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Monday, August 31, 2015


5 stars out of 5

The description of the plot made my interest in this book (which I received at no cost from Netgalley and Mason Alley Publishing) a shoe-in, but it was the writing that knocked my socks off. "Wow," I said to myself at the end of the first chapter, and I said it again when I finished the last one. In between, I'll just say that for the duration, lunch, dinner and bedtime didn't always follow my usual schedule.

The author has a wonderful way with words, crafting sentences that are poignant, witty and insightful that made reading a delight. Do I think he occasionally tried a little too hard to be clever? Honestly, yes; but just as honestly, I was captivated nonetheless.

What I didn't realize at the beginning is that this is the third featuring Jake Travis, a Florida former special forces investigator. At the outset, I was a little bummed that I wasn't starting from the beginning as is my pretty much written-in-stone rule, but as it turns out, it was of no consequence. There are a few references here to people and places I assume happened in the first two, but each was satisfactorily explained and I never felt out of the loop.

This one begins as Jake and his girlfriend, Kathleen, are finishing up a vacation in Europe. Jake gets a call giving him a special assignment: an international assassin named Alexander Paretsky has been targeting loved ones of Special Ops agents - murdering them presumably in an attempt to scare the agents off. Of late, the assassin has been known to don the robes of a Catholic cardinal and take walks in a particular garden; in fact, that's where Jake is told to find him - and take him out.

Although Kathleen knows Jake's line of work full well, he doesn't want to ruin their vacation by admitting to her that he's spent part of the time on the job. But after the deed is done and he and Kathleen have returned to Florida, it turns out he "clipped the wrong bird" - the man he killed was a real cardinal, and a popular one at that. Among other things, that means Jake decides to 'fess up; as he expected, Kathleen isn't thrilled  (although the killing didn't rankle her half as much as the fact that he took on an assignment while they were on vacation). She marches out, leaving him to wonder if she'll ever return while he reflects on the words and actions of the cardinal, who almost seemed to welcome his own death.

Once the investigation picks up steam (with help from a few of Jake's personable cohorts like partner Garrett and neighbor Morgan), clues lead to possible links between the cardinal, the assassin and a beautiful but mysterious woman. The truth remains elusive, but the team has to keep digging to find it before the assassin finds them. The ending wraps almost everything up neatly but leaves a couple of doors open a crack which, presumably, will open wider in the next installment.

And there will be one; according to the preview chapters at the end of this one, it will be titled Gale Force. Just for the record, I never read preview chapters no matter who the author is; I read so many books that by the time that next one is published, I've totally forgotten the preview so it's a total waste of my time. But in this case, it matters not - whenever it comes, I'm ready. Bring it on!

The Cardinal's Sin by Robert Lane (Mason Alley Publishing, July 2015); 368 pp.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Now without her former partner, Montana police investigator Cody Hoyt - star of two previous books (The Highway and Back of Beyond - detective Cassie Dewell ventures to North Carolina to help put away a man thought to be serial killer Ronald Pergram (a.k.a. Lizard King). Thanks in part to her efforts, he's finally behind bars. So, she heads back to The Treasure State and almost immediately leaves for a new position as chief investigator in Grimstad, North Dakota - a backwoods town that's growing by leaps and bounds as a result of a booming oil industry.

Almost before she attends her first department meeting, a 12-year-old developmentally challenged boy named Kyle witnesses a car accident in  which the driver was killed. Then he sees a "package" that apparently was thrown from the car, picks it up and discovers a load of cash and packets of white powder - and a possible turn of good fortune that will allow him to provide a better life for himself and his mother.

Meanwhile, Cassie learns she was brought in to replace a chief investigator who was demoted by Sheriff Kirkbride, the kindly but well-seasoned man who hired her (aha - can we smell the resentment brewing)? In addition to her regular duties, her boss wants her to keep her ear to the ground for possible irregularities within the department. All that gets put on the back burner, though, when mutilated bodies turn up that may be related to rival drug gangs - and more specifically, to that mysterious package Kyle found. As the investigation gathers momentum, Cassie gets a new partner, Ian Davis; he's a former undercover cop who infiltrated the burgeoning drug underworld but had to be pulled from the field when his identity was jeopardized.

