Category Archives: Mysteries

Review: Her Consigliere (Carsen Taite)

FBI agent Royal Scott has just come out from another assignment, and has been promised both some time off and end to long undercover assignments in the future. Alas,this is not to be, as her boss wants her to go undercover and infiltrate the Mancuso crime family, which he assures her won’t last too long. She reluctantly accepts.,

When Royal leaves the FBI building, she saves a woman from being run over by an SUV. Intentional? Hard to tell. It turns out the woman, Siobhan Collins, is the consigliere (lawyer/advisor) to the head of the Mancuso family. Lucky break that Royal gets to start on the newest assignment right away.

Royal scores an assignment and introduction to a couple of low level associates working for Mancuso, and winds up at the Don’s house, unloading untaxed liquor, which seems to be their specialty. Royal and Siobhan run into one another again and share a few bantering lines.

Siobhan, speaking to the Don and his natural daughter (Siobhan was basically adopted by Mancuso, and raised in the family, much like Don Vito allowed Tom Hagen into the Corleone family in The Godfather). She’s a lawyer. She’s careful, as she should be, protecting the Mancusos. This is why I found it mind-boggling that she tapped Royal – someone she doesn’t know and hasn’t yet vetted – to come work for them as more than a driver of boosted liquor. Even the Don thinks it’s a good idea, just because She pulled Siobhan out of the way of the SUV. Why? Everything she is supposed to do is supposed to protect the family. This is one of the off notes in the story for me. I get it, The two of them need to be put in a situation where they will spend more time with one another, but this was ahead scratcher. At least Siobhan’s driver/bodyguard is suspicious of Royal.

Siobhan has a suspicion that the Don’s waspish, nasty daughter is up to some kind of no good, but decides she can’t act unless there’s hard evidence of it. Royal has her own family entanglement to deal with when her brother shows up at her door.

The romance part was okay. The mystery/mob part of it, even with the issue I noted above, was better, with Siobhan looking for anyone who might want to hurt the family, and Royal looking out for anyone who wants to kill Siobhan. They get more time together and in fact do wind up sleeping with one another (not: there are a couple of minorly explicit scenes.

The ending feels a little rushed, and not without a bit of a cliffhanger about what happens to someone other than the main characters. The end made me do a bit of a head scratch – it wasn’t completely out of the realm of possibility, but seemed a little too…public, I suppose if the word I’m looking for.

Overall, something that can be read in one sitting without a ton of plot holes, or at least none that couldn’t be ignored for the sake of the two mains. Three out of five stars.

Thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

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: 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 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.

Review: Dead Point – Maggie Blackthorne #1 (LaVonne Griffin-Valade)

Finally, I read the first in a new series instead of bouncing in at some point into it!

This is the first Maggie Blackthorne novel, and a terrific story it is. Sgt. Maggie Blackthorne finds a pair of ne’er do well brothers poaching a deer. She’s unable to bring them in, and intends to turn it over to the Fish & Game officer who shares the Sheriff’s Office space in the sparsely populated and large county that is their jurisdiction. Before she can do that, however, she receives a panicked call from one of the brothers that ends abruptly with a gunshot.

Blackthorne finally finds the location from which the brothers have called only o find both them and their dog murdered. Thus begins a rather engaging mystery, with a female main character who doesn’t feel the need to pretend to be younger than she is, or waste time looking in a mirror every chapter and fretting she looks any differently than she does. It’s rather refreshing, really.

She does have an abusive ass of an ex-husband who is also now her boss. He turns up a couple of times, but he works in another city and fortunately, we don’t have to see much of him. In the course of her investigation, it turns out a new man – someone she’s known for practically forever – has some romantic interest in her, and refreshingly, it isn’t a jump into bed on the first date sort of thing. Instalove just isn’t for me except in certain genres where it’s expected.

The investigation itself winds on, putting Blackthorne and her squad into contact with quite a number of possibly suspects, including some oddball man and his sons (and a couple of tough guys), who want to raise cattle naturally, an incapacitated patriarch, as well as a couple more dead bodies.

Blackthorne is dogged and intelligent, and the book finishes up well enough for me to look for the sequel.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Severn River Publishing and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Dark Roads (Chevy Stevens)

Hailey McBride is sent to live with her aunt and her aunt’s husband Vaughn – a cop nicknamed Ice Man, who has a few (a lot) of dubious practices – after her father dies after going off he side of a mountain. She’s terribly unhappy about her father, about Vaughn, an obvious narcissist and controller of everything that goes on in the house. Hailey, for her part, wants nothing to do with Vaughn, but has to put up with his creepy uncle bit until she makes her escape with the help of Johnny, her friend and confidante, and fellow dirt biker.

All of this is set against the background of a very real, very current, and very disturbing backdrop: the disappearance of hundreds of missing Indigenous girls and women in Canada over a span of decades. Read up on the Highway of Tears for more information.

Prior to Hailey’s escape, she had befriended Amber, a waitress at the local diner. When Vaughn sees all the pictures of the two of them together, he predictably goes ape and forbids Hailey from going to the camp site at the lake, where most of the local kids hang out.

During Hailey’s escape, she sneaks over to look at a litter of puppies a farmer’s dog has had, wishing once more she could have had one at the house (Vaughn said no, of course). One of the puppies trails after her and will not leave, no matter how much she tries. So Hailey and Wolf wind up off the grid in an old and forgotten cabin. Johnny had stocked it in advance, and she and Wolf live off this, and what she can gather from the secluded area surrounding them.

She occasionally comes off the mountain, and horrifyingly discovers Amber, dead for a couple of days, at the lake. She calls it in anonymously, then waits, only to find Vaughn driving in and walking directly to where the body lies. She flees back into wild, and her section of the book ends when she and Wolf have to fend off a cougar, and Wolf is seriously injured.

The next part picks up with Beth, Amber’s sister. There’s a bit about their parents, who are decidedly religiously odd almost to the point of caricature, but soon we’re following Beth to Cold Creek, to see what she can find out about Amber’s death. The diner is down a waitress now, and she takes the offer of a job to work there. She runs into Vaughn fairly quickly, and gets the creep vibe from him, just as everyone else does.

To go further would be to spoil some excellent moments from the end of the book. I’ve also left out quite a bit from the beginning for the same reason. Vaughn is in fact quite creepy, and he has zero redeeming qualities about him, which makes him a bit of a one note villain. There are plenty of villains to choose from, though, and a number of heroes emerge as well.

A solid four out of five stars.

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

Review: The Bucket List – John Adderley #1 (Peter Mohlin and Peter Nyström)

John Adderley, FBI agent and all around suave dude, helps take down a major Nigerian drug trafficking group, and then heads into witness protection after being shot. His mother, who lives in Sweden, sends him a packet containing information related to the arrest of his brother, also in Sweden, for the murder of a young girl. It’s a cold case, now, and his mother insists that his brother is innocent. Instead of sitting around, waiting for the case against the Nigerians to wind its way through the legal system – and petty much blackmailing his boss – Adderley heads to Sweden to look into the case of Emile, the subject of the cold case.

Generally speaking, I really do enjoy Nordic noir. This was….ok. The idea of it was good: guy born in Sweden is taken by his father to the US, joins the FBI, goes undercover to bust up a drug ring, then goes to Sweden, undercover again under another name, to help with a cold case. It’s rather unusual, but I can go with it.

The book switches between 2009 and 2019, telling the backstory of Emile’s murder, and Adderley’s progression from undercover FBI agent to undercover cold case investigator in Sweden. The first half is chocked with quite a lot of first date information: who Adderley is, who the people around him are, and the situations both in the US and Sweden. I expect this from the first book in a new series, so I won’t ding it for that.

I will, however, ding it for taking up the entire first half of the book. We don’t need to know every single little detail – the descriptions of everything take forever to get through, and the book doesn’t really pick up the pace until about the 60% mark (on a Fire tablet).

In addition, Adderley is supposedly scare of a Nigerian hi team coming after him and the other FBI agent who was embedded in the same cell. But he dresses in (impeccable) suits and drives an American muscle car all over the place while at the same time ensuring that people remember him due to the way he acts an how perilously close he comes to revealing that he has been in contact with his family,which is a no-no, per his new Swedish handlers.

More bodies pile up, and I will give give credit to the authors for having a number of suspects, all with motives that could cast suspicion on them to be the culprit. The real culprit, though, is eventually caught, and Adderley and his Swedish handler do an absurdly ridiculous thing with him and the dead girl’s father.

Overall, it’s a good enough read that I’ll put it down with three stars.

Thanks to Abrams and NetGalley for the reading copy.