Tag Archives: serial killer

Miami a major setting in spellbinding thriller with gruesome killings

Verses for the Dead, by Douglas Prescott and Lincoln Child. Grand Central Publishing. 352 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

Billed as “A Pendergast Novel,” this latest entry in the thriller series about a legendary, iconoclastic FBI superstar is brimming with suspense, surprise, and imagination. Fabled rulebreaker A. X. L. Pendergast, always at odds with FBI standard procedure, must take an assignment that keeps him on the payroll by agreeing to accept a partner. What a restraining humiliation! However, this premise allows the authors to build a new, unique character, Special Agent Coldmoon, whose Native American heritage brings a special flavor to the table. 

The assignment has the men prowling around every kind of Miami neighborhood to find out facts and discover the psychopath behind a series of outrageously gruesome killings. The killer skillfully excises the hearts of his victims and places them against gravestones in Miami cemeteries.

He also leaves behind strange letters filled with literary allusions and quotations. The perpetrator has taken for himself the name Mr. Brokenhearts

Want more? Each of the grave holds the remains of a woman who, years ago, committed suicide.

The perpetrator seems to be conducting a ritual of his own crazed making that is in some ways a form of expiation.

Centers of interest include the interaction between Pendergast and this somewhat resentful FBI superiors, the FBI’s interaction with local police departments, the growing relationship between Pendergast and Coldmoon, and the dogged if often irregular investigatory process.

Preston and Child

The large cast of intriguing characters provides many who are in themselves centers of interest. These include a modestly successful journalist, Roger Smithback, who makes a big, if short-lived, splash through his coverage of the case. Dr. Charlotte Fauchet, of the medical examiner’s office, puts in the beyond-the-call-of-duty hours that change the direction of the inquiry.

Another fascinating character, once discovered and confronted by the FBI duo, is the killer – a fellow who for all of his murderous deeds qualifies as someone to pity for the miserable life that had been handed to him. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 10, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 11 Bonita Springs, Charlotte County,  and Venice editions, and the April 18 Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Verses for the Dead

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A series of grotesque murders ravages an institution for juvenile delinquents

Suffer the Children, by Lisa Black. Kensington Books. 320 pages. Hardcover $26.00.

This latest addition to the Gardiner and Renner Thriller series finds the skilled and dedicated forensics specialist Maggie Gardiner in a highly claustrophobic, menacing situation. She and her Cleveland police force colleagues – Jack Renner and his partner, Riley – visit an advanced multi-purpose institution to investigate what turns out to be the first in a series of murders. 

The Firebird Center for Children and Adolescents is a state-of-the-art juvenile detention center, part school and part prison. The inmate-pupils are grouped by age, by learning skills, and by social redeemability. Most, but not all, are victims of abuse, and too many are capable of abusive behavior. Few will ever be normal, but they might be able to stay out of trouble and lead productive lives. In some, sharp intelligence is warped toward brutal psychotic behavior. These are high-risk kids, to put it mildly.

They have psychological switches that go on and off, affecting behavior in unpredictable ways. They are master manipulators who can act normal.

They live in a controlled environment run by security personnel, therapists, and educators with special training. The institution’s leaders are constrained by delicate legal issues and marginal budgets.

Lisa Black, photo by Susan M. Klingbeil

Maggie’s task – discerning, collecting, and interpreting forensic evidence – is one center of interest. The other is how well Ms. Black uses Maggie’s reactions as a lens to enlighten readers about the nature of Firebird, including the personalities of individual children and staffers. Seeing what goes on there, even short of murder, is a harrowing experience. The admirable motives and skills of the professionals seem buried under a cloud. The inmates and the jailors share a no-win situation, and Lisa Black shows us why.

Are various children killing one another? Is a junior mastermind serial killer committing these horrendous crimes? If so, who is it? How are the victims chosen? Where will the evidence point? What will the motive be? Is it anything beyond blind, ungovernable aggression? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 10, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 11 Naples and  Bonita Springs editions, and the October 18 Charlotte County edition, click here: Florida WeeklySuffer the Children

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A haunting serial killer novel with spirited pacing and surprising twists

The Bricklayer of Albany Park, by Terry John Malik. Blank Slate Press. 342 pages. Trade paperback $16.99.

A psychological thriller with a strong dose procedural detail, Mr. Malik’s debut novel is the surprisingly solid achievement of a man who had never before attempted fiction writing. Its success is largely dependent on an impressive amount of well-integrated research, a masterful understanding of Chicago, and an equally keen grasp of extreme mental illness. The author provides plenty of surprises for his readers, as well as a torrent of suspense. 

Most of the novel is presented through two alternating perspectives. One narrative voice is that of Detective Francis (Frank) Vincenti, a once-aimless young man who has become a stellar investigator for the Chicago Police Department. In this way he was unlike his childhood friend, Tony Protettore, who was constantly preoccupied with thoughts of joining the police thoughts.

Readers learn of Frank’s odd friendship with and training by ex-cop Thomas Aquinas Foster, his CPD partnership with Sean Kelly, and his disastrous marriage to Beth – an aspiring lawyer.

Malik

The other narrator is simply known, through much of the novel, as Anthony. A serial killer who hunts down, punishes, and eradicates child molesters, Anthony is a meticulous planner (though sometimes his plans go wrong). Mr. Malik provides the gory details of Anthony’s crimes and stresses the killer’s interest in being celebrated for his work in cleansing Chicago of those who exploit children. Anthony stages his murders and the places where the mutilated corpses will be discovered. He thrives on publicity, and he bates the police officers, who efforts to protect children are insufficient. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 9, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 10 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Bricklayer

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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.

Kava

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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Nut case serial killer keeps trying to make it to the prom

The Prom Dress Killer, by George A. Bernstein. GnD Publishing LLC. 322 pages. Trade paperback $14.95.

This stunning, hyper-suspenseful mystery thriller, the third title in Mr. Bernstein’s Detective Al Warner Suspense series, offers a psychotic serial killer and an intrepid Miami police detective. For much of the novel, there is no name pinned on the killer because he has not yet been identified. However, what he’s up to is become clearer and clearer. He is leaving behind corpses of stunning young women, in their late teens or early twenties, each of whom has beautiful red or auburn hair. He leaves then gently posed, wearing attractive prom dresses.  

These bodies are turning up in the Miami area, but it soon becomes clear that the killer has been at this work before he ever came to Miami. He has been hunting down the elusive girl of his dream, whom he calls Camille, to complete the prom date of eight years back that had been aborted. He has a careful and clever method of operation that has so far left no clues. Why does he keep doing this? Because, as he sees it, the redheads he has tortured and killed had turned out to be imposters – even though he sought them out. They were never putting on an act, but his madness construes their behavior that way. Disappointed each time at their resistance to is desires, he gets rid of each and moves on.

This pattern has to end, and it takes his capture of his next Camille, fledgling real estate agent Rochelle (“Shelly”) Weitz to turn things in a new direction.

Bernstein

The police team assigned to this case, headed by Al Warner, is frustrated by the lack of clues. Even after networking with other departments and with the FBI, even after search databases for identifying patterns, they don’t have a clue. Several young women have died because Warner and his associates have just not found the clues that could direct their pursuit of this monster.

The reader’s interest is focused alternately on Mr. X, Al, and Shelly. When the police learn of Shelly’s disappearance, of her broken real estate appointments, they decide to work on the suspicion that she might be the killer’s next victim. Finding her soon enough may put an end to this plague of murders.

Mr. Bernstein does a fine job of describing Al’s dedication and frustration. He portrays Al in part by exploring his relationship with Dr. Eva Guttenberg, a psychiatrist who is the love of his life. Al’s leadership characteristics are demonstrated in his scenes with his police associations, and his caring nature is revealed by his work with the Dade Boot Camp for Teens, a last ditch rescue effort to save troubled adolescents. Al is a rounded character indeed, but not too good to be true. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 19, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 20 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Prom Dress Killer

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Serial killer mystery features a wise guy PI and a deranged yet crafty villain

Shadow of the Black Womb, By Lawrence J. De Maria. St. Austin’s Press.  204 pages. E-book $2.99.

This is Alton Rhode Mysteries #8, one of three exciting series penned by Mr. De Maria. The title, drawn from the Delmore Schwartz poem “The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me,” sets a minor key note of literary erudition that plays quietly through the novel. It reminds us of how the bodily self undermines the aspirations of our more noble and –  intangible – sense of identity. Alton observes the distance between who he is and who he might be. This awareness flitters through his perceptions. He senses an inescapable twinship between two sides of one person.  

Dark doubles and duality play out in other ways in the course of the novel, one that involves a serial killer addicted to his pleasure of murdering young children. The depraved addict has a score to settle. It is Halloween, and the masked killer has a pistol hidden in his plastic pumpkin. Cormac Levine is his target.

The mystery plot –- who is this murderous madman and what are his motives –- is interrupted so that we can drop in on Alton Rhode, the main narrator. We meet his tomcat, his dog, and his gorgeous, brainy girlfriend Alice Watts –  a philosophy professor at Barnard. The two enjoy New York’s cultural offerings. Their evening is interrupted by a call from Alton’s police force buddies, using a crime family figure as an intermediary because this enforcer would know how to get in touch with Alton quickly. Already we know that Alton is well connected on both sides of the law.

De Maria

A private investigator can handle some issues more readily than the police department or the district attorney’s office can. Alton rushes over to the Richmond Memorial Hospital (Staten Island) where Cormac Levine (“Mac”) is in a coma. We discover that Mac and Alton are old friends. Alton reveals that “I was a rookie cop when he cornered a child molester.” We might wonder if the child molester, now a child killer, is settling the score with someone who sent him to jail. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the May 24,2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 25 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Shadow of the Black Womb

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Imperiled newspaper industry sets the stage for desperation and doom

Unpunished, by Lisa Black. Kensington Books. 320 pages. Hardcover $25.00.

This is the second title in Ms. Black’s Gardiner and Renner Thriller series, following That Darkness. It is a fascinating tale of serial killings linked by their setting: a large (but shrinking) Cleveland newspaper. Like all of Ms. Black’s novels, it is loaded with engaging forensic analysis. When the copy editor of the “Cleveland Herald” is found hanging above the print area assembly line, investigator Maggie Gardener quickly concludes that what looks at first like a suicide is certainly a murder. unpunished

It is the first of four, linked for the most part by crime scene and method. Strangulation precedes the pretense of a hanging. The victims are connected to the newspaper, and the newspaper is in trouble with or without them. Is someone trying to destroy the newspaper, or destroy those responsible for its likely demise? Is the perpetrator a stranger or an insider? The murders suggest that the killer has easy access and familiarity with work routines.

Unpunished offers three centers of interest. Primary is Maggie’s pursuit of forensic evidence leading to a suspect. Next is the detailed presentation of the newspaper industry’s seemingly irreversible decline, caused by a complex, toxic mixture of cultural and technological change. And finally, we have Jack Renner – a vigilante killer who is also an officer on the Cleveland police force.

Maggie knows Jack’s hidden history, and the reader knows that Jack has assassinated a teenage psychopathic killer who knew how to beat the system. What the system can’t handle, Jack Renner will take on. Maggie has an odd respect for Jack’s sense of justice, and he has a hold on Maggie that keeps her silent about his doings.

Lisa Black

Lisa Black

Seems as if the newspaper is up for sale. Only a large influx of money can save it – or at least postpone the inevitable. Those who are in the know are frantically working to secure some benefit from the coming changes. One is doing disguised insider trading, buying stock shares like crazy, assuming the takeover will foster a spike – a profit that will ensure his survival after the inevitable crash.

Another is falsifying circulation numbers to keep the purchase price of the newspaper up and to make sure a deal goes through.

Soon, however, the new owners will insist on shrinking the staff. Which jobs are at stake? Where can one go when the whole industry is collapsing? . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the January 25, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Unpunished

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Enemies within attempt to provoke U. S. war abroad

Nowhere on Earth, by Vincent J. Sachar. Divont Pubishers. 334 pages. Trade paperback $12.25.

What if high-ranking elected government officials as well as major security agency personnel were engaged in a plot to undermine official U. S. policy? What if they had a plan to force the U. S. into a war in the Middle East? What would be the chances of such a plot being successful? What would it take to detect and thwart it? Who would it take to lead the charge? noecoverjavier

The answer to the last question is that it would take a man with many names, one of which is Kent Taylor. Taylor, a former Navy SEAL LCDR, is a man with unusual skills and a dark background. The damage he has seen and done has made him a lot of enemies. His simple cover story is that he died many years before this threat was set in motion. He is leading a secluded life with his wife on the island of St. John, one of the U. S. Virgin Islands. For his own survival and that of other family members, he has become imprisoned in paradise.

Now that all comes to an end. He finds himself teaming up with three FBI retirees to fight the rogue group that sees its interests requiring that the U. S. be manipulated into a foreign war. The skills of Taylor, former FBI Special Agent Bill Gladding, and former agents Jonas and Sally Blair combine to lead the battle. Others play roles in assisting them, just as many other characters play rolls as part of the rogue effort. Some readers may find just too many characters to sort out.

Mr. Sachar builds his plot out of seemingly disconnected pieces, jumping from location to location, crisis to crisis, character to character, outlining the major plot by defining the dots that have to be followed and linked. You know, follow the dots.

A major dot is a large upstate New York company named Bergam Industries. Its legitimate businesses have cloaked illegal doings like money laundering, and something is going on that involves the secret presence of African visitors. Smuggling perhaps?

Sachar

Sachar

One employee suffers a mysterious accidental death. Another, suspicious and fearful, brings computer jump drive to his lawyer’s office. This lawyer just happens to be the aforementioned Jonas Blair. The man mysteriously disappears. After Blair is threatened by thugs who arrive to retrieve the stolen property, he brings Taylor and the others into the effort to stop the network of rogue officials and operatives.

A scene in the Congo, yet another dot on the plot map, reveals an African man in hiding, He is in the service of U. S. interests. But which ones? The legitimate ones or the pretenders?

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 28, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 29 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Nowhere on Earth

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Penetrating thriller treats deep-cover spycraft and apocalyptic danger

End Game, by David Hagberg. Forge. 320 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

This latest Kirk McGarvey novel is a major tour de force for its prolific and widely-praised author. Sarasota author David Halberg seems to dare himself with the riskiest premise, leaving readers to wonder if he can manage those self-made challenges of plotting, suspense, and characters at the edge of plausible definition. What kind of serial killer leaves his mark by eating through the faces and throats of his victims? Is this a mania or a message? endgamecover_hagbergf16

It’s easy for the top strata of CIA insiders to understand the common denominators that define the victim pool. They are all a certain kind of CIA outside insider; that is, they are (or were) NOCs, agents who work under Non-Official Cover. These are operatives who assume covert roles in organizations without official ties to the government. Some, including several in this novel, are somehow repatriated into normal roles within the CIA.

Seven such agents have something else in common: they were all part of or knew about an operation in Kirkuk, the major Iraqi petroleum center. Something was buried above city just before the Second Gulf War, and its discovery and implementation threaten to set off World War Final.

Who’re you gonna call? In a Kirk McGarvey novel you’re going to call Kirk, a former CIA director who is often brought in on special cases. Once you call Kirk, you’re going to hear from his occasional squeeze, Pete Boylan, a brave and beautiful agent who will inevitable get in Kirk’s way – emotionally, that is.

Hagberg

Hagberg

Though this thriller has international sweep, taking readers to Greece, France, Israel, and other locations, many scenes are set at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia just outside of Washington, D. C. In these scenes, the authoritative detail is compelling (whether it is truly accurate or not is another matter). Mr. Hagberg puts us right on the spot, whether he is presenting extended vistas of the campus, main buildings or outbuildings, or the interiors of offices and meeting rooms. Security and other technical features are highlighted, and the reality of the CIA characters is enhanced by the way they related to their environment.

In the courtyard at CIA headquarters stands Kryptos, a piece of statuary designed to reveal important secrets of if it can be decoded. Its four engraved copper panels, once deciphered, predict the means and purpose of the serial killings. Re-writing history is part of the agenda. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 12, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 13 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – End Game

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“Brighton: A Novel,” by Michael Harvey

Ecco. 368 pp.  Hardback $27.99.

This taut thriller tackles the perils of going home again.

A superb crime thriller with all the hallmarks of high-end literary fiction, Michael Harvey’s Brightonemploys — and brilliantly handles — the two-timeline structure. What happened in 1975, and seemed to have been buried there, bubbles up to the surface 27 years later in frightening and grotesque ways. The exposure of secrets, even the threat of exposure, can change lives — mostly for the worse. What happens in Brighton may not stay in Brighton. And yet it doesn’t leave, either.

Michael Harvey

Michael Harvey

The Boston neighborhood of Brighton that Harvey paints is rich in physical detail and cultural character. It might as well be called Blighton for the moral blight that reflects and nourishes the socio-economic blight. The economy of drugs, gambling, extortion, and other criminal occupations is pretty much above-ground — and yet there are secrets.

It’s a place where survival of the fittest is not merely a theory. Brighton is its testing ground.

The novel focuses on the man who got away: Kevin Pearce. Kevin was a high-school hero. Baseball star, outstanding student, pretty much liked by all, he was the pride of Brighton when he suddenly disappeared at the age of 15. The violence he got into with his best friend and mentor, Bobby Scales, would have doomed his great promise. Aided by Bobby, he vanishes and slowly builds a reputable life. Bobby stays behind to sacrifice his future, shielding Kevin’s name.

BrightonhccFINAL

Bobby’s advice to his friend is never to return.

Brighton’s newspaper readers could have followed Kevin’s success as an investigative reporter who, as the 2002 timeline reveals, has just won a Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunately, the story has connections to Brighton. Loose ends and suspicions bring Kevin back to visit his old neighborhood, where his presence is met with mixed reactions. . . .

To read the entire review, click here: Brighton: A Novel | Washington Independent Review of Books

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