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.

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Book Reviews: Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach by Colin Cotterill and Tales from My Closet by Jennifer Anne Moses

Grandad, There's a Head on the BeachGrandad, There’s a Head on the Beach
A Jimm Juree Mystery #2
Colin Cotterill
Minotaur Books, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-312-56454-4
Hardcover

Author Colin Cotterill appears to have a somewhat skewed view of the world, especially as applied to world politics. Sardonic to a fault, his skill as a writer is prominently on display here. His characters are unusual, almost all off-beat and so they tend to act in unexpected ways. That may be the influence of the setting, somewhere along the coast of southern Thailand, the influence of drugs imbibed by several in the story, or the speculative motives of nearly all the participants.

If there is a problem with this novel, it may be that none of the principals are people you’d like to spend a whole lot of time with—or go to bed with.

Jimm Juree established a career as a crime reporter in Thailand and life was progressing. Then, for obscure reasons, her mother sells the family home and buys a run-down failing motel-holiday resort near a disappearing beach on the ocean shore. Unfortunately, the beach is also the location where streams deposit various unwanted trash and other detritus. And that’s how, presumably, it is that early one morning Jimm Juree comes upon a human head in the sand.

Thereafter, the plot devolves into political and illegal shenanigans of concealment, fraud and other assorted crimes. Treatment of Burmese refugees is prominent throughout the novel. A mysterious woman and her presumed daughter, apparently on the run, insist on staying at the resort and getting under foot. Local political gangsters cross dangerous and violent paths with Jimm Juree and her friends and the story, a bit long for my taste, lurches along to a most satisfying and somewhat amusing conclusion.

The humorous and occasionally wacky happenings are, in fact, background and leavening for a much more serious illumination of a problem, that of Burmese refugees and their treatment in Myanmar and Thailand. I am just not sure that the excruciating difficulties faced by the displaced Burmese are effectively handled by their juxtaposition with the unusual family of Jimm Juree.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Tales from My ClosetTales from My Closet
Jennifer Anne Moses
Scholastic Press, February 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-51608-2
Hardcover

In Tales from My Closet, Ms. Moses so aptly captures the venom that spews from the mouths of teens, that I find myself fantasizing about a trip back in time to punch Teen-Aged Me in the face and to hug my mom very tightly. The unlikely union of five teen-age fashionistas, each experiencing unrelated, yet equally concerning issues at home, immediately pulled me into the fascinating, eerily familiar tales.

Uniquely unapologetic, the unabashed, free-flung, nastiness of Spoiled-Rich-Fashionista feels down-right insulting. And also, terribly sad and desperate. Vintage-Fashionista, the initial and most frequent narrator, is the quintessential-know-it-all-dramatically-impatient-daughter that I was. And, of course, all of my girlfriends were.

Fabulous-in-Lingerie brings a harsh, yet crucial reminder that even if it seems like a person’s problems are frivolous, there could be more behind the scenes. Ann, Fantastic-in-Fifties, reluctantly realizes that moms were daughters once, too, and that moms, grandmas, and “perfect” sisters make mistakes and have secrets. Huge Smile All-Varsity Girl rounds out the cast, providing a perfect example of things not being at all as they appear.

Fabulously, each fashionista presents her own version of the tumultuous year together. This enriches the story as it provides not only a deeper and more thorough understanding of each character; but also because the reader “sees” more about the family unit and the individual parents and siblings.

I believe Tales provides a rare and welcome opportunity for a mom and her daughter(s) to read the same book, at the same time. Not just because it packs a powerful punch, but because it is also bitingly witty, sweet, funny and captivating.

“I tried not to hold his hyper-funk-nihilist-grunge-
gender-blended-macho look against him…..”

“Of course she’s lonely: She’s a freak! No one
wants to be friends with her, not just me.”

“….saw you looking so punk-cool-fifties-awesome-fab, I’d be
so blinded by your sublime radiance of fabulosity
that I’d get on the next train back to college!”

“…how can Robot Girl erase someone as
out-there and funktabulous as you are?”

“…but he was famous for looking like a person
who was planning to grow up to be a drug
addict, or maybe a serial killer.”

NEW WORDS!
“funktabulous”
“fabulosity”

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2015.

Book Reviews: The Last Dead Girl by Harry Dolan and The Axe Factor by Colin Cotterill

The Last Dead GirlThe Last Dead Girl
Harry Dolan
Berkley Trade, October 2014
ISBN: 978-0-425-27382-1
Trade Paperback

Billed as a prequel, this novel is a carefully constructed murder mystery which begins one night on a lonely dark road, a chance encounter between David Loogan, riding along in his truck, and Jana Fletcher, a young law student, standing next to her inoperable car. What follows is a brief 10-day love affair. Until one day David enters her apartment to find her lying on the living room floor, murdered.

