Saturday, August 30, 2008

Reviewing: "Baby Moll" by Steve Brackeen (John Farris)

Hard Case Crime has made a habit of consistently bringing back into print books that came out decades ago along with a few brand new titles. Such is the case with this novel originally published in 1958 by Fawcett Books. While it is a pleasant enough diversion, it certainly doesn't meet the usual standards set by Hard Case Crime.

Peter Malloy had been a part of the Florida mob. He managed to get out, taking his secrets and knowledge with him and managing to leave on his own terms. He eventually opened up a fishing supplies place called "The Angler's Shop." He got himself a girl friend, Elaine, who means the world to him. But, he always knew that the price of the illusion of freedom was expensive and someday the tab would come due.

That someday is now as his old boss wants his help. Rudy Mask has been sent to bring Pete back. Macy has sent for Pete because somebody is trying to kill him. Somebody is taking out the old gang one by one and Macy is feeling fear and his age. Macy has let control slip through his fingers and now the old crime boss needs Peter to stop whoever is trying to kill him. If he won't cooperate, Macy has information that could ruin forever his relationship with Elaine and according to Rudy, will definitely use it.

Of course, Peter Mallory isn't going to let that happen. Elaine means everything to him and she doesn't know about his dark past and it is very questionable whether their relationship could survive the knowledge. So, he will go to Macy's estate, see the old man and do what needs to be done to get free once and forever. While the players have for the most part changed, his skills haven't dimmed nor has his assumption that everyone is against him.

This is simply a book by the numbers. Almost all the male characters are violent knuckle dragging thugs except for Pete. Pete is the only one who can see the big picture and he is the only one with a certain style and class. The women are stunningly beautiful and either evilly cunning using their bodies as bait or mind boggling stupid and using their bodies as bait. Violence is just a few pages away throughout the book and seems to be used in most cases as a way of avoiding any depth to the story or characters. Instead, the violence is usually unnecessary and serves only as a vehicle to move the story forward in some way. Virtually all of the characters are stereotypically bad actors in one way or another.

While the story does have two minor surprises, most of the book is one that any reader of mysteries is going to easily figure out. The writing is distant and the characters never really come alive for the reader. There is a flatness to the book from start to finish as Pete tells readers how much he is tormented by various things, but that fact and many others never really come alive for the reader.

The August 2008 selection of the Hard Case Crime Book Club doesn't meet the normal standards of the published books. From a flat uninspired cover to a stereotypical story, this isn't one of the really good ones readers have come to expect. Therefore, it can only be of real interest to devoted readers determined to read every single title published by this company.

Baby Moll
Steve Brackeen (John Farris)
Hard Case Crime
August 2008
ISBN #0-8439-5964-9
217 Pages

Review copy came courtesy of my paid membership in the Hard Case Crime Book Club

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Reviewing: "VeggieTales: Tomato Sawyer & Huckleberry Larry's Big River Rescue (A Lesson in Helping Others)"

For those that don't know, The VeggieTales series features animated vegetables that teach children history and values while telling an entertaining story. Bible verses area a key part of that mission, but, the teaching is done in a gentle way and does not heavily push a religious agenda. The latest installment works on the idea of helping others.

After a very funny preview of "The Pirates Who Won't Do Anything," the video opens with the vegetables meeting in book club fashion. Instead of reading the book, they all have been using "Norm's Notes" which gives a condensed version of classic books along with some criticism of the book for vegetables on the go. While some of this may skip over the kid audience, adults will certainly get a few chuckles out of this as well as the numerous pop culture references throughout the video.

Bob the Tomato soon reads a question from a child who knows another child who is being picked on. The child wants to help, but is scared if he does, will get picked on too. An issue that any parent or teacher will have to deal with regarding the kids in their lives. After a brief discussion on the topic which hasn't really settled the issue, the video segues into the story "Tomato Sawyer & Huckleberry Larry's Big River Rescue."

