BOOK BLITZ: The Deadliest Fever by June Trop

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A Miriam Bat Isaac Mystery in Ancient Alexandria
Historical Mystery
Date Published: April 2018
Publisher: Black Opal Books
 
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Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist and amateur sleuth in first-century CE Alexandria, is concerned when she learns that the threads of gold in the Great Synagogue’s Torah mantle have been damaged. She takes the mantle to Judah, a renowned jeweler and the unrequited love of her life. He repairs the threads and assures her that the stones in the mantle are still genuine. Like Miriam, he is astonished that someone would damage the threads but leave the gems behind.
Shortly before, the Jewish community of Alexandria welcomed their visiting sage and his family, who had just arrived from Ephesus on the Thalia. Also on the ship were the perpetrators of an audacious jewelry heist. And shortly after, the captain of the Thalia is found dead in a sleazy waterfront inn.
Can Miriam discover the connections among the jewel heist, the death of the sea captain, and the desecration of the Torah mantle before the deadliest fever claims its victim? Not without help from the bite of a rabid bat.
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Other Books in the Miriam bat Isaac Mysteries in Ancient Alexandria Mystery Series:
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The Deadliest Lie

A Miriam bat Isaac Mysteries in Ancient Alexandria, Book One
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Published: October 2013
She’s a brilliant alchemist-with a talent for solving mysteries.
Miriam bat Isaac is a budding scholar in first-century CE Alexandria, though her dreams seem doomed. Who in her household or among her father’s Shabbat guests stole the scrolls containing the Alchemical League’s valuable formulas? Perhaps the thief was even her frantic father, on the cusp of financial ruin, eager for Miriam to end her dalliance with a handsome jeweler and marry into an honorable and wealthy family. Or her rebellious brother, intent on raising money to travel to Capua so he can enroll in the Roman Empire’s most renowned gladiator school. Or her faint-hearted fiancé, who begrudges her preoccupation with alchemy and yearns for their forthcoming marriage?
And how did the thief manage to steal them? Miriam is not only faced with a baffling puzzle, but, to recover the scrolls, she must stalk the culprit through the sinister alleys of Alexandria’s claustrophobic underbelly. The Romans who keep a harsh watch over her Jewish community are trouble enough.
Miriam is based on the true personage of Maria Hebrea, the legendary founder of Western alchemy, who developed the concepts and apparatus alchemists and chemists would use for 1500 years.
June Trop (Zuckerman) has had over forty years of experience as an award-winning teacher and educator. Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she spends her time breathlessly following her intrepid protagonist, Miriam bat Isaac, who is back in the underbelly of Alexandria, once again searching for a murderer in The Deadliest Sport while worrying about her brother.
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The Deadliest Hate

A Miriam bat Isaac Mysteries in Ancient Alexandria, Book Two
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Published: October 2015
The Roman Empire may be the least of her enemies.
A secret alchemical recipe to transmute copper into gold surfaces in first-century CE Caesarea. As soon as Miriam sets out to trace the leak, Judean terrorists target her for assassination. Eluding the assassins while protecting a secret of her own, she discovers that she, herself, is responsible for the leak. Moreover she is powerless to stop its spread throughout the Empire and beyond.
But who is really trying to kill Miriam? Is it a case of mistaken identity, or is her late-fiancé’s ex-scribe, now an assistant to the Procurator of Judea, seeking to avenge an old grudge? Or is her heartthrob’s half-brother, a Judean patriot who inherited his mother’s mania, afraid Miriam knows too much?
And how did the recipe find its way from Alexandria to Caesarea anyway?
June Trop (Zuckerman) has had over forty years of experience as an award-winning teacher and educator. Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she spends her time breathlessly following her intrepid protagonist, Miriam bat Isaac, who is back in the underbelly of Alexandria, once again searching for a murderer in The Deadliest Sport while worrying about her brother.
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The Deadliest Sport