There's plenty of action in this one - some of it on the gruesome side - and much of it takes place when the temperatures drop to double-digits below zero (I like winter temperatures better than summer, but that's way too cold even for me). There aren't a lot of surprises as to who the bad guys are, but how, why and who's gonna get bumped off next kept me interested and unhappy when I had to put the book down (but close to 100 fewer pages than is usual for this author meant I didn't need to do that very often). By the end, most of the loose ends are tidied up, although a few stragglers remain that are sure to be continued in the next installment.

Also noticeable is what may be yet another example of the product placement trend I've seen in recent books by other authors; the brand name of a well-known outdoor clothing manufacturer was mentioned three times within the first half of the book. To top things off, I got a wee chuckle over two of the central characters named Willie and Winkie - methinks somebody's got a sense of humor. 

Badlands by C.J. Box (Minotaur Books, July 2015); 288 pp.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


3 stars out of 5

I'm always eager to find a new series, so I was excited about the possibility of this one - even more so, perhaps, since it features a female detective. When I received a copy from Netgalley at no cost for review, I lit into it straightaway. But while I did enjoy it - and I hope to read the follow-up, titled Insincere - in the end my hopes may have been a little too high.

Elizabeth Ireland, a former detective with the Metropolitan Police, has relocated to Cork City, Ireland. She was the lead investigator a decade earlier when serial killer Ross Campbell (dubbed "Teardrop") vanished; now, an obnoxious newspaper reporter in Cork has received a letter supposedly penned by Campbell and announcing he's begun to kill once again. Elizabeth is called in by Cork law enforcement because of her past experience, but she runs into a ton of resentment that only gets worse when she insists Campbell is dead and couldn't have sent the letter.  

She does get some support from Frank, a chief detective in Cork City and her main squeeze (although they never seem to have much of a romantic connection - heck, I don't think they ever even kissed, much less, well, you know). The action heats up as one body is found, complete with all the characteristics of the earlier murders of which Campbell was accused - almost all, that is. More murders and more letters follow, and police still have no real clues; profilers and other experts from the original case are called in, and although a couple of suspects emerge, no hard evidence against them can be found. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is harboring a dark secret that only she (and readers!) know, and as she works the new cases, she's dogged by awareness that it may not stay hidden for much longer.

Quite a few characters have roles here - including that of suspects - and it was a little hard for me to keep them straight. Still, the chase kept me guessing and held my interest to the end when yes, I was surprised to learn the killer's identity.

On the other hand, the story seemed a bit disjointed, with a noticeable lack of transition in spots. The proceedings also raised a number of questions in my mind, most of which I can't mention without spoiling it for others (one example, though, is how on earth a 6-foot, 4-inch male can get so drunk on one glass of wine that he's hung over the following day. I know 10-year-olds who can hold their liquor better than that).

All things considered, though, this is an enjoyable book and a good foundation for future installments -- for sure I'll be watching for the next one. 

Tear Drop by Joanne Clancy (Amazon Digital Services Inc., August 2015); 199 pp. Kindle edition, 266 paperback.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Quick: When was the last time you found yourself rooting for the bad guy? It's hard not to do just that in this book, a Finalist for the 2015 Shamus Award for Best Indie P.I. Novel. I received a review copy at no cost from Netgalley, and it hooked me by the end of the first chapter and didn't let go till the end.

Finn Harding is a former private investigator who lost his license when he crossed a bit too far over the ethics line to suit the powers-that-be. He still plies his trade, but under the table; he's skilled at finding people who go to great lengths not to be found ("sort of like Death's GPS," as he puts it). Early on, it's clear that he won't hesitate to overlook ethics again if the money is right. But with an ex-wife with whom he shares custody of a young daughter and an aging but still feisty father, he's got a bit of a soft side that, when it kicks in, renders him vulnerable. His ability to shift easily from loving father to the dark side brought to my mind a line from from an old movie, book or TV show (so long ago I don't remember which), when someone described a gangster as having no heart. "Sure I've got one," came the retort. "It's right behind my shoulder holster."

Finn lives under the radar on a boat on the Ohio River in Cincinnati (I grew  up not far from the Buckeye State's Queen City, so that added another bit of interest for me). He's also got a sense of humor that made me smile now and again, reminding me, at least at first, of another very likable crook - bookstore owner and professional thief Bernie Rhodenbarr of the Burgler Who series by Lawrence Block.

Here, Finn takes on a shady client who's keen on learning who's blackmailing him and is willing to pay top dollar to find out. Finn is successful and the client is pleased; normally, that's a good thing, but now the happy client dangles more cash for even more unsavory work. Finn agrees, and things turn deadly serious as he finds himself facing a possible future either rotting alive in jail or dead in the ground. The nonstop action moves from Ohio to a remote spot in Maine and back, ending with a major cliffhanger, presumably leading to a follow-up book (in fact, the author says just that in the acknowledgements it will be titled Scar Tissue. I'm looking forward to it!

The Shadow Broker by Trace Conger (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, August 2014); 298 pp.

Monday, August 24, 2015


4 stars out of 5

It's long been my practice to start a new-to-me book series with the first one (or at least one of the first two or three) when possible. But this time, thanks to the opportunity from to read and review it at no cost, I decided to give it a go because the description sounded intriguing. Hopefully, I said to myself as I booted it up on my Kindle, my decision wouldn't put me at a disadvantage.

It didn't. Of course, I'm pretty sure there are earlier relationships and nuances therein that flew over my head in this one, the 7th in the series featuring English antiques dealer Lina Townend; but at no time did I feel lost or wonder what happened previously. I admit, however, to scratching my head (even turning to Google a few times) over the meanings of some of the very British words and phrases - and that's despite having a London-reared daughter-in-law and her brother close by so I'm somewhat accustomed to language from across the Pond. But I'm always open to learning; here, I ran across a particularly delightful expression when a would-be suitor was said to be a "posh toe-rag" (the meaning of that one came through loud and clear, and I already know a person who fits that description perfectly).

Lina, it seems, is quite a talented and sought-after fixer-upper of fine china, although given all her other activities - including Pilates, learning to dance and staffing her booth at trade shows - it doesn't seem she actually spends much time in the workshop. The story begins as she irritates an unlikable but important customer, all the while being concerned that her gay business partner and "protector," the elderly Griff, might be picking up loose ends with a and unsavory former love. Then, she drives past one of the historic churches that dot the countryside, and what to her wandering eyes did appear but two men -- clearly are in the throes of a robbery.

The police are called in, and Lina heads back home to learn about a very frail elderly woman who lives nearby and is in need of help; could it be that someone is taking advantage of her physical and mental disabilities and stealing her valuables? Lina sets out to set things right (and, if in fact thievery is involved, identifying the culprit). 

As if this weren't enough, there's soon a rash of break-ins at other historic churches, and Lina must deal with her father, who's a British Lord with a very checkered past (no doubt he's been a recurring character, but I found him so unpleasant that I won't cry if he never appears again). Throw in a couple of potential suitors for Lina and a couple of attempts on her life - presumably intended to throw a monkey wrench in her nosy nature - and there's plenty going on. Most of the action is downplayed, though, with more emphasis on the characters themselves - so don't expect a thrill-a-minute romp from beginning to end.

While I won't call it anywhere near the most exciting mystery I've ever read, the writing here is quite good, and I won't hesitate to read future installments. That said, I do have one complaint that has nothing to do with the writing: Could the publisher please, pretty please, shorten the overly long paragraphs - many of which exceed an entire Kindle page - and add a line space between each of them? It would make reading so much easier!

Guilty as Sin by Judith Cutler (Severn House Publishers, December 2015); 224 pp.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


4.5 stars out of 5

I've been a fan of Cleveland writer Les Roberts for too many years to count, and while he's written dozens of books, my favorites are the ones featuring private investigator Milan Jacovich (who is, for the record, is on my list of Top 10 favorite book "heroes"). By now, he's getting a bit longer in the tooth and losing some hair, but other than that, by golly, he's still got it.

