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Joe Burgess #1

Playing God

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On an icy February night, the body of Steven Pleasant, a prominent Portland, Maine physician, grows cold in his parked Mercedes. All signs point to a john killed by a disgruntled hooker: his pants are unzipped, wallet is gone, and the good doctor has a reputation for entertaining girls in his car.

But the deeper Detective Sergeant Joe Burgess digs, the muddier the case becomes. While juggling hookers, wives, ex-wives, fathers, stepfathers, dealers and doctors, a nurse on Pleasant's staff suggests another angle—disgruntled patients.

Now, ensconced in the darkness of a sleeping hospital, Burgess comes face-to-face with ghosts from his past and must decide what being a detective really means.

"Dazzling debut police procedural." ~Publisher's Weekly Starred Review

"A triumph in the police procedural genre. Highly recommended." ~Library Journal Starred Review

"I loved this book. I recommend it to anyone who loves police procedurals, traditional mysteries, suspense." ~Crimespree Magazine

Playing God
The Angel of Knowlton Park

Kate Flora developed her fascination with people's criminal tendencies as a lawyer in the Maine attorney general's office. When Kate isn't writing, or teaching writing at Grub Street in Boston, she can be found in her garden, waging battle against critters, pests, and her husband's lawnmower.

286 pages, Kindle Edition

First published February 9, 2006

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About the author

Kate Flora

56 books113 followers
Kate Flora grew up on a chicken farm in Maine where the Friday afternoon trip to the library was the high point of her week. She dreamed of being able to create the kind of compelling, enchanting worlds of the books she disappeared into every week, but growing up in the era when “help wanted” ads were still sex-segregated, she felt her calling was to go to law school and get the job they told her she couldn’t have.

After law school, Kate worked in the Maine attorney general’s office, protecting battered kids, chasing deadbeat dads, and representing the Human Rights Commission. Those years taught her all a crime writer needs to know about the human propensity to commit horrible acts. After some years in private practice, she decided to give writing a serious try when she quit the law to stay at home for a few years with her young sons. That ‘serious try’ led to ten tenacious and hellacious years in the unpublished writer’s corner, followed, finally, by the sale of her Thea Kozak series.

Kate’s eighteen books will include eight Thea Kozak mysteries, five gritty Joe Burgess police procedurals, a suspense thriller (written under the name Katharine Clark), two true crime books, Death Dealer and Finding Amy (co-written with Joseph Loughlin, a Portland, Maine Deputy Police Chief), a Maine game warden's memoir, A Good Man with a Dog, co-written with Roger Guay, and a book about police shootings from the police point of view, Shots Fired: The misunderstandings, misconceptions, and myths about police shootings, co-written with Joseph K. Loughlin. Finding Amy was a 2007 Edgar nominee as well as a Maine Literary Award finalist, and has been optioned for a movie. Kate’s award-winning short stories have been widely anthologized and Redemption and And Grant You Peace, her third and fourth Joe Burgess mysteries, won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction.

Flora's fiction, nonfiction, and short fiction have been finalists for the Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, and Derringer Awards.

She is a founding member of the New England Crime Bake, the region's annual mystery conference, and the Maine Crime Wave. With two other crime writers, she started founded Level Best Books, where she worked as an editor and publisher for seven years. She served a term as international president of Sisters in Crime, an organization founded to promote awareness of women writers’ contributions to the mystery field. Currently, she teaches writing and does manuscript critiques for Grub Street in Boston.

She has two sons (one into film and the other into photovoltaics) two lovely daughters-in-law, an adorable eight-year-old grandson and five granddogs, Frances, Otis, Harvey, Oscar, and Daisy. When not conducting research for her novels and nonfiction—research that includes riding an ATV through the Canadian woods or hiding in a tick-infested field waiting to be found by search and rescue dogs—Kate can often be found in her garden, waging war against the woodchucks and her husband’s lawnmower, or in the kitchen, devising clever and devious ways to get the men in her life to eat their vegetables.

