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DEATH UNDER A LITTLE SKY by Stig Abell: Book Review

Jake Jackson, a London police detective, is about to experience a life change.  Just at the time his marriage is dissolving, he receives news of the death of his Uncle Arthur and the bequest his uncle left him.  Now he has the opportunity to retire and start over.

Arthur was a wealthy, eccentric man, a bachelor with no family other than Jake, so Jake is not surprised to be the recipient of his uncle’s generosity, but he is stunned when he realizes the extent of it.  In addition to a mansion called Little Sky, named after the lake on Arthur’s property in a remote corner of the English countryside, there is a very generous bank account in his name as well.

At the end of his first week in his new home, Jake meets Livia, the local veterinarian, and she fills him in on what to expect in the town.  In Caelum Parvum (Latin for Little Sky) there is “no school, no supermarket, no village green, no offices,” or pretty much anything else.  A general store/pub appears to be all there is in terms of entertainment or community, but Jake is fine with that–more than fine, actually, as it seems as if this will be a welcome respite from his former life.

There is a tradition in Caelum Parvum that is really an excuse for a community holiday each year.  St. Aethelmere lived in the area centuries ago, and his bones are allegedly buried somewhere along the river.  The story is that those who find his bones, or actually a bag of random bones that are placed in the area for the hunt, are granted a year of good fortune, and Livia invites Jake to join herself and her young daughter in the search.  As luck would have it, they do indeed find a bag of bones, but it brings them bad luck rather than good.

For a small community, there are many secrets and unsavory aspects in Caelum Parvum.  There is the mysterious death several years earlier of a beautiful young foreigner named Sabine, the behavior of two brutish brothers and their mother at the farm where Sabine worked, the sleazy Rose (whether it’s his first name or last, no one seems to know), and the strange fascination the deceased woman held over two elderly men, Jake’s uncle Arthur and the somewhat odd Dr. Peters and his bizarre obsession with hedgerows.

Jake really wants nothing more than to keep life private in his new home, and perhaps to pursue a friendship/possible romance with Livia, but the question of Sabine’s untimely death keeps surfacing.  Was it suicide, an accident, or murder?  The coroner and the local police had decided it was an accident, but Jake senses strange undercurrents in his interactions with the townspeople.  Then a couple of incidents make him decide to look more closely as to how Sabine ended up at the bottom of a flight of stairs she had climbed many times.

Death Under A Little Sky is Stig Abell’s first novel, although he is a well-known journalist in England, and it is a masterful one.  His characters are well drawn, his plot moves compellingly along, and his descriptions of the countryside are lyrical.

You can read more about the author at various sites on the web.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE PRICE YOU PAY by Nick Petrie: Book Review

Peter Ash and and his friend Lewis go back a long way, and they have the kind of bond that is unbreakable.  Each man would do anything for the other, so it’s something Peter doesn’t even have to think about when Lewis enters his house in the middle of the night and asks for assistance.

The two head north from Milwaukee in below zero weather to the home of Teddy “Upstate” Wilson.  Upstate had worked with Lewis and two others to do jobs that needed doing and no one else would or could handle.  Eight hours before he picked up Peter, Lewis received a text from Upstate–Bad men here.  Need help.  

While driving, Lewis fills Peter in on his friendship with Upstate.  Lewis and Upstate, along with two other men, “took care of things” when they tangled with a biker group in California.  There was gunfire on both sides, and Teddy got shot in the head as he stepped in front of Lewis to protect him.  Teddy suffered a substantial brain injury and basically retired to his land in northern Wisconsin with only his dogs for company.

When the men arrive at Upstate’s, they are met by two horrific sights.  The first is the house and an outbuilding, both with smashed windows and on fire.  The second is Upstate’s dogs, dead with multiple gunshot wounds.

Teddy had been left for dead by the men who killed his dogs, but although he’s seriously wounded he’s still alive.  At first he can’t think of any reason for the attack, but after a few minutes he realizes what the gunmen took.  Since his memory is so impaired because of his traumatic brain injury, he has been keeping notebooks on all the jobs he and Lewis did together.  He’s been doing this on the advice of his speech therapist Leanne, with whom he’s sleeping.

Now Peter and Lewis understand the reason for the brutal attack.  Obviously Leanne has shared the information that Upstate is keeping in his notebooks with someone who is mentioned in them and who now wants not only the journals but revenge for the killings inflicted on his gang by Lewis and Teddy.  Since the journals list names and places, it won’t be difficult for whomever has them to find Lewis.

The men go to Leanne’s office and explain, in a way that leaves her with no choice, that they need to retrieve Teddy’s books.  She admits that she told Mitka, another man she’s sleeping with, about them, so the four go to the motel where he’s staying to get them, and that’s where the killings begin.

The Price You Pay is fraught with murder and mayhem from almost the first page.  Although Lewis, Upstate, and the two other men who had been in their gang years ago are definitely hardened criminals, the author has made them human, understandable, and even sympathetic.  Peter is the only non-criminal in the mix, but even he has things in his past that he’d rather not have become public.

Nick Petrie has written a compelling novel, with believable characters and a tense plot that keeps going until the last page.  Readers may think that they shouldn’t root for Lewis and his former gang members, but they won’t be able to stop caring about them.

You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE BELL IN THE FOG by Lev AC Rosen: Book Review

San Francisco in 1952 is perhaps the safest place in the country to live if you are gay, but that’s not saying much.  There continues to be harassment from employers, the police, and the U. S. Navy, the latter still having a major presence in the city even though the war is over.

Nevertheless, it’s where Evander “Andy” Mills has settled following his tour of duty.  He’s now a private investigator, living above the Ruby, a gay nightclub, trying to carve out a new career.  His previous one, as a police officer on the city’s force, imploded when his fellow officers realized he was homosexual.

Andy has only one successful case behind him, and he’s looking for business.  A case has found him, however, brought to him in the person he loved while in the Navy and maybe still does.  And maybe the feeling is mutual.

James has remained in the Navy and is up for a major promotion.  Now someone has sent him extremely compromising photos of himself and is demanding ten thousand dollars for them, money that James doesn’t have.  He’ll be court-martialed and possibly imprisoned if the photos are sent to the Navy brass.  He tells Andy he has only five days to get the money or his career is over, and Andy agrees to take the job.

The only person James can think of who might be behind the blackmail is Danny Geller, a man he met several weeks ago; the two spent the night at a local hotel.  As it’s the only lead Andy has, he goes to the home address James gives him, and there he meets Danny’s twin sister Donna.  She tells him Danny has been out of touch for several days and that she doesn’t know where he would have gone.

Andy begins cruising the bar scene around the area, and he discovers that Danny and his sister have been auditioning a singing act at various places.  They received some negative feedback/constructive criticism about their performance that apparently they didn’t appreciate, obviously believing that it was perfect the way it was.

At the first two bars Andy visits, he’s told rather disturbing stories.  In the first instance, the day after the bar’s owner suggested some changes to the Gellers’ act, obscene graffiti was spray-painted on the outside of the club.  In the second, where Danny was working as a waiter, the bar’s safe was cleaned out the same night the proprietor said the duo’s performance wasn’t right for his venue.

Hearing about these incidents, Andy has no trouble believing Danny could be behind the scheme to blackmail James.  His continued investigation, not surprisingly, leads him into ever more dangerous waters in the shadowy gay underworld that is the city’s not-too-well hidden secret.

Lev AC Rosen has written a fascinating study of a time more than three-quarters of a century ago, with the disturbing knowledge that anti-homosexual hatred and bigotry are still very much with us today.  Andy Mills is a brilliant character, unsure of his current feelings for James and how they impact his moving on with his life.

You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

LAST SEEN IN HAVANA by Teresa Dovalpage: Book Review

Visiting one’s childhood home often proves to be a challenging experience, especially if you have been living in the United States for years and are now returning to Cuba.  So much has changed, either in reality or in one’s imagination, that it’s not surprising that Mercedes Spivey is not quite certain how she should feel about her return.

Mercedes spent her childhood with her paternal grandmother, her mamina, living in a huge ramshackle mansion in Havana.  Their home had always needed major repairs, but now it, as well as mamina, has fallen on hard times, and it is primarily Mercedes’ concern for her grandmother’s mental and physical wellbeing that has prompted her return to Havana.

Mercedes’s mother was American.  She managed to travel to Cuba in the 1980s despite the prohibition in effect at the time, and once there she fell in love with a Cuban military officer. Her birth name was Sarah, but over time she changed it to Tania Rojas to fit into Cuban life more easily.  Mercedes was born, her parents got married, and life went on more or less smoothly until she was two years old.  Then, suddenly, her mother vanished, never to return; her father’s army unit was sent to Angola and he died there.

She was raised by her grandmother, who answered all her granddaughter’s questions except the one she most wanted answered:  what happened to my mother?  The unsatisfactory conversations have dominated Mercedes’ life and fueled her lifelong desire to find her mother.

Now the widowed owner of a successful bakery in Miami, La Bakería Cubana, Mercedes decides it’s time to return to Havana.  She’s been upset by recent phone calls, in which mamina was confused and disoriented.  A phone call from her grandmother’s neighbor convinces her that she needs to visit as soon as possible, and a follow-up call makes the point even more clearly.  Her mamina thinks Mercedes is a schoolchild in Havana and doesn’t remember her granddaughter’s age or her move to Florida.

