Category Archives: Crooked Lane Books

Review: A Mortal Likeness by Laura Joh Rowland

Title: A Mortal Likeness by Laura Joh Rowland
Victorian Mystery Series Book Two
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Historical, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A photographer in 1889 London, Miss Sarah Bain runs a private detective agency with her friends, Lord Hugh Staunton and former street urchin Mick O’Reilly. Their sole credential is that they solved the Jack the Ripper case, a secret they can never tell because they did it outside the boundaries of the law. Their new big case arises when a wealthy banker, Sir Gerald Mariner, posts a handsome reward for finding his missing infant. All of London joins in the search. But Sarah has an advantage—a photograph she took during a routine surveillance job, which unexpectedly reveals a clue about the kidnapping.

After Sir Gerald hires Sarah, Hugh, and Mick to find his son, they move into his opulent mansion and discover a photograph of baby Robin. It eerily resembles postmortem photographs taken of deceased children posed to look as if they’re alive. Was the kidnapping real, or a cover-up for a murder? Is the perpetrator a stranger, or someone inside the troubled Mariner family? The case hits close to home for Sarah as it intertwines with her search for her father, who disappeared after he became the prime suspect in a murder twenty-three years ago. She finds herself on the wrong side of the law, which threatens her budding romance with Police Constable Barrett. But Sarah must uncover the truth about Robin’s kidnapping, and her own family, before her past catches up to her in A Mortal Likeness, the gripping follow-up to award-winning author Laura Joh Rowland’s The Ripper’s Shadow.

Review:

A Mortal Likeness by Laura Joh Rowland is a twisty turny historical mystery. This second installment in the Victorian Mystery series easily stands on its own, but I highly recommend book one, The Ripper’s Shadow, as well.

Photographer Sarah Bain and her close friend Lord Hugh Staunton are attempting to get their private inquiry business up and running. Their current case involves suspected adultery and while attempting to obtain photographic proof, Sarah and Hugh inadvertently stumble into the middle of a double homicide and a kidnapping case involving a baby. Sir Gerald Mariner, whose son Robin is missing, suspects the kidnapper is someone close to the family so he hires them to investigate. Will Sarah and Hugh uncover the kidnapper’s identity? Will they find Robin before harm befalls the missing boy? And what will the personal fallout be once Sarah’s Police Constable boyfriend, Thomas Barrett, discovers she has not been completely honest with him about her involvement in the case?

Upon their arrival at Sir Gerald’s estate, Hugh and Sarah must investigate a rather large pool of suspects. Robin’s mother, Lady Alexandra is keeping to herself with only her sister Tabitha Jenkins by her side. They also discover Gerald has a bit of a strained relationship with his children from his previous marriages. Oldest son Tristan is a member of the clergy and he is no longer in line to inherit his father’s vast wealth. Seventeen year old daughter Olivia is rather volatile, impetuous and angry with her father for shipping her off to boarding school. Non family members include bodyguard John Pierce who resents Hugh and Sarah’s presence and their investigation. Sarah is deeply suspicious of medium Raphael DeQuincey but just because she believes he is a charlatan does not necessarily mean he is involved in Robin’s disappearance.

Then there is the matter of baby Robin’s last photograph which was taken about six months before his disappearance. Sarah picks up on a bit of an irregularity in the picture that deeply troubles her.  She and Hugh learn some rather disquieting information from the servants that might support Sarah’s suspicions. However, this theory is just one of many they consider throughout their investigation.

A Mortal Likeness is an intriguing mystery with a very perplexing crime to solve. Sarah and Hugh are extremely close but they find themselves at odds throughout their investigation and their friendship becomes precarious as they search for the truth. Sarah is dismayed when her romance with Thomas is threatened when he discovers her involvement in Robin’s case.  Laura Joh Rowland brilliantly keeps readers on the edge of their seats with a dazzling array of stunning twists and turns.  While the current case is completely wrapped up by the novel’s end, Sarah’s discoveries about her long missing father will leave fans breathlessly awaiting the next installment in the Victorian Mystery series.

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Filed under A Mortal Likeness, Crooked Lane Books, Historical, Laura Joh Rowland, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Suspense, Vickie McDonough, Victorian Mystery Series

Review: The Devil’s Claw by Lara Dearman

Title: The Devil’s Claw by Lara Dearman
Jennifer Dorey Series Book One
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 332 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Following a traumatic incident in London, journalist Jennifer Dorey has returned home to Guernsey, taking a job as a local newspaper reporter. When she finds a drowned woman on a beach, Jennifer uncovers something much bigger and more sinister than she first thought.

Jennifer enlists the help of DCI Michael Gilbert, an officer on the verge of retirement, to investigate a pattern of similar deaths over the last fifty years. They follow a dark trail of island myths and folklore to the illegitimate son of a Nazi soldier, whose painstakingly executed work has so far gone undetected. But as Jennifer gets closer to the truth of the killer’s identity, she finds herself stepping deeper into his grasp.

Jennifer thinks she’s safe, but the dark hides sinister things in The Devil’s Claw, Lara Dearman’s exhilarating debut novel.

Review:

The Devil’s Claw by Lara Dearman is a beguiling mystery set on the island of Guernsey. This first installment in the Jennifer Dorey series stars an intrepid newspaper reporter who unearths a series of murders  that stretches over a span of 50 years.

Jennifer “Jenny” Dorey  returned to her small hometown following the death of her father and a rather traumatic incident in London. She is a thorough reporter who uncovers some very unsettling information following the recent drowning death of a local young woman, Amanda Guille. Discovering a startling pattern of young women’s deaths that begins in the 1960s, Jenny teams up with Detective Chief Inspector Michael Gilbert to learn the truth about what happened to these troubled young women who bear an eerie yet striking resemblance to one another.

Jenny has suffered a couple of traumas in her life and at the start of the story, she cannot be certain whether or not someone is following her. Could the person who threatened her on her last story in London have tracked her down in Guernsey? Or is someone much closer to home responsible? Before she can get to the bottom of her personal mystery, Jenny is distracted by her mother’s recollection of the drowning death of her childhood friend back in the 1960s. This startling revelation catches her attention and she begins researching the deaths of several young women who have drowned over the past half century.

Well aware of the implications for the police department’s handling of these deaths, Michael  immediately begins reviewing the old case files. Although he is not particularly well-liked by his colleagues, no one can deny that Gilbert is a thorough investigator with incredibly well-honed instincts. Once he finds definitive proof that indicates a serial killer has most likely been operating under the radar for nearly fifty years, Michael has no choice but to go public with these findings in hopes of uncovering new evidence.

Interspersed with the chapters which follow Jenny and Michael’s investigations are entries from the killer’s point of view. His identity is unknown but startling details about his parentage, unhappy childhood and his derisive opinion about his mother offer insight into this very troubled man. Will Michael and Jenny unmask his identity before he kills again?

The Devil’s Claw is a clever mystery that incorporates elements of Guernsey’s history and folklore into the storyline. Jenny and Michael are wonderfully developed characters who both have somewhat tragic and troubled backstories that are easy to relate to. Lara Dearman’s descriptive prose brings Guernsey and its inhabitants vibrantly to life. The truth about the killer’s identity is carefully concealed right up until the novel’s nail biting conclusion. Fans of the genre are sure to enjoy this first installment of the Jennifer Dorey series.

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Filed under Contemporary, Crooked Lane Books, Jennifer Dorey Series, Lara Dearman, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Suspense, The Devil's Claw

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