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.

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

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.

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

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.

Advertisements

Book Review: A Bitter Veil by Libby Fischer Hellmann

A Bitter VeilA Bitter Veil
Libby Fischer Hellmann
Allium Press of Chicago, April 2012
ISBN 978-0-9831938-1-4
Trade Paperback

Enter the Muslim world of Khomeini’s Iran. Good luck leaving. Especially if you are married to an Iranian male. And are American. A Bitter Veil takes you inside a country on the brink of cultural changes. Where a religion has decreed Western civilization and especially America, to be evil. Where corruption and power rules the everyday life of every person.

In 1977, Anna Schroder is attending college in Chicago when she meets an engineering student, Nouri Samedi, who hails from Iran. Friendship turns to love and passion and eventually marriage. They return to Nouri’s homeland to continue their life together. However, storm clouds have been gathering. Iran’s leader, the Shah, is a tyrant, and is slowly being forced out. When the Shah leaves and Khomeini assumes control, things from bad to worse. Anna’s life heads in a downward spiral as Islamic fascism slowly becomes the norm. She watches in horror as Nouri slowly succumbs to the new regime and her marriage, her existence is in peril. When Nouri is murdered and Anna is imprisoned, her only hope is to somehow escape and find the real killer.

This is not so much a murder mystery, although there is that aspect, but more of a spotlight on how a culture changed in the late seventies and early eighties. This includes actual events, such as the taking of the American Embassy by terrorists. The cultural shock is probably not atypical for those women who have married into Muslim life and found themselves trapped. Even though I knew what was going to happen in regards to Anna’s life in Iran I felt compelled to read further to see just how bad it could get. Hellmann did her homework to present some powerful writing. Everyone can learn a lesson from A Bitter Veil.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, June 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Review: The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid

The Vanishing Point
Val McDermid
Atlantic Monthly Press, October 2012
ISBN 9780802120526
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Young Jimmy Higgins is snatched from an airport security checkpoint while his guardian watches helplessly from the glass inspection box. But this is no ordinary abduction, as Jimmy is no ordinary child. His mother was Scarlett, a reality TV star who, dying of cancer and alienated from her unreliable family, entrusted the boy to the person she believed best able to give him a happy, stable life: her ghost writer, Stephanie Harker. Assisting the FBI in their attempt to recover the missing boy, Stephanie reaches into the past to uncover the motive for the abduction. Has Jimmy been taken by his own relatives? Is Stephanie’s obsessive ex-lover trying to teach her a lesson? Has one of Scarlett’s stalkers come back to haunt them all?

There are certain authors I always can count on to provide me with an excellent read, a brief escape into a world I can laugh at or be mesmerized by, a world that shakes me to the core for one reason or another. I understand, though, that many of those authors whose work I admire so much might stumble now and then. The Vanishing Point is Val McDermid‘s stumble.

Ms. McDermid is a wonderful writer—I have enjoyed everything of hers I’ve read until this one—and even this has some redeeming aspects. It’s not a BAD book; it just doesn’t rise to the level of her usual top notch work and that becomes evident early in the story.

Most of the disappointment I had was in regard to the credibility of the story. For a woman who shows a lot of inner strength and is clearly able to take care of herself, Stephanie seems too insecure, beyond what could be attributed to her past relationship. More importantly, what happens in the airport just isn’t believable enough. Stephanie knows she will have to be screened or patted down because of the metal in her leg so why wouldn’t she make sure the child stayed close by? As much as we, the public, dislike the behavior of a few TSA employees (and as much as we may hate the whole system), I have a hard time believing they would so totally dismiss her screams for help when she sees what’s happening. And, when it becomes obvious that time is critical, no FBI agent would allow Stephanie to go on and on with the backstory, nor would Stephanie want to blather on while little is being done to find Jimmy. The last straw for me was when I realized that she was inexplicably hesitant to tell the FBI agent about the person who is very likely to be behind the kidnapping.

