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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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Blood of the Oak by Eliot Pattison

Eliot Pattison’s “Bone Rattler”/”Duncan McCallum” series just got another jaw-dropping installment with publication of “Blood of the Oak” by Counterpoint Press. Eliot Pattison’s novels have a way of waking the reader up to the grim realities of what really went on during Colonial American times, both the heroic and the barbaric.

There’s a lot of graphic detail about the treatment of Black and Indian slaves and white indentured servants in the colonial south during the 1760’s in this book.  There’s also a lot of factual history about the Stamp Tax Act and the ramifications of this attempt to make colonists pay taxes for finished products of every sort while receiving scant compensation for the raw materials that the colonies shipped back to England.  “Blood of the Oak” vividly describes how the stage was set for the Revolutionary War and also poignantly describes how the Iroquois and other Indian tribes were wiped out by a combination of settler incursions onto Indian land, war, disease and enslavement of Indian people.  At the end of the book we see the Iroquois’ female spiritual leader and her most trusted chiefs take the tribes’ idols deeper into the wilderness in a futile effort to get away from death and destruction at white men’s hands.

Not every reader will be able to stomach the violence in “Blood of the Oak.” Those who stick with it will be rewarded with a visceral understanding of that critical period of Colonial history between the French and Indian Wars and the Revolutionary War.  Particularly interesting is the description of  how the Sons of Liberty were able to communicate with each other to eventually unite a disparate group of colonies using a complex system of codes and a range rider system that included both colonists and Iroquois allies.

Despite the extremely graphic violence in this book, it is another masterpiece of America historic fiction and a really bone-rattling mystery thriller.  It will be impossible to romanticize Colonial history again after this excellent, accurately portrayed work of historical fiction.

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a supplied pre-pub review copy.)

 

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House of 8 Orchids by James Thayer

I loved “House of 8 Orchids,” the thriller set in China in the late 1930s by James Thayer.  The novel was published in paperback January 5, 2016, and judging from other reviews in Amazon it has been very well received.  Thayer is called “a master storyteller” by Clive Cussler.  This is his fourteenth novel, and his experience shows in this vividly told story.

House of 8 Orchids” is the story of John Wade, the son of an American Consul General in Chungking, China, who at age five, along with his younger brother, was kidnapped from the streets of Chungking by the thuggish Eunich Chang.  Chang embarked on a life of crime after the fall of the last emperor of China.  He trained the American boys to be pickpockets and swindlers and, along with other boys he plucked from the streets, the henchmen for all his evil endeavors.  When John’s brother, William, decided to save a woman Chang had kidnapped to sell as a sex slave, John began to gradually recognize the Eunich and his former life as evil and to embrace using his physical and mental strengths to do good.  These more noble impulses in John were encouraged by his experiences with an American doctor who operated a clinic along the Yangtze River and an American Naval commander who helped Wade ultimately defeat Eunich Chang and other forces of evil.

House of 8 Orchids” provides a vivid portrayal of the dangers and chaos faced by everyone living in China during that time when the Kuomintang and Communists were fighting for control of the country, and the Japanese were also trying to gain a stronghold in China.  Add those political dangers to those of pirates, warlords and rogues like Eunich Chang on top of everyday illnesses and accidents and it is a wonder anyone survived that era in China.

John Wade is exactly the kind of protagonist I am excited to get to know in literature.  He is a complex combination of Chinese and American– more Chinese than American through most of the book.  That only gradually changes as he gets to know the doctor, Elizabeth Hanley, and the Naval officer, Commander Beals.

House of 8 Orchids” would make a terrific movie.  If it hasn’t already been optioned for the big screen, it should be.

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a supplied copy.)

 

 

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If I Run by Terri Blackstock

If I Run” is a detective thriller in the tradition of “The Fugitive” but with a Christian twist.  Casey Cox, a young woman who finds her father dead when she is 12, finds her best friend murdered 13 years later.  Since Casey is convinced her father was also murdered, she believes that if she stays around she will be framed for her friend, Brent’s, murder.  She runs even though it makes her look guilty.  “If I Run” is the story of how Casey evades detection and how others gradually come to believe in her innocence.  The story is by no means resolved by the end of the book.

The Shreveport Police Department hires a returning veteran, one of Brent’s oldest friends, Dylan Roberts, to track the girl down and bring her back.  Dylan is an aspiring cop with investigative experience in the Army.  Brent’s parents hire him as a PI to find the fugitive.  The cops in the homicide division at Shreveport PD agree to let Dylan investigate, but they throw a lot of blocks into the investigation, and especially when he asks for access to crime scene evidence.  After he talks with the evidence clerk at the police station that clerk mysteriously ends up dead.  Every piece of evidence Dylan uncovers seems to point to other people involved in Brent’s murder and possibly also to Casey’s dad’s murder.

