Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review of Unnatural Causes by Dawn Eastman

Author: Dawn Eastman
Release date: December 12, 2017
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Pages: 288
Buy the book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Unnatural-Causes-Katie-LeClair-Mystery/dp/1683313135/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1513103473&sr=8-1&keywords=dawn+eastman

Dr. Katie LeClair has agreed to join the small town medical practice of Emmett and Nick Hawkins in the small town of Baxter, Michigan. After years of moving, schooling, and training, she wants nothing more than to settle down in a place she can call home.

Katie quickly gets to work in building a life for herself in Baxter. But three months into her new employment Katie’s embroiled in controversy when Ellen Riley, one of her patients, commits suicide by overdosing on prescription medication. The only hitch is that Katie knows that she did not prescribe the medicine and is bewildered as to how her name could have ended up on the bottle of pills. Riley’s family is certain that Ellen would never kill herself but police are convinced that suicide was the cause of death.

“It felt like a kick in the gut. Katie had seen many deaths, but Ellen’s felt Personal. She had known and liked Ellen Riley. The tentative friendship that they’d begun had made Katie feel like she might actually fit in Baxter.”

An autopsy changes the whole scenario when it’s discovered that Riley died from an injected overdose of Demerol and not the pills as previously thought. Never been one to stand on the sidelines, Katie joins the victim's daughter in searching for the truth. They both believe this is a case of murder and not suicide.

“It was always a struggle to convey her concerns without violating privacy laws. In the past, not ever saying the patient’s name had been good enough. But in a small town like Baxter, the news would be in the public domain before morning. She focused on the two things that bothered her the most: the idea of the suicide itself and the fact she didn’t remember writing the prescription that led to Ellen’s death.”

Katie soon realizes that her medical training as a doctor although improbable might possibly blend well with the skills needed to solve the mystery of what happened to her friend. As Katie delves deeper and deeper into the case, she uncovers dark secrets that someone doesn’t want exposed.
Overall, Unnatural Causes is a well written mystery thriller which is filled with plenty of suspense, a touch of romance, and thoroughly engaging characters. Eastman’s writing style is smooth and effective, and the plotline effortlessly evolves through numerous twists and turns while keeping the reader guessing right up to the very end.

A highly recommended read, Unnatural Causes will engage anyone wanting a simple straight forward mystery and in Dr. Katie LeClair, Dawn Eastman has created a strong and appealing new heroine to the thriller mystery genre. Dr. LeClair will most certainly have her hands full of potential killers and a cadre of mysteries to solve in novels yet to come.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review of Strangers in Budapest by Jessica Keener

Image of Strangers in Budapest: A Novel

Author: Jessica Keener
Release date: November 14, 2017
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Pages: 352
Buy the book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Strangers-Budapest-Novel-Jessica-Keener/dp/1616204974/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510762879&sr=8-1&keywords=jessica+keener

Budapest is a city of ambiguities and secrets, stunningly beautiful, historic but mysterious. It is to this enigmatic place that a young American couple, Annie and Will, move with their infant son shortly after the fall of the Communist regime. For Annie it is an effort to escape the ghosts from her past; for Will it is a chance to try his wings as an entrepreneur in Hungary’s newly developing economy.
Only weeks after moving there they receive a request from friends back home asking them to check up on an acquaintance, an elderly friend who has also recently moved to Budapest. What the couple does not know, of course, is that in complying with that request, they will become entangled in a dark and deadly feud, one that climaxes in a stunning loss of innocence and a shocking end.

Jessica Keener is the bestselling author of Night Swim and a collection of award-winning short stories, Women in Bed. She has taught English literature and writing at Brown University, and her works have appeared in O Magazine, Redbook, the Boston Globe, and others. Her new novel Strangers in Budapest is a fabulously complex and mysterious tale that is full of atmosphere and suspense. It’s a multifaceted novel that explores how our choices affect others and how our past often shapes our future.

Will and Annie are trying to incorporate themselves into the unsettled business world of Budapest in the 1990s. Things go awry when they meet the enigmatic expatriate, Edward Weiss, an elderly Jewish American who is seeking answers about his daughter’s death. Edward is on the hunt for the man he believes murdered his wheelchair-bound daughter and fled with her money.

Annie decides she wants to help him, but she is naively unaware that his plan involves more than just errands and more to do with violent revenge. But Annie has secrets of her own, and grave concerns about her husband's questionable business ventures. Chased by her own demons from the past, Annie’s intentions are well meant but what will be the ultimate results of her involvement with Edward’s pursuit, and will she be liable for the consequences?

Caught between her husband’s shaky business endeavors and Edward’s escalating anger, Annie is plunged into Budapest’s seedier side, where faith and transformation are no competition for the shocking realities of the past. As these storylines begin to converge, the characters reflect on their choices and what they mean for the future.

The plot moves quickly and Budapest of 1995 is the perfect backdrop with its picturesque location, tragic history, and political complications. From the very first pages the reader is bombarded with an air of danger that seems to permeate almost every scene and conversation.

“Mr. Weiss turned to Leo and the burning in his eyes cooled down. How sudden these changes, she thought. She’s seen this sort of thing at the shelter: emotional squalls in grown men, erratic behavior flip-flopping, the way Leo acted when he needed something. She’d seen it with her brother, Greg, when he started drinking in high school.”

Jessica Keener’s Strangers in Budapest is a powerfully provocative psychological thriller that combines engaging characters with a gripping and darkly atmospheric plot. This novel’s gut wrenching discussion of how our past actions often affect our present is both poignant and thought provoking. Within its pages, Keener masterfully examines sorrow and remorse, dishonesty and loathing, and the ultimate search for unattainable redemption, truth, and love.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review of American Drifter by Heather Graham and Chad Michael Murray

Image of American Drifter: A Thriller

Author: Heather Graham and Chad Michael Murray
Release date: November 14, 2017
Publisher: Forge Books
Pages: 320
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/American-Drifter-Thriller-Heather-Graham/dp/0765374870/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510699761&sr=8-1&keywords=american+drifter

With images of war haunting him daily, U.S. Army veteran River Roulet cannot seem to break free of the past. Awake or asleep, it’s impossible to forget the bombs, the death, and the trembling of the earth. In a desperate attempt to distract himself from these horrors, he flees to Brazil, hoping the rich landscape and vibrant culture of Rio de Janeiro will drown out the nightmares. When he arrives the city is preparing for Carnaval and the celebratory goings-on are everything he hoped they would be, and he seems on the surface to be finally getting his life back together.

This stab at a new life takes an unexpected turn when River meets Natal, an impassioned journalist and free spirit who lives with Tio Amato, a notorious drug lord. Her presence in his life rekindles a curiosity for the world that River thought was lost to him forever. It also catapults him back into the life of danger and violence he so desperately sought to escape.

As their relationship starts to blossoms into something more, River kills one of Tio's men, and they must flee the city, pursued by the drug lord and the Brazilian government. During this time River has to use every trick in his arsenal to stay alive. Will River and Natal escape Brazil and will he ever be free of the memories that haunt him?

In American Drifter, Heather Graham and Chad Michael Murray team up to write an electrifying and suspense filled story that is loaded with plenty of twists and turn. Graham is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of over 100 novels and novellas. Murray is an actor, spokesperson, and former fashion model who has appeared in numerous television series and movies that include One Tree Hill, Agent Carter, Fruitvale Station, and Outlaws and Angels.

