Book Reviews: Sister Eve, Private Eye by Lynne Hinton, Speak of the Devil by Allison Leotta, and The Black Stiletto: Endings and Beginnings by Raymond Benson

Sister Eve, Private EyeSister Eve, Private Eye
A Divine Private Detective Agency Mystery #1
Lynne Hinton
Thomas Nelson, December 2014
ISBN 978-1-4016-9145-5
Trade Paperback

Sister Eve has been a Benedictine nun for twenty years, but changes in Church policy are making her question her vocation.  When she learns that the Captain, her detective father, is about to lose a leg to diabetes, she takes a leave to nurse him, whether he likes it or not.  The irascible Captain–a retired police officer–was hunting for a missing movie producer when his illness spiraled out of control.  The discovery of the man’s body and Sister Eve‘s conviction that his client, the producer’s mistress, did not kill him, leads her to join in the investigation.

I like Sister Eve, the Captain, Meg Finch, his client–all of the characters feel real to me.  I love the Southwest setting.  The plot twists around nicely, and I didn’t spot the killer.  I spotted the clues after I finished the book.

I can see no easy answer to Sister Eve‘s spiritual dilemma.  Her talent for and love of detecting call her one way, her Community calls her another.  Her family needs her, but so does her Church. The situation isn’t resolved in this book, so I’m really glad that it’s the first in a series.   I hope there will be many more.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, October 2015.

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Speak of the DevilSpeak of the Devil
Anna Curtis #3
Allison Leotta
Touchstone, August 2013
ISBN 978-1-4516-4485-2
Hardcover

Anna Curtis, a tough sex-crimes prosecutor in Washington D.C., is in the process of asking her lover to marry her when she’s notified of a horrific murder and mutilation case. Assigned the investigation, she soon finds even the victims who lived through the attack are unwilling to testify. Why? Because “the Devil,” leader of the wicked MS-13 street gang, will retaliate, and he is brutal beyond compare.

The story sweeps the reader along with Anna as she builds her case, finds her witnesses and, as the gang leaders come to trial, almost becomes another of the Devil’s victims. I thought Ms. Leotta did a particularly good job of showing the reader how certain gang members became murderers and rapists, among their other crimes, whether that was their nature or not.

Even as all of this is going on, Jack, who first turns down Anna’s proposal, turns the tables and asks her to marry him. She says yes, but troubles are on the horizon, partially because Jack is African-American with a young daughter from a previous marriage.

The rest of the tale gets messy (in a good way) and I’m not giving out any spoilers here. The twist at the end is quite emotional. The plot, pacing, and characterization in the story are excellent. There is one rather graphic sex scene that would’ve been better omitted, in my opinion. Otherwise, this is a most satisfying book.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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The Black Stiletto Endings and BeginningsThe Black Stiletto: Endings and Beginnings
The Black Stiletto #5
Raymond Benson
Oceanview Publishing, November 2014
ISBN: 978-1-60809-103-4
Hardcover

Prolific crime writer Raymond Benson has a genuine flare for the use of words. He demonstrates that talent many times in this overlong tale. He also is talented in his ability to translate narrative and dialogue into the flavor of words and phrases that might be used by a young troubled girl growing up in Texas in the latter half of the Twentieth Century

A lot of girls grew up in Texas during that era but none of them had the kind of family represented by the mystery woman known as the Black Stiletto. She was a woman who traveled fast and quietly, associated with gangsters and cops and carried a very sharp knife. She embodied the legend of Lilith, the first woman. A woman who could take a life when necessary.

This novel moves effectively back and forth between time periods, delineates characters precisely and often wittily, and drives the twisted complicated plot and its many intertwined relationships to final fruition with multi-generational windings. It’s a fascinating novel, well-done in nearly every aspect and will undoubtedly expand the legion of followers.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 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: The Survivors by Robert Palmer—and a Giveaway!

