Tag Archives: Alex Kava

Fierce tornadoes complicate the work of well-trained rescue dogs

Review by Phil Jason

Desperate Creed, by Alex Kava. Prairie Wind Publishing. 320 pages. Hardcover $27.99.

The fifth title in the Ryder Creed Series has a bit of everything, including deadly politics, lost and found souls, broken and repaired families, and the uncanny efficiency of well-trained search and rescue dogs. The latter interest is the vital center of the whole series, with the magical coupling of trainer and K-9 presented once again in a moving, dynamic fashion.

The added complication in this installment is the overwhelming power of fierce tornadoes that shows no respect for man, beast, roads, buildings, or anything else in its way. Ms. Kava’s description of this deadly series of tornadoes in Alabama, the damage done, and the human responses is truly magnificent. She scribes a poetry of natural disaster.

Frankie Russo works for a big Chicago advertising firm where she is paired with a young hotshot named Tyler. He and his friend Deacon Kaye plan to do an analysis of cereal and breakfast bars from Carson Foods. Tyler suspects that the glyphosate used in their products is toxic. Tyler has been hacking the company’s emails, discovering problems including the involvement of a U.S. Senator in plans to send Carson’s products worldwide. Having snuck in, electronically, to the corridors of power, Tyler has made himself a possible target, and possibly Frankie as well. Smart phone email exchanges between Frankie and Tyler have made them easy to locate. Two men have tracked Tylor down, and his phone connection to Frankie makes her vulnerable. They know too much. Plot line one is now rolling.

At his Florida Panhandle K-9 training facility, Ryder Creed is keeping an eye on his sister Brodie, recently saved from long term, mind-altering incarceration. Learning to work with Ryder’s dogs is an important part of her therapy, as is a reunification with her real mother, not the woman who had terrorized her for decades. Plot line two: will this work out? What else does Brodie need? . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the March 11, 2020 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Palm Beach, and Venice editions,  click here: Desperate Creed

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Top dog handler and intrepid FBI profiler work to thwart a human trafficking scheme

Lost Creed, by Alex Kava, Prairie Wind Publishing. 346 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

This latest edition (Book 4) in the Ryder Creed series builds splendidly upon the development of Ryder and his meticulously described K9 business, a fifty-acre training operation in the Florida Panhandle. Readers have witnessed a series of plot lines having to do with the breadth of search, rescue, and other tasks that trainers paired with appropriately trained dogs can do. Ryder once again works with FBI agent Maggie O’Dell (the title character in Ms. Kava’s earlier series), this time to bring down a human trafficking operation in Nebraska. 

Maggie is heading up the operation, bringing together local law enforcement professionals from various jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, back in Florida, Ryder’s assistant and trainee, Jason, is developing his skills and aiming at solo responsibility with his dog, Scout. A session under Ryder’s tutelage is interrupted by the shock of a confrontation with a black bear.

Before this trouble is put to rest, Ryder’s business partner, Hannah calls to tell him that there is some possible news about Ryder’s vanished sister, Brodie. Maggie’s case up in Nebraska has injected some tenuous hope into Ryder’s life – hope that might overwhelm him.

Alex Kava

Maggie, noted for her profiling skills, has been playing games with a madman, Elijah Dunn, who has, or has had, some place in a horrifying trafficking scheme. They’ve been making deals with one another, each trying to get the upper hand. Elijah wants to earn his freedom or lesser benefits by revealing information that Maggie needs.

He claims to know where the bodies of the victims are buried and where those innocents still alive might be enslaved.

Another story thread takes us into the world of an abused young woman – abused from childhood and still confined and tortured. She seems a victim of the human trafficking ring. Ms. Kava paints Charlotte’s predicament, both physical and psychological, with great insight and skill. The cruelty of her exploiters is unfathomable, unless we consider them unhinged.

The investigation underscores the fact that big money is at stake in this criminal enterprise. It seems people will do anything to keep the money flowing, which includes murdering the witnesses. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 9, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 10 Naples, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Lost Creed

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Serial killer pursued by a most worthy, though inexperienced, FBI adversary

Before Evil, by Alex Kava. Prairie Wind Publishing. 336 pages. Hardcover $27.00, Trade paperback $15.99.

It’s not every day in the book business that you run into a prequel for a highly regarded thriller series. However, here it is displacing A Perfect Evil as the first installment of the long-lived Maggie O’Dell Series in that it is constructed to bring readers a slightly younger and less experienced version of the series protagonist.  Maggie is already recognized as a particularly talented young FBI agent, proficient as a profiler and as a forensic wiz.


