Book Review: The Gate Keeper

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


The Gate Keeper, by the mother/son team known as Charles Todd, is a mystery with a huge ending twist.  Fans of this series will see Scotland Yard Detective Ian Rutledge having to solve a case from a different point of view. He is not only the investigator, but is the first person on the scene so he has become a witness as well.

Because this is a different type of mystery, The Todds wanted to make sure readers understand that it is not a puzzle where “there is a race between the writer and the reader as to who figures it out first. This novel has Rutledge pursuing the truth and finding a solution.  He has a dogged determination to keep tracking the killer.”

Having left his sister’s wedding in a distraught mood Rutledge decides to take a car trip. He encounters on a deserted road a woman standing next to a murder victim.  She reports how a stranger stepped in front of the car and without warning fired a shot killing Stephen Wentworth immediately.  With a list of persons of interest piling up Rutledge must sort through the many different aspects of the case.  He is helped along by a voice in his head, Corporal Hamish MacLeod, the ghost of the Scottish officer he had executed for cowardice, who comments persistently inside this detective's weary ear. Rutledge always listens, and appears to have given Hamish a life that was taken away. Hamish is real to Rutledge, sometimes antagonistic, sometimes supportive, sometimes part of his unconscious perception, an inner-self.

An interesting piece to the storyline is the similarities between the victim, Stephen, and the detective, Rutledge.  They both had someone close to them killed in the war, although Rutledge played more of a role.  They were also both jilted by the woman they loved.”  The Todds noted, “Stephen is the ultra ego of Rutledge in some ways, and that is probably one of the reasons why he wanted to follow through and find the killer. They both developed levels of coping skills and were solitary people.  Neither became involved in a relationship after their engagement was broken.  Yet, Ian came from a loving family, and Stephen from a dysfunctional one.” 

One of the secondary characters can best be described as an early 20th Century “Mommy Dearest.”  The mother of Stephen is vicious, spoiled, and uncaring who tried to thwart any happiness her son might achieve.  “We wanted to write a character where the mother hated her son all his life. She sees him as a monster, an ugly duckling.  She has no redeeming qualities. She enjoys painting him in a dim light.  Basically, just a terrible person who is bitter and self-centered.”

Because World War I play such an important role in the storyline, readers get a glimpse into the emotional wounds of many of the men, including Rutledge. “We wanted to humanize those who have served.  Our goal as writers is to show how they were ordinary people and then were trained to be warriors.  When they come back they must learn to trust again and to relate to those outside of their unit, the band of brothers. They can talk amongst their peers because they know there is a sense of understanding. Having experienced horrors first hand they cannot just shut out what they saw on the battlefield.”

The Gate Keeper by Charles Todd is a ‘who done it’ type of mystery.  Readers will enjoy the investigative process Ian Rutledge must go through to find the culprit.


The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


The Bookshop of Yesterdaysby Amy Meyerson is part mystery and part drama involving family dynamics.  It is a shout out to those who love books and bookstores since the main mystery is centered around both, and comes about with riddles from book quotes. Clues to the scavengers’ hunt are found in the classics of the past, The Tempest, Jane Eyre, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Frankenstein, Fear of Flying, Persuasion, The Grapes of Wrath, andBridge to Terabithia.

The story begins with Miranda Brooks’ twelfth birthday party.  Her beloved Uncle Billy is a no-show and to make matters worse that night she overhears a fight between him and her mother.  She sees Billy only once more and then he cuts himself off from her life. Similar to someone who has lost a loved one she experiences grief, loss. and anger. He left her with no explanation.Fast-forward sixteen years later where Miranda attempts to make a life for herself in Philadelphia teaching history in a middle school. 

She finds out Billy has died and the fond memories of their times together sweeps over her. He took her to his Los Angeles bookstore Prospero Books, where they would read, solve riddles, and have elaborate scavenger hunts full of surprises. After the funeral Miranda learns she inherited the financially challenged bookstore and Billy has left her one more scavenger hunt: a quest to provide answers about the mysterious family’s rift that no one wants to speak about.

Myerson explains, “My bookstore visually looks a lot like one in Echo Park.  I borrowed a lot physically from it, but not any of the actual character struggles. I also spoke with some managers of bookstores that helped me to understand how they work. Silverlake, the community in Echo Park, has changed a lot. I wanted to make Prospero Books an earlier relic of the neighborhood that is disappearing.”

Furthermore, “I love books about books.  I wanted to set a story in a bookstore.  The reason for the bookstores’ name, “Prospero Books,” is because “The Tempest” has a scene where he gains magical powers through books.  Also, Billy would take Miranda there as a way to connect with her.  Since it was originally his late wife’s he thought Miranda might also connect to her.  I think it was a way for Billy to share his late wife, Evelyn, with Miranda and keep the memory of her alive. I think he tried to explain his life to Miranda through the books in his bookstore and not directly as in a letter.  Scavenger hunts were a way Billy communicated.  It enabled him to explain his emotions and through the riddles he was able to talk to Miranda.”

Early on many readers will realize the big family secret.  Yet, they will turn the pages to take the journey of the scavenger hunt with Miranda to find out find out how the past family secrets would be revealed. A scene from the book would forewarn readers that the quest is more important than the mystery: “he left her clues meant to impart wisdom and knowledge as well as lead to the reward: Even though I always figured out where the quest was going before we got there, he refused to let me rush through the lesson.”

The author explained, “I wrote how Suze, Miranda’s mother, realized holding back secrets makes it progressively more difficult to tell the truth.  I wrote in this book quote, ‘It’s difficult seeing parents for who they are, rather than who we want them to be.’ I wanted to explore the way we can and cannot know our parents.  I know I feel this way and I think others do as well. It is hard to fully understand who they were before they became parents.  We only know what they chose to tell us and how they chose to tell us.”

