Tag Archives: Shamus Award Winning Author

Broken Arrow

Die A Stranger (nook book)

Die a Stranger: An Alex McKnight Novel by Steve Hamilton (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 288 pages)

Steve Hamilton’s Die a Stranger is his 11th novel and 10th in the Alex McKnight series. He has won two Edgars, a Shamus and an Alex Award for his crime fiction, and an award from The Private Eye Writers of America. He can write. He constructs effective plots without being overbearing and his characters are worth caring about.

McKnight, a former cop and sometime private investigator, is once again drawn into the evil that pervades and invades the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He has a shady past, but his moral center carries these novels as he throws away the book and generally saves everyone from others or themselves, while trying to reconcile his conscience with his actions. In short, with McKnight, the ends justify the means.

This is the second Hamilton-authored novel that I have reviewed (the first was Misery Bay), and I will admit that I mostly like his work. Objectively, this is how I depict Die a Stranger.

Drug smugglers exploit the Canadian border, and, by coincidence, innocent and not-so-innocent bystanders in Paradise, Michigan, become players with life and death on the line. Vinnie LeBlanc, a sober individual with a former drunkard for a father struggles with the blurred lines between life on the reservation and a life free from his onerous past. One night after a funeral, he goes off the wagon and shows up missing. Since McKnight was LeBlanc’s caretaker during that evening of modest revelry, he must attempt to find the man when he goes missing the next morning.

McKnight loses control, situations evolve, and when LeBlanc’s father reappears, McKnight pairs up with him in the quest to find the missing person. Multiple narrow and improbable escapes take the reader to the end. For me the bottom line is this: The beginning of the novel is strong and draws the reader in. A last minute plot twist (not uncommon for this genre) adds something to the ending after things have stalled out. I initially thought I would like this book – and I wanted to, but I do not think the “chase” is effective. The partnering of McKnight with LeBlanc’s father comes off as overly contrived and simply does not work.

Die a Stranger (back cover)

I thought this novel had a great deal of potential but it kind of got off track – or left the reservation. Still, this book is recommended for general readers and for fans of private investigator/private detective novels.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dave Moyer is an educator in the Midwest and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Here is a review of Misery Bay: An Alex McKnight Novel by Steve Hamilton:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/misery/

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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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The Big Hurt

Hurt Machine: A Moe Prager Mystery by Reed Farrel Coleman (Tyrus Books, $15.95, 320 pages)

If you recognize the song title above, you’re a contemporary of Moe Prager, the hero of this, the seventh book in the mystery series.   Reed Farrel Coleman is a prolific author whose ability to spin an engaging tale is obvious in this well-paced novel.   Although Coleman’s work is new to this reviewer, the comfortable intimacy of Moe Prager’s first-person narrative made the story meaningful.

Faced with a nasty stomach cancer diagnosis just weeks before his daughter Sarah’s wedding, Prager ponders his mortality.   He references past characters who have informed his life, some living and some, like Israel Roth, gone from this world.   Since the story is part retrospective and part reality check, the appearance of former wife Carmella is the perfect segue into the past.

Prager is a former cop whose array of acquaintances comes in handy when he takes on Carmella’s request to clear up her sister Alta’s good name.   Alta and a co-worker walked away from a dying man which was an unforgivable sin, considering the two were emergency medical technicians with the New York Fire Department.   Not long after the episode, Alta was murdered in the street near a famous restaurant.   Well, the restaurant, actually a pizzeria/gelato spot, is famous by Brooklyn standards.

Regardless of the plot twists and interwoven groups that populate the story, it is the effort that Prager makes to reconcile his longing for Carmella, the obvious love offered to him by current girlfriend Pam, and his yearing for future grandkids that compels the reader to move along with him to the last page.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Hurt Machine is also available a Nook Book and Kindle Edition download.   “…contemporary who-dunits don’t get much better than Shamus-winner Coleman’s seventh Moe Prager mystery.”   Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Gift Yourself

Thanks to Tyrus Books of New York City, we have a gift for all e-book readers.   Between now and Christmas Eve, you can use your Kindle, Nook or personal computer (or tablet) to download a free copy of Hurt Machine: A Moe Prager Mystery by Reed Farrel Coleman.   Publishers Weekly has already listed Hurt Machine as one of the the best novels of 2011, and The New York Times is publishing a major review of this gritty Private Investigator mystery on Christmas Day. But you don’t have to wait to get your copy – nor do you have to pay for it.   Just go now to Amazon, Barnes & Noble or other e-book selling sites, enter the title Hurt Machine and enjoy your free download.   Merry Christmas!

Joseph Arellano

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Burning Down the House

Eyes of the Innocent: A Mystery by Brad Parks (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 294 pages)

“I’m not saying it’s simple to find and tell the truth.   It takes a great deal of hard work, intellectual honesty, open-mindedness, and a willingness to keep listening to people even when your gut is telling you they’re full of it.”

This second appearance of Carter Ross, an investigative journalist in Newark, New Jersey, is a morality tale with a mystery added for good measure.   The worst case fallout from the great housing debacle of the recent past is the theme of this book.   Carter and his protegé, a blonde intern nick-named “Sweet Thang,” set out to fulfill the big boss’s demand for a space heater story to be run in the Newark Eagle-Examiner.   As the reader can easily imagine, this assignment becomes a much greater story filled with heinous crimes and enough anxiety to satisfy the most demanding mystery/thriller reader.

“Editors are 98% full of stupid ideas.”

Author Park’s news background is put to good use as he sets out a primer on choosing  journalism as a career.   He employs Carter’s first-person narrative to poke fun at the others and produce some excellent character development.   There’s also a third-person narrative set off by the use of italics that weaves in the most sinister element of the story.   This other thread serves to highlight Carter’s honesty and commitment to his profession via a stark contrast.

Although the tale is told from a male’s perspective, it is surprising how chatty Carter can be when he considers his feelings, likes and dislikes.   There is a bit of smugness on his part but given the golden professional reputation Park ascribes to Carter, it appears to be well-earned.

There is a strong similarity to the mysteries, Dog Tags and Flipping Out by the writing team of Lomax and Biggs.   Indeed, these books and Eyes of the Innocent are very much like going on a police ride-along.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   “This book held me hostage until the last page.”   Michael Connelly

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