Book Review: Gone to Darkness by Barbara Nickless @BarbaraNickless

Gone to Darkness
Sydney Rose Parnell #4
Barbara Nickless
Thomas and Mercer, June 2020
ISBN 978-1542092869
Trade Paperback

Sydney Parnell is the youngest homicide detective in the Denver’s Major Crime Unit. She’s an Iraqi war vet and has also worked as a railway cop along with her K9 partner Clyde, a Belgian Malinois who was by her side during her time in Iraq.

Sydney is meeting up with another officer to investigate a possible jumper from a train. When she arrives she finds Officer Heinrich unconscious and bleeding from a head injury. Sydney calls for back up and an ambulance and while she waits, she and Clyde take a look around. Nothing seems amiss but a fog descends which renders the scene rather eerie. Near the tracks she spots a medallion smeared with blood. Further searching uncovers paper clips shaped like a cross.

Her gut instinct is telling her something strange is going on. A Forensic team is sent out to the area and Sydney insists that the train that recently passed through the area be searched. During the search the mutilated body of a young man is found.

The victim turns out to be well known among local graphic artists using his talents to draw superhero comics. He was also known to the immigrant workers and was a member of group calling themselves The Superior Gentlemen.

The investigation seems to be getting nowhere and reluctantly Sydney reconnects with another case she’s been assigned regarding the rapes of women in nursing homes. DNA collected from the train matches that found at the rapes, a strong indication the two cases are connected.

The plot is strong, complex and intriguing. Sydney is a likeable well rounded character. I really liked her connection with Clyde, her dog, as well as her relationship with her mentor, Detective Len Bandoni. Some of the descriptions of victims are harsh and brutal and may be a problem for some readers.

This is the fourth novel from Barbara Nickless in this series. I haven’t read the others but I had no problem keeping up.

All in all … A great read!

Respectfully submitted,

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, June 2020.

Book Review: Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg @LeeGoldberg

Lost Hills
Eve Ronin #1
Lee Goldberg
Thomas & Mercer, January 2020
ISBN 978-1542091893
Trade Paperback

Deputy Eve Ronin’s has only recently joined the Robbery-Homicide Division of Lost Hills, L.A.  She’s partnered with Duncan Pavone and they’ve been called to attend a homicide, but  after some argument with their adjoining district detectives already on the scene…LAPD agrees the homicide is in their jurisdiction.  Eve hides her disappointment, but on their way back to the Precinct a call from Dispatch sends them to a nearby location, to another possible homicide.

At the address they are met by a woman who explains her friend Tanya was supposed to pick her up that morning. The two of them were going to be extras in a movie shoot.  Concerned, the friend had come by to check on Tanya and noticed through the window, what looked like blood on the floor. She also mentions that Tanya, who has two children, has been talking recently about leaving her boyfriend.

Eve and Duncan check the house and find signs of what appears to be an attempt to clean up a lot of blood. Continuing their search Eve notes Tanya’s car is missing and there are more blood droplets in the garage.

This is the start of an unusual and interesting case.  Where is Tanya?  Where are her children? Are they alive? What happened in the house?  Eve is determined to find the answers to these challenging questions.

Eve Ronin is a great character and this reader was quickly swept up in her investigation.  Eve wants badly to be accepted by the guys she works with but knows she has to earn their respect.  Finding out what happened to Tanya and her children becomes a priority.  Eve doggedly pursues every avenue as she attempts to find the killer, and bring him to justice.

Does Eve find the killer?  You’ll have to check it out for yourself.. And believe me you won’t be disappointed.  Eve is tenacious and determined and leaves no stone unturned in her efforts to solve the mystery, even putting herself in grave danger.

While this author has an impressive number of titles, this was my first introduction but I assure you it won’t be my last.

Highly recommended.

Respectively submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, April 2020.

