Tag Archives: private eye

Lost love regrets lead to uncovering the cause of a mysterious death

The Ephemeral File, by Henry Hoffman. Melange Books. 197 pages. Trade paperback $12.95.

The third installment of the Adam Fraley Mystery Series is an easy-to-like group of tales with an easy-going style and an unusual hero. What’s unusual about Adam? He’s normal: he’s not a superhero, he’s not a tough guy, and he’s not obsessed about firearms, forensics, or procedural conventions. He’s just there to help people and go where the case takes him.  

When Adam’s office manager, Tamra Fugit (pronounced how?) asks him to meet with an elderly man who’s a friend of her aunt, Adam is somewhat hesitate. Taking a case as a favor to someone is not high on his priority list. But he succumbs to Tamra’s entreaty. She’s a person he owes a favor, and she’s extremely good looking.

Roland Westwood is hoping to locate a long-lost love. Adam finds Roland’s lengthy story interesting enough to take the case, even though Roland’s relationship with the girl – Staci Carew – was a tenuous one that began and ended more than fifty years ago during WWII. At that time, Staci was finishing high school and Roland had already begun college. They met at the movie house where Staci worked.

Hoffman

Set largely in Florida’s Pasco County along the Withlacoochie River, Adam’s investigation leads him to a bridge where Staci’s fraternal twin sister, Kati, lost her life. While Mr. Hoffman’s description of this rural area is exceptionally expressive, the interest in the location remains the actions that took place upon the bridge, which soon come into focus.

With Adam, readers learn that the twins had contrasting personalities and didn’t get along well. Kati, an aspiring gymnast, was highly motivated to excel and had the discipline to keep challenging herself and improving her skills. Staci was less motivated. Kati used the bridge structure as an exercise platform.  On one occasion, it seems, things went wrong and she plummeted to her death.

From information that Roland reveals, it seems possible that Staci, jealous of her sister’s acclaim, might have taken the practice session on the bridge as an opportunity to harm her sister, who outdid her in cheerleading competitions and who ended up being favored by Staci’s boyfriend.

Such complications of the available information bring lawyers (including Staci’s husband) and police officers into the story line. The accumulation of facts eventually leads to a highly unexpected resolution in a court of law. . . .

To see the full review, as it appears in the December 12, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 13 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Ephemeral File

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

“Death in Shangri-La” by Yigal Zur

Oceanview Publishing. 272 pages. Hardcover $26.95.  

Review by Philip K. Jason

This high-stakes thriller—the second of three titles in the Dotan Naor Thriller series, but the first to be translated into English—takes its protagonist, a former Israeli security operative now working as a private detective, far outside of his usual terrain. It’s not Israel or Israel’s neighboring states that Naor visits on his mission, but the Far East: India, the disputed Kashmir region, and other Asian nations touched by the Himalayas.

Yigal Zur

Naor has agreed to find the missing son of an acquaintance who has made millions as a cutthroat Israeli arms merchant. Willy Mizrachi’s son, Itiel, is seeking peace at an ashram in the Himalayas, a region popular with young Israelis. In his father’s eyes, Itiel’s goals are worthless, yet Willy believes he’s redeemable, or at least persuadable. He wants him back home. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council site, click here: Shangri-La

2 Comments

Filed under Authors and Books, Jewish Themes

Florida series premier focuses on predators who kidnap and sell children

Cooper’s Moon, by Richard Conrath. Gulf Shore Press. 400 pages. Trade Paperback $14.99.

This gripping debut novel is the first in a projected Cooper series. Timely issues, elaborately painted South Florida settings, a strong protagonist, and haunting horrors will keep readers engaged and on edge.  

Cooper is a driven man. Seven years before the story’s point of attack, Cooper and his wife Jillie suffered a marriage-destroying tragedy. Their young son Maxie was inexplicably gone from their lives, probably kidnapped from the neighborhood of their rural Ohio home. Their local searches go nowhere. The marriage collapses under the weight of mutual recriminations.

Seeking a fresh angle on finding his son, Cooper leaves his college teaching job and moves to Miami, where he has connections. He becomes a homicide detective in the Miami Police Department, and he lives in a community called Oceanside.

Readers meet him seven years into his second career, working a case involving the shooting of a twelve- year-old boy. Soon after, he gets involved in a case about a teenage girl, Tamara Thompson, whose corpse was found in a cemetery. It’s easy for Cooper to be sympathetic with Tamara’s parents.

Cooper’s lack of progress on the hunt for his son’s fate and his frustration with police bureaucracy leads him to leave the police department and become a private investigator. He manages to hold onto some of his police friends, including his former partner Detective Tony DeFelice, but they never let him forget that he “copped out” on them.

Conrath

Soon enough, Cooper learns that there are several unsolved child murders in or near his Oceanside community. And other children are missing. Even though leads are scarce, the road to information leads to a seminary whose candidates for priesthood are also trying to save area youths from lives of crime or from other kinds of danger. Cooper’s first case as a PI leads him there. Cooper finds the leaders to be either closed-mouthed or speaking with false, forced sincerity.

Mr. Conrath has taken us into the hideous world of human trafficking. These innocent kids are for sale via an international marketplace where their abductors compete for goods for which there is an insatiable demand. Is the seminary a cover operation? Who’s ultimately pulling the strings?

. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the April 11, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Cooper’s Moon

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books

Classic Naples-based series says adieu with class

Death in the Dark, by Kinley Roby. Privately published. 277 pages. Kindle e-book $2.99.

This is Mr. Roby’s 11th and final Harry Brock Mystery. Though he had planned for it to be the last, an unexpected dilemma must have sullied the closure experience a bit. Accidentally deleting the almost completed text file and its backup from his computer (a cautionary tale, writer friends), he had to laboriously reconstruct his narrative. In the interim, the publisher of the first ten series titles decided to abandon the detective fiction genre, leaving the author with little choice but to self-publish it via Amazon’s Digital Services division.  

The good news is that it is here, but so far only as an e-book. A confessed fan of the series, I found it once again meeting the high bar of the others in most ways. Readers may trip over the typos of one kind or another that haven’t yet been corrected, but there are still so many things to enjoy.

Roby sets the series in a disguised version of Naples and environs. Those familiar with the area will have fun penetrating the place names (such as “Vienna Village”) the author invents for familiar locations, as well his presentation of the cultural environment.

Roby

Harry is still running his PI business, patrolling the patch of government land called Bartram’s Hammock on the edge of the Everglades. He inhabits a small house in exchange for warden duties, and he gets mixed up in cases that also involve local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. And, as in past adventures, beautiful women are omnipresent.

He is still spending time with his older friend and neighbor Tucker. These aging outdoorsmen are still doing a bit of farming. It’s a delight that Kinley Roby allows us to see them tending to pets with whom they carry on conversations. Harry and Tucker are an intelligent, humorous odd couple. Tucker’s niece Delia, temporarily living with her uncle, is one of several attractive women whom Harry admires and with whom a relationship almost blooms.

Plot? An enormous international trade in stolen art run by cutthroat thieves is leaving a trail of bodies and threatens to leave more if Harry and the law enforcement officials can’t put a stop to the menace. Some of those involved in this illicit industry are on the edge of cooperating with the authorities to save their own lives and perhaps some of their filthy lucre. The ins and outs of the complex schemes that all sides are hatching create the intellectual stimulation that Kinley Roby’s novels always deliver.

The dialogue between Harry and his friends in uniform captures the nature of their relationships as well as the ways professionals develop and refine plans designed to take down the criminals. Mr. Roby’s characters are well-delineated by their patterns of speech and other tools of this writer’s trade. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 15, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 16 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Death in the Dark

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Echoes of WWII resound in contemporary crime thriller

The Second Target, by Howard P. Giordano. BluewaterPress LLC. 252 pages. Trade paperback $22.95. Kindle e-book $4.99.

