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Readingomnivore Reviews


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Reina M. Williams’s MISS BENNET BLOOMS was an inexpensive Kindle novella published in 2014. It is the story of Mary Bennet, middle daughter and the last unmarried. Trying to distinguish herself from her prettier, more popular sisters, she’d shut down most of her emotions. It’s only from spending time in the peace of Lizzy and Jane’s homes that she comes to see how restricted she’s been. Charles Bingley’s cousin Nathaniel Bingley has returned from the West Indies where he’d studied plant life, and Mary had been touched by the letters about Nathaniel’s research that Charles had shared with his family. Mary and Nathaniel are swiftly attracted to each other, but Nathaniel is afraid that a wife would detract from his scientific career; he doesn’t have financial resources to publish his book or to support a family. Georgiana Darcy’s fiance Sir Camden promises to see to the publication of the West Indies book, to be dedicated to someone he lost who’d loved the Indies, and commissions Nathaniel to do a comparable study of Pemberley, to be dedicated to Georgiana who will by then be his wife. Darcy offers a cottage at Pemberley for Nathaniel’s use while writing both books. Nathaniel Bingley proposes, Mary accepts, and they lived happily ever after.

Williams stays faithful to Austen’s characters, adding depth to Mary Bennet as she finds the courage to change. Nathaniel Bingley is a new character, one who’s suffered loss and fears being hurt again: “Nathaniel had a dear cousin [Charles Bingley], more like a brother, who now shared his family and friends with Nathaniel. He had his work, his health. He had fond memories of his parents. He had purpose. He had a good life. He did not want it disrupted. And he believed Miss Bennet probably shared this feeling.”

From the original Pride and Prejudice characters, Lizzy and Darcy now have a month-old son Edward Fitzeilliam Darcy, whose christening is the occasion for a family gathering. Charles and Jane Bingley have a son Charles Bingley. Mrs. Bennet’s main concern are her nerves, her desire for Lydia and Wickham to be summoned to Pemberley, and her wanting Mary married; Mr. Bennet is impressed with Nathaniel Bingley’s research and pleased to welcome him to the family. Kitty Bennet is married to Colonel James Fitzwilliam, very happily. Anne de Bourgh is married to Alfred Fitzeilliam, James’s brother, over Lady Catherine’s objections.

My major complaint about MISS BENNET BLOOMS is the overtly religious sentiments expressed by Mary and Nathaniel. While not inappropriate, the avowal are a bit over the top. Still, as Pride and Prejudice fan fiction goes, MISS BENNET BLOOMS isn’t bad. (B)


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Patricia Wentworth’s MISS SILVER COMES TO STAY was originally published in 1949 and recently released in an inexpensive e-book format. It features Miss Maud Silver, a former governess who’s become a private detective. Reminiscent of Miss Jane Marple, Miss Silver actually predates her; Miss Silver appeared first in 1928 in GREYMASK, while Miss Marple debuted in 1930 with MURDER AT THE VICARAGE.

Miss Maud Silver is an attractive character, one whom few would suspect of being a private detective. She’s always explicit with her clients: “I can take no case with any other object than that of discovering the truth. I cannot undertake to prove anyone innocent, any more than I would undertake to prove anyone guilty. I feel obliged to make this perfectly clear to an intending client.” (177) Her clients value her: “I like her. I don’t quite know why she impresses me, but she does. It’s a sort of mixture of being back at school again and finding yourself wandering about in the fairy story where you meet an old woman and she gives you a hazelnut with the cloak of darkness packed inside it.” (253-4)

Characterization is stronger in MISS SILVER COMES TO STAY than in many mysteries of a similar age. Wentworth makes foils of Catherine Lee Welby, widow living in the Gate House of Melling House, and Henrietta (Rietta) Cray, unmarried, friends since childhood. “Rietta gave her [Catherine] a straight look. It would have been so much more natural for Catherine to want to have--and keep--James Lessiter to herself. She was up to something and presently, no doubt, the cat would slip out of the bag. Or most likely not a cat at all, but one of Catherine’s sleek, silky kittens, with innocent eyes and whiskers dripping with cream. Only you don’t get cream in bags, or anywhere else, in this postwar world. She said nothing, only looked and allowed herself to smile just enough to let Catherine see that she hadn’t got away with it.” (16) Wentworth uses the contrast between these two major characters to misdirect the reader’s attention away from the killer’s identity when his murder follows close upon Lessiter’s return to Melling House and discovering that Catherine has sold objet d’art loaned by his mother Mildred Lessiter. Shifts in point of view between add to character development.

It’s hard to say much about the plot without doing a spoiler. The identity of the killer comes as a surprise, but there have been clues that make that identity logical. Miss Silver’s conclusion depends in large measure on the observations of Allan Grover, young solicitor’s clerk who’s besotted with Catherine Welby.

The village of Melling is not much physically described, but the atmosphere of everyone knowing everyone else’s business and passing it on gives a real sense of small town life. MISS SILVER COMES TO STAY is a solid comfort read that has held up well through the years.


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DEATH ALONG THE SPIRIT ROAD is the first in C. M. Wendelboe’s new series featuring FBI Special Agent Manny Tanno, a Lakota who instructs at Quantico and is one of the premier investigators in the United States, often used on special assignment in cases involving the reservations. DEATH ALONG THE SPIRIT ROAD was first published in 2011.

Manny Tanno is believably human, presented in limited third person narration that adds much to his characterization. He’s nearly fifty years old, not very big but with the beginnings of a belly he’s trying to diet and run off, mostly celibate, and seriously conflicted between his traditional Lakota upbringing by his Uncle Marion and his place in the white world, When he’s sent to Pine Ridge to investigate the murder of Jason Red Cloud, a developer who’d planned a world-class resort expected to bring major improvements to the reservation, he’s forced to deal with his emotional baggage: “Since coming back to Pine Ridge, Manny fought the cynicism. Hadn’t the bureau been good to him, hiring a Native American? Except for the reservation assignments, the bureau treated him as an equal with White agents. He kept telling himself that all Pine Ridge meant to him was a childhood full of painful memories, yet with each passing day he wished there were something he could do to change things there. He fought the feelings, convinced that they would subside once he returned to Virginia after this assignment.” (122) Investigating Red Cloud’s murder leads Manny into present-day tribal politics as well as the distant past of the American Indian Movement (AIM), when his brother Reuben was sentenced to 25 years in prison for murder of an informant. Supporting characters are well-delineated individuals.

