Thursday, July 17, 2014

Diamonds All the Rage in "The Hard Way"

Do you wanna ski the slopes in Las Vegas?  How about strap on a pair of ice skates and slide across the outdoor rink?  You could do all that and more at January Resort and Casino, the luxurious locale in Cathi Stoler's novel The Hard Way.

The Hard Way Summary:
Private Investigator Helen McCorkendale’s childhood friend, Jimmy Scanlan, has just opened January, the most lavish casino and hotel resort on the Las Vegas Strip. After attending the grand opening, Helen returns to New York and encourages her friend, Laurel Imperiole, Senior Editor at Women Now magazine, to create a get-away contest for readers offering a weekend at the hotel as the grand prize. The winner, Dawn Chapman, a jewelry store employee from Cincinnati, denies entering the contest and initially refuses the trip. Finally persuaded by Laurel to accept, she arrives at the hotel and nearly faints when she passes the hotel’s elite meeting rooms where the International Diamond Dealers Consortium is holding its annual meeting. She insists on returning home immediately.

Suspicious of her behavior, Jimmy visits her suite to encourage her to attend the Saturday afternoon pool party, saying she can leave on his private jet the next day. Later in the afternoon, he finds Chapman’s dead body by the pool. She’s been murdered—an unusual double poisoning by cyanide and diamond dust.

Dawn Chapman was not who she appeared to be, and therein lies a mystery. But to Helen and Laurel, the main task is to take Jimmy Scanlon off the suspect list and clear his name. Will their luck hold? Or will it be a crap shoot, as they roll the dice and do it ‘the hard way,’ going for doubles when the odds are against them. Losing may mean losing their lives.

My Review:
We open with a lavish affair as Jimmy Scanlan, New York PI Helen McCorkendale's childhood friend, whisks her away to Las Vegas for the grand opening gala of his flagship January Resort and Casino.  Rub shoulders with the likes of music moguls, politicians, famous actors, and Keith Richards as they take in the incredible array of an indoor ski resort, an outdoor ice rink, the Igloo restaurant, and the Blue Ice Nightclub - January's soon-to-be-famous watering hole made entirely of ice.  Accommodations are fabulous.  The food to die for.  Success is certainly on the horizon.

Until death threatens Jimmy's precarious empire.

Laurel Imperiole, editor of New York's premier magazine Women Now, thought she had a great idea to help Helen's friend get his new casino off to a great start - a spread featuring the winner enjoying a free weekend trip to January.

But no one expected the contestant to be murdered - and right in the middle of the International Diamond Dealers Consortium.

All the while Jimmy's arch enemy, Clive Drummond, hopes he'll get first dibs at the dying carcass that was once January.  After all, he had big plans for that location until Jimmy swept it out from under him.

The Hard Way is the third book in a series, but it's pretty much a standalone as far as the mystery, with only a little bit of some of the side stories from events in the first two coming into play.  The first novel in the series was pretty much focused on Laurel with Helen's character more of an afterthought.  The second had more equal parts with Laurel and Helen, but Laurel was still the driving force leading the story.  This third novel was focused primarily on Helen, which felt a little more accurate since she's supposed to be the private investigator here.  Helen is also a bit more refined and likeable than Laurel, which is why I somewhat liked this one a bit more than the first and second.

The story here is pretty simple.  There's not really a whole lot of tension.  It's easy to figure out where everything is headed and who the bad guys are, so it's relaxed reading for those who like a cozy mystery that doesn't require much thought.  I typically like something with a bit more grit.  But then again, I'm a little weird for a girl.

My biggest issue with The Hard Way is that it is written in very passive voice.  It consists mostly of telling instead of showing, which frustrated me.  Most scenes started out with a character rehashing what previously happened while the reader apparently had their eyes closed or took a nap.  Such as one character was getting ready to head into a dangerous situation at the end of one chapter, and then the next chapter opened with that character waking up the next morning and reviewing the events of the previous evening either in their mind or over coffee with someone else.  This happened over and over throughout the story.  Why did I as the reader not get to experience said events as they were happening instead of merely having a character tell me about it later?  This deflated any semblance of tension or character empathy throughout the entire novel, leaving me feeling like a good storyline idea never lived up to its potential.

Even after reading the first two books I felt no connection to the characters.  The decisions they made to lie to those around them and to hide evidence from the police (and then wonder why the police weren't able to do their job) really kept them in the doghouse for me - and yet, neither Helen nor Laurel pay any sort of price for their constant deceptions.  The main storyline is quickly wrapped up with little to no resolution of many other outstanding questions.  I closed out The Hard Way feeling rather dissatisfied.

However, point-of-view usage was spot on.  Change in character POV was properly delineated with a scene or chapter break - very refreshing to an anal nut like me.  Descriptions of the casino were vivid and I could easily imagine what it would look like in real life.  Editing was fairly clean with only a few noticeable moments (IDCC instead of IDDC a couple of times - very understandable considering the close proximity on the keyboard) and formatting was just as clean.  I appreciated that, and wished very much that the story would have flowed better with more showing instead of so much telling.

But again, if something simple is your fancy and an escape from reality tickles your brain, you might enjoy the vast descriptions of January Resort and Casino enough to take a gander.  Now that's a place I'd like to check out some day - if only it existed in the real world.  Sigh!

Prices/Formats: $4.95 ebook, $14.95 paperback
April 15, 2014
Camel Press

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Author Bio:
Cathi Stoler’s mysteries feature PI Helen McCorkendale and magazine editor, Laurel Imperiole. The Hard
Way is the third book in the series. The first, Telling Lies, took on the subject of stolen Nazi art. Book 2, Keeping Secrets, delved into the subject of hidden identity. Stoler’s short stories include: “Magda,” in the Criminal Element Anthology Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble, “Out of Luck,” in the Anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices, “Fatal Flaw,” a finalist for the Derringer for Best Short Story and “Money Never Sleeps” both published at Beat to A Pulp. Cathi is working on a novella, Nick of Time, which features International gambler, Nick Donahue. She is also starting a new series, Bar None, A Murder On The Rocks Mystery, with female bar owner, Jude Dillane. Cathi is a member of the New York/Tri State chapter of Sisters In Crime. She is also a member of Mystery Writers of America.

Connect with Cathi at

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  1. Hi D A,
    Thanks for reviewing The Hard Way and for your comments.

    Cathi Stoler

    1. I really loved your descriptions of the resort. Winter has always been my favorite season.

  2. I love how many readers want to book a stay at Jimmy's January Resort and Casino. The picture Cathi paints of it in your mind makes you really want to go there, doesn't it? :)

    1. For a girl who loves wintertime, I was so there!

  3. I'm always looking for a good mystery and this sounds intriguing :) Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi, Erin! I hope you enjoy the descriptions of the resort as much as I did. Enjoy!

  4. I like stories set in Las Vegas.

    1. Welcome, Mary! Then this might just be up your alley. I've never been to Las Vegas, but this indeed painted an interesting portrait of a resort set there. Happy reading!