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DESOLATION CANYON by P. J. Tracy: Book Review

A remote desert retreat run by a “man of God,” an organization finding good homes for Russian orphans, a mother grieving the loss of her only son in Afghanistan, the death of a successful businessman at an elegant Beverly Hills hotel.   Four seemingly unrelated situations that coalescence into a single case bring Los Angeles police detective Margaret (Maggie) Nolan and former Army soldier Sam Easton together again.

Children of the Desert is at the center of Desolation Canyon.  It’s a spiritual retreat that’s “gained the attention of celebrities,” Maggie’s father tells her when he informs her that her mother is heading there for a two-day stay to get herself healed, but that doesn’t impress Maggie.  She’s been hurt and bewildered by her mother’s behavior ever since Maggie’s brother Max was killed, and now she’s wondering why her mother has to seek out strangers to help her deal with her loss, why her husband and daughter aren’t enough for her.

Maggie decides to put the concerns about her mother aside and calls Remy Beaudreau, a former police detective for whom she has some unresolved feelings.  They meet for a drink at the luxurious Hotel Bel-Air, and Maggie shares more than she means to about what is going on in her family.  When she mentions the name of the retreat that her mother is going to, it’s obvious that it has some meaning for Remy.  In an attempt to shift the conversation, he suggests they view the hotel’s famous Swan Lake, famous as a site for weddings.

But instead of the serene site they’d anticipated, the swans seem agitated and are batting their wings against the water.  And just moments later, Maggie and Remy see something in the water, and it turns out to be the body of a man.

The body is identified as Blake Lindgren, a lawyer who was general counsel for a Russia-baaed company.  When Maggie and her partner Al Crawford go to the home of Blake’s former wife, they find another corpse; now both Mr. and Mrs. Lindgren have died under suspicious circumstances.

Inside a California prison, Glenn Ramey is visited by “Snake” Jackson, a man he’d done time with years earlier.  Now calling himself Father Paul, Jackson tells Ramey he’s founded a spiritual retreat in the desert, a place where he’s “restoring wounded souls” and that he needs Ramey to be a key part of his security team at the Children of the Desert site.

Disbelieving, Ramey refers to Jackson as a former felon, and the latter’s countenance “transformed fully into a nightmare mask.”  Jackson tells Ramey, “Never mention it again…I’m here to save your life but it wouldn’t trouble me to end it.”

P. J. Tracy has done a masterful job putting together all the pieces of this intricate puzzle.  The plot of Desolation Canyon is suspenseful, and the many characters are believable and true to life.  You can read more about P. J. Tracy 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.

LIGHTNING STRIKE by William Kent Krueger: Book Review

William Kent Krueger is one of the most lyrical authors around, a fact that he proves once again in Lightning Strike, a look back to the childhood of Cork O’Connor, the protagonist of many of his novels.

It’s 1963 in the small town of Aurora, Minnesota.  Although there isn’t much in the way of major crime in the North Country, there are ethnic tensions that are either close to the surface or bubbling above it.  The area is home to its white, Christian population descended mainly from Irish and Scandinavian settlers and its Native Ojibwe people.

There is distrust in both cultures, and it all comes to a head when Cork O’Connor and his friend Jorge come upon the body of Big John hanging from a tree in the area called Lightning Strike on the shore of Iron Lake.

Because of Big John’s many battles with alcohol, the authorities aren’t too surprised that there are two empty bottles of Four Roses on the ground near his body, although “I thought he’d kick the booze for good,” Cork’s father, Sheriff Liam O’Connor, tells his two deputies and the mortician who come to Lightning Strike after Cork runs home with the news of his discovery.  It looks like an open-and-shut suicide, but Liam wants to be sure.  So he asks for a toxicology report, “just to be on the safe side.”

However, that’s not enough for the Iron Lake Band of Ojibwe, living on a reservation just outside of Aurora and under the jurisdiction of the Tamarack County Sheriff’s office.  Not surprisingly, members of the tribe have little confidence in any form of the official government, even when the forensics report confirms that Big John was intoxicated when he died.

To them the sheriff is just another chimook, a white man, without understanding or reverence for Ojibwe customs and beliefs, even though he is married to Colleen, the daughter of an Ojibwe mother and a white father.  They have lost belief, if they ever had it, in Liam’s trustworthiness and ability to conduct an impartial investigation.

One of the most vociferous voices raised against Natives in general and Big John in particular is Duncan MacDermid.  He has a virulent dislike of Indians and a violent temper, something his abused wife can attest to.  With MacDermid on one side and Liam’s mother-in-law on the other, every move the sheriff makes alienates one of the groups.

There are other threads in Lightning Strike in addition to Big John’s death, including a missing teenage Native girl and the feelings of Natives after they leave the reservation.  The author writes about the Relocation Act of 1956, an act of Congress that pays for relocation for Indians to encourage them to leave their reservations and move to locations where there are better schools and jobs.   On paper it sounded good, Cork’s grandmother Dilsey tells him, but the reality was different.  It was, she tells him, “another attempt to eradicate the Native cultures.  They tried blankets tainted with smallpox.  They tried guns.  They tried boarding schools.  Now they’re trying this.”

Lightning Strike is an outstanding mystery and a poignant novel.  As always the author’s characters are completely believable, and the story will tug at your heartstrings.

You can read more about William Kent Kruger 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.

DARK NIGHT by Paige Shelton: Book Review

Beth Rivers is still living in Benedict, Alaska, the most remote place she can find.  After surviving a traumatic abduction seven months earlier and with her kidnapper remaining on the loose, Beth fled from her home in Missouri to this tiny town that is almost off the grid, hoping that Travis Walker will never find her.  So far he hasn’t, but her fear of him is never far from the surface of her mind.

She has a made a life for herself, or at least a sort of life, because Benedict is a place where she feels safe.  Only the police chief, Gril Samuels, knows Beth’s backstory, and it was his suggestion that she stay at Benedict House, a halfway house for women felons.  Although Beth hasn’t told Viola, the woman who runs the House, what brought her to the town, Viola takes no nonsense from anyone, and Beth knows she can count on Viola to have her back.

But even in a town as small as this one, there are secrets that its citizens don’t want uncovered.  That may explain the attitude of some residents toward the census taker.  Doug Vintner is asking questions that people feel are none of his business–like how old they are, what their occupation is, how many people live in their house.  Seemingly innocuous questions to most people, but not to everyone, Beth in particular.  “Dodge him…don’t give him answers if you can avoid it,” is the advice she’s given, and she plans to take it.

As Beth and some friends are sitting in the town’s only bar, the door bursts open and a distraught woman rushes in.  Claudia has been beaten, with one of her eyes swollen and her forehead bloody.  Not for the first time, she’s run away from her husband, and not for the first time she tells Beth and the others, “It’s not his fault.”  As Claudia attempts to excuse Ned, she says her husband was fine until the census taker came to their house and started asking too many questions.  The one that set Ned off was Vintner asking how many people were in the house.

It turns out that Ned’s sister Lucy, a fugitive, was hiding in the adjacent shed, a fact known only to Claudia and Ned.  She’s wanted by the Juneau police, but due to the inclement weather the police are unable to get her on the ferry to return to the city.  Because of the abusive relationship between Claudia and Ned, Lucy has been remanded to Viola’s custody until the ferry is running again.  So she’s staying at Benedict House when news comes that her brother Ned has been killed.

In the midst of all this, Beth’s mother arrives without warning.  The two have a difficult relationship, mostly because of her mother’s rather checkered past, but she and Beth are now doing their best to work together to make certain that Travis Walker doesn’t come to Benedict.  Mill is fearless and determined to protect her daughter, but her decisions are not always well-thought-out or well-received, both by Beth and the town’s police chief.

This is the third book in the Alaska Wild series, and Paige Shelton continues to give her readers an excellent plot and realistic characters.  She is the author of four other mystery series and several stand-alones.  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.

FAMILY BUSINESS by S. J. Rozan: Book Review

New York City’s Chinatown, comprised of twelve enclaves within the city, has the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia.  Little wonder, therefore, that there’s enough crime to keep private investigator Lydia Chin and her partner Bill Smith very busy indeed.

When Big Brother Choi dies (a natural death), he leaves a vacuum not only in the Li Min Jin tong that he controlled but in Manhattan itself.  He owned a multi-story apartment building in the heart of Chinatown, and a development group wants to buy it, demolish it, and then rebuild it as part of a mixed luxury and middle-income condominium, Phoenix Towers.  The possible sale has produced a heated debate by those who say the destruction of the building would shatter the heart of the community versus those who say it would provide a much needed economic boost to the area.

The building has been left to Choi’s niece Wu Mao-Li, known as Mel.  She knows that her uncle Choi didn’t want to sell the building, but there are significant forces that are pressuring her to change her mind.  Following a call from Chang Yao-Zu, her uncle’s lieutenant, she hires Lydia and Bill to accompany her to her uncle’s apartment to find out if there’s anything he left her to further explain his position and shore up support for her refusal to sell.

Waiting for them in the building’s lobby is Tan Lu-Lien, the tong’s financial officer.  She leads the way to Choi’s apartment, where his lieutenant, Chang Yao-Zu, was expected to let them inside.  When he doesn’t appear, Mel uses the key her uncle had given her, opens the door, and the quartet see Chang’s bloody body lying across a tea table.

