The Brain Loses The Game by Thomas Marchante

The Brain Loses The Game by Thomas Marchante, 185 pages, String Publishing, June 6th 2017, Genre: Mystery/Private Investigators/Women Sleuths. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

Charlotte “Charlie” Handler is a “body chaser” and former scientist working out of the back of a beat-up van who needs all the private eye work she can get. Charlie believes brawn is highly overrated and all you need in this game is a good brain. After meeting with Ruth Andover, an attorney, Charlie is on the job, seeking a missing witness in the corporate espionage case against Reilly Sinrad. As Charlie soon learns, finding a witness like “Mack” McKilvore is quite different from finding a bail jumper.

Naturally, she digs around in his credit cards and accounts, looking for clues as to where he may have gone. Next, she assumes aliases and humorously converses with his wife and others in Mack’s life. Charlie pulls out all the stops to try to find the missing witness before the trial. Will she succeed?

Charlie talks to herself a lot. But then again, who doesn’t? I know I’m always conversing with myself inside my own head. Come to think of it, who is that person in there answering me, arguing with me- oh, it’s me. I found that charming about Charlie. The conversations inside her mind are interesting and a bit insane; and at times humorous and inappropriate. Her primary flaw is her worship of the brain, believing it the superior key to solving all dilemmas. She learns there’s at least one dilemma she can’t solve with her keen mind.

I had fun reading The Brain Loses The Game and look forward to hopefully seeing Charlie in another adventurous mystery. If you enjoy humorous women sleuths, you’ll enjoy The Brain Loses The Game.

You can find this book at The Brain Loses The Game .

Book Description:

Once a scientist, always a scientist.

Private eye Charlie Handler used to be a scientist, and she hasn’t stopped using her brain. She prefers leaving the footwork to lesser PI minds. What’s the big deal about brawn anyway? Think through the possibilities, pick the likeliest one, use e-skills to fill in the details, case closed. She was doing so well at it, she thought she could predict any human behavior. She was wrong.

Then a witness goes missing.

Was he killed? Kidnapped? Did he run? Charlie Handler is hired to find out. She’s used to run-of-the mill searches, run a name through Lexis, put up a camera, target found. But she soon gets clued in that there’s something seriously weird about this case. The witness’s yipping socialite wife follows in disappearing without a trace, corporate flunkies act stranger than usual, thugs start following her, and her client has to be locked up in the loonie bin for his own safety. Chessmaster logic always helped her think through every step she took, but now it leaves her stranded at every turn by curious human behavior. How far down the rabbit hole will Charlie go?

Author Biography:

Tommy Marchante lives in the imagination of the author with a wife and several children. He is thought to live in Brooklyn, but may reside at the intersection of surf and serf. He writes to honor Sara Paretsky, Robert Parker, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. He does not have any cats. Shame on him.

You can visit him on Twitter @tommymarchante and on Facebook @tommymarchante.

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Once Taken (A Riley Paige Mystery-Book 2) by Blake Pierce

Once Taken (A Riley Paige Mystery-Book 2) by Blake Pierce, 235 pages, February 14th 2016, Genre: Mystery/Thriller/Suspense. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

Once Taken is a double story, both building on each other in a progressing character arc for FBI Special Agent Riley Paige. I was engaged from start to finish. When one plot resolved, the other had already captivated me. The heart of this book is its main character, Riley Paige, and the unfolding exploration of her darker side.

Riley is divorced from Ryan, a self-important big-time lawyer. She has a teenage, rebellious daughter named April. And she’s haunted by the idea that her serial killing tormentor and nemesis, Peterson, may have survived their last encounter. She has several years under her belt and when Lucy Vargas, the new kid on the block, is assigned to the next case alongside her, she worries it’ll compromise the investigation having a rookie on the case. Riley becomes particularly dedicated to the next case, as the victims are hung and posed after their deaths by throat slitting. This reminds her of Marie, a woman who took her own life by hanging in association with the Peterson case.

