Tag Archives: murder

17Nov/17

The Laconic Lumberjack (A Nick Williams Mystery Book 4) by Frank W. Butterfield

Frank W. Butterfield was one our lovely recent guests! To find out more about him and get links to his work, check out Episode 138: It’s All True and Very Silly!

REVIEW

This was an interesting one, the 4th book in a long running series of stories featuring fabulously wealthy P.I. Nick Williams and his partner, Carter. Set in 1953, when bigotry and homophobia were legal and enforced by law, the two men tread a fine line between living their lives as they want to, but always aware their loving relationship could land them in jail.

Having said that, this is a jolly escapade in the main, possibly a little too jolly, considering that Carter’s father has just been murdered in a most grisly way, and a local black man has been arrested as a result. Nick hires a plane forthwith, and off they go to Georgia, where every stereotype of Southern man and woman-kind awaits to cause them all kinds of problems. This wasn’t a bad thing though, because let’s face it, a LOT of people in the 21st century are walking stereotypes.

It’s hard not to like this story, although I ran up against a few niggles that threw me off a bit. The first, and biggest, were the occasions when a character would do or say something, “for some reason.” As a reader and writer, I am always looking for reasons. They don’t need to be immediate or blatant, but they need to be there. Adding nuances to writing can be difficult, especially when there are a lot of characters and different plot lines zinging about, but the phrase would have been better left on the cutting room floor, so that the reader could make their own decision as to what the reason was.

The other niggle, possibly because I’m a curmudgeon, is the uneasy mix of tough subjects (racism, homophobia, murder, lynchings) with the amount of time the characters spent laughing. They all seemed rather too happy. Possibly this was because trust-funded golden boy, Nick, could afford to buy everyone out of trouble. If this makes him sound like a bit of a wanker, he really isn’t. He and Carter are so achingly sweet, especially together, it could make your teeth hurt if you’re in any way a cynic. The sex is fade to black, as it would have been in any respectable 1950’s film, so anyone expecting woody shenanigans will not get them.

Instead, there is a lot of other stuff to enjoy. The plot weaves and ducks and dives. The author throws a lot at them, jail-time for Nick, followed by a  kangaroo court, and inserting him and Carter in with a lot of rufty-tufty lumberjacks to try to weed out the murderer. I looked forward to a woodsaw-related climax, especially after the gory death (off-script) earlier but bearing in mind the novel is 1950-esque, with the restraint, decency and politeness of that era, it’s best to read the book to find out if and when that happens.

On the whole, bar the few hiccups, I enjoyed it. Nick and Carter are engaging, fun and cute, even though people around them keep dropping dead. Readers not wanting sex and too many f-bombs, and who appreciate a sense of decorum as well as humour, will enjoy this retro romp very much indeed.

BLURB

It’s just another Thursday morning in July of 1953 when the doorbell rings at 137 Hartford Street and it’s bad news.

Carter’s father has been murdered in Georgia and the local sheriff has no intention of finding out who really did it.

So, Nick and Carter borrow the first plane that Marnie, Nick’s amazing secretary, can find for them and they zoom off back into the past to see if they can uncover the truth of what really happened before the wrong man is convicted. And, knowing the lay of the land under the moss-covered oaks, Carter is pretty sure that the color of a man’s skin will figure heavily in who takes the fall.

In The Laconic Lumberjack, the best Nick can do is stand by Carter’s side as he confronts an awful past, uncovers some surprising secrets, and deals with the unsavory reality of small-town hypocrisy.

In the end, Nick and Carter discover more about themselves than they ever expected to find.

30Oct/17

Code For Murder by Eliot Parker

Back in September 2017, Eliot Parker was one of our lovely guests on WROTE. To learn more about Eliot and find links to his work, Episode 128: Show Up and Keep the Chair Warm

I do like a good murder, and the vicious stabbing of a handsome, popular US football player heralded a promising start. The novel is packed with familiar themes; the anti-social female detective with a complicated private life and severe health issues, the seemingly popular victim who has dark secrets, a drugs deal that goes horribly wrong, and a handsome, out-of-reach-because-he’s-married colleague. This is good thing when it provides anchorage for a plot that becomes quite involved.