This heartfelt debut novel explores loss, healing, and family with all the tensions, misunderstandings, and estrangements that are sometimes part of it. Books and the bookstore are an added bonus allowing readers to understand the importance of forgiveness.

Book Review: The Summer Wives

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


The Summer Wivesby Beatriz Williams combines romance, secrecy, and suspense.  As with all her books she concentrates on a mystery, the murder of a rich playboy, and social issues, class conflicts. Intertwined within the plot are complex relationships that connect all the characters. 

The setting plays an important role in this novel, just as it had in William’s blockbuster novel, A Hundred Summers. Both take place on an island with an obvious clash between the haves and have nots, where all are determined to keep the outside world from its shores. In this book, Winthrop Island, off the New England coast, is the summer retreat for the old wealth and elite and the yearly home of the working class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers as well as their families.

Williams noted, “Winthrop Island is inspired by Fisher’s Island, which is off the coast of Connecticut. Until the early 1920s it was purely farm land.  It was then developed where half of the island has beautiful homes and a golf course. It was very difficult to research because people don’t like to talk about Fisher’s Island.  Most of the Island is behind a guard’s booth and it is isolated since the only way to get there is by ferry.   Older money came there to escape and use it as a retreat. Families came there year after year during the summer, mingling only with themselves.  They went to the Island to build silos around themselves.”

The story is centered around Miranda Schulyer, told in different time frames. In 1951, she was an eighteen-year-old just graduating high school, and then it fast forwards to 1969 where she is a thirty-six-year-old actress.  All the incidents in the book go back to how Miranda was affected by them, whether the death of her father, the murder of her step-father, the relationships between Joseph and Isobel, also Miranda’s sister by marriage, and her true love, Joseph.

Coming from a modest family Miranda is thrown into a world of wealth and elitism, after her mother marries Hugh Fisher.  His great-grandfather made the family rich by taking advantage of the Victorian hygiene craze.  She is drawn to Joseph, the son of the lighthouse keeper and a lobster fisherman, who is on summer break from Brown University. Realizing she is falling in love with Joseph her dreams are shattered after he is accused of murdering her step-father and she is banished from the island for defending him.

“I wanted to explore the relationship between the summer residents and the year-round residents, made up of the working class.  The differences included religion: Catholicism of the ordinary folks, and the Episcopal Church of the WASP culture that was only opened during the summer.  In addition, there was a class and wealth difference.  I wanted to explore all these disparities.”

Fast-forward to 1969 after Miranda returns, now a famous actress. Both Joseph and Miranda are escaping. She tries to renew her relationship with her step-sister, Isobel, and her mother, while Joseph is trying to survive as a fugitive. She wants to reignite the love she had for Joseph and prove his innocence. But in doing so, the Island's secrets begin to unravel.

“I wanted to show how those who fought in World War II were from the elite class of leaders in the military, political, and industrial world.  But during the years the story takes place in they chose to exist on the money their grandparents made.  They essentially became spectators instead of participants.  This generation prized itself on preservation rather than innovation, so they became static.  The future does not belong to people who don’t want to change.  They never questioned the values of society.  I chose 1969 because of the moon landing. It has the symbolism of showing that this generation were just deep spectators.  Once they went into preservation mode they wrote off their own relevance.”

The book delves into the themes of heroism, sacrifice, and redemption within the self-contained society. In some ways, it will remind people of those 1930 movies where love conflicts with power.

Book Review: The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washingtonby Charles Rosenberg is a great Fourth of July novel.  Anyone who feels a sense of patriotism will want to read this gripping story about America’s General George Washington. The suspense ratchets up as readers wonder what will happen to one of America’s greatest heroes. 

This thought-provoking alternative history book takes place in the midst of the American Revolution. An English plot to kidnap General George Washington, brings him overseas to England, and puts him on trial as a traitor. But some like British Prime Minister Frederick North want to use him as a bargaining chip to put an end to a very costly war. British special agent Colonel Jeremiah Black, an officer of the King’s Guard, is assigned the task of landing on a deserted beach in late November 1780. Aided by “Loyalist” Americans he is able to sprint Washington aboard the HMS Peregrine.  Upon their arrival, Washington is imprisoned in the Tower of London to await trial on charges of high treason.

An interesting controversy explored, are the US colonies in rebellion and therefore subject to charges of treason, or are they a separate country; thus, Washington should be treated as a prisoner of war? “I found out these were actual arguments at the time. Washington would argue he was a prisoner of war, and that under the laws of war, he must be released at the end of hostilities or exchanged for another prisoner.  The debate: were the colonists a legitimate authority or rebels, as the King proclaimed in 1775, in a state of rebellion? Although, there were actually exchanges of prisoners.  In 1781 Henry Laurens was swapped for the British General Lord Cornwallis who was famous for losing the Battle of Yorktown. I think given the chance George III would have wanted Washington executed.” 

Although Washington is more of a secondary character, throughout the novel his presence looms significantly.  Key characters include the American ambassador, Ethan Abbott, sent to negotiate Washington’s release, the British Prime Minister Lord North, and the defense attorney chosen to defend Washington, Abraham Hobhouse, an American-born barrister with an English wife. An added highlight has all the characters’ debating key issues of the time.  Rosenberg does this with a great writing style where readers do not feel as if they are being hit over the head with a history lesson.

Rosenberg noted, “He is definitely not the protagonist of the novel, but is more of a topic in it.  I realized that the first third of the book, where the planning and capture of the General happens, would have him not commenting at all.  For the second part, where he is on the ship, he is a prisoner, who is basically helpless.  This means that he would not have a lot to say. Because various people would have objected and commented that Washington would not have thought that or done this.  I tried to present him as his contemporaries described him. There were not a lot of personal writings since Martha Washington burned his letters after he died. This made it hard to get a lot of material.  However, I did read his speeches and hope that I came close to the way he would have said things when I did quote him.”

