Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Review of "The Sixth Victim" by Tessa Harris

book cover of 

The Sixth Victim

Release Date: May 30, 2016
Publisher: Kensington Books
Pages: 304
Buy the book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Sixth-Victim-Constance-Piper-Mystery/dp/1496706544/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496189904&sr=8-1&keywords=tessa+harris

The Whitechapel district of London’s East End in the latter decades of the 19th century was a popular place for immigrants and the poor working class. During the late summer and fall of 1888 its foggy lanes became the nighttime hunting ground of one of history’s most notorious serial killers, Jack the Ripper. No woman was safe.

“There’s blood in the air. Again. They’ve got the scent of it in their nostrils and they’re following it, like wolves honing in for the kill. Only the killing’s already done. It’s the third in a month here, in Whitechapel, and the second in little more than a week and everyone’s in a panic.”

Flower girl Constance Piper is not immune to dread, but she is more preoccupied with her own strange experiences of late. Clairvoyants seem to be everywhere these days. But are such powers real? And could Constance really be possessed of second sight? She longs for the wise counsel of her mentor and champion of the poor, Emily Tindall, but the kind missionary has gone missing.

Following the latest grisly discovery, Constance is contacted by a high-born lady of means who fears the victim may be her missing sister. She implores Constance to use her clairvoyance to help solve the crime, which the press is calling "the Whitechapel Mystery," attributing the murder to Jack the Ripper. As Constance becomes embroiled in intrigue far more sinister than she could have imagined, assistance comes in a startling manner that profoundly challenges her assumptions about the nature of reality. She'll need all the help she can get—because there may be more than one depraved killer out there.

Tessa Harris is the acclaimed author of the Dr. Thomas Silkstone Mysteries, which includes Secrets in the Stones and The Anatomist’s Apprentice. In her new novel, The Sixth Victim, Harris delves into “Ripper” lore with the first rendering of the Constance Piper Mystery series.

The novel is set in 1888 as Jack the Ripper has just begun his reign of terror. The storyline alternates between two perspectives, Constance’s and Emily’s. Constance lives in Whitechapel and comes from a poor family; she and her sister make money by stealing from the rich. Emily Tindall is from a good background; she is a Sunday school teacher and has taken Constance under her wing, teaching her to read and showing her a life far removed from her own.

Although The Sixth Victim shadows the murders of Jack the Ripper, the main story is Constance’s search for Emily who seems to have gone missing and how her psychic abilities slowly, and much to her astonishment, grow. Constance is also approached by a lady from the upper classes who fears her sister has been victim of the “Ripper.” The lady asks for Constance’s help in solving the mystery.

With The Sixth Victim, Harris has managed to create a very colorful and sometimes horrifying image of Whitechapel, showing a stark distinction between the lives of the less-fortunate residents of London’s East End to that of the more well-to-do who live in the grand houses and hotels of London. It was easy to imagine the sights and sounds of the area and understand why the women of that time lived in constant fear.

“This may be swanky Piccadilly, where the ladies and gents dress up to the nines, and it could be a million miles away from Whitechapel, but still heart’s beating twenty to the dozen and my mouth’s dry as sandpaper. Bold as brass they were, all cocky and brave. And they can be, ’cos they’re not the ones he’s after. He’s after girls and women who work on the streets. The ones who are out at night, drinking their gin by the gill, so they don’t feel the pain as much; so they don’t have to think on what they’ve become.”

In the Author’s Notes at the beginning of the novel, Harris admits that she is not an expert in “Ripperology” and readily concedes to being an amateur in the field of Jack the Ripper studies. She also states that she has “no wish to contribute to any debate as to the identity of the killer, or killers, in Whitechapel of the late 1800s.” She declares that her purpose in writing this book was “purely to explore the grisly episodes in a fictitious context.”

Overall, The Sixth Victim is well written and will most definitely satisfy readers who enjoy historical fiction and murder mystery. Be warned, if you aren’t into gory descriptions of Ripper style murders this probably isn’t the book for you.

In general, the characters have significant layers of complexity and humor. They are well formed and realistic, and the plot comes together in a logical manner. Constance, the main character, is courageous, moral, curious, and keen to better herself. She’s an amateur sleuth with psychic capabilities who has lots of potential to carry the series forward.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review of "The Scholl Case: The Deadly End of a Marriage" by Anja Reich-Osang

The Scholl Case

Author: Anja Reich-Osang
Release Date: May 16, 2017
Publisher: Text Publishing
Pages: 208

In December 2011, a corpse was found in a forested area near Ludwigsfelde, a tiny and quiet village south of Berlin, Germany. The body was hidden between pine trees and covered with leaves. The victim was Brigitte Scholl, the 67-year-old wife of Ludwigsfelde’s former mayor. Three weeks later, the police arrested and charged the victim’s husband Heinrich Scholl with murder. On the surface, the Scholls appeared to be happy, but behind closed doors there were many secrets.