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5 stars
204 (34%)
4 stars
239 (39%)
3 stars
119 (19%)
2 stars
27 (4%)
1 star
10 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 75 reviews
Profile Image for Eric_W.
1,924 reviews369 followers
February 21, 2010
I ran across Books in Motion a couple of years back. They apparently got their start catering to long distance truck drivers producing some very good original audio recordings with their own stable of readers.

A prominent medical doctor is discovered dead in his Mercedes with his "ahem" at full mast and several shades of lipstick on the more sensitive portions of his anatomy. Joe Burgess, the detective catching the case, soon learns from his young second wife of his predilection for the euphemistic BJ at night in his car. No one liked Dr. Stephen Pleasant and the suspect list grows. Even Joe had a reason to dislike him as the doctor had screwed up his mother's treatment. No point in recapping the plot. Engaging and well-read with a very likable protagonist.

It's always interesting to read a book of this genre by an author with credentials, and knowing what those are often sheds light on incidents which occur in the book. A little investigating revealed that Flora, author of several other mysteries and some true crime reportage, was an assistant attorney general in Maine so she knows Portland and the crime milieu well. In one scene, Burgess attacks his boss because the evidence relating to the murder and rape of a child was being lost or contaminated. Turns out the alleged perp was from a prominent family and could hire an expensive lawyer, so strings were being pulled in the rapist's favor. I wonder if Flora hadn't suffered through her own rage at the rich and well-connected's ability to get off.
Profile Image for Carol.
2,605 reviews81 followers
May 18, 2016
Kate Flora has come up with an interesting and intriguing new character in Joe Burgess...the "meanest cop in the city of Portland." Even though there was no love lost between Joe and Dr. Stephen Pleasant... he was the best detective to get the murder case since he is also Portland's number one detective. Burgess pretty much said it all when he said, "This case has everything - unhappy wife, angry ex. Hookers. Drugs. Money problems. Maybe blackmail, and a vic nobody liked, including his patients." Joe Burgess reminds e a great deal of Michael Connlley's Harry Bosch,,,he won't stop looking until he gets his man. Playing God was a great introduction to this new series...just what I need...another series. deep sigh
Profile Image for Barbara Nutting.
2,840 reviews103 followers
June 14, 2023

I have no objection to prostitution, to each her own, BUT I don’t want to read page after page, blow by blow descriptions of their sexual proclivities!! The story was going nowhere at a snails pace so I skipped to the cliff hanging conclusion. Sorry Ms Flora, you won’t find me picking up Book #2.
345 reviews1 follower
February 29, 2020
2-1/2 I liked the character, but pace was too slow for me.
Profile Image for William.
1,068 reviews5 followers
November 1, 2019
What works here is a really good plot -- neither obvious nor ridiculously complex. And the procedural aspects of the story seem very authentic, both the challenges police face in solving crimes and the way they relate to each other. The writing is taut and the dialogue seems realistic.

I'm not sure that it matters whether you like Joe Burgess or not. He is, after all, a character in a story. I also did not find him to live out his image as "the meanest cop in Portland." He seems gruff, yes, but caring. The macho stuff for Joe and the other men in other men in the story may not be appealing, but that reflects reality. Did I like Joe? I'm still not sure, but I enjoyed reading about him, for the most part.

While I have described a lot of stuff as believable, I do have a different difficulty with the characters. They are the same ones who appear in almost every police procedural: a dour, aging and out of shape protagonist with "something broken in him and a rough upbringing," a wise best buddy, an infuriatingly political higher manager, arrogant pillars of the community, a prostitute with a heart of gold, and so forth. There is not a character in the book who is really memorable, Burgess included, except perhaps the victim. This is a plot-driven story.

And as someone who lives in Portland, and was living here when the book was published, I don't think Flora captures the ethos and distinctiveness of the city.

But I did not read this seeking a literary experience, and as a procedural, it zips along well enough. I will continue with the series.

