Isobel Spice is an aspiring actress, and office temp, and on occasion, an amateur sleuth. When she and her roommate, Delphi Kramer, agree to act in a murder mystery dinner theater performance to honor a well-known judge, a real murder happens, with the guest of honor as the victim. Isobel is then caught up in a maelstrom of lies, double-dealing, and corruption as she first has to clear her roommate, who is the initial suspect, and then sort through a growing list of possible suspects until she finally zeroes in on the most unlikely one.
Justice for Some by Joanne Sydney Lessner is a rib-tickling murder mystery with a cast of the wackiest characters to appear in this genre in a long time. Lessner has a writing style reminiscent of Janet Evanovich; using what almost amounts to slapstick – but stopping just shy of the ‘slip on a banana peel’ brand of humor – to keep the reader laughing, while at the same time salting clues throughout the narrative for those who are paying close attention.
This book has several interesting plot twists, and well-drawn characters that, despite the humor, seem true to life. The story is logically constructed, and flows like a mountain stream in a serpentine fashion to a logical conclusion. When Isobel unmasks the killer, you’ll feel like slapping your forehead and exclaiming, “Darn, how’d I miss that?”
A grisly murder in a sleepy Scottish Borders village opens this debut novel by Janet O’Kane. The body is discovered by a relative newcomer to the village, who has joined the local surgery as a GP.
Doctor Moreland is the central character and the novel, written in the third person, is told from her point of view. However, it is a distant, almost clinical POV, and given that she survives two attempts on her life, is involved in three suspicious deaths, and is just starting a relationship, I would like to have seen some more intimate third person perspective apart from her doubts about her prospective boyfriend.
There is a good range of characters, with many of the supporting ones well portrayed, revealing more about them gradually as the novel progresses. The atmosphere of a small village is well created through the use of dialogue and characterisation.
The plot is not just a whodunit but manages to weave different sub-plots neatly into the main story without being distracting and there are some interesting red herrings and twists. The beginning is paced more slowly to set context, and pauses slightly at times with some minor insignificant detail, but as more is revealed later in the book, the pace picks up considerably, and through a number of red herrings and twists, builds up to an unexpected climax.
Strengths of this book were characterisation, thoughtful plot (and sub-plots), and the way the story played out. A lot of the story was conveyed through dialogue and was well-written and credible. When the immediate action happened it was very good. There were few literal errors.
Recommended to anyone who likes a mystery/crime novel that focuses on thinking, and one that—in its favour—isn’t full of unnecessary gore. It’s a good first novel.
Bill Kirton’s The Darkness charts the moral journey of a doctor who succumbs to fantasies of revenge. Dr. Andrew Davidson seeks justice for his brother, who commits suicide after his wife and daughter die in a car crash. He wants to punish not just the drunk driver who caused the accident, but other sociopaths who destroy lives and evade punishment. One by one, suspected criminals begin to disappear from the streets of Cairnburgh, Scotland.
Inspector Jack Carston, charged with investigating the disappearances, has mixed feelings. He isn’t sorry to have rapists, child molesters, and killers off the streets, but whoever has taken them is equally a criminal. He and his partner set about solving the cases in their quiet, methodical way.
The Darkness pits a compelling antihero against a reticent hero. Both are intelligent and likable. Davidson is kind to his patients, considerate of his coworkers, and sweet to his girlfriend. Carston loves his wife and enjoys his work. But the doctor eclipses the inspector through most of the story.
The doctor becomes the dramatic center as soon as he appears, largely because of the narrative point of view. Most of the narrative is third-person omniscient, but the doctor addresses the reader in first-person, which is direct and intimate and places him at the emotional core of the story. Everything happens around him.
Once the investigation begins to break, Carston’s role becomes more active and his character takes center stage. Still, the doctor remains the heart of the story. What will he do with the captives in his basement? Will his sanity survive the trauma of the crimes he’s committed?
Kirton writes elegant prose and creates memorable characters. Even secondary players stand out. I won’t forget the prostitute Rhona or her devoted boyfriend, Billy, for a long time. The Darkness might confound some readers who expect every mystery novel to follow a conventional pattern, but those who enjoy intelligent psychological suspense are in for a treat.
GO DARK, YOUNG MAN
The advice to beginner crime and thriller genre writers right now is, if you want to shift books, ‘go dark, young man’. Violence, murder, rape, bad language? Old hat. We want burnt bodies, extreme mutilation, anal rape, every third word in the dialogue a swear word. The villain is usually a monster who enjoys murdering and torturing, and the motivation is often sketchy ie the villain is a psychopath who was beaten as a child.
