Sunday, June 27, 2010


By Martin Edwards

Published by Poisoned Pen Press,
February, 2010, Hard cover, 284 pgs.
ISBN: 978-1-59058-593-1

The author is experienced, long published. He has four mysteries in this, the Lake District police cases, featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind. I admit, ever since I was introduced to the Lake District through the excellent novels of Arthur Ransome, he of The Picts and Swallows, I've been a big fan of almost everything written by for and about the area. Edwards has twelve novels and a sizeable canon, plus he's a well-received critic and commentator. For those reasons I was somewhat disappointed by the long very well-written set of annoyances Mr. Martin, as narrator has put forth. He appears to dislike the wealthy, attorneys, police funding, professional police administrators, the high-born and the low, plus a bunch of others. Too bad. His annoyances get in the way of full enjoyment of a really well-conceived and rendered story.

DCI Hanna Scarlett, is still coping with her irascible lover and book dealer Marc Amos and her attraction to historian Daniel Kind. Kind, back in the district is the son of Hannah's ex-boss. Hannah heads the local Cold Case squad looking at the seven year-old death of Emily Friend. Was it murder? Or suicide and does it matter after so many years? DCI Scarlett thinks so and she takes her upstanding sense of justice into a case that grows more and more complicated and closer to home than she care to contemplate.

It is often said that good mystery writing is founded on the careful and measured release of information to the reader. Martin is a master of the technique. Whether he writes about Hannah's personal problems with the men in her life, the interesting murders of two book dealers/collectors in the immediate area, or the weather which can be depressing at times, the author maintains careful control. In most aspects, this is a novel that can be savored and fully enjoyed.

Carl Brookins

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island, Bloody Halls

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


By Mary Anna Evans
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2005
294 Pgs., Hardcover
ISBN: 978-159-058362-3

This is the author's second novel featuring insouciant pot-hunter Faye Longchamp. Faye appears to have reformed since we last encountered her. She's back in school, studying to be an archeologist. Once again author Evans gives us a cast of interesting characters involved in various questionable if enthralling activities, even though the readers' sense of disbelief is sorely tested.

Longchamp is tasked to supervise the crew of an archeological-cum-social/historical project in central Alabama. She isn't qualified. She knows it and so does the institute which is running the project, as well as do the academic experts who are on the scene. Never mind, she creates order out of chaos, soon earns the loyalty of several locals who are on the crew and dodges ravening dogs, surly local inhabitants and murderous thieves. All in a days work.

The novel explores archeology, oral history, genealogy and medical diciplines. It seems an ethnically separate group or band of settlers have been living relatively isolated lives in the middle of the state. Doctors on the perimeter of the settlements are discovering that members of the clan are highly resistant to AIDS, among other communicable diseases. The government thereupon, and to the discomfort of the residents, mosty of whom value their privacy, issues grants, orders, research topics and general disruption.

The target group is called the Sujosa and no once seems to know quite where they came from or why. They don't fit in with surrounding populations which has caused various troubles in the past and made the clan more than a little suspicious of government in particular and of strangers in their midst. Arbitrarily plunking a group of stuffy strangers with a lot of perceived rules and attitudes among the Sujosa is a recipe for trouble and murder soon ensues.

There are lapses in logic, plot holes and occasional awkward writing. Nevertheless the central plot is a really interesting idea. From it, Evans adeptly splits off sub-plots involving some local relationships that are interesting to follow. The author is good at revealing the tensions, attitudes and prejudices of superannuated academics in both amusing and irksome ways. Some of the relationships and characters are very well developed and one might wish for fewer characters and more attention to those remaining. Likewise, one might wish for fewer plot twists and sub-plots and more complete development of those that remain.

The pace of the story is not swift, but there are few lapses. If emotional tensions between the characters are never riveting, they aren't dull and boring, either. Readers will learn a good deal, in an engaging way, about some arcane and relatively unpopular academic disciplines. That is a good thing. Never a thriller, Relics is however, a satisfying and worthy second effort.

Carl Brookins

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island, Bloody Halls

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Server Down
By J. M. Hayes
HC from Poisoned Pen Press
May, 2009

Poisoned Pen Press is probably the elite crime fiction publisher in the nation right now. Their standards are very high and under Barbara Peters gimlet eye and firm editorial hand, they rarely stumble. Having Bob always around to beat the drums doesn’t hurt, either. In fact, their growing power in the crime fiction community allows them to support authors who are interested in stretching their personal visions as authors.

SERVER DOWN, is a good example. J.M Hayes is engaged in writing a series set in the flatlands small mid-Kansas, largely rural, community in Benteen County. The series, this one is the fifth episode, is a gentle tongue-in-cheek riff on an old and rude English public house song with the refrain, “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun.” Principal fellow is a part Indian Kansan who yearns to be a Cheyenne shaman. His adopted moniker is Mad Dog. His brother, the Sheriff of Benteen County is named English. It’s a family name. So naturally, people here and there refer to the Sheriff as Englishman. Mad Dog is a militant pacifist who is forever getting involved in causes, peaceful protests. That of course sets him against movers and shakers who’d like to develop the hell out of Benteen County.

Among his other interests, Mad Dog is a gamer. He apparently satisfies his bloodlust with a computer game called War of Worldcraft. Unfortunately, it turns out the massive violent game has more to it than mere pixels on a screen.

Mad Dog is in Tucson to witness classic Indian Easter ceremonies when life goes off the rails. His home back in Kansas is blown away and he’s now accused of murdering a local officer. Things spiral out of control until his entire family is at risk and the bodies begin to fall with such rapidity that it becomes difficult to keep track. It’s where the author has begun to take risks. Will his audience, used to the slightly off-kilter amusing antics of the Benteen characters, moving in generally placid currents, accept the grittier, more violent and hard-edged tone of this novel? I hope so, because this is a dandy novel. Of course the press is taking a risk as well. Author Hayes is an excellent writer and if the novel gives short shrift to the compute game that is part of the fundamental functionality of the plot, the characters and their trials are far more interesting anyway.

An eminently satisfying story, the characters perform viciously or admirably as are their roles and of course there’s Hailey. Everybody’s favorite wolf. Excuse me? You haven’t met this creature? Too bad. You’re missing one of the most interesting, effective, and silent law enforcement figures to come down the pike. Tall dark and handsome, Hailey is something else and he’s mostly silent in the bargain.

Carl Brookins

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island, Bloody Halls