Book Review: The Shroud Key by Vincent Zandri

Shroud Key

Synopsis
Chase Baker is not only a true Renaissance Man, he’s a man who knows how to find trouble. A part-time resident of Florence, Italy, his resume reads like a modern day Da Vinci or Casanova. Writer, private investigator, tour guide, historian, treasure hunter, adventurer, and even archaeological sandhog, Chase is also a prolific lover. Unfortunately for him, his dangerous liaisons all too often make him the target of a jealous husband. Now, at the direct request of the Florence police, he finds himself on the trail of an archaeologist by the name of Dr. Andre Manion who’s gone missing from his teaching post at the American University. But having worked for the archaeologist several years ago as a sandhog on a secret but failed dig just outside the Great Pyramids in the Giza Plateau, Chase smells a renewed opportunity to uncover what just might be the most prized archaeological treasure in the world: The mortal remains of Jesus. But how will Chase Baker go about finding both the archaeologist and the Jesus Remains? With the help of Manion’s beautiful ex-wife, Chase will manage to secure an up-close and personal examination of the Shroud of Turin, not only to view the famous image of the crucified Christ, but to unlock the relic’s greatest secret which is none other than a map, or a key, detailing the precise location of Jesus’s body. Fans of Dan Brown, Clive Cussler and JR Rain will find The Shroud Key an irresistible adventure.

About The Author
Vincent ZandriVincent Zandri is the No. 1 International Bestselling Amazon author of THE INNOCENT, GODCHILD, THE REMAINS, MOONLIGHT FALLS, THE CONCRETE PEARL, MOONLIGHT RISES, SCREAM CATCHER, BLUE MOONLIGHT, MURDER BY MOONLIGHT, THE GUILTY, MOONLIGHT SONATA, MOONLIGHT WEEPS, FULL MOONLIGHT, THE SHROUD KEY, and more. He is also the author of the Amazon bestselling digital shorts, PATHOLOGICAL, TRUE STORIES and MOONLIGHT MAFIA. Harlan Coben has described THE INNOCENT (formerly As Catch Can) as “…gritty, fast-paced, lyrical and haunting,” while the New York Post called it “Sensational…Masterful…Brilliant!” Zandri’s list of publishers include Delacorte, Dell, StoneHouse Ink, StoneGate Ink, and Thomas & Mercer. An MFA in Writing graduate of Vermont College, Zandri’s work is translated, or soon to be translated, into many languages including the Dutch, Russian, French, Italian, and Japanese. An adventurer, foreign correspondent, and freelance photo-journalist for Living Ready, RT, Globalspec, as well as several other global news agencies and publications, Zandri lives in New York and Florence, Italy. For more go to WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM

Excerpt

Prologue
Florence, Italy
October, 2012“You stole my wife!”
That rather inflammatory accusation is lobbed from a fully grown man who, despite his God given gender, is most definitely screaming like a girl. A high school math teacher, to be precise, who’s attempted two back-to-back roundhouse swipes at me and whiffed miserably.
“I did not steal your wife,” I insist in as calm and nonthreatening a voice as I can possibly muster under the circumstances. “Your wife stole me. Get it?”
Here’s the deal:
I’m standing outside the Duomo Cathedral in beautiful, scenic Florence, Italy. No, that’s not right. I’m not standing. More like I’m dancing, dodging the punches and swipes of this paunchy, Dunkin Donut fed middle-aged American. The American wants me dead. Dead and buried. Yet I feel terrible for him. His chubby face has gone heart-attack red, eyes swollen with tears and rage. His horrified wife looks on as do a crowd of tourists who have come to the Duomo to witness some glorious Renaissance history but instead have managed to acquire free ringside seats to a brawl between a walking tour guide and one very jealous husband.
How did I get here? How did guiding these nice mid-western white-bread Americans result in my pulling the rope-a-dope inside one of the most sacred piazzas in the world while in the distance the polizia alarms blare, and the crowds of Japanese gawkers look on in smiley faced astonishment?
The sad truth of the matter is this:
I did it by being me. Chase Baker, former sandhog turned bestselling thriller writer, slash private investigator, slash tour guide, slash full-time screw up when it comes to some of the more attractive female clientele.
So what harm can come from a little innocent flirting?
Just ask the man desperately taking swings at me, trying to knock my teeth down my throat.
Maybe this isn’t the first time easy love has come my way via a tour client, and this isn’t the first time a jealous husband has wanted to hurt me over it. It’s just that this is the first time things have gotten physical in public, with potential clients looking on. So then, like a freshly dug grave that’s caving in on all sides, I suddenly find myself way in over my head.
But then, this rather sensitive situation is not entirely my fault. For example, it’s not my fault that the woman in question rang my doorbell at midnight last night, waking me from out of a sound sleep just to “chat” and drink a little Chianti together. Not my fault that I’m still the same not-entirely-worse-for-wear Renaissance man I was the day my now ex-wife walked out on me holding my infant daughter in her arms, shouting, “You don’t want a marriage! All you want is a plane ticket to anywhere but here!”
What is my fault, is my having answered the door for this exceptionally attractive tourist in the first place. Better that I simply rolled over and ignored the ringing doorbell. Better that I shut out the image of her lush blond hair, jade green eyes and legs so long and firm they began at her feet and ended somewhere inside her shoulders. Better that I reminded myself of her marriage status and then simply dozed cozily back to sleep.
But of course, what made things worse is that the lovely tourist woke the dog. And once Lulu, your two year old black and white pit bull is awake, half the residents on the Via Guelfa are awake from her barking and carrying on.
Dragging myself out of bed, I ran my hands over my short hair and down my scruffy face. I stretched myself one way and then the other, feeling the solid muscles in my back and arms tense up. Opening the shutters onto the cool spring night, I felt the cool air touch my naked skin, and I laid eyes upon the blond apparition thumbing my buzzer.
“It’s midnight, Mrs. Doyle,” I said out the open window. “I’m closed for business.”
In the background, I could make out the noise of some revelers returning from the bars near the Piazza Del Duomo, their boot heals slapping against the cobble-covered roads.
“I just want to chat,” she said, smiling, her alcohol-soaked voice sounding sultry and sexy in the night. In her right hand she gripped a five Euro bottle of Chianti which she raised up as an enticement, like she required an enticement with those eyes and everything that went with those eyes. “Look, Chase. I brought refreshments.”
I felt my heart beating. Felt my blood flowing through my veins. I glanced down at Lulu who was standing just a couple of feet away on the smooth wood floor of my five hundred year old third floor apartment.
“What should I do, Lu?” I whispered.
“You know what you should do,” the pit bull said with a wag of her tail. “You should go the hell back to bed. Get up bright and early in the morning, work on your new book, then get in a quick run before having to meet your group at ten for the Duomo tour. That’s what you should do. Don’t forget, you need the dough-ray-mi.”
“Yah,” I agreed, gazing back down onto the blond goddess dressed in short black mini-skirt, black lace tights and knee-length leather boots. “I should go back to bed, shouldn’t I?”
“But you’re not going to do that are you, Chase?” Lu added. “As usual you’re gonna listen to your dick, unlock the door for this lonely but very married tourist, invite her into your world. You’re gonna drink her wine until it’s almost gone and then you’re gonna get naked. From that point on I gotta be forced to listen to your moans and groans and bed-board banging when I should be getting my rest. But then what the hell do I know? I’m just a stupid dog. I don’t even know I’m alive.”
“You sure you’re just a dog, Lu?”
“If it looks like a dog, smells like a dog, barks like a dog…”
“Most dogs don’t talk human speak.”
“Most dogs ain’t gotta live with you, Chase. And you’re making all this dialogue up in your head anyway.”
“Thanks for reminding me, Lu. Thought I finally lost it for a minute.”
Working up a grin, I inhaled a deep, satisfying breath, and decided, “What the hell?”
That’s when I proceeded to jump down into the rabbit hole.
“Okay, Mrs. Doyle, I’m gonna let you in. But just for an hour. Long day tomorrow, remember? The Duomo tour and the ‘David’ in the Academia. You’re paying me big bucks for this.”
“Oh, good one, Chase.” Lu, moaning under her breath. “Real smooth.”
“Back off, Lu. Daddy’s got a date.” A wide smile plastered on my face, I sprinted out of the bedroom to the front door. Unbolting the door, I leapt down the stairs to let her in…
…Ten hours, thirty three minutes, and sixteen seconds later, I find myself wrestling. Only I’m not naked and the person I’m wrestling with is most definitely not a jade-eyed blond beauty. I’m grappling with the overweight husband of said jade-eyed beauty.
A one, Mr. Robert Doyle.
“I knew you were with her last night when I rolled over and she was gone,” screams the red-faced faced man, as he tries to trap me in a bear hug. “I knew it the moment you set eyes on her you’d try and get in her pants.”
I shove the far softer Doyle away, hold up my hands in surrender like I want no part of fighting him. And I don’t. He’s my client after all, and by the looks of his physical constitution, only two heartbeats away from a major coronary.
“She came to me, Mr. Doyle. Last night at midnight when I was asleep.”
“That supposed to make me feel better, Chase Baker?”
In the near distance, the wailing sirens growing louder. So is the crowd that surrounds me.
“Fight!” someone barks. An Australian. “Don’t just dance like a couple of Sallies.”
Australians love to fight.
“Yah, punch his lights outs!” someone else shouts. A Japanese man. Sounds like, “Punch his whites out!”
But I really don’t want to go all Russell Crowe on this man; don’t want to punch his lights out. He’s just angry, confused and hurt.
Doyle takes another swing at me, and another. This time he connects with my right jaw, sending a shock wave of pain into my head. It also flicks a trigger. My defensive trigger. The one that brings out Chase Baker the Survivor. The one that’s been triggered in bars and Irish pubs the world over. Istanbul, Athens, Cairo, Rome. You name it. I’ve tossed my fair share of punches and swallowed a few too. But this is the first time it’s happened while working.
“Chase, don’t you dare hurt my husband!” cries the suddenly concerned voice of Mrs. Doyle. She’s still looking mighty choice in her black mini skirt and leather boots. She did her share of screaming last night in my apartment. Now she’s screaming once more. Only difference is, she’s changed her tune entirely. Her eyes are filled with tears and she’s clutching her face with her pretty little hands. I’m the bad guy now. Like last night’s little midnight affair was all my idea.
“Don’t you dare hurt my husband you big bully!”
Her face is a combination remorse, fear and hatred for herself over what she’s done.
I know the look all too well. I’ve seen that face before on a dozen other too-attractive-for-their-own-good girls whose husbands have just discovered the worst thing they can possibly imagine: That their pretty little trophy wives are also pretty little cheats.
My head is ringing like the Duomo bell. I feel slightly out of balance. So much so that I don’t see yet another punch coming. This one connects with my other jaw. The crowd roars in approval.
If the first wallop triggered a survival mechanism, this one sparks rage.
“Sorry, Mr. Doyle,” I say, “but you leave me little choice.”
Taking a step into the bigger man’s body, I lead with an uppercut that travels through the math teacher’s soft underbelly all the way to his spine. I then quickly follow up with a left hook to the lower jaw and just like that, it’s lights out for Mr. Doyle on the cobblestones of a breathtaking Renaissance treasure.
It’s also precisely when the polizia arrive.
They jump out of their white and blue Fiat squad car, grab me by my weight-trained arms, demand that I drop to my knees. How’s the old saying go? It’s not the angry man who punches first who gets caught. It’s the sucker who punches last who eats the crap sandwich.
“Hey, he started it!” I shout. But what I really should be doing is pointing at Mrs. Doyle, insisting, She started it!
The polizia don’t want to hear it anyway. This isn’t the first time they’ve picked me up for brawling and it certainly won’t be the last. They push my arms up over my head in the opposite way God intended for them to be pushed. The pain causes little flashes of white light to explode in my brain as I feel the steel cuffs being slapped over my wrists.