The SurvivorsThe Survivors
A Cal Henderson Novel #1
Robert Palmer
Seventh Street Books, October 2015
ISBN 978-1-63388-082-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Psychologist Cal Henderson has a successful practice in Washington, DC, and big plans for the future. But he can’t escape a terrible secret. When he was a boy, his mother murdered his father and two brothers and severely wounded Cal’s best friend, Scottie Glass. Desperate to keep the nightmare at bay, Cal has turned his back on everything that happened that night.

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the killings, Scottie shows up at Cal’s office—edgy, paranoid, but somehow still the loveable kid he once was. Though their lives have taken very different paths, they both believe Cal’s mother couldn’t have been a murderer. She loved them too much, no matter what dark place she found herself in. They set off to dig up the real story.

Cal uncovers one shocking secret after another about his family.  The trail leads to a shady defense contractor, a scheming US Attorney, and, ultimately a billionaire with the kind of power and connections that can only be found in Washington.  But Cal is paying a price.  The memories he has avoided for so long have come flooding back, sending him into a tailspin from which he may never recover.

It’s not often that I feel the need to take issue with other reviews but this is one of those times when I feel compelled to because I disagree with some of them quite a bit. First, the use of both first and third person point of view is a very minor thing; first person is used for the bulk of the story and third only for the prologue and epilogue and the switch is not, in my opinion, out of place. (If you’re a reader who heartily dislikes prologues, that’s another issue but I contend that it makes complete sense in this particular story.)

Then there’s the notion that the writing is stilted and contains too much telling as opposed to showing, too little action and suspense, too much talking. Put simply, I just didn’t see it that way at all. Yes, there’s a good bit of talk but these men are trying to get to the bottom of a 25-year-old tragedy and that kind of investigating necessitates a lot of talking to each other and to the people they track down during their probe. By its very nature, sleuthing has to involve a lot of discussion unless it’s one lone cowboy who talks only to himself. Also, I’ve always thought that first person POV, as popular as it is these days, is somewhat limiting in that the reader can only experience what the narrator tells or shows him and some of that has to be at a distance because the narrator isn’t present during all the action. For instance, in this case, there’s a scene in which a body is being pulled out of the water. Cal wasn’t there when the body went in so of course all he can do is tell us; he can’t let us see what happened.

Finally, there’s the thought that Cal is unemotional. All I can say to that is of course he is! After all, he’s spent most of his life holding in his emotions, for good reason, so he’s not going to suddenly let loose now. If anything, he has to be even more guarded because he feels the need to look out for Scottie who is a complete mess and highly likely to get himself and Cal into serious trouble.

I do think there are some flaws in Mr. Palmer‘s debut, especially the flatness of some of the secondary characters. On the other hand, I found Cal and Scottie to be rather compelling, particularly in the vastly different ways they have coped with their terrible past. Scottie would get on anyone’s nerves and I thought Cal’s choice of profession is what allowed these two men to come together with a common goal. Their attempts to rebuild their childhood trust were as appealing to me as the mystery itself. And just incidentally, that mystery is full of twists and turns and not everything is resolved. I don’t mean that we’re left with a cliffhanger, just that not everything gets tied up in pretty little bows and that’s OK with me. I’ll be looking forward to seeing more of Cal and perhaps some of the other characters.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2015.

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To enter the drawing for a print
copy of The Survivors by Robert
Palmer, leave a comment below.
Two winning names will be drawn
Thursday evening, October 22nd. One
will receive an advance reading copy
and one will receive a finished copy.
This drawing is open to residents
of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Love Is the DrugLove is the Drug
Alaya Dawn Johnson
Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-41781-5
Hardcover

Love is the Drug is one of those YA books that doesn’t feel like one. It just centers on some people who happen to be in high school.

And, oh yeah, it is a fun and engrossing book to read. The book opens with a scenario that is quickly becoming a favorite, one where the reader and the main character, Emily Bird, are asking themselves “Just what is going on here?” We will spend much of the book figuring that out.

