Sunday, April 29, 2012

New Blog

If you've stumbled upon this blog, congratulations. Please feel free to look around, get some basic information about me and read past blogs. However, please be aware that as of 4/30/12 my book review blog will be located at My regular blog, Brayton's Briefs will be located at Please join the fun and see the new look. Thank you and good writing! SLB.

Monday, April 23, 2012


By Mike McNeff

When Robin Marlette and his Arizona narcotics unit force down a smugglers plane, they discover not only bribe money bound for a powerful Arizona lawyer, but end up killing the brother of a powerful Mexican drug lord. Marlette begins an operation to give the money over to the lawyer and arrest the parties paid off. However, the drug lord has plans for revenge. Dealing with pressures from higher up, within his own family, and threats from outside, Marlette fights a battle for survival and justice.

I like the take on a familiar theme. GOTU (Guardians of the Universe). The setting is not in Washington, or some exotic locale, but in Arizona, where border issues and drugs are a real problem. This shows how one state’s handling of an operation can affect the nation.

Robin Marlette: 42, black hair, supervisor and Sergeant of the Arizona Department of Public Safety Narcotics Special Enforcement Unit, also part of the DPS Swat Team, lawyer, started with highway patrol, private pilot, has a wife and children

Carl Walton: Arizona Republican, Phoenix attorney, into money laundering, bribery, extortion, married but not in love with his wife

Burke Jameson: 6’2”, American Indian, solid build, hunter/tracker, tracker in Vietnam, was in Green Berets, part of Marlette’s NSEU, private pilot, divorced twice, used to drink heavily

Tom Pearle, Captain and commander of the DPS Narcotics Enforcement Division, blond, blue eyes, square jaw, six foot tall, worked with Marlette in narcotics in the seventies

Bill Grassley: U.S. Customs Resident Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Office of Investigation, green eyes

Chris Fleming: FBI agent of 26 years with 5 years on the Hostage Rescue Team

Rodriguez-Lara: Mexican drug lord, parents killed when he was ten, committed numerous crimes to obtain wealth, including self prostitution

Angie Spurline: DEA agent, no family, attractive, Asian descent, sad eyes, new to the Phoenix area, husband under investigative quarantine

Lots of characters. Too many to mention all. The main ones have some good personality and background information. Marlette a kind of maverick whose risky schemes tend to make the higher ups nervous but he always comes through with a victory. I was disappointed, however, with his moment of weakness after harboring strong feelings for his wife throughout the book.

Many sentences sound a bit unnatural because McNeff will use contractions about half the time. There are individual voices, but many of the team members are indistinguishable. Understandable, though since there are a lot of characters.

A few punctuation and spelling errors. Profanity, but fitting the characters. One sexual scene. Tight actions scenes. McNeff did his homework on the hierarchy of law enforcement entities, weaponry, and technology. He does a nice balancing act between NSEU operations, home life, and points of view from other characters, without a lot of the drudgery of unnecessary secret meetings and miscellaneous conversations between conspirators (and here I mean Washington conspirators). McNeff generally stays on track and the minor sideline scenes added a few short branches that stayed connected to the plot. Scenarios and situations develop almost too quickly. The chapters’ lengths vary a bit. The story starts out on a high note, drops down for a bit, but it’s not too long before it starts a slow build up. For awhile, I thought about giving the book a purple belt because of the editing errors and many lulls between action scenes (I would have enjoyed more details in a few places, more tension). After completing the book, I felt it deserved a bit higher.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Arranger

By L.J. Sellers

Step into the world of tomorrow. America is experiencing dark days with 21% unemployment, very high inflation, $8 per gallon gas, millions homeless, extra lax gun laws, shrinking federal government, and people wanting better jobs because of health insurance. Reality television has hit a new level with an annual competition for the best in America, but a killer lurks in the background.

It is the year 2023. Lara Evans, a freelance paramedic in Oregon is entered into an annual televised contest of strength, intelligence, and ingenuity, called the Gauntlet. However, the other competitors are not her only worry. She’s trying to outwit a gunman who almost killed her and the federal employment commissioner and has followed her to the competition.

Months before The Gauntlet, federal employee Paul Madsen wants very much to impress a pretty coworker. To get the funds to improve himself cosmetically he arranges for individuals to be hired into lucrative positions. However, his intended really would like to be the next federal employment commissioner, who oversees the Gauntlet. For that to happen, the current commissioner might have to die.

I want to compare it to The Running Man, but it might be Running Man Light. It’s a typical questions authors receive, but I’d be interested to learn how this plot originated. It’s an interesting view on the world of tomorrow.

Lara Evans: 42, 5’5”, brunette, former police officer now a freelance paramedic, kick, boxes, marathon runner lives in Eugene, Oregon, allergic to perfume, estranged parents live in Alaska. She was a juvenile delinquent. She has survived a rape and assault and a knife attack. Since leaving the department, she hasn’t been able to eat solid food and throws various food into a blender.