She has done much of her work fielding inquiries from other agents via computer. Now, though her somewhat reluctant supervisor provides her first field assignment – a real live crime sign. Problem is the victims are no so very live. Serial killer Albert Stucky is as crazy as he is skilled. He haunts backwoods Virginia (though he has killed elsewhere) and is brazen enough to enjoy being identified – though as a master of disguise his apparent identities are just part of a game. He is a grand manipulator. He leaves messages for the law enforcement officers who are trying to track him down and end the carnage.

He finds Maggie to be an irresistible adversary.

Chapters focused on Maggie and her co-workers are alternated with chapters that takes readers into Stucky’s brilliant but damaged mind. He’s a killer who simply loves his work. A man who has made millions of dollars, Stuckey needs bigger thrills than money can provide. He has developed a slew of well-planned hiding places, and no description of him will hold up as he readily discards and replaces signs of age, physical stature, social class, and anything else identifying that one might think of.

Stuckey is a careful and usually meticulous planner. He loves it when a plan comes together, but he also enjoys surviving risky adventures. He’s a show-off. There is nothing, however, like the thrill of the kill. His major weapon is a crossbow. He is truly a hunter – mostly of women. He often imprisons his victims before ultimately destroying them. He fancies himself a surgeon, and he leaves evidence of his skill. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 27, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 28 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Before Evil.

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Threat of bird flu epidemic sets canine-aided security force into action

Reckless Creed, by Alex Kava. G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 336 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

Alex Kava’s highly original Ryder Creed series gets better and better as the title character gains in complexity. His interaction with FBI agent Maggie O’Dell allows fresh challenges for this fine title character of her earlier series. The originality of the Creed series lies in the occupation of its protagonist; the former marine is now an established, sought-after trainer of search-and-rescue dogs. He has a thriving facility on the Florida panhandle. recklesscreed

The plot concerns a bird flu contagion that might have been manipulated, if not an unintended consequence of radical experimentation under the wraps of government agencies.  How do you test an antidote without developing victims to catch and carry the disease? Among the alphabet soup of government medical research operations, something sinister is going on. Is there a chance that some rogue group is working to weaponized bird flu?

Birds are falling out of the sky. Are infected birds, living or dead, a threat to humans? Can the disease evolve or be engineered to that end? Is the virus air-borne, conveyed by touch, by exposure to infected bodily fluids?

Such questions energize this red-hot thriller, and – as we might expect – canine abilities come into play.

As usual, Ms. Kava masterfully employs the alternation of terse, vivid scenes to build a plot as much spatial as it is temporal. In Chicago, Tony, a long-time friend of Creed’s assistant Jason, is extremely sick. He’s being paid to touch as many surfaces as possible. Followers report his progress. He is coughing up blood, feverish, and nauseated. Tony steps out onto the 19th floor balcony of his hotel room for some fresh air, then is suddenly pushed over the railing, plunging to his death.

Alex Kava

Alex Kava

In New York, ailing yet determined Christina Lomax leads a marginal life in a similar employ. She plays the role of a tourist, disguising her actions as a player in an experiment. She too has handlers and followers.

In southern Alabama, Ryder Creed’s favorite search dog, Grace, discovers a young woman drowned in a river with rocks in her pockets. In Nebraska, Maggie O’Dell sees redwing blackbirds falling from the sky.

Bird flu is the link, and Creed’s dogs are the hoped for solution. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 8, 2016 Naples Florida Weekly and also the, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Reckless Creed

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A landslide buries secrets in new Ryder Creed K-9 thriller

Silent Creed, by Alex Kava. Putnam. 336 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

If you missed the opening title in this powerful new series, catch up by plunging right into this one. The action is nonstop, the suspense is wound tight, and the concerns of the plot, while they go back in time, are extremely timely.  JacketSILENTCREED

Ryder has come to the scene of a huge landslide in North Carolina. A search and rescue dog trainer, his task is to set his animals on the trail of any people who might be buried and to save whomever can be found alive. Ms. Kava’s ability to smoothly blend fascinating details about this rescue process into her narrative is not the least of her skills.

Time is the enemy when people are buried in the mud and cannot extricate themselves. In fact, readers are not far into the story when Ryder himself almost becomes a victim of the continuing bad weather, especially the torrential flooding and the unsure footing.  Surprisingly, Ryder just barely dominates this novel, as he is on several occasions unconscious or physically compromised. Fortunately, there are other major characters who hold our interest.

One of these is Ryders’s acquaintance, FBI agent Maggie O’Dell, who is sent to be the eyes on the spot for the civilian security establishment. The man she should report to, Logan, who served with Ryder in Afghanistan, is rarely to be found as matters get worse and worse. Sparks of attraction will fly between Ryder and Maggie, but will anything ignite?