While the police investigate the murder, Mel asks Lydia and Bill to continue looking into her uncle’s affairs in the hope of strengthening her position vis-a-vis the building’s future.

The tension rises as the various players make their positions known re the disposition of Choi’s property.  In addition to Mel, there’s Ironman Ma, a tong member, who wants to search the property because he thinks Choi had hidden treasure somewhere on the site; Jackson Ting, an area developer who needs to demolish the building so he can build the development he’s counting on to make him a major player in the city; and Mel’s sister Natalie, who is being blackmailed to pressure Mel into selling the site.

Also involved is Lydia’s brother Tim, a lawyer in a white-shoe law firm who is having mixed emotions about the building.  As a member of Harriman McGill, he should favor the Phoenix Towers development because Jackson Ting is a client of the firm.  On the other hand, he’s a board member of the Chinatown Heritage Society, which opposes it.

As always, Ms. Rozan brings not only her protagonists but the entire New York Chinese community to life.  The descriptions of the people and places in Manhattan and the dialog between Lydia and Bill are wonderful.  Readers will feel as if they are walking the streets and eavesdropping on Lydia and Bill while the duo is eating ice cream at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory or enjoying tea at Miansai.

Ms. Rozan’s work has won the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, and Macavity awards for Best Novel and the Edgar for Best Short Story.  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.

THESE SILENT WOODS by Kimi Cunningham Grant: Book Review

These Silent Woods is one of the most fascinating and well-written mysteries I’ve read this year.  Not a traditional mystery or crime story or thriller, it has elements of all three as well as showing a loving relationship between a father and daughter that reminds me of To Kill A Mockingbird.

Cooper and his daughter Finch live in a rustic cabin in the woods, without electricity or running water, far from (almost all) neighbors.   Only two people know they are there–Jake, the owner of the cabin, and a man called Scotland who lives some miles away and comes by on unannounced and infrequent visits.

Cooper and Finch have been in the cabin for nearly eight years, almost since Finch’s birth.  The reason they are living there is revealed slowly at different points in the novel, but it’s obvious that Cooper is a man who is hiding from the world.  He keeps a loaded Ruger under the extra pillow on his bed, has a locked gate at the front of the property, puts his car behind the house where it cannot be seen, and has given Finch the codeword “root beer” to tell her to hide beneath the trap door in the kitchen should an unexpected visitor stop by.  And except for Jake and possibly the Scotsman, all visitors would be unexpected and definitely unwelcome.

Finch has never been in a store, a school, a library, or anyone else’s home.  She has never had a playmate nor, as far as she knows, does she have any family besides Coop.  But she is a happy girl, and as the book opens she’s eagerly awaiting their annual visit from Jake, Coop’s army friend and the man whose life Coop saved in Afghanistan.

Jake brings supplies that must last from one yearly visit to the next so that Coop doesn’t need to shop.  He always arrives on the same date and brings something special for Finch, so on December 14th Coop and Finch are ready.  Finch has her own gifts for Jake, a bone knife that she made and a bunch of pressed violets.  But morning turns into afternoon and afternoon into evening, and still Jake doesn’t come.

Then a memory comes back to Coop, Jake saying the previous year, “You know if I don’t come, one of these years, it’s because I can’t.”  And Coop understands that the injuries that his friend received in Kabul are going to end his life sooner rather than later.  Now that year has come.  There was no way for Jake to contact Coop–no telephone, no post office box.  Coop and Finch are on their own.

Kimi Cunningham Grant has written an outstanding story that will stay with you long after you close the book.  The characters are beautifully portrayed, and the way the plot unfolds is masterful.

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 SHADOWS OF MEN by Abir Mukherjee: Book Review

Once again Abir Mukherjee takes us to 1920s India.  Ethnic tensions are escalating between the Hindus and Muslims, between the different castes, between those with property and those without.

Mahatma Gandhi has begun the peaceful non-cooperation movement, a tactic designed to persuade England to leave India, but it hasn’t been successful.  At the time The Shadows of Men takes place, Gandhi has been sentenced to six years in jail for sedition.  So just where does that leave the various groups who are fighting each other as well as the British?

In Calcutta, gang wars are breaking out all over the city.  Surendranath Banerjee, an Indian educated at the University of Cambridge, is now a sergeant on the Calcutta police force, and he has been asked by Lord Taggart, the police commissioner, to find out what’s behind the latest murders.  Taggart tells Suren that a leading Muslim politician, Gulmohamed, is in Calcutta and is looking to stir up trouble with the Hindus.  And, the commissioner tells him, “No need to inform Captain Wyndham of any of this.”