Each chapter’s title is named for a chemical and if you’re unfamiliar with any of them, I’d recommend looking them up, as each one bears on the upcoming chapter. The writer has a great vocabulary and she isn’t afraid to use it which really adds to the story. There’s a great expression and a spelled out understanding of love in the book as well as lots of social references sprinkled throughout the text.

The only complaint I had was the author’s tendency to end chapters with a change in style, often switching to a first person point of view or at least once, a numbered list. It pulled me out of the story every time and I began wondering if it was meant to foretell some sort of surprise finish. Since it doesn’t, I would have been happier without the distraction. While I generally like the inventiveness behind it, there should have been a point to it.

An enjoyable book with only a minor flaw. Read it. Good stuff.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, July 2015.

Book Review: Pros and Cons by Jenna Black, Dragonflies: Shadow of Drones by Andy Straka, and The Reluctant Reaper by Gina X. Grant

Pros and ConsPros and Cons
The Nikki Glass Series
Jenna Black
Pocket Star Books, February 2013
ISBN 978-1-4767-0010-6
Ebook Exclusive

From the publisher—

An original eNovella in the acclaimed Nikki Glass urban fantasy series, taking place between the events of the novels Deadly Descendant and Rogue Descendant.

As a living descendant of Artemis the Huntress, private investigator Nikki Glass knows how to track someone down—but this time, her latest case leads to unexpected revelations of lies and betrayal…

I’m a big fan of crossgenre books, especially when the crossing is crime with dark fantasy. Supernatural detectives rock my boat, you might say, so I’m always interested to find a new (to me) series. Pros and Cons fits the bill very nicely, even though it’s not the beginning of the series; this novella is actually the third publication in the chronological list but is not labeled as #3 because it’s not a full-length novel. To my way of thinking, a mid-series novella or short story is a perfect way to introduce a new reader to that series and it certainly worked its magic on me.

I love the idea that Nikki Glass is a descendant of Artemis because, after all, what is a private investigator if not a huntress? I’m pretty sure I didn’t get a really good taste of Nikki’s story because there’s not much about her cohorts in this novella. That’s OK, though, because I needed to know that the crime element of this series is not just a throwaway side story to the paranormal theme. Nikki is a bona fide detective and I can learn more about her friends and colleagues, as well as her romantic life, when I delve further into the series.

In Pros and Cons, Nikki takes on a “normal” case to give her an excuse to stay away from her supernatural environs for a little while but, early on, she realizes that something is not quite right about her new client. All the mythological trappings were lingering off to the side and I fell in love/like with Jack when he got involved. Jack is a descendant of Loki, the Norse trickster god who’s fun and devious and more than a little bit of a bad boy. Jack was the icing on the cake of a decent little tale of crime and I’ll be glad to see these folks again when I go back to book #1, Dark Descendant. I have some catching up to do!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.

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DragonfliesDragonflies: Shadow of Drones
Andy Straka
LLW Media, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-4756-0204-3
Ebook

From the publisher—

Out to seek justice for their comrades-in-arms, a former Army helicopter pilot and the soldier who saved her life find themselves drawn instead into a web of government intrigue and peering micro drones.

Raina Sanchez is plagued by nightmares. She can’t erase the memories of being shot down in Afghanistan, of losing her foot in the crash, and the death of her commanding officer. When asked by an ex-military contact to participate in a secret drone operation with ties to the war, she jumps at the chance to exorcise some of her demons.

She joins Tye Palmer, the decorated ex-infantryman who rescued her from the flaming wreckage of her Kiowa chopper. As civilian private investigators, together they embark on a sensitive, risky effort: using cutting-edge, micro air vehicle drones in an attempt to expose the son of media mogul Nathan Kurn as a campus rapist.

But as Raina and Tye come closer to the truth about Kurn and his powerful allies, Raina’s loyalties take a potential detour when she begins to understand a chilling reality. In a world where surveillance devices as small as tiny insects are being piloted into places most would never imagine, public and private forces both large and small are maneuvering to control them with inevitable consequences. For Raina and Tye the danger didn’t end when they finished their military careers—the threat has just begun.