After a break-in, Riley makes it known she thinks it was Peterson. The FBI believes he’s dead and the other officers think Riley’s lost her mind. However, while she and Lucy are investigating the serial killings in Reedsport, New York, she gets an urgent text from April. Reluctantly, she returns home to discover Ryan lost track of April. April has been kidnapped and Riley is certain Peterson took her. Her best friend and former partner, Bill Jeffreys, returns to help her find April before it’s too late. Meanwhile, April is a chip off the block, doing whatever it takes to escape Peterson before he murders her. The climax of the first story leaves Riley questioning her motives and moral compass.

My favorite character is Riley. Riley is easy to relate to. She’s realistic, human, and flawed. She’d do anything to protect her daughter. She’s driven to do whatever it takes to bring down the killer, even if it skirts crossing the line. Riley tiptoes over the line more than once in this book. Will Riley be in danger of fully embracing her dark side? Will she one day turn into what she hates? I also enjoyed her discussions with Hatcher, an imprisoned criminal and killer with insights into the psychology of killing, particularly with chains. Hatcher possesses an uncanny ability to empathize with cops and killers alike. This allows him to play mind games with them if they’re not careful.

I enjoyed Once Taken and would recommend it to readers of crime thrillers.

There are ten books in this series at the present time. You can find them (in order) here:

Once Gone A free download with over 800  5 star reviews!

Once Taken

Once Craved

Once Lured

Once Hunted

Once Pined

Once Forsaken

Once Cold

Once Stalked

Once Lost

Book Synopsis

ONCE TAKEN is book #2 in the bestselling Riley Paige mystery series, which begins with ONCE GONE (Book #1)–a free download with over 800 five star reviews!

Women are being murdered in upstate New York, their bodies found mysteriously hanging in chains. With the FBI called in, given the bizarre nature of the murders—and the lack of any clues—there is only one agent they can turn to: Special Agent Riley Paige.

Riley, reeling from her last case, is reluctant to take on a new one, since she is still convinced a former serial killer is out there, stalking her. She knows, though, that her ability to enter a serial killer’s mind and her obsessive nature is what will be needed to crack this case, and she just can’t refuse—even if it will push her over the edge.

Riley’s search takes her deep into a killer’s deluded mind as it leads her to orphanages, mental hospitals, prisons, all in an effort to understand the depth of his psychosis. Realizing she is up against a true psychopath, she knows time is short before he strikes again. But with her own job on the line and her own family a target, and with her fragile psyche collapsing, it may all be too much for her—and too late.

A dark psychological thriller with heart-pounding suspense, ONCE TAKEN is book #2 in a riveting new series—with a beloved new character—that will leave you turning pages late into the night.

Book #3 in the Riley Paige series–ONCE CRAVED–is also available!

About the Author

Blake Pierce is author of the bestselling RILEY PAGE mystery series, which include the mystery suspense thrillers ONCE GONE (book #1), ONCE TAKEN (book #2), ONCE CRAVED (#3) and ONCE LURED (#4). Blake Pierce is also the author of the MACKENZIE WHITE mystery series and AVERY BLACK mystery series.

An avid reader and lifelong fan of the mystery and thriller genres, Blake loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit blakepierceauthor.com to learn more and stay in touch.

Check out other reviews at:

Once Taken at The Forensic Bibliophile

Once Taken at My Little Book Blog

Madam Tulip: An Irish Cozy Mystery by David Ahern

Delightful!

Madam Tulip: An Irish Cozy Mystery by David Ahern, 309 pages, Malin Press, May 1st 2016, Genre: Mystery/Cozy Mysteries. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

Madam Tulip is a delightful cozy mystery with quirky, interesting characters and just the right blend of mystery, suspense, and fun. The pacing was excellent; I completed it in one evening. The plot was intriguing and the villain, human and believable. The twist to this novel is the O’Donnell’s gift of visions. I found this aspect fascinating.

