Category Archives: Mystery

Ronald, M. (2011). Soul Hunt. New York: Eos.

Artist Ron Sipley

As the last installation of this trilogy, Soul Hunt completes our look into life Evie Scelan and the choices she makes to keep people away from the part of herself that she fears. How people see us and the way we view ourselves might not coincide. Evie’s inability to accept her odd talent as intrinsic and of worth has kept her trying to hide it, and indeed from herself. In Soul Hunt this battle comes to a conclusion.

Credit: NPS.gov

All of this meant that on this particular Halloween, instead of threading my way back to Mercury Courier for another job on my beat-up loaner bike (the replacement ever since a curse-riddled jackass had turned my old bike into aluminum salad), I needed to stop for a moment’s rest. Not that it helped much; even the salt tang of the harbor couldn’t quite cut through the day’s murk. I locked up my bike by the Boston Aquarium, made my way through a screaming gaggle of kids on their way to see the seals, and damn near collapsed out on the end of the dock.

Since we last met her in Wild Hunt, Evie has been exhausted. Resting, eating or living healthy has not had an effect. In fact, her exhaustion seems to be getting worse. So much so, that even her nose begins failing her. Her exhaustion is so intense she is no longer capable of comprehending how bad things are. In fact, Evie is tired enough that she no longer cares about how her beloved Red Sox are doing or about her self-imposed responsibilities. Her friends suspect something is seriously amiss.

… “For the love of all, what is wrong with you, Evie? You seemed okay for a while, you were finally getting some from your skinny-butt guy, you’d faced down worse things than I like to think about, but then it just … you just drained away. It’s like you’re a bad recording of yourself.”

The three novels that make up the Evie Scelan trilogy are Spiral Hunt, Wild Hunt and Soul Hunt and may be found on used and new-book sites like Thriftbooks and Amazon. They can also be found in various e-book versions (e.g. Kindle and Kobo). My version is paperback. Soul Hunt is about 300 pages long. Artwork for all three covers is by Ron Sipley and I’m pleased by the way they look. Fortunately they are not representative of the under-dressed female protagonist typical of that and this cover-era. Content-wise, Soul Hunt should fall within US explicit safe zones for most ages. Soul Hunt, like the other two novels, is an Urban Fantasy Mystery. Ronald succeeded well with her stated goals for Soul Hunt:

I wanted to explore the consequences of the bargain Evie had made, I wanted to put her in a place where all her options were gone, and I wanted to explore the nature of dread. (MR)

The author likes a bit of complexity to her mysteries and her way of letting the problems that are brought to Evie meet and divert through the story adds to the fun. Mysteries that need solving are whatever terrified Tessie (seamancer), Deke’s (pyromancer) Roger, Sarah’s (hedgewitch) neighbourhood watch, Nate’s shapechanger curse, the cause of Evie’s declining health, and Evie’s midwinter date.

Moving on from Mystery to Urban, Soul Hunt introduces us to the wetter parts of Boston and their history: Fort Point Channel (Deke’s house), Georges Island (customers), Little Brewster Island, Gallops Island, Nix’s Mate, Lovells Island, and Quabbin Reservoir (spooky). Recognizing the scenes in this novel was simple when I encountered the above links and saw the above video. Getting to research the veracity of Ronald’s writing has been (as usual) the best part of writing these three reviews. Ronald certainly seems to know her bits of Boston and delight in manipulating them.

I found him down by the waterfront, on the footbridge across Fort Point Channel. I locked up my bike by the courthouse and started across, whistling through my teeth, waving once he saw me.

