It begins in March 1996 in River City, Washington. Evil lurks in the city and from time to time rears its ugly head. In this latest in the police procedural series written by Frank Zafiro, law enforcement must deal with a serial rapist. They start further behind then normal because the initial assault was not reported by the victim. For Detective John Tower the case is different than the norm and before long becomes an obsession for him. As the attacks mount and become increasingly violent, Detective Tower and the men and women of the River City Police Department must stop him before he begins killing his victims.
What has made this series so good, beyond the cases author Frank Zafiro depicts, are the off duty lives of the characters. These are flawed and realistic human being and not some caricature of super cops. Reminiscent of the old TV series “Hill Street Blues” that spent just as much time portraying the characters lives off duty and how it impacted their work and vice versa, the same is true in this series. Personal demons of varying severity haunt a number of the long running characters as do their successes.
The result is another complex read that is somewhat difficult to describe. The only negative criticism is the chapter towards the end of the book centered on the serial rapist. While readers frequently view events through his point of view throughout the book, this chapter brings the read to a screeching halt as the back story which caused the character to act the way he does now is revealed. Much of this is rather clichéd and stereotypical and most readers would have figured it out long before reaching this part. There is one rather shocking aspect of the back story which is revealed and one that could have been hinted at without going into such graphic detail.
The chapter primarily serves as unnecessary distraction from an otherwise very good book. The author continues to evolve from novel to novel and the tales steadily improve in complexity. Released from Gray Dog Press this month, this is a very good book well worth hunting down and reading. For maximum enjoyment, the earlier novels in the series, “Under A Raging Moon” (a revised and re-released book) and “Heroes Often Fail” should be read and are available through the same publisher.
Good food always brings diverse groups of people together. That is the theme of this small cookbook from author Sylvia Dickey Smith. Well known by her “Sidra Smart Mystery Series” (all of which are good reads) Sylvia has now brought a few of the recipes mentioned by Sidra Smart in the books to life along with a number of others from various people.
After a dedication to her mother, Ruth Thomas Dickey and an opening preface and listing of the recipe winners, the book gets going with “Appetizers.” “Cajun Bowties” which features the pasta not the pastry, “Orange, Texas Party Punch” and “Swamp Dip” are just a few recipes covered in this section. While there aren’t many pictures and there isn’t any nutritional information, the recipes are simple and the instructions are concise. This same format holds true through the small cookbook.
Breads of various types such as “Apple Corn Bread” and “Buckskin Bread” are part of the five recipes in the following section simply titled “Breads.”
Three recipes make up the section on “Breakfast” including a “Breakfast Casserole” using crescent rolls, sausage, green chilies, black olives, and cheese and eggs. Since it takes nearly an hour to cook once everything is assembled this might also be a really good brunch on the weekends. This also might be one of those recipes one really doesn’t want to know the nutritional information after all.
Surprisingly, the book next turns to “Desserts” starting on page 25. Expected ones such as “Green Tomato Pie” and “Peanut Butter Fudge” are here along with lesser known items such as “Peggie’s Iron Skillet Chocolate Pie” contributed by Peggy Mcadams and “Southern Hot Milk Cake” contributed by Carol Staggs spouse of author Earl Staggs. If, somehow, you have not read Earl’s mystery novel, “Memory Of A Murder” you really should.
“Main Dishes” begin on page 50 with “Aunt Annie’s Dirty Rice” and “Aunt Annie’s Chicken Dumplings” both recipes frequently made by the fictional Aunt Annie in Sylvia’s Sidra Smart Mystery Series. Also included is “Cajun Gumbo for Texans” contributed by Joan T. Hollier and “Crawfish Etouffe” among others.
“Vegetables” featuring such recipes as “Aunt Annie’s Corn Patties” begins on page 98. Beyond “Cajun Potato Salad” and “Fried Okra” there are also ones for “Onion Pie” and "Sidra Smart’s Sassy Pickles” among numerous others.
While this small 104 page cook book offers very few pictures (all black and white and small) as well as no nutritional information, the recipes are varied and will appeal to almost every taste bud. For the most part, the recipes are simple and easy to make and in every case the directions are clear and understandable. There is a lot of good eating in this book. Now you just have to make them and get some folks over to eat.
Material provided directly by the publisher in exchange for my objective review.
By the way, if you have not read Sylvia's "Sidra Smart Mystery Series," it begins with "Dance On His Grave" also from L & L Dreamspell. Good stuff and well worth your time as are the other books in the series.
Anthologies are notoriously hard to review. The biggest issue is the fact that the story quality can fluctuate greatly. This book created by the Houston based writers group known as “The Final Twist” is a prime example of this problem. Containing fourteen stories with Texas settings in the genres of mystery, romance and science-fiction one would expect some variation in terms of complexity, depth of story, and enjoyment of martial. One does have to hunt hard for the good ones in this anthology.
