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Brain Storm by Elaine Viets

The protagonist of “Brain Storm” is a death investigator names Angela Richman, of an imaginary county 30 miles west of St. Louis named Chouteau County, after the French fur-trading family that pioneered the area.  Viets portrays the area as full of a privileged class of people with definite ideas about what kind of people should be let into the area.  Richman is among the less privileged members of the community and the more entitled police officers from the Forest PD who work with Angela on crime scene investigation never let her live it down.

What stands this police procedural apart from all the rest is that Angela, while in the midst of an investigation, suffers a catastrophic stroke and is misdiagnosed by one of the right-side-of-the-tracks emergency room doctors at the local hospital.  The surgeon who saves her life is an outsider, but married into one of the wealthy local families.  He is accused of killing the misdiagnosing doctor and is almost prosecuted for the crime until the recovering Angela discovers the real killer.

The descriptions of what Angela experiences during the brain attack and during her slow recovery are very realistic because the author, Viets, experienced something very similar.

Brain Storm” is a chillingly realistic, high-tension thriller from start to finish and is highly recommended.

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Two Mysteries About Early 20th Century Labor Unrest

I have recently finished two somewhat similar mysteries set in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

All Men Fear Me,” by Donis Casey is the first of these mysteries. This book is the eighth in the “An Alafair Tucker Mystery” series.  The book is set just after the US joined World War I and the town of Boynton, Oklahoma is at heightened alert for German traitors and union activists fomenting unrest.  In the midst of all this unrest the Tucker family is trying to stay together with the older sons all contemplating joining the Army and heading for France, and a son-in-law afraid for his life because of his German heritage.  All of the foreign-born people in town are keeping a low profile because of prejudice and suspicion that has become very prevalent among the residents.  Alfair’s brother, a union organizer, comes to town ostensibly for a visit, but is suspected of really being in town to stir up trouble at a local factory. There is worry that trouble will brew at the “Liberty Sing” following the drawing of names for the draft lottery.  A man, called Old Nick, is another recent addition to the town, a very mysterious person no one knows.

The author, Donis Casey, has done an excellent job of researching the era and making the reader feel as if they are back in state-side life during the 1st World War with FDA-mandated austerity measures, suspicion about neighbors who may not originally have been from the area, formation of a chapter of the Knights of Liberty to offer vigilante justice to anyone who appears to be unpatriotic or unwilling to serve.

All Men Fear Me” is a nostalgic novel that will take the reader back to the days at the beginning of America’s involvement in the Great War.

Jack H. Bailey’s “Orchard” attempts to mix fact with fiction.  Bailey uses historic mine unrest in and around Coeur d’Alene in the late 1890s and early 1900’s and the efforts of mine owners to break the control of the Western Federation of Miners and weaves a fictional story around the shadowy life of a real union contract killer named Harry Orchard, a man who was finally sent to prison for the killing of the former governor of Idaho in 1906, Governor Steuenenber.  Orchard’s arch-rival and eventual captor is Pinkerton Agent, Charlie Siringo.  The details of exactly what activities Orchard and Siringo engage in and the dialog as they interact with their union and law enforcement associates is made up, but gives a fascenating picture of what may have taken place.  It is clear that there were many wrongs to redress on both sides.

Bailey succeeds in making both Orchard and Siringo more than just two-dimensional characters.  We have a sense of what makes both men tick.  There are times when we are ready to root for Orchard as a champion of poor minors and their families, and times when we want Siringo to capture the killer in order to stop the bombings and contract killings.

All Men Fear Me” and “Orchard” are both highly recommended.

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Clawback by J.A. Jance

Those of you who have followed my blog for awhile will know that I am a fan of J. A. Jance and particularly her Ali Reynolds Novel series and her Joanna Brady Mysteries series.  Both are set in Arizona, a state Jance knows well.  The latest, “Clawback,” is part of the Ali Reynolds series set in Sedona, AZ.

