Monday, 14 August 2023

The Puzzle at Blackstone Lodge by Martin Edwards
The Puzzle of Blackstone Lodge
by Martin Edwards
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2023, $16.99 trade paperback

In 1606 Yorkshire, England, a man vanishes from a locked room. More than 300 years later, it happens again!

In author Martin Edwards third Rachel Savernake Golden Age mystery, Fleet Street journalist Nell Fagan heads out to the dank and grim English countryside, hoping to regain her reputation as a reporter by reporting on a series of deaths at a local sanatorium. While there, Nell stays at the infamous lodge where the mysterious disappearances occurred, one in 1606 and the second 300 years later.

The reporter tries to interest Rachel Savernake in helping her search for the truth, but Rachel is reluctant—Nell has lied to her before. Nell continues looking into things on her own, but when a possible attempt is made on her life, she tries again to get Rachel's help. But then, Nell disappears.

Now fully engaged in finding out what Nell was investigating and how it might've led to her disappearance, Rachel and her chosen compatriots find themselves in Yorkshire—and with no shortage of potential suspects for the suspicious sanatorium deaths and Nell's disappearance.

Is it the reclusive neighbor that holds himself apart from the rest of the townsfolk? The brutish parish rector who displays no mercy or compassion towards anyone, including his increasingly skittish and unstable wife? What secrets does the family that runs the sanatorium hold? Is the friendly town doctor somehow involved in all the goings-on? What's the story with the old and decidedly unfriendly woman staying at the local hotel?

Rachel, her journalist friend Jacob Flint, and her other allies find themselves tested to find out the truth of all matters. Especially as they attempt to stay one step ahead of a cunning killer who will stop at nothing to keep secrets from coming to light.

Author Martin Edwards does a phenomenal job of making the reader feel as if they are in the English countryside of the 1930s. The densely written descriptions of the various locations fuel the imagination, giving readers the sense of time and place, from the dark and foreboding moors to the interactions of the characters from various stations of the English class system. And just when you think you know where things are going, he skillfully plays with those expectations, yet keeps you glued to the page to see where the story is going next.

The way Edwards draws you into the plot with the reporter Nell Fagan before fully involving Rachel Savernake is a nice touch. As for Savernake herself, she's an intriguing figure to say the least. There's a bit of a Holmesian touch to her observations and attitudes, but the writer does a great job of moving Rachel beyond a simple homage to The Great Detective and making her come to life as a fully realized character in her own right. I also greatly enjoyed the character of Jacob Flint who is unwillingly drawn into the story through his friendships with both Nell and Rachel. Flint has his own subplot involving a fake medium, but between that and his assistance to Rachel, the character comes to acquit himself quite nicely.

With murder, disappearances, and any number of hidden motives, betrayals, and deadly secrets, The Puzzle of Blackstone Lodge is sure to galvanize mystery readers into becoming fans of Rachel Savernake and set about clamoring for more of her adventures.

Review: "The Puzzle of Blackstone Lodge" by Martin Edwards
Jay Roberts
Monday, 07 August 2023

Dead and Gone by Joanna Schauffhausen

Dead and Gone
by Joanna Schauffhausen
Minotaur Books, August 2023, $28

In author Joanna Schaffhausen's third Annalisa Vega thriller, the Chicago police detective finds herself investigating the mysterious death of Sam Tran, a former cop-turned-PI. Annalisa's investigation takes a surprising turn when the dead man's phone starts ringing—and on the other end is her brother Vinny! Having sent one brother to jail for murder and getting her father confined to house arrest for covering that crime up, Annalisa isn't exactly the most popular member of her family or with her fellow cops. So the last thing she needs is another family member mixed up in one of her cases.

As it turns out, Vinny had hired Tran to investigate a possible stalker targeting his daughter, Quinn. But nothing had come of the investigation so far. As Annalisa and her partner Nick dig into the case, they find themselves looking at Tran's open cases for possible motives for his murder. As they search, the detective duo find themselves turning up questions—and answers—to Tran's cases as well. As they follow each successive clue, they learn that Quinn just might have a stalker after all. And when another coed goes missing, the heat is on. Stymied by a lack of jurisdiction on the college campus, there is little they can do in an official capacity though.

In order to protect her niece and track down Sam's killer, Annalisa is determined to bring a crazed killer to justice. But will it be in time to stop any more bodies from falling, or will she be faced with losing more of her family?

