M2D4 Toe Tag: Widow’s Run by TG Wolff

Widow’s Run is a Mystery. Diamond. One name for a woman with one purpose in life. It should have been ordinary, her husband attending a scientific conference, except he didn’t come home. A random accident. Or was it? A video surfaces calling facts into question, but the police only have words of sympathy for the new widow. Resurrecting her CIA cover, Diamond goes where the police won’t. From Washington DC to Rome, Italy, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, her widow’s run follows the stink greed leaves in its wake. Murder is filthy business. Good thing Diamond likes playing dirty.

Bottom line: Widow’s Run is for you if you like fast-paced mysteries, dynamic characters, and story meant to be read just for the fun of it.

Listen to the first chapter here or wherever you get Mysteries to Die For podcast.

Strengths of the story. To give you an unbiased review, I’m using posted reviews. Here’s two from Amazon: “Widow’s Run is a suspenseful thriller with well-crafted characters and a plot that leaves you guessing until the very end.”

“Widow’s Run is a nonstop roller coaster ride of chaos and suspense with a lead character who’s not afraid to speak her mind…and has the resources to back her words up. Determined to find the true reason behind her husband’s death, Diamond will stop at nothing to get the answers…including faking her own death and then showing up in disguise at the funeral. Both her tongue and mind are sharp as a whip, making this a super fun read.” 

This story is about pacing and characters. It’s a solid mystery, but simple, it had to be because everything around it was so complex. I was inspired by Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series – each chapter is it’s own story and also moves the overall story along. It made it a blast to write and it what give the pacing it’s feel.

Where the story fell short of ideal: Miriam on GoodReads gave me a 3.5 for zest and enthusiasm- thanks for the bump, Miriam. She felt it was “a convoluted spy / mystery / thriller that begins in a slapstick humor manner and, while calming down some, is still frenetic as Diamond travels to Rome and back to the states. She’s got a lot of help, some more useful than others.

“There are a few grammatical errors, and a doozy of a continuity issue at the very end as the dead people are incorrectly identified.

“If you do pick up this slim mystery, don’t put it down or you’ll lose track of all the disparate threads.”

I give Miriam credit for giving a thoughtful, critical review. No book will please every reader. Mine wasn’t for her but she rated me fairly, and I appreciate her. Were there grammatical errors? I don’t doubt her. They drive me crazy. No less than 4 professionals reviewed this book…and still they sneak through. Just enjoy them, that’s what I do when I find one – it’s like finding a four leaf clover. Maybe when AI takes over, we’ll have perfect books to read. Until then, let a typo be reassurance that flesh-and-blood humans did write and edit the work in your hands.

As to the continuity issue, well I had to look into that one because continuity is one of my big thing’s and…nope…all the names were correct. Now, as Miriam implied, there were a bunch of characters, and not all of them died. I suspect she read something in a way I didn’t intend. Reading it as I did intend, no issue.  If any of you think you find it, email me. I’m curious what you see.

So take six hours out of your reality to read Widow’s Run, the first Diamond Adventure. Review it, help me get up to like 20 reviews. It would mean a lot. Then you’ll be ready to pick up with Suicide Squeeze, the first chapter is our next toe tag

M2D4 Toe Tag: Dream Stalker by Nancy Stalker

Dream Stalker lists as a paranormal cozy mystery. It’s October in Salem, Massachusetts and Mrs. Lily Scott, wiccan, herbalist, and dream walker, is up to her neck in trouble. It started with a childhood friend, she suicided in front Lily. That was followed with two murders, arson, another suicide, and an accident that threatens the life of the best woman Lily knows, her sister Ann. Lily follows a trail of clues to protect the women she cares for, including the one she loves most, her own daughter.

Bottom line: Dream Stalker is for you if you like your mysteries clean, your witches wiccan, and your fiction feminine.

