telling tales of doing the impossible

Posts tagged ‘crime’

Review: Larceny at the Library

In Larceny at the Library,  Colleen J. Shogan has written an enjoyable cozy mystery enhanced with an insider’s knowledge of DC politics and a wealth of fun information about the Library of Congress and the world of historical artifacts.

Her amateur sleuth, Congressional chief of staff Kit Marshall, is diligent and methodical, and she delivers an admirable solution to the crime, just in time. I liked Shogan’s supporting characters and felt she introduced enough about each to make them three dimensional without getting bogged down in extraneous plots. On the whole, the story works well on an intellectual level.

I wish I’d read the previous novels, as I’m guessing author Shogan covered basics I missed. I needed to know more about Kit Marshall in order to really like her. I kept wondering what she was doing solving murders. Worse yet, when characters from previous stories showed up, I found their cameo appearances frustrating. I have a feeling this particular book works better on an emotional level if the reader is already invested in the main character and is happy to see people from her past.

Every book stumbles a bit somewhere: for this novel I’d say it could use a little more zing. I don’t want car chases and ticking bombs in my cozy mysteries, but less mundane food descriptions, fewer extraneous references to pop culture, and a lot less dialog that boils down to people introducing themselves to each other would have allowed this basically good story to pack more punch.

As it is, it’s a fun read and I’d like to read more by this author. I do recommend this book to all cozy mystery fans, and particularly to those who are also history buffs or are fascinated by watching the DC scene.

About the Author

Colleen J. Shogan has been reading mysteries since the age of six. A political scientist by training, Colleen has taught American politics at several universities and previously worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative staffer in the United States Senate and as a senior executive at the Library of Congress. She is currently the Senior Vice President of the White House Historical Association.

Colleen is a member of Sisters in Crime. “Stabbing in the Senate” was awarded the Next Generation Indie prize for Best Mystery in 2016. “Homicide in the House” was a 2017 finalist for the RONE Award for Best Mystery. “Calamity at the Continental Club” was a 2018 finalist in the “best cozy mystery” at Killer Nashville. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband Rob and their beagle mutt Conan.

For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see Larceny at the Library.

Review: The Murderous Macaron

The Murderous Macaron is a fun read, sure to please fans of cozy mysteries and lovers of well-meaning and sometimes bumbling amateur sleuths. (I do happen to be one such fan.) Julie’s bakery is the focal point of this gentle who-done-it, and there is just enough of France woven into the story to appeal to lovers of travel as well.

What I liked best: Simply put, this is an enjoyable book. I appreciate that it was an easy read, well-paced and well written. The somewhat complex solutions to the case were believable yet not obvious, providing a satisfying ending.

My favorite thing was Drew’s stellar cast of secondary characters. Grandma is great. I do love feisty old women and she delivers. Sister Flo, the artist, is equally fun, and I could have done with more of the geeky sous chef as well. I’m not a huge dog fan, but I even enjoyed Lady, the sleuth dog who joins the team.

What I liked least: There is a fascinating backstory here, dribbled out in small pieces and never fully dealt with. It is difficult to reconcile the light tone of the novel with an unexplained traumatic family death, an estranged twin with unusual powers, and Julie’s issues with both of the above. Yet, it all comes up often enough to make it hard to ignore.

The reader wants answers. I suppose the author intends to weave more explanations into future novels, but as regarded these issues, I felt cheated at the end. Plus, the only part receiving a real explanation (why Julie doesn’t like her twin) is just odd.

However, Drew’s story was charming enough for me to put that frustration aside, along with my current irritation with the gluten-free world, brought on by a husband who’s decided to go gluten-free for no real reason, forcing me to abandon half of my favorite recipes.  That’s hardly Ana T. Drew’ fault, and I resolved early on not to hold Julie’s gluten-free bakery against her.

So, I’d be happy to read more books in this series and I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good mystery novel.

About the Author: Ana T. Drew is the evil mastermind behind the recent series of murders in the fictional French town of Beldoc. When she is not writing cozy mysteries or doing mom-and-wife things, she can be found watching “The Rookie” to help her get over “Castle”. She lives in Paris but her heart is in Provence.