Unfortunately, with such plot holes early on, I found it hard to engage with the story or even take it as seriously as such a topic deserves but I did finish the book, hoping Ms. McDermid would pull it together. To a certain extent, she did, but the twist ending was too little too late.  I have no doubt the author will get back on track with the next book and I’m certainly going to look forward to it but, sadly, this one is not a keeper for me.  Our reactions to books are very personal, though, and many of her devoted readers will like it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2012.

Book Reviews: The Burning Soul by John Connolly, Trackers by Deon Meyer, What It Was by George Pelecanos, A Mortal Terror by James R. Benn, and A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd

The Burning Soul
John Connolly
Atria Books, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-6527-0
Hardcover

John Connolly’s Charlie Parker Thrillers usually combine an element of the supernatural with basic detective work.  In this, the tenth in the series, the eerie aspects are slight, while the hard work of solving a case winds its way through the pages with realism and power.  It is a twisted story that begins when an attorney asks Charlie to assist a client, and unfolds with a ferocity of dynamic proportions.

It appears that the client, Randall Haight, as a 14-year-old, and with a friend, murdered a young girl in an incident with sex-related overtones. Following long jail terms, both men were released with new identities to give them a chance at rehabilitation.  Randall is now an accountant leading a quiet life in a small town on the Maine coast. And then a 14-year-old girl goes missing and Randall starts receiving reminders in the mail of his past transgression from someone who apparently has discovered his true identity.  He asks the attorney and Charlie to protect his anonymity by finding the source.  And this leads Charlie into a labyrinth of complications.

It is a gripping story, one in which the author throws red herrings into the reader’s path before unveiling a completely unexpected conclusion. Tightly written and plotted, the novel is a most welcome addition to an outstanding series and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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

Trackers
Deon Meyer
Atlantic Monthly Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1993-3
Hardcover

Bringing back two characters from previous novels, the South African author has written a complicated story with three separate plots which are related both in circumstances and the people involved.  One theme involves what appears to be a Muslim plot, which a government intelligence service suspects at first to be a tradeoff between the smuggling of diamonds in exchange for weapons.  A second, an offshoot of the smuggling operation by a man seeking to recover a large sum of money he claims was stolen from him by gangsters (who incidentally are involved in the smuggling operation).

Then there is free-lance bodyguard Lemmer, who makes his second appearance in a Deon Meyer novel  [the first being The Blood Safari], who becomes involved indirectly in the smuggling operation when he accompanies a truck bearing two black rhinos into South Africa from a neighboring country which the gangsters believe is the method for bringing in the diamonds.  And finally Mat Joubert, the enigmatic South African detective, now retired, on his first day working for a private detective agency, who manages to bring all the threads together.

This stand-alone thriller aims high, and largely achieves its ambitions.  Adding to the spice is not only the author’s ability to portray the social, economic and political background of South Africa in depth, but a chilling look at how it is also a place where terrorists can run rampant.  And, icing on the cake, a first-rate mystery to keep the reader enthralled.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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

What it Was
George Pelecanos
Reagan Arthur Books/Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-316-20954-0
Paperback, 246 pp., $9.99

The year was 1972.  Derek Strange was out of the Metropolitan Police Dept. for four years and struggling to build up his PI agency.  Nixon was in the White House, but not for long.  Watergate was just up ahead.  The riots that tore the nation’s Capitol apart were some years ago, but unrest and attitude still ran strong.

Against this background George Pelecanos has written about Strange’s early career as a 26-year-old and his relationship with Detective Frank Vaughn.  It all starts when Strange is retained by a good-looking babe to find a missing ring of little “value” but “great” sentimentality.  This takes him on a journey, which enables the author to describe the crime conditions – – including a one-man murder wave – – and population and living conditions of D.C., along with almost a catalogue of the music of the era.

Written with the usual vernacular and tight prose as displayed in the previous novels in the series, the graphic details of the characters are mesmerizing.  Highly recommended.

[It should perhaps be noted that the novel is available in three different forms: the paperback, as well as a limited hardcover edition and an eBook version.]

