Tuesday, December 27, 2011


By C. Wood

April, Vienna. The legendary Spear of Destiny has been broken into pieces in the Hofburg museum and a security guard’s severed head is found upon a serving platter. Ex forensics investigator Vanessa Descartes, who has been working on the study of the spear and who only wants to return to England, is called to the scene to reconstruct the artifact. She discovers the spearhead and a revered nail, believed to have come from Christ’s cross, have been substituted for fakes. Along with two university professors, Vanessa and the Austrian police discover the murder has a connection to the Templar Knights, the ancient art of alchemy, with a touch of modern DNA science. To everyone’s horror, the mystery delves deeper than anyone expected.

Another religious controversy and mystery from Wood. He did a lot of research to come up, again, with a complex tale.

Vanessa Descartes: Former forensic scientist. Archaeologist.

Emanuel Wole Khalamanga: 50, single, likes to jog, native of Nigeria, Doctor of Medieval Literature at Oxford University, painter

Tomas Emilio Baltasar Bartolomé de Carranza: 64, Professor of History at the University of Madrid. Has a bit of an ego. Married and divorced twice.

Wilhelm Petersen: Austrian homicide investigator. Widower.

Very interesting names. A very good mix of character types.

Relatively well defined. I didn’t have any confusion as to who was speaking. The personalities of each character are reflected in the conversations.

Wood commits the same grammatical errors as in the previous book. The main errors are not capitalizing the next complete sentence after a pieced of dialogue and omitting commas when presenting dialogue with a tag. Same POV or ‘head hopping’ errors. He may be going for omnipotent point of view, but it’s distracting.

This book is more easily readable than the first book in this series. It’s presented more as a mystery than a strange biography of the main character. The two university types are more featured. Phrasing is still very good, descriptions and details well handled.

I know it’s a short(er) book than normal, and Wood had to get into the mystery fairly quickly, but it did seem a little convenient for Khalamanga and de Carranza to be called in on and accepted on an Austrian murder.

I won’t play spoiler, but there is a certain element to the story on which I just didn’t agree. Moving through the story, I had a thought that a particular character wasn’t really needed, that Wood could have introduced another and the story would have been just as fine. So when the demise of the character happened, I was disappointed.

There is a lot of lecture type narrative, but explanations are necessary.

My ranking:

Purple Belt

Monday, December 19, 2011

Venus In Saturn

By C. Wood

It’s the Christmas season, 1999, and a part-time hooker is found gruesomely murdered near the area where a couple of victims of Jack the Ripper were found. Vanessa Descartes, forensics investigator for the London Metropolitan police, is called to assist with the case. After conducting some investigation on her own, she discovers the victim had a connection to a church, one with which Vanessa’s sister associated before she committed suicide seventeen years before. DNA evidence under the victim’s fingernails leads police to another body with another Ripper connection. Vanessa believes the killers are trying to divert the police from the truth by setting up the scenes to be parallels to the 1800’s serial killer. Soon however, Vanessa’s past catches up with her and she discovers a horrible and incredible connection not to her family, Jack the Ripper, but secret Nazi experiments.

This is definitely a strange one. I wasn’t sure where everything was headed because nothing seemed to collate at the beginning. But it’s an interesting and complex plot with just the right touch of eeriness with some unique religious perspectives.

Vanessa Jane Descartes: 30, forensics investigator for the London Metropolitan Police. Redheaded. Was a cutter with an inferiority complex in her youth and self flagellates as an adult as a strange religious ritual. Suffers from stress headaches. Drinks sometimes to drown her complexes. Father was an alcoholic and died while Vanessa was in her teens. Sister committed suicide. Was an intellectual prodigy in high school and college. Comes from a family who supposedly had ‘gifts.’

Sam: Late twenties, Pakistani, friend, and coworker of Descartes’.

Jack Carpenter: Inspector with the police. Descartes’ superior. Supposedly gruff and surly but doesn’t come across that way. Married.

The more you read, the more layers of Vanessa are uncovered. Her evolution of personality and attitude. She is a very complex character.

I felt Sam and Vanessa sounded a lot alike. Jack had his own voice that fit his character.

Long flowing narratives with lots of descriptions, some it original and appealing. A lot of back story showing Vanessa’s early teen with her older sister and after the suicide, through her college years. Some of the back story became a little long and I longed for the return to the present and the main story. Even some of the ‘flashback visions’ Vanessa has ran a little long even though they contributed to the story. There are problems with POV switching at various times. A few words misspelled and some grammar errors.

In regards to the flashbacks or the back story, some of them were difficult to comprehend right off and they might have been better organized and better defined. Long passages in the past and jumping from the past to the present with nary a warning became confusing.

My ranking:

Purple Belt

Monday, December 12, 2011

Left At Oz

By Sandra Carey Cody


Jennie Connors’ car has been stolen. Jennie and her friend, Kate,
following a strange message on her answering machine, discover not only the car, but the dead body of her babysitter. Enter Lieutenant Goodley, a
stolid, serious man asking too many questions for Jennie’s comfort.
Believing she’s the prime suspect, she starts her own investigation and
winds up dodging danger or encountering resistance with every inquiry.
Secrets regarding the babysitter are revealed and an acquaintance is
involved in a mysterious accident. Jennie notices a bald man following her. Someone is making strange phone calls to her husband. Her house is
ransacked. Can she find the killer before she becomes a victim or before
Goodley arrests her?

Standard fare. Nothing out of the ordinary. Typical secrets and cozy type
intrigue and suspense.

Jennifer Conners: 30. About to start work at a Memphis retirement center.
Married with two young children. Former beauty pageant contestant.

Tom Connors: Jennie’s husband. Works for computer company. Gets himself in
trouble with Jennie during story

Kate Britten: Jennie’s next door neighbor and friend. Freckled. Short.

Weston Goodley: Lieutenant in Homicide. Tall, thin. Unfeeling attitude.
Doesn’t deviate from the job.

Fairly surface stuff for everybody. The cast is what you would expect. The
boyfriend, the almost boyfriend, the rigid or stalwart sets of parents. The slightly uppity cousin. Jennifer is the main character, so of course
you’re going to be seeing most from her point of view. Don’t expect any
‘gotcha’ characters.

Again, nothing spectacular. I tire a little at Tom’s insistence that
Jennifer and he get away for some together time. Kate’s caring about her
friend is okay.

It’s a cozy with a little suspense added in to keep it interesting. Not
too detailed or descriptive. I had difficulty judging time at points.
Sometimes I’m wasn't sure how much time has passed between scenes. No profanity.
No gore or excessive violence. Jennifer’s action scenes are more
suspenseful than full of shoot outs or chases. My ARC was only 218 pages, so it’s a fast read.

My ranking:

Green Belt

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Genesis Key

by James Barney


Back in 1979, two archaeologists in Iraq are killed during the government takeover by Saddam Hussein. However, Hakeem Sargon, a museum curator fleeing his own murder, comes upon the scene and discovers what the couple's death has uncovered. Jump to the present where the couple's daughter, Dr. Kathleen Sainsbury is conducting experiments to find an elusive 'longevity gene'.

When Sargon contacts her and tells her the story behind her parent's murder, he also presents her with a gift, an artifact he took from the site back in 1979. This sets Sainsbury off on a trail to discover the truth about her parents. A friend of Sargon's opens up a new world of thought for Kathleen, one involving the ancient Sumerians, Biblical history, and possible explanations for why man once lived for hundreds of years until after the Great Flood. When a reporter breaks the story Kathleen may have discovered the longevity gene in Sargon's artifact, Kathleen finds herself running from those who would destroy her to keep the treasure for themselves.

I like the premise. I like the historical nature of the plot and how people today interact with events of the past.

Kathleen Sainsbury: Late 30's. Doctor in microbiology. Founded Quantum Life Sciences. Parents killed in Iraq in 1979. Grandfather suffers from Alzheimer's. Doesn't believe in God.

Carlos Guiterez: QLS's office manager and accountant and one of three other scientists.

Luce Venfeld: Former CIA. Early 50's, part of secret Olam Foundation.

Hakeem Abdul Sargon: 80's, former curator of Iraqi National Museum.
Hussein's takeover in 1979 caused him to flee. Friend of Sainsbury's parents.

Bryce Whittaker: Reporter for the Washington Post looking for the 'big'
story in order to get promoted.

Bill McCreary: Scientist associated with DARPA. Keeps a watch over the biotech companies, including QLS. Sainsbury's former co-worker.

Elias Rubin: Founder of Olam Foundation. Slowly dying.

Charles Eskeridge: 70's. Big man. Helped Sargon escape Iraq. Operates a museum in Cambridge, MS.

A few other characters, almost too many, enter the picture from time to time. All are well defined, but some are unnecessary.

