Book Review: In the Grip of It by Sheena Kamal

In the Grip of It
A Nora Watts Novella #1.5
Sheena Kamal
Witness Impulse, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-06-287932-5
Ebook

From the publisher—

On a surveillance assignment for a child custody case, PI-in-training Nora Watts finds herself ensconced in a small farming community on a beautiful hippie island in the Pacific Northwest, a place with a reputation for being welcoming to outsiders. But when she arrives there, she discovers her welcome quickly wears thin. Perhaps too quickly.

Salt Spring Island, with a history as a refuge for African Americans fleeing the bonds of slavery, is not a place of refuge for her—and, she suspects, may not be for the people who live there, either.

As she investigates, nothing about this remote community seems to add up. It gets personal as Nora confronts her own complicated feelings toward her estranged daughter and becomes increasingly concerned about the child she’s been tasked to surveil. She discovers that small, idyllic communities can hide very big secrets.

Abuse of all types is at the core of this story and people at the commune are not the only ones affected. Nora herself has dealt with her own kinds of abuse in the past and this missing child case also dredges up the disappearance of her own teenaged daughter as well as elements of her first book. As with many cult-ish communes, the power resides in the leader, Vikram Sharma, and Nora feels that power immediately upon meeting him. In fact, there is a distinct feeling of malevolence.

The denouement here is based on a very interesting time in the 60’s when the use of psychedelic drugs in treatment of mental illness was popular and Trevor’s father is proved to be right in his concern that his son is in a dangerous situation. Trevor is perhaps too smart for his own good, being a very observant little boy, but he’s worried that his mother doesn’t see what’s wrong. Before Nora can get to a clear understanding of Salt Spring Island, especially the Spring Love farm, its reputation as a place of refuge will be turned awry.

This is a pleasant read to while away an hour or so but I think perhaps it’s not the best introduction to the series. On the whole, there’s no real tension here and at no time did I really fear for anyone’s safety despite a few threats. However, In the Grip of It has encouraged me to find the first book in the series so I can get to know Nora better.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2018.

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An Excerpt from In the Grip of It

Last week a man came into our PI office, looked around the shabby interior, frowned, and said, “I must have gotten the address wrong.”

“Depends,” I replied. “What are you looking for?”

“An investigator.”

“Nope, you’re in the right place,” I said, looking at his nice suit, shiny shoes, and expensive watch.

“Are you sure? Maybe I should come back later.”

He was clearly trying to make a graceful exit. Before the man could leave, I got up from behind my desk and opened the door to Leo Krushnik’s office. “Leo, there’s someone here to see you.”

“Well,” said the man, who was hesitating behind me, “I’m not really sure that this is the right fit for me.” He was trying to be diplomatic about the condition of our office and what it might say about his own level of desperation that he was here, but we weren’t about to let a potential client go without a fight. His level of desperation was no match for ours.

Leo Krushnik, the head of our little operation, walked around his desk and beamed at the man. “We’re the right fit for anybody,” he said, grasping the man’s hand and giving it a firm shake. “We prefer to keep our overhead low so that we can offer competitive rates to people who need our services, regardless of their personal incomes. Please, have a seat.”

The man sat, a little overwhelmed by Leo’s charm, which is considerable. That day Leo was dressed in linen pants and a simple cotton shirt, as a nod to the heat wave the city was experiencing. He could pull off this look as easily as he pulled off the lie about our rates. We keep our overhead low because this dump on Hastings Street, in the derelict Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, is all we can afford, but clients didn’t need to know that. And even I could admit that the “competitive rates” line sounded good—even true—coming from Leo.

“How can I help you?” Leo asked.

“My name is Ken Barnes, and I’m concerned about my son, Trevor. My ex-wife Cheyenne moved to Salt Spring last year with Trevor and I think she’s gotten into some kind of trouble there. She won’t bring him back to Vancouver and visitation has been difficult.”

Leo frowned. “Because they’re on an island?” Salt Spring wouldn’t be easy to ferry to and from on a regular basis.

“Yes, but that’s not the only reason. She keeps putting off my visits and it’s been difficult to arrange for Trevor to come into Vancouver. I think . . . I think she’s in some kind of cult, to be honest. They call it a commune, but you know those stories about Bountiful?”

“Yes,” said Leo. Everyone knew the stories about Bountiful, British Columbia, where fundamentalist polygamous communities live and proliferate seemingly freely.

“Well, I think it’s something like that. Cheyenne wants to be in some kind of crazy sex cult, sure. She’s not my wife anymore and I really don’t care what she does. But I’m fighting for custody of Trevor. I want him out of there.”

“And you need some ammo.” Leo looks up from his pad, where he’s been taking notes. “You’ve come to the right place, Ken. We’ve done surveillance work for many child-custody cases.” Another lie, but Ken didn’t notice. We’d only done a handful of those, but “many” is relative. “You understand that this won’t be cheap? We’ll have to get out to the island and spend some time gathering information.”

“That’s fine. There’s nothing I won’t pay to get my son out of there. Cheyenne, she . . . well, she struggled with depression and anxiety for years and she let a lot of toxic people into her life who fed on her struggles. It was like a sick downward spiral. When she started doing yoga and got certified as a teacher, I thought she’d changed. But I’m not sure anymore. I know this sounds terrible—I know it does—but I don’t trust her judgment about the people she lets into her life. Especially men.”

“She married you,” Leo said.

“I know, but this is the thing: it’s not about me and her anymore. We’re done. This is about Trevor—and me doing my part as a father, making sure he’s safe. That he has a good life. I just want results.”

