Friday Book Whimsy: Billy Summers

I liked two things about the novel Billy Summers: 1) I love the complexity of characters who do very bad things but are inherently good and likable; and 2) I’m never endingly impressed with the story telling abilities of author Stephen King.

Billy Summers is a hit man. A skilled sniper trained in the military, he kills for a living, and has ended the lives of many people. He has one rule, however. Strange as it might seem, Billy only kills people who have done very bad things.

Even with this rule, Billy is ready to hang up his assassin rifle and move onto a simpler life. He is coerced, however, into one more assignment — to kill an especially bad man while he is being transported from jail to the courtroom where he will be tried. Reluctantly, Bill agrees to this assignment because of the evilness of the man involved, not to mention the million dollars he would be able to carry off to his retirement somewhere where no one would find him.

He sets the stage by portraying a man working under deadline on a novel in an office with a clear shot to the courthouse exchange. Since he has time to kill (no one is certain as to when the trial will take place), Billy decides to actually try his hand on writing.

The result of all of this is a compelling story about a multifaceted man who tells the reader much of his story via the book he is writing. To make matters even more interesting, following the successful hit, Billy meets a young woman named Alice who was brutally raped by three men and dumped in front of the apartment where Billy is hiding out until the dust clears.

The relationship between Billy and this young woman is tender, despite the gritty nature of their life together. It is not romantic, but more of a uncle/niece type of relationship. Alice saves Billy and Billy saves Alice.

I love Stephen King’s writing, though I have no interest in his horror stories. His characters are realistic, and the stories are always unique. The book was slow reading in spots, and quite long, but overall, getting to know Billy Summers was worth some slogging.

I recommend the book.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Maid

Any time that I’ve spent a night or two at a hotel, I have appreciated the housekeeping help. At the same time, I have been so glad that wasn’t a job I had to do. I tip heavily.

The Maid, by Nita Prose, offers readers a character that they can’t help but like. Molly Gray is a maid at a hotel, a job she has held for many years. Though she lacks any social skills and is clearly on the spectrum, she does her job with efficiency and, well, joy. She was brought up by her grandmother who helped guide her through life, but who passed away a few months earlier. Now Molly has to manage on her own. She gives it all she can, and is one of the best employees in the hotel.

One day she enters the room of one of the hotel’s frequent visitors — a wealthy man who has a nasty way about him — and finds him dead in his bed. She knows that people are going to believe it was his wife who killed him, but Molly doesn’t think that is possible. Nonetheless, Molly is thrown right in the middle of the investigation, even being one of the suspects.

The story line is clever, but what makes Prose’s novel so delightful and so readable is Molly Gray. The way she looks at life is straightforward, somewhat naive and refreshing as can be. While she has few friends, the ones she has surround her with love and support. The story shows the reader what is important in life.

Molly Gray is a quirky protagonist that I won’t soon forget. The Maid is a wonderful book. It will be one of my favorite reads in 2022.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Bluebird, Bluebird

Goodreads or Pinterest or Google, or some other social medium that apparently tracks my reading habits, fed me information about a new book by author Attica Locke, called Heaven, My Home. It seems to be exactly what I like to read. However, I noticed it was second in a series called the Highway 59 Series. In and of itself, the name of that series would have caught my attention, because it just sounds cool. Highway 59 runs down the eastern part of Texas, from Texarkana to Houston, through some of the poorest and most racially charged areas of the state. I prefer to start a series with the first book, so I read Bluebird, Bluebird. Like the series name, the book title itself would have interested me.

Darren Matthews is a bit of a rarity in east Texas. He is black, well educated, and a Texas Ranger, a well-respected law enforcement agency in Texas. He is asked by an acquaintance to look into the murder of a black man and a white woman in a small town north of Houston on Highway 59. He is not well-received by the town’s white Aryan Nation, the town’s sheriff, or, surprisingly, the Black victim’s friends or family. To further his troubles, he is currently on suspension from his Ranger job as they investigate whether or not he lied under oath to help a friend who was being harassed on his property by a White racist. And then there is the drinking and and marital issues. All-in-all, Darren is having a tough time of it. Nevertheless, he is unwilling to let these suspicious deaths stay in the hands of the small-town White sheriff.

In addition to high praise for her debut novel, Black Water Rising, Attica Locke is a well-respected screenwriter and producer of a number of television programs. Sometimes I think that it’s difficult for authors to make the leap from screenwriting to novels, but Locke makes it look easy.

Her protagonist, Darren Matthews, is complex and severely flawed. Still, his earnestness about the treatment of the poor and Black people makes him forgivable, and even likable. There are clearly good guys and bad guys in the novel, but rather than being black and white, there is a lot of gray. And I’m not speaking about skin color.

While I had a bit of trouble getting into the novel at first, once the Texas Ranger got permission from his boss to work on the murders, things got very interesting.

