Category Archives: Crooked Lane Books

Review: Unnatural Causes by Dawn Eastman

Title: Unnatural Causes by Dawn Eastman
Dr. Katie LeClair Mystery Series Book One
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Katie LeClair has finally settled down as the new doctor in Baxter, MI. After years of moving, schooling, and training, she wants nothing more than to find a place she can call home, and a small town outside of Ann Arbor seemed perfect.

Katie quickly gets to work in building a life for herself in Baxter, and beyond reviving her love life, she also finds a pair of business partners in a team of father and son family practitioners. But that idyllic dream is immediately shattered when one of her patients is found dead. That wouldn’t be the worst thing, except the death is ruled a suicide, and as evidence has it, the suicide was a result of the medication Katie had prescribed. But she doesn’t remember writing it.

When a closer investigation reveals it was murder, Katie is catapulted into an off-the-books investigation that leads her down a dark path of past secrets. But someone is willing to kill to keep part of the town’s history in the shadows, and Katie must race to find out who before it’s too late in nationally bestselling author Dawn Eastman’s riveting series debut Unnatural Causes.

Review:

Unnatural Causes by Dawn Eastman is a perplexing and refreshingly unique mystery. This first installment in the Dr. Katie LeClair Mystery series features a charming lead protagonist and a delightful small town setting.

Dr. Katie LeClair has settled into her partnership with Drs. Emmett & Nick Hawkins, the father and son duo who own family a practice clinic in Baxter, MI. However, Katie is bewildered and upset when one of her patients, Ellen Riley, dies from an apparent overdose of medication that she does not remember prescribing for her. Ellen’s husband, Christopher Riley and her daughter, Beth Wixom, are also skeptical that Ellen committed suicide so Katie agrees to help Beth look into the case. When the autopsy proves Ellen was, in fact, murdered, police Chief John Carlson has his work cut out for him investigating her death since the crime scene was not preserved.  Katie and her brilliant computer genius brother, Caleb, discover puzzling information on Ellen’s computer, but will Katie be able to fit the pieces of this confusing puzzle together and unmask a killer?

Katie really enjoys working with both Emmett and Nick but immediately following Ellen’s death, she notices their relationship appears to be a little rocky. She is also concerned by the uncharacteristic dimming of Emmett’s typical upbeat personality. As she tries to uncover the mystery surrounding Ellen’s prescription, Katie becomes aware of some troubling discoveries within the practice.  When Nick unexpectedly takes time off from work,  Katie experiences disturbing suspicions that something is just a bit off when she covers for him in his pain clinic.

Reluctant to search for evidence to back up these misgivings, Katie instead focuses on looking into the research project Ellen was working on just before her death. Ellen inadvertently stumbled across a secret that someone does not want revealed, but Katie is hard put to make figure out exactly what her deceased patient discovered. Her quest for answers leads to digging around in the complicated histories of some Baxter’s citizens but Katie quickly learns just how far people will go to keep the past buried.

With a wonderful cast of quirky characters, an intriguing mystery and a gutsy heroine, Unnatural Causes by Dawn Eastmanis an engrossing mystery. The investigation into Ellen’s death is fast-paced and the situation at Katie’s family practice is quite interesting.  With a dash of romance, a hint of danger and an unforgettable amateur sleuth, the Dr. Katie LeClair Mystery series is off to a promising beginning that will leave fans eagerly awaiting future installments.

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Filed under Contemporary, Crooked Lane Books, Dawn Eastman, Dr Katie LeClair Mystery Series, Mystery, Review, Unnatural Causes

Review: Bury the Past by James L’Etoile

Title: Bury the Past by James L’Etoile
Detective Penley Mystery Series Book Two
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

How do you stop a killer who’s already behind bars?

Sacramento Police Detectives John Penley and Paula Newberry are enlisted to investigate a case involving the trafficking of stolen street drugs. But they quickly find it’s more difficult than they first imagined when the crime is being committed by a group of corrupt cops undermining the system.

That’s not the only wrench thrown at Penley and Newberry, however, as Sherman, the leader of the group, is orchestrating murders against those who testified against him. He turns the lens onto Newberry, who begins to receive blame and as the political pressure mounts, it’s clear someone has to pay for the crimes. And it comes down to Newberry or Sherman.

