Those of you who have read my blog regularly know I am a fan of J.A. Jance. I particularly like the Brady Novel of Suspense series, based on Jance’s fictional sheriff of Cochise County, AZ, Joanna Brady. “Remains of Innocence” picks up the Brady story seven years in to her employment as the county’s elected sheriff. Even though she continues to have a small staff she has evolved over the years into an effective team player, well respected by other emergency services in Cochise County and within Arizona as a whole. She works effectively with the fire department’s emergency service teams, with the chief of the Bisbee police department and others. In earlier books so much of each plot had to do with how Joanna would gain the trust of her own staff and of the various other departments within county and city government. She is no longer an outsider with limited credibility.
In “Remains of Innocence” Jance very cleverly builds murder cases on opposite ends of the country and brings them together into a suspenseful climax in Brady’s home territory. First, the mother of a young woman in Great Barrington, MA has to be hospitalized and when she dies the daughter, Liza Machett, sets to work cleaning out their home of the mess created by her hoarder of a mother. Liza discovers that her mother has hidden some $150,000 in cash over the last 30 years in hundreds of books and magazines. Liza no more than gathers all that up when she gets a cryptic message from one of the guests at her mother’s funeral that people her dad worked with when he drove a bread truck know what she has and will not forget that her dad cheated them. She finds out from her boss that the dad who disappeared years before had worked for the Boston organized crime. Soon, the house is burned down, and Liza’s boss helps her to escape via an “underground railway” put together for abused women. As she heads across the country on an interesting, clandestine trip with a variety of truckers people back home start being tortured and killed, including the man who gave Liza the first warning and her boss. She wonders what her hidden stash of cash has wrought on everyone she comes in contact with.
Meanwhile, in Bisbee, AZ Joanna is cooperating with the police chief on an investigation of the apparent murder of a mentally disabled man who is the foster son of two local coffee shop owners, all friends of Joanna’s. The new medical examiner happens to be the brother of Liza Machett, and unbeknownst to anyone else, Liza is on her way across the country to consult with her brother about what she should do with the ill-gotten money her mother had hidden all these years. By the time Liza got to Bisbee, however, her brother had also been tortured and murdered. Joanna has two murders to solve, while at the other end of the country a detective in Great Barrington is working on at least two more murders. Are all of these connected or separate?
Jance has a wonderful storytelling ability with a simple, descriptive style that drills right into the hearts and minds of her heroine, the victims, and often also the perpetrators. It is easy to get involved in each case and to almost feel as a reader as if you are investigating the case right alongside Joanna Brady. “Remains of Innocence” is no exception, and, in fact, is one of the most suspenseful of Jance’s offerings.
“Neurotic November” is the 4th in the “Mary Magruder Katz Mystery” series. The author, Barbara Levenson, is a retired Miami area judge and she really knows how to make a suspenseful tale out of her expertise in the law and court proceedings. She also is very good at describing Miami settings and lifestyles.
Mary Magruder Katz is Levenson’s fictional defense attorney in the Miami area. In “Neurotic November” Mary acquires a university football player as a client who is accused of statutory rape against minor. He admits to having sex with the complainant, but Magruder Katz’s client claims to have been entrapped by a girl who misrepresented herself as a college student who had consensual sex. The book brings up a very important message for all young adults to know. In many states it is considered rape when anyone over 18 has sex with someone under the age of consent, usually set at age 16. A few states will allow for a lesser charge, or will consider dropping charges, if there is less than a 5 year difference in age between the teen and the older partner. In many states, however, judges have very little leeway but to send even those who had no idea they were dealing with a minor to prison and to put them on the sex offender list once they are out of prison. Obviously, such a conviction would ruin someone for life.
Mary also agrees to defend her boyfriend’s father who is being questioned in connection with a money-laundering case. This particular thread is only begun in this book and promises to be one of the main themes in Levenson’s next mystery. At the same time, Mary tries to aid her assistant, Catherine Aynsworth, who comes in bruised and battered from an ex-spouse. When the former husband turns up dead the police accuse Catherine’s current love interest, Mary’s private investigator, Marco Perez. Mary sets out to find out who really killed Brady Aynsworth and in the process Mary and her boyfriend, Carlos, become targets themselves.
There are enough twists and turns, plots and subplots to keep any mystery reader involved from the very first page of “Neurotic November.” One of my favorite mysteries of 2014. I could not put it down until I had read the book cover to cover.
Barron’s “Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas” is fittingly the twelfth novel in the “Being a Jane Austen Mystery” series. Barron continues to write in the style of Jane Austen and uses the nineteenth century writer as a fictional character in the crime-solving series.
