Review: Counterfeit Conspiracies by Ritter Ames + Giveaway

Review: Counterfeit Conspiracies by Ritter Ames + GiveawayCounterfeit Conspiracies (Bodies of Art, #1) by Ritter Ames
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Bodies of Art #1
Pages: 214
Published by Henery Press on February 2nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Laurel Beacham grew up in wealth and society—until her grandfather died and her father gambled away the family fortune. Now with more pedigree than trust fund, she is the premier art recovery expert for museums that need to stay one step ahead of international thieves. Her latest assignment pits her against a mystery man, Jack Hawkes, who is not only her equal with blue bloods, but also seems to know where all the bodies are buried. Suddenly Laurel is racing against time to find a priceless art object before the enemy does, locate a missing art world compatriot with crucial information, and decide whether or not she wants to disentangle herself from this new male nemesis, Jack, who seems to know too much about her and her business.

My Review:

Although the story is set in the art world, Counterfeit Conspiracies has the feel of a caper story. While this somewhat madcap adventure is all about recovering a missing artifact and rescuing a missing agent, the adventure is more about, well, Laurel’s adventures than it is about the art she has to recover or the world where art is stolen, traded and sold.

The way that Laurel generally approaches her various jobs makes her feel more like a thief or a secret agent than anything so potentially staid as recovering stolen treasures – especially since she sometimes steals those stolen treasures back from the thieves who stole them in the first (or second) place.

It’s not necessary to know a thing about the art world to enjoy Laurel’s chase-and-be-chased across Europe and back again. She’s always hopping from plane to train to car, and always just one step ahead, or behind, her pursuers.

The other fascinating thing about Laurel’s adventures is one of those very pursuers. At the beginning of the story, we learn that Laurel has crossed paths with a nearly mythical master art thief multiple times, and that he usually gets the best of her. As her latest job goes pear-shaped, she crosses paths with Jack Hawkes, who knows entirely too much about her.

Jack is chasing Laurel, and catches her so frequently that he obviously has ties to too many police and security forces. But as he tails Laurel, catches her, loses her, and catches her again, it’s never clear whether Jack is truly on the side of the angels or is pursuing Laurel for his own ends.

As Laurel frequently opines, Jack regularly asks for her trust and cooperation, but he neither fully trusts nor fully cooperates with her. He has researched everything about her, but always deflects whenever she tries to learn the least little thing about him.

They have oodles of chemistry together, but no basis for anything beyond a partnership of expedience.

But when all the chips fall, Jack is the only one Laurel can turn to to get her out of her latest jam. Especially since it feels like he’s at least partially responsible for landing her in it.

Escape Rating B: Counterfeit Conspiracies is a solidly fun caper story. While Laurel may be operating on the side of the angels, she acts more like a thief than anything else. It’s just that the people she plans to steal from are thieves themselves.

marked masters by ritter amesJack is an enigma from the very beginning, and neither we nor Laurel learn enough about him to trust him. The number of times he asks for trust but doesn’t reciprocate made my teeth clench right along with Laurel’s. It’s obvious that he’s hiding a whole bunch of somethings, but we never do find out what. At least not in this first book in the series.

The strained relationship between Laurel and Jack, as well as their chemistry, reminded me very much of the Vicky Bliss series by Elizabeth Peters. (While the series starts with Borrower of the Night, the mysterious John Smythe doesn’t appear to bedevil art historian Vicki Bliss’ life until the second book in the series, Street of the Five Moons)

So if you like Counterfeit Conspiracies, you’ll love Vicky Bliss. And quite possibly also Carla Neggers’ Sharpe & Donovan series, which starts with Saint’s Gate (reviewed here). In Neggers’ series her art historian is an FBI agent from a family of art recovery experts. Combine Sharpe & Donovan with Vicky Bliss and you get Counterfeit Conspiracies.

But if you’re looking for a quick caper story with a lot of twists and turns, Counterfeit Conspiracies is the fun start to what looks like an interesting series. I’m looking forward to the next book, Marked Masters, to see just what kind of hot water Laurel Beacham will fall into next, and whether Jack Hawkes will push her into it, fish her out of it, or both!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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The tour is giving away a prize pack valued at $150: a signed copy of Counterfeit Conspiracies, a 7″ Kindle Fire HD, a movie DVD, a SAS SpyPen with hidden camera, and an Amazon gift card.

