Category Archives: Series

Cold Blood – Robert Bryndza

Cold Blood – Robert Bryndza Bookouture (September 20, 2017) 357 pages.

The fifth DCI Erika Foster novel is another great read. This time out, as DC Peterson recovers from his wounds, two bodies are recovered from the banks of the Themes. Dismembered and stuffed into suitcases… who could do such a horrible thing… and how does someone become a person capable of doing that? This is the story that answers those questions. As DCI Erika Foster and her team track down those responsible for these murders, the split narration shows how an ordinary person can become a person with the capacity to commit murder.

During the course of this investigation Erika continues to check on Peterson while he’s recovering. But, in a sudden twist Erika is betrayed by one close to her and she’s attacked while delivering evidence to the forensics unit. We follow Erika as she recovers from her wounds. The physical one she received during the attack, and the other… well… she is still coming to terms with the death of her husband years ago. She returns to Slovenia to stay with her sister and enjoy her niece and nephew.

During Erika’s recovery, the case is assigned to a drug investigation unit within the department where it becomes ‘lost in the tall grass’ until Erika returns. With new evidence, new perspective and renewed engagement Erika takes charge of the investigation again and her dogged pursuit of these ruthless killers brings about another tense and trilling conclusion.

Erika looked down at Nina’s body and felt an overwhelming sadness. How could a young girl with so much promise stumble down such a dark path? She looked back to the cave, and could just make out Max Kirkham’s feet through the gap in the rocks. It was quiet, and the light was fading, and she shivered. With her free hand, she closed Nina’s eyes.
   The wind whistled across the heather and the air was bitterly cold, and Erika paced up and down to keep warm. She thought how long she had hunted for these two people, and of the trail of destruction they had left in their wake. And now she was alone, guarding their bodies.

Crusader’s Cross – James Lee Burke

Crusader’s Cross – James Lee Burke Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition (July 12, 2005) 337 pages.

The story starts out in a flashback with Dave and his brother Jimmy spending the summer of 58 in Galveston where they were rescued from the surf by a girl… who is eventually taken and subsequently disappears. Later, in the current time frame,  a former classmate of Dave’s, who’s path in life is to run into trouble inevitably finds it and on his deathbed has a confession he gives to Dave,  his uncle, formerly a sheriff’s deputy, had been involved in the girl’s disappearance back in 58.

Dave is reluctant to visit ghosts of the past until an incident where two corrupt sheriff’s deputies take a forceful interest in what might have been said to Dave by an old school chum. Meanwhile,  a series of killings has taken place in the suburbs surrounding New Orleans with one of the bodies discovered in New Iberia parish where Dave has just been rehired by the sheriff’s department.

So, while Dave is officially looking into  the current homicide he’s conducting a reluctant parallel, personal investigation into the past. Which is not something that a wealthy powerful old family wants to have happen. And Dave does not react well to the intimidation tactics of people in power.

In this novel Dave is constantly making bad choices that have serious repercussions for those around him. His reckless encounter with a genteel belle whom he used to know inadvertently corrupts a crime scene. He meets openly, in public, with a witness willing to talk and she subsequently turns up dead. And a verbal confrontation he orchestrates in a posh restraunt turns into an assault and leads to Cletus offering to help his perjured witnesses.

Its not only incredible how Dave turns this around… its miraculous!

“The problem isn’t just the beef at Clementine’s. Its you Dave. You don’t like rules and you hate authority. You wage a personal war against guys like Val Chalons and take the rest of us down with you. No amount of pleading with you works. People are tired of following you around with a dustpan and broom.”
“I’ll clean out my desk,” I said.
“You force your friends to hurt you, Dave. I think that’s a sickness. But you act like it’s funny,” she said.

Neon Rain – James Lee Burke

Neon Rain – James Lee Burke – I read the Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster) paperback version.

