Tag Archives: thriller

Unbound – or just untethered?

Unbound, by Stuart Woods. Putnam. 318 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

What do you call a Stone Barrington Novel in which Barrington’s role is severely diminished? Some might call it edgy and inventive. I call it an unnecessary gamble – unless the author is toying with the idea of development a new series focused on the film industry.  

The central figure in Unbound is a former CIA operative once known as Teddy Fay, who has also established an identity for himself as Ted Shirley. Teddy has been long established as a Hollywood producer named Billy Barnett, his CIA days relevant only in terms of special skills he can bring to bear to suit special circumstances.

The special circumstance here is Teddy’s need revenge himself upon the husband of the looney woman who killed Teddy’s wife in a hit and run. It helps of the man is in general an SOB who ruins the lives of almost anyone he deals with. Such a man is Dax Baxter, a movie industry climber whose path would be likely to cross with Teddy’s anyway. In fact, Teddy – incognito movie business Jack of all trades Ted Shirley – easily attaches himself to a Dax Baxter project.

Stuart Woods

The scenes that follow the “Ted Shirley” escapade not only bring Teddy in proximity to his unwitting nemesis, but develop engaging insights about how movie deals – and actual movies – are made. Indeed, they reveal how careers are made in a cutthroat world in which loyalty is bought and sold.

The still-grieving Teddy travels to Santa Fe where he spends time with good friends Stone Barrington and Ed Eagle. Suddenly, “Unbound” feels like a Stone Barrington novel for a while: the gorgeous woman, the gorgeous residences, the lifestyles of the wealthy, and the networks of power. It doesn’t take Teddy long to rebound from his sadness and latch onto an attractive new lady friend named Sally Ryder. It hasn’t taken Stone Barrington long, following the death of his wife, to develop a new, hot relationship with the appropriately wealthy and exotic Anastasia Bounine.

Some guys are just lucky, I guess.

This thread of the novel, familiar Stuart Woods territory, allows us to imagine the pleasures of exclusivity. However, plot development lags as Barrington has little to do besides offer Teddy advice and favors. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the March 1, 2018 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Unbound

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Phil’s Picks 2017

The following is a list of outstanding books reviewed in these (Florida Weekly) pages during the past year. In a way, all the books reviewed are outstanding, as they were selected from a much longer list of books crying for attention and in many cases deserving such attention. However, I can only review one each week in my column.  The full reviews can be found by using the search box on the Naples edition of the Florida Weekly web site: Floridaweekly.com. So, here are an even dozen titles, nine fiction and three non-fiction, for your reading and gifting pleasure.

To encounter reviews that I’ve prepared for other publications, go to philjason.wordpress.com.

The Magdalen Girls, by V. S. Alexander. Kensington. 304 pages. Trade paperback $15.00. 

Set near Dublin in the 1960s, this unusual novel carefully constructs a powerful vision of religiosity run amok. Its focus is two teenage girls who are assigned to the Magdalen Laundries at The Sisters of the Holy Redemption Convent. Their parents have assigned their care to the convent, believing that its discipline and Spartan living conditions will bring the young women to faith, responsibility, and eventually to productive, upright lives. That’s the positive spin on the parents’ motives, which readers will find far less noble.

In fact, the institution is a prison and slave labor operation, all in the name of Jesus and his Father.

An Honorable War, by Robert N. Macomber. Pineapple Press. 392 pages. Hardcover $26.95. Trade paperback $16.95.

How does Mr. Macomber keep doing this? The thirteenth installment of his splendid Honor Series, like the earlier titles in the series, once again transforms a pile of historical fact into a colorful, well-imagined, and highly suspenseful entertainment. Captain Peter Wake, assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence, is no desk-jockey, but a man of action – in this case leading the action plan that he designed to satisfy the ambitious and often outlandish Theodore Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The author’s subtitle sets the historical scene: “The Spanish-American War Begins.”

This episode, cast as another segment of the memoirs of Peter Wake, launches a three-part trilogy within the burgeoning series.

Kenmore Square: A Novel by Carol June Stover. Champlain Avenue Books. 264 pages. Trade paperback, $13.99.  

Set in Boston during the 1950s and early 1960s, this curious coming-of-age tale involves unusual characters and several life-altering secrets.

Iris Apple’s world is rocked at the age of 10, when her mother is murdered. Iris suspects her crude and cruel father might very well be the murderer, but she has no way of acting on her suspicions.

Nick Apple, son of a well-known Boston bookie, runs the Kenmore Square rooming house where the family lives among the down and out boarders. One boarder is very special: Madame Charlemagne, a once-popular performer who has become a recluse. The aging cabaret singer and young Iris assist and console one another in various ways.

The Red Hunter, by Lisa Unger. Touchstone. 368 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

This delicately constructed thriller explores the distance and proximity between two women whose paths cross in strikingly unusual ways. The younger of the two, Zoey Drake, has lived through a lengthy and ongoing recovery from a devastating childhood trauma. Her parents were murdered before eyes in their rural home outside of New York City. Zoey, who barely survived, has lived with a rage she must control to function effectively. Rigorous martial arts training has been her coping mechanism and her security against being victimized in her adulthood as she was in her childhood.

She has been reared and put through college by the man she calls Uncle Paul, and she assists him as he struggles with poor health. She supports herself through cat-sitting jobs and by helping her martial arts mentor teach self-defense to young girls. Nightmares haunt her, but she has gained a healthy self-confidence.

An Ice Age Mystery: Unearthing the Secrets of the Old Vero Site, by Rody Johnson. University Press of Florida. 224 pages.  Hardcover $24.95. 

For 100 years, the human and other remains of Vero, Florida have engaged the skills and imagination of professional and amateur archaeologists. Just what was the region like during the Ice Age? What grew there? What were the geological features? Did animals thrive? Did humans leave their marks — and their bones – somewhere in the layers of sediment washed by intruding waters? Why are these questions important?

The history of archaeological investigations of “the Old Vero site” is characterized by sporadic periods of accelerated interest and action separated by longer periods of general neglect. Rody Johnson tells the story in a highly accessible style, even making the forays into science understandable and engaging.

The Late Show, by Michael Connelly. Little, Brown. 416 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

Several years ago, I fell in love with Randy Wayne White’s new Hannah Smith series. The Hannah Smith character provided a fresh focus for Mr. White’s considerable skills, while the Doc Ford series continued to satisfy his devoted following. Now we have Mr. Connelly, masterful creator of both the Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller (Lincoln Lawyer) series, launching a new venture centered on a distinctive and totally engaging female character. Detective Renée Ballard is a winner. I swooned over Hannah, and now I’ve fallen for Renée as well.

Mr. Connelly mastery of the police procedural, honed throughout the Bosch series, is put to good use here. Ballard is a credible mixture of impulse and orderliness, and the latter trait usually allows her to follow the steps – regulations and protocols – that underpin effective police work.

The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn, by Robert P. Watson. Da Capo Press. 304 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

Lynn University Professor Robert P. Watson makes reading history a totally engaging experience. He does so by choosing unusual and challenging topics, setting them into contexts rich in detail, and presenting them in a prose style that is clear, vivid, and uncluttered by academic jargon. His latest book is a piece of fine storytelling, accessible to the general reader. Prof. Watson makes historical events shine as if they were today’s news. Readers will care about what happened on HMS Jersey, the major British prison ship during the American Revolution.

As he must, the author attaches his relatively narrow topic to a few larger concentric circles: prison ships in general; overcrowded British prisons in the colonies and insufficient buildings to repurpose; and the overall Revolutionary War. The book’s spatial focus is New York, particularly Brooklyn waterways, and New England.

Cold Water Canoe Club, by Jeffery Hess. Down & Out Books. 292 pages. Trade paperback $16.95.

I can’t think of another short story collection that I’ve read in recent years that has given me such a jolt of vicarious experience and insight. Original, fraught with every kind of pain, clearsighted and despairing, Mr. Hess’s book takes us to external and internal places that most of us have been able to avoid. And that avoidance has distanced us from people, whole swaths of society, who we have unwittingly depended on to keep us safe – and even prosperous.

Given today’s concerns about American’s conflicts and rivalries with Putin’s Russia, a group of 15 stories focused on the lives of Navy seamen during the Cold War has an added dimension of relevance. In addition, the stories are amazingly well-written, filled with an abundance of explosive imagery, and presented through unmistakably authentic first or third person voices. Well, perhaps there is a bit of literary overlay on and around these voices.

Florida Soul: From Ray Charles to KC and the Sunshine Band, by John Capouya. University Press of Florida. 374 pages. Hardcover $24.95. 

For a scholarly enterprise, this book is notable for its high energy and conversational tone. One can feel the author’s obvious excitement over the opportunity to celebrate the dazzling contributions of those in the art and business of soul music. It’s a sizeable group of talented and inventive characters who make longer or shorter appearances in this lively slice of Florida’s cultural history. Interestingly, though soul is thought of as a sturdy branch in the tree of Afro-American music, Mr. Capouya makes it clear that white performers and other white music industry professionals played major roles in the regional and national success of this musical genre.

Mr. Capouya’s chaptering system links the recording artists and other music professionals with key ciites, large and small, in the history of the genres development and significant presence. His titles add up to a map of the world we are exploring, but without an actual map. Clearly, the state has been saturated with native born or adopted Floridians who build a musical tradition.

Come Home, by Patricia Gussin. Oceanview Publishing. 368 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

Remember 2011 – the year of the Arab Spring? The turmoil in the Middle East provides a backdrop for Ms. Gussin’s fast-paced thriller. Ahmed Masud, middle son in a wealthy Egyptian family, is called back to Cairo to help prepare for his family’s future after the Mubarak regime collapses. Their wealth derives being favored by Mubarak’s son, who handed them an Egyptian cotton empire. Also, Ahmed’s parents wish to see his five-year-old son, Alex. Succumbing to their pressure, and unsettled by medical malpractice lawsuits, Ahmed steals his son away to Cairo, rashly jeopardizing his marriage and the American dream lifestyle he and his wife, also a plastic surgeon, have shared.

Readers will be puzzled by Ahmed’s sudden sense of family duty, as was his wife, Dr. Nicole Nelson, who is outraged and crushed by his behavior. She wants her son back! Nicole rallies the support of her twin sister Natalie and their accomplished, successful brothers.

The Shark Club, by Ann Kidd Taylor. Viking. 288 pages. Hardcover $26.00. 

Maeve Donnelly is the thirty-year-old protagonist of this elegantly written first novel. She is part of the shark club triumvirate, the other two being her long-time boyfriend Daniel and Daniel’s daughter, six-year-old Hazel. This informal mutual interest group was put together to help Hazel find stability in a young life that has been – and still is –filled with uncertainty.

Maeve and Daniel have decided to see if their long-severed relationship, once seen as strong and vibrant, can be restored. Hazel is the unplanned child of a woman with whom Daniel had a quick affair. That misstep cost him Maeve’s trust. Hazel’s mother died. Now the question is whether these three individuals – the only members of the shark club – can form normative family bonds. Maeve and Hazel are bonding in beautifully, but there is still something keeping some distance between Daniel and Maeve.

When They Come for You, by James W. Hall. Thomas & Mercer 288 pages. Trade Paperback $15.95.

Add James W. Hall to the list of premier mystery/thriller authors who have jumped tracks from a classic series featuring a male protagonist to a new series featuring a female character. Having raved over Michael Connelly’s Renée Ballard and Randy Wayne White’s Hannah Smith, I am now gushing over Mr. Hall’s Harper McDaniel.

We meet Harper on a pleasant February day in her Coconut Grove home. Her husband Ross, an investigative reporter, is shaving while holding their infant son Leo. Harper must snap a picture of them. That’s part of her nature as a professional photographer who is also the daughter of Deena Roberts, a photographer superstar and a suicide. A few blocks away, Spider Combs performs his electronic surveillance of the home, taking pictures and filming the movements of the gorgeous Harper. He knows a lot about this family, a family he has been contracted to destroy. Only Harper survives the fire.

That’s all, folks! See complete review as it appears in the the December 21, 2017 Naples Florida Weekly , the December 27 Fort Myers edition, and the December 28 Bonita Springs and Charlotte County editions. Link is to first page of article. Continue through the following pages.  Florida Weekly – Phil’s Picks 2017

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A hot-headed villain puts Barrington to the test, as does a fascinating woman

Fast & Loose, by Stuart Woods. Putnam. 368 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

This is the 41st Stone Barrington novel, but who’s counting? Mr. Woods is a nonstop thriller writer whose titles spend a lot of time on the best seller lists. This one will probably join the previous 50 best sellers. He has a great formula and a great leading character. He fascinates us with the lifestyle of the wealthy, sometimes beautiful, people. 

When Stone’s exotic cruising yawl is hit by another boat during a fogbound return to his dock in Maine, he ends up in a coming to consciousness on the yacht of the Carlsson family. He is entranced by the stunning Dr. Marisa Carlsson and impressed by her father, Dr. Paul Carlsson, head of the prestigious Carlsson Clinic. This accident springs into a series of opportunities and confrontations that wind through the novel while holding it together.

The romance between Stone and Marisa is one satisfying part of it. Another is Stone’s inevitable involvement in helping the Carlssons overcome an unfriendly takeover that became even less friendly when the man who was orchestrating the takeover died and his authority in St. Clair Enterprises was taken over, illegally, by a ruthless schemer named Erik Macher. Macher, ex-CIA, had bribed the company’s lawyer to create a fraudulent will naming Macher as Christian St. Claire’s successor. And Macher wants to control the Carlsson family’s medical business.

Stuart Woods photo by Jeanmarie Woods

 

The battle of wits and resources makes for a suspenseful series of high-flying episodes filled with action – much of it violent. It takes us to the upper stratosphere of money and influence, a world in which connections are everything and Stone Barrington has all anyone would need. Stone, a retired veteran of the police force, hangs his private law shingle within a larger “big law” firm in which he is partnered, so he controls plenty of legal clout. He is best friends with the always available head of the NYC police force, Dino Bacchetti, which helps to no end. Such connections give Stone instant access to background searches that reveal Macher’s tainted history.

Stone is also a principal in a high-powered security firm, which plays an important part in protecting the Carlssons, among other duties.

Stone has connections everywhere, even the White House. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the June 7, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlott, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Fast & Loose 

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Murder mystery in an old mansion plumbed by a new brand of sleuth

Chasing Shadows, by Karen Harper. Mira. 384 pages. Paperback $7.99.

The portions of thirty years that Karen Harper has spent in Naples allows her to provide a taste of this desirable Florida town, though the plot is developed primarily in and near St. Augustine. The first novel in Ms. Harper’s Southern Shores series, “Chasing Shadows” introduces a powerfully engaging protagonist, Claire Britten, the recently divorced mother of a young daughter. chasingshadowsfrontcover

Claire is trying to establish her Clear Path business as a forensic psychologist. Offering her services in a case tried in the Collier County Courthouse, she impresses the opposing lawyer so fully that he asks her to work for him on a case in St. Augustine. After struggling with this decision, Claire decides to leave young Lexi with Aunt Darcy, Claire’s sister, and assist the persistent and extremely handsome lawyer, Nick Markwood, with his case. Her interviews are designed to draw out information useful at trial, where she can be called upon to give expert testimony.

Claire has an intuitive knack, as well as the training, to understand people’s behavior and its foundations. She can draw people out and “read” them.

She is also a woman with health problems. She suffers from narcolepsy complicated by cataplexy. Her life can run smoothly if she remains disciplined, getting sufficient rest and following a regimen of carefully balanced and timed medications. Going off-routine is seriously disabling.

Once the groundwork of the novel is established in Naples, Nick’s murder case in St. Augustine takes over. The deceased, Francine Montgomery, was the owner of the gorgeous old mansion called Shadowlawn. Her mysterious death – was it an accidental overdose, murder, or suicide – leaves the future of Shadowlawn in doubt. Various people have a stake in the outcome, include Francine’s daughter Jasmine – a suspect who is Mark’s client.

Harper

Harper

Shadowlawn had fallen on hard times and was likely to be sold or perhaps given to the public in some manner. There was also some hope that private fundraising efforts could save it. What will happen to those whose livelihood and identity has been connected to the seemingly haunted place if it comes under new ownership or becomes a public entity?

Those potentially vulnerable people include Neil, the “inside man” and overall estate manager; Bronco, the “outside man” concerned with the grounds; and Dr. Win Jackson, who has plans to expand his museum and produce a film about Shadowlawn; and, of course Jasmine – the heiress. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the November 30, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 1 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach / West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Chasing Shadows

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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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Vietnam War protest violence leads to child abduction over 40 years later

Someone Must Die, by Sharon Potts. Thomas & Mercer. 380 pages. Trade paperback $15.95. Kindle Ebook $3.99.

A bone-chilling thriller with a strong sense of how history shapes people’s lives, this book also probes deeply into the workings of family dynamics. The main character, Aubrey Lynd is a PhD candidate in social psychology. We meet her at home in Rhode Island where she is dealing with the harsh ending of a six-year relationship. Her boyfriend, she has just discovered, has been a serial cheater. Potts-SomeoneMustDie,cover3-16-16

Her confidence shaken not only by his behavior but also by her blindness to it, Aubrey soon receives more bad news. Her six-year-old nephew Ethan has been abducted. This is not the kind of return home to Miami that Aubrey needs, but she must comfort her mother, Diana, who had taken her grandson to the carnival where the abduction took place. Diana had only recently been reunited with her son Kevin’s family, and this apparent show of irresponsibility only turns him against her and back into the embrace of his wife’s parents.

Diana is heartbroken. After the combined police and FBI investigation begins that we learn the motive for the abduction. Someone leaves a note for Diana saying that Ethan will be returned if she will kill Jonathan Woodward. Jonathan, who is being considered for a Supreme Court vacancy, is Diana’s significant other.

Sharon Potts

Sharon Potts

Diana is given a deadline by which she must provide proof of Jonathan’s death. If she contacts the authorities or misses the deadline, Ethan will die. In other words, she is put in a trap: someone must die – Ethan or Jonathan. The fact that a child had died under Diane’s care (she had been a practicing physician) only complicates her emotional situation. At first, she keeps the note a secret, but it doesn’t stay secret.

Aubrey plays an important role in the investigation, using her own training to influence the actions and perceptions of FBI Special Agent Smolleck and Detective Gonzalez of the Miami-Dade police. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the June 29, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 30 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Someone Must Die

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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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Cape Coral investigator/crime writer launches a new thriller series

That Darkness, by Lisa Black. Kensington Books. 336 pages. Hardcover $25.00.

Forensic thriller author Lisa Black has launched a new series with a new lead character and a new publisher. Continuing to work as a crime scene investigator and latent printed examiner for the Cape Coral Police Department, Ms. Black places her new series in Cleveland, the setting for her earlier Teresa MacLean series and another two-part series before it. Billed as “A Gardiner and Renner Novel,” this series launch develops through alternating scenes, the narrator sometimes standing behind (and entering the mind of) forensic investigator Maggie Gardiner and sometimes taking us into police detective Jack Renner’s frightening consciousness.  thatdarkness-FINAL

Both are working the same crimes, but the nature of their work is in sharp contrast. Or is it?

Jack Renner is a vigilante with a badge. He has made it his mission to assassinate psychopaths who can beat the legal system. He is saving lives and, in his own mind, making the world safer by ending the lives of those rapists, killers, child abusers and other criminals who have escaped justice. He will bring the needed justice.

Jack is capable and dedicated. He has developed a system and created the isolated, hidden chambers where he can mete out this justice. Being part of a police department gives him access to information that is invaluable for his goal. In fact, it has been his experience as a policeman – a witness to the routine failures of the system – that has led him to his own personal madness. If that’s what it is.

Maggie is a dedicated, experienced scientist-technician who is very good at her trade and who enjoys her role in the crime-fighting profession. She is motivated by her own curiosity and by the magnitude of the crimes that she is assigned to investigate. Like Jack, her work takes up way too much of her life.

Lisa Black

Lisa Black

Readers will suspect early on that Maggie’s pursuit of evidence to find and convict a serial killer will lead to suspecting someone on the inside of the law enforcement system. Watching the pieces fall into place that will lead her to suspect Jack is made possible by Ms. Black’s masterful handling of plot, character, and scientific method. Beyond these centers of interest, the author has crafted a work of fascinating psychological depth.

Author Lisa Black is quite self-consciously a debunker of the glamor mythology surrounding CSI-type television dramas. In her books, we encounter a true authenticity of forensic Q & A. – the careful collection, examination, and evaluation of physical evidence. No miracles. No glamor. Just hard work and perhaps a special kind of trained intuition. In this regard, “That Darkness” is one of her best. The work sometimes may be tedious to Maggie, but the process described never becomes tedious to the reader. Rather, it is magnetic. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 27, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 28 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – That Darkness

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Islamic terrorism looms large in thriller plot that threatens series protagonists

Mortal Dilemma, by H. Terrell Griffin. Oceanview Publishing. 400 pages. Hardcover $27.95.

