Tag Archives: Mystery

Book Review:  The Bride Wore Dead.  A Josie Tucker Mystery by EM Kaplan

 

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What I liked.

The writing is top notch.  An interesting story about interesting people told in a very interesting fashion.  What more could one ask for?  There are so many things to like about the main character Josie Tucker.  This is an important aspect for me in most novels.  It is paramount for me in the mystery genre.  I have to care about the people involved if I’m going to spend any time with them.  I need to care most about the protagonist if I’m going to identify with him or her.  So I was all in with Josie.

What I didn’t like.

To say that Josie treats herself in a less than healthy way is a major understatement.  This is a character flaw that defies the instinct of self preservation.  I’d describe her as practicing the virtue of self denial like a Tibetan monk.  She has the career planning of a  compulsive gambler in Vegas, and combines that with the health maintenance planning of Evel Knievel.  Let’s hope that her palm shows such a long lifeline that she’ll be around for many books to come.

What you should know.

The second book is available now if you like the first one, and you’ll like the first one.  Dim Sum Dead Some.  If you devour that morsel don’t dispair Dead Man on Campus arrives August 15th.

Recommendation.  A must read.

Review:  Getaway

Getaway by Lisa a Brackmann.  This is the first novel of her new series. The next book, Go-Between comes out in July.

What I liked.

This is what Frantic should have been and possibly could have been with better writing.  There is serious realistic peril for a vacationer in Mexico.  My emphasis is on the word realistic.  I was willing to go down this rabbit hole only because it was so believable.  Having vacationed in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and visited numerous places in Mexico, I’m familiar with the territory.  It was enjoyable to see Vallarta from a literary point of view.  This trip was both fun and affordable!

The story. I have read and recommend all of the Ellie McEnroe novels which take place in China.  Getaway comes across as a completely different story.  The tone and pacing are so disparate I wouldn’t know it was the same author if her name wasn’t written on the cover.  I found the story enthralling.  I liken it to the classic idea of the American travelling abroad, unaware of the risks associated with living without the protections of the Bill of Rights and faith in the criminal justice system.  It isn’t an original concept. Yet in the hands of Brackmann the payoff is in how she unveils each episode.  The tension builds and with each passing hour fears are stoked, until the climactic conclusion.

What I didn’t like.

There are no tidy resolutions.  Kinda like real life.  It is messy. Perhaps readers won’t mind that though.  Add to it the chance the next book will tie up all those loose ends.  Something I look forward to.

What you should know.

If you like violent novels this is for you.  Smart, serious, suspense.

Recommendation: Must Read

 

Review: Blood Defense

Blood Defense by Marcia Clark.

This is the author’s first novel of a series involving a criminal defense attorney named Samantha Brinkman.  You can read her Rachel Knight prosecutor series here.

What I liked:

The protagonist.  Samantha’s not so law abiding approach to the world was so refreshing. I also appreciated her professional approach to her vocation, it wasn’t about money, it was about doing the right thing the right way.  This is also a no nonsense, courageous protagonist.  That is the way I prefer them to be when I see them as the ‘hero’.  The interesting aspect of Samantha is that her personal life is non-existent.  Under the circumstances her work absorbs all of her life.  The intriguing part is that this missing piece does not detract from the story.  I imagine later tomes will add that dimension.  She is unmarried, and as such the only personal interaction she has is with her parents, and those are priceless.

The plot twist.  I found the twist to be unique and compelling – no spoiler though, find out for yourself, it is worth it.  I will say this, the description of the emotional impact of the revelation pulls the reader into the story and holds you.  That’s a major reason why we read novels, and this one delivers.  Could you imagine yourself in that situation?  What would you think?  How would you react under the circumstances?

The mystery.  This, of course like many of the genre, is a who done it.  There is a very delicate balance every mystery author must maintain in order for the mystery to both drive the story and keep up a plausible enough level of suspense to engage readers. And this works only to the degree that there is an investment of interest made validating the notion that anyone cares what happens.  This is not an easy task.  It is in my opinion the element that separates the real mystery authors from the pretenders.  Clark demonstrates her chops in this regard.

What I didn’t like:

I am one of those nitpickers.  I confess!  So I’ll ask.  How does a violent crime victim who has never gotten justice become a criminal defense attorney?  Why?  So she can sandbag all her cases and get her clients convicted?  I think not.  I just cannot reconcile the contradiction.  There is more to be mined on this subject but that the author only skims the surface.  I say ‘no go’.  Why touch so lightly on something so worthy of proper focus?  Samantha has nightmares.  Well?  I don’t think it can be mentioned, as often as it is, without going into detail about the cause and effect.

What you should know:

Amateur psychologists will revel in this smorgasbord of mental disorders – narcissism, sociopaths, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, while seeing them play out in the lives of the people who are forced to live with them.  The scene is Los Angeles, and pop culture is a main character.  Kudos to making reference to the current political upheaval involving the presidential election.

Recommendation:  Must Read

 

Review: Dragon Day

Dragon Day by Lisa Brackmann.

This is the author’s third novel with heroine Ellie McEnroe and although it is my least favorite, I still regard it as good read.

What I liked:

The setting.  For those of us who travel less, it is a treat to see exotic places like China through the eyes of a gifted storyteller.  This setting is very much a prominent character, making the experience even more enjoyable.

The family.  How people relate to family in a novel can often be as important as the plot.  It provides readers with a safe place to address their own familial challenges without the requisite emotional baggage.  It doesn’t just make characters more real and relatable.  Because when a reader engages with a character vicariously, another level of interaction arises, leaving a lingering impact in the mind, one that germinates upon further reflection, such that ideas fully form and take hold, allowing for the possibility of personal growth.  Brackmann’s fictional family is an entertaining gift for readers to treat with surrogate care.

The departure.   This adventure introduces an entirely new set of players into Ellie’s world.  While some favorites return, others fade into the background.  It is a fresh, if not completely independent sequel to the previous two tales.  Getting to know the new faces raises the mystery quotient I’m happy to say.

What I didn’t like:

Ellie has a slight personality change.  She remains the damaged PTSD combat casualty, struggling to find herself and her place in the world.  However this version is so fraught with uncertainty about whom she should trust and what the consequences of her choices might be, her paralysis of analysis becomes off putting.  She still doesn’t heed the advice of those who care for her as always.  Which makes me wonder, why all the kvetching if she’s going to do things her way in the end?

What you should know:

This is adults only fare in my opinion. The threat of violence permeates throughout.  There are mature themes, however the language is moderately colorful.

Recommendation: Good Read

Murder At Cirey

A freshly reviewed mystery

Brayton's Book Buzz

Murder at Cirey_Cheryl Sawyer_Cover and text

By Cheryl Sawyer

Cheryl Sawyer_authpic

http://www.cherylhingley.com

NOTE: Before I proceed with the review I wish to compliment Ms. Hingley on her email request. It was one of the main reasons I chose to accept this book for review. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I hesitate when it comes to historical mysteries even if they include real people. However, the email that introduced Ms. Sawyer and her book to me was a fine example of how, I think, request letters should be written. It made a fine attempt at connecting with the reviewer and gave a bit of her writing history, then gave an extended back cover blurb about the book. It also gave me a link to her website. So often I see a short one or two sentence email with the casualness of, “Hey, would you want to read and review my book?” No intro, no blurb, and the author…

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Excerpt from the South Hills Conspiracy

Lenticular05“So, Mr. Powell, tell me your story again,” Samantha said.  She was readjusting her gear in preparation for the next climb.  Her climbing partner Stacie was working similarly on the other side of the tent.  Andrew thrust his fists into his pockets where hand warmers embraced them with intense heat.  He’d spent the last hour trying to explain his presence without jeopardizing the chances of gaining Samantha’s cooperation.  Her reaction was tending towards skepticism so far.

“David and I work at the college together.  The chancellor asked me to find him.  He’s heading up a research project that is very important to us and it is nearing a very critical phase.  Since he left unexpectedly without leaving a method for contacting him, I was sent to do it the old fashioned way, in person.”  Not knowing just what Samantha knew about David or his work, Andrew was taking a risk by fabricating part of his story.  But standing near the top of the mountain he felt he had to play every card in his deck now that he’d found his only lead.  Failing to put Samantha’s piece of the puzzle in place could result in Andrew’s investigation coming to an abrupt end.

“And he sent you why?”

“She, Marie Marisol, thought I’d be a quick and inexpensive option.  For starters I know David.  I also have experience finding people.  Add to that the fact that I’m relatively free during the summer term.”

“What kind of experience?” Stacie asked.  She had been quietly but attentively listening since they’d met.  Now her curiosity was apparently piqued by what he’d said.

“He’s a cop.  I recognized your name.  Aren’t you the Police Chief of South Hills PD?” Samantha asked.  Andrew could see that Stacie was now giving him her full attention.

“I used to be.  I’m retired from law enforcement now.  I work at the police academy which is run under the auspices of the college, my current employer.”  Andrew pulled his hands out of his pockets and held his palms open.  Years of experience had taught him that if he was going to be able to establish rapport and build trust quickly, then his time to strike was now.  Otherwise he might never succeed, even after the considerably longer investment of time that would have to be spent in the relationship.

“So after talking with family and friends my search has narrowed down to Samantha being the only person known to possibly be able to help locate David.  We really appreciate any information you could give us.  Anything at all, no matter how trivial, I’d like to know.”  Andrew sat down on a cot and leaned on his elbows.  Body language was a key tool for interrogators and he was careful with his now – lower the tension, hide any indication of desperation – but keep the conversation moving forward on the subject of David’s whereabouts.

Samantha, however, was clearly resistant as she asked, “If you’re saying David is missing, shouldn’t the police be involved?”

“The South Hills PD does have a missing persons case open.  I am acting on their behalf.  The current chief Kenneth Hand will confirm that if you call the number on his card here.”  Andrew handed the card to Samantha who looked over at Stacie.

“So,” Stacie began, “the department found no evidence of criminal or suspicious activity at David’s home and there were no hits from his credit cards or cell phone I take it?”

“No.”

Stacie nodded at Samantha and Andrew detected an unspoken message passing between them.

Samantha asked, “Why not just wait to hear from him?  I assume that is what happens typically in these cases.  He knows the importance of the project obviously since he’s in charge of it.”

Everything about his police instincts told Andrew that something was not right about Samantha’s reluctance to accept him.  After years of dealing with interested parties an officer could recognize distinguishable patterns of behavior.  Innocent or uninvolved witnesses did not act the way Samantha had.  As sure as he was about Samantha’s behavior Andrew was also as sure that he had to get something out of her or all his efforts so far would be for naught.

“Well there is that yes,” he said calmly, slowing the pace of conversation, “But I’d hate to think that David might be in a situation where it’s not possible.”

“You aren’t suggesting that David is either in danger or has been harmed, is that correct?” Stacie asked.

“That is correct.” Andrew answered.  He was trying to plant a seed without pressing down too hard on the earth above it.  The question remained as to whether he had added the right amount of water.

Samantha appeared to have lost some color.  Her eyes widened and she folded her arms tight around her.  “Well what do you think?  What should I do?”  She was speaking to Stacie but pacing back and forth while doing so.

“I don’t know Sam.  But if it were my brother, husband or boyfriend, and he was missing under similar circumstances, I’d want somebody like Andrew here to care enough to come all this way to find him.  I like that in a man.”

Hearing those words caused Andrew to again take notice of this impressive woman.  A mystery lay there he thought, and well hidden.  He was motivated to stay around long enough to uncover those secrets.  If for no other reason than the fact there was so much more to her that Andrew found attractive.  Andrew stood, walked over to Stacie and smiled as he bowed before her.

“This is what I can tell you, Andrew is it?  I don’t know where David is or how to reach him.  I am expecting to meet him in three days though I can’t tell you where.  That leaves you with two choices in my view.  You can go home and wait until I meet David, and then let him decide whether or not to call you, but your problem is solved knowing you’ll eventually hear from him.  Or you can tag along with us and see him when we do.”

