Quick and the Dead

Highly recommended — despite reservations

Scheduled Publication Date 1 May 2016
Scheduled for release  1 May 2016

Introducing outspoken female sleuth Alex Quick in the first of a new mystery series by Susan Moody. When her business partner, acclaimed art historian and university professor Dr. Helena Drummond, disappears, Alexandra Quick is consumed by guilt. Shortly before she vanished, Helena had complained of being menaced by a stalker, and Alex had dismissed her fears as groundless. Now Alex, a former police detective, is determined to use her finely-honed investigative skills to find out what’s happened to her friend and colleague.  But the more she uncovers, the more Alex realizes how little she really knew Dr. Helena Drummond. As it becomes increasingly clear that the woman she thought she knew so well has been keeping a great many secrets from her, Alex must decide: is Helena a victim . . . or is she a killer?

Susan Moody’s Quick and The Dead is exactly the kind of mystery I want to fling in the face of my more intellectual friends who decry my preference for “frivolous” fiction – or, as they scathingly condemn such books, “mind candy.”

First, you won’t find anything “frivolous” about Alex Quick, a former high-ranking homicide detective who left the force after finding out about her husband’s infidelities . . . and suffering a heart-rending miscarriage of the child she hadn’t known she carried.  Second, no one who reads Quick and The Dead with a mind even partially pried open could dismiss this as “mind candy.”

Instead, this is the highly literate fiction for which British mystery writers, in particular, are so well known – and well regarded.  Think P.D. James, although I am not suggesting that Moody’s style is anything other than her own.  Not for a moment.  No, this is literature that just so happens to involve murder and other mysteries.

The murder is disturbingly violent – and readers need to know that the initial depiction of the murder scene is disturbingly detailed as well.  This is no comfortable cosy!  Yet, I strongly recommend Quick and The Dead to readers who even think they may be able to handle it, and they can thank Moody’s deftness in dealing with the scene from there on out for that recommendation.  Quick herself is so deeply affected by the violent killing that she cannot (and Moody does not) continue to dwell on these details.  Instead, the restraint employed by the character and her creator serve to heighten the sense of heinousness without subjecting the reader’s mental imagery to further violence.

Readers should also be prepared for a bit more than a sprinkling of four-letter words, in particular one that is usually considered the most objectionable by those of us who dislike them.  (That includes me.)  And yet, I still think readers who can possibly overlook their objections to graphic violence and obscene words should and would enjoy this novel.  Some can’t, and those won’t.  And that’s a pity, because this is a stunning read.

Alex Quick is both tough and tender.  It’s not just “cop-speak” when she blurts out such words.  This is who she is, and that is how she would speak.  Moody has created a complex, multi-dimensional character who fascinates, and I look forward to getting to know her better.  I also look forward (and plan to look backward, too) to more from Moody.  I like her way with words, even if I don’t like all of the words she employs, and I like her sense of story.

The mystery begins when Quick discovers a dead woman in her colleague’s flat . . . and quickly realizes how little she knows about the woman with whom she works.  Helena Drummond, the art historian with a body in her bed, is as much a mystery as the identity of the killer.

“She comes across as so open and let-it-all-hang-outish, but in fact she gives almost nothing away.  So I don’t know anything about her background or her family situation.  Nothing.  Apart from the fact that she’s been married twice,” Quick tells another character as she begins her search for her missing partner.  She’s immediately stunned to learn that one of those husbands is a painter whose work she has long admired and has urged Helena to include in one of the compilations of pictures and text that they have published to much acclaim and some profit.

The police, not surprisingly, want to find Helena, too.  One does tend to wonder about the disappearance of a woman when another woman’s body is found, brutalized, in her bed.  Quick is sure Helena couldn’t be involved . . . but the more she searches for answers, the more questions she finds.  About Helena.  About the victim.  About herself.

The intensity builds, as Moody layers mystery upon mystery, pulling the reader further and further into the story, swiping page after page until there is nothing left to discover.  And that’s just as well, because, by then, the reader should be thoroughly satisfied, even satiated.

