Search This Blog

Friday, April 29, 2016


4 stars out of 5

Some of my favorite authors don't hesitate to tackle issues important to them - Brad Thor and John Grisham come to mind immediately. But Gott im Himmel - in this one, the editorializing nearly obliterates the story. And that's too bad because there is a story here, and, IMHO, a darned good one. 

I came close to missing it; after a few chapters, I'd grown so weary of the bashing of the wind energy industry, "crooked" politicians, newspapers and business leaders that I actually considered giving up. Now that I'm finished, I'm very glad I hung in there, and I thank the publisher for offering me a copy for review. My 4-star rating, in fact, is based on the underlying story - with the caution to other readers that  they'll have to ride out a soapbox derby to find it.

In fairness, though, the ever-increasing wind turbine farms in Maine is not only central to the plot here, but an important environmental issue: Their presence, particularly in such large numbers, clearly is harmful to wildlife and humans (hence the title of the book) while bringing, not insignificantly, the lure of huge profits to proponents. Hey, I'm from northeastern Ohio, where the big issue now is fracking; trust me, I get it. But in a work that's touted as fiction, the constant haranguing is, well, overkill.

I'll also note that this is the author's second book featuring former Special Forces veteran Pono Hawkins, who mostly spends his civilian life surfing in Hawaii (the first is Saving Paradise, which I have not read). This book stands alone well, though; I didn't realize there was a previous book until after I'd finished it. That said, when the main character mentioned on a couple of occasions, "As I said in that other book..." I did wonder what the heck he was talking about. 

Here, he's called to come to Maine - in the dead of winter, yet - to help former Special Forces teammate Bucky get out of jail after being charged with murder (as well as a successful shootout that destroyed a couple of wind turbines). Problem is, Bucky and Pono aren't even close to being friends; Bucky's testimony back in the day helped put Pono in prison (he was exonerated shortly thereafter), and then he had the audacity to marry Pono's girlfriend Lexie. But loyalty to the corps trumps everything else, so Pono reluctantly says goodbye to the ocean waves and heads to the Pine Tree State, where his own ancestors are lying (probably in unrest, given the current environmental issues).

Then things start to get muddled - and very cold. For openers, Bucky is less than cooperative despite his insistence that he's innocent. In short order, Pono becomes the target of an unknown sniper, and as one might expect, his lust for his pre-prison flame Lexie returns with a vengeance. The course of his investigation also puts him in close contact with the murder victim's widow, Abigail, and long-ago girlfriend Erica, now a hot-shot attorney. For sure, there's plenty of contact to go around; the sex scenes really aren't graphic, but they're plentiful enough that I started to suspect that while the incessant whine of those turbines may be destroying the hearing of local folks,  it's making them very horny as well.

The corrupt powers-that-be, of course, aren't happy to find Pono's nose in their big business. At every ice-covered turn, he's thwarted by local police, who seem intent on putting him behind bars again. And in the middle of all this, Pono learns that his beloved father, who's still in Hawaii (where the government also is corrupt, BTW), is dying of cancer. Pono needs to get back to see him, but that won't be easy when the police are eyeing his every move. Besides that, his efforts could be putting the three women with whom he's enamored in danger. And there's this: If the corruption is as entrenched as he believes, even if he's able to track the identity of the culprits, nothing will be done about it.

Some editing would be helpful here and there - a few words are omitted in sentences, and it struck me as odd when a character whose grammar has been almost impeccable suddenly  pops up with, "I didn't do nothing." Of course, how it all works out in the end I won't reveal, but I'll certainly repeat that this is a story worth reading. 

Killing Maine by Mike Bond (Mandevilla Press, August 2015); 388 pp.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


4 stars out of 5

What a wild ride! For a debut novel, it sure is impressive. My thanks to the author for providing me with a copy in exchange for a review.

The story begins as Ella leaves her home in San Diego to visit her sister, Lorraine, who is dealing with a serious illness. Lorraine, whose former husband Craig left her to marry Martha, the woman with whom he had an affair while married, also has help from Lexy, an au pair originally from London. Lorraine also has a teenage son, Logan - who stays with her and regularly visits his father, Craig. There's also an infant son, Sam; the father is someone with whom Lorraine had a fling after her marriage fell apart and who has little interest in being in his son's life.

