Tag Archives: Poisoned Pen Press

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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Ride the High Country

High Country Amazon

High Country Nocturne: A David Mapstone Mystery by Jon Talton (Poisoned Pen Press, $14.95, 326 pages)

Well my heart’s in the highlands… I’m gonna go there when I feel good enough to go.” Bob Dylan, “Highlands”

In John Talton’s High Country Nocturne, Mike Peralta, a former sheriff, is implicated in a diamond heist. David Mapstone, a private investigator and former business partner of Peralta, becomes embroiled in a classic good guy-bad guy morality tale; however, for the greater part of the novel one can be excused for being unclear in terms of who the actual good and bad guys are.

When it comes to “Strawberry Death,” there is no ambiguity. She is an evil sociopath who sends Mapstone’s wife, Lindsey, to the brink of mortality. The FBI is involved and Mapstone becomes “re-deputized,” but the story is a manhunt to avenge Lindsey’s perpetrator, solve the mystery of who is behind the diamond smuggling, and navigate Mapstone’s conscience so that he can restore and repair relationships with those who matter in his life.

For those familiar with the geography of Arizona, there is just enough in the book to cultivate some regional interest.

Talton has written 11 novels. High Country is above average in most areas: dialogue, voice, storytelling, character development, intrigue, etc. It will likely be an enjoyable read for most fans of the genre. The tale began with great potential but falls somewhat short of being a truly excellent piece of writing.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was received from the publisher.

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

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Magic Unleashed

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Unleashed: A Kate Turner, DVM, Mystery by Eileen Brady (Poisoned Pen Press, $15.95, 266 pages)

Animal lovers get set for an adventure-filled mystery from Eileen Brady, the second in her Kate Turner series (Muzzled was the first book). Toto, a wire haired Cairn terrier owned by artist Claire Burnham, is left an orphan in the care of Dr. Kate Turner, the vet in Oak Falls, New York. Claire’s death is an apparent suicide but the prologue of Unleashed sets up the death as a pre-meditated murder.

The cheerful easy-going narrative of Kate’s life as a small town vet is engaging and her relationships are consistent with the first book in the series. Kate and her assistant, Mari, make house calls when emergencies or problems with non-portable pets such as potbellied pigs occur.

Kate’s wide circle of friends and clients provides her with several potential alternatives for Claire’s “suicide.” Readers will be brought along as she works through each of her suspicions about Claire’s demise.

Unleashed 3

Brady’s journal quality writing brings the reader along during Kate’s work and off-hours. There are many fascinating veterinary cases presented throughout the text. This book has much to offer.

Well recommended.

Magician's Daughter

The Magician’s Daughter: A Valentine Hill Mystery by Judith Janeway (Poisoned Pen Press, $14.95, 236 pages)

Next up is the first in a series featuring an aspiring magician named Valentine Hill. Valentine is a young woman who is working as a magician’s assistant in a casino in Las Vegas. Her first person narrative is brisk and fast-paced. Her status as an actual person is tenuous because her mother has withheld Valentine’s birthdate and the name of her father. Yes, this is an odd situation for anyone and is especially so due to her mother’s habit of running scams and flitting from one duped mark to another.

There’s a fine line between a quirky story and a silly one. Author Janeway has mastered the art of telling a really good story, albeit one definitely off the beaten path. Valentine moves from Las Vegas to San Francisco in search of her vital statistics as she follows clues to her mother’s whereabouts. The folks she encounters along the way provide the reader with an inside look at a segment of society (hustlers and buskers) that is not part of most mysteries.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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Don’t Look Down

Never Look Down 2

Never Look Down: A Cal Claxton Mystery by Warren C. Easley (Poisoned Pen Press, $15.95, 312 pages)

Fans of Portland, Oregon will be delighted with author Warren Easley’s series set in and around the city. Never Look Down is the third in the series (Dead Float, Matters of Doubt) featuring Cal Claxton. Claxton is an attorney who balances his boutique winery clients in the country with his pro bono work in Old Town Portland for folks of all ages and persuasions that are down and out.

