Monday, April 25, 2016

Letters from a Serial Killer by Kristi Belcamino and Stephanie Kahalekulu

It is a true story, one of the most heinous of crimes resulting in the deepest of heartache.  I became friends with Kristi Belcamino through her role as the author of the Gabriella Giovanni crime/mystery series.  Kristi is a bright, joyful person with whom you immediately feel better about the world and its inhabitants.  And, she is this bright light, no deception there.  But, she carries a heavy burden inside, one that led her to write the fiction series, with the first book, Blessed Are the Dead, a direct link to the burden of experience that lies within her.  That experience is her encounter with Evil in the name of Curtis Dean Anderson, a pedophile, a kidnapper, a murderer.  The true account of that horrific experience is now available in the book Letters from a Serial Killer by Kristi Belcamino and Stephanie Kahalekulu, the aunt of Xiana Fairchild.  Xiana was abducted by Anderson in 1999, and both of these women corresponded with and visited Anderson to try and obtain information about Xiana, hoping to bring her home safely.  Below is a review of this heart-shattering book.  Whether you read Kristi's fiction series (which is an amazing series) or not, Letters from a Serial Killer is an important book you need to read.  Protecting children from evil is a responsibility we all share.

Letters from a Serial KillerLetters from a Serial Killer by Kristi Belcamino

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As hard as this true story was to read because of the monster at the center of the case, I can't begin to imagine how hard it was for Kristi Belcamino, along with Stephanie Kahalekulu, to relive and write. A pedophile who kidnaps and murders is the lowest of the low, the most evil of the evil, and to look this evil in the face requires a strength that few of us could muster.

Curtis Dean Anderson is the nightmare that every parent wants to believe is just that, a nightmare and not a reality. Kristi Belcamino, who was a crime reporter for the Contra Costa Times in the late 90s gained the knowledge of that reality when seven-year-old Xiana Fairchild went missing on her way to school in 1999 in Vallejo, California, a community across the bay from the city of San Francisco. At the time, Xiana lived with her mother and her mother's boyfriend in a rundown apartment in Vallejo, but it was Xiana's aunt, Stephanie Kahalekulu, who had raised Xiana, up until six months prior. Xiana's life with Stephanie was a good one, full of love. It is Stephanie with whom Kristi became friends in the long search and hope for finding Xiana alive. Kristi's newspaper coverage became more than a story for her paper; it became her life, all consuming. Stephanie's life, too, became a complete commitment into this living nightmare, as she uprooted her life and those of her two children from a peaceful, orderly one in Colorado to a chaotic, gut-churning one in California.

A break in the case came when Anderson was arrested for the kidnapping of another little girl, one who was fortunate to get away from him before he could end her life. With his arrest, both Kristi and Stephanie had renewed hope that Xiana would be found alive. So began a cat-and-mouse game that Anderson played with the two women, with them visiting him and corresponding with him through letters, hoping to gain information that would lead them to Xiana's safe return. Kristi, with her brilliant writing skills and emotional immersion, and Stephanie, with her heart-on-the-line descriptions, relay to us what horrors they endured in communicating with this Evil in the guise of a human. Hope and then despair, crumbs of information that led nowhere, demands that couldn't or wouldn't be met, heartache and grief. It was a trail of terror that led to the ultimate anguish.

It has been sixteen years since both women have dealt with this Evil and fifteen years since they discovered the truth about Xiana's fate from the grim discovery of her skull, and, yet, they deal with it every day of their lives. How can something this wretched not impact the rest of your life? Kristi and Stephanie have found their own ways of managing the torment within, and their bravery in bringing this important account to readers must be commended. Heroes do what must be done for the good of the world, and Kristi Belcamino and Stephanie Kahalekulu are heroes indeed.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Anthony Awards, Nominee Considerations, Reviews Part 7

There are only two weeks left until the ballots are due for Bouchercon Anthony Awards nominations, and I have a five more 2015 books I've reviewed that I want to ensure are given their due consideration.  Today's selections include two from Kristi Belcamino, Blessed Are Those Who Weep: Gabriella Giovanni Mysteries #3 and Blessed Are Those Who Mourn: Gabriella Giovanni Mysteries #4 from Witness Impulse (both Belcamino books eligible for Best Paperback Original); Away in a Manger: Molly Murphy Mysteries #15 by Rhys Bowen from Minotaur Books (eligible for Best Novel); Too Clever by Half: A Daviess and West Mystery #2 by Will North from Booktrope (eligible for Best Paperback Original); and Art in the Blood: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure by Bonnie MacBird from Collins Crime Club (eligible for Best Novel).

