Review of ‘The Water’s Fine’

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Excerpt from The Water’s Fine
“Polo likes to tell stories about the Sea of Cortez. His favorite is about El Lavadero, Las Animas. Las
Animas is named after the church bells which ring to summon the lost souls, and El Lavadero means the
washing machine. The dive site is oftn referred to as the washing machine of lost souls.
Before we dove at El Lavadero one morning, I overheard Polo telling Bertie that the thousands of silver
jacks schooling in the water are the lost souls. She twisted her ring and looked spooked while our group
waited its turn to descend at the site. I thought maybe she wouldn’t come, but she did. Afterwards, she
told me that when she saw the mass of circling jacks and thought of them as lost souls, she felt more sad
than scared. I knew what she meant. I always say a prayer when I see the swirling fish, the sun glinting
on their silver scales
My Review

Catalina Rodriguez and Bertie Clark have nothing in common but a love of scuba diving when they meet on the Calypso for a diving trip in the Sea of Cortez, but a tragedy during the trip, when another member of the party, Gordon Baker, on the trip with his wife and two daughters, dies during their last dive. As the dive master, Catalina feels responsible for his death, even though she learns later that he was suffering from a terminal disease, and chose to die. A certified rescue diver, Bertie also feels a sense of guilt for not doing something to prevent the tragedy. The two women have bonded during the trip, and even after Catalina gives up diving and returns to her home in San Diego, they stay in touch by phone.

Shortly after returning home, Catalina begins to suffer a string of seemingly unrelated catastrophes, but attributes them at first to stress as she tries to cope with the Calypso incident. But Bertie thinks otherwise, and is determined to help her get to the bottom of what’s going on.

The Water’s Fine by Janice Coy is a subtle, but intriguing story that defies neat categorization. The author moves readers slowly through a chain of events that become more deadly with each occurrence, weaving a deft mystery that will keep the reader guessing until the startling climax. I was put off at first by the switch from first person point of view (Catalina) to second person (Bertie), but as I continued to read, I discovered that this only heightened the tension, as I tried to solve the mystery ahead of the author’s disclosure. I failed, and the author succeeded. The answer to Catalina’s problems came as a surprise—a delightful, and skillfully-done surprise.

I received an advance review copy of this book, and I recommend it highly, even if you’re not a mystery fan. A true page-turner, it will grab your attention and hold it until the end.

I give Coy four stars for an entertaining read.


Review of ‘Hush, Child’

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With his life in shambles, Judah Greer is an alcoholic who has no desire for sobriety. But, when his estranged daughter, Mara, reenters his life, he finds hope. Then, Mara becomes the 25th victim of a serial kidnapper, and Judah is determined to save her. With the help of Anna, a mysterious young girl who might or might not even exist, and an NYPD detective on her own vendetta, he sets out to redeem himself.

Hush, Child by David Halvorsen is a supernatural thriller that explores the dimensions of spirituality and the supernatural, addiction, and love, as Judah stumbles his way into the shadow world between reality and tortured dreams. Although the prose tends to the purple in many places, the pacing and occasional digressions into the characters’ backgrounds keeps the interest level high.

I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Lockdown’

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Ryan Lock, an ex-military cop with the British military, and his partner, retired Marine, Tyrone Johnson, work as a protective security detail for Meditech, a pharmaceutical/biotechnology firm that’s embroiled in a battle with animal rights activists. When the head of the animal rights group is gunned down on the front steps of Meditech immediately after brokering an agreement with the company’s CEO, Ryan and Tyrone find themselves engaged in a fight for their lives as threads of secret plots begin to unravel.

Lockdown by Sean Black is a fast-paced thriller, laced with lots of human drama, as Ryan first has to rescue the kidnapped son of an ex-Meditech scientist, and then finds himself up to his eyeballs in a conspiracy that threatens the lives of millions. Using his military skills, and the ability to cut through the emotional clutter to get the job done, Ryan faces off against the unscrupulous corporate structure that’s more concerned with the bottom line and public image than human lives and a terrorist who is willing to die to get revenge for her own suffering. The action starts on page one, and doesn’t let up until the explosive conclusion.

