Book Review: ToxiCity by Libby Fischer Hellmann

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Title: ToxiCity
Series: The Georgia Davis PI Series, Book 3
Author: Libby Fischer Hellmann
Narrator: Beth Richmond and Derek Shetterly
Publication Date: September 20, 2016

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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ToxiCity
The Georgia Davis P.I. Series, Book 3
Libby Fischer Hellmann
Narrated by Beth Richmond and Derek Shetterly
The Red Herrings Press, September 2016
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

A prequel to Libby Fischer Hellman’s Georgia Davis PI series.

There’s an inventive killer at large in Chicago in this dark thriller and police procedural from best-selling crime writer Libby Fischer Hellmann.

When three bodies turn up in rapid succession, all in landfills or waste disposal dumpsters, rookie cop Georgia Davis is drawn into the investigation. Teaming up with her detective boyfriend Matt and his friend, Detective Sergeant John Stone, Georgia must work out who’s responsible for the killings, but there’s little evidence to go on. The case also tests the strength of Georgia’s relationship with Matt – complicating the situation is the daughter of a real estate mogul, who also happens to have her eye on Matt.

Who’s behind these gruesome killings in this normally quiet neighborhood? Why are children developing cancer? And will Georgia’s relationship withstand the demands of this particularly complex investigation?

Find out in ToxiCity.

Oftentimes, police procedurals are rather linear, taking the reader down a straightforward path from crime to solution, but that is definitely not the case with ToxiCity. Here, we have a tale full of complexity and a plethora of twists and turns leading to answers that are tinged with a bit of ambiguity. I couldn’t help having some sympathy and certainly a good deal of understanding for the killer even while deploring that person’s actions.

Adding to the ins and outs of the investigations is the look into Georgia Davis’s early days as a cop. Georgia is young but that can’t fully excuse some of the dumb things she does or her overwrought emotional reactions when things don’t go her way. On the other hand, we also get to see the beginnings of her investigative talent, her sharp intellect and keen desire to figure things out.

As narrators, Beth Richmond and Derek Shetterly do fine work and both have good pacing and clear voices with just the right emotional tones when needed. There is not a lot of distinction between characters but I found that didn’t get in the way of my enjoying the story.

Bottomline, this is a good entry in the series but I would encourage readers not to assume “prequel” means this should be read first because you could end up not liking Georgia. Much better to meet her in the two previous books when she’s matured a little 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2019.

About the Author

Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago over 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Fifteen novels and twenty-five short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first.

She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few. She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony and four times for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year. She has also been nominated for the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne, and has won the IPPY and the Readers Choice Award multiple times.

Her novels include the now five-volume Ellie Foreman series, which she describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24;” the hard-boiled 5-volume Georgia Davis PI series, and four stand-alone historical thrillers set during Revolutionary Iran, Cuba, the Sixties, and WW2. Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s “25 Criminally Good Short Stories” collection. Her books have been translated into Spanish, German, Italian, and Chinese. All her books are available in print, ebook, and audiobook.

Libby also hosts Second Sunday Crime, a monthly podcast where she interviews bestselling and emerging crime authors. In 2006 she was the National President of Sisters in Crime, a 3500 member organization committed to the advancement of female crime fiction authors.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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About the Narrators

Beth Richmond

Narrator Beth Richmond has recorded more than 100 audiobooks in the last decade from her studio on the Mendocino coast. Among her favorites are those from Georgia Davis series. “It is a privilege and pleasure to return repeatedly to such a vividly drawn character and world. Ms. Hellman’s books live inside me now, as if they were memories from my own life. What fun!”

She can be reached at brich@mcn.org

Derek Shetterly

Derek’s love for performance began onstage in the 3rd grade as the star of “Captain Hook”.   Hooked, he was, and stage acting carried him through high school and into college. In 1988 he earned a BA in Radio/Television from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, with a minor in Theater.  For the next 15 years, Derek worked in radio as an on-air talent. But his main interest was in creative production; writing scripts became a forte, and performing the characters, a passion. In 2003, Derek took a leap of faith to devote his career to self-employment in voiceover work.

He has never looked back, and continues as a full-time professional voiceover talent, based in Oregon. In addition to audio books, Derek’s voice is on countless corporate narrations, eLearning modules, radio and television commercials and several documentaries. He has met his calling, is in his element behind the mic,  and so grateful to be doing what he loves every day. When he’s not narrating, or walking his faithful terrier “Max”, he’s probably on a mountain bike or planning his next travel adventure.

WebsiteLinkedIn

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Play an excerpt here.

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Giveaway

$100 Amazon Giftcard
Runs June 2nd-23rd⎮Open internationally

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Book Review: High Crimes by Libby Fischer Hellmann

High Crimes
The Georgia Davis PI Series #5
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, November 2018
ISBN 978-1-938733-95-6
Trade Paperback

High Crimes by Libby Fischer Hellmann is the fifth book in her Georgia Davis private investigator series. It closely reflects the unsettled U.S. political climate of the past two years. Dena Baldwin is the leader of a resistance movement that begin after the U.S. presidential election of 2016. At the beginning of a major protest demonstration in Chicago, a sniper shoots her and several of her colleagues from a nearby hotel roof and is presumed to have killed himself with a bomb. Baldwin’s mother hires Georgia to learn more about the killer and what prompted him to kill her daughter, since the local police and the FBI have drawn a blank. Sifting through the backgrounds of more than 40,000 members of the organization to identify potentially problematic members is the only lead she has, and she enlists tech support to help her. She learns the victim’s estranged father is a political lobbyist in Washington, DC, with questionable associates, giving her another avenue for her research. And the shooter’s sister has vanished, leaving Georgia to wonder why.

In the meantime Georgia’s lover is pressing her to move in with him. Georgia is seriously considering it, as her younger sister and baby have taken over her small apartment. But when she mentions it to her sister Savannah, Savannah takes the idea as a sign of abandonment, creating family complications that Georgia is at a loss to deal with.

Georgia balances family needs against a progressively more complex investigation, creating an involved mystery with multiple threads that come together in a credible but not-too-neat conclusion. Well-written, smoothly paced. For fans of books with strong women leads, private investigator mysteries, and contemporary political thrillers.

Libby Fischer Hellmann is a versatile award-winning writer with two crime series, stand-alone thrillers, and many short stories in her bibliography.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, November 2018.

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: Easy Innocence by Libby Fischer Hellmann

easy-innocenceEasy Innocence
A Georgia Davis Novel of Suspense #1
Libby Fischer Hellmann
Narrated by Beth Richmond
The Red Herrings Press, May 2016
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook
Also available in print and ebook editions

From the author—

When pretty, smart Sara Long is found bludgeoned to death, it’s easy to blame the man with the bat. But Georgia Davis – former cop and newly-minted PI – is hired to look into the incident at the behest of the accused’s sister, and what she finds hints at a much different, much darker answer. It seems the privileged, preppy schoolgirls on Chicago’s North Shore have learned just how much their innocence is worth to hot-under-the-collar businessmen. But while these girls can pay for Prada price tags, they don’t realize that their new business venture may end up costing them more than they can afford.

I’ve been a fan of Libby Fischer Hellmann for a long time but, although the print version of this book first came out in 2008, I had never read it or the following three books in the series. That wasn’t because I didn’t want to read it but I had focused on the author’s other works with the idea of getting to this “one of these days”. That day finally came when Ms. Hellmann offered a chance to listen to a re-do of the audiobook; I love audiobooks so I leaped at the opportunity.

From the standpoint of the story, the initial investigation into the teen’s murder eventually develops into three seemingly separate storylines but whether they are related is something Georgia will have to determine. In fact, she isn’t aware that one of these threads exists or, perhaps more accurately, she doesn’t understand all the parts; this is one of those instances when the reader knows more than the protagonist does but, deviously, Ms. Hellmann sees to it that we don’t know what we don’t know. Very nicely…and wickedly…done, Ms. Hellmann 😉

Georgia is a very likeable woman and an intelligent P.I. with a leg up from her police background. She doesn’t have a lot of people in her life but those who surround her are good people who care what happens to her. There’s nothing sleazy about Georgia and she approaches her tasks with a sense of honor and a desire to cause as little harm as possible.  That’s important because a lot of people could be very hurt by the results of her investigation, beginning with the ring of teenaged hookers and their oblivious families, not to mention their own airheaded ignorance of the dark side of their business venture. When Georgia learns of a possible fraudulent land development scheme, tying it to the prostitution ring ramps up the danger level to new highs including attempts on her own life.

In the first third or so of the book, I thought things dragged a little and the narrator’s performance added to that feeling because of her somewhat deliberate and slow pace. In fact, at one point, I turned up the speed on my iPod just to see what it would sound like and, although Ms. Richmond sounded quite a lot like she inhaled helium, I could still understand her clearly. That indicates to me that her pace really was a little too slow BUT….

….everything changed once certain things started happening and Ms. Richmond grabbed and held my attention. Certainly a lot of that is because Ms. Hellmann‘s story began to come to life but it’s also because Ms. Richmond really is quite a good narrator, especially with her varying voices. When all is said and done, I’m now wanting to continue with the series and with Beth Richmond‘s narration.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2016.

Book Review: Nobody’s Child by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Nobody's ChildNobody’s Child
A Georgia Davis Novel of Suspense #4
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, August 2014
ISBN 978-1-938733-46-8
Trade Paperback

Private investigator Georgia Davis expects a routine case of employee revenge when she meets with Shelly and Reggie Field, owners of a discount designer store in Evanston, Illinois. A flash mob boldly struck their store, making off with over five thousand dollars in merchandise and hurting Reggie so badly he ended up in the hospital. Reggie suspects a former employee of the store, a suburban kid he hired as a favor to his parents, who was fired for dealing drugs. Positive that this was payback for firing the kid, Reggie wants Georgia to investigate.

While working on the case, Georgia receives a hand delivered message—the contents rock her world. It’s scrawled on a sandwich wrapper and has traces of what appears to be blood. It says: “Georgia, I am your half-sister Savannah. I’m in Chicago and I’m pregnant. I need your help. Please find me.”

Georgia discovers a man is following her, but before she can discover his identity he is gunned down before her eyes. Soon she is swept into an underground network of human trafficking, black market adoptions, and murder.

The book is told from both the viewpoints of Georgia and Savannah. Readers who enjoy a gritty story with a hardworking detective who keeps one step ahead of the bad guys will find this a satisfying read.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, September 2015.

Book Reviews: The Incidental Spy by Libby Fischer Hellmann and Make Me by Lee Child

The Incidental SpyThe Incidental Spy
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, September 2015
ISBN:  978-1-938733-84-0
Trade Paperback

This newest book by Libby Fischer Hellmann, the author of a number of standalones as well her acclaimed Ellie Foreman and Georgia Davis mystery series, takes a different path entirely: a historical thriller.  The protagonist is Lena Bentheim, who, in pre-War, 1935 Berlin, pledges her undying love to Josef Meyer, who reciprocates those emotions, vowing his love “until death do us part.”  A few weeks later, Lena, 16 years old, seizes the opportunity to leave Berlin and boards a ship for New York, then heads to Chicago.  Neither Josef nor her parents were quite so fortunate.

Josef was “waiting for her in Budapest, and as soon as she could, she would bring him to the States.”  But that seems destined not to happen.  She takes a job working in the Physics Department at the University of Chicago, headed by Professor Arthur Compton, the department chair and a Nobel Prize-winner.  She soon meets and ultimately marries Karl Stern, another Jewish German refugee, in June, 1937 and a little over two years later, their son Max is born.  The news in Europe is such that she is sure neither her parents nor Josef have survived the Nazis, with their Final Solution, and despite the new life she has been given, the fates, or whatever else one chooses to call them, are not yet done with her, and more tragedy awaits her.

Lena is now working with a group of physicists who produced the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, in what would become the Manhattan Project.  But Lena is forced to spy on the nuclear fission experiments at the University.  She feels that “she was nothing more than a pawn . . . Unimportant.  Expendable.”  The plot is completely convincing, and Ms. Hellmann has given us an engrossing novel, and this reader was totally unprepared for the shocking ending.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2015.

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Make MeMake Me
A Jack Reacher Novel #20
Lee Child
Delacorte, September 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8041-7877-8
Hardcover

This is no spoiler:  As this newest book from Lee Child opens, it is made clear from the first paragraph that someone has been killed, and his body is about to be buried.  He is even identified:  His name is Keever.  And the mise en scene is apparently in the middle of nowhere  – a wheat field “in the middle of ten thousand acres of nothingness,” a month before harvest time.  Jack Reacher makes his appearance on the very next page, as he finds himself on a train slowing down and coming down to a stop in a town apparently called Mother’s Rest, “which he had seen on a map and which he thought was a great name for a railroad stop . . .  He had no place to go, and all the time in the world to get there, so detours cost him nothing.”  So on a whim more than anything else, intrigued by the name of the town, he decides to check it out.

Reacher is an imposing figure.  He is a retired military cop, with rare attributes:  He is brilliant, with admirable reserves of intelligence and strengths (both mental and physical, at 6’ 5” and 250 pounds).  As he exits the train, he is approached by an Asian woman, about 5’9” and 40 years old, and very attractive.  The woman, Michelle Chang, has apparently been waiting for a man who fit Reacher’s general description, and is disappointed that it is Reacher, and not her colleague, the man called Keever.   She is a private detective, ex-FBI, ex-cop from Connecticut.  Keever was trying to make contact with a client whose identity is a mystery, but now it is her mystery as there has been no word from Keever since he told Chang he had arrived in Mother’s Rest.  Not improbably, Reacher joins her in her quest.

The mystery of the origin of the name Mother’s Rest is not resolved until the final pages of the book; the mystery of Keever’s whereabouts is resolved a bit more quickly, although it is a long and tortuous road discovering the answer.  And it soon appears that the tiny village of Mother’s Rest is not as peaceful as it might seem, and the small number of inhabitants are watching every step Reacher and Chang take, and reporting those movements to something of a master criminal.

The book is meticulously plotted, and wonderfully well written – no surprise there!  There are some constants in a Lee Child/Jack Reacher novel (and thank goodness for that!)  He still abides by his golden rules, the first of which is “eat when you can,” followed closely by “hope for the best, plan for the worst,” and travels with “everything he needed [usually only a toothbrush], and nothing he didn’t.”   The book is trademark Lee Child/Jack Reacher, very high praise indeed, and the novel is highly recommended.

(As to that title, that is explained in the last words on the flyleaf:  “As always, Reacher’s rule is:  If you want me to stop, you’re going to have to make me.”)

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2015.

Book Review: Nobody’s Child by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Nobody's ChildNobody’s Child
A Georgia Davis Novel of Suspense #4
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, August 2014
ISBN:  978-1-938733-46-8
Trade Paperback

This newest book by Libby Fischer Hellmann, the author of a number of standalones as well her acclaimed Ellie Foreman and Georgia Davis mystery series, features the latter, who was a cop for ten years and now and for the past five years a Chicago PI. There are parallel story lines, one dealing with her sudden awareness of the existence of a half-sister about whom she knew nothing, the other a new case where she is hired by an Evanston store manager to get to the bottom of a “flash rob” – a term new to me but apparently referencing a robbery combined with a flash mob – which had gone viral on YouTube – and prove that one of his employees was behind it.

The whole “flash rob” thing was very interesting:  “a powerful warning of what could happen to a society where envy, a sense of entitlement, and electronic toys converged.”  Georgia’s back-story includes the fact that her father was a cop, and that her mother had left when Georgia was ten.  The theme of feeling that she is “nobody’s child” is well-established.

Both story lines are very intriguing, and chapters are interspersed with flashbacks of the half-sister, Savannah (“Vanna”), going back one year in time, in Littleton, Colorado, a Denver suburb, when she was introduced to drugs that initially cost no more than sexual favors, but soon came to cost a lot more. Savannah had not known of Georgia’s existence until ten months ago. Ultimately the tale involves sex trafficking and other criminal acts that are a whole lot worse.

In the more personal story line, a note is delivered to Georgia saying “Georgia, I am your half sister, Savannah. I’m in Chicago and I’m pregnant. I need your help. Please find me.” In the professional plot line, Georgia’s job becomes threatening when she realizes she is being followed, immediately after which there is a drive-by shooting and the man following Georgia is murdered.

Georgia has trust/relationship/ communication issues, a theme repeated throughout.  But it becomes clear that she does appreciate a specific physical aspect of the men she meets.  I loved the way Ellie Foreman, video producer and equally wonderful protagonist in Ms. Hellmann’s other series, has an off-page presence in the novel, as well as the sly reference to author Michael Connelly and his own Lincoln Lawyer protag.  The book is well-written and very enjoyable, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2015.