This book illustrates how hard it is to write a strong female character who is also sympathetic. The essential element, whether male or female, is that one thing which makes you care about them.  With strong females especially, they have to work twice as hard to prove their worth.

I sense the author wanted to show us how Stacy’s behavior and decisions came about because she was trying to “prove herself” and/or close the case at all costs. I just wish that her motivation was more sharp-focussed. With peripheral characters, the book seemed to pick up on the current US television trend for “love-to-hate” shows (eg., House of Cards) which are full of people with dubious qualities and ideals. The plot was nicely convoluted though, and held some genuine surprises.

This would have been a much tighter, more compelling read with a bit of judicious pruning by the editors. Some of the descriptions of place were unnecessary, and forced my concentration away from the action. For example, I didn’t need to know the interior design of a supermarket, because it wasn’t relevant to the story. These chunks of prose, as well as some clunky dialogue, got in the way of what was shaping up to be a tensely-plotted whodunnit.

Stacy had a tough perspective for me to get into, but in the end, the book is a solid crime drama, with a female character that doesn’t make excuses for how she is. I wouldn’t put other readers off getting to know Stacy, as long as they know what they’re going to get.


BLURB

An overzealous decision by Cleveland Police Lieutenant Stacy Tavitt leads to a botched undercover investigation, leading to Stacy being attacked and her unconscious body dumped into the frigid Cuyahoga River. Six months later, Stacy’s first case back from medical leave involves the murder of Cleveland Browns football player Devon Baker. With little forensic evidence connecting anyone to the crime, Stacy sets out to find the killer. As Stacy comes very close to unraveling the tangled threads of the case, the killer wants her, and those close to her, to suffer for another impulsive decision she made in the line of duty. The killer just may be more familiar to Stacy than she realizes.

25Jul/17

Remains by J. Warren

Scholastic author J. Warren has recently been on our show! To find out more about what makes him tick, and get links to his work, listen to Episode 121: So That’s a Thing!

REVIEW

Told in the first person, this is a deep, dark and compelling book. Mike Kendall is a troubled man, on meds and having therapy to untangle the torments of his past, when he is told to go home to his folks for Thanksgiving. At the same time, bones have been found, which might belong to a boy he was friendly with in his teens.

The author has been very clever, as the whole way through the book, I wasn’t sure whether Mike was a good guy, or a bad guy trying to cover up past crimes (no spoilers.) For a while, I didn’t actually like him very much. He didn’t seem that caring towards his girlfriend, forever waiting for him to call her, or particularly sympathetic towards his sister, whose lesbian affair was alienating her from their parents. But I know that people with mental health issues can sometimes come across as unlikeable, so the author had hit the mark with Mike dead on. When we find out the reason for all his past torments, it seemed a little too easy, but there was enough to keep the mind ticking over with everything else going on around him.

It’s difficult to say much more without letting slip some of the many secrets the small town of Placeville holds, but I can say that there are many, and they are very dark indeed. I genuinely did not see the denouement coming, and I wasn’t expecting the satisfaction I felt at the very end. In fact, I read it twice to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

Anyone fascinated by the “small-town America seething with murky skeletons in the closet” genre, will love this. It is a Salinger-esque character study of one man, but also one place, the town, and the lengths it will go to, to remain normal on the outside. Again, I’m choosing words carefully, so as not to spoil anything. There are elements of horror, of murder/mystery, of sex (and one extremely well-written intimate scene, blooming into a fledgling relationship) and social commentary, as well as the complicated dynamics within a fragmenting family. Half-way through Remains I realised I didn’t want to put the book down until I’d finished it. It was a slow burn, to be sure, but well-worth the effort.

BLURB

J. Warren’s Remains is an insular story, almost claustrophobic as we first join Mike Kendall where he lives: walled up in his own mind. As the book progresses, Kendall is drawn back to his hometown of Placerville, when the remains of a long-missing boy are finally found, a boy Kendall had shared a complicated history. No matter how much Kendall tries to resist the underside of the mystery behind Randy McPherson’s disappearance, he must confront the lies that he has built his life upon.