Book Review: Celine by Peter Heller

Celine
Peter Heller
Alfred A. Knopf, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-451-49389-7
Hardcover

Celine is one of the most fascinating and hard to describe books I have read recently. In many ways, it is really two books in one. In the prologue, readers watch a happy family outing turn tragic and meet the little girl who will eventually be Celine’s client. If you are a reader who generally skips prologues, DON’T skip this one. It is important.

Moving on to the first chapter readers are introduced to Celine, one of the most interesting protagonists I’ve met. In her sixties, she works as a PI specializing in reuniting families but is also an artist using mostly found items that can be best described as macabre. For instance, in the opening scene she is creating a sculpture of  the skeleton of a mink looking down on it’s own skin drying on a rock with a crow’s skull nearby. Celine suffers from emphysema from her many years of smoking. There is a sadness about her that readers should realize right away explains much of what she does. She has suffered many losses in her life from her father’s absence from his family to the death of her sisters. But even as her story unfolds, we sense that Celine has lost even more.

Fast forward to the call from a much younger woman who has read about Celine’s work in a college alumni magazine. The woman, Gabriela, has also suffered losses in her life. The first painful loss was her small cat who disappeared when she was seven. But that loss is quickly overshadowed by a much bigger loss, that of her mother. As terrible as that was it was at least clear cut. Her mother drowned. Sadly that brought about the loss of her father at least emotionally. But it was  the actual death of her father many years later that  haunted her and brought her to Celine. Her father, a world renowned photographer, supposedly was killed, and possibly eaten, by a bear just outside of Yellowstone. No body was ever recovered. Gabriela has long questioned the circumstances surrounding her father’s death. Too many things in the investigation just didn’t quite add up. Celine takes the case and proceeds to Wyoming to investigate.

From that point on, the book shifts from Celine’s investigation and flashbacks to her own story.  In the end, readers find out what became of Gabriela’s father, but sadly, the mystery of Celine’s deep sadness is not fully revealed. I am hoping that there will be another case for Celine. Readers (and Celine) want closure.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St.Clair, March 2017.

Book Review: Hunter by Renee Donne

Hunter Tour Banner

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Title: Hunter
Author: Renee Donne
Publisher: Anaiah Press
Publication Date: November 14, 2014
Genres: Mystery, Young Adult

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HunterHunter
Renee Donne
Anaiah Press, November 2014
ISBN 978-0996329033
Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-0-9909085-2-4
Ebook

From the publisher—

Moving across the country isn’t Hunter’s ideal start to her Junior year of high school. She has no friends to hang out with, no beaches to lounge on, and she’s living just a few miles from the secluded hiking trail where her father died when she was a baby.

Living in Wyoming isn’t all bad, though, thanks to Logan, the handsome veterinary assistant at the animal clinic where she lands an after school job. And he seems just as interested in her as she is in him.

As Hunter begins to settle into her new home, she learns more about the circumstances surrounding her father’s tragic death, and it may not have been the accident everyone believes. The truth lies in the woods bordering her grandfather’s ranch, and Hunter might be the next victim.

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Poor Hunter is being dragged off to Wyoming to live after her mother loses her job and, before they even get there, odd things happen including a woman dashing across the road in front of them. This is a prelude to other strange events but Hunter at least soon finds that living in the middle of nowhere might not be so bad, especially after she meets a hottie named Logan and lands a job with the local veterinarian. A chance encounter with a Native American named Gus intrigues her while also creeping her out a bit until her grandfather reassures her that Gus is a good guy.

Religion plays a big part in the storyline, portrayed in both a natural, comforting manner and also as a tool for those who distort and use people’s faith for their own purposes. It’s all part of the mystery surrounding Hunter’s dad’s death many years earlier but Hunter and her mom find the town to be as welcoming as they could wish.

