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Friday, May 26, 2017

ROBERT B. PARKER'S THE HANGMAN'S SONNET

5 stars out of 5

Welcome to the 16th installment of the Jesse Stone series! Although the books no longer are written by the late, great Robert B. Parker (he of Spenser fame), the legacy is being carried on admirably by Reed Farrel Coleman, who has been tagged to keep the series alive. And this is one of the best so far, IMHO.

The rather sleepy town of Paradise, Massachusetts, is about to get the mother of all wake-up calls: Plans are in the making for a mega-star-studded 75th birthday party for folk singer Terry Jester, who tore up the charts in his Bob Dylan years. He stepped out of the limelight when the master recording tape of his "The Hangman's Sonnet" album went missing some 40 years ago, and he's remained a recluse ever since. Paradise police chief Jesse Stone learns of the gala the morning that his deputy, "Suitcase" Simpson, is getting married, and he's none too thrilled about the ruckus and security nightmare such an ostentatious blow-out will cause (Woodstock comes to mind).

As if that weren't enough, the same morning an elderly resident is found dead in her home - apparently the victim of a home invasion gone wrong. The whole place is torn apart, suggesting that the culprits were looking for something. As Jesse and his team, including his faithful sidekick Molly Crane, get on the case, the mayor of Paradise and her PR flack get on Jesse's case. Mess up just once and you're gone, they threaten. As always, Jesse takes it in stride; after all, he's been there, done that. The threats do give him a tiny bit of pause, though; he came to Paradise after "screwing up" in Los Angeles, but he wonders, "...where does a man land after he screws up in Paradise?" 

As the investigation progresses, Jesse begins to suspect that the old woman's murder may be connected to the missing tape. But how? The chase keeps Jesse guessing and following clues all the way to Boston, where he gets a little help from a private eye named Spenser (who way back when helped with the case of the missing tape, so Jesse wants to pick his brain). Readers should get a kick out of seeing two of Parker's popular characters come together in the same book; as a huge fan of both characters, I sure did.

In between trying to figure out what's going on, keep his job and avoid getting killed, Jesse is still trying to come to terms with the murder of his fiance, former FBI agent Diana Evans (that sad event happened in the previous book) and his penchant for drowning his sorrows in a bottle of Scotch. Throw it all together and you've got a very enjoyable book with interesting characters and a fast-moving plot. 

All that said, I do offer an apology of sorts. I've got a ton of for-review books on my list courtesy of publishers (via NetGalley), and I try to tackle them according to closest release date. That doesn't happen for his one till Sept. 12, 2017, but I was so delighted to get it that I just couldn't wait. But alas, you will. Sorry 'bout that! 

Robert B. Parker's The Hangman's Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman (G.P. Putnam's Sons, September 2017); 368 pp.

Monday, May 22, 2017

THE BLACK BOOK

5 stars out of 5

Call me flamboozled. Call me chastised for all the potshots I've taken at Patterson's works of late (on second thought, check that - I meant what I said). Above all, call me happy that I ignored my previous rants and read this book.

The title, as one might expect, refers to a missing "little black book" that didn't turn up after a raid and thorough search at a house of ill repute at which some of Chicago's finest are customers. Needless to say, the house madam ain't talking - and without it, finding even more high-level patrons (including cops on the take) and others who weren't present during the raid, may never be found.

At the epicenter is police detective Billy Harney and his partner, detective Kate Fenton. Billy's sister Patti is a cop as well, their dad, Daniel, was chief of detectives, and dad's friend (and Billy's beloved mentor) heads up Internal Affairs, so clearly copness is a family affair. As the raid is analyzed, Billy insists he had every right to initiate it; but Amy Lentini, the beautiful assistant state's attorney, seems out to prove that it wasn't justifiable (and therefore was illegal), thus putting the kabosh on potential prosecution of everyone captured.

In reality, that event took place in Billy's fairly recent past; his present has taken a very different turn that has left him unable and/or unwilling to remember details (including, perhaps, the whereabouts of that little black book). Chapters shift back and forth, with "past" chapters peeling away more clues to what really happened. Usually, I'm not fond of this technique - nor did I love it here. But it's actually done very well and helped keep me on the edge of my seat even though I guessed pretty much from the start who was behind everything. In fact, besides an intriguing, fast-moving story, my desire to find out if my guess was right (it was) and learn the how and why was a big part of what kept me going.

All in all, it's a totally engrossing book. The Patterson-Ellis collaboration hasn't always produced such stellar efforts - I'm referring specifically to The Murder House and Mistress, to which I gave 4 and 3 stars, respectively - but this one sure hit the mark. More, please! 

The Black Book by James Patterson and David Ellis (Little, Brown and Co., March 2017); 418 pp.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

HEAT STORM

3.5 stars out of 5


It's a little hard to take the Nikki Heat series seriously - whether or not you loved the very popular Castle TV show that starred the New York police detective (played by Stana Katic) and her Pulitzer prize-winning squeeze, Richard Castle (played by the hunky Nathan Filion). I was a diehard fan until the last couple of seasons, when the shows somehow stopped being fun and I pretty much lost interest. Supposedly, the books are written by Castle; but of course, he's not a real person; the true author, in fact, has been speculated about but never revealed. And like the TV show, the books started out quite fun but may be slipping a bit (the last three, including this one, earned just 3-1/2 stars from me). 

This one brings together Nikki and another "Richard Castle" series hero, Derrick Storm - a hulk of a man the CIA calls when something is amiss in the U.S. of A., where CIA investigations are off limits. The pairing, though, seems just plain off. There's plenty of action, particularly on Storm's side of the plot, but I never felt any kind of connection between the two, nor of Storm with Heat's husband Jameson Rook (the name her TV husband Castle assumes in the books) even though indications are that Heat has been friends with Storm for quite some time.

Essentially, what we have are two story lines that, as expected, eventually converge. Ever since Heat's recent sighting of  a woman she's sure is her mother Cynthia - a secret U.S. spy Heat had believed was murdered 17 years ago - she's been frantically trying to track her down. In the midst of that, the female U.S. President-to-be has rather inexplicably asked Heat to be her chief of Homeland Security, so there's a big decision to be made. That's even harder since she's banished her hubby from her life, claiming her search for her mother is a dangerous journey and she doesn't want him to be involved (yeah, I never bought that in the TV series, either).

Meanwhile, Storm took part in the raid of a counterfeiting ring that appears to be connected to a nasty group known as the Shanghai Seven. In the process, he begins to suspect that his own government may be working against him, and he turns to his dad Carl for much-needed help. The two story lines begin to come together when Storm finds a tape with Heat's mother's voice on it that appears to connect her to the Shanghai Seven. At the same time, Heat is taking heat in the form of text messages from someone called "The Serpent" warning her to call off the search for her mother.

From then on, the action really picks up - some of it the stuff a Roger Moore James Bond movie is made of that crosses the line of credulity and leads to a rather sappy ending. Overall, it makes for an easy, breezy read that won't tax your brain cells - perfect for reading on a beach or waiting at a doctor's office.