“You big bully!” shouts Mrs. Doyle as she slaps me across the face. Then, dropping to her knees over her out-cold husband, “Oh my sweet darling, are you okay?”
“Let’s go, Chase,” one of the blue-uniformed cops insists in his Italian-accented English. “You’ve got yourself a front row audience with Detective Cipriani…Vai, vai.”
“Does this mean I’m under arrest, officer?” I say as they painfully yank me up onto my feet.
“Si,” the other cop says. “It means your ass is glass.”
“Grass,” I say. “It’s ‘ass is grass.’ Why don’t you learn to get it right, Pinocchio?”
I feel the quick fist to the gut, and it’s all I can do not to double over.
“Why don’t you learn to shut up, Chase?” the cop says. “Silencio.”
“Good idea,” I say through gritting teeth. “I should learn to shut up and you should learn to speak English…The international language of choice the world over.”
Together the cops drag me to the squad car where they thrust me into the back seat, slamming the door closed. An EMT van arrives on the scene then, the medical technicians immediately exiting the vehicle and going to work on the still prone Doyle. Meanwhile, the cops hop back into the front of the cruiser.
As the cop behind the wheel pulls away from the piazza, I catch one more glimpse of Mrs. Doyle. She’s still kneeling over her husband. I shoot her a smile, like, Thanks for last night. But she returns my glance with a glare that would ice over Dante’s Inferno. When she raises up her right hand and flips me a manicured middle finger, I realize I should have listened to my dog, Lu, and not my other head.
“I’ll never learn,” I whisper to yourself. “Oh well, at least Detective Cipriani has nice cigars.”
I contemplate smoking a fine Cuban cigar all the way to polizia headquarters.1.“Signor Chase Baker!” shouts the guard sergeant as he approaches the iron bars of this dark, dank, basement holding cell. “You are free to go! Andare!”
I shove through a pen that’s filled mostly with drunk, piss-soaked vagrants who’ve migrated from Peru. Why they cross over the big drink to Italy instead of heading north to America, which is far closer, beats the hell out of me. Maybe they get better health care here. Or maybe it has something to do with a higher alcohol content in the beer…Yeah that’s it, more alcohol in the beer.
The barred door slides open.
I step on through, offer the uniformed guard sergeant a smile like, Top o’ the mornin’ to ya! Or, Top o’ the late afternoon anyway. He doesn’t smile back. Go figure.
“Su,” he says, nodding at the staircase before me.
Su…That’s Italian for “up.” As in, Get the hell up those stairs! It’s also something an American redneck might shout at an old dog before kicking it in the ass with his Redwing-booted foot.
“Up the stairs, Chase. Detective Cipriani would like a word with you in his office.”
“He asking or telling?” I say.
But the short, stocky cop just glares at me like he has no idea how to answer my query. And he doesn’t. The guard sergeant on my heels, I climb the concrete steps as ordered, like an old dog being led around by his master.A minute later I’m granted my private audience with Florence’s top cop. If you want to call him that. Detective Federico Cipriani closes the door to his office, asks me to take a seat in a wood chair set before his long dark wood desk. Set out on the desktop is a translucent plastic baggy that contains my personals: my belt, the laces to my boots, my wallet, my passport, my cell phone, my cigs, my Saint Christopher’s medal, my gun, my bullets … I go to reach for them.
“Not yet!” barks Cipriani, from across the room. “We need to talk first, Chase.”
I sit back, my eyes peeled on the internationally licensed 9 mm Smith & Wesson.
“Looks like the Doyles aren’t pressing charges,” I say. “How sweet of them.”
The fifty-something Ciprinai goes behind his desk, sits himself down. He’s a big man with a barrel chest and a pleasant looking face mostly hidden behind a thick but well trimmed beard. His eyes are brown as is his hair, and the dark blue suit he wears was no doubt purchased in Florence, probably at the department store across the street from the Piazza Della Republica.
“It’s true they have dropped their case of assault against you,” he nods, picking up my handgun, staring down contemplatively at it. “But that doesn’t excuse you from punching the merda out of an American tourist.”
“You detaining me further, Cip?” I say, pronouncing the nick name like “Chip.”
He shakes his head.
“No, just trying to somehow get it through that thick skull of yours that the time will come when I can no longer keep you out of trouble. Eventually you will be asked to leave Italy for good.”
I force my eyes wide open.
“Never,” I say. “Who will guide all those lovely lost women who’ve just arrived from America and England and Australia and Japan and China and Russia and…?”
“I’ll never understand it why a bestselling author like you still insists on providing guided tours or working as a private detective or even a, what do you call it, sand dog? Doesn’t make sense.”
