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Book Review - "Brutality" by Ingrid Thoft

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.

9780399171185_p0_v2_s192x300Brutality by Ingrid Thoft is a captivating crime novel.  Besides the mystery of a “who done it murder,” the author raises questions about sports brain injuries.  This plot explores the theoretical and practical, the balance between loving the sport, in this case, soccer, and the compelling evidence of the dangers involved in playing it. 

The story has soccer mom Liz Barone attacked in her kitchen, where she eventually dies from her injuries.  Private investigator Fina Ludlow is hired by Liz’s mother to find the attacker. Through her investigation Ludlow finds out that Liz is suing her alma mater for a mild cognitive impairment head injury incurred while she was a player for New England University. Carl Ludlow, Fina’s father, decides to take the civil case as Fina tries to narrow the list of suspects: Liz’s research boss, her husband who has a hidden secret, other members of the soccer team, and a sleezy booster.  In addition to the mystery the family plotline continues with her abusive older brother, a niece wondering about her actual family, and Fina’s relationship with her police friend.

The author writes what interests her.  “I remember reading accounts of NFL football players suffering from cognitive impairment and other brain issues. I changed it from football to soccer.  People assume its only in football and hockey but in reality the lower contact sports have a high incidence of concussions.  Also, people historically think that girls do not play as hard as men so they don’t suffer from these injuries. I see it as involving the intersection of money, entertainment, identity, and what it means to be macho in our culture. I thought it had many interesting facets, making it porous on many levels.”

Fina is a great character that is independent, sarcastically humorous, tough, tenacious, and quick thinking.  The only daughter in a family of three sons, and the only one not to attend law school, she stands out in the family dynamics.  Her parents are dysfunctional, the mother more than the father. 

Thoft told blackfive.net that she came up with the idea for the character while attending a course at the University of Washington. “I learned that defense attorneys, insurance companies, and some citizens use them.  The two women who taught the class were investigators, one civil and the other criminal.  It gave a terrific overview.  We reviewed police reports and had a whole range of guest speakers. I also made contact with some in the Seattle Police Department since it is not unusual for a retired police officer to become a PI.  They let me do a ride along.  It was really interesting since there were a huge variety of calls: a possible bank robbery, a detox, and someone who threw a hamburger at someone else.  It gave me a real appreciation for the work a patrol officer must do. They are social workers, mediators, and have to work with a varied and difficult population.  I saw the other side of the police that is rarely seen on the news today.”

The author is excited that ABC is teaming up with producer Mark Gordon to adapt the first two books into a TV series.  The pilot is possibly being filmed this fall season, about a family drama set around the Ludlow family business, a high-powered personal injury law firm.

Brutality balances real-life themes with an exciting story.  The protagonist is a well-developed character whose dry narration enhances the action. The sub-plot regarding the complex family dynamics is very well written.

Photo - Cleaning the Breach

Hires_150629-M-BX631-044cU.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Marvin Henry cleans the breach of an M777A2 lightweight 155 mm howitzer after firing a projectile to support an air assault course on Bradshaw Field Training Area, Northern Territory, Australia, June 29, 2015. The combined arms training event combined light infantry, indirect fire weapons systems and air assets to capture and fight through a mock enemy objective. 
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Jose O. Nava 

Photo - LRSU Try Outs

Hires_150624-A-HL390-229Army Pfc. Nick Day vaults over a beam at an obstacle course during the last leg of long range surveillance selection on Fort Bragg, N.C., June 24, 2015. On the final day of selection, candidates also completed a 20-kilometer ruck march and a written exam. Day is an infantryman assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division's Company C, 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. 
U.S. Army photo by Spc. Paige Behringer 

Book Review - "Target Utopia" by Jim DeFelice and Dale Brown

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.

9780062122872_p0_v1_s192x300Target Utopia, a Dreamland thriller, by Jim DeFelice and Dale Brown is an exciting read.  As with the earlier Dreamland books there is a return to the action-packed scenes of air fights, and the character interaction is strewn with tension.  At the forefront of all the action is the main character, Breanna Stockard.

Although she is not among those who are directly fighting on the front lines, Breanna is the focal point.  As the Whiplash Director of the Department of Defense Office of Special Technology she must decide the mission and the fate of those she sends into harm’s way.  In addition, her relationships with her husband, Senator Zen Stockard, her father, Tecumseh Bastian, and one of Whiplash’s pilot, Captain Turk Mako is explored; yet, there is not any resolution in this book. 

