Book Reviews: The Fourth Courier by Timothy Jay Smith and The Spying Moon by Sandra Ruttan @TimothyJaySmith @arcadepub @DownAndOutBooks

The Fourth Courier
Timothy Jay Smith
Arcade Publishing, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-94892-410-8
Hardcover

The author is a capable, experienced author and he fully understands and uses the techniques of the crime novelist. The novel reflects the author’s grasp of craft. Crimes happen early and more than once, from murder to adultery, to smuggling and other crimes, and multiple misdemeanors.

The search to identify and capture the many criminals is detailed and interesting. Several various interactions, sexual and ordinary, between various characters in this novel are also interesting.

The novel is set in Warsaw, Poland, in 1992. FBI agent Jay Porter is assigned to assist local law enforcement in a case of smuggling and multiple murder. The case has international implications because of connections of some characters to nuclear research laboratories in Russia. Remember that Communism has just departed Poland and the nation’s systems, including law enforcement, are still finding themselves and adjusting to the new era. The novel illuminates the difficulties of living and working under the Soviet and now Polish authority.

The local characters especially seem authentic and real. The descriptions of the city and countryside also seem carefully and accurately depicted. Although the novel addresses the emotional changes and connections of the characters more than the implied danger of smuggling nuclear components out of Russia, the tension is quite apparent. This is a thoughtful novel of connections and international undeclared warfare, well worth a  thoughtful read.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2019.
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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The Spying Moon
Integrated Border Enforcement Team, Book 1
Sandra Ruttan
Down & Out Books
ISBN 978-1-948235-27-3
Trade Paperback

Mixed parentage doesn’t seem to hamper the career advancement of RCMP constable, Kendall Moreau. Even when she encounters a sexist constable at the entrance to her newly assigned post, Maple River, British Columbia. This had not been her plan and she was already irked. Now this man seemed to represent everything wrong with relations between men and women, in life, as in the law enforcement profession. She didn’t want to be here. Her belief was that she’d been assigned to Burns Lake, a small community many miles north, after an exemplary early career with the federal law enforcement agency.

Moreau was desperate to go to Burns Lake where a surprising number of women, including her mother, had been disappearing. It was not to be. The head of RCMP in Maple River needed a task force to deal with a growing drug distribution problem in the area so Moreau is abruptly reassigned. She discovers a morass of murder, drugs, corruption and a mélange of fascinating characters, in and out of law enforcement.

Readers will be drawn swiftly into the complicated taut relationships of the task force she abruptly joins. The puzzles she and her colleagues must solve, even for their own protection, are many and fraught, all set against a small city environment nearly surrounded by the Rocky Mountains.

Well written, the pace of the novel is maintained at an appropriate level as Moreau, a strong and realistic character, works to solve personal interactions and a growing list of crimes and infractions.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2019.
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: Blue Fire by Katherine Prairie

Blue Fire
An Alex Graham Novel #2
Katherine Prairie
Stonedrift Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-0-9949377-5-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Tanzanite, a rare blue gem born in fire and revealed by lightning, is found only in the Merelani Hills of Tanzania. But now the death of a gem smuggler points to another possibility. A South American mine owned by Tabitha Metals may hold the find of a century. But why is it kept hidden from the world? Geologist Brian Graham can draw only one conclusion: the mine’s untraceable wealth is used to fund terrorism. And he must reveal the truth.

Brian heads to Colombia to check out mines there while his geologist daughter Alex and Tanzanian miner Mosi Ongeti start in Brazil. But their daring plan ends with a gunshot, and they are now pursued by the henchmen of a sinister, powerful arms dealer.

In a high-stakes race across two continents, Alex fights to expose the mine before the man behind Tabitha Metals can stop her.

Not that I have jewels dripping off of me but, if I did, I’d have colorful gems because I find most diamonds and the like pretty boring. I used to wear a lot of rings and had some that were really beautiful—garnets, emeralds, sapphires, amethysts, aquamarine, topaz, etc.—and, yes, tanzanite. When I read the description of Ms. Prairie‘s latest book, I was immediately drawn to it.

