Meike Reviews “Turn to Stone”

Part-time bookseller, Meike, joins us on the MysteryPeople Blog for a guest review of a James Ziskin’s latest, Turn to Stone.

9781633885523It’s late summer 1963 and “girl reporter” Ellie Stone has traveled to Italy to attend an academic symposium honoring her late father. She’s invited to spend the weekend at an elegant villa just outside Florence, and a possible German measles outbreak means no one can leave. Trapped in a luxurious Tuscan villa with plenty of fantastic food and wine, and a group of scholarly friends who entertain themselves with tales drawn from Boccaccio’s Decameron (and no small amount of flirting), Ellie is enjoying her stay immensely—until the man who organized the symposium is found floating in the Arno, and foul plan is suspected.

Thus begins the perfect set-up for a locked room mystery that has Ellie wondering if one of her new friends could be capable of murder. And leave it to the intrepid and insatiably curious Ellie to seek out the truth and make sure someone is brought to justice.

I’m always so excited to get my hands on a new Ellie Stone mystery, she’s one of my favorite sleuths. Ziskin has crafted a delightfully complex and compelling character—Ellie is virtually alone in the world with no close family, but she’s remarkably brave and resilient. At times she can be lonely and frightened but she’s never intimidated–she’s whip-smart and won’t back down from any challenge. She defies the expectations that society places on a young woman of her time (witness the frequent belts of whiskey) while simultaneously embracing her femininity.

Ziskin is a linguist by training and it shows in the lyricism of his prose. Sprinkled throughout the text are Italian phrases that perfectly convey the temperament of a character, the temperature of a lazy afternoon, the tempo of the music that’s playing. His playful use of the Italian language lends a particularly unique and fun aspect to the story.

Setting a series in a specific era, particularly one that many of his readers may not have lived to experience, presents unique challenges and Ziskin proves himself up to the task–from the fashions to the news stories to the music, his extensive research and attention to detail lend an authenticity to his work that create an immersive experience for his readers.

Just be forewarned, after reading this latest Ellie Stone tale, you’ll find yourself searching for Tuscan villa rentals on HomeAway!

Turn to Stone is available for purchase in-store and online today!

Shotgun Blast From the Past: “The Long-Legged Fly” by James Sallis

9781641291439_998ceJames Sallis’ Lew Griffin series is one of the most respected in private eye fiction. Following the life of a black New Orleans private detective turned writer and teacher, it probes race, family, and politics with literary gravitas. Sallis has described working on the books as a poet and short story writer learning how to write a detective novel. That is definitely apparent in the first book, The Long-Legged Fly.
The book is basically four stories, each set in a decade of Lew Griffin’s life. Some aren’t even long enough to be considered novellas. The first has Lew tracking down a missing activist in 1964. He’s in search of a runaway in the seventies, a friend’s son in the eighties, and pulled back into being a detective to find his own in the nineties. Many of these stories examine human frailty, including Griffin’s own. There is something missing in these missing persons and he often carries their weight.
Sallis’ skills as a poet are put to use. In the opening chapter, he uses the sound of an oil derrick outside his office to repeat effect as Lew discusses the case with his client. Descriptions of New Orleans and its people float on top of the city’s thick bayou air. Only Reed Farrel Coleman, another poet turned crime writer, rivals him in description and emotion.
The key to the novel is Lew Griffin, himself. Sallis gives the character the kind vulnerability that you find in a classic R&B tune that pulls us in. We are with Lew, even at his worst. We know he can handle these mean streets, but they’re breaking his heart, if not his bones.
It has been said that the Lew Griffin books are more novels about a private detective than private detective novels. Lew Griffin is a character who lets you in, but holds back enough with you wanting to know more. Sallis sets him up beautifully in The Long-Legged Fly.

The Long-Legged Fly is available for purchase in-store and online now from BookPeople.

Tough Men In Tough Times: A Review of Larry Sweazy’s “The Lost Are The Last to Die”

9781432857233Larry Sweazy intended his period thriller, A Thousand Falling Crows to be a standalone. However, the compelling lead character, Sonny Burton, a former Texas Ranger who lost his arm during a shootout and car chase with Bonnie and Clyde, asked for further examination. Luckily, the author was inspired to bring Sonny back in The Lost Are The Last To Die, going both deeper into the man and the world he inhabits.
The Rangers pull Sonny out of retirement to assist his son, Jesse, with a prison break. Billy Bunson, charming sociopath, has busted out, taking the warden’s pregnant wife as a hostage. Sonny’s history with Billy makes him the most likely to understand his moves. Sonny knows him well enough to realize there is more going on than what it seems.
Sweazy could have simply given a thrill-a-minute pursuit novel and it would have been great. However, he decided to go deeper by weaving in the history of Sonny and Billy from the day the lawman caught him stealing. We learn how the two men react to violence and how they dealt with it, particularly with Sonny and his experience in The Great War. When these two face off in the climax it means so much more.
Not only does the author look deeper into his characters, but in the place and time as well. His 1930s Texas is a world of its own. It has the Pekinpah feel of a place caught in transition where many are still stuck in the old ways. The Wild West is still hanging on with some with back trails and unbeaten paths for outlaws who are now assisted by fast cars and guns more powerful than a six shooter. Not only do Sonny and Jesse hold a father and son’s tension, but one of two different generations of rangers as that institution is in change as well. Of course, the real gap is between Sonny and his adversary. Sonny looks for a way to deal with this new world and how to maneuver through it and the wounds it gave him. Billy is both its product and adversary.
The Lost Are The Last To Die knows its characters well and mines them for all they are worth. It brings us into a tangible world of people dealing with life and death struggles, trying to find ways to rise above them without being broken one way or another. Hopefully Larry Sweazy has some other ideas for Sonny Burton now.

The Lost Are The Last To Die by Larry Sweazy is available for purchase in-store and online at BookPeople now.

Meike Reviews ‘The Eyes of Texas’

9781643960401Bouchercon, the annual convention that brings together crime writers and their fans, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, and what better place to celebrate a golden anniversary than Texas? Timed to coincide with this year’s convention in Dallas, Michael Bracken’s The Eyes of Texas — a collection of Texas PI stories — spotlights the broad range of characters and settings that make up the Lone Star State.

The collection has its share of big city stories set in Houston, Dallas, and Austin but my favorites are those set in disparate, out-of- the way small towns. Some are funny–in William Dylan Powell’s The Haunted Railcar, our hero investigates a possible haunting that might bankrupt Slappy the Clown’s Family Fun Center. Others are poignant—in Sandra Murphy’s Lucy’s Tree an aging PI reminisces about the storm that coincided with his wife’s death as Hurricane Harvey rages around him; Graham Powell’s PI heads into town full of questions—ones to which he might not want the answers—in Blackbirds. And of course some are just plain good mysteries—in The Yellow Rose of Texas, Josh Pachter’s Helmut Erhard investigates the murder of a pretty young English teacher whose body was found with the Texas state flower. Richard Helms perfectly captures the melancholy of a former oil boom town with a dwindling population in See Humble & Die, and Michael Chandos’ West Texas Barbecue describes the melancholic barrenness of West Texas. James A. Hearn’s PI takes a literal Trip Among the Bluebonnets to Lampasas as he keeps an eye on his niece’s husband.

Hurricane Harvey figures prominently in several tales. In Debra Goldstein’s Harvey and the Redhead, a PI who shares a name with the storm meets his match in a mysterious redhead. And in Weathering the Storm, Michael Pool’s tough female PI hunts a serial killer in the worst of the downpour. In Mark Troy’s Shaft on Wheels, a wheelchair bound PI unpacks a really twisted family saga while surrounded by the destruction of the storm’s aftermath.

Austin’s music scene is the backdrop for Scott Montgomery’s No One Owns the Blues, which introduces the reader to contemplative PI Tin Man as he takes on a case for a former flame. The town becomes the butt of a joke in Stephen Rogers’ Purple & Blue when a Boston cop loses a football bet and lands in the Texas capitol (never bet against Tom Brady).

A few of the stories tackle social issues. Trey Barker examines multiple ways to gain revenge on an abuser in Chasing the Straight. And Chuck Bowman examines race and immigration in Unwritten Rules.

And what PI anthology would be complete without some infidelity? Robert S Levinson’s In Cowtown is a twisted tale of cheating, jealousy, and rage set in and around Fort Worth’s Billy Bob’s. In John M. Floyd’s Triangles an aging PI unwittingly joins a love triangle. And in Bev Vincent’s The Patience of Kane a pregnant woman wants to know how her husband died—even if she learns he may have been unfaithful.

Meike is a part-time bookseller and full-time Mystery buff. You can find her recommendations in-store and online now.

Purchase The Eyes of Texas from BookPeople online and in-store now. And be sure to join us up on BookPeople’s third floor on November 19th at 7PM when Scott Montgomery sits down with editor Michael Bracken and contributor James A. Hearn to discuss all things Texas mystery.

Review of ‘G. I. Confidential’ by Martin Limón


George Sueño and Ernie Bascom have become investigators I look forward to reading more and more. The two Army CID cops stationed in seventies Soule, South Korea takes through the institution of the military and the culture of the country, often at odds with the former and mystified by the latter. Author Martin Limón has hit his stride in this series, which the latest, G.I. Confidential, serves as proof of.

The book entwines two cases. One is a string of bank robberies apparently committed by U.S. soldiers. Sueño and Bascom want it, but their superiors won’t have it, assigning two brown-noses who will lead the investigation away from Army blame. Instead, they are assigned to look into a general who procured prostitutes for a special meeting near the DMZ. By pushing their way onto one case, when the next robbery takes the life of a teller and following the leads to their assigned one, they get a target placed on both of their backs and wade into what could be an international incident of major consequence.

Limón strikes a great balance between character and story. He hooks us right in at the beginning with the description of the first robbery. The story is able to bring out Sueño and Bascom’s nature as they clash with Army protocols and bureaucracy and work to get information. They also team up with Katie Byrd Worthinington, an American reporter and ire of the brass. She adds to the humor and banter between the two. As they uncover more information, they find themselves up against two of their most dangerous antagonists they’ve come across and coming to a reveal I couldn’t have predicted.

G.I. Confidential is one of the best in a series that gets better and better. You feel close to our two heroes, the themes are bigger and more complex, and even with all that, Limón brings it all in with a tight, well paced tale. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

You can purchase G.I. Confidential from BookPeople in-store and online now.

Meike Reviews ‘The Right Sort of Man’ by Alison Monclair

9781250178367_9325f This week we’re featuring a special guest review from part-time bookseller/event host and full-time mystery lover, Meike. She discusses The Right Sort of Manthe first installment in a new series by Allison Montclair. This is a title that may have flown under your radar when it published earlier this year.

At loose ends after WWII, two very different London women join forces to launch a business venture in hopes it will help them heal the emotional wounds they’re privately nursing. Following a chance meeting, the quick-witted and impulsive Iris Sparks (this firecracker is aptly named!) and the aristocratic and genteel widow Gwendolyn Bainbridge decide to open The Right Sort Marriage Bureau—many Londoners are anxious to marry and begin families to put the horrors of the war behind them, and our heroines hope their firm’s matchmaking can help others while also giving them a sense of independence.

But their new venture is put at risk when their latest client, Tillie La Salle, is found murdered. The police quickly make an arrest, and the accused is none other than Dickie Trower, the man they introduced her to. While the police are quite certain they have their man, Iris and Gwendolyn are equally certain they do not. When the case generates some bad publicity causing them to lose clients, they join forces to find the real murderer and clear the Right Sort’s name—while discovering hidden talents and depths of emotional strength in themselves and each other.

