Her Deadly Game by Robert Dugoni Review

Her Deadly Game by Robert Dugoni, a propulsive, mind-bending legal thriller that is razor sharp.

Her Deadly Game Synopsis

A defense attorney is prepared to play. But is she a pawn in a master’s deadly match? A twisting novel of suspense by New York Times bestselling author Robert Dugoni.

Keera Duggan was building a solid reputation as a Seattle prosecutor, until her romantic relationship with a senior colleague ended badly. For the competitive former chess prodigy, returning to her family’s failing criminal defense law firm to work for her father is the best shot she has. With the right moves, she hopes to restore the family’s reputation, her relationship with her father, and her career.

Keera’s chance to play in the big leagues comes when she’s retained by Vince LaRussa, an investment adviser accused of murdering his wealthy wife. There’s little hard evidence against him, but considering the couple’s impending and potentially nasty divorce, LaRussa faces life in prison. The prosecutor is equally challenging: Miller Ambrose, Keera’s former lover, who’s eager to destroy her in court on her first homicide defense.

As Keera and her team follow the evidence, they uncover a complicated and deadly game that’s more than Keera bargained for. When shocking information turns the case upside down, Keera must decide between her duty to her client, her family’s legacy, and her own future.

Thomas & Mercer (2003)

Robert Dugoni | Pub Date 28 Mar 2023 | ISBN 9781662500190 | 396 pages

Book Review

As a rule, I don’t read legal thrillers as much as I once did and had never read Robert Dugoni until I picked up Her Deadly Game. I saw the book was available for review, was intrigued by the book summary, and requested it. And I’m so pleased I did. I think the epigraph Dugoni uses at the beginning and mentions again in the narrative fits the novel perfectly.

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” ─ Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

Keera Duggan, the main character, is a young Seattle trial lawyer, a former prosecutor now working as a defense attorney in her father Patrick “Patsy” Duggan’s law firm. Keera is struggling to get out of her father’s shadow and to make a name for herself as a lawyer. Patsy, nicknamed the Irish Brawler, earned the moniker because he had “knocked out” so many prosecutors in the courtroom using not only his razor-sharp legal mind, but every other inventive tactic he could think of. Finally, when someone murders the disabled wife of a prominent and rich Seattle wealth manager, Vincent LaRussa, and the authorities zero in on him as the prime suspect, Keera gets her chance. LaRussa hires her to defend him when the Seattle police arrest him for murdering his wife. Keera Duggan, also a keen legal mind, proves she is her father’s daughter, quite a legal brawler in her own right. She provides LaRussa the vigorous defense he’s paying her for. Keera undergoes several transitions during the buildup to the trial and then the trial itself. First, she isn’t sure whether her client is innocent, as he claims, and doesn’t care. Then, she feels certain LaRussa is innocent of his wife’s murder. But as the trial unfolds, Keera has reason to feel there is something sinister about Vincent LaRussa that may or may not involve his wife’s murder.

There was so much I liked about this book, but it was Dugoni’s direct, concise writing style that truly made the story sing for me. Dugoni didn’t offer any fluff. It seems each word and each sentence play an integral part in his narrative. Another thing I enjoyed was that Dugoni offers an important clue early in the book. But reminiscent of a stage magician, he cleverly pulls the reader’s attention away from the revelation by presenting the reader with many other bright, shiny objects that cause the important clue to be all but forgotten. Then Dugoni springs the trap much deeper in the story, creating a most unexpected twist.

Robert Dugoni’s writing style proves the truth that less is often more in descriptive writing. He wasted no time with extensive descriptions, yet provided enough detail to allow my mind to fill in any blanks. That allowed me to visualize each particular character and setting with ease. I found this especially effective with his characterization and had visual images in my head of each of the principal characters.

Something I enjoyed when I used to read more legal thrillers was that the better written ones, though fiction, offered much insight into the law, lawyers, and the courts and made me think. That is another strength of this book. It’s an unflinching look at the American criminal justice system, particularly the adversarial legal system used in our common law country where two advocates, a prosecutor and defense attorney, represent their parties’ case or position before an impartial judge or jury. For all its positives, it’s also easy to see the flaws of the system in that Americans often get the amount of “justice” they can pay for. In the case presented here, we have a wealthy defendant claiming innocence paying six-hundred-dollars per billable hour for a highly competent and resourceful defense attorney. That immediately made me think about how much justice an average person, perhaps relying on an overworked, underpaid public defender, might get in a similar situation.

Fans of legal thrillers and crime thrillers will enjoy this tense, pacy page-turner. It begins with a bang and doesn’t let up until the gripping and dramatic conclusion.

I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes.

Book rating: ★★★★★

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Gallows Dome by Nolan Knight Review

Gallows Dome by Nolan Knight, a gritty and gloomy, yet poignant noir-ish romp through the seedy underbelly of Southern Cal, with more than enough booze, drugs, distressed damsels, lot lizards, religious cult figures, and murder to make it definitely worth the ride. Read my full review.

