Tag Archives: Poisoned Pen Press

Book Review: Vengeance is Mine by Reavis Z. Wortham Moves faster than a sidewinder!!

Vengeance Is Mine (A Red River Mystery)
By Reavis Z. Wortham
323 Pages

Vengeance Is Mine is the latestvengence-200 book in Wortham’s Red River Mystery Series. It opens with a hit man getting an assignment in Las Vegas 1967. Anthony Agrioli has not gone soft, but when he sees a couple of kids on the list, something begins to stir inside him. After deciding to double-cross his gangster boss and get out of the killing business, he picks up a hot babe and heads out of town. They set out on a path that may lead them to their own destruction.

The couple ends up in a small town in northeast Texas, hoping to lead a quiet, unassuming life far away from the glitz, glamour and guns that defined their previous life. They quickly find small towns are friendly, but a bit wary of newcomers. The town might be tiny, but it has more than its share of quirky characters and all of them are interested in finding out what makes the city slickers tick.

Top Parker and his cousin Pepper are barely into their teens and both of them are too curious for their own good. Their uncle Cody is the constable, who tries to keep a handle on them, but it is not easy. The teens are not especially defiant, but feel they know better than the grown-ups in their lives do when it comes to dangerous situations.

The teens have a starring role, and this part of the story is masterfully understated, but forever present. Pepper is chafing against the constraints of small town life, complaining she wants to move to California where rock & roll and freedom can become her new way of life. Top has challenges of his own. He must act like a man when his dog is mauled by a pack of wild dogs, even if it means doing something he does not want to do. Both of them are maturing, but still need guidance and nurturing. Their close family and network of friends and neighbors in this tiny community fill that need.

Their Uncle Cody is hindered by working under a sheriff with questionable morals and dealings. The real trouble begins when gangsters roll into town looking for Agrioli. A storm is brewing both figuratively and literally. Unfortunately, bullets will fly and someone will die.

Top’s grandmother is a Choctaw who has experienced racism, and teaches others by example that acceptance of others is necessary. She invites an African American family into her home when others would not, not thinking twice about what others may think. There is an interesting twist that involves her native language that I will let you discover yourselves.

This novel moves faster than a sidewinder, and you might want to speed through it to see what is going to happen next. Try to slow down a bit and savor the layers and intricate connections with all of the subplots and the main plot. Wortham addresses many social and personal issues with his interesting and complicated characters. He combines unlikely elements including a dead body, a group of gangsters, raging hormones, a bank robbery and a young man whose dreams are premonitions to draw readers in and hold them until the very last page.

This is the first Red River Mystery I have read. It worked fine as a stand-alone novel, but there were references to things that happened in earlier novels that I would have liked to know a bit more about. I guess I will read the previous books in the series to find out.

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Touching, Thought Provoking: Jesus Jackson by James Ryan Daley

Jesus-Jackson-Book-CoverJesus Jackson

By James Ryan Daley

267 pages

Jonathan Stiles could be any 14 year old until his first day of ninth grade. Some kids love school, are excited to be back with old friends and meet new friends. He is not that kid, and the anxiety he feels is only the tip of the iceberg in Jonathan’s life.

His first day includes police tape blocking the path to the dead body of his older brother Ryan. Jonathan is now on his own at the religious school his divorced parents chose for the boys in response to their atheism. His skepticism and disdain for any organized religion becomes his armor, shielding him from the pain of his brother’s death, much to the chagrin of his parents and teachers. Ryan and Jonathan began a religious journey, to try to find a religion or a God that they could prove was real. Now that Ryan is dead, his brother believes that death is the end, but on some level it really bothers him.

An unlikely friendship develops with a stranger Jonathan meets as he was leaving the scene of his brother’s death. Jesus Jackson is on the football field, dressed in a white linen leisure suit, offering to help Jonathan. Jackson looks surprisingly like Jesus Christ and seems to say just what Jonathan needs to hear by proposing two ideas. The first is a guarantee that he will find an answer to Jonathan’s doubts about his faith by serving up the perfect belief for him. Then he implies that Ryan’s death was murder, not an accident, and urges Jonathan to find his brother’s killer.

Henry, Jonathan’s only friend at school agrees to help him do a bit of sleuthing. Unfortunately, it involves stalking and trying to gather clues to take to the police from Alistair, the jock they suspect had something to do with Ryan’s death,. As the boys try to get close to him, they realize it might be impossible to collect any evidence proving Alistair’s guilt. No matter the cost, Jonathan is determined to bring Ryan’s killer to justice.

As if Jonathan doesn’t have an overflowing plate of worries, the females in his life are creating complications and distractions. His mother is acting “normal” by cleaning, cooking and keeping a fake smile on her face instead of dealing with her son’s death. Ryan’s girlfriend is useful to Henry and Jonathan’s quest to prove Alistair’s guilt, but she is grieving more than anyone in Jonathan’s home and he has trouble dealing with her. Then there is Cassie. She has fallen for Jonathan, but he doesn’t have the time or energy for a girlfriend – until he finds out she is Alistair’s sister.

This book is brilliant. The themes could make the story heavy, but the book is not. There is underlying tension with the amateur investigation the boys are conducting as well as the quest to find something for Jonathan to believe in. Humor lightens the crazy events of Jonathan’s world giving the reader and the characters a breather.

Daley has written a touching, thought provoking story with characters that come to life as the plot unfolds. They are easy to relate to and identify with. Jesus Jackson is written for Young Adults, but I recommend it for adults also. The thought provoking plot moves quickly, but makes the reader think long after reading it. It would be the perfect choice for a book club as it naturally leads the reader down many paths of discussion.

I am waiting impatiently for a second novel from this talented wordsmith.

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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Book Review: This Private Plot by Alan Beechey

This Private PlotThis Private Plot  by Alan Beechey

Poisoned Pen Press


305 pages Genre: Mystery

Alan Beechey’s latest, This Private Plot,is a wonderful romp. His character,  Oliver Swithin, is a children’s book author that is currently working on a trivia book. We travel with him to his childhood home in a small village appropriately named Synne, which I am pretty sure is pronounced “sin”. Swithin is with his girlfriend, a police officer that reports to Swithin’s uncle, who is also on holiday in Synne.

While out on a naked midnight romp in the “Shakespeare Race” an authentic turf maze, our couple finds Dennis Breedlove, a former children’s television personality, hanged. The police think it is suicide, because a blackmail note is found. It turns out that Breedlove is actually the blackmailer.

Swithin is on the trail of the killer. Several trails actually. Convinced that one of the blackmailers is the killer, Swithin tries to match up suspects with the nursery rhymes Breedlove used to identify them. With the help of his girlfriend and unheeded warnings from his uncle to stop, he discovers that Synne has more than its share of secrets. They include a strange writing group run by the Vicar, a couple which may be the same person, a recluse monk and possibly his own family.

All of sleuthing is going on while Swithin’s brother is trying to prove there were two William Shakespeares and his uncle is starring in a local theater production of Hamlet. There are great tidbits of information on Shakespeare as well as other bits of trivia shared by Swithin while this story unfolds.

Beechey is a master of double-entendre. From names such as Lesbia Weguelin (to which I read “let’s be a wigglin’) to the name of the actual town. Swithin talks often about living in Synne. More than once, I stopped to read a particularly funny line to whoever was near me at the moment.

This mystery is so wonderfully British in the spirit of Agatha Christie with the humor of P.G. Wodehouse, I simultaneously laughed and was intrigued. At times, this book was a bit bawdy, but never graphic, I did not find it offensive. Deliciously tangle plot that is perfectly tied up by the end of the book, with a beautiful, unexpected twist at the end.

This is the third book in Beechley’s Oliver Swithin Mystery Series. It was the first one I’ve read and worked very well as a stand-alone mystery. Swithin is an endearingly wacky character. I want to see more of him and the other characters that Beechley skillfully brings to life  .


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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