Greg Randall and I were were going to be on a panel together when the 2020 Left Coast Crime convention was shut down for COVID. To prepare, I read the first of Randall’s Alex Polonia Thrillers, Venice Black and loved it. Imagine how excited I was to bump into him this year in Albuquerque and be gifted a copy of Toulouse For Death, #3 of the Sharon O’Mara series. This is what I love about LCC—you meet someone one year and in another year they’re giving you books they think you’ll like, based on a conversation the year before. Greg and I must have talked about art, travel, and strong female protagonists, because Toulouse For Death has all that. Although the book was first published in 2011, the plot is a twist on a classic theme: good vs. evil and is as relevant in 2022 as it has been since biblical times.
A Toulouse Lautrec painting stolen by the Nazis. A dying man’s wish. Old evils return to the twenty-first century.
Facilitator Sharon O’Mara is hired by a client who wishes to remain anonymous. She is to facilitate the return of five stolen impressionist paintings, one of them by Toulouse-Lautrec, to the rightful owners. The family doesn’t know the paintings exist—they had been originally stolen by the Nazis in 1938. Of course, a find like this makes the news and, in South America, a Nazi survivor sees the report and starts making plans. This could be the link to the lost Nazi treasure—the greatest treasure trove from World War II lost since the allies took Germany. And the treasure is the key to fulfilling a dream of resurrecting the Reich by a clandestine group of New Nazis.
Sharon makes contact with the family per instructions, but before she can deliver the paintings, they are robbed at gunpoint from the delivery van by 4 leather-clad motorcyclists in the hotel garage. Sharon puts two and two together, realizing there is more to her client’s secret treasure than a few paintings. Sharon and helper Kevin Bryan, fly to Paris to meet with the client’s associate for answers, but again, they are attacked. The chase is on: from Paris to the fertile vineyards of the Napa Valley. Something is going down, and Sharon and her team are going to stop it. “After seventy years an American GI and a Nazi SS soldier are again pitted against each other.”
Sharon O’Mara is an ex-military police officer, Iraq vet and now an insurance investigator and “facilitator” for hire. She’s tough, smart, and can be counted on to get the job done. A fiery red-head, she’s bold, brassy—a risk taker, as well as confident, honest and valorous. She’s who you’d want leading your team—because she’s not afraid to act. And if you are an action fan, Toulouse For Death is action packed, fast paced and plenty suspense filled to send your heart racing. This book has been compared to Monuments Men. It’s an oblique comparison, but the book’s premise doesn’t feel so far-fetched after all the shenanigans in U.S. politics in the last few years. One reviewer says of the missing treasure, “Makes one want to grab a metal detector and fly off to Germany.” It makes me say, “the world isn’t safe from megalomaniacs who want to take over.” In this novel, good triumphs. I’m looking forward to more of Sharon O’Mara. She’ll vanquish the baddies and leave me feeling like the world has been made a little safer. At least until the evening news.
Michigan born and Chicago raised, Randall has made the San Francisco Bay Area his home with his wife for the last 45 years. The Randalls operate an independent publishing company, Windsor Hill Publishing. He is a cover designer and artist as well as an author. His books often look at how the past impacts the present, and he’s authored over 20 books. His young adult novel, Elk River, won awards from the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) and Northern California Book Publishers Association (BAIPA).
After Left Coast Crime San Diego shut down on March 11th 2020, and we attendees had to go home before participating on our panels, it was bliss to attend this year’s conference live and in person in Albuquerque. I decided to make the most of the events, including the panel I moderated titled, When Bad *** Finds Your Protagonist on the topic of amateur sleuths.
“Making the most” meant, for me, reading at least one of each panelist’s books before the event, and in a couple of cases, reading two. I turned off the TV at the end of my work day for the month of March and instead, lost myself getting to know new protagonists and several new-to-me authors.
My panel featured my “sibling” from Sisters in Crime Norcal, vice president Glenda Carroll (find a review of Dead Code here), Connie di Marco, Peggy Rothschild and Linda Sands. Each author featured an amateur sleuth and each delighted me with a unique and entertaining twist on the genre.
If you want to find Glenda Carroll , she’ll be in, on, or under water—and writing about it. She understands water sports on a very personal level since she swims, surfs and sails. Her books, debut Dead in the Water, Drop Dead Red, and the newest, Dead Code, are based on personal experience in open water swimming. She’s raced in more than 150 open water events in Northern California, as well as Hawaii and Perth, Australia.
Glenda has written a weekly sailing column and a twice-weekly surfing column as well as feature articles for local, national and international sailing publications. She branched into travel writing and her features have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Travel & Leisure, Ford Times, Chevron USA, Defenders of Wildlife, and Bay & Delta Yachtsman. Currently, Glenda tutors high school students in English and writes the Trisha Carson mystery series.
When I reached out to the panelists to organize our event, Connie di Marco enthusiastically jumped in with information, suggestions, great panel questions and tons of good humor. Connie still recalls the first time she saw an astrological chart. She says she felt as though she’d been granted a peek at a key to unlock the secrets of the universe. She didn’t know what the arcane symbols meant, but knew she wanted to learn a lot more. “An astrological chart, like a good mystery, is a puzzle that begs to be solved.” And so Julia Bonatti, San Francisco aslotroger, was born.
Although Di Marco’s latest book is the fourth in the series, Serpent’s Doom A Zodiac Mystery, I prefer to start a series with book 1 to observe the protagonist’s arc of change and have the stage set for books to come. If I’m hooked on book one, I’m sure to become a fan! And The Madness of Mercury had me from page one. Maybe it’s because Mercury seems to be going retrograde every month this year, or maybe because the story is based out of the true events of the 1970 Jim Jones cult based in San Francisco. Or maybe because Julia Bonatti is a truly likable character—smart, caring, loyal, spunky and determined.
During a Mercury retrograde, Julia is targeted by a cult leader and his followers whose protesting and vandalism force her and her cat from their cozy apartment in San Francisco’s Avenues. She flees to the Telegraph Hill home of an astrology client who cares for her two elderly aunts. One of the aunts might suffer from dementia and the other has fallen under the spell of the Reverend Roy. To add to the confusion, a young man appears on the doorstep, claiming to be a long-lost relative. Julia tries to sort out the Mercury retrograde mess through astrology. She knows Mercury wasn’t only the Gods’ messenger. He was a liar and trickster too, and she’s forced to put aside her charts and put her boots to the ground to rescue the aunt and stop an insidious, evil plot.
The Madness of Mercury has everything! It’s well written, intricately plotted with twists and turns aplenty, and paced to perfection. One reviewer says, “As a traditional mystery the book is stellar. The Madness of Mercury takes a fascinating look at people and their inner workings, their motivations. It is a complex mystery which combines astrology and cult mentality, showing what can happen when divergent beliefs cross paths an intolerance rears its ugly head.” I highly recommend the Zodiac Mystery series. I was entertained, edified and enthralled! If you’re not into astrology, you might change your mind.
When A Deadly Bone to Pick protagonist, Molly Madison, makes her cross country move to Pier Point, CA with the only friend she has in town is her golden retriever, Harlow. Author Peggy Rothschild knows exactly what Molly is going through. But unlike Molly, Peggy didn’t flee her hometown to avoid rumors about involvement in a crime. She lost her home to a wildfire in 2017 and, after going through a years-long rebuilding process, she moved back to her old address only to decide she was ready for a change. Peggy didn’t move across country so still sees old friends, unlike Molly who must make new friends. Both author and character cherish all the new friends they’ve met along the way, even if Molly is more at ease with pups than people.
Ex-police officer and former P.I. Molly Madison is starting over. After the murder of her husband, she and her golden retriever move cross-country to California. But as charming and peaceful as the beachside town seems, she soon learns its tranquil tides hold dark secrets.
Molly is barely through the front door of her new home when a huge, slobbering Saint Berdoodle stops by for a visit. The dog belongs to a neighbor, a handsome over-worked emergency room doctor. Molly winds up taking on the responsibility of training Noodle from the too busy doctor. On one of their daily beachside walks, Noodle digs up a severed hand. Once Molly alerts the police and they run a background check on her, her past makes her an immediate suspect. Too bad Noodle’s testimony to clear her name won’t hold much water in court.
Meanwhile, her realtor posts fliers around town for Molly’s dog training service and she’s approached by an eight-year-old math prodigy from the neighborhood whose dog desperately needs training—and her first local human friendship begins, but when Molly finds the mother drugged and neglecting the child, a secret is revealed. At the same time, the realtor is killed and Noodle sniffs out a ring buried in the sand near where he found the severed hand. Molly is again in the police’s sights but her police background won’t let her leave the case alone, and she investigates. After all, she must clear her name.
I listened to the audiobook and found A Deadly Bone to Pick to be a perfect match for both dog lovers and mystery buffs. And being the first book, it’s a charming and intriguing start to what I hope is a successful series. Molly is instantly likeable—your heart goes to her when you learn her backstory. Rothschild’s descriptive style is flawless and the mystery is surprising and believable. It’s been compared to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series. High praise indeed.
Peggy Rothschild presents a cast of engaging and quirky characters who I want to meet—especially the dogs. She sure knows her canines! Jennifer Chow (another author I met at LCC—a review of her Mimi Lee Gest a Clue coming in a future post) describes the book as “Rothschild’s twisty mystery, filled with adorable canines and abundant clues, is plain paw-some.” I totally agree. The only drawback to reading A Deadly Bone to Pick was how much it made me miss my cherished chocolate lab long gone to the celestial bone pile. Dog lovers, this one’s for you!
My panel and I connected in our hotel bar the evening before our event, and imagine my surprise when I met Linda Sands, a sophisticated, willowy blonde in a LBD and killer heels. I’d pictured someone entirely different after listening to the audiobook of the first title in the Cargo Series featuring Jojo Boudreaux. Why? Because Jojo is a trucker and the quintessential kick-ass protagonist—“bad shit” finds her, she can’t help it. She’s fearless and funny with an insanely strong sense of justice and is nobody’s idea of an “uptown girl.” But looks are deceiving, Linda Sands is more like Jojo than she appeared in the Atrium. She’s fearless, taking a public stand against human trafficking (Cargo Series #2), and a writer I’m going to watch (and read!)
“Jojo Boudreaux and her co-driver beau Tyler Boone spend their days- and nights- delivering cargo coast to coast. Old Blue, their custom Peterbilt tractor-trailer makes the perfect home for a man who never had one and a Louisiana tomboy who thinks an oven is for storing guns. But life on the road isn’t all sing-a-longs and sunsets.”
The plot kicks into gear when Jojo and Boone are called in to deliver an abandoned load of high-profile pharmaceuticals to a secure warehouse, and their planned vacation is garaged for the quick, easy job with the big paycheck. The “paycheck” comes in the form of a mysterious accident that kills Boone and brings in private investigator Gator, with some information to encourage Jojo to help him look into what might be a murder.
Grand Theft Cargo is described as “a wild ride from start to finish with a secretive highwayman, explosive house bombs, singing telegrams, flaming mice, secret cancer drugs, dead truckers, an agency that can’t be named, and enough crashes and car chases to remind you these road cowboys have no qualms crossing the zipper to walk the dog in the hammer lane.” For readers in the know, Sand’s facts ring true. And for the rest of us, this is a glimpse, at times humorous, into the world of trucking via sharp-witted dialog through a cast of vivid characters (Charlene, the dispatcher!) The pacing is energetic, and the plot full of curves as the story speeds along like Sabrina, Jojo’s new rig after Old Blue is wrecked.
Grand Theft Cargo is one of the most original mysteries I’ve read. I can’t say it any better: “Strap yourself in before you start to read this one.”; “a high-speed thrill ride with enough crashes and explosions to keep your heart racing from the first to last page!”; “Grand Theft Cargo is east bound and down with great characters, loaded up and truckin’ with action. This is 18 wheels of mystery firing on all cylinders. Get behind the wheel and enjoy the ride.”
And with a line up like this? How could our amateur sleuth panel event not be standing room only?
Next time at LCC Reads Part 2 , Gregory C. Randall, Jennifer Chow, and Dominic Martell
AS MANY OF MY READERS KNOW, I never miss DV Berkom’s Leine Basso adventures. Leine, a former dark ops CIA assassin has become a kick-ass champion of trafficked people over her series, but this book is a departure from her work with the NGO. Leine is asked to train a group of ex-military for a joint CIA op to recover a deadly substance. Created by a Russian lab, the vials of virus are now in the hands of a jihadist. As the chase across Africa ensues, it’s clear that there are more players than the terrorist Samir and Leine’s team. A Plague of Traitors is a heart-pounding, horrifying, page turner—especially after what we know about pandemics since COVID. The story kept me awake after I was finally able to put the book down.
Another hit in the series!
The Leine Basso Thriller Series: A Killing Truth Serial Date Bad Traffick The Body Market Cargo The Last Deception Dark Return Absolution Dakota Burn Shadow of the Jaguar A Plague of Traitors (August 2021)
DV Berkom is the USA Today bestselling author of action-packed, riveting adventure and crime thrillers. Known for creating resilient, kick-ass female characters and page-turning plots, her love of the genre stems from a lifelong addiction to reading spy novels, action/adventure stories, and thrillers.
A restless soul and adventurer at heart, she spent years moving around the US and traveling to exotic locales before she wrote her first novel and was hooked. More than a dozen books later, she now makes her home in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Mark, and several imaginary characters who like to tell her what to do. Her most recent books include the Claire Whitcomb Western Series: Retribution, Gunslinger, and Legend, and the latest in the Leine Basso thriller series: A Plague of Traitors, Shadow of the Jaguar, Dakota Burn, and Absolution. DV’s currently hard at work on her next thriller.
For more information, visit her website at www.dvberkom.com. To be the first to hear about new releases and subscriber-only offers, go to: bit.ly/DVB_RL