Narrated by Clark Wayne, the story tells about life along the big river aka" The Mighty Mississippi" and focuses on Big Jim who is working at Dooley and Sons Lumber Camp as punishment for a crime he did not commit. Through song, conversation and narration, history in the form of the Homesteading Act, Federal Tax Laws and other facts are told as well as a very good story.

Big Jim manages to escape the Lumber Camp and eventually winds up with Tomato Sawyer and Huckleberry Larry. He wants to be reunited with his Mama. Tomato Sawyer and Huckleberry Larry figure out that he used to have a singing career with his Mama and was very famous. They soon figure out that Dooley and Sons aren't telling the truth, that Big Jim is, and that he needs help.

Help in getting away from the evil clutches of Dooley and Sons. Help in getting to St. Louis to reunite with his mom. Help that Tomato Bob is willing to give up to a point. When it comes down to it, while Huckleberry Larry realizes that not helping someone is the same as hurting someone, Tomato Sawyer is a bit slower to grasp the concept. Once he does, he arrives in the nick of time to help Huckleberry Larry and Big Jim and participate in the feel good conclusion of the story.

Justice is served, Big Jim is reunited with mom and Clark Wayne puts the final touches on a well done tale before viewers are returned to the book club. The overall theme is reinforced by a bible verse and a discussion between Tomato and Pickle about what it all means. They refer to the child's letter and suggest various ways to help the child being picked on.

The video runs about 50 minutes and doesn't suffer from blaring music and unhearable dialog as so many do these days. Bonus items include a "Behind the Scenes" feature (writing a Biscuit silly song, studio commentary, among others), "Fun and Games" (songs, a puzzle game, more on how to draw), "Parents" feature (details on the computer CD-ROM items) and a "discussion guide." The bonus items are concluded with the "Studio Store" feature with references to many more items available at

The Veggie Tales have always been a big hit around here and this latest installment is another one. It isn't preachy and serves to gently guide and teach while telling a great story. It will tickle the funny bone of children and adults alike with a gentle story and plenty of pop culture references while reinforcing a great message.

VeggieTales: Tomato Sawyer & Huckleberry Larry's Big River Rescue (A Lesson in Helping Others)
July 2008
50 Minutes

Review copy provided directly by the company in exchange for my fair and objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Monday, August 25, 2008

Reviewing: "Martha Stewart's Cookies"

With a title of "Martha Stewart's Cookies" and her smiling picture plastered on the cover one would expect Martha Stewart to have written the cookbook. Instead it's "From The Editors of Martha Stewart Living" magazine and as such appears to be a compilation of recipes and features that have run in the magazine.

After the table of contents, there is a multi page section of pictures of various cookies with their name and what page the recipe is on. The cookies are listed in general categories such as "light and delicate, crumbly and sandy, chunky and nutty, cakey and tender, crisp and crunchy" and "rich and dense" with the corresponding page number for the section.

"Light and delicate" section begins our journey through 175 cookie recipes. The section starts off with "Meringue Porcupines," before moving through "Fortune Cookies, Bratseli, Langues-De-Chat, Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars" among many others listed in this section which began on page 20. Most of the recipes are not simple and require some dexirity with kitchen appliances, pastry bags, etc. to achieve anything close to the items picture here. There are a few pictures of items in various stages of preparation, but the pictures are small and therefore doing not provide much detail.

The "soft and chewy" cookies take over starting on page 56. Of course, one would expect a recipe for "Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies" and there is one. Also included are recipes for "Coconut Macaroons, Chocolate Macaroons, Chocolate Malt Sandwiches, Whole-Wheat Date Bars" and many others. The same format is used with most of the pictures in this section depicting the finished product.

At page 104 the book shifts to consider "crumbly and sandy" cookies. "Almond Horns, Pecan Logs, Springerle, Apple-Cheery Crumble Bars, Sand Tarts" and many more cookie recipes make up this section. The same format continues and again in this chapter, most of these are labor intensive cookies requiring lots of experience in the kitchen.

"Chunky and nutty" is the next section starting on page 164. "Rocky Ledge Bars, Banana-Walnut Chocolate-Chunk Cookies, Pine Nut Cookies, Magic Blondies" and many more appear here. All appetizing and all carried in the same format as earlier ones in the book.