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Review: The Kill Box by Nichole Christoff

Review: The Kill Box by Nichole ChristoffThe Kill Box (Jamie Sinclair, #3) by Nichole Christoff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: mystery, romantic suspense, thriller
Series: Jamie Sinclair #3
Pages: 283
Published by Alibi on October 20th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Hardworking Jamie Sinclair can’t wait for the weekend. She plans to be off the clock and on the road to wine country with handsome military police officer Adam Barrett. But when a strung-out soldier takes an innocent woman hostage and forces his way into Jamie’s bedroom, everything changes. Jamie’s never seen the soldier before. But he’s no stranger to Barrett—and with one word he persuades Barrett to pack a duffel and leave Jamie in the lurch.

Jamie cannot fathom why Barrett would abandon her without explanation. But as the consequences of an unsolved crime threaten to catch up with him, a late-night phone call sends Jamie racing to Barrett’s hometown in upstate New York. In a tinderbox of shattered trust and long-buried secrets, Jamie must fight to uncover the truth about what really occurred one terrible night twenty years ago. And the secrets she discovers deep in Barrett’s past not only threaten their future together—they just might get her killed.

My Review:

This one kept me on the edge of my seat the whole way. Now that I’ve finished, the feel of the book reminds me of a small-town romance, if it were written by a horror writer. It’s not that there is horror per se, but that everything about small town stories and small town romances has been twisted to minus 11. Something like that.

kill list by nichole christoffThis is the third story in the Jamie Sinclair series. While it probably helps a bit with background if you’ve read the first two, The Kill List and The Kill Shot, it isn’t strictly necessary. The Kill Box takes place in a completely different setting and under totally different circumstances than the first two books. In Jamie’s head space we see enough of her background to know where she’s coming from and why she acts the way she does.

We don’t see in Adam Barrett’s headspace at all, but then, neither does Jamie. This is her story and her perspective on events. And since she is pretty much a fish out of water during this story, we get introduced to all the players the same way that she does.

Jamie is a private investigator and security specialist, so when a man breaks into her condo holding her housekeeper at gunpoint, she knows exactly how to get the situation under control. But the results completely throw her.

Army MP Lieutenant Colonel Adam Barrett, who has been recovering from a multiply broken leg in her DC condo, leaves with the assailant. While still wearing a cast on one leg from toes to crotch. The crazy dude is one of Adam’s high school pals, and his message to Adam is that one of their best friends is in big trouble back home.

So Adam hobbles off, leaving Jamie emotionally wounded and terribly confused. Also frustrated as hell, since Adam’s buddy interrupted what was supposed to have been their long-awaited first night together.

kill shot by nicole christoffJamie and Adam have had really lousy luck in their attempts at a relationship. They met while she was investigating his commanding officer, who also happened to be her ex (The Kill List) and he broke his leg protecting her after her Father-the-Senator sent them both to Europe on a secret mission where Senator-Daddy needed plausible deniability (The Kill Shot).

Their relationship should be over. And it nearly is at multiple points in this story. But when Jamie gets a call from Adam’s grandmother, asking Jamie to come to Adam’s hometown of Fallowfield, NY and get him out of jail, Jamie jumps into her car and takes off for upstate New York apple country.

Adam doesn’t want Jamie’s help. He doesn’t even want Jamie’s presence, to the point where he breaks up with her rather than letting her any further into the mess that is Adam’s home town. But his grandmother, Miranda, wants Jamie to stay and get to the bottom of that mess. Jamie is all too willing to help Adam in spite of himself. And she can’t resist the possibility of solving a mystery.

Twenty years ago, a 14-year-old girl was raped and murdered. Everyone in town believes that then-18-year-old Adam Barrett committed the crime but was never punished. Jamie is sure that the murderer is still out there, and that she can fix all of Adam’s problems if she can just figure out who that murderer really is.

She doesn’t count on a new string of murders, a new witch hunt for Adam, and someone who has a deadly desire to add Jamie to his list of victims. Or that her hunt for a killer will run smack into an undercover DEA investigation of small town drug trafficking, with Fallowfield at its center.

So many big crimes, all in the same little place. Is it too much of a coincidence to think that they are all connected?

Escape Rating A-: Some ARCs are better than other. I mean in the sense of typos and other stray oddities. This ARC had more of those types of problems than the usual. However, the story was so riveting that I was able to completely ignore the typos and be completely immersed in the story. I couldn’t put this down and I was reading at any moment possible just to find out what happened.