They’d done their best to spiff up this part of the city – luxury hotels, new construction, a fragment of a park – but fragments of the old waterfront remained. Namely one big house out in the middle of the channel itself, on decaying pilings like dead man’s fingers …

As we continue to the Fantasy part of the genre, we discover that Ronald has added to her Celtic mythology with some Greek.  Like much of Greek mythology, the version created in Soul Hunt is extremely unpleasant. However, without it  Soul Hunt would have been much poorer. One of our antagonists is drawn from the story of the Gorgon and the Graeae and what a nasty antagonist this is. Finally, there is the usual Boston Fiana magic. In Soul Hunt Ronald explains some of the odder details. Many of the Fiana (e.g. Deke) of Boston use soul loci to fuel their spells. Shadow-hunters steal another person’s shadow while adepts such as Byron Chatterji use a principle called “severance and return”. Most of our usual crew are magical, although their magic has other sources and does not rely on bits of soul to work.

A great part of Soul Hunt is about the friendship between our main characters. Ronald has done an excellent job in fleshing out most of them, and the way they interact with and without Evie helps me believe in them. It seems obvious to me that the author must have been great friends with all of them.

“He was supposed to be a wizard,” Katie stage-whispered to me. “To go with my costume. but he forgot and he had to get something at the last minute.” She turned and gave him a look that I swear she must have learned from Sarah, the see-what-inferior-materials-I-must-work-with look. “So instead he’s an evil scientist who’s kidnapping fairies and turning them into trolls.”

Her interactions with Katie differ enough from her same-age interactions for me to see how strong the focus on the costs and benefits of friendship is in the series and how difficult it is for Evie to believe that she is worthy of such friends. Evie has many characteristics that I can relate to. For one thing, she lies to her friends and rationalizes those lies with “protecting them”.  Other people and situations are judged through the lens of her talents and experiences and sometimes that leads to poor decision making, e.g. lying to her friends about her condition. Humour (dry and hilarious) plays an important role in how Evie deals with other people.

… What was the rule for telling proper New England spinsters that yes, you were sharing a bed with their nephew? Did Miss Manners even cover that?

Quabbin Reservation

The ending was satisfactory. All of the aforesaid problems were resolved in one way or another and I was left with a sense of sadness that this friendship is over. I am fortunate in being able to return to it at a later date. I definitely recommend that UF fans read Soul Hunt. In fact, start with Spiral Hunt, then move on to Wild Hunt before you finish with Soul Hunt. More people need to meet Margaret Ronald’s writing.


My reviews of:

  1. Spiral Hunt
  2. Wild Hunt

Ronald, M. (2010). Wild Hunt. New York: Eos.

Artist Don Sipley

In “Wild Hunt” we return to Boston’s very own hound, Genvieve (Evie) Scelan, whose part-time job is to hunt for lost objects/people by using her sense of smell. Her “nose” has roots back to Ireland’s Fionn mac Cumhaill and his niece, Sceolan. Ronald‘s writing kept on dragging me into this novel that takes place in a Boston where the undercurrent, once again, threatens Evie Scelan and the people she cares for.

Wild Hunt continues the lives of some of the characters from Spiral Hunt. They are Evie, Nate, Katie, Sarah, Allison and Rena along with some other minor characters. The cast specific to Wild Hunt are Abigail and Patrick Huston, Mr. Janssen, Mr. Yuen, Elizabeth Yuen and Reverend James Woodfin.

Need help finding source

Yuen died twenty minutes after I arrived, and I was there to make sure of it. …

“Please listen carefully Hound. You can sense the … ghost — of my father-” … “-within this jar. When I am dead, I will want you to confirm that it is gone. Do you understand?” …

“I’m sorry you had to be the one to see this.” (ch. 1)

When the Bright Brotherhood’s hold on Boston had broken, other forces were circling in for power. Power is a dangerous tool if wielded by the wrong hands and Yuen’s death opened the door to a chain of events that had its roots in myth and history. The entire novel plays with that history.

Protecting herself and others from the undercurrent was hard-wired into Evie by her mother. Unfortunately, she herself had passed the point of no return and wisely decided she needed to better understand what the undercurrent was. However, by trying to keep her friends from falling into the deep further, Evie took their choice away from them. A lack of knowledge turned out to be a detriment for them and made things harder for Evie. The undercurrent is filled with dangerous people who look out for number one. Even the client who hired Evie did not care if Evie got hurt. Her extra sense both helped and hindered Evie in her hunts for  history.

