Twisted Reasons by Geza Tatrallyay
Geza Tatrallyay’s Twisted Reasons is not an easy read. While it is a work of fiction, it is fable interwoven with reality, a harsh, perhaps even prophetic reality at that. Greg Martens is an author of what was once called ‘penny dreadfuls’: crime novels devoid of literary merit. But he finds himself invited, by mistake as it happens, to a conference in Vienna hosted by the Austrian Literary Society. He is excited because he plans to visit a life long friend, Adam Kallay. Greg and Adam share Hungarian roots. They had grown up together in Cleveland and later attended Harvard. Now, Adam is an official with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Greg’s exhilaration is short lived however when he hears of Adam’s demise in a motor accident. Greg then teams up with Adam’s friend Anne Rossiter, an Interpol Agent and Julia, Adam’s Russian girlfriend, to solve a crime — theft of nuclear material from a former Soviet site, comprising sufficient uranium to make a dirty bomb. The adventure takes the reader from Vienna to radioactivity contaminated Chelyabnisk and to front-line Georgia. The pace quickens as the trio confronts arms merchants, terrorists and human traffickers, all in an unwelcome, freezing climate. Entwined with the present day saga is the intriguing backstory of Greg’s own family; doubtless there are some older readers from that part of the world who will identify with it.
It is said you should not judge a book by its cover. I nearly passed over Twisted Reasons because I did not find the cover very alluring. I’m glad I took a second look. The pace is swift as the action wrenches the reader from one scene to the next. Geza Tatrallyay is either a walking encyclopaedia on the Chelyabnisk disaster and the highly secretive Mayak atomic weapons site, with an impressive working knowledge of the geography of the places visited in the story or he had to undertake an enormous amount of research as he worked his way through the manuscript. This is a good, old-fashioned, page-turning adventure story blended with the modern – and very real – menaces of terrorism, human trafficking, and underworld arms dealing. Right from the prologue, which describes in movie-like imagery life inside a 1949 Soviet nuclear facility, with despair and hopelessness reminiscent of Solzhenitsyn’s A Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Tatrallyay has wonderfully captured the dreadful scene, the wretchedness of those forced to work in harsh and horrid conditions. Even when the action jumps to present day, none of the imagery is lost. There is page after page of mystery and intrigue. Characterization is excellent, every facet of each of the lead characters laid bare as the story moves forward. I suspect the book has been professionally edited, something you cannot take for granted these days of factory-like book production. This is intelligent writing at its best (not surprising when you come to the author’s profile at the end); Twisted Reasons is a joy to read.
Escape From Xanadu by “Doc” Sanborn
“Doc” Sanborn’s Escape From Xanadu sounds at first blush like a 13th century adventure story centred around the summer capital of Kublai Kahn’s Yuon empire. In fact, it’s a memoir of the author’s own childhood experiences in New England during the 1940s and 1950s, “Xanadu” being the name of a run down property his father acquired – the author’s home for several years. The reader is introduced to “Doc” when he is but five months old and we follow his life until young adulthood. To say Sanborn’s formative years were difficult is understating the reality. In modern day social-services-speak he would be classified as an abused child, or at least a neglected one. He was reared for a while by his grandparents whom he obviously loved, but against his own wishes, he was taken in by his father, whom he refers to as Junior, along with his step-mother Pat, and from there a dark shadow descended over his life. But that did not stop him making the most of the cards he’d been dealt. The chapters in his book are not numbered, instead they bear headings and a quick look at some of them provides a snapshot of what the reader is in for: Pig Riding, The Nazis Are Coming, Crazy Frankie, Shooting Angels, Where There’s Smoke… and Running Away. These are just a few and give a taste of a Boy’s Own adventure that this remarkable memoir is. Along the way we see “Doc” (real name Donnie) get shot, discover a Nazi spy hideout, barely avoid being trampled on by a horse and form an unlikely friendship – against Junior’s wishes – with a crazy psychopath.
Escape from Xanadu is self-published but potential readers should not be put off by that. It is written in an easy-to-read, no nonsense style and appears to have been professionally edited. If I could find anything that an editor might pick up, it would be use of the hackneyed term “he shrugged his shoulders” or similar. As far as I’m aware there are no other body parts that can be shrugged so, in the interest of keeping the text tight, just “he shrugged” will do. But that aside, the writing is flawless. Characterization is good; within the first twenty pages or so I gleaned who was who and had a good grip on their respective personalities. The narrative is amusing, especially considering the problems the author faced during his upbringing and clear, descriptive writing makes it easy to visualize the scenes. The structure of the memoir is a little unusual in that it is more like a series of interesting anecdotes strung together but that does not detract from the story. It works. While “Doc” Sanborn has injected just the right amount of pathos into his childhood character, Escape From Xanadu is still a rollicking good read.
Medjugorje:The Final Prophecy by Peter Danish
On June 24, 1981 two Bosnian teenagers, Mirjana, then 16 and Ivanka, 15 were walking near their nondescript village of Medjugorje in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, when Ivanka told her friend she could see an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mirjana told her it was impossible and they went on their way. But the following day they returned, this time with an entourage comprising Vicka, 17, Ivan, 16, Marija, 16 and Jakov, 10. The apparition reappeared and this time they had a conversation with the Virgin. They continue to have apparitions to this day. And the rest, as they say, is history. Such is the factual background of Peter Danish’s Medjugorje:The Final Prophecy. Hundreds of books, mostly non-fiction, have been written about the phenomenon of Medjugorje in the intervening years but this book is a fictional tale woven into the historical and geographical setting. In the story, Tony Marshall is a rather brash American film maker, a loser really, whose career is yet to head for the stars. He decides to visit Medjugorje a place he has heard about, though obviously with little detailed knowledge. He finds himself on a bus from the nearby city of Mostar with a group of fellow passengers of varying faiths and ethnicity. The short ride becomes a marathon however, and Marshall and the others are forced en route to stay in a run down inn. It is there that they become fascinated by a young girl, the innkeeper’s seventeen-year-old daughter who seems to possess a remarkable insight into the apparitions and the visionaries. A plan is hatched that if successful will earn the group a lot of money. But there’s a delightful twist in the tale.
