if you see (or smell) one.

Since the beginning of time, the Lessening Society (i.e. Lessers) has been hunting the vampire race at the bidding of the Omega, whose sole purpose is revenge against his sister, the Scribe Virgin. The vampires are her creation and are losing the war, soon to become extinct as the number of the race’s warriors, aka The Black Dagger Brotherhood, has dwindled to just six after the lessers most recent attack.

The war is raging on in present day Caldwell, New York, unbeknownst to the humans that live there. Doesn’t sound very ‘romantic’ huh? Well, imagine a tall woman… 5’9 with legs that don’t want to end. Think supermodel attractive with long black hair. Now you’ve seen Beth, a reporter for the Caldwell Courier Journal and a half-breed vamp whose about to transition into a full blow vampire, though she doesn’t know it yet. In the latest attack by the lesser, Beth’s warrior vamp father, Darius was killed before he could make her aware of her heritage. His dying request to Wrath was for the King to help Beth through the transition (by sharing his pure blood), which many half-breeds don’t survive. Since Wrath owed Darius, he set out to fulfill the request. Little did he know he was going to find his mate in Beth.

Dark Lover is full of action as the Brotherhood and the lessers wage their war. The romance between Beth and Wrath is woven in amongst the battles. However, readers should be aware that the bedroom scenes are very graphic and contain strong descriptive language. Don’t let the word ‘romance’ stop you from enjoying this different take on vampires. If you’re a vamp fan, action fan, or even a romance fan, you will quickly fall in love with Dark Lover.

Reviewed by Brenda Cothern, November 2010.