The stories themselves are always a treat to read (I finished this relatively short one in a single day), but one of the reasons I enjoy the series so much is that my proximity to Cleveland and other parts of northeast Ohio is such that I've been there, seen that - and it's fun to get a view of it from someone else's perspective. This one in particular struck a chord; the action takes place in and around Ashtabula County - the county just north of ours (Trumbull) that borders Lake Erie - specifically, in the towns of Ashtabula and Conneaut. My husband and I visit the area fairly often; Just last week, in fact, we were sitting at a small restaurant in Conneaut Harbor chowing down on that delicious Lake Erie perch.

The story begins as Milan's lady friend, Cleveland homicide detective Tobe Blaine (pronounced "Toby"), gets sent to the ultra-small (and for the record, fictitional) community of Queenstown, somewhere in between Ashtabula and Conneaut. Murders of two fairly prominent and local men just occurred there, and solving such heavy duty crimes is well beyond the capabilities of local law enforcement. Tobe drags Milan with her, and right from the start, they hit a brick wall: Tobe happens to be African-American and she and Milan are out-of-towners - two pulls from under of the welcome mat in this close-knit place.

Before they can get very deep into the investigation, though, a third murder is reported - this time a local woman. The modus operandi is different in all three cases, adding to the mystery. Further, it appears the town's rowdy, insolent teenagers may have clues to whodunit, with a trail that stops on the doorstep of the pastor of the local Baptist church. Every Sunday (and apparently every chance he gets in between), he rails about sinning - specifically homosexuality and the evils of people whose skin isn't pearly white.

To help, Milan brings in his young assistant, Kevin O'Bannion (K.O.) - an experienced armed services vet who loves animals and is working on keeping his hair-trigger temper in check but is great with kids. He has some success, and the trail veers off toward a possible meth lab and the now privately owned prison in Conneaut where a man known as "The Prophet" rules supreme and just may have some answers.

More than that you'll have to learn by reading the book, but I will say I'm glad that I've never encountered this kind of behavior anywhere in Ashtabula County. Neither has the author, for the record; in the acknowledgements he emphasizes that he's been to the county many times and enjoys the places and people. But the fact is - I'm paraphrasing here - stories about nice people don't tend to sell well. 

In the end - maybe because the people involved were just too nasty - I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as the others. But ask me again down the road a bit; I did learn of a new-to-me place to eat in Conneaut - a pizza cafe that's one of the 25 oldest Italian pizzerias in the United States (founded in 1934). If it's anywhere near as good as the book claims, the discovery will more than make up for that half-star.

The Ashtabula Hat Trick by Les Roberts (Gray & Co., August 2015); 243 pp.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


3.5 stars out of 5

It's not an issue here on my own book review blog, but other websites at which I post reviews don't have an option of fractional ratings, so for them I rounded off my real rating of 3.5 stars to 4 instead of going the other direction - although to be honest, the latter crossed my mind. What didn't I like? For one thing, everything that happened seemed more than a little too contrived. For another, I can't imagine a real-life grown man being so gullible - time after time after time - no matter how head-over-heels in lust he thinks he is.

Apparently, the book has been optioned for a motion picture, though - and when I envision that, I'm pretty sure it would make a decent one. Looking back, most of the scenes would, I think, translate well to the silver screen (I'll vote for Ben Affleck as love-struck "boyfriend" George Foss.

I put "boyfriend" in quotes, BTW, because the word barely qualifies. Back in college in Boston, George had a brief fling with fellow student named Audrey - a fling he clearly took far more seriously than she. Now, 20 years after she vanished from his life, he sees a woman who looks like her and flips out all over again. Surprise: Turns out it's really her, although she now goes by the name of Jane. The bigger problem is that she's wanted by the police as the prime suspect in a long-ago murder (yes, George has known that fact for years but - another surprise - he shoves it aside in the hope that he can rekindle the college relationship that flamed out when she disappeared).

From there, for George, at least, it's downhill all the way. Not just once, but several times, Jane (who George now knows really is a woman named Liana from Florida) begs him to help get her out of a bind - and he agrees despite knowing that the long-ago murder he's now convinced she really did commit may be just the tip of the iceberg. 

