Review of ‘Ten Guilty Men’

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When an anonymous call leads police to a house where they find the body of famous photographer and notorious socialite, Ellis DeLange, DCI David Morton is assigned to investigate the case. With his serious crime unit, he begins to delve into the woman’s background, and the more he digs, the murkier it gets. The case includes just about everything but the kitchen sink; several people with opportunity, but no motive; people with motive, but no opportunity that he can see, a pretend lord, and a strange man seen leaving the premises in the middle of the night, completely nude.

Morton has to deal with all this, and the attendant publicity that such a high-profile case attracts, along with problems within his team, including one detective who, because of a stroke, has communication problems. Clues pile up, problems pile up, but bit by bit, Morton and his team whittle the list of suspects down to two, both with motive and opportunity, but which one did the crime—or, were they working together.

You will enjoy Ten Guilty Men by Daniel Campbell and Sean Campbell. It has suspense, it has humor, and it has a modicum of excitement—well, it is British mystery, and unlike their American counterparts, car chases and shootouts aren’t a staple of good mysteries. If you like well-rounded, but ultimately flawed, characters, tight plots, and good pacing, you’ll like the DCI Morton series.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘The Babbling Brook Naked Poker Club: Book One’

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When Josephine Bartlett’s husband was alive, he controlled every penny she spent—or, tried to—and, when he died, he left everything under the control of her son, Jeff, who was just as controlling as his father, going so far as to move her into Brookshire Retirement Community and selling her house. Josephine chafes at the environment, and has few friends, except for a crew that has roped her into a regular card game, which she, in a moment of madness, suggests be strip poker—with stories told rather than clothing removed.

When she and her friends discover that the community handyman, Eddie, is ripping people off, they investigate, and find that even bigger thefts are occurring. Unwillingly at first, Josephine befriends, Devi, a young woman who works there and who is being pursued by Eddie, and together they begin to piece together what’s really going on. The closer they get to the truth, the more danger they find themselves in, until the perps are finally all unmasked, to everyone’s surprise.

The Babbling Brook Naked Poker Club: Book One by Ann Warner is a hilarious cozy mystery featuring an unforgettable cast of characters. The author walks readers through the crime and its resolution quite smartly, taking little side trips along the way that fully explain each character’s motivation. I particularly liked the way she alternated character viewpoints to keep the mystery quotient high, while at the same time, providing information that would be impossible or forces if done from only one point of view.

I laughed all the way through this book. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘TheTables Have Turned’

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Lorna Tymchuk, a PR Strategist, has a secret, one that she must keep from her fiancé Mitch Morgan, an undercover cop, for fear that he might have to arrest h er. When a neighbor and friend is murdered, Lorna is framed for it, and Mitch learns that the murder and his insurance fraud investigation are linked, they must come to grips with their feelings for each other.

The Tables Have Turned by Lori Power is a powerful romantic mystery, with a strong, independent female principal character arrayed against a powerful male character, and neither Lorna nor Mitch are prepared to take prisoners in their quest for justice and truth. Well plotted with a diverse cast of characters, and a deft job at foreshadowing and dropping clues that wary readers will pick up—at least, some of them. There are a few surprises awaiting, though, in this story that I prefer to categorize as a mystery. I mainly just skip the romance parts—just kidding. This author knows her stuff, and she makes even those move the story along rather than just being bodice-ripping diversions.

I received an advance review copy of this book, and I recommend it for romance and mystery fans.

I give her four stars for this one.

Review of ‘Dog Gone Lies’

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Former sheriff Ray Pacheco, now retired, has decided to take up fishing to pass the time. Ignorant of the activity, he seeks help, and finds it in the guise of Big Jack, a bait shop owner and sometimes philosopher, and Tyee Chino, an Apache fishing guide who is drunk most of the time. Around the same time, a show dog shows up at Ray’s house, but its owner is missing. Anxious to return the dog to its owner, he goes looking for the missing woman. When corpses start turning up, Ray realizes that this is more than a simple missing persons case, and he enlists Big Jack and Chino in a quest that pits him against the local sheriff, the mayor, and the FBI.

Dog Gone Lies by Ted Clifton is the first book in a new series, but the character, Ray Pacheco was first introduced in an earlier book, when he helped bring down a crooked sheriff, so in actuality, this is a second book—but, let’s not quibble. The interplay between and among the characters, especially Ray, Chino, and Big Jack, and the subtle dance that goes on between Ray and Sue, a waitress at his favorite diner stand out for me as undeniably the best parts of the book. The action’s not bad, and Bruce, or Happy, as Ray calls him, even though he’s just a dog, is a scene stealer.

Small-town law enforcement and small-town culture form the backdrop for what promises to be an interesting series.

I give Clifton four stars for this one.

Review of ‘The Friday Edition’

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When reporter Samantha Church’s sister Robin plunges to her death the police rule it suicide, but Samantha is not convinced. She’s certain her sister was murdered. When she begins receiving strange text messages to that effect, she’s determined to find out who did it. Her sister, an assistant DA, was working on a big drug smuggling case, and Samantha’s convinced that’s why she was killed. But, in order to find the killer, she has to face a vicious drug cartel as well as her own addiction to alcohol, an addiction that has already cost her a job, her marriage, and loss of custody of her daughter. Determined to avenge her sister and rebuild her life, she sets out to conquer every demon in her path—but, the demons are close to home; hiding in plain sight.

The Friday Edition by Betta Ferrendelli is the first book in the Samantha Church mystery series. Featuring a heroine who is decidedly unheroic and almost fatally flawed, it moves along with the speed of an Indy racer and the force of an 18-wheeler to a stunning climax that you won’t have anticipated. While some of the police procedures seem a bit off, even for a small town, you’ll be so engrossed with Samantha and her challenges, you might not even notice.

