Being a Texan, I feel it’s only right for me to recommend Murder on Wheels, presented by the Austin Mystery Writers. Kaye George explains in her introduction that the genesis of the anthology was a discussion of a Megabus trip, and “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round,” one of her two stories in the book, is an ingenious investigation of that setting. The remaining ten stories all involve transportation, mostly wheeled, although V. P. Chandler’s “Rota Fortunae” is set on a sailing ship in the 18th century. The name of the ship that provides the story’s title means “wheel of fate,” however, so it certainly fits. “Red’s White F-150 Blues” by Scott Montgomery is a wild story of the things that can go wrong when you do a favor for a friend. Reavis Wortham spins a compact yarn about a “Family Business” that spans decades. “Mome Rath, My Sweet” by Gale Albright is a mash-up of Alice in Wonderland and a hardboiled PI novel, which gives Hollywood PI Jake Grimm a tough case, but then he’s just the guy to solve it. Earl Staggs is a man who knows school buses, and “Dead Man on a School Bus” makes use of that knowledge with his story’s unusual setting. The other stories here will all keep you entertained as they roll along.
Summer Book Recommendations
(Originally posted on Austin Mystery Writers)
I’ve been reading this summer and wanted to share some great books with you!
The Blessing Way is book #1 of the famous Leaphorn and Chee series by Tony Hillerman. This series has been in my TBR (To Be Read) pile for years and I’m happy to say that I finally got around to it! I knew that it would be good because everyone I’ve talked to has loved these books. Even knowing that, I was pleasantly surprised. Leaphorn is interesting and has an inherent understand about people and what makes them tick. His internal dialogue also teaches the reader about his heritage and culture. I honestly found that aspect of the story to be entertaining and enlightening. It was also full of suspenseful action. There’s a seen where a character is stalked by something or someone in the night. That scene was the best in the book! It was chilling and creepy. I loved it. *happy chills*
I’m currently reading book #2, Dance Hall of The Dead and it’s just as creepy and suspenseful.
Good Reads description of The Blessing Way: Homicide is always an abomination, but there is something exceptionally disturbing about the victim discovered in a high lonely place, a corpse with a mouth full of sand, abandoned at a crime scene seemingly devoid of tracks or useful clues. Though it goes against his better judgment, Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn cannot help but suspect the hand of a supernatural killer. There is palpable evil in the air, and Leaphorn’s pursuit of a Wolf-Witch is leading him where even the bravest men fear, on a chilling trail that winds perilously between mysticism and murder.
The second book that I recommend is The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott. It’s also the first in a series, the Chris Cherry series. While it also has a landscape that’s remote, isolated, and vast, this book is quite different. The story is told in alternating chapters from different characters. It took me a bit to get the characters straight, but once I did that, it took off. Scott does an excellent job of capturing the feel of the west Texas landscape and its people, especially bullies in small towns. As most good books, there’s a showdown of sorts and my nerves were raw, waiting to see what happens. It’s not a small book but you’ll be turning pages.
Good Reads description: Seventeen-year-old Caleb Ross is adrift in the wake of the sudden disappearance of his mother more than a year ago, and is struggling to find his way out of the small Texas border town of Murfee. Chris Cherry is a newly minted sheriff’s deputy, a high school football hero who has reluctantly returned to his hometown. When skeletal remains are discovered in the surrounding badlands, the two are inexorably drawn together as their efforts to uncover Murfee’s darkest secrets lead them to the same terrifying suspect: Caleb’s father and Chris’s boss, the charismatic and feared Sheriff Standford “Judge” Ross. Dark, elegiac, and violent, The Far Empty is a modern Western, a story of loss and escape set along the sharp edge of the Texas border. Told by a longtime federal agent who knows the region, it’s a debut novel you won’t soon forget.