Derry O’Donnell is an out-of-work actress, waiting for her big break to arrive. When her mother, an American art dealer divorced from her Da, cuts Derry off financially, Derry is forced to take stock of what talents and skills she can put to use in pursuit of an income. She and her friend Bella get together one evening and Derry reads her tarot cards for her. Bella suggests Derry become a fortune teller. With a little help from her theatrical friends, Derry costumes up and transforms into Madam Tulip, celebrity fortune teller. With the help of her father Jacko, Derry lands a gig at a posh celebrity charity event. Derry gets wrapped up in the world of models, celebrities, and drug dealers over the weekend at the lavish castle. The celebrities confide in her and enjoy their sessions with Madam Tulip. Her future seems assured until a famous musician ends up dead and her best friend is jailed as the prime suspect. In order to free Bella and ensure the safety of her family, friends, and self, Derry must solve the crime against a ticking clock.

Derry has visions, but she can neither control the visions nor understand what they mean. The visions are highly symbolic. It’s only once the event happens that it becomes clear what Derry’s vision was trying to warn her about. Derry expresses exasperation with the visions. What’s the use of having a family gift that doesn’t seem to help? Her father reminds her that because of the visions, Derry is keenly aware that things aren’t random. She doesn’t need faith in a higher power, she knows it exists. And the cost of the gift of knowing, well, that may sometimes be high.

I loved this book. It was charming. From Derry’s relationship with her parents to her romantic yearning for an old flame, I found her graceful and capable in her dealings with difficult people and situations. The characters were engaging. The humor arrived at just the right moments. In fact, I’ve just purchased the next book in the series, Madam Tulip and the Knave of Hearts  . I’d recommend this to anyone who likes cozy mysteries.

This book can be found at Madam Tulip.

Book Synopsis:

Living in Ireland, out-of-work American actress Derry O’Donnell is young, talented, a teeny bit psychic … and broke. Spurred on by an ultimatum from her awesomely high-achieving mother, and with a little help from her theatrical friends, Derry embarks on a part-time career as Madam Tulip, fortune-teller to the rich and famous. But at her first fortune-telling gig – a celebrity charity weekend in a castle – a famous rap artist will die.
As Derry is drawn deeper into a seedy world of celebrities, supermodels and millionaires, she finds herself playing the most dangerous role of her acting life.

Trapped in a maze of intrigue, money and drugs, Derry’s attempts at amateur detective could soon destroy her friends, her ex-lover, her father and herself.
Madame Tulip is the first in a series of Tulip adventures in which Derry O’Donnell, celebrity fortune-teller and reluctant detective, plays the most exciting and perilous roles of her acting life, drinks borage tea, and fails to understand her parents.

About the Author:

David Ahern grew up in a theatrical family in Ireland but ran away to Scotland to become a research psychologist and sensible person. He earned his doctorate but soon absconded to work in television. He became a writer, director and producer, creating international documentary series and winning numerous awards, none of which got him free into nightclubs.

Madame Tulip wasn’t David Ahern’s first novel, but writing it was the most fun he’d ever had with a computer. The second in the Madam Tulip mystery series, Madam Tulip and the Knave of Hearts, was published in autumn 2016. He is now writing the third Madam Tulip adventure and enjoys pretending this is actual work.

David Ahern lives in the beautiful West of Ireland with his wife, two cats and a vegetable garden of which he is inordinately proud.

You can learn more about David Ahern and Madam Tulip on his website David Ahern.info .

Connect with David Ahern on Facebook: facebook.com/davidahernwriter
and Twitter: twitter.com/daveahernwriter.

Check out other reviews at:

Madam Tulip at Rachel Poli

Madam Tulip at The Book Review Directory

Gone The Next by Ben Rehder

Save the Girl!

