Category Archives: Series

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.”

Wicked For Hire – Lotta Smith

Wicked For Hire – Lotta Smith CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (April 17, 2016) I read the kindle edition 123 pages

I suppose it’s a matter of perception, or rather presentation? No, representation! I just finished reading Cold Waters (see the previous post) and I was critical of the simple no twists storyline, the fact that you had the story pretty much solved by the one third mark, and I was critical of the lack of substance and dimension in the characters.

Well, here is a story… that I expected to be simple and straight forward with fairly two dimensional characters and it was a delight to read. And that was due to my expectation walking into the story.

Wicked For Hire is put forward as a young adult, paranormal cozy mystery and that’s what I got… just as expected. Cold Waters was put forward as a serious, location-style mystery and it didn’t meet expectations…

But yes! I certainly enjoyed this light, quick, quirky story. At just over a hundred pages you can read it in one sitting. The bright, tongue-in-cheek narration adds to the color and the quick pace keeps you turning those pages.

It’s the story of a young woman, Amanda, who has some serious student loans to pay back… being denied the chance to finish med school can do that to a gal, but that’s what happens when some of the patients drop dead from your touch. Oh, and you also get labeled “The Grim Reaper”. Such is the opening to this young adult paranormal cozy…

Amanda is recruited by FBI Special Agent Rick Rowling who just happens to be the star loose cannon of a secret ‘paranormal cases’ division. Seems he needs a new assistant as he goes through them like tissues, and his boss wants someone to rein in the one-man wrecking crew.

So Amanda starts her new job with her new boss trying to solve the mysterious disappearance of a struggling artist, whose sugar-momma is the sister of a woman seeing Rick’s father. Seems the cops have a suspect, the sugar-momma’s other beau. He seems the perfect culprit right up until he mysteriously disappears while under police surveillance.

Can Rick and Amanda find out who, or what is behind these disappearances, before we all disappear?

Riding with him was a hellish experience—he drove as if he were in the Daytona 500, not the middle of Manhattan. “Are you insane?” I managed to say while I tried my best not to puke in the passenger’s seat. “Seriously, you should give your driver’s license back to the state. You can’t drive like a meth-crazed maniac!” “Ha. They shouldn’t grant a driver’s license to someone incapable of dodging my car” was his reply. He had a point, so I made a mental note to file a complaint to the local DMV

Dark Water – Robert Bryndza

Dark Water – I’ve read the kindle edition and found that the third installment of this series is better that the first two, and the first two were great too. I can’t wait to get to the forth Erika Foster novel!

Dredging a flooded quarry for evidence in a drug bust that DCI Erika Foster has overseen, human remain from an unsolved abduction of a seven year old girl 26 years earlier. Currently Erika has been assigned to the Bromley department as part of a special projects team that mostly takes down drug dealers. Erika is dissatisfied with this as it just seems that as soon as they put one dealer away, another pops up to take his place. She does not feel a sense of completion, of a final justice, that she does when she solves homicide cases.

Erika needs to go around her current Superintendent Yale to get an audience with the new Assistant Commissioner Brace-Cosworthy. Erika recruits her former commander Mash to make this happen, and become the Senior Investigating Office (SIO) for the Jessica Collins case.

Once this administrative coupe has been accomplished, Erika is able to recruit two DI’s from her former station, DI Moss and DI Peterson to help her on this case. Together they hit the ground running with boxes and boxes of records from the previous abduction investigation.

The family is interviewed, and Erika gets the rundown from the retired former head of the case DCI Amanda Baker, whose career path nose-dived after her failing on the high profile flawed abduction investigation.

