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April 2019

Book Review: Blood Oath

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.


Blood Oath by Linda Fairstein has Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper returning to work after taking a hiatus to recover from double personal traumas.  She has no time to ease back into a routine because she is presented with a very formidable case.

Alexandra (Alex), the chief prosecutor of the Special Victims Bureau, oversees and prosecutes sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and related murder cases. After returning to work she is presented with a case by a young woman who has come forward to claim she was assaulted ten years ago, when she was just 14 years old. The name of her attacker comes as a huge surprise to Alex, a respected colleague and someone she knows well. Alex, along with NYPD detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace must decide if the now twenty-four-year-old victim, Lucy Jenner, is telling the truth.

"As a prosecutor, I never use any of my own cases but do pull stories from real cases.  The villain in this story is based on someone who is real, a man I know personally.  I was on the board of a non-profit organization and served alongside this very distinguished gentleman.  Three years ago, someone came forward to say he had molested her twenty years ago. The seed for this one came from a tragic story involving a powerful man I knew well, who had done something terrible in his young professional life.  I was haunted by the victims’ perspective, and by his downfall. I could not imagine the profound impact of his actions on his victim who said her life was derailed.  I couldn’t shake the whole idea of it, so I got to work creating my fictional version of a similar case.”

Besides this devastating accusation Alex must deal with a Judge who she has had scrapes with in the past.  His separated wife is suing him for a divorce and is accusing him of choking her and being abusive in other ways.

Alexandra also faces a tragedy when her friend, Francie Fain, collapses on the street on the way to Alexandra’s welcome back party. At first it seems a tragic accident, but soon it begins to look more like attempted murder. Alex and her boyfriend Mike Chapman question what led to her friend’s current condition.

History is always weaved into the story whether through a Final Jeopardy question where Alex, Mercer, and Chapman generally stop whatever they are doing to watch on TV and make their own wagers regarding the correct answer, or historical architectural and cultural landmarks in New York. The Tombs, the city prison, and the “Bridge of Sighs,” pictured on the book cover, and New York City medical research facility, Rockefeller University, becomes a part of the story.

“In this book, I concentrated on Rockefeller University.  At a dinner, I met a very interesting person who is a visionary scientist.  He works there.  As detective Mike Chapman would say, “It is not a university in the sense we think of it.” It is actually the country’s largest medical institute.  I was invited to give a DNA lecture there.  After I spoke to the scientists, I was able to take a tour of this 100-year-old campus.  It has very unusual dark corners and underground tunnels.  Of course, I had to embellish it when I made it a safe house.” 

This plot has non-stop action where all three incidents come together in a thrilling and riveting conclusion. It is nice to see a prosecutor and the police work together to bring justice to those who experienced violence.

Book Review: Dark Tribute

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.


Dark Tribute by Iris Johansen shows why she is such an amazing author. The story has a riveting plot, very likeable protagonists, and a completely evil antagonist. 

Fans of Johansen finally get their wish. This book highlights Cara Delaney, whose guardians are forensic sculptor Eve Duncan and Atlanta Police Detective Joe Quinn. Now as a grown woman she desires to pursue her love of playing the violin with her love of longtime friend, Jock Gavin. He was solely her protector when Cara was younger, but throughout the years the bond between them has only strengthened and their feelings for each other have increased. Yet, Jock is afraid to act on his feelings because he feels like Cara deserves better than him, and a relationship with him will just put her in danger because of his being a cold-blooded killer. But their desires for each other have been put on hold after a mysterious man, John Svardak, kidnaps Cara, pay back for what happened to his family.

Manipulation versus persuasion is present “in all of my books.  Clever characters can be manipulated, but then know how to overcome it.  I do think there is a difference between manipulation and persuasion.  Manipulation is deliberate, and has an undertone that could be good or bad.  I think persuasion is softer and silkier.”

Many years ago, Svardak’s father and brother broke Cara's grandfather’s Sergai Kaskov's fingers in the gulag where they were imprisoned together. Kaskov settled the score by murdering Svardak’s sister Anna, his father, and his brother. Now the kidnapper wants revenge and plans on torturing Cara, while hiding out in the wilds of West Virginia. Eve, Joe, Jock, and Kaskov race against time to find and rescue her.Even her ten-year-old step brother, Michael, gets involved because of his telepathy and psychic skills. They all must use their skills and instincts to find Cara before something dreadful happens to her.

Music also played a strong role. “Music is a strong part of Cara’s life.  I used it as a dark, dark draw into the retribution. I think the violin is very important to Cara, and she has a strong bond with it.  She says, “I love it because it makes beautiful music.  We complete each other.  We make beautiful music together.” During dark times people turn to music for comfort.” 

This book as with all Johansen novels shows how strong family bonds can protect each other.  It also has a criminal that is immoral and psychotic. Readers will not want to put the book down.


Book Review: Cold Stone Heart

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


Stone Cold Heart by Laura Griffin brings suspense to the forefront, sprinkled with some romance. The Tracer series shows the different aspects of CSI investigators, where each book highlights the approach to solving a crime.