As usual, the lead detective suspects the boyfriend, but there is no proof. Released, David is fixated on learning the truth about Jana and follows his nose, investigating her past and discovering a death in the past that might be related to hers.

The novel moves ahead straightforwardly, and the mystery unfolds so that it comes as no surprise when the killer is disclosed, but not before red herrings are introduced. It is a well-written story, well worth reading, and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2014.

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The Axe FactorThe Axe Factor
A Jimm Juree Mystery #3
Colin Cotterill
Minotaur, April 2014
ISBN: 978-1-250-04336-8
Hardcover

I have enjoyed reading this author’s Dr. Siri series, so approached this new Jimm Juree Mystery with great anticipation. Unfortunately, the mystery alone is what the novel is all about. Jimm, a former high-powered crime reporter in her former habitat, now lives with her nutty family in southern Thailand where she is basically unemployed and at loose ends. That’s how one gets into trouble, and she does.

Basically, the plot is two-fold: how Jimm interviews a farang (European) writer and becomes sexually involved with him and also becomes enmeshed in a conspiracy in which a serial killer plays a part. Naturally this places Jimm in danger, while her love affair raises the suspicion of her grandfather, an ex-cop, who enlists the rest of the family to spy on the author.

Written in a light tone with many witty observances by Jimm, the novel sadly plods along and results in a slow read. It seems very unlike the author’s other efforts (especially the Dr. Siri series), which are delightful. Perhaps the next one will pull it all together.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2014.

Book Reviews: The Fear Artist by Timothy Hallinan, How to Party with a Killer Vampire by Penny Warner, and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Livia J. Washburn

The Fear Artist
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, July 2012
ISBN No. 978-1616951122
Hardcover

Poke Rafferty’s wife, Rose, has taken their daughter Miaow out of town to visit Rose’s mother.  Poke is left to his own devices and decides to paint the apartment while they are gone. But Poke has a lot of hoops to jump through before he gets the apartment painted.  As he exits the paint store a large man runs into him and lands on top of him. As Poke struggles to get up he sees that the man has been shot.  Before he dies the man whispers three words to Poke.  The words have no meaning to Poke but he soon realizes that other people are very concerned about what the man whispered.  They suspect that Poke has information about something, but he is clueless.

Thai secret agents interrogate Poke, but he has nothing to tell. He is released only to find that his apartment has been ransacked.  Next thing he knows he is accused of murdering the man from the street.  Poke goes into hiding and is determined to discover the identity of the man and the meaning of the whispered message.  This time as Poke searches for answers he has to go it alone.  Fearing for his wife and daughter, he orders them to stay away from Bangkok until he can find a way to dig out of the hole he finds himself in.

Tragic things that happened in the past all come to light as Poke finally goes after the person responsible for not only the death of the man in the street but for many more tragedies. The final confrontation makes for an exciting and terrifying conclusion.

I love the Bangkok series and find it very difficult to pick a favorite.  The characters are strong and the reader will either love them or hate them.  Even though I’ve just finished The Fear Artist, I can’t wait for the next addition to the series.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, July 2012.

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How To Party With A Killer Vampire
(A Party Planning Mystery)

Penny Warner
Obsidian, October 2011
ISBN No. 978-0451235015
Mass Market Paperback

Where is the best place to hold a film wrap party for producer Lucas Cruz?  The film is a vampire parody and party planner Presley Parker manages to wheel, deal, and line up a cemetery for the party.  Not everyone would be brave enough to throw a party in a cemetery but Presley thinks it is the ideal location.

The day before the party is to take place Presley runs into a group of young people practicing the art of Parkour.  Parkour includes vaulting, running, jumping and climbing around obstacles and a cemetery offers plenty of obstacles.

Presley warns the group that they are trespassing but this does not seem to bother them at all.  The next morning the body of one of the participants in Parkour is found in the cemetery.  This does not bode well for Presley’s party.  Presley begins her own investigation and soon has plenty of suspects but before she narrows the suspects down more violence occurs.

Presley has a strong and persistent character that drives her to jump into situations that she should leave to the police but she does tend to get to the bottom of the story in her determined manner.  Following the clues, she makes some wrong turns but eventually winds up with the correct answer but not without putting herself in danger.

The characters in the book are fun and make for a fast read.  Each chapter begins with a tip on how to host your own Vampire party.  The book also offers a sneak peek at the next Party Planning Mystery.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, December 2011.

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For Whom the Funeral Bell Tolls
Livia J. Washburn
CreateSpace, February 2012
ISBN No. 978-1470050306
Also available as an ebook in multiple formats

A trip to Key West and a stay at the Brandenton Beach Resort is the latest on Delilah Dickinson Literary Tours.  Fans of Ernest Hemingway were all looking forward to an adventurous vacation but no one, not even Delilah Dickinson, had any idea just how adventurous this trip would turn out to be.