While Suren is following Gulmohamed, Sam Wyndham is investigating the killing of Uddam Singh’s older son.  Sam and Suren arrest Singh’s younger son, Vinay, who is a member of his father’s gang, on a rather flimsy pretext, hoping that the arrest will pressure the father to call off his war against the Muslims.  There is, in fact, a brief halt in the fighting, and then Sam finds out that Suren has been arrested and charged with murdering Gulmohamed.

This is the fifth book in the Sam Wyndham/Suren Banerjee series, and each one takes us more deeply into the troubled India of the 1920s.  This is a period of direct British control over the Indian subcontinent that lasted from 1858 until independence and the partition of the country into the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan in 1947.  In addition to the changes in India we witness throughout the series, we also see Suren’s growth and confidence as a police officer and as an individual.  It’s heartwarming for readers who have read this series from the beginning to view these changes, but it’s also discouraging to see how much further both the man and his country have to go.

Abir Mukherjee’s fifth mystery continues his tradition of excellence.  His writing makes the reader feel as if she/he is actually in India, witnessing the events that are taking place and understanding the viewpoints of the different groups as well.  Sam Wyndham and Surendranath Banerjee are two of the finest literary creations I’ve come across in recent years.

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.

A LINE TO KILL by Anthony Horowitz: Book Review

Author surrogate.  That’s the term used to describe a fictional character based on the author, a term I had to Google.  That’s what Anthony Horowitz (author) does in the third Hawthorne and Horowitz (character) mystery, A Line to Kill.  On Horowitz’s Amazon page, this book, along with the two previous novels in the series, has a colon after the title that modestly places his fictional character before his real-life self.

In A Line to Kill, Anthony Horowitz (character) is working on his second book featuring himself and detective Daniel Hawthorne.  Tony views himself as the most important member of the investigating duo, with Hawthorne solving the case but nevertheless of lesser importance.  That, however, is not how his publisher sees it, nor do the people who interview him, and he’s upset by this.

He thinks he’ll get a bit of his own back, as the Brits say, when both men are invited to a literary festival in Alderney, a small Channel Island located between England and France.  Hawthorne, for some strange reason, is excited about attending his first festival, Tony less so since the novel they’ll be speaking about hasn’t been published yet.  But publicity is publicity, Tony tells himself, so they travel to the island and meet the others who will be presenting.

Marc Bellamy is a well-known chef and author of the Lovely Grub Cookbook; Elizabeth Lovell has written Blind Sight, in which she explains how her psychic powers are enhanced by her inability to see; George Elkin is an historical writer and author of The German Occupation of the Channel Islands 1940-45; Anne Cleary pens a best-selling series of adventure stories for youngsters; and Maïssa Lamar is a poet writing in the almost extinct Cauchois language.  It’s definitely a mixed bag of celebrities and semi-celebrities.

Alderney is such a small, peaceful island that it doesn’t have a police force of its own.  So perhaps it’s fortunate that Hawthorne and Horowitz are on the scene when a murder occurs the second day of the festival.  Charles de Mesurier, the financial backer of the event, was stabbed to death, and there is no dearth of enemies to be investigated.

The big issue on Alderney is a proposed power line linking France and England, the route going through the island.  De Mesurier was a proponent of the project, whether because, as he publicly said, it would be good for Alderney or because, as the opponents of the power line said, it would be good for him.  Is his advocacy of this issue the cause of his death, or is there another motive?

Anthony Horowitz is an exceptionally prolific and gifted writer, as evidenced by his YA series about Alex Ryder, a 14-year-old-boy who becomes a spy; Foyle’s War, a 28-episode mystery series set during and after World War II; several stand-alone novels; and the Hawthorne/Horowitz series.   A Line to Kill is a terrific addition to this series.

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.

DEATH UNDER THE PERSEIDS BY Teresa Dovalpage: Book Review

You may be certain that if something seems to be good to be true, it probably is.  That should have occurred to Mercedes Spivey when she’s told that she’s won a cruise for two from Miami to her place of birth, Havana, Cuba.  It’s true that she doesn’t remember entering any contest with that as the prize, but since things aren’t going well in her life at the moment, she decides to simply accept her good fortune.

Her husband Nolan’s teaching contract at Point South College in Gainsville, Florida, has not been renewed, and he has no other job on the horizon.  He is momentarily excited when an invitation to speak at the University of Havana arrives from one of its professors, but with the invitation came a note that “because of the embargo” the university couldn’t buy him a ticket or pay for his stay in Havana.

After he loses his job he realizes there is no money to pay for the expenses involved in the trip.  He is about to contact the professor who had extended the invitation and regretfully decline the opportunity when Mercedes comes home with the news of the free cruise.

