Review: Westside by W.M. Akers

Review: Westside by W.M. AkersWestside by W.M. Akers
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, historical fiction, historical mystery, horror, urban fantasy
Pages: 304
Published by Harper Voyager on May 7, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A young detective who specializes in “tiny mysteries” finds herself at the center of a massive conspiracy in this beguiling historical fantasy set on Manhattan’s Westside—a peculiar and dangerous neighborhood home to strange magic and stranger residents—that blends the vivid atmosphere of Caleb Carr with the imaginative power of Neil Gaiman.

New York is dying, and the one woman who can save it has smaller things on her mind.

It’s 1921, and a thirteen-mile fence running the length of Broadway splits the island of Manhattan, separating the prosperous Eastside from the Westside—an overgrown wasteland whose hostility to modern technology gives it the flavor of old New York. Thousands have disappeared here, and the respectable have fled, leaving behind the killers, thieves, poets, painters, drunks, and those too poor or desperate to leave.

It is a hellish landscape, and Gilda Carr proudly calls it home.

Slightly built, but with a will of iron, Gilda follows in the footsteps of her late father, a police detective turned private eye. Unlike that larger-than-life man, Gilda solves tiny mysteries: the impossible puzzles that keep us awake at night; the small riddles that destroy us; the questions that spoil marriages, ruin friendships, and curdle joy. Those tiny cases distract her from her grief, and the one impossible question she knows she can’t answer: “How did my father die?”

Yet on Gilda’s Westside, tiny mysteries end in blood—even the case of a missing white leather glove. Mrs. Copeland, a well-to-do Eastside housewife, hires Gilda to find it before her irascible merchant husband learns it is gone. When Gilda witnesses Mr. Copeland’s murder at a Westside pier, she finds herself sinking into a mire of bootlegging, smuggling, corruption—and an evil too dark to face.

All she wants is to find one dainty ladies’ glove. She doesn’t want to know why this merchant was on the wrong side of town—or why he was murdered in cold blood. But as she begins to see the connection between his murder, her father’s death, and the darkness plaguing the Westside, she faces the hard truth: she must save her city or die with it.

Introducing a truly remarkable female detective, Westside is a mystery steeped in the supernatural and shot through with gunfights, rotgut whiskey, and sizzling Dixieland jazz. Full of dazzling color, delightful twists, and truly thrilling action, it announces the arrival of a remarkable talent.

My Review:

Westside is a fantasy that is so dark that it sidles up to the line between fantasy and horror, then powers straight across it just like the ships of the gunrunners and rumrunners navigating the murky straits between Westside and our historical New York City.

Gilda Carr investigates what she calls “tiny mysteries” as the big mysteries in her life are too huge to even contemplate.

Because wrapped inside the big mystery of exactly what happened to her father, the finest investigator ever to walk the Westside, there’s the mystery of the Westside itself. People disappear on the Westside. I don’t mean that in the usual sense, where some people walk away from their lives and are never found, and others are kidnapped or murdered and their bodies are never found.

I mean disappeared in the sense that the Westside just swallows them up. Or rather, something in the shadowed dark on the Westside swallows them up. The numbers of the disappeared were so obviously concentrated in the Westside and so scandalously high that the “city fathers” decided to wall off the Westside for the good of the rest of the city, leaving thousands of remaining inhabitants to rot, or die, or disappear, or kill each other off in the lawless ghetto that the Westside is sure to become. And does.

Attempting to solve the mystery of the Westside cost Gilda’s father his career and probably his life – one way or another. Gilda isn’t willing to put herself in that kind of danger, nor is she willing to open the Pandora’s Box of memories of her father and who he used to be.

But when Gilda receives a tiny case from a woman on the Eastside who needs Gilda to find her lost glove, the glove leads her circuitously around the Westside and back through the past that she’s tried so desperately to bury.

Along the way, she discovers that her parents were not quite the people her childhood memories made them out to be. And that the truth about the Westside is darker, stranger and more dangerous than she could have possibly imagined.

And that it’s up to her to save what she must and fix what she can – before it’s too late.

Escape Rating A: I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed this. Because it’s very dark. But Gilda is an extremely compelling character, the setup is amazing, and the quasi-history worldbuilding is just fantastic. Then it falls off the edge of its world and gets even deeper.

The story seems to sit on a very weird corner between urban fantasy, steampunk, horror and historical fiction, with elements of all but not completely in any.

At first it doesn’t seem as if it fits into historical fiction, although it eventually does, and with one hell of a twist. What it reminds me of most is the darker side of steampunk, particularly the Seattle of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, because that’s another alternate history where the supposed “outside” forces of cleanliness and order and good government have locked away a terrible secret along with all of the mostly innocent people who are affected by it.

The scarred and damaged heroine Gilda Carr calls to mind the equally, if not more so, scarred and damaged protagonist Cherry St. Croix of the St. Croix Chronicles by Karina Cooper. And even though Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere is set in London (as are the St. Croix Chronicles) the way that his dark, dangerous and magical world exists alongside and underneath the city we know also feels much like Westside.

As much as the horror sends shivers down the spine, it’s the human aspects of this story that stick in the mind. Part of Gilda’s investigation forces her to learn something that is one of the sadder hallmarks of adulthood. She learns that her parents were not perfect, that they were human and flawed and fallible just as she is. And that neither they nor their marriage was anything like her idealized childhood memories of them.

She is also forced by her circumstances to discover exactly what lies at the dark heart of the Westside, and just how much her idolized and idealized father was responsible for. And that she is the person that the Westside has made her, with all its dark faults and all its dubious virtues.

And that she truly can’t go home again. All she can do is go forwards – in whatever she can manage to save of the Westside.

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Review; Tightrope by Amanda Quick + Excerpt

Review; Tightrope by Amanda Quick + ExcerptTightrope (Burning Cove, #3) by Amanda Quick
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Burning Cove #3
Pages: 320
Published by Berkley on May 7, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the Author's website: An unconventional woman and a man shrouded in mystery walk a tightrope of desire as they race against a killer to find a machine that could change the world.

Former trapeze artist Amalie Vaughn moved to Burning Cove to reinvent herself, but things are not going well. After spending her entire inheritance on a mansion with the intention of turning it into a bed-and-breakfast, she learns too late that the villa is said to be cursed. When the first guest, Dr. Norman Pickwell, is murdered by his robot invention during a sold-out demonstration, rumors circulate that the curse is real.

In the chaotic aftermath of the spectacle, Amalie watches as a stranger from the audience disappears behind the curtain. When Matthias Jones reappears, he is slipping a gun into a concealed holster. It looks like the gossip that is swirling around him is true—Matthias evidently does have connections to the criminal underworld.

