Monday, 31 March 2014

DOROTHY UHNAK - CODES OF BETRAYAL


Synopsis/blurb…….

Codes of Betrayal is a drama of double cross and triple jeopardy. At it's center is Nick O'Hara, an NYPD member whose shifting family loyalties will ultimately force him to confront his deepest notions of honor, loyalty, and justice. The son of an Irish father and an Italian mother, Nick O'Hara has always been a loyal cop. His relationship with his grandfather, Mafia boss Nicholas Ventura, has been an albatross, but never an issue. Then, in a moment of carelessness, he sends his thirteen-year-old son, Peter, to spend the afternoon at a Little Italy street fair with his underboss cousin. Caught in an alley between Little Italy and Chinatown, the boy is brutally gunned down, a bystander caught between mob crosshairs.

First taste for me of Dorothy Uhnak, but not my last, as I have a few of her earlier books on the shelves. She featured her in a recent “2 BY” post.

Uhnak also counts as my New York entry for my USA State Reading Challenge.

Codes of Betrayal is her last published novel originally released in 1997. With a New York setting and an Irish/Italian family there’s a potential clich├ęd book in the offing. If I think New York Irish, my mind conjures cops. If I think New York Italian, I’m figuring family and Mafiosi. Uhnak delivers a book along those lines, but it would be unfair to write it off as formulaic.

We have a cop – Nick O’Hara; married with a son. He’s honest in his work, less so in his marital relationship fidelity-wise. There are tensions present; the job has taken its toll and as a couple they struggle to communicate. His upbringing since the death of his father, at the hands of his mob-connected Uncle, possibly on the orders of his Mafiosi grandfather has distanced him from the Italian side of his family. A family re-union brings Nick's son into contact with his cousin’s boy; a lad of a similar age. Disaster strikes and O’Hara decides to seek revenge on his grandfather.

Dorothy Uhnak
O'Hara despite his cheating is a likeable character, with enough flaws and foibles to be realistic as opposed to a cardboard cut-out super cop. His grandfather and ultimately his nemesis - Nicholas Ventura - has virtues and positive attributes as well as the ruthless, heartless streak that keeps him entrenched at the head of his operation. He's both feared and respected. You do feel he has a genuine love and affection for Nick, in spite of his manipulative, controlling nature.  

Cops, mobsters, family, Irish, Italian, drugs, plan, gambling, robbery, death, vengeance, Colombians, Chinese, construction, Vegas, son, wife, cousin, uncle, grandfather, FBI, college, surveillance, death, estrangement, divorce, China White, betrayal, comeuppance.

An interesting mix, decent plot, a couple of strong female characters – Nick’s wife who I felt we didn't see enough of and a childhood friend of O’Hara’s – Laura Santalvo – a lady I didn't particularly warm to throughout; so conversely felt we saw too much of!    

Character, setting, plot, pace, conclusion – all ticks in the box, without being the best book I've ever read.

Overall verdict 4 from 5.

Another Net Galley acquisition (will I ever see the end of them?)

All of Uhnak’s back catalogue has been made available on e-book by Open Road Media – find them here!

Sunday, 30 March 2014

B. SELKIE (AKA PETER ROBB) - NO SWEAT (AKA FINAL CUT) (AKA 1/3 OF PIG'S BLOOD AND OTHER FLUIDS)

Synopsis/blurb.....

Franki: a soap opera starlet goes home to Watson's Bay for the first time in years to meet her mother, Sybil: first they killed her cat, then her son. She should have listened when the men in black suits asked her to sell the milkbar.

A thrilling unexpurgated expose of Sydney's world of drug-crazed actors, gays, criminals and property developers. This lusty novel is packed with raw love and lurid adventure, told in the real language of today.


A recent post regarding Peter Robb's Pig's Blood and Other Fluids reviewed what in essence was actually only one portion of the book, either one third of the whole thing or half of the "other fluids."

My thoughts regarding this were...........

I recently read a May, 2013 article by Andrew Nette over at Crime Fiction Lover site regarding 7 Aussie Noir titles. Having a few of them on the shelves already and being intrigued by some of the others, I decided to have a hunt around.

First stop Amazon UK. Peter Robb’s Pig’s Blood and Other Fluids was not too expensive, so I thought why not.  I subsequently read 90-odd pages of a novelette concerning an Aussie actress; Francesca or Franki, her career, sex-life, sometime psychotic boyfriend, actor friends and her troubled past; with her dysfunctional family in the shape of an abusing now-deceased father and her mum, still around but operating a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Oh and a recently dead brother as well.

Interesting, weird, definitely not mainstream – we have some insight into her parent’s life when they were younger and how some choices and actions influence where we are today.

Somewhat bizarrely we climax with a film crew, helicopters, a sex act, a shotgun, a boyfriend with murderous intent and a bloody shoot out - cue pandemonium.

Enjoyable and definitely worth the price paid, though I would guess this would be an acquired taste and not for everyone.

3 from 5
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
As an OCD, anally retentive reader of the highest order; I have with the help of an extremely generous Goodreads member, Hermien from Perth, Australia managed to achieve closure on the puzzle of this book. 

Hermien is one of only two members willing to own up to having read this. After sending her a message explaining my confusion regarding the Robb - Selkie - Pig's Blood - No Sweat - Final Cut - Lime Juice mystery. She kindly replied offering missing detail in the form of the cover art and blurbs..........as well as generously sending me Lime Juice the missing third from my book! 

I can die a happy man!

Has the fact that Hermien rated Final Cut and Lime Juice with a paltry one star score put me off reading - not on your life. Looking forward to enjoying the other Robb fiction in the coming months!
B Selkie or Peter Robb!

This 3 star quickie has ticked a box on my Australian - New Zealand - Down Under personal reading challenge. 


Thursday, 27 March 2014

2 BY DENNIS TAFOYA

2 more from the shelves this week. I don’t know much about this author really. He has a website – here

He has a third book out at the end of next month – The Poor Boy’s Game. Unusually for me, I will try and restrain myself from buying it before I have sampled at least one of these titles below.

From the praise his books have attracted they sound like the kind of books I ought to be reading.
  
"Classic noir readers will hope Tafoya is their guide through the mean streets for years to come."- Starred Review, Publishers weekly

This is as tender and subtle a portrait of a criminal mind AS I've ever seen. Effortlessly beautiful and heartfelt."- Kelly Simmons, author of the Bird House


"Tafoya  is  finding  his  own  original  voice,  one that  will  make  readers  sit  up  and  listen." - Tom Nolan,  Wall Street Journal

"An impressive debut by a writer savvy enough to understand that the way to a reader’s heart is often as not through flawed characters." -Kirkus Reviews

"Tafoya's East Falls tragedy establishes the same mood that permeates Richard Price's novels – the looming of implacable and unavoidable violence...Tafoya writes with ample energy, none of it wasted." - David Hiltbrand, Philadelphia Inquirer 

DOPE THIEF

Ray and Manny, two friends from juvie almost twenty years ago, have a great scam running: with a couple of fake badges and some DEA windbreakers they found at a secondhand store, they target small-time drug dealers, pose as federal agents, confiscate the money and the drugs, and disappear before anyone is the wiser. It's a perfect sting; the dealers are too small to look for revenge, and too guilty to call the police. No one dies, no one innocent ends up a victim, and Ray and Manny score plenty.

But it can't last forever. Eventually they choose the wrong target and end up with hundreds of thousands of dollars; the guy the money belongs to is willing to kill to get it back. Suddenly Ray doesn't care so much about the money; he just wants to get out of this life, this life he feels like he never chose, but was born into. Whether the victim of his latest theft - not to mention his partner - will let him is another question entirely.

Owing debts to writers like Richard Price, James Ellroy and even Dennis Lehane, Dennis Tafoya is a rich, passionate new voice on the crime shelf.

THE WOLVES OF FAIRMOUNT PARK

In The Wolves of Fairmount Park, Dennis Tafoya's lyrical, intense, sometimes tragic and sometimes hopeful second novel, the details of a drive-by shooting of two teenagers in a rough Philadelphia neighborhood are filled in from four perspectives: Brendan Donovan, a cop and the father of the boy shot and left comatose; George Parkman Sr., another father, this one of the boy who was killed; Danny Martinez, a cop whose job it is to investigate the killing; and Orlando Donovan, the junkie uncle of the cop's kid, who happens to live nearby.

No one knows what the two boys were doing in front of a dope house on Roxborough Avenue in the middle of the night, what business they might have had with gangs like Green Lane or the Tres Nortes. Even though they had a thousand dollars with them, they were good boys. Everyone says, 'They were good boys.'

Through the fast-paced interweaving of these four distinct voices, Dennis Tafoya, author of the acclaimed Dope Thief, tells the moving story of two kids in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the lengths that the people around them will go to find the truth. 






Wednesday, 26 March 2014

LUCA VESTE - DEAD GONE


Synopsis/blurb……

The debut novel from a crime star in the making - utterly gripping and perfect for fans of Stuart MacBride and Mark Billingham.
The young girl you have found isn’t the first experiment I’ve carried out. She won’t be the last.

A serial killer is stalking the streets of Liverpool, gruesomely murdering victims as part of a series of infamous unethical and deadly psychological experiments.

When it becomes apparent that each victim has ties to the City of Liverpool University, DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi realise they're chasing a killer unlike any they've hunted before – one who doesn’t just want their bodies, but wants their minds.

With a series of psychological twists Dead Gone will chill you to the bone, and keep you guessing until the very end.
Luca Veste
Net Galley book again with a debut novel from a Liverpudlian author of Italian heritage.

When I checked this on Amazon UK, the book has over 100 reviews, with 60 plus scoring it top marks and a further 24 giving it 4 stars; with the odd exception – 1 x 1 star, 2 x 2 stars - everyone seems to be loving it.
Where did it sit with me? Interesting not incredible. Satisfying not stunning. Enjoyable not excellent………shall I go on….ok you get the drift.