Disclaimer: I have known Andy Straka for years and his previous books are among my favorites. That has not affected my review of this book.

As noted above, I know Andy and appreciate his writing but Dragonflies: Shadow of Drones is very different from his earlier work and must be considered in a different light. In all honesty, my feelings about it are quite mixed.

The premise of the story is quite engaging and I especially appreciated the way the author allows his protagonists to be confused about what’s really going on.  Too many thrillers, in my opinion, have characters who never seem to get ruffled and always have a finger on the pulse, so to speak. I’m quite sure black ops and intelligence communities, even high-powered corporations, have a better understanding of the situations they encounter than a layman would but it sometimes reaches the level of incredulity or, at the very least, a raised eyebrow. In Dragonflies, Raina and Tye are frequently caught in the middle of plots that don’t quite come together for them and I like that; it makes them very human and not so superhero-ish.

I was also intrigued by the whole idea of these extremely tiny spying devices and that experienced pilots would be needed to fly them. What a scary thing to contemplate! I don’t think I’m of enough interest to anyone to ever be a target but this certainly would be a formidable and potentially very damaging tool in the wrong hands. Having them be used in both private investigative work and by rival government factions in Dragonflies highlights how invasive they could become.

Raina and Tye are interesting characters but a bit too shallowly drawn to get to know them very well. Actually, we know more about Raina than Tye but I imagine we’ll get to know both of them much better as the series continues.

And that brings me to my last, and most adamant, opinion. I HATED the ending of this book.  I don’t mind cliffhangers but this one is beyond the pale and, if I had known it was written in serial style, I would not have read it until at least the second book, and maybe the third, was available. While I can get past any other faults in this book besides this one, I imagine other readers will be more accepting, especially those who like the TV cliffhangers that happen from week to week—and this has, in fact been optioned for TV. As for me, I probably won’t read any more installments until several are available.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.

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The Reluctant ReaperThe Reluctant Reaper
The Reluctant Reaper Series, Book One
Gina X. Grant
Pocket Star, June 2013
ISBN 978-1-4767-2868-1
Ebook

From the publisher—

Life for Kirsty d’Arc might not be perfect, but it’s far from hellish. She likes her job, has a great BFF, and truly admires Conrad, her boss. But when she dives in front of a lunatic’s blade to save him from certain death, she finds out Conrad isn’t so admirable after all. In fact, he’s traded her soul to the Devil! 

While her body lies comatose on the Mortal Coil, Kirsty’s spirit is dragged straight to Hell…which is not quite the fire-and-brimstone abyss she’d expected. In fact, the place is quirky, wacky, and not without charm. Desperate to reunite body and soul before her time runs out, she seeks out allies, earning the friendship of a powerful drag demon, a psychic server, and, most importantly, Hell’s civil servant. But what of her growing attraction to Dante, the sexy Reaper with a flair for romantic language—can she forgive him for scything her soul?

Stuck in the netherworld, Kirsty vows she’ll do everything on her postmortem bucket list, starting with getting her life back and ensuring that Conrad has Hell to pay!

Oh, my, I can’t remember the last time I read a book that had me smiling, chuckling. sometimes outright guffawing on every single page but Gina X. Grant has accomplished that very feat with The Reluctant Reaper. This is just one of the funniest books ever and here’s the weird thing—a LOT of the humor involves puns and I have never been enamored with puns. Until now.

Kirsty D’Arc has just been accidentally reaped by a guy named Dante who carries a scythe and struck her with it instead of her boss who was supposed to die. Since it was an accident, though, Kirsty is not exactly dead, more like undead (but not of the vampirish sort). Kirsty has no choice—she has to go to Hell and appeal her “death”.

