Love, Murder & Mayhem by Russ Colchamiro, ed.

Love, Murder & MayhemLove, Murder & Mayhem

by Russ Colchamiro, editor

eARC, 385 pg.
Crazy 8 Press, 2017

Read: June 20 – 21, 2017


This is the strongest collection of stories that I can remember reading in the last few years — 15 stories and only 1 that didn’t work for me (it was fine, I just didn’t think it took advantage of the SF setting). I really would like to post a few paragraphs about each story — but wow, that’s too much to write and/or read. Especially when you can just go buy the book and read them instead. Each of these stories, all some sort of Science Fiction — some space opera-ish, some hard SF, some goofy, some super-hero based — involve the three things mentioned in the title: love, murder and mayhem (all of which can be interestingly defined, but they’re there). Despite knowing this about them, I wasn’t expecting some of the stories to take the turns they did — especially the murder part, which frequently showed up when I wasn’t expecting it (or at the hands of someone I didn’t expect). Check out the Spotlight post I did earlier today for more details.

So let’s focus on a couple of the standouts.

  • A Goon’s Tale by Kelly Meding
    It was clear from the early pages of her MetaWars series that Meding knows how to write super-heroes. This story about the insurance agents that have to clean up after them, as well as Super Villains (and their goons). Nice twists and development of the characters.
  • The Responders by Michael Jan Friedman
    So, what happens when a super-hero team breaks up? What if there’s a Yoko figure who may be at the root of it? I don’t know how many Star Trek novels by Friedman I read back in the 90’s (apparently, it was 2 — he only has 2 listed on his website, I thought the number was higher), it was nice to see that he still has that touch.
  • The Note on the Blue Screen by Mary Fan
    I think it was this story that really clued me into the fact that this book was going to be good all the way through — a story about an android that solves mysteries, has a close connection to a human and pays tribute to A. Conan Doyle’s most famous creation worked better than I thought it would as I started it (or than it sounds as I describe it). I would absolutely read more stories about Sherlock.
  • As Time Goes By by Patrick Thomas This Mortal Coil by Peter David , Kathleen David , and Sean O’Shea
    Simply put, there’s nothing that Peter David can’t write, and his co-authors here do a good job honing that. The super-rich and super-responsible are able to get people to sleep and dream for them to maintains high levels of productivity. Great concept and then building on that by asking, what happens when the person you dream for dreams about a murder?
  • DuckBob: Killer Service by Aaron Rosenberg
    What happens when a souped-up version of Alexa gets absolute power. It’s funny, as well as fun and thought-provoking.
  • I left off my favorite from this list, because I don’t think I could keep things to just a couple of sentences. But all of these stories (well, 14 of 15) have a great hook, some great characterizations and an ending you wouldn’t be able to guess right away. Not a stinker in the batch — I expect that many readers wouldn’t agree with my disappointment with one of the stories, so I’ll go ahead and make that bold claim.

    I frequently lament the length of short stories — not any of these, they are full stories, with well=established characters and worlds — I don’t need any more of them. I wouldn’t mind revisiting some of these characters in similar stories or full novels, but I didn’t object once to the length or depth. Just a really strong anthology.

    Go read this.

    Disclaimer – I received a copy of this book as part of my participation in the Book Tour.

    —–

    3.5 Stars

    The Data Disruption by Michael R. Underwood

    The Data DisruptionThe Data Disruption

    by Michael R. Underwood
    Series: Genrenauts, #0

    Kindle Edition, 68 pg.
    2017

    Read: May 27, 2017


    It’ll come to no surprise to any of my longer-term readers that I liked this — it’s pretty established that I’m a Genrenauts fan. I dig the characters, the world(s), the type of stories Underwood’s telling — the whole kit and caboodle. This story is no exception — I liked it. This takes place just before Leah is recruited, so the team is functioning very smoothly — no growing pains needed — just King, Shireen and Roman doing their thing like seasoned pros.

    It’s a pretty straight-forward, classic cyberpunk story (yeah, I’m old enough that cyberpunk can be called “classic”) — notorious hacker, D-Source, has gone missing. Which is causing all sorts of problems for the rest of his crew, and (by extension) all of Cyberpunk world as well as ours. So King and his team (minus Mallery, off in Western world) head out to save the day. They’ve worked with D-Source in the past and therefore have an easier time getting an “in” to the story in-progress. What results is a solid heist story with all the cyberpunk bells and whistles.

