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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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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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The Counterfeit Heiress by Tasha Alexander

Tasha Alexander, author of “The Counterfeit Heiress” seems to have one foot in the Victorian era.  She has a good grasp of the people and places in and around London and Paris during that era, and particularly the world of upper class Victorian women.

When Lady Emily Hargreaves and her husband Colin attend a costume ball in London they are surprised to see another guest in a costume that looks much like Emily’s.  Some guests recognize that party-goer as the world-traveling heiress, Estella Lamar.  The next day Emily learns that the woman she saw at the masked ball has been murdered and is not Lamar at all, but a woman who for some unknown reason was impersonating her.  Who killed the impersonator?  Where is Estella Lamar?

This period mystery is set between London and Paris in 1897.  The Hargreaves are asked to solve this double mystery by one of Lamar’s old friends, Cecile du Lac.  The settings in Paris give this mystery a rather Gothic, noir feel for many of the scenes take place in and around a Paris cemetery and the catacombs under the city.  This is also a psychological suspense story because it delves deeply into the mind of a reclusive young heiress and the actions of her apparent captor.  The chapters jump between the investigation into the murder and the disappearance of Lamar, and chapters that set up the story about Lamar, her captivity and her mental state that leads to some surprising twists and turns in the plot.

The Counterfeit Heiress” is an exceptionally well-crafted and complex mystery that will be enjoyed thoroughly by fans of her Lady Emily Mystery series and many other lovers of fiction set in the late Victorian era.

Liz Nichols

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Remains of Innocence by J A Jance

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.

Highly recommended.

Liz Nichols

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Neurotic November by Barbara Levenson

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.

Liz Nichols

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“Complex 90” by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Complex 90” by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins is due to be released May 7.  Collins was designated by the Spillane estate to finish several novels Spillane had in the hopper when he died.  Collins has stayed true to the hard-bitten Spillane style in this Mike Hammer novel.  This is not a detective novel so much as an espionage thriller.

The setting is 1964 Russia where Hammer, who secretly has a side gig as a black ops agent for the U.S. government, has accompanied a Senator on an international mission.  When he gets involved in a plea by their Russian translator to defect Hammer is detained by the KGB and thrown into a Russian prison.  He manages to escape at the expense of the lives of 45 Russians who try to stop him.  Some American officials are ready to disavow Hammer and send him back to Russia to answer for the deaths during his escape all in the name of detente.  What may keep him out of the hands of the Soviets is if he can identify the whereabouts of some major Soviet spies then the U.S. will have the trading power to keep Hammer out of Soviet hands and to bring home a few other detainees in Soviet prisons.  Hammer walks into the middle of a conspiracy to sell space technology secrets that nearly gets him killed.

Complex 90” is a bit dated in the sense that this is clearly a Cold War novel completed long after the Cold War has ended.  Still, there is no question that espionage still goes on between East and West.  Hammer is still his macho-man self in this thriller, but now instead of viewing women just as sex objects he seems to hold women who are beautiful, smart and accomplished in high regard.  One of those beautiful women is almost Hammer’s undoing. He also works with a black Army MP who is also held in high regard and becomes a real hero in this story.  These are modernizations of the Hammer character that I think Max Collins may have included.

Hammer fans will be glad to see him back in the skillful hands of Max Allan Collins.

Written from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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Hiding in Sunshine by John Stuart and Caitlin Stuart

The Stuarts are a father-daughter team who have written their first novel together, “Hiding in Sunshine.”

The Stuarts use a very cleaver device of actually being characters in their own book.  John starts out as a high tech security consultant named Gavin Brinkley who moves his family from sunny California to the suburbs of Boston and for awhile everyone leads a very nice life.  The two daughters thrive in great schools.  Gavin’s wife, Lisa, enjoys taking care of their McMansion and participating in the social life of Concord, their new community.  Gavin has a business associate, Cate, who lives in Seattle and wishes the relationship with Gavin would grow to something more significant.  Gavin seems oblivious of anything other than the camaraderie of their friendship and their occasional business trips together.