Matthias is on the trail of a groundbreaking prototype cipher machine. He suspects that Pickwell stole the device and planned to sell it. But now Pickwell is dead and the machine has vanished. When Matthias’s investigation leads him to Amalie’s front door, the attraction between them is intense, but she knows it is also dangerous. Amalie and Matthias must decide if they can trust each other and the passion that binds them, because time is running out.

My Review:

And we finally get the link – or at least a tangential link –  if not to Scargill Cove (which I still think must be just up the coast) then to the Arcane Society. It’s there if you squint – and I was certainly squinting for it – but if you haven’t read any of the author’s Arcane Society books in any of its eras under any of her names, Tightrope still works well as a standalone, as the latest entry in the Burning Cove series, and as a terrific story of a heroine in jeopardy and the man who comes – not to rescue her – but to stand beside her as she rescues herself.

Just like the other books in this series, The Girl Who Knew Too Much and The Other Lady Vanishes, this story begins with a particularly gruesome murder, and with our heroine on the run. Even if in this particular case our heroine doesn’t actually know it.

Amalie’s running is just a bit less fraught than either Irene’s (Girl) or Adelaide’s (Lady), as Amalie Vaughan may be suspected of having murdered the rigger in her last circus, but she was never officially charged with anything. Nor should she have been.

After all, she didn’t murder him – he tried to murder her.

But when another murder happens almost literally on her doorstep, she can’t help but wonder if bad luck is following her. After all, she bought the Hidden Cove Inn at a bargain basement price after the events of The Other Lady Vanishes, when a noted Hollywood psychic threw herself from the roof.

Now one of her guests has been killed just down the road in the middle of his own show – by his very own robot! Amalie can’t help but wonder if she’s doomed to fail. All the Hollywood reporters who stake out Burning Cove are certain to give her inn endless pages of bad publicity – especially after someone breaks into the place in the middle of the night.

The only question is whether the purpose of the break-in is to search the late robot inventor’s room – or to finish up the job that the rigger intended at that last circus performance.

When rumored mobster (and real life covert agent) Matthias Jones convinces Amalie that he needs to stay at Hidden Cove both to protect her AND to keep an eye on things, it’s just the beginning of the adventure.

Because there’s much more going on in Burning Cove than just a crazy inventor and a runaway machine. And the chemistry between Matthias and Amalie is more incendiary than anything ever cooked up in his great-great-great-grandfather’s alchemical laboratory.

Escape Rating A-: Tightrope was a whole lot of fun, just like the other two books in Burning Cove. And also like all of the author’s books in the Arcane Society/Harmony series. But Burning Cove is only tangentially (very tangentially) related to the Arcane Society, and you certainly don’t have to have read any of that to enjoy this. It also stands alone relative to the other books in the Burning Cove series. But if you have read the whole thing, it is interesting to see the characters from the previous books again.

Burning Cove is a fascinating place. It’s close enough to LA for the Hollywood stars to use it both as a getaway and as a place to see and be seen.

One of the many fascinating side characters in Tightrope is fading actor Vincent Hyde, someone who was best known for his many horror films but who has come to Burning Cove to stay at Amalie’s “psychic murder mansion” in the hopes of generating some much-needed publicity for his failing career.

Vincent Hyde’s name sounds like an homage to the great horror actor Vincent Price, but the progress, or rather the downward trajectory of his career sounds a lot like the career of Bela Lugosi, a career which ended in the deliciously execrable cult classic, Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Hyde’s presence in the story, and in Burning Cove, is just the tip of one of the many layers of the story. Hyde is in town to meet with one of the legendary Hollywood gossip columnists – a woman who can make or break his remaining career. She’s in town to follow up on the inventor’s “death by robot” and so are a surprising number of others.

Because this is Hollywood, or close enough, and no one is exactly who they seem to be. Not Amalie, not Matthias, and certainly not Luther Pell, the man who seems to be running Burning Cove.

The story begins because a crazy circus performer has made a career of staging the last and final performance of too many beautiful trapeze artists – without a net. It ends with spies and secrets.

In the middle there’s a marvelous adventure, a combustible romance, and the exploration of a relationship that dives deeply into the value of trust and the danger of lies. Lies to oneself, lies to loved ones – and lies told at the highest levels of government.

It’s the 1930s, war is coming. Gentlemen may not read each other’s mail, but governments certainly do.

Excerpt from Tightrope

“There is no need to fear robots,” Dr. Pickwell declared. It was clear that the suggestion that robots would displace workers annoyed him. He raised his voice to be heard above the murmurs of the crowd. “I urge you to consider that these machines could take the place of soldiers. Wars of the future will be fought with robots, not human beings. Think of the lives that will be saved.”

“You’re mad,” someone else shouted. “You want to create robots that can kill? What if these machines of yours decide to turn on their creators and try to destroy us?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Pickwell snapped. “Robots are nothing more than mechanical devices. Fundamentally, they are no different than the cars we drive or the radios that we use to get our news.”

“Futuro looks mighty dangerous to me,” the man in the front row called.

“Nonsense,” Pickwell said. “Allow me to demonstrate how useful Futuro can be. Futuro, what is the forecast for tomorrow?”

The robot answered in a scratchy, hollow voice. “There will be fog in the morning but by noon the day will turn warm and sunny. No rain is expected.”

Pickwell faced his audience. “Think about how useful it would be to have Futuro in your home at your beck and call. It won’t be long before there will be robots that can cook and clean and do the laundry.”

But the crowd was no longer paying any attention to Pickwell, because Futuro had once again lurched into motion.

“What’s that thing doing?” Hazel whispered.

“I have no idea,” Amalie said.

They watched along with everyone else as the robot opened the suitcase that it had just placed on the bench. Pickwell finally realized that he had lost the attention of the crowd. He turned away from the podium to see what was going on at the bench.

Futuro reached into the suitcase and took out a gun.

There was a collective gasp from the audience.

“No,” Pickwell shouted. “Futuro, I command you to put down the gun.”

The robot pulled the trigger. Twice. The shots boomed throughout the theater.

Pickwell jerked under the impact of the bullets. He opened his mouth to cry out but he could not speak. He collapsed onto his back.

Futuro calmly clanked offstage, disappearing behind the curtain.

Stunned, Amalie stared at the unmoving figure on the stage. It was a trick, she thought. It had to be some sort of bizarre charade designed to shock the audience.

Most of the crowd evidently believed the same thing. The majority of the people in the seats did not move. They appeared stunned.

But not everyone was frozen in shock. Amalie glimpsed motion out of the corner of her eye. When she turned to look, she saw that Luther Pell and the stranger who had accompanied him to the theater had left their seats and were making their way to the stage steps. They were moving fast, almost as if they had been anticipating trouble.

When they reached the stage they were joined by Oliver Ward, who had managed to move with surprising speed, considering that he had a noticeable limp and was obliged to use a cane. His wife, Irene, was not far behind. She had a notebook in one hand.