Gallows Dome Synopsis

Lena Madadhi is desperate, a middle-aged arts teacher in Los Angeles whose teen daughter has been abducted. When seeking help from a private investigator, Joe Delancey, she finds he is out on a case at a Central Valley truck stop, deep undercover among truckers, prostitutes and nomads—entrenched in a doomsday sect called Gallows Dome. The further Lena digs to find Joe, the deeper she submerges into The Dome’s hellscape, spiraling closer toward her daughter’s whereabouts than she could ever imagine. An unflinching look at the dark side of family and faith, Nolan Knight’s Gallows Dome tackles a current American landscape whose thoughts and prayers help flap its flags at half-mast—teetering on the brink of total collapse.

Down & Out Books (2003)

Nolan Knight | Pub Date Jun 12, 2023 | ISBN 9781643963174 | 289 pages

Book Review

Gallows Dome by Nolan Knight features the characters Lena Madadhi, Perry Quell, Joe Delancey, Repo Helm, X-man, and other random people with shady pasts. Knight brings them all to life on the page with a unique voice and mashes them into an uproarious, hyper-violent, sleazy narrative about drugs, booze, abducted young women, truck stop prostitutes, and a drug dealer turned leader of a scammy apocalyptic religious cult. 

Lena Madadhi is desperate, middle-aged Los Angeles arts teacher. When Tess, her teenage daughter, goes missing and Lena realizes the cops are doing nothing to find her, she resolves to search for her daughter on her own. She will stop at nothing to get Tess back. Lena first contacts Perry Quell, a down and out, part-time bartender who also had a daughter, Rochelle, go missing. After catching a program on television about Perry’s search for Rochelle, Lena seeks him out because she wants to hire Joe Delancey, the same L. A. private investigator Perry hired to search for Rochelle until his hopes and money ran out. While Delancey never found Rochelle, Lena learned from the television show that he had never given up looking for Rochelle, even when Perry couldn’t afford to continue paying him. Perry confirms this when they meet. And that gives Lena hope Delancey is the right man for the job. 

Unfortunately, Delancey is a hard man to find. After Lena and Perry visit his daughter Becca, they get a rough idea of Joe’s whereabouts and undertake an odyssey in an old RV reminiscent of the iconic vehicle from Breaking Bad, to search for him. While Tess is the holy grail of Lena’s quest, she and Perry must first find Joe Delancey, whom they believe is somewhere near Fresno, still searching for Rochelle Quell. 

Unbeknownst to Lena and Perry, Delancey is working a lead on Rochelle undercover. Posing as a pill pusher named Miggy Rojas, he has embedded himself with a drug dealer named Repo Helm and Helm’s psychopathic sidekick, X-Man. And as the pair inches painfully closer to finding Delancey, it seems they are unknowingly inching closer to Tess’s whereabouts. But just when they find Joe Delancey, things go south in a hurry after X-man tumbles to Delancey’s true identity. Not to mention, Repo Helm has gruesome plans is store for Tess Madadhi in connection with the scam apocalyptic religious cult he has founded. It becomes a question of whether Lena, Perry, and Delancey can find Tess before it’s too late. 

There are many superb elements here, but Knight’s voice is what makes Gallows Dome wildly entertaining and memorable. He offers fast, snappy prose with a level of punchy, slangy dialogue that dances between the brilliant and the ridiculous. Knight’s voice in this novel has a bleak and darkly cynical quality of the kind suited perfectly to hard-boiled crime fiction and noir thrillers, and is reminiscent of the style of James Ellroy and more recently, Jordan Harper (Everybody Knows, 2003). I feel Knight brings us here uncomfortably close to the frazzled and fractured epicenter of contemporary America―a country teetering on the brink of total collapse. Gallows Dome is a convergence of the defiled and demented, the lurid and the hard-lucks, seasoned with a generous portion of random violence. The gripping and entertaining tale Knight splashes on the page here is definitely worth the ride. It contextualizes contemporary America in full Cinemascope and nails the organized social whole of the times that is far more than merely the sum of its parts, especially in L.A. and Southern California. 

I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.

Book rating: ★★★★★

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This title not yet available for preorders. Due out June 12, 2023.

China Doll Book Blitz

China Doll by Larry Darter, another comical and exciting adventure, ripped straight from the files of Honolulu’s most incorrigible and languid, soft-boiled private eye, Richard Bishop.

Book Summary

People come to Richard Bishop’s shabby Hotel Street office for professional help when trouble raises its ugly head because trouble is his business. But when the private investigator accepts an assignment from Nikki Kwan, a stunning and curvaceous China doll, to protect her and to deliver a sealed envelope to her ex-boyfriend, Rick soon has plenty of trouble all his own. He finds himself squarely in the crosshairs of rival Chinatown mobsters who want his client and him dead. As the drama unfolds, the criminals also take aim at Rick’s gorgeous blonde Australian girlfriend, Sally Jayne Fisher. Even after enlisting the aid of Lieutenant David Chang, his friend and former partner at HPD, Rick still collects the usual assortment of bumps, bruises, cracked ribs, and lacerations as the stumbling, bumbling gumshoe struggles to stay out of the hospital and save the lives of his client and his girl, not to mention his own. Can Bishop and Lieutenant Chang take down the mobsters before it’s too late? Or will the Chinatown gangsters prevail, handing Chang three more homicides to investigate?

Rick Bishop Private Investigator Series #5

Fedora Press (2023)

Genre(s) Mystery & Detective | Pub Date Jan 10, 2023 | ISBN 9798374097603

Author Interview

What was your inspiration for this series?

I’d say it was probably Magnum P.I., the original series with Tom Selleck. What I love about that television series is how the writers portray Thomas Magnum. He always solves the case, but Magnum isn’t the most ambitious or competent private investigator. So, solving the case usually involves a lot of good luck. I also love the comedy you find in almost every episode except for a few episodes with a more serious tone. I wanted to write a series about a private detective in the Thomas Magnum mold and I think Rick Bishop is original, but still has a lot of similarities to Magnum. If you’ve enjoyed watching Magnum P.I. I think you will enjoy reading this series.

Tell us about your characters.

At the center is Richard “Rick” Bishop, a former Honolulu detective and former Navy frogman. He left the police after a traumatic experience where a witness he was protecting got murdered because of his mistake. Bishop turned to private investigation work because he is content to make a little money working only when he has to and enjoys being his own boss. As a result, while he is chasing criminal types around the city, there are always a few collection agencies chasing Rick. Rick’s best friend, Joe Rose, is a recurring character. He owns the Honolulu dive bar called the Likelike Club. Joe, also a former frogman, served with Rick in the Navy. David Chang, another regular character, is Rick’s former partner when Bishop was a police detective. Chang is now a lieutenant and heads the Honolulu Police Department Criminal Investigation Division. Rick always has a love interest, usually a different woman in each book. That’s because Rick is so commitment phobic that he can’t manage his relationships any better than his finances. Once a woman he’s dating starts talking about marriage, Bishop suffers panic attacks and looks for a way out of the relationship. There are other characters that appear in the books regularly, but those three are the main ones.

Tell us about your setting.

I didn’t choose Honolulu because of Magnum P.I., which you might assume from my answer to the first question. I fell in love with Hawaii the first time I visited Honolulu when I served in the Navy. Ships I served on docked at Pearl Harbor many times during my Navy years, and since then I’ve vacationed in Hawaii dozens of times. I’ve visited several of the islands and enjoyed them all, but Oahu remains my favorite. And although Honolulu is the most expensive and touristy city in Hawaii, I’ve always loved it. There is so much to see and do. I’ve seen much of Honolulu and Oahu, so I’ve been everywhere we find Richard Bishop going in the books. So, I suppose I picked Honolulu because I enjoy spending time there and I’m so familiar with it.

What’s your favorite thing about the series?

I like the tone I’ve set with the books. They are modern crime stories but with a strong nod to classic noir. But with my personal style of humor that I attempt to bring to the mix, reading a Rick Bishop novel is nothing like reading a Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade book. I also like the Bishop character, who I refer to as soft-boiled instead of hard-boiled. He is irreverent and politically incorrect. I didn’t base the character on me, so I hope I don’t get any hate mail. But I enjoy writing about a character who doesn’t give two cents about the sort of people today who break into tears when someone says something they choose to take offense at. In real life we all live in a society now where we have little freedom of speech or self-expression and virtually no privacy. But Richard Bishop doesn’t inhabit the increasingly unhappy world we live in. He feels free to poke good natured fun at the prima donnas we see in the media all the time who obviously take themselves far too seriously.

Is there anything new about this fifth book in the series?

Yes, I made a significant change with China Doll. Previously, I wrote the books in the third person. But I wrote this one in first person, hoping readers will find it easier to connect with Bishop by spending more time in his head. Also, yet again, Bishop has a new girlfriend. This time, he’s dating a wealthy Australian mining heiress, Sally Jayne Fisher, who is also a former championship pro surfer. I hope readers like her, but she’s already talking marriage, so no guarantees how long this relationship will last.

Anything else you would like to add?

Maybe one thing. While I rarely enroll my books in the Kindle Unlimited program, I made an exception with China Doll. I won’t leave it there permanently. I prefer to publish wide rather than giving Amazon exclusive digital rights, which I don’t believe is in the best interests of most authors. A great deal of time and money goes into writing and publishing a book and I don’t feel the Kindle Unlimited program fairly compensates authors. That said, for the next few months, any Kindle Unlimited subscriber can borrow and read China Doll for free. After that, I’ll withdraw it from the program and publish it everywhere else. Richard Bishop has a loyal following on Apple Books among other platforms, so I won’t make those who buy their eBooks elsewhere wait for more than a few months to get the book from their favorite retailer. The book is also available in print on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Hopefully, the print version will also be available from independent bookstores within another week or two.

Meet the Author

Larry Darter is a retired law enforcement officer with over twenty years’ service. He has served as an administrator, patrol officer, patrol supervisor, certified law enforcement instructor, field training officer, and crime scene specialist. His law enforcement experience at the federal and municipal levels brings unique authenticity to his novels. Darter is the author of twenty-one previous crime novels, including the Rick Bishop series, Malone series, T. J. O’Sullivan series, and Howard Drew series. Larry earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Central Oklahoma with a major in accounting and a minor in finance.

Sons and Brothers by Kim Hays Review

Sons and Brothers, the second crime novel by Kim Hays, is a chilling police thriller with characters whose lives are wrapped in a web of long kept secrets that ends in murder. Read my full review.

