Monthly Archives: September 2013

Long Gone Man


by Phyllis Smallman



The year is 1994. Singer Brown wanders the country in her old van, singing on street corners for money to survive. As the story opens, we find Singer has some business to clear up with the John Vibald, leader of the band to which she once belonged. However, after negotiating a treacherous mountain road on an island off the coast of Vancouver, she discovers John has been murdered. And there are no lack of suspects: His much younger wife, the wife’s lawyer lover, other band members who are living on the island and hoping for a comeback, or is it someone connected to a land development deal John was holding up? Slowly, the truth is revealed not only to Singer, but to the local police. Of course, that only leaves Singer in that much more danger.

A murder mystery set in on an island off Canada. Interesting. A homeless singing not-an-investigator investigator. Different. The unique character of Singer first attracted me to the book. I wasn’t too sure about the unraveling of the plot, but it works to some extent.


Singer Brown: Not her real name, 46, homeless, drives and lives in a yellow 1984 Dodge Caravan, plays a guitar and sings to make money, smokes, graying hair past shoulder length,

Lauren Vibald: 28, long, sculpted face, hazel eyes black brows, long mahogany colored hair, husband was murdered, owns a poodle, adopted, drives a black Yukon, both parents were medical people

Aaron ‘Pinky’ Pye: band member with Lauren’s husband, constantly tardy, sparse gray hair, flushed face, pear shaped build, wife is an alcoholic, has a son

Steven David: early fifties, blue eyes, also known as Stevie Dee, played drums and did vocals for the band, violent temper,helps with local theater,

Chris Ruston: mid thirties, tan, blond, good looking but overweight, lawyer, had an affair with Lauren, sails, golfs, father was a lawyer

Duncan: Corporal for the RCMP, 5’8”, ice blue eyes, short curly blonde hair

Louis Wilmot: late forties, slim, blue eyes, hair graying at the temples, Sergeant for the RCMP, was with the Major Crimes unit in Vancouver, on the force for 23 years,

Lauren was a character I couldn’t get a hold on. One minutes she’s tough, the next she’s wishy-washy, the next she’s nonchalant. I can’t chalk it all up to shock at her husband’s death. Although I liked Singer, I wanted more punch from her. A bit of depth is provided when I learn about why she’s on the island. Actually, I liked the two investigating officers best.


Pretty good. Again, Lauren’s dialogue was hard to comprehend in the terms of any given situation. Not that I couldn’t understand her words, but the reason for her attitude and personality shift was difficult. At times she sounded like Singer and I wanted her to keep her own voice. The cops have some good back and forth play and even though Wilmot wants to be back on the mainland, he is dedicated to his job.


Relatively short chapters. Some profanity. I liked the cliffhangers at the end of some of the chapters. I guess I wanted more from Singer. It’s a Singer Brown mystery, but the cops seem to play a bigger role in solving the crime. Singer comes up with some good deductions and suggestions, but I wanted to see her featured more. At the beginning, there was a lot of build up with no explanation. That bothered me at first because the book jumps right in to this crazy mountain scene, almost like it’s the middle of the book. Upon reflection, it was okay because Smallman teases with the truth through a lot of the book. Some good descriptions of the setting brought me into the scenes. Although it’s been done countless times, I don’t mind the Nero-Wolfe-bringing-the-suspects-together-in-one-room type of climax. Singer is a cool character with the potential to really shine in future novels.

My rank:

Purple Belt


 Phyllis Smallman’s first novel, Margarita Nights, won the inaugural Unhanged Author award from the Crime Writers of Canada. Her work has appeared in both Spinetingler Magazine and Omni Mystery Magazine and she has received two awards for her short stories. The Florida Writer’s Association shortlisted Champagne for Buzzards as the best Florida book for 2012. Long Gone Man is her 6th book.




by Kate Flora



Portland, Maine Homicide investigator Joe Burgess just wants to spend time with his girlfriend and two kids they are thinking of fostering. However, his job keeps getting in the way. A weekend with the kids is interrupted by the murder of Burgess’ long time friend and war buddy Reggie Libby. Libby, never quite the same after the war turned to alcohol and the street. So who would kill him. Suspects abound. His son, a shyster realtor, his ex wife. Burgess struggles to find evidence in the case are another obstacle. A superior is urging him to cut out the extra manpower for what looks like an accidental drowning of a wino. Nobody seems to know Reggie’s mysterious new employment. Burgess friends on the street are too addled-minded to be of but scant assistance. Reggie’s son, Joey is nowhere to be found and the ex wife is a witch. The situation grows more tense as the days pass and the clues start to add up.

