Review of ‘Blood Orchids’

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Leilani Texeira is a cop in Hilo, Hawaii. When she and her partner, Pono, while on a routine vandalism call, find two drowned girls, she’s pitched headlong into a case that reaches far beyond the small town in which she lives. Lei knows one of the victims, and feels compelled to step out of her routine patrol cop role and help investigate the death. The lead detective, Michael Stevens, a former LA cop with secrets of his own, is at first reluctant to accept her help, but with few other resources at his disposal is forced to take her on – a relationship that quickly becomes personal.

Blood Orchids by Toby Neal, which I received a free copy of in exchange for my review, is a chilling tale of evil deeds in a small Hawaiian town, told in a style that will keep you glued to the page from start to finish. Filled with suspense and colorful descriptions of aspects of our 50th state that will be unfamiliar to mainlanders, Blood Orchids spins a tale of crime and secret emotions that sets a new standard for the mystery/thriller genre. It starts with action that gets even tenser when Lei becomes the killer’s next target. The deeper she delves into the case, the more the threads of her past become interlaced with current events. She doesn’t know who she can trust – including herself.

In this tale, Neal demonstrates her mastery of the genre, and her understanding of the depths of the human psyche. A story well worth reading – that will keep you guessing from beginning to end, and make you salivate in anticipation of Lei’s next adventure. I give Blood Orchids four stars.

Review of ‘Deadline’

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Jefferson Morgan, after working for the Chicago Tribune for 18 years, returns to his hometown of Winchester, Wyoming and takes over the Bullet, Winchester’s town newspaper. Faced with an inability to meet deadlines or make the payments for the newspaper, he meets Neeley Gilmartin, a man who has just been paroled after spending 50 years behind bars for a killing that he confessed to, but is now claiming that he didn’t do. Gilmartin asks Morgan to prove his innocence, plunging him into a bubbling, putrid mess of the past, and threatening his existence.

The seamy underbelly of a small town comes vividly to life in Ron Franscell’s Deadline, with a cast of characters so alive you can smell the sweat of their underarms. Franscell weaves an eerie, fascinating tale of the tangled relationships that grew out of the murder of a child that, if Gilmartin’s claim of innocence is right, has never been solved, and continues to cast a cloud over Winchester.

I received a free review copy of Deadline, and was enthralled from opening lines, and unable to stop reading until I reached the end. Franscell has written a book that defies categorization – genre hardly matters when you’re reading what is just a darn good story.

A hands down five star book!

Review of ‘Offside Trap’

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Private investigator Miami Jones is asked by an old friend, the athletic director at a college in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to look into the case of a student athlete who suffered a drug overdose, it’s at first just a way to get at the facts to keep the college president from tanking the school’s sports program. The more Jones digs into the case, though, the more worms come crawling from under every stone that he turns over.

Offside Trap by A.J. Stewart is a Florida-based mystery in the Elmore Leonard tradition, with action coming at you at every turn. It has political corruption, big-time drug dealing, and enough the kind of violence that only the Sunshine State can provide.

I received a free review copy of this novel, and spent an interesting rainy morning reading – and, couldn’t put it down. It had a couple of places early on where the dialogue was confusing – couldn’t tell who was talking without reading it three times – but that didn’t keep it from being a great read. Looking forward to more Miami Jones’ exploits.

Stewart gets four stars for this one.

Review of ‘I Kill Rich People’

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When four rich Jewish residents of Nassau County, New York are gunned down at a birthday party, law enforcement agencies immediately fear terrorist activity. But, when other rich people, of all genders, religions, and ethnicities, start becoming victims of the mysterious sniper, they realize they have something far more dangerous on their hands – a motivated loner with a mission.

The killer, only identified near the end of the book, is shown to us through his first person thoughts and actions, and is the book’s main character. NYPD officer Owen Cullen, who happens to live in Nassau County where the first killings occur, is a co-main protagonist – a sort of plain Joe who is torn between his sense of duty and obligations to his family.