Heat Storm by Richard Castle (Kingswell, May 2017); 320 pp.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

INTO THE WATER

4 stars out of 5


Okay, I admit I'm not quite as enthusiastic about this one as The Girl on the Train, the author's first, and wildly popular, novel. At the same time, I'm a bit flummoxed by all the negative reviews I'm seeing (as I write this, the book has an average of 3-1/2 stars at Amazon, based on 169 customer reviews - 32% of which are 1- and 2-star ratings. Wow - did y'all read the same book I did?

To a certain extent, I get it. While I honestly enjoyed this book overall, there are a few things that gave me pause (and prompted me to knock it down one star from the enthusiastic 5 stars I gave the author's first stellar effort). I agree, for instance, that there are too many characters - a couple of whom really don't contribute much to the story. I've also grown weary of chapters that shift from character to character and in time frame (although to my great dismay that seems to be the norm now, so guess I'd better get used to it). The story gets a little confusing - who really knew what and when and why it really matters - and all the characters are so flawed and have so many secrets that they all fall short of likable.

Forgive me, though, if all that sounds off-putting, because on the whole it really isn't. Each chapter adds details to the background, peeling back layers that allow readers to learn what's really going on now, what went on in the past and how it's all connected (or most of it, anyway - some secrets, or at least things I suspected were secrets, stayed that way till the end). 

Here are the basics: A single mother, Nel, is found dead at the bottom of a part of a river known as the Drowning Pool because so many other women died there. Nel leaves behind a moody, incorrigible 15-year-old daughter, Lena, and a long-estranged sister, Jules. No one knows who Lena's father is (well, except for Nel, and she's not talking). Lena resents Jules and Jules still detests her dead sister, but they agree Nel didn't commit suicide as is the common belief given the surface evidence. An investigation brings in local police officer Sean and his new-to-town partner Erin - both of whom (surprise!) carry baggage from their own pasts. It is learned that Nel was compiling a book detailing the lives and deaths of some of the other women who lost their lives in the Drowning pool - and then everything begins to unravel as clues lead to characters whose lives were intertwined with Nel's. 

The ending came as a bit of a surprise, but was it satisfying? Not really - but on the other hand, given everything that preceded it, it seemed fitting. And that, my friends, is good enough for me.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead Books, May 217); 394 pp.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

16th SEDUCTION

4 stars out of 5


They're baaaaack: Lindsay, Claire, Cindy and Yuki all get fairly substantial roles in this, the latest installment of the Women's Murder Club adventures. There's plenty of murder and mayhem - some of which hits more than a little too close to home for one club member - and Lindsay must come to terms with her true feelings for Joe, her once-beloved husband.

The book opens as Lindsay, a San Francisco Police Department detective, is having a "date night" with Joe, who she reluctantly kicked out of her life after learning that in essence, he's been a spy and neither 'fessed up to his secret activities nor apologized for doing them. The spark between the two (and love for their young daughter, Julie) remain, though, and they're keeping things civil as Lindsay tries to decide whether to keep Joe or turn him loose. As they're starting to engage in meaningful conversation during a restaurant dinner, all hell breaks loose: A popular attraction nearby explodes, showering rubble and body parts for blocks. Lindsay just came off the successful take-down of a member of a bomb-loving terrorist group - could it be more of their work?

Rushing to the scene, Lindsay and Joe find what appears to be the answer; but within 24 hours, the case turns sour in more than one way and Lindsay finds her career in jeopardy as she tries to defend her actions. Attorney Yuki Castellano gets her day in court and crime reporter Cindy Thomas scoops the competition. Not to be left out, medical examiner Claire Washburn finds evidence that a serial killer may be on a rampage - giving Lindsay and her partner, Rich Conklin (who lives with Cindy) something to do that takes Lindsay's mind off the possibility of losing her job and making up her mind what to do with Joe.

As usual, it's all good fun - with most, but not all, the issues resolved in the end (also as usual). And, I always get a kick out of the author's crediting Humphrey Germaniuk, medical examiner for Trumbull County, Ohio (my county of residence), for his help; this time out, Chuck Hanni, a fire investigator from nearby Youngstown, gets a nod as well. Nice going, gentlemen - you done us proud.

16th Seduction by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Little, Brown & Co., May 2017); 384 pp.

LIAR

5 stars out of 5


Thank goodness this one is short, because it's very, very hard to put down. As the official description of "psychological thriller" suggests, it messed with my head - mostly as I tried to figure out what was really going on in the minds of the two primary characters, both of whom clearly are in need of some serious psychiatric help.

One of those characters, Judi, is mother to Ben and grandmother to his two young sons. Another of Judi's sons, David, was killed years ago, but she maintains his bedroom almost as a shrine in the home she shares with her husband. Especially since her relationship with her husband has deteriorated over time, helping Ben with his sons provides her with much-needed joy and comfort - and she'll do absolutely anything to keep them all close. A couple of years earlier, Ben's wife (and mother of the grandsons) died, leaving Ben to raise them on his own. A dedicated teacher, Ben is lonely; but focusing on his work and his sons (and endless help from his mother), he's coping as best he can.

But suddenly, Ben meets Amber - and everything changes. As their whirlwind romance begins, Ben is happy once again; his mother Judi, not so much. As Amber worms her way into Ben's life - taking over "responsibilities" Judi believes are now and always will be hers and threatening her treasured family dynamic - the tension builds. Amber, Judi is certain, is up to no good; and she sets out to find out exactly why that is (and in the process discredit Amber in Ben's rose-colored eyes). That becomes harder as Judi encounters resistance from Ben and her husband, both of whom think she's being overly critical. Judi herself even has a few doubts about her feelings, given that she's also dealing with the physical symptoms of menopause (as an aside, that was a little puzzling to me since Judi is 59 - way beyond the average age of 51. Certainly, it can begin much later, but it's far less common). At any rate, Judi goes to great lengths to keep that change a secret from the men in her life - I suppose because she thinks they'll take her even less seriously (as if that were possible).

Constantly facing opposition from them but convinced Amber is up to no good, Judi begins to dig deeper - and what she learns only bolsters her belief and distrust of Ben's about-to-be second wife. As all that unfolds, readers are treated to snippets of  what Amber really is thinking as chapters shift from her perspective to Judi's. The whole thing comes to an exciting climax as dark secrets from the past of both women are revealed. 

My conclusion? Pretty creepy - and thus destined to be a hit. Many thanks to the publisher (via NetGalley) for the opportunity to read an advance review copy.

Liar by K.L. Slater (Bookouture, June 2017); 303 pp.

Friday, May 12, 2017

ROBERT B. PARKER'S LITTLE WHITE LIES

4.5 stars out of 5


The author has done a commendable job taking over the late, great Robert B. Parker's Spenser series, IMHO. Most of what I've missed is the snappy banter between Spenser and his faithful sidekick Hawk (and to some extent, between Spenser and his main squeeze, Dr. Susan Silverman). That, and the occasional interjections of humor, seem better here. When Spenser visits a service in a Georgia mega-church and listens to the music from a rock band and a gospel choir, for instance, he quips that it "was a bit like Andrew Lloyd Webber meets Three Dog Night."