    Underwood has been modeling this series after TV shows, and wrote this as a “lost pilot” to “serve as an introduction to the series, which I’ll use to invite more people into the worlds of Genrenauts.” Here’s my problem with that — no one watches a lost pilot until the show’s been around for a while, and usually only fans see it. No one sits down to watch “The Cage” (or the two-part version, “The Menagerie”) as an introduction to Star Trek, and for good reason. Similarly, Leah Tang is our point-of-entry character, and to remove her from the equation takes something away from the overall story. Also, there’s something that’s slowly revealed over the course of the first few books that’s just blatantly stated. I just think that works better the way that Underwood originally wrote it.

    Still, Underwood knows what he’s doing, and if he thinks this will work to bring in new readers, I hope he’s right.

    Putting that aside, I’m supposed to be talking about the story, not Underwood’s plans. The story worked really well. It was a little too short for me — but it’s supposed to be short, so I shouldn’t complain. Besides, I almost always complain about short story length — even I’m tired of that. While the story was told in its fullness, I just would’ve liked to see everything fleshed out a little more — also, I wouldn’t mind spending more time with my friends. Fast, fun, with good action — celebrating what makes a cyberpunk story work — and winking at the genre at the same time.

    Still, any time with the ‘Nauts works for me. Good story, decent intro to this series that I can’t stop recommending — and a great price (free). Still, reading this after the sixth book would be my recommendation after starting with The Shootout Solution.

    —–

    3.5 Stars

    The End of Magic by Amber Benson

    The End of MagicThe End of Magic

    by Amber Benson
    Series: The Witches of Echo Park, #3

    Paperback, 310 pg.
    Ace Books, 2017

    Read: May 18 – 19, 2017


    I don’t know how to talk about this book without discussing the series as a whole or getting into plot details that no one wants me to, really. But I’ll try.

    The Last Dream Keeper left things in a very dark place — even for the middle installment in a trilogy. So it was with a little trepidation that I started this — just how much darker were things going to get? Thankfully, not much. Which is not to say that the book took on a euphoric or optimistic feel, but there were glimmers of hope within the darkness. Some small moments of victory in the face of loss before the main action of this particular novel took off.

    The Flood is gaining momentum — the anti-magic movement is getting governments around the world to turn on witches, to start interring them (at best). While running for their lives and liberty, someone they have to unite to take a final stand. Lyse MacAllister, herself still new to magic, takes up the challenge to lead her sisters against the Flood.

    When talking about book 2, I said: “And when I say that the plot takes this book in dramatically different directions than you expect, it is almost impossible to believe that the closing pages of this book and the closing pages of The Witches of Echo Park belong to the same series — much less are separated by only one novel. Somehow, however, Benson pulls it off — I really have no idea how. When I think about it, it doesn’t make any sense — but in the moment, it absolutely worked.” That’s even truer for the difference between Book 1 and 3. It’s impossible to guess your way through this plot — but it’s all real, it all flows organically.

    I (and many others, I realize, I don’t claim to be original) have often said it’s all about execution. There are plots that when described, I’d say I wouldn’t like that I have — and vice versa. If you gave me either the series outline or the book outline — I’d have said, “Nope, not for me.” But Benson pulls it off in a way that I: 1. enjoyed reading and 2. appreciate. I don’t know how to talk about the plot anymore than that.

    These characters all seemed real — all of them (even the pair that really didn’t exist in our world) felt like people you could go meet in real life. Well, maybe not the people in The Flood, let’s be honest. But everyone else absolutely did. Which is a real strength in a book that got as outlandish as this one.

    I’ve read all of Benson’s books (at least her solo books) now — and it’s great to see her develop into the writer of this book. Nothing against Death’s Daughter or the rest of that series, but the depth of character and craft in this series is beyond that. Yeah, I maybe didn’t like everything she did with these characters or the books, but I liked the way she went about it.

    I’m throwing in the towel here, I just don’t know how to talk about this book — strong characters (in every sense of the phrase), honest emotions, a bananas plot, and an ending you won’t see coming until it’s too late jump out of the way. Heroism, (not just romantic) love, magic, family — this series has it all. Give it a try.

    —–

    3.5 Stars

    The Astonishing Mistakes of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone

    The Astonishing Mistakes of Dahlia MossThe Astonishing Mistakes of Dahlia Moss

    by Max Wirestone
    Series: Dahlia Moss, #1

    Paperback, 312 pg.
    Redhook, 2017

    Read: May 16 / 17, 2017

    “She’s just trouble. Dahlia Moss is a nexus of trouble.”

    Det. Maddocks meant that as a disparaging remark — but he’s pretty much on target. Which is good news for Wirestone’s readers.

    Dahlia is asked to meet someone at a video game tournament, he’s convinced it’d be good to have a detective on hand. Her mysterious client, Doctor XXX, doesn’t show where he’s supposed to — but there is a dead body there.

