Tag Archives: mysteries

Review: A Change of Circumstance – Simon Serrailler #11 (Susan Hill)

A Change of Circumstance reminds me of the repositioning sails cruise ships do, to move, free of passengers, to another location to begin ferrying people in a different area.

This is listed as a mystery, but it’s more of a domestic slice of life book about Simon and his family, and Brookie and his family, and Cat and all the DCs, and poor Mr Lionel, and the Chinese herbalist, and the junkie found dead of an OD/contaminated batch of heroin and a couple of animals and Olivia and whether Simon is going to get with Rachel and ugh.

The crime is laid out, so there’s no spoilers in place by saying if you’ve read Oliver Twist, you’ve read this story before, only better in that book, because this crime is an homage to that. There’s even an Olivia to help get any non-literary heathens up to speed on where they could track down the OG version.

Seriously, though, I really didn’t care about Simon at all. This is the first book in the series I’ve read,but if the writing is like this in all of them – sometimes ending a chapter very abruptly, almost as if there’s something that’s been left out, or hopping between two or three heads without any break to help us figure out whose head we’re in now – I won’t be going back to book one, as I do with many other series, and I definitely won’t be picking up/requesting the next one. The latter I really, really do not like: head-hopping only works if it’s done well. This was not. The story was fractured and quite unenjoyable for that reason alone. Put all the rest in between all the domestic stuff, and it’s a sandwich not worth eating.

Two out of five stars.

Thanks to Abrams/Overlook Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: All That Remains (Sheri Lewis Wohl)

It pains me to do this, but two stars out of five.

I normally reserve that for the end of the review, but I thought I should just get it out of the way.

All that Remains is billed as a paranormal romance with a mystery at its heart, which I don’t normally read. I thought I’d take a chance on it, since it’s billed as a romance/mystery. I’d see if it is, and if this one would break out from the pack of those I’ve read before, all of which I’ve not liked.

It is not, and it did not.

First, the story: a killer on the loose who gnaws on the bones of his victims after he has killed them. OK, so here’s our mystery. Who is he and why does he do this. Well, he’s a werewolf. Literally, a werewolf. And the mystery is torpedoed less than 20% into the story by switching to him and his POV. Then it just becomes a catch me if you can story between the POVS that I just didn’t like because there’s no story there. He’s a psychopath with zero redeeming features, no tragic backstory, and leaves clues all over the place. So much for being smarter than the rest of the pack.

If the mystery had been a real mystery, even with paranormal elements that didn’t come to light until toward the end of the book, that would have been better, with o without the romance tied in.

Second, the romance: if the author had made the book primarily about the romance between the two female leads and developed that aspect more, tamping down the “mystery” into something else, the book would have been much improved. As it is, their romance just isn’t there in the sense of what the romance genre expects.

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

Review: The Accused – Charlie Cameron #4 (Owen Mullen)

This is (I think) the fourth book in a series. I’ll say that this time, it would have helped to read the previous books to figure out PI Charlie Cameron’s history with his two friends and with the big bad guy, Sean Rafferty. That said, it can (and does, mostly) stand on its own, with enough fill-ins to not make it terribly confusing.

Charlie is approached by two women, separately, to help them with an issue. One is Kim Rafferty, the bombshell trophy wife of psychopathic gang leader Sean Rafferty who wants to leave him, and the other has a surprising connection to a man just released from prison, convicted of killing that same woman’s husband.

Thus we begin two separate story arcs: Rafferty’s is told from multiple viewpoints: Sean, Kim, a gangster from Portugal, the woman who runs Sean’s brothels – but not Charlie’s, as he declines. The other is told primarily from Charlie’s and Dennis Boyd’s. Charlie agrees to take the second, but very early on, he decides that maybe Boyd is guilty – one of the witnesses, for instance, who Boyd swore was lying on the stand, is found dead the night after Boyd is released. The optics of that, as far as Charlie is concerned, are terrible.

After meeting with Boyd, though, he agrees to help. Having the second witness of three turn of dead, too, is problematic, but Charlie realizes he was wrong: it does appear that Boyd, who had been sleeping with the man’s wife, and was the most likely killer, may be innocent after all.

Charlie’s no slouch, either. He doesn’t spend his day behind a computer, tapping away. He’s on the streets, chasing down clues, finding people, and sometimes pissing off his pal who is with the police. When he says he’s taking a case and will work it, that’s exactly what he does.

Not a lot of plot details in this review, as the entire thing would need to be spoilered.

The writing is quite good, and while sometimes Charlie can be a bit of a smartass, can’t we all? Dialogue has no issues – no one is working overtime to be cutesy or coy, or occasionally witty. It flows nicely, and even a few rapidfire sections are not difficult to follow.

The dual stories are both interesting in their own right, although the Rafferty storyline was wrapped up in just a handful of pages, including a somewhat not easy to believe escape at the end, which was a bit out of sorts for the book until that point. There’s a kind of, maybe, cliffhanger on that one, but I can’t say why, lest I spoil it. The Boyd story – well, you’ll just have to read it, and I recommend you do if police/PI mysteries are your thing.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Boldwood Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.



Review: Head Shot – Marko Zorn #2 (Otho Eskin)

Marko Zorn is back in this followup to 2020’s The Reflecting Pool, the first book in the series, which I reviewed here – one year ago exactly to when I finished reading Head Shot. Something probably interesting only to me.

Zorn is the same cop now as we was then: not carrying a gun, being snarky, not always telling people what he’s doing, and meeting up with shady characters. While it is helpful to get a feel for Zorn’s character by reading the first book, it is not at all required, as Head Shot can be read as a standalone.

The book opens with the murder of an actress, with whom Zorn was intimately familiar years ago. It’s a classic locked room mystery: the actress said her final line, and went to her (prop) dressing room to commit suicide in the play (it’s Hedda Gabler, for those who know Ibsen). Strangely, she flubbed her last line before going off the stage. A shot did ring out, but when the stagehand goes into the room, the actress is dead on the floor, a pistol by her right hand, and a gunshot wound to her left temple. There are no windows in the room, and only one door, which no one saw open after the end of the scene, when the actress was supposed to go backstage when the lights were down. Zorn is not assigned to the case, but his partner Lucy is.

He also goes to a meeting with Cyprian Voss, who often gives him side jobs to do, and pays well for him to do them. The assignment from Voss? Protect Nina Voychek, Prime Minister of Montenegro, which is on an official state visit.

Zorn has been asked by the Secretary of State to do the same task, as it was requested by the Embassy itself. When he tries to point out he is not trained as a bodyguard or close protection detail, he’s overruled and told to suck it up and do it anyway. At the Embassy, a frightened young woman presses a paper into his hand. On it, a series of numbers. He assumes it’s a coded message of some kind. He gives her his card and asks her to call him. She doesn’t, as the next time we hear about her, she’s dead, too, after being strangled.

There have already been assassination attempts against Voycheck, and the suspicion is that it’s a hired gun called Domino, who has an impressive success rate. Turns out, Zorn has had assassination attempts against himself as well, but for what reason, he does not know.

Things become a bit hectic in Zorn’s world at that point: he’s checking on the security covering Voychek (the lead FBI agent wants nothing to do with him and flatly tells him he isn’t welcome), and bouncing between that and the case of the murdered actress and is told by a supervisor and another cop that he isn’t welcome there, either). Is there a connection between the two cases? Maybe, maybe not.

The action picks up and we follow Zorn as he checks in with a hacker and gives him the message to decode, checks in with Carla, director of the FBI, who also wants him to protect Voychek, also paying him to do so. He doesn’t mention that he’s already being paid by Voss.

As Zorn puts the pieces together, more bodies show up. and there are plenty of suspects to go around. Eccentric or no, do any of them hold some answers to the slew of questions Zorn has about the cases?

Head Shot is a fast read, not because it’s boring and the temptation to skim is there, but because it is quite good, and leaving aside a few of the things that require more suspension of disbelief than is usually required, the things that happen and the actions of the various characters is completely consistent with the story’s own internal logic.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Oceanview Publishing and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: No Witness – Cal Claxton #8 (Warren Easley)

Cal Claxton, former prosecutor in LA, now current one man show in Oregon, has been busy since I last encountered him (in Matters of Doubt). His niece joins him when Gertie, his accountant, becomes ill.

He also has another assistant, Timoteo Fuentes, a DACA recipient, who has convinced Cal to hire him. Timoteo wants to become a lawyer, and the first part of that involves a lot of filing and research. The first big case he sees come into Cal’s office, however, is one that hits too close to home: his sister’s murder.

It is not necessary to read books one through seven to get here as this does stand on its own; however, to fully understand why Cal quit the big city and moved north, it is helpful to have read them.

Timoteo, his sister, and the entire extended family are undocumented, which makes investigating the case much harder – no one in the community wants to talk to a big white dude who is also a lawyer, especially potential witnesses.

Perseverance pays off, though, and Cal is on the case. But nothing is simple, and as injuries and bodies pile up, the investigation becomes more dangerous for everyone.

As with Matters of Doubt, I’ll note that those who fall on the more conservative side of the aisle will be unlikely to enjoy this book. Cal is clearly what those sorts of people would call a social justice warrior, their voices dripping with derision.

Cal has a good heart and a better head. The investigation is fairly straightforward – although Cal has stopped turning up at every dead body before it’s even cold, so that’s a change of pace from the last one I read.

I’m giving it a solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.


Review: Murderers Creek – Maggie Blackthorne #2 ( LaVonne Griffin-Valade)

Maggie Blackthorne is back, patrolling her area, considering moving in with Duncan, who she started dating in the previous book, and generally keeping the peace.

When her ex-husband JT shows up, it’s an unwelcome surprise. He has been demoted in between the last book and this one due to some sexual harassment claims. Maggie wants nothing to do with him and snaps at him to get to whatever it is he wants. He’s getting married, has become a Catholic, and want her to sign an annulment paper, to dissolve their marriage in the eyes of he church, even though they’re already divorced. She signs away, kicks him out and goes about her day.

The first item of the day is a pair of oxy addicts, reported to be in their area. The second, in conjunction with the first, is Dave Shannon’s stolen truck. It’s a fairly good call that the junkies have stolen it, because they’ve left their junker where his truck had been.

Then, the big one: JT has been found by a couple of tourists, dead. His throat has been slit and he had additional stab wounds. Bizarrely, his left ear is also missing. Detective Al Bach arrives as does Ray Gattis, the medical examiner. Maggie is a suspect, of course, since her and JT’s marriage had been rocky, to put it mildly. She’s also told later that JT’s new fiancee is pressuring the local State office to look into Maggie as the killer, and later that an IA case has been opened.

Attempts to find the pair of junkies prove unsuccessful until Janine Harbaugh, a volunteer fire watch lookout, calls into let Maggie know that she’s seen the truck weaving in and out of the forest, stooping, then moving again. Maggie gets to the area, driving through the forest, following the strange trail they’ve left.

Unfortunately for them, hey drive right over the edge of an embankment and are killed. Now Maggie has the task of figuring out why they were in town, where they thought they were going, and what they were looking for.

The resulting investigations of JT’s murder and the truck theft results in the two investigations coming together as actually the same case.

Meanwhile, Hollis and his wife are going through a tough time, Al and Ray are not really dating any longer, and Maggie has a bit of a secret she’s keeping from Duncan. The reader who is paying attention will guess that without any trouble at all.

Everything comes to a head at the end of the book, with a couple of confessions and a standoff with a disturbed man on top of the courthouse.

The only ding I’m giving this book is the road atlas tour we get whenever Maggie drives somewhere. I’ve said in previous reviews that I really don’t care how people get from point A to point B unless there is something important about the route. There are a couple of instances we do need to know about in this book, but the rest are useless to people like me or to people who have never been in the area (and sometimes those are the same people).

Four out of five stars, and another solid outing for Sgt. Maggie Blackthorne.

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

Review: Matters of Doubt – Cal Claxton #1 (Warren Easley)

This is book one of a series that was originally published between 2013 and 2018. The books are being reissued – it’s always nice to come across another series I’ve not read. For those interested, it’s told in first person by the main character.

Former bigshot Los Angeles prosecutor Cal Claxton quits his job, moves to his cabin in Oregon, and hangs out a shingle as a small, solo legal operation after his wife commits suicide.

A young man appears in his office, asking Cal to find out who murdered his mother, an investigative journalist who was working on a big story. The man is homeless and an artist who goes by the name Picasso on the street. Cal brushes him off and Picasso angrily storms out of his office.

It wouldn’t be a jaded prosecutor finding his heart if Cal doesn’t change his mind, and so he does: he tracks down Picasso at a free clinic in Portland and offers to look into the circumstances surrounding the murder. Picasso has a ready-made villain in his mother’s murder – specifically, he believes that his mother’s boyfriend is the culprit. Cal has to rein him in a bit and caution him to not go after the man when there isn’t enough evidence.

Unfortunately for Picasso,but good for the book, that man is found dead. By Picasso. Cal happens to be arriving at the house just as Picasso is leaving. Did he kill the boyfriend? I’m not giving it away.

Cal has people he can ask for help, including Nando, a Cuban emigre with a fashion sense that sounds like it would have been at home in the 70s (at least in my mind). Nando knows other people who have specialized skills, and al uses Nando a lot – but Nando doesn’t work for free, and those ills start adding up.

Someone really wants to know what Cal is finding (or not) and Cal’s laptop, his own clients’ files, and Picasso’s material that he had entrusted to Cal are stolen. The only thing he now has to go on are some of the notes he made and what he remembers from the files.

There’s a romantic subplot involving the (obviously) super attractive doctor who runs the clinic. There’s also some conflict with a woman who runs an escort service, one of her employees who wants to break free, and a giant Russian dude who doesn’t like Cal all that much.

As Cal works his way through the case, we also get to see through his eyes various social issues: homelessness, inadequate healthcare, drug abuse, indifferent police officers, sex trafficking, a lack of mental health services, especially for veterans, and suicide by cop. Conservatives are not going to like these parts at all, so if you’re in that group, you might want to pass on this one.

Cal also finds that there are multiple divergent paths on this case that dovetail into one by the end of the book.

I have a few issues with the book. One is Cal’s name. Cal Claxton just doesn’t roll off my tongue. Two, virtually every side character Cal encounters is quirky or weird. there are people in the world who are just normal people, working through their days. Three, how is it that Cal always seems to be around when a dead boy is discovered? It’s rather odd, but maybe that’s his quirk.

Three out of five stars.

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Out of Sight – DCI Warren Jones #7 (Paul Gitsham)

This is book number seven in a series. It is not necessary to read the previous six, but I certainly intend to do so, to find out more about DCI Warren Jones and the people with whom he works.

This outing opens with a dead body under a bridge, fingerprints and teeth removed. Of course, this presents challenges both in identifying the body and solving the murder itself. The team does manage to identify the dead man, but the investigation itself is slow-going, as the victim was a loner of sorts, and held his secrets closely.

To complicate things, it turns out DCI Jones has a lot going on in his personal life as well: his father has been moved to an assisted living facility, and he and his wife are recovering from her miscarriage and their discussions at attempting parenthood again are heartbreaking.

Eventually, they find the man was regularly seeing other men via a dating app, and the investigation becomes even more involve than before, as the team chases down the man’s partners and look into their whereabouts when the man was killed.

Ranging from people lying to damaged walls to nonworking or just slightly out of range or intentionally sabotaged CCTVs, this investigation has it all. But the team is dogged, and there are no slow parts for the reader, which is always a potential when the investigation is so large.

This book has an interesting murder investigation and a personal story that is not contrived just to have the main character have some kind of flaw or obstacle to overcome (and that’s easily solved).

Four point out of five stars, rounded up to five.

Thanks to HQ Digital and NetGalley for the reading copy.

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.