Characters


REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


MICHAEL RALEIGH – The Maxwell Street Blues. Paul Whelan #3. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1994. iUniverse, paperback, 2000.

   Paul Whelan, a PI who specializes in finding people who don’t want to be found, has his usual not much of anything going when a black lawyer comes to him with a case. The lawyer has a client, he says, who wants a missing relative, an aging black man, found.

   He can’t tell Whelan much about the man, but that’s all right — Whelan’s used to that. He takes the case but doesn’t find the man, because the police find him first. Murdered. The cops quickly arrest two young black men, but a friend of the dead man doesn’t think they did it, and talks Whelan into doing some discreet poking around.

   It has better be discreet, because it’s an open murder case and the investigating detective is an old enemy of Whelan’s. Once more into the breach we go, down Chicago’s own particular brand of mean streets.

   I don’t know why, but I seem to like Chicago books better than New York books, whether they’re cop, PI, or whatever. Raleigh does Uptown Chicago about as well as it can be done. The city is as much of a character as most of the people, too.

   I like Paul Whelan a lot. He’s a man who has come to terms with his life and who he is and what he does, and all this without a lot of breast-beating and philosophical posturing. Raleigh tells his tale in the third person through Whelan’s eyes, with a lot of easy, realistic dialogue, and with smooth, clean prose.

   It’s a low key story, about people rather than society or Big Issues, and I think it’s a good one, told by a very good writer.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #15, September 1994.


The Paul Whelan series —

1. Death in Uptown (1991)
2. A Body in Belmont Harbor (1993)
3. The Maxwell Street Blues (1994)
4. Killer on Argyle Street (1995)
5. The Riverview Murders (1997)

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts


JOHN LESCROART – Poison. Dismas Hardy #17. Atria Books, hardcover, February 2018.

First Sentence:   If opening day wasn’t the happiest landmark in Dismas Hardy’s year, he didn’t know what was.

   San Francsico attorney Dismas Hardy is recovering from two gunshot wounds and thinking about retirement. The murder of Grant Wagner, the owner of a successful family business, changes his plans. Abby Jarvis was a former client of Hardy’s and is the prime suspect. She was Wagner’s bookkeeper and was receiving substantial sums of cash off the books, but she claims she is innocent. The further Dismas digs into the family relationships, the more precarious his own life becomes.

   If you’ve not read Lescroart in a while, or ever, this is a good time to change that. He is a true storyteller. He engages the reader from the beginning with his style and humor— “Part of it, of course, was AT&T Park, which to his mind was essentially the platonic ideal of a ballpark. (Although, of course, how could Plato have known?)”

   There is a fair number of characters in the story, but Lescroart is adept at introducing them all and making them distinct enough not to become confused. Having the perspective of the victim’s family is an interesting approach.

   In addition to a good recounting of the past case which caused Hardy to be shot, there is an excellent explanation of the steps and process of the law. Rather than its being dry reading, it involves one as if they are the defendant. Early on, it is revealed that poison was the cause of Wagner’s death, and interesting information on wolfsbane is provided. The link made from the first murder to the second is nicely done as it then becomes personally dangerous to Dismas.

   The mention of food and family— “Hardy made them both an enormous omelet in his black cast-iron pan… They discussed the irony that he’d spiked the eggs with a cheese from Cowgirl Creamery named Mt. Tam, and that Frannie was going out to climb the very same Mount Tamalpais with her women’s hiking group in the next half hour or so.” —local landmarks, and all the San Francisco references, add realism to the story. Another such touch is the mention of a fellow author— “…C.J. Box novel, stopping on a high note when he laughed aloud after coming across the line ‘Nothing spells trouble like two drunk cowboys with a rocket launcher.’”

   Lescroart not only shows what happens on the defense side of a case, but also with the homicide team and, somewhat, with the prosecution team. The crisis within the Hardy household is realistically portrayed. Lescroart has a very good way of subtly increasing the suspense.

   Poison is an extremely well-done legal thriller filled with details which can seem overwhelming yet are interesting and, most of all, important. The well-done plot twists keep one involved and the end makes one think.

