Book Review Wednesday – Out

The book-a-week challenge continues with Out, by Natsuo Kirino.

OUTbookcoverforreviewA wife and mother who works the overnight shift making box lunches finally had enough of a husband who strays, gambles, loses their savings, humiliates her, and displays all the indifference of a stranger. She strangles him, then convinces her co-worker friends to help her dispose of the body and cover up her crimes.

This is the heart of the mystery novel Out, by Natsuo Kirino, but to say that’s what the story is about is wrong. Out is a glimpse into the underbelly of a microcosm of darkest modern Japan. It’s notable for what is absent. Its characters are dark, intense, mystifying, mortifying, desperate, caught in the gears of the terrible machine of survival, day to day, night to night, paycheck to paycheck. Indifferent husbands, recalcitrant children, indifferent bosses, creepy co-workers, and sinister criminals populate the pages. Kirino’s style is direct and unceasing. Just as the reader grasps the implication of one action, another comes, then another, then another.

What’s not to like?

I discovered this morbid gem of a thriller several years ago and finished reading it for a second time the past weekend. Kirino, who came to writing in her 30s and published in her 40s to wide acclaim, wastes no time in describing the miserable existence of a team of food factory workers mindful of quotas and the best position on the assembly line to endure a long, tiring shift. Their day continues upon their return to their homes in the morning to face the demands, slights, and misery of their lives. The incessant need for money is one of the book’s central themes. Bone weariness another. Unwanted attention by a strange man and the humiliation of not being young and pretty are others. Most know how it is to be treated as automatons, cash dispensers, or objects of scorn.

All of this, described in exquisite detail, drives the central theme of the story: one woman had enough. It’s a fatal decision, and her coworkers, the only people she could remotely call her friends, step up, albeit timidly or reservedly. That she convinced her friends to help her, using comradery and bribery, is only the setup to the crime’s gruesome aftermath. The tension quickens as reality sets in. What ensues is dark and occasionally funny, but is also an examination not only of an individual, but a group, and a national, consciousness.

A novelist and a short-story writer, Kirino has won many awards. Out is the winner of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, Best Japanese Crime Fiction of the Year, nominated for an Edgar award by the Mystery Writers of America. Some of her other works have won the prestigious Tanizaki Prize and the Yomiuri Prize.

But for me as a reader, the one prize that matters above all others, is believing a book is worth reading twice, three times, four times. Few have reached that apex. Out surely has.

Out, by Natsuo Kirino, translated by Stephen Snyder.

5 stars out of 5.

Available in all formats everywhere.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com.

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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting character in Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.

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Book Review Wednesday – Sixty-Four Days – A Sea Story

The book-a-week challenge continues with Sixty-Four Days – A Sea Story by Malcolm Torres.

sixtyfourdaysSixty-Four Days is the first in the Sea Adventure Collection by Malcolm Torres. It is a short read – 31 pages. It can be read in half an hour.

You will not be wasting your time.

I have decided to include Sixty-Four Days to this series of reviews for two reasons. First, to introduce you to Malcolm Torres’ fine series. The Sea Adventures is a collection of short stories available for free on Amazon. Second: Torres knows what he’s writing about.

I spent five years on active duty in the Navy. More than four of those years were on ships at sea: a destroyer and an amphibious command ship. I was never on an aircraft carrier. But I can tell you straight — Torres captures life on board ship in a way only a sailor can. From non-skid to jet blast to catapults, teenagers with unimaginable responsibility, and senior enlisted men who know danger lurks every second of every day on 4.5 acres of a flattop.

The story focuses on a senior chief petty officer 64 days from retirement – he’s so close he can smell it. Only one problem: This particular day, a jet failed to drop all of its quarter-ton bombs during a bombing run. It is returning to the carrier with live bombs still attached to its wing station. And our senior chief is leading the firefighting team when the jet comes in to land.

This is as real as it gets on an aircraft carrier. Sixty-Four Days is a top-notch read.

Sixty-Four Days – a sea story by Malcolm Torres.

4.5 stars out of 5.

Available in email format for free on Amazon.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com.

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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting character in Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.

 

Book Review Wednesday – Savage Payback – A Jack Calder Novel

The book-a-week challenge continues with  Savage Payback – A Jack Calder Novel, by Seamus Gallacher.

savagepaybackSavage Payback is the third book in the Jack Calder series. This international thrill ride makes me want to read the rest of the series.

Jack Calder, ex-SAS commando, is now part of International Security Partners. Jack and his colleagues, some former comrades-in-arms, are thorough, professional, and lethal. Well-placed and respected by the right sort of government officials, the ISP group in Savage Payback is called on to follow-on a jewel heist. Hired by insurers, it doesn’t take Jack and the ISP to realize drug cartels and revenge are the order of the day.

Savage Payback is the perfect title. A rogue ex-commando and drug lords in Europe and America each have their list of who to eliminate. When the ISP men are targetted, all bets are off. But the action, and there’s plenty of it, unfolds like the long game of a chess master.

Gallacher doesn’t waste words. He writes with the assured hand of a man who knows his stuff. His international background in finance and security are put to good use. Believability oozes from every page.

Gallacher spins a tight page-turner of a yarn I hated to finish. Thank goodness there are five books in the series. More Calder, please.

Savage Payback – A Jack Calder Novel, by Seamus Gallacher

4.5 stars out of 5.

Available as Amazon ebook.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com.

 

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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting character in Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.

 

Book Review Wednesday – The Anonymous Source

The read-a-book-a-week challenge continues with A.C. Fuller’s The Anonymous Source, An Alex Vane Media Thriller.

AnonymousSourceA wealthy financier’s death is linked to tragedy surrounding Sept 11, 2001. An unimpressive, nondescript student is charged with the murder of an NYU professor, at one time a student of the financier. A mega-merger threatens to alter the media landscape, a merger fought tooth and nail by an anti-corporate activist with the vision to know that consolidating news organizations is bad for consumers, and losing net neutrality will doom free speech. That she manages to convince the financier to donate an improbably large donation to her watchdog group just weeks before his death seems improbable but this improbable decision is the hinge upon which the story swings to and fro.

A.C. Fuller’s The Anonymous Sources is a thriller that delivers: suspense, excitement, surprise, and an ongoing guessing-game of who is this Anonymous Source pivotal to the story. Alex Vane, the reporter with a nose for news and enough sense to challenge his editors when his editors stonewall, makes friends with Camila Gary, the ex-girlfriend of the murdered professor. The differences in their personalities and outlook, and the demons that fester within them make them an odd pair, but they work well together.

Fuller lays out clues like Hanzel and Gretel’s pebbles and breadcrumbs. Beneath the descriptive passages concerning newsgathering, source verification, the court system, traveling and dining in New York, an international assassin, travel to Hawaii, corrupt cops, New York sports, the tension and ambiguity between Alex and Camila, and the often tedious work of sorting facts and writing news, Fuller manages to keep his whodunit on track. His story moves back and forth in time, revealing small events that add to the greater whole, and the reader can follow the path to where the clues lead. There are just enough surprises to make the book interesting, and the characters relatable enough that I want to read more Alex Vane thrillers.

A.C. Fuller was a journalist and journalism professor before turning to writing thrillers full time. He knows his material. A wire service motto of long ago was ‘get it first, but get it right.’ As someone who still works in the newspaper business, I appreciate that he gets it right.

4 stars out of 5.

Available in all formats everywhere.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com.

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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting character in Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.

Book Review Wednesday – Nisei

NiseiBookCoverThe read-a-book-a-week challenge continues with Nisei by J.J.White.

Hideki ‘Bobby’ Takahashi is a normal kid growing up in Hawaii in the years just before Pearl Harbor. His mother and father came to the islands to find work and avoid starving in their native Japan during the Taisho Era, and created a life for themselves through hard work and determination. Bobby loves to draw, hates the boy who bullies him, and his best friend, a white kid with a sister Bobby adores, sees him through good times and bad.

Then came December 7, 1941.

Nisei is told primarily through a long letter dictated by Bobby for his son, to be read on his 18th birthday. But the son doesn’t read it until much later in life, when he is at the lowest point of his life, and ready to end it all. But he discovers the manuscript, and curiosity keeps him reading.

The novel, well crafted and ingeniously simple, kept me reading.

At times while reading Nisei, I thought I could be reading a love story. But the undeniable overarching theme of Nisei, the Japanese term for the children of Japanese immigrants — in this case, Hawaii — is the story of the highly decorated and universally praised 442nd Regimental Combat Team, comprised of Americans of Japanese Ancestory, most of them Nisei. The unit fought with highest distinction in the European Theater during WWII despite the fact many had families in internment camps.

Nisei, through a fictional character, retells many aspects of the unit’s campaigns, enough to satisfy any fan of war fiction.

But in the end, Nisei is a love story: father-son; friends who grow up together despite differences of race and religion; forbidden love between a Nisei boy and a Caucasian girl, high school sweethearts swept up in the winds of war and the prejudices of the time.

From the days leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, to the summer of 2000, Nisei’s retelling of the saga of two families and the unforeseen consequences of desperate decisions makes for fine reading.  And as a bonus, the author has included many references to material he used in his research of the 442nd, and noted the availability of it for those interested. For history buffs, those with an interest in the era, and those interested in the exploits of the 442nd, it is a treasure.

Nisei, by J.J. White.

4 stars out of 5.

Available in mostly as an ebook, with some vendors in paperback, at Amazon, Kobo, and Barns & Noble.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com

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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting character in Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.

 

Book Review Wednesday – Gilead

GileadThe read-a-book-a-week challenge continues with Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson.

Gilead, along with Home, and Lila, form the Gilead Trilogy. Gilead, Iowa, is the setting. The protagonist/narrator is John Ames, a Congregationalist minister. Gilead is an epistolary novel with American themes: fathers, sons, doubt, pain, anger, prejudice, dread. Ames came to fatherhood late in life, so the letters he is writing to his son are a reckoning of his days, his father’s days, and much, much more. But how does a man in the twilight of his life begin to give his son through letters images and emotions that are barely describable?

Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel. There is little to add to the compliments about the novel’s transcendent qualities. My own journey to the novel began with Robinson’s Housekeeping, published in 1980. Referred to by some as the perfect novel, I hardly had room to argue. With Gilead’s appearance 25 years later, I almost dreaded reading another Robinson novel for fear of disappointment, knowing that authors can stray from good to bad in the course of a literary lifetime, especially with decades between efforts.

I should not have been concerned. I belong to the group that believes Robinson has a rare gift: a touch so deft that it seems her words fall in an order that seems almost preordained. The story unfolds with nothing false about it. I believe it could pass as a sermon of the best type – one that ends before you realize how absorbed you have become.

But Gilead isn’t a sermon, although its main character is a minister, and his themes are often themes fit for church. Gilead is a novel about a man and his reckoning with himself, his father, his wife, his son, his place in the world. In reading it, we come across a reckoning of ourselves.

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson.

5 stars out of 5.

Available in all formats everywhere.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Why don’t you join me? Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com

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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting new character in Shig Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.

Book Review Wednesday – Faceless Killers – A Mystery (Kurt Wallander Mystery Book 1)

The read-a-book-a-week challenge continues with Faceless Killers.

FacelessKillersCoverHenning Mankell’s Faceless Killers brings to life Kurt Wallander, a detective in a small town in the south of Sweden who, on a frozen January morning, comes face to face with the grisly murder of an elderly farm couple.

Beset with his own life in near-shambles, Wallander begins the painstaking process of finding the killers with little more to go on than coincidence and one word, “foreign.”
Mankell weaves a tale filled with examining Sweden’s immigration crisis, elder care, opera, failed marriages, father-daughter estrangements, media antics, all weaved into a tightly written page-turner of a police procedural.

Mankell’s style is simple and head-on. It’s no wonder his Wallander books enjoy such acclaim. Television viewers may recall the PBS Mysteries series picking up the BBC production of the Wallander mysteries, starring Kenneth Branagh. The Swedish production of the series (which I prefer) is available on Netflix.

I told a friend once I had read the books – I lied. I had watched the programs and had every intention of eventually reading the books. Now I have read Book 1. I’m glad I did. I’m hooked. Can’t wait to get started on the next one.

Faceless Killers – A Mystery (Kurt Wallander Mystery Book 1) –  by Henning Mankell

5 stars out of 5.

Available in all formats everywhere.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com.

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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting new character in Shig Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.

Book Review Wednesday – Awakened: Age of Expansion

The read-a-book-a-week challenge continues with Awakened: Age of Expansion, by Ell Leigh Clarke and Michael Anderle.

For about two months in the fall of 2004 I housesat for a couple, and their television seemed to be locked on the SciFi channel. It was the most science fiction I had ever watched. I never read the genre while growing up, with the exception of some Ray Bradbury. I watched some Star Trek and the Star Wars movies. So, coming to this book was, for me, like picking up a comic book off the rack at the drug store back home and thumbing through it before the cashier hollered, “Buy it or put it back.” I recommend buying Awakened.