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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

A Mortal Terror
James R. Benn
Soho Crime, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-994-0
Hardcover

The Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries follow the progress of that conflict in this, the sixth installment, albeit it with a different twist.  It brings Billy his first murder case, either as a Boston detective (in his previous civilian life) or as “uncle” Ike’s special investigator.  But the horrors of the war in Italy, and especially the Anzio beachhead invasion, provide the backdrop for the tale.

When two officers are found murdered with clues left behind, one a ten of hearts on the body of a lieutenant and a jack of hearts on that of a Captain, the signs of a possible serial killer bent on revenge against the brass emerge, causing concern back at Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters.  So Billy is recalled from a three-day pass during which he met with his girlfriend in Switzerland and sent to Naples to begin an investigation into the crimes.  Then he has to face the fact that his younger brother is arriving as a replacement in the very platoon in which he suspects the killer is a member.

The author, a librarian, writes with accuracy of the difficulties and what would today be called PTSD endured by the GIs, as well as the physical hardships and psychological manifestations of infantry warfare.  His plotting is taut, descriptions graphic.  All in all, the series just keeps on getting better and better.  And the Second Front hasn’t yet been opened.  The series has a long way to go, and that’s a good thing.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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

A Bitter Truth
Charles Todd
William Morrow, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-201570-9
Hardcover

This Bess Crawford mystery, set during World War I, finds her on a short leave from the front, intending to spend the Christmas holidays with her parents.  When she arrives at her apartment in London, she finds a young woman huddled on her doorstep, cold, hungry and distraught.  In sympathy, Bess takes her up to her room and learns that she has run away from her husband and home because he has abused her, and her disfigured face is proof.

From this improbable beginning, Bess becomes involved in a family’s secrets and along the way in a few murders, since she accompanies the young woman back to her home and family.  The novel rambles on, as the plot unfolds and the police fumble in an effort to solve one murder after another.  Bess returns to France, only to be recalled by the police for additional inquiries.

There are some excellent aspects to the novel, including insights into the lives of upper crust Britons of the period.  But it appeared to this reader that to bring the plot to a conclusion, the mother-son author duo reached out to contrive a solution that has little if any foundation. Nevertheless, the book is an enjoyable read and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

Book Reviews: The Sparrow’s Blade by Kenneth R. Lewis, Headhunters by Jo Nesbo, The Cut by George Pelecanos, The Infernals by John Connolly, and Feast Day of Fools by James Lee Burke

The Sparrow's BladeThe Sparrow’s Blade
Kenneth R. Lewis
Krill Press, February 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9821443-8-1
Trade Paperback

As in this author’s debut novel, Little Blue Whales, which was warmly received, this one also takes place in Cutter City, OR, and features Kevin Kearnes and Thud Compton.  It is now a few years after the harrowing experience described in the earlier book in which they were almost killed, and their roles have changed:  Kearnes, the former Chief of Police, is now with the Dept. of Homeland Security in Portland, and Compton has replaced him as Police Chief.

The book opens with Kevin traveling to Cutter City with his fiancée Britt McGraw and his sons by a former marriage, to be married as well as to visit with the Comptons.  Little did any of them know that a sword on display at the local library, a relic of World War II when a Japanese pilot dropped two bombs in the vicinity and then crashed, would result in the turmoil that it did when it is stolen.

The excellent portrayal of the characters, coupled with the tension of the plot, maintain reader interest on the same high level of the predecessor book.  The level of writing remains at the high level of Little Blue Whales which presumably will continue in the forthcoming The Helical Vane.  Needless to say, Sparrow (the name for the sword, btw) is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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

HeadhuntersHeadhunters
Jo Nesbo
Vintage Books, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-94868-7
Trade Paperback

Turning his attention away from his highly regarded Harry Hole series, the author has written a compelling standalone.  While the background of Roger Brown, as a top headhunter of corporate officials in Oslo, provides some interesting and useful information on how to judge and place candidates, it is the main crime plot and character descriptions that are undeniably gripping.

Roger seems to have it all, except sufficient income to pay for the art gallery he has helped his wife, Diana, establish and operate. Thus, to supplement his need for cash to deal with the operating deficit, he steals art from candidates he interviews for jobs.  Until, that is, he encounters Clas Greve, whom he meets one evening at his wife’s gallery.  And the plot thickens.

