Darktown by Thomas Mullen

Narrator: Andre Holland

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 11 hours 47 minutes

Series: Book 1 Darktown

Author’s Page

Set in post-WWII 1940s Atlanta, the police department has hired it’s first Black police officers. Tensions are high within the Atlanta PD but also across political lines throughout the city. A young Black woman is found dead and few seem willing to follow up on it.

This was an excellent read, drawing together a murder mystery, racial intolerance, the progressive movement to integrate the police department, and the upcoming generation. The author did a great job of portraying the politics of the day while also giving us a gripping mystery. The main characters, Black officer Lucius Boggs and young Denny Rakestraw, show us the various view points about integration throughout the story.

I most fascinated by the Black officers. They have limited authority within the police department. They aren’t allowed to drive the squad cars and the can’t enter the front door of the police station. Yet they have one of the toughest beats as well. There’s an unwritten division with the police department where the Black officers are expected to police Darktown (the area of Atlanta that is primarily populated by Blacks) and the White officers will police the rest of the city. This sets up a dynamic that is rich for missteps, over-reaching, and bigotry.

Meanwhile, Boggs and his partner Tommy Smith fly under the radar (mostly) to investigate the death of the young Black woman Lily Ellsworth. Since she was last seen in a car in the company of a White man, they have to be very careful about how they investigate.

Young Rakestraw is partnered with an older cop, Lionel Dunlow. Now Dunlow is an open and active racist and many of his usual ways of doing business strike Rakestraw as unfair at the best of times and downright criminal at the worst of times. I wanted to root for Rakestraw, hoping he would find a way to push back on Dunlow’s brutal ways. However, pushing back on Dunlow means pushing back on a good chunk of the PD. So Rakestraw has to pick his battles.

The mystery itself was excellent. There’s a twist near the end that neatly tied everything together and once revealed so many little hints clicked into place. I was engrossed in this book and thoroughly pleased with the ending. I greatly hope for more stories about Boggs and Rakestraw. My one quibble is that I would like to see more female characters and not just as murder victims or romantic interests.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Andre Holland did a fantastic job. He was just excellent at the nuanced local accents. He was also great with all the emotions the various characters go through in this book.

What I Liked: The setting; how the racial tensions are handled; learning about the Atlanta PD in the late 1940s; the murder mystery itself; the main characters Boggs and Rakestraw; excellent narration.

What I Disliked: Could have used a few more female characters.

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Hellbent by Cherie Priest

Chupacabra is sacked out.
Chupacabra is sacked out.

Narrator: Natalie Ross

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2011)

Length: 10 hours 35 minutes

Series: Book 2 Cheshire Red Reports

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it works just fine as a stand alone novel.

Raylene is an expert thief and a wayward vampire. Her fixer Horace has an unusual job for her. He needs these rare yet odd relics stolen and he offers her a big financial incentive to take on the job. However, someone else is also after the relics – Elizabeth Creed. She’s a warlock and one who isn’t all there. Tossing in some trouble on the homefront, Ian (a blind vampire) has been summoned home by his House. It’s a death sentence to go and a death sentence to not go. Ray may not be able to help Ian with this one.

First, there was lots of humor and banter in this book, and plenty of it is a bit dark. The odd relics that Ray is hunting for are actually baculum, which are penis bones. Yep. Many placental mammals have penis bones. Alas, humans do not. Anyway, these particular baculum are from things like werewolves and such, making them perfect for magical spells. I’m sure you can see how this particular job was rife with humor.

The quest takes Ray out of Seattle and to Houston and Atlanta. She’s also trying to give her support to Ian as he tries to reconnect with this son Brandon. So we get to see a chunk of the country in this book. Adrian, an ex-military drag queen, is also along for the ride. Hooray! I really enjoyed his character in Book 1, Bloodshot. When he’s in drag, she’s Sister Rose. In the previous book, he was searching for his younger sister Isabel. That search comes up again in this novel and I was glad to see that Adrian had not given up his hunt.

There’s a touch of romance in this novel. There’s a low simmering heat between Ray and Ian, but since they live in the same big house, they have been keeping things casual. They also share space with two orphaned kids, Domino and his little sister Pepper. Domino is going through his angry teen years and I really was worried he was going to get dead in this book! Pepper is the brains of the two even if she’s only 7 or so.

There’s plenty of action as Ray tries again and again to doge the crazy warlock, the military group that once held Ian captive, and also Ian’s House. There are so many ways that things could go very, very wrong for Ray! Eeeeep! This was a real page, or, rather, disc, turner for me. I didn’t want to put this book down. Between the humor and the high-stakes action, I was hooked and enjoyed the entire book.