This is a story where the small town hides a multitude of secrets. And where a multitude of seemingly minor misdeeds gets covered up because no one wants to rock the boat with their neighbors. Everyone’s ties to everyone else run deep.

That’s the problem at the heart of this case, both the long ago death and the current string of murders. Everyone involved grew up together, went to high school together, and now forms the backbone of the town together. And when Adam returns to Fallowfield, he seems to slip right back into his old patterns from way back when, and they are not all good ones.

But because Adam used to be so close to everyone else, he can’t see their problems or the way that they have changed. And he can’t take off the blinders that prevent him from seeing that one or more of his friends is not completely on the up and up.

Jamie’s job is to recognize patterns. And she’s an outsider. She starts to put the pieces together, and someone wants to make sure that she leaves or dies before she completes her investigation.

And Adam is an idiot. I say this in the best alpha hero tradition. Adam doesn’t want Jamie involved in his old shit, he feels horribly guilty about things that happened long ago, even though he isn’t responsible, and her wants her far away so that she won’t think less of him. He falls into that infuriating tradition of pushing her away for her own good, without asking her what she wants. I’ll admit that this isn’t my favorite trope.

But in spite of, and admittedly sometimes because of, Adam’s continuing to push Jamie away, I could help but be caught up in Jamie’s desperate search to figure out whodunnit way back when, and who was continuing to do it, and why they were doing it, right now.

And when she finally puts the pieces together, the result is downright explosive.

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Review: Gold Coast Blues by Marc Krulewitch

Review: Gold Coast Blues by Marc KrulewitchGold Coast Blues: A Jules Landau Mystery by Marc Krulewitch
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: mystery
Series: Jules Landau #3
Pages: 284
Published by Alibi on September 22nd 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

In Marc Krulewitch’s gritty new mystery, perfect for readers of Robert Crais and Marcia Muller, a beautiful missing woman and a mysterious wine lead Chicago shamus Jules Landau straight toward a killer with very bad taste. Jules Landau’s father was mobbed up, as was his father before him. Jules takes a different path: He’s a licensed private eye, currently collecting his paycheck in cash from a young ex-con looking for his missing girlfriend, Tanya. But as Jules scours Chicago’s North Side, he realizes that any number of people might want to make sure Tanya stays gone. At the heart of her disappearance seems to be a thriving black market for expensive French wine—a vintage so lucrative that Tanya may have paid for it with her life. Following a trail of cash and power with more twists than a corkscrew, Jules traces a criminal conspiracy back to a corrupt New Jersey cop. With nobody telling the truth, Jules knows he has to act fast . . . because a perfect crime only gets better with age.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
Gold Coast Blues is a mystery about stolen vintage wine. Or about faking vintage wine. Or about stealing fake vintage wine. Or all of the above,

Whether the wine turns out to be real or fake, vintage wine is very expensive. And quite possibly undrinkable. But Chicago’s Near North Gold Coast is the setting for this story, because it’s the nabobs of the North Shore who can afford to pay $25,000 for a single bottle of 1945 or 1947 Mouton or Lafitte Rothschild, or even $2,500 for a possibly fake bottle.

If wine is treated like an investment, it’s also stolen and faked like any other investment. And it can even be a racket for organized crime. Even if that organization is supplied by a New Jersey police officer with some very “progressive” ideas about managing crime while skimming from every side.

This story takes place in Chicago, for the most part. Jules Landau gets hired by a Jersey kid who just got out of jail, and wants Landau to hunt for his missing girlfriend. The young woman, Tanya, sensibly got out of their downtrodden bit of Newark while the getting was good, and while her “connected” boyfriend was in the slammer.

Now he’s out and he wants to find her. Money seems to be no object – the guy is throwing cash around like there’s no tomorrow. And there might not be.

Because Eddie wants Landau to find his girl, but he doesn’t want to tell Landau anything that might help him investigate. Which puts the reckless Landau on his own, discovering that Tanya disappeared from her job at a wine bar in very mysterious circumstances, and that everyone connected with her former place of employment is up to their necks in some very shady wine deals.

So Landau follows the trail that he has, which finds him deeper and deeper into the vintage wine market, following the trail of a case of stolen vintage Rothschild wine that may be worth $5,000 per bottle, or $25,000 per bottle, or absolutely nothing at all.

