The Button Man – A fast-paced chase to find and stop an obsessed serial killer – #fiction #bookreview

 

The Button Man

A Hugo Marston Prequel

Mark Pryor

(Seventh Street Books - paperback, Kindle)

 

Fans of Mark Pryor’s investigator Hugo Marston will be delighted with this well-written and fast-paced new prequel to The Bookseller, the novel that started the Marston series. Likewise, The Button Man is an excellent place to start reading if you are seeking a new crime fighter to follow through the streets and countrysides of England and France.

The Button Man takes us back to Marston’s troubled early days as chief of security at the U.S. Embassy in London, before he became chief of security at the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

In both cities, Marston has a penchant for going “off the reservation,” so to speak, once he is on a case. Indeed, rather than hang around the embassy grounds, he willingly chases suspects through London, Paris and the English and French countrysides. And, as The Button Man shows, Marston often will ditch protocol, as well as jurisdiction, and risk working alone, free from the bureaucracies of British or French backup, as he moves in for the dangerous showdown.

In The Button Man, the ambassador assigns Marston to protect two well-known Americans while British police investigate them following a highly publicized hit-and-run fatality. But one of the Americans suddenly is found murdered, and the other gives Marston the slip and goes on the run.

When Marston, an ex-FBI profiler, goes after the fugitive, he doesn’t know that his pursuit is about to evolve into something much bigger than he expects. Helped along by secretive young woman with an odd name and by a pheasant-hunting member of the British parliament who’s big on law and order and tight budgets, Marston soon finds himself desperately trying to track down and stop someone different and decidedly more dangerous: an English serial killer who doesn’t agree that the way he murders his victims is a crime.

Si Dunn

Si Dunn’s books include Erwin’s Law and Dark Signals.

 

Halley – This fine, intense #YA novel explores the harsh lives that women and children faced in 1930s rural Georgia – #bookreview

Halley

Faye Gibbons

(NewSouth Books - hardcover, Kindle)

 

Life was tough in the mountains of  northeast Georgia during the Great Depression. And it was particularly hard for women, who had virtually no rights and no say in important matters, especially if they were unmarried. The rural mountain life also was tough for children, who were expected to work hard, always obey, not be heard, and waste no time on enjoyment or fun.

In Faye Gibbons’ excellent new young-adult novel, a hard, unforgiving brand of backwoods religion also holds sway in young Halley’s life. Her father, Jim Owenby, recently has died, and Halley, her mother Kate, and her young brother Robbie have been forced to move in with Kate’s mother and father. Halley’s grandfather, Pa Franklin, is a backwoods fundamentalist preacher who cuts no one any slack. He is quick to judge, criticize, preach, punish and condemn. In his eyes, the road to hell is very short and most people already are on it.

Pa Franklin also takes, or tries to take, any money earned by his wife, his daughter and his granddaughter. And he even reads their mail and sometimes throws it away before they can see it. It is his way, he thinks, of protecting them from their own helplessness.

The author grew up in northern Georgia, in a large mountain family, and she has gotten to know many of the region’s people, mill towns, and other communities. Her central character, Halley Owenby, is fourteen and dreams mainly of getting an education and somehow gaining a level of control over her own life.

The actions and confrontations that unfold in this new book are gritty, intense and sometimes dark. Yet the combined powers of hope, love, honesty and stubborn effort finally shine through and light the way to brighter possibilities for Halley and those around her.

Faye Gibbons is a superb storyteller and writer, with a fine-tuned ear for regional speech, a sharp eye for detail, and an unhidden love for her characters–even the ones who make us shudder, cringe and tighten our fists in frustration at their repeated refusals to listen, think, and change.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halley

Blind Moon Alley – John Florio’s 2nd Jersey Leo novel is a noir knockout – #bookreview

 

 

Blind Moon Alley

A Jersey Leo Novel

John Florio

(Seventh Street Books - paperback, Kindle)

 

Jersey Leo absolutely is a misfit in Prohibition-era, Depression-ravaged Philadelphia. He is a mixed-race albino who works behind the bar at the Ink Well, a speakeasy where the customers include seedy criminals and tough cops looking both for booze and bribes.

Jersey Leo breaks the law every time he pours a drink. He also knows how to use a gun and brass knuckles. And he isn’t above hiding an escaped convict.

Yet he also has genuine notions of right and wrong within his dark world where bread lines and desperation are just around the corner. Mostly, he just wants to stay out of trouble, he claims. “No, I’m not out to rid our streets of crime and corruption. All I want to do is pour some moon, make a little dough, and if the stars align, spend a bit of time with a certain five-foot-two-inch coat checker whose eyes haven’t seen enough of the real world to stop sparkling.”

Of course, that’s not how life works out in Jersey Leo’s underworld, where his street name is “Snowball.” He makes a solemn promise to a cop-killer friend now facing execution in the electric chair, and soon that promise has him running from crooked cops and trying to flee Philadelphia with a speakeasy siren named Myra. She was his grammar-school crush, he’s reasonably sure he loves her again, and he wants to take her to the West Coast, far from the murdering crowd in Philly. Yet there suddenly are more forces and complications at work than Snowball can comprehend or handle once he tries to scrape up their escape money.

Blind Moon Alley, the second Jersey Leo novel, is a thriller rich with thrills–and chills. (The series’ debut novel is Sugar Pop Moon, published last year.) John Florio is a fine writer with a smooth, taut style and tone that quickly bring to mind Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and even Robert B. Parker.  Jersey Leo, however, is not a detective. He is just, in his words, “a genetic milkshake with one too many scoops of vanilla, a piano keyboard with no sharps or flats, a punch line to an inside joke that I’ve never been in on.” He might shoot you if he has to. Or, he might give you his last dollar if he knows you are having a harder time surviving than he is.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

No Stone Unturned and Styx & Stone – An entertaining, engrossing mystery series – #bookreview

No Stone_cover

No Stone Unturned

An Ellie Stone Mystery

James W. Ziskin

(Seventh Street Books - paperback, Kindle)

***

 Styx & Stone

An Ellie Stone Mystery

James W. Ziskin

(Seventh Street Books - paperback, Kindle)

***

 Looking for a new mystery series and investigator to follow? Check out these two engrossing, entertaining novels from James W. Ziskin and Seventh Street Books.

Set in 1960, Styx & Stone, the series debut, and the recently published No Stone Unturned focus on Ellie Stone, a young reporter and photographer working for a small-town newspaper in Upstate New York. She’s struggling to hang onto her first professional job after graduating from the prestigious Columbia Journalism School.

It is a time well before women’s liberation, so Ellie is fighting both to stay afloat and advance  in a career that is still “a man’s world.” Yet, despite the nerve-wracking challenges and the men who fall over themselves as they try to get her into bed, she is glad to have work that doesn’t simply involve “shorthand and fetching coffee.”

Still, Ellie is tired of writing filler copy. She wants to get her hands on some real stories for a change. But she is competing in a male-dominated business and in a male-dominated town where everyone essentially knows everyone else. Thus, everything she does or says is scrutinized and subject to criticism by someone. And she sometimes has a tough time figuring out who really wants to help her and who is just trying to score enough points to make out with her.

Intrepidly, she pushes ahead. And she has a trait born of bravado and curiosity, as well as desperation to keep her job. She is not afraid to confront people and ask questions that others, including the police, have not thought of–or, more dangerously, have not wished to ask.

In Styx & Stone, Ellie leaves Upstate New York long enough to go back home to New York City after her estranged father, a famous Dante scholar and professor, is savagely beaten. The police think he was attacked by burglars, but Ellie is convinced it was a murder attempt and starts asking questions. Soon, another professor is killed, and a second attempt is made on Ellie’s father’s life. Later, he dies of his injuries.

Ellie is so thorough, demanding and even brazen in her probings that, at one point, Detective-Sergeant Jimmo McKeever of the NYPD, complains:  “Are you planning to solve every crime in New York during your stay?” Yet later, while helping her solve the murders,  he concedes a bit awkwardly: “If you were a man, you’d make a good detective.”

Meanwhile, in No Stone Unturned, Ellie is back in Upstate New York, at her newspaper job in the community of New Holland. She is wanting to prove to her boss and her fellow employes that she is a good journalist.

She intends to write  the main, front-page story about a newly discovered murder. But to beat the newspaper’s veteran (and male) crime reporter to the task, she must also solve the murder–quickly.

That means taking dangerous risks and hurriedly confronting powerful people in the community with sharp questions that create more enemies than friends. Along the way, she also must defend herself from being fired from her job. And she must find the inner courage to stick with her fledgling–though currently floundering–newspaper career.

James W. Ziskin’s Ellie Stone is an engaging, intelligent and ambitious young woman who knows both how to fight crime and how to fight her way through many of the historical, social and economic barriers that again restricted American women’s freedoms after World War II.

Si Dunn

Muerte en una estrella – Shooting Star: An excellent, disturbing novel in first English translation – #fiction #bookreview

 

 Muerte-en-una-estrella-350x550

Muerte en Una Estrella – Shooting Star

Sergio D. Elizondo

English Translation by Rosaura Sánchez and Beatriz Pita

(Arte Público Presspaperback)

Available for the first time in English, this excellent and troubling bilingual novel imagines the dying thoughts of two Mexican youths after they were shot by Austin police in March, 1968, apparently while running away from a shouted order to “Halt!”

Originally published in 1984, the novel is a eulogy for Oscar Balboa, 16, and Valentín Rodriguez, 19, who were both unarmed and on leave from Camp Gary, a Job Corps training facility near San Marcos, Texas.

Their deaths occurred during a nationally troubled time that was rife with bigotry and racial discrimination. And Shooting Star gives some important insights into efforts and actions by the Chicano civil rights movement during that time period.

In the novel’s English translation, Oscar Balboa and  Valentín Rodriguez are described as “strutting icons of Raza manhood worthy of a guitar ballad.” And after they are shot, their dying thoughts cover a wide and often moving range of memories, thoughts and impressions. As one example, Oscar remembers coming north from Mexico to work in the fields, and he remembers taking part in farm worker protest marches with his father. Meanwhile, Valentín is not really sure if he has been shot or not, but he knows he cannot move, nor make Oscar hear him. And he feels what he thinks is dew on his back as he recalls some of his own life and his brief time with Oscar.

Shooting Star definitely is worthy of its praise as “a classic” in Mexican-American literature. This excellent first English translation will introduce the author and the book and its insights to many more readers.

Si Dunn

 

The Valley – Estampas del valle: Now in bilingual paperback for the first time – #bookreview

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The Valley / Estampas del valle

Rolando Hinojosa

(Arte Público Press - paperback)

The long-turbulent Texas-Mexico border is in the news once again. So this is a timely moment to introduce or reintroduce readers to the famed Klail City Death Trip Series, fifteen books written by Rolando Hinojosa. The series is in a mythical Texas county on America’s southern frontier, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

The first book in that series, The Valley, introduces readers to life in Belken County, where Anglo Texans and Mexican Texans live side by side, and people die, or encounter death, on nearly every page. Their stories of everyday events, including love, weddings, births, friendships, affairs, discrimination and dying, are told mostly in short, well-written vignettes that cover the time period generally from World War I to 1970.

Arte Público Press recently has published the first bilingual, English-Spanish edition of The Valley, which initially appeared as Estampas del Valle in the early 1970s. And this is a noteworthy literary event for fans of both Hispanic literature and American literature in general.

Rolando Hinojosa’s fictional Belken County has been compared very favorably with William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County and with Gabriel García Márquez’s fictional city, Macondo, in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Klail City is just one of several fictional towns in that appear as settings in Hinojosa’s imaginary county.

