Sunday, October 30, 2022

Timely and Compelling Police Procedural



BLACKWATER  FALLS

Detective Inaya Rahman #1

Ausma Zehanat Khan

Minotaur Books

November 8, 2022



The picturesque town of Blackwater Falls in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado seems an ideal place to live and work. The setting is glorious, with camping and trails for visitors. The leading employers are Apex Dynamics, a tech research firm, and Natural Foods, a meatpacking plant. There is also a large population of Muslim refugees from all over the world, primarily Syria and Somalia, most of whom work at Natural Foods.


Underneath the surface, however, bubbles a stew of hate and corruption. The hate comes from a prominent evangelical church and its accompanying biker gang, the Disciples. The corruption stems from the Sheriff, who has a finger in every pie and absolute control in the town. Inaya Rahman is a local who has returned after a traumatic stint at the Chicago PD. She is part of the new Community Response Unit, led by Lt. Waqas Seif. Her first significant crime is genuinely horrific, the murder of a promising refugee student, Razan Elkader. Razan was nailed to the door of the local Mosque in a sick parody of the Crucifixion. The disappearance of two Muslim teenage girls preceded the murder of Razan, ruled runaways by the Sheriff with little to no investigation. Neither the church nor the Sheriff has escaped scrutiny. The FBI has an operative implanted with the Disciples and the police department.


Blackwater Falls is a complex and timely novel in which just about everyone's motives are suspect at one time or another. Inaya is a well-portrayed character, as are her Hispanic partner and a Black firebrand attorney. Both are female, and the three become close friends and colleagues. I suppose I am as ignorant as the average American about the lives of immigrants. Blackwater Falls gave me a look into those lives, especially a Muslim woman who wants to operate as a professional yet feels the tug of her religious beliefs. Inaya's decision to wear the hijab when the other women in her family do not is just one instance. 


The themes of violence and social justice resonate in Blackwater Falls and make for a compelling read. Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.


RATING- 4.5 Stars



Thursday, October 27, 2022

Hilarious Sci-Fi Romp


 


STATION ETERNITY
THE MIDSOLAR MURDERS # 1
MUR LAFFERTY
ACE/BERKLEY BOOKS
OCTOBER 4, 2022


Sci-Fi is not my usual genre. I have read only one series in its entirety: Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, and that multiple times. The premise of Station Eternity caught my interest immediately. Mallory Viridian has a long-standing problem. Over and over, she finds herself at murder scenes and seems to be the only person who can solve the murder. She has only failed in very few cases. Unlike Jessica Fletcher of "Murder She Wrote" fame, it hasn't made her in demand at parties. The cops hate her and have prevented her from finding jobs. What remains of her family hate her after the murder of her uncle. Her cousin's subsequent arrest and conviction for the crime and her failure to exonerate him are the last straw. Earth's "First Contact" with aliens has just occurred, and Mallory asked for sanctuary aboard Station Eternity, a sentient space station. What could go wrong with no other humans on board?

However, there are two other humans, the Earth Ambassador and a person Mallory knows from her college days. Xan was a casual friend who later joined the US Army. He was also a chief suspect in a murder Mallory couldn't solve. He was reportedly abducted by aliens the same night the murder occurred. The station is a bit of a prima donna, and she houses several alien races. The wasp-like Sundry seems to have a particular fascination with Mallory. She has befriended Stephanie, the giant Gneiss, made of rock. The Gurudev are insect-like stick figures, and the Phantasmagores can blend into any background. One similarity is that they all can form symbiotic relationships with other species and find humans lacking because humans cannot. Even Eternity has a symbiote; a Gurudev, Ren, is murdered, and everything goes to hell in a handbasket. A shuttle is headed from Earth and loaded with VIP visitors, the first to be allowed. Eternity goes mad and partially destroys the shuttle.

Station Eternity is a wild ride full of unique, often hilarious, and sometimes horrifying characters. It keeps you guessing until the end with non-stop action. Who will survive, and why is Mallory's estranged aunt aboard the shuttle?

Thanks to Netgalley and Ace for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

Rating- 3.5 rounded up to 4



Thursday, October 20, 2022

An Engrossing Regency Mystery

 



MURDER AT THE SERPENTINE BRIDGE
Wrexford and Sloane #6
Andrea Penrose
Kensington Books
September 27, 2022
 


The newest book in this historical mystery series takes us back to London in the summer of 1814 when the nation was celebrating the signing of the Treaty of Paris of the years-long Napoleonic Wars. The celebrations center on the grand Parks of London, with the staging of the replica Battle of Waterloo on the Serpentine River in Hyde Park. Lord Wrexford and his new wife Charlotte will inevitably be at the center of the celebrations due to their high positions. Complications arise when Wrexford's two wards, Raven and Hawk, discover a man's body floating in the Serpentine. The man, identified as Jeremiah Willis, a well-known engineer, and inventor, was thought to be set upon by criminals hoping for loot. The oddity was that Willis was plainly dressed and a black man. More pressing are Charlotte's family obligations. Her brother Hartley has invited them to his in-laws' estate. Belmont. When they arrive, they see all is not well. Belmont is distracted, his wife Louisa is stiff, and there are signs of economic stress. A visitor from London arrives, demanding to see Wrexford. It seems that Jeremiah Willis was far from unimportant. He was designing a repeater gun whose use would revolutionize warfare. The plans have not been found, and the government wants them back. So do all the major European government representatives present for the celebrations. There are rumors of an auction of the plans. To gain Wrexford's cooperation, the man insinuates that he knows Charlotte's alter ego, A. J. Quill, a notorious satirical artist. 

