By Sue Star
On the day Nell Letterly is supposed to meet her new employer, Arlo Callahan, and start as an instructor in his Boulder, Colorado karate studio, she finds the dead body of the former instructor. Within days, evidence and suspicions fall directly upon Nell. With no help from the police, she decides to find the killer herself. There is no shortage of suspects: Callahan’s wife, a jealous instructor, a disruptive student, an ex girlfriend, an enigmatic janitor. With obstacles on all sides, Nell has to use not just her deductive reasoning to fathom out the killer, but her martial arts experience to save her own life.
As a martial artist myself, I have to favor any story featuring taekwondo/karate/self defense/weapons/sparring. The plot deals with betrayal and illegal immigrants and includes a fair amount of martial arts skills, techniques and philosophy.
Nell Letterly: 45, short stature, husband ran off, has a teenage daughter, black belt in American Freestyle taekwondo, unemployed for four months, has two older brothers, drives a Karmann Ghia
Rosenquist: Boulder, Colorado Detective, was assigned to look for Nell’s husband, big man, frowns a lot, receding hairline
Gillian Gannon: Nell’s husband’s half sister, tall, blonde, green eyes, bosomy, professionally groomed, rarely wears the same outfit twice, attended Smith, owns a Golden Retriever
Arlo Callahan: owner of Callahan’s Karate, fifties, lanky, doesn’t own a cell phone, married and divorced twice and currently going through divorce number three
I found it strange that the owner of the karate place, didn’t react when a drunk woman and a belligerent student interrupted classes and left to Nell to handle the matter. This is his business and if I had been a parent watching the class, I would have thought twice about returning if this is the behavior that is allowed. Callahan didn’t act like a karate club owner and his lackadaisical attitude was irritating especially when he kept wondering at the soundness of his decision to hire Nell in the first place. He just didn’t seem to have any sense whether common or business. I never discovered Rosenquist’s first name unless I missed it. Other characters are interesting, including the sloppy student who can’t tie his own belt, the egotistical instructor, and Nell’s instructor.
Good voices from everybody including the teens.
First person from Nell’s POV. A couple instances of profanity. I hoped for a little more action and exhibiting of Nell’s martial arts skills. Maybe a little more description of the tournament since. The fight scene at the end seemed to conclude rather abruptly. Star’s knowledge of martial arts came through and her use of details allowed me to vividly imagine the house/studio where Nell worked and lived. Still a fine first story in the Black Belt Murder series.
By Richard Montanari
Kevin Byrne: A veteran cop in the doldrums looking for a big case. Jessica Balzano: A new homicide detective dealing with an absent husband and new opportunities. Together they will partner to go up against a new killer in Philadelphia. One who is heinously killing Catholic teenage girls, mutilating their bodies and leaving them in poses of religious significance. Suspects abound but the victims keep dying. Can Byrne and Balzano stop the killer before he completes his mission and what happens when the case turns personal?
I enjoy mysteries with a puzzle. There are so many serial killer stories and the majority of them seem to be killer vs. cop. Sometimes there is a puzzle to be solved, but this type of mystery adds a religious aspect, a definite reason behind the murders. Plus, there are a couple of subplots that intrude which make for more complications in each of the cops’ lives.
Kevin Francis Byrne: Philadelphia homicide detective of over twenty years, divorced, tall, big frame, wheat colored hair, green eyes, upside down V shaped scar above right eye, smokes, suffers migraines with visions, likes Blues music, has a deaf teenage daughter, two police commendations
Jessica Balzano: 29, 5’8”, brand new Philly homicide detective transferred from Auto, has a three year old daughter, drives a Jeep Cherokee, separated from husband, graduated college in three years, boxer, father was a cop, attended Temple, older brother died in Kuwait while in the Marines, attended Nazarene Catholic High School in Philly
Simon Edward Close: 32, born in Northumberland, father was abusive and mother apathetic, reporter the tabloid The Report, attended Luzerne County Community College, wrote freelance music and film reviews, smokes, drives an Accord, uses escort services, owns a cat
Terry Pacek: Monsignor, 5’11”, mid forties, athletic build, politically minded when it comes to the church’s reputation, played football at Boston College
Very good depth of characters. I wanted to see a little more of Pacek’s involvement, but the story is basically about Byrne and Balzano. I like their quirks (she’s a boxer; he has flash images associated with migraine). They’re not just typical homicide partners.