Listen here or wherever you get Mysteries to Die For Podcast

Strengths of the story. Gardner’s female characters are the gems of this story. All major characters and most minor are female, with a large part of the story arc dedicated to Lily recovering the relationship with her sister and her daughter. That puts this mystery solidly in the category of Women’s fiction. Each character is truly unique and stays true to themselves throughout the telling – for better or for worse. Salem, MA in October gives a colorful backdrop for a story of quiet deceit and subtle treachery. It certainly made me curious about the town, which is exactly what a good author does. The story lives up to the Cozy name with clean language and roots in the heritage and traditions of Wiccan. A sophisticated hand compares and contrasts Wiccan to Catholicism, showing that when you look for differences, that is what you see. But when you look for goodness, beauty is abound.

Where the story fell short of ideal. The story is listed as a paranormal. Readers who prefer moderation in paranormal will appreciate Gardner’s sparing hand with Lily’s dream walking. As a reader who loves the power and imagination of a world beyond our own and prefers it in a story the same way I want chocolate syrup on my ice cream, I was left wanting more. In my opinion, framing this story as a women’s fiction cozy mystery better casts the light of the story. Lily has a lot of work to do if she is going to solve the mystery, save the shelter her sister runs, and repair the relationships most vital to her.

M2D4 Toe Tag: The Bone Records by Rich Zahradnik

The Bone Records is a thriller. Grigg Orlov, the son of a Russian father and Jamaican mother (deceased), was an outsider in his own neighborhood. His father disappeared six months ago and the NYPD wasn’t interested in looking for him. Grigg alone has been searching while juggling two jobs. Just as suddenly, his father returns, with a gunman hot on his heels. His father’s last stand launches Grigg on mission for the truth. One with twisted truths and secrets buried so deep, dying is the only way out. 

Bottom line: The Bone Records is for you if you like lightning-fast pacing, engaging underdogs, and a setting in one of America’s hidden cultures.

Listen to the first chapter here or wherever you get Mysteries to Die For podcast

Strengths of the story. Rooted in New York City’s Russian community, the story is a creative weave of fiction and facts in the foreground of the 2016 presidential election. That being said, this is not a political thriller. At its essence, The Bone Records is a thriller about a son searching for the truth about his father’s murder. The plotting is strong with Grigg taking actions that interfere with the antagonists’ goals and forcing them to react to him, propelling the story forward. There is ample lying, backstabbing, and spying to keep the reader guessing right along with Grigg about who can be trusted.     

Where the story fell short of ideal. This is a very strong thriller. Of course, there are always little things I can pick at, but nothing worth mentioning. When I got to the end of The Bone Records, I sat for several moments and unpicked the weave of the storylines. They all held up. The actions of the characters stayed consistent with the motivations of the decision makers from start to finish. It would have been interesting if Grigg had had more time with his father. What would he have learned and how would it have changed Grigg’s actions. For that matter, after six months, why did his father come back at all? 

Learn more about Rich Zahradnik at his website: https://www.richzahradnik.com/

Buy The Bone Records from Amazon and other retailers, read it, review it.

M2D4 Toe Tag: What Meets the Eye by Alex Kenna

What Meets the Eye is a Private Investigator mystery. PI Kate Myles takes a job everyone else has turned down, the investigation of an avant-garde artist’s death. LAPD, Kate’s former employer, determined it was a suicide. But, of course, her father doesn’t buy it for no fact-based reason. Kate’s taken this job before and three out of three times, the cops were right. But this time? This time just may be different.  

Bottom line: What Meets the Eye is for you if you like your art edgy, your stakes high, and your dirty deeds done anything but cheap.

Listen to the prologue and first chapter here or wherever you get Mysteries to Die For podcast

Strengths of the story. The setting is one of the stars of this story. This mystery is embedded in the LA art scene and told in a way that could only be done by someone with Kenna’s unique background. This goes beyond the death of a star artist and makes this one of the most mysteries I’m read in a long time.

The plot is equally interesting, likely because it is interwoven with the art scene itself. This isn’t a mystery that is merely dropped into an interesting setting. This story only exists because of where it is in the art scene.

