Somewhat formulaic but nonetheless fun and atmospheric Southern murder mystery.

THE CLARET MURDERS

A MARK ROLLINS ADVENTURE

A twisty little mystery involving a secret wine cellar.

Mark Rollins is one of the blessed: He’s retired but picks and chooses mysteries to unravel. He’s rich, well-connected and has a cadre of smart, loyal employees who toil at his secret, high-tech intelligence-gathering operation, situated in the backrooms of his women’s health club in Nashville, Tenn. The mystery involves a gorgeous partner in a law firm who’s getting serious grief from a number of the other partners, each and every one “an asshole,” including her ex-husband, her relatives and a local cop who ran over her dog. Collins keeps the story motoring with writing that is frank but not scant, muscular but not tough-guy, something akin to the 1960s TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E. He artfully drops hints that things are not as they seem, but he can also be clunkily explicative: “I understand Ann. I’ve read David Buss’ work on evolutionary physiology, and according to him…” and strangely abrupt: The victim takes Mark into her confidence though she doesn’t know him from a backhoe. There’s precious little shading of character—each is the epitome of whatever: creep, babe, good guy, especially Mark, who leads a Panglossian, unfettered existence. Still, when the great cache of wine enters the picture and then a roaring storm comes down to swamp the landscape and the cellar, Collins deftly moves the story forward, and frankly, the reader really wants to know what happens to the wine more than Ann, Paul and the rest of the no-goods. Collins has a nice way of evoking Tennessee, its pace and proprieties and politics, from the spicy Zumba rhythms of a local club to the breeching banks of the Cumberland River.

Somewhat formulaic but nonetheless fun and atmospheric Southern murder mystery.

Pub Date: July 19, 2012

ISBN: 978-0982589854

Page Count: 300

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2012

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A fast-paced, engaging trip to the heart of a bachelor, without enough plausibility or dimension.

THE ALASKAN STING

In Herold’s debut novel, a young, womanizing boozehound struggles to catch up with his elusive Alaska-bound cruise ship.

Young, single Tom Courier has just been gifted an all-expenses-paid trip aboard the Nordic Princess, courtesy of his cousin and co-worker, Scott. His objective: two weeks of bourbon-soaked, coitus-filled relaxation. Things seem on track after he achieves his objective an hour into his initial connecting flight. From there, however, his plans veer wildly off course: A bomb detonates on the plane’s wing, forcing an emergency landing in Portland. Tom misses the Princess’ departure, but his luggage finds its way on board and serves as motivation throughout the story for him to reach the ship. Unfazed, Tom seizes the opportunity to spend an erotic evening with Mandy—the “cougar” he met on the plane—in a secluded hideaway in the Oregon wilderness. Herold’s ominous foreshadowing hints at Tom’s impending misfortune, and trouble continues to lurk just below the surface for much of the novel. The author maintains sufficient momentum as his protagonist pushes on, inching ever closer to reaching his stateroom aboard the seafaring vessel. Yet an ensuing stream of uncannily coincidental mishaps keeps him perpetually one step behind. On his next layover, in British Columbia, Tom finds himself in another love affair, this time with a local surfing champion named Giata. In increasingly predictable fashion, this fling proves more urgent than catching the ship, of which Tom remains in tepid pursuit. Unfortunately, Tom’s seemingly one-track mind accentuates his shallow depth of character and risks preventing many readers from relating to him. Following another airplane crash, Tom finds himself in the port town of Ketchikan, Alaska, engaging in yet another romance with a local beauty. There, he’s hurled inexplicably into a two-man campaign to track down a mythical, luck-bringing sea beast. The story’s rapid pace continues at the expense of character development, while typos throughout further distract from the more subtle plot threads Herold attempts to weave. Despite the lulling effect of its rhythmic, seemingly inevitable series of calamities, the story revives for a compelling final twist.

A fast-paced, engaging trip to the heart of a bachelor, without enough plausibility or dimension.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1468507737

Page Count: 328

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2014

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    Best Books Of 2012

BYE BYE BLACKBIRD

WORLDS PAST AND WORLDS AWAY

Merging geographic precision with detailed lyricism, Berry’s collection of poetry spans continents and states of the soul.

The best poetry focused on a particular locale tends to evoke sensory stimulation as much as meaning, and Berry’s collection of nearly 60 poems is no different. Born in England, the author has travelled widely throughout Africa and the United States. With a doctorate in geography, she casts a discriminating, discerning eye on the landscapes to which her travels have taken her. In unrhymed, compact poems—few more than a page in length—the poet speaks with seriousness about the relationship between the natural world and one’s inner world. In “Music of Place,” she writes: “Carried in the wind is the music of place, blown / like washing on a line, white sheets flapping, sending / large billowing folds of sound back to me,” which typifies her ability to translate a place into a finely detailed, highly specific moment in her past or present. Some poems set in North Africa elevate journallike jottings into sharply etched experiences. The dominant moods suffusing these poems are calm and meditational, perhaps reflecting the influence of poet Elizabeth Bishop, who was also attuned to inner and outer geographies. The final 20 poems shift focus from geography and place to reconciliations or frictions with family members; many relatives have passed on but are vibrantly alive in the author’s memory. These family sketches often turn on a particularly poignant phrase spoken to the author by a parent or loved one: “Windows” pivots on Berry’s father’s comment, “I could drive if I wanted to,” as the author notes that her father never owned a car. Few books of recent poetry reveal such a penetrating awareness of how the environments in which we live affect us as much as we affect them. An extraordinary, nuanced collection by a gifted poet.

 

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1935514749

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Plain View

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

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