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.

M2D4 Toe Tag: 1 Last Betrayal by Valerie J. Brooks

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1 Last Betrayal is a thriller. Angeline Porter is picking up where she left off from the 2nd book in the series, Tainted Times 2, putting it all on the line for her half-sister. Bibi has disappeared and based on the last few texts, it wasn’t willingly. Angeline flies from Oregon to Florida to extract her sister from a hornets nest that includes a local detective, an ethically questionable FBI agent, a totally unethical mob queen, and a half-brother who only wants to be her family.

Bottom line: 1 Last Betrayal is for you if you like intricately woven plots that unravel one knot at a time.

Strengths of the story. 1 Last Betrayal checks a lot of boxes on the thriller checklist. First, the lead character being in mortal danger — check. Angeline, who is also called Ang, Angie, and Porter, is held at gun point, beaten, and kidnapped. She jumps from frying pan to frying pan, never quite knowing where the fire is. Second, the story has to resolve within a certain time — check. After 24 hours, most missing persons cases don’t end with a living resolution, according to the book. Three, the motivations of the other characters are hidden from the lead — check. Every one of the people helping Angeline has an ulterior motive, but those secrets are tightly held.

Where the story fell short of ideal: It is common in thrillers to have scenes from the point of view of multiple characters, enabling us readers to know what is going on and to be anxious on behalf of our heroes. 1 Last Betrayal is told only from Angeline’s point of view. In a story based on false motives, Angeline becomes confused about what is really going on. Without the ballast of other points of view for us to root in, the chaos element is dominant in the middle section of the book. For those who thrive on chaos, you’ll love it. For those who don’t, stick with it and enjoy the ride.

1 Last Betrayal is the 3rd book in a trilogy. I recommend reading the earlier books, Revenge in 3 Parts, and Tainted Times 2 first. Ms. Brooks last installment continues with characters and situations built in the first episodes. For maximum enjoyment, start from the beginning, likely an unnecessary recommendation as most of us wouldn’t conceive of starting a series anywhere but book 1. Links to all three books are in the show notes.

M2D4 Toe Tag: The Midnight Call by Jode Millman

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The Midnight Call is a legal thriller. Jessica Martin is a corporate attorney whose mentor, Terence Butterfield, is in big trouble – the bloody kind. Jeremy Riley is the past-his-prime defense attorney Jess brings in to defend Terence. Hal Samuels is the Assistant District Attorney pressured to make sure justice is a big, public win. But it’s not that easy – it never is. Past relationships cloud the facts until the web is indeed a tangled one.

Bottom line: The Midnight Call is for you if you like thrillers rooted in a court room with drama driven by personal choices of good people put in bad situations.

Strengths of the story. The story is told in three parts. In the first, we see firsthand the wheels that are set in motion by the midnight call. From the opening phrases through the Grand Jury, the story is well crafted, working through the angst and strategy of a murder trial. The middle part of the story shifts focus to the private lives of the main characters and how the publicity and pressure of the trial affects their choices and their families. The characters are put in difficult situations, and we watch as, for some, emotion overrules good judgement. The final sequence returns to the trial, where the lawyers roll up their sleeves and finish the job. The story telling throughout is detailed and reasoned.

Where the story fell short of ideal: Compared to other legal thrillers, The Midnight Call does not go deep into the detail of the law and courtroom procedures. This will be a plus for readers who love the air of a legal thriller without the grainy detail and a minus for those who like to get so granular, sand falls from the pages. With the story focusing on the three attorneys, the accused killer Terence Butterfield is not front and center, so we do not get his side of the story. While the story tied off the legal strings, it left me with a few unanswered questions.

Toe Tag: In Danger of Judgment

This is thriller. Set in 1987, the thug life in Chicago kept Detectives William “Bernie” Bernardelli and Marcelle DeSantis up to their elbows in blood and guts. That life was about to get disrupted. The heroin market, cornered by two rival Mexican cartels, is being violently squeezed by the newest game in town, the Asian powered Quon. And what makes Quon powerful is an American-born mercenary turned enforcer named Robert Thornton, aka The Professor.

Bottom line: IN DANGER OF JUDGEMENT is for you if you like domestic intrigue, military operations, and stories where the definition of justice is fluid. Listen to an opening chapter here and everywhere you get your podcasts.

Let’s compare IN DANGER OF JUDGEMENT to the “perfect thriller”

Strengths of the story. The storyline, when you look from back to front, is simple. It certainly doesn’t look that way front to back, which is what kept my mind engaged, trying to unravel the story as fast as Bernie and Marcelle. But the simpleness of the underlying story is its power and why it stands up so well. Frequently when I get to the end of a thriller, I look back and all kinds of “that doesn’t make sense” and “why would he do that.” That did not happen here at all.

The story is rooted in the Vietnam War. The prologue does what it should do, setting the stage without revealing too much of what is to come. Fight scenes display a strong sense of military tactical engagement performed at a high level. (I leave it to others to validate the reality as that is not my area of expertise. I’ll just say it worked for me.)

The characters—good, bad, and ugly—are well crafted. With the possible exception of Thornton, we get glimpses of both the human side and the darker side. A large part of the appeal of this book is knowing that one of the characters are much more than they represent, but not knowing which.

The story is cleanly written with no typos or other distractions.

Where the story fell short of ideal: There were not many places this one fell short. The storyline with Quon moving into Chicago is not fully resolved at the time the book ends, but the book is not the lesser for it.

Toe Tag: See You Next Tuesday

Mysteries to Die For’s newest Toe Tag is SEE YOU NEXT TUESDAY by Ken Harris. Listen to the first chapter on my website and everywhere you get your podcasts.

Follow the Link to Listen on my Website

From July 11-August 5, See You Next Tuesday is on tour with Partners in Crime. Check out the tour link for more content and information https://www.partnersincrimetours.net/see-you-next-tuesday-by-ken-harris/

TG Wolff Review

This is a Private Investigator and grift story. The dynamic team of Steve Rochfish and Jawnie McGee tackle their first case as full partners. A line from later in the book gives the perfect synopsis. It’s a simple cheating husband case turned into a search and rescue, cult exfiltration and a wild ride that comes back to two old guys getting ripped off.

Rating See You Next Tuesday on a 5-point scale against the “perfect PI story”, I give this 5.00.

Strengths of the story. By now, you all know I’m hell on logic and Harris lives up to the bar. The actions of all the characters made sense for who they were. Rockfish and McGee drive the story, interfering with the bad guys plans, and the bad guys react, changing plans in a way that both creates unexpected twists and is totally reasonable given the change in their circumstances. Harris thoroughly developed his story, giving his detective material to work with. He worked them into a corner a time or two and let them fight their way out.

I liked both lead characters. Rockfish is older and has the mindset and habits that reflect those of us born in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Jawnie is his counterbalance, rooted in modern times in terms of technology, mindset, and vernacular. While either character could have been stereotypical, neither are and what really makes them work is the mutual respect and affection they have for each other.

Where the story fell short of the ideal. The first half of the story alternates between Rockfish’s and Jawnie’s points of view. As the story progresses, we have scenes written from the POV for their new Confidential Informant Lynn and, later, the bad guys. Information the reader gains here could not come from Rockfish or Jawnie. Often, I am not a fan of changing the storytelling style mid-book, but Harris did them very well. These changes in POV were the reason the logic and the story were able to stand up as strongly as they did. There were a few stylistic elements that were not my favorite but those were certainly personal preferences. Some minor editing misses were found, but not enough to detract from the story.

Bottom line: See You Next Tuesday is for you if you like PI’s who like to mix it up with the bad guys and refuse to quit—even after the cops tell them too.