The adventure begins when Spenser gets a visit from Connie Kelly, a woman not only scorned, but ripped off. Her handsome and much older lover - whom she met online and trusted because he's a "talking head" TV networks - has flown her coop along with the nearly $300,000 she gave him to invest in a "sure thing." Distraught, she discussed her feelings with her shrink - you guessed it, Susan - who in turn recommended that she bring the matter to Spenser's attention.

 All Connie wants is for Spenser to find the man who done her wrong, M. Brooks Welles, and get her money back. But almost immediately, Spenser learns Welles is far from what he claims to be; his hot-shot military and espionage experience, Harvard degree and even his name are nothing more than hot air. But wait, there's more: it seems he's to in cahoots with some very dangerous characters from the Atlanta area who don't take kindly to a Boston private eye poking around in their territory. What's more, they, too, have set their sights on finding Welles; apparently, Connie isn't the only person he ripped off. 

Even after some twists and turns that mean he could turn his back on the whole mess and walk away, Spenser remains determined to carry out Connie's directive and recoup her money. To help, he calls in the super-capable Hawk and even his old pal Teddy Sapp; but will they be able to get to the bottom of things before at least one of them gets seriously wounded or even killed? 

Ah, you'll just have to find that out for yourself. It's short, sweet and snappy - what I call perfect summer reading. 

Robert B. Parker's Little White Lie by Ace Atkins (G.P. Putnam's Sons, May 2017); 310 pp.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A TALENT FOR MURDER

5 stars out of 5

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie disappeared from her home and her seven-year-old daughter Rosalind; 11 days later, she turned up in a hotel - safe and sound, but according to her, unable to recall what had happened. Later, biographer Andrew Norman reportedly wrote that she suffered from amnesia and was suicidal, and much speculation has come from other sources. Was it a publicity stunt to draw attention to her books? Was she distraught over learning of her husband (at the time) Archie's mistress, Theresa Neele?

To this day, the mystery of her disappearance remains unknown. The author, however, has given it his twist in this book - creating an engrossing account of the missing time in a work worthy of the late, great English crime novelist, playwright and writer of short stories that seems to me to be well-researched. A little far-fetched? Perhaps, but no more so than one of Christie's own novels.

The tale begins as Christie is saved from falling in front of an oncoming train. Or was she? It seems her "rescuer," a physician, has darker things in mind. His offer of comfort as they share tea in a cafe following the near-fatal accident quickly becomes an offer of another sort entirely. The not-so-good doctor, it seems, knows everything there is to know about Christie and her family - including her husband's infidelity. Unless she follows his plan to the letter - the first step of which is that she must disappear - he'll reveal all and possibly even cause physical harm to Christie's young daughter.

So begins her frightening journey into a fictional adventure that mirrors all too closely the intricate novels for which she is becoming well known. It is a journey filled with intrigue, cover-ups and murder; throughout, Christie's resourcefulness is put to the test as she tries to extricate herself from the tasks she's being blackmailed into doing without jeopardizing the lives of her family, friends, and even herself. How (and to what extent) she pulls that off is the stuff of this clever, well-researched novel. Well done!

A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson (Atria Books, July 2017); 320 pp.

Monday, May 8, 2017

TWO NIGHTS

5 stars out of 5

No Bones about it: This is a really, really good book.

It is not, however, one of the author's popular books featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (she of the equally popular and long-running TV series, "Bones"). Rather, this is a thriller that stands entirely on its own. 

Just to be clear, there's no anthropology here, nor forensics. And in place of a self-assured (some might say know-it-all) heroine like Temperance, the main character is more than a little flawed (some might say starting with her oddball name of Sunday Night). She's got psychological scars - and a very noticeable physical one - from a disturbed past she can't forget. She lives on a secluded island; one of her next-door neighbors hanged himself, and the neighbor on the other side avoids her in the belief that she's a crazy woman. Reminiscent of the late, great Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone, she's a bit verbally challenged - tending to speak in short, clipped responses (when she feels like speaking at all).

But she's hardly deprived of skills; in years past, she was a cop who ran into some trouble that brought her promising career to a screeching halt. Now, though, one of the few people she trusts asks her to take on the case of a missing young woman whose ultra-wealthy grandmother is convinced has been kidnapped by some kind of cult.

Sunnie, as she's called, is at first reluctant to get involved despite the promise of a lucrative payday. But when the grandmother explains that the girl's mother and brother were killed in a terrorist bombing in Chicago at the time the girl went missing, something in Sunnie's past compels her to investigate. The goal, the grandmother explains, is to find the granddaughter (hopefully alive) as well as the people behind the kidnapping (dead or alive doesn't matter). The trail leads from Charleston, South Carolina, to Chicago to California to Kentucky. It's also a rocky one for Sunnie physically (let's just say bad guys and gals are prone to carry weapons) and mentally, as events in the current situation uncomfortably mirror those of her past.

Based on my love of the Brennan series, I requested an advance review copy from the publisher - and was absolutely thrilled when that request was approved. Now that I've finished, I'm even happier. I have no doubt this one is destined for the best-seller list!

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs (Bantam, July 2017); 336 pp.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

FALLOUT

4 stars out of 5


Victoria (V.I.) Warshawski has long been a favorite of mine; she was a successful Chicago-based private detective and one of the first to be (gasp!) a woman. Over the years, I've always looked forward to a new adventure - and this, I believe, is the 18th. 

This time, though, a new case takes her from her familiar, comfortable home city to the "wilds" of Kansas - accompanied only by her dog Peppy and expecting that her stay in the Sunflower State will be relatively brief. The reason for the trip? A young Chicago filmmaker wannabe is thought to be accompanying an aging former film star who wants to return to her Kansas roots to film her life story, and both have disappeared. To keep the peace with family and friends, Vic reluctantly agrees to track them down.

What she finds is a close-knit community (make that two communities - one white and one black) that is far less than welcoming. The local residents' unwillingness to help is echoed by the local police and representatives of the U.S. Army, who clearly resent her presence. Apparently, the community has lots of secrets they believe should stay that way, all seemingly related to an old Cold War-era missile site in the middle of their otherwise rural nowhere. 

Tensions build up quickly, as does the body count. Complicating matters is that even if Vic can convince someone to share information with her, can he or she be trusted? What really went on at the missile site all those years ago, and could it possibly be going on yet today? Other complications intervene as well: Her musician love interest left for a can't-miss opportunity overseas, leaving her behind when she refused to accompany him. Will he come back to her, or find fulfillment and romance elsewhere? And will Peppy become so attached to his Kansas doggy day-care helpers that she won't want to go back home to Chicago with Vic?

It all adds up to a merry, and sometimes scary, chase that I enjoyed from start to finish. Admittedly, it's not the best I've read in the series, but that was mostly because there were so many characters that I finally gave up trying to keep them straight, figuring they'd all be sorted out in the end (they were). And, while the story line was very interesting to someone like me, who remembers hiding under a desk at school so I'd stay safe during a nuclear attack (I know, I know, but we believed it at the time), the complexity of the "cover-ups" here was a little hard to swallow.

All in all, it's another solid installment in a series that's been (and still is) special to me.

Fallout by Sara Paretsky (William Morrow, April 2017); 448 pp.