Paul Madsen: federal government worker in Personnel and Payroll Management, highly intelligent, photogenic memory, lonely, average looks, owns a Lhasa-poo dog. Was a foster child.

Camille Waterson: 33, Paul’s coworker, beautiful, blonde, looking to move up in the world

Thaddeus Morton: federal employment commissioner, bisexual

Jason Copeland: Ex Marine, firefighter, lives in Illinois, self-assured, almost cocky

Kirsten Dornberg: 24, blonde, lives in Florida

Unique characters. Sellers gets into depth with only Lara and Paul, but that’s okay, the others are just for support. There has to be a cop involved as well as typical personalities of the other competitors

Concise, no long soliloquies. Conversations are to the point with no wandering into left field. POV is, for the most part, from either Lara or Paul.

Sellers writes a tight top notch novel with plenty of action and suspense. This one moves fast and does not let down the reader one bit. No extraneous detail. A few unnecessary instances of profanity and a couple of errors but nothing to detract from the enjoyment of the novel.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Judas Gospel

by Bill Myers

What if Judas asked Jesus for another chance? “You know, if you had done it my way, you could have ruled the world. Give me a chance to show you what I can do.” In “The Judas Gospel,” the former apostle gets his chance. This books combines a little bit of mystery, the supernatural, murder, religion, and shows the highs and lows of human nature…and don’t jump on my case if I say…aspects and adventures also found in the Bible.

Judas Iscariot, refashioning himself into marketing mogul Jude Miller, is in Los Angeles to bring a new prophet to the world. Nineteen year old Rachel Delacroix, whose father is the pastor of an inner city storefront church, has been recovering from a stay in a mental hospital. She feels responsible for causing a fire that killed her mother and sister. Plagued by dreams of murders with connections to classical painters, she is soon suspected of killing L.A. police officers. She has also discovered she can heal afflictions with her hands. Miller proceeds to market God’s new gift to the world, making each of Delacroix’s appearances splashier and headline grabbing than the last. Can she cope with her new ‘power,’ while trying to stay out of the hands of police…and what evil lurks around the corner awaiting its next opportunity to strike?

I love the modern tale with the extra murder mystery thrown in and the biblical parallels throughout.

Jude Miller – Judas Iscariot ‘redesigned’ so to speak, reserved, but ready to deliver the holy ‘punch’ to promote the new sensation

Rachel Delacroix – Pure innocence fighting personal battles. Unsure of what to expect from the world. Loving daughter

Sean Putnam – Single father with Down’s Syndrome child. Rookie cop who gets thrown into the mystery of Rachel on his first day on the job. Only wants to provide for his son and ends up falling for Rachel.

Reverend Delacroix – Minister struggling to hold together his little inner city church. Can’t stand to see his daughter exploited

The host – Absolute devilish bad guy. Satan’s legion of demons inhabiting a sociopath.

Each character, from the doctor trying to analyze Rachel to the homicide cops trying to solve the murder has a distinct, defined personality. Actually, Jude should get second or even third billing. He’s not a throwaway character, since the story takes places because of his instigation, but he’s definitely not the prominent persona.

Fitting to each character. The worst language is ‘jackass.’

This book is highly enjoyable from the first page to the last. Yes, there is religion laced throughout, but it’s shown from two opposing sides of the spectrum. There is the pastor struggling to deliver the truth of God’s wisdom and love while Miller and his PR machine seek to put Rachel upon an altar for the world to see. You feel the emotion in the cries for responsibility, for humility, and reason, next to the flashy, high tech ‘ministries’ and marketing campaigns of the modern age. The story never drags and is not complex. I don’t like books that are heavily influenced with philosophy or self discovery. The story holds a message for all of us while showing some insight to how people think in the 21st Century, but it’s tempered with action and intrigue. This is a very well written novel.

My ranking

Black Belt

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Cut

By George Pelecanos

Ex Marine and Iraq vet Spero Lucas works as an investigator for a Washington, D.C. defense attorney. He also has a sideline business finding lost items for people. Drug runner Anwan Hawkins, in jail awaiting trial, hires Lucas to find two shipments of marijuana stolen from drop-off sites.
Lucas discusses the problem with Hawkins’ employees, who are laid back and easy going. The picture quickly changes. Lucas must use his intelligence and various contacts because the stakes have been raised and the people he’s up against are serious about keeping him from receiving his ‘cut.’

It’s a basic plot, but so are many of Pelecanos’. There’s nothing new here, but there’s nothing worth dismissing either.

Spero Lucas: 29, Marine who fought in Iraq. Investigator for a defense attorney. He was adopted by Greek parents. Low key. Intelligent. Respectful.
Troubled by his father’s death.