Hell, it turns out, is full of interesting surprises, including Charon who ferries the river in full drag and a small, very cute kittenish animal who is actually a real life gargoyle. Her name is Jenni, short for Jenni-fur because she sheds so much. Then there are the vicious little creatures called gee-gnomes who can alter your DNA. Most are sort of countrified-looking except one that seems to be more sophisticated,  known as a “metrognome”. Dante himself is a 700-year-old poet—yes, he’s THAT Dante.

Ms. Grant also has a great time skewering the very things we all love to hate, like this:

“Reaping is a precise art. It must occur only at the exact hour, preferably the exact minute, as ordained by Death. Or by our new software system, MS Death 2.0.”

“You have Microsoft products in Hell?”

Figures.

Kirsty’s adventures in Hell keep her busy while she’s waiting for her trial but, when that finally comes, she’s in for a rude awakening. Will she be able to go back to her life or will she have to stay in the afterlife even if she isn’t really dead? Will she have to give up the hunky Dante? Will she really have to do something useful with her life?

I can’t help it, I loved this book and can’t wait to read the next one, Scythe Does Matter. Thank heavens—oops, Hell doesn’t appreciate that saying—it’s already on my Nook.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.

Book Reviews: The Age of Doubt by Andrea Camilleri, Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear, Capitol Murder by Phillip Margolin, and The Riptide Ultra-Glide by Tim Dorsey

The Age of DoubtThe Age of Doubt
Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Penguin, June 2012
ISBN 978-0-14-312092-6
Trade Paperback

The books in the Inspector Montalbano series usually are lighthearted stories about the Sicilian detective combined with a mystery for him to solve.  However, while in this novel he does have a mystery to solve, this entry reflects more of his introspection.  The contrasts are intriguing, to say the least.  It begins when the Inspector rescues a bespectacled, rather mousy woman whose car is about to be swallowed into a chasm, or sinkhole, created in a collapsed road.  She tells him she’s the niece of a rich widow whose yacht is about to enter port.

When the boat does enter the port, it brings with it a corpse and a dinghy retrieved at the mouth of the harbor. The victim’s face was smashed, and the fingerprints are not on file, making identification extremely difficult.  The yacht docks alongside a luxury craft, whose crew appears suspicious. This leads Montalbano on a convoluted investigation based on information – – or misinformation – – the woman has given him.

As usual, the Inspector’s lusty appetite is exhibited, with descriptions of lunches and dinners at his favorite restaurant, or dishes left for him to heat in the oven by his housekeeper.  Perhaps more poignant is a side story about the 58-year-old Inspector’s possible love interest, a beautiful young woman Coast Guard lieutenant he meets during the investigation.  It makes him even more human as a character, lightening what would otherwise be a heavy murder mystery.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2012.

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Elegy for EddieElegy for Eddie
Jacqueline Winspear
Harper Perennial, October 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-204958-2
Trade Paperback

The Maisie Dobbs series, now with nine entries, has taken her from World War I, where she served as a nurse, to the cusp of the Second World War.  In this novel, there are three themes which can tend to confuse the reader until the author brings them together and makes sense out of what at first appear to be separate subplots.

To start with, a delegation from Lambeth, scene of Maisie’s childhood, visits her to engage her services as an investigator to find out how a young man died in a paper factory.  The other two plot lines, one more personal to her than the other, has Maisie questioning her own motives and standards as well as her relationship with her lover; and the last involving the stealth campaign of Winston Churchill to prepare Great Britain for the possible war with Nazi Germany.

The book is equal to its predecessors in characterization and human interest.  Obviously, it is more political in tone than its forerunners, given the time in which it takes place: the depression era and rise of Adolf Hitler.  While Maisie’s introspections may be overdone, they certainly are in keeping with the character.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2012.

