Mayhem, Murder and Marijuana: The Los Angeles Marijuana War by Arik Kaplan

Reviewed by Ray Palen

Mayhem, Murder and MarijuanaThe back cover of this novel tells a story almost as chilling as the one found between the covers. The author — Arik Kaplan is a pseudonym to maintain his true identity— literally lived this story. In 2011, immediately following the relaxing of laws in the State of California allowing medicinal marijuana dispensaries to open, he began aggressively purchasing legal medical marijuana locations in Los Angeles county.

The problem with things that sound too good to be true is that they usually are — or, at the very least, they come at a big price. ‘Kaplan’ found out that his involvement in this new industry was the literal equivalent of drawing a target on his own back. If he went through even a smidgen of what the characters in his novel experience it is indeed a wonder he lived to tell this tale.

MAYHEM, MURDER AND MARIJUANA: The Los Angeles Marijuana War makes “Boyz In the Hood” look like an episode of “Sanford and Son”. The fact that our humble author has received death threats at the mere thought of revealing what is contained in this book speaks to his and the stories credibility. Read the rest of this entry »

Occasional Crimes: A Thriller by Tucker Edwards

Reviewed by Suzanne Odom

Occasional CrimesWhat begins as an ordinary surfing trip to South America turns into something far more thrilling for three college students from California. Tim, Lee, and Chuck are college friends about to graduate. All have a passion for surfing and are always looking for the next big wave. Disenchanted about looking for a job after graduation, Tim and his friends decide to take one last big surfing trip. They make plans to go surfing in Mexico and possibly in Costa Rica and Nicaragua at the end of the summer. This should be a fun experience, giving them the chance to ride the best waves and hang out together.

Soon August rolls around, and it is almost time to leave for their trip. Tim buys a new truck and has a camper put on the back, so they can campout as they travel. Right before they leave, Tim meets a girl and they begin to date. She is as passionate about surfing as he is, and they agree to keep in touch while he is away. The three friends set out on their trip, excited about the places they will visit. Read the rest of this entry »

Strong to the Bone (A Caitlin Strong Novel) by Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

Strong to the Bone“You may be able to walk on water, Ranger, but quicksand’s a whole other thing,” a character advised Caitlin Strong early on in Strong to the Bone.

And quicksand is pretty much what Caitlin finds herself mired in here in the superb ninth book to feature the stalwart Texas Ranger who’s as close to a female Jack Reacher as it gets. No, she doesn’t use her fists with the aplomb of Lee Child’s seminal series hero, but she more than makes up for that with her prowess as a gunman (or, more accurately, gunwoman), a skill she gets to use with typical frequency in her latest adventure.

But Strong to the Bone serves up a new kind of target in the form of the man who sexually assaulted Caitlin eighteen years before while she was a collegiate undergraduate. We’ve barely started flipping the pages before she rescues a woman from a bar basement who’s been similarly assaulted and barely taken a breath before learning that it was the same man who raped Caitlin all those years ago. And I haven’t even mentioned the book’s primary villain in the form of a neo-Nazi gang that’s appropriated a Texas ghost town as headquarters for the massive drug dealing operation their leader, Armand Fisker, has taken international.

Fisker, a man so prone to violent impulses that one scene finds himself dousing his own son with gasoline and flicking on a lighter before the terrified boy’s eyes, is somehow connected to a killer Caitlin’s grandfather Earl Strong hunted in the waning days of World War II. Did you know that Texas was home to over 100,000 Nazi prisoners of war in camps scattered throughout the state? Neither did I. In the flashback thread that’s become a staple of this sterling series, though, Earl Strong finds himself on the trail of one of them who escaped his camp after killing his three bunkmates. Why? What did they know? And what’s none other than J. Edgar Hoover himself doing on the scene?

Strong to the Bone, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, unfolds frantically and frenetically, serving up a smorgasbord of emotionally wrought angst garnished with characters of both misplaced and misconstrued morality. Fisker, for example, isn’t planning to unleash a catastrophic weapon upon the world when the book opens; that intention unfolds organically, lending Strong to the Bone a stunning spontaneity featuring characters who are truly in charge of the action.

Heading up that roster as always is Caitlin herself, whose own personal quest to at long last find her dragon lends the book a visceral quality to go with the visuals Land has always excelled at framing. But what’s truly special is her doubts about whether she really wants to kill that dragon, lest she lose the edge that has long defined her, as Land deftly stirs a pot that features the perfect blend of emotion and action.

The Caitlin Strong series is much deserved of the praise it has attained and many awards it’s won. But Strong to the Bone takes what’s always worked to a whole new level. A terrific, tumultuous tale of rare depth and prowess certain to solidify Caitlin’s place as the most polished and proficient female hero in thriller fiction today. Maybe that’s why none of Jack Reacher’s travels have taken him to Texas. Even he doesn’t want to risk messing with Caitlin Strong.

