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Archive for May, 2023

Horror Review – The Hungry Ones

Saturday, May 27th, 2023


The Hungry Ones (The Messy Man Series) by Chris Sorensen
Review by Melissa B. (dragoneyes)

This was a fantastic follow up to book 1, The Nightmare Room. I actually liked it more. This story takes the first book and turns and flips and winds everything around just enough to make your head spin and then smooths it out for you. So much so, that if you read book 2, then book 1 didn’t happen. Confused? Yeah, I was too at some parts of the story but I kept reading and it was worth it.

In this twisted tale we still have the Larson family but instead of focusing on the parents, we now pan in on their son Michael. Also, in place of the creepy house, we now have an even creepier hotel. Within the hotel are malevolent creatures that are looking to feed and they are very hungry.

I would highly recommend reading this one soon after the first book. I didn’t and really wish that I would have. I think it would’ve made the story less confusing. Even if you are confused, stick with it. It all comes together in the end.

Fantasy Review – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Friday, May 26th, 2023

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? by Jodi Taylor

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

This is the sixth in The Chronicles of St Mary’s series.  St Mary’s “investigates major historical events in contemporary time”, aka time travel, but they must never call it that. It’s best for a new reader to start with the first book, JUST ONE DAMNED THING AFTER ANOTHER, which I reviewed previously (link).  There are going to be minor spoilers in this review for previous books – you have been warned.

Our heroine Max is now the temporary Chief Training Officer, with six new potential historians to train.  This entry in the series will take us to the Paleolithic period,  Joan of Arc, the Greek historian Herodotus, and a few other adventures. The Time Police make another appearance. As usual, not every character is going to live through the book.

Finally someone has asked the question of how villains are finding the teams when they travel into the past.  The answer is forthcoming, although I think Taylor made that much too easy, and I didn’t think explained everything. But no matter, this is not a series where you should be applying a lot of logic to the plot.  We are not done with villains though as a slightly different nefarious plot surfaces towards the end, and while it seems to be foiled for the moment, we don’t know who instigated it.

I  would have liked a bit more of Leon. We barely see him, and after the ending of the last book plus a throwaway comment from Max in the beginning of this one, I really expected more interaction.  But with 14 books (so far) in the series, there seems to be plenty of time for Taylor to take it up.

While it’s still a nice quick read, I found the pacing a lot slower.  After the momentous events of the last couple books, it’s like the series is taking a little breather, which I think is a good thing. This is not to say that there isn’t action going on.  I can’t decide if there is a even balance between the amusing scenes (the baby mammoth) and the horribly gruesome (Joan of Arc), but I think it spends more time on the amusing. Although the gruesome certainly sticks out – that was worthy of a horror novel.

Bottom line, I’m still enjoying it all although I’m not as anxious to grab the next book as I was when I started the series. But I do plan on reading #7 before too much time goes by.



Non-Fiction Review – Homicide is my Business

Thursday, May 25th, 2023

Homicide Is My Business: Luigi the Zip: A Hitman’s Quest for Honor by Jerry Schmetterer and Michael Vecchione

Review by jjares

This is the fascinating and highly readable story of Luigi Ronsisvalle, a professional New York Bonano family hitman. We hear Luigi’s story because he never reached his goal of becoming a Mafia “made man.” Disappointed, Luigi did everything his bosses asked of him (including killing thirteen men), yet they never deemed him good enough to be a made man.* Short, balding, and with broken English, Luigi was not someone you would expect to be a Mafioso. He killed thirteen men (6 in Sicily and 8 in America).

There was another reason for Luigi’s defection (besides not rising to ‘made man’). The Mafia had given a contract to kill Luigi to the most dangerous hitman around. So Luigi came to the police and turned himself in to protect his wife and three daughters. As part of his plea agreement, he had to answer all questions honestly.

The coauthor, Michael Vecchione, spent months interviewing Luigi to understand the Sicilian and American Mafias. They met in Vecchione’s DA office, while Luigi ate veal parmesan sandwiches with beer. It was amazing how many important actions Luigi was part of during his time in the Mafia.

Luigi knew a lot about the French Connection of importing heroin into the US (a movie was made of this with Gene Hackman) and the Pizza Connection (trafficking drugs in the dough for pizzas). Luigi knew important details about the murder of mob boss Carmine Galante. He was also in the know about the schemes of an Italian banker suspected of stealing from the Vatican.