Jane and her family are invited to spend the holidays at The Vyne, a large manorhouse several miles from the parsonage at Steventon where Jane’s brother, James is vicar. The invitation comes after Jane, her sister and mother are run off the road by a carriage with a mysterious gentleman who is headed to The Vyne rather as an apology. At The Vyne they meet the Gambier’s the wife and young adult son and daughter of an Admiral, Mr. West, the son of a famous painter, and Thomas Vere-Chute, the brother of William Chute, the lord of the manor. There are also assorted staff at the manor, including Benedict L’Anglois, secretary to Mr. Chute. A messenger arrives from Admiral Gambier with the original of the Treaty of Ghent that signaled the truce between Great Britain and the United States in the War of 1812. The charter required Chute’s review and signature as a Member of Parliament. The young officer is killed before he even gets off The Vyne property the day after her arrived on his way back to London. Jane finds a thin wire that was used to bring down the officer’s horse and several other clues also point to murder. There is a second murder a couple days later. Were the crimes committed by the same hand?
The solution to the murders is absorbing even though there are relatively few potential suspects and relatively little character development to help point toward one or more culprit. The book also serves as a good reminder of how easy life is for most of us now compared to days before modern utilities and transportation. A 15 mile trip in winter could easily take a couple days in a conveyance which might only have a few hot bricks to keep the feet warm. Yet families braved the elements to celebrate the holidays with family and friends just as they do now.
Lovers of this series will enjoy “Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas.” It is certainly appropriate to curl up with this book on a cold winter’s night in front of a roaring fire.
Eleanor Kuhns is obviously well-versed in the history of Shaker country in upstate New York and New England and in life in general on the harsh frontier in the decades after the American Revolution. Her latest historical novel, “Cradle to Grave” is infused with the atmosphere and socio-economic realities of that period in these backwoods settlements. Kuhns is a librarian by profession and a very promising novelist. Her first work, “A Simple Murder” won the Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award.
In “Cradle to Grave” her protagonist, Will Rees, a weaver from Maine, travels to a Shaker village in New York with his new wife, Lydia, to help one of Lydia’s friends who has broken the law in abducting five children of a single mother the friend, Mouse, believes are being neglected. The mother is murdered and Mouse is accused of the crime. Rees learns that there are many individuals in the town who have a reason to harm Maggie Whitney, the frequently drunk wet nurse who is killed. Most of the town’s council members want her gone because her family threatens to become a drain on the town alms to the poor. In those days many communities like Dover Springs, NY turned out, or “warned out” anyone who applied for assistance or failed to pay taxes if they or their parents were not born in the community. In colonial and early republic days destitute widows and their children ended up dying of exposure because social welfare was only granted to those who “belonged.” There are also a number of men in the community who might want to see Maggie and her children disappear rather than get discovered to be the father of one of the kids. One other man wants her gone so he can claim the small farm and cabin that Maggie inherited from a relative.
The character development, the accurate historic context, and the bleak mid-winter physical descriptions are exceptional in “Cradle to Grave” and I was thoroughly absorbed by this mystery. I plan on going back to read Kuhns’ two earlier novels and look forward to her next one.
“Soul of Fire” by Eliot Pattison and “Tibetan Cross” by Mike Bond both have themes set in the Himalayas and both will leave readers both spell-bound and full of questions about international policies and actions taken in Tibet and on behalf of Tibetan freedom fighters. Both are exciting page-turners and both will leave readers deeply troubled about what is and has been going on in Tibet and Nepal for decades.
Pattison’s new novel, “Soul of Fire,” is the eighth in his Inspector Shan Novels series. Shan has been appointed as a token Chinese dissident to an international panel meeting in Lhasa to “investigate” the spate of self-immolation deaths of Tibetan protestors. What Shan uncovers is a systematic attempt on the part of the commission’s Chinese handlers to control the commissions findings, discredit the Tibetan freedom-fighters and murdering anyone who objects by staging deaths as immolation suicides. The scenes describing an immolation, which several commission members witness, is pretty graphic and grim. It is not a subject every reader will have the stomach to read about, but anyone who follows the book to its conclusion will have a better understanding of what motivates many Tibetans to take their own lives, and also how and why Tibetan freedom-fighters continue to strike out against Chinese domination.