Monday, May 1, 2017

FAST AND LOOSE

4 stars out of 5


Maybe I'm just going soft in my old age, or maybe I've just come to realize that a respite from the shoot-'em-up, gory entrails and head games in my usual reading fare is a good thing. But the fact is, for the most part I actually enjoyed this, the 41st in the Stone Barrington series. Yes, it's borderline insipid (there's a reason I refer to the guy as Stone Yawnington) and the "action" is more than a bit hard to believe. But overall, it was, well, sort of fun - and easily read in one day. 

As usual, everything (except perhaps Stone's ever-increasing wealth) is vastly understated as the prominent, world-traveling New York attorney tries to mind his own business. Somebody get murdered? Let's drink to that. Almost blown up by a bomb? How about dinner at Stone's favorite Patroon - or better still, in the formal dining room of one of his mansions? Perhaps this exchange between Stone and his great friend Kate - the current U.S. President - says it best:

"This is wonderful," Kate said. "All our problems solved before dinner!"

"We do what we can," Stone said.

This one begins as Stone is sailing alone in Penobscot Bay off the coast of Maine. He's so relaxed that he falls asleep, waking to find himself surrounded by fog as thick as pea soup. Suddenly, there's a big bang, and he's thrown overboard and knocked unconscious. Turns out he was hit by a much larger boat; luckily (as always seems to be the case in these books), somebody on the big boat noticed and pulled him out of the water. Happily for Stone, the boat owner is the well-heeled doctor-owner of a highly successful health-care facility, who is vacationing with his (you guessed it) beautiful, unmarried daughter - also a doctor. They patch Stone back up, invite him to a lobster dinner and - later - provide him with a new and improved sailboat courtesy of their insurance company.

As they all get to know each other (Stone and the daughter exceptionally well, BTW), Stone learns that a clinic takeover bid is in the early stages, and the good doctor is worried. The takeover, it seems, is led by a particularly nasty guy who made a takeover of his own after his company's former CEO got blown to bits when he tried to open a "protected" briefcase he'd stolen (a reference to a previous book). Stone, of course, is indignant, and immediately agrees to help thwart the takeover by rounding up the half a billion dollars needed to make a counter-offer.

Understandably, that doesn't sit well with the bad guy, who decides to fight back. From there on, the story turns into a race to determine who will remain standing - the bad guy or Stone (the latter of whom gets loads of help from his New York Police Commissioner buddy Dino and a few other well-placed colleagues). Stone, if nothing else the consummate ladies' man, manages to do some of his best work in the bedroom (I'll caution, for those who might give a whoop, that such antics by Stone and his friends seem to take place a little more often, and a little more explicitly, in this book than in others).

Fans of these books can be sure, however, that Stone himself will live to see another one - and we can be pretty confident he'll end up with more money, more properties, more friends in high places and another woman or two in yet other ports as well. And so it goes. Now you'll have to excuse me - I'm off to read something that challenges what few brain cells I have left.

Fast and Loose by Stuart Woods (G.P. Putnam's Sons, April 2017); 364 pp.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

THE FIX

5 stars out of 5


I'm not sure how well I'd like Amos Decker - the emotionally flawed "hero" in this, the third installment of a wonderful series - but he fascinates the heck out of me. So much do I hang on his every word and action, in fact, that I stayed up an hour past my bedtime just to finish this book. Yes, folks, it's that good.

Decker appeals to me on many levels, not the least of which is that when he took a huge hit in his debut NFL game, he became an "acquired savant" with hyperthymesia. Besides that, he has synesthia abilities - meaning he is able to associate colors with people and objects. That's enough to hold my attention; but wait, there's more. He's also a native Ohioan (as am I), played football at The Ohio State University (go Bucks!) and his injury came after a hit during his debut game with the Cleveland Browns (from whom, based on this season's NFL draft, I'm expecting good things this fall). Besides that, there's yet another personal association: His FBI partner's last name is Jamison - my late mother's maiden name. How cool is all that?

But back to the nitty gritty. Here, Decker hits the ground running with a hit of another kind: As he's walking toward FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., he spots a man and woman walking toward each other. Nothing wrong with that, he thinks - until the unthinkable happens; the man pulls a gun and shoots the woman, then points it toward himself and pulls the trigger.

And then comes another surprise. Decker and his team had been working solely on cold cases, but suddenly, their world changes as they're relocated from Quantico to the D.C. Field Office and assigned to investigate and solve the shooting (in part as a result of his injuries, Decker intensely dislikes change). Big problem is, even after substantial digging, they can find no connection whatsoever between the killer and his victim, a substitute school teacher and Hospice volunteer. And the man who killed her still seems to be a loving husband, father and successful business owner - with nothing in his past that would provoke him to commit murder, much less suicide. At the same time, Decker's personal life, or what little he has of it, gets complicated as Alex finds the two of them an apartment in a fixer-upper old building in which a former tenant was killed in a drug deal gone bad.

The murdered woman becomes more interesting, though, when they discover that her past extends for only about 10 years; prior to that, there's no record of her at all.  But then, Defense Intelligence Agency agent Harper Brown shows up - and she's not wanting to share the investigation with Decker and his team. Apparently, the DIA has been digging for dirt on the same people, trying to prevent what they suspect could be an upcoming, and very deadly, terrorist attack.

Needless to say, Decker isn't much into sharing either (and he certainly doesn't trust the DIA agent), so attitudes get rather testy until both sides reluctantly realize they'll get a better outcome by playing nice. Even then, it's a race to the finish with one faction trying to one-up the other; the big question is, can they all get to the bottom of things before something terrible happens? 

Also needless to say, that's a question I'm not going to answer - you'll just have to read it for yourself to find out. I'll also emphasize that while this one can be read on its own, I think readers will get more out of it by reading the other two first (The Last Mile, No. 1, and Memory Man, No. 2. They're both excellent as well, so enjoy!

The Fix by David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing, April 2017); 560 pp.

Friday, April 28, 2017

GOLDEN PREY

5 stars out of 5

He's filthy rich, favors designer duds and fancy cars and has friends in very high places. And he's going places as well; no longer with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Lucas Davenport has signed on as a U.S. Marshal - and thanks to the aforementioned friends, the job comes with a whole lot of latitude. That may not endear him to his new coworkers, but it means he can pretty much do things his own way (as if he didn't before).

He's also more than a little bored; as he puts it, he wants to "hunt." In this, the 27th book in this series, he gets his chance and then some. The adventure begins after a drug cartel's counting house in Biloxi, Mississippi, is robbed. That alone might have been considered poetic justice by some in law enforcement, but in the process of stealing millions, the robbers kill five people - one an innocent six-year-old. So it is that Lucas gets the call to action, telling his cosmetic surgeon wife Weather as he packs up that he might be gone for two or three weeks.

Of course, simple cases are not the stuff great books are made of. As it turns out here, Lucas and his team aren't the only ones trying to find the robbers; the cartel folks don't take kindly to losing tons of money and want it back with human interest. One of the assassins they turn loose is a nasty character with a penchant for torturing victims in especially gruesome ways (hint: she's known as the "queen of home-improvement tools"). The story follows the two factions out to find the robbers, neither of whom, at least in the beginning, is aware that the other exists. When that reality hits - and the robbers learn they're being chased by two factions for very different reasons - the action really picks up steam. 

