South Austin Vampire (2010)
Publisher's Weekly - October 2010 issue
Hall skillfully captures Austin's music scene through the rueful eyes of his laid-back sleuth. . .
Library Journal Review - October 1,2010
Enchanted by the unusually beautiful voice of singer Lola Pilloccherosi, PI Travis (Bones of the Rain) is shocked to find that she has been murdered, her body drained of blood. Then other bodies, with punctures in their necks, are discovered, followed by alarming media reports about a vampire on the loose in Austin, TX. Travis, one of the most unassuming and altruistic sleuths of late, with the help of his ex-girlfriend Cassie and her hard-as-nails sister, Joz, tracks down the bad guys. VERDICT: Tongue-in-cheek humor and larger-than-life Texas characters add to this mystery's charms.
The Mystery Gazette - September 30, 2010
In Austin, Devil's Due music scene owner Owen Peasey hires private investigator Travis Treegrow to learn what is bothering his star attraction, singer-songwriter Lola Pillaccherosi. However, before Trav gets very far he finds the local star dead; eerily her body contains no blood and her neck has two puncture teeth marks that remind him of a Jose Doe corpse lying in the morgue.
Putting aside somewhat his volunteer inquiry into several thefts that Trav is doing for Sister Consuelo he had his former girlfriend Texas Hill Country peace officer Cassie make inquiries into the homicide. They soon begin to uncover a trail of avarice in which the clues lead to vampire cult leader Levi Damocles with lethal connections to the drug and human trafficking mobs.
The second Blue-eyed Indian msytery (see Bones of the Rain) is an engaging Austin whodunit in which the city's music scene and the accompanying underbelly make for a fun atmospheric investigation. . . .fans will enjoy Trav's Texas two-step trot. - Harriet Klausner
Bones of the Rain (2010)
Genre Go Round Reviews - 5/9/2010 issue
Austin private eye Travis is a "Blue-Eyed Indian" half-breed. His DNA means nothing to country music rising star Johnny Gringo, who hires him to investigate the murder of singer Trish Mirandez at the Kasperville Folk Festival in the Texa Hill Country.
However, Kasperville is not as warm welcoming the "Injun" starting with the sheriff's deputy Alvin Turnbull, who beats the crap out of Trav. Suspended for his extra curricular activity, Alvin blames that "Injun" for his leave without pay. He follows Trav back to Austin to make him pay. Gringo and his music friends ask Trav to help them prevent licentious Bent Lenny Coggins from cheating them out of their royalties. If he knew Lenny's backer's are mob related militia, Trav might have refused the case. Two attempted murder lead Trav to wonder if the Mirandez killer is actively seeking female musicians while Texas State Senator Max Bolens hires him yo discretely look into his daughter's militia ties. All his cases lead him to Sheriff's Deputy Cassie Winnick who is working some of the same inquiries.
Bones of the Rain is an entertaining regional private investigative tale. Trav is a fabulous lead, who like the reader will feel at times overwhelmed with so much happening. Still, the story line is loaded and brings a sense of how vast and diverse the Lone Star State is as readers will observe the differences between the capital and Hill Country. Russ Hall has a strong opening act that should prove more than just a one hit wonder.
-- Harriet Klausner
Chick Lit Café – January, 2011
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! – Jessica Sinn
Goodbye, She Lied (2007)
Booklist Review - 0/1/07 issue.
Esbeth Walters, a retired math teacher in her seventies, agrees to help her friend Boose recover the $64,000 that a pair of swindlers conned from his elderly mother. As Esbeth investigates, she finds herself involved in shady goings on at the local nursing home and in trying to prove that local resident Vance Kilgore’s death was murder, not suicide. With the help of retired forensic pathologist Gardner Burke, another resident of the nursing home, she uncovers crosses and double-crosses from a bevy of swindlers and con men, not to mention a couple of professional hired killers. Colorful secondary characters and multiple plot lines add to the mystery. The intelligent, feisty, folksy Esbeth is a likable character, who is a thorn in the side of local law enforcement and must get past her dread of ending up in a nursing home if she is to solve the crime.