Although Casey lost much of her faith in God when her father died, she meets a number of people on her run as a fugitive who help to restore her faith.  While at the end of the book Casey is still on the run, I believe the theme of this series will gradually restore her faith while her journey restores the faith others have in her and in her innocence.

If I Run” is not the most original story, but it is a well told thriller with a likeable heroine and a thoughtful and fair PI who is following her every step.  The bad guys are predictably pure evil.  Fans will await the next book to see how the bad guys are defeated.

Available February 16, 2016.

Reviewed from an Advance Reader’s Copy.

Liz Nichols

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The Newsmakers by Lis Wiehl

The Newsmakers” is the first title in a new series by Fox News legal analyst, Lis Wiehl, and it promises to be a blockbuster.  Her protagonist, Erica Sparks, is the deeply flawed but talented and tenatious reporter who we meet on her first day of work as a reporter for GNN, the Global News Network, an up-and-coming cable news channel owned by a brilliant but vindictive and possibly psychotic billionaire, Nylan Hastings.  Erica’s first assignment puts her into the midst of a freak ferry accident that soon is revealed to be a cyber-terror plot.  The notariety Erica gains in handling the ferry disaster story lands her in the middle of an assassination situation with a potential presidential candidate.  Is it coincidence or is some evil hand putting Erica in the way of blockbuster stories?  Erica digs until she finds the solution to both crimes and in the process puts herself and many of the people around her in danger.

What I particularly like about this fast-paced page-turner are the complex characters– Erica herself and the people around her at GNN.  We get to know many of these characters very well, warts and all.  Readers who are paying attention can also see what is about to happen to Erica before she can see the outcome herself.  Instead of ruining the plot, having a somewhat obvious outcome actually heightens the intrigue because we can’t wait to see how Erica extricates herself from the mess, whether she screws up and goes back to her ways of drink and ruin, and whether some of the innocents she has dragged into her messy world will come out alive.

Lis Wiehl knows the cable news business and she knows how to deliver a heart-pounding thriller.  “The Newsmakers” formula should be a recipe for another best seller for Wiehl and her co-author Sebastian Stuart.  Two thumbs up!

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a supplied copy.)

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Karma’s a Killer by Tracy Weber

Early in January 2016 Midnight Ink Books of Woodbury, MN published a charming little cozy mystery by award-winning author Tracy Weber, “Karma’s a Killer,” featuring amateur sleuth and Seattle yoga instructor, Kate Davidson. Weber lives in Seattle and she’s a yoga therapist, so she knows her subject matter.

The plot starts out at a fund-raiser for an animal rescue called DogMa where Kate has agreed to teach a yoga for dogs class (doga) with their owners.  When a bossy rabbit owner insists on attending the crowded class with her pet, all hell breaks loose.  The same event is invaded by a group of animal rights activists led by a former employee at DogMa and two of her friends.  The older woman in the animal rights group turns out to be Kate’s estranged mother, Dharma, or Daisy.  The younger protester is found murdered and Dharma is arrested on suspicion of murder, based on a presumption of jealousy because the two women were dating the same man.

Karma’s a Killer” is both highly entertaining, and very thought-provoking in ways that make it almost a psychological thriller.  Dharma’s presence forces Kate to examine the nightmares she has regularly and many of the personal flaws of mistrust and deception that have made it difficult for her to open up to others.  It also makes her question the mythology that she has built around her parents and the circumstances that led to her being raised exclusively by her now deceased father.  The difficult task of coming to terms with her mother and why her mother abandoned her is handled very intelligently and sensitively in “Karma’s a Killer” and it sets up this “A Downward Dog Mystery” series to show more growth in Kate’s relationship with her boyfriend, her best friend, her mother, and herself in future installments.

Karma’s a Killer” is a two-thumbs up mystery for me.

Liz Nichols

Reviewed from a supplied Reader’s Advance copy.

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A Three Mystery Review

I have reviews for three of the several books I read during the month of December.  All are by American novelists and all have a strong ethnic presence.  All are part of mystery series of varying degrees of maturity.  While the protagonist of the first is a private investigator, the other two books feature amateur sleuths.  They are:  “Caught dead” by Andrew Lanh, which is a pen name for the experienced mystery writer, Ed Ifkovic (A Rick Van Lam Mystery); “The Puffin of death” by Betty Webb (A Gunn Zoo Mystery); and “Brooklyn secrets” by Triss Stein (An Erica Donato Mystery).  All were published within the last couple months.

Rick Van Lam, as far as I can tell, is the only Vietnamese sleuth in American mystery literature.  He’s definitely not your stereotypical “Charlie Chan” type detective.  Rick is bui doi, an Amerasian product of the Vietnam Conflict who was brought to America at the age of thirteen to be raised by an American family in New Jersey. After attending John Jay College in criminal justice in New York he moved to Hartford, CT to become part of that city’s police force, but wiped out after a close encounter with death and joined a private investigator’s office instead.  He developed close ties to the Vietnamese community in Little Saigon in Hartford and it is with that community that he interacts in trying to solve the deaths of “the beautiful” Le sisters, Mary and Molly.  One sister is married to a small-time Asian market in the heart of Little Saigon while the other is married to a rich and successful Anglo entrepreneur. The separate crimes both appear to be staged in order to blame drug traffickers in a crime-infested neighborhood.  It takes being able to bridge both the Vietnamese community and the community at large in order to solve the crimes and Rick goes about it with a great deal of sensitivity and skill.  “Caught dead” maintains the suspense of “who done it” right up to the last couple chapters.