Gone The Next (Roy Ballard Series Book One) by Ben Rehder, 286 pages, September 15 2012, Genre: Mystery/Suspense. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

Every year, about 200,000 children are abducted in America. Seventy-eight percent are abducted by the non-custodial parent. 58,000 children were abducted last year by people who were not family members. Of those, 40 percent were murdered last year. When a child goes missing, time is crucial to recovering the child safely. As a parent, I can attest that nothing in the world is more terrifying than the thought of losing your child. Jason Voorhees? No problem. Freddy Kruger? Piece of cake. Missing kid? Parents lose a tiny bit of our minds just thinking about the possibility. If you could see inside our souls at that moment, it’d look a lot like “The Scream” by Edvard Munch, a perpetual state of frozen terror.

In this first installment of the Roy Ballard series, we follow a wise-cracking insurance fraud videographer (Roy) as he sets out to prove worker’s compensation claimants aren’t injured and are defrauding the insurance companies that provide him with lucrative pay for his services. Roy is divorced. He had a daughter from that marriage named Hannah. We’ve all done the same thing at some point- turned away for a minute. But when we look back, our child is there. Roy lost Hannah in the park one day when he turned away for a minute. The nightmare still haunts him, having shaped him. One day as he does routine surveillance on a claimant, he thinks for a moment he glimpses a famous recently missing girl standing in the man’s doorway. He hesitates, he’s unsure if the child was the missing girl. He reports it to the local police who ignore it as having no real merit. Roy continues to try to work with the police as he and his newly acquired partner Mia discover more evidence. But the police don’t want to waste time or resources unless there’s enough evidence to think it’s definite. Finding no help from the cops, Roy and Mia decide to do a little surveillance and investigating of their own. A child’s life hangs in the balance. Roy is worried time is running out to find the girl.

I enjoyed Roy’s sarcastic one liners, his feelings as a defender of women and kids, and willingness to put himself at risk for others. When he does contemplate a wrong or stupid choice, he has Mia there to set him on the right path. Mia is supportive of Roy and considers him her best friend. She’s smart, good-looking, and outspoken. Roy and Mia make a good team. There was limited, appropriate cursing. I found no issues with the grammar or spelling. The plot had a couple of interesting twists. I had to keep reading to find out if they saved the little girl. Rehder does an excellent job of evoking every parent’s worst nightmare.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a page turner for me. I look forward to reading more of Ben Rehder’s series in the future. I’d recommend this to Mystery lovers who enjoy a witty, unconventional private investigator.

This book can be found at Gone the Next by Ben Rehder .

About the Author:

Edgar Award-nominated author Ben Rehder’s novels have made best-of-the-year lists in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Field & Stream. Gone The Next is his ninth novel.

Ben Rehder is an Edgar, Shamus, and Barry Award finalist. His Blanco County comic mysteries have made best-of-the-year lists in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Field & Stream.

To receive an alert when the next Ben Rehder novel is released, sign up for Ben’s occasional newsletter at http://www.benrehder.com.

The complete Ben Rehder bibliography includes:

Buck Fever

Bone Dry

Flat Crazy

Guilt Trip

Gun Shy

Holy Moly

The Chicken Hanger

The Driving Lesson

Gone The Next

Hog Heaven

Get Busy Dying

Stag Party

Bum Steer

If I Had A Nickel

Point Taken

Book Blurb:

Meet Roy Ballard, freelance videographer with a knack for catching insurance cheats. He’s working a routine case, complete with hours of tedious surveillance, when he sees something that shakes him to the core. There, with the subject, is a little blond girl wearing a pink top and denim shorts—the same outfit worn by Tracy Turner, a six-year-old abducted the day before. When the police are skeptical of Ballard’s report—and with his history, who can blame them?—it’s the beginning of the most important case of his life.

Check out other reviews at:

Gone The Next at Gomathan

 

 

A Penny For Her Heart (Detective Rachel Storme Book 3) by Alretha Thomas

Strong, Classy Heroine

A Penny For Her Heart (Detective Rachel Storme Book 3) by Alretha Thomas, 328 pages, July 10 2017, Genre: Mystery. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

I received an ARC copy in exchange for my honest review.

Review by Leigh Holland.

A Penny For Her Heart is the latest installment in the Detective Rachel Storme series from author Alretha Thomas. The book can be read separately from the others as a stand alone. Although this is the first book in the series I’ve read, I intend to pick up the others. Thomas switches perspectives between two strong female characters, Vanessa Rossi and Rachel Storme. She did this masterfully as I never had any trouble keeping up with whose perspective I was reading. I enjoyed being able to see events from the point of view of both the detective solving the murder and the best friend of the victim, forever touched by it.

Vanessa is a bright, ambitious, hard-working political aide who decides to come to city hall on a Saturday to get some work done. She discovers a horrifying murder scene in the ladies’ bathroom. She alerts the guard who looks inside and phones the cops. They confirm that the victim in the stall is Vanessa’s co-worker and best friend, Penelope (“Penny”). Over the course of the story, Vanessa comes to realize her best friend had kept a lot of secrets and even lied- to her, and to everyone. Vanessa, however, has also been keeping a secret from her husband. When he calls her on it, she realizes that even the best intentioned people lie. How well do we really know those closest to us? Are they going through something they believe they can’t talk about? If we don’t really know our nearest and dearest, what awful secrets must strangers hide?

Rachel Storme is honest, dedicated, and relentless in her pursuit of justice for the victim. She shows empathy towards those hurt by the crime and an understanding of human motivation. She doesn’t need her gun or fists most of the time to solve the crime or to get potential perpetrators to talk. She is quick in her assessments and organizes her team well. She has a good ‘gut’ for hunches, too, knowing things aren’t always as cut and dry as they seem. Rachel Storme is a heroine with class.

The plot is very good. I love that the mystery is set against a backdrop of political backstabbing and office politics, giving us many possibilities for the killer’s identity. As information was gained and the net kept widening, it was enjoyable to try to piece together the enigma and solve the crime, traveling the journey with Storme.

I very much enjoyed A Penny For Her Heart. I’d recommend this book to lovers of the mystery genre.

This book is available at A Penny For Her Heart.

Other books by Alretha Thomas include:

Justice for Jessica

Losing Lauren

Four Ladies Only

Missing Melissa

Married in the Nick of Time

The Baby in the Window

One Harte, Two Loves

Renee’s Return

Book Description:

Vanessa Johnson Rossi’s dream is to work in the White House. Not as the leader of the free world, but as chief of staff, overseeing the executive office of the president. As an assistant working at Buderwood Hills City Hall, she finds herself getting closer to realizing her dream when a plum position becomes available that would put her a step closer working directly for the mayor who has personal connections to the White House. But Vanessa’s hopes are dashed when her best friend, Penelope Newhouse, lands the coveted job. However, when Vanessa discovers Penelope murdered less than a hundred feet from the office she dreamed of occupying, her disappointment turns into devastation.

Detective Rachel Storme and her team are put on the case and she soon finds herself delving into the underbelly of politics in search of the killer. The clues point to a litany of suspects, including the mayor. As usual, Detective Storme is determined to solve this case—a case so chock-full of dark and sinister twists and turns, it has her questioning her own competence.

Author Biography:

About the Author
Shortly after graduating from USC with a degree in journalism, Alretha soon realized her interest in her major was not heartfelt. Instead of writing news stories, she wanted to write plays and books. Several years later, her church gave her an outlet to fulfill her writing desires through their Liturgical Fine Arts Department wherein Alretha penned twelve theatre pieces—the community response was overwhelming. This led to plays outside of the church, including Alretha’s “One, Woman Two Lives,” starring Kellita Smith (The Bernie Mac Show), directed by four-time NAACP Image Award Best Director recipient, Denise Dowse. The production garnered rave reviews from critics and audiences. In between plays, Alretha’s first novel, “Daughter Denied,” was launched in 2008 and in 2011, Alretha launched “Dancing Her Dreams Away.” Her third novel, “Married in the Nick of Nine,” was launched in 2012 and spawned a four-book standalone series affectionately known as the Cass & Nick Series. In 2014, Soul Mate Publishing acquired all four books. In 2014 Alretha’s indie novel, “Four Ladies Only,” was awarded the Jessie Redman Fauset Fiction Award. In 2016, Alretha launched the Detective Rachel Storme series. The first standalone book in the series is “Justice for Jessica,” and the second book is “Losing Lauren.” “A Penny For Her Heart” is Alretha’s eleventh novel and the third standalone book in the Detective Rachel Storme series.

