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Two Mysteries About Fracking and Sex Slavery

I recently completed two novels with very similar themes, “Black Hills” by Franklin Schneider and Jennifer Schneider, a brother-sister writing duo, and “Coyote” by Kelly Oliver.  Both focus on the fate of exploited native women and Indian reservation communities in boomtowns where oil workers are forcing oil out of the ground through fracking.  Apparently, the authors of both books used similar source material and reached many of the same disturbing conclusions.

Both books were pretty rough to read because they pull no punches about what happens to sex slave workers in these oil boomtowns, the mountains of synthetic drugs (“dust”) that is consumed, and the fraud and murder that occurs in order to keep the people involved in business.

The heroine in Oliver’s “Coyote” is a philosophy graduate student from Montana who returns home for the summer to work at Glacier Park, Jessica James.  Her roommate is a member of the Blackfeet tribe who is distraught that her younger sisters seem to have been kidnapped by sex slavers.  Jessica takes a Glacier Park bus to help her roommate, Kimi Redfox, to find the missing sisters, and to investigate the death of her cousin, Mike, in a lumber mill accident.  They are assisted by a Russian emigre named Lolita, who seems to know her way around the big-shots in the community who own the fracking and lumber mill businesses.  “Coyote” is a straight-forward detective and mystery story with a likeable amature sleuth.

The heroine of the Schneiders’ “Black Hills” is Alice Riley, a Brooklyn Private Investigator hired by the wife of an employee of the fracking company in Whitehurst, South Dakota, to investigate why he has been taken into custody for assaulting a prostitute.  Alice befriends the Native American prostitute girlfriend of the man who has been jailed and they go after the truth together.  Neither Alice nor her friend, Kim, are innocents in this story.  They both partake in plenty of drugs and sex in their effort to gain information and take down the CEO of the fracking company.  The fracking company, they learn, is also behind a huge drug operation, the sex trafficking in the area, and nearly everthing else that is killing Native American people and their heritage.

“Black Hills” is a strong literary achievement by Franklin Schneider, who is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, but many will also find the unrelenting drugs and sex and the very dark take on the fracking business to be disturbing.

I’m glad I read both “Coyote” and “Black Hills,” despite their strong thematic and character similarities.  They both leave a very concerning message about fracking and the companies and communities swallowed up by that business.

Reviewed from supplied copies.

Liz Nichols

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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.)

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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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 Winemaker Detective by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen

I received a pre-publication uncorrected proof copy of “The Winemaker Detective” by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen, translated into English by Le French Book translators Anne Trager and Sally Pane.  The paperback version was published in English translation in December 2015.  This French cozy mystery is aimed at those who enjoy “Murder She Wrote” type plots in French wine country settings.  Like “Murder She Wrote” the books in the Winemaker Detective Series are being made into a successful television series seen in France and other French-speaking countries.  This collection includes the first three books in the series.

Each book represents an independent plot tied together with two amateur detectives and winemakers, Benjamin Cooker and his young employee, Virgile Lanssien.  Cooker is a fifty-something product of a French mother and British father.  He grew up in London but spent his summers on the acreage owned by his French grandparents, which he eventually inherited.  Cooker is a curious mixture in personality, temperament and interests of his Franco-Britsh heritage.  He spends a lot of his time driving around the French countryside in his beloved Mercedes exploring different wine-making regions and reviewing the best vintages in each one.  Along the way he runs into many eccentric and a good many shady characters.  The plots include industrial sabotage of the product of a winemaker in Bordeaux; the murder of a call girl and a hotel clerk, and theft of fine wines in the Loire Valley; and the murder of two graffitti artists in Burgundy.

Each book is highly descriptive.  Those who enjoy travel will get to know the French wine regions quite well through  Cooker’s adventures.  The plots are intriguing, as well, so that it is easy to see why this mystery series makes for successful television in France.  I have to admit, however, that some of the detective work drags on as Cooker and Virgile find themselves retracing their steps in order to pick up new pieces of information, and there is not a lot of  action.  The pace is more sedate than I generally like– again, rather like episodes of “Murder She Wrote”.

Still, the series will have wide appeal within the British and American mystery-reading market, and particularly for those who enjoy a bit of armchair travel and lots of detailed descriptions of great French food and wine.

I give “The Winemaker Detective” French cozy mystery compilation a one-thumb up.

Liz Nichols

 

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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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