The novel is a curious mix of a small-town cozy and gritty crime novel: Agatha Christie meets Elmore Leonard.
— Sue O'Brien
Kirkus Review - 9/1/07 issue.
A retired schoolteacher pits her sleuthing skills against con artists and hit men.
Although she's in her 70s, Esbeth Walters has recently solved a few crimes in her hill country Texas town. Naturally, she's become unpopular with local law enforcement, but that doesn't stop her when someone seeks her services. Her first client is Boose, a tough Texan with enough sex appeal to have corralled five wives. His family had raised $64,000 to support their momma in assisted living before a grifter conned her out of the money. Esbeth also agrees to help Adele Kilgore, who wants to prove her husband's death was murder, not suicide. Kidnapped and tortured by unknown hands, he ran his car into a tree in an escape attempt. It turns out Adele's husband was a con man who picked a target with Mafia connections. Maybe that's why the FBI is in town. Esbeth picks up a handy helper in Gardner Burke, a retired forensic pathologist who fakes senility to get along in his disgraceful rest home, which Esbeth's investigating for a plethora of sudden deaths. Crooked businessmen, rattlesnakes, knives and guns are just a few of the things Esbeth and Gardner must deal with in order to solve the crimes.
Cartloads of down-home humor, amusing characters and a hint of romance for the feisty heroine...
Bookcrossing.com – 10/16/07
In Fearing, Texas Boose Hargate asks septuagenarian Esbeth Walters to uncover the identity of the con artists who bilked his elderly momma; she was tossed out of the posh retirement home due to a lack of funds.
Adele Kilgore does not need the insurance money nor cares about it, but has a need to know who killed her husband Vance. The police said it was suicide, but he was obviously bound and tortured before driving himself to his death. She turns to Esbeth to uncover the truth. Esbeth receives help from retired forensic pathologist Gardner Burke even as two hitmen search for the same con artists that Esbeth seeks. As everyone converges at Boose’s booby trapped isolated cabin, law enforcement remains several steps behind Esbeth and her adversaries.
Although everything ties together too perfectly like a mathematical equation, fans will enjoy the senior citizenry amateur sleuth as Gardner the retired pro assists former math teacher Esbeth on her investigations. Her work on both cases is fun to follow as she finds the sum of the parts (her two cases, a tie in serial killing, and a previous con) equals the whole mystery.
Harriet Klausner, Morrow, Georgia
Romance Reviews Today – Nov. 20, 2007 issue
Fearing, Texas - Present Day
Septuagenarian amateur detective Esbeth Walters must face one of her greatest fears. When local good-ol'-boy Boose asks for help in tracking down the con man who stole money from his mother, resulting in her being kicked out of Oakline Hills Rest Home, Esbeth promises to do what she can to help. However, the thought of even visiting the rest home gives her a sick feeling. Having lived alone her entire life, the thought of lost privacy and dignity is Esbeth's personal nightmare. With little hope of catching the surely long-gone con man, Esbeth gathers her courage and pays a visit to Oakline Hills. There she is introduced to resident Gardner Burke, a retired forensic scientist who lost his will to live alone after the death of his wife. Now sick of playing a half-wit to retain his spot in the home, Gardner escapes with Esbeth with a vow to help her find the con man and to find out about the rapid exit of residents who are soon to lose their ability to pay for their care.
Esbeth decides to seek the help of law enforcement, who are not too fond of her meddling ways, and finds further complications to her quiet life. As she attempts to speak with the local sheriff, Esbeth is approached by Adele Kilgore, a recent widow whose husband's death was ruled a suicide. Adele swears that he was tortured and murdered and wants Esbeth to investigate and help overturn the suicide verdict. Taking pity on the young woman, Esbeth agrees to see what she can dig-up. Suddenly, the town of Fearing is awash in scam artists, Mafiosi, corruption, and murder.
Secondary characters include contract hit-men Mook and Redbear; Mafioso Tony "Two Chins" Petralia; con artists Silky Baron and James Calloway; Nurse Melba Jean Hurley; and rest home director Terrence Furlong.
GOODBYE, SHE LIED is a slick put-the-pieces together story. The who-dunnit is given to the reader quickly, and the focus is on Esbeth and Gardner picking up the clues and weaving them together. Esbeth is a slightly grumpy, eminently logical retired teacher. Gardner is a logical, practical, by-the-book scientist with a big heart that brings out the best in Esbeth. Highlights of the story include the colloquial Texas voice it is written in and the memorable, oddball characters that live, and pass through, the town of Fearing. A complicated and interwoven plot is deftly pulled together, and each villain is satisfyingly dealt with. GOODBYE, SHE LIED is a cozy Texas mystery that readers will enjoy.
Romance Reviews Today
Chick Lit Café, November 7, 2010
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.
Bent Red Moon (2005)
"A strong historical novel set in the Texas hill country. . .with a complex plot, fine characterization, and stylish writing. Bent Red Moon is a book to savor." Doris Meredith, Roundup magazine
"Bent Red Moon is a book that has it all: compelling characters, a non-stop-action can't-put-the-book-down plot, and enough adventure, suspense, and excitement to fill several novels. Author Russ Hall has nailed down one of the best westerns to come down the pike in many years." - W.C. Jameson, author of Billy the Kid: Beyond the Grave and Buried Treasures of Texas
Black Like Blood (2005)
When Esbeth takes a part-time job as a dispatcher at the Sheriff's Department she never dreamed she would become involved in a double murder investigation when their small town's Mayor is found murdered and his son finds another body at the bottom of the river. A body of a man missing for over forty years. New to the area, Esbeth soon learns of the family feuds, corruption, greed, and rumors of a lost diamond mine. It seems everyone in town has a secret they want to keep hidden. Can even the Texas Ranger Tillis Macrory be corrupt? He is overly friendly with a new female sheriff deputy and has been seen at a poker game given by one of the town's rich and shady characters. Tillis and his game warden friend, Logan Rainey have a lot at stake and are determined to solve the crimes. Their poking around soon turns up details of a buried story that no one ever expected. Grab a hold of your seat and enjoy the ride in this fast paced, action packed mystery of murder, greed, and family secrets. This tale grabs the reader's attention and never lets go. An incredibly well written "whodunit" This reviewer enjoyed the play between characters as Esbeth, the dead mayor's son Donnie and Tillis dig in areas that some wish to remain hidden. Some characters are downright rude and cranky, making this reviewer smile at the prose of author Russ Hall. This tale has a wide array of interesting characters to keep the reader enthralled. Esbeth isn't your normal sleuth. She is 70-something, a retired teacher and has an almost unhealthy habit of sticking her nose in where it doesn't belong. She is a delightful old lady that this reviewer fell in love with right from the beginning. Donnie is looking for answers to family secrets and the murderer of his father and uncle. His girlfriend partners in his detective work and also the daughter of Texas Ranger Tillis's best friend, who isn't happy about his daughters involvement, to say the least. Well written, smooth flowing and full of suspense, BLACK LIKE BLOOD will keep the reader guessing to the very end. Highly recommended, this reviewer is assured that any mystery lover will be totally satisfied after reading BLACK LIKE BLOOD. Reviewed by Penny October 2005 © Love Romances, 2001-2005. All Rights Reserved
"While diving in a storm at night, teenage lovers Donnie Spurlock and Karyn Rainey find a corpse at the bottom of the lake. The townsfolk of Kiowa County are already shaken with the recent unsolved murder of Donnie’s father, the mayor of Hoel’s Dam, Dennie. The corpse found in the lake is Dennie’s older brother Hugh, a WW II veteran missing for forty years whose father also went missing. Texas Ranger Tillis Macrory investigates the homicides linked by blood, but rumors also include lost diamonds. As the two youngsters refuse to back off and continue digging for the truth, new sheriff’s dispatcher septuagenarian retired schoolteacher Esbeth Walters mistrusts all law enforcement officials although she thinks Tillis is the cleanest except when he thinks with the wrong head involving the new deputy Gala. Esbeth, the star of NO MURDER BEFORE ITS TIME, actually gets involved about halfway into this enjoyable police procedural. Three teams of investigations compete. Tillis assisted by his long time friend and Karyn’s father game warden Logan make up the most professional inquiries; the sheriff’s office is officially in charge; finally the teen lovers provide an amateur sleuth look. Russ all brings these divergent competing investigations with Esbeth the retired teacher looking down from her big “desk” with a moral light as she trusts none of the players to learn the truth though her reasoning varies. BLACK LIKE BLOOD is a deep Texas who-done-it with a strong cast." - Harriet Klausner, Book Review Archives
No Murder Before Its Time (2003)
“Set in his native Hill Country, Hall's rollicking Texas mystery focuses not on oil barons but on grape tycoons. The wealthy Castle family runs a 21,000-acre cattle ranch that also happens to house a successful vineyard. Patriarch Win Castle, whose heart is failing, pits his adult sons against each other in a ridiculous macho battle for control of the estate. Younger Chaz is more aggressive and triumphs--until he's found dead in the fermentation room. Older brother Kyle is immediately a suspect, but when his mother is also killed, the field broadens. In fact, the Castles' deplorable treatment of their employees gives almost everyone a motive. Helping Ranger Tillis MacCrory solve the case is 72-year-old Esbeth Waters, a tough-yet-tender Texas dame who gives tours at the winery and doesn't suffer fools gladly. Hall's vivid portrait of the dysfunctional Castles and their disgruntled staff is peppered with interesting tidbits about wine making and Texas lore. Gorgeous scenery, memorable characters, and plenty of suspense--as spicy as a Texas merlot.” - Jenny McLarin Booklist. American Library Association.
"This is my kind of mystery. Tricky, wry, and packed with surprises and people you'd like to meet. A fine job." - Ed Gorman, author of Everybody's Somebody's Fool
"Russ Hall produces an excellent vintage. Great scenery, a fascinating look at the Texas wine industry, and a 72-year-old sleuth who's got more kick than most characters half her age. No Murder Before Its Time will agree with the most discriminating palate." - Rick Riordan, winner of the Edgar, Anthony, and Shamus awards, and author of Cold Springs
"An interesting, fast-paced tale that keeps you turning the pages. Hall brings his own unique twist to a cast of colorful Texas characters." - Ben Rehder, author of Buck Fever and Bone Dry
"You don't have to own a sophisticated palate to know that money, greed, and ambition too often ferment into serious trouble. Experience Shakespearean-class family dysfunction with a Texas Hill Country vineyard twist in Russ Hall's newest mystery." - David Marion Wilkinson, author of Oblivion's Altar
“The narrator, his business friend Chancy, and Rolf, a weathered fisherman acquaintance, embark on a Bahamian fishing trip. Nearly capsized after a trophy barracuda injures Rolf, the trio wind up stranded back on shore. Meanwhile, rival Jamaican drug traffickers have invaded Elbow Cay, seizing hostages amid a spree of violence and pillaging. After a run-in with smugglers of exotic animals, the guys (along with a waitress and a female veterinarian) search for Chancy's wife, whom they fear has been kidnapped by the drug gangs. Lots of action and memorable characters, but the narrator's existential wonderings are the real draw. Hall is the author of The Blue-Eyed Indian and Wildcat Did Growl.” - Library Journal. Reed Business Information, Inc.
Wildcat Did Growl (2000)
"From the first page Russ Hall makes you smell the saltwater and hear palm-fronds scratching. His characters are vivid and real. He writes with clarity and lightness. . .the eerie kind -- like being in the eye of a hurricane. . .A first rate adventure novel." Michael Largo, author of Lies Within
"A must read." Mystery Scene Magazine
The Blue-Eyed Indian (1997)
"A Mickey Spillane for the 90s -- hard-edged and thoroughly enjoyable." Susan Rogers Cooper, author of Home Again, Home Again
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!