Jason, Ryder’s assistant, is another well-crafted and highly original character. An amputee because of a war injury, Jason – like Ryder – must deal with PTSD and anger management to work effectively in society. His job with Ryder’s dog training enterprise is an opportunity to prove himself.

Alex Kava photo Deborah Groh Carlin

Alex Kava photo Deborah Groh Carlin

Nature can be hell, but as Ms. Kava makes clear, it is the human factor that is most demonic.

Guess what has been buried by the landslide. I’m counting . . . oh, you’ll never guess. It’s a secret government research facility charged with preparing to defend against chemical and biological warfare. Naturally, this means it has on hand the instruments of death for which antidotes must be developed. This facility, one of many spread around the country, does its work without clear oversight.

Rescuers discover that one of the recovered scientists died ahead of the landslide – shot. Is the landslide a literal cover-up for murder? A happy accident for people who have a lot to hide? Will more victims of murder be found entombed in mud?

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 5, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 6 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Silent Creed

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New series honors the human-canine partnership in crime investigation

Breaking Creed, by Alex Kava. Putnam.  320 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

Stranded, Ms. Kava’s recent Maggie O’Dell novel, introduced a fascinating character named Ryder Creed. Ryder is an ex-Marine who has built a successful business near Pensacola as a canine search-and-rescue dog trainer. His dogs can locate cadavers, captive or injured victims, drugs, explosives, and so forth. With Breaking Creed, Alex Kava launches a new series featuring Ryder, though Maggie is very much in the picture. BREAKINGCREEDjacket

As the novel opens we meet fourteen year old Amanda and her handler, Leandro. Amanda stays alive by swallowing dozens of condoms stuffed with cocaine. She is both protected and controlled by Leandro and a woman called Zapata. Readers get a quick glimpse of the horrid life led by kidnapped or runaway girls exploited as slaves in a drug distribution network.

The scene shifts abruptly one in which Creed is transported by Coast Guard helicopter to a cutter. Along the way, we learn how he has developed a business with multi-million dollar annual billings and an undesired high profile. Creed’s exploits, followed in the popular media, have made him a new kind of pop culture star. His undercurrent motivation is the hope that he will find his sister who disappeared some fifteen years earlier.

We also learn about his partnership with Hanna and the facility they have built to secure, care for, and train their dogs.

Creed is traveling with Grace, the smallish Jack Russell terrier that is his favorite and most versatile dog. Creed’s job is to explore, with Grace, a large fishing boat, “Blue Mist,” thought to be working for a new Colombian drug cartel called Choque Azul (Blue Shock).  Grace sniffs out human cargo – children hidden beneath the floorboards.

Alex Kava

Alex Kava

The next plot strand brings us to the edge of the Potomac River, where FBI agent Maggie O’Dell has been sent to investigate a corpse found there. She arrives to find the DC medical examiner, Stan Wenhofff, hard at work. The body, which had been in the water at least a week, carries a strange tattoo, an odd rash, and ligature marks. The man had been tortured and perhaps killed while being held in place to be attacked by fire ants.

Then Ms. Kava introduces an assassin self-named the Ice Man, a killer adept at arcane tortures and killings. We imagine a link between him and the fire ant victim. The man’s identity is easily revealed; his driver’s license had been found shoved into his throat. Trevor Bagley.

Soon enough, the story involving Amanda and the story involving Bagley link up. Thus Creed’s case and O’Dell’s will also link up. The Choque Azul cartel has left its message, the tortured Trevor Bagley, as a warning to others who might get out of line. The human trafficking and the drug trafficking are connected enterprises. Before long, Creed’s name appears on the cartel’s hit list. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the January 28, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 29 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Breaking Creed


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FBI agent challenged by scheming serial killer

Review by Phil Jason

Stranded, by Alex Kava. Anchor Books. 432 pages. Mass market paperback $7.99.

If you missed the Doubleday hardcover original, catch up with the recently issued paperback of this splendid addition to Ms. Kava’s Maggie O’Dell series. Maggie is no stick figure, but rather a complex character – a person whose private and professional lives interact in fascinating ways. Over the many books in this series, readers have become close to her – as involved in her personal story as they are in her bone-chilling assignments. StrandedCover

Have you ever felt ill at ease when making a stop along the interstate? Especially at night when those rest stops and truck stops seem isolated and the people with whom you choose not to make eye contact seem lost, seedy, or just plain threatening? Did you ever worry about getting stranded? About needing help from a stranger? About being asked to give help to a stranger?

FBI agent Maggie’s must investigate what looks like a long run of serial abductions and/or killings for which just such remote and transient places are the crime scenes. One scene is near Manhattan, Kansas. Another is near Sioux City, Iowa. Yet another is along the Florida panhandle.

