Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Skeleton Box

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By Bryan Gruley

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http://bryangruley.com/

Plot

A series of break-ins has left the people of Starvation Lake, Michigan wary and a little fearful. The latest intrusion results in a dead body. The house is owned by the mother of reporter Gus Carpenter and the victim was a close friend. When Gus starts investigating, the case cracks open the seal on a box of secrets kept hidden for decades. Gus tries to find the connection between the recent murder, the disappearance of a nun from the 1940s, why a mysterious entity is buying up land in town, and the odd behavior of a group of religious folks on the outskirts of town. The case turns even more personal when Gus’ mother is arrested and evidence links her to the nun.

A very nice puzzler. It has the added dimension of enigmatic clues written on pieces of torn paper. Like many stories, it brings in a town’s and its residents’ histories with group of women sharing a secret.

Characters

Gus Carpenter: newspaper editor for the Pine Country Pilot, plays on a men’s hockey team and is assistant coach for a youth team. Worked at a Detroit paper for ten years. Dad is dead. Drives a truck.

Darlene Esper: Pine County Sheriff’s Deputy, Gus’ ex girlfriend

Dingus Aho: Pine County Sheriff, big man, handlebar moustache, smokes

Beatrice Carpenter: 66, Gus’ mother, has memory problems, adopted, family all dead except for a step brother, lapsed Catholic

Luke Whistler: 56, white hair, reporter, former Pulitzer Prize finalist with the Detroit Free Press, very passionate about his stories, married and divorced the same woman twice, mother was an alcoholic, drives a Toronado, wears a gold pinky ring

Roy ‘Tatch’ Edwards: Goalie on the hockey team, a born again Christian who lives in a trailer camp with a group of religious people, nephew lives with him, has a scar above his left eyebrow

A bunch of unique and very distinctive people. There are a lot of characters, each with just the right amount of background information. From the unyielding and secretive religious leader to the golf playing Catholic Father. With a small town and Carpenter’s connection to other newspapers you are necessarily going to get a lot of personalities meshing and conflicting.

Dialogue

Pretty standard but distinctive voices throughout. Conversations don’t wander.

Writing

Written in first person tense from Gus’ POV. Many instances of profanity. Tight writing. Gruley knows grammar and language and the proper way to use both. Gruley also does a fine job of doling out clues and revelations. All in all, a very enjoyable book and one worth keeping.

My ranking:

Brown Belt

Brown

Murder In The Dojo

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By Sue Star

suestar

http://www.dmkregpublishing.com/

Plot

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.

Characters

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.

Dialogue

Good voices from everybody including the teens.

Writing

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.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Blue

The Rosary Girls

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By Richard Montanari

Montanari

http://www.richardmontanari.com/

Plot

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.

Characters

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.

Dialogue

Fairly standard. Police procedural type conversations. Good voices. Good emotions displayed through dialogue.

Writing

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.

My ranking:

Brown Belt

Brown

The Seven Wonders

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by Steven Saylor

Saylor

http://www.stevensaylor.com/

Plot

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.

Characters

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.

Dialogue

Easy to understand. No lengthy conversations although some descriptions of the sites are shown in dialogue.

Writing

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.

My ranking:

Brown Belt

Brown