Review of ‘Iron Curtain Killers’

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When the Soviet Union was founded in 1922, its founders described it as a ‘socialist paradise’, free of the decadent western crimes, which, like everything else Stalin and his ilk did, was a big lie. Russia and the Soviet Union have, for instance, had serial killers since even before there was a Soviet Union, and the police there struggle to find and capture them just as much as their counterparts in the West, often under the yoke of official denial of their existence.

Iron Curtain Killers by Michael Newton and RJ Parker is a detailed account of 26 serial murder cases ranging from 1960 to the 21st century, including one case that remains unsolved to this day. This book is not for the squeamish, but it shines new light on a region that was for long under the shadow of the Iron Curtain.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The American Sweeney Todd’

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In the mid-1930s, the Cleveland, Ohio was the scene of some of the grisliest murders in American history. The dismembered bodies of prostitutes and hobos were fund around the city, but mostly concentrated in the areas populated mainly by the homeless. Eliot Ness, famous for his capture of Al Capone in Chicago, had been brought in to clean up the city’s corrupt police force, and became consumed by this case.

The killer was never publicly identified, despite the suspicion of some that it was Dr. Frank Sweeney, a man who had clawed his way out of poverty and become a skilled and wealthy surgeon.

The American Sweeney Todd: Eliot Ness’s Toughest Case by Marilyn Bardsley is a fictionalized account of these crimes, based on interviews with the families of Ness and Sweeney, police who investigated the murders, and the few documents still in existence. She shows that Ness knew Sweeney’s identity and guilt, but kept it hidden for more than four decades, for a variety of unknown reasons—some political—and, that Sweeney ended his life sealed in a mental institution, from which he continued to taunt Ness.

This book reads like the fine fiction it is, but is even more chilling given that it’s based on fact. The author, who is the best-selling author of After Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, shows that she richly deserves kudos as one of the best writers of fact-based crime books in America today.

I give this book five stars.

Review of ‘CXVI: The Beginning of the End’

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An assumed natural death, accidents, and an apparent suicide; the victims seemingly not related, and widely separated geographically, begin to take on ominous undertones when Detective Superintendent Greg Woods, aided by a newly assigned Detective Sergeant Maria Barnes team up and notice an odd similarity—in each case, Roman numerals are found on or near the victims. One of the accident victims is a police colleague, with no apparent connection at first to any of the other victims. Through exemplary detective work, though, Woods and Barnes discover that the victims are, in fact, related, and the mysterious killer has connections to Britain’s SIS.

CXVI: The Beginning of the End by Angie Smith is a chilling crime thriller that takes the reader deep into the labyrinth of spying and government corruption, threatening their lives in the process. At the same time, Woods has to deal with his own personality quirks, which make it difficult for him to work with people who don’t meet his exacting standards, and Barnes must overcome her own baggage, including a secret from her past that could threaten the growing rapport between her and her boss, Woods.

A fast-paced and gripping thriller in the quintessential British style, the author paints sometimes overly detailed—but, in the end, necessary, pictures of the characters as the reader is sucked into the murky world of politics, secret intelligence, and human perfidy. In a few places, more background detail than is absolutely necessary is provided, thereby slowing the pace of a story that is compelling in the view it gives of the lengths some people will go to in the name of national security.

You will, however, be drawn to the characters, in particular the two main protagonists, as they use skill, determination, and sometimes, sheer luck, to elude the powerful forces that are set out to block—or kill—them, while at the same time, relentlessly trying to fulfill their oath to uphold the law.

There are enough clues given that a sharp-eyed reader, if paying careful attention, will see where it’s going. Or, think they have. The ending, a perfect cliffhanger, will leave you gasping—I promise you, you won’t have seen it coming. It’ll leave you wanting to read the second book in this trilogy, and that’s an iron-clad guarantee.

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for my review, and, even though it has a few issues of description and narrative not uncommon in first novels, I give it four stars without a heartbeat of hesitation.

Review of ‘Time on Target’

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Former 5th SF Group commando, now Homeland Security special agent Dan Brandt is living on borrowed time. Severely injured in Afghanistan, his body, as finely tuned as it is, is slowly shutting down, and he knows it. He tries to keep this from his fiancée Marina, but when he is sent on one last mission, his secret becomes hard to keep. Sent to locate and identify Diego Sandoval, a Mexican drug lord who is using Latino-American teens in his operation, Brandt encounters a face from his past, Carlos Gomez, Jr., the son of a former comrade, forcing both him and Carlos to have to fight for their lives.

Time on Target by Don Marnock is a taut thriller that will keep your adrenalin pumping and your pulse racing from page one. Gritty dialogue and authentic background puts Marnock’s work in a class by itself. The characters are fully-fleshed with warts and all, and the action is described in blunt, no-nonsense terms. It has everything, from the evil doings of vicious drug dealers to the behind the scenes maneuvering and betrayal of ambitious bureaucrats. Not a story for the faint of heart or sensitive soul, but I guarantee you that when you start reading, you will not be able to put it down until you’ve reached the final page.

Review of ‘Stand by Your Man’ by Bobby Hutchinson

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Coal-miner’s daughter, Bobby Hutchinson, is normally a writer of romances, but it’s probably inevitable she’d write a book called Stand By Your Man. Only, this is not a romance by any stretch of the imagination. Oh, it has a lot of romance, but this is a rip-roaring, gas-passing mystery novel that will have you checking your underwear for railroad tracks for sure.

Maddie Bertusso is a private investigator in Seattle. She and her partner Hannah do all kinds of cases, from checking on straying spouses to purse snatching. When Maddie’s sister Francine gets hooked up with a convicted felon, Sebastian Fisher, though, the detecting schtick becomes intensely personal for Maddie. It becomes moreso, and quite complicated, when Maddie meets Sebastian’s brother Finn and his adorable daughter Zoe.

I haven’t read any of Hutchinson’s romance novels, but if they have the snappy dialogue, spot-on characterizations, and no-frills narrative of Stand By Your Man, she just might convert me to the genre. In the meantime, this is a mystery novel that stands in a class of its own. I got a free review copy of SBYM, but I’m putting the sequels on my to-buy list. It was a bit choppy in places, but then again, that fit the story which was about the ups and downs of romance, family relations, and a whole boatload of other stuff that our heroine had to contend with. You’ll like the ending – because it’s not the normal mystery novel ending, and I’ll say no more so as not to spoil it for you.

Kudos to Hutchinson for this five-star story!


Review: “Serial Date” by D.V. Berkom

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How to Be a Serial Killer

Leine Basso has left her old life as a government assassin behind, and moved from L.A. to Seattle to start anew. When the contestants on the reality TV show “Serial Date” begin to become victims of a cannibalistic serial killer, Leine is hired to provide on-set security. Returning to L.A., she finds herself in the middle of gritty, bloody action, which soars to new heights when her estranged daughter returns and is kidnapped by the killer, who begins making demands on Leine that plunge her right back into the life she’s tried to leave behind.

In Serial Date, author D. V. Berkom exposes the dark underbelly of society, from the unreal make believe world of reality TV to sordid politics, and paints a picture in such vivid colors and bold strokes you feel you’re there. Crisp, crackling dialogue and characters you have no problem believing in, are the hallmarks of Berkom’s story, and the action, which is non-stop from start to finish, will have you on the edge of your chair, panting for more.

This is mystery as mystery should be – intricate, non-linear plot with more twists than a bag of pretzels, a lead character you can identify with, warts and all, and a satisfying conclusion that, if you’ve read carefully, will surprise you as you slap your forehead and say, “why didn’t I see that coming?”

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