This alternative history is informative and interesting, within a gripping novel.  Part adventure story, part spy novel, and part courtroom drama it has many twists. This what-if plot has an intriguing storyline.

Book Review: Dark Side of the Moon

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

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Dark Side of the Moonby Alan Jacobson is another “OPSIG Team Black” adventure.  This story will literally take people to a new dimension. Readers will feel they are on a journey on F-18 fighter planes and a trip to the moon while combating espionage, the dark secrets of the moon, and kidnapping.

Jacobson commented, “After reading this article about Apollo 17 bringing back moon rocks I had an idea that maybe they could be used for military purposes. Since I do not write science fiction I needed to do a lot of research and worked with some awesome people. I talked with an engineer who worked on the Space Shuttle and is currently working on a NASA project.  The different organizations that cooperated were NASA, JPL, Lockheed, and SPACEX.  People helped me work out the logistics of how the mission should be carried out.  Even though it was quite an endeavor, given the opportunity I would do it again. Mainly, because I have been fascinated with space, growing up with Star Trek and the Apollo missions.” 

Readers find out that after returning to the earth in 1972 Apollo 17 brought back some classified items. Discovering its importance, a NASA engineer leaks the information to foreign governments.  Now there is a race to the moon to find an element called Caesarium.  If found it can be used to produce a weapon with an ultimate magnitude of destruction, that has important military applications.  In order to stop China and Russia Hector DeSantos and Aaron Uziel (Uzi) join with two astronauts on a mission called Operation Containment.   They must prevent Caesarium from being brought back. 

Meanwhile back on earth, Karen Vail and company have determined that the mission has been sabotaged and they must find out the mole who did it. Karen Vail and her colleague Alexandra Rusakov will have to find the mole and destroy the spy ring that planted malware on the ships that are now headed for the Moon. To complicate matters Hector’s father is kidnapped and will be used as leverage.

The author likes to venture out and write new stories.  His last book, Darkness of Evil, and his next book will delve into serial killers.  “As a writer, I want to keep fresh and different. I want to challenge my characters and myself to acclimate to new environments.  Karen Vail has been to Paris, England, and Spain maneuvering through the different cultures, places, laws, and law enforcement.  I think this current book about moon elements is extremely relevant.  Space can help with our military readiness that includes determining logistics.  We need to maintain our superiority in space and should applaud our President’s efforts to reinvigorate our space program. We need a moon base to collect natural resources and use it as a spring board to get to another planet.”

Space is coming to the forefront once again.  This believable story shows the importance of America keeping its space superiority. It also highlights how Karen Vail must maneuver through lies, betrayals, and disloyalties to find the culprits.

Book Review: Freefall

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

Freefallby Adam Hamdy is the second book of a three-book series.  The Pendulumhas swung to this novel where all the main characters are trying to survive. FBI Agent Christine Ash is still trying to prove her conspiracy theory, English DI Patrick Bailey is trying to recover, and war photographer John Wallace is attempting to escape his past. Although readers can probably figure out what is happening it is better to read book one, Pendulum.

Hamdy commented, “The first book, Pendulum, looks at the consequences of how one person can do someone else wrong.  It deals with anger and fear.  This book, Freefall, expands upon Pendulumand explores how technology can subvert government and financial institutions.  It looks on how each character can trust each other and the government.  The third book, Aftershock, looks at our belief system and how technology has changed the way others can manipulate our beliefs, creating an illusion of facts.  I call it Fake News on steroids.”

The novel starts out with the horrific scene of a London journalist, a mother having hung herself.  The death triggers an investigation that brings back together Ash, Wallace, and Bailey, hurling them into the path of an unknown enemy. They have one rule, “Trust no one.” Each have encountered these masked men that target them for the kill. The investigation leads them to discover that the Pendulum killer was not working alone. As with the first book, the theme has Hamdy examining the internet and its excesses.

Should there be some sort of regulation and control? Hamdy “thinks technology is only in its infinite stage, and will end up rivaling the Industrial Revolution. No one asks questions about what we want out of it. There are a number of parents who are upset that their children are addicted to social media. There is this perception that we are not living our lives for ourselves, but for an audience.  Those on social media who are anonymous are far more rude and aggressive.  I am pretty sure if they are in front of the person they are goading they would not behave in that way.  It gives people license to go further than they normally would.” 

It becomes obvious that all three characters are still being put through the ringer, suffering physical and emotional pain as they find themselves in mortal danger. Suicide, attempted beheadings and IED explosions, are all described in graphic detail. After being captured Ash is tortured where the antagonist breaks her, forcing her into a state of pain, fear, fatigue, disorientation and detachment. A book quote, “But that machine had broken her, and trapped in the darkness, she wept at her failure, knowing that she would do or say anything to prevent them using it on her again.”

The protagonists have been left with physical and mental scars from their previous encounter.Wallace is punishing himself with guilt over his girlfriend’s death, Bailey has PTSD from his previous experiences with the criminal, and Christine Ash is trying to overcome her childhood demons that have caused her to have trust issues.

“I wrote those scenes having more emotional torture than physical torture. I am a great believer that once you read the shock the fear is caused by the reader’s imagination.  I think I only suggested the pain, but the reader takes it from there with their mind filling in the gaps.  What makes it terrifying are the psychological aspects, the loss of control and how it takes someone to their darkest places.” 