What he doesn’t expect is to find himself at the end of a beat down by a cop in Jersey. No one that Landau questions believes that he is only after the girl, when every question at every turn finds him in the middle of a wine heist and a love triangle gone very, very wrong.

Everyone he talks to is lying to him, and assumes that he is lying to them, even when he isn’t. In the end, he finally figures out that he is going to have to solve the wine case in order to wrap up the missing persons case.

Assuming that the bad guys in one case or the other (or in the case of wine) don’t kill him first.

Escape Rating B: Landau takes Eddie’s case because he can’t stop himself from thinking it’s a love story. And Eddie pays well, and in cash. Which helps Landau paper over his intuition that Eddie is lying to him and that he’s being an idiot by taking the case. His few friends tell him that he’s going to be a dead idiot if he doesn’t get out while the getting is good.

maxwell street blues by marc krulewitchInstead, Jules Landau does what he always does. He rushes in where angels, and even a few demons, fear to tread. (For Jules’ earlier adventures, see Maxwell Street Blues (review) and Windy City Blues (review))

Landau is a likeable fellow with a penchant for getting in over his head, and then floundering his way out with a little luck, a lot of moxie, and some serious bluffing. He’s not as tough as he pretends to be, but he pretends very, very well. Both his father and his grandfather were “mobbed up”, but Jules is mostly on the straight and relatively narrow. But he has the street smarts when he needs them, AND remembers to use them.

Unfortunately for Landau, he and the undercover FBI agent are the only two likeable people in this whole mess. Every other person involved is a lying sack of shit, including both the missing girl and the ex-boyfriend who is searching for her.

This case is a mess. Every single person Landau talks to is lying to him, including his old friend, the retired Chicago cop Kalijero. Some, like his cop friend, lie to him for his own good. The undercover FBI agent he trips over lies to him for her own good, but she also cat sits for him.

But everyone even tangentially involved with either the missing Tanya or the mysterious case of possibly pilfered vintage wine, lies to keep Jules from investigating their involvement in the mess, in spite of his initially true contention that he’s only after the missing girl. It’s so obvious amidst the welter of lies that the missing Tanya is in the fake wine scam up to her very threatened neck. He eventually figures out that he can’t find the girl without solving the wine case. Or vice versa.

And his original contention was totally wrong. This isn’t really a love story, unless it’s a story about the love of money being the root of all evil.

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Review: Tales: Short Stories Featuring Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford by Charles Todd

tales by charles toddFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Inspector Ian Rutledge, Bess Crawford
Length: 192 pages
Publisher: Witness Impulse
Date Released: July 21, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Now published together for the first time: Charles Todd’s absorbing short stories—”The Kidnapping,” “The Girl on the Beach,” “Cold Comfort,” and “The Maharani’s Pearls”—featuring everyone’s favorite Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge and intrepid battlefield nurse Bess Crawford. These vibrant tales transport readers from the home front in Great Britain where ominous clouds of war will soon lead to the trenches of France, to the bloody front lines where Lieutenant Rutledge must risk his life to save his men. And finally to the exotic, dangerous India of Bess Crawford’s youth. Together they create a fascinating glimpse into the extraordinary backgrounds of two of mystery’s most popular characters.

My Review:

This collection of stories makes a great introduction to Charles Todd’s two completely different protagonists – the professional police officer Ian Rutledge, and the amateur detective but professional nurse Bess Crawford.

All of the stories take place in the World War I and immediate post-war period, so if you have an interest in that period, whether courtesy of Downton Abbey or not, these are great people to explore with.

maharanis pearls by charles toddEspecially since two of the stories in this series, the Ian Rutledge story Cold Comfort and the Bess Crawford story The Maharani’s Pearls, serve as prequels to their respective series.

Bess Crawford is a trained nurse who serves all too near the front lines during the war. Bess is in some ways a special case. Her father, often referred to as the Colonel Sahib, is a career officer who served in India, and continues to serve in some super-secret capacity during WWI. Though her connections to her father, Bess is sometimes able to circumvent authority, or at least drag more information out of it than it wants dragged. She also has a more thorough knowledge of how the Army works (and doesn’t) through her years following her father’s many postings.