One evening the Brinkley’s are stopped by the Concord police who inform them that they are in danger and must remain in their home under police surveillance until federal agents contact them.  The agent from the Boston FBI who meets with them instructs the Brinkley’s to prepare for immediate departure into the Witness Protection Program. The family is summarily given new identities and a new home in a remote part of Idaho because of the threat that a middle eastern terrorist cell of cyber hackers will kidnap the Brinkleys in order to use or neutralize Gavin’s extensive computer security knowledge.  The Brinkleys eventually have to move again, the second time without even informing the FBI because of a suspected mole in the organization.  Deep undercover the Brinkley-Robertson-Stuart family settles in to making new friends in each community without revealing much of their past.  The family learns to be extremely careful about internet and snail mail communications with the outside world, and yet Gavin manages to make a living beyond the meager witness protection stipend writing code for a manufacturer and orchestrating a contract for ongoing maintenance of this computer program.

The older daughter, Caitlin, eventually asks to go to a private school and ends up at the very school in Concord they lived next to many years before.  She discovers that some imposters have taken over the Brinkley’s identity and their multi-million dollar bank account and she hatches a plot with her dad to get even and gain their original identity back while outwitting the international terrorist group.

While there are some things about the plot that require a little suspended judgment (for instance, that the impostors could take over the lives of the Brinkleys so completely that they could even fool neighbors and friends for years) this cyber-terror thriller is action-packed and fun to read.  The plot is very intriguing and not so far-fetched that similar attacks could happen on the banking system, Wall Street trading, the power grid and other critical elements of 21st century life that would be extremely disruptive and financially catastrophic to millions of people.  The book is a great reminder of how interconnected and plugged in we are not just as a society, but as a world.  The more connected we become, the easier cyber terrorists can take down these networks, and the more devastating such an attack becomes.

Hiding in Sunshine” is a wonderful first novel! Food for thought for everyone who is plugged into life’s modern conveniences.

The book was published October 30, 2012 and was reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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Conversation With Eliot Pattison is on for Tonight!

If you’re a fan of international mystery plots like I am you’ll want to make a point of calling in to hear all about Eliot Pattison and his latest book “Mandarin Gate” at 7 p.m. central time.  Call to 1-218-936-4700 and enter code 5819354 when prompted.  This will be a long distance charge call, but if you have Skype you should be able to get on free if you are in the U.S.  The conversation should last about 90 minutes.

Here’s a little about Eliot Pattison from his publicist, Julia Drake:  “Described as “a writer of faraway mysteries,” Eliot Pattison’s travel and interests span a million miles of global trekking, visiting every continent but Antarctica. An international lawyer by training, he brings his social and cultural concerns to his fiction and has also written several books and dozens of articles on legal and business topics, published on three continents. He is the author of the Edgar award-winning Inspector Shan Series, the Bone Rattler series, and Ashes of the Earth, the first novel in a new dystopian series. But his sentiments for Tibet and the Tibetan resistance run deep. His Inspector Shan books have been characterized as a new “campaign thriller” genre for the way they weave significant social and political themes into their plots. Translated into twenty languages, the books have been adapted to radio dramas and become popular on the black market in China. For more info visit: www.eliotpattison.com

Even if you are not a mystery reader generally, this novel is where fiction meets fact in the area of human rights and the absorption of Tibet by its Chinese overlords.  Those concerned with the treatment of the Tibetan people under Chinese control will want to hear Mr. Pattison’s ideas, experiences and research on this topic.

You can participate by adding your questions to the comment area on this blog.  I will be monitoring the blog this evening and will pick up as many questions as possible for Mr. Pattison to address.  Depending on the number of people on the call (we have 150 lines available) we may try to unmute near the end at least for a few minutes.

One of the reasons I am so interested in Pattison’s Inspector Shan series and in the way he brings to the western world a greater understanding of what is happening within Tibet is that in 2005 I had the privilege to attend an audience with the Dalai Lama.  The powerful presence of this holy leader and the message that he brought of peace and understanding despite the terrible things happening within his own country was astonishing.  I will never forget this experience!

Liz Nichols

 

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Mandarin Gate by Eliot Pattison

Mandarin Gate” is Eliot Pattison’s 7th novel in the Inspector Shan series.  Shan is a fictional character, but through his experiences the reader gets a true-to-life picture of what is happening in modern-day Tibet.  Shan recognizes that China is trying to absorb Tibet “from the inside out” through massive resettlement of ethnic Chinese dissidents and Chinese gangs, herding of nomads into settlement camps where there is little hope of the people being able to produce sufficient food and shelter to live, by sending dissidents to hard labor “gulags,” and locking up Tibetans in reeducation camps for months on end even when their only infraction is being a relative of someone who is considered a dissident.  Spies are everywhere–even in the monasteries and abbeys that serve as a refuge and inspiration for the Tibetan people.  Shan does what he can to uncover injustice and neutralize those who perpetrate atrocities.  He has learned that he cannot always permanently eliminate evil in the world, but he can counterbalance it a little.

