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

EX – Will probably make my top 10 of the year
VG – I probably started and finished the same day.
Good  – Enjoyed very much (Good Plus) or with reservations (Good Minus). 
OK – Had some problems with it.  May read more, but this is probably not an author
I’ll collect.
Poor- It wasn't awful, but it wasn't good either.  Finished it with difficulty.  Probably
wont read more by this author.
NR – Didn’t work for me and/or Did not finish (DNF).  Will not read more by this

    February 2006.         

JANE ADAMS - Cast the First Stone (Macmillan, UK, 1996; Police Procedural; England; Contemporary; 2nd in series)

    Detective Inspector Mike Croft is involved in the legal appeal of Fletcher, a convicted child abuser who alleges the existence of a journal identifying other abusers including a JP and others in very high places.  Eric Pearson, who also had once been accused of child abuse, now lives in a quiet neighborhood but has quickly become a target of violence.  Of interest to Croft is that he also claims to have the journal written by Fletcher.
***  I had problems with this book.  It seemed choppy and took a long time for the parts of the story to merge into a cohesive plot.  I also felt that, unless you had read the first book of the series, The Greenway, you would not have had any idea who the characters were or how they fit together.  
    There was next to no independent character development in this book.  The story does finally pull together and become quite interesting in the last third, but it took a bit of an effort to stay with it and get that far.  I’m not giving up on Ms. Adams yet, as I did enjoy The Greenway, but I do hope subsequent books are far better than this.      OK

KEN BRUEN - Priest (Scorpion Press, Hardcover, UK, 2006; Private Investigator; Ireland; Contemporary; 5th in series)

    Troubled Irish private eye Jack Taylor is out of the madhouse, sober and trying to give up smoking.  Jack is also suffering from guilt over the death of his friends’ daughter and its result on them.  Jack’s one friend from the the Garda Siochana, Ireland’s national police force, is being stalked, and a priest with a history of pedophilia has been found decapitated in his confessional.  Perhaps to Jack’s assistance is a young man who wants to be his partner and the son Jack never had.
*** Bruen is a brilliant writer.   Priest is dark, profane, disturbing, haunting and yet I don’t consider it noir as it is somehow hopeful.  Perhaps it’s just that somehow, through it all, Jack survives both physically and emotionally.   
    Present day Ireland, both good and bad, comes to life with an awareness of the past, the hold of the Church and its strides into the future.  The description of the impact of pedophilia on its victims is powerful.  Bruen’s style is spare and sharp; it resonates and stays with you long after you’ve finished the book.  The story is compelling and the ending, as with each of the books in the series, is like a punch in the stomach, but at also immediately makes me want the next book.   Priest and Ken Bruen are not for everyone, but I found this to be excellent.      EX

MARK de CASTRIQUE - Foolish Undertaking (Poisoned Pen Press, Hardcover, 2006; Amateur Sleuth/Former Cop; North Carolina; Contemporary; 3rd in series)

    Here is the most recent adventure of mortician-sleuth Barry Clayton, who has left the Charlotte NC police force and returned home to run the family funeral parlor.  Dead is  Y’Grok Eban, a Montagnard, and a hero to the US troops he helped during the Vietnam War.   En route to the funeral are a U.S. Senator, a three-star general, and a famous Hollywood movie star.  But the night before the service, Barry is knocked unconscious and Y’Grok’s body is stolen.  Will the tattoos Y’Grok recently put on his body be the clues to finding him and to uncovering a secret from the past?
*** What a good series this is.  Berry is a terrific main character, a former cop – a patrolman, not a detective – who has a strong relationship with his family and friends.  I continued to enjoy the secondary characters in this book, but a weakness I found was that his girlfriend Susan seemed rather unsympathetic, making the ending difficult to understand.
    The sense of place is well done, there’s good tension and a couple twists along the way.  I particularly enjoyed learning about the Montagnards of Viet Nam.  I had known nothing about them before.  This is a very good series, well written series and is perfect for those who like some action but nothing overly dark.      VG

PHILLIP DePOY - A Minister’s Ghost (St. Martin’s Press, Hardcover, 2006; Amateur Sleuth/Folklorist; Georgia; Contemporary; 3rd in series)

    Fever Devilin is the son of carnival owners, an ex-professor and folklorist who in this series has returned to his small hometown of Blue Mountain GA.  In this latest case he learns from his girl friend, Lucinda, that her two nieces have been killed; they were in their car, sitting on the railroad tracks when it was hit by a train.  But Lucinda is certain there is something suspicious about their death and asks Fever to investigate.  
*** This book is not for everyone.  As a reader, one must open oneself to the local culture, atmosphere and old beliefs of hill people where there is a different definition of reality.  The characters include little people, a ghost, a snake-handling preacher, hobos, a junk-yard dealer with a unique musical instrument and Fever’s best friend, the sheriff who is not acting like himself.  The mystery is not the strength of the story.  The strength is the unusual, intriguing characters and atmospheric, lyrical writing.  
    Personally, I very much enjoyed this book and this series, and I want to find out more about these fascinating people.    Good Plus

CHRISTOPHER FOWLER - Seventy-Seven Clocks (Doubleday, Hardcover, UK, 2005; Police Procedural; London; Setting: 1973; 3rd in series)

    Arthur Bryant and John May are members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit and their newest case is a perfect fit.  A man dies from Cottonmouth snake venom in the lobby of the Savoy; another is blown up by a bomb make of silver and gold; and a third from rat poison found in the victim’s face powder.  All the deaths somehow relate back to the wealthy Whitstable family, and the mysterious Alliance of Eternal Light.
*** I absolutely loved the first two books of this series.  The writing was such that I’d read passages aloud to others.  This didn’t have that same caché, nor did there seem to be as much interaction between the two protagonists until well into the book.  Fowler loves introducing twists to the plot which is fun, but the solution to the mystery really strains credibility.  There is a secondary protagonist in Sam Gates, a receptionist at the Savoy, but the outcome of her fear of the dark really bothered me.   I enjoyed the story, but didn’t feel it was nearly as enjoyable as the first two books.      Good

DAVID FULMER - Rampart Street (Harcourt, Hardcover, 2006; Private Investigator; New Orleans; Setting: 1900s; 3rd in series)

    After being away for 15 months, Creole Detective Valerian St. Cyr in back in New Orleans’s red-light district of Storyville.  He has lost weight, no longer exhibits his usual style, nor has he any interest in life around him.  In an effort to bring him back to himself, his employer, Boss Tom Anderson, conveniences him to investigate the murder of a wealthy, white businessman found dead in Storyville.  When St. Cyr is warned off the investigation, the man’s daughter asks him to continue, no matter where it leads.
*** Fulmer does a wonderful job of conveying the complex and multilayered social and political structure of life in New Orleans and Storyville during the early 1900s.  His characters are rich and dimensional, his sense of place exacting.  There’s a feeling of melancholy to the story so that even scenes that take place during the day feel muted and gritty.
    The pace and narrative of the story bring you into the story and keep you there from the first page to the last.   This is a character-driven mystery and St. Cyr is a fascinating character; one about whom you care.  Rampart Street accentuates hypocrisy and greed born from power.  Fulmer has maintained the quality of this series with each book and, although this book stands well alone, I certainly recommend starting from the beginning.      VG

LISA GARDNER - Gone (Bantam, Hardcover, 2006; Procedural/Suspense; Oregon; Contemporary; 8th book)