The Wrexford and Sloane novels are favorites of mine. They never displease, full of action, historical detail, and color. The characters are well-rounded and believable. My favorites are the former street urchins, Raven and Hawk, who are maturing into intelligent and gifted young men. A welcome addition is Peregrine, the future Lord Belmont. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

Rating- 4 Stars


Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Timely and Chilling Novel of Nazi Sympathizers in Pre- World WarII Hollywood

     



 MOTHER DAUGHTER TRAITOR SPY
Susan Elia MacNeal
Bantam Books
September 20, 2022



It's 1940 in New York, and everything seems to be coming up roses for Veronica Grace and her widowed mother, Violet. Ever since childhood, Veronica has wanted to be a journalist, modeling herself on Martha Gellhorn. She is graduating with honors from Hunter College and has a great job lined up. Her father, a Naval Commander, has been dead for six years, so her uncle Walter has come from Southern California to celebrate. Little do they know that everything is going to change. Veronica has a secret. She has been having an affair with an older reporter who was supposed to be mentoring her, and his wife has found out about it. Unluckily, the wife is part of a mighty publishing family who has reported it to Hunter and Veronica's prospective employer. Veronica's dreams are smashed, and even worse, she is just one of a string of girls who were fooled by him.

Uncle Walter has a plan for them, though. He has a small cottage in California to offer them so they can make a new start. Despite having lived their whole lives in Brooklyn, Violet and Veronica see no alternative. A scandal like this can't be hidden or glossed over, not in 1940. The little family heads off to sunny LA with heavy hearts and no idea how to start over. Veronica finds it challenging to find a job, especially without any experience or education she can mention. Violet is a typical housewife and mother of the time with no work experience. She is, however, a talented seamstress and specializes in custom embroidery on clothing. One day mother and daughter engaged in a casual conversation with a woman who told Veronica of a possible job with the woman's brother-in-law doing stenographic and general office work. Violet's beautiful embroidery is also noticed by rich, well-connected women, primarily women connected to right-wing causes. Veronica takes the job but soon discovers that her seemingly "nice," jovial employers are part of the America First Committee and are distributing poisonous propaganda for the Nazi Regime. She is sickened and horrified, and when she tells Violet, the two women go first to the police, then to the FBI. The police can do nothing and seem, if anything, sympathetic. And J. Edgar Hoover was only interested in chasing Communists. A call to a Naval colleague of Veronica's father brings results, however. He puts them in touch with two active agents trying to stop the Nazi influx. Since Violet and Veronica are of German heritage and look like perfect blonde examples of Aryan womanhood, they will have no problem infiltrating. The women agree since they both are patriots who hate the rise of the Nazis. It becomes clear to them that they will be in great danger. The Nazi sympathizers are planning something "big" if Roosevelt is re-elected. 

The plot of Mother Daughter Traitor Spy would be quite fantastical if one didn't know how dangerous Nazi sympathizers were all over America, especially on the coasts. Xenophobia ran rampant when it became clear that America was being inexorably drawn into another World War. However, the characters of the agents, Violet and Veronica, as well as the Nazis, are based on real people. The agents went on after the War to successful careers and prominence. The women who placed themselves in such peril have been largely forgotten, which seems to be how such things go. Veronica's real name was Sylvia Comfort. One can't read Mother Daughter Traitor Spy without seeing the parallels to today's political climate. This is a nail-biting thriller with characters to remember.

Thanks to Bantam Books and Netgalley.com for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my 
own.






 













Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Not the Usual Longmire


 HELL AND BACK
 Walt Longmire #18
 Craig Johnson
 Viking
 September 6, 2022



It has been a while since I read the Walt Longmire series, but when I had a chance to read Hell and Back, I was pleasantly reminded just a few pages in. Johnson's prose is beautiful, and the character of Walt is one that you just want to spend some time with. This is not quite the Walt I remember since Johnson takes him into mystical territory. He has strayed there in previous novels, but not to this extent.

Hell and Back opens with Walt waking up snow-covered in a street. He is also covered in blood and doesn't know his name or where he is. He sets off for the nearest lights in a diner just beginning to close. Despite an advancing blizzard, the pretty waitress (who looks somewhat familiar) still makes a meal for him. She also helps him with his name on the hatband inside his cowboy hat. He is in Fort Pratt, Montana. Fort Pratt was the home of an Indian Training School that burned to the ground over a hundred years ago, killing thirty boys. The waitress tells him there haven't been any good stories in Fort Pratt since.

