Caribbean Mystery – Strange Characters

Caribbean mysteryA junk-filled, foot-ball-shaped house was all that Calvin Batten inherited. Or so he thought. Then why did every islander he met talk about hidden treasure, high finance, and golden elixirs when speaking about his father, Rhodes Batten? Cal Batten was on Blacktip Island to finalize his late father’s estate. But, Cal finds, things rarely go so smoothly or quickly on Blacktip. What’s going on in The Secret of Rosalita Flats, a Caribbean mystery by Tim W. Jackson?

Blacktip Island is an out-of-the-way, down-on-its-luck Caribbean misfit. It’s small community, from hardscrabble to nouveau riche, is filled with daydreamers and slouchers. A few, it appears, are looking to strike it rich by finding Rhodes Batten’s hidden treasure.

Strange Characters and Stranger Goings On

Who was Rhodes Batten, besides a loner who seemed to have no visible source of income, yet could afford to support a wife and son? Why had Rhodes Batten’s wife suddenly pulled up stakes and moved to the U.S. with her young son, Cal?

Who is Rosie Bottoms and why does she insist on continuing to clean the house after Rhodes’ death? Why are Rich Skerritt and Sandy Bottoms so eager to buy the weird-shaped house and rather useless patch of land? Tensions mount as Cal’s new home is broken into several times during his short stay on the island. Again, why? Cal’s search within the house leads to several rather befuddling clues. Why have significant amounts of money, a computer, flash drives and a satellite phone been stashed in unique hiding places?

When Rosie Bottoms eventually tracks down Rhodes’ will and other important papers, Cal hopes he’ll finally be able to move quickly to close his father’s estate. And resume his so-called-normal life in the U.S. But to what does he have to go back? His divorce is finalized while he’s on Blacktip Island. His small clock shop is virtually moribund. He’s growing accustomed to the oddball house and becoming interested in Marina, a friend from his childhood on Blacktip.

Tim Jackson does a fairly good job illustrating a variety of eccentric and not-on-the-up-and-up characters in this addition to his Blacktip Island series. Pacing gets slightly sluggish in parts, but still pulls the reader towards the culmination of the mystery.

I found The Secret of Rosalita Flats an entertaining Caribbean mystery, overall. I look forward to reading other offerings in the Blacktip Island series.

Private Investigator: New-found friend

Private InvestigatorsIn a recent post I mentioned that what I read leans more toward the exploits of the amateur detective than the private investigator. Well, I guess that’s about to change with Arlana Crane‘s Mordecai’s Ashes.

Extensive forest cover; few main roads. Small waterfront towns and villages where everyone knows just about everyone else. Tourist sites and local pubs, but not many places to disappear. Doesn’t sound like a prime spot for a heavy-weight drug ring to hide in plain sight. But that’s just what Karl Larsson finds in Crane’s debut novel. A drug bust is Larsson’s first big case after inheriting his grandfather’s investigation agency.

Divorced and a bit down on his luck, Karl grabs the chance to leave his combative, estranged family and take up residence in Victoria on Vancouver Island, Canada. Background checks and serving papers to deadbeat dads make up the bulk of Larsson’s initial cases. That is, until an investigative reporter from Vancouver comes calling about a drug cartel. Then, it’s a quick study in undercover methods for Larsson. Good thing he hires his young cousin, Kelsey, as his assistant to keep track of him. After reporting his findings to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, they recruit Larsson to continue his surveillance. What follows is quickly paced and engaging.

KUDOS ARE IN ORDER

Arlana Crane’s depiction of the main characters, Karl and Kelsey Larsson, is spot on. Supporting characters Percy Meiklejohn and Alex Dyson also resound truthfully and strong. Hopefully, we’ll see more of Meiklejohn and Dyson in future installments.

Kudos to Crane for the characterization and pacing in this debut in her Larsson Investigation series. Steady and quick pacing, with a bit of humor thrown in. I didn’t want Mordecai’s Ashes to end. Karl and Kelsey became friends. I’ve found myself two new private investigator companions.

Mordecai’s Ashes
by Arlana Crane
©2020
Big Tree Press

Private Investigators – Search for Justice

When reading mysteries, amateur detectives grab my attention—Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Miss Silver—rather than PI series like V. I. Warshawski or Kinsey Millhone. But recently I read two nonfiction books about real-life private investigators. A Suitable Job for a Woman: Inside the World of Women Private Eyes by Val McDermid and Becoming a Private Investigator by Howie Kahn aim to set the record straight. Private Investigators search for justice, truth and the end of corruption.

Private Investigators - search for justice

These books demonstrate that investigators’ lives don’t run to fast cars or blazing guns. Boring hours-long, sometimes fruitless, stakeouts. Frustration from waiting for a call that doesn’t come.  These irritants are more the order of the day.

As the title indicates, McDermid’s book focuses on female private eyes. They worked from the mid to late twentieth century, at a time when women were just entering the private investigation field. Much is made of the difference of approach between some male and female investigators. Machismo, sexism and sleaze cropped up more than once. A bit too much, possibly. Also revealed was that male PIs tended to carry a gun while the female PIs did not.  McDermid’s book was published in 1995. I wonder what, if anything has changed in the intervening 25 years.

Private Investigators - search for justiceKahn’s offering shares part of the work life of a female and male investigator. Both PIs persist over the course of several years to find answers for their clients. Each kept circling around the facts in a case when the facts offered by the authorities didn’t seem to fit. In addition, both worked diligently to change the attitude of the authorities involved. 

MURDER MOST FOUL

The featured PIs’ cases entailed murder and abuse, including rape and child molestation. But cases also run the gamut of financial malfeasance and stock shortages to industrial espionage. On a more upbeat note, long-lost relatives have been reunited through a PI’s efforts. How much more is available for PI surveillance in the current age of online databases for tracking almost anyone? To say nothing of cornering computer hackers. 

A search for justice and truth by all the investigators was a theme throughout both books. Despite working with the sordid ills of humanity, these folks took a deep breath and forged on.

Both books were an interesting read. In McDermid’s book, some of the female PIs read and enjoyed a few of the fictional PI series extant at the time. The only fault found with the fictional PIs? They (or their authors on their creations’ behalf) needed to get a personal life. So, I may begin reading up on Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone or Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, or even McDermid’s Kate Brannigan.

 

Audiobooks – Thrills for Your Ears

Audiobooks-thrills for your earsSo far, my blog posts have been about printed material and, occasionally, e-books. But, I have come across a new audiobook service, Chirp. Affiliated with BookBub, Chirp offers an alternative to Audible. A variety of genres are available in a range of prices. Being a lover of Sherlock Holmes, I purchased The Valley of Fear for $1.99 (plus New Jersey sales tax). The narration of this work is excellent. I noticed that prices for the daily deals ranged from $.99 to $4.99. Plus, there is no monthly or annual membership fee. That makes audiobooks thrills for your ears–and your wallet.

The likes of Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon), David Baldacci (The Fix, Total Control), and Michael Connelly (The Night Fire) are but a few available. I also noticed titles by James Patterson, David Sedaris, Charles Dickens and even Geoffrey Chaucer amongst the offerings.

Others, such as Audible, Scribd and Spotify, offer audiobooks, but at a price. To get the most of these apps, you need to have a membership (Audible, Scribd and Spotify) plus maybe pay for the audiobooks (Audible). At Chirp, the only monetary outlay is for the audiobook itself. With Chirp, you own the audiobook, but who knows what will happen if Spotify decides to discontinue offering them. There are other sites, like LibriVox, that offer free audiobooks, but the narration quality is spotty. Your local library may have books on CDs and offer audiobooks through OverDrive and Hoopla, but do they really have what you want to listen to? And how long is the wait list?

So far, I’m happy with Chirp for the selection of audiobooks, the quality of narration and the price. I’ll continue to scour the digital book world for other audio options. In my opinion, Chirp can bring thrills to your ears, and wallet.

Ceramics and Spies – A Real Conundrum

Warring States Conundrum - ceramics and spiesSeymour Grufferman’s The Warring States Conundrum depicts a laid-back investigation involving Chinese ceramics and spies. Winston Sage, a former epidemiologist (like the author), visualizes himself as a detective. Sage, with his wife, Julia, retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the climate, art galleries and fly fishing. Or so he thought.

When Bill Harvey, Sage’s neighbor, enlists his help to locate his missing wife, Sage accepts. Sage’s ability to trace cancer patients as part of his previous work affords little help finding Harvey’s wife. Nevertheless, he soldiers on as his interest is piqued by the high-quality Chinese ceramics that are a pivotal point in the case.

Whose Side are You On?

Jessica Harvey dealt in Chinese ceramics from the Warring States period in the East-West Gallery run by the Harveys. Her abrupt disappearance even has the police stumped. As Sage digs deeper by talking to Bill Harvey and other gallery owners, C. Y. Wong becomes increasingly important as Jessica’s main contact for the superlative ceramics he supplied to the gallery. Once Sage learns that Wong also works for Los Alamos National Laboratory, things heat up. From where are the top-notch ceramics coming? Are they payment to Wong for secrets? Wong’s story doesn’t add up. Sage’s gallery contacts in Hong Kong have never heard of Wong or his family as ceramic collectors. What is Wong’s real story? Was Jessica Harvey working as a fence? Can Sage muddle through with a little help from the FBI? One thing is certain. Sage never envisioned his retirement would mix ceramics and spies.

This first adventure in a Winston Sage trilogy is very leisurely paced, sometimes too laid back, especially in the first half. Sage engages in a lot of gallery hopping, eating lunch out with friends and fly fishing. Nonetheless, I found the protagonist enjoyable, if somewhat stodgy. His friends—Charles Herkimer, George de Leon and Chuck Orsini—are distinctive oddballs who enliven the story. Overall, I liked the resolution enough to want to read the next installment.

The Warring States Conundrum
Seymour Grufferman
©2018

Great Mystery Mags – Turn the Doldrums Tide

I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while. Blame this lack of motivation on pandemic blues (still sticking close to home due to household members’ underlying conditions). This has also caused a reading slump. I began subscribing to two great mystery mags to turn the doldrums tide: Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Mystery Scene.

Great Mystery Mag - Ellery Queen Mystery MagazineI’ve read Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine off and on over the years, buying current editions wherever I could find them—usually in my semi-local big-box bookstore chain. (Unfortunately, I don’t live near any independent bookstores.) I’m a short story fan, whether or not they contain a murder or other mystery. So, reading this mag is a no-brainer for me. Writers who’ve contributed are a who’s who in literary fiction: Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Dashiell Hammett, Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway, to name but a few.

Along with stories from the likes of Marilyn Todd, most issues have two regular columns. The first, “Blog Bytes,” highlights websites that discuss the mystery and thriller book scenes, as well as authors and booksellers. The second, “The Jury Box,” highlights upcoming mystery fare from various publishers. EQMM is now published as a double issue every other month. It will seem a long, dry wait until the next issue comes over the transom.

Great mystery mag - Mystery SceneMystery Scene defines itself as “Your Guide to the Best in Mystery, Crime and Suspense.” This magazine normally contains articles about, and interviews with, current authors at the top of their field, new authors to watch, and information for collectors. Also included are numerous book reviews. So many reviews, in fact, it could be hazardous to your wallet! Mystery Scene is issued five times per year.

I foresee that these will be great mystery mags to turn the doldrums tide. See you soon with another book review.

Private Investigations – Real Backstory

Private InvestigationsWe all have favorite authors, right? Do you ever wonder what has happened in the real lives of these authors that caused them to write what they do? And in the style they do? And if any of the writers’ backstory ever shows up in their work in one form or another? Well, for lovers of mysteries, some of these questions about style and backstory are answered in Private Investigations, edited by Victoria Sackheim. These nonfiction essays dive into the thoughts and lives of twenty of today’s top mystery writers.

Jeffrey Deaver considers the multiple twists and turns that his writing career took prior to his writing mystery novels and short stories. This is exactly the type of reading he has enjoyed all his life. In other words, write what you enjoy reading. Anne Perry wants to be someone who “creates worlds and peoples them, makes events occur…and wants them to last so they can be revisited any time.”  She also writes mysteries because she enjoys them and likes the intellectual puzzle.

The mother-son team of Charles Todd became immersed in research of the First World War for their two historical mystery series. This has led them to read memoirs, newspaper accounts and firsthand histories of the war. Such extensive research and the travels to view battlefields and memorials gave them a deep understanding of the suffering war entails. Jacqueline Winspear discusses how her parents’ deep involvement in World War II affected her childhood and thus her choice to focus on war in parts of her Maisie Dobbs series.

So, if, like me, you’ve wondered about how writers’ real backstory affects their writing, read Private Investigations.

Astrophysics and Widowhood

Astrophysics and widowhoodI never thought I would enjoy a book about astrophysics and widowhood. These are subjects mostly unfamiliar to me. In The Smallest Lights in the Universe, Sara Seager dealt with both subjects intelligently.

I enjoyed being invited into Sara Seager’s life. I especially enjoyed learning about Sara’s work on exoplanets at MIT and elsewhere. Her work on the postponed Starshade project with NASA and others was also an enlightening read.

Having helped someone close through the grief process of losing a spouse, I am glad that Sara found support in The Widows of Concord. Again and again, these women helped her through the dark period of her widowhood. As Sara remarks, “Up and down, backward and forward. There is nothing remotely linear about recovery.” I would have liked to learn a little more about Jessica, Diane, and Christine. Sara hired these women to help with housework and her sons. Sara mentions that she became close friends with them, even having Jessica live awhile with her and her sons. I also wonder if Sara ever sought professional help about where she fits on the autism spectrum.

Overall, a nicely paced read about a slice in the life of a most interesting person. As I mentioned previously, astrophysics and widowhood seem like extremely divergent subjects about which to write and talk about in the same breath. Ms. Seager does it well.

I received a free copy of The Smallest Lights in the Universe in exchange for an honest review.

To read about another unique memoir that I have reviewed: Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichel.

The Smallest Lights in the Universe
Sara Seager
© 2020
Crown

Book Collecting Lust and Memoir Madness

Book LustOver the past few weeks, I fed my book collecting lust and memoir madness by buying several first editions of mysteries. Plus, I read several memoirs—most notably three by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. They use a light, upbeat style to shed light on their foray into book collecting. The Goldstones’ adventure into book lust began when Nancy tried to find a nice copy of War and Peace as a birthday present for Lawrence. As they fall more in love with book hunting, their ventures take them to Boston, New York, and Chicago. The books, Used & Rare, Slightly Chipped, and Warmly Inscribed, venture into different aspects of book collecting as the Goldstones become more attuned to the language, types of dealers, and the issues and states of the books themselves.

Book Lust

They visit dealers whose brick-and-mortar premises are hushed shrines in which  the “hot spot” wares (such as first editions of Charles Dickens or Herman Melville) cost in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars. More moderately priced first-edition books of other writers at other dealers meant the Goldstones could satisfy their book lust. The Goldstones also visit dealers who sell out of their homes, barns, and outbuildings. Trips to antiquarian book fairs in Boston and New York soon follow. As does a visit to Clarence Wolf (Nancy’s book-collecting grandfather) in Chicago to get some pointers. And in later years, they visit Printers Row Book Festival in Chicago. Also on tap is a visit to a book auction at Swann Galleries (where they were outbid). Plus, a visit to Sotheby’s New York for a chance to bid on books owned by the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson.

Technology and the New Age of Book Collecting

Technology has grown apace since the writing Book Lustof the Goldstones’ memoirs, many of the dealers they frequented now offer their books online through their own websites and aggregate sites such as www.abebooks.com and www.biblio.com. (Get a chuckle from the Goldstones’ opinion of the just-burgeoning computer technology of the time sprinkled throughout their memoirs.)

I am a nascent book collector. In this age of viral pandemics, I wonder if I will have the pleasure of browsing the shelves of a used-and-rare bookstore like the Goldstones. Well, I can always have online book collecting lust and memoir madness to tide me over.

Used & Rare
Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
© 1997
Thomas Dunne Books

Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore
Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
© 1999
Thomas Dunne Books

Warmly Inscribed: The New England Forger and Other Book Tales
Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
© 2001
Thomas Dunne Books

Heirs Apparent – A journey of love and death

Heirs Apparent

Malcom Winters, alias for the initially unnamed narrator of Heirs Apparent, by Thomas J. Thorson, escorts the reader on a journey. Wandering through Greyhound terminals, always on his way to the next place, Winters introduces us to a variety of characters, human and architectural. Freddie Four-Fingers, the African American forger, from Winters’ old life. Felicity “Fyre” Stockton, Winters’ new lover, as tight-lipped about her past and present as Winters is about himself.

The list of bizarre characters grows longer once Winters settles down in a three-flat he buys in Chicago. Leo, a tenant, and ersatz chef, supposedly made an assassination attempt on Castro. Ted, or Rebecca, a cross-dressing businessman, Winters’ other tenant. V. N. “Vinn” captures the prize for normalcy in Winters’ expanding network. She’s a science professor at the local university where Winters takes a creative writing professorship for which he’s not credentialed. But even Vinn keeps secrets about her past.

Are Fyre’s secrets the reason for an assailant to fire at her and Winters when they exit a restaurant? Why does Fyre evade Winters, who follows her to the Old Post Office? Who kills Fyre and wounds Winters while there? Help tracking Fyre’s killer comes from Winters’ network of odd-fellow friends.

Leo, Ted/Rebecca and eventually Fyre are fleshed out in Heirs Apparent. Even the Old Post Office comes alive under Thorson’s light and able touch. Each character is deftly drawn and given their own, credible, story. Vinn and Winters remain something of an enigma—hopefully to be further developed in the next installment in the Malcom Winters mystery series.

Heirs Apparent
by Thomas J. Thorson
Austin Macauley Publishers
© 2020