A satisfying read.

I give it four stars.



Review of ‘Bluegrass Undercover’

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Cade Davies, an ex-SF soldier, a science teacher and assistant football coach at the high school in his home town, is pressed into service as head coach when the incumbent resigns. Faced with having to learn how to be a head coach and rebuild the inexperienced team, he finds that some of his players are probably using performance enhancing drugs that endanger their lives.

Annie Blake is a buxom, gorgeous DEA agent with anger management issues, who is reassigned to work undercover in Keeneston, KY to bust the ring that’s selling this new, and highly dangerous drug. Before anyone accuses me of sexism, this description of Annie is important, because it plays a key part in the story that unfolds.

Cade and Annie meet when she steps between him and a student who’s about to take a swing at him, thinking he needs her to defend him. Their relationship takes a downhill turn from there, until they learn each other’s backgrounds—and, helped immeasurably by Cade’s family and everyone else in town determined to get him married off, along with his other (single) brothers. His mother despairs that his younger sister will be the first of her children to marry.

Along with this sometimes-hilarious matchmaking, Cade and Annie have to contend with a blood-thirsty drug gang that won’t hesitate to kill one or both of them to keep them from interfering with an extremely lucrative trade. Behind all this is a mysterious mastermind, who is even more bloodthirsty than the clumsy thugs sent to intimidate Cade and Annie.

By turns funny and scary, Bluegrass Undercover, book one in the Bluegrass Brothers series by Kathleen Brooks is a perfect book to read on a rainy day. When the weather’s gloomy, this is just the tonic you need to brighten your mood.

I give Brooks four stars for this one.

Review of ‘Death on Demand’

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Edwin Murphy, editor of The Impartial, is a driven man who devotes more time to his career than his family. When his wife files for divorce and threatens to take their daughter to New York, and his American editor fires him because of declining ad revenue, Edwin decides it’s time to rid himself of at least one of his problems. He concocts a convoluted plan involving the dark web to have his wife killed. That murder, however, leads to the necessity of others in order to effectively cover his tracks, so he orchestrates a series of killings that have Inspector David Morton, head of London’s Murder Investigation Unit puzzled. Everyone who has a motive for any of the killings has an iron-clad alibi, and none of the victims are related.

Dead on Demand, by Sean Campbell and Daniel Campbell is book one in the DCI Morton series, with a most convoluted plot as Edwin matches with David, London’s top cop when it comes to solving crimes. As the bodies pile up, though, and David faces the reality that his age is beginning to pose a handicap to his desire to avoid desk duty, the stakes get higher.

The authors, even though, the brains behind the killings is known from the beginning, do a good job of keeping the reader in suspense. The ending, I promise you, will come as a complete surprise.

I give the authors four stars for this one.

Review of ‘A Still and Silent Sea’

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When she was 12, Gracie Stratis’ father, Roger, took her and her 4-year-old brother, Russell, on an archeological dig in Scotland. The dig unearthed some ancient Viking artifacts, including a striking cross with a dragon motif that seemed to speak to Gracie.

When Russell’s nurse and one of the workmen on the site steal the artifacts, and kidnap Russell, Gracie can’t get her father to pay attention. So, the intrepid soul that she is, she sets out to rescue Russell and retrieve the artifacts herself.

A Still and Silent Sea by A.S. A. Durphy is a prequel to the Gracie Stratis detective series that introduces Gracie and provides a lot of the background information that explains some of the more arcane elements of the series.

A short read, it’ll keep you turning pages until the end.

I give this one five stars. It was a fascinating read.

Review of ‘A Wolf by the Ears’

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When you grab a wolf by the ears, you can’t hang on and you can’t let go. Gracie Stratis, former diplomatic security agent, now private eye, is still recovering from her wounds, and is trying to impress her new boss, PI Walker Wuhl. A client, Zach McClung, walks in and says he’s being framed by his boss for something he didn’t do.

Gracie and Walker take the case, but their biggest challenge will be keeping their client alive long enough so he can pay their fee. He’s being chased by a pair of color-coded assassins and their henchmen, who are more than willing to include the two PIs in their body count. They want something Zack has innocently taken, but he’s given it to Gracie, and, while she wants to get rid of it, she knows that she can’t.

A Wolf by the Ears by A.S. A. Durphy is the second offering in the Gracie Stratis mystery series, and it’s noir fiction at its best. Witty dialogue, hard-bitten action, and bad guys you just love to jeer at.  On top of all that, you’re treated to a heroine who is a take-no-prisoners, kick-butt, bundle of neuroses who talks to ghosts. What more could you ask for?

I received a free copy of this book. I give this one five stars!

Review of ‘Lucky Break’

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It’s Christmas in Las Vegas, and everyone is happy. Lucky O’Toole is engaged to be married to Jean-Luc, the head chef in her new hotel, which is slated for opening. Life couldn’t be better. But, if there’s one thing Lucky can depend on, it’s that when things are looking good, trouble is lurking just around the corner.

Her ex-boyfriend, Teddy, is back, and he has problems, which only get worse when he’s found in Jean-Luc’s kitchen with a bloody knife in his hand, and the body of one of his competitors on the floor. Is he guilty? Lucky doesn’t think so, but she has to prove it. As if that’s not problem enough, she learns that her old nemesis is out of jail and looking for revenge.

Lucky Break by Deborah Coonts is another high-octane adventure featuring the unlikely heroine, Lucky O’Toole, with Sin City as the backdrop. The author keeps everyone, Lucky included, guessing for the first half of the book, and ducking for cover for the rest. One of the best books in this series, and one that you should definitely not miss.

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

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.