Friday, 24 June 2022

SUSAN SPANN - FIRES OF EDO (2022)


Synopsis/blurb...

Edo, February 1566: when a samurai’s corpse is discovered in the ruins of a burned-out bookshop, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Jesuit Father Mateo must determine whether the shopkeeper and his young apprentice are innocent victims or assassins in disguise. The investigation quickly reveals dangerous ties to Hiro’s past, which threaten not only Edo’s fledgling booksellers’ guild, but the very survival of Hiro’s ninja clan. With an arsonist on the loose, and a murderer stalking the narrow streets, Hiro and Father Mateo must save the guild—and themselves—from a conflagration that could destroy them all. 

Fires of Edo is the eighth book in Susan Spann's Shinobi mystery series. Fair to say, I don't think I've read anything like it previously, at least as far as the setting of 16th century. Japan is concerned. (16th century anywhere for that matter.)

We have two travellers happening upon a fire in a village. After assisting at the scene, they stop to investigate it. This brings them into contact with a figure from one of their pasts. From what I understand, there is an ongoing dispute or feud between two rival sects, which is probably an over-riding series arc.

A few months on I'm struggling to remember too much about the book to be honest, though I can recall some of the feelings it evoked in me. I enjoyed the dramatic change of setting from my usual reading. Historic mysteries don't hold a particular attraction for me as I kind of lack the imagination to want to immerse myself in the past. Susan Spann had me enjoying the book though. I liked seeing this peculiar, alien world with it's different food, customs and rules of behaviour. 

The main characters were good company and the story had enough excitement to have me not counting down the pages until the end. There are a few twists and turns and dramatic incidents before an ending which satisfied me and tied up all the questions presented earlier. Who did what and why.

While I wouldn't put it up there as one of my most enjoyable reads of the year, I am interested in re-visiting the series in the future. That's usually the benchmark of whether I've enjoyed a book or not. Do I want to read more from the author about the same characters? Yes. Which is fortunate because I have a few of the earlier titles on the pile.

Setting - a plus, story - a plus, characters - developed, a plus. Writing - enjoyable.

Overall 3 from 5

(Note to self, try not to leave such a long gap between reading something and trying to put together some intelligent thoughts.)  

Read – February, 2022
Published – 2022
Page count – 230
Source – review copy from Saichek Publicity
Format – PDF read on laptop

Thursday, 23 June 2022

MARK ROGERS - GRAY HUNTER (2022)

 


Synopsis/blurb....

A NOVELLA OF MERCY & NO MERCY BY MARK ROGERS

"Mark Rogers knows that the stylish, polished picture frame in which we live is riddled with holes, in which worms live."
—James Sallis, author of Drive

Hugo Berenson has spent a lifetime hunting down ex-Nazis and bringing them to justice. Now in his 60s, with a legendary career behind him, he’s gone to ground in Jersey City, living a quiet and anonymous life. Just another old man on a park bench.

When a nine-year-old girl goes missing, and when the authorities barely raise a finger to find her, the panic-stricken mother seeks out Hugo Berenson.
A hunter renowned for tracking his prey.
For never giving up.

Helping Rosa find her child didn’t make sense. I was done. Slow. Old. Only minimally interested in my fellow man.
The thing is, I’d spent a lifetime hunting men to bring them to justice. It was a hunt of retribution. Many years of it.
I’d never hunted someone to save them.

Evil flows – from Dachau to the alleys of Jersey City.
One man will stem the tide.
Gray Hunter.

I'm a big fan of author Mark Rogers' work. My problem is I just haven't read enough of it. Red Thread and the co-authored, The Death Dealer (with Adam Rocke) are my paltry efforts at keeping pace with his output. An invitation to read one of his latest offerings, Gray Hunter, was too good to pass up though.

It's an intriguing book. An elderly retired Nazi hunter, Hugo Berenson joins forces with a concerned Hispanic woman, Maria to search for her missing younger sister. Maria is initially sceptical about Hugo being up to the task. She might be underestimating our sixty-something year old. Diamante is missing and mother Rosa and Maria are at their wit's end.

There's some disturbing elements just bubbling away under the surface. What could someone possibly want with a nine year old girl? Shudder! We cross paths with some desperate sorts, where debts can be settled by trading flesh and blood.

Hoboken, New Jersey, disappearance, kidnap, betrayal, police disinterest, family, prison, gangs, card games - high stakes poker, debts, rough bars in rougher neighbourhoods, suspicion, secrets, trafficking, history, family loss, the Holocaust, Nazis, Mossad, manhunts, revenge and justice.

