I know that I am SO not the target audience for this book, but I have to say I enjoyed every page, every sentence, every word—even words that I had neI know that I am SO not the target audience for this book, but I have to say I enjoyed every page, every sentence, every word—even words that I had never encountered before, like “Blahniks.” A Case of Sour Grapes made me laugh while it kept me flipping pages—or more accurately, swiping my iPad’s screen—right to the end.
A Case of Sour Grapes is a “companion novel” to Gae-Lynn Woods’ Cass Elliot Crime Series, which so far comprises The Devil of Light and Avengers of Blood.
Like the other two books, A Case of Sour Grapes is set in the fictional Forney County in East Texas—a setting fairly boiling over with tension, secret cults, hidden domestic violence, child abuse, sexual violence and just about every dark vice there is.
Cass Elliot is a tough, smart detective on the Forney County police department whose intelligence, courage and very supportive family get her through dangerous situations—but cannot protect her against a sexist, close-minded and defensive boss, the County Sheriff, nor against getting raped and scarred at some point before the books’ opening. Author Gae-Lynn Woods is just as tough and honest as her character, daring to go into some of the darkest corners of the human soul.
And then there’s the protagonist and narrator of the book at hand, Maxine Leverman.
Maxine is brave. Or at least impulsive. And she’s smart enough to notice clues, find connections in databases and solve a mystery. But while she’s Cass Elliot’s best friend, she is definitely no Cass Elliot.
(Yes, the author does know about, and refers to, the sixties and seventies singer of the same name.)
Maxine is a thoroughly 21st century woman, who knows her shoe and dress designers, grape varieties and when it’s time for scotch. She makes no pretenses about sex or the men she’s attracted to, and is ready to proposition them when she wants to. She’s also learning the Texas criminal code, the regulations governing private investigators, and how to aim a handgun. Safely.
The story of A Case of Sour Grapes begins on Maxine’s first day working at the Lost and Found Detective Agency, owned by her aunts Kay and Babby. While Maxine is studying for her investigator’s license, she’s supposed to be doing administrative work at the office. Of course, when everyone else is out at lunch, Maxine answers a phone call from a new client, Blue Ivey, owner of the Cedar Bend Winery. Mrs. Ivey has lost her husband. She knows he’s not dead, because he keeps spending money on her credit cards, but she has not seen him in weeks.
The case gets progressively more strange, dark and funny at the same time. Maxine’s talents as a sleuth become apparent as she finds the missing husband’s multiple identities—and wives.
It’s not all fun and games, though. There are multiple murders, a long-lost child, and let’s not forget Poison Ivy and the Dismembered Bunnies. Okay, that part made me laugh out loud.
Woods is a skilled literary juggler to keep all these flaming torches aloft at the same time. She pulls off a story that is thoroughly engaging and satisfying on all levels: plot, characters, setting, humour, tension and action.
Bravo, Ms. Woods! Let’s get another title on the electronic shelves, shall we? ...more
One of the most satisfying literary discoveries is a truly unique story. This is particularly rare in the mystery-thriller genre. Many thrillers seemOne of the most satisfying literary discoveries is a truly unique story. This is particularly rare in the mystery-thriller genre. Many thrillers seem to be emulating another derivative book, trying to ride a bandwagon to market success. Far too many read as if the author were trying to write an episode of his or her favourite TV show.
So when I opened Place of Skulls by Caleb Pirtle III, I was prepared for disappointment. But what I found were realistic characters, solid writing and a satisfying, completely original story.
The plot twists and turns, but holds the road.
Place of Skulls is the fourth in Pirtle’s Ambrose Lincoln series, a spy-thriller set during the Second World War. A lot of authors give their main characters a huge character flaw—alcoholism, a history of abuse, a physical disability—and Lincoln has what seems to me to be the most debilitating for a spy: amnesia. Ambrose Lincoln has no memory of his past, and cannot remember why he knows the things he does and cannot account for certain skills he has, such as the ability to pick a lock with a hair pin.
But he does have ghosts—at least one. He’s followed by a dead man only he can see, and only at night, the ghost of a man he killed in a military engagement that he cannot remember.
A rich Dallas oilman named Eliot Bergner hires Lincoln to find whoever killed his brother, Danny. “Danny B.” is a DEA officer who was investigating the smuggling of drugs from Mexico into the U.S., carried by poor, desperate migrant workers. One night, his mutilated body arrives in Texas in an empty boxcar. But not before he sends a message to his brother, Eliot—an observant Jew—that he has found incontrovertible proof of Christ’s appearance in Mexico before the Spanish Conquest in 1492.
Drugs and religion: that would seem to be enough for one book, but then the author adds the idea that Nazi Germany is lacing the cocaine and heroine the migrants are smuggling with Thallium, a potent and undetectable poison. Their idea is to addict as many Americans as possible, and then kill them.
As if that’s not complex enough, shady U.S. government operatives are about to launch an invasion of Mexico to stop the influx of addictive poison, but because Mexico is a sovereign nation that, at the time the story is set, has not yet declared which side of the war it’s on (which would have to make it between December 7, 1941 and May 22, 1942, when Mexico declared war on Germany), they have to keep it secret, even from the President.
No, it’s not impossible to make this story plausible.
If any author had come to a publisher with an idea for a novel about a detective finding incontestable proof that Jesus Christ came to Mexico before 1492, and getting caught up in a US government plot to invade Mexico to throttle the drug trade, mixing in Nazi spies, he probably would have been advised to pick an easier mystery to pen. But Pirtle handles the challenge well, giving the readers just enough information as the plot builds to keep us readers turning pages.
There were a few places where I was afraid the novel would become excessively Christian, where a plot point could only be explained by a miracle or an answer to true faith, but thankfully, Pirtle avoided that. Everything made sense, and while there is a definite religious motif to this book, it makes sense.
The characters ring true.
Pirtle gives us a wide range of believable characters, all with strengths, weaknesses and flaws. I loved some of them, and detested others, but I reacted to each one. All their actions and reactions logically proceeded from their situations and personalities, with no unbelievable transformations. Eliot Bergner’s agonized family relationships add some surprising depth to the story. I suspected the femme fatale at first, but Pirtle’s iron-tight plot made her completely believable.
The author gives us a satisfying closing.
Pirtle also avoids a facile story arc. Lincoln struggles against drug cartels, traitors, cowards and ghosts, all of whom leave scars. At no point do we know for sure who’s going to survive the next battle, and it’s never certain who’s going to win.
Pirtle doesn’t cut corners. The book has been produced professionally, meeting or exceeding the standards of commercial fiction. In fact, this book was much better than the commercially published stuff I have read lately....more
A story with a dearly needed lesson Can there be a story without conflict? Yes, and Doug Simpson proves it in his quietly uplifting novel, The Déjà vuA story with a dearly needed lesson Can there be a story without conflict? Yes, and Doug Simpson proves it in his quietly uplifting novel, The Déjà vu House.
It’s the simple story of a man and a woman who rekindle an old high-school romance, fall in love. They marry and build a life together. Vic and Pam find their dream home, a century-old farm house on the edge of a suburban Midwestern town, which is inhabited by a woman named Olga.
On seeing the house for the first time, Pam feels a shock: “I recognize this house,” she says. She walks around the outside of the house, pointing to windows and identifying which rooms they belong to, without mistake.
As it turns out, Pam is the reincarnation of the first woman to live in the Déjà vu house, and Olga, the woman who currently owns it, who inherited it from her parents, is the granddaughter of Emily Croft. Emily was reincarnated as Pam Richardson.
And share a shock of recognition between Pam and Olga, they become close instantly. Vic and Pam buy the house and Olga remains living in it with them.
What ensues is the story of how three people, linked in a very unusual way, make a life together. They’re all happy. There is no conflict, no mystery to solve, no deep dark secrets.
It breaks all the rules of contemporary literature, but it’s a story clearly and simply told, and uplifting in its honesty. It has a message that is dearly needed today: we can be happy. ...more
This book is very long and not easy to read, but it's a richly rewarding experience. Eco packs so much into this story.
It begins with an action sequenThis book is very long and not easy to read, but it's a richly rewarding experience. Eco packs so much into this story.
It begins with an action sequence that can be quite confusing, but that's a framing device because it happens at the end of the story. The writer then begins laying out all the different threads that he weaves into a fantastic tapestry.
There is so much in here: the history of the Knights Templar, current hermeticism and mysticism, hustlers disguised as publishers, tales of the Second World War in Italy, charlatans in Brazil and Europe, mystery, romance, love, friendship.
I believe that people who read this book are far less likely to fall for a scam.
And if Dan Brown had read it years ago, we may have been spared The DaVinci Code....more