Tag Archives: reading

Review: The Night Lawyer (Alex Churchill)

This book could not decide what it wanted to be. There are three stories here: one is Sophie Angel, barrister, who works one night a week at a local paper to review the stories they’re about to post online. The rest of the time,she works on the defense side of the legal system. The second is a mystery surrounding Sophie’s past in the USSR, and the death of her uncle Kiril: her Russian father, a musician, defected while on tour, and her English mother, with Sophie, walked to the English Embassy in Moscow and left the country that way. The third is the well worn trope of a woman who marries a man (who cheated on his wife with her) who everyone but her knows is cheating on her, but she has trouble believing it.

Any one of these things would have been interesting – in fact, it would be great if the writing duo delved into the Russian story, because I’d read that in a heartbeat.

There are probably some spoilers in this, so if you want to read this, I’d skip to the bottom.

As it stands, we get a prologue that is a bit creepy, but not really necessary, in my opinion. The actual first chapters deal with Sophie turning down the defense of a violent rapist (and I suppose we’re supposed to believe that the rapist, who has escaped prison that day has turned up at the newspaper somehow, in that prologue). The next part deals with someone buying the paper where Sophie works as the night lawyer. The wife of the buyer is Russian, and there seems to be some history between her and Sophie, although Sophie has little memory of her time in Russia. It occurred to me that since we get only a couple of scenes at the paper that this whole paper thing and the buyout of it was done just to get these two characters together.

Lydia (the Russian wife) asks Sophie to defend a young man accused of rape. His mother, and the young man, of course say he is innocent, and he may very well be. This part of the book is heavily focused on the legal system in England, and it’s heavy on jargon from that system. If you don’t know what solicitors and barristers are, or what a dock is in a courtroom, you may get a little lost, but it’s still readable. Clearly, one (or both) of the writers has a great interest in the legal system and how it is (as in the US) heavily skewed against poor people.

Throughout the book, we get glimpses of her life with Theo, her husband. He’s always “working”, and when Sophie enters the dressing room to change into robes for court, other women look at her with pity. This reader spotted Theo as a cheat right off – after all, if someone cheats on their partner to be with you, they will most certainnly cheat on you to be with someone else. Sophie, though, waves it all away, even after finding a lipstick in Theo’s car on the floorboard. Of course he has an easy excuse for it, as he does every time she is passively questioning him about it. Ultimately, and thankfully, she finally gets a clue and kicks him to the curb – she leaves.

But, since she’s broke, and because she thinks this dude somehow means it when he says they should try again, she moves back into the house. She thinks she hears an argument, but is sleepy and ignores it. Then she wakes up, tells Theo there’s someone in the house, but of course he does not get up. She goes downstairs and the escaped, violent rapist is there to take her away. The fight scene there is pretty good, and it’s nice that she offs the bad guy – no thanks to Theo, who hid in the bathroom and dialed 999 (the British version of 911).

Sophie discovers she’s pregnant, but leaves Theo again anyway (hooray!). Lydia (remember her? The Russian wife of the buyer f the paper?) tells Sophie to come with her to Russia to look into the disappearance of her uncle Kiril. She does, and then, mystery solved by her memory of the time being teased out, she returns to London and decides she’s home. Presumably, she goes about her business from that moment forward.

The writing is fine, and the descriptions of he British legal system are interesting. There’s a lot of editorializing by the authors via Sophie about it. It’s an okay book – not great, but not unreadable.

I’d have liked it better had there been one story picked of these versus cramming three into it. Alas, that was not the case, and alas, this one didn’t do it for me. Your mileage may vary.

Two stars of five. Thanks to NetGalley and RedDoor Press for the reading copy.

Review: Blind Vigil – Rick Cahill #6 (Matt Coyle)

This is more like it!

The last (and only) Rick Cahill book I read was Lost Tomorrows, and I found him to be a bit of an Eeyore, constantly mired in guilt about his wife’s death.


He also got shot in the face and that was a helluva way to end things.

He survived, and it’s now nine months later. Cahill is blind – with the chance that his eyesight may or may not return – and his girlfriend Leah (you may remember her as the sister of his former partner at the Santa Barbara PD) is splitting time between Santa Barbara and Cahill’s place in San Diego.

Moira – a San Diego-based PI – gets in touch with Cahill and wants him to come with her on a job. What job? Turk Muldoon, and old friend of Cahill’s, has hired her to spy on his girlfriend Shay, whom he thinks is seeing someone else. Cahill points out he can’t see anything, but Moira is more interested in his ears, and if he can tell what Turk is feeling and how apt he would be to snap and kill Shay if she was seeing someone else. Moira had given news of a wife’s infidelity previously to a doctor (her own son’s pediatrician, no less) who proceeded to off his wife, child, and then himself. She’d rather that not be the case here, and Cahill assures her Turk would never do something like that.

