murder

“The Code” and “The Black Ace” by G.B. Joyce

 

“The Code” and “The Black Ace” written by award-winning Canadian sportswriter G. B. Joyce, are set in the world of professional hockey. Former pro hockey player, Brad Shade, worked as an investigator for four years post-hockey, but is now an assessor scout for a hockey team based in the States. He interviews junior league prospects and their families, watches them play, and analyzes why they would or would not fit into the franchise. Millions of dollars are at stake and kids that do well in junior hockey might not have what it takes mentally or physically to make a career of it.
 

 

During a scouting trip, Shade has trouble arranging a meet with one of the prospects. In the course of tracking him down, Shade uncovers some disturbing information, a major coverup seems likely, the prospect’s teammate goes missing, and people wind up dead. And Shade gets a chance to apply his P.I. investigative skills to his present scouting gig.

 

“The Code” shows the underbelly of the junior hockey leagues, highlighting the greed and money to be made. Sadly, in any big money sport with youth being fed into the majors, there are parents that chase the dream without regard for what the kids want. And as G.B. Joyce points out, unless there is a real hunger/enthusiasm for the game (not for the fame or money alone), it’s unlikely that even a talented player will have much staying power.

 

A Canadian TV show, “Private Eyes,” is currently being broadcast in the USA. The show is fun and when I discovered that it was based on Joyce’s books, I picked up “The Code,” and soon after, “The Black Ace.” The similarity between the books and the TV show end with the game of hockey and Shade’s stint as a P.I.  Even our hero’s name has been changed to Matt in the TV show. Both versions are good; Shade’s investigations are dogged in both, but on TV he's a full time P.I. and in “The Code” any investigation is tied to the game and his job as a scout.

 

I love the game of hockey in its purest form, so while there is a mystery to be solved in “The Code,” reading this as a sports book was a distinct pleasure. I saw several episodes of the show before picking up the books, and each brings something new to my understanding of both P.I. work and the game of hockey.
 

 

“The Black Ace” is the second book in this hockey/detective series.

Shade is now the official scouting director for the L.A. team, but still spends a lot of time on the road checking out prospects in the junior leagues. 
 

He learns that former teammate and roommate, Martin Mars, has died and that his death has been classified as a suicide. Shade and "Whisper" played together in a history making, five overtime game. On behalf of the franchise, he and a colleague, Chief, attend the funeral. When Shade and Chief pay their respects, the widow shares her doubts that her husband could have committed suicide and asks Shade to look into it. 
 

Shade can’t say no, but Chief has a bad feeling about the situation. Before long, they are beaten up, jailed, threatened, and no closer to the truth. The mystery is why anybody would care enough about their presence to harass them. Shade is not intimidated, won’t leave town because of his promise to the widow, and the threats blow back on the bad guys. He and Chief do some digging, uncover Mars’ shocking past, as well as a mega bucks deal that may be the reason Mars is dead.
 

Shade had attitude on the ice and his off-ice personality hasn't changed. His view of the world is a tad snarky, but he’s entitled. Shade’s manager blew his millions on a shady real estate deal and Shade’s ACL was shredded by an opponent he never liked. But that snarky veneer shows cracks when faced with a good person who needs help and when guilt for his own actions in the past come skating into the present.
 

As Joyce walks us through the process of choosing the next Wayne Gretzky or Martin Brodeur, we learn what kinds of deals need to be made to protect the players and/or the front office. Both books contain lots of tidbits about the life of a hockey player. Did you know that the players fly first class because the seats are bigger/wider? Most of the players have well developed thighs and shoulders and they simply can’t fit into the seats in economy. And here I thought they were just after the special drinks and snacks only available up front.
 

Shade is a complex character, nicely layered with references to the impact life on the road has on his personal relationships. He’s upfront about the career ending injuries he and other players have sustained and knows full well that he was not a gifted player, just a very smart one with a genuine love of the game.

 

According to the online booksellers, “The Code” and “The Black Ace” are followed by “The Third Man In,” rounding out the Brad Shade series. It’s on my ’to buy’ list.

 

Please visit    https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/authors/14875/gare-joyce   to learn more about G.B. Joyce (Gare Joyce for non-fiction) and his books.

 

 

 

 

 

“Defending Jacob” by William Landay

 

 

“Defending Jacob,” features Andrew Barber as an Assistant DA, with a 22 year stint as part of the District Attorney’s office. A few days after his son’s classmate is stabbed to death, Barber is barred from the case and given a leave of absence from work.
 

His son is accused of the terrible crime, but Barber knows in his bones that Jacob could not have done it. When a devastating secret is uncovered during the investigation into the boy’s death, we realize that Barber may be alone in that belief. Despite incredible pressure from everyone he knows, as well as additional evidence to the contrary, he never stops declaring his son’s innocence.
 

“Defending Jacob” explores family relationships as they evolve in the aftermath of horrific events. This absorbing psychological courtroom drama deftly captures the doubts and the pointing fingers as members of the community seek to find answers for this senseless stabbing/killing. What parenting lack created this apparently crazed teenager living amongst them? Or was it a flaw in the child himself? If ‘x’ can kill, how certain can we be that someone else might not be capable of the same act? “Defending Jacob” was published in 2012, but the story could be ripped from the headlines today.
 

Landay, a former DA himself, posits a few theories to explain the multi-faceted plot lines and has several characters explore the possibility of a murder gene – that murder can be committed because of a hereditary predisposition. Modern psychological profiling indicates that the level of violence in our backgrounds most likely informs our future actions, but is there an actual gene? And, in my opinion, most disturbing of all: Does law enforcement really pick a suspect and then go after evidence to support that theory, no matter how far a stretch from the truth?
 

The ending left me stunned, contemplating which character was, in the end, most damaged. I may never resolve that in my mind. This was a riveting read from start to finish and beyond.
 

“Defending Jacob” won the Strand Critics Award, and a movie based on the book may be released this year.  Please visit www.williamlanday.com for information about Landay’s other books.

 

*Note: contains sporadic swearing/coarse language.

 

2018 Hammett Prize

 

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The Hammett Prize is bestowed each year by The International Association of Crime Writers (North American Branch). This year the award was given for a 2017 work of literary excellence in the field of crime writing by a North American author, in July. The winner received the famous ‘Thin Man’ bronze trophy, and bragging rights.  🙂
 

Please click on the nominated book titles to find out more about the novel.

The winner is indicated in red.

The nominees were as follows: 

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne (G. P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Tragedy of Brady Sims by Ernest J. Gaines (Vintage)
August Snow, by Stephen Mack Jones (Soho Crime)
Two Days Gone, by Randall Silvis (Sourcebooks Landmark)

Congratulations to all!
 

Past winners for books published in the year indicated include:

2016:  The White Devil by Domenic Stansberry

2015: The Do-Right by Lisa Sandlin

2014: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

2013: Angel Baby by Richard Lange

2012: Oregon Hill by Howard Owen

2011: The Killer is Dying by James Sallis

2010: The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer

2009: The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry

2008: The Turnaround by George Pelecanos

 

Have you read any of the 2017 nominated books or this year's winner? Or the Hammett Prize winners from previous years? Now’s your chance.  🙂

 

 

 

 

“One Murder More” by Kris Calvin

 

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As Kris Calvin’s “One Murder More” opens, Sacramento lobbyist, Maren Kane, is having a really tough day. She's driving to a breakfast meeting at the governor’s office and sees a car go over the railing into the water-filled drainage ditch beyond. She and a Good Samaritan stranger are able to rescue two children from a rapidly submerging car, but the woman at the wheel, a famous investigative journalist, is dead on impact. After the accident, Maren continues on to work, and before going home, happens upon a bloodied colleague, Tamara Barnes, in the ladies’ room. And she is decidedly dead.
 

Two bodies in one 24-hour cycle? Wait. There are a few hours left to this day. Maren’s former intern, Sean Verston (and friend to Barnes) shows up at Maren’s doorstep at 2am to crash on her couch. When Sean is accused of Barnes’ murder, Maren doesn’t believe he could do it and can’t rest until she uncovers evidence that will clear him. It’s not easy to do, because Sean is hiding a secret he refuses to reveal, even to save himself.
 