With a plot full of twisty, hairpin runs and heart-pounding action, Jim L’Etoile’s Bury the Past is a riveting follow-up to the first in the Detective Penley mysteries, At What Cost.

Review:

Bury the Past is a fast paced mystery with a complex storyline about police corruption and revenge. This second installment in James L’Etoile’s  Detective Penley Mystery series can easily be read as a standalone.

Penley is one of the few cops who do no not have a problem with the fact that his current partner, Detective Paula Newberry, worked in Internal Affairs before her current assignment in homicide. One of her most prominent cases involved exposing major police corruption on a narcotics task force. Several cops from this case begin turning up dead just as former Sheriff department officer Charles Sherman is released from prison after his conviction is overturned.  This puts Newberry in the crosshairs of District Attorney Linda Clarke who makes it clear that she is convinced Paula is responsible for the murders.  With only a short span of time, Penley and Newberry are desperately attempting to show that Sherman is framing Paula for the murders. Will they find the evidence they need to bolster their case despite the fact that Sherman was behind bars when murders started?

Despite the ever increasing amount of evidence to the contrary, Penley has absolutely no doubt that Newberry is not a killer. Together, they frantically try to find the evidence they need to not only clear her name, but prove that Sherman masterminded the plot.  An equally daunting task is showing the evidence recovered at the crime scenes has been planted in an effort to frame Paula. With Sherman quickly evading their attempts to keep him under surveillance, Paula and John immediately run up against the white supremacists that Sherman befriended behind bars. With Paula under investigation by Internal Affairs and increasing pressure from DA Cooke, the crime fighting duo turn up the heat on Sherman’s former associates in an attempt to uncover the truth but a shocking revelation turns the entire case upside down.

Bury the Past is an outstanding police procedural that has an clever but slightly unrealistic storyline.  Penley and Newberry are well-developed characters who are very easy like despite their flaws and quirks. With plenty of cunning twists and turns, James L’Etoile keeps this readers on the edge of their seats as the novel wends its way to an action-packed, exciting conclusion.  A wonderful addition to the Detective Penley Mystery series that old and new fans are sure to enjoy.

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Filed under Bury the Past, Crooked Lane Books, Detective Penley Mystery Series, James L'Etoile, Mystery, Rated B, Review

Review: Dead of Winter by Wendy Corsi Staub

Title: Dead of Winter by Wendy Corsi Staub
Lily Dale Series Book Three
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Supernatural, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Just as a murderer dumps his corpse into the lake across Valley View in Lily Dale, Bella Jordan happens to be at her window, not quite realizing what she’s seeing. Unbeknownst to her, the killer spots her silhouette and prowls straight to her door. That is, until he’s interrupted by a black cat. A superstitious gambler, he takes off, but Bella’s seen too much, and he vows to return.

Jiffy Arden, a neighborhood kid looking for the black cat and stumbling across the killer, begins to have premonitions of being kidnapped during the season’s first snowstorm. Sure enough, when it strikes, he vanishes, never arriving home from the bus stop. While her son, Max, believes Jiffy has been kidnapped, Bella is convinced he’s just wandered off as he typically does… until a body shows up in the lake.

Now everyone is pulling out all the stops to find the missing child, identify the victim, and collar the killer. And fast, because he’s coming for Bella next in Dead of Winter.

Review:

Dead of Winter by Wendy Corsi Staub is a leisurely-paced cozy mystery set in the psychic/medium enclave of Lily Dale. This third installment in the Lily Dale Mystery series can easily stand on its own, but I recommend the other novels in the series as well.

The day after observing a curious light on the lake and hearing an ominous scream, innkeeper and non-psychic Bella Jordan finds a corpse washed up on shore. The widowed mom of six year old Max is shaken by the discovery and when Max’s friend Jiffy Arden goes missing, she is very worried about the little boy. She has little in common with his mother, medium Misty Starr, who is not the most attentive of parents. Although Bella empathizes with the young mom’s concern for her missing son, she is also frustrated by Misty’s reliance on her mystical powers to find Jiffy. When another victim is found and Misty also vanishes, Lieutenant John Grange hopes Max and Bella can help with the investigations.

