Book Review: How It Happened by Michael Koryta

How It Happened
Michael Koryta
Little, Brown and Company, May 2018
ISBN: 978-0-316-29393-8
Hardcover

Inspired by an actual event in the author’s hometown, this novel recounts the ups and downs in the life of Rob Barrett, an FBI specialist in interrogations, who is sent to a little town in Maine years after the disappearance of a man and two women.  Barrett finally reaches a witness who confesses to having participated in the murder and disposal of the bodies of a man and a woman in a shallow lake. Unfortunately, when the lake is inspected, the bodies aren’t there.  Barrett insists he believes the confession, but the prevailing view is that it is unreliable because the confessor is a known liar and drug addict. Moreover, absence of the bodies where they’re said to be is further proof.

Barrett is sent to a remote FBI office in the Midwest in disgrace, but the confession still haunts him.  Eventually, he returns to Maine on his own nickel to find the truth, which, of course, is elusive. The story becomes more complex, as he investigates more deeply, and the scope widens.

Michael Koryta has written a gripping tale about a grisly murder and cover-ups and subterfuges to hide a variety of motivations as each layer of the story is unveiled.   It is a novel describing perseverance and investigative skill.  The novel has its origins in a murder investigation which the author covered for his hometown newspaper as a young reporter, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2018.

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Book Review: Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin

Bearskin
James A. McLaughlin
Ecco, June 2018
ISBN 978-0-0627-4279-7
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Rice Moore is just beginning to think his troubles are behind him.  He’s taken a job as a caretaker for a remote forest preserve in Virginia, tracking wildlife and refurbishing cabins.  It’s totally solitary – – perfect to hide from the Mexican drug cartels he betrayed back in Arizona.  But when Rice finds the carcass of a bear killed on the grounds, his quiet life is upended.  Rice becomes obsessed with catching the poachers before more bears are harmed. Partnering with his predecessor, a scientist who hopes to continue her research on the preserve, Rice puts into motion a plan to stop the bear killings, but it ultimately leads to hostile altercations with the locals, the law, and even his own employers.  His past is catching up to him in dangerous ways and he may not be able to outrun it for much longer.

The underlying plot line has to do with the killing of bears so that their galls and paws may be harvested and sold to what apparently is a steady demand by drug cartels’ clients.

Rick Morton is using the name of Rice Moore so his real identity could not be tracked by those trying to find and kill him, apparently not a short list, headed by a Mexican drug gang against whom he had testified a year prior.   (He already apparently had a glass kneecap.)  I was amused when he introduces himself to someone using a name he had picked from the phone book “because he didn’t want to use his real fake name.”  The owners of a cabin Rice is working on wanted to turn the cabin into a guest house for scientists. The people from whom he is hiding are not to be trifled with.  One man they were hunting had his face skinned, then sewed back on, just to “prove they could do whatever they wanted.”  A woman with whom Rice is very close had been kidnapped and then raped.  As Turk Mountain Preserve Caretaker, Rice, who was born in New Mexico and grew up mostly in Tucson, is a target whose capture is always a threat.  Rice is “intrigued by the concept of bear culture,” leading to the reader doing likewise.  Much of this is fascinating stuff, I have to say (although it may not seem that way at first blush).  Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2018.

Book Review: The Negotiator by Brendan Dubois

The Negotiator
Brendan Dubois
Midnight Ink, August 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5401-7
Trade Paperback

The Negotiator by Brendan Dubois brings an interesting new anti-hero to our attention. The protagonist, who uses many names but we never learn any of them, has an uncanny gift of estimating the market value of anything, like a handful of stolen diamonds or a pallet of merchandise that fell off a truck. This useful ability has allowed him to earn a living in the shadows of the crime world, where he is the middleman between a potential buyer and the hopeful seller, the cost of his services being part of the final agreed-upon purchase price. While he himself has committed no crime, those he does business with have and, since he knows one murder more or less means nothing to them, he takes appropriate steps to protect himself. Among other rules he has instituted, he won’t wait long for either party to arrive at the appointed time and place, and he never goes to a private residence to arrange a transaction.

The promise of a very large commission makes The Negotiator break his rule when he’s asked to serve as the go-between for the sale of what appears to be an authentic Old Master oil painting. He and his bodyguard show up at a nice house in an established neighborhood instead of a public place, where they are greeted by an older couple with an offer of lemonade and cookies. Lulled into accepting the situation for what it appears to be, The Negotiator is completely off guard when the older man pulls a gun and kills the bodyguard. The Negotiator escapes, barely, and sets off to discover who the killers are, to understand the motive for the unexpected attack, and to obtain revenge. Like the opening scene of the eventual bloodbath, many of the characters are not who or what they seem to be and sorting them all out takes every bit of skill The Negotiator can summon.

The Negotiator is a fine, fast-moving story with plot twists aplenty, right up to the last page. This book is especially for anyone who misses the Parker saga by Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark or enjoys the Wilson series from Mike Knowles. While The Negotiator isn’t quite as cold-blooded as Wilson or Parker — he prefers to avoid guns — he can still toss an inconvenient character under the proverbial bus without a qualm. I am hoping for a sequel.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, September 2018.

Book Review: Tangerine by Christine Mangan

Tangerine
Christine Mangan
Ecco, March 2018
ISBN: 978-0-06-268666-4
Hardcover

From the publisher:  It’s about Alice Shipley and Lucy Mason, at one time the closest of friends, now wedged apart by a chilling secret.  They find themselves reunited in Morocco in 1956, where revolution is imminent, though it seems like the real warfare is between the two of them.  The dusty alleyways of Tangier have never felt so ominous.”

First things first:  “Tangerine” is what you are called if you are of, or from, Tangiers.  The chapters’ p.o.v. alternates between Lucy and Alice, fittingly enough. The first belongs to Alice, musing as she looks out the window at the streets of Morocco, thinking back to her days at Bennington College, in Vermont, where she and Lucy, both 17, were best friends and roommates [having met on their very first day at college.]”  And where she met John McAllister, to whom she is now married, although having decided not to change her name:  “It felt important, somehow, to retain some part of myself, my family, after everything that had happened.”  Trying “to not think each and every second of the day about what had happened in the cold, wintry Green Mountains of Vermont.”  It is now just over a year since that time.  (There are several references to “what had happened,” although the reader is not told what that “everything” was for quite a while, e.g., “It was perhaps too much to hope for, I knew, that things would simply revert back to how they had once been, before that terrible  night.”)

Lucy, who is a writer of obituaries for a local newspaper, first appears in Chapter Two, as she describes the intense heat of the city, where she finds “the promise of the unknown, of something infinitely deeper, richer, than anything I had ever experienced in the cold streets of New York.”  She has come to Tangiers for the express purpose of finding and joining Alice.  Born in a small town in Vermont, Tangiers is literally another world for her.  When she makes her way to Alice’s apartment, she finds it cluttered with books, by Dickens and others of that ilk, which is surprising to Lucy, as the Alice she had known was “not a big reader.  I had tried to encourage her during our four years as roommates, but try as I might to interest her, she had only stuck up her nose.  They’re all just so serious, she had complained . . . she was made, it seemed, for living, rather than reading about the experiences of other lives.”  When Lucy re-enters her life, Alice is delighted to see her “once friend, the closest friend that I had even known before it had all gone wrong.”  The tale goes along this way, with fascinating insights into the two women, and into this stifling city, and its people and places, so completely foreign to everything they have known till then.  The writing is fascinating, and the mystery, when it is finally made clear to the reader, well worth the time it took to get us there.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2018.

Book Review: Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris

Behind Closed Doors
B. A. Paris
St. Martin’s Press, August 2016
ISBN: 978-1-250-12100-4
Hardcover

Some have labeled this novel noir domestic fiction. I found it darker and more dangerous than that. The novel is also brilliant, in its structure, its characteristics, descriptions and stunning in its conclusion.

Grace falls in love with a slick, handsome well-educated lawyer. Jack is highly trained careful in his preparations and courtroom tactics and had never lost a case. He is also arrogant, cunning, manipulative and consummately evil.

The structure of the novel carries readers from present to past and back again several time. The story explores the marriage of Grace and Jack and details their relationship and its change over time, in a London suburb and in their travels to Thailand.

Grace has a younger sister, Millie, who is developmentally damaged and Jack cleverly manipulates the girl to maintain his control over his new wife. The relationship between the married couple forms the core of the story, but as the tale unwinds, it is an acquaintance named Esther who ultimately becomes the rock on whom Grace is able to secure a real future.

Well-written, intense, and elaborate, author Paris is destined for wide readership and many discussions.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 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 Review: A Perfect Shot by Robin Yocum—and a Giveaway!

