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Charlie Opera by Charlie Stella

Publisher: Carroll & Graf ISBN: 0786712139

Reviewed by C.J. Curry

Charlie Pellecchia and his wife Lisa are on vacation in Las Vegas. Things aren’t going too well for the couple. Charlie is beginning to suspect his wife is having an affair. Charlie tends to get wrapped up in opera music and doesn’t always pay attention but he is getting several strong hints, and so is trying to pay more attention to his wife.

But things are going from bad to worse and Charlie heads down to the casino to play a little and have a few drinks. The next morning Charlie woke up in a ditch behind a new casino building site. What a headache! He had been mugged. But wait a minute, he still had his wallet. After spending a few hours in the emergency room Charlie headed back to the safety of their room at the hotel. It took a while to register that Lisa wasn’t in residence. She and her belongings were gone. Charlie is having trouble trying to figure everything out. He should never have come to Vegas!

Getting tangled, inadvertently, with the mob, getting crosswise with the Las Vegas Police, the FBI, the DEA, is just the beginning. Charlie and Lisa, with her boyfriend, have become involved in more than they ever bargained for. These are not nice people………and Charlie doesn’t seem to be able to get any help from the police. So it is up to Charlie to protect himself and try not to let himself or Lisa get killed.

Charlie Stella has written a fast-paced-high voltage story here.  You feel you know some of these guys. Most of us don’t know many mobsters but we all know wannabes. Guys who want you to think they are tough. The hi-jinks of the Las Vegas hookers and the different factions of ethnic gangs is all too believable. I didn’t really care for all the blood and brutality but I did like Stella’s writing. I hope he can develop some more of these characters like Charlie and his new girlfriend, and perhaps some of the secondary characters, such as the cops, as well. The audience Stella was aiming for will love this book. It is right up there with the best. But for me , I would prefer some more character development and fewer sub-plots. …… But he does have a very clever way with words. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with next.

 

Bluebird Rising by John DeCure

 Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312273088

J. Shepard, L.A. lawyer and surfing fanatic, works for the California Bar Association prosecuting attorneys who’ve gone bad.  When he gets the opportunity to volunteer to mentor an attorney who’s essentially on parole, he jumps at the chance.  The attorney, Dale Bleeker, once a brilliant state prosecutor, and now a man who has lost it all, is the man responsible for J choosing law for his profession.  But soon J. discovers that there is trouble ahead when he learns that Dale had unwittingly lent his name to a scam involving false legal maneuverings.  As the two try to find a way out of the mess, they only dig themselves deeper by becoming involved with a couple who are trying to scam an old man out of his money.  And if things couldn’t worse, J. is also having problems on the home front.  His fiancée and her developmentally disabled brother have just moved in, which doesn’t start out smoothly, and only gets worse when he finds himself growing more and more attracted to his beautiful co-worker. So in-between the surfing and the fighting, J. must find a way out of the increasingly dangerous disaster that has become his life if he wants to live to see the future.  

More often than not, it’s difficult to empathize with J.  All too often he appears to be a boy dressed up as a lawyer, and an immature boy at that.  Fist fights, surfing when he should be working, and petty violent indulgences seem to his main priorities, which all become a bit tedious after awhile.  But as his intentions are at least usually honorable, some of this can be forgiven.  And while this is a fairly smooth read, the plot gets a bit bogged down by its many side-tracks, and this can get a bit mind-numbing at times.  It’s all saved, however, by the more personal side story of J and his troubled relationship with his fiancée, and his inner doubts about his ability to do the right thing in her eyes.  This makes J. seem a bit more human, and a bit more mature, and thankfully, a bit more worthy of empathy.   A series worth watching, if only to see which way J will go next, we definitely will be up for the next outing.

 

Fatal Remains by Eleanor T. Bland

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312300972 

Lincoln Prairie detectives Marti Macalister and Vic Jessenovik are called to investigate a murder at a large estate that is about to be sold for development.  A young woman who was doing a minor archeological dig looking for artifacts had been killed, and questions arising to what she may have found only seem to lead to more questions.  It appears the grounds may have once been important to an Indian tribe, as well as a stopping area for the Underground Railroad.  And when others who may have some answers begin to die of mysterious accidents, it becomes apparent that there is definitely something to be found that could affect the sale of the property, and therefore worth killing for.     

The blurb on the book jacket says “…..a convoluted case of murder and conspiracy dating back hundreds of years.”  Convoluted, indeed.  I felt I spent the majority of the book in a state of confusion that never did resolve itself.  Too many characters, too many unanswered questions, and a jumble of history that never seemed to quite make sense, all made this a frustrating read.  It’s unfortunate too, because there were definitely glimpses of important information that could’ve been stimulating and quite interesting.  But as Ms. Bland has put out numerous mysteries of quality, I still look forward to the next outing featuring this appealing duo.

 

The Outcast Dove by Sharan Newman

Publisher: Forge ISBN: 0765303779

Reviewed by Carroll Curry

Are you ready for a rollicking, good, medieval adventure story? Well, this is it!

The Outcast Dove is the ninth book in a Catherine LeVendeur Mystery series. While this book does not feature Catherine, it is about her cousin, Solomon and other relatives and friends. Solomon is on a mission for his Uncle but he gets sidetracked by a plea for help from his friend, Aaron. It seems that Aaron’s betrothed , Mayah, had been kidnapped and sold into slavery along with her friend, Zaida. Mayah’s parents had been killed and her fortune scattered to the four winds. So, forces were joined , and the quest was to begin. Aaron, however had arranged to join forces with a band of monks and their hired knights as guards. When Solomon found out who was to accompany them, he broke out into cold chills. Not only was the head monk his secret Father, who had abandoned the child Solomon and his mother, but one of the knights , Jehan, was a deadly enemy from Paris! Brother James, as he was now called, had revoked his Jewish faith to become a Catholic. Solomon hated him with all his being. But the arrangements had been made and the little band prepared to set out. Before they could depart, one of the monks was found murdered outside the monastery compound. He was replaced by another monk, Brother Martin, and the journey finally began.

In the meantime, Yousef, another Jewish member of the Toulouse community had decided to join their party along with his servant, Babylonia.. Babylonia had been causing trouble for Bonysach’s wife Josta and the people felt that she was out of control and wanted to banish her. She had become too unpredictable and dangerous. Yousef was taking her to another town , but he wouldn’t say just where.

Upon reaching one of the stops along the way, Babylonia escapes from Yousef and the party breaks up to search for her. Alas, another member of their party is found murdered! Did Babylonia do it? Or did someone just want then to think she did? Did someone think the murdered man was carrying gold?

Murder and mayhem…one adventure after another………one follows the other in this story. Sharan Newman has put together a good cast of characters, here. Characters that were too numerous to mention in this brief review. It made me want to brush up on my history of the period and for sure learn more about Jewish law and Catholic canon. It would be better to have read other books in this series but this story does stand alone. The sensitivity and knowledge of both faiths does shine through. I am looking forward to reading more in this series.