The surprising number of spelling errors and punctuation mistakes is a little off putting and makes me wonder whether the manuscript was professionally edited. But that should not be a deterrent as this interesting book is still worth a read. Descriptive narrative and script like dialogue brings the story to life. I liked the concept for the tale as a whole. It is not a powerful saga — the real power is in the factual background. The characters do speak from the page, however and all have an interesting backstory. Peter Danish has put a lot of research into Medjugorje:The Final Prophecy. Despite the fact that it is estimated that what used to be a small and remote Bosian village has had some forty to fifty million visitors since 1981 there are millions more who have no knowledge of the place or the reason for its fame. If a reader comes within the latter category I would highly recommend this book as a way of getting to know something about the phenomenon without having to study one of the hundreds of non-fiction texts about it. Whether you believe in the background setting or not, Medjugorje: The Final Prophecy is sure to raise interesting questions for you.
The Midnight Shrink by Edward A. Dreyfus
Edward A Dreyfus’ The Midnight Shrink is a work of fiction but, given the author’s experience and background, might just be a touch autobiographical. The concept is certainly original. Dr David Edminson is a psychologist with a conscience. He treats ordinary folk at his regular practice during the day then ventures into the night in LA’s Skid Row to treat those who are not-so-ordinary: pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and the like. And he does so from the back of a van. To add a little more ‘colour’ to the character Dreyfus has him in a relationship with an exotic dancer, Max, who has aspirations of bettering herself while working nights in a strip club. The good doctor’s life becomes even more interesting when he discovers there is a serial killer stalking working girls in the Row. One by one the bodies are stacking up and they’re all well known to Max. Will she be next? Edminson is a consultant to the LAPD so he has his finger on the pulse throughout the investigation. Leaving his friends in the department to continue their hunt for the killer, he heads off to New York to carry out a little investigation of his own. He grew up loving his grandfather, a rather colourful character who ran a newsstand but after a heated discussion with his brother Ron, Edminson begins to question his grandfather’s true persona. Did he have links to the Mafia? Was he whiter than white? Was Edminson’s life coloured with memories based on myths and fables? The journey to New York proves enlightening, in more ways than one, but Edminson must hurry back to LA and to Max, especially as he has an inkling of just who the killer might be.
It is true there are various layers to The Midnight Shrink. The pace gets off to a cracking start with the discovery of the serial killer’s first victim, the banter between Edminson and the cops, his fascinating patients and Max’s rather unusual extra curricular activities. Then it slackens somewhat as he goes on his fact finding journey to New York. Nonetheless it does add to characterisation and makes for an interesting backstory. The comment in the narrative “…what if his memories were fabrications based on limited information or misinformation?” might give a hint to the author’s profession. Dreyfus has nicely juxtaposed the inhabitants of Skid Row with the high powered movers and shakers in nearby downtown LA. The Midnight Shrink is certainly a mystery and the reader can’t help wondering if the killer is someone known to Dr Edminson. I wouldn’t describe the book as a fast paced thriller but that is not to detract from the power – and message – of the story. It is a thought provoking suspenseful drama with enough action in the highly descriptive and visual narrative to keep you interested to the end.
Blackwater Crossing by David Griffiths
If life is a series of peaks and troughs, Lonnie Bowers has hit his nadir: a screwed up marriage, a once successful rodeo career in terminal decline, maxed out credit cards and a bank statement in a striking shade of red. But as everyone knows when you are down the only way is up. Right? Regrettably, not in Lonnie’s case. His best friend Brian, a fellow rodeo rider with his own plane, is kidnapped by a Mexican drug cartel eager to get its hands on an aircraft as well as someone who knows how to fly it. Given he has lost everything so there is nothing to lose by risking his life trying to rescue his friend, Lonnie, whose only knowledge of cross-border crime is a counterterrorism and foreign intelligence course he did at a small town Wyoming college, allows himself to be recruited by Stirling Associates, a clandestine semi-government agency looking to zero in on the cartel’s gang leader. Lonnie is soon to find that wrangling a Mexican drug lord is not your run-of-the-mill rodeo ride. Meanwhile his ex-wife Clarissa agonises over the marriage split, despite the fact it was not her fault. It was all down to Lonnie who had a short lived but nonetheless adulterous affair behind her back. Clarissa’s anguish is not helped when she is seriously injured and disfigured in a horse-riding accident. David Griffiths’ debut novel Blackwater Crossing takes the reader seamlessly from the US rodeo circuit to the wilds of Canada, before tracking south to the Mexican Sierra Madre.
Blackwater Crossing gets off to a cracking start with an action sequence that immediately hooks the reader’s attention. It is told in the first person, interchanging between Lonnie and Clarissa. David Griffiths has used this device effectively to tell the story from two different angles. The adventure settles down after a while as we follow Lonnie’s path on the rodeo circuit and Clarissa’s anguish over her failed marriage and her relationship with God. Unlike Clarissa, Lonnie is an atheist or at least an agnostic. For me, these elements of the story tended to slacken the pace somewhat and could have been shortened though they do add to each characters’ arc. That said, the action picks up again as we follow Lonnie’s exploits on behalf of Stirling Associates and his adventure laden search for Brian. There are some classic lines along the way. One of my favourites was …I felt like an alligator trying to slither unobtrusively through a herd of penguins. In one of Lonnie’s pensive, self-deprecating moods he ponders this: What had I left to make the world a better place? Nothing. My time on earth had been little more than an ugly scribble of self-indulgence. I imagine this thought provoking perception would resonate with many readers. The book has been well researched; it’s a great adventure story and a riveting read.
Born To Die by George A Bernstein
Set in Palm Beach, Florida this fast paced thriller, Born To Die by George A Bernstein features two principal characters, Casey Jansson, an obstetrics nurse and Al Warner a crack Miami detective on medical leave following a deadly shootout with a killer appropriately named the Angel of Death. Warner endeavours to convince his psychiatrist that he doesn’t have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and that he should be certified fit to return to work. Casey, still reeling from her bust up with her last boyfriend, becomes suspicious when too many infant boys die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). At first she enlists the help of a young doctor, Danny O’Brien. He has romantic aspirations for Casey which are not reciprocated but he agrees to undertake some extra-curricular detective work in an effort to assist her. Soon after, Casey meets Al Warner in a bar, and a spark is ignited in each of them which the other fails to recognise. Al is itching to help out, not only because he is bored on sick leave, but because he would love to impress this beautiful, Swedish lady. Danny O’Brien’s detective work begins to yield results but eventually his closeness to the truth costs him his life. Fortunately for Casey, Danny thought to mail her his notes before he took the next step in his investigation which led to his demise. Shocked by their revelations, she leaves Al a message and follows her suspect deep into the Everglades. When Al receives it, he races after her, sure she is in danger but without the information Casey has in the notes, he has no idea where to start looking.
