Book Review - "War Hawk" by James Rollins and Grant Blackwood

The following book 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.

9780062135278_p0_v2_s192x300War Hawk by James Rollins and Grant Blackwood is a thrilling novel.  This series is different than Rollins’ others in that it is more in the realm of complete believability and realism, with nothing far fetched.  In creating a realistic relationship the beloved characters of working dog Kane and his handler Tucker Wayne are brought back to life.

The plot begins when a former flame and army colleague, Jane Sabatello, asks Tucker for his help in finding those who want to kill her and have murdered her former co-workers.  Through his investigation he finds that an evil corporate CEO, Pruitt, is behind these killings and a global conspiracy.  He is using the knowledge of Alan Turing, the English code-breaker of the Nazis, to change the way modern warfare is fought.

Rollins noted to, “There is currently an arms race underway to develop new and improved robotic warriors, even those that can operate autonomously.  Basically, drones can be sent out to kill with little or no human involvement.  Will this mean that they make us more likely to go to war?  In the book Rex represents a drone that learns and can be beneficial.  But, what happens if it is able to go beyond our ability to control?”

Jane, a former Intelligence Analyst with the 75th Rangers, is now working for the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency).  She fits in perfectly with Tucker and Kane, where readers can regard them as “The Three Musketeers,” or as Jane refers to them, “the old gang is back together.”  She has a closeness to Kane and Tucker both personally and professionally.  They can be regarded as kindred spirits, all are tough, no nonsense, with a moral code; yet are also secretive and operate in the shadows. Through Jane and Tucker, Rollins explored the issue of “moral injury,” a new form of PTSD.  Both experienced serious inner conflicts because of a betrayal, which put them at odds with their ethical and moral beliefs. 

While working closely with USA Cares Rollins “first learned about ‘moral injury.’  It relates to the shattering of moral and ethical expectations.  Unfortunately, medication has no benefit and currently only therapy seems to work. It can manifest as shame, guilt, anxiety, and anger along with behavioral changes such as alienation, withdrawing, and possibly suicide.  I wanted the reader to have a better understanding of the causes and consequences of someone afflicted with this aspect of PTSD.”

Tucker’s betrayal, according to Rollins, is related to “his guilt about the war dog Abel.  He could have jumped off the helicopter and tried to rescue him, but did not.  He felt like he betrayed Able. He has been running away from these problems and has chosen not to face it.  Tucker has an old wound from losing his partner with the feeling that he had an arm cut off.  Both Jane and Tucker have been traumatized and these similar injuries help them find a way back to each other. I put more of this backstory in the book but cut it out.  I will probably put it in the next Tucker book.”

As with all Rollins’ books he explores the relationship between the partners, Kane, a Belgian Malinois, and Tucker.  It is evident that they are really best friends with a very special bond.  Both are willing to sacrifice their own life for each other.  Anyone who is a dog lover will relate to their relationship.  What makes it even more interesting is how Rollins writes what any dog owner does, putting thoughts of the canine into a humanistic form. 

The themes of the book are all centered around warfare. Using the springboard of Alan Turing’s work, the book explains how he laid the groundwork for the modern computer that led to drone warfare. Different aspects of warfare are examined, from insurrection to political coups, to the use of drones.  Will the new generation of battlefields be digital?  This information warfare, a digital house of cards, is three pronged: electronic jamming, infrastructure disruption through cyber attacks, and spreading misinformation by psychological operations. Beyond this is the consideration of who will control future drones, the military or corporations. 

Rollins noted, “We are now seeing the lines blurring between military forces and those armies being controlled by corporations. To save money and balance budgets, governments, are handing more and more military powers over to corporate boardrooms. I think this year as we see with Presidential candidates; we are seeing some pushback against that, which will hopefully continue.  If we shift our military responsibility to corporations there could be no interest to protect human life and their only concern is the bottom line of profitability.” 

War Hawk has a very intriguing story, including everything someone wants to know about drones, but was afraid to ask.  The relationships between characters are very well developed.  This is one of those novels that not only has a riveting plot, but is also informative and insightful with many different subject matters explored.

Book Review - "Lost Among the Living" by Simone St. James

The following book 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 on the right sidebar.

