Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son, by Colleen McCullough, is the fourth installment of her Carmine Delmonico mystery series. The novel is a rich, tightly-woven tapestry of colorful characters and intriguing plot. It's a story of blind obsession, and ruthless dominance. Combine this with a 1960's biracial marriage, an exotic Yugoslavian model in a May-December marriage to a wealthy publisher, her diminutive, cretin-like maid who forecasts the future from a bowl of water, blackmail, deceit, unbridled ambition and you have a whopping tale filled with misdeeds and dead bodies.

A ampoule of lethal poison, extracted from the innocent looking blow fish, has gone missing from Dr. Millie Hunter's laboratory.  Hunter, a biochemist at Chubb University is the daughter of Patrick O'Donnell, Holloman's Chief Medical Examiner.  Millie informs her father that the missing vial is a deadly neurotoxin that shuts down the nervous system, which results in a horrific and nearly untraceable death.

Millie, and her husband, biochemist, Jim Hunter, attend a celebration dinner for the reunion of a father and his long-lost son, who is an old friend of the Hunter's.  The son, John Hall, dies before he finishes his last drink. Did the missing poison play a part? It would appear so due to the rapid onset of death. It was also certain that the poison was injected, rather than put in food or drink. How did the murderer accomplish that?

The Hunters are once again among the dinner guests at a Chubb University gala when another victim falls prey to the missing neurotoxin; through injection. Suspicions are flung far and wide but Captain Carmine Delmonico keeps coming back to Dr. Jim Hunter as the chief suspect. The only person, in his opinion, that would have had access, motive and knowledge. But - can he prove it?  Another death by the poison, this time administered in water, and a KGB style shooting of a presumably innocent victim confuses the issue. They are all connected - how?

Word of warning, the ending of The Prodigal Son is emotionally complex, something you may not have seen coming.  Stunning, surprising, culturally shocking, The Prodigal Son is traditional McCullough at her best.

A review copy of this book was received from Simon & Schuster Publishing. Colleen McCullough is the author of The Thorn Birds, Morgan's Run, Antony and Cleopatra, and others.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Highball Exit - A Sherri Travis Mystery

Reading a Sherri Travis novel, by Phyllis Smallman, is like sitting down at a bar for a drink with an old friend and knowing the beer is going to be cold, the peanuts fresh, and the stories spicy!

Sherri can stir up trouble with the skill of any good bartender and Highball Exit is no exception. Only this time, trouble almost gets the best of her. Sherri's pizzazz for fun and adventure fizzles when faced with insurmountable personal danger, financial ruin, and a tottering romance.

Holly Mitchell, a past employee at Sherri's Sunset Bar, is dead. Suicide, according to the police. But, Sherri has other things to worry about, like how she's going to settle three months of past due payments on her bar.  She's hit an all time low and when elderly, ill, Auntie Kay shows up asking for help to find Holly's baby girl, Angel, and waves the green flag of 'money', Sherri can't resist. Aunt Kay convinces her that all she has to do is drive her around so she can ask questions. Things take a nasty turn when Aunt Kay and Sherri encounter the creepy duo of brothers, Cal and Ryan Vachess.  Cal is the perverted owner of Angel Escort Service, his brother, Ryan, a perma-fried speed freak  It gets worse when Ryan develops an appetite for sexy bartenders.

So, why is Cal Vachess stalking Sherri?  And, what does the cop, Danny, know about Holly that he isn't telling? Is a famous singer involved in Holly's death? More importantly, where is the missing baby that only Aunt Kay declares is real?

This book is a little darker, and more intense than others in this series. Scenes of Sherri, alone in the dark in a remote beach house, are not for late night reading unless you like looking over your shoulder.  Highball Exit has a twisting, satisfying plot with an ending that finds Sherri naked on the beach. . . her tormenter closing ground. . . I'm not going to tell you the shocking finale but I think you'll find justice clearly served.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Through a Yellow Wood

Through a Yellow Wood, by Carolyn J. Rose, is a re-visit to the alluring Catskill Mountains and the haunted shore of Hemlock Lake. Dan Stone returns to the charred remains of his family home to rebuild; and to face the ghost of  the boyhood friend who tried to murder him seven months ago. The book carries the reader through an ebb and tide of excruciating memories as it moves among the characters that populated Hemlock Lake. Yet, it has it's own agenda.