There are a lot of individual story elements for readers to follow in Dead and Gone. With so many disparate plotlines, the writer risks giving short shrift to some of them so that things can eventually tie together as the reader comes to the story's resolution. But Schaffhausen does a masterful job of weaving each of her separate plots together. Readers will be amazed how tightly woven the overall complexity of the narrative turns out to be.

Annalisa is dealing not only with a bunch of crimes to investigate, but also the upheaval in her personal life. From feeling exiled from her family to potential changes for her on the most intimate of levels, the detective has a lot on her plate. But it is her headstrong determination to bring justice to the victim(s) of this story that will leave readers breathless as they read each successive chapter.

Schaffhausen's Dead and Gone is a race through dark places that propels mystery fans toward a shocking conclusion. Excellent plotting and rich characterization make this one of the most singularly entertaining thrillers of the year.

Review: "Dead and Gone" by Joanna Schauffhausen
Jay Roberts
Monday, 17 July 2023

Michael Koryta

Island Justice. Two words. Enough to inspire a novel.

One of my favorite movies for all-time rewatchability is Jaws. A photograph of Quint in the bow of the Orca oversees my library in Maine. He’s a fine tone-setter and doesn’t fall asleep on the job. On the surface (pardon my shark puns), there doesn’t seem to be much overlap between my latest novel, An Honest Man, which is about a man named Israel Pike returning home after serving a prison sentence for murdering his father. Israel is a lobsterman by trade, and not much time has passed since his parole before he spots a yacht adrift, rows out to see what the trouble is, and discovers the bodies of seven murdered men—two of them rival U.S. Senate candidates. The one similarity would seem to be Israel’s home location: Salvation Point Island.

Jaws attacking The Orca, courtesy Universal

Jaws attacking The Orca, courtesy of Univeral Pictures

But there’s another one. Salvation Point is an island manned by a police force that consists of exactly one deputy. Chief Brody on Amity Island in Jaws did have some help, although they don’t contribute much in the movie or the novel, but my fictional island has one man for a simple reason that is one of the inspirations for the novel: It is true.

In 2020, I read about a murder that occurred on Vinalhaven, an island off the coast of Maine. The murder wasn’t spectacular, just tragic, sorrowful violence. A lobsterman named Roger Feltis was killed with an ax after a simmering feud turned into an all-out brawl. As with most murders, the investigation was quick and simple. There were eye witnesses, there was an arrest—although, in this case, there still have not been charges, an explanation of which would take more words than I’m allocated here, and probably still leave all of us scratching our heads. But the single thing that stood out to me about this particular, real-world crime, was a passing reference to “the island’s sole police officer.”

An Honest Man by Michael KorytaImpossible, I thought. I’d been to Vinalhaven. I’d enjoyed one of my all-time favorite Fourth of July celebrations there. I’d had beers at the Sand Bar. Above the Sand Bar, there are a couple small apartments. In 2020, one of them was rented by Roger Feltis. Vinalhaven is a bucolic place, and the locals are mostly great most of the time, but it is still a community filled with tough people carving out a tough living 15 miles out in a tough ocean. There are problems. There are crimes. It seemed like a lot for one guy.

It absolutely did when the man accused by six eyewitnesses of murdering Feltis was returned to the island with a police escort, and someone livestreamed the event. Locals massed along the pier, shouting at the prisoner and the police. One voice, off camera, caught my ear and engaged my imagination.

“We call you, you come out, nothing fucking happens. That is why vigilantes and Vinalhaven island justice is the way we do shit.”

Island Justice.

Two words.

Enough to inspire a novel.

That’s the process for me – inspirations knock around endlessly, sweeping in and pulling back, ceaseless as the tide—and my beloved Chief Brody from Jaws met with the hauntingly wonderful phrase “island justice” and one day when I was on a walk along the coast in the fog, I thought, “What if that lone deputy was a crooked cop?” I suspect most readers will never think of Vinalhaven or Jaws, but that’s fine—I know they’re in the mix.

Michael Koryta is a New York Times-bestselling author whose work has been translated into more than 20 languages and has won or been nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Edgar® Award, Shamus Award, Barry Award, Quill Award, International Thriller Writers Award, and the Golden Dagger. They’ve been selected as “best books of the year” by numerous publications. Hiking, camping, boating, and fishing are all likely to occupy his free time when he’s not working on a new book. Some of his favorite spots are the Beartooth Mountains of Montana, the flowages of the Northwoods in Wisconsin, St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Maine midcoast.


Michael Koryta on Island Justice and "An Honest Man"
Michael Koryta