I enjoyed the novel very much, and will certainly move onto the second in the series.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Man Who Died Twice

Elizabeth, Ron, Joyce, and Ibrahim are at it again, as the elderly quartet spice up their days at the senior facility at which they live by tackling another mystery in The Man Who Died Twice, by Richard Osmond. This time, the murder hits a bit closer to home for the Thursday Murder Club.

Elizabeth’s charming but devious ex-husband turns up unexpectedly to visit. He, like Elizabeth was M-16 secret agent. He has learned of the existence of millions of dollars worth of diamonds, and he wants to get his hands on them. He knows Elizabeth is the one who could help him do so. Unfortunately, he was killed before he can find the diamonds. Or was he?

In the meantime, gentle Ibrahim is mugged and beaten up by young thugs who steal his bicycle and leave him for dead. He survives, but is hospitalized and, perhaps worse, traumatized. Elizabeth, Ron, and Joyce are determined to find the perpetrator and even the score.

What they don’t know is that the two situations are related.

Osmond’s storylines are so believable and interesting, and his characters are so much fun. While Joyce appears to be scatterbrained, and they all seem to enjoy their wine a bit too much, but they love one another and we love them.

The Man Who Died Twice is the second in the Thursday Murder Club mysteries, and I can’t wait to see what the four get up to next.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Murder Under Her Skin

Murder Under Her Skin by Stephen Spotswood is the second in what now can officially be called a series. Featuring former circus worker Willowjean (Will) Parker and her boss, famed detective Lillian Pentecost, the stories take place in post World War II America.

Will’s friend and former circus co-worker Ruby Donner is found murdered, stabbed to death with the a knife belonging to Valentin Kalishenko, the circus’s extraordinary knife thrower. It doesn’t take long before the police arrest Kalishenko since he seems to be the obvious choice.

When Will hears about the troubles at her former place of employment, she and Lillian make their way to the Virginia town currently sponsoring the circus. She is certain that Valentin is innocent and determined to learn the truth. While she is welcomed heartily by all her circus friends, it isn’t long before she starts suspecting that not everyone — in fact is anyone? — telling the truth. Everyone seems to have something to hide.

What’s more, the townspeople also seem suspicious of the two outsiders who are butting into police business, despite the fact that the small police department seems unable to get past their certainty of Valentin’s guilt.

These books are fun to read. Will is an upbeat wisecracking narrator. Her love for her boss Lillian is touching. The author creates the atmosphere of a Dashiell Hammett novel, but with clever twists and turns along the way.

These novels make me want to chew gum! Highly recommend.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: A Line to Kill

I know I am repetitive when I talk about the books written by author Anthony Horowitz, but I can’t help it. His books are simply clever. There’s no other word for it. Lots of authors are good writers and tell a good story. It’s true that Horowitz does the same. But his clever plots cannot be replicated.

A Line to Kill is the third in the series featuring former police detective inspector Daniel Hawthorne, who has the insight and cleverness of Sherlock Holmes. And like Holmes, Hawthorne has a sidekick who not only records the events around their investigation (ala Dr. Watson) but helps him solve the crime. That person is Anthony Horowitz, who writes about himself. And like Dr. Watson, Horowitz mostly gets it wrong when it comes to helping Hawthorne solve the crime.

In A Line to Kill, Hawthorne and Horowitz are invited to attend a book festival on an isolated island off of England. They, along with several other authors — including a children’s book writer, a poet, and and a chef-turned-cookbook-writer — are commissioned to present their stories and answer questions. To complicate matters, the local people of the town are caught up in an argument over a proposed power line that will disrupt the peacefulness of the island but create jobs.

Before long, the murder of one of the locals immersed in this battle is found murdered. Furthermore, it has to be someone on the island who killed the man because there hasn’t been a ferry coming or going since they arrived.

This story line, of course, is Horowitz’s take on the locked door murder mystery. It becomes increasingly clear that one of the authors had to be the murderer, but what are the motive? To complicate matters, the man who was responsible for Hawthorne leaving his job on the police department makes an appearance.

Horowitz’s writing captures his reader with its twists and turns and surprises. The author’s self-deprecating manner of presenting himself makes readers smile and like the man even more.

I hope this series never ends.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Newcomer

Letty Carnahan’s sister Tanya told Letty that should she ever be found dead, it would be at the hands of her husband Evan. In that case, she should take the already-packed bag in her closet and grab Tanya’s 4-year-old daughter, and run as fast as she can away from New York City. So when the worst actually happens and Letty discovers Tanya’s body in her expensive townhouse, she does as she was instructed. She grabs little Maya and the bag and drives out of the city, Maya screaming and crying in terror.

Letty doesn’t know where she should go, but she discovers the bag includes a large amount of money, an enormous diamond ring, and an old brochure for a motel in a small town in Florida called Treasure Island. So, not knowing what else to do, she heads to Florida.

Fueled on fast food and fear, Letty and Maya arrive at Treasure Island to discover an old, mostly run-down motel. Letty can’t even begin to imagine how her hoity toity sister would have any kind of connection to this town or place.