9780451476197_p0_v1_s192x300Lost Among The Living by Simone St. James is a haunting story.  As with her previous books the plot takes place in England during the 1920s and examines the challenges brought upon to those living in the post World War I era.  The novel is a great combination of many genres, a riveting historical fiction intertwined with a murder mystery and a touch of the paranormal. 

Both fans of gothic stories and non-fans can enjoy this book.  The plot has several factors that the gothic genre is known for, including a haunted house, a ghost with something to say, an independent, isolated heroine, and family secrets.  Yet, the gothic portion does not dominate, allowing the reader to delve into the mystery and characters without being hit over the head by the ghostly presence.  From the very first chapter people will be engaged with the characters and storyline.

The plot begins with Jo and Alex knowing from their first date it was love at first sight.  They had a blissful marriage until the outbreak of World War I.  Jo is notified that Alex is missing in action, leaving her status in limbo.  She is neither a married woman nor a widow and is not entitled to any benefits.  Her grief is compounded by having to put her insane mother in a private mental institution. In need of money she accepts Alex aunt’s proposal to be a traveling companion and later a secretary at Dottie’s Wych Elm House.  It is there that Jo feels the presence of Dotti’s daughter Fran who supposedly committed suicide.  Jo starts to believe that Fran might have been murdered as she unravels clues provided by an unknown force. 

Because World War I had such an impact, even with its aftermath, St. James commented to, “We have the image of the 1920s as everything being fun and everyone was partying, yet World War I was devastating to that generation.  I touch on the concept of mental illness in most of my books as a recurring theme.  This ties back to the gothic novel. Back then there were harsh reactions with no understanding of what people have gone through.  There was no desire to help them.  In my third book I wrote about an insane asylum where men who fought in World War I and had PTSD were put away.”

She also wants the reader to feel for those who have someone missing in action, noting, “I liked the quote, ‘trapped in amber,’ because she was not a widow or a married woman.  I also put in the quote, ‘Women don’t have a great many choices in such a situation.’  In those days a woman had very limited options.” 

The characters are well developed.  Jo’s situation as the wife of an MIA is explored brilliantly, reminding the reader how the family is affected by having someone disappear during combat.  Although living a hard life Jo never gives up.  She is courageous, brave, intelligent, and resourceful. Aunt Dottie, although grim, demanding and materialistic, is also practical, compassionate, and helpful.  Through flashbacks and memories Alex is seen as caring, smart, and heroic. 

Readers will not only enjoy the suspense of the story but will learn some facts of the times including how women were treated, the creation of of MI5, and society’s view of those who have gone “mad.”

If readers wonder about the British spy details, St. James told, “All true.  The MI5 archives were opened up in the last twenty years or so.  Since then, there have been several histories.  I read some books about the British spy agency and put that information into this book.  Before World War I there was a worry that the Germans would invade England.  They needed people to help spy for them and report back.  Since there was no training they were on their own and reported back by writing letters.” 

Lost Among The Living is a very interesting read that has the reader glued to the pages.  The blending of different genres makes the story even more interesting.


Book Review - "The Girl in the Glass" by James Hayman

The following book 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 in the right sidebar.

9780062435163_p0_v3_s192x300The Girl In The Glass by James Hayman is a mystery based on two time periods. These copycat murders take place in 1904 and 2012, creating an intriguing premise. The crimes are identical in every way with a time span of 108 years.

Because the book delves into the rich society, Hayman hopes the readers “understand this sense of privilege.  The attitude being, ‘whatever I want I can have, no matter who it hurts.’ Fitzgerald said, ‘The very rich is very different than you and I,’ and Hemingway joked about that statement, ‘yeah, they have more money.’ My modern day character is the ultimate bad rich girl who uses brains and beauty to get what she wants.”

The plot has two women stabbed to death, about a century apart, on the same remote island near Maine’s coastline, left for dead with the letter “A” carved into their chest.  Detectives Mike McCabe and Maggie Savage are assigned to bring the modern day killer quickly to justice. But the key to solving the murder appears to have been buried with her ancestor who was killed in a similar manner. Readers might think of the legendary novel, The Scarlett Letter, where a woman found guilty of adultery had an “A” pinned to her clothing.  However, that is where the similarities stop.  With this book, the cases have a number of suspects, each with their own motives. These two stories include a lot of broken marriages, complex families, and parental love where jealousy and sibling rivalry are the norm.

