In the Hall with the Knife
A Clue Mystery #1
Harry N. Abrams, October 2019
I whiled away many, many hours with friends years ago playing Clue, one of the best board games ever, and then I fell in love with the game-based movie starring Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Eileen Brennan and the rest of a wonderful cast. A series of novelizations came along; a new movie is in pre-production and there was a movie or mini-series (hard to tell which) that bears no real resemblance and I wasn’t impressed. Now, there’s a new book and, I must say, I had a lot of fun with this.
Ms. Peterfreund has turned this into a teen cast and they all have names that fit the game, names such as Finn Plum and Scarlet Mistry. Rather than a gloomy mansion with guests who must discover a murderer before they’re all killed, we have a small group of students who are stranded in their forest-bound school with the headmaster who is soon found murdered. The game is on, not only to find the killer but to figure out who can be trusted and who has much to hide. Readers of all ages will really enjoy this.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.
The Bodies in the Library
A First Edition Library Mystery #1
Berkley Prime Crime, October 2019
Hayley Burke recently started her dream job as curator of a book collection focused on the women authors of the Golden Age, authors such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. The late Lady Georgiana Fowling’s personal assistant and now permanent The First Edition Society secretary, Glynis Woolgar, views Hailey with suspicion but she hasn’t figured out the curator’s big secret yet—while Hayley has experience with libraries and literature, she knows next to nothing about the Golden Age or, in fact, mysteries and detectives. The two women do NOT see eye to eye on how Hayley is running things, including hosting a fan fiction writing group in the library, and things certainly don’t get better when a body is found in their own locked room mystery. To get to the answers she needs before her position as curator implodes, Hayley reads her first mystery, The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie, and is soon assisting the police with their investigation, whether they want her help or not.
Marty Wingate has been one of my favorite traditional mystery authors for some time although I’ve been seriously remiss about writing reviews. With this new series, she has created an ambience of the very Golden Age mysteries the Society promotes but with a charming modern-day setting and the de rigueur sleuthing works really well. Kudos to the author for what looks to be a clever and appealing new series.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.
Heaven, My Home
A Highway 59 Mystery #2
Mulholland Books, September 2019
Being a black Texas Ranger comes with its own set of problems, as you might expect, and Darren Mathews is indeed dealing with those issues as well as repercussions from his last case. On top of that, his own mother is blackmailing him, his marriage is strained and alcohol is getting the better of him. Investigating the disappearance of a young boy draws him back into the world of white supremacy when the Rangers think Darren is the best man to work with the local white sheriff because the boy, son of a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, was last seen in a black community.
Darren is confronted by racial prejudice from the white people in town, including the sheriff, but also believes that Leroy Page, an elderly black man who saw the child, is not cooperating with the hunt for the boy. Darren’s friend, Greg, a white FBI agent, shocks Darren when he posits that Leroy just might be guilty of a hate crime in reverse. Could he be right?
Several threads in this story reflect the racial stress that has been growing in this country but Ms. Locke has a deft way with words and creates a kind of tension we don’t often see. Getting to the resolution of this disappearance is rough but I couldn’t look away until I knew what really happened.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.
A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary
A Samuel Craddock Mystery #8
Seventh Street Books, April 2019
From the publisher—
After using an online dating site for senior citizens, town favorite Loretta Singletary–maker of cinnamon rolls and arbiter of town gossip–goes missing. Chief Samuel Craddock’s old friend Loretta Singletary–a mainstay of the Jarrett Creek community–has undergone a transformation, with a new hairstyle and modern clothes. He thinks nothing of it until she disappears. Only then does he find out she has been meeting men through an online dating site for small-town participants. When a woman in the neighboring town of Bobtail turns up dead after meeting someone through the same dating site, Craddock becomes alarmed. Will Craddock be able to find Loretta before she suffers the same fate? Finding out what happened to Loretta forces him to investigate an online world he is unfamiliar with, and one which brings more than a few surprises.
It’s just another day in Jarrett Creek for Samuel Craddock when his good friend, Loretta Singletary, asks him to get involved in a church ladies’ issue, something he decidedly doesn’t want to do and he’s almost relieved when she has to leave to meet a friend. He does momentarily wonder why she seemed so skittish but police chief duties soon distract him. It isn’t until various people start realizing that they haven’t seen Loretta that he becomes not exactly alarmed but very curious.