“Three reasons,” I say, slipping my hand inside my bush jacket for my cigarettes, but then quickly realizing that they are stuffed into the plastic bag along with my lighter and my bullets. Oh well, I’ve been trying to quit on and off for years now. “One, writing is a solitary existence. It gets mighty lonely. Second, guiding, detecting and sandhogging–not sanddogging–provides me with badly needed human contact and it also makes for good story material now and again. Third, the money is good and on occasion great. Royalties are good too but not always so consistent. You with me here, Cip? Just think of me as a Renaissance man living and thriving in the home of the Renaissance.”
He spins the gun on his thick index finger like a little boy and his plastic six-shooter, bites down on his lip.
“You know I don’t like that you are able to carry this in my peaceful town of art and culture.”
“Money talks,” I smile. “Especially in Italy. Just ask the American GIs who saved your ass from Nazi enslavement during World War Two. And you personally signed off on my permit, don’t forget. Besides, this isn’t your town anyway, Cip. It’s Brunelleschi’s town, or haven’t you noticed that big giant marble dome occupying the center of the city?”
“You’re not getting any younger, Chase. Soon you will not be so attractive to the young women who travel to this beautiful country. Perhaps you will now consider spending more time with your daughter in New York City.” Working up a smile. “You know, grow old gracefully. With dignity.”
“The food is better here. So is the wine. And I’m forty something. I’m not even close to old, yet.”
Cip sets the gun down on top of his desk. Opening the small wooden box set beside it, he pulls out a cigar, cuts the tip off with a small metal device he produces from his jacket pocket and gently sets it between his front upper and bottom teeth. Firing the cigar up with a silver-plated Zippo, he sensually releases a cloud of blue smoke through puckered lips. Then, slowly straightening himself up in his swivel chair, he reaches across the desk with his free hand, pushes the box of cigars in my direction.
“Thought you’d never ask,” I say.
Stealing a cigar from the box, I bite off the tip, spit it onto the wood floor. Leaning over the desk, I allow the cop to light me up.
“You always were a class act, Cip,” I say, sitting back. “When do I get my gun back?”
“Not yet,” he says. “I have a favor to ask of you first.”
I exhale the good tasting and very smooth Cuban-born smoke. If silence were golden, we’d be bathing in the stuff.
Finally I say, “Okay, Cip, you’ve got that look on your face like we’re going to be working together again whether I like it or not. What do you need? You want me to dig up some dirt on someone? Maybe follow some cheating hubby around Flo for a while?”
He shakes his head, smokes.
“Not exactly,” he explains. “But you’re right. It’s possible I have a job for you.”
“I’m listening, so long as it pays.”
He gets up, comes around the desk, approaches the set of French windows behind me, opens them onto the noises of the old city.
“I need you to find a missing man for me,” he says after a time.
I turn in my seat, looking at his backside as he faces out onto the cobbled street below.
“Find him where?” I say, knowing the question sounds like a silly one since if Cip knew where the man was he wouldn’t be asking me to find him in the first place. But it’s a good place to start.
“Somewhere in the Middle East would be my best guess. Egypt, perhaps.”
I smoke a little, visions of my sandhogging days in and around the Giza Plateau pulsing in my brain.
“Egypt,” I repeat. “Not the safest of places at this point in modern global history.”
“Especially if you’re an American. And the man I want you to find is indeed an American.”
“What’s his name?”
Cip backs away from the window, returns to his desk. Only instead of reclaiming his place behind it, he takes a seat on the desk’s edge, left foot dangling off the edge, the right foot planted.
“His name is Dr. Andre Manion. A biblical archeology professor from a small Catholic college in your Midwest. An expert on the historical Jesus of Nazareth and said to have discovered some relics belonging to the Jesus family.”
The name strikes home. So much so that a lesser man would allow the small electrical shock of the name to show on his face. But I’m not a lesser man. Or so I pretend.
“Did you say relics? Jesus relics?”
“Yes I did. Priceless antiquities, which no doubt stir your juices, perhaps more than Mr. Doyle’s wife did last evening. Manion’s over here on a teaching sabbatical at the American University. Or supposed to be here teaching, I should say. Early last month he went missing and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.”
Cip is right. The name Manion when combined with relics and antiquities does indeed stir my juices.
“Fact of the matter is this, Cip: I worked as a sandhog for Manion eight years ago in and around Giza where we were in search of some prized Biblical treasures. Perhaps the most prized Biblical treasure of all. But we never did find much of anything, and truth is, Manion ran out on me, leaving me hopelessly hung over and alone.”