Bond’s “Tibetan Cross” is equally thought-provoking and it takes quite a different point-of-view. This novel is set during the Cold War period. Four Americans who either fought in Vietnam, or were war dissidents have set up a business in Katmandu leading treks into the Himalayan mountains. The book opens while they are leading a group they find out are linked to the CIA on a mission that turns out to be quite different than the one they thought they signed up for. An accident reveals that their convoy is really delivering weapons, including a nuclear bomb, to Tibetan freedom-fighters to use against the Chinese. The CIA operatives waste no time in killing two of their American guides and chasing the other two around the world in an effort to silence them about what they saw. The protagonist, Sam Cohen, learns through bitter experience that he cannot rely on anyone, and everyone he comes in contact with after the incident on a Nepali pass will be brutally murdered by the CIA. “Tibetan Cross” is a very dark and cynical look at U.S. and international intelligence forces and the measures they will take to complete a mission no matter what the cost. What I find a little disappointing is that it was difficult to develop any real sympathy for Cohen because he also employed brutal tactics and killed innocents when they got in the way. It was hard to find anyone to actually like in this story– all the good guys were killed off. Still, many thriller readers and fans of Bond’s earlier novels will find “Tibetan Cross” both exciting and thought-provoking. Both books get a thumbs up.
Cathi Unsworth‘s “Weirdo” is another mystery in the British “noir” genre. Unsworth has been called Britain’s “queen of noir.” The book alternates between events that occur in a small British North Sea town in 1984 with the investigation of what actually occurred back then by a former cop turned private investigator in 2003.
In 1984 quite a crowd of teens within the town of Ernemouth dressed in goth uniform, professed to worship satan and got caught up in what looked like a ritual murder. One of the girls active in the clique, Corrine Woodrow, was sent to a mental facility for the killing. There seemed no question as to her guilt in 1984 and she did not do anything positive to help her case. By 2003 the advent of DNA testing enabled the case to be revisited and PI Sean Ward gets the assignment. Did Corrine act alone or did she have an accomplice? Was she framed? What really happened at the old World War II pillbox back in 1984? Sean finds a good deal of defensiveness and protectiveness by the residents of the town as he dredges up the details of this cold case but he does finally get the cooperation of the local constabulary to turn the cold case into a full-fledged investigation.
The juxtaposition of chapters covering events in 1984 followed by events in 2003 works well in unwinding the “Weirdo” story. The characters are British, but the story is universal.
I am hoping to catch up on my review writing by grouping some of the mysteries I have read over the past couple of months into related by somewhat shorter reviews.
The following books are Cosy mysteries with a strong sense of place and community.
“Poisoned Ground” by Sandra Parshall is the sixth installment in the Rachel Goddard Mystery series. Rachel Goddard is a veterinarian in rural Blue Ridge Mountain Mason County, VA. She makes a farm visit at the Kelly place and finds both Lincoln and Marie Kelly shot to death. A packet of information from a resort company hoping to buy up a number of prime Mason County farms is found on the kitchen table. The mystery revolves around determining whether pro-resort forces or anti-resort forces are behind the murders and stopping any further mayhem. If the story was only about the struggle between pro-development sources and pro-agrarian forces it would be a story that has been told before, but there are many twists and turns and querky characters that make this plot much more interesting and unique. Recommended.
Alan Beechey‘s “This Private Plot” is a British cosy set in the Cotswolds near Stratford-Upon-Avon and is part of Beechey’s Oliver Swithin Mysteries. Oliver is a children’s book author who’s girlfriend, Effie, is a Scotland Yard detective. Oliver is also an amateur sleuth. They are on their way to visit Oliver’s family in the Village of Synne when they come upon a body swinging on the end of a jump rope tied to the Synne hanging tree on the edge of town. The initial conclusion is that the man hanged himself, but Effie and Oliver prove otherwise and thus also become targets of the killer. The book is a little too punny for my tastes, but many who appreciate British humor, and all the references to Shakespeare will enjoy this book. The mystery not only revolves around discovering who murdered Mr. Breedlove, but also seeing if Oliver’s brother, Toby, an archaeologist doing a dig in Stratford, can definitively prove the connection between Stratford Will Shakespeare and the London Will Shakespeare. Once I got into the mystery, and especially the elements having to do with the historic mystery surrounding Shakespeare’s identity, this book grew on me and I give it at least one thumb up.
“Death at the Door” by Carolyn Hart is the third in the “Death on Demand Bookstore Mysteries.” Annie Darling is the owner of the Broward’s Rock bookstore while her husband, Max, operates a private investigation service. There are the usual bevy of mystery loving members of the community who help Annie solve the most recent spate of Broward’s Rock murders. First one of the island’s most respected doctors is shot and is at first thought to have committed suicide. When the wife of a local artist is hammered to death by her husband’s sculpture mallet, Annie, Max and the island’s group of amateur sleuths make the connection between the two deaths and determine that the sheriff has the wrong guy locked up. As usual, Hart has drafted an absorbing mystery with lots of potential suspects. Again, recommended.
