Starts with a Kiss by Russ Hall

I just took a trip to my favorite little R&R spot on the Texas coast and decided to take this scandalous read along with me. There aren’t any magical crime-solving cats or amateur sleuths caught in love triangles, so this isn’t really the kind of book I’d choose for myself. But sometimes it’s good to try something new and different.

The word “different” is a good description for this book since the storyline is a departure from the standard beach-read thriller.  It’s really more of a character sketch of a very complicated young guy (unfortunately named Dudie) who’s navigating apartment life with a sociopathic, nymphomaniac roommate named Barrett,  and a slew of horny housewives.

As traveling salesmen, they spend their weekdays lounging around the apartment complex pool, where all the desperate housewives in string bikinis flirt shamelessly with Barrett. Of course, the husbands aren’t too jazzed about all this and, well you can imagine how it all comes to a head.

The story is a little odd, but I couldn’t stop reading due to the “Why” factor. I just kept asking, “Why tiptoe around a small apartment full of naked people when you can just move? Why hole yourself up in a pup-tent to drown out the boom-boom noises?” I cringe just thinking about the germs alone. Yeesh.

Either way, Dudie’s sticking it out at the cesspool of adultry because he’s oddly devoted to his frienemy roommate. But mostly he’s got this weird voyeuristic habit of watching the scandalous events unfold.  Poor Dudie doesn’t have much of a personal life, which we get to learn more about in bits and pieces throughout the book. I found him to be extremely frustrating, a little creepy, and oddly endearing. Despite my misgivings about this young, tragic character, his observations about human nature were spot on.

“…When I started my career in sales, I wasn’t a good listener. None of us are. We like ourselves too much. The big leap is forcing yourself to close the mouth, stare back at the other person and embrace the spirit of the other person talking–that is, get what the person is about; the words behind the words. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Then why do so many people fail?”

Despite my love/hate relationship with Dudie, I had to keep watching the train wreck unfold—and boy does it ever go up in flames! I’ll stop right here before I give it all away, but I will say that the last chapter left me with more questions than answers, which makes me wonder if there’ll be a sequel.

Four Paws Up to ‘Throw the Texas Dog a Bone’

Al Quinn is a man after my own heart. He’s a dog rescuer, a deer lover and an ace detective to boot! He captured my heart in the opening chapter when he swooped up a condemned shelter dog while investigating a crime scene. Needless to say, Al earned some major cool points right from the get-go.

Though this is a hardboiled Texas mystery, Al is anything but a puffed out gun-toting good ol’ boy. At home, he knows the women rule the roost, especially his main squeeze, Fergie. I say main squeeze, due to his….shall we say… alternative lifestyle. He has a couple of squeezes, per say, in his love-triangle household. The swinging lifestyle isn’t my cup of tea but it made for an interesting subplot.

But I digress. Let’s get down to the mystery, shall we? Our leading man is a retired detective who refuses to start living the sweet life in an RV, so he spends the majority of his free time consulting at crime scenes. This time around, he’s responding to a puzzling scene at the local animal shelter, where human remains are found in the incinerator.With his team of sidekicks—including Tanner, his loyal rescue pup, and a cantankerous rookie detective—Al is hot on a trail that leads to Austin’s seedy underbelly of human trafficking, a burglary ring and rural bordellos. I’ll stop right here before I reveal too much!

I will say that this Al Quinn mystery series is a hidden gem. These books fill the void that Rick Riordan left behind when he stopped writing Austin-based mysteries to become a world-famous children’s fantasy author. Being a native Austinite, I love how the author gave his readers a sense of place in a city that is a character in its own right. Through his atmospheric descriptions, I could picture myself at Al’s lake-front homestead on the rural outskirts of the city. I felt like I was riding in the backseat of Cam’s cruiser as she and Al drove along the perennially congested highway to interrogate suspects. We went on some wild rides together (in my head) and I can’t wait for the next one!

As for Cam, Al’s reluctant partner, talk about a complicated character! Trust me, you’re going to loathe her at first, but then you’ll see there’s many layers to that onion. This is a highly character-driven mystery that just keeps getting better with every book. Hats off to Russ Hall for delivering another quality Texified mystery. May I suggest a spinoff narrated by none other than little Tanner? How fun would that be!?

Go here to read my review of Al Quinn’s previous adventure in To Hell and Gone in Texas.

To Hell and Gone in Texas by Russ Hall

22538055Russ Hall does it again! He pulled off another rootin’ tootin’ rollercoaster ride of a thriller—complete with helicopter explosions, forest fires, shoot-em-up car chases and even a little bit of fishing. True, this is far outside the realm of chick lit, but I just have to spread the word about this fantastic Texified mystery!

An avid fisherman and animal lover, Al Quinn is a man after my own heart. After an ugly divorce and a monumental falling out with his deadbeat brother, he’s quite content to live out his retirement years in total solitude at his lake-front house. Well that is if you don’t count his pet, Bob, the three-legged deer.  This hardened retired detective may look tough, but he has a real soft spot for wayward animals and family members.

Despite all the nastiness that went down with his brother, Maury, Al couldn’t bring himself to leave him in the lurch during a time of crisis. Maury is not only a lousy brother, he’s also in cahoots with some dangerous criminals. Oh and did I mention that he’s a raving nymphomaniac? Gee, what a catch.

Russ (far left) at the Texas Book Festival.

Russ (far left) at the Texas Book Festival.

Karma rears its ugly head when someone tries to snuff him out with a heaping dosage of Viagra, rendering him bedridden and completely vulnerable to another attack. Unable to let his own brother die, Al has to hang up his fishing rod and dust off his gumshoes.