    So, while not getting in the police’s way, Dahlia needs to investigate the murder, find out just who Doctor XXX is, why he thought a detective would be needed at the tournament — not to mention, just who’s the guy in his underwear handcuffed to a chair nearby?

    Concerned for her welfare, Dahlia’s roommate, Charice sends her boyfriend Daniel along to act as a bodyguard — for some reason, people in her life aren’t crazy about Dahlia going to meet a stranger named Doctor XXX. I enjoy Charice, but a little of her goes a long way, and one of the biggest issues I had with the previous book was that Charice was just in it too much — having Daniel stand in for her for most of the book helped a lot. Daniel’s goofy enough on his own, but he’s much more restrained than this girlfriend. So the whole thing was easier to take. Det. Shuler wasn’t around much, and mostly served as someone for Dahlia to get occasional help from. Hopefully, he has a bigger role next time. Of course, we also have Nathan, Dhalia’s love interest:

    A word about shirtless Nathan. I have a real thing for Nathan-I admit it-but this is not a Janet Evanovich-y romp here where Rick ManSlab takes off his shirt to reveal a sixpack, or an eight-pack, or a seven-pack (which is a six-pack and an abdominal hernia, possibly?), or whatever packs guys have these days. Shirtless Nathan looks like a turtle who has somehow gotten out of its shell. He has no body mass! No fat, which is admittedly appealing, but no anything else. He was a brazen little turtle, though, because he seemed cheered by the turn of events.

    Dahlia herself is a blast — a great mix of confidence, cowardice, competence, and cluelessness — she’s over her head in a lot of the situations she finds herself in — but doesn’t let that stop her — she just barrels on, sure that things will work out . . . eventually. I love her voice, her attitude — and ineptitude. Really, all of her. She’s probably my favorite female detective since Izzy Spellman.

    I know, thanks to that blurb/review of The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss , everyone talks about Veronica Mars in relation to Dahlia — but the more I think of it, the quotation above is closer to the truth — she’s Stephanie Plum with more realistic anatomy. The same heart, a similar humor, the same good intentions and haphazard results, with some loony friends (not as extreme as Stephanie’s) and a similar budding triangle.

    In the midst of the investigations, Wirestone is able to celebrate the videogame culture and those who are part of it while being able to joke about it and have fun with some of the eccentricities around it. Not just laughing at, but with these characters and their hobbies is a great way to appeal to both those inside geek culture and without. More than that, we have a pretty decent mystery — one that’s not just clever in construction, but in the way it is told.

    This is such an enjoyable read — I didn’t make it out of the first chapter without audibly chuckling. I had a lot of fun with the first book, and I think this was a noticeable improvement — I had more fun reading it. I hope this trend continues to the next book. Also, I’m hoping this isn’t a trilogy — I don’t know that we need 20+ Dahlia Moss mysteries, but three isn’t going to be enough.

    —–

    3.5 Stars
    2017 Library Love Challenge

    The Question of the Absentee Father by E. J. Copperman, Jeff Cohen

    The Question of the Absentee FatherThe Question of the Absentee Father

    by E.J. Copperman, Jeff Cohen
    Series: Asperger’s Mysteries, #4

    eARC, 288 pg.
    Midnight Ink, 2017

    Read: May 19 – 22, 2017


    So after reading #3 in this series, The Question of the Felonious Friend last year, I was going to read the first two before the next one came out but you know what they say about the The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men, right? Gang aft agley . . . So, here it is, a few months later and the next book is out. Picking up soon after the last ended — this time the case is a bit more personal. Not case, of course, Samuel isn’t a detective, he answers questions. To be accurate (as Samuel would want), this time the question is a bit more personal. Not that Samuel cares about it, but people in his life do.

    (actually, I technically can still read the first two before the book comes out — I’ve got a few months, now that I think about it)

    I should back up a bit, for those who didn’t read what I thought of book 3 (I’ll get over the slight) — Samuel Hoenig isn’t your typical mystery protagonist. He runs a business called Questions Answered — basically, he researches things for you. A human Boolean Search. From the looks of it, this occasionally results in him playing amateur detective. As is indicated by the name of the series, Samuel finds himself on one end of the Autism Spectrum, which helps him focus on his questions, but leads to challenges on the interpersonal level.

    Which is where is mother and his associate, Ms. Washburn, come in to play — Ms. Washburn helps him through the challenges presented by the world around him (as well as helping research his answers). His mother is . . . well, his mother — she still cooks for him, , still cares for him, pushes him to do new things, while providing a safe environment at home. He has a friend, Mike (no known last name), a taxi driver with some military experience that he relies on when things get sticky. And things get pretty sticky this time around.

