Book Review: The Quiet Child by John Burley and The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

The Quiet Child
John Burley
William Morrow Paperbacks, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-0624-3185-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  It’s the summer of 1954, and the residents of Cottonwood, California, are dying.  At the center of it all is six-year-old Danny McCray, a strange and silent child the townspeople regard with superstition, who appears to bring illness and ruin to those around him.  Even his own mother is plagued by a disease that is slowly consuming her.  Sheriff Jim Kent, increasingly aware of the whispers and rumors surrounding the boy, has watched the people of his town suffer, and he worries someone might take drastic action to protect their loved ones.  Then a stranger arrives, and Danny and his ten-year-old brother, Sean, go missing.  In the search that follows, everyone is a suspect, and the consequences of finding the two brothers may be worse than not finding them at all.

This is a tale of what appears to be a kidnapping gone horribly wrong.  But put aside any preconceptions you may have with regard to kidnappings – this is not like any conjecture you can imagine.

This is a difficult time for the residents of Cottonwood, where “it seemed everyone had something wrong.”  The protagonists are Michael McCray, a science teacher at Anderson Union High School, and his wife of 12 years, Kate.  Days go by, and no headway is made in finding their two kidnapped sons, despite the best efforts of Michael and Jim Kent, 65 and “the town’s only plumber and part-time sheriff,” who thinks “there was something out here, some trace of them.  There had to be.  People do not just disappear.  There was a concerted law enforcement effort under way.  They would find them – – soon, he thought.  He only hoped it would be soon enough.”  The boys are 6 and 10 years old, of whom Michael thinks “one a constant source of chatter and energy and the other an enigma, silent and indecipherable,” the eponymous brother.

The reader is introduced to Richard Banes, who is at the crux of most of what takes place in this novel, and who “had harbored the suspicion that he might be going insane. True, it was not a condition that had plagued him in the past.  But the recent events had been wild and unpredictable – – and beyond his ability to control.  If he had heard the story from someone else and not experienced it for himself, he would have scoffed at it and questioned their mental stability.    But here he was: incapacitated by a small child . . . ”

This is a psychological thriller of the highest order, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2017.

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The Last Mrs. Parrish
Liv Constantine
Harper, October 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-266757-1
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Amber Patterson is fed up.  She’s tired of being a nobody:  a plain, invisible woman who blends into the background.  She deserves more – – a life of money and power, like the one blond-haired, blue-eyed goddess Daphne Parrish takes for granted.  To everyone in the exclusive town of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut, Daphne – – a socialite and philanthropist – – and her real-estate mogul husband, Jackson, a man of apparently limitless wealth, are a couple straight out of a fairy tale.  Amber’s envy could eat her alive . . . if she didn’t have a plan.  Amber uses Daphne’s compassion to insinuate herself into the family’s life – – the first step in a meticulous scheme to undermine her.  Before long, Amber is Daphne’s closest confidante, traveling to Europe with the Parrishes and their lovely young daughters, and growing closer to Jackson.  But a skeleton from her past may destroy everything that Amber has worked toward, and if it is discovered, her well-laid plan may fall to pieces.

Part I of the novel is told from Amber’s perspective, Part II, roughly half-way through the book, from Daphne’s.  The two women meet at a gym they both attend, and are drawn together by a shared interest:  It appears that Daphne, through an organization called the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, puts out a magazine dealing with that disease.  Daphne tells Amber, when questioned, that she had lost her younger sister to that disease, 20 years earlier at the age of 16.  When Daphne asks, Amber reveals that her own younger sister had died of the disease at the age of 14.  That is the beginning of a friendship that becomes much more than just that, with Amber becoming almost of the Parrish family

The reader discovers late in the novel that Amber’s name isn’t even Amber – it was Laura Crump.  She had made everything up, including the ostensible existence of a sick sister, an abusive father, when in actuality she was a criminal, a fugitive.   But we are told very early on that the only sisters she does [or ever did] have are all alive and well.  She apparently makes monthly pilgrimages to the main library in Manhattan and to museums, the better to display her apparent knowledge and acumen to others, most importantly to Jackson Parrish.  She inveigles her way into the family dynamic and, in doing so, into the “world of the rich and mighty, mingling and toasting each other, smug and confident in their little one percent corner of the world,” and ultimately landing a job as Jackson’s new office assistant.  I have to admit I found myself at one point I could not help but admire Amber’s success in achieving her aim of worming herself into the Parrish world in many aspects, although that didn’t last too long.  The Parrish marriage of 12 years soon is threatened.   I also have to admit that once the 2nd half of the book is under way–from Daphne’s p.o.v.–that admiration quickly ended.