The story The Maharani’s Pearls is a case in point. This story takes place during Bess’ childhood in India, and could be said to be her first case. It explores the relationships between the British military and the local population, and showcases Bess’ early talent for detection as well as subterfuge. When I picked this collection, I didn’t realize that I had read and reviewed The Maharani’s Pearls last summer.

cold comfort by charles toddCold Comfort, while it is listed as #16.5 in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series, is also a sort of prequel. The series as a whole takes place in the post-war years, where Inspector Rutledge, after his military service, returns to his pre-war police career after a hard-fought recovery from shell-shock. However, the story in Cold Comfort takes place during the war, when Lieutenant Ian Rutledge is serving in France. He has to use his detection skills to figure out just why two Welsh sappers are so intent on killing one Manchester miner, to the point where they are willing to blow up their own side in the process. This is a case where Rutledge uses his skill and intuition to figure out the very civilian motive for all of the skullduggery that is concealed within the ranks.

The other stories in this book, The Kidnapping and The Girl on the Beach, show their respective detectives in their more usual settings. The Girl on the Beach, the Bess Crawford story, is particularly good at showing the way that Bess often inveigles herself into investigations that should be none of her business. One of the things I particularly liked about this one was the police detective who finds himself working with Bess almost without realizing he is doing it. Bess, of course, does contribute to the solution, but the fun thing for me in this story was that the description and mannerisms of the police detective reminded me very much of Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War. Admittedly, Foyle actually served in the Army in WWI, but the detective still felt and acted like him.

In The Kidnapping we see that Inspector Rutledge’s faculties are firmly back on track after his recovery from shell shock, but that his career still needs some healing. He’s stuck on night duty because he has so little seniority, and his seniors are unhappy that he manages to solve a very sensitive case without their help.

Escape Rating B+: These are all great stories in their respective series. The Maharani’s Pearls and Cold Comfort would make excellent introductions to their series for anyone who loves historical mysteries or historical fiction in this period. We are able to see the characters start, and then in the later stories we see how far they have come since those beginnings.

If you’ve never dived into either of these series, this collection is a great place to start. And it certainly whet my appetite for the new Bess Crawford book, A Pattern of Lies, which I’ll be reviewing at the end of the week.

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***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Wings in the Dark by Michael Murphy

wings in the dark by michael murphyFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Jake & Laura #3
Length: 214 pages
Publisher: Random House Alibi
Date Released: July 14, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Witty and stylish in the classic Dashiell Hammett tradition, Michael Murphy’s latest high-flying Jake & Laura mystery features a Hawaiian honeymoon that’s interrupted when their friend Amelia Earhart is accused of murder.

Hawaii, 1935. Mystery novelist Jake Donovan and actress Laura Wilson are in gorgeous sun-soaked Hawaii, but their best-laid plans for canoodling on the beach are interrupted by a summons from famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart. It seems a local businessman has been gunned down next to her plane. In just days, the famous pilot intends to fly from Honolulu to Los Angeles, making aviation history over the Pacific. But now, without Jake and Laura’s help, Earhart’s flight might never take off.

Trailing a killer, the newlyweds’ sleuthing leads to a jealous pilot, a cigar-chomping female officer of the “Royalist Militia,” and a notoriously disagreeable lieutenant colonel named Patton. With a sinister killer lurking in the shadows, it’s safe to say the honeymoon is over . . . and the danger has just begun.

My Review:

Jake Donovan always tries to convince himself that whatever case he has walked, or in this case been strong-armed, into, it’s always going to be his last. For the good version of last, that he will have given up being a private detective and is now a full-time, and quite successful, author of hard-boiled mysteries.

His new wife Laura Winston is rightfully afraid that one of these cases will be his last, for the bad definition of last, that he’ll get himself killed. At the same time, Laura can’t help but get herself involved as well, partly to protect Jake, and partly because she can’t let go of the adrenaline rush either.

And Laura has plenty of adrenaline in her life already. She is a Broadway actress and Hollywood star. In 1935, the combined incomes of a successful movie star and a best-selling novelist put Jake and Laura into a lifestyle that is both a million miles away from their hardscrabble childhood in Queens, and far from the difficulties of life for so many people during the Great Depression.

A Depression which in 1935 shows no sign of ending.

This time it’s Jake’s career that gets them into trouble, not that Laura’s connections don’t have a hand in it as well.

Amelia Earhart c. 1935
Amelia Earhart c. 1935

Jake and Laura are in Hawaii for their honeymoon. Amelia Earhart is in Honolulu in preparation for her ground-breaking solo flight from Honolulu to California. But all is not smooth flying for the aviatrix, and she calls on her friend Laura and Laura’s husband Jake to investigate a murder that threatens to set back her scheduled flight.

