Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Review of "ARF" by Spencer Quinn

The detective in this middle-grade mystery is 11-year-old Birdie Gaux, a clever gal who lives in a Lousiana bayou town with Mama, Grammy, and Bowser - her loyal pooch.

As the story opens two houses in the neighborhood have been broken into, including the Gaux residence. The Gaux family isn't missing anything but the neighbors report a missing pearl necklace. What's this though? Has Birdie spotted the necklace in the neighbor lady's purse?

Soon after the burgarlies a hippie girl shows up and befriends Birdie, asking questions about Birdie's dad - a cop who was killed ten years ago during a murder inquiry. At about the same time, a man passing through town takes an interest in Mama....and asks a lot of nosy questions about the Gaux house.

Soon enough someone goes missing, and Birdie and Bowser find the body in the bayou. Further inquiries reveal that everything that happened above is connected, and danger lurks around our intrepid young detective. But anyone threatening Birdie better watch out for Bowser!

The story is narrated by Bowser, a clever fellow who has a spot of trouble with math and idiomatic expressions.....but so what? Bowser is a really funny dog. He's always surprised to realize it's HIM that's making that growling sound, and he's usually befuddled when he's scolded. What did he do wrong? Moreover, Bowser never misses an opportunity to squeeze himself between Birdie and anyone else...which made me laugh.

This is a well-written and entertaining middle-grade mystery, recommended to kids (and adults) who like these kinds of fun stories.

Rating: 3 stars

Review of "Seriously...I'm Kidding" by Ellen Degeneres


I listened to the audio version of this book and it's a lot like watching Ellen talk on her television show - lots of casual, humorous observations about everyday life.

Ellen riffs on a wide variety of random topics, seemingly whatever pops into her head at the moment. For example: people who are late for dinner parties (it's rude and may lead to the hosts being in their pajamas by the time dinner ends); being a Cover Girl model - it's hard being beautiful; coming out as gay (she's "too gay" for some people and "not gay enough" for others); magazine polls that are bonkers (how far would you take the fashionable color green? all the way? half-way? would you marry it?); when will a sequel finally be made to the hit movie "Finding Nemo" (in which Ellen voiced Dory. ..of course the sequel's now been made.  LOL); and much more.

My favorite chapter is Ellen's satirical, funny letter to the security department of a mall where - it's been suggested - she broke a vase in a Pottery Barn store. Her explanation of how this happened - and how it's not her fault - is hilarious. A tip: if you're in a mall, don't swipe a security guard's segway, "accidently" ride it all over the mall, try to return it to a dumpster out back, fall asleep on a sofa in Pottery barn, become startled awake, fall off, and dislodge cushions that fly off to break a vase. And that's not even the half of it.

This is a light, fun book, and the audio version is perfect for doing chores or listening to in the car.

Rating: 3 stars

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Review of "Murder in the Family" by Burl Barer

This is a true crime story about a horrific multiple murder that occurred in Alaska.

On March 15, 1987 the bodies of Nancy Newman and her two daughters - Angie (3 years old) and Melissa (8 years old) were found in their Anchorage, Alaska apartment. The three females had been brutally murdered, and Nancy and Melissa had also been raped in a very disgusting fashion. Suspicion soon fell on Nancy's nephew - 23-year-old Kirby Anthoney - a rough customer who had a history of violent behavior.

Anthoney was a drifter who was often down on his luck. At one point, being broke, Anthoney was taken in by John and Nancy Newman - his uncle and aunt. Even after moving out, Anthoney kept a key and felt free to drop by the Newman apartment to shower, eat, hang out, etc. The cops suspected that Anthoney - after being rejected by his girlfriend - vented on Nancy and her daughters.

This book tells the story of Anthoney's arrest and trial. Most of the narrative is composed of interrogation and trial transcripts, interspersed with comments from the author. As the tale unfolds it becomes clear that Anthoney is a psychopath and pathological liar who easily called up fake emotions (crying, grief); twisted the facts; and fashioned 'alibi' stories.

Anthoney's excuses came to naught, however, because of the physical evidence connecting him to the crimes. Anthoney's trial was a long, difficult affair, with much wrangling between the capable prosecutor and excellent defense attorney - who worked hard on behalf of his client. There were competing experts, contradictory testimony, and much confusion - especially because DNA science was in its early stages at that time.

During the trial Anthoney didn't really help himself. He interrupted during other people's testimony and even took the stand - opening himself to rigorous cross-examination. On top of that, Anthoney gave his own closing argument - a rambling, three-hour-long diatribe. Anthoney seemed convinced that, using his 'gift of gab', he could explain away all the condemning evidence.

It's not clear why Anthoney would commit such monstrous acts, but being abused and neglected as a child might have been contributory factors. An in-depth analysis of Anthoney's criminal mind would make an interesting book, but would probably be impossible to write. Anthoney seems incapable of admitting to any wrongdoing or taking any responsibility for his actions, and wouldn't be likely to cooperate with a psychiatrist or author.

I'd recommend the book to fans of true crime as well as budding attorneys who plan to prosecute or defend homicide cases. They might get some good tips.

Rating: 3 stars

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Review of "The Cinderella Killer" by Simon Brett

Charles Paris, stage actor and amateur sleuth, is cast in a pantomime (musical comedy/skit show) of "Cinderella" in Eastbourne. The rest of the cast consists of semi-famous TV actors, veterans of the stage, dancers, a boxer, and the star of the show - American actor Kenny Polizzi who headlined a smash TV comedy years before. Kenny, who’s been known to abuse alcohol and drugs, is on the wagon and ending an acrimonious marriage.

Actng rehearsals for the pantomime are difficult, with cast members jostling for good lines and good skits while being given no guidance from the director/choreographer who only cares about dance routines. Kenny, naturally, has carved out a large part for himself that includes bits and pieces from his old TV show. Thus the set seethes with jealousy and hard feelings and – to top it off - a couple of the actors appear to have a unfortunate history with the star. To add to the mayhem, Kenny’s stalker and his hostile wife soon show up in Eastbourne - as does his agent, who’s been known to enable Kenny’s bad behavior.

Charles and Kenny become friendly, hitting the pub after rehearsals and chatting about life's travails. Charles behaves as he does in all the books in the series, drinking glass after glass of Bell's whiskey or beer and neglecting his estranged wife Frances.

Soon enough cast members start to die and Charles has the bad luck to find the bodies. He decides to help the police by doing his own investigation of the crimes.

Charles' antics are mildly amusing in this light mystery. The parts I liked best (and which made me laugh) were the snippets of critics' reviews of Charles' shows. Seems the poor guy hasn't done a good job yet. This is an okay mystery, a pleasant way to wile away a few hours.