What is interesting about this story is that Luigi tells his life story through the lens of his Mafia associations, from Sicily to America. He had an interesting code of honor: He never killed anyone who didn’t deserve it. He had a code of paying his debts, treating his workers with respect, leaving the working man alone, and only going after those that deserved it. He was very disappointed in the American Mafia because they didn’t believe in those old-time Sicilian values. They were in it for the money. Period.

Luigi tells his story of being a hitman by meticulously watching and planning the hit. He was a respected assassin in Sicily because of this and was imported to America because of his skill in killing — and not getting caught. He was eventually convicted in 1976, but just spent five years in jail before disappearing in the federal witness protection program. In 1985, Luigi was the star witness in the President’s Commission on Organized Crime under President Ronald Reagan. He fascinated everyone. Later, the coauthor reports that he heard that Luigi committed suicide while in witness protection, but he is not sure if that is accurate. Overall score = 4.5 stars.

* A made man is a fully-initiated Mafia member. A made man demands respect and cannot be killed without a don’s permission.

An aside: What does “Luigi the Zip” refer to? Zip was a derogatory slur in early 20th century times by Italian American and Sicilian American mobsters in reference to younger immigrant Sicilian and Italian mobsters. Second-generation mobsters were directly imported from Sicily because they were already indoctrinated into the Maria mindset. However, Mafia members already in America thought they were yokels.



Historical Thriller – The Book Spy

Wednesday, May 24th, 2023

The Book Spy by Alan Hlad

Melissa B. (dragoneyes)


This is a fictional account about a true event where librarians from America were sent to neutral cities to gather information from the written word via microfilm. It is quite an interesting subject and one that I have not heard of until now. The author seemed to do a good amount of research to compile this book and give us a glimpse into this part of history.

Our main character, Maria, a librarian, is determined to help the Allies in the war effort. She finally gets her chance when she and 2 other librarians are sent to Portugal to microfilm any information that can help. There she meets a bookseller named Tiago. With his help she is able to get the publications needed. He is also doing his part by helping refugees with forged papers. When Maria is asked to become a spy, she can’t say no. From there, things get chaotic and everyone’s life is changed.

Although I enjoyed the story the characters were my biggest complaint. I liked them. Who wouldn’t like them? They were perfect in every way possible. Except if you were a bad guy, then you were really, really bad. You were either flawless or flawed. There was no in-between. I couldn’t help laugh at how ridiculous it all seemed.  Especially with Maria. She was perfect in every way… strong, pretty, polite, smart, etc. She had no flaws. Characters stand out more when you can relate to them. No one is perfect. So, where the characters were likeable, they were not believable. The story itself is able to curb this fault and make it a satisfying story.

Mystery Monday Review – The Monkey and the Tiger

Monday, May 22nd, 2023

The Monkey and The Tiger by Robert van Gulik

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This is Book #6 of the 17 historical mysteries starring Judge Dee. The unique stories are set in different Chinese provinces from about 663 to 681.

This volume contains two curious novellas whose titles are based on the Chinese zodiac and, in particular, on the characteristic differences of the Yang forces of the Tiger (might, nerve, luck) and the Yang forces of the Monkey (cleverness, wit, creativity).

Both stories have a rapid development of the plot and details about everyday life in China during one of its golden ages, the T’ang era. The beginning of the first story (The Monkey) is atmospheric in that the author sets the tale in a tropical forest, like a fairy tale, while in the second story (The Tiger) Judge Dee finds himself in a fortress besieged, like a feudal adventure story. In The Monkey, there are lessons on how to approach cases that Judge Dee imparts to his assistant Tao Gan. Although he is cunning and slick on the streets, ex-con man Tao Gan lacks the critical thinking skills of his boss and inevitably inflicts his biases on the evidence.

In The Tiger, the author successfully describes the aftermath of a flood of the Yellow River and the quick thinking of Judge Dee. He faces a dangerous situation in an isolated country manor, in a position of weakness and loneliness. His authority as a high-ranking official has no meaning against a band of desperate brigands called The Flying Tigers. The time frame of this story is only one night, so he does not have much time to conjure up a plan to save himself and other innocents from a bloody end.

Without deep psychological descriptions, van Gulik still creates vibrant characters with human interest. In The Monkey is a man in the midst of a mid-life crisis. He falls for a young beautiful bandit girl and gets the notion to walk away from his humdrum life to join a band of highwaymen. In The Tiger, by observing the portrait and belongings of the deceased, Judge Dee gets insight into a personality and identifies the great obsession – the yearning for freedom – that had dominated a life.

Recommended to mystery readers who are looking for something different.




Non-Fiction Review – The Beatle Bandit

Wednesday, May 17th, 2023

The Beatle Bandit: A Serial Bank Robber’s Deadly Heist, a Cross-Country Manhunt, and the Insanity Plea that Shook the Nation by Nate Hendley

Review by jjares

The real strength of this book is the author’s telling this story in the light of Canada in the 1960s. Twenty-four-year-old Matthew Kerry Smith donned a Beatle wig and walked into a  North York, Ontario, bank during the Beatle craze. In a day when few Canadians owned a gun, Smith walked into the bank with a semi-automatic rifle. He had painted the end of the barrel pink and cut a hole in a guitar case, allowing the pink barrel to protrude. Anyone noticing the strange young man would think it was a joke.

However, the outcome was no joking matter. A retired military sergeant, Jack Blanc, grabbed a gun (from a bank officer)* and started shooting. Blanc didn’t know that there were only four bullets in the gun. Blanc was a sitting duck when Smith opened fire, trying to escape.

Then, the author steps back and describes Smith’s life before that disastrous day.  Smith was the son of a successful businessman and a mentally-ill mother. She was later diagnosed as a schizophrenic. Because of the erratic life in the family, the couple divorced, and Mr. Smith took the kids. Young Matt was terrified of being mentally ill. It colored everything about his life. Young Matt jumped from one interest to another until he centered on guns and revolution.

Young Matt was able to keep his life together enough to get into the Canadian Navy (and was soon discharged). Later, he connected with a young First Nations wife, a group of hangers-on, and vague plans for rebellion. Amazingly, Smith was successful in two early bank robberies, and he used the money to buy a house and support his wife and others.

After the third robbery, Smith escaped and became the object of the biggest manhunt in Toronto Police history. Called “the Beatle Bandit,” Smith was captured, tried, and sentenced to hang. However, because Smith’s mental illness was discussed extensively in court, it created a firestorm of interest. Some wanted to hang Smith, while others thought hanging a mentally ill man was wrong.

Canadians had a national debate about gun control, guns in banks (as defense weapons), the death penalty, and the insanity defense — all because of this case. Eventually, Smith was sent to prison. However, he committed suicide while in prison.

Several reviewers have mentioned that the author wrote this book in a similar vein to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Early in the book, the author stated there wasn’t a word written that hadn’t come from court documents, magazine or newspaper articles, or interviews.

WINNER of the 2022 Brass Knuckles Award for Best Nonfiction Crime Book.

* At that time, Canadian banks kept loaded guns in the bank. However, employees were told not to engage with robbers because the money was ensured. After Smith went to trial and this point was discussed widely, banks decided guns were not helpful.

Mystery Monday Review – Hand of Fate

Monday, May 15th, 2023

Hand of Fate by Michael Underwood

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Frank Wimple made three million pounds from three hundred with ability, drive, confidence and, he said with a wolfish smile, ruthlessness. His forceful ways have made him no friends in the village. So when his wife Elspeth disappears, dark rumors fly such that the police have to ask questions about murder most foul. But with no corpus delicti they can’t be sure that Frank’s explanation – “she left me” – is a falsehood. But the hand of fate intervenes when it places in a black lab’s mouth Elspeth’s skeletal left hand.

On the fleshless finger, a wedding ring – inscription and all.

So Frank ends up in the dock, accused of murder. Though aggrieved he is not allowed out on bail and a woman judge is presiding, he’s confident no evidence connects him to Elspeth’s demise.

The trial is generally what this 1981 crime novel is about, though Underwood – for no reason except that it’s diverting and fun – examines aspects of the ordinary lives of the woman judge and members of the jury. This doesn’t advance the story but it gives a striking depth to the characters. It might be that he wants us to remember that, unseen, everybody is living a life as vivid to them as ours is to us.

I recommend this stand-alone novel because the craft is so effortless and unobtrusive. From the get-go, Underwood concisely builds well-done characters and makes action flow smoothly. The other appeal of this novel is that it’s not too long, as mysteries tended to become as the 1980s went on. Underwood carries on the “short crime novel” tradition of the 1960s and 1970s in the manner of Michael Gilbert, Andrew Garve, P.D. James and Ruth Rendell.

Michael Underwood was the penname for John Michael Evelyn (1916-1992). He was called to the Bar in 1939 and after WWII he worked in the Department of Public Prosecution. Perhaps one of those lucky people that don’t need much sleep, he wrote 48 crime novels, starring series heroes such as Martin Ainsworth (barrister spy) and Simon Manton (police inspector). Nine of this novels were stand-alones and this 1981 effort was his last stand-alone, after which he turned his attention to his successful series with the heroine Rosa Epton (lawyer) until he passed away in 1992.