Two days later Mercedes and her friend Candela fly to Cuba’s capital city. Both mamina and the house are in worse shape than Mercedes had anticipated, and she’s determined to take care of both.  Making repairs on Santa Villa Marta is the easier of the two; taking care of her grandmother is much more difficult.  Although it’s clear that mamina’s physical and mental health are failing, she downplays her difficulties and at first refuses to accept any help.  Plus, Mercedes’ desire to find out more about her mother is still a forbidden topic.

As well as being a novel with a terrific protagonist and a gripping story, Last Seen in Havana offers readers a close look into Havana and its nearby countryside, both in the 1980s and the present.  We can understand the fascination Cuba held for Sarah/Tania, a young woman with “leftist” ideals, but after living in a country with coupons needed for food and clothing, assuming either was available, is it possible that she simply returned to the United States without informing anyone, leaving her toddler daughter behind?

Teresa Dovalpage was born in Cuba and is a novelist, short story writer, translator, and playwright, and her knowledge of the country of her birth comes through on every page.  You can read more about her at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE RIVER WE REMEMBER by William Kent Krueger: Book Review

It’s 1958, and memories are long in Black Earth County, Minnesota.  It is barely a generation since World War II, and the town of Jewel is holding the annual parade celebrating its freedom and honoring its veterans on Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day.  But discrimination against Native American Noah Bluestone and his Japanese wife Kyoko is ever-present.

Sheriff Brody Dern is in his office when a man enters with staggering news.  “They ate him, Brody.  They ate him right down to the bone.”

The “him” is James Patrick Quinn, the largest land owner in the county and probably its most unpopular citizen.  The “they” are catfish.

Despite the dislike that most people in Black Earth had for Quinn, many in the town are not unhappy to learn that Noah Bluestone, a member of the Dakota tribe, is suspected of the crime.  There is a long, difficult history between the whites and the Native Americans in Jewel, and for many the murder confirms their belief that an Indian is not to be trusted.

When Noah retired from the Marines, he went to work for Quinn although the two already had a strained relationship.  Bluestone admits to the sheriff that he and the deceased had an argument that resulted in his firing on the day of Quinn’s death.

Dern is working hard to convince himself that the death was an accident.  He doesn’t believe that Noah is the guilty party, and he knows if he calls the death a suicide, Quinn won’t be able to be buried alongside his family members in the cemetery belonging to the Catholic Church.  But the town’s sentiment against Bluestone is building, and there’s not much that the sheriff can do to counteract it.

In addition to the riveting plot, the author draws his characters so carefully that we understand what motivates them and explains their behaviors.  The secrets in Jewel are many.  Dern and his sister-in-law Garnet are carrying on a clandestine love affair, something that torments them both but are seemingly unable to stop.  Marta Quinn, the deceased’s widow, is trapped both by a terminal illness and her role in a loveless marriage.  Angie Madison, a war widow with a young son, writes in a journal that she keeps locked, with the key around her neck.  Her son Scott’s best friend Del is dealing with his stepfather’s frequent beatings, and that leads the two boys into danger.

Then there’s the most baffling secret of all–what is the reason Noah Bluestone refuses to enter any plea on his own behalf after his arrest?

William Kent Krueger has written another brilliant novel in The River We Remember, featuring a story and characters that are moving and real.  Among his many awards are two Anthony Awards and an Edgar Award, the most coveted prizes in the genre.  You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

PAST LYING by Val McDermid: Book Review

It’s April, 2020 in Edinburgh, and the COVID era is just beginning.  So little is known about it–how long the lockdown will last, how to protect one’s self from getting the virus, exactly how it’s transmitted–that it’s a really strange time.

For Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie, life in lockdown is particularly challenging.  It’s obviously difficult, if not impossible, to conduct investigations when she can’t move around the city freely and interview people as is necessary in her job in the Historic Cases Unit (what in the United States are called cold cases).

Trying to deal with a difficult situation, she’s in a “bubble” with a sergeant from her team, Daisy Mortimer.  They’re living in the flat belonging to Hamish Mackenzie, the man Karen’s been dating for several months, which is definitely better than Karen living alone in her much smaller and less luxurious flat a few miles away.  But in addition to the worry about the virus, Karen is frustrated by the lack of work and a concern about Hamish that she’s unwilling to examine too closely.

A phone call from Jason Murray, another member of the HCU, may be the beginning of a new case.  Jason receives a call from a woman he knows at the National Library of Scotland.  She’s an archivist and has been going through boxes of material that belonged to Jake Stein, a crime writer who recently died.  He was very well known and respected until a sexual scandal derailed his career; although he continued to write, he never regained his former popularity.

The librarian tells Jason that in one of the many boxes that were donated to the library by Stein’s widow, she’s reading what appears to be a novel about the murder of Lara Hardie, a young woman who actually disappeared a year earlier and whose body was never found.  The book is “full of echoes of Lara Hardie’s story,” Jason is told.  “It’s really creepy.”

