Past Tense: A Matt Moulton Mystery by Michael Amedeo


Past Tense: A Matt Moulton Mystery by Michael Amedeo
Publisher: Level Best Books
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

As America races toward the supposedly bright new decade of the 1950s, disillusioned white private dick, Matt Moulton finds himself faltering in the dark. Should he serve an amnesiac client whose recovering memories of paid murder intensify his own wartime guilt as an assassin? Should he risk endangering the person he loves, a beautiful black woman, for information on that case and an apparently related one? Does he imagine he can save her and himself from the corruption, the intolerance, and the apathy that linger in that violent nation’s shadows?

Taking place in a misty, sulky San Francisco, “Past Tense” appeals to readers who love their thrillers hardboiled. It brings pulp fiction back from the past, but here, the genre seems more modern and yet more noir-like than ever before.

Good murderers cover their tracks. Can a good detective foil the murderer’s plans before too many more people die?

The main storyline was fast-paced and interesting. I enjoyed taking note of the clues Matt found and trying to figure out why so many people connected to this case kept turning up dead. There was plenty of fodder for the imagination here, and my attention remained strong from the first scene to the last one.

I would have liked to see more character development in this novella, especially when it came to Matt. He was an intelligent but often conflicted protagonist. Learning more about his past and how it had shaped his personality would have made it easier for me to connect to him. I also found myself wishing he had shared more information about his feelings for Gina as she seemed to occupy many of his thoughts when he wasn’t focused on work. Exploring that relationship in more depth would have been a good way to showcase more of who Matt was when he wasn’t attempting to solve cases.

Speaking of Gina, I loved the romantic subplot between her and Matt. There were definitely sparks to be seen every time she showed up in his life. I appreciated how clearly they communicated their feelings to each other and found myself wishing they could find a way to overcome the racial prejudices of the late 1940s that were such a huge obstacle for them. My fingers are crossed that readers will get more opportunities to get to know her later on in this series as she seemed to be a level-headed and kind woman.

Past Tense: A Matt Moulton Mystery kept me guessing.

The Price Of Lemon Cake by Jennifer Ashley


The Price of Lemon Cake by Jennifer Ashley
Publisher: JA/AG Publishing
Genre: Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

When Kat Holloway approaches Lady Bobby Perry and Judith Townsend to help her discover what a young aristo is getting up to in a gentleman’s club, Bobby quickly accepts, coaxing a promise of Mrs. Holloway’s stupendous lemon cake in return.

But the investigation quickly turns into more than a simple spy mission, forcing Judith to confront a painful part her past. Both Judith and Bobby must bring their own unique skills to help Kat solve the tricky and dangerous problem.

Kat Holloway turns to her two friends Lady Bobby Perry and Judith Townsend to help her. Bobby goes into a club incognito to discover if one young man is being led astray by his brother, but instead Bobby and Judith discover a few painful secrets Judith had thought was locked in her past. Will the price of Kay Holloway’s lemon cake be enough to cover this cost?

This is the second short story in this Upstairs/Downstairs series that I have read, and I must admit I enjoyed it. Set in the late 1880s I found the historical setting to be slightly romanticized but still quite believable. I also found the plot to be a lot of fun – but a small amount of disbelief really did need to be suspended. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the story.

Despite this story being billed as part of the Kat Holloway series I was surprised but pleased this really had a lot more to do with Kat’s two friends, Bobby and Judith. Obviously, the plot couldn’t be too convoluted due to the short nature of the story, but I was very pleased with the two interweaving storylines and the way they were neatly tied up at the end. I was also glad that readers didn’t need to be familiar with the main book series – I, personally, have not read any of the full-length novels in this series – to enjoy and fully comprehend what’s happening.

For a quick introduction to the world and some of the characters this is an excellent short story. I enjoyed it and am intrigued enough to give one of the main novels a try.

Operation Congo by William Meikle


Operation Congo by William Meikle
Publisher: Severed Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Action/Adventure
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

A mission to the Congo starts badly for S-Squad and gets worse fast as they trace a team of captured WHO medics to a lost world in the interior.

The Squad are isolated, split up, and face terrors long since thought extinct.

Mokele-mbembe walks this jungle.

And he is not alone.

The S-Squad has been sent deep into the jungles of Congo, far from where even a satellite phone can call for help. A WHO team of medics have been captured and more than just the natives are restless. As usual things quickly move from bad to worse as the team is split up and the monsters start coming from all directions. Can the team and their targets return back to safety?

I absolutely love this series and I was thrilled the Scottish lads finally managed to get a ticket to somewhere warm. I also really enjoyed how a few of the squaddies had some profound growth in their character arcs and this was a true joy to read – along with the big beasties and everyone needing to steer clear of being a tasty snack for the monsters.

If you’ve read even one of the previous books (and I can’t recommend strongly enough you give them all a whirl – this is the best series) you’ll know roughly what to expect. Our team of Scottish heroes are sent into the back of beyond to rescue a group of civilians. Things are nothing like what they appeared to be at first glance and soon monsters are trying to eat everyone in sight.

With loads of bullets flying and more than a few wise cracks from our squaddies this is yet another delightful romp of a book. I was particularly impressed with both the high number (and decent quality and placement) of the quotes managed by the squaddies referencing the movie, Aliens. A few scattered quotes are normal for this series, but in this book the author really outdid himself.

If you’re looking for a complicated plotline or an intricately woven story this won’t suit what you’re after. But if you love a bunch of wise-ass soldiers being brave, fighting the monsters and rollicking along then this is definitely the book for you. I love this series and can strongly recommend them all – especially this addition.

The Jackal Man by Kate Ellis


The Jackal Man by Kate Ellis
Publisher: Piatkus Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

A teenage girl is strangled and left for dead on a lonely country lane in Devon. The police are baffled when she describes her attacker as having the head of a dog, but when the body of a woman is found mutilated and wrapped in a sheet, DI Wesley Peterson suspects the killer may be performing an ancient ritual linked to the jackal-headed Egyptian god, Anubis.

Meanwhile, archaeologist Neil Watson has been called to Varley Castle to catalogue the collection of an Edwardian amateur Egyptologist. Neil discovers through his research that Wesley’s strange case bears sinister similarities to four murders that took place near Varley Castle in 1903.

As the Jackal Man’s identity remains a frustrating enigma, it seems the killer has yet another victim in his sights. Someone close to Wesley himself . . .

When a local teenage girl is strangled and only a passing car interrupts what might have been an even more serious crime, DI Wesley Peterson and his team are called in to investigate. Unsure whether this links up to a similar – but less sinister attempted assault on another young woman a few weeks earlier, Wesley and his team flounder at first. When the next victim isn’t so lucky they realise their quarry is linking himself to the jackal-headed Egyptian god Anubis. Wesley’s archaeological friend, Dr Neil Watson is helping catalogue the collection of an amateur Egyptologist and Neil points out that these present cases bear a striking similarity to four murders that took place in 1903 and those were directly linked to this collection’s family. Can Neil and Wesley sort out exactly what’s going on before another young woman is murdered?

I have been greatly enjoying this British police procedural series and this book was a lovely addition. While there is plenty going on around these characters and the team members, I feel readers should certainly be able to pick this book up and enjoy it on its own merits. Aside from the fact the characters know each other and work well together, the actual plot and relationships are all very well explained within this book.

I was pleased that there was fairly clearly a strong connection immediately between the cataloguing work Neil was performing at a local castle with an Egyptian collection and Wesley’s offender who wore a cloak and a “dog mask”. I was also very intrigued that Wesely’s old boss from his days at the Met in their Art Fraud section was in town looking for some Egyptian antiquities and someone calling themselves Ra. It was all clearly linked but I enjoyed the twists and slow unveiling of what was really going on. I thought this book had a very good pace and unlike some of the others in this series I enjoyed the fact both plots were clearly woven together and were gathering speed roughly together.

Readers who enjoy some history and archaeology mixed in with their murder mysteries should find this a really enjoyable book. I enjoyed this story, and it was a lovely and comfortable weekend read.

Under Pressure by Robert Pobi


Under Pressure by Robert Pobi
Publisher: Hachette UK
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

On a beautiful October evening, New York City’s iconic Guggenheim Museum is closed for a tech company’s private gala. Until an explosion rocks the night, instantly killing 702 people, including every single attendee—yet the damage to the building itself was minimal.

An explosion of that precision was no accident and, in response, the FBI mobilizes its entire team — but the sheer number of victims strains their resources. Were all 702 victims in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was there only one target and 701 unlucky bystanders? That many victim files is a staggering amount of data to sort through and Brett Kehoe, Special Agent in Charge of Manhattan, decides that he can’t do this without more computational power.

Dr. Lucas Page, astrophysicist, university professor, and former FBI agent, is uniquely gifted for the task at hand—he can visualize a crime scene as if he was a bystander and can break down any set of data at a glance. Even though Page wants nothing to do with the FBI, with his city under attack and his family at risk, he steps in to find a killer in a haystack before they strike again.

Dr. Lucas Page is enjoying life with his family. An astrophysicists and father of five adopted children, he and his wife live in a happy state of constant chaos. The events of the previous winter are only a memory, until Page’s contacts at the FBI turn up once again when a bomb goes off at a super-rich event at the Guggenheim Museum. The city once more is thrown into fear and chaos and the FBI are willing to use their every tool, including Page and his extraordinary perceptions. Can Lucas return once again both to balancing the fieldwork he used to love and the family he adores?

This is the second book in the Dr Page series and while I do feel this can be read and enjoyed by itself, I also feel there are enough tendrils linking this second book back to the first that readers who usually want to keep things in order might want to begin at the first book before cracking this one open. That said the plot is entirely contained in this story and even though there are clear links between Lucas and the various FBI characters they are quite clearly explained, and most readers shouldn’t have a problem with this or following along and greatly enjoying the ride.

I was also really relieved that Page’s wife, Erin, is a lot more in the background for this novel. While I completely understand it’s a great part of conflict in the plot to have the wife unhappy with her husband being carted off for days on end to help the government and spoil their happy family times, I do feel it gets old and repetitive after a while. It’s a realistic and logical consequence of the assistance and danger Lucas is put in, but we don’t need to hear about it over and over throughout the book. I was very pleased that this took a lot more of a back seat this time around.

I also found the plot to be really fresh and, in many ways, unique. I loved that there was quite a bit of complexity layering everything together and I strongly feel that Pobi has added a few new elements into this type of story with the very different perspective Page adds into the story. It made a lot of the story feel fresh and different to me and I admit I struggled to put the book down to get on with my regular life. I found the story as a whole was quite addictive and I just kept wanting to read more and more. I ended up having a few late nights with the “just another chapter or two” mentality and that’s always the hallmark for me of an exceptional book.

With interesting characters, a really solid plot and some new twists on the old story of “bomber blows up the city” this was a good read and one I really enjoyed.

The Dead Man Of Storr by JM Dalgliesh


The Dead Man Of Storr by JM Dalgliesh
Publisher: Hamilton Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Fern

Your past will find you… and it will kill you…
When the owner of a Portree gallery is found dead, lying in the snow at the foot of the Storr, D.I. Duncan McAdam and his small team must piece together what took him there… and who had a reason to kill him.

A man with a flirtatious eye and no lack of ambition, there is no shortage of people who would turn a blind eye if something happened to him… and many who would willingly kill him themselves.

As Duncan reveals the long-held secrets of the man’s life, he finds the ghosts of his own past coming back to haunt him. The course of the investigation will not only bring others into danger, but Duncan himself will have to face his own past… whether he likes it or not…

The owner of the local art gallery is found dead on the hiking path at the foot of Storr, and at first glance it appears like a tragic slip and fall in the untrustworthy weather. But DI McAdam and his team quickly realise that this was not an accident, but a very well thought out crime. As the look deeper into the owner and discover there are more than just a few people who wish him harm. Can McAdam and his team discover what really happened?

This is the second book in this Scottish police procedural series and I felt it was a solid and well written book. I must admit there were a few other strong sub-plots lurking around the edges of the main murder mystery and at a few points I wondered if they would over-shadow the police procedural and mystery element. While I do feel the author managed this balance very well, I have to admit I’m a little more interested in these subplots revolving around Duncan’s friends and past than this particular murder. I am very interested to see where the author takes this though so that’s proof that the writing and plotlines have certainly snared me.

I also really enjoy the setting of the Isle of Skye. It’s an interesting blend between small-town living and rural Scotland and I find it fascinating. It also adds an excellent atmosphere I feel and I’m very eager for more of this.

Readers who enjoy solidly written British (or Scottish in this case) police procedural stories should find this an excellent book and a good series to start. I also think readers who enjoy small-town mysteries or cozy mysteries should also find this book appeals. I didn’t think it was particularly gritty or dark (which a lot of British police procedurals can be sometimes) and so I do feel this book can cross over a few of the various mystery type genres. A really good book.

Breakout by Richard Stark


Breakout by Richard Stark
Publisher: The University Of Chicago Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

With Parker locked up and about to be unmasked, Breakout follows his Houdini-like escape from prison with a team of convicts. But when a new heist and new dangers—con artists, snitches, busybodies, eccentrics, and cops—loom among the dark alleys and old stone buildings of the big city to which they’ve fled, Parker soon learns that not all prisons have bars.

When a rope-in caused a pharmaceutical heist to go sour, Parker finds himself locked up. Segregated away from his two – far more reliable – co-conspirators Parker needs some luck and careful planning to select his next crew. A crew which will help him break out of the prison they all currently find themselves situated in. Can Parker turn his luck around?

I have enjoyed each and every novel in this series so far and I was thrilled that this book was no exception. Like all the other novels, this caper of Parker’s is written in a quite gritty, lean and hard-boiled manner – the story pared back to the basic essentials. And what a joy it is to find such a lean style of heist adventure. Absolutely none of the previous books are needed to be read to thoroughly enjoy this. I admit I adore this series and am glad to know all the history, but in this world of heists and criminals not much of a connection or history is needed between any of the characters really.

The plot itself is fairly simple, but I do love how Stark winds it all together and creates this vivid landscape with just the bare essentials. It’s a real talent and it’s a key element in all the Parker novels. I also really love how even though the characters work together, and there is a certain amount of loyalty there, at heart they are all individuals working toward a common goal or a shared venture. That dichotomy – separate and discreet people working cohesively together but at the same time each an island to themselves – is a real pleasure to read.

While the theme is fairly hard – there is no glossing over this is a bunch of criminals performing criminal acts – it still manages to be fairly clear and without much emotional baggage to weigh it down. There is no titillation or instability to the crimes and no glorifying or dwelling on the violence. And in many respects, I find that makes reading about it easier and nowhere near as heavy as it could be.

A classic hard-boiled style of heist novel, this is an excellent read and part of a larger series I absolutely love.

Wild Irish Yenta by Joyce Sanderly


Wild Irish Yenta by Joyce Sanderly
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Do killers, stock manipulators, and kidnappers stalk the Temple? After the body of Roberto Gomez is discovered in Temple Israel’s parking lot, Patricia Weiss, nee Reilly, exchanges her suburban-mom sneakers for gumshoes to investigate the supposed hit-and-run. Inspired by her police detective dad, Patricia feels compelled to uncover who killed the hardworking custodian and why. Before she can progress with her investigation or work on problems in her difficult marriage to a busy cardiologist, and his controlling Jewish mother, she is plunged into the Temple’s troubles. Her mentor Rabbi Deborah, who has guided Patricia through her own recent conversion to Judaism, disappears after delivering a controversial sermon in support of interfaith marriage. Despite her husband’s concerns, Patricia joins forces with her buddy Brenda. Designating themselves The Yenta Patrol, they unravel the mysteries.

Not everything is as simple as it may first appear to be.

Patricia was a memorable and likeable protagonist. She was insatiably curious about the world around her, and sometimes this led her to making decisions that her cautious husband disagreed with. I appreciated the way the author shared both of their perspectives on what are and are not acceptable risks to take in life. It made sense given the cultural differences between Patricia and Michael, and it also helped me to understand her as a character better. No one is perfect, after all, but this flaw was a good way for the audience to understand where she was coming from and why she assumed the world was a much safer place than her husband did. Novels that encourage readers to pause for a moment and think about the assumptions we all make in life before going on to reveal what happens when two people have opposite reactions to the same situation are part of the reason why I have continued to review books for so many years. Reading and reviewing are excellent ways to explore the world through other perspectives.

As much as I enjoyed learning more about Patricia and her relationships with everyone around her, I struggled with the slow pacing of this book. More time was spent exploring what various members of the synagogue thought about each other than pushing the plot forward with more clues about why Roberto Gomez died or why Rabbi Deborah disappeared. This made it difficult at times for me to remain engaged with the plot since it often took quite a while for the next important twist to be revealed.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that showed the long process Patricia went through to convert to Judaism. There were classes to attend, holy texts to study, and cultural and religious traditions to start observing. What made it even more interesting to me was to see the wide range of reactions her conversion elicited from other members of her temple, from deep suspicions about her motives to total acceptance and everything in between those two possibilities. There was so much depth and emotion included in those passages that they sped up the reading process for me when they happened despite my earlier criticisms about the pacing.

Wild Irish Yenta kept me guessing.

*Liar’s Point by Laura Griffin


*Liar’s Point by Laura Griffin
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Two homicide detectives must separate the puzzling truth from a growing web of lies while investigating a murder victim’s friends and lovers in Lost Beach, Texas.

Detective Nicole Lawson is fed up with her job and nonexistent love life. Her first date in months gets cut short by an urgent call from the chief of police. A body has been discovered at Lighthouse Point, and the medical examiner finds an array of strange clues. When the death is ruled a homicide, the news quickly reverberates through Nicole’s beachside hometown.

The Lost Beach police department swings into high gear. Leading the investigation is Emmet Davis, a veteran detective who is Nicole’s fiercest rival at work and also the man she has secretly harbored feelings toward for years. With Emmet calling the shots, Nicole sets out to search for leads, starting with the enigmatic yoga instructor who first discovered the body. Nicole is certain the witness knows more than she’s revealing and may even hold the key to unlocking the case.

When another person turns up dead under suspicious circumstances, Nicole sees a bizarre pattern, but no one believes her theory. Under the gun to solve the case, Nicole must put aside her tumultuous feelings and work closely with Emmet to figure out who is targeting her beloved hometown . . . before she becomes a target herself.

I’m always excited when Laura Griffin comes out with a new book because she is one of my favorite authors. She knows how to write intense, suspenseful stories that keep me quickly turning the pages to find out what will happen next.

Nicole and Emmett are the two main characters in her newest book, Liar’s Point. They are detectives working together on a case involving a murdered woman. Nicole and Emmett are dedicated and hardworking and although they are attracted to each other, they are afraid to admit their feelings.

I loved everything about this story, especially Nicloe. Nicole is a fearless and dedicated detective. She has to work twice as hard as her male peers but is still treated differently because she is a woman. She has had a crush on Emmett since high school, but she is afraid to act on her attraction because it could ruin her career.

All the characters in this story are interesting, the plot is riveting, and the writing is spot on. I enjoyed all of Emmett and Nicole’s interactions and felt the chemistry between them. This story kept me on the edge of my seat, and I wasn’t sure who the murderer was until the very end.

The Ares Virus by AP Bateman


The Ares Virus by AP Bateman
Publisher: Rockhopper Publishing (Kindle)
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

The gloves are off for Secret Service agent Rob Stone as his hunt for an assassin leads him to a deadly agenda too terrible to contemplate.

For years Isobel has been working as a senior lab technician at a secret government facility working with a team under her mentor’s leadership. They have finally had a breakthrough – confirming that Ares is a virus with the potential to be a game-changing weapon of mass destruction, but thrillingly also proving significant progress with Aphrodite. Aphrodite is the antidote to Ares, and has a nearly unlimited potential, possibly the answer to cure AIDS, cancer and who knows what else. But when Isobel’s mentor is killed and she uncovers a plot to use Ares in unfathomable ways, she knows it’s up to her to try and prevent this. Secret Service Agent Rob Stone is also investigating the suspicious death and he quickly realizes that Isobel holds the key to his case. Can Isobel and Rob work together to save the world?

I have to admit my taste for “world is threatened by a virus that can kill everyone” style of stories has greatly lessened since Covid, but there were just too many factors in this story that I usually love and so I was happy to give it a try. I’m quite glad I did. This is the first book featuring Rob Stone and so readers should definitely feel like they can just pick this up fresh and not worry about any links to anything previous.

Honestly, I felt the beginning was a little slow. There was certainly a lot of plot and story-arch stuff that needed to be set up, and I was hooked enough on the science and strong female lead in Isobel that I was happy to continue reading past the first few chapters. I could understand though if readers who are used to a quicker and more action orientated style of story might find their interest wane in the beginning of this book. I’d urge readers to stick with it though, I personally could feel even after the first few chapters that the pace was certainly increasing – along with the tension and sense of danger to Isobel. And once Isobel crosses paths with Rob the action really begins in earnest and the explosiveness of the plot ramps up to a crazy pace.

There were a few really good plot twists – some of which I guessed early on, some which I found to be a delightful surprise. There was a strong cast of main and secondary characters, both good and bad, and I felt the author did a good job balancing everything out and keeping all the different balls in the air. While I do feel there is nothing earth-shatteringly unique to this plotline, I do feel the author did an excellent job in making both Isobel and Rob;s characters relatable and realistic. Readers who enjoy a thriller style “race to save the world” sort of books should find this to be a book full of intrigue and one where you definitely want to keep turning the pages.

An action based, conspiracy style of virus full length novel, this is a good read from a new-to-me author. I’ll be checking out the next in the series.