Betty Webb’s “The Puffin of death” is the fourth in the “Gunn Zoo Mystery” series featuring the professional zookeeper and amateur sleuth, Theodora Bentley.  The setting for this installment of this series is Iceland where Teddy is sent to collect several animals for its new Northern Climes exhibit, including a couple puffins and a polar bear cub.  Because Teddy is invited to stay with an Icelandic zookeeper while she is in Iceland, she has a very up close and personal experience with modern day Icelandic culture.  Her hostess and her boyfriend are both members of an Icelandic heavy metal band.  She also spends a lot of time with a birdwatching tour group from Arizona, and it is the leader of that group who comes up dead shortly after Teddy arrives on the scene.  The body has been badly chewed by a puffin by the time Teddy discovers the body.  Like Webb’s previous books in this series, the author sprinkles a heavy dose of humor in the plot and the memorable cast of characters.  While the book drags a little in the middle chapters, overall I enjoyed “The Puffin of death.”

The third book I would like to feature is Triss Stein’s “Brooklyn secrets.”  Like the author, the protagonist, Erica Donato, is a researcher who is well-versed in the history of Brooklyn, New York.  Stein is not a native of Brooklyn, but she has spent many years in New York City and once worked at the Brooklyn branch library used as one of the settings for the book.  She is also very familiar with the history of the Brownsville projects and the different ethnic groups that have populated this ghetto area since the 1930s.  Donato spends time in that area in order to do research for her graduate program disseration on the members of Murder, Inc. who dominated the Brownsville housing project in the 1930s.  She finds in the 2000s the deadly gang influence has changed little except in ethnicity and language.  Now the residents are largely Black and those in gangs control drug and human trafficking.  The book is very well written to show a lot of parallels between the Brownsville of then and now.  The author admits that the book is not reflective of the very most current trends and language among Black teens in Brownsville today but Stein does what she can to paint a realistic picture of life in the projects today.  “Brooklyn secrets” is a chillingly convincing page-turner of a mystery.

Reviewed with supplied copies.

Liz Nichols

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Two Mysteries Set in the Wilderness

The first mystery with a wilderness theme I’d like to review today is “Deep North” by Barry Knister.  This is the second in Knister’s “A Brenda Contay Novel of Suspense” series.  Contay is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who goes on a week-long fishing trip to Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota with an attorney friend, Marion Ross, and two of Marion’s friends from the Milwaukee area, Heather and Tina.  Tina is confined to a wheelchair with MS.  Rather than roughing-it, the group will be renting a houseboat.  On their wat to the northwoods resort where they are to pick up the houseboat they meet an attractive part-time resident of the lake area, Charlie Schmidt and he and Brenda seem to hit it off after Charlie stops to fix a flat tire for the women.  Charlie has during that same week a couple of guests ostensibly in to fish.  Charlie does not know these men well,  and they turn out to be deadly trouble.

Knister dives deep behind the psyche and motivations of each character. The villains are not just one-dimensional characters.  They have motivations we can understand, even if we don’t accept their rationales for doing evil things. We also learn a lot about the lives of the middle-aged women who are unsuspecting victims and who must do some terrible things in order to save themselves.  Middle-aged women readers will especially relate to this foursome of strong women.

Deep North” is fast-paced and absorbing.

There are similarities between “Deep North” and Warren C. Easley’s “Dead Float.”  Both murder mysteries take place in a wilderness area on a fishing trip.  “Deep North” is set in Northern Minnesota while “Dead Float“takes place along the Deschutes River in Oregon’s trout fishing region.  “Dead Float” is the second in Easley’s Cal Claxton Mystery series.
Claxton is an LA prosecuting attorney who decides to leave the high profile life in LA for the serenity of a small town practice in rural Oregon.  He agrees to help a friend who has a fishing guide business, Philip Lone Deer, lead a group of business executives from Portland on a trout fishing trip that is to double as a retreat with a management consultant. The trip goes terribly wrong.  A murder occurs on the fishing trip and Cal is set up to take the fall for it.  He spends most of the book talking with potential witnesses and finding clues to clear his name.  Almost as fast as he finds things that will help his case, the real killers plant things to further incriminate him so there is constant tension between characters and elements of the plot that drives the story forward with increasing intensity.  The story is told so descriptively that the reader almost feels like they are along for the ride with the protagonist, Cal Claxton.

Dead Float is one of the best mysteries of the year and will be enjoyed by a wide variety of readers.

 

 

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