— For more of LJ’s reviews, check out her blog at : https://booksaremagic.blogspot.com/.


      The Dismas Hardy series —

1. Dead Irish (1989)
2. The Vig (1990)
3. Hard Evidence (1993)
4. The 13th Juror (1994)
5. The Mercy Rule (1998)
6. Nothing But the Truth (1999)
7. The Hearing (2000)
8. The Oath (2002)
9. The First Law (2003)
10. The Second Chair (2004)
11. The Motive (2004)
12. Betrayal (2008)
13. A Plague of Secrets (2009)
14. The Ophelia Cut (2013)
15. The Keeper (2014)
16. The Fall (2015)
17. Poison (2018)
18. The Rule of Law (2019)

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


STEFANIE MATTESON – Murder on High. Charlotte Graham #6. Berkley, hardcover, 1994; paperback; 1995. eBook: Mysterious Press/Open Road, June 2016.

   Though it’s the seventh [sic] Charlotte Graham book, it’s the first hardcover, and Berkley is going to do an East Coast author tour. Mattheson was a journalist at one time, winning several awards for her reporting in science and medicine.

   Charlotte Graham is a well-known seventy-ish actress, not retired but taking a break in Maine while she finishes her autobiography. Her procrastinations in that regard are interrupted when an old friend now a Lieutenant in the State Police takes her to view the home of a woman recently killed in a fall from a mountain and now suspected to have been murdered.

   The woman proves to have been the screenwriter for many of Charlotte’s most successful pictures, a woman blacklisted in the Communist witch hunts of the 50s. What has she been doing that’s gotten her killed, and who to?

   There’s a cozy convention that I can ever get past, one that causes me persistent discomfort — that of a police officer using a civilian as an “assistant.” Yes, yes, I know that all genres have their conventions, but some of them I can stomach and some I don’t. This one I can’t, at least to the degree that its use severely limits my enjoyment of the book.

   Matteson is a smooth writer, Graham is an engaging character, I liked the Maine setting, the other characters were interesting, and I would have enjoyed the book, but — the idea of a Lieutenant in the State Police dragging a 70 year old woman around with him, introducing his to everyone as his “assistant,” and giving her critical police work to do just doesn’t cut it.

   If I want fairy tales, I’ll re-read Grimm. Or maybe Robert Parker.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #15, September 1994.


The Charlotte Graham series —

1. Murder at the Spa (1990)
2. Murder at Teatime (1991)
3. Murder on the Cliff (1991)
4. Murder on the Silk Road (1992)
5. Murder at the Falls (1993)
6. Murder on High (1994)
7. Murder Among the Angels (1996)
8. Murder Under the Palms (1997)

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts


ANN PARKER – A Dying Note. Inez Stannert #6. Poisoned Pen Press, softcover, April 2018. Setting: San Francisco CA, 1881.

First Sentence:  Not my hands!

   Inez Stannert and her ward Antonia have moved to San Francisco from Leadville, Colorado, where they live above a music store owned by a renowned local violinist. Inez works in the shop and teaches piano, including to a young musician whose badly beaten body has been found on the banks of the Mission Creek canal. Inez, her life, and the secrets she’s keeping, may fall apart when a friend from her previous home of Leadville shows up with Wolter Roeland de Bruijn, a man who knew Antonia’s late mother, and a man looking for his son. When the link between the two young men is made, can Inez discover his killer without her reputation being destroyed?

   The opening is violent and difficult to read. It is clear there is an important link, but one wonders whether the first chapter truly adds to the story or could have been omitted.

   What follows is the true introduction of the protagonist, Inez, and many of the supporting characters. One thing that makes Inez particularly interesting and admirable is her determination and her business acumen. She has found a way to help other women support themselves with small women-owned businesses, while building security for herself and Antonia. There is information on Antonia’s past included in the story that explains her behavior and tendency toward self-reliance. Inez knows what it is to be an outsider and recognizes it in others. There is also a scene of great tenderness.

