Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Dark Side of Town by Sasscer Hill

First Line: Dense fog enveloped the backstretch at Saratoga Race Course that morning, leaving the Oklahoma Training Track virtually invisible.

Now an official employee of the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB), Fia McKee is working undercover as a hot walker at Saratoga Racetrack to investigate trainer Mars Pizutti since the horses Pizutti trains are suspiciously lucky and lucrative at crossing the finish line.

Fia's bosses  are convinced that Pizutti's success has a lot to do with illegal drugs and deceitful methods, but when she witnesses the tragic aftermath of a jockey's suicide, Fia learns that the rider's death is just the tip of an iceberg involving death threats, the mob, and a crooked racing hedge fund. She's got to work fast to learn the truth before anyone else dies.

Although I grew up loving horse racing and books, I've never read one of Dick Francis's mysteries; however, I'm positive that Sasscer Hill is creating a series that is a worthy successor to his renowned mysteries taking place in the glamorous and seedy world of racetracks. Hill has an insider's knowledge that you can feel as you turn the pages, and she's equally adept at painting the beauty of horse racing as well as its seamy side.

The Dark Side of Town is fast-paced and has scenes in which you'll find yourself holding your breath-- sometimes literally-- but I'm not going to give you any more information about those so the surprises won't be ruined. Even though the overriding theme of the book is horse racing, there's an excellent cast of characters for those readers who enjoy more of a human element in their mysteries. Fia finds herself dealing with the mother who deserted the family when Fia was a child, and there's a young jockey anyone would want to befriend.

Then there's her burgeoning relationship with fellow TRPB employee Calixto. Every time Fia is around this sexy agent, she's so charged up that the Saratoga city fathers should hook her up to the power grid. (Wow...) Now I'm one of those females who doesn't like much romance in her mysteries, but most of the interactions between Fia and Calixto make me smile. I don't know if it's because I'm picturing that Saratoga power grid or what.

A fantastic setting, a complex mystery, chills, thrills, and a solid cast of characters-- let The Dark Side of Town take you across the finish line in style.

The Dark Side of Town by Sasscer Hill
eISBN: 9781250097026
Minotaur Books © 2018
eBook, 320 pages

Law Enforcement, #2 Fia McKee mystery
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Tangled Yarn by Betty Hechtman

First Line: Did I really want to do this?

Casey Feldstein is field testing a new muffin, which isn't a good idea when she's also up to her eyes in preparing for the latest yarn retreat at the Vista Del Mar Hotel. The retreat barely begins when it becomes clear that those attending aren't very happy with learning the chosen arts of arm knitting and finger crochet.

Things go from bad to worse when a travel writer from a neighboring retreat group is found dead in his room. Casey had sworn off doing any more amateur sleuthing, but when one of the owners of the Vista Del Mar pleads for her help, Casey can't say no.

One of the things that I enjoy most about Hechtman's Yarn Retreat series is that she doesn't forget about the "hook," or what made me start reading the series in the first place. (I like to knit.) Not only does the author always include yarn arts in her storyline, she also makes me feel as though I have a good idea of how these yarn retreats work.

This is the first time that a retreat has gone wrong with its choice of classes, although I had serious doubts about combining two trendy arts-- arm knitting and finger crochet-- instead of combining one trendy with one traditional. Having worked in customer service for a long time, I had to smile when Casey had her first two attendees who seemed to pay the fees and show up simply for the pleasure of non-stop complaining. Yes indeed, it's all about how you deal with those folks!

A Tangled Yarn is another example of a trend I've noticed in cozies lately: that of having the main character swearing off amateur investigation yet having a friend guilt/embarrass her into doing it anyway. In some ways, this irks me because it shows that the character has no spine, but that's just me. Regardless of how I feel about trends, there's a good, solid mystery here and a cast of characters I really like. This is another fun entry in one of my favorite cozy series.

A Tangled Yarn by Betty Hechtman
ISBN: 9780425282687
Berkley Prime Crime © 2017
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages

Cozy Mystery, #5 Yarn Retreat mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.