What the hell’s going on? I had to ask myself this question time after time as I read George A Bernstein’s Born To Die. The mystery and intrigue is thread throughout the whole story and until you come within sight of the conclusion it is difficult to grasp exactly what is happening. It is a true mystery, dripping with intrigue, a real page turner. What spoilt things for me was the obvious lack of a professional edit. The book is littered with grammatical, punctuation, typos and other errors which a professional editor would have easily picked up. This is a pitfall that many self-published authors fall into. (The book is published by the author’s own publishing firm). That said, potential readers shouldn’t be deterred from reading it. The characters are real, the dialogue believable, and descriptive narrative makes it easy to visualise the scenes. Right from the outset, even in the Prologue, the reader is drawn straight into the action with the kidnap of a senator’s daughter, an event which will become relevant later in the story. Born to Die is a cracking story, a riveting read and will keep the reader hooked through to its dramatic denouement.
Bullet In The Blue Sky by Bill Larkin
Bill Larkin’s Bullet In The Blue Sky is set in Los Angeles in the aftermath of a massive earthquake. Covering only a period of three days, which adds to its sense of urgency, the story follows the search by an elite team, eventually made up of LAPD, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, FBI and US Army personnel through the ravaged streets of Los Angeles and beyond, in the search for one of their own: a LAPD detective, Gavin Shaw. Only thing is, no-one knows why. Despite battling their way through street after street of looting, serious assaults and homicides, the cops are forbidden by their deputy chief, Jenkins, to get involved in crime fighting, their search for Shaw outranking everything else in importance. The intrigue deepens when the FBI and US Army personnel join the team with similar orders, though from different sources. While the team members are willing to avoid involvement in the violence engulfing them, someone forgot to tell the bad guys and they are subjected to one attack after another as every weapon known to man is levelled at them. When the team members share their intel it emerges that there is history between the person they’re searching for, Shaw and the deputy chief, Jenkins but no-one seems to know what it is. Eventually they catch up with Shaw — he is about to deliver an aftershock of his own on the origins of the earthquake.
You would expect a former member of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and LAPD detective, as Bill Larkin is, to know his stuff when it comes to police procedure and dialogue. But an enormous amount of research still had to go into this gripping novel. It can be difficult for an author who has vastly researched the factual background of a story to mask the results so the reader is not confronted by page after page of dry facts and figures normally found in text books. In Bullet In The Blue Sky Larkin does it well. The narrative and the dialogue flow smoothly, adding to the exciting pace that has the reader fanning the pages and speed reading from the get go to the very end. It certainly fits the difficult-to-put-down category. The story is told in the first person as though the narrator is Kevin “Schmitty” Schmidt of the Orange Country Sheriff’s Department, with the occasional chapter telling us what is going on elsewhere, sometimes in an earlier time. This device works well and doesn’t detract from the heart-thumping pace of the story. It is sometimes said that some writers, especially American ones, won’t let implausibility get in the way of a good story. While Bullet In The Blue Sky is founded on a rather incredible premiss, Larkin has cleverly created an air of believability about it. It’s a riveting read with intrigue, mystery, suspense and action/adventure all wrapped up in one electrifying package.
How To Run With Wolves by Janelle Gaudet
In Janelle Gaudet’s debut novel How To Run With Wolves, Erin Carter, the story’s narrator, is not quite your average American teenager. At the ripe old age of seventeen, she has seen more than her share of life’s horrors: the death of her mother, a missing twin sister, blank spaces where her childhood memories should be, and she is set upon by school bullies. Now, her father keeps her locked in a military base with several foster children in an abandoned dorm. Then, as if she needs her life to take another turn for the worse, she is forced to witness her dad’s murder. But that’s just the tip of the downward spiral as a series of events more appropriate to a Kafkaesque nightmare unfurl, plunging her deeper into her fractured world. She uncovers a plot that could spark civil war in the United States. When scenes normally found in B-grade disaster movies are shown on local television she takes up weapons and heads to New York City with fellow trainees. At her tender age she battles with those intent on destroying the American way of life. She suffers injuries and loses close friends before returning to the relative safety of her dorm and to Mike, the love of her life. But she has a nemesis, Allan Calvin. And he knows where she lives. A welcome parallel to the main thread of the story is Erin’s relationship with Rex her dog, and her unusual friendship with a pack of wolves.
According to a note about the author at the end of the book, Janelle Gaudet is an 18-year-old college student, which makes this story even more exceptional. Of course there are areas where there is room for improvement but it is nonetheless an extraordinary effort. Particularly for those who enjoy young adult novels or even those stories bordering on fantasy, the pace is heart thumping with very few chapters permitting boredom to creep in. The narrative is so descriptive as to present the reader with a visual of each dramatic scene. As the story unfolds, the intrigue deepens and it becomes a race to the finish to see where it is all heading. It is not for the light hearted — Mills & Boon it isn’t. How To Run With Wolves juxtaposes the dark side of humanity with the forces of good; the mess we sometimes make of our world with the beauty and wonder of nature. Grammatical errors and typos are so few as to be negligible so the writing flows evenly, making this an easy read. How To Run With Wolves is a highly imaginative tale, and although at times perhaps it stretches the imagination a little too far, it nonetheless features real, live, breathing characters with whom one can easily relate. If you’re into this kind of story, it’s well worth a read.