As he questions Maury’s many lady friends, he finds more questions than answers about his brother’s shenanigans with the Mexican mafia.  Why on earth was Maury living in a retirement home? And how could he even afford it? What’s the deal with Maury’s strange obsession with sea shells? You’ll have to read the book to find out?

There’s even a dash of romance between Al and his fellow investigator, Fergie. Things heat up pretty fast, leaving Al even more confused about his future…if he even has one.  Is it worth the risk to welcome another woman back into his life? Is a life of solitude really what he wants? If he and his team of sidekicks can live through this harrowing ordeal with the Los Zitos drug gang, perhaps he’ll sort it all out. But first things first, he must take down the Los Zetos before they throw down the gauntlet.

Warning—when you get to the last few chapters, be sure to free up your schedule. It’ll be nearly impossible to set the book down when all hell breaks loose! And just when you think the white-knuckle ride is over, another shocking twist will knock you off your seat. Seriously, y’all, I did not see that one coming.

If you’re ever in the mood for a character-driven action thriller, check this book out. Fans of Texas-based mysteries by authors like Jeff Abbott and Rick Riordon are sure to enjoy this one.   Read my reviews of his other books here and here.

“Bones of the Rain” by Russ Hall

  What’s a girly-girl like me doing reviewing a hard boiled mystery? After all, hard-nose detectives, bar-room brawls and corrupt businessmen are far from fun and frothy. But after reading “Bones of the Rain,” I couldn’t resist writing about the notorious “Blue Eyed Indian” and his fearless, gun-toting sidekick, Cassie Winnick.

When Travis gets dragged to the Kasperville Folk Festival, he expected a lazy weekend in a sleepy Hill Country town filled with middle age hippies reliving their Woodstock days. But just before he could sit for a spell and tap his boots to the folksy blues, the festival shuts down after Austin music star Trish Mirandez is found dead in her dressing room.

Trav soon finds Kasperville isn’t such a friendly place for half-breed Indians after an ‘Injun’ hating cop, Alvin Turnball busts out a Texas-sized can of whoop ass. Suspended for unnecessary roughness, Alvin sets out on a warpath to finish what he started.

Broken, bruised and down on his luck, Travis returns to Austin to lick his wounds with a bottle of “cactus juice.” He soon finds himself in a hot mess of trouble when his music pals ask him to investigate a shady record label owner who may be swindling their royalties. Things really get complicated when he discovers Trish Mirandez’s murder may be connected to an Austin serial killer who has a major beef with prominent, successful women.

With a little help from his friends – including a critter-hording computer genius, a desperate reporter and a feisty gun-wielding vigilante – Trav discovers a connection between the two cases. And as the pieces come together, Trav realizes the people he trusts know more than they’re telling.

Suspenseful from the get-go, “Bones of the Rain” is centered around a compelling plot with one heck of a villain and two main characters you will come to care deeply about. This blogger was guessing all the way to the end as Trav and Cassie closed in on the killer and a motive no one saw coming!

Hall’s style blends the roller-coaster ride pacing of Rick Riordan with the East Texas down-home humor of Joe Lansdale. And like Lansdale and Riordan, Russ draws on the colorful character of his locale – in this case Austin’s music scene – to pepper his narrative. Austinites will especially enjoy the scenes at some of Austin’s most beloved landmarks. Boy am I craving a Huts hamburger right about now!

“Goodbye, She Lied” by Russ Hall

My friends always laugh at me for being the only Murder She Wrote fanatic without blue hair and a walker. What they don’t realize is that J.B. Fletcher is a hip, hip lady, who exemplifies the meaning of Girl Power! Not only is she a snazzy dresser (love the khaki trench coat!), but she is also a brazen, balls-to-the-wall crime fighter who puts local law enforcement to shame. That’s what I love about amateur women detectives! And that’s why I had such a great time accompanying Esbeth Walters – a Texified Mrs. Marple – on her quest to help her pal “Boose” find the con artists who cheated his elderly mother out of $64,000. 

A retired school teacher and full-time sleuth, Esbeth is the kind of woman that good ol’ Texas boys would call a ‘pistol.’ Much like my girl J.B. Fletcher, the sleuthing senior gets nothing but eye rolls and condescending remarks from local law enforcement. But that doesn’t stop her from taking on a new case when a friend in need comes knocking on her door. When Boose – an endearingly cantankerous rough-n-tough Texan – asked her to find the tricksters who stole his mother’s rest-home fund, she reluctantly answers the call of duty. After snooping around the local nursing home – run by a shifty director and an imposing nurse with about as much warmth as a prison guard – Esbeth discovers Boose’s mom wasn’t the only resident who was bamboozled by money-grubbing grifters. She soon stumbles upon another mystery when a damsel in distress enlists her help in proving her husband’s bizarre car accident was not a suicide. With the help of her elderly sidekick, Gardner Burke (who, if this ever became a movie, could be played by Clint Eastwood), Esbeth unearths (literally) connections between the two mysteries and discovers her cozy Hill Country hamlet is a hotbed for swindlers and cold-blooded murderers.

 I’m not sure what disturbed me the most about this mystery, the two ruthless hit men who like their weapons a little too much, or Esbeth’s foreboding dread of living her last remaining years in a grim rest home that reeks of Lysol and death. This book definitely left me feeling a little uneasy in many ways. But that’s not to say I didn’t have a heck of a good time reading it!

 This read is perfect to snuggle up to with a steaming mug of chai tea – my fave!  With  the nights getting darker and colder, what better than a good murder mystery with a good dollop of Texas grit thrown in too! Thanks Russ, for creating another fun and feisty female detective series. Keep em’ coming!

Do you have a favorite amatuer sleuth? If so, who?