Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mean Streets and Highways of Suffolk County, NY

WHERE IT HURTS (A Gus Murphy Novel)
Reed Farrel Coleman
Putnam Books
January 26, 2016

In general, I am not a regular reader of "noir" crime fiction but when Reed Farrel Coleman publishes a new novel, I sit up and take notice. Called a "hard-boiled poet" by NPR, Coleman is a must-read for me. I have read most of his books and his "Moe Prager" series is a favorite; one that I always recommend to crime fiction fans.

We first meet John Augustus Murphy (Gus) two years after the sudden death of his son, John. His life has fallen apart in those two years: his 20-year police career is over along with his seemingly happy marriage and his daughter seems determined on self-destruction. Gus is living in a low-rent hotel, driving the hotel's courtesy van. He is still so sunk in grief that all his friends have dropped away and the only meetings he has with his ex-wife, Annie, are when she needs him to pull his daughter out of one scrape or another.

Things begin to change when a low-level criminal Gus arrested many times, Tommy DelCamino, shows up at the hotel. Tommy's son, T.J., was tortured to death and dumped in a vacant lot. The Suffolk County Police have no real interest in pursuing the crime. After all, T.J. was just another low-life following in his father's footsteps. Outraged at first that Tommy would use his own tragedy to get him to investigate T.J.'s death, Gus' cop instincts soon kick in. He is warned off the case by friends on the force. The warning is followed by ever-escalating threats and when Tommy is also murdered, Gus is in it to get answers. It seems that the conspiracy surrounding the cover-up goes to the very top of the department.

Where it Hurts is a gritty crime novel, packed with characters that I found unforgettable. The lapsed priest, the small disfigured man whose only real friend in life was Tommy DelCamino, the vicious drug dealer, and above all, Gus' mysterious Russian friend and ally, Slava, seem entirely authentic to me. Also authentic is his portrayal of the grief of losing a child, and what that grief can do to a family. My only quibble is what felt like a rushed tying up of the loose ends. If became obvious who was the perpetrator, if only by the process of elimination. Otherwise, I highly recommend Where it Hurts to crime fiction fans and look forward to the next book in what I hope will be a long-running series.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

UNREASONABLE DOUBT (Constable Molly Smith # 8)
Vicki Delany
Poisoned Pen Press
February 2, 2016

Walt Desmond has served 25 years in prison for the brutal killing of a young woman in Trafalgar, BC. All along he protested that he was innocent, refusing to confess even though that might have lessened his sentence somewhat. His wife died while he was in prison and he has lost everything. However, new evidence has turned up indicating either the Trafalgar PD framed him or the investigation was completely incompetent. After he is exonerated, Walt's attorney advises him to stay away from Trafalgar but Walt returns anyway. He has a pretty good idea who might have framed him but needs to know why in order to get on with his life, despite a large cash settlement coming his way.

Molly Smith was no more than an infant when the original case occurred, but if Walt Desmond didn't kill the girl, then who did? She and Sargeant John Winters are assigned to reopen the case. Feelings are running high in Trafalgar between those who remember the case and think Walt was guilty, despite his exoneration, and those who think the police were responsible. Among those most upset are the family of the dead girl, who are adamant that he was guilty. Molly and Winters must walk a tightrope between the factions, some within the police department itself. When two women are attacked in Trafalgar; one of whom is Eliza, Winters' wife, feelings begin to boil over.

Unreasonable Doubt is a nice mix of police procedural and the personal lives of Molly and her family and that of John Winters. I have really grown to like the characters over the course of the series, especially Lucky, Molly's mom. Lucky came to Canada with Molly's father during the Vietnam War and never went back. They built a successful life in Canada and Lucky's politics never changed. She is involved in every protest, knows everyone in town, and is a shrewd judge of character. I think Delany did a particularly good job in showing just what it is like to lose 25 years of your life for a crime you did not commit. Sadly, Canada does not seem to do much better than the US in these cases, of which there are too many. A nice cash payout is good, but hardly compensation for a ruined life.