It takes Erika and her team a lot of leg work to get through the muddle and find the right questions to ask before coming to a great climax. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure is shadowing the investigation, and Erika’s sister and her kids drop by quite unexpectedly…

This is a wonderful page-turnning read and in this third installment, Erika seems to be much more comfortable in her investigation and spends less time fighting departmental battles which made reading this third novel better in my opinion. I can see her growing as a character…

But now, lets talk Moss and Peterson. They have appeared with Erika in this her third story and it’s about time that we should really get a more rounded view of these characters . I would really like to know more about them as people… there is a lot of information about their personality and such as it relates to Erika, but I would like to see more of them away from Erika… see what they are like… I’d like to see Peterson order a round of drinks for non work related friends down at the pub.. what does he like what’s his drink of choice… and moss, maybe fiddling with her Playlist as she works out at the gym, what’s on her Playlist what does she do at the gym… does she like the gym?

I’m not one for comparing one author to another too often but I’m currently reading Stuart Kaminsky inspector Rostnikov series, and the way he fleshes out Tkach and Karpo is a really good example of what I’m thinking about. Now I’m sure that Kaminsky does this to also showcase more of Soviet Moscow into his story… but certainly Brydnza could do something along those same lines fleshing out Moss and Peterson while giving us non brits more of scenic London.

Moss and Peterson, what can I say… I’d like to know them better.

Erika couldn’t seem to summon up any feelings of triumph about finding the case of heroin. All she could think about was the tiny skeleton. During her time in the force, she’d spent several years heading up anti-drug squads. The names seemed to change – Central Drug Unit, Drug and Organized Crime Prevention, the Projects Team – but the war on drugs rumbled on, and it would never be won. The moment one supplier was taken out there was another ready and waiting to take his place; filling a vacuum with even more skill and cunning. Jason Tyler had filled a vacuum, and in short space of time someone would take his place. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Murderers, however, were different; you could catch them and lock them up.

For All Our Sins – T.M.E. Walsh

For All Our Sins – T.M.E. Walsh I’m on chapter nineteen of this train-wreck, almost one third through… and I just had to shelve it at this point.

I don’t know if the author intended this story to be ‘Young Adult’ fiction, but based on the childness of the main characters, and other dysfunctional relations within this police office, I just can not take it anymore.

This snippet below, an exchange between the team lead Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Claire Winters and her subordinate Detective Sargent (DS) Michael Diego is a typical one for these two… its petty, vindictive, antagonistic, its like watching spoiled children… we are introduced to these characters in this state, and it isn’t getting any better. There appears to be no adult in this police station. Detective Inspector (DI) David Matthew outwardly gloats over having a current case reassigned from DS Diego like a child being given another child’s toy.

I’m one third into this soap opera and I feel I’ve given it a fair shot. It opens with a young woman killing a priest with her switchblade and that opening chapter closes out with a line of such promise “The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to so so for them.” And I thought the chapter well done. But then… we meet DCI Claire Winters smack in the middle of some ‘mysterious’ undefined sub-plot and being called into work because of the homicide. Then we meet more of the cast and the characters come onstage antagonistic and unnaturally confrontational right from the start.

Then we get to interviewing a person of interest, and following up on their dysfunctional family life with runaway daughter and ‘mysterious’ foster children… there is the questioning of the daughter, and then thrown into this mix is an aside… a chapter with an inmate escaping from a local asylum for the criminally insane… and since that scene has none of the main characters in it… it stands as a well written chapter, much like the promising first chapter, but right after that, its back to the juvenile detectives.

So, being that there is so little time and so many more reading options, I’ve shelved this book in favor of starting the third DCI Erika Foster novel…

She called Michael to her office.

She stared at him as he sat in front of her desk, his hair messy and his face unshaven. He had dark circles under his normally clear eyes and his shirt didn’t look like it’d seen an iron in a long time.

‘Nice weekend?’ she asked. ‘Or should I say, eventful?’ She eyed him up and down. He shot her a sleepy look but ignored her question. ‘Judging by the look of you shirt, I’d say eventful.’

He stared down at his notepad, vacant expression on his face. Claire grew annoyed.

Leaning forward she clicked her fingers in front of his face. ‘Are you even fit to be in work, Diego? I’ve called a team briefing in twenty minutes and you’re looking fucked.’

‘Sorry,’ he managed. ‘I guess I overdid it.’

She stared hard at him and felt the slight twinge of jealousy.

She remembered that look of his. It hadn’t been that long ago that she’d been on the receiving end of his wild nights out. It was obvious to her that this weekend he’d been showing someone else a good time, and she hated the thought of it.

Red Chameleon – Stuart Kaminsky

Red Chameleon – This is the third Inspector Rostnikov novel. Published in 1985

I found it interesting that the novel mentions the transitions in Soviet leadership through the span of the prior novels, Death of A Dissident (1981) and A Black Knight in Red Square (1983) From Brezhnev to Andropov and then the death of Chernenko. From the climax of the second novel to the start of this third novel finds Chief Inspector Rostnikov demoted to simply Inspector Rostnikov, and it is due to this demotion that Procurator Khabolov, who succeeded Procurator Timofeyeva, assigned Rostnikov, along with his new leg-man the uninspired Comrade Zelach, to investigate an insignificant murder of an old Jew.

“In Moscow, the investigation of a crime is a question of jurisdiction, and the investigation of important crimes is an important question of jurisdiction. Minor crimes, and no one is quite sure what a minor crime is, are handled at the inquiry stage by MVD, the national police with headquarters in Moscow. Moscow itself is divided into twenty police districts, each responsible for crime within its area. However, if a case is considered important enough, a police inspector from central headquarters will be assigned. The doznaniye, or inquiry, is based on the frequently stated assumption that “every person who commits a crime is punished justly, and not a single innocent person subjected to criminal proceedings is convicted.” This is repeated so frequently by judges, procurators, and police that almost everyone in Moscow is sure it cannot be true.”

An old man is murdered in his bath and the only clues that Inspector Rostnikov has to go on is a very old photograph of four young men, and an old brass candlestick was taken from the scene. A very old photo of now very old men… who are they? Where are they? Are they even still alive? Well, at least one of them isn’t alive anymore. But who takes a simple old candlestick? It’s a question, a puzzle that draws the detective in Rostnikov to solve.

Along the way he, like Prometheus, tries to bring that spark to Comrade Zelach and ignite the detective in him.

“Zelach,” he said as they rode up the escalator, “do you think of me as a violent man?”

“No, chief inspector,” said Zelach indifferently. “There’s a stand on the corner. I have not eaten. Would it be all right if I bought some blinchiki?”

“It would be all right, Comrade Zelach,” Rostnikov said sarcastically, but the sarcasm was lost on Zelach. “Do you want to know where we are going?”

Zelach shrugged as they pressed through the morning crowd.

“In that case, we will let that be your surprise for the day.”

Meanwhile, we find our old friend Inspector Emil Karpo investigating a sniper at large in the city, and Inspector Sasha Tkach investigating a series of luxury car thefts. The pursuits of these investigations enable us a readers to again venture through the streets of Moscow and encounter the unique characters that populate the city… hell, this is as enjoyable as dogging Spenser around Boston!

Black Knight In Red Square – Stuart Kaminsky

Black Knight In Red Square – I read the 2012 MysteriousPress.com kindle edition of this novel.

This is the second in the Inspector Rostnikov series. There has been a murder, a poisoning of an American, two soviets and a Japanese citizen at a hotel in Moscow. The American was a journalist reporting on the Moscow Film Festival. The other victims were also connected with the festival. Is this just an isolated incident? Could there be a nefarious person or group who seeks to spoil an important cultural event?

Chief Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov and his trusted assistants, the idealistic Sasha Tkach and dedicated Emil Karpo set off to investigate. From swank hotels, to meeting with prostitutes in dark Metro Stations, and following suspicious westerners to theaters and Moscow landmarks. Something is certainty going on..

