My book club chose the first novella in this three-book series, Retribution, and in the month before the meeting to discuss it, we all got hooked and read all three. In this finale, the author’s solid research and talent for intense dramatic stories full of surprises come together as Claire takes on new work with her shooting, tracking, and strategy skills. In addition Wild West excitement and suspense, this novella has humor and romance, and an unexpected ending that suits Claire’s character arc perfectly. Full circle and yet all new.
Category Archives: review
Review: Gunslinger by DV Berkom
This second novella in the Claire Whitcomb series is as compelling as the first. In this new phase of Claire’s life, she completes her transformation into a skilled professional. A tragic moment during a train robbery motivates Claire to improve her gunfighting skills and also her gun. Classic Western action and adventure propel the tightly plotted story, while strong original characters mingle with historical characters, giving emotional depth to the events. Hooked on the series, I’m plunging right on into the third book.
Review: Retribution by DV Berkom
I’d never read a Western before, though I live in the Southwest. I knew the Old West was a wild place, with irregular law enforcement and a lot of guns, but reading this book made that situation emotionally real, with a vivid portrayal of how the violence of the time and place drastically transforms a wife and mother. Claire Whitcomb’s choices are painful and one act is shocking, but her actions make sense. To her, there is no other choice. She hardens quickly through extraordinary events that change her whole life and her perspectives, from fearing the Utes and trusting a prosperous, paternalistic business leader to a reversal, from caring for a family to a life most women of the time couldn’t imagine. The author has mastered art of creating a riveting plot and strong characters. I’m already reading the second novella in the series.
Review: The Case of the Tangled Maypole by Anna Castle
Fairy tales have both magic and shadows. When supernatural beings affect human actions and perceptions, justice gets complicated. In this historical cozy mystery featuring a healer or cunning woman in the small English village of Ayreford, fairies are real, and can be both helpful or malevolent. Changelings, talking animals, and other magical phenomena are part of life for Jane Moone, whose father is a wizard. Her efforts to solve a murder at the village Maypole involve investigation into ordinary humans’ motives and also the actions of fairies. She collaborates in sleuthing with attorney John Greenslade, son of the justice of the peace, and their relationship provides a romantic subplot for the series. (I anticipate some intriguing revelations from John in future books. Hope I’m right!) This novella is paced with a range of intensities from gentle to terrifying and everything in between, making it hard to put down. Well-crafted and utterly original.
Review: Cargo by D.V. Berkom
Leine Basso travels to Thailand and Tanzania in her anti-trafficking work, under circumstances that require her to forge an alliance with an Afrikaner poacher, a complex and fascinating rogue. A tightly structured page-turner with vivid settings and compelling characters, Cargo deals with some of the worst in human behavior: cruelty to fellow humans and to wildlife, motivated by greed. The harm to animals takes place offstage—the reader isn’t forced to watch—but the aftermath is tragic and appalling, and the scenes detailing a trafficking victim’s ordeal haunted me. This is an intense read, but I still recommend it. The last line troubled me, though. It’s closure, full-circle justice of a sort, but it’s disturbing, too—not healing.
Review: Bewaji’s Ankara Adventures (The Aso-Ebi Chronicles, #1) by Sharon Abimbola Salu
I was delighted to discover yet another mystery novella with no murder. Not that I don’t enjoy the ones with murders, but there are so many varieties of crime, why not investigate something else for change? And this one is a humorous cozy without cuteness or quaintness, too. With an urban Nigerian setting, it’s truly different.
I loved the main character, Bewaji. She gets lucky in her inquiries, but the luck is plausible, she’s aware of it, and she uses it to do some sleuthing. Though the book is written in the third person, the narrative voice is clearly hers, as much inside her head as the usual first-person cozy narration. And Bewaji is funny. Any book that can make me laugh out loud is a winner.
Review: Planting Pearls by Virginia King
This intriguing novella is the perfect prologue to The First Lie, the first full-length novel in the Selkie Moon series. In Planting Pearls, the reader meets Selkie when she’s taken her first daring steps to reclaim her life from a controlling, psychologically abusive husband. At this point she’s still half-way between the person she was and the one she’s becoming, her true self. The author does a brilliant job in going back to this point in her protagonist’s life with insight and authenticity. It made me realize how much Selkie matures and develops through the series.
The mystery of a possible ghost at an old house in Hawaii intertwines—in the synchronistic, mysterious way things do for Selkie—with her talent for communicating and motivating, her personal journey, and also the initial hints of her psychic gift. The mix of folklore and ceremonies as well as modern life in Honolulu is irresistible. I loved seeing how Selkie’s friendship with Derek Delaney, a key character in the series, began. As always, Selkie is part of a circle, a network, not the go-it-alone type but someone whose nature is to make bonds. The twists in the plot kept coming long after I thought all the questions had been answered. Though some tragic events are woven through the plot, the story is about healing and reintegration for Selkie and for the people associated with the troubled house.
Review: What She Fears by Jane Gorman
This is the best so far in this series. Suspenseful, intriguing, and remarkably spare, the story is psychologically intense without needing violence to raise the stakes. The structure of the narrative reminded me of a well-made movie. I was fascinated by the choices the author made for point of view, and what to reveal and how. The suspects are numerous, evasive, and uncooperative. The manner in which Adam Kaminski gets involved in a murder investigation in Ireland seems like bad luck at first, but as his initial reason for the journey begins to collapse painfully, the chance to help solve someone else’s problem when he can’t solve his own gives him purpose and people to care about. As always in Gorman’s books, the setting is vivid and yet not over described, blended perfectly into each scene without a wasted word, and the characters are complex and memorable. I guessed early on who the killer was, but this didn’t spoil the story for me. I kept wondering if I was wrong, considering other possible suspects with equally strong motives.
The subplots relating to each of the point-of-view characters—Adam, the Irish detective superintendent investigating the death, and an archaeology professor with a complicated professional and private life—intersected with the mystery plot smoothly. While I wanted to know more about Adam’s personal life events, I admire the author’s choice to keep those scenes to a deft minimum, just enough to let a reader empathize and understand, but not enough to take the focus off the central question.
I look forward to more Adam Kaminski mysteries.
Review: Bacon’s Dozen by Anna Castle
This collection of thirteen stories is a must-read for fans of the Francis Bacon mysteries. Some of the short works are mysteries featuring Bacon. Others star major characters from the series, and one features the woman who does his laundry. My favorite series-linked short is All Englishmen Look Alike, not only for the colorful adventure, but for what it reveals that the main characters in the books don’t know. Yet.
The short works not related to the Bacon series are also historical with one exception. They range from the tale of a Mayan beekeeper coping with the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico to a Western caper set in northern New Mexico on Jicarilla Apache land. There’s also a sample Moriarty mystery, a chance to discover Castle’s other historical series. The non-historical exception is Extinction, a mystery with a subtle paranormal touch set in modern Austin TX. The Sneeze is a hybrid of modern Texas and Elizabethan England. If you’ve ever experienced the pollen of the Southwest in early spring, you’ll appreciate this one. Or if you’ve ever gotten lost in your research.
I strongly recommend this collection for an intelligent, original escape from 2020.
Review: Flash Memory by Anna Castle
Photographing her boyfriend Ty’s ranch and future eco-spa, Penny Trigg climbs an old windmill and falls onto an oddly soft piece of ground. A fresh grave. The suspects for putting a pushy developer in that grave include Ty, his sister Diana—who’s gone missing—and some local officials Penny has been photographing for their campaign posters, including one who works in law enforcement. Since she ends up photographing a couple of crime scenes as well, her investigations occur so naturally I never once questioned an amateur’s involvement. She gets enthusiastic help from Ty’s cousin Perline, co-owner of a local diner. Perline and her husband Cracker are great additions to the Lost Hat cast, and their diner is so eccentric I wish it were real. Penny’s brother Nick is another lively new character, with a past that enables him to grasp a clue Penny wouldn’t have understood.
As in the other Lost Hat book, there are some elements that aren’t typically cozy—in this case, characters with a history of drug and alcohol problems and those who currently use drugs. This isn’t just backstory; it’s central to the story. And it’s a tightly crafted story, with the right balance of humor and suspense.
I again enjoyed Penny and Tillie’s friendship, and the way they work together in spite of the stresses it puts them through. Penny’s efforts to solve the crime run her into some uniquely local types of dangers, such as her encounter with a bull named Blackberry. Though there is one of those confrontation-and-confession scenes, it’s an original variation on that convention.
I hope there’ll be more books in this series so I can spend more time with the characters.
Universal link: books2read/FlashMemory
iBooks US: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1457418389
iBooks UK: https://itunes.apple.com/uk/book/id1457418389
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Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Flash-Memory-Lost-Texas-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01CXA2IZO
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Flash-Memory-Lost-Texas-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01CXA2IZO
Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.co.ca/Flash-Memory-Lost-Texas-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01CXA2IZO
Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.co.au/Flash-Memory-Lost-Texas-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01CXA2IZO