Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Holy City Murders (A Duke Dempsey Mystery, #1) by Ron Plante, Jr.

The Holy City Murders (A Duke Dempsey Mystery, #1)The Holy City Murders by Ron Plante Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Duke Dempsey, formerly a Charleston PD detective, is out on his own as a private investigator, and although business is looking good, he’s still adjusting to his inglorious ouster from public service and the hit he took to his self-esteem and reputation. He’s had success with some big cases but nothing as big as his latest, finding a missing relic for none other than the Pope! Tied up with his investigation is the double homicide his former partner, Johnny Stampkin, is dealing with down on the docks of the Charleston port. A local priest, Father Lorenzo, a favorite in the Holy City as Charleston is known, has been vicious stabbed, and his companion, an off-duty Charleston cop, has had his throat slashed. Father Lorenzo was supposed to have been the safeguard of the Church’s relic, and no one knows where it is. As Duke and Johnny’s cases entwine and the bodies continue to pile up, they desperately pool their resources to go after the killer and find the precious artifact.

The Holy City Murders is the debut novel in the Duke Dempsey Mystery series by author Ron Plante, Jr. I found the main characters – Duke, Johnny, Margo, and Mary – likable and engaging, and the time period of the events appealing. The city of Charleston, South Carolina, made for an appealing setting with its humid, laid-back charm, recognizable landmarks, and unique opportunities because of its diversity for this and future books in the series. I thought the story was very good with the simultaneous police and private investigations of the two former partners. However, I knew who the secret spy was pretty quickly, so the mystery was really how this person would be revealed and how the protagonists would figure things out.

There were a couple of drawbacks for me in the story, though. First, the dialogue seemed more suited to the streets of New York, Chicago, Boston, or Philly. I choose to believe this was done to emphasize the patter seen in traditional detective noir. But Duke is a southern boy, a Charlestonian native, he even brings this up a couple of times, and I don’t see it in the language. Having said this, I still enjoyed the patois.

The other beef I have, and I see that previous reviewers noted it as well, was the plethora of grammatical issues in the version of the story being read. I read an Advance Readers Copy I received from Book Sirens, and there were numerous problems of this nature. However, a quick look at the finished version currently available for purchase or download shows that many of these issues have been found and corrected. Based on that examination, I’m adding an additional star to my original rating.

With the look and feel of a noir detective story, there is so much to enjoy in Duke Dempsey and The Holy City Murders. The story doesn’t end here, and I look forward to reading more about Duke and his crowd as the series continues. I recommend this book to readers that enjoy a grittier mystery (than a cozy), noir detective stories, historical mysteries, or even a mystery that features Civil War elements.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Readers Copy from Book Sirens.

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Friday, October 23, 2020

Water’s Edge (A Highlands & Islands Detective Thriller, #1) by GR Jordan

Water's Edge (Highlands & Islands Detective Book 1)Water's Edge by G.R. Jordan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Water’s Edge is moody and character-driven and a wonderful police procedural.

When the body of a local woman washes up on the rocky coastline of the Isle of Lewis in the Scottish Hebrides, the Glasgow team of Detective Inspector Seoras Macleod and Detective Constable Hope McGrath are sent to investigate. Macleod, an older, experienced detective, grew up on the island but left 20 years earlier when his beloved wife committed suicide by walking into the water and drowning herself. A wild young man, Macleod’s faith had saved him from the path he’d been on, but after his wife’s death, he began to have doubts about the nature of God. The tragedy has caused Macleod to let time and modern sensibilities pass him; he’s never quite moved on with his life. Now, he’s known somewhat as a misogynistic throwback, but lately, he’s been questioning his outdated thinking. He likes and approves of his female supervisor and has a growing acceptance of the rightness of women in police work. McGrath, with two years of experience in homicide, is assigned to work with Macleod on the case when his regular partner is laid up from a car accident. (More about her later.)

Dreading the return to Lewis, Macleod finds there have been changes since he left, but things are still familiar enough that they dredge up long-forgotten memories of his life there before things went tragically wrong for him. The victim, Sara Hewitt, is a young, local woman who recently opened a massage parlor on the main street of the town of Stornoway. The two detectives quickly interview her distraught boyfriend. He claims they were exclusive with each other and vehemently denies her business offered ‘services on the side’ as her ledger seems to indicate. However, the young man’s own mother, a councilwoman in town, reveals the ledger is accurate and that everyone but her son knew that Sara was doing a booming business in offering ‘extras’ to her clients, one of whom was the mother herself!

