Thursday, December 31, 2020

Who Speaks for the Damned by C.S. Harris

First Sentence: Alone and trying desperately not to be afraid, the child wandered the narrow, winding paths of the tea gardens.

Nicholas Hayes, a son to the late Earl of Seaford, had been convicted of murder, transported to Botany Bay, and assumed dead. Instead, he returned to London and was murdered. An Asian child who had been with Hayes, finds the body and goes to Hayes' former friend James Calhoun, valet to St. Cyr. After which, the child disappears. It is now up to St. Cyr to find the child and uncover the murderer.

There is nothing better than a book that captivates your attention from the very beginning. One is introduced to several of the main and recurring characters, learns about their backgrounds, and is taken straight into the story.

Harris sets the story up beautifully, providing multiple motives and suspects. Nothing here is obvious. She also effectively conveys the fear felt by young Jai, alone in a foreign country. He is a character who touches the heart but also allows for an interesting look at China during this period. The historical information woven into the story is both informative and harshly factual. Harris makes no attempt to soften the image of this time and confirms that bigotry has always existed.

Honorable characters have great appeal. When asked why Sebastian, a Viscount, after all, spends his time chasing murders, especially when the victims are despicable characters themselves, he responds: "Making certain a killer doesn't get away with what he has done is an obligation we the living owe to the dead—no matter how unsavory we consider them to be." ... "Am I not my brother's keeper?" …"And because I believe we are all connected, every living thing one to the other, so that I owe to each what I would owe to myself." What a perfect definition of equal justice under the law.

The relationship between Devlin and his wife Hero is so well done. The intimacy is neither gratuitous nor salacious, and dialogue is very natural. Harris does involve Hero in the investigation, but in a way that makes sense for a woman of her time and rank.

The story is well-plotted. It moves along at a good pace and presents twists at just the right points although one might wish authors weren't quite so predictable in their timing. That said, it is nice when one is surprised by a plot twist. The story grows with one revelation upon another. Rather than confusing, this adds to the intrigue of the story. The inclusion of information on the forensics of the time adds veracity and interest.

Good dialogue makes all the difference, particularly when twinged with humor—"How precisely does one go about accosting a man in the middle of a ball in order to discuss the murder of someone who once ran off with his wife." "I don't know," said Sebastian. "But I'll think of something."

"Who Speaks for the Damned" is an excellent read. The mystery is solved with an ending that speaks to humanity and puts paid to all the ugliness caused by man. It draws one in from the start and keeps one engaged to the very end.

WHO SPEAKS FOR THE DAMMED (HistMys-Sebastian St. Cyr-London-1814) – Ex
Harris, C.S. – 15th in series
Berkeley – Apr 2020

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Frozen by Ann Cleeves

First Sentence:  Vera woke to a free day and an unexpected longing for exercise.

It's her day off and DI Vera Stanhope takes the opportunity to visit a new bookshop located in a renovated chapel. What she was not looking for was a skeleton unearthed in a cellar baptismal font.  Time for Vera to solve this long-cold case.

Cleeves' descriptions allow one to see places we've not been, in the present and the past—"Standing with her back to old stones, she imagined squads of legionnaires marching… they must have policed the region then, so she saw them as her forbears, as kindred spirits, and felt a connection across the centuries."  Bringing us to the present, she carries forth that sense of timelessness with her wonderful imagery—"the building that had once been built to the glory of God, now celebrated the story in all its forms." Whereupon the mood is effectively broken and the investigation begins.

Even though the books are separate from the television series, those who watch may clearly hear the voice of actress Brenda Blethyn as Vera.  Rather than a negative, it adds a warmth and personal touch to the story. Still, this is not Vera's story alone, but one which includes her team, including Joe who is still her second in the books, and Holly in a scene that makes one smile. However, if one is looking for in-depth descriptions of the characters, or quantities of backstory, it's not here.  This is a short story, after all.

What is here is atmosphere and Cleeve's creative use of the weather almost as another character.  Nothing is lost in the construction of this fascinating short story.  Suspects are identified, clues tracked down with twists and red herrings.

"Frozen" may be a fairly simple story, but it is well-crafted and, if one has not previously read Ann Cleeves, this a perfect introduction to her writing and the Vera series.

FROZEN (PolProc/SS-DI Vera Stanhope-England-Contmep) – VG+
Cleeves, Ann – Short Story – 8.5 in series
Minotaur Books, Sept 2020

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Shadows in Death by J. D. Robb

First Sentence:  As it often did since he'd married a cop, murder interrupted more pleasant activities. 

Lt. Eve Dallas, by her husband, Roarke, goes to the scene of a murdered woman.  While on-site, Roarke sees a man he knew from his past in Ireland. Lorcan Cobbe, a contract killer, claims he is Roarke's father's actual and first son. He hates Roarke enough to kill him, and everyone he loves.  Eve is certain the dead woman's husband hired Cobbe to perform the hit and commits to proving it first, then stopping Cobbe, as more bodies turn up.

There are times when one wants an entertaining, captivating read.  With her 51st book in the Eve Dallas series, Robb succeeds in creating exactly that.  Yes, the plots are somewhat predictable, but the world Robb has created is visual, and the characters are ones about whom readers care.

What is remarkable is that the series began in 1995 with the first book set in 2058 and Eve being 30 years old, releasing two Dallas books/year, plus the occasional novella.  Now the series is in 2061; three years and 51+/- cases later, bringing Eve's clearance rate to ~17 cases per year, or once every three weeks.  What police department wouldn't love that?

Robb has a deft hand when it comes to dialogue, even creating slang that fits for the near-future time period.  How clever to use an expression known to readers in the present but would be anachronistic to the period.  There are some great lines, and her wry humor is always a pleasure.  A discussion on the subtle differences between colors leads to an internal observation—"Peabody turned a little green—perhaps celadon—and turned her head to stare hard at the wall." Robb carries thoughts through from one scene to another with great deliberateness and ease.

One learns more about Roarke's childhood and one must respect that Robb, even this far into the series, still has new information to impart. One small irritant is Roark's references to Eve being "his," making her seem a possession. However, this is mitigated by the realization that Eve claims Roarke in the same manner and showing it is a manifestation of their commitment of care and protection, and not possessiveness, even including those around them.  Yes, the scenes of lovemaking are hot, but they are more about emotion than sex.