American Drifter serves as Murray's debut novel. The plotline and character development which includes love, loss, and redemption is well written but a little stereotypical at times. River and Natal’s love affair appears on the surface to be a little too perfect and over simplified, and because of this it is hard to imagine that this would actually work in real life. While the plot twists are predictable and cliché the novel does a good job of compensating for these minor flaws with its colorful setting and atmosphere.

“Carnaval had been celebrated in one way or another since the eighteenth century . . . always a day to enjoy before the deep thought and abstinence of Lent. . . . There were so many wonders to be seen in Rio. But the greatest wonder of Rio was still to come, and one could feel the pulse of the city that was filled with natural beauty and joy.”

Overall, Graham and Murray have produced a worthwhile novel that is sure to be an instant bestseller. The exotic locale of South America and Carnaval will most certainly be enough to keep the reader’s attention and there’s plenty of romance and suspense to go around. Fans of the thriller/suspense genre will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Review of The Empty House: A Ghost Story for Christmas by Algernon Blackwood with Illustrations by Seth

Image of The Empty House: A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth's Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: Algernon Blackwood (author); Seth (Illustrator)
Release date: October 31, 2017
Pages: 58
Publisher: Biblioasis
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Empty-House-Ghost-Christmas-Stories/dp/1771961988/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1510096310&sr=8-4&keywords=the+empty+house

Halloween might seem like the spookiest time of the year but Charles Dickens, M. R. James, Edith Wharton, and other literary greats felt otherwise. They were among the many authors who set their most terrifying stories during the dark and chilly days of Christmastime. Reading a ghost story on Christmas Eve was once as much a part of traditional holiday festivities as turkey, eggnog, mistletoe, and Saint Nick.

“These winter tales did not necessarily explore Christmas themes in any manner. Rather, they were offered as an eerie pleasure to be enjoyed on Christmas Eve with the family, adding a supernatural shiver to the seasonal chill.”

In 2016, Biblioasis, a Canadian independent bookstore and publishing company based in Windsor, Ontario, revived this custom with the release of their first collection of four miniature classic Christmas ghost stories entitled Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories. Seth is the pen name of Gregory Gallant, a Canadian cartoonist and illustrator best known for his series Palookaville and his mock-autobiographical graphic novel It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken (1996). His illustrations have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, McSweeneys Quarterly, and The New Yorker. He is also Lemony Snicket’s partner for the new Young Readers series All the Wrong Questions.

Biblioasis is continuing their successful tradition in 2017 with another set of Christmas Ghost Stories that are selected and illustrated by Seth. This year’s collection features standalone classic short stories by Algernon Blackwood (“The Empty House,” 1906), E. F. Benson (“How Fear Departed the Long Gallery,” 1912), and W. W. Jacobs (“The Toll House,” 1909).

In “The Empty House,” Aunt Julia is an elderly spinster with an obsession for supernatural research. She has the keys to an alleged haunted house on the square and invites her nephews to accompany her on a midnight investigation. What really happened a hundred years ago when a servant girl fell to her death? Eerily, the old house may not be as empty as it appears.

Opening passage from Algernon Blackwood’s “The Empty House”:

“Certain houses, like certain persons, manage somehow to proclaim at once their character for evil. In the case of the latter, no particular feature need betray them; they may boast an open countenance and an ingenuous smile; and yet a little of their company leaves the unalterable conviction that there is something radically amiss with their being: that they are evil.”

The reading of these types of scary tales during the holiday season was a tradition that dates back to at least the 18th century and was at one time as common as decorating the tree or singing carols.
Biblioasis’ Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories series has done an outstanding job of attempting to revive this forgotten custom. These charmingly illustrated classic short stories are sold separately and will make the perfect stocking stuffer for any literary enthusiast on your gift buying list who desires a little scare to go along with their holiday revelries.

Review of Three Days and a Life by Pierre Lemaitre

Image of Three Days and a Life

Author: Pierre Lemaitre
Release date: November 7, 2017
Publisher: Maclehose Press
Pages: 208
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Three-Days-Life-Pierre-Lemaitre/dp/1681441780/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510083592&sr=8-1&keywords=three+days+and+a+life

In 1999, in the small provincial town of Beauval, France, 12-year-old Antoine Courtin accidently kills a young boy in the woods near his home. Panicked, he conceals the body and to his relief and ongoing shame, he is never suspected of any connection to the child’s disappearance. But the boy’s death continues to haunt him, shaping his life in unseen ways.

More than a decade later, Antoine is living in Paris, now a young doctor with a fiancée and a promising future. On a rare trip home to the town he hates and fears, Antoine thoughtlessly sleeps with a beautiful young woman from his past. She shows up pregnant at his doorstep in Paris a few months later, insisting that they marry, but Antoine refuses.

Meanwhile, the newly discovered body of Antoine’s childhood victim means that the case has been reopened, and all of his old fears rush back. Then the young woman’s father threatens Antoine with a paternity test—which would almost certainly match the DNA found on the dead child’s body. Will Antoine finally be forced to confront his crime? And what is he prepared to do to keep his secrets buried in the past?

Pierre Lemaitre’s new novel Three Days and a Life is a captivating and disturbing Hitchcockian thriller with plenty of twists and turns. The prolific French novelist and screenwriter is internationally known for crime novels and has won numerous literary awards that include the prestigious Prix Goncourt and Crime Writers’ Association International Dagger awards.

Three Days and a Life is a psychological roller coaster, and discussing this novel without revealing too much of the plot is a very difficult task. “The branch has fallen from his hands. He looks down at the child’s sprawled body. There is something strange about the posture that Antoine cannot quite place, a helplessness . . . What have I done? And what do I do now?”

The crime he committed when he was 12 was a crime of passion. It was in a fit of anger over the death of his beloved dog. After he disposes of the body he is “overcome with the sheer scale of the tragedy” and spends the next few days agonizing over his actions, expecting to be caught. “In a sickening spasm, the tidal wave in his stomach ripped through his whole body, burned through his belly, and exploded into his throat with a jolt that literally lifted him off the bed.”

This never happens, and others are accused and arrested for the crime. Flash forward twelve years and Antoine has attempted to move on with his life, but guilt is always “intensely present and terribly remote.” The narrative returns to the town and explores the ongoing effects of the crime. “His mind dragged him back to the most harrowing period of his life, one that had come to entirely define his childhood. They would find the body. The investigation would be reopened.”

Yet despite Antoine’s clear guilt, Lemaitre is expertly able to generate just enough compassion for him to draw the reader into an uncertain place where even though they might wish to see justice served they don’t want him to feel any more pain. Overall, Lemaitre magnificently manipulates the readers’ compassions and succeeds in dropping several remarkable plot twists that surprisingly help alter the initial events. Three Days and a Life is a heartbreaking and darkly disturbing psychological page-turner written with simplicity and creativity. A thoroughly captivating suspense-filled read that will not disappoint any devoted thriller enthusiast.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Review of The Usual Santas

Image of The Usual Santas: A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers

Authors: Peter Lovesey, et al
Publish Date : October 24, 2017
Publisher: Soho Press
Pages: 416
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Usual-Santas-Collection-Christmas-Capers/dp/1616957751/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1508860908&sr=8-1&keywords=the+usual+santas

There's nothing like a good mix of crime and Christmas stories to get you in the holiday mood. Drawing from a remarkably diverse array of notable and celebrated authors, Soho Crime has delivered yet another brilliant Christmas-themed anthology with The Usual Santas. The subject matter differs significantly, ranging from carefree and whimsical to dark and foreboding. This enchanting and easy to read collection features 18 stories from bestselling and award-winning authors such as Martin Limón, Stephanie Barron, Gary Colby, Ed Lin, Mick Herron, and many others.