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Capitol MurderCapitol Murder
Phillip Margolin
Harper, December 2012
ISBN 978-0-0620-6999-0
Premium Mass Market Paperback

The fact that the author long served as a defense attorney in 30 murder trials permeates this tale of terrorism, murder and treason. It is the third novel featuring Brad Miller, an attorney; his wife, Ginny, also an attorney; and Dana Cutler, a dogged private investigator and sometime reporter for a sleazy Washington supermarket scandal sheet.  In previous books, their investigation revealed the role of a President in a series of murders and saved the life of a Supreme Court Justice while preventing a CIA plot to fix a case before the Court.

Now Brad is serving as the legislative assistant to the U.S. Senator from Oregon and Ginny is working at the Department of Justice. Murders in Oregon and the District of Columbia seem to implicate an escaped serial murderer, one of whose previous convictions Brad helped to overturn.  But, of course, nothing is what it appears to be.  A terrorist plot surpassing the Twin Towers destruction completes the story, uniting all the elements.

The plot is pretty much humdrum, and the characterizations less than fully developed, but Mr. Margolin certainly knows how to spin a narrative.  In the end, he makes sense out of the diverse elements in an interesting manner.  It is, perhaps, a light read, but still one that is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2012.

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The Riptide Ultra-GlideThe Riptide Ultra-Glide
Tim Dorsey
Morrow, February 2013
ISBN:  978-0-06-209278-6
Hardcover

There’s nothing sane about a novel featuring Serge A. Storms and his sidekick, Coleman.  There usually is a plot, but the real show is the madcap escapades and far-out situations described.  And no less so are the irreverent observations from Serge’s mouth. Too numerous to mention.

As in the former entries in the series, this novel takes place in Florida, giving Serge the opportunity to hold forth on the many locales and highlights of the State.  It begins with Serge and Coleman driving down to the Keys, filming what is to be a reality show on a camcorder.  And the rest of the book, of course, turns out to be surreal, when a couple of teachers from Wisconsin lose their job and decide to go to the Sunshine State on vacation.  Instead they become embroiled in the midst of two gangs fighting for control of drug traffic.  It remains for Serge to rescue them.

The novels in this series are not particularly easy reading because much of the time Serge’s observations and comments are so outlandish that the reader has to stop and regroup.  But, crazy as it sounds, most of the time they make sense.  Nevertheless, a Serge A. Storms novel is always enjoyable.  And recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2013.

Book Review: Time’s Twisted Arrow by Rysa Walker

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Time's Twisted Arrow Blog Tour

Time’s Twisted Arrow by Rysa Walker

Publication date: October 1st 2012

Genre: YA Science Fiction

“Sharp writing, a flair for dialogue and a big, twisting imagination.” – Kirkus Reviews.

 

Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

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Time's Twisted Arrow 2Time’s Twisted Arrow
Book One of The CHRONOS Files
Rysa Walker
Gypsy Moon Books, October 2012
ISBN 978-0-9883511-0-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

They weren’t panic attacks. Of that, seventeen year old Kate is certain, no matter what the shrink told her parents. But it’s even harder to accept the explanation offered by her terminally ill grandmother – that Kate has inherited designer DNA from the time-traveling historians of CHRONOS, who were stranded in the past by a saboteur. Kate knows that her grandmother’s story could easily be the brain tumor talking, but that doesn’t explain the odd medallion or the two young men – one of them hauntingly familiar — who simply vanish before her eyes on the subway. It doesn’t explain Trey, the handsome stranger who now occupies Kate’s assigned seat in trig class. And it definitely doesn’t explain why  Kate is now in an alternate timeline, where leaders of a previously unknown cult hold great power and are planning a rather drastic form of environmental defense.

In this new reality, Kate’s grandmother was murdered at age twenty-two on a research trip to the past, which means that Kate’s mother was never born, her father doesn’t know her and, for all intents and purposes, she doesn’t exist. The only thing keeping her from disappearing entirely is the strange blue medallion around her neck, and the only thing keeping her sane is her burgeoning relationship with Trey. To restore the time line, Kate must travel back to 1893 and keep herself and her grandmother clear of H.H. Holmes, the serial killer who is stalking young women at the Chicago World’s Fair. But that choice comes at a price – she’ll remember the past few months with Trey, but when he looks at her, he’ll see a total stranger.