Right off the bat we get poignant social commentary and we meet New Orleans homicide detective Lieutenant Dave Robicheaux who may just be the target of a hitman… seems he’s investigating the suspicious drowning of a prostitute in a parish in south Louisiana that ties back to the New Orleans mob. But its deeper than just the mob… soon South American gun runners are setting him up to take a fall for a federal agent’s death. Then, suspended from the force he continues his own investigation following it wherever it leads stepping over bodies as he goes.

From a Calloused parish sheriff and a pair of his corrupt deputies, to biased and apathetic Internal Affairs investigators, the mantle of Noir fiction rest well on this first Robicheaux novel. His life, from serving in Viet Nam to facing down crime in the underworld of New Orleans while battling the bottle and other demons from his past make for a character that is surprisingly introspective and takes the time to see the beauty around him. Burke takes the time to paint a visually lush and fertile environment throughout the novel. It’s a treat for the senses and an immersive experience.

This is the third novel of Burke’s that I’ve read…. I suppose its about time that I got to read the book that started the whole series. This came out in 1987; over ten years from the first Spenser novel and five years before the first Bosch story… which is now on my list to read. There’s something about the narration of the Robicheaux stories that jumps to life… I just wish that they came out with scratch and sniff pages!

   She sat beside me, wiped ointment on my cuts with a piece of cotton, snipped adhesive tape into strips with the scissors, and taped down two big, folded squares of gauze on top of the ointment. Then she rubbed her hands over my skin, down my shoulders and back, across my chest, her eyes looking over my body without embarrassment, as though she were discovering me for the first time. I leaned her back on the bed and kissed her mouth, her neck, unbuttoned her flower-print blouse and placed my head against the red birthmark on her breast. I felt her body stretch out against mine, felt the confidence, the surrender that a woman gives in that moment when she no longer hides her hunger and instead blesses you with a caress that is always unexpected and heart-rushing and humbling in its generosity.

This time I wanted to give her more than she gave me, but I wasn’t able. In seconds I was lost inside her, her hands right against my back, her legs in mine in almost a material way, and when I tried to tense and stop because it was too soon, she held my face close to hers, kissed my cheek, ran her fingers through the back of my hair, saying, “It’s alright Dave. Go ahead. It’s alright.” Then I felt all the anger, the fear, and the heat of the last two days rise inside me like a dark bubble from a well, pause in its own gathered energy and momentum, and burst away into light, into the joy of her thighs, the squeeze of her arms, the blue tenderness of her eyes.

Foreign Deceit – Jeff Carson

Foreign Deceit: A David Wolf Mystery – Jeff Carson, Cross Atlantic Publishing 2013. I read the Kindle Edition from Amazon

This is a first novel from what I can tell by author Jeff Carson. It’s a mystery of the thriller variety. While awaiting a potential promotion to Sheriff, Deputy Sargent David Wolf gets notified of his brothers suicide in a small city in northern Italy. Circumstances surrounding his brothers death have details that do not ring true, so he goes there to look into it and bring the body home. While investigating with the help of an attractive, young police woman Lia Parente he uncovers more than just the local charms. The book ends with his return to Colorado and a nice hook into volume two. The e-book edition I read, the first two chapters of the second book in this series are provided.

After letting this sit and digest with me, nothing there really stands out that I can recall with good texture. Perhaps the thing sticking out to me the most is Lia’s ability to drive an Alfa Romero very well, and that she may be ‘vivacious’ but I would have like to have spent more time at the post-climax of the novel exploring that in better detail.

Between Colorado and northern Italy Carson does a decent job in describing the landscapes and settings, but nothing really grabs me with any detail, or texture. I’m not expecting James Lee Burke pastoral here. But given two opportunities to bring a place to life I see an opportunity wasted I suppose. The language used is… standard, no, flat. Yeah, I would describe the descriptions as flat.

“Wolf had been studying the foliage of the area, and could only come to the conclusion that nature looked confused. There were palm trees, pine trees with long drooping limbs, stiff spiked trees with red flowers that looked like fruit, large-leaved prehistoric looking bushes, pine trees you might see in Colorado, and a variety of exotic-looking foliage he’d never seen. The lawn was lush green, full of grasses and thick-stemmed wild flowers with tiny yellow and blue blossoms, and at least a foot tall. One thing was certain—this area got a lot of rain.”