In an action-packed plot, Breanna sends a Whiplash team headed by Colonel Danny Freah into Malaysia to investigate Muslim extremists who have found a UAV.  Along with pilot Turk Mako and newcomer pilot, Torbin Van Garetn (Cowboy) they discover a conspiracy that involves a former member of the taskforce team, Lloyd Braxton. They are in a desperate race to recover the aircraft and capture those responsible before actions will set off World War III.

An interesting point explored is how commanders must decide which is more important the mission or those who they must command.  DeFelice noted to blackfive.net, “I wanted to explore the balance between accomplishing the mission and risking people’s lives.  Commanders must deal with the practical and philosophical issues.” 

Besides Breanna other interesting characters include President Mary Christine Todd who is someone any American would want as the first woman President.  She is willing to listen to all points of view, including those who disagree with her, is always willing to make the hard decision, understands her goals, and has a realistic point of view.  Another noteworthy character is the villain, Braxton.  He is very intelligent, a science nerd, self-absorbed, socially stunted, and narcissistic, inotherwords a psychopath.  He believes in Kallipolis, the psychopathic take on Plato, that philosopher kings would run the world. 

DeFelice also gave a heads up about a future book.  He will be writing a new series with Dale Brown, a spy thriller involving robotics.  This techno-thriller is based on technology just released and is written closer to the present time than the Dreamland novels.

Whether writing a fiction or non-fiction book, DeFelice has an inspirational story where the backdrop is real world events.

Photo - Moving In

Hires_150630-A-VD071-002BA U.S. soldier practices maneuvering movements to prepare for a live-fire exercise at Tapa, Estonia, June 30, 2015. The exercise combined the knowledge and skills of the U.S. and Estonian militaries as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. The soldier is assigned to 173rd Airborne Brigade. 
U.S. Army photos by Spc. Jacqueline Dowland 

Photo - TACP Talk Afghanistan Style

Hires_150623-F-QN515-049AU.S. Air Force Senior Airman Grant Haefke talks to an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft pilot during a mission at an Afghan army combat outpost in Afghanistan, June 23, 2015. Haefke, a joint terminal attack controller and tactical air control party airman, is assigned to the 817th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joseph Swafford

Photo - Firebolt Firing

Hires_150628-N-TB410-154aThe coastal patrol ship USS Firebolt fires a Griffin missile during a test and proficiency fire in the Arabian Gulf, June 28, 2015. The Firebolt is supporting maritime and theater security operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. 
U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Bryce Bruns 

Book Review - "What Lies Behind" by J.T. Ellison

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.

9780778316503_p0_v2_s192x300What Lies Behind by J. T. Ellison is a realistic, frightening novel about bio-terrorism.  Because the plot takes place in one harrowing day the action never seems to stop.  It can be seen as a warning for a terrorist threat that seems to have fallen under the radar. 

The main character, Dr. Samantha (Sam) Owens, is no longer a medical examiner and is now teaching and working with the FBI. Samantha is awakened by a police investigation in her Georgetown neighborhood.  Her friend, homicide detective Darren (Fletch) Fletcher, asks her to look over the evidence and help solve the murder/suicide case. Instead, she discovers hidden toxic substances, which turns the case upside down.  As they try to figure out what is happening Fletch and Sam are summoned to the State Department. In typical Washington DC fashion, they find themselves up against red tape, smoke and mirrors, and a one-sided discussion.  Sam and Fletch must navigate between the different agencies to thwart the terrorists and find the killers.

Ellison noted to blackfive.net, “After reading this story on hemorrhagic fevers I became fascinated with the subject.  I talked to a virologist, Eric Mossel, PH.D who was instrumental in helping me develop the story and finding the right path between fiction and reality. Since I wanted to make the plot realistic I had him guide me through everything I was planning.  He gave me the details on the creation of vaccines.  I found out that it is not hard to taint them. I started the story about four months before the Ebola outbreak.  I remember having to change things because I wanted to stay away from the headlines.  It seemed every day something captured what I had written. “

The other storyline involves Sam’s fiancée, former Army Ranger, Xander Whitefield, who recently started a personal protection company.  He and his partner are protecting a British industrialist from an assassination attempt.  Ellison skillfully merges this storyline with the bio-terrorism plot to make for a riveting and suspenseful novel.

A small sub-plot presented in the middle of the book has Sam investigating a series of unsolved murders that have spanned twenty years.  Bringing this in during the intense main plot presented some distraction.  However, at the end of the storyline she does a good job of foreshadowing with this plotline the next Sam book.