“We can’t guarantee results.” This is the first time I’d spoken since the initial exchange. Ken Barnes’s startled gaze meets mine. He’d clearly forgotten I was there, which was not unusual. “Maybe it is a sex cult, maybe it isn’t. All we can do is take a look and document what we find.”

“I know that nothing is certain, but I know my son deserves a healthy, normal life. Whatever they’re doing on that island is not normal. It just isn’t. It’s one step away from homeschooling, and who’s to say they’re not making him do hard labor?”

What is normal, anyway? I didn’t ask Barnes for clarification. I just kept silent as Leo agreed to take his money in exchange for the work. Before he let Barnes go, he pulled him aside. “Nora’s right, Ken, about any sort of guarantee. But what I can say is that if there’s something to find, chances are we will get a sense of it.”

In the next few days, I started the file on Cheyenne Barnes and looked through the information Ken had provided us. “Cheyenne scrubbed her social-media profiles last year,” he explained to me, over the phone. “I thought she was punishing me by erasing the memories and keeping me away from what’s happening with my son, but now that I think about it, there’s something fishy about this whole thing.” So he kept saying.

Cheyenne is smiling in all the photos, and in every single one there is something wistful about her, a faraway look in her eyes. Something that suggests a romantic nature. She’s an instructor for hot yoga, which I thought was stretching for attractive people but later discovered is actually sweaty stretching. Who knew. She’d gone to Salt Spring Island two years ago to work at a yoga retreat and, according to Ken, never came back. She met a man there, a fellow yoga enthusiast, and rebuffed all of Ken’s attempts at reconciliation.

There is very little to be found on Cheyenne Barnes’s new man. He has no social-media profiles of his own, but I did find a picture of him on the Spring Love website. Some people are so attractive it’s almost surreal, and Vikram Sharma is one of them.

***

Excerpt from In the Grip Of It by Sheena Kamal. Copyright © 2018 by Sheena Kamal. Reproduced with permission from Witness Impulse. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

SHEENA KAMAL holds an HBA in Political Science from the University of Toronto, and was awarded a TD Canada Trust scholarship for community leadership and activism around the issue of homelessness. Her debut novel, The Lost Ones, was inspired by this and by Kamal’s most recent work as a researcher into crime and investigative journalism for the film and television industry.

Catch Up With Our Author On: sheenakamal.com, Goodreads, & Facebook!

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Book Review: Keep the Midnight Out by Alex Gray

Keep the Midnight Out
A DCI Lorimer Novel #12
Alex Gray
Witness Impulse, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-06-265928-6
Ebook

From the publisher—

When the body of a red-haired young man is washed up on the shore of the beautiful Isle of Mull, Detective Superintendent Lorimer’s tranquil holiday away from the gritty streets of Glasgow is rudely interrupted. The body has been bound with twine in a ghoulishly unnatural position and strongly reminds Lorimer of another murder: a twenty year old Glasgow case that he failed to solve as a newly fledged detective constable and which has haunted him ever since.

As local cop DI Stevie Crozier takes charge of the island murder investigation, Lorimer tries to avoid stepping on her toes. But as the similarities between the young man’s death and his cold case grow more obvious, Lorimer realises that there could be a serial killer on the loose after all these years.

As the action switches dramatically between the Mull murder and the Glasgow cold case twenty years earlier, Lorimer tries desperately to catch a cold-hearted killer. Has someone got away with murder for decades?

Detective Superintendent William Lorimer is enjoying a few days vacation with his wife, Maggie, on the peaceful Isle of Mull but that peace is disturbed when Lorimer finds the body of a young man apparently washed up at the bottom of his loaned property, although he questions whether it washed up or was deliberately placed there. This isn’t his jurisdiction, of course, so he has to step back but not entirely since he found the body.

The local Detective Inspector is a prickly sort, seemingly because she feels the need to prove herself, but Stevie Crozier is nobody’s fool. Her biggest problem, to my way of thinking, is her reluctance to trust that others may know better than she, if only when it comes to local people and customs. She’s hard to like but I grew attached during the story. Lorimer, naturally, was my favorite of all the coppers, largely because he is intelligent and kind, not to mention just being a very thoughtful man who wants justice for this young man but also for the one from twenty years gone who was so much like this victim.

The setting for this story is deceptive in its tranquility and the people who live here are a varied and motley collection of those who hold secrets and those who simply appreciate their lives on this small island. Initially, it seems that finding the murderer may not be all that difficult but, as we all know, appearances can be deceiving.

We also get a good look at Lorimer’s personal life and come to understand the dynamics between him and Maggie as well as how his association with other professionals developed over the years. I think this is my favorite of the DCI Lorimer books so far because it is so personal. The murders of both Rory and Gary are poignant in their shared circumstances and the chase to catch the killer(s) kept me pondering until almost the end. I’m already looking forward to the next Lorimer case.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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Purchase Links:

HarperCollins // Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon

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An Excerpt from Keep the Midnight Out

CHAPTER ONE

They called it ‘the splash’; though the boat that crept silently, oars dipping lightly in and out of the water creating myriad bubbles of phosphorescence, made little sound at all. It was vital to keep quiet; the time for frightening the fish would not come until the net was properly laid across the mouth of the burn. After that the oars would be raised high and brought down with force, driving the sea trout from their shadowy lairs straight into the trap. It was illegal, of course, had been for decades, but that did not stop more intrepid poachers sneaking in at dead of night and lying in wait for the fish.

Unfair, unsporting, the fishery bodies claimed, though most folk here, on the island of Mull, recognised the thrill of rowing under the stars and risking some wrath from the law enforcers.