Blessed are Those Who Weep (Gabriella Giovanni Mystery #3)Blessed are Those Who Weep by Kristi Belcamino

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the third book of the Gabriella Giovanni series, author Kristi Belcamino gives us a quite different Gabriella. Although this amazing character is someone I quickly came to love in books one and two, Gabriella has from the beginning had ghosts and demons that tore at her happiness. She has the job she loves as a crime reporter on a major newspaper in the San Francisco area, and she has a partner who is the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with. But, hanging on to her past has cost Gabriella from fully believing in a happy-ever-after.

Family has always been important to Gabriella, and recent events in her life have made it even more so. Called to an apartment for what was termed by the caller the story of a lifetime, Gabriella stumbles into a murder scene, a family slaughtered. But in the midst of the carnage is a baby girl, unscathed, a survivor. Seeing this child brings up Gabriella’s grief about her miscarriage and starts her spiraling downward into a dark abyss. She becomes obsessed with the child and finding the person who slayed the child’s mother, grandparents, and uncle. Everything and everyone else in Gabriella’s life suffers in the wake. She becomes unfocused at work, unreachable in her relationship with Donovan, and unkempt in her physical appearance. She is the perfect metaphor for disheveled in every way.

Gabriella has always had a tendency for obsession, but in this story, obsession take a trip on speed. She is convinced that she knows who the killer of the slain family is, and she is committed to protecting the baby girl named Lucy from falling into anyone’s hands who might harm her. Although a mere ghost of her former self, Gabriella brutally pushes herself to find answers before a deadline of no return for Lucy. Even though her editor took her off the story due to her involvement, Gabriella digs deeper and deeper into a quagmire of cover-ups, a sex club, martial arts, and ties to the war in Iraq. In her determination to protect the surviving child Lucy, Gabriella throws caution to the wind more than ever and jeopardizes all that might save her in return.

Blessed are Those That Weep will have you wringing your hands in concern over whether Gabriella will survive with any semblance of a meaningful life. Kristi Belcamino knows how to do many things brilliantly as a writer. One of those skills is involving the reader emotionally, creating a vested interest that keeps the book in your hands, because you have to know how the characters fare in the aftermath of having their lives torn apart. And, it’s hard to find a better opening sequence than what begins the tale in Blessed Are Those Who Weep. Belcamino is a master at taking the reader quickly into the action and maintaining an intense pace all the way to the end. It’s safe to say that readers of this electrifying series will need a moment to catch their breaths when the last page is turned.

Blessed are Those Who Mourn (Gabriella Giovanni Mysteries #4)Blessed are Those Who Mourn by Kristi Belcamino

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You might think that having read the previous three novels in the Gabriella Giovanni series, you are prepared for almost anything. You would be wrong. Blessed Are Those Who Mourn takes living in a character's head to a whole new level. When you read this book, you will feel pain and suffering and hopelessness. You will fall into a hole so dark and deep, so filled with evil, that your heart beats wildly and your breath comes in ragged gasps. How do people cope with certain unimaginable events of horror? Following Gabriella Giovanni and Sean Donovan through this story will give you an insight that will give you some understanding of that.

Five years has passed since Gabriella and Donovan have had their lives and their love tested to the core in Blessed Are the Meek. Gabriella has recovered from the despair that had almost shut her down and has learned coping skills to deal with her past traumas. She and Detective Sean Donovan finally have everything they ever wanted. Five-year-old Grace Donovan is a beautiful, fierce child who has fulfilled every dream that Gabriella ever had about a family life with Sean Donovan. The nightmares of Gabriella's past have been replaced with happiness and love, but, evil isn’t finished with Gabriella Giovanni yet.

Still working as the crime reporter for the Bay Herald in San Francisco and Donovan still working as a detective for the Rosarito Police Department, it's not unusual for the two to be working the same case, so to speak. As young college women start showing up dead in the Suisun Bay area, there is an eerie and unavoidable common thread, Bible verses left with the bodies. Gabriella is all too familiar with these verses, and suddenly, the nightmares of yesterday have returned. Someone is sending a message, a message that if interpreted incorrectly will cost Gabriella her world. She will be called upon to find strength to battle an all-too familiar evil in the midst of all-consuming despair, and, of course, it wouldn't be a Gabriella Giovanni mystery if the ticking of the clock wasn't a driving force in Gabriella's fight for the right answers.