Pretty basic. Some routine, standard lines. Rare profanity. Nothing too exciting. Much of it explanatory.

There is a LOT of science and narrative. Again, almost too much. There is one point–the disappearance of the Iraqi site-that is not explained.
However, there are three areas which last a little too long. One, a radio show. Two, a television show. Three, a newspaper article. They give the reader some interesting points to contemplate, but the scenes are lengthy.

Barney also commits multiple errors many of today's editors and publishers do not allow: adverbs on tag lines. “…,” he said maliciously. It detracts from the story. I also expected a little bit more bad guy stuff, and the short time Barney spends with the secret organization isn't enough.
Some sentences have missing words. Although the novel stands well on its own, it lacks a certain amount of 'punch' to dive it up past my ranking of

Blue Belt

Monday, November 28, 2011

Children Of Paranoia

By Trevor Shane

You read about death every day, see the reports on television. Some are called ‘accidents.’ The murders seem senseless and go unsolved. Did you know, however, there is a secret War going on all around you, every day? It is being waged by two sides intent on killing the other. If your family has experienced numerous deaths throughout the years, well, you might become involved in the War. “Children of Paranoia” introduces you to this War.

It will show you some of the participants, but the reason behind the killing are…well, as one characters says, “One side is good, one side is evil.”

Twenty-five year old Joe grew up with family deaths before learning about the War. When he turned eighteen, he became an assassin for his side. He followed the rules and made his kills. After nearly getting two of his friends and himself killed in New Jersey, his contact sends Joe to Montreal for a job. While tracking his quarry, Joe meets Maria, a college student.

Love blooms even in the heart of a killer. Unfortunately, the job doesn’t go well and an innocent is almost killed. After a period of recuperation followed by a few more assignments, Joe returns to Montreal to finish what he started and to see Maria. By this time, he’s sick of the War and wants out. Maria reveals two devastating pieces of news. One, she’s pregnant.
Two, she’s only seventeen, which by the rules of the War means her baby gets handed over to the other side. Joe finishes his last job and he and Maria run, knowing they will be pursued by not only his side, but the enemy as well.

This story is an interesting but poignant metaphor for the senselessness of killing, be it by rival street gangs, feuding families, or entire countries.

It portrays the War as always existing, and never ending, with nobody really understanding why certain people need to be killed. It shows that while the majority of mankind lives normal lives, certain individuals are recruited to kill or to orchestrate and assist the killers. This is a powerful story, one where you ask for an explanation, but after the last chapter, you wind up looking at certain aspects of life and wondering about the point of them.

Joe: 25, killer for his side of the War. Talented, intelligent. His mother is the only family he has left. However, he starts to question his assignments and the reason behind the War. Finally, he tires of it.

Maria: 17, college student. Doesn’t understand the War, but falls in love with Joe.

There are others, but these two are the main focus. I couldn’t get a good picture of them in my mind, but that’s okay, I don’t think I was meant to. It seemed a little too easy for Maria to accept Joe and his killing, but that’s okay, the focus isn’t on ‘reality’ but metaphor.

Basic, no nonsense, to the point. What needs to be said is said and no more.

Clinical. Lots of short, to the point sentences but long paragraphs. You know the old axiom of writers need to show not tell. Shane shows you by telling, if this makes sense, and he pulls it off very nicely. I found only one minor problem, one which is a personal quirk I try to avoid in my writing. Example: He pulled the door open. I prefer: He pulled open the door. I know, minor point, but Shane does this kind of thing a lot and I, as an writer and former editor, notice it and in places it bugged me. However, not to the detriment of the story itself.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Monday, November 21, 2011


By Daniel H. Wilson


In tomorrow’s world, more of society is computerized. From robot domestic servants to humanoid peacekeeping soldiers, mechanical, computer controlled weaponry, and vehicles capable of networking to avoid accidents. However, in an underground laboratory, a scientist has created Archos, computer life, that learns. Archos soon has access to the world and initiates a war with humanity. Starting with small incidents seen as glitches, mankind soon finds itself fighting for survival as Archos takes control of modern technology. Smart cars and computerized tanks are only the beginning as Archos designs hordes of robotic soldiers and human mutations to insure control of the world.

Near the end of the war, Cormac Wallace, photographer turned soldier, and his team find a strange cube hidden underground in Alaska. The cube is an archive of the beginnings of Archos and the entire subsequent world war. Chronicling the adventures of many of the war’s heroes, Cormac creates a document for humanity’s future survivors.

With a salute to West World, The Forbin Project, and a touch of 2001: A Space Odyssey with HAL 9000, get ready for the next story in the battle of man versus machine. In Robopacalypse, it’s technology gone haywire as, once again, mankind rues the day for overstepping the limits of artificial intelligence. Excellent!

Archos: The intelligent computer that initiates the war.

Cormac Wallace: Soldier in the war against the machines. Narrator, per se, of the history of the New War

Lonnie Blanton: Osage Indian, police officer. Helps start the resistance movement in North America

Mathilda Perez: daughter of a congress woman

Takeo Namura: Japanese computer repairman, elderly, has an android for a companion.

Paul Blanton: Militarized humanoid robot repair person in Afghanistan. He handles the peace-keeping robots in Kabul.

Lurker: 17, A Londoner who pulls phone and computer pranks. He is hounded by Archos after he ‘discovers’ a IP address is false.

Very memorable characters who evolve and develop and change as the story progresses. They have to because of the circumstances.

Minimal. Not quite as Spartan as 2001 but it’s not a talk-y book. Much of it is narrative.

Detailed narrative in chronicle form. Good research, realistic technology. The ending was a little disappointing, not quite what I expected, but interesting nonetheless and I think it says something about base humanity.

My ranking:

Black Belt

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Holy Thief

by William Ryan


1936. Russia. Stalin is in power. Churches are being demolished since religion is banned. The country is getting ready to celebrate its nineteenth anniversary of the Revolution. However, rations are short, queue lines for basics are long, and Captain Korelev of the Militia (Russia's version of a police force) shares an apartment with a widow and her young child. On the day of his move to the new apartment, he begins an investigation into the torture and murder of a young woman found in a church. Almost immediately afterward, a Colonel from the NKVD (State Security), contacts Korolev and wishes to impart some vague information and to be kept updated on the case.

The next day, a high ranking member of the Thieves (an organization of criminals working in Moscow) is found murdered. Then a member of the NKVD itself is found shot in a soon to be demolished church. Korolev finds himself caught up in a twisted plot to steal an historical religious icon.
Who wants it? Who has it? Who can Korolev trust?

A very nice change from the modern day murders you see so often. This takes you back to the beginnings of the bad old days of Communist Russia and the terror of Stalin's reign, before the KGB was popular but sending people to ungodly prisons or Siberia was. This isn't glamorous Russia, but a bleak look at a culture destined for suffering for many years to come.

Korolev: Early forties. Captain in the Militia, Russia's police force. A Believer, a religious man secreting a Bible in his apartment. Loyal to Russia and wants to see the 'dream' of Communism succeed to improve his country and its people. Fought against the Germans in the first world war.
Divorced with a son.

Popov: Korolev's superior. Dealing with one of his own men turned in as a traitor and having to defend his actions, or rather, inactions to State Security.

Semionov: Korolev's junior officer and assistant. Early twenties. Just learning the ropes.

Gregorin: Colonel in the NKVD. Interested in Koroelv's murder case.

These are the main players and I apologize, but I didn't want to spend time spelling out their entire names. I had a difficult time as it was pronouncing the names of streets and businesses. Anyway, very well defined characters. You can see the personality of each one whether government slimeball or underworld mobster or writer or party yes-man.

Each character has his or her own voice. The conversations are direct, to the point, without being too philosophical or long-winded.

Complex. Ryan does a nice job, though of describing Russia and the culture without dragging the story along. I like the setting and the time period even though I was skeptical going in. I'm not a big fan of historical mysteries, but this one drew me in. The action was good. A little predictable in the end but otherwise a very well written book. I didn't like to see a certain character killed because I thought he might be a good person to have around for the next book. Look for Ryan's sequel “The Bloody Meadow.”

My ranking:

Brown Belt

Monday, November 7, 2011

Blood of the Reich

by William Dietrich


From the mountains of Washington to the mountains of Tibet. From an aerie nunnery to a Nazi castle. Dietrich's latest books spans the generations from just before World War II to present day. Jump aboard and come along for an adventure filled with explosions, sex, treachery, and the ever elusive treasure of a lifetime.