Someone murdered one of Amelia’s Hawaiian backers in her hanger while she was sleeping in her plane. The police can’t decide whether Amelia is the killer or the real target, so Amelia’s influential husband strong-arms Jake into helping with the investigation.

The strong-arming was heavy-handed but very successful. Earhart’s husband George Putnam really was one of the Putnam’s of the publishing house G.P. Putnam’s. He just called Jake’s publisher and threatened to kill the man’s career if he didn’t cooperate.

While Putnam’s methods were very heavy-handed, they were necessary, because the plot to stop Amelia Earhart’s flight reached into some surprising and deadly places – and also struck all too close to home.

It’s up to Jake and Laura to protect Amelia, investigate the murder and find out both what the killer’s real agenda is and stop them before it is too late.

It’s not just the life of Amelia Earhart that’s at stake. This flight, if it is successful, has the potential to continue America’s fascination with and expansion of air travel. If it fails, aviation will go into a depression even deeper than the U.S. economic situation.

If the flight succeeds, Hawaii will become a vacation destination for mainlanders, both assisting and transforming the Islands’ economy. And if the flight succeeds, the U.S. Armed Forces will expand into air power and patrol the Pacific Ocean.

In 1935, there is a lot of interest in the Pacific Rim in stopping that expansion. At any cost.

yankee club by michael murphyEscape Rating B+: If you like historical mysteries set in the 20th century, or noir (kind of noir-lite) or stories where real history and real people are wrapped around a fun mystery, this series is an absolute hoot. Start with The Yankee Club (reviewed here) and take a trip back to a different time, where so much is different, and so much is the same.

Like The Yankee Club, Wings in the Dark is wrapped around some true historical events. Amelia Earhart really was in Honolulu in January of 1935, and this flight, with all its attendant hoopla, did take place. The implications of the flight were as they are in the book. Success meant an expansion of aviation, failure meant that aviation would die a quick and painful death.

We’ve seen this in recent history as well. Every time the U.S. Space Program suffers a disaster, there is a retrenchment and reconsideration, even though all the participants signed on for the risk of being among the first people “out there”.

The times in which Amelia’s ground-breaking flight took place are also an important part of the picture. Hawaii was part of the U.S., but there were still plenty of people alive who remembered the “good old days” of the monarchy. There is still loads of resentment at the way the U.S. managed to take possession of the Islands.

Then there’s the war. The one that hasn’t happened yet, but is certainly looming on the horizon for those who have eyes to see. One of those people with eyes is then Lieutenant Colonel George S. Patton, who was stationed in Hawaii in 1935, mostly an exile in disgrace. Patton views the growing militarization of Japan with alarm, and fears that the Japanese military sees the potential rise of U.S. airpower as a threat to their hegemony.

The mystery in Wings in the Dark circles, and sometimes barrel-rolls, around the murder in Amelia’s hangar. At first, it seems like an inside job as well as a crime of passion. Amelia’s female mechanic (and aviation rival) was having an affair with the dead man. But not all of the pieces fit this scenario.

The dead man was an Islander who had thrown in his economic lot, very successfully, with the Americans. The Royalist fringe, including his own brother, were not happy with his plans for more American influence.

Jake is sure there’s more than meets the eye, and when Patton provides scanty but convincing details of a Japanese assassin operating in the Islands, Jake starts to believe that this case is much, much bigger than he thought.

Especially when his old friend, the American agent Landon Stoddard, shows up to stick the government’s oar in this particular choppy water. Whatever is going on, it is way bigger than a simple lover’s spat, no matter how deadly.

This is a case where the “who benefits?” question will have world-changing answers.

The fun part of these cases is always following Jake and Laura, and whomever they drag along in their wake. Any resemblance to Nick and Nora Charles from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man series is strictly intentional. And an absolute blast.

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***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Widow’s Son by Thomas Shawver

widows son by thomas shawverFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: mystery
Series: Rare Book Mystery #3
Length: 200 pages
Publisher: Random House Alibi
Date Released: July 7, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

In 1844, Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, died at the hands of an angry mob who stormed his jail cell in Carthage, Illinois. Shortly after, a radical faction of Smith’s followers swore to avenge Smith’s death by killing not only the four men deemed most responsible, but to teach their heirs to eliminate future generations of the prophet’s murderers as well.