The hold that this story has, the very gripping claws of emotional involvement that the reader experiences is reading at its best. As in all the novels in this series, the action moves rather quickly, but it will not move fast enough for the reader. Blessed Are Those That Mourn makes a speed reader out of the slowest, something to which I can personally attest. The story can simply not be left to resolve the next day. It demands a full-on commitment as soon as page one is begun. So, clear your day or night to read one of the most engaging books you will ever cry your way through.

Away in a Manger (Molly Murphy Mysteries, #15)Away in a Manger by Rhys Bowen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was especially thrilled when I learned earlier this year that there would be two Molly Murphy books out in 2015, The Edge of Dreams last spring and Away in a Manger this November. I truly cannot get enough of Molly, her family, her friends, and the city of New York City at the beginning of the 20th Century. Rhys Bowen has gifted readers with a Christmas story bonus that I wasn't able to wait until Christmas to read. Having been lucky enough to receive an ARC, I even got in a bit early before the November 17th publication date. This series is such a favorite for so many readers, and fans will be delighted with Away in a Manger. It's Molly at her detecting best, clever and resourceful with a maturing confidence in herself and her abilities. The author's meticulous research is evident in the historical details of New York City coming into a new century, where the newness of motor cars is in high contrast to the struggling problems of the immigrants, especially the untended children of the poor.

Molly is preparing for Daniel's mother, the other Mrs. Sullivan, to visit for the Christmas holidays, and while running errands with her baby son and twelve-year-old Bridie, two young immigrant children catch their attention. Under-dressed and obviously underfed, the two children, whose names are Tig and Emmy, are brother and sister out on the cold streets trying to earn money, as are many children at that time. First Bridie, then Molly are drawn to these children in particular, the very young Emmy with an angelic singing voice and the well-spoken Tig. They are not the usual children of the street encountered. So, Molly is pulled in by her heartstrings and Bridie's concern to see that Tig and Emmy have some warm clothes and food. It, of course, gets much more complicated, with the mystery of their missing mother and an "aunt" who isn't really an aunt, who lets them stay at her boarding house, but only at nighttime. Molly is determined to find out who these children are and what has happened to their mother, and her best friends Gus and Sid become involved and enchanted with the two beggar children. Molly's investigation will take her from the dregs of society to the upper echelon of it, and will reveal a dark, twisted plan of greed and heinous acts.

And, there is Christmas. Molly and her mother-in-law have never been completely comfortable with one another, and the Christmas that Molly hoped would show Daniel's mother how happy Daniel was with his family turns chaotic. Even the steady Daniel presents a major problem with which Molly must deal. There is much to do to save Christmas for everyone, the Sullivans and the two orphaned children, and a happy ending seems a desperate reach indeed. Much is at stake for many in Maggie's latest challenge.

Great characters, fascinating plot, and Christmas magic. Rhys Bowen never fails to deliver a fascinating, thrilling tale. This Christmas season she gives readers a gift that is sure to please.

Too Clever by Half (A Davies & West Mystery Book 2)Too Clever by Half by Will North

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Will North has again managed to capture Cornish culture in a thrilling continuation of the Davies and West mystery series set in Cornwall, England. As the first book, Harm None, took readers inside the ancient world of witchcraft, wise women, and magic in the culture of the Cornish people, Too Clever by Half explores the acceptance and practice of Druidism in an area that is religiously non-conformist. Cornwall is such a rich source for ancient history and beliefs, and North continues to include the archaeological aspects of the history, as the major impetus for murder and mayhem. In Too Clever by Half, the discovery of an Iron Age underground cave full of ancient treasures, treasures that by English Treasure Act of 1996 must be reported to the local coroner's office to be determined if further government involvement was warranted. Archie Hansen, the farmer who makes the discovery of the artifacts on his farmland is more interested in a quick sale of the valuable items than a lengthy process in which he'd still get money, and even more money. Archie has plans, big plans, but they don't include the government.