In 2012, Heinrich Scholl was found guilty of his wife’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. Yet to friends and neighbors this was a shock. How could this soft spoken and well respected man have committed such a heinous act? He had been one of the most successful mayors of East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Award winning author and journalist Anja Reich-Osang followed the trial and was given unprecedented access to Heinrich Scholl. In her new book, The Scholl Case: The Deadly End of a Marriage, she attempts to delve into the minds of the Scholls.

Reich-Osang writes, “Heinrich Scholl had assembled trucks in Ludwigsfelde automobile works and made chairs for East Germany’s state circus. When the wall fell, he became involved in local politics, helping to found social democracy in Brandenburg, and was soon one of the most successful politicians of the new federal states. Like the country, he reinvented himself. His life seemed symbolic . . . But what price did he pay for his ascent? What temptations did he withstand . . . ?” And what had happened to his marriage in the almost twenty years in which he transformed Ludwigsfelde into a flourishing place of business?”

The Scholl Case is a terribly sad story that outlines the anguishes of an unhappy marriage. The history of their 40-plus year marriage is told as bluntly as possible, partly because the author is intent on uncovering the facts. She peels back the layers of deception covering the couple’s seemingly normal life and reveals not merely who committed the crime, but the more intriguing question of why the crime was committed.

But there’s a paradox at the center of The Scholl Case. The author seems to respond to the story with disappointment, and her lackluster dramatization of the details of the murder seems to generate only a sense of wonder from the author. Because she is not able to articulate her own feelings about the case, the story takes on an air of diluted lameness.

In the end, The Scholl Case is a sordid tale of sex, lies, politics, and a marriage in which nothing was as it appeared. It is most certainly not a typical true crime book and whether or not it can be truly labeled as nonfiction is debatable. This could be due to its translation; it is more a mixture between historical fiction and crime thriller, although the main focus is on the history of both the mayor and his wife rather than the murder case. Reich-Osang makes no judgment on his guilt or innocence and this leaves the reader to come to their own conclusions.

Despite these minor flaws The Scholl Case is well written and a worthwhile read. It will most certainly satisfy those readers who enjoy the combination of the psychology of marriage and true crime.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Review of "The Girl Who Knew Too Much" by Amanda Quick

Anna Harris is the private secretary to wealthy New York socialite, Helen Spencer and for the past year has lived a fast paced life filled with glitter and glamour. This lifestyle is horrifyingly shattered when she stumbles upon the body of her boss, who has been brutally stabbed to death.

“There was blood everywhere in the elegant, white-on-white boudoir. It soaked the dead women’s silver satin evening gown and the carpet beneath her body.”

A menacing warning, “Run,” has been written with victim’s own blood on the wall, and in that moment she knows that the idyllic life she has been living was a deception. Fleeing the scene, she drives across country to Los Angeles, where she attempts to find peace and security. She changes her name to Irene Glasson, which she thinks has a “Hollywood ring to it” and accepts a position as a cub reporter at Whispers, a small tabloid newspaper.

Her quiet life is shattered when murder follows her west. A hot lead about a lured affair between up-and-coming actor, Nick Tremayne and starlet Gloria Maitland takes Irene to the lavish and private Burning Cove Hotel, 100 miles north of Los Angeles.

Arriving for the midnight appointment, Irene finds her source, Gloria Maitland, dead at the bottom of a pool. Once again she finds herself fleeing the scene of a murder, but this time Irene is determined to prove the drowning was not an accident. She partners with Oliver Ward, formerly a famous magician and now the mysterious owner of the hotel to discover why this woman may have been silenced. Seeking the truth, they both soon learn that the glamorous paradise hides dark and dangerous secrets.
“And that past, always just out of sight, could drag them both down.”

Amanda Quick (Jayne Ann Krentz, who also writes as Jayne Castle), has written more than 50 New York Times bestselling novels. In her newest release, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Quick transports readers back to the golden age of Hollywood and through clever plot twists unmasks the gritty realities that hide behind tinsel town’s glitzy facades.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much is a solid murder mystery, although not one of Quick’s best efforts. It is ripe with details and dialogue. Its short chapters accelerate the story forward at breakneck speed. Main protagonists, Irene and Oliver, are amiable but aren’t easy to attach to. Both are complex characters, so it takes some time to get to know each of them. There are several confusing storylines and trying to keep track of it all is not always easy. Some of the villains you know right away and some are surprising.

Nonetheless, The Girl Who Knew Too Much is a fun, spunky, read that contains plenty of simmering sexual chemistry, which will most definitely satiate the most ardent fans of Amanda Quick. Although it’s a little bit anti-climactic once it’s over, lovers of romantic historical murder mysteries will enjoy the suspense, characters, and atmosphere of old Hollywood.