Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘murder’

Beautifully Told Stories

51eFb-W7I2L._SY346_The Oxymoron of Still Life by Lynn Lamb.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

It’s not necessarily what the story is about, but how well it is told. Ms. Lamb does a masterful job telling tales in The Oxymoron of Still Life. The first one in the collection (Beauty Bath) is difficult to take in, with scenes of abuse, degradation and murder. In spite of the content, the beginning line is so good, you can’t help but read it to the end. “The inherent danger from the blackness of the new moon was her veil.” This style of moving prose continues with every word and sentence.

Here is a small piece of this delicious literary pie, to give you a taste of the writer’s style. It is speaking about Oliver in Double Entendre“Johanna still had the habit of blowing the bangs away from her forehead with her lower lip jutted forward whenever she was lost in thought. It was no less endearing to him now. He wished he could stand in front of her face to face, so that he could feel her honeyed, warm breath on his skin. With his death, he was now deprived of that pleasure. So angry at the uselessness of his corpse was he that he stamped out from behind the drapery and plopped down on the bed. She looked right through him, and he felt as though he might die a second time.”

In addition to Beauty Bath, and Double Entendre (about Oliver who is dead, but hangs out with his living wife, or so it seems); is Mothballed, which involves a scuttled battleship in the 1920s and a boy named Brice, who hears her call. Each of the stories in this collection is completely different from one another in tone, subject, and dialogue, providing additional evidence of the author’s insight, imagination and writing abilities. If it isn’t clear by now, I’ll say it more bluntly, The Oxymoron of Still Life is excellent.

Midwife Murder Mystery

Death Of A Sad Face  (A Serafina Florio Short Mystery)
by Susan Russo Anderson. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51oL7gL-3fLShe’s gotta knack. A real knack for wonderful writing. In Death Of A Sad Face, Ms. Russo Anderson takes readers’ to the end of the eighteenth century, to a small town called Oltramari (on the coast of Sicily), where we meet midwife, and sleuth, Serafina Florio. Serafina is a mother of six children, and an orphaned 10-year-old child (Teo). Teo’s sudden disappearance the previous night, may have some connection to the murder of Cecco, the butler for Barron Ignazio Lanza, and his very pregnant wife Lucia.

While investigating who killed Cecco, and Teo’s whereabouts, Serafina comforts Mrs. Lanza, gets gossip from her lifelong friend (Rosa), and questions how much she really understands her own family. “Of all her children, Maria was the most puzzling, not at all like her siblings. She had adult responses to most situations and was concerned only with her piano. Seemingly unaware of her talent, she was kind, humble, gracious – or was Serafina blind? As her daughter stood before her, Serafina realized that she could cajole or insist, but in the end if Maria didn’t want to do what her mother suggested, Serafina had little recourse. She could solve most murders and already knew who had killed Cecco and why and where to find him. But her children? They were difficult. She felt helpless.”

One of the highlights of this story, is how intricately the characters interact, and know one another. A small town has its advantages, and disadvantages, as does a large family. Serafina doesn’t just go off by herself to track down Cecco’s killer, but gets information from various village members, the head of the local orphanage, and enlists her own family in catching the culprit. Even though she is a midwife, and amateur detective, Ms. Florio doesn’t see herself as special, just good at what she does. The author (Susan Russo Anderson) of Death Of A Sad Face is similar to Serafina – she’s good at what she does.  

Is He or Isn’t He?

41Ks4pk78-LJacqueline and the Judge by Jaye C. Blakemore.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

I don’t recall any murder mystery that has a judge as the suspect. Their surely must be one, or some, but Jacqueline and the Judge is the first one I’m aware of. Wether it is the first, or one of many, it is a damn good story. The style of writing, by Ms. Blakemore, reminded me of some of the best films from the forties and fifties, where an innocent man is accused of murder and must prove his innocence (or is found to be guilty).