One hundred and seventy years later, rare book dealer Michael Bevan is offered a valuable first-edition Book of Mormon that bears a strange inscription hinting at blood atonement. Within days of handing the book over for authentication, the volume disappears and two people lie dead. Michael soon learns that his friend Natalie Phelan, whose only crime is her genealogy, is the likely next victim. One of her would-be murderers has fallen in love with her, another is physically incapable of carrying out the act, but other avenging angels remain on the loose.

When Natalie is kidnapped, Michael must venture into a clandestine camp of vengeful men hell-bent on ritual sacrifice. To save her life, the book dealer needs all his worldly courage, brawn, and wits. But to defeat fanatics driven by an unholy vision, a little divine intervention couldn’t hurt.

My Review:

There are two threads to this story. One is the continuing saga of bookseller Michael Bevan and the sometimes cutthroat nature of the antique book business. In this installment of Michael’s odyssey to get his Midwestern bookstore into the exalted ranks of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, Michael makes several wrong turns. Even more than he has already made.

Michael has a tendency to take short cuts – it’s how he got disbarred in the first place. But the prestigious ABAA doesn’t just want pristine provenance for their books, it wants the appearance of squeaky cleanliness for its booksellers as well.

left turn at paradise by thomas shawverAnd Michael is not squeaky clean. While the deal that brought him his prize collection was legal (see Left Turn at Paradise, reviewed here, for details) it occurred mostly under the table and involved more than a bit of blackmail on the part of all the participants – even some of the dead ones.

It’s a story that Michael can’t tell, not even to the grand doyenne of the ABAA. So he tries bribing her instead.

It’s not exactly a bribe. He lets her “help” him sell a rare and very pricey book – one of the original copies of Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon, a copy which includes a handwritten dedication by one of Smith’s disciples.

Michael takes one of his famous shortcuts – he neglects to get a receipt for the $250,000 book. So when the old lady collector dies in a very suspicious fire, Michael is in all kinds of trouble with his client – who turns out to be in all kinds of trouble himself.

This is where the story gets interesting, and more than a bit crazy. His client, Emery Stagg, is the descendant of one of Smith’s disciples. When he was a teenager, he was brainwashed into the lunatic fringe of his religion. As a descendant of one of the disciples, he and his two cousins were tasked with sacrificing the last descendants of one of the men who colluded in Joseph Smith’s murder.

Instead poor Emery Stagg has a change of heart. Instead of killing Natalie Phelan, he falls in love with her. It should all be over, and the threat to Natalie and her daughter Claire should be finished.

But Emery’s family hasn’t given up. And now Emery himself is considered a traitor, and must be eliminated so that the sacrifice can proceed as planned.

Unless Michael can stop it.

dirty book murder by thomas shawverEscape Rating B-: As the three books in this series prove (starting with The Dirty Book Murder, reviewed here) the antique and collectible book trade is a lot more dangerous than an outsider might believe. Mike Bevan is always in trouble. Sometimes its financial trouble, and sometimes its just plain deadly dangerous.

His friends, like Natalie Phelan, often find themselves in hot water over their heads for something Mike did, or didn’t do. Once the trouble appears, Mike is the best friend a person could have, but he often had something to do with things going from bad to worse in the first place, even if it’s by accident.

In this case, Mike’s attempt to sell the book for Emery is the catalyst that brings all the trouble down on everyone’s head. It’s not Mike’s fault. It’s also not NOT Mike’s fault. The story of his life.

The mystery in The Widow’s Son is incredibly convoluted, and involves a lot of beliefs that have been disavowed by the LDS Church multiple times. While I’m a bit uncomfortable using the backdrop of the history of an existing religious group as twisted fodder for a mystery, it did make for an extremely twisty tale.

I was able to figure ot some of what was going on in advance, but the twisted reverence for an insane reading of history, along with the inclusion of some less-than-sane people, cloaked the entire picture in the fog of war until it was too late for Bevan or the reader to prevent getting sucked all the way in.

Mike Bevan is a likable character, a hero who is so flawed and screws up so often he is almost an anti-hero, but not quite. In the end, Mike does the right thing, and he always protects his friends. He’s one of those guys who has a heart of gold, but never quite grows all the way up.

We have a little bit of that in all of us, which makes him interesting to watch.