A Perfect Shot
Robin Yocum
Seventh Street Books, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-63388-417-5
Trade Paperback

Fans of Chuck Logan may find this book an attractive addition to their library of crime thrillers. Yocum tends toward the more brutal and darker side of the genre, but there are definite similarities.

Decades after his last-minute basket to help the Mingo Junction Indians win the Ohio state high school basketball championship, Duke Ducheski has finally realized his dream—to open a fine restaurant in his home town and get out of the steel mill that dominates his home town. He also pledges to himself to avoid becoming involved with the nasty crime family that rules the valley.

Steel manufacturing in this Ohio valley is not the only enterprise dominating the town. The other presence is the mob, a tight-knit group of entrepreneurs who control the gambling, drug sales and prostitution action in town. The mob boss is aging Salvatore Antonelli. His principal enforcer is a local boy named Tony DeMarco.

When Duke opens his restaurant with some assistance from his long-time high school buddies Moonie and Angel, things are looking up for the forty-year old divorced mill worker, and then he disappears. His disappearance is triggered by an elaborate plan concocted by Duke to rid himself of the heavy arm of Tony DeMarco, and of other obligations. He enlists the aid of former school buddies and a grandfather-like figure who owns an established bar in town.

For anyone who has experienced small-town dynamics, long-time established disagreements and feuds, the slow revolutions of time and the maturation of certain individuals, rings true. The author has established a true town character, as well as the characters of both principal and peripheral players.

The novel is characteristic of the author’s work, painstakingly detailed, accurately nuanced, as is the dialogue. There are several violent encounters throughout the novel, most of which result in reduction of the population.

Everything in the book is true to the premise and well written. Fans of this style of crime fiction should be very happy and I recommend the novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 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.

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Book Review: Murder in Thistlecross by Amy M. Reade

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MURDER IN THISTLECROSS
by Amy M. Reade
Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Purchase Links:
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Murder in Thistlecross
A Malice Novel #3
Amy M. Reade
Lyrical Underground/Kensington, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-5161-0019-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

The emerald hills and violet valleys of Wales seem the ideal place to start over after murder—and divorce—shattered Eilidh’s life in the Scottish Highlands. But within the stone walls of an ancient castle, a family’s dark, violent past threatens much more than her newfound tranquility . . .

For the past two years, Eilidh has called the quaint Welsh village of Thistlecross home, embracing her new life as estate manager of a restored fifteenth-century castle. But the long-anticipated arrival of her employer’s three estranged sons and their wives transforms Gylfinog Castell from a welcoming haven to a place seething with dangerous secrets. When the escalating tensions culminate in murder, Eilidh must sift through a castle full of suspects both upstairs and downstairs. She can trust no one as she follows a twisting maze of greed and malice to ferret out a killer who’s breaching every defense, preparing to make Eilidh the next to die.

Amy Reade’s series has a touch of gothic suspense, always fun, and this particular entry has the extra added attraction of the old Clue board game (later a movie that was equally delightful) wherein the various suspects move around the castle and the sleuth has to figure out who killed who, how and where. Not quite that detailed, of course, but you get the picture.

Eilidh has enjoyed peace and tranquility, as well as much-needed emotional healing, for the past two years but when her employer, Annabel Baines, invites her family to the castle, no one could have predicted the hostility and anger that would erupt, not to mention a murder. Annabel and her sons have been at odds for years because of the brutality of the boys’ father in their childhood and Annabel has called them together to apologize for her inabilty to protect them. At first, the apology seems to have lessened the strain among them all but, shortly thereafter, one of the sons is dead and his death will not be the only one.

Murder in Thistlecross is a mildmannered mystery in some ways and it didn’t take me long to get a handle on what was going on but that’s OK. I enjoyed the setting, which reminded me of my own trips to Wales, and the story carried me along for a very pleasant read.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

About the Author

USA Today bestselling author Amy M. Reade is also the author of Secrets of Hallstead House and The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor. She grew up in northern New York, just south of the Canadian border, and spent her weekends and summers on the St. Lawrence River. Shegraduated from Cornell University and then went on to law school at Indiana University in Bloomington. She practiced law in New York City before moving to southern New Jersey, where, in addition to writing, she is a wife, a full-time mom and a volunteer in school, church and community groups. She lives just a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean with her husband and three children as well as a dog and two cats. She loves cooking and all things Hawaii and is currently at work on her next novel.
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