Shay, of course, is then found dead, and all indications are it’s Turk who killed her after an argument overheard by neighbors. Moira rails at Cahill, that he was wrong and now they’ve gotten Shay killed, but Cahill disagrees. Moira exits the case, but Cahilll wants to help his pal any way he can, even if he still can’t see.

Turk is arrested for murder, but Cahill has found information that tells him Idaho is where he needs to go. He ropes Moira back in, and they’re off, to talk to one recalcitrant cowboy but then to a more garrulous one. From there, it’s off to a PI who was trying to track down Shay’s father, who disappeared with over $800K dollars from the sale of the family ranch, leaving Shay and her mother with nothing. Her father was identified as the decedent in an auto wreck in Mexico, under his own name – this after the PI tells them Shay’s father used various aliases.

While all of this is going on, Rick keeps smelling the same man, repeatedly – following him and Moira, following just Cahill. But Moira never sees him, and Cahill dubs him the Invisible Man.

With that information, they head back to San Diego, to figure out a way to find Shay’s maybe/maybe-not dead father and a ranch hand who worked on the ranch prior to its sale. By now, we are all fairly sure Shay found her dad, and that he likely had something to do with her death. I will reiterate for whatever nth time it is that I still don’t like characters going to the bad guy, alone, without telling anyone.

I won’t go into details about the end except to say that “blind vigil” certainly is in play the last 20% of the book

Four and a half stars, dinged for character stupidity. I’m feeling generous, though, and I did like the story quite a lot, so I’m rounding up this time: five stars.

Thanks to NetGalley and Oceanview for the reading copy.

Release date: 01 Dec 2020.

Review: Shadows of the Dead (Spencer Kope)

Magnus “Steps” Craig and his partner Jimmy are part of the FBI’s Special tracking Unit, called upon to assist in tracking everything from bank robbers to, in this case, the driver of a crashed car who had a woman in the trunk. The opening is a tense standoff between the driver the FBI and local authorities have pursued, and that drive, holed up in a cabin deep in the forest.


Unfortunately, that promise is blunted by tedious, unnecessary tangents, and a special ability that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Steps, pronounced dead at the age of eight of hypothermia, but brought back to life, returns from that experience with the ability to see people as colors and textures – this, to me, would be a form of synesthesia, based on grapheme-color synesthesia, but in this book, Steps is told by his father that he has the shine. To me, someone described as having the shine is someone who can see events past and future, and/or talk to other people just using their mind. Neither of those are present in this book, which is the third in a series, although I suppose typing shine is easier than typing synesthesia over and over. This condition is for some reason kept a secret from everyone except Jimmy and their mutual boss, including his own mother, who is never told. In the world of this book, it makes Steps the best tracker in the country. I have some questions about this, which I’ll get into.

Back to the beginning. The authorities have the fleeing driver surrounded in the cabin. Right before someone’s going to launch a tear gas canister into the cabin, we get….a flashback. We get the tale of how Steps died and came back with synesthesia, how he and his father kept it a secret from his mother, how lead crystal glasses help him keep the blinding neon glow of humanity from burning out his eyeballs and giving him migraines. We then get back to the action at the cabin. This was a very weird editorial choice, and it immediately rips the reader out of the action.

They capture the driver, who rattles on about the woman being number Eight, how he was going to “fix” her, and we discover there’s someone out there actually taking the women and holding them before turning them over to the crazy guy so he can experiment on them.

Things shift into trying to find the Onion King, as he’s called. Why is he called that? Is this really number eight? If so, who are the first seven? And where are they – or more accurately, whree are their bodies?

Throughout this, we get a lot of metaphysical discussions – good versus evil, the story of the two wolves – and a lot of references to books Steps has read, movies he and Jimmy watch, and I have to say that all of that really reduces the energy of the investigation, not to mention yanking the reader right out of the story. Nothing seems urgent here, despite the fact they’re hunting for a serial killer, until the last 10% of the book.

Another irritant was that everyone in the book – except, again, the IT person in charge of the systems someone breached – had some kind of witty banter moment, or more than one moment, and some of it wasn’t funny. That sort of thing is supposed to be used sparingly, and it really did seem as if some scenes were there merely to pad the book. Ditto for the main character’s constant meandering off into the weeds about everything from Archimedes to Zeno.

All of the IT people are genius hackers, trawling the dark web as easily as looking up something in a database – except the IT crew that manages the courthouse servers, where crazy man’s bail was reduced from $10MM to $2K, and apparently no one notices this.

A note here about the “shine”: if Steps can see people through their color, and he has never met the missing women, I kept wondering just how he knew each woman’s color. He couldn’t get this from the women themselves, and as they make their way to the homes of each woman, he immediately says “She was here, this is X” based on…just seeing a track of color where the woman has walked. How would he know? What if they had a roommate? Lived with family? A bunch of ifs ran through my mind during some of these scenes.

I didn’t hate the book, but I didn’t love it, either. Thirty minutes after finishing, I couldn’t remember the title of the book, and errantly searched for “Death in the Shadows”, which is not the name, of course. There are two books previous to this, and based on the epilogue, a fourth is upcoming. I’m afraid I’m not invested enough in Steps and Jimmy to read what came before or what comes after.

Three point five stars, rounded down to three because of the issue noted. Sorry folks, this just wasn’t for me.

Thanks to NetGalley and Mintaur for the advance copy.

Comanche – Brett Riley – review

There are going to be spoilers galore here, so if you want to read this book without any knowledge beyond the blurb, you should stop reading this review now.

The legend of the Piney Woods Kid is this: he was a murdering bastard, and a posse caught up with him, making him dead. That was back in the 1800s. Fast forward to modern times, and someone/something is killing off descendants of that posse, and witnesses say it was a gray-looking man dressed in Old West garb who did it.

Enter Raymond Taylor, who recently lost his wife and decided alcohol was the way to go to blunt that pain, and his partner, Darrell LeBlanc, of New Orleans, called in by Raymond’s sister, who lives in Comanche with her husband, the mayor. They want to know what’s going on in this small town, and they want whoever is responsible brought to justice. Sounds kind of like a posse to me.

Turner and LeBlanc arrive in Comanche with their medium sidekick – and by medium, I mean the crystal ball-toting kind – and a professor from LSU.

This isn’t a mystery that’s a intricate puzzler. We know immediately who is killing the folks in Comanche, and the motive is very straightforward: revenge. That it’s a ghost as the murderer is fine – someone has to be the bad guy, so why not the original bad guy?

The story overall was just ok. There was a lot of wasted potential here, and I found the story itself repetitious and a bit cringey as I went through it. There’s a lot of male posturing/alpha nonsense again and again, like frat dudes at a kegger telling their pals to hold them back so they don’t kick the shit out of another dude. There are also not that many sightings of the ghost, which is a little odd since it’s at least tangentially a ghost story, and if the Piney Woods Kid is pissed off, his ghost wandering the town where he was killed would have been something I’d have liked to see.

I found the pacing tedious, and the try/fail, try/fail repetition annoyed me. Parts of the book went on longer than they could have, and reading those parts, I don’t understand why they weren’t chopped down.

One big annoyance is the complete lack of quotation marks to denote dialogue. This made the action scenes in particular very difficult to follow, because they also shifted viewpoints. If a reader – or, specifically, THIS reader – has to backtrack at times during these sequences to figure out who the hell is saying what, you’re going to have an annoyed reader, or one who just stops reading the book and gives it a DNF. I did finish it, but I imagine others will not. As the author is a professor of English at the college level, he knows there is a reason certain standards exist – quotations and punctuation, as well as no head-hopping in scenes among them – and that to stray from these things means the writing must be superior. Alas, I did  not find it to be so.

On the whole, it looks like this may have started as a short story or novella years ago, was trunked, then was brought out and used as the basis for a novel without rewriting the original material. That can be good, sometimes. This was not one of them.  Although the last 50 pages or so finally have some action, the ending was a letdown and one we’ve seen any number of times in 80’s horror flicks with magical talismans or cursed toys/books/whatever.

Two stars out of five – one for writing it in the first place (my default), and one for an intriguing, but not well executed, idea.

Thanks to NetGalley and Imbrifex for the reading copy.

Answer in the Negative – Henrietta Hamilton – review

Johnny and Sally Heldar are the investigative couple in this, one of four novels featuring them, from Henrietta Hamilton. All four books were written in the 50s and this one, at least, has been reprinted by Agora as part of their Uncrowned Queens of Crime series.

The action in this book revolves around work in the National Press Archives after World War II. Frank Morningside, an assistant archivist, has been receiving poison pen letters and someone is also pulling pranks on him. His boss Toby calls on amateur sleuths Johnny and Sally to look into it. Posing as researchers, they snoop around a bit. Once Morningside gets his head bashed in – by a box of glass negatives -Scotland Yard is called in. Chief Detective-Inspector Lindsay is nominally in charge of the case, but we know that Sally and Johnny will solve it. The list of possible suspects is not terribly long, but they are amusingly drawn, and each is worthy of at least a look by the duo.

The perpetrator was not a surprise to me (according to the ebook, I figured the thing out at 49%), but finishing the book brought me back to my very young days when Agatha Christie was the only real mystery writer I knew.

Those with modern sensibilities may be aghast at how much smoking there is (or, for younger readers in the aughts, why they’re allowed to smoke inside) or just how slow the book feels. Keep in mind that this was written in the 1950s, and people didn’t have the equivalent of a supercomputer in their hand all day long. There’s something to be said for people intelligently discussing something without being able to bounce on to wikipedia when there’s a question.

Overall: three stars, as I felt things could have been tightened up a bit.

Thanks to NetGalley and Agora for the reading copy.

Little Disasters – Sarah Vaughan – review

Note before starting: when I first saw this, it was being billed as a psychological thriller. It doesn’t fall into that category at all. This is more of a non-genre drama with a hint of mystery thrown in.

Liz is a pediatrician working in the ED (that’s the ER, for US readers) when her friend Jess arrives with her 10-month old, who she says has been vomiting. After tests are run, it’s clear the child has a skull injury. Liz has some reservations about the story Jess is telling, and Jess is acting suspiciously. Something doesn’t add up, but Liz rightfully recuses herself from further examination and treatment.

What follows is a story told both in the present and the past, revolving around four women who took a childbirth class at the same time. Liz and Jess are the primary focus, and what we mostly see are glimpses into the lives of the career working woman Liz, and the stay at home, but clearly suffering from postpartum depression, Jess.

As the story winds on, and the authorities and Liz try to puzzle out what really happened, and whether Jess (or Ed, her husband) beat the child or whether it could be just a serious accident, Liz maintains Jess would never hurt her child, but others are not quite so sure.

The ending is one I found completely unexpected but also completely unrealistic, and quite frankly, I felt cheated by it. I’m just not a fan of a bad guy who shows up completely out of nowhere, either because they’ve not been introduced or because they have been introduced, but their actions in the narrative never hint at their actions in the end.

More forgiving readers than I will not mind this. As for me, it takes my rating to 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2.

Thanks to NetGalley and Atria for the reading copy.

Under Pressure – Robert Pobi – review

Under Pressure is the second book to feature Lucas Page, but the first I’ve read.

The opening is at the Guggeheim, where a ton of very wealthy people are present at a party for a high-tech environmental cleaning company (think fracking sites, and the like), with a multibillion dollar IPO looming. All seems rather genteel until a thermobaric bomb ignites, vaporizing the people and the art, leaving the building itself relatively intact.

Brett Kehoe, Special Agent In Charge/Manhattan, faced with the daunting task of sorting out 700+ dead and solving the mystery of why anyone would want to kill them, calls on ex-FBI agent, and current instructor at Columbia, Lucas Page to assist. Page is reluctant, but finally agrees, and we are whisked off to an almost nonstop ride of bombings, close calls, and mysteries that deepen as more people die.

At the heart of the mystery seems to be the Hockney brothers, William and Seth, and their sprawling megacorp. Are the bombings simply a statement against their companies, or is something more personal the core of it? While I have some issues with overly-complex conspiracies, and the habit, often, of main characters heading out into danger on their own, without telling anyone, to see if their reasoning/guess is correct about the bad guy, overall this was not a book killer.

Page, who lost a leg, arm, and eye in something he calls the Event, has a genius-level ability to instantly calculate areas, distances, see connections where others see none, and apparently possesses an eidetic memory. It reminded me quite a bit of the TV series Numb3rs. He is not terribly patient with people he views as stupid, is cranky a lot of times, and can be bitingly sarcastic. I liked him immensely.

Teasing out the mystery becomes more and more dangerous the closer Page gets to the truth, and in the end becomes, for him, a calculation of odds. To say more would give away too much. I will say this, though: be aware of the handcuffs. Chekov’s pistol has never been more apt.

Solid four stars.

Note: while there is enough backstory to know what has come before, I would suggest that if you intend to read the first book (City of Windows), you do that first before reading this. There’s a spoiler in this book for the last – it’s a blink and you miss it thing, but it’s there.

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

The Last Agent

The Last Agent reunites us with Charles Jenkins, acquitted of espionage in the previous book The Eighth Sister, who has put the events of that book behind him and rebuilt his life. Or so he thinks.

