Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Texas sized violence in "Baby Shark" by Robert Fate

From time to time for months now, I have been reading on various lists how great this book was and that it was a must read. Well, that was fine and all that, but my local library wasn't carrying it. Then, I was offered an opportunity to receive a review copy of this one as well as the planned sequel. I jumped at the chance and am very glad I did. For once, the hype matches the book.

Baby Shark
By Robert Fate
Capital Crime Press
ISBN # 0-9776276-9-1
Large Trade Paperback
270 Pages

Its October, 1952 as this often violent crime novel opens in Henry Chin's Poolroom situated in West Texas. Seventeen year old Kristin "Baby" Van Dijk is there with her father, a pool hustler. With her mom dead and her aunt living up in Oklahoma, it's pretty much her, her dad, and her dad's Coupe de Ville as they travel Texas with her dad playing pool for money and reading books for fun. That is until members of the "Lost Demons" motorcycle gang walk in.

When it's over, her dad is dead, Henry Chin's son is dead, a couple gang members are dead, and Kristin has been raped repeatedly and brutally beaten. Her jaw is broken, teeth are missing, ribs are cracked, her nose is broken and the list keeps going on and on. She was lucky she lived through it and waking up in the hospital in Abilene makes her almost wish she hadn't. Then she meets Detective Hansard and it is pretty much clear that the case is going to go nowhere. As Henry puts it, "No police justice. Henry knows more ways one skin cat." (Page 20)

Author Robert Fate launches the reader into a revenge tale that is so much more than simple revenge. Kristin who rehabs and follows her dad's career path as a pool hustler quickly earning the name "Baby Shark" is not a stereotypical vigilante. Yes, there are elements of that sort of thing in her character, but as he does with all the characters in this fast moving novel, author Robert Fate shows the other side of her. Revenge, retaliation, payback, call it what you will, it has consequences often in unexpected ways and he grippingly details that side of it for the reader.

In a torturous and violence filled path that goes back and forth across West Texas and reaches into Forth Worth and Dallas, author Robert Fate weaves a complex trail of not only revenge, but duplicity and mystery. While the opening may be cut and dried between the black hats and the white hats, it isn't long before nothing is that simple. The result is a powerful, often violent novel that does actually live up to the media hype.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Past and present collide in "Arizona Dreams" by Jon Talton

If you haven't had the please of reading Jon Talton you are missing an author who combines history with mystery. This is an author who not only weaves excellent mystery tales in his novels but includes little pieces of history not only regarding Phoenix and Arizona but other areas as well. Each book is a treat and this one is no exception.

Arizona Dreams: A David Mapstone Mystery
By Jon Talton
Poisoned Pen Press
Large Trade Paperback

In this release last year from Poisoned Pen Press, Historian Deputy David Mapstone returns in another strong novel. It opens quickly with a killing just down the block from his 1924 Spanish Colonial home located in Phoenix, Arizona. After a quick survey of the scene by David and his wife, Deputy Lindsey Faith Mapstone, the two county deputies are happy to turn everything over to the city police.

And while the victim was killed with an ice pick which is interesting, David is more interested in the sudden shocking news that Lindsey has a sister. A sister, Robin, that David Mapstone knew nothing about before they meet her in the street outside the crime scene and one that Lindsey certainly doesn't want to talk about and isn't happy to see. A sister that complicates his relationship with Lindsey and a sister that clearly hides a few dark secrets.

But, secrets have a way of coming to light. So do bodies in the desert especially when David is led to the body by a former student. The body in the grave has no easy answers and as David Mapstone's personal world wobbles on its axis, serves as another marker that violence is aimed Mapstone's way.

The latest installment in the series has little character development in regards to David Mapstone. His character is firmly established and as such, the development in this novel deals with his wife Lindsey. Though back story and current conflict readers are exposed to many new pieces of information that raise multiple questions. Some are answered but many more are not.

The same general technique is used with David's boss, Maricopa County Sheriff Peralta. Long time fans of the series will remember, which is once again explained in this novel, that Sheriff Peralta is now divorced and that his former wife, Sharon is now working on the west coast. Peralta, adrift with out Sharon who steadied him, seems to be faced with a bit of a professional crisis as he senses that his world is changing and he may no longer have a place in it.

That same concept has been an underlying theme throughout the series and it extends here. Progress has Phoenix firmly in its grip and the author, through David Mapstone primarily, makes the point that the past matters and that those in the present who fail to pay attention to history, are ultimately doomed.

The result is another entertaining mystery that moves the series forward while retaining the flavor of the first novel. Culturally rich with a complex tale, the read entertains while it enlightens and educates. The author's clear love for the desert county comes through loud and clear as does his on going ability to weave a good story.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Friday, May 25, 2007

Warren Ritter is back!

If you are looking for a different kind of read, I would have to recommend this one. Not just in subject matter but in the author's enjoyable style of writing. While this could be read as a stand alone, I would suggest reading the earlier novels in the series. They are "Eight of Swords" and "High Priestess."

The Star: A Tarot Card Mystery
By David Skibbins
Thomas Dunne Books
February 2007
ISBN # 0-312-36193-9

Warren Ritter returns in this third mystery of the series. It's been a tough year and with a week to go before Christmas, all he wants is some money in his pocket and a little peace. His bi-polar daughter Fran is about to destroy any chance of peace and quiet.

Warren knows quite a bit about being bi-polar as he has it as well. And while he may have passed that genetic legacy on, he knows very little about Fran since he didn't even know she existed until a few months ago. Spending the majority of your life on the run, because of being part of the radical underground back in the day, kind of ruins familial relationships. Especially, when everyone thinks you were blown up by a bomb you were making in 1970.

Warren also knows a thing or two about being a murder suspect. With her estranged husband Orrin now dead and Fran on the run, Warren is left behind to try and take care of his baby grandson. Along with dealing with that, working to clear Fran's name, his annoyed sister, his girlfriend who tolerates him and a host of other issues, he is contacted by a friend of his father's who has one huge secret to tell.

Once again, Warren describes the weirdness of Berkeley and his life while taking readers on a rollercoaster ride through murder, mayhem and tarot readings. The tarot remains a theme in the series though of somewhat lesser importance than earlier novels. So too is the humor with less of an emphasis on laugh out loud moments.

That being said author David Skibbins once again creates a twisting read that steadily entertains the reader. Warren again journeys through life dealing with the concept of unintended consequences and the rippling effects of his past. At the same time, he confronts current problems in a goofy way and despite his own medical issues, manages to keep a fairly level head. This latest entry in the series is another good installment and one hopes that the next one isn't far off.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Guest Reviewer EARL STAGGS on "Dance On His Grave"

Earl and I go wayback and I have been trying to bring him over to the darkside. Finally, he makes his debut appearance here. Earl keeps swearing off reviewing but I am hoping that this is the first of many appearances.


Dance on His Grave
By Sylvia Dickey Smith
Published by: L&L Dreamspell
ISBN: 978-1-60318-006-1

Reviewed by Earl Staggs

Sidra “Sid” Smart bursts out of a tightly-wrapped cocoon when she divorces the man she married at the age of seventeen. After more than thirty years as the wife of a controlling Baptist preacher and being told what to do and think, how to dress and when to smile, she is determined to find out what kind of person she might have been.

First, however, she must travel from Houston to the east Texas town of Orange and dispose of the private investigation business willed to her by her brother, who was recently killed in a car accident.

When Sid visits her brother’s deserted office to plan how to get rid of it, a distraught young woman shows up. Jewell Stone has recurring nightmares and flashes of memory from thirty years ago when she was a child. She and her sister saw a woman being tortured and killed. The murderer also physically and sexually abused Jewell’s sister. The man was their father, Roy Manly, and both sisters live in mortal fear he will find them and silence them, even after all this time. Jewell hired Sid’s brother to find proof of his guilt and have him tried and convicted so she and her sister could live without fear of him and their terrifying nightmares would end.