While Mercedes and Nolan are waiting to board The Narwhal, Mercedes sees a professor whose class she had taken when she was a student at the University of Havana.  Selfa Segarra had been a colleague and friend of Mercedes’ deceased lover Lorenzo; at least, she had been considered a friend until a rumor started that she had reported one of his books to the political police.

Not eager to have a prolonged conversation with Dr. Segarra, Mercedes is about to get back to her husband when the professor mentions that she’s on the ship because she won a raffle with the cruise as the prize.  She, like Mercedes, doesn’t even remember purchasing a raffle ticket.  The professor tries to convince herself and Mercedes they are simply “a pair of lucky Cubans,” but both women are slightly uneasy about this.

The two women separate, with Mercedes reluctantly agreeing to see Selfa later, and a few minutes later Mercedes spots another familiar face on board.  Javier Jurado was a writer like Lorenzo, but an unpublished one, until after Lorenzo’s tragic death by fire Javier published Lorenzo’s novel under his own name and won the literary prize that rightfully should have gone to the dead man.

Now Mercedes is wondering about all these seeming coincidences.  She, Nolan, Selfa, and now Javier–all on the same ship headed for Havana.  And then Selfa disappears.

Teresa Dovalpage has written an exciting novel with a protagonist who is, as the Cubans says, de ampanga, “a piece of work.”  Although professing her love for the late Lorenzo, Mercedes had at least two affairs while they were together, including one with her now-husband Nolan.  When she wants something, she wants it.  Selfish, determined, persevering?  You decide.

Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana but left in 1996 for the United States, where she has been living ever since.  She obtained her doctorate in Latin American literature from the University of New Mexico and has published eight novels.

You can read more about Teresa Dovalpage 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.

1979 by Val McDermid: Book Review

When Val McDermid publishes a new novel, readers take notice.  And when she begins a new series, it’s time for readers to celebrate.

As is apparent from the title, 1979 is the year when we first encounter Allie Burns, a reporter at The Clarion, a Scottish daily, who is very much the low person on the newspaper’s totem pole.  However, the country is being inundated by snowstorms, strikes, and demands to become a separate nation, allowing Allie to view this as an opportunity to escape from writing “women’s stories” and to start reporting on the substantial issues of the day.

More from happenstance than planning, she and fellow reporter Danny Sullivan share a train compartment as each returns to Glasgow after celebrating Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year’s holiday, with their respective parents.  Danny is as eager as Allie to delve into more meaningful stories; his dream is to become an investigative crime reporter.  However, The Clarion already has a journalist covering that beat, and that man is not eager to share.

But Danny has found a lead that the other journalist doesn’t have.  While he was back home, the family’s conversation turned to taxes, and Danny’s older brother Joseph bragged that his clients at Paragon Investment Insurance were “bulletproof.”  His refusal to say more prods Danny into doing his own research into the company, and when he uncovers the malfeasance he realizes he has a major scandal to report.

Danny is torn, though, because he realizes that his brother is involved in the company’s illegal activities.  He convinces himself that he can write the story without involving Joseph, but that proves to be a major error on his part.

Allie, meanwhile, finds herself involved in the battle for Scottish devolution, or separation from Great Britain.  Those in favor want more power for local government, but in order for this to happen the vote has to pass by a majority and a majority of the electorate has to vote.

Not everyone is willing to wait for an election, though, and Allie overhears a conversation she believes may lead to a major story, one that involves a student group, IRA terrorists, and four men who seem determined to make the British government “pay attention the way they’ve been forced to do in Northern Ireland.”

Even though Allie and Danny are relatively new to their “beats” at The Clarion, they are not new to journalism and are able to recognize important stories when they see them.  What they may not be able to recognize is that important, powerful people don’t want to read about themselves in a national daily in a negative way.  And these people are more than willing to make certain that that doesn’t happen.

As always, Val McDermid’s characters jump off the page.  They bring readers back more than forty years to a period of great upheaval in Scotland, with divergent interests desperate to hold onto their power, no holds barred.

Val McDermid considers her work to be part of the “tartan noir” Scottish crime fiction genre.  She is the author of four other series that take place in that country, and she broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland.   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.

DAUGHTER OF THE MORNING STAR by Craig Johnson: Book Review

Did you know that the chance of a Native American woman being murdered is ten times the national average of a non-Native woman being murdered; that twice as many Native women experience violence and rape as do their non-Native counterparts; that the suicide rate of Native teenagers is two and a half times greater than the national average?  These are the horrifying statistics that led Craig Johnson to write his latest Sheriff Walt Longmire mystery, Daughter of the Morning Star.