“A Box of Texas Chocolates” by Linda Houle opens the book with a very clichéd setting. There is going to be a murder mystery theme party and, of course, one of the chocolate desserts is lethal. So much for the murder mystery party not killing anyone. Be sure not to miss the plugs for the recipe book and game based on the anthology at the end of the story or online at the publisher.
Pauline Baird Jones follows with her story “Getting a Clue.” Trapini comes from the wrong family, wrong everything, and Lieutenant Molony keeps dragging her in for questioning. Despite loving Molony at a far since first grade a romance between the two as far as Trapini is concerned. Instead of doing business the family way, she opened her own bakery and sometimes Molony brought items. Now, among other things, he wants to know who is buying chocolates from Trapini and anonymously sending then to his sister, Erin. Does romance have a chance?
Third in the book is Laura Elvebak who wrote the good mystery “Less Dead.” (The sequel, “Lost Witness” is currently in my burgeoning TBR pile.) In “Dying for Chocolate” Clarie is a child care provider who is doing a bit of her own investigating. She plans a confrontation with the mothers involved and will use chocolate to get the truth – one way or another. One of the far superior stories in the anthology, it sets up a final twist that many readers, including myself, will never see coming.
“The Invisible Hand Will Smear Chocolate on the Face of Tyranny” by Mark H. Phillips comes next. Beyond being the longest title in the anthology, this science fiction story is a pretty good one. We aren’t the only ones who love chocolate which makes it worth changing the future of humans and aliens.
Gretchen Schultz makes the best treats around. Everyone knows it and she is under constant assault from her friend’s schemes to get her recipes. In “A Recipe to Die For” by Sally Love, Gretchen means to finally put a stop to it.
Page 71 marks the opening lines of “The Bavarian Drop Killer” by Cherri Galbiati. With a friend dead, Rina manages to insert herself fully into the investigation by the local police of Sandy Creek, Texas. The chocolate candy killer may have struck again? Or is there another explanation?
The seventh story is “Bitter Sweet” by Cece Smith. Chocolate, deceit and romance drive this story of discovering the truth in different people in this tale that is part romance, part mystery.
Betty Gordon creates a good mystery with her tale titled “The Cowboy’s Rose.” Fort Worth’s stock show and rodeo is the backdrop to a modern day cowboy, a package he doesn’t have and a pair of varmints that want the package pronto.
“Books and Bon Bons” by Charlotte Phillips follows with a good tale of dispensing justice earned. You just better keep your eye on your waitress and mind your manners.
If you are in any relationship any length of time at all you know Valentine’s Day is important even if she says it isn’t. In “Valentine’s Day” by Diana L. Driver, Erin said it wasn’t and Gary believed her. It is about to blowup for the newlyweds and one wonders who will fix it?
Murder at a charity gala is the idea behind “Jadead” by Iona McAvoy. The supernatural also plays a role in this very enjoyable story about murder, deceit and family and, of course, chocolate.
It is clear from the opening paragraphs that a stalker lurks in the story “Deep in the Heart of Texas” by Autumn Storm. What isn’t clear is why and how Megan will survive this latest crisis in her life.
“Truffles of Doom” is the second story by Mark H. Phillips in this anthology and another good one. It opens with an interrupted strip poker game between Herbert and Eva thanks to a phone call. The phone call better be important and it was for Detective Eva Baum. Nobody is going to poison the homeless by way of chocolate and get away with it.
The anthology concludes with “A Bona Fide Quirk in the Law” by Cash Anthony. Jessie Carr is involved in a lot of things and soon gets herself involved in a case of a woman arrested for selling “martial aids.” Based on a Texas law that was finally struck down as unconstitutional a number of years ago, this story provides a fitting sweet treat to the end of the book.
Featuring 14 stories by thirteen authors, this 336 page book features a lot of variety in terms of themes, character development and genres. Overall the read is rather disappointing considering the many publishing success these authors have had with a variety of projects. One goes into this third annual anthology expecting more depth to the read and less reliance on so many clichéd characters and settings.
While seasoned readers may be disappointed over the quality of works presented here, there is enough to keep many readers involved and turning the pages. The few chocolate morsels in this book make up for the weak flavor of others and make the book a break even experience in the long run.
A Box Of Texas Chocolates: The Final Twist Anthology Editor: Lisa Rene’ Smith L&L Dreamspell http://www.lldreamspell.com/ September 2009 ISBN# 978-1-60318-140-2 Paperback 236 Pages $16.95
Book provided by the publisher in exchange for my objective review.
This novel marks the return of what always made this series great- Bill Gastner. Several novels ago, Bill Gastner moved on to his job as a New Mexico Live Stock Inspector. The focus of the novels changed to Undersheriff Estelle Reyes Guzman and her family with Bill Gastner making the occasional brief appearance. This was also noted with the tiles as the series became “The Posadas County Mysteries.” Something was lost in that shift as the books were different in style, tone and read. It took some getting used to, at least for this reader, and the last couple have been pretty good.
Now Author Steven Havill reminds us of the past with this novel set several novels ago just after Gastner moved into his job as a New Mexico Live Stock Inspector. It is a perfect job for Gastner and allows him to roam the wide open spaces of Posadas County and get paid to do it. The novel begins out at the H-Bar-T ranch one beautiful September morning with Bill and the owner Herb Torrance eyeballing twenty-four head of cattle. Unlike the old days when cowboys simply drove a herd where they wanted when they wanted, these days the cattle had to be inspected first and cleared for travel before being loaded into a stock trailer, fees paid and paper work processed, and then they can be moved. While Bill is enjoying the scene straight out of the Old West, he is looking forward to lunch with good friend George Payton.
A lunch ultimately he won’t have because of a freak accident involving one of the ranch hands at the H-Bar-T that cause a postponement. Then news comes that George has died while eating the lunch the two of them would have shared. Elderly, George did have numerous health issues so his sudden death, apparently due to a massive heart attack, isn’t surprising. Still, Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman investigates the unattended death fully and slowly it begins to appear that the heart attack had a much more sinister cause.
While Bill is still in shock that George has died, the cattle that should have been on the new section of range land are found miles away on a country road wandering aimlessly. The range hand is missing having left his beloved dog behind and equally troubling is the fact that the very expensive truck and stock trailer are missing. Word comes that they were spotted crossing the border being driven by people unknown which means foul play is at work here. For Bill Gastner in his new job, this case takes precedence though Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman keeps him well involved in the investigation surrounding George’s death.
This 16th novel in the series is yet another strong mystery tale set in New Mexico. Author Steven Havill continues to create mighty good and dependable reads that aren’t full of profanity or graphic violence. While this novel sheds no new light on the central characters, that isn’t unexpected as Havill has fleshed out these characters long ago. He isn’t about to create some cheap theatrics just to shake up the world.
Instead, his books are rock solid and feature central characters that are average folks doing the best they can in their little corner of the world and people you would be glad to know and be able to count on in times of crisis. Along the way, much as Bill Crider does in his books or Milton T, Burton does in his, Steven Havill creates a fictional world that has a mighty good tale that pulls you in quickly. If you aren’t reading these folks you are really missing out.
Red, Green, or Murder: The Posadas County Mysteries Steven F. Havill Poisoned Pen Press http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/ 2009 ISBN# 978-1-59058-665-5 Hardback 275 Pages $24.95
Book provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.
I have also created a temporary site, http://barryergangbooksforsale.yolasite.com/, where I've listed some additional mysteries along with a variety of other types of books. This is very new, so check it often if you read other than mysteries, because I'll be adding to it nearly every day.
Barry has some really good stuff here, so check it out.
Currently reading: "Beneath A Weeping Sky" by Frank Zafiro. This is the third novel in his police procedural series set in River City, WA and so far is another good one. It follows "Under A Raging Moon"
and "Heroes Often Fail"
like most really good series, you need to have read the first two books to get the maximum enjoyment out of this new book as it builds on earlier issues and themes.
They say don't judge a book by its cover, but anyone who ever worked in a bookstore will tell you book covers influence book buyers. More than jacket copy, paid for blurb ads on the back cover, book covers move books. Recently, Milton T. Burton dropped me a note about his latest book, "Nights Of The Red Moon" and told me he now had the cover art. I had the pleasure of reading a rough draft of this one awhile back before it was sent to the publisher and it is quite possibly Milton's best book.
Which is not to say that the others, "The Rogues' Game" and "The Sweet And The Dead" aren't good. They are very good. But, "Nights Of The Red Moon" is better. Sort of a cross between what Bill Crider does and what James Lee Burke does the novel just pulls you into a swirling storm of mystery and deceit.
Anyway, the cover art is done and incredibly good. If you surf over to Milton's Blog found at http://obscuredestinies.blogspot.com/ you can take a look for yourself. You can also read part of Chapter One of the book that is the start of a new series.
If you aren't reading Miton T. Burton's stuff, you are really missing out.
Hardcover Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon (HarperCollins, 1992) is the first in the police procedural mystery series with Guido Brun...
Supporting The Blog
In my wife's memory and honoring a promise I made to Sandi, the blog continues...at least for now. If you would like to make a donation of support, you can do so at the links below. Most of the donated funds go to the purchase of various short story anthologies and collections which eventually are read and reviewed here.