Monday, August 14, 2023

Code of the Hills by Chris Offutt

First Sentence:  Janice drove slowly to avoid jostling the plastic container of food on the floor behind her seat.

Mick Harden, newly retired from the military, is back in Rocksalt, Kentucky.  While his sister, the town’s sheriff, is recovering from a gunshot wound, Mick, a former CID investigator, is deputized in order to solve the case on which she was working, and to find out who shot his sister.

CODE OF THE HILLS is the third in the series.  The first book of the series was wonderful and unique, and the second book was very good.  Sadly, this book falls off.  The plot meanders and just doesn’t have the same capacity to make one want to read it straight through.  One may find themselves somewhat ambiguous about the final resolution.  This book was good, but may not want to make one run out and buy the next book.

CODE OF THE HILLS (PolProc-Mick Harden-Kentucky-Contemp) – Good
Chris Offutt - 3rd in series
Grove Press, June 2023
Rating: Okay

Monday, August 7, 2023

Shutter by Ramona Emerson

First Sentence: Souls don’t scatter like the rest of the body.

Rita Todachene is a forensic photographer whose precise crime scene photographs have helped solve cases. She also sees and hears the ghosts of those who have died. While photographing a supposed suicide, the ghost of the victim latches on to Rita and won’t let go. Insisting she was murdered; the ghost demands Rita expose the killer who are members of a dangerous cartel.

The opening chapter is certainly not easy to read as the description of an accident scene is detailed and graphic. However, it is an extremely effective opening and introduction to a protagonist who is unusual and intriguing. Rita can see, and hear, the dead.

It is a very nice change to have Rita’s superior be highly competent and supportive. There is also a wonderful description of Albuquerque in winter.

The book seemed a mash-up of Maurizio de Giovanni whose protagonist sees the dead in the last moments of their lives, and whose books I love, and "The Saints of the Lost and Found" by T.M. (Toni McGee) Causey, particularly the scene in the hospital. The greatest irritant of this book was the constant alternating of time, and that Rita and her grandmother were constantly breaking into tears. Although grim, by far the best part of the book for me was the description of Rita taking the forensic photographs. The detail of that is something we've never seen, to my knowledge.

SHUTTER is a decent-enough book. Emerson’s characters are interesting, but I’ve rarely found two characters, Rita and her grandmother, who cry more often. The jumping back and forth of time periods became distracting, making the plot hard to follow. The ending came way too quickly and was predictable. Even so, it might be worth giving this author another try.

SHUTTER (PolProc-Rita Todacheene-New Mexico-Cont)
1st book – Ramona Emerson
Soho Crime, Aug 2, 2022, 313pp

Monday, July 17, 2023

The Dead Will Rise by Chris Nickson

First Sentence: It was a balmy evening for early spring; after ten and still a faint, lingering hint of warmth in the air.

Joseph Clark is a wealthy engineer. After discovering the buried body of his employer's beloved daughter, Catherine Jordan, has been stolen, he hires thief-taker Simon Westow and his team to find the men. Simon discovers there is a gang of body snatchers who have stolen several corpses.  It is up to him and his assistant Jane to find the Resurrection men who are stealing the bodies.

Nickson brings his characters to life, making you know and care about them, particularly Jane, whose character is developed more with each book.  Her landlady, Mrs. Shields, may not help solve crimes, but she adds so much to the story. 

For those of us who love historical mysteries, one can’t go wrong with Nickson.  His research and detail are first-rate.  One should also read the books afterward.

THE DEAD WILL RISE is a well-done book in an excellent series.  Nickson truly takes one to industrial Leeds, not ‘prettying up” the period or the city.

THE DEAD WILL RISE (PrivEnq-Simon Westow-Leeds, Eng-1824) 
Chris Nickson
Poisoned Pen Press, Mar 2022, 288 pages

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

George Easter's list of Police Procedurals (and I helped)

I love police procedurals! Here is a list compiled by George Easter, publisher of Deadly Pleasures Online Mystery Magazine, to which I am a proud contributor. I was honored that he ask for my input to the list. We may disagree on the ranking of a few, but it's a great list.

George’s Top (Favorite) 25 Current Police Procedural/Detection Series
Michael Connelly’s Renee Ballard/Harry Bosch Series (L.A.)
Deon Meyer’s Benny Griessel/Vaughn Cupido Series (South Africa)
Peter Lovesey’s Peter Diamond Series (Bath, U.K.)
Rozlan Mohd Noor’s Mislan/Johan Series (Malaysia)
M. W. Craven’s Poe/Tilly Series (U.K.)
Val McDermid’s Tony Hill/Carol Jordan (Scotland)
David Mark’s Aector McAvoy/Trish Pharaoh Series (U.K.)
Jeffrey Siger’s Andreas Kaldis series (Greece)
Chris Offutt’s Mick Harden Series (Kentucky)
Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy Series (Northern Ireland)
Kim Hays’ Linder/Donatelli Series (Switzerland)
A. A. Dhand’s Harry Virdee Series (U.K.)
Attica Locke’s Darren Mathews Series (East Texas)
A. F. Carter’s Delia Mariola Series (Midwest U.S.)
Javier Cercas’ Melchor Marin Series (Spain)
Juan Gomez-Jurado’s Antonia Scott/Jon Gutierrez Series (Spain)
Stuart MacBride’s Logan McRae Series (Scotland)
Abir Mukherjee’s Sam Wyndam Series (India)
Vanda Symon’s Sam Shephard Series (New Zealand)
Ajay Chowdhury’s Kamil Rahman Series (now an active U.K. Detective)
Lee Goldberg’s Eve Ronin Series (California)
Andrew Mayne’s Sloane McPherson Series (Florida)
Alan Park’s Harry McCoy Series (Scotland)
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’ Bill Slider Series (U.K.)

Honorable Mention (I like a lot of these, but don’t read every entry in series)
William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor Series (Minnesota)
C. J. Box’s Joe Pickett Series (Wyoming)
Archer Mayor’s Joe Gunther Series (Vermont and Northeastern States)
M. J. Arlidge’s Helen Grace Series (U.K.)
Margaret Mizushima’s Mattie Cobb Series (Colorado)
Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire Series (Wyoming)
Karen Odden’s Inspector Corravan Series (London)
Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache Series (Canada)
Charles Todd’s Inspector Rutledge Series (U.K.)
Jake Needham’s Samuel Tay Series (Singapore and Far East)
Gary Donnelly’s Owen Sheen (Northern Ireland and U.K.)
Lars Kepler’s Joona Linna Series (Sweden)
J. D. Kirk’s Jack Logan Series (Scotland)
Paul Doiron’s Mike Bowditch Series (Maine)
Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson Series (Mississippi)
James Patterson’s Alex Cross Series (Washington, DC)
Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne Series (U.K.)
Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme/Amelia Sachs Series (New York City)
Deborah Crombie’s Kincaid/James Series (U.K.)
Elizabeth George’s Lynley/Havers Series (U.K.)
Martin Cruz Smith’ Arkady Renko Series (Russia)
Lynda La Plante’s Jane Tennison Series (U.K.)
Sharon Bolton (S. J. Bolton) Lacey Flint Series (U.K.)
Keigo Higashino’s Detective Kaga Series (Japan)
James Lee Burke’s David Robicheaux Series (Louisiana)
Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child’s Agent Pendergast Series (USA)
Ann Cleeves’s Vera Stanhope Series (U.K.)
Peter James’ Roy Grace Series (U.K.)
Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti Series (Venice, Italy)
Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan Series (Ireland)
John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport Series (Minnesota)
Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder Series (Amish country)
Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles Series (Boston)
Chris Nickson’s Tom Harper Series (Leeds,U.K.)
Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police Series (France)
Garry Disher’s Paul Hirschhausen Series (Australia)
Steven Havill’s Posadas County Series (New Mexico)
Barbara Nadel’s Inspector Ikmen Series (Turkey)
Brian Freeman’s Jonathan Stride Series (Minnesota)
John Galligan’s Bad Axe County (Sheriff Heidi Kick) Series (Wisconsin)
Ilaria Tuti’s Teresa Battaglia Series (Italy)
Qiu Xiaolong’s Inspector Chen Series (China)
Alex Gray’s William Lorimer Series (Scotland)
Bill James’ Harper/Iles Series (U.K.)
Quentin Jardine’s Bob Skinner Series (U.K.)
Edward Marston’s Colbeck/Leeming Series (U.K.)
Chris Simms’ Jon Spicer Series (U.K.)

