Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Corpse with the Turquoise Toes by Cathy Ace: Reading Room Review


Criminal psychologist Cait Morgan and her retired homicide detective husband Bud Anderson are off to the Arizona desert in the 12th Cait Morgan book, The Corpse with the Turquoise Toes by Cathy Ace. After a rocky ride in the private plane provided by aging rock star Sammy Soul to bring them there, they arrive in Arizona with high anticipation of having a week’s vacation to relax. The trip is being paid for by Sammy Soul and his wife Suzie as an act of gratitude for Cait and Bud saving their daughter’s life some years before. Now that daughter, Serendipity, is a chef at the new restaurant at the equally new Desert Gem resort. The resort is the home base for the Faceting for Life movement, and Cait and Bud are the first and only guests before its opening to the public. Serendipity is hosting them and is eager to show off her restaurant. 

Before our ever-hopeful-for-a-quiet-vacation couple even set foot on the Desert Gem complex, they receive a message from Serendipity that Linda Karaplis, the founding member, along with her recently deceased husband Demetrius, of the Faceting for Life movement has been found dead. Elizabeth and Norman, the Facetors driving Kait and Bud to Desert Gem receive a call to make haste in returning, as Linda’s son Oscar is missing after hearing that his mother was gone. Cait and Bud fear that once again their vacation is going to have high drama involved. Elizabeth and Norman have already raised some red flags at their strange reaction to finding out Bud was an ex-lawman. 

Shortly after arriving at the Desert Gem and after meeting up with Serendipity, also a devotee of the Faceting movement, at her restaurant, word comes in from the search for Oscar that he has been found dead in the desert surrounding the complex. His neck is broken, and it’s assumed by the group that he fell. Well, there are two people at the Desert Gem who think that the two deaths, mother and son, so close together is suspicious. When Bud asks if the police have been called, he gets stonewalled and assured the community is handling the deaths. They have a doctor, who is also a Faceting for Life disciple, coming to pronounce cause of death. Kait and Bud become more and more concerned that the Faceting for Life movement is more of a cult than a chance for personal growth. 

The surviving member of the Karaplis family is Zara Karaplis, the daughter of Linda and Demetrius, and she is the revered leader of the movement now. Zara claims her father has “pierced the vale” and she is now channeling him with messages from the beyond and advice for the living. Kait and Bud think Zara’s claims are pure hogwash, but it’s uncanny the way she knows things about people, their past and their loved ones, that she presents as knowledge from her dead father. When our doubting duo learn that Linda’s death was a suicide brought on by Zara’s communication from Demitrius that it was his wife’s time to die and join him, Kait and Bud are suspicious that there’s something very wrong at Desert Gem. Upon further learning that other recent deaths were suicides brought on by the same directive from Demitrius through Zara, Kait and Bud see red flags popping up all over the place. They know they must do something, but in a setting where they are the only two skeptics, investigating the Facet and Face It movement now controlled by Zara seems an impossible task. Secluded in the Faceting Movement’s compound, with no transportation of their own and too far to walk for help, Kait and Bud are once again truly on their own.

Cathy Ace gives readers some great characters in this new book. Cait and Bud are always a delight, with their support and understanding of one another. I enjoy how their communications with one another are always thoughtful. The characters added for this story are so intriguing, with their secrets and loyalty to a mythical based belief system. Serendipity Soul is the host for the Morgans visit, wanting them to share in the opening of her restaurant associated with Desert Gem, but she seems skittish and somewhat on edge from the very beginning of their visit. KSue, best friend of the recently departed Linda, is the typical adult follower of such a movement, where she has spent much of her money to have a place at Desert Gem, if only for a number of months (It’s an expensive place to live or stay.) KSue adds lots of drama to the story, and gains both the interest and the concern of Kait and Bud. The almighty leader Zara is a fascinating study in leadership by manipulation. Ambroise was a friend of Oscar, Serendipity, and Zara before the Desert Gem undertaking and is protective of his friends. There’s an interesting dynamic between Ambroise and Serendipity, and it’s hard to pinpoint just what their relationship is. It’s a well-developed cast of players, and trying to figure out who is trustworthy will bring some exciting twists to the story.