What Letty soon discovers, however, is that the motel owner Ava and her teenaged daughter Isabelle are kind and gracious, and willing to offer this stranger — this newcomer — a place to live with very few questions asked. The tenants, however, are mostly long-term renters, elderly, and set in their ways. They, unlike the motel owner, are suspicious and unwelcoming. Likewise for Ava’s son Joe, who is the town’s sheriff and who is certain that there is more to Letty’s story than she is telling, and he’s determined to learn what that is.

The Newcomer, by Mary Kay Andrews, is a pleasing story about friendship, acceptance, and knowing right from wrong. The plot has few surprises, but it is twisty enough to bring a smile to the reader’s face. The romance is fun, and watching the seniors grow to accept Letty and Maya is as sweet as eating cotton candy. And I love cotton candy.

The Newcomer was a wonderful book and just what’s needed during our tumultuous times. Definite thumbs up!

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: If Ever I Return Pretty Peggy-O

If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O is one for the oldies-but-goodies department. The book is the first in author Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad series, and one of the best. The books in the series all take place in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, in a small town in a holler, with a small-town sheriff who grew up in the community.

Sheriff Spencer Arrowood’s job is mostly arresting drunk drivers or stopping bar fights. The town receives a jolt of excitement when Peggy Muryan purchases one of the old mansions in town. Peggy was a folk singer during the 60s along with singers such as Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. Her fame was brief, but she is still well-remembered, and the closest thing the town has as a celebrity. It doesn’t take long, however, when she begins receiving threatening postcards and begins fearing for her life.

In the meantime, the high school class of 1970 is planning its high school reunion, and Spencer is a member of that class. The reunion begins stirring up all sorts of feelings about the Vietnam War. It doesn’t take too long before Arrowood’s deputy Joe LeDonne, a veteran of that war, begins seeing ties between the postcards and the Vietnam War. When Peggy’s dog is brutally killed, followed shortly by the murder of a young girl who has a disarming resemblance to Peggy Muryan, it’s all hands on deck to find out who wants to kill the singer.

Admittedly, this was a reread, but I hadn’t read it since it was first published in 1990. The book’s publishing date makes it feel like a period piece, though back when it was written there really were no such things as cell phones and fax machines. The tie to the Vietnam War was somewhat eerie to this reviewer, who grew up in the 70s.

McCrumb’s writing is beautiful, and though the Ballad series started becoming disappointing as the books continued, If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O is one of the best.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Night She Disappeared

Tallulah is a young college student who is also the mother of an 1-year-old baby. The two live with her mother, as well as the baby’s father, Zack. Zack wants to marry her, but Tallulah isn’t sure that she’s ready to settle down, or that she loves Zack. In fact, she has become interested in a pretty, but troubled young woman named Scarlett, the daughter of one of the wealthiest families in town.

In an effort to strengthen their relationship, Zack and Tallulah go out one night with some friends, while her mother Kim stays home with the baby. When morning comes and the two haven’t returned home, she begins to worry. As the hours pass, Kim is certain that something has happened to the two young adults, but no one seems to take her seriously. Scarlett and her family are the last to see them before they disappear.

In the meantime, a young man is hired to be the head teacher at a local school, and his published author girlfriend moves to the community in which this took place. It isn’t long before she discovers a note pinned to their fence that says DIG HERE, with an arrow pointing to the ground. What she discovers seems to tie in to the missing boy and girl.

What follows is a cat and mouse mystery that keeps the reader guessing up until the last page. Lisa Jewell is one of my favorite authors because she is an interesting story teller and her characters are realistic and likeable. I found myself guessing until the very end of the story.

I enjoyed this book very much.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: It’s a Wonderful Woof

Bernie Little is a private detective, with the greatest partner of all time: his dog Chet. Chet flunked out of K-9 training school, was rescued by Bernie, the greatest human that has ever lived, at least according to Chet.

It’s a Wonderful Woof, by author and clearly dog-lover Spencer Quinn, is the 12th book in this charming and funny detective series. I wouldn’t call the books cozy mysteries, as Chet and Bernie run into some touch customers “in their line of work” as Chet would say.

Yes, Chet. Because he is the narrator of these stories, and a more loveable narrator I have never come across. I think anyone would find these books fun to read, but if you own a dog — or have EVER owned a dog — Chet’s voice will resonate with you. The author absolutely nails a dog’s personality and loyalty to their human.

In the spirit of Christmas, Bernie refers a potential client to another detective, Victor Klovsky. It isn’t all generosity on Bernie’s part, because the case sounds dull, involving mostly uninteresting online research. He and his partner Chet like to be more active than that.

Klovsky appreciates the referral, but it isn’t long before Klovsky vanishes, along with his client. What follows is a frisky romp (I couldn’t resist) between good guys and bad guys that involves old ruins, nasty bad guys, and paintings by a famous Italian artist. Whaaat? In the land of saguaros and prickly pear cactus?

I always look forward to Chet and Bernie’s latest episodes. And they always make me look at dogs a bit differently. What exactly is it that you are thinking when you look at me like that?

Five paws up for this book.