Book Reviews: Wine, Bodyguards, and Stolen Money

Best way to keep from biting your nails: change a diaper.

Dark Secret
A text for help lures a man to the top of a cathedral, where he gets whacked on the head and pushed off.
While there’s some character development, the big story here is the relationship between the detectives, both of whom have problems they’re trying to sort through. More importantly, they’re completely different people who are trying to mesh into a good team; there’s flashes of that, but still a work in progress.
There are a lot of secondary characters, suspects and witnesses and such, each with a ton of background. From local racists to Hollywood actors to a Roman centurion, there’s plenty to unravel. But even with that, the ending plot twist came out of nowhere. There was some good detective work, but I was annoyed by the lack of clues given to the reader. The conclusion needs some big coincidences to make this work, but it’s still worthwhile.
On a lighter note, I would love to ask the author if she’s a Firefly fan, as I noticed a few touches that might have been homages; there’s even a character named Nathan. But the big shout-out, if it is indeed one, goes to Star Trek, with the character named Gray Mitchell, just a letter swap away from Gary.
Not-fun fact: This publishing company had a large line of detective series in England, and while the stories are usually good, they use incredibly similar covers and titles—and all of them have the same subtitle!—to make their books look alike. Dumb marketing.

Stolen Flame
Typical middle-upper class American girl is giddy about celebrating her twenty-first birthday, to the point where when she’s tossed in a van and hooded she thinks it’s her friends taking her to her surprise birthday party. Instead she’s kidnapped for realsies as a sex slave in the fanciest brothel ever.
She’s not the only one, and the introductory scene is both creepy and somewhat intriguing. It doesn’t take long for the virgin main character, nicknamed Flame, to give in, and end up being a natural at sex, of course. But despite the setting being all about sex, there’s a budding if forbidden romance in here too, making it an unusual love story; for all that’s rough and impersonal, it’s also rather sweet. It’s also endearing how the girls bond together while captive; one gets the sense they’re gonna keep in touch for years.

Tainted Tokay
In the eleventh entry in the Winemaker series, there’s plenty of violence and chicanery both in France and Hungary; kinda makes you wonder how they keep getting into these situations. Being a wine critic doesn’t seem all the dangerous in real life, with the possible exception of getting drunk all the time.
This story did better as a travelogue than any detecting; other than some nice descriptions of Vienna and Budapest, there’s nothing special here. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; if you liked the previous ones, and I did, then you’ll like this one, as I did.

Man Eater
A psycho is hired by a drug kingpin to find the hooker who stole his money. Finding her in a bar, he proceeds to knock her around rather than go get the loot, giving an angry female Hollywood producer time to beat him to a pulp and therefore earn herself an enemy and revenge plot.
But after that bang-up start it settled into mediocre plotting; this could have been over in half the pages, especially with less plot lines.
There’s tons of characters, some of which have their say and are never seen again. Ronnie, the main character, is definitely interesting, as is Ellis, but the fascinating one is the bad guy, who despite being completely insane is still highly intelligent and capable of making elaborate plans. Seeing them through is another thing, as his emotions keep getting in the way, but calling the police to her place so she could drop the alarm, allowing him to sneak in the back, was bold yet smart.
There were parts I really liked, especially the two main characters, and of course all the humor. There’s also some juicy tidbits at the way insider Hollywood works. But there was plenty I didn’t like as well, especially the entire side plot involving the drug-running brothers and the parole officer.



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