Enough here for the most avid thriller junkie. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘September Rain’

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After six years of incarceration, Angel Patel is preparing for a hearing to determine her fate. She must convince the panel that it was her one-time friend, now sworn enemy, Avery Campbell, who is actually the guilty party.

In September Rain by A.R. Rivera, the reader is given a look inside Angel’s tortured mind as she relives her relationship with Jake, the first person she has ever loved, and how Avery in a jealous rage killed him. Rivera’s deft touch with the language makes this a riveting read as she shows Angel’s reactions to her surroundings and her encounters with Avery in jail. So skillful is the author in the way she puts the story together, the ending will hit you like a haymaker thrown in the dark—I’m a fan of whodunits, but this ending caught me completely by surprise.

A book that will leave you breathless.  Rivera has outdone herself with this one – I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Opur’s Blade’

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To give her son something to do, Rayeline Parker sends her son, Owen, to the local golf course to take lessons. He turns out to be a natural, and gets nicknamed Opur by the pro, J. Dub, and the others old duffers at the course.

Opur’s Blade by James Ross is a combination suspense/mystery novel that follows Opur on his rise to golf stardom, and the physical and emotional turmoil he has to endure.

Well crafted, with just the right mix of pathos and humor, this book is perfect for a last summer day at the beach. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Dark Legion’

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Prince Saul Baz Sharmin, an Ubrain, has been a slave assigned duties as an apprentice executioner for a decade, until he meets Marcus, a Prylean, leader of a group of revolutionaries against the evil empire of King Solas. When Saul kills his master, the chief executioner Angus, and he and Marcus escape, instead of freedom, they find their troubles only beginning.

In the port town of Sagemont, in search of the Crown of Ubrain that will help him restore his brother to the throne and free his people from Solas’ clutches, Saul finds himself alternating between using the healing skills from his former life as a physician and having to apply his executioner’s talents on more than one occasion. To further complicate his life, he gets caught up with an enigmatic and angry young magician and ensnared by the demi-god, Malakai, who has his own agenda.

As complication piles atop complication, Saul finds himself fighting as much just to stay alive as to free his people.

I received a free copy of Dark Legion, book one in the Blood of Blood series by Paul Kleynhans, in exchange for my review.

The author masterfully keeps the action moving at an almost breakneck pace, while interspersing bits of rip-roaring humor. While the use of modern slang and profanity in the book is a bit strange at first, as you get to know the characters, it seems to be . . . well, in character. This left me looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Deadly Aim’

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Angel Delaney is back in her home town of Sunset Cove, Oregon, working for the police force—following essentially in her father’s oversized footsteps. When she and her partner, Eric, respond to a robbery in progress call, she is forced to use deadly force on what she assumes is one of the perpetrators, who turns out to be a 12-year-old who had only a toy gun. Angel’s world spins completely out of control as she is accused not only of a wrongful death, but racism.

When Callen Riley, an Oregon State Police detective, begins investigating the case, along with another death that took place in the same area, and around the same time, a chemistry develops between him and Angel that threatens his objectivity.

Deadly Aim by Patricia H. Rushford is a hard book to categorize. It is a well-written mystery, a love story, and also a story about loss of faith. While some of the police procedures seem contrived to add to the suspense, it does not detract from a taut drama that has an ending that came as a complete surprise.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Relative Malice’

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When four members of a family are slaughtered, and their 10-month-old daughter goes missing, rooky detective Kendall Halsrud is determined to find the child—despite everyone else’s belief that the girl is dead. Homeless after being kicked out by her roommate, Kendall takes a room over a bar, where she encounters an exotic neighbor, a fake psychic and paroled hacker, Brynn. With the assistance of Brynn, and Adam Nashlund, a former cop, Kendall puts her career and life at risk in her pursuit of the truth. In the process, she uncovers family secrets that have lain buried for years.