When Karen and Daisy receive a copy of the manuscript, they assume that it’s written by Stein, since it was in one of the boxes given to the library by Ros Stein, Jake Stein’s widow.  Strangely though, Karen thinks, it mentions his slumping book sales and the fact that his long-time publisher had dropped him, something she has trouble imagining the author would admit and want published.  But then, she continues musing to herself, the HCU team is at a disadvantage since the manuscript is incomplete.  Who knows how Stein would have ended the story?

At the same time, Karen and Jason are dealing with personal issues.  Karen is rethinking her relationship with Hamish, bothered by his casual disregard of the government mandated degrees of separation rules, while Jason is dealing with his mother’s hospitalization due to the illness.

Val McDermid brings back all the stresses and fears of the virus’ early days, when so much about it was unknown and the possibility of a vaccine lay in a possibly distant future.  Each character behaves according to their personality, and, as always, Ms. McDermid brings each one perfectly to life, along with the picture of a major city brought almost to its knees by a deadly illness.

You can read more about the author at this website.https://www.valmcdermid.com/.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

DARK RIDE by Lou Berney: Book Review

Calling Dark Ride a thriller is an understatement.  It’s a novel that’s so tense, so taut, that I was finding it difficult to turn the pages, fearful of what would happen next.

The book starts out calmly enough.  The protagonist is Hardy Reed, although he’s always called by his childhood nickname “Hardly.”  That’s because he’s often hardly anywhere–at college, where he dropped out after three semesters; at his dead end job at a rundown amusement park; in his life, which he’s going through “high” most of the time.

In his semi-stoned state, Hardly goes to the Driver Improvement Verification department to get a thirty day extension on paying his parking ticket.  After accomplishing that, he turns around and is leaving the building when he sees two children sitting on a bench.

Hardly thinks they’re too young to be left alone waiting for an adult to finish whatever business has brought them here, when he notices three perfectly round marks on the girl’s ankle.  For a moment he’s confused, thinking they might be moles or tattoos, but then he realizes they’re too perfectly circular to be either–they’re cigarette burns.  And a second look at the boy shows that he has three identical marks just above the collar of his shirt.

At that moment a woman, whom Hardly thinks must be their mother, walks over to the bench, and then the three of them are out the door.  It all happens so fast that Hardly doesn’t have time to react or talk to the woman.  By the time he gets to the parking lot the car is leaving, and it’s too far away for him to read the license plate.  He returns to the DIV desk and manages to get a look at the sign in sheet, and he sees the name Tracy Shaw a line or two above his name.  That must be the children’s mother, he thinks.

Slacker though he is, Hardly wants to help the children.  He first goes to Child Protective Services, but it’s obvious that the case workers there are overwhelmed and not too interested in finding these anonymous children.  Next he talks to his two friends,  but they are so high on weed and whatever else they can lay their hands on that they’re no help.

After much investigating on his own, he’s able to find out the girl’s name and the school she attends.  He visits her teacher to ask whether he has any concerns about her safety or noticed any signs of abuse.  The teacher admits he had some concerns, but a conference with both parents and the girl allayed his fears.  But wait, Hardly thinks.  The teacher “asked Pearl if she was being abused by her parents while her parents were in the room.  How could he be that clueless?  Even I’m not that clueless.”  So he decides he has to go this alone.

Lou Berney has written a spellbinding thriller, as he had with two of his previous novels I’ve reviewed on this blog, November Road and The Long and Faraway Gone His characters are wonderfully drawn, from the major ones to those who appear in a brief scene.  The plot, as I mentioned, is breathtaking, and you will be swept away as you read.  And the conclusion is one I never expected.

You can read more about the author at this site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

THE SWEET GOODBYE by Ron Corbett: Book Review

I came across Ron Corbett’s name a few weeks ago; until then, I had not heard of this Canadian novelist.  I first read Ragged Lake, one of the novels in his Frank Yakabuski series, and I was hooked.  Then I read The Sweet Goodbye, and I knew I had to write about this talented author.

Danny Barrett is an FBI agent working undercover, very successfully so.  He begins the book with a prologue, telling the reader that when he was a beat cop, “The first time I worked undercover, I arrested my brother.”  That’s all we learn about the arrest, other than that his younger brother “had crossed a line,” but it tells us everything about Danny’s abilities and his outlook on life.

Barrett worked for his uncle in lumber camps on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which explains why he was chosen by the Bureau to investigate the town of Birmingham, Maine.  Maine was once filled with lumber mills, but along with other companies that were impacted by recessions and the changing newspaper business, the number of sawmills steadily declined until Lee Forestry is virtually the only such business left in the state.

The unanswered question that brings the FBI and Danny into the picture is how this family business, now owned and run by Tucker and Travis Lee, has over two hundred million dollars on its books.  The sales of their lumber can’t account for it, so it appears that something else, something illegal, is going on.  Danny is called in and gets a job as a tree marker for the company, someone who goes into a forest and marks which trees should be harvested.

