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Icon Feel Your Power by Bill Stackhouse

Icon Feel Your Power” is the second in the “A Caitlin O’Rourke Mystery” series by Bill Stackhouse. Stackhouse also has 5 mysteries in the “Ed McAvoy Mystery Series” and is in the process of writing three novels in “The Chronicles of Padraig Clochadubh” series. For most of Stackhouse’s career he wrote scripts for promotional and training videos for NASA, the Army and the Corps of Engineers.

“Icon” features a former women’s volleyball star from an Italian league, Caitlin O’Rourke, who retired home to Nashville to start a “Confidential Inquiries” practice and to live over the Irish pub owned by her brother, Seamus and his wife, Mary Grace (better known as “Herself.”) She also has a brother, Pat, who works for the Nashville Police Department.

Caitlin is not the usual female mystery lead: she is over 6 feet tall and powerfully built. Like most women, however, she likes clothes and she has a closet full of designer fashions that she now doesn’t have much use for. When she is not sleuthing, she can normally be found in a corner of the bar hanging with her brother, Pat, in her apartment playing with her cat, W.B., driving around in her Mercedes names Mitzi, or playing pick-up B-ball or V-ball games. On Friday and Saturday nights she attends ceili nights at the Kehough Irish Pub participating in Irish dancing and listening to the music and poetry that bring in the crowds each weekend.

In this particular story, Caitlin is asked to use teaching an awkward middle school girl to play basketball as a front to discover who is framing the girl’s mom for stealing valuable religious icons from the woman’s mother-in-law and hiding these icons in findable locations. The Parisio family is in the import-export and the gaming businesses and have been known to strong-arm neighborhood bar and restaurant owners into taking contracts on their systems.

In fact, Little Stevie, the husband of Caitlin’s employer, Allison Parisio, is presently in prison serving an 8 year sentence for firebombing an establishment that didn’t take one of the gaming systems. (Of course, Allison believes he was framed.) The question is, is Allison now being framed, or is she so insanely unstable that she needs to be locked up in a mental institution? Her family obviously, believes the latter, while Allison and Allison’s daughter, Michelle, believe she is being framed. At first, Caitlin doesn’t know what to believe and sets out to nanny-cam the house in order to catch who is taking the art objects and jewelry.

Things quickly escalate to arson and murder when Allison’s mother-in-law is found dead and her room torched. The outcome is fairly predictable as mystery plots go, but there is plenty of action and some tense moments that lead up to the unveiling of the real killer.

Caitlin essentially makes a pact with the devil in order to make sure everyone receives their just rewards. Caitlin’s brother Pat catches on to that fact and is severely critical. I have a feeling that in some later book that unholy pact will come back to bite Caitlin. It is a character flaw and definitely one of her less admirable traits that she will use any means to get to a “just” end result.

Caitlin is a complex, unique character, and the story is set in a refreshingly different location. Nashville has not been a hotbed for mystery settings, and yet it is obvious that there is a rich diversity of ethnic groups, businesses and industries to provide an endless variety of plots and characters.

Let’s raise a hearty draught of Guinness to the Caitlin O’Rourke mystery series!

Liz Nichols

(This work was reviewed from an author-supplied copy.)

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Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark

Guilt by Association” is Marcia Clark’s first novel, and no doubt will not be the last in a series about LA’s smart and unconventional assistant DA, Rachel Knight.  I am sure that there is more than a little of the real Marcia Clark in Knight’s personality.  Knight’s actions are probably what Clark only wishes she could have done during her years in the LA DA’s Office.

This is an unusually well-written and well-edited mystery for a first time effort.  The plot is also very complex and well paced with story arcs that make the book move along well, especially in the last third as Knight and her side-kick, Detective Bailey Keller, begin to piece together the puzzle.

The story begins with a shocker from the start.  A fellow DA is found dead with an equally dead male teenage prostitute in a seedy downtown LA motel.  Murder-suicide is suspected.  All of the people in the DA’s office are appropriately shocked and disbelieving that their co-worker, Jake, could have been involved in such a nasty situation as to have killed in response to being blackmailed.  Rachel and Bailey decide to investigate on the sly, despite being specifically warned to stay off the case.

Meanwhile, Rachel and Bailey are assigned to find and prosecute the rapist of a Pacific Palisades doctor’s daughter.  The father thinks the rapist is a gang-banger his daughter has tutored and is putting political pressure on the DA to get the case resolved.

No one knows both sides of LA, the gritty and the posh, like Marcia Clark.  Her knowledge of the city and her insight on human nature comes out clearly in the descriptions and characterizations in “Guilt by Association.”

What does bother me a little bit, however, is that Rachel is constantly in the field doing ride-alongs with Bailey and interviewing potential suspects and witnesses. I may be wrong, but my impression of what a DA does is that they prosecute cases and arraign alleged criminals.  A DA in a busy office like LA’s is not going to have the time to spend days on end riding along with the cops, even when the case they are supposedly trying to break is a politically charged one.  They also would not have the time to devote to solving a case that hasn’t even been assigned to them.

Mind you, Rachel would not be nearly as interesting a character if all she were doing was trying cases and writing out search warrants.  The action is on the streets with the cops.  I just think it would have been more realistic for Rachel to be another detective, not a DA.  Being such a Lone Ranger in the DA’s office may have gotten her rewarded on this case, but she takes such liberties with the law that she is likely in the near future to “wind up an ostrich farmer” as she tells the guy who is her budding love interest, Detective Graden.  I can’t see how the chain of command in the DA’s office would put up with it.

If I suspend belief a little bit about what one can get away with being a district attorney in Los Angeles, Marcia Clark’s new mystery works for me, and she should have a long and even more successful career as a writer than she had as a DA.

Here’s a YouTube video of Marcia Clark on this book:

 

Liz Nichols

King’s Gold by Michael Jecks

King’s Gold” is the latest of many in Michael Jecks’ “A Knights Templar Mystery” series.  It is set in London and the Cotswolds area of England in in 1326 and 1327. It is based around the historical events that took place when Edward II was forced to abdicate to his more competent son, Edward III.  Both men had loyal cadres of knights, but eventually, the ones loyal to the old king, later known as Edward of Caernarfon, eventually were defeated and many lost their lives.

The mystery begins with the murders of two innocent young people during a riot that occurred in London following the capture of Edward II.  A young Italian banker, Matteo Bardi, is also injured. One of Edward II’s loyal knights, Hugh Despenser, brings a chest with his treasury for safe storage at the church in the village of Willersey and then is promptly captured and tortured to death.

Edward II is taken to the castle at Kenilworth as a captive of a lord loyal to the new king, but Edward is allowed to have a few loyal knights to stay in the compound in order to protect the former king from any assassination plot. He is later taken to the castle at Berkeley.

The priest from Willersey, Father Luke, decides that he must take the treasure from the former king’s dead knight to Edward as the rightful heir of this wealth.  He travels with a carter from the village who is bringing supplies to Kenilworth.  They accumulate some knights along the way who seem to be interested in finding a way to break Edward II out of Kenilworth.

The author, who lives in the Dartmoor area of England, is an expert on medieval England, especially Cornwall and Wales and he weaves a lot of realistic social history into his fictional tale.

I thoroughly enjoy this period of history, and Jakes has spun a tale of intrigue and deception that will keep the reader guessing until the very end. “King’s Gold” is very much recommended for historical mystery lovers who enjoy the medieval period.

Liz Nichols

 

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The Feng Shui Detective Goes West by Nury Vittachi

I received a review copy of “The Feng Shui Detective Goes West” by Sri Lankan author now living in Hong Kong, Nury Vittachi.  This is the second of the “Master Wong Mystery” series. I spent a couple of entertaining evenings reading this quirky and funny mystery that was released on November 16 by Felony & Mayhem Press.

Master Wong is an old-fashioned Chinese sleuth who resides in Singapore.  He is what in the West we’d consider superstitious, but in the East would be considered wise in the ways of feng shui or positive energy.  He aligns the environment surrounding his clients, their schedules, associates, etc. in order to bring balance and positive energy in their lives.  In the process he often discovers misdeeds that he can resolve.

Wong is not a fan of Europeans and Americans, but he puts up with them when he needs the cash, and in this story he needs the cash fast.  He takes on a job to evaluate the feng shui of the world’s first flying office, a British aircraft called Skyparc and then agrees to take its maiden voyage from Singapore to London, along with his assistant, in order to perform a feng shui analysis of one of the royal palaces in the UK for “Mrs. Windsor” the Queen. Wong’s introduction to HRH Elizabeth will either leave you in stitches or cringing over the faux pax.

Along the way he solves who killed one of the BM Petroleum officials who had an office at Skyparc and he saves the aircraft from destruction in a rather thrilling move.

Master Wong is a unique and refreshing addition to the world of sleuths and I will look forward to reading more from this series.

Liz Nichols

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Wanna Get Lucky? by Deborah Coonts

Deborah Coonts catches the zany, always “on” flavor of Las Vegas with her third “Lucky O’Toole Vegas Adventure.”  Deborah Coonts lives in Las Vegas where she writes, has practiced law, and seems to be into the kind of mischief that only Las Vegas can offer.

Wanna Get Lucky?” is certainly offers a weird and wonderful assortment of characters.  The regulars include the staff of the Babylon Resort along the Strip in Las Vegas, including Lucky O’Toole, the head of customer relations for the hotel.  Lucky also seems to be in charge of security and in that role runs into a lot of unusual situations such as examining why a person has fallen out of a company plane and has died, how to handle a completely naked and drunk guest who passed out in the stairwells and how to nicely head off guests who want to bring their pet exotic animals into their hotel rooms.

Lucky also has to deal with the wildlife of a human kind.  In this adventure the hotel is hosting a convention for swingers where the highlight of the convention will be a large exhibit of sex toys and live sex demonstrations in a darkened gym. Only in Vegas, baby!

The murder to be resolved comes up very early in the book when Lucky notices a person falling from one of the hotel’s sightseeing planes into the pirate lagoon of the Treasure Island resort.  The tape taken by the news broadcast station is mysteriously missing, and when it is found it shows a known blackmailer, Felicia Reilly, along with the Big Boss and a now missing pilot from the Babylon, in the plane with the girl who plummets to her death, Lyda Sue.

Lucky learns of a plot to discredit the Big Boss and take him out of the resort in favor of a Las Vegas has-been mogul, Irv Gittings.  Is Gittings the real mastermind behind Lyda Sue’s demise?

The plot is simple and it doesn’t take much sleuthing for Lucky to unravel all of the tangled threads of the plot.  She’s very efficient at it, with the help of side-kicks like her assistant, Miss Patterson, her love-interest, cross-dresser and entertainer, Teddie Kowalski, a new police detective, Romeo, and a new guy in Security Lucky doesn’t totally trust, Dane Paxston.  Throw in occasional interaction with Lucky’s Parumph bordello-owning mother, Mona, and heart-to-heart talks with Big Boss, Albert Rothstein, and the book is just full of amusing characters who’s stories are all developed in tremendous detail.

What I particularly love about the book, in addition to the zany humor, are the descriptions of the people and the places in and around Las Vegas.  It is a totally unique place with a totally unique cast of characters running day to day life in the city that never sleeps.  So much is packed in to this novel that it made me exhausted just reading it cover to cover.

A warning to mystery fans:  This book is about 1/3 mystery and 2/3 romantic novel.  For those who prefer to bypass the chick lit, this may not be your cup of tea.  But for the ladies (and gents) who enjoy a little guilty pleasure during your down time, “Wanna Get Lucky?” may just be a turn-on.

Liz Nichols

 

 

 

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A Pizza to Die For by Chris Cavender

A “Pizza to Die For” is the third in A Pizza Lovers Mystery series by the author with the pseudonym of Chris Cavender.

My feelings about this particular series haven’t changed.  The plot is pretty basic.  In this case a new pizza place opens a couple blocks from Eleanor Swift’s A Slice of Delight pizzeria and the owner of the new shop is promptly killed.  Eleanor and her sister, Maddy, are prime suspects and she investigates to clear her name.  She gets to know the backer of the deceased competitor, local recluse, Nathan Sizemore.  The other suspects seem to be people who have an interest in inheriting the Sizemore riches when the old man dies including Gina Sizemore, the sister of the deceased.  Most of the suspects are just red herrings and are quickly dismissed.  I guessed the real killer about half way through the book.

There is not much character development in these books.  The characters are all pretty stereotypical and one-dimensional.  Eleanor is likeable, but what can you do in the limited time she has available as the owner and chief cook in a busy pizzeria.  The limited flexibility in the schedule combined with the extremely small town location make for rather limited plot development.  Cavendar gets around this in a way by including a local crime boss as Eleanor’s friend and sometime protector.

The Art Young crime boss figure is jarringly out of place in such a small rural southern town.  Maybe in the Hamptons or upstate New York, but a mountain town in North Carolina? I don’t think so.

This is a light, fast read that may amuse some mystery readers and especially those who like cooking themes.

Liz Nichols

 

 

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The Alpine Vengeance by Mary Daheim

The Alpine Vengeance” is about number 22 in the Emma Lord Mystery series.

Lord is the editor and publisher of a small town weekly newspaper, “The Alpine Advocate,” in a Washington community in the Cascade foothills that once existed, but is now a figment of the author’s imagination. A lot of the characters would be familiar to anyone who has lived or grew up in a small town– or possibly those who listen to Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” every week.

The book acknowledges that print newspapers are on the endangered species list, and there is a lot of competition between the staff of the Advocate and the owner of the local radio station who loves to do live interviews and scoop the paper.  Fortunately for Emma and the Advocate, she is romantically linked (it’s a rather open community secret) with the local sheriff, Milo Dodge, and he can’t stand the guy who runs the radio station, Spencer Fleetwood.

One of the most interesting characters is Vida Runkel, the local gossip columnist.  Not much gets past Vida.  So typically small town! She’s Emma’s side-kick.

The plot of this Emma Lord Mystery is that anonymous letters claiming the innocence of a convicted killer triggers Emma’s attempt to discover whether the guy convicted of the crime was actually innocent.   At the same time, a recluse who is a talented painter is found hurt and the sheriff and Emma make the possible link to a poacher who has been cutting down maple trees in the national forest.  On the other hand, could the injury of Craig Laurentis be related to the framing of Larry Petersen for the murder of his sister ten years earlier?  Craig doesn’t remember and just wants to be left alone.  Emma is one of the few people who he will even talk to.

There’s enough intertwined complexity in the plot lines to make “The Alpine Vengeance” a puzzler almost to the end.  The descriptions of the place and the people are also complex and entertaining.  Of course, Daheim has had over 20 books to develop this cast of characters.  By now they must seem like family to her.

I’ll look forward to the next episode in the lives of the people from Alpine.

Liz Nichols

 

 

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The Sandburg Connection by Mark de Castrique

Mark de Castrique, a native of North Carolina, is a film-maker and novelist specializing in stories from the Appalachian mountains.  “The Sandburg Connection” is the third in his Sam Blackman Mystery series.  It became available to the public on October 4.

De Castrique weaves a mystery around the historical home of Carl Sandburg, Connemara, where he produced many of his later works. Many of the details, including some of the characters who appear in the book, are real.  The premise of the book, that Sandburg found a song written by the original owner of Connemara pointing to a Confederate treasure, De Castrique notes is his own invention– and a clever one at that!

Ashville PI, Sam Blackman and his partner, Nakayla Richardson, are following up on a routine insurance fraud case when they discover the woman they have been observing, Janice Wainwright, has fallen (or was pushed) from a mountain top overlooking Connemara. Sam is briefly suspected of foul play as the one who finds the victim, and as someone who has been tailing the woman.