Eve is not perfect which makes her more real.  She has areas of discomfort and gaps in her knowledge for anything beyond her job or her city—"They look like cops…I need them to look like farmers. Irish farmers," Eve added. "Who are out there doing farm stuff."

There is an urgency and intensity to the investigation which gives the sense of needing to run to keep up. The action scenes are visceral, tense, exciting, and filled with twists. They provide excellent examples of Eve's leadership and authority, and the respect she has earned. Even so, it is not a perfect book.  There were opportunities for danger and suspense not taken, and the ending seemed too quick with a final scene a bit silly, albeit satisfying. 

"Shadows in Death" is an excellent remedy to offset the stress and uncertainty of these times in which we live.

SHADOWS IN DEATH (PolProc-Eve Dallas, Future NYC, 2061) – VG
Robb, J.D. – 51st book in series
St. Martin's Press – Sept 2020

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Spiteful Bones by Jeri Westerson

First Sentence:  Nigellus Cobmartin stood in the courtyard of his family home – its garden walls crumbling, its arched windows overlooking the tired and weedy garden with its dead flowers and gnarled trees – and sighed.

Crispin Guest's house is filled with his assistant Jack, his wife Isabel, and their many children, as well as the satisfaction of watching grow and providing training for Christopher Walcote, the son he can never acknowledge.  Into that tranquility comes John Rykener/Eleanor Cobmartin with an urgent summons.  In restoring the home he inherited, John's "husband's" workers uncover a body holding a precious relic. The body had been bound and sealed within a wall for 20 years.  It is up to Crispin to discover the killer while protecting the secret of John's true identity.

One can only appreciate when authors, particularly of historical mysteries, provide a section of "Notes About Characters," as well as a "Glossary."  The sections are not only helpful but interesting in themselves.

No one stays the same age forever.  Having characters who age, and whose life circumstances change, adds realism to the story, and much has changed for Westerson's characters.  Readers of the series will appreciate that, but even new readers are given a sense of how time has progressed.

Westerson has a wonderful voice.  Her dialogue is reflective of the period without being mired in it.  She writes with a balance of humor and drama.  It is interesting to see how, even in this period, forensic evidence was taken into account—"But it looks as if someone coshed him good.  Aye, look at the wood of the uprights here.  If he was still awake, there would have been scratches and scuffs from a struggle."  One issue, however, is the frequent use of Latin phrases.  While is it very appropriate to the period, an immediate translation of each phrase, as is often done by other authors, would not have been amiss.  Still, there are lines which make one smile—"Sometimes, Jack, the Church, in all its wisdom, is lacking when it comes to compassion."

The relationships are enjoyable and add dimension yet don't overtake the plot.  They provide richness and emotion.  One becomes attached to the characters. There are times where one might question whether Crispin is too modern; too good, too noble.  Yet, it is part of the development one has seen in the character and is part of what draws one back to the series.

"Spiteful Bones" presents an effective twist and an exciting climax.  Historical mystery devotees will be pleased.

SPITEFUL BONES (Hist Mys-Crispen Guest-London-1398) – G+
Westerson, Jeri – 14th in series
Severn House – Sept 2020

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Long Range by C.J. Box

First Sentence:  The sleek golden projectile exploded into the thin mountain air at three thousand feet per second.

A grizzly attack causes game warden Joe Picket to leave his district and join members of the Predator Attack Team.  Joe has suspicions about the attack but is called away before being able to investigate further. A shooter targets a local judge, seriously wounding the judge's wife.  The shot came from an extremely long-range, and Joe's best friend Nate Romanowski is suspected.  This leaves Joe to find the killer, clear his friend, and uncover the answer to the bear attack.

Talk about a hook!  Box sets the scene well, contrasting the beauty of the location with the cold, hard terror of a lethal element coming from through the air so that one experiences the horror of when the two elements combine.  The suspense continues once we join Joe.

Reading Box is both exciting, and an education in everything from grizzly bears, the technology that enables a cell phone to be tracked even in a no-service area, an air force of predator birds, and long-range rifles. Box explains each of these in a way that is fascinating even to urban dwellers, and each has an important role to play in the plot.  There is a nice piece of information regarding the role of a Wyoming game warden which helps explain Joe's involvement in the shooting investigation.

The characters are alive.  Some are those series readers have met before.  Some carry over from a previous book, but in a way that their backstory is apparent and their incorporation into the present story handled seamlessly.  There are good guys; bad guys, and those about whom we are uncertain, which adds to the suspense.  

Joe is compelling, refreshing for his imperfections—not the best on horseback, not the finest shot, has a penchant for destroying his county vehicle--and has phobias, particularly his fear of flying.  Marybeth, his wife, is a true partner both in their marriage and due to her position as director of the county library, which can aid in Joe's investigation. The personal side of Joe and his wife's struggle being empty nesters personalizes and humanizes them.

One of the characters who has developed and changed most in the series is Nate Romanowski.  The suspense and excitement always escalate whenever Nate appears.  The friendship between Nate and Joe is admirable.  When you combine the two men in a scene, non-stop action ensues.

It is not all action, however.  While not overtly political, the story does connect to present events—" It was a new political world, Joe had learned.  Politicians who were snared in scandal didn't fight back or resign in shame, because there was no personal shame."

One may identify one of the villains quite early, others are less obvious, and one whose appearance may cause series readers to roll their eyes in dismay. Box's wry humor is always a pleasure and "Pickett's charge" a definite high point.

"Long Range" has an exciting, dramatic climax followed by a wonderful ending making one feel it was over all too soon. 

LONG RANGE (GameWard-Joe Pickett/Mate Romanowzki-Wyoming-Cont) - VG+
Box, C.J. -20th in series
G.P. Putnam's Sons - Mar 2020

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Next to Last Stand by Craig Johnson

First Sentence:  Years ago, on one particularly beautiful, high plains afternoon when I was a deputy with the Absaroka County Sheriff's Department, I propped my young daughter, Cady, on my hip and introduced her to Charlie Lee Stillwater.  

Walt receives a call from Carol Williams, the caretaker and administrator of the Veteran's Home of Wyoming, once Fort McKinney.  Resident Charlie Lee Stillwater has died. Going through his effects, Carol and Walt find a box containing two items of particular note; one million dollars in cash and a painted canvas which was clearly part of a larger painting. Walt investigates the source of both, and whether the painting, thought to have been long destroyed, was stolen.   

The best characters are ones who grow and change over the course of a series.  So too has Johnson done that with Longmire.  This book is more the Walt we love; the events of the prior two books have understandably changed him as he questions his future.  

Dog is here!  Those who are series readers have come to love Dog.  Henry is also here.  A joke that runs between him and Walt in this story makes one smile. Vic, Walt's second and girlfriend, is a character who, for some of us, has become tiring.  It is nice to see Lonnie Littlebird, Chief of the Cheyenne Nation and Tribal Elder—"Um humm, yes it is so." But it's the "Wavers" who are the stars; four elderly veterans in souped-up wheelchairs who wave to passing traffic in front of the Veterans' Home of Wyoming.

Walt in evening dress and chasing bad guys through a museum is new, but so are the bad guys.  No cowboy hats and boots here—"Do you ever get the feeling that there are people out there who are living lives that we know absolutely nothing about?"

The plot is interesting and filled with historical information.  Unfortunately, it was almost too much information and it slows down the first half of the book.  Fortunately, once past that, the pace picks up noticeably.  One does wonder where the series is going.  Were some of Walt's comments foreshadowing or merely a frustrating tease? 

Worth the price of the book is the Epilogue.

"Next to Last Stand" is a return to that which fans most love about Johnson's books.  It is interesting, exciting, and filled with excellent characters.  However, this is a book one might want to wait to read until the next book is released.

NEXT TO LAST STAND (PolProc-Walt Longmire-Wyoming/Montana-Contemp) – G+
Johnson, Craig – 16th in series
Viking – Sept 2020

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

When She Was Good by Michael Robotham

First Sentence:  Late Spring.  Morning cold. A small wooden boat emerges from the mist, sliding forward with each pull on the oars.

 In this follow-up to "Good Girl, Bad Girl" the mystery of Evie Cormac continues.  Found hidden away in the hidden room off the bedroom where a man was tortured and killed, the question remains as to whether he was her kidnapper or her protector.  Although the press are still curious, someone more sinister is after the information, and Evie, while psychologist Cyrus Haven, plagued with monsters of his own past, teams up with Sacha Hopewell, the former Constable, who found Evie, to try to protect her.

 There are several elements needed for a memorable book and description/sense of place is one.  Robatham has that well in hand—"The air outside smells of drying seaweed and wood smoke, and the distant hills are edged in orange where God has opened the furnace door and stoked the coals for a new day."

 It is useful to have already read the prior book. However, Robotham not only fills in the backstory of Evie, but includes now information.  The way in which Cyrus' background is conveyed is brilliantly understated yet establishes an important link.  We also learn much more about Terry Boland, the man whose body was found in the house where Evie was hiding.  

This is a dark book.  Robotham has written a clear and strong example of the impact of abandonment.  Then he changes the pace with a surprising plot twist and an example of Edie's ability as a truth wizard—one who can tell when others are lying.

There are observations that cause one to pause and are relevant to today—"The real power belongs to the people who control information… Individuals who can suppress stories, fix problems, spin news, and plant false information."—and make us think of current situations—"…is a classic sociopath, who seeks power and influence rather than fame.  Where others notice the beauty in the world, he sees only how it could benefit him.  Relationships are designed to further his own interest.  It's not about loving or hating but about duplicity and deception and his own corrupt lust."  Intended or not, and although the author is an Australian living in England, the story cannot help but make one think of current events.

 "When She Was Good" is a complicated story with unique characters and a satisfactory ending.  Slow in places, it picks up with well-done twists. 

WHEN SHE WAS GOOD (PsySusp-Cyrus Haven/Evie Cormac/England-Contemp) – G+
Robotham, Michael – 2nd in series
Scribner – Jul 2020  

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

THE DREAMER by Sheldon M. Siegel

First Sentence:  The Honorable Elizabeth McDaniel glanced at her watch, rested her chin in her palm, and spoke to me in a world-weary tone still bearing a trace of her native Alabama.

Mercedes "Mercy" Tejada is a Dreamer who was brought to the United States as a baby.  Now she's accused of murdering her boss, James Beard Award recipient, Carlos Cruz. Carlos was known for sexually harassing his female staff, particularly Mercy.  Now, he is dead in an alley, Mercy kneeling over him, and her prints on the knife next to him.  San Francisco Public Defenders Rosie and Mike are against the clock to prove Mercy innocent, and to keep her, and her family, from being deported.    
Siegel begins with an amusing vignette that pleases and establishes Mike Daley as a sharp, clever, and well-established lawyer.  The way in which we meet the others in Mike's life, especially his ex-wife and boss, Rosie Fernandez, is handled succinctly, but with clarity.

A murder case is always the perfect base for a legal mystery.  Add the element of a Dreamer with an undocumented mother, and the level of suspense immediately escalates.  The decision of Rose to be the lead attorney, with Mike as second chair, makes one smile.

Siegel excels at throwing back the cover on the legal system.  He shows just how unjust justice can be, especially if one is a woman, a person of color, and undocumented.  Siegel takes on the issue of undocumented workers.  What is nice is that the story addresses the issue from a moral perspective, rather than a political one.

Reading about a city one knows well always adds a personal touch.  However, even when it is a city unknown to the reader, some things have become sadly universal in urban areas—"A homeless man asked me for change.  A man in a Warriors jersey offered me a fentanyl.  A woman in a halter top asked me if I was looking for a date."

There is an excellent twist and good questions are raised during the investigation.  One doesn't normally think of the initial, information-gathering phase of a case as being suspenseful.  Under Siegel's deft hand, it is.

It may be a classic trope, but it is always interesting to have a victim everyone wants to kill. But watching Rosie and Mike prepare a case with no other suspects, and no witnesses, based on a defense of SODDI (“some other dude did it”), and with the prosecution not meeting the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt makes things all the more engrossing.  

"The Dreamer" is a very well-done legal mystery with a satisfying affirmation at the end.  Siegel is an under-appreciated author who writes excellent legal procedurals. 

THE DREAMER (LegalProc-Mike Daley/Rosie Fernandez-San Francisco-Contemp) – VG
Siegel, Sheldon M. – 11th in series
Sheldon M. Siegel, Inc. – Mar 2020

Thursday, September 3, 2020


First Sentence:  The express from Dover was still coming to a stop when Hillary Drummond leapt onto the platform.

