Review: Poe’s First Law by Robert W Stephens

Two murder investigations with multiple suspects seasoned with a liberal dose of comic relief make for an entertaining detective mystery read.

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Source: Purchased on Amazon

Poe’s First Law

Publisher: Independently Published

Publication Date: Oct. 8, 2020

ISBN-13: 979-8692668172

Print Length: 288 pages

Paperback, electronic, and audiobook versions

Out Now

poe's-first-law
Poe’s First Law strikes an engaging balance between humor and an earnest who-done-it mystery tale.

Synopsis

Against his better judgment, Edgar Allan “Poe” Rutherford, private eye, takes on a case for Mele Akamu, the grandmotherly godmother (as in mob boss) of Maui. A dog walker discovers the remains of Eric Ellis, one of Akamu’s former associates, who went missing five years past after trying to blackmail her. The police learn someone killed Ellis with a single gunshot to the back of the head before burying his body in a shallow grave. Knowing the Maui police will put her at the top of their murder suspect list, Akamu hires Poe to identify the actual killer. Along the way, Poe picks up a second murder case, this time involving a former client on trial for killing his wife. Poe’s First Law is the thirteenth standalone novel in the clever and humorous Murder on Maui mystery series. I’ve read them all, which should tell you I’m a fan of the series.

Review

The protagonist, Edgar Allan “Poe” Rutherford, is my favorite character in this book, and in the other books in the series. He is sort of “the poor man’s Magnum PI (Tom Selleck).” At the beginning of the series, loyalty to his best friend, Doug Foxx, forced Poe to become an amateur detective to clear his friend of an unjust murder charge. Then private investigations became something of a hobby. But over the course of the series, Rutherford, who is independently wealthy and doesn’t need to work, has developed into a more professional private investigator type.

One reason I enjoy this series so much is Robert W. Stephens’ unique, conversational writing style. Reading Poe’s First Law makes you feel as if you are following the detective around while he explains his theories and his take on the stories he gets from the suspects and witnesses he interviews. That’s why I believe this character reminds me quite a lot of Selleck’s character in the original Magnum PI television series, who used to do a similar thing for the benefit of the show’s viewers. In Poe, Stephens has created a highly relatable protagonist who is very intelligent and has an eye for finding out the details and a knack for figuring out the meanings behind his observations. The supporting cast of characters is also excellent and lifelike. There is Poe’s best friend and sidekick, Doug Foxx, a former NFL star, his wife Alana Hu, a Maui police detective, and his contentious, man-hating mother-in-law. I also like the way Stephens uses humor in this book (as he has throughout the series) to counterbalance the serious treatment of Poe’s murder investigations. Up to his usual standards, Stephens does all in his power with this one to amuse, confuse, and bamboozle readers attempting to solve the mysteries ahead of Poe. The plot, the red herrings, and the twists and turns along the way combine to keep the pages turning.

Anyone who enjoys a light-hearted detective mystery somewhat akin to a cozy should enjoy reading Poe’s First Law as well as the previous novels in the series.

A cast of quirky characters adds depth to a light-hearted who-done-it tale.

About Robert W. Stephens

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Robert W. Stephens is an author and a filmmaker. His writing career started at a small video production company where he did all sorts of odd tasks, including sweeping the production studio floor, painting the greenscreen wall, checking out rental equipment, etc. But it opened the door for him to start writing, directing and producing commercials and videos. Shooting a television pilot on location on Maui led Robert to write the first book in the A Murder on Maui series, Aloha Means Goodbye.

Website: https://www.robertwstephens.com/

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Review: Knife Edge by Kerry Buchanan

Knife Edge by Kerry Buchanan—A wickedly sharp debut psychological thriller from an author to watch.

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Source: NetGalley in Exchange for an Honest Review

Knife Edge

Publisher: Joffe Books

Publication Date: Apr. 15, 2021

ISBN-13: 9781789317510

Print Length: 231 pages

Paperback and electronic versions

Available for preorder

Synopsis

“They had been making a night of it in Belfast, a whole group of them in Katy’s bar, deep inside the Limelight nightclub. Exams were on the horizon, but it had been Hannah’s birthday, and they’d all gone out.”