Action is non-stop and nail-biting as the NYPD and FBI race to stop the killer, the 00.1% worry about who’ll be next, and the media (some of it) turns the events into a circus.

I received a free copy of I Kill Rich People by Mike Bogin for review. With the exception of a few grammatical gaffes, typos, and formatting glitches, it is a well-written thriller that addresses profound issues. The author does a good job of keeping the reader guessing, and the characters – even the killer who is not identified until very late in the book – are full dimensioned people with whom many of us can readily identify. Although I didn’t think it necessary, the author includes some discussion questions at the end of the book that are, I believe, intended to make readers think more deeply about the issues raised in the story.

Issues aside, a good read that I highly recommend for thriller fans. Despite the grammar problems, I’m giving it four stars.

Review of ‘Mind Game’

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If you’ve read and liked Bob Rueff’s End Game, you’ll like the sequel, Mind Game. Minneapolis cop Hank Hankensen is at it again, this time trying to nab a killer who leaves his victims at famous Minneapolis landmarks. Darcy Austin, a main character in the first book of the series, appears again – the perpetual damsel in distress it seems.

Tight dialogue and effusive descriptions mark Rueff’s work, but even more interesting for mystery fans, he takes the reader inside the killer’s mind. While not quite as exciting as the first – or maybe I was just jaded by the first one – it will still keep you up and turning pages.

I received a free copy for review, and loved it. Like the guys in the old PGA ad that ran some time ago on TV – this guy knows what he’s doing. A highly recommended read. I give it four stars – I’d like to have given it five, but since it’s a sequel, I don’t think it needed as much of the background information Rueff included. Of course, I stayed up late reading it, so there.

Review of ‘Past Pretense’

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Private investigator Patricia Delaney is hired by Gigi Lafferty to take on an unusual case – Lafferty, after having called Delaney and asking her to investigate her husband to see if he’s cheating, arrives late for their appointment and announces that she actually wants herself investigated. An expert in using the computer to ferret out information, Delaney reluctantly takes the case. She finds nothing unusual, but when she finds Lafferty murdered at her house, she learns that her client is actually an acquaintance from her past – Loretta King, a former exotic dancer at a club where Delaney had worked as a dancer. Unfortunately, the police suspect her as the killer, and she now has to prove her own innocence.

Past Pretense by Sharon Short is a spellbinding tale of murder, intrigue, and secrets that I received a free copy of in exchange for an unbiased review. I found myself totally captivated from page one, and couldn’t put it down until the end. Short is a master at weaving a tale of suspense, with rich description of people and places that draws the reader into the world she’s created. Her use of the third person enables us to see everything that’s going on, but she skillfully plants clues that force the reader to pay careful attention. I found myself rooting for Delaney from the outset, captivated by her merging of computer skills with good, old-fashioned gumshoe work, as she sets about not only solving Lafferty’s murder, but as she delves into her own past to solve an old crime that she’d long since forgotten.

Past Pretense sets a new standard for the genre, and I look forward to Short’s next offering. While five-stars is the maximum one can give – I’d like to be sneaky and give this one six.

Review of ‘Simon Says: Perdition Games’

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When a wealthy young girl, Amanda Reid, disappears, her mother Estelle seems not to care, only reporting it to the police long after the incident. When the pressure mounts, though, Estelle is forced to hire private detective Sam McNamara to look for Amanda. McNamara soon finds herself immersed, not only in a dangerous religious cult led by a zealot, Father Mussani, but also in the midst of the Reid family’s shady past – a past that Estelle wants to keep buried.

Simon Says: Perdition Games by L.E. Fraser is a chilling book that takes us deep into the dark recesses of twisted and tortured minds, unravelling dirty secrets like a kitten playing with a ball of twine. With chapters alternating from the point of view of an astonishing list of characters, it’s easy to get confused, but Fraser does a good job of wrapping up loose ends, making it worth the effort.

Colorful settings – although some of the colors are dismal and dreary – and compelling characterizations mark this as a must-read for the summer.

A solid four stars.

Review of ‘The Courage to Kill’

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Janice Parrish is a 27-year-old with a horrible secret. As a child, she was sexually molested by her father, according to her therapist. When her father is murdered, she remembers being at his house around the time of the incident, but her memory is otherwise blank. She is indicted, but crime reporter Ray Myers thinks a mistake has been made and he seeks the truth. His search, however, puts both him and Janice in danger from a mysterious psychopath who has just started a killing spree.

The reader is kept on tenterhooks for a good part of the book, trying to figure out who did what to whom. Is Parrish really suffering from recalled memories, or is she a manipulative killer? Or, is she being manipulated? In the end, all of these questions are answered, but not before you’re taken on a serpentine ride through the dark recesses of twisted minds.

The Courage to Kill by Ron Argo is a twisted tale of suspense and psychological manipulation that will give you chills. I received a free copy in exchange for my review. This is a story that once you start reading is hard to put down.

Argo uses prose like some of the old noire writers. In any other story it would be overblown, but in this case it fits perfectly.

Review of ‘Dark Fantasy’

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If you’ve ever read and enjoyed Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer stories from the old days of pulp mysteries, you’re sure to enjoy Dark Fantasy by David H. Fears. I just finished reading a free review copy, and couldn’t put it down until it was done. I even went back and re-read a few chapters – just for the hell of it.

Mike D’Angelo, aka Mike Angel, is a private detective in the mold of Mike Hammer, but with a few distinctive differences. For one, he has a partner, former NYPD detective Rick Anthony, an erudite, girl-chaser who serves as the contemplative counterpoint to D’Angelo’s tendency to kick in doors and crack heads. Their office manager, and D’Angelo’s love interest is the irrepressible Molly, who in her own way is as tough as nails, as sweet as honey, and is someone you probably want to think twice about getting cross-wise of.

When Rick gets a call from a strange woman informing that one of the Avery Twins – beautiful fashion models – can be found dead in a Portland apartment, the two private detectives find themselves in the middle of one of their stickiest cases. It gets even stickier when the model agency retains them to work alongside the cops in investigating the murder – and, the cops would prefer they kept their noses elsewhere.

Dark Fantasy has everything you’d expect to find in a hard-boiled, gritty story about no-compromise PIs who just want to see justice done for the little guy. Dialogue that is pure 1960s schmaltz, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, girl-chasing, and bad guys who’d just as soon stick a shiv in your gut as say hello. After reading this story, you might think twice before visiting Portland, Oregon; or at least make sure to update your insurance policy before you go. Non-stop action, even when they’re doing nothing but conversing, it’ll keep you thumbing pages to see what happens next – welcome back to the world of mystery as conceived by the masters of yore.

Review of ‘Sierra Girls’ by Richard Ewald

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Twelve-year-old Michelle Quinn is home alone. She’s angry with herself because of a fight with her dad, Gabriel, a pilot, over his not taking her on a trip to Lake Tahoe. She gets a visit from Roper Lund, a graduate student studying to become a guidance counselor, telling her that her father’s plane has crashed near Tahoe, and he’s come to take her there. Michelle wakes up a prisoner in Lund’s dungeon of death.

In the meantime, Gabriel, when he learns of his daughter’s abduction sets out to find her. He has to contend, though, with being a prime suspect himself.

This is actually two stories that proceed along parallel lines until; on the one hand we have Gabriel’s desperate efforts to find his daughter; on the other, Michelle’s decision to try and save herself after she discovers that she’s not the first occupant of the dungeon.

Sierra Girls by Richard Ewald is an edge-of-the-chair thriller/mystery that, with the exception of a few typos, has all the elements of a best-seller. The reader anxiously roots for Gabriel as he discovers just how much danger his daughter is in, and that the clock is ticking as he seeks to find and rescue her. I haven’t been twelve years old for a long time, but Ewald got me credibly into the mind of not only a twelve-year-old, but a girl at that. The parallel stories whiz along like twin roller coasters, until they finally intersect in an explosive finale that will leave you both breathless and relieved.

I received a free review copy of this book, which I predict will rise quickly in the ranks of the genre, marking Richard Ewald as an author to watch.


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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