The Offspring

The Offspring by Bill Pinnell

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

Offering a read that simultaneously compels, repels, and excites, author Bill Pinnell’s The Offspring, peers into the dark side of human nature via family relationships, secrets, and racism, shown through a multi-layered, multigenerational, multi-perspective lens bringing together a set of characters whose lives intersect in interesting and at times intense ways. Purchase Here.

First, the curiosity is piqued by an intriguing prologue which fundamentally sets the tone of this complex character-driven story, as a vivid memory quickly turns from pleasure to horror, within the mind of a character seemingly beguiled by scenes from the past. Next focus moves to the backstory of the romance between Lemuel Decker and Irene Baxter. Both are students at Logan High School during the 1940s in rural Nebraska. Set apart by an age gap and personality the two almost seem to be polar opposites while Lemuel is a shy athletic farm boy, Irene is pretty, popular, and outgoing. Because of the difference in age in school their paths rarely directly cross. However, once they do each makes an impression on the other not soon to be forgotten. Shy farm boy Lemuel holds a soft spot for the pretty and friendly Irene, but his timid demeanor continues to keep him seemingly hopelessly infatuated and at a distance.

However, after Lemuel graduates, fate comes into play creating a set of circumstances combining love and chivalry that would bring the two together to build a life as a family but with Irene pregnant, leaving a cloud that hangs over the relationship, an unspoken secret within the family dynamic. Moreover, as time goes on, the happiness fades as life for the Decker family dissolves into dysfunction with life becoming increasingly difficult for the couple as the financial stressors of managing a farm and a family lead to arguments and tension which clouds the atmosphere of the once happy couple. Also, at play is the way the sons are raised with son Tommy (the oldest) always at odds with the preferential treatment that brother Hughie always seems to get especially from their father Lemuel. Consequently, life takes a turn for the worse as things deteriorate when Irene, longing for a different life away from the farm, leaves the family. The Decker boys wind up growing into very different people without their mother and stuck with an irascible father.

Next, the story focuses on Harold Simpson, the sheriff in Milrose county. He is one wicked racist son of a gun. His backstory, although somewhat sad, leaves no room for excuse for his wicked, self-satisfying antics and interactions with the people he is supposed to protect. As the story progresses, his presence stimulates a deep desire to see him get his just desserts as he terrorizes the people within his jurisdiction essentially, he is the town bully with a badge and a gun.

Moving on the narrative brings into view the Lake family, Joseph and Audrey, and sons Kenny and Sammy. Originally from Chicago, the family gets the opportunity to move from city life to a farm in Nebraska; however, they are the only black family within a hundred-mile radius and are neighbors to the Deckers. The Deckers are friendly to them with an amicable relationship ensuing between the two families, especially for sons Hughie Decker and Kenny Lake, who become quite close and what follows after is a journey through self-discovery, for the boys which culminates into a longtime friendship and holding onto a secret that remains submerged in the murky waters of the past.

Altogether, I enjoyed The Offspring. It was a read that held my interest until the intense finale. I enjoyed going through the layers of this intriguing tale, replete with well-developed characters, and an interesting storyline written with a crisp, eloquent style that keeps you engaged. This would make a great summer read and I look forward to more works by this author.

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Bird in a Snare

Bird in a Snare by N.L. Holmes

Reviewed by Timea Barabas

Bird in a Snare is the foundation stone of The Lord Hani Mysteries, a historical series that plays out in Ancient Egypt. N. L. Holmes masterfully resurrects from the sands of time a tale of a humble diplomat and a proud family man, who finds himself adrift in the whirlwind of changing times. Purchase Here.