Fairly standard. Police procedural type conversations. Good voices. Good emotions displayed through dialogue.
Book is divided into Parts and chapter headings list day and time. Third person narrative with scenes of first person from killer’s POV. Short chapters. Very little profanity for a book of this type and I didn’t miss it. The graphic nature of the crimes is very well portrayed. Not gore for gore’s sake but there is no doubt as the condition of the bodies. A lot of back and forth scenes between Byrne and Balzano. The subplots didn’t distract but rather added to the depth of the story. I recommend this book for mystery fans who like a little extra.
by Steven Saylor
In 92 B.C., young Gordianus of Rome travels with his mentor, poet Antipater of Sidon, to visit the Seven Wonders of the World. During their journey, they encounter mystery and murder. A young maiden dies during a play at Artemis’ temple. Two deaths and two enigmatic widows puzzle the pair in Halicarnassus. An Olympic athlete is the suspect in a murder at Zeus’ temple. Did a witch slaughter soldiers outside the destroyed city of Corinth? What connection does a man from Gaul have to the god Helios? Who killed the astrologer in a supposedly haunted temple in Babylon? At the Great Pyramid, Gordianus must solve the Sphinx’s second riddle. Gordianus becomes involved in international conspiracy in Alexandria.
These are a series of short stories placed into one volume. The mysteries within each chapter aren’t complex whodunits but there is enough variety in each case to be interesting. Plus, the traveling to see the Seven Wonders is astounding. I’ll admit, when I first read the back cover, I was afraid it was going to be one of those long drawn out tales of intricacy with long narratives and too long phrases with a plot that would just bore me to tears. However, by the middle of the first chapter I was delightfully surprised. After the first Wonder, I knew this was going to be a book I would thoroughly enjoy if only for the way history, the time period, and the culture is presented.
Gordianus: 18, Roman, father is ‘finder of truth’, from his father, Gordianus learned how to pick locks, tell if a woman is lying, and stealth. From Antipater, Gordianus learned history, mathematics, and Greek
Antipater of Sidon: Elderly Greek, famous poet, white hair, and normally white beard, hands are age spotted, wry sense of humor, experience traveler. It is said he helped create the list of the world’s seven wonders but that fact is not mentioned in this story.
These are the two main characters and they meet a plethora of other interesting people throughout their travels. Since the Romans had conquered, they and the Greeks had their differences and the attitude is shown throughout with various characters. I like the naïve youth paired with the experienced teacher. Though a virgin at the beginning, Gordianus is involved with sex in every chapter.
Easy to understand. No lengthy conversations although some descriptions of the sites are shown in dialogue.
First person narrative from Gordianus’ POV. Easy to read and understand narrative. We’re in the ancient world, but the language is basic enough without the difficulty of Latin and Greek with which to contend. No flowery difficult phrasing but enough descriptive narrative to elicit detailed imagery. It’s eloquent without being something you need to decipher, simple without being childish. Several instances of poetic verse. I enjoyed how Saylor showed the origins of modern words and terms through the use of ancient myth – Hermaphrodite, Cynic, Nike. A very enjoyable book.
The Helios Conspiracy
Just before Icarus Sun Works is to launch its new solar energy collecting satellite into space–the success of which will mean the world’s energy problems may be solved–it’s vice president is murdered in a New York hotel. She was the former girlfriend of FBI Special Agent Andy Fisher, a cynical, chain smoking, coffee addict who flouts authority and constantly flusters his supervisor. Investigating the case, he is on hand when the satellite launch turns disastrous and the rocket explodes. Sandy Chester, Fisher’s friend wants to discover why. Before long, however, Fisher is trying to connect the murder and the explosion to a series of sabotages to various energy related companies. But who is behind the conspiracy? The Russians? The Chinese? As the launch of the next rocket draws near, Fisher and Chester must avoid their own murder attempts and discover the answers before disaster strikes again.