    Former policewoman Rainie Conner is haunted by memories of abuse, both to her, the many cases she has handled and the suspected abuse of a boy she knows, and when the murder of a child is one too many, it pushes her into alcohol abuse and away from her husband.  Rainie’s husband, former FBI profiler Pierce Quincy, loves his wife, but hoping to jolt her into sobriety, he moves  out.  But when Rainee’s car is found empty by the side of a road, lights on, engine running – Quincy doesn’t know whether to fear suicide or kidnapping – until the ransom note arrives.
*** Ms. Gardner really knows how to combine great characters, human emotions, a touch of romance, interesting procedural aspects, and nail-biting suspense into one very good book.  Her dialogue and sense of place are strong, and she adds enough twists to keep you going but not frustrate you.  It’s a fast-paced, not-going-to-bed-until-I-finish-it read.  I discovered Ms. Gardner with her first book, The Perfect Husband, and she’s not let me down since.      VG

SUE GRAFTON - “S” Is for Silence (Putnam, Hardcover, 2005; Private Investigator; California; Contemporary; 19th in series)

    Private eye Kinsey Millhone is hired by Daisy, now a woman, but who had been a girl of seven when her mother, Violet Sullivan, disappeared 34 years ago on the Fourth of July.  Did Violet abandon her family or did something more sinister happen?
*** I enjoy Grafton as a reliably good read although liked this less then some of her other books.  The events in the story are told from the perspective of numerous characters, and I became tired of the story being told and re-told.  None of the characters were particularly compelling or sympathetic.   
    As for Kinsey, she was almost a secondary character, and I found myself shaking my head at some of the patently dumb things she did.  There was very little suspense – one scene at the end, but even then you never feel any real threat.  Don’t misunderstand; it wasn’t awful, but it lacked some of the spark of her other books.      Good

MARION MOORE - Deadly Will (Pemberley Press, Trade Paperback, 2006; Amateur Sleuth; Philadelphia; Contemporary; 1st in series)

    Millie Kirchner is a divorced, single mom working at a nursing home and just trying to make ends meet, when she receives a letter from an attorney in Philadelphia advising her of a legacy from an ancestor she’d never known she had.  Moreover, things are not always as they seem, and one by one, the other heirs are dying.
*** Ms. Hill has created an enjoyable story focusing on Philadelphia, American history, antiques and greed.  There is a classic cross section of characters with the focus being Millie.  The dialogue could be a bit better and the plot a bit tighter, particularly at the end, but it’s a pleasant read and, for cozy readers, worth trying.      Good

DAVID KENT - The Black Jack Conspiracy (Pocket Books, Paperback, 2005; Thriller; US; Contemporary; 2nd in series)

    Department Thirty agent Faith Kelly is given her first assignment: to help a suspected criminal disappear in exchange for information.  Alex Bridge, seven months pregnant, is accused of embezzling millions and murdering an FBI agent, but to Faith, the evidence incriminating Alex just doesn’t hold together.  Faith is determined to find out what’s really going on and uncovers a conspiracy that reaches all the way to the Supreme Court.
*** I like conspiracy books as well as the next, but this one was just plain absurd.  The basic evidence in the case was so transparent that even a rookie cop could see through it.  I’m no computer expert, but even I know when you delete an email, it’s not really gone.  None of the characters were well developed, except perhaps the villain.  There was suspense, but the premise was so absurd, I didn’t care.  The only reason I finished it was that it was such light reading that I got through it in two hours.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t have wasted my time.      NR

JONATHON KING - A Visible Darkness (Dutton, Hardcover, 2003; Unlicensed Investigator/Ex-Cop; Florida; Contemporary; 2nd in series)