Rating: 3 stars

Friday, January 27, 2017

Review of "The Professionals" by Owen Laukkanen

Four college graduates - Pender, Marie, Sawyer, and Mouse - are unable to secure good-paying jobs and form a kidnapping ring. Their plan is to pull off a slew of abductions, pile up a lot of ransom money, and retire to the Maldives. For each job the kidnappers choose a wealthy family man, ask for $60,000 (an amount they consider easily affordable), and make dire threats about informing the cops.

As the book opens, the plan has been working perfectly. The gang has staged jobs across the country and no one has squealed to the police. Then the criminals make a bad mistake. They abduct a Detroit man named Donald Beneteau, whose wife is connected to the mob.

The caper goes badly wrong.....Beneteau is killed and Mouse is shot. The outlaws go on the run, chased by mobsters and law enforcement officials. The police task force is led by Minnesota BCA investigator Kirk Stevens and FBI Agent Carla Windermere, who meet for the first time in this book.

The kidnappers are closely pursued by the mafia and police, but they're pretty lucky.....for a while. The perps outmaneuver their pursuers and leave the bodies of several mobsters behind. Mouse, however, is badly wounded and starts to go downhill.

There's plenty of excitement in the story, with a chase that extends from the midwest to Florida and back again. Laukkanen also does a good job with the characters, who are well-drawn - though not always sympathetic (or quite believable).

For example, Stevens and Windermere are having so much 'fun' chasing these perps that they're sorry the investigation will eventually end. Really?? Do cops really think like that?? Also, there's an attraction between Stevens - a happily married man with kids, and Windermere - who has a boyfriend. Fair enough, it happens. But Windermere seems to encourage the flirtation, which put me off.

For their part, the kidnappers (at first) think of themselves as "professionals" - basically decent people who do little harm. They completely ignore the trauma inflicted on the kidnap families.

The story is an engaging thriller, but some plot points strain credulity.

                                      SPOILER ALERT      SPOILER ALERT
[ Some of the gang's 'getaways' seem impossible. The mobsters - who are savvy criminals - would have to be REALLY DIM to be bested by some of the gang's tactics. This is especially true in the scene where the mafia arranges to exchange a girl hostage for the gang members.

The perps happen to meet a girl on the beach - a beautiful Princeton coed from a billionaire family - who decides to throw in with them and go on the run. Since there's a very real possibility they'll all be caught or killed, this simply doesn't ring true.

The gang totes a badly wounded Mouse around for days and days without visiting a doctor or hospital....essentially killing him. I was appalled by this.]

                                   END SPOILER ALERT      END SPOILER ALERT

Though there are some flaws, this is a good beginning to the Stevens-Windermere series. Recommended to fans of thrillers.

Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Review of "Doctor Death" by Lene Kaaberbøl

Twenty-year-old Madeleine Karno, daughter of French pathologist Dr. Albert Karno (also known as Dr. Death), takes a keen interest in science and assists her father with his cases. This is unusal, because the year is 1894 and such pursuits are considered inappropriate for women.

When seventeen-year-old Cecile Montaine - a student at the school run by St. Bernardine Convent in Varbourg - is found dead in the snow Madeleine and her father cannot find a cause of death. They do, however, discover odd mites exiting Cecile's nostrils. Soon afterwards the priest who prayed over Cecile's corpse is murdered and his body stolen. Moreover, a teenage boy who worked at St. Bernardine's is missing. Clearly something odd is going on.

Madeleine consults Dr. August Dreyfuss, a leading Heidelberg parasitologist, about the mites and learns they're usually found in dogs. Turns out St. Bernardine Convent is home to a pack of wolves (for superstitious reasons) and Mother Filippa, the abbess, keeps an elderly male wolf as a pet. So dog mites...wolves...things start to gel a little bit.

As the story goes on more deaths occur, dead bodies are found to have bite marks from human teeth, the mites are associated with a bacterial disease, a young lady seems to be hypersexual, a young novice nun is at odds with her father, Dr. Dreyfuss takes a shine to Madeleine, and so on. There's a lot going on and the story gets confusing. There are also a great many characters, some better developed than others.

The book's finale, though thoroughly explained, is complex, hard to believe, and not totally satisfying. All in all, I thought the book was okay. It does address some interesting concepts and I like Madeleine, a spirited young woman determined to follow her dream against all odds.

Rating: 3 stars

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Review of "Turbo Twenty-Three" by Janet Evanovich

In this addition to the Stephanie Plum series a frozen corpse covered with chocolate and nuts may be the falllout from a 'war' between ice cream companies. Ranger's security firm has been hired to protect the Bogart ice cream factory.....and to expose a possible saboteur. Needing an undercover operative, Ranger hires Stephanie to pose as an ice cream factory worker. So, in additon to her usual job as a bounty hunter, Stephanie lends Ranger a hand.

All this leads to some fun scenes where a conveyor belt spews ice cream everywhere ("there's no big red button!"); Stephanie dresses as a clown to sell Bogart bars; and she gets covered with cooking oil redolent of bacon and fried chicken.

You know what to expect with this series, and the story contains the usual comic and romantic elements: Stephanie and her sidekick Lula - a flamboyant former 'ho' who carries a big gun - create havoc in New Jersey; vehicles crash and blow up; Grandma Mazur snags an elderly motorcycle-riding boyfriend.....and hops aboard in her pink pantsuit and white sneakers; Stephanie's mom compulsively irons and has a few nips; Stephanie gets cozy with both Morelli and Ranger; and so on.

In addition, in an attempt to land a reality TV gig, Lula and Briggs (a whiny little person) make videos called 'naked and afraid' and 'naked bungee jumping.' (Now that's something you'd never be able to unsee! LOL)

It turns out the ice cream business is pretty dangerous, and more people turn up dead or missing. In fact, before the perp is snagged Stephanie almost becomes a popsicle herself!

The book is entertaining - and I got a few smiles - but it's not as laugh out loud funny as previous entries in the series. I'd like to see Stephanie, Lula, and Grandma Mazur go a little more 'over the top' in future books. If you need a break from serious fare the Stephanie Plum books are fine 'go-to' choices.

Rating: 3 stars

Monday, January 23, 2017

Review of "Little Black Lies" by Sharon Bolton

The book is set in the Falkland Islands and provides a picture of the rocky topography, cool climate, bushy vegetation, and abundant animal life (especially birds and whales) of the region. It seems to be a beautiful but harsh environment, and forms an excellent background for the story.

As the book opens, a three-year-old boy named Archie, who belongs to a tourist family, goes missing during a picnic. He's the third little boy to disappear from the area within the last few years. The police, local residents, and passengers from a cruise ship all search for the child, who is presumed to have wandered off by himself. Though some islanders fear a child abductor/murderer may have snatched the missing kids, the authorities are extremely reluctant to entertain any such notion.