The chapters shift from present to that brief college fling, and I found myself almost looking forward to the earlier periods. On reflection, I decided that anticipation was in part because I could understand the college-student hormones that were in play back then and wasn't constantly mumbling, as I did in the present, "For God's sake, George, grow a set!" each time Audrey/Jane/Liana made her latest demand and he quickly acquiesced. The ending, which in a very real sense isn't an ending at all (another bit of a sore point), was totally predictable.

Still, as I said at the beginning, the book is very well written and it all flows smoothly (well, except perhaps for those college-year chapters that are in all italics and thus more of a chore to deal with on the Kindle). It's definitely worth reading - keep in mind it's relatively short as books go - and it's for sure I'll be among the first to go see the movie if and when it happens.

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson (William Morrow, February 2014); 304 pp.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Unless it has James Bond in the title, my husband and I rarely go to a movie. But when I learned of the recently released Mr. Holmes starring wonderful actor Ian McKellen, I put it on my must-see list immediately. Not long afterward, I discovered this book, which is the basis for the movie - and in my rarely broken rule of book before movie, I got my hands on a copy. Now that I've finished with it, I'm doubly determined to see the movie and Mr. McKellen's performance - what a plum role this must be! 

Though relatively short at 272 pages, this isn't a book to be read quickly; there are simply too many details that would be missed by skimming. It begins in 1947 as Sherlock Holmes, now 93, is living at a farmhouse in Sussex, England, keeping bees and and claiming to "no longer crave" the bustle of London or Baker Street. He hasn't been in contact with his partner, Dr. John Watson, for a few years, and (as he does with most people), he keeps an emotional distance from his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (played by Laura Linney in the movie). His does, however, take pleasure - more than he likes to admit - in teaching her son, Roger, to work with the bees.

In his journal writings, Holmes takes pains to dispel what he believes to be myths about himself (largely conceived, he says, in Watson's writings of their adventures). Never, he insists, did he really wear a deerstalker, nor did he ever smoke a big pipe or call his partner by anything except his first name ("...he was John, simply John").

Holmes recalls various cases and events from other times, trying hard to recall the details and pertinent facts (his greatest fear, he says, is the forgetfulness that has accompanied the aging process). The chapters skip around in time a bit, and it's a little hard to discern whether Holmes's musings are fact or fiction, real or dream - intentional, I'm guessing, so readers can share the character's uncertainty. In fact, almost from the beginning, I felt dogged by a feeling of sadness as Holmes struggles with the realization that his once-brilliant mind has lost some of its luster.

Excellent book, with or without the movie.

A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin (Anchor reprint, May 2006); 272 pp.

Friday, August 14, 2015


4 stars out of 5

The family of NYPD detective Michael Bennett - his 10 adopted children, his Catholic priest grandfather Seamus and his off-again, on-again love, Irish nanny Mary Catherine - take back seats to the action in this, the 8th in the series. And I can't say I'm terribly disappointed. Yes, it's sort of fun to watch the kids grow up and (since I'm no spring chicken myself) a bit difficult to see what the aging process is doing to the good Father. But when it comes to the love interest, I've grown a bit weary; for the love of Killarney, either make an honest woman out of her or send her packing to the Old Sod.

In fact, that's where this one begins; Michael and Mary Catherine are in her native Ireland so she can oversee the sale of family property. When that deal goes awry, he leaves her to sort it out and heads back to work in New York City. He's concerned about Seamus, who recently suffered a stroke that may left left him in the throes of dementia. Before that can be determined with any certainty, however, an horrendous explosion rocks the city's subway. Before that dust has settled, with all law enforcement on high alert, a high-level government leader is assassinated - triggering a level of anxiety the city hasn't felt since 9/11.

Chapters alternate from Bennett's POV on the ongoing investigation and that of the two unknown to the cops bad guys behind all the murder and mayhem. Clearly, the pair are hell-bent on blowing the city to smithereens, but to me there was a bit of a comic element as well. Every time they appeared, I was reminded of Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, the dangerous dudes from the cast of an otherwise unremarkable 1971 James Bond movie, Diamonds Are Forever

At least one more act of mass destruction occurs fairly early on and the threat of another, even worse disaster prompts an unheard-of evacuation of the City that Never Sleeps. As the story progresses, I concluded that someone must have done some serious research to bring the whole thing together, on everything from weapon-making to history of New York - and that's a good thing. And, it's always interesting to watch the police and FBI fight over turf and credit (don't these two factions ever see eye to eye)? Ah well, at least Michael still gets on well with his old FBI friend, Emily Parker. As the search begins to zero in on the culprits, some of their "aha" moments test the limits of believability, but the action never slows down and I read the whole thing in almost record time.