In this new novel Ali’s father is caught at the scene of a double homocide of his friends, Dan and Millie Frazier, and it takes a concerted effort by the staff of Ali’s security company, High Noon Enterprises, to clear Bob Larson of the crime.  Dan is the insurance agent who got Bob and Edie Larson to put all of their retirement funds in Ocotillo Fund Management which turns out to be a Ponzi scheme.  “Clawback” refers to the process whereby money distributed to participants, unwitting or otherwise, in a Ponzi scheme are recalled and redistributed equitably to all of the innocent participants.  There is some fear that Bob and Edie will lose out twice because they had started to receive payouts from the fund because they were among the early participants in the scheme.  Bob discovers Dan and Millie nearly dead at their home in Sedona when he goes to question Dan about what had caused Ocotillo to declare bankruptcy.  Through the high tech efforts of High Noon staff, with the assistance of Bob and Edie in sorting through lots of documentation, the real scoundrels are brought to justice, but not without some harrowing rescues and some additional murders.

Jance always does such a great job of describing all of the characters and making it clear what makes each person tick, both the good guys and the bad ones.  The reader also finds out a lot about cybercrime and financial crime in “Clawback,” particularly interesting current topics for a mystery.

Clawback” is a fast and interesting read for Jance’s army of enthusiastic readers.

 

The Bursar’s Wife by E.G. Rodford

The Bursar’s Wife” is an old-fashioned gumshoe story in the tradition of Raymond Chandler.  I found it a little slow-going, but then I’ve read so many fast-paced thrillers lately that a more sedate British who-done-it like “The Bursar’s Wife” just doesn’t have enough action in it for my tastes, especially in the first half of the book.

This is the first novel in the “A George Kocharyan Mystery” series which is set in Cambridge, England.  George is an old fashioned PI who does almost all of his snooping the old-fashioned way by doing stake-outs and sneaking into crime scenes and suspected murder’s flats.  His only computer must be set to dial-up in order to gain access to the Internet.  When he needs online research done quickly he has to have his assistant or her son use their home computer.  This would be fine if the plot were set in the 1980’s, but it is supposed to be set in a modern-day Cambridge.

George is hired by the wife of the Bursar at Morley College, which is one of the colleges within Cambridge University.  She is concerned because her daughter is going out with an older man she is concerned might be capable of raping her daughter.  The wife is also being blackmailed because of a sex tape that was created of her by the same man years before while she was in college and was put under the influence of a date rape drug.  Mrs. Booker is afraid of history repeating itself and asks for George’s help to protect her daughter and possibly bring Quinton Boyd to justice.  Considerable murder and mayhem take place before George is able to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that Boyd is behind a series of sexual and drug ecapades.  Date rape and forced sex for porno exploitation are certainly a relevant topics and worthly of exploration in this novel.

I’d give “The Bursar’s Wife” one a one thumbs up.  The character Kocharyan is a memorable one and he should develop as a character sort of like fine wine ages over time.  The author is in the process of writing book two in this series entitled “The Runaway Maid” to be out in March 2017.  Hopefully, the pace will pick up in subsequent mysteries.

Liz Nichols

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

 

Red Flags, A Kate Reilly Mystery by Tammy Kaehler

I can’t think of a more appropriate day to write a review of “Red Flags, A Kate Reilly Mystery” than Indy 500 Sunday.  It is a story of fictional female race car driver, Kate Reilly, and her transformation from an experienced sports car racer to a rookie Indycar racer.  Kaehler, who has experience in race industry marketing, obviously knows her stuff.  Two of her motor sports mysteries have won the best motorsports book of the year award by the American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association.  Kaehler’s mystery thrillers are not only exciting reads, they are also educational.  I have gained a great appreciation for the skill and courage of race car drivers and the people who support them in the pits since becoming a fan of Tammy Kaehler’s racing mysteries.