Hayman commented to, “McCabe is my alter ego.  We are both New Yorkers, city guys with our women talented artists.  We both have daughters who we love. We share the same values.  When I write him it is as if I am putting myself into whatever position he is in.  Anyone who has read all the books would know me very well if they understand the McCabe character. The people I spend the most time with are my imaginary friends.”

As with most of Hayman’s books he is able to masterfully portray the misty, coastal atmosphere of Maine.  The islands are described in such a way the readers can close their eyes and feel they are transported there with the rocky high cliffs surrounded by rough seas that have dangerous shorelines.  The Maine coast and Portland in particular with its maritime history provide a unique backdrop for a book like The Girl in the Glass. Hayman regards Portland Maine as “the perfect setting for a suspense thriller series.  It is a hip little city with a police department big enough to have specialties; yet, small enough so they know each other and can interact together.”

This latest McCabe/Savage thriller has a great setting and characters.  The setting blends into the mystery perfectly.

Book Review - "Time of Fog and Fire"

The following book 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 on the right sidebar.

9781250052049_p0_v1_s192x300Time Of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen is a mystery that blends crime suspense within a very potent historical setting.  By using historical events and people in her books the plots become both believable and relatable.  In this novel the 1906 San Francisco earthquake almost becomes a secondary character, where it is featured prominently.  

Bowen commented to, “When I write a story I always look at what has happened during that time period.  For example, this book takes place in 1906.  When I write about that era I don’t want to tell people about it, but want to take people to 1906.  I consider myself a tour guide that has people feeling what is happening as well as being told what it was like.” 

As with all her books, Bowen allows the reader to feel that they have gone back in time.  In this book she gives a flavor for what it is like to be an Irish American, how corruptness was widespread, the ability to travel across country, and the effect of natural disasters upon the population.  Intertwined within that is a crime that must be solved. 

The two main characters, Molly Murphy Sullivan and her husband Daniel are struggling to maintain respectability while dark forces attempt to besmirch their name.  As a New York police captain who believes in honesty and integrity he is contemplating resigning from a corrupt force.  But an unexpected twist of fate allows him to take an assignment offered by the head of the secret service, to weed out corrupt officials in San Francisco.  Molly, a former private detective, feels completely in the dark until she receives a cryptic letter from him asking her to join him in California.  Embarking on a cross-country journey by train she is apprehensive of the dangers in store for her family.  It is there that she must use her detective skills to find out who is responsible for the attempt on her husband’s life and their ulterior motives. 

It is while doing the investigation that the earthquake hits, plummeting the city into chaos and despair. The earthquake adds to the suspense of the story as readers see the human side of natural disasters where there is a fine line between the good guys and the bad ones.  Daniel and Molly not only face danger from the earthquake and subsequent fire but from corrupted officials and unsavory people who have come out of the woodworks to take advantage of the vulnerable.  It becomes clear that Molly and Daniel’s personalities are very similar. Both are smart, savvy, self-sufficient, resourceful, and fearless with a sense of justice.

The author noted, “When I was doing the research I found there to be so many first hand accounts.  The one that struck me the most was the army’s instruction to shoot looters on site.  Here you had so many people escape from the earthquake only to be shot as they tried to retrieve some valuable heirloom of theirs.  I was also touched by the fact that those who were there had no way of getting in touch with anybody.  There were families disrupted.  This was one of the reasons I put in the scenes of Molly and Daniel’s young son, Liam, disappearing.”

What makes this novel a stand out is how the mystery is intertwined with the historical events.  The setting, dialogue, and characters, help to create an informative, suspenseful, and insightful plot. 

Book Review - "Clawback" by J.A. Jance

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

9781501140952_p0_v1_s192x300Clawback by bestselling author J. A. Jance brings back the heroine Ali Reynolds.  The story brings to mind issues revealed in the movie The Big Short and the news events surrounding Bernie Madoff.  Where Jance is at her best is describing complicated issues and breaking them down into understandable terms within a gripping mystery. 

