Tag Archives: Poisoned Pen Press

Book Review: Unleashed by Eileen Brady: Stellar Second Cozy Mystery

Unleashed (A Kate Turner D.V.M. Mystery) unleashed

by Eileen Brady

Poisoned Pen Press

225 pages

Genre: Cozy Mystery

Dr. Kate Turner is back. Doc Anderson is still on his world cruise, but that is ok with Kate. She has settled in nicely in cozy little Oak Falls. They need a competent vet while Doc was off on his adventure and she needs the tranquility of small town life in upstate New York.

Most of the people she comes in contact with have become fast friends or quirky acquaintances, but they all value her expertise as the person that takes loving, skilled care of their pets and farm animals. It isn’t the animals that are causing the problems in Oak Falls, it is humans.

Claire Birnham is found dead of an apparent suicide. She was a well-liked, talented artist with a bright future that gave no indication of distress or worry, certainly nothing that would sound an alarm with her friends and family.

Kate cannot believe her friend would kill herself. There were so many reasons for her to want to live. First and foremost, Claire’s love and devotion for her dog Toto. Named after the famous pooch in The Wizard of Oz, Toto is a dog with an attitude. He is a pussycat with Claire, but is intolerant of almost everyone else.

Lucky for Toto he was at the veterinary clinic at the time of his mistress’ demise. And lucky for Kate, her kennel helper Eugene is one of the few people Toto doesn’t try to eat.

Kate starts digging deeper into her friend’s death with the unwilling help of her friend and sometimes boyfriend, police officer Luke Gianetti. Her grandfather, a retired law enforcement officer, is much more willing to help. He even comes to town to do a bit of probing for Kate.

Unfortunately, Kate was right. Her friend Clair was murdered. There are more suspects entering the picture than Kate could have imagined. Line up an ex that is a Rock Singer, an awful alcoholic mother, a vindictive, overbearing gallery owner and someone very near and dear to Kate.

The clock is ticking while Kate immerses herself in the local art scene and investigation. Either one can get her killed. She has to keep looking for the real killer before an innocent person is convicted of the crime.

Eileen Brady has done it again. Wrap a mysterious death in a cloak of critters and quirky characters and you have the makings of a great cozy mystery. Brady writes dialog and descriptions that pulls the reader into the old beat up truck of Doc Anderson’s and takes you along for the oftentimes bumpy ride.

Some of the characters from her first novel Muzzled make a welcome appearance. Both animals and humans have distinctive attributes and voices, all mixing together making a perfect cast for Brady’s cozy mystery.  The witty prose with the underlying knowledge of a practicing veterinarian brings a depth to this novel that some cozies are missing. I can’t wait to read the next one.

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.

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Filed under art, Book Review, books, cozy mystery, dogs, mythology, Writer & Book Reviewer

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

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

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

Book Review: Cooler Than Blood – Hot New Novel by Robert Lane


Cooler Than Blood

By Robert Lane

316 pages

Ex-military Jake Travis uses his covert op training to help people who need the services of a PI. One who doesn’t think twice about crossing the line – but only when necessary. His humor is as sharp as the knife he conceals, and he isn’t afraid to use either of them. When Susan Blake calls him, he ignores her at first. Not wanting to create any waves with his girlfriend Kathleen, he feels the less contact he has with a woman he felt attracted to, but successfully avoided intimacy with, the better off he will be. Until he finds out Susan’s teenage niece is missing.

Jenny Spencer, a recent high school graduate left Ohio without telling her mother and step-father.  She moved in with her Aunt Susan in Florida. Leaving home before a bad situation got worse; Jenny felt safe with her choice. Unfortunately a violent encounter with a man on a deserted beach quickly turned her world upside down again. Then she mysteriously disappeared.

The police are not concerned. She “ran away” once, so why worry about her now? That is Jake’s first response also. Until he finds out she left her cell phone behind. No teen would leave his or her phone for a few hours, much less run away without it.

Reluctantly Jake agrees to look for Jenny. He calls his partner, Garrett Demarcus to help with the case as well as a few of his other friends/partners that he worked with in the past.

Jenny’s trail isn’t easy to follow. It seems as though she is one step ahead of them. The question is; who actually has her? It could be a crazy drug selling family from Ohio. It could also be mobsters with ties to Chicago. It could be someone from her past or maybe she just ran away like the indifferent detective on the case believes. Jake needs to find her before she outlives her usefulness.