This is a story about the life and adventures of Hani, a diplomat serving under the rule of Akhenaten. As a new horizon slowly creeps upon the land, Hani is sent to the distant realm of Syria to uncover a murder with grave political repercussions. During his mission to solve one murder, he encounters only more death, political corruption, and a fragile net of relationships between leaders. But before coming to any conclusions, he must return to his home, mid-investigation. The sun has set. And soon a new sun will shine over the kingdom. The successor who rose to the throne seems to depart from the comfort of the old ways, into a new territory; a new direction that does not seem to meet with Hani’s set life course. But, nevertheless one must adapt and above all, survive.

Bird in a Snare is well documented and offers a historically convincing depiction of what once was. N. L. Holmes world building skills melt together fiction and historical facts, in her reimagined set of events. She addresses Ancient Egypt from a macro level – mainly through state and religion – and the micro level of everyday life. But what is more, she unites these two spheres through the main character, Hani. Although the story revolves around a central figure, he is constantly surrounded by a colorful bouquet of characters, be that pharaohs, his scribe Maya, or members of his family. This psychological attention to character development is what truly animates the pages of the book.

Under the penname of N.L. Holmes, an archeologist and university professor by trade, brings her in-depth knowledge to the realm of historical fiction. The abundant knowledge of the author seeps into the text in a natural way and brings color to historical details. For all those who love to dive into historical fiction, keep an eye on Bird in a Snare and other writings by N.L. Holmes.

Who Me

Who, Me?: Fog Bows, Fraud and Aphrodite by Charlotte Stuart

Reviewed by Daniel Ryan Johnson

Who, Me?: Fog Bows, Fraud and Aphrodite is a classic who-done-it. Bryn Baczek is a consultant living on a boat in Seattle with her strong-willed cat Macavity and an ailing goldfish who is fourth in line to the name of Bubbles. Due to too much coffee resulting in a late-night need to use the bathroom, Bryn overhears a heated argument on a neighbor’s boat, followed by a splash and silence. Purchase Here.

From there, Bryn is not-so-reluctantly pulled into a mystery involving a missing woman, Captain America pajamas, questionable taste in art, scuba diving in the dark, a non-profit organization, a post-it note, a poker game, a stuffy auditor, and a pseudonym. While Bryn tries to play the part of a witness who is just trying to do her duty for justice, it is clear that she is very much enjoying her chance to play Sherlock Holmes. Bryn takes the one loose thread that lies in front of her and keeps pulling until the whole sweater has come unraveled. While Bryn continues to share her knowledge with the police throughout, she does so only after investigating each clue herself.

Charlotte Stuart presents us with a fun mystery, which, despite moments of darkness, generally plays as a light-hearted caper. Stuart has created well-rounded, intriguing characters to populate her story. Told from the first-person perspective, we get a thorough look into Bryn’s psyche and discover more about her than she is even willing to admit to herself.

It is easy to get caught up and swept along in the narrative. Bryn’s enthusiasm for her independent investigation is contagious and makes the book difficult to put down. With its relatively short length, it can be easy to end up going cover to cover in a single day as Bryn tries to narrow down the list of suspects.

In Who, Me? Fog Bows, Fraud and Aphrodite, Stuart gives us the perfect mystery to wrap up with on a dark rainy day. An ideal novel for a read while wrapped up in a blanket and drinking a nice hot beverage. Especially, if you live on a houseboat.

Enough to Make the Angels Weep

Enough to Make the Angels Weep by Ernesto Patino

Reviewed by Daniel Ryan Johnson

Enough to Make the Angels Weep is an intriguing and well-researched mystery novel. The novel features P.I. Joe Coopersmith as he investigates the murder of his client’s grandmother four years prior. However, as his investigation progresses, it becomes clear that this murder is a small piece in a much larger mystery involving the Mexican-American War, a group of Irish-born soldiers known as the Batallón de San Patricio, and a missing diary. Purchase here.

The primary mystery that will keep you turning the pages is not identifying the killer but rather the motivations behind the killing, which can be traced back over a century and a half. Ernesto Patino uses his narrative to shed light on a period of North American history that few people in the U.S. know much about but which is far more well chronicled in Mexico.

