Monthly Archives: March 2018

Family secrets and separations fuel a darker shade of cozy mystery

Killer Tied, by Lesley A. Diehl. Camel Press. 264 pages. Trade paperback $16.95.

Ms. Diehl’s sixth Eve Appel Mystery, like the others, uses her background as a former professor of psychology to deepen readers’ understanding of her characters’ dilemmas, fears, and frustrations. At first, the most unsettled and needy character seems to be Eleanor, a young woman who comes to the rural Florida town of Sabal Bay with the seemingly outlandish claim that she is Eve’s half-sister. But how can this be if the woman is much younger that Eve, who has been led to believe that her parents drowned when she was very young. 

Eleanor’s stepfather, who tried to hire Eve to find his daughter, is found stabbed to death, the weapon turns out to be a very recognizable knife belonging to Lionel Egret, Eve’s mysterious father-in-law, who leads the life of a recluse and resents Eve’s marriage to his son. Eve, just launching her career as a private detective, probably should not take on a case that hits so close to home, but she can’t resist professionalizing her busy-body tendencies.

Maybe the story of Eve’s parents’ death, received from the lips of her loving grandmother (“Grandy”), is not true.

With her part-Miccosukee husband Sammy, Eve now has the responsibility for their adopted sons. How can she perform her motherly duties and deal with the stresses of her pregnancy while tracking down the missing or maimed branches in the family tree?


Accompanied by a good friend, the friendly mobster named Nappi (Napolitano), Eve shuttles back and forth, leaving the Lake Okeechobee area for investigatory trips to Connecticut and Upstate New York. The diseased family tree needs to reveal its secrets, and Eve is determined to pry them loose, but others are just as determined to keep them hidden and scare her off the track.

That hospital and other records Eve seeks in order to pin down important pieces of family history are missing suggests that she has adversaries trying to foil her search for the truth. Who are they? What, in particular, are their motives? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 22, 2018 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Killer Tied

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Experiment produces a new kind of technologically-augmented human

Cutting Edge, by Ward Larsen. Forge Books. 332 pages. Hardcover $25.99. 

This futuristic thriller has everything going for it: a great premise, suspenseful plotting, vivid sensory detail, fine characters, and a highly engaging narrative style. The possible future it explores seems just over the horizon of today’s digital and medical technologies. Young, handsome Trey DeBolt works as Coast Guard rescue swimmer in Alaska. He survives a helicopter crash only to find out he has been declared dead. And he is not the man he used to be.

He is much, much more.

Once recovering consciousness, Trey finds himself in a remote cabin along the Maine cost under the supervision of a nurse. Slowly, as he recovers physically, he discovers that he has special abilities that will take him a while to understand and control. It will take him even longer to discover why he has them and what his reincarnation means.

In the meantime, the nurse is assassinated, and her cabin is blown up.

Trey has been part of a clandestine, perhaps illegal, government experiment that wasn’t even supposed to succeed. He has been rewired by a mad genius doctor and put under the direction of a renegade army general. He is now an important component in the wired and wireless world through which data flows. If the title hadn’t been taken some years back for a Michael Crichton novel and the movie based on it, he could be Terminal Man. Indeed, the two novels have more than a little in common regarding new technologies and the battle for control over them.

It’s enough that Trey is Data-man. He can tap into any source of digital information, finding what he needs to solve any problem. He sends out a question, and – sometimes with a bit of delay – he will receive answers. The receiving instrument for Trey’s digital processing is a tiny screen imbedded in his eye that allows him to scan images and text from almost any source. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 14, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 15 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly- Cutting Edge

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A high-energy romp from the prolific Randy Wayne White

Caribbean Rim, by Randy Wayne White. Putnam. 336 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

The champ is at it again. It’s number 25 in the Doc Ford series, and he is in high gear. This novel takes us to the Bahamas, especially Andros Island – which is larger than all the other inhabited Bahamian islands put together. For Doc, this trip is part getaway and part “help out a friend”: not always a good way to relax. Doc’s Sanibel hippy-dippy neighbor and part-time genius Tomlinson is not far away, helping Doc engage with Carl Fitzgerald, a friend of both men. Carl is addicted to the potentially enormous payoffs of finding sunken treasure.  

Carl is in trouble. His in trouble for breaking regulations of the Florida Division of Historical Resources. The agency’s director, Leonard Nickelby, is on his case. As it turns out, events fulfill Fitzgerald’s favorite maxim: “The first rule of treasure hunting is to trust no one.” Not even a government agent. As ever, Doc Ford will turn out to be the exception to the rule, even as he realizes he is being manipulated so that others might profit – if they survive.

Somehow, Leonard (alternately Leo and other derivatives) goes off the charts, and along with him is a young boy and a hard-used, admitted ugly, but astoundingly smart woman named Lydia. If there ever was a woman who invited abuse, Lydia is she – but Lydia is a survivor and a shrewd manipulator in her own right.