“Sounds very dramatic, Chase,” Cip smiles. “I thank you for your honesty.”
“Don’t mention it. Obviously my life has improved in leaps and bounds since those days.”
“Obviously,” Cip says. “That prize fight performance in the Piazza Del Duomo is proof of that.”
“Very funny,” I say. Then, “Thought you said Manion was in Egypt?”
“That’s the best possible guess based upon what we’ve put together thus far. I didn’t say there weren’t any clues as to his specific whereabouts inside the embattled country. I said, he himself hasn’t been seen, other than on airport security video in both the Florence and Cairo airports.”
“He travelling alone?”
“Don’t know the answer to that.”
“Exactly what relics has Manion uncovered?”
I feel my heart race as I ask the question.
“Don’t know the answer to that either,” he admits. “But I’ve heard a rumor that he uncovered the small tomb that housed the bones of Joseph, Jesus’s father. But that was a while ago now and in any case, finds of this magnitude would naturally be snatched up by the Vatican. That is, the finds can be verified in the first place. Naturally you would be familiar with such a process.”
“Naturally,” I say. “Or at the very least, the relics would go to the highest bidding private collector. Perhaps someone from Moscow. Or maybe one of your richer-than-God friends in Florence, Cip.”
The top cop smokes, glares at me for a moment, like he’s waiting for the stink from my comment to dissipate.
I add, “I assume your support staff has done everything in their power to locate him?”
“And then some. We’ve even gotten Interpol involved. But they too have come up short. Egypt is not the most cooperative of countries since its revolution and the election of a radical Islamist backed government.”
I reach into the right-hand pocket of my bush jacket, pull out a small notebook and a Bic ballpoint that Short, Stocky Guard Sergeant failed to relieve me of before tossing me into the pen with the drunk Peruvians. I click on the back of the pen with my thumb, jot down the name Manion, as if I need to. Then I write the name, Jesus, as if I need to do that also. Finally I scribble in a dollar sign, just for good measure. Makes me smile when I look at it.
“Manion got a wife? A mother? A boyfriend? Someone I can speak with who might help me out here?”
I can’t recall if the professor was married at the time we were digging all over Egypt. I recall him mentioning a woman now and again. But I don’t recall her name.
“His wife is in town. She teaches English at the same college her husband teaches at. She’s been here for a couple of weeks now. She desperately wants to find him. In the meantime, she can be a wealth of information for you, if you play her the right way and keep your dick in your pants.”
“Hey, you know me,” I smile.
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“Who would I be working for? You or her?”
“If you take the job, you’ll be working directly for her. She’s independently wealthy I’m told.”
“My kind of client.”
He slides off his desk, goes around it to his top drawer, which he pulls open. He slides out a manila envelope and tosses it across the desk so that it lands on the desk’s edge. I take the package in hand and go to open it when he stops me.
“Take it home,” he insists. “Examine it. Take your time. You should know that this one won’t be easy. It will also be dangerous.”
“You mean I can actually say no for a change?”
“Sure you can, Chase. Under one condition.”
“And that is?”
“You pack up and head back home to the states, since I will personally revoke your temporary work permit and your permit to carry a firearm in Italy.”
“Those are my choices?”
“Take them or leave them.”
I smoke and pretend to think about taking the job.
“Can you perhaps give me a hint about what it is Manion was working on and why he was willing to disappear in order to find it?”
But then, I already know precisely what he’s working on. I just want to hear it from the good detective’s smoky mouth.
“My guess is that Manion is being paid by a private investor to locate something of extreme sensitivity in religious circles.”
“Which means it would be worth a lot of money in people circles,” I say, my eyes no doubt, lit up like the lights on a Christmas tree.
“Watch yourself, Chase,” Cip warns. “If what Manion is in search of is as important as I think it is, more than one person will be willing to die in order to get their hands on it.”
I feel the weight of the package in my hands.
“What the hell is Manion after, Cip?”
I need to hear it, to believe it…
Exhaling, he says, “I don’t know for sure since you will have to speak to his wife. But it’s possible that the professor has stumbled upon something that is liable to shake up the very foundation of Christian belief as the world knows it.”
The words aren’t exactly what I want to hear, but on the other hand, the words can only mean one thing. I stand up, my head feeling a little lightheaded from the cigar and from what Cip is telling me.
“And that is?” I press.
“The bones of Jesus himself.”
There, he said it. Said what I wanted him to say.
For the love of God, the quest for the mortal remains of Jesus begins again.