Page 188 marks "cakey and tender" with items such as "Lemon Madelines, Lebkuchen, Raspberry Almonds Blondies" and many others. All delectable and nearly all very complicated to make and depicted in the same format used throughout the book.

Page 218 marks the start of "crisp and crunchy" with such one as "Chocolate-Orange-Espresso Thins, Chocolate Pretzels, Striped Icebox Cookies, Chocolate Sandwiches" and others.

"Rich and dense" begins on page 264 with items such as "Baci di Dama , Chocolate Thumbprints, Truffle Brownies, Rugelach Fingers" and many others .

Starting on page 306 there is a section on "tools and techniques." Here you will find information on ingredients, tools for making dough or shaping the dough, and information on how to drop dough, decorating cookies and other useful items. There are pictures, but they are small like most of the pictures in this book so detail is hard to come by.

Now that you have made the cookies you have to know something about "packing and giving." Starting on page 328 this section is devoted to various ways to present the efforts of your hard won labor via sacks, cookie drums, window boxes, etc.

A list of sources for ingredients and supplies, a listing of photo credits and an index bring this paperback cookbook to a close. A cookbook that you will have to pin down in some way without breaking the spine to use. And a cookbook that does feature delectable recipes which are very complicated.

Beyond the fact there is no reference to dietary information at all as well as the fact that is done by the editors of her magazine instead of Martha which is a bit misleading since this info is inside and not on the cover, the biggest issue is the recipes themselves. No doubt they are "the very best treats to bake and share." They are also very complicated, very labor intensive and rather impossible to do unless one has numerous people under their command to take care of things while one is the kitchen or anything to do beyond being in the kitchen. While the book is decent, except for the small pictures, it doesn't really matter because the book isn't practical for many cooks. Like most of her books, her magazines and her TV show, it operates in the principal that there is nothing else to do.

For those of us who truly have our hands full with a job, child care, and a host of other issues, the book simply doesn't work.

Martha Stewart's Cookies
Editors of Martha Stewart Living
Clarkson Potter/ Publishers
ISBN# 978-0-307-39454-5
352 Pages

Review copy provided by the staff of the Plano, Texas Public Library System

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Reviewing: "The Pastry Queen Christmas: Big-Hearted Holiday Entertaining Texas Style"

Fredericksburg, Texas area resident Rebecca Rather, owner of the "Sweet Bakery and Cafe" since 1999 has created a very good holiday book full of Texas color and recipes. After an acknowledgment that thanks her customers as well as many others who helped in some way with her writing career, and an introduction that gives personal background, it is time for the recipes.

Chapter One "Holiday Open House" starts with "Old-Fashioned Eggnog." Be warned, this isn't the kind of eggnog one buys in the grocery stores these days. Recipes for "Cranberry-Walnut Scones, Mustard Baked Ham, Green Chile and Cheddar Baking Powder Biscuits, Red Velvet Cupcakes with Mascarpone Cream Cheese Icing" are just a few of the delectable recipes in this chapter. Pictures are many and include not only the finished product but also often a picture at some point in the recipe before it is a finished product. "Tips" are many as well with various suggestions concerning adding other ingredients to the recipes mentioned. Along the way there is the occasional story about the recipe detailing the background of the dish.

A subsection of Chapter One begins on page 43 and is titled "Outdoor Tree Trimming" along with brief instructions on how to make "fresh fruit ornaments, dried fruit ornaments,"etc. there are the recipes. The recipes start with "In-The-Bag Chili Frito Pie," and move to "Rather Minty Brownies, My Mistake Cookies" and other treats. This is a very short section at six pages.
"Ranch Barn Brunch" is the title for Chapter Two beginning on page 51 and the Chapter works off the theme of the author's love of horses. Friends of the author provided the barn for the party pictures and she again explains about her love of horses and how the party was designed. The recipes begin with "Larry Doll's Famous Cranberry Margaritas" and include among other mouthwatering recipes "Seasonal Fruit Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing, Brown Sugar Bacon, Mexican Ranch Chilaquiles, Mexican Camp Bread" among many others. Like in Chapter One, there are numerous color photos of the meals as well as numerous tips along with personal stories about the history of the recipes and the people in the author's life.

