Book Review: Jimmy and Fay by Michael Mayo

Jimmy and Fay
The Jimmy Quinn Mysteries #3
Michael Mayo
Open Road/Mysterious Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-5040-3607-8
Trade Paperback

Jimmy and Fay reads like one of those old gangster films from the thirties, mixing noir and glamour with a touch of the illegal thrown in to keep it interesting. Jimmy Quinn runs a speakeasy in New York City; his girlfriend Connie Nix and right-hand man Arch Malloy keep the business going. Someone has made dirty photos of the film “King Kong” but anyone can see the woman in the photos in not Fay Wray. Even so, the studio is anxious to make the story go away. They will pay $6000 to the blackmailers and Jimmy is tapped to be the go-between for ten percent.

“Jimmy the Stick” is not your usual good guy battling evil. He’s short, has a bum leg, and sometimes uses his cane as a weapon. The story focuses on the seedy world of stag films, corrupt cops and blackmail. Real life gangsters Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano provide background for the world of Prohibition in 1933 New York City. Plenty of colorful slang and details from the time period add to the solid mystery at the center of this story.

The author writes on film for the Washington Post and the Roanoke Times, and is the author of American Murder: Criminals, Crime and the Media. This is the third in the Jimmy Quinn series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2017.

Book Reviews: Night School by Lee Child and The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton

Night School
A Jack Reacher Novel #21
Lee Child
Delacorte Press, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-041-7880-8
Hardcover

From the publisher:  It’s 1996, and Reacher is still in the army.  In the morning they give him a medal, and in the afternoon they send him back to school.  That night he’s off the grid. Out of sight, out of mind. Two other men are in the classroom – – an FBI agent and a CIA analyst.  Each is a first-rate operator, each is fresh off a big win, and each is wondering what the hell they are doing there.  Then they find out:  A Jihadist sleeper cell in Hamburg, Germany, has received an unexpected visitor – – a Saudi courier, seeking safe haven while waiting to rendezvous with persons unknown. A CIA asset, undercover inside the cell, has overheard the courier whisper a chilling message: “The American wants a hundred million dollars.”  For what?  And who from?  Reacher and his two new friends are told to find the American.  Reacher recruits the best soldier he has ever worked with:  Sergeant Frances Neagley.  Their mission heats up in more ways than one, while always keeping their eyes on the prize:  If they don’t get their man, the world will suffer an epic act of terrorism.  From Langley to Hamburg, Jalalabad to Kiev, Night School moves like a bullet through a treacherous landscape of double crosses, faked identities, and new and terrible enemies, as Reacher maneuvers inside the game and outside the law.

Reacher is an imposing figure.  He is a military cop, 35 years old, a major with twelve years in, with rare attributes:  He is brilliant, with admirable reserves of intelligence and strengths (both mental and physical, at 6’ 5” and 250 pounds).   He thinks of himself as “a good street fighter.  Mostly because he enjoyed it.”  He thinks of his new “assignment” as a cooperation school, these disparate government agencies not known for getting along well together.  When the men fly to Hamburg, Reacher thinks:  “He had dealt with German cops before.  Both military and civilian.  Not always easy.  Mostly due to different perceptions. Germans thought they had been given a country, and Americans thought they had bought a large military base with servants.”  The identity of their primary target, known only as The American, is not known till 160 pages in, and the item[s] being sold not known until page 300.  We are reminded of the callous mindset when one character says “soccer wasn’t so bad. He had once seen it played with a human head.”

The book is intricately and meticulously plotted.  It was different from prior books in the series in that it is not as taut and edge-of-your-seat as previous entries, but the reader is carried along from beginning to end, just somewhat more sedately.  It is trademark Lee Child/Jack Reacher, however, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2016.