I was gripped throughout. Rogers skillfully blends Hugo's back story and family history of loss and a life spent tracking down evil, with a current, time pressing urgent investigation to save an innocent victim. Along the way he acquires a surrogate family to go some way towards recompensing him for the loss of his own. Hugo and Maria make a formidable double act throughout. Berenson, also discovers a new sense of purpose and leaves us with a new spring in his step. 

I'm hoping Mark Rogers has more Hugo Berenson stories to tell. Future or past? Deal me in.
Gray Hunter is a troubling tale, but also an uplifting one. 


4.5 from 5 

Read - February, 2022
Published - 2022
Page count - 99
Source - review copy from author
Format - PDF read on laptop

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

JOHN GODEY - A THRILL A MINUTE WITH JACK ALBANY (1966)

 


Synopsis/blurb....

Jack Albany’s world is turned upside down when he is mistaken for muscle from the mob. The actor is sucked into the world of organized crime as the gangsters he has taken up with plot the kidnapping and ransom of the mayor of New York City for a cool $10,000,000. Jack must find a way out of the gang and secure the safety of his new love, Sally.

About the Author: John Godey is the author of many crime and mystery novels, including Nella, The Snake, The Talisman and the international best seller, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, was released as a film of the same name, starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta

I've had a couple of author John Godey's books on the TBR pile for a good while now - The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and The Three Worlds of Johnny Handsome - without ever actually getting around to cracking the spines on them. I spotted his books available through Kindle Unlimited and thought I'd give his two Jack Albany books a whirl. The premise to this one and Never Put Off Till Tomorrow What You Can Kill Today sounded interesting and the fact that neither of them seemed to have any reviews also attracted me.

It's a light-hearted caper of sorts. Actor Jack Albany is out walking late one night when he is followed. As his pursuer closes in, he turns and is approached by another assailant from a different direction. The two grapple with Albany the kind of meat in a brawl-sandwich. Assailant B stabs Assailant A and insists Jack goes with him. It's a case of mistaken identity as Albany is assumed to be a mob button man brought in to assist in a big job.

Albany is taken to an out of town estate where he has to bluff and blag his way through meeting the big boss, his beautiful art teacher, the boss's nymphomaniac wife and assorted members of the gang, one of whom takes an instant dislike to Jack and fancies settling their differences with violence. His acting skills are truly tested when the real Ace Williams, hitman extraordinaire turns up.

While he is trying to save his life, and avoiding killing any cops or villains, not kidnapping the mayor or succumbing to the wiles of the randy wife, he's also falling for Sally, the art teacher. It could be the start of a beautiful romance if they can extricate themselves from mob danger.

Humorous, but never laugh out loud funny. I did enjoy it without being blown away by it. There's never really any great tension in the book, as Godey has Albany mugging for laughs for the most part.

3 from 5 


Read - June, 2022 


Published - 1966

Page count - 135

Source - Kindle Unlimited

Format - Kindle

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

WILLIAM BAYER - SWITCH (1984)

 


Synopsis/blurb....

Passion and rage explode in a bizarre double murder. Two homicides a night were not unusual for New York City, but these weren't ordinary killings. Someone had decapitated the victims and switched their heads. Detective Frank Janek's job is to get inside the mind of the lethal genius who committed the heinous act.

I'm not usually one for a twisted killer, grizzly murder book to be honest, preferring to read about different types of crime in my reading. I've got to say though that this one smashed it out of the park. Bloody brilliant and more enjoyable for the fact that it was so unexpectedly excellent.

I probably shouldn't have been surprised because I've read William Bayer before, enjoying his Peregrine novel a year or two ago.

Here Detective Frank Janek is assigned a double murder by Chief of Detectives Hart. Two woman have been found murdered on the same night and their heads have been switched. Janek puts together a team and they work the case. He has the two detectives assigned to the original homicides when they were unconnected cases - Stanger and Howell - and his two trusted friends and confidants, Sal Marchetti and Aaron Rosenthal. The killer has been careful, not sloppy and there's no real physical evidence left on the crime scenes. 

Janek also embarks on an affair with a photographer, Caroline who he met at the funeral of his rabbi, retired cop Al DiMona. Al ate his gun and Janek also feels obligated to his widow Lou. She has questions over what Al had been doing in the days and weeks leading up to his death. 

Janek is struck by a connection between Al, Caroline's dead father who was murdered and C. of D.  Hart. It's a connection that Hart lied to him about. Caroline has an old photograph of the three of them together. A frank conversation with Al's widow and a tearful confession give Janek more to ponder, especially given the fact that Hart has tentatively offered him a promotion. Bribery? What's he covering? What does he have to hide?