The area is well described, yet… nothing really has a texture. And this marks the description of, well, everything. Its there, but not that we ‘feel’ it. Even the Italian dinner scene at Detective Rossi’s house lacks texture…and if anything is ripe for pulling all our senses in, its an Italian dinner… I WANT to taste that spaghetti! And experience Office Parente… now THAT would be a sensation to textualize!

Bitter End – Rex Stout

Bitter End: The First Nero Wolfe Novella – Rex Stout . I read the Kindle Edition of the original story published in 1940. A classic who-dunit mystery. The clues are there to follow for the observant.

The story starts out where someone has evidently tampered with a jar of pate at the residence of one Nero Wolfe. Poison is suspected and an outraged Wolfe vows to find the dastardly culprit behind this assault on his palate. As fate would have it, Miss Duncan, niece to My Tingley of Tingley’s Tidbits who makes the pate, arrives to engage Wolfe to investigate the product tampering. Among the close knit circle of suspects is: Miss Yates, in charge of production; Mr Cliff, a VP of a competing firm; Philip, Mr Tingley’s adopted son; Mr Judd, a mysterious banker who is also looking to buy Tingley’s Tidbits; and Miss Murphy, assistant to Miss Yates.

The investigation takes a turn for the worse when Mr Tingley is found murdered in his office and Miss Duncan apparently struck unconscious at the scene. The homicide brings Wolfe’s foil Inspector Cramer into the story. With the looting of papers at Tingley’s office, the murder may not be related to the product tampering, but rather the curious birth and adoption of Philip who may be set to inherit the business.

But in the end, deductive reasoning and a careful examination of the facts presented soon turns up the guilty party. And the description, the narrative… its first rate!

It sure was a ramshackle joint. From a dingy hall a dilapidated stair went up. I mounted to the floor above, heard noises, including machinery humming, off somewhere, and through a rickety door penetrated a partition and was in an anteroom. From behind a grilled window somebody’s grandpa peered out at me, and by shouting I managed to convey to him that I wanted to see Mr. Arthur Tingley. After a wait I was told that Mr. Tingley was busy, and would be indefinitely. On a leaf of my notebook I wrote, “Quinine urgent,” and sent it in. That did it. After another wait a cross-eyed young man came and guided me through a labyrinth of partitions and down a hall into a room.

Seated at an old, battered roll-top desk was a man talking into a phone, and in a chair facing him was a woman older than him with the physique and facial equipment of a top sergeant. Since the phone conversation was none of my business, I stood and listened to it, and gathered that someone named Philip had better put in an appearance by five o’clock or else. Meanwhile I surveyed the room, which had apparently been thrown in by the Indians when they sold the island. By the door, partly concealed by a screen, was an old, veteran marble-topped washstand. A massive, old-fashioned safe was against the wall across from Tingley’s desk. Wooden cupboards, and shelves loaded down with the accumulation of centuries, occupied most of the remaining wall space.

“Who the hell are you?”

Last Breath – Robert Bryndza

Last Breath – Robert Bryndza I’ve read the kindle edition of this thrilling British police procedural. This is the forth in the DCI Erika Foster series.

As this story begins, a body has been uncovered in a trash bin in London. DI Peterson is called to the scene. Erika tags along on this snowy evening despite the fact that she is no longer part of the Murder Investigation Team. Peterson reports to DCI Marion Hudson, who though not on the scene, is still in charge of this investigation. Erika in her fashion ‘crashes’ in on the scene. Her current duties have her compiling administrative reports in Bromley. But being at the murder scene, and seeing it run poorly, gets Erika’s inner detective sparked, that, and Superintendent Sparks chasing her off probably had as much to do with her motivations. But a behind the scenes police investigation and an unforeseen circumstance align in such a way as to promote DCI Hudson to Acting Superintendent and DCI Forster can work the investigation.