Enough to Make the Angels Weep is not a thrill a minute whodunit. However, that certainly doesn’t mean that it is not engaging. The promise of the contents of a missing diary from an Irish-born soldier who defected from the U.S. army to side with Mexico during the war keep you turning the pages. Then, once said diary is finally uncovered, you will be hard-pressed to put the book down.

You can tell from the way he writes that Patino has a history in law enforcement and as a private investigator. The character of Coopersmith is authentic, and the description of the investigation feels natural.

The book touches on current political topics, namely the reevaluation of national “heroes.” It reminds us that not only do good people do bad things but bad people can have significant accomplishments as well. However, it is important to look at the world with a critical eye willing to view the truth without blinking.

Enough to Make the Angels Weep is a well-written, thoughtful piece of historical fiction. It is a quick read and will leave you wanting to research more about the Mexican-American War and the role of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion. The uncovered diary serves as a story within the story and is a beautifully written look at love and war.

Case of a Puzzling Book

Case of a Puzzling Book: A Maximo Morgan Mystery by William LeRoy

Book Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

Case of a Puzzling Book: A Maximo Morgan Mystery by William LeRoy is a tricky mystery told in a uniquely creative format. Readers are immediately drawn into a rollicking adventure set off by the actions of a baldheaded stranger who goes into the Twisted Sister Coffeehouse in the small town of Henryetta, Oklahoma. Popo Crowder owns the coffee shop that includes a free library book exchange with erotic novels and similar literary fiction as part of the collection. The literary works on the bookshelves are regarded with antipathy by Eppie, her twin sister. Eppie is part of a group that “edits” books of an “objectionable” nature. The differing points of view between Popo and Eppie have created a rift in the sisters’ relationship, which comes into play in the story.  Click Here to Purchase.

When the baldheaded stranger takes Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence and leaves The Same Old Story by William LeRoy in its place, Popo is perplexed as to why words and sentences are missing from pages in the book. Popo hires private detective Maximo “Max” Morgan, whose role model is private investigator Brad Runyon, a character created by novelist Dashiell Hammett. Popo asks Max to look into why The Same Old Story is the target of intentional defacing of parts of the text. Is there more to the case than meets the eye? Will Max figure out who might be responsible for the vandalism and the purpose behind it?

Case of a Puzzling Book is told from three perspectives, with each chapter focusing on one character’s point of view. Readers gain a deeper insight into each of the characters’ thoughts, feelings, and motivations as they go through experiences in their lives with a common thread that weaves them together. The author’s creative use of lingo makes the characters stand out in their behaviors, actions, and mannerisms.

As the story progresses, the case takes many twists and turns, adding layers of intrigue that will keep readers glued to this highly captivating mystery interspersed with humorous moments. LeRoy keeps readers on their toes guessing which one of many reasons accounts for the defacing of pages in The Same Old Story. All the literary works mentioned in the story tie in beautifully with the storyline. The nameless junior high student interacting with Max is a great sidekick. Music symbols representing notes add a nice touch. There are clever analogies of biblical characters with fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters. The author does not include an overabundance of curse words, and they fit the story’s tone.

LeRoy has written a mystery with an unexpected twist at the end and an underlying ambiguity as to whether William LeRoy is a fictitious name.

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Two for the Show: A Maximo Morgan Mystery By: William LeRoy

Book Reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

Two for the Show: A Maximo Morgan Mystery, by the talented author, William LeRoy, combines the best of two literary genres, detective mysteries and satire, into one thoroughly enjoyable and page-turning read that is sure to please fans of both genres. Borrowing its title from a poker term, Two for the Show features Maximo Morgan as its main character. Hopefully, there will be many more of them to come.   Click Here to Purchase

What does Maximo know about poker? Very little, to nothing; but, that does not deter him from taking a case involving said game when he is approached by a dame in distress, Leona Morris, who hires him to use all of his deductive powers to figure out what (and who) put her husband, Buckley, into the hospital, with a blow to his head he received either before or after what appeared to be a hit-and-run accident. Though Buckley had been in a jogging suit, he had also been wearing a black ski mask and had black shoe polish on his face. 