Mind manipulation a gripping subject matter, a scary one, too. Cathy Ace gives readers a story that cleverly addresses current conversations about how people can so blindly “follow the leader.” It’s a tale as old as time, but Ace gives it a fresh spin that will have readers on pins and needles worrying about the outcome. Fans of the series will love following Kait’s and Bud’s dogged determination, their always witty conversations, and their ability to face even the most daunting of circumstances. And, with Ace's skillful description of the blazing heat of the day and the complete darkness of the night, readers will feel the discomforting temp and the fright of things that go bump in the night right along with the characters.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Bricks and Bones by J.D. Allen: Reading Room Review


“When things went sideways like this, there was a momentary silence in your head while you inventoried all your own major body parts. No matter what was going on around you, your brain took the time. Head, good. Chest, fine. Blood on the face. No pain. No holes. Blood’s not mine. All checked out.”


When asked how a Jim Bean (Sin City) book by J.D. Allen is, I pause, because I’m confessing before I answer. I never thought I liked a story set in Las Vegas, but J.D. Allen proves me wrong with every Jim Bean story I encounter. I quickly follow that with the declaration that J.D. is such a talented writer and storyteller that she makes Las Vegas come alive in the most interesting of ways through her characters and plots. The best of what happens in Vegas is Jim Bean and his “uncomplicated” cases. As the clues turn into evidence, the suspense builds at a thrilling pace, leading Jim Bean into that abject danger in which he always lands himself. 

Las Vegas Private Investigator Jim Bean has been called to the home of Irving Silverland, former player, “made man,” of one of the Vegas mob families. Silverland hands Jim a check for $10,000 to investigate a robbery that occurred at the Macabre Burlesque Theater, owned by the Silverland family and now run by Irv’s daughte, Bella. The items stolen are of an unusual nature, as they are from the Murderabilia Museum part of the business. Murderabilia is gruesome displays of items owned by murderers, and the selling and buying of it has become a highly competitive business. Missing are a brick from Lizzie Borden’s fireplace where she supposedly burned evidence of her guilt, garrotes belonging to William Gacy, and a glove of Jeffrey Dahmer’s. Jim doesn’t understand the big attraction of these ghoulish “artifacts,” but his finances don’t allow him to ignore the large check offered. After all, it seems like a simple straightforward case of burglary, nothing complicated. One of Jim Bean’s endearing qualities is his ability to believe his cases won’t get complicated. He even decides it will be a good case to let his assistant Sandy finally get out in the field a bit. 

Jim starts his investigation with Bella Silverland at the Macabre Burlesque Theater and sees firsthand the bizarre world of murderabilia. His investigation takes him to more places of the odd and offbeat, including The Ghost Hunter’s Museum, where he finds that TV personality and owner Grey Powers is also interested in murderabilia. Jim makes a stop at the Mob Museum, too, where he talks to ex-FBI Special Agent Pearl about the Silverland family, as Pearl was involved in shutting down the Savino mob that Irving Silverland served in the 1980s. Bean uncovers useful information from all three individuals, but each one has secrets they are holding close to the vest.

Jim gathers quite a bit of information about the intriguing Silverland family as he tries to discover who had a reason to steal the particular murderabilia objects. Along with her father’s colorful past, Bella’s mother was the Sensational Cecilia, a much beloved performer who also had an interest in the paranormal, making contact with those on the “other side.” And, Bella had a twin sister named Nina, who disappeared when they were seventeen years old, almost twenty years ago. Nina is presumed dead by most, including her father and sister, but like so much in Vegas, that turns out to be a smoke and mirrors act.

When Detective Noah Miller shows up to Jim’s office, Jim and Sandy know something is up and it’s not good. Miller is there to inform them of the murder of an employee of the Macabre Theater and friend of the Silverland family. Of course, it bleeds over into Jim’s case, as the murder weapon was the stolen Izzy Borden brick, with which the victim was bludgeoned to death. As usual, Miller warns Jim to stay away from the murder case and let the police handle it. As usual, Jim isn’t going to do that, but in all fairness, it does involve one of the stolen objects he was looking for. 

With the first murder occurring, the complications begin, and it’s not long before the “big picture” is realized, connecting the stolen murderabilia and the murders and the missing/not missing sister and the dark past of Ely coming to light and the ill-gotten treasure of a ghost. It’s a deadly treasure hunt in the desert with a gobsmacking twist. J.D. Allen gives all readers a reason to like Vegas.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Dear Child: Reading Room Review


“ ‘Please, you’ve got to let me go. I want to go home.’” 