In this latest, Ali Reynolds must solve the murder of someone caught up in a Ponzi scheme that bankrupted hundreds of people.  Among those are her parents who lost their life retirement savings.  Because her dad wants answers he decides to confront his long time friend and financial advisor, only to find he and his wife dead.  In an effort to clear her father, seek justice for those who lost their savings, and find the hidden money she teams up with her husband B. Simpson, the executive of High Noon. 

Jance noted to that this story was highly personal. “My husband and I had our own Ponzi guy in Seattle.  He relieved us of $500,000 of our retirement funds.  That is why I put in the dedication, ‘For all the people who gave me 500,000 reasons for writing this book.  Whoever you are; you know who you are.’ Because it was in a retirement account we could not even claim the loss on our taxes.  We will never see any of that money again. It is sad to think that people who are in their 70’s, had retired, and planned on having this money for their golden years are all back at work.  My advice, ‘If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.’”

Furthermore, Jance wants readers to understand that she and her husband did their due diligence.  “We spoke with investment advisors from big management firms.  We even checked the audits.  What evidently happened is that whenever there was going to be an audit someone from that company would call and warn the Ponzi guy. This allowed him to move the money around and show everything was honkey dory.”

Although the story is very entertaining readers can also learn something.  Clawback refers to a law that assesses penalties on victims of Ponzi schemes by having the bankruptcy courts confiscating previous distributions.  The book quote explains, “So my parents get hit twice, first by the Ponzi scheme itself and then by the bankruptcy trustees-insult to injury.” Jance explains, “Proceeds from an investment that is found to be fraudulent are confiscated and then redistributed to all investors on a proportional basis. Since we had not started taking any funds out, Clawback did not affect us.  But since none of the money has been found, the characters in my book had a happier ending than those who were schemed along with me.  I wish I could have hired High Noon to trace the money since the government is not interested in helping find the money hidden by the bad guys.”

Jance also appears to be tech savvy.  She talks of “presence technology,” in which employees and their families of High Noon have all their electronic devices equipped with the latest technology.  Basically allowing the company to know where an individual is and follow their movements in real time.

One of the most interesting characters is Cami Lee, an employee of High Noon.  Coming from a world of accomplished parents, she was an over achiever who was shy, a bookworm, highly technical, and an expert in martial arts.  Jance commented that she based this character on “my two granddaughters who came from orphanages in China.  Both are very talented gymnasts. Those girls are no bigger than a minute but are surprisingly strong as can be.”

Clawback is a must read for anyone who wants to understand a complicated issue that can possibly have a personal effect.  With a rich cast of characters and a compelling story that is believable this is a must read.  

Book Review - "The Watcher in the Wall" by Owen Laukkanen

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

9780399174544_p0_v1_s192x300The Watcher In The Wall by Owen Laukkanen is a novel with a very dark subject matter.  Known for his powerful and suspenseful stories Laukkanen continues this pattern with his latest book.  He has dealt with Internet targeted killings that prey on young veteran’s emotions, human trafficking of teenage girls, and now this, a predator that encourages teenagers to commit suicide on a web-cam.

Early in the book readers understand that a stalker of sorts attempts to find teenagers who are depressed and want to end their life. In fact, the book cover and title play into this scenario. Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere, partners in a joint BCA-FBI violent crimes task force stumble on this person.  Stevens’ daughter is devastated when a classmate commits suicide. She asks them to investigate this voice of death and doom.  What they find is an online suicide club of unhappy teenagers, presided over by an anonymous presence that seems to be encouraging them. Stevens and Windermere are driven to find this person and prevent him from convincing others to act on their feelings. 

Laukkanen based the book on “the real-life case of online predator William Melchert-Dinkel.  He is a Minnesota man who has counseled someone online and encouraged them to commit suicide.  He is suspected of entering into fake suicide pacts with at least five other victims.  All killed themselves at his instruction.  At the time I started to write this story the case was working its way through the courts.  I was stunned and frustrated with the justice system in that it appeared he would get away with it so I wrote this book about a similar predator. On appeal it was found that he could be retried for actively assisting in a victim’s suicide.  Ultimately he was convicted last fall and served just 360 days in jail.  Writing this story was therapeutic for me because I was so upset with the sentence of this real-life guy, so I decided to administer my own justice, which was more fitting.”