Luther Pell and the stranger vanished behind the curtain. Ward crouched beside Pickwell and unfastened the inventor’s tuxedo jacket to expose a blood-soaked white shirt.

The theater manager evidently had been watching the demonstration from the last row. He rushed down the center aisle toward the stage.

“Is there a doctor in the house?” he shouted.

Amalie saw a middle-aged man in the center section make his way quickly down the aisle.

“I’m a doctor,” he said in a loud voice. “Call an ambulance.”

The manager disappeared through a side door, presumably in search of a telephone.

Onstage, Ward was using both hands to try to staunch the bleeding. The doctor arrived and quickly took charge.

Luther Pell reappeared from behind the curtains. He looked at Oliver Ward and shook his head. Ward looked grim.

The stranger finally emerged from behind the curtain. He was in the act of reaching inside his white evening jacket. Amalie caught a glimpse of something metallic just before the elegantly tailored coat fell neatly back into place.

It took her a couple of seconds to comprehend what she had just seen. Then understanding struck. Like any self-respecting mobster, Luther Pell’s friend from out of town had come to the theater armed with a gun.

Guest Review: Autumn Bones by Jacqueline Carey

Guest Review: Autumn Bones by Jacqueline CareyAutumn Bones (Agent of Hel, #2) by Jacqueline Carey
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, suspense, urban fantasy
Series: Agent of Hel #2
Pages: 436
Published by Roc on October 1, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline Carey returns to the curious Midwest tourist community where normal and paranormal worlds co-exist—however tenuously—under the watchful eye of a female hellspawn…...

Fathered by an incubus, raised by a mortal mother, and liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, Daisy Johanssen pulled the community together after a summer tragedy befell the resort town she calls home. Things are back to normal—as normal as it gets for a town famous for its supernatural tourism, and presided over by the reclusive Norse goddess Hel.

Not only has Daisy now gained respect as Hel’s enforcer, she’s dating Sinclair Palmer, a nice, seemingly normal human guy. Not too shabby for the daughter of a demon. Unfortunately, Sinclair has a secret. And it’s a big one.

He’s descended from Obeah sorcerers and they want him back. If he doesn’t return to Jamaica to take up his rightful role in the family, they’ll unleash spirit magic that could have dire consequences for the town. It’s Daisy’s job to stop it, and she’s going to need a lot of help. But time is running out, the dead are growing restless, and one mistake could cost Daisy everything…...

Ask in the editor’s note, and ye shall receive, oh mighty Editor-in-Chief Marlene Ma’am.

Guest Review by Amy: So, it looks like things are slowing down some for Daisy Johanssen, half-demon Agent of Hel, the Norse goddess of death who runs the eldritch community in Pemkowet, MI. Daisy has a new boyfriend, whom we met very briefly in the last installment (Dark Currents), and it’s Labor Day weekend, so most of the summer tourists are leaving.

But, of course, that would make a really short novel, so no slow-and-easy life for Daisy! When boyfriend Sinclair’s sister shows up with a threat, it’s back to the job for the Agent of Hel. Sinclair really is Jamaican, you see, and his powerful family wants him to come home. They’re not at all against threatening the whole town to get what they want, either.

Escape Rating A-: Remember how, in my review of Dark Currents, I expressed some dissatisfaction at Daisy’s choice of suitor? Yeah, from the get-go in this story, starting with the second paragraph, Sinclair is there, and I’m just…underwhelmed. She had two other much-more-interesting men chasing her in Dark Currents, but she ends up with this…person. She was, she says, somewhat fascinated with the idea of having a “normal” boyfriend.

Except, well, he isn’t, of course. I can’t say I was at all dissatisfied with how Daisy got a grip on herself over this lukewarm relationship, and managed to end it and still remain friends with him. She can do better than him. And despite the fact that it’s Sinclair’s mother and twin sister who are primary antagonists that drive the plot of this book, Sinclair’s role in the drama fades to a much lower level than I was expecting from reading the publisher’s blurb. Yes, yes, it’s good seeing him finally growing as a character, finding the allies he needs to stand up to his family, all that jazz – but as a character, Sinclair still feels rather flat and unimpressive to me, all the way through this tale, and it’s really the biggest downer in the book. He was somewhat one-dimensional to me in Dark Currents, and I’d hoped that Carey would, given the plot opportunity of lots of time with Daisy, make him jump off the page for me…but he never really did.

Of course I probably should give poor Sinclair a break; when your castmates are a whole bunch of supernaturals, well, it’s hard for any more-or-less normal human to look at all extraordinary. The gang of ghouls, led by the enthralling and handsome Stefan, a werewolf, assorted faerie folk, vampires, a thousand-year-old lamia, and even Hel herself continue to shine in this story. As I’ve said in my other reviews of paranormal stories, it’s because they’re “real people”, and here Carey’s genius shows; all of these supernaturals are just trying to get through their lives in peace, the same as you and I.

During the course of the story, as the deadline for Sinclair leaving town nears, our heroine and her friends must deal with an increasing number of restless dead folks haunting the town. This is good for late-season tourism, of course, but it keeps Daisy and her werewolf partner from the police (Cody.  Mmmmmm…) rather busy. When events reach their climax on Halloween night, we have a battle royal involving eldritch folk, some witches, and even a bunch of normal kids helping out with water balloons, all trying to put a zombie and the ghost that animates him (Sinclair’s grandfather) to rest. Things don’t go perfectly, of course, and dealing with the aftermath is how Carey brings this busy tale to a close. Most of the dangly loose ends in the book get wrapped up, sure, but I’m left feeling slightly…unfulfilled.

In the end, Daisy is left still wondering what to make of things with the two men remaining in her life as potential partners. With that juicy bit of bait out there, and with unanswered questions about a seemingly-unimportant side plot, Jacqueline Carey leaves me wanting to go find a copy of Poison Fruit, the third book in this series. So I will, and you’ll see a review here, when I do, I promise!

Review: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Review: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca RoanhorseTrail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: post apocalyptic, urban fantasy
Series: Sixth World #1
Pages: 287
Published by Saga Press on June 26, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

My Review:

I’ve had Trail of Lightning in my “virtually towering TBR pile” for quite a while, but hadn’t gotten the round tuit necessary to actually give it the time it deserved. After three romances in a row, I just wasn’t in the mood for any more romance – and Trail of Lightning is on the recently announced Hugo Ballot for Best Novel. It just felt like the right time to get it out and finally get all the way into it.

And it was a WOW! Also exactly what I was in the mood for.

The story manages to be both part of the post-apocalyptic/urban fantasy tradition and fresh and new all at the same time. It’s also an exemplar of the idea that making sure that #ownvoices stories don’t merely get told but also get promoted and receive award nominations does not in any way detract from the quality of the genre.

