Review of ‘Murder House’

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When the Baxters, newly moved to London, bought the house at 54 Belleview Street, they were ill-prepared for the amount of fixing-up that would be required. They were even less prepared for the body found in one of the boarded up fireplaces.

DCI Isaac Cook and his murder investigation team are then tasked with solving a 30-year-old murder, a challenging case where the witnesses keep dying, and old secrets are well-hidden. Murder House by Phillip Strang is an interesting peek into British social dynamics and police procedure, with plenty of false leads and red herrings that would be an even better mystery if there’d been more showing and less telling. The telling made it a bit of a slog, but on the whole it was rather enjoyable.

I received an advanced review copy of this book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Lucky Catch’

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Lucky O’Toole is the VP of Customer Relations for Babylon, the most over-the-top casino and resort in Vegas, so she’s accustomed to handing problems. Besides, her mother, Mona, formerly the proprietor of a bordello, is now married to Lucky’s boss and father, and is pregnant, which presents its own unique set of problems for her.

With a bunch of chefs with huge egos in town for a competition, and an expensive truffle to be safeguarded, she doesn’t need any more complications. Hah! She should be so lucky.

Her ex, Teddy, shows up wanting a favor, and her current, Jean-Charles Bouclet, is playing games with her. Are you thinking that Lucky’s plate is full? Wrong. A young chef ends up murdered and in one of Jean-Charles’ food trucks, and he’s suddenly incommunicado, and a thousand live turkeys that Mona ordered for Thanksgiving have been delivered and everyone’s looking to Lucky for answers.

Lucky Catch by Deborah Coonts once more takes us into the roiling underbelly of Las Vegas, as Lucky tries to find a killer, retrieve a missing truffle, and keep from strangling her mom. This is Lucky O’Toole at her best; witty, irreverent, and up to her eyeballs in trouble. Coonts knows Vegas, and she has her characters nailed. As usual, you’ll spend as much time laughing as you do cringing. Don’t miss this one.

I received this book as a gift. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Nightscream’

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FBI Agent Cody Thomas takes a week off to return to his hometown of Big Bear to decompress. Jilly Reid left her high-pressure job as a homicide detective in San Bernadino to get away from death and her cheating husband. She returned to Big Bear and became a deputy sheriff, happy in a small town where nothing really bad ever happens. Then, a fisherman makes a frantic 911 call, excitedly explaining that he’s found several women’s bodies attached to cinder blocks at the bottom of the lake.

Suddenly, life in Big Bear takes a turn for the worse as they realize that there’s a serial killer on the loose, and to complicate matters even more, when Cody and Jilly begin investigating the case, the killer puts them in the crosshairs. In the meantime, Cody’s brother and his girlfriend join him in Big Bear, and the girlfriend’s sister is reported to be in the clutches of a suspected pedophile who is angling to get his hands on the sister’s young daughters.

Both cases are time-sensitive, with lives hanging in the balance.

Nightscream by Morgan Hannah MacDonald is the second book in the Thomas Family mystery series. The action is non-stop, and the stakes couldn’t be higher as more women end up dead or mutilated and serious attempts are made on Jilly’s life. The reader is kept in suspense as both perpetrators unfold their fiendish schemes. The ending hits you like a haymaker out of the dark, making this a worthwhile read.

I received a free copy of this book.

Four stars.

Review of ‘The Protector’

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When a social worker is found dead at the bottom of the stairs at her office building with Scrabble letters stuffed in her mouth, Detective Sydney Valentine gets on the case, and the Scrabble letters tell her this is not a normal case. Soon, there are more bodies, a juvenile court judge and a single mother, indicate a sinister tie to child protective services. The case gets even stickier when Sydney and her sister become targets for the killer.

The Protector by Danielle Lenee Davis is the first book in the Sydney Valentine mystery series. A well-plotted story, the narrative is a bit monotonous in places. The characters, though, are extremely well-developed, especially the irreverent Sydney.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give this one three and a half stars.

Review of ‘A Poisonous City’

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When the 81-year-old former head of Amsterdam’s Murder Brigade is found dead, the uncompromising and unconventional DCI Jac Roggeveen and her team are assigned to investigate. When they begin peeling back the murky layers of the victim’s life, they find maggots crawling from the heart of the city, and people in high places who are determined that the truth remain hidden.

A Poisonous City by Markey reveals the dark underbelly of Amsterdam as Jac and her people pursue justice despite overwhelmingly high odds and high-level resistance. This book contains lots of in depth historical information about Amsterdam, and has a fascinating main character, but it is a bit choppy, with more telling than showing. More action and less narration would make it a much better read, as would more back story about Jac, a uniquely intriguing character.

I give it three stars.

Review of ‘Blood Work’

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In 1978, Ted Bundy, one of America’s most vicious serial killers, cut a bloody swath through Florida before he was arrested, convicted, and subsequently executed. Around the same time that Bundy was making his way through Florida toward Alabama, and his date with the executioner, Janet Leigh Lester, had been crowned Miss Valentine in her town pageant and Queen of the high school Sweetheart Dance. On the way to meet her boyfriend, she disappeared, and when her blood-filled car was found, was presumed dead. Prison chaplain John Jordan’s father, Jack, sheriff in a neighboring county was called in to investigate her disappearance because the local sheriff’s son was her boyfriend, and thus, a suspect. Though Jack cleared the boyfriend, and was convinced that Janet was one of Bundy’s victims, decades later, retired and seriously ill, he begins to have second thoughts, and is relentlessly pursuing this coldest of cold cases. Seeking to establish a better relationship; with his often distant father, John agrees to help him investigate.

As the two men begin retracing old leads, they face the unfortunate racial history of this part of Florida, family relationships that are beyond dysfunctional, and a mysterious stranger who is threatening Jack in an effort to get him to drop the investigation.

Blood Work, by award-winning author, Michael Lister, is another chilling and evocative tale in the John Jordan series that will keep you on the edge of your chair from page one. As the two learn more, things come to light that have been kept in the shadows for decades, and finally lead to a conclusion that I will not even hint at in order to avoid spoiling this fascinating book for readers. Suffice it to say, like John, you will be shocked to the core at the ending.

I’ve read several books in this series, and I have to say, this one is the best by far.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Wrong Side of Goodbye’

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After being unfairly pushed out of his job at LAPD, Harry Bosch is doing occasional work as a PI and also as an unpaid reservist with the San Fernando Police Department. When one of the richest men in California hires him to find someone who ‘might never have existed,’ the child of his  relationship with a young Mexican cafeteria worker over fifty years ago, Harry has to balance this with his determination to catch the Screen Cutter, a serial rapist who has been terrorizing women in San Fernando.

Deeply involved in both cases, memories from his past come back to haunt him.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly is a fascinating story with what I like to call a parallel plot; two separate crimes with related elements, both of which bedevil the protagonist as he struggles to sort the clues he uncovers into the appropriate basket. The tension and drama in this story is as thick as L.A.’s smog, and it moves in a dogged pace, suitable for a middle-aged detective, until at the end it breaks into a sprint that will leave you winded.

I received this book as a gift. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Gun for Hire’

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Denver PI Reed Ferguson is asked by his friend Darcy Cranston to talk to her boyfriend who she suspects is cheating on her. When he meets the man, Reed gets the feeling that something is amiss, so he stakes his apartment out to get to the bottom of it, and finds that there is definitely something afoot.

Gun for Hire by Renee Pawlish is a short story about a PI who has a thing for old noir movies and classic rock. It follows Reed as he and his not-too-bright friends, Ace and Deuce, trail the errant boyfriend who has gone out of town with his ex-girlfriend. What they discover, though, is more than just a little action on the side, and is classic Reed Ferguson.

Action, suspense, and humor are the hallmarks of this series, and it’s all in this story. It doesn’t add anything new to a fan’s knowledge of the hero, but makes for entertaining light reading.

This one is good, but not one of the author’s best. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Pursuit’

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Doc is a professional hit man for the Organization. He has a contract to find and kill renegade politician Paul Bradley, but he has a problem; half the Organization wants Bradley dead, but half, led by his brother Jimmy want him interrogated. As Doc struggles with his confusing mission, the bodies start piling up. As if he doesn’t have enough problems, Doc has to deal with the women in his life. One is his ex-wife, and the other is Connie, a tough gal who is withholding information about Bradley from him. His solution would be to kill them, but Doc has never even hit a woman, much less killed one. In the meantime, Bradley has taken up dog racing and he leads everyone on a merry chase until the big race of the season when everyone comes together in an explosive and bloody encounter.