While investigating this killing, Erik, through her connection with the pathologist Isaac, finds out that sloppy police work caused a killing with the same signature markings from going unnoticed, these are slow killings where the murderer seems to torture his victim a few days before killing them. So, now there are two brutal homicides. The killer has both luck and skill in hiding his identity as well as his crime and a third killing takes place. But as clues turn up and connections are made, Erika and her team get closer to the truth… As news that a third victim has been taken. With an increasing sense of urgency and a ticking clock until this next victim is killed the pace of this story really starts to race. And luck won’t be on the killer’s side for long…

This story certainty has Erika at her most introspective. As a reader of this series we’re starting to see much more growth in Erika, especially in her interactions with her various superiors up the chain of command. She still shows her indignation at police ‘perception’ motivations. When called in by the Assistant Commissioner she stands her ground while not getting much support from Acting Superintendent Hudson. But through her outside interactions with former Assistant Commissioner Marsh and her nemesis Superintendent Sparks, she begins to see things from their perspective. Which is one of those areas we see Erika becoming more forgiving of those around her.

And towards the end of this story, through her interactions with Isaac, Peterson and Hudson, Erika is really starting to take stock of her life. The choices she herself has made, as well as the circumstances that life has dealt to her. It seems that a certain amount of healing is taken place within her, and I look forward to seeing her in the next thrilling case!

   She went on: ‘Getting over the loss, that bit people can sympathize with and understand, but moving on, trying to fill the gap the loss has left, is impossible… You know I’ve been seeing Peterson – James – since before Christmas.’

Isaac nodded. ‘You like him, don’t you?’

Erica nodded and got p, grabbing the box of tissues from the desk opposite.

‘He just wants to be with me, and I keep pushing him away. He’s such a good guy… Like Mark, he was the one everyone loved. I just don’t know why Mark had to die and I’m still here. He was a great guy. I’m just a bitch.’

Isaac laughed.

‘I am, it’s not funny.’

‘You’re not a bitch, but you have to act like one sometimes. It helps you get the job done.’

Erika laughed. ‘No, thank you, but I just want to be alone.’

‘No, you don’t… Every day I have to do post-mortems on people, and so many of them had their hole lives ahead of them. They probably died wishing they could have done things differently, wishing they has been nicer, loved more, not stressed so much. Go and see James. You could be dead tomorrow and lying on that slab in there.’

‘Brutal, but true,’ said Erika. ‘You should give advice more.’

‘I do, but most of the people I see at work can’t do anything with it. They’re dead.’

Black Cherry Blues – James Lee Burke

 Black Cherry Blues – James Lee Burke Published in 2011 by Mulholland Books, 288 pages I read this on my kindle at a very nice price.

This is the third book in the Dave Robicheaux series, and it seems to pick up right after the death of his wife. Her death, as well as her ghost haunts him through this story. But it’s a friend of his from College that brings the former New Orleans homicide detective to check into a pair of oil company men his friend Dixie seems to have gotten himself in bed with.

One thing leads to another as they say, and when thugs send a not to subtle threat involving his adopted daughter, its payback time. Then, when one of the oil lease-men turns up dead, Dave follows the leads to Montana to clear himself and finds that his old friend Dixie has taken refuge with a mafia family who’ve helped him in the past.

With missing Indian activists, oil company land deals and mafia drug transactions… well as picturesque as the landscape is, it may not be the healthiest place for an ex-lawman to be asking too many questions.

I’ve read this book having just finished his novel New Iberian Blues (2019). Its been thirty years between these two books and it’s a clear demonstration of something I’ve been calling the “Stephen King effect”. This novel has a fairly simple linear narrative with a limited number of characters moving through it… whereas New Iberian Blues has several narrative threads weaving through numerous characters over a sweeping story arc, and it shows how James Lee Burke has grown and developed as a masterful storyteller.

