Monday, May 24, 2010


A Journey to Die For
By Radine Trees Nehring
ISBN 978-1-60364-020-6
Wolfmont Press, trade paper
296 pg., May 2010

Here’s a good example, if readers still need one, of a crime novel that fits comfortably into the fine tradition of fiction that relies on good writing, a fine plot, odd and usual suspects and an interesting setting. The author relies on a good story rather than tortured or crass language, logical development rather than constant physical action.

Carrie King a neighborly, bright, woman of late middling years and her husband, Henry King, a retired cop from Kansas City, are making an exploration into Arkansas history with a trip on a restored train to a small historic community on the shores of the Arkansas River. At the halfway point passengers leave the train to enjoy a brief sojourn in the town of Van Buren. When Carrie and Henry reach the river and a large historic mural to study, the possibility of encountering a dead body of the farthest thing from their minds. But alas, there it is and then there are the buttons.

A charming and delightful mystery ensues. Nehring’s unerring ear for dialog and her sense of what constitutes a well rounded character serve the reader well as the Kings travel between home, Van Buren and Kansas City where Henry had a solid career as a police officer. There have been allusions in the past to Henry’s rather abrupt retirement and in a powerful emotional scene at the Van Buren police station, Carrie and readers will receive serious and deep insight into Henry’s secret.

In the fine tradition of traditional American mysteries, A Journey to Die for is an excellent and satisfying entry in this author’s “to die for” series.

Carl Brookins
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island, Bloody Halls

Monday, May 17, 2010


Hope y'all enjoy this one.

Random Victim
By Michael A. Black
ISBN: 978-0-8439-5986-4
Pub: Leisure Books, pb, 323 pages,
April, 2008

Reviewed by Carl Brookins

How did I miss this one when it first came out? I know the author, been following the man’s writing career. He gave me a copy of this book. Still, I only recently got around to reading it. And discovered to my chagrin what I’ve been missing. Delayed a really fine read. Here is Chicago, in all its grit and insouciance, its rhythm and its nasty side.

Chicago is part of Cook County, and they have a sheriff, a law enforcement presence, and all the problems an urban county can absorb. Comes now one Sergeant Francisco Leal, back after a drug bust gone bad, resulting in a grievous wound to his person. Leal, your basic resentful cynic, doesn’t enjoy busting bad guys to see them get off too lightly, and he isn’t always quiet about his feelings, even in front of the judge. Thus, “the Dark Gable Incident,” which gave Leal a certain cache, positive in some circles, but negative in many others.

We get a really good look at the simmering anger that lies under Leal’s professional demeanor and now he has a new assignment. Along with two young, inexperienced detectives and another sergeant, Leal is assigned to a politically sensitive case that is so cold, the detective’s fingers get numb just paging through the files.

Almost a year previously a major player, a judge Miriam Walker, went missing, was found dead some time later, and there were no arrests, no apparent motive, no leads.. A random victim, possibly of a carjacking? A very cold case. Now, elections are coming and the Sheriff is being beaten up over this still unsolved case. A team is assembled in an obvious political ploy, to re-examine the case and Leal is second in command, due primarily to his seniority. The team assembles with the initial understanding that there’s almost no upside to the situation.

The characters are precisely drawn, their actions methodical and deliberate and logical. The action and the tension are low-keyed for a long time, but the writing is so fine, I was drawn inexorably to page after page until the climax exploded off the page. This is one fine police procedural. Ultimately we learn that the assumption of randomness is not the truth.

Carl Brookins

Friday, May 7, 2010


Baltimore Blues
Author: Laura Lippman
Publisher: Avon Books, Inc.
ISBN: 0-380-78875-6
Price: $5.99
pub. date: February, 1997
290 pages, paper

Review Author: Carl Brookins
This review was written some time ago, on the release of Laura Lippman's first Tess novel. Did the reviewer get it right in his prediction? What do you think of her career and later books?

One expects this author to become an important voice in the mystery genre. Lippman’s observant eye, her skill with the language, and her sense of pace and timing are all on exhibit here. If Tess Monaghan, ex-newspaper reporter, is not the most unusual lead character readers may have encountered, many of the other characters are unusual enough to satisfy our needs. Moreover, as a character that shines and sometimes dominates in these pages, the city of Baltimore is a star.

This excellent first mystery presents us with Tess’ buddy and fellow rower, Darryl Paxton, accused of the murder of a prominent Baltimore attorney. Out of work anyway, Tess agrees to help Paxton’s attorney build a defense. In her sometimes emotional and mistake-ridden efforts to help Paxton, Tess encounters several off-beat characters ranging through the many levels of Baltimore’s social structure. Some of them are ordinary, and some are fascinating, and some threatening.

Lippman writes with economy and verve, and if Monaghan spends a little too much time in internal dialogue, it’s a small price to pay to be present at the beginning of what will become a strong mystery series.