If you’re looking for a light mystery to while away a few hours, Hunter is not a bad choice. There are some stumbling blocks—Hunter fits into her new school with nary a hiccup which is pretty unrealistic in a high school environment, it was way too easy to spot the bad guy and the writing was a bit stilted—but, on the whole, I enjoyed the story.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.

An Excerpt from Hunter

The early morning air was crisp when I stepped out of the house dressed in an old pair of denim shorts, a tee, and a beat up pair of sneakers. I’d tried to prepare for my hike, eating a fair breakfast and tucking some water, a sandwich, and a few granola bars into my backpack. But I hadn’t even considered it might be chilly. Probably because in South Carolina, chilly was a word that just didn’t exist in late August. I was grateful for the mild weather, though, since I would have to ride my bike forever before I would even reach the hiking trail.

“Where you off to?” Grandfather Birchum’s gruff voice stopped me in my tracks just as I was about to descend the steps from the porch to the driveway.

I turned to face him. He was completely outfitted and ready for a day of ranch work in old jeans, boots, and a button down plaid shirt. He even wore a Stetson, which seemed to be typical attire around here. “Exploring,” I answered, waving my printed map in the air as proof.

“You got a trail in mind, or are you just planning to wing it? The land can be dangerous out there, you know.” There was a warning in his tone.

“I’m a big girl, Grandpa. And yes, I do have a trail in mind. I pointed toward what I hoped was West, toward the area of Grandpa’s land that bordered the forest.

He nodded and reached into his pocket. “Take my truck.” He tossed his keys at me, and I caught them with an arm against my chest. Grandpa was clearly a man of few words, but I was happy for the offer. It sure beat biking out to the trail just to walk some more.

In no time, I’d reached the edge of Grandpa’s land and pulled to a stop when the vegetation became too thick to drive anymore. The air was warming a bit, but it was still on the cool side when I stepped out of the truck. I couldn’t remember ever seeing such gorgeous blue skies without it being ninety-five degrees outside. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and took the path leading away from Grandpa’s truck.

About an hour into my hike, I found myself wishing I had a pair of boots. My old sneakers just weren’t made for this terrain. The plant life around the path had thinned, and this was the perfect place to take a rest, sit and enjoy the solitude of nature. I slid down against a tree and pulled my snacks out of my bag.

I was just washing down my second granola bar with a bottle of water when I heard a faint shuffling noise behind me. Thinking some wild animal had happened upon me, I hopped up and spun around to face it far less gracefully than I’d intended.

Rather than a wolf or fox or whatever they had out here, it was a man. An old, Native-American man, standing no more than ten feet from me, and dressed like something straight out of a Western movie. How had he gotten so close without me hearing him? He stared at me, and not sure what to do, I just stared back.

He perched on a nearby boulder. “Relax Hunter. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“How do you know my name? What do you want?” I was relieved there was no wild animal about to pounce, but I was still wary of this odd stranger.

“I have been expecting you. Before you were born, you had a purpose.” That cryptic response was apparently the only one I was going to get. He stood and began to walk away. When I didn’t follow, he turned to look over his shoulder at me. “Don’t just stand there. Let’s go.” He sounded so much like an annoyed father speaking to a child that, without even considering my actions, I followed him.

He motioned to a multi-colored blanket which lay folded on the ground against a large rock. “Sit,” he barked and crouched several feet away. Then he used his finger to draw a line in the dry earth. Unable to deny my curiosity, I sat and watched intently, trying to figure out what he was doing.

I observed in silence while he worked, not wanting to break what appeared to be intense concentration by asking what he was doing. For almost twenty minutes, he sat creating an intricate design. I couldn’t quite tell what the image was, but he seemed quite pleased with the finished product.

“It is done. You may leave now.” He hadn’t spoken since telling me to sit, and now he wanted me to just get up and leave?

“What’s done?”

“What you came for. I have learned all I needed. Now, you better leave, return to your vehicle, and go home before anyone realizes you’re here. They won’t like that you visited. You should stay away from here; it’s too close.”