It’s a very modern thriller with real life possibilities, at least in the science. I wondered for awhile about the way the plot kept diverting away from Helios into the other areas of sabotage. DeFelice does connect the dots, but it’s a wild picture when finished.
Andy Fisher: FBI special agent, has been in various FBI departments. No supervisor likes him but can’t deny his success rate. Chain smoker, cynical, wisecracker, athletic build, azure blue eyes, likes coffee
Jonathon Loup: Owns portions of various electric/energy companies, market speculator, in debt
Gavril Konovalav: Russian. Corporate spy. Usually awakens around noon.
T. Parker Terhoussen: Owner of Icarus Sun Works, tall, thin, past middle age but with youthful, glassy looking eyes. Egotistical. Genius. Attended MIT with a free ride.
Sandra Chester: rocket builder, father died when she was in high school, genius but not overt about it. Had laser eye surgery so doesn’t wear eyeglasses. Former smoker.
Em: professional assassin. Alcoholic. Former soldier in Afghanistan. Logical thinker. Got into trouble with an operation in Europe.
I really enjoyed Fisher’s boss, Festoon. His paranoia and wanting immediate answers plays the best straight man into Fisher’s unique personality. I also enjoyed some of the character names. The way they are thought by Fisher is so well done because of the humor involved. It keeps the book from going down the tubes into cold-hearted seriousness.
Lots of one liners from Fisher. I think his dialogue keeps you interested in the lecture type stuff from the supporting characters.
Scenes with characters other than Fisher have a glaze of cynicism layered over the narrative. With Fisher’s scenes it’s slathered on in a delightful manner. Chapters vary in length. Quick action scenes, no drawing out of tension, just bam, bam, you’re done. A few instances of profanity. The science is not difficult although I didn’t totally understand the rocketry intricacies. It’s no conspiracy why DeFelice is at the top of his craft.
By Stephen Leather
Jack Nightingale is a London police negotiator whose final case is filled with tragedy and oddity. He only wants to move on and two years later finds him as a private detective. However, when he receives a call from an attorney informing him of his father’s death, Jack’s life is forever changed. Discovering he was adopted Jack tries to piece together the clues about his birth parents. His father apparently sold Jack’s soul for wealth. Jack, about to turn 33, is nearing the time of retribution. Not believing anything other than his father was insane, begins to realize evil does exist, especially when people around him start dying. Jack is up against time, and unknown forces, to find a solution to save himself.
Clever. A different type of thriller/supernatural/mystery. This is one of those plots I thoroughly enjoy. A little bit of occult, a little bit of murder, a little bit of intrigue. Unlike some horror or supernatural books, the monster isn’t jumping out with each chapter. It’s subtle and draws you in.
Jack Nightingale: 32. At the beginning of book he is an inspector on London’s Metropolitan Armed Response Team. Trained to negotiate with hostage takers and potential suicides. Attended King’s College, Hendon Police College, and Bramshill Officer Training College. Drives an MGB. Becomes a private detective shortly after events in the first chapter. Smoker, hates elevators, single.
Jenny McLean: 25, Jack’s secretary. Midtwenties, short blonde hair, blue eyes. Attended Cheltenham Ladies College. Fluent in German, French, Japanese. Comes from a wealthy family but always wanted to work for a PI. Lived in Hong Kong for four years. Drives an Audi A4
In many books you will find one of the best characters is either dead or otherwise not involved directly with the story. This is one of those. Ainsley Gosling is a prominent character, but to avoid spoilers, I can’t describe too much about him. There are a few supporting characters, but they are only to be fodder for the events surrounding Nightingale.
Fairly distinctive voices. Conversations aren’t lengthy.
Lots of chapters, but various lengths. Only a few scenes do not include Nightingale. A few instances of profanity but nothing over the top. My ARC mentioned this book is the first in a trilogy and I would be interested in reading the second and third parts. This is one of those stories where the ‘scary’ bits are subtle. Yes, there is death and some of it is graphic but not revolting.
