Despite the long journey, Englishman Terry Sheffield arrives in San Francisco from London with a bounce in his step. Green Card in hand, he's ready toDespite the long journey, Englishman Terry Sheffield arrives in San Francisco from London with a bounce in his step. Green Card in hand, he's ready to start his new life with American wife, Sarah. The two met while on holiday in Costa Rica, and after a whirlwind romance were married. Now, after being apart for 6 months due to bureaucratic red tape, things have finally lined up for the newlyweds.
Only, Sarah isn't there to meet him at the airport. After waiting for several hours, hoping she was just stuck in traffic, Terry finally takes a shuttle to "their" house, a place he's never actually been. Sarah isn't there either, which forces Terry to break in...something a watchful neighbor dutifully reports to the local sheriff. A brief arrest and long explanation later, Terry is left with a skeptical sheriff, wary new neighbors, and still no wife.
Terry can find no explanation for her disappearance, but does find evidence that she left voluntarily-there's no sign of struggle in the house and a bag, some clothes and personal items seem to be missing-and has to wonder if the police are right: did the woman he married just get cold feet and take off?
When a dead woman fitting Sarah's description turns up, her tongue cut out, Terry's brought to the scene to identify the body. He's relieved to see that it's not her, but disturbed that the sheriff now sees solving the murder as more important than finding Sarah, whom the sheriff is still not convinced didn't just run off. It isn't until more women start turning up dead that the sheriff begins to entertain the idea there may be some connection, but the connection he's looking for isn't exactly the one Terry had in mind.
Given her profession of freelance investigative journalist, Terry's forced to wonder if Sarah's disappearance has something to do with a story she's working on. But if it does, was the disappearance deliberate, or sinister? And what, if anything, do the dead women have to do with it? Only adding to his frustration and anxiety, the place where he's lined up a job, biotech company Genavax, isn't exactly what he was expecting. Actually, nothing about what he finds-or doesn't, as the case may be-in America is quite what he was expecting. In fact, the more Terry pokes around, the more complicated things become.
As do all his books, Simon Wood gets No Show off to a galloping start, plunging both Terry and the reader immediately into mystery and confusion from the moment Terry steps off the plane. Terry's status as an outsider, not just new to town but to the very country, provides Wood with fertile ground for tension, miscommunication, and appropriately timed doses of wry humor. It, and the couple's brief courtship, also provides Wood with the chance to explore the very nature of relationships-particularly those of a romantic nature-and to ask how well does anyone really know someone...even the person they're married to.
There's nothing especially groundbreaking about the plot of No Show, and there's nothing wrong with that. Not every book needs to contort itself into a pretzel trying to prove how clever and original it is. No, Wood is happy to just dig in, grab the reader's interest, and tell a page-turning mystery/whodunnit story, and you'll be more than happy to go along for the fast-paced, twisting, "didn't see that coming" ending of a ride....more
Having worked her way up to the position of branch manager at the brokerage firm of McKinney Alitzer in downtown Los Angeles, Iris Thorne is pretty coHaving worked her way up to the position of branch manager at the brokerage firm of McKinney Alitzer in downtown Los Angeles, Iris Thorne is pretty confident she can handle anything life throws at her. That is until her ex-fiancé, Todd Fillinger, calls up with a major investment opportunity for Iris in Russia. Her instincts tell her to skip the trip and let the past be the past, but lingering guilt over the way their relationship ended-Iris left Todd at the altar, in Paris no less-overrides Iris's instincts and she finds herself on a plane to Russia.
Almost immediately upon her arrival it becomes apparent something isn't quite right with the situation, or Todd. When pressed, Todd admits he's been having trouble with the Russian mafia, which is trying to elbow in on Todd's art brokerage business. The seriousness of the situation is made graphically clear when, as Iris looks on in horror, Todd is gunned down outside the restaurant where the two were to have dinner.
Initially taken in for questioning by the Russian police, and a shady man who doesn't identify himself, Iris is eventually extracted from the sticky situation by a member of the US Consulate. Feeling a sense of obligation to Todd now more than ever, Iris agrees to carry an urn containing his ashes back to the US for delivery to Todd's sister, figuring it's the least she can do. If only she'd trusted her instincts and never gotten on that plane to begin with...
Iris has no sooner landed and delivered the urn to Todd's sister, who meets Iris at the airport, when she finds herself up to her eyes in threats and conspiracies, with everyone from the FBI to a decidedly determined and dangerous art thief to the Russian mafia demanding Iris turn over a priceless, and stolen, statue they are all under the impression she has returned from Russia with. Now Iris has to figure out a way to get to the bottom of things before she gets arrested, or killed.
As author Dianne Emley has been so kind to share in her retrospective on the Iris Thorne series, the evolution of Iris is really both the evolution of a character and a writer. With every book since her introduction in Cold Call, Iris has noticeably progressed as a character, evolving from that of a somewhat superficial and borderline irresponsible pseudo-adult into a more responsible and reasoned woman. It's a progression fueled in no small part by Emley's own growth as a writer, the evolving confidence in Iris mirroring that of Emley in her own ability as an author.
