Posted in Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: The Peaceful Valley Crime Wave by Bill Pronzini

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*No Major Spoilers*

Nothing much happens in Peaceful Valley, Montana. And that’s just how Sheriff Lucas Monk likes it.

Aside from the occasional drunken brawl or minor disturbance out on the reservation, he hasn’t had to resort to his fists or sidearm in years.

That is, until mid-October, 1914, when the theft of a wooden cigar store Indian sets off a crime wave like nothing Lucas has ever seen. Teenager Charity Axthelm goes missing, Reba Purvis’s housekeeper is poisoned with cyanide Reba is sure was meant for her, and Lucas’s gut tells him that this is only the beginning.

It’s not long before the first corpse shows up, bringing the peace in the valley to a thundering end.

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I have read and reviewed a few Westerns on this blog before. Some include The Ballad of Black Bart by Loren D. Estleman, The Hunger by Alma Katsu, Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith, and recently, Modo: Ember’s End by Arthur Slade. Let’s return to the frontier in The Peaceful Valley Crime Wave by Bill Pronzini! 

I enjoyed how the book starts with the theft of the local cigar store Indian, and the chaos grows from there. Sherriff Monk takes the chaos in stride and does his best to investigate with the clues the case threw at him. Next, the attempted murder of a local busybody and her housekeeper. Finally, the murder of a local young woman who supposedly ran away with a traveling merchant.

First of all, I fell in love with Sherriff Monk. I agreed with his idea of justice and doing things more or less by the book. His dry sense of humor had me chuckling along as he’s questioning witnesses and looking for clues. He is honest, and he’s willing to let his deputies participate in the investigations. 

Out of the three central mysteries, I think the attempted homicide by poisoning ended up being my favorite. I think the idea of a murderess killing wealthy bachelors and taking their money and moving to a new town to start again is fascinating. The case reminded me of the frontier serial killer, Belle Gunness.

Overall, I enjoyed The Peaceful Valley Crime Wave. There was plenty of action, mystery, and old fashioned justice. What caused this sudden and brief crime wave Sherriff Monk isn’t sure of by the time the last case wraps up. Maybe Montana is just dull enough to cause people to go a little batty. 

I would recommend this novel for lovers of westerns, mysteries, and historical fiction. I think you should give this a read if you’re looking for a great western mystery. The Peaceful Valley Crime Wave is an entertaining read that I enjoyed from beginning to end.

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Posted in Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: Bitter Roots (Bitter Roots Mysteries #1) by C.J. Carmichael

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*No Major Spoilers*

Dispatcher Zak Waller prefers working behind the scenes in the Sheriff’s Office of Lost Trail, Montana, but when a newcomer to the sparsely populated town is brutally murdered—and the Sheriff is quick to pin the death on an unknown outsider—Zak starts his own private sleuthing.

On the surface Lost Trail is a picture-perfect western town, offering a simple way of life revolving around the local ranches and ski hill, but Zak knows the truth behind the façade. When his old school friend Tiff Masterson, whose family owns a local Christmas tree farm, moves back to town, the two of them join forces to get to the truth about the murder.

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I found Bitter Roots on the iBooks app. They had featured some series starters for free, and this one looked the most interesting. I am not the biggest fan of small-town mysteries, but I’ve had decent luck with them here and there. Now, let’s see how this mystery unravels.

First off, this novel is told from primarily three points of view. Zac who works as a dispatcher at the local sheriff’s office, Tiff who is returning home after her big-city dream turns sour, and finally, Justin who is the town’s only lawyer who has adopted his best friend’s daughter and is helping both of them get on their feet.

I loved how this mystery was somehow connected to anyone throughout the town. You never figure who the bad guy is until the big reveal. However, I came close to solving the mystery before the end. Not too bad of a surprise ending.

There is no romance amongst any of the main characters. Only focused on character development and the murder mystery at hand. I liked how Zac and Tiff just remained “good friends” throughout the story. They not only grew up together, but they solved the mystery together.

I would highly recommend Bitter Roots for lovers of cozy mysteries, small-town mysteries, and Montana based novels. This novel is a quick read for those who are looking for a book to break a dry streak or to get out of a rut.

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Posted in Book Reviews

REVIEW: Holmes on the Range (Holmes on the Range #1) by Steve Hockensmith

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*No Major Spoilers*

1893 is a tough year in Montana, and any job is a good job. When brothers Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer sign on as ranch hands at a secretive ranch, they’re not expecting much more than hard work, bad pay, and a few free moments to enjoy their favorite pastime: reading stories about Sherlock Holmes.

When another hand turns up dead, Old Red sees the perfect opportunity to employ his Holmes-inspired “deducifyin'” skills and sets out to solve the case. Big Red, like it or not (and mostly he does not), is along for the wild ride in this clever, compelling, and completely one-of-a-kind mystery.

“You can follow a trail without even knowing you’re on it. You start out just ambling, maybe get to thinking you’re lost–but you’re headed somewhere all the same. You just don’t know it until you get there.” – Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith

As much as you hear about how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Sherlock Holmes affected pop culture, you really don’t see it much outside of the United Kingdom. I am thrilled to see a western twist on the Sherlockian mystery subgenre. It makes the western genre unique and intriguing, not knowing who’s behind the murder until the unveiling at the end of the novel.

The Amlingmeyer brothers are just trying to survive in the late 1800’s America. When they stumble unto a murder mystery too difficult to ignore, they are in for an adventure. Lives and reputations are at stake as Old Red starts to meddle in places where he doesn’t belong.

The unlikeliness of a poor ranch hand solving an intricate mystery made the Amlingmeyer brothers’ struggle to solve the mystery all the more difficult. Old Red was more of an illiterate Sherlock Holmes and Big Red more of a brother trusting his kin. Big Red and Old Red is the only family they have left, so there’s no other choice but to stick together when things get dicey.

I would highly recommend this novel for lovers of westerns, mysteries, and Sherlockian style storytelling. This novel will leave you guessing until the big reveal, and even then you may be surprised to learn the answer to the mysteries.