Girl goes missing, not for the first time, boyfriend worries, family less concerned……..fast forward, 11 months later, a different girl is found murdered in a Liverpool park, note attached to body claiming she is an experiment, police investigation starts, another body appears, another note, regular flashes to our original girl who is being held somewhere.  

We start to focus on our police team. DI Dave Murphy heads the team. Its Murphy’s first murder case since something went a bit Pete Tong on his last. He’s troubled, he’s split from his ex-junkie wife and we are aware something awful happened to his parents, something he is having trouble coming to terms with, something he seems to blame his wife for.

Number two in our police team is a female – DS Laura Rossi. Younger than Murphy, single and capable. We also have Brannon, the token misfit, who strives to make himself appear more capable than he actually is, someone who endeavours to undermine Murphy to other officers at every opportunity.    
The notes with the bodies point the investigation towards one of the City’s Universities and the psychology department. The case unfolds, the killer claims more victims, and more notes appear confirming “experiments” and a psychological aspect to the case. Killer starts taunting Murphy over events of the past, frequent flashes to our captive, pressure mounts on Murphy, inquiries focus on the Uni and its staff.  Etc. and onto the climax and the end.

I might be somewhat glib in my narration of events, but I did enjoy it. (I don’t want to give too much detail or spoil anyone’s future enjoyment.)  And for something that weighs in at either 319 pages (Net Galley count), 357 pages (Kindle) or 400 pages (paperback edition)……..I started this Sunday afternoon and finished Tuesday evening……it was a quick read.

Decent enough plot, fast-paced, interesting setting in Liverpool, with some well-drawn characters. Murphy, I guess was meant to come across as broody, troubled and enigmatic – a damaged man struggling to cope with his past and get his life back on track whilst juggling the pressures of the job. I could kind of sympathise with him, but I found myself wanting to punch him in the face, as he irritated and annoyed me, just a bit too much in the book. I’m not sure this would have been the reaction that the author was striving for, but hey any reaction beats indifference. Favourite character would be Laura Rossi – who came across as likeable, dependable and balanced.

The portrayal of the various relationships throughout the book was superb…… police with police, especially Murphy and Rossi, Murphy and his boss, Murphy and his other colleagues, Murphy and his one friend – Jess, Rossi and her family, our captive and her boyfriend…..all interesting dynamics expertly presented.   

Overall a 4 from 5  

Would I want read more from Veste then? Very probably, as long as the page count in his books don’t grow exponentially with each successive book.   


Author's website is here. Dead Gone is available now; on Amazon - UK for less than a pound in Kindle format. 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

PETER ROBB - PIG'S BLOOD AND OTHER FLUIDS (MAYBE..............)


Synopsis/blurb……..

Sal's being tried out as a hitman and being dumb's no problem. Baz is a wannabe celebrity chef - he can't cook, and he's got a secret. Fayette's fourteen. She just wants to kill her step-father and have fun. Pig's Blood is about people with dreams. It ends badly. People die. A confronting yet comic novella that develops fully the darkness and violence that lurks in Robb's non-fiction books, as well as the irony and wit that also characterises his non-fiction writing. “So amoral and blackly comic that one feels that they are deliberately infected spitballs thrown against the virginal and pretentious window of Australian literature… one has a sense that, for Robb, too much excess is never enough.” - Sydney Morning Herald

I recently read a May, 2013 article by Andrew Nette over at Crime Fiction Lover site regarding 7 Aussie Noir titles. Having a few of them on the shelves already and being intrigued by some of the others, I decided to have a hunt around.

First stop Amazon UK. Peter Robb’s Pig’s Blood and Other Fluids was not too expensive, so I thought why not.  I subsequently read 90-odd pages of a novelette concerning an Aussie actress; Francesca or Franki, her career, sex-life, sometime psychotic boyfriend, actor friends and her troubled past; with her dysfunctional family in the shape of an abusing now-deceased father and her mum, still around but operating a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Oh and a recently dead brother as well.

Interesting, weird, definitely not mainstream – we have some insight into her parent’s life when they were younger and how some choices and actions influence where we are today.

Somewhat bizarrely we climax with a film crew, helicopters, a sex act, a shotgun, a boyfriend with murderous intent and a bloody shoot out - cue pandemonium.

Enjoyable and definitely worth the price paid, though I would guess this would be an acquired taste and not for everyone.
Peter Robb

3 from 5

A day or two later the penny dropped. The book I read was not the book described above! No Sal, no Baz, no hitman……..WTF? When I re-checked Amazon the description is for a 200 page book and mine was 87. When I googled the title and started digging deeper into the history and origins of the book, I find detail concerning a 300 plus page book, collating 3 crime novellas – Pig’s Blood, No Sweat and Lime Juice.

My e-book read is sub-titled No Sweat. So I have read 1 portion from 3 only - cue wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Are you my everything?



Not one to admit defeat, I find a bookseller in Australia and ordered up Pig’s Blood, which arrived yesterday. I now have my Sal tale of hitman and stupidity.