Sons and Brothers Synopsis

A Polizei Bern Novel

Walking his dog along Bern’s Aare river on an icy November night, a surgeon in his seventies is hit in the face and thrown into the river to drown. When his bruised corpse is found, his watch is missing. A mugging gone wrong? The more Swiss police detective Giuliana Linder and her assistant Renzo Donatelli learn about Johann Karl Gurtner, the more convinced they are that his death was not random.

Talking to Gurtner’s family raises as many questions as it answers, but one thing becomes clear: the surgeon’s relationship with his middle son, Markus, was grim. Tracking others who might have had reason to hate Gurtner, Giuliana and Renzo find themselves once again dealing with their attraction to one another and their ambivalence about having an affair.

Behind their investigation, another story has been unfolding. During the year leading up to Gurtner’s death, his son Markus became friends with a former classmate of his father’s from the village where the two men grew up. Unlike the privileged young Gurtner, Jakob Amsler was forcibly removed from his mother at nine and contracted to live and work on a village farm. From Jakob, Markus learns that his father’s early life contains some very odd secrets—secrets that Giuliana and Renzo are now trying to uncover.

Seventh Street Books (2023)

Kim Hays | Pub Date Apr 18, 2023 | ISBN 9781645060581 | 362 pages

Book Review

Sons and Brothers by Kim Hays is a chilling police thriller set in Bern (Switzerland) and in a small (fictional) Emmental farming village called Heidmatt. After receiving an emergency call from an unidentified man, the Bern cantonal police pull the body of Johann Karl Gurtner, a seventy-two-year-old heart surgeon, from the Aare River in downtown Bern on a late November evening. Gurtner had suffered a blow to the face and head before going into the chilling water. Now it’s up to Detectives Giuliana Linder and Renzo Donatelli and their team to dig into the background of the victim to find out who had a motive to kill him. 

Quickly the police zero in on the dead man’s thirty-five-year-old son, Markus, as their suspect. Now a professional photographer, Markus Gurtner, a recovering drug addict and alcoholic, has served time in juvenile prison for his part in a past violent assault, still has pent-up anger issues boiling just beneath the surface, and had never got along with his father. Is Markus the lone killer, or were others involved? These are the primary questions to which Linder and her team must find answers. To complicate matters, Linder must work with a sleazy prosecutor, Toni Rossel, whom she dislikes strongly but once had a fling with in her mid-twenties. And Toni seems bent on using the opportunity to continue his longstanding sexual harassment of Linder and even threatens to ruin her professional reputation among her colleagues in the police department by telling all about their one-night tryst. Also, the underlying sexual tension between Linder and Donatelli continues in this second book in the series. 

As much as I enjoyed Pesticide, the strong debut in the series, I liked Sons and Brothers even more. Since the major characters in the first book return, we get to know them more deeply. Kim Hays’ no-nonsense, precise writing style translates just as well as a police procedural as a detective mystery novel. 

The complexity of the case and the web of long kept secrets at the heart of this story is noteworthy. Hays flips back and forth between the present to periods in the recent past and even as far back as sixty years before the death of Johann Karl Gurtner. So, the reader gains a full understanding of the feelings of enmity among the primary characters and suspense fostered by how long into the past these feelings of rancor extend into a sleepy rural setting with its small-town attitudes and mindset. 

As with the series debut, Hays proves effective with characterization. Her conscientious depiction of the life like histories and flaws of a number of people involved in the story and investigation is admirable. There is no lack in the depth and continuity of investment in any of the characters, even those who play only minor roles. The real strength of the book lies in the author’s judicious unwrapping of the puzzle and toying with her audience’s moral compass and inner sleuth that maintained my engagement throughout. I wasn’t sure about the identity of the murderer or murderers until the revelation. 

Kim Hays’ Sons and Brothers features an intriguing murder case well worth sinking your teeth into, and is, I suspect, one of the more authentic depictions of real-world Swiss policing available. Recommended for fans of both detective mysteries and police procedurals. 

I received an advanced copy of the book from the publisher, Seventh Street Books, via the publicist for review purposes. Sons and Brothers goes on sale on April 18, 2023.

Book rating: ★★★★★

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A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow Review

A Cold Day for Murder, Dana Stabenow’s impressive first novel in the Kate Shugak series, is an engrossing, multi-layered whodunit that is deeply human. Read my full review.

A Cold Day for Murder Synopsis

Kate Shugak Series #1

Kate Shugak is a native Aleut working as a private investigator in Alaska. She’s five foot tall, carries a scar that runs from ear to ear across her throat, and owns a half-wolf, half-husky dog named Mutt. Resourceful, strong-willed, defiant, Kate is tougher than your average heroine – and she needs to be to survive the worst the Alaskan wilds can throw at her.

Somewhere in twenty million acres of forest and glaciers, a ranger has disappeared: Mark Miller. Missing six weeks. It’s assumed by the Alaskan Parks Department that Miller has been caught in a snowstorm and frozen to death: the typical fate of those who get lost in this vast and desolate terrain. But as a favour to his congressman father, the FBI send in an investigator: Ken Dahl. Last heard from two weeks and two days ago.

Now it’s time to send in a professional. Kate Shugak: light brown eyes, black hair, five foot tall with an angry scar from ear to ear. Last seen yesterday.

