Saturday, December 31, 2011

Interesting protagonist, exotic setting enhance fine crime novel

By J.S. Squires
2011 E-book release from
Echelon Press

Readers of this review should be aware that this press has published some of my crime fiction and I am acquainted with the publisher, though not with the two authors writing under a single pseudonym.
The protagonist is named Irene Adler. Not the woman who beat Sherlock Holmes at his own game, her modern namesake, a Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology at Boston University. Adler has a demi-cynical outlook on life and it turns out she supplements her income by playing poker; specifically Texas Holdem in the gambling parlors around the New England area. Irene Adler is a bright, smart, single woman, an endearing protagonist.
Her former advisor, a fellow faculty member, prevails on Ms. Adler to travel to Nepal to inquire into the life and times of a former fellow undergraduate student of Irene’s, a Margot Smith, who’s in Nepal doing research on one of that country’s goddesses, one Chwwaassa Dyo. The problem is that there appears to something awry with Margot and her physician husband and Adler is supposed to sort things out. What needs sorting turns out to be only part of the story. Irene agrees to go half-way around the world to see a woman she barely knows. From this most unlikely beginning, the plot drives poor Adler into one complexity after another.
Her assignment clearly has unstated dimensions about which neither we readers nor Irene Adler herself are clear. Now, Nepal is an exotic nation from which assaults on Mount Everest are mounted and the ubiquitous Sherpa play an important part, as do digital cameras, former Cold War adversaries, political unrest in the country, and a whole series of meddlesome individuals who seem to still show up on the fringes of the former English Empire.
The novel winds its way through a variety of conflicts among wanderers, a boorish American tourist couple, and murder and bomb blasts. At times the narrative suffers from a pedestrian pace and some lapses of editing discipline over the point of view. Still, the story is interesting, Irene is definitely a character to build a series around,  the exotic setting in and around Katmandu is, well, exotic, and a satisfactory conclusion is fashioned.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Author Dennis Palumbo has fashioned a dark, twisted tale of political chicanery of the finest order.  Dan Rinaldi, a Pittsburgh-based psychologist, is on call to the city police department. He helps interact with citizens who have experienced severe trauma, but may have vital information that will help the police solve the latest affront to society.  When the story opens, a bank robbery has gone terribly wrong.  Death has occurred and one of the robbers has apparently escaped.  The only eyewitness insight into the  sequence of events and then the current situation when Rinaldi arrives at the bank, seems to be the witness of a traumatized woman named Treva Williams.

At the request of detective Eleanor Lowery, Rinaldi does a curb-side interview with Williams, sitting on the curb in Pittsburgh’s blazing summer heat. He then then joins the SWAT team inside the bank.  By the time readers join the major characters in the bank, we are already tangled in a cleverly constructed plot with more than the usual twists and surprises. Each of the characters is nicely identified and each is maintained in a consistent manner, which adds immeasurably to the enjoyment of the novel.

 There are more than a few twists and cliff hangers in this  novel, as well as a couple  of subplots that have little to do with the main thrust of the story, other than to fill out the characters of some of the characters.  All in all, a nicely packaged story with enough bumps and twists to satisfy the most demanding reader. I expect to see more strong crime fiction from this author.

Sunday, November 06, 2011


The Lost Women of Lost Lake 
by Ellen Hart
ISBN: 978-0-312-61477-5
2011 hardcover release from
Minotaur Books, 320 pgs.

It is interesting how these things come in multiples. Libby Hellmann recently released a novel with its genesis in the riotous summer and fall of 1968. The Minnesota History Center has just opened an elaborate exhibit focused on 1968, and the History Theater in Saint Paul has mounted an original play, “1968, The year That Rocked The World.” And now here we have a powerful, emotionally intense novel by that excellent Minneapolis writer, Ellen Hart. It is a story of two women who are unable to divorce themselves from that same year, 1968 and the decisions and actions they took then.