Hidden Sea by Miles Arceneaux

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

Hidden SeaProffering a literate jolt to the senses, miles Arceneaux’s Hidden Sea gives readers food for thought with its rich and captivating narrative of human trafficking in the Gulf of Mexico. Albeit this is a work of fiction, the story is based on the reality of sea-faring enslavement, which occurs within the South Sea of China. Readers will find this entertaining story stocked with a bevy of colorful characters artfully immersed in a briny mix of adventure, humor, political corruption and pirates, set in the Gulf of Mexico. Written by a trio of well-honed authors, known as Miles Arceneaux, writing as one voice, this makes the fifth addition in their series of Gulf Coast thrillers. Read the rest of this entry »

The Missing Factor: A Jim Factor Novel by Daniel C. Lorti

Reviewed by Suzanne Odom

The Missing FactorArms dealer Jim Factor has a great life, a thriving business, a loving wife, and an affluent lifestyle. The one time engineer has always run a legitimate arms business, until he is approached at a convention in Europe with a steal of a deal. Carlos Sengretti would like him to act as a moderator in negotiations with a client and will make him a large sum of money. After some discussion, Jim agrees to assist Sengretti with his deal and they decide on a payment amount. Jim believes he will just be a consultant and once the deal is finished, his services will no longer be needed.

Unfortunately, he is mistaken. Soon after the business is completed, Jim receives a phone call warning him of potential danger. The illegal deal has gone sour, and now he is suspected of leaking the deal to the United States Customs Service. His life is at risk and Jim must immediately leave the country without a trace. He cannot even tell his wife anything about the deal gone wrong, nor can he tell her where he is going. He quickly gathers cash and some clothing and leaves his housen eventually ending up at the bus terminal where he makes his escape to another city. Read the rest of this entry »

Written in Blood by Layton Green

Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

Written in BloodIn Written in Blood, author Green introduces readers to Detective Joe “Preach” Everson. Following a common path, Green has given readers a flawed protagonist, though Preach’s baggage goes well beyond the ordinary. After suffering a tragedy as a young man, he had a sort of breakdown and fled his hometown of Creeksville, North Carolina. His life path from then until the book opens took him to Bible college, time as a church preacher, a prison chaplain and then as a police officer in Atlanta, where another incident led to another breakdown.

Here we reach the first thing about the novel that just doesn’t quite work. Pearch has returned to his hometown and has been hired as a police detective even though he has not been cleared to work from his breakdown. He promises to see a therapist who happens to be a relative. One has to question what police force would hire an emotionally unstable person as a detective and what therapist would risk his or her reputation and licensing to sign off on a deeply troubled soul who has suffered at least two emotional breakdowns to serve as a detective. But let’s accept this as written for the sake of the story. Read the rest of this entry »

Warning Light by David Ricciardi

Reviewed by Allen Hott

Warning LightThis is quite a story for those of us who enjoy adventure and also enjoy hearing and reading about the military, espionage, and all things tied to those areas of our lives.

Zac Miller, traveling as a technology consultant, is flying to Singapore when the aircraft is diverted due to mechanical problems (the Warning Light). Zac and the other passengers end up landing in Sirjan in the Republic of Iran. Walking from the aircraft, which was forced to land quite a distance out on the runway due to its size, Zac begins taking some pictures of the land behind the airport.

As they get to the terminal Zac is stopped and taken into a room where his camera is taken from him and he is in fact taken prisoner. The Iranians then take him to Colonel Arzaman of the Revolutionary Guards. Here he is questioned and realizes that Arzaman is going to hold him and further attempt to find out about Zac, his background, and what he is doing in Iran. Also at the same time unbeknownst to Zac, a young man matching his build looks, and attire takes Zac’s place on the plane. This is going to be a big part of the story later on. Read the rest of this entry »

The Undertaker’s Daughter by Sara Blaedel

Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

The Undertaker's DaughterThe Undertaker’s Daughter introduces Ilka Jensen, a middle aged protagonist who has struggled with the loss of her father for most of her life. When she was seven, her father up and left moving to Racine, Wisconsin, never to be heard from again. That is never heard from again until now. Word comes that her father has died and named Ilka in his will. His estate cannot be settled until she signs off on the will Rather than leaving this to her attorney to handle for her, she decides to travel to Wisconsin and handle it herself. Of course things turn out to be more complicated than she expected. She finds her father has left everything to his current wife and two American daughters except his business, a failing funeral home. While I generally liked Ilka and found the book interesting, it was quite a bit different than I would expect from a Scandinavian crime author.

The first thing that struck me a bit out of the ordinary, was except for the very beginning of the book, when readers meet Ilka and her mother in Copenhagen, the entire book takes place in Wisconsin. I suppose there are other Scandinavian writers who set an occasional in America, but I found this an interesting way to start what appears to be a series. Read the rest of this entry »

A Death in Live Oak: A Jack Swyteck Novel by James Grippando

Reviewed by Jud Hanson

A Death in Live OakDuring an inter-fraternity event at a prominent Florida university, the unthinkable happens: the president of the university’s most prominent black fraternity, Jamal Cousin, is found along the river. Mark Towson, president of an equally prestigious white fraternity. The most damning piece of evidence is a text message with a peculiar message, sent from Towson’s phone. Towson is from a prominent family, which is how talented attorney Jack Swyteck comes to take the case. Tensions run hot and there is mounting pressure from all sides to obtain justice for Cousins. The D.A. is anxious to close this case quickly but Swyteck is convinced that there is more to this case than meets the eye. It will take all of Swyteck’s skill to get to the truth. Read the rest of this entry »

The Widows of Malabar Hill (A Mystery of 1920s Bombay) by Sujata Massey

Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

The Widows of Malabar HillThe Widows of Malabar Hill begins what will hopefully be a long series with Perveen Mistry as the protagonist. Perveen is an Oxford educated lawyer working with her father in his law practice in the 1920s in Bombay, India. While at that time women could not be admitted to the bar and therefore could not represent clients in court, Perveen was able to preform much of the paper work of the law practice from writing wills to helping clients understand their legal positions.

As the book opens, that is where readers find Perveen. Her father is the executor of a recently deceased mill owner who leaves behind three widows and a number of children. The person acting as their guardian has presented a document signed by the three widows stating they wish to forgo their rightful inheritance and turn their dowry gifts over to the trust which the guardian controls. There are two concerns with the document. First there is some question regarding the signatures and secondly, the document also changes the focus of the trust’s mission, something that cannot so easily be done. Read the rest of this entry »

The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes: A Stewart Hoag Mystery (Stewart Hoag Mysteries) by David Handler

Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

The Girl with the Kaliedoscope EyesStewart Hoag and his adorable dog Lulu return after a ten year absence. I had forgotten how much fun the pair is.

When Richard Aintree’s wife committed suicide, he abandoned his daughters and dropped out of site. Regina and Monette Aintree have grown up, moved on and created lives of their own. However, the sisters have not spoken in years. Now, out of the blue Monette received a letter from her father wanting to meet and explain his actions. Hoagie is hired to look into the authenticity of the letter and to write about the father-daughter reunion. If Richard Aintree is going to surface after all these years, it will be big news indeed. His one book was huge. Hoagie has mixed feelings about the project. He and Regina (Reggie) had a relationship at one time. Before traveling to Los Angeles to meet with Monette, he heads upstate to talk to Reggie about the letter and what he has been hire to do. Read the rest of this entry »

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

Reviewed by Allen Hott

The Late ShowConnelly introduces a new main character and she is going to be a great addition to his crew of unforgettable characters. Renee Ballard is a surfing young lady living and working in Los Angeles. She got her surfing background from her father while living in Hawaii. After he died (actually drowned) she moved to the states to be close to her grandmother.

Now she works as a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department and due to a confrontation with a supervisor about a year ago she is on The Late Show. That term in the LAPD is actually for those who work second or third shift on the force.

Ballard is a real hard charger and often works over and above her scheduled shifts. Once she becomes intrigued with a case she will work it day or night as long as she feels she is getting somewhere.. And it doesn’t take a lot to get her intrigued!! Read the rest of this entry »

The Body in the Casket: A Faith Fairchild Mystery (Faith Fairchild Mysteries) by Katherine Hall Page

Reviewed by Vickie Dailey

The Body in the CasketThis is the 24th installment in the Faith Fairchild mystery series. The third of which that I have read and reviewed. It is always a pleasure to read one of the Faith Fairchild mysteries. They are cleverly written and an enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours.

This story was quite intriguing as Faith is hired to cater a birthday party for a retired Broadway producer’s 70th birthday party at an exclusive manor house. The invited guests were all involved in the biggest flop the producer had. Faith is not only hired for her culinary skills, but her sleuthing skills as well.

The producer believes one of the guests is trying to kill him. While Faith plans a delicious menu (recipes at back of book) she uses her sleuthing skills via internet as to who would be most likely the killer.

I will tell you that I didn’t see it coming. I highly recommend this as a great read.

Pacific Homicide A Mystery (A Pacific Homicide) by Patricia Smiley

Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

Pacific HomicidePacific Homicide introduces LAPD Homicide Detective Davie (Davina) Richards, a newly promoted office with a reputation for getting the job done no matter what it takes. She is also the daughter of a former LAPD officer whose last case led to the embarrassment of the District Attorney who now oversees “officer involved shootings.” This sets up the first of two plots in Pacific Homicide.

While her dad is now retired, the attorney has set his sights on Davie as a way to get his personal revenge for his embarrassment. Before her promotion, Davie shot a suspect to save her partner’s life. The shooting was ruled justifiable, but now, the DA has reopened the investigation of the shooting.

The first case she catches in homicide as lead detective is of a badly decomposed body of a woman found in the sewer system. The case leads Davie into the world of Ukrainian immigrants which although not a new plot in crime fiction is done well in Pacific Homicide. Read the rest of this entry »