Tag Archives: mysteries

Damage Control

Gone Missing: A Thriller by Linda Castillo (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 297 pages)

Gone Missing 2

“What kind of monster does that to a fifteen-year-old girl?” I whisper.

Shocking, that’s the best way to describe the opening chapters of this, the fourth book in an Amish Country series written by Linda Castillo. The narrator is Kate Burkholder, the chief of police of a town called Painters Mill. She also happens to be a former member of an Amish community. Burkholder is troubled and damaged by past problems, yet she seeks to assist others. Her town is located in the Ohio farmlands and the time of year when the mystery takes place is spring. Rumspringa is in full swing; although, this version is significantly tamer than the TV shows about Breaking Amish.

State Agent John Tomasetti with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation teams up with Chief Kate Burkholder when an Amish girl who is out walking along a country road goes missing while doing an errand for her family. A pool of blood and a satchel for carrying vegetables are all that they find by the side of the road. Although the scene is outside her jurisdiction, Burkholder is called in as a consultant because of her Amish roots.

Author Castillo enriches her tale with in depth descriptions and background information related to the Amish folks who farm in Ohio. The stark contrast between these people living their simple bucolic lifestyle and the festering evil that exists in their midst makes for a gruesome and engaging thriller. Castillo is adept at building tension that may compel some readers to stay up late to finish the book as did this reviewer.

Highly recommended.

Every Broken Trust: A Mystery by Linda Rodriguez (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 304 pages)

every broken trust

The chief of police in the next book is Skeet Bannion, a half-Cherokee woman, whose jurisdiction is the campus of Chouteau University which is located outside Kansas City, Missouri. There’s more to the job than just keeping a safe campus. Chief Bannion must participate in local politics and university affairs.

The story begins in a chatty bouncy manner as the chief expresses her dislike for hosting a welcoming party for the university’s new dean of the law school, as the growing guest list threatens to overwhelm her. It’s obvious that socializing with politicians and smarmy co-workers who have disillusioned her is bringing out the worst of her temper.

Once the stage is set and the character relationships are established, the story settles down. Of course the party includes drinking and at least one guest has one or two drinks too many. What follows is a post-party-murder after the drunk blurts out a scathing revelation that upsets the entire party. The body is found on university property which makes it Bannion’s task to catch the killer.

To complicate matters, Bannion is the guardian of a fifteen-year-old boy named Brian who is developing a friendship with the daughter of one of the smarmy politicos. Bannion is an evolving character and Rodriguez places her in situations that demand maturity and caring beyond the level Bannion has for her job.

Author Rodriguez is a Latina writer who brings a significant depth of understanding of the ways women and especially women of color are treated. The book is the second in her series featuring Skeet Bannion.

Well recommended.

Liars Anonymous: A Novel by Louise Ure (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 275 pages)

Liars Anonymous

He made sure there was no grime from the blast, then leaned back against the cab of my truck. “That’s the funny thing about the justice system. It makes no distinction between not guilty and innocent. I do.”

Shamus Award winner Louise Ure crafts an unusual mystery tale that is more suspense thriller than mystery. Her narrator, Jessica Damage, is a woman with a troubled past. Jessica works at a call center in Phoenix, Arizona for a service called “Hands On” that might as well be GM’s OnStar. An incoming call from a 2007 Cadillac Seville connects to her line. Jessica can’t help calling back after the call terminates abruptly even though the rules of her job make it technically illegal to eavesdrop when the call is reconnected.

Trouble finds Jessica daily as she searches for the answers to the questions sparked by the sounds she heard on the covert call. As Tucson is her hometown and two years earlier she was acquitted of a murder charge, her sleuthing actions take place all over the greater Tucson area.

Ms. Ure proves herself a true native by accurately telling the reader where Jessica is going and what she sees around town. This reviewer is quite familiar with Tucson and the descriptions were good enough to create a cinematic effect during the read. The characters’ deep feelings and crisp dialogue make Liars Annonymous a good read.

Well recommended.

“Louise Ure is an exciting new voice in the mystery field.” Laura Lippman

Review copies were received from the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

Gone Missing

A review of Gone Missing: A Thriller by Linda Castillo and two mysteries.

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Still Waters

A Summer Mystery Series Update.

