A Debut Mystery from Charleston

The Holy City Murders (Duke Dempsey Mystery)The Holy City Murders by Ron Plante Jr.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Duke Dempsey is a private investigator in 1938 Charleston, SC. Thrust into the case of a lifetime when the Vatican comes calling and hires Duke to find an invaluable relic. Charleston is also hit with the mysterious murders of a prominent priest of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and a local cop. Duke is forced into a partnership with the presiding detective, Johnny Stampkin, to find the relic and solve the murders. The case takes a multitude of twists and turns as they navigate through Roman Catholic puzzles, Civil War secrets, and a Nazi Assassin.”

I have been a bit surprised by how much I enjoy historical mysteries. It is not something I actively avoided or sought out before declaring 2019 the year of mystery for myself, but I have certainly had a soft spot for historical mysteries; especially post World War I novels in both the UK and the New England region in the U.S. This one is set a little later (the 1930s) and in the U.S. South and I did not enjoy it as much as I have the others.

I thought this was a very interesting premise: two groups of people trying to find a religious relic in order to protect their own way of thinking. The bad guy kills several good guys, including the one who knows where the relic currently is. A police detective, private detective and a nun now need to find said relic (and yes, they may walk into a bar, too).

The author is clearly knowledgeable about Charleston and its history. There were some great nuggets of information strewn throughout this novel, wish there would have been a little more.

The narrative of this book was difficult for me. I like reading books with snippets of information from the antagonists’ point of view, but they need to be clearly distinguished from other points of view. Often, a chapter would begin with what the Nazi is doing or thinking and switch a paragraph or two later to the private detective’s story line. It was a bit muddled for me.

I think there was a lot of information pointing at this being a new author. He has some interesting ideas and a decent story here. With a little more practice and some character work, I think this may be a fun author to read in the future.

Thank you to Book Sirens and the publisher for giving me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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A Hospital Mystery

Not Quite DeadNot Quite Dead by Dawn Harris Sherling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Doctor Autumn Johnson is convinced that someone wants the promising young researcher, Jay Abrams, dead.

And as a newly minted medical intern, Autumn tries to outsmart death on behalf of her patients every day. But she just can’t seem to get it right. Not knowing the answers her residents expect her to, prescribing the wrong meds, and nearly passing out as a patient is wheeled into the ICU—is not how she had pictured herself as a physician.

Determined to do better, Autumn decides to prove someone tried to kill Jay. When the trail leads her to Jay’s mysterious notes, Autumn has little time to discover who wants Jay, and now her, dead. With the help of the only other intern she can call a friend and a self-destructive perfectionist for a supervising resident, Autumn will have to solve a mystery that reaches deep inside the medical establishment, threatening us all.”

In my year of mystery, I was certainly excited about reading a few medical mysteries. The medical field is great for mystery. Doctors must make decisions based on any number of clues and red herrings and that alone can make for interesting reading. A victim could just as easily be felled by a fellow human as he (or she) could be felled by a strange disease/bacteria/infection. While this looked like medical mystery, it was more of a murder mystery set in a hospital.

The focus of this book did not feel like the solving of a potential murder; rather it was the life of an intern and a resident and how hard their work is. There were many references to 30-hour on call shifts, little time for rest, no time to eat, and demands on new doctors’s time. I get that it’s hard to be a doctor (thank goodness), but I felt like these ladies may have been too focused on what they were missing (i.e. sleep, food, social life). Much of this information became repetitve throughout the book.

One of the other things I struggled with in this book was the medical jargon. I don’t have a lot of medical experience (like none?), but I do recognize some medical names and some diagnoses from life experience. Early in the book there was talk of patients who could not survive without pressors, I did not know what those were and it took me out of the story. That was an example that stuck with me, but there were several others littered around in this book.

I did not think the multiple POVs were necessary, not particularly distinct. It was a way to give the reader as much information as was available, but without chapter headings, I would not have easily recognized whose story I was reading.

I may be at a point where I have read and paid close enough attention to a variety of mysteries this year, the guilty party was not a surprise to me. I did not question it for a moment.

This was not my favorite book of the year, and it could use a little more editing, but it was a fine read for a couple hours of entertainment.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

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An Earlier Book by Jeff Bond

The Winner MakerThe Winner Maker by Jeff Bond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the Publisher: “Bob Fiske — the 74-year-old dinosaur who’s taught Honors English and coached varsity football for five decades — is missing.

To his Winners, class favorites Fiske designated over the years for their potential to “Live Big,” it’s heartbreaking. Fiske did more than inspire with soaring oratory; he supported their ambitions into adulthood. Four of his brightest former stars reunite to find him, putting high-octane careers on hold, slipping police barricades, racing into the wilds of Northern Michigan for clues about the fate of their legendary mentor.

Others don’t see a legend. They see an elitist whose time has passed.

When a current student — female — disappears just hours into the Winners’ search amid rumors of inappropriate meetings, the Great Man’s reputation is a shambles.

Feints, betrayal, explosive secrets from their own pasts: as facts emerge, each Winner must decide how far they’ll go for Fiske. Can the truth redeem him? Or has this cult of hyper-achievement spawned a thing so vile none of their lives will survive intact?”