Besides these irregularities, the dame, Leona, also wants Morgan to get to the bottom of why the other regular pokers players who are Buckley’s friends (the so-called “Motley Crew”) so strongly desire to continue playing poker in her basement, even though Buckley is recovering from his injuries and is unable to join them.

The Motley Crew, who Buckley refers to as the “Losers’ Club,” because they consistently lose to him whenever they meet together and play in his basement, claim that Buckley would want them to continue playing, but Leona is convinced that they have an ulterior motive other than the bond of friendship and soon, Morgan is soon hot on the case. He and his smart-aleck also overweight protégé, who is quick to remind Max of the detective’s vast ignorance of poker, are influenced by the cases of famous detectives, most especially those of Brad “The Fatman” Runyon, as they attempt to solve the Case of Rats in a Basement.

Morgan has a lot on his plate, so to speak, in Two for the Show. Besides various complications that arise, such as Morgan’s discovery that the Motley Crew has been possibly digging a tunnel under Buckley’s basement or through a basement wall, a femme fatale, Billie Jean Biggs, seems to have revenge on her mind against the members of the Motley Crew. The big-breasted beauty, who has a somewhat peculiar “beauty mark,” in the form of a mole between her eyebrows, adds both to the sly sense of humor that pervades Two for the Show and to Morgan’s solving the rather odd case.

Anyone who enjoys reading mysteries with a blend of satire thrown in for good measure will get a kick out of checking out Two for the Show by William LeRoy. Split up into sections over a period of four days, Thursday, September 29, through Sunday, October 2, of 2022, Two for the Show is a page-turning book that is sure to tickle your funnybone. I highly recommend it, and with any luck, we’ll see many further Maximo Morgan Mysteries in the near future!

The Day of the Ferret

The Day of the Ferret by Michael Woodman

Book Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

A witty, satirical romp through the political world of the President of the United States, author Michael Woodman’s The Day of the Ferret, craftily intersects politics, intrigue, comedy, and a cast of well-devised, skewed characters into a memorable and overall humorous journey into presidential politics. Purchase Here.

Aiming for the jugular of this specific political machine, in this case, the presidency of the United States, this is the type of book that you either dislike or love, due to its undeniable relatability to a former president (especially judging from the front cover of the book) as well as some similarities to some of his antics while in office. Personally, I loved the provocative nature of this book and found it easy to laugh at its often-comical moments.

The story starts out with a sarcastic bang as characters are brought into focus beginning with (ahem) President John Thomas Rump.   He’s narcissistic, gross and a character that you may grow to have a love-hate relationship with. Moreover, facing low approval ratings, and sexual harassment accusations Rump needs something to alter the public view of him and the answer to his political dream comes in the form of an idea from his lawyer and “yes” man Benedetto Luigi Capone, which involves an intriguing entanglement of characters.   In particular, Eve Coronata is beautiful, intelligent and a former beauty queen looking for some payback when it comes to President Rump. The exchange between the two men is hilarious and sets the tone for the rest of the book.  As well, the additional characters who follow, as the story progresses, offer their own unique personality quirks, issues, and machinations into the fray of this wholly engrossing satire.

Overall, I truly and resonantly enjoyed The Day of the Ferret. It was a gritty humorous jaunt into politics, which while reading often made me laugh or smirk. But most of all, this was a story that showcased (to me at least) the human or inhumane conditions that can be brought on by excesses of political privilege and wealth told in a dark humorous way.  Essentially, ensconced in adept storytelling, and told through characters that were gritty and often morally challenged. Overall, author Michael Woodman brought forth a well-written narrative, replete with seedy politics, plot twists and turns, affairs, backstabs and strange friendships, which ultimately made for a great adult themed read which was very entertaining. This is a definite must add to the “want to read” list.