Easley has a smooth, natural writing style that works well in both the chapters narrated in the first person by Claxton and the third person narrative chapters – from the perspective of a teenage orphan whose street smarts are both instinctual and learned. The counterpoint to Claxton’s adult measured approach to life is Kelly Spence, whose father died in a mountain climbing accident leaving her to fend for herself along with her dad’s girlfriend Veronica.

The urgency created by a murder witnessed by Kelly brings the two together. Claxton’s best buddy, Hernando Mendoza, was collateral damage from the murder in that the woman he was going to marry was the victim. Kelly is a tagger whose work is anonymous and yet noted by the establishment in downtown Portland. Her anonymity is in jeopardy as she bounces around the city running from the murderers.

Never Look Down back cover

Anything beyond these storyline basics will give away too much of a well-crafted plot. To Easley’s credit, the story has an even balance of both Claxton’s and Kelly’s perspectives on life and living.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

Not Dead Enough

Not Dead Enough, the fourth book in the Cal Claxton Oregon Mystery series will be released by Poisoned Pen Press on June 7, 2016.

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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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A Poisoned Pile of Mysteries

A Variety Pack from Poisoned Pen Press

Where the Bones are Buried

Where the Bones are Buried: A Dinah Pelerin Mystery by Jeanne Matthews (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 288 pages; $14.95, 288 pages)

Hold on to your hats Wild West fans! The improbable mix of Berlin, Germany and fans of American frontier lore are at the center of this wacky murder mystery. Dinah Pelerin is the heroine of this tale. She has a lover who is a former Norwegian cop and her mother, Swan, is a Native American from the Seminole tribe.

Author Jeanne Matthews presents a deeply puzzling death amid a powwow event held by the Berlin Der Indianer Club. Who knew that Native Americans might fascinate Germans? At least this explains how Dinah has a gig teaching Native American cultures in Berlin. This is Dinah’s fifth appearance in the series so there’s a fascination with her by mystery lovers.

Swan is a rather tricky character who’s out to get revenge. She visits Dinah in Berlin and together they manage to get themselves into some very tricky predicaments after finding a scalped murder victim.

Recommended for mystery lovers who are looking for a fresh perspective on murder.

Caught Dead

Caught Dead: A Rick Van Lam Mysery by Andrew Lanh (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 290 pages; $14.95, 290 pages)

Back in the USA we find Rick Van Lanh, an Amerasian private eye in Connecticut. Rick is hired by members of a small Vietnamese community in Hartford to determine whether the drive-by shooting of Mary Le is just a random incident or murder. Mary is a twin. She and her sister are known as the “beautiful Le sisters.”

The tale is told in a breathless, naive way that is heavily laden with racism both external (Vietnamese vs. others in Hartford) and internal (mixed race children who are a product of the war in Vietnam vs. pure blooded Vietnamese). The clashes also include tensions between Buddhists and Catholics and, of course, the rich and the poor.

There’s a bit of meandering for Rick as he searches for a motive to explain Mary’s shooting. The complexity and conflicts he encounters make this somewhat of a laborious read. This would likely be an unlikely selection for the typical reader.

Murder in Picadilly

Murder in Picadilly by Charles Kingston – British Library Crime Classics (Poisoned Pen Press, $12.95, 316 pages)

And now, back to our regularly scheduled mystery style – British mysteries of the 1930s, in other words, true classics! Poisoned Pen Press has brought back out-of-print mysteries that were popular in their day. This selection features Bobbie Cheldon and his nightclub dancer crush, Nancy Curzon. Bobbie is the lazy and self-centered son of a widowed mother. His uncle, his deceased father’s brother, is a wealthy tightwad. Bobbie longs for the day when he inherits his uncle’s fortune.

The book is written in fascinating syntax and figures of speech that draw the reader back in time. Make no mistake, there’s no casual cruising through this text. The reader cannot afford to be lazy or skim as the charm and humor of Charles Kingston’s writing style will be missed.

