A Deadly Act | Book Review


A Deadly Act begins with a famous Israel actress, permanently disabled by a car accident, revealing who murdered a colleague five years earlier. At least she thinks she knows. She doesn’t have proof, however—only circumstantial evidence and a woman’s intuition. So, she hires Adam Lapid to investigate a case that has gone long cold.

This book is the fifth installment in Jonathan Dunsky’s Adam Lapid mysteries. (I reviewed the previous installments here,here, here, and here.) All the books are set in Tel Aviv in the aftermath of Israel’s War of Independence (1947–1949). Lapid is a former Hungarian police officer, Auschwitz survivor, Nazi hunter, Israeli war hero, and now private detective.

Set in 1951, A Deadly Act is best characterized as hardboiled, featuring a brooding detective haunted by his past living in a city beset with difficulties on all sides: economic rationing, political squabbling, and ever-present worries about the Arabs. On top of that, a black marketer has taken a strong dislike to Lapid, threatening to harm him. Even the murder victim—a young actress is a well-regarded theater company—has a tragic backstory, her unsolved death only adding to the sense of tragedy that pervades the novel.

And yet, Lapid is the kind of detective who, once he’s pulled a thread, keeps pulling until the entire mystery has unraveled, exposing the murderer. My primary criterion for a mystery is whether it keeps me turning pages to find out what happens next. My secondary criterion is whether it stays within the boundaries of my wiling suspension of belief. A Deadly Act meets both criteria. It kept me reading, and it didn’t require credulity of me.

Toward the end of the novel, as the plot took yet another direction, I wondered for a moment whether the book story was too long. In the end, however, the revelation of the murderer made sense of the plot twists that had gone before. The book is dramatic. Fittingly, its denouement takes place on stage.

If you like the hardboiled feel of mid-twentieth-century American crime novels, I recommend Jonathan Dunsky’s Lapid mysteries. A Deadly Act is a nice addition to the series, and I look forward to the sixth novel. Don’t keep me waiting too long, Mr. Dunsky!

Book Reviewed
Jonathan Dunsky, A Deadly Act: An Adam Lapid Mystery (Self-published, 2020).

P.S. If you liked this review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Land of Wolves | Book Review


Craig Johnson’s fifteenth Walt Longmire novel, Land of Wolves, hit bookstores on September 17, 2019. I didn’t get around to reading it for seven months because, to be honest, I was no longer excited by the series. As I wrote in my review of Depth of Winter, “I’ll give Johnson one more novel in this series to recapture my interest, but at this point, absent a great follow-up novel to this one, I think it’s time for the sheriff to retire.”

I’m happy to report that Walt didn’t retire. With Land of Wolves, we’re back to what made the Longmire novels such page-turners in the first place. It all starts with a dead sheep, killed by a wolf. Or so it appears. But that dead sheep leads to a dead shepherd which leads to the revelation of an unspeakable crime. All this gets peeled back slowly, like taking layers off an onion one at a time.

In my review of Depth of Winter, I complained that Johnson had drawn caricatures rather than believable characters, had tested readers’ willing suspension of disbelief, and had transferred Longmire out of the mystery genre into the suspense genre, which didn’t suit him well. I don’t have those complaints about Land of Wolves.

It’s not a perfect novel. Walt still pulls off too many physical exploits for his age and physical condition. (Especially since he was so badly wounded in the previous novel.) But I’ll give Craig Johnson this: He’s recaptured my interest in the fate of the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming.

I look forward to the next Longmire mystery.

Book Reviewed
Craig Johnson, Land of Wolves (New York: Viking, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

The Night Fire | Book Review


The Night Fire is Michael Connelly’s third novel featuring LAPD detective Renée Ballard, and his second pairing Ballard with Harry Bosch. I like the pairing for many reasons. Ballard is a great character, as is Bosch. But Bosch is aging, so Connelly—who is my favorite murder mystery author—needs a new lead character. Thankfully, he’s got Ballard.

The novel begins with an arson-related death that Ballard is assigned on Hollywood Division’s “late shift.” It looks accidental, so she files a report and hands it off to day detectives. Bosch’s story begins when John Jack Thompson, his mentor as a young detective, dies and leaves him with a murder book that he had “stolen” from LAPD when he retired. The murder is a cold case from 1990. At the same time, Bosch helps his half-brother Mickey Haller question the guilt of an alleged a confessed murderer whom the police have dead to rights because of DNA, leaving open the question of who the “real killer” is. Ballard and Bosch co-work these cases, leading them into surprising discoveries…and danger.

The Night Fire is a slow burn. The danger part doesn’t really come in till the last 30 pages of the book. So, if you’re looking for explosive action, this isn’t your book. But as a police procedural—carefully following the evidence where it leads—this book kept me turning pages, which is my number-one criteria for whether I like a murder mystery.

Book Reviewed
Michael Connelly, The Night Fire: A Renee Ballard and Harry Bosch Novel (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2019).

P.S. If you like my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Nothing to Lose | Book Review


Nothing to Lose is the second book in Victoria Selman’s mystery series featuring Ziba MacKenzie, a freelance criminal profiler who consults with New Scotland Yard. (I reviewed the first book, Blood for Blood, here.) In it, Ziba investigates two crimes: the  recent serial murders of young Persian women who look remarkably like herself and the murder of her husband some two years earlier.

The story begins in the third person, with the Saturday interrogation of a suspect. It then moves backward in time three days to Wednesday, when the serial murders started. The plot develops rapidly, and the time frame of both investigations is approximately one month. After the opening chapter, however, Selman tells the story in Ziba’s first-person narrative voice, interspersed with occasional but increasingly frantic blog posts from a potential murder victim. These blog posts provide crucial data needed to understand the resolution of the serial murders case, so pay attention!

I enjoyed the book on the whole, though an editor really should’ve condensed its 143 short chapters into fewer but longer ones. It seems to me that the number of the chapters made the book “feel” longer than it actually is. The serial murders plot receives the lion share of attention and is the best developed of the two cases. It involves two hard plot twists. I had an inkling of the first twist about halfway through, but the second one caught me by surprise. So, good on the author!

The husband-murder plot was less successful, in my opinion. In murder mysteries, it’s not uncommon for the lead character to investigate several crimes at once. (Think of just about any Bosch novel, for example.) Here, however, the second investigation distracted me more than it enhanced my enjoyment of the novel. Given the criminal enormity in the background of Ziba’s husband’s murder—he was with Scotland Yard too—it might’ve been better had Selman made this crime the focus of an entire book, not a sideline to the main plot.

One other small criticism: In my review of Blood for Blood, I mentioned that it had an “ensemble of secondary characters that grow on you.” Unfortunately, with the exceptions of Ziba herself and Jack Wolfe, her late husband’s best mate and a potential love interest, none of the characters from the first novel reappear in the second, at least not beyond a mention on a page or two. That was disappointing to me, as I’d grown to like some of the secondary characters in Ziba’s circle of acquaintance.

So, just four stars from me, not five. While Nothing to Lose wasn’t as good as Blood for Blood, it was still an enjoyable read, and I look forward to Book Three.

Book Reviewed
Victoria Selman, Nothing to Lose (Seattle, WA: Thomas & Mercer, 2019).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Blood for Blood | Book Review


Ziba MacKenzie is a criminal profiler who consults with Scotland Yard. On her way to dinner one night, the train she’s riding collides with a derailed tanker car, killing more than a dozen and wounding several hundred. Though injured herself, Ziba comforts a dying woman who with her last breath whispers an enigmatic confession: “He did it.” Who did it? What did he do? And why? are the questions Ziba asks herself.

But these questions get pushed to the side as Scotland Yard requests her services to help them catch the London Lacerator, a serial killer who’s started murdering again after a two-decade hiatus. The catch? While she’s profiling him, it turns out he’s profiling her too. Now the question is: Who will get to the other first?

Eventually, both sets of questions collide in Blood for Blood, the first book in a new series featuring Ziba MacKenzie and penned by Victoria Selman. It’s a page-turner with a likable protagonist, a plot with several twists, and a backstory and ensemble of secondary characters that grow on you. As a devoted reader of Sue Grafton and Michael Connelly, I’m always on the lookout for a new murder mystery series, and this one fits the bill. I’m looking forward to Nothing to Lose, the second book in the series, which releases March 26, 2019.

Book Reviewed
Victoria Selman, Blood for Blood: Ziba MacKenzie Book One (Thomas & Mercer, 2019).

P.S. If my review helps you form an opinion of the book, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Dark Sacred Night | Book Review


Michael Connelly’s Dark Sacred Night picks up where his two previous novels, The Late Show and Two Kinds of Truth, left off. Renée Ballard continues to work the late shift for Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood Division. Harry Bosch continues to work cold cases for the San Fernando Police Department.

They meet by happenstance when Ballard finds Bosch snooping through Hollywood’s case files in search of information about the murder of Daisy Clayton, whose mother, Elizabeth, Bosch rescued at the end of Two Kinds of Truth. They strike a bargain and investigate the case together. Along the way, Ballard and Bosch investigate other cases on the side, but it’s the Daisy Clayton murder that drives the plot forward.

As per usual with Connelly’s novels, this one is a page-turner. I started reading it after dinner and finished it before I went to bed. It held my interest throughout. Even the side plots kept my interest. What I love about Connelly’s novels is the way he moves the plot forward by means of good detective work, rather than an investigator’s flashes of insight. You see Ballard and Bosch working the evidence, piecing the story together bit by bit. This approach keeps you hooked, because you want to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Additionally, I love the fact that unlike other serial novelists that I love to read—I’m looking at you, Lee Child and Craig Johnson—Michael Connelly is smart enough to realize that Bosch is getting older and simply can’t sustain the pace, the intensity, or the beatings he endured (or gave out) in previous novels. With this novel, Connelly seems to be moving his focus toward Ballard and transitioning Bosch into a lesser role. That’s great, as far as I’m concerned, both because Ballard is an intriguing character and because I still enjoy Bosch.