This guy was obviously more than a little on the crazy side. Leaving was starting to look pretty appealing. Granted, I kind of liked him for the eccentricity, but if there were others like him, I didn’t want to be around when they showed up and the crazy party really started. I stood and moved slowly away from him. I headed back down the path, grabbing my pack from where I left it, and slipping my arms through the straps as I walked.

I made my way back to the truck, replaying the last bizarre hour in my head all the while. It seemed like a much shorter trip back than it was to get all the way out there, but I wasn’t going to complain. I was suddenly in a hurry to get home.

Trailer for Hunter

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About the Author

Renee DonneRenee Donne is a native Floridian with a penchant for writing books with a western theme. In her head, she’s a world traveler and an amateur chef. In real life, she’s a hometown girl with an affinity for fine wine and good friends. Her favorite place to write is sitting on her veranda, overlooking the beach.

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Book Review: Dry Bones by Craig Johnson

Dry BonesDry Bones
A Longmire Mystery #11
Craig Johnson
Viking, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-525-42693-6
Hardcover

Who doesn’t love a Wyoming dinosaur, although. . . turtles? Not so much. Especially after picking up Dry Bones, the latest in Craig Johnson’s Longmire mystery series.

The complete skeleton of a T. Rex, nicknamed “Jen” after the woman who, thanks to her dog, discovered it, is found on land owned by an elderly Cheyenne. Who knew dinosaur fossils were worth so much money? But just who owns the fossil, and has the right to sell it is questionable after Danny Lone Elk is found dead in a turtle pond. Murdered, as it turns out, and Walt has plenty of suspects. As usual in a Longmire story, some politics are involved, along with the FBI, local cops and tribal police. Messy.

Complications galore arise, including a death in the family, which includes Walt’s friends, his co-workers, and even the previous sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming.

We’re getting along in years with Walt Longmire, but Walt, Henry, Vic, and even Dog never age. They never become boring, either, which has as much to do with Craig Johnson’s voice and writing skill as Longmire’s actual investigations.

Some things I noticed:

Johnson’s writing has a warmth to it that always sucks you in. Reading a Longmire novel is like visiting with a group of friends or family. Only Walt lives a much more exciting life than I do.

The subject matter, as usual, will probably teach you a little something. That never hurts.

A lively bunch of suspects to choose from, and every one a three-dimensional character.

You’ll love the way this one turns out. I promise.

Stay tuned. I can’t wait for the next book.

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

Book Reviews: Treasure Hunt by Andrea Camilleri and Breaking Point by C. J. Box

Treasure HuntTreasure Hunt
An Inspector Montalbano Mystery #16
Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Viking, October 2013
ISBN: 978-0-143-12262-3
Trade Paperback

This is the 16th Sicilian mystery featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano. In the early going in the novel, the Inspector finds himself bored, with nary a crime worthy of his talents, much less a murder; the author calls him a “police inspector with a brilliant past, no matter dull his present.” But it becomes somewhat less boring as the book opens – – an elderly brother and sister, religious fanatics both, open fire on the main square of the village, determined to punish the people of Vigata for their sins. When Montalbano is caught on camera scaling the building, gun in hand, to put an end to the scene, he is hailed as a hero. His own reaction, after searching the apartment, is one of shock, when he discovers rooms filled with crucifixes and shrines and an apparently aged inflatable sex doll. To say that this opening scene has unexpected repercussions later in the novel is an understatement.

Montalbano, now fifty-seven, is a man who is always aware of when he ate his last meal and savors each one; who occasionally has his inner selves arguing, like an angel and a devil perched on each shoulder, and takes to cursing the saints when frustrated. And is an absolutely terrific protagonist. He has two more or less regular women in his life, Ingrid, a former race-car mechanic, described as his “Swedish friend, confidante, and sometimes accomplice,” and Livia, with whom he has a long-distance romance: She lives in Genoa.

