LOST CAUSE by J. L. Simpson (Review)

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I found Lost Cause quite hard to get into – might even have given up had I not agreed to write a review. I’ll come back to why I found the earlier part of the book somewhat off-putting in a moment.

First, let me say that the book is professionally produced in every way. The writing and the editing are both impeccable. Not even one of those peculiar errors we seem to be becoming inured to like the meaningless “I could care less”. No, here the narrator says she “couldn’t care less”. Bingo.

But how to classify this story? It is called a “mystery” – Daisy Dunlop Mystery Book 1. There are several mysteries, but which one is the mystery I really couldn’t say. It is certainly not a thriller, and though it is a crime story, the rather complex crime and the various bit-part criminals are not really what the book is about. Nor is it a romance, a love-story. The protagonist, Daisy Dunlop, is the mother of a teenage son and almost absurdly happily married to her husband Paul. There is no way she would ever be unfaithful to him. Yet she does flirt, often outrageously, with almost every male she meets. Especially the “Irish git” (her words) that her husband has arranged for her to work alongside as a trainee P.I. and heir-hunter. Both the husband and his friend “Solomon” (the Irish git) assume that after a few days she will abandon this ridiculous idea.

Really, the story is about the relationship between Daisy and Solomon. It is this flirting that you remember when you finish the book on another outrageous line from Daisy. A flirtation story, then. But beautifully done.

Which brings me back to my problem with the opening chapters. Daisy’s husband, Paul, and his mate Solomon are both big, hard, rich, clever, arrogant men. Alpha males. And Daisy is the obedient strawberry-blonde. Well, not always obedient. Far from it. But when she disobeys one of them she invariably feels guilty, and frequently lands herself in a load of trouble from which Solomon must ride in on his white charger (actually an Aston Martin) and rescue her.

Me, I like strong female leads. The stronger the better. And yet I liked Daisy more and more as the book went on and she began to find her feet (not easy on those heels) till by the end she was saving Solomon (all right, causing some typical dumb-blonde chaos in doing so) and I had quite made up my mind that I would definitely read Daisy Dunlop Mysteries Book 2 (see below). I also very much liked the gradual focus on homeless people, whom Daisy decides really are “the secret eyes and ears of the world”.

Final verdict? If you are in the mood for a light-hearted crime story featuring an irresistible would-be sleuth, this is the book for you.

And Book 2? Here’s the cover I found. I’ll put a link here when I get round to writing a review of it.

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Quote from THE WEIRD SISTERS

Came across this short passage from The Weird Sisters and want to share it. Haven’t read the book yet, but I plan to!

“She remembered one of her boyfriends asking, offhandedly, how many books she read in a year. “A few hundred,” she said.
“How do you have the time?” he asked, gobsmacked.
She narrowed her eyes and considered the array of potential answers in front of her. Because I don’t spend hours flipping through cable complaining there’s nothing on? Because my entire Sunday is not eaten up with pre-game, in-game, and post-game talking heads? Because I do not spend every night drinking overpriced beer and engaging in dick-swinging contests with the other financirati? Because when I am waiting in line, at the gym, on the train, eating lunch, I am not complaining about the wait/staring into space/admiring myself in reflective surfaces? I am reading!
“I don’t know,” she said, shrugging.”

THE FOREST OF SOULS by Carla Banks (Review)

Helen Kovacs and Faith Lange are old school and university friends who, after graduating from Oxford, went their separate ways. Helen, despite her First, married and settled into life as a mother and housewife, while Faith pursued the academic career that has led to her being appointed Senior Research Assistant at the Centre for European Studies at the University of Manchester.

Briefly, their lives come together again when Helen tires of being a housewife, completes her PhD, and is accepted at Manchester for post-doctoral research. And leaves her husband.

Then Helen is murdered.

From the beginning, Faith  is sure that this was not some random, possibly sex-related, killing, and she gradually becomes obsessed with the notion that the killer was in fact Helen’s jealous and violent husband, Daniel.

Jake Denbigh, however, while agreeing that it was not some random killing, has a different theory. He believes Helen was murdered because someone did not want her to pursue her research into the atrocities committed in and outside the city of Minsk during WW2. Denbigh,  a writer and journalist who has himself been carrying out research in the same field,  is very interested in Faith’s own grandfather, who arrived in the UK as a refugee in 1943 and whose home, though he has always been very secretive about it, was in Minsk.

An exciting read and a mind-numbing reconstruction of the war years in Poland and Belarus. Eastern Poland and Belarus were occupied first by the Russians (when Hitler and Stalin divided Poland between them), then by the Germans after Hitler (greedy for more of Eastern Europe and after having lost the Battle of Britain and the Battle of El Alamein) declared war on Russia. The Nazis were seen by many at that time, in Belarus anyway, as liberators. But not for long, once the atrocities began.

It is those atrocities – the massacre and the mass graves under the trees in the Kurapaty Forest; and the Maly Trostenets death camp – and the further atrocities committed by the Communists when the Nazis were pushed back out of Minsk and the rest of Belarus and the Russians rolled back in, that forms the heart of this unforgettable book. 

DEAD GORGEOUS by Elizabeth Flynn (Review)

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

I didn’t know this book was the second in a series until I’d finished it and at the end came across a blurb for Game, Set and Murder, the first book. So there you are. It stands alone. It needs no prequel and it ends neatly with no cliff-hanger. I like that.

To tell the truth, the title (Dead Gorgeous) grabbed me because I do love a good vampire and/or zombie story, but the word “Dead” in the title here signifies what it used to signify before the vampire and zombie craze, and it is actually one of a new series of police procedurals featuring D.I. Angela (Angie) Costello. About whom, it has to be said, there is nothing particularly special or memorable. She is married to a retired policeman and has a grown-up step-daughter who returns home to live early in the story. A bit like Mr Wilkinson the clergyman.

What I most enjoyed about the book was the setting, the London fashion scene. The author is clearly at home there but I was moving into a new world, and that for me is the acid test of a novel and a novelist.

The eponymous victim is indeed “dead gorgeous” (though still alive) when the story opens. But though she looks like an angel, her character is far from angelic, and when she is murdered there is, as her flat-mate Sandra remarks, going to be no shortage of suspects.

The plot is original, the setting interesting, the characterisation good, the writing professional and the editing competent. I enjoyed it, and if you are into UK police procedurals, then you will, too. However, Angie Costello herself  is, as I say, depressingly ordinary – reality personified – and that is just what I don’t want when I pick up a book. (See the previous post!)

PERSONA NON GRATA by Avery Mann (Review)

[This is a review I wrote a while back of a book I loved and considered very important. I thought I had posted the review on this site but as it doesn’t seem to be here so, as it is even more relevant today than it was then, I am posting the review again.]

At first sight, it is just another story of international mayhem and intrigue, with a mysterious ancient artifact thrown in for good measure. But the author wastes no time in letting us know this novel is much more than that. In Chapter 1, we find ourselves in the company of Pope Benedict. (This must be a first! I was hooked immediately.) Ex-Pope Benedict, I should say, the Pope Emeritus, for this is now, he has retired, and Pope Francis holds the reins. Or seems to. In the background, it is obvious that Benedict is still very much in control while Francis is the exoteric front-man, the smiling face the public sees and loves.

The concerns of the highly intellectual Benedict are more esoteric. From him, no secret seems to be hid, whether those of the Vatican itself or the world of global intelligence. And among the cast of the book is President Putin, here a personal friend of the ex-Pope and very much one of the good guys.

But to put you squarely in the picture, let me quote (I can’t resist it) from that first chapter. This is Pope Benedict speaking:

While the West has turned its back on the Christian refugees fleeing from both the madness they unleashed in Iraq and Syria and the mess they have now ignited in Egypt and across North Africa, only Russia’s relationship with the Orthodox Church has given these people reassurance. Our Catholic flocks in these countries only look to Russia now. […] Many of the Syrian Christians fleeing now are Armenian and some of the most intense fighting is in Der Zor. Do you recall its significance? It’s literally built on the bones of Armenians driven from their homeland. They’re starving once again, being driven from their homes once again. And now we learn that even their Genocide Memorial Church, containing the remains of hundreds of thousands of their grandparents, has been blown up by the Islamic State. You know we never answered their pleas and prayers before. The West made promises, but it was Russia that saved them from extinction. […] The Egyptian Copts, the Maronites, the Syriacs, and the Armenians are completely vulnerable. The Syrian Catholics have been telling us for years that Assad is their protector, just as Iraq’s Saddam protected his Christians. You knew that Tarik Aziz, Saddam’s foreign minister, was a Chaldean Christian? […] Christians held prominent positions in Iraq. Many Christian Iraqi women were among the foremost professionals and doctors, but the Americans seemed indifferent to their fate. They are passionate about their friendship with the Saudis, yet claim concern for the rights of women …

