Heaven’s Crooked Finger by Hank Early

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Earl Marcus grew up in a fringe Pentecostal church run by his daddy in the fingers of the North Georgia mountains. Daddy was a snake handler and forced the young Earl to be one too. Except Earl got snake bit and nearly died and, for five days his daddy left him where he lay, to live or to die, according to God’s plan. Earl rejected God that day, and Daddy, and he walked away from both to live his adult life filled with beer and bourbon. Flawed and wounded, Earl spends his days investigating petty crimes as a detective.

 

Thirty years later Earl gets a letter. His Daddy is missing though that can’t be possible because Daddy died a few months before. Earl decides it’s a scam and will leave it be, but he receives another letter that his granny, the only person who ever loved him, is dying, and he has to go home. Earl travels home to Georgia and realizes that he needs to know the truth. Is Daddy dead or alive?

 

The book’s initial setting feels like a hidden character, moody and dark, and evocative with inherent conflict. The tone of the chapters focused on Earl’s early life are filled with arcane religious images which are eerily compelling, believable, but frighteningly so, while the present day chapters seem stilted and forced just as Earl is stilted and forced as he moves through the dichotomy of his life’s past and present. These two sides wrestle against each, steadily increasing in tension and intrigue until Earl reaches the top of the mountain, though not of his own accord.

 

Dark Signal by Shannon Baker

4 Stars (4 / 5)

There’s something about trains that evokes excitement and nostalgia in many folks. Maybe it’s the hypnotic clickety-clack of the train as it moves on the rails, or the spirited whooo-hooo of the whistle as the train pulls out of the station, ready to transport people and goods to faraway cities. However, the train in Dark Signal by Shannon Baker is not that kind of train. It is a place of shattered windows, icy steps, and inky blackness where there should be light. It is a place of murder.

 

The grisly, suspicious death of a BNSF engineer takes place one bitterly cold January evening on the rails outside the small town of Hodgekiss, Nebraska. Lifelong resident and newly appointed county sheriff, Kate Fox, has her plate full trying to figure out who would kill a local resident and why. While her partner in the case, state trooper Trey Ridnoir, quickly zeroes in on another native of Grand County who certainly seems to have means, motive, and opportunity, Kate isn’t so sure. As she searches for evidence to disprove Trey’s theory, she finds herself in the kind of danger that could bring the murder count in Hodgekiss to two. Or more.

 

Dark Signal, the follow-up to the first novel in the Kate Fox series, Stripped Bare, is intriguing and engaging. While it would have been nice to see Kate herself mulling the case over and having a couple of “aha!” moments as she went along, (many of her thoughts seem to be about Trey being wrong and whether or not to trust her gut, instead of putting clues together) the author does a good job of creating a plausible whodunit that will leave many readers guessing until the end. All of the characters are well written, each coming across as genuine and distinct from the other. Several of the characters are quirky and enjoyable in a way that only some small-town people are, and they bring humor and a sense of earthiness to Shannon Baker’s fictional town. Baker also beautifully conveys the stark, breathtaking landscape of the Great Plains in midwinter, giving her story a wonderfully tactile sense of place. That place is one you’ll want to return to in future Kate Fox novels, if for no other reason to see if there might be more to Kate and Trey’s relationship than just solving crimes.

19 Souls by J.D. Allen

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

19 Souls begins with a great opening line.

 

Her bloody finger left a translucent smear on the phone screen as she glanced through the list of private investigators in Vegas.

 

 

The sentence raises questions. Who is she? Why is she bloody? Why does she need a PI? Is she a victim? Is she a killer? Turns out she may be both. The PI that she calls is Jim Bean. Jim thinks he is on track when he picks up a new client, Sophie Ever

s, the above-mentioned woman. Sophie contacts him because she needs help finding her long-lost brother, Daniel. But soon Jim discovers the truth. Daniel is not Sophie’s long lost brother at all. In fact, Daniel is the brother of Cynthia Hodge a.k.a. the body. There’s been a murder. Remember the opening line?

 

And so begins the bizarre series of twists and turns of the novel.

 

This thriller is fast paced. The main character is engaging and the story begins deceptively as a noir tale with a straight-laced but reserved PI with a tragic past but makes an unexpected turn. Soon Jim is on the hunt for a killer a.k.a. his client.

Mind Virus by Charles Kowalski

5 Stars (5 / 5)

“Religion is the smallpox of the mind, and I am its Jonas Salk,” states the evil mastermind who is behind a wave of global terrorist attacks in Mind Virus.  The villain (whose name shall not be revealed here so as not to spoil some of the fun) believes the optimum way to eradicate this virus of the mind is to kill the infected hosts – otherwise known as people of faith.  Enter religious studies teacher and Army veteran, Robin Fox, whose job it unwittingly becomes to stop these international attacks and find the person responsible.  His task becomes all the more personal when colleague and friend (or more?) Emily Paxton is kidnapped and held as leverage to get Fox to stop interfering in the terrorist’s plans.

 

It is no wonder Charles Kowalski won RMFW’s Colorado Gold Award for Mind Virus.  It is a thoroughly-researched,  thoughtful novel regarding the nature of belief, and how what we believe governs how we treat each other, and in turn, how the way we are treated instructs what we come to believe.  Don’t let words like “thoroughly-researched” and “thoughtful” fool you – Mind Virus is also well plotted, nicely paced, and packed with action.  To wit, Professor Fox survives several attempts on his life, saves the Royal Family from a terrorist attack, and makes it from D.C., to Israel, to London, and back during the Passover and Easter holidays.  Not bad for a week’s work.

 

In Mind Virus, Kowalski skillfully tackles some of the largest issues of our time – namely religion and terrorism and their respective roles in shaping who we are as a global people.  And who we are choosing to become as we move forward.  He adroitly weaves together Bible verses, deadly nerve agents, and the imminent murder of thousands of innocent people to create a brilliant, riveting read.  Hopefully, we will see much more from Charles Kowalski in the years to come.

Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin

 

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

John Rebus has given up cigarettes. Seems he is waiting for the results of x-ray. If the shadow on his lung won’t deter his acerbic wit, then nothing will. Rebus has also givin up his job. Sort of. He’s now retired, bored, and in need of a hobby, and so finds himself begging to solve an old, unsolved murder. DI Siobhan Clarke has mercy on him and gives Rebus some case files for an unsolved murder from 1978 which involved a wayward wife, a rock band, and a mob boss. But who done it? That is what Rebus needs to discover.

 

Gangster Daryl Christie has been beaten near to death, which becomes Clarke’s case. And when a former detective is fished out of the harbor, DI Malcolm Fox is assigned to assist. The three cases seem to intersect, which then brings the three former colleagues (Rebus, Clarke, and Fox) into an uncomfortable alliance. But are they separate cases?

 

Rankin’s 21st book in the Inspector Rebus police procedural series has masterfully woven his adept characters with suspenseful plots, and colored them all with the seedy side of Edinburgh. The story is a gleeful excoriation on members of the greedy elite, and Rankin juxtaposes those supposedly noble characters with the ruthless criminal class. Though Rebus is shadowy in this book, perhaps echoing the shadowed lung, and other characters take front and center in the investigation, it is Rebus who untangles the web of intrigue.

 

The Ninja’s Daughter: A Hiro Hattori Novel (A Shinobi Mystery) by Susan Spann

5 Stars (5 / 5)
The Ninja's DaughterIn 1565 Kyoto, Japan, Ninja Hiro Hattori is awakened by a knock at the door. There has been a murder, and Hiro and Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit, head off to investigate. Hiro discovers a family relationship with the deceased’s father, but distrust between family and clans, misdirection of clues, lies, espionage, and the pressing political tensions due to the recent death of the shogun, make the case a difficult one to solve. Then the local police forbid the investigation, and Hiro and Father Mateo are forced to dodge both threats and blackmail. But the death of the innocent girl presses on Father Mateo and the two can’t just leave it unsolved. They must find the murderer even when continuing the investigation is at their own peril. They find themselves going in circles around potential suspects, but nothing is what it seems. They discover an illicit relationship, stolen property, and treasure, while circumnavigating the customs and hierarchy of feudal Japan. All the while the potential new shogun threatens war.
Susan Spann’s writing is exquisitely precise just like her ninja character Hiro Hattori is precise. Not a single word is wasted. The descriptions of 16th century Japan are vividly painted, but not overwrought, and the author clearly has done her research into both the history, and beautiful, but sometimes brutal culture of feudal Japan.
Her characters are clearly defined, so much so that as a reader, I could judge them by the things they did not say. Each character’s look, each action had clearly defined meanings. The story drew me in from the first sentence and the plot twists and turns surprised me again, and again. I loved this book.