On My Radar: Ragnar Jónasson's The Darkness

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm always on the lookout for a good mystery to read. Having read and really enjoyed Ragnar Jónasson's Dark Iceland quartet set for the most part on the north coast of the island, I perked up considerably when I learned that he has a new series featuring Hulda Hermannsdóttir, a police detective inspector in Reykjavik. Here's what I learned about the first book, The Darkness, which will be available here in the US on October 16, 2018:

Synopsis: "Spanning the icy streets of Reykjavik, the Icelandic highlands and cold, isolated fjords, The Darkness is an atmospheric thriller from Ragnar Jonasson, one of the most exciting names in Nordic Noir.

The body of a young Russian woman washes up on an Icelandic shore. After a cursory investigation, the death is declared a suicide and the case is quietly closed.

Over a year later Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavík police is forced into early retirement at 64. She dreads the loneliness and the memories of her dark past that threaten to come back to haunt her. But before she leaves she is given two weeks to solve a single cold case of her choice.

She knows which one: the Russian woman whose hope for asylum ended on the dark, cold shore of an unfamiliar country. Soon Hulda discovers that another young woman vanished at the same time and that no one is telling her the whole story. Even her colleagues in the police seem determined to put the brakes on her investigation. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

Hulda will find the killer, even if it means putting her own life in danger."

In further reading, I see that the trilogy will be told in reverse chronological order, which will show us Hulda being thrown out to pasture and then gradually going back to show us when she was a young officer. This could be a very interesting way to tell this story, and I'm looking forward to it.

How about you? Does The Darkness tickle your fancy? Inquiring minds would love to know!


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Whispers of the Dead by Spencer Kope

First Line: Darkness-- nearly complete.

It's difficult to identify a dead body from just the feet-- at least that's what Magnus "Steps" Craig of the FBI's Special Tracking Unit learns when he walks into the house of a Federal judge in El Paso, Texas. There are no clues as to the identity of the killer, the victim, or the reason behind having the feet inside a cheap styrofoam cooler; the only thing the authorities feel safe in saying is that this isn't the killer's first victim, and probably not his last.

Part of an elite team, Steps is the best tracker in the world, but only three people know that his talent lies in a kind of synesthesia that allows him to see whatever each particular person has touched in a unique color.

With the team still trying to come to grips with the case in El Paso, they discover an earlier victim with the same feet-in-a-cooler presentation-- and somehow they know that the "Ice Box Killer" has just begun.

In 2016, Spencer Kope wowed me with his first Special Tracking Unit mystery, Collecting the Dead, and I'm thrilled to say that he hasn't taken his foot off the gas for Whispers of the Dead. There's a razor-sharp investigation here, as well as a fast pace, and a group of characters who are more like family than mere work colleagues.

The way Kope puts the clues and the investigation together is completely absorbing, partly due to Steps' special gift of synesthesia. An FBI tracker can't go to the police and say, "Here's your killer. I know he did it because he left a dark olive and lime green 'shine' on the body and the murder weapon, and his tracks led right back to his apartment." No, that would be a sure way to get a ride to the psych ward at the local hospital. Steps not only has to interpret the shine-- the unique colors individuals leave on everything they touch-- he has to find the evidence that will hold up in a court of law. It's not always easy, but he and his partner Jimmy Donovan are professionals.

Whispers of the Dead isn't just about the investigation; it's got a very human element. Kope shows the damage a life in this sort of business can cause to a marriage and a thing or two that can be done to make sure this doesn't happen. In addition, he has a way of making you think differently about some of the characters than you think you should. Steps is also coming to realize that he should've told a couple more people about his gift a long time ago. Now it's going to be awkward when he finally does.

Not all readers like continuing storylines in the books they read, and there is one here. The Ice Box Killer investigation is successfully concluded, but there's another killer-- one even more intelligent and dangerous-- who's been taunting Steps for quite some time. Steps calls this killer "Leonardo," and I'm really looking forward to the book when Steps can concentrate on bringing him to justice. I've gone from thinking Spencer Kope's first book is brilliant to knowing that he's creating a fantastic series. Hopefully, you'll join us on the journey (if you haven't already).