Right now, today, the story is stunningly topical and enlightening. We have, in the novel, the Turks as the bad guys wanting to realise their historic “pan-Turkic plan” “to link Turkey with the oil-fields of Baku”, making the Turkmen of Syria – and even those of Turkmenistan – part of Greater Turkey and killing off the remaining Armenians, whom they seem to particularly loathe, and the rebellious Kurds. And in the news today we have Turkey shooting down a Russian plane, claiming it was over Turkish territory when in fact it was flying over the Turkmen area of Syria at the request of the legitimate (recognised by the UN) Syrian Government.

I rarely say DO READ THIS, but do; it is an eye-opener as well as being a story that will keep you up all night and remain engraved on your memory for the rest of your life.

The MADELEINE TOCHE series by Soren Petrek (Review)

Cold, Lonely Courage
Madeleine Toche grew up in a village in Provence where little usually happened apart from the changing of the seasons and people coming to eat at Chez Toche, the family restaurant. In her case, though, something quite out of the ordinary happened: the Germans invaded France, her brother was killed and she herself was raped by an SS officer. Later, after days of careful planning with her father, she killed the rapist and escaped to England where she joined the SOE, the Special Operations Executive (the original “Special Ops”, also known as “Churchill’s Secret Army”), where she was trained as an assassin.

Back in France, we follow her war as she kills and kills again and again, always picking the worst of the worst, Gestapo torturers and murderers, while at the same time spiriting Jewish children to safety.

By the end of the war she is known far and wide as L’Ange de la Mort, the Angel of Death.

This is a very exciting book, certainly one of the best and most memorable WWII novels I have ever read – and I have read dozens! Not one to miss if you are a WWII buff.

Then comes Angels Don’t Die, an apt title and another great story. Madeleine is now about fifty years old and living in small-town America (in Patience, Missouri) with a British husband, another SOE agent from the war. There, she runs a French restaurant and thinks of her wartime life as a thing of the past, almost a dream now.

That is until her godson, Tracy, is kidnapped by the PLO  while on a training mission with the Mossad in Israel.

The Angel of Death, it seems, was not dead but sleeping.

Another well-researched and deeply-felt story that had me for one up through the wee small hours again, Kindle clutched tightly in my hand.

Patience County War brings the trilogy to a close.

Another thirty years have passed by. Now in her eighties, Madeleine can no longer play the lead, so don’t expect to see much of her. The protagonist this time is Sam, Sheriff of Patience County and younger brother of the Tracy she rescued in the previous story.

When Sam clashes with a Mexican gang who have the audacity to cook and push meth (methamphetamine) in his county, they send an assassin to eliminate the gringo. It is the assassin who dies, and the ensuing battle soon escalates into a full-scale war.

The story has its exciting moments, some very exciting, but much of it is slow and its setting is not one of the worlds I always love being transported to (like WWII France and the Israel/Palestine conflict). That said, if you enjoyed the other two books then you really should round them off with this sunset, passing-on-the-baton-to-the-next-generation tale.

COLD SIGHT by Leslie A. Kelly (Review)

Aidan McConnell is a psychic living in retirement – in hiding, we might say – after making a mistake and subsequently being blamed for a child’s death. Blamed not only by others, but by himself.

Lexie Nolan is a reporter with the local small-town newspaper. She, too, is in disgrace, after claiming that a series of missing teenage girls were not runaways and quite separate incidents, but all victims of kidnapping and possibly murder at the hands of local people important enough to be able to cover the whole thing up. This of course led to accusations of jumping to conclusions and threats of libel suits, and brought her paper into disrepute. Now she is hanging onto her job by the skin of her teeth.

But when another teenage girl goes missing and Lexie is expected to report it as simply another runaway kid from a “garbage family”, she has had enough. She knows of Aidan McConnell, of course, knows his story, and while not believing in “all that psychic nonsense” knows that he has a record of successfully locating victims such as this girl. Only she prefers to call it intuition, having a hunch.

At first he is not remotely interested, but when they do finally get their act together …

The corrupt mayor, judge, police chief and bank manager are vividly portrayed and totally convincing. A small-town version of the Washington DC swamp. Perfect.