The Right Sort of Man is Montclair’s first installment featuring Iris and Gwendolyn, and one hopes there will be many to follow. The characters couldn’t be more different yet they complement each other perfectly. The reader gets to know them at the same time they’re getting to know each other; each character has hidden wounds from the war that are gradually revealed as the plot progresses and the result is a perfectly paced story. They also each have a unique set of talents that aren’t immediately obvious (Iris is particularly talented with knives!) The dialogue between the characters is whip smart and funny and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the book.

Upon reading the dust jacket, I couldn’t help but being reminded of two of my favorite series—Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs and Alexander McCall Smith’s Number One Ladies Detective Agency. Like the former, this is a solid fusion between mystery and British historical fiction. Like the latter, we get to meet two independent female business owners determined to succeed while never forgetting to be kind. Montclair has crafted the perfect new addition to the mystery genre for fans of both.

You can purchase a copy of The Right Sort of Man today in-store and online at BookPeople.

Review of ‘Peccadillo at the Palace’

9781943006908_e70a2Kari Bovée’s Girl With A Gun proved that Annie Okley could make a fascinating amateur sleuth. She mines facets of her early life and wove them into an entertaining whodunnit. With the second book in the series, Peccadillo At The Palace, she proves there is a lot more to use from the biography of The Little Sure Shot.

The Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show’s performance for the Queen Of England serves as the backdrop for the mystery this time. Along with Bill and Annie on the voyage over with Annie and Bill are her husband, trick shooter Frank Butler, her friend, suffragette reporter Emma Wilson, and the queen’s emissary Amal Bhatuka. Early on, after a wild event with Annie’s horse Buck, Bhatuka is murdered by poisoning. Annie and Emma work to find the culprit on board. When they reach England the Agatha Christie-style mystery moves into thriller territory with Irish separatists and an assassination plot to foil.

Bovée weaves character, history, and plot seamlessly together. Annie’s news of a possible pregnancy has her asking what she wants in life. Her friendship with the more progressive Emma leads to reflections of herself and her dreams. As the story builds to a climax in its Victorian setting and thriller plot, we cheer on Annie to both save the world and her place in it.

With Peccadillo At The Palace, Kari Bovée has affirmed that Annie Oakley makes a strong series sleuth. Her real life adventures can easily envelope a fictional mystery. She has skills and resolves to count on and there is the possible journey toward the feminist icon we know. I’m looking forward to her getting her gun for the next one.

Kari Bovée’s Peccadillo at the Palace is available to purchase now in-store and online at BookPeople. And be sure to catch a reading a signing with Bovée when she stops at BookPeople on October 13th at 5PM to discuss Peccadillo at the Palace.

Review of Attica Locke’s ‘Heaven, My Home’

9780316363402_c3effHeaven, My Home is the second book to feature Attica Locke’s black Texas Ranger, Darren Matthews. She has created a character who takes us in a very personal way through black Texas culture and examine the American tange and tension of modern race relations. In this second book, Locke shows how those issues are tied together over centuries.

The story takes place during the holidays after the 2016  election. Matthews is riding the desk and the eye of a D.A. due to the events from the first novel, Bluebird, Bluebird. To hopefully get out of this jam, he takes the case of a missing nine-year old son of an Aryan Brotherhood member in prison for murder, The search takes him to a town whose main business is giving tourists a taste of of the antebellum south. As Matthews digs deeper, he discovers ties to the boy’s family that had to do with the dark side of that history as well as getting a black man accused of killing the boy into further danger.

Fans of James Lee Burke should take to these books. Matthews’ Texas past hold on to him as hard as Robicheaux’s Louisiana history. However, with an African American hero, the canvas is bigger and allows for more depth. A relationship with a friend or order from a superior contains different shades and meanings. Locke examines these complexities in the eyes of a complex hero who often has to question if he’s on the right side, even if he is on the side of the law.

Locke and Ranger Matthews deliver on the promise of Bluebird, Bluebird and then some. It looks at race relations through Texas culture both past and present. After you finish reading , you may wonder if our country is less racist or that if racism learned to be more nuanced.


Both Bluebird, Bluebird and Heaven, My Home are available at BookPeople in-store and online.