Of all of Kaehler’s books in the Kate Reilly Mystery series “Red Flags” is perhaps the most technically descriptive and relies less upon the murder mystery plot to keep the readers’ interest.  The person murdered is one of Kate’s estranged Reilly family cousins, an individual who has belittled and disparaged Kate in the past.  It takes pleading with Kate on the part of the promoters of the Grand Prix of Long Beach to get her to agree to be involved in the investigation, and the investigation is entirely half-hearted.  Kate solves the mystery almost by accident after she confronts someone who actually did not do it.  (Is Kate losing her touch as an investigator?)  Kate’s main focus is on qualifying in open wheel Indycar racing and we get a great deal of drama in the comparison between what it is like to ride the course in a Corvette sports car compared to an Indycar rocket ride.  The reader also gets a good look at the life-blood for any aspiring race car driver, corporate sponsorship.  In order to have the funds to try for Indy Kate must literally hold her nose and accept sponsorship by the bank owned by her father and his family.  Her relationship with her father gradually improves while the relationship with Kate’s uncle and cousins disintigrates.  Fortunately, by the end of the book Kate’s father is finally ready to admit that his kin are neither doing the business any good, nor are they being fair to Kate.

Red Flags” sets up future Kate Reilly Mystery series books to explode the number of settings and situations as Kate balances between her sports car and Indy racing teams and venues.  It should be a rocket ride!

Highly recommended.

Liz Nichols

Reviewed from a supplied pre-pub copy. Published on April 5, 2016.

 

 

Murder Never Knocks by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

It is rare for me to enjoy hard-bitten detective novels. They are usually too sexist and stereotypical.  “Murder Never Knocks,” the latest Mickey Spillane story line that Max Allan Collins has completed in the Mike Hammer series, is an exception.  It is placed in the 1960s rather than in the immediate post-World War II era.  This was a time when women were beginning to become appreciated in business, not just in the bedroom. Mike Hammer and his side-kick Velda, are older and wiser.  Velda is no longer just Hammer’s secretary.  She is a full-fledged PI, although Hammer is still very protective of her.  He still has the usual temptations when it comes to young, beautiful women who come into view, but he no longer sees women as just objects to be conquered; he has a conscience about how they are treated and recognizes their strengths.

Murder Never Knocks” is about a contract that is placed to kill Mike Hammer, and by extension, Velda.  It’s beginning to look as if Mike and Velda will have to retire to Witness Protection when Hammer gets a break and discovers who is behind the hit.  The question is whether Mike can get to the mastermind and neutralize him before he does the same with Mike and Velda.  Through the eyes of Spillane and Max Allan Collins the reader enters the chilling world of professional contract killers and the world of Broadway show business in the 1960s.  Both worlds are fascinating.

Murder Never Knocks” is the most entertaining and enjoyable of the Mike Hammer thriller detective stories and it is very well written.

Liz Nichols

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

The Big Fear by Andrew Case

The Big Fear” is the first novel for screenwriter Andrew Case.  Case also saw 10 years of work as in investigator for the NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board and it is that experience that forms the basis for the plot of “The Big Fear.”

Leonard Mitchell, the protagonist, is an investigator with DIMAC, the Department to Investigate Misconduct and Corruption, who takes over when his boss is murdered during the investigation of possible corruption in the Harbor precinct of NYPD.  Leonard is also put on a case to determine whether the shooting of a cop by another cop is justfied or not.  Mitchell suspects that the shooter is telling the truth that he saw a gun in the hands of the off-duty cop on a seemingly deserted freighter he was checking out.  In the process he discovers a connection between the NYPD and a Wall Street firm getting rich by shorting certain companies just before an unfortunate incident takes down their stock value.

The Big Fear” has a very dark premise that there are many dirty cops in the NYPD and people higher up in city government who can make life pleasant or unbearable at their whim.  They have their tentacles into the stock market and control the fate of companies around the world.  For people who run afowl of these dark forces it could be a death sentence, or at the very least a reason for being assigned to an undesirable department within the NYPD such as Property or the Harbor division.

I felt that the book got off to a slow start.  There is a fair amount of jargon in the book that just people inside NYC government will know. I also had to warm up to the main characters and that took a bit of time, but in time it was clear that Leonard and the cop who was framed, Mulino, have the personal integrity and heroism to get to the bottom of the conspiracy.

The Big Fear” is recommended for political and financial thriller lovers.