The fact that Walt is missing is not lost on Vic Moretti, his under-sheriff, and his longtime friend, Henry Standing Bear. Both, along with Walt's giant indeterminately bred hound "Dog,"  have set off to find him in the teeth of the blizzard, and the story switches between them and Walt. Walt's wanderings feature meetings with all sorts of characters in the snowy landscape, both natural and possibly imagined. The gates of the training school are still standing. When Walt crosses onto the grounds, he thinks he is back in time to when the school was still operating, to the very day it burned at 8:17pm.

This departure may throw longtime readers of the series, but Johnson gives us the twists in plotting and robust character building that we expect. I am decidedly not a fan of Westerns, probably because I watched too many bad ones on TV in my childhood. Johnson has taken a risk with Hell and Back but succeeds in all ways.

Thanks to NetGalley and Viking for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars






 

Monday, August 29, 2022

This Garden is Not Eden


 

BACK TO THE GARDEN
Laurie R. King
Bantam Books
September 6, 2022



Laurie R. King is best known for her long-running Mary.
Russell and Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, but she has also written several excellent stand-alone novels. Back to the Garden falls into that category. The Gardener Estate is steeped in California history and has seen many transformations. It is reminiscent of the Hearst San Simeon Estate, with baronial interiors, exteriors, and extensive gardens. The Estate has always remained in the Gardener family's hands.   In the 1970s, the Estate rested in the hands of the "Old Bastard," always referred to by his grandsons." Fort" and Rob Gardener are the heirs to the Estate. "Fort" has already taken off for an ashram in India and disinherited. The rebellious and volatile Rob refuses to be part of his grandfather's plans. He joins the Army and is promptly sent off to Viet Nam. Only a cousin stays involved with the running of the Estate, but since his last name is not Gardener, he can't inherit.

When Rob returns from Viet Nam and inherits, he is still rebellious and volatile. He is also deeply immersed in the 1970s "counterculture." He and his partner, Meadow,
remake the house and grounds into an experiment in communal living. All sorts of people come and go from 1970s cultural icons to petty criminals. "Fort" reappears, still with no designs on the Estate, rather than a seemingly small request. All seemed well until Rob and Meadow decided to have an art and music festival, mainly to showcase the success of their experiment. On that weekend, everything changes. Meadow and "Fort" disappear, and the commune breaks up quickly. Currently, the Estate is managed by a Trust, and Rob is a hermit living on the grounds. The Estate has been returned to its former glory, and big plans are afoot. An immense statue, The Three Eves, has to be moved and shored up. A human skull and remains are discovered beneath.

Anyone who lived through the 70s might remember that there was also a surfeit of serial killers operating in America. Young women on the roads were killed and disappeared all over, particularly in California. When a Cold Case investigator, Racquel Laing from the SFPD, gets wind of the find, she thinks it would fit her case, that of The Highwayman. The Highwayman is in custody, but he is dying. Racquel is on a mission to find out who, other than the nine women they know about, fell victim to him. He isn't talking unless forced to, and Raquel is determined to find out every victim before time runs out. The intersection of the history of the Gardener family and the Highwayman is bound together.

Back to the Garden is an intricate and compelling read with King's signature full-bodied characters and atmospheric writing. Thanks to NetGalley.com and Bantam Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

















Sunday, August 7, 2022

A "Witches Brew" of a Cozy Mystery

 

STEEPED TO DEATH
A Witches' Brew Mystery #1
Gretchen Rue
Crooked Lane Books
September 6, 2022



Sometimes a reader needs a break from the darker side of mayhem and murder and suspend disbelief for a few hours. The first in a new cozy series, Steeped to Death, fits the bill exactly. A picturesque small town, a gutsy heroine amid a life change, a companion cat, and a touch of magic are all present. 

Phoebe Winchester is coming out of a divorce from her philandering husband when her beloved Aunt Eudora dies, leaving her a large Victorian house in the tourist-based village of Ravens Creek, WA. Along with the house comes Aunt Eudora's used bookshop/tea shop, the Earl's Study, and a companion ginger cat named Bob. Eudora was known for her sense of adventure and ability to blend unique teas with possibly magical qualities. In fact, many residents of Ravens Creek think she was a witch. Phoebe doesn't believe that for a moment since she spent many childhood summers with Eudora and saw no evidence of magic. 

Everyone seems welcoming to Phoebe, except for Dierdre Miller, who accosts her at every turn. Dierdre wants to buy the house and business and doesn't accept "No" as an answer. Then there is Owen, owner of a shoe store nearby who doesn't miss an opportunity to insult her, and The Earl's Study. On the other hand, Phoebe meets a childhood friend, Rich Lofting (formerly Ricky), now a handsome P.I. living in an apartment over The Earl's Study. When Phoebe finds a dead body outside her store and she is being stalked, she doesn't know who to trust. Even stranger, it seems that Aunt Eudora might have been a witch after all, and Phoebe might have inherited her abilities and some of her own.

Steeped to Death is a promising beginning to a new series, one that is very enjoyable. Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for a digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars