Tag Archives: murder

Murder She Wrote

Stone Cold Dead

Stone Cold Dead: An Ellie Stone Mystery by James W. Ziskin (Prometheus Books, $15.95, 317 pages)

James W. Ziskin’s Stone Cold Dead is the third in a series of Ellie Stone novels (Styx and Stone, No Stone Unturned), each with a take on the heroine’s name. The young heroine is the journalistic version of fictional novelist Jessica Fletcher, she of Murder, She Wrote fame.

Stone is endearingly petulant, to the extent that that is possible.

Like Fletcher, Stone seems to forget that she is a writer, not a detective, and so does everyone else in the novel, including all of the law enforcement officials. In real life, it is hard to imagine that people would answer this reporter’s questions at all, much less without a lawyer – or that she would be permitted such access in the first place, but such license is often the basis of an enjoyable novel.

The book revolves around Stone’s investigation of the murder of 15-year-old Darlene Hicks and takes place over 29 days, from December 1, 1960, to January 28, 1961.

The characters are mostly likeable and realistic, and the writing generally holds up, with a few exceptions. For example, on pages 126-128, Ellie hospitably feeds a no-good townie in her apartment who may or may not be plotting to kill her. An editor might have been helpful here. In Ellie’s world it is anything for a story, but still….

This book is better than most mystery/crime novels I’ve read and/or reviewed. The basis for this statement is that there is a much better attempt by the author to actually tell a story as opposed to plugging settings and characters into a formula. For that reason – and because the storytelling engages the reader – my rating of Stone Cold Dead is above average as compared to other books of this genre.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Ellie Stone is the kind of gal you’d want to share a malt with… or a fifth of Scotch.” Matt Coyle, author of Yesterday’s Echo and Night Tremors.

Dave Moyer is an educator who has published Superintendent and Teacher Perceptions of Performance Based Pay (Lambert Academic Publishing). He is also the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Bang Bang

Gun Games: A Decker/Lazarus Novel by Faye Kellerman (William Morrow, $25.99, 375 pages)

“She kissed his shoulder.   He was a ball of coiled muscle.   ‘I’m sorry.’   She kissed his shoulder and he felt a tear drop onto his skin.”

Enter a new generation of characters for the charming and endearing series about Rina Lazarus and Pete Decker written by Faye Kellerman.   Now that the older children have been launched into the adult world, Uber-parents Rina and Pete are devoting time and energy to Gabriel Whitman, the son of acquaintances with Las Vegas mob connections.   Gabe is a 15-year-old piano prodigy who studies with a professor at the University of Southern California – Fight On!!!

Gabe has been invited to live with the Deckers until he is ready to head off to college.   This is a desirable placement for all concerned, what with his dad being a gangster and his  mom having run off to faraway lands to have someone else’s baby.   Some of his time is spent at the private school where Rina’s two sons by her first husband were students.   The school provides a suicide victim, Gregory Hesse, a student whose mother refuses to believe he took his own life.   The investigation centers on the weapon used in the suicide or murder.   It seems that there are students at the school who are fixated on guns.

The twist to this plot is Ms. Kellerman’s use of a passionate love/youthful romance between Gabe and a 14-year-old girl, Yasmine, the daughter of devout, observant Jews.   This sets up a bit of a culture clash that is the reason for a whole lot of sneaking around and trysting at the local coffee shop.   The detailed scenes of their passion border on kiddie porn and this reviewer often felt like it was a bit too much.

The story moves slowly for the first two-thirds of the book and the tale is spread among many characters; Pete, his co-workers, the kid’s parents and a few guest appearances by Rina.   The gears of the story finally engage and the last third reads more like a John Grisham novel of years ago.

Recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   Gun Games is also available as an Audible Audio Edition, and as a Nook Book or Kindle Edition download.

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Kansas City

Every Last Secret: A Mystery by Linda Rodriguez (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 289 pages)

Poet Linda Rodriguez, who is part Cherokee and lives in Kansas City, Missouri, brings more than a bit of herself to her first mystery novel.   In many ways, it seems as though she is living a fantasy life through the story.   The main character is Marquitta Bannion, a female cop in America’s heartland – K.C., Mo.   Skeet, as she’s known by her peers, has worked her way up the ranks of the Kansas City Police Department at the cost of her marriage to a fellow officer.   To make matters worse, her dad’s tarnished reputation as a cop has shaken her faith in him.   She’s half Cherokee which makes her internal struggle even more challenging as she integrates what matters most into her maturing persona.   The Native American values Skeet learned from family are sometimes at odds with her work life.   With so much tension and disappointment haunting her, Skeet decides to move on in life.

The action takes place at a nearby small town college where Skeet has taken a job as the chief of the campus police.   Her hope for a career move away from the turmoil of big city crime fighting is shattered when the student editor of the school newspaper is found murdered.   As is to be expected, the tale centers on solving the crime.   What is not expected is the knitting our heroine uses as a way of calming and soothing her frazzled nerves.   The author is an avid knitter and her knitting references are authentic.   It makes for a charming twist to the standard mystery genre.