Indeed, Pushover, the fifth and (for now) final entry in the series, shows yet another leap forward. While Iris herself had grown in depth and complexity with each previous outing (Cold Call, Slow Squeeze, Fast Friends, Foolproof), it is in Pushover that the seeds for what was to come next for Emley are clearly sown from a pacing and plot point of view. Whereas the previous Thorne books tended to be more rooted in the mystery arena, Pushover has a noticeable infusion of the thriller genre, complete with international intrigue, conspiracies, shootouts and double crosses. Pushover clearly set the table for what was to come: The First Cut, the first entry in Emley's (ongoing) Detective Nan Vining series, in which Iris actually makes a cameo appearance.
Not many authors would take the time-or be brave enough-to rerelease a series which saw its initial publication two decades ago...and to "resist the urge to make major changes, wanting to respect the books as they had been published." I, for one, am incredibly happy that Emley did. For all the amusing era-specific details that pepper the Thorne series (think big hair, late 80s excess, and the "greed is good" mentality), Iris is actually a deceptively complex character. If you missed her the first time around, please do yourself a favor and discover what a wonderful series this is. And if you're of a certain age, like me, not only will you enjoy the mysteries, you'll enjoy the touch of nostalgia you'll get while reading them as well. ...more
Paul O'Brien's debut, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, was one of the more enjoyable books I read last year, a wonderful combination of organized crime aPaul O'Brien's debut, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, was one of the more enjoyable books I read last year, a wonderful combination of organized crime and professional wrestling circa the early 1970s. The book ended with a rather intense cliffhanger, and fortunately for fans of the first entry O'Brien is now back to pick up the story in Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2
As we learned in the first outing, professional wrestling in the early 70s was not the huge, centralized business it is today, but rather was broken into various territories held by individual owners spread throughout the country. And though the owners worked together to a certain degree for the greater good of the sport in general, at the same time each protected their turf ruthlessly. One owner, Danno Garland, has managed to claw his way to the top of the heap and now controls the World Heavyweight Champion, which gives him tremendous power. It wasn't an easy climb, however, and the backstabbing and double-crosses are now catching up with Danno. When his rivals lash out at him in a particularly horrific way, Danno turns his back on everything he's ever known and loved and directs the same single-minded focus he used to build his wrestling empire to a new purpose-revenge.
The story is told by flashing back and forth between the time leading up to the lynchpin event and the days immediately following it. It's an interesting juxtaposition, one which lets O'Brien fill in pertinent details and backstory from the first book in a very subtle way, allowing readers who may be joining the story in progress to hit the ground up to speed and running. It's also a technique which provides for a natural buildup of tension, with the reader waiting for the inevitable head-on collision of the two storylines as they converge like runaway trains on single track.
O'Brien's background is in writing for the stage, and that really shines through in Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2. The character development is a joy to watch unfold, with O'Brien proving to those who may have thought the wrestling setting of the first book was a gimmick (sorry, I couldn't resist) that made him a one trick pony that they couldn't be more wrong. Already in the twilight of his life, though at the top of his career, the events of Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 utterly destroy Danno Garland, turning him into a man running on little more than grief, fueled by revenge, with the only question being whether he will accomplish his self-appointed mission before completely flaming out. As written by O'Brien, it's a transformation which is both thoroughly engaging and utterly heartbreaking.
But as captivating as Danno's breakdown is, it's Danno's second-in-command, Ricky Plick, who really steals the show. A loyal man, Ricky tries his best to keep Danno from running completely off the rails and destroying both himself and the business. As loyal as he is, however, Ricky is also very shrewd, and as Danno's downward spiral progresses Ricky knows that even after all their years together a decision will have to be made as to where his ultimate loyalty lies. After all, Ricky has his own crosses to bear, simultaneously dealing with his own failing body after years of abuse in the ring, as well as now looking out for his partner, Ginny, who isn't the same following a traumatic event during the climax of Blood Red Turns Dollar Green.
And while Blood Red Turns Dollar Green included a significant amount of detail about wrestling, including some wonderful descriptions of in-ring action, which may have made some readers a bit wary, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 is a straight-up crime fiction novel which just happens to have the business of 1970s territorial professional wrestling as the backdrop. There's still enough pro wrestling flavor to make fans of the sport happy-particularly in the character of Shane `The Sugarstick' Montrose, a colorful, aging superstar-but if for any reason the wrestling angle had scared you off the first one, its extremely limited "on screen" time in this outing means there's no excuse for you to not give Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 a try.
In fact, as much as I liked the first book, I believe Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 is even better. Telling a good crime story is hard enough, but doing so while putting a very human face on the devastation and consequences which flow from greed and power run amok is very tricky business, one which O'Brien manages with impressive aplomb. ...more
Though he doesn’t literally have “Born to Lose” tattooed on himself, Billy Keyhoe would seem to have been given the karmic equivalent of the mark. TweThough he doesn’t literally have “Born to Lose” tattooed on himself, Billy Keyhoe would seem to have been given the karmic equivalent of the mark. Twenty-nine years old, his life has been most notable for its failure to launch. The only thing he’s proven himself any good at is smoking, drinking, and beating on his girlfriend.