Tragedy, conspiracies, and deadly encounters powers this adventure and action story.  It is a pulse-racing read that is relentless and is not for the squeamish.  Readers will empathize with the three heroes, hoping beyond hope that they come out of the danger with an emotional and physical strength.


Book Review: The Prince

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

The Prince by Katharine Ashe is the last book in the “Devil Duke series.” With each new book, she outdoes herself. The latest is always better than the last. As with most of her books, she writes how nothing is what it seems to be on the surface.  Both the hero and heroine hide their identity, she her gender, and he his background. He becomes a portrait painter so no one will know he is a prince, and she dresses up as a man, hiding the fact she is a woman. A subplot involving murdered women and grave-robbing adds to the mystery of whether the hero and heroine’s secrets will be found out.

At the heart of the novel is how Libby Shaw and Ziyaeddin Mizra, aka as Ibrahim Kent strive to save lives. He does it metaphorically, painting the real person, healing someone emotionally, while she does it literally, attempting to heal the body surgically.

She is ahead of her time, not willing to give into the social norms that forbid women from becoming doctors.  To achieve her life-long dream, to become a member of Edinburgh’s all-male Royal College of Surgeons, she disguises herself as a man. To make this a reality she enlists the help of Ziyaeddin who agrees to allow her to live with him, on one condition,she must sit once a week for him to paint, but as a woman.Eventually they come to realize that they are the only people each feels completely comfortable with, desire, and can depend upon.

For anyone who thinks this story cannot be realistic, Ashe refers them to “the biography of James Barry, which inspired Libby’s disguise.  He was formerlyMargaret Buckley,a woman who at nineteen changed her name and appearance to enter medical school in Edinburgh in 1809.This was necessary because most men in nineteenth century Britain believed that women lacked the physical and moral nature to be physicians or surgeons.It was not until Barry was on his deathbed that it was discovered he had a female body. I thought that if James Barry could do it for a lifetime, then my character could do it for a year.  And I wondered: how many women who sought a different life than they were allowed did this?”

Ziyaeddin also hides his identity, frustrated by his seventeen-year exile in Scotland. He is the deposed Prince of Tabir, a small Middle Eastern country. Forced to flee with his mother as a child after his father was killed in a coup he waits for the moment when he can return, take his rightful place on the throne, and rescue his sister. For now, he bides his time, wondering what will become of his and Libby’s relationship.  Although Tabir is a fictional country, Ashe sees it as “an invention based on the realm of history.  It is a small kingdom between the empires of Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and Iran. He ended up in Edinburgh because it had a port where people came together, similar to those places where he grew up.” 

The story explores Obsession-Compulsive Disorder. It is written in such a way that readers feel Libby’s pain. There is an understanding of the actual effects that it has on her as a person. It comes to the forefront after Ziyaeddin leaves for London, and Libby is left alone in the house. Anytime there are sudden changes Libby has episodes of irrational behavior where she feels compelled to have everything in order, and will keep doing it again and again until she gets it right. If she can't, she shuts down until she can cope again. After she confides in Ziyaeddin, and he agrees to help her, she realizes he is a special person.

Libby is very smart, single-minded in her goal, compassionate,caring, thoughtful, and very determined. Ziyaeddin compliments her with his kindness, gentleness, firmness, strength, as well as his protective, nurturing,and caring ways.

Infused in the story are fascinating pieces of nineteenth-century history.  This is by no means an information dump, but facts that allow the story to come alive. Ashe has the ability to make sure it does not overwhelm the plot, yet readers learn about the culture, politics, and social norms of the era.

This is a refreshing adventure story with a theme of friendship and respect.  Ashe weaves in important topics of prejudice, racism, mental health, disability, and equality that make the plot and characters relatable.

Book Review: Second Strike

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


Second Strike by Peter Kirsanow has Special Operator Michael Garin returning to save the day again. This Superman quote applies, Garin “fights the unending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.” He will once again face off against his nemesis, Russian Special Operator Taras Bor in this action-packed thriller.

Mike Garin was not written as an anti-hero.  “I wrote him as someone who is sure about the righteousness of his cause. He sleeps very well at night.  Never apologetic for defending America.  I wanted him to be a Gary Cooper type, the old-fashioned gun slinger who is on the side of right.  I met many operators and my brother-in-law used to be one.  They believe in America and understand what must be done to keep it as the greatest country in the world. Garin was inspired in part by a couple of operators I’ve known, but he’s chiefly a combination of the attributes of my brother-in-law and my late father, one of the world’s great badasses. In fact, Nikolai “Pop” Garin is my father. The existential struggle between Garin and his nemesis Taras Bor is a metaphor between the existential struggle of America and its chief enemies. In future books readers will find out something about Bor that will surprise them and put some things in perspective.” 

At the center of the plot is the ongoing geopolitical tension between Russia and America.  Just weeks after thwarting an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack by the Russians and Iranians, Garin and company realize that Russia is planning something else, a massive cyber-attack using ISIS wannabes. It is a warning of sorts that hammers the point home, America does not have a response doctrine to a massive attack of either magnitude.  Without government support, Garin turns to three people for help: Congo Knox, a former Delta Force sniper; Dan Dwyer, the head of a sprawling military contracting firm; and Olivia Perry, an aide to the national security advisor. As the tension mounts up Garin must stop the attack or millions will die.

Kirsanow commented, “Because of my job I am at a lot of committee hearings. The first book, Target Omega, was inspired by a 2010 hearing on EMP.  For this book, I happened on a committee meeting regarding cyber-attacks.  It was shortly after that where China hacked the Office of Personal Management.  My assistant on the Committee of Civil Rights had her file hacked.  It affected so many people I know.  The administration at the time did nothing to protect those individuals.  The opening scene in this book refers to how previous administrations let problems fester. If we do not have plans to deal with these dangers it amounts to ‘defense malpractice.’”

This story has never ending action.  Readers will be on the edge of their chairs as they quickly turn the pages to see how Garin thwarts Bor and the Russians.

Book Review A Steep Price

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


A Steep Priceby Robert Dugoni perfectly balances the character’s professional and personal lives.  This sixth book in the series continues with Seattle Violent Crimes homicide detective Tracy Crosswhite and her fellow A-Team colleagues.  Although the two cases to solve are not related, Dugoni is able to show how a real precinct works.

The first crime has Vic Fazzio (Faz) and his partner investigating the murder of a community activist who stood up to the realities of drug dealing, sex escorts, and gangs. Faz’s determination to nail the obvious suspect leads him to a South Park housing project. He searches for evidence against the menacing Cartel Surano, which is led by Little Jimmy.  They are a powerful local gang, dealing in drugs and terrorizing the local community, ensuring that they do not cooperate with the police. Because his partner injured his back Vic is now paired with the newbie, Andrea Gonzalez. Complicating everything is the shooting of the key witness.  His and Gonzalez’s account do not mesh and it appears she is trying to frame him over the fatal shot.

The other crime has Tracy Crosswhite helping on a missing person’s case. Besides the investigation Dugoni explores many social issues including “sugar dating,” and the different cultural expectations of East Indian women versus the ramifications in contemporary society. After the body turns up in an abandoned well, Tracy wonders if anyone in the victim’s estranged family is responsible. Kavita Mukherjee balked at an arranged marriage and had plans to attend medical school, but her dreams have now been cut short. She was resolute to make it on her own and raised money by having a “sugar daddy” on the side. With people of interest mounting up Tracy is determined to find Kavita’s killer.

Dugoni explained, “I got into a UBER with a young guy in the car.  We got to talking and he told me he had just been married. I asked if he had dated for a long time and the response, ‘no, it was an arranged marriage.’ He was Eastern Indian and told me he met her twice before the marriage.  His parents were the product of an arranged marriage and have been together for thirty years.  I was told by him arranged marriages have a lot less divorces.  As he was talking I took notes in my head and then started the research.”

To help solve the crime Tracy uses a technological angle.  Cell phones play an important role and they almost appear to be a secondary character. The important keys include the phone’s location history, the Find My iPhone app that can be shared between phones, and text messages with parental safeguards. It is a subtle warning how technology contributes to less privacy for the individual.

Another issue explored is maternity leave. Tracy is pregnant and worries that a new hire, Andrea Gonzalez, is being groomed to take her place. A book quote explains her thinking, “It would be much more difficult for her to argue discrimination if Nolasco (her Captain) replaced her with another woman-especially a minority woman.”

“I wrote Tracy as a tough cookie.  When on the job she is all business.  Her problem is she must deal with a sexist pig, Captain Johnny Nolasco. Her concern is that he brought in a Hispanic woman, Andrea Gonzalez. If a team has an urgent need they can bring in somebody.  She can have her job back, but not necessarily with the A Team.  She will have to be put back in a position of a detective on a violent crimes team.  Yet, she can become the fifth wheel or go to another team. It will be difficult for her to argue she was demoted because of sexism.  I think in other circumstances she and Gonzalez would probably have been close instead of clashing as they are now.” 

The dedication of the book, “To all the women who have suffered from breast cancer and have fought the good fight.  Hopefully, someday, research will break through and we finally will have a cure.” In this story, a few of the characters are suffering from breast cancer, Vera included. “I wrote those scenes because some in my family have it. My mother is a breast-cancer survivor of twenty-five years. She went through it when I was younger.  I have a sister-in-law who is currently going through this.  We lost my cousin’s wife from breast cancer.  It really impacts families. It really impacted me.  It is very difficult.” 

These fast-moving plot lines intertwined with some social issues creates a gripping story. Dugoni’s ability to tell a riveting action-packed plot while exploring the topics of arranged marriages, returning to work after a pregnancy, a cancer diagnosis, sex escorts, and drug dealers within a community, makes for a riveting suspense novel.

Book Review: A Dying Note

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


A Dying Noteby Ann Parker brings to life San Francisco during the late 1800s. As a co-owner of the Silver Queen Saloon the main character, Inez Stannert, had a stake in an upscale brothel. This sixth book of the series has a change of venue from Leadville Colorado to San Francisco California.  Besides the change of setting there is a change of professions for Inez and her ward, Antonia Gizzi.

Parker noted she changed the setting because “I live in the Bay area.  This is a new setting for me because the past five books were placed in Leadville Colorado. Also, it was a hot bed for labor activity with the Waterfront and printer organizations.  This allowed me to write in about a possible musicians’ labor union.  I think at some level I was going to have her leave, as Inez says that Leadville was just a stop along the way and that she and her ward were supposed to go to San Francisco.”

Inez is content to settle into her new life until the body of a musician washes ashore upon the banks of San Francisco’s Mission Creek Bay.  She recognizes the victim, someone who came to her for piano lessons. As Inez begins her investigation, she is confronted by her shady past in the form of Leadville silver baron Harry Gallagher. He gives her one-week to discover the murderer, or he will expose her past associations and threatens to ruin her socially/financially. Time grows short as Inez uncovers long-hidden secrets and unsettled scores that affect lives and reputations.

Inez is a strong woman protagonist.  “I spoke with and learned from Women Writing The West who influenced me to set my story in the historical West.  Inezis a woman with a mysterious past, a complicated present, and an uncertain future. I based her name on my paternal grandmother’s maiden name.  My family actually thought she would have got a kick out of it.  What the fictional and real women had in common is a will of iron, strong women.  They powered through from their difficulties. She was a woman of her times. Women who came to the West made a life for themselves. They tended to be pretty strong willed emotionally, spiritually, and physically.” 

Realizing the death might have something to do with union organizers, Inez is not content to sit back and do nothing.  The victim, Jamie Monroe, wanted to establish unions, including one geared for musicians. He was also working to secure enough money to marry Carmella Donato, the daughter of Nick Donato. He is the partner of Inez, as well as a well-respected businessman, and an accomplished musician who tries to find employment for musicians who frequent his establishment.

Throughout the story readers get tidbits of information about San Francisco.  They will visit the eloquent Palace Hotel, and the dangerous areas of the Barbary Coast and Chinatown. 

Besides a good mystery, information about places, clothing, businesses, transportation, and education makes the story interesting.

Book Review: Jar of Hearts

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


Jar of Heartsby Jennifer Hillier blends a murder, cover-up, and twisted relationships.  Through manipulated lives, prison hardships, abuse, friendship, and wrecked futures readers understand how someone’s life can go so wrong.

The story came from an article Hillier read, “about the wife of a serial killer that was released from prison and re-invented her life. Karla Homolka was the wife of Paul Bernardo, a serial killer that murdered three young women back in the ’90s in Toronto. Karla testified against her husband in exchange for twelve years, which turned out to be a very lenient sentence once it was discovered what an instrumental role she played in helping Bernardo find his victims. Her sentence was not harsh because she claimed he was abusive and she became a victim of his as well.  After serving her time she re-married, had children of her own, and became a PTA mom. For me this is just mind blowing.”

The story centers on Georgina (Geo) Shaw, someone who had to deal with the grief of losing her mother and two best friends.  But it appeared she overcame it, becoming a successful, thirty-year-old self-made executive at a Seattle pharmaceutical company.  That is until she was arrested at a board meeting and charged with being an accomplice in Angela Wong’s murder, her high school best friend. She makes a plea deal, to testify against her former abusive boyfriend and the actual killer, Sweetbay Strangler, Calvin James.  Not only did he choke Angela to death, but also killed three others. Georgina is sentenced to five years in prison for her role.  After she is released from prison, new killings of mothers and their children start piling up, and Geo, unable to escape her past, is suspected of knowing something about the new murders.

The author commented, “I want readers to be unsure if they liked, disliked, or are somewhere in between with Geo.  After all she was only sixteen when her friend was murdered and she was scared of Calvin and scared about going to prison with a feeling that her life would be ruined. Because Angela was already dead she felt it would not matter if she came forward. As days went by it became harder and harder for her to get out of the lies.  The secrets just pile up.  How do you go back and undue all of that? Since no one specifically asked her she was hoping it would just go away.  She basically learned how to compartmentalize.  I do think she felt if someone had asked her that she would have told them and confessed.  She became entrapped by her own secrets.  Her moral code shut down and her survival mode took over. She did not think of the other consequences, that more women could die and Angela’s family would never have closure. I hope readers think what would they do if they were put in that position? I would have probably gone to the police.”

Each character has a connection in this psychological thriller. A book quote shows how almost all of them are unsympathetic, “In every story there is a hero and a villain, but sometimes one person can be both.”  The only exception would be detective Kaiser Brody who strives to get justice. He, Angela, and Geo were considered the Three Musketeers in high school. What they all had in common was an obsession for each other: Calvin desiring Geo all for himself, Geo wanting to be Angela’s constant sidekick, Kaiser’s unrequited love for Geo through the years, and Angela the “mean girl.”

This dark novel exemplifies how easy it is to make bad decisions that can never be taken back. Fourteen years ago, Geo was complicit in her friend’s death. She watched her boyfriend, Calvin, kill and bury Angela, keeping the dark secret from the police, her friends, and her family.  Because of this Geo went to prison where she suffered unbearable hardships.

“I wrote Geo’s prison experience and was influenced by a number of sources. For years I was obsessed with the TV show Lock Up. I spent a day taking a tour of a correction facility for women outside Seattle to see how they lived and interacted.  It has its own world that can be very bleak and monotonous. I think I would be like Geo and adapt to the situation because we are both scrappy. Just as she did I would make friends with the right people.  I also talked with someone who used to work in corrections.  She told me how manipulative inmates are, many deviate and evil.  Given the right circumstances it could bring out the worst in people.” 

It is a riveting story that readers will not want to put down. Just when people think they have the plot figured out Hillier throws a curve ball with an even more sinister and darker plot. Murder, lies, grief, obsession, guilt, friendship, and distorted love add up to make a gripping story.

Book Review: A Rebel Heart

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


A Rebel Heartby Beth White brings to light the Reconstruction Era with a gripping story. It is a valuable tale of love and forgiveness between the characters and as a nation. Readers will be sympathetic not to the brutal plantation slave owner, but to those who became collateral damage.  White shows that during this time period nothing is black and white, but much more is grey.Three sisters, Selah, Joelle, and Aurora Daughtry try to save their Mississippi home after the Civil War. With the help of a Yankee, Levi Riggins, a retired Union officer, now a Pinkerton agent, they agree to convert the plantation to a hotel.

White noted, “I thought to make the main heroine an improvised Southern belle who grew up on a plantation and now years after the war’s end has a lot to lose.  I wanted to add tension to the story by making the hero a retired Union Officer who served in Mississippi. I also had the southern family depend on their freed slaves to help them survive.” 

An early scene has drunk Union soldiers beating and raping a Southern woman, the mother of the Daughtery daughters. White has readers realize that many Southerners also suffered during and after the Civil War. She presents both sides of the story, the rebel father who is prejudiced and resents how his way of life has been destroyed, the daughters, Selah, Joelle, and Aurora, who want a roof over their head and food in their stomachs, and the freed slaves who attempt to use their skills to make a living. 