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Welcome Back, Auntie Mame!

AUNTIE MAME (An Irreverent Escapade)
Patrick Dennis, Narrated by Christopher Lane
Brilliance Audio
January 19, 2016

I don't know what prompted Brilliance Audio to bring back one of my favorite books ever in a sparkling new audio edition, but all I can do is say...Thank You! Anyone who has seen the stellar Rosalind Russell movie or the smash hit Broadway show knows the story well; the orphaned 10-year-old Patrick Dennis goes to live with his madcap New York socialite Auntie Mame and begins an upbringing unlike any other.

Mame is one of the iconic figures of American literature and the novel was one of the best-selling books of the twentieth century. Auntie Mame is a witty, hilarious and charming skewering of all that was conventional and pretentious in American life from the 1920's until the 1950's. I probably read the book when I was about 15 and loved it. I can only say that with a few(!) decades of life experience it is even better. There are episodes that were not in the various movies and shows that I have seen since I first read it. In some ways, it was almost new for me. Christopher Lane provides a pitch-perfect reading of the novel and I highly recommend this new audio version.

RATING- 5 Stars

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

STIFF COMPETITION (Mattie Winston #7)
Annelise Ryan
Kensington Books
January 26, 2016

Annelise Ryan's Mattie Winston Mysteries are such fun reads that I look forward to each and every one. Stiff Competition is no disappointment; in fact, it may be the best of the series so far. The book picks up eight weeks after it's predecessor, Stiff Penalty, left off. It's Mattie's first day back at work as Deputy Coroner after the birth of her son, Matthew. She and her son's father, Detective Hurley, are still living apart and unmarried for a lot of reasons. Hurley's teenage daughter, Emily, who recently moved in with him after the death of her mother, still hates Mattie. Emily also seems very jealous of Matthew and Mattie is not entirely sure that Hurley is ready to take on another responsibility. 

Her first day back starts with a dead body in the woods on the first day of hunting season, a very important day in Wisconsin. The body is that of a newly arrived land developer who has made a lot of enemies in town. The price of his dealings is an arrow through the neck and a long list of suspects. Meanwhile, Emily has gone missing. It isn't the first time but she has always been available through her cell phone. The cell phone only goes to voice mail and Hurley is getting very worried. So worried in fact that Hurley hands off the murder case to his associate, Bob Richmond, and Mattie to work. Both of the plot lines are intriguing but I have to admit I was much more interested in Emily's disappearance. Annelise Ryan manages to inject her trademark humor and her real life medical expertise into what could be a very dark book. I really enjoy all the colorful characters that have played a part in the books and in Mattie's chaotic and frequently hilarious life.

I highly recommend the Mattie Winston Mysteries to "cozy" fans. Thanks to Kensington and for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

NIGHT STUDY (Study Series #5)
Maria V. Snyder
MIRA Books
January 26, 2016

I have eagerly followed Maria V. Snyder's work since her first novel set in the fantasy worlds of Ixia and Sitia, Poison Study. By far, my favorite characters in those worlds have been Yelena and Valek. I was delighted when she returned to those characters in last year's Shadow Study. Night Study picks up right where Shadow Study left off. Yelena is dealing with the loss of her soul finding abilities after a magical attack. It appears that an old adversary, Owen Moon, may be responsible. In fact, multiple assassins are after Yelena. Valek is trying to balance his duties to Yelena against those to the Commander of Ixia. The Commander himself is not making that easy, so Valek is very conflicted. To add to the mix, war is brewing between Ixia and Sitia, placing Yelena in the middle, as she is the liaison between the two countries. 

