Book Reviews: Proof of Life by Sheila Lowe and Simply Dead by Eleanor Kuhns @sheila_lowe @suspensemag @EleanorKuhns @severnhouse

Proof of Life
A Beyond the Veil Mystery #2
Sheila Lowe
Suspense Publishing, May 2019
ISBN 978-0-578-45315-6
Trade Paperback

After the accident in which her abusive husband and their infant son died, Jessica Mack had amnesia and began to experience strange noises and even voices. This enthralling thriller traces her development from confused and upset to more and deeper understanding of non-corporeal experiences. A practicing artist, Jessica Mack creates art that seems to illustrate crime scenes, but she cannot recall making the art, nor where the detailed information came from.

Gradually over the space of this excellent novel, Jessica begins to understand what may be happening to her. It is unsettling, disrupts her life at times, but instead of resisting or rejecting the forces, she instinctively sets out to learn more.

For many people whose religious or world views reject the idea of other worlds co-existing with that which we inhabit, this may become unsettling. I would urge such people to persist and read this book. Jessica Mack, an identical twin, has already experienced odd experiences with her twin sister. So she is open to learning more about the spirit world. As should we readers.

Unlike many novels that create a spirit world to fit the story, this author has created a character who is not a willing subject, but one who becomes interested in life for those beyond the veil and in a fascinating and consistent way, struggles to learn more and then to use her developing awareness to aid in a race to locate a small child who may have been kidnapped.

The author steadily raises the tension as time inexorably passes. Jessica must deal with her sister, her FBI acquaintance, other skeptics and a burgeoning love interest. The novel is very-well written, extremely carefully plotted, logical and peopled with very interesting, well-drawn characters It will capture the interest of a wide range of crime novel addicts. I strongly recommend this excellent novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 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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Simply Dead
A Will Rees Mystery #7
Eleanor Kuhns
Severn House, August 2019
ISBN 978-0-7278-8884-6
Hardcover

Winter in northern climes is difficult in the best of times. In late eighteenth century rural Maine, winter can be deadly. In a small Shaker community located in a snow bound village, a deeply disturbed murderer threatens to tear apart an already uneasy relationship with the World, as it is known among Shakers.

Will Rees is a weaver and hard-scrabble farmer with several children and a bright loving wife in his care. The weaver and farmer is an interesting motivator for the novel, husband and father of a teen girl and some even younger children. His almost insatiable curiosity propels him into conflicts at several levels when a local midwife goes missing in the snowy woods. Naturally he seeks her, exposing himself to storms and cold. He finds the midwife almost dead of exposure in the snow and rescues her while realizing the young woman is distraught and hiding something, something truly horrible.

The novel is a deliberate and accurate portrayal of early life for settlers in Maine during the period and is liberally strewn with a wide range of characters one might expect to find in an isolated settlement like this in early America. His small village has a constable who owns and runs the town bar and restaurant and thus is not reliable to protect locals against the menace of hungry wolves.

Conflicts arise for Rees and his family on all sides, affording the author ample opportunity to make deep dives into a host of personalities and situations and she takes most opportunities to do that, including brief but telling examination of the Shaker community. Consequently, the well-written, finely organized story presents several varied and useful personalities in both ordinary and highly fraught situations in a novel of manners, murder and detection. Readers will finish the novel having a concentrated experience of a particular part of America and its people before there was a United States.

Simply Dead is simply a good story with a lot of excellent characters, very well told.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 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: Blood and Wisdom by Verlin Darrow

Blood and Wisdom
Verlin Darrow
The Wild Rose Press, June 2018
ISBN: 978-1-5092-2086-1
Trade Paperback

Failed therapist Karl Gatlin, now a California private investigator with a small practice and lots of contacts, is asked to look into threats and a headless body. The request is by a former fellow student. Client Aria Piper, now the leader of a growing spiritual center, is naturally disturbed by the events, apparently aimed at intimidating her. She believes the perpetrator is the leader of a nearby cult and she wants Gatlin to make the threat go away. If he’s unsuccessful, she could lose her property and her livelihood.

Because the author is a psychotherapist, Gatlin’s interview of his client devolves into an exploration of motivations as much as it covers prior activities and leads. The novel is rich in both, plus an impressive cast of characters, on both sides of the law, from gang-bangers to bad cops to suspicious students, clients and business members. They all have to be sorted out and Gatlin and his team of researchers, bodyguards and local cops all have to be vetted, one way or another.

Set in California with widely spaced sites, Gatlin spends a good many pages driving from place to place while admiring the scenery. There is no question the views are rich and varied and Gatlin is loath to drive anywhere without describing it in some detail. The unwinding course of the plot is deliberate, complicated and at times amusing. This is not a fast-paced, slam-bam shoot-em-up scramble. Oh, there are a few gun duels, lots of cogitation, some off-site hacking and it all comes together in the end with a clever resolution. Readers should just be prepared for a fairly long and winding road to trail’s end.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2018.
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 Reviews: The Handless Maiden by Dorothy Black Crow and night night, sleep tight by Hallie Ephron

The Handless MaidenThe Handless Maiden
A Lakota Mystery #1
Dorothy Black Crow
Lucky Bat Books, October 2014
ISBN: 978-1-939051-88-2
Trade Paperback

Crime novels take many forms; historical, thriller, futuristic, realistic, and range from cozy nearly non-violent to the darkest hard-boiled tradition. Rarely does one find a novel combining the best elements of mystical spirituality, vicious racism and intelligent amateur detection. Here, in this multi-level novel, readers will have not only a disturbing journey into native peoples belief system, but a real experience of the modern realities of life on a South Dakota Lakota Indian reservation.