Ewan Angus Munro glanced back over his shoulder to see his son playing out the last of the splash net; the ancient cork floats now in a perfect arc across this narrow neck of water.

Young Ewan looked towards his father and nodded; the first part of the deed was done and now all that remained was to ensure that the fish would be scared out from their hiding places by the sudden noise of oars thrashing on the surface so that they would rush towards the net.

The old man turned the boat with an expertise that came from many years of practice, then headed back towards the shallow channel. He raised the oars, resting them in the rowlocks, water dripping like molten rain from their blades. The small craft was allowed to drift a little before Ewan Angus turned to his son again, the eye contact and nod a definite signal to begin the second stage of their night’s work.

Young Ewan Angus stood, legs apart, perfectly balanced in the centre of the boat, one oar raised high above his shoulder as the older man watched him, eyes full of approval. The boy had been given more than just his father’s names: his flair for the splash, too, had been passed down from father to son.

Across the marshy strand full of bog cotton and sweet-smelling myrtle sat a small white cottage. A swift glance showed him that there was no light on anywhere; the holiday folk were doubtless sound asleep, oblivious to the small drama being played out yards from their front door.

The sound of the splash seemed magnified as it disrupted the stillness, echoing over the bay. The young man heaved the oar again and again, each whack making his body stiffen with fear and a sort of bravado. If they were caught they’d lose both the net and the boat, a heavy price to pay for a night of fun and a good catch of sea trout, fish that fetched a decent price at the back doors of the best hotel kitchens.

Several times the boat was rowed up and down, followed by a series of splashes until the old man raised his callused hand to call a halt. Now it was time to wait and see if the fish had indeed been scared witless enough to swim towards their doom.

Once more the old man rowed along the line of corks, his son lifting the net to see if anything lingered below.

‘A beauty,’ the boy whispered, raising the net to reveal a good-sized sea trout struggling in the brown mesh.

‘Ten pounder at least!’ he went on, freeing the huge fish where its gills had caught and hurling it into a wooden box below his feet.

‘Be-wheesht and get the net up,’ his father hissed, though the grin on his face showed how pleased he was with their first catch of the night. The old man bent towards the struggling fish, his fist around the priest, a wooden club that had been in the family for generations. One swift blow and the fish lay lifeless in the box, its silvery scales gleaming in the night.

One by one, others joined the fated sea trout as the two men made their laborious way along the edge of the net.

‘My, a grand haul, the night, Faither,’ Young Ewan Angus exclaimed, his voice still hushed for fear of any sound carrying over the water.

‘Aye, no’ bad,’ his father agreed, a contented smile on his face. One of the middling fish would be wrapped in layers of bracken and left in the porch of Calum Mhor, the police sergeant. A wee thank you for turning his continual blind eye to the nocturnal activities taking place down the road from Craignure. Mrs Calum had guests staying and she’d be fair pleased to serve them a fresh sea trout for their dinner. It was universally acknowledged here on the island that the pink fish was far superior in flavour to the coarser salmon, particularly those that had been farmed.

‘My, here’s a big one!’

The young man staggered as he tried to haul in the final part of the splash net. ‘I can hardly lift it!’ he exclaimed.

‘Must be caught on a rock,’ the old man grumbled, his mouth twisting in a moue of disgust. If they had to tear the net to release it then it would take hours of work to mend, but the operation depended on being in and out of these waters as quickly as they could manage. Hanging about was not an option in case the Men from the Revenue had decided on a little night-time excursion of their own.

Suddenly the young man bent down in the boat, hands gripping the gunwales as he peered into the depths below.

His brow furrowed at the rounded mass swaying beneath the surface, rags of bladderwrack shifting back and forwards with the motion of the waves. Then, as his eyes focused on the ascending shape, Ewan Angus Munro saw pale tendrils that had once been fingers of flesh and one thin arm floating upwards.

He screamed, and covered his mouth as the sickness rose in his throat, then stumbled backwards. The boy flung out his arms, desperate to grasp hold of something solid to break his fall but all he felt under his hands were the wet bodies of slithering fish.

‘What the . ⁠. ⁠. ⁠?’ Ewan Angus turned, an oath dying on his lips as the boat rocked violently, small waves dashing over the bow.

Wordlessly, his son pointed to the waters below. Then, as the old man peered over the side of the boat, he saw the body rising to the surface, its passage out to sea impeded by their net.

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Excerpt from Keep the Midnight Out by Alex Gray. Copyright © 2018 by Alex Gray. Reprinted by permission of Witness Impulse, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Alex Gray was born and educated in Glasgow. After studying English and Philosophy at the University of Strathclyde, she worked as a visiting officer for the Department of Health, a time she looks upon as postgraduate education since it proved a rich source of character studies. She then trained as a secondary school teacher of English.

Alex began writing professionally in 1993 and had immediate success with short stories, articles, and commissions for BBC radio programs. She has been awarded the Scottish Association of Writers’ Constable and Pitlochry trophies for her crime writing.

A regular on the Scottish bestseller lists, she is the author of thirteen DCI Lorimer novels. She is the co-founder of the international Scottish crime writing festival, Bloody Scotland, which had its inaugural year in 2012.

Catch Up With Alex Gray On:

Website // Twitter // Goodreads

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Book Review: A Wolf in the Woods by Nancy Allen

A Wolf in the Woods
An Ozarks Mystery #4
Nancy Allen
Witness Impulse, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-06-243878-2
Ebook

From the publisher—

McCown County assistant prosecutor Elsie Arnold is prepping an assault case when a girl is found beaten and bloodied at a roadside no-tell motel. Elsie tries to convince the teen to reveal who attacked her, but Mandy is too scared—and stubborn—to cooperate… and then she disappears. Elsie’s positive a predator is targeting the Ozark hills, yet the authorities refuse to believe their small town could be plagued by sex trafficking.

