Fiction Review

Delivering Death by Julie Kramer

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delivering deathAnother 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

Until Death by James Thane

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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

The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau

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Bilyeau’s first book, The Crown, brought us the determined but naïve Joanna Stafford, Dominican nun and daughter of a disgraced aristocratic family, during Henry VIII’s reign. InThe Chalice Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries has sent a more experienced but no less stubborn Joanna out into the secular world where she’s trying to build a quiet life as a weaver of tapestries. A mysterious prophecy and those who would like to use it to further their power and political desires drag her unwittingly into a bizarre plot against the king and his plans to undermine “the true faith” in England. The most powerful people in England once again tug and pull at Joanna, alternately threatening her life (and those she loves) and courting her as an essential element to their plans. Joanna’s devotion to the Catholic Church and her abhorrence of Henry’s destruction of the cloistered life make her willing to participate to a certain extent—a dangerous vulnerability as it turns out—but she becomes entangled in acts that she never anticipated and that violate her deepest beliefs. Faith, its value, and the willingness of supposedly true believers to exploit faith for their own ends, become intriguing, multi-faceted themes in this book. Bilyeau continues from her first book the subtle, complex development of Joanna’s character and combines that with a fast-paced, unexpected plot to hold the reader’s interest on every page. From mystical prophets to court intrigue to the challenges of romance and love amidst those who had once sworn themselves to chastity, The Chalice is writ large across England and the Continent as history and supernatural mysticism combine in this compelling thriller.

 

Reviewed by Judith Starkston

This review first appeared in The Historical Novels Review Issue 64 May 2013.
For other reviews, information about Judith Starkston’s novel, Hand of Fire, 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

The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstol

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This is the first submission in the Minnesota Trilogy, written by the award-winning, Norwegian author and translated by the esteemed Tiina Nunnally.  The setting is the northern part of Minnesota by Lake Superior and the small surrounding communities. The area is populated by Scandinavian immigrants inter-twined with the Native Americans. Lance Hansen, a U.S. Forest Service officer finds a badly wounded visitor and his brutally murdered traveling companion. Both have come from Norway to explore the area. Little is known about them, personally, but they have been observed to be pleasant and enjoying themselves on this trek. Because of jurisdiction requirements, the FBI is brought in, as well as a detective from Norway. Much of Lance’s life is wrapped up in the genealogy and history of the area. He’s been studying a 100-year old murder which gradually provides clues to the current crime, suggesting his estranged brother may have been involved. The tale is rich with history and environmental descriptions which add to the story. The author and his wife lived on Lake Superior for two years, adding authenticity. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys good writing, a strong sense of place and an interesting mix of characters.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am Swedish and my last place of residence was Duluth, MN. Needless to way, there was some nostalgia but, more importantly, a reminder of the fury of blizzards and Lake Superior, which made me re-think another location.

Staff Book Review by K. Shaver

Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

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“The Panopticon” is the title of a daring first novel by Scottish poet Jenni Fagan, and it describes a halfway house/rehab facility from whose center the administrators can look into the living quarters – including the bathrooms – of every youthful inhabitant, male and female. The story’s central character, Anais, is an angry, sexually-active 15-year-old juvenile delinquent who clings to her eroding humanity while completely mistrusting the adult world after dozens of failed foster home assignments and the murder of a prostitute mother-figure by a customer. To her, the  Panopticon is simply a continuation of the “experiments” the authorities (and life) have always put her through, trying to break her will. She has been sent to this detention home deep in the woods after allegedly beating a  policewoman bad enough to put her in a coma.  Anais, who is usually stoked on whatever drugs are available – and in the Panopticon, the drugs are freely shared via windows and shoestrings – cannot remember the beating despite frequent police interrogations. But the truth is almost irrelevant, since Anais is such a nasty habitual offender that the authorities seem willing to hold her responsible for the policewoman’s condition in retribution for her other offenses. Anais finds her natural “family” at the Panopticon. The lost children who inhabit the facility bond to survive, much like those in “Lord of the Flies,” or “A Separate Peace,” but with more sexual agility, and fiercely protect their own against administrators, guests, and outsiders whom they encounter when allowed out on tightly-scheduled free time. The authentic Scottish dialect is not at all hard to follow, and the writing is snappy, gritty, and profane, with humor often softening the nearly-unceasing misery facing these children . Fagan leads us into all the dark and personal places where her characters live, and we watch them as they abuse themselves and others, casually turn from one drug to another, and curse the irresistible life in which they seem forever trapped, without giving thought to the consequences of their actions or their futures, for they cannot imagine living long enough for either to be meaningful.  The book is alternately depressing, sad, and joyful. You will come away from “The Panopticon” desperately wishing someone would “save” Anais, but frustrated at her own inability to keep the demons at bay.

reviewed by: Lawrence A. Katz 

Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

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It is a huge challenge to review the remarkable and disturbing “Alex,” by Pierre Lemaitre, an award-winning 2011 thriller recently translated from the French, without giving away any of the many twists and turns. The book begins, routinely enough as thrillers go, with the kidnapping of a lovely young woman, Alex, from the street where she has been shopping for wigs (early clue). She is held in a cage in an abandoned warehouse, tortured, left to the rats. But why? What is her captor’s real motivation? What has Alex done to deserve such abuse?
Solving that puzzle is left to Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven, a 4’11” malcontent who has just returned to police investigative work after the kidnapping and death of his own wife. As Camille and his team uncover, piece by piece, the tortured backgrounds of Alex and her kidnapper, with little help from Alex’s family, it becomes evident that Alex is both victim and predator, and that the seeds of her fate were planted many years earlier.
Well-written and cleverly-plotted, this psychological stunner will please readers who were fascinated by Lisbeth Salander and loved books like Thomas Harris’ “Silence of the Lambs” and Denise Mina’s “Field of Blood.” Be prepared for some long nights under the reading lamp, a chilling tale of abuse and revenge, and a denouement that is shocking and immensely satisfying.
Reviewed by Lawrence Katz

City of Darkness and Light by Rhys Bowen

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City of Darkness and LightWho can resist the idea of Paris—at any season? Not Molly Murphy, now a young mother.

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When her marital home in the Village is bombed—perhaps in retaliation against her husband, the NYPD stalwart—also their lives now possibly at risk—Daniel urges Molly to accept their neighbors/friends’ Gus and Sid’s invitation to join their Paris break in their Montmartre piedà-terre (French for what is usually a modest city apartment).

Molly and baby experience rough seas on the ocean liner but eventually train to Paris. When they reach the pied-à-terre, it’s empty. The landlady is not helpful, there’s no word for Molly. As Impressionism gives way to Fauvism and Cubism, and the Dreyfus affair rocks France, Molly juggles child-care with hunting her friends in an unfamiliar city.

Inevitably, she comes across a body…