Blackman and Richardson soon change sides from working for the insurance consortium and begin to work for Wainwright’s daughter to gather evidence for a wrongful death claim against the doctor who botched Wainwright’s back surgery, or the drug manufacturer of the pain medication that may have caused Wainwright to fall.  When someone else is killed it begins to look as if perhaps Wainwright was also murdered.  Such a finding would hurt the chances of Wainwright’s daughter, Wendy, from collecting on the wrongful death case from the deepest pockets.

This is a unique story with interesting, somewhat eccentric characters who catch the flavor of living in this unique part of the South.  I particularly found the way Wendy, Sam and Nakayla relate to Wendy’s pregnant Nubian goat, Ida Mae, from the Connemara herd amusing and endearing.

This is a well written tale that will please readers well beyond the borders of Appalachia.

A review copy was received in order to review “The Sandburg Connection.”

Liz Nichols

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Bad Intentions by Karin Fossum

Bad Intentions” is a police procedural and psychological thriller in the  “Inspector Sejer Mystery” series by Norwegian author, Karin Fossum.

Konrad Sejer and his partner, Skarre, must discover how a mentally ill patient at a hospital psych ward let out for a weekend with his two best friends ended up several hundred meters off-shore drowned in a lake called Dead Water. The victim, Jon Moreno, did not show signs of being suicidal when he left the institution, and he did seem anxious about leaving his new-found girl friend to go off with these particular friends, Axel and Reilly.

The reader knows what happens early on.  The investigative team has suspicions, but no real proof, until they find the body of another young man in another lake, a man who had been missing for several months. The tension is palpable in this tightly written thriller right from the first chapter, and it keeps getting even stronger as the book goes on.

The best thing about the book is its focus on bringing these flawed characters to life by delving deep into their inner-beings.  Jon’s diary is one of the vehicles used to get to know the tragic Jon and his morally barren friends. Jon’s mother, the investigators, and Jon’s girl friend Molly all shed perspective on the inner nature of these three young men. Each gets worked up and “psyched out” about what they have done and what is going to happen to each of them if they tell the truth.

Each young man has a very different reaction to the situations that unfold.  Jon becomes anxious and blames himself; Reilly turns to drink, drugs and a kitten; Axel denies even to himself that he bares any blame in either boys’ death.  Axel sees the only solution as each agreeing to a pact to never reveal any of the details and he is upset as he sees the other two break down.

The question remains, did anyone actually responsible for the deaths of these young men, or were they just unfortunate accidents that got covered up? Is the crime the cover-up or the deaths?

A fascinating read.

Liz Nichols

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Review of The Lord of Death by Eliot Pattison

“The Lord of Death” is the 6th in Eliot Pattison’s Shan mystery series.  He is the Edgar Award-winner for his first Shan novel, “The Skull Mantra.”

Shan Yao Tun is an undocumented Chinese exile in Tibet living under a brutal Chinese regime.  He has made his living helping with foreign mountain climbing expeditions on Everest and other Tibetan peaks, and yet at any time he can be arrested for being an undocumented alien.

The main mission in this book is to get Shan’s son, Ko, transferred out of the ‘yeti factory,” a hospital prison where the Chinese perform medical and biological experiments on live human subjects, and to get him back into a “normal” prison gulag environment.

Shan also solves a number of mysteries along the way in “The Lord of Death” including solving the deaths of a famous Nepalese climber, a Chinese bureaucrat and a pretty female American climber.

He must also try to save a band of monks who have been rousted from their “gompa” or remote monastery hide-out.  To help the monks escape to Nepal or India Shan had to get the help of an American mountain climbing organizer, some Chinese officals, and even a Tibetan police officer. The trade-offs he had to make with the Chinese officials, especially in order to get his son released from the “yeti factory,” makes for particularly interesting insights into how business is done in occupied Tibet.

Pattison obviously is an excellent scholar of Chinese and Tibetan philosophy and culture, and of Buddhism. He makes it al make sense to the western outsider.

Pattison’s writing is fresh and exciting.  He really makes the reader feel a part of the culture and to emphathize with the people who are trying to survive in a brutal environment and under an intolerant regime.

I want to go back and read others in this series and look forward to reading the next in the saga of Shan and his Tibetan experiences.

Liz Nichols

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