He deliberately strikes up a friendship with Travis Lee after rescuing him from an attack by three thugs, and the two men go out for drinks a couple of times.  Even though Danny knows that Travis is involved in whatever is going on concerning the illegal funds in Lee Forestry’s accounts, he can’t help liking the man.

The Bureau wants to know how it is possible that no one at the North Maine Savings and Loan bank thought that the account holding a quarter-billion dollars was questionable.  Could the answer be in the person of the bank’s manager, Robert Powell, a friend of Tucker Lee from high school?

When questioned by the FBI before Danny is brought to Birmingham, Powell breaks down under duress and confesses to his part in the scheme.  Powell then tells the Lees that they have to move the money out of his bank immediately, and he puts so much pressure on the brothers they reluctantly agree to withdraw the funds.  The bank manager insists they do so in front of him to make certain it’s actually done, which they do.  And the following day Powell is killed.

The Sweet Goodbye gives readers a close look into what can happen when a city goes bankrupt and those in power use that power to create their own fiefdom.  It’s an old story but becomes current and all-too-real in Ron Corbett’s outstanding novel.

You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

AN HONEST MAN by Michael Koryta: Book Review

Salvation Point Island is a misnomer if ever there was.  A small rocky island off the coast of Maine, it once was home to a community of fishermen who made their living off the bountiful waters between Maine and Canada that are now called the Lost Zone.  When the federal government banned lobster fishing in the Zone, the community was devastated and most of its residents left.

Not Israel Pike, though, and not his uncle Sterling Pike.  Israel has just returned to the island after serving 15 years for the murder of his father.  The island is policed by his uncle, the only law enforcement agent on Salvation Point, a man with complete control and a strong antipathy toward Israel.

A few weeks after Israel’s return to his father’s house, he spots a vessel in trouble.  The boat is moving, to Israel’s knowledgeable eye, without anyone at the helm, and Israel rows out to see if he can help.

Boarding the yacht, he comes across an incredibly gruesome scene.  After he finds the first body, he’s certain that no one else on the Mereo is alive and he’s right.  There are six more.

The investigation into the murders is being run jointly by Israel’s uncle Stirling Pike and Jenn Salazar of the Maine State Police.  Although there is nothing connecting Israel to the murder, Stirling is determined to make his nephew’s life as miserable as possible, to the point of inciting several townspeople to brutally assault Israel.

The young Lyman Ranklin is also a victim of aggression, only in his case it’s his alcoholic father who beats him on a regular, almost daily, basis.  The twelve-year-old’s only refuge is a nearby house, nearly a ruin, believed by all to be uninhabited since the death of its owner.  On this day, running from yet another beating, Lyman takes refuge in the house but realizes almost at once that he is not alone.

Even before he sees the woman, Lyman can smell her, a smell of salt water and copper, although almost at once he realizes that the latter smell is from blood.  She is dripping blood from the many cuts on her feet and holding a hatchet, and she’s only five feet in front of him.

A Honest Man thus has two protagonists, each one wounded and vulnerable, each one very much alone in the only home he’s ever known.  The only person on Salvation Point Island who believes in them and shows them kindness is Dar, the owner of the island’s convenience store.  She does her best to help Israel and Lyman, but in her attempt to assist Lyman she unknowingly puts his life in danger.

Michael Koryta is an outstanding crime writer.  His writing is taut and to the point, his characters are credible, and the Maine setting is brought beautifully to life.  And he answers, with complete believability, the question of why people remain on Salvation Point, when poverty and violence surround them.  As one of the characters tells Israel, “I don’t intend to let anyone run me off my own island.”

You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

 

ALL THE SINNERS BLEED by S. A. Cosby: Book Review

All The Sinners Bleed is one of this year’s best mysteries, hands down.  The plot is believable, the characters are realistic, and the writing is lyrical.

Charon County, Virginia has a new sheriff.  After serving with the FBI for several years, Titus Crown has returned home.  Appalled by the strong segregationist feelings in the county as well as the policies of the racist sheriff who has controlled the country for years, Titus runs for the office and wins.  He’s now the first Black sheriff in Charon’s history.

Titus is still dealing with a number of issues beyond those connected to his office, one that took place years ago and two that are current.  The first is the death of his mother, who died a painful death when Titus was still a child.  More recently he’s been dealing with a traumatic incident that took place when he and other federal agents were called to a compound in Northern Indiana, and in addition he’s in a relationship with a local woman whom he feels he should love but just can’t quite make that happen.

Then he gets the call that every police officer dreads, “There’s an active shooter at the high school.”  As the students rush out of the building, one of the girls tells Titus that a teacher has been shot.  Latrell Macdonald, the son of one of Titus’ friends, comes out of the building, holding a .30-30 rifle.  Ignoring Titus’ command to put his rifle down, Macdonald continues to come closer to the sheriff and his men until a riot gun and a Smith and Wesson end the standoff.

The murder of Jeffrey Spearman, everyone’s favorite teacher, seems inexplicable at first.  He had taught at the high school for decades, was coach of the debate team, sponsor of the drama club, and the Rotary Club’s Teacher of the Year award the previous year.  But when Crown looks into the teacher’s phone, everything changes.   It’s full of child pornography and, even worse, scenes of child murders.  There are photos of Spearman, Latrell, and a masked third man killing Black children.  Now that Spearman and Latrell are dead, Titus must find the third man and also locate the bodies of the dead children.

Since Spearman was white and Latrell was Black, the murder brings angry feelings between the town’s Black and white citizens to a boiling point.  If the two deaths weren’t enough, Charon County is readying for its biggest event, the Fall Fest, this year including a march by the Sons of the Confederacy and a protest by members of a local Black church.

S. A. Cosby’s novel touches on issues that our country faces today–racial and child endangerment among them.  It’s a frightening look into problems that sadly are just as relevant today as they’ve been throughout our history.  Cosby’s writing illuminates these concerns in language that will touch the reader’s heart.

You can learn more about the author at various sites on the web, and many interviews featuring him are available on YouTube.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

FALL by Tracy Clark: Book Review

Work, more specifically her work as a detective in the Chicago Police Department, is now the only thing that is giving Harriet Foster’s life any meaning. 

Four years after the senseless murder of her teenaged son, she’s back in court to attend the re-sentencing of Reg’s killer.  At the time of the trial, Willem had been sentenced to ninety-nine years and a day without the possibility of parole, and now his court-appointed attorney wants it reduced to seventy-five years with the possibility of parole.

Harriet starts to speak from her prepared statement, but then she puts it aside and begins to speak from her heart.  She concludes by saying, “Given the same chance, he’d do the same again, and we all know it.”  The reduction in Willem’s sentence is denied, and Harriet’s life, such as it is, continues.

Then the novel switches its focus from Harriet to Marin Shaw on the day of the latter’s release from prison.  Formerly a member of the Chicago city aldermen council, Marin was convicted of corruption and sentenced to three years of imprisonment, her career thrown away for “$5,000, a two-martini lunch, and a lie.”

Her biggest regret is how she left things with her teenaged daughter Zoe.  Her husband Will is making every effort he can to thwart Marin’s attempt to spend time with Zoe and heal their relationship, but Marin is determined to persist.

Her best friend and lawyer, Charlotte Moore, is suggesting that she wait a week before contacting Zoe and that she stay at their downtown condo rather than return to the suburban house she and Will own. Marin reluctantly agrees, saying she will use the time to “settle some things.”  But when Charlotte asks, “What things?,” Marin doesn’t answer.

At the same time, several members of the Chicago aldermen council are reassessing their positions now that Marin has completed her sentence.  Two of them are feeling guilty, knowing they were as involved in the corruption as she was, but John Meehan, the man with the most power, has no feeling of remorse at all.  He simply wants to make certain Marin isn’t planning any kind of tell-all scenario that will implicate him and the others.

“No one walks away.  I know where the bodies are buried…,” he tells his colleagues in his attempt to control them, but regardless of his threat, two of the aldermen do walk out of the meeting.  Then one of those aldermen is killed, and the investigation moves Harriet into the lead on what becomes a media frenzy.

Harriet has an additional concern.  She and Vera Li have been partners for just about a year, ever since the suicide of her former partner and friend Glynnis Thompson.  Needless to say, Harriet was devastated, as was the entire homicide department.  Now Mike, Glynnis’ husband, has come to the police station to show Harriet what was placed in his mailbox two days earlier–a photo of his late wife who appears to be receiving a payoff from an unknown man.

Tracy Clark has written a spellbinding mystery that features a thrilling plot, believable characters, and a protagonist who is smart, tenacious, and above all human.  Foster has faults as well as strengths, and she is working hard to move ahead with her life, shattered as it has become.  Readers will root for her every step of the way.

You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEUS X by Stephen Mack Jones: Book Review

What’s the best way to describe August Snow?  Is he a vigilante, righting what he sees as wrongs outside the law?  Is he a savior, a protector, when the authorities can’t or won’t step in?  You might say he’s both.

While visiting Norway to spend time with his sweetheart Tatiana, August gets a frantic call from one of his neighbors, Lucy.  Sylvia, another neighbor, has had a heart attack, and in minutes August is on his way home.

He and his godfather Tómas drive directly from the Detroit airport to the hospital where Sylvia is a patient, and as they approach her room a priest exits it.  He nods to August, although the latter doesn’t believe he knows the cleric.

After assuring himself that Sylvia is receiving the best possible care, August visits another close friend, Father Grabowski.  The priest has recently retired, a move that surprises August; he’d always assumed that he would remain a Franciscan until the end of his life.

The two men have a brief conversation, and Snow mentions the man he’d seen outside Sylvia’s hospital room.  He tells  Father Grabowski that he’s learned that the man’s name is Father Petra, and when Grabowski hears the name, his face undergoes a startling change.  He ends the conversation almost immediately, saying he’s tired, but when August leaves and looks up at the priest’s window, he sees that the priest is watching him.

August visits Grabowski again the following day, and the cleric tells Snow the story of his early years in the priesthood when he was sent to Mexico.  It’s an unsavory story of cartel chiefs, drugs, and pedophile priests and young Grabowski’s efforts to handle the situation as best he is able.  Now it appears that the past has returned, and the priest is haunted by it.

August learns from another priest of a recent suicide in his church.  It looks as if Father O’Shannon hanged himself, but it’s possible he was helped, according to August’s friend, medical examiner Bobby Falconi.  There were a couple of anomalies around the body, including a white linen business card left on the church’s altar with an embossed X on it.  What makes it interesting to Snow is that, like Father Grabowski, O’Shannon spent some time in Mexico.  “Dumping grounds,” Snow says quietly.

August’s background as a police officer and the multi-million dollar settlement he won in his lawsuit over his unjust firing has left him with both the ability and the means to live the life he wants, helping people and sometimes dealing out punishments to those he believes are guilty of crimes.  He’s fearless and confident in his ability to do the right thing, especially where his friends are concerned.  Now he wants to learn what led to Father Grabowski leaving his order and his evident fear of Father Petra.

In this, the fourth novel in the August Snow series, Stephen Mack Jones brings the protagonist, his friends, and his community into sharper focus than ever.  Snow’s relationships with his girlfriend Tatiana; his neighbors Sylvia, Carmela, and Lucy; and his godfather Tomás all play pivotal roles in Deus X, and it’s a delight to meet them once again.

Stephen Mack Jones has written another thrilling mystery featuring a tightly-woven plot, a strong and determined protagonist, and a writing style that will make readers shiver with fear and laugh out loud in turn.

You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

BETRAYAL by Phillip Margolin: Book Review

I’m fairly certain that Robin Lockwood, the heroine of Phillip Margolin’s latest novel, is the mystery world’s only former MMA contender.  

Now a well-respected criminal defense attorney in Portland, Oregon, Robin put herself through college as a mixed martial arts fighter with a future plan to become an attorney.  She is successful until she fights Mandy Kerrigan, a higher ranked fighter, and was soundly defeated.  At that point she put all her efforts into getting into law school.  Now Mandy has come back into Robin’s life, this time as the suspect in a murder case. 

The Finch family, consisting of a mother, father, and two teenaged children, are shot to death.  They are found by the daughter’s English teacher, Arthur Proctor, who tells the police he came to talk to the family about a potential scholarship for their daughter and ran outside when he saw the carnage and called 911.

Several minutes before Proctor enters the Finch home, a neighbor sees a woman yelling and pounding on their front door.  When no one responds the woman walks away, and now the neighbor identifies her from a photo the police show her as Kerrigan.  The neighbor says she then saw Proctor, the teacher whom she knows from her son’s school, approach the Finches’ front door.  He enters the house, only to run out a few minutes later with his cell phone pressed to his ear.

Despite the typical suburban image that the Finches project, there are serious cracks below the surface.  Margaret Finch is a criminal defense attorney known to represent members of a Russian mob, the father is a chemist with a serious gambling problem, the son Ryan pushes drugs, and the teenaged daughter is carrying a harrowing secret.

To take part in a MMA match that she hopes will revitalize her career, Mandy buys a performance-enhancing drug from Ryan that he swears cannot be detected under testing.  But he is wrong, it is detected, and as a result her purse money is being held up and she’s in danger of being suspended from the league.  The connection between Mandy Kerrigan and Ryan is what makes the police believe she is the killer.

Although Kerrigan denies that she was ever inside the Finch house and there are no physical traces there to implicate her, the police feel they have sufficient circumstantial evidence to bring her to trial.

Mandy calls Robin from jail and asks her to represent her.  She swears she’s innocent, and Robin agrees to take the case.  To make this even more interesting, the prosecutor will be Tom McGee, the first man Robin has dated seriously since the death of her fiancé several years earlier.

Phillip Margolin is a New York Times best-selling author of more than two dozen books, seven featuring Robin Lockwood.  The author has created a protagonist who is believable, a skilled professional, and a warm and caring individual.

You can read more about Phillip Margolin at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

THE MURDER OF ANDREW JOHNSON by Burt Solomon: Book Review

My first thought when I saw the title of Burt Solomon’s mystery was wait, did I know that Andrew Johnson was murdered?  I knew that he became president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, that he was not a believer in civil rights for formerly enslaved people, and that he was the first president (and for more than a century, the only president) to be impeached.  But had The Great Commoner been murdered?