Book Review: Wrongful Death by L.J. Sellers

Wrongful DeathWrongful Death
A Detective Jackson Mystery #10
L.J. Sellers
Thomas & Mercer, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1477822180
Trade Paperback

This is how it’s done. A murder of a cop occurs near a homeless/vagrant camp. It is winter in Eugene, Oregon, and the cop is on a mission of mercy to hand out warm clothes and blankets. In the next fifteen pages we meet the principal players, understand the scene and a few oddities, and begin to see the complicated lives of several of the principals. The pace is already just short of relentless. And a teenaged girl is attacked in a texted video.

It is clear you are in the hands of an experienced, talented writer with a real sense of how to use foreshadowing, properly set the stage, and embed in readers’ minds important characteristics through judicious use of language in dialogue, and in the underlying narrative.

When a policeman is discovered murdered near a homeless camp, officers react with a wide spectrum of expected responses from rage at the homeless, guilty or innocent, and sincere attempts to discover the killer. Meanwhile a detective related to the dead man would rather be on that unit, but he’s assigned to track someone who is preying on young girls, sexually assaulting them on video and blackmailing the girl’s parents.

Each of the principals in the novel also has personal and relationship circumstances that provide stress and happiness at various times. It all makes for a rich stew with many ingredients that have to be carefully balanced. Sellers skillfully guides the reader through the sometimes gritty and often difficult times experienced by her characters. When the results of careful deductive reasoning and persistent investigation finally begin to resolve into profiles the detectives can grasp and move to conclusion, there are a few times when things seem just a bit rushed.

The novel is extremely well written, has a fine sense of its special location and the characters are all well-defined. This is a mystery detective novel that should satisfy every reader.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 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.

Book Review: Deadly Bonds by L.J. Sellers

Deadly BondsDeadly Bonds
A Detective Jackson Mystery #9
L.J. Sellers
Thomas & Mercer, August 2014
ISBN 978-1477824306
Trade Paperback

A runaway mother is murdered, her three-year-old son discovered hiding in the crawlspace of the rundown house where they’ve been living. Squatters or hiding out?

A college football star is found dead in his bathroom, apparently of a heart attack. But was it?

A young man and his girlfriend are in a car accident. He lives, she doesn’t. Her baby son survives her. How to create a new family?

All of these cases turn out to be connected, with motivations and suspects blending in a convoluted way. Figuring out the clues will take all of Eugene, Oregon’s best cops.

Deadly Bonds is a ripping good murder mystery, with Detective Wade Jackson on the case. He’s got an excellent group of people backing him up, including Detective Lara Evans, who is more than half in love with him. He also has a fiancée, Kera, and her life has also just gotten more complicated.

The book is about more than just murder. Author L.J.Sellers has written a heartwarming story that shows the true meaning of family.

The college culture, especially concerning the emphasis on sports–and the partying–is deftly dealt with, enough to make this reader shake her head. Even so, the circumstances might well be ripped from today’s headlines.

Loved the twist on how, and why, the football star died. It’s worth reading the book for just that one thing, although of course, the whole story is sure to keep you engrossed. The writing is excellent, the characters are fully fleshed, the setting is well explored.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: Rules of Crime by L.J. Sellers

Rules of CrimeRules of Crime
A Detective Jackson Mystery
L.J. Sellers
Thomas & Mercer, February 2013
ISBN 978-1611098068
Trade Paperback

Detective Wade Jackson of the Eugene, Oregon police department, is called home from a much needed vacation because of a family emergency. His ex-wife, Renee, has vanished, but when a ransom demand finally comes in, it is her wealthy boyfriend who steps forward to pay it. At the same time, a young woman is found brutally beaten. Dropped off at the hospital, she’s in a coma and unable to speak. In a town like Eugene, with ongoing monetary problems, the police force is spread thin. Jackson teams with FBI agent Carla River as they work these crimes, but before they make much headway, another young woman is found dead. Are the kidnapping, the assault, and the murder connected? It begins to look that way. And then Renee’s ransom pay-off goes wrong.