George’s Top (Favorite) 20 Police Procedural/Detective Series by Living Authors No Longer Writing Books in the Series or with Series Detectives Who Are No Longer Policemen (one or more of these series may be revived by their authors down the line)
Bruce Coffin’s John Byron Series (Maine)
Barry Maitland’s Brock/Kolla Series (U.K.)
Graham Hurley’s Faraday/Winter Series (U.K.)
John Harvey’s DI Resnick Series (U.K.)
Sally Spencer’s Woodend/Paniatowski Series (U.K.)
Iain Pears’ Flavia di Stefano/Jonathan Argyll Series (Italy)
Peter May’s Li Yan/Margaret Campbell Series (China)
Peter May’s Fin MacLeod Series (Scotland)
Paul Mendelson’s Colonel Vaughn de Vries’ Series (Cape Town, South Africa)
William Shaw’s Breen/Tozer Series (U.K.)
William Shaw’s Alexandra Cupidi Series (U.K.)
Nick Oldham’s Henry Christie Series – Henry is retired but still active in investigations.
Thomas Mullen’s Boggs and Smith Series (Atlanta, Georgia)
Arnaldur Indridason’s Inspector Erlendur Series (Iceland)
Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q Series (Denmark) – last in the series just came out in 2022
Dervla McTiernan’s Cormac Reilly Series (Ireland)
Garry Disher’s Hal Challis’ Series (Australia)
Robert Ellis’ Lena Gamble Series (Los Angeles)
Jane Harper’s Aaron Falk Series – last in the series just came out in 2023
A.D. Garrett (Margaret Murphy) Kate Simms/Nick Fennimore Series

Honorable Mention
Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole Series (Norway) – Harry Hole is no longer a police detective
Rennie Airth’s John Madden Series (U.K.)
Caz Freer’s Cat Kinsella Series (U.K.)
Robert Barnard’s Charlie Peace Series (U.K.)
Andrew Taylor’s Richard Thornhill Series (U.K.)
John McMahon’s P.T. Marsh Series (Georgia)
Stephen Booth’s Cooper/Fry Series (U.K.)
Owen Laukkanen’s Stevens/Windermere Series
Ragnar Jonasson’s Ari Thor Series (Iceland)
Lynda La Plante’s Anna Travis Series (U.K.)
Robert Dugoni’s Tracy Crosswhite Series (Seattle)
Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad Series (Ireland)
Eliot Pattison’s Shan Tao Yun Series (Tibet)
Ann Cleeves’ Jimmy Perez Series (Shetland, U.K.)
Christopher Brookmyre’s Catherine McLeod/Jasmine Sharp Series (Scotland)
Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Adamsberg Series (France)
Carol O’Connell’s Kathleen Mallory Series (New York City)
Ian Rankin’s John Rebus Series (Scotland) – Rebus is a retired policeman now
Helene Tursten’s Inspector Huss Series (Sweden)
Eva Garcia Saenz’s Inspector Unai Lopez de Ayala Series (Spain)
David Armstrong’s Frank Kavanagh Series (U.K.)
Elizabeth Corley’s Andrew Fenwick Series (U.K.)
Leslie Horton’s Handsford/Kahlid Ali Series (U.K.)
Priscilla Masters’ Joanna Piercy Series (U.K.)
Peter Turnbull’s P Division Series (Scotland)
Peter Turnbull’s Hennessey/Yellich Series (Scotland.)
Patricia Hall’s Ackroyd/Thackeray Series (U.K.)
Brian Panowich’s Bull Mountain (Clayton Burroughs) Series (Georgia)