Jo Nesbo, in this novel, has proved he is an author capable of writing almost anything.  It is superbly formulated, with humor and irony. The plot has more twists and turns in its concluding pages than a mountain road.  It needs no further recommendation other than to go get a copy and revel in a job well done.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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

The CutThe Cut
George Pelecanos
A Reagan Arthur Book/Little, Brown and Company, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-07842-9
Hardcover

In the first novel of a new series, we are introduced to Spero Lucas, a just-returned Iraq war veteran, working as an investigator for a Washington, D.C. defense attorney with a sideline of recovering “lost” property for a 40 per cent cut of its value.  In the caper he undertakes in this initial foray, he seems to bite off more than he can chew.

The attorney is defending a top marijuana peddler, and the client asks for Spero to visit him in jail.  He tells Spero that his deliveries are being stolen and he is out of money, and would appreciate recovery of either the merchandise or the cash.  The assignment takes Spero off into all kinds of action, some of which is kind of far-fetched.

Mr. Pelecanos is well-known for his characterizations and his use of the nation’s Capital as background, and this book is no exception. Somehow, however, using Spero as an example of a footloose vet just returned from the desert just didn’t quite ring true.  Some of his friends who served with him there do exhibit the plight of wounded, disabled marines, or just plain still unemployed, somewhat more realistically.  That said, the novel is written with the author’s accustomed flair, and the plot moves at a rapid pace.  Certainly, the action is vivid, and the reader keeps turning pages.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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

The InfernalsThe Infernals
John Connolly
Atria Books, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4308-4
Hardcover

This novel, the sequel to The Gates, picks up 18 months after the events described in that book, after young Samuel Johnson [just turned 13], assisted by his faithful dog, Boswell, repelled an invasion of earth by the forces of evil.  The two books are quite a departure for the author, whose Charlie Parker mysteries are highly regarded and widely read.  These are categorized as YA books, laced with pseudo-scientific and amusing footnotes.  [It should perhaps be noted that the tenth Charlie Parker novel, The Burning Soul, has also been released.]

This time around Samuel, accompanied by four dwarfs and the truck in which they were riding, an ice cream truck and its vendor-driver, and two policemen and their patrol car, are instead transported by the ogre Ba’al in the form of Mrs. Abernathy to the netherworld to present the boy to her master, the Great Malevolence, as a gift in an effort to regain his favor.  And so we follow their adventures as they experience the strange land and seek a way to get back home.

Written at times with tongue firmly in cheek, the little nuggets of information on a wide variety of subjects are both informative and often just plain funny.  A very enjoyable read that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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

Feast Day of FoolsFeast Day of Fools
James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4311-4
Hardcover

Against the bleak terrain of southern Texas, a morality play featuring Sheriff Hackberry Holland is played out.  It begins with a man who escapes his captors, who had planned to turn him over to Al Qaeda, for a price, for his knowledge of drone technology.  Not only is he sought by his former captors, but the FBI, among others, as well.  Hack, and his deputy, Pam Tibbs, become involved in the interplay.

This is a complicated novel, one in which the author delves into a wide variety of moral and ethical values, adding Hack’s past experiences as a POW during the Korean Conflict, to raise additional questions of right and wrong.  And bringing in The Preacher as a counterpoint further adds to the complexity of not only the plot, but also Hack’s integrity.

James Lee Burke’s prose is as stark as his descriptions of the Texas and Mexican landscapes, and the characters he introduces are deftly portrayed, both good and evil.  He has presented an intricate plot in this, his 30th novel, and the fifth featuring the Texas sheriff.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

Book Reviews: The Killing Song by P.J. Parrish, Buried By the Roan by Mark Stevens, Iron House by John Hart, The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill, and Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues by Michael Brandman

The Killing Song
P.J. Parrish
Gallery Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-5135-5
Trade Paperback

A diversion from the long-standing Louis Kincaid series for which this sister-writing-team is well known, this standalone features a hard-drinking investigative reporter headquartered in Miami, Matt Owen, who is confronted with his younger sister’s sudden disappearance and subsequent murder.  When he suddenly discovers her Ipod with a Stone’s song on it, he realizes he may have found something of a clue, and flies to Paris.

In the City of Light, aided by an old newspaper friend and a female French Inspector, he begins to track the murderer, first in Paris and then London and Scotland and back to Paris again, developing, step by step, a picture of the culprit and his past crimes, leading to an interesting chase.

It is quite a story, with well-developed characters, especially that of the villain, and an intensive investigation to find him.  Whether or not the reader can accept Matt as an alcoholic ne’er-do-well or a talented, tenacious reporter attempting to redeem himself, is a question that can only be answered by the reader.  But, then, we’ll always have Paris.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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

Buried By the Roan
Mark Stevens
People’s Press, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9817810-9-9
Trade Paperback

The second Allison Coil Mystery begins with a hunting party Allison and her guides are heading in Colorado.  Among the participants is the owner of a ranch who supposedly is in the forefront in the community of “striking it rich” by collecting gas royalties as the controversy swirls about ruining the environment by fracturing underground sources of hydrocarbons.  Unfortunately he dies up on the mountain, apparently in an accident.  But was it?

From that point, the convoluted plot progresses and the reader has to work doubly hard to reach the end.  The writing is uneven, with spurts of excellent descriptive material, especially with regard to elk-hunting and the environment in which the activity takes place. But it is confusion that greets the reader on the topic, pro or con, concerning environmentalism.

The mystery surrounding this novel is why the first 100 pages were not cut before publication.  It is only when the reader plows through one-third of the book that a plot of a sort begins to emerge.  And then, it is just frequently confusing.  Apparently, the theme is supposed to be pro-environmental in nature, a controversy similar to the protests against the proposed pipeline from Canada south.  Or the natural gas fracturing taking place throughout the country.  But it is hard to tell.  That said, fans of western mysteries should be pleased.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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

Iron House
John Hart
St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-38034-2
Hardcover

Iron House was originally built in the Western North Carolina mountains as a psychiatric facility for Civil War veterans, later to be converted into an orphan asylum, one that was poorly supervised and maintained.  Into the home came Michael and Julian as babies.  Through the next decade Michael, the stronger brother, sought to protect his younger sibling who was continually victimized by five bullies.  Then Julian reached the breaking point, stabbing the leader of his tormenters.  Knowing his brother couldn’t hack it, Michael removed the knife from the dead boy’s neck and ran away, “accepting” blame for the murder.

Ironically on that same day, a young woman, wife of a very rich and powerful U.S. Senator, arrived at Iron House specifically to adopt Michael and Julian.  And so it came to be that the weaker brother grew up in luxury, developing into a gifted author of children’s books, while the stronger one arrived in New York, drifting to Harlem as the leader of a gang of boys, soon to be “adopted” by a notorious mob leader and developed into an enforcer and killer.  Then Michael falls in love and wants out of the mob life so he can lead a “normal” life.

That is the background from which the book develops.  The remainder is the chase of Michael and his woman by the mobsters who fear he would betray them, and his attempts to protect his brother and his lover from them.  At the same time, other complications develop to keep the reader’s interest at a peak.  While on the whole this is a gripping tale, one could view it as a potboiler, full of cliché-ish overtones. Nevertheless, it is a very well-plotted, interesting read and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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

The Woodcutter
Reginald Hill
Harper, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-206074-7
Hardcover

The son of a woodcutter on an estate where a young girl has attracted his attention, Wilfred (“Wolf”) Hadda sets his sights on marrying her. She challenges him to refine himself and become rich.  He goes away for seven years and performs many mysterious functions, eventually returning with the necessary social graces and a small fortune.  So they get married, and Wolf leads a charmed life in the City, amassing more money and a title.  Then the fairy tale ends.

A police raid one early morning results in the discovery that Wolf’s computer contains porn.  He’s arrested and charged, and it goes downhill from there.  Of course, the current financial crisis forces the collapse of his empire, and the loss of his fortune.  Financial fraud is added to the original charges.  He spends the next seven years in prison, gaining parole only when he acknowledges his crime to a psychiatrist, convincing her of his repentance.

Then comes the twist.

The intricate plot is a study of double-crosses and the uncovering of the plot which sent him to jail, evolving into a quiet study of revenge and retribution.  The characters are well-drawn, and the writing tight.  A well-told tale, and one that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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

Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues
Michael Brandman
Putnam, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-3991-5784-4
Hardcover

It is quite a challenge to be asked to pick up where a master like Robert B. Parker left off.  But that is exactly the dare the author faced when the publisher asked him to continue writing the popular Jesse Stone series.  Mr. Brandman was no stranger to Parker:  they were friends for many years and collaborated on several Spenser and Stone movies on television.   Still it was a formidable task.

So let us begin by noting that we will not compare this work with any of Parker’s oeuvre, simply because it would not be fair to either. Instead, let us judge the work on its own merits.  To begin with, it is constructed like a Jesse Stone novel, with many of the elements that have made them so popular, with good plotting and short dialogue and witty Stone comments.

It involves three separate story lines, both of which affect Jesse as a Chief of Police and as an individual.  They take place just as the summer tourist season is about to begin in Paradise, MA.  One involves carjackings, another something out of Jesse’s past, and the last a serious situation involving a young girl holding a school principal at gunpoint.  Each requires Jesse to solve it in his own inimitable fashion.

With that, the conclusion is that an assessment lets us accept the book, as it is presented, favorably.  It is possibly unfortunate that the publisher chose the title to ride the coattails of the late, esteemed Grand Master, somewhat like the producers of the current “Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” renamed an opera that has stood the test of time for eight or more decades.  A book should stand on its own, and this one does.

Enough with comparisons already:  Just read it and you’ll recommend it, as I do.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

Book Reviews: The Killing Song by P.J. Parrish, Buried By the Roan by Mark Stevens, Iron House by John Hart, The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill, and Robert B. Parker's Killing the Blues by Michael Brandman

The Killing Song
P.J. Parrish
Gallery Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-5135-5
Trade Paperback

A diversion from the long-standing Louis Kincaid series for which this sister-writing-team is well known, this standalone features a hard-drinking investigative reporter headquartered in Miami, Matt Owen, who is confronted with his younger sister’s sudden disappearance and subsequent murder.  When he suddenly discovers her Ipod with a Stone’s song on it, he realizes he may have found something of a clue, and flies to Paris.

In the City of Light, aided by an old newspaper friend and a female French Inspector, he begins to track the murderer, first in Paris and then London and Scotland and back to Paris again, developing, step by step, a picture of the culprit and his past crimes, leading to an interesting chase.

It is quite a story, with well-developed characters, especially that of the villain, and an intensive investigation to find him.  Whether or not the reader can accept Matt as an alcoholic ne’er-do-well or a talented, tenacious reporter attempting to redeem himself, is a question that can only be answered by the reader.  But, then, we’ll always have Paris.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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

Buried By the Roan
Mark Stevens
People’s Press, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9817810-9-9
Trade Paperback

The second Allison Coil Mystery begins with a hunting party Allison and her guides are heading in Colorado.  Among the participants is the owner of a ranch who supposedly is in the forefront in the community of “striking it rich” by collecting gas royalties as the controversy swirls about ruining the environment by fracturing underground sources of hydrocarbons.  Unfortunately he dies up on the mountain, apparently in an accident.  But was it?

From that point, the convoluted plot progresses and the reader has to work doubly hard to reach the end.  The writing is uneven, with spurts of excellent descriptive material, especially with regard to elk-hunting and the environment in which the activity takes place. But it is confusion that greets the reader on the topic, pro or con, concerning environmentalism.