By Harriet Lane
Frances Thorpe works as a literary editor for a struggling London, England newspaper. One winter night, she comes upon an automobile accident and comforts the victim in the last moments of life. The woman was Alys Kyte, wife of Laurence Kyte, a famous author. After meeting with the widower and his two children, Frances begins to see her life changing. She develops a relationship with the daughter and eventually Laurence. Her acquaintance with Laurence also helps her at work. As the months pass, she can never quite get away from the veil of influence Alys had on the family, all the while inexorably surpassing it.
This would be classified under ‘literary fiction.’ The plot is basically how a woman’s life changes after the death of someone she never knew and the family left behind.
Frances Thorpe: literary editor for a London newspaper, parents still alive. One sister and two nephews. Enjoyed stamps, C.S. Lewis and Wilder as a child. Plays chess
Polly Kytes: 19, enrolled in drama college, went to school until 16, taught in South Africa, recently ended a relationship with an acting trainee, smoker
Mary Pym: literary editor and Frances’ supervisor, self centered, butters up to successful clients, smoker, has children
Lane did a masterful job creating the characters. Very well defined and I was interested in all of them. Frances’ mother is quite a unique character.
Very well defined voices, especially Polly’s. Surprisingly, Frances doesn’t speak too often and when she does, it’s in reaction to others. Only near the end does she show some courage to speak up for what she wants.
First person from Frances’ POV. Present tense. No chapters, just scene changes. Very good use of words and language. Profanity from Polly, mostly. Not sure if it’s necessary and each time it’s used, it’s a little bit of a shock, but interesting use of it. Subtlety is the key. I felt reading this that everything was a bit surreal, not in a drug induced haze sort of way, just under a very thin veil. You’re expecting tragedy and you receive deep insight. I enjoyed Lane’s descriptive words and use of British terms. She uses words not often seen in novels. Yes, this book is for women but there is some excellent and deep insight. Because of the masterful language I’ve bumped up my ranking to:
By Gloria Galloway
Sacramento homicide investigators Anthony Camarelli and his partner Julia Reynolds have worked well together. When after a boring stakeout Julia is shot and killed, Anthony thinks his world has come to an end. However, their ‘partnership’ hasn’t ended because she reappears as a ghost. Not knowing her purpose, she nonetheless helps Tony return to work. Just in time, too, because he and his new partner catch a domestic killing followed by what turns out the latest in a string of serial murders spanning back to Atlanta. Enter the FBI and an attractive agent named Romero. Romero, Camarelli, a task force, with as much assistance from Julia as she can provide in her spirit state, begin gathering what evidence is available. But the killer keeps taunting them with more bodies. How many more women will die before he is caught or moves on to another killing field?
The concept of a ghost partner is not new but isn’t done too often. I was hoping for more from Julia but she tends to play almost a supportive role rather than a main character. The ghost part is subdued. She uses her condition to aid Tony by trying to connect with the victims in order to provide clues, but I wanted more involvement from her, especially at the conclusion. Also, there is the underlying question of why she returned and stayed even through the case’s end. This question is never answered. Still, it’s a good murder mystery.
Anthony Camarelli: Sacramento Sheriff’s Department officer, Italian, marksman with numerous trophies, has a “Rosie” heart tattoo, lapsed Catholic, mother and sister both alive, born and raised in Sacramento. Dad owned a gas station. Charmer and attracts women.
Julia Reynolds: 35, Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, Anthony’s partner, tall , chestnut hair, has a Wonder Woman tattoo, likes scary movies, sleeps with a night light, parents dead, likes expensive fashion shoes
Rita Romero: FBI Special Agent in Charge. Very attractive with long, curly red hair. Came from Chicago. Graduated from Harvard Law. Father was with the Bureau. Married but separated.
Some standard characters here but a well rounded cast. Camarelli likes the ladies, but he also shows emotion. Julia has a bit of depth, especially in the church scene when she begging for answers. Relative to the problem below with time, Camarelli hooks up with a manicurist/pedicurist but after their one wild time together, you never see her again.
