Tag Archives: Cold Tuscan Stone

Beware of the Poisoned Pen

Books from the Poisoned Pen Press – Variety Abounds

Avoidable Contact

Avoidable Contact: A Kate Reilly Mystery by Tammy Kaehler (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 296 pages)

We’re plunged into the world of Daytona endurance racing from the very first page. Avoidable Contact is the third book in author Kaehler’s Kate Reilly mystery series. Readers are quickly introduced to 38 characters within the first 52 pages! A sense of urgency surrounds Kate whether it’s on the track as an endurance driver in a 24-hour race at the Daytona International Speedway or behind the scenes with the pit crews and groupies.

Kate’s not-so-secret boyfriend Stuart is the victim of a hit-and-run just hours before the big race is scheduled to start. The circumstances are cloudy and not at all typical of Stuart’s usual behavior. Naturally, Kate plunges in to figure out what actually happened. While the sleuthing is somewhat choppy, the real entertainment in the book lies in the actual race descriptions.

Once Kate begins her stint at the wheel of the Sandham Swift Corvette in the 24-hour endurance race, her cinematic description of the action feels authentic. A graphic of the racecourse is a helpful reference for the reader. The missing piece is a chart of the teams and characters.

Recommended for race fans.

Death in the Dolomites

Death in the Dolomites: A Rick Montoya Italian Mystery by David P. Wagner (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 229 pages)

The square had begun to fill with the late afternoon crowd, many wearing ski outfits but shuffling about in soft, puffy boots or sturdy street shoes. The tall streetlamps had come to life, their yellow light picking up the flakes as they fell to the ground.

The dust jacket of this charming book depicts the icy blue Italian mountain town where Rick Montoya has gone with his buddy Flavio Caldaro for a winter ski vacation. The banter between these fellows is engaging as they scope out the lovely ladies of the town. The setting and season are perfect for reading in winter.

The two men met in college at the University of New Mexico years earlier. Rick is a translator and the book contains many Italian words and phrases. Flavio is a wine merchant and Rick loves good Italian food. The reader will crave the fine dining experiences artfully depicted in Wagner’s near-poetic writing.

Rick is a likeable fellow whose adventures were introduced in Wagner’s debut mystery, Cold Tuscan Stone. As with the earlier book, this one is a clever missing person/murder puzzle that he’s determined to solve even if he is on vacation. A missing American banker is Rick’s main concern. The local police and Rick’s uncle, a Roman police inspector are the official investigators; however, we know who will crack the case!

Well recommended.

Desert Rage

Desert Rage: A Lena Jones Mystery by Betty Webb (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 402 pages)

For a change of location and a definite change in attitude there’s Desert Rage, the eighth book in author Betty Webb’s series featuring Lena Jones, owner of Desert Investigations in Scottsdale, Arizona. The opening gambit is a rather gross prologue full of gore and indifference. A narrative by private investigator and former cop Jones launches into her political views via criticism of a Hummer vehicle and large houses in Scottsdale.

The slant on Lena’s perspective is easy to understand as she is the product of a troubled past in foster care, having been dumped into the system with a gunshot injury at a very early age. Lena’s techie sidekick is Jimmy Sisiwan, a full-bloodied Pima Indian. Together they take on a rightwing client, Congresswomen Juliana Thorssson, who has a deep past of her own.

The slaughter described in the prologue revolves around the congresswoman, a teenager named Ali and her boyfriend Kyle. The point of view shifts among Lena, Ali and Kyle as each tells their side of the story. The telling is well-paced and enjoyable. There’s plenty of accurate Arizona scenery included, which makes for pleasing reading whether or not you have been to the desert southwest.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher or by a publicist. Avoidable Contact and Death in the Dolomites are also available in trade paper editions.

You can read a review of Cold Tuscan Stone here:



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Tuscany Days and Nights

Cold Tuscan Stone: A Rick Montoya Italian Mystery by David P. Wagner (Poisoned Pen Press, $14.95, 250 pages)

Cold Tuscan Stone (nook book)

“I was looking up at that moment, back toward the town, and that was when I saw a man falling off the wall. I didn’t hear anything, but it may have been too far away. Do people usually scream when they fall, like in the movies?”

Author David P. Wagner has a gift for dialogue that makes this, his debut mystery novel, a fresh and charming read. His main character, Rick Montoya, flows naturally from his creator’s life experience. Wagner is a retired Foreign Service Officer whose assignments included nine years in Italy. He now lives in New Mexico. The text is flavored with comments in Italian that provided a refreshing exercise for this reviewer. My four years of Italian language classes at Cal were not wasted!

The shadowy first chapter is written in a firm confident style that stays consistent throughout the book. Immediately following, the reader is introduced to Montoya, a translator who has recently relocated to Italy after some years in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Montoya’s roots in Italy include attending high school there. He is contacted by his old school buddy Beppo Rinaldi who has matured into a member of the Italian Art Squad. Beppo seeks to find purloined antiquities in order to keep them in Italy. Montoya proves to be just the undercover amateur for a puzzling case involving Etruscan graves and valuable funerary urns intended for the black market that the squad has uncovered in Volterra, a town in Tuscany.

Montoya has no sooner arrived in Volterra when a craftsman working for the first person on the list of suspects is spotted plunging down a steep hill after what appears to be a fall from a wall. To make matters worse, Montoya is the last person to see him alive. The commissario of police, Carlo Conti, is a seasoned cop who is yearning to retire after decades of public service. Conti takes on the case himself. After the death, Montoya checks in with Conti as part of his assignment from Beppo. Together, they form a secret alliance to suss out the guilty art thief from among a list of likely suspects.

Along the way, Montoya enjoys many tantalizing meals and beverages. Be prepared to develop a desire for Tuscan style Italian food, and of course at least one new pair of Italian shoes!

David Wagner, un altro libro per favore!

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

Cold Tuscan Stone (audiobook)

A review of Cold Tuscan Stone: A Rick Montoya Italian Mystery by David P. Wagner.

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