   There are a number of other wonderful characters who enrich the plot. Antonia’s friend Mick Lynch is a member of a large Irish family and son of the cop. John Hue is a Chinese purveyor of curiosities and repairer of stringed instruments and woodwinds. Patrick May, the young black man, loves music and just wants to play the piano. Elizabeth O’Connell, is a female Pinkerton agent. These, among others, give flavor and dimension to the story.

   One is given a good look at life in this time, but it is life of ordinary people. Yes, there are scenes at the still-fabulous Palace Hotel, but the bulk of of the story involves the working class which is a rather refreshing change. Parker also addresses the issues of attitudes toward the blacks and Chinese immigrants, and the events surrounding the attempts at unionizing musicians.

   Even so, there is a nod to today— “Mark me,” he continued, “there will come a time when the oppression by the moneyed powers of this country will be so great it will no longer be endured.” There is so much wonderful historical information included that adds veracity to the story. When reading historical mysteries, the Author’s Notes are always important and informative. It’s fun to learn which things are real and which were invented or changed for the purpose of the story.

    A Dying Note includes very good plot twists, a surprising ending, and a promise of continuing associations in the future.

— For more of LJ’s reviews, check out her blog at : https://booksaremagic.blogspot.com/.


      The Inez Stannert series —

1. Silver Lies (2003)     Spur Award and Bruce Alexander Historical Award finalists
2. Iron Ties (2006)
3. Leaden Skies (2009)
4. Mercury’s Rise (2011)     Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award winner and Agatha Award Best Historical Novel nominee
5. What Gold Buys (2016)     Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award and Macavity/Sue Feder Historical Novel Award finalists
6. A Dying Note (2018)

ROBERT CAMPBELL – Thinning the Turkey Herd. Jimmy Flannery #4. New American Library, hardcover, 1988. Signet, paperback, August 1989.

   Jimmy Flannery is not a private eye, but when it comes to doing favors for people, he may as well be. Basically he works for the Sewer Department for the city of Chicago, but in reality he spends far more of his time as the Democratic party precinct captain for the neighborhood in which he and and his wife Mary live. And as I say, doing favors for people.

   The title comes from a bit of black humor. The turkey herd refers refers to the horde of young girls who come to the Windy City every year hoping to become models. And three so far have been killed. The police have no suspects, and the local alderman, Janet Canarias, a Puerto Rican and a lesbian, asks Jimmy to look into in.

   And the next time she comes knocking on his door, her distress is personal. The girl who was going to move in with her has disappeared, her suitcase in Janet’s apartment, but with no sign of her. It us too soon for the police to investigate. Canarias once asks Flannery again for assistance.

   And with a caveat or two, Flannery’s low-keyed look into matters is a pleasure to read. As the author, Campbell seems to have known Chicago politics from the ground up — almost all the way up, as certain political figures try to maneuver their friends (or even themselves) out of the way of Flannery’s investigation.

   Caveats. Campbell is far better at describing life in Chicago as it is (was) lived at the neighborhood level than writing a detective story. Flannery should have put two and two together much faster than he did, and when he does, it is almost like pulling a rabbit out of a hat with only a chapter or two to go. Flannery spends far more time with Willy Dink, a independent one-man pest control man in the dead girl’s building, complete with dog, chicken, snake, and an armadillo, than he does in finding the her killer.

   Here’s a book, in other words, that was fun to read, but in the end, not nearly as solid as it could have been.

       The Jimmy Flannery series —

1. The Junkyard Dog (1986)
2. The 600 Pound Gorilla (1987)
3. Hip-Deep in Alligators (1987)
4. Thinning the Turkey Herd (1988)
5. The Cat’s Meow (1988)
6. Nibbled to Death by Ducks (1989)
7. The Gift Horse’s Mouth (1990)
8. In a Pig’s Eye (1992)
9. Sauce for the Goose (1994)
10. The Lion’s Share (1996)
11. Pigeon Pie (1998)

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


TONY DUNBAR – Crooked Man. [Tubby Dubonnet #1.] G.P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, 1994. Berkley, paperback, 1996.