Narration: Natalie Ross did another great job with this book. I continue to be amazed at her performance with Adrian/Sister Rose. I also enjoy her various accents as needed here and there. Her rough, kind of seedy voice for Horace was perfect – just like how I picture him.

What I Liked: Raylene continues to be a very approachable hero; there’s even a kitten to rescue; Sister Rose/Adrian kicks ass and looks good doing it; Horace is mostly good but also self-centered; the baculum – hahahahahahahahaha!

What I Disliked: Nothing – too much fun!

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PriestBloodshotHeldigWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Natalie Ross

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2011)

Length: 11 hours 16 minutes

Series: Book 1 Cheshire Red Reports

Author’s Page

Cheshire Red is a vampire and an acquisitions expert (thief). Raylene likes that many people assume Cheshire Red is a man and she’s not about to dissuade them, enjoying working in the shadows as she does. Ian, another vampire who is oddly blind, has hired her to track down his medical records from his enforced stay at a secret government complex. Yet before she can dig into this case, things start to unravel in her cushy little life in Seattle – someone breaks into her warehouse and someone else blows her well laid cover. She drops it all to follow a thin lead in Atlanta. As Raylene continues to snoop into Ian’s affairs, things get more and more risky. Before you know it, her best defense is a military-trained drag queen and her best offense is one seriously ticked off blind vampire.

This book was a lot of fun. Raylene definitely has a fluid sense of morals with few hard sticking points. She takes pleasure in her work – removing the priceless and rare from the rich and pretentious. She’s used Seattle as the base for her operations for a few decades now;  hence, the warehouse where she stores (or hoards) some of her collection as a financial safety net. There’s also two homeless kids, Pepper and Domino, who she lets live there. She doesn’t really like kids but for some reason keeps the heat and electricity on in one section of the building for them. Oh, and makes sure they have a cell phone to call her. And she checks in on them regularly. Perhaps she brings them food. Not that they’re pets or anything. As you can see, Raylene has this tough exterior and this gooey caramel soft center.  I really liked all the snark and Ray’s enjoyment of her own sexuality and being a vampire. I also like that she’s prone to panic attacks and that her powers don’t make her invincible – just really hard to kill.

Ian is a bit of a quandary. It’s very unusual for a vampire to have any debilitating injury that becomes permanent. So Ian’s loss of sight is disturbing. If it can be done to one vampire, it can be done to another. He also uses a ghoul, Cal, which Raylene doesn’t like. However as she gets to know the two of them a bit more, she starts to reconsider her views on ghouls. Cal obviously still has a mind of his own and Ian treats Cal with respect and it’s obvious he needs some amount of help being blind. Still, there are plenty of unanswered questions surrounding Ian and he is indeed very reluctant to elaborate on what little he has already told her.

Then we toss in a military-grade highly driven mad scientist and a large number or highly-trained military ‘acquisition experts’ that want Raylene and perhaps even want Ian back and everyone has to scatter to the four winds. Raylene ends up in Atlanta chasing down a lead. This is where my second favorite character, Adrian (aka Sister Rose), comes into the picture. Sister Rose is a drag queen and great at her nightly performances. Adrian is ex-military and has some specialty training. He initially becomes Raylene’s unwilling ally. Adrian was great with all the glitz and fringe and yet muscle and sensible behavior. I like that we never find out whether he’s straight, gay, or bi, or celibate. Raylene is too polite to ask.

There’s plenty of action and interesting characters in this urban fantasy. The ending was solid. We lose a little and gain a little and have a ton of questions for Book 2. Ian definitely has some some things to follow up on. I’m hoping Adrian will continue to be a part of the series. While Raylene and crew took out several of the questionable military bad guys, I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of them.

Narration: Natalie Ross did an awesome job with this book. All the characters are distinct and her male characters are great. She does this remarkable thing with Adrian’s two personas (Adrian versus Sister Rose). There’s also various accents that she does well. It’s just a very, very good performance.

What I Liked: Our main ‘hero’ doesn’t particularly act or think like a hero; Raylene isn’t all sharp elbows and hefty boot kicks – she’s also got a soft spot for homeless kids and has the occasional panic attack; Ian has his mysteries; Adrian has his fringed sparkly g-string; together, they have an enemy worth kicking in the teeth.

What I Disliked: Nothing – too much fun!

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