Then middle school student Desiree Wickham goes missing, but only Elsie suspects it could be connected to Mandy’s assault. As she digs deeper into the events leading up to Desiree’s disappearance, she stumbles upon an alarming discovery: local girls are falling prey to a dubious online modeling agency, and never seen again. Elsie shares her concerns with Detective Ashlock and the FBI, but they shut her out.

She takes matters into her own hands and lands an interview with the head of the modeling agency. But when she meets him face-to-face, she discovers the fate of Desiree and Mandy… and becomes his newest captive. Elsie’s desperate to free the girls—and save herself—before the unspeakable happens. And she’s in for the fight of her life.

Sex trafficking is becoming a fairly common theme in crime fiction and I, for one, am glad to see authors shedding light on this hidden world that brings such devastation to girls and young women as well as their families. In this particular story, Elsie Arnold is a worthy warrior in the fight to obtain justice.

When first one girl and then another go missing and the local cops and FBI seem to be dismissive of Elsie’s concerns, she decides to follow her hunches on her own. It will come as no surprise to the seasoned crime fiction reader that her impulsive actions get her in trouble but Elsie is no dimwit. This woman is intelligent and driven by a need to set things right but she’s not a professional investigator so, of course, she makes mistakes, some of them real doozies.

Speaking of mistakes, is Elsie’s boyfriend, Detective Bob Ashlock, one of them? Some readers, including myself, might think so but Elsie hasn’t reached her point of no return yet and, to be honest, her attention right now has to be on this case, especially once she becomes a target herself.

I was first introduced to Elsie and this series two years ago with the third book, The Wages of Sin, and I thought then that author Nancy Allen was somebody I was very glad to have “discovered”. My opinion has not changed; if anything, Ms. Allen is even better with this entry and I really am anticipating the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2018.

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Purchase Links:

HarperCollins // Barnes & Noble
Kobo
// Amazon

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An Excerpt from A Wolf in the Woods

Prologue

A dark haired man lounged behind a battered desk in a second floor room at an EconoMo motel that sat on the highway in flyover country, Missouri. He pulled up Skype on his laptop and studied his own image on the computer screen, rubbing the tattoo that covered his neck. Behind him, the unmade bed was visible on the screen. A thin cotton sheet covered the form of a young girl.

He adjusted the angle to cut her from the shot. The bed disappeared, replaced by beige curtains at the window, hanging askew on the rod.

The place was a dump. He could afford better accommodations, without a doubt. It was business, and business was booming. His greatest challenge was procuring sufficient supply to meet the constant demand.

On the desktop, bottles were scattered near the computer. Alprazolam. Oxycodone. Rohypnol. Diazepam. Three value packs of Benadryl: cherry flavored. A plastic bottle of Aristocrat vodka sat beside a jumbo container of Hawaiian Punch.

As he pushed them aside, the bottle of roofies rolled off the desktop and onto the dirty carpet. He caught it just before it rolled under the dresser.

A ding notified him: his Skype appointment was ready. Right on time. He liked the girls to be punctual.

He hit the button on the mouse and fixed a smile on his face. “Lola! How you doing, baby!”

A giggling girl with a mane of curly blonde hair greeted him onscreen. “Tony, you’re so funny. I’m not Lola, I’ve told you a zillion times.”

“But you look like a Lola. If you want to make it in the modeling trade, you’ll have to project glamour. Drama.” He stretched his arms over his head, displaying muscled biceps covered in ink, and locked his hands behind his neck.

“Cool.” Her eyes shone.

“Leave that country girl persona behind in Podunk. Where are you from again?”

“Barton. Barton, Missouri. Where’s Podunk?”

He laughed, running his hand over his thick hair. “Podunk is where you’re sitting right now. What you’re itching to ditch. How’s life?”

Desiree shrugged, pulling a face.

“They still giving you shit at school, baby?”

She rolled her head back onto her neck. “All. The. Time.”

“And how’s living at home?”

“Lame.”

“Wish you could leave it all behind?”

“Totally.”

The girl turned her head; he heard a whisper from someone off-screen. Sharply, he asked: “Are you alone?”

A second head appeared over Lola’s shoulder. He saw a mixed race girl. She was taller than Lola, but he pegged her at the same age: an adolescent, around fourteen.

And she was a diamond in the rough—a black diamond. Unblemished skin, full lips, high cheekbones. Lola said, “You asked if I had any friends who wanted to meet you.”

He smiled, tapping his hand on the counter. “Who’s this?”

The tall girl looked at her friend, then into the computer. “I’m Taylor Johnson.”

“And you’re interested in modeling?”

She blinked. A nervous twitch. He shot a grin, to reassure her. “You’ve got the bone structure for it.”

The tall girl pinched her lips together. “Maybe. I think so.”

“We’ll need to conduct some auditions by video, maybe an interview, before you can qualify for a live shoot at the agency.”

She looked skittish. He wouldn’t get anything from her today.

“Let’s just get acquainted, okay?” He was about to launch into his patter: find out her story, gain her trust.

But a moan sounded from the bed behind him. The girl was coming around. He glanced over, fearful that she might raise a ruckus that could scare off his new prospects.

Tony picked up his phone. “Aw shit. Call’s coming in from one of our clients. I gotta take it.” He winked and shut off Skype just in time.