Hunting for beautiful gems is inevitably going to be an exotic journey and, in this case, Brazil and Tanzania fit the bill. The locations alone made me want to be right there along with the characters and, naturally with this being a mystery, mining for gems is only a piece of the story. Could it be true that a previously undiscovered deposit has been found and, if so, why the secrecy? Now, granted, an abundant supply can drive prices down but that doesn’t seem to be an adequate reason, especially since a man has been killed.

Alex has to get her wounded friend, Mosi, back to Africa where her geologist father is (or is he?) but they’ll have to outrun and outwit some very bad people who have other plans in mind. Mosi needs medical attention right away and Dr. Eric Keenan, Alex’s kinda-sorta boyfriend, steps in, mainly because Eric is a very nice guy and he cares for Alex. Their relationship is growing organically and there is nothing out of place about it, much to my pleasure.

Alex really is no sleuth but she’s a strongminded, intelligent woman who can put two and two together. Sometimes, that gets her in trouble and that’s certainly true this time. Running from highly motivated criminals is bad enough; will she be able to turn the tables on them?

Once again, Katherine Prairie ensnared me with her appealing, vividly drawn characters and a plot that kept me racing around the world. What seems to start out as a hunt for a gem deposit turns into something much darker and I enjoyed every minute of this intense ride.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

Book Review: Dying to Live by Michael Stanley

Dying to Live
A Detective Kubu Mystery #6
Michael Stanley
Minotaur Books, October 2017
ISBN:  978-1-466-88156-3
Hardcover

The sixth in the series featuring detective Kubu (“hippopotamus” in Setswana, the language of Botswana), this novel has an unusual plot:  a secret plant indigenous to the desert, for which three men are murdered, is the basis for this mystery.  The pathologist Dr. Ian MacGregor, who does the autopsy on a bushman found dead in the desert, discovers an aged body containing youthful organs.  He calls Kubu when he suspects the man was murdered.  It turns out the victim was a highly respected witch doctor who treated a variety of “patients” with a secret potion promising a long life.

Thus begins a long, complicated investigation, in which Kubu is assisted by the first female CID detective, a case that expands when another witch doctor turns up murdered and a visiting anthropologist from the United States goes missing.  As if that’s not enough to keep him busy, Kubu is confronted by another case in which controlled substances, powdered rhino horn, is being smuggled out of the country.  Kubu suspects the two cases are inter-related.

Just as important to this novel, as well as the series, is Kubu’s home life, his relationship with his wife, Joy, and his daughter Tuni, and adopted daughter, Nono, who is HIV positive and suffers a breakdown causing considerable concern until a prescribed cocktail of medicines can be formulated to stabilize her condition.  These aspects give the writing team who authored the book the opportunity to show how human Kubu is, as well as the detective’s well-known appetite.  Other constant features of the series are the atmosphere and characteristics of the Batswana (the people of the nation).  We await the seventh novel in the series after recommending the sixth and current one.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2018.

Book Review: The Case of the Yellow Diamond by Carl Brookins—and a Giveaway!

The Case of the Yellow DiamondThe Case of the Yellow Diamond
A Sean Sean Mystery #5
Carl Brookins
North Star Press of St. Cloud, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-87839-816-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A dead man on the floor of his office in Minneapolis won’t lead P.I. Sean Sean to journey to Yap Island to protect his new client. Bombs in lawyers’ cars only jostle him. This short investigator knows the value of research and asking questions in the right places. World War II, Asian diamonds and concrete in Des Moines combine to almost destroy a Minnesota family. In the end, Sean detects flaws in the plans and brings down a criminal enterprise.

Sean Sean has a way…with words, with the ladies and with investigations. He’s a man’s man even though he’s shorter than most and his height never slows him down. He’s the quintessential hardboiled private eye except this isn’t the 40’s and, at his core, he’s much too nice to be one of those guys. He’s the inimitable Sean Sean.