I devoured this book in a single afternoon.

This book reminded me of the movie The Breakfast Club, but 10 years later. We have the jock, the Homecoming Queen, the nerd, and the mute one all brought together to search for one man who is missing and may be a criminal.

This group was not linked by detention, but maybe the opposite: an elite group of students tapped to be Winners by the teacher/coach. When he goes missing, they all come back to help find him and hopefully clear his name of wrongdoing.

I enjoyed the story. I did not think it fit neatly into one specific genre box, but chose to read it as it sounded mysterious. It could also be a contemporary story, a thriller, or a comment on society. The characters and their relationships played a strong role in the story, thus allowing it to cross many of the genre lines. There was friendship, marriage and parenting issues, unrequited love, loyalty, elitism, high school drama and much more included in these pages.

Unlike Bond’s other work (Blackquest 40), which I read earlier this year, this one was a slower story. There was time to get to know a little more about the characters and to ferret out what happened in the past and why it was germane to the mystery at hand.

I would not hesitate to recommend this book to others and will watch for future titles by this author.

Thank you to the author for a free copy in exchange for my honest thoughts about this book.

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A Legal Thriller

Law and AddictionLaw and Addiction by Mike Papantonio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the publisher: “One week before Jake Rutledge is scheduled to graduate from law school, he receives the devastating news of the death of his fraternal twin, Blake. What makes this death even more terrible for Jake is that his brother died of a drug overdose. Until hearing of his death, Jake had no idea his brother was even using drugs.

When Jake returns home to Oakley, West Virginia, he takes a hard look at the circumstances of his brother’s death. In the five years Jake has been away for his schooling, his hometown has drastically changed. Because of the opioid epidemic, and the blight it has brought, many now call Oakley Zombieland. Jake can see how his town’s demise parallels his brother’s.

Undeterred, the newly minted lawyer takes on the entrenched powers by filing two lawsuits. Jake quickly learns what happens when you upset a hornet’s nest. The young attorney might be wet behind the ears, but is sure there is no lawyer that could help him more than Nick Deke Deketomis and his law firm of Bergman/Deketomis. Deke is a legendary lawyer. When he was Jake’s age he was making his name fighting Big Tobacco. Against all odds, Jake gets Nick and his firm to sign on to his case before it’s too late.”

This is a timely legal thriller. Our country is facing a crisis in the our communities as we deal every day with new opiod overdoses. The cost is more than we should be willing to accept.

I had some complaints about this book, but after closing it, I realized my complaints were perhaps petty, but also a good strategy to sharing the more important message of this story.

We are given a perfect hero. He has had some challenges in his life, but he is a crusader and he’s smart and kind and able to get things done. He interacts with other perfect people who cherish their wives, work upstream, but still have plenty of money to fly around on private jets. Some of this was hard to swallow in the moment. However, what this group of really good people set out to accomplish and the battle they have on their hands may require really good people.

What Papantonio does very well in this novel is to shine a light and humanize the opiod crisis. We go into West Virginia and see all of the different mechanisms at work. As readers, we get to see the desolation and heartache the influx of drugs have caused. We get a taste of addicts, people in recovery, drug mules, and people who take advantage of the situation financially.

There was a lot of sitting around and discussing next steps as our dream team of lawyers plotted their next moves, but this never felt unneccessary or repetitive. During the course of the story there was also love, friendship, humor, grittiness, twists and turns.

The author is clearly well-versed in this type of law and in this growing crisis. This is a book people should read to help understand why the opiod crisis is not going away and why each of us should care.

I want to thank NetGalley, the publisher and the author for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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A Halloween Cozy

Burned to a Crisp (Gingerbread Hag Mystery #1)Burned to a Crisp by K.A. Miltimore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the publisher: “Hedy Leckenmaul runs a strange little bakery in the sleepy town of Enumclaw, Washington. Her bakery may be bizarre but it is the non-human guests who stay at her home, along with her resident ghost, and her menagerie of talking animals that truly is strange. Hedy hosts a waystation for supernatural travelers and while hosting two such travelers, the town is rocked by an arsonist who is kidnapping women, and pitting the residents of Enumclaw against each other. Hedy and her friends must solve the mystery when one of their own vanishes, leaving them racing to find out who is behind it all before it is too late.”

I read this during the spring, but I saved my review until October. While reading this paranormal, cozy mystery, I found myself constantly thinking what a great Halloween read it would be. I may try to fit the second book from this series into my own autumn reading plan.

Paranormal anything is not my usual cup of tea, but in my quest to try on a variety of different mysteries this year, it is only natural that I would want to explore places I would not usually go. I am glad I ventured down this path, and relieved to find it was not as uncomfortable as I would have thought.

Hedy runs a bakery and occasionally has special visitors stay with her in a bed and breakfast. Her special visitors are interesting characters. There are also talking animals and a ghost in Hedy’s home. While hosting two of these visitors, a strange series of crimes occurs in her small town, and one of her guests could very easily be the perpetrator.