A Miriam bat Isaac Mysteries in Ancient Alexandria, Book Three

Publisher: Black Opal Books
Published: October 2017
Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist in first-century CE Alexandria, welcomes her twin brother Binyamin home to fight his last gladiatorial bout in Alexandria. But when he demands his share of the family money so he can build a school for gladiators in Alexandria, Miriam explains that he forsook his share when he took the gladiatorial oath. When she refuses to loan him the money for what she feels is a shady, and dangerous, enterprise, Binyamin becomes furious. Soon after, the will of Amram, Miriam’s elderly charge, turns up missing, Amram becomes seriously ill, and the clerk of the public records house is murdered. Could Binyamin really be behind this monstrous scheme? If not he, who could be responsible? And is Miriam slated to be the next victim?
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 Excerpt
May 1, Thursday, Almost Midnight:
He waited, listening to the darkness flow into the sanctuary. With the thick drapes blocking the flare of torches lining the Canopic Way, the only light scratching the air was the meager glow of the eternal flame, the ner tamid of Alexandria’s Great Synagogue.
The coolness of the night had already begun to assert itself. Just a little longer, he told himself as his fist closed around the open edges of his long black robe. A few minutes later, as his other hand pulled back the hood over his head, he emerged from his hiding place, his body taut, his legs tingling from having stood in place for so long.
Stretching his cramped muscles, he approached the front of the Torah Ark. His fingers trembled with excitement, his eyes shining with greed as he drew open the parokhet, the curtain that screened the Ark.
“Like a bride’s veil,” he said to himself, amused by the analogy.
With a self-congratulatory nod and a tight satisfied smile, he pulled open the ornate bronze doors and carried the Torah to the Reader’s Table. For a few moments, he gazed at the coveted prize adorning the Torah mantle, three peerless jewels, each set into the bowl of one of the three vessels embroidered in gold on the mantle.
He didn’t need much light. His eyes were already accustomed to the darkness, and his hands had performed this procedure many times before. Taking a few deep breaths to calm the twitch at the corner of his mouth, he removed a slim wooden box from the goatskin pouch attached to his belt, took out his tools, and lined them up on the table: his silver pick, plyers, tweezers, snips, and a double-handled vial of olive oil. Then he undressed the Torah and positioned the mantle so the jewels caught the narrow strip of light from the ner tamid.
Oh, Lord! Even in the thinnest light, they spew out their fire!
Half-frightened, worried that he’d uttered the words aloud, he released only a feather of breath.
But hearing no echo, his jaw softened.
He was safe.
Then, hunching over the table, balancing his forearms against the edge, he took hold of the pick and laid his hands on the mantle.
He tried to loosen the center stone, the emerald. The setting was tight. Very tight. He tried again, this time after placing a droplet of oil on each prong.
This is going to take a while.
He shifted his weight and continued.
The silence was absolute save for the occasional sputter of the ner tamid and the distant rumble of hooves on the Canopic Way’s granite pavement.
Until he heard loudening footfalls ringing out against the tessellated floor, waking the echoes in the corridor’s coffered ceiling.
A crease of light swept under the sanctuary’s ceiling-high, bejeweled double doors.
He froze and held his breath, as fear prickled down his spine, until the clicking heels receded into the silence. He blinked slowly and released an unbidden sigh. Just the watchman on his rounds. He won’t come in here. He locked the doors to the sanctuary and all the outside doors to the Synagogue hours ago and won’t open them again until dawn.
His fingers worked through the night. Despite the chill, rivulets of sweat trickled down his back and collected under his belt. He straightened up now and then, rolled his shoulders back, and cocked his head as he admired his work.
His mouth curved into a triumphant smile.
Beads of saliva clung to his lips.
By now a pearly grayness was seeping under the doors. He could see the darkness dissolving. Objects in the sanctuary were reclaiming their color and shape.
He mentally ticked off the remaining tasks: Dress the Torah. Put it back in the Ark. Tuck my prize and the tools into the box. Slide it back into my pouch. Slip out as soon as the watchman unlocks the doors but before what’s-his-name…Gershon, that’s it, Gershon ben Israel…comes in to check the sacred—
Oh, Lord, what on Earth is that squeaking sound? Surely not a bird.
A sharp-toothed, leathery-winged bat shot out of nowhere, swooped across the sanctuary, and, wheeling around the bemah, took a dive, and nipped the crown of the man’s head before disappearing with a shrill screech behind the Ark.
His thin howl—part gasp, scream, and strangled sob—tore through the sanctuary.
Then he heard a pair of boots smacking the tiles.
I gotta get out of here! Where’s the—
Dressing it quickly, he shoved the Torah into the Ark, throwing everything else into his pouch.
Except the vial.
The vial. Oops!
Oil everywhere.
Oh, Lord! Not now.
A hasty wipe with the sleeve of his robe.
The rising volume of hammering footsteps.
Now two sets—one close, the other farther away but catching up. Their volume swelled as they turned a corner.
Must be Gershon trailing the watchman.
The jangle of keys. The ping of the latch as the watchman unlocked the doors.
No place to hide. And, Lord, all this blood gushing from my head.
“No, Daniel, no!” Gershon shouted. “The other way. Hurry! The scream came from the library.”
About the Author