The story is told from the points of view of three people. Catrin: an animal conservationist whose life was torn apart by the accidental death of her two sons a few years ago. Catrin is a shell of her former self and plans retribution against the woman who 'killed' her boys. Callum: a Scotsman who suffers from PTSD due to horrific experiences in the Falkland War. He subsequently moved to the Falklands and, for a time, was Catrin's lover. Rachel: Catrin's former best friend whose carelessness caused the death of Catrin's sons. Her remorse and guilt overwhelm her.

The gripping story grabbed and held my attention as the main characters (as well as an assortment of strong secondary characters) look for little Archie. While this is occurring a couple of hundred whales beach themselves and Catrin has to deal with this emergency as well, a situation that turns out to be extremely difficult. Shortly afterwards, yet another little boy disappears. This last occurrence is too much for the local people and tourists, who become frenzied.

Because the book is structured partly as 'oral diaries' narrated by Catrin, Callum, and Rachel, the reader comes to know each character's thoughts as well as their behavior and actions. This gives insight into why things happened as they did. For Catrin we learn about her children's death, her ruined marriage, and her planned retribution against Rachel. For Callum we find out about the terrible things he endured during the war, how he fell in love with Catrin, and how he's determined to help her now. And Rachel talks about her former friendship with Catrin, her rough relationship with her parents, and her difficulties being a wife and mother after the accident.

I found most of the story to be compelling. I wanted to find out what happened to the missing kids and how the interactions among the various characters would play out. I also thought the depiction of the island's culture - including the lack of privacy, celebratory bonfires and fireworks, and quirky people - was fascinating.

I've seen that other reviewers love the book's climax and ending. I was disappointed with them however. I think the last part of the story is contrived and unbelievable. I also think that some mystery aspects of the story are not resolved in a satisfactory fashion. Nevertheless, this is a compelling, well-written story that's worth reading.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Review of "Nemesis" by Jo Nesbø

Inspector Harry Hole of the Oslo police is an alcoholic who's trying to stay on the wagon. That's hard for the detective, who tends to follow his own rules and infuriate his bosses. In this book Harry gets involved with two investigations: a bank heist that left a woman employee dead; and the alleged suicide of a young woman.

To investigate the bank robbery Harry and his partner Beate Lønn - who can remember every face she's ever seen - study CCTV tapes of the holdup. These provide clues that lead to a convoluted probe of various suspects. Things become even more confused when the bank robberies continue after the ring leader is identified. Are copy cats at work?

Meanwhile, Harry's girlfriend, Rakel, is in Russia for a custody battle.....so the detective accepts a dinner invitation from an old flame named Anna. Against his better judgement Harry succumbs to various kinds temptation - and wakes up in his bed the next day with no memory of the night before. Worse yet, Anna is found dead in her apartment.

Harry is assigned to Anna's case and - though it's being called a suicide - the detective is sure she was murdered. Harry's in a tricky position though: he has to investigate the killing without admitting he knew Anna....or he risks becoming a suspect himself. Things get even harder when Harry starts to get threatening emails from the real killer.

The book has a complex plot involving foreign travel, bank robbers, gypsies, unfaithful spouses, drug addicts, prison inmates, a rich executive, corrupt cops, and more. The underlying theme of the book is nemesis - getting revenge for perceived wrongs. And some of the characters have long discussions about the military strategies of Sun Tsu, author of the 'The Art of War.' There's a bit too much of this for my taste, and the story slows down in places.

By the time I finished the book my head was spinning with the twists and turns. Good story, recommended to mystery readers - especially fans of Scandinavian suspense novels.

FYI: I listened to the audio version of this book, narrated by Norwegian Thor Knai. To me it sounds like the author's name is pronounced 'Joe Nesba' and the main character's moniker is 'Harry Hula.'

Rating: 3 stars

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Review of "The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science - and Reality" by Chris Mooney


There are many excellent, detailed reviews of this book available on Goodreads and Amazon so - rather than add to the field - I'm just going to jot down a few thoughts. Full disclosure: I'm a liberal Democrat.

Before reading this book I could not comprehend how some people, usually conservative Republicans, could deny things like global warming and evolution - which (in my view) have been unquestionably proven by science. I also found it bewildering that - in the face of proof to the contrary - some folks insist that President Obama was born in Kenya, that he's a Muslim, and so on. I thought these folks were willfully deluding themselves, pretending not to believe (just to be contrary....ha ha ha), or perhaps they weren't too bright.

In this book, Chris Mooney makes it pretty clear that none of the above is true. Rather, the brains of conservative people are wired in a way that makes it impossible for them to accept ideas that they find 'threatening.' Thus, if conservatives are presented with information contrary to their core beliefs, they either 'don't hear it', 'deny it', or 'change the goalposts'....that is, shift their perspective to make the new information tolerable. In a nutshell, that's the basic premise of Mooney's book.

To be fair, Mooney notes that liberals have biases as well. He asserts, however, that liberals seem more able to change their minds when evidence is presented that's contrary to their ingrained notions. (I can attest to this from personal experience - with regard to the safety of nuclear power plants.)

One example of 'changing the goalposts' - not directly related to politics - is particularly striking. A doomsday cult called the Seekers, led by Dorothy Martin, believed they communicated with aliens via Dorothy's automatic writing.

The aliens said that the Earth would be destroyed on December 21, 1954, so the cult members divested themselves of their possessions and waited to be rescued by flying saucers. Of course the world didn't end and the cult members didn't go anywhere.

One might think the Seekers would HAVE to admit they'd been deluded or defrauded, Right? Nope! Dorothy Martin got another message via automatic writing declaring that the Seekers' beliefs had saved the world. Contrary to what would seem like common sense, the Seekers doubled down on their doctrine and became even more fanatic (though a good deal poorer....LOL).

Mooney includes information about about the structure and evolution of the brain - as well as sociological, psychological, and scientific studies and surveys - to bolster his arguments. On the down side, Mooney tends to repeat the same conclusions again and again, and the book could probably have been condensed into a comprehensive article.

In any case, this is an interesting book that's worth reading. I feel it's given me a better understanding of why a group of people cling to controversial (and wrong in my opinion) convictions.

Rating: 3 stars

Friday, January 20, 2017

Review of "Now You See Me" by S.J. Bolton

A 'Jack the Ripper' copycat is murdering women in London and - like the original Ripper - is taunting the press and the cops. The copycat seems to be focusing attention on beautiful Detective Constable Lacey Flint, who had the bad luck to find the first victim moments after she was attacked. Because Lacey was first on scene - and happens to be an expert on Ripper lore - she's asked to assist with the investigation being run by Dana Tulloch, head of the Major Investigative Team.

Also assisting with the investigation is rugged, handsome Detective Inspector Mark Joesbury. Joesbury seems to be suspicious of Lacey for several reasons: she was right there at the first murder, she has a shady background and used to live rough on the streets of London, and she picks up men for one-night stands. In his eyes, Lacey's a suspect in the Ripperish killings. Of course this doesn't stop sparks of attraction from igniting between Lacey and Joesbury.