As he puts it, Sean’s latest case really began “many years earlier and a long way away”, having its roots in an obscure event on an even more obscure island in the Pacific, Yap Island. When Tod Bartelme hires Sean to find out who’s sabotaging his and his wife Josie’s next trip to search for her long-lost granduncle, shot down near Yap Island in 1944, he has no inkling that he’ll soon be looking into old allegations of smuggling and current-day suspicions of construction irregularities that point back to Josie’s own family. The big question, of course, is what all these tangents have to do with each other but, if anybody can ferret out the answers, it’s Sean, hopefully before he gets added to the growing pile of dead bodies.

Sean is an old-style P.I., one who eschews technological aids as much as he can and relies on his wit and natural nosiness as well as his snarky sort of charm. Catherine, Sean’s lovely, rich—and tall—girlfriend shows us the other side of this gent’s life and their relationship is as heartwarming as it comes, especially considering their differences. Loaded with humor and plenty of twists and turns, Sean Sean is my kind of hardboiled private eye, one I’ll look forward to seeing again and again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2016.

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You have two chances to enter the
drawing for a signed paperback copy
of The Case of the Yellow Diamond
by Carl Brookins. Leave a comment
below and then again on Tuesday,
January 19th, after Carl’s guest post.
The winning name will be drawn on
the evening of Thursday, January 21st.
Open to residents of the US.

Book Review: Ivory Ghosts by Caitlin O’Connell

Ivory GhostsIvory Ghosts
A Catherine Sohon Elephant Mystery
Caitlin O’Connell
Alibi, April 2015
ISBN 9781101883471
Ebook

From the publisher—

Still grieving over the tragic death of her fiancé, American wildlife biologist Catherine Sohon leaves South Africa and drives to a remote outpost in northeast Namibia, where she plans to face off against the shadowy forces of corruption and relentless human greed in the fight against elephant poaching. Undercover as a census pilot tracking the local elephant population, she’ll really be collecting evidence on the ruthless ivory traffickers.

But before she even reaches her destination, Catherine stumbles onto a scene of horrifying carnage: three people shot dead in their car, and a fourth nearby—with his brain removed. The slaughter appears to be the handiwork of a Zambian smuggler known as “the witchdoctor,” a figure reviled by activists and poachers alike. Forced to play nice with local officials, Catherine finds herself drawn to the prickly but charismatic Jon Baggs, head of the Ministry of Conservation, whose blustery exterior belies his deep investment in the poaching wars.

Torn between her developing feelings and her unofficial investigation, she takes to the air, only to be grounded by a vicious turf war between competing factions of a black-market operation that reaches far beyond the borders of Africa. With the mortality rate—both human and animal—skyrocketing, Catherine races to intercept a valuable shipment. Now she’s flying blind, and a cunning killer is on the move.

Elephants have to be among the most beloved of all animals and there’s something quite romantic about them and their story. I think much of our appreciation of these wondrous creatures comes from our recognition of their intelligence and their loyalty to one another. We’re also drawn in by the tragedy of their existence, the horrendous poaching and slaughter for their body parts, especially their tusks.

Catherine Sohon is an admirable woman, one who goes the extra mile to fight the smuggling trade that so severely endangers the elephants, but the stakes get even higher when she becomes involved in murder. Unprepared for this, she nevertheless plunges right in to investigate the human deaths as well as the poaching and slaughter of the animals. Running into something of a brick wall in an official named Jon Baggs, Catherine pushes ahead and finds a senseless darkness even she didn’t expect. She also finds a welcome lightening of the grief she has been living with since her fiancé’s death.

Author Caitlin O’Connell doesn’t just admire elephants; she has made them her life’s work and I envy the opportunities she has to be around them. She’s also a dedicated scientist and is doing much to make that discipline more accessible to those of us who aren’t as thoroughly immersed as she is. Her knowledge of science and of elephants in particular shine through the pages of this debut novel and I can honestly say I know a little more after reading it. I’m already looking forward to what I hope will be many more novels from Ms. O’Connell.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2015.

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About the Author

Caitlin O'ConnellA world-renowned expert on elephants, Caitlin O’Connell holds a Ph.D. in ecology and is a faculty member at the Stanford University School of Medicine as well as director of life sciences for HNu Photonics. She is the author of five nonfiction books about elephants, including the internationally acclaimed The Elephant’s Secret Sense, An Elephant’s Life, A Baby Elephant in the Wild, and Elephant Don, and co-author of the award-winning The Elephant Scientist. She is the co-founder and CEO of Utopia Scientific, a nonprofit organization dedicated to research and science education, and the co-founder of Triple Helix Productions, a global media forum with a mandate to develop more accurate and entertaining science content for the media. When not in the field with elephants, O’Connell divides her time between San Diego, California, and Maui, Hawaii, with her husband, Tim Rodwell, and their dog, Frodo.

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Book Reviews: Dead Man’s Chest by Kerry Greenwood, Murder in Passy by Cara Black, and Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark

Dead Man’s Chest
Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59508-797-3
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

The Hon. Phryne Fisher makes her 16th appearance in this novel wherein she deservedly takes her entourage, including daughters Ruth and Jane, companion Dot, and pet Molly, on a vacation to the Australian coastal resort of Queenscliff where they are to spend relaxing time, i.e., no crimes or murders, at a house loaned to them by an anthropologist Phryne met just once at a party.  (We should all have acquaintances like that!) The house, supposedly attended by a husband and wife team, the Johnsons, is vacant when the group arrives, with the back door unlocked, the servants’ furniture missing and all manner of provisions absent.  So much for a vacation from mysteries.

The plot is relatively light (they are, after all, on vacation), allowing the author to address various mundane activities, such as Ruth, the aspiring cook, taking over the kitchen in the absence of servants and preparing gourmet dinners, Jane enriching her scientific mind, and Phryne easily coming up with the necessary answers to satisfy any questions raised.  No need to summarize what they are since we heartily encourage you to read this latest entry in a delightful series.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

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Murder in Passy
Cara Black
Soho Crime, March 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-882-0
Hardcover

As Bogey said: “We’ll always have Paris.”  Or at least as long as Cara Black keeps writing the Aimee Leduc series, set in the City of Lights. This is the 11th entry in the series, and is a bit different from its predecessors.  While its setting is still a particular area of Paris, this time a “posh” neighborhood, the plot is different, involving the Basque “independence” movement rather than some criminal mystery, and the charms of Paris get but fleeting mentions along the way.

The essential mystery is the murder of Commissaire Morbier’s girlfriend, for which he is being charged.  Apparently, he is being pressured to reveal the identity of an informant, and is being given no choice, unless Aimee comes up with the real murderer.

Written with the customary charm of a native Parisian (although the author is really based in San Francisco), Aimee once again shows the characteristics of Superwoman, bounding high fences and even more daunting feats.  A fast read, but no less enjoyable for that.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

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Guilt by Association
Marcia Clark
Mulholland Books ,April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-12951-0
Hardcover

New York City has its former prosecutor-turned-novelist in Linda Fairstein.  Now Los Angeles has its own, Marcia Clark, who was the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson trial and subsequently wrote a best-selling non-fiction book on her experiences.  However, that’s where the similarity ends.  Ms Fairstein, of course, centers her wonderful plots on various Big Apple landmarks, weaving them into the thread of the crimes. On the other hand, Ms. Clark seems to overly dwell on a never-ending series of LA restaurants and bars, as well as the love lives (such as they are) of assistant DA Rachel Knight and her two female friends, another assistant DA, Toni, and Bailey, a detective.

This observation aside, the novel has quite a lot going for it.   The thrust of the book is two seemingly unrelated murders:  An apparent murder-suicide involving a much-liked assistant DA whose body is found in a seedy motel room with that of a teenage male hustler, and the death of a suspected rapist.  While the first case is taken over by the FBI because of a conflict of interest, it falls to Rachel and Bailey to solve the mysteries.

For a first novel, the effort is fairly well done, with good dialogue and plot movement, as well as some subtle twists.  It could have used some more editing and tightening, especially in the first half of the book.  After initially wandering and giving varied background information, it really gets going in the second part, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

Book Reviews: Dead Man's Chest by Kerry Greenwood, Murder in Passy by Cara Black, and Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark

Dead Man’s Chest
Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59508-797-3
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

The Hon. Phryne Fisher makes her 16th appearance in this novel wherein she deservedly takes her entourage, including daughters Ruth and Jane, companion Dot, and pet Molly, on a vacation to the Australian coastal resort of Queenscliff where they are to spend relaxing time, i.e., no crimes or murders, at a house loaned to them by an anthropologist Phryne met just once at a party.  (We should all have acquaintances like that!) The house, supposedly attended by a husband and wife team, the Johnsons, is vacant when the group arrives, with the back door unlocked, the servants’ furniture missing and all manner of provisions absent.  So much for a vacation from mysteries.

The plot is relatively light (they are, after all, on vacation), allowing the author to address various mundane activities, such as Ruth, the aspiring cook, taking over the kitchen in the absence of servants and preparing gourmet dinners, Jane enriching her scientific mind, and Phryne easily coming up with the necessary answers to satisfy any questions raised.  No need to summarize what they are since we heartily encourage you to read this latest entry in a delightful series.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

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

Murder in Passy
Cara Black
Soho Crime, March 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-882-0
Hardcover

As Bogey said: “We’ll always have Paris.”  Or at least as long as Cara Black keeps writing the Aimee Leduc series, set in the City of Lights. This is the 11th entry in the series, and is a bit different from its predecessors.  While its setting is still a particular area of Paris, this time a “posh” neighborhood, the plot is different, involving the Basque “independence” movement rather than some criminal mystery, and the charms of Paris get but fleeting mentions along the way.

The essential mystery is the murder of Commissaire Morbier’s girlfriend, for which he is being charged.  Apparently, he is being pressured to reveal the identity of an informant, and is being given no choice, unless Aimee comes up with the real murderer.

Written with the customary charm of a native Parisian (although the author is really based in San Francisco), Aimee once again shows the characteristics of Superwoman, bounding high fences and even more daunting feats.  A fast read, but no less enjoyable for that.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

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

Guilt by Association
Marcia Clark
Mulholland Books ,April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-12951-0
Hardcover

New York City has its former prosecutor-turned-novelist in Linda Fairstein.  Now Los Angeles has its own, Marcia Clark, who was the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson trial and subsequently wrote a best-selling non-fiction book on her experiences.  However, that’s where the similarity ends.  Ms Fairstein, of course, centers her wonderful plots on various Big Apple landmarks, weaving them into the thread of the crimes. On the other hand, Ms. Clark seems to overly dwell on a never-ending series of LA restaurants and bars, as well as the love lives (such as they are) of assistant DA Rachel Knight and her two female friends, another assistant DA, Toni, and Bailey, a detective.

This observation aside, the novel has quite a lot going for it.   The thrust of the book is two seemingly unrelated murders:  An apparent murder-suicide involving a much-liked assistant DA whose body is found in a seedy motel room with that of a teenage male hustler, and the death of a suspected rapist.  While the first case is taken over by the FBI because of a conflict of interest, it falls to Rachel and Bailey to solve the mysteries.

For a first novel, the effort is fairly well done, with good dialogue and plot movement, as well as some subtle twists.  It could have used some more editing and tightening, especially in the first half of the book.  After initially wandering and giving varied background information, it really gets going in the second part, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.