Set in 2000, Mr. Giordano’s new mystery thriller features Luke Rizzo, a New York Police Department retiree now working as a private investigator. He is hired to find a crazed serial killer, Werner Schmitt, who is out for twisted revenge. The woman who hires Rizzo, the beautiful Amy Chatsworth, is married to a British House of Lords member. She is also the daughter of a man Schmitt feels compelled to assassinate. Amy has been trying to find her long lost father, and the connection makes her an additional target for Schmitt. But when Schmitt has his chance, his pistol shot misses its mark. BookCoveridea6(2)

What’s Werner Schmitt’s problem? Well, it goes back a generation. His father Walter was one of eight Germans who made up a band of saboteurs working against the United States. When the group was captured by the FBI in 1942, two of the eight cooperated and brought evidence against the other six. The two “turncoats” were put in witness protection. The other six, including Walter Schmitt, were executed. One of the two betrayers was Amy’s grandfather.

Werner, a former East Germany Stasi agent, also knows that the sabotage project involved a huge cash backing, some 2.5 million dollars that the Nazi’s committed to it. It’s been missing all these decades, and he’d like to get his hands on it.

The action begins in London and take us to parts of Pennsylvania and New York. Rizzo’s job is to help find Amy’s grandfather and the other man who had been placed in witness protection. Soon enough, it is clear that while her grandfather is no longer alive, her father is – or might be. This part of the narrative is a bit obscure, but in any case Rizzo needs to protect her and thwart Werner’s plans. Unfortunately, anyone getting in Werner’s way will also become a target.

Giordano

Giordano

Pursuing an investigation with Amy leads Rizzo to a hot romance (with her) and to confrontations with FBI agents and local police in the various places to which Rizzo’s investigation leads him. Amy is an able partner in more than one way.

Werner Schmitt is a shrewd adversary. Knowing that Rizzo and Amy are likely doing his work for him, finding the individuals he wishes to assassinate in order to protect them, he simply tracks the sleuthing lovers. He’s good at it. Will they catch on? . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the June 15, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 16 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Second Target

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

The king of Jacksonville noir fashions a blazing darkness

Second Skin, by Michael Wiley. Severn House. 225 pages. Hardcover $29.95.

When Sheneel Greene, a lovely nineteen year old near-Albino college student, is found dead on property connected with the Phelps Paper Company, the police inquiry seems lackadaisical. Her English teacher, Lillian Turner, was first concerned when Sheneel was only considered missing. She and her husband Johnny Bellefleur, a spiritually and psychological wounded war veteran, feel obligated to pursue the mystery – first of Sheneel’s disappearance and then of her demise. Second_Skin_Cover

Johnny, who for too long served on a Navy hospital ship processing deceased soldiers’ bodies and body parts for burial, runs a missing persons detective agency. Alone, he staffs a shabby office made available through the influence of his police detective brother-in-law, Daniel Turner. Yes, this is the character whose name labels this distinctive mystery series.

The attempt by Lillian and Johnny to investigate together serves as a vehicle for healing their troubled relationship, but it turns into a monstrous adventure the stress and violence of which promise to destroy them. Johnny, whose nightmares are full of death even without this current undertaking, will have plenty of reasons to seek the skills of his VA counsellors. He and Lillian are pursuing deadly secrets. Sheneel had enough knowledge of Phelps doings to be dangerous. So did her brother Alex, who also becomes a victim.

Now Johnny and Lillian are dangerous as well, and as the Phelps kingpin and his son make too clear, they are bringing danger upon themselves by getting near the answers to those secrets, if not hard evidence.

Secrets like how did a Gullah community that once lived on land now controlled by the paper company disappear? What has compromised the health of so many who live nearby? Why do people who are exploited retain a bond of loyalty to those who exploit them? How can a major local employer in today’s United States actually own law enforcement?

Wiley

Wiley

Will Daniel Turner get serious about investigating these deaths, or is he a bought cop?

Johnny’s dog brings a major clue: Percy drops Sheneel’s hand and arm, her pale skin bearing the “tattoo of a snake circling to bite its own tale,” beside his master. This image, found elsewhere in the story, is laden with symbolic overtones. Not a self-amputation, the tattooed limb was cleanly cut from her body and left to be found as a warning. It’s clear now that her death was no suicide. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 28, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 29 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Second Skin

1 Comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

“Vixen: A Nameless Detective Novel,” by Bill Pronzini

  • Forge. 224 pages. $24.99.