Whispers of the Dead by Spencer Kope
eISBN: 9781466884847
Minotaur Books © 2018
eBook, 320 pages

Law Enforcement, #2 Special Tracking Unit mystery
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley


Monday, April 16, 2018

Covers of Safekeeping

When I watched The Poisoned Pen's live Facebook feed of the event for Francine Mathews, Charles Todd, and Sophie Hannah, Hannah made me laugh...and she made me curious. Hannah's latest novel is titled Did You See Melody? in the UK, and she wanted to keep that title for the US edition. Her US publisher had other ideas. They wanted to call it Keep Her Safe. "But aren't there a lot of books called Keep Her Safe?" Hannah asked. "Yes. Americans like books called Keep Her Safe," her publisher replied. They won the title battle-- Surprise, surprise.

I have to admit that this small piece of information made me curious, so I googled Keep Her Safe book covers to see what would happen. Heavens above, we do like books with that title! In fact, we seem to be on a fictional quest for safety. We want everyone to be safe, and I thought I'd have some fun showing you some of the covers showing this need for safekeeping. Let's get started!

Here we have the cover of Hannah's book.
Locked in a safe? That's a little too safe for me!

Our biggest fear seems to be for our children.

Those little red shoes in the snow tug at my heart.

Here we go with the chopped-off profile.

How far would I go? I'd at least shut the window...

Then we have scaredy cats making demands...

Too much blurb on a so-so cover.

I think a certain payment is expected in return for keeping her safe.

Then we have some covers making promises...

The crayon scribbles make it plain this is a promise to a child.

Anyone who reads crime fiction is aware that a mother doesn't always know best.

You'd better! How about starting with a new (less air-conditioned) house?

In a way, my favorite since it implies we each are responsible for our own safety. (And it's British. Coincidence?)

Did you notice anything else about this group of book covers? With very few exceptions, they are a rather bland lot, don't you think? Does the theme of safety mean the covers have to be "safe," too?

What do you think? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Friday, April 13, 2018

A To She Who Waits Weekly Link Round-Up

This will be a short intro to the links this week because I'm still trying to read and clean to a schedule. Have I ever mentioned that I loathe housework? If you have a husband or children, it can be five whole minutes before you have to do it all over again.

Mourning dove waiting for goodies at the Patio Café.
A few months ago, I was bent completely out of shape by businesses who wanted hundreds of dollars from me in order to allow me to run my blog the way I wanted. I bit the bullet for one thing, but I turned mule-stubborn at the second.

Google wanted all blogs to switch from "http" to "https"-- an added layer of security, which I understand. What I didn't understand was why bloggers using Google's free services got their security certificates for free while folks like me, who have a custom domain name through Google, did not. I tried various options to no avail, and then just threw up my hands and moved on. (After all, I don't sell anything on my blog.) So... I was happy to see when I logged on the other night to finish a post that Google was now--months later-- giving folks in my situation a free security certificate. I will try to be gracious about this, but... it certainly took 'em long enough!

And now it's off to the corral. Head 'em up! Mooooooooooove 'em out!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
  • The sunken World War II ship USS Juneau, famed for the five Sullivan brothers, has been found in the South Pacific.
  • A lost city in South Africa has been revealed using laser technology. 
  • Two "lost" manuscripts of Charlotte Brontë are going to be published.
  • Subway construction has unearthed a treasure trove of fossils from Los Angeles' prehistoric past.
  • An Underground Railroad safe house has been discovered in Philadelphia.
  • Ancient Egypt: the remains of a mummy have been discovered inside an "empty" 2,500-year-old coffin after 157 years.

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Helena, the dog that was returned to the shelter for being "too nice," has found a new home.
  • Ten dogs who love to read.
  • Myanmar elephants are now being poached for their skin. 
  • Forty-seven mesmerizing photos of animals in the wild.

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • The tragedy of Ella Watson, better known as Cattle Kate.
  • Meet Margaret Knight, the inventor behind mass-market paper bags.
  • Louis Ainsworth did something I wish I'd had the money to do: he bought the house next-door and converted it to a library. 
  • Millie Veasey, part of a trailblazing unit in World War II, has died at the age of 100.

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►I ♥ Lists & Quizzes◄

That's all for this week! Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure.

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein

First Line: This is what it says on the back of Sandra Pankhurst's business card:

Excellence Is No Accident

Hoarding and Pet Hoarding Cleanup * Squalor/Trashed Properties * Preparing the Home for Home-Help Agencies to Attend * Odor Control * Homicide, Suicide, and Death Scenes * Deceased Estates * Mold, Flood, and Fire Remediation * Methamphetamine Lab Cleanup * Industrial Accidents * Cell Cleaning

Sandra Pankhurst has been many things in her life: husband and father, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife. But it all began when she was a little boy being raised in violence, not fed, not allowed in the house, and forced to live out in a shed. All she wanted was to belong, and now as a trauma cleaner, she believes every one of her clients deserves no less.

Author Sarah Krasnostein has watched this woman bring order and care to both the living and the dead and the life she reveals is equal parts extraordinary and life-affirming.

As a result of many of the things that have happened to Sandra throughout her life, she didn't remember all the details of what happened to her. Krasnostein's conversations with her and following her to job sites helped put many of the pieces together. Sandra's story is told in alternating chapters, one of a segment in her own life story, then one of her at job sites dealing with various clients. This isn't a story of the scientific cleaning of crime scenes; The Trauma Cleaner is a story of human connections, of proving that we are all in this together no matter how isolated we may feel.

This is definitely the type of book to read when you're moping around thinking, "Why me?" Very few of us have had the sort of soul-searing life Sandra Pankhurst has had, and to watch her deal with the most recalcitrant clients with her own special brand of common sense, understanding, and compassion is a joy. Krasnostein's writing is perfect for this type of story: "But it is equally the ineffable smell of defeat, of isolation, of self-hate. Or, more simply, it is the smell of pain." Pain does indeed have a smell, and it's one that Sandra Pankhurst does not ignore. If only the rest of us followed her example.

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein
eISBN: 9781250101211
St. Martin's Press © 2018
eBook, 293 pages

Rating: A
Source: Net Galley


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Breath After Drowning by Alice Blanchard

First Line: Kate Wolfe's 3 PM appointment stood in the doorway wearing a jaw-dropping miniskirt, a light blue tee, plaid knee socks and chunky platform heels.

Part of the reason why Kate Wolfe became a child psychiatrist is because of her own childhood: a mother who committed suicide, an emotionally unavailable father, and a younger sister who was brutally murdered when they were children. One of the few comforts Kate had was knowing that the man who killed her sister was on death row.

However, when a retired police detective gets in touch, he tells her that he's certain that Kate's sister was only one of many victims of a serial killer. Now Kate must face the possibility that her sister's killer walks free. In trying to learn the truth, she uncovers long-buried family secrets, but what Kate doesn't seem to realize is that, while she hunts for a killer, a killer is hunting her.

Having read Blanchard's Darkness Peering and The Breathtaker, I knew that I would enjoy her writing style. That certainly hasn't changed; her words flow smoothly and create vivid pictures, and the story moved along quickly. However, I am glad the story moved swiftly because the book suffers from "too much middle" and needed tighter editing. It certainly didn't help that I deduced very early on the identity of the killer, and-- although she has reason to be fragile-- Kate's insecurities wore me down.

On the whole, A Breath After Drowning is a fast-paced enjoyable read with a thought-provoking plot, and I'm glad I read it. Give it a try!

A Breath After Drowning by Alice Blanchard
ISBN: 9781785656408
Titan Books © 2018
Paperback, 441 pages

Psychological Thriller, Standalone
Rating: B
Source: the publisher