   This came out back in January [of 1994], and I missed it completely. I don’t believe I ever even saw a copy. Dunbar us a New Orleans lawyer, and has written four non-fiction books; this is his first novel.

   Tubby Dubonnet is a successful though not overly affluent New Orleans lawyer who has an ex-wife, three daughters, and a varied and odd group of clients. Among them are a doctor who refers his own malpractice patient to Tubby, a flamboyant wrecker operator who has problems with insurance, a buxom blonde who doesn’t pay bills, and a club owner who deals in a few drugs.

   The latter is the one who, as you might suspect, is destined to cause him major problems. Before it’s over Tubby has run afoul of crooked cops and rich drug bankrollers, and seen more dead bodies than he wanted to.

   I enjoyed this. Dunbar knows New Orleans, and while he doesn’t overpower you with atmosphere, the city definitely comes alive. The prose is low key and straightforward, and the characters are interesting. Dunbar tells the story effectively through shifting third-person viewpoints, though Tubby is the predominant focus.

   It isn’t and doesn’t attempt to be a Big Novel, but it is a well told story about some engaging and mostly amiable characters. I liked them, and I wouldn’t mind seeing some more of Tubby and the Big Easy.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #15, September 1994.


       The Tubby Dubonnet series —

1. Crooked Man (1994)
2. City of Beads (1996)
3. Trick Question (1997)
4. Shelter from the Storm (1997)
5. The Crime Czar (1998)
6. Lucky Man (1999)
7. Tubby Meets Katrina (2005)
8. Night Watchman (2015)
9. Fat Man Blues (2016)
10. Flag Boy (2017)

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts


CHRIS KNOPF – Tango Down. PI Sam Acquillo #8. The Permanent Press, hardcover, December 2017. Setting: Long island NY (The Hamptons).

First Sentence:   I was trying to maneuver my way across the muddy construction site when Frank Entwhistle ran up to my old Jeep Cherokee and slapped on the windshield.

   Sam Acquillo has been building cabinets for the new home of wealthy New Yorker Victor Bollings. When Bollings’ body is found on the job site, Colombian illegal Ernesto Mazzoti, a finish carpenter and Sam’s friend, is arrested as the obvious suspect. The murder weapon contains Ernesto’s fingerprints, but Sam isn’t buying it. With the help of Jackie Swaitkowski, a defense attorney who, courtesy of billionaire Burton Lewis, takes the cases of those who can’t afford to pay, Sam works to prove Ernesto innocent.

   It is nice when an author starts straight in with the crime. Sam is a great character with a fascinating background and unexpected skills. Just when his machismo starts becoming a bit strong, it is tempered by his caring for others. His lover, Amada, and dog, Eddie Van Halen, round out the character nicely. It is also nice that Knopf’s writing is wonderfully intelligent and that he provides a good sense of Eastern Long Island with its marked contrast between the extremely wealthy, primarily summer people, and the working-class people who live there year-round.

   A well-done metaphor is always a pleasure to read— “Then I used a few other traditional calibrating tools to reset the table saw. … The result was perfect and true, like the heart of a young lover before disappointment upends her soul.”

   The story line of undocumented workers couldn’t be more timely or accurate. That the investigation involves multiple agencies, and a jaunt to the Virgin Islands adds dimensions to the story. So too is that of the issue with which Amanda is dealing which is emotional and adds yet another layer to the plot as well as the characters.

   Tango Down is intelligent, complex, multi-layered, and has a realistic ending. It is also really, really good; it is always surprising that Knopf is not more widely known and read.

— For more of LJ’s reviews, check out her blog at : https://booksaremagic.blogspot.com/.


The Sam Acquillo series —

1. The Last Refuge (2005)

2. Two Time (2005)
3. Head Wounds (2008)
4. Hardstop (2009)

5. Black Swan (2011)
6. Cop Job (2015)
7. Back Lash (2016)
8. Tango Down (2017)

Note:   Attorney Jackie Swaitkowski has her own series of books (so far) as does another of Knopf’s series characters, Arthur Cathcart, “market researcher and occasional finder of missing persons”

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts


WENDY HORNSBY – Number 7, Rue Jacob. Maggie MacGowen #11. Perseverance Press; trade paperback; April 2018.

First Sentence:   I rang the bell at Number 7, Rue Jacob a third time.

   What should have been a relaxing, romantic reunion between documentary journalist Maggie MacGowen and her fiancée Jean-Paul Bernard is anything but. Beginning with an urgent call from Jean-Paul for Maggie, using only cash, burner phones and staying off the internet, to join him in Venice where he’d come after nearly being murdered in Greece. Together, they flee across Italy and back to Paris trying to evade cyber-stalkers and the two men trying to kill them all the while not knowing why they are being targeted.

   A cast of characters! How wonderful it is to have a book contain a cast of characters!

   Who, at some point, hasn’t had an experience similar to Maggie being tired, hungry and desperate for a shower. Hornsby conveys the feeling perfectly. However, few of us are so lucky as to be in Paris at the time. It is clear this is not going to be a romantic look at Paris as the mystery and suspense kick off immediately.

   Never read a book set in France when hungry. Even the most simple of meals sounds delectable— “French ham and cheese in a length of baguette with tomato and fresh basil” —and if one has been to France, one knows Hornsby has perfectly captured the French view of Americans— “With a broad American smile, the sort that makes the more restrained French think we might be half wits…” and yet are not put off by us. There are a number of French, and some Italian, phrases used, but even when they are not translated, their meaning is easy to understand through the context.

   Maggie is the woman most of us would love to be. She’s smart, independent, capable, has traveled the world, and is respected in her profession. Her fiancé, Jean-Paul, is someone we are just getting to know. There is a very nice recap of how Maggie and Jean-Paul met.

   That the story pays homage to Médicins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is a bonus and sets the scene for danger and suspense which follows. She balances the tension nicely with scenes of Maggie and Jean-Paul alone, or with members of their families. Hornsby is such a visual writer it is, at times, as though one is watching a film.

   There are a number of fascinating topics interwoven into the story, and the author has clearly done her research. The threat and capabilities of cyber-stalkers is eye-opening. There are a lot of coincidences in the story but, for the most part, they work. It is wonderfully convenient having two protagonists who are so well connected, but it does make sense considering the professions of characters, and it stays true to them.

   There is humor sprinkled throughout. It’s subtle, but it’s there— “Is that blood, sir?” “It is,” he said. “Whether it’s mine or my colleague’s, I can’t say.” “Have you law enforcement or justice department credentials?” “I have a national health card and a membership card for an American store called COSTCO,” he said. “Which I would be happy to lend you if you should want to buy a new television or a gross of frozen buffalo wings.” Although there are hints, the motive and villain are rather a surprise.

    Number 7, Rue Jacob provides danger, food, a hidden door, a bit of romance, and a very satisfying ending.

— For more of LJ’s reviews, check out her blog at : https://booksaremagic.blogspot.com/.


      The Maggie MacGowen series —

1. Telling Lies (1992)
2. Midnight Baby (1993)
3. Bad Intent (1994)
4. 77th Street Requiem (1995)
5. A Hard Light (1997)
6. In the Guise of Mercy (2009)
7. The Paramour’s Daughter (2010)
8. The Hanging (2012)
9. The Color of Light (2014)
10. Disturbing the Dark (2016)
11. Number 7, Rue Jacob (2018)

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts


BRANDON DEBOIS – Hard Aground. Lewis Cole #11. Pegasus Crime, hardcover, April 2018.

First Sentence:   From the vantage point of my bed, I looked out the near window to a cluster of rocks and boulders, which had been tossed and turned over the years by storms and long-ago glaciers.

   Recovering from surgery, magazine journalist Lewis Cole is housebound and in pain. When a couple show up on his doorstep wanting to tour the inside of his home for its historical significance as a former coast guard station and a housing facility for Navy corpsmen during the Korean War, it is initially annoying, but their persistent visits escalate.

