Book Review: Substitute Soloist by D.R. Ransdell

Substitute Soloist
An Andy Veracruz Mystery #4
D.R. Ransdell
Aakenbaaken & Kent, February 2019
ISBN 978-1-938436-77-2
Trade Paperback

Andy Veracruz, a mariachi musician who has won himself a place in the Tucson symphony orchestra, suddenly becomes the concertmaster when the present one is accused of murder. The evidence seems quite compelling, although the maestro insists she’s innocent. When she flees the scene, enlisting Andy’s help, he sets out to prove it. Their investigations take them to Europe and to Mexico before they’re done.

Thoughts: A lot of hustling here and there didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Why would Andy put himself in danger to go through these contortions to find this very difficult and unlikable woman? If the police thought the woman murdered a man, why didn’t they figure into the plot? A ticking time clock to prove innocence before the cops arrest her? Not mentioned. I don’t even understand why the maestro chose Andy to help him. The best part of the book was the music involved, but for a new, barely adequate violinist to be chosen concertmaster over the others strikes me as odd, especially when he keeps talking about making so many mistakes and how badly he’s playing. And then to put him into all these other symphonies as concertmaster when they go to Europe on a wild goose chase? Hmm.

Frankly, it took me several days to get through the book. For me, it fell flat although that may say more about me than it does about the author. But it certainly did not strike me as the page turner another reviewer called it. Everyone will need to judge for him/herself. The story did, when I got to the end, have a good twist, the writing is well-done, and the musical aspects are educating and interesting.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2020.
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: Keys to Nowhere by Dorothy H. Hayes

Keys to Nowhere
The Carol Rossi Mystery Series #3
Dorothy H. Hayes
CreateSpace, January 2017
ISBN 978-1541242876
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A Tucson vacation morphs into terror when two teenage girls and their aunt vanish. When the girls’ desperate parents beg their friend and Connecticut investigative journalist Carol Rossi for help, Rossi can’t refuse. She leaves her infant daughter, police detective husband, and treasured farm and animal sanctuary to lead the hunt through the desert. It’s 1985, and Rossi is chasing down a new kind of danger: the serial killer. When the Tucson police aren’t interested in her theories, Rossi acts alone before the killer can strike again.

I have a vague memory of the first time I heard of an abductor/killer posing as a police patrolman but what isn’t vague is how it sunk in that this is a trap all too easy for most people to fall into. Ever since, I’ve been prepared to do what the police themselves advise, to never stop at night or in a lonely area when a cop flashes the lights or taps the siren but go directly to a precinct if possible or at least a well-lit spot with people around. The first pages of Keys to Nowhere gave me the creeps as it became obvious how easy it is for a fake cop to overcome one’s natural concern and sense of self-preservation. By the end of the second chapter, I knew I was in for a heck of a story.

Carol Rossi is one smart cookie and has solved crimes before so it’s no surprise that her friend Vera begs her for help when she can’t reach her teenaged daughters and her sister who’ve been vacationing in Arizona. Helping Vera means Carol has to leave her infant daughter and her police detective husband behind in Connecticut so she’s understandably reluctant but a less than satisfactory call to the Tucson police convinces her she has to go.

Carol is an appealing protagonist, determined to find the three women despite a lack of interest from the police, but it’s the killer who really stands out in my mind because he’s so mesmerizing in his looks and smooth talk, very much like Ted Bundy. That’s the thing about really bad people—they frequently are impossible to spot until it’s too late and that’s one of the traits that’s so fascinating about them. The third character who really impressed me is 16-year-old Ginger, a girl in desperate trouble who isn’t the sort to just let things happen to her. I like this girl a lot and she’s the one who lends an atmosphere of hope to a tale of terror.

As for the story, there isn’t much that’s more intriguing than the battle between good and evil and that’s exactly what this is. It’s uncomfortable to be in the killer’s head but, at the same time, this is what makes his actions and behavior so compelling and, from page to page, I wanted, needed to know what would happen next with the tension building to almost unbearable levels.

Keys to Nowhere is one of those thrillers that blends plot and characterization on an equal basis and Ms. Hayes once again has crafted a tale that kept me enthralled from beginning to end. Anyone looking for an exciting, disturbing, highly satisfying read won’t go wrong with this one.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

Book Review: Devil’s Kitchen by Clark Lohr

Devil's KitchenDevil’s Kitchen
Clark Lohr
Oak Tree Press, June 2011
ISBN 978-1-61009-012-4
Trade Paperback

The discovery of a severed head in the Tucson landfill draws Pima County Sheriff’s deputy Manny Aguilar into a case pitting a Mexican drug lord and a less than ethical land developer into what almost becomes a war. Murder, kidnapping, and drugs fuel a power struggle between factions. Manny’s going to have a real fight on his hands to bring these powerful people to justice—as long as they don’t (and it’s not for a lack of trying) kill him first. Things turn grim when he discovers half the men in the sheriff’s department are working for the other side.

Lohr has created an interesting character in Manny Aguilar, a half Yaqui, half Latino detective who relies on his Yaqui grandmother’s witchery for help in solving the case. Indispensable at watching his back is his girlfriend, a fiery redhead named Reina who showers him with great sex. He’s beginning to think he can’t manage without her.

The plot is full of twists and turns. The writing is sharp and crisp. Characterization is spot on, while the action keeps the pages turning. The insertion of a side plot involving Southwestern ecology and water problems makes the novel as a whole seem fresh and new. Lots of surprises here. Enough to make you hope the wait for the next Manny Aguilar novel is not long in coming.

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