Loretta is the essence of a settled, unremarkable woman so, when Samuel hears that she might be involved in online dating, he’s truly surprised. This is really out of character for her but what really disturbs him is that she has literally disappeared and, when he hears that a woman in a neighboring town is also missing, Samuel and his chief deputy, the energetic and opinionated Maria Trevino, begin to investigate in earnest. Following the few leads they develop soon brings them to the realization that Loretta could be in serious trouble and they don’t have much time to find her.
One thing I can always count on with a Samuel Craddock book is that, while typical police procedural action might be limited, Samuel has the mind and life experience that make him a thoughtful, intuitive investigator and he’s nearly always a step ahead of me. He notices things and he really hears what people say but, most of all, he recognizes that the unexpected is often the truth. He’s not perfect—modern social behavior sometimes baffles him and he can be reluctant to open up about himself—but he’s the kind of man I’d trust to have my back.
Samuel’s stories always focus on a particular issue and, this time, it’s the potential dangers of online dating, especially for older women…and men…who may be particularly vulnerable. Ms. Shames handles the topic quite nicely without belaboring the point. To lighten the mood a bit, we’re also treated to the comings and goings of the townsfolk and the almost-feud over the annual goat rodeo.
This has been one of my favorite series since the very first book and I’m still just as entranced with Samuel Craddock and the denizens of Jarrett Creek. Once again, I stayed up all night and it was time well spent—who needs sleep when Terry Shames has a new book out?
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2019.
A Red River Mystery #5
Reavis Z. Wortham
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2015
Names come to mind when I read another Wortham Red River novel. Names and words like Rooster Cogburn and John Wayne and fundamental American attitudes. This author taps all those and more. His observation and understanding of how ordinary everyday American folk, the roots and bedrock of our nation, react in extraordinary circumstances; how they cope with subtle and alarming evil forces. Law enforcement? Sure, but developed from the very same basic beliefs and attitudes of the wider populace. This is a series of novels that will revive readers’ beliefs in the rock-solid foundations of the American way of life.
That said, Pepper and Top, the teen-agers being followed in this series, are restive. Close cousins for years, we find Pepper pulling away and longing for new horizons, such as running away to San Francisco to be a flower child. Without Top. It was a time of the rise of the hippy culture, free love and drugs.
Meanwhile, as storm clouds gather over Texas, murder, robbery and wholesale manipulation take place in the county. Ned Parker, Pepper’s granddad, leaves his constable’s post in Center Springs, Texas. He’s still troubled by a slow-healing stab wound in his belly, but when Pepper disappears, likely with a poorly thought of local boy, Ned decides to find her and bring her home. This chase forms the core of the novel which contains another thick plot line about the disappearance of two visiting businessmen looking to buy land in the area. Pepper’s uncle, currently the sheriff, is on this one.
The rain comes to the region and the law enforcement attempts to find the two missing men and deal with various other problems are hampered by frequent heavy rain. The author masterfully weaves the weather and other climate systems into the narrative and while this novel progresses more slowly than earlier novels, the level of satisfaction readers receive is substantial. In sum, a most satisfying and involving read, crowded with well-developed fascinating characters.
Midnight Ink, July 2018
It’s 1989 in Longview, Texas, and ten year old blonde Lucy Spencer disappears. The community assumes that her body will be found in the Big Woods, like other unresolved kidnappings that have happened in years past. Her sister Leah, 14, receives a computer message that she believes is from Lucy. It says “underground. By the woods.” Leah is convinced that Lucy is alive, and the message signals her sister’s whereabouts. Longview is gripped by paranoia surrounding the satanic cults of the 1980s.
Chapters are told alternately from the point of view of Sylvia, a 75 year old retired nurse, and Leah. What, if anything, does Sylvia have to do with the kidnapping? Sylvia married John and had no children. After she was widowed early, she went back to school to become a nurse and works with newborns. In fact, she was the nurse on duty when both Leah and Lucy were born.
On the day Lucy disappeared, It was her dad’s day to dress her, feed her, and get her to the school bus. A witness saw a man with a mustache in a small green convertible push Lucy into the car. Dad, an architect, begins to drink heavily and stay away from home after Lucy disappears.
