Category Archives: Mystery

Mystery along the Thames

Mystery on the ThamesGreat mystery along the Thames. Set in mid-17th century England, Rags of Time, by Michael Ward, is a marvelous adventure. Steady, quick pacing and skillful characterization put their arms around your shoulders and pull you headlong into the chaos and confusion surrounding Thomas Tallent. Even the minor characters are interesting and endearing.

Thomas Tallent, a spice merchant, just back from India, is thrust into the midst of uncertainty. In addition to the beginnings of civil unrest fomenting in London, a rich wool merchant has died under mysterious circumstances. Within months, the merchant’s partner is also dead. Likewise a destitute young teenager caught inside Tallent’s warehouse. Whispers among the nouveau riche merchant class point to Tallent as the perpetrator. Why would Tallent kill these men? What would he gain? Who can he trust to help clear his name? Edmund Dalloway, his oldest friend? Or Elizabeth Seymour, his new love interest? Is there anyone he can trust besides his parents? They can only do so much. Tallent sets out to prove his innocence, but that doesn’t stop the gossip mill and one of the not-too-bright officials. What’s to be done? Can help come from Robert Petty, one of the investigators?

This mystery on the Thames is a spectacular read. According to an interview Mr. Ward did with Esther Rabbit (see her blog), there will be at least four more books featuring Thomas Tallent during the English Civil War period. Looking for more from this author. 

I received a free copy of Rags of Time in exchange for a truthful review.

Rags of Time
by Michael Ward
Barnaby Press
© 2019

Tropical Doubts – Darkness in Paradise

ATropical Doubts - darkness in paradise top-notch criminal lawyer, a savvy secretary or two, a client who is a long-time close friend. A surfing buddy who’s a dirt-digging private investigator. A female prosecutor who’s tough, professional, hard-driving attitude is a cover for a smart lawyer who really can see both sides of a case. A suave, retired medical examiner. Two doctors who are not always in top form. These are the believable, sometimes duplicitous, characters who populate David Myles Robinson’s Tropical Doubts (Terra Nova Books, © 2018) creating darkness in paradise.

Pancho McMartin, a criminal defense lawyer, takes on a medical malpractice case when Giselle, the wife of Manny Delacruz, McMartin’s close friend, becomes comatose after surgery. A short time later, Richard Takamine, the lead doctor in the case, dies of an apparent heart attack. Or is it? Takamine had been using pesticide in his backyard right before he dies. When Padma Dasari, the former medical examiner, and another of McMartin’s friends, hears of the symptoms Takamine exhibited right before his death, she wonders if its poisoning.

Tropical Doubts – Darkness in Paradise

Who stood to benefit from the doctor’s death? Was it Delacruz, who threatened the doctor in front of witnesses? Or was it Mossman, another doctor on the case who might be addicted to alcohol and drugs? A surgery nurse overheard Mossman and Takamine having words together right before the botched surgery. Manny Delacruz’s fingerprints are found on a can of poison at the scene. But did he know enough about Takamine’s personal life to plan and execute the crime? Mossman is very chummy with the victim. Was he trying to cover up his failures during Giselle Delacruz’s surgery? Who is telling the whole truth?

Can McMartin win the murder charge against Delacruz and win him a monetary award in the malpractice case as well? What happens when the full truth comes out only after both cases are settled?

Robinson’s book reminds me of an updated, but unique, variation of the Perry Mason TV series, which ran from the late ’50s through the mid ’60s. Both offer fast, even pacing, solid stories and believable characters.

I received a free copy of Tropical Doubts from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

Freezer Burn by Gayle Carline

Freezer Burn by Gayle Carline

In Freezer Burn, by Gayle Carline, Peri Minneopa has cleaned her last house. A licensed P.I. now, she has moved from housecleaning to background checks and tailing cheating spouses. That is, until Benny Needles pays a call to her new office. Needles, the son of a former cleaning client, asks for help finding his Dean Martin ice cube tray. Who would think that such an innocuous request would lead to Minneopa’s involvement in solving two local murders.

This series installment wins high marks for development of the primary characters. Persistence is Minneopa’s middle name while Skip Carlton, her significant other, is a smart, likeable, patient detective for the local Placentia Police Department. Both become well-rounded characters in Carline’s hands. Benny Needles, Minneopa’s acquaintance, exhibits obsessive-compulsive behavior among other things. Needles’ fascination with Dean Martin turns his house into a kitschy, not very clean memorial to the Rat Pack member. In addition, Needles’ compulsions preclude almost anyone else from touching his mementos. At times, Carline’s characterization of Needles seems overdone, at other times right on the mark.

I consider this a good first installment of Carline’s Peri Minneopa series. The pace is brisk and moves the story along. However, the pacing and good characterization of the primary inhabitants—Peri, Skip and Benny—cannot overcome the anticlimactic discovery of the murderer’s identity and the reason for the murders. Without giving anything away, the denouement is somewhat disappointing, and the frozen hand is something of a red herring. But, generally, Freezer Burn by Gayle Carline is a pick. I enjoyed the book and will read others in the five-part series.

For insight on the newest book in the Peri Minneopa series, Murder Bytes, see my previous post.

(Dancing Corgi Press, © 2012)

Gayle Carline’s Murder Bytes – a new mystery

Murder BytesNew on my reading horizon is Southern California author Gayle Carline‘s Murder Bytes.

Carline releases her newest Peri Minneopa mystery, Murder Bytes (ISBN 978-1-943654-14-7), on February 14, 2020. Murder Bytes follows the first four books in the acclaimed Peri Minneopa series: Freezer Burn, Hit or Missus, The Hot Mess, and A More Deadly Union. Other Carline fictional offerings include the short story, Clean Sweep (ASIN B004U37614), and the Willie Adams romantic mystery, Murder on the Hoof. Carline also authored the humorous memoirs, What Would Erma Do? and Raising the Perfect Family and Other Tall Tales.

In Murder Bytes, 50-year-old private investigator, Peri Minneopa has had enough. She’s closing her business, marrying her detective boyfriend, and settling down to a life of ease—until her brother shows up, accused of a murder he swears he didn’t commit. Now she’s back in the thick of things, investigating the death of an engineer who may have been stealing techno-secrets from other companies. Her relationship with her brother is an icy one, at best. Peri struggles with her ambivalence as well as her desire to leave investigative work behind. Digging around in people’s lives is reasonably easy. But when the bullets start flying, will Peri be able to keep her promise?

UPCOMING

Gayle CarlineCarline indicates that any future books featuring Peri Minneopa may have a different flavor and evolve into a different series. A sequel to her romantic suspense, Murder on the Hoof is also in the works.

I’ll be checking out Gayle Carline’s Murder Bytes as well as the rest of the Peri Minneopa series. Stay tuned for possible reviews of this series in the coming months.

Fantastic Mystery Series

Two fantastic mystery series that I find engaging are the Barker and Llewelyn series by Will Thomas (Some Danger Involved) and the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs). These first books in each series take place in London.

fantastic mystery seriesCyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn live in Victorian London at about the same time as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson. Barker, an independent enquiry agent, hires Llewelyn as his assistant. Baker and Llewelyn share lodgings like Holmes and Watson do. Although there is more of an age difference between Barker and Llewelyn than between Holmes and Watson, both Barker and Holmes act as mentors to their associates. Although Llewelyn is the junior partner, he is given more agency to help in the case than Watson. Like Watson, Llewelyn is the chronicler and narrator of the stories and novels.

fantastic mystery seriesMaisie Dobbs grows up in Edwardian London at the beginning of the 20th century. She serves as a nurse during the First World War and begins her detective agency in London between the World Wars. Dobbs initially works at her agency alone. But Maurice Blanche, a friend of her previous employer, serves as a behind-the-scenes mentor.

Both series give insight into London before and after the turn of the 20th century. The first book in the Maisie Dobbs series denotes the effect of the First World War on England. In the Barker and Llewelyn series, detection is definitely a man’s world. Maisie Dobbs sets the record straight. She is portrayed as an independent woman as capable of deductive reasoning as men.

These fantastic mystery series will keep you reading for some time to come.

Some Danger Involved
by Will Thomas
© 2004
Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Maisie Dobbs
by Jacqueline Winspear
© 2003
Soho Press

Sherlock Holmes – Consulting Detective

Being a fan of almost everything in print regarding Sherlock Holmes, I read up on my favorite fictional character recently. The following works prove that the world’s best-known consulting detective is still plying his trade, hints at his retirement to beekeeping on the Sussex Downs notwithstanding.

Sherlock Holmes best-known consulting detectiveSherlock Holmes - best-known consulting detective

 

 

 

 

 

Murder in Baker Street: New Tales of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Jon Lellenberg and Daniel Stashower, is an anthology of short stories. Set in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle’s (ACD) Holmes oeuvre, the stories zip along at a hansom cab’s pace. Master mystery writers such as Anne Perry, Loren Estleman and Edward D. Hoch are represented.

Resurrected Holmes: New Cases from the Notes of John H. Watson, M.D., edited by Marvin Kaye, is another anthology of short stories by modern-day writers. These stories stem from cases mentioned in passing by Dr. Watson in ACD’s original canon, but which were never given their own complete story.

Brief essays rather than stories provide facts and insights about ACD, Watson and Holmes in The Bedside Companion to Sherlock Holmes: A Unique Guide to the World’s Most Famous Detective, by Dick Riley and Pam McAllister. Included are numerous illustrations, both original and modern-day, plus facts about Victorian London where Holmes and Watson lived. Various stage, screen and TV adaptations of the original canon round out this offering.

Finally, Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorized Biography, by Nick Rennison, gathers details of Holmes’ life embedded in ACD’s stories, expands on them, and places them in perspective with the history of Victorian England. From Holmes’ interaction with Professor Moriarty and his criminal underworld to Holmes’ undercover work finding Jack the Ripper, this book posits many new details in the life of the world’s most famous consulting detective.

Great reading for any Sherlock Holmes fan.

Chet and Bernie – Investigative Duo

Chet and Bernie - Investigative DuoBernie Little, a private investigator, and Chet, his dog, make an appealing investigative duo. Chet, the narrator of Dog on It, by Spencer Quinn, implies that the brains of this duo doesn’t always walk on two legs. He considers himself an equal partner with Bernie.

Bernie and Chet search for a smart, pretty teenager in this. their first recorded case. Is she just a runaway as her divorced father insists? Or is it something more sinister like kidnapping? In the heat of the case, the kidnappers wallop Chet and kidnap him, too. He ends up in an animal shelter staring down a technician who’s about to euthanize him. How can Chet get home to Bernie and tell him the case is virtually solved?

Spencer Quinn created a smart, believable and likeable narrator in Chet. Since dogs feature prominently in everything from Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang to W. Bruce Cameron’s A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans, Chet is in good company. Indeed, Chet’s intelligence and persistence keep Bernie on track more than once. Chet and Bernie insinuate their way into your life with their tough-guy exteriors and good-guy hearts. Cue up the next book in the series about Chet and Bernie, investigative duo par excellence.

Dog on It
©2009 Spencer Quinn
Atria Books

Life-and-Death Decisions

Life or Death Decisions in the Canadian PrairiesLURE by Jeff Marschall (© 2019) begins on an interesting, fast-paced note. Dr. John Mueller is an intern doing a research project at a university lab in somewhat remote Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Mueller is bored with the dark, cold winter weather as well as his minor research project. His outlook abruptly changes as two supposed “agents” of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration accost Dr. David Devilliers, Mueller’s lab director, and demand that Devilliers turn over his cancer research. Mueller witnesses the altercation, takes Devilliers’ laptop and escapes with it, with the bogus agents in hot pursuit. Life-and-death decisions could result.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book does not maintain the fast pace. A close third-person narration that follows Mueller as the protagonist dominates LURE and effectively crimps the story’s style. For most of the book, the reader is subject to Mueller’s uncertainty and indecisiveness about what to do with Devilliers’ research. Such flip-flopping indecision creates an all-too-human, but unsympathetic protagonist.

In addition, women in Mueller’s life are rather stereotypical. Stephanie, Mueller’s ex-girlfriend, exhibits self-centered, egotistical attitudes. “Stephanie had natural presence and loved attention.” “She always wore jewelry…She could talk passionately and knowledgeably about amber, pearls, the many varieties of agate and jasper, and more that he couldn’t remember.” “She was always very careful about her appearance.” Signs of expensive tastes? When having a few drinks during a meeting with Stephanie later in the book, Mueller notices, “Stephanie wasn’t far behind, although she was definitely more accustomed to drinking wine; he suspected her tolerance was quite a bit higher than his, despite his greater body mass.” Signs of a drinking problem for Stephanie? Even Mueller’s mother is stereotypical. “When he got home, his mother was there, standing in her spotless kitchen, quivering with curiosity.”