When Nicola “Nic” Gordon, a twenty-year-old college student, and her friend Colm go to a Belfast nightclub to celebrate a roommate’s birthday, things go terrifyingly wrong. She wakes up in a shabby, rural cottage, naked and shivering, bound and gagged and unable to work out how on earth they both ended up there. A masked, sadistic monster holds them captive and tortures them for six days until Nic breaks free and escapes. She is lucky to be alive, but the nightmare is only beginning.

Review

Isn’t it just fantastic when you pick up one of those psychological thrillers that grabs you by the throat and won’t let go, demanding that you sit on the edge of your seat for every suspense-filled, nail-biting moment of it? Knife Edge is one of those novels for me.

Thematically, the reader finds mental illness, a dissolving sense of reality, obsession, pursuit, paranoia, and murder. Knife Edge ticks all the boxes you expect from an absorbing psychological thriller—a maniacal killer, intense pacing, suspense, unbearable tension, unexpected twists, high stakes, anxiety, and terror.

Oh, and don’t forget about the knives. We hate the knives.

“With methodical slowness, her captor ran his thumb along the blade of the knife. It was just for show, just to prolong the suspense: all his knives were sharp, so sharp you didn’t feel the initial cut – not until the hot gush of blood.”

Buchanan’s narrative is straightforward but descriptive. I particularly liked her effectual use of similes and metaphors. While thrillers often are more plot-driven than character-driven, Knife Edge is not only a tightly plotted and tense thriller. It has lots of interesting character development and a multitude of twists along the way. Besides Nic, the protagonist, there is a human-feeling cast of supporting characters, including Nic’s family and the police detectives—Detective Inspector Ram and Detective Sergeant Asha Harvey—who are desperate to apprehend the killer before he claims more victims.

If you love an intense, creepy, and suspenseful psychological thriller that you cannot put down once you’ve started it, this book will absolutely thrill you. I’m eagerly anticipating the release of Small Bones, the sequel to Knife Edge.

About Kerry Buchanan

Kerry Buchanan lives amid the rolling County Down hills that feature in her debut crime series. When she isn’t writing, Kerry performs her work at literary events and participates in literary panels, and works with new writers. She is disabled, and passionate about sailing and attempting to outwit the slugs in her vegetable patch. Generally the slugs win.

Website: https://kerrybuchanan.com

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Review: Dark Horse by J D Underwood

In Dark Horse by J. D. Underwood, his debut novel, an ambitious young Sydney bank manager expecting a promotion, instead gets banished to an under-performing bank in a backwater farming community after her ex-boyfriend steals the promotion she coveted. An assumption that her big-city smarts will see her back in the game in the big smoke in no time proves wrong. The woman not only learns things work a little differently out in the bush, but that there is serious mischief afoot in the town she hadn’t counted on encountering.

dark-horse-by-j-d-underwood
Source: Complementary Copy In Exchange for An Honest Review
Dark Horse (Brooksdale Book 1)

Publisher : Independently published
Publication date : January 12, 2020
ISBN-13 : 9780648773313
Paperback : 414 pages

Available in paperback and as an electronic book

Dark Horse explores the cleaning up of a corrupt town, and the struggle of good versus evil.

“Now was her time. For the past eighteen months, she had been the branch manager at John & Mitchem Bank in Manly—the youngest manager in the bank’s history. In that time, she had grown the customer base and increased the branch’s profitability. Now she had a meeting at the head office about a promotion to the Commercial Banking division.”

Synopsis

Maria Henderson, an ambitious 29-year-old bank branch manager attends a meeting at the head office, confident she is about to ascend the next rung up the ladder of success. But she gets a shock when the board informs her they are giving the promotion she expected to her ex-boyfriend. Adding salt to the wound, the home office ships her out to a small town in the bush to turn around the struggling bank branch there.

So begins a young woman’s quest to advance in the male-dominated world of Australian banking. Haunted by the unfairness of it all, she journeys to the tiny farming community in northern New South Wales, determined to restore the small branch to profitability and to return to Sydney within a year’s time. In the end, Maria discovers much more in the small town called Brooksdale than she ever imagined.

While Maria Henderson struggles to gain her footing at her new bank branch, Brooksdale native, Tony Carpenter, who recently left a life of thuggery as a member of an outlaw motorcycle gang, has recently returned to town to help an elderly friend, Bob, save his failing gym. Yet try as he might to stick to the straight and narrow, Carpenter’s unsavory past continues to follow him. His former gang moves into Brooksdale to take over the local drug trade. To make matters worse, a dodgy local entrepreneur is determined to buy out Bob because he wants the land for a redevelopment scheme.

The lives of Henderson and Carpenter intersect, when Maria decides to foreclose a loan taken out by the gym’s aging owner when Bob falls behind on his payments. But after Maria develops a romantic attraction for Tony and discovers the shady developer and his henchmen are employing every dirty trick in the book to wrest the gym and property from Bob, she opens her heart to Tony and dropping the foreclosure action, becomes an ally of Tony and his old friend.

Once the crooked business developer and the outlaw biker gang join forces against Tony and Bob, the stakes rise and the sparks fly. Someone could get hurt, or worse.

The Review

Dark Horse was not at all what I expected when I accepted the book for review. While categorized as a thriller, at its heart, this is a fetching moral tale encouraging readers to never give up on life when faced with hardships and struggles with inner demons.

While the plot includes its fair share of thugs, hustlers, gangsters, outlaw bikers, and other riffraff, a taut thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat, it’s not.

That’s not to say it isn’t a pleasing read. I loved the book. But I think it’s a better fit for romance or literary fiction. Underwood, an entertaining storyteller, held my interest throughout and kept me turning the pages from beginning to end. Since crime fiction is my passion, had I known more about this book before reading it, I might have given it a miss. But I’m so glad I didn’t because I found it a delightful read.

If you’re seeking a novel that is fast-paced, full of conflict, tension, suspense, unexpected twists, and high stakes where every single scene propels the action forward, tests the characters, and take the reader on a roller coaster ride, Dark Horse isn’t that. But if you enjoy an engaging tale, well told with believable characters, you will enjoy reading this book.

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Author’s website: https://jdunderwood.net/

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Book Blitz: Omerta by Larry Darter

Book Blitz: Omerta (Howard Drew, 1) by Larry Darter #omerta

omerta-by-larry-darter

Today we’re celebrating the newly released Omerta (A Howard Drew Novel) by Larry Darter, with an exclusive excerpt.

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Omerta (Howard Drew, 1)

Published: Mar. 9, 2021

Publisher: Fedora Press

ISBN-13: 9781734969870

Genre: Mystery & Detective / Police Procedural

Pages (Print): 276

Available in print and electronic versions

For a homicide detective, a day on the job means hunting killers while trying not to get killed. If you’re a homicide detective in Los Angeles, it also means dealing with the most overwrought, desperate, and deluded criminals anywhere. When you’re a brand new homicide detective spending your days and nights in the gritty underbelly of the city that never sleeps with a tetchy veteran murder cop for a partner, you must keep your cool and your wits about you when the bodies start hitting the floor.

Putting the pieces together when someone shoots to death execution-style a semi-famous Hollywood screenwriter with mob ties is Howard Drew, recently promoted to Detective II and transferred into West Bureau homicide. Just when Drew and his veteran murder cop partner and mentor Detective Rudy Ortega think they are making progress in solving the murder, the leads dry up and the case goes cold. But on the mean streets of LA, there are always plenty more murders to investigate.

Drew and Ortega quickly pivot to investigating the rape-murder of a twenty-two-year-old stripper and aspiring actress. They spend their days chasing down leads in West LA while at the same time battling the inefficient LAPD bureaucracy and trying to coax the support they need to solve cases from the department’s overworked and understaffed Scientific Investigation Division. From their squad room at West Bureau, they see the glamour city for what it is: a sprawling metropolis where the tedious is dangerous and the dangerous is tedious.

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Excerpt

______

“Getting to talk to Hurst is going to be a problem,” Ortega said. “The guy is a multi-millionaire who is probably guarded by an army of high-priced New York lawyers who aren’t likely going to let him talk to us.”

Tommy Pope, another West Bureau veteran homicide detective who sat at the desk on the other side of Ortega’s, rolled his chair back and looked over. He’d overheard Ortega and Drew discussing the case.

“You’ve already had the Silverman case for four days,” Pope said to Ortega. “You haven’t solved it yet?”

“Murder investigations don’t work like on television,” Ortega said. “Not that you would know anything about investigating a murder, Tommy.”

Both of the detectives laughed. “I saw the paper this morning,” Pope said. “The New York cops think Hurst killed his wife. New York detectives were coming out to talk to Silverman about it. Then she turns up dead. I may not be much of a detective, but Hurst is the first guy I’d smack in the forehead.”

