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on December 25, 2012
John Carenen's crime fiction debut is a welcome addition to the field. He incorporates notes of Robert B. Parker's Spenser into an amateur sleuth novel, while offering a portrait of a man wrestling with the effort to reconstruct a life that has been destroyed.

Thomas O'Shea has returned to his home state of Iowa after his wife and daughters are killed in a car accident in Georgia. While driving near a small town, he finds himself first at the scene of a ghastly farm accident. He has questions about what he's seen, and those questions meet with resistance. What's interesting is that Carenen balances O'Shea's capacity for action (through a backstory that is hinted at, never explicitly revealed) with his status as an amateur. Meanwhile, the crime plot is sufficiently convoluted to keep the reader interested without pushing the "Oh, come on" switch.

One of the niftier elements of Carenen's work is his cast of supporting characters, including a Native American bar owner named Lunatic Mooning (sort of a Hawk to O'Shea's Spenser), a neighbor with a penchant for rehearsing his own death, and a number of other charming folks of greater and lesser nobility. Even O'Shea's bulldog (named Gotcha) has her own doggy appeal. There's plenty of personality here.

As the cover may suggest, the book also has religious aspects, and while those aren't common in crime fiction, they aren't heavy handed, and they work nicely here. O'Shea's struggles are moral and spiritual, as well as physical, and the book offers violence of the soul as well as the sorts to which crime readers are more accustomed.

In short, what we have here is a story where interesting things happen to people the reader cares about. Reportedly, Carenen is at work on a sequel. I look forward to it.
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on March 26, 2013
This book has many mysteries surrounding it, such as who is Thomas O'Shea, for he is not the mild mannered person he appears to be, and what is going on in this small town. One is answered the other is not but it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book.

Thomas is a man struggling. His entire family is killed in a horrific car accident leaving him reeling. He is trying to make his way back into life with the help of his bulldog "Gotcha". He moves to the small town of Rockbluff and with the help of bar tender and owner of the Grain of Truth Bar, Lunatic Mooning, he tries to immerse himself in the community. In the process he meets a host of other quirky and fabulous characters, such as Horace a dying man who is living every day as if it was his last, Bunza Steele another bar tender at a biker bar on the outskirts of town and many others that leave you laughing and some that make you want to run them over with your car.

My biggest complaint about this book was the ending. It felt rushed and I was left sort of dangling and wanting more closure. Who knows maybe the author is writing a sequel, maybe not, either way this was a highly entertaining book that kept you guessing.
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on October 15, 2012
This novel delves deep into the psyche of a man who loses everything and decides to start over. A reluctant hero with a twisted since of humor, Thomas O'Shea immediately endears himself to the reader. After the loss of his wife and two daughters (not a spoiler), it is his devotion to Gloria, his English Bulldog, that allows the audience to see the true heart of the man despite his gruff and often sarcastic demeaner.

Even if you are not a fan of the murder mystery genre, Signs of Struggle delivers humor with heart and a variety of quirky characters (Lunatic Mooning and Bunza Steel, just to name two)that are sure to delight.
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on January 4, 2013
I am an avid reader. a lot of books I read are what I call "fluff" because for over 30 years I was a school librarian and *had* to keep up with certain types of books for young people. That limited me from reading a lot of really good books. Not that I didn't want to , but just didn't have the extra time. John Carenen's book is certainly not "fluff"! I love a good mystery and this is one. I'm in the habit of "scanning" pages when I read, because a lot of authors just "fill" the pages with nonessentials. I don't happen to like that. I found that Mr. Carenen's writing does not allow that. I *loved* having to read every word!! His characters are well delineated. The relationships of all the characters are so believeable. So easy to lose one's self in this book. If you like a good mystery and good writing, try this one. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
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on June 27, 2013
This book definitely takes you on a roller coaster ride with all its twists and turns. I loved the characters and the action was non stop. It definitely grabs you from the first words and keeps you guessing until the final pages. It is a great debut novel and I certainly hope there will be more to follow.
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on December 29, 2012
This is the question haunting Signs of Struggle, a novel by John Carenen. Without giving away the plot, let's just say that Thomas O'Shea must ask himself if his quest for the truth outweighs the harm that befalls various citizens of Rockbluff, Iowa. The perfect metaphor for Thomas's struggle is "Chief Justice," a shotgun owned by Lunatic Mooning, the eccentric owner of a bar called "The Grain O' Truth" where Thomas spends much of his time waxing philopsophically. As a scattergun, Chief Justice has the potential to indiscriminately throw buckshot at friend and foe alike. There are no easy answers to the question posed by Carenen's novel; watching Thomas wrestle with it was heart-wrenching. Looking forward to reading Carenen's next book.
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on December 23, 2012
A decade or so ago, my search for escape fiction caused me to read my weight in mystery novels by the likes of Ross Macdonald, Robert B. Parker, Richard S. Prather, and John D. Macdonald. More recently, I abandoned the crime and punishment works of fiction for nonfiction books of history and biography. Now, after reading Signs of Struggle by John Carenen, I am ready to sample the current crop of crime, suspense, and tough guy, wisecracking heroes--especially if the novels are by Carenen.

Signs of Struggle follows a grieving Thomas O'Shea, an ordinary guy who has lost his wife and two daughters in Georgia, driving back to Iowa, his home state. He has no sooner begun to travel those country roads when he encounters a beautiful bloody woman running out of the lane of a farm where there has been a terrible accident. Her husband has been horribly mangled by farm machinery and has suffered an unpleasant death. But Thomas' spidey sense begins to vibrate and he immediately suspects murder. There is just something about this guy that he can`t seem to mind his own business. Sometimes, throughout this novel, it appears that O'Shea's nature is never to leave well-enough alone. Especially when thugs and assassins manifest to shut him up. It is then that we learn that O'Shea has a very special set of skills that allow him a certain degree of confidence in dealing with danger and with nasty individuals who wish him dead.

Carenen's prose style is engaging, chock full of a wonderful mix of popular culture references, literary allusions, even theological ponderings. The characters--the good, the bad, and the ugly--are all well-drawn. The suspense, the plot twists, and a couple unexpected turns keep one eagerly turning the pages to see just how the bloody hell O'Shea is going to get out of the mess into which he has invited himself. Signs of Struggle is one terrific read. Brad Steiger
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on May 3, 2013
I really enjoyed this book! I loved the wit and humor and bantering back and forth amongst Thomas and the locals. What an interesting group of characters. Add in some mystery and suspense, and you have a great book!
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on July 16, 2013
I don't know what genre this book would be in because it has so many different facets. There's definitely a good amount of action, accompanied by a thick layer of sarcasm and wit, and topped off with just the right touch of romance. It's like watching one of those perfect movies that both husband and wife enjoy.

The story is great, but it's the characters that you really want to know more about. I hope to see more of them in his next book!
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on April 4, 2013
Let me preface this by saying that I read roughly two books in the mystery/thriller genre per week. In other words, I go through a lot of books. Most end up with a three-star review. This book captured my interest immediately. It is very well written and has excellent character development. I was concerned that it would be too dramatic (the main character is recovering from the loss of his wife and two daughters), but was pleasantly surprised at the mix of emotion, action, and humor. I can't wait until Carenen's next book!
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