Book Review: The Disappeared

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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The Disappeared by C. J. Box has all the elements that readers have come to enjoy in a Joe Pickett novel.  This is a compelling mystery that is action-packed, has details about the western setting, likeable characters, and humorous interaction.

Box noted, “Over the eighteen books I have written Joe has moved around in the state of Wyoming quite a bit.  He has gone to almost every corner of it, although there are a few more places for him to visit.  In this book, he has gone to Saratoga, in South Central Wyoming, a place I am really fond of. Sometimes I use fictional locations, but Saratoga as described really exists.   I love the great terrain and mountain ranges.  I put in the book quote, ‘The terrain was high and the windswept desert, would have no inkling that twenty-one miles to the south was a lush river valley with mountain peaks on three sides.  Elk Mountain and the Snowy Range rose sun-kissed and blue…’ I hope readers learn about it through Joe’s travels.  I also enjoy talking about the community.  For example, in most Wyoming towns Friday night is much more popular for socializing than Saturday nights.”

Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett has to contend with a new Governor, Colter Allen.  He is continuing the previous practice of retired Governor Spencer Rulon, requesting

Pickett to be a troubleshooter. Joe is asked to find a prominent female British executive that never came home from the high-end guest dude ranch she was visiting.  Pressure is mounting from the family, the tabloids, and the British government to find out what happened to her. Unlike Rulon, Joe does not have a special relationship with Allen and suspects he has ulterior motives in asking for this favor.

The theme according to Box is “having the freedom to get away from life’s stress.  I put in the C. S. Lewis quote because it applied perfectly, ‘Why would I ever trade long lazy walks in the forest to going back to traffic, bad air, and insipid ‘men without chests.’’

Sheridan, his daughter, who works at the ranch, volunteers to help along with his dear friend, Nate Romanowski, who gets answers by ignoring the rules of law. Also, in need of a favor Nate is willing to help as he tries to find answers to his own agenda. He wants Joe to intervene with the feds on behalf of Falconers who can no longer hunt with eagles even though their permits are in order.

As with all of Box’s books he delves into an environmental issue, absurd regulations, as well as showing how political leaders are both dislikeable and self-centered.  This includes the Governor’s Chief of Staff, Connor Hanlon, who loves to displace blame. 

The Disappeared has a plot that will not vanish from reader’s minds.  It is engrossing and riveting that has people turning the pages at a brisk pace.


Book Review: The Wild Inside

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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The Wild Inside by Jamey Bradbury is part paranormal, part thriller, and part horror. This debut novel is very character driven, specifically with the protagonist Tracy Petrikoff, where readers wonder if everything that happens to her is driven by her imagination, some delusions, or was indeed reality. 

Bradbury noted, “Tracy is hard to pin down.  Sometimes even I wonder if she is part vampire or a werewolf that has not completely transformed.  There is a genetics quality with the connection coming from the family members. She is tough to like.  She is problematic as she makes her decisions based on selfish and stubborn motivations.  In some ways, she is an unlikeable narrator.  But she also has good qualities of being loyal to her family, very caring, and a naturalist.  I think I would call her more of a difficult character than an unlikeable one.  I do hope the reader can find in her something that they like, admire, or at least understand.”

People meet Tracy, a natural born hunter and trapper who loves the Alaskan wilderness, where she spends her days in the remote forest by her house. She still has not come to grips with her mother’s sudden death that occurred two years ago.  For Tracy, it was her mother who understood her, allowing her freedom, yet laying down three important rules: Never lose sight of the house, never come home with dirty hands, and most importantly never make a person bleed.  The reader finds out that Tracy gains essential strength from drinking the blood of her prey while also temporarily mind-melding with victims.