Four children went missing before, but all were from the nearby town of Starrville, that is, until Lucy. Their bodies were found in the woods next to pentagram symbols and other signs pointing to cult activity.
This psychological thriller is written in short chapters, each only two or three pages, which helps to quicken the pace and heighten expectations. There is no on-page violence or descriptions, yet the book is tense and suspenseful.
Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2018.
In Plain Sight
The Kaufman County Prosecutor Murders
William Morrow, March 27, 2018
Mass Market Paperback
From the publisher: On a cold January morning, the killer executed Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse in broad daylight. Eight shots fired a block from the Kaufman County Courthouse. Two months later, a massacre. The day before Easter, the couple slept. Bunnies, eggs, a flower centerpiece gracing the table. Death rang their doorbell and filled the air with the rat-a-tat-tat of an assault weapon discharging round after round into their bodies. Eric Williams and his wife, Kim, celebrated the murders with grilled steaks. Their crimes covered front pages around the world, many saying the killer placed a target square on the back of law enforcement. It seemed that Williams’ plan was to exact revenge on all who had wronged him, one at a time. Throughout the Spring of 2013, Williams sowed terror through a small Texas town, and a quest for vengeance turned to deadly obsession. His intention? To keep killing, until someone found a way to stop him.
The book’s Prologue references the murder of an assistant DA, Mark Hasse, in the small city of Kaufman, Texas. The identity of the killer is unknown, although there is speculation that it was the work of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a powerful prison group, as well as a Mexican cartel. Mike McLelland, Mark’s boss and Kaufman County’s DA, believes that the killer is local, and is “somebody bent on revenge.” Meanwhile, one Eric Williams believes that “he has pulled off the perfect murder.” The Prologue ends with these words: “The killing wasn’t over.”
The ensuing tale reads like a fine work of fiction, although it is immediately apparent that that is not the case: This is a true crime story, proven on nearly every page by the quotes from conversations by the author with each of the parties involved, from the killer and his wife [and collaborator], Kim, as well as from the aforementioned Mike McLelland, about whom nothing more will be said for fear of giving anything away. Suffice it to say that a man thought of as a small-town good citizen turns into a vengeful killer. The publisher has called the book an “expertly researched account” of the killings, and truer words were never said. Frequently, while reading this wonderful book, I felt as though I were reading an interesting novel, then almost immediately coming across a photo, or a fascinating quote from one of the main, or even subsidiary, characters, making it plain that this was a fascinating true account of the proceedings. Eric Williams had had his life ruined, his livelihood taken away for $600 worth of computers, especially when one sat on his county desk, “did seem excessive.” But “Eric never admitted the murders.”
A riveting book, and one which is recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2018.
Title: Criminal Misdeeds
Series: A Carrie Shatner Mystery #1
Author: Randee Green
Publisher: Coffeetown Press
Publication Date: July 1, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Police Procedural
From the publisher—
As far back as the Shatners can be traced, they have been breaking the law and running from it. It’s a family tradition. Now Carrie Shatner is a detective and crime-scene technician with the Wyatt County Sheriff’s Department in Eastern Texas. Over the years, she has tried to distance herself from her family’s criminal activities. But that is easier said than done.
The Shatner family is celebrating New Year’s Eve at the Wyatt County Fairgrounds in their usual style: illegal fireworks, homemade moonshine, and a near brawl. After shutting down the party, Carrie does a final sweep of the fairgrounds and finds a dead body in a dumpster.
Good news: the dead man is not a Shatner. Bad news: the Shatners are now suspects in a homicide investigation. Soon the fairgrounds are overrun with law enforcement, including Sergeant Jerrod Hardy, a Texas Ranger. The victim is Kyle Vance, Carrie’s ex-boyfriend and a member of the Palmer family, who have been feuding with the Shatners since the Civil War.
Despite serious misgivings, Hardy allows Carrie to help him investigate. He knows she physically couldn’t have beaten Vance to death, but he wonders if she is covering for a family member.
There’s something about backcountry Texas crime fiction that grabs me by the throat and won’t let go but I don’t really know what it is. Some of my affection is because it’s almost always rural and it’s Southern; granted “Southern” is not the same in Texas as it is in Virginia or Alabama but Texas still falls into the category. Then there’s the Wild West romantic aspect that is always there in the background so, all in all, I’m a patsy for Texas law enforcement 😉
Carrie is a pure delight, in her profession and also as part of a riproaring criminal family and, while I know it’s wrong of her to protect them I also understand it and can totally empathize with her. I also couldn’t help laughing at this eccentric, kinda weird family that Carrie has to cope with, all the while loving them just because they are family. She sort of escaped their clutches but not really.
