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.

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.