The mystery surrounding this novel is why the first 100 pages were not cut before publication.  It is only when the reader plows through one-third of the book that a plot of a sort begins to emerge.  And then, it is just frequently confusing.  Apparently, the theme is supposed to be pro-environmental in nature, a controversy similar to the protests against the proposed pipeline from Canada south.  Or the natural gas fracturing taking place throughout the country.  But it is hard to tell.  That said, fans of western mysteries should be pleased.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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

Iron House
John Hart
St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-38034-2
Hardcover

Iron House was originally built in the Western North Carolina mountains as a psychiatric facility for Civil War veterans, later to be converted into an orphan asylum, one that was poorly supervised and maintained.  Into the home came Michael and Julian as babies.  Through the next decade Michael, the stronger brother, sought to protect his younger sibling who was continually victimized by five bullies.  Then Julian reached the breaking point, stabbing the leader of his tormenters.  Knowing his brother couldn’t hack it, Michael removed the knife from the dead boy’s neck and ran away, “accepting” blame for the murder.

Ironically on that same day, a young woman, wife of a very rich and powerful U.S. Senator, arrived at Iron House specifically to adopt Michael and Julian.  And so it came to be that the weaker brother grew up in luxury, developing into a gifted author of children’s books, while the stronger one arrived in New York, drifting to Harlem as the leader of a gang of boys, soon to be “adopted” by a notorious mob leader and developed into an enforcer and killer.  Then Michael falls in love and wants out of the mob life so he can lead a “normal” life.

That is the background from which the book develops.  The remainder is the chase of Michael and his woman by the mobsters who fear he would betray them, and his attempts to protect his brother and his lover from them.  At the same time, other complications develop to keep the reader’s interest at a peak.  While on the whole this is a gripping tale, one could view it as a potboiler, full of cliché-ish overtones. Nevertheless, it is a very well-plotted, interesting read and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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

The Woodcutter
Reginald Hill
Harper, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-206074-7
Hardcover

The son of a woodcutter on an estate where a young girl has attracted his attention, Wilfred (“Wolf”) Hadda sets his sights on marrying her. She challenges him to refine himself and become rich.  He goes away for seven years and performs many mysterious functions, eventually returning with the necessary social graces and a small fortune.  So they get married, and Wolf leads a charmed life in the City, amassing more money and a title.  Then the fairy tale ends.

A police raid one early morning results in the discovery that Wolf’s computer contains porn.  He’s arrested and charged, and it goes downhill from there.  Of course, the current financial crisis forces the collapse of his empire, and the loss of his fortune.  Financial fraud is added to the original charges.  He spends the next seven years in prison, gaining parole only when he acknowledges his crime to a psychiatrist, convincing her of his repentance.

Then comes the twist.

The intricate plot is a study of double-crosses and the uncovering of the plot which sent him to jail, evolving into a quiet study of revenge and retribution.  The characters are well-drawn, and the writing tight.  A well-told tale, and one that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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

Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues
Michael Brandman
Putnam, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-3991-5784-4
Hardcover

It is quite a challenge to be asked to pick up where a master like Robert B. Parker left off.  But that is exactly the dare the author faced when the publisher asked him to continue writing the popular Jesse Stone series.  Mr. Brandman was no stranger to Parker:  they were friends for many years and collaborated on several Spenser and Stone movies on television.   Still it was a formidable task.

So let us begin by noting that we will not compare this work with any of Parker’s oeuvre, simply because it would not be fair to either. Instead, let us judge the work on its own merits.  To begin with, it is constructed like a Jesse Stone novel, with many of the elements that have made them so popular, with good plotting and short dialogue and witty Stone comments.

It involves three separate story lines, both of which affect Jesse as a Chief of Police and as an individual.  They take place just as the summer tourist season is about to begin in Paradise, MA.  One involves carjackings, another something out of Jesse’s past, and the last a serious situation involving a young girl holding a school principal at gunpoint.  Each requires Jesse to solve it in his own inimitable fashion.

With that, the conclusion is that an assessment lets us accept the book, as it is presented, favorably.  It is possibly unfortunate that the publisher chose the title to ride the coattails of the late, esteemed Grand Master, somewhat like the producers of the current “Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” renamed an opera that has stood the test of time for eight or more decades.  A book should stand on its own, and this one does.

Enough with comparisons already:  Just read it and you’ll recommend it, as I do.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.