Almost the second Ella arrives, things start to get a bit crazy - most notably as Lexy and Logan suddenly do a disappearing act. A police investigation ensues, Lorraine's condition makes a steep downhill turn both physically and mentally and suddenly everyone's behavior comes into question. More than that I won't reveal, except to say that chapters alternate among the main characters - as well as time period - with each adding background clues that show how what happened then impacts what's happening now. The author uses that technique to good advantage, but I admit it was a little tough for me to keep straight; I was so engrossed in the story that I kept forgetting to check the date and time on each chapter before plunging ahead. There are twists and turns (some I expected, others I did not), and the ending leaves the whole thing more than a little bit open to interpretation.

There were a few inconsistencies that bothered me a bit - such as text messages that were deleted but easily retrieved and responded to in one instance but apparently deleted and lost forever in another - hence my decision to round down to 4 stars instead of up to 5 for reviews on websites that do not allow half-stars. That said, this is an outstanding work that I recommend without hesitation. If this is any example, the author has a promising future as a novelist ahead of her. I just hope when she finishes the next one she'll give me the opportunity to read it, too!

Give It Back by Danielle Esplin (Amazon Digital Services LLC, April 2016); 262 pp.

Friday, April 22, 2016


4 stars out of 5

Is "feel-good murder mystery" a book category? If it is, I nominate this one for inclusion. It's a relatively quick read, with a stress-free and for the most part predictable plot. It's also easy to put down when need be - perfect for on the beach when you need to keep one eye on the munchkins or an unexpectedly long wait in the doctor's office.

Delaney Wright is a TV journalist covering the high-profile murder trial of Betsy Grant, who's accused of killing her wealthy doctor husband (who, coincidentally, shares my March 21 birthday). Diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's eight years ago, Betsy opted to care for him at home. That burden simply became too great, the prosecution argues, especially given the substantial financial windfall she stands to gain if her husband were to die. But did she do it? After all, there's also Betsy's ne'er-do-well stepson, Alan, who has millions of reasons to want his stepmother to be found guilty - as well as two disgruntled colleagues whose medical practice with Betsy's husband bit the dust when his Alzheimer's got progressively worse.

For no reason in particular, Delaney is convinced that Betsy is innocent. Meanwhile, she's chasing demons of her own past: Adopted as a newborn, Delaney is almost desperate to find her birth mother. Add two of her friends who won the lottery and thus are willing and able to track down the mother and a potential love interest who's trying to find out who sold the drugs to a wealthy young man that caused his death and you've got no shortage of sub-plots (and characters) to keep straight.

Everything gets tidied up nicely by the end, though, when I found myself channeling Dana Carvey's SNL Church Lady character, thinking, "Well, isn't that special." There's nothing mind-bending here and at no time will your fingernails be in any danger, but if you like your murders on the lighter side - and every once in a while I do - it's ideal.

As Time Goes By by Mary Higgins Clark (Simon & Schuster, April 2016); 278 pp.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


3.5 stars out of 5

This one started off like gangbusters. But about halfway through, my enthusiasm started to drop off, and by the end, I decided that my actual rating is 3.5 stars. The book is good enough, though, that I rounded up to 4 for the websites that don't allow half-stars; the story was well-written (if implausible in several places), and I'm sure many readers of murder mysteries/police procedurals will find lots to love about it.

In addition to an enticing description, I was intrigued because the story takes place in Cleveland  - just over an hour's drive from my northeastern Ohio home and a city I've visited way too many times to count. It might, I figured, rank up there with the books from author Les Roberts, whose private investigator Milan Jacovich,  who ranks high on my Top 10 list of favorite characters, lives and works in the city once dubbed the "mistake on the lake." Like Jacovich (and Roberts), I love the place - except maybe when we're driving on East 9th on a day the Indians or Browns are at home.

Sure enough, I got what I wanted in terms of setting; right from the start came references to loads of places familiar to me including University Circle, Terminal Tower, the Old Stone Church and the incomparable West Side Market (for that alone I thank the author and publisher, via NetGalley, for giving me an advance copy in exchange for a review). Forensic investigator Maggie Gardiner makes her way, often on foot, in and around these places, initially as she tries to identify the body of a teenage girl who is found in an historic cemetery. Then, another body turns up, and another - and Maggie tries to connect the dots together with cohorts that include an ex-husband (he, BTW, doesn't play much of a role, making that relationship next to meaningless as far as anything in the story goes).

