‘The Secret Life of Anna Blanc’ – This debut murder mystery has everything from comedy to horror – #bookreview

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc

Jennifer Kincheloe

Seventh Street Books  –  paperback, Kindle

 

This feisty debut novel makes the case that it’s tough to be a female detective…especially in 1907.

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc is a clever blending of mystery, murder, and social commentary, along with elements of a comedy of manners and a romantic comedy. There is some horror, too.

The story is set in Los Angeles in the midst of the suffrage movement, when women were seeking the right to vote and trying to win other rights, as well. (Ironically and dishearteningly, some of the early 20th-century women’s struggles remain unresolved more than a century later.)

Anna Blanc is a giddy, naive young woman trying hard to get away from her overprotective father and have some kind of “real” life, a life that does not limit her to being a wife, socialite and perhaps a charity volunteer. But her forceful father keeps very close tabs on her and is trying to marry her off to a suitor who is putting money into Anna’s family’s failing bank.

Using an assumed name and lying that she is married, Anna manages to get hired as a police matron for the Los Angeles Police Department. She is supposed to help work with female prisoners in the male-dominated city jail.

For a while, Anna manages to hide her new employment from her family. But after she discovers that some recent brothel deaths actually have been murders, she soon figures out that the LAPD is not willing, nor caring enough, to investigate them. So, with no detective skills except curiosity and what she has learned while secretly reading crime novels, she decides to investigate the murders herself.

And, in the midst of her inquiries and clue-gathering, she begins to fall in love with someone her father definitely would not approve of—indeed, would disinherit her immediately if he found out.

If you prefer your detective stories classically hard-boiled and served up with stiff drinks of violence and darkness, you might prefer to skip this fine, entertaining debut novel. But if you can handle a murder mystery that ranges in tone from lighthearted to tense to gritty and even eye opening, definitely look into The Secret Life of Anna Blanc.

Si Dunn

Advertisements

GUN STREET GIRL: Detective Sean Duffy is back in action, by popular demand! – #mystery #fiction #bookreview

Gun Street Girl

A Detective Sean Duffy Novel

Adrian McKinty

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

At first glance, “Gun Street Girl” seems like the title for a cheap, unpromising paperback potboiler. But the good news is, it’s actually Adrian McKinty’s latest Detective Sean Duffy mystery.

Readers literally begged McKinty to keep Duffy alive after the novelist finished writing his “Troubles Trilogy,” which features Duffy as a detective in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) during Northern Ireland’s civil and religious unrest and murderous violence in the 1980s.

The new book not only keeps Sean Duffy investigating murders amid great personal danger (he’s a Catholic cop working in a Protestant police station and living, at high risk, in a Protestant neighborhood). The book also brings greater depth and detail to the whys and hows of his character.

At one point, Lawson, a young cop, tells Duffy that he’s “not interested in promotion, I just want to do good for the community.” And Duffy tells him what an older cop, Dickie Bently, told hm during his first month on the job. “Dickie schooled me pretty quick in the ways of getting things done, Lawson. It’s not just ‘doing good,’ sometimes it’s doing bad too for the greater good, Lawson. It’s a bastard of a job.”

Indeed, Duffy sometimes goes well beyond the accepted limits and laws to achieve justice. He often bends or breaks rules, and sometimes he disobeys direct orders, especially when they get in the way of how he investigates.

In Gun Street Girl, Sean Duffy is fighting total burn-out while he tries to solve a grisly double murder and apparent suicide. Yet his investigative work soon starts uncovering very troubling links to high places, both in Great Britain and across the “pond.” Suddenly, danger is everywhere for Duffy, and the risk of assassination–by bomb or by bullet–now is very high. Meanwhile, he and other members of the Carrickfergus RUC must put aside police work occasionally, suit up in with riot gear and shields, and move into the deadly middle between warring Protestants and Catholics in Belfast and surrounding communities. There, they must endure bricks, firebombs, taunts and other threats to earn a little extra money.

If you’ve never read one of the Sean Duffy novels, Gun Street Girl can be a superb place to start. Then you will want to jump back and read the three books in the Troubles Trilogy: The Cold Cold Ground, I Hear the Sirens in the Streets, and In the Morning, I’ll Be Gone.

I have read and reviewed many detective novels, and Gun Street Girl now has emerged as my all-time favorite. I love its depth of character, its hair-trigger settings, its action, its twists and its turns. And I relish Sean Duffy’s dogged belief that justice must be achieved, no matter how tough or dangerous it can be to follow the necessary and ad hoc procedures.

Adrian McKinty is a master mystery writer. I hope his Detective Sean Duffy will stay on the job for a few more books, even if he has to give in to burn-out, retire from the Royal Ulster Constabulary and become a private eye somewhere else–Australia, maybe?

Si Dunn

BLACK KARMA: A White Ginger Novel – Mystery and action in San Francisco’s Chinatown – #bookreview

 

Black Karma

A White Ginger Novel

Thatcher Robinson

(Seventh Street  – paperback, Kindle)

 

Life definitely is not easy for Bai Jiang, San Francisco’s best-known people-finder (souxun). As a beautiful, and single, female investigator, Bai gets hit on a lot, even by her ex-husband. People also try to hit her, shoot her, or otherwise kill her in some way.

Now she is being offered an arranged marriage that supposedly will give her a big stake in a 30-billion-dollar business–but might be a trap. Plus, she has been asked by a San Francisco police inspector to help track down someone allegedly involved in a botched drug deal that left a police officer dead. And Bai now has three teenage females living in her house–one is her daughter by her ex-husband; the other two are rescues: one from the sex trade and the other from a fearsome gang.

Meanwhile, someone has just tried to kill her investigative partner, Lee. And the person Bai is trying to locate may have some connections that go far beyond mere drug deals and murder.

This second novel in Thatcher Robinson’s new White Ginger series is full of twists, turns, complications, dangers and Chinatown atmosphere. And Bai Jiang is an appealing investigator: a Buddhist who is mostly fearless and definitely skilled with hidden knives, yet also vulnerable to romance, fashion and the plight of women who have been endangered and abused. Definitely recommended if you are looking for a new and unusual investigator to follow.

Si Dunn

 

 

South, America – Action, mystery and gritty Southern noir – #bookreview

South, America

A Jack Prine Novel

Rod Davis

(New South Books – paperback, Kindle)

Here’s one way to get yourself into deep trouble: Try to perform a simple act of kindness.

Jack Prine, the central character in this gritty, well-written new mystery novel, reluctantly tries to help a young woman understand what has happened to her brother. And from there, the favor quickly goes downhill, to fear, violence, threats, gunfire and the need to make quick escapes.

Prine lives in New Orleans, and he is, in his own words, “trying to figure out a line on my future….”

As he tries to sort out just what that “line” might be, he has been “doing some freelance writing and the occasional unlicensed PI investigation for a divorce lawyer/ex-Army buddy….”

Early one Sunday morning, Prine has nothing much on his mind except his hangover and a strong need for some Guatemalan coffee. But as he is walking to get the cup of coffee, he discovers a dead body. A man has had the back of his head bashed in. Prine dutifully calls the police and answers the investigator’s questions. Later, Prine gets a phone call from the victim’s sister, Elle Meridian. Reluctantly, he agrees to meet her, so he can tell her more about what he saw and show her where her brother died.

Once they do meet, their attraction for each other develops fairly quickly. And as Jack Prine’s relationship with Elle grows, he soon finds himself drawn into circumstances and dangers he could never have imagined when he first heard her voice on the telephone.

Suddenly, the “unlicensed PI” is having to be a hard-boiled detective. And he and Elle wind up on the run from the vicious and tenacious Dixie Mafia. They race through Alabama and Mississippi on their way back to New Orleans– where no safety awaits them.

South, America is an engrossing tale alive with Southern landscape, thugs, family secrets, voudou, art treasures, racial tensions, sex…and love. And the book’s ending offers an excellent setup for the next Jack Prine novel, hopefully coming soon from Rod Davis.

Si Dunn

 

The Troubles Trilogy: Adrian McKinty’s Northern Ireland crime novels are powerful, engrossing reading – #bookreview

In the Morning I’ll Be Gone

Book Three: The Troubles Trilogy

Adrian McKinty

(Seventh Street Books, paperback)

I wish I had discovered The Troubles Trilogy and Detective Sean Duffy much sooner than Book Three. I really don’t like reading trilogies in reverse.

But Adrian McKinty is an amazingly good crime novelist. And now that I have also read his two other books in ThTroubles Trilogy,  I can honestly say that it is pleasingly easy to read these works in any order you wish.

In the Morning I'll Be Gone cover

Yes, Book One: The Cold Cold Ground and Book Two: I Hear the Sirens in the Streets are tied together by some of the same characters and settings found in Book Three: In the Morning I’ll Be Gone. Each novel, however, stands solidly on its own.

Detective Sean Duffy is an Irish Catholic cop working for the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Northern Ireland’s decidedly unpopular police force. The three novels unfold during the early 1980s, amid some of the most violent times in a small-scale but deadly civil war that has been raging for decades. On one side are the mostly Protestant Unionists and Loyalists, who want Northern Ireland to stay part of the  United Kingdom. On the other side are the mostly Catholic Nationalists and Republicans who want Northern Ireland to become part of the Republic of Ireland again.

Duffy, caught in the middle and working for a mostly Protestant police force, must try to solve grisly murder cases while not getting blown up by Irish Republican Army car bombs–he never goes anywhere without first looking beneath his vehicle–or killed by bullets fired by snipers on both sides.

There are neighborhoods where it’s deadly to be a Protestant or a Catholic and neighborhoods where it’s equally deadly to be one of Her Majesty’s cops, or “peelers,” in the local argot.  (Sir Robert Peel, a 19th century British prime minister, is credited with creating the concept of a metropolitan police force. As a result, police officers became known as “bobbies” in England and “peelers” in Northern Ireland.)

Sometimes, in pursuit of leads and suspects, Duffy finds himself on streets that are British territory on one side of the center line and Irish territory on the other. And, a classic tough-guy detective, Duffy seldom hesitates if he needs to sneak into Ireland, where he has absolutely no jurisdiction except his fists and his guns. Also, he sometimes crosses that dark, ill-defined border between good cop and bad cop, in the name of justice as he defines it.

Adrian McKinty has been compared, deservedly so, to Raymond Chandler and a few other leading crime novelists. He is a native of Northern Ireland, and his taut, well-written, realistic prose makes excellent use of that region’s cultures, languages and longstanding sectarian tensions. He draws you in quickly and doesn’t let you escape –not until after gritty Detective Sean Duffy finally has tracked down and confronted the killer face to face.

Si Dunn

Man in the Blue Moon – Fine Southern fiction by Michael Morris – #bookreview #fiction

Man in the Blue Moon
Michael Morris
(Tyndale, paperbackKindle)

Book reviewers, particularly Southern U.S. book reviewers, frequently pick through new “Southern” novels looking for “echoes” of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, Eudora Welty, or Walker Percy. (I wish some of them also would look for echoes of that good but now almost-forgotten Southern novelist James Street.)

Though I was born in Mississippi and grew up in Arkansas, I had never thought of Florida as “Deep South.” It was, after all, something of a military backwater during the Civil War (yet a vital place for smuggling in supplies for the Confederacy). During my 1950s youth, when bands played “Dixie” and all-white crowds stood up to raucously cheer, I always pictured the Deep South as ending at the southern borders of Georgia and Alabama. Florida never really entered my thinking as a Confederate state, even though it was among the first to secede.

There are, however, plenty of “Southern” echoes in Michael Morris’s fine new novel, Man in the Blue Moon, set in rural Florida during World War I. How the characters talk, think, and interact seem very Southern to me. And the values they hold, as well as the self-righteous justifications they bring to wrongdoings, also seem familiar and right in my recollections of growing up in the South. So I am happy to declare Michael Morris an excellent novelist “in the Southern tradition.” And I hereby amend my mental picture of the literary Deep South to include Florida – especially its panhandle.

In Man in the Blue Moon, Ella Wallace’s drug-addicted husband has disappeared and left her deep in debt in tiny Dead Lakes, Florida, with three young sons to support, a small store to run, and a tract of panhandle land “thick with pines and cypress.” Ella’s father had called the tract her “birthright” and, on his deathbed, begged her to hold onto it, no matter what. Now, however, a crooked banker in nearby Apalachicola has come up with a scheme to profit from Ella’s land and is playing every angle – some of them creepy and deadly — to gain possession of the acreage. At the same time, looming large in the background and close around, the infamous 1918 Spanish flu epidemic is taking lives with shocking suddenness.

Against this grim backdrop, a mysterious stranger enters Ella’s life in a very unusual way (no spoilers here). And he quickly has two strikes against him. One, he is a distant relative of Ella’s missing husband. And two, he seems to have both a troubled past and some abilities to heal sick and wounded animals and people. These simply heighten the suspicions that Ella and others hold against him. Yet, to save her land, her store and her family, Ella must trust him to help her and her sons try to harvest enough timber in time to pay off the bank note, even as murder, hypocrisy, and other troubles unfurl around them.

After reading and relishing Man in the Blue Moon, I am very pleased to add Michael Morris to my personal pantheon of fine Southern novelists. He brings his own echoes to the hall.

Si Dunn

Five Dark Riders – A novel rich with history, intrigue, action & romance – #fiction #bookreview

Five Dark Riders
Bill Sloan
(Zipp City Press, paperback, Kindle)

Bill Sloan is an acclaimed historian and veteran newspaper journalist previously nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He also is one of America’s best writers of World War II Pacific-theater combat narratives. (His latest, Undefeated: America’s Heroic Fight for Bataan and Corregidor, was published in April.)

With Five Dark Riders, his new “fact-based novel,” Sloan demonstrates that he can write engrossing, entertaining historical thrillers, as well.

Drawing upon President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s real-life 1936 trip to Dallas, Texas, Sloan has concocted an absorbing tale built around American domestic political intrigue, international espionage and an unfolding assassination plot.

In Sloan’s novel, Nazi agents have infiltrated a rural area of Texas where German immigrants first arrived in the 19th century, and pro-German culture and sympathies remain strong as Adolph Hitler continues to gain power. The agents’ goal is to assassinate FDR in Dallas, so Vice President John Nance Garner, an avowed isolationist, will take over the White House and keep the United States from going to war with Germany.

The only people who can stop the plot are two South Texans who don’t seem to stand much of a chance: Adam Wagner, a mildly disabled World War I combat veteran who now tends to his father’s sheep and goat farm in South Texas, and Elena Velasco, the beautiful and Anglo-distrusting daughter of an Hispanic family that operates a drugstore in a small Texas town.

Adam and Elena decipher the plot while trying to figure out who killed Elena’s cousin, Julio, who Adam had known since Julio was a baby. The local sheriff, an Anglo of German descent, has done little to investigate the young Mexican’s death, and now he has been duped by a close friend who secretly is at the center of the assassination plot. The sheriff has come to believe Adam may be Julio’s killer and may be involved in other crimes, as well. In reality, one of the Nazi agents killed Julio, and Adam and Elena have figured out how and why.

No one in authority, however, will listen to, nor believe, Adam and Elena and relay what they have discovered to the Secret Service. So, in desperation and with very few resources, the two South Texans begin a journey to Dallas to try to stop the plot themselves.

It’s a dangerous gamble. The Nazis want them dead. And the Secret Service has become aware that there may be some kind of plot against FDR and is trying to maintain very tight security in Texas. Meanwhile, the president’s protectors also are having trouble keeping track of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who keeps slipping away from them. And now they have been alerted to the movements of a suspicious, dangerous couple – Adam and Elena – who seem to keep trying to get close to the president, most likely to harm him.

It’s an excellent setup for a thrill-ride finish that’s full of history, intrigue, action, and romance.

Si Dunn