Even he’s bright enough, however, to realize he’s hit a new low when in a fit of jealous rage he delivers a particularly savage beating one night, so he grabs a few things and hits the road in his beater of a ’66 Caddy. His intention is to put Waycross, Georgia in the rearview and start over somewhere in West Texas.
When he spontaneously decides to rob Earl’s 66 during a stop for gas on the way out of town, that goes about as well as the rest of his life, netting him a whopping $29 and a pissed-off clerk unloading her shotgun at him for his efforts.
Things seem to take a turn for the better when Billy picks up a beautiful hitchhiker named Feather. He realizes it’s kind of odd she was just standing at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere, but Billy has no idea how truly odd things are going to get before their journey is over.
Author Kevin Lynn Helmick packs more into the hard-hitting 91 pages of Driving Alone than many writers manage in works several times as long. As the story unfolds, it quickly becomes clear to the reader that there’s more to Feather than meets the eye–she’s not just a pretty face and a “Jesus Slave” belt buckle. It takes Billy a little longer to catch on, but he slowly comes to understand that Feather can help him make sense of his life, but that in order to have any hope of moving forward he must first go back and revisit how it is he got to this point–how he became the person he is.
Along the way, Helmick plays with both Billy and the reader’s minds, causing both to question what exactly is happening between Billy and Feather as they verbally and physically spar with one another. Billy’s crude, blunt personality seems to have met a match of sorts in Feather’s (somewhat) more refined and circumspect one, and it’s a wonderful juxtaposition which Helmick deftly explores. His decision to present the dialog with a distinctive cadence which incorporates a rural slang only adds to the gritty, undeniably Southern feel of the story.
Driving Alone is a magical mix of crime fiction, romance, and Southern Gothic, and I highly recommend you join Billy on his enlightening journey of self-discovery…where it ends may surprise you. ...more
"You are a killer. Here's a man I want you to kill. I'll pay you. What else is there?" - Lorena Ruiz
For American hitman Cooper Townsend, there actuall"You are a killer. Here's a man I want you to kill. I'll pay you. What else is there?" - Lorena Ruiz
For American hitman Cooper Townsend, there actually was nothing else for many years. A man with a healthy dose of moral apathy, Townsend settled in Juárez, Mexico after a brief apprenticeship with an older assassin and set about making a fine living as a contract killer, primarily for one of Juárez's largest crime organizations. The book opens with Townsend taking care of a job back in the States before heading home to Juárez, where he's met with an interesting job opportunity from his main employer, Señor Barriga-work close protection for the man during a week of negotiations with one of the organization's biggest competitors.
It seems that depending upon how successful the negotiations are, Townsend may be needed to make a hit on the man, and posing as Barriga's bodyguard is the best way for Townsend to get inside the gated community and the man's home for the recon that will be needed should the hit be green-lit. While spending time at the potential target's estate, Townsend meets an alluring young woman, Lorena Ruiz, who kindles feelings in him he wasn't aware he was capable of. When Barriga tells Townsend to stand down on the hit, Lorena approaches him with a proposal of her own, one that sends Townsend down a deadly path from which there will be no turning back.
Author Sam Hawken introduced readers to the city of Ciudad Juárez in his outstanding novel The Dead Women of Juárez, and once again the city plays a role as strong as any of the characters in Juárez Dance. However, unlike in The Dead Women of Juárez, which explored in a fictional setting the real life tragedy of feminicidios (female homicides) and their political and societal ramifications, the action in Juárez Dance is more traditional, straight-forward crime fiction: a hitman, a femme fatale, and a job seemingly destined to spiral out of control.
The action in Juárez Dance builds with a slow, smoldering burn as the reader is first immersed in Townsend's daily life which, many days, is actually rather...boring. And yet, it's not boring because of the way Hawken relays it all through the eyes and thoughts of Townsend. It's the necessary groundwork to set the stage for the off the rails action to come, as there'd be no appreciation for just how far out of control Townsend's life gets, how radically his priorities begin to change, without first understanding how structured and isolated he is used to living. And when the action does hit, it hits hard.
There are two hand-to-hand fights in Juárez Dance that are simply brutal to read. The violence is explosive, primitive, and unforgiving-men used to dealing in death, who know how high the stakes are, and who will do anything to put down their opponent. Similarly, several of Townsend's hits are depicted in graphic fashion, including the aftermath and cleanup. And though it does seem apparent once the action explodes that events can't turn out well for Townsend given how far off the reservation he wanders, there is more than enough tension and uncertainty to keep the reader guessing. You may see the straight left punch coming that sets up the downhill run to the finish, but I guarantee you won't see the roundhouse right that Hawken will hammer you with to put things down for the count.