When murder occurs at a Shatner clan party, Carrie’s colleagues don’t really trust her to get involved, hardly a surprise, but the arrival of Texas Ranger Jerrod Hardy changes everything, especially when he grudgingly lets her help out. It’s a wonder he does, given that the dead man is Carrie’s ex and a member of the Palmer clan that’s the Shatners’ mortal enemies.
I really did have fun with this book and, although I thought the actual mystery was a little lightweight, it’s the journey to get to the answers that really matters. Carrie and Hardy could very well grow into one of my favorite law enforcement couples/partners so, Ms. Green, please hurry up with the next book!
An Excerpt from Criminal Misdeeds
I come from a long line of criminals.
Moonshiners, rumrunners, and drug dealers. Horse thieves and carjackers. Bank robbers, burglars, pickpockets, and con artists. And then there has been the occasional killer. You name it, whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor, somewhere along the line a member of my family has committed it.
As far back as the Shatner family could be traced – from southern England to the mountains of western North Carolina, and now to the Piney Woods of East Texas – we had been breaking the law. And running from it, too.
It was a family tradition.
You see, the Shatners have never swum in the baby pool of life. We’ve always been out in the deep end, and we jumped in headfirst.
As for me, every day I fight my genetic predisposition to break the law. Some days I’ve been more successful than others. You see, I can’t break the law when I’m the one who is supposed to be upholding it.
My name is Carrie Shatner, and for the last three-and-a-half years I have worked as a detective and crime scene technician for the Wyatt County Sheriff’s Department in East Texas. That would put my Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Sam Houston State University to good use except there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of serious crime in Wyatt County. I mainly sat behind my desk all day, twiddling my thumbs, playing Sudoku, and keeping up with my various social media accounts.
While my official job was to process crime scenes and deal with all parts of criminal investigations, my unofficial job was to cover up my family’s illegal activities and keep them out of jail. I’d be the first to admit that what I have been doing wasn’t ethical. It was probably also criminal. I tried not to think about that too much. To be honest, I tried not to think about any of it too much. Most days I felt like quitting my job. Family obligation prevented that.
I’m not saying that all of the Shatners have been hardened criminals. Sure, most of the older ones were. But at least some of the younger ones shied away from the family business and seemed to be sticking to the straight and narrow. And they were the reason why I do what I do. Yes, I clean up the crimes of the guilty. But I do it to protect the innocent.
These days, the laws my various family members break have been fairly minor ones. Okay, some were still kind of major. But it was nothing compared to what we used to engage in. I mean, I’m pretty sure we were no longer involved in contract killing or organized crime.
What I did know was that my great-uncles had a moonshine still out in the woods and a marijuana crop concealed in a bunch of old Cold War bomb shelters. Every time I caught one of my family members selling the homebrew or the pot, they would promise me it was the last time. I didn’t believe them. I didn’t arrest them either, because I knew it wouldn’t stop them. It would also infuriate the rest of the family. And, while tempting, that wasn’t a risk I was quite willing to take. At least not yet.
Occasionally, one of the younger Shatners would steal a car or deface some public property or get busted for underage drinking. The older Shatners were always getting nabbed for public indecency and public intoxication. Some of them were also heavily involved in insurance scams. And then there had been the occasional assault. But we hadn’t killed anyone – accidently or on purpose – in years. Or, if someone had, I didn’t know about it.
When you got down to it, the majority of the bad things that the Shatners have done were just plain dumb. And, as far as I knew, being stupid wasn’t illegal. We would have been in serious trouble otherwise.
I don’t want you to go into this thinking that all of the Shatners were bad people. Most of them have just been a little misguided.
At least that’s what I kept telling myself.
Until I found the body.
About the Author
Randee Green’s passion for reading began in grade school with Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, as well as a master’s and an MFA in Creative Writing. When not writing, she’s usually reading, indulging in her passion for Texas country music, traveling, or hanging out with her favorite feline friend, Mr. Snookums G. Cat.
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