In a strange turn of events, Jake finds out a dangerous person in Kathleen’s past may be connected to this case. He has to figure out how to find the teen without dragging his personal life into the case. Balance is difficult for most people, but Jake’s failure to keep work and home life separate could prove deadly.

Lane’s work is beautifully literary, with a healthy side dish of noir. The blending of two seemingly unrelated styles is perfectly crafted to create a work of art you will savor to the last page. His characters have relatable flaws and quirks both good and bad, masterfully breathing life into them. Lane’s descriptions and dialog pull the reader into Jake’s world and don’t let go until Jenny is found.

The second book in Robert Lane’s Jake Travis works well as a stand-alone novel, but you may want to read the first in the series, The Second Letter before Cooler Than Blood. I read it last year and couldn’t wait to hear more from Lane (read my review here: https://lauramhartman.wordpress.com/2014/05/03/book-review-the-second-letter-by-robert-lane/). There are a few references to his first book, but I don’t feel it would be confusing if you have not read it.

Read them both – you are going to love this author’s work.

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, Mystery

The Edison Effect: An Electrifying New Novel by Bernadette Pajer

The Edison EffectThe Edison Effect

By Bernadette Pajer

242 pages

Professor Benjamin Bradshaw is back in Pajer’s fourth book in her popular mystery series. The Edison Effect is set in Seattle Washington, during the 1903 Christmas Season. Not many of us remember Christmas trees without lights on them. I am of a certain age that used to have big lights on the tree that got so hot you could only leave them on for a short time. Now we can choose LED lights, strings of one color, twinkling, dripping and flashing lights.

In the early 1900’s Edison was just introducing them for the holiday season. Unfortunately, an electrician at one of the most popular department stores in Seattle is found dead with a strand of them in his hands. It is soon apparent that his demise was brought about by touching bare wires while the current was still on. Foul play was suspected so Professor Bradshaw, a respected investigator that helped the local police whenever electricity was involved in a case, was called in to help.

It appears that the corpse has more in common with Edison than dying by his new invention. It appears that both of them are hunting for the invention that was tossed overboard in Pajer’s first novel in the series, A Spark of Death.  The search for this box has consumed many in the area, some of whom are willing to lie, cheat, steal and possibly kill to see what it holds. Certainly Edison would not stoop so low, but he really comes across as a ruthless business man, with an aggressive lawyer who is willing to sue anyone at the drop of a hat.

Bradshaw quickly finds out the dead man has more enemies than friends. It seems almost everyone close to the case could be the killer. The complexity of the case has Bradshaw going to great lengths, pushing himself past his comfort level in order to track down the truth.

While all of this is going on, Professor Bradshaw’s in the middle of a moral dilemma. Missouri, the woman he loves, is studying homeopathic medicine, is younger than him and does not agree with the doctrine of the Catholic Church. He loves her with all his heart and his young son adores her. But how can he marry a woman with beliefs so vastly different from his?

The Edison Effect is deceptively complex. It has many layers and plot lines that intersect, wrap around each other and end up perfectly tied to each other in the end. Much like the other books in this series, history, science and everyday life in the early 1900’s is beautifully added to the novel. I love books that teach me something while I am enjoying a fictional novel. Once again, Pajer’s novel has been “reviewed and approved for science” by the Washington Academy of Sciences. This is a really fun way to learn more about the science of things we take for granted in our lives today.

Capacity-for-Murder-by-Bernadette-PajerI would really recommend reading the first three books in this series. I have only read the third and fourth books starting with Capacity for Murder (read my review here: https://lauramhartman.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/book-review-capacity-for-murder-by-bernadette-pajer/ ) before reading this book. The Edison Effect  as well as Capacity for Murder work perfectly well as a stand-alone novels, but book four relies heavily on the story line from the first book of the series, A Spark of Death. My suggestion would be reading them in order. You don’t want to know who the killer is in book one, and you will if you read The Edison Effect first.

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, Edison, Mystery, Science

Book Review: Dying for the Past – Gotta love a book with ghosts and gangsters!

Dying for the PastDying for the Past

By TJ O’Connor

395 pages

Tuck is back! After solving his own murder in O’Connor’s first novel, Dying to Know, Oliver “Tuck” Tucker thought he would move on to the afterlife. But he is destined to be a ghost detective for the unforeseeable future.

