Monday, January 24, 2011


 If you’re trying to get away from all the cold air and snow, maybe it’s time to try a couple of hot, quirky mysteries set in sunny Texas and Florida. Each action-packed book stars a quick-thinking, heavy-drinking hero, who gets into dangerous situations and a lot of trouble.

“Web of Greed” by Mancelona MI author Buzz Harcus (Sandhill Publishing, $15) is a fast-paced crime novel introducing Houston TX Detective Sam August, who enjoys pretty women, drinking and sailing, but not in any specific order.

The ex-Marine is called into a bloody crime scene with four dead bodies and begins working on the case, trying to put together clues.

His investigation leads to a scheming millionaire, his pretty wife, a talented actress, a crooked lawyer and a cold-blooded psychopath.

There’s also an ambitious, obnoxious FBI agent, assorted members of an Asian crime gang and a nasty villain with evil intentions.
With violence galore, it’s tough to stop turning the pages; the hard-working detective gets himself in deadly trouble in almost every chapter.

While this paperback offers a pretty unusual view of cops, it’s not always politically correct. Even with numerous typos, it’s still highly entertaining.

Harcus has self-published two earlier books, “China Marine: Tsingtao Treasure” and “Tainted Treasure”. For more information, contact the author at

“Bitter Legacy” by H. Terrell Griffin (Oceanside, $28)
is the fifth book in the excellent series featuring Matt Royal, an ex-Special Services veteran and retired lawyer.

He’s gone down to Florida to retire and has many of the same attributes as Harcus’ main character, except he’s not a cop. When a sniper tries to kill his buddy, Royal decides to investigate; soon there’s an attempt on his life.

Royal can’t figure out why anybody would be after either of them; soon a mild-mannered attorney is murdered and an aging visitor from the Bahamas is almost beaten to death.

Griffin adds many more plot twists and historical aspects as the body count rises. He deftly uses distinctive characters, including a reclusive billionaire, an albino, assorted biker gang members and a fast-shooting, innovative, mysterious government agent.

In the best John D. MacDonald tradition, the pulse-pounding action never stops; Griffin’s well developed, crime novel provides solid escapism.

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime novels and noir thrillers regularly since 1987.


Monday, January 17, 2011


Jeepers creepers! Dean Koontz is back with another scary but entertaining novel designed to make you shiver and quiver.

"What the Night Knows" (Bantam, $28) is not for everyone, but will likely to be embraced by many loyal fans longing for the old-style Koontz, who wrote captivating thrillers.

If you're not offended by an early jailhouse scene or perturbed by vicious, bloody murderous rampages, you're in for a wild literary ride.

The novel is set in a nameless town, in contemporary times and introduces John Calvino, a hard-working homicide cop with his own dark secrets.

Twenty years earlier, Calvino's parents and sisters were brutally killed and savaged by Alton Turner Blackwood, who had murdered three other families.

John, 14 at the time, stopped the terror and killed Blackwell. John is now living a half-continent away, happily married with three pre-adolescent kids.

He's called to a local crime scene with worrisome similarities to his own past, making John wonder whether a copycat serial killer is on the loose.

The reality is much worse, particularly after another family is murdered in identical fashion.

John feels his wife and three children will become victims of the devious killer, and tries to take steps to avoid it.

His kids are having problems of their own, slowly being exploited by a persistent supernatural presence.

It gets better - or worse from there - as this nightmarish, nerve-wracking tale defies easy categorization.

It's part ghost story, part police procedural and part supernatural thriller, with considerable suspense and a touch of romance.

Koontz is at his best when ratcheting up the tension toward the end; further insights into the serial killer's warped mind are revealed through dark diary-type entries.

The dialogue of the Calvino kids flows smoothly, capturing many childhood nuances. Understandably, they're reluctant to discuss strange occurrences at the house.

Longtime Koontz readers won't be surprised by the appearance of a golden retriever, although the dog's role is limited.

There's less emphasis on spirituality than in most of Koontz's recent books, with virtually none of the quirky humor that has made his "Odd Thomas" series so appealing.

This is a top-notch, chilling tale from a master of the genre.

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, January 16, 2011

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime novels and noir thrillers regularly since 1987.