Boredom soon is replaced with the worst kind of crime to be solved: The apparent kidnapping of a beautiful 18-year-old girl, with no clues as to the identity of the kidnapper. Montalbano finds himself up against “a criminal mind the likes of which he had never encountered before.”

Not long after the opening scenes, he becomes the recipient of envelopes marked to his personal attention, each containing crudely constructed poems, riddles setting him on the eponymous hunt, soon devolving into a duel between two very sharp minds. Until with the third and fourth missives the seemingly innocuous game becomes suddenly threatening or, as the Inspector puts it, takes a “curious turn.”

The plot is fascinating, the tale told, despite the darkness of the plot, with great good humor and fascinating characters, e.g., the Inspector’s switchboard operator, Catarella, from whose mouth come words like “nickpick” (picnic), and “Beckin’ yer partin” (for ‘begging your pardon,” but you figured that out already). This was a very entertaining novel, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2014.

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Breaking PointBreaking Point
A Joe Pickett Novel #13
C.J. Box
Berkley, March 2014
ISBN: 978-0-425-26460-7
Mass Market Paperback

One thing you can always count on in a Joe Pickett novel: The environment and topography of Wyoming plays a vital part in the plot. This book is no exception. Breaking Point starts with an actual true story as its foundation: the Sackett Case, by which the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 9-0 ruling, declared that the EPA had overstepped in its dealings with the Idaho family.

Similarly, the regional director of the EPA in Denver, began an action against Butch and Pam Roberson, acquaintances of Joe and Marybeth Pickett, setting off a maelstrom in its wake, including four deaths, a forest fire of monumental proportions, and a variety of other results. When two agents serving a compliance order arrived at a plot on which Butch was starting to build a retirement home, they were shot and buried on the property, and Butch fled into the mountains. A massive effort led by the regional director to capture Butch was begun, with Joe forced to guide a posse of agents in his wake.

This reader could envision a much different conclusion than the one the author chose, but up until that point, I found the novel powerful, especially the forest fire scenes and Joe’s efforts to return from the mountain. It is a riveting description of the wilderness, and Joe’s return apparently sets the stage for his future efforts. Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2014.

Book Reviews: A Serpent’s Tooth by Craig Johnson, Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson, and The Wild Beasts of Wuhan by Ian Hamilton

A Serpent's ToothA Serpent’s Tooth
Craig Johnson
Viking, April  2013
ISBN: 978-0-670-02645-6
Trade Paperback

Now in his ninth appearance, Walt Longmire is confronted by dual adversaries when a homeless boy shows up on his doorstep.  The youth, Cord Lynear, has been cast out of a Mormon cult enclave searching for his mother.  Walt discovers that his mother approached the sheriff of an adjoining county, looking for her son.  In attempting to reunite the two, Walt is unable to find the mother, leading him into investigating an interstate polygamy group, well-armed and with something to hide.

It is an intricate plot, one fraught with danger for Walt, his pal Standing Bear (also known as “Cheyenne Nation”) and his deputy (and lover), Victoria Moretti.  I felt Walt’s overdone bravado, and the resulting violent confrontations, were a bit overdone.  But that is Walt.  And TV.

This entry in the Walt Longmire series, now also in a popular TV dramatic form about to enter its second season, appears to be expressly written to provide another episode.  That is not to say it isn’t another well-written novel with all the elements of the Wyoming sheriff’s customary literary observations and acts of derring-do.  It just seems to me that it’s a bit too much of a manufactured plot with an overtone of a popular protagonist and his sidekicks.  That said, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2013.

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Once We Were BrothersOnce We Were Brothers
Ronald H. Balson
St. Martin’s Griffin, October 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-04639-0
Trade Paperback

There have been many books about the holocaust and the travails of people under Nazi occupation during World War II, but this novel touches the heart of the reader because essentially it is a love story surrounded by the atrocities and miseries inflicted on the populations of the occupied territories.  It is essentially the story of Ben Solomon and his wife and family.  But, more important, it is the telling of the horrors endured by the Jews in Poland and the beasts that perpetrated them.

