Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Darkening Field


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.

My Ranking:

Blue Belt



Requiem For A Gypsy

Requiem cover copy

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.

My ranking:

Blue Belt


The Murder Of Gonzago

cover 3

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.

My ranking:

Red Belt


Ice Fire


By David Lyons



Newly appointed federal Judge Jack Boucher is called into handle some of the cases of Judge Epson, who suffered a heart attack. He hears a twenty year old contempt charge on a scientist who subsequently asks Boucher for assistance. He claims he’s still seeking justice from a two decades’ old case involving a new form of energy and the CEO of an energy production company. While trying to deal with a waning relationship with his girlfriend, Boucher starts investigating the case and almost immediately runs into murder, corruption, and bribery. The case takes him from the heart of New Orleans to Massachusetts to the bottom of the ocean. With help from a New Orleans homicide and the scientist, Boucher concocts a scheme to exact long overdue justice. That is, if he can stay alive long enough.

Standard plot. A little bit different in that Boucher, a federal judge, gets to go on adventures. This is not a Grisham type novel set in the courtroom. This books takes you places.


Jack Boucher: Cajun, U.S. District Judge in Louisiana, father was a black Cajun, grew up on the bayou, lettered in football, basketball, and track at college. Stays in shape. Drives a 2004 Ford F-150 XF4 truck. Lives in the French Quarter, parents dead. Boxed in the Army. Widower

Bob Palmetto: Geophysicist, thin, sparse blond hair, talks to himself, close set eyes

Roscoe Fitch: New Orleans Detective, hangdog look, smokes and drinks but is trying to quit, wife died in Hurricane Katrina, doesn’t like his first name

John Perry: CEO of Rexcon Energy, black hair, mid fifties, married almost forty years. Has a stay-at-home 22 year old son he doesn’t like

Defined but standard and predictable characters. You know who the good guys and bad guys are and there are no surprises. Catch the small mistake with Perry – mid fifties (so I wold assume 55) yet married for almost forty years? Support characters are, again, interesting but predictable.


Except for a few French Cajun terms thrown around there wasn’t anything too exciting about the conversations. Sometimes, I had trouble knowing who was speaking because the author uses the word ‘he’ a lot when there are two or more people in the scene and sometimes it was difficult knowing which ‘he’ was doing action and speaking.


Fast moving book. Quick scenes. Nothing drawn out. Lyons describes pretty well the Louisiana/Cajun/bayou culture and setting. He likes poetry. Some profanity that was unnecessary. The major problems were: abrupt POV switches, unnecessary sentences that took the reader out of the flow of narrative. Many incidents of weak writing in that there was minimal attempt at depth in some of the narrative. Surface material. Even the sex scenes weren’t ‘hot’.

My ranking:

Green Belt


Playing The Hand She’s Dealt


By David Fingerman



Walter Farkos is murdered and places the body in the newly purchased house of former Minneapolis police officer Louise Miller. Then the killer sets fire to Miller’s neighbor’s house and murders another neighbor. Who is trying to destroy Miller? One of the partners in Farkos’ investment firm? Walter’s son? Wife? Daughter or son in-law? Also why would this person be trying to frame Louise who has enough problems of her own dealing with moving into new house with her girlfriend, a gambling addiction, and pressure to return to the police force?

Standard plot with the usual cast of suspects, cop friends, family, and personal issues. It’s not complicated and enough elements to keep it relatively fresh.


Louise Miller: former Minneapolis cop, addicted to gambling, red hair, hazel eyes, lesbian, collects old LPs, drives a Saturn, hand recovering from a severe break, owns a rescue Rottweiler

Karla: Louise’s girlfriend/roommate, smokes, blonde, has a collection of old LPs, drives a Beetle, does needlepoint.

Andrew Miller: Louise’s brother, deputy with the Hennepin County sheriff’s office, 5’11”, well toned physique

Gordon Grant: Detective, gray sideburns, crew cut, blue eyes, aggressive in case solving, rarely deigns to speak to lower ranked officers but keeps tabs on the promising ones, divorced with two kids

Also there is Louise’s brother, Farkos’ family with their quirks, and the investment firm partners all with their own personalities. And of course, the dog, which is always a good addition to just about any story.


Pretty standard. Some distinctive voices come through.


Several uses of profanity. Relatively short chapters. Minor grammatical errors. The expected twist. Fingerman doesn’t try to sneak secrets or clues and in one instance I caught a possible discrepancy that in just a few subsequent paragraph later was explained. I thought this a nice touch that I can catch something, but learn that Fingerman was already on top of it. This is a pretty fast read with quick action scenes and not a lot of graphic detail. This is one of those books that kept switching between ranks as I read it, but I’ll grudgingly give it:

My ranking:

Blue Belt