Proof of Guilt (nook book)

Proof of Guilt: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow, $12.99, 352 pages)

In a series marked by smooth transitions and character development, this, the 15th Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery is sure to please fans of the writing duo who go by the name, Charles Todd. As is the case with this series, the story is set in post World War II England with all the charm and quaintness expected of the genre. The plot is intricately woven with multiple generations of two families that together founded an upstanding firm. The firm produces and distributes fine Madera wine. The vineyard is located on Madera and the distributorship is headquartered in London.

Rutledge, although an inspector with Scotland Yard, is assigned to a death case where the unidentified victim has been struck down by an automobile and appears to be a man of means – based upon his clothes and a fine old gold pocket watch that was originally sold in Lisbon, Portugal. Motoring fatalities are not Rutledge’s specialty; however, the lack of an ID on the man and his appearance — which includes gentlemanly hands and fingernails — makes him more than some poor devil who was plowed down by an auto.

There are many instances where Rutledge and his fellow law enforcement personnel rely on class distinctions to parse out the relationships among the two families and their employees. Class seems to be a prominent part of daily life in the early 20th century and the lack of modern scientific methodology for solving crimes puts relationships and motives to the forefront in crime solving. Pursuit of truth and uncovering deceit are foremost on Rutledge’s agenda for this assignment.

Of note is the personal progress made by Inspector Rutledge. He has been very close to his sister, Frances, ever since the end of the war. His Post Traumatic Stress Disorder seems to be abating somewhat and his improving mental health bodes well for a shift in his relationship with Frances.

Highly recommended.

Lost: A Novel by S. J. Bolton (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 391 pages)

Lost

Fast forward to modern day London, this is where we catch up with Lacey Flint, the beautiful but tortured British detective constable whose life is filled with heroics and victimhood. Lacey is on leave from her job following a brush with death (Dead Scared).

Lacey and a young boy who lives next door become unlikely partners in solving a rash of pre-adolescent kidnappings/murders. Barney, the 11-year-old next-door-neighbor, is forever searching for his mom who disappeared when he was a toddler. Lacey uses Barney’s quest and a need for distraction and escape from her own demons and proclivities to work behind the scenes while her heartthrob, Detective Mark Joesbury, and Detective Dana Tulloch are the assigned investigators on the case.

Of course there are gruesome scenes involving really twisted criminals and perilous situations for all involved. It wouldn’t be an authentic S. J. Bolton mystery without these compelling elements. This one is as good as its predecessors!

Highly recommended.

The Beautiful Mystery: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, $15.99, 390 pages)

The Beautiful Mystery (nook book)

Our next stop is deep in the wilderness of Quebec, Canada behind the massive door of a fortified monastery, Saint-Gilbert-Entre-Les-Loups. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his younger protege Jean-Guy Beauvoir are investigating the murder of the monastery’s choirmaster. The tale is a classic locked door and limited list of suspects mystery. (The book is the eighth in this series.)

Gamache is true to form with his nearly-infinite patience and calm demeanor. The monastery is world-famous for the spectacular Georgian chants performed by the choir. All the monks participate in the singing; it is what they do, along with their daily chores and the creation of chocolate covered blueberries. Gamache is ecstatic because he is the first non-religious person to enter the monastery and he loves the Georgian chants.

The ultimate joy is when a visit to the monastery proves to be literally fruitful — blueberries covered with chocolate! Jean-Guy and Gamache explore the entire building and its walled garden while seeking a murderer among the seemingly-pacifist monks. Still waters run deep and even the motive for the murder is well-hidden.

This reviewer listened to the audio book read by Ralph Cosham. The beautifully pronounced French words made the experience very enjoyable. Reading the words in hard copy has been a challenge!

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher. Lost was released on June 4, 2013, and The Beautiful Mystery was released on July 2, 2013.

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Coming Up Next…

Manna From Hades (lg.)

A review of two Cornish Mysteries by Carola Dunn.

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Four To Go!

The Snow White Christmas Cookie (nook book)Kings of Midnight (nook book)

Here are four exciting mysteries from Minotaur that will easily fill your long winter evenings with entertainment. All four books are well recommended.