Chapter 2 concludes with a section on "Making Gingerbread Houses." Templates for the houses are included in the appendix. As part of the making gingerbread houses, which is a kid involved activity, she makes a few other suggestions of what to make now that the kids are in the kitchen. "Sour Cream and Chicken Enchiladas" is one with "Torched S'mores" being another of the several possibilities.

"Christmas Eve" is Chapter Three (page 99) which kicks off with "LBJ Ranch Crown Roast of Lamb with Rice Stuffing and JalapeƱo-Mint Sauce. If that doesn't strike your fancy, maybe "Blue Corn Blinis with Crab and Avocado Crema" will work for you. The recipe makes 28 servings which means since they are appetizers, you might need to double upon it. There is always "Green Olive Beef Tenderloin" as well as "Martha's Best –Ever Rolls. Save room for the "Christmas Coconut Cake." As in every chapter, there are far more recipes than I have mentioned here, along with color photographs, history and tips.

"Cookie Decorating" is a little section at the end of this chapter and is all about the kids and having fun. Pretty much self explanatory and this section begins on page 133.

"Christmas Day" marks Chapter Four in a chapter working around the theme of the day and beautiful Christmas dinners. It begins on page 143 and buffet is the order of the day in the author's house. One of the first dishes to be consumed is her "Green Bean Bundles." The "Texas Spice-Rubbed Roast Pork" sounds mighty good and looks good too. As does the "Cajun Roast Turkey" (no picture though) and numerous other dishes. Included are the usual photographs, tips, and personal history.

At the end of the Chapter is another small section titled "Wrapping Up the Holidays with Edible Gifts." Aptly titled and self explanatory, it covers little tasty treats such as "Denise's Vanilla Caramels, Lola's Sunday Fudge," among other items.

"New Year's Eve" is the title for Chapter Five and the final Chapter in this book which begins on page 183. Beyond the gorgeous photograph of a spinning windmill against a Texas sunset there are recipes such as "Wild Mushroom and Goat Cheese Quesadillas with Cranberry–Pecan Salsa, Mother's Lobster Bisque, Ken Hall's Standing Rib Roast" and many others with a distinctive Texas flavor. Of course, there are more photographs, tips and history here following the format used throughout the book. This chapter closes the book and is followed by the aforementioned templates for a gingerbread house and an index.

At 225 pages, this is a beautifully photographed book full of recipes, Texas history and culture and ways to do the season right. Written in a down home style, this is not a pretentious book and does not at any time talk down to readers. It provides easy clear instructions, something many cookbooks lack, along with pictures, to help you through the recipe process.

It does lack basic info on dietary issues. While it states how many servings a dish has, it doesn't make any mention of sodium counts, fats, sugars, etc. in regards to health, Granted, it is a book for the holiday season and many folks ignore such issues during that time, but for others such information is critically important year around.

That being said a lot of that sort of info can be determined by considering the recipe itself before making the item. Therefore, the lack of info is a minor quibble overall and one that can be ignored simply because this is such a beautifully done book full of mouth watering recipes. A book well worth your time and investment in and one sure to assist you for many holidays to come.

The Pastry Queen Christmas: Big-Hearted Holiday Entertaining Texas Style
Rebecca Rather with Alison Oresman
Photography by Laurie Smith
Ten Speed Press
ISBN#: 1-58008-790-6
226 Pages

Review copy provided by the staff of the Plano, Texas Public Library System

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Reviewing: "Damage Control" by J. A. Jance

"Damage Control" is the aptly named latest novel in the Arizona Sheriff Joanna Brady series. Much of this novel finds Joanna Brady practicing damage control in one form or another at home and at work.