For more about this book, and the Goddess Fish review tour this review was part of, see The Murderous Macaron.

 

False Light

Review: False Light

Cover_False LightFalse Light is a fun read, enhanced with a dose of real-life art history and made more interesting by the endearing romance of its two main characters.

The plot contains the requisite amount of clues, twists, and suspense, along with the genre-required action-filled climax, so I suspect most lovers of crime novels will enjoy it. However, I found its real charm to lie in three unexpected joys.

The first comes from Riess’s background. I have, at best, a passing acquaintance and mild interest in art, but I am captivated when an author brings expertise to a story like this. Claudia Riess helps her readers learn about masterpieces, forgeries, and auctions, without ever dumping information. (She got me looking into real-life art forger Eric Hebborn, and I’m always delighted to be introduced to a too-strange-to-be-fiction character.)

Another surprise is the relationship between the two lovers at the heart of this tale. They’ve gotten past the first hurdle of commitment (apparently in the previous novel) and now struggle to figure out how to live with their promises. I found their relationship compelling, and suspenseful in its own right. I appreciate an author who acknowledges falling in love is easy compared to making love work.

What didn’t I like? While the writing is generally okay, the pacing lags on occasion, particularly early on. Some parts required a little too much attention and rereading to follow multiple characters and complicated plot lines. Yet, none of this was enough of a problem to keep me from enjoying the story.

Years back, during a difficult time, I devoured J.D. Robb’s novels about a futuristic detective and her billionaire husband, and I realized there is this wonderful escapism involved in reading about the very wealthy solving crimes. (At least as long as they are nice people, which these characters are.) That brings me to the third pleasant surprise of this novel. Though Riess’s characters are unique to her story, their life of sumptuousness provided me with that same gentle nepenthe while their adventures held my interest.

As this virus has wreaked havoc with life, I’ve found myself eating rum raisin ice cream. That sweet treat is getting me through a lot these days. Why do I mention it here? Because when I finished this book I thought I’m glad I read this. In a world filled with too much frozen broccoli and canned soup — this is a rum raisin ice cream kind of a book. I plan to check out the author’s other flavors.

About the Author

Claudia Riess, a Vassar graduate, has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt, Rinehart, and Winston and has edited several art history monographs.

 

 

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see False Light: An Art History Mystery

Review: Wired by the FBI

My Review:

In Wired by the FBI the Author Glenn Painter has written a captivating tale taking the reader into the mind and heart of a notorious criminal. Christian Romano is just bad enough you can’t like him, but he has enough compassion and sense of moral code that you can’t hate him either. You end up watching the story of his life with an obsessed fascination, unsure of what constitutes justice or a happy ending.

What I enjoyed:

Glenn Painter does an excellent job of channeling the thoughts and feelings of a man most of us would be hard-pressed to understand. At its best, this tale provides those little details that make Christian human. His sorrow at his brother dying of aids. His love of Chicago. His bold willingness to take down a sadist, and his inability to comprehend cruelty for cruelty’s sake. Even his honesty about his own opportunism and his inability to resist seduction no matter how much he loves his current flame has something endearing about it. You don’t want to see the system squash him like a bug, because the author makes it clear how human he is.

What I struggled with:

Occasionally, the book seemed as if it was name dropping notorious criminals. Sometimes I got tired of the depressing descriptions of life in jail, and got frustrated with the main characters penchant for finding new trouble, or getting himself back into old trouble. I found the second half of the book more difficult than the first.

As the novel concluded, I realized the biggest problem it faced is that even though it is written like a work of fiction, the author is not writing a suspense thriller. He is giving a slightly fictionalized first person account of a real person’s life. He can’t bend reality into a story arc with redemption and a happy ending. Or with a hero’s tragic demise. Or with a bad guy getting his just desserts. Christian’s reality is far more complex than what we expect from fiction, and Glenn Painter is stuck with how it really happened. It isn’t particularly pretty.

To me, the books’ ending isn’t satisfying and at first I was baffled by why the author would invest so much time and energy into telling this story. Then I read his biography (which appears below) and it made more sense.

“He is an advocate for incarcerated individuals who have had their rights violated.”

Indeed, this is a story of such an individual. By the end of the book the reader knows the many ways a sometimes corrupt and often heartless system abused this man for its own often inconsistent ends. Sometimes, by his own admission, he got treated better than he deserved. More often, his freedom and his life were no more than a tool for law enforcement to use. Justice, fairness and even simple honesty were seldom part of the equation.

Every part of Christian Romano’s life may not be fun to read about, but I agree with the author that such stories need to be told.

About the Author:

Glenn Painter is single and lives in Central Florida.  He became interested in writing at an early age but did not make it his career until 2014 when he published his first book, Beyond the Sentence.

Glenn has written this story from the notes by the man who actually lived it.  However, extensive research was also require in order to make the story factual.

Glenn has also founded a company, ‘Prisoner Civil Right Services.’  He is an advocate for incarcerated individuals who have had their rights violated.  He is in constant contact with these individuals, their families and the council.  Most of his stories are inspired by ‘factual events’ that have happened to these individuals.  This makes his stories both fiction and non-fiction.

Glenn says that writing is very challenging, and you must love the trials and tribulations that come with it.  He believes that patience, perseverance and determination are required essentials to see a book through to being published.  The journey is just as important as the destination.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see Wired by the FBI.

Review: Hard Luck Girl

My Review:

In Hard Luck Girl, Topshee Johnston tells the story of a young prostitute who finds her drug-dealing pimp dead on page one. More importantly, he manages to keep the reader (or at least this reader) cheering for this unlikely hero as she deals with the body, the customers, the other girls, the rival dealers, the cops, the slimy hotel manager, the nosy cleaning lady and the real money behind the entire sordid mess. No small feat, Mr. Johnston. Well done.

I appreciated how this book contained enough description to make it seem as if I was there, riding on the ferry, or there, in the run-down lobby of the hotel, and yet it never bogged down. The initial characters were all believable and their actions made sense, giving the plot an urgency that felt like real life. Honestly, I had trouble putting it down.

The book stumbles when it nears the end, however. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll only say the major villains didn’t ring as true as the other characters, and their motivations remained murky to me even after the last page. Parts of the ending were confusing, and threads that mattered (to me at least) were left hanging.

Yet, it was a heck of ride up to that point.

Should You Buy Hard Luck Girl?

I recommend Hard Luck Girl to anyone who enjoys hard-boiled crime novels and to other mystery fans willing to be a bit morally flexible with their story’s hero. This book will also appeal to those who like novels about women finding inner strength they didn’t know they had, and to people who enjoy tales of the downtrodden triumphing over those with more advantages. That’s a pretty good market share, I think.

Check out the book on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, and Indigo/Chapters!

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see Hard Luck Girl.

 

Researching Drug Cartels and Illegal Border Crossings

Books need bad people. Bad people do bad things. But if you’re an author, and your bad people are doing things you don’t know much about, you have to do some research.

What poisons kill the quickest? How long does it take to die from a knife wound? How do you build a bomb?

I was researching the bomb thing for my book One of One, along with details about how well a commercial aircraft could withstand a blast, when I thought …. you know …. these internet searches could cause me some problems.

This is the second guest post in a series involving my asking other authors how apprehensive they are when they do the research to write about their bad guys’ behavior. In this case, I asked author Willard Thompson if researching drug cartels and illegal border crossings on the internet for his new book La Paloma caused him apprehension. Here is his fascinating answer:

Thanks, for asking one of the few pertinent questions of this VBT! Let me explain the story, it’s not exactly what you think, and it’s not exactly isn’t.

La Paloma is not a crime-heavy cartel story with lots of murders and bloody events. It is a story about Teresa Diaz facing the question of who she is, a daughter of Mexico’s proud history or a Latina trying to fit into American Culture? When the story opens, she is an AB540 scholarship student at UCLA, working for a degree in communications and dating a Caucasian boy.

