Books by Joe L. Hensley

SNOWBIRD’S BLOOD by Joe L. Hensley
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Feb. 19, 2008

"As he has in the past, Hensley (Robak in Black, 2001, etc.) undercuts a strong beginning with inexplicable walkabouts down suspense-killing byways."
A weary old soldier tries to track down his missing wife. Read full book review >
ROBAK IN BLACK by Joe L. Hensley
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Dec. 10, 2001

"Or it should be. The story starts well enough, then stumbles, doubles back on itself repeatedly, wanders about in philosophical thickets, and ultimately loses its way."
On the far side of 50, Don Robak (Robak's Witch, 1997, etc.) finally seems to have left hard liquor and hard times behind him. For five years now the former defense attorney has been a circuit court judge in Majeff County, Indiana, performing admirably. People like and respect him. No one much doubts he'll trounce the lackluster opposition in the upcoming election. Most importantly, he's found a good woman—beautiful, sweet-natured Jo, who makes his life the sensible thing he never imagined it would be. And then Jo comes down with an illness so mysterious that a small army of doctors can't put a name to it, though all agree it has an excellent chance of proving fatal—an illness so devastating that after a while Don begins to believe it man-made. In some obscene way, he becomes convinced, an enemy of his has manufactured a killer disease and custom-fit it to Jo as a particularly sadistic form of payback. Two names stand out on Don's long list of enemies. Damion Darius Wolfer's monster of a son, convicted of a grisly double murder, is parked on death row, awaiting the execution to which Don has sentenced him. Libbie Macing is the rich and ruthless lover Don discarded. An alliance between Libbie and Wolfer would be unholy indeed. Read full book review >
DEADLY HUNGER by Joe L. Hensley
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: April 1, 2001

"Hensley's stories don't always fulfill the promise of their setup; but even when they don't, he makes you care about his crabbed judge-avengers anyway. The theater may be miniature, but the characters are never smaller than life."
Like his creator, Hensley's series hero Don Robak has been a lawyer and a judge, and it's judges rather than detectives who dot the landscape of these 18 stories, most dating from the 1980s. In fact, the stories that most resemble whodunits—"A Lot of Sense," "On the Rocks," "Decision," and "Trial," along with "Argent Blood," whose supernatural tinge reflects the author's SF roots—are among the least successful here. More often, though, Hensley's heroes, trapped in circumstances they can't escape, give themselves over to counterplots ("Widow," "Deadly Hunger," "Watcher," "The Calculator," "Shut the Final Door," "The Retiree") sometimes freelance, sometimes—the difference hardly matters—sanctioned by the law, and at this they excel. Hensley's gift of setting the emotional scene in a few swift strokes, which gives his expositions an economy almost poetic, lifts the best of these pieces—especially "Pain Doctor," a haunting reminiscence of military justice—above his novels (Robak's Witch, 1997, etc.). It's obvious from the hints "The Home" drops early on that its nursing-home setting is too disquietingly well-run to be on the level, but few readers will guess just where the tale will end up. Even a gimmicky anecdote like "Truly Yours, John R. Jacks" is so surely sketched that its dialogue will linger to disturb your dreams after the predictable ending.Read full book review >
LOOSE COINS by Joe L. Hensley
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Nov. 10, 1998

When the man who's interrupting the Thursday night poker game in the apartment over Ralph Shedden's coin shop is wearing a ski mask and toting a shotgun, it's easy to see that he doesn't just want to get dealt in for a few hands. But Ralph's assistant, part-time shamus Al Sears, knows more about the guy, even before he helps Thursday night regular (and former Memphis police chief) Harlan Roberts kill him. He's convinced that John Shelton ("The Shell"), the contract killer now cooling in the morgue, was out to kill him. Which of the disgruntled clients Sears couldn't help in his pre-alcoholic former life as a defense attorney wants him put on the spot? And how is The Shell tied in to Benny Wilson, a small-town thief who just happens to have been murdered the same night? In their first collaboration, Hensley (Robak's Witch, 1997, etc.) and Townsend provide a nonstop parade of entertaining lowlifes. But since most of the cast members pass by only once or twice, it's hard to get caught up in the question of which of them is after a fortune in collectible coins—or to feel slighted when the authors pluck a culprit from the ranks who could just as well have been anybody else. Now that Sears has set up shop, let's see if he can catch a case with a little more meat on its bones. Read full book review >
ROBAK'S WITCH by Joe L. Hensley
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: July 12, 1997

Still smarting from the bullet he took in his gut at the end of his last trial, Indiana lawyer Don Robak's holding on till the first of the year, when he'll ascend to the circuit bench. Meantime, though, he's still vulnerable to a plea from his old law school buddy Kevin Smalley to join him in cozy Madisonville in the defense of alleged witch Bertha Jones, facing death for poisoning her teenaged niece and nephew. It's obvious from the beginning that the killings have something to do with the hysterical condemnations of Rev. Hoskin Allwell, and scarcely less obvious that the late Mary Petrakis and James Smitham were more Romeo and Juliet than Hansel and Gretel. While you're waiting for the less obvious stuff, Robak winds up the case and assumes that judgeship. A lesser effort concocted from familiar ingredients by veteran Hensley (Grim City, 1994, etc.). Even the writing is plodding. Read full book review >
GRIM CITY by Joe L. Hensley
Released: Nov. 10, 1994

Grimsley City, Ky., isn't nearly as grim as the baggage attorney Jim Singer brings to it on his return. While he's recuperating from partial blindness (the result of being tortured in a mysterious government operation in Mexico), he's looking for the hit-and-run driver who killed his father. But instead of pursuing the killer actively, Singer allows himself to fall under the sway of canny circuit court judge Lionel Simon Daggert, who first appoints him probation officer (a little welcome money for the close-to-the-bone Singer) and then asks him to follow the murder case the judge is about to hear. Though Singer has had no desire for any woman since Mexico, he's entranced by Shirley Kentner, the acquisitive defendant accused of paying her dying husband's hired man to kill him. Jose Garcia readily admits that he tortured and killed sick old politico Fiala Kentner; the widow admits Garcia was her lover. The evidence, as it's filtered through Singer's laconic voice, seesaws back and forth with few surprises, leaving only two questions: Which of the two alleged conspirators should Singer believe, and what does the case have to do with the nightmares that have bedeviled him? Hensley (Robak's Run, 1990, etc.) works up considerable suspense over the foolproof did-she-or-didn't-she question, but his treatment of the bigger issues is both tangled and flat, with Singer too glum a narrator to be very engaging. Read full book review >