Book Review: Valley of Shadows by Steven Cooper—and a Giveaway! @TheStevenCooper @SeventhStBooks

Valley of Shadows
A Gus Parker and Alex Mills Novel #3
Steven Cooper
Seventh Street Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-64506-000-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A cop. A psychic. And a dead socialite. Who killed Viveca Canning and where is the Dali masterpiece that hung on the walls of her estate? So many people had a motive. Phoenix Detective Alex Mills is on the case with the help of his sometimes-psychic buddy Gus Parker. You won’t find another duo like them. And once you hop on the wild ride, you won’t want to get off. Who will survive a doomed flight over the Pacific? Who tried to blow up an art gallery? Who saw Viveca Canning as a threat and shot her twice in the head? Those questions hound Gus and Alex as the case unravels. It’s an art caper wrapped in a murder mystery. The Valley of the Sun becomes a Valley of Shadows, where everyone has something to hide and the truth lies beneath Phoenix in a labyrinth of tunnels and dungeons.

There’s a lot at stake for Gus and Alex. With the case swirling all around them, the future of Gus and his rock n’ roll girlfriend hangs in the balance. For Alex, it’s a test of family loyalties as a health scare for his wife brings him to the breaking point.

A really good crime novel is dependent on two major components, vivid characters and intriguing plot, and there’s no doubt that Steven Cooper‘s Valley of Shadows has both, in spades. I have to say, though, that Mr. Cooper also has given his readers a setting that has to be considered the third and, perhaps most unforgettable, element.

At first glance, Alex Mills is a typical police detective but his friendship with Gus takes things to another level. After all, most of law enforcement looks at psychics with jaundiced eyes, but these two men have moved well beyond any distrust and, in fact, value each other’s contributions to crime solving. In this story, we’re also treated to in-depth looks at their personal lives, adding much to our understanding of them.

As for this particular case, the various threads lead Alex and Gus in a myriad of directions, largely because they uncover so many potential motives for Viveca Canning’s murder. From a simple art heist to greedy children to a cult and everything in-between, all must be considered and proven invalid before they land on the truth. Along the way, the tension continues to rise and I had to keep turning those pages as fast as I could while also wanting to savor the author’s wonderful wordcraft.

I’ve spent just a few days in Arizona but I was struck by how much Mr. Cooper immersed me in the surroundings, the desert sun and sand, the beautiful scenery. Somehow, I feel that this is where Alex and Gus belong and I definitely want to visit with them again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2019.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Valley of Shadows by Steven Cooper,
leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Wednesday evening,
December 11th. Open to residents
of the US and Canada.

Book Review: The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza

The Girl in the Ice
A Detective Erika Foster Novel #6
Robert Bryndza
Grand Central Publishing, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-5387-1342-6
Trade Paperback

This debut novel introduces DCI Erika Foster, and is the start of a new series.  The next novel in the series will be entitled The Night Stalker.   In The Girl in the Ice, she is brought in from her previous post in Manchester, where she led a flawed operation which resulted in the deaths of several police, including her husband.  Although she has yet to come to terms with her past, the detective superintendent believes her to still be an effective detective and places her in charge of the investigation of the murder of a prominent young woman from a well-to-do family.

The woman’s body is found frozen in ice.  Death was caused by strangulation.  Foster’s efforts are hampered by interference by the powerful father, a wealthy defense contractor, and police politics.  She stands her ground, but suffers for her principles and supposed clues, while attention is focused by higher-ups on other possible “clues,” which she feels are false.

Foster is a flawed character in need of growth.  Her efforts seem to be haphazard and insubordinate, resulting in her being removed as SIO of the case.  The novel progresses by fits and starts, and concludes with a denouement for which no basis is laid in the preceding chapters.  However, it is a good read and can be [and is] recommended, only hoping that the sequel overcomes these stated objections.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2018.

Book Review: The Distance by Helen Giltrow

the-distanceThe Distance
Helen Giltrow
Anchor Books, July 2015
ISBN: 978-0-345-80435-8
Trade Paperback

In an ambitious debut novel, a former bookseller has written a dark novel, one which mystified this reader.  Is it a crime novel?  A mystery? A Le Carre-type story involving the intelligence community?  Or a mixture of all these genres?

The Distance would seem to contain all the elements of the three characteristics, and therein lies the ambition of the author.  Some simplification would appear to be in order.  The plot is too complicated, the reading too slow and the story unwieldy.  Too bad.  Because it is an interesting tale, and deserves to be read.

The gist of the novel is a tale of a woman, alternatively identified as a London Socialite, Charlotte Alton, and Karla, the head of an enterprise that specializes in, among other things, erasing identities and covering a criminal’s tracks.  One such person is Simon Johanssen, who surfaces after being hidden for years, asking for her help on an assignment to murder a woman held in “The Program,” a prison-like compound where he eventually becomes involved with the victim while hiding from a criminal boss also incarcerated there.

It all comes together at the finale in a perfunctory short wrap-up.  There are few if any clues before the end to establish these conclusions as if they are included merely to end a laborious effort.  A good re-write might have helped, certainly better editing.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2016.