Relative Malice by Marla Madison follows Kendall and other characters through the murky, distasteful world of pedophiles, baby merchants, and dysfunctional family relationships—a journey that will leave you breathless until the conclusion, that will surprise you.

Madison has enough twists, false leads, and red herrings to keep any mystery aficionado thrilled. Although I found the ending a bit too pat—as if the author felt she’d told enough of the story, and just added it to tie up loose ends—it was still a thoroughly enjoyable read. A good four star read.

Review of ‘Birth of an Assassin’

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In 1947, at the age of 15, Jezer Kornfield, a non-observant Jew, makes his way to Moscow, seeking to join the Red Army. When two soldiers, as a joke, give him directions to KGB headquarters at Lubyanka instead of the army recruiting station, he meets Colonel Michel Petrichova, a Spetsnaz officer, who sees potential in the undersized youngster.

Taking the young Jez under his wings, Petrichova sends him for special training where he meets Anna Puchinsky, another trainee, and Jez finds, in addition to his love for army life, the love of his life. After training, though, Jez and Anna are sent their separate ways, him to service in the Soviet Union’s wars abroad, and her into limbo as far as Jez knows.

In the field, Jez’s career takes off like a comet, and he’s soon a lieutenant assigned to KGB headquarters. From this point, his life takes a series of strange and deadly turns. First, his sisters are arrested when they take part in a demonstration, and Jez violates his oath as a soldier and helps them flee the country. This brings him to the attention of Otto Mitrokhin, a corrupt KGB officer with a deep hatred of Jews. Mitrokhin at first uses Jez’s skills to further his own corrupt plans, and then sets himself the mission of bringing Jez down.

Birth of an Assassin by Rik Stone is a riveting tale of life in Soviet Russia as those who, though they see the eventual demise of Communism, still love their country, are pitted against those who are only in it for gain. He doesn’t know who to trust as he finds himself hunted by the very army he loves, and torn between love for his family and love for Anna, who is also playing a deadly game.

Stone weaves a compelling tale of love, honor, and betrayal as he takes us into the underbelly of a country in turmoil. Full of action and drama, this is a book that, once you start, you will not be able to put down until the final climactic confrontation.

Five stars, only because I can’t give it six.

Review of ‘Deadly Memories’

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Andrea ‘Andy’ McKnight, a small town girl who has made it big as a real estate broker in LA, left a party in a huff and was found in her car at the bottom of a cliff the next morning. After a long period of recuperation, she returns to LA to pick up the pieces of her life, but suffers memory loss about the events surrounding her near fatal accident – several hours of her time are not accounted for.

P.M. Richter’s Deadly Memories takes the reader on a thrilling and frightening journey with Andy as fragments of memory of that night come back to her, and threaten not just her life, but the lives of those she loves. A cast of intriguing characters caught up in a plot that has international implications. Richter does a superb job of ratcheting up the tension as Andy comes closer to discovering a deadly secret locked in her brain. As the tension mounts, we also follow Andy’s growing love for her former teacher, the wealthy construction magnate, Jake Montgomery and his son Jesse, which has to compete with her loyalty to her friend Rolph, son of a wealthy French family with political connections.

Love, violence, and betrayal mark this thrilling tale of espionage, murder, and terrorism, with enough action scenes to satisfy those who like it, and tenderly drawn scenes as Andy comes to terms with her feelings.

I received a free review copy of Deadly Memories in exchange for my unbiased review. I award Deadly Memories  five 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 ‘Irrefutable Proof’

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After finishing a free review copy of Abby L. Vandiver’s Irrefutable Proof, I spent hours trying to decide just exactly what genre it belonged to. It’s billed as a cozy mystery/suspense novel that mixes fact with fiction, but it has a healthy dollop of science fiction tossed in.

Biblical archaeologist Justin Dickerson goes on a perilous journey as she wrestles with whether to share her knowledge of the ancient Book of Knowledge or to keep secret things secret. Dickerson travels the globe searching for irrefutable proof of mankind’s true origins and capabilities.