The ruthless scene was based on the memoirs of Benjamin Grierson.  “When I read about him I knew I had to write in this scene. He commanded a cavalry brigade, raiding many Confederate railroad and military facilities throughout Mississippi. Grant used this to divert attention while he took Vicksburg. Throughout the memoir he wrote what his men did, some of it was very brutal.” 

The mystery comes into play with Levi’s investigation into several train robberies and explosions. He wears two hats in this story. Someone seeking the perpetrators who have slipped away near the plantation, and a hotel management agent. His cover allows him to remain close to Selah, able to investigate the plantation and his initial suspicions of her, while pursuing his attraction to her. The Southern and Northern gap is bridged with the chemistry that exists between the Union officer, Levi, and the Southern belle, Selah. She agrees to his plan to develop the run-down estate into a glamorous hotel, completely unaware that Levi only proposed the idea as a way to keep his cover as he continues to search for the robbers.


Readers will learn about the exploration of the economic and social devastation in the south. Each character had a different way of trying to rebuild their society and life, striving to create a better future with the help of a Yankee no less.  With a plot full of action and intrigue and many likeable characters this novel becomes a must read.

Book Review: Dreams of Falling

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


Dreams of Fallingby Karen White once again proves why readers have fallen in love with her books. Blending together friendships, betrayal, loyalty, and forgiveness over three generations makes for a gripping plot. At the heart of the mystery are the secrets each character is hiding.

The story can be considered anti-Cinderella.  White explains, “I wanted to have it realistic where dreams do not always come true.  I wanted to show it is not the end of the world if they don’t.  Another door will open, and that everyone should have a Plan B. I had the Tree of Dreams, a moss-draped oak on the banks of the North Santee River. The three girls, Ceecee, Margaret, and Bitty, wrote their dreams on ribbons and placed it into the tree's trunk, including the most important one: ‘Friends forever, come what may.’ I personally have had really bizarre dreams, which my daughter tries to interpret.  My imagination and the desire to learn more about dreams is why I decided to put this in.  But the story is not about nocturnal dreams, but the dreams of the three girls, what they hoped for the future.”

This is a story about three generations of women and is told from the perspective of Ceecee, Ivy, and Larkin. The main story goes from the present day (2010) to 1951 flashbacks. Set in Georgetown, South Carolina, the story begins as Larkin returns home to help locate her missing mother, Ivy, and realizes there is a dark secret centering around the death of one of Ceecee’s best friends from high school. Margaret, Ceecee, and Bitty have just graduated from high school in 1951 with all their dreams ahead of them.  But they are shattered when Margaret finds she is an unwed mother who lost her fiancé while fighting in the Korean War. Years later her daughter Ivy has a similar experience when she loses her recently married husband who fought in Vietnam.  Now the third generation, Larkin, must piece together what happened during those turbulent years.

The mystery comes into play as the fifty-year secrets are slowly unveiled. “I wrote how each character had a different reason for keeping them.  It presented the family and friend dynamics.  Maybe they were used to save a friendship or to protect those they loved.  I do not think people who keep secrets always have bad intentions.  The mystery is what happened between the friends. To emphasize this point I put in the quote, ‘It’s easy to be kind and giving and loyal when you have everything.  But the mark of a true friend is when everything is taken away and you’re still kind, giving, and loyal.’”

White masterfully crafts a story that has deep emotion, a riveting mystery, and surprising twists. Readers will keep the pages turning to find out what happens to all the characters.

Book Review: Justice Betrayed

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

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Justice Betrayedby Patricia Bradley is the third book in the Memphis Cold Case series. Any series set in Memphis must eventually delve into its famous resident, Elvis Presley.  Bradley combines a riveting mystery with some fun facts about the Elvis Week that includes a tribute contest.

Homicide detective Rachel Sloan must endure interviewing an Elvis impersonator, Vic Vegas, who wants her to look into the death of his friend, another impersonator that happened years ago.  He entices her by claiming that his death is related to her mother’s murder, which has never been solved.  After Vic turns up dead she and her supervisor, Lieutenant Boone Callahan join forces to find out who killed Vic and if there are any ties to the past cases. What they discover places all of them, particularly Rachel, in harm's way. 

This is not the first time they have worked together.  In the previous book, Justice Buried, they joined forces, she a burglary detective, while he was a homicide detective. Their relationship went beyond professional when they dated for a few weeks. Now that she has switched to homicide, with Boone as her supervisor, any relationship between them is prohibited. Even though they still seem to have a chemistry between them their painful past history must be sorted out before they have any chance at reconciliation.

Each character must deal with the guilt they felt, blaming themselves for a loved ones’ death.  Bradley noted, “I based that guilt on me.  When I was in sixth grade I had a friend, whose father murdered her and her mother.  I was supposed to have a sleepover that night, but cancelled.  I always felt if I had gone maybe I could have done something. In the story Rachel felt that way also. Maybe if she was home she could have prevented her mother from being murdered.”

Boone struggles with the death of a comrade that he fought alongside in the Iraqi War.  Bradley wants to give a shout out to all veterans, “I have a friend who has had three tours of duty in Afghanistan.  I also knew the book was going to come out about a week after Memorial Day.  We call it Decoration Day in the South.  Many go to the graves and place flowers after cleaning up the graveyard for those who paid the ultimate price.  I think many of us take our soldiers for granted.  They have given up and sacrificed so much for us. My friend who is serving told me that he must leave his family for a year without seeing them. I think many of us do not understand how the soldiers are away from their loved ones, as civilians we have no idea. Many times, we fail to let them know how we appreciate their service.” 

This book has it all: well-developed characters, a chilling mystery, and the re-emergence of Elvis. 

