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.

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 6/26 Interview/Showcase @ CMash Reads
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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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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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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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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.

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copy of Wildcat, leave a comment
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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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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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Book Review: The Troutbeck Testimony by Rebecca Tope

the-troutbeck-testimonyThe Troutbeck Testimony
An English Country Mystery: Lakeside Mysteries #4
Rebecca Tope
Witness Imulse, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-256746-8
Ebook

From the publisher—

A huge funeral for Windermere’s popular resident, Barbara Dodge, is taking place and florist Persimmon “Simmy” Brown and her new assistant, Bonnie Lawson are busy compiling wreaths in preparation. As people pass through the shop they begin to hear rumors about a series of sinister dog-nappings occurring in nearby Troutbeck. Up in arms over the crimes, they begin to investigate. But it isn’t until Simmy and her father are taking a walk up Wansfell Pike that it becomes apparent that there is something even worse is afoot and everyone’s favorite florist must stop a killer before they strike again . . .

Way back when, in the Dark Ages, I took a 2-week car trip around England, Scotland and Wales with my daughter, Laura. We had a terrific time and I particularly loved the Lake District where this series is set so I really looked forward to The Troutbeck Testimony. For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed but I do have some reservations.

As you can tell from the publisher’s description, dogs are put in jeopardy but, unless you refuse to accept any peril at all happening to animals, you should be able to tolerate this. Remember, this is a cozy so nothing awful happens on the page and the reader is somewhat removed from the dognappings. What bothered me about the scenario is the main character’s attitude towards it.

Usually, the protagonist in such a situation would be very concerned, almost sappy, about animals in general and dogs in particular but Simmy is another type altogether. Simmy is most definitely not your normal cozy type of character—she’s abrasive, kind of self-centered, doesn’t really like dogs or see why she should care what’s happening to them and is not very interested in uncovering the truth behind the dognapping ring or subsequent murder(s). Her antipathy isn’t just because she doesn’t know these dogs; she’s not even a fan of Bertie, her dad’s elderly Lakeland terrier.

The kicker is that Simmy acts the same way towards people, even those close to her, but she does have reasons for her standoffish behavior and, because of that, I chose to see her as a challenge and potentially more interesting than many players in a cozy series. I began to understand her better then and to understand that her prickliness hides a bit of vulnerability. I still found her irritating but she kind of grew on me.

As for the solving of the mystery, you might say it takes a village. Simmy manages to pull the clues together but quite a few others chip in here and there including a pair of teens named Ben and Bonnie and Simmy’s own father. When all was said and done, I found The Troutbeck Testimony an interesting twist on the expected cozy and recommend it for readers who are open to something a little different.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2016.

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An Excerpt from The Troutbeck Testimony

The first anniversary of Persimmon Brown’s opening of her florist shop in the Lake District had almost coincided with Easter and an explosion of spring flowers and blossom. Wordsworth’s daffodils performed to their greatest strength and pussy willow attracted hosts of honey bees who had failed to notice that they were meant to be in terminal decline. A month later, on the first long weekend in May, walking along a sheltered footpath to the west of Troutbeck, Simmy – officially Ms Persimmon Brown – could hear an energetic buzzing and murmured ‘something something something in the bee-loud glade’ to herself. Not Wordsworth, she was sure, but somebody like Yeats or Hardy. She would ask her young friend Ben, who knew everything.

The sun was warm on her shoulders; the light so clear that she could pick out numerous fast-growing lambs on the fells far above the village. Every weekend throughout the coming summer, she promised herself, she would get up at first light and go for an early walk. The anniversary had been a time for resolutions and one of them was to make much better use of the natural delights that surrounded her.

She felt an almost pagan euphoria at the burgeoning landscape, vibrant with flora and fauna at the start of another cycle of life. Her mother would say it was a mark in Christianity’s favour that it had been clever enough to superimpose all its biggest rituals onto far more ancient moments in the natural year, with Easter an obvious example.

There was now a bonus Spring Bank Holiday that Simmy was savouring with complete abandonment.

The late morning, with a sunny afternoon still ahead of her, brought feelings of richness and privilege that were almost shameful. But she had earned it, she reminded herself. The winter had been grey and protracted, interspersed with a number of unpleasant adventures. She had been repeatedly drawn into events that demonstrated the darker side of human behaviour, forced to confront far too
much reality.