The foreword by Peter Lovesey, who also contributes to the collection, reminds the reader that crime is regrettably a part of the holiday season, and thus why this time of the year has inspired more short stories than any other theme.

“Crime statistics spike at this time of the year. The seasonal shopping spree provides rich pickings for thieves and fraudsters. Well stocked stores become tempting targets for stick-up men and shoplifters . . . Family feuds are revived by stressed-out, not-so-merry merrymakers . . . All of this is rich material for crime writers.”

For Lovesey, “one of the joys of the festive season is the opportunity to give and receive surprises” and in this anthology “there are shocks in plenty . . . to get your heart thumping.”

In this quirky assemblage of yuletide crime capers we read about nine mall Santas who must find the imposter among them. An elderly lady seeks peace from her murderously loud neighbors at Christmastime. A young woman receives a mysterious invitation to Christmas dinner with a stranger. Niccolò Machiavelli sets out to save an Italian city. Sherlock Holmes’ one-time nemesis, Irene Adler, finds herself in an unexpected tangle in Paris while on a routine espionage assignment. Jane Austen searches for the Dowager Duchess of Wilborough’s stolen diamonds.

These and other escapades will most certainly charm most readers and instantly transport them to exotic and faraway places such as a Korean War POW camp to a Copenhagen refugee squat, from a palatial hotel in 1920s Bombay to a crumbling mansion in Havana, to the busy streets of Thailand.
The Usual Santas is assembled into three parts and begins with “Joy to the World: Various Acts of Kindness at Christmas,” which includes Mick Herron’s titled story “The Usual Santas,” where eight Santas customarily hired by a mega-shopping mall in the suburbs outside of London unexpectedly realize a ninth Santa in their midst. How they expose the imposter adds to the amusement of the story.

Things take a distinctly bleaker and sullen tone in the next segment entitled, “Silent Night: The Darkest of Holiday Noir.” In “Queen of The Hill,” by celebrated novelist Stuart Neville, Campbell Hunter, or Cam the Hun as he’s known on the streets, sets off for a Christmas party at the Northern Ireland house of an infamous but charming drug dealer. This story has some twists and turns in store for its lead character.

In “Blue Memories Start Calling” by Tod Goldberg, the bodies of a missing family are found in a grave near a Granite City ski resort. The grisly discovery just before Christmas and its repercussions cause the County Sheriff to seriously reevaluate his career and life.

In the third section, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus: And Other Holiday Secrets” the stories delve into historical and literary themes. In “The Prince (of Peace),” by Gary Corby, Niccolo Machiavelli saves an Italian city from Cesare Borgia, while pondering the meaning of Christmas. In Clara Black’s “Cabaret Aux Assassins,” Irene Adler, Sherlock Holmes’s past archrival, is in over her head in Paris while on her way to a spying mission and Jane Austen searches for a Dutchess’s missing diamonds in “Jane and the Midnight Clear,” by Stephanie Barron.

Overall, The Usual Santas will most certainly melt and captivate the hearts of the most hardened crime fiction reader. There’s plenty of humor and inspiring stories of the holiday season throughout the anthology, but be warned there are also some dark and suspense-filled tales as well. It’s a great book to take on your daily walk or commute to work. Just remember to keep it nearby for those times when you have a few extra minutes to escape. This delightful short story collection will not disappoint and will be the perfect stocking stuffer for any crime noir or mystery fiction fanatic on your holiday gift giving list.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Review of Jane Austen: The Banker's Sister by E.J. Clery

Image of Jane Austen: The Banker's Sister

Author: EJ Clery
Publish Date: 10/17/2017
Publisher: Biteback
Pages: 400
Buy the book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Jane-Austen-Bankers-Sister-Clery/dp/1785901761/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1508264627&sr=8-2

Without a doubt, every fan of English literature has read at least one of Jane Austen's celebrated novels. Her works are inextricably linked to the Regency era of British history. All six of her finished novels were published during this period, making them representative Regency romances.

The Regency era lasted a mere nine years, from February 1811 until January 1820. It was marked by romance, style, and etiquette. In 1810, King George III was taken seriously ill and was declared unable to rule because of mental incapacity. The Regency Act was passed the following year making his son George Prince Regent to rule in his stead. The Regency lasted until George III’s death in 1820 when the Regent became King George IV and was able to rule in his own right.

Although Austen wrote her novels at a young age, her ideas were far beyond her years, which still hold true today. A master at taking conventional life and making it extraordinary, Austen began her most famous piece, Pride and Prejudice, at the early age of 20 which became an instant success almost immediately and continue to be very popular today.

“They were drawn together by temperament. Both of them quick and witty, while his boundless optimism and enthusiasm counterbalanced her occasional tendency to low spirits and irritability…His career was blighted by the bank failure but one could say that Jane’s genius redeemed his losses. We owe her novels to his speculative endeavors.”

Henry Thomas Austen (1771–1850) was Jane’s favorite brother and was the sibling most like her in looks and temperament. He was witty and enthusiastic in whatever he did; the eternal optimist, though success did not always find him. He was most influential in allowing Jane to publish her works. Not only was his home available for her to stay in during her trips to London to work with her publisher, these visits also gave her an insight into society life that she would not otherwise have had, furnishing settings, events, and characters for her novels to come. It was Henry who saw to the publication of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey after her death, and it was Henry who wrote the brief, but loving biographical notice which prefaced these two novels and provided the world with their first glimpse into the life of this author.

When it was announced that Jane Austin would appear on the new ten pound note in 2017, few were aware that a ten pound Austen banknote already exited—issued by her favorite brother. Handsome, clever and enterprising, Henry Austen founded a bank business and charmed his way into the top rank of aristocratic society before going spectacularly bust in the financial crisis of 1816. He left an enduring legacy, however, for it was Henry who supported Jane’s dream of becoming a published author.

 “. . . in all this critical commentary, the figure of Henry Austen, Jane’s most important and direct link with the economic transformations of her time, has been almost entirely absent.”

In E. J. Clery’s new book,  Jane Austen: The Banker’s Sister, the distinguished literary critic, professor and cultural historian explores new methodology to the study of the celebrated novelist, revealing a tantalizing look into how Austen’s classic works were shaped by her close relationship with her brother, as well as the financial scandals and disasters of the Regency era.

Despite the fact that there are a plethora of biographies on Jane Austen, there are some noteworthy gaps in what is known about her life and works. Clery’s masterful and scholarly interpretation of Austen’s family dynamics, political links, and financial successes and failures provides an interesting and fresh approach to the study of this illustrious novelist’s life and legacy.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review of Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain

Image of Between a Wolf and a Dog

Author: Georgia Blain
Publish Date: October 10, 2017
Publisher: Scribe
Pages: 272
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Between-Wolf-Dog-Georgia-Blain/dp/1925321118/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1507731881&sr=8-1&keywords=georgia+blain

On December 9, 2016 Australian writer Georgia Blain died from a brain tumor. Her life contained more than its share of tragedies and disappointments. In her award winning writings she examined the mundane and often over looked moments of everyday life with brilliant style, keen insight and tenderness.