The return of Lydia Chin and Bill Smith is great news to many private eye fans. Lydia, a first generation Chinese American, and Bill, a former Navy man, operate out of New York, trading off points of view with each book. The unique pairing allows them to travel through many of the sub genres and crime and detective fiction. Now after close to a decade long hiatus, the two are back in Paper Son, a novel that drops them in a different environment.

Paper Son: A Lydia Chin/Bill Smith Novel Cover ImageLydia’s mother, who has never been proud of her profession, shocks her by telling her she needs to help a family member Jefferson Tam, arrested for killing his father. She’s even more surprised when she learns she has relatives in Mississippi. Her mother insists she take “the white baboon”, so Bill tags along.

They are met by Lydia’s uncle, Captain Pete, a professional gambler who definitely looks like a relative of Lydia’s, but who could out southern Strother Martin. Pete acts as a guide through the territory and Mississippi Chinese culture. When he takes them to the grocery store Jefferson runs with his father, they find it ransacked. Soon they get word Jefferson has broken out of jail.

The book is an exquisite work of craftsmanship dealing out two different kinds of information. A seasoned pro in the genre like Rozan can lay down the clues, misdirections , and piece meal dirt with an organic ease moving the plot forward at an ever accelerating pace. Here she gives us a southern potboiler involving on line gambling, meth dealers, race, and politics. She also unearths a little known part of Chinese American life in the delta and their place in the state’s economics and racial tensions, facts that become as intriguing as the fiction they are presented in. She skillfully dovetails both in a climax involving where the story gets it’s title.

Paper Son provides a wonderful return for Bill and Lydia, ranking as one of the best in the series. The banter between the two of them is like comfort food with a Chinese barbecue rub provided by Captain Pete’s interjections. It also serves the function that a great mystery can take you into another culture. Welcome back, you two.


6-26_ThisStorm.jpgJames Ellroy never does anything half way. He plunges you into the dark American soul to its twilight depths, reader be damned. At times his books can be disorienting, but they are never boring. No modern writer is ambitious as him. He puts all the chips in on his latest, This Storm, both a sequel to Perfidia and the second  book in his second L.A. Quartet. At over 600 pages it is a mammoth story, sprawling on plot, cohesive on theme and character.

Ellroy said that he wanted to get across the idea of war as opportunity and we follow several home front opportunists at the beginning of 1942. Ellroy’s go to demon, Dudley Smith drives most of the entwining plot strands. The police sergeant, his cops, and his women are on lurid quests for a rapist, an old murder case, stolen gold, and fifth columnists in Mexico. All of them driven by ulterior motives or to cover up smuggling drugs or cheap labor.

Two other LAPD members figure prominently. Japanese American forensics expert Hideo Ashida returns under Dudley’s thumb to avoid an internment camp stay. Hillbilly cop Elmer Jackson takes on a larger role than he had in Perfidia, tracking down a case from a discovered decomposed body that  could be tied to an old unsolved arson that killed his brother.

Ellroy also brings his female characters up to the forefront. Joan Conville, who played a part in The Underworld USA trilogy is a young Navy nurse forced to work with Ashida to avoid manslaughter charges from a drunk driving accident. Kay Lake, from The Black Dahlia, proves to be both enemy and ally to her. Even Elizabeth Short, The Black Dahlia herself, also makes an appearance.

Everyone is scheming, murdering, backstabbing, and forming alliances for profit, survival, and politics. Sex and desire also fit in. Many get caught up in their sins, even Orson Welles, but few are innocent.

Ellroy embraces the dark heart of his characters. He pulls us in through the heady seduction of their sins. They are addicts to their behavior. He takes it up a notch in this quartet to the turn on of fascism, something were fighting abroad, while many embrace at the home front. It is exemplified in Dudley Smith who has taken up a swastika embossed gold bayonet as a favored weapon.

This Storm is not for the timid, for both its violence and vision. Its staccato  style burns through those 600 pages, outracing the reader at times. You don’t fully grasp the novel until days after reading. Ellroy takes us on a freewheeling rip through Hell brought to you by The Greatest Generation. Buckle up and trust no one.