Thanks to a brief meeting with the KGB’s Colonel Drozhkin, Porfiry is informed that there may be western capitalist fanatics loose within the city of Moscow. Now, not only does he have to solve the murder, but he is being tasked with preventing any terrorist plots against the Film Festival.

I’m real taken with the writing, the way Kaminski draws me into the whole story. And, there’s even a bit of the old noir detective fiction. Here Tkach is interviewing a suspect at her hotel room:

“I haven’t been much help, have I?” she said, rising slowly.

“You’ve told me what was necessary.”

“If you’d like to come back tonight after dinner and ask more questions,” she said, taking a step toward him, “I’ll be right here.”

Now Tkach smiled, and his smile stopped her. The game-playing halted, for she had seen something that told her things had not gone as she had guided them. That smile was quite knowing and much older than the face of the good-looking young detective.

“I have to work tonight,” he said, stepping past her. “But I may have more questions. And perhaps next time you will answer with the truth.”

Without looking at her he crossed the room, opened the door, and stepped into the hall, closing the door behind him. At this point, he had no idea whether or not she had told the truth. He’d had no reason to be suspicious until he gave her know what you are hiding. Tkach didn’t know that it was the smile of all detectives from Tokyo to Calcutta to San Francisco to Moscow. He had seen her play her scene out, then had given her the knowing smile, and for an instant she had broken, showing that there was something more behind those eyes and that lovely facade. He had no idea what she might be hiding or why. He would simply give the information to Rostnikov and let him worry about it.”

Death Of A Dissident – Stuart Kaminsky

Death Of A Dissident – Originally Published in 1981 – I read the kindle version from MysteriousPress.com

On the eve of a political dissident’s trial he is murdered by means of a rusty sickle, left at the scene. Is it a political crime? A crime of passion? Or perhaps a random act of violence which does not occur in the Soviet state… It is assigned to Inspector Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov to investigate. But, where to begin… well it doesn’t take long for the hammer to drop and now there are two murders on his plate.

This is the first in the Inspector Rostnikov series and I found it to be quite the experience. I felt myself really drawn into the city and its people. The story is peppered with both the broad brush strokes of scenic narrative as well as the pinpoint vignettes of interactions which make the story come to life. For example in a simple act of questioning witnesses we see the psyche of the average muscovite.

“He was a foreigner?” tried Karpo.

“Yes,” went on the old man, “definitely a foreigner, English or American, he…”

“Did he speak?” tried Karpo.

“I…I…,” stammered the old man, anxious to please.

“No,” said the son, hugging the blanket over his vulnerable legs. “He said nothing. He just ran down Petro Street.”

Pytor Roshkov had decided to fix his eyes on the fascinating painting on the wall of the first meeting of the Presidium.

“Then you don’t know if he was a foreigner,” Karpo continued.

“No,” said the son.

“Yes,” said the father.

“If you would try less hard to please me and harder to simply tell the truth, you will get out of here much faster and back to your home or work,” Karpo said.

You can feel the weariness of exasperation coming through Inspector Karpo. The way Kaminsky just drops these little interactions through the novel makes this story so immersive. I really had the feeling of being transported to another time and place.

I am very much looking forward to the next book in this series “A Black Knight in Red Square”

“Though there are rules and regulations, restrictions and requirements, it is no easier in Moscow to find a killer or a saint than it is in New York, Tokyo, or Rome. If the world does not know this, the police do, and so they learn to value patience and good shoes.”

Vengeance Is Mine – Mickey Spillane

Vengeance Is Mine – I read this as the third story in the Mike Hammer Collection vol 1 – New American Library 2001. Original copywrite E P Dutton & Co. in 1950.

Felons, fillies and fisticuffs, nobody every accused Mickey of writing a dull story, and this third Mike Hammer novel starts out right away with Mike being roused from a night of drinking with a corpse in the middle of a hotel room shot with Mike’s own gun. Police are looking at it as a suicide, but Mike, having seen an important detail, comes to the conclusion that its murder… and if it wasn’t Mike, who did it?