Unlike the original Ripper, who murdered down-trodden prostitutes, the copycat targets stylish middle-class women with families. The copycat does, however, seem to be following the Ripper's timetable and modus operandi: mutilating the women, removing body parts, and so on. The police have trouble finding a connection between the copycat's victims, but once they do, DC Lacey Flint is panic-stricken for reasons that are revealed as the story unfolds.

The copycat is very clever at misdirection and leaving false clues, and Lacey keeps endangering herself by plunging into situations without appropriate backup, etc. Luckily, Joesbury is usually around to lend a hand. Eventually the police identify a suspect who has a likely motive, and this eventually leads to a dramatic climax.

I liked the mystery aspects of the book and thought the killer's motive was believable. I also felt most of the main characters were compelling, though I think the author does better fleshing out female characters than male characters. The real Ripper 's history and mythology - sprinkled through the story - add interest. Moreover, Lacey's (and I guess the author's) theory about the original Ripper's identity is clever and plausible.

I'm not a big fan of romance in mysteries so I didn't enjoy the 'push and pull' between Lacey and Joesbury as they dealt with their attraction. However, readers who enjoy romantic suspense will probably like these parts. :)

Overall, a good beginning to the Lacey Flint series, recommended to fans of the genre.

Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review of "Fatal" by John Lescroart

Kate and Ron Jameson are happily married with two savvy teenagers and a nice house in San Francisco. Things take a turn, however, after a dinner party hosted by Ron's law partner, Geoff Cooke. At the party, Kate meets attorney Peter Ash and develops an insatiable desire to have sex with him. Without mentioning Peter's name Kate confides her obsession to her best friend, Beth Tully - who happens to be an SFPD detective - and is advised to forget about the man.

Against Beth's advice - and her own better judgement - Kate tricks Peter into meeting her in a hotel room, then brazenly seduces him. Afterwards, Kate immediately wants to end things. Having got Peter out of her system, Kate blithely feels she can go on with her life as it was before. For his part, Peter, who has a wife and twin teenage sons, seems to have an existential crisis after the affair. He takes to drinking and womanizing....and seems to lose interest in his marriage and job.

A couple of weeks after 'the affair' Kate and Beth are having coffee at the Ferry Building Marketplace when terrorists barge in and shoot the place up. The two women are seriously injured: Kate is shot in both legs and Kate sustains dire chest injuries, but both women slowly recover.

Six months after the terror shooting, Beth - who's still limping - gets a new case. She and her partner, Detective Ike McCaffrey, are assigned to investigate the homicide of Peter Ash - who was found floating in San Francisco Bay. Of course Beth doesn't know about Kate's previous liasion with Peter......yet.

The investigators talk to Peter's wife, sons, secretary, colleagues, friends, and so on. And Geoff Cooke - who considers himself Peter's best buddy - offers to assist in any way he can. More deaths occur, and the detectives have plenty of suspects to consider.

In a side story, Beth and her daughter Ginny befriend an anorexic young woman named Laurie, who fell into despair after her married lover was killed.

Eventually Beth and Ike discover who did what. For me, the ending wasn't completely satisfying.....but that's all I can say without spoilers.

This standalone novel isn't as good as John Lescroart's 'Dismas Hardy' series. The plot of 'Fatal' feels a little raw and some of the characters aren't believable. For instance, Kate's sudden obsession for Peter doesn't ring true. I expected to discover she'd been hypnotized or drugged - and given a 'post-hypnotic suggestion' to have sex with Peter (but apparently not). I also think a 'nice woman' like Kate would consider the consequences of seducing a married man - and possibly ruining his life.....but she doesn't give this a second thought.

When it comes to Peter, it's unlikely that a sensible, hard-working guy like him would change so dramatically after one sexual encounter. Peter's a grown man, not a hormone-driven teenage boy.

I also have a quibble about the anorexic girl, Laurie. Anorexia is a serious condition, and anorexics don't suddently start eating just because a new friend brings over a tasty meal. This plot point doesn't seem well thought out.

As I was reading, I thought this might be an early Lescroart book, being published now to make a few bucks. However - in the acknowledgements - Lescroart says he recently wrote the book, so that's not the case. Maybe it's just a new 'Beth Tully' series that's getting off to a bit of a rough start.

All in all, this is an okay mystery. If you're a suspense fan who's planning a vacation or plane trip, this book would provide suitable company.

Thanks to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for a copy of the book.

Rating: 3 stars

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Review of "The Kill Room" by Jeffery Deaver

The head of the National Intelligence and Operations Service (NIOS) in New York commissions the assassination of Robert Moreno, a suspected American terrorist doing business in the Bahamas. Moreno is killed by a rifle bullet through his hotel window and his body guard and a journalist are "collateral damage", killed by flying glass. A New York prosecutor, Nance Laurel, believes the head of NIOS has no business ordering murders and plans to prosecute him on a conspiracy charge.

Lincoln Rhyme, a quadriplegic forensic genius, and his partner Amelia Sachs, a New York cop, are asked to help procure evidence for the prosecution. Unfortunately, someone REALLY doesn't want evidence and witnesses found and embarks on a spree of torture, murder, bombing, and theft to eliminate them.

The perp apparently has inside information and always seems to be a step ahead of Lincoln and Amelia (who are a little slow on the uptake here in my opinion, willy nilly using cell phones, etc.). Of course Lincoln and Amelia carry on and unravel a very complex plot with a LOT of surprises (nuff said if you don't want spoilers).

Meanwhile, Amelia's worsening arthritis leads to problems on the job and she fears suspension or worse. The book is a page turner with a horrific chef/murderer bad guy that will make you cringe. Good addition to the Rhyme/Sachs saga.

Rating: 4 stars

Monday, January 16, 2017

Review of "Please Don't Tell" by Elizabeth Adler

A serial killer is murdering women in San Francisco and videotaping the horrific acts. The killer's latest victim, though, isn't quite dead. The injured woman, found barely clinging to life, is rushed to the hospital where emergency room physician Dr. Vivian (Vivi) Dexter treats her before surgery - but Vivi's not hopeful the victim will survive.

Meanwhile, Vivi's Aunt Fen, who raised Vivi and her sister JC, has a little adventure of her own. It's a stormy night and a man named Alex crashes into a tree near Fen's house and knocks on her door for assistance. Though Fen is suspicious of Alex at first, she tends to his wounds, gives him dinner, and lets him rest up. Alex is 'a younger man', but Fen is strongly attracted to him (why not, right? ha ha ha). Alex isn't quite available though, because his girlfriend was a victim of the serial killer - and Alex is determined to find the villain.

Vivi, who's been in a romantic slump since she broke up with her fiancé, is soon being pursued by two men: Detective Brad Merlin, who's heading the hunt for the serial murderer; and Dr. Ralph Sandowski, a psychiatrist who (unofficially) profiles the killer. Vivi's life gets even more hectic when her sister JC - a kind of 'wild child' - shows up on her doorstep. To top it off, Alex seeks treatment at Vivi's hospital and makes it his business to get acquainted with her.