In a weak voice, she said, “Tony. Help me. Please, take off the cuffs.”

He sighed. Picking up a dirty plastic cup, he poured a measure of vodka and Benadryl, and topped it off with the red punch.

The girl spoke again, in a pleading tone. “Don’t make me do it, Tony. It hurts.”

He stirred the drink with his finger and walked toward the bed. “Mandy, Mandy. You look like you could use a magic drink, baby. This will fix you right up.”

The girl tried to sit up as he extended the red plastic cup. Tony stared down at her, shaking his head. “What’s that saying? ‘The customer is always right.’ You know what you got to do.”

The girl began to thrash against the mattress. But she was handcuffed to the metal bed frame.

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Excerpt from A Wolf in the Woods by Nancy Allen. Copyright © 2018 by Nancy Allen. Reproduced with permission from Witness Impulse. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Nancy Allen practiced law for 15 years as Assistant Missouri Attorney General and Assistant Prosecutor in her native Ozarks.

She tried over 30 jury trials, including murder and sexual offenses, and is now a law instructor at Missouri State University.

Catch Up With Ms. Allen On:
Website –
nancyallenbooks.com
Goodreads – Nancy Allen
Twitter – @TheNancyAllen
& Facebook – NancyAllenAuthor

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Book Review: Bad Blood by Brian McGilloway

Bad Blood
DS Lucy Black #4
Brian McGilloway
Witness Impulse, June 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-268455-4
Ebook
Available in paperback late July 2017

From the publisher—

A young man is found in a riverside park, his head bashed in with a rock. One clue is left behind to uncover his identity—an admission stamp for the local gay club.

DS Lucy Black is called in to investigate. As Lucy delves into the community, tensions begin to rise as the man’s death draws the attention of the local Gay Rights group to a hate-speech Pastor who, days earlier, had advocated the stoning of gay people and who refuses to retract his statement.

Things become further complicated with the emergence of a far-right group targeting immigrants in a local working-class estate. As their attacks escalate, Lucy and her boss, Tom Fleming, must also deal with the building power struggle between an old paramilitary commander and his deputy that threatens to further enflame an already volatile situation.

As the entire world knows, the US is going through some real upheavals these days with very little “DMZ”—we’re becoming more polarized with each new jawdropping revelation or open-mouth-insert-foot blunder. What’s most disturbing to many of us is the seeming rollback in behavior towards others, particularly minorities, the LGBTQ community, the disadvantaged. I actually believe that’s not a change but, rather, evidence that those who are so hostile to others have always been so and have been hiding it until now when they feel emboldened by some of our leaders.

It’s kind of a relief to see such behavior front and center in Bad Blood although I’m well aware that these issues are not new anywhere but are symbolic of societal unrest that has been simmering for many years in much of the world. It’s a relief because, for just a few hours, it’s possible to tell oneself, “See, it’s not just us, thank heavens”. No, that’s not the most enlightened outlook but there it is, another reason to like this very good police procedural beyond all the bookish reasons.

Northern Ireland is an intriguing setting in many ways, not least of which are the Troubles and lingering ills that have so much effect on the people. Detective Sergeant Lucy Black and her colleagues have much to deal with beyond the simple facts of crime with vicious attitudes of hatred and racism making those crimes so much more intense. In this pre-Brexit atmosphere, you can feel the roiling emotions on both sides of the issue and the way murders and assaults are affected along with the added pressure to Lucy and others in law enforcement.

Besides being a bright woman dedicated to good, honest police work, Lucy is kindhearted, an attribute that stands her in good stead in her position with a unit that specializes in crimes against those who are disadvantaged. Working with her boss, Detective Inspector Tom Fleming, Lucy’s latest case is the murder of a teen, coming just after vandals graffitied the home of a Roma family. Before it’s all over, corruption in the police rears its very ugly head and some very disparate cases begin to intertwine.

This fourth in the series was my introduction to DS Lucy Black and I’m very glad to have made her acquaintance. Mr. McGilloway includes some in-depth looks at Lucy’s personal life as well as her work and I feel as though I know her quite well already but I’ll enjoy spending more time with her in her three earlier books.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

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An Excerpt from Bad Blood

The hall was already packed by the time Detective Inspector Tom Fleming arrived. The air was sweet with perfume and talc and, beneath that, from the farmers still wearing their work clothes, the scent of sweat and the smell of the earth.

The congregation were on their feet, being led in the opening hymn by Pastor James Nixon. Fleming smiled apologetically at those he squeezed past to get to a free seat in the third row from the back. The hymn finished, the assembly took their seats just as Fleming reached his, and settled to listen to the words of Pastor Nixon.

‘My brothers and sisters, it is a great honour to be here with you this evening and to see so many of you have taken the time to come and pray with me.’ His voice was strong despite his age, a rich baritone still carrying the inflections of his native Ballymena accent.

‘But it is a time of great challenge for us all. Daily, all good people face an assault on their morality with the rampant homosexual agenda that assails us and belittles everything we hold to be true and dear. Men of conscience are tried for refusing to make a cake celebrating homosexuality or print leaflets and posters furthering that agenda. And on the other side of the border, the Irish Republic has voted to allow homosexuals to marry, as if two women playing house is no different to the consummated union of a man and a woman. As if it is not a perversion which shames us all.

A few voices appended his comment with ‘Amen’.

