Tag Archives: Minotaur Books

Arsenic and Old Lace

arsenic-with-austin

Arsenic with Austen: A Crime with the Classics Mystery by Katherine Bolger Hyde (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 312 pages)

Professor Emily Cavanaugh is a 21st Century woman who finds herself caught up in the dealings of a sleepy village on the Oregon coast. She’s been widowed for two years, is childless and growing restless with her duties in the Language and Literature Department of Reed College in Portland.

reed-college

As would be anticipated in a traditional British mystery by Agatha Christie, Emily receives a piece of formal correspondence from an attorney in Stony Beach, Oregon. It seems her dear Great Aunt Beatrice has died and left her a legacy. What follows is one of the most heart-warming murder mysteries this reviewer has read.

Emily Cavanaugh is summoned to Aunt Beatrice’s funeral and the reading of the will. It seems Emily was fantasizing a modest inheritance when she hoped that the extensive library filled with leather bound books would be hers. Emily spent many summers sitting in that same library reading with the encouragement of her aunt. Clearly, the Victorian mansion, half of the town of Stony Beach and millions of dollars was way beyond her hopeful anticipation.

Yes, there are villains scattered among the townsfolk. How else would there be a mystery for Emily to solve? She also reconnects with her former boyfriend who seemingly dumped her at the end of a summer romance. As with Dame Agatha’s stories, Ms. Hyde leads the reader around leaving a trail of tantalizing clues and misdirection.

arsenic-with-austen-book

Author Hyde has hit all the right notes in this her debut mystery novel. She weaves in enough credible references to classic literature written by women such as Jane Austen and Emily Bronte to prove her in depth understanding of the genre. While Ms. Hyde is a resident of Santa Cruz County in California, she credits a writer’s retreat on the Oregon coast with inspiring the location of her tale. And, by the way, she is an alumna of Reed College. Let’s hope there will be more enjoyable mysteries from Ms. Hyde in the future.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Arsenic with Austen was released on July 12, 2016.

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The Maine Line

Recent Books in a Sleuth Series Worth Reading

Bone Orchard

The Bone Orchard: A Novel by Paul Doiron (Minotaur Books, $15.99, 319 pages)

I needed a shower and a hot meal but without a vehicle, I was effectively stranded. At the very least, I knew the Bronco required a new windshield. I hadn’t checked to see what other damage the shotgun pellets had inflicted on my prized possession.

Mike Bowditch, a twenty-seven-year-old former Maine game warden, is now a fishing guide. Mike can’t let go of his warden training, instincts and love of the outdoors. This narrative presents the next phase in his character development by author Paul Doiron. The fifth book of a series, this installment smoothly takes the reader along on a fast-paced adventure in the Maine woods.

Bone Orchard back cover

Kathy Frost, Mike’s mentor in the warden service, becomes embroiled in troubles brought on by her actions in the line of duty. Mike knows his loyalty lies with Kathy despite some doubts cast by a government inquiry and the threats posed by a band of renegades who were friends of a man Kathy killed. Ultimately, Mike has to make a choice for his life path that reflects his maturation under pressure.

Well recommended.

The Precipice

The Precipice: A Novel by Paul Doiron (Minotaur Books, $15.99, 329 pages)

I found Caleb Maxwell in the sitting room, warming his hands over the wood stove. His mind seemed elsewhere. He flinched when I spoke his name, as if he hadn’t heard me walk up behind him.

This time around Mike Bowditch has rejoined the Maine Warden Service. His life is back on track, complete with girlfriend Stacy Stevens. Readers are treated to a well-crafted tale full of back-woods characters and facts about trekking across Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness. Author Doiron aptly displays his knowledge of the region.

Two lost hikers are the focus of an all-out search by the ranger service and volunteers. A combination of high tech equipment and down-to-earth basic outdoors skills are needed to solve the mystery of their disappearance. This episode in Mike’s journey through life and the Maine woods involves Stacy and her father. Readers will be quickly turning the pages as they realize the need for Mike’s quick wits and physical strength to bring the tale to a good ending.

Well recommended.