Pursuit by John McAllister is a complex novel. It gives us a look at events as they unfold through the eyes of a number of characters. The main two characters, though, are Doc and Jimmy who struggle with their positions within the Organization and issues of mutual trust. Seldom have I liked a story where the principal characters are bad guys, but these two are a notable exception. They demonstrate that even the bad guys can sometimes have redeeming character traits.

If you like British mystery, even though this story is set in Ireland, you’ll like Pursuit.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Promise You Won’t Tell’

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PI Dani Ripper has a crazy list of clients, which is okay because Dani’s a bit on the wacky side herself. She’s just waiting for the perfect case, when 17-year-old high school student, Wiley Freeman comes to her office claiming that something might have happened to her at a sleepover she attended at a friend’s house.

Dani takes the case pro bono, and finds herself up to her eyeballs in the strangest case she’s ever had.

Promise You Won’t Tell by John Locke is a wacky mystery that follows along as Dani turns over rock after rock, uncovering dirty laundry and secrets aplenty, with an ending that will smack you between the eyes like a Louisville slugger.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘The 11:05 Murders’

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Chief Inspector Jim Sheehan has just welcomed a new detective to his major crimes unit, Woman Police Sergeant Denise Stewart. The first case Stewart has to work on is a banker, murdered and mutilated at 11:05 on a Tuesday evening. The victim wasn’t popular, so there’s a long list of possible suspects. When a second victim dies later under identical circumstances, the list of suspects grows. Sheehan and Stewart, as they winnow through the list, find a possible link of a 12-year-old case of a female student who committed suicide, and with a third identical murder their situation becomes not just confusing, but perilous.

The 11:05 Murders by Brian O’Hare is mystery-thriller at its best. The reader is given tons of clues, some valid, some red herrings, and enough tension and threat to satisfy the most voracious action junkie. Step-by-plodding step, Sheehan and Steward uncover a vicious and cunning psychopath in a most satisfying conclusion.

I received a free copy of this book.

This one’s a slam-dunk five stars.

Review of ‘Shadows Over Summer Starlight’

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Summer Starlight was a popular boy band, but they’ve fallen on hard times. They’re working on a new release, in the hopes that it will cause their star to rise again, but when one of the band members is found dead of an apparent drug overdose in a club, the record label owner hires former police detective, now PI, Jaxon Shadeaux, to confirm that the death was a suicide. At first reluctant to take on such a high-profile case, Jaxon finally agrees, thinking it will give him an opportunity to connect better with his nineteen-year-old daughter, Jackie, a rabid fan of the band.

When two more members of the band end up dead, and another is arrested for the murders, Jaxon realizes that someone is picking them off one by one.

Shadow Over Summer Starlight by Thomson Woods is a compelling story. Clues are fairly skillfully planted, with lots of red herrings to keep Jaxon and the reader guessing. The ending is okay, but goes on longer than necessary, taking away from the suspense. Worse, though, the grammar and prose of the book shows a decided lack of line editing and proofreading, which detracts significantly from the reading experience.

The author shows a reasonable amount of skill in plotting and pacing, but really needs a better editor to ensure a professional-looking final product. I liked the premise of the book, but the execution left me cold.

I don’t normally give a book, even a first book, less than three or three and a half stars, but I’m afraid I can only give this one two stars. With more editing, or a general rewrite to correct the grammatical gaffes, this could be a really good book.

Review of ‘Operation Tropical Affair’

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A few weeks into her field training, US Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Poppy McVie busts a couple of bear poachers in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In the midst of that operation, she’s called by her boss and told that she’s being reassigned. Her new assignment; go undercover in Costa Rica with a special operations team already in place to bust an animal trafficking ring.