Now that spring had arrived with such a colourful crash, she was determined to shake all that off and concentrate on her flowers.

The plan for the day was to meet her father, Russell Straw, for a long-promised fellside walk after a modest lunch at the Mortal Man. The full walk, along Nanny Lane and up to the summit of Wansfell Pike – and back – was easily four miles in total, with some steep sections of stony path. ‘By rights, we should go across to the Troutbeck Tongue at the same time, but that’s rather ambitious,’ Russell conceded.

‘I shall want some fortification first,’ Simmy had warned him. ‘And if there’s the slightest risk of rain, I’m cancelling the whole idea. Neither of us is fit enough to do anything rash.’

There was no suggestion of rain, the sky a uniform blue in every direction. It was, in fact, the most perfect day for very many months and Simmy was duly thankful for it. Her father would bring water, map, and dog. She would provide a camera, mobile phone and two slabs of Kendal mint cake.

The fells above Troutbeck were stark, dramatic and uncaring. There were barely any flowers or trees adorning them, other than the tiny resilient blooms that crouched underfoot. More than happy to accommodate her father’s wishes, Simmy nonetheless preferred the softer and more moderated lower levels.

This explained her morning stroll, taking a zigzag route from her house to the hostelry along lanes that had been colonised by humanity, with gardens and houses taking their place in the picture. The bees at least agreed with her. Azaleas and rhododendrons were in bud, reminding her of her startled surprise at the vibrant colours, the year before. Not just the natural purples and pinks, but brilliant orange, deepest crimson and a wide array of other hues shouted from gardens all over the relatively balmy area around Windermere and Ambleside. Even the wilder reaches of Coniston boasted spectacular displays. Aware that it might be foolish to expend energy on this pre-walk stroll, she nonetheless felt the need to exploit the sunshine and the flamboyant floral displays. It was semi-professional, too – she ought to be apprised of the full range of seasonal blossoms in gardens, in order to echo and embellish them in the offerings she stocked at the shop. Flowers were her business, and any lateral information she could acquire would always come in useful.

Her father was waiting for her at the pub, sitting at an outside table on a lower level, with his dog. She kissed the man and patted the animal. ‘Is he going to cope with such a long walk?’ she wondered. It was a rather ancient Lakeland terrier, officially named Bertie, but mostly just called ‘the dog’. His forebears had failed a purity test, it seemed, and poor Bertie had found himself rejected as breeding stock and consigned to a rescue centre until eventually rescued by kindly Russell Straw.

‘Oh yes. And if he doesn’t we’ll have to carry him.’

‘When did you last take him on a jaunt like this?’

‘About eighteen months ago. We’ve been waiting all this time for you.’

‘Dad! That’s ridiculous.’ In spite of herself, she laughed. ‘Poor old chap. He won’t know what’s hit him. His feet will be sore for weeks.’

‘Not a bit of it. He spends all his time digging up stones. His feet are as tough as iron. He could easily outwalk both of us. Now let’s get on with it. I want to set off by one at the latest.’

That gave them forty-five minutes to eat a hearty pub lunch with beer to wash it down. ‘We shouldn’t walk on full stomachs,’ Simmy remarked. ‘We’ll get a stitch.’

‘Better than trying to do it empty. We need the food to give us stamina.’

‘At least we’ve got the weather for it. And listen to those birds!’ A pair of collared doves cooed at them from an overhead wire, the gentle three-note song a backdrop that Simmy always loved, despite the blatant lack of musical variety. Her habit of feeding garden birds had attracted another pair of doves to her own little patch, a few hundred yards from the pub, and she had grown used to waking to their call, imagining that they were deliberately asking her for some breakfast.

Russell cocked his head. ‘They’re not native, you know. They’re quite recent immigrants. I mean recent. I was about ten years old when the first ones settled here. The BBC put them in a medieval radio play by mistake not long ago. Lots of people wrote in about it.’

‘Well, they’re very welcome as far as I’m concerned.’

‘I agree with you. I also like grey squirrels, even if I get lynched for saying so.’