Kings of Midnight: A Mystery by Wallace Stroby (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 266 pages)

Fans of edgy and fast-paced stories with a female lead character will tune into the intense plot immersion, quick scene cuts and a strong sense of urgency. Crissa Stone is the main character and she’s a hardened career criminal who does not hesitate to put herself first in a tight situation. There is low-key violence associated with Crissa’s teaming up with Benny Roth, a sometime gangster. Together, they race to stay one step ahead of some truly bad fellas and, of course, the cops. The prize is $5 million stashed away from long ago.

Skating on the Edge: A Mystery by Joelle Charbonneau (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 290 pages)

Here’s a true niche story about the world of women’s roller derby. Charbonneau provides a super quirky behind-the-scenes glimpse of a guilty pleasure for many TV viewers over the years. Her easy writing style includes a little gore with a mix of young and elderly characters, and I do mean characters. Rebecca Robbins is the owner of a skating rink that she inherited from her mom. Her grandfather is the link to the senior citizen crowd in their hometown of Indian Falls. The theme of snack foods runs through the story (popcorn, potato chips and sweet potato fries), so be ready to be hungry while you laugh at the antics in this charming book.

Fire Season: A Frank Coffin Mystery by Jon Loomis (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 306 pages)

A cop’s view of serial arson in Provincetown, Massachusetts forms the core of this mystery. This reviewer had no idea that Provincetown is famous for eccentricities like transgender residents. The city has pageants featuring these folks. The opening of the mystery is pretty gruesome, as a group of retired performing seals is found slaughtered outside a restaurant that sits just below an old hotel. The hotel is the home of many pageant participants. Frank Coffin, the acting chief of police, races all over town from one fire to another in a very short time span. Eventually, all the mayhem is bundled together; however, not before Frank and his team traipse over most of the region seeking the source of their problems.

The Snow White Christmas Cookie: A Berger and Mitry Mystery by David Handler (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 264 pages)

The duo of Mitch Berger and Desiree Mitry are featured in this, the ninth book in a series. The unlikely pair of film critic and state trooper slog through several snow blizzards and too many characters to name in an abbreviated review. The tone of the book is definitely light-hearted even though there are crimes galore, like murder, mail theft and black market drug sales. The small town setting is especially quaint. Author Handler has a way with scene setting and goofy details. Even though we’re past Christmas, don’t let the title put you off. A tale like this is always in season.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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Hold On Hold Out

Hideout: A Mystery by Kathleen George (Minotaur Books, $15.99, 320 pages)

“But to live outside the law,  you must be honest…”   Bob Dylan, “Absolutely Sweet Marie”

In Kathleen George’s Hideout two hooligan brothers, Ryan and Jack Rutter, become entangled in a late night hit and run accident in Pittsburgh that results in the death of the victim.   Both have a tendency to abuse virtually any chemical substance ever invented, though throughout the story the younger brother Jack is portrayed as having some redeeming qualities and a semblance of conscience.   The same cannot be said for Ryan.Hideout (nook book)

Colleen Greer is the detective most involved in the search for justice.   At the beginning of the story, George attempts to create some depth in her that would bring a measure of human interest to the whodunit, but mostly falls short.   That’s the real problem with this book.   It can’t decide if it wants to be a story that grabs the reader because the character interests them; or if it simply wants to be your basic copy thriller.   For this reason, it falls short on both counts.

The action of the story spans the time from Saturday evening to Thursday of the following week.   As the brothers flee, they continue to commit various crimes from robbery to what might be construed as attempted murder.   Make no mistake about it, these two are stupid.   The most surprising part of the story just might be that it takes the police over five days to catch them.

The author attempts an interesting twist when the brothers are separated for the first time, but, they soon reunite.   The story continues on as they discover that the authorities are on to them.   They must try to find a way to avoid capture with less money and less of a plan.   In the end, Jack enjoys some compassion upon his capture, but the resolution as to what that might mean for his future is not explored.   (It seems that including this element at the closing of the book serves little purpose.)

Fans of the genre will probably enjoy this book the same as others, but the general reader might give something else a try.

Recommended for crime novel fans.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Hideout is also available as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.   Kathleen George’s latest novel is Simple.