His wife/widow Angela is hosting a charity gala in the historic Vincent House. The huge home, grounds and additional houses in the estate take up a city block in the small town of Westchester, Virginia. The fine citizens there to enjoy the evening for a good cause aren’t the only ones in attendance. Long dead mob boss Vincent Calaprese and his hot babe Sassy watch as strangers dance, dine and die in their home.

The Gala is a hit; donations roll in as the revelers enjoy cocktails and the band. The dance floor is full when a bullet finds its way into Spence Grecco’s body, killing him instantly. Was the bullet meant for him, his beautiful young wife, Bonnie or someone else at the event? Mysteriously, the shooter seems to disappear into thin air.

Bear, Tuck’s former partner, and the local police arrest the likely suspect, but quickly realize they might not have the right person. As the police interview everyone at Vincent House, the FBI barges in and claims jurisdiction on the case. The local cops are not going to back away that easily; Bear and Tuck are still on the case, much to the chagrin of the FBI.

Meanwhile the ghost gangster from 1939 can’t leave his former home, but desperately wants something from 2014. Calaprese needs Tuck’s connection with the living to retrieve a book that has information in it that may be connected to the Gala murder. Surprisingly, several of the suspects are also after this mysterious book.

There are more twists and turns in this novel than a ride down San Francisco’s Lombard Street. It takes a masterful author to perfectly meld ghosts, gangsters, a lovable Labrador, professors, ghostbusters, Russian Mobsters and a couple of beautiful women – both dead and alive –  into an intriguing mystery. O’Connor pulls in all of these crazy characters, adds a solid story with equally fun and interesting subplots to give us a fictional feast to enjoy.

Dying to KnowIf you haven’t read the first book in this series, Dying for the Past works well as a stand-alone mystery. I would suggest reading Dying to Know only because both of them are really good mysteries, and you may as well start at the beginning of Tuck’s adventures. O’Connor’s easy to read style is laced with humor and kept me guessing up until the very end.




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, books, Mystery

Mr. Samuel’s Penny YA Book Review

Mr. Samuel’s PennyMr. Samuel's Penny

By Treva Hall Melvin

254 pages

Lizbeth Landers and her younger sister Lena are spending the summer with relatives in a small North Carolina town. Far from their home in Queens, fourteen year-old Lizbeth thinks she will be bored, but soon learns that small towns and relatives have secrets, some of which can be deadly.

Soon after arriving, there is a horrific car accident in which a man and his daughter drown. A mystery surrounds the accident, and deepens as the penny the dead man clutches in his hand disappears from the evidence gathered at the scene. Lizbeth is determined to find the rare 1909 penny, sure that the person with possession of it will be the one that caused the accident and consequently the deaths of the driver and his toddler.

On her search, she learns about life and herself while interacting with her relatives and other residents of Ahoskie. The teen makes assumptions about life and people in her 1972 world. She learns that things are not always as they seem and you have to really get to know people before judging them or supposing you know their motives for how they react.

Mr. Samuel’s Penny is more of a coming-of-age Young Adult book than a Young Adult Mystery. It shows the growth of Lizbeth during the summer into a young lady that is much wiser than she was before she left New York. She learns of life, death and the definition of family that reaches much further than blood ties.

The mystery of the 1909 penny and the car accident is brought to light in the final chapters, but it almost seems to me this is the subplot, not the plot. Lizbeth’s search for the penny brings her into situations that allow her to connect with other characters that she might not have had contact with, but the mystery and penny take a back seat to her growth.

The only plot point that bothered me was Lizbeth’s nine year-old sister. She was mentioned coming to meals, wearing outfits that were not hers, and getting into dangerous situations that leave the reader breathless. But she is not mentioned at the beginning during the accident. Lizbeth, her aunt and uncle are at the scene – where is this younger girl? Lena was told to go play at a little girl’s house while Lizbeth and Aunt Alice go to the laundromat; did she spend the whole summer over there unless she was needed as part of the “action”? I know that the focus of the novel is on Lizbeth, but after introducing a little sister, she has to be accounted for in the rest of the book, especially key scenes at Aunt Alice’s home.