As usual, dead bodies are plentiful, the characters are colorful and the dialog is snappy and sometimes downright amusing. One of my favorite lines, for instance, comes from white-knuckle flyer Lucas as he's forced to take a puddle-jumper airplane ride from Mississippi to Texas:

"If I had my choice between flying to El Paso or getting a colonoscopy, I'd have to think about it."

Bottom line? Another terrific installment in one of my all-time favorite series. Already, I'm chomping at the bit to read the next one!

Golden Prey by John Sandford (G.P. Putnam's Sons, April 2017); 399 pp.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I KNOW A SECRET

5 stars out of 5

This book won't be released till Aug. 15, but I was way too excited about the opportunity to read an advance review copy that I just couldn't wait to get started. That's because the author's "Rizzoli & Isles" series has been a favorite from the start (for the record, this is the 12th). While this one somehow seems a bit darker than most of the others I've read, it's no less well written.

The "darkness," I suppose, comes in part because medical examiner Maura Isles must come to terms with issues that haunt her past, such as her seriously disturbed (and long estranged) birth mother, who's in jail for life after being convicted of multiple murders. Still other characters, including police detective Jane Rizzoli, her uber-Italian mother and her police partner deal with issues of their own. Only Jane's hunky FBI special Agent husband, Gabriel Dean, seems to be home free in the issues department, and perhaps that's why he doesn't get much play here (drat).

At the beginning, Maura reluctantly has a meeting with her birth mother, whose parting words are cryptic as Maura gets a call from Jane that she's needed at the scene of a gruesome new case. A dead woman - a producer of indie horror films - has been found with her eyes removed and placed in her hand. But the eyes don't have it - the cause of death, that is. In fact, it isn't even clear even after Maura's initial autopsy. Could it be simply a case of life impersonating art? Jane and Maura hold that thought - that is, until a second victim turns up amid a similar scenario. Solving those two crimes moves ahead slowly even after Maura finally determines the very unusual COD; the police can find no connection between the two victims, no motive and no clues as to who the killer might be. 

But wait, there's more. Another female character is intently watching the goings-on; she's got a big secret from her past, and it's one that just may put her life in jeopardy as well. Chapters shift from the investigation to her point of view and back, all adding layers to the story that build up to a pretty scary conclusion (and non-conclusion, but I won't get into that here except to say it could provide interesting fodder for another book).

My conclusion? Loved this one as expected. Now please, Ms. Gerritsen, don't keep me waiting so long for the next installment!

I Know a Secret by Tess Gerritsen (Ballantine Books, August 2017); 336 pp.

Monday, April 24, 2017

THE SILENT CORNER

5 stars out of 5


"Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on..."

--David Bowie

When I open a new Dean Koontz book, it's always with great enthusiasm. Whether or not I'll love it isn't an issue - the only question is what he will come up with to keep me engrossed this time. As expected, there's no "oops" here - he's done it again with this, the first of a series featuring FBI agent Jane Hawk. If I had to describe the book in just a few words, it would be Sarah Connor meets Jason Bourne in a fight to protect the future of the world (and yes, it would make a great movie, hint, hint).

A  recent and still grieving widow, Jane has taken a leave of absence from the FBI to deal with her husband's suicide - which she doesn't believe for a nanosecond really happened. Setting out to find the truth, she begins with a visit to another recent military widow whose death also was deemed a suicide because she suspects the same person or persons are responsible. Further digging turns up several similar incidents - both of military and non-military people - but no apparent connection.

As she pursues her research, she soon realizes "They" are out to get her (spy drones following her is an almost-dead giveaway). After managing to escape them, she pays a quick visit to her young son, whom she wisely stashed away with friends at the start of her investigation to make sure he's safe. It matters not to the story, but for the record, I was delighted to learn that his new guardians, like me, are George Winston/Windham Hill fans. 

As she begins to make some headway, though, Jane realizes there's no one she can trust - not in the government, not among friends and relatives and most certainly not among the ranks of the FBI. Almost from the start, she's forced to go off the grid, using disguises, fake names, burner phones and switched license plates to escape what she's sure will be capture and suspects will be much worse. Because she manages to get online and, in some instances, contact others, she's considered to be in the "silent corner" (aha, such is the stuff from which a title is born).

Needless to say, her online forays mean it's hard to miss day-to-day news - not all of which, shall we say, is positive. From that springs one of my favorite quotes in the book - one with which I wholeheartedly (or more accurately, disheartedly) concur: "If you let the news spoil your appetite, there wouldn't be a day you could eat."

What Jane finds is a frightening conspiracy based on mind control. It's a concept that's a bit far afield, but given the pace of technology development these days, certainly not unthinkable. Jane's race is on, then,  determine the why, how and who - and possibly destroy the latter before "They" destroy her.

Pretty scary stuff, actually, with nary a dull moment in the action. The only downside? It's the first in a series, so expect an up-in-the-air ending. That, I assume, will be rectified with the Jan. 9, 2018, publication of the next installment, The Whispering Room, and of course it's on my calendar. That said, please, Mr. Koontz, could you hurry it up just a little?

And th-th-th-that's all folks, she writes, lest she give away too many secrets Except, that is, to say that as a long-time fan of this author, I was beyond thrilled at the opportunity to read and review an advance copy of this terrific book. Many, many thanks to the publisher (via NetGalley)!

The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz (Bantam, June 2017); 464 pp.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

YOU WILL PAY

4 stars out of 5

Sex, lies and yes, even videotapes - the stuff of which soap operas are made - all come together in coastal small-town Oregon in this rather lusty novel. Murder? Check. Incest? Check. Throw in an Elmer Gantry-like leader of a summer camp for teenagers that's been closed for two decades, and you've got a solid start to your summer beach reading.

Camp Horseshoe closed after two of the still-teenage female counselors,   a hired hand and a convict who escaped from a nearby prison went missing. Now - 20 years later - Lucas Dalton, detective with the local sheriff's department and son of the aforementioned preacher man, is investigating the discovery of what appears to be human scull in a small cave on the bank of the water at which one of the missing counselors, Eleanor (Elle) was last seen. Complicating matters is that Lucas was Elle's serious love interest at the time; also, several of the other female counselors, led by Jo-Beth Chancellor, reportedly tried to put the fear of God into Monica shortly before she disappeared.

Today, all the camp participants, including Lucas, have gone on with their lives (mostly successfully), but the secrets they buried all those years ago now threaten to bring them down. Semi-estranged from his preacher father, Jeremiah, and his beautiful ex-stepmother Naomi, Lucas has secrets of his own that he hopes don't see the light of day. But as all the counselors involved in the scheme to scare Monica decide to return to align the stories they will once again offer to police, they face a nosy reporter who's desperate to get the real story for an online tabloid - a woman who was just as nosy as a camper 20 years ago. 

Chapters switch from viewpoints of the characters in the present and that fateful summer at camp - a technique of which I'm not fond, but it does allow details to be released little by little that shed more light on what really happened. Admittedly, that got a bit hard for me to follow in that there are so many characters to remember; besides that, there seemed to me to be an excessive amount of repetition from one recollection to another (although to be honest, that probably helped my aging brain keep all those characters straight). 