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

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It’s A Beautiful Day

A Bad Day for Mercy: A Crime Novel by Sophie Littlefield (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 272 pages)

A Bad Day for Scandal: A Crime Novel by Sophie Littlefield (Minotaur Books – Reprint Edition, $14.99, 304 pages)

Stella Hardesty rides again!   Author Sophie Littlefield certainly has a talent for creating fresh and amusing mystery novels.   There’s a bit of down home in her main character, Stella Hardesty.   Her would-be boyfriend, Sheriff “Goat” Jones, makes a mighty fine love interest for followers of this series.   Stella’s friends and neighbors, mostly the ladies, come to her when husbands or boyfriends need a bit of attitude adjustment.

Usually, this reviewer would not read two books back-to-back that were written by the same author.   Well, breaking rules can be a whole bunch of fun.   Scandal and Mercy are the latest in the series.   They were preceded by Sorry and Pretty.   Each book can stand on its own merits; however, there’s much to be gained by starting with the first book for readers who are new to Ms. Littlefield’s writing.

“This here’s the hospital,” Chip said, as they arrived in front of an imposing clot of buildings featuring a big square limestone main structure and any number of added-on bits in a variety of architectural styles, making the whole thing look like a LEGO set designed by a drunk and hostile modernist.”

The presenting challenge might be rescuing her sister’s stepson from creditors who are seeking repayment for gambling debts, or a snotty former classmate of Stella’s who needs assistance with disposing of a dead body.   Stella does not shrink from a formidable opponent or smelly situation.   These characters are not the ones you’ll find in a British mystery – proper and polished; however, the lessons learned as the mystery is solved are every bit as meaningful and undoubtedly more poignant.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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Stairway to Heaven

No Rest for the Dead: A Novel by Sandra Brown, R. L. Stine, Alexander McCall Smith, J. A. Jance, Diana Gabeldon, Jeffrey Deaver, Lisa Scottoline, John Lescoart, Kathy Reichs, Raymond Khoury, et al. (Touchstone, $15.00, 286 pages)

Twenty-Six Writers.   One Mystery.

“The lineup of writers who have contributed to this mystery is akin to the Murderer’s Row of the 1927 New York Yankees.   There is not a weak spot in the bunch.”   David Baldacci

Can there by synergy when it comes to writing?   If 26 well-known and admired mystery writers collaborate on one story, can it be as good as, or better than, the work  of just one of them?   That’s the question behind the creation of No Rest for the Dead.   Each chapter or segment was written by one of the twenty-six writers or a combination of them.

The book includes police reports of the crime in question (by Kathy Reichs) and journal entries by the cop who would not let go of an old death penalty case (by Andrew F. Gulli).   The tragedy was that a wife who was the mother of two young children was executed for the murder of her husband, and the policeman had serious doubts he ignored at the time of the initial investigation.

While there are no obvious disconnects among the chapters, there are perspective shifts and slight changes in attitude as each writer adds his or her voice to the mix.   The tone may go from cunning to bullying or from scene description to dialogue.   For example, Faye Kellerman’s penchant for details marks her contribution and Lisa Scottoline’s snappy, terse dialogue is present in hers.

The typical plot elements include super locations in San Francisco that are accurately described and a sinister observer who is designated by an alternate font/typeface.   He/she is puzzling but not quite menacing.   Moreover, there are shifts from characters that are clearly cerebral to ones who are driven by emotions and actions.

Readers of Joseph’s Reviews may have noted that this reviewer is quite fond of the mystery genre.   Several of the authors who contributed to this book have provided a bedtime lights out that stretched into the early hours of the morning because their stories truly kept this reader engaged up to the final page.   Now, together, they provide a bit of magic!

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “…except for funds allocated to author payments, all of our profits from (this book) are going to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.”   Lamia J. Gulli

No Rest for the Dead was released as a trade paperback book on July 3, 2012.

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My Book Review Rules

I first posted my Lucky 13 book review rules and policies on July 31, 2009.   I am now reposting them with a few revisions and applicable updates.

The Lucky 13 Rules

1.   I am interested in receiving review copies on most subjects but especially biographies and memoirs; music; poetry; sports; science fiction; business books; nonfiction survery books; inspirational books (but not directly tied to religion); popular fiction; crime dramas; mysteries and suspense thrillers; family novels; Young Adult (YA) novels; children’s books and stories involving animals.

2.   I am not interested in vampire or zombie books; conspiracy theory books; political tracts; books promoting racism or hatred; books laden with philosophy or religion (been there, done that); overly simplistic self-help books (of which there are many); or books in which the author says the same thing on every page!