This is Treva Hall Melvin’s first book, and well worth searching out to read. It is a quick read, with an underlying story of growing up told subtly and smoothly along with the mystery. Touching on topics you would not expect adds another layer to this novel that is deceptively complex, yet still easy to read.

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.

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Filed under Book Review, family, Mystery, YA

Book Review: The Splintered Paddle – Heart Pounding Hawaiian Mystery

splintered paddle

The Splintered Paddle

By Mark Troy

301 pages

Ava Rome can’t help everyone, but she tries. As a Private Investigator on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, she takes the Law of the Splintered Paddle seriously and tries to live by it. According to the Honolulu Police Department website, the Law was “… decreed by Kamehameha I, circa 1782, to protect travelers from wanton attack” (http://www.honolulupd.org/department/index.php?page=ourbadge).

When Jenny Mordan, a well-known working girl, seeks out Ava’s protection she doesn’t hesitate or judge her lifestyle even though she doesn’t necessarily agree with it. Jenny is being blackmailed by a cop who thinks he is above the law so Ava takes the case. Unfortunately, this cop has more going on than his underhanded dealings with Jenny. The deeper Ava gets into the case, she realizes that Jenny’s life is at stake and maybe her own.

Enter a Goth want-to-be teenager of a former client. Cassie Sands needs a parent that is going to pay attention to her. Unfortunately, her father thinks she is just acting out. He calls upon Ava to help him with Cassie. Reluctantly she agrees, possibly because she sees a bit of her younger self in Cassie.

While all of this is going on, Norman Traxler, a man Ava put in prison ten years ago while she was an MP in San Francisco is out and looking for Ava. This man is a killing machine that won’t stop until he teaches Ava a lesson about messing with the wrong person. He is watching and waiting to make her pay in a way that will hurt her more than death.

Ava has a lot going on. She is trying to keep Jenny safe, Cassie on the straight and narrow and herself from being killed. The list of people out to get her is growing much faster than her bank account. Will making a trip to the mainland to confront ghosts in her past hurt or help her at this point? Ava needs to decide.

Fast paced and full of danger, The Splintered Paddle takes the reader to places in Hawaii most visitors will never see. There is a dark side to the Islands and Ava is in the eye of the storm.

This novel isn’t all sinister; there are bits of humor – teaching a petulant teen how to drive is funny no matter how you slice it. And the bits of Hawaiian culture are interesting. I loved when the characters enjoy a lunch of Moco Loco; it looks and sounds nasty, but tastes fabulous!  Troy does a great job blending the stories and solid believable characters with Hawaiian culture. Adding Ava’s past enriches the mix and pulls the readers closer to her, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel.

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, books, Hawaii, Mystery, Quick Nav

Book Review: Deeper Than The Grave

Deeper Than The Grave (A Tai Randolph Mystery)

By Tina Whittle

294 PagesDeeper Than The Grave

Tai Randolph is the owner of a gun shop in Atlanta that specializes in Civil War re-enactment relics along with run-of-the-mill firearms and ammo. Formerly owned by her Uncle Dexter, Tai has organized the inventory and has settled in, making the business profitable in the process.

Her boyfriend, Trey Seaver, has beefed up security for the shop. As a corporate security agent, and former FBI agent, he is obsessed with keeping Tai safe. She finds his security measures equally aggravating and endearing, but thinks he has crossed the line due to problems he has had in the past, including an accident, that has left him with a brain injury.

Tai admits the security is good to have around the shop as there have been several times her system has detected attempted breaches. She suspects the neighboring business owner, who is trying to run the gun shop out of business by any means possible, going as far as not allowing video surveillance in the alley because it is “her property”.

A storm is brewing, both figuratively and literally for Tai. A tornado rips through the area, causing untold damage to Kennesaw Mountain Cemetery, the final resting place for Braxton Amberdecker. The Civil War hero’s grave is damaged and his bones are missing. Tai and Trey are called upon to help locate them. When a skull is found by Tai, the search is called off, but the police are not happy. These remains cannot be those of Amberdecker, because a NASCAR belt buckle accompanies the bones.

The police suspect Tai, who starts digging for the truth with Trey’s reluctant help. When her dead Uncle Dexter if pulled into the investigation, she really heats up her search for the true killer, putting herself in more danger than she has bargained for. Deeper Than The Grave is Whittle’s fourth book in the Tai Randolph Mystery series.