White – photo by Wendy Webb

What’s at stake? Rare Spanish coins, Fitzgerald’s logbook about uncharted wreck sites, and everyone’s life. There are plenty of beasts out there to contend with, but the human breed is the worst. This includes the once successful movie-maker, Efron Donner, who has captured Leonard and Lydia – the young boy, too. Donner is one of the author’s most despicable villains, though he has a lot of competition in this regard. Watching Lydia play him is a reader’s delight.

Oddly, Lydia has brought out the best in Leonard, who has some unexpectedly heroic moments, as well as the predictable foolish ones. Among other things, he is a “nerd reborn” in the sensory delights of the Caribbean. . . .

To enjoy the full review, as it appears in the March  7, 2018 Fort Myers  Florida Weekly, and the March 8 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions,  click here: Florida Weekly – Caribbean Rim

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Thrilling second installment of Wakefield detective series will leave readers wanting more.

Cut You Down: A Wakeland Novel, by Sam Wiebe. Quercus. 288 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

What a pleasure it is to encounter a new voice, a new kind of edginess, a contemporary formulation of detective fiction that has the heft and distinction of the genre’s classics. Cut You Down is a true puzzler, filled with unusual characters and majestically described places — though many of those places are not at all majestic.

There’s a lot of the seamy side of life here, and much about human behavior that rings true even in its repulsiveness. Is this Canadian noir? Perhaps.

This second title in the Wakeland Novel series presents a sequence of murky challenges for former policeman and youngish private investigator Dave Wakeland. One of them is to redefine his relationship with former girlfriend Sonia, who maintains her career on the Vancouver police force.

Another is to maintain a productive balance with his business partner, Jeff, who is taking their company into the realm of security work while Wakeland continues with the PI effort in the missing-persons arena.

The third is a nightmare of a new case that comes his way, a case that will test his limits.

Sam Wiebe

When Wakeland gets a call from Dana Essex, his world changes. Essex wants him to find a missing college student named Tabitha Sorensen. The caller, a professor, has been a mentor and friend to Tabitha — perhaps even more than that.

Wakeland’s path is rocky and dangerous because Tabitha’s disappearance may be connected to a scandal at the college. She served on a committee that managed a large fund for school programs — a fund that has been stolen. Moreover, it also appears there are connections to local gangs.

In his investigation, Wakeland is aided by his sister, Kay, who works for him, and by Sonia, who is crossing lines that might end her police career. She is entangled with a cop who turns out to be dirty. Wakeland must work with and around unscrupulous characters to make headway, and he does: even wrestlers who moonlight as paid muscle. Even a professional assassin. Even a pair of hardened criminal brothers.

Wakeland moves through a murky world. Everything and everyone he touches has something to offer and something to hide. The investigation takes him to several locations in and around Vancouver and across the border into Washington. Most of the locations of these interrogations are unsavory, depressing places which author Sam Wiebe makes come alive. . . .

To read the entire review, click here: Cut You Down / Washington Independent Review of Books.

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Unbound – or just untethered?

Unbound, by Stuart Woods. Putnam. 318 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

What do you call a Stone Barrington Novel in which Barrington’s role is severely diminished? Some might call it edgy and inventive. I call it an unnecessary gamble – unless the author is toying with the idea of development a new series focused on the film industry.  

The central figure in Unbound is a former CIA operative once known as Teddy Fay, who has also established an identity for himself as Ted Shirley. Teddy has been long established as a Hollywood producer named Billy Barnett, his CIA days relevant only in terms of special skills he can bring to bear to suit special circumstances.

The special circumstance here is Teddy’s need revenge himself upon the husband of the looney woman who killed Teddy’s wife in a hit and run. It helps of the man is in general an SOB who ruins the lives of almost anyone he deals with. Such a man is Dax Baxter, a movie industry climber whose path would be likely to cross with Teddy’s anyway. In fact, Teddy – incognito movie business Jack of all trades Ted Shirley – easily attaches himself to a Dax Baxter project.

Stuart Woods

The scenes that follow the “Ted Shirley” escapade not only bring Teddy in proximity to his unwitting nemesis, but develop engaging insights about how movie deals – and actual movies – are made. Indeed, they reveal how careers are made in a cutthroat world in which loyalty is bought and sold.

The still-grieving Teddy travels to Santa Fe where he spends time with good friends Stone Barrington and Ed Eagle. Suddenly, “Unbound” feels like a Stone Barrington novel for a while: the gorgeous woman, the gorgeous residences, the lifestyles of the wealthy, and the networks of power. It doesn’t take Teddy long to rebound from his sadness and latch onto an attractive new lady friend named Sally Ryder. It hasn’t taken Stone Barrington long, following the death of his wife, to develop a new, hot relationship with the appropriately wealthy and exotic Anastasia Bounine.

Some guys are just lucky, I guess.

This thread of the novel, familiar Stuart Woods territory, allows us to imagine the pleasures of exclusivity. However, plot development lags as Barrington has little to do besides offer Teddy advice and favors. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the March 1, 2018 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Unbound

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