In “Mandarin Gate” Shan, the Beijing police officer-turned ditch inspector in exile within remote Lhadrung County in Tibet, teams up with an unlikely ally, a Chinese police lieutenant, Meng Limei.  Meng is assigned to keep order in a resettlement town named Baiyun which is full of dissident former university faculty from Harbin and a cadre of smugglers and thugs originally from the jungles of Yunnan Province.  The resettlement town sits in a valley that includes a monastery on one end and an shrine that is in the process of restoration on the other.  Within the first chapter or two of the book the abbess of the local abbey and two men are violently killed and later that same day Shan’s good friend, the much-revered lama, Jamyang, commits suicide.  Shan believes there is a connection between these deaths and he convinces Meng to help in his investigation, even though her superiors are clearly trying to shovel all of the nastiness under a rug.

As is typical of Pattison’s prose, the book does not include a single unnecessary description or detail.  The spare prose is beautifully written to explain the elegantly complex plot as simply as possible. Descriptions reveal a lot about each character’s personality and motivations with little extraneous or unnecessary dialog.  This suspense novel is so gripping it is almost impossible to put down.  The reader is made to feel as if they have stepped inside a remote Tibetan detention center or a farm house headquarters of the Jade Crows and are ducking punches right along with Shan.  The descriptions in “Mandarin Gate” become vividly real.

For all those who find the Inspector Shan novels enlightening, and for those who care about the plight of the Tibetan people, I have a special surprise.  The MysteryMavenBlog has arranged a teleconference interview of Eliot Pattison for next week, Tuesday, January 15 at 8 p.m. Eastern time (7 Central, 6 Mountain and 5 p.m. Pacific time).   The number is: 1-218-936-4700.  You will be asked to enter the participant access code: 5819354 to get in.  Because we have only 150 lines available you’ll want to get in early.  The call will last no more than 90 minutes. The numbers prohibit our unmuting except possibly at the very end for everyone to say goodnight to our guest author.  If you have questions please put them in to the comments section of this blog and I’ll ask them when I can of our author.  Alternatively, send your comments and questions to me at my email: lizdnichols@gmail.com.  I will add a text box at this site so you have that information available to you on the day of the event, and if you sign up to receive email from my blog you will get a reminder message ahead of the conference time.

Liz Nichols

(Copy of this work was provided for review.)

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Girl Gone by Gillian Flynn

A friend recommended that I read “Girl Gone,” and I’m glad I picked this book up.  It is the most perfectly constructed psychological thriller I have ever read.

The book is almost equally divided by chapters written in the voice of Nick Dunne alternating with chapters written in the voice of his wife, Amy.  They start out as a typical New York professional couple.  She writes quiz questions and he writes articles for a magazine.  Amy is a trust fund child who’s parents capitalized on her childhood by writing the “Amazing Amy” series of children’s books.  The happy marriage storyline ebbs into the unemployed Nick and Amy take over as they become increasingly disillusioned about their marriage.  Then Nick discovers that his mother is sick with cancer and his dad’s Alzheimer’s is getting beyond the ability of his sister, Margo’s ability to cope, so Nick convinces Amy to buy a bar in Nick’s hometown in Missouri and they move.  Amy hates this new life.  Long story short, Amy disappears and Nick is suspected of murdering his wife.  I won’t reveal more of the plot in order to let readers discover the ingenious plot for themselves.

The plot twists and turns as more clues of the alleged murder are revealed.  Nick fervently believes (or is he just trying to make the detectives think he believes??) that his wife is alive and orchestrated everything.  He uncovers a couple of witnesses who were on the receiving end of Amy’s vengeance in the past and that gives him the idea that maybe Amy is playing an elaborate and deadly joke on him.  Or, has Amy actually been kidnapped and held hostage against her will?  One twist after another will keep the reader turning those pages as fast as they can.

I can’t emphasize enough to my mystery reading friends, read “Girl Gone.”

Liz Nichols

 

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