This is a good solid story and a nice police procedural. It presents the pressures a cop experiences both professionally and personally. Flora does a nice job of presenting the evidence and unfolding the story.


Joe Burgess: Detective Sergeant for the Portland, Maine PD, has a girlfriend and two foster kids, trying to ease the strain on his relationship, drives a truck, Vietnam vet, a little overweight and doesn’t exercise or eat a healthful diet, father died an alcoholic, has a scar

Stan Perry: Joe’s colleague, bald, drives a Taurus, womanizer

Benjy: pale roomy eye, chapped and wrinkled face, white beard stubble, gravelly voice, limps, street person

Maura O’Brien: Takes medication to be mentally stable but hates the medicine, has a daughter who pays the rent, likes sweets, usually wears bright clothes, graying auburn hair, usually stringy and a mess, overweight

Claire Fontaine Libby: pale skin, long dark hair, only child, widow, has a son, controlling, selfish

Some good supporting characters, especially in Reggie’s girlfriend and other street people.


Fairly distinctive voices. Every conversation is important to the main story or to the subplots. No long explanations or lectures, just a policeman doing his job and talking to those who can help.


Some profanity. A few punctuation and missing or incorrect words problems. I did tire of the Joe’s constantly telling me about how awful his professional life was. A few times are okay, but throughout wasn’t necessary. I just wanted the mystery story. I enjoyed the subplot with Burgess’ colleague’s woman problems. There was another minor subplot brought in late in the story that distracted me. I thought it would have worked better had it been introduced earlier as just another obstacle for Burgess to overcome. I thought about giving it a blue, but with the editing mistakes and too much ‘telling’, I have to go with:

Purple Belt


The Tehran Triangle


by Tom Reed and Sandy Baker



In 1999, Elizabeth Mallory gets her first field assignment for the CIA. She has to stop a major Gharabaghi from acquiring nuclear material for his home country of Iran. Foiling the plot only puts her in his gunsights. Moving quickly through the years, Elizabeth adds more responsibility to her career but always keeps in her mind how Iran continually moves forward to become a nuclear power. She learns of a plot to build a nuclear weapon in El Paso and to explode within the United States. Behind the plan, her old nemesis, Gharabaghi, now a Colonel. And he hasn’t forgotten about Mallory.

An interesting plot combing fact and fiction. I think it shows a nice progression throughout the years of Iran’s determination to have the bomb.


Elizabeth Mallory: 26, CIA agent, multilingual, blonde, blue eyes, graduated Harvard, father was also in CIA, likes older men, equestrian

Ashkan Gharabaghi: Major the Colonel for Iran, was in the Revolutionary Guard corp, has a mustache like Clark Gable, knows English and Russian, suffers breathing problems from a chemical weapons attack

There are other sub characters but these two are the good vs. evil duo.

There’s an attempt to have sideline stories with Elizabeth’s love life and the loves and thoughts of a couple of supporting characters, but I wasn’t connected to anybody. Gharabaghi was the baddie, but pretty typical. No uniqueness.


Standard. Nothing unique or surprising and no character’s voice really stands out.


Although I thought the progression through the years was interesting, I wonder if it was really necessary. The main thrust of the story was the bomb being built in El Paso and Gharabaghi’s plan to use it. The history of Iran’s nuclear movement could have been told in summary. Very minor profanity. I felt the story slowed in places and I kept wanting to get to the end to see how the plot was going to be foiled instead of enjoying the story as it moved along.