Many twists and turns will keep you turning the pages to the very end. Excellent characterization, including getting into the mind of a character who has undergone a sex change, is a L.J. Sellers trademark, as is the intricate plotting of this excellent police procedural.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, May 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Reviews: Accidents Waiting to Happen by Simon Wood, Vanishing Girls by Katia Lief, All Mortal Flesh by Julia Spencer-Fleming, Sacrifice Fly by Tim O’Mara, and If You Were Here by Alafair Burke

Accidents Waiting to HappenAccidents Waiting to Happen
Simon Wood
Thomas & Mercer, November 2012
ISBN:  978-1-612-18402-9
Trade Paperback

Josh Michaels, a young man with a wife and little girl he adored, while driving back to his home in Sacramento, California, is forced off the highway and into the river in what appears to be an accident born from what he thinks of as reckless stupidity on the part of the other driver.  But the actions of that driver, before he gets back into his car and speeds away, convince Josh that it is anything but. Josh survives the ‘accident,’ but starts to doubt his ability to continue to survive the ensuing events, all appearing to be accidents by increasingly obviously [to him] staged attempts to end his life. Josh is staggered as he comes to this unavoidable conclusion and cannot believe that he is the target of a killer, but has no choice but to accept this fact and attempt to figure out who wants him dead, and why, if he is to survive.  To make matters worse, if that’s possible, past indiscretions and errors in judgment are now coming back to haunt him.

At Chapter 4 the reader meets “the professional,” the man hired to kill another person, a woman, as well as Josh.  Who has hired him?  Is there a connection between the two intended victims [something not readily apparent]?  And what is the motive?  As ‘the professional’ himself muses, “a seemingly motiveless murder was just as hard to solve as a well-planned accident.”

Simon Wood has fashioned an exciting and well-written novel of suspense, with a nail-biting conclusion during which this reader held her breath in anticipation of what new horrors might be in store.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Vanishing GirlsVanishing Girls
Katia Lief
Harper, July 2012
ISBN 978-0-0620-9504-6
Mass Market Paperback

Karin Schaeffer, ex-NYPD and now a private detective, working with her husband at MacLeary Investigations, in the newest book by Katia Lief, becomes embroiled in the hunt for a serial killer dubbed The Working Girl Killer.  As you might guess, the victims have all been killed in the same manner, with the same exact type of weapon, and were all prostitutes.  Seven young women had been found dead across Manhattan, then two in Brooklyn.

At 38, Karin is now seeking an undergraduate college degree in forensic psychology.  She has not had an easy time of it, having survived the murder of her first husband and her daughter six years ago, and just recently had a miscarriage.  She dotes on their little boy, Ben, though still grieving for her losses.  As the book opens, Ben receives a text from Billy Staples, a detective at their local precinct in Brooklyn and Mac’s closest friend, from a crime scene that Billy believes to be where the serial killer has left his latest victim.  Eerily, a little girl is found badly injured several blocks away after what is believed to be a hit-and-run accident.  The cops feel the two things could somehow be connected, as the location and timing seem to rule out coincidence.

Billy had been fighting his own demons.  He has been hunting this killer for over a year. At the same time, Mac and Karin believe he is having hallucinations, suffering from PTSD after a horrifying incident when the woman he loved had tried to kill him, instead leaving him blinded in one eye; he had been forced to shoot her dead.  The current investigation triggers all his symptoms again, and envelops Karin as well to a very personal degree.

It is an interesting plot, telling a very dark tale that stayed with this reader for quite a while after turning the last page.  I have to admit, however, that after having read – –  and loved! – – the author’s two previous books, You Are Next, and Next Time You See Me, I felt this one did not live up to the expectations I had for it.  And though it was an interesting read, in the end I was disappointed.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

All Mortal FleshAll Mortal Flesh
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Minotaur, February 2013
ISBN 978-1-250-01855-7
Trade Paperback

All Mortal Flesh, the fifth in the Clare Ferguson/Russ Van Alstyne series, finds Clare, the parish priest in the small Adirondack, upstate NY town of Millers Kill, and Russ, the local police chief and married man she loves, having just wrenchingly ended their relationship.  The following day, an even more devastating event occurs:  Russ is told that his wife, from whom he had recently separated when he told her of his love for Clare, has been brutally murdered.  Loving Clare, yet still loving his wife, matters are only compounded when both Clare and Russ are considered prime suspects, not only by the police but by the local gossip-loving town residents.