The participants on the tour were a diversified group and some had something more than Hemingway on their mind.  Luke, Delilah’s son-in-law and assistant, comes along on the tour and does his best to help Delilah keep everyone under control.

Walter Harvick who is on the tour alone feels that he knows more about Hemingway than the author knew about himself and does not hesitate to let everyone know that he is an expert.  He even goes so far as to start a fight in “Sloppy Joe’s”, a bar with the same name as the bar that Hemingway was known to frequent.

Delilah found the owner of Brandenton Beach Resort to be an attractive single man and was dividing her time between keeping the tour guests to the schedule, flirting with the new man in her life and keeping Walter out of trouble.

The juggling act was working out pretty well until Doris Horton and Julia Dunn, two widows on the tour, happened to find a body on the beach as they took an early morning stroll.   It would appear that the victim had committed suicide.  The police investigation put a halt to the activities of the tour group but not to Delilah and her curiosity about the death and whether or not it was really a suicide or murder.

Washburn writes an interesting story with some good information about the Key West area.  The characters are interesting and the ending is a surprise.  Readers are sure to enjoy Livia Washburn’s travel agent series.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, April 2012.

Ted Feit Triple Threat Book Reviews

Crossfire
Dick Francis and Felix Francis
Putnam, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-399-15681-6
Hardcover

This is the fourth work completed by Dick Francis and his son, and it certainly lives up the standards the late author set in a long and distinguished career until his death last February.  As did the more than 40 novels Dick Francis wrote, it takes as its milieu the Britishhorse-racing scene.

Captain Tom Forsyth, who left his mother’s home (and horse-training stables) at the age of 17 to join the army, returns after losing his foot to an IED in Afghanistan, only to find that his mother is in some kind of trouble.  She is being blackmailed to the tune of 2,000 pounds a week and is also being forced to make sure that her horses lose important races.  It falls to Tom to sort out the culprits, solve his mother’s business problems, and find his way into the future despite his physical condition.

Crossfire is a tale with the trademark Francis touch, carefully constructed, poignantly written and sensitive, especially with regard to observations of the trials and difficulties of being a soldier (demonstrated throughout by references to Tom’s past posts as well as the skills he learned as applied to his present endeavors), and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2010.

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The Queen of Patpong
Timothy Hallinan
William Morrow, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-167226-2
Hardcover

While its predecessors in this delightful series set in Thailand focused on all the trouble in which Poke Rafferty could find himself, this novel is exclusively the property of his wife, Rose.  As readers of the previous entries have learned, Rose was a bar girl (i.e., dancer and prostitute) before meeting and marrying Poke. And as most know, that is a dangerous profession.

While the domestic side of the novel includes Poke’s participation in a school production of “The Tempest,” in which his adopted daughter, Miaow, stars as Ariel, the dangerous aspect of the plot arises from Rose’s past.  This gives the author the opportunity to accomplish two objectives.  First, of course, is to show the miserable lives and inherent dangers of the life of a bar girl.  Second is to force Poke to really face Rose’s past and come to grips with its meanness and horrors.

The recounting of Rose’s life is poignant and sensitive, and the various characters in her life are skillfully drawn. Descriptions of Patpong Street and Bangkok and the strip joints and bars are graphic. The suspense builds and builds.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2010.

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Dog Tags
David Rosenfelt
Grand Central Publishing, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-446-55152-6
Hardcover

This legal-thriller-cum-amusing-background series, featuring the talented but not so enthusiastic defense attorney Andy Carpenter, once again demonstrates his love of canines.  The plot starts off with Andy representing a German shepherd, Milo, being held in the dog pound under police guard, with Andy seeking a bail hearing.  It seems that the dog is owned by Billy Zimmerman, an ex-cop who lost his leg while serving in Iraq and is now accused of murder.  In fact, Andy gets to represent both master and dog before it’s all over.

As the story develops, in order to survive after his return from Iraq and not being able to get his old job back as a Paterson, NJ, detective, Billy had trained the dog to jump up and snatch valuables which he could then convert to raise funds to survive.  One night, Billy and Milo observe someone handing over an envelope to another person.  Milo snatches it and runs away, later burying it.  Meanwhile, the man who handed over the envelope is shot and killed.  Billy, who had served under the man in Iraq, is accused of his murder.

Andy is begged initially to free the dog from the pound, and as that case develops he takes on Billy’s as well. Complication upon complication then compound the plot, with all of the usual characters in the series, plus the dog, playing vital roles in what has become the trademark characteristic of an Andy Carpenter trial: a hopeless
case to somehow salvage, and often a national catastrophe to prevent. The novels are always written with humor and a light touch, and this entry is no exception.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2010.