He leaned so forward that the tips of our noses almost touched; his weight was painful on my torso that had suffered his kicks and punches.

“ ‘You are home, Lena,’” he whispered back, brushing my forehead with his lips.

I turned my head away and buried my face in the cushion of the back rest …He thrust his hand roughly between the cushion and my cheek, and turned my face back, forcing me to look him in the eye.

“ ‘Do yourself a favor and think about this carefully, Lena. Ask yourself if I’m joking. If I’m just trying to frighten you. Or whether I’d be capable of killing you.’”

“ ‘Not joking.’” I wheezed.


4,993 days. That's how long Lena Beck has been missing when Matthias Beck, her father, gets a call in the middle of the night saying she has been found. Matthias and Karin, Lena's mother, have lived the last thirteen years not knowing whether their daughter was dead or alive. The last thing twenty-three-year-old Lena had said to her father was, "Ciao, Paps. See you soon." Now they’ve received the call they have long awaited. Lena is alive. She’s being treated at a hospital two and a half hours away from Munich, in Cham because she has suffered injuries after being hit by a car, but she’s alive. And, Lena's thirteen-year-old daughter Hannah is also there. Matthias and Karin rush to get dressed and go to Cham, to reclaim the daughter who has been gone for so long.

Matthias is allowed into the hospital room to identify Lena, but he comes out swearing that it is not his daughter Lena. After leaving the hospital room and standing in the hall with his wife Karin and the police officers, Karin points and cries out “Lena.” Down the hallway is Hannah with Sister Ruth coming to visit Hannah’s mother. Hannah is the spitting image of Lena, and there is no doubt in Matthias’ mind that Hannah is his granddaughter. Sister Ruth, though, whisks Hannah away before the Becks can approach them, as she wants to remove Hannah from the commotion. Matthias and Karin will soon learn that there is a grandson, too, but Jonathan will be unable to communicate with anyone, while Hannah seems quite open to talking to her grandfather. 

“Lena” wakes up in a hospital bed with two policemen waiting to talk to her and confirm her identity. When asked her name, she says her name is Lena. When they ask for a surname, she has nothing for them. Meanwhile, thirteen-year-old Hannah is being questioned by Sister Ruth, a kindly hospital employee, who is trying to ascertain where her father is and how to contact him. Hannah is unable to help, as she knows her father is unavailable. “Lena” remembers hitting her husband over the head with a snow globe, getting the keys from his pocket as he lay unconscious on the floor, and fleeing the cabin after telling the children to follow her. She remembers running through the woods to a road where she knows she was hit by a car. It’s rather vague after that, but she realizes that Hannah was with her in the ambulance. “Lena” tells this to the police, who seem sympathetic at first, but when Cham policeman receives a call that the cabin and man have been found, the demeanor towards “Lena” changes some. They inform her that the man lying on the floor of the cabin had been hit so hard and so many times that his face was obliterated. They would have to do a forensic sketch-up of the victim. “Lena” says she thought she only hit him one time, but that it’s possible she doesn’t remember it clearly. Then she tells them about her imprisoned life and her desperate escape. 

Hannah has told Sister Ruth that she and her brother live with their mother and father in a cabin in the middle of the woods and describes the surroundings well. That aids in the police finding the cabin. Hannah also relates to Sister Ruth that it has all the windows sealed tightly and a recirculation unit that gives them their air to breathe. Ruth is horrified by this news, but Hannah sees nothing extraordinary about it. It is her home and her “normal,” all she’s ever known. When she further tells Ruth that she has a younger brother who is eleven, but that he was left back at the cabin to clean up all the stains/blood from the carpet, Sister Ruth realizes just how twisted Hannah’s childhood has been. When authorities finally find the cabin on the German-Czech border, they find a dead man with his face bashed in and the boy named Jonathan. Jonathan is taken to the same hospital as Hannah and “Lena,” but he is kept separate at first from Hannah. He won’t talk and seems withdrawn into himself. Both children are kept in the hospital under the care of pediatric psychiatrist Dr. Hamstedt. 

“Lena” is finally able to tell the authorities that her real name is Jasmine. The man who abducted her made her answer to Lena and nothing else. She tried to tell the man her name wasn’t Lena at the beginning of her fourth months with him, but she was beaten badly for it. “…I still had no idea what he meant by ‘rules,’ but I had understood one of them. I had to be (Lena), or I would be dead.” The rest of the rules would soon be learned quickly, such as the four times to use the bathroom were seven in the morning, twelve-thirty, five in the afternoon, and eight at night. 

The format of the story lends to an easy, continuous read. Three main narrators carry the tale. Lena/Jasmine, Hannah, and Matthias. Jasmine and Hannah tell their perspective views of being in the cabin, a tightly regimented existence that brooked no deviation or surprises. Of course, the children were well conditioned into the life they were living and didn’t ever question the rules. Jasmine quickly learned not to. There’s a lot of going back and forth from the present to the past, as the memories of living in the cabin are given voice by both Jasmine and Hannah, but I was never confused as to when something told had happened. The reader really gets to know these three characters through their narration, with Jasmine being the most reliable character and the most likeable. It is through Jasmine’s narration that readers learn the true horror of her captivity. Hannah’s years of conditioning coupled with her life entirely indoors have resulted in a strange mixture of intellectual precociousness and a stunted physical growth that makes her appear much younger than thirteen. Hannah speaks in facts, sometimes robotically about things because she is unable to engage socially in conversation. Matthias gives readers the perspective of his daughter’s disappearance fourteen years ago and his frustration and anger at the lack of success in the investigation to find her. He is a volatile, brash character whom the reader will strive to feel sorry for but find his bully behavior a problem. Matthias has lots of blind spots in his focus to find where his daughter Lena is.

This book, this story is dark, suspenseful, chilling, twisted, gripping, disturbing, and unputdownable. A stranger abduction story is always a terrifying tale, and Dear Child by Romy Hausmann is indeed that. There is no build-up to the terror. The reader is dropped right into the middle of it, gasping from page one at the cruelty of the kidnapper and the fear of the kidnapped. As the story unfolds from the three narrators, you see the twisted, ugly side to love. The middle of the story into which the reader is dropped is far from the end; the escape is far from complete.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Murder in Immunity by Anne Cleeland: Reading Room Review


DS Kathleen Doyle is pregnant and about to give birth at any time, but Doyle wants to keep busy, as she not good at sitting still waiting. Of course, that also applies to her husband’s, DCI Michael Sinclair’s/Lord Acton’s*, complicated schemes and plotting in the world of crime. Doyle is never able to sit back and let things play out when she’s got an inkling that Acton is up to something, even if a ghost from her past tells her to stay out of it. In Murder in Immunity by Anne Cleeland, Acton is definitely up to something, but, as usual, he wants to protect his lovely wife from the ugliness of what inevitably happens when he’s solving a problem. DCI Acton, also being Lord Acton, has many resources at his fingertips, but underestimating his determined Irish wife, who is fey and can tell when someone is lying, always leads him to getting caught red-handed, sometimes with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar by the fair Doyle.

In the last tale of our two indefatigable partners, Doyle uncovers a theft of charity money being run in Wexford Prison. That scheme is not behind her yet, as the Public Accounts investigation has been linked to it. Acton is busy trying to do damage control in the Met, and seeming quite worried to Doyle. Doyle, although working, has been largely sidelined due to her pressing condition to birthing her second child. When DI Thomas Williams, friend of both Doyle and Acton and cohort of Acton’s, requests she accompany him to a crime scene, she eagerly agrees. Doyle’s quasi-friend DS Isabella Munoz is overseeing the crime scene, where a man and a woman lie dead on the kitchen floor. Williams is quick to judge it as a case of grave-yard love, where one of the two lovers or former lovers kills the other to prevent anyone else from having them and then usually commits suicide afterwards. Doyle and Munoz aren’t so sure about it being a grave-yard love murder/suicide, and they tell Williams they’d like to do a little more investigating. So, the three of them decide to keep the case open until a few questions have been cleared up. One of the odd items about the murder victim, the woman, is that she has a connection to the Public Accounts investigation, and that one really puts a wrinkle into it for Doyle.

The playground where Doyle and Reynolds, the ever-faithful butler and now stand-in nanny, take Edward to play with his friend Gemma, daughter of Doyle’s regular nanny, who has just given birth to her own son, is an active source of information and revelations in this story. Phillipe Savoie, a maybe/maybe-not reformed criminal mastermind also brings his adopted son Emile to the playground during their afternoon meet-ups. Mary, mother to Gemma and newborn son, is having a bit of difficulty getting back on her feet, as her husband has just died recently, another death that comes under suspicion of murder. Everyone, from Doyle to Reynolds to Savoie to Acton’s newly discovered half-sister Callie, is pitching in to help Mary. Doyle connects several dots at these playground sessions, but she also runs into some smoke and mirror puzzles. 

What bothers Doyle the most is that someone is getting away with murder without any consequences, murders of people that should not have been harmed. She needs to figure out why the immunity. She has her suspicions of who is responsible, if not the trigger puller, for the murders, but it’s frustrating for Doyle that the person seems untouchable. Of course, Acton is smack dab in the middle of the whole mess and having to be careful that he doesn’t make a misstep that could bring the House of Acton crumbling down. And, there is yet another person who seems to have been granted immunity in shady dealings, but that often works in Acton’s favor. That may not continue to be the case though.

I love spending time with Doyle and Acton, the improbable couple who are perfect for one another. I enjoy reading the ways in which they care for one another under stressful, high-stakes circumstances. They both have such a great understanding of each other and use that understanding when dealing with opposite views on a matter. They have brought much needed comforts to the other’s life. Kathleen’s love for Michael has given him a world he never dreamed of, didn’t know to dream of it. Who ever thought that Lord Acton would be friends with a Roman Catholic priest? A wife and two children have kept him from a cold, loveless life where only money matters. Oh, money still matters very much to him, but it doesn’t rule his heart anymore. Michael has given Kathleen a financial security that she’d never had before, and while money doesn’t guide her in any way, it’s nice to not have to worry about it. Kathleen has finally gotten used to having the butler Reynolds in charge of the household and is grateful for his excellent cooking and genuine affection for all the children in their orbit now. Both Acton and Doyle have learned to compromise in the language they use, too. Michael isn’t all upper crust talk anymore, and Kathleen is getting an education in vocabulary from Reynolds she never thought she’d need. Of course, I still enjoy her Irish down-to-earth way of putting things, which I doubt and I hope will ever go away. She sums up their relationship to Michael by saying a typical Kathleen utterance, “I am the ying to your yams.”

Readers get to see many of their favorite supporting cast of characters in this story, and that’s always a treat. Munoz and Williams and Reynolds and Mary and Tim and Edward. There are a few new characters who may not be hanging around for long, or who might prove problematic for some time. A woman claiming to be Doyle’s long-lost aunt, who Doyle, being fey, knows is lying. The surprise new sister for Acton, Callie, is proving to be a quite the mystery still, and her mother isn’t someone to which you let your guard down. Callie is filling in as a nanny some for Edward, and she puts him in danger at one point in the book. I don’t know if she can be trusted or not yet. There is some personal animosity between Acton and Savoie in this story, but it looks like it might be cleared up by a mutual agreement. And, I can’t forget to mention the rotating ghosts that appear to Doyle in her dreams. I am delighted with Doyle’s interchanges with them, and with the latest ghost, Mary’s first husband, comes an unexpected warning for the future, that Edward should beware of a girl named Gina when he is at university. Anne Cleeland has created an outstanding cast for these outstanding stories. The personal relationships between all the characters are what are dear to me, and the growing families are so satisfying to read about. Doyle and Acton have been so brilliantly developed, and the recurring characters also receive the author’s full attention and deft development. Of course, there are plenty of secrets the characters hold on to, lending an air of mystery and twist to the stories. 

There are so many fans of the Doyle and Acton series, and we all are so happy that there are two books a year to enjoy. Murder in Immunity was just the read I needed right now, but then this series is always just what I need and want. Murder in All Fury will be out in the fall, thank god fastin'. I don’t want to discourage anyone from jumping in on this 15th book, but I hope that if you’re just finding this amazing series you begin at the beginning. You really don’t want to miss a thing. So, kudos to Anne Cleeland for another thrilling read. 



*Michael’s surname is Sinclair, but he is referred to his titled name, Sir Acton. The people in the Met he works closely with refer to him as Acton. His wife, Kathleen Doyle, uses both Acton and Michael.