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

The Second Life of Nick Mason
Steve Hamilton
Putnam, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-3995-7432-0
Hardcover

From the publisher:  A career criminal from Chicago’s South Side, Nick Mason got his start stealing cars and quickly graduated to safe-cracking and armed robbery.  But he left that life behind when he met and married his wife and settled down with her and their young daughter – until an old friend offered him a job he couldn’t refuse.  That fateful night at the harbor landed him in prison with a 25-to-life sentence and little hope of seeing his wife or daughter ever again.  When Nick is offered a deal allowing his release twenty years ahead of schedule, he takes it without hesitation or fully realizing the consequences.  Once outside, Nick steps into a glamorous life with a five-million-dollar condo, a new car, ten grand in cash every month, and a beautiful roommate. But while he’s returned to society, he’s still a prisoner, bound to the promise he made behind bars:  whenever his cell phone rings, day or night, Nick must answer it and follow whatever order he is given.  It’s the deal he made with Darius Cole, a criminal mastermind serving a double-life term who still runs an empire from his prison cell.  Whatever Darius Cole needs him to be – – a problem solver, bodyguard, thief, or assassin – – Nick Mason must be that man.  Forced to commit increasingly dangerous crimes and relentlessly hunted by the detective who brought him to justice in the past, Nick finds himself in a secret war between Cole and an elite force of Chicago’s dirty cops.  Desperate to go straight and rebuild his life with his daughter and ex-wife, Nick will ultimately have to risk everything – – his family, his sanity, and even his life – – to finally break free.

How does Nick resolve this second life he is now forced to live?  The manner in which he does so is revealed in this fascinating novel by Steve Hamilton, and the suspenseful way he accomplishes it is typical of what we have come to expect from this author, in this newest page-turner, just the first in a new series.  It goes against anything Nick had believed in:  Although admittedly involved with several kinds of illegal acts, he had never – and believed he never could – taken another man’s life.  But after five years and twenty-eight days in prison, and with the hope of re-starting his life with his beloved Gina and their little girl, he would do almost anything.  The book opens with quotes from two very different sources: Nathaniel Hawthorne and Bruce Springsteen.  But expect the unexpected from this wonderful author.  I was delighted to learn that the next book in the series, Exit Strategy, will be published by Putnam in May, and I can’t wait to read it!   The Second Life of Nick Mason is, you will have guessed, highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2017.

Book Review: Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell

Frozen Charlotte
Alex Bell
Scholastic Press, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-94108-2
Hardcover

Everything began innocently enough. Sophie and her best friend Jay sitting in a cafe. He’d downloaded an ouija board app on his smartphone and was insistent they try it. Despite a sense of dread, she goes along reluctantly, but something seems to hijack the app, sending them really scary messages. Then the lights go out and all hell breaks loose. Someone in the cafe kitchen is badly burned and Sophie swears she saw a tall, ghostly figure atop one of the tables. Spooked by the experience, she pleads with Jay to take the towpath home when riding his rickety bike instead of going by way of the heavily traveled streets. The next day, she learns to her horror that he lost the brakes on his bike, slid into a canal and drowned.

Thus begins a series of scary and inexplicable events for Sophie. Her parents have a long anticipated anniversary trip to San Francisco, but are willing to cancel it because of what happened to Jay. Knowing that they’ll lose a bunch of money if this happens, stiffens her resolve to go stay with her strange relatives in an old girl’s school on the Isle of Skye they converted into a super menacing mansion.

Once there, things alternate between creepy and creepier. (Imagine highlights from “The Shining” if the cast were ripped from “The Munsters” minus any comedy and you’d be off to a good beginning.) Her uncle is an artist and essentially clueless about what’s happening, one of her cousins, Rebecca, died years ago under mysterious circumstances, but her ghost keeps reappearing (is she coming back to warn Sophie, or scare the heck out of her?) Then there’s her slightly older cousin Cameron, a brilliant pianist who suffered a terrible injury to one hand, severely hampering his dreams of becoming a world famous musician. Sophie can’t decide if he hates her or everyone in general. Next comes Piper, who is insanely beautiful and the same age as Sophie. At first, she seems like a breath of fresh air, but the longer Sophie’s around her, the more confused she is about who the real Piper is. Then there’s Lilias, the youngest girl who once tried to remove her own collarbone with a butcher knife. She’s hostile toward Sophie in the beginning, but the longer they’re around each other, the more they need to trust and rely on each other.

Add in that her aunt is locked up in a mental hospital, that there is an army of super creepy dolls remaining from when the school was in operation, coupled with a trash-talking parrot and generally gloomy weather and you have a grand recipe for a top notch YA horror story. Even if you start figuring out who was responsible for what nastiness before the end, it won’t matter because reading this makes for a grand and scary ride. Let’s hope the power doesn’t go out while you’re doing so.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2017.

Book Reviews: The Candidate by Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart and The Cuban Connection by M.L. Malcolm

The Candidate
A Newsmakers Novel #2
Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart
Thomas Nelson, October 2016
ISBN:978-0-7180-3768-0
Hardcover

This is a finely crafted, taut modern thriller. It takes readers inside the current explosion of news and comment electronic channel, of blogging, punditry, false panic, alternative facts and similar fact and fiction. The multiple levels of conspiracy are interesting and reflect the background of the author. In a general sense, the pace is relentless and largely compelling, if a little predictable at times.

Protagonist Erica Sparks, under almost constant pressure to improve her standing, in spite of the fact she’s at the top of the ratings list, seeks interviews with presidential candidates. The assignment takes her all over the country, where she encounters bombs, murder and suicide by gun, and a cabal of nasty characters aimed at the ultimate power grab. To explain more would reveal too much.

The author has devised a cast of intriguing characters, some beset with the kind of domestic problems many readers will recognize. The story is well-grounded in modern realities for the professional working mother. Still, therein lies the principal difficulty of the narrative. Every so often, Erica Sparks succumbs to the stupid bug. For a top reporter and anchor she misses several obvious clues that would have revealed the identity of her adversaries or at least warned her of impending danger.

Even with these lapses, the book, well-described, carefully plotted, should raise the alarms in any reader who is aware of today’s society’s conflicting pressures, and the inimical forces of evil arrayed against us, regardless of constant protestations to the contrary.

The novel is intense, relentless and compelling. In spite of our awareness of the very contemporary setting and potential realities, it is, in the end, a novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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

The Cuban Connection
M.L. Malcolm
A Good Read Publishing, February 2015
ISBN: 978-0-9815726-3-5
Trade Paperback

An intriguing well-written examination of the realities that have existed in the mysterious island nation of Cuba since the revolution. The novel—and it is an exceptionally carefully researched novel—is set in the early years of the 1960s. The story is narrated by an intrepid reporter named Katherine O’Connor. She’s an experienced reporter working on general assignments for the Reuters news agency out of London.

Her first intimation of major change coming to her life is when she is recalled to the New York office of the agency. She’s still not a bylined reporter. That’s the next career step up and she’s getting desperate to make the grade. Unfortunately, her fortunes at Reuters seem to be on a downward track until she wangles a freelance assignment to Cuba.

Cuba is a dangerous place for honest reporters as the Castro regime tightens censorship and moves to total control of the country. With help from clandestine intelligence resources, O’Connor goes to Cuba and headlong into a series of adventures while falling for a man who may be a Soviet spy.

Anyone who wants a good spy story and to join some devilishly clever characters on a series of nicely conceived adventures strongly rooted in the realities of the time, will enjoy this novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2016.
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: Dig Two Graves by Kim Powers

Dig Two Graves
Kim Powers
Tyrus Books, December 2015
ISBN 978-1-4405-9192-1
Trade Paperback

Skip Holt’s world as she knew it ended the day her mother died in a car crash [always bringing to her mind a poem she had had to learn in school by Robert Frost].  There is much erudition here, as Skip’s father makes his living “by teaching about the past, the very long ago past.  The Classics, Greece, Rome, Latin.”   Indeed, the novel begins with a quote from Confucius:  “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”  And revenge is what this book is all about.  “The classics were all about it – – getting revenge, declaring enemies, going to war.”

