Tag Archives: mystery series

Cold As Ice

stone cold heartStone Cold Heart: A Novel by Caz Frear (Harper, $26.99, 328 pages)

Detective Constable Cat Kinsella stars in this, the second British police procedural mystery from author Caz Frear.  For many readers it’s the second novel that’s the true test of a writer’s skill.  Rest assured readers of this genre – fans of writers such as Peter Robinson, Jane Casey, and Peter James – I could go on.  Ms. Frear has another success in Stone Cold Heart.  After reading this novel, I’m looking forward to reading the first in the series, Sweet Little Lies.

Predictably, the opening page features a stream of consciousness statement from an unknown person.  The requisite references to killing and death are assurances that this read will not be tame or boring.  DC Kinsella begins her narrative in August 2017 with a rather ordinary trip to a coffee shop.  Well, the coffee is not ordinary nor is the barista.

Fast forward to November of the same year, a Tuesday to be specific.  We’re introduced to Luigi Parnell, Kinsella’s partner, as well as their boss, Detective Inspector Kate Steele.  Murder Investigation Team 4, as they are called, is considering a scene with a 22-year-old murder victim, Naomi Lockhart.  Kinsella’s remembrance of past visits to this neighborhood is a head’s up to the reader that there will be a blend of her past and the present.  She encounters many triggers to her memory during the tale.

Author Frear provides the usual banter among the members of the MIT4.  Moreover, throughout the book she takes time to thoughtfully describe the various aspects of each scene and the thoughts and actions of her characters.  Perhaps it is the cinematic feel of her writing that sets these characters and their profession apart from an ordinary British police mystery.  In fact, the DC Kinsella novels are now being made into a television series.

The underlying issues that move the story forward are trust and truth.  As one would expect, the tale is advanced as MIT4 searches for the answer to the age old question, who done it?

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The book is highly recommended for mystery/thriller readers and especially those who are dedicated readers of British police procedurals featuring a female detective as the main character.

Ruta Arellano

Stone Cold Heart was published on July 2, 2019.  A review copy was received from the publisher.

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Four on the Floor

Four British Mysteries featuring Inspector Banks by Peter Robinson.

peter-robinson

Peter Robinson is an author who has been busy creating an engaging series of mystery novels since 1987. He’s wildly popular and yet, somehow this reviewer has missed out on the entertaining Inspector Alan Banks series. Enter a selection sent by the publisher containing the most recent work, When the Music’s Over (#23), and two trade paper versions of previously released books, In a Dry Season (#10) and In the Dark Places (#22).

What followed was a marathon session of immersion into this series. The bonus was finding a dated advance reader’s copy of Bad Boy (#19) that had been shelved in our library since 2010! Author Robinson is a master at bringing the reader into the atmosphere of his tale. City or country, each is thoroughly believable. Music also performs a role in setting the pace of the action as well as giving the reader a sense of his characters’ tastes and temperaments.

Robinson often develops two strong plot lines that converge in the solution to the mystery/murder case being investigated. These plot lines can be set in the past and the present, or simultaneously occurring the present. Of the four books I’ve read, all have been primarily located in London and rural areas of England with some travel to other countries.

The characters one comes to know and appreciate are: Inspector Alan Banks – later in the series he’s Detective Superintendent Banks; Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot – Banks’ sidekick and onetime love interest; Banks’ daughter, Annie, who ages as the series progresses; and various members of the police squads wherever Banks is assigned.

The main crime topic is always murder, usually with a side dish of criminal enterprises including kidnapping, drug sales, and general mayhem. As one would expect, there are ample red herrings to keep the reader working along with Banks, Cabbot, et al.

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In a Dry Season: An Inspector Banks Novel by Peter Robinson (William Morrow, $14.99, 442 pages)

In a Dry Season opens with a prologue dated 1967. A woman who has been recently widowed has a secret past. She travels to the town where she grew up, Hobbs End, which is now at the bottom of a reservoir. Next, the story shifts to present day (1999) where a young boy is exploring the ruins of Hobbs End that have been recently exposed due to a drought. The boy, much to his horror, unearths a skeleton.

What follows is a British police procedural complete with the attitudes toward female detectives prevalent in that era. Three well-developed plot lines provide the reader with a most engaging read.

Highly recommended.

bad-boy-amazon

Bad Boy: An Inspector Banks Novel by Peter Robinson (William Morrow, $25.99, 352 pages)

Bad Boy features Tracy Banks, at this time a young adult, who is distancing herself from her father. Tracy is working at a dead end job after doing poorly on her college exams. Roommate Erin Doyle is not much better off in her waitressing job; although she does have an attractive boyfriend who gives her gifts and shows Erin a good time. Jaff, the boyfriend, has no visible means of support – hence he’s most likely the bad boy of the book’s title.