One of the two central cases in this novel is the aftermath of an elderly couple's death at the Montezuma Pass Overlook in the Coronado National Forest. The couple died when their fifteen year old Buick Regal rocketed through a guard rail, went airborne, and smashed down the mountain side flipping end over end and ejecting the elderly couple. Cochise County doesn't have a helicopter and the mountain side is extremely rugged making recovering the bodies very difficult. Especially with a late afternoon storm coming as it is monsoon season.

Elsewhere, those same rains will dislodge a pair of large trash bags from their shallow grave in the Greenbush Draw. They will be moved by the torrent of water far from their resting place until they are pushed into the scrawny branches of a mesquite tree. The bags will be left behind by the receding waters waiting for somebody to take a peek inside them. The bags will be found by a local boy out scavenging for anything left behind by the many illegals that cross the desert in search of a better life. The young teenager hopes for money or even drugs that he can sell. Instead he finds skeletal remains.

As the two cases strain her small department already dealing with manpower and budgetary issues, Joanna's home life is becoming increasingly strained as well. Like many a new parent, Joanna Brady is permanently sleep deprived. Dennis is now four months old and while their teenage daughter, Jenny and Joanna's husband, Butch are a big help, all three are feeling the strain. Butch has a hard deadline to meet in four days for his new novel and really needs to go on a book tour. A book tour is something his publisher is more than willing to do despite the fact that such things are rare especially for a new novelist. And her Mom, Eleanor is acting weirder than normal.

All of these elements combine into a 374 page cozy style novel that is one of the best author J.A. Jance has penned in years. Funny at times and intensely moving towards the end of the book, J. A. Jance writes of sacrifice in so many ways in this latest entry to the series. Along the way, Joanna Brady ties up a couple of aspects of her own life history while helping to resolve current issues. As such, character development is virtually non-existent in this novel and limited to filling in a couple of old questions.

As in any series, it really is best to read these in order. However, if you haven't, go ahead and grab this latest one. Read it and then go back and see how it all came to be. Reading this one won't really mess up the others, and you'll be entertained by a mightily good novel.

Damage Control
J. A. Jance
William Morrow (Harper Collins)
ISBN# 978-0-06-074676-6
374 Pages

Review copy provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Friday, August 22, 2008

Reviewing: "Too Late To Die" by Bill Crider

Having recently read "Of All Sad Words" which is the latest in the Dan Rhodes series from Bill Crider and a book that I enjoyed very much, it seemed like I should read others. I'd never read Bill Crider before that book and while the TBR pile seems to achieving sentient life status, it still has not managed to sprout legs and move. So, I went back to where this series began with "Too Late To Die" and requested it from my local library.

It is election season as this is the first novel in the series opens. Sheriff Dan Rhodes knows that some folks aren't going to vote him in Blacklin County, Texas. The Sheriff gets blamed for everything and praised rarely. When somebody's store gets robbed and the bad guys get away, it is his fault. Some folks aren't going to vote for him for another reason. They are dead.

Jeanne Clinton, the much younger wife of Elmer Clinton has been found dead in her home. Her face is a little battered, her neck has been broken, and the house is in disarray. Word has spread fast and the town experts figure her husband Elmer did it. He's a suspect of course, but it soon becomes clear that there are other suspects.

The population of Thurston is 408 and a large number of the good folks are suspects. Several folks that aren't murder suspects are convinced that Sheriff Rhodes needs to be dating again because his wife Claire died awhile back and he needs to move on. Then there is the problem of his daughter, Kathy who is dating one of his deputies. A deputy who suddenly stands accused of assault and police brutality. Just what Sheriff Rhodes really needs in an election year.

Released in 1986 this novel moves at a steady pace that allows readers to learn about the characters before they learn of the first murder. Character development come first with crime second as author Bill Crider sets the solid foundation for this running series. Having read his most recent novel in the series, it isn't surprising that the same style and tone were set in this novel where the people come first and then the crime or case.

Unlike many books published over twenty years ago, the read does not come across as dated at all. Instead, it comes across as a mighty good story told by a friend sitting next to you on the living room couch. Can't ask for any better than that.

