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Saturday, May 28, 2016


5 stars out of 5

Waxing nostalgic usually isn't my thing. If nothing else, when you're as old as I am, the past stretches back so far that details become a little muddled - so why bother? But when I saw this book on sale at Amazon, the memories really did come flooding back and I snapped it up. Besides getting a good deal, I needed a dose of comic relief from the psychological thrillers and grisly murder books that are my standard fare and figured this one would provide it. And I was right.

For those who don't know, humorist Erma Bombeck penned more than 4,000 syndicated "At Wit's End" newspaper columns from 1965 to 1996 - and I'm quite sure I read most of them as well as a couple of her books. Her primary intent was to make women laugh - often at themselves - and she pulled that off in fine fettle. And just for because it's meaningful to me, I'll note that she's a native of "my" state of Ohio, growing up and living for years in a town not far from my parents' small farm.

This book is an anthology of those columns. Are they dated? Absolutely; I doubt they would be nearly as funny to mothers of today. Then again, some things never change; my newfangled digital washing machine withholds socks just like the old one did (they tend to reappear, of course, just after I've given up waiting and throw away the mate I've been saving for months). 

For those who might  complain about female stereotypes, I hasten to emphasize that I was then, and still am, a staunch feminist. But I also had a husband, two kids and, after both were in school, a career. So no matter how many times I paraded in the street with sign proclaiming "Adam was a Rough Draft," it was into my hand, not my husband's, that my kids spit their chewing gum as we sat in church.

Besides making me laugh, Erma assuaged my "bad mom" twinges when I used TV - and a box of way-too sugary Fruit Loops - as a Saturday morning babysitter so I could have an hour or two of relative peace and quiet. She even made me feel less guilty on the days I threatened to take them both to a winery, stick them in kegs and come back to pull the plugs when they were 21.

So for me, a golden oldie who grew up in the '50s, these columns are a treasure trove. Browsing through this collection, I did exactly what I did back then: I smiled, giggled, chortled and hooted out loud. And yes, I teared up on occasion; her "Mike and the Grass" column in May 1973 tugged at the "Sunrise, Sunset" strings of my heart, and I sniffled my way through the words in her final column, written not long before she left this world. Love you forever, Erma, and I know without doubt that if there is a heaven, you're in it - telling the angels how it really is and making them laugh until they (well, you know).

Forever Erma: Best-Loved Writing From America's Favorite Humorist (Open Road Media, 1st edition, January 2013); 293 pp. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016


3 stars out of 5

Is anyone else old enough to remember the TV commercial for Prego pasta sauce claiming, "It's in there?" The reference, of course, is to all the ingredients a person (presumably a real Italian) would expect to find in homemade sauce. Well, that tagline came to mind often as I turned the pages this book. It's in there - in this case the ingredients for a really good book - but alas, it needs better mixing before I'm willing to call it a tasty read.

The writing itself is perfectly fine - just what I would expect from the author of several books (who, BTW, is the sister of another popular author, Lisa Jackson). The plots - there are two of them, for the most part running concurrently - aren't too far-fetched for a murder mystery. But the way it's all put together just didn't gel for me.

As I understand it, this is a continuation of Bush's "Rafferty Family" series. As such, I not only hoped it would stand on its own (it does), but hoped I'd be introduced to a new and appealing character. I'm sorry to say that never happened. Yes, there's a Rafferty in there - in this case September, a police detective who's handling the second story line - but she doesn't make much of an appearance (nor much of an impression on me one way or another). Her partner, Gretchen, doesn't get much mention either, but in her case, that's a good thing; she's downright annoying.

What I'll call the primary plot (both because it takes up way more pages and is way more interesting) revolves around a serial killer who loves to play games - in this case, apparently targeting victims with bird-related names. The killer's next victim seems to be Andi Wren, the majority owner of a construction company that's developing property around a lake in Oregon. Her ownership came as a result of her husband's fairly recent death in an auto accident, and his brother and sister - also company owners - are less than thrilled to have her on board. Realizing her life may be in danger, Andi calls up help from former police officer and now private investigator Luke Denton, who (surprise!) also happens to be an unmarried hunk.

