Flirtations of the most dangerous and serious sort entangle Frances Stuart first in the court of Louis XIV and then in the Restoration court of Charles II. Despite the luscious gowns and extravagant jewels she wins for herself, we don’t envy her the high-wire balancing act she must maintain as she tries to win first one king’s influence and then another, while concealing the tragic secrets that would destroy her family and herself. That she manages to hold onto her virginity and her dignity for much of this engaging book while obeying the selfish commands of various powerful women and men is a testament to the inner strength and resiliency of Frances Stuart, the famous mistress of Charles II. This remarkable woman carries the book—we deeply want her to find happiness and an identity that will allow her to remain true to herself. The first step that she must accomplish is to understand her own nature and sense of purpose. That isn’t easy in the treacherous seas of the courts she grows up in, nor is it easy to find when everyone who should love and protect her is out to use her. Frances carries the weight of her mother’s and siblings’ futures as well as her own. This is a book about an admirable woman in morally ambiguous circumstances where the price of failing at any one moment can destroy a family or a country. That’s a lot of pressure on one young woman, and the turns and twists of her life will keep you thrilled on every page. That Jefferson has so fully and accurately recreated the splendor of the Restoration court—its rich fabrics, gems, palaces, dalliances and betrayals—adds to the delight.
Time to once again saddle up and ride the crime soaked mesas and saguaro studded vistas of Arizona. The local chapter of Sisters In Crime, the Desert Sleuths, has a new anthology out and its hot as a pistol and dangerous as a cornered rattler. Each year the gals(and a few guys) produce a new collection of Arizona-set crime tales.
This years brace of 20 tales is, I believe, the strongest yet. Under the editorial lead of the immensely talented Deborah J. Ledford a great set of stories has emerged. Called “So West: Crime Time” the Sisters In Crime have done themselves proud.
The stories range from comic to bloody. There is irony and shocks galore. The entire physical gamut of our state is made use of and the people we meet continually surprise us. Rather than single out my favorites (I have no wish to incur the wrath of any of these lethally imaginative writers by slighting someone) I want to praise all 19 women and one man for their superior efforts. These are stories to savor throughout the year.
Arizona has a strong and varied community of writers from all genres. This collection is in the vanguard of getting that message out. This is the third in the “So West” series and they are all fine examples of our homegrown talent. All 3 collections are available at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale. This is a great chance to support a wonderful local resource and to get a great reading experience.
reviewed by Steve Shadow Schwartz
With huge dollops of The Big Lebowski and rife with twisted noir tropes Kem Nunn’s latest book, “Chance” arrives like a run-away wrecking ball. This dense and madly enjoyable novel has the requisite femme fatale, the big city corrupt cop and enough shady characters to please any fan of the psychological socio-crime novel. This is a high-wire act of a book that runs flat out and never falters. Mr. Nunn has always been an author on the edge and here he grabs his story by the throat and squeezes it for all it’s worth.
“Chance” is the title and chances are what Mr.Nunn takes in this roiling cauldron of a psycho thriller, social satire and gleeful gore fest. Dr. Eldon Chance, a neuropsychologist, sets forth on a classic noir path that soon turns into a trip down a rabbit hole of horrors. His journey becomes a series of switchbacks that gather speed towards a climax that is as hilarious as it is profound.
Since being overwhelmed by Kem Nunn’s first book, “Tapping the Source”, I have been a huge fan of his writing. With “Chance” he delivers big time. This is much more than just a crime novel. Rich with echoes of Hammett and everything since, he pulls us along at lightning speed in this clever and richly plotted novel. Issues of parenting, manhood, and the failures of the modern family ricochet around the central plot. This is a rich and heady stew that charges ahead on twin rails of suspense and humor. To reveal anymore of the story would be to temper the page-turning joy of this brilliant take on the classic San Francisco noir-clouded novel. Clever, funny and exciting, “Chance” is the product of a terrific writer at the top of his game. Don’t miss it.
Another page-turning, alternately funny and bone-chilling mystery from Julie Kramer. Riley Spartz, investigative journalist for Channel 3 in Minneapolis is still sparring with her intellectually stunted, over-sexed boss while trying to keep her career afloat. Then there’s her ex-fiancé, who she’s not so sure should stay exed, except he seems to be awfully tight with his attractive new boss so there seems no hope there. Misery does love Riley, but you won’t be miserable reading as Riley’s dry, cynical humor carries a twisty plot that will keep you guessing. Perhaps I should have opened with “tooth-aching” instead of bone-chilling because that’s the clue that starts Riley off on her lethal investigation—the arrival of human teeth in an envelope. Were they taken out while someone was alive? What on earth do they mean? Someone less brave (or less in need of a story) might have left it up to the police to sort out, but Riley plows right through a mass-marriage, a mortuary and any number of other gruesome settings to get things uncovered. Her persistence might get her killed—or someone else she cares about.
Reviewed by Judith Starkston
For other reviews, information about Judith Starkston’s novel, Hand of Fire (coming fr Fireship Press, Sept 10 2014), set during the Trojan War, as well as background history articles on ancient women, food, and daily life, go to JudithStarkston.com Judith can be followed on Facebook and Twitter
In a well written and skillfully rendered police procedural James Thane fulfills the promise of his first book, “No Place to Die”. The compelling characters that we met in his first novel return and remain as vivid and fascinating as ever. Sean, a police detective, is still recovering from his wife’s death. He is consumed by his work and his grief. His partner Maggie, not long divorced, is in a new relationship that she is very conflicted about. Both cops are private people and how they cope with their respective problems while maintaining a healthy working relationship makes for a dynamic reading experience.
The story concerns a date book that is lost by a female “escort”. Gina Gallagher is a personal trainer by day and a high class hooker by night. When the men in her date book start showing up dead and threats are made to her, then Sean and Maggie start a hunt that is a race against time.
Gina is portrayed in a realistic and yet sympathetic manner. The story ramps up quickly and becomes a page turner in the best sense.
We are presented with a twisted skein of false clues, unreliable witnesses and motives galore.
The novel is set in Scottsdale, Arizona and makes full use of this unique location. Thane gives us a palpable feel for the place by using real locales. We get a true sense of both the city’s shape, it’s people and it’s life.
Any readers who like Michael Connelly and the tense urban dramas he portrays will find this book a terrific read.
A Shadow Review
Steve Shadow Schwartz
For further reading in a similar vein try:
PENANCE by Daniel O’Shea