This contemporary tale is told from the perspective of Judge Luca Valentino, whose wife has just died in a car accident. He is deep in grief, and the Judge’s mourning is portrayed with great insight and understanding. Here is an example. “It felt like someone had reached into his stomach and pulled his guts out. A whoop of air came out of his mouth and before he knew it, he was hunched over and uncontrollably weeping.”

In the beginning, it is clear that the judge is grief-stricken and truly loved his wife (Sylvia). He is soon spending time with a younger woman (Jacqueline), whom he happens to meet at the diner he and Sylvia frequented. Jacqueline is upset over a breakup. Luca tries to comfort her, as is his custom. His wife said he always had a soft spot for those in trouble. Jacqueline and the Judge become friends and talk frequently.

Then, out of the blue, shit hits the fan. Detectives (Teagen and Smith) show up at the judge’s house, incriminating evidence is found, and Judge Valentino’s entire life comes into question. Jacqueline and the Judge is a great story. If I didn’t have to sleep, I would have kept reading it nonstop to the end. Jaye C. Blakemore is a very good writer. I’d suggest you get a copy of this story and find out for yourself who is, or isn’t, guilty.

 

Voodoo, Sex & Murder

517ndEmmrJL._SY346_Inside Sam Lerner by Gwen Banta.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Gwen Banta has it nailed to the floor. Inside Sam Lerner is a delightful, and descriptive, murder-mystery that doesn’t pull any punches. Combine the best of Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler, stir them up in some gumbo, and you’ve got a first-class tale that keeps you rooting for the ex LA cop (Sam), and his close friends in New Orleans. Before Sam knows whats hit him, he’s embroiled in looking for Madsen, who has gone missing.

The place, people, atmosphere, and actions, of all those involved in this story, jump off the pages and linger inside your head. Here’s a glimpse of the writer’s  style. “When he arrived at the corner of St. Claude and Ursulines, Sam parked on the street and stared at a stately guest house known as Maire’s Gentlemen’s Club. A soft pink glow backlit the windows, and the sound of Fats Waller clung to the thick air like the smell of sex.”

Sam’s old flame (Maire), who is the madam at Maire’s Gentlemen’s Club, has reignited the fire she and Sam had in their younger days, letting him momentarily forget the loss of his wife, who died in Los Angeles. There are a few people that Sam trusts without hesitation – his Mami (Jem), his best friend’s father (Antoine), and old buddy, a New Orleans cop (Leon Duval). There’s also the sadistic killer, who is known early on.

To find out who is who, and who comes through, get yourself a copy of Inside Sam Lerner, and treat yourself to a nail-biting finish. In the process, enjoy some fine dining on The Big Easy’s hot, wet environment, sexual appetites, and underlying beliefs in voodoo. Just when you think you know what’s what, and which way is up, you get taken for a ride. Trust me, and trust Ms. Banta, this story smolders.

 

Wash, Rinse and Repeat

51azfjj8D1LDeath by Corporate America: Climbing the Corporate Ladder One Murder at a Time by Lex Ramsay. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

A great murder-mystery where the murderess is known from the start. Death by Corporate America turns this genre around by showing clearly who the perpetrator is of a series of murders at the fictional San Francisco conglomerate Mondrian Corporation (Mondo). There is no doubt that Adrian Banner, a 44-year-old African-American business geek, who is temporarily made an Executive Secretary on the companies board when one of their members dies in a balloon accident, is the culprit.

Adrian has had her fill of sexism, racism, and invisibility, by the board members of this company and decides to make the initial death just the beginning. “Commute, meetings, con calls, emails, IMs, PowerPoints and a hurried lunch eaten at her desk… wash, rinse and repeat. This was death by Corporate America, and she was one of the walking dead.” Ms. Ramsay has created a character that you root for, and hope she succeeds. The question isn’t did she do it, but how is she going to do it, and will she get away with it?

Ms. Banner is one smart woman. She learns about everyone’s vulnerabilities, what methods will work and how, and the means to have them go undetected. She is a mastermind in business. Everyone diminishes and dismisses her, assuming she is not the culprit and not able to have carried out such murders. The people she kills are assholes, and deserve to die (especially in her mind). There is also a homeless man, Jerome, who gives her ideas (unknowingly) about how to vanquish her business foes.

Death by Corporate America is rich in possibility for a good screenwriter and producer to bring the story to the screen. It is suspenseful, well-plotted, and never stops. Lex Ramsay has made revenge seem possible and satisfying, while also creating a character that you want to succeed, even though she is a cold-blooded killer. That is a hard feat to carry off, but she does it with class. This is not the kind of story I usually read, or enjoy, but there are exceptions, and this is one of them.

If the Truth Be Told

The Story That Had No Beginning by Daniel Kemp.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51eGvdQIgBLTom Collins, and his sister Alice (Alicia), are twins who were separated into foster homes when they were 8 years of age. As adults, they’ve taken different paths. Tom becomes a thug, in and out of prison, and Alicia is a famous photographer, care of the graces of her mentor and mother figure (Mary O’Donnell). The Story That Had No Beginning, takes a close look at these siblings as adults, and explores their lives together with friends, co-workers, and acquaintances, and the inter-connections that take place. What appears to be straight-forward, and obvious, may or may not be so.

Mr. Kemp has written a superb crime story, with the actions, thoughts, feelings, and consequences of the main characters being told by way of deceased Tom Collins, who can see into the past. Tom says, “All I can do is recount the story as it is shown to me without any interpretation, but bear this in mind as you continue to read. As I have been granted this ability to see the mistakes made in lives other than my own, are similar people such as I reading your thoughts and your hidden secrets as you indulge yourself with me? If so, then the skeletons in your past are being interrogated as I hold your attention.”

That is the rub, really. What is the truth? Who’s truth is it? Is what we think we know, what actually is? These questions are discussed in the beginning dinner party (that is not really the beginning), which includes Alicia, Giles Milton (Queen’s counsel – lawyer), Susan Rawlinson (national newspaper editor and novelist), and Rupert Barrett (owner of Bear Cave nightclubs). Tom returns to observe this dinner-party in the non-conclusion conclusion of the storyand learns about secrets, collusion, alternative facts, and circumstances that were not apparent at the time they occurred.

The Story That Had No Beginning is an intriguing, thoughtful, and intricate observation of how to write a good murder mystery. It is unique, complicated, and takes readers’ around the block for an insider’s eye view of cut-throat business, politics, sex, media, and the law. Everyone is suspect, and none are innocent. Like the best of a good soap opera, almost anything can, and does, happen to Tom and Alicia. There is order and insight behind the writing and the characters. I would think that this story would be easily adaptable as a four-part series for Masterpiece Mystery on BBC or PBS.

Agathe Christie & Willy Wonka

51E5HteP5iL._SY346_Thirteen Chocolates by Agatha Chocolats
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

Take one of the best movies ever made, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (with Gene Wilder), and combine it with the most widely read murder mystery writer in the world, (Agatha Christie) and you’ll enjoy the sumptuous wedding feast of Thirteen Chocolates.

If you’ve never thought of the joy and pleasure of chocolate, in combination with murder and suspense, you will now. In fact, you may never be able to eat another rich, delicious chocolate again, without wondering who may be eliminated next.

The chapters in this book are uniquely rendered backwards, starting out with Chapter 13, and ending with Chapter 1. Thus, corresponding to the number of apparent heirs who are at the famous Chandler’s Mansion, vying for their inheritance in a challenge that soon turns deadly.

The story is first rate, with great dialogue and metaphors, “That girl’s flakier than my Aunt Elma’s pork belly pot pie crust”; believable characters; and a well thought out plot. It’s always been difficult for me to figure out “who did it” when reading mysteries, and this was no exception.

If you love chocolate, you’ll devour this book. If you like murder mysteries, or suspense novels, you’ll delight in the similarities and differences included within its pages. If you are up for something completely different and decadently enjoyable, I encourage you to go ahead, have a bite, and read Thirteen Chocolates.

 

 

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