The young women and their respective families have been friends for many years. All the normal life that went before is horribly derailed by misguided acts that result in consequences that neither girl could have possibly anticipated. The tale brings the reader with Annie Cabbot and Alan Banks as they traverse the English countryside hunting for Tracy and Jaff.

Highly recommended.

In the Dark Places: An Inspector Banks Novel by Peter Robinson (William Morrow, $14.99, 336 pages)

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In the Dark Places has the most convoluted and intricate plot lines of the four books I read. Inspector Banks and his team are challenged by several peculiar disappearances and subsequent murder discoveries. Their best detecting skills are needed when a young man goes missing and a truck driven by a seasoned driver tumbles off a slick and twisting road during a hailstorm killing the driver and tossing his cargo onto the steep hillside below the road.

DNA, cell phone records and GPS tracking are heavily relied upon in order to crack the multiple crimes committed by a devious and thoroughly ruthless mastermind whose obsession with money powers his actions. Author Robinson’s smooth writing allows the reader to be engaged while navigating the plot developments that are clever and even subtly misleading.

Well recommended.

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When the Music’s Over: An Inspector Banks Novel by Peter Robinson (William Morrow, $25.99, 421 pages)

When the Music’s Over is a slowly developing police procedural that follows two cases. The first is a cold case involving the rape of vulnerable underage teens perpetuated by a highly successful man in show business who is now in his mid-eighties. The second is the discovery of a brutally murdered white teen whose life was ended on a country road after being brutally attacked by men in a van.

The two cases are simultaneously investigated; the cold case is assigned to DS Alan Banks and the teen murder is assigned to DI Anne Cabbot. Although the exploitation of teen girls is the common theme of the cases, that’s where the similarity ends. A rich white man and a group of scheming Pakistani men could not be more dissimilar in their social standing. Regardless, the end justifies the means for both.

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This, the most recent of the series, tends to develop at a painstaking pace for nearly half the book. Once the groundwork has been completed, the action picks up and the reader is rewarded with some serious detective work involving bravery and solid instincts. Caution, this tale is not for the faint of heart.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

When the Music’s Over was released on August 9, 2016.

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Brooklyn Secrets

Brooklyn Secrets amazon

Brooklyn Secrets: An Erica Donato Mystery by Triss Stein (Poisoned Pen Press, $15.95, 242 pages)

“I’m from Brooklyn. In Brooklyn, if you say, ‘I’m dangerous,’ you’d better be dangerous.” – Larry King

In Brooklyn Secrets, Erica Donato is an urban history graduate student. And she is a single mom with an teenage daughter. While conducting research for her dissertation on organized crime in Brownsville in the 1930s, a young girl with a promising future, Savanna, is beaten to death and, shortly thereafter, Savanna’s girlfriend is also found dead.

Secrets is Stein’s third “Brooklyn” book, following 2013’s Brooklyn Bones and 2014’s Brooklyn Graves. Brooklyn Ware is coming next. All are part of the Donato mystery series.

Poisoned Pen Press is dedicated to the crime/mystery genre and Stein’s third novel is commendable. It will likely have regional appeal and, early on, the reader is invited in with promise. Stein writes primarily in dialogue and for those crime/mystery fans who enjoy that approach they, too, will likely enjoy the book. At 223 pages, the book registers as readable and accessible.

Yet, for this reviewer, the book is not in the upper echelon of books in the genre. After a positive start it falls short of truly engaging the reader, drawing him or her in, or moving them willingly on to the next page. The characters could have been developed to a greater degree (something difficult to do when a writer relies heavily on dialogue), especially after the initial assumption that the mom-daughter, Erica relationship theme would have greater prominence or importance as the story develops. It’s not clear why so many contemporary novels are structured around a single mother lead character, but when this is the case the mother-child relationship should presumably be well developed.

Brooklyn Secrets back cover

Brooklyn Secrets is a respectable novel, but it is a difficult read to connect with.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is an education administrator in the great state of Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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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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You’ll Lose A Good Thing

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Flesh and Blood Cornwell (Amazon)

Flesh and Blood: A Scarpetta Novel by Patricia Cornwell, Book #22 of the Series (William Morrow, $15.99, 369 pages)

Kay Scarpetta and her husband, Benton Wesley, are readying for a Florida vacation. She’s a medical examiner in Massachusetts and he’s an FBI profiler. Kay is called to a murder scene less than a mile from their 1800s home in Cambridge near the Harvard campus.