Who savagely killed the old man that lived on the mountain ridge? Who shot, execution-style, his kennel of Search & Rescue dogs?  What macabre secret was the murderer hiding in the beautiful, craggy, hills and dales of the Catskill range near the old, deserted campground. 

Dan Stone and his girlfriend, Camille, while trying to get past the tragic history of a year ago, are resurrecting a life together but soon find themselves caught up in the mystery of the ridge.  In the process they become reluctant parents to teenaged, Julie, the daughter of the man who almost killed Dan.

Through A Yellow Wood is a tangled web of raw emotion and strangling fear. There is a madman, a serial killer, afoot in the region of Hemlock Lake.  His targets are young, teenage girls with long, brown hair - just like Julie's.

Carolyn Rose is a writer of rare talent.  Her words take the reader into her world through sight, sound and smell. You walk with her on the mountaintop; you feel the fear, the painful grip of death.

I would recommend that you read the first book, Hemlock Lake, although Through A Yellow Wood is a stand alone tale. By reading the previous book you have a better understanding of the characters and reality of life in the Catskills. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Dead Red Oleander

A Dead Red Oleander, by R. P. Dahlke; is both funny, and serious, an altogether good read. In this book, Lalla Bains, an aero-ag pilot (crop duster) seems to find her way into more than a field of pesky bugs. At the opening of A Dead Red Oleander we find Lalla in a sizzling, hot, cotton field, laying underneath her Dad's old pickup, handcuffed to the frame. So, what's up with that? That's what a California State Trooper wants to know.

Backtracking reveals events happening fast and furious, starting with a newly hired pilot, with the unlikely name of Dewey Treat, dying without preamble at Lalla's prenuptial hot dog roast.  Did the wife kill him with a poisonous oleander stick? Why did Mad Dog, the other aero-ag pilot, bring a stranger to that party? And, what did the stranger know about the dead man?

Lalla takes it on herself to find out the secrets that surround the dead Dewey Treat; and the wife who isn't what she seems.  It leads her into a frantic fracas of car wrecks, attempted kidnapping, dead bodies, and explosions. Sharing her harrowing adventures is wedding guest, Cousin Pearlie, a crack pilot with a penchant for romance. Did I mention she carries a gun?  Add an eccentric Texas Granny, a grumpy Dad, his goat, Billy, and his girlfriend Shirley. Mix it up with a Federal agent, and don't forget the bridegroom, Caleb, who just happens to be the county sheriff.  He's not only interested in solving the tangle of who's killing whom, and why, he's struggling to keep Lalla alive long enough to be his bride.

It's safe to say, if you like Janet Evanovich, you'll love R.P. Dahlke.  It's the same breezy, quick action style, with unforgettable characters and a strong, female lead. Only I personally think Lalla Bains has a little more going for her than Stephanie Plum. Just my opinion.

For more about this author and a list of her other books visit - http://rpdahlke.com/

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

London Calling: A Susanna and the Spy Novel

London Calling by Anna Elliott is the second installment of the Susanna and the Spy Novels. If you are into light Regency Romance, with a little mystery mixed in, then this is the book for you. 

Susanna Ward, in 1809, is engaged to marry Lord James Ravenwood. It's an ideal match and Susanna waits, impatiently, for James to return to her uncle's estate, Rutherford Hall, to complete the wedding plans. She receives, instead, 'two' letters. One from James, postmarked from his estate in Derbyshire, declaring his undying love. The other, from Aunt Sophia, who informs her niece that she has just seen her finance, James, flirting openly with a very beautiful, notorious woman at Almack's in London.

Susanna is not a woman to sit around and stew over what is, or isn't true, and makes a deal with another aunt, Ruth Maryvale, to accompany her to London so she can discover what's amiss.  From the moment they alight in the City perplexing events begin to take place.  Susanna's first glimpse of her betrothed is one of him aiding in a robbery with a band of French rogues. As the plot deepens Susanna and Aunt Ruth find themselves entangled in a nefarious network of spies and scoundrels.

This book is a fun read if you don't mind stretching the imagination.  A single woman, gadding about London unescorted, and in the finery of the day sets about aiding her beloved in his plot to foil foes of the King. Climbing trees, creeping down dirty alleyways, flirting with dangerous men - can it get any better?