39 reviews
September 19, 2015
I had high hopes for this book. The author has a lot of published books, I love a good police procedural, and I love books set in various locales around the country. Unfortunately, the protagonist, Joe Burgess, is not an easy guy to like. Many cops carry demons, but they manage to stay focused on the task at hand. While Joe professes to have the right goals, he is easily distracted by his personal feelings. There were so many digressions describing his past, his difficulties connecting with people, and his obsession with an unsolved case in the past, that the current case was being put on the back burner. I had a hard time keeping all the characters straight.The "cop banter" felt contrived. And my biggest pet peeve for a straight-up police procedural mystery - sexual activity, with a lot more detail than I need. I know, personal preference. But for me this book was a disappointment.
Profile Image for Barbara.
532 reviews
July 19, 2018
Have to be honest. I’m not a big fan of police procedurals, but I did finish reading Playing God in fits and starts over several weeks. The author is very good at writing “cop speak,” the characters were okay, the plot was fairly interesting, and the Portland, Maine in winter setting worked well. The pacing seemed a little slow in places, though, especially the last couple of chapters. I really wanted to like Joe Burgess, and there was a lot to like about him. Unfortunately, his “aging hound dog drooling” mentality, which seemed to kick in every time he was with an attractive woman, including two women young enough to be his daughters, wasn’t appealing at all.
Profile Image for Chris.
974 reviews14 followers
May 24, 2015
I like Joe Burgess. A lot. Love the setting – Portland, Maine. A dead doctor, without compassion for anyone including his wife and especially his patients,disliked by everyone– including Joe Burgess. Various leads, including one that Burgess was a little reluctant to pursue. But listening to his mother's admonitions not to play God he's relentless in pursuit. Lots of food for thought in the way he thinks, the sorts of feelings and virtues he accepts and does not accept, and interesting thinking in the way/s he views his own life.
199 reviews1 follower
July 11, 2020
FOR me the book was a two star maybe a three star but I int went with lower one because it seem more accurate. There was nothing bad about the book, but the characters seemed drawn form other books and not of their own making. The plot was not bad, but in the end rather unbelievable. Still I see why it would have won some awards.
I was looking for a new mystery writer to read. Not sure if I will return, but the writer kept me interested to the end.

Profile Image for Patricia.
2,909 reviews14 followers
May 5, 2017
I never made it off the first page. There were crude references and I decided I didn't want to read another word. I even returned the Kindle version to Amazon--something I rarely do even when I hate a book. This author is not for me.
Profile Image for Kim.
746 reviews13 followers
March 29, 2008
This book was incredibly formulaic -- grizzled old cop haunted by an old case, naive young rookie cop, blah blah blah. Spoiler alert: it never transcends the formula.
22 reviews
June 28, 2008
Again, this author went away from a developed character of Thea to an undeveloped one. A slow read.
Profile Image for Teresa Collins.
774 reviews8 followers
March 1, 2021
I received a review copy from eBook Discovery through Prolific Works and this is my honest opinion. This was a really enjoyable read except for the religious profanity, but I don't like the taking of the Lord's name in vain. (I can see some of you rolling your eyes now) Luckily, I've learned to see those words coming up and not read them. (Silly, I know, but if I altogether stop reading books that use those words I'll have to stop reading. A sad commentary on the style of a majority of authors.) I know that Ms. Flora and many other authors justify their use of expletives as being 'real' and "authentic", but I have to disagree that it's necessary. I've read too many mysteries/police procedurals that never used expletives and didn't feel like I was missing out at all.
Anyway, that was my major complaint. The only other minor issue was the need for a proofreader. As I've said numerous times I don't understand why ebooks are published with so many errors. My understanding is that it is very simple to correct a manuscript. One would think that as soon as a review mentioned multiple errors the author would immediately address it, but one would be wrong.
As for what I enjoyed; I loved the character of Joe Burgess. A couple of other reviewers slammed him for being unrealistic, breaking every rule in the book, and making "real" police officers look bad. I can't agree. Yes, he is rough, unorthodox, hates his captain, and runs roughshod over social etiquette. But who of us hasn't wanted to throw caution to the wind and take the law into our own hands when we have seen justice perverted? And isn't that one of the reasons we read mysteries and thrillers; to see someone do what we would like to but can't? It's one of the ways we escape "real life". As for making real police officers look bad, I don't see how anyone in their semi-right mind actually thinks an officer could behave this way and get away with it. It's called "suspension of disbelief". Don't take these books as a treatise on law enforcement. Take them as they were meant to be; an "I wish I could do that to so-and-so" moment of escape and enjoy leaving vicariously through the characters who occupy this fictional world.
And I had to chuckle at one review that complained about all the sex and talk of body parts. One of my pet peeves in the mystery/thriller genre is the gratuitous and graphic sex scenes. Here there were a couple of scenes thrown in, but nowhere near as graphic as some I've come across. As for the discussion of body parts, as the mother of two men who suffered through their adolescent/teenage years, have you ever come across a man who didn't discuss body parts? It is a part of their makeup. Even grown men continue the habit. It is just who they are. Take it with a grain of salt.
I also enjoyed the relationship between the main characters. Joe and Terry are more brothers than they are partners. I think this relationship is indicative of what develops between people who deal with stressful situations on a day-to-day basis: doctors, nurses, military, and, of course, law enforcement to name a few.
I can't wait to read the next in this series. Thank you to eBook Discovery for making this book available.
Profile Image for Colin Rochford.
120 reviews
December 18, 2017
Playing God by Kate Flora
A police procedural which is exciting and well written. It is a novel with a message, no, several messages. And this works. 