Kay and Benton manage to take their trip but the time they spend in Florida is anything but relaxing. Work interferes, as usual, and Detective Pete Marino of the Cambridge Police Department is drawn into the scary events that follow. There are terse conversations between Kay and Pete, which is par for this series ever since Pete quit his job at Kay’s crime lab. Loyalty seems to be the issue.

Long established grudges and proclivities on the part of all the main characters often get in the way of the crime solving. This book is consistent with the prior installments of the series. The story line has progressed over time; however, the mistrust and anger felt by the characters can be off-putting. When you add Carrie Grethen, the ultimate personification of twisted evil, pain and suffering are the outcome.

Author Cornwell’s stream of consciousness writing is sometimes difficult to follow. Her need to show off for readers with criminal and medical procedural details may be fascinating for first-time readers. After a few books it can be more than a bit boring.

Flesh and Blood back cover

Recommended strictly for highly loyal Patricia Cornwell fans and medical mystery enthusiasts.

Depraved Heart Cornwell

Depraved Heart: A Scarpetta Novel by Patricia Cornwell, Book #23 of the Series (William Morrow, $28.99, 466 pages)

A heavy-duty autobiography introducing Dr. Kay Scarpetta hits the reader in the opening pages of this book. The story line picks up two months after the conclusion of Flesh and Blood. Kay is back on the job in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The housekeeper has found the naked body of a Hollywood celebrity’s daughter on the marble floor of an impressive home not far from where Kay and Benton live. It could be an accidental fall from a ladder, but who changes light bulbs when they’re naked? Perhaps it’s a staged scene to cover up a murder. As usual there are plenty of gory details elaborately described by Kay as she sifts through possible clues in the house.

Thus begins another agonizing trek through Kay’s tortured relationships with Detective Pete Marino, niece Lucy and super villain, Carrie Grethen. Lucy, genius inventor and tech wizard, and her partner Janet have settled into an enormous estate with their adopted son. The place is loaded with enough electronic spy equipment to make a tech-loving reader drool.

Lucy, ever the rebel, is the target of FBI scrutiny and harassment. She is sure that Carrie is behind the full-on invasion of the estate that, surprise, occurs in tandem with the discovery of the naked young woman. A series of flashbacks experienced by Kay via videos sent to her cell phone connects the reader to the time when Lucy and Carrie were at the FBI Academy. It’s complicated and sometimes difficult to follow.

By now, you might have caught on that this reviewer won’t be jumping on the next installment in the series. Sometimes more is too much!

Patricia Cornwell

Recommended strictly for Patricia Cornwell fans and medical mystery enthusiasts.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

Flesh and Blood was released in a trade paperback version on January 5, 2016.

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It Takes Two

Writing Teams Present Prequels to Their Mystery Series

A Fine Summer’s Day: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery by Charles Todd (HarperLuxe, $26.99, 368 pages)

A Fine Summer's Day

Just months before the outbreak of the Great War, Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard anticipates a wonderful future with a beautiful woman. The peril that his country will face isn’t yet a concern. His life as an inspector is satisfying and he uses his instincts while he chases after killers.

At the outset of the book, a series of events are presented to the reader in order to establish their gravity as they coalesce into the tale that unfolds thereafter. Rutledge is a 24-year-old who sees a great life ahead for himself, his fiance, Jean, and his beloved sister, Frances. Together they will become a new family after the loss of his parents. The notion of those left behind, surviving family members, runs through the book.

The mother and son writing team billed as Charles Todd has produced a prequel of sorts, or perhaps a reflection of the pre-World War I challenges and choices faced by Rutledge. Unique to this writing team is the balance between male and female points of view and characterizations.

The resulting tale reads not as neutral, but rather as a subtle balance between points of view. The plot is enriched by myriad details – be they scenery, modes of transportation, clothing, manners or class distinctions specific to the time period in which this complex English mystery occurs.

Highly recommended.

The Breaking Point: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass (William Morrow, $26.99, 373 pages)

Breaking Point cover

As the 10th novel in the series opens, Dr. Bill Brockton is in his element at the Body Farm located at the University of Tennessee. Offering wry humor to FBI agents studying decomposition to aid them in solving crimes. The time is June 18, 2004. This tells the reader that a flashback/prequel is about to unfold.

Brockton, for lovers of mysteries who have not yet discovered the series, is a warm, caring man whose unlikely expertise brings him into startling crime scene investigations as he assists law enforcement agencies all over the USA. He exhibits reverence and respect for the bodies entrusted to his first-of-its-kind research facility.

The crime scene this time around is a fiery private plane crash site in southern California. The victim is a philanthropist who Brockton and his equally talented wife, Kathleen Walker Brockton, Ph.D., have supported with both financial and personal time and effort donations. The loss of this man is not the only one to be endured in the tale.

The writing duo, Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson, are head and shoulders above other writers of the same genre (i.e., Patricia Cornwell). This novel puts a lock on their ability to engage their readers with facts, gore (though tempered just this side of grossness) and compassion for the suffering of mankind.

The Breaking Point is a deeply moving tale that fills in the events in the years preceding the rest of the books in this fascinating and educational series. Family, trust, caring and civic duty make their presence notable in a struggle between good and evil of many sorts. No spoilers here out of respect for the talent this awesome twosome display in book after book.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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Two Of A Kind

Two British Authors With Different Approaches to Crime

The Stone Wife (nook book)

The Stone Wife: A Chief Superintendent Peter Diamond Investigation by Peter Lovesey (Soho Press, $26.95, 368 pages)

Witty British mystery stories can be addicting. The reader knows that a satisfying one is like an escape from the mundane, an opportunity to spend time with detectives who are able to cut through the confusion and trick the villains into revealing their responsibility for evil deeds. Peter Lovesey has added a 14th Peter Diamond tale to his long list of publishing credits. The Stone Wife is most certainly a member of this charming and addictive genre. The opening pages are reminiscent of the Lovejoy television series wherein the main character is an antiques dealer who susses out the real from the fake, often at auctions.

The Stone Wife begins at an auction where masked gunmen interrupt contentious bidding for a slab of carved stone. The current high bidder boldly intervenes as the masked men are poised to whisk away the stone slab. Alas, the bidder’s actions result in a nasty abdominal wound that is quickly followed by his demise. Of course, the local police are summoned and Peter Diamond, head of the Bath Criminal Investigation Division (CID), and his team begin their search for the masked men.

Lovesey fills the story with easy dialogue and a good balance of description and action. The reader is provided background regarding Chaucer’s life and writings. This information ties to the carving on the stone slab, which becomes a nagging reminder of the unsolved case in Inspector Diamond’s office. The CID team members, including Ingeborg Smith and Paul Gilbert, put themselves in harms’ way to assist in untangling a rather convoluted interplay among some really nasty criminals.

Infidelity and envy are motivating factors for the crime. The twisting and turning of the plot can be a bit off-putting. By comparison, Skeleton Hill, an earlier book in the series, is more like a well-crafted game of Clue.

Recommended.

Under a Silent Moon: A Novel by Elizabeth Haynes (Harper, $25.99, 359 pages)

Under a Silent Moon

Every little thing felt like flirting where Hamilton was concerned. Did he do it to everyone, or just to Lou? And how did you stamp your authority on the working relationship when there was this sort of history between you? Two months ago she had been a DI, and his ranking equal… Her swift rise to DCI was all due to her grim determination to get her head down and concentrate on work rather than let herself be distracted by men, or one man in particular – Andy Hamilton.

A deliberate timeline, memos from the detective chief superintendent, illustrations of reports throughout and elaborate charts at the back pages of Under a Silent Moon set this police procedural apart from others of its genre. Author Elizabeth Haynes prefaces the book with an explanation of her use of IBM computer software to simulate an actual murder investigation. She assures the reader that the characters are pure fiction.

The suspicious death of a very pretty young woman kicks off this tale. Detective Chief Inspector Louisa (Lou) Smith catches the case, her first major crime as a senior investigating officer. Smith is anxious to get it right, not mess up on the case. She needs to assert her leadership role with the members of her team, including Andy Hamilton, who is both brash and intimidating. By contrast, Smith favors a calm and warm approach to policing. Her style may not suit the promotion she has recently won.

The scene of the crime is the upscale neighborhood of Briarstone. The victim, Polly Leuchars, is not just beautiful; she is also known for her promiscuity with both men and women. Her brutal murder touches many residents, both current and past, of the country town. A second murder adds to the urgency and pressures that DCI Smith feels from the upper echelons of the police department.

Haynes provides a large cast of characters, many of whom seem to be deliberately confusing. These characters include Taryn and Flora, their fathers and several police officers – both male and female. Thankfully, there’s a roster at the front of the book to assist the reader when the names become overwhelming. Timing plays an important role in the solution of both of the crimes.

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Despite the in-your-face presentation, readers of thrillers will most likely enjoy the specificity and details that make this more than just another procedural. Clearly, this is not your tame Miss Marple-style of British mystery. Under a Silent Moon is promoted as the first in a new series from Haynes. It will be interesting to see whether she is able to maintain the tight format and specificity of this compellingly tense novel.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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