The underlying themes of an intergenerational struggle and life shifts sets the stage for Skeet to arrive at realizations about her priorities.   The action moves smoothly and keeps the reader’s interest.   Clearly, Ms. Rodriguez has set up the beginning of an engaging series of novels with a great ending – and the potential for a direct sequel.   Stay tuned!

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

“Murder on a college campus, plenty of bad people, and all kinds of puzzles to solve.   Linda Rodriguez has written a highly enjoyable procedural introducing a rough and tender heroine, Skeet Bannion.”   Kathleen George, author of The Odds and Hideout.

Every Last Secret was released on April 24, 2012, and is available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition download.

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A Hard Day’s Knight

Guilt by Association: A Novel by Marcia Clark (Mulholland Books, $14.99, 384 pages)

It may be a shame that Marcia Clark spent so many years as a prosecutor for the County of Los Angeles.   I say this because she’s such a talented writer, as is made clear by this fun romp of a criminal justice novel.   Because the book’s protagonist, Rachel Knight, just happens to be a Deputy District Attorney (DDA) who works in the L. A. County Criminal Courts Building (the beloved CCB) one would guess that there’s a bit of Ms. Clark in the character.   Maybe, maybe not…  Rachel Knight may be slightly more daring than Clark was in her real professional life.

One surprise will be noted up front.   This is not a courtroom novel.   No scenes take place inside of a courtroom, so this is not a Scott Turow-style read.   Basically, this is the story of a prosecutor who decides to become a covert criminal investigator, off of the time sheets and without the knowledge or approval of her supervisors.   As Guilt by Association begins, Knight is celebrating a victory with fellow DDA Jake Pahlmeyer and LAPD Detective Bailey Keller.   It’s not long before Pahlmeyer is found dead downtown, in a very seedy hotel room with a 17-year-old boy; and there’s a nude photo of the boy in his suit jacket pocket.   Rachel’s supervisors very quickly instruct her to keep her “hands off” of the murder investigation involving her best friend in the criminal justice system.

Being a bit of a rogue, Knight brings Bailey into her effort to clear the late Pahlmeyer’s name in a city where scandals are less than a dime a dozen.   And as she does so, she also has to take over one of Jake’s cases – one that involves the rape of a 15-year-old girl, the daughter of a very prominent physician.   Could the two cases somehow be related?   Maybe, maybe not…  You’ll have to read this criminal justice system mystery to find out and to learn the meaning of the rather intriguing title.

You never know what’s coming around the curve with this one…  Reading Guilt by Association is like taking a ride down the virtually mythical Mulholland Drive in a new Porsche Cayman S.

I would like to offer a bold or not-so-bold prediction for the future of this protagonist.   My money is on Rachel Knight’s getting fired from the D.A.’s office, and going on to become an embittered and newly licensed private investigator – one who uses every contact in her old address book to solve some of the county’s toughest and meanest crimes.   Not only will it make a series of great reads, but quite possibly a new hit TV show.   Rachel Knight, PI – it somehow sounds just right!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Guilt by Association was released as a trade paperback book on March 1, 2012.

“Clark’s pace, plot and dialogue are as sharp as they come.”   David Baldacci

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Row, Row, Row Your Boat

No Mark Upon Her: A Novel by Deborah Crombie (William Morrow, $25.99, 384 pages)

I know you remember.   But I will make you forget…

Anglophiles, mystery lovers and rowing fans – this is a book for you!   Author Deborah Crombie has added a fourteenth book to her impressive list of mysteries with the February 2012 release of No Mark Upon Her.   The tale focuses on the intersection of two activities, work at Scotland Yard and rowing on the River Thames.   The first victim is Rebecca Meredith who was a high-ranking member of the force and an Olympic class rower on the comeback trail.   The discovery of her body along the banks of the river jump-starts the search for her killer.

Although Crombie is a native of Texas, she flaunts knowledge of Great Britain that she acquired while living in England and Scotland.   The narrative is filled with British phrases that were not familiar to this reviewer.   A Kindle or Nook e-book version would provide easy access to definitions.   Regardless, the language is not so far-fetched that a reader would lose the meaning of what’s being said.   The locations for the action are nearly cinema graphic which gives the reader the sense of having visited the locale without the burden of jet lag.

The good guy characters are warm and knowable and the bad guys are thoroughly despicable.   Figuring out which group each of the characters falls into is a bit of a challenge.   While married members of the Scotland Yard force, Gemma and Duncan Kincaid, are clearly in the good guys group, their fellow officers are not so strongly portrayed.   Interestingly, Crombie has set up pairs of characters, both couples and work partners which make for an engaging read.   Some folks are just working, others are falling in love and a few are plotting the removal of obstacles in their evil path of greed.