Aria & Aries, Head of Zeus (2023)

Genre(s) Mystery & Thrillers

Dana Stabenow | Pub Date Jan 05, 2023 | ISBN 9781804549551 | 240 pages

Book Review

If you are looking for reliably good crime fiction read, then look no further than Dana Stabenow’s A Cold Day for Murder. The book has everything I enjoy in a modern crime fiction yarn; a flawed, cynical detective, a remote setting, and an exhilarating whodunit with suspects galore, all of whom have motives for the crimes at hand. But what makes this book special is the added conflict between the traditional way of life Native Alaskans (in this case Aleut) and the encroachment of contemporary, outside America. Stabenow’s masterful depiction of scene, atmosphere, and mood offers that “feels-like-you-are-there” experience, almost as though you’re riding over every snow covered bump of an abandoned railroad grade on the back of a snowmobile in sub-zero weather following (main character) Kate Shugak’s every move.

In A Cold Day for Murder, Stabenow depicts the characters with nuance and emotion. Even the minor players feel fully fleshed out and real. But none are so vividly depicted as Kate Shugak, a former top investigator for the Anchorage District Attorney’s Office who quit after getting her throat cut while apprehending a child abuser. When a park ranger, the son of a congressman, disappears, along with a district attorney’s office investigator sent to look for him, her old boss, under pressure from the FBI, persuades Shugak to look for them. Besides her skills as an investigator, no one knows the National Park and its 20 million acres of Alaskan wilderness, where the men disappeared better than Kate does. And as an insider related to half of the people living in the bush, she can find out things no outsider ever could.

Dana Stabenow’s writing is electric, her ear for dialogue is pitch perfect and her pacing and sustained tension make for a page-turning read. The setting in the bush of Alaska, a state that has fascinated me since I read Jack London’s Call of the Wild as a child, is the icing on the cake. I highly recommend this one.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes.

Book rating: ★★★★

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Wreck Bay by Barbara Fradkin Review

Wreck Bay by Barbara Fradkin, a thriller set in the wilderness of Vancouver Island’s Pacific Rim, with a main character who faces tough decisions and danger after striking up a friendship with a troubled, reclusive artist. Read my full review.

Wreck Bay Synopsis

An Amanda Doucette Novel

Amanda Doucette pursues the connection between a reclusive artist and the wealthy surfer who turned up dead on a remote island in Vancouver Island’s Pacific Rim in a wilderness-infused mystery perfect for fans of Jane Harper or Louise Penny.While exploring the rugged landscape of Vancouver Island’s Pacific coast, Amanda Doucette is drawn to a reclusive old artist known only as Luke, who lives off the grid on a remote island. His vivid paintings hint at a traumatic secret from his past that brings to mind her own struggles with PTSD, and they begin to bond.But when the body of a surfer washes up on the beach, Luke flees deep into the interior. What is the connection between the victim and Luke, and what does it have to do with Vietnam and a hippie commune from fifty years ago? Fearing Luke might do something desperate, Amanda searches for answers and races to find him before the police or the victim’s family get to him first.

Dundurn Press (2023)

Genre(s) Mystery & Thrillers

Barbara Fradkin | Pub Date Feb 21, 2023 ISBN 9781459743878 | 320 pages

Book Review

With vivid, descriptive prose, Barbara Fradkin transports readers into the wilderness of Vancouver Island’s Pacific Rim as the main character, Amanda Doucette researches the area around Tofino as the site for her latest charity tour. Doucette, a former front line, globe-trotting aid worker, has chosen the wilderness area for a program aimed at helping recovering addicts restore their relationships with their adult children.

After arriving in Tofino, a haunting painting she comes across mesmerizes Doucette and makes her determined to meet the artist. Though the locals warn he is a troubled, unpredictable recluse, Amanda persists. Eventually she meets Luke, the artist, at his remote cabin deep in the wilderness and they strike up an uneasy friendship. A trauma survivor herself who often struggles to keep herself together, Doucette understands and readily identifies with Luke, a suspected Vietnam War deserter who suffers PTSD because of his wartime experiences. Soon Amanda gets embroiled in a tense, dangerous situation when someone murders a wealthy American financier and Luke becomes the prime suspect.

While I appreciated the descriptive prose that made the novel so atmospheric, there is so much of it in the early part of the book that it slows the pace more than I liked. But after the slow start, Fradkin builds up to the kind of tense scenes that readers expect from a good thriller. She incorporates important social issues with a focus on the complexities of human behavior without turning preachy, particularly on how profoundly trauma affects lives and on all the expectations women put on themselves, and that are placed upon them by family, friends, and society at large. But it’s the characters and storytelling that set Wreck Bay apart.

The engaging, but flawed Amanda and Luke, the artist she meets and feels great empathy for, are both compelling characters. Besides their developing friendship and bonds of trust, Fradkin adds another layer of mystery with Luke’s past history and relationship with his estranged family. This history infuses the story, eventually building to a crescendo.

Although Amanda is the compelling primary focus, the rest of the cast is likewise well-drawn, especially Matthew Goderich, her best friend, who handles the financial and logistical details for Amanda’s charity. Fradkin also deftly introduces the supporting cast, sharing intriguing facts about their backgrounds and painting a clear picture of each, with each character’s purpose evolving over the course of the story. The overlapping lives, and the role each individual character plays, elevate this winning mystery and thriller tale. Wreck Bay is a reminder of how fragile life is, and how profoundly trauma shapes our lives. It will appeal to those who enjoy reading authors like Louise Penny and Jane Harper.