When authors have the knowledge they need about a certain topic, their knowledge gives them the freedom to mess with it. Ronald’s understanding of Celtic mythology, Wild Hunts and Boston drives the story. From the first chapter she guided us through an alternate Boston, magicking important places such as the Mount Auburn Cemetery,

This was my city. I’d said as much to Janssen, and I didn’t regret it. Here, in this high place, I could see it all – and further, the heavy green of trees in Cambridge and Newton, the Blue hills through their haze, Summit Hill and its park, the great coliseum of Harvard’s stadium across the river. … (p. 100)

A shape rose up from the gaping blackness of the stairwell, a man in a robe or a long coat, no more than a shadow against shadows. A snarl cut through the amalgam’s screaming like a sword through a snake……..(p. 107)

the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum,

The building that was such a drab block on the outside held a garden within. An atrium four stories high looked down onto green grass and running water, fountains and sculpture and tiles side by side as if strewn by some titanic hand……. (p. 186)

and the MIT University.

I followed his trail past the weird little brick thing that looked like a missile silo, past another building that looked like the rest of the buildings had been beating up on it, …. (p. 19)

Ronald’s characters are easy to love. There is little glamour in any of their lives or to their looks. All of them are people trying to get by in the lives handed to them by fate. PhD candidate, Nate, has to be a father for his little sister Katie (8). Poor Nate struggled with several issues time. Katie had to be much more independent than most eight-year-olds do, yet retained their vulnerability. She is one of my favourite people. Sarah and her partner Allison were life-savers for the pair. Sarah has her own store and Allison is a lawyer. The couple trained and watched over Katie when Nate could not. In different ways Evie loves all four of them. We did not see Rena as much this time around. Or rather, we saw her in a different capacity. Evie’s character was solidified through her interactions and feelings about all of her friends.

I used to be able to deal with these things better. I used to not care what happened in the undercurrent, so long as it left me unscathed. … (p.17)

… two of my friends had been yanked headfirst into the deeps of the undercurrent…

There were obligations, and then there were things that you couldn’t ever pay back, not fully…. (p. 18)

This lack of glamour made it easier for all of them to grab a bit of my heart. They all grew even more into their roles and became “real”. Maybe that is what defines Ronald’s writing. She made me care enough about the characters that they have stayed in my mind. While most metaphors kept the atmosphere dark: “There was something both pitiful and disgusting about it, like a baby rat.” there was plenty of humour: “cram everything into a reticule the size of a biscuit“.

Wild Hunt was filled with plenty of action and adventure and fun scenes. Much like Spiral Hunt, Wild Hunt seemed to be about the value and cost of friendship and family and also about who family is. Is biology the deciding factor of who gets to be a family?

I would most definitely recommend this book that is an urban fantasy mystery ghost story filled with Celtic mythology, some violence, some sex, and Boston in Massachusetts.


Reviews:

My review of Spiral Hunt.

Ronald, M. (2009). Spiral Hunt. New York: EOS.

Cover art by Don Sipley

A descendant of Celtic mythological figures, Evie Scelan honors her long-dead ancestor Sceolan. With a nose that guides her through the neighborhoods of Boston, Scelan hunts what has been lost. In Spiral Hunt, climax is reached at the spiral’s centre. Like her long time ancestor, Scelan must see through illusions, deceptions and glamours to uncover truth the Bright Brotherhood wanted hidden from the rest of the undercurrent.

No one ever calls in the middle of the night if they have good news. ……

……………… “Hound watch for a collar. The hunt comes …”

“Frank, you son of a bitch.” I said at last. “Couldn’t you have stayed dead?” (ch. 1)

Spiral Hunt is a mystery urban fantasy story, with the disappearance of Frank as its mystery, Boston as its urban, and Celtic mythology as its fantasy. Boston is our Boston, except with an addition of an undercurrent (i.e. the super-natural). As a bike courier, Scelan has access to people of all inclinations and socioeconomic classes  all over Boston. Throw in magic, corruption, and Celtic gods and heroes and we have a highly entertaining story. There is no love-triangle and the Bechdel Test is passed with flying colours. Its mythology is well researched. Part of her preparations included the study of Celtic mythology to a degree that she was comfortable enough with the material to play with it for our pleasure. None of the characters of the story have unlimited power, or even amazing amounts of power on their own. Only those born to their powers (blood magic), like Scelan, can use it without destroying themselves or others. However, even blood magic is severely limited and can be highly addictive.