The other plot involves Rafferty's team, who are working on identifying the skeletal remains found in a basement at the edge of town. When this story line finally was introduced, it was accompanied by such a barrage of different characters that within a few pages, I realized I was totally lost -and I wasn't inclined to go back and reread to try and figure out what was happening. Somewhere along the way, I surmised, things would come together and I'd "get it."

And for the most part, I did, as the two story lines began to intersect. It was extremely frustrating, though, to find scenes doing a switcheroo smack in the middle of chapters (and back again). Still more frustration came by way of repetition; take all that out and quite a few pages could be eliminated without dire consequences (in fact, the same could be said for the entire second plot, IMHO). The killer, for instance, apparently loves to hear himself talk as he explains his actions to the nth degree. And while I'm on the subject of the killer, it struck me as totally out of character for a person who's supremely meticulous - taking great pains to leave no evidence at the crime scenes that could be used for identification - to use the same name when meeting each and every victim).

In the end, I'll call this a good book that, with a little stirring, has the potential to be great. Thanks to the publisher and author for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for an unbiased review.

The Killing Game by Nancy Bush (Zebra, June 2016); 384 pp.

Monday, May 23, 2016


4 stars out of 5

Let me say this at the start: I don't like cliffhangers, mostly because by the time the next book in a series comes out I've totally forgotten how the previous one ended. In this case, it's even worse because I absolutely hate the circumstances (an emotion that is exacerbated, of course, because I can't reveal anything specific in a review without spoiling the book for others). That, and a plot that's a titch on the far-fetched side, puts my actual rating somewhere between 3.5 and 4 stars.

All in all, though, this is another relatively solid entry in the Women's Murder Club series; I've maintained for years that Maxine Paetro is my favorite in Patterson's stable of co-authors, and I'll give her another pat on the back for the better parts in this one.

For those who might be unfamiliar, the informal club is a group of four women, all good friends with successful careers that are different, but overlap: Lindsay Boxer (the centerpiece), a San Francisco Police Department detective; Claire Washburn, the San Francisco chief medical examiner; Yuki Castellano, an attorney who's married to Lindsay's boss Jackson Brady; and Cindy Thomas, a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle. In all the books, some facet of the plot touches on all of them to some degree or another - and there's always at least one heart-to-heart get-together, usually at the table of a local pub.

Also usually, one of the four draws the short straw. In this one, Yuki pretty much gets lost in the shuffle, while Cindy, who is chasing down the story of multiple murders in a luxury hotel and a major disaster affecting hundreds of people, plays a larger role. Claire does her usual thing while conducting autopsies of the damage, and once again, there's a mention of assistant Dr. Germaniuk. The real one, for the record, is the long-time medical examiner and coroner of Trumbull County, Ohio, where I live; he's also a long-time consultant to Patterson on medical issues.

Lindsay, married to former cop Joe Molinari (with whom she has a baby daughter), is called to that hotel to investigate four murders: An Asian man, two young people occupying the room next door and a hotel maid. Judging from security tapes, the murders seem to involve a beautiful blond woman who has performed a disappearing act. Clues are elusive, and adding to the mystery is Joe, who seems to have gone missing as well. Not long thereafter, the city is hit with bombshell news and, as a result, another case that could well be tied to the hotel murders - and quite possibly Lindsay's missing husband.

And therein lies my biggest issue with this book: Given the circumstances, Lindsay understandably is worried about her missing husband. But calling his cell phone (to no avail) is about the only thing she does to track him down; surely a top-notch detective like her would do more. And as details about the two cases begin to unravel, so does Lindsay; her emotional roller roaster is really hard for me to take, especially when it threatens to run her marriage (to a guy she supposedly loves with all her heart) into the ground. 

15th Affair by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Little, Brown and Co., May 2016); 351 pp.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


5 stars out of 5

Once in a while a book comes along so good that it's nearly impossible to describe without giving the impression that I must be one of the author's devoted relatives. This one is just that, and no, I'm not. In fact, when I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review, I'd never heard of the guy before. This is his debut novel, and from beginning to end, it absolutely blew my socks off.

For openers, I love the main character, Magnus "Steps" Craig. He's smart, funny, a few degrees off center and, because of his uncanny ability to follow trails and turn up clues no one else can, one of three experts on the FBI's Special Tracking Unit. But only he, his partner Special Agent Jimmy Donovan, his father, the head of the FBI and readers know of his very special talent: he's able to visualize what he calls "shine" - sort of like an aura - on everything other people touch. Shine comes in glowing colors and he sees it everywhere - to the point that he must wear special eyeglasses when he doesn't want to be tormented by his nonstop visions.

This time, the team is called in when the remains of a murdered woman are found; immediately, Steps sees the killer's shine and realizes it is the same as he saw at another unsolved murder a couple of years earlier and 200 miles away. He also discovers a mark that prompts investigators to dub the killer Sad Face - a discovery which, when other bodies turn up (all told, nearly a dozen in three states over five years) proves that a serial killer is at work. The main story line follows that investigation to the end (which of course I won't reveal).

At the same time, Steps is fighting other demons from his past; specifically, a killer he calls Leonardo, whom he began to track some 10 years ago. Now, Leonardo's shine turns up once again, weighing heavily on Steps's mind as he tries his best to focus on and solve the case at hand before another victim is unearthed.

The plot is intriguing and well thought out with plenty of action and, at times, gory detail; when I had to stop reading to do something else, I was annoyed that I couldn't put the world aside and keep going. But what I loved most is the awesome writing. Not everything centers on solving the murders; there are recollections of past events, details on the lives of other characters and a lot more - all laid out so interestingly that at no time did my usually impatient self say, "Hey, man, get on with the story." It is also intricate, eloquent, witty and insightful, to-wit:

"The reason a person picks up a book in the first place is a story unto itself. One person picks up Mein Kampf because he's an anti-Semite, another because he wants to learn the origin of monsters."

There's no question that this book, and this character, will stick with me for some time to come. The ending does hint of the likelihood that is the first of a series, and if that's the case, I say bring it on - the sooner the better. I can't wait to see this guy and his team in action again.

Now you'll have to excuse me while I go find my socks - my toes are chilled to the bone.

Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope (Minotaur Books, June 2016); 320 pp.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


4 stars out of 5

Ah, another chance to revel in the world of the filthy rich. How rich? Well, how about a guy who buys two luxurious homes and a New York penthouse apartment for a mere $138 million, writing a check on the spot? Getting a look into the world as I'll never see it is, I suppose, one of the reasons I keep reading the books featuring near-billionaire New York attorney Stone Barrington, who hops in his fancy airplane (piloting it himself, of course) on a whim and is a personal friend of the first female President of the United States. It's for sure it's not because of the can't-put-it-down plot or nail-biting action; no, the most excitement Barrington and his friends get is being surprised at the choice of wine at dinner. For readers, it's likely to be which of the "ladies" will hop into Barrington's bed and which will be invited back.

It is a lady, of course, who gets the ball rolling here; her ex-husband, she claims, is out to kill her and she's got big bucks to pay for Barrington's legal help. Then a body turns up in a fancy mansion - conveniently next door to the mansion at which Barrington is a guest (a shift in the wind alerts his former cop nose that something is amiss). The victim has ties to his client's former husband, and the chase is on to find the guy before someone else bites the dust.

That chase leads to the discovery of an infamous and near priceless piece of jewelry, giving Barrington and his police friends a probable motive and Barrington a reason to hobnob with a colleague from exclusive auction house Sotheby's. Now all they have to do is find the murderer - and they put their minds to that task in between going to dinner parties, hopping in and out of the shower and arranging for property appraisals. Priorities, folks, priorities!

When it comes to ratings, I always waffle between 3 and 4 stars. But I must admit that despite my grousing, I rather enjoy this series (most likely because over the years I've simply become used to the banality of the stories and the ho-hum banter among the characters). The books - this is the 36th in the series, BTW - are great for deck or beach reading or when my brain is tired and balking at being challenged. Short chapters make it easy to stop any time I get the urge to do something else; reading this one in its entirety didn't waste much more than half a day. 