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June Trop and her twin sister Gail wrote their first story, “The Steam Shavel [sic],” when they were six years old growing up in rural New Jersey. They sold it to their brother Everett for two cents.
“I don’t remember how I spent my share,” June says. “You could buy a fistful of candy for a penny in those days, but ever since then, I wanted to be a writer.”
As an award-winning middle school science teacher, June used storytelling to capture her students’ imagination and interest in scientific concepts. Years later as a professor of teacher education, she focused her research on the practical knowledge teachers construct and communicate through storytelling. Her first book, From Lesson Plans to Power Struggles (Corwin Press, 2009), is based on the stories new teachers told about their first classroom experiences.
Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she devotes her time to writing The Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series. Her heroine is based on the personage of Maria Hebrea, the legendary founder of Western alchemy, who developed the concepts and apparatus alchemists and chemists would use for 1500 years.
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A Mint-Conditioned Corpse by Duncan MacMaster: I run out of superlatives and can’t stop talking about this Mystery that filled me with joy.

This is one of those times that I liked something so much that I just blathered on for a bit, and I’m not sure how much sense it made. The first and last paragraphs are coherent, I’m not really sure the rest is…

A Mint Condition CorpseA Mint Condition Corpse

by Duncan MacMaster
Series: Kirby Baxter, #1

Kindle Edition, 275 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2016
Read: July 27, 2018

Is this the best-writing I’ve encountered in a Detective Novel this year? Nope. Is this the most compelling, the tensest thrill-ride of a Mystery novel this year? Nope. Is this full of the darkest noir, the grittiest realism, the starkest exposure of humanity’s depths? Good gravy, no! This is however a joy to read; full of characters you’ll want to spend days with, that you’ll want to have over for Thanksgiving dinner just to lighten things up and distract you from Aunt Martha’s overcooked yams and dry turkey; a completely fun time that’s very likely most I’ve enjoyed a book in 2018. It is escapist. It is silly. It is clever.

Think Monk at it’s best. Psych at its least annoying. Castle at it’s most charming. Moonlighting season 1 — I’m going to stop now.

So Kirby Baxter is a comic book writer/artist who breathed new life into a stagnant character which led to the revitalizing of an entire comic book company (not quite as old as DC, nowhere near as successful as Marvel — and somehow hadn’t been bought out by either). He was unceremoniously fired just before he became incredibly well-off (and investments only improved that). Following his new wealth, a thing or two happened in Europe and he gained some notoriety there helping the police in a few countries. Now, he’s coming back to North America to attend OmniCon — a giant comic con in Toronto — returning to see a mentor rumored to attend and maybe stick his toe back in the industry that he loves.