Jaya Long is a young woman of the Northern Cheyenne Nation who has been receiving threatening letters, so many letters that she’s lost count.  When Longmire asks her if she thinks her life is in danger, her response is, “I am a young woman in modern America, living on the Rez–my life is always in danger.”

And sadly, even beyond the alarming statistics noted above, Jaya’s life is a troubled one.  Her father is in and out of jail, her mother is an alcoholic, one brother was shot to death, another committed suicide, one sister was hit by a car and killed, and her older sister Jeanie went to a party a little more than a year before the book opens and never came home.  Little wonder that Jaya has surrounded herself with almost impenetrable defenses.

Walt is asked by Lolo Long, the tribal police chief of the Northern Cheyenne, to find out who is sending the notes to Jaya.  Before Jeannie’s disappearance, she too had been receiving threats, and it appears that Longmire won’t be able to investigate Jaya’s problems without doing the same regarding her sister’s.

Making things even more tense is the upcoming basketball tournament, the National Native American Invitational.   More than just a high school rivalry with bragging rights, winners of the NNAI are often recruited by elite colleges; without the accompanying scholarships, no girl on Jaya’s Lame Deer team could afford a college education.

Jaya is truly outstanding, the team’s best player, but her attitude is that she can do it all herself.  According to the team’s coach, Jaya has it all “except for being a decent teammate.”  Maybe that’s because in her life outside basketball there’s no one she can depend on–why should it be any different on the team?

As always, Walt Longmire and his colleague Henry Standing Bear make a formidable team, but this time they may be facing powers that are literally outside their realm. 

They may be dealing with the Éveohtsé-heómėse, The Wandering Without, described as an all-knowing being, a black spiritual hole that does nothing but devour souls.  Henry tries to explain it to Walt, telling him it’s something like limbo, a “plain of existence between the two worlds, the camps of the dead and the living.”  It’s easy to dismiss this as superstition, but when Walt himself encounters it, he can’t explain it away.

Always a masterful storyteller, Craig Johnson once again draws us into Absaroka County and its interactions between the Native and white communities.  The characters are so realistic and the story is so poignant that it keeps the reader entranced and terrified until the last page.  And then….

You can read more about Craig Johnson 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.

 

 

HEAVEN’S A LIE by Wallace Stroby: Book Review

Watching an accident about to happen is a frightening experience for anyone.  But for Joette Harper it becomes a matter of life and death.

Looking out the window of the motel where she works as a receptionist, she sees a car taking a left across the Taylor Creek bridge way too fast.  It goes into the bridge’s abutment head on, and Joette rushes out of the motel to see if she can help.

Looking past the cracked windshield, she sees the driver; he appears barely conscious.  As he tries to unclip his shoulder harness, flames starts to engulf the car, black smoke begins spewing from the engine.  With great effort Joette pulls the man out of the car, as far as possible from the now burning BMW.

When she finally feels they’re safely away from the vehicle, she sees something floating in the air, landing in front of her in the parking lot.  It’s a hundred dollar bill, Ben Franklin’s image facing up.

The car’s driver looks at her, trying to tell her something, and she wonders if he’s trying to let her know that there’s someone still in the car.  Cautiously she goes back to the BMW, doesn’t see anyone inside but spots a canvas bag inside the open trunk.  She can see piles of cash inside.  She pulls the bag out and runs back to the driver.  Now she notices that he’s bleeding, his shirt and jeans covered in blood.  Then he dies, and Joette hides the sack in her car’s trunk.

Joette is interrogated by the police who quickly arrive at the accident scene.  She answers all their questions but doesn’t mention the sack.  After the interview is finished she drives to her trailer and counts the money.  In denominations of fifties and hundreds it comes out to nearly $300,000.  She puts the money inside her only suitcase, puts the suitcase in the closet.  By doing this she’s reached the point of no return.

No one witnessed the crash except Joette, but she wonders if there is anyone who knows about the money.  The answer is that two men, Cosmo and Travis, do, and they are apprehensive that someone may have seen the accident and found the cash.

Cosmo, Travis, and the driver have been dealing drugs, and now the two remaining men have neither drugs nor the money to restock their supply.  Cosmo has a relationship with a crooked state trooper who knows that the woman who works at the motel saw the accident, and that’s how the men learn about Joette.

Since the trooper doesn’t tell Cosmo anything about the money, the men believe that the witness probably took the cash from the car before the police arrived.  Bad news for Joette.

Wallace Stroby has written another outstanding thriller in which no one is completely innocent or blameless.  Joette knows she should have turned the bills over to the police, but she didn’t.  Now she has to deal with the aftermath of her decision.

You can read more about Wallace Stroby 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.