With her usual adroit skill, Ms. Spencer-Fleming has written another wonderful tale of these very human protagonists in this book, available for the very first time in a trade paperback edition.  The sense of place is vivid, and the wintry weather graphically evoked. There is a slam-bang ending with a final unexpected and stunning turn as this suspense-filled tale concludes.  An excellent and fast-paced read, and one that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2013.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sacrifice FlySacrifice Fly
Tim O’Mara
Minotaur, October 2012
ISBN: 978-1-250-00898-5
Hardcover

Raymond Dunne is a very dedicated schoolteacher, working with eighth-graders in a middle school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and taking the welfare of his students very seriously.  In particular, one of the most promising, Frankie Rivas, has obtained a scholarship to a private high school on the basis of his baseball skills and the fact that Ray has called in a favor from their coach.  When Frankie fails to show up for school for a couple of weeks, Ray decides to try to find out why.  His visit to the home of the boy’s father results in his discovery of the man’s dead body.

Ray’s involvement at that point derives as much from his concern as his teacher as from the fact that Ray is a former cop.  His feelings when he walks into his old precinct are made palpable to the reader, his emotions roiling as he remembers back five years, when “you fall thirty feet, and your whole life changes.”  Among those changes are the physical ones; Ray has an umbrella with him every day, knowing it has to rain sometime; besides, it means he doesn’t have to carry a cane.

Frankie and his younger sister are nowhere to be found, and Ray follows up every lead he can find in order to locate the two children and ensure their safety.  Then the pace, and the suspense, move into higher gear, beyond the “controlled chaos” of Ray’s classroom, and the stakes go up as well.

When one has a terrific protagonist [with a valuable friend, a wannabe cop, nicknamed “Emo”], a well-developed plot, writing that makes the Brooklyn streets come to life and, as the title might imply, a lot of baseball references, what more could one ask?  [Well, this reader had to get past the fact that Ray is a Yankee fan, although he does don a Mets cap when the situation requires it.]  This is a wonderful debut novel from a writer whose next book I will anxiously await, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2013.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If You Were HereIf You Were Here
Alafair Burke
Harper, June 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-220835-4
Hardcover

In her ninth novel, and second standalone, Alafair Burke introduces McKenna Jordan, a writer for the fictitious NYC Magazine.  Before her marriage five years ago, she was McKenna Wright, who had spent four years as an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, a job she lost in the aftermath of a police officer’s shooting of a 19-year-old youth, there being a question as to whether or not the boy had been unarmed, the gun found nearby planted.  McKenna’s zealous investigation into that incident, accusing the officer of homicide and perjury, ultimately caused her disgrace and ended her prosecutorial career.  This was soon followed by another, only slightly less traumatic event, when one of her best friends, beautiful West Point grad [and daughter of a two-star general] Susan Hauptmann, disappeared without a trace.

Now, all these years later, a cell-phone photo comes into McKenna’s hands showing a mysterious Superwoman, a female crime victim who had plucked her attacker’s body from the subway tracks to safety, who McKenna believes is that same friend, who she had become convinced was long dead.  Susan, an athletic 32 years old who had been deployed in the Middle East prior to the time of her disappearance, could have easily been capable of the feat in the subway station.

There ensue a series of bizarre and seemingly unrelated incidents that this reader never saw coming, including but not limited to a mysterious private operative [hitman?  private detective?  something else altogether?], a dead cop, someone hacking into and forging e-mails, and no clue as to who is pulling the strings.  The author somehow manages to tie them all up in a relentlessly intriguing plot.

Another well-written book by this author [who gives a tip-of-the-hat, without needing to name his completely recognizable protagonist, to Lee Child, which I loved], and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2013.

Book Reviews: Safe Harbor by Rosemary McCracken, Revenge from Beyond by Dennis Wong, and Mannheim Rex by Robert Pobi

Safe HarborSafe Harbor
Rosemary McCracken
Imajin Books, April 2012
ISBN 9781926997452
Trade Paperback

Family is very important. Rosemary McCracken‘s suspense filled mystery shows us the value of family ties, especially when the unexpected happens. Set in around the New Year in frozen Canada, this book brings in various issues of family life with the overlying mystery of murder and killers on the loose.

Pat Tierney’s world is full of her two daughters, a new boyfriend, her dog Maxie, and her Toronto based financial investment career. Her world gets turned upside down when a strange woman leaves a five year old boy at her office claiming he is Pat’s late husband’s son. When the woman is murdered and the boy’s family is apathetic about the boy’s plight, Pat ends up caring for the child. The police suspect the killer is also out to get the boy and wouldn’t hesitate to remove any other obstacles. Digging into the case, Pat finds a connection with a refuge for immigrants seeking citizenship. Against the advice from her new boyfriend and the police to stay out of the case, she can’t help but be involved, especially when danger seeks her out.

There doesn’t seem to be any Safe Harbor in this book for the main character. It’s a tale where the average person delves into being an amateur private investigator. I liked the links with Pat’s investment firm, the clients, her coworkers, and the influential people in her life such as her daughters and boyfriend. McCracken does a good job with showing family values in some of the subplots. It’s a fast but enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, July 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Revenge from BeyondRevenge from Beyond
Dennis Wong
Proverse Hong Kong, January 2012
ISBN 978-988-19935-1-9
Ebook
Also available in trade paperback

Take a trip back to ancient China’s Tang Dynasty. Where the Emperor rules and those under him speak in his name. Lawlessness is still common and murder abounds, for all the usual reasons. The same holds true for politics and corruption.

Quan Wu-Meng is just beginning his leadership in the Sui-chou District’s court. Almost immediately, the young judge encounters a murder. A struggling painter is found dead in his bed and Quan, along with the Coroner, begins the investigation. Quan must connect the following evidence: missing paintings, a political candidate with a shady background, and most intriguing, a dream begging for interpretation. The situation intensifies when the body of a rice merchant is discovered after an arson. However, there are more surprises ahead. Can Quan figure out the clues before those in power remove him from office?

Although I’m wary of mysteries set in foreign locales, this one was a quick and enjoyable read. The Chinese culture is explored, but I felt very in tune with the characters. This is a simple story with the culprits fairly easy to deduce. However, there are some very interesting bits of deduction, including a fascinating experiment to determine how a corpse didn’t die from a fire. The punishment for guilty parties is very extreme, but we’re talking about Imperial China. I’d love to read more Quan.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, September 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mannheim RexMannheim Rex
Robert Pobi
Thomas & Mercer, November 2012
ISBN 9781612184487
Trade Paperback
Also available in Kindle format

A monster fish. A depressed writer. A boy with a dream of becoming famous. A sheriff with some serious sociopath issues. These all combine to make for an excellent thriller by Robert Pobi. Don’t expect this to be some cheap Jaws knock-off. This goes so much, uh, deeper.

Gavin Whitaker Corlie, horror novelist, is a widower who can’t seem to get over his wife’s death. Contemplating suicide, he decides to move out of the crazy city. Buying a house in upstate New York on the shore of Lake Caldasac, he settles in to get his life together. Within a few days he encounters Finn Horn, a teenage fishing enthusiast who is slowly dying of cancer. All is not serene in the community lost in time. There have been strange disappearances on the lake and the local sheriff is not a big fan of rich city slickers. With more people missing and dying, danger lurking from local law enforcement, and winter approaching, Corlie and Finn make plans to capture the monster in the lake.

Pobi is a magician with words. His vivid descriptions took me lakeside and alongside with Corlie and Finn as they trolled on the water. This is a novel to display in any collection. Pobi is an author other authors need to read to learn how to write. The only disappointment about the book is that it had to end…or does it? Don’t think it’s over because the last chapter will shock your senses.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, December 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.