While there we meet his colorist and friend, Mitch — a diminutive fellow, convinced he’s God’s gift to the ladies (most of whom hope he comes with a gift receipt), and just a riot to read about. Molly, a fan, former coworker and friend of Kirby’s who wears her heart on her sleeve (it’s not her fault if people don’t notice it). That needs to be better. Erica is many a dream-come-true — an impossibly good-looking model and would-be actress who is sincere and sweet. Her assistant Bruce is a pretty good guy, too. Her best friend and former mentor, Andi is almost as too-good-to-be-true, and married to a renowned DJ who is providing some of the entertainment at OmniCon. There’s comic dealers, a film director, a crazy actress, Kirby’s former boss, and so many other colorful characters that my notes include a joke about a cast the size of Game of Thrones.

And then there’s Gustav. Words I don’t know how to describe Gustav. Imagine having Batman as your Jeeves. He’s a valet/driver/bodyguard that Kirby picked up in Europe, combining the cool and lethal factor of Spenser’s Hawk, Plum’s Ranger and Elvis’ Pike (except he makes Pike seem chatty). I’d include Wolfe’s Saul Panzer, but Saul isn’t the lethal type that the rest are — but Gustav has the effortless magic about him that makes Saul a winner. If the rest of the book was “meh” and Gustav was still in it? I’d tell you to read the book.

At some point, a corpse shows up — and like the comic book world’s answer to Jessica Fletcher, Kirby identifies the death as a murder — not the accident it appears to be to many. For various and sundry reasons — starting with him being correct, and continuing on to the incidents in Europe — Kirby is roped into helping the police with the investigation. Also, like Fletcher, he’s uniquely gifted to help the police in these circumstances. He’s smart, he has a eidetic memory, can catch a tell or a microexpression like nobody’s business. You throw him into a consulting role with the police, with his friends along for the ride and I’m telling you, you’ve got the most entertaining mystery novel I’ve read this year.

This book’s look at comic conventions reminded me of A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl. But where this one is played for laughs, Proehl was serious — but both show an appreciation for, an affection for the culture that surrounds the cons and the people involved. After reading this, I was ready to buy tickets for the OmniCon.

It’s a funny, fast, romp — a very contemporary take on a Golden Age-mystery. Lots of twists and turns, more crimes than you think are happening and more villains than you can shake a stick at. I thought (and still do) that Duncan MacMaster’s Hack showed that he was an author to keep an eye on — this is better.

A Mint-Conditioned Corpse hit the sweet spot for me — a convergence of so many of my likes told with just the right tone (another one of my likes), while maintaining a pretty decent whodunit at the core. I probably smiled for the entire time I spent reading it — well, at least the last 90% once I started to get a feel for things — at 8% I made a note about Kirby “I’m really going to like him,” and a few paragraphs later, I wrote “I already really like him” about Mitch. And I was right about Kirby, and kept liking Mitch — the rest of the characters are about as good as them, and the story is as good as the people in it are. Is everyone going to enjoy this one as much as me? Nope. But I can’t imagine someone not having a ball reading this. Probably the 5-Star-est 5-Stars I’ve given this year.

—–

5 Stars

Death and Taxes by Mark David Zaslove: The most rootin’ tootin’ shoot ’em up about accountants you’ve ever seen

Death and TaxesDeath and Taxes

by Mark David Zaslove
Series: Tales of a Badass IRS Agent, #1

ARC, 219 pg.
Aperient Press, 2018

Read: August 13 – 14, 2018
I’m not sure I can go this book justice with a hand-crafted synopsis, I’ll just copy and paste from Zaslove’s site:

           Death and Taxes follows Mark Douglas, an ex-Marine turned IRS agent, who, along with auditing the weird and the profane, also spearheads weekend raids with his locked-and-loaded gang of government-sanctioned revenuers, merrily gathering back taxes in the form of cash, money order, or more often than not, the debtor’s most prized possessions.