Because this story is simply awesome. That it is told from a perspective we have not traditionally seen in genre does not make it any less part of the genre. It makes it better because the author knows whereof she speaks.

Trail of Lightning takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. The apocalypse in question is referred to as the “Big Water” – but it’s an apocalypse that we can see from here. At least in its more mundane aspects.

There’s a saying that nature bats last, and the “Big Water” is an example of nature taking that “at bat”, with a little help from at least some of the gods – and bringing back some of the monsters, along with magic.

The population of the world has been decimated, as Nature decided to bring all the consequences of global warming down all at once. All the low-lying coastal regions of all the countries around the world are gone.

But the powers-that-were in the Four Corners region, an area currently under the jurisdiction of the Navajo Nation, were prescient enough to erect massive border walls around their country, Dinétah. With the help of their Gods.

When the Big Water came, the Dinétah was safe behind its walls, at least from anything coming in from the outside. Not that there aren’t plenty of both human and other monsters inside Dinétah with them.

That’s where Maggie Hoskie comes in. Maggie is A monsterslayer, trained by THE Monsterslayer of legend, Neizghání. But her teacher has left her on her own, and left her with the dark sense that she is much too close to becoming one of the monsters herself.

The story of Trail of Lightning is Maggie’s journey out of the pit of despair she has dug herself into and back out into, if not the light, then back into a world that definitely needs her even if it doesn’t always want her.

Along the way, she’ll have to fight monsters, monsterslayers, and the monster inside herself. And she’ll have to get the best of the god who’s been playing her all along.

Escape Rating A: I loved this one. Not only is it an epic heroine’s journey, but the world created by the story is absolutely fascinating.

I want to say that Maggie is a likeable heroine, because that what we always say. But she isn’t really likeable much of the time. She is flawed, scarred, scared and relatable, but she’s extremely prickly, to put it mildly.

She doesn’t trust easily, and often when she does, she finds out later that she shouldn’t. She’s tough and no-nonsense on the outside, and broken on the inside. That some of the things that have broken her are literally monsters doesn’t make her any less relatable in her broken-ness.

We all get broken by monsters – even if those monsters wear a human face.

Elements of this story had echoes for me from other SF and fantasy that I have read. The post-flood US of American War, the Dinétah setting of the Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito series, the monster-hunting, coming-into-her-power heroine of The Walker Papers, the many faces and tricks of Coyote from the Iron Druid Chronicles, and last but not least, the discovery of the trickster behind the entire plot from American Gods.

Those are all awesome antecedents in their own extremely different ways, and Trail of Lightning stands tall in their company. Tall enough to draw plenty of lightning.

This is the first post-apocalyptic weird west urban fantasy I’ve ever read – but it certainly won’t be the last. The second book in the Sixth World series, Storm of Locusts came out this week!

Review: Heart of Eon by Anna Hackett

Review: Heart of Eon by Anna HackettHeart of Eon (Eon Warriors #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance, space opera
Series: Eon Warriors #3
Pages: 213
Published by Anna Hackett on April 21st 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Okay, maybe hijacking an alien commander’s warship wasn’t her best idea…

Genius computer geek Wren Traynor prefers her high-tech comp lab to socializing with people, and she definitely prefers it over crawling through the bowels of the huge Eon warship she’s hijacked. When Earth’s Space Corps blackmails her into this deadly mission, Wren will do anything to help her beloved sisters and save the Earth from invasion by the insectoid Kantos aliens. That includes entering into a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the tall, hunky, and seriously enraged Eon war commander who captains the Rengard.

War Commander Malax Dann-Jad is a born protector and has forged a successful career in service to the Eon Empire. Haunted by an early mission where he lost good warriors, he’s dedicated to protecting his ship and its crew. Especially since his warship is carrying a special, top-secret cargo. But one tiny, infuriating Terran puts all that at risk when she commandeers his ship and refuses to listen to reason.

When the ravenous Kantos set their sights on the Rengard--using sneaky, underhanded tactics--Malax finds himself with an armful of curvy woman. He and Wren must join forces to fight back, and are shocked at their improbable, intense attraction. But with lives at risk, both will learn that strength comes in more ways than one and love can hit when you least expect it, and that in order to survive, you have to put everything on the line.

My Review:

Heart of Eon is the third book in Anna Hackett’s marvelous space opera romance Eon Warriors series. It also feels like it wraps up what I sincerely hope is just the first arc of the series, as these first stories have featured the Traynor sisters, Eve in Edge of Eon, Lara in Touch or Eon, and now Wren in Heart of Eon.

The Traynor sisters were manipulated and coerced by the Terran Space Corps to conduct extremely covert and highly illegal missions in Eon space. The sisters have all been caught between huge rocks and multiple hard places.

When the Terrans made first contact with the Eons, the Terrans acted like superior assholes. This had multiple problems and consequences, besides being just plain rude and stupid. First, the Terrans were far from the superior force. The Eons were light years ahead – and not inclined to put up with a bunch of idiots. Eon space closed itself to Terra, and were just fine with making their entire sector a no-fly zone. The Eons didn’t need the Terrans one little bit.

But not the other way around. The Terrans, still getting their space legs, are now under attack by the insectoid Kantos. The Kantos have a history of literally chewing planets up and spitting out the dead husks, and Earth is next. The Terrans are desperate to get the assistance of the Eons they spurned decades ago.

Their methodology is highly questionable, but the results they’ve achieved by the end of Heart of Eon are hard to argue with. Space Corps “persuaded”, for extremely manipulative definitions of the word persuade, the Traynor sisters to secretly enter Eon space and 1) kidnap a leading Eon starship Commander, 2) steal Eon sacred relics and 3) hijack an Eon warship.

Heart of Eon is the hijacking story, and as the story opens ace computer hacker Wren Traynor is in the bowels of an Eon warship, locked in a virtual battle for control of his ship with Eon War Commander Malax Dann-Jad.

It’s extremely debatable who is winning at this point. Malax has managed to shut down the ship’s faster-than-light (FTL) engines, but Wren is in control of navigation so they are still heading towards her assigned rendezvous point – albeit very, very slowly.

But there are a couple of things that Malax knows but Wren doesn’t. Or rather one bit of information that he’s revealed plenty of times but that Wren doesn’t believe, and one Eon military secret that he is desperate to protect from both Wren and their mutual enemy, the Kantos.

Wren refuses to believe that either, let alone both of her career-oriented military minded sisters have mated. She is particularly disbelieving that they have each become mated to Eon warriors, but they have. Those romances are the stories in the first two books in the series.

Which means that Malax is under orders not to harm Wren. That he’s secretly enjoying the cat and mouse game that they are playing with his ship is something he hasn’t admitted to himself.

He is also laboring under the misapprehension that the experimental nature of his ship is a secret from both the Kantos and from Wren, in spite of her rather effective exploitation of every single hole in his security network.