The paranormal comes into play as “with my idea is that the mom had this weird genetic abnormality passed down through generations to the women by the women.  I originally wrote it where Tracy’s mom would say ‘my own mom didn’t understand me because it had skipped a generation.’  Her mom struggled with it because, unlike Tracy, she wanted a normal life. Both connect with animals and people. It is the supernatural quality of the book.  What she gets from the blood is the ability to understand their experience, their thoughts, and their desires. The mythology I created is that if Tracy and her mom just tasted a little of the blood they could have only a slight impression.  But if they drank the blood of a person or animal they are able to get all the thoughts and feelings.  Basically, they have access to others feelings and impressions.”

But now, because of being expelled from school, she is prevented by her father to do what she loves, working with their dogs and trapping in the wilderness. Rebelling against him, she goes into the forest anyway and it is there she is attacked by a burly man who eventually shows up at her family’s house with a knife wound. Almost at the same time, a mysterious drifter appears looking for a job. Tracy senses, Jesse Goodwin, is hiding something and is determined to get to the bottom of his secrets.

It is a book where readers will constantly turn the pages, wondering who is this protagonist, Tracy.


BOOK REVIEW: BENEATH THE SURFACE

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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Beneath The Surface by Lynn H. Blackburn has both suspense and romance although it has more of an emphasis on the relationship between the two main characters, Leigh Weston and Ryan Parker. 

It is interesting how she weaves everything in the plot around the Dive Team, including relationships between the team members, the victim, and the outside experts.  The sarcastic banter between the characters allows for a humorous interlude.

Because she wants to emphasize the character interaction, she noted, “When we pitched the series my editors asked how much of this is going to be underwater, because it is difficult to develop relationships there. Any law enforcement dive team knows the dive is very intense, mainly because of the horrible conditions.  I want readers to understand I am writing about the team, not necessarily the dive.  The unifying factor for the story is that they are all on this dive team. Besides, I wanted to make this realistic. Most of the time they cannot see anything underwater.  It is like someone driving in a fog.  I talked to a professional who said ‘you cannot see anything and must feel around since it is so very dark.’”

There are actually two mysteries to the story, dismembered bodies found at the bottom of the lake by the dive team, and someone stalking Leigh with the intent of doing bodily harm.  They come together when Ryan and his colleagues ask Leigh if they can use her boat deck as they work the investigation.  Soon after, Leigh’s life is threatened having law enforcement wonder about a possible connection.  Ryan knows his team must solve the murder case quickly, especially when Leigh may be the next target on the list.

Sprinkled throughout the story are images of the Carolina community that includes their culture.  “I wanted to show how Leigh connects to her mom through cooking.  After all, Carolina girls love to cook.  In the South, we cook for the people we love.  No one gets together without having lots of food around.  Through her baking and cooking she is able to initially get close to people.  If she likes you she will try to feed you.  One of her love languages is cooking and baking cookies.  I actually developed a little recipe book for my newsletters’ subscribers, a dive team recipe book.” 

This first in the series will leave readers wanting for more.  Fortunately, the next book will be coming out at the end of this year, but it is also unfortunate that people will have to wait months for the next installment.


High White Sun

High White Sun by J. Todd Scott is a very plot driven story.  Scott, who has been a federal agent with the DEA for over twenty years has used his experiences to write this book. Now living in Texas, he is able to write a first-hand account of the small-town Texas setting.

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The plot has a new sheriff in town, Chris Cherry, determined to clean out his department after the death of his predecessor, corrupt Sheriff Ross.  He brings in new deputies including America (Ame) Reynosa, the tough and aggressive female, and Ben Harper, a hard-edged veteran homicide detective now lured out of retirement.  They are untiring in their determination to find the killers of Texas Ranger Bob Ford, and river guide Billy Bravo.  The major person of interest is John Wesley Earl, a leader of a vicious prison gang, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. As the investigation takes hold, an unforeseen twist makes the pursuit of justice harder as they must navigate through the shady characters, numerous lies, and buried secrets.

Scott noted, “I see the setting as a character.  This remote area drives a lot of people’s decisions and choices.  In my books, everyone seems to wear not a black or white hat, but a grey hat.  The remoteness puts them out on the frontier where, like the old westerns, they police it with just a small group.  The emphasis of the story is not solving the crime but the after effects of it.  In this book, the murders do not have a lot of page time.”

This is a tale of murder, revenge, and redemption. Readers will also learn about the investigative process including the different techniques, tactics, and methods.


Book Review: Bone Music

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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Bone Music’s story by Christopher Rice is not a classical melody, but more like hard rock. The scenes are riveting and realistic enough that there is an element of believability, alternating between a thriller and the fringes of science fiction.

Rice considers it a “sci-fi cross over where it has a gratified fantasy dusted in the grit of existence. What was extraordinary:  the drug that makes Charlotte able to do incredible things and the pharmaceutical company that is so wealthy they have infinite resources including their paramilitary units.  The drug attacks the process in the brain to prevent fright so that Charlotte is not paralyzed by fear and can actually fight. Also, throughout the series an ongoing question will be why does the drug only work with Charlotte, allowing her a three-hour window where she is capable of absolutely Superhuman strength.”

This consuming read has the heroine trying to overcome her tragic past by rebuilding her life and overcoming her trust issues.  The intensity begins from page one when a husband and wife team of serial killers abducts a nine-month-old baby after brutally killing its mother.  They raised Trina, hoping to include her in their viciousness, grooming her to follow in their footsteps.  Yet, she could not even kill a bird and felt remorse.  This shows that environment is not the sole basis for serial killers since Charlotte refuses to kill. Luckily for her, at the age of seven, the FBI raided their hideout.

Throughout her life Trina had to be under the suspicion of some who felt that she was complicit in the murders, labeled as “The Burning Girl.” She attempts to bury her past by changing her name to Charlotte Rowe, and baring her soul to psychologist, Dylan “Cole,” who was pretending to help, but actually had his own agenda.  He gives her a supposed calming pill, which is actually an experimental drug.  It transforms her adrenaline when triggered by a sense of fear, allowing her to have super strength. Now able to gain back her confidence with a life ruled less by fear, she decides to use her extraordinary ability to fight evil, a serial killer known as the Mask Maker, with the help of the pharmaceutical company that makes the drug.

As the story unfolds Charlotte transforms from a paranoid and insecure individual to someone who gains strength, confidence, and a small amount of trust.  She returns to the town of her childhood, Altamira, California, where she enlists the help of those who she knew, including a high school peer, Luke, who would bully her, but now wants to make amends by helping.

Wanting a superhero with some flaws, Rice notes, “She does everything one step at a time.  She is strong, determined, resilient, smart, but has a dark side.  When her grandmother died she became grief stricken.  Since then she had built walls, but once she decides to make the most of a bad situation and gets a new purpose she is starting to bring the wall down and allow people into her life.  After she changed her name from Trina Pierce to Charlotte Rowe she found her own voice.  Changing her name was a way to say ‘I can set my own course,’ and make my own identity.”

Just as those in the military, Charlotte feels that it is her duty to protect others. “I wrote that the people Charlotte goes up against are fundamentally evil, and she feels they must be stopped by her.  I have to say, as I was writing this I did not feel much remorse for the people who died at Charlotte’s hands.  Just as with the military, people should not be weighing in and creating a social media jury system on every combat situation. Especially, since they have no sense of what really went down, and we are not willing to make the sacrifices our men and women in the military must make.  I think Charlotte realizes she will go after the worse of the worst and I compare her to the special forces of serial killer trackers.  I address through Charlotte when absolute force is justified.”

This is a fast-paced story that has very engaging characters.  Readers will root for Charlotte to succeed emotionally and with her quest to rid the world of evildoers. 


Book Review: The Escape Artist

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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The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer once again proves he is the master of secrets.  His books always delve into the hidden stories of the characters and governmental conspiracies.  He has a knack for finding out and then writing about interesting topics that are not widely well-known, incorporating them into a thrilling story.

The book starts off with a bang when one of the passengers jumps out of a plane without a parachute before it crashes to the ground.  It might have received little notice except that one of the passengers was the Librarian of Congress and a good friend of President Orson Wallace. A little tidbit, this is the same President who appeared in Meltzer’s previous series. 

Following the crash Jim Zig” Zigarowski, a very skilled mortician at Dover Air Force Base, is assigned to perform his magic on the bodies of those who crashed.  He has unique reconstructive talents that has made it possible for families to view the peaceful remains of their lost loved ones, allowing them to make sure the fallen look the way people remember them so that their families can have the proper closure they need. Some bodies have missing limbs, so Zig must sculpt new ones out of clay. If their faces are ripped apart by shrapnel or burned beyond recognition, he does his magic with makeup. It’s a job he does with love, and something he takes very seriously.

One of the bodies from the plane crash is Nola Brown, a name Zig recognizes immediately, since she saved his daughter, Maggie’s life and lost a portion of her ear in the process.  A year after Nola saved Maggie she ended up dying in a tragic accident and Nola had a terrible childhood at the hands of sociopathic foster parents. Zig’s sadness turns to surprise after realizing the body in front of him had no ear damage making Zig positive that it was not Nola. This sparks a personal mission to find Nola. He is determined to discover who are the remains he was working on, and unravel the mystery of the mix up. Through the investigation Zig uncovers that Nola is the U.S. Army's artist-in-residence, a painter and trained soldier who rushes into battle, making art from war's aftermath and sharing observations about today's wars that would otherwise go overlooked.

After finding her they work together uncovering a sinister scheme called Operation Bluebook, based on the magician’s Harry Houdini secret way of revealing fake fortune-tellers, separating truth from lies.  Zig and Nola must find who is behind Bluebook before the conspirators can kill them. In the course of the investigation they realize that they have a lot in common. It seems as though Zig and Nola are able to restore everyone but themselves.

This riveting story is about handling grief, the feeling of loss, and the ability to recover. But it also delves into how secrets can be costly to one’s health.

 


Book Review: The Queen 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.

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The Queen Of Hearts by Kimmery Martin delves into relationships within the medical profession.  This debut novel is set against a background of hospital rounds with life-or-death decisions. It is a story of betrayal and forgiveness as the two best friends, Emma Colley and Zadie Anson navigate their friendship through stormy waters.

Martin describes Zadie as “Competent, caring, intelligent, warm, and trustworthy. She is also goofy, funny, and fun-loving.  People are asking me if she is patterned after myself, but I have to say she is much more charismatic.  I think she is not by nature a grudge holder.” For her Emma is the complete opposite, “In many ways, she is unapproachable. She stews over what has happened to her and fixates on things.  Although physically beautiful she is socially awkward, cerebral.  I like and empathize with her.” 

The plot alternates between 1999 and the present day where they now live in North Carolina, raising a family, and have a successful medical practice. Everything turns topsy-turvy when Nick Xenokostas decides to join Emma’s surgery group. The two friends must face the secrets of their past, including how Nick broke Zadie’s heart. Nick's unexpected reappearance during a time of new professional crisis shocks both women into a deeper look at the difficult choices they made at the beginning of their careers.

A powerful book quote, “If a child dies it’s not because she’s needed in heaven, or because there was some cosmic plan for her to die so another child could be born”? Martin explains, “This was stated by Emma who wants everything to make sense.  She wants the world to function according to the laws of logic, less likely to have her personality ruled by emotion.  She never rationalizes that things happen for the greater good. As I started writing, I thought, ‘try it; what is the worst that could go wrong.’ But in medicine the worst that can go wrong is that you can kill someone.  It is a cloud hanging over doctors’ heads.”

The story has intrigue, drama, and turmoil that combine for a good story.


Book Review: The Third Victim

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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The Third Victim by Phillip Margolin is the first in a new series. Margolin is back with his expertise of legal suspense crime novels. What makes his books interesting is the ability to intertwine facts about the justice system within a riveting plot.

The book begins with a horrific scene of a girl stumbling out of the woods and collapsing on the highway. She has been badly burned, beaten, and tortured. The investigation would later show that this woman was the ‘third victim’ of a sadistic killer. Luckily she was able to escape before he finished the job. Persons of interest pile up:  Alex Mason, a prominent defense attorney who owns the cabin where the torture takes place; Arnold Prater, a rogue police officer, and a drug dealing pimp, Jackson Wright. Readers enter the courtroom with the defense attorneys, Regina Barrister and Robin Lockwood, as they try to figure out who is the real torturer.

Margolin noted, “I pioneered the battered woman defense back in Oregon in 1979.  No one understood the dynamics of wife beating and why they stayed with their abuser.  That year I represented a woman who murdered her husband with a hammer after he passed out drunk.  During the course of my investigation I found out she was beaten by him for fourteen years and he also pushed her down a flight of stairs.  She got probation.  After that I lectured and wrote articles on how to use it as a defense.”

As with all of his novels, Margolin explores societal issues, with this book being no different.  Alzheimer’s is dealt with in a very understanding manner.  Regina, a high-powered defense attorney, in the midst of a very serious case of murder and torture is starting to forget important information and is not able to hide it from the rest of the team that includes her newly hired associate Robin Lockwood.  Since Regina is known for her quick wit, sharp mind, and immaculate research, Robin thought this would be her dream job, having a great mentor.  Yet, she now must decide what to do, weighing her desire to continue working with Regina against her moral compass.  Does she approach her or some of the trusted friends, and if so how to avoid confrontation since Regina is obviously in denial?

Using this disease as an inspiration for the story, “I read this article in the Oregon State Bar Journal that examines what should be done when a senior partner in a big law firm, a rainmaker, starts showing signs of dementia.  This made me think about a young lawyer who starts working with her idol on a death penalty case and realizes something is wrong. It is also personal since my grandmother, mother-in-law, and my aunt had Alzheimer’s.  I think it is worse for people who are around them.  I remember when I went back to New York and called my aunt to get together for lunch.  After lunch, we were sitting in the park and she did not know where was her apartment.  Five minutes later she asked the question again.  My father and brother flew out and we took her back to Oregon.”

Margolin never disappoints readers with his legal thrillers.  He chooses an issue relevant to today and encases it in a story involving some crime.  This book is really two plots in one, a murder mystery and an examination of the impact of Alzheimer’s.


Book Review: The Terminal List

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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The Terminal List is a debut thriller by Jack Carr.  What makes this book special is that Carr uses his experiences as a SEAL to write a realistic action-packed story.  It takes readers to a time when rules of engagement had the Special Forces acting as cowboys where they took out the enemy up close and personal as well as from afar with sniper fire.

Carr noted, “The book was essentially written for me.  It was very therapeutic.  I revisited what was important to me over the last twenty years including emotionally, strategically, and tactically.  I combined them into a fictional thriller hoping to make the weapons and the people authentic.  It was me pouring out my passions and emotions. I took my experiences of studying warfare and the real world and applied it to this story about revenge.  I based it on the Samurai warrior mentality that understood they might die while going into warfare.  All of the emotions, flashbacks, and remembrances I felt over the last twenty years were placed on the protagonist. It also helped that my friend partnered with me to write this story.” 

He served for over twenty years with an expertise in communications/intelligence, to leading assault/sniper teams, and to practicing counterinsurgency.  He uses all this in the story when his hero, Lt. Commander James Reece, seeks revenge after losing almost all his men in an Afghanistan ambush killing 36 SEALs, 28 Rangers, and four aircrew members in his unit as well as his wife and child. After finding out that the murders were perpetrated by high-level rogue government and military officials he creates a list of twelve who must die. Reece has no regrets since he believes he is dying of a terminal brain tumor because the government decided to use his unit for experimentation of a drug that would be used for those with PTSD.   Readers will be reminded of Vince Flynn’s books Term Limits and Consent to Kill. Carefully plotting these assassinations Reece is determined to see that justice is served.

The author wanted to write a realistic story and reminds readers, “In the 1970s Senator Church had hearings on experiments done to people in the military. For example, they put Navy divers down at a certain depth for a certain amount of time.  If they had issues they would reduce the time.  These guys were used as guinea pigs. I molded much of this information into a fictional story.  It is also based on Vince Flynn’s Term Limits in that in both stories by killing the bad guys justice was served so there were no regrets.  This is why I put in the book quote, ‘Killing was not so much about taking a life, it was about sustaining life:  the lives of your countrymen, your unit, your family, yourself.’  I personally sleep very well at night regarding my decisions.”

There have been many inspiring books by SEALs about their life and career.  With The Terminal List readers get the inspiring story within an action-packed plot. 


Book Review: If I Die Tonight

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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If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin brings psychological suspense stories to a whole new level.  The focus of the plot emphasizes the relationship between parents and children and how social media plays a role.  The I-GEN generation characters that keep secrets and isolate themselves, allows readers to realize it is sometimes impossible for parents to really know their children.

The plot begins with Wade, a teenager’s, suicide note, then flashes back five days and unfolds from the perspectives of Jackie, Connor, Pearl, and Amy Nathanson. Amy files a police report claiming that she was car jacked by a teenage boy.  Another boy, Liam, rushes to help and is hit by the car. The case quickly consumes social media, transforming Liam, a local high school football star, into a folk hero, and the suspect, a high school outcast named Wade Reed, into a depraved would-be killer. His mother, Jackie, and brother Connor, are convinced Wade is innocent, but must face their own life changes as they too are seen as pariahs.

Gaylin has the uncanny ability to develop likeable and dysfunctional characters.  A shining character in the story is police officer Pearl Maze.  She has problems that must be worked out with her father.  But as a cop she is very astute at realizing there is more to the crime than meets the eye and she is a great judge of personality.  Suspense ratchets up as Pearl tries to figure out if Wade is innocent or guilty.

Readers might not see the last of Pearl since Gaylin is thinking of writing a Pearl novella.  “I can definitely see a possibility of doing a series with her.  I wrote her backstory because I’ve always been haunted by the stories I’ve read about toddlers picking up guns and accidentally killing a parent, wondering about what effect that would have on the child. In writing Pearl, I saw an opportunity to introduce that idea. She describes herself as, ‘a murderer before she could even read.’ I imagined what toll that could take on an otherwise level-headed person. Pearl is a complicated young woman who tends to isolate herself from others. Overall, she is a basically good and moral person and a keen judge of character.”

Jackie Reed, a single mother of two teenage boys, loves and embraces them, always believing in them.  Her sons Wade and Connor alternate between being the older wiser brother and the dependent one; even though Connor is the thirteen-year-old and Wade is seventeen.  They rely on each other for stability and support, and want to protect one another.

Gaylin noted, “Secrets. I write about secrets in most of my books.  We really do not fully know someone.  There are characters in this book who are willing to let others go down just to make sure their secret does not get out.  What I like to do when I start writing is to find out everyone’s secrets. In this book, I felt for Jackie because I am also the parent of teenage children. I love writing a twisting plot, but this is probably my most character-driven novel. A lot of the twists come out of characters lying to each other and to themselves.”

Also, a character in the story is social media.  It creates fake news, victims, and heroes, and allows everyone to keep secrets and manipulate those around them. What should scare people the most is how it can destroy when instantaneous posts become permanent.

This engaging tale stresses family relationships and the role of social media in society today.  As with her other books Gaylin takes readers on an emotional roller coaster ride with her many twists.