 

Murder at the CDC

Margaret Truman’s Murder at the CDC: A Capital Crimes Novel by Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

I’ve reviewed more books by Jon Land than I can count but his latest, MURDER AT THE CDC, stands out for all the right reasons. Purchase Here.

And all the wrong ones, too.

That’s because the book, completed prior to the January 6, 2021, eerily explores the very mindset that made that chaotic, violent day possible. Not only does the book open with, yes, a mass shooting on the steps of the Capitol Building, it centers around a crazed plot by unified militias and extremist groups to wage what is essentially a second civil war to seize power forever.

Five years ago, we learn in the prologue, a tanker carrying a deadly bio-weapon called the “White Death” seemingly vanished into thin air. Once those contents fall into the hands of an unscrupulous politician eyeing the White House and the powerful offspring of a famed televangelist, all bets are off and a fanatical plot that dwarfs January 6 is underway. We’ve seen the politician, Senator Byron Fitch, before. It’s a classic thriller trope and there’s nothing new there.

What is new, and fabulously so, is the character of Deacon Frank Wilhyte, a man forever living in his dead father’s shadow who finds himself repeating the same mistakes with his own son. Deacon Frank’s murderous tendencies, we learn, were passed on to the boy, making them probably the oddest of father and son couplings ever seen in the genre.

At the heart of MURDER AT THE CDC, though, is its protagonist Robert Brixton, whom Land inherited from previous entries in the late Margaret Truman’s penultimate mystery-thriller series, but enhances substantially here. Brixton is drawn into the action when his grandson is nearly killed in the aforementioned Capitol shooting. That comes after Brixton meets, at his best friend Mackensie Smith’s behest, Mac’s long-lost daughter who’s troubled by something she’s uncovered at the, you guessed it, CDC where she works.

Brixton, in tandem with wronged Baltimore detective turned Capitol cop Kelly Loftus, trace the terrible truths of the Capitol shooting to its roots on Deacon Frank’s doorstep. This as even more terrible truths are revealed about the White Death’s capacity to kill millions of Americans by the bio-weapon’s wheelchair-bound creator. Around for the ride, once again, is the shadowy government fixer Brixton calls Panama, as well as the eccentric, pigeon-loving scientist known only as the Professor. Good thing because Brixton is going to need all the help he can get.

All of that combines to make the 32nd book in this stellar series a can’t miss, can’t put it down, absolute stunner of a tale guaranteed to chill you to the bone. In Land’s able hands, Capital Crimes has regained the fervent pace and keen plotting that once made these books perennial bestsellers. Jam-packed with action and intrigue, MURDER AT THE CDC is as riveting as it is relentless and relevant. An early pick for the best thriller of 2022.

They Call Me Ms.

They Call Me Ms. by Terry Adcock

Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

They Call Me Ms. takes place in the Washington metropolitan area and introduces readers to Private Investigator Vic Carella. Mitch Goldberg hires Vic to locate his stolen luxury yacht. What Vic thinks is just a simple problem of tracking down a missing vessel turns into a challenging and dangerous adventure as Mitch was not forthcoming when Vic agreed to take on the case. It comes to light Mitch is tangled up with a criminal organization that engages in arms smuggling, money laundering, and human trafficking. Purchase Here.

Mitch’s dead body turns up before Vic figures out who might have hidden the yacht and its location. Vic’s inquiries to determine who killed Mitch and his involvement in illegal and nefarious activities bring her to the attention of miscreants. She comes up against seemingly inescapable and life-threatening situations. Concurrently with Vic, law enforcement officials are investigating. Who will prevail? Will the individuals engaged in unlawful activities get away with their crimes or be stopped by Vic and/or police and government agencies?