I really enjoyed how Janek got his team working together. Profiling the two victims, one a prostitute, one a teacher. Understand the victims, know who the victims are, understand the crime, try and understand the killer. Easier said than done. Incrementally they make progress. Janek having the ability to make intuitive leaps that inspire lines of enquiry unimagined by the other detectives. I don't think he presents as a super sleuth, just someone who has a gift for thinking slightly outside of the box and looking at things from different angles. 

There's a lot of old school detecting. Door knocking, interviewing, eliminating, persistence. A suspect emerges eventually and the same approach applies. Find his past, find people who knew him, watch him, uncover his secrets. It's all painstakingly done but it's not something that the killer is unaware of. 

Tables get turned, tension gets ramped and gears start moving.

I liked the character, the slow burn initially of the case, which morphs into two cases with Janek also convinced of Hart's complicity in his rabbi's demise and also the murder of the other part of the trio - Caroline's father. Janek is determined to bring him down and again has to think outside the box to put Hart and his go-to-guy, Sweeney in the box. I enjoyed the way Janek pulled the strings and had his two main guys, Sal and Aaron following him loyally. 

Top notch crime writing. Not a false step throughout. Never a boring moment. No breakneck pace, but something happening every step of the way to keep me fully engrossed. 


5 from 5

Read - (listened to) June, 2022
Pulbished - 1984
Page count - 322 (9 hrs 5 mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible

Monday, 20 June 2022

ELLERY QUEEN - THE AMERICAN GUN MYSTERY (1933)

 




Synopsis/blurb....

When a Western star is gunned down at a rodeo, Ellery Queen saddles up.

Buck Horne has roped thousands of cattle, slugged his way out of dozens of saloons, and shot plenty of men dead in the street -- but always on the backlot. He is a celluloid cowboy, and his career is nearly kaput. The real box office draw is his daughter, Kit, a brawling beauty who can outshoot any rascal the studio has to offer. Desperate for a comeback, Buck joins Wild Bill Grant's traveling rodeo for a show in New York, hoping to impress Hollywood and land one last movie contract. But he has scarcely mounted his horse when he falls to the dirt. It wasn't age that made him slip -- it was the bullet in his heart.

Watching from the stands are Ellery Queen, debonair sleuth, and his police detective father. They are New Yorkers through and through, but to solve the rodeo killing, the Queens must learn to talk cowboy.

Author Ellery Queen was actually a pen-name for a double act comprised of two cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee. One provided the plot ideas and the other did the writing. Which was which? Not sure and I'm not really interested. The name Ellery Queen has lived on well past the two cousins and mainly because of the famous mystery magazine. I was keen to try one of their books at some point and this one seemed a good place to start, with some cowboys in New York.

We have Ellery Queen the author with a main character of Ellery Queen, an investigator who assists with but actually drives the case run by Inspector Queen, his father. I kind of got the feeling Queen Snr has been promoted above his abilities. He's just a prop for Jr. to show off his abilities as a detective. He's good at shouting at underlings and organising searches, but displays no investigative skills.

We have a murder in plain view of 20,000 people at the opening of a rodeo in New York. Despite searching all of the crowd the weapon has disappeared and we have no murderer. After a period of time while the show is shut and the crime investigated, a second identical murder occurs when the event reopens. Ditto a missing weapon and culprit. 

Queen Jr. does his thing and after about 300 pages we get the answers. And the author(s) speak(s) to the reader ahead of the denouement asking if we have solved things because all the clues are available to us to do so.

Along the way we have ballistics tests, matching pistols, searches, interviews, a romance, a boxer, a manager, a money man, a prizefight, an inheritance, some missing money, and probably a few more things I've forgotten.  

I didn't hate it, though it was a bit slow to get going. I didn't love it either. It's one of those books that you feel no real emotion or connection to any of the participants - victims, family, friends, witnesses or detectives. If you don't particularly care, it's just a puzzle where the author gets to show how clever he is.

Overall 2.5 from 5 

Read - June, 2022

Published - 1933

Page count - 317

Source - Net Galley

Format - Kindle

Saturday, 18 June 2022

HANSJÖRG SCHNEIDER - THE BASEL KILLINGS (2004/2021)

Synopsis/blurb...