I love the plot twists and energy that made me read “just one more chapter” every time I tried to put this book down. Tai is like a crazy friend you love to spend time with and Trey is vulnerable, edgy, and unpredictable all bundled into a gorgeous package. The two main characters interact beautifully together.

This is the first book I have read in the series. It worked as a stand-alone novel for me, but I hesitate to jump in with both feet saying it will work for everyone. Some questions remain unanswered as to what happened in the past with Trey’s accident as well as Tai and Trey’s relationship. This may bother some readers, but did not especially bother me. It is a solid, interesting story that leaves me wanting to know more, so I’ll go back and read the first two novels in this series to fill in the gaps. I looked at it as meeting someone new that was reluctant to share all of his or her past all at once, but as they became more comfortable, I learned more.

The other really great thing about this book is the last few pages of  Author’s Notes. Whittle shares her Pinterest name (tinawh) where you can see her boards about the Civil War, Tai and Trey, Deeper Than the Grave Research and much more. If you are on Pinterest, I highly recommend searching her out to add another layer of interest to reading her books.

Copyright © 2014 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.

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Filed under books, Civil War, Mystery, Quick Nav

Book Review: Desert Rage by Betty Webb – I can’t wait to read the rest of her books!

Desert Rage (A Lena Jones Mystery)

By Betty WebbDesertRageAmazon-330

Private Investigator Lena Jones is summoned to the home of a powerful, demanding Congresswoman Juliana Thorsson. Lena is willing to meet with her, but remains skeptical that she could stand this ambitious woman long enough to work the case no matter what it is. That is until she hears the details of the job Thorsson needs done.

A 14-year-old girl and her boyfriend have admitted that they brutally murdered the girl’s family. Her father, mother and 10-year-old brother were slain while eating lunch in their expensive Scottsdale home. After confessing to the crime, both teens have refused to talk to anyone and are being held in juvie with public defenders working their cases.

The Congresswoman wants to hire Lena to find evidence to clear Alison, the 14-year-old murderer. She is convinced that Ali has only confessed to keep Kyle out of prison. Thorsson insists that Kyle worked alone to murder Ali’s family. The killer even attacked Alison’s small dog, almost killing him. She insists Ali would never hurt her dog or her family.

Lena is intrigued, but wary of working for Thorsson. She rolls scenarios around in her head trying to find a logical connection between a young girl and this very public woman that is in the middle of a run for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Unable to walk away from a case where at least one, if not both teens might be incarcerated or put to death, Lena agrees to work for Thorsson.

The P.I. immerses herself in the case and soon believes they are both innocent. She is convinced Ali and Kyle are lying. The evidence just does not add up. But if the  teens are innocent, that means a brutal killer is still on the loose. What possible motive would someone have to murder a prominent doctor, his wife and young son?

As the investigation heats up, Lena finds everyone except the young son and dog are harboring secrets. Any one of these lies and indiscretions could have led someone to murder. As Lena gets closer to the truth, she becomes a target. Someone is out to get her, could it be a pumped up chick she infuriated or maybe the real killer of Alison’s family.

With the help of her old partner, a snarky police officer and Thorsson calling in favors Lena moves closer to the truth.  Her investigation takes her down a twisted trail turning up more suspects, any one of them have means and convincing motives.

Desert Rage is excellent on so many levels I do not know where to start. Webb paints a vivid picture of life in the hot desert of Arizona. Her characters came alive on the page. My heart broke for Kyle, a good kid living with a foster family because his family can no longer take care of him. Lena’s past as part of the foster system tethers her tighter to the case. Webb gives little tidbits of information regarding the area. She explains little known facts that tie directly to the plot. It is interesting and enriches the plot to pull the reader in even further. The end has a totally unexpected twist. I love when an author masterfully uses her craft to make me gasp.

This is the eighth book in the Lena Jones Mystery series, and the first one I have read, and it works very well as a stand-alone novel. I am appalled that I somehow missed Betty Webb’s previous books when looking for a new favorite writer to add to my list. She also writes the Gunn Zoo Mystery Series which I need to seek out. How can you not love books with titles like The Koala of Death? I am looking forward to reading many more of Betty Webb’s books.

Copyright © 2014 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.

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Filed under books, Mystery, Quick Nav, Writing