Book Review: Flowers over the Inferno by Ilaria Tuti

Flowers over the Inferno
A Teresa Battaglia Novel #1
Ilaria Tuti
Translated from the Italian by Ekin Oklap
Soho Crime, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-64129-068-5
Hardcover

Set in a quiet village in a small community in Northern Italy, the naked body of a man has been found with his eyes gouged out. Detective Superintendent Teresa Battaglia is sent to investigate. A woman in her mid sixties, Teresa has earned a reputation as a highly experienced detective and profiler. But Teresa is beginning to feel the pressures of ailing health. She has Diabetes, and of late she has been dealing with periods of mental fatigue, and wonders if this is a portent of worse things to come.

A new assistant has been assigned to Teresa and she’s not sure whether to trust him or not. The local police try to downplay the death of one of the locals, but she is sure there is something sinister lurking beneath the surface and she intends to pursue the case.

Several children in the village have been aware of sinister happenings as well as experiencing strong feelings of being watched. More victims have the authorities wondering if a serial killer is on the loose. And when an infant is kidnapped the urgency to find the child escalates.

I found Detective Battaglia interesting and very human. Her concern for the victims is uppermost in her thoughts as she digs into the strange history of the area. And while finding the infant alive is her priority, she is also questioning her own state of mind and whether she will succeed. I thought at times the plot wandered somewhat without focus and direction. But the climax and ending worked well as the secrets of the past were revealed.

Detective Battaglia may possibly return in another tale as this is possibly the first in a proposed series.

Meanwhile…check it out….

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, May 2019.

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Book Review: Solemn Graves by James R. Benn

Solemn Graves
A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery #13
James R. Benn
Soho Crime, September 2018
ISBN: 978-1-6169-5849-7
Hardcover

The adventures of Billy Boyle during World War II bring him close to the front lines shortly after the D-Day invasion of Normandy to investigate a suspicious murder of a communications major in a farmhouse. He arrives with Big Mike at the house which was occupied by a Nazi military police group and now serves as headquarters for an American battalion.

The investigation is hampered by the existence of a ghost army nearby operated by actors and technicians who perform theatrical stunts to mislead the German forces.  Shrouded in secrecy, it makes Billy’s task more difficult.  And, of course, the various potential witnesses have their own agenda, withholding information vital to Billy’s solving the case. As a result, Billy dives into the biggest operation of the invasion forces, seeking to interview a Nazi officer behind German lines.

Like all the previous novels in this wonderful series, the descriptions of the battles and army operations are real and gripping. The Billy Boyle series only gets better with each new book.   Each has been highly recommended, and Solemn Graves joins that list.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2018.

Book Review: Don’t Eat Me by Colin Cotterill—and a Giveaway!

Don’t Eat Me
A Dr. Siri Paiboun Mystery #13
Colin Cotterill
Soho Crime, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-940-1
Hardcover

Talented author Colin Cotterill has done it again. He’s put his quirky characters into the most devastating of circumstances, and managed to make this reader laugh her head off. Dr. Siri Paiboun and his friend, Comrade Civilai, have smuggled a movie camera into Laos with the intention of writing and filming an epic history of the nation. Since the year is somewhere south of 1980, the recent history is particularly harrowing and the communists, of course, have a strict, one might even say stifling, set of rules about what the film can include. The two, along with Madam Daeng, Siri’s wife, and their friend, the newly promoted chief inspector, Phosy, who is perhaps the only honest policeman in the country, will have a time sneaking the film through inspection. Complications include subject, stars, location, and most importantly, someone who knows how to turn on the camera.

A farce, for sure, except our heroes are dealing with the serious matter of murder and horrifically appalling and cruel animal trafficking. You’d be surprised what an important role an inoperable camera can play.