Imagine “La Belle Dame sans Merci” reborn in San Francisco noir.

Bill Pronzini must have a closetful of mystery-writer awards. His “Nameless Detective” series has been acclaimed by just about every contemporary or newcomer in the field. Individual titles have also won prestigious awards. Vixen, the 44th in the series (and an expansion of his 2012 limited-edition novella, Femme), justifies all the accolades he has received since launching his career in 1971.

Pronzini has a quiet, plain, and yet infectious style. His plot is complex but easy enough to follow without leafing backward. He holds his readers with his art of penetrating character development and redolent atmospherics. Pronzini makes an easy read seem easy to write, but it can’t be when his novel is so totally satisfying and hauntingly noir.

“Nameless” (hereafter known as Bill in this review, as he is in the novel) is engaged by the stunningly beautiful, erotically charged Cory Beckett — a control freak who knows how to get what she wants. And what she wants from Bill and his detective agency is for them to find her missing younger brother, Ken. Arrested for having stolen an expensive necklace from his wealthy employer’s wife, a terrified Ken has left town rather than face trial.

Jake Runyon, who works for Bill’s agency, tracks him down. Ken is nearly out of control with fear of being tried and found guilty, but fear of his sister’s displeasure is even greater. Femme fatale Cory lies about everything to achieve her ends, but uses the promise or reality of super sex to blind her male victims (or simply make truthfulness irrelevant to them).

It’s not immediately clear if she wants to protect her brother from the theft charges or sacrifice him to spare herself from prosecution. Ken isn’t a druggie, but Cory claims he’s an addict to explain his unstable, erratic behavior, which actually results from his crippling dependence on her.

Cory lines up lovers and potential husbands only to satisfy her greed for wealth and power. As the mistress of yachtsman and political power player Andrew Vorhees, she might wait for his separation from his wife to turn into divorce — or she might make him available as a husband some other way. And she can use the spell she’s cast over packing-materials manufacturer Frank Chaleen, already “in bed” with her effort to frame Ken for the theft, and take further and faster steps to riches.

To say too much about the complications of the plot is to give too much away. Clearly, Cory is not a client for long, and the efforts of Bill and Jake turn more and more toward blocking her schemes and saving her potential victims, especially the beleaguered Ken. . . .

To read the entire review, click here for Washington Independent Review of Books posting: Vixen: A Nameless Detective Novel | Washington Independent Review of Books

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books

Murder at drug rehab spa brings scares and laughs

Boca Undercover, by Miriam Auerbach. Bell Bridge Books. 160 pages. Trade paperback $10.95. This slim and sassy novel is the fourth installment in Ms. Auerbach’s Dirty Harriet Mystery Series. Harriet Horowitz, a private investigator, is also a reformed material girl rebelling against the glitzy ostentation of Boca Raton. These days, she embraces the natural beauty of the Everglades and unwinds riding her Harley Hugger. Turning forty, no longer the bedazzled babe she once was, and detoxed from addiction to the trivialities of her former lifestyle, Harriet answers a friend’s call for help. BocaUndercover-600x900x300

The friend, Gitta, a patient at a posh “resort spa / drug rehab facility for the rich and famous” known as The Oasis, claims that people are getting killed there. Gitta is frightened. Going undercover by posing as an addict ready to kick her habits, Harriet hopes she can explore Gitta’s suspicions and solve the case. The novel engages readers by describing Harriet’s skills at remaining undercover, at asking the right questions, at sizing people up, and at making fun of both The Oasis and the addicts whom it serves. Such a lavish facility becomes an emblem of Boca/Palm Beach excess.