Nixon raised his hands, acknowledging their support. ‘There are those who would silence me, silence us. They tell us we must accept homosexuals in our town, our shops, allow homosexual bars and public houses to operate on our streets. We must allow sodomites to teach our children and to corrupt our young. We must stay silent while a new Gomorrah is built next to our homes and farms, our shops and schools. They say I am dangerous. They say I preach hatred. They say I should be silent. But I say this: I say that there is no danger in truth. I say that there is no hatred in goodness. And I say that I will not be silent.’

Another chorus of ‘Amens’ greeted his proclamation, accompanied by a smattering of applause which began at the front and rippled its way through the hall.

‘I will not stand idly by as our families are exposed to sin and depravity. I will not countenance the laws of the land being used to protect profane persons, allowing them to indulge their lustful practices, forcing those of us with consciences to humour this lifestyle. It is an abomination. The people who practise it are abominations and, like those before them, they will end in fire and brimstone.’

Fleming glanced around at the others in the congregation. While one or two shifted uncomfortably in their seats, for the most part the listeners sat intently waiting for Nixon to continue.

‘Friends, only last week, I read of an African nation – a heathen nation, a Godless nation – who arrested two men for homosexual acts. One of these men was sixteen. Sixteen! And do you know what they did to the pair of them? They stoned them. They took them out of the town and they threw rocks at them until the pair of them were dead. And do you know what I thought? Shall I tell you?’

An elderly lady in the front row called out ‘Yes’, to the amusement of those around her. Nixon smiled mildly at her, as if indulging her.

‘Stoning was too good for those men. Every rock that struck them was a just reward for their sinfulness, their immorality, their ungodly behaviour. Every drop of their blood that stained the ground was a reminder that they deserved to die. It was the wages of their sin!’

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Excerpt from Bad Blood by Brian McGilloway. Copyright © 2017 by Brian McGilloway. Reproduced with permission from Witness Impulse. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Brian McGilloway was born in Derry, Northern Ireland. After studying English at Queen’s University, Belfast, he took up a teaching position in St Columb’s College in Derry, where he was Head of English. He is the author of the New York Times bestselling Lucy Black series, all to be published by Witness. Brian lives near the Irish borderlands with his wife and their four children.

Catch up with the author:

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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Follow the tour:

 6/26 Interview/Showcase @ CMash Reads
6/28 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
6/29 Guest post @ Writers and Authors
6/29 Showcase @ The Bookworm Lodge
6/29 Showcase @ Thoughts in Progress
7/01 Guest post @ Mythical Books
7/03 Interview @ A Blue Million Books
7/06 Review at Tales of a Book Addict
7/07 Review @ Bless their hearts mom
7/07 Showcase @ Bound 2 Escape
7/10 Showcase @ Bookalicious Traveladdict
7/11 Interview @ Cozy Up With Kathy
7/12 Review @ Blogging with A
7/13 Showcase @ The Reading Frenzy
7/14 Review @ The Book Divas Reads
7/15 Review @ Cheryls Book Nook
7/17 Review @ Buried Under Books
7/18 Showcase @ Curling Up by the Fire
7/24 Review @ Rabid Readers Book Blog
7/25 Showcase @ The Pulp and Mystery Shelf
7/26 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
7/27 Guest post @ Loris Reading Corner
7/28 Review @ A Bookaholic Swede
7/31 Guest Post at Romance Under Fire

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Book Review: The Last Sin by K.L. Murphy

The Last Sin
A Detective Cancini Mystery #3
K.L. Murphy
Witness Impulse, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-249163-3
Ebook

From the publisher—

Detective Mike Cancini has seen some dark days, but his skills are put to the test when a priest is discovered, brutally murdered in a run-down church in Washington, D.C. The man who discovered the body is none other than Cancini’s longtime friend and confidant, Father Joe Sweeney. The murdered priest, Father Matthew Holland, was adored by the congregation, and it seems clear that this was a crime of opportunity in a deteriorating neighborhood.

However, Cancini soon learns some shocking details from the church secretary, and begins to suspect that Father Holland was not as saintly as he may have appeared. This new information leads to a trail of bribes and decades of corruption polluting the church. Cancini must confront his own struggles with his faith and uncover the truth of the conspiracy before more people are killed.

It’s rare for me to know in just the first few pages that I’ve found a book that truly grabs my attention and hangs on with a vengeance but that’s exactly what happened with The Last Sin. What I expected to be a fairly routine police procedural (which I’m very fond of, by the way) turned out to be much more.

When a priest is killed at St. William in Washington, DC, everyone is truly surprised. Who would have wanted Father Matthew Holland dead, this priest in a rundown church located in one of the city’s poorest communities? Certainly, Detective Michael Cancini wasn’t prepared for such a thing and he’s very surprised when he sees the elderly priest who found the body. Cancini is a lapsed Catholic but he’s kept close ties with Father Joe Sweeney.

Naturally, such a crime is high profile and Cancini’s connection to Father Joe causes a momentary blip but that’s soon overcome and he and his partner, Smitty Smithson, begin the arduous task of investigating what seems to be a senseless murder, aided by another pair of detectives, Bronson and Jensen. As things develop, it becomes clear that there’s a lot that needs looking into what with hints that Father Holland, who had a rocky past, may have been involved in criminal activity, perhaps even corruption of a different sort, and those aren’t the only possible motives. By the time Cancini figures out what really happened, Father Joe is missing and a killer just might escape justice.

There are a number of aspects of this novel that stood out to me. Ms. Murphy has a certain quality in her writing that’s a nice blend of pathos, tension and passion and she has a real grasp on how to put words together in such a fashion as to compel the reader onward. The mystery—and its denouement—here was not at all what I expected and, although I had not read the first two books, I never felt I was missing information.