Note: Paul Doiron infuses the characters and locales in his series with an authenticity that allows the reader to enjoy an up close and personal armchair adventure. The Maine woods are not your average camping destination. Doiron avoids romanticizing his stories by grounding them with the harsh reality that comes with the picture postcard images we often attribute to unspoiled natural preserves. His characters behave in ways that touch on the choices we all must make in life, even if we are in a suburban development home or a secure highrise apartment. These books teach and entertain, and are well worth reading.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

The Precipice was released in paperback and trade paperback forms on May 31, 2016.

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A Puzzle Worth Pondering

Baker Street Jurors

The Baker Street Jurors: A Baker Street Mystery by Michael Robertson (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 260 pages)

A tall, fiftyish man, clean-shaven, with a thin, aquiline nose stepped into line behind Nigel. “Bloody Hell,” he said, “Is this really the jurors’ queue?”

“I’m afraid so,” said Nigel. “It’s enough to make you want to commit a crime of your own, just to get inside and be warm.”

Author Michael Robertson picks up right where we left off with his fifth installment in the Baker Street Mystery Series. Robertson maintains his crisp sense of humor while delivering a puzzle worth pondering. The books are ideal to take along for a weekend in the country or at the shore. [Or to jury duty!] No need to muddle through the travesty that is the 2016 U.S. election campaign season or the seeming endless reports of man’s inhumanity to man broadcast on CNN. A quick trip to London will be a refreshing change even though it, too, deals with murder, although on a small scale.

Reggie Heath, Queen’s Counsel, and his bride, Laura Rankin, are on an extended honeymoon. Brother Nigel Health has decamped from the U.S. and now makes his home in one of the offices at 221B Baker Street, in Marylebone. An official jury summons is in the morning’s mail; however, the person being summoned is none other than Sherlock Holmes. Nigel makes quick work of fashioning the summons into an airplane and sends it out the open office window toward the street below. His own jury summons is within the stack of mail awaiting him and thus begins another engaging look at the British court system, albeit from the perspective of the jury rather than Reggie’s Queen’s Counsel view.

Baker Street Jurors back

The jury panel members and alternates, of which Nigel is one, endure unusual circumstances and even great peril as they work their way through the evidence presented by the prosecution in the case against Liam McSweeney, a celebrated cricket player accused of murdering his wife. The book is definitely an homage to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. That’s enough of the plot. No need to spoil the fun. Great fun.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book was released on July 19, 2016.

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(Not Quite) By The Numbers

Crooked Numbers Amazon

Crooked Numbers: A Raymond Donne Mystery (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 320 pages)

Tim O’Mara’s Crooked Numbers, the second in the Raymond Donne mystery series, follows a very familiar – perhaps too familiar – path for those who read his debut novel Sacrifice Fly.

Donne is a former police officer turned public school teacher in Brooklyn. He had to leave the force when injured in the line of duty but just can’t get the cop out of him.

In Crooked Numbers, a young kid with a promising future, Doug Lee, is killed. Lee’s mother approaches Donne for help, and soon thereafter another teenager turns up dead and yet another end up in the hospital. Donne can’t fight his instincts and springs into action. Similar to the storyline in Sacrifice Fly, he becomes more valuable than the actual police in solving the mystery and catching the bad guys.

Well known characters permeate the scene – Uncle Ray, also a former cop; Allison, the love-interest newspaper reporter; and Muscles, the physical therapist who pushes Donne to return to normal functioning all reappear.

Crooked Numbers back Amazon

O’Mara’s writing is solid, and Donne is generally an interesting fellow. But there isn’t a lot of intrigue in this story that would move it into the page turner category. It is good, but perhaps a bit of a sophomore slump. Odds are that the third installment will bounce back with a little more needed oomph.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Oddly, none of Tim O’Mara’s books are available in trade paperback form.

Dave Moyer is a public school superintendent in Illinois, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Proof Positive

Proof Positive Amazon

Proof Positive: A Joe Gunther Novel by Archer Mayor (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 304 pages)

Proof Positive is Archer Mayor’s 25th novel (Three Can Keep A Secret). Mayor uses his expertise as Vermont’s medical examiner to paint effective pictures of good guys and bad guys and the setting in which they take place (i.e., Vermont).

The opening line of the novel is excellent: “It was the time of year when New England wobbles between fall and winter, as prone to Indian summer as to sudden, short-lived snowstorms.” The story is enticing from the start. The introductory pages are arguably the greatest strength of the book. Some of the writing that follows is less consistent (“Neil’s body collapses like a dropped sack of laundry,” p. 213, comes to mind).