Well, the corpse was an Air Force captain Mike had met when he came home from oversees. After a night or reconnecting over several bars, he turns up dead. Who in New York would want a department store buyer in from Cincinnati dead… that’s where Mike’s trail starts. And that trails leads to a modeling agency, a trip to the Bowery, a lunch in Greenwich Village, and a tangled web of an extortion ring weaving its way through the city leaving a string of bodies that were often dismissed as suicides. Somehow, the blackmailers are always one step ahead as Mike makes his way through to the truth behind the apparent suicide that wasn’t which started this crusade.

Mickey’s third novel, just like the first two makes wonderful use of straight forward prose to paint a picture of New York in the late forties on a canvass using a shadowy pallet of grays. Against this backdrop he paints the bright colorful characters of Connie, Clyde, Juno and Anton as well as the ever present and faithful Velda and Pat.

I love reading the pure, unvarnished, pre-pc prose. There is a raw and visceral quality to the low-life’s, high hats and criminal middle managers that Mike encounters. And although most people are quick to tell you about his hard-nose ‘take no prisoners’ approach to personal conflicts whenever some mook invades his ‘personal-space’ I like the wa that Mickey lets you know that the ghosts of Mike’s past still haunt him. Mike really sees clearly the impact that his actions make and that he himself is not insulated from the violence around him. But he still chooses to clean up his city. A city where Mike feels for his fellow citizens.

One description that really stands out in this book is where Mike is taken to a section of town he hasn’t visited in a while… and if you like this, wait till her goes to the village…

   The Bowery, a street of people without faces. Pleading voices from the shadows and the shuffle of feet behind you. An occasional tug at your sleeve and more pleading that had professional despair in the tone. An occasional woman with clothes too tight giving you a long, steady stare that said she was available cheap. Saloon doors swung open so frequently they seemed like blinking lights. They were crowded too. The bars were lined with the leftovers of humanity keeping warm over a drink or nursing a steaming bowl of soup.

It had been a long time since I made the rounds down here. A cab swung into the curb and a guy in a tux with a redhead on his arm got out laughing. There was a scramble in his direction and the redhead handed out a mess of quarters then threw them all over the sidewalk to laugh all the louder when the dive came.

The guy thought it was funny too. He did the same thing with a fin, letting it blow out of his hand down the street. Connie said “See what I mean?”

I felt like kicking the bastard. “Yeah, I see.”

The Night Stalker – Robert Bryndza

The Night Stalker – A police procedural mystery published by Bookouture, 2016 running 382 pages

This is the second novel in the DCI Erika Foster series by Robert Bryndza. During a sweltering summer in London Erika’s homicide group is dispatched to the home of a well-to-do physician where his naked corpse lies strapped in bed with a plastic bag over his head. As Erika’s team begins to investigate, elements of the crime lead senior leadership of the precinct to wrap up what evidence her team has and turn the case over to a group specializing in sex crime. But Erika has suspicions that the case isn’t a crime of passion… that this murder is homicide.

Once again Erika has issues with the senior supervisor Marsh and the rest of the ‘chain of command’ as well… as she is written she is a “direct, driven and brilliant officer who didn’t suffer fools” and this story remains true to that. But she is also shown to be blunt, stubborn and won’t tolerate suck-ups.

In one exchange Marsh tells her not to pursue a person he knows had an alibi for the initial murder being investigated. But Erika keeps pushing him on that and tells him, “You know this kind of thing doesn’t work with me. Keep me in the dark and I’ll find a light switch”

And she also has an issue dealing with people in general. She puts forth her theory of solving crime “Often you have to piss people off to get to the truth,” and at the rate that Erika pisses off people in this novel, she should be up to her ass in truth.

As the heat wave draws on, the bodies stack up. From the initial physician, to a talk-show host, then an author of sadistic fiction… Erika continues to stubbornly pursue the Night Owl regardless of whose toes she’s trampling on.