This book is not exactly a barn-burner. Instead, it’s like the slow flow of volcanic lava or the ice of a glacier – it seems to be barely moving, and suddenly you find yourself submerged and gasping for air. As a mystery fan, I’d like more dialogue, but Vandiver does a good job of making long stretches of narrative interesting. You’ll come away from reading this book questioning everything you’ve ever been taught about the history of humanity.

Review of “Thomas Clayton” by Randy J. Harvey, PhD

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When 15-year-old Thomas Clayton Gurley’s parents and sister are killed in an auto crash in Florida, he is sent to live with his father’s half-brother, Boats, in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. Thomas and Boats take an instant dislike to each other, and the boy is sent to live with Buck Hagen, a foreman at the oil rigging company that Boats owns. It is while living with Hagen and his family that Thomas begins to regain a sense of family – and self.

It is also here that his troubles truly begin. In a new high school, he has to prove himself to Boats and to a murderous rival for the affections of Mar, the first girl he’s ever had a relationship with. As Thomas matures, he finds himself in a fight literally for his life, and the lives of those he has come to love, when the questionable relationships Boats has forged with shady politicians and business people comes to light.

Thomas Clayton, by Randy J. Harvey, PhD, is a story that grew out of a few dozen handwritten pages begun by Harvey’s father, Jay L. Harvey, and is dedicated to the story tellers of the Harvey clan, who ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story.’ Though the author’s disclaimer says that this is a work of fiction, and in no way represents real people, this tightly woven tale of greed, jealousy, and murder could very well have been ripped from the headlines of any daily newspaper. Gripping, realistic dialogue and intricate descriptions of places, events, and people; some told from the first-person viewpoint of young Thomas, and others in the third person, as characters and events sweep past in a torrent of emotion, will have you believing that it is a documentary, rather than what it is – a grand tale told in a masterful style.

The truth, in this book, doesn’t get in the way of a good story, but, by gum, you’ll close it after the last page and swear you just read the God’s honest truth. I read a copy which was provided to me for review, but by jingies, I’d be more than willing to plunk down some hard-earned money for a chance to read it, and I, for one, hope this won’t be Randy Harvey’s last offering.

I’m usually reluctant to give a five-star rating to a book, but this was the easiest five stars I’ve handed out in a long time.


WIP: “The White Dragons”

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Following is the opening chapter of a new work in progress, a tale of international intrigue and betrayal, The White Dragons. Below the excerpt, I’ve also included the preliminary cover art that I’ve done for this work.

The black ZIL threw up a rooster tail of dust as it sped along the winding dirt track that passed for a road.

The sun was a semi-circle of dull orange, handing in a dead gray sky behind the jagged peaks of the mountains to the west, casting elongated purple shadows over the bleak and desolate landscape.

There were few trees; a few stunted saplings, gnarled and twisted by the wind, hunched over the parched earth like ancient gnomes, their roots penetrating deep into the earth in search of the rare underground pool of water. Here and there, small flockss of sheep that had spent the day grazing on the rough grass that was scattered about the dry ground were being driven back to the cabins made of blackened logs, to be lodged in pens attached to them, pens made of the same misshapen logs. The rest of the livestock, one or two skinny cows, maybe a pig or two, and some chickens, ducks, and rabbits, would already be in the back room of the little four-room hut which they shared with the farmer’s family. The family, except for the farmer and perhaps his oldest sons, would already be huddled in the central room, around the clay oven for warmth, for even in early May, the night air was cold.

The three men in the ZIL, though, paid no attention to any of this. The driver kept his eyes on the road ahead, ready to brake should a flock of sheep suddenly appear. Seated in the back, two men sat, each on his own side, back against the door, speaking quietly.

“Are you sure this is a wise thing to do, Vasily?” the younger of the two, a clean-shaven man in his mid-twenties, wearing a gray suit and a white shirt that was open at the collar.

His companion was in his late forties. He had a high forehead, with his hairline somewhere near to crown of his skull, jet black hair combed straight back and down. Piercing brown eyes sat on either side of a thin nose that hung like a hawk’s beak over thin lips set in a neatly trimmed moustache and pointed goatee. Vasily Shermov looked like Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, and was proud of the resemblance, even taking to wearing dark suits like the Russian Communist leader. He laughed, harsh and guttural, spraying spittle across the seat.

“There is nothing to worry about, Pyotr,” he said.  “My cousin, Dmitri, will certainly approve of what I’m doing.”

“And, if he does not approve?”

The question hung in the air like a threat. Shermov didn’t need to answer; both he and his young assistant, Pyotr Ksolvi, knew the answer to that question; they would simply be made to disappear, to vanish from the face of the earth as if they’d never existed. Shermov’s cousin, Dmitri Kovasc, was the First Secretary and head of the Central Committee of the Dagastan Soviet, and concurrently, head of the dreaded Dagastani Secret Service. He’d been merely the chief intelligence officer for ten years until he’d engineered the overthrow and murder of the former First Secretary and assumed that position as well.

Dmitri, Shermov knew, did not tolerate opposition or failure, and he had only one response to either; a response that was final and fatal.

Dagastan, a small landlocked country straddling the Arctic Circle in the near west of the USSR, surrounded by Russia, with the Cherskiy Range to the east and the Indigirka River to the far west, it was little more than a dot on the Russian map, about the size of the American state of New Hampshire, with a population of slightly over one million. Its people were mainly nomadic herdsmen and hunters, scratching out a living from undernourished flocks of sheep or from trapping animals for fur in the remaining forests at the foot of the mountains.

The main ethnic group, the Kazbektuni, for whom the country’s capital, Kazbektun, was named, was a result of intermarriage of Rus, the light-skinned invaders from Scandinavia, and Khan, the descendants of the Mongol invaders from the east. Although they accounted for sixty percent of the population, they were among the poorest of the poor, mostly subsistence farmers, herdsmen, or trappers. In the entire governing structure of Dagastan, a bloated bureaucracy of over one thousand officials, there were only two Kazbektuni, both low level functionaries. The country’s ruling Central Committee had one Kazbektuni, an elderly man who spent most meetings with his head back, sound asleep. Among the menials; drivers, janitors, and other laborers, the Kazbektuni were vastly in the majority. The ZIL’s driver was Kazbektuni. While he understood the Russian his two passengers were speaking, his preference was to speak his native Dagastani.

The Khan ethnic group made up ten percent of Dagastan, and remained mostly on the vast desolate steppe, herding sheep and living in conical tents made of sheepskin, after the manner of their Mongol ancestors. Aggressive and militaristic, they held ten positions in the Central Committee’s membership of one hundred. Short of leg, and barrel chested, they had the broad foreheads, slanted eyes, and flat noses of the Mongols. They were excellent horsemen, and it was said that one Khan soldier was worth fifty other Dagastani. Over time, the Khan had come to speak Russian, but with a thick accent.

The remaining thirty percent of the population was Rus, the descendants of Norse invaders who hadn’t stopped in Russia, but had pushed on toward the west. They tended to light skins, brown or blond hair, high foreheads, and superior airs. Rus held all leadership positions that counted, including control of the intelligence, army, and police. The country’s central bank was in the hands of a Rus, and most of its preferred customers were Rus.

Vasily Shermov and Pyotr Ksolvi were Rus, and had grown up speaking only Russian. Shermov knew a few words, but his young companion knew not one. Vasily was an official of the economic planning committee, and he’d come across information that would, he felt certain, change the future of Dagastan.

He hadn’t taken news of his discovery to his superior or to his cousin, wanting to verify it first, and then ensure that things were arranged in a way that ensured the future prosperity of all of Dagastan’s people. If he could get everything lined up properly, he felt sure his cousin would forgive his breech of protocol.

The sudden deceleration of the ZIL, and a muttered curse in Dagastani from the front seat, startled both men.

“What is it, Leonid?” Shermov demanded.

“Flock of sheep in the road,” the driver said in horribly-accented Russian.

“Well, drive around them, fool. We must make our schedule.”

“Sorry, sir; is not good idea. The ground off the road can be tricky. We might get stuck. The flock will pass soon.”

“Well, it better,” Shermov said, and settled back, turning his attention to his companion.

He didn’t see, therefore, the driver, Leonid, reach over and flick the light switch quickly, blinking the headlights. Nor did he see the four shadowy figures dressed entirely in black that emerged from behind the flock, menacing looking AK-47s held across their chests. They wore balaclava masks pulled down over their faces.

Two moved to the left and two to the right, stopping at the passenger windows. Pyotr Ksolvi was the first to see them, and his eyes opened with fright. Noticing his young companion’s expression, Vasily looked up, and his mouth dropped open. “What the bloody hell?” he said, and turned toward the front.

Before he could complete the turn, the four men, aiming downward to avoid hitting their companions, released a deadly stream of bullets shattered the windows of the ZIL and tore into the soft flesh of the two men, tossing them around the seat like limp puppets. Blood spattered the car interior.

It happened so quickly, neither man had had time for more than the beginning of a scream of terror before silent darkness descended. The two corpses lay entwined like two lovers, their facial features unrecognizable after being ripped and shredded by the force of the projectiles.

A pale of gray smoke hung over the car and the smell of cordite was thick. The driver reached for the door handle. One of the men on his side put his hand on the door, jamming it shut.

“I’m sorry, Leonid,” he said, his voice muffled by the mask. “But, we must make this look like it was an act of terror, and there must be no way of it being linked to us.” He spoke in Dagastani.

Leonid’s mouth dropped open. “But, I was promised – -“

His words were cut off by the staccato drum beat of the man’s AK-47, which tore through the driver’s window, showering him with shards of grass milliseconds before his chest was torn apart by the projectiles. He was thrown back against the far door, his face frozen in an expression of disbelief.

The taller of the black-clad men took a dirty, oil-stained gray bricklike shape from his pocket and, walking around to the rear of the ZIL, stuffed it into the space between the exhaust pipe and the gas tank. He then inserted a short fuse, and using a battered lighter, lit.

“Let us get out of here,” he said. “The fuse is good for two minutes.”

The others ran toward the front of the car, shooting and yelling at the sheep to move them. Some of the animals ignored the noise and continued to graze on the rough grass. The four men ran flat out until they were about two hundred meters from the hulking shape of the ZIL. The sky had darkened considerably, but was suddenly lightened by the orange fireball of the ZIL being tossed into the air as the block of C-4 explosive detonated and the fumes from the gas tank ignited. The noise of the initial explosion was loud, but the explosion of the gas tank was deafening. The car was quickly engulfed in flames, spreading an orange glow in a circle expanding out several yards. Black smoke billowed upwards. Along with the smell of burning petrol, there was the sweet smell of roasting flesh.

The sheep that had not been killed by the concussion, or roasted in the ensuing fire, fled across the dusty ground, bleating in panic and kicking up a cloud of dust as they stampeded toward the safety of the hills. The four men stood in silence, gazing at their handiwork. After a few minutes, the tall man spun on his heels and started walking toward the hills. The others followed.

The incident wasn’t known of or reported in Dagastan’s capital city of Kazbektun for two days, and only after two Khan tribesmen had come upon the still smoldering wreckage. Outside Dagastan, it didn’t even rate a small space in any international media.

But, in a short span of time, it would have international impact.”


White Dragon Art

Review: “The Cartel” by A. K. Alexander

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A. K. Alexander’s gripping suspense novel of the drug trade, illegal immigration and brotherly betray will keep you reading from the first page to the last. Fully formed characters, authentic dialogue, and credible settings make this a must read.

While a lot of reviews go on and on, I don’t feel there’s a need to do that about The Cartel; besides, to do so might away some of the intricate plot twists in this skillfully written book, and every reader should experience it for him or herself.

Yes, it’s that good.