Things turn ugly when Mark’s much-loved boss and dear friend Lila is tortured and killed over what she finds in a routine set of 1040 forms. Mark follows a trail dotted with plutonium-enriched cows, a Saudi sheik with jewel-encrusted body parts, a doddering, drug sniffing, gun-swallowing dog named The Cabbage, a self-righteous magician with a flair for safecracking, a billionaire Texan with a fetish for spicy barbecue sauce and even spicier women, and an FBI field agent whose nickname is “Tightass.” All of which lead to more and bloodier murders – and more danger for Mark.

Enlisting his IRS pals – Harry Salt, a 30-year vet with a quantum physical ability to drink more than humanly possible; Wooly Bob, who’s egg-bald on top with shaved eyebrows to match; Miguel, an inexperienced newbie with a company-issued bullhorn and a penchant for getting kicked in the jumblies – Mark hunts down the eunuch hit man Juju Klondike and the deadly Mongolian mob that hired him as only an angry IRS agent can. There will be no refunds for any of them when April 15th comes around. There will only be Death and Taxes.

This is hyper-violent (not that filled with blood and guts, really — there is some), a lot of guns, bombs, more guns. Sometimes played for comedic effect, sometimes it’s the good guys vs. the bad guys. Sometimes, it’s a little of both. It never got to the overkill point for me, probably because this felt more like a cartoon than a “realistic” thriller.* What was overkill for me was the hypersexualization of every woman under the age of sixty. I didn’t need to hear that much about every woman’s physical appearance — there are more gorgeous women with perfect (sometimes surgically enhanced) bodies in this guy’s life than an episode of Miami Vice.

But man, is this funny. There are sections — sometimes a sentence or two, sometimes several paragraphs long — that are the literary equivalent of a shot of espresso, they are so taught with action, cultural references, and humor that you just revel in them. This reminds me a lot of the John Lago Thrillers by Shane Kuhn — I think Kuhn shows more discipline in his plots and characters, but on the whole, these two are cut from the same cloth. The same energy, a similar style, similar sense of humor — and frankly, that stuff is catnip to me. I think the plot got a little convoluted, a little confusing — but it was worth working through.

Am I planning on reading Tales of a Badass IRS Agent, #2? Yeah, I will be keeping an eye out for it. This is a heckuva romp, and will entertain anyone who gives it a shot.

* Really, what thriller is realistic?

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion, which you see above.

—–

3 Stars

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: Fine’s a good word for this novel about a lonely woman.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

by Gail Honeyman

Paperback,352 pg.
Penguin Books, 2018
Read: July 31, 2018

I steeled myself as best I could, and, with teeth gritted, using only one finger I typed:

C U there E.

I sat back, feeling a bit queasy. Illiterate communication was quicker, that was true, but not by much. I’d saved myself the trouble of typing four whole characters. Still, it was part of my new credo, trying new things. I’d tried it, and I very definitely did not like it. LOL could go and take a running jump. I wasn’t made for illiteracy; it simply didn’t come naturally. Although it’s good to try new things and to keep an open mind, it’s also extremely important to stay true to who you really are. I read that in a magazine at the hairdressers.

I went into this expecting the next Where’d You Go, Bernadette — it’s “quirky,” “wacky” “hilarious” “warm and funny” “warm and uplifting”, Honeyman is the next Fredrik Backman, etc. I did not find it. I’m not sure I laughed at anything — I might have smiled at something sweet, but nothing more amusing than the above quotation. Do I think I’d have liked it more if it had been funny? Probably not. I probably wouldn’t have read it, however, if I hadn’t thought it was. This is not a bad thing, not every book has to be funny. I’m just saying I went in expecting a chuckle, a wry smile, something amusing and didn’t get that.

Instead I got a sad, but ultimately nice story about a poor, lonely, shy and socially awkward woman dealing with her personal (and repressed) demons the best she could — which really wasn’t all that well. I didn’t find her amusing, I pitied her. I felt bad for her. I got annoyed when people made fun of her. And I wanted her to figure her life out so she could be an amusing character.

Eleanor is 30, has been doing the same job as a finance clerk for a graphic design firm since she got out of university — she goes to work, talks to her “mummy” Wednesday evenings, gets a frozen pizza, some wine on Fridays and knocks off two bottles of vodka each weekend (spread throughout Saturday and Sunday so that she’s “neither drunk nor sober”), then repeats the cycle. it’s not much but it’s her life and she’s fine with that.

Her life goes in that way with very little variance for about a decade, until she’s befriended by an IT worker, Raymond, in her company. Through him, and other accidents, she meets people. She also does things like get a smartphone, go online for things non-work related, and sorta cyber-stalks a musician. Shortly before meeting Raymond, she’d attended a concert of some local bands (won tickets in a drawing at work) and became infatuated-at-first-sight with a singer — in the way that a thirteen year-old girl does when encountering NKOTB/’NSync/One Direction/insert your time-appropriate band. Eleanor’s childhood was such that she delayed this stage until now. On the one hand, I thought this was a great instigation for Eleanor’s life to change, but man, I kept cringing every time the story came back to it.

Minor, very minor, spoilers: Her social life is the best it’s ever been, things are picking up at work, but there’s this delayed adolescence thing lurking — all the while she’s having problems with mummy. Things go horribly, horribly, horribly awry — but then there’s a chance for her to put her life together again, and maybe discover what went wrong in her very bad childhood, so that she can have a better adulthood.

The characters are well-drawn, well-executed, and pretty realistic. The situations — all of them — ring true. Honeyman can write really well. I thought the story moved well, and the reveals, the twists, the heart-warming moments (and the tragic ones) were all spot-on. I just didn’t enjoy the book that much, it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great. It, like the title character, was completely fine.

Your mileage may vary — and judging by reviews (professional and otherwise), sales, and attention this book is getting, there’s a great chance you’ll think I’m out to lunch on this. I may be.

—–

3 Stars

See You Soon, Afton by Brent Jones: A Gripping and Eventful Follow-Up

See You Soon, AftonSee You Soon, Afton

by Brent Jones
Series: Afton Morrison, Book 2

Kindle Edition, 102 pg.
2018

Read: August 13, 2018

Argh. I don’t know how to talk about this — it’s so much the second quarter of a story that I’m not sure what to say. Still, I feel compelled to try.

This picks up right after the events of Go Home, Afton and continues the story. It’s almost as good — probably about as good, but since we know this world a bit now, there’s not as much of the joy of discovery. That’s the only negative to getting the story told in novella-length chunks instead of one big book, this part isn’t the next good part of the whole. Still, that’s part of the fun of this kind of story-telling, too.

I’m not crazy about developments and the reveal in the last few chapters, but I’m not sure I get all that Jones is trying to accomplish. I’m prepared to change my mind about it. Even if he doesn’t convince me that this is the right way to go, I can still see myself enjoying the story as a whole.

There’s a crispness, a rawness to the writing that I really appreciate. I’m really enjoying the characters of Afton, her brother and the social circle that she’s found herself with (for lack of a better term), and am looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Basically, I liked this. You should read the first book in the series, and this one, too.

—–

3 Stars

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz: A Woman on the Run from the Law, Her Past and her Present

The PassengerThe Passenger

by Lisa Lutz

Paperbacks, 302 pg.
Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2016

Read: July 28, 2018

I tried to look calm and collected as I gathered my things under Ruth’s watch, but I could feel this all-over shiver, a constant vibration of nerves that I had a hard time believing no one else could see.

“You in some kid of trouble?” Ruth asked.

“No trouble, I said. “I just found a place to stay, long-term.”

“Don’t fool yourself,” she said. “It’s all temporary.”