When her father is deported in an ICE raid, Teri must go into Mexico to bring him home. She doesn’t have documentation, so it is a risk, but her family is falling apart and she feels compelled to go. Her journey into Mexico is like falling down a rabbit hole of mysterious events, but it also becomes a journey of self-realization that included a romance with the son of a cartel boss. In the end, many of her questions about her life are answered, some are left ambiguous and unanswered.

My interest, as it is in all my novels, is how a situation effects the people involved in it. In this case a 20-year-old Latina named Teresa Diaz. She is a young woman who has been brought up in many of the traditions of Mexico, living in a southern California community that is heavily Latino, trying to be an American girl. How can that possibly be good for her self-image?

I love Mexico. I’ve been there more than a dozen times, several on business. I know first-hand the beauty of the states of Michoacan and Guanajuato, and the country’s history. I spent 4 days working with the US Border Patrol as a journalist intercepting Mexican smugglers wading across the Rio Grande River from Juarez to El Paso. These were not dangerous men. They were middle age men trying to make a living to support their families.

I interviewed several of the smugglers we apprehended (that is a story for a different time because it was a cops and robbers comedy it you ever saw one) and one of them told me in Spanish, pointing at his running shoes that his daughters didn’t want to wear cheap shoes like he had on to school. They wanted Nikes and Adidas. That tells you a lot about the Mexican economy.

Some years back I became familiar with the fact that UCLA was giving free scholarships to undocumented aliens under a state law AB540. It led me to start thinking about the situation of a young Latina with no documentation trying to get an education in order to blend in to the American culture.

I didn’t do the trip with the Border Patrol to gather input for the novel, but it gave me all the input I needed when it came time to write it. This is not a gritty cartel crime story. In reality this is a coming of age story in which Teri must wrestle with and decide who she wants to be as an adult. In the next to last chapter she tells a new friend, “I just want to be proud of who I am.” The ending is ambiguous. Hopefully asking readers to think about what Teri will do; and maybe asking themselves what they would do.

More recently, our government has struggled with what to do about the DREAMers. The situation has been compounded by Congressional battle over immigration and building walls (we used to call then fences), and ICE raids that deport undocumented Mexicans, breaking up families. Finally, the situation with drug and crime cartels has come strongly into public awareness. So, all of this is great grist for a novelist.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to write about my novel. Sure, it’s a suspense/romance with some gritty scenes but no cartel madness. I hope it might have some staying power in our current environment. Anything you can do to help that along I will greatly appreciate.

And I thank the author for such a well-thought-out and interesting response!

Review: R.I.P in Reykjavik

My Review

In R.I.P in Reykjavik, A.R. Kennedy has taken her idea of combining arm chair travel and cozy crime stories up a notch. This is a witty, fun and easy-to-read amateur sleuth novel that will once again have you turning the pages to cheer on its rookie crime solver. This time around, you’ll be enjoying the beauty and charm of Iceland while you do it.

Naomi acts more grown-up in this novel, and her previous amateur sleuthing in Africa has made her more competent at solving murders, too. It makes her a more likable sleuth. As a bonus, the reader gets new details about her dysfunctional family and I think this knowledge makes the whole series more appealing.

One of my favorite things about her writing is the ongoing humor. Enough sly wit was scattered throughout the story to keep me smiling, but I was laughing out loud near the end as Naomi made a video for her sister of the coming and goings in the hotel hallway. It’s worth reading the book just for that scene.

Deep twists and unexpected turns regarding the murder aren’t Kennedy’s MO, but once again we get an adequately complex cast of suspects, and a satisfying ending. I’ll take that any day.

Should You Buy Rock R.I.P in Reykjavik?

I recommend this book to anyone who likes cozy mysteries, amateur sleuth novels or travel.

Buy R.I.P in Reykjavik on Amazon or find it at Books2read.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see R.I.P in Reykjavik.

(Check out my review of the author’s previous book Sleuth on Safari.)

 

Researching a Terrorist Plot

Books need bad people. Bad people do bad things. But if you’re an author, and your bad people are doing things you don’t know very much about, you have to do some research.

What poisons kill the quickest? How long does it take to die from a knife wound? How do you build a bomb?

I was researching the bomb thing for my book One of One, along with details about how well a commercial aircraft could withstand a blast, when I thought …. you know …. these internet searches could cause me some problems.

I recently featured author Bill Blodgett’s novel Love, Lies, and Bad Guys on one of my other blogs. His main characters are dealing with some serious terrorist threats to NYC and it got me curious. When he began writing his book, I suspected Mr. Blodgett didn’t know much more about how to blow up a subway system than I did about how to blow up a plane. How did he get his information?

Read on for his fascinating answer.

We’re you apprehensive when you did the research to write about terrorist threats?

At first I wasn’t. It seemed like researching any other book. I found out about the Native Americans, who were labeled Downwinders because they were exposed to nuclear fallout that was carried downwind after the tests of the atomic bombs in the 1940’s through the early 1960’s in Nevada. Many Downwinders developed various kinds of cancer due to the exposure. Then I contacted several leaders in the Native American community and asked for their input and they were very willing to share what information they had, especially after I told them my wife was part Native American. It was all very natural and a great learning experience.

Then I researched nuclear power plants near New York City, and it was again very natural. It’s then the research began to get serious. I researched the subway system of NYC looking for easy points of access. Then I looked into dirty bombs and what they were made from and how to make them. After that I researched how Homeland Security and other agencies monitored for possible terrorists. I had to create a world that would be believable to the reader, whether they were techno savvy or not. That led to the dark web and dark web browsers that would hide these would be terrorist’s identity and location. Then, of course, the research demanded that I look into Virtual Private Networks, VPN’s. VPN’s also hide your identity by masking where you are logged in from.

They say that curiosity killed the cat and I was beginning to be concerned that I was on that slippery slope, but I felt I needed to continue. I guessed the searches I was conduction on Google contained certain words that would be flagged by law enforcement and I was just waiting for Homeland Security to be at my doorstep any day! In a way it was kind of scary, even though I knew I wasn’t doing anything illegal, but I would have to explain and they’d probably seize my computer, freeze my bank accounts and put me on the “No Fly” list until the matter got settled in maybe five to ten years!!

I downloaded TOR, the most popular dark web browser, but didn’t bother to purchase a VPN from any of the popular venders that can be found online these days. The TOR browser is a dark web search engine much like Google, but it hides your identity and location by jumping for one “node” or location to another all around the world. This was all new to me. Interesting, but a little weird.

So after researching the use of TOR I went online and searched for random things and the lists of providers was immense and most were selling something illegal, from drugs to chat rooms about any subject you could ever dream of. At that point I figured that maybe I was in a gray area of legality and consorting with questionable characters from around the world. Yes, I was just lurking in those chatrooms, but I was still there! I knew I had enough knowledge about the Dark Web to write about it so I uninstalled TOR. Then I began to write Love, Lies, and Bad Guys!

For the full post about Love, Lies, and Bad Guys, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Love, Lies, and Bad Guys.

Review: Murder Gone Missing

Why am I reviewing a crime novel like Murder Gone Missing? Well, even though y1 is a fantasy, it is also a murder mystery, and I have a soft spot for zany crime novels with an unusual premise. Murder Gone Missing begins when the dead body disappears and turns into a clever and funny story, well built to entertain fans of light-hearted mysteries…

Read the full review at Review: Murder Gone Missing

Review: Off Season

This is only partly a heartfelt tale about the effects of rape. It is just as much the story of an older lesbian woman seeking acceptance from her church after having spent years living with her partner but hiding the true nature of their relationship. Author E.S. Ruete tells a difficult story with compassion and bursts of eloquence.

Read my full review at Review: Off Season

Review: Deep Sahara by Leslie Croxford

Deep Sahara Review: This is an impressive book, but not an easy read. If a reader is willing to make the effort to flow with this unusual story, I believe they will find themselves haunted by it, in the way only a fine novel can manage. I give it a 9/10.

See Review: Deep Sahara for all my thoughts and for more information about this book.

One of my resolutions for 2018 is to review more books on my x0 blog. For these reviews, I am interested reading speculative fiction of all sorts, including science fiction and fantasy. I have a fondness for metaphysical tales and particularly like stories with a strong female protagonist. I will consider novels of almost all types that relate to the general theme of world peace.

Read about my requirements for a review, and get my contact info.

eNOugh

This is a region of the country, and a culture, as prone as any in America to the old school belief of turning a blind eye towards what happens inside a home, but the attitudes of Appalachia are changing. Physically assaulting another human is a crime …

Read more at eNOugh.

Smiling My Way Across Kenya

I’ve just returned from one of my furthest journeys ever, a trip to Kenya which got me thinking. What do people do here in the US when you smile at them?
1. They smile back
2. They say hi and maybe try to talk to you.
3. They try to sell you some thing or some idea. Depending on circumstances, that might include the idea of hooking up with them.
4. They take it as an invitation to do harm, attempting to scam or rob you.

And that’s the way it was, June 18, 1972

I spent the summer of 1972 checking groceries, making out with my high school boyfriend, and trying my first marijuana. At the time, I needed both the money and the worldly experience because come September, I was off to study journalism in the big city of Chicago.

Image result for 1972Even though I was going to be too young to vote, I also spent that summer following politics. I’d met Nixon the previous year and felt a visceral dislike for him. I’d become increasingly opposed to the Vietnam war. I was a geeky high school debater with a lot of opinions, and less of them favored the GOP each day. Oh, and I loved spy novels.

So on June 18, when I heard about a break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters, of course I was intrigued. Over the next two years I would become enthralled by the enfolding story.

Read more at And that’s the way it was, June 18, 1972.

(For more segments about June days from long ago, see That’s the Way It Was June 10, 1947, June 15, 1984, June 28, 1888, and June 30, 1940.)

The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places

Along with the many tragic aspects of this incident is the side effect of how it serves to further separate the people of this world. No society exists on this planet that does not have its crimes; larger countries have more. Crowding, poverty, stresses from modernization and the integration of different cultures adds to volatility everywhere. But when the awful event occurs in the back yard of somebody else who lives far away from you, it is easy to think  “Oh, that’s the way they are.”

Read more at The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places.

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away Place, As Far Away Places Edge Closer, Caring About Far Away Places and Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door.)

Of baseball, tennis and predatory lending

umpireHe got me thinking. There are two ways to approach any competition. One is to take every advantage that you can. Soccer players writhing in imagined pain hoping to inflict a foul on the other team are an extreme example of this. In this world, the savvy player tries to play everyone, and get away with everything possible. The only goal is to win.

The other approach is cooperative only in the sense that one of the goals is to get the calls right. Players believe that points should be scored and games won with good rules that are fairly applied.

What do you think happens most often in a close competition between a team or person taking the first approach and one taking the second? Yes, you’re right. I believe we call it “nice guys finish last.”

Read the entire post on my d4 blog at Of baseball, tennis and predatory lending.”

Antidote to current events: Truckers Against Trafficking

heroesMr. Kimmel is associated with a group called TAT (Truckers Against Trafficking) that is working to educate those affiliated with the trucking industry to notice and report signs of sex slavery. Using the slogan “Everyday heroes needed” this group is fighting domestic human trafficking and so far has identified 425 likely trafficking cases involving 744 victims and 249 minors.

This tears at my heartstrings in a particularly strong way. My research for c3, a science fiction book about sex trafficking, sent me researching dark corners of the internet into which I would never have ventured otherwise. I was appalled, and I would described myself as someone who does not shock easily.

Read the entire post on my c3 blog at Antidote to current events: Truckers Against Trafficking.

Review of “Defriended” by Ruth Baron

c3 may be the closest attempt I ever make to writing a young adult novel, but the experience left me with a better appreciation of the challenges faced in crafting a story that is realistic, timely and yet appropriate for all young readers. This is not an easy needle to thread, and when I heard that I knew someone who knew someone who had written a fairly successful young adult horror novel, I decided to give it a try. I am so glad I did.

Read my entire review at Review of “Defriended” by Ruth Baron

 

 

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