The novel is told through the eyes of John Hay, a historical figure who begins his career as a private secretary and assistant to Lincoln.  He’s a journalist at the New-York Tribune who receives a telegram from his editor telling him that former president Johnson, “the most hated man in America,” has died unexpectedly.  Can Hay get to East Tennessee, the home of the Johnson family, and find out what happened?  Of course he can.

Johnson suffered a stroke that paralyzed him and died a day later, surrounded by his family and two physicians.  Seen through John Hay’s eyes, Johnson was perhaps the most unworthy successor possible to Lincoln.  Although he had his good points, including being the only Southern senator who supported the Union, Hay believes those were outweighed by his bad ones.  He was vindictive, never compromised, and remembered every slight against him.  He pardoned the Confederates and restored them to power.  He did everything possible to make certain Reconstruction was a failure, and now he was was dead at age 67.

On the way to the Johnson home, John is picked up by a Black employee of the family.  Although Bill was enslaved by the Johnsons before he was born through his mother, he apparently admired the president.  “Like a member of the family, they treat me,” he tells Hay, and he was with Johnson the night before the latter’s sudden collapse and death.

The former president’s family is a strange one, with at least two of his three adult children financially dependent on him–his daughter Mary Johnson Stover and her husband Daniel, and the Johnsons’ son Frank, who likes a hard drink as much as his father did.  Johnson’s wife, Eliza, is a recluse who has scarcely left her bedroom in years.  There is a great deal of animosity among the grown children, not helped by the fact that the ex-president died without a will.

Then there are two physicians, Dr. Cameron and Dr. Jobe, who cite professional confidentiality regarding the death of their late patient, and Captain McElwee, a former Confederate Army officer who spent time with Johnson shortly before he was taken ill.  And Hay hasn’t even gotten meet to with Johnson’s political enemies, of whom there are many.

Burt Solomon has written an intriguing mystery about a man who is mostly remembered for his impeachment, although, like Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, Johnson remained in office after his trial.  Filled with historical figures including President Ulysses S. Grant, newspaperman and failed presidential candidate Horace Greeley, and Hay’s millionaire father-in-law Amasa Stone, the late 19th-century is vividly brought to life.

In his Afterword, the author states that “my goal is for readers to feel like they’re there.”  He most definitely succeeds.  You can read more about him at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

A TRAITOR IN WHITEHALL by Julia Kelly: Book Review

Evelyne Redfern, through no fault of her own, is known in both France and England as “The Parisian Orphan.”  The only child of an ill-fated marriage between a French woman and an English man, she is sent to boarding school in England at the insistence of her father after the death of her beloved mother.

Now she is in London, just as the blitz is beginning.  She is working at an ordnance factory and living in a boardinghouse with her best friend Moira when she’s approached by an old friend of her parents who invites her to a job interview the following morning.

Mr. Fletcher obviously is working for some type of secret government agency, but exactly what its nature is, is never told to Evelyne.  He tells her that he is looking for someone to work in the typing pool at what will become the War Offices, a 1,100 room building that houses Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his extended staff.  But it is not a typing or secretarial job that Fletcher is hiring her for.

Everything she learns and does there is top secret, which is why he has her sign the Official Secrets Act.  He wants her to “monitor” what is going on in the building, and again Fletcher stresses that she must tell no one about her new position or what is expected of her.

Right from the start, Evelyne realizes there is a problem at the War Offices.  Somehow, in spite of all the precautions that are taken, information, some important and some not, is leaking.  The fear is that it’s just a matter of time before something vital falls into the hands of the Nazis.

There is a fascinating cast of characters at the WO.  The head of the typing pool is Miss Wilkes, who runs the pool with an iron hand.  The secretary/typist who gets most of the interesting assignments is Jean Plinkton, who seems to know more about the other workers than she should.  And then there are the various men who help make the policies–Mr. Faylen, who before the war was a neat and punctual man but who has become fussy and disorganized, blaming others for his problems; Mr. Pearson, who is a bit too friendly with all the typists; and Mr. Poole, a rather handsome man with an unknown background.

On Evelyne’s fourth day on the job, Miss Wilkes sends her for her first sun lamp treatment, a requirement because of the amount of time the typists live and work underground.  As Evelyne enters the room where the lamps have been set up, she sees a woman who appears to be asleep, her head resting on one of her arms.  As Evelyne gets closer, she realizes that what she thought to be a red design on the woman’s white sweater is, in fact, blood.  Then she hears the sound of a metal bolt swiping across the room’s door.  She’s locked in with a corpse.

Julia Kelly has written an absorbing mystery about 1940 London, a time when the blitz is beginning, neighborhoods are being destroyed, and the fear of a Nazi invasion is spreading through the population.  In Evelyne Redfern the author has created an engaging, clever, and fearless heroine, one who is perfect for the time she lives in.

You can read more about Julia Kelly at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.