WATCH HER FALL by Erin Kelly: Book Review

A few weeks ago I wrote about a young woman and the religious sect she joined when she was a teenager (The Night We Burned).  The men and women in that cult were adrift from their families of birth, happy and relieved to be taken in (although, sadly, that happened in more ways than one) by the charismatic leader of the group until bad things start happening.

Watch Her Fall portrays a different type of cult but one almost equally dangerous.  The setting is the London Russian Ballet Company, ruled with an iron hand by Nikolai Kirilov, and it has young dancers from all over the British Isles and beyond vying for places among its exalted performers.  Now the Company is poised to present its latest production in London before embarking on a world-wide tour, and the prima ballerina is Nikolai’s daughter Ava.  It is the opportunity of a lifetime, the ballet she has dreamed of dancing since her childhood.

Tyrant that he is, Nikolai permits no deviations from his vision of any ballet, and that is especially true of “Swan Lake.” The slightest imperfection cannot be allowed, and so when Ava makes a millimeter misstep in rehearsal, she is petrified that her father will give the roles to her understudy.  It is this fear that begins her psychological unraveling.

At the same time, we see a much younger and very gifted student beginning her life in the corps de ballet.  Nikolai calls the young girls of the troupe his creatures, and says, “She sleep and eat and dance and learn and live under my roof and I will create her.”  And this young girl appears to be his favorite, much to Ava’s distress.

During another rehearsal, when Ava asks if there aren’t two possible interpretations of a step, her father falls into a frenzy.  “My work.  My dancing,” he tells the company.  No other way is possible–all must listen and obey him.

Fearful of losing her father’s favor as well as her starring role in “Swan Lake,” Ava determines to work even harder, practice more.  She is certainly willing to put in the hours, be it to please her father or to prove herself the greatest interpreter of the twin roles of Odile and Odette, but an unlucky accident puts an end to her dream.

The novel’s title, Watch Her Fall, has a double meaning.  Ava does, in fact, have a career-ending physical fall from the stage, but she also has a psychological fall into the depths of despair.  If she is not a dancer and the fulfillment of her father’s dream, what and who is she?  The way in which she copes is unexpected and distressing, and yet, at the novel’s end, the steps she takes will be understandable.  The author’s insights into the pressures of achieving success at the highest level of ballet, or in fact at any endeavor, brings life to her novel.

Erin Kelly is a journalist, a creative writing tutor, and the author of other several psychological thrillers; I reviewed her outstanding Stone Mothers in May 2019.  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 LAST FLIGHT by Julie Clark: Book Review

Two women, strangers to each other, each one in a relationship fraught with danger.  Then a chance meeting at Kennedy Airport in New York City may give both a chance to escape and start over.  Will they be able to take it?

Claire and Eva could not be more different.  Claire is married to multi-millionaire (or it is billionaire?) Rory Cook, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and soon-to-be-announced candidate for United States Senate from New York.  Son of the late Marjorie Cook, a senator admired and respected on both sides of the aisle, Rory wants to follow in her footsteps and is planning to announce his run for office.  The last thing he wants, needs, or will allow is any news of a separation with Claire to go public.  There is nothing he won’t do to prevent that from happening, nothing at all.

Feeling that her life is in danger, Claire makes meticulous plans to leave Rory, with the help of a friend whose brother is connected, as they say, to the Russian mafia.  She wants to leave the country and start her life again in Canada.  But then fate, destiny, or karma intervenes.

Eva’s life has unfolded quite differently, but the end result is that she is as desperate as Claire.  Abandoned by her drug-addicted mother and placed in a series of foster homes, she eventually ended up in a Catholic orphanage where she received a good education and the opportunity to attend the University of California/Berkeley on a scholarship.  But a lack of money, poor judgment, and her old demons led to her expulsion, and she became an easy target for Dex, who soon has her making and selling drugs.

She is earning good money, but the secrecy and fear of being caught makes Eva decide to leave Berkeley and the life she’s living.  But with no family and no friends to turn to for help, how can she escape this life?

The Last Flight is written in alternating chapters, with Claire’s story followed by Eva’s.  While Claire’s escape plans are endangered by Rory’s immense wealth and the many favors people owe him, Eva’s are hobbled by an unknown drug lord called Fish.  Dex tells her Fish is above him in the drug hierarchy and emphasizes Fish’s ability to make certain that no one who works for him is allowed to break free.

Julie Clark has written a spellbinding thriller with a terrific plot and realistic, sensitive characters.  Just when the reader breathes a sign of relief that all is going according to plan, those plans are thrown into disarray.  I promise that you will be holding your breath until the very last page, as if by doing so you can ensure that both women make it to safety.

You can read more about Julie Clark at this website.

And many thanks to Lorry Diehl for this recommendation.  As the author of several books on New York City, she definitely knows good writing.

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.

WHEN A STRANGER COMES TO TOWN edited by Michael Koryta: Book Review

I’m not much of a short story person; I much prefer reading novels, especially mystery novels, because I enjoy thinking about characters and plots and settings for a longer time than a short story allows.  That being said, when my local library re-opened in June (hooray!), one of the featured books on the New Arrivals shelf was this collection of stories edited by Michael Koryta, part of the library of the Mystery Writers of America.

There are stories by nineteen authors, and I was familiar with less than half of them.  I found that really interesting, since their brief bios at the end of the book indicate that only three of them write short stories exclusively.  What that means is that I’ll have to up my reading time to be able to focus on writers whose works I haven’t read.

Of course, I was immediately grabbed by the authors I had previously read–Alafair Burke, Michael Connelly, Lisa Unger, Lori Roy, Michael Koryta, and Steve Hamilton.  But I decided to approach When A Stranger Comes to Town the way I would read a novel–start at the beginning of the collection and read to the end.

With only two exceptions, I found the stories in this collection ranging from really good to outstanding.  Three of them caught my eye because of their location–“Perfect Strangers” by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs since it takes place just a few miles from my home in Massachusetts, “Assignment:  Sheepshead Bay” by Paul A. Barra which takes places in my hometown of Brooklyn, and “P.F.A.” by Michael Koryta because it takes places in Maine, where my older son and his family live.  I’d also like to note “A Six-Letter Word for Neighbor” by Lisa Unger; its ending caught me totally by surprise and yet seemed so perfect.

Michael Koryta, the book’s editor, did a masterful job in choosing these stories.  When A Stranger Comes To Town is an absolutely outstanding addition to the Mystery Writers of America’s library.

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 HERON’S CRY by Ann Cleeves: Book Review


Can one more glass of wine hurt, Detective Jen Rafferty asks herself?
  After all, it’s a party.  Everything is a bit hazy, something she will regret the next day, but in the meantime she helps herself to another glass of red.

A serious-looking man joins her and introduces himself as Nigel Yeo, a surname that means he’s local to South Devon.  He describes himself as in the health field but no longer a medic, and he tells Jen he’s in “the same line of business as you.  Sort of.”  She’s intrigued, but Nigel backs off, saying he will get her number from their hostess and asking if he can call her in the morning.

But when morning comes, it’s a different phone call that Jen gets.  Her boss, Matthew Venn, tells her to come to Westacombe, a group of buildings that have evolved into a small artists’ colony.  When she arrives he tells her there’s been a murder, and when Jen sees the body she recognizes Nigel Yeo.

He was found by his daughter, Eve, in her small studio in Westacombe, with a long shard of glass protruding from his neck.  Now, more than ever, Jen wishes her recall of the night before was sharper as she tries to remember the discussion she had with Nigel and whether there were any clues to his death.

Eve is a glassblower, and the glass is from one of her pieces.  The other artist who lives in the colony is Wesley Curnow, a painter and a musician.  Along with Sarah and John Grieve and their young twin daughters, Eve and Wesley make up the tenants, and Frank Ley, a celebrated investor and philanthropist, is the owner of the land and its buildings.

Everyone agrees that Nigel was a “lovely man” who hadn’t an enemy in the world.  He had worked as a physician but had given up his practice two years earlier to care for his wife, who suffered from dementia.  After her death he changed his focus and became the head of North Devon Patients Together, an advocacy group belonging to the National Health Service.  Certainly not a dangerous position, it would seem, and yet there doesn’t seem to be anything else in Nigel’s life that would lead to murder.

Matthew Venn, Jen’s boss, is not your typical detective.  Born into the Brethren, a strict Protestant sect, he has left that sect and is now married to his husband, Jonathan.  The two men are as different as possible, with Matthew painstaking and stolid, while Jonathan is artistic and sociable.  But their marriage is a good one, and they complement each other.  Venn is highly respected by his team, and his investigative style has solved many cases in the past.  But this one has him and his colleagues stymied.

The police interview Eve, Sarah and John, Wesley, and Frank, but all either have a strong alibi or no discernible reason for Nigel’s murder.  And then there’s a second killing.

Ann Cleeves is the author of many other mysteries, including the Vera Stanhope and the Jimmy Perez/Shetland Island series, as well as many stand-alones.  Both those series have been adapted for television, and the first of the Matthew Venn series, The Long Call, has been adapted as well.  Ms. Cleeves is a talented and prolific mystery author, and The Heron’s Call is an outstanding addition to her catalog of novels.

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.