There's a little family tension as the Irish college student Seamus found to take over in Mary Catherine's absence tries to get them all to safety during the evacuation. The young man's obvious rapport with the youngsters and slick organizational skills (surpassed only by Mary Catherine herself) also made me wonder if he'll take over the job permanently if Michael and Mary Catherine ever do get hitched. 

Alert by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge (Little, Brown and Co., August 2015); 400 pp.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


4 stars out of 5

When I read that one of my favorite authors, Sara Paretsky, had a new installment of her series featuring private investigator V.I. Warshawski (Brush Back, released in July), I rushed over to to learn more. When I got there, a more unpleasant reality hit: How the bleep did I miss reading not just one, but the previous three?

No satisfactory answer turned up, but not wanting to tackle the most recent entry without reading what came before sent me hustling to get my hands on those, starting with this one (the 14th). I was a little worried that I wouldn't remember much, but almost immediately a couple of characters from past books -- notably Warshawski's elderly and very protective neighbor Mr. Contreras -- made an appearance and eased my mind. 

One I don't recall is her niece, Petra - and quite honestly, she turned out to be so annoying that I'm hoping she'll find something to occupy her time halfway around the world and never be heard from again. The argumentative, petulant young wench added nothing of substance to the story that I could find. That, and a few more errors that I'd expect from a writer of this caliber (a woman frightened out of her wits described as having "blenched," for instance) are the primary reasons for knocking my expected 5-star rating down by one.

Do not, however, take that to mean I didn't enjoy this book; as long as I skimmed over Petra's parts (thus keeping in check my intense desire to smack her upside the head), I found it really hard to put down and finished it in record time.

Actually, it was Petra who got the whole thing rolling (though not in a good way); her aunt was trying to keep tabs on her after she took a job at an artsy, sleezy club in Chicago. A woman known as the Body Artist was performing; totally unclothed except for a tiny G-string and layers of paint, her "art" is inviting audience members to paint her body. After watching a young woman paint a winged design, Iraq war vet Chad Vishneski goes ballistic. A couple of days later, the young woman is murdered, dying in Warshawski's arms, in fact - and the vet, who is suffering from PTSD, is the prime suspect.

His parents believe he's innocent, as parents are wont to believe, and they ask Warshawski to clear his name. Since there are a number of inconsistencies and unanswered questions (what, for instance, do the strings of numbers mean that one rather nasty audience member regularly paints on the Body Artist's back?), Warshawski agrees to take the case.  Almost immediately, the plot thickens; the Body Artist pulls a disappearing act, it comes to light that the young vet brought back secrets with him from Iraq that some very bad people don't want revealed and Warshawski finds her own life in danger.

Body Work by Sara Paretsky (Putnam Adult, August 2010); 464 pp.

Friday, August 7, 2015


3.5 stars out of 5

The concept of product placement has been around for years; it's not unusual to see a can of name-brand soda or a cup of coffee from a major chain in a TV show. As more folks watch recorded shows and skip over the commercials, it's become an alternate (and most likely pretty effective) way to beat TiVo and keep the advertisers happy.

The practice happens in books as well, although from what I've read it started more recently. Mind you, I'm not saying for certain that's the case in this one, but when at least five mentions of a specific brand of outdoor clothing popped up even before the halfway point, it sure made me wonder. To be sure, it's a well-known brand that the characters might well own, but with that many name drops, I'm hoping somebody got paid very well (hint from me for the next in the series: One or two mentions is acceptable, but more than that is enough, already)!