Sam Hawken has been slowly but surely making his presence known in the crime fiction community over the past few years, and Juárez Dance is another blazingly colorful feather in his cap. If you're not reading Hawken's work yet, get on it now. You will not be disappointed. ...more
Death is in the news every day, and if people stop to give it a second thought they most likely think of the void left in the lives of the living, theDeath is in the news every day, and if people stop to give it a second thought they most likely think of the void left in the lives of the living, the emotional mess it creates when someone dies or is killed. Very few people, however, think about the nuts and bolts of death–the literal mess it makes.
Brothers Joe and Eddie Jones have not only thought about it, they’ve made it their business. Literally. Sparkle Cleaners, their Seattle-based janitorial service, specializes in crime scene cleanups. Theirs is a unique tag team, with Joe acting as the face of the business and Eddie the actual cleanup man. And anyone who’s ever used Sparkle Cleaners will tell you, no one can clean a crime scene like Eddie.
He’s so good, Sparkle Cleaners gets the inside line on jobs from members of the Seattle PD, including Detectives Louis and Bjorgesen. When they call Joe to schedule the cleanup of a triple murder–a husband, wife, and their six-year-old daughter–they couldn’t possibly have foreseen the chain of events that would unfold…or that it would get even more complicated when Sparkle is assigned to the cleanup of a seemingly unrelated massacre of six people at a club in Chinatown.
But what no one knows, not even Joe, is that Eddie’s gift goes far beyond being able to erase the physical signs of death. Due to a trauma the two suffered when they were young children, Eddie has retreated into his own little world, one which presents to everyone else as severe autism. But while people think Eddie is virtually uncommunicative, what they don’t realize is that he communicates with the dead. At every cleanup scene he encounters the spirit/ghost of the person who died, and only by his erasing the physical signs of their death are they able to move on to the next world.
Things get weird, even for Eddie, when at the scene of the triple homicide the young girl refuses to leave even after Eddie’s finished cleaning. Not only does she refuse to leave, she reveals to Eddie a piece of evidence the police missed, and makes him promise to “make the catch.” Eddie tries to ignore the situation, but when it happens again at the Chinatown club he knows he must act, and in doing so is forced to confront the very trauma from his past which bestowed his gift upon him.
Rudy Yuly has created something very special in Sparkle, a book which works on several different levels. First and foremost, this story is about relationships: brother to brother, partner to partner, man to woman, living to dead. It’s about what ties people to one another–be it love or loyalty or obligation–and what happens when events occur which stress those ties that bind. Joe wants to be a good brother, knows Eddie needs him, but still can’t help but resent him a little for putting Joe in a situation where he can’t lead a normal life because of Eddie’s condition. And though to the outside world it’s Joe who’s taking care of Eddie, endearingly, from Eddie’s perspective it’s very much the opposite:
It was tough on Eddie. He had to take care of Joe all the time, walking him through rituals he should be totally comfortable with. Joe couldn’t seem to get it, always trying to change stuff that needed to stay the same, like last night. When it really was time for something to change–like today–Joe would hang on to it with all his might.
Yuly exquisitely captures the frustration and awkwardness the brothers feel trying to deal with one another, as well as that which they both encounter while interacting with the women in their lives: Joe with a waitress at his favorite bar whom he’s desperately attracted to, Eddie with the worker at the zoo who takes him on a tour every Saturday as part of his rigid routine. Having dealt mostly with only each other for decades, their social skills–though for very different reasons–are highly suspect, and painfully realistically portrayed by Yuly.
The book also unfurls two different mysteries over the course of the story, that of who killed the victims at the two cleanup sites, as well as what exactly happened to Joe and Eddie when they were kids that caused Eddie to retreat into his private world. Yuly doles out clues to the killer’s identity and motives, and flashbacks to that fateful day in the boys’ lives, at just the right pace, slowly and confidently weaving all the treads together to create a complete tapestry. Yuly even manages to throw in a little curve at the end, one which only adds to the book’s overall reflection on relationships and the impact death can have on the living.
Released independently last year, Sparkle may well have slipped past under your radar, but this offbeat, lovingly written work is one I highly recommend you pick up. I may have missed it in 2012, but Sparkle has declared itself ready to fight for a spot on my Top 10 of 2013 list, that’s for sure....more
The 23 stories in Seamus Scanlon's collection As Close As You'll Ever Be are loosely interwoven snapshots of the life of Irishman James "Victor" McGowThe 23 stories in Seamus Scanlon's collection As Close As You'll Ever Be are loosely interwoven snapshots of the life of Irishman James "Victor" McGowan. From enthusiastic and wide-eyed boy to world-weary and jaded middle-aged man, the stories vividly evoke a life shaped by the unique social and political conditions found in Ireland during The Troubles.
The young boy's obsession with jumping from heights and falling detailed in "Free-fall" takes on an interesting subtext given the backdrop of his childhood. Be it launching himself from atop his wardrobe to his bed or leaping headlong over the banister at the top of the stairs in the family's home to a makeshift landing pad on the floor below, are the acts merely examples of a young boy's natural energy, or do they reflect the deeper pathology of a person driven to seek the adrenaline rush derived from being in dangerous, fight or flight situations?
"Infected" shows how a fatherless twelve-year-old can be mislead into finding purpose and guidance in the flashy uniforms and military organization of the Aryan Youth, while "Drive This" and "Listen Here to Me" find a teenager willing to unleash lethal judgment on those perceived to have wronged him or his family, even if the person on the receiving end of the young man's vengeance is family. And "Collecting" and "No Exceptions" are stark examples of the casual violence McGowan graduates to as a man working with the IRA.
Uniformly dark and undeniably noir, the writing in As Close As You'll Ever Be nevertheless has a poetic beauty to it in spite of the bleakness and (often graphic) violence depicted. That some of the most powerful stories in the collection are the shortest is a reflection of the power of Scanlon's prose. "Teenage Sniper" is a hauntingly beautiful juxtaposition of two lights fading, that of a day and of a life, which barely clocks in at a full page, while "Another One" compresses the weariness of a lifetime of violence and anger into four pages that will have both your corpus and conscience aching in sympathy.
Those are merely two examples of a truth you will find from cover to cover in As Close As You'll Ever Be; Seamus Scanlon is an author who clearly understands that with words, as with bullets, it's their placement that really matters, not the volume fired off. And Scanlon always hits his target. ...more
Her skin parts like wet silk under a razor, and even with a gaping hole in her face, I think she’s quite beautiful.
That disturbing yet eloquent line oHer skin parts like wet silk under a razor, and even with a gaping hole in her face, I think she’s quite beautiful.
That disturbing yet eloquent line opens “His Footsteps are Made of Soot,” one of my favorite stories in Nik Korpon’s recently released collection Bar Scars. The nine stories which form the collection clock in collectively at around 80 pages, and every one of them has clearly been crafted with the utmost care. As with any collection, however, there were a few that particularly stood out to me.
“Alex and the Music Box” finds a guy sneaking back into his ex-girlfriend’s apartment to retrieve the music box he’d given her. But instead of getting in and out with surgical precision, he lingers a bit too long and finds himself trapped when his ex returns from a night out at the bars…and she’s not alone.
The tension in this one is nearly unbearable, as Korpon paints his lead into a corner – or under a bed as the case may be – leaving both the poor guy and the reader to wonder how he’s getting out without getting caught. This being a Korpon story, however, we quickly realize that under the bed was probably the best place for the burglar boyfriend to be, as things go from awkward to alarming upon his emergence from hiding.
“His Footsteps are Made of Soot” is the story I think perhaps best captures the mixture of grit and eloquence which makes Korpon’s writing so intoxicating. The story’s lead works as the assistant to an off the books surgeon who performs procedures in his less than sterile basement operating theater. I mean, one should seriously rethink their desire for cheap elective surgery when their doctor works with such sophisticated equipment as filet knives and tongs, a corkscrew and melon baller, fishing line and a nitrous oxide tank covered in clowns.
But as the story unfolds we learn that when not at work helping fix the (perceived) problems of strangers, the narrator spends his time at home trying to mend his mother, a woman both mentally and physically worn down by time, and a broken heart. Day after day, night after night the dutiful son is forced to relive memories of a man he remembers very differently than his mother does, a man whose faults he’s not willing to overlook or forgive. And when he thinks he’ll break if he has to carry – literally or figuratively – the burden of his mother any longer, he finally understands why people are willing to roll the dice to have the basement surgeon excise their problems. The decision he makes, and the final paragraph of this one, hit like an iron fist in a velvet glove.
“This Will All End Well” is not easily summarized, in large part because it constantly keeps the reader off balance and summarizing it would ruin some of the changes of direction that occur. There are only three characters involved, two men and one woman, but just what their relationships are to one another subtly shifts as events unfold. The tables don’t just turn, they spin like a Lazy Susan, forcing readers to continuously reassess their perceptions of victim/victimizer and weak/strong. The question of loyalty – to whom is it owed and at what cost – is also explored. And, for those who believe in the concept, there’s also a hint of karma coming full circle for one of the characters.
All that makes for a somewhat cryptic review I know, but the story deserves to be read fresh, with no foreknowledge of the actual plot. Rest assured that ultimately “This Will All End Well” is a wonderfully complex and satisfying story, one which allows readers to take away different feelings and conclusions depending on the individual perspective from which it is approached. Yet no matter what you take away from it this is noir, so despite the title you just know things don’t really end well.
Korpon’s Baltimore is not a particularly pretty place, but even in its darkest corners his characters’ humanity always shines through. ...more
The characters in Allen’s stories don’t just skirt the line of decency and civility, they treat it as the starting line for a race into the dark and pThe characters in Allen’s stories don’t just skirt the line of decency and civility, they treat it as the starting line for a race into the dark and profane, the surreal and disturbing.
The book’s namesake story, “Back Roads and Frontal Lobes,” manages to combine all of the above in one massive wallop. Temple Hannigan isn’t quite sure where he’s going, he just knows he can’t get there fast enough. As he drives the highway one night trying to outrun the memory of a cheating wife and a man brutally beaten to death, Temple finds himself taking the exit for Death City. The disturbing things that await him there are eclipsed only by the massive swerve ending Allen serves up.
“Not Over Easy” is a truly odd duck of a story, which I mean in a good way, one involving the last days of a dying man… or is he? Though afflicted with a seemingly never-ending nosebleed and eager to tell everyone whose path he crosses that he’s dying, the reader is never quite sure whether the story’s lead is actually dying, or whether the affliction from which he suffers is more of the mental variety. Flashbacks to disturbing events from the man’s youth only underscore the uncertainty. One thing is for sure, you’ll never look at the runny yoke of your eggs over easy quite the same way again, I assure you.
“Devil and Dairy Cow” finds an enchanting, free-spirited young girl named Jersey – nicknamed the Jersey Devil because of her legendary marker fights with classmates – spinning an almost magical spell over her elementary school peers, much to the consternation of one particular teacher. Things come to an interesting head one day while the children play in the rain at recess, a day after which no one present will ever be quite the same again.
The post- apocalyptic “Praying” is set in a world reeling from the near-extinction of humanity. Though no one’s entirely sure, it’s taken as truth that the virus that ravaged the population somehow sprang from the insects. Unfortunately, the safest places for survivors to live are remote, rural areas, also the places where the insects particularly thrive. In what is clearly trademark Allen style, a twist ending on this one not only gives the title a clever dual meaning, it will have you going back for a reread to see what clues you may have missed.
Though just a sampling, those stories give you a pretty good feel for the incredible variety to be found in Back Roads & Frontal Lobes. Allen’s stories run the gamut: straight-up horror, hillbilly noir, fantasy, and the surreal are all represented, as well as a few which defy easy classification. However, there are common threads which run through the collection. Whether subtle or overt, there is a pervasive sense of isolation among the characters in Back Roads & Frontal Lobes. Even those surrounded by other people are still somehow apart, and many of them are driven or haunted by feelings of loneliness and despair.
Allen’s approach to the crafting of his tales also manages to create a distinct sense of place for each; even those which given their subject matter should feel like they “fit” in the same universe, don’t. The result is that a genuinely new and unique adventure awaits the reader with the beginning of each new story. And in keeping with the idea that people have a deep, dark desire for sex and violence, gore and horror, all are more than represented here.
Allen believes fiction should reflect even the ugliest truths about humanity, and you better be prepared to handle the truth if you tackle Back Roads & Frontal Lobes, because while Allen is telling tales, he ain’t telling no lies....more
When your new client looks like an angry NFL defensive end, complete with a nasty scar over one eye, yet the person you’re getting the bad juju from iWhen your new client looks like an angry NFL defensive end, complete with a nasty scar over one eye, yet the person you’re getting the bad juju from is the beautiful, petite woman with him who’s paying the bill, well, something’s definitely off. Unfortunately, Urbana, Illinois attorney Sam Roberts has no idea how off until he’s in way too deep.
Thomas, his client, has been arrested and charged with selling cocaine. The police seem to have him dead to rights, the sale having been caught on video during a sting. Thomas’s mysterious friend, Chloe, however, is willing to pay handsomely for Sam to do whatever it takes to make the charge go away. You’d think Thomas would be thrilled to have an enthusiastic advocate with a big bankroll backing him, but Sam can’t help but notice Thomas seems to be extremely jumpy around Chloe.
Determined to represent his client well and without external influence, Sam goes to meet with Thomas without Chloe around to see if there’s something Thomas isn’t telling him. Far from being happy to see Sam, Thomas is distraught over the visit, claiming Sam has sealed a fate for him worse than death. When Thomas is found gruesomely murdered shortly after Sam’s visit, minus his head and with Sam’s name written in blood at the scene, Sam finally begins to understand the depth of the mess he’s gotten into. At least he thought he did…until Thomas’s head shows up in his fridge.
Realizing he’s being set up, but not understanding why, Sam enlists a tech wiz friend to help him get to the bottom of things. Unfortunately for them both, before they get to the bottom they’ll be up to their eyes in nightmares about death that come true, crooked cops, and a diabolical pharmaceutical company conducting human experiments with a cocaine derivative based on Nazi science. Oh, and voodoo. Bad, bad voodoo.
I have to admit that going in I wasn’t quite sure exactly what to expect from author Scott Lerner’s debut, Cocaine Zombies. Given the resurgence of zombies in popular culture of late, and the scantily clad come-hither woman on the cover, I wondered if this was going to be some campy mix of drug dealers and a voodoo priestess. It’s not. Not even close. There are, in fact, no zombies in the book at all. Not in the shambling, eat your brains sense anyway. The zombies in Cocaine Zomnies are the people who become addicted to the voodoo-tinged hybrid cocaine being cooked up by a pharmaceutical company with roots that go back to Nazi Germany. And though definitely a gorgeous woman at first blush, Chloe is not who she seems to be.
The physical embodiment of an ancient evil spirit, Chloe sees mankind as a pathetic species bent on self-destruction. No better now than when we first descended from the trees, Chloe thinks it only proper that man be punished for his relentlessly evil nature by being enslaved to the will of the spirits of the dark. Much to his dismay, Sam has, quite by accident, become the last line of defense for mankind.
Yes, far from being campy, Lerner treats the subject of voodoo seriously and knowledgeably. The roles played by the various spirits, or loa, are explained in the course of Sam’s quest to be rid of Chloe, and the voodoo ceremony in which he participates is disturbing precisely because of the matter-of-fact manner in which it’s presented. And though there are no brain-eating zombies in Cocaine Zombies, there are brains, as there is some fairly graphic violence in this book. It’s not used gratuitously or for shock value, however, but to underscore the horror and danger of the situation Sam finds himself in.
For his part, Sam is a character who is easy to root for. He’s smart (there are some great-accurate-legal scenes), funny without being sarcastic, brave without being reckless, and at the end of the day just wants to go back to his one-man law firm and resume his boring life. He’s gonna have to go through a lot to get there, however, and it’s a very entertaining journey. ...more
Though Wade Jackson has by far the best clearance rate of any detective in the Eugene, Oregon Police Department, he’s never worked a cold case before,Though Wade Jackson has by far the best clearance rate of any detective in the Eugene, Oregon Police Department, he’s never worked a cold case before, which is what he’s up against in Dying for Justice, the fifth book in author L.J. Sellers’s series featuring the detective.
A handyman who confessed to a double-murder eleven years prior retracts his statement, telling Jackson he was isolated, starved, and tortured for three days by detectives before finally breaking down and confessing just to make it all stop. The handyman is dying of cancer and has nothing to gain by lying, and even shows Jackson the scars from where he was burned with cigarettes.
Investigating an eleven-year-old cold case is hard. Investigating one that apparently resulted in the conviction of the wrong man based on police misconduct is a minefield. Oh, and the victims? They were Jackson’s parents. This is going to get bumpy.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s partner/protégé, Detective Lara Evans, has a cold case of her own. Gina Stahl has been in a coma for two years, one everyone thought was the result of an intentional overdose. When Gina suddenly awakens, however, she declares that she was in fact attacked in her apartment and that the overdose must have been administered by her attacker. Further, though he was wearing a mask Gina is confident her attacker was her ex-husband, who just happens to be a cop… a cop Gina was on the verge of exposing for abusing his authority, actually. Did I mention things were going to get bumpy?
Yesterday in her guest post, L.J. explored the use of the term “thriller” in labeling fiction, wondering where the line was which separates thrillers from mysteries. The truth is the line is a slippery one, but if ever there was a book that firmly had one foot each planted in both the thriller and mystery categories it’s Dying for Justice. Though the cases Jackson and Evans are investigating are long since cold and the perpetrators unknown, things heat up when Jackson and Evans begin experiencing blowback and even physical attacks in efforts to warn them off their investigations. And when a new body gets added to the mix, things become as high stakes as they get.
Told in chapters which alternate point of view between Jackson and Evans, Dying for Justice unfolds in investigative lines which crisscross and interweave like the strands of a spiderweb, which is fitting, as the plot Sellers has constructed is complex and beautiful, sticky and deadly. You don’t have to have read the previous entries in the series to enjoy Dying for Justice, which is actually something of a coming-out party for Evans, who until now had been a more minor character, but I’m confident once you get a taste of what Sellers is serving up you’ll want to go back for more. ...more
Who ever thought killing two girls would be less of a cock-up than keeping one alive? – Lars
Most people would certainly think killing two people wouldWho ever thought killing two girls would be less of a cock-up than keeping one alive? – Lars
Most people would certainly think killing two people would cause significantly more problems than not killing one. Then again, most people aren’t 47-year-old mob hitman Lars. Killing’s what he does, and he’s damn good at it. Well, he was until recently anyway.
For the past seventeen years he’s been on the trail of Mitchell “Mitch the Snitch” Kenney, an accountant who turned on Lars’s employer, Nikki Senior, resulting in half a dozen members of “the family” going to prison. Mitch got the Witness Protection treatment from the feds, and at Nikki Senior’s behest Lars has been patiently hunting Mitch down ever since.
Time’s a bastard, however, and both Lars and Nikki Senior are getting old. This doesn’t cause too much grief for Lars, who’s settled into a life of isolation, yoga, and listening to 70′s hard rock while moving throughout the Southwest in his quest to find Mitch.
Nikki Senior’s having more of an issue, specifically with his issue, Nikki Junior. Seems Junior’s ready to take over the family business, and he’s not keen to wait until the old man actually shuffles off this mortal coil. Junior’s making a power-play, and one of his first orders of business is to tie up loose ends…namely, “Mitch the Snitch” and Lars. Junior thinks Lars is a relic, and decides the best way to kill off the old blood is with new; enter hotshot up-and-comer wannabe hitman Trent.
Lars reluctantly accepts the “hand off” of the Mitch assignment to Trent, figuring he’ll babysit the disrespectful punk for a week – not like the kid’s gonna actually find Mitch – and then walk away, retire from the business. Except Trent does come through with a location for Mitch, and Lars realizes he no longer has the desire to kill the guy. Trent’s gung-ho to get the job done, and things go spectacularly sideways when the hitters realize Mitch has a teenage daughter no one seemed to know about. Suddenly Lars finds himself at odds with the family and on the run with a sixteen-year-old wise beyond her years.
In the wrong hands this story could have been a cliché-ridden minefield. Author Eric Beetner, however, is incredibly adept at crafting characters who defy their expected roles. Lars is neither a washed-up has-been nor a stone cold killing machine, doesn’t have an addiction problem, isn’t instantly charmed by his young companion, and doesn’t immediately come up with a sure-fire plan to save the day. He does, however, draw on his twenty-seven years of experience, including some creative use of yoga, to keep one step ahead of the pack on their heels, and has a realistically awkward relationship with Mitch’s daughter, Shaine. Throughout, Shaine hits all the right notes while cycling through a mood carousel of grief, anger, excitement, boredom, and good old fashioned cranky teenager.
There’s no question that Lars and Shaine are in very real danger and blood flows liberally in The Devil Doesn’t Want Me, but there’s also a significant vein of intelligent, sarcastic humor that runs through the book as well. The initial meeting between Lars and Trent is a visual made for the screen — Lars is less than impressed with Trent’s mirrored shades, nose ring, baggy jeans, and rockstar jewelry assortment — and Trent’s ambition and attitude far outweigh his experience and competence, leading to some amusing, if painful, on the job learning.
And despite the fast paced action as the story unfolds in a path of death and destruction from New Mexico to Las Vegas to Los Angeles, at its core The Devil Doesn’t Want Me is a story about relationships and how time and age affects them. Lars and Nikki Senior are from a generation where things like honor, respect and a code of behavior meant something, whereas young guns Trent and Nikki Junior are all about flash over substance and instant, materialistic gratification. It makes for a deadly clash of philosophy. The age gap is also apparent in Lars’s fumbling interactions sixteen-year-old Shaine, his devotion to the “vintage” sounds of bands like AC/DC, Van Halen (the good stuff, none of that Van Hagar crap), Led Zeppelin, and his inability to use a smart phone.
It all adds up to an incredibly enjoyable story that has more depth than your typical hitman/mob shoot-em-up. I certainly hope Beetner has plans to revisit the characters in The Devil Doesn’t Want Me, because Lars makes an extremely appealing lead and I’d love to follow the “retired” hitman on a few more adventures. ...more
The mind is a powerful thing. It can lead people to accomplish tremendous things, both admirable and abominable. To do either, however, requires driveThe mind is a powerful thing. It can lead people to accomplish tremendous things, both admirable and abominable. To do either, however, requires drive and focus. So what happens when you suddenly realize you’re consumed by a focus you have no memory of setting your mind to, something you are compelled to accomplish without understanding why?
That’s the situation facing three individuals in Confabulation. Once a happily married man and productive employee, Henry Adamson has become obsessed with the idea that his wife is in mortal danger. He can’t remember why he thinks this, but with every fiber of his being he knows it to be true.
Simon Klein and Carolyn Hansford are also having strange experiences. Simon is experiencing bizarre episodes of vision loss, while Carolyn is suddenly in possession of an amazing wealth of information she’s been able to leverage for financial gain, information she has no memory of obtaining.
On the surface the three seemingly have nothing in common, neither in relation to one another nor in the events they are experiencing. That is until they are each contacted by someone claiming to know what’s happening to them, someone who offers up fantastic tales of government conspiracies and a shadow organization manipulating psychic abilities. When events conspire to bring the three together they must figure out whom to believe, but how can you trust a stranger when you’re not even sure you can trust your own mind?
Confabulation is an uncomfortable read. How can it not be when the premise is that your own mind is playing tricks on you, tricks so vivid you’re convinced they’re real. That concept gets even more disturbing when the possibility arises that your mind is being externally manipulated by means and for reasons you don’t understand, and author Ronald Thomas (actually the pen name of R. Thomas Brown) does a great job conveying the conflicting emotions of determination and panic which overwhelm the characters. The events with Henry are particularly claustrophobic, as his determination to protect his wife from the attack he knows is imminent escalates to the point he abandons his job in order to spy on her 24/7 in effort to be constantly vigilant against the dangers he’s convinced are everywhere around her. It’s a painful look at a mind descending into madness.
If you’re a fan of shadow organizations and/or conspiracy theories, Confabulation offers them up in spades. Add to that an interesting exploration of the power of the mind, infused with a nice twist that psychic ability doesn’t merely exist but that it’s able to be remotely manipulated, and you more than have the makings for some serious psychological suspense. ...more