I don’t know if I’m still missing Lime Juice as further digging reveals that Pig’s Blood may have previously been published under a pseudonym of B. Selkie perhaps under the title of Final Cut. Selkie also had Lime Juice out in the mid-90’s.

I may now have my hands on all the book, or I may only have 2 portions of 3. If I so choose, I can order up Final Cut and Lime Juice on Amazon UK for the combined price of £150-odd………I may be a bit mad, but even I would baulk at that outlay for a book, I may already have and may not even enjoy!

I have pinged a query to the e-book publisher asking why the advertised content differs from the received content. It’s still a bit of a mystery to me and probably of little interest to others, but hey – I shan't be apologising for boring you!       



    

Monday, 24 March 2014

MIKE HARVKEY IN THE COURSE OF HUMAN EVENTS


Synopsis/blurb…..
Battered, bruised, and bloodied by the economic collapse, Clyde Twitty has all but given up hope for the future. The factory has shut down, the pick-up needs repairs, and the place he calls home is the town the American Dream forgot. Right about now he could use some help. Enter Jay Smalls, a charismatic martial artist who exerts an intense magnetic pull. Under Jay’s brutal instruction, Clyde begins a series of increasingly frightening tests that draw him into a seedy underworld of bare-knuckle fighting, brazen criminal acts, homemade drugs, and homegrown extremism. Jay reshapes Clyde into a fearless fighter—and directs his burning anger at a deserving target: the government. 

In this thrilling debut novel—equal parts satire and morality play—Harvkey shines a sharp light on the radical underbelly of the floundering American Midwest. As he traces the violent rebirth of a desperate man, he explores with unflinching acuity the ugly nature of hate, the mechanics of radicalization, and the atomic power of having someone believe in you.

New author, debut novel, uncomfortable reading in places.

We have a down-trodden protagonist; Clyde Twitty, who we are sympathetic to and are rooting for.  Clyde is unemployed with few prospects. He’s scraping a few bucks delivering cars part-time to auction. He’s trying to support his mother and his disabled uncle – Willy. His only friend has blown town for the bright lights of Nashville.

Alone, dis-affected and ripe for seduction; Clyde falls under the spell of Jay Smalls, a white supremacist and militant. Jay with his smooth patter and his corrupting philosophy enlists Clyde into his small band of fellow-thinking Aryan dunderheads.

As Clyde leaves behind his old life for Jay’s band, I was still rooting for him; still hoping that he could reverse his chosen path and get back to some rational thought and action. We had glimpses of hope when he befriends, Chetto – a Mexican work colleague at his new job in Jefferson City and spends time in the company of his family. We felt just maybe after visiting his uncle to say goodbye; that his family bonds would prove too strong to sever.
Mike Harvkey

Alas, no happy endings.      

Martial arts training, brutality, punishment, carrot and stick, conflict, indoctrination, White Aryan Congress, family, abandonment, belief, crystal meth., surveillance, robbery, ZOG, Israel, Timothy McVeigh, Ruby Ridge, WACO, armed militias, stockpiled weaponry, explosives, Kansas City, Jefferson City, government targets, Hispanics, friendships, strippers, crank, alcohol, small business, hot sauce, Walmart, FBI, bullet wounds, hospital, coma, recovery, abandonment, tipping point, explosives, plans, shoot out, death, revolution.   

Enjoyable, interesting, deep, worrying and scary. Fascinating look at how unemployment and economic misery can be subverted from dis-affection with government into militant radicalisation, especially in an environment where guns abound.

4 from 5  

Another Net Galley download.


Mike Harvkey hails from Missouri, which ticks another box on my USA State Reading Challenge. His website is here

In the Course of Human Events is published on 15th April by Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press

Saturday, 22 March 2014

2 BY MICHAEL VAN ROOY



2 more this week from the ranks of the unread masses. We have a Canadian crime fiction author, sadly no longer with us - Michael Van Rooy died suddenly in early 2011 at the age of 42. See linked article.







He published 3 books in total, all of which I have and all of which I'm sure I will enjoy, undoubtedly my pleasure will be tempered with a bit of sadness not just as a reader that there won't be any more, but more for the family he's left behind.


The 3rd title in his series is entitled - A Criminal to Remember.






AN ORDINARY DECENT CRIMINAL

Not since Jack Reacher has there been such a quick thinking, hard-edged antihero who readers will root for against all odds

All recovering drug addict and reformed thief Montgomery Haaviko wants to do is settle down with his wife and baby in their new home and work on building a straight life, one free of the day-to-day hustle and danger of being a career criminal. But for a man who's never held down a legitimate job it isn't going to be easy. When Monty foils a robbery in his new home, killing the intruders, he soon finds he has both a small-time crime boss and a star police sergeant looking for ways to ruin him, run him out of town, or kill him. It's going to take all of the tricks this streetwise ex-con has up his sleeves to prove his innocence, protect his family, and avoid the temptation of the life he left behind.