Pretty distinctive voices. Galloway does a good job of keeping in cop-speak. There are some lecture conversations, but nothing over the top and I like the fact that even though I’ve read hundreds of murder mysteries, some of the process is explained. For instance, Romero lets the reader know about organized and disorganized killers.
Some profanity, but the story deals with cops. A few misspellings. There’s also a time issue. A lot of time passes from the time of Julia’s death to the end of the story and it’s not very evident. The story moves along fairly well in regards to each murder but I didn’t see the weeks and months that pass with nothing going on. The story jumps from one incident to another. I only caught the passage of the time when it is mentioned almost a year has gone by since Julia’s death. There is some wry humor at times to keep it from dragging too deep into the grittiness of some serial killer novels. I wasn’t excited by how the case was solved, though. Too pat, too easy.
By William Ryan
1937. Moscow. State Security has assigned Captain Korolev of the Moscow Criminal Investigations Department to oversee the case of the death of a film crew member currently in production in Odessa. Hoping the woman’s death can be quickly deemed a suicide, Korolev discovers almost immediately the case for murder. Was her killer one of her many lovers? One of the actors? A villager who doesn’t like the film crew’s presence. Or, could it be someone with Party connections, perhaps the top man himself? Korolev walks a dangerous line especially when he discovers the woman may have been involved in a traitorous operation.
Ryan chose to go classic whodunit this time around. You have your usual fare of suspects and immoral behavior on the part of the victim along with the anticipated discovery of secrets along the way.
Korolev: Captain in the Moscow Criminal Investigation Division, divorced with a son, non Party member but fought in the Red Army during the Revolution and is optimistic about the future despite the despair seen daily, smoker, speaks a little German and English, has scar running down jaw to chin from a saber wielding Cossack, believes in God but must hide the fact
Rodinov: Colonel in State Security, pale and flabby skin, bald
Mushkin: Major in State Security, a little over six feet tall, burly, smoker, blond hair going white, demeanor degrades attractiveness, known to have been sadistic when dealing with the peasants
Shymko: short brown hair, film production coordinator
Babel: writer, Korolev’s friend, speaks a little French and German
Slivka: attractive female Sergeant in Odessa CID, speaks a little English and Italian, dresses in trousers and a leather jacket, smoker
Count Kolya: Leader of the Moscow Thieves, dark eyes, commanding presence, cultured voice, mother’s family from Jewish descent, cousin of Slivka’s
Very well developed characters. Even the individuals of the militia are distinguished from each other. I really got a ‘feel’ for each character and was genuinely interested in learning about each.
Straight forward. Conversations stayed on point. Every bit of dialogue moved the story forward.
I’m not saying you have to read Ryan’s first novel, The Holy Thief, before you read this one, but doing so would get you more familiar with the characters. There are characters in the first book who show up with supporting or minor roles in this story and if you haven’t acquainted yourself with them, you might not get the full effect. I felt compelled by the situation to learn the identity of the killer and to see if Korolev avoids stepping into trouble. Nice descriptions of people, the landscape, and cities without dragging the story down into too much detail. Subtle humor, intelligent writing. Ryan did his homework on showing the culture and the attitudes and the shadow of evil hanging over everything.
by Michael Genelin
I know how you feel. You pick up a mystery set in a European country and you have second thoughts. “I can’t pronounce the names,” you say. “I not familiar with the cities.” My answer? Who cares if the street, city, or personal names are half a mile long or don’t contain but one vowel? With Genelin’s latest Jana Matinova mystery, you’ll forget all about the confusing names and enjoy a intriguing little mystery while touring some of Europe’s locales. Matinova character is caring, witty, and her deductive reasoning is very convincing.
Commander Matinova attends a party for a financier politico wannabe and ends up watching the man’s wife get killed. Staying out of the public eye, she parallels the official investigation, always staying a step ahead, but always searching for what she’s not being told. With the help of an enigmatic and precocious teenage street girl, and avoiding several attempts on her own life, Matinova puts together the pieces of a puzzle that has connections to bands of thugs in World War II.