The book itself - the fifth featuring former U.S. Army Ranger and Tibbehah County, Mississippi, sheriff Quinn Colson - just didn't grab me even though it's well written as usual. To begin with, Colson, who has been voted out of office and is in the process of packing up his [insert brand name here] jacket and other belongings, just isn't a person with whom I can identify. He continues to wrestle with his on-again, off-again drug- and alcohol-addicted sister Caddy - though why, I don't know. Sister or no sister, I'd have kicked her sorry butt to the curb after the second round of rehab didn't "take." Then there's a gone-again, here-again father who still revels in his Hollywood stuntman days, a mother who cooks a couple of things really, really well and a couple of seriously corrupt folks such as Johnny Stagg who have been running their illicit schemes for years without much interference.

So far, nobody's been able to bring Stagg down, but if anyone can do it, Colson can - and he's willing to die trying whether or not he's the sheriff. The action begins with a break-in at the home of a lumber mill owner wherein a huge safe is stolen. Apparently, it held not only tons of money, but documents that could incriminate Stagg and a number of his cronies. Even though he's no longer a lawman, Colson is asked by the acting sheriff, his friend Lillie Virgil, and his long-time love, Anna Lee Stevens (who he "stole" from her husband and onetime close friend), to investigate. 

After that, a tangled web gets woven so fast it made my eyes cross. So many characters started popping in and out of the chapters that beyond the major players, I gave up trying to figure out who did what and who was in cahoots with whom. In the end, things get sorted out and for the most part, justice is served - and a twist leaves the door open for the next installment.

I'll also caution those who care about such things that the language from the backwoods good ol' boys is coarse, to say the least - particularly when it comes to the female anatomy (that said, no, I did not learn any new words). All told, this is a solid addition to the series, but far from my pick of the litter.

The Redeemers by Ace Atkins (G.P. Putnam's Sons, July 2015); 384 pp.

Monday, August 3, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Even though author Paul Levine doesn't look anywhere nearly old enough to have written for the ABC TV series Moonlighting that aired from 1985 to 1989, this book so reminded me of the interaction between the characters played by Cybill Shepard and Bruce Willis that I actually checked to see if his name is listed anywhere in the writing credits. The biggest difference between the TV show and the book in my mind is that  the former pair were partners in a private investigation firm and the two in this book - Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord - are lawyers. Aha, I said to myself - it's also more than a little reminiscent of another more recent TV show, NBC's Harry's Law, starring Kathy Bates (there's even a list of "Solomon's Laws," the first of which is, "When the law doesn't the law").

I looked for Levine's name in the credits of that show as well, but I didn't find it there either. So, I'll say simply that anyone who enjoyed the bickering, sexual innuendos and snarky one-liners on either or both of those shows most likely will love this book - the first of a series of four. The dynamic duo first meet in court when the two are opposing counsel. Lord is totally put off by Solomon's devil-may-care courtroom antics that come close to crossing the ethics line, and he's relentless in his attempts to ruffle the feathers of the newly minted state's attorney whom Solomon considers to be "hot" but way too straight-laced. Needless to say, he's successful - and as a result they both end up in the pokey on contempt charges.

Ultimately, mostly thanks to Solomon's badgering, Lord gets fired. In theory, that's not a huge problem since she's engaged to a wealthy but nice (think ho-hum) guy who wants her to join his business. But Lord isn't quite ready to give up the courtroom (nor, given her soon-to-be husband's vegetarian bent, her meat).  And by now Solomon is in lust and will do just about anything to convince her she's got a place in his firm - and his bed - so let the games begin. 

Then, a local millionaire bites the dust, supposedly the victim of sex play with his trophy wife gone wrong. Lord, who knows the now-widow, wants to take the case, and Solomon convinces her to let him help. Meanwhile, Solomon is fighting a battle of his own. A while back, it seems, he "rescued" his druggie sister's young son Bobby, who's been seriously abused and exhibits autistic and savant characteristics (he's a pro at anagrams, for instance). The local powers-that-be want the child put in a place where he can be prodded, poked and tested - and Solomon will do just about anything to keep that from happening.

The book follows the murder and custody cases both in and out of court, all the while showcasing the love-hate "relationship" between Solomon and Lord. In spots, the dialog is chuckle-out-loud funny; in a few others, it gets downright silly, prompting me to go with 4 stars instead of 5. Still, it's an easy-to-read romp, and now I'm looking forward to the other books in the series.

Solomon vs. Lord by Paul Levine (Bantam Dell, 2005); 578 pp.