It is the end of October, the city of Basel is grey and wet. It could be December. It is just after midnight when Police Inspector Peter Hunkeler, on his way home and slightly worse for wear, spots old man Hardy sitting on a bench under a street light. He wants to smoke a cigarette with him, but the usually very loquacious Hardy is silent—his throat a gaping wound. Turns out he was first strangled, then his left earlobe slit, his diamond stud stolen. The media and the police come quickly to the same conclusion: Hardy’s murder was the work of a gang of Albanian drug smugglers. But for Hunkeler that seems too obvious. Hardy’s murder has much in common with the case of Barbara Amsler, a prostitute also found killed, with an ear slit and pearl stud missing. He follows his own intuition and the trail leads him deep into an edgy world of bars, bordellos and strip clubs, but also into the corrupt core of some of Basel’s political and industrial elite. More ominously, he will soon discover the consequences of certain events in recent Swiss history that those in power would prefer to keep far from the public eye.

The Basel Killings is the first in the author's Peter Hunkeler detective series. Silver Pebbles, also available in translation from Bitter Lemon Press followed it earlier this year.

Sad to say, having read it four months ago, it's been pretty much forgotten. That's more a me problem, than a Schneider or book problem. 

What do I remember of it then? 

It's quite pedestrian in pace, but not a boring slow, just a kind of thoughful we'll get there when we get there way. It's a murder investigation. I'm pretty sure I enjoyed it and I'm keen to read the second. I liked the atmosphere of the setting, with the time spend in the bars adjacent to the murder and the speculation among the victim's friends over what happened. Hunkeler pretty much drives the investigation and we have time for some personal detail in addition to the working of the case. His girlfriend/partner has left town with work, but he/she/they aren't sure when or if she will be back and what the future holds for them.

Towards the end, a light is shed on some horrendous historic abuses of authority towards gypsies and Romany people. These actually occurred, though I was unaware of them. The Swiss Government apologised in 2008 for it's treatment of Roma people, and the forced removal of children from their families, a policy which only ended in 1972. 

The book 3.5 from 5. 1 from 5 for the garbled drivel that constitutes a review. 


Read - February, 2022

Published - 2021 in translation (2004 originally)

Page count - 188

Source - Edelweiss - Above the Treeline

Format - Kindle

Friday, 17 June 2022

JOCELYN DAVEY - A TOUCH OF STAGEFRIGHT (1960)

 


Synopsis/blurb...

Jason Forsyte had been described as the Beelzebub of Broadway - the Stalin of the Stage - the Voodoo of Vaudeville... though not by a well-wisher (if indeed there were any). When his house on Lighthouse Island, near New York, was blown up with dynamite one evening, Jason went up with it, bequeathing a nice riddle for Ambrose Usher to solve. Ambrose, a fellow of the Innes-Crispin college of academic sleuths, had already met many of the playwrights, actors, and undercover agents who were week-ending on the island. Each one seemed to have some sensitive pint of contact with the late Jason. But which one pressed the plunger?

A book that I could quite happily gone through my life blissfully unaware of its existence, but which was discovered when trying to locate something in the genre of crime and mystery fiction with a character name beginning with 'U.' All in the pursuit of completing Goodreads reading challenge.

Author Jocelyn Davey penned seven Ambrose Usher mysteries, across four decades. This one looked ok without screaming to be read. I don't believe I will be seeking out the other six.

Its a short book thankfully and it takes a long while to get set up. Davey takes about a quarter of the book to introduce Usher and a cast of characters, mainly with theatrical backgrounds to an island located off the New York - Connecticut coastline. On or around page 60, Jason Forsyte mentioned but never seen gets blown up.

Usher digs into it, even though his whole raison d'etre for being on the island is some sort of espionage undertaking for the British. Namely keeping an eye on a couple of previously encountered (earlier book, maybe?) suspicious French types.

I've read worse, but it was a bit dull and pedestrian with a few quirky characters - theatre types, hyperactive adventurous children and a few people with secrets, pasts and possible motives for doing the dastardly deed. One of my main issues was not really knowing the victim. Everyone had an opinion on him and a few disliked him enough to wish him harm, but apart from one revelation which admittedly didn't paint him in a great light, I found it hard to care about his demise. Once that happens, it's just really a case of turning the pages. 

I didn't loathe it and Ambrose Usher is a thoughtful investigator. He doesn't jump to conclusions. A lot of his progress towards the guilty party is comprised of patience and observing people, a lot of the time at parties and in social situations. There's are a few enquiries made back in New York. In the end, the killer reveals himself anyway because of circumstance. 

Highlight of the book - page 208. THE END 


2.5 from 5 

Read - June, 2022

Published - 1960

Page count - 208

Source - purchased copy

Format - Paperback