Between a Wolf and a Dog, Blain’s eighth and final novel, takes its title from a French phrase for twilight, (L’heure entre chien et loup), the hazy and often murky hour between day and night which makes seeing and interpreting objects very difficult. In heartbreaking irony, the novel begins with a scene in which Hilary, the mother of Esther and April, reveals that she has cancer and that the tumor has spread to her brain.

Esther is a family therapist with an appointment book that catalogues the anxieties of the middle class: loneliness, relationships, death. She spends her days helping others find happiness, but her own family relationships are tense and frayed. Estranged from both her sister, April, and her ex-husband, Lawrence, Esther wants to fall in love again.

Meanwhile, April is struggling through her own directionless life; Lawrence’s reckless past decisions are catching up with him; and Esther and April’s mother; Hilary, is about to make a choice that will profoundly affect them all. The scenes of the book take place over one seemly ordinary rainy day in Sydney, and poignantly reveal the voices of the troubled and heartbroken, that seem to echo Esther’s own concerns, fears, and hopefulness.

Rendered with haunting and powerful prose this is a stylish, clever and moving novel from a writer at the height of her writing abilities. The experience of reading Between a Wolf and a Dog, though, is larger and more profound than its pages.

“We have to stay ignorant of our blessings. Perhaps we can only carry our good fortune with us if we don’t know that we are doing it—otherwise we would be overwhelmed by anxiety at the possibility of its loss.”

What is significant about this novel is the way it seamlessly balances unhappiness and sorrow, and its inevitable sense of heartbreak with optimism. Blain writes of Hilary’s struggles with her diagnosis and mortality: “. . . loosening herself, trying to unpick the grip of life from her limbs, aware of how quickly time has been pushing her forward, shoving her now, relentless and sure, into this tiny space, the last moments, where she needs more strength than she has ever needed before,” any expectation of serious indifference ceases to exist.

Whittled down to its most elementary points, Between a Wolf and a Dog is basically a novel about love and understanding. It is essentially an homage to the glory of being alive and its message will resonate long after its final pages have been read.

It is a painfully truthful depiction of family and the complexities of interpersonal relationships. But it is also a celebration of what’s good in all of us—our ability to live in the face of everyday worries and disappointments, and to draw power and positivity from its transformative control.

“Like all of her works,” Blain writes, of Hilary’s final film, “it demands trust from the audience, that this seemingly random scatter of images will find a narrative order.” In this way, a work of art is similar to a life. This brilliant and thought provoking novel has thus become an incredibly powerful statement and significant story, which Blain has graciously gifted to all of us.

On a whole, Blain’s entire body of writings are emotionally driven with an honesty that requires the reader to be courageous in the face of pain. They make us profoundly aware of how we experience our own life and how we ought to live. The characters of her novels are often distressed, indecisive, but never faultless. They are, like all of us, inconsistent and flawed. Her narratives never give us the false hope of living happily ever after, but instead, overflow with the understanding that life does not always deliver security and comfort. What Georgia Blain’s works give us is the simple knowledge that life—whether long or short, complex or simple—most certainly always goes on.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Review of A Murder in Music City by Michael Bishop

Author: Michael Bishop
Publish Date: September 5, 2017
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Pages: 330

“Paula Herring’s murder had been predicted for months. That the victim was a [pretty blond coed wasn’t all that surprising to authorities, especially since a number of young women in one of Nashville’s newest subdivisions had been targeted by a rapist for more than a year. Metro Police had predicted that the activities of the rapist would eventually escalate to murder.”

Eighteen-year-old Paula Herring was “a girl full of the joy of being alive . . . warm, lovable, intensely energetic, and full of plans for the future.” On February 22, 1964, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, freshmen was shot to death in the den of her mother’s suburban Nashville home. In the next room slept her six-year-old brother, apparently unaware of the gruesome event.

A few months later a judge’s son is convicted of the crime. Decades after the slaying, author Michael Bishop stumbled upon a secret file related to the case and with the help of some of the world’s top forensic experts—including forensic psychologist Richard Walter (aka “the living Sherlock Holmes”) he uncovered the truth of what really happened to Paula Herring, and his conclusions are completely different from what the public was initially led to believe.

In 1997, Michael Bishop, a sales executive for a healthcare learning company accidently came across files that contained information about the Herring murder case. For the past two decades he tenaciously investigated and enthusiastically followed the evidence trail, which led to a new theory of who might have actually murdered Paula Herring.

In A Murder in Music City: Corruption, Scandal, and the Framing of an Innocent Man, Bishop lays out the shocking and overwhelming evidence that led to his startling conclusion that a small group of influential Nashville residents played a significant role in covering-up evidence and actively assisted in sending an innocent man to prison for a crime he did not commit.

In this gripping page-turner, Bishop reveals the grisly realties and true story behind the murder of Paula Herring. This first time author and amateur detective proves to be amazingly effective in his writing abilities and his first-person description of the steps he used to discover evidence in the case gives the story a sense of proximity to the present.

By relentlessly following every lead and using his “sales skills” to gain the trust of those he questioned, Bishop reveals plausible proof that John Randolph Clarke was indeed framed for the murder, and goes on to formulate a reasonable and disturbing theory as to the scandalous identity of the actual killer.

Overall, A Murder in Music City gives the reader a good sense of what it was like to live in 1960s Nashville, and as his investigation into this half a century’s old closed case unfolds into the present day. Bishop’s shocking and very plausible conclusions are thought provoking and compelling. But because it tends to follow the author’s own experiences with the case, the narrative unfortunately tends to get off track and bogs down in places. With that said, true crime enthusiasts will most certainly find this book to be hauntingly compelling. A highly recommended thrill ride of narrative true crime that tells a sad story of murder, family betrayal, and political corruption that is equal parts thought provoking, captivating, and unforgettable.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Review of Seance Infernale by Jonathan Skariton

Image of Séance Infernale: A novel

Author: Jonathan Skariton
Publish Date: August 30, 2017
Publisher: Knopf
Pages: 304
Buy the book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/S%C3%A9ance-Infernale-novel-Jonathan-Skariton/dp/1101946733/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504127838&sr=8-1&keywords=seance+infernale

Alex Whitman is a successful movie memorabilia dealer, “part archeologist, part detective” who is widely known to be able to locate any object related to the film industry.

“His almost photographic memory of catalogs, locations, and specifications allowed him to beat out collectors and dealers who wagered thousands of dollars depending on whether . . . a film reel found in the depth of a dank basement contained lost scene or desirable splices.”

In the autumn of 2002, Whitman is hired by eccentric film collector Andrew Valdano to find and piece together what could be fragments of the first film ever made, Séance Infernale. In 1890, its creator, Augustin Sekuler, planned to unveil his “motion picture machine” to the public.
He boarded a train headed from Dijon to Paris, but never arrived at Gare de Lyon train station. Sekuler and his invention mysteriously disappeared somewhere along the way, and his claim as the creator of the moving picture vanished with him.

A modern day search to solve the mysterious disappearance leads to curious discoveries that may (or may not) shed light on Sekuler’s darkest secret. While searching out these answers Whitman’s investigation takes a personal turn. Two years before Sekuler’s own disappearance Whitman finds out that the inventor’s young daughter disappeared under suspicious circumstances. In a weird coincidence Whitman’s five-year-old daughter, Ellie, had also disappeared in Edinburgh never to be heard from again—a macabre kinship the two men would share nearly a century apart.

“Her disappearance had marked the last in a number of high profile child kidnappings that had prompted fear throughout the city of Edinburgh, beginning with the kidnapping and death of Danielle McKenzie in February of 1984, followed by a series of further abductions.”

The search for the elusive Sekuler film was now personally intermingled with the police investigation of an unapprehended serial killer. When Whitman successfully tracks down what could be fragments of Sekuler’s lost film, the discovery raises more questions than it answers. Could the greatest mystery in the history of film involve a train, a disappearance, a grieving family, and a possible patent war?
Séance Infernale is Jonathan Skariton’s debut novel. In it the author pays loose homage to the action adventure/ supernatural thriller genre that spawned novels such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The basic plot of Skariton’s novel bears resemblance to a series of unexpected trap doors that pop open and closed, and although this technique is very clichéd it lends just enough intrigue to keep your fascination.

Overall, the initial plotline is satisfactorily captivating: Movie memorabilia hunter traverses the globe in search of the first motion picture only to discover the film has a dark and supernatural theme and history. After that the story takes on a murky and chaotic journey that involves a psychotic serial killer roaming the streets of Edinburgh with an unbelievable and unnecessary personal connection to the protagonist.

On a whole, Séance Infernale is an entertaining read, and the horror and constant pain of Whitman’s personal loss is poignant, heart wrenching, and palpable: “It was easy to surrender to the painful nostalgia of Ellie’s memory. At night in bed, if he closed his eyes, in that gulf of space perception before falling asleep, he could see her, a warm and miraculous fantasy. Wakefulness would take away what he’d glimpsed and he’d experience the loss all over again.”

The reader must be warned that the novel does contain explicit language and disturbing descriptions of sexual acts, gruesome death scenes, autopsies, rape, and murder. Although these unsettling and often unnecessarily graphic descriptions are titillating and not for the faint of heart; the gothic and supernatural atmosphere of the novel is its most engaging facet and this alone will most certainly keep the average mystery/ thriller reader on the edge of their seat until the heart pounding final pages.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review of Holding by Graham Norton

Author: Graham Norton
Release date: August 1, 2017
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 272
Buy book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Holding-Novel-Graham-Norton/dp/150117326X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1501601603&sr=8-1&keywords=holding

Sergeant PJ Collins was not born in Duneen, but he has been the little town’s resident police officer for more than a decade and a half. Significantly overweight, PJ uses his size as an emotional shield to explain away his loneliness. As policemen go, he is liked by the denizens of the insular Irish village, even if he was no ball of fire. But little happens in Duneen anyway—until one day, when something quite dramatic occurs. Builders putting up a housing estate on the long-deserted Burke farm find the remains of a body buried on the land. Now the sleepy, gossipy town is all atwitter, and PJ is excited to have his first real case.

“When PJ hung up the phone, he felt strangely deflated. Help was on the way, which was what he wanted, what he needed, but once it arrived this would no longer be his case. He would just be another useless man standing around at the scene, a sort of crime butler servicing those who would find out the identity of the body and how it died.”

Do the remains belong to Tommy Burke, the young heir to the farm who disappeared about 20 years ago? Rumor has long held that Tommy was seen boarding the bus to Cork the day he went missing, but has he been buried there all along?

Turns out the builders have opened up more than a hole in the ground—they have opened old wounds, as well. PJ quickly discovers that just before he disappeared, Tommy was at the apex of an ugly love triangle involving two young women in the village, both of whom still live in Duneen. Brid Riordan was engaged to marry Tommy, but a knockdown, drag-out fight in the street with Evelyn Ross told the town all it needed to know about Tommy’s true affections.

Now, all these years later, PJ needs to piece together the events surrounding Tommy’s disappearance. His investigation leads him to close quarters with both women—Brid a dissolute alcoholic and Evelyn a sheltered spinster—and triggers surprising, quite different forms of intimacy with each. But there are others in the town, including PJ’s own housekeeper, Mrs. Meany, who all seem to know more than they are saying. And then the police discover something quite surprising about the body. . . .
In Graham Norton’s debut novel, Holding, the author uses his typically sharp and piercing sense of humor to breathe life into a multitude of delightful characters. The author is an award-winning television talk show host and comedian in the U.K. and in 2016 published his bestselling memoir, The Life and Loves of a He Devil. He also writes a weekly advice column for The Telegraph.

Set in the tiny village of Duneen, Ireland, which has “somehow managed to slip through the World Wide Web. No 4G, no 3G, no signal.” The plot of Holding revolves around three main characters: Sergeant PJ Collins, Evelyn Ross, and Brid Riordan. The mystery itself—the discovery of a skeleton found buried at the sight of a new housing project—is astonishingly not the central focus of the plot. Its main emphasis is how the discovery affects each of the main characters through love, secrets, and loss.

Overall, Holding admirably captures the peculiarities of small town Ireland. Although the mystery plot is not the most riveting, it is certainly entertaining and succeeds in capturing a unique perspective on the peculiarities of life in rural Ireland. At times both distressing and tender, and yet darkly comedic, Graham Norton has created a charming debut novel that is well-worth reading.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review of Perish From the Earth by Jonathan F. Putnam

Author: Jonathan F. Putnam
Publish date: July 11, 2017
Publisher: Crooked Lane
Pages: 304
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Perish-Earth-Lincoln-Speed-Mystery/dp/1683311396/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499788543&sr=8-1&keywords=perish+from+the+earth

“plenty of intrigue to delight mystery genre enthusiasts, enough historical accuracy to placate any history buff, and sufficient courtroom drama to satisfy any legal eagle.”

Two hundred and nine years after his birth in a log cabin in Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln continues to fascinate. His moral clarity, his extraordinary gifts with language, his decisive role in preserving the Union and what some consider his ultimate martyrdom combine to make Lincoln a mythic figure that still has a firm hold on our collective imagination. It is commonly known that Lincoln had a deep commitment to the rule law and an abhorrence of mob rule. A conservative estimate puts the number of books written about the 16th President at around 16,000.

Nationally renowned trial lawyer and avid amateur Lincoln scholar Jonathan F. Putnam adds to this number with his new historical novel Perish from the Earth, the second installment in the Lincoln and Speed mystery series. In this sequel to These Honored Dead (2016), we find Kentucky gentleman Joshua Speed once again teaming up with the future president to help solve a murder aboard a Mississippi riverboat in 1837.

“The circuit was a kind of traveling legal circus. Several times a year, during breaks in the court calendar in Springfield, a group of lawyers would pack their saddlebags and, with a judge in tow, ride an irregular, winding path—a circuit—through the outlying towns and villages that lacked a regular court. At each stop, the lawyers would set up temporary offices, usually under a stout old tree on the village green, and persons of the community having legal issues would come to consult. The judge would erect a rump courtroom, and civil trials would be conducted. Then, after three or four days in any one place, the whole group would pack up and move off together to the next stop.”