A Room Full of Killers by Michael Wood

A Room Full of Killers– A DCI Matilda Darke Novel by Michael Wood, 373 Pages, Killer Reads, February 17th 2017, Genre: Urban Life/ Mystery. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

“Criminals are made, not born”. Investigators found that sign hanging from the Kehoe Farm’s fence when they arrived to check out the scene. Although this book isn’t about the Bath School Disaster or Andrew Kehoe, it forces the reader to explore the question: why do people commit murder? Are they born with something inside them that destines them to kill? Or do circumstances break them down into a monstrous, angry shell, capable of the worst crimes imaginable?

DCI Matilda Darke is back in this third installment of the series. This book can be read as a stand alone. Matilda and her dedicated team are called to Starling House, a prison for underage boys who’ve committed murder. One of the inmates has been murdered and they race against the clock to discover the identity of the killer and the reasons for the killing before the murderer claims another victim. At the same time, Matilda must keep a low profile while trying to re-investigate the case of one of the boys- a boy she believes is innocent. The book intersperses the stories of each boy’s crime between the main plot of the novel. While all of these tales evoke horror, there are a couple of them that evoke sympathy as well. The boy claiming innocence is one such story. Another is the story of the boy subjected to abuse and abandonment by both parents. When he snaps and murders them, it’s horrifying, but I understand why he did what he did. Each story is unique; each story forced me to reconsider my position and think about it from a variety of perspectives.

I liked the protagonist and her crew. The characters were complex- both cops and criminals. The plot was excellent and it wasn’t until very close to the reveal that I began to figure out the solution. The subplot was as fascinating to me as the main plot, providing a nice juxtaposition between punishment for the guilty and justice for the innocent. The style kept me engaged. The timing of events flowed well. I’d recommend this book to lovers of police procedurals and mysteries.

This book can be found at  A Room Full of Killers.

Keyhoe_sign.jpg

Book Description:

‘DCI Matilda Darke is the perfect heroine’ Elly Griffiths
The third book in Michael Wood’s darkly compelling crime series featuring DCI Matilda Darke. Perfect for fans of Stuart MacBride, Mark Billingham and Val McDermid.
Eight killers. One house. And the almost perfect murder…
Starling House is home to some of Britain’s deadliest teenagers, still too young for prison.
When the latest arrival is found brutally murdered, DCI Matilda Darke and her team investigate, and discover a prison manager falling apart and a sabotaged security system. Neither the staff nor the inmates can be trusted.
The only person Matilda believes is innocent is facing prison for the rest of his life. With time running out, she must solve the unsolvable to save a young man from his fate, and find a murderer in a house full of killers…

Other book reviews:

Damppebbles.com

The Book Review Cafe

 

Dating A Chance by Natalia Vereshchagina

Quirky, Innovative

Dating A Chance by Natalia Vereshchagina, 232 Pages, Natalia Vereshchagina, 1st Edition, June 9th 2016, Genre: Thriller/Mystery/Suspense. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

by Leigh Holland

Dating A Chance is a compelling, quirky murder mystery unlike any I have ever read. Its author presents an original spin on the murder mystery genre. This book explores deeper ideas such as God, the nature of the universe, fate, choice, luck, and the human cycle within the context of the puzzle being solved.

J-L, a top rated physicist working in a CERN-esque environment, has been working on his theory that particles can be manipulated at the quantum level in order to attract positive events and people into one’s life, if one but knows how. His theory is basically “the Secret” for scientists. J-L is excited as he believes he has successfully cracked the code for mankind to finally be able to draw positivity into their individual lives. Then killer bees attack him and there goes that prospect.

J-L is survived by his shrew of a wife Sylvia and his pregnant girlfriend/secretary Irene. Sylvia wants Irene out of the cottage Irene shared with J-L, but Irene believes she has rights to it as she is going to be the mother of J-L’s child. J-L’s physicist co-workers Andy, William, and Steve come by to check on Irene. When William and Steve come by after work, they discover Irene’s deceased body, apparently a victim of accidental self-poisoning. As the corpses begin to pile up, William and Steve, both obsessed men of science, must work to discover the truth. Are people being murdered and the deaths being made to appear as accidents? Or did J-L unlock the ultimate secret, only to unleash a curse that skips to those he knew in life? Are they next on the list?

I loved the idea behind this book. It’s fresh and unique. The plot was intriguing. The characters came across as educated, proper gentlemen physicists, as obsessed with solving the puzzling deaths as they were with unlocking secrets of the universe. The author’s voice is unique. While sentence constructions were at times lengthy, I often enjoyed the manner in which Vereshchagina put words together. However, I felt that this book could have benefited from further editing. If you like unconventional, innovative angles on murder mysteries, you’ll probably enjoy Dating A Chance.

It is available at Amazon at Dating A Chance by Natalia Vereshchagina .

September Sky by John A. Heldt

September sky
Journey Through Time!

September Sky (American Journey Book One) by John A. Heldt, 585 pages, January 1st, 2015, Genre: Time Travel/Historical Romance/Victorian. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

by Leigh Holland

September Sky is a novel combining elements of mystery, adventure, romance, time travel, and the historical American Victorian era all in one book. It’s hard to pin a genre down for this book and John A. Heldt combines these elements in a refreshing and unique manner. Although we begin in 2016, we quickly find ourselves traveling back to Galveston, Texas at the turn of the twentieth century. The author’s research into events and places of Galveston in 1900 seemed thorough and added a deeper enjoyment to the story.

This is the story of a father, Chuck, and his adult son- two travelers in life who have lost everything suddenly. Chuck was so obsessed with his work he failed to see what truly mattered. Once he is laid off, and his ex-wife and her parents killed in a tragic accident, he is filled with regret over his choices. Meanwhile, Justin’s life feels empty and hollow to him, and he has dropped out of college. Both men are at transitional periods in their lives, searching for meaning and purpose. Chuck wastes no time bonding with his son Justin on a cruise where they attend a lecture on time travel by Professor Bell. Later, Bell invites them to his home where he offers them the chance of a lifetime- to travel through a time tunnel beneath his house to a specific time in the past. They are given devices to help them return once their journey is complete. Once in 1900, they ignore Bell’s rules and plans, and instead head to Galveston to try to stop an innocent ancestor from being executed for a crime he didn’t commit. Chuck believes righting the injustice will restore his sense of purpose. What neither Chuck nor Justin could have foreseen was falling in love with Charlotte and Emily, Victorian women of 1900 Galveston.

Chuck’s initial experiences in the past mirror his beginning state- a lost soul looking for meaning. He and Justin are both honorable men who come to care deeply about the town and its people. Aware of an impending natural disaster set to wipe out thousands, they must decide whether to interfere in the past and if so, how much they are willing to change it. While helping his great uncle avoid an unjust fate is noble, Chuck realizes righting the wrong won’t give him long term happiness and a sense of purpose. When both men fall in love, they seem to harbor the unrealistic expectation that their lady loves will leave everything behind and follow them back to 2016. Selfishly, they both proceed with romantic, meaningful relationships knowing the turmoil they may bring into the women’s lives. But perhaps that’s part of the theme- the ties that bind us inspire us to make radical, life altering choices in the name of love. Love gives our lives meaning and purpose.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this novel. The writing style is very good; although there were a few sections of dialogue that perhaps could have been condensed. People often choose to obsess over other aspects of their lives, such as career, and we often take those we love for granted, imagining we’ll always have more time with them. The depiction of the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 was dramatic, nail-biting, and reminded us that we can lose everything and everyone at any moment. The romantic elements weren’t graphic and were flirtatious and sweet. I’d recommend this novel to readers who enjoy time travel, mystery, and adventure novels.