Maren’s questions take her in surprising directions as the complex plot unfolds. The people involved and the connections between them could be ripped from the headlines. Who did what to whom, and most importantly, how did they get away with it for so long?
 

The people in “One Murder More” are well drawn, with intriguing, powerful men, and accomplished, multi-faceted women. Details about the California countryside and its restaurants, as well as the colorful outfits the characters wear, add to this entertaining read.
 

Kris Calvin’s political insider knowledge of how lobbying works in Sacramento is central to the effectiveness of “One Murder More.” She was an elected public official in California and was known for her work as an advocate for children. Maren Kane is an Ecobabe lobbyist working to pass legislation that would ban the complete use of cellphones while driving- not an easy or popular bill. The cell phone bill storyline is topical in real world discussions and in some States, highly controversial.
 

“One Murder More” won Silver Falchion awards for Best First Novel, and Best Political Thriller.

 

Please visit www.kriscalvin.com for more information about Ms. Calvin and her work.

 

The Agatha Awards for 2017 Books

 

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The winners for the Agatha Awards for 2017 Books (named for Agatha Christie) have been announced. The awards were bestowed upon mystery and crime writers at the annual Malice Domestic conference in late April, 2018. The nominated books were first published in the United States by a living author between January 1 and December 31, 2017.
 

The Agatha Awards recognize the "traditional mystery," meaning that there is no graphic sex and no excessive violence in the writing. Thrillers or hard-boiled detectives cannot be found here, but instead, picture Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot at work.
 

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners (indicated in red).  🙂

 

Best Contemporary Novel 
“Death Overdue: A Haunted Library Mystery” by Allison Brook
“A Cajun Christmas Killing: A Cajun Country Mystery” by Ellen Byron
“No Way Home: A Zoe Chambers Mystery” by Annette Dashofy
“Take Out” by Margaret Maron
“Glass Houses: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel” by Louise Penny

 

Best Historical Novel 
“In Farleigh Field” by Rhys Bowen
“Murder in an English Village: A Beryl and Edwina Mystery” by Jessica Ellicott
“Called to Justice: A Quaker Midwife Mystery” by Edith Maxwell
“The Paris Spy: A Maggie Hope Mystery” by Susan Elia MacNeal
“Dangerous to Know: A Lillian Frost and Edith Head Novel” by Renee Patrick

 

Best First Novel 
“Adrift: A Mer Cavallo Mystery” by Micki Browning
“The Plot is Murder: Mystery Bookshop” by V.M. Burns
“Hollywood Homicide: A Detective by Day Mystery” by Kellye Garrett
“Daughters of Bad Men” by Laura Oles
“Protocol: A Maggie O'Malley Mystery” by Kathleen Valenti

 

Best Nonfiction 
“From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon” by Mattias Boström
“The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books” by Martin Edwards
“American Fire: Love, Arson and Life in a Vanishing Land” by Monica Hesse
“Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth Through the Healing Power of Fiction” by Jess Lourey  

“Manderley Forever: A Biography of Daphne du Maurier” by Tatiana de Rosnay
 

Best Short Story 
“Double Deck the Halls” by Gretchen Archer
“Whose Wine is it Anyway” by Barb Goffman in 50 Shades of Cabernet
“The Night They Burned Miss Dixie’s Place” by Debra Goldstein in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (May/June 2017)
“The Library Ghost of Tanglewood Inn” by Gigi Pandian
“A Necessary Ingredient” by Art Taylor in Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Seat

 

Best Children’s/Young Adult 
“City of Angels” by Kristi Belcamino
“Sydney Mackenzie Knocks 'Em Dead” by Cindy Callaghan
“The World’s Greatest Detective” by Caroline Carlson
“Audacity Jones Steals the Show” by Kirby Larson
“The Harlem Charade” by Natasha Tarpley


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Happy Reading!

 

“The Trapped Girl” by Robert Dugoni

 

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“The Trapped Girl” is the fourth book in Robert Dugoni’s engrossing Tracy Crosswhite series. A teenager, out before dawn for an illegal crab pot pickup in Puget Sound, almost tips the boat because of the pot’s weight. He sees a hand sticking up, freaks out, and returns to shore with the very dead, trapped girl.

 

Tracy Crosswaite and her partner, Kins, catch the call and a complicated case. The body hasn't been in the water all that long, but Jane Doe has had plastic surgery done to her face, which makes ID slower than usual. She is identified, but it seems that there is more going on than first appears.

 

The husband is a suspect, and seems deserving of that title. A 500K insurance policy was taken out just before the woman’s death, but why? The obvious answer may be too easy. And Dugoni never likes easy.

 

The characters in "The Trapped Girl" ring true, including the sleazy husband and the wife’s girlfriend. Dugoni writes each of the people with nuances and just enough good/suspicious behavior that I was certain that the deed(s) had been done by more than one person, and I kept changing my mind as Dugoni disproved my theory each time. And then tossed another ‘so-sure-this-time’ clue at us.

 

Tracy Crosswaite is evolving as a person and as a detective in the series and she is at the top of her game in this wildly tricky, intriguing case. Dugoni has allowed a more human side to be seen in some of the ensemble characters, and even Tracy admits to a flicker of surprise at a colleague’s actions. She remains steadfast in her support of women as cops, and we get to see more of the effect of that stance on her personal life.

 

The clever twists will keep you enthralled until the very last page. Jane Doe is not who she seems to be and the supposed bad guys are not the most evil in the book. Whom do we trust? Who is telling the truth? Whose story is this, really?

 

“The Trapped Girl” is a barnburner of a book, with a superb, multilayered storyline that never misses a beat. It was easy to place “The Trapped Girl” on my 2017 ‘Killer Thrillers for the Beach’ list. I’ve already read it twice.

 

“Close to Home,” fifth in the series, is next on my TBR list.

 

Please visit www.robertdugoni.com for more information about this award winning, bestselling, gifted writer.

 

 

“Cold Heart” by Karen Pullen

 

Book Cover - Cold Heart - Karen Pullen

“Cold Heart,” is the second in Karen Pullen’s traditional mystery series about the North Carolina SBI investigator, Stella Lavender. Instead of working undercover on tacky drug buys and dealer shutdowns, Stella wants to work fulltime at her dream job – in Homicide. But the boss hasn’t wanted to listen. He likes that she doesn’t look like a cop and that the guys in the back alleys won’t have a clue of her true identity until the cuffs are slapped on.


A couple days after working another annoying drug bust, Stella picks up a hitchhiker, a babysitter stranded without a ride, and takes her to the babysitting assignment. Thing is, the father is dead and the baby is missing. That drug bust? It overlaps the homicide. Life gets complicated very quickly.

 

Stella's own free- spirited grandmother, Fern, is an entertaining contrast to Stella’s more serious character, and plays a role in the case of the missing child. The search for the toddler gets knotty, and Stella gets shot – three times in one week. Like I said, complicated.

 

“Cold Heart” touches on the accepted procedure that is followed for evidence collection in NC, but knowing the rules and actually following them? Stella would be in lots of trouble if Command knew what she was really doing.

 

Make no mistake, Stella Lavender is bright, and edgy, and well-qualified for the job. Pullen has developed her assertiveness in natural ways in this second book. She is more comfortable with making decisions, and is good at whatever she’s assigned to do – and a bit better with the common-sense part of the work than her male counterparts. With some luck in tough situations, and creative problem solving, she gets results.

 

“Cold Heart” addresses questionable parenting and lifestyle choices, drugs, and the unexpected reveal that sometimes, nosy neighbors don’t always share what they see. There are plenty of suspects in this twisty family murder mystery. Not many of them like each other, but it's family in the South, so there is always lots of covering up, denial, and looking the other way. Nobody wants to give up a relative, even if that relative is up to no good.  Facing grandma’s stink eye at every family dinner is worse than the wrath of law enforcement. 

 

There are three guys in Stella's life – too bad that two of them are otherwise encumbered with spouses. That doesn’t prevent her from getting weak-kneed. Pullen provides us with smart dialogue in “Cold Heart,” a multi-faceted plot, a well-written cast of characters, and a leading gal we hope will be around for a long series.

 

Contains adult situations and occasional adult language.

 

Please visit www.karenpullen.com for information about North Carolinian, Karen Pullen, her recent release of short stories, “Restless Dreams,” and her other work.