He’s wrong on both counts. Wren discovers the Helian symbionts secured in his ship when she hides in “their” hidden room from Malax – and one of the symbionts decides to merge with her tablet computer. The resulting entity, who appropriately adopts the name “Sassy” for herself (not itself, definitely herself), bonds with both the computing power of the Terran tablet and with Wren herself.

When the Kantos find the erratically piloted Eon Warship meandering in space, it’s clear from their first salvo that they are aware of the nature of the experiment – and that they plan on capturing the Helians at all costs.

Malax and Wren (and Sassy) will need to join forces to keep all of them out of the Kantos’ grasp. It won’t be easy. But it will allow them to finally give in to the simmering attraction between them.
It’s just going to take a little bit of help from their friends – including the Terran Space Corps.

Escape Rating A-: This entire series has been an absolute shipload of fun, and Heart of Eon is no exception. I love space opera type SFR, and if you do too, this series is a real treat!

Part of what I liked about this particular entry is that Wren is different from her sisters. They are all kickass heroines, but they are thankfully not all heroines in the same mold. Both Eve and Lara were military-types, so they quite literally kicked ass – and it was pretty awesome.

But all women are not alike, not even all sisters are alike. Wren is the different one among the Traynor sisters, but she’s different in a way that’s nearer and dearer to my own heart, as Wren is the geeky nerd in the family. Not that she’s not extremely capable and effective, but her effectiveness is completely different.

That she’s also not the tall, muscular, athletic type of heroine just makes her that much easier to identify with. She’s small and soft and curvy – which gives her a bit of a familiar-type of self-doubt. At the same time, she’s an absolute genius at her computer skills, and rightfully both proud of and confident in those skills. She’s still a heroine, but she’s relatable in her heroine-ness.

Her differences fascinate Malax, who falls for her exactly as she is. And accepts her exactly as she is, including her need to put her skills and talents to work in their fight against the Kantos. She has a job to do, and he doesn’t protest at her doing it – a difficult thing for his protective nature.

But Heart of Eon definitely feels like Wren’s show. And Sassy’s. Definitely Sassy’s. Sassy saves the day with a little bit of help from her Terran and Eon friends. Sassy is just a terrific character, in every sense of the word character. I hope we see her again.

Speaking of again, this series could have ended here. The Traynor sisters have all found their happy ever afters and they’ve accomplished their mission of getting the Eons on board for fighting against the Kantos WITH the Terrans.

But the ending of Heart of Eon foreshadows a new romance brewing between the captain of the Terran ship that helped save the day and the Eon Commander who can’t seem to stop himself from sparring with her, verbally if not otherwise. Yet.

I hope we see that romance, and the future of the Eon alliance with Terra in future installments of this series!

Review: Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Review: Midnight Riot by Ben AaronovitchMidnight Riot (Peter Grant, #1) by Ben Aaronovitch
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Rivers of London #1
Pages: 298
Published by Del Rey on February 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

My Review:

I’ve had this in my kindle app forever, to the point where I had to check to see exactly how I got it. Finding out that it was 6 years ago was kind of a shocker. I do get around to things eventually, but eventually can clearly be a very long time.

I picked it up now because I have to read the latest book in the Rivers of London series for one of my reviewing commitments and wanted to at least see where it all began.

I was not disappointed. Midnight Riot is a terrific introduction to the Rivers of London and definitely lives up to all the marvelous things that have been said about it.

This book reminds me of so very many things. First, it is absolutely urban fantasy. In some ways, kind of old school urban fantasy, hearkening back to urban fantasy’s roots in the mystery genre.

Because we sure do have a mystery. What we also have is a cop. An honest-to-goodness sworn police officer, Peter Grant, just out of his probationary period in the Metropolitan Police and really hoping to do something more interesting than push paper for his entire career.

Ghost-hunting, however, was not on his career radar. Not even remotely. When the ghost of Nicholas Wallpenny tells PC Grant that he witnessed the previous evening’s sensational murder, Grant isn’t quite sure he believes the evidence being presented right before his eyes. And ears. And slightly stunned brain.

But going back the next night to interview the witness again brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the one man in the Met who will believe him.

The next morning Constable Peter Grant’s career has possibilities that he never even dreamed of. And dangers that may be way, way more than the Academy ever trained him to handle.

Escape Rating A-: First and foremost, I had a whole lot of fun with this one. It’s a terrific book and a great intro to the series.

One of the things that struck me as I read was just how “British” the book felt. It seemed like there were no concessions made for any potential American readers. Either you’ve read enough/seen enough on PBS to get the points where the two nations are divided by the common language, or you don’t.

If you have, it adds to the immersion, as it did for me. If you haven’t, I suspect you spend either a lot of time Googling Britspeak or get bogged down and give up. I was fully immersed from the opening page. Your mileage may vary.

Howsomever, one thing I did wonder about was whether it is/was common practice for single constables to have their living quarters in their stations. Or to at least have that possibility. Because that didn’t feel contemporary to me, I found myself thinking of this as a bit near-future, or at least more alternate history than urban fantasy sometimes is.

After flailing around for what Rivers of London reminded me of most, I think in the end it’s a cross between a police-procedural and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Possibly with a bit of his American Gods added to put some actual deus into the occasional ex machina.

Whatever it is, it’s fascinating. As the first book in the series, Peter Grant finds himself introduced to the world of magic, including the standard opening lessons in his brave new world. As well as a drop into the deep end of the pool (river) when his Chief Inspector is temporarily knocked out of the action by a bullet.

Peter makes for an interesting insider/outsider investigator. He begins as a mixed race man in London, already somewhat of an outsider in spite of having been born there. The story is told from his first-person perspective, which exposes his interior thoughts on being a black man in a white city to the reader in all their world-weary cynicism – particularly when he’s riding the tube.

He’s also the newbie in the world of magic, and everyone seems to want to take advantage of his lack of knowledge – as people frequently tend to do – even if, or especially because they are either deities, genii locorum, or both.

In a fight between gods, ghosts and monsters, Peter feels like the one sane voice attempting to hold it all together. Even during a midnight riot.

Review: Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker

Review: Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom BakerDoctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 304
Published by BBC Books on January 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

What are you afraid of?

In his first-ever Doctor Who novel, Tom Baker’s incredible imagination is given free rein. A story so epic it was originally intended for the big screen, Scratchman is a gripping, white-knuckle thriller almost forty years in the making.

The Doctor, Harry and Sarah Jane Smith arrive at a remote Scottish island, when their holiday is cut short by the appearance of strange creatures – hideous scarecrows, who are preying on the local population. The islanders are living in fear, and the Doctor vows to save them all. But it doesn’t go to plan – the time travellers have fallen into a trap, and Scratchman is coming for them.

