Book Reviews ~ The Shaman’s Secret, Final Arrangements, and Cast a Cold Eye

Hey, everyone. August is marching right along, and I for one am counting the days until the 31st. Last week, I reviewed three books of the Manny Rivera series. This week, I’m sharing another three. (Note, these are the seventh, ninth, and tenth books of the series. I read and reviewed book eight a few months ago.)

My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Shaman’s Secret is another fine installment in the Manny Rivera series. This time, Manny is investigating the poaching of bighorn sheep in the remote Utah wilderness.

A member of a local militia group is gunned down and Manny is sent to investigate. While pursuing the shooter, he discovers another crime with origins linked to the activities of a Ute medicine man in the 1700s.

Manny enlists the help of a young anthropologist to unravel “The Shaman’s Secret” in hopes of solving the murder.

There are familiar characters, including BLM Agent Adam Dunne and the incompetent sheriff Denny Campbell who is running for re-election. Gloria Valdez, from Death Saint also makes an appearance.

As usual, Manny’s persistence shines through, and we also see the side of him that values family and relationships.

The ending is satisfactory, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Manny Rivera has just returned to Moab after visiting New Mexico to meet his fiancé’s parents and introduce her to his family. He’s a little miffed that while he was gone, Sheriff Louise Anderson solved a murder case where a well-known member of the community was arrested.

Not long after he arrives home, another murder takes place. The victim’s name is Iggy Webb, a rockhound that came to Moab a few years earlier and had a somewhat shaded past. However, Iggy decided to put that behind him and build a new life. He was a loner, and his only friends were fellow rock collectors. Who wanted him dead?

Manny’s investigation leads him to believe the two murders were connected. Did Anderson arrest the wrong person? Manny’s tenaciousness leads him into the world of rockhounding. In his usual fashion, Curtin paints vivid descriptions of the Utah landscape and teaches readers a bit more about the area.

This book had an interesting twist, and although I won’t give away any spoilers, the title holds a clue. Another fascinating read!

My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Cast a Cold Eye may be my favorite Manny Rivera book yet. Manny, fresh off his honeymoon with Gloria is called to investigate the murder of a young man who was planning to write a historical novel about a historical Moab area ranch.

Everyone who knew him liked Rusty Randall and none could figure out why anyone would want to kill the young man. Manny is at a loss to figure out a motive for the murder. Then he learns Rusty had found a cigarette case while exploring the ranch with his metal detector. It had been buried for a long time and the name engraved was that of a woman who had been missing for almost thirty years.

In the meantime, his boss, Sheriff Louise Anderson is running for re-election and her opponent is none other than Rivera’s nemesis, former sheriff Denny Campbell. Campbell is leading in the poles and if elected, Manny knows he’ll have to resign. That puts him in a dilemma since Gloria has just relocated to Moab.

It’s Gloria who discovers something that helps Manny solve the case. I don’t post spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that.

Cast a Cold Eye blends modern-day and history. The only thing I had an issue with was the easy confession of the killer, but it didn’t distract from the story.

This is the tenth Manny Rivera book, and I’m hoping it won’t be the last.

That wraps up the Manny Rivera series, or at least to date. These books are simple and easy to read. They aren’t complex stories, but nonetheless enjoyable.

On another note, my last two weeks at work are shaping up to be busy ones, so I’ve decided to take a blogging break for the rest of the month. With the exception of Story Empire, I won’t be around much, but I’ll be back in September.

Book Reviews ~ Moonshadow Murder, Deadly Games, and Death Saint

July was a busy reading month for me. Many of you know I’ve been reading a series by two different authors. The Manny Rivera books by author Rich Curtin are easy, but satisfying reads. Rather than string out the reviews into several posts, I decided to group them together. This week, I’m featuring three books.

My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Deputy Sheriff Manny Rivera has undergone changes in his life. His mentor, Sheriff Bradshaw has retired and moved away from Moab. Manny has issues with his new boss, Denny Campbell to the point where Manny debates leaving Grand County.

When a body is discovered in a remote area near Moab, Manny is assigned the investigation. The victim is a young woman named Sunshine who lives in a small desert commune known as MoonShadow.

Manny’s investigation leads him to the owner of a nearby ranch who claimed Sunshine was trespassing on his property when in fact she was on BLM land. Raymond Stinson has grazing rights on the property, and he resents anyone being there, including a drilling company that is surveying the area for possible minerals.

When Stinson is found murdered by his cousin, who served time in prison, Manny wonders if the two murders were connected. But how and why?

Curtin, as usual, takes us through the scenic backcountry of Utah as he leaves a trail of clues leading to the killer. I was also happy to see Amy Rousseau, a character the author introduced in the third book, make an appearance. This fourth book in the Manny Rivera series is a fast and easy read, but no less entertaining than the others.

My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This fifth book in the Manny Rivera series is a bit different from the others as it involves corruption in the form of the wealthy chairman of an industrial conglomerate. Wallace Lamont sets out to destroy the re-election campaign of a Utah congressman, a staunch supporter of environmental issues.

Lamont hires a political operative named Oblansky to pit the environmentalists against the cattlemen who use public lands for cattle grazing. Manny is assigned the job of discovering who is responsible.

But cut fences and graffiti soon escalate to murder, and the FBI is called in. Manny’s boss orders him to stand down, but Manny isn’t about to let it go.

Curtin’s vivid descriptions of the Utah landscape are present, as is Manny’s persistence. While politics plays a role, I didn’t find the references overdone, and they didn’t dissuade me from reading the story.

My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Death Saint is the sixth book in the Manny Rivera series, and this time the author takes readers to one of my favorite places—Northern New Mexico.

When new clues emerge from a fifteen-year-old unsolved murder leading to the victim’s identity, Manny travels to a small New Mexico village to inform the family. What he discovers is two more “accidental” deaths occurred around the same time as well as the disappearance of one of the victim’s best friends.

With the help of Deputy Sheriff Gloria Valdez, Manny tries to solve the mystery. It’s not easy, as villagers have a general distrust of outsiders. Not only that, but another deputy sheriff also doesn’t appear to be trustworthy.

The author brings a lot of cultural traditions into this story. In his usual fashion, Curtain paints vivid descriptions of the New Mexico landscape. He also leaves open the possibility of a future relationship between Manny and Gloria.

Another enjoyable read in the series.

That wraps it up for now. Next week, I’ll feature three more Manny Rivera books.

Book Review ~ Trails of Deception

Rich Curtin is an author I discovered last year when I purchased a copy of his book, Coyote’s Regret. It stayed on my Kindle until earlier this year. I didn’t realize it was the eighth of a series, but it worked as a stand-alone novel. After reading the story, I enjoyed it enough to read the others. (Yes, it seems I’m into series fiction this year.)

While some reviewers of Trails of Deception felt as if the author was pushing his political views on them, I didn’t get that impression. (And believe me, I stay far away from anything with political overtones. It doesn’t matter which side someone is on.)


A ruthless pothunter in search of valuable artifacts ravages an ancient-Indian burial site in the beautiful LaSal Mountains of southeastern Utah. That same day, he’s found brutally murdered.

Deputy Sheriff Manny Rivera suspects the killing is related to recent demonstrations and acts of lawlessness fomented by the radicalized Heritage Protection Society, an organization dedicated to the protection of ancient-Indian burial sites. But a subsequent sequence of deadly crimes suggests a more sinister motive, one which also threatens the deputy’s life.

The story is set in the majestic red rock canyon country that surrounds Moab, Utah.

My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Trails of Deception is the third book in the Manny Rivera series, and I found it equally enjoyable as the others.

A man is found murdered in the LaSal Mountains while searching for ancient Indian burial artifacts. At the same time, a group shows up in Moab protesting the desecration of graves. Manny is called to investigate, and it seems the two events are connected.

A series of other crimes has Manny looking for one of the protesters who made threats but has disappeared. But is the murder related to the protests? While searching for clues, Manny discovers something that leads him to believe he was looking in the wrong direction.

In each book, readers get to know a little more about Manny. Trails of Deception ends with a solution to the crime, but it also leaves off with a note about the possibilities of Manny’s future. I look forward to the next book of the series.

Book Review ~ February’s Files

Happy last Tuesday of June. Tuesday means it’s book review time.

I became interested in Rich Curtin’s Manny Rivera books earlier this year. February’s Files is the second book of the series.


Even small towns have secrets worth killing for…

A skeleton in a makeshift stone grave is discovered on a remote bluff overlooking Labyrinth Canyon in southeast Utah. Cause of death: a bullet to the back of the head.

The victim turns out to be a controversial investigative journalist from New York City who moved to Moab a few years earlier for some peace and quiet. That’s what he found, but only for a little while. He couldn’t shut off his investigative instincts and began probing into a dangerous situation about which the town folk were totally unaware. He got too close to a well-kept secret and that eventually cost him his life.

Manny Rivera, a Grand County deputy sheriff, is assigned the case. Time is of the essence, as an unsolved murder in the backcountry will inevitably inhibit tourism, Moab’s sole economic driver. To solve the case, he must unravel a series of four puzzling questions. In the end, he is torn by a moral dilemma, testing his commitment to the letter of the law.

My Review

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

When ATV riders discover a skeleton in a remote area near Labyrinth Canyon in Southeastern Utah, Deputy Sheriff Manny Rivera is called to investigate. The body belonged to Moab resident February Flannigan who had disappeared three years earlier. Most believed he had left town, but someone had a reason to murder him.

Flannagan was a former New York investigative journalist who had an interest in local politics and business dealings. Rivera’s investigation leads him to discover some files Flanigan had hidden away in the trunk of his car. Were the subjects—Insurance Fraud, Wedding Article, Bus Accident 1968, Utah Department of Health Moab Office, and Illegal Immigration—related? If so, how? It’s up to Manny to find out.

This book is written largely from Manny’s point of view. There is a lot of narrative as he thinks through his investigation.

Curtin paints a vivid description of the Southeastern Utah area, something that appeals to me. When an author puts readers in the setting, that’s a plus for me.

I also like the character of Manny. He’s young but hard-working and eager to learn. He also has a strong sense of the importance of family.

While the plot is not complicated, I thought the book was an enjoyable read and will be reading other books in the series.

3.5 stars rounded up to four for review purposes.

May Book Reviews Part One

The reading continues. Five months into the year and I’m going strong. I didn’t expect to read this much, but since I am, I’ve decided to go back to a weekly review schedule. Today’s post is the first half of my May reviews. The second half will be next week. Beginning in June, I’ll post individual reviews.

Thunder Bay

Rating: 5 out of 5.

After feeling a bit let down by the fifth and sixth books of the Cork O’Connor series, Thunder Bay did not disappoint.

There are a few characters from the Cork O’Connor books that have become favorites. Henry Meloux is one of them. The Ojibwe medicine man has been a friend and advisor to Cork throughout the series. Now, we finally learn his story.

At the beginning of the book, Henry is rushed to the hospital and the doctors suspect his issues are cardiac-related. Turns out it is his heart, but it’s not physical. We learn that Henry fathered a son seventy years earlier—one that he’s never seen except in visions. The old Mide asks Cork to travel to Thunder Bay, Ontario to find him.

Henry Wellington has become a recluse and Cork’s meeting with him isn’t pleasant. After Cork returns to Minnesota, an attempt is made on Meloux’s life and evidence points to his son.

The book is written in three parts—the present-day events, back in time seventy years to when Henry was young, and the conclusion. We learn how Meloux met Wellington’s mother and also how he became a medicine man.

There is a secondary story of Cork’s family, and as usual, I enjoyed the family dynamics. In each book, I see Cork’s character grow as he becomes more aware of the most important things in life.

“The biggest word in the human vocabulary has only four letters and no definition that’s ever been adequate… But ask most human beings what they value above all else in this life and, five’ll get you ten, it’s love.”

This book is so far, one of my favorite books in this series.

Amazon Link

Artifacts of Death

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Next on the list is a book from another series, this time by author Rich Curtin.

I read my first Manny Rivera book earlier in the year, not realizing it was the eighth in a series. Having enjoyed that story, I picked up a copy of Artifacts of Death. It didn’t disappoint.

Deputy Sheriff Manny Rivera is assigned to investigate the murder of a ranch hand near Moab, Utah. Eager to please his boss and hoping to redeem himself after an earlier botched assignment, Manny tries to piece together the few clues from the crime scene.

One clue is an ancient Indian potsherd. Manny’s investigation leads him to the story of a man who disappeared in 1938, an elderly woman who pines for her lost love, and a surprising confession that causes Manny to face a moral crisis.

Manny is a likeable character, and I enjoyed learning about his background. He’s a hard worker who enjoys his job, but his insecurity over being assigned a murder case shows through (a perfectly natural reaction). But his determination and perseverance overshadow any feelings of inadequacy.

The author did a wonderful job of describing the southeastern Utah area. It’s a plus for me when a writer makes his readers feel like they are in the setting.

An underlying theme in Artifacts of Death is how money can drive people to do things out of character. Some in the name of a good cause, others for greed. This line really stood out to me:

“The smaller your desire for material things, the larger your happiness.”

The book is well-paced and the ending is satisfactory with a resolution to a decades-old mystery as well as the current events. I look forward to reading more of this series.

Amazon Link

The Girl Before Me

After reading a lot of psychological fiction last year, I’ve focused more on mystery and suspense in 2022. However, when I learned Laura Wolfe had a new release, I had to jump on it.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Rachel Gleason has a chance to start over, leaving behind an abusive ex-husband and moving from the suburbs to the city. There are times she can’t believe her luck. She gets a great deal on an apartment after the previous tenant broke her lease and disappeared without a trace. Her daughter, Lily, receives a scholarship at a prestigious private school.

Most of her new neighbors are friendly, especially Alex who lives next door, and Bridget, an attorney who lives upstairs. However, life isn’t without problems.

Keith, the ex-husband, is determined to see his daughter outside of court-appointed visiting times. He tracks her down to the city, thanks to Rachel’s neurotic mother. The principal at Lily’s school is also a womanizer, and he makes it clear he’s interested in Rachel, threatening to pull Lily’s scholarship if Rachel doesn’t do what he wants. Then, there is the weird neighbor Drake who is more than creepy.

The biggest mystery is what happened to Annie, the woman who lived in 4B before Rachel moved in. When Rachel opens a card addressed to Annie from her sister in Australia, she begins to question. Add to that the strange noises she hears during the night and the tone is set for a suspenseful read.

“Revenge is the best medicine… Sometimes justice needs a little push in the right direction.”

There are plenty of twists and turns that kept me guessing right up to the end. Laura Wolfe is a go-to author for me, and once again she delivered.

Amazon Link