From the publisher:  In his 20’s, Ethan Holt won the Decathlon at the Olympics and was jokingly nicknamed “Hercules;” now, in his late 30’s, he’s returned to his ivy-covered alma mater to teach, and to raise his young daughter Skip as a single father.  After a hushed-up scandal over his Olympics win and the death of his wife in a car accident five years ago, Ethan wants nothing more than to forget his past. Skip is not only the light of Ethan’s life – – she is his life. Then, Skip is kidnapped.  A series of bizarre ransom demands start coming in that stretch Ethan’s athletic prowess to its limits, and he realizes with growing horror that they are modern versions of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, demanded in tricky, rhyming clues by someone who seems to have followed every step of Ethan’s career.  To solve the mystery and get his daughter back, Ethan teams up with a force-of-nature female detective, Aretha Mizell, who carries some secrets of her own.  As Ethan races from Labor to Labor, we enter the mysterious abandoned schoolhouse where Skip is being held captive, and we begin to hear the fantastic and strangely heartbreaking story of the kidnapper and his link to Ethan’s past. The clues begin to point not only to Ethan’s athletic career, but to his childhood, and to a family history as troubled and bizarre as those of any
of the legendary, mythic character he teaches.

The novel opens on a late Fall day in New England, the day Ethan turns 39 and receives tenure at the college where he teaches, and where Skip, now 13, has planned a party for him.  Suddenly things take a decidedly ugly [well, uglier] turn, one as to which the reader has been given a hint, with a glimpse of a stalker, “the man with a plan,” and things escalate beyond anything the reader might expect.  The writing is riveting, with one shocking turn at Chapter 31, and the identity of the kidnapper not known until Chapter 55, with the book ending on a somewhat enigmatic note 50 pages later.  A page-turner of a book, it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2016.

Book Review: The Semper Sonnet by Seth Margolis

the-semper-sonnetThe Semper Sonnet
Seth Margolis
Diversion Books, April 2016
ISBN: 978-1-68230-056-5
Trade Paperback

Academic Lee Nicholson discovers a long lost sonnet written by William Shakespeare in an old book, but when she announces the find on a television program, all sorts of evil things happen. First is the murder of the tv cameraman she’d taken to her bed in a euphoric response to the program. The problem is, she is the one accused of murdering him, and soon she is on the run, attempting to prove her innocence before she’s convicted and they throw away the key.

Violent events escalate. More people are murdered, usually right after she’s spoken to them. As Lee realizes the deaths are related to the sonnet, she examines the document ever more deeply. What she discovers is a hidden code, and the final word is Semper, which means “always.” As the plot thickens, she finds the sonnet was written to Queen Elizabeth I’s specifications, with a message for future generations. But also revealed is the presence of what could unleash a pandemic on the whole world and wipe out mankind.

Convoluted? You bet. I admire the way the author unfolds the mystery and the way Lee makes these discoveries. I didn’t, however, particularly admire Lee herself as a heroine. What thinking woman, particularly one supposedly as smart as she is purported to be, would climb into bed with so many men on one night stands? Especially when a basic stranger has already been murdered in her bed? Worse, she accepts yet another man into her life when she already suspects him of duplicity.

Even so, as the story winds down and as the reader flies from the U.S. to London and back and forth, the action ramps up to a high level. The book is well-written, and though much of the story is a bit predictable⏤we’ve seen it before in The Da Vinci Code and it’s like⏤I still enjoyed the way this played out.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: As You Lay Sleeping by Katlyn Duncan

as-you-lay-sleeping-tour-banner

Continue reading