The plot begins when Ben, now 82 years old, sees a TV broadcast of a Chicago event and recognizes the person receiving a civic honor, apparently a pillar of society who is well-known as a philanthropist, as a former Nazi SS officer, Otto Piatek.  The reason Ben recognizes him is because the Solomon family gave Otto a home and Ben grew up with him until Otto’s parents took him away and he embraced his new-found status in the National Socialist Party.  Ben is introduced to Catherine Lockhart, an attorney, who comes to embrace Ben’s desire to uncover Otto, now going by the name of Elliot Rosenzweig, a billionaire Chicago insurance magnate, for what he really is, while listening to his story in relation to a lawsuit she is preparing to bring to reclaim jewelry and cash Otto stole from Ben’s family.

Written simply, the book, a first effort by a Chicago lawyer, moves forward steadily, as Catherine attempts to formulate a lawsuit for replevin, while Ben insists on telling her in great detail the trials and tribulations of life under the Nazis.  And it all comes together at the end.  (Parenthetically, I believe the novel would make a great screenplay.)

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2013.

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The Wild Beasts of WuhanThe Wild Beasts of Wuhan
An Ava Lee Novel
Ian Hamilton
Picador, June 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-03229-4
Trade Paperback

Ava Lee undertakes a most formidable task in this, the second in the series about the forensic accountant who specializes in recovering money for a sizable commission in partnership with her mentor, referred to simply as “Uncle,” a rather mysterious man apparently with triad connections, headquartered in Hong Kong and with deep roots in China.  It seems that Uncle’s boyhood friend, Wong Changxing, a powerful and impressive industrialist, bought about $100 million worth of paintings, 15 out of the 20 being elaborate forgeries, and upon discovering the fact seeks Uncle’s and Ava’s assistance in recovering the money and saving him from embarrassment should the facts become known.

The problem is that the Hong Kong dealer from whom the paintings were purchased ten years before is dead and there are no clues or paperwork to guide Ava in her efforts.  But that hardly is a problem for her, as she pursues tracing the transactions, traveling to Denmark, London, Dublin, the Faroe Islands and New York City and learning a lot about the art world in the process.

Ava Lee is on a par with the best of the female protagonists like Kinsey Milhone and others, while an accountant, but exhibiting all the talents and attributes of a private eye.   She is tough and bold and confident, as she shows us in this latest caper.  We are told that the next novel in the series, expected in January 2014, has her pulling her half-brother’s chestnuts out of the fire.  Looking forward to reading it!

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2013.

Book Reviews: County Line by Bill Cameron, The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by Marcus Sakey, Camouflage by Bill Pronzini, Tigerlily’s Orchids by Ruth Rendell, and Hell Is Empty by Craig Johnson

County Line
Bill Cameron
Tyrus Books, June 2011
ISBN: 978-1-935562-52-8
Trade Paperback

Before even attempting to evaluate this novel, it must be pointed out that at the beginning and end of the book as well as in between segments there are QR barcodes, purportedly featuring bonus material and extras.  To do so, of course, one must own a smartphone and download an app to view the material.  Since I have no need or desire to own such an instrument (what’s wrong, am I anti-American?), I don’t know how much, if anything, I am missing, especially what the barcode at the end of and within the novel provides.   Since I had a feeling of incompleteness after finishing the book, I wonder.  And if that is information I need to judge the novel, then it not only is a disservice to the reader who chooses not to utilize it, but a poor gimmick to sell smartphones and cellular service.  As it is, I found it only a distraction, as well as questioning whether it was necessary for a full appreciation of the book.

As far as the novel is concerned, it is incisively written, with good character development.  It begins when go-getter Ruby Jane Whittaker, founder and owner of a three-store chain of coffee shops in Portland, Oregon, goes off on what is to be a two-week trip.  When she doesn’t return, two of her boyfriends take heed, and undertake to find her. The effort takes them to San Francisco to see her brother (who becomes a hit-and-run victim before their eyes), then to a small Ohio town where Ruby Jane grew up and then back to Oregon.  The effort raises more questions than it does answers.