Finally, there are the characters. Cancini has found a place for himself among my favorite police detectives and Smitty is not far behind. What really struck me, though, were the nuances of Cancini’s interactions with other people, including less stellar detectives, a local reporter and Father Joe himself. Even the killer is a very interesting player, the type that fascinates students of abnormal psychology. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Mike and Smitty and will begin by reading the first two books. In the meantime, The Last Sin is going on my list of best books read in 2017.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon

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An Excerpt from The Last Sin

CHAPTER 1

Sunday, February 21st: The Day Of

The smell of incense lingered in the air, temporarily masking the odor of rotting wood. Father Matthew Holland inhaled. The bitter scent stung his nose. Three years had passed since he’d taken over the church and nothing had changed. Even with the increased attendance and community outreach, the church offerings remained meager. Without offerings—without money—the parish church would die.

The priest sat down on the front pew, his robes gathered around his feet. His gaze shifted to the empty pulpit. Two large and colorful plants graced the altar, but they weren’t enough to hide the worn carpet or faded paintings, nor could the soft candlelight make him forget the plywood that covered the cracked stained glass. There was so much to do, so much need. He sighed and looked to the cross over the altar. Not for the first time, he asked for forgiveness, for understanding. There would be money now—he’d made sure of that—but at what cost? He’d done it for the church. His pulse quickened and his stomach clenched. Bending forward, he forced himself to take one deep breath after another until the moment passed.

He loosened his cleric collar and yawned. The evening’s mass had been long and difficult. The drunks in the back of the church had refused to leave, in spite of the old deacons’ best efforts.

“S’our right to be here,” the man with the long, stringy hair had said. His words slurred, he’d leaned forward as though he might topple straight into the next pew. “Worshipin’ God,” he’d said, although it had sounded like something else judging by the gasps from the congregation. The drunk had pointed a dirty hand toward the altar. “Here to see Father Holland. Tol’ us to come anytime.”

The drunk had swayed again, and his companion had reached out with a strong arm to catch him. Father Holland’s mouth had gone dry at the sight of the tattoo on the man’s forearm—a black dagger plunged into a white skull. Three drops of blood extended in a single line from the tip of the dagger to the man’s wrist. He knew that tattoo, knew what it meant.

The awkward moment had passed although not before Father Holland caught the disdain on the faces of the ladies in the choir. Still, none of the parishioners had said a word, all looking to him instead. He’d hidden his trembling hands in the folds of the heavy cassock and swallowed. “St. William is open to everyone, our members and our guests. However, since we are about to have communion, I would ask that everyone who is not singing remain quiet. Guests may come forward for a blessing, of course.” He’d been careful to keep his voice steady. Thank the Lord it had been enough. The man with the oily hair had quieted down and then stumbled out during the Eucharist. His friend with the tattoo had stayed a moment longer, then followed.

Silence filled the sanctuary now. Father Holland rubbed his hands together and shivered. He could still feel the cold eyes of the tattooed man and the curious glances from the congregation. The man’s presence at the evening mass had been no accident and no drunken whim. The message had been clear.

After the church had emptied, he’d walked to the corner market and made the call. He’d done the best he could. Money changed everything. It always did. He opened his hand and stared at the crumpled paper with the phone number. He was not a stupid man. Nothing came without a price. He murmured a prayer until his shoulders relaxed and the drumbeat of his heart slowed.

His stomach growled, the gurgling loud and rumbly, and he realized it had been hours since he’d eaten. Breaking the quiet, a sound came from the back of the church, a click and a swish as the heavy outer door swung open. He stood and smoothed his cassock. Dinner would have to wait. He strained to see, but the vestibule was dark. “Who’s there?” he asked.

The door clanged shut and heavy steps sounded on the dingy marble floor. Father Holland replaced his collar and ran his fingers through his hair. There was only silence. The hair on the back of his neck prickled. “Is somebody there?” he asked again.

A figure shrouded in black stepped out of the dark.

Father Holland stiffened. “Why are you here?”

From the shadows, the eyes of the visitor glittered in the candlelight. “I’m a sinner, Father.”

Father Holland’s shoulders slumped. “We are all sinners in God’s eyes.”

Excerpt from The Last Sin by KL Murphy.  Copyright © 2017 by Witness Impulse. Reproduced with permission from xxx. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

K.L. MURPHY was born in Key West, Florida, the eldest of four children in a military family. She has worked as a freelance writer for several regional publications in Virginia, and is the author of A Guilty Mind and Stay of Execution. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, four children, and two very large, very hairy dogs.

To learn more about the Detective Cancini Mystery series or future projects, visit her Website, Twitter and Facebook pages.

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3/13 Guest post/showcase @ The Book Divas Reads
3/14 Interview @ Mythical Books
3/15 Showcase @ Bound 2 Escape
3/16 Showcase @ Books, Dreams, Life
3/17 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
3/18 Showcase @ A Bookaholic Swede
3/20 Review @ Buried Under Books
3/21 Guest post @ Mystery Suspense Reviews
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3/24 Interview @ BooksChatter
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3/26 Showcase @ The Pulp and Mystery Shelf
3/27 Showcase @ Tome Tender
3/30 Review/showcase @ CMash Reads
4/03 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
4/10 Review @ Beths Book-Nook Blog

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Short Story Review: Wildcat by Sara Paretsky—and a Giveaway!

Wildcat
V. I. Warshawski’s First Case
Sara Paretsky
Witness Impulse, March 2017
ISBN 9780062689504
Ebook Single

From the publisher—

Sara Paretsky, one of the most legendary crime writers of all time, presents an exclusive and thrilling short story featuring beloved investigator V.I. Warshawski as a ten-year-old girl on her first investigation.


V.I. Warshawski developed her strength and sense of justice at a very early age. It’s 1966 and on the south side of Chicago racial tensions are at an all-time high. Dr. Martin Luther King is leading marches at Marquette Park and many in the neighborhood are very angry.

With nothing but a bicycle, eighty-two cents in her pocket, and her Brownie camera hanging from her wrist, Victoria sneaks off to Marquette Park alone to protect her father Tony, a police officer who is patrolling the crowds.

What begins as a small adventure and a quest to find her father and make sure he is safe turns into something far more dangerous. As the day goes on and the conflict at the park reaches a fever pitch Victoria realizes she must use her courage and ingenuity if she wants to keep herself and her family members out of harm’s way.

I don’t know if it’s actually true but, for years, I’ve thought that Sara Paretsky and V. I. Warshawski have one thing very much in common—they’re both total badasses. Now, I know that V. I. was that way even as a child and I couldn’t be more delighted.

I’m not going to say much about the plot of this story—it’s so short the description given above by the publisher is almost longer. Just kidding, of course, but this IS a very short short story. Still, Ms. Paretsky packs a lot into these few pages and it serves its purposes, to entertain and to give us a little insight into what makes V. I. Warshawski aka Victoria tick.

Chicago in 1966 was deep in the civil rights era and even a 10-year-old felt the tension so, when Victoria believes her dad is at risk, her first reaction is to rush off on her bicycle to his aid. As young as she is, Victoria has been raised by her Holocaust survivor mother to be aware of the evil that can begin with words of hatred. In fact, it’s this sense of right and wrong that’s at Victoria’s core, that will in later life lead her to work for justice whenever she can. Her venture this time is also her own personal introduction to police corruption, the Mafia, extreme prejudice and violence.

And a private investigator is born.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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Purchase Links:

               

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About the Author

Hailed by P.D. James as “the most remarkable” of modern crime writers, SARA PARETSKY is the New York Times-bestselling author of nineteen previous novels, including the renowned V.I. Warshawski series. She is one of only four living writers – alongside John Le Carré, Sue Grafton, and Lawrence Block – to have received both the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America and the Cartier Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain. She lives in Chicago with her husband.

Before there was Lisbeth Salander, before there was Stephanie Plum, there was V.I. WARSHAWSKI. She took the mystery world by storm in 1982 with her first appearance in Indemnity Only. A gifted private eye with the grit and smarts to tackle the mean streets, V.I. transformed a genre in which women were typically either vamps or victims. As a “courageous, sexually liberated female investigator,” she “has a humility, a humanity, and a need for human relationships which the male hard-boilers lack” (P.D. James). She lives in Chicago with her dog.

Catch Up With Our Author On:

             

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To enter the drawing for an ebook
copy of Wildcat, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be drawn
Thursday evening, March 16th and the
ebook will be sent out after the tour ends.
Open to residents of the US and Canada.

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Short Story Review: The Piper by Charles Todd

the-piperThe Piper
An Inspector Ian Rutledge Story #19.5
Charles Todd
Witness Impulse, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-2678096
Ebook

 

From the publisher—

Scotland Yard inspector Ian Rutledge returns shell shocked from the trenches of World War I, tormented by the spirit of Hamish MacLeod, the young soldier he executed on the battlefield. Now, Charles Todd features Hamish himself in this compelling, stand-alone short story.

Before the Great War, Hamish is farmer in the Scottish Highlands, living in a small house on the hillside and caring for a flock of sheep he inherited from his grandmother. When one spring evening he hears a faint cry ringing across the glen, Hamish sets out in the dark to find the source. Near the edge of the loch he spots a young boy laying wounded, a piper’s bag beside him. Hamish brings the piper to his home to stay the night and tends to his head wound, but by the time Hamish wakes the boy has fled. He tracks the footsteps in pursuit of the injured lad and finds him again collapsed in the grasses—now dead.

Who was the mysterious piper, and who was seeking his death? As Hamish scours the countryside for answers, he finds that few of his neighbors are as honest as he, and that until he uncovers a motive, everyone, including Hamish, is a suspect.

As a longtime fan of this series by Charles Todd, I’m hardpressed to find much fault with this short story but there is one thing I must mention—this is billed as “An Inspector Ian Rutledge Story” but that is very misleading as Ian Rutledge is not in this story at all. I have no idea why the publisher chose to do that except that it’s a way to identify it with the Ian Rutledge series.

This is a simple little story that gives a bit of background on Hamish MacLeod, the young World War I soldier who will later come to haunt Ian Rutledge. I enjoyed having this window into Hamish’s life as a Highlands farmer and his compulsion to discover who the murdered teen is and why anyone would want him dead. While the sleuthing is interesting, the real star of the show is the setting; no one evokes time and place better than Charles Todd and this story really pulled me into the wildness of the Highlands, particularly during the storm.

The second half of this novella is the first two chapters of the next full-length book, Racing the Devil. I didn’t read that because I learned long ago that I don’t like reading teaser chapters. Inevitably, when I finally get to read the book, I think I already did because I remember the teaser, but I have no doubt this will be another fine addition to the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2017.

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Goodreads

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About the Authors

charles-toddCharles Todd is the New York Times bestselling author of the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries, the Bess Crawford mysteries, and two stand-alone novels. A mother-and-son writing team, they live on the East Coast.

Catch Up with the latest Charles Todd news on their Website, Twitter & Facebook.

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