The story is another event in the evolving saga of Minneapolis restaurateur, Jane Lawless. This time she and bosom chum Cordelia take what they intend to be a short vacation trip into Minnesota’s benign northern wilderness to the Lawless family lodge on a lake north of the Twin Cities. It’s a common enough activity, and bucolic time on placid water amid peaceful forests is expected to provide calm and rejuvenation. Jane is trying to decide whether she can commit to working with a close friend toward becoming a professional private investigator.

The peaceful appearing forest, like so many lives, conceals dark doings and Jane is drawn into a maelstrom of murder, revenge, drugs and double dealing. The multiple threads of this complex story intersect, divide, and then reweave. At times the action is high with tension, the pace frantic. At other times, the story becomes thoughtful, calm, like the smooth waters of the lake itself, allowing readers moments to reflect, perhaps, on their own lives and paths not taken. The women of lost lake, must, in the end, decide for themselves, and take for themselves the heart-rending consequences of their lives.

Monday, October 17, 2011

PIKE: Outstanding noir novel

by Benjamin Whitmer
ISBN: 978-1-60486-089-4 2010
2010 Trade Paper release
from PM Press.

This crime-ridden novel will not be to everyone’s taste. It is gritty, dirty, foul-mouthed and foul-intentioned on the part of the principal characters. It is a wonderfully written novel. If your tastes in crime fiction run to the dark side; if you yearn to explore the minds and the actions of those who inhabit the dangerous underside of urban life, you should read this novel.

Douglas Pike, rising out of a criminous youthful raging life has become an oddity. He’s reigned in some of his worst impulses and tries to live out his days scraping things together with a young friend who has aspirations to be a professional boxer. Pike has done many things in his life, including functioning as an adept private investigator. Now with nothing momentous on his horizon, he sifts through life. And into that life falls his granddaughter, Wendy. Wendy is the result of a twelve-years-ago liaison between Pike’s estranged daughter, Sarah, and some guy. Wendy has intelligence to spare, loads of attitude, and a vocabulary guaranteed to cause multiple double-takes.

Because Pike suddenly feels unfamiliar familial vibrations, however faint, he sets out to find out about his family and in the process create a welcoming environment for his grand-daughter. His odyssey takes him deep into the grimy streets, bordellos, crack-houses and assorted environs of the worst that Cincinnati has to offer.

This is one powerful, novel of soaring descriptive language, poetical vibrant driving action; a novel to shudder at, to wince over and to remember, long after its surprising and satisfying conclusion. It is well-plotted, finely paced and filled with descriptions of wonderful and awful things.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


The Man From The Sea
by Michael Innes
ISBN: 0-06-080591-9
Publisher: Harper & Row
Copyright: 1982

This paperback is out of print, as is the original hardcover which was published by Dodd, Meade, an outstanding publisher lost in the mists of corporate amalgamations. The novel was originally copyrighted in 1955, which is instructive. Readers will need to recall the world of that time, in order to put this book in proper context.

The Man from the Sea recalls a time when the world was locked in what we called the cold war, a titanic struggle between something called the Soviet Union and the United States of America, the two great superpowers of the world. This thriller contains all the high adventure of a Dirk Pitt and the tension of a Tom Clancy, but without the complex technical equipment of either. Richard Cranston is a young lad intimately involved with the wife of a local Scottish peer.

During a late-night liaison on the beach, Cranston is astounded to see a man appear from the sea, a man who obviously has just left a freighter off the Scottish coast. The man tells Cranston an incredible story of espionage, treason and looming death. In the process he captures Cranston's interest and enlists his aid in making his way to London.

Innes' style is somewhat unusual and mannerly for our time, for all his literary polish, but astute readers will quickly find themselves enthralled with the brisk pace, urgency and excitement which pervades the pages of this novel. Ultimately, of course, there is resolution, but what a conclusion, as the story turns back on itself in a masterful tale, well-told by a fine writer.