The Matt Royal Mystery series keeps getting better and better. Mr. Griffin continues to develop his major characters, not merely to repeat them. They gain shading, complication, and significance. Plot complications proliferate, building intrigue, suspense, and relevance to contemporary events. This time around, readers will encounter a despondent and nearly suicidal Jock Algren, a Jihadist cell, and major threats to the life of both Matt Royal and his lover, the attractive Detective J. D. Duncan. The author renders his settings vividly and scrupulously. MortalDilemmahigh-res

Having committed one too many assassinations in the service of his country, and haunted by what has become of the young boys whose father and other relatives had died by his hand on assignment in the Middle East, special agent Jock Algren is a basket case of grief. A major aspect of the novel involves whether he will get his special brand of mojo back. Or whether he should.

Jock is already a target for both torture and assassination. Those two boys have grown up and the older one, Youssef,  is heading a radical Islamist squad whose plans to revenge themselves on Jock also includes wiping out his family – that is, his dearest friends Matt and D. J. Youssef wants Jock to witness their torture and death, just as they had witnessed him destroy their family years ago.

However, there is something else going on around Longboat Key that threatens Matt and J. D. A present case that J. D. is working on has reopened a cold case from three years back. There seems to be some kind of money connection. The dead woman’s brother is found to be on the island and their investigation heads in his direction. Perhaps he murdered her sister for inheritance and insurance gain, but he seems to have a reasonable argument against this motive. And then he turns up dead.

Griffin

Griffin

The fact that J. D. is on the case has put her in jeopardy. And that puts Matt in danger, too. Someone out there has something big to lose if exposed by this investigation. Guilty parties always fear that their secrets will be revealed by knowledgeable functionaries or accomplices. In this novel, it begins to look like a game of all fall down.

What, exactly, is at stake that makes so many murders necessary? How does this case connect, if it does, do the terrorists who are pursuing Jock for his actions in Aleppo, Syria? . . .

To read the entire review as it appears in the March 31, 2016 Naples Florida Weekly and the Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Mortal Dilemma

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Rogue CIA agent plans nuclear vengeance on key cities

The Fourth Horseman, by David Hagberg. Forge. 368 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

Sarasota resident Hagberg’s seventy-plus novels include the popular Kirk McGarvey series, of which this is the latest. It returns to action former CIA director McGarvey in a high stakes assignment that tests all his skills, experience, and resolve. Pakistan is on the edge of chaos, and a quickly emerging leader, self-named Messiah, is on the verge of taking over – but to what end? With four stolen nuclear weapons out of Pakistani government control, it’s likely that more than Pakistan’s future is in jeopardy. FourthHorsemancover_Hagberg

Once McGarvey is tasked by President Charlene Miller with uncovering and stopping Messiah, he finds himself reluctantly teamed with the attractive CIA agent Pete (yes, a girl named Pete) Boylan. Her love for him is obvious and admitted, though McGarvey, still called Mr. Director by old hands, is fearful of an intimate relationship, both professionally and personally. He has already lost too many people he has cared for. McGarvey has enemies: his wife, daughter and son-in-law had been killed by a bomb exploded in a Georgetown restaurant. McGarvey’s mourning and guilt is ongoing, as is his determination to fulfill his duties – an uneasy mix.

Pete won’t stay out of the way. She’s a professional, too, and her skills are needed on this assignment.

It is McGarvey’s conviction that Messiah is none other than a trusted and experienced CIA agent named David Haaris. He has persuaded some other security higher-ups that this is at least likely, but there are others, including an assistant to the president, who are not convinced.

Hagberg

Hagberg

Readers, however, are allowed to get into Haaris’s head – they know more about his motives and plans then any of the characters, including McGarvey.

Haaris, a native of Pakistan who was raised in England, has learned that his cancer is terminal. He is not far away from death. A man who had lived with painful rejection as a child and as a university student, Haaris – in part through his charade as Messiah – is planning his revenge. He has a sophisticated scheme to use the remaining three of the four stolen nuclear missiles (one had been exploded, perhaps inadvertently, by Talaban forces) to bring destruction to New York, Washington DC, and London. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 24. 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 25 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte and Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Hagberg

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