She laughed again, after a wary glance around. In Troutbeck, the red squirrel was verging on the sacred and the grey accordingly considered devilish. Anyone overhearing Russell was liable to take exception to his views. But nobody at the neighbouring tables was reacting. Nothing could sully her delight at the carefree afternoon ahead with the best of all possible fathers. It took a lot to disturb Russell Straw – but then a lot had happened in recent times, and his daughter had certainly caused him some worry over the winter. His wife was the powerful half in the marriage, leaving him to contented pottering and sporadic researches into local history. They ran a somewhat eccentric bed-and-breakfast business in Windermere, in which Angie Straw broke a lot of rules and earned a lot of profound gratitude in the process. Her reviews on TripAdvisor veered from the horrified to the euphoric, depending on how much individuality her guests could stomach. She was a capricious mixture of old fashioned and hippy, refusing to use guests’ first names unless they insisted, and cheerfully producing full breakfasts at ten-thirty, if that’s what people wanted.

‘Let me just pop to the lav and then we can be off,’ Russell said. ‘Mind the dog, will you?’

She took the lead attached to Bertie and nodded.

The sun was as high as it was going to get, and the afternoon stretched ahead of them with no sense of urgency. The sky remained an unbroken blue.

The views from the summit of Wansfell Pike would be spectacular. At least two lakes would be visible, and any number of fells on all sides. Russell knew the names of most of the main landmarks, and had a map with which to identify others. Simmy had only a rudimentary and theoretical knowledge of any of it.

Bertie whined and pulled annoyingly. ‘He’ll be back in a minute,’ Simmy told him. ‘Don’t be silly.’ Dogs were generally annoying, to her way of thinking. So dreadfully dependent and needy all the time. It had come as a surprise when her parents rescued this little specimen, and even more so when Russell developed such a fondness for it. To Simmy’s eyes, the animal lacked character, which Russell insisted was a consequence of his harsh life, full of betrayal and confusion. ‘He just wants everything nice and peaceful from here on,’ he said.

Which was generally what he got, apart from a never-ending procession of B&B guests, who mostly patted his head and then left him alone.

‘You were a long time,’ she told him, when her father eventually returned.

‘I know.’ He was frowning distractedly. ‘I overheard something, outside the gents, and I have no idea what to make of it. I kept out of sight for a minute, just in case they didn’t like the idea of anyone hearing them.’

‘Oh?’

‘Two men talking. It sounds a bit wild, I know, but I think they were planning a burglary.’

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About the Author

rebecca-topeRebecca Tope is the author of four murder mystery series, featuring Den Cooper, Devon police detective, Drew Slocombe, Undertaker; Thea Osborne, house sitter in the Cotswolds and now Persimmon Brown, Lake District florist. She is also a “ghost writer” of the novels based on the ITV series “Rosemary and Thyme”.

Catch up with Ms. Tope on rebeccatope.com or on twitter at @RebeccaTope

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10/24 Showcase @ Books, Dreams, Life
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10/26 Review/Interview/Showcase @ CMash Reads
10/28 Showcase @ The Book Divas Reads
10/31 Interview @ Books Chatter
11/01 Showcase @ 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too!
11/03 Review @ Buried Under Books
11/07 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
11/08 Interview @ Writers and Authors
11/09 Guest post @ Brooke Blogs

11/10 Review @ Bookishly me
11/15 Review @ Hott Books
11/16 Review @ Lauras Interests
11/21 Review @ Caroles Book Corner
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Book Reviews: Blood Symmetry by Kate Rhodes and The Girl in the River by Kate Rhodes

Blood SymmetryBlood Symmetry
Alice Quentin #5
Kate Rhodes
Witness Impulse, July 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-244407-3
Ebook
Also available in trade paperback

From the publisher—

Clare Riordan and her son, Mikey, are abducted from Clapham Common early one morning. Hours later, the boy is found wandering disorientated. Soon after, a container of Clare’s blood is left on a doorstep in the heart of London.

Psychologist Alice Quentin is brought in to help the traumatized child uncover his memories, with the hope that it might lead the authorities to his mother’s captors. But Alice swiftly realizes Clare is not the first victim… nor will she be the last.

The killers are desperate for revenge… and in the end, it will all come down to blood.