This novel received starred reviews from each of the most highly respected review sites in the industry, each comparing it favorably with “Gone Girl,” one of the mostly highly lauded novels of its kind in the last couple of years [and one I must admit I have never read, unlike, I suspect, most of the readers of this review, I humbly realize].  That said, “Mrs. Parrish” kept me turning the pages as quickly as I could until the very end.

Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine., a remarkable job, considering they live several states apart!  They have created a book that captivates the reader, and one I highly recommend.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2017.

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Book Reviews: The Irregular by H.B. Lyle and Earthly Remains by Donna Leon

The Irregular
A Different Class of Spy #1
H.B. Lyle
Quercus, November 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6814-4026-2
Hardcover

It’s not easy for an author to come up with an original idea for a novel, much less a plot involving Sherlock Holmes.  But that is just what H.B. Lyle has done, albeit the great detective here only playing a minor cameo role, offstage, as it was.  Instead, he has grasped an historical development, the forerunners of Britain’s MI5 and MI6 in 1909 and using the “best” of the Baker Street Irregulars,Wiggins, as a protagonist.  Not only Holmes, but no less a personage than Winston Churchill plays a minor role in the plot.

The story revolves around Vernon Kell, who apparently headed up the original efforts to establish a counter-intelligence operation in Great Britain, hindered by his inability to find good agents until his friend, Holmes, suggested Higgins.  A substantial portion of the novel recounts Higgins’ exploits and a good deal of background on how the Baker Street Irregulars came to be.  And, of course, we learn a great deal about the conspiracies pre-dating World War I and espionage efforts by Germany and others not only to obtain secrets but also to sow discontent and confusion in London.

The novel is exciting, interesting and fast-moving.  It is an historical mystery, the beginning of what is promised to be a new series, and a welcome one. The author captures the atmosphere of 1909 London with sharp observations and dialogue.  We look forward to its sequel with great anticipation.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2017.

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Earthly Remains
A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery #26
Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2017
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2647-4
Hardcover

Commissario Guido Brunetti, in the midst of interrogating a suspect, suddenly collapses (intentionally, to prevent a colleague from committing a foolish act) by faking a heart attack. He is taken to the hospital, where no evidence of an attack is found, but just high blood pressure.  While waiting for the results of tests, he concludes that he no longer enjoys his job, and after discussing it with his wife, and on the advice of the attending doctor, decides to go away from it all alone.

His wife sets him up with a villa owned by a relative on an island in the lagoon, where he intends to rest, row and read.  He rows with the caretaker, Davide Casati, whom he befriends.  Incidentally, Casati and Brunetti’s father won regatta years before.  All goes well until Casati is found drowned following a violent storm.

Brunetti then undertakes to investigate the circumstances of Casati’s death to determine whether it was an accident or suicide, despite his self-imposed sabbatical.  Along the way, the Commissario learns a lot about his friend, nature, and our failure to protect the environment, as well as the result of one’s actions during our lives.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2017.

Book Reviews: Ruff-Housed by Susan J. Kroupa and KIDNAP.org by Peg Herring

Ruff-Housed
A Doodlebugged Mystery #5
Susan J. Kroupa
Laurel Fork Press, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-9985700-0-6
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Sit. Stay. Be Polite with Strangers. What could be easier? That’s what Doodle thinks when Molly signs him up to take the Canine Good Citizen Test at the annual DogDays Fair. Compared to the certifications he has to pass for his job as a bed-bug sniffer dog for the “boss,” Molly’s father, this should be simple. But the test turns out to be no walk (or sit) in the park. Did he miss the memo about the explosions? And the stolen pets? While Molly and her friends investigate, another dog disappears, with repercussions that threaten the bonds of an entire family. Throw in a bullying neighbor and a chase across a squirrel-infested park near the White House, and Doodle begins to wonder if he and Molly have bitten off more than they can chew.

