‘Woman with a Blue Pencil’ – Characters in a mystery novel that is being rewritten find themselves in conflict in a world that keeps changing – #bookreview

 

 

 

Woman with a Blue Pencil

Gordon McAlpine

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

 

What if the characters in a mystery novel are alive in some other universe, and their world keeps changing, because their book, unknown to them, is being edited and rewritten?

And what if one of those characters is trying to solve a murder, but almost everything he knows or remembers, in his version of 1941 Los Angeles, keeps changing or vanishing? What if the people to whom he has been close suddenly cease to exist or no longer know who he is?

Woman with a Blue Pencil is well-written and cleverly structured. It can make you laugh with pleasure when you realize how the story will unfold along two tracks. And you can get engrossed in the actions and motivations of both main characters as their separate tracks begin to merge, and they come into conflict.

This is an intelligent murder mystery with a heart, a message and a poignant, surprise ending. It is set just before and after the Pearl Harbor attack and its aftermath, including the now roundly condemned, racism-driven mass roundup and internment of Japanese-American citizens living on the U.S. West Coast.

Behind the two tracks of story in this tale is an ambitious young Nisei (first-generation Japanese-American) writer who has been trying to get his first novel published. Now, suddenly, he has been relocated to one of the internment camps. And the woman with the blue pencil is his book editor in New York. She keeps trying to help him come up with a new plot that replaces his now-unsalable Japanese protagonist with a Korean-American one, plus create a strong, Western-sounding pseudonym that the author can hide behind once his book goes to market in World War II America.

One word sums up this novel-within-novel: Brilliant.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

‘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

The Survivors: A complex mystery unfolds in this good series-debut novel – #fiction #bookreview

 

The Survivors

A Cal Henderson Novel

Robert Palmer

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

 

What a swamp a single lie can lead to.

Washington, D.C., psychologist Cal Henderson thinks this to himself while he is trying, years later, to sort out the real reasons behind why his two young brothers and father were shot to death. and then his mother committed suicide as he watched, helpless.

Cal’s friend, Scottie Glass, also was shot and badly wounded that day. But just before Cal’s mother took her own life, she saw Cal in an upstairs window and signaled him, strangely, to get down, to hide.

Why had she killed four people including herself and left Cal’s friend critically injured, yet warned Cal to hide? Hide from what? Or whom?

Until now, Cal has managed to keep most of these childhood horrors somewhat in check, stored far back in his mind. His psychology practice is thriving, and his clients have many issues of their own to keep his mind occupied and challenged.

Then Scottie Glass suddenly shows up after many years, fiercely determined to find out who really shot him and all of the others. And the way Scottie starts confronting important people in the nation’s capitol of purchased power and influence quickly lands him–and Cal, by association–on the FBI’s radar. Cal’s job, at first, is to try to keep Scottie out of jail. But Cal soon is drawn into his friend’s dogged investigation and soon has to take the lead as Scottie keeps using his computer skills to uncover more and more links and leads that could answer Cal’s questions, too.

A caution: The Survivors likely will not be a “fast read.” The story is complex. And it is well written, with many characters, details, and settings. So be patient; give things time to develop. For me, the story began to click solidly into place at page 75, when FBI agent Jamie Weston tells Cal: “D.C. is a whole different universe. You think you’re playing Go Fish for this guy Scott Glass. Then you find out the game is really Poker and the man holding all the cards is some sort of senator or lobbyist you’ve never heard of.”

Indeed, how a years-ago murder-suicide can have a bearing on present-day, multi-billion-dollar defense contracts is just one part of the intricate mystery that unfolds in this series-debut first novel written by Robert Palmer, a practicing Washington, D.C., lawyer and law professor.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

The Guise of Another: A gripping thriller with a dark soul – #fiction #bookreview

 

 

The Guise of Another

Allen Eskens

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle, Audio Book

This engrossing, exciting new detective thriller by Minnesota novelist Allen Eskens has many startling twists and turns. It also has a dark soul.

Under suspicion of corruption, Minneapolis police detective Alexander “Festus” Rupert has been reassigned to the Frauds Unit–definitely a demotion for a Medal of Valor winner who has solved murders and saved lives. To add to his humiliation, he has been cast into a basement office in City Hall. Essentially, he now has nowhere to go except up. Or possibly to jail.

When he starts investigating the false identity of someone who died in a car crash, he finds himself edging into a much bigger case, one that may help him resurrect his shattered law-enforcement career.

The case soon becomes even bigger than he imagined. And Rupert gets on the trail of people who can be both deceitful and deadly while hardly blinking an eye.

Allen Eskens’ first novel, The Life We Bury , won numerous awards and accolades in 2014 and early 2015. In The Guise of Another, Eskens and Seventh Street Books have another well-written winner on their hands.

Si Dunn

 

Dante’s Dilemma – A solid mystery featuring a blind psychiatrist as investigator – #bookreview

 

Dante’s Dilemma

A Mark Angelotti Novel

Lynne Raimondo

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

Lynne Raimondo puts her legal background and well-honed writing skills solidly to work in Dante’s Dilemma, her third Mark Angelotti novel.

Part of the enjoyment of reading this well-crafted mystery is watching the author stretch to keep Dr. Angelotti, a blind psychiatrist, within the confines of his physical limitations, while he discerns clues by using his mind, his hearing and other senses and paying attention to what others say.

As this story unfolds, Angelotti, an expert in treating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), has had an affair that has wrecked his marriage and reduced his access to his young son. And, testifying as an expert witness for the prosecution in a Chicago murder case associated with domestic violence, he all but helps convict someone who may — or may not — be the killer.

Soon, a link to another homicide emerges, and it has ties to the case where he has testified. And Angelotti now must risk the real possibility of freezing to death in a bad Chicago winter while he tries to find answers to the key question: Is the real murderer already in custody or still out there and about to get away?

Dante’s Dilemma is entertaining mystery fiction, with an intriguingly flawed main character and plenty of twists. And the book illuminates a troubling real-life issue, as well. Domestic violence, author Lynne Raimondo notes in her acknowledgments, “affects an estimated 1.3 million women and their families in the United States annually.”

Si Dunn

 

Click here to get more information about Dante’s Dilemma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Little Pretty Things’: An engrossing new mystery from Lori Rader-Day – #bookreview

 

 

Little Pretty Things

Lori Rader-Day

(Seventh Street – paperback, Kindle)

Lori Rader-Day already has proven she can write a good mystery. Her debut book, The Black Hour, won the 2015 Lovey Award for best first novel.

In Little Pretty Things, her forthcoming second novel, the Chicago writer gives us a most unusual investigator: a cart-pushing housekeeper and occasional desk clerk at a rundown cheap motel, the Mid-Night Inn. Juliet Townsend dropped out of college in her first year and went to work at the motel after her father suddenly died and her family’s finances quickly evaporated.

The author sets the scene quickly, with just enough seedy and telling detail. And she gets Juliet Townsend into trouble with the police fairly fast, as well. The housekeeper-desk clerk becomes the chief suspect in the death of a guest who could have easily afforded to stay in a fancier place, but wanted to see Juliet again just before their 10th high school reunion.

Madeline Bell and Juliet had been friends of sorts. Yet Maddy also had been Juliet’s main rival on the Midway, Indiana, high school track team. Maddy always ran faster and won the first-place trophies, while Juliet consistently finished second.

To prove her innocence and find Maddy’s killer, Juliet must somehow get ahead of someone else from her high school class, Courtney Howard, now a police officer who dislikes Juliet and seems determined to nail her for murder.

Available July 7, 2015, Little Pretty Things is an intriguing, entertaining mystery. It is rich with atmosphere, rich with some of the tense realities that people caught in deadend, low-wage jobs often have to face, and rich with desperate determination as Juliet begins her own investigation.

Si Dunn

THE RELUCTANT MATADOR: Can you have too many good things in one novel? – #mystery #bookreview

 

The Reluctant Matador

A Hugo Marston Mystery

Mark Pryor

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

I have been a steady Hugo Marston fan since the debut novel for the series, The Bookseller, appeared in 2012. But I will be honest about this fifth book. As much as I like and admire Mark Pryor’s mystery fiction, I am a bit reluctant to recommend The Reluctant Matador as your first encounter with his excellent investigator, Hugo Marston, head of security at the U.S. embassy in Paris. The Reluctant Matador moves at a slower pace and with more subplot distractions than I prefer in stories where the good guy supposedly is racing against the clock as he (or she) chases down the bad guys.

If you are looking for a new investigator series to take up, I heartily endorse Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston. Thus, get The Reluctant Matador and keep it handy. But start reading earlier in the series first. The Bookseller and The Button Man remain my two Hugo Marston favorites. And there is plenty to like in The Crypt Thief and The Blood Promise, as well. (Actually, “start at the beginning” often is a good approach for taking up any mystery series).

It is always possible, of course, to have too much of a good thing. And this is what I think slows The Reluctant Matador down a bit, at least for me: Too many interesting characters and too much interesting detail within a very interesting and apparently very laid-back city: Barcelona. (And why, really, are we in Spain now? Isn’t Hugo supposed to be helping keep our Paris embassy secure?)

In The Reluctant Matador, the 19-year-old daughter of an old friend has gone missing in Paris, so Hugo Marston agrees to try to help find her. The sparse clues left behind soon lead him to Barcelona and the realization that the young woman’s life definitely is in danger and the clock is ticking. But there also is a murder and other terrifying issues to complicate the plot and the urgent quest. And the young woman’s father, meanwhile, has taken things into his own hands and gotten himself jailed in Spain. And the Barcelona police and underworld have some interesting characters. And Hugo Marston’s investigator buddy, Tom Green, an ex-CIA agent, is supposedly helping out but also being a bit of a drunken, obnoxious lout. And several women want to sleep with Hugo. And…

And, inexplicably, I began thinking about The Canterbury Tales and The Pilgrim’s Progress about two-thirds of the way through The Reluctant Matador. We keep ambling forward in our quest, picking up more and more characters and their stories as we go.

Many readers, of course, likely will be charmed by Mark Pryor’s mini-portraits of Barcelona. It  does comes across as a very appealing locale. But, is there really time for some sightseeing and a siesta and some bantering with the locals when the hours and minutes rapidly are running out on a life held in deadly captivity?

If you are already a Mark Pryor fan, definitely read The Reluctant Matador. There is much to like in this book, and the writer clearly has put plenty of effort, creativity, research and talent into producing it. On the other hand, if you are new to Hugo Marston and want a fast-paced mystery thriller, you might think this one moves too slowly and decide to ignore the four other books in Pryor’s series. Don’t do that. Read the others and read this one. But read at least one of his earlier works first.

Si Dunn

 

STONE COLD DEAD: In this third Ellie Stone mystery, the ‘girl reporter’ digs deeply into a dark case – #mystery #bookreview

 

Stone Cold Dead

An Ellie Stone Mystery

James W. Ziskin 

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

 

Ellie Stone is a skilled investigator at a time when women are still expected to mainly stay home and take care of their families. The year is 1961, and local citizens call Ellie as “that girl reporter.”She works for a small newspaper in a mill town in Upstate New York.

When someone is murdered or disappears, Ellie often is sought out by relatives of the dead or missing, especially when they think the local police may not be giving their loved one’s case enough attention.

Indeed, in the first two novels of the Ellie Stone series, the “girl reporter” has been gaining a reputation as a good investigative reporter and crime reporter, as well as amateur detective. That story line continues in Stone Cold Dead, James W. Ziskin’s well-written third Ellie Stone mystery.

Despite her local fame, however, Ellie remains a clear victim of gender discrimination in the news room. Her editors keep trying to assign her to stories involving bake sales, society happenings, Scout meetings, weddings and other “women’s news” events. And Ellie keeps pushing back against the long-traditional male dominance of “hard news” reporting. Sometimes she resists to the point that her job is put in jeopardy.

Of course, job attitudes hardly matter at all when you have asked one too many questions and suddenly talked your way into a life-threating situation. Ellie is good at this. Her curiosity, her probing and her desire to keep showing she can compete with the guys sometimes gets her too far out in front of safety and common sense.

James W. Ziskin is an excellent storyteller who offers up more detail and dialogue than many other mystery writers provide. He also lets his “I” character have more time for introspection and internal debate than is common in investigator stories. This lets us see more deeply into process of how Ellie solves a case.

Ziskin also writes convincingly about what life was like in the newsroom of a 1960s newspaper and out on the small-town streets. I worked as a young reporter for several small-town newspapers in the mid-1960s. And there was a very clear gender divide. Women covered “women’s news,” while guys got to cover the “cop shop” and sheriff’s department, prominent murder trials, fatal car wrecks, plane crashes, shootings, fires, and other “big”news events.

Stone Cold Dead spans 313 pages in paperback. A 15-year-old girl slips out of her junior-high school bus while it is stopped and disappears. Clues left behind point to the likelihood she has run away to be with a young lover. But as Ellie keeps questioning people and piecing together a trail, she realizes that several darker outcomes are becoming possible. And her own life is in danger, too.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new mystery from Terry Shames: ‘A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge’ – #bookreview #mystery

A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge

Terry Shames

(Seventh Street – paperback, Kindle)

The title may be a bit too folksy and over the top for a few hard-core mystery lovers. But the Samuel Craddock investigative series by Terry Shames does an excellent job of capturing the sights, sounds, speech patterns, customs, mannerisms and values of many people in contemporary East Texas, an area of the state that identifies more closely with the Deep South than with the Wild West. And her central character, Samuel Craddock, is both a retired small-town police chief and someone people still quickly turn to for help when there’s trouble.

Even in bucolic East Texas, trouble is always brewing somewhere nearby. And, despite his age and a bad knee, Samuel Craddock can be counted on to try to help, whether it’s defusing bad-blood tensions between two people or two families or, central to each book, tracking down a killer. He knows many people and knows something of their histories. But he is frequently surprised by what happens within the undercurrents that flow through seemingly tranquil small towns and their surrounding countryside.

A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge is the fourth novel in Ms. Shames’s fast-expanding series. Her previous Samuel Craddock mystery,  Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, was published just six months ago (October, 2014). And it saw Craddock coming out of retirement to take over again, temporarily, as Jarrett Creek’s police chief.

In Deadly Affair, Craddock is still on the job from which he previously retired. And now he is having to go out of his jurisdiction to investigate a complicated case involving a death and a very close friend who isn’t telling him the whole truth about her background.

Terry Shames grew up in East Texas and knows how to make her fictionalized settings and characters come alive.  If you are looking for a new, different and engrossing investigator to follow, slow down, relax a bit and mosey along with Samuel Craddock as he sets out to solve yet another mysterious death.

Si Dunn

 

KLAIL CITY / KLAIL CITY y sus alrededores – 1st bilingual edition of the 2nd novel in the famed ‘Klail City Death Trip’ series – #bookreview

 

Klail City y sus alredeores

Klail City / Klail City y sus alrededores

Rolando Hinojosa

(Arte Público – paperback)

 

Problems involving race relations and immigration never go away in the United States. Sometimes, they boil over in big, violent ways that bring them back to the headlines, spotlights and TV screens — until something else happens that shifts the media’s–and the public’s–attentions elsewhere. Yet, even then, the problems stay with us, in our daily lives and in our literature.

Klail City / Klail City y sus alrededores is the second book in Rolando Hinojosa’s famed “Klail City Death Trip” series, which recently totaled 15 novels. In Klail City, a fictional town near the Texas-Mexico border, Texas Mexicans are the majority population, but a minority of Anglos run the town.

This well-written book, set just before and during the Korean War, examines life at a time when Anglos on the high school football team are given letter jackets, but the Texas Mexican players initially are not. It is a town where a young Mexican-American veteran of combat in World War II has been shot down by an Anglo deputy sheriff under questionable circumstances. After a long-delayed trial, the deputy is cleared by a jury, and the young veteran’s father can do little else to protest except destroy a marker listing the names of men from the county who were killed during the war, including his own son. It is a town where one man tells another: “We’re like the Greeks, Don Manuel. Slaves in service of the Romans…we’ve got to educate them, these Romans, these Anglos…amounts to the same thing.”

The Spanish version of Klail City was published in the 1970s in Cuba and won the Casa de las Américas prize in 1976. Arte Público Press at the University of Houston published an English language edition in 1987.

The new edition from Arte Público is the first bilingual version to be published. The novel is presented first in English, followed by the Spanish version.

Rolando Hinojosa’s often experimental writing style has been described as having echoes of William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Márquez.  His 15-book “Klail City Death Trip” series is set mostly in fictional Belken County in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Arte Público is “the nation’s largest and most established publisher of contemporary and recovered literature by U.S. Hispanic authors.”

Si Dunn