The basic premise of Time’s Twisted Arrow is the well-known time travel conundrum: if you know it will change history, including whether certain people exist, are those potential changes justified to stop evil? Rysa Walker offers her take and she does so with a very interesting story.

When Kate finds out that she has the genetic ability to travel through time and that her help is sorely needed to correct some changes made in the past by a cult leader and his devotees, she’s skeptical but, once she realizes that the missing timeline affects her grandmother and herself, it becomes clear that she has little choice. Here, though, is where the author takes the reader down an unfamiliar path and I loved it.

Kate travels back to the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair) and into the horrendous world of a true-life monster; Ms. Walker’s evocation of this nightmare is right on target. Having this as an important setting in her story is brilliant because it brings to mind the question of changing history in a very individualistic way—how could a time traveler not want to save as many victims of terrible events as possible no matter what collateral damage there might be?

On the whole, I enjoyed this first in a series with only a few quibbles. I really couldn’t like Kate’s grandmother very much and Kate’s acceptance of her new-found ability and her “duty” came much too easily to her. I also found it annoying that she kept telling everybody about it, something I’m pretty sure would not be appreciated by others in her very small fraternity, and I could do without the stale romantic triangle, even though I liked both of the guys. Still, this is a story that intrigues me and I’m looking forward to the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2013.

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Author Information

Rysa WalkerRYSA WALKER grew up on a cattle ranch in the South. Her options for entertainment were talking to cows and reading books. (Occasionally, she would mix things up a bit and read books to cows.) On the rare occasion that she gained control of the television, she watched Star Trek and imagined living in the future, on distant planets, or at least in a town big enough to have a stop light.

When not writing, she teaches history and government in North Carolina, where she shares an office with her husband, who heroically pays the mortgage each month, and a golden retriever named Lucy. She still doesn’t get control of the TV very often, thanks to two sports-obsessed kids.

Author Links:

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Book Reviews: The Burning Soul by John Connolly, Trackers by Deon Meyer, What It Was by George Pelecanos, A Mortal Terror by James R. Benn, and A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd

The Burning Soul
John Connolly
Atria Books, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-6527-0
Hardcover

John Connolly’s Charlie Parker Thrillers usually combine an element of the supernatural with basic detective work.  In this, the tenth in the series, the eerie aspects are slight, while the hard work of solving a case winds its way through the pages with realism and power.  It is a twisted story that begins when an attorney asks Charlie to assist a client, and unfolds with a ferocity of dynamic proportions.

It appears that the client, Randall Haight, as a 14-year-old, and with a friend, murdered a young girl in an incident with sex-related overtones. Following long jail terms, both men were released with new identities to give them a chance at rehabilitation.  Randall is now an accountant leading a quiet life in a small town on the Maine coast. And then a 14-year-old girl goes missing and Randall starts receiving reminders in the mail of his past transgression from someone who apparently has discovered his true identity.  He asks the attorney and Charlie to protect his anonymity by finding the source.  And this leads Charlie into a labyrinth of complications.

It is a gripping story, one in which the author throws red herrings into the reader’s path before unveiling a completely unexpected conclusion. Tightly written and plotted, the novel is a most welcome addition to an outstanding series and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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Trackers
Deon Meyer
Atlantic Monthly Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1993-3
Hardcover

Bringing back two characters from previous novels, the South African author has written a complicated story with three separate plots which are related both in circumstances and the people involved.  One theme involves what appears to be a Muslim plot, which a government intelligence service suspects at first to be a tradeoff between the smuggling of diamonds in exchange for weapons.  A second, an offshoot of the smuggling operation by a man seeking to recover a large sum of money he claims was stolen from him by gangsters (who incidentally are involved in the smuggling operation).