The Lizard Peninsula is the part of Cornwall in which Too Clever by Half is set, although the story begins at sea, where a man's naked body is found floating face down. The Major Crimes Investigation Unit from Bodin is called in, so Detective Inspector Morgan Davies gets the nod to investigate. The Scene of Crimes Manager, Calum West, is on the case, too, in spite of the lack of said scene. The victim turns out to be the very farmer who discovered the ancient artifacts on his land, but that part of the story isn't known to the investigators until later. The first line of investigation is into Archie Hansen's role as head of the local Druid community, an interest that Archie shared with his companion, Charlotte Johns, who reported him missing, which led to identification of the floater. The Walter Scott quote aptly describes the story that unfolds from the discovery by Hansen to the discovery of the murderer, "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." Lies, adultery, and secrets create an atmosphere ripe for revenge for several different suspects, but who wants to settle the score the most? Who decides that murder is justified? Our dear Archie seems to have offended and mistreated many. It is indeed an untangling of motive and opportunity that Davies and West must accomplish if they are to clear the innocent and convict the guilty.

Throughout this novel and its predecessor, one of the aspects I enjoy most about North's writing is the witty repartee between his main characters and with those whom they converse. The conversations between Davies and West are, of course, the ones in which I take special pleasure. Their evolving relationship, both professional and personal, is revealed largely by these conversations, where West may be the one person to never become flummoxed by Davies, and, indeed, he possesses an understanding of where her sharp words come from and is more often than not able to reach underneath her hard exterior.

Having now read this second and most recent book in the Davies and West series, I am confidant that the series will continue to be a favorite. Will North takes full advantage of the amazing Cornwall as a setting, with stories and characters that well match the special place. The precise descriptions of the differing topography that is Cornwall makes North's stories ones in which a reader feels fully engaged. I'm looking forward to the new year and another Davies and West mystery in my reading queue.

Art in the Blood: A Sherlock Holmes AdventureArt in the Blood: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure by Bonnie MacBird

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Art in the Blood is a pastiche with one of my favorite characters, Sherlock Holmes, and is an engaging tale and a promising series that I'm looking forward to reading more of. One of the aspects of this book that is the best is the research of author Bonnie MacBird. She is genius at including all the sidebar items of history that make fiction sing for me. And, the reading of Art in the Blood isn't the end of those fascinating tidbits. It is simply a required part of this reading to visit the author's Web site and read through, listed by chapters, her illustrated annotations. I'm such a fan of authors going the extra mile to enhance the reading experience, and MacBird does that and then some.

This Sherlock tale takes place in Sherlock's rather early days, as he is 34 and is in the throes of a depression over his inability to bring closure to the Ripper investigation. Newly wedded friend Watson, having been preoccupied with his new wife and living arrangements, is distressed to find Holmes in a cocaine-induced stupor when he at last visits Baker Street. A solution to Holmes' state arrives on the heels of Watson's appearance in the form of a letter from Paris, a letter requiring the skills of Sherlock Holmes to even read it. The letter is a request for help from a beautiful French cabaret singer (is there any other kind of French cabaret singer), a Mademoiselle La Victoire, whose son is missing. To complicate matters, the son is the illegitimate child of an English Earle, who has been raising the boy as his and his wife's own.

Sherlock jumps into action with he and Watson running for the train to Paris. Of course, finding the child will be the easy part of this adventure. There is lost art, megalomaniac and ruthless men, murder most foul, long-kept secrets, more missing children and Sherlock's brother Mycroft all thrown into the danger that must be faced. Sherlock seems the only one who could possibly connect all the dots and resolve all the problems, but he himself will be tested like never before.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Publication Day and Reviews, The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King and Killer Takout by Lucy Burdette

Today is the publication day for two of my favorite authors and series.  The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King is the 14th Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes book in that long-time favorite series, and it lives up to every bit of hype that has been buzzing about it for months.  Killer Takeout by Lucy Burdette is the 7th Haley Snow, Key West Food Critic mystery, and it is more fun than murder really ought to be.  I was fortunate to read both of these books before publication date, so my reviews are already written and ready for readers to consider below.  The Mary Russell review is much shorter than my normal reviews because I simply couldn't give anything away if I wanted the reader to have the same amazing experience I had.  Haley Snow's review touches upon many aspects of the book, but there are so many more sweet surprises left.  So, Happy Birthday to these two fascinating books!