Too Late To Die
Bill Crider
Walker and Company
ISBN# 0-8027-5650-6
183 Pages

Review copy provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Reviewing: "Houston Homicide" by Bill Crider and Clyde Wilson

Detective Sergeant Ted Stephens isn't bothered by the heat and humidity of Houston, Texas in the summer of 1969. Known to one and all as "Steve" he is bothered that his Lieutenant is shoving him onto a case assigned to other detectives. Lieutenant Bolce has his reasons and knowing the fact that Detective Wetsel is on the case explains at least part of it. Wetsel isn't one of the best in the Houston Police Department though he thinks he is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

The well kept exterior of a nice home in the River Oaks section of the city hides a nightmare inside. Three adults are dead. Each adult was shot multiple times. Several kids were also in the house and slept through the shootings. That fact allowed them to survive the massacre and they are now safely in the custody of CPS. Before the bodies are removed, investigators already know that at least one of the victims had ties to organized crime. Investigators already know that the grandson had threatened to kill the rest of the family before and that the grandson has a history of drug dealing.

For some the information regarding the grandson makes it a simple case. Steve doesn't agree and begins to turn up other pieces to the puzzle. His investigation increasingly leads elsewhere and is constantly hampered by interdepartmental politics and a chaotic personal life.

Bill Crider and Clyde Wilson have created a steady tale full of interesting characters, plenty of action and a case that is far from simple. Relationships matter in this novel and relationships are what drive most of the events. Whether it is the conflict between Steve and Wetsel, Steve and his wife trying to save their marriage, or Steve and his friend private investigator Clive Watson working together in different and at times conflicting ways to bring a killer to justice, relationships are front and center throughout the novel. Relationships, both friendly and antagonistic, are the primary catalyst behind nearly every action in this enjoyable steady novel and serve to drive the investigation forward in a work that also examines the seedier side of life in as clean and a sterile way as possible.

While some have categorized the novel as a police procedural, I wouldn't. Instead, I would refer to it more as a cozy style novel that is occasionally a little graphic. While there are police procedural elements in it, as well as suspense, elements, romance elements, etc. it really isn't a police procedural. If anything, it could be described more as a "buddy mystery novel" if one had to pin it way down. Suffice it to say that it is a good mystery novel and leave it at that.

Houston Homicide
Bill Crider and Clyde Wilson
Five Star Publishing (Gale Group)
ISBN# 1-59414-603-9
261 Pages

Review copy provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mouth Full Of Bullets--Summer Issue Up

The summer edition of the zine is now up at As previously announced by BJ, I'm no longer part of things. I wish BJ well.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Reviewing: "The Brimstone Murders: A Jimmy O'Brien Mystery Novel" by Jeff Sherratt

It's 1973 as this third novel in the Jimmy O' Brien series opens. Jimmie's latest assigned client is Robbie Farris accused of murder and currently residing in the L. A. County Jail. Jimmy knows his client is guilty and to make matters worse very uncooperative. After butchering his former college professor by stabbing him 27 times, Robbie has found Jesus and rants and raves about the Lord and how he must atone for his crime. The case includes Robbie's bloody finger prints at the scene, his confession and other evidence and Jimmy is thinking that the insanity defense might be the only way to save Robbie's life.

With his client being so uncooperative, Jimmy decides the best thing to do is to go talk to Robbie's Mom who lives out near Chatsworth. Hazel Farris is his Mom and she lives out there somewhere in a beat-up Airstream trailer. After a strange visit with her, she agrees and signs the necessary paperwork for O'Brien who thinks things are going to get better.

Things go from rough to disastrous as within hours of Jimmy O'Brien being in her home; Hazel is dead with evidence indicating that he was the last one to see her and may have killed her. With the police already investigating him, Robbie manages to escape his arraignment and in the aftermath, a deputy blames Jimmy O'Brien. O'Brien is certainly not a favorite of the local police and court system for multiple reasons detailed in "One, Two, & Even" and "Six to Five…Against" and things have not improved in the recent past. It is 100 plus everyday, the air is smoggy, the bad guys want O'Brien dead and the cops want him in jail or dead - they don't care which.

The latest in the series presents another cozy style atmospheric read that is heavy into relationships. Jimmy's friendship going back ten years with Sol is detailed as is his romance with Rita who wants to be his partner in the firm some day and is attempting to defend him against all charges. Mabel also reappears as his cranky secretary who knows all and has opinions on everything. Those secondary characters and a number of others familiar to readers return again in this enjoyable read.

At its heart "The Brimstone Murders" recently released by Echelon Press is a slow moving cozy style mystery featuring a case that meanders for most of the book before rapidly picking up steam. The action towards the end of the novel borders on the slapstick absurd and yet, if one doesn't think about it too much; believable enough that it doesn't totally jar the reader out of the story. The book is a pleasant diversion and while not spectacular, a solid performance that continues to build on an interesting and enjoyable series.

The Brimstone Murders: A Jimmy O'Brien Mystery Novel
Jeff Sherratt
Echelon Press
February 2008
ISBN# 1-59080-552-6
287 Pages

Review copy provided by P. J. Nunn owner of BreakThrough Promotions in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008

Earl Staggs on the loose

The other day over on the DorothyL list I saw mention of Earl being the Friday guest on The Stiletto Gang blog. So, I surfed over and read the piece where he wrote about the difference between writing a short story and a novel. Good stuff. Take a look at and then get a copy of his book. It is a good one too.


Friday, August 08, 2008

Reviewing: "Another Man's Moccasins" by Craig Johnson

"No matter what aspect of law enforcement with which you might be involved, there's always one job you dread. I'm sure at the most complicated venues it's the terrorists, its serial killers, or it's gang-related, but for the western sheriff it's always been the body dump. To the north, Sheridan County has two unsolved, and Natrona County to the south has five; up until twenty-eight minutes ago, we'd had none. There you stand by some numbered roadway with a victim, no ID, no crime scene, no suspects, nothing." (Page 15)

If you haven't read a novel in the Sheriff Walt Longmire series written by Craig Johnson you have missed a real treat. From "The Cold Dish" to "Death Without Company" and the previous novel, "Kindness Goes Unpunished" the author has developed not only a fascinating and complex hero in Walt Longmine, but numerous secondary characters that are just as alive and vital as Walt is to readers. That continues here with his latest release "Another Man's Moccasins" which begins two months after events depicted in "Kindness Goes Unpunished."

Sheriff Walt Longmine has returned home to Wyoming and is dealing with the personal and family repercussions of recent events as best as he can. Progress is slow, but steady. At the same time, the recent events have triggered in some way flash backs for Walt of his time in Vietnam shortly before the Tet Offensive in 1968.

The discovery of a Vietnamese woman in a ditch doesn't help his contemplative mood or his ability to ignore the past. Summer in Absaroka County is supposed to mean vacation season with folks coming to the rodeo. It isn't supposed to mean death. The woman was strangled at first and then whoever did it squeezed her neck too hard and broke it, before dumping her lifeless body in the ditch. When Sheriff Longmire checks the nearby culvert he is attacked by a violent homeless man who also has the dead women's purse. In that purse is a picture of a much younger Walt Longmire, playing a piano half a world away in a bar in Vietnam. A picture that includes a woman who worked in that bar and who bore a striking resemblance to the dead young woman found in the ditch.

With a flashback for nearly every step forward in the investigation, this novel serves to not only tell an interesting contemporary story it also fills in a major part of the Walt Longmire's life long before he came home and started his 24 years and counting Sheriff's career. Another election is coming and this is a novel where Walt is not only feeling his age but also finding that so much of his personal life is no longer under his control. The past is never truly past and Walt is attempting to put it back in its tiny compartment and failing because of so many reminders.

Readers that expect the body to fall in a prologue or certainly by paragraph 3 of the first page because that seems to be the rage these days according to writer's magazines and some publishers will be disappointed as the body doesn't fall for about 15 pages. Readers that hate flashbacks will be annoyed as the secondary storyline flashbacks number in the double digits and begin before the first body drops.