What makes the story more relatable are the backstories on Windermere and the Internet killer.  After being brutally abused by his alcoholic stepfather as a young man he decides to turn the tables on his stepsister, giving her constant emotional abuse.  She decides to take her life, and as she hangs herself she notices him watching her.  Unfortunately he gets a high from this and decides to set up a website where he can encourage others to die at their own hands as he watches.

Windermere also has dealt with suicide from bullying. As a teenager, she watched as someone she knew was taunted and bullied until they took their life. She did nothing to intervene and this has haunted her. This is probably one of the most potent parts of the book: the description of how so many students laugh along with the bullies, not because they want to be mean to the victim, but to fit in themselves, or out of a desire to not become a target of the bully themselves.

The author noted to, “We need to pay attention to what our friends/students/family members are feeling, whom they are talking to online, and what is bothering them. Parents need to play a role on monitoring what their children do on the Internet.  This story was very personal to me. I hope the story brought some awareness.  I was always someone who was an outsider.  There were times where I felt the whole world is against me.  Depression does things to you mentally that could be really paralyzing. While writing this book I was dealing with some mental health issues, mainly depression and suicidal thoughts of my own. When depressed you feel so alone. I channeled this by writing the book.  It became a release for me.  The mixture of talking to professionals, friends, and family as well as finding the right medication helped me.” 

The book is also very informative in that it describes the debate between calling coercion a crime versus freedom of speech. A quote from the story explains, “State law says it’s a felony to coerce or counsel someone into committing suicide,” but there is no federal law because of “his right to free speech to do what he’s doing.” Readers might be shocked to learn that predators like this fictional character may not even be breaking the law. 

The Watcher In The Wall is an informative mystery.  This chilling story is gut wrenching.  A word of warning make sure you have the time to read it because you will not want to put it down.

Author Interview - Jennifer Robson

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

Meet Jennifer Robson.  She is a historian, novelist, and a kindred spirit with those in the military.  All of her books are character driven with strong female and male heroes that are somewhat independent. They begin in a place of relative powerlessness while ending in a place of relative strength. Robson spoke with about the challenges, her writings, and influences. 

Her latest project was a chapter in the anthology Fall Of Poppies, entitled, All For The Love Of You. Through a heart warming plot she describes what an American Captain, Daniel Mancuso, had to endure when his cheekbones were shattered and right eye lost.  He was able to have a mask fitted by the American Red Cross Studio for Portrait Masks, a civilian based organization that allowed wounded warriors to get fulfillment, flickers of hope, and protection from those who might react negatively to the deformities. But it is also a love story, which emphasizes the importance of a person’s inner beauty, rather than their physical appearance.

Released early this year, Moonlight Over Paris is the last book in the World War I series. It is a follow up to After The War Is Over, and the first in the series, Somewhere in France. This latest emphasizes Paris during the 1920s, where the characters experience a new world after World War I. Just as the fictional characters come into contact with the “Lost Generation,” and its circle of American expatriates, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, so does the reader. It is a story of friendship, change, and choices. 

She commented to, “I hope readers are touched by what my heroes, Sam and Daniel, have suffered, and then make the connection to what our soldiers are going through today.  I have had heroes endure PTSD, being maimed, and have experienced terrible things.  Yet, they made a decision that it would not define their life. I do think the average person today does not have a connection to someone in the military; yet, should understand the implications of what it is like to serve, be injured, or lose a life.  It seems it is very easy to spend money to support wars, but very difficult to spend money to support the veterans afterward. When I served as a guide in France in 1989 at the National War Memorial I will never forget how I had a chance to thank those who fought in the Great World War, shake their hands, and listen to what they had to say.  It was an honor for me.  It was something that influenced me as I decided to write this series.”

Having been influenced by her family members and friends who have served she commented, “I worry about the generations dying out.  Will my children understand the sacrifices made by those who served?  My great grandfather was a soldier in WWI and my grandfather was an aviator in WWII.  I hope in a small way my novels capture the people, memories, and thoughts of veterans.  I want the periods to come alive as a way to honor the memory of those who fought.”

The chapter in the anthology insightfully shows how facial prosthetics gave wounded warriors confidence to venture outside without being thought of as oddities. She explained, “Facial deformities is something the human eye has difficulty processing.  In doing research I looked at a lot of pictures and was taken in by those people’s suffering.  I wrote this chapter to show what happens to soldiers when they survive with major injuries that can affect their lives.  My character made the point that a soldier could still live even after having a horrendous injury that maimed them.”

Besides feeling a bond with her characters, readers are also able to understand that those who worked in the studio for portrait masks took up the challenge of healing the emotional wounds as the doctors and nurses healed the physical wounds.  Robson stated, “No one who worked there made much money and it was not done for profit.  Through my research I read some of the letters written to Anna Coleman Ladd, a renowned American sculptor, who set up the studio.  The letters expressed such gratitude of being able to get even a part of their lives back.  They said how they were able to go home and not see disgust on the faces of their loved ones.  An interesting point I found out is that there are very few masks in existence today.  The superstition of most historians is that the masks were probably buried with the men.”

In reading these books people will feel they are actually a part of the story.  The best historical fiction novels allow people to understand what is happening and get swept up in the story.  They are able to see the world through the character’s eyes and hopefully relate it to today’s issues.  With Robson’s writings, readers can gain an understanding of the war, its aftermath, and how those on the front lines are able to connect in the new world.

Book Review - "No One Knows" by JT Ellison

The following book 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.

9781501118470_p0_v4_s192x300No One Knows by J. T. Ellison is part mystery, part psychological thriller, and part cautionary tale.  It is one of those stories that show fairy tales do not always come true.  The themes of trust, betrayal, and treachery are explored through the lives of the main character.   

Ellison noted, “People might compare it to Gone Girl, but I wrote it before that book ever came out, back in 2011.  It was based on a dream I had when my husband and I went to a wedding at the Opryland Hotel in Tennessee.  After sending me a drink he disappeared.  I was looking for him and as I rushed into the parking lot I saw the author Harlan Coben, who wanted to give me career advice.  Unfortunately I never got it because I woke up. I did not have it published then because Catherine Coulter popped up in 2012.  She wanted me to start writing with her so I shelved this book.  Of course Gone Girl came out a few months later. But now after numerous revisions I have published my first stand alone.” 

As the story unfolds readers will wonder which character they can truly trust and believe.  The main character, Aubrey Trenton Hamilton, thinks she has met her savior, a knight in shining armor who will love her unconditionally. She and Josh live in marital bliss until his disappearance.  Ellison breaks the storyline down into time periods based on Aubrey’s relationship with Josh, having spent the first seven years of her life not knowing him, the next 17 years of her life side by side with Josh as childhood sweethearts, and 5 years mourning his unexpected disappearance and possible death. In those five years she has known nothing but emptiness, solitude, and loneliness. With alternating past and present chapters, readers get a feeling of knowing the characters inside and out.

Aubrey is an unreliable narrator, a complex character who is put into an extraordinary circumstance.  She has had a harsh life, losing both her biological and adoptive parents.  This frail person just wants to be loved.  This becomes evident with not only Josh but someone she meets, Chase Boden. He has an uncanny resemblance to Josh, from his mannerisms to the way he walks, Readers go on the same journey as Aubrey wondering if she will ever be able to forge a life beyond Josh. 

The reason Ellison has the setting at the Opryland Hotel is for its monstrous landscape.  She explained, “It is so easy to get lost in.  I thought it a great setting to start off the book.  It is a metaphor for this story because anyone who visits there can get turned around and see different things at different times.”

Even after her husband, Josh, is declared legally dead Aubrey has a hard time moving on.  She is still obsessed with finding the answers behind his disappearance.  People will understand how someone can almost lose their sanity wanting answers.  It is a reminder how missing persons can sometimes be worse than knowing someone is dead, considering there is no closure. 

Although the plot is not based on this, Ellison tells of her own experience with a missing person. “I had a friend who went missing and never has been found.  In 1992 in South Carolina after a U2 Concert she just disappeared, and was never heard from again.  I know she didn’t run away to create a new world for herself.  It is horrifying to me to think what her family has to go through even to this day.”

No One Knows will have inevitable comparisons to Gone Girl, but this is a more realistic storyline. It will have readers guessing who can be believed and what are their ulterior motives.  Ellison messes with the character’s head as well as the readers with her many twists and turns.

Book Review - "Off the Grid" by CJ Box

The following book 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 on the right side bar.

9780399176609_p0_v1_s192x300Off The Grid by C. J. Box brings back Nate Romanowski, the beloved rugged individualist.  This book delves into a number of themes, some of which Box has become known for: getting the Federal government to acquiesce to the States, a contemporary Western, a solid description of the western landscape, and the issues facing western states.  But, beyond that he explores the possibility of how terrorists can use technology to harm Americans, the vulnerability of the US communication systems, and the overzealous government surveillance.  It might seem that a lot of issues are covered in the novel, but Box has a knack for brilliantly intertwining everything.

The plot begins with Nate and his girlfriend, Liv, living in obscurity on a remote Wyoming ranch, enjoying hunting and his falcons. Some rogue Federal organization finds Nate, because Liv decides to telephone her ill mother.  A deal is made to destroy Nate’s criminal record for his help in locating a terror cell in Wyoming’s Red Desert.  Nate's master falconer skills are needed to give him an "in" with the Muslim, Ibby, who is also a master falconer. Meanwhile, game warden Joe Pickett is asked by the Wyoming Governor to stop the tracking of a grizzly bear and instead track down his friend Nate. Coincidentally the bear, Nate, and Joe converge at the Red Desert. Also there is Joe’s daughter Sheridan who has decided to go on a weekend camping trip.  All unite in an attempt to thwart the terrorists before they can destroy the US electrical infrastructure. 

The title, Off The Grid, is very apropos since it represents two plot lines. Literally, the terrorists are attempting to destroy the electrical grid that would incapacitate the US, and figuratively as Nate attempts to become a hermit, to be left alone in peace. He has been living “off the grid,” having no electronics, credit records, bank records, or tax records. Nate is content to live deep in the wild, flying his falcons and avoiding contact.

The idea for the story came to Box after hearing the FBI Director John Comey say there are terrorists being tracked in all fifty states.  Box stated,“After a homeland terrorist attack, national security comes to the forefront, but as time passes we put it on the back burner.  I think that a terrorist plot happening in far-flung Wyoming is not as crazy as it sounds.  I started to think about Wyoming, what could potentially happen here, and what would be the target.  Nobody in the US should feel immune. Attacks will not always happen in New York or Washington. I put a lot of the information in the book on how every electronic device can be killed by an EMP, if in the vicinity of the pulse. It would be a devastating attack.”

Anyone wishing for the return of Sheriff Matt Dillon will enjoy this storyline.  The gunfights with the terrorists are taken right out of any Western battle.  Even the weapon used is an “Apache” Helicopter.  One scene in the book has Nate shooting out the trucks, which represent horses being shot out from the villains.  Readers can vividly picture the gun battle as the shoot out occurs behind covered rocks.  Even Joe’s “cowboy” hat is affected by this gunfight, being ridden with bullets. 

As with all his novels Box is informative about western culture.  In this case he gives insight into the western setting, grizzly bears, and falcons.  His vivid descriptions of the harsh and remote, but beautiful environment, allow the reader to feel as if they are there.

Box noted to, “Nate was based on someone I grew up with.  This guy was a Falconer who went into a Special Forces Unit of our military. I made Nate part falcon because his qualities are similar to those birds.  He is definitely the ultimate Falconer.  He is described as a libertarian homicidal folk hero.  Based on his moral code, he will murder first and ask questions later.  In all of my books with Nate I put something about falcons.  In this one I had in the book how “Nate had the ability to go as still as one of his hooded falcons.” I also compared in the book how falcons identify, attack, and kill their target, to what Nate did with the terrorists.”

He also commented, “There is a theory that the more the grizzly is studied and thus, comes into contact with people, the more likely they will lose their fear of humans.  The number of grizzly bear attacks has grown.  I read about this one bear that traveled 1000s of miles and even slept in an elementary school playground.  I decided to put it in the book.  Also true, is that grizzlies have been known to actually track hunters.  Sometimes it appears the researchers tracking the bear seem more worried about the health and welfare of the bear than the hunter being tracked.”