Montgomery Haaviko's Tricks of the Trade: 

Be nice. Nice is good. Nice sets a standard. Then, when you get mean, the shock is strongest.

Armored cars are owned by people with guns. 


When burglarizing a house move slowly. Then slow down. Now cut it by half. And you've got it.

A couple of drops of crazy glue on the tips of your fingers will eliminate fingerprints.

YOUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBOURHOOD CRIMINAL


The truth frequently hurts and rarely sets you free.

Ex-criminal Montgomery "Monty" Haaviko would prefer to be known as the friendly neighborhood daycare provider. Unfortunately, it's his criminal past (and his extensive bag of tricks of the trade) that brings him to the attention of Marie Blue Duck, a Canadian activist who wants Monty to set up a route to smuggle refugees into the US. Monty's skeptical of her offer, but the money is too good to refuse. Even his wife, Claire, who ensures Monty stays on the straight and narrow, thinks he should take the job.

Marry the first person who doesn't publicly ask about the knife in your sock and the pistol in your waistband.

Monty's carefully laid plans quickly go off the rails when he squares off against local thug Samantha Richot, who tries to seize the route. Their power struggle rapidly escalates into kidnapping, torture, and a daring and highly explosive stand-off. Just when Monty thinks he might just have it all under control, his old jailhouse crony, Hershel "Smiley" Wiebe, shows up on his doorstep. Monty is more than suspicious of Smiley's motives, but figures if you should keep old friends close, you should keep old cons even closer.

Smile. If nothing else it makes them nervous.

Not since the bestselling novel Beat The Reaper or the TV show Burn Notice has there been such a quick-thinking, smart-talking anti-hero who will keep you pinned to your seat. A gripping and aggressive thriller, Your Friendly Neighborhood Criminal shows just how far a man will go to protect his family, home and neighborhood.


2 more next week.


Friday, 21 March 2014

MIKE MCCRARY - GETTING UGLY

Synopsis/blurb……
A young FBI star (Leon) is sent to hunt down a most dangerous man - a terrifying legend hated and feared by both the law and the criminal underworld alike. A man called Big Ugly.

Leon and Big Ugly engage in an epic struggle, but unlike the poor souls before him, Leon lives...barely. Big Ugly disappears like a ghost leaving Leon a broken man with only a scrambled head full of bad memories.

Years later, a degenerate criminal stumbles upon Big Ugly's hidden compound. A raving band of nasty individuals are assembled. Leon gets the call to go undercover and join this team of psychopaths to ensure Big Ugly is brought to justice...but nothing is what it seems.

A breakneck pulp action thriller, GETTING UGLY will twist your head like a pretzel leaving you struggling to guess what happens next, but so much fun you won't want it to end.
About the Author
Mike McCrary is a screenwriter and author. His short fiction has appeared in Out of the Gutter, Shotgun Honey and The Big Adios. Mike barely earned an Economics degree, somehow got an MBA, and has been a waiter, securities trader, dishwasher, investment manager, and an unpaid Hollywood intern. He’s quit corporate America, come back, been fired, been promoted, been fired, and currently writes stories about questionable people who make questionable decisions. He lives in Texas.

150-odd pages………fast, funny, furious and frantic, filled with fantastic fights and frenetic f… err fornication (ok just a bit of the latter then).

Enjoyable, exciting, exhilarating! Not a book you would foist on your granny for her birthday unless of course she likes a bit of wild and a touch of weird. Quite filmic – reminded me of the film, Tropic Thunder……but that might just be me.

FBI, crims, guns, death, loss, humiliation, vengeance, redemption, knives and double-D’s all feature along with a large sex-aid!  

An intriguing lead character, well written action scenes, explosive throughout. Happy days!

If you like your crime fiction classic, Golden Age or a touch literary this probably won’t appeal to you. If conversely you want a fun few hours and some action packed escapism, you could do a hell of a lot worse.

The author has a second title available – Remo Went Rogue, which I will be enjoying soon.

4 from 5

My thanks to the author for my copy of this one. His website is here.

Hat-tip to Paul D. Brazill for bringing another under the radar author to my attention.




Thursday, 20 March 2014

ELLEN KIRSCHMAN - BURYING BEN


Synopsis/blurb…..

Dot Meyerhoff has barely settled into her new job as a psychologist for the Kenilworth Police Department when Ben Gomez, a troubled young rookie that she tries to counsel, commits suicide without any warning and leaves a note blaming her. Overnight, her promising new start becomes a nightmare. At stake is her job, her reputation, her license to practice, and her already battered sense of self-worth.

Dot resolves to find out not just what led Ben to kill himself, but why her psychologist ex-husband, the man she most wants to avoid, recommended that Ben be hired in the first place. Ben’s surviving family and everyone else connected to him are determined to keep Ben’s story a secret, by any means necessary. Even Ben, from the grave, has secrets to keep.