The scene of the novel is Pine Ridge Reservation and the time is 1977. It is worth noting that the cover subtitles the novel A Lakota Mystery. That is significant in that the author’s young protagonists, Alex Turning Hawk and his wife Tate are both Oglala Lakota and they are careful to respect the traditions while facing rampant racism and racing to find the murderer of a prominent AIM fighter, the maiden of the title.

Behind this author’s maiden are centuries-old traditions of pain, suffering and redemption. The common thread is the traditional strength of the damaged girl/woman and her struggles to regain her hands and thus her ability to care for herself and her family. In this modern tale, two representatives of society, native peoples, follow separate paths to help restore the maiden back to whole. Author Dorothy Black Crow has produced an intense, moving, illuminating story of the reality that was Pine Ridge during that turbulent time, a story that explains much but leaves much to the faith and imagination of the reader. A thoughtful, caring and enthralling experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2015.
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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night night, sleep tightnight night, sleep tight
Hallie Ephron
William Morrow Paperbacks, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-211764-9
Trade Paperback

Hallie Ephron has the reputation of infusing her novels with the glamour of the Golden Age of Hollywood.  But this novel reads more like a cancelled TV soap opera, despite the liberal sprinkling of names, from Marilyn to Ava and Frank.  It’s too bad, because there is a gem of a mystery in the story, which is ultimately lost in a mushy finale.

The action takes place in 1985 in Beverly Hills.  Deidre Unger drives from her San Diego home to her screenwriter father’s domicile, at his behest, to assist him in preparing the house for sale, only to find him floating face down in the swimming pool.  Initially an accident is suspected, but then the police detective determines that it was murder.  Flashback to 1963, when Deidre’s girlhood friend confessed to stabbing to death her movie star mother’s lover.  The rest of the book dwells on the possibility that the two murders are related.

To give credit, the plot is crafty, but the execution is cumbersome.  Some suspense is built up but is dissipated by an unjustified conclusion.  For readers who like this sort of thing, it could well be enjoyable.  But this reader would have preferred a more traditional crime story without the gushiness of soap.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2015.

Book Review: Uneasy Spirits by M. Louisa Locke

Uneasy Spirits
M. Louisa Locke
Kindle Edition, October 2011
http://tinyurl.com/88uydoc
Also available in other ebook formats
ISBN 978-1466373549
Trade Paperback

This is Ms. Locke’s delightful sequel to Maids of Misfortune, and the second in the Annie Fuller historical mystery series.  Set in the late 1800’s in one of my favorite cities, San Francisco, California, I felt like I was there, walking these streets as they were a hundred years ago.

By day, Annie Fuller makes her living as the proprietor of a respectable and well established boarding house, but at night, she becomes Madame Sybil, fortune teller. Annie may have been brought up studying finance at her father’s knee, but this is the only way any grown man in the 1800’s will accept the financial advice from a twenty-six year old woman, much less pay for the privilege.  And, Annie, has finally found someone who isn’t like her dead husband in the attractive young lawyer, Nate Dawson whose awkwardness around Annie, is both touching and charming.

The story opens with the scene in which we witness the murder of an elderly woman, and in a totally separate venue, we’re introduced to a very strange young girl. The two incidents, we later learn, are intricately woven together and the result will culminate in a surprise ending.

Annie gets involved when one of her boarders, Miss Pinehurst, fearing for her sister’s sanity, begs Annie to help her prove that the clairvoyants her sister insists upon paying, are fake. Stepping into the world of Simon and Arabella Frampton, Annie is sure that Miss Pinehurst is right and determines to expose them… until she meets with Evie May, the odd child we saw in the beginning.

Evie May is a chameleon, a child whose different personas are used by the unscrupulous Simon and Arabella Frampton as a way of making lots of money.

But, there’s a more sinister plot underway here between the Framptons and a shadowy figure who is actually directing the whole show from the sidelines.

Nate and Annie become pawns of this person’s nefarious plans, and though we don’t find out who this person is until almost the end, there’s every reason to believe that one or both of these young people may become the next victim.

This is a skillfully crafted mystery with wonderful recurring characters who are the kind of people that live with the reader long after the book is finished.  And of course, the bad and really bad characters get what’s coming to them… perfect!

Last, but not least, when I read this book I was reminded of one of my favorite historical mystery authors, Anne Perry. I’ve read almost all of her books, and I can honestly say that Ms. Locke’s work is right up there with Anne Perry’s.

Reviewed by RP Dahlke, Guest Reviwer, October, 2011.