Tying up all the loose ends in one tidy package also tested the limits of believability for me, but then keep in mind I was a church camper back in the day, and the closest I ever got to high drama was having a bit of a crush - as did most of the other female campers - on a young, super-cute minister-counselor. All that meant, though, was that we sang "Kumbaya, My Lord" louder than necessary around the campfire in hopes of getting his attention. Kinky sex? Murder and mayhem? Fuhgettaboutit!

If you're looking for off-kilter characters in creepy settings, give this one a try. My thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for providing me with an advance copy to read and review. 

You Will Pay by Lisa Jackson (Kensington, May 2017); 416 pp.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

ALL BY MYSELF, ALONE

4 stars out of 5

Well-developed, intriguing characters. Interesting plot, albeit with no mind-bending surprises. What's not to like?

Not much, from my point of view. No, it won't jack up your blood pressure nor keep you anywhere from the edge of your seat. In fact, it's about as close to a "cozy" mystery as you can get without actually crossing that line (although some readers might argue that it does). In short, it's a perfect summer read - on the beach or, in my case, while enjoying spring weather on our back deck as it comes (finally) to our little corner of the world in northeast Ohio.

Admittedly, it got a bit repetitive in spots, and there were a couple of incidents that challenged credibility. As the story progressed, the more it brought to mind the old game of Clue: Colonel Mustard did it with a knife in the library. Or was it Professor Plum with candlestick in the kitchen? Still, overall it was a fun read - just don't expect a complex psychological mystery that will keep you awake nights.

The Queen Charlotte, a new, uber-luxurious ocean liner, had just set off on its maiden voyage from the Hudson River to Southhampton, England. With a capacity of 100 passengers and a crew of 85, it is the newest ship in the fleet owned by wealthy Gregory Morrison and designed to be an upgrade on the ill-fated Titanic. On board are hoity-toity, wealthy passengers like 86-year-old Lady Emily Haywood, nouveau riche like William Meehan and his amateur-sleuth wife, Alvirah, guest lecturers like Celia Kilbride, a noted gems and jewelry expert and an international thief known as The Man with One Thousand Faces. 

Most of the chapters focus on details of specific passengers; Ted Cavanaugh, for instance, wants to convince the elderly Lady Em to return her famous Cleopatra emerald necklace to Egypt instead of the Smithsonian, as she plans. The necklace, he argues, was stolen from the country by her ancestors and should be returned to its rightful owner. 

But not long after departure, one passenger goes overboard. Then three days out, Lady Em is found dead - murdered in her stateroom - and the storied emerald necklace is missing. Are all these events related? Is the international thief really on board and if yes, who is he? Who's got the necklace? Are Roger Pearson, accountant to Lady Em, and Brenda Martin, her long-time personal assistant, really the loyal employees they appear to be? Just about everyone on board, it seems, is hiding some kind of secret; little by little, chapter by chapter, those secrets are revealed and lead up to the conclusion.

All By Myself, Alone by Mary Higgins Clark (Simon & Schuster, April 2017); 337 pp.

Monday, April 17, 2017

THE BURIAL HOUR

4.5 stars out of 5

At nearly 500 pages, I'm pretty sure this is one of the longest Jeffery Deaver books I've ever read - at least of the series starring forensic detective Lincoln Rhyme. What it is not, however, is the best of the bunch.

To be sure, though, it's very good; and despite my grousing that I'd be reading it for several days, I surprised myself by polishing it off in just two. And for the most part, I enjoyed the experience from beginning to end - starting with the kidnapping of a man from New York's Upper East Side witnessed only by a young girl even though it took place in broad daylight. The perpetrator left behind a miniature noose made from a musical instrument string. Rhyme and his co-investigator (and soon to be wife), Amelia Sachs, are called in; shortly thereafter, a video is posted online showing the victim as he is slowly being hanged. Stranger still is that his gasps for air are synced to music, and the video is "signed" by someone called The Composer.

Search and seizure efforts by Rhyme and Sachs are only partly successful, and the kidnapper gets away. But then, a near identical incident takes place near Naples, Italy (noose and all), and in the flash of a private jet, the dynamic duo - accompanied by Rhyme's faithful and tough-nosed caretaker, Thom - make their way to the City of the Sun. The Italian police higher-ups clearly resent help from the Americans, but as Rhyme and Sachs sift through forensic evidence and prove their worth, the Italians grudgingly accept their insights. 

Meantime, readers learn the kidnapper's identity through interspersed chapters written from his perspective. Then fairly early on comes another case as a young American living and playing hard in Italy is arrested for battery and rape. Rhymes and Sachs are asked by the defense to help with this one as well - to look for evidence that suggests someone else could have done the dirty deed. As they begin to work on both cases, they learn that the Italian prosecutor on the rape case is the same guy who's carrying a chip on his shoulder about interference from the American duo on the kidnapping case. Oops - not exactly the way to win him over.

The original kidnapping case leads to an Italian camp that provides sanctuary for the thousands of immigrants who have fled their home countries in search of a better life (clarifying the meaning of the book's title and adding an element of timeliness to the plot). Clearly, there's plenty going on here.

But sometimes, plenty is too much. The details of the plot, the number of characters and the geographic settings seem to go on and on unnecessarily and, alas, with a lot less interaction than I like to see between Rhymes and Sachs. On the plus side, the loose ends (well, perhaps all but one) are tied up neatly. And, clues led me to suspect that many of those details and characters are meant to lay the foundation for a future book or books, so I'm willing to back off a bit on my criticism. In any event, it's for sure I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment - love this series!

The Burial Hour by Jeffery Deaver (Grand Central Publishing, April 2017); 480 pp.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

THE REMOVERS

5 stars out of 5

Any time I come off of reading a particularly intense, or intensely disappointing, book, my inclination is to reach for something that doesn't require lots of concentration and is dependably good. Now that they're available in Kindle format, Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm series fills both of those requirements admirably (this being the third of 27).

Those not familiar with the books may remember the motion pictures starring the late, great Dean Martin; four of them, I believe, were released from 1966 to 1969. The first book, for the record, was published in 1960 (Death of a Citizen), and Hamilton passed away in 2006. Reading the books now (or re-reading, since I read a couple way back when but have long since forgotten which ones) is interesting for two reasons: First and foremost, they're just plain good "secret agent" novels. The other is the time frame; it's fun to see what's changed over the years since 1960 (when I was a college freshman, BTW) as well as what hasn't. Hearing a woman called "baby" or noting Helm's preference for those who wear skirts- ideally with nylon stockings covering their legs - is reminiscent of the old gumshoe books of the '40s and '50s. The espionage game, on the other hand, is pretty much same old, same old.

And Helm is right in the middle of that game here. After enjoying a few years' respite making a living mostly as a photographer to support a wife and children, his wife Beth became quite unhappy to learn what he really did for a living in all those years before she came on the scene and realized he had a heart behind his shoulder holster. Unable to come to terms with that, she divorced him six months ago; and now, looking for something to bring meaning to his life once again, he's been reactivated. 