Police procedurals are high on my list of things I want to read and it’s even better if the police in question are British. While Blood Symmetry is, strictly speaking, not a police procedural, that’s just semantics. Alice is a psychologist who, beginning with the first book in the series , works closely with the police to solve crimes, especially those that don’t seem to be so cut-and-dried and she is now part of the Metropolitan’s forensic psychology unit.

Any crime involving harm to a child is certainly worse than the norm—even hardened criminals are disgusted by it—and it’s easy to see why Alice would be brought in to work with this eleven-year-old in the effort to find his still-missing mother and the individual(s) behind the kidnapping. Clearly, Clare was the target, not Mikey, so what is it about her that drew the attention of the abductors? She’s a blood specialist and others in her profession have been victimized but why?

As detectives begin to learn that it all revolves around tainted blood, Alice slowly progresses toward a breakthrough with Mikey and it’s this part of the story that especially appealed to me. I’ve always been interested in the workings of the human mind and children are a different kettle of fish, so to speak, because their minds don’t work the same as adults. In this case, Mikey’s near-muteness is an additional barrier to finding out what he knows.

On a more personal note, Alice and her significant other, DCI Don Burns, are working this case together and that lets the reader who’s new to the series get a good feel for the relationship between these two. It took me about two seconds to decide I really like Alice and Don as a couple as well as individually; they have their differences and neither thinks it’s a good idea to work together but this young boy and his mother trump their reluctance.

Kate Rhodes has reached into the past in writing this story, basing it on the scandal surrounding distribution of tainted blood in the 1970’s and 80’s, and it’s a much-needed reminder that things can go very wrong in medical developments. Besides constructing a truly engaging criminal investigation with nicely developed characters, she has made her story very relevant and I am thoroughly happy to have made the acquaintance of this fine series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2016.

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The Girl in the RiverThe Girl in the River
(published as River of Souls in the UK)
Alice Quentin #4
Kate Rhodes
Witness Impulse, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-244404-2
Ebook
Also available in trade paperback

From the publisher—

Jude Shelley, daughter of a prominent cabinet minister, had her whole life ahead of her until she was attacked and left to drown in the Thames. Miraculously, she survived. A year later, her family is now asking psychologist Alice Quentin to re-examine the case.

But then a body is found: an elderly priest, attacked in Battersea, washed up at Westminster Pier. An ancient glass bead is tied to his wrist.

Alice is certain that Jude and her family are hiding something, but unless she can persuade them to share what they know, more victims will come.

Because the Thames has always been a site of sacrifice and death.

And Alice is about to learn that some people still believe in it…

When psychologist Alice Quentin is asked to look into a year-old assault and attempted murder, a cold case, she’s reluctant to get involved with this politically-charged situation but her realization that the earlier police work was shoddy at best changes her feeling about it. Before all is resolved, Alice will have to confront a lot of issues, not least of which is the murky mind of a serial killer who sees things very differently from “normal” people.

Soon, the murder of a priest which may or may not be connected and Alice’s sense that the first victim, Jude, and her family are withholding information causes her to understand that this is much more than a simple attack…although the word simple is a misnomer considering the terrible facial disfigurement Jude suffered.

Since I read this book, fourth in the series, after the fifth book, Blood Symmetry, a few things are a little out of kilter but not beyond redemption. The chief difference is that Alice and Don are not yet in a relationship although clearly they have a past. Watching them work together (because Don was initially involved in the case) is interesting for the investigative aspect but perhaps more so for the development of their relationship. I was already a fan of these two and I still am for a lot of reasons, not least of which is their ability to separate work from their personal lives.

The investigation into the attacks on Jude and Father Kelvin leads down some dark and twisty paths and I was completely immersed in it. I know a lot of readers don’t care for crime fiction involving serial killers but I’m endlessly fascinated by the workings of the damaged mind and this one is particularly interesting. In the end, horror is tempered with sadness and I closed the book knowing I’m going to look for Ms. Rhodes’ earlier Alice Quentin books.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2016.

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About the Author

Kate RhodesKate Rhodes is the author of four previous Alice Quentin novels, Crossbones Yard, A Killing of Angels, The Winter Foundlings and The Girl in the River. She is also the author of two collections of poetry, Reversal and The Alice Trap. She writes full-time now, and lives in Cambridge with her husband, a writer and film-maker.