“The problem is he is rich, and for rich people, the law doesn’t matter as much,” Ortega said. “I doubt we’ll be able to get through his phalanx of expensive attorneys to interview him.”

“One way to find out,” Drew said, picking up his phone. “Who did the paper say was handling Hurst’s wife’s case?”

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About the Author

LARRY DARTER is an American author of detective novels and other crime fiction, notably those featuring private investigator Ben Malone and LAPD homicide detective Howard “Howie” Drew.  Darter is the author of 14 novels, including Amazon bestseller Come What May.

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Review: Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson

Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson is the debut novel in Jónasson’s The Dark Iceland Series of Scandi Noir thrillers. Set in the idyllically quiet fishing village of Siglufjorour in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors—accessible only via a small mountain tunnel, Snowblind features Ari Thór Arason, a rookie police officer on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik—with a past that he’s unable to leave behind.

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Source: Purchased from Amazon

Synopsis

“The red stain was like a scream in the silence. The snow covered ground was so white that it had almost banished the winter night’s darkness, elemental in its purity.”

Lee Child, a best-selling author who knows a thing or two about writing thrillers, says, “Jonasson is an automatic must-read for me … possibly the best Scandi writer working today.” I think Lee may be on to something.

Snowblind is set in Siglufjorour, a quiet fishing village that is the northernmost town in Iceland—a place where everyone knows everyone—“where nothing ever happens” and no one locks their doors. It is accessible only via a small mountain tunnel which becomes problematic in winter when the village is often snowed in and very much inaccessible.

Ari Thór Arason, a rookie police officer who gave up on a theology degree to enter police college, is on his first posting, far from his girlfriend Kristin, who stays behind in Reykjavik. Ari Thór also has a past that he’s unable to leave behind.

While nothing bad may have happened in Siglufjorour in the past, that soon changes when a young woman is found lying naked from the waist up in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed elderly writer falls down a staircase to his death. The events drag Ari Thór straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life.

The tension mounts when Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness―blinded by snow with a killer on the loose.

Impressions

The village of Siglufjorour is almost more a character in the book than only the setting. Jónasson’s crisp, bleak prose masterfully evokes the twenty-four-hour winter darkness, the biting cold, the relentless snow, and a village suddenly cut off from the rest of the world by an avalanche while there is a killer on the loose. Jónasson’s descriptive words provoke the same feeling of foreboding and claustrophobia for the reader as Ari Thór often experiences in the book. This was what I liked most about Snowblind.

The richly drawn characters are another strength of the book. The reader quickly identifies with and feels sympathy for Ari Thór over the events of the past he has never let go of, his separation from Kristin, and the manner in which most of the villagers treat him as an outsider. Like most police officer characters in contemporary crime fiction, Ari Thór has his share of flaws, but overall he is a very likeable and believable character.

No book is ever perfect, yet it was difficult to find much to criticize about Snowblind. Jónasson is a superbly talented writer. There were a few spots where the pace lagged a bit. So I can’t agree with others who have described the book as a “taut” thriller. But overall, Jónasson’s who-done-it kept me turning the pages and eager to read the next book in the series.

Interesting Fact: Ragnar Jónasson has translated fourteen Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic. You must wonder how much her books have influenced Jónasson’s writing.

Snowblind is a first-rate novel highly recommended to readers who enjoy a classic crime story, especially fans of Scandi-noir.

Book Details

Pubisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group

Published: November 7, 2010 (English translation)

Translated into English by Quentin Bates

Pages: 336

ISBN-13: 9781250144683

Ragnar Jonasson’s website

Available in print, as an electronic book, and audiobook.

Other Books in the Dark Iceland Series

Blackout (2011)

Rupture (2012)

Whiteout (2013)

Nightblind (2014)

Winterkill (2020)

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Review: The Bat by Jo Nesbo

The Bat by Joe Nesbø is the first book in the popular Harry Hole Series, a Scandinavian noir police procedural series set in Norway featuring Inspector Harry Hole of the Oslo Crime Squad. The Bat, first published in Norway in 1997, was translated and published in English in 2012.

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Source: Purchased from Books A Million

Celebrated American author of detective fiction Raymond Chandler once said, “The character that lasts is an ordinary guy with some extraordinary qualities.” That fits my thoughts on Jo Nesbø’s character Inspector Harry Hole of the Oslo Crime Squad perfectly. The Harry Hole character displays the brilliance of a Sherlock Holmes combined with the angst of a man constantly battling alcohol and the demons from his past.

In some ways, the appeal of The Bat is easy to fathom. The principal character, Inspector Harry Hole, like so many modern detectives, has a few flaws. The first flaw has become almost a trope with crime fiction detective characters. Harry is a recovering alcoholic who often turns to alcohol when the going gets tough. But in Hole’s case, trope or not, it works. Drunk or sober, he’s almost always disorganized and isn’t a particularly reliable boyfriend. Yet Hole also displays many positive qualities, such as never wanting to let his friends or colleagues down.

Harry Hole is an extremely determined detective, and after the fashion of a dog with a bone, he won’t let go. He won’t stop until he gets his man. Reminiscent of Michael Connelly’s iconic detective Harry Bosch character, if it means sacrificing his job or any hope of a stable personal life, so be it. Hole detests corruption and inequality.

Synopsis

Something was wrong.

At first the female passport official had beamed: “How are ya, mate?”

I picked up a copy of The Bat from the bargain shelves of a Books A Million store while on vacation in 2019. The book caught my eye because while I knew nothing about Harry Hole, I had heard a little about Jo Nesbø. I knew he was Norwegian and wrote Scandinavian noir crime fiction books. I hadn’t read a synopsis of the book but was aware The Bat was the first book in a series.

Reading the first few pages, I was thinking along the same lines as the book’s first sentence. Something was wrong. Having visited Australia a few times, the greeting by the passport official sounded familiar. But I was sure Norwegians weren’t in the habit of saying, “How are ya, mate?” When you pick up a Scandinavian noir novel written by a Norwegian author, you automatically assume the setting will be somewhere in Scandinavia. But things started to make sense as I read further.     

The Bat begins in the most non-Nordic location imaginable, with Harry Hole arriving in Sydney, Australia. He’s there at the request of the Australian police who are investigating the murder of Norwegian TV presenter and minor TV celebrity,  23-year-old Inger Holter. The Australian authorities had recovered her body from the sea after someone had beaten and raped her. The Australian police don’t actually want Hole’s help investigating the case. They are only hopeful that having a Norwegian police officer around will allay Norwegian tourists’ fears so that the valuable Scandinavian tourism won’t dry up with all the negative press.

Harry, haunted by past personal and professional troubles, teams up with a bluff, friendly homicide cop of Aboriginal descent, Andrew Kensington. Working with Kensington, welcome or not, Hole wades right into the investigation, making both friends and enemies in the Bohemian quarter of Sydney where Inger worked. He and Kensington chase down some leads that take them into the Outback looking for a drug dealer, and we get a fascinating view of the Aboriginal experience from a most unexpected source. Along the way of working out Inger’s death is the work of a serial killer, Hole finds time to begin a new relationship with another Scandinavian ex-pat, Swedish barmaid Birgitta Enquist.

Harry’s fish-out-of-water experience in a foreign land and the odd-couple pairing with a mismatched partner makes for pleasurable reading all the way to the end.

Since the book was translated into English in England, American readers may find the prose a bit awkward in spots. Still, it isn’t enough of a distraction to take anything away from Nesbø’s confident and masterful storytelling style. While I categorize the book as a police procedural, one might argue it is every bit a thriller.

For those crime fiction fans who love to match wits with the detective and try to beat him to the crime’s solution, there are plenty of twists to keep you guessing. The Bat is a worthy introduction to Scandinavian noir for the uninitiated, even if this first Harry Hole novel is set in Australia. Nesbø’s writing and his character Harry Hole impressed me enough that I binge-read the next ten books in the series and waited impatiently to get my hands on the twelfth book when it came out in 2019.

The Bat is available as an electronic book, in print, and as an audiobook.

Details

Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard

Published: Original edition 1997; English edition July 2, 2013

Pages: 384 pages

ISBN-13: 978-0-34580-709-0

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Other Books in the Series

Cockroaches (1998)

The Redbreast (2000)

Nemesis (2002)

The Devil’s Star (2003)

The Redeemer (2005)

The Snowman (2007)

The Leopard (2009)

Phantom (2011)

Police (2013)

The Thirst (2017)

Knife (2019)

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