This book is the first in a five book series. You can purchase this book at Amazon at September Sky.

The Death of Anyone by D.J. Swykert

The Death of Anyone cover
Gritty, Intense!

The Death of Anyone by D.J Swykert, 222 pages, Melange Books LLC, February 25th, 2013, Genre: Crime/Serial Killers, Adult themes. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

“The death of anyone lessens us,” we are told at the beginning. Indeed, Frigyes Karinthy in 1929 put forth the idea that there are a mere six degrees of separation between each human being, showing how much more intimately connected we are than we may perceive. Yet nightly, the wealthy, the powerful, the influential- they may sleep soundly in their beds, believing the horrors that touch the poor won’t affect them personally. They believe they can ensure it through neighborhood watches, gated communities, additional police protection, and security services. When one is not personally affected, one makes excuses for why more cannot be done to bring justice to victims of violent crime; the city budget won’t allow it, the police department is over budget, it won’t look good on a District Attorney’s record if he can’t convict.

The Death of Anyone is a graphic and gritty police procedural. Instantly, we’re pulled into the dark, tense world of homicide detective Bonnie Benham, a tough-as-nails cop determined to get the killer. A little girl from Ohio has been raped and strangled, her corpse left in a Detroit alley. Bonnie and her partner, Detective Lagrow, search missing persons and cold case databases for matches to the crime. They find two similar crimes spaced over a year apart, the victims both from the Sherwood Forest neighborhood of Detroit. Approaching the coroner, they ask her about the autopsies of the two prior victims and request that she do the autopsy on the current victim. She agrees and finds DNA evidence- the killer left sweat on the victim. The DNA doesn’t find a match and they’re turning up dead ends on canvassing. Lagrow suggests a method accepted in the UK- a Familial DNA match. The FBI can run a Familial DNA match. If a relative of the killer is in the system, this type of match would provide a lead. They request permission from their Lieutenant and the D.A.’s Assistant, Marion Johnson. Marion strikes the idea out because in America, this type of DNA testing has never been tested for use as evidence in court, and they don’t want to risk losing a conviction if the case is built on it and a judge throws it out. Once the child of a powerful person becomes a victim of the clever serial killer, all walls fall away, all resources granted to bring the killer to justice.

My favorite characters are the best developed- Bonnie Benham and Neil Jensen, her lover and fellow homicide detective. They are soul mates, both having struggled with addiction, both trying to be and do better, to move forward past the pain and self-blame of their pasts. They have some different interests but there is no denying the love and passion they find for one another. The love between them provides a warm light in Bonnie’s dark world. We have all hurt; we have all felt guilt and blamed ourselves, rightfully or not, for our mistakes. We want to prevent the suffering of innocents and deliver justice to the guilty. Bonnie and Neil were well developed and relatable.

After finishing this book, I was convinced that Familial DNA matches should be the norm in the United States, not the exception. Confronted with an ugly truth of our society- that money and position make all the difference in determining which crimes get solved- I realized how many more murders could be prevented if we shifted our priorities and treated every murder victim as though they were the child of a powerful person, as if nothing mattered more than bringing about justice, equally to all.

The Death of Anyone was an intense read with a heavy theme. This page-turning, quality story is not for the faint of heart. If you love police procedurals, don’t miss out on this one. I’d recommend this book to those interested in detective fiction, police procedurals, and serial killer crimes. This can be found at The Death of Anyone.

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as is a manor of thy friend’s

Or of thine own were;

Any man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

-John Donne