Tag Archives: Florida panhandle

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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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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King of hearts a calling card for murder in latest “John Jordan” mystery

Blood Money, by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 280 pages. Hardcover $26.99. Trade paperback $16.99.

The eighth entry in the “John Jordan Mystery” series shows this incredibly talented and prolific author at the top of his form. No one gives us Panhandle Florida like Mr. Lister, and no one handles the prison microcosm with the degree of physical, social, and moral authenticity that he is able to convey. In this story, local politics rears its more than ugly heads, serial suicides – or homicides in disguise – flare up in the Potterville Correction Institution, and a prostitute who had serviced a political event is found dead – then the corpse is mysteriously stolen.  BloodMoney3d

Chaplain-investigator Jordan, son of the police chief, is once again in the middle of several messes. The new warden wants to get rid of him, Jordan himself wonders if the ugliness of his job is overwhelming him, and his lover’s ex-husband is threatening Anna – the single most important and redeeming relationship in Jordan’s life.

That ugliness at the job includes that fact that a group of inmates have dubbed themselves the Suicide Kings. Take a look: is the king of hearts wielding a weapon toward himself? Or is he fending off or recovering from an attack? However you read the standard image of this card, its discovery as a signature to several deaths in the prison, slipped into each victim/practitioner’s pocket, is eerie and shudder-producing. In an environment where boredom is in itself deadly, incarcerated men need something to do with their dreams of power and their dreams of ending it all. Mostly, the members of the suicide club manage a series of failed attempts.

They have created a situation in which those inside the club or knowledgeable about it can commit a murder and stage it as a suicide. You’ll marvel at how Michael Lister plays out the hand he has dealt to himself in this morbid but magnetic plot line.

Part of the suicide club members’ pact is to buy insurance on each other’s lives; this adds fascinating dimensions to the investigation and a special overtone to the book’s title.

Michael Lister

Michael Lister

Indeed, the novel is a trove of facts about suicide in general and its epidemic growth in the prison community. Fortunately, author Lister does not break stride as he slides in this astounding information, which is central to the action and themes. We learn, for example, that failed suicides are sometimes failure of will, but often planned as ways of improving the inmate’s benefits: more time out of his cell, more counseling and medication, etc.

Because health care professionals at the prison are experimenting with hypnotherapy to deal with the inmate’s various problems, they fall under suspicion. Perhaps they hypnotizing susceptible men into self-murder – or just plain murder. But to what advantage? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 13, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 14 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Blood Money

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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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