Off The Grid is a warning of sorts in that it shows how US national security is vulnerable to a terrorist attack.  It is not only informative, but challenges peoples’ minds as they learn about western culture.  To date this might just be one of Box’s best. 

Book Review - "What Remains of Me" by Alison Gaylin

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

9780062369857_p0_v1_s192x300 (1)What Remains Of Me by Alison Gaylin is a captivating story.  The bestselling author Jeffery Deaver once said, “A thriller asks what is going to happen and a mystery asks what happened.”  In this spellbinding story, Gaylin does both through her character Kelly Lund, portraying her as a teenager and a woman in her forties.  There are multiple themes explored including the effect of secrets, how money and power corrupt, as well as how the media frenzy attempts to put a persona on a celebrity. These are all wonderfully intertwined throughout this story about the world of Hollywood.

The plot alternates between two murders, with the suspect being the same person, Kelly Lund.  In 1980, as a seventeen year old, she is found guilty of killing director John McFadden. Released after twenty-five years, she attempts to maintain a low profile until five years later when she is again suspected of murdering her father-in-law, a legendary actor, Sterling Marshall.

Readers are shown the circus surrounding the coverage of a famous murderer, and are reminded of the O.J. Simpson and Charles Manson cases. In this story, the media casts Kelly in a role that becomes reality to the outsiders. As one of the characters in the book says, "It's not what you've done that matters, it's what people think you've done." As the plot progresses people are able to understand the dark secrets, lies, and betrayals caused by power and money.

The power of the press is explored because Gaylin wants readers to understand, “The press can be as unreliable as anyone else.  It is impossible to get to know someone from an article.  A sense of that person is colored by the writer’s perception of that person.  Facts as they are presented are many times different than facts as they are.  This distortion is definitely true in high profile trials.  We can never truly know our public figures. Just look at Marcia Clark, the Simpson prosecutor.  She became well known in a murder case where a young actress was shot by an obsessed fan.  She helped establish the anti-stalking laws.  But after the O.J. case she became known as the lady with funny hair who botched the case. A lot of the Hollywood aspect is larger than life. BTW:  Clark is now a terrific mystery writer.  On the other side is Amanda Knox.  The press created a persona of her because she didn’t act according to some prescribed script. That story inspired me. If your exterior isn't viewed as likable, or if you don't seem as contrite as people think you ought to be, a narrative builds up around you, and you become a 'monster.'”

Even though all the characters are dysfunctional, Gaylin does a good job of showing the reasons behind their faults and personalities.  Kelly and her friend Bellamy Marshall become more likeable as the story progresses.  In many ways they both had rough lives, having faced some very bad knocks.  They attempt to hide their true feelings, and become almost compartmentalized with their emotions.  In understanding these two characters the fairy tale The Prince and The Pauper comes to mind.  Both Kelly and Bellamy envy what the other supposedly has. Kelly searches to replace her twin sister Catherine who died and Bellamy wants her to be the sibling sister she never had.  Each looked upon the other’s life and thought how that life could be better than their own.  

Regarding her character Kelly, Gaylin commented to, “Writing young and middle age Kelly was like writing two different characters.  I try to figure out how every character justifies their actions. She was affected by her twenty-five years in prison, and the loss of her twin sister.  I think it stunted her and hardened her.  I hope readers will develop some understanding of her.  She as well as the other characters went down the wrong path. I wanted to write a story about someone very young and somewhat naïve who was accused of committing a murder.  She was definitely convicted in the court of public opinion with people misconstruing what she said and how she acted.”

The only character that seems to have some semblance of being grounded is known as Rocky Three. He becomes Kelly’s confidant and someone she can believe in, a friend who offers tenderness, compassion, and truthfulness. The direct opposite of Rocky is the narcissist John McFadden, a truly evil person who uses his power to prey on young girls. This is brought home with the powerful quote, “You ever wish you were a little kid again…too little to understand how the world works?”  Readers begin to understand that many children in the Hollywood scene grow up way too fast, and begin to realize that the world is not always a nice place.

Anyone fascinated with Hollywood and true crimes needs to read What Remains Of Me. Gaylin uses her journalistic credentials to have the plot and the characters come alive.  This emotional, dark, and distinctive tale of revenge and betrayal, presumed guilt and innocence lost, will have the readers quickly turning the pages.