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Archive for December, 2022

Fantasy Review – Witches in Red

Saturday, December 31st, 2022

Witches in Red by Barb Hendee

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


WITCHES IN RED is the second in the Mist-Torn Witches series by Barb Hendee. As in the first, there is a mystery to solve. I think a new reader could start with this one, as Hendee gives plenty of backstory to fill in about the sisters and how they got to where they are.

Sisters Celine and Amelie are settling in to their new home, the apocethery shop given them by Prince Anton.  Celine can see a person’s future by touching them, and Amelie can see their past. They solved the murders of several young women just a few months ago by using those talents, but they just want some peace and quiet. Such is not to be.

A messenger rides in from the prince’s father with an important request. In a remote forest, in his silver mines, soldiers are inexplicably turning into ravening wolf-monsters and slaughtering their fellow men. The Prince knows about the two seers and wants Anton to send them to solve this issue and get the silver mines back up and running. Or, he threatens, he’ll give the job to Anton’s brother, the wicked Prince Damek. Anton really, really wants to be dad’s chosen heir so of course he agrees. Celine and Amelie – especially Amelie – are not happy, but off they go along with Lt Jaromir and others of his men.

It’s a complicated scenario at the mine, with soldiers suddenly turning into monsters plus a comically evil officer in charge who’s effectively enslaved most of the mine workers and earned the contempt of his men.  Even though the workers don’t have the means to leave, they’re not about to head into the mines where they might be attacked at any moment. The soldiers now regard everyone with suspicion.

Celine and Amelie find that some of the mine workers are their own people, the gypsy-like Mondyalitko, and one of them has some special powers too. But the main focus is finding what’s happening to the soldiers.

Style-wise, this is much the same book as the last. There’s not much natural flow to Hendee’s writing and I think some of the descriptions are lifted verbatim out of the last book (I did not check, so that’s just my impression).  I felt her imagery was a little better though, I had a good mental picture of the surroundings and the characters.  The sisters remain easy to like with distinguishable strengths and weaknesses, and Lt Jaromir has both good and bad traits. Plus we learn something about Rurik.  I didn’t guess the murderer, although the motive became clear pretty quickly.  The action scenes are fine but once again, it all screeches to a stop when Amelie goes into a person’s past.  Mercedes’ story was long enough, but the part devoted to the murderer seemed to go on forever.  There is an undertone of romance here but the dynamics remain as they were in the first book.

This may be a series that’s better with a longer break between the books.  In fantasy, I’m looking for prose that makes me feel something and excites my imagination. So far Hendee is doing a lot of telling and very little showing.  I’m still interested enough in this world that I’ll look for book #3, and after that who knows.




True Crime Review – The I-5 Killer

Tuesday, December 27th, 2022


 The I-5 Killer by Ann Rule

Review by jjares


This story was fascinating to read. Randall Woodfield was gifted in so many ways. He was a handsome, all-around athlete with a bright future in front of him. The author talks about the family dynamic, which is critical to understand how Randall went off the rails.


Randall came after two older sisters. He begrudged them because they got to do things he couldn’t do. His parents had high expectations for Randall. However, he kept seeing women as controlling and rejecting. He could not handle it. So he looked for younger women who would pour adulation over him with no negative vibes. However, life isn’t like that.


Randall started his deviant behavior (exposing himself), and his coaches covered it up. After the Green Bay Packers recruited him, they dropped Randall because he continued his deviant behavior.


Before Randall was permanently removed from society, he had disrupted at least 44 women’s lives. Moreover, because he ranged over I – 5 Highway, from Oregon through California, he committed more crimes than one might expect before he was apprehended.


The author did a masterful job of laying out Randall’s story. I hope he never gets paroled; he is a danger to all women — particularly younger females. Amazingly, Randall continues his maneuvering with women despite being in prison.


Ann Rule is one of the foremost authors of true crime. She helped mold the genre into what it is today. Ann comes from a long line of law enforcement officers, a prosecuting attorney, and a medical examiner. Ann started out as a Seattle policewoman. She died in 2015.


Mystery Review – Go Gently, Gaijin

Monday, December 26th, 2022

Go Gently, Gaijin by James Melville

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 1986 mystery is the eighth of 13 novels starring Japanese police inspector Tetsuo Otani. His base is the city of Kobe, a port in Hyogo prefecture.

Otani’s team is investigating the hit-and-run killing of one Arab outside the mosque in Kobe and the suicide of another Arab at a hot-spring resort hotel. Otani, like Inspector Maigret, has loyal and capable subordinates. Officer Kimura uses his ability in English and intercultural skills to advantage though he is a ladies man. Officer Hara is the brainy one and Noguchi is the brawny one. Noguchi’s loyalty, strength, and silence call to mind the folklore hero Benkei. Hara and Noguchi, however, hit it off in the kind of unlikely friendship that English writers can pull off so well (e.g. Darcy and Bingley, Albus and Scorpius, Eeyore and Pooh).

The investigation takes Otani to well-known spots and attractions that will resonate with readers who have visited or lived in the Kansai region. Otani passes through Tor Road, home of shops selling wares from fashionable clothes to antiques and many kissaten (tearooms) and restaurants. The hot-spring is the real Arima hot-spring on the other side of Mount Rokko from Kobe city. Otani also takes in the all-female theatrical troupe at the Takarazuka Revue. A certain kind of reader will get a nostalgic feeling reading about these settings.

Although Melville was a fiction writer, his bursting sentences bring to mind academese. They are lengthened to the point of dismay by prepositional phrases and relative clauses. The mystery takes a back seat to setting and characters, which is not a bad thing when it comes to mysteries set outside of the US and UK. Melville is gently satirical and never snarky about Japanese people and their culture, which may or may not be a draw, depending on the depth of experience the reader has had with this delightful and exasperating people.



Mystery Monday – Words for Murder Perhaps

Monday, December 19th, 2022

Words for Murder Perhaps by Edward Candy

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


This 1971 mystery stars a teacher of English literature, with the backdrop of evening classes in adult education. The realistic setting sounds anything but glamorous but this is in fact an enjoyable read.

Our hero Gregory “Rob” Roberts has a past. His wife ran off with his best friend, a poet and scholar. At the time, poor Rob made an attempt on his own life and spent a couple months in a rest home.

At the start of this story, stone-cold Audrey, Rob’s ex-wife, receives in the mail an anonymous note that quotes a poetic elegy. Since Rob is a literary guy, she assumes he sent it, to mock her over the disappearance of the best friend-hubby. She reports the disappearance to the authorities and kindly mentions her literary ex-husband’s note. Sure enough, Rob is questioned by the police, refreshingly characterized not as ominous bullies but as serious professionals getting on with the job.

But to add to Rob’s troubles, a famous professor of Egyptology is poisoned after his lecture at the school. Another poetic elegy is found. And then two more murders occur, both with poetic elegies. The series hero Superintendent Burnivel and his assistant Hunt get on with the job.

Red herrings abound in this relatively short novel. We meet the tried and true devices such as the seemingly obvious culprit, the obnoxious colleague, the budding romance, and the scam, all of which provide motives for murder. We also have a mystery author referring by name to Wilkie Collins, Agatha Christie, Michael Innes, and Michael Gilbert, which will tickle us hardcore mystery fanciers.

I recommend this one. Given the mundane setting and believable grown-ups, it feels like P.D. James-lite. The language settles down to highly literate and readable after starting off a bit superior and superficial.

Edward Candy was the pseudonym of Barbara Alison Neville (1925-1993). She was born in London and educated in Hampstead and University College, and later earned a medical degree. She practiced medicine and had a family of five children while writing about a dozen books, three of which are medical mysteries, besides this one, Which Doctor and Bones of Contention. All are well worth reading.




Non-Fiction Review – The True Story of Tom Dooley

Saturday, December 17th, 2022

The True Story of Tom Dooley:

From Western North Carolina Mystery to Folk Legend by John Edward Fletcher

Review by jjares

The song, “Tom Dooley” is actually about an Appalachian hill resident named Tom Dula. The dialect of the locals makes the name sound like ‘Dooley.’ Tom was a former Confederate soldier who grew up in Wilkes County, North Carolina. Three families lived near each other, the Dulas, the Meltons, and the Fosters. Tom was the youngest male of three sons and three daughters (Eliza, Sarah, & Ann) in the Dula family.
Tom was quite the ladies’ man; Ann Foster’s mother caught Ann (aged 14) and Tom (aged 12) in bed together. Ann also had two cousins, Laura and Pauline. Early in 1962, Tom volunteered for service with the Confederates, even though he was only seventeen. He was captured and released from a prisoner-of-war camp in April 1865. Both of Tom’s brothers died in the conflict, and Tom received various non-lethal wounds. Ann Foster married an older man, James Melton, a farmer and cobbler. Melton also fought in the Civil War (particularly the Battle of Gettysburg) and was captured and sent to a prisoner camp until the war’s end.

When Tom returned home, he re-established his intimate relationship with Ann. He also started personal relationships with Laura and Pauline. It was proven that Ann had relations with Tom while her husband and child were asleep in other rooms of the house. Folklore says that Laura became pregnant, and she and Tom were eloping to get married when Laura disappeared on Mary 25, 1866. In fact, Laura told neighbors that she was leaving the area with Tom on the 25th.

This author’s story is that Tom was angry with Laura for giving him a venereal disease. However, Tom,  Ann, Pauline, and Laura all had to be treated for venereal disease (syphilis). Since Pauline was the first treated, she possibly gave it to Tom, and he shared it with the other Foster cousins. However, Tom’s view was that he got syphilis from Laura and was angry.

When Laura couldn’t be found, locals started saying that Tom had killed Laura. So, Tom left the area and worked for Colonel James Grayson just across the state line in Trade, Tennessee. Grayson’s name was mentioned in the song, which led to the myth that Grayson had been Dula’s rival for Laura. However, Grayson had no connection to Laura and only employed Tom for a week. After Laura’s body was found (about three months after her death), Tom was arrested for murder. Ann Melton was also arrested for aiding and abetting.

Laura had been stabbed once. Because of the lover’s triangle (Laura, Tom, and Ann Melton) and the rumors, this unusual story captured the public’s interest. It was the first nationally publicized crime of passion in America. Tom was tried first, and their trials were separated. Tom was found guilty, but there were errors in the case,  and a new trial was called. Tom was found guilty again, and he stated that no one aided him. He also said he did not kill Laura (just before he was hanged).

Ann was tried and found not guilty. Folks thought she’d suffered enough. However, looking at the facts, it appears that Ann may have been the murderer, and Tom took the rap for her. Some think Ann was jealous that Tom was intimate with Laura and thus killed her. Ann was also the person who knew where the body was. Ann was known to be promiscuous, and having relations with another man while her husband was in the house took some gall.

I think this book was poorly written.  The writer was a British-Australian and probably wrote the book from the newspaper, court, and legal briefs gathered online. The author also went into great detail about all the myths and folktales told about the lover’s triangle, which seemed unnecessary. This book needed an editor and proofreader. However, it is an interesting view into the thinking and lives of people in Appalachia in the 1860s.



Fantasy Review – The Mist-Torn Witches

Thursday, December 15th, 2022

The Mist-Torn Witches by Barb Hendee

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

THE MIST-TORN WITCHES by Barb Hendee is the first in a fantasy series.  Two orphaned sisters, Celine and Amelie, are barely scraping by running an apothecary shop.  When someone comes in wanting their fortune told, Celine decides she can fake her mother’s gift well enough to pass as a seer.  Pretending to be a fortune teller works pretty well until she has an actual vision. Unfortunately the vision is the death of a young woman who is supposed to be marrying the brutal Prince Damek, and his minions have already threatened Celine if she doesn’t tell the woman to marry. Celine can’t bring herself to do it, and within hours she and her sister are on the run, finding protection in the realm of Damek’s younger brother, Prince Anton.

Prince Anton needs Celine’s skills too – the bizarre deaths of four young women with no clues to what happened. They need answers. Anton and his advisors figure if they know who’s fated to die next, they can set a trap for the killer, and so they need a seer who can point out the next victim.  What they didn’t know is that the killer can seemingly walk through walls and disappear without a trace.  Celine is more than distraught as her vision seemingly put the girl where she would die.  If only Celine could alter the conditions, she feels her visions can’t come true, but it won’t be that easy.

Along with all this come enigmatic hints of their ancestry from one of the servants. She’s telling them that Celine and Amelie together are the “future and the past”, but Amelie doesn’t have powers…does she?

I found this an engaging YA fantasy with romance potential, with one small scene that might not be suitable for the younger end of YA.  The writing style is very basic – to me, it rather stomps along, with very little to capture the imagination.  Nothing too exciting about the world either, it’s a standard quasi-medieval setting, and as a long-time mystery/fantasy reader I found the villain, the motive, and the murder method to be obvious very early.  For a YA reader, it would probably be harder to guess.

But nonetheless, I quite liked it. I like the two sisters (wondering though how Amelie learned how to gamble), I liked that some of the “good” guys have flaws, and I liked the contrast between the mist-torn witches and the kettle witches. Plus I’ve always liked stories that have herbal medicines and apothecaries, perhaps there will be more of that in the other books.  So I’m interested enough to find the next in the series.



Mystery Monday Review – Black Widower

Monday, December 12th, 2022

Black Widower by Patricia Moyes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The title aside, I don’t think readers have to make allowances to enjoy this old-school police procedural from 1975. Edward Ironmonger is the ambassador of the newly independent Caribbean country of Tampica. At a diplomatic celebration of Tampica’s opening an embassy in D.C., his wife Mavis makes a fool of herself and is ushered to her room. She is later found shot dead.

Ironmonger exercises dip privileges since an embassy is that country’s territory. He calls in a British police officer to investigate. Like Moyes’ other traditional police procedurals, this novel stars her series dynamic duo Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Henry Tibbet and his wife Emmy. Extremely relatable is this pleasant middle-aged couple who are down to earth but solve murders with no-nonsense English composure.

Tibbet’s inquires reveal that the persons of interest have personal, financial, and political motives galore. As usual Emmy makes a contribution to the investigation, with the insight of other golden-age wives of sleuths such as Harriet Vane, Amanda Campion and Agatha Troy Alleyn.

So the reason to read this mid-Seventies mystery is that Moyes was a master at blending intense settings with brilliant characterization and plausible unfolding of incidents. Moyes moved to the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean archipelago in the 1970s, so her descriptions of tropical lushness and sandy beaches ring true. She must have moved in diplomatic circles because her set-piece of a dip party in D.C. hit home for me, who lived for three years on the fringes of dip doings in a European capital.

Readers of Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, and Ngaio Marsh would do well to read Patricia Moyes.