Tanya Dubois’ husband died in a stupid household accident. She wasn’t heartbroken by this, but she wasn’t pleased about it. Especially once she realized that while it was an accident, it was one that would at least get the police to take a good look at her while they were deciding that. So she tried to cover things up, only to realize very quickly that she couldn’t, and that be starting to try, she’d made things look less like an accident. So the police would look even harder at her than they would’ve before. This would be a real problem for her because, technically speaking, Tanya Dubois’ doesn’t actually exist. So she grabs her dead husband’s truck and as much cash as she can get (hitting up a few ATM’s while she’s at it to get more) and splits.

She trades in the truck for something else, trades in her (dyed) blonde hair for something shorter and brown, a wardrobe change and became a new person — she says “I looked like so many women you’ve seen before I doubt you could’ve picked me out of a lineup.” Which is a pretty telling way of talking. She’s also able to make a phone call and demand a new name, new identification and some cash. By the time she arrives in Austin, she’s Amelia Keen.

Amelia meets a bartender named Blue, who sees through her right away, but isn’t going to try to turn her in or anything. Mostly, she wants to know where she got such a great passport. Not that either woman tells the other what brought them to the name and place they’re at, but they know that something similar as brought them to this point. Neither trusts the other, but in one way or another, to one extent or another, they need each other. At least for a little while — maybe longer.

At some point, for reasons you should discover for yourself, she leaves Austin and heads west. Then she has to leave that one behind and head elsewhere — eventually, she covers a pretty decent amount of ground, and involves herself in some pretty interesting situations — becoming both a hero and a villain on multiple occasions. All the time proving what Ruth said above, “It’s all temporary.” Well, except one thing — the past. That’s forever, as Tanya/Amelia/etc. learns.

Scattered throughout the book are emails between a Ryan and a Jo — starting years before the Tanya’s husband’s tragic fall, but eventually catching up to the present time. These provide us with a good idea of the life that was left behind by the woman who lived as Tanya and Amelia and so many others all without coming out and telling us that led to her leaving.

Something about Blue made me think of Alice Morgan from the first series/season of Luther (yes, I know she’s in more than that, but keep that vision of her in your mind) — and that image stuck, I don’t care what Lutz said she looked like or sounded like — I heard and saw an American version of Alice when Blue was around. Not the murder her own parents vibe — but the charming, dangerous, potentially duplicitous and erratic, while friendly and helpful vibe. (wow. Could I have qualified that comparison more? Probably, but I’ll hold back)

I never had a good handle on Tanya/Amelia/etc., primarily because I don’t think she did either. We (the readers, and I think she herself) got close to something real with Debra Maze — but she had to abandon that one quickly (too quickly, I liked that existence for her, as doomed as she and the readers knew it was).

There are plenty of other great characters, great moments through the book — some horrifying, some tense, some . . . I don’t know what to say. There’s a Sheriff from Wyoming — he’s not Walt Longmire, but they’d probably get along just fine — who is probably my favorite non-Tanya/etc. character in the book. We don’t get enough of him, but I’m not sure that more of him wouldn’t have hurt the story overall. There’s another bartender who is nothing like Blue, and probably one of the better people we meet in The Passenger, some depraved folks as well — one family that you cannot help but feel horrible for.

There’s a good number of twists along the way, a reveal or two that are really well executed — one I didn’t see coming (not only didn’t see coming, I didn’t even consider as an option). In general some pretty good writing and story telling.

I’ve been trying to get to this for years — and every time I get close (close = it’s one or two down on my list), I have one of those “Squirrel!” moments, and forget all about it. Well, I finally got to it — and was honestly underwhelmed, maybe it was the mental build-up. It didn’t have the Lutz humor, that’s for sure — even How to Start a Fire had some good chuckles. But that’s okay, she doesn’t have to be funny to be good (see the non-funny moments in How to Start a Fire). I also think Karen E. Olson’s Black Hat series handles the woman running from her identity and past better (at least in a way that captures the tension and the fear better). Which is not to say, at all, that this is a bad book — it’s not. It’s also not as good as I think Lutz is capable of.