Coming up on the one year anniversary of her husband Sam’s death, Bella is busy getting ready for the holidays and trying to finish up the renovations she is doing for extra money. She keeps a rather close eye on both Max and Jiffy after her shocking discovery of the murdered man but she is distracted the day Jiffy disappears.  Although somewhat skeptical of her neighbors’ supernatural abilities, Bella cannot help but take some of their vague warnings to heart in the aftermath of Jiffy’s kidnapping and Misty’s troubling disappearance. Can the answers to the recent events in town somehow be related to the unexpected phenomena Bella is suddenly experiencing at the inn? Is Jiffy’s disappearance related to the unsolved murders? And even more worrisome, where is Misty?

Despite the rather unhurried pacing, Dead of Winter is an engaging mystery with a cast of quirky yet likable characters and a clever storyline.  Bella is a wonderful protagonist who continues to evolve as the series progresses.  The mystery element of the storyline is well-done and Wendy Corsi Staub brings the novel to an exciting conclusion. This latest release is another entertaining installment in the Lily Dale Mystery series that old and new fans will enjoy.

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Filed under Contemporary, Crooked Lane Books, Dead of Winter, Lily Dale Mystery, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Supernatural Elements, Suspense, Wendy Corsi Staub

Review: Unholy City by Carrie Smith

Title: Unholy City by Carrie Smith
Claire Codella Mystery Series Book Three
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 310 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Despite their rocky history, Detective Claire Codella and Precinct Detective Brian Haggerty come together when senior churchwarden Philip Graves’s bloody body is found lying in the herb garden of historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side just two days before Good Friday. Upon first glance, it looks like a random act of big city violence, but it soon becomes clear churchwarden Philip’s death was the result of a meticulously calculated ploy by someone who knew him.

There are five vestry members and a choir director in addition to the ten homeless men asleep in the church basement. Any one of them could have done it, but what did Philip Graves do to warrant such a merciless death? Struggling to share the case and salvage their personal relationship, Claire, Brian and trusted Detective Eduardo Muñoz work around the clock to uncloak the desires, secrets, and resentments that find home through the iron gates and into the hidden beauty of one historic Romanesque church in Unholy City, the haunting third installment in Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella mysteries.

Review:

In Unholy City, the third outing in Carrie Smith’s brilliant Claire Codella Mystery series, prominent members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church fall under suspicion following the murder of churhwarden Philip Graves. This newest release can be read as a standalone, but I HIGHLY recommend the previous novels as well.

Following a vestry meeting, Rose Bartruff discovers Philip’s body in the church’s herb garden. Fellow committee member Dr. Susan Bentley performs CPR to no avail. Detective Brian Haggerty catches the case, but upon discovering Philip’s death was due to foul play, his former partner and current girlfriend Detective Claire Codella is called in to investigate. Immediately discovering the body of church secretary, Emily Flounders, Claire adds Detective Eduardo Munoz to her team. Between the three detectives, they interview Roger Sturgis, Peter Linton, Vivian Wakefield, Rector Anna Brookes, Todd Brookes and Stephanie Lund. While they do not immediately uncover a viable suspect or motive for the murders, Claire is certain that, other than Rose, no one is being completely honest with them. Will Codella, Haggerty and Munoz uncover the truth before the killer strikes again?

Although she is completely recovered from her cancer treatments, Claire continues to navigate her often contentious relationship with her boss Lt. Dennis McGowan.  Ducking him as much as possible, she concentrates on interviewing suspects and following leads as she, Haggerty and Munoz try to zero in on what happened during the vestry meeting at the church. Feeling confident Rose is the only person from the meeting who is not hiding anything, Claire wants to know what happened during a crucial fifteen minute block of time when Rose was out of the room. Haggerty feels like Anna might be their weakest link since it obvious she has something to get off her chest, but will she find the courage to spill her secrets? Anna’s husband Todd was not present at the meeting but his sudden appearance during the investigation puts him on the suspect list too. Long time member and junior churchwarden, Vivian is upset about Philip’s plans to raise much needed revenue, but would she murder him to protect the church? Vivian’s nephew-in-law Roger is definitely hiding something, but how far would he go to keep his secret from being discovered? Susan is agonizing over what the murder investigation will reveal about her life, but is she responsible for killing Philip?  Peter is furious that his proposal to bring in money through the cemetery and crematorium is struck down but is he angry enough to kill Philip for presenting another means for raising money?

With three puzzling murders, a vast pool of suspects  and no obvious motive, Unholy City is an intriguing police procedural. Despite juggling her new romance with Haggery and her tense relationship with McGowan, Claire remains intensely focused on uncovering the truth about Philip and Emily’s deaths. The investigation moves at an even pace with Carrie Smith cleverly concealing the killer’s identity and motive for the murders until the novel’s exciting, action-packed conclusion. I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend this outstanding addition to the Claire Codella Mystery series to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Carrie Smith, Claire Codella Mystery Series, Contemporary, Crooked Lane Books, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense, Unholy City

Review: Much Ado About Murder by Elizabeth J. Duncan

Title: Much Ado About Murder by Elizabeth J. Duncan
Shakespeare in the Catskills Mystery Series Book Three
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 194 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Costume designer Charlotte Fairfax has another murder on her hands as she prepares for the latest performance of the Catskills Shakespeare Theater Company, Much Ado About Nothing. The company’s steady growth enables them to cast star British actress Audrey Ashley, who arrives on scene to play the lead role of Beatrice. But things immediately get more complicated when Audrey insists the company replace the current director with new, up and coming British director Edmund Albright.

Edmund plans to change the popular romantic comedy, which alienates several people associated with the production. And the list of people he upsets only grows: the laid off former director, the hotel owner’s secretary, and even Audrey herself. Just as Edmund’s plans are about to come to fruition, his body is discovered on his sofa, holding a gun in his hand. His death is quickly ruled a suicide but Charlotte thinks otherwise. Why would Edmund, on the brink of greatness, kill himself? And in such an American way?

With a whole cast of characters to investigate, Charlotte is determined to unmask each one before it’s final curtain call on the whole production in award-winning author Elizabeth J. Duncan’s third Shakespeare in the Catskills mystery, Much Ado About Murder.

Review:

In Elizabeth J. Duncan’s latest installment in the Shakespeare in the Catskills Mystery series, Much Ado About Murder, costume designer and amateur sleuth Charlotte Fairfax investigates the troubling death of replacement director, Edmund Albright. The police have ruled his death a suicide but Charlotte and her friend Paula Van Dusen are certain he was murdered. But who amongst the cast of their latest production would have killed him?

Just as rehearsals on the upcoming production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing are about to begin, the company’s director abruptly leaves his position. Charlotte and Paula put their heads together and suggest local Wade Radcliffe as their replacement, but lead actress Audrey Ashley wants British director Edmund Albright to direct the play.  Needless to say, neither Charlotte nor Paula are overly excited about Audrey’s choice and soon the entire cast is up in arms by Edmund’s vision for the play. However, before rehearsals have even begun, Audrey and Charlotte discover Edmund’s lifeless body in the director’s bungalow. Based on evidence at the scene, the police quickly rule his death a suicide but Charlotte is equally certain someone murdered him. In between rehearsals and designing the costumes, Charlotte searches for evidence to support her theory.

The first person that Charlotte takes a close look at during her investigation is local actress Mattie Lane. Mattie has made no secret that she desires bigger and better roles, but how far would she go to make that happen? Well, since Charlotte knows Mattie has already tried to sway Edmund into recasting her into a more important role, she must consider the budding actress as one of her chief suspects.

Then there is newcomer Audrey Ashley and her sister/manager Maxine Kaminski. Maxine is quite protective of Audrey but would she commit murder to help Audrey’s career? Since Audrey suggested Edmund for the director position, what possible motive would she have for killing him? Like most of the cast, Audrey is dismayed by Edmund’s vision for their upcoming production but is she upset enough over his interpretation of the play to kill him?

With Paula as her trusty sidekick, Charlotte eagerly begins digging into Edmund’s activities after his arrival in town. They quickly uncover some rather intriguing information that warrants a closer look. This tantalizing discovery yields startling revelations that Charlotte knows is somehow linked to Edmund’s death, but will she unmask the killer before it is too late?

With the murder not taking place until almost the halfway point, Much Ado About Murder is a low-key mystery with a wonderful cast of characters and a fantastic setting.  Skillfully but slowly setting the stage for Edmund’s untimely death, Elizabeth J. Duncan keeps the perpetrator’s identity and motive for the murder cleverly concealed until the novel’s exciting conclusion. This latest outing in the Shakespeare in the Catskills Mystery series will delight old and new fans who enjoy cozy mysteries.

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Filed under Contemporary, Crooked Lane Books, Elizabeth J Duncan, Much Ado About Murder, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Shakespeare in the Catskills Mystery Series

Review: Lies She Told by Cate Holahan

Title: Lies She Told by Cate Holahan
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the author of one of Kirkus Reviews’ best books of the year, The Widower’s Wife, comes an electrifying story of love and deceit.

The truth can be darker than fiction.

Liza Cole, a once-successful novelist whose career has seen better days, has one month to write the thriller that could land her back on the bestseller list. Meanwhile, she’s struggling to start a family, but her husband is distracted by the disappearance of his best friend, Nick. As stresses weigh her down in her professional and personal lives, Liza escapes into writing the chilling exploits of her latest heroine, Beth.

Beth, a new mother, suspects her husband is cheating on her while she’s home caring for their newborn. Angry and betrayed, she aims to catch him in the act and make him pay for shattering the illusion of their perfect life. But before she realizes what she’s doing, she’s tossing the body of her husband’s mistress into the East River.

Then, the lines between Liza’s fiction and her reality eerily blur. Nick’s body is dragged from the East River, and Liza’s husband is arrested for his murder. Before her deadline is up, Liza will have to face up to the truths about the people around her, including her own. If she doesn’t, the end of her heroine’s story could be the end of her own.

Review:

In Lies She Told, Cate Holahan skillfully utilizes the book within a book format which makes for an extremely  riveting read as chapters alternate between author Liza Cole and the protagonist in her work in progress, Beth.

Liza is extremely  stressed as she and her husband, David, struggle with infertility. Adding to their difficulties is the disappearance of David’s close friend and law partner, Nick Laundau, who disappeared a month earlier.  Liza is also on a tight deadline for her next novel so she is immersed in her latest project as she departs for a  writer’s conference. With her editor Trevor pressuring her for a sexy romantic suspense novel that will put her back on the bestseller’s list, Liza is exhausted, hormonal and frustrated by David’s preoccupation with finding Nick while at the same time trying to keep their law practice afloat. Liza is soon unable to tell fact from fiction as events in the present begin to bear eerie similarities to the  novel she is writing. Is life imitating art? Or is there a far more sinister reason for the shocking parallels?

Until recently, Liza’s twelve year marriage to David has been quite happy and fulfilling. Until she failed to conceive, the only blight on their happiness is the fact that Nick intensely dislikes her and he makes no effort to keep his feelings about her secret. Her infertility has begun to take a toll on their marriage but she refuses to give up on becoming pregnany even though David is no longer an active participant. Liza is resentful of her husband’s lack of support and she is not exactly sympathetic to his concern over Nick’s disappearance.

Escaping her real life problems by focusing on her work in progress, Liza finds it surprisingly easy to get inside the head of her protagonist, Beth. Beth is a new mother who stumbles across irrefutable proof her husband is cheating on her. Instead of confronting him, she becomes obsessed with him and his mistress. This obsession culminates with a horrific act and eventually the events in Liza’s novel begin to mimic the harrowing experiences happening in real life. Which begs the question: is Liza’s work in progress a product of her imagination?

From the chilling prologue until the action-packed conclusion, Lies She Told by Cate Holahan is an engrossing, suspense-laden read. Liza is a fascinating protagonist whose flaws make her sympathetic and relatable. The chapters from the work in progress are intriguing and just as interesting as the drama unfolding in Liza’s everyday life. This intricately plotted novel has plenty of twists, turns and a brilliantly executed book within a book concept that will keep readers on the edge of their seat until the shocking dénouement. An absolutely outstanding mystery that fans of the genre do not want to miss!

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Filed under Cate Holahan, Contemporary, Crooked Lane Books, Lies She Told, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense