Category Archives: Mysteries

Review: All Your Little Lies (Marianne Holmes)

Annie is a quiet, socially awkward young woman in love with her boss Paul, and thinks Paul feels something for her in return. After having a bit too much to drink at a company function, she talks just a tad too loudly about he relationship she sees between them, and is escorted to the door by am embarrassed Paul.

She knows where Paul keeps his spare keys, though, so while Paul continues at the pub, she goes into his apartment to wander around, leaving her nametag in his bathroom and taking a tiny statuette f a baby she had given him from his mantel. There is a moment she believe she is caught, after hearing voices outside his apartment, and once the voices have faded, she leaves, returning Paul’s spare keys to their hiding place.

Flushed with the success of her mission, she drunkenly makes her way back to the train station and then to her car, sits there for an hour or so, and then heads home.

From there, everything seems to go downhill for Annie. While Paul does not directly accuse her of being in his apartment the next day, she thinks he knows she was. In addition, a girl has gone missing from Annie’s area, and from a CCTV that captured the last known movement of the girl, Annie knows it is her car Chloe passes in front of. But Annie did not see her: she was not paying attention to anything outside. Feeling badly, she joins in the searches for the girl, but the others in the group she’s assigned to find her both weird and a little creepy due to her awkwardness.

After some hesitation, Annie finally calls the police to tell them she may have been the last person to see Chloe, even though she didn’t actually see the girl. When the police visit, she tells them this. But there are questions about her timeline, and they want to know why she didn’t actually see the girl who passed right in front of her. She has no good answer, of course, other than she was drink, but she can’t tell them that.

When people find out Annie has been interviewed by the police, suddenly the shy, awkward girl is the center of attention in the office. She enjoys it for awhile, but finds that being unable to give up any real meat about the case returns her to her lonely world.

During the searches, Annie sees that Chloe’s two best friends are behaving oddly. She doesn’t mention this to the police, makes a few (awkward, of course) mentions of the friends to her search team, and it’s clear they wish she was anywhere except with them.

After Chloe goes missing, and between scenes of the present, we get flashbacks to Annie’s childhood. Known as Lottie then, one day two older girls want to include her in a secret club that involves pixies (fairies). creatures Lottie is fascinated by. The girls draw her in by setting trials she has to complete, which she does, and the last of those is a rather heinous one: sacrifice.

All of this informs Annie’s rather odd development and her awkwardness in her adult life. Eventually, Paul confronts her about being in his apartment, but doesn’t fire her. The searches are called off, and the press gets wind of Annie’s past, then police return to question her some more, and eventually, her lie is going off the rails and she considers that she may need to flee.

But then a shocking conclusion brings the entire case crashing down: more secrets are revealed, and we find that sometimes, those closest to you can be the worst for you.

It’s a great story, and Holmes captures the shy, awkward kid turning into a shy, awkward adult incredibly well. There are no major plot or character issues, and this one gets a 4.5 out of 5 stars from me, rounded up to five.

Thanks to Agora Books and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Crimcon Lake Road – Desert Plains #2 (Victor Methos)

This will be part review and part storycraft (including consistency) and will contain spoilers. It also describes some of the gore in it. The book also deals in child abuse. If you want to read this book, or you’re not a fan of child in danger books, you may want to skip this review. It’s also fairly long.

 

 

 

Good? Good.

Crimson Lake Road is listed as “Desert Plains, #2” on Goodreads. As is the case in many of my reviews, I’m parachuting into a series after the characters have been established. It isn’t really apparent in this book that it’s #2 in a series on the cover (in fact, it doesn’t mention it at all) and past events aren’t really brought up in terms of these characters working together as a group, so it can and does work as a standalone, although reading the first will certainly inform the second.

The book opens with a horrific scene: a woman in a tunic on a kitchen table, her head obscured by bloody gauze. FBI agent Cason Baldwin and Detective Lucas Garrett (and everyone else in the entry team) believe the woman is dead. Until she start flailing around.