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a supplied copy.)

The Girl From Home by Adam Mitzner

The Girl from Home” reads like an episode of “Billions” meets “How to Get Away with Murder” and I loved the ingenious plot combination.

Adam Mitzner is by profession an attorney.  His expertise clearly shines through in the realistic way the dual cases of securities fraud and murder-for-hire are resolved into a satisfying plea bargain for the main characters.

The main protagonist is Jonathan Caine, the head of a currency trading department for a major Wall Street brokerage.  He is the quintissential forty-something narcissistic, ego-involved Wall Street millionaire who’s motto is “I want what I want”– and he usually gets what he wants.  It appears as if he is even going to get a pass on securities fraud when he is finally tripped up by an audit of his fund’s books that shows he has been cooking those books.  In that sense Caine comes off as a mini-Madoff, but one who shows in the end that he has a conscience and feels remorse for what he has done wrong and feels empathy for other people.  We see that empathy grow in the scenes with Jonathan’s dying father and the moving eulogy that he gives at his father’s funeral.  You also see it grow as he develops a protective relationship with a classmate he reengages with at his 25th high school anniversary in East Carlisle, New Jersey.  The woman, Jackie, is in an unhappy, abusive marriage, and Jonathan helps her to get out of that relationship.

The murder mystery portion of “The Girl from Home“commences when Jackie and Jonathan both conclude that Jackie’s husband, Rick, will never let her go alive.  Divorce is not going to work and neither will depending on the police to keep her safe.  What we don’t know for certain is which one of our protagonists actually hires a hit man, if either, and how the police will play Jackie and Jonathan off each other in questioning them about the murder.  There’s a nice twist on the ending that I think most readers will find satisfying.  Justice is served in the end.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

 

 

When Bunnies Go Bad by Clea Simon

The latest in Clea Simon’s “Pru Marlowe Pet Noir Mysteries, ” “When Bunnies Go Bad,” was published by Poisoned Pen Press March 1. Normally, I am not a fan of mysteries where animals are anthropomorthized into crime-solving sleuths.  The Pru Marlowe Pet Noir series is entirely an animal of a different color.  The protagonist, Marlowe, is an animal behaviorist, and in that role, her ability to read her animal charges’ fears and warnings is totally believable.  There are no talking dogs and cats in this book; only animals who read danger into dangerous situations and who convey those concerns through their body language and vocalizations.

In “When Bunnies Go Bad” Pru helps to solve the disappearance of a work of art from a local museum and the murder of an obnoxious tourist.  She gets some of her clues through the reactions of the spaniel owned by the dead tourist and his ski bunny girlfriend.  There’s the inevitable conflict with her sometime boyfriend, Police Detective Jim Creighton, who asks that Pru not get involved for her own safety.  A mysterious former gangster, Gregor Benazi, also seems to appear at regular intervals?  Is he a threat, or is he secretly working with the FBI to solve the murder and the art heist?  Is the sinister FBI agent who takes over the case really working at odds with the law on behalf of Benazi’s shady associates, or is he teamed with Benazi to bring justice?

When Bunnies Go Bad” is an enjoyable addition to the Pru Marlowe Pet Noir series.

Liz Nichols

 

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The Italian Divide by Allan Topol

The Italian Divide” is Allan Topol’s twelfth international thriller.  It is part of his “A Craig Page Thriller” series.

Topol never minces words.  Readers know immediately that the world is once again in deep trouble because of bad actors on the political and economic scene.  The characters are eerily believable.  In this case, an Italian banker is murdered and another Italian banker is forced to sell his share of his bank in exchange for a financial bailout and support for his political ambition by a mysterious Chinese mogul who turns out to be China’s finance minister.  In the thick of it trying to foil the plot to destroy the Italian economy and divide the country is Craig Page, a former CIA director who has gone into retirement in the guise of an Italian race car driver, Enrico Marino.

Topol spins such a captivating tale that it is hard to put “The Italian Divide” down before the nail-biter of an ending.

Two thumbs up!

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a supplied proof copy.)

 

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