We begin in 1938 with zoologist and SS member Kurt Raeder, who is called to a meeting with Heinrich Himmler. The Nazis are gearing for war, and the head of the German secret police wants Raeder to help assure Reich domination. Raeder is sent to Tibet to search for the legendary city of Shambhala and a power source that will give Germany guaranteed world conquest. Jump ahead to present day where publicist Rominy Pickett's life is narrowly saved by a mysterious man claiming to be an investigative reporter who knows about Pickett's ancestry. Apparently, her great-grandfather traveled to Tibet and may have brought home a secret so great people have and will kill to possess it. Together, they sort through clues, avoiding danger at every turn, in order to find what the fascists of yesterday (and their followers of today) sought in the mysterious land of Tibet.

A lot of thought went into this plot, conceived from an actual German expedition to Tibet in 1938. Dietrich uses real science and throws in some real people. It's a very good adventure story with some good twists and 'realistic' stretches of imagination.

Kurt Raeder: German zoologist and SS officer. Loyal to the Nazis. He wants to prove himself. He's also a sexual sadist when it comes to women.

Benjamin Hood: Phd. Zoologist. American. He traveled with Raeder to Tibet in the past. The expedition ended in controversy. He is handsome and rich.

Rominy Pickett: Software publicist. Sees herself as 'cubicle girl' with a dull job. She'd like to settle down with the ideal man

Jake Barrow: Claims he is an investigative reporter. Driven. Intelligent.

Beth Calloway: American woman pilot in 1938 helping the Chinese in their war with Japan. Independent. Self assured.

Very good characters. You suspect a few of them, but just who's who is a good surprise. Rominy seems a little wimpish at times, but at least she's consistent and comes through when needed.

Consistent with each character. There was a scene where a several Germans are speaking and it's a little difficult to put individual sentences to each man, but otherwise, not too bad.

Detailed enough to bring you into the scene (with scenes in the Pacific Northwest, various parts of China, Tibet, and Germany you need some
description) but not enough to bore or drag down the story. A little profanity that isn't needed. The scientific explanations aren't confusing and is actually informative and interesting. There is a little issue with changing POV in several scenes and I only mention it because, ahem, most writers aren't allowed to get away with it. On the whole, a very well written adventure and I would enjoy reading others by this author.

My ranking:

Brown Belt

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Keeper of Lost Causes

By Jussi Adler-Olsen


Don’t get confused by the title. You’ll soon find yourself enjoying The Keeper of Lost Causes with its subtle humor, interesting characters, and a unique take on kidnapping. Although this reader is usually wary of foreign police detective stories, I found myself moving through this story quickly eagerly waiting to see where it would take me to next.

Carl Morck is back to work in Copenhagen’s homicide department after a murder investigation gone wrong, where one of his teammates died and another ended up paralyzed. He is ‘promoted’ to Department Q, a newly created department in charge of what in layman’s terms are called cold cases. Relegated to the basement and with the help of his enigmatic ‘assistant,’ Morck reluctantly eases himself into a five year old kidnapping case of Danish politician, Merete Lynggaard, as well as keeping his nose into current cases, including the one which temporarily put him out of action. The story jumps back and forth between the present day investigations and showing the horror Lynggaard suffers at the hands of her tormentors throughout the years.

As I mentioned above, this is a unique take on kidnapping to offset a traditional police procedural investigation. The back and forth action keeps you moving along without bogging you down.

Carl Morck – Veteran homicide investigator. A streak of laziness, cynicism, and sarcasm. He has to deal with issues from every side of him. From a nagging wife, to a rebel stepson, and ‘partner’ who is more than he seems, a boss trying to put him in his place, and many more. A good rounded character.

Merete Lynggaard – Vice Chairperson of the Social Democrat party. No nonsense, professional, determine. She has a very busy schedule with no time for socializing because she cares for a brain damaged brother. She is shown from just before her kidnapping and her scenes show her suffering throughout the years. I like her strength and creativity.

Hafez el-Assad – Morck’s assistant. A Muslim who claims a Syrian background, but there is more to this guy than meets the eye. I like how he confounds and amazes Morck. A vital character to add a bit of comic relief.

Straight, to the point. Doesn’t waste time.

This story is character driven from the surly Mrs. Sorenson to the gruff but empathetic Jacobsen to the mentally damaged Uffe. Adler-Olsen doesn’t throw away minor characters, but brings them into a new light and shows the effect they have on others. You really feel the anguish of Lynggaard in her prison, the frustration of Morck with his assistant’s tidbits of knowledge, his wife’s constant nagging, and his tenant’s quirks, and sympathy for a confused Uffe. Despite the foreign locale, the unpronounceable Danish names, and the fact this reader deduced the bad guy early on, this award winning author’s story is delightful, suspenseful, and makes you root for the good guys.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Monday, October 24, 2011

Set Apart

By K.J. McCall

As the country passes its one year anniversary of a federal government health care system, Washington, D.C. Detective Gordon Sand investigates the disappearance of a woman. Within succeeding months, more people go missing, at least temporarily. Meanwhile, his sister (involved in the health department), and his brother (a small town doctor) try to deal with the implementation of prioritizing and categorizing of the American public when it comes to health care rationing.

This is good example comparing the scheming power brokers of government vs. normal Americans living out their lives. I expect more books of this nature to be published. This is a basic approach to the problem with the corrupting of people with power.

Gordon Sand – Detective in the Missing Persons Department. Single. He travels to Pennsylvania to visit family nearly every weekend. He finds himself falling for a local girl.

David Sand – Gordon’s older brother. Doctor in a small town. He has to deal with problems of rules and regulations and seeing the results of waiting lists for health care.

Ada Sand – Works in the department of health. She is the first to see the categorizing of Americans by the system.

There are other good supporting characters including the the kidnappers and their bosses within the health care system. Gordon’s partner is a typical partner. There is a woman president with an ailing son. There are Mary, Gordon’s romantic interest, and her father, a stalwart, religious farmer. All of the characters are well defined. There are no surprises or end of story revelations.

Basic. Simple. Actually, there is relatively little dialogue. It’s not anywhere near the minimalism of a 2001: A Space Odyssey, but what there is doesn’t wander too far from the topic at hand. No profanity. The speaking styles match each character.

This story deals with comparison with the title being good for this type of book. Good, clean community living vs. the shady governmental health care system. Religious upbringing and family values vs. what people will do to stay in power. There are shades of the movie Witness with the romantic entanglements between Gordon and Mary. McCall throws in a realistic version of an ‘urban legend.’ (The one where a person wakes up in a tub full of ice only to discover a kidney missing). I think the way the rationing system and how people are prioritized in this story, explained in laymen’s terms is very possible and most likely probable if (or when) a federal system becomes reality. A very nice comparison to England’s and Canada’s waiting lists system is described. There is not a lot of shoot ‘em up action or long lasting suspense.

I did have a small problem with the way some chapters ended. After a nice detailed description of the small town or certain other areas, the author just ends the chapter with no reason. It’s like she just got interrupted and decided to go onto the next one when she got back to the novel. This made for a mental lurch because I expect to turn the page and continue with the chapter and I ended up having to reset my mind to change to the next scene.

Still all in all this is a very nicely written, clean story with a powerful underlying message.

My ranking:

Purple Belt

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Mortal Terror

by James R. Benn

Pearls, grenades, mythological statues, and playing cards placed on dead bodies, all set in wartime Italy. What else could you ask for in a mystery story? Despite the average sounding title and the fact this reader is wary of historical mysteries, James Benn's latest installment in the Billy Boyle World War II mystery series is a delight to read. It provided a complex and intriguing conundrum and enough historical details to keep me turning pages.

This is a well written piece of literature full of mystery, murder, and the realism about some of the horrors of war. Whether you've read the previous five novels in the series or this is your first outing, you'll find yourself falling right into line with no misstep.

Billy Boyle, a detective in training and working under the command of General 'Uncle Ike' Eisenhower, is assigned to investigate the murders of two American officers stationed in Italy. With each person Boyle questions, he racks up more clues with no connections and finds himself chasing a killer who will stop at nothing to cover his tracks. In the midst of the case, Boyle learns his younger brother is being taken out of college to be an infantry replacement. Meanwhile, he sees soldiers suffering from the effects of combat fatigue while preparing for a major battle.

I like the idea of a mystery set during wartime, even though, I was a little cautious about it upon receiving it to review. But it works well. Serial killers weren't 'popular' or as prevalent back then as today, so this was something new for the detective to wrap his mind around.

Billy Boyle – Lieutenant, worked for the Boston PD, learning the ropes before he was called to war. Inexperienced as an actual detective, he learns quickly and comes across not as a bumbling fool, but as one who really cares for his job when he needs to do it.