Family Jewels by Stuart Woods (G.P. Putnam's Sons, April 2016); 320 pp.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


4 stars out of 5

When I read the author's first book in the series featuring detective Tracy Crosswhite - My Sister's Grave - I absolutely loved it and vowed to read the second, Her Final Breath. Alas, that one somehow got lost in my ever-growing list of to-read books, which I'm still hoping to rectify as soon as possible; so when I was offered the opportunity to read this one, the third in the series, I jumped on it (thank you to the author and publisher, via NetGalley, for providing me with a copy in exchange for a review).

Tracy, whose beloved sister was murdered when they were young, is now a detective and intent on solving cases involving other murder victims. Here, she is called in when a man, married to the daughter of a high-powered attorney, has been murdered. Apparently, he was killed by his soon-to-be-divorced wife as an act of self-defense as their son looked on. 

Concurrently, Tracy and her BF Dan attend the funeral of Buzz Almond, father of Tracy's former police academy classmate Jenny, who is now the sheriff in the rather remote Washington county where her late father once held the same position. Some 40 years ago, Buzz investigated the death of a Native American girl who, it was ruled at the time, committed suicide. Never satisfied with that ruling and believing the death to be murder, Buzz kept the file open; now, because it was so important to her late father, Jenny asks Tracy to look into it. Partly because of her friendship with Jenny and partly because of her experiences with her own sister, Tracy agrees - even though she must conduct the investigation on her own time.

It is the cold case, in fact, that consumes the lion's share of this book. Here and there, a chapter (or part of a chapter) reverts to 1976, where we learn what was really going on, but most of the story centers on Tracy's efforts to ferret out the truth. There's plenty of forensics involved - for the most part using newer technology that could never have been unearthed that long ago - that keeps things interesting and informative. Close to the end come a couple of twists in both cases that surprised me - always a hallmark of a good murder mystery.

So why 4 stars on this one instead of 5? Mostly, I think, because I'd like to have seen the domestic violence murder case fleshed out a little more - it almost seems as if that storyline was thrown in just so Tracy's police cohorts would have a chance to get their names in print. Oh, and there's one other thing I'll niggle about, although I pinky-swear it had no bearing whatsoever on my rating: The phrase "panties in a bunch" is trite but mildly amusing the first time around. But by the third time I came across it, my own had started to creep up into places they don't belong.

In the Clearing by Robert Dugoni (Thomas & Mercer, May 2016); 368 pp.

Friday, May 13, 2016


5 stars out of 5

Creepy. Haunting. Tense. It took just two days of spare-time reading to finish this book, and on the second, anyone who even thought about prying my Kindle out of my hands would have regretted it. My sweet husband, bless his heart, knows better than to try - even though it meant he had to fetch take-out for dinner.

Ironically, I almost didn't read it at all. When I had a chance to get it from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for an unbiased review, I of course read the description and editorial reviews. Twisty psychological suspense? Check. Prophetic dreams? Maybe. Supernatural? You've got to be kidding. In the end, though, my sense of nothing ventured, nothing gained won out. And within the first couple of chapters, the author won me over.

On the surface, this is a story about Abbey, a tattoo-covered young girl who has been missing for 10 months, and Finley Montgomery, a 20-year-old who "sees" and "feels" people and things no one else does - with the exception of her grandmother Eloise. The grandmother, in fact, is a well-known psychic in The Hollows, a secluded New York community. Finley is staying with Eloise over the objections of her mother, who wants nothing to do with the town in which she once lived and even less with her mother, Eloise, whom she fears might encourage Finley to explore their shared "gift."

Abbey was taken while her parents and younger brother were vacationing in The Hollows. Her father took the kids on a hike in the woods, where both he and his son were shot. Alive but unable to move, they watched as a man dragged a screaming Abbey away. Understandably, the incident tore the family apart and traumatized the young boy. In desperation, Abbey's mother Merri decides to return to the scene of the abduction and hires a local detective, who happens to work occasionally with Eloise, in hopes of finding her daughter. 

If that were all there were to it, I suppose the story could be told in a handful of chapters. And certainly, there are plenty of thrills and chills as details of what really happened are revealed. But the real intrigue lies in the complexity of the characters - and it is here that the writing really shines. Chapter by chapter, layers are peeled back and we see the good, the bad and the downright ugly as well as everyone's "connections" to the living, the dead and the...well, just read the book.

Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger (Touchstone, June 2016); 352 pp.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


4 stars out of 5

Taking over where another fiction writer left off has to be one of the toughest jobs there is. Not only are you "stuck" with the same locations and characters, you've got to make it all read as if you didn't write it - or face the wrath of hundreds of angry fans of the original author. So when the estate named Ace Atkins to keep Parker's popular Spenser series alive (Parker had penned 37 of them at the time of his death in 2010 and unless I missed one I don't know about, I've read them all), I was among the skeptics. 

This one, I believe, is the fifth for Atkins, and I've read all of them as well. And while I'd be the first to say he's never quite reached the same level as Parker, they've all been quite good and mimic the originals close enough for horseshoes, as we natives of Indiana say. What's different? Mostly, IMHO, the banter among the major characters - Boston private investigator Spenser, his main squeeze Susan Silverman and his pal Hawk - seems less snappy than when Parker was writing the dialogue.

The plots, though, are on the whole done well; in this one, arson is the hot topic after an old Catholic church is burned to the ground, killing three firefighters who became trapped inside. Originally deemed a tragic accident, a year later a string of fires take place, each more serious than the last. One long-time Boston firefighter, who lost his best friend in the church fire and always suspected it was arson, wonders if there's any connection and asks Spenser to look into it. 

Following the trail to identify the firebug (or bugs) puts Spenser at odds with some unsavory characters from Boston's underworld who have a burning desire to see him and Hawk six feet under. The race is on: Can Spenser find who is setting the fires before the gangsters make good on their threats? 

Robert B. Parker's Slow Burn by Ace Atkins (G.P. Putnam's Sons, May 2016); 316 pp.

Monday, May 9, 2016


5 stars out of 5

Like many folks, I was glued to the TV set during the infamous police chase and subsequent capture and trial of former NFL star O.J. Simpson, charged with the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and waiter Ronald Goldman. The trial was riveting, and it was especially interesting to me to watch the teams of attorneys on both sides in action. The lead prosecutor was Marcia Clark from the Los Angeles District Attorney's office. She impressed me - maybe in part because I'd never before seen a female prosecutor in such a high-profile, high-stakes trial - and when the glove came off, so to speak, I suppose I even felt more than a little sympathetic (in case there's a living soul out there who doesn't know, O.J. was acquitted). Later, when I found out she'd turned to fiction writing, I told myself that one day I'd give one of her books a try.

But life intervened, the multi-hundred page Harry Potter books hit the stores and my good intentions went by the boards. Apparently, though, somebody up there likes me; out of the blue, the publisher of this book - Clark's most recent and the first in a series featuring rather hard-boiled criminal defense attorney Samantha Brinkman - offered me a copy in exchange for an unbiased review. That was, of course, an offer I couldn't refuse.

And guess what? I'm impressed all over again. I admit to favoring mysteries and thrillers with a legal flavor - every so often I even drag out one of Erle Stanley Gardner's classic Perry Mason books to reread, for goodness sake - but I never fail to cross my fingers when I find one by a new-to-me author. This time, I'd uncrossed them by the end of the first handful of chapters; no worries here - I was hooked.

At the beginning, Samantha's tiny firm (consisting of Sam, her longtime friend Michelle and ex-con and hacker Alex), is hired to defend a veteran LAPD detective who's charged with the murder of two young women - one of whom is a popular TV star. If she's successful (and maybe even if she isn't), it's a case almost guaranteed to grab the media's attention and catapult Sam and her firm to the criminal defense elite. 

As might be expected, though, there's many a slip between the cup and the lip; one particularly noteworthy piece of news, in fact, almost derails the whole case (and certainly makes it harder for Samantha to do her job effectively and objectively). But do it she does - with her usual fools-rush-in overlooking of the "rules" when it suits her purpose - and there are more than a few other twists as the drama shifts from the courtroom to out-of-the-office sleuthing (the latter of which put the lives of Samantha and her crew in danger). 