Sunday, January 9, 2011


If you’re ready to sit down near the fireplace and relax with a cozy mystery, here’s a pair of intriguing recent paperbacks that offer enjoyable escapism.

Each book utilizes the theme of home renovation, with a savvy, likable, strong female character and a touch of romance.

“Mortar and Murder” by Jennie Bentley (Berkley Prime Crime, $7.99) is the fourth appealing book in her popular “Do-It-Yourself” series.

Avery Baker and her boyfriend Derek have purchased a
large run-down 225-year-old house on Rowanberry Island, just off the coast of Maine.
They plan on restoring it to its original splendor, then selling it, a monumental task. They’re diligently getting started when they find a woman’s dead body floating in nearby waters.

The local sheriff warns them not to get involved in the case, so of course they do, trying to figure out her identity.

A clue points to a local realtor, but that doesn’t help much, especially when a second woman turns up dead. The house has a “twin” on the opposite side of the island; Avery does research, learning more dark family secrets.

Avery discovers a hidden room in the house and has other assorted misadventures. Violence flares as Avery and Derek struggle to survive and solve a complex, deadly crime.

“If Walls Could Talk” by Juliet Blackwell (Obsidian, $6.99) is the first in a haunted home renovation series.
It introduces Melanie Turner, who’s taken over her father’s construction business, remodeling houses in the San Francisco Bay area.

Matt Addax, her latest client, wants to restore a huge dilapidated Pacific Heights mansion, which has a “twin” house located next door. He and Melanie discover Kenneth, his business manager, badly wounded after a party at the site.

Kenneth dies, implicating Matt, who is soon arrested.

Melanie is trying to track down a determined killer, who is seeking a valuable item that may be hidden in the structure.

There’s a wide assortment of possible villains, and a touch of romance as Melanie reconnects and gets assistance from a hunky former boyfriend.

They soon get deeper in trouble, especially when Kenneth’s frustrated, talkative ghost appears on the scene.
These books are ideal for lovers of the “Murder, She Wrote” television series, although it deals with a younger generation.

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime novels and noir thrillers regularly since 1987.


Sunday, January 2, 2011


It's tough to keep track of all the interesting new books dealing with Michigan history. Here's a brief look at three paperbacks that came out last year that are worth picking up.

"Michigan State Fair" by John Minnis and Lauren Beaver (Arcadia, $21.95) is a wonderful collection of photos and facts about the nation's oldest state fair, which began in Detroit in 1849.

It shifted locales frequently before returning permanently to Detroit; there's a great ad for the fair held in Lansing in 1889.

Minnis, a respected journalist, and Beaver, an MSU student, have compiled a fascinating book that really captivates the imagination, emphasizing a variety of fun-filled events that took place.

It also includes photos of famous people who appeared at the fair, ranging from President William Howard Taft, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans to Ricky Nelson, the Temptations and the Jackson Five.

The detailed captions very accurately describe the uniqueness of the Michigan State Fair, offering many behind-the-scenes glimpses of the major historical event.

"The Michigan Murders" by Edward Keyes (University of Michigan Press, $22.95) is a mesmerizing examination of a series of killings that took place in the Ann Arbor/ Ypsilanti area in the late 1960s.
It focuses on the violent, brutal murders of seven girls and young women aged 13 to 23, whose mutilated bodies were dumped in the surrounding area.

Originally published in 1977, this volume was nominated for the Edgar Award as the Best Fact Crime Book of the Year.

Keyes' work is considered by many as a landmark in true crime writing; this edition has an excellent prologue by Mardi Link and a new epilogue by Laura James.

As a courtesy and using a stylistic device of the times, Keyes changes the names of the victims and killer. Many readers many will recognize clean-cut "James Armstrong" as John Norman Collins, who is still serving time in prison.

"In the Shadow of the Bear" by Jim McGavran (Michigan State University Press, $19.95) is a laid-back Michigan memoir.

It explores McGavran's upbringing and examines parental attitudes and lifestyles of a bygone era. While serving as an ode to his parents and other family members, it also deftly captures a sense of place, savoring many aspects of growing up at Leelanau.

McGavran's intriguing effort would be better if he had used shorter paragraphs, but his inclusion of family photos makes the book more enjoyable.

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, January 2, 2011

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime novels and noir thrillers regularly since 1987.