George’s 10 Top (Favorite) Police Procedural/Detective Series by Deceased Authors
Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe Series (U.K.)
Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse Series (Oxford, U.K.)
R. D. Winfield’s Jack Frost Series (U.K.)
Peter Robinson’s Alan Banks Series (U.K.)
Stuart Pawson’s Charlie Priest Series (U.K.)
E. V. Cunningham’s Masao Masuto Series (California)
Leighton Gage’s Mario Silva Series (Brazil)
Laurence Gough’s Willows/Parker Series (Canada)
Stuart M. Kaminsky’s Porfiry Rastnikov Series (Russia)
Roger Ormerod’s Richard and Amelia Patton Series (U.K.)

Honorable Mention
P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh Series (U.K.)
Jon Cleary’s Scobie Malone Series (Australia)
Ruth Rendell’s Chief Inspector Wexford Series (U.K.)
Bill Crider’s Dan Rhodes Series (Texas)
Susie Steiner’s Manon Bradshaw Series (U.K.)
Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May Series (U.K.)
Maj Sjowall/Per Wahloo’s Martin Beck Series (Sweden)
Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander Series (Sweden)
Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffery Series (U.K.)
Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn/Chee Series (New Mexico) continued by Anne Hillerman
Anne Perry’s Thomas & Charlotte Pitt Series (U.K.)
Anne Perry’s Inspector Monk Series (U.K.)
Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano Series (Italy)
Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen Series (Italy)
H.R.F. Keating’s Inspector Ghote Series (India)
June Thomson’s Inspector Finch/Rudd Series (U.K.)
Dorothy Simpson’s Inspector Thanet Series (U.K.)
Catherine Aird’s C. D. Sloan Series (U.K.)
Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct Series (Fictitious U.S. City)

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Murder in the Eternal City by Ashley Gardner

First Sentence: The first English Person I encountered as I wandered the vast city of Rome in February of 1820 was a man I already knew.

Captain Gabriel Lacey, and his loyal bodyguard Brewster, are in Rome with Lord Grenville. He has been commissioned by James Denis, criminal overlord of London, to obtain a small marble statue while he is there. In the process, he encounters a man he thought to be dead who asks for his help. Lacey is also asked to help prevent Conte Trevisan, an aristocrat, from ruining his daughter. Lacey is further tasked with discovering the murderer of Conte De Luca, the man who owns the statue Denis desires.

One is always a bit afraid that a series, by the 16th book, may become repetitive or stale. There is no fear of that with Gardner. Her books are very much character-driven, and what great characters they are. Their lives continue to develop and change with time. And what wonderful characters they are. One of the best things about Lacey is that he is not a superhero. He doesn’t win every fight or always comes to the correct conclusion. But he is surrounded by those who support him, and he’s willing to change his mind. Brewster, Lacey’s bodyguard, is a pleasure. More than simply muscle, he is intelligent, well-read, and clever.

Lord Grenville does play a role, albeit less than in some books, as does Lacey’s wife Donata, who appears later in the story. One appreciates that Gardner has avoided the trope of having the wife become actively involved in the investigation.

Gardner’s descriptions create a visual picture of place and time, even including the earthquakes which are common in Italy. She does an excellent job of switching from the gentility of the drawing room to the danger of the streets. Although most of the story is set in Rome, one is also taken to Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Napoli, bringing the locations to life and seamlessly incorporating their history. Art is an important element of the story, along with the rising popularity of opera, and the looting of ancient treasures. In fact, it is a piece of art that provides the final twist at the end.

MURDER IN THE ETERNAL CITY is a delightfully twisty book, where one never knows who can be trusted and people are not always what they seem. It is exciting and suspenseful, tempered by scenes of Lacey and his much-loved wife, Donata. One hopes this series will continue for many books to come.