Recommendation #3 is South California Purples by Baron R. Birtcher. It’s set in 1973 and starts out with an easy feel of a typical traditional Western. Then rancher Ty Dawson gets conscripted into helping the county’s law enforcement, who seems to have no interest in dealing with the growing problem. When time after time Dawson doesn’t get help from the local cops, Dawson decides to handle matters as he sees fit. If you’re looking for a mix of hard-boiled with a Western, this book fits the bill. Biker gangs vs. cowboys. You know it’s full of action. *trigger warning- it does deal with rape*
From Good Reads: Cattle rancher Ty Dawson, a complex man tormented by elements of his own past, is involuntarily conscripted to assist local law enforcement when a herd of wild mustangs is rounded up and corralled in anticipation of a government auction, igniting the passions of political activist Teresa Pineu, who threatens to fan the flames of an uprising that grows rapidly out of control.
As the past collides with the present, and hostility escalates into brutality and bloodshed, Ty is drawn into a complex web of predatory alliances and corruption where he must choose to stand and fight, or watch as the last remnants of the American West are consumed in a lawless conflagration of avarice and cruelty.
I hope this helps you find some new books. And remember, whenever possible, please try to purchase your books from local, independent bookstores. Thank you!
V. P. Chandler
Posted in Review, Writing and tagged Austin Mystery Writers, Baron Birtcher, Book Reviews, J. Todd Scott, Tony Hillerman, VP Chandler by VP with 1 comment.
Review of Boar Island by Nevada Barr
Here is a link to my most recent book review on Austin Mystery Writers
Posted in Austin Mystery Writers, Review and tagged Austin Mystery Writers, Boar Island, National Parks, Nevada Barr, VP Chandler by VP with no comments yet.
A Review of The Secret Lives of Cats
One thing I like about being in a book club is that I get a chance to read books that I hadn’t heard of. And since I hadn’t heard of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s story, The Secret Lives of Cats, I’m glad that it came to my attention and I had a good excuse to read it.
Amazon describes it as: Winner of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Choice Award for 2008, this Anthony-nominated story was one of the most talked about stories of the year.
I can believe it. I was drawn in by its first sentence. “Homer Ziff didn’t believe in old adages, but after his long and eventful spring, he couldn’t help but think that whoever put the words “curiosity,” “cat,” and “kill” in the same sentence had to be onto something.”
I like curiosity, cats, and of course crime fiction. So I’m there! You got me. (And look at this awesome cover. I love it.)
I like the premise. Ziff wonders where his cats go during the day so he attaches a small camera to each cat’s collar. The camera takes still photos, not video. (This was written when GoPro was still new and incredibly expensive.) Every day he downloads and saves many of the photos to see where they go. He notices that they go to a place where other cats congregate and sit there. Are they looking at something? What are they doing? He’s fascinated and after several days it becomes apparent that what they are looking at are bones, human bones.
He calls the police. “When the operator answered, he said, “I think there’s a dead body in my neighborhood.” And that brought the detectives to his door.”
He has to explain to them that the cats have found a dead body, but he doesn’t know exactly where it is. And he has to do this without sounding crazy or guilty. Fortunately for him, one of the detectives understands right away.
I’ll let you read the rest of the story to find out what happens. I thought it was a full-length book so I was a little disappointed that it was a short story, only 33 pages long. I wanted more! I liked everything about it, the characters, the descriptions, and the plot. I thought it moved right along.
I highly recommend this short read and I’ll definitely be reading more by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I was curious to see what else she has written and was thrilled to find that she also writes a lot of sci-fi. I’ll confess that I’m a bit of a Trekkie so I was tickled to see that she’s written a few ST books too! (Insert The Original Series music here. Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ahhhh.)
So go check out The Secret Lives of Cats and the other books listed on her site. https://kriswrites.com/
Happy hunting and live long and prosper!
Posted in Review, Writing and tagged Anthony Awards, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Sci-fi, Star Trek, The Secret Lives of Cats by VP with no comments yet.
Review of Meg Gardiner’s The Shadow Tracer
I read The Shadow Tracer a few months ago and I’ve been meaning to write a review. I know it’s not Meg’s newest book, it came out in 2013. But a good book is a good book!
Here’s the Goodreads description:
Can a person ever really disappear for good by going off the grid? And what happens when vanishing is no longer an option?
Sarah Keller is a single mother to five-year-old Zoe, living quietly in Oklahoma. She’s also a skip tracer, an expert in tracking people who’ve gone on the lam to avoid arrest, prosecution, or debt—pinpointing their locations to bring them to justice.
When a school bus accident sends Zoe to the ER, their quiet life explodes. Zoe’s medical tests reveal what Sarah has been hiding: Zoe is not her daughter. Zoe’s biological mother—Sarah’s sister, Beth—was murdered shortly after the child’s birth. And Zoe’s father is missing and presumed dead.
With no way to prove her innocence, Sarah must abandon her carefully constructed life and go on the run. Chased by cops, federal agents, and the group responsible for Beth’s murder, Sarah embarks on a desperate journey. Can her knowledge as a skip tracer help her stay off the grid, remain one step ahead of her pursuers, and find a way to save her daughter?
And let me add, the “group responsible for Beth’s murder” are some of the scariest people I’ve ever read about. The Fiery Branch of the New Covenant, is a cult that spreads across four states, led by Eldrick Worthe, who is a creepy and scary SOB. You know, kind of guy that gives white trash a bad rep. And although he’s in prison, he still rules the clan/cult very effectively. They are determined to get Zoe because they think she’ll be the one to herald the new era for the cult. This family is full of meth heads and terrorists that have no qualms with doing whatever they think is necessary to get Zoe. And the creepiest of the family were Fell and Reavy. *shudder*
Keller is a good and solid character. I learned some things about being invisible to “the system”. And I enjoyed her relationship to Zoe. Zoe is a little mature for her age, but it worked for me. I assumed that if her mom is a skip tracer and knows the constant danger they could be in, she’s going to teach a thing or two to her kid along the way.
Throw in an FBI agent looking for vengeance, a U.S. Marshall who helped Keller years ago, and a few other characters, and you have a great cast. I’ve seen some other reviews that say this isn’t her strongest book so that whet’s my appetite for more from Gardiner.
So what’s the verdict? It’s a wham-bam, edge of your seat thriller! This book had me rushing through the pages until the very end. It was going by so fast, I felt I could hardly catch my breath.
Posted in Review and tagged Meg Gardiner, Signet Books by VP with 1 comment.
No Mark Upon Her- Review
I just finished Not A Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie. It’s the first Crombie book I’ve read and I enjoyed it. I know, I know, it took me a while to get around to reading one of her books, but I can tell you, it certainly won’t be the last.
The body of a rower, who has been training for the Olympics, in found in the Thames. Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid gets the case. Soon after, his wife, Detective Inspector Gemma James, indirectly joins the investigation by means of working on another case. The victim had been a police officer in James’ jurisdiction so the team has to walk a fine line while investigating other officers.
The story has many suspects and twists and turns, but not too many. It was easy to keep track of who was doing what. There’s corruption, heartbreak, scandal, PTSD, many things that kept my interest and had me turning pages. Oh, and if you’re a dog lover, you’ll like it. I was particularly interested in the process of rescue and recovery using dogs. She goes into it in some detail and she showed the personality of the two dogs in the story. One of the dogs also helps a character with his PTSD, which I liked and found interesting.
Crombie also delved into the world of competitive rowing. What little I know on the subject is from reading The Boys In the Boat, by Daniel James Brown. (I highly recommend the book. It’s about the young men who competed on behalf of America in the 1936 Olympics.)
So this story was much more recent and it showed how the British upper class revere the sport. The terms Blue Team and Blue Boat figure prominently throughout the story. Learned a thing or two. Apparently rowing for Cambridge in the blue boat carries quite a bit of prestige, which I assumed it would.
As a side note, I find it intriguing that Crombie writes about Britain and British society since she was born an American and is currently living in Texas. I see in her bio that she lived in England for a while, so I think that explains why she’s so adept at it. I find the whole process of writing about another culture interesting.
So go check it out. It’s a quick read. Trust me! If I can breeze through it, you can too. Enjoy!
Posted in Review and tagged Blue Boat, Boys in the Boat, Cambridge, Daniel James Brown, Deborah Crombie, No Mark Upon Her, rowing, V.P. Chandler by VP with no comments yet.
Review of Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
The first thing I have to say about this book is, wow! Martha Hall Kelly’s debut novel gets a solid “A” from me. The second thing is that I can tell she did a lot of research. On her Goodreads page she says she did ten years of research for the book. (That’s right. You can go to Goodreads and ask authors questions!) If you’ve ever tried to write any historical fiction, you will often find that getting the details right can be time consuming and frustrating. Kelly has masterfully layered bits of history and details of places that put the reader right in the environment of the time. And a third observation, the voices of the three characters are unique. You see the world through their eyes and the reasons they make the choices that they do.
The three women that we follow are:
- Caroline Ferriday who is a New York socialite. The kind of socialite that can walk around the block and go to the fundraiser at the Vanderbilt mansion. Yet Caroline and her mother work hard to save orphans in France and later, the Rabbits of Ravensbrück.
- Kasia Kuzmerick is a teen in Poland. Her father works at the post office and her mother is an artist. She’s close to her younger sister, Suzanna. Their world of Girl Guides and boy crushes ends abruptly when the Nazis invade Poland. They both get sent to Ravensbrück and become one of the famous Rabbits.
- Herta Oberheuser is a young German doctor fresh from medical school who’s trying to find her way amid the male-dominated field of medicine. She takes a government job at Ravensbrück thinking that she will have more freedom to pursue her love of medicine and help people. The moment she arrives she realizes she’s made a mistake.
And to steal a quote from the Lilac Girls Goodreads page:
The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.
Again, Kelly does a fantastic job of weaving details of time and place into each story. It’s evident that she’s done extensive research like what the Vanderbilt mansion looked like, and idioms that people said in New York, Poland, and Germany. She paints pictures that put me right in the scene. I could clearly smell and hear the action. Of course, that includes fetid and cold Ravensbrück too.
I kept reading because I was interested in each character and I wanted to see how all three stories finally came together. Kelly’s story about the Ravensbrück Rabbits is based on real events and people. Caroline Ferriday was a real person that worked for the justice of the Rabbits, Kasia and Suzanna were based on the two Polish sisters, Nina and Krystyna Ivanska, and Herta Oberheuser really was a medical doctor at the camp. I won’t tell you what happens to them because I don’t want to spoil anything. But their stories of love and survival are compelling, Even more so since it really happened.
Why is it titled “Lilac Girls”? There’s a quote near the end of the book, when Ferriday is working in her garden.
But it’s fitting in a way- Father loved the fact that a lilac only blossoms after a harsh winter.
In Kelly’s Author Notes she says she first learned about Ferriday from a 1999 article in Victoria magazine about Ferriday’s house in Bethlehem, Connecticut called The Hay. She couldn’t get it out of her mind and drove up there to see it. She was lucky on the day in May, she was the only visitor and got to tour the grounds at her leisure. There was a picture of Ferriday posing with some women. The guide told her the story about the Rabbits. The story stuck with her.
And I’m not the only one who’s glad it did.
If you would like to learn more—-
The Ferriday house- http://www.ci.bethlehem.ct.us/bellamy_ferriday.htm
An article about when Kelly met one of the women- http://www.marthahallkelly.com/one-of-the-last-ravensbruck-rabbits-tells-her-terrifying-story/
Posted in Review, Writing and tagged Caroline Ferriday, Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly, Ravensbrück Rabbits, The Hay by VP with 2 comments.
We’re In Mystery Scene Magazine!
Posted in Review by VP with no comments yet.
Movie Review of Mr. Holmes
Once again it was my turn to write something on the Austin Mystery Writers blog.
Click on the link to what I said about the movie. Don’t worry, no spoilers!
And when you get there, click on the picture. It will take you to a featurette.
Movie Review of Mr. Holmes on Austin Mystery Writers.
Posted in Review by VP with 1 comment.