No Less A Hero by L. T. Quartermaine
In L. T. Quartermaine’s No Less A Hero, Mae Lee is a thirteen year old Asian girl, removed from her village, sold into slavery and forced into child prostitution. At first she is excited to be on her way to the big city — and to meet her new owner. She has never been to a city before, had not even seen a car and here she is in the thick of it — teeming streets, neon lights, heavy traffic and honking horns. But her excitement is soon tempered when she comes face to face with a man called Chew Fat and his associate, a female known as Silkwoman. Mae Lee is barely settled into her new abode when she is subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment at the hands of Silkwoman but it’s not long before she has an opportunity to escape the evil woman’s clutches. On the run she rescues a well dressed young girl, Szu Shu, from some bullies. Szu Shu is the daughter of a wealthy man who happens to be the Chief of Police and she is soon able to return the favour and come to Mae Lee’s rescue. Mae Lee finds herself at an exclusive school paid for with stolen bank notes she managed to snatch during the mêlée with the bullies. But her new life is short lived when Silkwoman locates her and kills her friend. Mae Lee’s adventures take her from city slums to grandiose buildings to remote villages and eventually to Africa. Along the way she learns much about the seemier side of life, about guns and knives and how to use them effectively.
No Less A Hero, second in what I suspect will be a trilogy, is a gritty, fast paced adventure story probably more suited to young adults but nonetheless a thrill ride for those who enjoy page turners. Its imagery is dark, imaginative, the descriptive writing bringing the pages to life as Mae Lee’s exploits makes one wonder what could possibly happen next to this young teenager. Although, for me, characterisation could have been a little better when I arrived at the African scenes, it was not long before I got to grips with who was who and was back into the action. There is a reference in passing to the Great Patriotic War which, unlike the suggestion in the story, was in fact a term used in Russia and the former Soviet republics to describe conflict that took place between June 1941 and May 1945 but that doesn’t detract in any way from the main thrust of the story. L. T. Quartermaine has done an excellent job of riveting the reader’s interest from the action packed opening lines to the thrilling denouement.
Jelly Bryce: FBI Odessy by Mike Conti
Jelly Bryce: FBI Odyssey is #2 in a trilogy by author and veteran police office Mike Conti. The trilogy charts the life and times of real life law enforcement hero Delf A (“Jelly”) Bryce. (Apparently the unusual nickname originated as “Jellybean” because of his penchant for fancy clothes). Whereas the first in the series covers Jelly’s life from childhood to his time as an officer in the Oklahoma City Police Department, this book takes us further in his career to the FBI and the favourite son of his boss and mentor J Edgar Hoover. Although the story itself is historical fiction focussing on Bryce’s life and exploits, it reads more like a biography. As is demonstrated early on in the narrative, Bryce was somewhat of a prodigy with firearms from a very early age. By the time he joined the OCPD he was already a legend in law enforcement circles, his reputation eventually coming to Hoover’s attention. In the days of the Wild West, Bryce would have been classed as a gunslinger — but on the right side of the law. In 1945 Life magazine clocked Bryce’s draw and fire at two-fifths of a second. At the FBI, he advanced quickly through the ranks, at the same time gaining the respect of his fellow agents, developing a reputation for great instincts and investigative skills. Despite this, he is remembered in the Bureau more for his remarkable ability as a “quick draw” shooter. He would routinely toss a coin into the air, then draw whatever pistol he happened to be carrying and shoot the coin out of the air. He was considered the FBI’s best trick shooter, even though he remained a field agent.
While Jelly Bryce: FBI Odyssey is, as noted above, a work of fiction the meticulous research Mike Conti has put into his subject and the surrounding historical events renders the book a fascinating read, even if 1930s gangsters, guns, and dynamite thrown from speeding cars isn’t your thing. What Conti is writing about is history — it happened — only the dialogue is make believe. The reader is treated to remarkable detail of the workings of the OCPD and the FBI, and those interested in ballistics won’t be disappointed either as guns and ammunition from that era are described in detail. Yet, this is a novel and the action gets underway from the opening lines, at a time when Jelly is still a teenager. Conti’s narrative is so descriptive you can literally see the action as it unfolds and the dialogue could be a script for a fascinating movie. Characterisation is excellent, so no need to keep turning up earlier pages to see who’s who. The writing itself is flawless; the story easily flows from one scene to the next. If there was a downside for me, it was that I was disappointed when I arrived at the end. But then again, there’s another book on its way.
In Passing by J. R. Wirth
J. R. Wirth’s In Passing is labelled Fiction – Suspense and rightly so, but it could easily be tagged as Paranormal or Fantasy. Mary Elizabeth Stroll, in the first person sections of the story is known as Lizzie, a fourteen-year-old and in the third person parts as Mary, now in her early twenties. Lizzie has a disturbing life as a teenager — a drunken mother, an abusive step-father and a life so grim that even at that age she decides to end it by overdosing on her mother’s pills. In the afterlife she meets Bart, another suicide victim and they embark on a paranormal journey of discovery, along the way confronting other youths with equally disturbing backgrounds. In current day Mary meets Alex, a trainee Catholic priest and psychotherapist who is preparing a thesis on NDEs — near death experiences — and she agrees to a day long interview. It is during this interview that she relates to Alex her haunting experiences with Bart and the reader is treated to a first hand description of those events as her fascinating narration unfolds. As the story draws to a close there is the inevitable twist in the tale, and the various questions that scream at the reader from the earlier pages are finally answered. Interwoven throughout the story, in both the ‘before’ and ‘after’ sections, are such controversial issues as suicide, runaways, school bullying, abortion, child and substance abuse, all treated with due respect.
There is a sense of mystery and enchantment throughout In Passing. A licensed psychotherapist himself, J. R. Wirth obviously knows his stuff and in this, his first full length novel, he is not afraid to delve into issues that some might prefer to avoid. Excellent prose is used in the telling of this story, the narrative expressed in flawless, descriptive text that brings the characters to life. Paranormal they may be, but the scenes are easily visualised, the dialogue carrying the story forward like a suspenseful movie script. In the earlier parts of the novel I was a little confused as to what was going on and who was who but as I read on the fog began to clear and before long I realised what a treat this work really is. As the blurb for this book says, here we have a story that is both dark, yet romantic, paranormal yet somehow real. In Passing is a unique tale of love that endures even beyond death.