In Costa Rica, Poppy has to deal with Special Agent Dalton—just call me Dalton—who is wary of having an untested female agent assigned to the operation, even though her cover is as his wife. It doesn’t help matters that they’re attracted to each other, Even worse, Poppy finds herself drawn to an animal rights activist who is after the same illegal operation for his own purposes.

Operation Tropical Affair by Kimberli A. Bindschatel is well-written thriller that takes a deep dive into the illegal animal trafficking business, while at the same time giving the reader a close-up view into the emotions of the characters. Masterfully plotted, with lots of action, this is that rare message novel, it gets the message across without preaching, and it entertains. This author knows  her stuff.

Five stars for an entertaining read.

Review of ‘Lucky Bastard’

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As the newly promoted vice president of customer relations for her father’s casino, Babylon, Lucky O’Toole hasn’t encountered a problem she couldn’t solve. Then, the body of a young woman is found in the casino’s on-site auto dealership with a stiletto heel embedded in her throat. Paxton Dane, a PI and so-so friend, is suspect number one, especially when he announces that the dead woman is his wife.

Lucky Bastard by Deborah Coonts is another tour de force featuring our six-foot tall, fashion and relationship-challenged heroine as she tries to track down the killer—afraid that Dane is her man. When two more corpses turn up, one, an apparent heart attack on one of Babylon’s private planes and the other a cyanide poisoning of one of the casino managers in the car park, the hunts up, and Lucky becomes one of the killer’s targets.

Coonts knows Las Vegas, and she apparently knows the characters who dwell therein, because she writes about them with a ring of authority and authenticity. Like a carnival barker, she knows how to get you to ‘step right up’ to see the action, and she doesn’t let you go until she’s wrung the last bit of curiosity out of you.

I received this book as a gift. Oh, and I give it five stars.

Review of ‘A Mighty Fortress’

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Iraq War veteran Milo Porter is a PI in Tampa, Florida. He does routine process serving work by day and coaches a powerlifting team for his girlfriend’s brother at night. One Sunday, a local lawyer asks him to deliver a summons to the grandson of a powerful mobster. He doesn’t normally work on Sunday, but for $6,000 he’s willing to make an exception.

The summons isn’t easy to deliver, but Milo manages. And then, the mobster’s kin is found dead, and his grandfather wants someone’s head—Milo’s will do. As he tries to find out who did the killing and why, he learns that the only crooks worse than the mob are the police.

A Mighty Fortress by S. D. Thames is the first book in the Milo Porter mystery series, and a promising start it is. The lead character has flaws, like any good PI, but is principled and never gives an inch where those principles are concerned. The author has provided an interesting supporting cast of characters; a girlfriend who can lift more weight than the hero, and a sidekick who is a cable guy. The setting, Florida’s vacationland, is painted in stark colors—this is not ‘Miami Vice’—and the action moves at a varied pace, sometimes slow and languid like the flight of a heron over a placid pool, and sometimes as fast as the strike of a Timber rattler.

This series is going places.

Five stars.

Review of ‘Sam’s Song’

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Cardiff-based private enquiry agent, Samantha ‘Sam’ Smith is, like many independent PI’s, struggling to make it. When she’s hired by the agent of a pop star to identify a stalker the star claims is hounding her, she takes the job only because she needs the money. Then, a muck-raking journalist who was also the pop star’s former lover is killed, and her current lover is the main suspect, she’s asked to prove him innocent. As if she doesn’t have enough problems, her abusive ex-husband pops back into her life.

Sam’s Song by Hannah Howe is a fast-paced mystery. It follows Sam as she gets caught up in high-level shenanigans that threaten her very life. Filled with pop culture references and earthy action, this is a fairly good page turner.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Laying Ghosts’

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Selkie Moon is in a controlling relationship; her husband, Andrew, even has a tracking app on her phone to monitor where she goes when he’s not around, and almost forbids her leaving the house when he’s not with her. But, when she gets a text from a long-lost friend, ‘Help me at Crystal Cottage. Rina’ she ignores Andrew’s instructions. Her parting with Marina Palivanova, after a traumatic social event at Crystal Cottage that ended their long-time friendship, brings back memories of that dreadful evening. At the cottage, a storm leaves her isolated all night. The next morning, when rescuers arrive and assess the storm damage, they find a skeleton under an uprooted tree. Selkie fears that it is Rina, killed by Frank, her abusive lover, but the skeleton is male, which raises some interesting, but macabre, possibilities.