I enjoyed the setting of this book. Having lived for several years in the Pacific Northwest, I am familiar with Enumclaw and found the visit back there (through my reading) refreshing. Enumclaw is a smaller community and would certainly be both a good place for hiding some unusual business and a place that would be devastated and quick to respond to these crimes.

The fairy tales Hedy shares with Mel were interesting and kept me engaged. As did the stories from both of the guests and the history of the items Hedy keeps in her bakery. While this was a short-ish book, there were a lot of different story lines and they were well-maintained and kept together nicely.

At the end of the day, this was a cozy mystery with some paranormal aspects and a fun read! Like I said, I may fit the next one in this month, but as it is a Christmas story, maybe I will hold on and read it after Thanksgiving.

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A Rare Miss

Once Gone (Riley Paige Mystery, #1)Once Gone by Blake Pierce
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

From the publisher: “Women are turning up dead in the rural outskirts of Virginia, killed in grotesque ways, and when the FBI is called in, they are stumped. A serial killer is out there, his frequency increasing, and they know there is only one agent good enough to crack this case: Special Agent Riley Paige.

Riley is on paid leave herself, recovering from her encounter with her last serial killer, and, fragile as she is, the FBI is reluctant to tap her brilliant mind. Yet Riley, needing to battle her own demons, comes on board, and her hunt leads her through the disturbing subculture of doll collectors, into the homes of broken families, and into the darkest canals of the killer’s mind. As Riley peels back the layers, she realizes she is up against a killer more twisted than she could have imagined. In a frantic race against time, she finds herself pushed to her limit, her job on the line, her own family in danger, and her fragile psyche collapsing.

Yet once Riley Paige takes on a case, she will not quit. It obsesses her, leading her to the darkest corners of her own mind, blurring the lines between hunter and hunted. After a series of unexpected twists, her instincts lead her to a shocking climax that even Riley could not have imagined.

A dark psychological thriller with heart-pounding suspense, ONCE GONE marks the debut of a riveting new series—and a beloved new character—that will leave you turning pages late into the night.”

I don’t spend a lot of time writing about books that didn’t work for me. I much prefer to spend my time with books I like. But once in awhile, it’s important to jot down the things I didn’t care for about a title to remind myself.

I was very excited when I came across this book on Kindle Unlimited. I enjoy reading about serial killers and hunting them and here was a new series that could offer me some new stories. But alas, this one had an interesting premise, but fell short in a lot of ways for me.

I did not believe Riley as a person. She is described as very smart and a great agent and perfect at so many things, but then her actions and thoughts and words do not display any of that. Sure, she can maybe see things from a killer’s point of view, but even those flashes were not enough to convince me she was anywhere near as amazing as advertised.

One of the problems with this book may have been its length. At just about 200 pages, it was too short to build up the profile and fill in the characterizations I wanted. There was not enough time to get into the head of the killer or the good guys. It felt superficial and rushed. The cliff-hanger ending was intriguing…

I will not be actively seeking out the further titles in this series, but seeing as the author is prolific, perhaps I will give another series a try.

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New Detective Series

Little Girls Sleeping (Detective Katie Scott, #1)Little Girls Sleeping by Jennifer Chase
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the publisher: “He looked down at the little girl, sleeping peacefully, her arms wrapped around a teddy bear. He knew he was the only one who could save her. He could let her sleep forever.

An eight-year-old girl, Chelsea Compton, is missing in Pine Valley, California and for Detective Katie Scott it’s a cruel reminder of the friend who disappeared from summer camp twenty years ago. Unable to shake the memories, Katie vows she won’t rest until she discovers what happened to Chelsea.

But as Katie starts to investigate, the case reveals itself to be much bigger and more shocking than she feared. Hidden deep in the forest she unearths a makeshift cemetery: a row of graves, each with a brightly coloured teddy bear.

Katie links the graves to a stack of missing-persons cases involving young girls—finding a pattern no one else has managed to see. Someone in Pine Valley has been taking the town’s daughters for years, and Katie is the only one who can stop them.

And then another little girl goes missing, snatched from the park near her home.

Katie’s still haunted by the friend she failed to protect, and she’ll do anything to stop the killer striking again—but can she find the little girl before it’s too late?”

A little detective fiction to start off my fall.

This was a solid mystery. There is a bad guy killing young girls, a flawed detective must use all her wiles to figure out who he is.

I thought this was a good beginning to a new series. Katie, a veteran, returns home with her canine friend and is able to jump into a new career with the help of her family. As the story progresses, we get to meet other people from Katie’s past and new people she will be working with throughout her story. And the weird part at the end could make for some interesting future experiences. (Read the story and you will know what I am talking about, no spoilers here).

There were plenty of twists and developments to keep a slow burn feel to this novel. I do not have issues with the pacing, but this was not a fast-pace thriller. Plenty of suspicion flung in a multitude of directions made this one a little harder to figure out; but the guilty party was certainly not too low on my list of possibilities.

I had not read anything by Jennifer Chase before this, but I will be looking at reading both her earlier novels and additional titles in this series.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this book and share my honest opinion.

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