Monday, February 28, 2011


Expect the unexpected in a pair of recent unusual self-published novels set in Michigan. Each could be classified as a coming-of age-novel - except they focus on substantial adult lifestyle changes.

"Root Cause" by Midland author James W. Crissman (Xlibris, $19.99) is an entertaining debut novel about a wide variety of subjects.

It showcases an unlikely hero, 32-year-old Bruce Dinkle, who has worked for eight years as a control board operator at a Bay City power plant.

Dinkle has become a hardcore locavore and urban agriculturist, eating foods only grown in a 100-mile radius.
He leaves his job, his wife and family, escaping via bicycle on a quest to discover where food comes from. He ends up in Parma, a small farming community where he learns more about food - and life - than he ever expected.

There's a great mix of quirky characters, including a randy goat farmer, a gutsy waitress, an angry husband, a very determined dog, an aging farmer and an experienced veterinarian.

Just when the reader thinks Dinkle's situation can't get much worse - it does. Crissman expertly adds dark humor, sexual overtones, deadly violence and numerous surprising, bizarre plot twists.

Crissman, an MSU grad who's a veterinary pathologist and a former large animal veterinarian, has won many prizes for his poetry. He has deftly created an atmospheric, strikingly memorable debut novel, which can be ordered at www.

"When Dreams Die" by Lansing author J.R. Kesler (CreateSpace, $14.95) features 26-year-old Donnie McLean, who's working a dead-end job as a janitor in a Flint bank building.

He was a high school basketball star eight years ago, before a terrible tragedy occurred on court. Now, his wife's a couch potato, he's a boozer and a loser, frustrated and ready to jump off a bridge. The police intervene, but McLean soon gets drunk and totals his car.

His route to recovery takes an odd twist when he meets a nurse. He decides to get back into shape and do the one thing he loves most - play basketball.

Kesler, while not always politically correct, smoothly uses flashbacks to tell a compelling story, developing strong characters and an intriguing plot.

Basketball fans will enjoy following McLean's growth as he struggles for survival and success. Copies can be ordered at

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, February, 27 2011.

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


Monday, February 21, 2011


Two recent crime novels focus on tough guys in deadly situations. One is set mostly in Los Angeles while the other takes place in Afghanistan.

"The Sentry" by award-winning author Robert Crais (Putnam, $26.95) is the latest in his series featuring Joe Pike, ex-cop and former mercenary.

Pike, who originally appeared in earlier novels as a sidekick to Elvis Cole ("The World's Greatest Detective"), has become a major character in his own right.

It starts innocently enough, when Pike steps in to break up the beating of Wilson Smith, a local sandwich shop owner, by a pair of young gang members.

Wilson's niece, Dru, joins them at the scene. She's worried about further retribution, but Pike assures her that there won't be any more problems. He's wrong.
Pike learns that federal agents have been watching the storefront, and the case becomes more complicated.
Smith and Rayne, who fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, have their own dark secrets. A killer is after them, leaving a bloody trail of corpses. Pike and Cole are in a violent, desperate struggle for survival, with unexpected consequences.

The award-winning author, who attended MSU's Clarion Fantasy and Science Fiction Writer's Workshop, has many years of television experience, including scriptwriting for "Miami Vice" and "Hill Street Blues."

Crais has written a gut-wrenching tale of death and deception. It's full of fast-paced action, vivid characters and clever plot twists.

"The Severance" by Elliott Sawyer (Bridge Works, $23.95) is a debut novel by a former U.S. Army Captain who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It features Capt. Jake Roberts, the head of a "rehabilitation platoon" that's made up of misfits and troublemakers. His unit gets assigned the tough challenges, much like the World War II soldiers who fought and were heroes of "The Dirty Dozen."

The first part of the novel introduces the assorted characters and their battles in the Afghan mountains. During one trip, they recover almost $5 million dollars in cash stashed by a crooked government contractor.
Plans are made to get the money back to the United States. But somebody's greedy and a scheme is uncovered to hijack the shipment.

This is a satisfactory but not spectacular crime novel that may be enjoyable for military fiction fans.

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, February, 20 2011.

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


Monday, February 14, 2011


Noah Boyd will be signing books on Wednesday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. at Schuler Books and Music, 1982 W. Grand River, Okemos

Noah Boyd’s latest crime novel, “Agent X” (William Morrow, $24.99), should come with a warning label: ”Don’t start this book unless you plan on staying up all night.”