One final warning:  Readers may very well have a hard time settling on what to read next because, I promise, they will not want to settle for less.

Note:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from Severn House and NetGalley.  This review reflects her opinions and only her opinions.  The book is for sale, but Sis is not – nor has the publisher nor anyone else connected with this or any other book attempted to corrupt her.

Hardcover $28.95 (USD), pre-order price $23.01 as of 30 March 2016; Kindle list price $22.36 (USD), pre-order price $14.99 as of 30 March 2016.  Scheduled for release in the U.S. on 1 May 2016.featured

Toward Night’s End, a Friday freebie

by M.H. Sargent — highly recommended

Kindle edition free today
Kindle edition free today

This historical novel of Japanese-American honor and patriotism opens on March 30, 1942, with the evacuation of more than 250 Japanese-Americans living on Bainbridge Island, in Puget Sound, Washington. The process had been going smoothly when the Army discovers that a 21-year old Japanese-American fisherman, Matthew Kobata, is missing. During their search for Matthew, two Caucasian men are found murdered on the island. Seattle detective Elroy Johnstone has come to the island to investigate the murders, and evidence leads him to suspect Matthew may be involved. But he is one step behind as Matthew escapes on his fishing boat. With Matthew now emerging as the prime suspect in the murders, the detective’s investigation then takes him to Seattle where another murder has occurred. This time a Japanese-American.

Complicating matters, the coroner finds that both the Japanese-American and one of the Caucasian men have identical tattoos, both on the left ankle. But what do these tattoos mean? And who has killed these three men? Matthew? And if so, why? And most important, where is Matthew? Johnstone’s investigation will take him from Seattle’s Naval Air Station to the Manzanar Relocation Center in Owens Valley, California, and back to Bainbridge Island. And, although he doesn’t know it, the clock is ticking and a countdown is in place for an event that could result in the unthinkable taking place Toward Night’s End.

A beautiful blend of historical fiction, literary fiction and WWII mystery/thriller . . .

Toward Night’s End is one of those novels that is so well-written that I found it hard to believe it is available free. It would be a bargain at its list price of $2.99, and I’d have happily forked over for a hardbound version if that had been my only choice.  Yet, I downloaded it for free, and it is free again today (but please verify before “buying” as Amazon’s prices are always subject to change without notice).

The novel, based on a true story, is set in the months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and around the forced internment of Japanese immigrants and their Japanese-American children and grandchildren, centering on the family of Matthew Kobata, who disappears in the hours before his family was ordered to leave their home on a Washington island and report for internment at Manzanar War Relocation Center in California.

My beautiful mom-by-marriage and her family were interred, forced from their home in Stockton, CA, to end up, eventually, in Arkansas. Her experience — and the experience of my aunts-by-marriage — piqued my interest in this novel, as much, if not more, than my enjoyment of mysteries.

Toward Night’s End is at once a work of literary fiction, a mystery, and a World War II novel. It’s beautifully written, and beautifully told, dwelling on the love of country both of those who chose to be Americans and those whose families have been Americans for more than two generations, as well as the betrayal of country.

M.H. Sargent is also the author of the CIA thriller MP-5 series Seven Days From Sunday, The Shot To Die For, Operation Spider Web, The Yemen Connection and Alliance of Evil.

Click to download Toward Night’s End

The Hiding Place, 35th anniversary edition

The Hiding Place, 35th anniversary edition by Corrie ten Boom with Elizabeth and John Sherrill

foreword by Joni Eareckson Tada

“Every experience God gives us . . . is the perfect preparation for the future only He can see.” — Corrie ten Boom

One of Sis’s all-time favorite among biographies & memoirs, now in a special 35th anniversary Kindle edition. Sis hopes you didn’t miss the special sale price, but she assures you this story is worth the list price.  Hardbound and paperback editions are also available.  

Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker who became a heroine of the Resistance, a survivor of Hitler’s concentration camps, and one of the most remarkable evangelists of the twentieth century. In World War II she and her family risked their lives to help Jews and underground workers escape from the Nazis, and for their work they were tested in the infamous Nazi death camps. Only Corrie among her family survived to tell the story of how faith ultimately triumphs over evil.  Here is the riveting account of how Corrie and her family were able to save many of God’s chosen people. For 35 years, millions have seen that there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still. Now The Hiding Place, repackaged for a new generation of readers, continues to declare that God’s love will overcome, heal, and restore.

Sis freely acknowledges that she has yet to know the depth of faith exhibited by either Corrie or her sister, Betjie, in either this book or in other books about their lives — but that doesn’t stop her from striving towards it. This is not only a riveting account of one family’s efforts to save Jews during World War II, but a compelling story of faith in action. Sis has read it dozens of times, as has her younger sis.  It is timeless, as important today as when it was first penned.  Or, possibly more?

Paperback Edition

Reining in Murder by Leigh Hearon

Recommended, but with reservations

Kensington Books
Kensington Books

Paperback ($7.99, USD) or Kindle e-book ($5.99)  released Tuesday, 29 March 2016

When horse trainer Annie Carson rescues a beautiful thoroughbred from a roadside rollover, she knows the horse is lucky to be alive … unlike the driver. After rehabilitating the injured animal at her Carson Stables ranch, Annie delivers the horse to Hilda Colbert – the thoroughbred’s neurotic and controlling owner – only to find she’s been permanently put out to pasture. Two deaths in three days is unheard of in the small Olympic Peninsula county, and Annie decides to start sniffing around. She’s confident she can track down a killer … but she may not know how ruthless this killer really is …

Like an untried Thoroughbred, Leigh Hearon’s Reining in Murder (A Carson Stables Mystery) shows a lot of promise – but this clean, cozy mystery set in the world of high-stakes horse competition isn’t quite up to the standard of the blue rosettes.

Annie Carson, the heroine who rescues horses, is well-defined, a woman who’s meant to be a little rough around the edges and as comfortable in her own skin as Trotter, the donkey she keeps on her small farm in the Pacific Northwest.  The storyline is complex, with just a few untidy strands sticking out here and there and begging for a defter hand with the clippers.

Given time, I expect Hearon will grow more comfortable with her skills and give her readers that cleaner, tighter finish that will earn blue ribbons with her future mysteries.  Her prose, for the most part, flows like a smooth and easy trot, but it occasionally breaks into bumps where she flings stable jargon around without explanation, in or out of context, and leaves her readers to hang on as best they can.  Most of them won’t know how.

I’ve ridden horses since my father saved pocket-money to pay for pony rides on Saturdays.  He gave me an ancient cutting horse for my 11th birthday, a horse who’d been put out to pasture and who proved to be perfect for a horse-crazy girl who knew next to nothing.  I now have a 16.3-hand* Palomino Quarter Horse who, over the last eight years, has learned as much as I have.

We both know that I can’t cross-tie him unless I leave his halter on, unlike Annie and that $50,000 Thoroughbred she rescues as the story opens.  My husband only knows what cross-tying is because he drilled the screws for the brackets, after I showed him where I wanted them to go.  My best friends don’t know what cross ties are, much less how to use them.  Nor do they know what cribbing is, or even that it’s a stable vice.  Do they even know what “stable vice” means?  I suspect not.  Nor do they know what I mean when I say that my vet “floated” my horse’s teeth, or whether a flake of hay is bigger or smaller than a bale of hay.

Yet, readers will encounter all of those equine terms in Reining in Murder (A Carson Stables Mystery) and I’m betting few, very few, will know how to decipher them.  Even with the built-in dictionaries on e-readers.

Writing vices like these will pull readers right out of a story, as surely as a wicked buck will fling a rider out of a jump saddle.  (Ask me how I broke my back.)  I don’t know why Hearon’s editors didn’t catch these flaws and insist that she recast the offending sentences.  It’s not fair, not to her, nor to her readers.  Especially not to her readers.  And that’s a shame.  Because the promise is there.  It just isn’t kept with this first book out of the starting blocks of what I believe can become a satisfying series.