Where the story fell short of ideal. The story telling style is 80% from Kate Myles POV in modern time with the remainder from other characters and/or in past times. On the “pro” side, the style gives the reader “just in time” cues to motivation and back story for the mystery or Kate herself. On the “con” side, it can pull the reader out of the story and introduce some time or speaker confusion. This will be something that some readers won’t notice at all and will bother others. For my own experience, I “hear” the story as I read, so tended to hear Kate regardless of who the narrator was supposed to be. Hence, it caused me some confusion but was able to work through it quickly.

M2D4 Toe Tag: A Bad Bout of the Yips by Ken Harris

A Bad Bout of the Yips is a PI mystery. Partners Steve Rockfish and Jawnie McGee are neck deep in the kind of trouble that puts you six feet under. First, there is the case. Their clients are being threatened and their property burned to incentivize them to sell their putt putt business. Then, there is the next streaming show. Angel is coming to talk. And so is his money. Finally, there’s the mob. Annetta Provolone may be under house arrest but Jawnie’s the one who is locked down until the retrial. Nothing goes right. Not a single, damn thing.

Bottom line: A Bad Bout of the Yips is for you if you like stubborn private investigators with smart mouths and ideas so bad, they’re great.

Listen to the first chapter here or wherever you get Mysteries to Die For podcast.

Strengths of the story. It’s a hard call on whether the characters, the fast paced storytelling style, or the dynamic storylines is the starring feature. Together, they hit the trifecta of PI mysteries. There is enough humor and irreverence to keep Yips from becoming too heavy even as the ruthlessness of the mob characters has you worried for everyone’s well-being.

Where the story fell short of ideal: There only place the story fell short of ideal was Siri listening to Jawnie and doing what she wanted the first time she asked. Ken Harris is truly living in a fantasy world. Beyond that, there isn’t a place where the story fell short. It is the third in a continuing story and, IMO, would be best enjoyed after reading the prior installments. Don’t think of it as a gotta do, think of it as a get to do.

M2D4 Toe Tag: Chaos at Carnegie Hall by Kelly Oliver

Chaos at Carnegie Hall is a cozy, historical mystery. It is the first in the Fiona Figg / Kitty Lane mystery series, picking up the character of Fiona Figg from a separate cozy series by Kelly Oliver. It’s 1917 and Temporary British Intelligence officer Fiona Figg is sent from London to New York in pursuit of Frederick Fredericks, a smooth talking South African who is determined to undermine the British war effort. When Fredericks is arrested for murder, one crime Fiona is certain he didn’t commit, she finds her only solution is to burn the candle from both ends.

Bottom line: Chaos at Carnegie Hall is for you if you like the quirks of cozy, the nostalgia of WWI era settings, and the charm of British mysteries.

Listen to the first chapter here or wherever you get Mysteries to Die For podcast

Strengths of the story. The story is charming as it incorporates in stride details of the world as it was in 1917, both in London and New York. From the clothes to the societal rules to the politics, Choas at Carnegie Hall gives a glimpse into life as it was.

Where the story fell short of ideal: Chaos at Carnegie Hall was hard for me to wrap my arms around. I would have described it as a cozy spy novel up to about the half-way point where the mystery element began. The story is billed as the 1st in the series but it uses characters (good and bad) and makes references to the cases of the Fiona Figg books. From a reader’s stand-point, I do think it is more fairly characterized as a Fiona Figg book. Oliver does a thorough job of explaining the back story, but as is always the case, you do feel like you are jumping in at the middle rather than the beginning.

M2D4 Toe Tag: Duplicity

Duplicity by Shawn Wilson is a mystery, the kind I call a “follow along.” Brick Kavanagh is officially retired from the Washington DC police Homicide Squad. Unofficially, he’s got a few irons in the fire. The most promising is an airline stewardess named Nora that just might be worth relocating to Chicago. A potential paying gig, Brick is invited to mentor law students through a cold case in their own back yard. Then there is the thing that happens to his partner’s wife. For that, everything else can wait.

Bottom line: Duplicity is for you if you like appealing characters getting in the weeds of missing persons and cold case mysteries.

Listen to the first chapter here or wherever you get Mysteries to Die For podcast.

Strengths of the story. Brian “Brick” Kavanaugh is a strong leading character who you want to succeed. The secondary characters are equally engaging and, always a winner with me, I could keep them straight. The “missing person” and “cold case” storylines hold up front-to-back and then back-to-front. The rapid storytelling style is engaging and keeps you wanting to know what happens next.

Where the story fell short of ideal. While there were no plot holes, the main storyline pivoted to resolution on a coincidence, not Brick’s actions or deductions. Being a mystery fanatic, I look for the detectives to drive to the solution. In this case, he was more in the right place at the right time, which falls short of ideal. Notably, Brick does drive the solution of the secondary storyline. If it wasn’t for him sticking with what should have been a dead-end lead and pressing buttons marked “do not touch” then the status quo would have been sadly maintained.

M2D4 Toe Tag: The Accidental Spy

The Accidental Spy by David Gardner is a Suspense Thriller with a minor in satire. Harvey Hudson is a thinker. A professor of Big History, his niche in this world is to understand how things begin and how they end. His lackluster technical writing career began with the end of his collegiate teaching career. Breaking the top commandments for cyber security, he invites industrial espionage into his company’s servers. But, no worries, the CIA is on this…and so are the Russians. And Harvey, he’s the pinball stuck in between, working to make his own way out.

Bottom line: The Accidental Spy is for you if you like thrillers that are more intellectual than physical, where you can cheer for the underdog.

Listen to the first chapter here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Strengths of the story. Harvey Hudson is not your normal thriller hero. He’s a 56-year old thinker, not a man of action, and we meet him at a low point in his life. Yet, he is utterly likeable for his quiet rebellions (eating the skittles out of a birthday basket), his dedication to his mother (paying her mortgage while he lives in a hole), and his unwavering dreamer philosophy (his favorite question is “what if?”). He is the star. The supporting characters are distinctive and have real roles in the story. The logic of the plot holds up and all questions are resolved.  

Where the story fell short of ideal: This is a story that is a hybrid of the thriller and satire genre. The story is short on the high-speed chases and bullet riddled exchanges often expected with a thriller. Consequently, fans of series such as Jason Borne may find The Accidental Spy slow. However, if you have the sense of humor that aligns with Fletch, well, you’ll enjoy Harvey.

M2D4 Toe Tag: Hero Haters

Hero Haters by Ken MacQueen is a thriller. There’s a little bit of hero in all of us, but for some of us, our hero has risen to the test. Stopping a shooter in a school. Pulling a man out of a burning car. Rescuing a child from a well. In Ken MacQueen’s world, ordinary people putting others’ lives ahead of their own are honored with an award for exceptional heroism with the Sedgewick Sacrifice Medal. Quietly, one by one, the recipients are disappearing, recipients vetted by one man: Jake Ockham. As the storm of hatred and disillusion swirls, Jake is again called to the most sublime act of setting others before himself.

Bottom line:  Hero Haters is for you if you like high tension thrillers driven by twisted logic and determined heroes.

Hero Haters Prologue and Chapter 1

Strengths of the story: Hero Haters masterfully stimulates the readers feelings of urgency, angst, and “oh, shit, no.” This is one book where once you start, either you won’t put it down or you’ll put it down fast because you can’t take the intensity. The characters, good and bad, are well developed and feel like real people. The story line is truly well thought out. Ken MacQueen had to do a lot of plotting about what happened to these characters years before the story starts in order for it to be this flawless. The story moves distinctly between Washington State and Western Pennsylvania, and makes it easy to follow what is happening in the two locations.

Where the story fell short of ideal: This one doesn’t, which is unusual for me with thrillers. Usually I get to the end, look back at the story and find all kinds of contrived scenarios, plot holes, and inconsistencies between character motives and actions. That is not the case with Hero Haters. If I have to pick something as weak, I will say I had some trouble keeping the timeline straight at the start of the book. I didn’t realize this until I was about ⅔ way through and while surprising me, didn’t detract from the story.