Accompanied by her FBI partner R. J. Tully, Maggie finds herself in a battle of wits with a killer who has made her his personal challenge. He manipulates the investigation by leaving clues that must be followed. But followed into what?

This madman is a show-off who needs an audience. Early in the novel, we follow Maggie and Tully to a “body dump” adjacent to an Interstate rest stop. Finding this dump site is a victory for Maggie, but it’s also part of the killer’s plan. He is planning to catch Maggie and . . . who knows?

Ms. Kava strings her story along a tight, week-long time line of accelerating tension. She alternates the scenes that follow the investigation by Maggie and Tully with scenes in which other characters are central.  Prominent among these is FBI consulting forensic psychologist Dr. Gwen Patterson. Gwen’s assignment to the Highway Serial Killings Task Force aggravates her private and professional insecurity.


The gruesome aspects of the case, as revealed by Maggie and others, rattle Gwen, who is already fearful of having cancer. Although a second string character, she is given all the nuance and shading that befits a primary character. Such is Ms. Kava’s artistry that such elaboration never stops the action or blunts the emotional edge.

The question of Gwen’s ability to effectively interview the hulking misfit Otis P. Dodd, who has information about the killer, raises its own suspense. So does Mr. Dodd, a fascinating freak if there ever was one. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 13, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly,  the November 19 Fort Myers edition, the November 20 Bonita Springs and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, and the November 27 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Stranded 1 and here: Florida Weekly – Stranded 2

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Alex Kava’s “Damaged” has the goods

“Damaged,” by Alex Kava. Doubleday. 272 pages. $24.95

How did Nebraskan Alex Kava get to Florida? “I was looking for a writing retreat when a friend invited me to her hometown of Pensacola. I love the beaches and the area, so I bought a house on Blackwater Bay. That was in 2004. Six months later Hurricane Ivan hit. Nine months after that – Dennis. I spent the first several years cleaning up.” So, at some point, you put a hurricane in a novel, right?

Here are the ingredients: a category 5 hurricane approaches Pensacola; the Coast Guard finds a cooler filled with body parts floating off Pensacola Beach; a mysterious string of deaths plagues the medical facility at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Who do you call? Maggie O’Dell.

In this, Alex Kava’s eighth Maggie O’Dell novel, the intrepid FBI profiler-agent has her hands full. Assigned to team up with a Homeland Security official in dealing with the body parts issue, Maggie is thrown into this complex of interwoven concerns. Where did the cooler come from? How has it ended up near Pensacola? What is causing the fatalities among servicemen who have had limbs replaced? How will the approaching hurricane affect finding the answers to these questions?

The medical issue is not directly Maggie’s concern. A Navy captain, the head medical doctor on the base, runs a surgical transplant program. He has invited an Army doctor, an infectious disease specialist, to help address the unknown disease. However, Alex Kava will bring this mystery and the mystery of the stray body parts into an unexpected relationship. The ticking time bomb of the approaching hurricane adds intensity and anxiety, and Kava’s portrait of how different townspeople respond to the approaching threat is handled with impressive skill.

In this novel, Maggie O’Dell is one of two heroic female figures. The other is Liz Bailey, a Coast Guard rescue swimmer whose exploits begin the novel and who just about takes it over at other times. For all of her courage, Maggie cannot imagine herself doing the kind of thing that Liz does; for example, being deployed from a hovering helicopter to secure people in danger – or in this case to secure a floating container. With the hurricane on its way, Liz and people with her training might have plenty of work to do.

The read this review in its entirety as it appears in the August 11-17, 2010 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 12-18 Naples Florida Weekly and Charlotte Florida Weekly click here: Florida Weekly – Alex Kava

Bonus Material: the following Q & A did not get into print because of space limitations:

Where did you get the idea of the epidemic-threatening infection?

 I love the character of Col. Benjamin Platt (who debuted in EXPOSED) and I wanted to bring him into the story. Pensacola has several military ties so it made sense to find a connection. In the meantime I had read an article about staff infections in soldiers who had lost limbs. The article mentioned a new bone paste that was being used to preempt these infections because they could add antibiotics directly to the paste which was added directly to the wound. As strange as it sounds it was almost like kismet, because I had already started asking questions about possible contamination of donor body parts including bone.

 For “Damaged,” which came first: the hurricane situation, the body parts issue, or the infectious disease?

 The hurricane came first. Ever since I experienced Ivan (2004) and Dennis (2005) I’ve been chomping at the bit to send Maggie O’Dell into the path of a hurricane.

 Will we see Liz Bailey again? She’s a winner.

 I hope so. She certainly won me over, and I ended up giving her a more prominent role than she initially had.

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