Before long all these people - Vivi, JC, Brad, Ralph, and Alex - are going for drinks and dinner in various combinations. Dr. Ralph even offers JC a job in his side business, an antique store. There are also a couple of dog characters in the story: Aunt Fen's 12-year-old pooch Hector; and Brad's pink poodle, Flyin' Fool - inherited from his former wife.

The story alternates between the main characters and the serial killer, who's decompensating and behaving recklessly. The killer's thoughts reveal his ultimate goal - to kill Vivi. (dum dum dum dum!!)

On the plus side this is a mildly taut psychological thriller. And I like Detective Brad Merlin, who works hard to solve the case and eats a lot of dim sum.....as does his poodle. (When you're chasing a murderer you gotta grab food when you can. LOL).

On the down side:
1. There should be more suspects to rev up the suspense and the main characters should be more endangered.....to keep the readers on the edge of their seats.
2. The tangled romantic overtures among the characters, many of whom seem to flirt with each other, is confusing. At one point it seems like Fen and JC are after the same guy (not cool).
3. For Dr. Ralph to hire JC, who knows nothing about antiques, to sell the merchandise in his store is ridiculous. You have to be an expert to sell antiques.
4. The book doesn't end when the killer is revealed but goes on and on with 'romance stuff.' This part is tiresome and expendable.

I'm not a big fan of romance stories so - for me - this book was just okay. Fans of romantic mysteries, though, might really like this book.

Rating: 3 stars

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Review of "Tippi: A Memoir" by Tippi Hedren

Tippi Hedren grew up in a loving family in Minnesota and was always encouraged to follow her dreams. Tippi - a pretty, green-eyed blonde of Scandinavian descent - became a fashion model in her teens, then moved to New York to further her career. When Alfred Hitchcock spotted Tippi in a TV commercial in 1961, he brought her to Hollywood, gave her a (very expensive) screen test, and signed her to a five-year movie contract. Thus began some of the best and worst years in Tippi's life.

Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, taught Tippi the nuts and bolts of acting - and Tippi expresses gratitude to them for this. Moreover - though Tippi thought she'd get a bit part in a Hitchcock film - the director offered her the starring role in his upcoming movie, "The Birds." Needless to say Tippi - a single mother - was thrilled to have a steady, good-paying job in glamorous Hollywood.

Unfortunately Tippi's rise to stardom was marred by Hitchcock's obsession with her. Hitchcock showed his interest by buying Tippi expensive gifts; constructing a back entrance to her dressing room - and visiting her often; arranging private meetings where he served wine and food; watching her constantly; forbidding actors to touch her; propositoning her for sex; and more. When Tippi didn't respond like Hitchcock wanted he punished the actress by making her work extra-long hours and - at one point - staging a movie scene where Tippi was pecked by live birds for hours, leaving her an exhausted bloody mess.

In time Hitchcock lost all control and tried to force himself on the actress. Tippi fought the director off.....and told him off. Afterwards, Hitchcock was Tippi's enemy for life. Though she starred in his next film "Marnie", the rest of Tippi's movie career was (somewhat) thwarted due to Hitchcock's enmity.

When Tippi's contract with Hitchcock ended she continued her acting career, but didn't get any more blockbuster roles. A few years later Tippi and her then husband, Noel Marshall, decided to make a movie about lions (which morphed into a family movie about all kinds of wild animals). The tale of making this movie - a task that spanned eleven long years - constitutes most of the book.

To make a long story short, Tippi and Noel constructed their own animal habitat - The Shambala Preserve - in California, and filled it with lions, tigers, leopards, panthers. elephants, and more. At first, when there were only a few lions, the animals lived in Tippi's house. They strolled around, lay on the beds, shredded the sofas and rugs, swiped food from the dinner table, and so on - just like pet kitties.

Later, when the couple built a REAL animal preserve, family members and preserve employees would just stroll around among the animals - petting them, feeding them, playing with them, and so on. This is almost unbelievable to me.....and it was very dangerous. Over the years - before, during, and after production of the movie - the workers, actors, and family members experienced numerous serious injuries, and almost had their own wing at the local emergency room. During one hospitalization Tippi sustained a freak head injury that left her unable to smell or taste anything ever again.

Tippi writes a great deal about making the animal film, called "Roar", including specifics about financing the movie (very difficult), the cast, the crew, the sets, distribution rights, animal training, animal births, animal illnesses, animal deaths, animal attacks, etc. She also details how she acquired and cared for all the exotic creatures, which eventually led to her continuing work as an animal activist.

Tippi is also an ardent human rights advocate. She often traveled with USO shows and participated in many overseas trips to assist refugees from war zones. Tippi also made it her business to help immigrants in the United States. I was interested (and surprised) to learn that Tippi was the inspiration for the nail salons that are so popular today. After the Vietnam War, Tippi visited a Vietnamese refugee camp in California. Noticing that the Asian women loved her long manicured fingernails, Tippi arranged for her personal manicurist to teach the ladies 'the art of the nail'.....and an industry was born!

Tippi also talks about her personal life, including tidbits about her parents; her husbands and boyfriends; her daughter - the actress Melanie Griffith; her grandkids; her homes; her friends; her interest in fashion; her travels; and more.

I'll admit I read this book because - having read a biography of Hitchcock and seen the movie "The Girl" (about Tippi's relationhip with the director) - I wanted to hear the 'true story' from the horse's mouth. And I wasn't disappointed with that part. However the long narrative about making "Roar" wasn't that compelling to me. It included too many repetitive details and could have been shortened considerably in my opinion.

Still, Tippi seems like a lovely, caring person and I'm glad I got to know a little more about her life and good works. I'd recommend the book to fans of celebrity memoirs and readers interested in animal rights.

Rating: 3 stars

Friday, January 13, 2017

Review of "The Monogram Murders" by Sophie Hannah

This Hercule Poirot mystery, written by Sophie Hannah, emulates the style of Agatha Christie. As the story opens Poirot is enjoying a meal at Pleasant's Coffee House in London when an agitated woman rushes in. Poirot soon makes her acquaintance, learning that her name is Jennie and that she believes she'll soon be killed - and that she deserves to die. Later that night three people are found dead in three separate rooms of the ritzy Bloxham Hotel, each body neatly laid out with a monogrammed cufflink in his/her mouth.

Poirot, concerned that the deaths are somehow connected with Jennie, investigates with Scotland Yard Inspector Edward Catchpool (who narrates the story in the style of Poirot's old sidekick Captain Hastings.) Poirot soon learns that all the victims are from the village of Great Holling and are well acquainted with each other. As the investigation proceeds Poirot talks to many witnesses, including the staff of the coffee house and hotel. He also dispatches Catchpool to talk to the residents of Great Holling. However, though Catchpool gleans some useful information, he's a lot like Captain Hastings - a rather dim chap who functions mostly as a character for Poirot to bounce thoughts off.

The story has lots of characters, including the waitresses of Pleasant's Coffee House, the manager and employees of the Bloxham Hotel, and numerous citizens of Great Holling - who are reluctant to talk to Catchpool. Nevertheless the Scotland Yard detective discovers that something terrible happened fifteen years ago that led to the current deaths. I won't say more to avoid spoilers.

In typical Christie style Poirot figures out what happened and assembles the usual suspects to explain everything and reveal the perpetrator. Unfortunately Hannah doesn't really capture Christie's writing style and the story feels dragged out. Worse yet it leads to a denouement that's contorted, labored, and not believable. In short the book doesn't feel like a 'real' Agatha Christie and I wouldn't recommend it.

Rating: 2 stars

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Review of "Blackberry Pie Murder" by Joanne Fluke

In this 17th book in the series, cookie shop owner Hannah Swensen and her bakery partner Lisa are riding in the bakery truck when hazardous weather leads to an accident. Turns out Hannah has struck and killed a man on the side of the road. The dead man has no ID but his nice clothes and the diamond in his tooth indicate he's not an itinerant drifter. An autopsy reveals the man was beat up before his death, but Hannah's truck actually killed him.

Before long Hannah is arrested for vehicular homicide by her brother-in-law, the sheriff (only doing his job). This causes a ruckus among some of Hannah's family and friends, who are angered by the arrest. Not sure how to help herself, amateur detective Hannah makes it her mission to find out who the man is. Her investigation reveals the dead man had unsavory connections and a disreputable job.

Meanwhile, Hannah's mother Delores is preparing to marry her fiance "Doc" (the medical examiner). Delores allows her three daughters to make most of the wedding plans....but not really. Delores nixes everything the girls suggest, changes her mind every five minutes, can't decide on the dresses, colors, food, flowers, desserts, etc. It's a nightmare!

To add to Hannah's troubles a local girl, Jennifer - who ran away from home many years ago - has returned. Jennifer's mother is thrilled but her sister suspects an imposter, and confides this to Hannah.

While Hannah's dealing with all this she hosts a couple of dinners at her home and bakes a lot of cookies - recipes included. In fact there are so many recipes that the book feels like half mystery, half cookbook. Hannah also starts using an exercise machine in her bedroom, and in some of the cuter scenes in the book Hannah's cat Moishe takes to doing some exercise himself.

Hannah's complicated love life - which has frustrated readers for years - seems to be heading toward resolution in this book. Hannah has apparently given up Mike (the detective) and settled on Norman (the dentist). But who knows if this is permanent. Another quibble I have with this series is that Hannah's sister Michelle, who's in college, never seems to be at school. She's 'visiting home' in every story, ready to contribute cookie recipes and assistance with investigations.

The book ends in a cliffhanger as Hannah's trial for vehicular homicide is delayed until the next book, as is Delores' marriage.

In the end this book didn't really feel like a mystery as no 'culprit' was uncovered. However, readers who enjoy visiting with the characters and reading about the cookies will probably like the book okay.

Rating: 3 stars

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Review of "The Trespasser" by Tana French

This is book six in Tana French's 'Murder Squad Series' but can easily be read as a standalone.

As the story opens, a glamorous young woman named Aislinn Murray is found dead in her house and - since it appears to be a domestic dispute - the investigation is assigned to Murder Squad newbies - Detectives Antoinette Conway and Steve Moran. Conway is the only woman on the squad and has been having a rough time with the guys, replete with disrespectful behavior, practical jokes, swiped case files, etc. Conway is determined to show her mettle so she's especially irked when senior investigator Breslin is assigned to 'help with' the case.

When Conway and Moran talk to Aislinn's friend Lucy, they're told the dead woman has been dating a bookstore owner named Rory Fallon. According to Lucy, Aislinn liked Rory but made it a point to play 'hard to get.' The detectives also learn that Aislinn's father vanished years ago, never to be heard from again. His unsolved disappearance shattered Aislinn and her mother, and changed the course of their lives. Moreover it was only a couple of years ago - after her mother died - that Aislinn dieted, got a makeover, bought new clothes, and transformed herself into a beauty.

The detectives question Aislinn's boyfriend Rory, and the bookstore owner admits he was invited to dinner at Aislinn's on the night of the murder. He says he arrived right on time but Aislinn didn't answer the door or respond to his texts. Because Rory acts squirrelly during the interview he becomes the number one suspect. Still, Conway and Moran aren't sure Rory's guilty and want to investigate further. Breslin, on the other hand, pressures the duo to arrest Rory and close the case.....to get kudos for the Murder Squad.

Conway and Moran continue their inquirires and get a whiff of another boyfriend in Aislinn's life, a mysterious man who might be a gangster. The partners also get the feeling that certain members of the Murder Squad are trying to derail the investigation. Could there be corruption in police ranks? Maybe even gang ties? The partners plan to find out.

Most of the action in the book revolves around questioning witnesses. There are long interrogation scenes during which the police use various strategies to get the witnesses and suspects off-balance and talking. These techniques - especially those devised by Conway - are described in great detail.

There's a good bit of suspense as Conway and Moran try to find Aislinn's killer.....and events take some unexpected turns.

I like Tana French's books but this wasn't one of my favorites. For me the numerous extended interrogation scenes became tiresome. I also found the atmosphere in the Murder Squad troubling, with the male detectives hassling Conway: spitting in her coffee, peeing in her locker, stealing her witness statements, etc. This kind of thing is unacceptable and Conway should have done something about it.....especially since she's pretty badass in other areas of her life. I was happy, at least, that Conway didn't buckle to pressure from Detective Breslin.

Overall, this is a good story that leads to a satisfactory climax. I'd recommend the book to mystery readers, especially fans of the Murder Squad series.

Rating: 3 stars

Monday, January 9, 2017

Review of "Behind Closed Doors" by B.A. Paris

Grace and Jack Angel appear to be an almost perfect couple, deeply in love and happy to spend every spare moment together. In fact Grace can't take a single step without being dogged by Jack, and it soon becomes clear that something is very much "off" between them. The reader learns that Grace is essentially Jack's prisoner, out of fear he'll do harm to her sister Millie - a 17-year-old with Down Syndrome.

The story alternates between the present and the past. In the present, we see that Grace is forced to dress, socialize, prepare meals, keep house, vacation, etc. according to Jack's dictates. Grace is confined to the house when Jack goes to work and has no access to a phone or computer. When Jack and Grace go out or have guests, Jack doesn't leave his wife alone for a second, and she can't say a single word outside of his hearing.