Baron Piotr Augustus 'Kaz' Kazimierz – A mouthful of a name, but a good sidekick and partner for Boyle. Rich from a wise father, who, along with the rest of the family was killed when Germany invaded Poland. Kaz works as a translator and helps Boyle on his investigation

There a whole platoon of other characters, mostly military and each are shown with their own personalities. Very real, very believable. You have an immediate sense of who these people are, from the hard core Major to the grunt sergeants to Italian allied soldiers once enemies.

Basic, no frill. No long soliloquies or explanations that go astray.

Benn does his homework. I enjoyed the historical factoids about the war, Italy, and the time period. Since this book deals with a disorder many soldiers suffer, I liked the fact he comes at it straight without pulling the punches. He shows how even in World War II, the attitude about shell shock had started to change. Although it is set in wartime with death from many causes around nearly every corner, the graphic detail is kept to a minimum. Still, you do feel for what these guys and gals went through, and reminds you that soldiers are still today fighting for freedom.

This is not a light-hearted cozy, nor is it a hard-boiled bloody mess. It's a straightforward mystery you can readily imagine. It isn't over the top and it doesn't drag you down. You get a sense of war without being constantly barraged by it. I will be seeking out the previous five books.

My ranking

Red Belt

Monday, October 10, 2011

In Desperation

By Rick Mofina

As a teenager, Cora Gannon was gang raped. Unable to handle the situation, she turned to drugs and eventually ran away from home. She sank lower into drugs and criminal activity. When she became pregnant, she set about changing her name and her life. Now, as Cora Martin, she works as an accountant for a courier firm with a boss involved with Mexican drug cartels. One night, two men posing as cops invade Cora’s home, kidnap her daughter and demand she tell her boss to return stolen money. Helpless, she turns to the only person she thinks can help–her estranged younger brother, a reporter for a world wide news service. Using contacts and following leads, Jack Gannon travels to Mexico, Texas, California, and Nevada in search of any information that will lead him to his niece. However, he suspects something in Cora’s past has come back to haunt her.

Good story line. I thought at first it wasn’t going to go anywhere, that everything would be centered around Cora’s Arizona home. But it bounces around from place to place.

Cora Martin: 38, single mother. Works for Quick Draw Courier as an accountant. She left home at age 18 cutting off ties to her family.

Jack Gannon: 32, Cora’s estranged brother. Parents dead. Journalist with World Press Alliance. Single.

Earl Hackett: Special Agent for the FBI. Limps, divorced and estranged from his children. Embittered about his life and job and looks forward to retirement. Experience with narco-terrorists.

Isabel Luna: Works for a Juarez newspaper. Her father was killed by exposing drug cartel influence on local police. Is Gannon’s contact and assistant.

Lyle Galviera: Owns Quick Draw Courier. After getting into financial trouble, he hooked up with a Mexican cartel to courier drugs in religious items. Dating Cora at the time of the kidnapping.

Angel Quinterra: 20, cartel assassin who is looking to stop killing. He wants absolution from a local priest, but only after one more job.

Interesting characters even if Mofina doesn’t get too in depth with them. Everybody seems to be a secondary character, even Jack to an extent. Even though most of the focus is on his bouncing around the country and into Mexico looking for information, the story doesn’t focus strictly on him. There are many minor players who have small roles.

Everybody has his or her own voice. For some reason, though, Cora tends to get on my nerves. She goes from desperate mother wailing about just wanting back her daughter, then clamming up when it comes to telling the truth about her past. Hackett also tends to be lurking every time Cora and Jack speak and making obligatory threats.

Short chapters. As I mentioned above, the story doesn’t stay in one place. People are moving around a lot. Action is swift, details are minimal. Several short flashbacks for many charcters.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Accident

by Linwood Barclay

One night, Glen Garber, contractor in a Connecticut community, drives upon the scene of an accident where his wife, Sheila, and two other people have been killed. The police blame drunk driving on the part of Sheila. Garber, not believing his wife could do such a thing slowly starts digging into the case, especially after his daughter comes home with a video of mysterious phone calls made by her friend's mother. With a co-worker asking for money, a former subcontractor suspected of destroying a house, a detective snooping around investigating a case of counterfeit merchandise, and a shady character hanging around, Garber finds danger coming at him from all sides.

This is a very complex plot and I wasn't sure where it might be headed after the opening chapter. There are connections that branch off other connections. It is not a typical whodunit or a thriller, or a suspense filled nail-biter, but a combination of all three and a few more sub-genres.


Glen Garber – Construction company owner. Worried about business drying up.

Kelly Garber – Glen's eight year old daughter. She tries to deal with her mother's death as well as the cruelty from schoolmates.

Ann Slocum – Friend of the Garbers. Into 'purse parties' selling knock off brand name purses. She has secrets that are revealed.

Darren Slocum – Cop with a tainted reputation. Husband of Ann.

Fiona – Glen's mother in-law. Doesn't really like Glen, blames him for Sheila's death. Wealthy, controlling.

Marcus – Fiona's second husband.

Doug Pinder – Glen's second in command at the company. He is in financial straits.

Sally Diehl – Glen's secretary. Going through romantic problems with...

Theo – Electrical subcontractor who put in bad wiring that burned down a house.

Joan Mueller – Garber's neighbor whose husband died in an oil rig accident. Runs a day care center out of her house. Lonely

There are several other characters. There is a soap opera like feel to this story with every character having individual problems and backgrounds and secrets. At first, I wasn't sure what to think with this plethora of people, but each is shown in his or her own light with a fine mix of scenes. Barclay did a very nice job of not forgetting anyone, but not delving too deeply into any one person so the reader loses touch with the story.


I felt the profanity was a little forced. It wasn't necessarily needed.
Otherwise every conversation was straightforward. Glen has a few moments of speaking aloud when alone, but nothing unreasonable for a recent widower trying to make sense of the situation.


Intricate. Not too detailed, but enough to get a taste of the characters. I was a little bothered by the use of fragmented sentences. Some of them didn't feel right and there were many instances where the author used them.

Action scenes were drawn out just enough to give you a sense of emotion but not long enough for the reader to think, “Get on with it, already!” One thing I'll note: I read the ARC and although I've read many other pre-published books, this one needed some serious editing. I discovered more than a fair share of incorrect words, missing words, and punctuation errors.

Sometimes, the mistakes became a little distracting, but realizing it was still and ARC, didn't affect...

My ranking:

Purple belt.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

No Rest for the Dead

No Rest for the Dead

It starts with the execution of Rosemary Thomas for the heinous murder of her art dealer husband, Christopher. We then read about the events leading up to the murder: Christopher's philandering, money problems, and a systematic operation of stealing and selling expensive paintings. We see the obsessed cop bring the guilty party to justice, then have second thoughts.

Maybe he missed something, maybe he didn't fully investigate some of the variables. Ten years after state of California has executed Rosemary, the cast gathers for a memorial. The now ex-cop is still on the trail of a murderer while a shadowy figure lurks in the background, threatening several individuals if the truth is revealed? Will the truth finally be told? What really happened that fateful night so long ago?

The plot is basic and nothing unique. It's a straight rehash of numerous ancestors. There's a twist, but it's not really unexpected or surprising.

Joe Nunn – Investigating officer. The case is his downfall. He drinks, loses his wife, and his job. The case never really leaves his thoughts for over a decade.

Peter Huesen – Rosemary's alcoholic brother who got rich with trust fund money when his sister was executed. Money and booze are his life.

Christopher Thomas – curator at the art museum. Philanderer. Deals in stolen art. All around dirtbag.

Stan Ballard – Lawyer, married Nunn’s ex wife.

Haile Patchett – Cohort of Christopher's. After the murder, she is reduced to being a pickpocket.

Hank Zacharius – Reporter who always believed in rosemary's innocence but was disgraced because his superiors thought he went too far.

Standard characters with their own lives. Each is affected by the death of Rosemary, usually in a depressing way. It's a story full of Shakespearean tragedy with nobody really coming out a winer.

Straightforward. Nothing exciting. A little heat in the action scenes.

I've read a few other multiple author collaborations and they're okay, but not really exciting. The authors do a good job of trying to write a story with one voice. Unfortunately, a lot of the energy is lost. One of the reasons readers enjoy certain authors is they like that person's style. They know what to expect (usually) when they pick up a certain book. Similarly, they won't read specific authors because of the way that person writes his/her stories. This is okay. Everybody has personal tastes. But that's why you choose certain one author over another, to enjoy a particular writing style. When you get a collaboration such as this massive project was (26 authors), you lose the individuality and some of the enjoyment.

My ranking:

Camouflage Belt

Monday, September 19, 2011

Buried Secrets

by Joseph Finder

What secret could be so important it might cost a girl’s life? In Finder’s latest mystery, ex-intelligent operative Nick Heller seeks to answer this question. With a cast of expected characters (the rich man in dire straits with a closet full of skeletons, the terrified innocent teenager, the ruthless bad guy and an array of contacts, each with his or her own specialty) “Buried Secrets” takes you down a path strewn with corruption, lies and mortal danger. Along the way, layer by layer, you discover revelations for which some people will kill.