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***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Duke City Desperado by Max Austin

duke city desperado by max austinFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: mystery/thriller
Series: Duke City #3
Length: 174 pages
Publisher: Random House Alibi
Date Released: June 9, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Under a sky full of stars, Dylan James lies sleeping on the roof of a pueblo-style house. He’s a fugitive, and everyone in Albuquerque seems to be looking for him. A murderous Mafia prince wants to kill him. Two FBI agents want to cuff him. A Goth girl wants to make love to him. And a fierce, sexy Chicana just wants to clean up the mess Dylan made.

The trouble started with a drug-addled career criminal named Doc and a bank robbery staged with a garage door opener. Then it all goes off the rails after a little misunderstanding with Dylan’s ex-girlfriend and her jealous, gun-toting new beau.

When the sun comes up, this sleepy, scrawny desperado is going to show the world what he’s made of—all for a one-in-a-million shot at walking out of Duke City alive.

My Review:

I didn’t realize until this entry in the series that it’s the same hapless pair of FBI agents who get left holding the bag in every book in this series.

It’s not that Pam and Hector are involved with any of the crimes – it’s that they are the primary agents investigating each of the messes, and the bad guys keep getting the best of them, over and over. Their careers are never going to recover.

duke city hit by max austinThe story in Duke City Desperado, as in the previous entries, Duke City Split (reviewed here) and Duke City Hit (here) all comes from the criminal side of the equation. The poor FBI agents keep ending up as patsies.

And just like in the other stories, the criminals in Desperado are way more lucky than good. Doc and Dylan are pretty much small-time all the way around, until Doc, permanently hopped up on pharmaceutical grade speed, gets the wild idea to rob a bank through the drive up window. Pretending that a garage remote control is the detonator for a bomb.

The teller has to stop herself from laughing while she stalls Doc long enough for the police to get there. The police have a hard time too. No one has ever tried to rob a bank through the drive up because it is just so lame.

The bank captures the entire ridiculous scene on video. It’s an open and shut case.

Until it isn’t.

Poor Dylan is in the passenger seat of the van while Doc pulls his crazy stunt. When the cops enter the scene, Dylan exits, and a citywide manhunt ensues.

Doc ends up in Municipal Detention. Of course he does, he’s so high that he gives up Dylan’s name to the cops before he can manage to calm down and make a deal.

While Doc experiences the joys of the correctional system and waits for his trial, Dylan is on the run. Every place he goes, and every friend he looks up, just lands him and them in more and more trouble.

The only person who seems to be on Dylan’s side is a crazy Goth chick who gets turned on by all the violence that follows in Dylan’s hapless wake. As Dylan gets beaten and beaten up on all sides, together they cook up a foolish plan for her to honk off her hated stepfather by robbing the guy who pays her bills and helping Dylan spring Doc.

After all of Dylan’s incredibly hellacious bad luck, he finally gets just one thing right. It’s a hell of a ride.

duke city split by steve brewerEscape Rating B-: I didn’t like this one nearly as much as the first book in the series, Duke City Split. While Dylan just seems like someone who, if it wasn’t for bad luck, wouldn’t have any at all, the amount of chaos he manages to accidentally stir up strains the bounds of even fictional disbelief.

Neither Dylan nor Doc is evil, just hapless, hopeless and more than a bit lazy. Crime seems to be their easy way out, and they’re not particularly good at it. Right up until Doc turns spectacularly bad at it.

There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of motive or motivation for either of them, until Dylan finds himself on the run for something he not only didn’t do but actively argued against. He’s afraid to turn himself in because he’s sure, and undoubtedly correct, that the cops will find something to charge him with.

The wild and crazy stuff gets stirred up as Dylan starts looking for a friend to take him in and help him out. He manages to rile his ex-girlfriend’s insane new boyfriend, setting off multiple chases through the city, as the angry little man chases Dylan, the cops chase Dylan, and the ex-girlfriend gets her sister to chase the abusive new boyfriend. The Keystone Cops would feel right at home.

The Goth chick turns out to be the big surprise. At first she just seems part of the weird, but the more she talks about the hate-on she has for her stepfather, the more the reader starts to wonder. The surprise at the end of that particular plot string was a real shocker.

Duke City Desperado is a madcap cops and robbers chase across Albuquerque where you find yourself wanting the bad guys to ride off into the sunset – in their stolen Audi. You’re left wondering if the FBI has an even less prestigious post for those two agents, because if they do, they’re definitely going to be assigned there. Probably somewhere in Alaska. Like maybe Barrow.

Nobody should have luck that bad.

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***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.