My favorite parts, though, happened in the courtroom; I've always been intrigued by legal strategy, be it how to "work" the media, craft meaningful opening arguments or pick the best possible jurors during voir dire. There's no shortage of that here, and I loved it; take, for instance, Samantha's instructions to her client not to laugh, smile or frown anywhere near the jury no matter what. "No innocent man on trial for murder laughs," she tells him. "At anything."

In the end, I'm delighted to award this book 5 stars; reading it was time well spent  Not only am I eager to read the next installment of this series, I've already looked into getting my hands on her Rachel Knight books. 

Blood Defense by Marcia Clark (Thomas & Mercer, May 2016); 400 pp.

Thursday, May 5, 2016


5 stars out of 5

It's for sure no one will ever accuse me of being a compliant little wifey-poo. Still, more often than not when I've got my nose in my Kindle and my husband pops up with, "Honey, do we have more of yesterday's chocolate pudding?" my response is something like,  "Let me finish this chapter and I'll go check."

But when my nose is in a book like this one, my mouth sings a different tune: "I can't see in the fridge from my chair, babe. If you find some, how about bringing me a bowl while you're up?"

Oh, yeah - this book is that good.

Actually, it's the second in the author's new series that debuted last year featuring Amos Decker, whose promising NFL football career was derailed by a serious head injury during his first game for the Cleveland Browns ("my" team, BTW). As a result, he not only is able to remember every single detail of every single minute of every single day (a rare condition called hyperthymesia), but he associates many of them with vivid colors (an even more rare synesthia). That first book, Memory Man, was quite good, but this one jumped to the top of my enjoyment meter from the get-go. For the record, it stands on its own just fine, but  I suggest starting at the beginning (as I do with any series).

Football, in fact, that is the reason Decker, just picked to be on an FBI special task force, wants to take on a particular case. Melvin Mars, who's been in prison for 20 years after being convicted of murdering his parents, is set to be executed in a few hours. At the eleventh hour, another death-row prisoner confesses to the killing, and Mars gets a reprieve from walking "the last mile" to the chamber. Mars once beat the shoulder pads off of Decker when the latter was playing for The Ohio State University Buckeyes (go Bucks!) Not only that, but Decker's own family was murdered, and years after that, a suspect confessed. The similarities are impossible for Decker to overlook (well, let's be honest - given his condition, it's impossible for Decker to overlook much of anything), and he convinces the reluctant head of the FBI team to take on Mars's case.

The stakes for getting to the truth are high; in one outcome, an innocent man could be executed. In another, a murderer could be set free. The trail begins, of course, with attempts to learn whether the prisoner's last-ditch confession is true and why he waited so long to make it. That's not an easy task since he's dead (choosing to go out, for some inexplicable reason, via the electric chair rather than the now-standard lethal injection). But guided by Decker's unfailing recollections and ability to not only find puzzle pieces but pull them together, team members uncover clues and follow where they lead. When one teamster suddenly disappears - presumed to have been kidnapped - things really start to heat up.

There's no shortage of action and twists (and I'm patting myself on the back for figuring out one of the biggest ones). But the big attraction for me, without question, is Decker himself. I seriously doubt I'd like him much if I met him in person - for openers, his conditions have left him rather devoid of emotions - but watching [reading] how his mind works is absolutely fascinating to me. If I'm forced to say something on the negative side, I'll admit the plot (and outcome) smack a little bit of coming up with an ending and making the details fit after the fact. But hey: As stand-up accordion-toting comedian Judy Tenuta is fond of saying, "It could happen!"

All I know is it sure worked for me. Kudos (and more, please)!

The Last Mile by David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing, April 2016); 432 pp.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


3.5 stars out of 5

For the record, I read this book - an advance copy in exchange for a review - in early March. The publisher requested that all reviews be held until the release date (March 3, 2016), and I have honored that request.

While this is the eighth book in a series, it stands alone fairly well; that said, I do believe I'd have enjoyed it more had I read at least a couple of the previous entries. Somehow, everything seemed a bit disjointed (made more noticeable, I think, because settings often shift back and forth in the middle of a single chapter with no warning). I'm also not a big fan of books written in the present tense,  although in fairness I got used to that after a few chapters. For those reasons - and the fact that the ending somehow left me feeling I'd read all the other "stuff" more as filler than leading up to the conclusion.