As a result, I think this mystery is likely to appeal only to fans of cozy mysteries who know a good bit about horses, or who have the patience and the willingness to work through these flaws for the pleasure of being in on the beginning of a new series.

*The height of horses is measured in “hands,” from the top of the horse’s withers (at the end of the mane, where the neck joins the back) to the ground, with each hand equal to 4 inches.  So, Sis’s horse is 5’7″ tall — a long way to the ground.

Note:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from Kensington Books through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and independent review.  Sis values her integrity and her independence far too much to exchange either for one book or a library full of them.


Here There Is No Why

Available in Kindle ebook, paperback or used hardbound editions at Amazon.com
Available in Kindle ebook, paperback or used hardbound editions at Amazon.com

“Here There Is No Why” was the infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele’s answer to Roma, the author of one of the most compelling Holocaust memoirs, and to millions of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Written to fulfill a promise made in the darkest moment of human history, this simple and eloquent story is unique in that it spans the geography of the Nazi’s Final Solution.

Rachel Roth, or “Roma” in Polish, has written perhaps the most compelling, the most powerful Holocaust/World War II memoir I have ever read.  If you only read one, you must consider this before you make your choice.

In part, it is powerful simply because Rachel Roth survived not only the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but also three of the most notorious concentration camps, including Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz — and Mengele’s infamous selections. It is also powerful because of the deftness with which she describes the experiences, at times painting terrifically detailed scenes, at times allowing the horrific events to speak for themselves without cloaking them in emotionally charged language. Yet the emotions are there, when they are most telling. One of the ways she survived was to dream of better times, to transport herself — and others, too — away from the camps to better times and places. After sharing one of these stories with those around her, an anonymous prisoner made her promise to write of what happened there. It would be decades before she was ready to do so.

In keeping her promise, she has given us a tremendous gift — and one that cost her a great deal in recalled pain. It is understandable that she needed time to fulfill the promise, though it is also unfortunate that earlier generations were denied the gift she offers here.

The result is a rare first-hand look at life in the Jewish Ghetto until its destruction, as well as life in some of the most notorious concentration camps, and a tale that encompasses love and hate, kindness and cruelty, grace and horror. It deserves a lasting place in the library of anyone interested in history or the Holocaust. Or simply in human nature.

About the author:  Rachel Roth was the teenage daughter of a journalist when Hitler became a topic of conversation in her family’s summer colony. She is an outspoken witness to life in the Warsaw Ghetto and a participant in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.  She poignantly relays to audiences the daily events of a schoolgirl under German occupation of Poland. She survived the remainder of the war with her Aunt as they were transported into and out of Majdanek, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. She has spoken in English and Hebrew before countless audiences of children and adults, in schools, universities, and synagogues as well as at the U.S. Department of State. Rachel was awarded an honorary diploma from the Ramaz Upper School in New York City in recognition of her studies in the Warsaw Ghetto and her dedication to Holocaust education

Note:  Sis first read this through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.  Its impact on her affected many of her friends and fellow readers, who then borrowed or bought copies . . . and one of those friends, realizing that Sis didn’t even own a copy of the book she had so highly recommended, sent her the gift of the ebook for her very own.  It is definitely one she’ll read again.

Kindle Edition, $3.99 list price

Paperback, $14.55

Read for free through Kindle Unlimited:

Not for the slack of heart . . .

but for the soul who thirsts for God as a hart thirsts for water.
Confessions of a Prayer Slacker (2nd edition), by Diane Moody
Available as a FREE Kindle ebook or as a paperback.

I didn’t know I was a prayer slacker.  I wanted this book, which I received as a gift from a generous friend, because prayer is a big and important part of my life.  In reading it, though, I learned that, sometimes, I’m a slacker after all.

Diane Moody doesn’t pull a single punch, whether she’s confronting our excuses or her own. She examines every one you might offer to explain why you can’t pray today or why you don’t need to really, really pray, and exposes it for the lie it is. It is now just plain impossible for me to start my day without prayer — without picturing God patiently perched on the edge of a chair, a stool, or whatever bit of space might be available and waiting for me to stop busying myself with less important things. I can’t slack off without realizing just who I’m sloughing off. So, be warned — don’t read this if you’re not ready to really dedicate yourself to prayer, even if you thought you were dedicated to prayer.

If you are, however, prepared, wow! What a terrific book to teach you how to make your prayer time better than ever before. From very specific suggestions on when, where, how and what you need for your personal prayer time. Yes, what you need. Who knew I really needed a prayer journal rather than slips of paper with various prayer requests noted down? Diane Moody did. I didn’t. Now, I don’t know how I ever managed without one. Mine isn’t set up exactly like hers — I’m not exactly like her — but I learned a lot from her suggestions, and from my first few days — and weeks, months, and years — of using my own prayer journal.

I’ll give you one more warning: I now spend about twice as much time in prayer as I did before (and I wasn’t a five-minutes-and-I’m-done kind of pray-er). But, I couldn’t be happier. I find myself singing, in my head and right out loud when no one is listening, because I am so full of joy that it just has to come out some way. I’m not naturally gifted at prayer, but I am the kind of person who gets in trouble without a consistent and thorough practice of prayer. I got into far more trouble than Diane Moody ever describes without real, meaningful prayer in my life, and I need it as much as I need air, water, and nutrients. I’ve read a lot of books about prayer and about praying. This is definitely one of the best.

The tone of the book is very much one-on-one — casual, conversational, just you and the author. Or you and your conscience. It’s easy to read, and a delight to read, too. But don’t read it if you want to keep on slacking, because you will be forced to acknowledge just what you are doing and what you are denying yourself. And with knowing WHO is patiently waiting for you, when you finally do have time to talk.

Updated note:  The author has told me that she now always offers the e-book edition for free and set the paperback price at the cost-per-book of $4.89. 

About the author:  Born in Texas and raised in Oklahoma, Diane Hale Moody is a graduate of Oklahoma State University. She lives with her husband Ken in the rolling hills just outside of Nashville. They are the proud parents of two grown and extraordinary children, Hannah and Ben.

To date, Diane has penned thirteen books with several more projects vying for her attention. She and her husband Ken, who writes as McMillian Moody, founded OBT Bookz in 2011. When she’s not reading or writing, Diane enjoys an eclectic taste in music and movies, great coffee, and the company of good friends.

Buy the paperback edition from Amazon.com
Kindle ebook at Amazon.com

Visit Diane’s website.

The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Louise Allingham

Crime at Black DudleyStrongly recommended for fans of traditional or cosy mysteries, especially British manor house mysteries or the Golden Age of Mystery.  Kindle edition re-released by Bloomsbury Reader. List price:  $5.99

Albert Campion plays a minor, almost a cameo role, in his first appearance in the classic mystery series begun by Margery Allingham in 1929 with The Crime at Black Dudley.

The story has all the hallmarks of the Golden Age Mysteries:  a house party at an English country mansion in the period between the two World Wars; a murder committed during a rather ghoulish after-dinner game; secret passages connecting the most unexpected places; sinister foreigners involved in elaborate crimes; clues and misdirections that cast suspicion on just about every character, major and minor; and the satisfying ending that allows justice to prevail and good to triumph over evil.

Indeed, the latter is one of the reasons these mysteries were so popular amongst a generation that had fought or endured what was supposed to be the war to end all wars, then found themselves plunged into a worldwide economic depression.  Well-written, witty fiction such as Allingham’s provided much-needed escape from a reality that was far too real.

“It’s people like you,” exclaims a London bobby in the final pages of the mystery, “wot gives us officers all our work.  But we’re not goin’ to have these offences, I can tell you.  We’re making a clean sweep.  Persons offending against the Law are not going to be tolerated.”

“Splendid!” the hero replies . . . “Really, really splendid, Officer! You don’t know how comforting that sounds.  My fervent wishes for your success.”