A CIA agent shows up on his doorstep – again. After being rebuffed at Jenkins’ house, the agent corrals him at the local diner and tells him the agency needs him once more. For real, this time. They believe that Paulina Ponomayova, who saved Jenkins’ life in The Eighth Sister by giving her own, is not actually dead, but is being held in one of the toughest prisons in Russia. They’re not sure she’s there, or what information she may have given up on the other Sisters. They are sure that they want Jenkins to return to Russia, free her from the prison, and get her out of the country.

I wondered at this point just how long the author was going to push a 6′ 5″, 65 year old black man into a country where a) he sticks out like a 6′ 5″, 65 year old black man would in a rather overwhelmingly white country, and b) he’s already been there, is known to the FSB (the KGB’s successor), and has previously created havoc there.

Jenkins isn’t sure he wants to go, is definitely sure his wife and kids won’t want him to go, but does feel that he owes Paulina to help her if he can. Of course he signs on, and once again, he’s off to Mother Russia.

Viktor Federov is back (and on a side note, I would love to have a couple of books about THAT guy), retired now from the FSB thanks to his inability to catch Jenkins in The Eighth Sister. Jenkins blackmails him into assisting, first with figuring out a way to get Paulina out of the prison, and then getting all of them away safely.

I won’t spoil any of that except to say that the bank scene was quite funny, and one of the nonverbal discussions with Paulina is rather ingenious, relying on knowledge of where the cameras are and where the guards will be.

The chase that ensues – three targets instead of one – is now lead by a prototypical old KGB-style chief, who constantly silences his underlings, ignores the supposed lead investigator’s advice, but tells him failure will be on his head. When that investigator suddenly “retires” to take care of his father, it’s all out pursuit, by land, water, and even by air into another country’s airspace.

It’s a fun book, and better than The Eighth Sister, although readers will still have to up their suspension of disbelief game.

A solid four stars.

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

Review: You Again: A Novel

One day while sitting in a cab, Abby Willard spots a young woman on the sidewalk, only to realize moments later that it’s a younger version of herself.

From this opening, we delve into Abby becoming slightly obsessed with the younger her, and she begins to go to various places she went to when she was young, knowing she will find herself there. Surrounding the mystery of why she is seeing herself, and why there are gaps in her memory, are various other stories: her soul-sucking job for a big pharmacology company as a graphic designer, her husband’s work woes, her oldest son starting to run with a group of antifa protestors with his new friend Dmitri, who may or may not be what he seems, and her interaction with a detective after her son is arrested.

Amidst all of this, Abby continues to follow the younger her, eventually speaking to her, trying to talk her out of the mistakes Abby knows she will make. Interspersed with this are notes from therapy sessions, and a neurologist reviewing medical records and images – at the outset, we’re not sure what those records are or who they are about.

Along the way, we learn that both Abby and her husband are very talented artists, but both gave up their art when it wouldn’t pay the bills. The younger Abby then starts appearing to older Abby at random moments – proving the oddball nature of this goes both way – offering her own advice to the older Abby.

Events reach a crescendo in the last third of the book, with a fire, a death, and a question about space and time.

The writing is almost stream of consciousness, with sentence fragments scattered widely throughout the book, and this works well with the story, since we are watching Abby experience some very existential questions about herself and the world in which she now lives.

A solid three and a half stars out of five.

Thanks to NetGalley and Ecco for the advance copy.

Day two of the rest of your life

Far too much football and stuff going on to post yesterday.

But from today forward, I’ll be posting daily – mainly to get in the habit of doing it, and also to vaguely complain about shit. I’m kidding. Sort of.

I’m anticipating the good outweighing the bad, although the first quarter will still be migration city, like living on the LA freeways during rush hour for three months.

There are half a dozen books lined up for me to read and review, so I’m using that as my break time to get my head out of the servers for just a short while. Since I read so quickly, I’ll also need to line up the next six, as I’ll finish this first batch by midweek, even with work being nutty. I love Kindle Unlimited and ARCs (advance reading copies), There’s something to be said for being a voracious reader and being able to put together 500-ish words in a review with a short turnaround time for books coming out in just a few months. I’ll admit I’m amazed at some of the stuff that gets published, though, in the very same way I’m amazed that Lifetime can make the same movies over and over (and over and over) and get rave commentary from its base. Someone very cynical could likely create their own cottage industry on the formula for those movies. i wonder how much they pay…..

That’s it for now. i have someone’s PHP script to check and books to read. Until next time, peeps: be well.