Anwan Hawkins – drug runner, thirty-something. Not a crime boss, not a gang boss, just does a low key business.

Larry Holley – Washington D.C. officer in Narcotics and Special Investigations. His ex cop father, who left when Larry was a child has returned and sucked Larry into illegal dealings. Larry, okay with the small time drug business, is upset when his father condones murder to take care of business.

They’re basic, but I don’t mean they’re flat. Without knowing quite how or why, I kind of understand the characters without really knowing them, or needing to know them too in depth. Pelecanos scrapes below the surface to show you a little of what’s underneath. Every good guy has little faults and every bad guy knows the potential consequences of his choices.

Basic, to the point. No long soliloquies or philosophizing.

If you’ve read Pelecanos before you know what to expect. Straight forward, no extraneous detail. The urban culture is presented as ‘It is what it is.’ He puts a lot of emphasis on music, food, alcohol, and books. The details are basic and not lavish. There’s no hype, no flash, no sensationalism, but with “The Cut” you don’t mind. If the protagonists from his stories all gathered in the same room, you’d find many similarities. I tend to view Pelecanos’ stories as ‘A Day in the Life of’ or time elapsed snapshots of a chapter out of the lives of the characters, with a little flavor and spice added to keep it interesting.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Monday, March 26, 2012

Deadly Currents

By Beth Groundwater

In the whitewater rapids of Colorado’s Arkansas River, Tom King falls out of his raft. Mandy Tanner, ranger and river guide rescues him but King dies anyway. Mandy subsequently finds out King died from poisoning. Who killed him? The suspects are numerous. The wife had motive because Tom cheated on her. The mistress hated that Tom wanted to go back to his wife. The son Tom refused to help financially. The environmentalist who was against Tom plans for a golf course. The realtor in competition with Tom for land and water rights. Maybe it was one of Mandy’s own crew of river guides. She navigates her way through the list while also dealing with her uncle’s failing rafting business. Soon, she finds the water isn’t the only danger she has to face.

A nice cozy set in a small Colorado tourist town. A different setting than a typical big city mystery. This has your usual slate of suspects and characters.

Mandy Tanner: Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area Ranger and river guide at her uncle’s rafting business in Colorado. Both parents dead. Likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

Steve Hadley: Mandy’s supervisor

Gonzo Gordon: Another river guide.

Victor Quintana: Sheriff’s Detective

Rob Jaurez: An owner of a competing rafting outfit and Mandy’s boyfriend

Cynthia Abbott: bartender, Mandy’s good friend, likes to tell blonde jokes

Bill Tanner: Mandy’s uncle. Widower, no children. Wants Mandy to take over his business when he retires.

David Tanner: 30, Mandy’s brother. Blond with freckles. Accountant.

As I mentioned a standard cast for this type of mystery. Everyone is well defined and Groundwater doesn’t go into to too much depth with anybody except Mandy.

Standard. Rob doesn’t use any Spanish except mi querida when talking to Mandy

Easy read. I must mention, however, about the cool and appropriate name of the author. What else but a river adventure would you expect someone named Groundwater to write? She did some excellent research to bring a lot of aspects of life on the river, the dangers, and the technical know-how. This is a cozy with a few instances of foul language, but not enough to turn you off. The author did a nice job of keeping the story moving with each chapter.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Game Plan

By Charles Wilson

Mississippi doctor, Spence Stevens investigates the death of a mentor and runs afoul of a government conspiracy. Years ago, scientists implanted human lab rats with computer chips, giving them enhanced knowledge and abilities.

An interesting plot worthy of a Syfy movie. This is another story about the power of government against the little guy in an effort to control the world. You could throw just about any hero into the midst and the story would still work.

Spence Stevens – Research scientist out to solve the problem of blindness. Single.

Walter Quinlan – The antagonist. The controller of the troops of chip implanted warriors. He ‘sees’ what his underlings see and commands them to act.

I’d mention the detective I thought would be paired with Stevens, but (and I’m sorry for the spoiler) he dies early on. This is unfortunate because he’s a likeable guy and you get to know his history but I was disappointed when he turned into a throwaway character. In fact, I felt after this death, the other roles didn’t matter too much. There’s a little bit of mystery near the end of which one of Steven’s female acquaintances is the traitor, but by that time, I didn’t care. Nobody is really strong except for Quinlan and I would have liked to have seen him even stronger and ‘badder.’

Nothing complex. The mild profanity sounds forced.

A little confusing in the opening chapters. I tried to make a connection between the prologue and the opening scenes with the first death that gets the story started. I enjoyed the scenes in Montana in the secret government lab. Those were the most intriguing and enjoyable. The merciless power of the bad buys is typical, but still gets you into a ‘love to hate’ mood.

My ranking:

Green Belt