Oh, and the story behind Tanya/etc.’s tattoo? I loved it. Should probably give the book another half-star just for it.

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3.5 Stars

Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart: Deputy Kopp faces her biggest challenges yet — a new Sheriff and an Uncertain Future

Miss Kopp Just Won't QuitMiss Kopp Just Won’t Quit

by Amy Stewart
Series: The Kopp Sisters, #4

eARC, 320pg.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018
Read: August 8 – 9, 2018

So it’s been roughly a year for Constance Kopp working as the ladies’ matron for the Bergon County Jail. In that time she has investigated crimes, tracked down murderers, sought justice for women of all walks of life, and put her life on the line more than a few times. She’s gained nationwide notoriety, and caused more than a few scandals at home. About now, some of those scandals are coming back and are in the forefront of local elections.

Because of New Jersey law, Sheriff Heath, Constance’s boss and chief defender, cannot run for another term of office without taking one off — so no matter what, after Election Day, Constance will have a new boss. Heath’s former Sheriff is running for the position again, and is the expected winner. He finds the idea of a female deputy silly, and while he won’t take Constance seriously, he’ll probably leave her alone. His opponent is a current detective in the Prosecutor’s office who has been opposing Constance’s position and person since Day 1, he’s essentially running a campaign against Heath (even if Heath isn’t the opponent), and Constance is the easiest way to do that. Clearly, the future isn’t bright for Deputy Kopp.

While this is going on, Constance makes a couple more headlines — she runs down a burglar single-handedly, she jumps into a river to apprehend a potential escapee under their custody when another deputy is injured. Constance has to take a woman to an insane asylum, after her husband and doctor get a judge to commit her for a while. This isn’t the first time this has happened to the woman, and it seems clear to Constance that this woman is as sane as anyone. So Constance attempts to find out what’s behind this commitment so she can free this woman. She’s very aware of the trouble that this could cause for herself and for Sheriff Heath, she tries to do this under the radar. Under the radar isn’t something that comes naturally to her, and her results aren’t stellar (but better than one would expect).

The story was a bit flat, honestly. A lot of things seemed to be foregone conclusions (not necessarily the way that various characters saw them working, either). The one case that she really gets herself into is really pretty tidy and doesn’t take a lot of effort — although she does take plenty of risks. So really, the novel isn’t about Constance sinking her teeth into a case, into helping a woman through some sort of problem, or any of the usual things. This is primarily about Constance worrying that she’ll do something to jeopardize Sheriff Heath’s Congressional campaign by giving his opponents something to harp on, while contemplating her future in the jail under the upcoming term of office for either candidate. Which is fine, really — it’s just not what I’ve come to expect from these books — I expected the case of the poor committed woman to take the bulk of the attention, so the problem is my own. But it comes from being conditioned by the previous books.

Constance’s sisters have a background role in this book — Fleurette in particular, she’s around frequently, but she plays a very small role. I appreciate that she seemed to have her head on straight and wasn’t the cause for trouble (inadvertently or purposely). Norma seemed to primarily be a conduit for comic relief in this novel. But it never feels right to laugh at her, she’s the most practical, she’s the only realist in the family — it’s her blood, sweat and tears that’s kept the family going. On the other hand, her obsessive nature does lead her into some strange preoccupations.

This is not to say it’s a bad book — Stewart is probably incapable of writing a bad book. Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit feels very different than the others in the series (although, really, each has felt different than the others), and it left me feeling dissatisfied. Still, it was an entertaining and compelling read. The ending is likely the best the series has had thus far — we just have to go through some meandering passages, and some dark times for our favorite Deputy before we get to it. I don’t know what comes next for Constance Kopp (I’m deliberately not consulting anything to tell me, either) — but it’s going to be very interesting to see what Stewart does next.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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3.5 Stars