All the characters are very well developed, especially the newly created Robin Souleyret.  She is reminiscent of a female Mitch Rapp, the famous Vince Flynn CIA operative.  While investigating her sister’s murder and the connection to bio-terrorism, she must decide what moral lines to cross.  Having to overcome a severe head injury from an IED she sets out to prove she is capable of making the correct decisions. 

The author feels Robin is an “awesome, incredible character.  She completely takes over the story and resonates with readers.  After disappointing her sister in the worst way she is attempting to redeem herself.  Robin is a compelling character because she is a moral person doing immoral things for the greater good, killing people who need to be killed.”

What Lies Behind has an explosive storyline that is all too realistic.  The plot is a compelling mystery with a lot of action and terror. 

Book Review - "The Breaking Point" by Jefferson Bass

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.

9780062262332_p0_v3_s192x300The Breaking Point by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson, known professionally as Jefferson Bass, realistically uses forensics to solve crimes.  Jefferson is a writer and documentary filmmaker while Dr. Bass is a forensic anthropologist and founder of the renowned research facility, the Body Farm. With all of their fictional books they intertwine a powerful crime mystery with details about forensic science.

The plot opens with the FBI working at the Body Farm, taking a course on evidence response.  They learn how to handle the location and identification of skeletal remains.  Shortly thereafter, there is a devastating plane crash resulting in fragmenting body parts, making it difficult to identify the victims. Working closely with the FBI the main character, Dr. Bill Brockton, is asked to help find the remains of a maverick millionaire who was supposedly killed in the fiery plane crash.  Brockton has made a reputation for himself as a prominent forensic anthropologist while doing research and teaching at the University of Tennessee, home to the Body Farm. Brockton must determine if the philanthropist is a diabolical killer and has faked his own death or has really died in the crash. 

What makes this story very powerful and a tearjerker is that Brockton suffers one crisis after another.  The parallels with the prophet Job are evident, considering Brockton is a good person who is beset with horrendous disasters that take away all he holds dear. He is seen as drowning, with his life spinning out of control.  First his identification of the crash victim(s) is called into question.  Then he receives a threatening message from the serial killer who attempted to kill his family.  Because this a prequel the next line might be a spoiler alert for those who did not read previous books:  his beloved wife Kathleen, a soul mate and the source of his security, tells him she is dying of cancer. 

The comparison to Job was done, according to Jefferson, because “I wanted to explore suffering.  Dr. Brockton is a decent man who is caught up in personal and professional problems.  We want to bring in something new in every book and not do retreads.  Like Job, he is a man pushed to his limits, but unlike Job not everything turns out fine for him regarding his personal life.  I think that is more realistic.”

One of the most interesting parts of the book is the discussion of veteran issues.  A shout out is given to the Vietnam veterans, in the quote, “Our conflicted feelings-our national shame-had created an unwritten but undeniable tragic domestic policy: a policy of pretending that Vietnam had never happened, and of turning a blind, indifferent eye to Vietnam vets and their postwar troubles.”  Yet, there is also a scene in the book where the research of the Body Farm, studying time of death, is called into question, since some of the subjects were corpses of veterans. 

Dr. Bass explained to blackfive.net, “The scene in the book about the complaint regarding the veteran’s bodies is true, although we took artistic license.  A major challenge to the Body Farm occurred when the Tennessee Department of Veteran Affairs discovered some of the research subjects were veterans.  These were unclaimed bodies and the city/county did not want to incur the expense of a burial so they gave me the bodies.  I did not know that some of the corpses were veterans.  After I found out I sent the six bodies back.  I am very sympathetic because I am a Korean War vet.  They wanted to shut down the Body Farm but I prevailed since it is obvious that the research is valuable and helps to solve cases.”

Jon Jefferson regards “our country’s treatment of Vietnam vets as shameful.  Returning Vietnam vets have paid the price for this national ambivalence, which I think is dreadful.  I was lucky since I had a high lottery number drawn so I was not called.  I put in the book a quote about how Dr. Brockton was able to stay out of the war.”

Although the story of The Breaking Point is fictional the science is all too real.  What makes the plot fascinating is that readers will have a hard time separating fact from fiction.  This novel has all the elements of a page-turner: mystery, danger, and suspense.  Yet, it also tugs at people’s emotions as grief and loss are explored, something that can resonate with everyone.