Awakened1Awakened is a good first book in a series for the simple reason that the main character, no one’s idea of a soldier, one day discovers that artificial intelligence has hacked her computer interface implant. So, she has AI in her brain and she is smart enough to realize 1) that since she’s in the military, this situation can’t be good, and 2) getting away from the military by any means necessary is a no-brainer.

The rest of the story is what one might expect from the science-fiction/fantasy/metaphysical/visionary (the categories that Amazon comes up with!) genre. Other reviewers far more steeped in science-fiction tropes will have their say about what’s good or bad or fun or dreadful. When I read the book, I could visualize a long graphic novel. The plot is constructed well. There are enough bad guys and dicey situations to satisfy the action-adventure crowd. Since this is the first in a series, some characters are introduced, a bit wobbly sometimes. Much of the banter and emotion seems juvenile. But, strangers don’t often know how to express themselves or cope under duress until they get to know their colleagues a little better. And the gang that forms up in Awakening is a motley bunch. And the trouble they get themselves into. Leaving a planet to places unknown one step ahead of deadly trouble qualifies as duress, I’d say.

For the purpose of full disclosure, I have met the authors and some of the people in their publishing enterprise. Still, the Age of Expansion series is not a first, tenth, or twentieth choice of something I would read. But I’m glad I did read it, and some of the other books in the series. It’s fun, sometimes hair-raising, sometimes silly, but more importantly, it’s entertaining. And that’s what any book should hope to aspire to.

Awakened: Age of Expansion – A Kurtherian Gambit Series (The Ascencion Myth Book 1), by Ell Leigh Clarke and Michael Anderle.

3.5 stars out of 5.

Available in Kindle, paperback, and audiobook format on Amazon.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com.

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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting character in Shig Sato and a thrilling new mystery series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.

 

Book Review Wednesday – The Assassin Who Couldn’t Dance

The read-a-book-a-week challenge continues with Glen Barrera’s Assassin Who Couldn’t Dance.

assassincoverThere are some books that are nightstand dust collectors. Some are the type where you read a few pages at a time before going to bed. Or maybe a chapter, a book read on and off over the course of a few months, or a year, or longer.

The Assassin Who Couldn’t Dance is not one of those books. So don’t even try. Be prepared to go all in, stay up all night, keep reading ’til you can’t, then stay up another hour. It’s that good.

Barrera weaves a tale that had many characters, many story lines, lots of locales, people, and most of all, motives. Why? Hidden treasure. Ill-gotten gains. Safe deposit boxes and secret codes. In Arabic. Shady dealings in the 1991 Gulf War result in some bad guys not being able to get their hand on a lot of loot. The good guys are a team of ex-Recon who, one by one, are visited by the bad guys’ goon squad, to get the loot back. But no one knows there’s an Assassin Who Coudn’t Dance out for his own measure of revenge.

Good guy? Bad guy? It’s really that simple, and really that captivating. It is a face-paced yarn that’s definitely a satisfying page-tuner. It has it all: mystery, suspense, intrigue, and a satisfying ending.

Don’t miss out on this fun read.

 

The Assassin Who Couldn’t Dance, by Glen Barrera

4 stars out of 5.

Available in ebook and paperback — just click.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com.

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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have is an interesting new character in Shig Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.

Book Review Wednesday – Uncommon Type

The book-a-week challenge kicks off with this review of Tom Hanks’ Uncommon Type.

I have been writing short stories for ages. I think all writers, at some point in their writing life, take a stab at it. I like the form. Maybe because it’s like a half-hour comedy or an hour-long drama on television. When it’s good, it’s very good.

HanksBookCover2Tom Hanks’ Uncommon Type is very good. Others have many things to say about him as an actor, producer, champion of causes, husband, father. I’ll stick to a few words about Hanks the writer.

Uncommon Type is at times funny, sweet, nostalgic, tense, dull, poignant, and thoughtful. The collection of stories is built around many themes but mainly its about looking back. There are stories you might expect from Hanks, based on his interests: the Greatest Generation, space, family. A boy’s memorable weekend just before he turns 10. A young woman’s leap of faith to “make it” in New York. My favorite: a coming-of-age story, Welcome to Mars. Hanks’ stories reveal the mind of a creative storyteller. No surprise there.

But don’t let the title, or the typewriter motif, fool you. Or the reflective nature of some of the stories. The common theme here is heart. At the center of every good story, that’s the most important thing, isn’t it?

Uncommon Type – Some Stories, by Tom Hanks.

4 stars out of 5.

Available in all formats everywhere.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com.

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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting new character in Shig Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.