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7/11 Showcase @ CMash Reads
7/12 Showcase @ 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too!
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7/15 Review @ The Book Divas Reads
7/18 Showcase @ Socrates Book Reviews
7/20 Interview @ BooksChatter
7/28 Review @ Booksies Blog
8/01 Showcase @ Writers and Authors
8/03 Showcase @ just reviews
8/04 Review @ Book Babble
8/05 Review @ Wall-to-wall books
8/09 Showcase @ Brooke Blogs
8/18 Review @ Buried Under Books
8/19 Review @ Bookishly me

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Book Review: The Wages of Sin by Nancy Allen

The Wages of SinThe Wages of Sin
An Ozarks Mystery #3
Nancy Allen
Witness Impulse, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-243875-1
Ebook

From the publisher—

In rural McCown County, Missouri, a young pregnant woman is found beaten to death in a trailer park. The only witness to the murder is Ivy, her six-year-old daughter, who points to her mom’s boyfriend—father of the unborn child. County prosecutor Madeleine Thompson promises the community justice, and in the Ozarks, that can only mean one thing: a death sentence.

When Madeleine’s first choice for co-counsel declines to try a death penalty case, she is forced to turn to assistant prosecutor Elsie Arnold. Elsie is reluctant to join forces with her frosty boss, but the road to conviction seems smooth—until unexpected facts about the victim arise, and the testimony of the lone eyewitness Ivy becomes increasingly crucial. Against Elsie’s advice, Madeleine brings in the state attorney general’s office to assist them, while cutthroat trial attorney Claire O’Hara joins the defense.

Elsie will not let the power of prosecution—of seeking justice—be wrested from her without a fight. She wants to win the case, and to avenge the death of the mother and her unborn child. But as the trial nears, Elsie begins to harbor doubts about the death penalty itself. Meanwhile, the child Ivy is in greater danger than anyone knows.

How credible is a 6-year-old witness to a crime? Certainly that question has been a concern in the past and will continue to be so in the future but, in the case of Ivy’s mother’s boyfriend and the murder of her mother, it’s really critical because the stakes of conviction are so high. Can…or should…a prosecutor seek the death penalty based on that small child’s testimony even when the man confesses? After all, we all know confessions are frequently false for a variety of reasons.

There are many people who do not believe the death penalty is just or effective but many others who truly do believe it’s sometimes necessary because of the nature and/or the heinousness of the crime. I won’t get into my own opinion but I was captivated in The Wages of Sin by the zeal of both Madeleine and Elsie to carry this prosecution to it’s farthest reaches although their reasons may not be entirely altruistic.

There are other threads in this story, such as domestic violence and the effects of poverty and, together with the central issue of the death penalty, Nancy Allen has provided the reader with much to contemplate. At the same time, her characters and the Ozarks setting are as compelling as any I’ve seen in a while and I’m glad to have “discovered” this fine author.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2016.

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About the Author

Nancy AllenNancy Allen practiced law for 15 years as Assistant Missouri Attorney General and Assistant Prosecutor in her native Ozarks. She has tried over 30 jury trials, including murder and sexual offenses, and is now a law instructor at Missouri State University. Her first novel,The Code of the Hills, was published by HarperCollins in 2014.

The Wages of Sin is the third book in her Ozarks mystery series.

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4/27 Review @ Book Reviews from an Avid Reader
4/29 Showcase/Excerpt @ Fiction Zeal
4/30 Review w/ excerpt @ The Book Divas Reads
5/03 Review @ Booksie’s Blog
5/03 Interview w/excerpt @ Writers and Authors
5/04 Review @ Mystery Suspense Reviews
5/05 Showcase (&excerpt) @ Celticladys Reviews
5/06 Showcase/excerpt @ Bless Their Hearts Mom
5/08 Review @ Booked on a Feeling
5/10 Interview @ BooksChatter
5/12 Showcase/excerpt @ Thoughtful Tinker
5/13 Showcase/excerpt @ Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
5/14 Review @ Buried Under Books
5/18 Showcase /excerpt @ The Reading Frenzy
5/19 Showcase/excerpt @ Socrates Book Review Blog
5/20 Showcase @ just reviews

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