Essex Valley: A Quiet, Nice Little Town by R.T. Graham

This book was my 500th review on Amazon and I was hoping for something really special. Was it ever! This is a great book with incredible characterization and subtle, unexpected twists. I especially loved how the author included characters out of the mainstream, presenting them with dignity. The homeless victims were presented respectfully. And the genuine fondness with which the author develops the volunteer deputy with Downs syndrome is truly heartwarming. I highly recommend this murder mystery.

238 pages


Dead of Winter by Billy McLaughlin

This fast paced and unpredictable mystery about a missing infant has more inappropriate relationships and bizarre characters than a Mexican telenovela. The mentally challenged man child with a temper and a deadly history. The shallow, self centered cheerleader with the spineless “friend”. The close minded cop, the judgmental neighbors, a good number of characters who judge themselves for one fault or another… and an appallingly large number of parents with “situational” ethics. Highly recommend!

196 pages

The Immorality Clause by Brian Parker

This gritty detective novel reads like a cross between Bladerunner and Ann Christy’s Perfect Partners (PePr) series. Like Bladerunner, it’s grubby. Not surprising given a serial killer targeting robot-staffed brothels (and you really do have to wonder what Asimov would have had to say about that…)  Definitely not erotica, but there are a few graphic sexual descriptions as well as adult language.

The characters are well-developed and engaging.  Our hapless hero, Zach, is definitely more Columbo than Remington Steele. Gruff and emotionally clueless. The droids on the other hand come across as far less flat than Bladerunner, although the parallels are obvious. In many ways, the synthetic characters have greater emotional range than the protagonist. I find the droid emotional levels MUCH more akin to the PePr universe.

I’m looking forward to the next book in this series. Highly recommend.

A Reflection of Evil: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery by William Todd

First, it’s great to see Fan Fic that doesn’t involve sparkly vampires or mommy porn. I honestly hadn’t realized how much Sherlock Holmes fan fic was out there before reading this, which is kind of bizarre since I’m a real fan of the original. I’ve actually been to the Sherlock Homes museum at – you got it – 221B Baker Street in London! And of course, Moriarity in his unending variations (dead under the falls, locked on the Enterprise holodeck) is too good to pass up – but no more on that at the risk of writing spoilers…

So this book was a real treat. Todd has done an excellent job of capturing both the style and the presentation of Conan Doyle. The pacing and story line are classic Holmes. Todd has the somewhat formal, stilted speaking styles of Holmes and Watson down pat. He’s even thrown in the occasional obtuse and archaic vocabulary – just enough to make the work authentic; not enough to make it a difficult read.

My only complaint is that there are a smattering of typos. These minor defects stand in stark relief to the overalloutstanding writing and skill of the piece, making them perhaps more annoying than they would be in a lesser work. Still, they are minor and the work is very well constructed.

Definitely recommended. This classic Holmes tale would be an excellent use of an afternoon. Far more productive that chasing Shipperkes in Poplar….

Sam’s Song by Hannah Howe

Welcome to Sam and Darwena’s world, where the heroines are harrowing and the villains are just plain vile. Case in point, “He had a reputation for walking up to beggars and burning fifty-pound notes in front of their faces just for the hell of it.” This is well written although a tad wordy at points. And I get the distinct impression that the author has studied architecture. In one scene, she describes a building as having “Castellated turrets and a swooping concave parapet linking two solid square towers.”

Having said that, I appreciated a heroine with both baggage (domestic violence) and attitude. “I was tempted to think that this woman had a good face for radio – meow, Samantha; you can be so cruel, sometimes.” While I didn’t always like her view, Sam was always three-dimensional – a nice change from the cardboard cutout private eyes in so many novels. At the same time, Hannah really did an outstanding job of portraying the mindset of a woman recovering from domestic violence. The self-loathing and lack of self-worth were so realistically portrayed, that at times I just wanted to throttle the main character!  It takes solid writing to invoke that kind of emotion in the reader.

The off the wall Victorian trivia was also a nice touch. I had no idea that Queen Victoria took cannabis or that it was practice in some areas to pull out a Victorian bride’s teeth out and get her dentures as a wedding gift.

Sherlock Holmes: and the Mystery of the Broken Window by William Todd

Focusing on Sherlock’s less emotive/emotional aspects, this tale claims to relate the “one case that I feel, as his raconteur, shows a more human side to that genius of deduction and logic.” In truth, however, Mr. Todd has gone beyond superbly replicating the logic of Holmes; he’s also truly nailed the persona of Dr. Watson. Take this observation: “If Holmes has anything akin to a deficiency it is his love of the dramatic.  He is like a magician who seeks the look of awe upon the faces of his audience with a splendidly completed act of prestidigitation.” Classic Watson!

My only complaint in this outstanding work of Holmes fan fiction is a small number of spelling errors, almost all of which involve homophones:  “heads or tales” instead of “heads or tails”, “roll” instead of “role”; the sort of minor mistake that requires a keen eye and (ideally) a good proofreader. Again, minor errors though.

Overall, the Mystery of the Broken window was every bit as outstanding and well-written as the Gloucester Calamity by this same author, relayed in the book A Reflection of Evil.

I’d also like to thank Mr. Todd for a great new word today: “assizes”.

I highly recommend this book to any Sherlock Holmes fans.

Mean Street by DK Herman

Mean Street is an interesting mystery with engaging characters and an unexpected ending. I think we can all sympathize with Sarah in her dealings with the nosy neighbor.  (And it was quite restrained for the author to name the butt-in-ski gossip Vivian and use the more predictable Gabi for Sarah’s best friend.) The subplots – Sarah’s reticent flirting, Jenny and Pete’s bickering, etc. – added to the ambiance. I especially liked Jay’s attempted “suicide by hot dog”!

Where the book falls a little short is in editing. There are several sentences lacking ending punctuation and a good scattering of misused commas.  Also, there’s a link to a footnote that doesn’t seem to exist, which appears to just be a formatting error.

Overall, this is a promising novelette. I hope to see more developed works from this author in the future.