 A man is found murdered on a train newly arrived at Charing Cross Station.  In his shoe is the key to a railway locker containing a satchel.  It is 1892; the threat of war is in the air. Enquiry agents Barker and Llewelyn are tasked by the Prime Minister to deliver the satchel to Calais as it contains a document, an unnamed first-century gospel.   With the satchel sought by secret societies, political groups, and the German government, Llewelyn is perplexed by Barker's delay in fulfilling their assignment considering it places them under repeated attack.

 Rarely are prologues necessary.  However, Thomas' prologue captures and captivates one immediately with suspense, danger, intrigue, and yes, death.  With the receipt of an old brass key, stamped with the letter "Q," the characters go—"Down the rabbit hole." One cannot help but smile at their destination, and Llewellyn's admiration of what he sees there is understandable. 

Thomas' voice is enviable.  Even during a serious scene, he makes one smile with the simplest line even when in a serious situation. It is only a part of what makes reading him such a pleasure.  His dialogue is a pleasure to read—"The things you know, Thomas!"  "Yes, well, the more I know, the more I know how little I know."

 Characters are Thomas' strength.  It is nice to have a series with characters who have developed over time. Still, for those who have not read the previous books, one won't feel lost as Thomas provides well-presented introductions to the characters. Llewelyn's wife, Rebecca, deals with the conflict of being shunned by her family for being married to a gentile.  Their marriage and commitment adds a nice touch and humanness to the story—"There was still something strange about being separated from Rebecca for more than a few hours.  It was like slow asphyxiation."  A scene between Llewelyn and his father-in-law is particularly well done. 

Thomas conveys mood well, in this case, it is that of a man adrift.  A significant change is made in the roles and responsibilities of Barker, Llewelyn, and others ensure a shift in future books.

The backdrop of Victorian England makes the plot particularly effective.  The drums of war are beating in the distance, the underlying anti-Semitism, and the inclusion of an Evangelical preacher from the United States advocating eugenics. There is action and suspense, but also serious subjects which require consideration.

"Lethal Pursuit" maintains one's interest from the beginning to an ending that is clever in so many ways, including the ultimate question—"Why do evil men prosper?"  This is more than an average historical mystery. Thomas is an author to add to one's list.

LETHAL PURSUIT (HistMys-Baker/Llewelyn-England-1892) – VG
Thomas, Will – 11th book in series
Minotaur Books – Nov 2019


Sunday, August 30, 2020

All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny

First Sentence:  “Hell is empty, Armand,” said Stephen Horowitz.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his wife Raine-Marie have come from Canada to Paris for the birth of a new grandchild.   After a celebratory dinner with their two children, spouses, and Armand’s billionaire godfather, Stephen Horowitz, Stephen is deliberately struck by a vehicle and now lies in a coma.  A grim discovery at his apartment prompts an investigation and the uncovering of family secrets leaving Armand to determine just who can be trusted.

Paris is not a city about which one can be objective.  It is a city that enthralls from the moment one arrives and, even if one never has the chance to return, it lives within one forever.  Penny has captured perfectly that sense of having found the city of one's soul and portrays it perfectly.  Even the hardcover book’s glorious end sheets, designed by MaryAnna Coleman, draw one into the beauty of Paris. Opening with lines from Shakespeare's "Tempest" is the perfect balance to the City of Light with a history of darkness.

Although not an issue for new readers, series readers may have a sense of being a stranger in a strange land having the story set outside the usual environs of Canada and Three Pines.  This was an effective decision as it is echoed by Gamache having the same sense of not knowing who to believe, who to trust.  It illustrates the duplicity of people and is effective in heightening the suspense and tension. The connections made back to Three Pines and the Sûreté du Québec are nicely done.

The mystery is well-plotted as it grows upon itself and is delightfully complex taking one down unexpected roads.  Yet, more than a mystery, this is a story of relationships, and with that comes wisdom.  

Penny employs her characters wisely.  Involving family members as part of an investigation can be risky.   However, in this case, no one is superfluous; neither are any of their roles forced or out of character.  Each has skills that contribute, and each is humanly imperfect with weaknesses and foibles.  In other words, they are real.  Even the use of an unseen, yet critical, character is wonderfully done. The theme of abandonment, which appears in various ways through Penny’s books, is heartfelt and recognizable to so many.

Penny's ability to place the reader within the story is second to none.  Sitting in the hospital, awaiting news of a loved one, you feel, hear, and smell the starkness and desperation of those who are there, and the unwillingness to give up hope.  Her use of dialogue is evocative.  The banter between Jean-Guy and Armand is always something one anticipates and enjoys, but this was lovely as well--"Please, Dad," Daniel now said. "Tell me you were a commando." "Better." His father leaned closer and dropping his voice further. "I taught commandos."

When reading Penny, there are always lines that make one stop and consider, small lessons to be learned--"It had taken Beauvoir years to see the power of pausing. And of patience. Of taking a breath to consider all options, all angles, and not simply acting on the most obvious."  She teaches one the value of seeing not only what is there, but what is not; what is real, and what is facade, and that--"People believe what they want to believe.  Beginning with their own lies."  "Hell is the truth seen too late," said Reine-Marie."

“All the Devils are Here” is Penny’s best book to date.  It is complex, suspenseful, and emotional with a small touch of the paranormal.  It has a cracking good, twisty plot--you don't see where it is going--and an excellent ending. Most of all, it demonstrates Penny’s continuing growth as an author and, I suspect, as a person. And isn’t that the goal of us all?

ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE (PolProc-C.I. Armand Gamache-Paris-Contemp) - Ex
Penny, Louise – 16th in series
Minotaur Books, Sept 2020

Friday, August 7, 2020

A Killer's Wife by Victor Methos

First Sentence:  Jordan Russo swung the passenger door open and leapt from the moving car.

Some time ago, I gave up writing negative reviews of books as it was just too frustrating.  But now and then, there is a book that really needs to be addressed.

I have read two of Victor Methos' standalone legal mysteries and loved them.  In fact, I started to bore people by talking about and recommending them.  Therefore, writing this is painful in the extreme.

My first issue was the constant referral of the protagonist by her surname.  I recognize there are some professions where that is common, regardless of gender.  However, a friend and I, who share the same first name, are the only ones I've known to do this is real life. Even Donna Leon makes the distinction of referring to her character as "Brunetti" when he is at work, and "Guido" when he's at home.  

Second, the troubled, incredibly bright teenaged daughter.  What kind of mother would hold her child back from being able to realize her full potential?  Red flags immediately were raised as to the purpose of this. 

Third, when the police, who were comically incompetent, and who had already withheld information from her, came and asked for her help with her serial-killer ex-husband, any sane, reasonable person who had been through such an experience, would have told them to do their own damn jobs and get out.  Instead--I know it was the basis for the plot--she agrees.  Then, when they tell her not to enter the crime scene, she does the classic TSTL move and enters the crime scene. Jessica, for someone who was supposed to be so incredibly successful prosecutor, was painfully dumb.

Fourth, the too-good-to-be-true boyfriend.  Red flags screamed at that.  

About one-quarter into the book, there was no question where the plot was going, and it isn't that long of a book.  The end was so clearly broadcast that I broke my cardinal rule and went to the end of the book, only to find I was 100%, bang-on correct.  

The only parts of the book that were well done and rang true were the courtroom scenes.  Due to Methos' experience as a lawyer, the courtroom scenes are interesting, engrossing, and suspenseful on their own merit.  Too bad the rest of the book didn't hold up as well.

"A Killer's Wife" was an absolute wall-banger for me.  Even more frustrating was that I couldn't actually, physically throw it across the room because it was an e-galley and I wasn't willing to sacrifice my Kindle.  I'm not completely giving up on Mr. Methos.  I'd be happy to read another of his standalone legal thrillers which, I repeat, I found to be excellent, but I shall stay away from his dysfunctional female protagonists.

Methos, Victor – First of series
Thomas & Mercer – Mar 2020

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

Recently I was asked to recommend a book dealing with the Salam Witch Trials and remembered "The Heretic's Daughter." Having lived in Boston and spending many a weekend in Salam, I was honored to meet Kathleen Kent, a tenth generation descendant of Martha Carrier, the protagonist of this book. Although I first read this book in 2009, I feel it's worth adding to my review site today.

First Sentence: The distance by wagon from Billerica to neighboring Andover is but nine miles.

The story begins with a letter, written in 1752, from Sarah Carrier Chapman to her grand-daughter. With it, she has sent a book detailing the history of her life in Andover and the events of the Salem Village witch trials.

Sarah is the daughter of Thomas and Martha Carrier. Her father is a tall (7’4”), quiet, hardworking man; her mother is hard, domineering, and distant to the children. Due to neighborhood disputes, and family jealousies, Sarah is accused of being a witch.

The Salem witch trials were a shameful incident in our history.  Kathleen Kent has taken those events and made them real and personal. The extent of her research is evident. In the first part of the story, she describes in detail the hardships of life in that time, and the subjugation of women to men and families to the selectmen of the town and the Puritan pastors. She showed how actions and events can be interpreted by the superstitious, particularly when there is jealousy or an opportunity for power involved.

In the later part of the book, Kent included actual testimony from the trials. Doing so illustrated the absurdity of the trials by showing the fact of them. Kent is a wonderful writer. The story’s voice has the tone of the period.

The characters are well crafted and fully developed giving the events even greater impact. I shall admit my favorite character was Thomas, the father, again remembering all the characters were real.

"The Heretic's Daughter" is a very powerful, painful story and one well worth reading.

THE HERETIC’S DAUGHTER (Hist. Fic-Sarah Carrier-Mass-1600s) - VG
Kent, Kathleen – 1st book
Little, Brown and Company, 2008

Friday, June 19, 2020

Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron

I was saddened to learn today of the passing of Carlos Ruiz Zafon but was fortunate to read this wonderful book in 2004 when it was first published.  What a stunning book it is!  I so loved it, I also listened to the audiobook.  However, in 2004 I was writing comments, mostly as a way for me to track which authors and books I liked.  It was prior to my writing in-depth reviews.  Even so, I've decided to add those notes here, on my review site.

Ten-year-old Daniel Sempere is taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where he is to adopt a single book and promise to keep it alive always. He is drawn to "The Shadow of the Wind." When he finds out that all other copies of the author's books have been burned, it becomes a quest for Daniel to find out about the mysterious author, Julian Carax. Over time, Daniel's and Carax's lives become linked in frightening, and sometimes dangerous, ways.

I loved this book! There is humor, sorrow, love, suspense, friendship, tragedy, brutality, revenge, fabulous sense of time and place, and a fountain pen that connects the story together through time. The language is flowery, and the pace sometimes slow but I never wanted to put it down. There was a twist I didn't expect yet all the ends are neatly tied into a perfect circle at the end. It's not a traditional mystery, but it is a wonderful book.

THE SHADOW OF THE WIND (Mystery/Novel-Barcelona-1945-1966)-Ex
Zafon, Carlow Ruiz – 1st adult novel
The Penguin Press, 2004 - Hardcover

Friday, April 24, 2020

Trace Elements by Donna Leon

First Sentence:  A man and a woman deep in conversation approached the steps of Pone dei Lustraferi, both looking hot and uncomfortable on this late July afternoon.

Benedetta Toso, a dying hospice patient who asks to speak with the police, claims her husband, Vittorio Fadalto, was murdered over “bad money.” Commissario Brunetti and his colleague, Claudia Griffoni, promise to investigate the matter, but was it murder or an accident? Suspicions mount as they learn more about Vittorio's job collecting samples of water to be tested for contamination. Piecing together the tangled threads, Brunetti comes to realize the perilous meaning in the woman’s accusation and the threat it reveals to the health of the entire region.

With an excellent beginning, one learns that being a Neapolitan in Venice is a "far greater handicap than being a woman."—and that one may not want to visit Venice during the summer.  Leon's voice is always a pleasure. When talking about the heat, she conveys the sense of it without referencing it directly --"Brunetti realized only then how hot he was.  He tried to lift his right leg, but it was glued to the chair by sweat." It is these touches that bring Venice to life by allowing us to see the city as those who live there do.

There is a second plot thread of two Romany pickpockets.  It is interesting to learn the differences between how crimes are handled in Italy versus the United States. The secondary plot does raise interesting points.

Leon's descriptions, from the route to an address Brunetti takes that only a resident would know, to his description of a room badly decorated, to food, are a delight and bring the city to life. Even a plate of sandwiches at a bar sound good--"From the sides of the sandwiches spilled ham, egg tomato, tuna salad, radicchio, rucola, shrimp, artichokes, asparagus, and olives."   