… It was an old silver Chrysler painted up like a demolition derby car, but with weirder symbols, like the result of a ghetto graffiti-fest organized by the Rosicrucians. … (p. 42)

Roland’s prose is lovely. Her writing is clear and without mistakes. Dialogues in Spiral Hunt affect the mood and tone of the story, and, even when they happen in the middle of a crisis, they remained believable. Throughout the story the author gifts me with hints that feed my curiosity.  Showing, not telling, is the rule of thumb in this story. Point of view is a first-person point of view, allowing us a look at what goes on inside Scelan’s head and how she perceives her world. I tend to prefer this kind of story-telling. Each chapter number is preceeded by the celtic symbol called triskelion/triskela or a triple spiral. My paperback copy is about 300 pages.

“I know what you are going to say,” I said warily. “Every magician in the city …”

Sarah wasn’t listening. “Every magician in-” She frowned and shot an exasperated glare at me. “Okay. But doesn’t make it any less true. You can’t be a magician and just give out your real name to anyone who asks.”

“I do give out my real name. That’s because I’m not a magician.”

While solving the mystery of Frank’s disappearance, Evie has to hunt several truths about herself, most of them painful to find. Not until she stops lying to herself is she able to reach her potential. That lie carries a heavy price for her. However, Evie is not the only one who lies to Evie. Who can she trust and what is the cost of that trust? Not only that, but she has to figure out how to live up to the trust of the important people in her life. As with so many other stories, Spiral Hunt is about learning to accept yourself as you are. That acceptance does not mean that there is nothing that needs to change. In fact, acceptance seems to show Evie even more things that she has to work on. One of those things should probably be her love of the baseball team, the Red Sox. Or not.

So. How do I rate Spiral Hunt? I loved it. Definitely one of the better novels I have read. This is my second time reading it and I will read it again = Wholeheartedly recommended.


Reviews:

 

Adair, Liz; Trouble at the Red Pueblo (Spider Latham IV); Kanab, Century Press, 2014


Trouble at the Red Pueblo is a fun murder-mystery with a  “Christian-literature” style that is probably most interesting for adults.

“ALL SPIDER LATHAM wanted to do was get home. He wanted free of the choking black necktie, free of the memory of his mother in a cheap casket. If he was a drinking man, he’d head right to the whiskey. Instead, he thought he’d fix the fence that ran along the south property line. It’d been on his to-do list for a while, and the work would be hot, hard and demanding.”

Instead Jade Tremain turns up at the Latham’s door-step with an offer from his father, Brick Tremain, that Spider cannot refuse. Times are difficult and Spider’s job as a deputy detective pays less than it used to. He and Laurie have cut back on anything possible. When asked to look into a situation at the Red Pueblo Museum in Fredonia, he does not hesitate. Laurie tags along and the two of them leave for Kanab.

After settling in, they of them drive to their appointment with Martin Taylor, the museum’s director, only to discover him being taken away to the hospital. A tale of woes needs investigating. Some time ago a false law-suit left the Taylors broke. As if that wasn’t enough, another law-suit was then made to claim a cache of artifacts Taylor had found on his land. The only thing of monetary value in the cache was a piece of paper with Abraham Lincoln’s signature and the text:

“Sgt Oscar Goodman, as noted in Archibald letter, take Oath of Dec 8 and be discharged. Jan 16 1864.”

Plaintiff is a woman by the name of Alyssa Goodman, who claims to be a direct descendant of the above Oscar Goodman. In spite of being in the right, the Taylors cannot afford a trial and are desperate for a solution in their favour. Piece by piece the Lathams unravel a crime of greed.

Apparently “Trouble at the Red Pueblo” is the fourth mystery in the Spider Latham series. I had not read any of the previous ones, yet had no trouble understanding who Laurie and Spider were. At times the story suffered from sentences such as:

“When he was finished, he looked at his watch and debated whether to wait for Leona to return, but in thinking about how she had described the door locking behind him, he figured she intended for him to go.”

Spider’s jealousy of Laurie’s third cousin detracted from the rest of the story, and interactions between the three would have been better without.

There was no sense of being preached to. I enjoyed Adair’s nudge with regards to Muslim-hysteria and also noticed a certain blindness regarding white/Native-American issues. If you want a light read that deals with shady characters, strange car-brands, murder, property deals and artifacts, then “Trouble at the Red Pueblo” could be a story for you.

Carvic, Heron; Picture Miss Seeton (Miss Seeton 1) (1968)

I bow down to Heron Carvic. Intelligent humour. British humour. If you aren’t a fan of either of those, don’t bother. I giggled. Then I giggled some more.

Each one of Carvic’s gallery is a Character in some way. I’m sorely tempted to compare with other authors, but that goes against everything I believe about writing reviews.

“Miss Seeton prepared to hurry by a couple pressed into an adjacent doorway, when the girl spat:

“Merdes-toi, putain. Saligaud! Scélérat, si tu m’muertes …” She ended on a gasp as the boy’s arm drove into her side.

Oh, no. Really. Miss Seeton stopped. Even supposing the girl had been rude – and it had certainly sounded so – that was no excuse. A gentleman did not hit … She prodded him in the back with her umbrella.

“Young man …”

He whirled and leaped. Deflected by the umbrella he landed beside the prostrate Miss Seeton. Grabbing her by the coat, he jerked her towards him. …”

Miss Seeton is close to retirement age, single and a teacher. Her thoughts are associative and others have trouble following along. She is like this all the way through the book. Well, not all the way. Other things do happen and other people have their own things going. But many of Miss Seeton’s encounters are about her minding her own business until some other person decides to intrude upon it. I have not met such a delightful creature in a long time.

Carvic (pen-name) understood that she needed a strong supporting cast for the concept to work. There is. Due to the crime’s nature, the police – Scotland Yard are involved. Superintendent Delphick (the Oracle) leads up the investigation involving a killer. Deplhick appears able to understand Miss Seeton’s way of thinking. Poor Sergeant Ranger often finds himself at a loss for what to say when Miss Seeton opens her mouth. The village of Plummergen is certainly not ready for her. Except for the gossips. Does she ever fuel their terrible rumours. Then we have Nigel who is trying to save his childhood friend from herself.

British humour is seldom solely about the humour. At least that is the way it seems to me. I did not have to look very hard to find a bit of satire. Yet kind. In that sense Carvic reminded me of a few favourite authors from that part of the world. Picture Miss Seeton is a mystery parody, or a parody mystery, set in a time before electronics took over our lives. I would guess that number one is set at around its publication date in 1968. This e-edition is based on the 1988 version. Apparently parts have been removed from the original version. There are 23 books in the series. Only the first five are by Carvic (he died). Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Available at Internet Archive

Torr, Edwin; Blood, Bone and Coffin (Dead Means Dead 0); Obulus Books, 2017

The relative merits of my weapon of choice all became a little academic when my phone began to play the Mexican Hat Dance. I rummaged in my pocket, wishing I was better at technology so that I could change the ringtone or at least mute the damn thing. It’s hardly appropriate for a Specialist Funeral Director to have such a chirpy tune ringing out across a graveyard. I pulled the phone out and stabbed randomly at the buttons, trying to silence the thing. It was then I realized that in doing so, I had inadvertently stood up, revealing myself to the dead head.

“Hello?” Detective Inspector savage’s voice sounded incredibly loud. Somehow, I’d managed to put him on speakerphone. “Are you there, Coffin?”

The dead guy spun round. He looked fast for someone who had died a few weeks ago and just finished the impossible journey from six feet under the soil to the surface. He also looked like every one of the days of those weeks had taken its toll on him. His face was bloated and grey, the skin splitting around his forehead to reveal white bone and a lining of something creamy. He gave a low growl from his black lips which gave me a lovely view of his yellowed, uneven teeth.

“Hi, Savage, can I ring you back? It’s not a good time right now.”

Savage was one of those people who never took the hint. “It won’t take a minute, Coffin. We’ve had a report of an open grave in a place called Hampton Green…”

“I’m dealing with a lich, right now, Savage, I can’t really…” I didn’t finish the sentence. The dead guy launched himself forward and rammed his shoulder into my gut, grabbing me round the waist and forcing me backwards onto the ground. (ch. 1)

Blood, Bone and Coffin is a prequel to Demons. It is a novella about the Specialist Funeral Director whose job it is to lay the undead to rest. Sometimes the police give him work to do. Usually, they do not call him at such an inconvenient time as the one in the quote. Or perhaps Coffin learns how to silence his cell-phone.

What begins with the request to lay a zombie to rest, ends up being a search for the killer of residents at the Twilight Grove Nursing Home in Hampton Green, England.

BB&C is a fun little paranormal whodunit with odd people all over the place. Recommended.

 

China, Max; The Sister; Skinnybirds Productions; 2014

My copy of The Sister, is the 2014 edition. Apparently, some of the problems in the 2012 edition have been corrected.

“You should have learned to swim.”

The perfect murders are the ones where the murderer is never discovered. As The Sister is a traditional mystery-thriller, that cannot happen. Having said that, the boiler-suit murderer seems a likely candidate for a murderer who might never have been caught in real life. That has to do with his methods.

When we are introduced to him, we find ourselves in Cornwall during the summer of 1967. The year my sister was born.

“You told Lei you were coming here?” the girl asked. “Are you sure she won’t get lonely and come down to join – us?”

“No. She won’t come here. Like I said, we argued, and now we’re not talking … besides, she is scared of this place, what with all those old stories …?”

20 August 1967 three things happen simultaneously. The Milowski family decides to go on a picnic not far from a haunted site. Something he sees through a telescope unsettles seven-year old Bruce, and he decides to investigate that feeling. He is too young to realize how dangerous following such hunches might be.

At the same time, the above-mentioned Lee follows in the foot-steps of her disappeared boy-friend.

Rescuers found his tent pitched near the mine’s entrance. It was empty, his equipment missing. Unable to find any trace of him outside, the rescue team concluded that he must have decided to sleep in the mine. …

At the same time, at Celtic Deep, Vera begins seeing things, and the first thing she sees is the death about to happen.

All three lives are irrevocably changed, while the boiler-suit serial killer gets to keep on doing what he enjoys most in the world.

The Sister is about power. The lengths to which we are willing to go to have it and the lengths to which others choose to go to take it from us. Max China also shows us some long-term effects of traumatic events. Some of these ways of dealing with trauma, reminds me of how I used to deal with my own experiences. I was also reminded of the strength it took to discover how to live with PTSD and to acknowledge the effects of that survival.

China’s serial killer is frightening because he is believable. Watching programs and reading articles about real life serial killers has shown me that the boiler-suit killer would fit right in. Vera’s powers are what brings The Sister into the realm of fantasy/paranormal fiction. I would not want a stone like the obsidian stone in my life, nor would I wish the slightest ability to see into the future. I liked Vera. She is a woman who chooses to bear burdens that most of us would be unable to carry.

The editing of The Sister is good. It is a relief to read a story where the author understands the words he uses, has a basic understanding of spelling and grammar, seems to have the ability to listen to what editors and beta-readers suggest and understands the music of words. In addition, the characters are believable. While I might not like all of them, they are people I can relate to on some level. Yes. Even boiler-suit man. Finally, I prefer the third-person point of view China uses in his storytelling.


Reviews: