James M. Jackson proves you can tell a compelling crime story without death or violence. In this novella, Seamus McCree is on vacation with his eighty-something mother and his six-year-old granddaughter. He hopes to buy a beach condo that can be a vacation home for all generations of the family. In the process, Seamus uncovers a clever and costly criminal scheme, which is just one layer of a complex plot. Megan, his granddaughter, also has concerns about crime, when a suspicious character rifles through her great-grandmother’s bag on the beach. Both the child and the elder are portrayed with full humanity, no clichés or cuteness. It was great to spend time with Seamus again, a likeable sleuth whose weapons are intelligence, creativity, and knowledge. His narrative voice is natural and readable, a guy you’d enjoy getting to know. Series fans or newcomers can enjoy this story.
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.
Ant Farm by James M. Jackson
Botulism as a murder weapon. A hit man who calls himself the Happy Reaper. Villains who will stop at nothing to keep their secrets.
In this page-turner, we meet Seamus McCree, a single father who wants to fight for the little guy against those who abuse their power.
When police can’t figure out why someone murdered thirty-eight retirees at a Labor Day picnic, they ask Seamus, a financial crimes investigator, to follow the money. He’s anxious to move from behind his computer to the front lines to help investigators ask the right questions.
As Seamus untangles a web of financial chicanery, those threatened place a target on his back.
And there are consequences. He’s willing to risk his own life to bring justice, but when his actions place his son in danger, Seamus must overcome his deepest fears.
The Calling by Amber Foxx
The first Mae Martin Psychic Mystery
Obeying her mother’s warning, Mae Martin-Ridley has spent years hiding her gift of “the sight.” When concern for a missing hunter compels her to use it again, her peaceful life in a small Southern town begins to fall apart. New friends push her to explore her unusual talents, but as she does, she discovers the shadow side of her visions— access to secrets she could regret uncovering.
Gift or curse? When an extraordinary ability intrudes on an ordinary life, nothing can be the same again.
The Mae Martin Series
No murder, just mystery. Every life hides a secret, and love is the deepest mystery of all.
Murder by Misrule by Anna Castle
Francis Bacon is charged with investigating the murder of a fellow barrister at Gray’s Inn. He recruits his unwanted protégé Thomas Clarady to do the tiresome legwork. The son of a privateer, Clarady will do anything to climb the Elizabethan social ladder. Bacon’s powerful uncle Lord Burghley suspects Catholic conspirators of the crime, but other motives quickly emerge. Rival barristers contend for the murdered man’s legal honors and wealthy clients. Highly-placed courtiers are implicated as the investigation reaches from Whitehall to the London streets. Bacon does the thinking; Clarady does the fencing. Everyone has something up his pinked and padded sleeve.
Even the brilliant Francis Bacon is at a loss — and in danger — until he sees through the disguises of the season of Misrule.
This was hard to put down. Gorman knows how to craft a story, relentlessly raising the stakes for her protagonist, while weaving his personal life and the mystery plot together seamlessly. The Philadelphia setting is portrayed in depth without ever slowing the tempo; the details don’t intrude, but add color and intensity.
Detective Adam Kaminski has a passionate sense of justice and a strong connection with his family. When his sister becomes a suspect in a murder, he’s determined to prove her innocence even if he breaks some rules to do it. He makes mistakes, creating stress on the job, stress with his family, and stress in his already struggling relationship, while doing his best to follow his sense of what’s right.
I liked the balance between Adam and his calmer, steadier partner at work, Detective Pete Lawler, and enjoyed a new character who gets involved in solving the crime, a young ranger at the urban national park, Independence National Historical Park, where the murder takes place.
There are many plausible suspects, and I didn’t figure out which one was guilty until Adam did, though I tried. The final discovery of the killer is masterful, as Adam acts on intuition as well as his prior detective work. I congratulate Gorman on a dramatic confrontation scene that wraps up of the mystery plot without resorting to the canned this-is how-and-why-I-did-it confession so many mysteries end with.
As in any good series, there are aspects of the protagonist’s personal life that remain open-ended while the mystery gets closure. I wonder how Adam will cope long-term with what he’s so sure he can forgive. I wonder what he’ll continue to learn about his family history.
The only aspect of the book I didn’t like was the use of a few scenes in the point of view of the killer. This is a common device—the point of view of one nameless, faceless character while all other characters have identities and contexts—so I assume some readers must like it, but for me it breaks the flow and weakens my absorption in the lead character’s experience. When I read a mystery, I’d rather know only what the characters attempting to solve it know. Fortunately, there were very few of these anonymous-perpetrator-point-of-view scenes, and they didn’t hurt the book overall. I highly recommend this series.
You can find sales links for all retailers on the author’s web site, as well as background on the fascinating settings.
In this mystery with a thread of political scandal, the red herrings are as intriguing as the path to right solution. The explorations of the minds and lives of Washington D.C. residents—public personalities, behind-the-scenes influencers, low-level staff, and people in neighborhoods the power-players and tourists seldom see—give the book much of its strength. Jane Gorman does her research in depth yet never comes across as having to display her efforts. D.C. comes to life in all its dimensions as vividly and naturally as her Polish settings did in A Blind Eye.
Some of the new characters introduced in this book are worthy of their own series, should the author ever be so inclined: Ramona Davis of the D.C. police, her family, and her mentor Sam Burke, now in Diplomatic Security.
I’m a little concerned about Adam’s personal life. (Yes, I’ve become one of those reviewers who write as if the characters were real people.) That’s half of why we follow series, though, isn’t it? We like the plots and the way the mysteries unfold, and we also get attached to the characters.
The second Mae Martin psychic mystery
On the eve of her move to New Mexico, psychic and healer Mae Martin gets a double-edged going-away gift: beautiful music by a man who’s gone missing, and a request to find him. In her new home town, she quickly runs afoul of a questionable psychic who runs a health food restaurant. When Mae confronts her, the woman disappears—either to Santa Fe, or into another dimension. Now Mae has two missing persons on her hands. Finding them may prove easier than learning the truth about either or getting one of them, once found, to go away again.
The Mae Martin Series
No murder, just mystery. Every life hides a secret, and love is the deepest mystery of all.
This second book in the Francis Bacon mystery series is a strong as the first. At times bawdy and rowdy, at times thought-provoking, it centers around outgoing and adventurous Thomas Clarady, student and first-time spy, but the scholarly Bacon plays a key role as Tom’s spymaster. The contrast in their characters and lifestyles gives depth and texture to the story. Castle weaves religious-political intrigue, murder mystery, and Tom’s colorful friendships and love life into a tightly-paced plot. The murder mystery and the spy story mix, and though the latter often takes the upper hand, the author keeps track of all the threads. Christopher Marlowe, who is portrayed with quite a flair, plays a role in both plot lines.
The writing is never pedantic, yet each scene is crafted with well-chosen historical details that gives the reader a full sense of the times—the smells, the sounds, the clothes and furnishings, and the beliefs and customs of Elizabethan England. Some historical novelists feel the need to dump all of their research into a book, smothering the story. Castle knows better. She has such a grasp of the times she can use settings, props and costumes as needed, to reveal and enhance characters and events, but never clutter the story. And speaking of costumes, there is a Shakespearian feel to various layers of disguises employed by some of the characters.
One particular scene I found fascinating and revealing was the Rogation Day event. It illustrates the contrast between the Anglicans and the Puritans and the tensions between them. While the issue of religious fanaticism in politics is serious, and the insights Tom gains into how it feels to be a member of such a zealous community are also serious, there are comic touches such as the conflict between two young ladies of opposing views, and Tom’s delightful response to it. I’m sure my neighbors heard me laugh. The balance between comedy and food for thought is just right—and suited to a story told primarily in Tom’s point of view.
The final chapter, amusingly, shows Tom from Bacon’s point of view, so different from how Tom experiences himself. At first the ending seemed a bit dry as the conclusion of such a vivid and juicy book, but then it struck me a sort of “after the ecstasy, the laundry” realism, as Francis Bacon gets on with getting on in the world.
Note: I recommend reading the series in order, starting with Murder by Misrule.
Sales links to buy from all e-book retailers can be found on
If you’re reading this blog, you probably share my enthusiasm for good quality indie fiction, especially mysteries and thrillers. (I also list other genres on this site, though those are the ones I review.) I hope I’ve introduced you to some books you’ve enjoyed, and that you tried the e-book workouts to help you stay in shape while you finish all those bargain downloads. To thank you for following, I can’t give you all a gift, but I’m having a drawing. Two of my blog readers will win the current four books in the Mae Martin Series in paperback. Here’s how:
Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the heading Blog Follower. Let me know which blog or blogs you follow (I have four*), and I’ll enter you in the give-away. I will reply confirming your entry.
You can ask to subscribe to my new release mailing list at the same time if you want, but I will not automatically subscribe you. Fear no spam. It’s not coming.
On Monday Sept. 28th at 12:00 noon I’ll close the entries and put all the names in a virtual hat and have a colleague pull two out. I will contact the winners and ask for their mailing addresses, and contact the other entrants with only the first name and last initial and general location of the winners, i.e. “Winners are Jane X in Saskatchewan and John Y in Florida.”
If you’re not yet familiar with my fiction, you can read the book descriptions on https://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com and also try a free sample:
This short story is a prequel to the series and is free on all major e-book retail sites. (If you look for it on the everywhereindies link you can browse through some great short fiction by other authors while you’re there.)
*The four blogs are:
https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com a blog dedicated to supporting and reviewing the work of indie authors who publish everywhere, not just Amazon. (It started as my Nook book shopping list and grew.)
https://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com a blog about the mysteries of life and reviews of mysteries set in New Mexico. You’ll find descriptions of all the books there, and also on https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/books-by-genre-mystery
http://ladiesofmystery.com a group blog with seven other women who write mysteries, dedicated to the topic of writing, from craft to inspiration, with freedom to digress as we see fit.
http://amberf.booklikes.com a book review blog covering everything I read, from yoga philosophy to cozy mysteries to literary fiction to thrillers and more.
Crafts editor Anastasia Pollack is at her funniest and most determined when her luck is at its worst, and she’s just been run over by the bad luck bus of life. It may be hard to imagine how hilarious a book can be when the protagonist’s husband dies and leaves her broke and in debt and with a Communist mother-in-law who moves in with her—but it just gets funnier. And though I cringed at the image I found the weird creativity of the murder itself it comical.
Early on, I figured out whodunit but this was still a nonstop page-turner. I enjoyed reading to see if I was right. Anastasia is an irresistible character. While some of the comedy—her mother’s many marriages, her parrot that quotes Shakespeare at the perfect moment—is larger than life, the protagonist feels real, and so do her teenaged sons and her relationship with them. Winston strikes exactly the right balance between believable and over-the-top. The pacing of the plot kept me asking how Anastasia was going to get out of each crisis and when and how the killer would get caught. The narrative style is so engaging, I think I could read a book without a plot by Winston and still be entertained.
For those who enjoy the truly cozy aspect of a cozy mystery, there are craft projects at the back of the book—directions how to do the projects Anastasia works on in the course of the story. There’s also a tempting sneak peek at the next book in the series, which promises to be equally amusing and well crafted.
You can find Lois Winston’s books on the mystery page, the short story page, and under her pseudonym Emma Carlyle on the romantic suspense page.