I have many quotes that I I'd like to share with you. 
"Burgess stomped on the brakes, the Explorer responding with orgasmic ABS shudders,”
“On a morning like this with the air so cold,  great columns of sea smoke rose off the salt water, sunlight turning it a soft golden colour, so that he might of been driving toward the gates of heaven instead of South Portland.”
“Her long, straight hair was held at the nape of the neck with the red wire twist tie from a bread bag.”
“abbreviated tank top cut so low you could have mailed letters in her cleavage.”
“His shirt slimy with the acrid fug of his own sweat. “
“Great, fluffy white gobs smacked against the windshield and surrounded him with a lace-curtain landscape (snow)”. 

I enjoyed it very much. And I’ll be looking for more from Kate Flora. 
Profile Image for Matthew Cost.
Author 14 books49 followers
April 6, 2020
“Playing God; a Joe Burgess Mystery” by Kate Flora sends you on an exhausting and adrenalin thrill-ride up and down the coast of Maine. Joe is a flawed Portland homicide detective whose passions run deep. A large bear of a man carrying too much excess weight, a bad knee, and a penchant for abusing his body, Joe, with the help of colleagues good and bad, a gorgeous hooker, and a very friendly nurse must dig through the lies and deception surrounding the death of a local doctor. The man’s name was Pleasant, but he was anything but that, and it seemed that any one of countless people had reason to murder him. Was it his wife who knew that he paid whores three times a week to service him? Her stepfather who loved her or her wealthy father who may have been getting blackmailed? The mysterious blonde prostitute? A disgruntled former patient, or rather, family of deceased former patients? The list goes on and on and nobody is telling the truth. Through it all, Joe must plug forward in a relentless search for the truth, whether or not he believes that justice will be served. “Playing God; A Joe Burgess Mystery” is as good as it gets, or as evil as Maine can be.
Profile Image for Carol.
954 reviews8 followers
November 19, 2018
This book is #1 in the Joe Burgess series. He's known as the meanest detective in Maine, and he does try to keep his emotions under control. As a protagonist, he didn't seem very likable to me, and he obviously drives himself so hard he's really a bit of a masochist. Won't allow himself sleep, or decent meals, or rest of any kind while he's on the hunt for a murderer. Annoying, actually. But there are good reasons for his personality, such as it is. And he's honest to a fault. I grew to like him and now I want more! Portland, Maine, is also a great character in the story, and the writing was such that I could feel the bitter cold as I read. Number 2 in the series is already on my Kindle, ready to go.
148 reviews
March 4, 2021
Joe Burchess, homicide detective is awakened in the middle of the night, about a dead body found in a car. Now, in Maine, where lives in February it is 20 or 30 below zero.
Why would a dead body be left in a car outside? But this body is covered with lipstick kisses.

This case turns ugly fast for Joe Burchess. He's the man for the job. A suspenseful fast-paced police procedural story.