Then there is free-lance bodyguard Lemmer, who makes his second appearance in a Deon Meyer novel  [the first being The Blood Safari], who becomes involved indirectly in the smuggling operation when he accompanies a truck bearing two black rhinos into South Africa from a neighboring country which the gangsters believe is the method for bringing in the diamonds.  And finally Mat Joubert, the enigmatic South African detective, now retired, on his first day working for a private detective agency, who manages to bring all the threads together.

This stand-alone thriller aims high, and largely achieves its ambitions.  Adding to the spice is not only the author’s ability to portray the social, economic and political background of South Africa in depth, but a chilling look at how it is also a place where terrorists can run rampant.  And, icing on the cake, a first-rate mystery to keep the reader enthralled.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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What it Was
George Pelecanos
Reagan Arthur Books/Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-316-20954-0
Paperback, 246 pp., $9.99

The year was 1972.  Derek Strange was out of the Metropolitan Police Dept. for four years and struggling to build up his PI agency.  Nixon was in the White House, but not for long.  Watergate was just up ahead.  The riots that tore the nation’s Capitol apart were some years ago, but unrest and attitude still ran strong.

Against this background George Pelecanos has written about Strange’s early career as a 26-year-old and his relationship with Detective Frank Vaughn.  It all starts when Strange is retained by a good-looking babe to find a missing ring of little “value” but “great” sentimentality.  This takes him on a journey, which enables the author to describe the crime conditions – – including a one-man murder wave – – and population and living conditions of D.C., along with almost a catalogue of the music of the era.

Written with the usual vernacular and tight prose as displayed in the previous novels in the series, the graphic details of the characters are mesmerizing.  Highly recommended.

[It should perhaps be noted that the novel is available in three different forms: the paperback, as well as a limited hardcover edition and an eBook version.]

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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A Mortal Terror
James R. Benn
Soho Crime, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-994-0
Hardcover

The Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries follow the progress of that conflict in this, the sixth installment, albeit it with a different twist.  It brings Billy his first murder case, either as a Boston detective (in his previous civilian life) or as “uncle” Ike’s special investigator.  But the horrors of the war in Italy, and especially the Anzio beachhead invasion, provide the backdrop for the tale.

When two officers are found murdered with clues left behind, one a ten of hearts on the body of a lieutenant and a jack of hearts on that of a Captain, the signs of a possible serial killer bent on revenge against the brass emerge, causing concern back at Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters.  So Billy is recalled from a three-day pass during which he met with his girlfriend in Switzerland and sent to Naples to begin an investigation into the crimes.  Then he has to face the fact that his younger brother is arriving as a replacement in the very platoon in which he suspects the killer is a member.

The author, a librarian, writes with accuracy of the difficulties and what would today be called PTSD endured by the GIs, as well as the physical hardships and psychological manifestations of infantry warfare.  His plotting is taut, descriptions graphic.  All in all, the series just keeps on getting better and better.  And the Second Front hasn’t yet been opened.  The series has a long way to go, and that’s a good thing.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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A Bitter Truth
Charles Todd
William Morrow, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-201570-9
Hardcover

This Bess Crawford mystery, set during World War I, finds her on a short leave from the front, intending to spend the Christmas holidays with her parents.  When she arrives at her apartment in London, she finds a young woman huddled on her doorstep, cold, hungry and distraught.  In sympathy, Bess takes her up to her room and learns that she has run away from her husband and home because he has abused her, and her disfigured face is proof.

From this improbable beginning, Bess becomes involved in a family’s secrets and along the way in a few murders, since she accompanies the young woman back to her home and family.  The novel rambles on, as the plot unfolds and the police fumble in an effort to solve one murder after another.  Bess returns to France, only to be recalled by the police for additional inquiries.

There are some excellent aspects to the novel, including insights into the lives of upper crust Britons of the period.  But it appeared to this reader that to bring the plot to a conclusion, the mother-son author duo reached out to contrive a solution that has little if any foundation. Nevertheless, the book is an enjoyable read and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.