Sizzling Cold Case by Buddy Ebsen with Darlene Quinn
Sizzling Cold Case is an unusual novel for several reasons. About 100 pages of it was written by Buddy Ebsen who most, certainly those of a certain age, will recall was the actor who played Jed Clampett in The Beverley Hillbillies and, later, the role of Barnaby Jones in the television series of the same name. While Buddy survived to the age of 95 he didn’t manage to complete the manuscript so his friend Darlene Quinn, herself an author, finished it for him. In her own words she “needed to add a few words, characters, and sub-plots to craft a novel. However I remained true to Buddy’s concept and felt as if he was right beside me and approved of the scenes.” The end result is something that could well have been finished by Buddy himself. It is written in the first person, as though the narrator is legendary LA private detective Barnaby Jones. As for the story itself, Lori London, a beautiful Hollywood starlet and friend of Barnaby and his deceased son, Hal, died suddenly eighteen years ago. Though her death was ruled a suicide, neither Barnaby, nor Hal believed that it was; it had to be homicide. When another rising star, a dead ringer for Lori, is cast in the movie version of Lori’s demise with a new “surprise” ending, on-set accidents, death threats, arson and murder make it clear someone doesn’t want the truth to be told. In his search for the truth Barnaby discovers a connection between Lori’s homicide and the man who murdered his own son and must once more confront his son’s killer, currently languishing in a supermax prison, to get at the truth.
Sizzling Cold Case reads like a good old fashioned whodunnit and it is told in a rather outmoded style. That said, the narrative did hold my interest right to the denouement; throughout the story I was curious to see where Barnaby’s investigation would lead me next. I’m not sure the LAPD would allow such leeway to a private investigator in a murder investigation but hey, who cares? It’s a good yarn and who wants to see implausibility get in its way? On the technical side the editing of this novel was a bit lazy. While it is frustrating when computers, who as we all know, have a mind of their own, sometimes manage to stretch just one or two words across an entire line, no effort appears to have been made to rectify this which does have some effect on the overall formatting. That said, this is an easy-to-read but hard-to-put-down murder mystery. I’m sure Buddy would be pleased with the end result. Barnaby certainly was.
Deborah Rising by Avraham Azrieli
Deborah is the only female judge mentioned in the Tanakh, to Christians, the textual source of the Old Testament. She was a prophet of the God of the Israelites, a counsellor and a warrior. To many Christians, especially those of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, she is a canonised saint. Yet, not a lot seems to be known about her. She is mentioned in the Book of Judges at chapters 4 and 5, the latter in poetic form and often called The Song of Deborah. In Deborah Rising, the first in what I suspect will be a trilogy, author Avraham Azrieli takes these most basic facts and forms them into a fictionalised story of Deborah, starting from age fourteen. In keeping with the historical setting the story gets under way on a tragic note, with the stoning to death of Deborah’s sister, Tamar who’d been falsely accused by her husband Seesya, a nineteen-year-old soldier with cruel and sadistic tendencies, of adultery. Already an orphan, Deborah has no-one she can turn to. Her life already a series of tragedies there is yet another to befall her when Seesya, determined to become heir to Deborah’s parents’ estate, puts a ring on her finger. But Deborah is determined to escape from this psychopath. Hearing of a magic elixir that is said to turn females into males, and expecting she would fare much better as a member of the opposite sex, she sets out to find the man who created it, despite no-one having heard of him for several decades. The journey she undertakes would be a formidable one for an adult male, let alone a fourteen-year-old girl. And to make matters worse, her betrothed is leaving no stone unturned in his quest to find her and bring her back to a certain death.
I must admit to being no stranger to Avraham Azrieli’s books, having read two of them myself and, as it happens, awarded each five stars on Goodreads. But this is something quite different. It is no easy feat to take a Biblical character about whom so little is known and turn it into a novel — in this ambitious project, a series of novels. Azrieli does it well. Deborah Rising hooks the reader from the outset when, in quite graphic detail we can visualise Tamar’s stoning and we feel Deborah’s anguish as she is forced to witness the harrowing scene. The author must have undertaken an incredible amount of research. It is one thing to select a Biblical character and write a story around her, quite another to create scenes that are true to the historical period in which the story is set. It is especially difficult when it is thought that Deborah lived sometime between the 7th and 12th centuries BC. This book is creative, imaginative and the narrative is visually stunning. The only disappointment for me was coming to the end only to find I have to wait for the next novel to see what becomes of our heroine.
The Kirov Wolf by R. H. Johnson
The Kirov Wolf is one of a series of novels by author R. H. Johnson following the exploits of NYPD detectives Pete Nazareth and Tara Gimble. In this story, the crack husband and wife team are on the prowl for a Russian assassin, who has apparently been living in New York City for decades. He occasionally emerges when he feels it is necessary to dispose of a Russian émigré who does not share his world view, particularly if it conflicts with that of Russian president Ruslan Kotov. The first to go is a well known billionaire so the stakes are high and pressure on the detectives mounts as the death toll rises. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that there is a national security aspect to the case. Pete Nazareth, a former marine, is a veteran of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has a friend in the CIA, Dalton Stark, whom Nazareth had met on one of his special ops. Stark’s help is enlisted and, as more murders follow, the hunt becomes more intriguing. As the story twists and turns towards its denouement one surprise follows another until eventually all the strands of the story come together.
The Kirov Wolf gets off to a dramatic start, as R. H. Johnson hooks the reader straight into the story. His narrative is highly descriptive, a visual treat, as the unfolding scenes leap off the page. Unless the author happens to be a walking encyclopaedia on all things Russian, the research necessary for a work of this nature must have been enormous. As he has used a number of real events, cleverly blending fact with fiction, the story comes across as plausible. The plot is intricate, involving not only the inner workings of the New York City Police Department but also the CIA, as well as Russian spooks all cleverly blended together so that, step by step, the reader can keep pace with the story. Characterisation too, is excellent. The title of the book is as intriguing as the story itself. There actually was a Kirov wolf, though it was a real wolf, a man-eater which terrorised some USSR citizens between 1944 and 1954. But back to this version, a rather harmless novel. The Kirov Wolf is a great read, a real page-turner.