As the two detectives follow up on any lead they find, they discover that the very conservative population has a darker side. Should its secrets become known, it provides more than adequate motive for murder.

Water’s Edge is the first novel in the new Highlands & Island Detective Thriller series by author G. R. Jordan (Gary Ross-Jordan.) As the debut story, a bit of exposition is expected, and Jordan does a great job of setting things up without bogging the reader down.

I loved how the two detectives started out as very different from each other, from vastly different generations, and how they had to navigate the bumps along the way to meshing as an efficient, effective team (which they do.) She’s forthright and plainspoken in her opinions and speech. She’s smart and sassy and already an experienced investigator when the story opens. She’s no rookie. She holds her own even as a junior partner. I really liked watching as Macleod comes to appreciate and value her as his partner. As for Macleod, the reader is privy to his inner struggle with adapting to contemporary culture and coming to terms with his faith and the burgeoning awareness of McGrath as not only a good detective but a beautiful woman.

The moody setting of the Isle of Lewis informs the story at every step. The cloudy skies, remote locations, rocky cliffs and coastlines, and secretive landscapes give the piece a gothic feeling, and there’s a definite chill throughout as the detectives pursue their investigation.

The murder plotline is solid, and the investigation straightforward and logical. Procedures on the island are slightly different for the two detectives used to how things work in Glasgow. Still, they have competent local support in the character of the steady Detective Allinson, who is also dangled tantalizingly before readers as a possible love interest for Hope McGrath.

I highly recommend WATER’S EDGE to readers of mysteries and police procedurals and readers that enjoy stories set in the cold and damp moodiness of coastal Scotland. I anxiously look forward to reading more of this series.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Book Sirens.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Lost in Lavender (Bennett Sisters Mysteries, #13) by Lise McClendon

Lost in Lavender (Bennett Sisters Mysteries Book 13)Lost in Lavender by Lise McClendon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elise, the youngest of the five Bennett sisters, has come to a crossroads in her life and books a 10-day farm stay in Provence to work, clear her mind, and develop a new plan. She hates being a lawyer, has quit her job at the law firm, broken up with her boyfriend, Scott, and once older sister, Merle, drops her off at the lavender farm, goes incommunicado with all her family and friends.

However, rather than finding a place to contemplate the future and regroup, she finds herself living and working with a group of students 20 or more years younger than herself and an unknown crisis simmering beneath the calm surface of life at the farm. With minimal French language skills at her disposal, she soon finds herself socially-isolated and feeling very much alone.

There are a couple of bright spots in the works, though. One other worker who appears to be about her age is an Englishman named Conor. Good looking and helpful, he is somewhat friendly and helps get a bat out of her room on her first night at the farm. He turns out to be related to the owners of the farm. Then, she encounters Ari, a local man that immediately shows his interest and admiration. But there seems to be some bad blood between Ari and Conor that causes Elise to be completely ostracized at the farm.

Deciding she’s had enough of the drama, Elise accepts Ari’s offer to spend the rest of her holiday at his home near Aix-en-Provence – no strings attached. In fact, there are so few strings attached that after getting settled in at his place and having dinner with each other the first night, Ari takes off telling Elise and his housekeeper that he’ll return soon. But days pass, and there is no further sign of the man until Conor shows up on the doorstep looking for Elise, and they discover his body in his car in the garage where he apparently has been the entire time.

Meanwhile, Merle Bennett, back home in Malcouziac in the Dordogne, is getting ready for company. Her niece, Willow, is expected soon, as is her son, Tristan: both on holiday before school starts up again in the states. She is also helping her boyfriend, Pascal, locate suitable living quarters near his new headquarters for the government’s wine fraud division in Bordeaux. She is thrilled when she comes across a nice townhouse in a lovely neighborhood that the elderly owner is willing to let at a price within their budget, and she and Pascal begin to settle in.

But when she returns to their home in Malcouziac to welcome Tristan and Willow, she is surprised to discover two additional guests: Elise’s ex-boyfriend, Scott, and his younger cousin, Teague. To add to the confusion, when Merle returns to the lavender farm on the appointed day to pick her sister up from her farm stay, Elise is nowhere to be found, and no one knows where she’s gone!

Lost in Lavender is the latest installment in the charming Bennett Sisters Mystery series by Lise McClendon. This story focuses on the youngest of the sisters and features the lovely countryside of Provence. However, with all the driving that Merle and Pascal do, readers get a glimpse of many other regions of France as well.

The story is a wonderful one of renewal and self-awareness as Elise struggles to break free of choices she made in the past and move on with a life she chooses for herself. And it is a struggle. There were a couple of times I wanted to shake her and tell her to snap out of it, shake out of her self-pity and let someone know where she was and how she was doing. Everyone but everyone was worried about the woman, and she knew it. However, she does finally come around and sets out on the road to love and a better future.

I recommend LOST IN LAVENDER to readers that have enjoyed this series in the past. However, it makes for an excellent standalone book for those that want a romance mystery/romance set in the lovely French countryside.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author.

Lise McClendon

is back! on Tour October 20-November 2 with Lost in Lavender      

Lost In Lavender

(mystery/women’s fiction) Release date: October 15, 2020 at Thalia Press 254 pages


Facing a crossroads– both career and personal– the youngest of the five Bennett Sisters, Elise, does what she does best: she runs away to think. This time she runs to a farm in Provence that produces heaven-scented lavender for oils. The area is famous for the beautiful purple flower, the symbol of this southern region of France. Her sisters are stumped. Elise never seemed like the farming type, or even gardening, for that matter. But she’s signed up for a farm stay vacation, an idea she got from an unlikely source, the trophy wife of one of her law partners. When she arrives, courtesy her older sister Merle who drives her to the Luberon from the Dordogne, she discovers she is the only guest at the picturesque family farm who is not a college student. The rest are all doing a French language exchange program and are 20 years younger than Elise, leaving her feeling like an outsider and wondering about her life choices. Not only is her judgment in men and careers awful, but she can’t even plan a decent vacation. Meanwhile in the Dordogne, Merle’s niece, Willow, arrives for some R&R before she starts law school. But she brings a few surprises with her, a boyfriend plus Elise’s fiancĂ©. Or is it ex-fiancĂ©? It will take several sisters– and of course Pascal– to unravel the facts as all descend on southern France for July in the heat and lavender. Suspense, romance, intrigue, and humor as the summer heats up for the Bennett Sisters again. Another delicious adventure in international travel and cozy mystery as the Bennett Sisters fight their way to truth, justice, and a perhaps a summer fling, deep in Provence. A summer fling in France never hurt anyone, now did it?
Works fine as a stand-alone


Lost in Lavender LiseMcClendon
Lise McClendon is the author of thirteen books in the Bennett Sisters mystery series including A Bolt from the Blue, Blame it on Paris, and DEAD FLAT. She wrote two mystery series, the Alix Thorssen and Dorie Lennox mysteries set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and World War II-era Kansas City (The Bluejay Shaman; One O’clock Jump). She also writes stand-alones as Rory Tate, including PLAN X, a thriller featuring a Bozeman, Montana policewoman. She edited the 2020 anthology, STOP THE WORLD: Snapshots from the Pandemic, bringing together 40 writers around the globe to discuss their experiences and emotions during this year, plus poetry and short fiction. Her short story, Forked Tongue, was included in the Anthony Award-winning anthology, The Obama Inheritance. As Thalia Filbert she wrote with four other well-seasoned crime writers the darkly comic culinary thriller, Beat Slay Love: One Chef’s Hunger for Delicious Revenge. Lise has served Mystery Writers of America in the past as a national board member and Montana representative. She lives in wilds of Montana near Yellowstone National Park.
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Saturday, October 17, 2020

Things To Do When You’d Rather Be Dead by Michael Guillebeau

Things to Do When You'd Rather be DeadThings to Do When You'd Rather be Dead by Michael Guillebeau
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’re a mystery reader that enjoys a solid story with laugh-out-loud dialogue, then you really must read this!

Everyone believed Detective Joe Brosette had shot and killed the Angel of Mercy, the religious maniac who had been preying on the children of Birmingham, Alabama, for months. As Joe had closed in, the evil serial killer had murdered Joe’s own wife and daughter. But Joe was never completely convinced that Father Carson, his own parish priest, was the person behind the Angel of Mercy’s reign of terror.

Joe was gutted by his family’s deaths, and over the ensuing two years, he sank deeper and deeper into despair and self-recrimination, letting himself go and drinking heavily. Friends on the force covered for him until he was reassigned from Detectives to Community Service, where he was relegated to giving anti-drug presentations to school children and public groups, dressed as a clown cop with a fake gun. But deep in his heart, he kept looking for signs that the Angel of Mercy was still out there. Then one phone call lets Joe know he got the wrong man.

If you’re a mystery reader that enjoys entertaining and humorous dialogue, then you really must read this new book by author Michael Guillebeau. As you can tell from the book’s synopsis, the murders involved are horrible and tragic, and at the time of the story, two years in the past, they are not discussed in great detail. But I want to be clear that snappy dialogue aside, the subject is treated with the appropriate gravity and respect. The first-person point-of-view of the lead character, Joe Brosette, the broken but still kicking former detective, is self-deprecating one moment, poignant the next, and it pulled me straight into this mesmerizing narrative.