Population Expansion, Life-and-death Decisions

On the positive side, Marschall takes on hot, current social topics such as population expansion and, to a lesser degree, climate change. (Population expansion comes up because Dr. Devilliers’ research involves a cure for cancer and, thus, a longer life expectancy for some people.) Conversations with some of the folks wanting to steal Devilliers’ research highlight Mueller’s indecisiveness. The reader is never certain what Mueller’s definitive opinion is about these topics. Who gets to decide who lives and dies by withholding medical cures, among other means? Unless readers take the final actions of Mueller and new girlfriend, Julie, as an answer. One that involves a seeming lack of remorse and a good helping of current-state capitalism. (The movie, Avengers: Infinity War, in its way, also looks at population control on a universal scale.)

I received a free copy from the author to give my honest opinion.

Shanks – Unlikely Detective

Shanks on Crime
by Robert Lopresti
© 2003-2014

Shanks - Unlikely DetectiveShanks on Crime by Robert Lopresti is a collection of short stories about Leopold Longshanks and his wife Cora. Longshanks is a mystery writer and an unlikely detective. who, with his wife, Cora, in the background gets into some unusual situations. Shanks, Longshanks’ nickname, then unravels the crime or misdemeanor, all the while protesting that he’s a writer, not a detective. The stories are interesting enough, such as when Shanks sets out to catch the person who mugged him and pays for the miscreant to go to vocational college rather than be convicted and sent to jail. But all the stories follow the same general pattern and pacing, which makes the collection seem rather dull. Overall, a nice set of stories, just not fast-paced.

Several of these stories first appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine between 2003 and 2014.

Rob Lopresti also writes novels and blogs at sleuthsayers.com and Little Big Crimes.

El Dorado – A Golden Search

A Shadow Away
by Joan K. Lacy
© May 2018
Alazo Press

A Shadow Away - a search for El Dorado El Dorado

Searching for El Dorado in the Amazon jungle, Alex Cort and Andrew Seaton need all the help they can get in A Shadow Away by Joan K. Lacey. Cort, a private art theft investigator, and Seaton, a British archaeologist, search for the fabled city of gold based on an old map, a gem and a golden idol that’s gone missing. As Cort and Seaton slog through the jungle assisted by a local guide, they’re aided by Angel, a mysterious being from an alternate universe. Angel’s heightened senses and skills, some would say magic, keep the searchers a step ahead of Benjamin Guelf, an unscrupulous rival collector.

Although Angel uses her powers to get the group out of danger on occasion, she seems withdrawn and not really part of the group. The reader learns nothing about her antecedents or world. On more than one occasion, Angel implies that Cort and Seaton can attain some or most of her powers. When Cort asks her, she just proclaims that he’s not ready to know such things. Often, as Cort and the others traverse the jungle, Angel seems to walk along in another world, like a slippery wraith.

Literary Comparisons

A Shadow Away might be compared to the Indiana Jones universe. Lacy’s novel involves an archaeologist seeking a religious relic in an intimidating environment while evading unscrupulous competitors. In addition, similarities exist between Lacy’s Alex Cort series and Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series. Again, both involve archaeologists searching for artifacts and dealing with danger. But Lacy introduces a subtle dose of magic realism in the search for El Dorado, thus expanding the trope.

Recommendation

Overall, A Shadow Away is an engaging read that kept me interested. I would have preferred to learn a good deal more about Angel even if the information was kept away from Seaton and Cort. She refers to herself as a “witch” and is evasive when Cort asks about her world. She says he’s not ready to know even after Cort begins accepting her abilities, which seems condescending. At times, she seems insubstantial, like a hologram, even when she and Cort become attracted to each other.

Cort and Seaton with their group of indigenous guides hack and slog their way through the jungle undergrowth. Yet, on a few occasions, Guelf and Raul Facón, his nasty sidekick, just step out from behind a tree to confront them looking unscathed and fresh as if Guelf and Facón could just teleport into the area. At one point, the Amazon River, which is full of life-threatening creatures, sweeps Guelf away. Yet, in the final stages of the story, he appears well and hearty.

Still, I recommend A Shadow Away for those who like stories full of adventure, mystery and magical realism. I give this first Alex Cort novel 3.75 out of 5 stars; a solid read. I look forward to the next installment in the series.