Hinojosa has spent his entire–lengthy–writing career bringing new characters, situations and locations to the Death Trip Series. And his books have won numerous prestigious writing awards, including The National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award and, in 1976, the most prestigious prize in Latin American Fiction, Casa de las Américanas, for the best  Spanish American novel. He is now a professor of creative writing at the University of Texas in Austin.

Si Dunn

 

Enemies at Home: A Flavia Albia Novel – A cool detective procedural set in ancient Rome – #mystery #bookreview

 

Lindsey Davis Enemies at Home

 

Enemies at Home

A Flavia Albia Novel

Lindsey Davis

 ( Minotaur Books, hardback, Kindle )

Can a 29-year-old widow make it as a private detective in first century A.D. Rome?

Flavia Albia has some friends in semi-high places. And she has one very important family connection: She is the adopted daughter of Marcus Didius Falco, one of Rome’s best-known “private informers,” the ancient equivalent of a modern private eye.

Flavia has taken over her father’s office, and she keeps needing new cases.  But in the private informer business, it’s “no win, no pay.” So,  she is always on the lookout for a case she can both win and profit from, in a legal system where women have no rights in matters of law and where she must compete with male private informers who do have rights.

Unfortunately, the case that suddenly lands in Flavia’s lap in Enemies at Home does not seem to hold much promise:

“Even before I started, I knew I should say no,” Flavia states at the book’s beginning.

“There are rules for private informers accepting a new case. Never take on clients who cannot pay you. Never do favors for friends. Don’t work with relatives, Think carefully about legal work. If, like me, you are a woman, keep clear of men you find attractive. The Aviola inquiry broke every one of those rules, not the least because the clients had no money, yet I took it on. Will I never learn?”

 Not yet. She meets up with a magistrate, an aedile, named Tiberius Manlius Faustus, with whom she has worked before and finds attractive. (Can “Manlius” be viewed as a Latinized pun on “manly”? Yep.) Faustus has just been assigned to deal with a very complicated case within his jurisdiction, and he needs Flavia’s help to try to sort things out.

A man and his wife have been brutally murdered and robbed, apparently by intruders, and the couples’ slaves have fled to the Temple of Ceres, desperately hoping to get asylum so they can save their lives.

“The slaves got wind of their plight,” Flavia informs us. “They knew the notorious Roman law when a head of household was murdered at home. By instinct the authorities went after the wife, but that was no use if she was dead too. So unless the dead man had another obvious enemy, his slaves fell under suspicion. Whether guilty or not, they were put to death. All of them.”

Flavia’s task, of course, is to attempt to help exonerate the slaves. But Roman law literally is a vicious beast, sometimes. Criminals and those merely suspected of a crime can be thrown to the lions or sewn into large bags along with dangerous animals and dropped into the sea. And that’s just two of the many ways capital punishment can be meted out in the Roman Empire.

Flavia is the slaves’ only hope. And she is armed with nothing but curiosity, questions and bluster, plus some occasional help from the aedile, Manlius Faustus, as she goes where no woman typically has gone before, at least in recent years, in Roman society.

Enemies at Home features a very big cast of characters (spanning two pages at the front of the book). And it is somewhat easy to grow confused by (and a bit wearied of) virtually every male name ending in “-us” and almost every female name ending in “-a.”

For the most part, however, this second Flavia Albia novel is fun and informative reading. Lindsey Davis is a master at moving her characters about in ancient Roman settings. She keeps them both human and limited by the pace, technology, laws and social mores of the Roman Empire (during the reign of the allegedly paranoid emperor, Domitian). Her dialogue often is wickedly sharp and funny, and, except for an occasional Latin word here and there, no effort is made to have the characters speak in any tongue other than modern lingo.

If you have been hoping Falco will reappear and have a cameo role in this new book, be prepared to wait for the next novel in the series and see if he shows up there. Flavia Albia is now her own woman. She emerges strongly from her father’s shadow in Enemies at Home and demonstrates why she also deserves to be known as one of the very best public informers in first-century Rome.

Si Dunn