Right from the start, Dot’s investigation efforts get her into trouble. First she alienates Ben’s training officer, who is barely managing to hold onto his own job. With the police chief watching over her shoulder, she tries to help the officer with disastrous consequences. After reaching out to console Ben’s pregnant—and slightly sociopathic—widow, Dot winds up embroiled in the affairs of her incredibly dysfunctional family. Dot’s troubles are compounded by a post-divorce romance, the ex who still has a hold over her, and an unwelcome visit from his new wife. By the time she uncovers the real reasons behind Ben’s suicide and brings the people responsible to justice, Dot has not only resurrected belief in herself, she has also acquired some surprisingly useful new skills: impersonating a public official, burglary, and assault with a deadly weapon.

Another day, another new author, another debut novel, and another belter. Last year, I was fortunate enough to discover books by the likes of Terry Shames, Barry Lancet and John Florio to mention a few and I’m happy to say 2014 seems to have started off in a similarly promising vein. Dan O’Shea, Les Edgerton, John Ball and now Ellen Kirschman.
Ellen Kirschman

Not hard-boiled, hard-core or hard work, Burying Ben at 240 pages long was read in the space of about 3 or 4 hours last Sunday. It’s a mystery, but the author has put a fresh twist on things. We encounter cops and police work within the narrative, but our main lady is a slightly insecure, psychologist who lands a counselling role with her local PD; a sop lobbed to her by her ex-husband as an appeasement for throwing Dot over for a younger, fresher model.

Dot encounters the usual macho posturing from a cynical PD staff, in particular Eddie Rimbauer, a jaundiced, long-serving officer. Her first input is to interview and assess a probationer, Ben Gomez. Gomez is struggling to satisfy his training officer Rimbauer’s expectations. Eddie feels Ben is ill-suited to police work. Ben feels there should be scope within the role to allow him to not automatically assume the worst of the public he encounters. Dot tries to broker a peace between the two.

Ben’s issues are more far-reaching than merely work-related…….he’s newly-wed with a horror-show of a pregnant wife, complete with accompanying extended family.  Gomez commits suicide and Dot is held to account for her professional conduct, when our rookie blames her in an e-mailed suicide note.
Kirschman writes a compelling story as Dot tries to salvage her reputation and career. We get closer to understanding, Eddie Rimbauer – our veteran officer failing to cope with his own issues and we get more personal involvement with Dot’s ex-husband and new partner. An interesting investigation unfolds as we discover more about all our cast of characters; cops young and old, ex-husbands and love rivals, police chiefs, colleagues and friends within the psychology profession, as well as the disciplinary side of the business, a potential love interest, the victim’s own family and his unsympathetic in-laws.

A fantastic story, well-written and effectively told, with great characters, pace and plot and a satisfying outcome.

4 from 5.

Hopefully there will be more Dot Meyerhoff books to follow in the future.

Author Ellen Kirshman is an award winning police psychologist. In addition to her first novel she has penned several non-fiction books. You can find out more about her at her website here.

She was kind enough to send me a copy of this for review.


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

MIKE RESNICK - DOG IN THE MANGER


Synopsis/blurb………..

Hired to investigate the disappearance of a Westminster winner, Eli Paxton stumbles into a web of intrigue.

A dog is missing. Not just any dog. The number one Weimaraner in the country and current Westminster winner.

Down-on-his-luck private eye Eli Paxton is hired to find him. Not exactly an elite assignment, but better than nothing. Maybe it will help him pay his rent.

It turns out to be anything but a routine case. People start dying in mysterious ways, a cargo plane goes missing, and someone is taking shots at him. It makes no sense. Even a top show dog isn't worth that much. 

Now the hunt is on. Paxton needs to find this dog to save his own skin. The trail leads to Arizona, then Mexico, and finally back to his hometown of Cincinnati—

Where he finds the startling solution. 
Praise…..

"I did something I rarely do these days—I read [Dog in the Manger] in a single sitting. I think you'll do the same."
—Ed Gorman
Author of the Sam McCain mystery series


"Eli Paxton is a likable addition to the ranks of fictional private eyes. Mike Resnick's fast-paced, cleverly plotted, wryly amusing adventures are sure to please both mystery readers and fans of his award-winning science fiction."
—Bill Pronzini
Grandmaster of Mystery Writers of America


Another author here who I have vaguely heard of before, but as he is better known for his numerous science fiction novels, one I have never tried. This mystery was originally published back in the mid-90’s and has been given a new lease of life by Seventh Street Books. Resnick has written two more with Eli Paxton as the main focus. The second – The Trojan Colt was released last June and the third – Cat on a Cold Tin Roof will be published in August of this year.




Unlike a few other PI novels I have read, Eli Paxton has few personal issues dogging him. He’s well adjusted, fosters decent working relationships with the police and his competition. He has an interesting back-story which establishes him as an honest, conscientious investigator; unafraid of doing the right thing and without the obligatory bottle of JD in his bottom desk drawer. In his 40’s, single, overweight and balding and without a multitude of martial arts belts and hand to hand combat skills. Jack Reacher he isn't and for all his ordinariness, he rather likeable and more importantly for me, believable.

Paxton is hired to investigate the disappearance of a show-winning Weimaraner dog; Baroness, by the show handler, who is himself being sued by the dog’s owner for its disappearance. The dog was due to have been shipped back to its owner on a small internal flight from Cincinnati to Arizona but never arrived. Paxton makes inquiries at the freight handling operation and soon discovers that the mystery itself is linked to the flight……..employees at the company are transferred, a couple die in “accidents” and when visiting the dog’s owner to make inquiries at the other end of the chain, someone takes some pot shots at him.     

Our missing dog case has morphed into someone somewhat larger and more dangerous for Paxton to unravel.

Only about 190 pages long, so this was a fairly quick read, but without the author sacrificing the development of the main characters within the book. Our settings for the mystery jump around and we enjoy a bit of Arizona and Mexico in addition to Paxton’s Cincinnati base. We have an involvement with the local police, in addition to some national agencies, as well as Mexican law enforcement and we get to learn a little bit about the world of dog breeders and dog showing and judging. Hmm….what a strange lot they are.

Lots to like and enjoy here and I’m looking forward to the second in the series sometime soon.

4 from 5

Thanks to Seventh Street Books for my copy of this.  

      

Monday, 17 March 2014

LES EDGERTON - THE BITCH

Synopsis/blurb……
Ex-con Jake Bishop is several years past his second stint in prison and has completely reformed. He’s married, expecting a child, and preparing to open his own hair salon. But then an old cellmate re-enters his life begging for a favour: to help him with a burglary. Forced by his code of ethics to perform the crime, Jake’s once idyllic life quickly plunges into an abyss. Jake soon realizes that there is only one way out of this purgatory . . . and it may rupture his soul beyond repair.
Advance Praise
The Bitch is the kind of raw crime fiction that’s right up my alley, like sandpaper for the brain. Edgerton has got the chops. Mad chops. Gonna make us all ashamed of our puny efforts one day.”
—Anthony Neil Smith, bestselling author of Choke on Your Lies, Psychomatic, Hogdoggin’, Yellow Medicine, The Drummer, To the Devil, My Regards, and others.

It might be a bit of an understatement but author Les Edgerton has lived an interesting life. Born in Texas, his Wikipedia entry states the following:
Later Edgerton entered a period of his life he refers to as a years-long odyssey, during which he:
·         Sold and used drugs
·         Worked for an escort service for older, wealthy women in New Orleans
·         Sold life insurance
·         Worked as a headhunter for a firm specializing in recruiting executives for businesses dealing with electronic warfare
·         Was a sports reporter
·         Won 16 state championships for hairstyling, a skill he learned in prison
·         Co-hosted a cable-television show about fashion in New Orleans
·         Made a television commercial
·         Acted in a movie
·         Was homeless and eating out of a dumpster
·         Went through several marriages
·         Attended A.A. meetings
·         Began writing seriously

Back to The Bitch then.

Not as bleak as many “noir” tagged novels I’ve read and without spoiling anything for potential readers we don’t exit the book with everyone living happily ever after. It is an interesting journey though in the company of Jake Bishop, our main man – a rehabilitated ex-con. He’s happily married, holding down a steady job and he’s got big career plans which will provide for his future family. Life couldn’t be better.

Les Edgerton
Cue wheels falling off wagon, brown stuff hitting the fan etc etc.

Bishop ill-advisedly takes a call from his old cell mate at Pendleton. Despite his resolve to go straight and stay straight, Jake is then sucked back into the criminal world and at risk of a life sentence back in prison;  a three-time felon or habitual offender - in con-speak “The Bitch.”

Job, hair-dressing, wife, pregnancy, going straight, business plans, brother, cops, burglary, blackmail, diamonds, friendship, history, prison, alcoholism, recidivism, family, secrets, suspicion, snow, murder, kidnap, shovels, bad luck, poor choices, more bad luck, more bad decisions….ergo, death and everyone who survives initially lives unhappily ever after, albeit with a much reduced life expectancy.

Edgerton gives us a likeable protagonist who through a combination of ill-luck and poor decision-making gets locked in a downward spiral from which there is no escape. Enjoyable and satisfying, with well-drawn characters, a decent plot and great pace – overall an entertaining read. Even if at times I was shouting……….NO!.....at Bishop’s fall!

This was my first taste of the author, but with a few other books of his on the pile………The Death of Tarpons, Monday’s Meal, The Rapist, Just Like That……….not my last.

I will count this as my Texas entry for my USA State Reading Challenge. (4 down 47 to go!)

4 from 5

Accessed through the Net Galley website.     

     

  


Tuesday, 11 March 2014

2 BY SEYMOUR SHUBIN


2 more from the shelves of the library this week are by Seymour Shubin - a household name surely?

Never heard of him?  There’s a bit of an author biography on the Hard Case Crime site which reads as follows……… In 1953, Seymour Shubin published his first novel, Anyone’s My Name. It quickly became a New York Times bestseller and went on to be recognized as a classic of the field, published in numerous international editions and taught in college courses on both literature and criminology. Subsequently, Shubin wrote more than a dozen other novels, including one, The Captain, that was a finalist for the Edgar Allan Poe Award and selected for the mystery reference work 100 Great Detectives.



Born in 1921 his most recent work The Hunch was published in 2009 when he was in his late 80’s! He's still with us, so what chance another new novel?

Most of his books seem to have a tag of psychological crime, which if I’m totally honest isn't always a strand that appeals to me……..maybe I have just read poor examples of it! 




THE GOOD AND THE DEAD

The good and the dead -- what does it mean? Don't even try to guess.

Ben Newman, a writer of true-detective stories, has written about scores of murders and thinks he has seen it "all" -- until he's confronted with the murders of adults from his old neighbourhood whom he hasn't seen since childhood. It begins with the body of his brother's wife found floating in the family swimming pool. Suspicion immediately centres, with good reason, on Ben's brother, a physician. But then Ben -- who has always looked on murder as something that happened to "other people," finds himself confronted with a series of strange deaths: among them a pharmacist he'd known since kindergarten, and a woman whom he'd kissed in the moonlight on a long-ago school trip.

In this, his eleventh novel, Edgar-finalist Seymour Shubin takes us on a bizarre journey through several murders that eventually come to reflect on our own humanity. This is a novel, a rarity in psych/suspense mystery fiction that combines truly unforgettable characters with pure action.


WITNESS TO MYSELF


A NEW NOIR MASTERPIECE BY THE AUTHOR OF THE CLASSIC 1953 BESTSELLER ANYONE'S MY NAME

Fifteen years ago, teenager Alan Benning jogged off a beach - and into a nightmare. Because what awaited him in the Cape Cod woods was an unspeakable temptation, a moment of panic, and a brutal memory that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Now a successful lawyer, Alan finds himself drawn back to the scene of the crime, desperate to learn the truth about what happened on that long-ago summer day. But even as he grapples with his own dark secrets, he finds himself hounded by a shadowy adversary - and by the forces of justice, drawing their net around him tighter by the day.





Monday, 10 March 2014

HARRY HUNSICKER - THE CONTRACTORS


Synopsis/blurb……

Private military contractors. They're not just for foreign wars anymore. Jon Cantrell, a disgraced ex-cop, works for one such company. He's a DEA agent paid on a commission basis, patrolling one of the busiest drug-hubs in the country: Dallas, Texas. 
When Cantrell and his partner and sometimes lover confiscate the wrong shipment of drugs, they find themselves in possession of a star witness in an upcoming cartel trial that could destroy the largest criminal organization in the hemisphere. 
To turn a profit, all they have to do is safely deliver the witness to the US Attorney on the other side of the state. An easy trip, except the witness doesn’t want to go and a group of competing DEA contractors and a corrupt Dallas police officer want everybody involved dead. 
This heart-stopping thriller takes readers deep into a strange underworld where the lines between government officials and mercenaries blur. In this complex network of drug traffickers, cartels, politicians, and police, no one's hands are clean.

Another new author and another Net Galley book which on the face of it……..drugs, corruption, dirty cops, Mexican cartels and hit squads…..ought to have been up my street. Whilst it was enjoyable up to a point I wasn't engaged in the outcome and felt somewhat indifferent as to how things played out.

The author provides a decent back story for our main character and puts flesh on his bones ….. a troubled job history, family difficulties with an unstable half-sister looking after his father who is suffering from dementia, on/off romance with an equally troubled partner, Piper……but I just didn't feel any connection or empathy towards Cantrell and less for Piper, the other main figure on the side of the good guys.

Cantrell and Piper take down a drug shipment. Cantrell and Piper find themselves in possession of a witness in an up and coming trial against a top figure in one the Mexican drug cartels. Cantrell and Piper endeavour to deliver her to a US attorney somewhere else in Texas and in return secure themselves a big pay-day. A road-trip ensues, with numerous encounters and a fair bit of blood-letting as a variety of miscreants on both sides of the law try to stop the pair and silence the witness permanently.  

Gun fights, death, betrayal, secrets, corruption, drug-addiction, tech-wizardry, family, Texas, Mexican hit squads, indifference, constant mind-wandering, page-counting, loss of reading momentum, ennui, swimming through treacle…… the end, joy, relief, a burden lifted.

I’m possibly being a little bit unfair to the author as the plot was ok, the characters were more than caricatures and the setting was well-described……..I just wasn't swept along – when I read a 500 page book, I want it to be epic and in my opinion this fell some way short. Maybe 200 pages less and it would have been more.
Better than a 2 – as I didn't contemplate stabbing myself in the eyeballs with a pen at any point, but only marginally. In the spirit of generosity a 3 then.

3 from 5

Hunsicker has previously written 3 other books in a series with a protagonist named Lee Henry Oswald set in Dallas! The first of these – Still River was nominated for a Shamus Award back in 2005. Whilst this one wasn't to my taste, I think I would be prepared to give this first book a read.  


My copy was accessed via Net Galley website. The Contractors was published in February, 2014.