Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: Just One Evil Act

Title: Just One Evil Act

Author: Elizabeth George
Genre: Mystery/British Detectives
Price: $29.95 (Hardcover)

Barbara Havers, nothing gets in the way of her loyalty to a friend

Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, second banana to Inspector Thomas Lynley of Scotland Yard in most novels in the series, takes the lead in “Just One Evil Act,” a story of betrayal, lies, and loyalty.

Barbara does not let anything get in the way of her quest to help her neighbor Taymullah Azhar, whose daughter has been taken by her mother Angelina. Hadiyyah’s parents never married. Consequently Azhar’s name isn’t on Hadiyyah’s birth certificate. He has no legal claim, which makes getting the
police involved problematic.

As the story progresses Angelina returns and demands to know what Azhar has done with their daughter. It turns out the child has disappeared, this time from in a marketplace in Tuscany where Angelina now lives with her lover.

The story heats up and so does Barbara’s efforts to find the child. Barbara figuratively climbs into bed with a tabloid journalist whose prime directive is to get the story, spin it with rapier disregard for consequences and sell papers. The best that can be said for Mitchell Corsico is his determination to get the facts. What he does with them is another matter entirely. Barbara hopes to manipulate him and his newspaper to achieve her own ends, but her plans backfire on her time and again, causing Lynley’s high regard for her to take a tumble, and their boss to threaten to sack her.

She can hardly get past one crisis before another rises. The private investigator Azhar hires hits a dead end and Barbara is left with nothing but frustration.

But there is much more going on than Barbara knows. As she learns about Azhar and his actions, she must decide between loyalty and facts. She will do anything to protect him. In her determination to find Hadiyyah and keep Azhar safe from legal action, she is blind to what is going on around her. An enemy within the ranks of Scotland Yard is doing everything he can to undermine her and tarnish her reputation. Not even Lynley can protect her, especially since she insists on going her own way. The private investigator she has hired, who had previously worked for Azhar, is lying and covering his tracks.

The one thing Barbara refuses to believe or even consider is that she cares more deeply for Azhar than she’s willing to admit. These feelings color every decision and effect every choice on her road to discovery.

Be prepared to curl up for a long siege of reading. Every one of the 725-plus pages draws you into the story. You want to keep going until you reach the climax.

In “Just One Evil Act,” we see Barbara in a different light and come to understand more about her as a woman. She is clever, determined and loyal. She may not be conventionally attractive but everything about her speaks of a woman at peace with who she is.

Elizabeth George is a master at complex story lines. Her characters are rich and colorful, distinctive and compelling. Her plot development is flawless and her use of language memorable.

George is a graduate of University of California in Riverside. She also attended California State University at Fullerton, where she was awarded a master’s degree in Counseling/Psychology and an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

She is American born and educated but writes with a sharp understanding of British culture, use of language, and police procedure.

According to her website she started out as a teacher, and much like Barbara, not inclined to go along to get along. She was fired from her first job along with ten other teachers for union activity.

George has won the Anthony Award, the Agatha Award, and France’s Le Grand Prix de Literature Policiere for her novel “A Great Deliverance,” for which she was also nominated for the Edgar and the Macavity Awards. She has also been awarded Germany’s MIMI for her novel “Well-Schooled in Murder.”

Monday, September 2, 2013

Book Review: A Serpent's Tooth

Title: A Serpent’s Tooth
Author: Craig Johnson
Publisher: Viking
Price: $26.95 (Hardcover)

I’ve read every single Walt Longmire mystery in the series. That tells you how much I like the characters, the storyline and the writing. A Serpent’s Tooth doesn’t disappoint. From the moment Walt jails a “lost boy” with no apparent connections, to the arrival of the ghost of Orrin Porter Rockwell – a legendary enforcer for the founders of the Mormon religion, right down to the confrontation with greedy thieves hauling oil out of a camouflaged canyon by the truckloads, the action moves with lightening speed.

Henry Standing Bear, Vic Morretti and the rest of the sheriff’s crew do their part to keep the action lively. The dialogue is crisp, the mystery compelling, the characters well defined and the premise timely.

Author Craig Johnson has a way of engaging the reader by weaving current events, history, literary references, spirituality and a touch of romance into his novels. 

Walt Longmire is clearly a man to be reckoned with, unwilling to vary from his personal true north, which is to protect those who need protection and go after the bad guys with relentless determination.
In A Serpent’s Tooth the difficulty lies in who to go after. The boy, Cord, is from a compound posing as a religious community, but Walt has his doubts. There’s something odd about Cord, the place he comes from and the disappearance of the boy’s mother.

Walt must look beyond the obvious, tread carefully through a morass of unrelated clues, and determine what crime has been committed and by whom.

It’s further complicated by suspicions that a couple of Walt’s deputies may have known more about what’s going on than they let on. And then there’s the guy claiming to be with the CIA on behalf of Homeland Security. Who is he? Is he telling the truth? Walt is on the hunt, and he won’t quit until he has the answers, all the answers.

Johnson, a proud resident of U-Cross, Wyo., is a New York Times best selling author with eight published novels, several of which have won awards and critical acclaim.
In a radio interview I did with Johnson a year ago, he talked about how important it is for his

characters – particularly Sheriff Longmire – to be realistic. In the development of Longmire he spent hours with working sheriffs and other law enforcement personnel learning how it’s done. Detail is important to him as is understanding and conveying the complexity of his characters.

In a Publisher’s Weekly interview, Johnson was asked if his books are “westerns.”

“They are in the sense that they’re novels set in the American West, but I try to deal with the universal imperative of the human condition. I love and live in the West, but I also try to be honest about it. I’d be a fool to not realize that there’s a certain amount of baggage that goes along with writing contemporary western fiction, but instead of falling into the ruts, I try and take it down the road less traveled.”

Johnson is good at taking his readers down that road, and he’s good at telling stories, which is the best thing you can say about a writer no matter what genre they’re writing in.

A Serpent’s Tooth is available at booksellers nationwide, and through online retailers. For more information about the author and his books go to


This article also appears in Happenstance Magazine, published by Happenstance Publishing. For more information go to