Another section of the novel retraces Ruby Jane’s earlier life in Ohio, and provides some background to the mystery, which is finally brought to a violent finish, albeit leaving this reader wondering whether or not that really is the conclusion, or just laying the groundwork for the next book in this series.  If you own a smartphone, OK, you can take this as a recommendation.  If not – – well, the choice is yours.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes
Marcus Sakey
Dutton, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-525-95211-4
Hardcover

Daniel Hayes wakes up on a beach in Maine, half drowned and with a loss of memory.  This sets the stage for a slow, dramatic tale as he attempts to reconstruct his life.  He finds a car nearby which is apparently owned by someone named Daniel Hayes from Malibu, CA.  Is that him?

Then he decides to cross the country in an effort to find out who he is, after fleeing a cop attempting to arrest him in Maine. Dan is a scriptwriter, and his efforts are like episodes on a TV show.  When he gets to Malibu, he sneaks in to what turns out is his home.  So he has a name.  And a home.  Then he finds out a female character on a television show is his wife who apparently was killed when her car went over a cliff.  While he searches for answers, the plot thickens.

And quite a plot it is.  Interspersed with fairly crisp prose are simulated scripts, sometimes fantasy, others integral to the story line.  The reader is kept off-balance with the question of whether Dan fled to Maine because he killed his wife.  And when that question is answered, a whole new mystery arises to keep one turning pages.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Camouflage
Bill Pronzini
Forge, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2564-8
Hardcover

The Nameless Detective in this long-running series is supposed to have semi-retired.  It just isn’t so.  He’s still working four or five days a week, and it’s a good thing, because it makes for good reading.  In the first of two cases described in this novel, he takes on a new client with what at first appears to be a simple ‘trace’ case.  The oft-married client asks Nameless to locate his ex-wife so he can get her to sign a Catholic Church form to pave the way for an annulment, so he can marry the next, an apparently well-to-do prospect.  Tamara, who is now running the agency in wake of Nameless’ “semi-retirement,” locates the ex-wiife, and after she refuses to sign the papers the client visits her, after which he storms into the office saying that it’s the wrong person.  This leads to the ensuing mystery to be solved.

The second plot line involves Jake Runyon, Nameless’ partner, who has finally developed a relationship with a woman, Bryn, who has a nine-year-old son who is in her ex-husband’s custody.  It appears that the boy is being abused, but by whom?  The father, or his fiancée, who is living with him and the child?  The complication of the girl’s murder and the subsequent admission by Bryn of having committed the deed lays the groundwork for some detective work by Jake to find the real culprit.

As in the previous more than two score books in the series, the tightly written novel, accompanied by terse dialogue and seamless transitions, take the reader forward effortlessly.  The author’s eye for detail is penetrating, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Tigerlily’s Orchids
Ruth Rendell
Scribner, June 2011
ISBN: 978-4391-5034-4
Hardcover

Ruth Rendell novels are a study in human relationships, and this book is no exception.  It takes a look at an assortment of tenants living in an apartment house block in London, particularly one building, but also a couple of homes across the way.

An inordinate amount of space is devoted to one tenant, a young, handsome youth, Stuart Font, who recently inherited some money and bought his apartment.  He decides to have a housewarming and invite all the other tenants.  His married lover forces him to invite her, setting the stage for her husband to invade the apartment and harm Stuart, who is later found murdered in a nearby park.

The mystery, of course, is who the murderer is.  But it is almost superfluous since the interaction of the various characters is the prime focus of the novel:  One woman who is determined to drink herself to death; three young girls, students of a sort, one of whom falls in love with Stuart, who in turn is obsessed with a beautiful young Asian in the house across the street after discarding his married lover; an elderly couple who once had a one-night stand in their youth and find each other again; the caretaker couple, the husband of which enjoys spying on young girls and watching pornography on his computer.  Among others.