Laying Ghosts by Virginia King is a short prequel to the Selkie Moon mystery series that introduces a character with a trouble past, and stories that combine mystery with the mystic in a way that is sure to grab your attention. This little appetizer certainly whetted my appetite for the main course of the author’s next books.

Five stars.

Review of ‘Spider Silk’

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Sheriff Henry ‘Bud’ Blair has a cushy job; high-sheriff in a small town in Oregon’s high desert, his main task is to chase down cattle rustlers and deal with domestic disputes. When a local rancher is found dead near his barn, it’s treated as an accident, but when Bud examines the scene, and later sees the autopsy report, he knows it was no accident. Then another local, a man with a known hot temper, is arrested and confesses to the crime, Bud is suspicious. He’s certain that someone other than his prisoner is the actual murderer.

Spider Silk by Rod Collins is a neatly-done police procedural, with evocative descriptions of the lush countryside, and in-depth portrayals of the characters. The author keeps you in suspense as Bud and his department track down clue after clue until they get to the truth. A modern-day Western/Mystery that ranks among the very best I’ve read in a long time.

I give Collins five stars for this one.

Review of ‘Maui Widow Waltz’

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When rich and spoiled mainland socialite, Lisa Marie Prescott, walked into Pali Moon’s ‘Let’s Get Maui’d’ wedding shop and asked Pali to plan a wedding, despite the fact that the groom-to-be had been missing at sea for over a week, Pali’s first inclination was to decline. But, with the unrelenting rain putting a damper on business, Pali’s having trouble paying her bills, and an unscrupulous real estate dealer has his eyes on her business. Principles are fine, but a person has to eat, so Pali takes the job.

Things get hinky when she learns that the bride’s father is a gangster who owns a lucrative trash business, and that trash is not the only thing he disposes of, and then the stand-in for the missing groom, his business partner, is found dead, washed up on the beach. Pali is a wedding planner, not a detective, but it looks like the cops aren’t making any headway in solving either case. Pali is left holding the bag, and a lot of unpaid bills. What’s a wedding planner to do? Why, solve the case and help put the bad guys—or gals—away.

Maui Widow Waltz by JoAnn Bassett is the first book in the Islands of Aloha mystery series. I’d previously read one of the later books in the series, and was thoroughly amused and entertained by it, so I opened this one with the expectation to be similarly engaged. I was not disappointed. Pali and her weird assortment of friends are just engaging in the premiere issue as in later issues, and as a bonus I got to learn more about our heroine. The author writes about Hawaii like someone who knows the islands well, and makes the people and place come alive.

A really good mystery is one that can be read in one sitting, because once you start, you can’t put it down until it’s finished. This one fits the bill.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘Doom Murders’

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When the nude and mutilated body of the Bishop of the Diocese of Down and Conner is found in his office, DCI Jim Sheehan is puzzled. Except for what appears to be stage props and a strange carving of a letter and a string of numbers carved into the victim’s desk, there are no clues, and no evidence linking the crime to anyone. As more bodies start appearing, all posed in grotesque positions and each with another letter/numbers nearby, Sheehan begins to suspect there is a link among the victims—he’s just not able to determine what it is. With the help of a monsignor, a colleague of the first victim, he learns that the numbers relate to biblical passages, and are somehow tied to a famous doom painting of the Last Judgment in a Paris museum. Now, the clock is ticking, and Sheehan must identify and apprehend the killer before more people die.

Doom Murders by Brian O’Hare is a well-crafted mystery; the locked-room genre that British authors do so well, set in the religious and political atmosphere of Northern Ireland. The author keeps the tension level high, and invests the characters with personal goals beyond the mere solving of a mystery, that will keep the reader guessing until the unexpected end. Sharp-witted readers will probably guess the identity of the killer just before the author reveals it—I did, but was still unsure until the name was dropped.

A fascinating story that weaves history, culture, and personal angst in with the mechanics of the crime very well, and that will keep you turning pages and guessing throughout.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give O’Hare four stars for this first book in a promising series.