   Cole believes he hears someone in his house at night but can’t find evidence of it during the day. Lewis’ friend Felix Tinios had taken a silver bowl to Maggie Tyler Branch, a descendant of the town’s founder, for her to appraise. When Maggie is murdered and the bowl missing, Felix Is committed to finding both his bowl and the killer.

   Dubois’ opening is twinge-worthy. It is also informational. The author does a nice job of introducing the protagonist and providing new readers with his background as well as reminding series readers as to why he is in his present situation. Felix is one of those wonderful characters you’re almost glad isn’t the primary protagonist as that would remove some of the mystique about him. He is also someone one would be glad to have as a friend, particularly if he’d cook for you— “Dinner is fettuccini Alfredo with lobster and salad…,” –and would never want as an enemy.

   Dubois does write characters who are interesting and believable. The women are smart, strong, and very capable; journalist Paula Woods, Cole’s lover, and Det. Sgt. Diane Woods who is about to marry her partner, Kara.

   There are delightful touches of humor— “Fortune sometimes favors the brave, the lucky, and those too dumb to know what they have.” —but also moments which touch your emotions— “Alice moved in with a niece over in Worcester…and got Alzheimer’s, that nasty bitch of a disease. Suffered with that for years, and died two years back. By then, it was a mercy.” Lewis has experienced his own tragedy. Anyone who has lost someone they truly loved can associate with Lewis.

   Dubois’ writing captures people, places and emotions well. There is one very effective scene which serves to remind us that everyone is a human, and everyone has their own story and problems. On the negative side, there are also some really annoying portents. The third, which is late in the book, is not only completely unnecessary — after all, it’s not as though one wouldn’t keep reading at this point — but it vastly diminished the suspense of what was to follow.

   Hard Aground with a protagonist unable to leave his house is clever and engrossing. There are twists, suspense, a wonderful rescue, and an all-round excellent ending.

— For more of LJ’s reviews, check out her blog at : https://booksaremagic.blogspot.com/.


      The Lewis Cole series —

1. Dead Sand (1994)
2. Black Tide (1995)
3. The Shattered Shell (1999)
4. Killer Waves (2002)
5. Buried Dreams (2004)
6. Primary Storm (2006)
7. Deadly Cove (2011)
8. Fatal Harbor (2014)
9. Blood Foam (2015)
10. Storm Cell (2016)
11. Hard Aground (2018)

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


REGINALD HILL – Blood Sympathy. Joe Sixsmaith #1. St. Martin’s, US, hardcover, 1994. Worldwide Library, US, paperback, 1996. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1993.

   Hill has long been one of my favorite authors with the Dalziel & Pascoe books, and I think he’s one of the finest crime writers now practicing. His new series looked to be a big departure for him, and I approached it with mixed anticipation.

   Joe Sixsmith is short, black, balding and a made-redundant lathe operator turned PI in Luton, Bedfordshire, but not a wildly successful one, mind you. He’s single, too, with an odd aunt determined to change that state. His troubles start when a man comes to him with the story of a dream wherein he finds his family murdered; then the family is murdered, just so. They intensify when an effort to help an Indian lady lands him in trouble with both the drug cops and the drug dealers. And there’s a little episode with a millionaire businessman who’s also a witch. Mix it all together and Joe has a busy book.

   It’s a real change of pace for Hill, and how well you like it will depend on how well you like the type; it goes almost without saying that Hill does it very competently. It’s a cozy kind of story, light for all its subject matter, and with little of Hill’s customary bite. Sixsmith is a likable character, though I have some trouble anytime a white man attempts to write from a black’s viewpoint, and particularly so when he makes him as impervious to racial slurs and slights as Hill does Sixsmith.

   There were a few too many plot threads for me to maintain real focus, too. It’s not really my kind of book, well done or not, and I hope Hill doesn’t take too much time away from Dalziel and Pascoe to write more of them.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #15, September 1994.


       The Joe Sixsmith series —

Blood Sympathy (1993)
Born Guilty (1995)
Killing the Lawyers (1997)
Singing the Sadness (1999)
The Roar of the Butterflies (2008)

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