So has Beth, in a way; she's remarried, this time to an English gentleman who owns a large ranch somewhere outside of Reno, Nevada. Helm's kids live with their mother, as does her new husband's grown son. But now, she's reaching out - sending a note to Helm's boss, Mac, to say she needs her ex-husband's help. Mac passes along the message with one of his own: As long as Helm (code name: Eric) is going to be in the area, how about checking out a young, inexperienced agent?  As they discuss the assignment, they agree that Helm and his ilk are not considered "enforcers," but rather "removers" - from hence cometh, I smartly perceive, the title of the book.

The young agent, alas, doesn't have much to offer about his assignment except that he was tracking an enemy agent named Martell, who's now working for a local mobster under an assumed name. And wonder of wonders, the mobster just happens to be the man for whom Beth's husband used to work (most likely as - you guessed it - a remover just like Helm).

The plot gets thicker and the action picks up as the book moves along - coming to an end that signals a major change in the direction of Helm's life going forward. That, in fact, is one of the most enjoyable parts of this series - watching how events that happen in one book shape what happens in the future. Just for the record, the books I've read so far can stand alone, but I'm sure I'm getting the biggest bang for my bucks - as would other readers, IMHO - by taking it one step at a time. They're short steps, I hasten to add; I polished this one off in just one day.

The Removers by Donald Hamilton (Titan Books, April 2013 Kindle release); 240 pp.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

IF I RUN

4 stars out of 5


"...one step ahead of the shoe shine
Two steps away from the county line..."

From the start of this one, those lyrics from Simon & Garfunkel's "Keep the Customer Satisfied" ran through my head in this fast-paced, exciting book that I read in a single day (partly because it's only 318 pages long and mostly because it was very hard to put down). 

You see, Casey Cox is a woman on the run; her DNA has been found at the scene of the stabbing murder of her best friend Brent, a journalist. In truth (or truth as she tells it), she really was at the scene - meeting him at his apartment at lunchtime at his request - but what she found was his bloody body. Believing her story wouldn't be convincing to the police, she ran away in hopes of finding a new identify and a new life. She's also trying to escape some haunting memories of her own youth - memories that comprise another reason to be wary of talking to the police.

Enter Dylan Roberts, a former Army cop with three deployments and a nasty case of PTSD who'd love to get a job on the local police force. Turns out he also was a good friend of Brent, and when Dylan attends the memorial service, because of his background he's hired to track down Casey (with approval from the time-challenged local police). As the chase ensues, chapters shift from Casey's perspective to Dylan's; in most instances, I'm not a big fan of that technique - nor of first-person writing - but they really do work well here.

Despite her efforts to stay off the grid, Casey leaves a trail that's almost amazingly easy for Dylan to follow. The closer he gets to finding her, though, the more he begins to realize there's far more to her story than he's being led to believe - bringing into question what happened to Brent, who actually did him in and why. 

Meantime, a second story line comes into play as Casey - who now has a new identity - tries to get her new act together in an Atlanta suburb. A new friend, it seems, has a daughter who went missing a couple of years earlier. In the course of her new job, Casey inadvertently uncovers clues that could mean the daughter is still alive. Risking the loss of her precious anonomity, she sets out to learn the truth. The book comes to a riveting conclusion that brings closure to one of the two story lines (but I won't reveal which).

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book - but with two reservations. The first is that there's a doozy of a cliffhanger ending. This is the first of a two-book series (which I knew ahead of time and, under those circumstances, certainly expected some carryover business). But this goes far beyond that, literally forcing readers to get the next book (If I'm Found) if they want closure. And not knowing that was gonna happen till the end of this one made me very grumpy.

The second is that it's in-your-face clear from the beginning that this book belongs in the category of Christian fiction (which I didn't know at the time I accepted an advance review copy from the publisher based on what sounded like a great story). Mind you, I have nothing against organized religion; in fact, I consider myself to be somewhat of a student of it. Over the years, I've enjoyed, and learned much from, books on the history and beliefs of faiths from Baha'i to Judaism to the Society of Friends to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. 

What I do not want to read about, however, is some character's "search for the God I used to believe in" or, God forbid, proselytizing. Both are in here from the beginning, though thankfully, not in large doses (with a couple of exceptions). Still, it's more than I want to encounter, and I firmly believe potential readers should be made aware of this ahead of time.

If I Run by Terri Blackstock (Zondervan, February 2016); 318 pp.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

THE PREACHER: ACES AND EIGHTS

5 stars out of 5


Warning: Don't even think about speed-reading this book. Oh, you can try, but if you do, you'll miss a whole bunch of good stuff. I found that out early on, and after the first wave of "Oh drat - I've gotta concentrate on this one" hit, I settled back, took my time and enjoyed the heck out of the rest of the ride. 

This is, for the record, Book 2 in what Amazon lists as a two-book series featuring "The Preacher" - a one-eyed priest (Episcopal, I think), Vietnam veteran and professional gambler. When the publisher offered an advance copy for review, the description sounded like a sure bet. I didn't feel at a disadvantage for not having read the first book, either, although now that I'm done I'm pretty sure I missed out on another good thing (that book was a finalist for an Edgar Award).

In this one,The Preacher (readers never get to know him by any other name) knows his way around self-defense because of his Vietnam experience, and he's no slouch at the poker table, either. In fact, he's come to a high-stakes private game at a swanky Las Vegas casino to earn money to support his tiny congregation. Among the other players are a big-time televangelist and a couple of The Preacher's old friends (one of whom is a guy dubbed "Corner Pocket," who happens to be the chief investigator for the Clark County District Attorney's Office). Just as the betting turns serious, all hell breaks loose: two men with machine guns burst through the door, blasting away. The Preacher, the televangelist and the assistant D.A. escape injury, but the other old friend doesn't fare so well (nor does one of the two gunmen). The second hitman hits the ground running away - straight to the roof - where he hitches a ride on a waiting helicopter and escapes.

When the dust settles, the injured friend is rushed to the hospital, and The Preacher and other survivors are questioned by police. The gunmen left behind few clues, except for one oddity: On top of one of the dead bodies is a hand of cards - all aces and eights. Surely, that means something, all agree - but what?

At the hospital, The Preacher hopes his injured friend, whose name is Sam Goines, will regain consciousness and shed some insight on what happened back at the casino. Sam's beautiful wife, Maxey (who just happens to have had a years-ago fling with The Preacher), rushes to visit and is hopeful that first part happens as well. Suddenly, the plot thickens, and the hospital becomes the site of what will be several plot twists, more murder, mayhem and sleight of hand, a character who would give the late Howard Hughes a run for his money, a race to find an errant atomic bomb and yes, more of those hands of aces and eights. Saying much more would give too much away, so I'll just say it's an intelligently written, fast-paced story that hooked me from beginning to end.

When that end came, though, I learned that the author passed away in 2001, making me wonder why it took this long for it to be published. Further, a quick check at Amazon of the first, The Preacher, showed a May 2016 release date. My journalist's curiosity really kicked in then, prompting me to do a little sleuthing. Turns out the first one was published in 1988, followed by not one, but two others. The third, King of Diamonds, appears to have been released in 1989, and given how much I loved this one, I was interested. But good luck getting a hand on it; the only copy I could find has a list price of $184.19 - used, no less - so since I'm not that flush at the moment, I'm gonna pass. None of that is a big deal in terms of how good the books are, of course, but I'm a big believer in truth in lending.