Ben Kindall is a Vietnam vet and a hoarder, which is significant because it provides for the circumstances that mask the real causes of his death. Ben’s cousin, medical examiner Beverly Hillstrom, alerts Vermont Bureau of Investigator and her flame, Joe Gunther, of Ben’s death. The mystery of missing negatives uncovers a trail of dead bodies and a list of potential targets. The suspense builds as a senator and hit men are discovered to be involved.

As is common in many crime novels, dialogue is the convention of choice, and the degree to which this is effective depends on the reader’s preference.

Proof Positive back

Fans of the series will be happy to know that immediately upon the conclusion of Proof Positive comes the first two chapters of novel 26, The Company She Kept, meaning that the next Joe Gunther fix is just around the corner.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “…a smoothly plotted and absorbing mystery.” Publishers Weekly “The best thing going!” Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Gallows Pole

Hangman's Game Syken

Hangman’s Game: A Nick Gallow Mystery by Bill Syken (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 336 pages)

Former Sports Illustrated reporter and editor, Bill Syken, has presumably experienced his share of NFL locker rooms. In Hangman’s Game, his fiction debut, Syken takes us from Philadelphia to the Deep South and back through the lens of Nick Gallow, a punter (of all things). Considering that the murder mystery is subtitled A Nick Gallow Mystery, one can reasonably presume there are more coming. And, if I am correct and Nick enjoys the career of a typical NFL punter, Syken will have the opportunity to take us to all corners of America before Nick is done solving crimes!

The novel opens with Nick out to dinner with the team’s first round draft choice, Samuel Sault, and their shared agent, Cecil Wilson. It ends… Well, no spoiler here. But, on the way out of the restaurant, Samuel is murdered, Cecil shot, and teammate Jai Carson, who is at the scene partying with his entourage, falsely accused. Enter Nick.

It is a reasonable assumption that J.C., as Jai is called, was trying to eliminate the competition, but Nick, who comes across as being almost entirely concerned only about himself, is convinced Jai is innocent, plays the team loyalty card, and attempts to uncover the truth. Nick is swimming against the tide, mostly because Jai is a completely unlikeable jerk, who is even more self-absorbed than Nick, who isn’t really that likeable either.

Syken’s writing is solid. The reader is effectively led through the story. Interest in discovering who did what is maintained throughout. The contemporary theme of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (the concussion thing) comes into play, though it is not truly developed to any great degree. Despite Nick’s faults, the reader is drawn to him. The only knock is that the story plays on some of the classic stereotypes of the narcissistic, womanizing, gun-toting athlete. However, with the preponderance of these issues in the NFL, perhaps it is truly closer to the norm than an aberration.

Syken has authored a good first novel. It will be interesting to see if he can, next time around, build on his craft and go into greater depth with some of the issues that appear to be floating around in his mind.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on August 18, 2015.

Dave Moyer is an education administrator and is the author of the sports-oriented Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Coming Up Next…

Hangman's Game Amazon

An early look at Hangman’s Game: A Nick Gallow Mystery by Bill Sykes, which will be released by Minotaur Books on August 18, 2015.

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Broken Arrow

Die A Stranger (nook book)

Die a Stranger: An Alex McKnight Novel by Steve Hamilton (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 288 pages)

Steve Hamilton’s Die a Stranger is his 11th novel and 10th in the Alex McKnight series. He has won two Edgars, a Shamus and an Alex Award for his crime fiction, and an award from The Private Eye Writers of America. He can write. He constructs effective plots without being overbearing and his characters are worth caring about.

McKnight, a former cop and sometime private investigator, is once again drawn into the evil that pervades and invades the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He has a shady past, but his moral center carries these novels as he throws away the book and generally saves everyone from others or themselves, while trying to reconcile his conscience with his actions. In short, with McKnight, the ends justify the means.

This is the second Hamilton-authored novel that I have reviewed (the first was Misery Bay), and I will admit that I mostly like his work. Objectively, this is how I depict Die a Stranger.

Drug smugglers exploit the Canadian border, and, by coincidence, innocent and not-so-innocent bystanders in Paradise, Michigan, become players with life and death on the line. Vinnie LeBlanc, a sober individual with a former drunkard for a father struggles with the blurred lines between life on the reservation and a life free from his onerous past. One night after a funeral, he goes off the wagon and shows up missing. Since McKnight was LeBlanc’s caretaker during that evening of modest revelry, he must attempt to find the man when he goes missing the next morning.

McKnight loses control, situations evolve, and when LeBlanc’s father reappears, McKnight pairs up with him in the quest to find the missing person. Multiple narrow and improbable escapes take the reader to the end. For me the bottom line is this: The beginning of the novel is strong and draws the reader in. A last minute plot twist (not uncommon for this genre) adds something to the ending after things have stalled out. I initially thought I would like this book – and I wanted to, but I do not think the “chase” is effective. The partnering of McKnight with LeBlanc’s father comes off as overly contrived and simply does not work.

Die a Stranger (back cover)

I thought this novel had a great deal of potential but it kind of got off track – or left the reservation. Still, this book is recommended for general readers and for fans of private investigator/private detective novels.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dave Moyer is an educator in the Midwest and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Here is a review of Misery Bay: An Alex McKnight Novel by Steve Hamilton:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/misery/

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Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

The Good Boy (nook book)

The Good Boy: A Novel by Theresa Schwegel (St. Martin’s Press, $15.99, 368 pages)

“And they tell me you are crooked and I answer; Yes it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.” Chicago, Carl Sandburg

A Solid Writer Delivers an Average Book

The Good Boy is Theresa Schwegel’s fifth novel. The Chicago native won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel for Officer Down. In her latest, Officer Pete Murphy and his partner, the dog Butchie, get caught up in a traffic stop gone bad that involves bad people with whom he has a not-so-pleasant past. This leads to a police cover up, revelations of an alleged affair between Pete and a judge he was assigned to protect during an ugly trial, and a civil suit against him.

Pete’s strained marriage and problem child daughter, McKenna, take center stage soon enough, and before one can say, “Freeze,” Joel – Pete’s young son, takes Butchie on an escapade related to McKenna’s shenanigans. This compulsive act takes him through virtually every Chicago neighborhood as he becomes mired in the middle of a revenge plot against Pete.

It seems that most contemporary novels requite some form of family dysfunction and troubled children, so that formulaic prerequisite aside, the writing is pretty good. However, despite being well constructed, the plot fails to be compelling enough to make this more than a run-of-the-mill cop story. This being said, readers who favor stories of this genre will likely find it to be an enjoyable read.

Longtime fans of author Schwegel – used to reading her award winning caliber books may, however, be disappointed in this C-level release.

Recommended, for some.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dave Moyer is an education administrator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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The Stranger You Know

The Stranger You Know Jane Casey

The Stranger You Know: A (Maeve Kerrigan) Novel by Jane Casey (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 384 pages)

It surprised him, but he didn’t mind that she was dead. He could look at her, really look at her, without being interrupted. Without being afraid that she would say something, or do something, that might hurt him.

The slightly off-kilter, macabre opening is a flashback to 1992. There’s no doubt; this is classic Jane Casey writing. Her measured tone keeps the reader riveted to the page while she spins a web of intrigue. The Stranger You Know is the fourth book of the Detective Inspector Maeve Kerrigan mystery series set in present-day London. Detective Inspector Josh Derwent, another ongoing character, is her partner on the police force. Derwent wins no personality contests but he is a good policeman. At least that’s what Maeve has come to believe.

This time around Maeve is called into a special group investigating two recent murders and one from 20 years ago that appears to be the first in a series. Perhaps the group has a serial killer to chase down. To make matters more complicated, Derwent is linked to the first murder.

The book reads like a diary from Maeve’s perspective. The sections are sequenced as days of a week beginning with Thursday and ending more than a week later. One additional flashback to 1992 well into the plot helps the reader put the crimes and characters into better perspective.

Author Casey is a master at weaving real clues with red herrings. Her readers will be satisfied with the quality of this tale. The lives of her characters are usually thrown open for examination, almost as in an autopsy. The Stranger You Know is true to form, a fine form.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher. This book will be released in a trade paper version on March 31, 2015.

The Stranger You Know (back cover)

Jane Casey is the author of The Burning, The Lost Girl, and The Reckoning.

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