My ranking:

Purple Belt




by Laura Crum



After ten years of raising her child, Gail McCarthy is considering returning to her former profession as a horse vet. She’s enjoying retirement, however, and the freedom to ride her horse around the countryside. Her life is disrupted when she comes upon a corpse of a fellow horse rider. Enter Detective Jeri Ward, an old friend of Gail’s to act as lead investigator. There is a plethora of suspects with, and a variety of, motives. From jealousy to a marijuana farm and even a nearby housing development with folks who are anti-horse. As the evidence is collected and tensions heighten, Gail discovers a second corpse.

I haven’t read any of Crum’s previous McCarthy mysteries but I wonder if she’s reached her limit on excitement. It’s a standard plot, but nothing captivating or special.


Gail McCarthy: 50, rides a palomino, former horse vet, married with child, gray streaks in her hair, 20 pounds overweight, doesn’t own a television, partner in a vet clinic, owns cats and dogs, likes margaritas

Jeri Ward: Detective Sergeant in Homicide for Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department, 50, blonde, manicured nails, has been with the department for 25 years

Mac McCarthy: 11, Gail’s son, plays electric keyboard piano, takes karate lessons

There are a lot of supporting and minor characters, but I didn’t feel a connection with anybody. Crum tries for depth but I wasn’t excited about the moments of reflections from Gail. Stock suspects.


Unexciting. Basic conversations between family members and between Gail and the detective.


First person POV from Gail. I mention the heightened tension, but I didn’t get a sense of urgency in the story. I did enjoy the excellent knowledge displayed by the author. She know her horses and any story with animals gets a second look from me. There are tense problems as the tense shifts to present without warning for no reason and stays present for awhile. Unnecessary profanity. Too much reflection time and not enough mystery. I wasn’t enthused about the ending as the solution didn’t wow me.

With the tense errors and the lack of punch, I have to give this a ranking of:

Camouflage Belt



City Of The Dead

cover large

by Daniel Blake



After suffering the consequences of a case gone bad, Pittsburgh homicide detective Franco Patrese wants a complete change of scenery. Calling on a buddy in the FBI, he secures a position with the New Orleans field office. Not too far into his time, he is approached by the personal assistant of one of New Orleans’ wealthiest men. Before she has a chance to pass along important information, she is murdered. Poisoned from a rattlesnake and her leg amputated. Soon, two more corpses in the same condition are discovered. Teaming up with a spirited New Orleans homicide detective are faced with several avenues of leads. The governor, a drug dealer, even a supposed descendant of Marie Leveau,. Just when they think they have everything wrapped up, something niggles Patrese to keep searching for the truth. However, the summer is moving on and unbeknownst to anybody, a new enemy is soon to overwhelm the city and her name is Katrina.

There are so many twists and turns to this puzzler but I knew that going in. What a concept! Like many novels from Blake (and his alter ego Boris Starling) everything is connected in some way. There is nothing left to question. A ‘simple’ set of murders turns into something unforeseen until nearly the end.


Franco Patrese: Formerly of the the Pittsburgh homicide department for over ten years. Did a lot of diving as a youth, has 2 sisters and a nephew, parents dead in a car accident, drives an old TransAm, attended University of Pittsburgh

Selma Fawcett: Black, New Orleans homicide, doesn’t like the FBI, a head shorter than Franco, used to be in Internal Affairs, divorced, 7th Day Adventist, 5 brothers.

Wyndam Phelps: Special Agent In charge of the New Orleans FBI field office, divorced

St. John Varden: elusive, CEO of Varden Industries, unimposing, average height

St. John Varden, Jr.: governor of Louisiana, hazel eyes, black hair, olive skin, war hero with several commendations, Christian

I love these characters, including Marie Leveau and other supporting cast members. Good background information and Blake gives you just enough to where the connections aren’t unbelievable.


Distinctive voices between white and black characters, rich and poor. No conversation is unimportant or goes off course. Basic and no nonsense.


Chapters are headed by date or location and are of various length. Some profanity and graphic details. I thought when the scenes shifted south of the border that the story was going a little wonky, but everything fits. Good descriptions and excellent, tight action scenes. Details regarding the city are just enough to give you a real sense of the attitudes and the culture. I was expecting was very good writing and I wasn’t disappointed. This is a story that will keep you guessing till the end and it left me amazed at the connections between characters and setting. I want more Blake novels.

My ranking:

Brown Belt