Review: Every Hidden Thing (Ted Flanagan)

Worster, Mass EMT Thomas Archer and his partner have a problem. It isn’t the woman who has just delivered a baby who is respiratory distress, it isn’t even he woman’s boyfriend. The real problem is Eamon Conroy, a corrupt and sadistic cop Archer helped send to prison years ago.

Conroy is the fixer for John O’Toole, mayor of Worster from a prominent political family, who has his sites set on the Governor’s mansion. His issue is greasing the right palms, and getting Conroy to take care of other problems in a more violent way. That includes Archer now, given he and his partner’s witness of the baby scene.

Archer’s young son has a brain tumor, and one of the places they stop on their rounds is at a church where a young woman lies in a persistent vegetative state, while her mother stands by her, convinced that the power of god flows through her daughter. Many people come to pray in front of the woman in her be, seeing her through a window on the opposite wall, where a bench sits, ready for them to kneel. Archer and the mom have a number of conversations through the book, and at the end there’s a gigantic gathering where people can come to ask for miracles/to be blessed/and whatever other stuff religion does for people who believe. I’m not a fan off fraudsters and hucksters, so these parts had me rolling my eyes.

Luckily, the majority of the book is taken up by Archer trying to avoid crossing paths with Conroy.

We then switch gears to the POV of a reporter, who is going to be laid off not terribly far down the road. Her editor tells her it’s the best he could get for her, and she decides to go out with a bang, by investigating the new gubernatorial candidate, his shady deals, and his employ on Conroy. She faces some real danger, as an old white woman going to a rather rough part of town to talk to the woman who gave birth. She makes it out of there, but not before her car is set on fire by the crowd.

There’s a separate subplot about a man who is obviously a QAnon kind of nutjob, ascribing all sorts of ills in the world on Democrats, liberals, activists, and of course the LGBTQI+ category. He’s further indoctrinated by his father in law, and his father in law and what seems to be a council of sorts for the local militia have a job for him: go to Worster and assassinate someone. I found this the least compelling o the various storylines, not because it’s unrealistic, but because crazy seems to be his only character trait.

As we return to the main story, things stat getting out of hand and O’Toole is becoming impatient with Conroy. Conroy gets harder into his work, offering Archer’s partner enough money to put toward a new house for his family. Archer continues to be pressed by his life seemingly spinning out of control.

The end is….the end is good, and matches nicely with the events of the book. There is a loose string here and there, but nothing to make the ending less believable, and I kind of welcome that from time to time, since most writers seem to think everything has to be 100% in typing up everything that has happened in a book. In books like this, there’s too much ambiguity to do that, so like a lot of life, people wring what they can from it.

A very solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Crooked Land Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Thicker Than Water (Barbara Pronin)

Lacey Madison is supposed to be meeting her sister at the sister’s house, but (as usual) is running late. When she arrives, she finds the house locked, but she can hear her baby niece crying up a storm. Unable to find an open door, she winds up going in through the bathroom window. She finds baby Tina without issue. What she also finds is the dead body of her sister’s husband. When the police arrive, suddenly her sister is the prime suspect in her husband’s murder. Lacey doesn’t know her sister as well as many sisters do, but she knows Carolyn is not a murderer and is determined to track down whoever killed her husband.

There is quite a good bit off character shaping done quite well throughout the book, especially Lacey and Carolyn’s characters, as Lacey learns more and more about her. Then a body is found in the La Brea Tar Pits, and the woman pulled from the goo looks a lot like Carolyn.

Alas, I can’t say much about the investigative work Lacey does without revealing too much, but Lacy could take up a side gig as a PI if she were so inclined. My quibbles are two: the bad guy can be figured out about halfway through, because of their actions as described when the POV switches to him. Two, we get another “I’m gonna confront bad guy!” says the plucky hero(ine), without bothering to notify anyone of what she’s doing. It is, to me, the equivalent of a character her decides to go down into the spooky basement when all the power and phones are out. Can we get past this? Law enforcement could be notified but get held up to give the same worry about whether or not they will arrive in time.

Even with this, and the points of stars I remove, it’s a good read, suitable for a rainy day or a beach or plane or anywhere else you read books.

There point five stars out of five, rounded down to three.

Thanks to Crossroad Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.

As we start popping through the events in the book, making our way to the end

Review: The Darkness Knows – Detective Konrad #1 (Arnaldur Indriðason)

You can’t be in a rush with Indriðason’s Nordic Noir. If you’ve read his Erlandur books, sliding into this book featuring Konrad will feel like a warm bubble bath, comforting and familiar.

A group of German tourists and their guide find a hand sticking out of one of the glaciers that is melting thanks to climate change. The authorities are called, and the dead, frozen man is identified as a man who went missing long ago, with foul play suspected at that time, since his car was not found at the glacier, but in another location. Konrad was the original detective on the case, and the dead man’s business partner Hjaltalín was arrested based on a coerced confession.

Konrad has since retired. He had taken leave from the job to care for his wife who was dying of cancer, and after she died, he simply made retirement official. He doesn’t do a whole lot with his days, and the best times he has are when his son and grandkids come to visit.

Marta is in charge of the new case revolving around the dead man, and she asks Konrad to come in and consult on it. He reluctantly does, but as the investigation picks up, he finds not having a badge means people can just slam a door in his face and not answer questions they would have were he still on the force.

Then, a woman shows up at his door, asking him to look into the case of her brother, who was killed in what looked to be a hit and run. Were they connected? Konrad thinks so, even if few others do. He doggedly continues his public/private investigation, stirring up hornets’ nests and finding witnesses who can remember what was happening around the time the man went missing.

Meanwhile, Hjaltalín is back in prison, protesting his innocence, and wants Konrad to come see him. Konrad does, but is very cold toward him. Hjaltalín begs him to continue the investigation, to absolve him of a crime he didn’t commit. Hjaltalín has cancer and is dying, you see, and even though the two of them don’t care for one another, Hjaltalín believes Konrad to be a honest man and good cop.

People looking for nonstop action as the middle carries on into the final act will be disappointed. Most police work is not gunfights and car chases. It’s following the clues where they lead and evaluating evidence and suspects. That’s what Konrad does.

In the end, not only do we see the resolution of the crime, if there is one, and settling some of Konrad’s personal debts to his own soul.

Take a walk in the glacier field, and pick up this first book in what will hopefully be a long series.

Five out of five stars.

Thanks to St Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: The Opium Prince (Jasmine Aimaq)

I will no doubt be in the minority on this book.

I wanted to enjoy it: set in Afghanistan in the 1970s, with the opium becoming one of the defining symbols of the country, Russia attempting to take the country, the US creating and arming the Taliban as an answer, and within all this turmoil, David Sajedi, half American and half Afghani, working for an American agency attempting to destroy the opium trade by taking out poppy fields, hits and kills a young girl while driving.

What is not to like? This: the book could not determine what it wanted to be. This will no doubt draw comments about how many books don’t fit into a single category, and it’s x of me to try to apply labels. Yes, some books defy categorization. In order to do this, though, they must be consistent, and they must be well written throughout. Characters are introduced and that appear to be playing a part in this book in some important way are never heard from or about) again. Thee are some pacing issues as well. The shifts in writing range from soaring language that is almost poetic to basic noun-verb-period. There are also some weird references to other books as we slog to the end that make no sense at all.

The premise is good. the story should be good, placed against that background. I just didn’t really like the execution. Sorry, not for me.

Two out of five stars.

Thanks to Soho Press/Soho Crime and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Silent Ridge – Det. Megan Carpenter #1 (Gregg Olsen)

I’d previously read The Hive by the same author, and picked this up as that was okay. Silent Ridge, alas, is not. This is the third book in a series, and if you have not read the first two, it’s going to be a real problem. At least it was for me.

Police are called to the scene of a gruesome murder. Wait, before we begin that, let me say that this is primarily written in first person, present tense. I really do not like that. I persevered, though, and Detective Carpenter shows up at the scene. We immediately know she has some kind of connection to the victim, because we’re flat out told that she does. Does she tell anyone, so she can be restricted from investigating it due to her emotional compromise. As we all know for maverick cops, they do their own thing and basically flaunt everything there is about proper law enforcement and investigations.

I absolutely do not like this character. She is by turns whiny and angry. She lies to the people around her, and is paranoid even at the best of times. Without even an ounce of investigation being done, she’s decided that the murder has to be something related to her childhood. In fact, there are many, many, many, ad nauseum instances of connecting every single thing to her terrible childhood. This woman should be on desk duty at best, with mandatory psych evals once a quarter at least.

All of that psych stuff, after awhile, starts to feel like filler. There was no tension because we get the murderer’s scenes, too, so the mystery slowly drains out like one of those blow up kiddie pools that springs a small leak. Worst of all, Carpenter seems to wallow in the childhood trauma, and after awhile, I just didn’t care because it was boring. I wanted then to catch the murderer before I gave up on the book (which, to be honest, happened multiple times)

If you’re pressed for something to read, or you’re a fan of the series, you might like this. Sorry, but I did not. It took months for me to finish it, something completely abnormal for me.

Two out of five stars, and a vow not to read anything else in this series.

Thanks to Bookouture and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: A Dark and Secret Place

A Dark and Secret Place tries to do a whole passel of things in the course of its tale. Most of it is terrific. Prodigal daughter returns home to small town after her mother commits suicide only to find her mother had quite a number of secrets.

The prodigal daughter is Heather Evans, who heads home to deal with her mother’s suicide and to clean up the things a long life leaves behind. In the course of her cleanup, she discovers a large number of letters from a rather gruesome serial killer who is currently in prison. What did her mother know? Heather’s investigation leads her into some dark and creepy and cultish angles. In fact, the sheer number of things this investigation winds up including is a bit much.

Otherwise, the book is creepy and thought-provoking (on the nature of relationships, evil, and other things). The stakes are upped when ore young women are killed, something the police initially chalk up to a copycat. When it becomes clear they are not Heather works with DCI Ben Parker to solve the mystery. We also get what I saw as a bit of a gratuitous romantic arc.

That brings me to my only other minus: the ending. It’s a bit over the edge of what I was willing to suspend my disbelief for.

For the things I saw as a negative, though, the rest of the book was quite good. I’ll give it a solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: American Agriculture: From Farm Families to Agribusiness (Mark Wetherington)

American Agriculture traces the very beginning of agriculture in America from the earliest days of settlement well into the current giant agribusiness outfits that control the vast majority of American farmland.

This is not, however, just a dry recitation of facts and figures and graphs about farming. Wetherington also goes into social, economic, and political considerations that trailed along ag (and later, Big Ag), through periods off boom – wars, foreign markets -and busts – Dust Bowl, collapsing markets, and movement of rural people to cities, looking for work off the farm.

We also get to see how the addition of heavy machinery, subsidies, and chemical pesticides helped boost production per acre to astronomical levels, to better feed the US and the world. On the downside of that, if the market for a particular commodity collapses, the government can and does step in to help offset the losses farmers experience and to make it worth their while to simply not plant the next round of crops.

If you’re curious about the evolution of agriculture in the country, or how it affects people and policy, it’s a good read.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Rowman & Littlefield and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Iron Women: The Ladies Who Helped Build the Railroad (Chris Enss)

Having enjoyed Chris Enss’ Wicked Women: Notorious, Mischievous, and Wayward Ladies from the Old West some years ago, I had high hopes for Iron Women. However, the title is a bit misleading, and I didn’t much care for the writing, what there was of it. It seems more like notes made in the course of research, or verbatim transcribing of quotes, and women didn’t actually work on laying the the physical rails.

Their contributions were in rail-adjacent items: engineering better bearings on axle wheels, designing the interior of the cars, creating refrigerated boxcars, and so on. All these things, of course, are incredibly important to rail travel overall, for both people and goods. There were other women, from the bad side of the tracks, as it were, as well: prostitutes and train robbers also plied their trades. I don’t see, however, how these women contributed anything to “building the railroad”, and the text didn’t enlighten me to see how they were.

I was disappointed in this outing. Two out of five stars. Sorry, this was a miss (ha!) for me.

Thanks to Rowan & Littlefield and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: A Fire in the Night (Christopher Swann)

Nick Anthony has retreated to his cabin in the middle of nowhere after the death of his wife. Retired now, he whiles away his time at the cabin in peace.

That peace is shattered when a local deputy appears at his door to tell him that his estranged brother and his sister-in-law have been killed in a house fire. He’s shocked, of course, but not as shocked as he is when he finds out he has a niece, Annalise – now on the run and the primary suspect.

Annalise, for her part, is running toward her uncle, as her father told her to, in possession of a flash drive she was told to take. She has no idea what’s on that drive, but bad guy Cole does: he and his mercenary teams are on her trail.

There’s a flashback that doesn’t make a lot of immediate sense, but be patient, the significance of it will be revealed.

Nick, though, is not just a mild-mannered professor. He’s an ex spy, with skills that Cole and his gang of baddies don’t know about. When Annalise arrives, Nick sets about trying to build a relationship with her, and she eventually thaws. To read the drive, they have to go to a public library. Cole sends a crew to snatch them up, because there’s some kind of whizbang thing that alerts when the drive is accessed. Highly improbable, but it’s a staple these days of thrillers than some hacker can break into just about anything, so just roll with it.

There’s a big showdown at the cabin, of course, and the final fight scene is quite enjoyable – that fight alone gets five stars from me.

The ending is what you might think and expect.

A solid four out of five stars, and good for a day (or weekend if you’re not a straight-through reader) of escapism.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Count to Three (TR Ragan)

A parent’s worst nightmare: their child is missing from her school, picked up by someone who looks just like them.

That’s how Count to Three begins: Tinsley Callahan is collected from kindergarten by a woman who looks just like Dani Callahan, her mother. Dani is devastated, as one might expect. While her husband insists they give up and move on, Dani refuses. Five years later, the husband is an ex, Dani is a private investigator, and she still keeps the case file on Tinsley open, even while she works on other cases.

She doesn’t do this alone: the original detective on the case is now a friend, and they chat every so often, about Tinsley, or when Dani’s trying to find out something for a client. She also has an assistant named Quinn, who wants to be a PI because he mother vanished some years ago, and she carries that around with her.

In the current timeframe, Ali Cross is kidnapped in broad daylight, dosed with some kind of drug, and tossed into a van. The only witness is 12 year old Ethan, a local “bad kid” who lives with his mom in a rundown trailer. Ethan has an unfortunate habit of lying, getting in trouble, and generally being someone who others ignore.

Ethan hires them to look into Ali’s disappearance, something the local cops have written off as a runaway, since she has run off before (not not really).

Dani and Quinn go to work, finding out everything they can about Ali – social media! – and eventually team up with Ali’s mom to work out strategy, make flyers, and figure out if someone had access to the house (contractors, and so on).

Eventually, they track down Ali’s boyfriend, getting a few minutes to talk to him before something really unfortunate happens.

To keep the place afloat, Dani is also working a case for a woman who insists that someone is coming into her house and rearranging her furniture. This is the comedy relief in what is a very dark book. If you have issues reading about molestation, child sexual abuse, or physical torture, you might want to skip this one.

As Dani and Quinn get closer to finding the perp, the perp is busy throwing obstacles in their way, and threatening Ali’s family if she doesn’t behave herself in her captivity.

Dani’s ex shows up, telling her again to move on, and she tells him off in a way that really gave me a smile. That smile got bigger when she just kicked him out.

The end rushes at us, as it often does in thrillers, and everything’s tied up with a bow on top.

My only real issue with this book is this: Dani and Quinn are running around, poking into this, and they KNOW that the perp is both out in the wild and dangerous, given that he’s killing more people. But they take NO precautions with 12 year old Ethan, even to the point of Quinn leaving him alone on a corner after they’ve been hanging flyers. There’s no sense in this except to make it another plot point, which it does. It just made me angry.

Other than that, it’s a good read. I’d have given it five stars except for the Ethan thing. Four stars instead.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Reflections on gardening, cooking, and life