The Crime at Black Dudley wasn’t Allingham’s first novel, nor even her first mystery, but it is the first in a popular and long-running series that ended after her death, when her husband, Philip Youngman Carter, finished the final novel, A Cargo of Eagles, and had it published in 1968.  Campion plays a major role in most of the other novels in the series, though not all.

For some of her fans, his minor role in The Crime at Black Dudley is a cause for disappointment.  Campion’s often fatuous, even silly, actions and dialogue provide plenty of wit and surprises.  He is, in many ways, similar to Dorothy L. Sayers’ aristocratic sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, but in this story, the hero is a rotund little physician who unravels the mystery and confronts the murderer.

“I couldn’t help it,” the physician tells the killer.  “It was too perfect. It left nothing to chance.”

For those who have never read any of Allingham’s mysteries, The Crime at Black Dudley is an excellent place to start as it allows the reader to follow the development of Campion throughout the series.  It may be a little slow for many of today’s younger readers, who are accustomed to a fast and furious pace in all forms of entertainment.  But perseverance pays off.  It’s a delightful story, a perfect example of the Golden Age of Mystery, and a great introduction to the series.

Note:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a review of her own, unbiased opinion.  Sis’s opinions are strong enough that she has never felt the need to allow others to influence them.  

Featured Review @ NetGalley

Margery Louise Allingham was born in Ealing, London in 1904 to a very literary family; her parents were both writers, and her aunt ran a magazine, so it was natural that Margery too would begin writing at an early age. The Allingham family retained a house on Mersea Island, a few miles from Layer Breton, and it was here that Margery found the material for her first novel, the adventure story Blackkerchief Dick (1923), which was published when she was just nineteen. She went on to pen multiple novels, some of which dealt with occult themes and some with mystery, as well as writing plays and stories—her first detective story, The White Cottage Mystery, was serialized in the Daily Express in 1927. Allingham died at the age of 62, and her final novel, A Cargo of Eagles, was finished by her husband at her request and published posthumously in 1968.

The God’s Eye View — but whose god?

TheGodsEyeViewRecommend, with reservations.

The God’s Eye view is a crisp, taut political thriller, somewhat akin to those once written by the late Robert Ludlum or Nelson DeMille, Ken Follet and their brethren. The title is especially appropriate, as those who choose to read the novel will discover as the story unfolds.

The pace is intense, making it a compelling read that is hard to put down, even when one’s eyes are struggling to stay open enough to squint at the print. The storyline is just plausible enough to make readers wonder, could this be happening? Now? To us? And give us all a few shudders at these thoughts.

All the same, I’m recommending it with reservations because some readers will not care for the explicit sexual scenes, the graphic depictions of violence and the seemingly mandatory obscene and profane dialogue now so very common to political thrillers. I’m probably much in the minority for yearning for a more creative use of language, even among characters who very likely do use such words with abandon.

From what I hear from other readers, though, I believe a few readers are getting tired of the characters who ought to be the good guys instead being the bad guys, while the bad guys are either downright evil, loyal to an egregious fault, or redeemed or redeemable by the love of a good woman. I know, I know — so many otherwise intelligent women want to believe it can happen, but why reinforce their fantasies?

For myself, I’m tired of the explicit sex that now seems required of thrillers. I don’t want to inject myself into the sex lives of others, even fictional characters. Worse, so often the writers get it wrong, ascribing very masculine fantasies and reactions to their female characters or ascribing to the men such patience in preparation that would have my husband falling asleep long before anything remotely romantic could actually occur.

Still, I doubt if most of those who like thrillers will mind these things as much as I, and the male readers in particular may quite like the idea of a woman who is ready and willing and able under any and all circumstances. No matter how uncomfortable or how at odds with the laws of physics.

I did mind, and yet I did like the book. The premise is frightening, yet believable. The writing is first-rate. The characters are, for the most part, believeable, with no more exception than is typically found in politically thrillers and well within the willingness of readers to suspend disbelief. I will likely read more by Barry Eisler, I just wouldn’t want to read too many books like this in succession.

NOTE: Sis received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Her opinions are not easily influenced, nor have any attempts been made to do so. Her advice? Don’t even try.

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