You always expect a little something extra when there is history involved, tendrils reaching into the past, mixing a little truth with fiction. Being viewed through foreign eyes gives it a little different perspective than if, say an American detective were working on this.
Jana Matinova – Commander in the Bratislava police. She uses deductive reasoning to find clues, pieces of evidence, and to sort out details.
Colonel Trokan – Jana’s superior. Very supportive of Jana. Intelligent.
Seges – Jana’s warrant officer. Young. He wants a transfer to another unit.
Em Mrvova – 13 (?), street girl. Knocks on Jana’s door selling earrings.
Oto Bogan – Financier. Caught up in a scheme not of his own making.
Each character is defined although the story only delves into Matinova’s background. The characters are pretty standard: the commanding officer, the mobster, the assassins, the money hungry killer.
What needs to be said is said. Interrogations are done succinctly, summations are made quickly. A little profanity, but not excessive.
I’d compare it to flying two feet above the water with occasional dips beneath the surface. There are no suspenseful moments. The action scenes are minimalist in nature and read like a weather forecast. I like the logical thinking of Matinova and the other tidbits that round out this story.
Besides her major case, she deals with the shooting death of a Gypsy boy, and how recollections of her mother’s Communist attitude shape her own thoughts. This Genelin’s fourth Matinova mystery so fans should be satisfied with another fine novel.
By R. T. Raichev
Lord Roderick Remnant was a nobleman who was not so noble. He enjoyed causing heartache, consorted with the occult, and threw wild parties on his private Caribbean island. Any wonder he would be murdered? Those around him when he shuffled off this mortal coil are up to their eyeballs in conspiracy to keep the murder a secret. But when the new Lady Remnant receives a videotape of her brother in-law’s death, she hires detective Major Payne to ferret out the truth. Along with his novelist wife, Antonia, Payne is faced with a plethora of suspects. By using extraordinary deductive reasoning a’la Holmes, can Payne expose a murderer? You know he can.
Murder is fun again! Oh sure, it’s an oft used plot. With this type of murder mystery, there’s nothing new under the sun. But as of this writing, I’d been reading a lot of serious gritty murder mysteries, a few of them relatively average or below. It was such a delight to pick up this book and get back to the enjoyment of reading.
Hugh Payne: amateur detective, major in the army, exhibits a bit of Sherlock Holmes deductive prowess, owns a cat, smokes a pipe
Antonia Darcy: author, Pyane’s wife, was married before, comes across as mild-mannered
Lady Clarissa Remnant : 45, widow, was Lord Roderick’s second wife, had many lovers, smokes, short fair hair
Stephan Farrar: Clarissa’s son from a previous marriage, takes drugs and has psychological problems, slender, butter yellow hair, wide mouth, bright blue eyes
Gerard Fenwick: Roderick’s brother, struggling writer, the 13th Earl Remnant, married, likes scotch and soda, frozen Daiquiris, and cigars
Louise Hunter: moon shaped face, auburn hair, gold-brown eyes, double chin, overweight, married but sleeps a separate bedroom from her husband, owns dogs
Such wonderful people are the Brits. You are introduced to a slew of them in the prologue and it’s a bit overwhelming to get smacked with so many all at once. I had to concentrate a bit in the subsequent chapters to put everybody in their place. Once I did, the characters became distinguishable and ‘classical.’
Many characters are described and much of the story is told through conversations. The style is so typically British I found myself right there in the same room enjoying the tea and scones and the cakes and breathing the atmosphere.
Each chapter is titled. Relatively short chapters. Each parcels out just a bit more of the story, just enough drawing open of the curtain to reveal the picture behind. I liked the interview with Antonia and the way she describes her style of writing is how Raichev writes: a balance between setting, characterization, and plot. Several references to the murder mystery genre, other literature, and several authors, almost a sly poking fun, yet a mild salute to them. This is a mystery that harkens to the thirties or forties, but pays respect to modernity. A fast read. A thoroughly enjoyable story. A definite keeper.