Members of the British caste system in its many permutations interact throughout the tale to form a truly tangled web of greed and deceit.

Highly recommended for purists who devour classic British mysteries!

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher and/or a publicist.

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The Living is Easy

One for the Money, Two for the Show, Three to Get Ready, and Four to Go!

Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries, Edited by Martin Edwards (Poisoned Pen Press, $12.95, 288 pages)

The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude (Poisoned Pen Press, $12.95, 232 pages)

After the Funeral: A Hercule Poirot Mystery by Agatha Christie (William Morrow, $12.99, 286 pages)

The Monagram Murders: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery by Sophie Hannah (William Morrow, $25.99, 302 pages)

Print

It’s summer and the living is easy; however, dying, not so much. Three classics that have been revived and a new Hercule Poirot tale are easy choices to bring along on vacation. All are British and they provide wonderful examples of the genre. Each has the charm and wit that fans expect.

Poisoned Pen Press of Scottsdale, Arizona, a publishing house dedicated to the mystery genre, has begun a series of rereleases of British crime novels from the golden age of crime writing. The British Library Crime Classics in this review are Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards, and The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude.

Resorting to Murder

The title Resorting to Murder is a play on words as each of the 14 engaging short stories takes place in a vacation/resort setting. The variety of murders is impressive given the theme restriction. The book is easily read several stories at a sitting or parceled out one per evening – depending on the length of the reader’s vacation.

Highly recommended.

Sussex Downs (kindle edition)

The Sussex Downs Murder comes complete with a map of the locations where the action takes place. Superintendent Meredith is called in to investigate when John Rother disappears leaving behind an abandoned car smeared with blood. The tale is full of twists and turns but the criminal responsible for John’s disappearance is no match for Meredith’s smart detecting.

Well recommended.

After the Funeral

In 2013 writer Sophie Hannah was commissioned by Agatha Christie’s family, estate and publishers to write a new Hercule Poirot novel. As a prelude to the release of said novel, Hannah was asked to name her favorite novel featuring Poirot. Her choice was After the Funeral. The rerelease of this book in trade paper includes a foreward by Ms. Hannah and a comprehensive listing of the titles in The Agatha Christie Collection.

As with all Poirot mysteries, the solution isn’t really plausible, rather, it’s the mental acrobatics the reader goes through while following Poirot’s investigation that makes for an enjoyable read. In this tale Cora Lansquentet, a widow, is savagely murdered the day after her brother’s funeral. Her announcement at the funeral that he was murdered sets the stage for the subsequent investigation of her murder. Each of the surviving attendees is a suspect. Never fear, Poirot is on the case, and, of course, he identifies the suspect – albeit after some laborious use of his little gray cells.

Well recommended.

Monogram Murders 3

The physical book is a nod to Agatha Christie’s long history of Poirot novels. The pages inside the front and back covers are vellum and the text pages are deckle edge. Thus, the reader is primed for a classic British mystery.

Poirot dines regularly at a coffee house in his neighborhood. A young woman who is fearful for her life approaches him. Subsequently, Poirot learns of the deaths of three guests at a London hotel.

Hannah employs the locked door, mysterious clue and anxious stranger seeking Poirot’s assistance to launch her take on Christie’s legacy. Readers will not be disappointed as she is clearly up to the task. Poirot’s voice is true and the details of his investigation are highly reminiscent of the classics written by the original author.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar

Collar Robber

Collar Robber: A Crime Story Featuring Jay Davidovich and Cynthia Jakubek by Hillary Bell Locke (Poisoned Pen Press, 414.95, 296 pages)

We got the deal done at two in the afternoon my time, which meant that Shifcos was clocking some major overtime. We’d fenced a bit, mostly for pride’s sake I think. Just before noon she’d written, ‘I need you to come off $170K,’ so I knew we had it made. All we were arguing about was bragging rights.

Right up front on the first page author Hillary Bell Locke makes it perfectly clear that she’s using a non de plume; however, she’s a bona fide lawyer with a Harvard Law School degree as is her main female character, Cynthia Jakubek, who was featured in a prior book by Ms. Locke. Moreover, none of the characters are people with whom Ms. Locke is acquainted or related. She must delight in creating goofy names like Dany Nesselrode and Amber Gris. There are more of them throughout the tale, but I digress.

The key to understanding what’s happening in this very convoluted insurance investigation crime story is missing from the book. That element is a chart listing all of the named characters. In this book every one of them counts. No need to designate whether the individuals are good or bad. Each of them crosses the imaginary line, or at a minimum, sidles up close to it. The confusion arises because, sometimes the reader sees a name, such as Mr. Szulz, and at other times he’s Willy. There’s C. Talbot Rand, AKA Tally and Proxeine Violet (Proxy) Shifcos who answers to both her nickname and her surname.

Actually, a multi-part grid might be a better element than a chart. The characters are primarily Catholic, Jewish, rich or struggling. For example, Cynthia Jakubek is Catholic and struggling whereas Sean McGoeghan is Catholic and beyond rich. Lucky for Cynthia, Sean believes in her abilities and provides a hefty annual retainer to assist with her budding law practice.

All the fuss and negotiating centers around a painting, Eros Rising, which was coerced from its Jewish owner, Gustav Wehring, during World War II by, you guessed it, the Nazis. Fast forward to present day Pittsburgh, where Herr Wehring’s descendants have approached the Pittsburgh Museum of Twentieth-Century Art with a demand for the return of their family treasure. The painting is the main draw for visitors to the privately funded museum. It is insured for $50 million by Transoxana Insurance Company – Proxy and Jay Davidovich’s employer. Cynthia represents Willy Szulz who may be able to clarify the legitimacy of the museum’s ownership of the painting for a hefty price.

Fortunately for the reader, Ms. Locke believes in sticking to a timeline. Wording such as “The Last Thursday in March” designates each section of the book. She presents the action in the form of a narrative from the perspective of either Cynthia or Jay. Each of them is clearly in a separate bargaining camp when it comes to the painting. That’s not to say they are complete adversaries. There’s plenty of transoceanic travel by several of the key characters that manage to get themselves into precarious situations. Puns and double entendres are sprinkled liberally throughout the book. These giggles and some outlandish predicaments are reasons enough to read it.

You may be wondering where the title of this review originates. Readers of a certain age – make that an older age – will recognize it as the name of a very popular radio serial from 1949 through 1962. It was a favorite of this reviewer for three reasons: firstly, our family did not own a television until 1962; secondly, the stories were fascinating; thirdly, my beloved grandfather was a claims investigator for the Prudential Life Insurance Company of America. His stories were really good, maybe even better than Ms. Locke’s or those broadcast on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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The Quest

The Sirena Quest (nook book)

The Sirena Quest: A Mystery by Michael A. Kahn (Poisoned Pen Press, $14.95, 298 pages)

What is the likelihood of two widowed lawyers featured in a mystery – one a January 2015 release from Poisoned Pen Press and the other a December 2013 release from author Adam Mizner, A Case of Redemption? It’s probably not unheard of, but this reviewer read them both within a few weeks of each other purely by accident. That’s where the similarity ends.

Author Kahn provides a slow start to his latest book, a stand-alone. By the way, Sirena is a 300 pound bronze statue that has been the subject of many pranks since it was donated to an eastern college. Ultimately, it disappears. The main characters are four fellows, freshman roommates at the college in 1970. Sirena is still a legend many years after the abduction when they begin college life.

Fast forward to 1994 when a wealthy alumnus offers up a huge reward for the return of the statue, $25 million. The bulk of the reward is an endowment to the college; however two million is a reward for the finder(s). The four roommates decide to take the challenge. The pace picks up as clues are deciphered. The fellows only have a limited time before the deadline and they are hot on the trail.