Scenes from the past show us how things came to this point. Grace met Jack, a seemingly charming man, during an outing with Millie. Jack, a successful wealthy attorney, swept Grace off her feet. He convinced Grace to quit the job she loved and marry him, promising to welcome Millie into their home when she finishes school at eighteen. Things started to go downhill right after the wedding (or actually a little before).....and Grace can't see a way out.

"Behind Closed Doors" is very popular so I'm probably in the minority, but I didn't like this book very much. The story moves too slowly and has a claustrophobic feel, concentrating so much on every tiny interaction between Jack and Grace. It becomes tedious to read.

Also, the premise of the book is unrealistic and not believable. Imagine the amount of energy Jack has to expend monitoring every single thing Grace does, including bathing, dressing, undressing - even turning out her pockets for Jack's inspection. It's too much. Even if Jack's a psychopath, it would be exhausting for him.

Moreover, I couldn't buy the notion that a man can exert one-hundred percent control over his wife. With an ounce of guile Grace could go to the ladies room in a restaurant, borrow a cell phone, and call a friend - or the cops.

That said, I did admire some of the secondary characters. Esther, a dnner party guest, senses something wrong about the Angels and tries to help; and Grace's sister Millie is clever and sneaky (in a good way). I also liked the book's finale.

I can't wholeheartedly recommend this book but - if the premise intrigues you - it's worth checking out of the library. You might love it.

Rating: 3 stars

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Review of "I Can See in the Dark" by Karin Fossum

The main character in this Norwegian novel is Riktor, who works as a male nurse in a facility that houses elderly and chronically ill patients. Riktor is a sadistic psychopath who mistreats his charges, flushes their food and pills down the toilet, and injects their medicine into the mattress. He especially enjoys torturing an elderly, helpless woman named Nelly Friis. When Riktor's alone with Nelly he pinches her and pulls out her hair, being careful not to leave obvious damage. Riktor, physically unattractive with odd pointy teeth, constantly bemoans the fact that he doesn't have a woman and has a crush on his fellow nursing home employee, Sister Anna.

In his off time Riktor enjoys sitting in a local park observing the people on the benches nearby, including a mother and her disabled daughter; an old woman who crochets; a big, strong refugee who can't get work; and an elderly, stumbling alcoholic. The alcoholic, named Arnfinn, accidently leaves his flask behind one day and Riktor takes it, eventually using it to forge an unlikely comradeship with the old man.

As events proceed Riktor commits a terrible crime, after which he's on tenterhooks - fearing the appearance of the police at his door. The police show up soon enough, but instead of charging him with the crime he committed they accuse Riktor of killing Nelly Friis, which he didn't do. Riktor is remanded to await trial and continually frets and fumes over the injustice perpetrated on him. Riktor has some ironic encounters in jail, goes to trial, and that's all that can be said without risking spoilers.

One thing that struck me while reading the book is now nice the Norwegian prison seems to be. Riktor has a nice view from his cell and the prison cook apparently prepares gourmet meals for the inmates. I don't know how realistic this is but it seems much different than American prisons (as seen on TV).

The book has a fairly large array of characters but we get to know very little about each one. The story concentrates heavily on Riktor, who's a despicable man, hard to read about without cringing. I thought the story was interesting in it's depiction of a disturbed personality with a skewed view of reality but I can't say I really enjoyed the book. Still, I'd probably try another book by this author.

Rating: 2.5 stars

Friday, January 6, 2017

Review of "Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony" by Jeff Ashton with Lisa Pulitzer

In 2011, Casey Anthony was tried for murdering her two-year-old daughter Caylee. Veteran prosecutor Jeff Ashton was part of the prosecution team and - along with most people following the case - expected Casey to be convicted. Instead the jury declared Casey not guilty of all major charges.....murder, manslaughter, and child neglect. In this book Ashton relates the events surrounding Casey's arrest and the details of her trial.

Little Caylee was first reported missing by her grandmother, Cindy Anthony. The toddler hadn't been seen for 31 days and grandma Cindy was frantic. When police questioned Casey about her daughter's whereabouts, the stories changed from hour to hour.....and none were true. It turns out Casey is a pathological liar - perhaps even a sociopath - and it's fascinating to see how quickly she pivoted from one lie to another when her untruths were exposed.

To add to their suspicions the police discovered that - while Caylee was missing - Casey hung out with her boyfriend, went clubbing, got a tattoo, and used a stolen check for a shopping spree at Target (where she bought lots of stuff for herself but nothing for a toddler).

Eventually Caylee's decomposed body was found, but no cause of death could be determined. Still, Casey was put on trial.....with the death penalty attached. Ashton is very thorough in his description of the trial: the opening statements; Cindy Anthony lying to protect her daughter (in Ashton's opinion); Casey blaming her father for Caylee's death; problematic testimony from the man who found Caylee's body; twisty hijinks by Jose Baez (Casey's lawyer); conflicting testimony from expert witnesses; closing statements, etc. Through it all Casey's demeanor seemed odd and inappropriate, and she seemed clearly guilty.

Thus Ashton was dumbfounded and bewildered when Casey was acquitted. He admits he couldn't stop talking about the case.....and wrote this book. I followed the Casey Anthony case in the media and didn't find much new here. Still, it was interesting to read Ashton's comprehensive account of the case - along with his speculations about why the jury didn't convict.

My opinion (for what it's worth): Caylee's death might have been due to some bizarre accident.

I'd recommend the book to fans who enjoy true crime stories, especially those who like accounts of trials.

Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Review of "The Beast" by Faye Kellerman

Eighty-nine year old eccentric, Hobart Penny, is found dead in the apartment he shares with a full grown Bengal tiger. Penny has been bludgeoned and shot, but clues are hard to find since the apartment has been torn up and befouled by the frustrated, hungry tiger.

When LAPD detective Peter Decker and his colleagues Marge Dunn and Scott Oliver investigate the homicide they find that Penny - who was not a nice guy - harbored a slew of dangerous pets, including venomous snakes, deadly spiders, poisonous fish, and more. Suspects include Penny's ex-wife and children, call girls that visited Penny regularly, the manager of an animal refuge, and anyone else in regular contact with the old man.

A side story involves the foster son of Peter and his wife Rina, 17-year old piano prodigy Gabriel Whitman. Gabriel courts trouble by meeting up with Yasmine, the girl he loves whose parents have forbidden her to see him.

A good part of the book is devoted to describing the ins and outs of keeping exotic animals: what they eat, what kind of supplements and medications they need, treating their wounds, and so on. To me the plot was not riveting and the character interactions were relatively mundane. In previous books we saw a lot going on with Peter and Rina's biological children, which added interest to the stories. This isn't a terrible story if you're in the mood for a mystery but Faye Kellerman has written much better books.

Rating: 3 stars

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Review of "Peach Pies and Alibis" by Ellery Adams

Ella Mae LeFaye has left her cheating husband, come home to Havenwood, Georgia, and opened the 'Charmed Pie Shoppe.' Ella Mae's confections are delicious and - when she puts a little extra oomph into them - enchanted as well. After consuming an ensorcelled pie, for instance, a glum dowdily-attired woman buys a bright yellow outfit and hitches a ride on the back of a speeding fire truck.

In this second book in the fantasy/mystery series, 32-year-old Ella Mae finally acquires the magical powers that run through her family. Ella Mae's mother and aunts - who were worried this would never happen - are thrilled.....and prepare to let Ella Mae in on clan secrets.

Meanwhile, Ella Mae goes about her usual business. In search of a used vehicle for her bakery, Ella Mae meets artisanal cheese-makers and lands a job catering the dessert course of a wedding. Ella Mae's pastries - like roasted red pepper and goat cheese tart, bacon and mushroom pie, white nectarine pie topped with a cinnamon sugar crust, almond toffee tart, and lots more - sound delicious!

Ella Mae comes to learn that the fae residents of Havenwood are preparing for a magic ritual needed to preserve their powers. The ceremony involves a woman volunteer and a tree. Unfortunately, Melissa Carlisle - the woman slated for the ritual - had been found dead in mysterious circumstances. Another tragedy soon follows and Ella Mae and her kin - fearing someone wants to derail the vital ceremony - take measures to discover the culprit.

The story has an array of Interesting characters, such as: Reba - Ella Mae's gun-and-knife toting protector, who likes licorice twists; Hugh - Ella Mae's childhood crush, who's under the spell of a beautiful (but spiteful) woman; Aunt Dee - who crafts metal sculptures that capture the essence of deceased pets; the Gaynor clan - who are lifetime rivals of the Lefayes; and Charleston Chew (Chewie) - Ella Mae's cute terrier.

This addition to the series is much more fantasy than mystery, with many magical occurrences and details about the history of Havenwood's supernatural beings. I liked the book okay, but fantasy isn't my favorite genre. Readers who like these kinds of stories, though, would probably love this book.

Rating: 3 stars

Monday, January 2, 2017

Review of "Abandon" by Blake Crouch

On Christmas Day in 1893 all the people in the gold-mining, mountain town of Abandon, Colorado vanished, leaving behind food laden tables and all their belongings. What can have happened to everyone?

Jump ahead to 2009. A small group of adventurers - toting food, tents and supplies - embarks for the ghost town of Abandon, to try to uncover what happened all those years ago. The expedition consists of Lawrence Kendall - a historian/history professor; Lawrence's estranged daughter Abigail Foster - a freelance journalist; an older married couple who study and photograph paranormal phenomena; and two mountain guides. Winter weather is rapidly approaching and this is the group's last chance to get to Abandon until next year....so they're very determined to make the climb despite a looming snowstorm.

The story jumps back and forth between events that occurred in 1893 and what's happening in 2009.

In 1893, times were tough in Abandon. The mines were almost tapped out and residents were struggling to survive. One couple ate scraps for weeks so their daughter could have a new doll for Christmas, some people wore layers of old rags to keep warm, and most homes were bare bones and uncomfortable.

Like many 'Old West' towns, Abandon had its share of gamblers, grifters, and whores.....as well as a resident preacher and a man reputed to have a big stash of gold bars. Given the situation - and human nature - some yobbos made a grab for the treasure. The gold stash, however, seems to have disappeared along with the citizens of Abandon.

Switch to 2009 and trouble starts early in the trip up the mountain. The climbers are set upon by gun-toting ruffians who think Lawrence knows how to find the missing gold - and they're willing to torture him and his daughter to get the information. Imagine someone threatening to pop out your eyeball! Horrific! The following events eerily parallel some things that occurred in Abandon in 1893.

The gold is the 'mcguffin' that drives the dual stories, which are essentially two adventure tales. Both narratives have plenty of chasing, shooting, stabbing, and double dealing. There are also harrowing scenes of characters trudging through snow in blizzard conditions for miles and miles. Loads of gruesome things happen, including amputations and long drawn-out deaths that will (unfortunately) stick in my mind for a long time.

The story has a lot of characters, all of which are well-written and memorable. In old Abandon these include: a pretty barkeep who's sentenced to hang - but keeps working till then; the drunk deputy who guards her; a vicious killer and his stammering dead-shot sidekick; an abandoned wife who - having become demented - does nothing but sit in the window year after year waiting for her husband; and to top it off - a six-year-old assassin. The 2009 characters are less colorful, but include a couple of ex-soldiers with remarkable skills. To say more would ruin some surprises.

In the end, this is a cautionary tale about insanity, religious zeolatry, and bottomless greed.

I thought the book was okay but adventure stories like this aren't my favorites. Readers who like to read about risky escapades though - and don't mind a lot of blood and gore - would probably like this book.

Rating: 3 stars

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Review of "The Keeper of Lost Causes" by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Danish detective Carl Morck is physically and psychologically damaged after an attempted arrest resulted in the death of one of his partners and the paralysis of another. The homicide squad doesn't want to work with the difficult detective so he's 'promoted' to head of Department Q, which is tasked with looking into cold cases from all over Denmark. Department Q is given a bare bones space in the cluttered basement and Carl is given one employee - Syrian immigrant Assad - whos's officially a sort of janitor. Assad, however, turns out to be a man of many talents and a gifted detective. In fact he's one of the most amusing and interesting characters in the story. 

After futzing around for weeks drinking coffee, goofing off, and ignoring the cold case files on his desk Carl is forced to show some progress in his investigations. Thus he decides to look into the disappearance five years before of Merete Lynggaard of the Social Democratic Party, who vanished from a ferry she was taking with her handicapped brother. Merete's body was never found and her fate is a complete mystery to the cops.

In reality Merete is being held prisoner under appalling conditions for reasons she can't fathom. The story jumps back and forth between Merete's kidnapping starting in 2002 and what's going on in 2007 during Morck's new investigation. Morck is an intuitive detective, perhaps the best in the homicide department, and with the help of Assad he gathers much new information about Merete's vanishing. A lot of the new details should have been discovered by the original investigators, whom Carl freely criticizes and chastizes. These scenes are amusing and oddly satisfying.

Adding to his disaffection Carl has a somewhat complicated private life. His estranged wife and her new boyfriend are constantly sponging money off him and his teenage stepson - who has elected to live with Carl - is a typical adolescent. I kind of wished Carl would get a backbone, give his stepson back to mom, and lock up his wallet - but I suppose it's all part of Carl's story. In addition, Carl has a crush on the new counselor/psychologist in the police department, and rather embarasses himself.

The villains in the story behave in a horrific fashion but they're clever and their complex plan was well-thought out. As Carl gets closer to finding Merete her time may just be running out and there's a dramatic suspenseful climax.

The characters in the book are well-portrayed and believable (if you accept that some people behave monstrously) and the story is engaging. I highly recommend this book to mystery lovers and look forward to reading more of this author's work.

Rating: 4 stars