Book Review: They Grey Ghost

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


The Gray Ghost by Clive Cussler and Robin Burcell takes readers on a thrilling car ride as they race to find a valuable antique car before the bad guys find it.  Amateur sleuths Sam and Remi Fargo, smart and philanthropic self-made multimillionaires, find adventure at every turn.

Burcell describes the two characters, “People have referred to them as a modern Nick and Nora Charles from the “Thin Man Series.”  For me, I think they are more like the couple that was in the “Hart to Hart” TV shows.  I think the Fargos are the vehicle for the plot.  They are able to be sleuths because of their background.  Sam is a CIA type who knows hand-to-hand combat, while Remi is a linguist and an expert marksman.  Together they are a forced to be reckoned with.”

The authors brilliantly explain the backstory through a journal, that becomes almost a secondary character.  The back and forth between 1906 and the current time makes the story even more riveting.  A distant relative of theirs seeks their help in finding a rare 1906 Rolls Royce prototype, The Gray Ghost to clear his uncle’s name.  In the course of their investigation they find that it might contain a rare treasure of money stolen in a train robbery more than a century ago. Much to their detriment they find others are also looking for the car, and are willing to do whatever it takes to recover the car and the treasure. The body count mounts up as Sam and Remi search for the auto, while trying to avoid getting killed.

Because Clive Cussler is such a fan of antique cars Burcell told of how the story came about, “He actually has a museum in Colorado full of his collector cars.  I saw him bid on two different cars including the Ahrens-Fox fire-engine, the one written about in this story. While watching him bidding on it I thought it would be cool if we wrote it into the plot. As I was doing the research the idea of writing a plot around something that has been lost was formulated.  We decided on having the artifact a prototype to the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.  This story takes real history, tweeks it, and has a ‘what if’ aspect: what if it is about a car that never made it to the car show.”

Clive Cussler fans have fun spotting him in the story.  It should remind people of what Alfred Hitchcock did in his movies.  He will come in and help the protagonist with the investigation.  In this book there are two references, one where his name is mentioned outright and one with a cameo appearance where readers have to figure out by the description. 

This is a fun story.  Besides the banter between the characters readers learn some interesting facts about cars.  What the authors have done is maintain a balance between what is interesting with what is necessary for the story, creating an exciting mystery.

Book Review: Coffin Corner Boys

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


Coffin Corner Boysby Carole Avriett is a compelling read about a B-17 crew that escaped from Nazi-occupied France after their plane was shot down.  This book is a reminder of the Greatest Generation’s spirit, bravery, and patriotism. 

Those flying the B-17 suffered numerous casualties. Readers learn the harrowing dangers the crewmen faced from the time they jumped out of their burning plane to attempting to survive and avoid being captured.  They were assigned the vulnerable position of the mission’s configuration called the Coffin Corner.  Having to fly low squadron, low group, flying #6 in the bomber box formation they were exposed to hostile fire.

Avriett recounts how “on March 16th, 1944 the ten-member crew had to bail out of their plane after it was shot down. It was not a done deal that they would even land safely.  Think about it.  They were not trained to parachute out of planes, and never practiced it.  They had to jump out of it while it flew in excess of 250 mph into subzero temperatures.  One of the guys had his back cracked when the force of the chute shot upward after being opened.  The pilot, Captain George W. Starks, landed so hard his foot broke.  Then there were the German fighter pilots that tried to shoot them in mid-sky or maneuvered close so the parachute’s air would be sucked out, leaving the airman to plummet to his death.”

Each crewmember had to endure the severe cold, wetness, hunger, and exhaustion.  Irv Baum and Ted Badder had the misfortune of landing by two Frenchmen who turned them into the Nazis for two thousand francs.  Baum who was Jewish tried denying that he was “A Hebrew. I was told ‘you’re lying,’ and at the same moment was backhanded across the face hard enough to break open the corner of my left eye.  We were sent to a processing camp near Frankfurt where they questioned us about the names of our crew.  I kept saying it was a crew I didn’t usually fly with, so I didn’t know any of them.  About midnight, about five of us were taken outside.  Then six or seven guards came out with rifles, lined us up and the officer yelled ‘Ready. Aim. Fire.’ But nothing happened.  They put us back into our cells and I spent a sleepless night.”

Many people know of the Japanese Bataan Death March of Filipinos and American POWS, but the Germans also had one, the Black Death March. In February 1945 crew member Dick Morse told how the Germans starved the 6000 POWS and marched them in the cold winter weather.  Those lagging behind would be ‘gun-butted’ by the guards and sometimes a German would drop back and take one of them into the bushes or woods.  “We would hear a shot-then the guard would return alone.”  They were provided very little food and had to drink from streams that gave them dysentery. They suffered pneumonia, diphtheria, typhus, trench foot, tuberculosis, blisters, abscesses, and frostbite.  They were marched for three months, traveling six hundred miles until rescued on May 2nd, 1945 with only 20% surviving.  

Thankfully for some of the other crew members, they were never captured.  Many of the French civilians risked everything to help them.  Captain Starks told of how he was given “a share of whatever meager food they had. Anyone who helped me did so at terrible risk to themselves.  Any French civilian caught helping a downed Allied airman was summarily taken out of his house by the Germans and shot: man, woman, child, it made no difference.”

There were even some humanitarians among the German soldiers.  While Baum was being processed as a POW in March 1944 he had to fill out a form that included his religion.  A young German enlisted soldier took the pencil away from Baum and wrote “Protestant” on the form. 

This is an inspirational book that recounts how these men went on an adventure of bravery and courage and were able to come home thanks to their grit and the willingness of others to help.  As Avriett noted, “We are losing our WWII veterans every day.  These stories need to be told, heard, and preserved for prosperity.”