    Samuel’s father left home when Samuel was a kid, he always assumed it was because he was such a difficult child. He never let this define him — or affect him at all (as far as he’s aware). But now, his mother receives a letter from him, and it distresses her. So she asks Samuel the question that she’s probably been wanting to ask for a while, “Where is your father living now?” The question is not emotionally wrought for Samuel, but he can tell it is for his mother (and Ms. Washburn keeps trying to make it into something that matters to Samuel).

    What Samuel does get emotional about is what this question makes him do — leave home. Get on an airplane, travel to California, sleep on a strangers bed, ride in a car that he is unfamiliar with, eat at restaurants he’s never heard of, deal with LA traffic — and much more. In the midst of all that, Samuel and Ms. Washburn begin to suspect that his father is mixed up in something nefarious, and potentially dangerous.

    The story is really strong, and more complex than I’d assumed it would be. In the last book, Samuel was dealing with other people on the Spectrum or their families. This time, there’s none of that — just strangers who are unused to interacting with people like him and who have no patience. Which serves as a good challenge for Samuel to overcome. There is real character growth evident in this book — it’s not the same kind of growth you expect to see in most books — because Samuel isn’t like most protagonists. But it is there — and really, he makes some pretty big strides here. It’s nice to see him not be treated as static, but someone who can make choices, can evolve.

    Once again, Samuel isn’t treated as a bag of symptoms or tics, he isn’t made a paragon of anything. He’s an individual who has to do some things the rest of the populace don’t consider. There are some lighter moments in the book, but none of them are at Samuel’s expense, just human foibles.

    The Question of the Absentee Father is another strong outing for Samuel and his team — as well as for E.J. Copperman. For those who like a mystery on on the cozy side, with some strong characters, this is the one for you.

    Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Midnight Ink via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

    —–

    3.5 Stars

    The Defense by Steve Cavanagh

    The DefenseThe Defense

    by Steve Cavanagh
    Series: Eddie Flynn, #1

    Hardcover, 306 pg.
    Flatiron Books, 2016

    Read: April 28 – May 1, 2017


    Eddie Flynn is a con artist who went legit — mostly. There’s a lot of call in his new life for the skills he developed in his old. He’d been pretty successful until a horrible outcome tied to his last case sent Eddie around the bend — he’d vowed never to get back into the courtroom. He just couldn’t handle anything like what had happened again. Until the head of the Russian mob in New York is up on murder charges.

    So what brings Eddie back to defending accused criminals? Well, it’s that old story that we’ve all heard a million times — he’s abducted by the Russian mafia, had a bomb thrown on to him and the only way that keeps that from blowing up is his continued compliance — but that’s not all: Eddie’s daughter has also been kidnapped and his being held hostage. All Eddie has to do is keep the case going long enough for the Prosecution to bring out its big witness from protective custody so that the bomb Eddie’s carrying can be used to kill the witness.

    Not a plan Eddie’s crazy about, but it’s not like anyone consulted him. He dives into the defense like his life depends on it (oh, wait . . . ), and comes to a couple of conclusions: 1. He and his daughter are not going to live, no matter what the kidnappers said — unless he pulls a rabbit out of a hat; 2. there’s something strange going on with the case that just doesn’t make any sense; 3. there’s something strange going on with his client’s men; and 4. he just might know how to win the case without anyone having to be blown up.

    While we see Eddie’s efforts to defend his client and to get freedom for himself and his daughter, we also get flashbacks to the calamity of the previous year, Eddie’s childhood and criminal career, his relationship with his daughter and more. Cavanagh handles the balancing act between the background and the ongoing action well — the past informing and shaping the present, while keeping things tense for the now. How Cavanagh pulls that off in 300 pages, I’ll never know. And it is tense throughout — Eddie barely gets a chance to breathe, it’s a good thing he has a lifetime of thinking quickly on his feet, or there’d be no hope for him.

    I liked Eddie almost immediately — you have to, or you’re not going to enjoy this book. He’s one part Mickey Haller, one part Andy Carpenter, one part Nicholas Fox — a slick, clever and tough lawyer, basically. His friends were interesting and his opponents were just what you want in antagonists. There was real threat, real peril throughout, yet you always knew that Eddie Flynn had a trick or five up his sleeve.

    The last chapter felt more like the wrap-up of a stand-alone thriller than it did the first novel in a series. Not that it precluded further adventures, it just didn’t point to them the way series generally do, but clearly Cavanagh didn’t let that stop him — book 3 comes out in a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to spending more time with Eddie soon, myself.

    —–

    3.5 Stars

    Down Don’t Bother Me by Jason Miller

    Down Don’t Bother MeDown Don’t Bother Me

    by Jason Miller
    Series: Slim in Little Egypt, #1

    Paperback, 270 pg.
    Bourbon Street Books, 2015

    Read: April 26 – 27, 2017

    She was about my age, early forties, though I had to look at her hands to tell it. She was good-looking, too. Good-looking is putting it mildly, maybe. I looked around vaguely for a priest to strangle. She was tall and lean, with the kind of green eyes a lazy novelist would describe as “piercing.” Her copper hair was pulled back from her face with a strip of brown cloth. I imagined that its more honest self was touched here and there with gray, but that was just a guess. . . . I put down the picture. She looked at me and it and frowned the kind of desperate, exhausted frown that turns the room upside down and shakes the sympathy from its pockets.

    Yeah, the spirit of Raymond Chandler is alive and well in the Midwest.

    I first heard about Jason Miller through this episode of Mysterypod and thought his conversation with Steve Usery was fascinating. I finally got the chance to read his first book this week — We spend the first 3 and change pages with Slim in a coal mine in Little Egypt, Illinois. There were so many things in those pages I just didn’t understand — but somehow, Miller still created a fantastic sense of place. Claustrophobic, dark, dirty, and dangerous. I was hooked almost immediately. Then we started meeting people — and it got better.

    Slim works in the Knight Hawk — one of the remaining coal mines in the area — he’s known for tracking down a couple of people that no one else seemed capable of finding, and was willing (and able) to get violent as necessary. More importantly, Slim’s a single father to a 12 year-old named Anci. He’s dating a teacher and has a best friend named Jeep, who’s sort of a Joe Pike-figure.

    Matthew Luster is the owner of the Knight Hawk — and probably just as ethical as you’d expect. Just as rich, too — at least by small-town standards (and then some). He talks Slim into looking for a newspaper photographer who went missing about the same time as the reporter he worked with was found dead inside the mine. Roy Beckett, the photographer, is married to Luster’s daughter — and it doesn’t really seem like they’re really close. Why Luster wants him found is a bit murky, too — primarily, he seems curious about the story that Beckett and the photographer are working on.

    The top contender is a blossoming meth trade in Knight Hawk and another mine in the area. But there’s an environmental group making noise, too. Throw in Beckett’s reputation as a womanizer, and you have any number of potential reasons why he’s scarce. Slim makes a token effort in tracking him down — when bodies start piling up, and bullets fly near Slim, his girlfriend and daughter. Which just makes him buckle down and get to work.

    Overall, it’s a pretty standard PI tale from this point out. Entertaining enough in and of itself, a solid story that will keep mystery fans reading. But what makes this book shine and stand out is Slim and his perspective — like any good PI novel, it’s about the narrator primarily. And Slim is, right out of the gate, right up there with Spenser, Walt Longmire, Patrick Kenzie, and so on. Right there, Miller’s given people a reason to enjoy this book and come back for a sequel or three.

    But it gets better — the way most of these people talk. I loved it — I’m not saying Little Egypt is full of Boyd Crowders, but it’s close. A ritzy-subdivision’s security guard, one of Beckett’s mistresses, Slim, and others — I made notes to quote them all, but I won’t — just a sample of the dialogue (and narration, which is pretty much just internal dialogue):

  • That old man is so bad, they’ll have to come up with a new definition of the term just so ordinary bad men won’t get all full of false piety.

  • You ever see one of these Taurus Raging Judge Magnum things? . . . I know it sounds like a gas station prophylactic, but let me tell you, it’s enough gun to kill the Lincoln on Mount Rushmore.

  • …the public defender system is a good thing–but you got the feeling that, in this guy’s hands, you could walk into to donate to the policeman’s fund and end up tied to a metal table.

  • Anci, I have to say, is the coolest kid in Crime Fiction today — that’s not saying a whole lot, I grant you. But she is. I like Maddie Bosch, but she’s no Anci (and outside of Bernie Little’s and Andy Carpenter’s sons are okay, too — but we don’t get that much time with them). She’s smart, she’s brave, she’s vulnerable, funny, well-read . . . and more mature than Flavia de Luce (and doesn’t seem to go looking for trouble). All without being too cute and therefore annoying — she’s a kid, but an important part of Team Slim.

    The novel ends making it clear that there are more stories about Anci and Slim to tell. There’s another novel and a short story in this series — hopefully with more to come. I had so much fun reading this and totally dug this one and can’t wait to read the others. Give this a shot, folks.

    —–

    3.5 Stars

    2017 Library Love Challenge