The Murder of Mary Russell (Mary Russell, #14)The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The title of this latest Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes is enough to make long-time fans, including me, of this series wring their hands and bite their nails. Murder of Mary Russell? Has author Laurie King lost her mind? Have fans not shown how much they love Mary? Well, there was nothing to do but read the book and hope for the best.

So, what to tell those who haven’t read The Murder of Mary Russell. I can tell you that Laurie King has written a brilliant book, one of the best in the series. There is so much of the unexpected and it’s all so beautifully written that I can only conclude Laurie is a genius. The characters are all cleverly written, creating a sustained interest in the scoundrels as well as the more admired, Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes. But, it is Mrs. Hudson who steals the show in this book. It so happens that Mrs. Hudson has a past, and, what an interesting past this quiet, efficient woman has. She didn’t just appear at 221 Baker St., a grown woman with no history. Her story is quite worthy of its own telling.

And, now I have to stop short of revealing the plot of this gripping story, as that would diminish the joy for others of discovering every savory, surprising tidbit that makes this book one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The only final information that I dare impart is that there is blood, quite a substantial bit, on the floor of the parlor in the Sussex house shared by Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, and Mary Russell is missing. Ready, set, read!

Killer Takeout (Key West Food Critic Mystery #7)Killer Takeout by Lucy Burdette

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hold onto your floppy hats, fans of Lucy Burdette's Key West Food Critic mysteries. It's Fantasy Fest week on our favorite island, where the wackiest of the wacky celebrations includes events such as the Zombie Bike Ride, the Tighty Whitey Party, the Pet Masquerade, the Tutu Party, and the Duval Street Parade where body paint is often a substitute for clothing. Key West is practically bursting at the seams with wall to wall people visiting for this wildest adult extravaganza, and crowds of uninhibited revelers aren't the only ones swirling. A possible hurricane is waiting off the coast of Cuba to join the party. And, Killer Takeout gives readers a front row seat to all the festivities.

While Haley Snow, food critic for the online Key Zest magazine is currently writing a lower key piece for the magazine on takeout food, due to the impossibility of doing restaurant dining-in during Fantasy Fest, she has plenty on her plate. Her mother has decided to marry her sweetheart Sam during this craziest of weeks in Key West, which has Haley dealing with arrangements that are challenging to say the least. Miss Gloria, Haley's adorable octogenarian houseboat roomie, has signed her and Haley up for the ending Duval Street Parade as parade ambassadors. Haley's co-worker at Key Zest, Danielle, is the Fantasy Fest Queen, so there are activities to attend supporting Danielle. And, she is covering some of the events for Key Zest, including the Zombie Bike Ride. All the while, Key West televisions are set on the weather station tracking the impending storm/hurricane.

With all the churning and twirling of celebration and storm, a murder is served, and, of course, Haley has her hands in the pie. Being observant and apparently blessed with good hearing, Haley hears a strange call from behind her in the Zombie Bike Ride. "Zombie down." The downed zombie isn't just down, but dead, and the victim, Caryn Druckman, is a runner-up to the Fantasy Fest Queen crown and the person Haley's friend Danielle recently had an altercation with. Haley rushes to Caryn lying in the street, but there is nothing she can do and nothing the victim tells her that can help before the paramedics take her away. Haley's boyfriend on the Key West Police Force, Detective Nathan Bransford, focuses on Danielle as the guilty party in the demise of the unpopular Ms. Druckman, but Haley knows that there's more to the story than a beauty queen gone bad. So, Haley does what Haley does best, starts asking questions and taking notes to clear her friend and find out who really had it in for the victim. So much is up in the air and out of control, and Haley is on a deadline to find answers before they're all blown away.

Every time I read a book in this series, I think it is the best one yet. They are all so much fun and full of the most animated, interesting characters that ever graced the paradise known as Key West. The author takes great care with all of her characters, whether they be a regular or performing a guest role. The dialogue is always fresh and lively, and shows that Haley maintains a sense of humor throughout her ups and downs. The food is always to die for. Well, it is. Even in the takeout menu items, there is no dearth of drooling over the meals. Lucy Burdette has a magical way of making this beautiful island come alive to readers, and I'm convinced that she is responsible for increased tourism. It's really hard to believe that Killer Takeout is the seventh book already in this series, but time does fly when you're having fun.

I was given a copy of this book by the author for review, and I guarantee an unbiased review has been given.