MURDER IN THE ETERNAL CITY (HisMys-Captain Lacey-Italy-Regency/1800s)

Ashley Gardner - 16th book in the series
JA/AG Publishing, Sept 2022, 314 pp.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf

First Sentence: On August 12, 2000, Abby Morris, out of breath with sweat trickling down her temple, was hurrying down the gray ribbon of gravel road for her nightly walk.

Crime writer Wylie Lark is snowed in at the farmhouse where she retreated to write. The setting is perfect as two decades earlier, two people were murdered there, and a girl disappeared. What she doesn’t expect is to find a child nearly frozen in the snow, or that someone is desperate to find them.

There is nothing worse than starting out reading a prologue pretending to be Chapter One, a character who is too stupid to live, and a woman willing to put up with physical abuse. The author lost my attention from the very beginning.

THE OVERNIGHT GUEST is yet another book with multiple timelines, alternating narrators, and multiple points of view. While some may appreciate that style of writing, I find it a tiresome and annoying device.

Susp-Wylie Lark-Iowa-Contem
by Heather Gudenkauf - Standalone
Park Row, Jan 2022, 336 pp

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Things We Do In the Dark by Jennifer Hiller

First Sentence: There’s a time and place for erect nipples, but the back of a Seattle police car definitely isn’t it.

Paris Peralta’s husband has been murdered. Covered in blood, and holding a straight razor, she is immediately arrested. Her greatest fear is that the media attention will result in Paris’ true identity and past being exposed by her mother, Ruby Reyes, who is in prison for a similar crime. Ruby will claim Paris was guilty of that murder, too.

The first line of this book sets the tone, and it goes straight downhill from there. The biggest problem with this book is that it was filled, absolutely filled, with unlikable characters. There really isn’t one with whom one can identify or empathize.

Back story can be a good thing. Drowning the reader in back story is not. And a backstory that often makes one’s skin crawl is even worse. Yes, it was understandable and explained why the character was as she was, but one would need something to make one care about the character. Instead, she made some horrendously stupid decisions both in the past and in the present.

Although this wasn’t meant to be a police procedural, the lack of any normal procedure was almost comical. Any author who writes books involving the police should at least know the basics.

There was no real suspense; no breath-catching twists. The perpetrator was obvious very early on in the book, and the outcome was predictable.

THINGS WE DO IN THE DARK was an overlong, convoluted story with characters about whom one may not care less. Apparently, Hillier has written other highly-rated books, but one couldn’t tell that by this one.

PsyThriller-Paris Peralta-Canada-Contemp
Jennifer Hillier - Standalone
Minotaur Books – Jul 2022  – 352 pp
RATING: Poor / D

Monday, January 23, 2023

The Bookstore Sisters by Alice Hoffman

First Sentence: The letter to Isabel Gibson arrived on a Tuesday, which had always been the unluckiest day of the week.

Isabel Gibson had left Brinkley’s Island, Maine, far behind and is now living in New York City. Her parents are dead, the family bookstore is nearly bankrupt, and she has broken completely from her sister, Sophie. Still, she can’t ignore the letter which draws her back to the Island, and to the past.

Isabel is a character with whom many may easily identify—“She could even forget that she had once been considered the girl most likely to become somebody when she’d turned out to be nobody in particular.” Many may also identify with being estranged from their family or a family member. Hoffman conveys that situation very well.

As a lover of books, one desperately wants to get their hands on the bookshop and straighten things up. There’s a sense that, as with the relationship of the two sisters, it had once been wonderful. The question is whether it could be again. And then there is Violet, Sophie’s daughter who doesn’t like to read yet compares Isabel to Mary Poppins; Hank the Labrador, and Johnny Lenox, Isabel’s childhood friend growing. Of those, Sophie can be irritating, as she is always in tears. However, the letter from her mother that Isabel finds is worth shedding a few tears over.

THE BOOKSTORE SISTERS is a quick read filled with lots of very good truths. It’s a lovely little, short story, sometimes reading a bit juvenile, but with a good lesson to be learned.

THE BOOKSTORE SISTERS (ShortStory-Isabel Gibson-Maine-Contemp)

Alice Hoffman – Short Story
Amazon Original Stories – Nov 2022