The author’s eye for detail is sharp, and the personality descriptions vivid.  For a crime novel, the mystery is virtually irrelevant, but certainly the character studies are vital.  For that reason alone, the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Hell Is Empty
Craig Johnson
Viking, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-670-02277-9
Hardcover

This, the seventh novel in the Walt Longmire series, is perhaps the most harrowing.  It starts out simply enough, with Walt, the Sheriff of a Wyoming county, and his deputies transporting three murderers to a rendezvous with two other local Sheriffs and Federal officials.  One of the felons, a psychopath who says he hears supernatural voices, has indicated he killed a young Indian boy years before, and offers to locate the bones for the officials.  There is a rumor, also, that he has secreted $1.4 million, perhaps in the grave.

This sets the stage for a harrowing experience for Walt, as the convicts escape, killing FBI agents and taking two hostages with them as they climbed Bighorn Mountain.  A determined Walt follows under blizzard conditions, which almost kills him.

As in previous entries in the series, the geographical and environmental descriptions are awesome.  The reader can feel the cold and ice as they penetrate Walt’s body and inundate the mountain peak in glasslike cover and snow-filled mounds.  Another excellent book, full of Indian lore and supernatural phenomena.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

Book Reviews: County Line by Bill Cameron, The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by Marcus Sakey, Camouflage by Bill Pronzini, Tigerlily's Orchids by Ruth Rendell, and Hell Is Empty by Craig Johnson

County Line
Bill Cameron
Tyrus Books, June 2011
ISBN: 978-1-935562-52-8
Trade Paperback

Before even attempting to evaluate this novel, it must be pointed out that at the beginning and end of the book as well as in between segments there are QR barcodes, purportedly featuring bonus material and extras.  To do so, of course, one must own a smartphone and download an app to view the material.  Since I have no need or desire to own such an instrument (what’s wrong, am I anti-American?), I don’t know how much, if anything, I am missing, especially what the barcode at the end of and within the novel provides.   Since I had a feeling of incompleteness after finishing the book, I wonder.  And if that is information I need to judge the novel, then it not only is a disservice to the reader who chooses not to utilize it, but a poor gimmick to sell smartphones and cellular service.  As it is, I found it only a distraction, as well as questioning whether it was necessary for a full appreciation of the book.

As far as the novel is concerned, it is incisively written, with good character development.  It begins when go-getter Ruby Jane Whittaker, founder and owner of a three-store chain of coffee shops in Portland, Oregon, goes off on what is to be a two-week trip.  When she doesn’t return, two of her boyfriends take heed, and undertake to find her. The effort takes them to San Francisco to see her brother (who becomes a hit-and-run victim before their eyes), then to a small Ohio town where Ruby Jane grew up and then back to Oregon.  The effort raises more questions than it does answers.

Another section of the novel retraces Ruby Jane’s earlier life in Ohio, and provides some background to the mystery, which is finally brought to a violent finish, albeit leaving this reader wondering whether or not that really is the conclusion, or just laying the groundwork for the next book in this series.  If you own a smartphone, OK, you can take this as a recommendation.  If not – – well, the choice is yours.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes
Marcus Sakey
Dutton, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-525-95211-4
Hardcover

Daniel Hayes wakes up on a beach in Maine, half drowned and with a loss of memory.  This sets the stage for a slow, dramatic tale as he attempts to reconstruct his life.  He finds a car nearby which is apparently owned by someone named Daniel Hayes from Malibu, CA.  Is that him?

Then he decides to cross the country in an effort to find out who he is, after fleeing a cop attempting to arrest him in Maine. Dan is a scriptwriter, and his efforts are like episodes on a TV show.  When he gets to Malibu, he sneaks in to what turns out is his home.  So he has a name.  And a home.  Then he finds out a female character on a television show is his wife who apparently was killed when her car went over a cliff.  While he searches for answers, the plot thickens.