And, though this novel is smaller in scope than its latter novels it is no less dramatic in is descriptive landscapes:

“I headed for the Blackfeet Reservation, on the other side of the Divide, east of Glacier Park. In the early morning light I drove up the Blackfoot River through canyons of pink rock and pine, with woodsmoke drifting through the trees from the cabins set back in the meadows. The runoff from the snowpack up in the mountains was still high, and the current boiled over the boulders in the center of the river. Then the country opened up into wider valleys and ranchland with low green hills and more mountains in the distance. I started to climb into more heavily wooded country, with sheer rock cliffs and steep-sided mountains that ran right down to the edge of the road; the canyons and trees were dark with shadow, and by the time I hit the logging town of Lincoln the air had turned cold and my windows were wet with mist. I drove into clouds on the Divide at Rogers Pass, my ears popping now, and rivulets of melted snow ran out of the pines on the mountainside, bled across the highway, and washed off the dirt shoulder into a white stream far below. The pine trees looked almost black and glistened with a wet sheen.”

New Iberia Blues – James Lee Burke

New Iberia Blues – James Lee Burke Published January 2019 by Simon and Schuster, 465 pages of pure scenic detective fiction. I checked my copy out from the library and I sure wasn’t disappointed with this. This is the book I had in mind when I was reading Debbie Herbert’s Cold Waters. There are several threads running through this story and its woven together masterfully.

Detective Dave Robicheaux spies a woman tied to a cross drifting in from the bay while on the deck of his old friend Desmond Cormier’s house. The award winning director Desmond and company are in the area filming a new movie when a series of unfortunate incidents occur. From a dead woman on a cross, to a hanged laborer, then a crooked sheriff’s deputy is killed… as Robicheaux diggers deeper into the people surrounding Desmond the bodies pile up.

Is there a killer amongst Desmond’s friends or could it be a fugitive death row inmate from Texas who has been spotted in the area… or perhaps its an albino mafia contract kill whose also returned to New Iberia. It couldn’t be a young deputy who has a knack for being around just when someone is killed… could it?

The descriptions are wonderfully drawn in a vibrancy of detail and oe of the things that I liked about this story is that there is time in between the events. Everything isn’t cramped together, its spaced out, paced over a series of months, season even. The story starts in the spring and concludes in the fall and Burke gives amble nuanced description of the bayou throughout its transitions.

And its not just the physical landscape, no, the characters themselves are painted with a fine-tip brush. Even the recently deceased get rendered in full dimension:

   By Monday the victim had been identified through his prints as Joe Molinari, born on the margins of American society at Charity Hospital in Lafayette, the kind of innocent and faceless man who travels almost invisibly from birth to the grave with no paper trail except a few W-2 tax forms and an arrest for a thirty-dollar bad check. Let me take that one step further. Joe Molinari’s role in life had been being used by others, as a consumer and laborer and voter and minion, which, in the economics of the world I grew up in, was considered normal by both the liege lord in the manor and the serf in the field.

He’d lived in New Iberia all his life, smoked four packs of cigarettes a day, and worked for a company that did asbestos teardowns and other jobs that people do for minimum wage while they pretend they’re not destroying their organs. He’d had no immediate family, played dominoes in a game parlor by the bayou, and, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, never traveled farther than three parishes from his birthplace. He had gone missing seven days ago.

Spells And Cells – Sam Short

Spells And Cells: A Spellbinder Bay Cozy Paranormal Mystery – Book Three (Spellbinder Bay Paranormal Cozy Mystery Series 3) (pp. 49-50). Sam Short Books. Kindle Edition.

“Just look around you,” said Judith, her hair shining gold in the sunlight. “Adults are just big kids at heart.” This appears to be an idea that keeps coming through in this very dramatic story. This is the third, and I don’t know if it’s the final, installment in the Millie Thorn “Spellbinder Bay” Young Adult Paranormal Cozy mystery series, and it seems to tie up many of the loose ends from the previous two books. Suffice it to say, I actually believe that the death under investigation in this story, is actually a subplot compared to the other threads being tied together.