Griffin noted, “I have been fascinated by this field for a number of years.  I have read a lot of books and interviewed those in the field. The inspiration is a research center in Central Texas that helped me to come up with the fictional Delphi Center Forensic Lab.  The heroine, Sara, is a bone expert that can identify the type of bone and then uses it to unravel the murder.  Her field is somewhat like an archeologist, but with a crime solving twist. She gets called in when bones are found, or the decomposition of the body is so advanced that identification cannot happen. They can identify the difference between human and animal bones.  They can also use the bones to see if the cause of death was violent or from natural causes.” 

Sara Lockhart is a forensic anthropologist with the Delphi Crime Center in Texas. She is called in after human bones are found in a park by police detective Nolan Hess. He wonders if these are the bones of a local teenage climber who vanished a year ago. The mystery ratchets up when more remains are found.  After more bones are discovered, Sara and Nolan race against time to find the serial killer before he abducts, tortures and kills more young women.

“I wrote Sara as someone committed and smart, much like her father.  He was in the Coast Guard and like him, she has a mission to bring closure to families whose loved ones are missing.  This story starts out with hikers discovering bones in a gorge. Sara is trying to provide answers for this family because they are unable to grieve and are stuck in this limbo.  I wrote this book quote, ‘(Sara) couldn’t imagine the nightmare of having a child disappear and going without answers for many months or years.  The discovery of bones was reason to hope.’  She can be headstrong, pretty, assertive professionally, a science expert, thorough, dedicated, and empathetic.”

During the investigation, Sara and Nolan become attracted to each other. Nolan is a workaholic who is well-known for his integrity and his compassion. As a detective, he has great insight and judgment. While Sara has turned into a loner, wanting nothing more than to solve cases. She is strong, independent, and a workaholic that tries to avoid relationships. Although intelligent, spunky, dedicated, and willing to forge her own career path, she is the direct opposite when it comes to getting close to someone.

Readers will be on the edge of their seats as the mystery unravels. The search to find the serial killer is riveting and as an added bonus Griffin develops an intriguing connection between Sara and Nolan.

Book Review: Desert Vengeance

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.


Desert Redemption by Betty Webb is the tenth and final installment of the Lena Jones Mystery series.  Wanting to go out with a bang, Lena will have to encounter cults, deaths from malnutrition, and scenarios that force her to remember her past.

Webb noted, “I am very sad, since Lena is the daughter I never had.  I have two boys and wanted to write her as I was, a tomboy.  She came to me in a dream one night in which she told me the story of her life that included the entire last sentence of this book.   Because I am taking the loss of Lena so hard I have decided to make the protagonist of my next possible series her great, great grandmother who has the same temperament as Lena.I just cannot let Lena go. I am thinking of writing a prequel when she was eighteen.  There were four months between when she started at ASU, with a full scholarship, and when she had to leave foster care.” 

 Harold Slow Horse, one of Arizona’s leading artists, asks Lena to investigate the Kanati Spiritual Center, where his flighty ex-wife, Chelsea, has taken up residence. It is a compound promoting a mixture of Native American symbolism and philosophy. Seeing that Chelsea is thriving on fresh air, sunshine, and the gourmet food Lena dismisses Harold’s claims.  That is, until she discovers the body of a woman starved to death, with a possible link to the spiritual center. She begins to think that there is “something more horrific than religious plagiarism going on at Kanati.”

“I came out here in 1982 from New York City, and moved next door to the reservation that I talk about in my books all the time.  I can actually walk to the reservation.  Every day when I used to work at the newspaper I would have to drive through the reservation.  I shop at the grocery store that all the Pima Indians shop at.  I even made one of my characters, Lena’s boyfriend Jimmy, a Pima Indian.  I wanted to show that some of the nicest resorts were put up by the Pima Indians. I saw buildings on the reservation go from shacks to pretty nice homes. When I first started writing my stories, none of the other writers talked about the Indian tribes of Scottsdale.  I learned about them while working for the newspaper where I wrote stories on how they fought to put up casinos even though the then Governor Fife Symington was against it.  They won because of the overwhelming public support.”

A consequence from the investigation has Lena rememberingthe murder of her father and younger brother by a cult leader named Abraham, who then vanished along with her mother. All she could remember up to now is being left to die, at the age of four, after being shot in the head, and having to endure years in the abusive foster care system.

Always a welcome added feature of a Webb book is her vivid descriptions of the Arizona terrain. Readers are treated to the beauty of the area along with the resident ground squirrels, jackrabbits, deer, and a bald eagle, while a chorale of birds sang from mesquite and ironwood trees. A book quote, “I took a moment to enjoy the million-dollar view.  It was a clear day and I could see the high-rises of downtown Phoenix, the lower rises of Scottsdale, and the no-rise Pima Reservation.”

Besides a riveting mystery, readers are treated to a bit of history, locations, and geography that will draw them deeper into the story. Although Lena has found her happy place, fans will yearn for Webb to continue Lena’s story in the future.