I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes.

Book rating: ★★★★

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See You Next Tuesday by Ken Harris Review

See You Next Tuesday by Ken Harris, well-developed characters compliment the solid plot, and Ken Harris keeps readers entertained with humor that doesn’t feel forced. Read my full review.

See You Next Tuesday Synopsis

From the Files of Steve Rockfish #2

PI Steve Rockfish’s father loses part of his retirement savings in an online romance scam while partner Jawnie McGee handles the firm’s newest client who spins a tale of alleged spousal infidelity. Rockfish ignores his current case load and becomes fixated on tracking down those responsible for the fraud. Restitution is coming in the form of cash or broken bones. At the same time, Jawnie’s surveillance of the cheating spouse reveals more acts of kindness than sex leading to a client who doesn’t want to believe the good news.

Unbeknownst to the partners, each investigative path leads the partners to the Church of the Universal Nurturing II where the fraud is on a cryptocurrency level. Their new SunCoin is marketed as the only post-rapture currency accepted inside the pearly gates. After all, who wants to show up to the after party with out-turned pockets and not get past Heaven’s paywall?

Church elders court Rockfish and his new-found Hollywood wealth with an old-fashioned honey pot. The danger level ratchets up as Rockfish counters by sending the firm’s two new confidential informants undercover only to find the church’s endgame grift is larger and deadlier than anyone expected.

Black Rose Writing (2022)

Ken Harris | Pub Date July 14, 2022 | ISBN 9781684339891 | 299 pages

Book Review

Business is good at Rockfish & McGee Investigations until investment scam artists con Mack, Steve Rockfish’s father, out of seventeen thousand dollars, forcing Steve to drop everything to get his dad’s money back. He dumps a difficult, wealthy client, Claudia Coyne, and her infidelity case on his partner Jawnie McGee. But soon, the two cases intersect when the private investigators discover the con artists who ripped off Mack are masquerading as a doomsday religious cult and also have their hooks in Claudia’s husband, Roan.

Ken Harris (author of The Pine Barrens Stratagem) ratchets up the tension early when the suspects disappear along with Roan Coyne, suggesting a possible high stakes kidnapping with a WMD overtone. The missing Roan keeps draining the Coynes’ bank accounts, and Claudia wants Steve and Jawnie to find and rescue her husband.

After Jawnie hacks the cult’s computer system, she finds a clue that leads the detectives to rural West Virginia. They find the suspects, begin surveillance, and Jawnie spots Roan. But a mistake by Steve outs them to the con artists and by the time Steve persuades his Baltimore cop friend, Dan Decker, and the feds to raid the suspect’s hideout, Earl aka Brother Lamp, one leader of the criminal enterprise, disappears again along with Roan, leaving multiple dead bodies behind at the West Virginia hideout. Rockfish and Jawnie are in a race against the clock to find and rescue Roan along with Jawnie’s CI, Lynn, who also falls into Earl’s clutches, from a stone-cold killer, before it’s too late.

Low on violence and high on comedic relief, this action-packed mystery will appeal to readers who enjoy a good PI mystery yarn with a welcome connection to the real world and that will also keep them laughing.

Harris deftly builds the tension as he entertains us with humor. A lack of cooperation by the cops, forcing Steve and Jawnie to work the case alone for the most part, helps maintain the suspense throughout. If anything, the storyline in this second book in the From the Case Files of Steve Rockfish series, is even more exciting than that of the first book. Rockfish and his partner prove compelling private detectives, and Harris brings this second “soft-boiled” Rockfish tale to a satisfying conclusion.

Book rating: ★★★★★

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Blue Book by Tom Harley Campbell Review

Blue Book by Tom Harley Campbell, superb storytelling about the unraveling of a government coverup that feels uncomfortably close to reality. Read my full review.

Blue Book Synopsis

A John Burke Mystery

Book Review

This was a standout read for me. Campbell has created a strong cast of diverse, fully rendered characters, including our likeable lead, John Burke. I wasn’t sure what I was getting when I accepted Blue Book for review after reading the summary and learning UFO phenomena is part of the storyline. However, I discovered quickly that the novel is a traditional crime fiction mystery tale, and that’s right up my street.

The book opens with a brief prologue that gives us a foreshadowing of what’s coming. Then we meet an eighteen-year-old young man from Mississippi arriving in Dayton, Ohio. Alex’s father, Michael Johnson, who was a police officer from Hattiesburg, died during a visit to Dayton four years previously. Alex discovered something he believes might convince the police to re-open the investigation into his father’s death and after arriving in the city, makes his way to the police station.

Unfortunately, Captain John Burke, the detective who investigated the case, has since retired. But Alex meets Burke’s son, Kevin, who has taken over the homicide division and the detective puts Alex in touch with his father. After Alex shows John Burke what he found, Burke is interested and willing to help. While the police had speculated that Alex’s father’s death was accidental or suicide, it was the case Burke never felt he had truly solved. He returns to Mississippi with Alex to interview a man, Charles Robinson, he hadn’t known about or spoken to during the original investigation that Alex convinces him might provide information about why his father had been in Dayton when he died. Robinson reluctantly tells Burke a shocking story. His father, Henry Robinson, also died under suspicious circumstances, and Robinson believes his father’s death relates to a long shuttered government program, Blue Book, that studied UFO phenomena his father had commanded while serving as a senior officer in the Air Force.

