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Night Bird by Brian Freeman

Brian Freeman is a Minnesota-based author.  This is the second in his Frost Eaton detective triller series. Eaton is a handsome, single, cat-loving San Francisco police detective, a very likeable character.  The latest in the series, “The Night Bird” was just published February 1 by Thomas Mercer.

Night Bird” is a very scary psychological thriller about a serial killer who copies the techniques of a San Francisco psychiatrist, Francesca Stein, but with an evil intention.  Stein uses hypnosis and subliminal messaging to erase disturbing memories from patients and replace them with memories that will stop the phobias that developed around the trauma.  The psychotic maniac, instead, uses hypnosis and psychological and sensory torture to cause some of Stein’s patients to commit suicide upon command.  The killer wears a mask, which in San Francisco, does not cause a lot of notice.  He calls himself the “Night Bird” and uses all manner of technological tricks to spy on his victims and on Dr. Stein so that he knows what will trigger anxiety in the patients who become his targets. One of the songs he uses to trigger suicidal events in his victims is the song “Nightengale” by Carole King.  I don’t think I will ever be able to listen to that song again without thinking of this book!

It does not take long to get really sucked into this book.  One reason is the main characters all have interesting lives and stories built around their own unique situations so it became easy to feel empathy for some characters and disgust and revulsion for others. The characters are all memorable whether they are heroes or villains. One way or the other, the reader can picture these characters living and working in San Francisco.  The author appears to know the city well, even though he lives in Minnesota.

I am not totally convinced about the premise of the book that people who have been traumatized can be made to totally forget those traumatic experiences through hypnosis, drugs and subliminal suggestion, but I am willing to suspend my skepticism for the purposes of getting into the plot.  The premise is similar to that of the successful new TV show, “Blindspot.”  There are some nice twists to the plot as well that keep the reader guessing until the end.

Overall, Freeman has a winner with “The Night Bird.” It should be a hit with those who like to stay up late reading a real page-turner of a psychological thriller that will remain vividly in the memory bank for a long time to come.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

 

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An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson

The Longmire series got another new addition last fall with “An Obvious Fact.”  The name is derived from a Sherlock Holmes quote, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” The setting is western South Dakota/eastern Wyoming around Hulett and the Devils Tower, an impressive shaft of igneous rock that shoots out of the plains unexpectedly, and the site of the nation’s first national monument.  The other major setting is Sturgis, SD, the site of the annual motorcycle meet.

The biking events and the general Wyoming/South Dakota Black Hills location affords the author a lot of colorful characters to populate this mystery and Henry Standing Bear is entered in some of the biker events while Walt Longmire helps the Hulett police investigate why a young member of one motorcycle gang and the son of one of Henry’s former lovers, has been run off the road.  The young man is in a coma at a hospital in Rapid City.  Tension mounts as Lola, the youth’s mother implies that Henry was the father some 30 years earlier.

As always, this chapter in the Longmire saga is full of sage wisdom from the Indian philosopher, and hard fighting from both Henry and Walt. “An Obvious Fact” a sufficiently fast-paced page-turner to please fans of the Walt Longmire series and could win over new fans because of the colorful setting and interesting situations Henry and Walt continue to get involved in.

I continue to be a Longmire fan of both the books and the TV series.

Liz Nichols

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Shattered by Death by Catherine Finger

Shattered by Death” is the second in the “A Jo Oliver Thriller” by Catherine Finger.  The protagonist is small town police chief, Jo Oliver, who is locked out of the investigation of the brutal killings of her estranged husband and his girl friend in a double homicide.  Oliver finds them in the boat house of the property she and her husband still own together.  Oliver’s close friend and budding romantic interest, FBI agent Nick Vitarello, presents evidence to clear Oliver of the crime, against the police chief’s will.

Many women will identify strongly with Oliver.  She is generous with her time in that she volunteers at a couple of women’s shelters.  This fact she wants to keep secret to protect the identies of the battered women who are sheltered, even though security tapes from the shelters will prove here whereabouts during the murders. She is in the process of adopting a child, even as she fights a contentious divorce. She is bull-headed, full of self-doubt about her worthiness to ever be loved (doubts Nick constantly tries to assuage), and she is a born-again Christian who frequently calls on God for guidance and support.