With the fate of the universe hanging in the balance, the Doctor must battle an ancient force from another dimension, one who claims to be the Devil. Scratchman wants to know what the Doctor is most afraid of. And the Doctor’s worst nightmares are coming out to play…

My Review:

They say that you never forget your first Doctor. The Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, was mine. The first episode I saw was The Talons of Weng Chiang. It was the late 1980s and Doctor Who was broadcast on WTTW in Chicago at 11 pm every Sunday night. It says a whole lot about a whole lot of things that my hour or so with the Doctor every weekend was often the high point of my week.

Listening to Tom Baker read his own Doctor Who novel was like stepping back into my very own TARDIS, and taking a trip back in time and space to those long ago nights – when both of us were a LOT younger. I heard his voice now, but the picture in my head was of my Doctor, then.

And it made for a marvelous adventure.

The Fourth Doctor with Harry and Sarah Jane

The adventure itself feels like, or that should be sounds like, pretty much exactly like, one of the stories from the Fourth Doctor’s early years, when his companions were journalist Sarah Jane Smith and Surgeon-Lieutenant Harry Sullivan from UNIT.

The Doctor, along with Sarah Jane and Harry, find themselves on a relatively remote island off the English coast, having been taken there by the Doctor’s somewhat wacky TARDIS. They take advantage of the lovely day but find themselves ambushed by scarecrows of all things. Scarecrows that have taken the places of nearly all the villagers in this little town. By the time the Doctor figures out what has happened to the villagers and what the menacing scarecrows are all about, both he and Harry have been infected by the scarecrow virus.

It then becomes a race against time to find some way of eliminating the scarecrows and saving the remaining villagers – and themselves – before time runs out. And they fail. Only to find themselves in the adventure behind the adventure that was there all along.

What made this adventure particularly suited to an audiobook read by the Doctor is that the readers are not observing this adventure at third-hand. Instead, the Doctor is on trial – yes, again – in front of the assembled Time Lords who, as usual, are not at ALL amused by his recent behavior. Or his previous behavior (or even his future behavior).

So the story is the Doctor’s testimony, as he is telling the Time Lords what happened, what he did, and why he did it. In the audio, as he tells it to them – along with forays into his thoughts about the proceedings, the interruptions to the proceedings and the jeering from his Time Lord audience – we’re in his head, hearing him tell the story to them – and to us.

Let’s just say that in this instance the first person voice really, really works. The Doctor, MY Doctor, told me a fantastic story of one of his adventures.

And I loved every single minute of it.

Escape Rating A+: This is the point where I simply squee in delight.  I had a ball, to the point where I laughed out loud on multiple occasions, often while on a treadmill in the midst of other people who must have thought I was a loon.

But then, a lot of Time Lords firmly believe that the Doctor, particularly in this incarnation, was a loon. That he often behaved like one may have added a bit to that belief. More than a bit.

This story reads, or particularly listens, like one of the best of the Fourth Doctor’s madcap (with serious bits) adventures. If you enjoyed “Classic” Who, you’ll love this too. (I fully recognize that I am giving this an A+ because I loved every single second of it. I’m well aware that this is a book, and an experience, that won’t work nearly as well for someone who is not a fan.)

At the same time, the story also feels like Tom Baker’s love letter to the character he played so long and so well, two of his companions, particularly one of his obvious favorites, Sarah Jane Smith, as well as to the arc of the character and the series as a whole.

There are loving (and accurate) references to not only his three predecessors in the role, but also to the future, including a particularly heartfelt interchange with Thirteen. There’s also a sequence in the TARDIS where Sarah Jane Smith sees the arc of her whole life in pictures. The pictures she described were instantly recognizable as scenes not only from previous events in her life, but as future events, including scenes from her later appearances in the show in the episode School Reunion and her own Sarah Jane Adventures.

I’m not ashamed to say that those scenes made me tear up a bit, as did Sarah Jane’s letter to the Doctor in the postscript.

The adventure of Scratchman both travels well-worn and well-loved paths with the Doctor, and goes to places that the reader/listener does not expect. And it’s a lovely trip though a very personal time machine every step of the way.

Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora GossThe Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, historical mystery
Series: Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #1
Pages: 402
Published by Gallery / Saga Press on June 20, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Based on some of literature’s horror and science fiction classics, this is the story of a remarkable group of women who come together to solve the mystery of a series of gruesome murders—and the bigger mystery of their own origins.

Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.

But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.

My Review:

The apostrophe is in the wrong place. Because this story is really the strange case of the alchemists’ daughters. There are, or were, entirely too many alchemists, and their daughters, well, their daughters are the heroines of this tale.

Every last one of them. Even Diana.

With an able assist from Sherlock Holmes. And occasionally the other way around.

The story begins with Mary Jekyll. Yes, that Jekyll. Dr. Jekyll is long dead, but not until after he transferred the family wealth – which was considerable once upon a time, to a bank account in Budapest under someone else’s name.

Mary and her mother have been barely scraping by on her mother’s life income, with a bit of help from selling everything in the family home that isn’t nailed down. But Mary’s mother has just died, along with that life income.

Mary is broke. She has a house that no one wants to buy, furnished with the few items that were so worn or broken that no one would buy those, either.

Into her rather threadbare lap a mystery is dropped. She discovers that her mother had a secret bank account to pay for the maintenance of “Hyde” in a charitable home for Magdalens. There is, or at least was, a £100 reward for information leading to the capture of Edward Hyde at a time when  £100 was a veritable fortune.

Mary appeals to Sherlock Holmes to discover whether the reward is still available, and finds herself dragged into the middle of one of Holmes’ cases. Someone is murdering prostitutes in Whitechapel. Again.

Not Jack the Ripper this time, not that this perpetrator doesn’t have at least as much surgical skill as old “Leather Apron”. Because this murderer isn’t cutting his victims up indiscriminately. He’s taking body parts – a different part each time.

Standing in Whitechapel, over the partially vivisected corpse of poor Molly Keen, Mary Jekyll finds the purpose of her life.

But it takes her sister, Diana Hyde (yes, that Hyde) to reveal to her that she’s a monster. A monster just like all of the alchemists’ daughters.

And it’s glorious.

Escape Rating A+: I had this on my kindle, but for some reason did not get around to it when it first came out. A fact which now surprises me, as the presence of Sherlock Holmes in pretty much anything usually has me eager to start it.

But I found it again, on sale from Audible, and this time dove right in. I was utterly captivated from the very first scene. To the point where about halfway through I couldn’t stand not knowing what came next, and switched from the marvelous audio to the book so I could finish faster. And immediately got the second book (European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman) in audio because I was having so much fun!

What makes this story so refreshing is that unlike the Sherlock Holmes canon or most Victorian (and entirely too many other eras) the entire story is told from the perspective of the women. Holmes is assisting Mary in her case while she assists him in his. While he may not think of her as an equal, he certainly doesn’t treat her much differently, or honestly much better or worse, than he does Watson.

The story here is one of discovery. Mary discovers the truth of her identity as well as her purpose. Because this is the story of the creation of the Athena Club, which becomes both a sisterhood and a home.

A sisterhood of monsters, and a home for same.

It’s so much fun because all of the women have different histories, different voices, and they each get to tell their own stories. That we see both the stories and the writing of them is part of the fun as the narrative alternates between the case that Mary finds herself in the midst of and the actual writing of that case, with all of the women in the room participating, or sometimes obstructing, the writing thereof.

These are all women from literature whose stories were originally, and generally unfaithfully, told by the men who created them (one way or another) without their input or consent. So it is empowering to hear their voices tell their stories. It is telling that the one time a woman did tell one of their stories, she left her out so that she could someday, hopefully, tell her own.

As she does.

It is also an absolute hoot to hear their arguments over those stories. And it’s marvelous to watch them take control of their own lives, in spite of the tiny box that society wants to place them in just because they’re women.

They see themselves as monsters because of their fathers’ experiments on them. Society sees them as monsters because they have broken open the cage that society wants to place them in.

And that’s what makes the story so glorious. And so much delightful – and occasionally grisly – fun.

Reviewer’s Note: Whoever labeled this YA must have had their brain removed like poor Molly Keen.

Review: Who Slays the Wicked by C.S. Harris

Review: Who Slays the Wicked by C.S. HarrisWho Slays the Wicked (Sebastian St. Cyr, #14) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #14
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley Books on April 2, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The death of a fiendish nobleman strikes close to home as Sebastian St. Cyr is tasked with finding the killer to save his young cousin from persecution in this riveting new historical mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of Why Kill the Innocent....

When the handsome but dissolute young gentleman Lord Ashworth is found brutally murdered, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is called in by Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy to help catch the killer. Just seven months before, Sebastian had suspected Ashworth of aiding one of his longtime friends and companions in the kidnapping and murder of a string of vulnerable street children. But Sebastian was never able to prove Ashworth's complicity. Nor was he able to prevent his troubled, headstrong young niece Stephanie from entering into a disastrous marriage with the dangerous nobleman.

Stephanie has survived the difficult birth of twin sons. But Sebastian soon discovers that her marriage has quickly degenerated into a sham. Ashworth abandoned his pregnant bride at his father's Park Street mansion and has continued living an essentially bachelor existence. And mounting evidence--ranging from a small bloody handprint to a woman's silk stocking--suggests that Ashworth's killer was a woman. Sebastian is tasked with unraveling the shocking nest of secrets surrounding Ashworth's life to keep Stephanie from being punished for his death.

My Review:

In contemporary mystery, it is usually considered a requirement that the investigator be an impartial observer, that he or she not have any relationship to the victim or the possible suspects. Although it is often a plot point that an involved detective pursues the case anyway.

No such restriction hampers Sebastian St. Cyr. His investigations, though often at the behest of Bow Street, are always at least somewhat unofficial. And as a high-ranking member of the aristocracy during the Regency, it’s not as if a Bow Street Runner, no matter how high-ranking within the still-rudimentary force, could tell him what to do in any case.

This is ironically similar to the situation that surrounds the dead man, Lord Ashworth. Sebastian St. Cyr knew the man and loathed him, as did seemingly everyone who crossed the man’s path. A path that includes, unfortunately, St. Cyr’s beloved niece Stephanie.

She has the misfortune to be married to the man. A man who St. Cyr was certain was guilty of multiple brutal murders of young street children. (That story is in Where the Dead Lie.) But just as St. Cyr can’t be ordered about because of his rank, Ashworth was too highly ranked to ever be held accountable for his many, many crimes.

It seems all too fitting that Ashworth, a known sexual sadist, was found naked, tied to his own bed and hacked to death by so many stab wounds that it is impossible to ascertain the murder weapon. Only that the killing was extremely vicious and certainly personal.

The problem for St. Cyr is that he’s a bit sorry he didn’t do the job himself, but he fears that his niece may have done. She had plenty of motive – she’s just far from the only person who had plenty.

As much as St. Cyr feels relieved that this killer has been put out of his niece’s – and the entire city’s – misery, when the dead reprobate turns out to be merely the first in a host of corpses, he needs to figure out who slew this very wicked man – before that person kills another innocent – and before his niece is officially charged with the crime.

Although the murder of Ashworth and his procurer could be considered a public service, the murder of the innocents who might have chanced to know just a bit about the crime is not.

St. Cyr must seek the truth, no matter how dangerous the places to which it leads – or how many people try to stop him – permanently.

Escape Rating A: This series is dark and gritty and fascinating at every turn. This particular entry sucked me in from the very first page, and didn’t let go until the last – at 2 am.

But fair warning, if you love the glitz and glitter of the Regency era that was popularized by Georgette Heyer and is the way that the Regency is most often portrayed, this series may not be for you. Because this series explores the extremely seedy underbelly of the Regency. It drags what has been swept far under the carpet into the light of day and has a lot of trenchant things to say about the divide between rich and poor, the extreme privilege of the aristocracy and the trampling of pretty much everyone from the lowest rag-and-bone picker to the solidly middle class.

The glitter of the Regency rested on one hell of a lot of garbage, and this series pokes into it all. It’s not a pretty sight – nor is it meant to be..

What makes this particular case so compelling is that we, and St. Cyr, know that Ashworth was rotten to the core. And even if one has not (yet) read Where the Dead Lie, St. Cyr’s investigation provides more than enough information about Ashworth’s actual crimes and his pure contempt for pretty much everyone other than himself to make the reader every bit as glad the man is dead as St. Cyr.

That he got away with so much not just disgusting but outright criminal behavior is its own indictment of both the man and the society that allows him to prey on so many people.

We also see St. Cyr’s conflict over the whole affair. He wanted the man dead. He knows Ashworth was guilty of so much. And yet, he needs to find justice. Not just to keep the accusations away from his niece, but also to keep the new predator from continuing his spree.

Part of what makes St. Cyr such a fascinating hero is the way that he deals with his own privilege and his own demons. Because he has plenty of both. But it’s his demons that drive him to assist Bow Street, no matter how many powerful people – including his own father-in-law – warn him off, over and over again.

This case, like many that St. Cyr involves himself with, has political implications that loom over the investigation. In this particular case it’s the visit by one of the Tsar’s sisters, in anticipation of the defeat of Napoleon and what will be intense political machinations over the ensuing treaty.

That one of the Princess’s noble attendants was one of the dead man’s many playmates adds to the complications, while the impending defeat of Napoleon seems like a hazy dream. The war has gone on for so very long, and has left so many scarred. St. Cyr included.