The protagonist is down-and-out PI Phil Brennan, who takes on a case from a rather nervous and troubled young computer programmer named Gilbert Breville to go to the young man’s office and delete a program on his machine in exchange for a lot of cash. When he completes the task Phil finds himself up against other members of Gilbert’s family, and he finds the young programmer has been killed.
Brennan is quickly co-opted by Gilbert’s sister, Darcy, and the executive secretary to Gilbert and Darcy’s father’s company, Millie. Millie has an even stronger reason to want to protect the company from the evil plots of two other sisters, Gertrude and Stephanie that she eventually reveals to Brennan and to Darcy.
The multi-millionaire tycoon owner of the company Brennan has sabotaged, Everard, hires Brennan to find Gil’s killer and secure the company from its enemies, while at the same time Everard would also like to get rid of Brennan for interfering with his decision to give the company power to the crazy and ruthless sister, Gertrude. Brennan is constantly walking a tightrope around Everard, Gertrude and another sister, Stephanie, who has been known to waiver between the Gertrude and Gil/Darcy camps.
In the end Brennan is able to save the company for the more responsible members of the family, but it comes at quite an expense.
“Long, Hard Look” is a good, nail-bitting detective story.
Lovers of western mysteries and thrillers are probably already fans of C. J. Box, the author of the Joe Pickett Novel series. This is about my third time with this series and this is easily my favorite of Box’s most recent books.
In “Stone Cold” Joe Pickett, a Wyoming game warden, is posted to help out another game warden in the remote northeast corner of the state near the Black Hills. Joe discovers something rotten going on in Medicine Wheel County, including the murder of a federal agent, that will eventually lead to a full-fledged FBI raid. The nail biting question is whether the Feds can get in to take the bad guys under arrest before Joe Pickett is killed to remove his eye-witness accounting of the multiple layers of crime he uncovers. He plays quite a cat and mouse game with the bad guys he quickly pinpoints but has to take a number of big risks in order to prove the role of an important landowner and philanthropist in the county when so many residents have been bribed or bamboozled into supporting the big-shot rancher.
I read “Stone Cold” in a couple of sittings. It is a hard book to put down because the book is so action-packed and the characters, both good guys and bad, are so vividly drawn that it is easy for the reader to imagine being in Joe’s boots.
There is also an interesting side-story about a seemingly disaffected loner who moves in to the dorm at the University of Wyoming on the same floor as Joe’s daughter, Sheridan. Sheridan does exactly what students who witness strange behavior are supposed to do to stop a potential campus shooting: she told her parents and they contacted the local authorities to watch this kid. There is an interesting– and tragic– twist to this story toward the end of “Stone Cold” that will generate a lot of discussion around dinner tables between parents and their high school and college age children on a topic that is timely, thought-provoking and chilling: how to stop shootings and other random acts of violence on campus. The book points out that stereotypes can lead to bad conclusions, but that vigilance is needed despite the danger of making a mistake. Parents of troubled teens particularly need to get help early and often and not try to hide potentially unstable behaviors in the hopes that they will go away.
“Stone Cold” is a thought-provoking addition to the Joe Pickett series and well worth reading for many reasons.
“Deadly Glance” is about an attempted takeover of the United State and the U.S. economy by a transplant industrialist who grew up in Cuba and entered the U.S. via Mexico. As this megalomaniac, Al Chord, steadily acquired companies he also built a non-profit called World One with a seemingly positive message of world unity. What Chord only made clear to a select few leaders in World One was that the world would be unified under one dictator– himself.
A former CIA agent and current attorney for a firm with offices in Dallas and Washington D.C., Jeff Walker, is the one to save the world from this new autocratic threat. His firm comes to the attention of Chord when Walker’s D.C. partners, Bob Wright and Lil Turner, began to lobby on Capitol Hill on behalf of affirmative action legislation. This cause runs counter to Chord’s concept of who should get ahead in the world and jeopardizes some of his business interests. Bob and Lil get threats that they believe are tied to the World One movement. The police chalk up the threatening calls Bob receives to pranksters– until Bob turns up dead. Intrigue further surrounds Walker and his best friend, Holly, when they meet a club singer named Victoria who apparently also works for Chord. The more Jeff learns about Chord and World One the more convinced he becomes that World One is a threat not only to himself and his friends, but to the free world as we know it.
“Deadly Glance” is a highly suspenseful thriller, although Dallas Taylor could have come up with a cause that is more hotly contested politically such as the energy issue or the privacy issue than affirmative action/diversity. In the end the trigger issue is just an excuse to begin the process of world take-over by World One and probably does not matter. I look forward to more political/international thrillers with Jeff Walker as the protagonist.
Reviewed from a supplied copy.