The identity of the serial killer who tries to frame the Chief is not a particular surprise to me, but the twists and turns that lead to the ending keep “Shattered by Death” a suspenseful read.  Two thumbs up.

Review copy was provided.

Liz Nichols

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The Highwayman by Craig Johnson

Johnson’s “The Highwayman” is a modern-day ghost story by one of the country’s foremost storytellers.  This novel is part of the series “A Longmire Story.”

Sheriff Walt Longmire of Wyoming’s Absaroka County receives a request to assess the credibility of a highway patrol officer’s reports of ghost radio messages while the officer is patrolling near a series of three tunnels that had been the scene of a searing accident that killed another highway patrol officer over 30 years before.  Reportedly, the message that an officer was in need of assistance came from that deceased HP officer.  When some of the same messages were received in Walt’s presence he and his side-kick, Henry Standing Bear, attempted to explain the phenomenon by determining who might be breaking into the HP’s radio frequency.  Things get a little scarier when the distraught HP officer falls into the raging Wind River and Walt is helped to grab her out by a mysterious stranger who also seems to be dropping 1888 Morgan dollars, the same Morgans the long-dead HP officer was accused of hi-jacking.

As always, this Longmire story is an engrossing and well written western mystery/ghost story.

The Highwayman” is recommended, especially for the many Longmire fans out there.

Liz Nichols

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Bright Midnight by Chris Formant

Chris Formant is a life-long student of classic rock and roll and a collector of rock memorabilia. He holds a seat on the Board of Trustees of the Rock and Role Hall of Fame in Cleveland.  “Bright Midnight” is his first novel and it will be a crowd-pleaser for all the baby boomers who love classic rock and all those conspiracy theorists who believe in the “Myth of 27.”

For the uninitiated, the  “Myth of 27” hypothesizes that there is simply too much coincidence around the fact that so many rock stars, and particularly during the height of rock and roll post-Woodstock, died of mysterious causes at the age of 27– too many for it to simply be coincidence.  While Formant’s work is fiction, he has thoroughly researched each of the artists who died within a few years of each other in  the late 1960s and early 1970s including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Ron McKernan, Peter Ham, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and Al Wilson.  Formant uses modern forensic analysis techniques to combined with clues from research of memorabilia and historical records to pose plausible explanations as to why all these deaths were not just accidental deaths or suicides, and how they were related.  Certain sinister aspects of the rock and roll record industry seem to have doomed some of the more rebellious and independent artists to short lives.

The protagonist is a classic rock editor for Rolling Stone, Gantry Elliot.  He is an aging “has been” struggling to keep up with the the changes in rock music until he begins to receive anonymous tips about the rock stars of the 1960s and 1970s who all died at age 27.  The tipster maintains that all of these artists were murdered and presents clues with each package to support the claim.  By the time Gantry has received several of these packages he takes the evidence to the head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit who, after expressing initial doubts, decides to take on the cold cases and involves associates in Scotland Yard and the French National Police to take the lead on solving the deaths that occurred within their jurisdictions. Gantry involves his boss, the editor of Rolling Stone and eventually gains his full support.

There are fascinating details about the music industry, and modern day forensics.  It turns out that as good as technical forensics is now, old-fashioned interviewing of former associates of the dead and people who might shed light on the commonalities between all of the victims is what actually breaks the case.  The closer Gantry gets to breaking some of these cases, the more dangerous the international crime thriller gets for Gantry and the people who open up to him and the FBI.

Bright Midnight” is an inventive read sure to please those who are nostalgic for the Age of Aquarius and its rock legends and those who enjoy speculating on conspiracy theories such as the “Myth of 27.”

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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Downfall by J A Jance

Once again J.A. Jance has produced a suspenseful and timely police procedural in the “Brady Novel of Suspense” series.  “Downfall” is about an investigation by Sheriff Joanna Brady and her Cochise County (AZ) Sheriff Department into a double homicide that appears to be instigated by a high school teacher’s statutory rape of one or more teenage boy student.  The reactions of the parents and students to the realization that a pedophile has been teaching at the school for years and getting away with seducing teenage boys run the gamut from parents blaming the boy more than the teacher to outrage and a desire to sue the school for not doing something to stop this behavior.  Some parents wish they had gotten to the teacher first before her actual killer.

This story about a teacher pedophile takes place amid Joanna’s own personal tragedy in that she has just lost her mother and step-father to a highway sharp-shooter and is also several months pregnant with a baby girl. She is supposed to be taking time off to plan and host a funeral service for Eleanor and George when the deaths of two women who appear to have been pushed off a cliff occurs.  The book contains some poignant moments where Joanna comes to a better understanding about her mother and the reasons why Eleanor has always been so hard on her ambitious tomboy of a daughter.  Longtime readers of the Brady series will appreciate the closure Joanna is able to put on this complex relationship with her mother and will also admire the ingenuity Brady and her staff use to solve the mystery of the double-murder and Joanna’s own kidnapping.  To add to the complexity there is another murder in the mix, the death by golf club of a man who appears to also have been poisoned with arsenic by his wife.  That investigation raises the question of how far the DA should go to offer a reduced sentence just to settle when it appears likely the murder was premeditated.  Unfortunately, there is little the sheriff can do once the police have turned the case over to the DA, other that to offer her two-cents worth.

As always, the action is so suspenseful it was hard to put down “Downfall” until the very last page.

Highly recommended.

Liz Nichols

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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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The Blood Strand by Chris Ould

British screen writer and author, Chris Ould, just published “The Blood Strand,” a Foroyar Novel, in February 2016.  This police procedural is set in the Faroe Islands.  Administratively, the Faroe Islands are a part of Denmark.  When there is a police matter too complex for the local officers a team is often called in from Denmark to help solve the case.  It is quite close to the British Isles and gets a fair number of British tourists, and in this case, it is a Faroese native who has lived most of his life in Great Britain and is a British detective, Jan Reyna, who helps the local police detective, Hjalti Hentze, and his team to solve a couple murders that might be tied to members of his family in the Faroe Islands.  Jan is on the Islands to visit his ailing estranged father, Signar Ravensfjall.  Signar is not expected to recover from a massive stroke and the family is being gathered.

The police determine that there is something suspicious about Signar being found in his car in a remote part of the islands.  When Jan and Hjalti make the connection and start questioning possible witnesses or criminals, the people they contact start to die, and Jan begins to  wonder if some of his relatives are involved in something illegal.

Like so many Police procedurals this book is slow at times because the process of discovery for all the details that must be unraveled in this case is slow and repetitive. Sometimes Jan and Hjalti walk away with no new information during visits to possible witnesses and suspects, sometimes they get a small sliver of information, and increasingly toward the end of the book, the pieces start coming together.  A reader must have a certain amount of patience to get through this 435 page book, but increasingly the reader is rewarded by this complex and tightly woven plot.  It is amazing that so many secrets can be kept on this small and sparsely populated set of islands.  In respect to the remote island setting, the circumspect Scandinavian population, and the dark family secrets, “The Blood Strand” reminds me of the first in the Steig Larsson trilogy.

I give “The Blood Strand” at lease one thumb up.  I just wish the investigation had been a little shorter or a little more exciting in the first two thirds of the book.

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a provided proof copy.)

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Two Mysteries Set in 1700s

I generally like historical fiction, and specifically, mysteries set during an age when England was flexing its merchant muscle and coming to terms with such issues as making it illegal to import slaves.  In the Colonies the French and Indian War was setting the stage for revolution ten or fifteen years later.

The two books I’ve read over the past two or three weeks are “The Hidden Man” by Robin Blake and “The Constable’s Tale” by Donald Smith.  Smith’s book is due to be published Sept. 15, but can be ordered now through Amazon.  Blake’s book came out last March.

The Hidden Man” is set in Preston, Lancashire, England in 1742.  The protagonist is the town coroner who is charged with investigating suspicious deaths and holding inquests to determine cause of death.  The Coroner, Titus Cragg, has a partner in his investigations, Dr. Luke Fidelis, who ministers among both the aristocratic folk and the poor within the region.  They are constantly at odds with the local magistrate in trying to determine who murdered a local goldsmith and pawnbroker, Mr. Pimbo and left him in an office locked from the inside.  When it becomes difficult to explain how the murderer got out the Dr. makes the supposition that the killer escaped when the room was opened and a number of curious onlookers rushed in to see what was going on.  It seems far-fetched by both Cragg and the magistrate, but will Fidelis be proven correct?  It appears that Pimbo had invested in a shipping venture to buy slaves off the coast of Africa, take them to Barbados, and trade them for rum and other goods to be sold in the Colonies.  The venture was being investigated by a marine insurance agency because a claim had been made that the ship had been lost a sea. The insurance company investigator has a young black servant with him who turns out to be a young woman.

The Hidden Man” plot is fairly convoluted and there are multiple suspects for two separate murders that take place, including the young black woman.  There are so many details and characters it is easy to get lost and also easy to get impatient with the many blind alleys this story goes down before the mystery is resolved.  It brings up some major social issues, such as the slave trade, but then the discussion is dropped and never goes anywhere.

If I had only time to read one of the two books set in this time period, it would be Donald Smith’s “Constable’s Tale.”  The protagonist in this tale is also a lawman, the constable of Craven County, North Carolina, Harry Woodyard.  A family friend, Comet Elijah, an elderly American Indian wiseman, is accused of savagely killing a farm family on the edge of New Bern, North Carolina, and Harry is obliged to take him into custody.  He can’t believe his friend, Elijah, could kill a family in cold blood, and he finds a Masonic emblem pin at the crime scene that might indicate someone else visited the farm family and could have been responsible.  Harry goes on a lengthy quest to find the owner of the pin.  His travels take him to Williamsburg, Annapolis, Philadelphia and points north into Canada, where Harry gets mixed up with the seige on Quebec, British and French double-agent, and several encounters with an old flame. The ending was a surprise I did not see coming.

The Constable’s Tale” as an exciting read from start to finish and I had a hard time putting it down until I was finished.  It is supenseful and provides insight into a violent and formative time in American history.  “The Constable’s Tale” is highly recommended.

Liz Nichols

(“The Constable’s Tale” was reviewed from a provided copy.

 

 

 

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The Charlemagne Connection by R M Cartmel

Cote-de-Nuits region of Burgundy, France

Cote-de-Nuits region of Burgundy, France

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Charlemagne Connection” is the second in Cartmel’s Commander Charlemagne Truchaud series set in the Cote de Nuits region of Burgundy, France.  The second book picks up just months after the last book’s action.

A young German who spends a season in the vineyards of the Truchaud’s LaForge neighbors disappears without a trace.  No one thinks anything about it until the RV park where the young man’s camper has been sitting abandoned asks the gendarmerie of Nuits-St-Georges to investigate.  That leads to a visit from the German man’s sister and her best friend from Chemnitz, Germany.  Truchaud finds an excuse to recall his trusty team member from Paris, Sergeant Natalie Dutoit, because she speaks and understands German better than anyone locally and can communicate with the two German girls.  The return of Natalie rekindles the love interest that Truchaud feels and continually tries to hide.  Truchaud’s extended absense from the Paris Division of the National Police also seems to be placing his long term prospects as a commander in that force in jeapardy.  His divisional commander formally lends him out to the local gendarmerie seeing as how the person Truchaud killed in the last book was the crooked local police chief.

The Charlemagne Connection” feels like a continuation of a long and evolving story about the Truchaud family, their neighbors the Laforge’s.  Rather like the J.A. Jance characters it is easy to get wound up in the lives of Cartmel’s main characters and to look forward to new installments, just as one would look forward to receiving news about the developments in the lives of one’s own family and friends.  I will look forward to the next installment to find out what happens to Truchaud’s responsibilities in Paris, his relationship with Natalie, the health and condition of his father who has Alzheimer’s, and now also the budding relationship between Dagmar Witter and winemaker Simon Marechale.

That being said, I felt that “The Charlemagne Connection” dragged a bit in parts compared to the very intense and action-filled “Richebourg Affair.”  The excuse made for bringing back Natalie was a little improbable.  I don’t see a busy police force letting a brand new, up-and-coming sergeant head out on a remote assignment so soon after promotion.  This installment is more police procedural and less thriller than the last book.

I did enjoy “The Charlemagne Connection” for the most part, because it rekindled an interest in this particular group of characters, the winemaking industry, and this particular part of France and I look forward to the next chapter in the lives of the Truchaud and Laforge families.

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a supplied copy.)

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