Burke returns to Dayton with the name of a man who had been a close friend of Henry Robinson and a scientist who had also worked in the program. When Burke visits the man, Martin Novak, the man tells him a story that shocks him even more. Novak had given Michael Johnson information entrusted to him by Henry Robinson that might have got Michael killed by operators from a clandestine government contractor working for a government intelligence agency. Convinced Johnson’s death was a murder as he’d always suspected, and that it connects to the death of Henry Robinson, Burke resumes his investigation as a private investigator. He forms a theory that the secretive government contractors, under the auspices of the CIA, killed the men to “protect information vital to national security.” As Burke digs deeper into the mystery, another murder occurs and Burke soon realizes he may be in over head, facing off against shadowy and powerful government entities willing to murder civilians to safeguard their secrets.

While I found the UFO aspect of the plot an intriguing twist, an interest in UFO coverup conspiracy theories isn’t required to enjoy reading this riveting tale. The book is far more about people solving crimes than an episode of The X-Files type of story. This is a book for anyone who enjoys a good mystery. However, for those who enjoyed The X-Files as I did, the UFO aspect only makes Campbell’s story even more fascinating. Campbell’s writing style is accessible and he effortlessly grips and hangs on to the reader’s interest. The dialogue is sharp and realistic.

Campbell offers us a well-plotted, entertaining novel with a gripping story that is not only plausible, but almost uncomfortably realistic. If you entertain UFO conspiracy theories or not, any reasonably educated person who keeps up with current events knows that unelected bureaucrats who show no fear of elected officials have amassed and wield massive amounts of power since the 9/11 attack that they jealously guard. Remember Edward Snowden? Not to mention Senator Chuck Schumer’s infamous quote from 2017: “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

Blue Book is superb storytelling and suitable for all crime fiction mystery fans. I easily read in a single sitting, and highly recommend this book.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review, but have since purchased a copy for my personal library.

Book rating: ★★★★★

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Everybody Knows by Jordan Harper Review

Everybody Knows by Jordan Harper, an unputdownable neo-noir masterpiece and an unflinching look at Los Angeles beneath the glamour and glitz. Read my full review.

Everybody Knows Synopsis

Welcome to Mae Pruett’s Los Angeles, where “Nobody talks. But everybody whispers.”As a “black-bag” publicist tasked not with letting the good news out but keeping the bad news in, Mae works for one of LA’s most powerful and sought-after crisis PR firms, at the center of a sprawling web of lawyers, PR flaks, and private security firms she calls “The Beast.” They protect the rich and powerful and depraved by any means necessary. 
After her boss is gunned down in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel in a random attack, Mae takes it upon herself to investigate and runs headfirst into The Beast’s lawless machinations and the twisted systems it exists to perpetuate. It takes her on a roving neon joyride through a Los Angeles full of influencers pumped full of pills and fillers; sprawling mansions footsteps away from sprawling homeless encampments; crooked cops and mysterious wrecking crews in the middle of the night.
Edgar Award-winner Jordan Harper’s EVERYBODY KNOWS is addicting and alarming, a “juggernaut of a novel” and “an absolute tour de force.” It is what the crime novel can achieve in the modern age: portray the human lives at the center of vast American landscapes, and make us thrill at their attempts to face impossible odds.

Mulholland Books (2023)

Categories: Mystery Thriller

Jordan Harper | Pub Date Jan 10, 2023 | ISBN 9780316457910 | 320 pages

Book Review

Everybody Knows by Jordan Harper is a tough book to review. It’s one of novels that comes along once in a while where I worry that I won’t find the words to do it justice. Long story short, I loved this book and Harper’s writing is brilliant. Needless to say, he impressed me. He crafts his words and sentences in such a way it suggests meticulous thought has gone into each one. 

The novel is written in third person from the alternating perspectives of the two lead characters—Mae Pruett and Chris Tamburro. And we spend a lot of time in their heads, getting to know them as much from their inner thoughts as their words in the dialogue. Mae is a “fixer” who works for Mitnick & Associates, a crisis management firm that practices the art of “Black-bag PR.” Mae’s job is to kill or contain news in the press and tabloids that could destroy the reputations and careers of her firm’s unsavory but connected clients. And she works with Dan Hennigan, the man who taught her the ropes and the mantra: “Don’t worry about the truth. It’s not that the truth isn’t important. It just doesn’t matter.” Chris is a physically imposing former Los Angeles County deputy sheriff, booted by the agency when exposed as a dirty cop. Now he works for attorney Stephen Acker, an arm of what Chris thinks of as “the Beast,” as hired muscle, “a fist on someone else’s arm.” 

Both Mae and Chris are flawed in their own unique ways—Mae’s is mostly unethical conduct in performing her job, while Chris has a history of acts that are illegal, unethical, and immoral. He’s been as much a criminal as the people he once arrested. Still, when the reader looks deep enough, sufficient good exists in both characters to provoke feelings of empathy and reasons to like them. After all, both are simply products of the corrupt environment they inhabit that the opaque LA power brokers created. Mae and Chris once dated, but haven’t seen each other for years after their breakup until the inciting incident thrusts them together again. They end up opposing the Beast in a contest they hope they can win, but probably can’t. 

At its heart, Everybody Knows is neo-noir. Harper features cynical, brooding, deeply flawed protagonists struggling to survive, and uses dark visuals to emphasize characters or certain details in scenes. The interplay of light and dark until the lines become blurred is one of the most prominent elements of the novel. The book explores the wider themes of ethics, power, and moral dilemmas. Hallmarks of Harper’s work include dense plotting, concise punchy prose that is relentlessly pessimistic. After only a few pages, Harper’s distinctive writing style put me in mind of James Ellroy’s writing, hardly surprising after I found a 2017 interview with crimefictionlover.com where Harper revealed: “James Ellroy and Cormac McCarthy are my style gods.” This novel fits easily into the class of Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential and Polanski’s classic neo-noir film Chinatown

Everybody Knows has a cinematographic mood, and before I had even confirmed it by researching his biography, I already recognized Harper had screenwriter chops. At times, you easily imagine you’re reading a film script and this is definitely a novel that deserves an adaptation. It’s a book filled with big ideas, big stakes, and big odds that tells a big story. Harper has written a smart mystery thriller and a haunting tale of moral dilemmas that is deliriously entertaining. Maybe best of all is the setting. Beautiful and sunny LA, a place seething with corruption beneath the glamour and glitz, where cold and ruthless rich and powerful carry out their schemes. I highly recommend this one. Obviously, it’s perfect for fans of James Ellroy.

Book rating: ★★★★★

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Broken Glass by Alexander Hartung Review

Broken Glass by Alexander Hartung, a cleverly plotted crime thriller with a cynical, tough detective lead.

Broken Glass Synopsis

A Nik Pohl Thriller #1

One murdered, one missing. Both are almost identical.

Detective Nik Pohl has seen every shade of darkness in his career. Not used to playing by the rules, he finds himself frozen out by his superiors. What’s worse, now he’s being blackmailed by a shadowy businessman into investigating a seemingly crimeless disappearance.

A young woman, Viola, left her home months ago, leaving a letter to her parents saying she wouldn’t be coming back. With a little digging Nik discovers the case of an almost identical-looking woman, who went missing in similar circumstances. There’s one important difference: that woman is dead. Viola may still be alive… but perhaps not for much longer.

When Nik is viciously attacked, it becomes clear that whoever is behind Viola’s disappearance has some high-level connections, and they will stop at nothing to shut him down. But he’s in too deep and the clock is ticking. He has to find Viola, and her captors, before it’s too late.

Thomas & Mercer (2019)

Categories Thriller & Suspense, Mystery & Detective, Police Procedural

Alexander Hartung | Pub Date Nov 01, 2019 | ISBN 9781542093484 | 255 Pages | Translated by Fiona Beaton

Book Review

Munich Detective Inspector Nik Pohl, an unbecoming mixture of outward indifference and inward cynicism, is only looking to be left alone to drink his beer. What he gets is a partnership with a secretive computer expert named Jon who blackmails Pohl into re-opening an investigation into a missing woman, a case Nik’s colleagues closed after determining the woman had disappeared voluntarily. Jon insists Pohl investigate further until he feels satisfied no foul play was involved.

Reluctantly, Pohl gets the case files on the woman from a highly placed police colleague and works the case off the books. After the same colleague abducts Pohl and tries to kill him, after committing another murder in Nik’s presence, Pohl realizes Jon’s suspicions are well founded. After escaping his risky predicament by killing his colleague, Pohl digs deeper in the young woman’s disappearance, aided by Jon, who hacks the police computer system. The detective soon discovers another young woman who disappeared under almost identical circumstances, but she turned up dead. But what is the connection? After an illegal, late night exhumation of the woman’s corpse, whose death authorities had ruled accidental, Jon and Nik arrange a second autopsy by an eccentric pathologist who discovers the cause of death was murder by blunt force trauma.

As Pohl continues chasing up leads, he attracts the attention of some powerful and dangerous people who are intent on shutting down his informal investigation, preferably by killing him. The deeper Pohl digs, the more convinced he becomes he is up against a conspiracy that includes corruption at the highest levels. The question becomes, can he find out the truth and solve the cases before his powerful enemies eliminate him first?

Nik Pohl is an intriguing character, almost a latter day German version of the iconic Chandler character, Philip Marlowe. Once a highly regarded, decorated policeman, after the trauma of a past unsolved case that still haunts him, Pohl turned into a shadow of his former self and had only gone through the motions at work until he met Jon. Despite the blackmail, Jon forces Nik to recapture his enthusiasm for investigations and he doggedly perseveres, even when his own life hangs in the balance.

Hartung spins a clever, slow burning suspense yarn with plenty of twists to keep us guessing as he raises the tension throughout. Besides Pohl, there is a host of other colorful and intriguing characters. One of those is Nik’s sister Mira, who appears several times throughout the book, and provides the last twist in the story that I never saw coming. Broken Glass is suitable for fans of crime thrillers and mysteries, especially those who enjoy international crime tales.

Book rating: ★★★★

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