Told in multiple POV's, those of Yelena, Valek, Janco and Lief, Night Study is high adventure from start to finish.  Big changes are on the horizon for not only Yelena and Valek, but the two very dissimilar countries they represent. I am looking forward to the final installment, Dawn Study, to see how it all works out. Thanks to MIRA and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Murder and Family Dysfunction in Coal Country

Tawni O'Dell
Gallery Books
January 5, 2016

Chief-of-police Dove Carnahan has a very big problem in her small town in rural Pennsylvania. Someone has murdered a teenage girl and left her body in one of the deserted mines in the region. What it makes it especially grisly is the smoldering fire in the mine that has partially destroyed the body. Dove knows that the State Police will take over the case, but it's her town and she plans to investigate anyway. Dove and her two siblings are no strangers to dysfunction and small town gossip. The three are the children of the beautiful town slut; each with a different father. Her mother was murdered 35 years earlier and her convicted murderer is fresh out of prison, still proclaiming his innocence and vowing to take vengeance on the three siblings who testified against him at trial. 

The girl turns out to be one of the large Truly family, a local irascible, drunken clan, ruled over by a matriarch that even the family is afraid of. The Trulys seem to hate everyone who isn't part of the family, and they don't like each other very much either. The murdered girl, Camio, is the only one of them who seems to be a success; popular, academically excellent, and striving towards college. Camio's boyfriend, of course, is the prime suspect. Dove is out to find out who did kill this seemingly inoffensive girl.

Dove has just turned 50, and managed to build a successful life in spite of her beginnings. Her sister, Neely, is a highly respected dog trainer who likes her canines much better than any human being. However, their brother, Champ, disappeared about 25 years ago and is only heard from in a yearly text or two. The three Carnahan kids have a very big secret, though, one that could destroy everything they have worked towards.

Angels Burning is a masterful thriller, one that keeps building to a revelation that literally snapped my head back. I was sure that I had it all figured out and was stunned; something that really doesn't happen often. Tawni O'Dell has a gift for misdirection, but never cheats the reader in any way. This is the beginning of a planned trilogy and I am looking forward to the next book. Camio's death is wrapped up very nicely but there are plenty of questions left to be answered.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4.5 stars

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Thread and Gone, Mainely Needlepoint # 3

THREAD AND GONE (Mainely Needlepoint #3)
Lea Wait
Kensington Books
December 29, 2015

It's the Fourth of July in Haven Harbor, ME. Angie Curtis is having a dinner party for some of her colleagues at  Mainely Needlepoint. Angie's grandmother, Charlotte, is away on her honeymoon with her new husband and Angie is alone in the family home (except for Charlotte's cat, Juno). Everyone has been enjoying the dinner when the doorbell rings. The visitors bring a puzzle for the needle pointers. Mary Clough has been cleaning out her colonial era home in preparation for sale and discovered a piece of needlepoint that appears to be very old. She and her fiancĂ©, Rob Trask, are hoping that the needle pointers can help them establish the provenance and possible value. Mary, at least, is interested in the provenance; Rob appears to be much more interested in what the sale will bring. Angie and her friend, Sarah, agree to research it and suggest that it be placed in the safe of a local lawyer, Lenore Pendleton. That decision leads to the death of Lenore, found bludgeoned to death next to the open safe. Both the needlepoint and some valuable jewelry are missing but was it the needlepoint or the jewelry the killer was after? Angie feels responsible both for Lenore's death and the loss of the needlepoint. 

Thread and Gone is another quick, fun read in this well-researched series. I've always had an interest in the history of needlework, primarily samplers. I really enjoy the quotes from samplers at the beginning of each chapter, most of which are both dreary and preachy. I can't help thinking of the young girls forced to learn their stitches and take to heart those slogans. So, I particularly like one of them, "Patty Polk did this and she hated every stitch she did in it. She loves to read much more.", circa 1800. I did find the book a little heavy on the research and history, and a little light on personal interactions. That is my only quibble. Overall, it was another enjoyable read in the Mainely Needlepoint series.

Thanks to Kensington and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3.5 Stars