Tag Archives: mystery

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

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

Jamie Quinn – Legal Wrangling

Jamie Quinn - Legal WranglingIt seems I’m reading quite a few mysteries involving lawyers recently. My most recent read is Jamie Quinn Mystery Collection, Box Set 1-3 by Barbara Venkataraman.  Jamie Quinn, an attorney dealing in family law, hits some rough spots of legal wrangling in these adventures.

In the three novellas in this collection, Quinn is pulled out of her comfort zone by cases dealing with sudden death and criminal law. Appearances are deceiving in “Death by Didgeridoo.” Quinn’s cousin Adam, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, is accused of murdering his music teacher. Quinn knows he didn’t do it, but can she catch the real killer? In “The Case of the Killer Divorce,” Quinn’s client is in the midst of a messy, bitter divorce. Did the client end up killing her husband? “Peril in the Park” reunites Quinn with a long-lost love. But can she save him from a stalker that seems intent on killing?

The characterization of Jamie Quinn and her friends, Grace (another lawyer) and Duke (a P.I.) are spot on. The pacing is good for “Death by Didgeridoo” is great but slows down some in the other two stories. In “The Case of the Killer Divorce,” much ado is made about two legs of the love triangle, leaving one to wonder why. What about the other leg—the male buddy/lover? However, I enjoyed these enough to want to read the rest of the series. Jamie Quinn – legal wrangling that’s entertaining.

I received a free copy of Jamie Quinn Mystery Collection, Box Set 1-3 from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

Jamie Quinn Mystery Collection, Box Set 1-3
by Barbara Venkataraman
© 2013-2015

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.

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.

Autism and Sex-trafficking

Novel about autism and sex-traffickingTrue Mercy by Idelle Kursman is a page-turning thriller. Marina, kidnapped from her native Moldova by a sex-trafficking ring, escapes once she and her captors land by ship in America. While running from her captors, Marina meets Adam Hutchins, an 18-year-old who happens to have autism. Taken in by Adam and his father, Bruce, the rest of the plot revolves around Marina’s attempt to evade recapture by Igor, one of the kidnappers.

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