And quite a plot it is.  Interspersed with fairly crisp prose are simulated scripts, sometimes fantasy, others integral to the story line.  The reader is kept off-balance with the question of whether Dan fled to Maine because he killed his wife.  And when that question is answered, a whole new mystery arises to keep one turning pages.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Camouflage
Bill Pronzini
Forge, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2564-8
Hardcover

The Nameless Detective in this long-running series is supposed to have semi-retired.  It just isn’t so.  He’s still working four or five days a week, and it’s a good thing, because it makes for good reading.  In the first of two cases described in this novel, he takes on a new client with what at first appears to be a simple ‘trace’ case.  The oft-married client asks Nameless to locate his ex-wife so he can get her to sign a Catholic Church form to pave the way for an annulment, so he can marry the next, an apparently well-to-do prospect.  Tamara, who is now running the agency in wake of Nameless’ “semi-retirement,” locates the ex-wiife, and after she refuses to sign the papers the client visits her, after which he storms into the office saying that it’s the wrong person.  This leads to the ensuing mystery to be solved.

The second plot line involves Jake Runyon, Nameless’ partner, who has finally developed a relationship with a woman, Bryn, who has a nine-year-old son who is in her ex-husband’s custody.  It appears that the boy is being abused, but by whom?  The father, or his fiancée, who is living with him and the child?  The complication of the girl’s murder and the subsequent admission by Bryn of having committed the deed lays the groundwork for some detective work by Jake to find the real culprit.

As in the previous more than two score books in the series, the tightly written novel, accompanied by terse dialogue and seamless transitions, take the reader forward effortlessly.  The author’s eye for detail is penetrating, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Tigerlily’s Orchids
Ruth Rendell
Scribner, June 2011
ISBN: 978-4391-5034-4
Hardcover

Ruth Rendell novels are a study in human relationships, and this book is no exception.  It takes a look at an assortment of tenants living in an apartment house block in London, particularly one building, but also a couple of homes across the way.

An inordinate amount of space is devoted to one tenant, a young, handsome youth, Stuart Font, who recently inherited some money and bought his apartment.  He decides to have a housewarming and invite all the other tenants.  His married lover forces him to invite her, setting the stage for her husband to invade the apartment and harm Stuart, who is later found murdered in a nearby park.

The mystery, of course, is who the murderer is.  But it is almost superfluous since the interaction of the various characters is the prime focus of the novel:  One woman who is determined to drink herself to death; three young girls, students of a sort, one of whom falls in love with Stuart, who in turn is obsessed with a beautiful young Asian in the house across the street after discarding his married lover; an elderly couple who once had a one-night stand in their youth and find each other again; the caretaker couple, the husband of which enjoys spying on young girls and watching pornography on his computer.  Among others.

The author’s eye for detail is sharp, and the personality descriptions vivid.  For a crime novel, the mystery is virtually irrelevant, but certainly the character studies are vital.  For that reason alone, the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Hell Is Empty
Craig Johnson
Viking, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-670-02277-9
Hardcover

This, the seventh novel in the Walt Longmire series, is perhaps the most harrowing.  It starts out simply enough, with Walt, the Sheriff of a Wyoming county, and his deputies transporting three murderers to a rendezvous with two other local Sheriffs and Federal officials.  One of the felons, a psychopath who says he hears supernatural voices, has indicated he killed a young Indian boy years before, and offers to locate the bones for the officials.  There is a rumor, also, that he has secreted $1.4 million, perhaps in the grave.

This sets the stage for a harrowing experience for Walt, as the convicts escape, killing FBI agents and taking two hostages with them as they climbed Bighorn Mountain.  A determined Walt follows under blizzard conditions, which almost kills him.

As in previous entries in the series, the geographical and environmental descriptions are awesome.  The reader can feel the cold and ice as they penetrate Walt’s body and inundate the mountain peak in glasslike cover and snow-filled mounds.  Another excellent book, full of Indian lore and supernatural phenomena.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.