Tag Archives: mystery

Gunslinger

Gunslinger by Jeff Ridenour

Gunslinger by Jeff Ridenour sizzles. One murdered bookstore owner, two disgruntled employees, and rumors of more extramarital affairs than you can shake a cactus at. Petra Barcotti, owner, with her husband, Antonio (Tony), of It’s A Mystery! Bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ, is murdered. Was it because she refused to take Preston Silvernale, an employee, on as a partner in the bookstore? Or was it because of the affairs in which she engaged? Did a jilted lover see red enough to bludgeon and shoot Petra? Or was it someone or something else? Suspects abound, including two detectives with the Scottsdale Police Department. Also among the suspects is Petra’s husband, Tony, who makes plans to marry Vera Crenshaw, Petra’s sister, before Petra is barely cold in her grave.

Ridenour sets the right pace with his easy, spare prose. His characters are believable, especially Stu Fletcher, the private investigator brought into the current case by a local detective. Fletcher sums up the suspects and other locals he meets with considerable insight. He catches the murderer through the process of elimination and ingenuity. He also catches the eye of a few of the local women. That makes his stay in Scottsdale more enjoyable. This is the fourth installment in Jeff Ridenour’s Stu Fletcher series. But it’s the first one I’ve encountered. I enjoyed Gunslinger enough to find and read the first three books in this appealing saga.

I received a free copy of Gunslinger from www.readersfavorite.com in exchange for an honest review.

Sirgrus Blackmane Demihuman Gumshoe

Sirgrus Blackmane Demihuman Gumshoe & The Dark-ElfLooking for a well-written mystery mixed with some fantasy? Then Sirgrus Blackmane Demihuman Gumshoe & The Dark-Elf by William Schlichter is a must read. Sirgrus Blackmane, dwarf, war veteran, and detective, seeks the murderer of Craig Mason. Although Mason is human, Blackmane and Mason fought the orcs together in the world war and subsequently open a detective agency as partners. After Mason’s death, Blackmane investigates a case concerning Doris, a dancer whose death may have been suicide, or murder. Was this death linked to Mason’s death?

Blackmane has a slightly twisted sense of humor. When interacting with a rock giant at The Dark-Elf (a bar), Blackmane thinks, “They’re immune to magic-edge weapons, and I left my howitzer in my other coat.” Blackmane is also an unreliable narrator. He says, “I don’t speak about the war.” But illusions to the Great War are forever creeping into his narration of the story. In fact, it inhabits a lot of the story. Blackmane also declares he hates magic. But magic, in the form of FBI Agent Edgeangel, a mage, helps him solve his cases.

Great Mix of Real and Fantasy Worlds

Schlichter does well at mixing the real world with his created fantasy world. America is a land of humans and demihumans and other creatures. Dwarves, mages, fauns, trolls and other creatures inhabit this world with humans. Although no specific time frame is mentioned, there’s been a world war and Prohibition is still in full effect. Segregation rules, with races confined to different sections of the city where Blackmane resides. Interactions between the demihuman, magical creatures and humans are natural and convincing. Even down to stereotypical attitudes so similar to the ones in our current culture. Schlichter’s solid prose and good characterization kept the plot moving and my interest level high. I look forward to reading more about Sirgrus Blackmane, demihuman gumshoe, in the future.

I received a free copy of Sirgrus Blackmane Demihuman Gumshoe & The Dark-Elf from www.readersfavorite.com in exchange for an honest review.

Sirgrus Blackmane Demihuman Gumshoe & The Dark-Elf
by William Schlichter
©2021
BHC Press

 

 

Black Cat Mysteries and Mean Streets

Black Cats and Mysteries - The Ninth LifeThe Ninth Life by Clea Simon is not the first book I’ve read in which the narrator is nonhuman. (Think the Chet and Bernie mystery series by Spencer Quinn, for one.) Black cat mysteries have joined the group.

Blackie, a cat, is the first-rate narrator in this story of urban survival and friendship. Street smart, tough, aging, Blackie exhibits a no-nonsense outlook. Simon gives Blackie the voice of a full-fledged human private investigator. As Blackie says, or thinks, to himself, too bad he can’t talk. He has a soft spot for Carrie (nicknamed Care). She’s the street teen who saves Blackie from drowning in a drainage ditch.

Care and Blackie work on solving the mystery of who killed Care’s mentor – a nameless private investigator alluded to as “the old man” throughout the book. They interact with low-life businessmen, drug dealers, and gangs of thugs. Care’s younger, some-time friend, Thomas (known as Tick) wants to stay friendly with Care but is drawn back into the gang life from which Care is trying to escape. Throughout the book, Blackie does not totally trust Tick. Tick wants the drugs and other things he thinks he can get from Care’s former associates.

Much as I enjoyed Blackie’s narration, he sometimes seems overly knowledgeable about everything. The book’s ending also left me feeling let down – it sort of fizzled. But, on the whole, black cat mysteries, especially by Clea Simon, may be my new enjoyment.

The Ninth Life
by Clea Simon
© 2015
Severn House Publishers Ltd.

Private Investigator in 1940s Los Angeles

private investigator in 1940s Los AngelesEzekiel “Easy” Rawlins makes a likeable protagonist. As Devil in a Blue Dress begins, he’s just been fired from a job at a defense plant. In order to pay the mortgage payment on his new little house, Easy works as a private investigator in 1940s Los Angeles for a strange, white gangster.

Rawlins’ search for a white, blonde-haired female last seen wearing a unique blue dress takes the reader all over the late-1940s Los Angeles area. He finds the female but allows her to slip through his fingers. Easy benefits to some degree from money stolen by the woman from the white business owner who’s looking for her. Rawlins later learns the woman’s true identity. This factors significantly into the story told to the police and to the white man paying to have her found. Several folks end up killed, including the gangster who had acted as go-between with Rawlins and the businessman.

Over the course of the story, I came to like Easy Rawlins very much. He’s mostly honest, smart and courageous, although the same can’t be said for some of his so-called friends. By the end of the novel, Rawlins has found himself self-employed. He invested some of the “found” money and some of his investigator’s fee into another house that he rents out. And he takes on cases as a private investigator.

Devil in a Blue Dress (written in 1990) handles race relations as a noticeable subplot. Similarities exist between when the plot takes place – the late 40s – and today. “The thought of paying my mortgage reminded me of my front yard and the shade of my fruit trees in the summer heat. I felt that I was just as good as any white man, but if I didn’t even own my front door then people would look at me like just another poor beggar, with his hand outstretched.”

WANTING MORE

Reading more of Walter Mosley‘s Easy Rawlins series will be no hardship. Mosley’s prose style draws you into the story and holds your attention. I look forward to seeing what he’s been up to since this series opener. Judging by the number of books (15, including Blood Grove, published in 2021), Easy Rawlins has gotten himself into quite a bit of mystery and tight spots.

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