    Max Freeman is an ex-Philadelphia cop now living in an Everglade swamp shack.  He occasionally does investigation for his best friend, attorney Billy Manchester.  In this case, Billy suspects someone is killing elderly black women who had earlier sold their life insurance policies to investors.  Although the police have declared the deaths to be natural causes, Max soon agrees that things are not as they seem.
*** There are a couple small weaknesses in this book in that, first, you know the killer, which does lessen the suspense, and secondly, the protagonist is physically described by seeing himself in a mirror.  But I forgive those flaws as King has created a story which builds layer upon layer, showing the motive for the killings and who is behind them.  The book is full of interesting characters, including Max and Billy, about whom we learn more in this second book; Det. Sherry Richards; and various drug dealers and gang members.  
    The story of Max’s father’s death and the friendship between his and Billy’s mother is almost a mystery within the mystery.  King’s description of Florida, particularly the contrast between being in the city or on the water, is particularly effective.   This is starting off as a very good series and I’m pleased to see there are more books waiting for me.      VG

EDWARD MARSTON - The Parliament House (Allison & Busby, Hardcover, UK, 2006; Amateur Sleuth/Architect; London; Setting: 1670; 5th in series)

    Architect Christopher Redmayne is attending the party celebrating the completion of the house and wine shop he has just designed, but as the guests are leaving, one is shot dead by a sniper.  Because the victim was the friend of Sir Julius Cheever, MP, the father of Christopher’s sweetheart, Christopher feels he must assist his friend, Constable Jonathan Bales, in finding the killer.  
***  I had not read Marston before, and I admit to not being a huge fan of the amateur sleuth.  However, I did find this a very enjoyable book with a wonderful range of interesting characters.  The period details didn’t always ring true to me, although they may well have been, and there was nothing to cause me great distress.  There was some good suspense; the dialogue was well done and seemed appropriate to the period.  To the negative, there were a couple coincidences on which the plot depended, and I did suspect (correctly) one of the characters part way through.  All-in-all, it was a fairly quick, enjoyable read.      Good

ROBERT B. PARKER - Sea Change (Putnam, Hardcover, 2006; Police Procedural; Massachusetts/Florida; Contemporary; 5th in series)

    Police Chief Jesse Stone, dry for one year and working on his relationship with his ex-wife, has a Jane Doe on his hands, a young woman whose body has been found in the harbor.  Once Jesse learns her name and that she’s from Florida from a local boat rental owner, he looks particularly at two yachts from Florida in Paradise, Mass.,  for Race Week.  With the help of Ft. Lauderdale Detective Kelly Cruz, Jesse finds he’s dealing with drugs, underage sex and sexual abuse.
*** This is classic Parker: tight plot, crisp dialogue, light banter, and a character who believes in working on his personal problems and dealing in justice.  His female characters are as strong as the males in his books.  Personally, I would like more procedural and less personal story.  Still, it’s hard to beat Parker for an engaging, guaranteed-enjoyable read.      Good Plus

ZOE SHARP - Hard Knocks (Piatkus, Hardcover, UK, 2003; Thriller; England; Contemporary; 3rd in series)

    Charlie Fox is asked by her former Special Forces instructor, and former lover, Sean, to investigate the death of a man who had betrayed her friendship and ruined her military career.  Although she doesn’t care that he’s dead, she can’t refuse the request and goes undercover at a bodyguard training school in Germany.  It soon becomes clear there’s something much darker and more deadly going on at the school, and it’s up to Charlie to uncover the secrets and stay alive.
*** Sharp really knows how to write an engrossing, action-packed story. I’ve read the first two in the series and love Charlie.  She is a wonderful protagonist: smart, tough, skilled, yet has her vulnerabilities.  The plot is tight and fast moving with very good action scenes, and the tension and suspense really keep you going.  I have the next two books on my shelf, and I am looking forward to more exciting times with Charlie.      VG

DANA STABENOW - Blindfold Game (St. Martin’s, Hardcover, 2006; Thriller; Alaska, mostly; Contemporary; Standalone)

    CIA analyst Hugh Rincon is alerted by one of his operatives that two men she feels were responsible for a bombing in Thailand are now planning a major attack, via a dirty bomb, on Alaska.  Although Hugh’s superiors won’t take it seriously, Hugh commandeers the help of his wife and her superior, officers aboard the Coast Guard cutter Sojourner Truth.  Together can they stop the terrorists before millions in Alaska are affected?
*** Once again, Ms. Stabenow has created strong, interesting characters and excellent dialogue.  Her characters are all people with histories, even the terrorists.   Her sense of place is always good and here particularly, it played a strong role.  I enjoyed the red herrings, and her research really showed in providing us a look at the work of the Coast Guard and the environmental activists.  
    The relationship between the two main characters was effective, even the “Awww” moment.   I particularly appreciated her giving us a follow-up on all the characters.   I found it a wonderfully interesting, exciting, enjoyable, straight-through read.      VG

ALINE TEMPLETON - The Trumpet Shall Sound (Constable, Hardcover, UK, 1997; Police Procedural/Traditional Mystery; England; Contemporary; 4th book)

    Anna Hartington, daughter of late conductor Eden Harrington, is determined that the Hartington Music Festival go on as a tribute to her father.  In the process, she has made a lot of enemies.  When she is found murdered, the police have more than enough suspects, including the current conductor.  Detective Sergeant Diane Braithwaite is removed from the case when it is claimed she is personal friends with the accused conductor’s wife, but that doesn’t stop her from investigating a case she feels is off track.
*** I have only recently found Ms. Templeton and am I glad I did.  This book is a combination traditional mystery/police procedural with interesting characters, all very real and human, particularly Diane Braithwaite.  The plot is tight and keeps you guessing.  There are lots of suspects, some good tension, and excellent dialogue.  The book is worth searching out, and I look forward to reading more by this author.    VG   

VICTORIA THOMPSON - Murder on Lenox HilL (Berkley Prime Crime, Hardcover, 2005; Mystery; New York City; Setting: 1800s; 7th in series)

    Midwife Sarah Brandt has been asked to look at the daughter of a wealthy couple.  Grace, although a teenager, is mentally still a child, never goes out on her own, and yetshe  is pregnant.  Once Sarah determines she has not been abused by her father, she is determined to learn who is responsible.  Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy has been asked by Sarah’s wealthy father to find out who murdered Sarah’s husband four years ago.  There is an ulterior motive at work here.  Mr. Brandt believes if Sarah finds out unsavory things about her husband’s past and Frank is the one to disillusion her, she will return to her “proper” place in society.  But Sara also needs Frank to help her uncover who took advantage of Grace and stop that person before someone else is hurt.
*** Ms. Thompson does a wonderful job of presenting turn of the century life and the social structure of the time.  At the same time, the story resonates with incidents in today’s news.  Her characters are well developed, even if you has not read the previous books in this series – you feel the emotions of the characters, and the situations are realistically handled.  
    There are a couple of twists that enhance the story, but the characters are the main focus.  I have only two criticisms: the dust jacket gives away way too much of the story – not the author’s fault – and I’d like to see Sarah and Frank’s relationship progress, but understandably the author is handling it in a way very appropriate to the period.  This is a very good book in a well done series.      Good Plus

CHARLES TODD - A Long Shadow (William Morrow, Hardcover, 2006; Police Procedural; England; Setting: 1919; 8th in series)

    Inspector Ian Rutledge, still haunted by his past and the spirit of Hamish, the soldier he was forced to execute for dereliction of duty, keeps finding cartridge shells, etched with poppies and left for him, first in London and then again after he is sent to a remote country village where local Constable Hensley has been shot in the back with an arrow and left in a wood shunned by the locals.  But Rutledge wonders whether the attack is revenge and is associated with the disappearance of Emma Mason, a young local woman.
*** This is not a slap-bang procedural, but dogged, follow-the-clues investigation by Rutledge who stands for the dead.  He is a complex, realistically drawn character whose past and the impact of WWI plays a major role in his present.  The supporting characters are just as strong, each with their own history woven together into an atmospheric story with an excellent sense of place, very good suspense and unexpected twists at the end.  Highly recommended, but please start with the first book.      VG

Happy Reading,


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