By: Chris Chan

Book Review: Straight Up: A Murder on the Rocks Mystery

Straight Up: A Murder on the Rocks Mystery is the third book in Cathi Stoler’s series featuring bartender Jude Dillaine.  In Straight Up, Jude is constantly looking over her shoulder, as a serial killer is on the run from the FBI and could be after her at any moment.

As this book picks up not long after the events of Last Call, the second book in the series, readers should read the series in order in order to avoid spoilers.  A couple of brief mentions of the events of Bar None, the first book in the series, are present, but it’s Last Call’s plot that is spoiled the most in Straight Up.  The identity of the serial killer is an integral part of Straight Up’s plot, so readers should be warned.  Indeed, the identity of the “New Year’s Eve Killer” is identified in the plot summary of Straight Up, so readers who wish to be surprised by Last Call ought to be cautious when looking at the book covers or browsing online.

Straight Up revolves around Jude navigating a shaky world, as she worries that the FBI is never going to be able to find the New Year’s Eve Killer.  Meanwhile, Jude is fending off both the unwanted attention of bar patrons and potential relationship woes, as well as trying to save a friend from a “black widow.”  Between trying to protect herself and her friend from multiple murderers, Jude’s having a difficult time, but her determination never wavers.

Tightly paced, capturing the bustle of New York City, and featuring an interesting protagonist in Jude, Straight Up is an entertaining thriller, recommended with the caveat that the previous entries in the series ought to be read first by those wary of spoilers.


–Chris Chan

Straight Up: A Murder on the Rocks Mystery by Cathi Stoler

Level Best Books, 2021

$16.95 Paperback, $5.99 Kindle


Book Review: Never Broken: A Lisa Jamison Mystery

Never Broken is the second book in Lori Duffy Foster’s Lisa Jamison series.  If you haven’t read her previous book, A Dead Man’s Eyes, it’s probably preferable to read that novel first, as some of the events of A Dead Man’s Eyes are referred to in Never Broken, and the first novel provides more background for the character.

Lisa Jamison is a newspaper reporter who became a mother in her mid-teens, and is currently raising her now-teenaged daughter and dealing with the common tension that arises at that age.  In Never Broken, Lisa is stunned when a strange man, more dead than alive, climbs into her car.  Feeling more compassion than fear, she shields him from ominous men who are looking for him, and quickly discovers that this man is a victim of modern-day slavery, and has a connection to a long-cold missing person case that has haunted Lisa for years.

Never Broken works in part because of its quietly powerful sense of moral outrage, covering the too-rarely-addressed topic of human trafficking and exploring why certain people are exploited and their suffering is kept hidden.  Foster once worked as a crime reporter, so it’s reasonable to believe she’s drawing upon her work experience, and Never Broken is in many ways a love letter to journalism that seeks to expose societal ills.  Often, the books that stay with you the longest are the ones that cause you to look at the world in a different way, and Never Broken will make the reader wonder if sweatshops run by forced labor are hidden in their cities, tucked away in areas where they never visit.  Furthermore, the imagery of invisible victims who are treated as disposable commodities lingers long after the book is closed.  It’s the quietly resonant moral indignation that gives Never Broken life, as it makes readers wonder if evil is proliferating in ways and places that they never thought possible.


–Chris Chan

Never Broken: A Lisa Jamison Mystery by Lori Duffy Foster

Level Best Books, 2022

$16.95 Paperback, $5.99 Kindle