Auerbach’s satiric treatment is lots of fun. Because she has made Harriet the narrator, we get her impressions first hand in her edgy, smart-mouth style. It isn’t long before events prove Gitta’s fears to be correct. At Harriet and Gitta walk through an arboreal treat known as the Meditation Maze, they come across the body of a teenage boy with hedge clippers planted in his chest. It’s Demarcus Pritchett, a member of the group residing in the adolescent unit. Before the police arrive, Harriet is able to do a cursory examination: in one hand, Demarcus grasped an empty Coke bottle; in the other, half of a torn phone book. Other clues suggest a violent struggle. When Maria Stillwater, medical doctor for The Oasis, comes upon the scene, her only concern is that she may have to postpone her Italian vacation. So, we don’t like her already!

Auerbach

Auerbach

Official and unofficial snooping reveals that the epidemic of death at The Oasis only strikes those from the adolescent unit, and that all of those kids go to the same school. A connection between the head of that special school and the funds that pay for its students’ treatment at The Oasis makes a bell go off in Harriet’s head.

“Boca Undercover” has several other interests besides the mystery plot and Harriet’s intriguing personality. There is the relationship between Harriet and an Israeli boyfriend, Lior, whose visit she is anxiously awaiting, as well as the romance between her friend Gitta and Gitta’s beau, police detective Kevin Reilly. There are those other inmates of The Oasis, some of whom are candidates for the Total Purification Detoxification, a flawed branding effort that makes Harriet think of a colonic. There is Leonard Goldblatt, paramour of Harriet’s mother, a retired CIA agent whose connections are helpful to the investigation. There are the various, more or less peculiar, staff members of the Oasis whose mannerisms and professional roles are targets of Ms. Auerbach’s satire. . . . To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 25, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Auerbach

2 Comments

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Young PI goes from Tampa to Siberia and back to solve murder mystery

The Veiled Lagoon, by Henry Hoffman. Martin Sisters Publishing. 214 pages. Trade paper $15.95.

This is Mr. Hoffman’s second “Adam Fraley Mystery” and his fifth novel overall. The case Adam investigates comes about in an unusual way. A man named Charlton Quigley contacts him because is suspicious of the newspaper report about a young woman’s accidental death.

Quigley’s acquaintance with the late Vickie Murin stems from the fact that she was the waitress at a coffee shop he frequented. During their many conversations, Quigley had developed a sense of her character and circumstances that led him to mistrust the reported facts. He is willing to pay Adam, whose ad Quigley found at the back of his church’s newsletter, to look into the matter.  VeiledLagoonCover

Oh, by the way: Vickie’s husband is a detective in the Sheriff’s Office, a man who seems to have gotten over his loss a bit too quickly.

Since the novel begins with a scene describing Vickie’s murder, that is not the mystery. Rather, as in the classic Columbo television series, the steps by which the criminal is brought to justice are the building blocks of suspense. The obligatory battle of wits between detective and perpetrator could loom larger in Mr. Hoffman’s novel, but there is plenty to hold the reader’s attention.

First and foremost is the introduction of a new character, let’s hope as a series regular. Tamra, whom Adam hires as a secretary and assistant (officially “office manager”), is a real treat for the reader. Her “bright steely demeanor,” her “discerning green eyes,” her “dark red hair” and her abundance of the critical ingredient called “moxie” add a force to the novel that makes this reader miss her when reading scenes from which she is absent.

Her intelligence, eagerness to learn, and desire for adventure all combine to make her a supercharged Della Street. There are signs of possible romance in the office, though Adam is still dazzled somewhat by his college mentor, a woman at least as fascinating as Tamra.

Henry Hoffman

A series of chapters set in Siberia introduce us to fascinating natural and cultural landscapes. Why does Henry Hoffman take us there? When Adam discovers that Detective Murin is a fairly recent immigrant from Russia who has a childhood sweetheart, Alina, living in a Siberian town, he arranges a trip to deepen his understanding of his suspect’s background. Murin seems interested in bringing this woman back into his life – a motive for murdering Vickie. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the January 2, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly, the January 8 Fort Myers edition, and the January 16 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter edition, click here Florida Weekly – Veiled Lagoon 1 and here Florida Weekly – Veiled Lagoon 2

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors