Category Archives: poisoned pen press

Book Review: Night Country Nocturne – as many twists and turns as Lombard Street!

High Country Nocturne

High Country Nocturne

By Jon Talton

317 pages

David Mapstone is comfortable with his life.  He loves his wife, lives in a quiet old Phoenix neighborhood in Midtown and has a Private Investigating business with his friend Mike Peralta, the former Sheriff of Maricopa County. The problem is Peralta is missing as well as the diamonds he was hired to guard.

As with most cases, things are not always what they seem. Good guys are bad and bad guys are good. Mapstone needs to find where Peralta falls on that scale. Both eye witnesses and surveillance cameras show Peralta shooting the other security guard and making off with the suitcase containing the gems. Did he really flip from lawman to lawless? If so, what could possibly motivate him to do an about face and turn his back on all his beliefs, family and friends?

The clues Mapstone discovers just don’t add up to Peralta deciding to risk his life and those he cares about for money he doesn’t need. Then things go from bad to worse in Mapstone’s life as he tries to find Peralta before the cops do.

First, a mysterious woman is trying to kill him. She has impersonated a deputy, stalked him and is earning the nickname Mapstone gave her: Strawberry Death. When she gets too close to someone he loves, Mapstone realizes the stakes are much higher and more personal than he imagined.

Then he gets a call from the current Maricopa County Sheriff Christopher Melton. He is, from all reliable evidence, a dirty cop. As deadly as a scorpion, the sneaky Sheriff “Call me Chris” Melton makes an offer Mapstone can’t refuse. He cannot risk his wife’s reputation and safety, so he reluctantly agrees to work for Melton investigating a old cold case file. Mapstone was the first deputy on the scene of a suicide in the desert. Now Melton wants Mapstone to find out if this was really a murder.

Mapstone has so much on his plate he needs a platter.  He doesn’t need one more thing to complicate the mess he is trying to untangle with the missing diamonds and the cold case. But life keeps adding another heaping helping of trouble to the pile. His personal life is in disarray, he is working for a man he hates, his best friend might be an international jewel thief and his cold case might be heating up and somehow linked to his other problems.

This fast paced mystery is intricately woven to end up with a completely surprising, yet deliciously satisfying end. The main plot of finding Peralta didn’t mind sharing page space with the subplots. Strawberry Death and Sheriff Melton frequently took over demanding attention from Mapstone and the reader.

Talton made me hate some characters, like others and become very frightened for Mapstone when some showed up on the page. Only extremely talented authors can create characters that resonate so deeply with their new readers and he is one of them.

High Country Nocturne is the eighth book in the David Mapstone Mystery Series. Set in Maricopa County, Arizona It works very well as a stand-alone book, with just enough background without long flashbacks or walks down memory lane. This fast-paced novel is easy to read in spite of the twists and turns. I can’t wait to read the rest of this series.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, books, Mystery, poisoned pen press

Book Review: Risky Undertaking – Action Packed Mystery

Risky-Undertaking-Cover-178x276Risky Undertaking

By Mark de Castrique

249 pages

Barry Clayton wears two hats in his hometown of Gainesboro, North Carolina. He is a part-time sheriff’s deputy and a full-time undertaker. In Risky Undertaking his two professions are on a collision course that can’t be stopped.

At a friendly poker game, Barry hears of an expansion deal on the local cemetery owned by Mayor Whitlock. Whitlock has called in the press, already excited about the grand opening of the newly acquired land. Unfortunately, at the groundbreaking ceremony dirt isn’t the only thing found in the posthole digger’s claws – bits of pottery and what appear to be human remains are unearthed also. The land is close to the Cherokee Reservation and all digging must be stopped until they can determine if this was once a sacred burial site.

The hiccup in Whitlock’s plan could not have come at a worse time. The Cherokee are upset about the possibility of a new casino coming in owned by the Catawba tribe. There have been protests both for and against the Catawba Casino due to the amount of money the Cherokee may lose to the competition as well as the amount of money the contractors may lose from the casino not being built.

If that isn’t enough going on in the town, dead bodies start to pile up. First a prominent woman dies of natural causes, but then a body is found on her grave by unnatural causes. A Boston hit man is seen at the Cherokee casino and a young boy goes missing.

Can the boy be found before he dies or is killed? Why has someone stolen an artifact collection? Will Burin’ Barry end up in one of his own graves? Whew – it is hard to turn the pages fast enough to keep up with the action!

This is the sixth novel in this series. It reads very well as a standalone, there is just the right amount of back story to get a new reader up to speed, yet not too much as to bore readers of his previous novels. De Castrique also has another series which “explores the rich history of Asheville from Tomas Wolfe to Carl Sandburg” that sounds intriguing also.

I love the afterword which tells the reader the facts behind the novel. He explains there is a new casino coming in that will diminish the number of people visiting the Cherokee cultural centers as well as impact the much needed revenue to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. It saddens me to see what has happened to the native people in our country.

Even though the underlying cause and events are serious, this mystery is full of quips and smart dialog that make the reader smile and possibly chuckle out loud. Barry is an awful card player yet finds himself participating in several games. The Cherokee officer Barry is working with, Romero, calls the sheriff “Rooster” after Rooster Cogburn. It is a term of endearment, and amuses me – I think it will amuse you too.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Cherokee, Mystery, Native American, poisoned pen press

Book Review: Bye, Bye Love by K.J. Larsen – Perfectly Plotted Fun

Bye, Bye Love

By K.J. LarsenBye-Bye-Love-cover

218 pages

PI Cat DeLuca has a habit of annoying the police while in pursuit of cheating spouses. She owns the Pants On Fire Detective Agency that is known for catching lying, cheating spouses. Cat seems to stumble into trouble and over dead bodies routinely. Lucky for her she has a long family history of Chicago cops to help her even when she doesn’t think she needs it.

After a particularly hairy stakeout situation, Cat decides to unwind with a run. Even though it is late, she feels safe running in the park with her partner Inga – who happens to be a beagle. Cat literally lands face first on a dead body. The only problem is the bad guy is still around and zaps her before she can get her tazer out. By the time she is able to call the police the body is missing.

Even though her father is an ex-cop, her brother is a current cop and her uncle is quite probably a dirty cop, Captain Bob of the Chicago police department doesn’t believe Cat.  He makes the big mistake of letting Cat know how little he thinks of her detective skills. She vows to find the killer herself and hopefully the body that went missing and made her the laughing stock of the Ninth Precinct. Lucky – or unlucky for her – she saw the guy she thinks is the killer. But of course that means he saw her also. Now she is hunting for the killer, looking for the corpse and trying not to get killed herself.

Zany circumstances force her into predicaments that include going to a biker bar, being ambushed by a mobster and into dead people’s homes to search for clues. Her assistant Cleo tends to make things worse, but her heart is in the right place even though she often ends up in the wrong place.

While all of this is going on, her pushy mother keeps trying to guilt her into marriage and starting a family. To complicate matters more, her boyfriend’s parents are coming in to meet her parents. It is planned to be one happy family dinner. The question is how will ex-hippy vegetarians get along with meat loving Italians? Cat can see the impending train wreck and tries everything she can think of to not be on board when it happens, but nothing works. She is going to have to have dinner and hopefully make it through the evening without losing her boyfriend in the process.

This is K.J. Larsen’s forth book in the Cat DeLuca Mystery series. It read great as a stand-alone novel, just enough background info to let people new to the series get up-to-date, but not so much as to become repetitious to readers of the series. This witty read kept me laughing with one-liners and outlandish situations that could actually happen if a PI had bad luck and crazy friends, foes and family. Here are the other three, because I know you are going to want the series. I do!

Liar, LiarSome like it hotSticks and stones
K.J. is actually three sisters, Kari, Julianne and Kristen Larsen. This award winning trio writes under one name and if you didn’t know it was more than one person, you could not guess by the writing. The sisters brilliantly combine their efforts to create a fun series with quirky characters both human and animal.

If you are a fan of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum Mysteries, you will love K.J.’s Cat DeLuca. There is a perfectly plotted mystery among the poker games and car chases. The twist at the end was masterful; I totally did not see it coming.

Bye, Bye Love is a fast paced, fun book. I especially liked all of the Chicago references since I live in the burbs and have seen many of them myself.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review. Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review, books, Chicago, Mystery, poisoned pen press, series, Writer & Book Reviewer

Book Review: The Magician’s Daughter by Judith Janeway Magic and Mystery – a Great Mix

The Magician’s Daughter

By Judith Janeway

227 pages

Magician Valentine Hill can make lots of things disappear and reappear. Unfortunately that talent does not apply to the thing she wants most in the world. No amount of magic can produce her missing birth certificate. Without it, she doesn’t know the place or year she was born, and is skeptical her con artist mom told her the right day of her birth either. The only thing she has been told about her father is that he is a magician.

She was raised with a mother that could step into any role from socialite to barfly depending upon the lifestyle of her current husband. She forced her daughter into the role of accomplice in a series of elaborate cons. She lived a nomadic life, always moving on, changing names and living with a new husband that Valentine was instructed to call “uncle”. This life blew up when Valentine was in her early teens so she moved in with her Aunt June. That was nine years ago, and the last time she saw her mother. June straightened her out by teaching Valentine the rules that she now lives by:

  1. Never lie
  2. Never swear
  3. Never hit anyone – unless they hit you first

Purely by chance, she meets someone that can give her a clue as to where her mother is. She’s been searching for the elusive Elizabeth Hill since her Aunt June died. This could be the break she needed to locate her and somehow make her give up the information about her birth that Valentine needs.

Instead of finding her mother, she finds trouble. And a dead body.  The chain of events that follow are faster than a street magician’s hands. Before she knows it, Valentine is mixed up with mobsters, FBI agents and a very dangerous operation that could stop her search – forever.

The Magician’s Daughter is the first in the series of three Valentine Hill Mysteries. This cozy series had me hooked from the first chapter. I love Valentine. She is spunky and smart. The pain she reveals about her past and the search for her birth details give depth to her character. The supporting characters are interesting, unusual and some of them are not who they seem to be. At one point, Valentine describes them as “What is with this family? All of them are gun-carrying crazies. Scary crazy at that…”.

That tiny snippet of dialog spotlights the humor Janeway masterfully weaves into the plot. Just when you think you’ve figured out the next turn, she throws a smoke bomb on your theory with the grace of a natural magician – or I should say a very skilled writer. The nail-biting end comes to a satisfying conclusion, wrapping up the story right before the last chapter. But wait! There’s more! There is nothing better than a mystery that continues to the last pages and answers all the reader’s questions.

I wanted this book to be longer, because the characters and story were so interesting. But knowing there are two more in the series coming soon is my consolation prize. I’ll be watching the bookstores to snatch up book two before the ink dries.

Summer will be here soon and this is the perfect beach/vacation read.. If you can’t wait that long, take it on Spring Break. The Magician’s Daughter is a great anytime read. You won’t be disappointed, and everyone could use a little magic in their life.

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.


Filed under Book Review, magic, magician, Mystery, poisoned pen press, series

Book Review: The Perfect Game by Leslie Dana Kirby – A Grand Slam for this Debut Author!

The Perfect Game The Perfect Game

By Leslie Dana Kirby

331 pages

Lauren and Liz Rose are excited to be living in the same city again. Lauren moved to Scottsdale, AZ after finishing med school, Liz moved to Arizona with her husband Jake Wakefield, when he became the star pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The women are especially close because they lost their parents in an accident as children. Even though they were raised by a loving grandmother, they cherished the memories of their parents and the time they spent with each other.

After a grueling night in the ER, Lauren hears the devastating news that her sister is dead. She has been brutally murdered in her home in an apparent robbery while Jake was on the road. She had just seen Liz, and her sister told her she had some big news that she would share later, but now it was too late. The only thing Lauren wants is justice for her sister.

Things go from bad to worse for Lauren as the police are diligently collecting evidence against the killer and it appears to be her. She is furious and adamant that she is innocent, but the investigation is relentless. When Jake helps shield her from the police and press, they found comfort in each other. They spent time together, mostly discussing the case, memories of Liz and baseball.

Because she lived in California, Lauren didn’t know Jake very well. She believed they could become friends until the police arrested him for her sister’s murder. The prosecution had a tough job ahead of them. Everyone knew and loved the gorgeous hunk of a man who was the darling of the Diamondbacks. Who doesn’t love a man that pitches a perfect game and how on earth could he ever kill his wife?

It is said the best defense is a good offense, and that is the tactic used by Jake’s lawyer. To prove reasonable doubt, he implies the police were correct in the first place, and Lauren is the true killer. The press is having a field day, capitalizing on the sensationalism of the trial.

I cannot believe this is Kirby’s debut novel. The Perfect Game grabs you in the first few pages, taking you on the roller-coaster ride of emotion with her characters to the end. You get into the heads of Jake, Lauren, the lawyers and police because her descriptions and backgrounds of all of them are solid and believable. I found myself wanting to yell, “No! Don’t trust him!”.

It is fast paced, with smart dialog that puts you in the ER and courtroom with the characters. The plot is solid, throwing a few curve balls at the reader just when you think you’ve figured it out. As far as I’m concerned, Kirby not only hit one out of the ballpark with this book, it is a grand slam.

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.


Filed under baseball, Book Review, books, debut novel, poisoned pen press

Neurotic November – Crazy Characters Create Chaos!

Neurotic NovemberNeurotic-November-Cover

By Barbara Levenson

310 pages

Neurotic November is the fourth book in Barbara Levenson’s Mary Magruder Katz Mystery series. Mary is rebuilding her law practice upon her return to Florida after spending a month in Vermont due to a misunderstanding with her boyfriend, Carlos. They have patched things up and all should be right in her world.

Unfortunately, her troubles are multiplying like rabbits. First, her father’s heart problm has landed him in a Miami hospital. Her mom confesses she hates the retirement community they live in and wants to move back to be closer to friends and family.

Carlo’s father is in legal trouble because he is on the board of a bank that is being investigated by the feds. Mary has agreed to take the case, but he keeps going against her advice because he is used to taking care of his own problems. This time he is most likely in way over his head.

Family problems are nothing compared to her paralegal Caroline’s troubles. Her no good ex-husband is found dead on Caroline’s doorstep within days of an altercation that involved Marco, her fiancé. Mary is fighting to free Marco after he is arrested for the murder.

Then there is Jay Lincoln. He is a University of Miami star quarterback that has been accused of raping a high school girl. He claims he didn’t know she was so young, but evidence is stacking up against him. The original lawyer his family hired wants him to accept a plea bargain, but Mary is convinced things are not what they seem. Regrettably for her, the original lawyer on the case is her ex-boyfriend, creating even more complications in her cluttered life.

Like real life, when it rains it pours and Mary has a flood of troubles. Lucky for readers, this makes for a fast paced fun book with eccentric personalities that are easy to like and identify with as friends, co-workers and family in our lives

Levenson’s style of short chapters and quick action makes me read just one more chapter until I’ve read another 50 pages because I can’t put it down. This is the third book I’ve read in her series. They are the second and third mysteries, Justice in June and Outrageous October.


Check out those reviews here: and

This works as a stand-alone novel, there is enough backstory filled in, but not too much to keep readers from being confused. There is a “cast of characters” list at the beginning of the book that would help new readers figure out who is who at a glance. Fans of Janet Evanovich will love this series – give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

Leave a comment

Filed under Barbara Levenson, Book Review, books, Mary Magruder Katz Mystery, Mystery, poisoned pen press

Book Review: The Koala of Death (spoiler alert – the koala is innocent!!)

The Koala of Death

By Betty Webb

266 pages

Trouble is afoot for the keepers at Gunn Zoo. Teddy Bentley, one of the zoo keepers, finds one of her coworkers floating outside her houseboat. The corpse, Koala Kate, was the face of Gunn Zoo to locals because she appeared on a TV show and published a cute blog about life at the zoo.

Police quickly arrest Outback Bill, another one of the keepers. He insists on his innocence, and it appears Teddy is the only one that believes him. That is until there is another murder at Gunn Landing Harbor. This victim was a close friend of Kate, even though they seemed like an unlikely pair.

Joe Rejas, Teddy’s boyfriend and local sheriff, wants her to keep her nose out of the investigation. Especially after two murders steps away from her boat. Kate had secrets and one of them must have something to do with her death.

Teddy has troubles. Joe and her mother aren’t happy with her detective activities. After a scare, she finally agrees to go stay at her meddling wealthy mother’s home, but continues to snoop. To compound Teddy’s troubles, she has to replace Koala Kate on the Good Morning, San Sebastian show as well as continue the blog. And her mother is trying to hook her up with a rich man instead of keeping her nose out of Joe and Teddy’s relationship.

All of these elements plus a liberal sprinkling of kooky back up characters, both human and animal, make this a really fun book. The mystery is a great whodunit. There are suspects and secrets both silly and scary. Scattered throughout are interesting facts about koalas and other zoo animals. This makes a perfect mix for a delightful read.

The Koala of Death is Webb’s second Gunn Zoo Mystery, but the first one I’ve read. I have read one of her other books, Desert Rage. As you can tell from the titles, the zoo series is meant to be more lighthearted. Webb is a masterful writer who does humor and murder equally well. I love an author that can entertain, surprise and touch my heart. One of my favorite lines in Koala of Death is “Alzheimer’s wasn’t only a thief of memory, it was a thief of the heart.”

On a personal note, thanks to my son Mark, who gave me The Koala of Death for Christmas this year after I mentioned that I wanted to read this series. The title made him laugh, and choose this book for me. I loved it!

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman


Filed under Book Review, books, Mystery, poisoned pen press