Kate Flora's writing is always brilliant. She keeps the reader sitting at the edge if their seat. The main character is well-written, engaging, and layered with complexity to make this story a page turner.
i received this book for free from ebook discovery. i volunteered to review it and this is my honest review.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
843 reviews7 followers
August 14, 2022
A local doctor is found brutally murdered in his car in an alley. He was a frequent visitor to the area and client of prostitutes. At first it appears that he was murdered by a hooker. However, it doesn't take much digging into the doctor's life to discover that there were many people who had a motive for his death including his partners, patients, wife, and ex-wife. He did not view his patients as people but more like a collection of problems. He was very cold to his patients. His penchant for hookers was embarrassing to his partners. He was not a good husband or ex-husband. Burgess and his team must sort through all of the people with motives to determine who actually murdered the man. I enjoyed this novel and plan to read future novels in this series.
Profile Image for Marty Langenberg.
Author 13 books1 follower
December 7, 2017
Joe Burgess! I loved his character. So human, so male, in every way. The usual cliches - ex wife, long hours, doggedly determined. None of these distracted from the excellent telling of a great yarn. Even his 'relationship' with a hooker who finally tricks him into having sex, somehow fits the man. His partners/coworkers in solving the crime are too supportive for my liking but he can't solve this one without them. The suspects are many and varied. Joe's incompetent, brown-nosing boss creates a nice frisson and adds lots to the way the story unfolds. At least he gets his comeuppance late in the story. Noblesse oblige fails, as it so often does.
214 reviews7 followers
March 6, 2021
Joe Burgess is a cop in Portland, Maine. What I liked about Burgess is that we got the whole picture. We got the flaws, the passion, etc. We got to see that he was a good cop but that he was also haunted. The pace of the story was good. One thing I have noticed with Ms. Flora’s work, both with Burgess and the Thea Kozak series, is that no matter how badly injured her characters seem to be, they keep going until the job is done. This is almost comical. I appreciated how well Ms. Flora can develop her characters. I received this book from eBook Discovery. I am voluntarily posting this review. This is my honest review.
Profile Image for Crystal Toller.
1,005 reviews1 follower
July 10, 2019
When a prominent physician is found dead in his car in a compromising position Joe Burgess is assigned to the case. What he discovers about this physician and the realtionship to his own mother's death, makes for an interesting read. This is the first book of the Joe Burgess series and a really good engrossing mystery. What happens to Joe and his team of detectives on this case makes the beginning of this series leaving the reader wanting to know more about Joe and his team. Highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Michelle.
756 reviews5 followers
March 1, 2021
Old school hard boiled detective fiction at its finest. If you like rough and gritty detectives who don’t know how to quit until the job is done you will love Joe Burgess. A story about a truly despicable man who got murdered in a most horrible way, Playing God takes us from the crime scene to the conclusion and everywhere in between. It’s not always pretty but it is a wonderful mystery to get caught up in.
I received this book for free from eBook Discovery. I voluntarily review this book. This is my honest review.
509 reviews
February 20, 2019
Actually four and a half stars. Would have been five stars except for the distracting typos. Typos don't affect the story which was very well written but they do affect the reading since you have to reread several times to figure out what it is supposed to be.
It certainly was a change from the cozy mysteries I favour, a worthwhile change. I believe this is what is referred to as "a gritty police procedural".
I highly recommend this book!
7,427 reviews30 followers
October 12, 2019
The author has given us a character of Joe Burgess,a cop. In Portland he is the number 1 Detective. He is like no other, he is not like others, in dress clothes, looking smart. as a detective.With Joe, he is gritty, days without sleep, he is on the edge of loosing it, if he doesn’t get some sleep, yet, he goes, if needed. The case of a known Doctor, with a side life of hookers, drugs, and zero in friends. Good series, that readers will soon be caught up in.
1,037 reviews18 followers
February 8, 2021
As a police procedural, this story has a very good pace. It's very entertaining and easy to read, and we really get to know the characters well.
I received this book for free from eBook Discovery. I voluntarily post this review. This is my honest review.
September 15, 2022
Another Great Character from Kate Flora

Kate Flora weaves another gripping story with interesting characters, great storyline, and a satisfying ending. Like her other series, this one will keep you coming back!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 75 reviews

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