Tag Archives: mystery novel

White or red?

White with Fish, Red with Murder: A Frank Swiver Novel by Harley Mazuk (Driven Press, $15.99, 372 pages)

white with fish

White with Fish, Red with Murder is a debut work by Harley Mazuk.  This is a mystery novel with some clever locations, quirky characters, and pitch perfect 1940s dialogue.  The narrator, Frank Swiver, is a private detective in San Francisco – circa 1948, who is eager for a paying client.  As luck would have it, Frank’s interest in wine is the ticket to a job!  Retired General Lloyd F. Thursby has planned an excursion on his private rail car with wine tasting as the entertainment.

“Hey, sweetheart.  Sorry I was late.  You look like a million bucks, you know?”

The general has an ulterior motive.  His good friend Rusty O’Callaghan was murdered and the general wants Swiver to finger the guilty party as the train wends its way from Oakland, CA to the wine country.  Swiver, under cover as a writer, brings along his trusty secretary/girlfriend, Vera, ostensibly as his date; but actually Vera is working with Swiver.  The party becomes complicated as each of the invitees boards the train.  The most notable guest, as far as Swiver and Vera are concerned, is Rusty’s widow, Cici O’Callaghan.  And, to make matters more complicated, Swiver and Cici have a shared romantic past.

“Look kid, I know you’re sore at me.  But the surest way to get you out of here is to find the real killer…”

Author Harley Mazuk has done his homework.  The cast of characters is straight out of a black and white mystery movie ala George Raft and Edward G. Robinson.  Even their names are indicative of the era.  And the language fits the period:  “A dame who may have been on the make perched at the other end (of the bar).”

Mazuk’s attention to detail is remarkable.  Of course it helps that this reviewer’s all-time favorite movie is the 1944 classic, Laura, making me a suitable critic of these matters.  And, I think mystery readers of all ages will be sure to enjoy the train trip and ensuing action to its conclusion.

The only slight detraction lies with the book’s cover art.  Yes, the story could be considered to be of the noir genre; however, the color and placement of the author’s name is far too dark.  Mazuk deserves better billing.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from a publicist.

“A delicious throwback to the  PI stories of Hammett and Chandler when all the dames had shapely gams.”  Alan Orloff, author of Running From the Past.

 

 

 

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Life in the Slow Lane

All Men Fear Me

All Men Fear Me: An Alafair Tucker Mystery by Donis Casey (Poisoned Pen Press, $26.95, 302 pages)

Well, now, Charlie, just because I disapprove of this war doesn’t mean I’m a traitor. I think of myself as a patriot, and a patriot of the real kind. This is my big, messy country. I love it. I want for it to be the best country there is. If it suffer ills, I want to cure them. I want for every citizen to enjoy all its rights and privileges, and I believe it is my duty to try and help that happen.

One part history lesson, one part family drama and two parts man’s inhumanity to man is the recipe for Donis Casey’s eighth installment of life in rural Oklahoma in 1917. Alafair Tucker is the center of her large family – 10 children ranging in age from 25 to four years of age, husband Shaw, and her brother Robin. Robin, a labor organizer, is visiting after being away for ten years. The rabid fans of war and nationalism in the small town of Boynton view Robin’s organizing efforts as Socialist-leaning and contrary to the ways of true Americans.

The country has recently entered World War I and a draft has been set in place to raise an army. Alafair is trying mightily to balance her love of her brother with the fervent longings of her 16-year-old son, Charlie, who desperately wants to enlist in the military. The townspeople of Boynton are divided between being suspicious of anyone perceived as “foreign” and their loyalty to long-time friends and neighbors. Kurt Lukenbach, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Germany is married to one of Alafair’s daughters. The more rabid patriots in town regard Kurt with suspicion and hostility.

There is trouble all around in Oklahoma. It’s as though the wood for a fire has been laid and along comes a man with a can of gasoline and a match to hasten the process. The stranger in the bowler hat who arrives in town at the start of the story is literally the catalyst that brings latent hate and fear to a flash point.

Author Casey takes her sweet time setting up the action in this book. Although it is considered a mystery novel, it is more of a history lesson with a covert mystery imbedded within the text. Readers who enjoy a slowly paced and thoroughly detailed story will enjoy this installment of the Tucker family goings on.

As with many books that feature the daily diet of the characters, All Men Fear Me has at the back several recipes featured in the story. Additionally, a calendar of the war rules pertaining to food is listed for readers who curiously enjoy details with their murders.

Recommended to readers fond of life in the slow lane.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on November 3, 2015.

You can read a review of Hell With The Lid Blown Off: An Alafair Tucker Mystery here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/were-off-to-see-the-wizard/

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Pop Fly

Sacrifice Fly A Mystery

Sacrifice Fly: A Mystery by Tim O’Mara (St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 320 pages)

“Noontime, and I’m still pushin’ myself along the road, the darkest part
Into the narrow lanes, I can’t stumble or stay put…” Bob Dylan, “I and I”

O’Mara Connects with Sacrifice Fly

Tim O’Mara’s debut novel Sacrifice Fly is one of the better mystery novels this reviewer has read in recent years.

Raymond Donne is a Brooklyn school teacher and former cop who becomes entangled in the disappearance of one of this students, Frankie Rivas, and his sister when their father is murdered. Donne, whose police career ended due to a freak injury, can’t resist his innate urges to play detective when he is disappointed with the actions of the men in blue. Donne gets in over his head, making for enough drama that his uncle, the chief of detectives, has to get involved to help bail him out.

The best aspect of the novel is the consistency of storytelling and voice from start to finish, which is not easy to pull off. The only blip here is the incident when Donne is on a date at a police gathering and lets some of his blue machismo surface unnecessarily. This is out of character for him and does not seem to fit.

Frankie is billed as a baseball phenom whose “way out” of the neighborhood is a scholarship to a local private high school baseball power that Donne helped him secure. However, this does not actually have much to do with the story, so any reader expecting a story focusing on baseball will likely be let down.

Sacrifice Fly back cover

The story is told without pretense and it works. The reader gets a happy ending, though Donne himself is left dangling with the loose ends of his relationships and physical rehabilitation still in limbo, which screams for a sequel.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Tim O’Mara’s novels have only been released in hardback and Kindle and Nook Book editions, not in trade paperback versions.

Dave Moyer is an education administrator, and the author of 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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Another Tricky Day

This Private Plot (nook book)

This Private Plot: A Novel by Alan Beechey (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 307 pages; $14.95 [trade paper], 260 pages)

“The odd thing about a banana.” Oliver Swithin mused as he chased the naked policewoman across the moonlit field, “is not that it’s an excellent source of potassium, but that everybody seems to know it is.”

Not exactly the standard mystery novel opening line (i.e., “It was a dark and stormy night….”).

Author Alan Beechey launches this book, his third in the Oliver Swithin series, with the quote listed above; and he proceeds to the finish without easing up on the charm, mayhem and quirky situations. The English countryside is the locale and the event is Oliver’s visit to his parents’ home. He has brought along his girlfriend, Detective Sargent Effie Strongitharm, the naked policewoman whom he is chasing in the moonlight. By the way, Oliver is in the same state of undress.

While out on their jaunt, Oliver discovers the body of a retired children’s TV show personality who read stories to the kiddies. It is hanging from a nearby tree. Of course the fellow happens to be dead. With this discovery, the mystery attains focus. Since Oliver happens to be a well-known author of children’s books, he’s familiar with the fellow. It’s not immediately evident whether the death is a suicide or murder.

The plot is artfully tangled with twists and odd revelations by the characters. In a way, the diligent pursuit of the truth is a vehicle for the outrageous character names such as Lesbia Weguelin and Effie Strongitarm. Moreover, Oliver has a remarkable memory for details that he calls anti-trivia. His details are not the usual every-day stuff known by most of us – George Washington’s wooden false teeth, bananas being a good source of potassium. Oliver is planning a book that will feature the best of his details and the reader is treated to many of them along the way to the grand finale of This Private Plot.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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The Chain

The Perfect Ghost: A Novel by Linda Barnes (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 310 pages)

I know it’s not art… but it’s writing. It’s work, a bold answer to the inevitable question What do you do? It’s a way to support myself beyond mere and meager subsistence. It’s a life. It’s my life.

The Perfect Ghost (nook book)

This is a story that devolves before the reader’s eyes. The Perfect Ghost begins as a novel filled with beautiful language that brings to mind Maggie Pouncey’s novel, Perfect Reader. Ghost is about a ghost-writer, Em Moore, who works with a partner — the public face of the team — to write a highly successful non-fiction book about Hollywood celebs. When the partner suddenly dies, Em must fight tooth and nail to convince the publishing company to let her finish a follow-up book about a famous film director for which she and her deceased partner had a contract.

Unfortunately, author Barnes — who in the past wrote numerous mysteries — is not content to stick with this intriguing story line. Instead, the book veers off the main road (that of a novel) and turns into a diversionary journey (a mystery) about multiple crimes. As in most mysteries, all is resolved in the final pages. But by then the thrill is gone.

At just 300 pages this story is almost a novella, which means that not too many hours of reading will have been wasted. That’s small comfort, very small. You know an author is in trouble when she begins larding the story with lines from Shakespeare’s plays.

“All’s well that ends well.” Such is not the case here.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on April 9, 2013.

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Something’s Gotta Give

Simple (nook book)

Simple: A Mystery by Kathleen George (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 322 pages)

Simple is not only a really well-crafted police procedural mystery; it is also the story of a mother’s love and her son’s gentle nature. Cal, who has been a victim all his life, is accused of the brutal murder of Cassie, a newly-minted attorney who has bought a house in a less-than-desirable part of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Cal seems to be more than a bit simple; however, considering the battering he endured over the years by bullies, he is remarkably able to quietly work as a handyman on neighborhood homes including Cassie’s.

There are times when she studies the shoes and hair and clothing of the people who come to the Connolly house and tries to figure out what about these things costs so much money. The black dresses she will see tonight, the sundresses, the sandals with decorative knots or jewels, cost a month’s salary. But she’s not always sure these things are pretty, that’s what bothers her.

Elinor, a woman with mixed racial blood, works for a wealthy man with high political ambitions. She diligently runs the Connolly household year in and year out, first for the senior Mr. Connolly and then for his son. Her son Cal, who has passed for white all his life, is the center of her world. She has unwavering love for him even when he is considered the prime suspect in Cassie’s murder.

Cal’s being a victim may seem like a sure segue to anger and violence. Main police characters, Detective Colleen Greer and Commander Richard Christie are willing to look past the obvious and consider alternative scenarios. The racial issues that are a considerable factor in this tale are particularly relevant with 2012 having been an election year. The aspects in this tale are about mixed race folks (like President Obama) rather than black vs. white tension. There are strong contrasts presented in Simple and relationships aren’t what they appear to be on first glimpse.

Author Kathleen George peels back the twisted layers of her story to reveal an undercurrent that is full of evil. Her book is sort of like a John Grisham work, but not really. It has more of an old-fashioned Dragnet approach, not so dramatic, rather, simple.

How shallow life is, that because nature handed her physical beauty, she should have such power.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “If anyone’s writing better police thrillers than George, (we) don’t know who it is.” Entertainment Weekly

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