The story is set in a medieval town known as England's Nazareth, a place known for religious phenomena. Cathbad, a druid friend of Ruth Galloway (the "star" of the series), notices a woman in a blue cloak in a cemetery at night and believes her to be the Virgin Mary. But when a woman wearing a blue cloak is found murdered the next day, there doesn't appear to be any connection to religion. Then, one of Ruth's friends who's an Anglican priest starts getting threatening letters - women simply shouldn't be priests, the writer asserts - and not long thereafter, another female priest is murdered.

Harry Nelson, who has a rather shaky history with Ruth, is in charge of the Serious Crimes Unit and takes charge of the case. He and his team set out to learn whether the murders are connected - and if so, how - and catch the killer before he (or she) kills again. 

The characters are quite complex and well-developed, although quite honestly, I never really identified emotionally with any of them. The plot had some twists and turns as well, at times veering off toward Da Vinci Code territory. Still, for the first half of the book, I just couldn't work up much enthusiasm. After that, though, the action started to pick up and get interesting; from that point on I didn't want to put it down. Overall, it's a solid book, and I thank the author and publisher, via NetGalley, for providing me with an advance copy for review.

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2016); 384 pp.

Sunday, May 1, 2016


4 stars out of 5

Reading books I've received free in exchange for reviews, as I often do, is always a bit stressful. If nothing else, I've got to pay close attention and jot down notes to remind me what I liked (or didn't). So when I have the time to pick up a book by a favorite author - with a character that's on my list of 10 all-time favorites - I open it with a huge smile on my face. So it was when I started this one.

When I finished it, I was still smiling, but not quite as broadly. Maybe it was the more-than-slight political slant that turned me off a bit, and maybe it was just that the thrill of the chase wasn't quite as exciting as I'd hoped (well, at least not until the end, when all heck breaks loose). Bottom line? Well worth reading, but not the best of the 26-book series featuring Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Lucas Davenport.

Make that former agent; fed up with the bureaucracy, Lucas - independently wealthy s a result of selling software he developed - has left the BCA, keeping busy remodeling his cabin in the Wisconsin woods. But then he gets a call from an old friend, the governor of Minnesota (who's running for President in hopes of landing the VP spot on the ticket) asking him to look into a possible assassination plot. He agrees, of course, and heads for Iowa to learn that apparently, someone is out to get another Presidential hopeful, Michaela Bowden, who's coming to the Hawkeye State to campaign.

As part of the investigation, Lucas hooks up with some interesting Iowa law enforcement officers, and the trail points to a couple of extremest groups that may be focused on assassination. That, in turn, raises a number of questions: Is it the whole group, or a member or two gone rogue? When and how will the assassination attempt be made? Can Lucas and his new police friends get the answers before something the unthinkable happens?

The investigative route is pretty extensive - literally, with Lucas driving hell bent for election (pun intended) all over the state and back. Lucas himself becomes a target more than once, narrowly escaping serious injury or death (for the record, I don't consider that a spoiler, since I can't imagine that anyone reading this expects Lucas to bite the dust and not be around for a 27th book). Still, the attempts to bring the investigation to a halt by whoever's doing it make it abundantly clear that something really big and really nasty is about to happen.

In the small towns of rural Iowa, Lucas and friends meet some colorful characters, to say the least. And for those who might be wondering, yes, as usual, the leading character in another of the author's series, Virgil Flowers (a.k.a., that f***'in Flowers) gets mentioned a time or two. Noticeably absent is Letty, Lucas's adopted daughter (of whom I'm not very fond, so I didn't miss her a whit) and Weather, his plastic surgeon wife (of whom I am, and I did). Here and there are touches of humor, and I found myself chuckling when I learned that I totally agree with Lucas's opinion of state fairs - give me a county fair any day, thank you very much. 

Even if this book isn't my favorite, I started it as a diehard Lucas Davenport fan and remain one at the end. For those who haven't read any of the books yet, it (and the others) stand alone quite well and I recommend them highly. 

Extreme Prey by John Sandford (G.P. Putnam's Sons, April 2016); 410 pp.