The complicated, mesmerizing tale is the sequel to his best-selling debut, “The Bricklayer”, which introduced Steve Vail, former FBI agent.

Vail had previously worked out of the FBI’s Detroit office, but has voluntarily left the agency. He’s a maverick investigator who recently helped them solve a major domestic terrorist extortion case.

He goes to Washington D.C., planning on a romantic New Year’s Eve date with Kate Bannon, assistant director of the FBI. Of course, that doesn’t happen; soon, Vail and Bannon get involved in a complex espionage case.

A Russian embassy member known as Calculus has contacted the FBI, offering to supply them a list of names of Americans who’ve been leaking confidential information to the Russians.

Calculus is called back to Russia, but his extortion demands are still viable – the FBI will pay the money but wants to plug the leaks.

The results are initially satisfying, but soon turn deadly; Vail and Bannon have to work diligently with other FBI members as they try to stay one step ahead of a devious criminal.

This isn’t your usual cerebral espionage tale even though there are many clever plot twists and taut confrontations. The pulse-pounding action never stops, the dialogue is snappy and interesting sub-plots abound. It’s more of a classic anti-hero thriller, with a touch of romance thrown in.

Vail is a likable, strong character who spots clues that others have overlooked. Bannon initially survives a clever attempt on her life; her problems multiply. The introduction of FBI agent Luke Burlaw, who worked with Vail five years earlier in Detroit, adds additional depth.

Noah Boyd is the pseudonym of Paul Lindsay, who served in the Detroit FBI office for 20 years and was credited with solving the Highland Park Strangler case. Under his real name, he’s written “Witness to the Truth” and five other highly entertaining thrillers.

“The Bricklayer”, (Harper, $11.99) is now out in paperback; to fully appreciate Vail’s efforts, it’s best to read Boyd’s books in order

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, February, 13 2011.

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


Monday, February 7, 2011


Strong-willed heroines abound in three recent crime novels, featuring a young lawyer in love, an anthropologist with marriage plans and a private investigator expecting her first child.

“Law of Attraction” by MSU grad Allison Leotta (Touchstone, $25) is a nifty page-turner that introduces Anna Curtis, a new Assistant District Attorney in Washington D.C.

Curtis is dealing with many domestic violence issues; a case involving Laprea, a young woman beaten by her boyfriend, brings back dark memories. Curtis falls in love with Nick Wagner, the defense attorney in the case, who she knew in law school.

When Laprea turns up dead, Curtis faces a variety of ethical issues, especially when she is assigned to assist the chief homicide prosecutor in the murder case. Although part of the novel is predictable, Leotta’s debut offers excellent, intriguing, suspenseful escapism.

“One Grave Less” by Beverly Connor (Obsidian, $7.99) is the ninth in her popular series starring forensic anthropologist Dianne Fallon.

This paperback also showcases Lindsay Chamberlain, a quick-thinking archaeologist who’s appeared in her own series. Much of the fast-paced action takes place in the Amazon jungles of Brazil and a museum in Georgia. It’s slowed a bit as viewpoints alternate between the main characters.

Fallon is dithering about her upcoming marriage; she’s quite annoyed when numerous e-mails appear offering untrue allegations. The plot is exceptionally complicated and not always quite believable; violence abounds, with many close escapes.

Connor’s crime novel has other flaws: one nasty villain appears under six different names and the back cover gets the gender of a victim wrong. There’s relatively little actual forensic investigation involved; serious readers may enjoy earlier efforts.

“The Girl in the Green Raincoat” by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, $11.99) is a slim novella that focuses on
expectant Baltimore private eye Tess Monaghan, who’s under doctor’s orders to remain immobile.

Monaghan is stuck looking out the window most of the time; she notices a woman in a green raincoat walking a dog every day. When the dog appears running loose with its owner nowhere around, Monaghan investigates.

Getting help from her boyfriend and an associate,
she works diligently in the best “Rear Window”/”The Daughter of Time” tradition.
This entertaining novella was first serialized in the New York Times; it’s a real treat for Lippman fans who don’t want to wait for another Monaghan novel.

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

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, February, 6 2011

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