Wendelboe creates a wonderful sense of place, able to evoke the land and its people while revealing Manny’s character. “He continued past a ramshackle shanty that was missing all the windows on the west side. With winter approaching, Manny hoped that whoever lived there was able to board up the holes against the wind and snow, but he knew that wouldn’t happen. When the snow flew in the fall, the people living there would huddle against a garbage can in the middle of the floor, burning whatever they had gathered during the summer, and pray to Wakan Tanka to see them through to spring. He had been there with Unc many winters, making do with what firewood they could muster before winter set in. For a brief moment, Manny’s heart sank, knowing he was powerless to help those people.” (182-3)

The plot is satisfyingly complex, proof of Faulkner’s statement, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” Current crimes follow from past personal and political crimes almost inevitably, and solving them is not helped by personal enmity between the tribal police chief and Manny. The tone is darker than Tony Hillerman and Jean Hager, but fans of their work won’t be disappointed by Wendelboe’s writing. My only complaint about DEATH ALONG THE SPIRIT ROAD is Manny’s ability to absorb physical punishment and keep on going--he’s almost the equivalent of the old pulp-fiction private eyes.

I have already ordered the other two books in the series. I recommend DEATH ALONG THE SPIRIT ROAD most highly. (A)


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A KILLING AT COTTON HILL is the first book in Terry Shames’s series featuring Samuel Craddock, retired landsman in oil and natural gas prospecting and former police chief of Jarrett Creek, Texas. As first person narrator, Craddock is believable with an authentic story-telling voice. He’s a widower, living on a farm and running a few head of cattle, better off than most people, including his banker, know. His late wife Jeanne interested him in modern art, and together through the years they accumulated a valuable collection. When friend Loretta Singletary brings him word that mutual friend Dora Lee Parjeter has been found stabbed to death, he feels compelled to become involved. Dora Lee had called him the night before, concerned because someone in a strange car has been watching her house again. Current chief of police Rodell Skinner, who doubles as town drunk, immediately focuses on Dora Lee’s grandson Greg Marcus who’s lived with her since his parents were killed in an accident. Before Craddock solves the murder, art thefts, attempted arson, real estate fraud, and deep family secrets emerge.

Part of Craddock’s appeal lies in his honesty about himself and his motives: “...I’m having a crisis of confidence. What do I think I’m up to, trying to track down who killed Dora Lee and set fire to my place? Time was, I was good at being chief of police. But now I don’t have the resources of the department behind me, such as they are. If Rodell were up to the job, I would gladly bow out. But that’s the sticking point. And that’s what brings me to fire up the truck, determined to see through my investigation, for good or ill.” (184) Craddock knows his area, his neighbors and many of their secrets, and does his best to be fair to everyone. Other appealing characters include Jenny Sandstone, Craddock’s neighbor and the leading lawyer in Jarrett Creek; Loretta Singletary, who’d like to be more than Craddock’s neighbor; and Greg Marcus, who is a talented painter. They form a community I look forward to getting to know.

Shames creates a fusion of landscape and atmosphere that evokes a real place that forms the character of its people. “Jarrett County, along with its neighbors, has missed out by thirty miles in every direction on oil. And it looks like we’ve dodged natural gas as well. This has always been a poor area; just a few steps shy of depression. It’s land like this--hard to farm, unyielding, tending to drought--that has made men like Leslie Parjeter miserly, begrudging every dollar they spend. They know that they’re only one dry season away from ruin. They hold on year after year, but it takes all the joy out of them. I may not particularly like Parjeter, but I understand him.” (105-6)

Shames captures Southern small-town ambience well. “In the interest of not inducing heat stroke in the attendees, most of the service [for Dora Lee] takes place inside, leaving just a few words to be spoken at the graveside. Harold Duckworth had sense enough to go along with that, and by twelve thirty we are all back in the Baptist Church fellowship room, where the Baptist ladies have put out a spread so people could eat and talk. I’m hungry, and the ladies like to see people appreciate what they’ve taken trouble to provide, so I pile my plate high with pimento cheese and bologna sandwich triangles, potato salad, coleslaw, and olives. I’m partial to lime Jell-O salad and put a little of that on my plate, too.” (100)

The plot is laid out fairly with Craddock revealing people and evidence as he encounters them. Resolutions in the various crimes and attempted crimes are logically supported, with a particularly satisfying outcome for Greg Marcus, compliments of Samuel Craddock.

Shames has a second book in the Samuel Craddock series available now, THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN, and a third due out in October 2014, DEAD BROKE IN JARRETT CREEK. I’ve already ordered the second. A KILLING AT COTTON HILL is a most excellent read. (A)


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THE AVALON CHANTER is the seventh book in Lillian Stewart Carl’s mystery series featuring Jean Fairbairn and Alasdair Cameron. It was published in 2014. All these books include some historical or archaeological mystery around which residues of the past--ghosts--linger, a focus that’s involved with a modern crime.

Characterization is a strong point in Carl’s writing. Both Jean and Alasdair, middle-aged, previously married, with career-ending decisions that were right but not popular, carry serious baggage. They met over a case, were realistically slow in working through their problems, and have now been married three years. Jean’s job as reporter for Great Scot magazine, specializing in articles about the borderland between history and myth, and Alisdair’s as director for Protect and Survive, an Edinburgh company that provides alarm systems and security for historic places and museums, give them a logical reason for involvement in cases, plus Alasdair is a retired Detective Chief Inspector from the Northern Constabulary. Jean’s point of view is most often used, though occasionally Alisdair’s comes to the forefront. Other characters are agreeably complex and realistic.

Carl is skilled at using setting and atmosphere to reveal character. “The nettles beside the trench were broken--someone had stepped on them. Maybe fallen in them. Their wiry stalks and bristly leaves made them look like hostile basil. Any other time, Jean would have thought the plant suited the man. Now, she remembered every derogatory remark she’d made about him [Detective Inspector Grinsell]. Maybe he’d deserved them. Had he deserved this? Who had the right to decide? Into her mind came the wise words of Tolkien’s Gandalf, a literary descendant of Merlin. Some who lived deserved death, and some who were dead deserved life, and mortals should not be so eager to pass judgment.” (135)

Carl’s skill includes the ability to evoke the power of the mysterious places like Stonehenge and Glastonbury where the veil of time seems particularly thin. In THE AVALON CHANTER, the place is off the coast of Northumbria near Lindisfarne, Farnaby Island, believed by some to be the site of King Arthur’s Avalon: “Jean thought of Crawford sitting in the darkened cloister--the word that was the root of ‘claustrophobia.’ A cloistered nun or monk might feel closed-in, never mind soaring hymns and transcendental ceremonies. A monk or nun on Farnaby, or Lindisfarne, or distant Iona, might feel particularly enclosed, looking out at a wide horizon but having no way of crossing it. And yet a remote island was at the same time part of the world and not part of the world, a portal between places of being.” (63-4)

The plot involves Jean and Alisdair coming to Farnaby Island to cover Maggie Lauder’s opening of a grave in a chantry chapel that she, and her mother Elaine Lauder before her, believes may be the grave of Queen Guinevere. When she opens it, however, she finds the body of a twentieth-century man on top of the lead Anglo-Romano coffin. DI George Grinsell heads the police contingent sent from Berwick-on-Tweed at his own request, since he’s never forgotten or forgiven Maggie Lauder’s acquittal for the murder of her lover Oliver Phillips some twenty years before, despite Grinsell’s having broken the alibi of Dougal McCarthy, another of Maggie’s lovers who was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Then Grinsell himself is attacked in the cloister and killed. Many secrets from people’s lives emerge before the murders are solved.

Carl plays fair with clues to the identity of the killers, but she adeptly keeps attention focused on a large school of red herrings to produce logical yet surprise resolutions to both murders. By the way, the chanter of the title refers to the recorder-like portion of the great bagpipes on which the piper uses his fingers to produce the melody. My only complaint about THE AVALON CHANTER is that the supernatural element seems somewhat forced, having little role in extending the action of the plot. A satisfactory addition to a strong series. (A-)


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SOUTHERN DISTINCTIONS: LIFE FROM A SOUTHERNER’S PERSPECTIVE is J. A. Davis’s short guidebook to how to live life as a Southern man. It was a free Kindle download.

Davis uses a Southern story-telling voice, but there are few stories, and the advice he gives is generic for any region: work hard, be frugal, respect your elders, know where you’re coming from and where you’re going, be loving to your woman and let her know how much her happiness means to you, show good manners, let your word be your bond. These are all things geographically applicable and already known to any man who’s had any of what us Southerners call ‘raisin.’ (One of the most devastating thing that can be said of a man is 'bless his heart, he never had any raisin,' he just growed up.' Or of a woman.)

One genuinely Southern comment he makes is that the region has different speech patterns from the rest of the country; another is that we’re obese because we love our distinctive food culture. not exactly profound revelations.

Don’t bother unless you are a man in need of basic ‘civilizin.’ No grade.


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I finally figured out how to access my book lost in the Cloud so I could read it.

Jan Dunlap’s A MURDER OF CROWS is the final to date book in her Birder mystery series featuring Bob White, high school guidance counselor at Savage High School in Savage, Minnesota. It was published in 2012 and was available as an inexpensive Kindle download.

Bob and Luce White, married now for a year, go hiking in the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen, and Bill once again finds a body. Sonny Delite had been one of the best known birders in the state, actively involved in conservation causes, especially the complicated issue of wind turbines--needed for renewable energy but also massive killers of birds and bats. His death came from hemlock poisoning. Who wanted him dead? His wife denounced him in Millie’s Deli the morning his body was found as a cheater and phony; he’d worked both sides of the wind farm issue recently while indulging in affairs. People he’d hurt are thick on the ground, especially at Savage HIgh School, where Bob is drawn in to the case.

Characterization is strong in this series. Bob White is a pleasant first-person narrator who doesn’t take himself too seriously. “I have this invisible sign on my forehead that lights up and makes people tell me their life stories, whether I want to hear it or not. It’s a gift. I guess. Or maybe it’s a curse. I haven’ decided yet. As a counselor, it helps a lot when I’m working with students; when I’m standing in the checkout line at the grocery store and the ice cream is melting in the cart, not so much.” His take on other characters are both humorous and perceptive. “Millie’s isn’t a big place, but that’s one of the reasons I’d always loved it. Not only is the food delicious, but the whole place has that cozy feel of a small town diner where you know everyone’s name, and they know yours.You go there a few times, and Chef Tom and his staff take such good care of you, you’d think they were family. Only nicer. In all the years I’d been going to Millie’s Red hadn’t kicked me in the shins even once the way my sister routinely did. Although I bet she could.” It’s good to read this series in order because the characters and their lives evolve and change, just like real people.

The plot of A MURDER OF CROWS is a straightforward who-done-it in which Dunlap keeps attention firmly focused away from Sonny’s killer and the motive for his death. The secondary story line involves the identity of the Bonecrusher, a former professional wrestler who’s joined the faculty at Savage High and wants to keep that career secret. So naturally the whole school is buzzing. The episodes of the students hypnotized to think themselves chickens and of shooting a pickup truck with tomatoes propelled by a bazooka are worth the price of the book.

My only complaints about A MURDER OF CROWS involve the lack of geographic specificity--many Minnesota counties and towns are named, but there s little sense of where they are located in relation to each other. Atmosphere is not as well developed as usual in this series. It also seems a bit too coincidental that so many people associated with Sonny’s doubtful activities wind up at Savage High School. Still, these are minor flaws in an otherwise enjoyable book. (B+)


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Shannon Hill’s GONE CRAZY is the second in her Lil and Boris mystery series. It was published in 2008 and is available as a Kindle download. It features Sheriff Littlepage “Lil” Eller of Crazy, Virginia, and her deputy cat Boris who takes seriously his responsibility to defend Lil as she goes about her duties.

Many writers can develop characters, but it takes special talent to create what seems a viable community. Hill manages this at least in part by giving bits of history that explain current circumstances. “Gilfoyle [county seat] sits at the foot of Buckle Mountain, an abrupt uprising some 3200 feet high that keeps the town in happy shadow in summer, and gloomy shade all winter. It’s a typical small town, plus a few struggling artsy boutique stores selling local crafts or high-end coffee. There’d been big money in lumbering before the national forest and the parkway ate the western third of the county, then some money in quarrying greenstone, but the truth was, our county’s main industry since the 1940s was survival. Which is why we don’t pay any attention to the moonshiners, so long as their product is clean and safe, or the guy who seems to always have stuffed deer heads ready for someone’s purchase via the internet. Making an honest living around here sometimes requires a little deceit. (6-7)

Lil as first person narrator provides most of the information on the various continuing charaters: Aunt Marge Turner, who reared Lil after the death of her parents; Roger Campbell, Aunt Marge’s significant other; Tom Hutchins, Lil’s only full-time deputy; Kim, the sheriff department dispatcher and secretary; Henry Rucker, county prosecuting attorney; and Bobbi Rucker, Lil’s best friend and source of local gossip. They form the believably human center around which the story unfolds. Lill’s storytelling voice is impeccably Southern.

GONE CRAZY’s essential mystery is who killed Vera Collier, matriarch of the clannish Colliers of Paint Hollow. “Vera has her good points--she was a hard worker and kept herself to herself--but she lacked what Aunt Marge called ‘compassion for others.’ In other words, less tactful words--mine--Vera was a right royal b**ch. It was rumored she’d used a belt on her children well into their teens, she’d recycle paper towels if possible, and considered it a shame she couldn’t buy her panties at the secondhand shop along with everything else. The words ‘unpleasant’ and ‘difficult’ cropped up quite a lot when anyone mentioned Vera, but there were other words, too. Mean, miserly, vicious, hard-hearted. But the most descriptive phrase came from Henry Rucker, of course: ‘A woman full of all Hell.’ “ (20) Her eleven children close ranks against outsiders; Vera’s house is burned to the ground before it’s properly searched, despite rumors of Vera’s hiding money and stocks hidden inside. Vera also owns the Grenville tract of land worth at least $1,250,000 to the Littlepage and Eller families, a legacy worth killing for. The preliminary autopsy shows that Vera was dying of Amanita mushroom poisoning, but further test show that what killed her were massive injections of insulin. One killer using different methods when the first didn’t act fast enough? Two killers working together? Two killers working independently?

On top of dealing with the Colliers, Lil has the day-to-day craziness to deal with: Dare Day with school senior boys riding in the nude on pink bicycles through the streets; the mini-riot when Dr. Rajiv Vidur, the new vet is met by locals who think he’s a terrorist; the domestic disturbance call precipitated by operating a riding mower while under the influence. Humor is well-handled. “Boris was still feral enough to not like the idea he’d have competition, and I’d been too close to those other cats for his comfort. It really wasn’t much wonder I didn’t feel a need for a man in my life. I already had someone to feed, clean up after, and constantly reassure of my affections.” (122)

I’m enjoying the Lil and Boris series and recommend GONE CRAZY highly. (A)


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Eric Wright’s DEATH IN THE OLD COUNTRY is the third book in his mystery series featuring DI Charlie Salter of the Toronto Police. Originally published in 1985, it is available as a Kindle download in A CHARLIE SALTER OMNIBUS.

Charlie and Annie Salter are on holiday, touring England and Scotland, when an accident strands them in Tokesbury Mallett for several days. Putting up at the Boomewood private hotel, they encounter a “listening Tom” and become friends with an English couple from Watford, Maud and Henry Beresford. Salter, seeking to escape sightseeing in the rain, is introduced to steeplechase racing by Jeremy Parrott, whom he registers as a bit suspicious. After a major blowup at Boonewood, its owner Terry Dillon is found stabbed to death, and Salter’s curiosity involves him in the case, in unspoken competition with Superintendent Wylie Hamilton. Reaching back to Tuscany in 1944, via Toronto two years before, it takes the expertise of both to uncover the killer.

Characterization is good, particularly of Salter, through whose eyes we see the action. Bits of his background explain many of Salter’s reactions: “Salter’s background in the working class district of Cabbagetown in Toronto had made him incapable of supporting either of the major parties had he been able to distinguish between them, at the same time as he recognized the possible truth in the assumption of the worldly-wise that the New Democratic Party had kept its virtue intact because no one had yet offered anything for it. Nevertheless, he remained a closet socialist until such time as an honest man appeared elsewhere.” (439-40) His relationship with Annie is pleasantly realistic. Salter’s discoveries of steeplechase racing and of the power of Shakespeare reveal an appealing innocence of experience.

Wright is good at using atmosphere to reveal character. “They walked down the course to where a small crowd was gathered around some bookmakers who were beginning to call the odds. Salter was stunned by the squalor. His only experience of racing in Toronto [harness racing], where even the cheapest seats were under cover and only the horses brave the elements, had not prepared him for this. The public enclosure was an open field, now a swamp, in the centre of which stood a ramshackle wooden shed with a corrugated iron roof. Inside this hut a small crowd was drinking tea and beer. By the rail a dozen bookmakers were gathered under huge umbrellas. Everyone else stood in the open, soaking up the rain.” (440) But Salter loves steeplechasing.

The plot is complex in the number of identities of various people associated with Terry Dillon, so that solving his murder involves unraveling them. It’s a bit dependent on coincidence--coming into a Tuscan village cold, not speaking Italian, and discovering exactly what they need to know on the first day--but the resolution of the identities is logical. DEATH IN THE OLD COUNTRY is a solid read. (B+)


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EXODUS LOST by S. C. Compton was published in 2010 and is available as an inexpensive Kindle download. It is an account of the peopling of the Americas that begins with the story of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, who came to the Olman area on the southern Gulf coast of Mexico from lands to the east, bringing civilization. Compton surveys thousands of years of history in several areas of the ancient world, bringing together evidence from many scientific disciplines to support his thesis.

Compton’s thesis is that the sudden rise of the Olmec civilization in San Lorenzo was the product of an influx of immigrants from the Hyksos-controlled eastern Nile Delta. The 15th Dynasty ruled from Avaris for 100+ years following their conquest 1630-20s BC; the Hyksos were Canaanites who took advantage of the disruption caused by the eruption of Thera; Compton specifically identifies them with the Biblical story of Joseph and his rise to power in Egypt. When the Egyptians under Ahmose expelled the Hyksos from Egypt, some of them sailed to the Americas where their technology became the basis for the sudden, otherwise inexplicable rise of the Olmec civilization that underlay the other cultures of Mesoamerica, including the Maya and the Aztecs.

Compton covers so much material in so many areas that it’s impossible to do any kind of short survey. He discusses, with appropriate source citations and scientific evidence the dating of the eruption of Thera; peopling of the Americas, including the timing and the origins of the settlers; history of Egypt, the Canaanites including the Jews, Nubia, and Mesoamerica; development of writing and metallurgy; climate change; Canaanite / Phoenician sea-faring and trade routes; comparative religion, architecture, funerary customs; on and on.

The most interesting part of EXODUS LOST is the comparison between Egypt, Nubia, and the Hyksos, on the one hand, and the Olmecs on the other. The mirroring, even in tiny details, is amazing. For instance, both civilizations include small frogs as a symbol for human birth; were-felines associated with the sun god; placing a green stone in or on a body to become its heart in the underworld; retainer sacrifice of deceased king’s wives; Nubian and Olmec kings wearing skullcaps and a hand guard referred to as “brass knuckles”; deforming the head of children; infant sacrifice, along with many more important features of the cultures, such as the use of burial pyramids. (Olmec burial pyramids are constructed like those of contemporary Canaanite pyramids, but not like those of Giza that are thousands of years older.) Certainly Compton makes a good circumstantial case for connection between the Olmecs and the Hyksos.

There are some problems. I don’t recommend reading EXODUS LOST on a Kindle unless you have a version that gives you good resolution for maps, figures, and photographs. Most of them are illegible on my old Kindle. Since the material covers such a long period, a timeline would be helpful, as would tabular summaries of similarities between cultures. Dating needs to be consistent: some dates are given as BC and others are number of years before the present. But these fade when I consider the scope of the subject and the range of Compton’s research. I don’t understand all his evidence, especially that involving the development of the writing systems, but EXODUS LOST has made me think and given me more reading to do. Recommended highly. (A)


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Barbara Cornthwaite’s GEORGE KNIGHTLEY, ESQUIRE: BOOK 1, CHARITY ENVIETH NOT is a Kindle download originally published in 2009. It is a retelling of EMMA from the point of view of George Knightley of Donwell Abbey, neighbors of the Woodhouses at Hartfield.

CHARITY ENVIETH NOT is one of the most faithful fan fiction retellings of an Austen novel that I’ve read. The major characters are faithful to the originals as Austen created them; the main events are as she depicted them; many conversations are replicated from the original. Cornthwaite has added some well-chosen characters: Dr. Hughes, vicar of Donwell parish, his wife Mrs. Hughes, and son Richard up in London reading law; Reverend Peter Spencer, who becomes curate at Donwell when Dr. Hughes is incapacitated for several months; a young widow Mrs. Catherwood who has a blind son; Mrs. Whitney, a widow on the prowl who’s after Knightley. Cornthwaite has fleshed out characters from the original: Knightley’s steward William Larkins, his tenant Robert Martin who wants to marry Harriet Smith; his younger brother John Knightley; Elton, the vicar of Highbury who fancies his chances with Miss Woodhouse; Emma herself.

The main departures from the original plot are additions that show Knightley’s role as owner of one of the largest estates in the area--the duties of dealing with decisions about crops, repairs, and tenants; his function as a Magistrate with joined duties of law enforcement and administering justice; his role as a member of the Poor Relief group, responsible for administering charity to those in need; unofficial advisor to all who seek him. CHARITY ENVIETH NOT concludes the day after the Coleses’ dinner party, when Knightley realizes his dislike of Frank Churchill is caused by his love for Emma. Actions ring true, but the pace is glacially slow and monotone.

There’s little atmosphere, as indeed there’s little in EMMA. I noted some problems with plural possessives, particularly names. CHARITY ENVIETH NOT is technically well-written, but it somehow lacks the spark that makes it come alive. I don’t think I will be reading Book 2. (B)


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Edmund Crispin’s FREQUENT HEARSES is one of his Gervase Fen series, originally published in 1950 and made available in e-format in 2011. It is one of the puzzle plot mysteries of the Golden Age.

Fen, Oxford professor and sometimes criminologist, is consulting on a film script based on a poem by Alexander Pope when a young, would-be actress contracted to play a role in The Unfortunate Lady commits suicide. Since DI Humbleby of Scotland Yard who’s assigned to tying up the loose ends of the suicide worked with Fen on an earlier case, he asks Fen to sit in with his ideas. The strange feature of the case is that, after Gloria Scott’s suicide, someone entered her room and removed every item that might provide a clue to her pre-stage name identity. Fen concludes this is to prevent that person’s identity being discovered before he or she can achieve vengeance for Gloria’s death. Sure enough, the three members of the Crane family involved in The Unfortunate Lady and responsible for driving her to suicide are murdered. But by whom?

I found it difficult to get involved in FREQUENT HEARSES. Gloria Scott is not an an appealing character, and it’s difficult to visualize someone who loved her so much that vengeance became mandatory. Before the tell-all confession letter to Fen, there’s nothing to connect the killer to her in any significant way, though there is a bit of logistical foreshadowing. Writing style is digressive and serves to slow down the plot without adding characterization.
As with many of the Golden Age novels, characters remain one-dimensional, especially Gervase Fen, who comes across as a poseur with his literary allusions and cryptic remarks. Formatting problems caused words occasionally to be run together; Fen is occasionally spelled Fenn.

The strongest element in FREQUENT HEARSES is its setting and atmosphere: “...regarded simply as a village there was little or nothing to be said in Long Fulton’s favour; its architecture was uniformly undistinguished and its lack of historical and literary associations such as to strike the most resolute and exhaustive guide books dumb. Moreover, it is certain that the villagers themselves would have opposed any attempt to protect them from the invasion of the Leiper Combine, for the building of the studios not only permitted them intoxicating glimpses of those deities ... to whose worship they addressed themselves twice weekly in the Regent at Gisford, but also enabled them, by sundry rapacious, underhand devices, to derive much monetary profit from the incursion. Like some uncouth Danae, Long Fulton was seduced by the irresistible amalgam of gold and godhead.”

FREQUENT HEARSES is a standard specimen of its time and place. (C)


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RITUALS is the last book to date in Mary Anna Evans’s mystery series featuring Faye Longchamp-Mantooth, a contract archaeologist, and her family: her husband Joe, adopted daughter Amande, and son Michael. It is available in both print and e-format, published in 2013.

Faye and Amande are in Rosebower, New York, the hometown of Spiritualism in America since the mid-nineteenth century, cataloging the local history museum’s excessively eclectic collections when they become acquainted with Myrna and Tilda Armistead, last offspring of one of the founding families of Rosebower. Tilda is widely respected as able to communicate with the dead, but her conservative stand on loosening licensing for psychics and opposing Gilbert Marlowe’s plan for what she calls a “New Age Disney Land” has made her unpopular with some locals. When she dies of smoke inhalation following arson on her old house, Faye is drawn into helping the fire investigator Avery Stein, since she and Amande had been the last beside Myrna to see Tilda. In the meantime, Sister Mama, a root doctor (herbalist / voodoo practitioner) highly successful via internet sales, struggles to recover from a stroke under the indifferent care of her great-nephew Ennis LeBucque, and Myrna’s health begins to fail rapidly. What’s going on, and who’s behind it?

The plot is more complex than the summary indicates, but I do not want to do a spoiler. It’s well constructed, fair in use of foreshadowing, with a logical conclusion, once the reader gets over a major improbability. No police are ever involved in the solution of Tilda’s murder after the autopsy. All in the investigation of the fire, suspects, motives and means for the murder come through Stein and Faye. Wouldn’t this properly be the responsibility of Rosebower’s local law enforcement?

Characterization is always a strong point in the series, and RITUALS is no exception. The continuing characters are all well-developed, realistic, believable human beings whose lives continue between the segments that Evans records. But she’s also good with supporting characters, like Samuel Langley, who hired Faye and Amande to do the cataloging: “Samuel was one of those history buffs who couldn’t be satisfied with plain old everyday history. He was convinced that the academic establishment was hiding the truth about medieval Europeans in North America and about Sasquatch and about prehistoric alien landings because...well, because they just were. Samuel had never met a conspiracy theory that he did not love. History was not history unless it inflamed his imagination, and a simple letter from a woman who knew Elizabeth Cady Stanton wasn’t going to do that. A scale from the hump of the Loch Ness Monster would be more to Samuel’s liking.”

Evans is also good at creating a real sense of place: “The trees in the park looked manicured to Faye, who was accustomed to live oaks shawled in Spanish moss. She thought the northern landscape looked unnaturally neat, as if harsh winers killed off everything messy and weedy. Stone picnic tables and benches were scattered along the lakeshore. Here and there, a moss-covered piece of statuary punctuated the grassy lawn. Rosebower’s park looked like an inviting and useful cemetery.”

RITUALS is a solid addition to a strong series. (B+)


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THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN is the second in Terry Shames’s mystery series featuring Samuel Craddock of Jarrett Creek, Texas. It is a Kindle download published in 2014.

When Bob Harbin, father and caregiver for his Army veteran son Jack, dies, it’s thought to be a heart attack. Within a week of his funeral, Jack Harbin, who lost a leg and his eyesight in the Gulf War, is stabbed to death in his bed. Jarrett Creek chief of police Rodell Skinner is at a rehab center in Austin drying out, the acting chief is incompetent, so the City Council asks Samuel Craddock, former chief of police, to investigate Jack’s murder. Complicating the situation is the behavior of Jack’s younger brother Curtis, who’s eager to settle the estate and get back to the Marcus Ministries compound near Waco where his wife and children are isolated from her family. As Craddock investigates, he discovers strange secrets about Jack’s past and his veteran friends, various families, the background of cult leader Marcus Longley, and high school football en route to solving the murders.

Characterization is strong. Samuel Craddock is the narrator, with an authentic Southern story-telling voice. He’s frank about his own feelings: “...my mind is still sharp and chances are I’ll be as successful as anybody else in trying to find who did it. The only problem is, I worry that I might not like finding out who murdered Jack. Too many of the possible suspects are people that I’ve known and cared about in my life. But I’ll have to put that worry aside and deal with it when and if it happens.” (107) Shames has developed an interesting group of Jarrett Creek townspeople, including neighbor Loretta Singletary and lawyer / neighbor Jenny Sandstone. All are believably human.

Shames is adept with little asides that bring Jarrett Creek to life as a real place. “Bob Harbin’s coffin is a flashy silver-and-chrome affair with dark blue satin lining and outer panels studded with brushed chrome medallions. I imagine it’s going to draw some criticism. People in Jarrett Creek are close with a dollar and don’t care much for show.” (33)

Shames’s plot winds from Jack Harbin’s high school football days through his service, and its aftermath, revealing a man much different from his public face. She is scrupulous in foreshadowing the killer’s identity and the motive, so an experienced reader may reach that solution, but the final denouement pulls the strands together to explain who and why Jack Harbin was.

This is a strong series. Long may it live and prosper. (A)


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MEW IS FOR MURDER is Clea Simon’s Kindle release published in 2005. It features Theda Krakow, freelance reporter working mainly for the Boston Morning Mail.

Theda’s recovering from the death of her beloved cat James when she finds a young black-and-white kitten on the street near her apartment house; the kitten leads her to a nearby Victorian house with an abundance of cats. Theda’s fascinated by the tiny elderly woman who lives there and sells the editor on an article on animal hoarding. Except when she returns, she finds Lillian Helmhold dead from a blow to the head. The police believe her death an accident, but there are strange circumstances--a schizophrenic son whose upstate residential facility Greenleaf House recently suffered arson and embezzlement, causing him to go AWOL; a neighboring realtor who’s anxious to get her hands on Lillian’s house; rumors of gold and treasure hidden in the cluttered house; a new freelancer who’s written extensively on the Greenleaf House story; and the arrival of a would-be suitor who gives off bad vibes. Theda winds up drugged, held at gunpoint, and saved by Aslan before the case ends.

Theda is first person narrator in MEW IS FOR MURDER, so she’s by far the best developed character. She’s generally intelligent, even if too inclined to trust what she’s told. She pulls major TSTL moments when she doesn’t get a description of the man who tried to rape Violet Hayes in Lillian’s house and when she goes out alone clubbing, looking for Connor Davis. She and Violet repeatedly enter the house illegally to search for a will that her son Dougie says Lillian drew up to protect him and the cats. At no point until the denouement does Theda tell the police everything she knows or suspects.
Characterization is average, at best.

The plot unfolds slowly, gradually revealing the importance of the Greenleaf House crimes in Lillian’s death. The police appear to be doing nothing to investigate it. Patti Wright, the realtor neighbor, applies for power of administration of Lillian’s estate and obtains it with unbelievable speed--three days after her death or less. Simon does manage a reasonable surprise in the identity of Lillian’s killer, after directing attention toward someone else throughout and only minor foreshadowing of the murderer and motive. MEW IS FOR MURDER uses the cozy cliche of female protagonist falling for the detective on the case. The most charming part of the plot is Musetta, the tiny kitten who involves Theda in the case and and whose antics finds herself a new home.

Setting is definitely the strongest element in the plot. “My area...was resisting gentrification. Stuck between the universities and the river, Cambridgeport wedged town and gown together too tightly for anyone to take on airs. Even the architectures lived cheek by jowl. Right around my block, with the rusty brick buildings...was a row of old Victorians. Despite the wear, the graying clapboard, they had grace, not to mention the wrap-around porches and high ceilings..., and they gave the area character and a sense of warmth. You could wave at someone lounging on a swing on one of those sprawling porches, and he or she would wave back, regardless of color, language, or income level. The nest time you saw that person, waiting in line at the drugstore or walking along the sidewalk, you’d both smile, like you knew each other. In a way, you did, thanks to the forced proximity of the neighborhood.” (4)

MEW IS FOR MURDER would make a good beach book. (B- / C+)


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PICKING LEMONS is J. T. Toman’s first novel. It was a free or inexpensive Kindle download, one that I’m glad I tried.

PICKING LEMONS refers to the process of trying, when buying a used car, to discover which car is the lemon. C. J. Whitmore, the first woman tenured in the Economics Department of prestigious Eaton University, applies this process to discovering who of her colleagues murdered Nobel Prize-candidates Edmund DeBeyer and his co-researcher Jefferson Daniels, the youngest-ever tenured professor at Eaton. Professional jealousies, dark personal secrets, overinflated egos, and general dog-in-the-manger behavior present C. J. with an abundance of suspects before she explains the murders in a seminar that she explicitly compares to Hercule Poirot.

This book is a great start to what I hope will become a series. C. J. Whitmore is a Texas good ole girl who plays the game at Eaton until she gets tenure, then shows her true colors in hot pink cowboy books, Westerns shirts, and spangled cowgirl skirts. She’s intelligent and not inclined to suffer fools quietly, with humor and respect for her roots. Most of the action and the other characters are seen through her eyes. She’s honest: “Your husband [Edmund DeBeyer] and I, we got along like two tom cats in a small barn. Lots of yowling, some scratching, occasional biting. But I respected him. It pains me to say it, but he was a damn fine economist.”

Toman surrounds C. J. with a cast of characters, the most hate-able of whom is the Chair of the Economics Department Walter Scovill. She’s adept at using atmosphere to add to characterization: “[St Andrews Episcopal Church] was not an Eaton University Church. This was an Elm Grove church, where black people, poor people, and, God forbid, even homeless people would be in attendance. This was a church where women would be moved to cry out ‘Hallelujah’ during the service, and men might mumble, ‘Praise the Lord.’ And in such a church, the choirs would sing loudly and in tune and sound as if they really did believe in and love their Christ and Savior. To the Walters of this world, such a place was very disconcerting and seemed quite uncalled for.” (151) I admire Toman’s economy with the number of characters--all serve necessary functions in the plot.

After a lifetime in education at both the secondary and college levels, I appreciate the candor with which Toman depicts the Economics Department: “Gathering Eaton’s great thinkers for any meeting was like herding megalomaniacal cats. Each professor proclaimed it was vital that the meeting start on time, but would arrive whenever convenient to his or her individual schedule, often thirty or forty minutes after the proceedings were slated to begin. Important research or squash games could not be delayed like student complaints, the university’s latest effort to rebrand itself as an elitist college accessible to the masses, provided, of course, that the masses had a spare $80,000 a year, or...like the death of a colleague.” (47-8)

Clues to the solution of the murders are fairly laid out, though some of the personal secrets are not revealed until C. J.’s explanation, which was “...met with wide-eyed stare of shock and disbelief. This drama was a little too English department for her [economics] colleagues’ tastes.” (185)

My only complaint about PICKING LEMONS is a problem with comma placement. It’s an outstanding first serving of what I hope will be what C. J. would call “a whole mess” of her mysteries. (A)


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Barbara Venkataraman’s DEATH BY DIDGERIDOO is a Kindle novella originally published in 2013. It is the first in her Jamie Quinn series.

Jamie Quinn is a family practice lawyer in Hollywood, Florida, who’s in the doldrums following the death of her mother and uncertain about her career in law. When her Asperger’s syndrome cousin Adam Muller is accused of the murder of his music teacher Melvin Duane Shiprock, aka Spike of the heavy metal band The Screaming Zombies, she feels compelled to become involved in the case. Acting on the advice of her best friend from law school Grace Anderson, she contacts Susan Doyle of the Public Defender’s Office and former client PI Duke Broussard to help defend Adam. Spike had been hated, with good reason. Duke and Jamie turn up the evidence needed to convict Spike and Rosa Michaels’s killer.

DEATH BY DIDGERIDOO refers to Spike’s dying from blunt force trauma to the head from Adam’s didgeridoo. The plot is simplistic with little suspense about the identity of the killer once Adam’s psychiatrist hypnotizes him and finds out what had happened the morning of his murder.

Characterization is stronger than might be expected at this length: “...when word got out that Spike was dead, that he’d been murdered with one of his own musical instruments, celebrations broke out all over town. Some people toasted his demise with expensive champagne, while others clinked bottles of cold beer; it just depended on the neighborhood. And while many stories were told that night--none of them complimentary, I assure you--there was a common theme: Spike was a liar and a cheat, a poor excuse for a man who’d steal from his own mother, if he knew where she was, or sleep with a friend’s wife, if he had a friend--which he did not. Spike’s only companion was his dog, Beast, a German Shepherd that went everywhere he did, and wasn’t very friendly either.” Jamie carries believable baggage.

Venkataraman also develops an interesting physical setting for Jamie. “With an area of only thirty square miles, Hollywood is unpretentious, affordable and quaint. The streets are named for presidents, admirals and generals, which can turn a trip to the grocery store into an American history lesson. ... I find living in Hollywood comforting, not only because I grew up here, but also because it doesn’t change much. I can relive my favorite memories as I drive past my favorite landmarks....” Despite the Florida setting and use of Jamie as a narrator, there’s no particular sense of being in the South.

DEATH BY DIDGERIDOO is a fast, pleasant read, another good beach blanket selection. (C)


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LUNCH LADY by T. Watkins was a free or inexpensive Kindle download. It features Angela Baker, line cook at the acclaimed and beloved Miele restaurant who’d been fired when shell in a seafood souffle she’d prepared cut a diner’s mouth. She is now working as a school lunch lady at Piedmont Academy, an exclusive private school. As the most junior of the cafeteria staff, she’s responsible for ordering and checking in supplies, but suddenly quantities of expensive ingredients are missing. Angela is put on probation just as she’d begun to plan a comeback to quality cuisine via the International Kitchen King Culinary Channel competition to be held in her city. The vice-principal of Piedmont Academy Henri Bernard, who considers himself an unusually gifted amateur chef, also plans to enter the contest, as does Isaac Lincoln, a member of Piedmont’s Cooking Club. This is the point, 20%, at which I gave up.

Angela Baker is not an appealing protagonist. She spends most of her time “poor little me,” putting up with professional swipes from her school lunchroom boss Hildegarde Knoblach and put-downs from her live-in boyfriend Jim who wants her to get a “real” job, preferably in his father’s business. Characters are not much developed, and several have only given, not family names. The only sympathetic character is Isaac Lincoln, whose lawyer and doctor parents do not plan for him to attend culinary school, as he wants.

Setting is limited to Piedmont Academy, with no indication of time period, city, state, or even geographical region. The plot is obvious--Angela was set up at Miele, out of professional jealousy, and Bernard is lifting lunchroom supplies for his practice for the cooking contest. Writing is high school level. Exposition is clunky. Point of view shifts between Angela, Bernard, Isaac, and student Sudha Parwekar (so far) without much advancing characterization.

Enough already. Life’s too short. No grade because not finished and not recommended.


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Jeff Benedict’s NO BONE UNTURNED: INSIDE THE WORLD OF A TOP FORENSIC SCIENTIST AND HIS WORK ON AMERICA’S MOST NOTORIOUS CRIMES AND DISASTERS was published in 2003. It focuses on Dr. Douglas Owsley, curator of Native American and other remains at the Smithsonian. He is one of the top forensic anthropologists in the world. The book’s title is a bit of a misnomer because at least half of the book deals with the discovery and subsequent lawsuit over the remains of Kennewick Man.

Owsley and fellow scientists fought the Department of the Interior’s repatriation of the bones of Kennewick Man to the Utmatilla tribe of Native Americans without independent scientific examination, on the grounds that the skeleton was not that of a Native American despite a radiocarbon dating of 9,600 years. According to the scientists, its closest affiliates are the Ainu, aboriginal Caucasoid inhabitants of Japan, remnants of the Jomon culture. Its importance lies in its being, along with the Spirit Cave mummy found in Nevada and dating to 10,650 years, the best preserved and most intact skeleton of comparable age; they are primary evidence for non-Mongoloid ancient inhabitants of North America. The issue has moved far beyond physical evidence into the realms of racism, practical politics (money talks, and reservation casinos generate a lot of money), and political correctness. NO BONE UNTURNED is definitely from Owsley’s point of view.

I’m a bit suspicious about Owsley’s “supervising” the reconstruction of Kennewick Man’s face, with his having the reconstruction artist shave and pare off layers from the standard measurements normally used, to produce a more Ainu-looking face. According to Benedict, he referred to a picture of an Ainu man while so doing. Is the reconstruction scientifically accurate, or does it reflect what Owsley wanted to see?
He most definitely supports the multiple migrations model of the settlement of North America supported by the presence of these ancient Caucasoid skeletons.

Benedict doesn’t organize NO BONE UNTURNED by specific cases but by chronology in the first portion of the book, moving repeatedly between identification of American journalists killed in Guatemala and the opening of lead coffins found in Maryland, done in 1992. He does the same for 1993, between identifying genocide victims in Croatia and those who died in the Branch Davidians’ compound in Waco. This chops the flow of the narrative. I would have appreciated a cast of characters, especially those involved in the Kennewick Man trial. Much of the information on the ancient non-Native American skeletons would be more intelligible in tabular or graphic form rather than narrative. There are few photographs, and those are duplicated on the same coarse paper as the text, so their quality is not high.

NO BONE UNTURNED is a good read for anyone interested in the settlement of North America or the history of science, but it needs to be taken with an open mind. (B)


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DEATH WHERE THE BAD ROCKS LIVE is the second book in C. M. Wendelboe’s Spirit Road mystery series. It was published in 2012 and features Senior Special FBI Agent Manny Tanno, a Lakota Sioux stationed in Rapid City, South Dakota, to deal with federal crimes on the reservation. This is his punishment for not having publicly solved the mystery recounted in DEATH ALONG THE SPIRIT ROAD. It’s best to read the books in this series in order.

Deaths often have long roots buried in the past. When bomb disposal technicians charged with removing unexploded bombs from the WWII bombing range in the Badlands of the Pine Ridge Reservation, they discover a bombed-out car containing the skeletons of three men, two apparently killed in December 1944 and the third in 1969. But the relationship between Moses Ten Bears, Lakota holy man and gifted artist, and Senator Clayton Charles goes back to 1920; he and Ellis Lauder, professor at the School of Mines, are waiting for Clayton when the bomb hits. But who put Gunnar Jenssen’ body in the same car after his disappearance in 1969? He’d been shot in the head. Gunnar’d been reported missing by his college roommate Alexander Hamilton High Elk, Clayton Charles’s grandson, a federal judge whose circuit includes the reservation. Ham High Elk is currently nominated for the U. S. Supreme Court and faces confirmation hearings in a couple of weeks. Tied in with the mysteries are stories about the area of the Badlands, also known as the Stronghold where the Sioux took refuge from their enemies, called the place “where bad rocks live.” To what does the stories refer, and how do the rocks fit into the series of murders past and present?

Manny is a believable protagonist, carrying emotional baggage from his traditional Lakota upbringing contrasting with his career in the white world, his estrangement from his older brother Reuben Tanno, health problems, and his relationship with Clara Downing, with whom he’s living. “Reuben--with his love for Manny--had a way of deepening the guilt Manny had felt for so long, making it harder to deal with his feelings. For most of his life, Manny had fought against having any kind of relationship with his brother. And it had been a easy fight, with Manny representing every federal lawman and Reuben representing what every AIM member could achieve if they committed the right crimes. Now as Manny feebly played catch-up, he knew he’d missed Reuben’s love for these many years. And that hurt them both.” (85) All the characters are individuals.

Setting and atmosphere permeate the story in DEATH WEHRE THE BAD ROCKS LIVE: “...[Manny] marveled at tawny sandstone spires towering a hundred feet above the Badlands floor that had lured people to their deaths in this remote part of the reservation that George Custer dubbed ‘hell on earth.’ Most people would agree with that assessment. At first glance, nothing could exist in this desolate landscape, no one could survive here long, in this land that hosted barren hilltop overlooking a million years of change. The siltstone and sandstone and mudstone makeup of the Badlands caused it to change daily, adding to the danger of getting swallowed up and never being found by anyone. As if the Badlands wished it that way.” (8-9)

The plot opens with the deaths of Ellis Lauder and Moses Ten Bears, then moves to the present; present investigation is interspersed with flashbacks all the way to the first meeting in 1920 between Moses Ten Bears and Clayton Charles and that gradually move to Ten Bears’s death in 1944. It’s not difficult to figure out Clayton Charles’s role, but the identity of the modern killer comes as a surprise. Readers should remember Sherlock Holmes’s famous dictum that, when you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever’s left, however improbable, must be the truth. I appreciate the short epilogue that shows us the characters after the denouement.

This is one of the best series I’ve found in a long time. I recommend DEATH WHERE THE BAD ROCKS LIVE highly. (A)