Blog Posts by David

  • Hey, Edgar-- It's Dek!

    "Hunting Sweetie Rose" by Jack Fredrickson
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    The past few years bring to mind no better mystery than this one, which features the return engagement of Dek Elstrom of Rivertown, Illinois, a town full of graft on the fringe of a city famous for its corruption, Chicago.

    Elstrom's a sort-of P.I. (that is, a legally uncertified one who hedges around the specifics of state qualifications).

    Falsely accused of falsifying information during a trial, his reputation took a beating that feeble retractions have failed to restore. Once accused, guilty-- the American way.

    Which isn't to say that Elstrom's ethics are impeccable. Basically well-intentioned and to-the-point, certainly, but not always above-board.

    He's been slowly fixer-upping the unusual pile of stone that he inherited from one of the aunts who raised him. Intended to be a castle for his Prohibition-era enriched grandfather, it never got past the turret stage.

    So, Dek resides and renovates in his

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  • Ethical Questions at the Heart of New Thriller

    "Heart of a Killer" by David Rosenfelt
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Jamie Wagner, a young attorney long overshadowed by his uber-achieving parents, is poised to attain his moment of glory-- and then some-- in the limelight.

    He may be a Harvard Law grad, but Jamie's on the fast track to Outsville from the New Jersey law firm where he's been pushing papers and otherwise toiling outside of a courtroom for the past six years.

    Hardly surprising, then, that the firm assigns him an "Oh, No!" pro bono case that looks virtually unwinnable viewed from any angle of any law.

    A female inmate who confessed to slitting her husband's throat wants permission from the State of New Jersey to commit suicide so she can donate her heart to her ailing daughter, who's on the verge of dying unless she receives the difficult match.

    Jamie wisely pitches the case into the court of public opinion, via the media that thrive on such human-interest drama masquerading as news.

    To be sure, it's the sort of

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  • Thoroughly Modern 1920s Widow Chucks Cheek in New Mystery

    "Dying in the Wool" by Frances Brody
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    The "War to End All Wars" has rendered many a young Englishwoman a widow, Kate Shackleton among them.

    Technically, her late husband is missing, presumed dead, in France. No one actually witnessed him perish; certainly, no body has brought proof positive.

    Quite understandable, then, that Kate would answer the call of a chum from her VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) days during the war-- a friend who's about to wed and who would dearly like for her Dad to walk her down the aisle.

    Trouble is, Dad's been missing since 1916, but on the homefront. Seeing as how it's been about six years, any hope of locating him seems remote.

    He was made out to be suicidal at the time of his disappearance, having been discovered in a stream by a bunch of boy scouts. Carted off to a nearby psych ward (for soldiers), he should have been assigned a jail cell, given the standing law against suicide.

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  • Party Southern with Pizza & a Can of Whoop-A


    "Diary of a Mad Fat Girl" by Stephanie McAfee
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    When Ace Jones isn't teaching art history to high schoolers in Bugtussle, Mississippi, she's either:

    A) Playing with her chiweenie, Buster Loo;
    B) Opening a can of Whoop-A;
    C) Having a beer (or three), a Sprite on the rocks with six cherries, a pizza, a bacon cheeseburger, a pizza, Chinese takeout, and/or yet another pizza.

    She isn't counting on having three major problems align in a nonharmonic convergence-- along with all the subsets of their attendant troubles-- and that's what makes up the bulk of this first novel by Mississippi native Stephanie McAfee.

    First, Ace's ("Ace" exhibiting a tendency toward typically Southern shortening, in this case of "Graciella") childhood friend and college roommate (from Mississippi State University), Lilly, is acting mighty peculiar, and she's about to be suspended from her teaching (of French) position at the high school.

    Mostly, though, Lilly is withholding a

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  • Puzzle Lady Thinks Outside the Boxes


    "$10,000 in Small, Unmarked Puzzles"
    by Parnell Hall
    Reviewed by
    David Marshall James

    Ironic that America's "Puzzle Lady" cannot solve a crossword to save her life, but give her a crime and she's a whiz at getting to the bottom of it.

    It's not as if Cora Felton of Bakerhaven, Connecticut, has much else to do. Her niece, Sherry Grant, composes all the crossword puzzles for which Cora has won renown.

    That harkens back to a time when Sherry was in hiding from her abusive first spouse. Happy to report that she's since remarried (a newspaper reporter) and is "infanticipating," as Walter Winchell used to phrase it.

    Actually, the infant's arriving. Not due, mind you, but arriving just the same.

    So, Sherry's confined to a hospital for a longer-than-usual while, while Cora's running around, wrapped up in all sorts of mayhem with local attorney Becky Baldwin.

    Becky is struggling, her shingle outside an office over a pizza parlor, the aroma of pepperoni wafting into all her business.

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  • Morrison's "New/Old" Thriller Well Worth the Read


    "The Catalyst" by Boyd Morrison
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    This hot-plotted, slick-paced thriller will get the reader rooting for the "good guys" and hoping hard that the bad guys really get theirs.

    Kevin Hamilton-- a struggling, chemistry graduate student at a Houston university-- is unwittingly swept up in corporate espionage by the professor for whom he once worked, but who fired him for allegedly destroying valuable lab equipment during a superconductivity experiment that went awry.

    However, Kevin's dismissal was merely a subterfuge , smokescreening the potentially multibillion-dollar discovery (purely accidental, of course) of a process to create gem-quality diamonds for industrial use.

    Never mind the jewelry business. The diamond cartel would cry, "Synthetic-- not mined!"

    The scheming, avaricious prof hooks up with a successful Houston businessman with Faustian aspirations of zooming up the Forbes list of zillionaires.

    Clayton Tarnwell wants to be bigger than big,

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  • Daisy in Her Cuppas, to the Manor Borne, Once More


    "Gone West" by Carola Dunn
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Break out the shortbread, pour out the tea, and toss another scuttle of coal on the grate: Daisy Dalrymple is headed for another drafty English manor house (okay: technically, it's a farm house, but a farm house with east and west wings).

    To paraphrase P. B. Shelley-- and Daisy's fond of paraphrasing and quoting poetry-- "If Daisy comes, can murder be far behind?"

    Actually, the school-days chum (okay: she's more of a bygone acquaintance) who issues the invite to Daisy to the Derbyshire estate admits a sinking suspicion that something's amiss at the place.

    Specifically, her employer-- who writes pulp Western fiction under a nom de plume-- seems to be too-long-suffering from a bout of pneumonia. The eldest son of a parsimonious, overbearing sheep farmer, he gladly gadded about the American West whilst his brother and sister tended to not-so-dear-old Dad, the sheep, the tenants, and various and sundry drudgeries.

    When

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  • New Key West-Set Mystery Proves Plenty Juicy


    "An Appetite for Murder" by Lucy Burdette
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    This new (paperback original) mystery series knows exactly where it's going, how to get there, and how to be most tasty in the process.

    The protagonist, Hayley Snow (named after 1960s icon Hayley Mills), has finally made the big break from her Mom's nest, only to find herself in a jam, more than one-thousand miles from home.

    However, Hayley fights every impulse to slink back to New Jersey from Key West, even though her short-lived, live-in romance has gone sour faster than a pitcher of cream in Death Valley.

    She is naive, as her crummy ex observes, but he has also used Hayley as a filler during his regular squeeze's fling with someone else. As soon as she's done flinging, he's slinging Hayley out of his deluxe waterfront condo.

    Still, she has cheap digs on a friend's houseboat, as well as another supportive buddy on the island.

    They constituted her mind's safety net when she relocated, and she bounces

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  • Grippando Hands Out a Solid New Thriller


    "Need You Now" by James Grippando
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Once uponzi time a very bad man made off with billions of dollars from unwitting investors, then market-crashed out of a fiftieth-floor window when he got caught.

    Thereafter, another bad guy down in Miami who had been recruiting high-end dupes for the investment scam was accosted in his Bentley while attempting escape, the Bentley becoming a bloodmobile in the process.

    Three year later, and some muckety-mucks and yucky-yucks are attempting to recover some of those billions, believed to have been funneled into offshore accounts.

    Where's the money?

    Who supplied it to the investor recruiter who took a bloodbath in his Bentley?

    Those emerge as the essential questions for which answers are sought by the interested parties in the wild goose-that-laid-the-golden-egg chase at the core of James Grippando's latest thriller.

    In order to play fair, too much more of the plot cannot be divulged, as revelations concerning the

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  • You're the Tops-- You're a Show with Merman


    "Ethel Merman" by Brian Kellow
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    "Curtain up! Light the lights!"

    What better way to ring out the old year and sing in the new, than with THE MERM!

    No brassier, brighter broad ever trod the boards of Broadway, and Brian Kellow builds a full-scale production of her life and times in this 2008 biography, now available in trade paperback from Viking.

    In a manner of speaking, Merman's career fell in her lap. Her talent apparent at an early age, all she needed was exposure-- with some singing engagements under her belt, she was able to land an agent and better-paying gigs, and by age 22 was auditioning for George Gershwin, bound for Broadway in George and brother Ira's "Girl Crazy," in which she introduced "I Got Rhythm."

    The year was 1930, and The Merm would remain the toast of the Great White Way through the 1970s, headlining in shows by Cole Porter ("Anything Goes," "DuBarry Was a Lady," "Panama Hattie") and Irving Berlin ("Annie Get Your Gun," "Call

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