I’m not giving Dark Sacred Night a five-star review, however. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend reading it, but it’s not at the top of Connelly heap. I have two reasons for this: First, the side cases. One of the side cases is designed solely to introduce a character. Ballard’s side cases (an accidental death, an art theft, and a gruesome murder) are solved too perfunctorily. Bosch’s main side case is more interesting, but it’s difficult to tell whether how it ends is designed to set up a transition in Bosch’s life or to introduce a problem for a future novel. Second, a moment of intimacy between Bosch and another character seems way out of character for him. You’ll know what I mean when you read the novel.

Despite this, I’m happy with Dark Sacred Night, and I look forward to whatever Connelly cooks up next year. My guess is that Renée Ballard will play the leading role and Harry Bosch a supporting one. And that’s okay with me. They’re both great characters.

Book Reviewed
Michael Connelly, Dark Sacred Night: A Ballard and Bosch Novel (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon.com review page.

A Debt of Death | Book Review


A Debt of Death begins with Adam Lapid looking at his friend’s body in a Tel Aviv gutter. A friend who helped him survive Auschwitz. A friend whom he worries he might’ve gotten killed.

This is the fourth installment in Jonathan Dunsky’s series featuring Israeli private investigator Adam Lapid. Almost no one escapes suspicion in this hardboiled tale mixing love, obligation, hope, despair, counterfeiting, the black market, and murder. And just when you think Lapid has collared the perpetrator, he reveals a new layer to the mystery.

To my mind, this is the best of the Adam Lapid mysteries published so far, though all have been page-turners, which is my basic rule in reviewing fiction. It fully merits a five-star review. I only hope Jonathan Dunsky has more stories in the works. Having read through the first four books in the last two weeks, I’m already jonesing for another.

Book Reviewed
Jonathan Dunsky, A Debt of Death: An Adam Lapid Mystery (Charlotte, NC: CreateSpace, 2017).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

The Auschwitz Violinist | Book Review


When a man greets Adam Lapid on the streets of Tel Aviv, Lapid recognizes him as a fellow prisoner at Auschwitz named Yosef Kaplon. A few days later, Kaplon slits his wrists and a friend asks Lapid to figure out why. His investigation opens a window on Holocaust survivors, collaboration, and vengeance.

Before the 1961 Adolf Eichmann trial, many Israelis poorly understood the experience of European Jews who had survived the Shoah, and the survivors rarely spoke about their experiences.

Some Israelis—sabras, “natives”—felt that European Jews had been too weak and compliant in the face of oppression. The “new Zionist man” would show the world that Jews couldn’t be pushed around. Survivors felt differently, of course. There had been little they could do, and there were few Gentiles willing to help.

After the war, radicals began targeting Nazi officers and camp guards for assassination because the Allies were doing relatively little to bring the perpetrators of genocide to justice. This the background leading up to the Mossad’s capture of Eichmann in 1960. The radicals also took a dim view of European Jews whom they felt had collaborated with the enemy: the Judenrat(ghetto police), Kapos(concentration camp supervisors), even musicians forced to play in camp orchestras.

Dunsky uses this mix of survival, collaboration, and vengeance as the background to The Auschwitz Violinist, which is the third Adam Lapid novel. On the whole, he does a good job. I will note, however, that when Dunsky introduced a particular character in particular, I had a premonition he would turn out to be the bad guy. And I was right. I can’t say whether this was because I have read too many mysteries or because Dunsky telegraphed the ending unwittingly. Probably the former.

So, three stars for The Auschwitz Violinistfrom me, but it’s still a page-turner, and I look forward to the fourth novel in the series.

Book Reviewed
Jonathan Dunsky, The Auschwitz Violinist: An Adam Lapid Mystery(Charleston, NC: CreateSpace, 2016).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

The Dead Sister | Book Review


“I knew he was an Arab the moment I saw him.” With these words, Jonathan Dunsky opens The Dead Sister, the second in a series of mysteries featuring Adam Lapid. They are pregnant with meaning, given that the story takes place in Tel Aviv in October 1949.

On May 14, 1948, Israel had declared independence. The next day, five Arab nations declared war on Israel, vowing to fight with and on behalf of Palestinian Arabs in order to erase the Jewish state. A U.N.-sponsored armistice ended the war on March 10, 1949.

In the aftermath of the war, approximately 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were displaced from their homes, an event they memorialize to this day as the Nakba(“Disaster”). A slightly larger group of Jews were expelled from their ancestral homes in the Middle East, most of them settling in Israel. Tensions continued to run high between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews, many of whom had literally fought one another just months earlier.

So when Ahmed Jamalka asks Adam Lapid to solve the mystery of his sister’s murder, it’s not a foregone conclusion that Lapid will take the case. They had fought on opposite sides of the recent war, after all. But the case has languished in the hands of Tel Aviv police, who think the woman’s death is an honor killing. But larger forces are at work, and Lapid’s sense of justice drives him to follow the clues wherever they lead, whatever forces they offend.

And in the end, we discover, as Solzhenitsyn so famously put it: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts.” Arab andIsraeli.

Book Reviewed
Jonathan Dunsky, The Dead Sister: An Adam Lapid Mystery(Charleston, NC: CreateSpace, 2016).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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