There are crimes galore, rape, murder, arson and theft.   One of these crimes seems to lead to another, almost logically!

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   In Great Britian/Europe, this book has been released with the title No Mark Upon Her: A Kincaid and James Mystery.

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I’m Sorry

The Confession: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow, $25.99, 344 pages)

His voice was hoarse, but still recognizable.   “Damn it, Morrison, there’s nothing to confess.   I just need to talk to someone.”

In The Confession, the mother and son writing team known as Charles Todd delivers the 14th episode in the evolution of Inspector Ian Rutledge, the well-respected Scotland Yard detective.   Rutledge is continuing to transition from a World War I shell-shocked soldier back into his civilian life.   Understandably, such a process is open-ended.   To make matters more complicated, Rutledge has the ghost of a fallen comrade lodged in his subconscious.   From time to time this fellow enters his current thought process with unsolicited advice and observations.

The presenting case involves an unsolicited confession to a murder; however, proving the confessor’s guilt or innocence proves to be a challenge that even Rutledge finds a bit overwhelming.   The plot becomes a bit crowded with confusing names and relationships.   Adding to the confusion are the many trips Rutledge makes between London and a small seaside village in Essex.   The characters are not who you think they are – a reasonable device considering this is a mystery.

Regardless of the red herrings, multitudes of characters and the era when the tale takes place, the basic theme ties to the presence of evil which knows no time limit.   Evil is contrasted sharply with the values Rutledge holds sacred and dear.   Along the way the reader experiences the overwhelming impact of group mentality and shared secrets.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Todd serves up plenty of period detail and plot twists, but the real attraction here is Rutledge, a shrewd, dedicated detective grappling with the demons of his past.”   Booklist

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Aftermath

Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family’s Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for Justice by Alisa Statman with Brie Tate (It Books, $26.99, 380 pages)

“Pardoning is God’s domain…  I forgave Sharon’s killers through His grace.   But, within, the laws of man, this forgiveness didn’t lessen the killer’s culpability or diminish my ambition to keep them in prison.”

This is an engaging and sometimes moving (and sometimes overdone) account of the life of a family that was terribly affected and afflicted by a brutal crime – the murder of Sharon Tate.   There are two names listed as authors, one being the domestic partner of Tate’s younger sister and the other her niece.   But, in fact, the book was written by four parties since it incorporates the words of Sharon Tate’s mother and father; both of whom intended to write their own memoirs.   And, to some extent, it was also written by Vincent Bugliosi as it borrows generously from his bestselling book Helter Skelter.

The one major flaw with this nonfiction work is that it was likely released at the exact wrong time.   I may not be correct (and I am not taking a side on this issue), but the political winds seem to be blowing in the direction of a moderately to dramatically less “tough on crime” approach than was exercised in the past.   This, at the least, appears to be true in California.

Restless Souls at times reads like a legal and political brief for locking them up and throwing away the key.   This is understandable as Doris Tate, Sharon’s mother, was a prominent figure in the victim’s rights movement in California and throughout the country a few decades ago.   She was recognized as one of the Thousand Points of Light by the first President Bush and worked very closely with California governors George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson.   Had this book been released in the period between 1980 and 1991, it would likely have drawn a great deal more attention that it’s going to get today.

A major part of the “Crusade for Justice” addressed in this account were the attempts by the Tate family to ensure that none of the Manson Family members were released from state prison.   These efforts were successful (Susan Atkins died in her cell); a fact which, ironically, takes away the weight and suspense of the telling.

Probably the most interesting of the four family member’s accounts is the one written by Sharon’s father P. J. who was in court during the Manson Family trials.   P. J.’s version of the courtroom dramas is fascinating, yet it takes a back seat to Bugliosi’s chilling version (Helter Skelter perhaps being the second best nonfiction account of a crime ever written, next to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood).   This is something that’s apparent to Statman and Tate since a surprisingly – almost shockingly – lengthy excerpt of Helter Skelter is used here to describe the murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring and the others at the home on Cielo Drive above Beverly Hills.

Astoundingly, Statman goes on to claim that Bugliosi’s book “was missing emotion” for the crime victims, something that could hardly seem to be less true based on the prosecutor’s writings and his work in court.   It’s the authors’ emotions, on full display, that make otherwise cold accounts, Helter Skelter, In Cold Blood and Joseph Wambaugh’s The Onion Field, so very stunning and moving.   These three books, once read are never, ever forgotten.

“Parents are covictims, and many of them get worse when the legal process is finished…  Now they begin to pine for their (lost) child in earnest…  They have to reconstruct their whole belief system because their assumptions about the decency of humanity, the security of social order, and justice are all shattered.”

Restless Souls serves as a needed reminder of how crime victims are often twice brutalized in our society and in the criminal justice system (having to deal with both a crime and its true aftermath in human terms), but I suspect it will mostly be read by criminal justice students as an historical account and not much more.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Restless Souls was released on February 21, 2012.

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