However, readers who like series featuring characters that become part of the family, books that build on top of each other building depth and life to characters in arcs that carry from one novel to the next, and books that showcase characters that evolve will love this latest novel of the series. Once again Craig Johnson weaves a tale full of the best of people in a morality play set against the backdrop of the Big Horn Mountains.

"Another Man's Moccasins" is another very good read in a series that is overall very good. Reminiscent of the work by James Lee Burke regarding descriptions, the effect here is just as good and yet at the same time different with Craig Johnson's own edge. While James Lee Burke's work these days is pitched against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina, Craig Johnson's work remains focused more on the basic notion of good and evil and at times, the plight of the American Indian. Unlike Burke who let his editorializing dominate recent releases to the detriment of the story, Craig Jonson consistently puts story first and anything else secondary.

The result is another very good read and one that needs to be read after "Kindness Goes Unpunished." I would recommend reading the entire series in order if these books are new to you.

Another Man's Moccasins
Craig Johnson
Viking Penguin (Penguin Group USA)
ISBN #978-0-670-0186-1
290 Pages

Review copy provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Reviewing: "The Case of the Deceiving Don" by Carl Brookins

Private Investigator Sean NMI Sean returns for a case that is very close to home in this second book of the series begun with the very good "The Case of the Greedy Lawyers." He lives in the normally quiet and unassuming suburb Roseville located in a northern side of the twin cities in Minnesota. As he arrives home one day it is clear by the flashing police lights, the numerous spectators and the remnants of a wheel chair that something has happened. With four retirement homes within a five block area of his neighborhood the P.I. with no middle name is used to seeing elderly in wheel chairs on the side walks.

What he isn't used to seeing are the aftereffects of a bombing which virtually destroyed a wheelchair. This wheelchair clearly was and the explosion turned the wheel chair into chunks of burned shrapnel and killed its occupant. With no identification on the body it takes a little time to ascertain who died. It also takes some time to identify the occupants of a silver Audi who seem to be staking out the neighborhood and Sean's home in particular.

Even with the victim identified Sean has a minimal interest in the case at first and that interest is pretty much is geared towards the fact that it happened virtually right outside his home. Then, when people connected to the deceased hire him to find out who did it, Sean begins a hunt for information. Information that the local police are more than happy to let him dig for and cooperate with him nearly every step of the way. Why not let him as he is doing all their work and risking his life and his girlfriend's life as he pushes a killer into the open.

Unlike the first novel in the series which was constantly funny, this novel while still in the cozy style, is much darker in tone. Sean does toss off the occasionally irrelevant one liner, but for the most part, this is a more serious character working through issues in his life, the case and the nature of our ultimate fate. That could be because the subject matter is heavily grounded in nursing homes, the patients, and the staff of them or it could be that Carl Brookins has been told to be more serious in the series.

I'm hoping it was the former and not the later by some well meaning party. While still a good novel featuring an interesting tale populated by realistic characters, this isn't the type of novel I expect where Sean is present. Gone and very much missed is the irrelevant wise crack man in his red keds. Well, the red keds are still there but this isn't the same character that entertained me so well the first time around.

The fact that this book is so different makes it hard to objectively evaluate this novel. I found as the pages wore on that I was missing the original funny Sean version more and more. There were moments that screamed out for a one liner from him and yet he was either silent or serious.

Taken on its own, the book currently scheduled to be released august 20th is a good book. It just doesn't meet my personal expectations which were based on the first book because it is missing a huge component. The humor for the most part simply isn't here and that is a major disappointment. As such, while it is a good book overall when compared to the first one in the series, there is no comparison.

The Case of the Deceiving Don
Carl Brookins
Five Star Publishing
August 2008
ISBN# 978-1-59414-677-0
266 Pages

Review copy provided directly by the author in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Friday, August 01, 2008

Taking a Quiz

for the fun of it. The results, which include some typos, are below. Being my odd self is a bit hard these days in a pc world that values appearance over everything else.

What Planet Are You From?

this quiz was made by The Autist Formerly Known As Tim