From the opening few pages where Siri and Civilai are smuggling the camera across the Mekhong River from Thailand, to the final courtroom scene, I promise you’ll be enthralled. Cotterill’s imagination knows no bounds and if the plot in this one seems farcical at first, it has a monstrous situation at the core that is treated very seriously indeed. Unforgettable characters, a plot to draw you in . . . what more could anyone want? This one is highly recommended.

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

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To enter the drawing for a print
advance reading copy of

Don’t Eat Me by Colin Cotterill,
leave a comment below. The winning
name
will be drawn on Friday evening,

October 12th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Review: Cult X by Fuminori Nakamura

Cult X
Fuminori Nakamura
Translated by Kalau Almony
Soho Crime, May 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61695-786-5
Hardcover

Ostensibly, this novel begins with a young man who is seeking a woman he has known who apparently had entered the strange world of a cult, which he then joins in an attempt to find her.  As he progresses in his quest, the reader is exposed to a variety of topics, ranging from sex and violence to religion, astrophysics and neuroscience.

This gives the author the opportunity to write about all kinds of subjects, with long discourses ranging from good and evil to Japanese politics, from war criminals to peace.  Perhaps inspired by the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, the novel is an examination of what attraction extremism has to most people.

The reader has to plow through more than 500 pages of this material, struggling to grasp all the meanings and context in what starts out as a simple love story.  And the task is hardly easy.  It takes a lot of effort and for that reason it is rated lower than one would expect a book written by this author, whose past works received [deservedly] higher ratngs.  Nevertheless, Nakamura pushes us to the limits in his writings, which have made him one of the top Japanese authors.  For this reason, for those willing to stick with it, Cult X is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2018.

Book Review: Baby’s First Felony by John Straley

Baby’s First Felony
A Cecil Younger Investigation #7
John Straley
Soho Crime, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-878-7
Hardcover

Baby’s First Felony brings back Cecil Younger and the wonderful setting of Sitka, Alaska.  Before even starting the book, I would strongly urge readers to turn to the end and read through the A Guide to Avoiding a Life in Crime. The rules as outlined are referenced frequently, so you might want to keep a book mark there as well.

Cecil is called to the jail to arrange bail for a client who asks that he go pick up a box containing things that will prove her innocence which she left with friends. Two things about this cause Cecil angst. First, the box contains money. Lots of money. And secondly the place she left the box is the house where a friend of Cecil’s daughter’s friend is now living and a place that his daughter Blossom has run off to when her mother gets on her nerves. But that is just the beginning of Cecil’s problems. There are drugs, a kidnapping and a murder to contend with causing Cecil to break nearly every one of his rules as outlined in the book.

Along with the criminal plot is an interesting side story involving the use of humor as therapy for autism leading the book to be packed with jokes as told by Todd, the sort of adopted son of Cecil. Some of these are really pretty funny. There is a very brief note at the end of the book lending credence to this as a real therapy. This also brings in the very real issue of who has a right to post someone’s comments on line.

It has been a very long time since the last of the Cecil Younger book was published so it was especially fun to catch up with Cecil and life in Sitka, Alaska.  Perhaps an odd benefit of the long delay in bringing Cecil back to print is that it gives readers new to the series a chance to jump in as Baby’s First Felony does not rely on past plots and Straley does an excellent job of giving readers what little back story is necessary. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more Cecil very soon.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, July 2018.

Book Reviews: The Dark Clouds Shining by David Downing and The Cutting Edge by Jeffery Deaver

The Dark Clouds Shining
Jack McColl Series #4
David Downing
Soho Crime, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61695-606-6
Hardcover

With this, the fourth Jack McColl spy story, David Downing concludes the series.  It takes place just as the civil war in Soviet Russia is ending and developments are dire with respect to the original high hopes that accompanied the Revolution, and the nation suffers from all kinds of shortages, especially food for a starving populace.  Jack is not faring any better, languishing in jail for assaulting a Bobby, when his Secret Service boss visits him and presents Jack with a way to get out if he accepts an unofficial assignment.  Jack is disillusioned by the slaughter of so many in the Great War and can’t abide spying for his country any more, but accepts the assignment to get out of jail.  So he goes to Russia to learn what other British spies are planning at the behest of MI5.  And unknown to him, he will again meet with the love of his life, Caitlin, who is now married to one of the men involved in the MI5 scheme which Jack was sent to investigate and possibly foil.

The author’s ability to recreate the environment of the historical period, along with descriptions of the economic and political atmosphere, is outstanding, as is the recounting of the action resulting from the hunt by both Jack and the Cheka, the Russian secret service and forerunner of the GPU, for the plotters.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2018.

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The Cutting Edge
A Lincoln Rhyme Novel #14
Jeffery Deaver
Grand Central Publishing, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4555-3641-2
Hardcover

What starts off as a murder mystery turns into a multi-faceted conspiracy in the latest Lincoln Rhyme novel.  It begins with the murder of a prominent diamond cutter in the heart of New York’s jewelry district on 47th Street, although the murderer apparently left behind a small fortune in gems, so the motive remains obscure.  A young apprentice walks in during the murder and is shot at but is saved when the bullet hits a bag filled with rocks instead.

Subsequent murders take place, ostensibly by a psycho who is out to save diamonds from being defaced as engagement rings and who trails young couples in the act of making purchases and killing them.  Meanwhile Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are analyzing the few clues available and seeking to locate the apprentice, who is hiding from view.  Then a series of explosions take place, believed to be earthquakes in the heart of Brooklyn.

And as a sidelight, Rhyme agrees for the first time to assist a defendant, a murderous Mexican drug lord on trial in Federal court for illegal entry and murder, by reviewing the evidence in the hope of establishing an error.  This gives the author another chance to fool the reader with another twist.

Of course, the whole plot is premised on Mr. Deaver’s ability to surprise readers by leading them down a path only to divert them finally by revealing something else in the end.  The series is long- standing and always diverting, especially when forensics are analyzed and explained.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2018.

Book Review: Murder on the Left Bank by Cara Black

Murder on the Left Bank
An Aimée Leduc Investigation #18
Cara Black
Soho Crime, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-927-2
Hardcover

When a dying man shows up in Eric’s offices asking for help to right wrongs of the past by delivering a ledger to authorities, against his better judgment Eric agrees to help. Really his task is pretty simple. He would have his nephew deliver the ledger to the designated person and that would be the extent of his involvement. But from the beginning things go wrong. The nephew was on his way to meet his girlfriend so instead of making the delivery, he hid the ledger and went to meet his girlfriend.  They were attacked and the nephew was killed. The room was tossed, but the ledger wasn’t found,  Now Eric wants his nephew’s murders found and the notebook delivered.

Aimée Leduc has more than enough to keep her busy between raising her daughter as a single parent and running her private investigation business. After her father’s death, Aimée pledged to stick to cyber crimes and security problems, but when Eric Besson shows up in her office seeking help locating a missing ledger which may contain information that would implicate her now deceased father she is drawn into another dangerous case.

Aimée tracks down the surviving girlfriend and numerous other people who might have insight as to the ledger’s location. Before long, she realizes she is being followed putting everyone she speaks to in danger. It was when it became clear that her own daughter was now fair game to those seeking the ledger that Aimée agrees to have her daughter’s father and Aimée’s estranged mother whisk her daughter away for safety.

There is a high body count in the book but in the end, things work out and Aimée finds out a little bit more about her father’s life in the police.

This was one of my favorite books in the series so far.

Aimée Leduc returns in Murder on the Left Bank, the eighteenth book in the series.  Readers who have followed Aimée from the beginning must be pleased with how the series has evolved over the years keeping the stories fresh. For readers who have never sampled the series, Murder on the Left Bank is a fine place to start. There is a back story, but readers are given enough to not feel left behind.  Either way, enjoy!

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St.Clair, June 2018.