Newly minted trail lawyer Abraham Lincoln is riding the circuit, traveling by carriage with other lawyers and a judge to bring justice to the remote parts of Illinois. Meanwhile, Lincoln’s close friend Joshua Speed steams up the Mississippi River aboard a steamboat owned by Speed’s father. Suddenly, his journey is interrupted when a rigged card game turns violent and then to murder.
Speed enlists Lincoln to defend the accused, but soon they come to discover that more than just the card games are crooked aboard the Speed family’s ship. As the Day of Judgment hurtles toward them, Lincoln and Speed must fight to save not only the life of Lincoln’s client but also the merit of Speed’s good name.

Perish from the Earth is an admirable sequel and meticulously researched. In it we see Lincoln as an eager young trial lawyer, employing his gift of storytelling and turning his failures into successes. While Putnam points out that this is a work of “imaginative fiction,” he also states that “the people, places, and cases populating it are drawn from Lincoln’s actual life and times.” Nearly everything in this novel feels plausible and is in keeping with what is historically known about Lincoln and his times. Although the pace of the plot is a bit sluggish and a little unengaging at times, fans of historical and legal fiction will not be disappointed. Overall, there is plenty of intrigue to delight mystery genre enthusiasts, enough historical accuracy to placate any history buff, and sufficient courtroom drama to satisfy any legal eagle.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review of Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

Author: Susie Steiner
Release date: July 4, 2017
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 312
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Persons-Novel-Susie-Steiner/dp/0812998340/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499356090&sr=8-1&keywords=susie+steiner

As dusk falls, a young man staggers through a park, far from home, bleeding from a stab wound.

“He’s really scared now; nervously places a hand to his chest. His shirt is wet through but it’s not raining. He looks at his hand. It is glistening dark; the color unclear because of the dark and the orangey street lighting.”

He dies where he falls, cradled by a stranger, a woman’s name on his lips in his last seconds of life. Detective Manon Bradshaw handles only cold cases. Five months pregnant, in pursuit of a work-life balance rather than romantic love, she’s focused on being a good mother to her adopted 12-year-old son, Fly Dent, and the new baby. But the man died just yards from the police station where she works, so Manon can’t help taking an interest.

And as she sidles in on the briefing she learns that the victim, a banker from London worth millions, is more closely linked to her than she could have imagined. When the case begins to circle in on Manon’s home and her family, she finds herself pitted against the colleagues she once held dear: Davy Walker and Harriet Harper. Can Manon separate what she knows about the people she loves from the suspicion hanging over them? Can she investigate the evidence just as she would with any other case?

Persons Unknown by celebrated author Susie Steiner brings back fearless detective, Manon Bradshaw in this complex and thrilling sequel. Steiner is the London based author of Home Coming and Missing, Presumed, and has worked as an editor for The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Evening Standard.

An electrifying sequel to 2016’s Missing, Presumed. Readers quickly discover that several years have passed since we last saw Bradshaw. She has adopted 12-year-old Fly Dent, an orphan, is now pregnant, and has moved in with her sister, Ellie, and her young son Solomon in Cambridgeshire. Manon works as a cold case investigator at the local police department. She hopes the change of scenery will bring stability to the family but didn’t consult Fly about the decision.

In London she had “an encroaching fear that he was getting in with the wrong crowd, or possibly that he was the wrong crowd.” Much to his apprehension, Fly hates being the only black kid in town where racial profiling is prevalent; he soon becomes the prime suspect in the murder of his aunt’s ex-boyfriend, Jon-Oliver, a rich London banker. Convinced of her son’s innocence, she conducts her own investigation to uncover the truth behind the killing.

“I can’t leave him here. I can’t . . . someone has to be kind to him. No one’s being kind to him. I was supposed to protect him from stupid adults and look what’s happened.”

Persons Unknown is a gripping and tense, character driven story. It has a complex narrative that keeps the reader captivated and engaged. Susie Steiner effortlessly weaves into the plot a fascinating exposé on social and cultural issues such as race relations and family.

Overall, this an entertaining and absorbing read that strikes all the right chords. The sophisticated and genuine characterizations portrayed in this book series are clearly its greatest strength. Persons Unknown is a complex, exhilarating, and multifaceted murder mystery that includes insightful social and cultural perspectives. Manon Bradshaw is an enchanting protagonist who merits placement among the pantheon of much-loved fictional investigators. A highly recommended read that will definitely excite the most devoted fans of the murder mystery genre.

Michael Thomas Barry's most recent book is In the Company of Evil: Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950–1980. He is the author of six other nonfiction books and is a columnist for CrimeMagazine.com.

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on July 5, 2017 - http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/persons-unknown

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Review of JD Barker's The Fourth Monkey

Author: J.D. Barker
Release date: June 27, 2017
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 416
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Fourth-Monkey-J-D-Barker/dp/0544968840

“Hello, my friend. I am a thief, a murderer, a kidnapper. I’ve killed for fun, I’ve killed out of necessity. I have killed for hate. I have killed simply to satisfy the need that tends to grow in me with the passage of time. A need much like a hunger that can only be quenched by the draw of blood or the song found in a tortured scream . . . Who am I? You most likely know me as the Four Monkey Killer . . . We are going to have so much fun, you, and I.”

For over five years, the Four Monkey Killer has terrorized the residents of Chicago, torturing his victims before he kills them. When he himself is killed in a freak bus accident, police are horrified to learn that at the time of his death the killer was on his way to deliver one final message, which proved he had taken one last victim, who might still be alive.

When lead detective Sam Porter, who is battling his own demons, discovers a diary on the killer’s body, he instinctively knows that the murderer though dead is not finished. With only a handful of clues, the Four Monkey Killer taunts police from beyond the grave. Detective Porter soon finds himself caught in the mind of a psychopath, frantically attempting to decipher the killer’s ramblings in hopes of finding his last victim before it’s too late.

The killer lives by the enigmatic teachings of Confucius’s wise monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, and do no evil. “Should someone see or hear evil, there is little one can do . . . when someone speaks evil, there is fault to be had, but when they do evil . . . well, when they do evil there is no room for forgiveness.”

J. D. Barker’s new novel, The Fourth Monkey is a delightfully twisted and thoroughly engaging crime thriller that takes a spine-tinging peek inside the depraved mind of a serial killer. Barker is the international bestselling author of Forsaken and a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award.

The Fourth Monkey’s plot effortlessly and succinctly alternates between Detective Sam Porter’s investigation and the serial killers diary entries. Porter has been pursuing the FMK for many years and desperately hopes to outmaneuver the deviously clever murderer before time runs out. The killer’s diary entries are terrifying and spellbinding, and outline’s how and why he became a monster.

“Mother brought the knife down into the man’s thigh with such force, the tip clunked as it passed through the leg and struck the concrete floor. He let out another shriek, then began to cry again. I found this to be a little funny. Grown men should never cry. Father told me so. Mother twisted the knife nearly a full turn, then yanked the blade back out. This time there was blood, a lot of blood. A fresh pool began to form under his twitching leg. I couldn’t help but smile . . . it was nice to see him get what he deserved.”

Overall, The Fourth Monkey is a highly recommended and beguiling page-turning thriller that is both disturbing and immensely entertaining. It is filled with creepy atmosphere and plot twists that skirt the bounds of moral ambiguity. The reader must be warned that this is an extremely violent and graphic novel that’s not for the faint of heart. But if that’s your cup of tea, you will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review of Murder in the City: New York, 1910-1920 by Wilfried Kaute

Author: Wilfried Kaute
Release date: June 13, 2017
Pages: 244
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Press
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Murder-City-New-York-1910-1920/dp/1250128692/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497996128&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=murdein+the+city%3A+New+York

Why is society so fearful of crime, but also fascinated by it? Why do the details of a gruesome murder, rape, or other heinous crime hold our attention? We wonder why people kill, and we are intrigued by the ways in which the act is accomplished. For years, psychologists and criminologists have tried to answer these questions, but thus far no one has been able to come up with a solid explanation.

We are both seemingly seduced and repulsed by these taboo acts of rebellion against the morals of society. Every day we are bombarded with crime stories, whether it’s in the newspaper, on television, radio, or our computer. Some of these crimes are inconspicuous and easily forgotten, while others linger forever in our collective memory because they elicit shock and horror.

In the real world, there is in fact a practical duty we share in understanding the means and the motivations for crime. Understanding is necessary for prediction, prevention, and protection. But the popular fascination with homicide goes far beyond the practical. The story lines are a staple of art and literature and a subject for both drama and comedy. The murder mystery is often most compelling when it abandons reality and is framed in fantasy.

There’s an old saying in the news business: If it bleeds, it leads. The nightly news and other media outlets are filled with stories of crime, killing, and sorrow. But here’s the dirty little secret: They wouldn’t show us all that murder and mayhem if we didn’t covertly crave it. Deep down, psychologically, we all want a glimpse of the darker side of humanity but from the safety of our living rooms and recliners.

Wilfried Kaute’s Murder in the City: New York, 1910–1920 is a shocking assortment of photographs and crime scene reports. Unearthed during renovation of the former NYPD headquarters, Murder in the City tells a tragic story through photos of missing persons, pickpockets, shooting victims, gang fights, and botched robberies. The author, who is based in Cologne, Germany, is an award winning documentary cameraman and film producer. This is his first book.

Kaute emphasizes that the photographs used in this book were not taken by trained professional photographers but by amateurs and is an examination of the art of crime scene photography. Kaute further explains, “Crime scene photographs revolutionized policing in New York in the 1910s. This book collects forgotten pictures and newspaper articles from a lost era. By dint of their simple objectivity, these photographs impressively depict the growth of the city. The still ‘gateway to the New World.’ New York in these photographs is on its way to becoming the first real mega-city.”

The images included within this book are intended as purely objective documentation of crimes and offer little to no personal identification of the victims. Combining extensive research in the New York City Department of Records and the Library of Congress, Murder in the City offers a distinctive piece of social history.

Most of the photographs presented in this book are shocking and revolting, while some have a stunning sophistication—this collection of 150 black-and-white photographs presents a rare and thought provoking look into a bygone era. Readers will find themselves repulsively captivated as they gaze upon the dead. The photographs show victims prostrate on sidewalks, stabbed, shot, and butchered in stairwells and bedrooms of tiny apartment buildings, their faces and wounds clearly visible. The causes of death are stated if known.

Yet despite the explicit nature of these photographs, there is a poignant and emotional intimacy portrayed. The deceased’s fragile humanity is clearly visible as they are shown surrounded by valued personal belongings. Overall, Murder in the City serves as an emotionally striking glimpse into New York’s unsavory past. Readers must be warned that the descriptions and images presented within are disturbing, distressing, and gruesomely graphic in nature.

The review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on June 20, 2017 - http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/murder-city

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review of "Magpie Murders" by Anthony Horowitz

Author: Anthony Horowitz
Release date: June 5, 2017
Pages: 300
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Fiction; Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
Buy the book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Magpie-Murders-Novel-Anthony-Horowitz/dp/0062645226/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497284614&sr=8-1&keywords=magpie+murders

The Golden Age of detective novels is almost universally agreed to have occurred between the 1920s and 1930s. The majority of novels of that era were "whodunits" and dozens of authors excelled, most notably Agatha Christie. She is a novelist whose works are rivalled in sales only by the Bible and the complete works of William Shakespeare.

Within her mystery novels are many layers, so many complexities, clues, and red herrings that try as hard as you can to get to the conclusion before the detective, very few people actually succeed. Every Christie fan is familiar with that sense of mounting tension as they approach the climax of one of her novels: the struggle, in particular, to keep one’s eyes from straying too far ahead in case they catch, before they’re meant to, the presiding sleuth’s “And the name of the murderer is . . .”

The Christie reader is, naturally, an armchair detective, a detective by indirect means. They don’t identify with the hero gumshoe but operate independently of him. Shifting the various clues that have been strewn across their path by an author whom they can’t help regard as a murderess by proxy, a designation encouraged by her faintly ghoulish public image, of a bespectacled old dear with an incongruous partiality to homicide. New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz pays homage to the Golden Age of detective mysteries and Agatha Christie in his new novel, Magpie Murders.

“I opened the wine, I unscrewed the salsa. I lit a cigarette. I began to read the book as you are about to. But before you do that. I have to warn you. This book changed my life.” These lines appear near the beginning of the novel and set a chilling and ominous tone.

Present day London: Susan Ryeland, head of fiction at Cloverleaf Books has edited all eight of Alan Conway’s previous crime novels which are set in the 1950s England. These novels feature the unconventional private investigator Atticus Pünd, and Susan looks forward to spending the weekend reading number nine. But when she finishes Magpie Murders, she is both puzzled and troubled to find that there is no final chapter.

Adding mystery to these circumstances, Ryeland soon learns that Conway has committed suicide. But, as she goes in search of the missing chapter, Susan starts to question whether Conway’s death might not have been self-inflicted. After meeting the people in Conway’s complex life, she begins to realize that there are real life parallels between the cantankerous writer’s reality and his fictitious works. How much did Conway copy from that reality in creating his successful mystery series? And how close can Susan get to the facts before she herself is at risk?

While at first glance it might appear that Horowitz has created a new type of detective novel, make no mistake, Magpie Murders is basically a tribute to the classic detective novels of the past. It is obvious that the author found great pleasure in conceiving and writing what is basically a novel within a novel. And while being two mysteries in one, Horowitz has covered two categories. He gives readers of the genre a cliché period style thriller while also paying tribute and celebrating Agatha Christie and turn-back-the-clock detective mysteries of yesteryear.

It is extremely challenging to successfully incorporate two divergent storylines within one novel, but within, Magpie Murders, Horowitz has masterfully navigated this slippery slope. The author of numerous bestselling works that include Trigger Mortis, Moriarty, and The House of Silk, Horowitz has in this new novel created a classic that is filled with old school intrigue, character, and style.
Susan Ryeland is a believable amateur sleuth, and the two mysteries coincide cleverly while Horowitz effortlessly manages to provide the reader with both endings simultaneously.

Horowitz also allows Alan Conway to utilize old time detective skills while using puzzles and cryptic clues as devices in the modern day storyline. What Anthony Horowitz has done here is something very clever and it works very well. It would be nice to see Susan Ryeland return in her own mystery series.

Be warned, those readers who are expecting something new and unique within the detective mystery genre will be greatly disappointed and would be better served if they look elsewhere. Overall, Magpie Murders is an ingenious, twisting tribute to the sleepy English countryside murder and will thoroughly entertain readers of old fashioned detective thrillers.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Review of "Al Capone's Beer Wars" by John J. Binder

Publish Date: June 5, 2017
Pages: 400
Publisher: Prometheus Books

Buy the book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Capones-Beer-Wars-Organized-Prohibition/dp/1633882853

“a wide-ranging and comprehensive interpretation of how mobsters like Al Capone and his associates came to control the criminal rackets . . .”

The City of Chicago during Prohibition and the Roaring ’20s was the apex of excesses, extreme contrasts, and extra ordinary violence. The Windy City was a place where men of questionable morals became extremely wealthy from the sale and smuggling of illegal alcohol, as well as other vices such as prostitution and gambling. Chief among these rising mob personalities was Al Capone.

“Chicago’s Prohibition Beer Wars were a complicated series of conflicts over more than ten years in which the Capone mob was the greatest winner. By the end of the 1930s it dominated the battlefield, leading to the creation of the Chicago Outfit, which controlled Cook County’s underworld . . .”

With few exceptions other than perhaps Jack the Ripper, no historical crime figure has garnered more morbid fascination than mobster Alphonse Gabriel Capone. One of the best-known gangsters of the Prohibition era, Al Capone is still a household name in Chicago and around the world. Although “Scarface” has been dead for over 70 years, his legend still endures mainly because of his bigger-than-life persona. He was a flashy, extremely wealthy, and an outspoken quasi-celebrity who had the audacity to shake-up Chicago’s criminal underworld during the Roaring ’20s.

Why do so many people glamorize mobsters and violent crime? No one holds the Son of Sam or Charles Manson in high regard. So why are Capone and his crime minded cronies seen as mythic figures by the general public? Why are members of the mafia treated more like celebrities than unsavory criminals?

Part of the answer is historical: The glamorization of the mob started with Prohibition. In the early years of the 20th century, mobsters were just small-time hoodlums. Then came the Volstead Act, which outlawed alcohol. One of the side effects was to solidify organized crime and create a real, international organization out of what was, in essence, small criminal groups.

Because Prohibition was hugely unpopular, the men who stood up to it were heralded as heroes, not criminals. It was the start of their image as people who thumbed their noses at bad laws and at the establishment. Even when Prohibition was repealed and the services of the bootleggers were no longer required, that initial positive image stuck.

Books and movies such as Mario Puzo’s The Godfather helped glamorize and communicate the notion that mobsters were men who cared about the happiness of their communities and who lived by their own codes of honor and conduct, impervious to the political whims of the establishment.
In Al Capone's Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago During Prohibition, author John J. Binder examines the turbulent and complete history of organized crime in Chicago. The author of two other books on organized crime, Binder pulls from his vast knowledge of the subject matter for this in-depth study.

A major focus of the book is how the Capone gang—one of 12 major bootlegging mobs in Chicago at the start of Prohibition—gained a virtual monopoly over organized crime in northern Illinois and beyond. The author also describes the fight by federal and local authorities, as well as citizen’s groups against organized crime. In the process, Binder refutes numerous myths and misconceptions related to the Capone gang, other criminal groups, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and other gangland killings.

The end result of Al Capone’s Beer Wars is a wide-ranging and comprehensive interpretation of how mobsters like Al Capone and his associates came to control the criminal rackets during the period. Overall, it is well researched and expertly interprets one of our country’s bloodiest and most colorful time periods. This book will most definitely appeal to true-crime enthusiasts and historians of Prohibition-era crime. It is a fascinating and informative read that would make an excellent addition to any library.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Review of "Murder in Saint-Germain" by Cara Black

Release Date: June 6, 2017
Pages: 336
Publisher: SoHo Crime

Buy the Book: https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Saint-Germain-Aim%C3%A9e-Leduc-Investigation/dp/1616957700/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496768600&sr=8-1&keywords=cara+black

“a complex and seductive page-turner that will not disappoint devoted fans and casual readers of the New York Times bestselling series.”

Paris, July 1999: Private investigator Aimée Leduc is walking though Saint-Germain when she is accosted by Suzanne Lesage, a Brigade Criminelle agent on an elite counterterrorism squad. Suzanne has just returned from the former Yugoslavia, where she was hunting down dangerous war criminals for the Hague.

Back in Paris, Suzanne is convinced she’s being stalked by a ghost: a Serbian warlord she thought she’d killed. She’s suffering from PTSD and her boss thinks she’s imagining things. She begs Aimée to investigate. Is it possible Mirko Vladic could be alive and in Paris with a blood vendetta?

Aimée is already working on a huge case, plus she’s got an eight-month-old baby to take care of. But she can’t say no to Suzanne, to whom she owes a big favor. Aimée chases the few leads, and all evidence confirms Mirko Vladic is dead. It seems that Suzanne is in fact paranoid, perhaps losing her mind—until Suzanne’s team begins to turn up dead in a series of strange and tragic accidents. Are these just coincidences? Or are things not what they seem?

Murder in Saint-Germain is Cara Black’s 17th edition to her wildly successful Aimée Leduc mystery series and is her most exhilarating, unsettling, and complex escapade to date. Each book in the series takes place in another area of Paris; this one takes place in the left banks Sixth Arrondissement of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The quarter has several famous cafés that include the Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore, and the Brasserie Lipp. During the 1940s and 1950s, it was the center of the existentialist movement which is associated with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Saint-Germain is also home to the École des Beaux-Arts, the famed school of fine arts which is a setting for part of the story.

The latest installment of the Aimée Leduc series finds our heroine dodging villains while effortlessly balancing motherhood and her detective agency and scampering across rooftops, slithering through rat infested sewers. She finds herself entangled in two mysteries, one blackmail, the other a thorny plot involving a team in Bosnia and an allegedly dead murderer. As usual, Aimée’s sexiness is in full display as she fights crime and corruption.

“Aimée Leduc’s bare legs wrapped around Benoit’s spine as his tongue traced her ears. His warm skin and musk scent enveloped her. Delicious. Early morning sunlight pooled on her herringbone wood floor.”

As with all of Cara Blacks’ other novels in the series, it is a great joy to experience her obvious and on-going love affair with the City of Light. The stories in this mystery series are chockfull of spine-tingling adventure, and anyone who has ever visited Paris will find familiar sites within every chapter.

“In the early evening, Aimée stepped out onto the narrow street leading away from the Seine. The heat had barley cooled even as the shadows of the seventeenth-century building lengthened. No taxi in sight and a scorching three blocks to the Metro. Forget the bus with traffic at a standstill. Only a ten-minute walk if she hurried through Saint-Germain. But before she could even cross the street, the sky opened. Late July was nothing but heat, showers, and tourists here on the Left bank.”

Murder in Saint-Germain is another superbly sophisticated edition to the long running Aimée Leduc mysteries. Every moment of Aimée Leduc’s life is taken up with pressures and obligations. She is constantly dashing off to face the next challenge, and this makes for a fast paced and white-knuckle read. Overall, it is a complex and seductive page-turner that will not disappoint devoted fans and casual readers of the New York Times bestselling series.