Litchfield Reviews The Affair of Lady Westcott’s Lost Ruby and The Case of the Unseen Assassin by Gary Lovisi for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - The Affair of Lady Westcotts Lost Ruby / The Case of the Unseen Assassin by Gary Lovisi

In a pair of intriguing novellas set in London in the 1890s, the deductive skills of Sherlock Holmes and his protégé, Inspector Alec MacDonald of Scotland Yard, are severely tested by a string of random killings of ‘gentlemen of consequence,’ and a plot to bring down the monarchy and plunge the British Empire into chaos.

Having ‘acquitted himself very well’ in The Valley of Fear, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fourth and final Holmes novel, long-time Sherlock Holmes pasticheur Gary Lovisi advances young Inspector MacDonald, or Mr. Mac as The Great Detective is fond of calling him, to lead character in two fast-paced and highly enjoyable Victorian mysteries.

In the opening tale, The Affair of Lady Westcott’s Lost Ruby, ‘crack detective’ MacDonald, considered by Holmes to be one of Scotland Yard’s best prospects, is assigned a promising case concerning a minor member of the nobility and her missing prized possession.

In the second adventure, The Case of the Unseen Assassin, MacDonald is forced to play deputy to Lestrade, who is investigating a spate of shootings of wealthy men in bustling, upmarket districts of London.

Both entertaining and thrilling, The Affair of Lady Westcott’s Lost Ruby and The Case of the Unseen Assassin prove to be stimulating, remarkable mysteries, and refreshingly different to many other Holmes pastiches. Let’s hope Mr. Mac will return.

My review of The Affair of Lady Westcott’s Lost Ruby / The Case of the Unseen Assassin by Gary Lovisi is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

Read the full review here

Litchfield Reviews Stranded by Matthew P. Mayo for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - Stranded by Matthew P. Mayo

Best known as an author of popular western novels, Matthew P. Mayo produces his finest work of fiction to date with this compelling, heartbreaking account of Janette Riker’s harrowing experiences while stranded for months on end in the Rockies, battling blizzards, frostbite and floods, and a vast array of ravenous, menacing creatures.

Based on a true story and told in the form of journal entries, Mayo’s novel begins at the very start of the Riker family’s ill-fated journey westward toward Oregon Territory.

Three months into their trip, ‘with the most difficult stretch still to come’ as the final three-day journey to Oregon will be through mountain passes, they decide to stop and replenish their depleted food stocks. Her 12-year-old brother, Thomas, ‘an uneven mix of good and rascal, of laziness and kindness,’ and William, aged 16, ‘who sometimes seems older than Papa,’ set off for the day with their father to go buffalo hunting. They never return.

Alone except for two oxen, and unsure of the best path through the mountains, Janette has no choice but to stay put. Armed with an axe, a shotgun and a hip knife, her best hope for survival is to build a shelter, set traps for rabbits and other small game and recollect every scrap of advice her father ever gave her.

Placed in such a horrifying and distressing situation, while at the same time having to overcome the sudden loss of her family, it is remarkable how Janette Riker is able to adapt to her hostile environment and rise to every new challenge. The reader can’t help but be inspired by her bravery, determination and extraordinary resilience.

Gripping, unsettling, and deeply affecting, Stranded is a powerful and unforgettable tale of courage and endurance in the face of adversity. A remarkable, must-read novel.

My review of Stranded by Matthew P. Mayo is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

Read the full review here

Litchfield Reviews Mrs. Jeffries Rights A Wrong by Emily Brightwell for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - Mrs. Jeffries Rights a Wrong by Emily Brightwell

Prolific New York Times bestselling American author Emily Brightwell (aka Cheryl Arguile) has been penning popular cosy mysteries on a regular basis for the past 24 years. Adding a novel twist to standard detective fiction, her long-running Victorian historical mystery series featuring the incisive Mrs. Jeffries and her invaluable squad of determined, below-stairs novice sleuths has gained a keen international following, with the books proving just as popular in parts of Europe and Asia.

In her newest novel, Mrs. Jeffries Rights a Wrong, which marks the 35th entry in the series, Brightwell delivers another entertaining and intricately plotted murder mystery set around a bustling London hotel and focused as much on uncovering the truth about the ‘slick as a slippery eel’ victim as on discovering the identity of the killer.

Well-told and with an absorbing, carefully constructed mystery at its core, Mrs. Jeffries Rights a Wrong is another great addition to Emily Brightwell’s robust series.

My review of Mrs. Jeffries Rights A Wrong by Emily Brightwell (aka Cheryl Arguile) is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

Read the full review here

BOOK REVIEW OF THE DELIGHT OF BEING ORDINARY BY ROLAND MERULLO FOR THE LANCASHIRE POST

LEP.CO.UK - The Delight of Being Ordinary by Roland Merullo

“Missing and believed kidnapped by the Mafia, two of the world’s most recognisable holy men embark on a secret, impromptu road trip across the appealing Italian countryside in a delightfully whimsical novel from acclaimed American author Roland Merullo.”

My review of The Delight of Being Ordinary by Roland Merullo is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

Read the full review here

Litchfield Reviews Saratoga Payback by Stephen Dobyns for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - Saratoga Payback by Stephen Dobyns

After an absence of almost 20 years, Stephen Dobyns’ popular laconic hero, former police sergeant turned private eye Charlie Bradshaw, makes a welcome return to the sleuthing world in a lively tale of multiple murder, mutilation and horse-napping.

Dobyns, an award-winning poet and distinguished novelist praised by the likes of Stephen King, has been penning acclaimed crime fiction for more than 40 years. Saratoga Payback, his latest novel, is the dryly amusing eleventh book in his long-running mystery series set in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Charlie Bradshaw, who first appeared in print in 1975, is now aged 67 and married with a teenage stepdaughter. Having had his private investigator’s licence and gun permit revoked by the police chief, ‘with the help of the district attorney,’ nowadays much of his time is consumed with chores around the house.

However, he still occupies his second-floor office above a used bookstore, and still carries a business card, albeit one designed by his stepdaughter bearing the dubious label: ‘Consultant, Legal or Otherwise.’

His slow, monotonous life takes a dramatic turn early one morning when he carries out the garbage and discovers the butchered corpse of Mickey Martin, a neighbourhood acquaintance, in an untidy heap on the pavement outside his home.

With its winning mix of mystery and humour, strong bursts of suspenseful action, and a likeable if ham-fisted hero at the reins, Saratoga Payback is a constantly engaging, sure-footed experience. Let’s hope Charlie Bradshaw will be back on the crime scene sooner rather than later.

My review of Saratoga Payback by Stephen Dobyns is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

Read the full review here.

BOOK REVIEW OF PETER HELLER’S CELINE FOR THE LANCASHIRE POST

LEP.CO.UK - Celine by Peter Heller

“In the suspenseful new detective novel Celine, bestselling American author Peter Heller creates a most unexpected heroine. Celine Watkins, a sweet, frail, asthmatic private eye in her late sixties who specialises in finding missing persons and reuniting families, is totally unafraid of taking on biker gangs and US Navy SEAL snipers. …Quick on the draw, cool under pressure, and a crack shot with a handgun or high-powered rifle, this silver-haired senior citizen is as lethal as the Glock she carries in her shoulder rig.”

My review of Celine by Peter Heller is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

Litchfield Reviews Date with the Executioner by Edward Marston for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - Date with the Executioner by Edward Marston

In the latest novel in the highly addictive Bow Street Rivals series, identical-twin detectives Peter and Paul Skillen are embroiled in a dangerous case of treachery, fraud and murder involving two ill-matched duellists sparring over a beautiful woman.

Set in London during the Regency period, Date with the Executioner marks the exciting third instalment in the newest historical crime series from prolific author Edward Marston (aka Keith Miles), who has been writing popular British historical fiction and mystery novels for more than thirty years.

In an interesting twist, this new adventure begins with Paul Skillen (the more engaging, vivacious and audacious of the twins) being arrested for taking part in an illegal duel at dawn.

The Bow Street Runners, ‘imbeciles’ as far as the Skillen brothers are concerned, are typically ‘paid to look the other way’ where duels are concerned. Not this time, however, and with good reason. Having received a handy tip-off from a mysterious informant, they show up in time to stop the duel and embarrass Paul by placing him in handcuffs and taking him into custody.

Their revenge for ‘years of humiliation at the hands of the Skillen brothers’ is short lived. Paul is swiftly bailed out of jail by his brother and, when Bowerman is later discovered dead, with ‘a dagger made of Toledo steel’ embedded in his back so that it pierced his heart, the Bow Street Runners find themselves outmanoeuvred by the Skillen brothers and continually one step behind, as both detective teams work to solve the crime.

Edward Marston is exceptionally good at building tension, fleshing out secondary characters and smoothly integrating his subplots into the main action. Characters like Abel, often discussed but largely offstage, seem more rounded, sympathetic and intriguing, and seemingly unrelated events invariably prove to be part of a larger plot.

Highly enjoyable, full of surprising twists, and with a strong cast of duplicitous characters, Date with the Executioner is another well-executed novel by a reliably masterful storyteller.

My review of Date with the Executioner is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

Read the full review here.

Litchfield Reviews Big Lonesome by Joseph Scapellato for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - Big Lonesome by Joseph Scapellato

In his bold debut story collection, Joseph Scapellato takes aim at the American frontier’s familiar gun-toting, galloping figures and proceeds to blast 25 blistering holes clean through them.

Often amusing, thoughtful and poetic, Big Lonesome is a weird and wildly inventive collection of 25 uniquely imagined short stories focused on the mythologies of the American West and the archetypal nomadic characters who roam the vast, pockmarked, barren landscape.

Divided into three sections (Old West, New West and Post West), with some of the longer stories broken up by explanatory titles into mini episodes, the narratives feature a hotchpotch of eccentric cowboy drifters, gunslingers, wilful farm girls, sheriffs, women of ill repute, and even a cowgirl ‘born of a beef cow,’ all vividly dreamed up from the pungent cookfires of Western folklore.

In the New West section, the emphasis is on the changing physical and cultural landscape of America. The memory of the Old West has ‘worn vague’ as a result of the rise of cities and growth of immigrant populations, but in the Post West segment we find it still survives.

Characters ‘pass like coins’ from place to place, moving through saloons their grandfathers drank in and woods that Native Americans inhabited. On their journey through America, they carry with them stories passed on to them by their forefathers, whose histories and adventures live on from one generation to the next.

Arguably, the Old West and its spurs-and-saddle narratives of cowboys ‘alone or lonesomely together’ provide the most unexpected, colourful moments.

The underlying message, if indeed there is one, may be for us to stop romanticising the past and learn to adapt to the present in order to survive.

Amusing and affecting and utterly unique, Scapellato’s absurd reimagining of the roughed-up, Stetson-wearing cowboy who once inhabited the American West will startle and surprise those accustomed to Western fiction. Big Lonesome is an impressive debut story collection by a canny, poetically talented storyteller.

My review of Big Lonesome by Joseph Scapellato is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

Read the full review here.

Litchfield Reviews Angel’s Flight by Lou Cameron for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - Angel's Flight by Lou Cameron

Reprinted for the first time in 57 years comes a hard-hitting crime noir tour de force charting a gutsy musician’s bruising journey through the cut-throat American music business during the Dirty Thirties to the Fabulous Fifties.

Angel’s Flight, first published in 1960, is the long-forgotten debut by prolific American author Lou Cameron who died in 2010 having written more than 300 novels.

Although his extensive body of work consists of scores of movie and TV novelisations, comic books, spy thrillers, and war and crime novels, Cameron is best remembered as an accomplished author of Westerns. He won the WWA Spur Award for Best Western Novel and penned a number of popular Western series, including the long-running Longarm series which he wrote using the pseudonym Tabor Evans

Angel’s Flight, his first novel-length foray into crime writing – described by Gary Lovisi in his enlightening introduction as ‘an underrated and unacknowledged noir masterpiece’ set to ‘a jazz and a be-bop beat’ – showcases Cameron’s exceptional versatility and boldness as a writer.

Rich with jive-talking, colourful characters and vivid details about the sounds and trends of east and west coast America during the 40s and 50s, this engrossing, action-packed novel centres on the jazz music scene, from the days of swing and ‘birth pangs of bop’ to the ‘Afro-Cuban kick’ and the beginnings of the cool jazz era.

The hard-boiled narrator is musician-turned-producer Ben Parker, a tough, ‘honest’ and upright insider, ‘the lone wolf’ in a corrupt and ruthless industry. Reliably droll, Parker is a salt-of-the-earth type, able to maintain a brave face and wisecrack in the most hellish of circumstances. Unlike everyone around him, he doesn’t ask for payola and isn’t afraid to take on the mob or powerful, dangerous competitors in order to keep his company afloat.

Enthralling, memorable, and with a large ensemble of authentic, intriguing characters, Angel’s Flight comes across as a music lovers’ tribute to the changing landscape of jazz. Put simply, it’s a piano pounding, brass blaring, pitch-perfect extravaganza that will ‘knock you dead.’

My review of the Stark House Press reprint of Angel’s Flight by Lou Cameron is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

Read the full review here.