The novel is a terrific debut in A Vic Carella Mystery series. Vic, the newly featured female private detective, tells the story from her point of view. Terry Adcock’s writing style lets readers get a first-hand look into Vic’s emotional and behavioral responses to ethical dilemmas. All the characters are imbued with distinctive personality traits, which affect their approach and reaction to situations. New challenges and more complications for the characters make readers want to know what will happen next. How complicated will their personal lives become? Can they overcome obstacles in their way? The profanity chosen by Adcock suits the characters.

They Call Me Ms. involves a challenging mystery and an organized crime group. Adcock pulls readers into this suspenseful page-turner from the start. Readers can envision vivid pictures of scenes in the story due to Adcock’s creative use of figurative language. An exciting twist to the story involves Vic’s attraction to a man seemingly operating on the wrong side of the law. The well-placed false clues and an edge of looming danger enhance the storyline.

People will find reading this fast-paced mystery a rewarding experience. Readers get a close-up view into the callous behavior of criminals and how law enforcement personnel and a private detective outside her comfort zone deal with racketeering and heinous criminal activities. Adcock has penned a riveting story that is full of action-packed conflict and builds to an edge-of-your-seat climax. It ends with a hook to keep readers interested in the next volume.

Coldwater Revenge

Coldwater Revenge by James A. Ross

Book Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

Coldwater Revenge takes place in 2002 with the setting in a lakefront community along the Canadian border. Tom Morgan, a high-powered New York lawyer, has taken a break from his job to spend time with his family. He is at a crossroads in his life and trying to choose the path he wants to follow. Shortly after his arrival in the small town of Coldwater, the body of a local man is discovered in the lake. Sheriff Joe Morgan, Tom’s younger brother, recently lost his staff and is the sole police officer in the town. Joe enlists Tom’s help in what turns out to be a high-profile murder case. During a meeting at Tom’s law firm, he finds out that a case from years ago in which he was only peripherally involved could cost him not only his job but also jail time. Time is critical for proving his innocence, but Tom refuses to leave Joe without support. Purchase Here.

When Joe becomes critically ill due to his exposure to a deadly toxin, Tom takes over the investigation, and his theories and probing questions put him in the uncomfortable position of questioning the likelihood of whether his brother or Susan Pearce, the sister of the victim, could be involved in the complicated case in which a bio-research company is also entangled. Career choices along with personal and family relationships all point toward Joe’s and/or Susan’s possible guilt. While working on the case, Tom not only is dealing with inner turmoil, possible career implosion, family differences, and his feelings toward Susan, his ex-girlfriend, but he also winds up in precarious situations that lead to life threatening danger. Will Tom escape perilous predicaments and identify the killer? Is there a potential bio-terrorist plan afoot and can it be stopped? Will Joe’s body succumb to the poison?

James A. Ross has put together a disparate group of compelling characters, each with their own agenda, who share a connection with one another that include positive and/or negative relationships. Readers gain insight into the motivations behind characters’ behaviors and reactions. The story is true-to-life in painting a picture of how a small-town sheriff skirts the edge when it comes to following the letter of the law by allowing some illegal activities to go unpunished and the subsequent fallout. Ross does a terrific job in the use of imagery and figurative language to bring the characters and storyline alive and make for a richer reading experience.

Ross draws readers in with a terrific opening line and holds them spellbound while reading this spine-tingling and suspense-filled page turner. It is a roller coaster ride for readers as they are shocked, mesmerized, and fascinated all at the same time. This riveting story includes lies and betrayal, violence with intent to maim or kill, alleged clergy misconduct, ups and downs of family relationships, secret oral language, suspected bioterrorism, moral and ethical issues, underhanded dealings, personal dilemmas, and a small amount of swearing. Coldwater Revenge is most definitely a top shelf-worthy read and a great debut of the Coldwater Mystery Series. I look forward to the release of Coldwater Confession, the second book in the series.