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Ghosts of Lovely Women

Is it possible for teachers to influence basic beliefs of their students? The obvious answer is - yes. When an excellent English teacher like Theodora (Teddy) Thurber introduces Henrik Isben's play 'A Doll's House' to a brilliant, but impressionable young student, Jessica Halliday, the results take a bizarre and dangerous turn. Nora Helmer, the main character in the play, is caught up in a typical 19th Century marriage where her husband views her as a second class citizen.  Jessica takes this perceived abuse to heart and dedicates herself to being the instrument of 'Nora's Revenge'. When Jessica is found strangled to death in her car a channel of events spiral into a tense and dramatic mystery. What clever idea was revealed on Jessica's website? Would Jessica's cryptic clues lead Teddy and the police to the killer?  And, was the most crushing clue found in the home of Derek Jonas, a trusted friend of Teddy?

Ghosts of Lovely Women, by Julia Buckley, is a book of merit, not only for its entertainment value but for its thought-provoking theme.  It strikes a point that young people really do care.  That they can be independent thinkers and solve complicated riddles of adult life. The light romance that intertwines this book is wonderfully created. Teddy's beagle dog, P.G., adds touches of home-like humor, and, if you are a reader like me, the many references to great literature, from Shakespeare to Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment' is an added welcome bonus!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Maids of Misfortune - A Victorian San Francisco Mystery

Annie Fuller is a business woman in an era where that is more of a liability than an asset. Raised an only child, tutored, by her adoring father, in the matter of stocks, bonds and other annuities, Annie married a weak and controlling man who robbed her of her inheritance, and in keeping with his character, committed suicide. 

After inheriting her aunt's home in San Francisco the young widow established a boarding house. It didn't, however, provide her enough income. Her training as a stock broker was laughable in the very male world of 1879, so, when a wealthy roomer suggested that she become 'Madame Sibyl' a clairvoyant adapt in business transactions, she donned a black wig, designated a small parlor in her boarding house, and placed an advertisement of her talents.

When her favorite client, Matthew Voss, is found dead of an apparent suicide, Annie is not content with that verdict, especially when all his money and stocks are missing. Her first visitor, after the death, is a young attorney named Nate Dawson who immediately assumes that Annie and Matthew's relationship was more of a physical one than business, since he named her in his will. Part of the fun in this light-hearted mystery is the constant collisions of will between Annie and Dawson. Annie is forward thinking - Nate a conservative, easily shocked male of his century. 

So, was it suicide, or just plain murder? And, where was the Voss money? Was the misunderstood son, the beautiful wife, the ever-suffering sister, or the uppity ladies maid, involved in nefarious activities?  And just where did Voss's partner, a man about town, fit into all this? Annie, with help from her boarders and personal staff,  devise a plan to find out who's doing what in the Voss household; much to the chagrin of young Dawson. 

In Maids of Misfortune, M. Louisa Locke has created a lively, cozy tale of Victorian mayhem with enough dangerous situations to keep you involved. Glimpses of San Francisco, in the late 1800's, are skillfully embedded in the action. A thoroughly pleasant read, followed by a sequel titled Uneasy Spirits.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Bungalow

The Bungalow by Sarah Jio is not a traditional mystery, although there is a murder and many mysterious elements to ponder.

The book begins with a letter, nearly lost in a stack of unsolicited mail.  It’s addressed to Mrs. Anna Godfrey, a woman in her seventies.  Anna, no stranger to reoccurring memories, is suddenly swamped with a deluge of regrets and suppressed dark secrets when she sees the origin of the letter; Tahiti.  For over 50 years Anna Calloway Godfrey has returned again, again, in her mind, to the beautiful tropical island of Bora Bora and the deserted, hidden, bungalow on the sundrenched beach. 
 In 1942, young Anna, and her best friend, Kitty, leave the comfort of home to serve as Army nurses at a base on Bora Bora.  There begins an engaging, twisted tale of love; love for Gerald, Anna’s childhood sweetheart, and love for Westry Green, a handsome solider.  It’s a story about misplaced trust, guilt, and following one’s heart despite the consequences.   

Is it ever too late for lost love?  Too late to bring justice to a criminal?  Only a trip, with granddaughter Jennifer, back to the isle of her memories can answer these questions.  Does the romantic artist’s bungalow still stand? Will its secret mailbox hold the key to closure for Anna, Kitty, and Westry? 

Despite Sarah Jio’s reliance on sometimes far-fetched coincidences The Bungalow is worth the read.  If you have ever thought about paths not taken; words not spoken; secrets kept-and what would have happened ‘if’. . .then this book is for you.