Sid explains that her brother is dead and refers Jewell to another PI in the area. She may not be sure what she wants to do with the rest of her reclaimed life, but she is certain it will not be running a PI business, something she knows nothing about. The other PI, George Leger, a colorful bear of a man who speaks with a thick Cajun accent when it suits him, not only refuses to take over Jewell’s case, but convinces Sid to give the business a try under his tutelage.

The author did an excellent job of showing Sid as a woman balancing her desire to break away from the shackles of her previous life with a determination to see long overdue justice done. But it’s not only an internal struggle. Smith provides plenty of action, adventure and suspense along the way. In search of evidence against Roy Manly, she sends Sid traveling not only across Texas and to the island of Trinidad, but into the depths of an alligator-ridden swamp in search of a Cajun psychic. The search becomes more complicated when there are attempts on her life, and she uncovers evidence of other crimes involving someone in her ex-husband’s parsonage. Even the supposed accidental death of her brother becomes suspicious.

Smith has also surrounded Sid with an interesting and intriguing cast of characters. One is the local Police Chief who salivates at the thought of solving a thirty-year-old murder. Another is Sid’s wacky Aunt Annie, who arrives wearing a raspberry beret, a bright green pantsuit and gaudy costume jewelry with a large metallic-gold purse slung over one shoulder and a huge tabby cat named Chesterfield over the other.

The local DA is also highly interested, not only in the old murder, but in Sid personally. The attraction between them frightens Sid with feelings she doesn’t want. She is convinced all men want to control women, and she has to remind herself she can never let that happen to her again.

Author Sylvia Dickey Smith has skillfully woven a story of a woman driven to begin a new life on her own with a chilling tale of mystery and suspense. You’ll find yourself drawn to Sid Smart and cheering for her to succeed against past and present obstacles all the way to the knuckle-whitening climax. You’ll also find yourself, like me, wanting to see more of Sid in future novels.

Earl Staggs © 2007

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dreams are not a good thing in "Bad Thoughts" by David Zeltserman

In the interests of fair disclosure it should be known that I consider David Zeltserman a good friend. Beyond providing a consoling e-mail from time to time concerning my Texas Rangers (the baseball team) David had me working for him a few years ago. For a number of issues of Hardluck, I did book reviews and interviews of authors as well as some fiction. Well, the fiction never was accepted but everything else was. A decent batting average all things considered.

Bad Thoughts
By David Zeltserman
Five Star
Scheduled Release Date: July 18, 2007
ISBN# 1-59414-540-7

It is early November, 1997 as this complex and intriguing novel opens Billy Shannon awakens from a nightmare. His fingers on his right hand, the two that were mangled so badly nearly 20 years ago, are pulsing with pain while the rest of him is covered in sweat. The clock is ticking on another nightmare season and for Billy the bad news is that it is starting earlier this time.

As the anniversary of his mother's murder approaches, Billy Shannon continues as best as he can to work his job as a police officer at the Cambridge Central Square police Station. While his wife works in a law office in South Boston as a legal secretary Billy works homicide. Cases that begin to appear more and more like the way his mother died all those years ago.

The weeks pass and as the bodies begin to stack up the nightmares increase. What begins as a police procedural read turns into a psychological thriller bordering on a horror novel. Billy Shannon's world begins to unravel and readers are taken on a roller coaster ride through the increasing wreckage of his life. Not only is his mental stability at question, his very survivability as a human being is at stake in a conclusion that packs a powerful punch.

While some have compared it to "Darkly Dreaming Dexter" such comparisons are not applicable. A key component of "Darkly Dreaming Dexter" is humor and that novel pushes humor throughout the work. Dave Zeltsman's book hardly has a trace of humor. The basic theme of "Darkly Dreaming Dexter" is that some folks do need to be removed because they are a threat to society. That threat is uncontrollable and as such, since he has to kill anyway, he should use his twisted needs in a way to do the world good and kill those folks. That also isn't the case here. I could go on, but the point is clear.

This book is an often graphic and intense read that delves deep into the psychology of evil and sanity. It isn't lighthearted in any way as it deals with evil at a base level. At the same time, the author never forgets there is a mystery driving events and makes sure to keep the reader pulled y into solving the crimes. The result is a very good read from disturbing start to disturbing finish.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007