This mystery series is a bit of a hybrid. Aimed at children with its young sleuth, it can also appeal to adult readers who enjoy a decent puzzle, a curious and intelligent tween and a delightful dog. That dog, Doodle, actually narrates the story so it’s all from a doggy point of view, an approach that will remind fans of the Chet and Bernie series by Spencer Quinn although this is more mildmannered, not as rambunctious.

Doodle works with Molly’s dad as a bedbug sniffer but, this time, Molly has entered him in a Good Citizen trial which should be a piece of cake for this smart dog. Besides his bedbug sniffing prowess, advancing through the Canine Good Citizen system could certify him as a therapy dog for rest homes which would be a really nice thing to do. Unfortunately, there’s an explosion of sorts at the test and that naturally gets everyone all riled up. Before it’s all said and done, Molly and Doodle, along with her friend, Grady, and his dog, Snippet, will get involved in all sorts of adventures including dognapping, lonely children, fanatic animal activists—you name it—and it’s all told by the funny and loveable Doodle. Anyone looking for an entertaining, fluffy (no pun intended) read will like Ruff-Housed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2017.

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KIDNAP.org
Peg Herring
Peg Herring, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-944502-07-2
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Robin Parsons is in the middle of a very bad day when a neighbor calls to ask for her help. The socially inept Carter “accidentally” kidnapped a county official, and he doesn’t know what to do with the guy who is, Carter admits, “pretty mad” about it.

The man is a crook who cheated Carter’s dying mother, and when she hears the story, Robin is furious. What can she do to right the wrong and at the same time keep Carter out of prison? A plan comes to mind—a way to make the man admit he’s sleazy and agree to make amends. It’s weird, but it’s also satisfying.

So begins a secret quest for justice, paybacks for little guys who’ve been cheated, lied to, pushed around, and otherwise bamboozled by those with power and arrogance—those who say to their victims, “Life isn’t fair. Deal with it.”

Robin deals—in a (sort of) non-violent, proactive process they call KIDNAP.org.

Along the way she picks up a following, but it’s definitely not a gang of superheroes. Odd to the point of weirdness, the KIDNAP.org crew bonds as they take on the bullies of the world and work to right the wrongs done to them and others.

Though Robin’s “gang” is always just a step ahead of disaster, she can’t quit. And if she’s only a half-step ahead of the private investigator determined to track her down, a half-step will have to do.

Most of us have experienced those times when we’re at the mercy of others whether they be bureaucrats, petty bosses, officious academics, you name it. What those people inflict upon our sensibilities is 100% exacerbated by the annoyance and frustration of not being able to fight back so wouldn’t it be great if you could fight back or, better yet, get someone else to do it for you?

This is where Robin Parsons steps in, mainly because she wants to help a friend (keep him out of jail) and also get a little revenge for him; KIDNAP.org is born and, before too long, Robin picks up a few helpers, a “crew” if you will and there’s no shortage of cases for them to take on. It’s just a little tough to stay out of trouble but, my goodness, the results of their activities can be most satisfying.

We’re a group of citizens that has had it with crooks like you.

Too bad Robin and her cohorts are themselves committing crimes (not very proficiently) and, by the way, there’s a P.I. hot on Robin’s trail.

Peg Herring has a plethora of books and I have yet to find one I didn’t like, especially because, in some of them, she has an irreverent sense of humor but she can take a deeper look at the vicissitudes of life and has a sure hand at crafting a mystery. Now, technically, KIDNAP.org is a caper (think “Oceans 11”) rather than a mystery but it’s crime fiction nevertheless and I love the premise, sort of like the TV show “Leverage”. Yes, I admit it, I’ve had my moments when I might have hired KIDNAP.org myself 😉 Since I’ll probably never do such a thing, I’ll have to content myself with waiting for Ms. Herring‘s next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2017.

Book Review: War, Spies, and Bobby Sox by Libby Fischer Hellmann

 

War, Spies, and Bobby Sox
Stories About World War II At Home
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, February 2017
ISBN 978-1938733970
Trade Paperback

From the author—

As World War II rages across Europe and the Pacific, its impact ripples through communities in the heartland of America. A farm girl is locked in a dangerous love triangle with two Germans soldiers held in an Illinois POW camp … Another German, a war refugee, is forced to risk her life spying on the developing Manhattan Project in Chicago … And espionage surrounds the disappearance of an actress from the thriving Jewish community of Chicago’s Lawndale. In this trio of tales, acclaimed thriller author Libby Fischer Hellmann beautifully depicts the tumultuous effect of war on the home front and illustrates how the action, terror, and tragedy of World War II was not confined to the front lines.

Libby Fischer Hellmann is one of the few authors who can surprise me nearly every time I pick up one of her books. Here, the surprise comes in her clear understanding of the World War II homefront, almost as though she had lived it herself.

Three tales provide a glimpse of how people, especially women, coped with the hardships, opportunities and moral pitfalls here at home while the main attention was on events overseas. Lena, a young Jewish girl, is sent to America before our involvement and makes her way in the world supported by her aunt Ursula and uncle Reinhard eventually getting a secretarial position in a university physics department. That, in itself, seems innocuous but this is the time when scientists are in the early stages of developing nuclear fission and Lena finds herself in a world of trouble.

Mary-Catherine lives in rural Illinois and helps her mother and siblings keep the farm running. When ten German POW soldiers are assigned to work the harvest, Mary-Catherine can’t help being interested by one in particular, a man who gives her the tiniest of smiles. To her, Reinhard is intriguing; to Reinhard, she is an “Irish mongrel” and, in that moment of meeting, a scheme is born that will change Mary-Catherine’s life while another POW will find a new direction.

Life as a Jewish gangster calls to teenaged Jacob Forman but he doesn’t bargain for what happens to a beautiful actress he admires from afar as she starts walking out with the charming gangster, Skull. When Skull invites Jake and his friend, Barney, to work for him as runners, they think they’ve hit the jackpot but can’t help noticing the sad distance that has grown between Skull and Miriam. Not long after, murder and a local Nazi open Jake’s eyes to a world much grimmer than he ever thought.

Once again, Ms. Hellmann has knocked it out of the park and, if you haven’t tried her mysteries and other work yet, this is a good place to start 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2017.

Book Review: How Will I Know You? by Jessica Treadway

How Will I Know You?
Jessica Treadway
Grand Central Publishing, August 2017
ISBN: 978-1-4555-5409-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  On a December day in upstate New York, the body of high school senior Joy Enright is found in the woods at the edge of a frozen pond.  An autopsy reveals that her death was not simply a tragic accident – – the teenager’s body shows unmistakable signs of murder.  The discovery upends an otherwise quiet small town.  As the investigation unfolds, four characters tell the story from widely divergent perspectives: Susanne, Joy’s mother, tries to reconcile past betrayals with their painful consequences; Martin, a black artist, faces ostracism when blame is cast on him; Tom, a rescue diver, doubts both the police and his own perceptions; and the hopelessly awkward Harper, Joy’s best friend, tries to figure out why Joy disappeared from Harper’s life months before she actually went missing.  As a web of deceit comes to light in a tiny community where there are few secrets, How Will I Know You? explores how easily boundaries can be breached and how seemingly small choices can escalate – – with fatal consequences.

In fascinating manner, the book’s sections are separated into “Before;” “After;” quite near the end of the novel “During;” and, about a dozen pages before the final page, “After – – The Last,” June 9, 2014.  “Before” (initially May 14, 2009, then jumping to September 7th, then to October 22nd and then the 31st) and “After,” initially December 7th, quite obviously, refer to the time periods before and after Joy’s murder, on the 1st Sunday of December; “During” describing, in manner to keep the reader glued to the pages, the murder itself.  The reader doesn’t discover the significance of the book’s title until nearly one-third of the way through the book:  It was apparently Suzanne’s question of her husband, Gil, before their first date.

Early on, in the pages after December 7th, and then again in the earlier time frames of May 14, 2009 and, later, October 22nd and 31st and later still, in the “After” pages, the tale is related for long stretches in first person by Martin Willett, the black man initially arrested in the case   (At one point during these pages, in mid-November, he muses “. . . now that I’ve come to the end of it, I’m no closer to understanding what might have happened than I was when I began.”  Abut mid-way into the novel, p.o.v. is that of Tom, son-in-law of the [interim] police chief, Doug, thought of by many as “Tom Carbone, the dumb jock, married to [Alison,] a teacher,” and the kindest way in which Doug thought of him.  And towards the very end, in the “During” section, p.o.v. is that of Joy, most interestingly.

The characters presented in these pages are each very well-drawn, regardless of their generation or race.  I found Martin most fascinating, as well as his art:  I had never before even been aware of “hyperreal art” or the work of “high realists.”  The pages seemed to fly by, until one has reached the end and realize how perfectly the author has brought the suspenseful tale to its conclusion.  The novel is, obviously, recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2017.

Book Review: An Imperfect Past by Eve Seymour

An Imperfect Past
A Kim Slade Novel #2
Eve Seymour
Midnight Ink, March 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7387-4867-2
Trade Paperback

Kim Slate is a psychologist/psycho-therapist in Cheltenham. She has apparently had some serious troubles in the past, losing her lover to violent death and being under suspicion. The incident has left Kim with a general suspicion of authority and law enforcement specifically. This complicates an already fraught situation.

One of her former patients, a young woman named Mimi, beset by an invidious eating disorder and a mother who also needs some family therapy, returns at fourteen to Ellerslie Lodge, the clinic serving anorexia-afflicted young women. Mimi, dying, tasks Kim with finding her long-lost brother. Mimi’s mother, a hard-driving successful business woman, entangled with a lover twenty years her junior, is in deep denial about her son. When the lover is discovered dead of a knife wound and expertly eviscerated, police naturally question Kim and look closely at a champion chef with whom Kim Slate has had a casual relationship.

There are even more complications as Kim sets out to avoid the police inquiry and attempt to track down Mimi’s long-lost brother. The novel is driven by people with night terrors brought flailing into the harsh light of day. Kim struggles to retain her sanity, manage clients in the clinic and complete her efforts to locate Mimi’s brother.

Several surprising events occur along the way to keep readers glued to the pages of this dark and well-written novel. In some ways, it is depressing to realize there are a great number of similarly afflicted individuals roaming about our landscape and interfering with our attempts to manage our own daily lives. This thoughtful, complicated story does not foster joy and laughter but it does explore a number of troubling aspects of our complicated lives.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2017.
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 Highwayman by Craig Johnson and Fallout by Sara Paretsky

The Highwayman
A Longmire Story
Craig Johnson
Penguin  Books, May 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7352-2090-4
Trade Paperback

The author prefaces this Longmire novel by stating he always wanted to write a ghost story.  And now he has, thrusting Walt Longmire and his friend, Henry Standing Bear, into the middle of an enigma.  At the request of the head of the Highway Patrol, Walt and the Bear seek to determine what is happening to Rosie Wayman, who patrols a stretch of highway in the Wind River Canyon, an area where radio communication is almost nonexistent.

On the other hand, Rosie begins receiving calls from Bobby Womack saying “officer needs assistance.”  The problem is that Womack, a respected highwayman who patrolled the same route, died 35 years previously.  Walt and the Bear have to determine whether Rosie really is hearing the signal, or is in need of psychiatric evaluation.  What follows during the investigation is a series of events which might be ethereal, or explained by logic in the real world.  It is up to the two men (along with the reader) to determine which.

It is a clever plot and, while it is a deviation from the 11 prior entries in the series, The Highwayman is a welcome addition to the earlier books, and it is recommended.

The 13th novel in the series, The Western Star, will be published by Penguin on September 5th!

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2017.

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Fallout
A V.I. Warshawski Novel
Sara Paretsky
William Morrow, April 2017
ISBN: 978-0-0662-584-2
Hardcover

It all begins in Chicago, and ends up in Kansas, but VI Warhawski needs more than ruby read slippers to return home.  Apparently, a black retired movie star decided on a moment’s notice to leave the Windy City, ostensibly to visit the town where she grew up, dragging a young man man along to film her reminiscences with stops along the way to Lawrence, KS.  When the two seem to disappear, VI is retained by the woman’s concerned neighbors to find them.  The young man also is a person of interest in a drug theft at his place of employment, and Vicky becomes more wary when she discovers his apartment ransacked.

So off goes VI on the long drive to Kansas, tracing the woman’s journey and attempting to pick up a trace of the pair.  She visits Fort Riley, where she learns they stopped, but little else.  So Vicky continues on to Lawrence, where she encounters all kinds of obstructions, and becomes involved in all kinds of side issues, other than her original purpose to locate the actress and her photographer.

The reader has to plow through a rather dry start to the novel, about one-third the length of the book, before the plot begins to develop.  Then it turns into a complicated story that probably could have served as the basis for one or more novels.    All in all, Fallout is an interesting work and can be recommended despite these reservations because the author and the series are so deservedly popular.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2017.