Andrew turned back towards Samantha as she spoke that last sentence and uttered the only reply he could think of, “Thank you.”

Excerpt from The South Hills Conspiracy

image“I got a job offer.”
Vera having brokered the deal, Andrew found himself making nice in a fancy restaurant for the obligatory dinner celebrating Jesse’s culmination. He’d been introduced to and seated across from Jesse’s date, Angela. He was contemplating her neon red miniskirt with matching tube top, one inch nails and lip gloss, as she sat beside Jesse, who was looking at Vera, but very much speaking to Andrew.
“I didn’t realize that you had interviewed,” Andrew said, nor applied he thought. “Tell us about it.”
“The California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement wants me as a Special Agent.” Jesse glared at Andrew.
“Impressive,” Andrew chose the diplomatic route, ignoring the invitation to confront his son or doubt his veracity. “That sounds quite unusual, a state investigation agency hiring directly from a local academy.” Andrew turned to Angela and tried to control the tension by including her in the exchange. “How is your pasta?”
“Delicious thank you. I just love shrimp.”
Seated in a mahogany booth behind red velvet drapes, the foursome was elevated above the main dining room. Andrew loved the privacy afforded by the layout almost as much as the food at Hamilton’s, which featured steak. As the odor of garlic emanating from her plate made his eyes begin to water, Andrew’s doubts about Angela grew with each passing minute.
“I guess it would,” Jesse continued, ignoring the culinary review. “You know how LAPD runs that undercover program in the L.A. Unified School District?”
“I did when I worked there,” Andrew replied modestly, having once supervised it and personally run the training program for field officers.
“Well it has done so well they want to do something like it at State College.”
“Who are they?”
“The Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Team. It’s a task force,” he added, presumably for the women at the table.
“Undercover?”
“Undercover.”
“Right here?”
“Right here.”
Andrew let out a slow whistle. Vera smiled at first, then her face went blank when Andrew did’t speak. Andrew realized that being at State College, the largest public university, as well as the closest to South Hills, a private institution, meant that Jesse would be nearby. He wondered if he was the only one capable of understanding the danger involved.
“Let me be clear, Jesse. You are going undercover as a NARC on a campus with over 40,000 students, within walking distance from South Hills?”
“Is there a problem?”
“South Hills, where you just finished the police academy, where you went to high school, where Angela and God knows how many people know you…”
“Hey, hold up.”
“…Where any number of them know who I am.”
“What’s that have to do with me?”
“Andrew,” Vera tried, putting a hand on his arm.
“Jesse,” she added, looking very flustered.
“So I guess you didn’t calculate the likelihood that your cover could be blown with such a high probability of being recognized?”
Jesse looked at Vera, then Angela. He could only have seen what looked like obvious concern from both. He turned toward Andrew but his eyes were cast down at the table.
“So what are you saying, I can’t take the job?”
“No. I’m not telling you what you can or cannot do. What I will say is that I wonder how careful you can be, under the circumstances, when you bring the whole covert operation up, in casual conversation, at a restaurant.”
Jesse stood, set his napkin down and walked from the room. Angela swallowed some shrimp and scampered after him, touching Vera on the shoulder with one hand, as the other clawed the hemline of her skirt in a futile attempt at modesty. Vera turned and looked at Andrew with her mouth open.
“What?” He raised both hands, like a suspect being held at gunpoint, and waited.

Famous Writers I Recommend

Famous Writers I Recommend

Tana French

I’d like to share examples of what I feel are really entertaining storytelling.  Sure, there is an abundance of good literature out there.  But I like what I like, and I know what I like.  I have three personal favorites, and many more that I admire and respect.  Those of us who have role models we use to help us get better – I include here, even if it means aiming HIGH.

Famous Writers I Recommend

Famous Writers I Recommend

Philip Kerr

I’d like to share examples of what I feel are really entertaining storytelling.  Sure, is an abundance of good literature out there.  But I like what I like, and I know what I like.  I have three personal favorites, and many more that I admire and respect.  Those of us who have role models we use to help us get better – I include here, even if it means aiming HIGH.