Jelly Bryce — The Man In The Mirror by Mike Conti
Jelly Bryce — The Man In The Mirror is the final instalment in Mike Conti’s Jelly Bryce trilogy and, if you have read the first two, missing out on this one would be like reading a murder mystery and not bothering to read the final chapter to find out whodunnit. For the uninitiated, Jelly Bryce was a legendary lawman who carved out a career, firstly in the Oklahoma City Police Department then with the FBI. His ability as a quick draw shooter as well as his impressive investigative skills made him one of the most memorable law enforcers of his era. But even legends have a private life and Jelly’s was just as fascinating as his day job. He was closely acquainted with his FBI boss, J. Edgar Hoover, not a person easy to get close to. This helped to provide him with incredible insight into the innermost workings of American society at every level; it would be surprising if much of what he gleaned were not taken with him to the grave. Jelly served his country throughout the most interesting periods of the twentieth century: The Great Depression, World War II, the Soviet threat, the rise of Communism, the McCarthy era and the creation of the CIA. Jelly Bryce — The Man In The Mirror, like the earlier novels in the trilogy, reads like a biography though it is really historical fiction.
Mike Conti, a former lawman himself, has undertaken research of mammoth proportions to write this trilogy, and at times it reads like a history lesson. This latest in the series contains strands of factual material seamlessly woven into the fabric of the fictional tale to produce a life tapestry that is both fascinating and entertaining. At times I thought there was a little too much of Jelly’s personal life which made the story drag somewhat but that said, it does enable the reader to understand just what made the man tick. Jelly wasn’t just a sharp shooter; he was a complex, multi-layered character, possessing an almost super human ability with a gun but having inner conflicts that would occasionally float to the surface. This book, like the earlier ones in the series, is exceptionally well written, hard to put down, and, as a bonus you’ll come away with an in depth knowledge of the life and times of one of the most famous U.S. lawmen of the 20th century.
Devil in the Dark by Chris Lindberg
Chris Lindberg introduced his readers to a rather unique character, known simply as Rage, in his first novel Code of Darkness. Now his follow up novel Devil In The Dark continues Rage’s exploits. The story gets off to a cracking start when a deadly terrorist attack destroys a U.S. — Mexico border crossing in southwestern Texas. Two survivors of that atrocity, Border Patrol Officer Otis Brown and migrant worker Enrique Castillo, from opposite sides of the law, are thrown together in most unusual circumstances. Although Rage could be said to be the lead character, it is Otis and Enrique who feature far more prominently. But Rage isn’t to be left out. When the mastermind behind the border attack is found to be Javier Oropeza — the Jackal — Mexico’s most infamous drug lord, the Pentagon assembles its most skilled strike team which includes their secret weapon, Rage. Enrique is a timid, unskilled worker at a chicken farm processing plant with a seriously ill mother and a teen sister to care for, his financial circumstances such that when his uncle, the notorious Jackal invites him to work for him, the temptation of untold wealth proves too attractive to resist. Unfortunately for Enrique, Otis suspects he may have been involved in the terrorist attack and sets out to bring him to justice. When characters as diverse as Otis, Enrique, Rage and others are thrown together, sometimes in pursuit of the Jackal, other times being pursued by him, interesting things are bound to happen. And they do, from the opening lines to the surprising twist in the closing chapters.
Devil In The Dark is a true page turner which I suspect many readers will find difficult to put down. Chris Lindberg writes in a no-nonsense style, his descriptive narrative making it easy to visualise each scene. His characterisation is such that, despite flitting quickly from one scene to another it is not difficult to keep up with who’s who in the story. The author has been meticulous in creating dialogue from the real world though, for me, coming as I do far from the region where the story is set, it slowed things down slightly. Devil In The Dark is multi-layered, with back stories such as Otis’ relationship with his father, a local sheriff, and Enrique’s with his uncle. All these strands are melded seamlessly at the end. Rage appears to have some superhuman powers so at times the narrative edges into fantasy, yet the background is entirely believable. All in all, this is a scorcher, the pages so white hot you need to turn them quickly. This story will certainly get the adrenalin pumping.
My Heart Will Triumph by Mirjana Soldo
On 24 June 1981 two teenagers, Mirjana then aged 16 and Ivanka, aged 14, were walking near their nondescript village of Medjugorje in what we now know as Bosnia & Hercegovina, when Ivanka told her friend she could see an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Unsurprisingly, Mirjana remarked that it was impossible and they went on their way. But the following day they were motivated to return, this time with an entourage comprising Vicka 16, Ivan 16, Marija 16 and Jakov 10. The three-dimensional apparition reappeared and this time they had a conversation with the Virgin. They continue to have apparitions to this day, almost 36 years since they first began. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Over five hundred books have been written about the phenomenon of Medjugorje and countless websites, YouTube videos, documentaries and even films have covered it. Now a book has been published by the visionary Mirjana, assisted by film maker and author Sean Bloomfield and local guide and interpreter Miki Musa. My Heart Will Triumph echoes the words of the Virgin Mary in one of her numerous messages to the world via the visionaries. Despite the joint authorship, the book is really an autobiography of Mirjana Soldo.
Even non-believers will find this book fascinating. It is not only a remarkable story covering the metamorphosis of a very ordinary village of a few hundred to a pilgrimage site which has been host to anything from thirty to fifty million visitors. It’s also the story of a very ordinary teenager from a simple village in the middle of nowhere who, along with five others, has, for over three decades been having regular chats with the Virgin Mary.
Mirjana’s story covers not only her spirituality and her meetings with the Virgin, but her childhood, schooling and early years in a what was then a Communist country, her (and the other visionaries’) persecution by the Communist authorities and those who did not believe them, her experiences during the Bosnian war, her marriage, the loss of a child, her family and much more. She was, and remains, a very ordinary person with an extraordinary story to tell. What comes through her writing is a kind, considerate and loving person who has suffered greatly for simply telling the truth.
Read the book. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry but mostly it will warm your heart. And once you’ve finished it, what you will have difficulty believing is how the phenomenon of Medjugorje could be anything other than what Mirjana says it is.