Leon is wonderful at injecting verbal exchanges to make one chuckle. When called into his boss's office, Signorina Elettra remarks--"If you aren't out in fifteen minutes, I'll call the police." However, she is also very good at making one pause and consider, as with Bruno's conversation with a nurse--"But if you work with death, you have to become spiritual, or you can't do it any more. ... when they get close to the end, you can sense their spirit, or you sense that it's there.  They do, too.  And it helps them.  And us." She knows how to touch one's emotions-- "Griffoni…raised a hand and threw open her palm, as if to release the dead woman's spirit into the air. The three of them remained silent for enough time to allow that spirit to escape the room..."   

 There is something wonderful about a policeman who reads Lysistrata for pleasure and describes Agamemnon as a "windbag commander." The relationship between Brunetti and his wife Paoli adds normality. It is one of a couple who has been married a long time and still loves one another. An interesting characteristic of Leon is that when her characters are in a professional setting, she references them by their surnames, yet when in a personal setting, or amongst one another as friends, she uses their first names.

Leon is incredibly good at building a story. She takes one along with her through the steps with an amazing subtlety to the clues.

"Trace Elements" is a police procedural without car chases or gunplay, but with a somewhat political theme. It is a very contemporary mystery with a contemporary crime. It reflects on the degradation of true justice in our time and on compromise. For some, the ending may not seem satisfactory, but upon reflection, there is some small justice amidst justice that cannot be achieved.

TRACE ELEMENTS (PolProc-Comm. Guido Brunetti-Venice-Contemp) - VG
      Leon, Donna – 29th in series
      Atlantic Monthly - Mar 2020

Monday, April 20, 2020

No Fixed Line by Dana Stabenow

First Sentence:  Anna was a warm, heavy weight against his side, her eyes closed, her breathing deep, her tears drying in faint silvery streaks on her cheeks

Matt Grosdidier and Laurel Meganack are spending New Year’s' Eve at Kate Shugak's cabin bolt hole at Canyon Hot Springs. Their romantic interlude is interrupted by the sound of an engine, and the crash of a plane. What they didn't expect to find was two young children, buried in the snow, and a whole lot of drugs.  Meanwhile, Erland Bannister, who had tried to have Kate killed more than once, has died. But why did he made her the trustee of his estate and the head of his foundation?

Stabenow captures one's interest from the very first sentence. Her writing is evocative and visual.  It captivates, involves, and becomes real.  And it moves, no long narratives here; just writing which keeps one turning the page.  One also realizes just how timely are the themes of her story.   But it's the details of dealing with Alaska that make one’s eyes widen.  For those who follow the series, this is an Alaska very different from the state as it was in the beginning, which only adds to the interest.

The story is perfectly balanced between the action, the pastoral, and the wonderfully normal, human moments.  The transition between these elements segues perfectly, one to the next.  It's fascinating to see how Kate's mind works; how she walks through the possible scenarios of traps Bannister may have set for her. Her comparison of a modern minimalist office lobby, using the term "dead perfection" from a Tennyson poem and comparing it to a columbarium is identifiable.

One can't but love the references to other writers: Dick Francis, Ellis Peters, Damien Boyd, Adrian McGinty, John Sandford, and even Tennyson.  Such things make the character seem real--"To quote the late, great Dick Francis, life keeps getting steadily weirder."—along with references to food--"...caribou steak with loaded baked potatoes and canned green beans fried with bacon and onions."

Stabenow weaves the issues of poverty, drugs and government cutbacks seamlessly into the story through the conversations of the characters. She offsets that by observing the way people in the park care for one another.  The plot meanders a bit between the characters and the mystery involving the children, but doesn't life?  There is romance and a bit of erotic heat, but it then stops before becoming too graphic.  Quite satisfying is Kate's justifiable anger at law enforcement not having gone after someone they knew was a criminal.  Valid and significant points are made about the status of things without being preachy, and the suggestion of a future threat is intriguing without being an end-destroying cliffhanger.

"No Fixed Line” is a great pleasure to read.  It has everything a really good book should: well-developed characters, a compelling plot that keeps one turning the pages, excellent dialogue, a touch of humor, well-done suspense, well-placed twists, and a perfectly-executed ending.  Thank you, Dana Stabenow.

NO FIXED LINE (PI/Susp-Kate Shugak/Jim Chopin-Alaska-Contemp) - Ex
Stabenow, Dana – 22nd in series
Head of Zeus. Jan 2020

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Last Passenger by Charles Finch

First Sentence:  On or about the first day of October 1855, the City of London, England decided it was time once and for all that Charles Lenox be married.
In this third, and final, prequel Charles Lenox is still working to establish himself as an enquiry agent.  Asked to visit the scene of a gruesome murder, he finds someone has gone to extraordinary lengths to remove anything which might lead to the victim being identified.  Although Inspector Dunn blames the murder on gangs, Lenox convinces Sir Richard Mayne, now Commissioner of the Police, to let him assist with the investigation.  On a personal front, Charles is having to fend off his female relatives and friends who are determined to find him a suitable wife.
It's lovely to have an opening which makes one smile, as this one does. It's also nice that, even for those of us who follow the series, Finch provides an introduction of Lenox, his situation, appearance, and ambition, as well as other major characters, including Lady Jane and her husband, Lord Deere.  Neither does Fitch overlook the secondary characters.  The way in which Finch introduces them, including the members of Lenox's household, is seamless.  No long explanations, yet we have a sense of each character's personality.  In fact, some of them are among the most interesting, particularly freed slave Josiah Hollis from Atlanta, and a young newsboy. 
One appreciates Finch's voice and that it has something of the formality of the period in which the book is set--"Hemstock strolled in without a care in the world.  You had to hand him that much:  He had insouciance."
The plot is nicely divided between the investigation and Lenox's personal life.  The repartee between him and his older brother Edmund is delightful. His courtship of Miss Catherine Ashbrook provides a delightful excuse for quoting Pride and Prejudice and a lesson in the history of the idiom "mind your p's and q's." 
Finch perfects the balance of providing information on the slave trade, including discussion of the treatment of slaves, but keeping it a part of the plot, rather than the focus of it. It is interesting to see our history through British eyes. Yet an encounter which makes one cringe is Lenox taking Hollis to a doctor who proclaimed--"He was not expert in their kind."
This is the transitional book for Lenox showing his passing into maturity both in his life and his business.  A conversation between Lenox and Hollis is thoughtful, enlightening, and causes one to reflect.  Another conversation with Jane illuminates the reason why marriage for love often wasn't the priority for women of the period. Both are examples of excellent writing.
 "The Last Passenger" is a wonderful book.  There are well-timed, well-done plot twists.  The logic behind Lenox's deductions is clever, yet not overly contrived. Rather than being focused on suspense, although that is there, it is a book that speaks to injustice, maturing, and friendship; true friendship.  The end, particularly, stays with one long after closing the book.      
THE LAST PASSENGER (HistMys-Charles Lenox-England-1855) - Ex
Finch, Charles - 3rd prequel
      Minotaur Books - Feb 2020

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Death at Brighton Pavilion by Ashley Gardner (aka Jennifer Ashley)

First Sentence:  I woke, or seemed to.