We then cut to a bar, where (super smart) Jessica Yardley, currently working for the US Attorney’s office is telling Baldwin she’s leaving the office and moving somewhere that she doesn’t have to see the terrible things she (and he) have seen. She agrees with her boss to work on this particular case and bring New Guy (Kyle? Don’t recall, he’s annoying and a cartoony frat boy know-it-all who has zero character development despite the fact he will be working this case) up to speed and get him going on it. New Guy’s schtick is having a sucker in his mouth all the time – even in court, and having to have the judge to tell him to ditch it. Even a frat boy would know this is not acceptable, come on.

Yardley goes to see the victim, whom they believe is the second victim of a killer using a series of four paintings as inspiration. The first, a woman named Kathy Pharr, did not survive. Yardley befriends woman #2, Angela River (“Call me Angie.”), telling herself there is no reason they can’t be friends. OK, I’ll push my disbelief that a prosecutor – even one leaving – would get emotionally involved with the victim of an open case in this way, even if Yardley seems desperate for friends and finds River a willing ear. The way things work out, however, it does seem that Yardley makes pretty bad choices about the people she wants to be in her life.

Meanwhile, everyone is trying to determine who the killer is, and delving into Pharr’s life to see if there are connections between her and River. There don’t seem to be any, but they keep digging, reinterviewing everyone. There’s an intimation that River’s fiancee, Dr. Michael Zachary could be the killer/attacker, based on a profile developed by the FBI. The BAU, in fact (who develop such profiles) is on the verge of being shut down, which brings some tension into Baldwin’s life, since that’s his department.

We get some references to Yardley’s teenaged daughter Tara, and Yardley tells her new bestie that she was once married to a man who was a serial killer (this is apparently what the first book is about) and had a relationship with another bad guy. Tara is described as some kind of math savant and super smart, and we find out that she has been secretly visiting her (super smart and super manipulative) father on death row, while telling her mother she’s working in the robotics lab at the university.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I love a good, morally grey character. I’ll even root for bad guys if they’re doing good things. But I want consistency. Barring some catastrophic event, for instance, an FBI agent isn’t going to suddenly rob a bank. Yardley is conscientious and wants bad guys found and punished for their wrongdoings.

That’s why it bothered me that when Tara and a friend are at River’s house, and River leaves, Tara calls Yardley, knowing Yardley wants to snoop around a bit. When Tara asks her “That’s what you wanted, right?”, this should have been a sign to Yardley to rethink herself. Instead, she does go snooping, and in doing so, finds a garage with gauze, etc., that indicate Dr Zachary could be their man, and calls Baldwin to get a judge to sign a warrant to search Rover and Zachary’s outbuildings. Baldwin does write the warrant but does not get a chance to get it under a judge’s pen, so Yardley takes it, thin as it is, and gets it signed. This should have been another sign to Yardley. But it isn’t.

When the warrant is served, River naturally accuses Yardley of getting close to her solely for the purposes of arresting Zachary, and storms off – rightly so, in my opinion. But, River gets over it, and they’re again friends as the book moves suddenly to the viewpoint of a defense attorney, previously not introduced to the reader, by the name of Dylan Aster. If you asked me to point to the character I’d be most interested in reading a book about, it would be Aster.

It seemed to me that Methos was having much more fun writing the parts with Aster – from describing his antics in getting himself held in contempt during a trial in front of a particular judge so that judge would likely have to recuse himself from any case Aster was involved with, to the play he made to have himself be able to be present while the grand jury was seated for Zachary’s indictment. Aster was irrepressible, and those scenes both lightened he mood during the middle of the book, but also helped carry the middle along. Often, the “sagging middle” is quite a problem for writer and reader alike, but Methos has avoided that here for the most part.

Kathy Pharr’s daughter, Harmony, goes missing. Her father Tucker, recently released from prison after being convicted of snatching and murdering a girl about Harmony’s age, has seen nothing, heard nothing, and is generally unhelpful. He also talks like someone from an Appalachian holler. I’m supposing this is because we’re told he has something like a 5th grade education, and is not terribly bright, so of course he’d speak poor English and have a southern accent, living there in Nevada. Baldwin finds the girl’s necklace and her phone, but not the girl herself. Since Zachary was remanded without bail, so could not have taken the girl himself, the group posits that perhaps Zachary and Tucker were working together. An independent crime reporter has been hovering at the edges of the investigation, and Yardley encounters him while she and Baldwin are working a piece of the case, interviewing a drug addict who claims to have seen Harmony. She thinks it’s interesting that he was nearby, but then thinks nothing more of it.

Meanwhile, in a subplot involving Tara, she is doing some work for her imprisoned father, selling his artwork. She changes her appearance and goes to some very sketchy warehouses to meet some equally sketchy bad dudes. This does not strike me as the actions of a supposed very smart person, and although Tara is described as a “savant”, she’s not someone who cannot function in society. She knows it’s dangerous, she knows her father is dangerous, yet she tells her mother nothing of all this (and Yardley doesn’t ask, even though a 17 year old seems to be at a college lab at all hours, every day).

The drug addict is then found hanging by his intestines in a house at Crimson Lake Road. This scene is not described in details, but the original painting that inspired it was. If you’ve seen the movie Hannibal (the film, with Anthony Perkins and Julianne Moore), the scene where Hannibal kills Inspector Pazzi will give you a good idea of it.

The group finally begins to realize that Zachary is not guilty, and looks even more closely at the original incident for which Tucker went to prison, which occurred in another town. Baldwin is close behind her, but Yardley is abducted before he arrives. When she comes to, she realizes she’s in a basement, and Tucker is strapped to a table, naked. The character who snatched her – who we guessed was the crime reporter – leaves the basement for a minute, and Yardley opens the small window to get out, but is unable to do so before their captor returns, and quickly hides in a closet. Their captor goes charging out to chase down Yardley, who manages to get out of the house for real and begins running. The bad guy is almost on her when Baldwin arrives on..I mean in…his Mustang to clip the bad guy and then cuff him.

Yardley’s fine, for the most part, and Tucker has been rescued, but is under arrest, as they’ve discovered Tucker used to live on Crimson Lake Road, and his family had other land there back in the day. While Tucker is lying in a hospital bed, cuffed to the rail, a nurse comes in, supposedly to give him pain meds, but really to inject him with something that will paralyze his muscles but will keep his heart and brain working while she slices and dices him to remove all his organs like the fourth painting.

We’ve already guessed that River is involved in these killings. When Yardley goes to River’s house, she sees that River has left in a hurry. Good thing they were BFFs, and River told Yardley where she’d go if she left the area. Yarley calls San Pedro to let them know there’s a fugitive in their area. She goes herself, finds Sue Ellen/Angie, who has Harmony with her. Yardley tells River she’s decided not to leave the US Attorney’s office after all, and that she’s going to move to the crimes against children section. Baldwin, for his part, has also told his boss he wants to move to the crimes against child department, which I suppose means the series will continue with these two working together in books detailing the number of ways people can be horrible to kids. I’m not squeamish, and I know these things happen, but I know I’ll also pick something else to read if it’s a choice between that and something like this, even if the bulk of the horrible acts of violence are left offscreen.

Remember consistencies? It was VERY difficult for me to believe that Yardley would just let River walk away – and take Harmony with her, even though I understood River’s motives. But she does just that, and I had been rooting for her to find her integrity again. Alas, I was disappointed. Hopefully, in the next book, Yardley will reflect on her choice to get too cozy with the victim of a case.

Four stars for a good premise for the murders and not just the investigation, but the way some investigators stop looking at things closely once they think they have the perp – looking at you, New Guy. Two stars for inconsistency and inaction/blind eye in Yardley. We’ll go with the middle and give it three stars out of five. Worth a read if you’re not too squeamish.

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

Review: The March Fallen – Gereon Rath #5 (Volker Kutscher)

In my usual theme, I’ll say this is the fifth book of the Gereon Rath series, but he first I’ve read (and i have not watched Babylon Berlin, which is based on one or two of the previous books in this series). I’m happy I began with this one. Allow me to explain.

I’m a student of history, and especially WWII, with a side dip into the sociological studies of how good people do and say nothing in the face of great evils. In The March Fallen, it is 1933 Berlin, and the Nazis are consolidating their power. When a homeless WWI veteran is murdered at a train station, Rath is tasked with finding his killer – a job no one else wants to do.

The book starts out slowly, but is worth getting through, as Kutscher draws the atmosphere of an ill wind blowing into Germany while Rath puts his head down ad goes to work. Change is all around him, and despite his somewhat tepid suggestion to Charly, his fiancee, that good people will not go along with the Nazi plans, it’s clear that eventually, he will have to face the reality that his job is not just to find murderers, but to toe the Nazi line, and watch what he says and does, lest he make the wrong person angry and wind up in the hands of the SA.

The murdered man is identified by the author of a memoir, who identifies the dead man as being his orderly – and a witness to their (Jewish) Captain’s shooting of two children and another German soldier over a disagreement about gold their unit had found in a French villa as they retreated, destroying everything in their wake.

Meanwhile, another storyline focuses on a young girl – the daughter of a injured veteran who drifted into hopelessness and drugs, disillusioned with the country he once served – who set fire to the boardinghouse where they lived, killing her father and others, in her quest to escape the abuse she suffered at the hands of other men there. She’s judged unfit to stand trial and sent to a sanitarium, where she once again is abused by a man (a one legged man, keep this in mind as you read). Her escape is very clever, but everyone is trying to find her, so she relies on her wits to survive the streets. This seems to have nothing to do with the main plot of the book. Over time, as Rath’s investigation digs more deeply, that will change.

Charly gets her own subplot, as she is sent back to the department where the female detectives investigate graffitti and the like – neither this nor the changes in her country are things that she is happy with. She, at least, recognizes what’s happening, but trying to get through to Rath results in them quarreling about it. She decides to unofficially help in the investigation.

There’s a case of misidentification, missteps by Rath that lead to at least one death, the smuggling out – in plain view- a prisoner of the SA, the ebb and flow of personnel as rising stars in the Nazi party consolidate the power they have around themselves, constant surprises to Rath of people he thought he knew wholeheartedly joining the Nazis, and a satisfying resolution that both catches the killer and clears the name of the maligned Jewish Captain, in a nice dovetail of all the storylines.

It’s worth the read.

Five out of five stars.

Thanks to Sandstone Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Every Waking Hour – Ellery Hathaway #4 (Joanna Schaffhausen)

Every Waking Hour is the fourth book in the Ellery Hathaway series. While it is possible to get through it as a standalone, I’d recommend reading the previous books – something I have not done – because of the sheer trauma of the lead character, who was abducted by a serial killer and survived until she was rescued by Reed Markham, an FBI agent. Hathaway is now a detective with the Boston PD, and winds up being the lead on the disappearance of Chloe Lockhart, who vanishes at a fair at which the pair happens to be at with Markham’s young daughter.

I don’t mind characters who have some Bad Thing in their past that winds up shaping them. It’s a bit harder to imagine them in various stressful professions (like a detective) when they clearly exhibit PTSD symptoms as much as Hathaway does. While it strikes me that she’s obviously very strong to have survived a hellish near death experience, it would give me pause to set her out on the street where the very possibility of the same thing happening to someone else – like the missing Chloe – could potentially derail their ability to perform her duties. I’m also not a fan of Markham and Hathaway’s relationship, but I understand why it’s there for fictional purposes.

That aside: it’s a good story, with many excellent suspects, following clues that often lead nowhere (as is often, unfortunately, the case), some nice red herrings thrown in, and while not an entirely unexpected ending (if you remove all the potentials when you read it, you’ll understand), a satisfying one. There’s also a fascinating subplot involving another Lockhart child, along with a bit of discussion about protecting kids versus basically jailing them.

Overall, I’d recommend it unless children in danger is not your bag. A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Bone Canyon – Eve Ronin #2 (Lee Goldberg)

Yet another series I come to without having read anything previous. This is actually useful, because it allows me to evaluate a book almost as a standalone and see how the author weaves in some of the backstory so we get to know what has come before and who the main character (and some of the secondary characters as well).

Rookie detective Eve Ronin has been called out to a scene where human remains have been found due to a wildfire that exposed them. Her partner, Duncan, is on the edge of retiring, which worries her, as she’s not certain that she can do the job. This is a recurring theme, and gets old a bit quickly.

How did she get the job? Based on the pieces of the backstory, she was essentially shoved into the position, leapfrogging other officers attached to the Sheriff’s Department, breeding resentment among some of the other LASD members.To add to the pile of simmering resentment – and since it’s Hollywood, after all – people are approaching Ronin about a film version of the escapades that happened in the previous book. As we go through the story, Ronin is also rehabbing her wrist with a physical therapist due to an injury sustained in the previous book.

The remains belong to a young woman who simply vanished some years ago. When another set of remains is found, and a jogger goes missing on the hills, Ronin and Duncan have their work cut out for them. While both skeletons have been determined to be female, there is seemingly nothing to tie the two female victims together. The detectives slog through the work of following the trail to determine what happened to these women and who needs to be brought to justice.

Warning: rape and suicide are both in this investigation. While the former is not depicted directly, but only as a recounting of events in the past, the latter is described as it happens, narrative-wise. There is also a blame the victim mentality going on for the rape.

Eventually – and some readers will figure this out before the reveal, as I did – the bad guy will be found and arrested for their misdeeds.

The story flows nicely, and except for a couple of draggy moments that clear up quickly, and the suspension of disbelief a reader will need to believe someone would be promote to homicide investigation in the way Ronin seemingly was, it’s well rounded and is a quick read.

Four out of five stars.

Review: Black River – Jess Bridges Mystery #1 (Joss Stirling)

Jess Bridges, out with her reading group on the banks of the river Thames, decides to go skinny dipping after a bit too much to drink. Her clothes are taken by a dog, and her friend goes running after it, leaving Jess shivering in the bushes. She spies a boat, and thinking it may have a tarp or something else she can cover herself with, slips into the water and pulls it toward her. She doesn’t find a tarp – she finds a dead man.

Thus begins Black River, which is listed as “Jess Bridges Mystery, #1”. That would be remarkable for me, as I usually find myself landing in the midst of an ongoing series. However, it seems as if Jess has found a dead body previously – both she and DI Leo George mention “the West case”, as if it’s something the reader might know about. And the reader might know about it if there were a book about it prior to this one.

Jess is discovered on the bank by Jago Jackson, who had been jogging on the path. He happens to be the author of a book Jess’ book club was reading, on wild swimming – that is, going to swim in places people usually don’t go, or a hidden swimming hole, and things of hat nature. Of course he wants to ask her out, and does. DI George shows up, and begins his investigation, questioning Jess. Of course he wants to ask her out, but does not, as that would be unseemly.

The investigation itself is well written when it’s DI George on the trail, moving from dot to dot to trace who the dead man is and what he would be doing there. Then, another two bodies are found, this time in a place Jackson has mentioned in his book, and where he had taken Jess to go swimming. Is someone targeting Jackson? Jess? The culprit does seem to be picking places Jackson has written around, so DI George calls in Michael Harrison to consult. He, of course, was involved with Jess years ago, and of course Harrison and Jackson have some animosity toward one another, it’s said, but it doesn’t appear all that much except for when Michael is handling the narrative.

We also get DI George taking his turn at the narrative reins (as does Jackson), but it’s clear Jess is the primary character. I found I would rather have stayed with DI George throughout.

There is a subplot involving Jess and her breakup with her boyfriend, and her taking a case for her side job of finding missing persons. The missing person is not actually missing – she’s just gone to her father’s, and the father is threatening the mother about claims the girl has made. The girl, to me, seems to be a sociopath in the making. Jess’ job is to find out what’s true and what is not about the situation.

The main and the subplot dovetail in the end, as various adults, except Michael, fanning out to search for both the girl and her young brother. The culprit is revealed during the course of the search and captured, and the subplot’s resolution explained to us all.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad read. It isn’t a five star read, though, and I have a hard time with female protagonists who attract virtually every man they come across, including some gay dudes. The opening coincidence between Jess and Jackson is something I know is required for the plot, and I’m feeling generous today, so I’ll give it a pass. The theory of the murders is at least possible, although the first murder is never really fully explained in terms of what connection it has to Jackson’s book on wild swimming.

I’ll give it four out of five stars.

Thanks to One More Chapter/HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Missing Persons – Buddy Steel #1 (Michael Brandman)

Buddy Steel, who has relocated from LA to the small town of Freedom to take over the Sheriff reins from his father – who has been recently diagnosed with ALS -finds himself investigating the apparent disappearance of the wife of a well known and well liked local preacher of a megachurch.

This is listed as “Buddy Steel #1”, and is the first in a series for Brandman, who some people may know picked up Robert Parker’s Jesse Stone novels after Parker died, and who has also written some of the Jesse Stone movies.

Unfortunately, Buddy Steel reminds me a ton of Jesse Stone (for those who have not read those books, Stone relocates from LA to the small town of Paradise, although on the other side of the coast, has loads of sarcastic dialogue, doesn’t like wearing his uniform, beds the local ladies, etc.). Steel is sardonic, doesn’t like wearing his uniform, doesn’t waste time falling into bed with a woman with whom he comes into contact due to an investigation, and so on.

In Steel’s case, the woman part of that equation is the sister of the preacher – and Brandman has tried a bit too hard to make the woman quirky (she has a quirky blog, wears quirky clothes, etc.). He wears civilian clothes and often does not identify himself as he wanders in and out of areas like the living quarters of the family at their megachurch location. The dialogue is also trying to hard to make Buddy seem sarcastic and/or humorous, and it sometimes misses the mark.

The story is fairly straightforward, although in some cases stretches the limits of suspension of disbelief. The housekeeper for the Long family reports Catharine Long as missing, and further says Preacher Long is acting oddly about it. She’s in fear for her life, because of course the Longs run everything in town, so she reports it to Steel, then vanishes, never to be heard from again.

Steel doesn’t care where he has to go or who he might offend, and starts poking around. Various people declare that Catherine is fine, the Long family attorneys threaten to sue, there’s a subplot involving another Long brother of being in cahoots with a local gang, as well as a Ponzi scheme, and the entire thing reads like an episode of American Greed, as if various elements were pulled out, tossed together, and this is what the end result is.

It’s a very fast read, but reads more like something written for TV than something written for a novel. In some places, descriptions are scarce. In others, it’s hard to track who is saying what in the dialogue – even though I am a firm believer in using as few dialogue tags as possible, I think there needs to be *something* in place every so often so the reader doesn’t have to backtrack to match up dialogue. This is made particularly difficult when it’s anyone but Steel and the quirky sister talking (although I counted one 19-exchange instance between the two of them that had no attribution beyond Steel beginning the exchange) as everyone in the department seems to have the same sardonic tone and is trying to be funny. This sort of thing is fine for TV, since there will be bother visual cues and the actors’ voices won’t be the same, but can make for some difficult novel reading.

The book (originally released in 2017) sets itself up well for further books in the series, as evidenced by the three books that followed this one. In a rare twist for me and ARCs, this is the first book I’ve read in a series new to me, versus the nth. I’m not quite sure if I’ll read the books that follow (although who am I kidding, I have some weird compulsion to read all the books in a series).

Overall, a fast read with a decent enough mystery at its heart.

Three stars out of five.

Thanks to Poisoned Penn Press an NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: When the Past Kills – DI Ridpath #5 (M.J. Lee)

I wasn’t that enamored with the title, even though it does reflect the goings-on in the book. That said, the synopsis was intriguing, and although I’d not read any of the previous DI Ridpath books, I was hopeful that the character and the writing was fairly mature.By that, I don’t mean in age, but in development. There have been some series I’ve read where the author still doesn’t really know what they’re doing with their main character until they’re ten books in, and it makes reading the books a bit of a chore.

Not so with When the Past Kills: DI Ridpath, recently diagnosed as being free of the cancer that forced him to take time off, is working as an investigator in the Coroner’s Office before he can return to the major incident team (MIT). Throughout the book, he’s just a guy – albeit a good investigator – trying to balance his work and personal life. Fortunately, he wasn’t constantly moping or preoccupied with how his work life interferes with his personal life. When I see that in books, I have to roll my eyes, and I want to yell at the character that they chose this career, and if they wanted one where they could spend more time with their family, they could do that. Otherwise, man up and let’s get the story rolling.

Ridpath’s old team is now being led by DCI Paul Turnbull, who is exactly like That Guy all of us know: convinced of his own superiority in every aspect, who is in a rush to close out an investigation or case or issue orders without much contemplation about what resources should be set where, kissing the boss’ ass, and in general, being an all around terrible person. Turnbull is not pleased that Ridpath is on loan to MIT due to a series of events related to an innocent man being sent to prison before the real killer – who Ridpath helped catch – was caught and sentenced.

The book opens with the coroner being sent a video of the previous coroner being hung. We then backtrack to the desecration of a grave – that of an investigator who was lead on the case that jailed the innocent man. Others are picked off (warning – if you can’t abide animals being harmed, do not read this book) one by one as Ridpath and MIT desperately attempt to get one step ahead of the killer, who they are sure is the once-innocent man who is not so innocent any longer.

There are loads of twists and turns, and the only item that really bothered me is something I can’t list here without it being a spoiler. Suffice to say that we directly meet a lot of people along the way in this book except one that matters quite a bit. The very end bothered me just a tad, as I’m not a fan of cliffhangers, but I’m more forgiving of those in an established series.

That said, it was an enjoyable read. A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Canelo and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Reflecting Pool (Otho Eskin)

I do love a sardonic, grey-moral kind of main character.

Marko Zorn is a Washington, DC detective who dresses well, drives a Jaguar, and basically doesn’t look the part in this noir-ish book. He happens to catch a case of the death of a woman in the Reflecting Pool. He’s also been assigned a new, young partner who is part new guy, part puppy.

When he begins investigating the murder, he’s suddenly being told to stand down by everyone from the FBI to the Secret Service – all telling him to let it go, but as he tells the mysterious Miss Shaw, the woman looked like his dead sister, and he promised to find out who killed her.

In the middle f this, a woman named Sister Grace – a local gangster, and for whom Zorn occasionally does some jobs, which allows him to wear those snazzy clothes and drive that fancy car – has another job for him. This time, though, it’s murder, to take out her second in command (Cloud), who is getting a bit too full of himself. That, however, is a line Zorn has told himself he would not cross. Sister Grace doesn’t care about his ethics, of course, and tells him to figure it out.

The investigation flows along nicely, without things like DNA or toxicology coming back in thirty minutes. There are times when witnesses or interviewees melt a bit too quickly under Zorn, but it’s a good, fun (if murder can be fun) story that is both gritty and strangely polished at the same time, due to Zorn’s personal habits and the interplay of his professional role and coming into contact with Federal offices, and the jobs he does to appease what is basically his gangster boss.

I enjoyed the dialogue. It was neither too stilted nor trying too hard to be edgy. There were some instances where it was rather snappy, and overall, it was what you’d expect if you were shadowing a detective doing their job.

In the end, Zorn does figure out a way to complete the task given to him by Sister Grace, via proxy, by setting up Cloud and Cloud’s right hand against one another. That scenario was more believable than the conclusion of the mystery of the murder.

The reveal of the killer was a bit of a letdown,and I didn’t think it was totally believable. But it was one conclusion that could have been reached by the investigation, and was possible, if not probable, so I didn’t ding it too badly for that.

Overall: a decent read, and a solid four out of five stars. I am hopeful that Zorn becomes a series character.

Thanks to Oceanview Publishing and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Hanging Falls – Timber Creek K-9 #6 (Margaret Mizushima)

Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo find a body in the spill basin of Hanging Falls while hiking with Glenda, who is a Park Ranger. After they manage to fish the man out of the water before he’s washed further away, they find the word “PAY” carved on his torso. An instant mystery! I like it! He’s wearing what look to be homespun clothes, with buttons as closures. I have to admit, I saw this bit and knew instantly there was going to be some kind of quasi-Amish religious group involved.

The rest of the book follows Mattie and Robo, and the rest of the Sheriff’s office, running who this man was, who killed him, and why he was dumped in that location.

During the investigation, Mattie and Robo find a young man camped out on a ridge overlooking the falls. He doesn’t have a ton of money on him, and seems a bit scared when they bring him in to pick his brain about the murder they think he may have seen. He insists he knows nothing, and ultimately is released. He pops up in a scene a little further into the book, and not in a good way – you’ll understand when you get to that part.

A secondary story running under the main story is Mattie finally getting in touch with her long-lost sister and her grandmother. The plan was for Mattie to take some vacation and go to meet her sis and grandmother. Instead, since she’s hung up in this murder, her sister decides to come to her instead, with grandmother in tow.

Meanwhile, my guess about the quasi-Amish religious group is correct, but there’s a dash of polygamous Mormonism tossed in as well. While the people of the Sheriff’s Office are suspicious of the residents of the compound, they have nothing concrete to charge anyone with anything – they can’t prove polygamy in the compound or that the children are in danger, and so forth. The dead man was part of the congregation, but according to the men running the group, he had left, saying he was returning home.

There are a couple of cowboys on the property next to the Amish/Mormon folks, and the two groups have clashed, and the two men had a run-in with the dead man, but insist they did not kill him.

There’s also a third story point running through this – Mattie’s relation with her vet boyfriend, and the vet’s relationship with his daughters. If you’ve not read the previous books in this series, the vet’s daughters provide a way, in the narrative, to know some of the sordid details of Mattie’s past (warning here: this features Mattie, her brother, and her mother being kidnapped by a very, very bad man. Domestic abuse is detailed, and child sexual abuse is intimated, so if these are no-gos for you, you’d better skip this one). This third story point also involved a veterinary drug rep dealing meds to a farrier illegally.

Eventually, through some very good and realistic work, the Sheriff’s Office find the culprits for all the crimes and various arrests are made. Mattie’s family meetup give her some details about her father’s death, and the book ends on an intriguing note about Mattie tracking down her mother.

The book is well-written, and the characters, when they speak, speak like normal people would in whatever the situation is. There are no glaring plot holes, and there’s no driving horses into doing things they would not do in real life (which is something I care about, with horses or other animals). Mattie’s personal life issues are informing her current life, but she’s not a mope about it, or thinking about it 24/7 to allow it to invade her every moment.

Recommended, and I’ll likely head back to the start of the series to read up on what has come before.

A solid four stars out of five. Just one ding because the baddies were fairly easy to guess for me, but it’s still an enjoyable read.

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