Kahn shifts among the main characters giving the reader glimpses of the men 24 years ago during their freshman year at “Barrett College.” Barrett is a stand-in for Kahn’s alma mater, Amherst. The true value of this tale is the touching way the author portrays his characters. Their lives, like most of the rest of us, have their highs and lows. As the story concludes, the reader can feel emotions seep from the page into the real world.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Beware of the Poisoned Pen

Books from the Poisoned Pen Press – Variety Abounds

Avoidable Contact

Avoidable Contact: A Kate Reilly Mystery by Tammy Kaehler (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 296 pages)

We’re plunged into the world of Daytona endurance racing from the very first page. Avoidable Contact is the third book in author Kaehler’s Kate Reilly mystery series. Readers are quickly introduced to 38 characters within the first 52 pages! A sense of urgency surrounds Kate whether it’s on the track as an endurance driver in a 24-hour race at the Daytona International Speedway or behind the scenes with the pit crews and groupies.

Kate’s not-so-secret boyfriend Stuart is the victim of a hit-and-run just hours before the big race is scheduled to start. The circumstances are cloudy and not at all typical of Stuart’s usual behavior. Naturally, Kate plunges in to figure out what actually happened. While the sleuthing is somewhat choppy, the real entertainment in the book lies in the actual race descriptions.

Once Kate begins her stint at the wheel of the Sandham Swift Corvette in the 24-hour endurance race, her cinematic description of the action feels authentic. A graphic of the racecourse is a helpful reference for the reader. The missing piece is a chart of the teams and characters.

Recommended for race fans.

Death in the Dolomites

Death in the Dolomites: A Rick Montoya Italian Mystery by David P. Wagner (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 229 pages)

The square had begun to fill with the late afternoon crowd, many wearing ski outfits but shuffling about in soft, puffy boots or sturdy street shoes. The tall streetlamps had come to life, their yellow light picking up the flakes as they fell to the ground.

The dust jacket of this charming book depicts the icy blue Italian mountain town where Rick Montoya has gone with his buddy Flavio Caldaro for a winter ski vacation. The banter between these fellows is engaging as they scope out the lovely ladies of the town. The setting and season are perfect for reading in winter.

The two men met in college at the University of New Mexico years earlier. Rick is a translator and the book contains many Italian words and phrases. Flavio is a wine merchant and Rick loves good Italian food. The reader will crave the fine dining experiences artfully depicted in Wagner’s near-poetic writing.

Rick is a likeable fellow whose adventures were introduced in Wagner’s debut mystery, Cold Tuscan Stone. As with the earlier book, this one is a clever missing person/murder puzzle that he’s determined to solve even if he is on vacation. A missing American banker is Rick’s main concern. The local police and Rick’s uncle, a Roman police inspector are the official investigators; however, we know who will crack the case!

Well recommended.

Desert Rage

Desert Rage: A Lena Jones Mystery by Betty Webb (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 402 pages)

For a change of location and a definite change in attitude there’s Desert Rage, the eighth book in author Betty Webb’s series featuring Lena Jones, owner of Desert Investigations in Scottsdale, Arizona. The opening gambit is a rather gross prologue full of gore and indifference. A narrative by private investigator and former cop Jones launches into her political views via criticism of a Hummer vehicle and large houses in Scottsdale.

The slant on Lena’s perspective is easy to understand as she is the product of a troubled past in foster care, having been dumped into the system with a gunshot injury at a very early age. Lena’s techie sidekick is Jimmy Sisiwan, a full-bloodied Pima Indian. Together they take on a rightwing client, Congresswomen Juliana Thorssson, who has a deep past of her own.

The slaughter described in the prologue revolves around the congresswoman, a teenager named Ali and her boyfriend Kyle. The point of view shifts among Lena, Ali and Kyle as each tells their side of the story. The telling is well-paced and enjoyable. There’s plenty of accurate Arizona scenery included, which makes for pleasing reading whether or not you have been to the desert southwest.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher or by a publicist. Avoidable Contact and Death in the Dolomites are also available in trade paper editions.

You can read a review of Cold Tuscan Stone here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/tuscany-days-and-nights/

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