Also working with the department is sociologist Jack Renner, who first meets Maggie during a department meeting and then later on the downtown streets, where he entices her into a local pub for a bite to eat. She's not terribly impressed with him during either meeting, but she becomes more curious when some of the dots she's been chasing start to line up in his direction. What she doesn't know at first (but readers do, from the beginning), is that Jack is a killing machine. In fact, he's got an agenda close to the heart that hides his .22 revolver: Taking down, vigilante style, dastardly career criminals who have thus far managed to escape the prosecution he's convinced they deserve.

As much as anything, the book is a treatise on the age-old question of whether the end ever justifies the means. For Jack, the answer is crystal clear; Maggie, though, has a more difficult time making up her mind (and for that matter, so does Jack, although his agonizing leans more toward whether or not he cleaned up every droplet of blood or other trace evidence that could lead to his identity). 

And therein lies is the reason I didn't give the book a higher rating. If I had a quarter for every drawn-out "what if," "why should/shouldn't I," "did I or didn't I," "maybe he's thinking this or maybe that" coming from the two of them, I'd easily have enough to buy a pre-game dinner for two at the House of Blues on Euclid Avenue.

Of course, I won't reveal anything about how the investigation proceeds or ends or Maggie's much-overthought conclusions, although I will say there seems to me to be a probability that she and Jack will be reunited and this is the first of a series. If that happens, I hope all the extraneous (to me) mental "stuff" will be absent and the focus will turn more toward serious character development. But in any event, I'm more than willing to give the pair another go. Bring 'em on.

That Darkness by Lisa Black (Kensington, April 2016); 336 pp.

Sunday, April 17, 2016


4 stars out of 5

Don't expect mind-blowing or whack-on-the-head surprises in this enjoyable book; rather, it's an engaging chase to catch a dastardly culprit, who's identified from the get-go, before victims start piling up. For much of the time, I got the feeling I was reading the script for an episode of the popular CBS TV show Criminal Minds simply because the format is similar (that's not a bad thing, BTW). 

The story begins as Joe Nicoletti, a noted and retired federal agent from Washington, D.C., is hoping for a teaching job at the University of Montana. At this point, he's looking for a peaceful place to settle down and, more importantly, escape almost overwhelming memories of his late wife. Soon after his arrival in Montana, he meets the glamorous and intriguing Marie-Justine, a Ph.D. professor of genetic sciences at the university - a woman who bears a strong resemblance to his wife. She's just finalized a divorce from her husband, Dr. Richard Cantrell, and after a single meeting, she and Nicoletti become infatuated with each other. Along the way, readers also get a glimpse of Charles Durbin, who runs a pet grooming business in town but who also has a distinctly kinky side, to put it mildly. 

Early on, happiness turns to tragedy when a couple of dead bodies are found; and while Nicoletti desperately wants to be part of the investigation, the local police seem more interested in boosting their political careers than solving murders and, in particular, getting help from an "outside" expert - especially one who they consider to be a person of interest himself.

The story moves along quickly and interestingly (although to be fair, sometimes a little more toward the ho-hum end of the spectrum than I would have liked, especially with regard to Nicoletti's reactions to various situations). Still, the whole thing was quite enjoyable, and Nicoletti is interesting enough that I'd love to see him continue in a series (hint, hint). Many thanks to the author and publisher, via NetGalley, for providing me with a copy in exchange for a review.

Murder in Missoula by Laurence Giliotti (Chateau Noir Publishing, September 2015); 306 pp.

Saturday, April 9, 2016


3.5 stars out of 5

For much of the first half of this book, I just didn't feel the vibe. The plot - and many of the lines - somehow seemed hokey, even if a bit amusing. Pole dancers in a strip club, for instance, "couldn't have looked more bored without prescribed sedation." And one dancer had a "boob job that lifted them high enough to double as earrings."

But I hung in there, and once I reached the midpoint, my opinion changed; in fact, I had a tough time putting it down. Yes, second-half parts still reeked of hokey, but the details and action got more intense and the twists and turns more plentiful. One biggie I'd suspected early on; another one near the end was a blast strong enough to register on the Richter scale.

The story begins as Maya, a former special ops pilot who suffers from PTSD mostly as a result of her actions in the heat of war, is given a "nannycam" to record the babysitter's interactions with Maya's two-year-old daughter, Lily, while mom is away. One day shortly thereafter, she sees something unbelievable: Lily sitting on the lap of Maya's husband Joe - a man from a family more powerful and wealthy than God. That can't be, Maya gasps - Joe was murdered a couple of weeks earlier while on a walk in the park with her. Stunned, she begins an extensive search for the truth, making her doubt herself and just about every person in her circle of relatives, friends and even the police department. Is there anyone she can trust?

From there on, it's a matter of back-and-forth wavering as to what happened and who caused it all. Often, the timeline of events just didn't make sense to me (Maya somehow manages to find more hours in a single day than I've experienced in my three-quarters-of-a-century of daily living on this planet). And even though she admits to being more into her career than a textbook-perfect mother, more times than I can count I said to myself, hold on a sec - who's watching the kid?

Oh yes, one other thing: One of my friends at pointed out the rather excessive number of times Maya's name was mentioned throughout. While knowing that ahead of time no doubt conditioned me to be aware of it (an inevitable aftermath of reading other people's reviews before reading the book, of course), her analysis was spot-on. If nothing else, it made me happy the character's name wasn't Clementine - that would have added 25 more pages to the book at the very least.

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben (Dutton, March 2016); 392 pp.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


5 stars out of 5

It is with great pleasure that I describe this book in one word: Riveting

Even though I've grown a bit weary of the back-and-forth chapter format - this time between San Francisco homicide detective Clara Donner and a serial killer - I was reeled in from the get-go and didn't get off the hook until the last page.

A killer, who brutalizes victims as payback to men who abuse women of the street in the worst possible ways, leads Donner and her partner on a not-so-merry chase. I feel obligated to say that the murders aren't for the squeamish; gruesome doesn't begin to describe what the killer does to his prey, and it's described here in every gory detail. Somehow, Donner has to track him down fast, even though she believes in her heart of hearts that the victims probably got what they deserve. Connecting the dots, though, proves challenging - at least until a drug-addicted, physically and mentally damaged wisp of a girl turns up and turns out to be connected to the victims and the killer.

Donner herself is an interesting character: a crack athlete who can hold her own against the guys on the neighborhood basketball court, the daughter of a homicide cop who's dead set on disproving his belief that women have no place in the murder business. There's a little humor in here too, especially the swipe at James Patterson's Women's Murder Club series (no, even though women take center stage, Donner isn't a fan. I am, but it was funny anyway).

From beginning to end, this one has real edge-of-seat appeal. Many thanks to the author and publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for a review.

Everyone Pays by Seth Harwood (Thomas & Mercer, April 2016); 320 pp.

Monday, April 4, 2016


4 stars out of 5

If it’s gruesome murder, mayhem and terrorism you want, you’ll find them all here – from the start to the finish. Yes, much of it goes way over the top, but I have to admit even those parts kept me reading almost nonstop.

It begins innocently enough as Jack Morgan, founder of high-tech, high-profile security firm Private, stops in to visit with his old friend Louis Langlois, who heads up Private’s Paris office. There, Jack gets a call from a wealthy client, who insists that Jack try to find his granddaughter. She’s all he’s got left, and she appears to have landed on the wrong side of a dangerous drug dealer who’s intent on doing her in.

Just as Jack begins his search, one of the country’s cultural heavyweights turns up murdered – literally - turned upside down to hang. Then comes another, and another, with not a single one going gently into the good night. The MOs are similar, as is the presence of an unexplained graffiti symbol, AB-16. And if the murders weren’t enough, the authors throw in a few rather spectacular explosions that kill both police and innocent bystanders that are claimed to be acts of terrorist Muslim cells.

Everything moves along quickly (the short chapters always present in Patterson’s books help with that aspect). If I have an issue besides the almost implausible scenarios, it’s that Jack himself seems a bit subdued, for want of a better descriptor – not quite up to his usual self. Maybe it’s because the authors wanted to shine more of the spotlight on the Private Paris chief – who I found to be both a competent and likable character - but overall, Jack’s somewhat lackluster appearances were a bit of a disappointment. Then too, although the search for the missing granddaughter was resolved, it came off as almost an afterthought – making me wonder why that thread was included at all. All that considered, this book isn’t my pick of the series litter, but it’s still a pretty darned fun read.

Private Paris by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan (Little, Brown and Co., March 2016); 411 pp.