There is an apparent death of a werewolf while in police custody.. Is our beloved Sargent Spencer really the guilty party? Or is there some force that might be working through him? And what will the other werewolves think?

In this story, we really get to see a side of Spellbinder Bay and its paranormal community that we didn’t get in the prior two novels. It shows a stratification within the community, ad it shows to some degree internal conflicts within this community. Much like we see different interplay between groups in The Planet Of The Apes, here we get a similar education.

We also delve deeper into the back stories of some of the power players in the politics of Spellbinder Hall… while Henry, the de facto leader of this community is away, such as Frederick, the ‘head vampire in charge’ and Edna a witch who evidently does autopsies as well.

But mostly, this is THE story of Millie, her past, her present, and a possible future with a new set of familiar relations. Well, spoiler alert, as with most cozies this one has a happy ending. But not just A happy ending, there are several happy endings spanning many of the diverse story threads weaving themselves through this third tome.

SERIOUS spoiler alert here, and, although I don’t usually chime in on what should or shouldn’t be done… on a personal note and most certainly in my humble opinion… I think the story would have had more punch, a real moment of reflection, if Rueben didn’t survive the Chaos.

Fredrick gave another smile. “Because of politics, Miss Thorn. All is not what it seems in Spellbinder Hall. I’m content in the job I perform here in the hall, I like teaching the children… it is the one joy in my existence, and I’m content with being on The Board of Governors, but to retain the positions I hold, I must keep on proving my competence. Henry left me in charge, and if I did nothing in the wake of a murder committed during his absence, other people who hold a dislike for me, or who covet my position on the Board, would speak against me, perhaps persuading Henry to remove me from my responsibilities. And I happen to enjoy my responsibilities.”

Broomsticks And Bones – Sam Short

Broomsticks And Bones: A Spellbinder Bay Cozy Paranormal Mystery – Book Two (Spellbinder Bay Paranormal Cozy Mystery Series 2) (p. 89). Sam Short Books. Kindle Edition.

“Sergeant Spencer took a deep sniff of the crisp morning air. ‘I’m hungry,’ he stated. ‘We should have breakfast before beginning a murder investigation.’”

And that’s the sentiment that defines the ‘cozy’ subgenre of mystery fiction. First muffins, then murder. And it is murder, make no mistake about that. After the discovery of a mysterious skeleton unearthed by a treasure hunting beachcomber, the arrival of the alien hunting group ASSHAT, yup, ASSHAT (Alien Search Syndicate and Hazard Alert Team) and an midnight covert incursion by the Spellbinder Sand Diggers group, the body of the beachcomber is found. Who, or quite possibly what killed him puts a recently deputized Millie on the case.

I find myself really enjoying the cozy flow in this series. Broomsticks and Bones is the second in the Millie Thorn ‘Spellbinder Bay’ mysteries. It has quirky characters that quickly draw you in and the narration flows along. This is a wonderful book for a lazy spring day sacked out in the hammock and an ending that satisfies our curiosity, and small town justice as well.

Sergeant Spencer coughed, the sound hiding his laughter, but unable to conceal the mirth his wide smile exposed. “It’s his uniform,” he explained. “He’s from a —”

“I’m quite capable of explaining who I am, and what organisation I represent, thank you, Sergeant,” said the man. He smiled at Millie and Judith. “I’m Mister Anon, which is a clever pseudonym, of course — I like to keep my real identity a secret. I have to keep it secret. I represent a group known as the Alien Search Syndicate and Hazard Alert Team.”

“Erm,” said Judith. “You’re from a group called ASSHAT?”

Mr Anon sighed. “You’re quick at working out acronyms. Very good. Most people don’t pick up on it. The group was named before I joined it. That mistake would have never slipped past me if I’d been in charge at the time.”

“You could change it?” said Millie.

“Too late,” said Mister Anon. “We’ve got headed paper, business cards — the works. We don’t have the funds to make such sweeping changes.”