The premise is: ‘bad person does bad thing’. But, to me, ‘good person does bad thing’ is a lot more interesting. This is the premise of The Darkness by Bill Kirton, a thought-provoking twist on the police procedural genre.
The ‘villain’, Andrew Davidson, is an ordinary G.P. His brother’s family were killed in an accident by a drunken driver and the sensitive brother committed suicide. The villain evaded justice by hiring a clever lawyer and then Davidson notices that other local villains have escaped paying for wicked crimes in a similar manner. So, he decides to do something about it. This story is told by Davidson in the first person. The other lead character is D.C.I. Jack Carsten – his story is told in the third person – who notices that local villains are fortuitously disappearing from his manor. He can’t help but feel that they have deserved anything they get. The story of rape victim/prostitute Rhona Kirk – the men she is involved with also start to go missing – is expertly woven into the main narrative.
I know what you are thinking. Not Charles Bronson again. Death Wish 25? In any civilised country with a developed legal system clever lawyers will get the guilty off. In the USA it is summarised in the saying: ‘if you’re rich you walk, if you’re poor you fry’. But what to do about it, other than fight for political reform of the judicial system? Take matters into your own hands when the end result of self-righteous vigilantism is often worse than the original crime?
Bill Kirton has obviously thought about this and the twist to this novel will explode your preconceptions. The pacing is a little slow and I didn’t really get gripped by the novel until halfway through. But the interplay and battle of wits between the two main characters builds to a riveting conclusion. The book is well-written and the prose is clean and active, though there were several groups of typos in my ebook which looked like the result of ‘Microsoft Word going wonky’. Easy to fix. Similarly easy to sort out were the occasional ‘head-hopping’ changes of point of view within scenes. These are minor quibbles.
I found the book interesting and thought-provoking and a welcome change from the formulaic police procedural/crime thriller which tries to go dark but sometimes makes you slam the book shut in disgust. With this novel Bill Kirton has shown that ‘the darkness’ lies not down slippery steps into a dank and musty-smelling cellar but in the heart of each individual.
Cold Angel Days is set in the world of Johnson’s Dica series, a series I haven’t read, so I figured there would be things about the world that I wouldn’t understand, and there were, but nothing that stopped me enjoying the book or understanding the story. The relationship of Leiyatel, a kind of formless goddess figure, to the world of Dica appears to be a subtle one that would take reading the other books in the series to truly understand. Here it’s a bit of mystery. I think it’s a good introduction to the series actually, because it makes you curious to find out more.
As for the story; it’s very different. It’s a traditional fantasy but without a single sword or other weapon and without a single battle. There isn’t even a bad guy, and yet, Mr. Johnson kept me reading. After a journey to a tower, Falmead, loses himself. It’s as of he’s forgotten who he is, and he draws away from Geran, the woman he loved so adoringly at the beginning of the book. Geran’s sister Prescinda decides to sort out the problem for her dear upset sister, and so begins a journey to get Falmead back to his old self.
It seems that he has become possessed by a Cold Angel whose very presence threatens the stability of Leiyatel who holds the world together somehow. Nephril, an old friend of Falmead, who the poor man no longer recognises, has dire predictions for Falmead, but events conspire to provide a more amiable solution.
The most noteworthy thing about this book is the beautiful prose. Cold Angel is written in a richly poetic old style English, a delight to read, but probably an acquired taste. It’s the kind of book you can amble through, without wanting to speed, just rolling the words around in your mouth and enjoying their flavour. The read is somewhat akin to a very rich desert.
Falmead remains a shadowy figure and I didn’t feel that I got to know Geran very well, but Prescinda is the star of the book and is well fleshed out. I did enjoy Grog too. The book is well paced, but not dramatic, more like a steady journey, and comes to a satisfying and somewhat surprising conclusion.
The world of Dica is worth visiting just for the scenery, tall towers, castles, steep slopes and huge walls and of course, the usual kind of villages you see in any traditional fantasy – except that there are some basic mechanical vehicles, ones that come across as rather clunky, bad tempered and somewhat amusing.
I would recommend this to anyone who loves beautiful prose, a rich imagination and a story free of battles. I particularly enjoyed the mystical quality of the book and the descriptions of the inside of the tower. Somehow, Mr Johnson has created a solid world with an ethereal underbelly, a unique and magical world.
Joanne Sydney Lessner delivers another well-written story with her latest Isobel Spice murder mystery. She’s a kind of a modern day, American and younger version of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Isobel a likeable character and the story is very entertaining. It’s well paced and has a strong plot with the kind of surprises one expects in a mystery. It also has a romantic element that is very well done.
I enjoyed meeting Isobel and James again, and the dramatic tension in their relationship was true to form from the first in the series. What I loved most about the book is how Lessner weaves James’s past into the story and how the culmination of the story healed an old wound. Jame’s struggles were in many ways the real guts of this story. The end was excellent, completely unexpected, very dramatic and very satisfying.
This is the second Isobel Spice book I’ve read and the third one written by Joanne Sydney Lessner . All her books are guaranteed good reads, but I have to admit that Bad Publicity isn’t my favourite. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an excellent book, it just didn’t have the cleverness of Pandora’s Bottle or the pizzaz of the Temporary Detective.
Joanne Lessner’s The Temporary Detective is one of those novels you just don’t want to stop reading, with characters well drawn and sympathetic enough to easily carry a full series. In the series opener, the quirky, delightfully headstrong Isobel Spice has just landed a temp job for which she is seriously under-qualified. She doesn’t let that stop her, though, basically steamrolling the hapless James Cooke — her supervisor at the temp agency — into letting her take on said job. Within hours, a very-disliked member of the staff turns up dead… And, of course, Isobel is the one to find her. What follows from there is a fun, clever whodunit with Isobel at the helm as she attempts to keep her new job, maintain her safety, and find the bad guy.
There are a number of things that make this novel a true gem, among them Lessner’s deft writing hand, sharp wit, surprisingly complex characters, and a clear understanding of Isobel’s world as a struggling actress new to the bright lights of Broadway. Add to that the kind of chemistry that just leaps off the page between Isobel and James, and you have a mystery well worth your time. Through all of that, I was also particularly impressed with the author’s ability to move seamlessly from comedy to romance to amateur sleuthing while simultaneously handling deeper issues like James’s very recent sobriety with a sensitivity uncommon to the genre. With that said, don’t mistake this for a novel with a deeper message; Lessner is delightfully irreverent throughout. This is an easy read that I cruised through in a couple of days, and I recommend it highly for anyone who enjoys cozy mysteries with a healthy dose of romance and a hint of New York edge.
All the Blue Eyed Angels wasn’t given to me in exchange for a review. I received it as a gift, so I read it as a kind of reviewer’s holiday, feeling a sense of relief that here was one book that I wouldn’t have to write a review about. However, I hadn’t read far before I realised that I would be writing a review after all, because the book is simply excellent and deserves to be praised loud and clear for all to hear.
Not only is it expertly written, it’s a great tale with an unpredictable plot that left me wanting the next instalment so much that as soon as I had finished it, I turned the internet on and bought it immediately.
It’s the kind of book that makes anyone who says that Indie books aren’t as good as mainstream books look either ignorant or an idiot, because this is every bit as good as the best that any mainstream publisher might produce, and it deserves to sell every bit as well.
Reporter Erin Solomon is a modern woman with a strange past. After being bequeathed the island where she lived as a child, one she hasn’t lived on for twenty years, she returns to unravel the mystery of a fire that killed 32 people. A package of photographs that came with the title deed indicate that whatever the truth was all those years ago, it was covered up with the full knowledge of several people, including her estranged mother. Erin intends to find out the truth and write a book about it.
She lived on the island in a cult with her father until she was nine, and though she remembers it as a good, safe time in her life, as the story progresses and she sees some of the events from a grown up perspective, she begins to question her childhood perception.
A thread of romance also weaves its way through the story; two men, two different relationships, and neither of them simple. Add the facts that people start dying from the time she begins her investigation, and that Erin’s parents are both well-involved in the cover-up, and it’s no wonder that Erin’s soon out of her depth. Slowly, the facts start to come together, but the real knowledge only comes along with a fairly catastrophic event. The pacing is flawless, building steadily to a riveting climax. The characters are complex, likable and expertly drawn.
If you enjoy contemporary mysteries, then you don’t want to pass on this one, and even if—like me—you don’t usually read mysteries, I highly recommend it. The romance softens the otherwise very gritty story.
All the Blue-Eyed Angels now holds the exclusive AIA seal of quality. It is available on Amazon.