The CleanSweep Conspiracy by Chuck Waldron
Extremist organisations, whether from the far Left or far Right often sprout from seemingly innocuous roots. There were those who, in 1920s Germany thought Hitler Youth was a great idea and to many, Communism has a way of looking attractive at first blush. It is once these institutions take hold that their true aims become clear. In Chuck Waldron’s The CleanSweep Conspiracy an ultra rightwing group led by Charles Claussen sets out to rid the city’s streets of those they see as undesirables — vagrants, beggars, prostitutes, gangsters, Jews or anyone else who don’t fit their image of the perfect human being. It is social engineering the likes of which hasn’t been seen seen the Nazis. The way they set out to do this is remarkably simple: set up a group of highly trained thugs to cause chaos in the streets — riots, muggings, serious assaults and even murder — until society is so scared and fed up they’ll welcome a system of government and law enforcement that will, by any means, make their streets safe again. Enter Operation CleanSweep. And the ruse works. Almost. Blogger and wannabe journalist Matt Tremain has a Russian friend — online moniker, Cyberia — whose hacking and surveillance abilities are beyond extraordinary. Matt teams up with Susan Payne, a television reporter and her boyfriend, Carl Remington and is approached by a detective, Wallace Carling who offers to help. With Cyberia looking over Matt’s shoulder, metaphorically speaking and a bit of help from a mole inside the extremists’ camp the small but intrepid team sets out to expose the real reason behind Operation CleanSweep. There are a few surprises along the way — for the team as well as the reader.
The CleanSweep Conspiracy is a fast paced thriller, a real page-turner from the opening scenes. Chuck Waldron’s prose is tight, the scenes visual, the dialogue concise and clear. Many strands are woven into this intricate story but at no time does the author allow the reader to lose a grip on what’s happening. Taking current day concerns — the right to privacy, human rights, racism, and so on — this highly imaginative, unique and intriguing tale is an entertaining adventure; there are no dull moments for the reader’s eyes to glaze over. Waldron’s use of actual historical events and figures, including the notorious PROFUNC program from the 1950s, and life-like characters adds believability to the story. The CleanSweep Conspiracy is a keeper — you’ll want to read it again.
The Advocate’s Felony by Teresa Burrell
Teresa Burrell’s The Advocate’s Felony is one of a series of eight books featuring lawyer Sabre Brown. In this episode, Sabre is blasted out of a blissful sleep by a phone call at 2:00 am from her brother, Ron. Having given evidence against a number of wise guys, all serving lengthy sentences, Ron is in the Witness Protection Program. Problem is, someone has caught up with him and has murder on their mind. Ron fears that Sabre and their mother might also be in the firing line and he tells her to leave immediately, drive to their mother’s place and vanish — their lives depend on it. Sabre doesn’t take too much convincing and in the early hours she leaves her home in San Diego and heads off to warn her mother. Sabre has a boyfriend, “JP,” a private investigator and later the two of them commence searching for Ron who they believe is hiding out in the wintry Northwest. It is on this journey they discover that the six gangsters Ron testified against have been released and are being murdered one by one. Could Ron, the person on the run, actually be their killer? Or is some Good Samaritan looking out for him? And if so, why? As the story unfolds the answers to these perplexing questions become clear but there are many twists and turns along the way.
You would expect the sixth book in a series of eight to be of high standard. After all, the author has by that time become intimately acquainted with the principal characters. This book disappointed in a couple of small aspects, however, in that I didn’t have a clear mental picture of what the characters looked like. This could well have been because they have been described so often before in earlier books but this was the first one I have read and there might be many readers in the same position. I also found that in some cases the dialogue of certain characters sounded the same, as though emanating from the one person. Despite these relatively minor peccadillos the novel is otherwise well crafted and I was hooked straight into the story from the outset. The Advocate’s Felony is written in a no-nonsense, straightforward style that I found easy to read and I never lost track of each character’s role as the story unfolded. Visually, I could effortlessly keep up with the action in each scene. It’s an intriguing story, a real adventure and author Teresa Burrell keeps you guessing until virtually the end.
Fatima and the Sons of Abraham by Val Bonacci
A Muslim, a Catholic and a Jew all in the same American baseball team. What could possibly go wrong? Val Bonacci’s Fatima and the Sons of Abraham is not as implausible as you might think. Darius Salamah’s mother was Shi’ite Iranian, his father Sunni Palestinian. Overwhelmed by events in Syria, he becomes one of the 4.8 million refugees displaced externally by the war, securing a ride on a rickety boat which deposits him on Italy’s southern coast. While there, he meets Fatima Giobatti who is assisting a nun, Sister Colleen tending to the needs of the thousands of refugees who have wound up in their neighbourhood. Later, when he throws — or rather pitches — a rock at a wild boar and kills it he is seen by Fatima’s brother Paolo, an American professional baseball player recuperating from a back injury at his mother’s Sicilian home. Darius and Paolo become friends but not for any altruistic reasons on Paolo’s part — he sees potential in this extraordinary pitcher even though he has his sights set on becoming a doctor. Eli Kohn is a team mate of Paolo’s who learns of Darius’ existence during a phone call with Fatima at a time when he too is suffering from a baseball injury. He is bemused by Fatima’s enthusiasm for this Arab refugee and it is not long before the two see each other as rivals for Fatima’s attention. Eventually Darius sees baseball as a potential source of wealth which will enable him to study medicine, and, succumbing to pressure from Paolo and Eli, he joins the team. As the unusual trio set off with their squad for various points of call around America and beyond, their complicated lives begin to untangle until they find they are not quite as diverse as they first thought.
It is hard to believe that Fatima and the Sons of Abraham is a self-published novel. Not only is the editing perfect — not even a comma out of place — the story itself is engaging. Extraordinary even. From the heartfelt dedication to a real priest, Italian Jesuit Fr Paolo Dall’Oglio through to the emotional ending I was spellbound — and I have no interest in baseball! Val Bonacci knows her stuff or has undertaken a ridiculous amount of research to write a novel of this calibre. The author has an incredible knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs, as well as the world of baseball, which provides an intriguing and imaginative setting to the tale. The story is character driven, seen through the eyes of four individuals, every element of it topical. I was particularly touched by this passage, as though narrated by the refugee: My priest friend called me ‘son’ on numerous occasions. Now this Jew does the same. Isn’t this what my parents would have wanted for me? — to live in a world where people with strongly held differences care for one another, regardless? Most everyone at the event tonight could not have been more thoughtful…These signs should give me hope.
Whether your interest is baseball, Middle Eastern affairs, inter-faith understanding or you just love a damn good story, don’t let this book pass you by. I can’t wait for the movie.
Demaris Protocol by Brian Randall
Trey Carter is in his early twenties, blond, fit, intelligent, an accomplished gymnast who hails from a strict Christian family in Atlanta, Georgia. You could say he’s the quintessential all American boy. He’s also gay, a deep secret he has managed to keep from his friends and family. One day in 1992, before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, he finds himself in a roof top pool in Washington D.C. swimming naked with a man he’d only just met. From the moment Trey discovers that this person is a member of a team of CIA ‘dark ops’ personnel out to recruit a gay man for a specific assignment in Germany, his life will never be the same. Brian Randall’s Demaris Protocol is a fascinating insight into the workings of the American intelligence agencies and their more interesting clandestine activities, especially as there is a ring of truth in this otherwise fictionalised story — Trey’s character is based on the author himself. Once Trey tackles and successfully completes his training — a fascinating story on its own — he is sent on his mission to ensnare a former Soviet nuclear engineer. The mission is fraught with danger but Trey is egged on by his mentor Rick Morgan and the rest of the team. Will he let them down? Will he let himself down? If only he could turn back the clock. To that moment in the roof top pool.
Although some scenes in this novel seem to border on fantasy, I suspect that’s not the case, given the author’s own history. This makes Brian Randall’s Demaris Protocol all the more fascinating. I doubt an author could write in such vivid detail about the level of training required for the assignment for which Trey is being groomed without either going through it himself or undertaking an exceptional amount of research. And this kind of research is hard to do — American intelligence agencies hardly display their methods in neon at Times Square. Speaking of neon, mistaking FOREWARD for FOREWORD at the beginning of the novel is a flashing sign that this book was not professionally edited. But that said, the errors are minimal and not distracting. Although I didn’t, some might find some of the gay sex scenes a little confronting but then, a scan of the Author’s Note and foreword should be a warning sign to the faint of heart. About seventy percent of the story covers Trey’s punishing training program and the story does get bogged down a bit at times, almost as if one is reading a training manual for spooks; yet it does add authenticity to the saga and the pace really picks up once Trey completes his training. Excellent characterisation and script like dialogue make Demaris Protocol a really interesting read.
Misdirect by Beverly Nault
The hero in Beverly Nault’s latest novel Misdirect is Eve Parker, a former CIA operative shunned by her colleagues and confined to a desk following a disastrous mission some years earlier. Just as she is about to retire and put it all behind her, she learns that her estranged daughter, Jenny is about to marry one of Eve’s colleagues, Zach — who isn’t a fan because of what occurred all those years ago. Problem is, on a new mission, Zach finds himself in a spot of bother, his life in grave danger. Eve is sent into the field once again, not only to rescue her potential son-in-law Zach from the enemy but to prevent the largest terror attack ever planned on American soil. Eve’s journey, both professional and personal, twists and turns through the streets of Barcelona, Spain, to Algeria and across the desert sands of the Sahara. En route she learns more about camels than she had ever wished, meets some very interesting desert dwellers and learns something about her faith. And herself.
Beverly Nault’s Misdirect gets off to a cracking start, though as the story unfolds it is more adventure than thriller. It certainly has its moments and the author seems to have more than a passing knowledge of how the CIA would carry out a field operation of the kind described. It certainly is well researched — either that or Nault has a gifted imagination. Eve’s character is multi-layered, each veneer peeling away as the chapters unfold, revealing her past, her relationship with Jenny, with her husband Knox and, of course, Zach. Also exposed are her thoughts on God — Eve needs to find Him as much as she needs to locate Zach. Colourful characters are not restricted to Eve, especially when she ventures into unknown and dangerous territory in the desert scenes. The narrative in this book is vividly descriptive, which facilitates easy visualisation. Misdirect is a different and exciting escapade, its hero a refreshing change from stereotypical bullet proof males who usually feature in this kind of saga — it’s well worth a read.
Lights Out Summer by Rich Zahradnik
Lights Out Summer is #4 in a series of mystery novels by Rich Zahradnik featuring crime reporter Coleridge Taylor. This episode is set in 1970s New York City at the time of the infamous ‘Son of Sam’ murders. It’s summer and with a serial killer on the loose the city’s inhabitants are not only feeling warm but nervous. Every reporter in the city, if not the country is following the police investigation into the murders, taking little interest in crimes, even capital ones, of less notoriety. But that’s not Taylor’s MO. While he maintains a watchful eye on the Son of Sam killings, he takes an interest in a murder that is not garnering much attention — not even from NYC homicide detectives. Martha Gibson is an African American, a Richmond Hill resident, who’d been working as a maid for the wealthy DeVries family in their palatial Park Avenue apartment. Following her overhearing an unusual conversation she was murdered. Taylor focusses on her background — her family, her acquaintances, as well as the DeVrieses themselves. Each step in his investigation inches him closer to danger himself but like the proverbial terrier on the trouser cuff, he’s not about to give up. A major blackout in the city hampers his — and the cops’ — investigation, especially when the extensive power failure unleashes a major crimewave in the city’s streets, but Taylor is unrelenting in his search for the truth and when he uncovers it there’s a twist in the tale which even shocks this experienced reporter.
It is refreshing to read a crime novel that isn’t all about some bullet proof investigating police officer. Crime reporters also get close to the action — sometimes too close. Rich Zahradnik knows his stuff — of course, given his 30+ years as a reporter himself. He takes you on a journey as though you’re right by Taylor’s side as each scene unfolds. Lights Out Summer is not one of those stories that are so implausible you are constantly expected to suspend disbelief. Zahradnik has seamlessly woven real people, real places and real events into his novel so that you could almost be reading non-fiction. As an interesting feature, the author has incorporated headlines, as though ripped from the newspapers of the day. Those requiring a touch of romance are not let down as Taylor has an engaging partner, Samantha, an ex-cop who is handy with a gun and who currently works as a private eye. Lights Out Summer is definitely a page turner. You’ll want to quickly get to the end. And you’ll be surprised what you find when you get there.