Captain Gabriel Lacey's old enemy Colonel Hamilton Isherwood has been murdered.  Isherwood's blood is on Lacey's clothes and cavalry saber in Lacey's hand, and there is a gap in his memory as to what happened. The one person who might know is Clement, a footman, and Isherwood's son asks for Lacey's help in identifying his father's killer.  While trying put the pieces together, Gabriel learns of two Quakers who are missing and promises to make inquiries as to their whereabouts. 

There's nothing like a good hook; an opening that captures your attention from the very beginning. Having the protagonist come to consciousness in the company of a dead body, a saber in this hand, and the victim's blood on his clothes accomplishes that goal. It's also nice that new readers need not worry about coming into the series with this 14th book.  Gardner does a very good job of introducing each of the characters and establishing their relationships. She also incorporates the intimacy between Lacey and his wife Donata in a way that is lovely romantic and a bit sexy, but never detailed. 

Gardner creates an excellent sense of place, inviting the reader into the environment in which the characters find themselves. Often, too, she provides bits of history and general information, such as about Quakers, never overwhelming the story, but enhancing it.

One likes to read of protagonists who have a strong moral and ethical base, who believe in doing what is just.  Lacey is just such a character in spite of the urgings of others. At the same time, he is not perfect and does have a past, yet one of the best traits of Lacey is his humanity; his sense of responsibility. In other words, he is believable.

Gardner creates an assumption and immediately dispels it carrying one along in the investigation.  Another aspect of Gardner's writing which draws one back to her books, is her voice; her dialogue and the subtle humor incorporated which is offset by an excellent accounting of grieving--"That was the trouble with death.  I too had been brought up to believe we should rejoice that the one we loved was with the lord, but somehow I never could.  I could feel only emptiness, the lessening of myself for the absence of that person."

"Death at Brighton Pavilion" is a thoroughly enjoyable period mystery with plenty of twists, action, wonderful period details, and an ending that moves the series forward. As the author says--"Captain Lacey's adventures continue..."

DEATH AT BRIGHTON PAVILION: (HistMys-Cpt. Gabriel Lacey-Brighton, England) – G+
      Gardner, Ashley - 14th in series
      JA/AG Publishing - Dec 2019

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Black Cage by Jack Fredrickson

First Sentence:  The color had been sucked from everything, not just the dead.  This is not the first time the bodies of naked kids have been found by the water. The last time, known as the Stemec Henderson murders, were three boys. The position of the girls was the same.

Milo Rigg is a reporter who's lost his byline due to perceived inappropriate behavior while on his last story.  Still working in a city where police corruption is the norm, on a paper at the edge of going under, submitting his stories under his boss's name, and suffering nightmares about his late wife, the old case comes alive when new bodies are discovered.  Now, with a new boss, and new clues, Rigg is determined to follow the story to the killer and to regain his reputation.

If one has previously read Fredrickson, this is a book darker in tone and emotion than his previous works, and that's not a bad thing as it's always nice to see an author stretch. The introduction to Milo through his interaction with senior sheriff's deputy Jerome Glet is very effective. As a character, Milo stands out.  Fredrickson makes one feel the pain of his loss, both personally and professionally, his frustration with his job, the demise of print newspapers overall, and the corruption and ineptitude of the police.  Without words, one feels the turmoil of Milo's emotions--There was no 'before' to it, no past.  It was still all so damned present." 

Fredrickson's descriptions are evocative.  They perfectly reflect the tragedy of the scene--"Snow began to fall in big wet flakes, like tiny shrouds descending to cover the horror of what had been found there."  One is very effectively drawn into the story by hints, traces of things; by intriguing references to people, places, and events. 

The inclusion of the news articles, along with Milo having other small stories to write, adds realism to the story and provides details in a concise manner without filling space with exposition.  Fredrickson accurately, and sadly, conveys what has happened to print newspapers--"...the third floor, the reporters' floor, was now a ghost town. Half the cubicles were empty... People no longer read the ink of the news; ... they wanted that in tiny bits on screens that they could delete in an instant if it was too upsetting or demanded too much concentration..."

The increase in tension is subtle and very well done.  There is one point where one may think they understand what is happening and suspicions arise.  It's best, to trust Milo and follow along as he builds scenarios, setting out to prove, or disprove them.

Milo's recurring dream of the black cage is a constant theme.  However, the reveal of the association is both anti-climactic but strangely satisfying. There are a lot of characters, but Fredrickson is very good at reminding one of who each character is and their role.  The plot twists are well-timed and very effective.

"The Black Cage" has a startling climax, an excellent final twist, a nice tie-up, and a strangely bittersweet ending. It's important to note that, although dealing with the deaths of children, the story is not gruesome in that the murders happen off-page and are a fait accompli when one learns of them.  The beginning of a new series, Milo is a character one looks forward following into upcoming books.

THE BLACK CAGE (Journ-Milo Rigg-Illinois/Indiana-Contemp) - VG
Fredrickson, Jack - 1st of series
Severn House - Feb 2020

Friday, January 10, 2020

Peace by Garry Disher

First Sentence:  This close to Christmas, the mid-north sun had some heft to it, house bricks, roofing iron, asphalt and the red-dirt plains giving back all the heat of all the days.

It has been a year since Constable Paul Hirschhausen was branded a whistleblower and transferred to a rural territory covering hundreds of kilometers.  Except for his lover Wendy, and her daughter, Katie, he still doesn't feel welcome in Tiverton.  However, between Brenda Flann driving into the front of the local bar, a stolen ute containing stolen metal, a ranch tragedy, a woman clearly hiding from someone, and a discovery which brings in way too many outside cops, and results in Hirsch forming an unexpected alliance.                                                                                               

Disher has a real skill for descriptions--'He liked to walk every morning, the dawn a time to cherish with only the birds busy, the air quite still and everything sharply etched. 9 a.m. the mid-north would be lying limp and stunned beneath a molten sun and the overnight reports of villainy, idiocy and shitty luck would have landed on his desk." 

Even his style creates reflects the location as the story begins more as a series of vignettes rather than one straight-line mystery.  These are interesting and give a real sense of the types of things with which Hirsch has to deal, but one finds oneself waiting.  It's interesting because it's so real.  

Never fear, when the pieces start coming together, one realizes things aren't a tranquil as seemed and the level of involvement turns to high.  "Peace inside. That's all a cop wants at Christmas, he thought. Not a heavenly peace, just a general absence of mayhem."

Hirsch is such a well-done character.  Although assigned to this one-man territory, he has the instincts of a city cop---"...the house felt unoccupied rather than touched by junkie-offspring violence, so he left it at that.  It was a sense all cops developed, knowing when a situation behind closed doors was right or wrong."--but the compassion of a community policeman.  There is a nice balance between his former colleagues who dislike or dismiss him and those who know and respect his capabilities.  This establishes a basis for future relationship development.

The story has its share of dark elements, suspense, and unexpected twists, all of which are perfectly executed.  "Peace is the second book in this series, with "Bitter Wash Road" having been the first.  One need not have read that book to enjoy this one, but Disher is such a good writer, why not?

"Peace" is a thoroughly engrossing story shattering one's perceptions of a peaceful small town and of knowing who one can trust.  It builds slowly with a number of seemingly unrelated incidents, only to have the pieces coalesce to a well-done ending. 

PEACE (PolProc- Paul Hirschhausen-Australia-Contemp) – VG
      Disher, Garry – 2nd in series
      Text Publishing – 2019

Friday, January 3, 2020

Decade 2010-2020 Memorable Reads

The time has come to close out the decade 2010-2020 with some of my most memorable reads.  This is hardly an exhaustive list.  I'm happy to say there was a wealth of wonderful books by excellent authors.  However, these were both the first books of which I thought and the books whose stories made a lasting impression on me.  The link to my review of each book can be found in the column on the right under the section of the title above.  I can't wait to see what this new decade has in store.  ENJOY!

Burley, John - THE QUIET CHILD
Bolton, Sharon - LITTLE BLACK LIES
Cleeves, Ann - THE SEAGULL
de Giovanni, Maurizio - I WILL HAVE VENGEN CE
Fox, Candice - CRIMSON LAKE
Harper, Jordan - SHE RIDES SHOTGUN
Horan, Ellen - 31 BOND STREET
McPherson, Catriona - THE CHILD GARDEN
O'Connell,  Carol - THE CHALK GIRL
Penny, Louise - A TRICK OF THE LIGHT

Thursday, January 2, 2020

My Favorite Reads of 2019

I finally put it together. Here are my ten favorite reads from 2019 with "Flowers Over the Inferno" by Ilaria Tuti being my #1 book of the year. They were, in not quite alphabetic order:

Gerry Boyle - RANDOM ACT
Victor Methos - THE HALLOWS
Louise Penny - A BETTER MAN
S.J. Rozan - PAPER SON

There is also my group of "Honorable Mentions," since the unwritten rules say you should only have ten favorite reads. They are:

Wendy Hornsby - A BOUQUET OF RUE
Michael Robotham - GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL
Gerry Spence - COURT OF LIES
Domingo Villar - WATER BLUE EYES
Jeri Westerson - TRAITOR'S CODEX

Happy Reading,

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Port City Crossfire (A Brandon Blake Mystery) by Gerry Boyle

First Sentence:  Mid-September, not quite fall but the Maine summer slipping away.

It's every policeman's nightmare.  Officer Brandon Blake becomes involved in a foot chase with a suspect known as Thrasher who is wearing a Go-Pro camera and holding a gun.  Blake is forced to shoot but forgot to turn on his camera and the suspect's Go-Pro memory stick gone.  Thatch's wealthy parents, his girlfriend Amanda, and the community are out for Blake's job and his freedom. But being suspended doesn't stop Brandon from following his instincts as he finds the high-school diary of Danni Moulton which leads him into danger from her boyfriend Clutch.

This is a first chapter that really works.  You meet the principal characters, learn a bit about their life, and, true to the life of a cop, go from low intensity to very high intensity in the blink of an eye realizing just how a bad situation can happen and the reaction afterward. Boyle makes it real and painful.

One quickly becomes aware of why Boyle's writing is so good.  It's refreshing to have a police officer who isn't hardened and cynical, who feels the impact of their action, who doesn't shrug and walk away but has a very human reaction including self-doubt.  And the victim's parents: Boyle knows how to depict raw emotion. 

Brandon does get himself into situations.  An excellent description of him is given--"I know your type, my friend.  Once you get on to something, you don't let go.  You ride it into the ground even if you do down with it."  All of Boyle's characters are effective.  Kat, Brandon's partner is a good, strong character and an excellent balance to Brandon as she sees through him and doesn't pull any punches. His personal partner, Mia, is someone one may particularly come to like.  And then there's Matthew Estusa, the classic gotcha'-style reporter who'll do whatever it takes for a story is certainly someone who is recognizable.

Twists and threads:  the plot twists are very well done and effective; sometimes shocking. "Friggin' A, Blake, ... Is there anything you don't wind up in the middle of?"  The number of threads counts up to where one finds oneself thinking 'here is another thread to pull.'

As the threads begin to weave together, the danger and suspense increase.  The plot did seem over-complicated,  a twist that was a bit too convenient and a move that, especially for a cop, crept into the realm of being a bit TSTL (too stupid to live).  However, those were small things and were easily forgiven in light of there being a great climax and an excellent line toward the end.

Although the book is listed as A Brandon Black Mystery, Book 1, that's not strictly accurate as this is the third book in the series following "Port City Shakedown" and "Port City Black and White," both published by Down East Books. It's worth going back to the beginning.

"Port City Crossfire" is a well-done police procedural.  It has a tone different from others one might read, and a protagonist who is both complex and compelling.  Boyle walks more on the noir side of the street, but in a very restrained way.  There is something rather addictive about his writing.  

PORT CITY CROSSFIRE (PolProc-Officer Brandon Blake-Portland, Maine-Contemp) – G+
      Boyle, Gerry - 3rd in series
      ePublishing Works - Aug 2019