Joe is aware that he’s let himself go, but he’s also never given up. He’s made promises to bring the real Angel of Mercy to justice, and he intends to do just that – even if it kills him. His department has written this case and Joe off, but he gets renewed support from some unlikely sources. I adored his unexpected helper, Juliet Capulet. She’s smart and tough on the outside and tender on the inside and comes at the mystery with fresh eyes and a fierce spirit – a spirit that has also gotten battered around in the past. She and Joe work so well together, and their evolving partnership was great to watch. I hope this is the beginning of a series.

I liked that Joe had built up quite a reputation in his department, a legend as a detective and that there was still a lot of respect for him back on the job. This is personified by another new ally, the newly-minted Detective First Coltrane, who stands by Joe and helps despite the damage his affiliation could do to the future of his own career.

Kudos for the ‘deadbeats’ and ‘has-beens’ at Johnson’s Bar. I loved how the atmosphere and the tough crowd of ‘Lost Boys,’ and how they were still ready and willing to serve when one of their own needed them at their back.

The mystery itself comes together so very nicely. All the clues are there for the reader to find, and I was delightfully surprised to have overlooked them all. I never saw the resolution coming or how the killer was going to try to make their final big ‘score.’

I will be looking for more books by this author immediately. I recommend THINGS TO DO WHEN YOU’D RATHER BE DEAD to mystery readers that like a grittier story (than, say, a cozy) with witty banter and an endearing narrator.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Friday, October 09, 2020

Tusk Justice (Kenya Kanga Mystery, #2) by Victoria Tait

Tusk JusticeTusk Justice by Victoria Tait
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mama Rose returns!

When “Mama Rose” Hardie is asked by the manager of the exclusive Mount Kenya Resort and Spa to look into the outbreak of small thefts that have recently plagued the hotel, she accepts the challenge. Her husband, Craig, is due to attend a conservation conference there the coming Friday, and her new assignment includes deluxe accommodations at the resort. The conference is a big deal for the resort; it is a pre-event to the inaugural Giant’s Club Summit the resort is hosting. Four heads of state, including President Kenyatta from Kenya, are expected to attend to discuss a pan-African response to the upsurge in elephant poaching and illegal ivory harvesting.

One of the rising stars on the conservation scene, and with a new book launching at the conference, is the managing director of the local Gaia Conservancy, Davina Dijan. As she begins her first talk at the conference, the wrong presentation is mistakenly projected onto the screens for the audience, and she goes ballistic even though she’s the one that made the error. The correct program is shown, and her talk goes well, but she continues to be difficult and obnoxious to everyone around her. After spilling a drink at dinner and complaining that she’s tired, her husband escorts her up to their suite to turn in for the night.

Hours later, as Rose and Craig settle into their own beds, the resort manager bangs on their door. Davina Dijan has been found dead, and he needs Mama Rose to come help. But Davina is most definitely deceased, and very apparently murdered. As Police Commissioner Akida is out of town at an important meeting, he sends his best and brightest, Constable Judy Wachira, to investigate. They ask Mama Rose to stick around to lend her able support.

Tusk Justice is another exciting, multilayered mystery in the Kenya Kanga Mystery series featuring 60-something “Mama Rose” Hardie. This new story is as much a mystery as an exploration of family relationships in flux. Rose’s husband, Craig, is suffering the devastating effects of his having contracted polio when younger. Rose is struggling to maintain, as much as possible, his quality of life, the dynamics of their lifelong relationship, and their life together, as he slowly, inexorably deteriorates before her very eyes. Craig, for his part, tries to hide his pain and his fear for what is going to happen to Rose after he finally succumbs to his condition. These are circumstances of which many readers of the same age as the characters can relate.

The author weaves in other deep concerns impacting the Kenyan setting, such as the plight of Africa’s elephants, the population of which has drastically diminished because of poaching and the illegal ivory trade and widespread poverty due to the loss of traditional livelihood and farming. Even Rose and Craig struggle to make ends meet, depending on what she brings in as a paraprofessional veterinarian. But all is not grim; remedies are depicted as on the rise with tourism thriving and new government initiatives to promote conservation efforts and the health and welfare of the people.

I recommend TUSK JUSTICE to cozy mystery readers, especially those that enjoyed the previous entries in the Kenya Kanga Mystery series and those that like a mystery set in a new, exotic, still rural setting.

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