This series is dark and gritty and fascinating and compelling. While I haven’t managed to read every book (I need more round tuits to catch up!), every single one that I have read has been gripping from the opening pages – no matter how long its been since my last foray into St. Cyr’s world.

And the reveal of who slew this wicked man was a surprise and a shock and a marvelous conclusion to this dark, decadent and delicious story. I’ll be back for St. Cyr’s next investigation!

Review: The Tale Teller by Anne Hillerman + Giveaway

Review: The Tale Teller by Anne Hillerman + GiveawayThe Tale Teller by Anne Hillerman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Leaphorn and Chee #23, Leaphorn Chee and Manuelito #5
Pages: 304
Published by Harper on April 9, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Legendary Navajo policeman Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn takes center stage in this riveting atmospheric mystery from New York Times bestselling author Anne Hillerman that combines crime, superstition, and tradition and brings the desert Southwest vividly alive.

Joe Leaphorn may have retired from the Tribal Police, but he finds himself knee-deep in a perplexing case involving a priceless artifact—a reminder of a dark time in Navajo history. Joe’s been hired to find a missing biil, a traditional dress that had been donated to the Navajo Nation. His investigation takes a sinister turn when the leading suspect dies under mysterious circumstances and Leaphorn himself receives anonymous warnings to beware—witchcraft is afoot.

While the veteran detective is busy working to untangle his strange case, his former colleague Jim Chee and Officer Bernie Manuelito are collecting evidence they hope will lead to a cunning criminal behind a rash of burglaries. Their case takes a complicated turn when Bernie finds a body near a popular running trail. The situation grows more complicated when the death is ruled a homicide, and the Tribal cops are thrust into a turf battle because the murder involves the FBI.

As Leaphorn, Chee, and Bernie draw closer to solving these crimes, their parallel investigations begin to merge . . . and offer an unexpected opportunity that opens a new chapter in Bernie’s life.

My Review:

I found the original Leaphorn and Chee series sometime in the 1990s, when I had a horrifically long commute in the Chicago suburbs and audiobooks saved my sanity if not my life. Audiobook publishing was nowhere near as robust as it is today, and there weren’t a lot of options for someone who spent 3 hours in their car, 5 days a week, for most of 9 years.

I listened to a lot of books, and The Blessing Way (the first book in the series) and all of the following books that were available, during those long drives. The stories, told in the inimitable voice of George Guidall, swept me away, kept me awake, and left me enthralled every time.

When the original author, Tony Hillerman, died in 2008, the series seemingly ended. At least until his daughter Anne picked it back up again in 2013 with the marvelous Spider Woman’s Daughter, adding Navajo Tribal Police Officer Bernie Manuelito’s name to the series as well as her perspective to the continuing series.

The Tale Teller is the fifth book in that continuation, and it swept me away from the very first page – as all of the books in this series have done.

One of the things that has made the return of the series so marvelous has been its addition of Bernie to the mix. Bernie is a Navajo Tribal Police Officer, as is her husband Jim Chee, and their mentor, the legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn.

They each bring a different perspective to their work, to their culture, and to life in the Four Corners. Leaphorn is older, semi-retired, and does not believe in many of the traditions while still revering the history. Chee, although younger, has much more belief in the traditions of their people, and once studied to be a healer. Bernie Manuelito is a woman caught between the demands of her career and the need to still fulfill as many of the traditional roles of oldest daughter to her aging mother as she can manage – including the role of attempting to keep her wayward younger sister on the straight and narrow.

While the “torch” directly passed from Leaphorn to Chee and Manuelito at the beginning of Spider Woman’s Daughter, Leaphorn has remained a presence in the series as he recovered from a near fatal gunshot wound but continued to provide information and support in whatever capacity he happened to be capable of at the time.

In The Tale Teller, while Leaphorn is not quite back to fighting form, he has healed to the point where he can manage to pick up his work as a private investigator, part-time consultant to the Tribal Police and frequent mentor and sounding board for Chee and Manuelito.

This is the first story in the continuing series where Leaphorn has been fully capable of performing his own investigations and providing a full third point of view on events.

And what fascinating events they are!

At first there seem to be three separate cases here, but as so often happens in mysteries, in the end that are only two. This is one of the rare mysteries where everything does not tie up neatly in a single bow. Instead, we have two bows, one reasonably neat and one a bloody mess.

Bernie finds a dead body on a hiking trail, guarded by the victim’s faithful dog. An old friend of her mother’s finds a valuable piece of jewelry that he previously reported stolen being sold at a flea market – leading into Chee’s investigation of a sudden string of home robberies. And Leaphorn takes on a case from the Tribal Museum. An important donation may have been stolen, either before it arrived, or after. Or it may not have been in the box at all. That the donor wishes to remain anonymous adds to the mystery. That one of the important pieces of the puzzle dies almost the instant that Leaphorn gets involved shifts the problem from seemingly minor to possibly deadly.

While not all of the cases end happily, following the trail of clues and bodies is a page-turner from beginning to end – and a delight.

Escape Rating A+: I read this in a single day. This was one I picked up pretty much everywhere, like at meals, in the bathroom, in the car (as long as someone else was driving), and pretty much every time I had a couple of spare minutes.

I sunk right back into this place with these people on the very first page, and didn’t come out until the end.

What I love about this series is the way that it combines its police procedural mystery with a perspective into a part of the U.S. that outsiders don’t often get to experience with an, if not insider’s perspective, at least a well-informed and reverential outsider’s point of view.

This would be a very different series if the investigator were one of the FBI agents who often intrude – as they do in this case. Instead, it is the point of view of people who are insiders in a world that most of us are not, while they still are outsiders within their own culture so that they can both see the “why” of things while not being emotionally involved with all of the “who”.

The cases in this particular story are complex, especially Leaphorn’s investigation into the possibly missing artifact. As readers, we learn a lot about both the history of the Navajo people and the treatment of precious artifacts. At the same time, the case has echoes in the past while it is motivated by events in the present. The resolution is heartbreaking but fits.

Chee and Manuelito’s cases turn out to have more tentacles than an octopus, ranging from burglaries to internet scams to witness protection to murder – but at least that case, which gets a bit too close to Bernie’s family, ends with a mostly happy resolution.

That the perpetrators were hiding in plain sight but not obvious until very near the end made both cases fascinating to read.

I’m grateful to those long ago long commutes, now that they are in the past, for the terrific series such as this one that they introduced me to. And I’m looking forward to returning to the Four Corners with Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito at the next opportunity!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

For the final day of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week I’m giving away a copy of any book in the combined Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series, from it’s very beginning in The Blessing Way to the latest book, The Tale Teller. If you are new to the series, I would recommend starting with Spider Woman’s Daughter, as it brings the reader into the action at the present while providing enough background to immerse you in the story and familiarize you with the characters. But it is up to the winner to decide. Enter the rafflecopter, and it might be YOU!

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