Nick Heller is hired by billionaire Marcus Marshall to resuce his kidnapped seventeen year old daughter. Right away, Heller knows he isn't being told the entire truth. Marshall, a friend of Heller's family, has gotten into some bad dealings with some very nasty individuals and somebody wants a piece of highly important information apparently only Marshall can provide.
With the assistance of computer gurus and an ex-sorta girlfriend working for the local branch of the FBI, Heller slowly tracks both the location of the girl and the individuals behind the kidnapping. The mystery deepens when Heller uncovers secrets nobody should have and a sociopath starts playing by his own rules.

A pretty good standard plot. The secrets just keep getting bigger and more impactfull as the story moves along. You expect this not to be a typical kidnapping and you're not disappointed.

Nick Heller: Ex intelligence operative. Special Forces training. He is now an advanced private investigator uncovering secrets for individuals and companies. He's witty, logical, determined. He's not computer savvy.

Alexa Marcus:17. Claustrophobic. Rebel teen of wealthy dad.

Marshall Marcus: Alexa's billionaire father. Jewish. Short. Hedge fund manager.

Belinda Marshal: Marshall's wife. 45. Georgian accent.

Dorothy Duval: Black, works computer forensics in heller's office. Direct, no BS, b ut will banter with Heller.

Jillian Alperin: nick's receptionsist and office manager. Vegan. A bit inept.

Gabe Heller: 16. Nick's nephew. Artist.

Diana Madigan: Works in the Boston branch of the FBI in the child abduction/child predator unit. She is Nick's ex sorta-lover.

This is a pretty good variety of expected characters with other supporting people in the mix. Nick, even though he's the main character, doesn't do a lot on his own (although he's no slouch when it comes to doing things on his own), but obtains his knowledge and information from others. Heller's character isn't totally serious and can use humor to diffuse situations when need be. He adapts to different circumstance very well.

Standard. Nothing out of line.

Finder is a graduate of the Patterson school of short chapters. There is a lot going on here. Not necessairly complex, just a lot going on here. Heller utilizes a lot of contacts to obtain technoligcal information. The language is not complex, but not detailed informative either. Very mild profanity which is unexpected, but the lack of it is okay and it works. Good descriptions without going overboard. Just enough information to keep the story moving along. Not a whodunit, but a logical step by step revelation of information and secrets.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Inmate 1577

By Alan Jacobson

What connection exists between an incarcerated bank robber in the late 1950's and a present day serial killer? You'll find out in Alan Jacobson's latest novel featuring profiler Karen Vail. This one is combines a clinical procedural investigation with a tragic story of how prison changes a man.

1958 - Three years after being found not guilty of the murder of his wife, Walton McNally and his young son are trying to find a solid life for themselves. McNally goes from job to job because even though he didn't commit the crime, because he was on trial for it, taints him in the eyes of employers. Desperate straits lead him and his accomplice son into robbing banks. After the second robbery, his son escapes, but Walton is caught and imprisoned in Leavenworth penitentiary where he learns all too quickly the realities of prison life. When a couple escape attempts fail he is sent to Alcatraz. There, he finds life even worse.

Present day - FBI profiler Karen Vail is assigned to the heinous homicide of an elderly woman in San Fransisco. Teaming up with the local investigators and a newspaper reporter, she scrambles to put together leads to the killer.
With more bodies discovered on a daily basis, more clues are gathered but Vail is unable to home in on the killer. One of the investigators is kidnapped, and the killer starts playing word games. Can Vail decipher the clues and what connection might they have to a closed prison on a desolate island in the middle of the Bay?

The serial killer angle is nothing new but the back and forth tale of McNally's prison life gives the novel an extra edge. The plot is carefully laid out, keeping the reader interested in discovering the connection between the two stories.

Karen Vail – FBI profiler, mother, at times claustrophobic. She's intelligent, emotional, with a cop's sense of humor

Walton McNally – Single father. Can't catch a break after being found not guilty. Learns quickly about prison life. You see him harden throughout the story.

Henry McNally – Ten year old son of Walton's. Discovered his mother's body. Goes with the flow travelling around with his father.

Lance Burden – SFPD Inspector. Sudoku fan.

Robert Friedburg – Lance's partner. History buff.

Clay Allman – Reporter friend of Lance's.

Except for some background information on Vail and the transformation of McNally, Jacobson doesn't delve too deeply into any characters. They're standard issue cops and criminals (in the case of Walton's prison mates).
It's a nice mixture of character and plot driven. Each character is well defined, however, with separate personalities and abilities.

Clinical. To the point. A few cynical exchanges typical for cops. Some internalizing with Vail.

I was surprised such a lengthy book turned out to be a relatively fast moving story. A by-the-book serial killer investigation is broken up with the life of McNally. Things move fairly quickly near the end. Characters pick up on clues that much faster. After just over 500 pages (at least in my ARC), the reader is ready for the climax. Still, it's an excellent read with the obligatory surprises.

My ranking:

Red Belt

Monday, September 5, 2011

Killer Move

by Michael Marshall

You have a nice, ordered life. For the most part, you control your destiny. You have dreams and seek to fulfill them. Then one day, you wake to find you don’t have control, someone else does.

This is the basic premise to Michael Marshall’s latest novel. Open the cover and step into a world where almost nobody is who he or she seems to be. Where a deranged mind seeks personal gratification by playing a dangerous game and where a man seeks vengeance against those who wronged him.

Bill Moore is a south Florida realtor. Ambitious. Competitive. In control.
Looking to advance up the ladder to become part up the echelon of wealth.
Until he finds pieces of his life slowly going awry. Events occur for which others think he’s responsible. At first they’re small, seemingly unimportant, but soon, they mushroom into a chaos so intense, Moore doesn’t know where to turn next or who to trust…if he can trust anybody.

The basic plot has been done before (Sandra Bullock in The Net, for example) but I don’t think anything has been quite as in depth as this. This reaches a new level of complexity over issues of control. It’s involved with complex angles, but delivers the one-two punch of suspense and intrigue expected.

Bill Moore – Realtor. He has a plan to work his way up to the big time although it is taking a little longer to get there. He is business oriented, in creating his own brand, his own way of how people look at him. He reads positive attitude and motivational blogs, and keeps his social networking current. Very exact and orderly.

Stephanie – Bill’s wife. Works as an editor of a local magazine. Very supportive of Bill. Very happy in her life.

Karren White – Coworker of Bill’s and his competition (at least from his point of view).

Janine – secretary at the realty firm. Inept (at least from Bill’s point of view)

John Hunter – Ex con released after sixteen years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. He is seeking revenge on the guilty parties.

David Warner – Presented as a wealthy would-be client for Bill, but was involved with Hunter years ago.

Cassandra – Ice cream shop waitress. Dresses in Goth clothes. Befriends Bill.

One thing I’ll mention about these and other characters is: don’t believe anybody. Most everybody is lying and has secrets; some of them hold secrets so deep they’re unforgivable and should never be brought to light.
The ‘falseness’ of the characters work well in showing how Moore’s orderly life heads into left field.

Orderly. Exact. Dialogue is not the main focus of the story. Conversations are almost just filler for what’s going on in the story. Most stories’(unless you’re watching 2001: A Space Odyssey) dialogue moves the action along, provide clues to the plot or the mystery. This one doesn’t, but don’t get the idea that it’s a detriment to the book. Some conversations explain, other just push Moore into the next scene.

Like the dialogue, very exact and orderly. Marshall uses similes and analogies and a few background stories to make points. Once the action gets going, the ‘rest’ gaps are short because Marshall doesn’t want you to stay still. However, this orderliness and exactness and to-the-point logicalness is a veil covering everything and every character and I thought the covering was fine for the first person narrative with Moore, but could have been folded back somewhat to show a difference when the scenes deal with other characters. Near the end, Marshall makes reference to his previous book, “The Straw Men,” (in a slightly tongue in cheek manner on one occasion), but you don’t have to necessarily have read that one first.

My ranking:

Brown Belt

Monday, August 29, 2011

Nazareth Child

By Darrell James

Bond server Del Shannon, is recruited to go undercover with ATFE agent Frank Falconet to find a missing FBI agent at a religious compound in the rural Kentucky town of Nazareth Church. Coincidentally, this assignment is the closest lead she’s had in her quest to find her mother. Working against a charismatic and powerful messianic leader in one Silas Rule, Shannon and Falconet attempt to ferret out the secrets of the isolated town and it’s almost hypnotized population.

This is another story of good guys going up against a money and sex hungry religious conman.

Del Shannon: Field operative doing undercover work looking for missing people, usually criminals. 28. Tattoo of a crescent moon on her wrist. Short hair.

Silas Rule: Leader of a religious sect. Black eyes, white hair, deep voice. Charming and seducing.

Frank Falconet: ATFE agent out of New York. Just coming off recovering from a gunshot wound from his last assignment. Separated from his wife and daughter. Thinking about giving up the job. Being reassigned to help out the FBI. Uses profanity a lot.

Randal Willingham: Del’s supervisor and owner of Desert Sand Covert in Tuscon. Formerly in Naval intelligence. Also is sort of a father figure to Del.

Roy Shannon: 56. Del’s father. Alcoholic. Refuses to give Del any information on her mother.

Darius Lemon: FBI agent, black. Falconet’s handler for the case.

Nigel Fontaneau: Rule’s assistant who, during tent revivals, give Silas tips on the people attending. Midget.

Cullen Rule: Silas’ teenage son. Rebel and bad boy.

The different quirks of the characters are fairly interesting but it feels like bits of character outlines plunked down. Yes, there is some depth, but they didn’t really draw me in. Del is different with her adeptness at catching bad guys and her short hair. The short assistant to Rule is unique. The townsfolk and Rule’s assistants, including Nigel, all act like they know Rule is a psychopath, but are cowed by threats of mental torture to stand up against him.

Falconet’s profanity seems slightly forced and it’s not absolutely necessary. It’s as if he spouts the words because he always has. Same with Del’s rare profanity. Falconet’s words in many of his sentences made me stumble in my reading. Not that they didn’t make sense, but some of the endings were off. Rule’s speeches about sin and godliness are standard fare but I didn’t really feel the fire.

Slow moving. The story doesn’t necessarily plod along, but I kept expecting a little more action, something exciting happening to rev up things. James skims over the mental torture of the federal agent. I kept trying to decide if this was more character driven than plot driven, but every time I did, I didn’t get the depth I expected.

My ranking

Purple Belt

Monday, August 22, 2011


By Neil Russell

Two gruesome murders, a billionaire with seemingly scores of contacts, the FBI, Chinese jade tigers, and an historical tale of the hunting and transportation of live tigers…all before page fifty. With Russell’s latest book, this is the beginning of a complex mystery with a slew of interesting, witty, and sometimes dangerous characters coming out of the woodwork at every turn. This one…well, it’ll drive you wild.

Billionaire and ex Delta Force operative Rail Black (isn’t that just a great name?)is called to a California desert town to witness the scene of a gruesome pair of murders. The victims are a police buddy and his Chinese wife. Black is asked by an LAPD Deputy Chief to make sure the murders stay hushed up. Almost immediately afterward, a tough, no-nonsense Special Agent in Charge from the FBI shows up demanding to know what’s going on and how Black is involved. From then readers learn some history, mainly involving

Ensign Fabian Canada on a mission in World War II. He’s supposed to be rescuing some downed pilots in China, but winds up saving a baby. This is the spark initiating an operation lasting decades…until it gets out of control and two people are heinously murdered in the California desert.

This is a very intricate plot and even the above paragraph doesn’t begin to cover it. The tendrils of connections are numerous and sometimes I found it difficult to keep everything straight. Still a very well thought out story.

Rail Black: Billionaire. Ex-Delta force operative. Begins the story driving a Rolls Royce.

Yes, there are other characters in this story. A LOT of characters. From the tough and cold FBI agent to cynical lawyer. From the racehorse gal to the Washington manipulator. From the Vegas casino host to guys named Fat Cat and Wal-Mart. Each character, from the minor ones to the recurring ones is very succinctly detailed and all play a role in the story. Nobody is a throwaway character. Again, and I have to repeat, very well developed characters.

Like the characters, very well developed. Black is cynical but can turn serious on a dime. The reader is never confused as to who is speaking. There are long explanations, but nowhere does the reader want the speaker to hurry things along.

Very intelligent. If you read the author’s bio you will find the man similarly so. Russell himself has gobs of connections and loads of knowledge. A few books could be written just on this man’s years of experience. The action and the humor are enjoyable. The details of the murder and some of the violence are not so graphic you are repulsed, but enough is there you know the score. I did find, however, several misspellings. Not enough to truly detract from the reader’s enjoyment, but enough to wonder if his editor hurried a bit at times.

My ranking:

Brown Belt

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Bad Night's Sleep

By Michael Wiley

Private detective Joe Kozmarski is hired to play security guard at a new housing construction site that is experiencing its share of burglaries. When the thieves arrive, they turn out to be...cops. After shooting and killing one, Kozmarski is thrown in jail. A buddy on the force, who works as liaison to a civilian based ethical board, then recruits him to infiltrate the gang of thieves to destroy it from the inside. Kozmarski, who is trying to reconcile a relationship with his ex and fighting the temptations of alcohol, drugs, and a sexy partner, soon runs afoul of the FBI who also want a piece of the action. Who can Joe trust and just who's playing who in the bigger scheme of things?

This is a well formulated plot. There's nothing new, but that's okay. In this type of story, you expect things like bad cop power plays, street gangs, a high priced sex club, a tour of Chicago, the obligatory shoot 'em up car chase, and a few plot twists to keep you guessing. I haven't read a gritty PI story in awhile and this is one to remind me why I, and so many other people, have loved these kinds of stories since Spade and Marlowe first hit the mean streets.

Joe Kozmarski – PI, ex cop who got fired for substance abuse, divorced but trying to reconcile with his wife, still is tempted by alcohol and drugs.
While trying to do his job, he looks after his eleven year old nephew

Corrine – Joe's ex wife. Still loves him, but isn't sure whether she loves him enough to endure the trials he endures.

Lucinda Juarez – Joe's partner. She and Joe had a one night affair. She is loyal and will sacrifice to help Joe out on his cases.

Bob Gubman – Joe's buddy on the force. They're still friends (of a sort).
He's relegated to a desk job after being gut shot. Joe feels bad because he think he could have prevented Bob from being shot.

Earl Johnson – Big boss of the bad cop organization. Looking to organize Chicago's gangs under one umbrella.

Bob Monroe – Second in command of the bad cops group. He wants Earl's position.

These are typical characters but still ones you like or else love to hate.
Each is well defined. There are also some good supporting characters such as one of the thieves who is on the fence as to whether he should continue to stay in the gang, Joe's concerned mother, and a prostitute in the sex club for whom Joe wishes were in a different situation.

To the point. No long soliloquies or rambling conversations. What needs to be said gets said without extraneous material. Joe speaks with subtle cynicism without going overboard.

Again – what needs to be said gets said. Short sentences, to the point.
Quick action. No long philosophical moments, but direct 'now' thoughts. You get a good feel for the detective. The story never drags. It's a quick read, but thoroughly enjoyable. The writing is what you expect with this type of story and it doesn't fail.

My ranking:

Brown belt

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

You're Next

By Gregg Hurwitz

Because of mysterious circumstances, Mike Wingate, age four, was dropped off at a foster home by his father, who subsequently disappeared. Growing up a ‘hard knocks’ life, constantly in trouble with the law, he finally gets his life on the right path. Years later, married, with a daughter, he faces a tough business decision that could cost him millions. In the succeeding days, however, he encounters a pair of killers targeting him and his family. With his wife hospitalized, he and his daughter go on the run from not only the killers, but local and state authorities. Up against a system that seems to know virtually everything about his life, Wingate, with the help of his foster home buddy, must find the connection between his current life and the one so long ago.

It’s a complex plot with a lot of story, a lot of details. I thought the back story was a little too long, but still it fit in well with the rest.

Mike Wingate – Troubled foster child turned good. Construction worker, married

Kat Wingate – Mike’s eight year old daughter. Loving relationship with her dad. Precocious and intelligent.

William Burrell – Hired killer. Suffers from cerebral palsy which affects his walking

Shep – Mike’s foster home friend. He and Mike grew up not necessarily always skirting the law. Shep continued his criminal ways into adulthood, but is still loyal to Mike. He uses his knowledge as a criminal to aid Mike.

Each character is defined with their own personalities and faults. Even the bad guys are not the faceless killers of some books. Yes, you still wish for their demise, but they are unique.

Nothing special, but fitting each character.

The story starts out fairly slowly, with detailed back story and build up of events. Once it gets rolling, however, you find yourself drawn in deeper, wondering with each new downfall, how Wingate can escape the next ordeal. There is plenty of action and emotion. The hero, after overcoming so much as a youth, only wants to enjoy the good life his hard work has brought him. Instead, he finds himself making tough moral decisions that will affect that life, or if he even gets to continue living.

There are a lot of details, but Hurwitz does a fine job of tying together all these details. From a cheap lighter to Shep’s knowledge of safes. From a stuffed polar bear to Shep’s ‘deafness’. There is a lot of character insight, especially Mike’s (he is the main character after all), and his seeing his past meld with his present. Still even for the length it is a very good piece of writing.

My ranking:

Brown Belt

Monday, August 1, 2011

House Divided

House Divided

By Mike Lawson

Political intrigue so thick and complex you need a road map to chart its course. A cast of characters so numerous you need a score card to separate the teams of bad guys. Way too many people with way too much power, so one little glitch could cause the entire house to fall. The glitch may come in the form of Joe DeMarco, an all around 'gopher' to the U.S. Speaker of the House, who wants only to take advantage of some free time to play golf. This is what makes up Mike Lawson's latest thriller, “House Divided.”

DeMarco is called by a D.C. homicide detective because his name was found on a murder victim, a distant relation. Only wanting to dispense with the handling of the arrangements, DeMarco nevertheless gets drawn into the case and its anomalies. Meanwhile, a department in the National Security Agency that (illegally) eavesdropped on the communication between the murderers, is also on the investigating trail. Also in the game is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who (like everybody else) has secrets to hide and an agenda of his own. And we can't forget an agent of the FBI who receives under the table money. With everybody racing to be the first to the truth (or to keep it covered up), DeMarco must weave his way through the obstacles while not only worrying about the future of his job, but his life.

This is another story where the power players in government rear their ugly heads. Again (and probably not undeserving), the NSA is the snake in the grass with more gadgets, technology, and nasty bad guys (and gals) than they deserve. The plot connections throughout are tenuous at the beginning until you figure out the characters and what each is trying to accomplish. Then the threads slowly start to come together.

Joe DeMarco – Not the innocent all American boy as he works to keep his boss', the Speaker of the House, butt out of the wringer. He likes his free time and doesn't want to be involved in any hard work. I'm reminded a little bit of James Rockford, but without as much humor.

Dillon – The supervisor of the secret deparment of the NSA who is doing the illegal wire tapping. He's in the know and knows way too much about way too many people. His justification behind his illegal actions is he's trying to prevent another 9/11.

Clare Whiting – Dillon's second in command in his department. She's ruthless, hard-hearted, determined, no-nonsense, and doesn't like failure or questions without answers, especially from her underlings. Her motivations comes from a fiance who was killed on 9/11 when the plane crashed into the Pentagon.

Charles Bradford – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is behind the killing of the man which starts the story. He's been involved in some illegal assassinations around the world. His reasoning is he thinks the president is weak and won't do what is necessary to stop terrorists and others who hate America.

There are other supporting characters each very well defined in his or her roll. I like how Lawson gives each character a purpose, a reason behind their actions. This is not just a bunch of people running around power hungry and mad. Still, it raises the question of whether the end justifies the means. I do like the DeMarco's attitude (shared by the author) that I'm sure about me, but I'm not too sure about thee.

Fitting to each character. Conversations are to the point with no wandering off into confusing areas.

Lots of details, but nothing confusing. Long passages to explain the set up of many scenes, but nothing too boring. Action scenes begin and end quickly.
Lawson explains technology in layman's terms so readers aren't lost in the minutiae. If you're not a fan of political intrigue, this isn't for you. If you like a potential government 'blow up', then you will enjoy this one.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Monday, July 25, 2011

East on Sunset

By Ken Mercer

Will Magowan, after being fired from the LAPD for substance abuse, only wants to enjoy his new job in security at Dodgers stadium. He wants to try to provide some comfort and prosperity for his pregnant wife. However, Erik Crandall, an ex con addicted to steroids, is out of prison looking for retribution. Crandall accuses Magowan of stealing drugs back at the time of his arrest and wants the money he could have earned by selling the product. It’s a battle of wits and strength as Magowan struggles against apathetic cops and a reluctant informant as he struggles to save his family while unearthing dirty secrets from his past.

A bland title and a standard story about a disgraced ex-cop trying to put his life together up against an ex-con with a grudge. There’s nothing real unique and a fan of police thrillers will be able to deduce the bad guys in about five seconds.

Will Macgowan: 42, trying to get back to living. Regrets the past mistakes and willing to move on.

Erik Crandall: Ex con who bulked up through the use of steroids. However, the drugs are causing headaches and uncontrolled rages.

There’s the pregnant wife who gave Will another chance but now is unsure if everything is going to work out with the new baby coming along. There’s the ex partner who dies. There’s the ex confidential informant who reluctantly gives a bit of assistance to Will. And of course, there are the cops who can’t, don’t, or won’t help.

Standard characters with a few unique quirks.

Again, nothing special. To the point.

Short chapters make for quick scenes and fast action. Author Ken Mercer doesn’t delve too much into details. It’s just a fast read with no big surprises. This is his second book with Magowan but don’t feel the need to read the previous book first. Still this story is enjoyable.

My ranking:

Green Belt

Monday, July 18, 2011


by Jeff Abbott

The title of this book pretty much sets the pace for this action packed thriller. Within it pages are all the best aspects of a very enjoyable good versus evil plot: intrigue, spies, double crosses, foreign locales, technology used for nefarious purposes, a good hearted hero, and the obligatory nasty bad guys.

CIA agent Sam Capra barely escapes a bombing in one of the Company's London offices, saved by a telephone call from his pregnant wife, who immediately goes missing. Capra then endures months of interrogation, a destruction of his reputation, and is reduced to a bartending job, watched over by a suspicious Agency. Knowing he's bait for the real bad guys, he promptly escapes his handlers. Before he can even begin to seriously search for his missing wife and newly born child, he is recruited by a shadowy organization to help recover a kidnapped industrialist's daughter.

I like the concept because it shows a dark side of government, bad guys intent on ruling the world, and secret organizations in the shadows with power at their fingertips. The story also brings in technology in the form of DNA weapons. (You'll have to read the story for details.) There is a little bit of Robert Ludlum floating throughout with Capra as a lone spy using his skills against a James Bond type nemesis, with bad guys around each corner and in every city. This is a very enjoyable plot very easy to understand.

Sam Capra: CIA agent viewed by his agency as either a traitor or a fool. His skills include parkour, which is a trendy new activity that includes a lot of jumping, agility, balance, strength, and risk. He uses these and other skills in his battles against the enemy. He's determined, intelligent, and knowledgeable. He is loyal to people until he finds evidence destroying the loyalty. He is loving and caring and only wants to return to a good life with his wife, new baby, and his job of rooting out the bad guys.

Edward: The typical bad guy. Narcissistic, self serving, ruthless, evil. He uses people until they have served their purpose. He utilizes terror and abuse like a master chef in his kitchen. He's intelligent and conniving and you shudder during his scenes wondering what nasty thing he'll do next.

Howell: Capra's interrogator during the beginning chapters, who tries to rein him in during the rest of the story. Even from the beginning you don't like him even though he tries to come across as friendly and only wanting to help. Slowly, throughout the story, his true self is revealed.

Mila: You don't discover too much about her. She's very veiled. She presents herself as a 'take me or leave me and good luck with your life' type of person. You find out she has a soul but does hesitate when dealing her brand of justice.

Very well written, slight humor in places, doesn't drag on with long soliloquies or dreary longwinded conversations. Foul language is kept to a minimum.

The chapters aren't too long and the action keeps you moving through the story. It doesn't drag. Sentence structure is basic but intelligent. There is enough description to bring you into the scene but not too much you are distracted by extraneous material. The technology is easy to understand, the action is precise, concise, and true. The violence is not graphically presented, but there is enough detail for you to cringe in fear for the innocent and feel satisfied with the deaths of the guilty. My ARC was 400 pages, but it didn't seem like a lengthy story. The ending set up a sequel should Abbott decide to continue Capra's adventure. I was a little disheartened by the story not having a closed door at the end, but like I said, another story could relieve the ache.

My ranking:

Brown Belt

Monday, July 11, 2011


By Weyman Jones

Katherine Lyons, the owner of a professional meeting planning company is convicted of killing her younger lover. Her son, Michael, is convinced she’s innocent, chalking up the killing (and a couple others) to someone involved an animal rights organization that is protesting a drug company client of Lyons’. During his investigation, Michael encounter his father who he hasn’t seen in years, a detective convinced the case is closed and several associates connected with the dead man who are unwilling to divulge too much information lest secrets be revealed.

It’s an interesting plot, if you can grasp some of the connections. For instance, the killer is knocking off indirect links to the pharmaceutical company, not the company executives themselves. Then add in a case of shady investments and a Caribbean island narcotics haven and you have a web of entanglements to move through.

Mike Lyons – Chief Operating Officer of his mother’s company. 24, but acts and thinks as if he’s older.

Katherine Lyons – Mike’s mother. She is described as a ‘controlling’ person but controlling through warmth and caring. However, in her one major scene, she doesn’t come across as ‘power woman.’

Bart Lyons – Mike’s father. Runs security for the pharmaceutical company. Militaristic. Vietnam vet.

Detective Marks – Homicide detective

Charlotte – Is the third person in Lyons’ company. Girlfriend of Mike’s until the trial.

I had problems not totally believing the characters. None of them acted true. The killer seemed too nonchalant. The detective (I think his first name is Justin but you don’t really know because it’s never mentioned except in one phone conversation where he could be lying) doesn’t act like a typical homicide investigator. As I mentioned, Katherine doesn’t seem like a company executive. She rambles a lot. Bart seems the most realistic except near the end when his character’s foundation becomes a little shaky. It’s not that these are surface characters, although that’s part of the issue, but it’s as if you have a person who is just half out of phase with him- or herself. Nobody seems to act like they should in a given situation, but are just a little bit off.

Forced. The cynicism, the profanity, the wit, the emotions exhibited in conversations, all seem to be a struggle or, similarly to above, off for the characters with whatever they’re involved.

Detailed with lots of extraneous information. There is a lot of description, almost too much in many chapters. Jones constantly interrupts his actions scenes with various descriptions which are somewhat distracting. I wasn’t sure what type of story it really wanted to be. It starts near the end of a court room trial, then moves along to some personal stuff with the detective, then bits here and there with Lyons sticking his nose into the case. Marks finally does a little investigating. A disjointed time period on the Caribbean island and a strange hostage situation lasting a little too long.

My ranking:

Yellow Belt

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Deed to Death

By D.B. Henson

Realtor Toni Matthews does not believe her fiancée, Scott, killed himself at his construction site. The police won't listen, Scott's brother is contesting the will, and Toni soon finds herself in mortal danger when she starts discovering clues that point in a different direction than suicide.
Who killed Scott and who's trying to kill her? The brother? Scott's supposed girlfriend? A construction worker who disappeared after Scott died? Scott's partner? Toni must use her intelligence to stay one step ahead, even to the point of playing dead. It was too late for her fiancée and the damaging information he discovered and left for her. Who can Tony trust before she finds it's too late for her?

This is not something totally new, but fresh enough to enjoy. There's enough suspense and clues to keep the reader guessing

Toni Matthews – Realtor. Estranged from her mother. Has a lot of friends in the business and with her husbands construction firm. Is feeling on top of the world and looking forward to a happy life until her husband dies.

Brian Chadwick – Scott's brother. Reporter. Kept his distance from Scott after high school graduation because of a sister's death. Thinks Toni is only after Scott's money. Doesn't mind a bit of B&E and 'bug' work to keep track of Toni's movements.

Mark – Lawyer. In love with Toni and only wants the best for her. He hopes maybe Toni will come to love him now that Scott's dead.

Clint Shore – Scott's partner. He was the behind-the-scenes man while Scott was the promoter.

Jill Shore – Clint's wife. Part of friendly foursome with Scott, Clint, and Toni.

Fairly defined characters. The author provides enough insight into each to keep them interesting. There are good supporting characters and mystery aficionados will recognize at least one of them is guilty.

Straightforward, nothing complex, nothing exciting or deep.

Fairly clean. Some profanity, but nothing extreme. Short chapters, tight scenes. Mildly intense action. This reader didn't think the book was a 'page-turner' or a 'non-stop action, can't put it down till the end' story, but a well written mystery with enough red herrings to keep you guessing.

My ranking:

Green Belt

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Amateurs

The Amateurs
by Marcus Sakey

A financial trader, a travel agent, a hotel doorman, and a bartender walk into a bar to steal some money... Sounds like a joke, right? In Marcus Sakey's “The Amatuers,” there are no laughs when a 'game' turns serious.

Alex – Bartender at a restaurant. Has an ex and a daughter. Barely making ends meet. He and Jenn have a sexual relationship.

Ian – Financial trader, snorts cocaine, gambles.

Mitch – Doorman for a hotel. Has a crush on Jenn. Feels ignored by the public and, somewhat by his friends.

Jenn – Travel agent, has more male friends than women, trying to find what's missing in her life.

Four people, each with their own quirks and personal problems, somehow have become friends, meeting a couple times per week for drinks or brunch. During their time together, they play a variety of 'games,' such as “What if you suddenly came into a half million dollars, what would you do?”

When they learn that Alex's boss, a former drug dealer and still a shady businessman, has a load of cash stored in the restaurant's safe, they slowly come around to the idea of stealing it. They soon find their lives thrown into a chaos they never expected.

Alex – Bartender with an ex and a daughter. Barely making ends meet. He and Jenn have a sexual relationship

Ian – Financial trader, snorts cocaine, gambles

Mitch – Doorman for a hotel, has a crush on Jenn. Feels ignored by the public and, somewhat by his friends

Jenn – Travel agent, has more male friends than women

John 'Johnny Love' Loverin – Owner of several businesses. Alex's boss. Made his money selling drugs back in the eighties. Suave, wears expensive clothing. Still into some shady deals.

The characters are defined with a nice mix of personalities. Sakey does a fine job of providing a balance on allowing the reader insight into everyone's lives without over emphasizing one or ignoring another.

Fairly consistent with each character. You can tell the difference in speech patterns. Conversation, however, is basic, limited to what is going on and what needs to be done.

The story is character based. The action is swift, and efficient without much graphic detail. I could have done with about half the profanity because being character driven and not action or plot driven, most of the foul language wasn't necessary to complete the story.

Still, the reader understood each character, from the friends to the bad guys. The story flows well, without bogging down on the internal thoughts or too much back story.

My ranking

Blue Belt

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Candle Maker's Son

Plot: A powerful patriarch hires a scientist to investigate a rare swatch of fabric. Muslim terrorists in Mexico vie for plates to counterfeit American one hundred dollar bills to fund their jihad. A thief steals a priceless flag (from where the swatch was obtained) from a Mexican museum only to discover his girlfriend (the patriarch's granddaughter) has been kidnapped by the Mexicans who want the plates they think he stole from the Arabs they killed in a double cross.

Sound convoluted? I thought so, too. The cover looked interesting and the title drew me in. However, what I thought might be another take on "The Da Vinci Code" turned out to be a messy plot and weak writing. The story is a bunch of loosely tied together scenes that leave you wondering about their importance and why the author spent as much time detailing them only to move onto something else.

Garlon Puckett: Wealthy patriarch, influential in many circles. Interested in obtaining a flag from a Mexican museum and hires a scientist to authenticate a piece of the flag. (How the swatch got taken from the flag is not known). He also has an employee tracking down his granddaughter. (No reason given.) No real background of where he obtained his money or his powerbase.

Conner Hockaday: An ex Navy officer in the Special Forces in Iraq (Yes, I know Special Forces is Army, I'm just telling you what was written), boyfriend of Kalee, and thief. His naval background and skills are barely touched upon and you don't learn what he's been up to except stealing a flag.

Kalee: Granddaughter of Garlon. Touring Mexico with her friends (who never enter the picture). Comes across as sassy and defiant and though creative in an escape attempt, is unbelievable when in dire straits.

Escobar: Bad guy Mexican.

Speicher: Hired by Puckett to report on Kalee. Don't really know too much about him.

Basically, 'don't know too much' says it all about each character. The descriptions are surface. You don't really get to know the inner person, their emotions, desires, dreams. You have a few terrorists who seem important, until they die early on. The reader doesn't really care about any character's fate.

They also act incorrectly. Kidnappers will not give a deadline of a week to receive a ransom. It is too much time to A. care for the person kidnapped, and B. allow the authorities or the hero to intervene.

Weak. Trite. No depth. Standard playbook phrasing. No real emotion felt.

I think this is the major downfall of the book and what really set me against it. I know many books contain punctuation and spelling errors the editor(s) somehow missed, but there are way too many obvious mistakes in this book, including incorrect punctuation at the end of sentences and dialogue, and misuse of commas and ellipses. However, beyond this, there are problems with sentence structure. Some of the sentences don't make sense to the topic being discussed or the language and phrasing are weak. There are a lot of unnecessary wording in many sentences. The author tries to put too much information into one sentence and ends up confusing the reader. The action is passive. He uses incorrect dialogue tags. Example: The next morning Carlos Mendoza, and two of his men were eating breakfast, when he said to one of them, "Get me a newspaper. I want to see what is written about the terrible event of yesterday," he sarcastically said, guiding the food-laden fork to his mouth.

The reference to the title is mildly interesting, but the use of it at the end is trite and banal. The author sets up a sequel, but after reading this first book, the reader won't care.

My ranking:

White Belt