3.   If the reference to popular fiction was too vague, let me be clear:  yes, I will and have read “chick lit” (distinct from bodice rippers or old-fashioned romance) books.

4.   Whenever possible, I like to receive early stage review copies – paper bound galleys or ARCs, even if they are subject to final review, editing and corrections.   No one wants to write the last review of a new book.

5.   Yes, I do want to review books that are being re-released in paperback – especially in trade paperback form.   In this economy, paperbacks are often the only books on the radar screen of economy-minded readers.

6.   I finish around 80 percent of the books I start, but if I can’t finish it – meaning that attempting to do so is  more painful than dental work, I’m not writing the review.

7.   I’m a speed reader but it nevertheless takes me forever to read pages that have not been editing by someone in the world!

8.   Send an e-mail to me at Josephsreviews@gmail.com if you want to know if I’d like a copy of your book.   My receipt of your book does not equate with an automatic positive review (I simply try to be honest) nor a guarantee that I can or will finish it.   Again, I cannot guarantee that I will post a review of your book because you have sent it to me.   Also, please do not send me follow-up e-mails asking when I will be reading/reviewing your book.

9.   Some authors want me to not only review their book but to include a link to their website, or their Twitter account or other online address.   Sorry, I don’t do that.   Readers who have seen my review(s) and are interested in more information on an author can do a Google search.

10.  I do not read/review digital or e-books or pdf files.   (I have nothing against technology, it’s simply a matter of eye strain.)

11.  I love audiobooks on CDs, so if your book is available in this format and you or your publisher can supply me with an audiobook copy, it’s a big plus.

12.  Publishers, if you send me a book, please do include a P. R. sheet with some background information on the book and the contact information for the assigned in-house publicist or contact P. R. staff person.   If I post a review, I will be sure to let the contact know when it is posted.

13.  New authors – especially of nonfiction or self-published books, please have an experienced editor vet your work before submitting it for review.

That’s it.   Good reading to all!

Joseph Arellano

Note:   Some self-published books are reviewed on this site, although they remain the exception to the rule.

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Over the Rainbow

The Cruelest Month: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 320 pages)

A slew of awards and seven best sellers later, writer Louise Penny caught my attention.   As a prominent Canadian mystery writer, she has the credits to sell books easily.   Too bad this one took some getting used to before the charm of her tale took hold.   The rocky start was due in great part to the confusing character names, relationships and eerie references to a past horror experienced by the folks who inhabit a tiny village named Three Pines.   Yes, this is a village-set mystery in the style of Agatha Christie.   Moreover, there are multiple nationalities represented by the characters that make it quite interesting.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is the French Canadian officer who is called in to determine whether the person who died during a séance in a spooky abandoned house was the victim of a murder or merely a weak heart.   To make matters complicated, the house was the scene of a previous death that was investigated by – you guessed it, Inspector Gamache.   Gamache has divided loyalties as this is the place where he feels most at peace, despite having traveled far and wide.   His internal struggles with the politics within the police force where he is high in the chain of command provide an engaging counterpoint to the main story line.

Penny’s writing style is lush and layered with quips that reference casual, current day commercial aspects of life such as, “he appeared closer than he looked.”   This comment was made by one of the characters who spied his reflection in an automobile side mirror.   There are also smart segues linked by subject matter as various characters are interviewed separately by two policemen.   In one instance sandwiches are being served in a small cottage and the handoff comes as sandwiches are being served at the town bistro.   These may be small matters but they serve to keep the reader involved through the use of everyday occurrences.   The other-worldly portions of the story and the location provide the escape element that readers of mysteries often seek.

Personal reactions by both police investigators and village folk to the events that transpire after the murder add a human touch and a sense of grounding.   Specifically, the notions of beliefs (Wiccan or Catholic) and relationships (gay/straight and human attachments to pets/animals) are intertwined with the wonder that comes from being in the presence of true artistic talent.   The village of Three Pines is home to Canada’s most prominent poet and one of its best-known painters.

This reviewer was struck by the depth of soul-searching and philosophizing that’s depicted in the book.   There is truly value added to the usual murder mystery in The Cruelest Month.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Many mystery buffs have credited Louise Penny with the revival of the traditional murder mystery made famous by Agatha Christie.”   Sarah Weinman

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