Bottom line? This one's a winner, so if you're game, go for it!

The Preacher: Aces and Eights by Ted Thackrey Jr. (Brash Books, May 2017); 349 pp.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

ALIENATION OF AFFECTIONS

4 stars out of 5

Well, if I've learned anything after nearly 55 years of marriage, it's that when in divorce court, never trust a living soul. At this point, though, I'm in full agreement with the wife of the philandering husband in this, the second book in the author's Family Court series: I've invested far too much time in the one I've got to get rid of him now.

And in this case, that wife - Martha Grimm - is willing to pay handsomely to accomplish exactly that. But what she wants to avoid at all costs is suing her husband. When she puts that challenge to her attorney, though, the initial reaction is something like, say what? Putting their heads together - and realizing that no solution to their client's request means no fees - the attorney and her associates come up with the notion of putting the state's little-known (and probably never used) law called "Alienation of Affections" into play. As such, the firm can sue the wayward husband's mistress - herein known as "The Floozy" - thus taking the husband out of the equation and allowing for a trial by jury instead of the more typical judge's decision.

What happens behind the scenes in divorce court is revealed in this very short novel (I read it in one sitting and one-and-a-half glasses of a decent sangria). But most interesting to me were the characters, beginning with the Floozy, who's desperately trying to dress the part in court (using her paramour's credit card, of course) and the height-challenged judge who's just trying to get in 10 years so he can retire with a hefty pension for life. Then there's the Great Negotiator, a.k.a. Floozy's lawyer, who always delivers results (whether or not he'll manage that here I'll never tell). Even "The Dress" - the ill-fitting number Floozy picked for her day in court - plays a significant role.

All in all, it's a fun look inside the workings of divorce court. I thank the author for providing a copy for me to read and review.

Alienation of Affections by Portia Porter (Cheetah Press, August 2016); 141 pp.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

BEYOND JUSTICE

4 stars out of 5

Looking for a good legal mystery? Consider giving this one a try - seriously. Top-notch young attorney Hayden McCarthy has just earned her chops by pulling off an almost unbelievable win - a feat that doesn't go unnoticed by her hoity-toity law firm. But instead of a few days on a sunny beach or a hefty bonus, her reward is being assigned to a seemingly unwinnable wrongful death case. A young Mexican boy who attempted to enter the United States illegally was caught and stashed in a government-run juvenile detention facility in Texas - where he was murdered. Now, Hayden's firm has been asked to build - and more important, at least to Hayden's future career, win - a case against the government.

Add to the mix Hayden's roommate, who just happens to have a very hunky and eligible cousin named Andrew Wesley. And he just happens to be the son of an ambitious congressman. It goes without saying that Hayden and Andrew are wary of but attracted to each other. But even though Andrew claims to eschew his father's chosen profession of service to America, the fact that Hayden is going head-to-head with the government isn't exactly a relationship booster. 

Tracking down the facts she'll need to build her case takes Hayden from her job in Washington, D.C., to Texas and back - with plenty of dangerous turns in between. Although almost none of it takes place in a courtroom, there's plenty of action and legal details as Hayden tries to ferret out the truth.

So we have likable, well-developed characters, a story that's intriguing, timely (immigration) and believable. So what was missing? Although I certainly should have known, I failed to pick up ahead of time on the fact that this book falls into the Christian category - and there few things in this life I do not want to read about more than someone's religious "journey."

But wait, there's more.

Other than one horrific moment when I was convinced the book would end with Andrew's asking Hayden to marry him only if she agreed to quit the high-profile job she loves and stay home to be a proper mother to their kids, matters of faith were for the most part unobtrusive. In fact, what few references there were seemed to be inserted haphazardly, almost as an afterthought, sometimes where they really didn't seem to fit. It was almost as if someone said, "Oops, God hasn't had a mention in 50 pages - better throw one in!" 

And somehow, it strikes me that a "Christian" book should have more on that subject (or at least what was there should have been more fully developed). Ironic, isn't it, that the biggest downside (a mild one, I hasten to add) is that there wasn't enough of what I didn't want to read in the first place? But there it is.

That said, this is a very enjoyable book that's well worth reading no matter what side of the religion coin you're on. Many thanks to the publisher (via NetGalley) for providing me with an advance review copy.

Beyond Justice by Cara C. Putman (Thomas Nelson, April 2017); 384 pp.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

VICIOUS CIRCLE

4.5 stars out of 5

This is something like the 17th book about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, and since I've read most of them, by now I consider Joe a good friend. There's another reason I love the guy: As those who have read my past reviews most likely are tired of seeing, Joe and I share a surname. In fact, that's what got my attention in the beginning. This one, though, is extra-special for another reason: It was released in the United States on my birthday (March 21). How cool is that?

But of course, name- and birthday-sharing aren't automatic guarantees of loyalty to any series; great stories are. One thing that's kept me going is that over the years, is that it's been fun to watch Joe and his family grow. By this time, daughter Sheridan has graduated from the University of Wyoming, April is attending Northwest Community College, leaving only daughter Lucy still living at home. Joe's wife, Marybeth, is director of the Twelve Sleep County Library. Joe's job is going fine and all's right with the world.

Or not. At the opening, Joe is a reluctant passenger in a plane that's circling the mountains of Wyoming (way too close to the trees for Joe's comfort), looking for a hunter who's been reported missing. They spot what they think is him - along with three other humans - and the ending of that discovery isn't good. Back on the ground, Joe's also trying to track down a big poaching ring that's killing off elk, worrying about a blizzard that's about to hit and, worst of all, dealing with the realization that old enemy Dallas Cates (one-time boyfriend of April) has been released from jail. Because Joe was largely responsible for destroying the rest of the evil Cates family, he's concerned that Dallas's first order of business will be returning the favor.

When April's life is threatened, Joe knows for certain that he's right. But an attempt by local authorities to put Dallas back in jail goes south, leaving Joe and his family vulnerable once again. Toss into the mix appearances by Marybeth's totally irritating, gold-digging mother, Missy, and Joe's long-time friend, professional falconer and off-the-grid expert Nate Romanowski, and you've got the makings of another action-packed adventure.

So what motivated me to take this one down a half-notch from 5 stars? A few things needed a bit more fleshing out, IMHO; it's hard for me to believe Joe and his family - no matter how seasoned they are to misfortune and even the threat of personal danger - could have taken some of what happened to them so much in stride. Then too, Nate, while he still has his edge, just seemed a little too "normal" here; and not as much activity happens in the great outdoors (which to me is one of the pluses of the series). The ending, too, seemed a bit abrupt (almost as if the allocated word count had been reached and there was no choice but to stop or go back and chop somewhere else). Still, it's close enough to perfect for horseshoes - and I'm already looking forward to the next one.

Vicious Circle by C.J. Box (G.P. Putnam's Sons, March 2017); 377 pp.