My Review

Vincent Zandri has created the character of Chase Baker, who is somewhere between Robert Langdon and Indiana Jones. In doing so he has created his latest novel which is his best yet. The action moves from Florence, to the Vatican City, to the pyramids of Egypt on a search for a historic artefact that neither Langdon nor Jones could even dream about.

The Shroud Key is a page turner, as is common to Vincent Zandri’s other novels the pace is relentless. The short punchy chapters move you onwards with a feeling of breathlessness akin to the fastest action movie. The descriptions are vivid, and as the reader you feel as if you’re right there in the thick of the story. The other characters are all believable, and there is no way of telling just how the story is going to play out until the last page. The reader is kept guessing, as the plot turns, and there are surprises along the way, including a couple that I didn’t see coming.

The use of historical facts and modern situations make for a very believable tale, blending facts and the fictional story telling of the author seamlessly over the pages. This is done in such a way that you’re never quite sure whether fact stops and the imagination of the author takes over, and because the story is moving so fast, there’s never time to think about it because you’ll be too busy turning the pages to find out what happens next.

I’m expecting more of Chase Baker and could see him developing into a strong series character. If not this novel works well as a stand-alone.

I’d recommend The Shroud Key to anyone who likes fast paced thrillers, and also fans of authors such as Dan Brown, and Clive Cussler.

My Rating 4 out of 5 Stars – I Really Like It.

Book Details

Genre: Action, Adventure, Romance, Suspense
Published by: Bear Media
Publication Date: Sept 3, 2013
Number of Pages: 241
ISBN: B00EZABN8E
Purchase Links:

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Disclaimer I received a complimentary copy of The Shroud Key in return for an honest review. No other form of payment has been made to me.

Guest Post: Jon Land, author of Pandora’s Temple

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What Makes A Thriller?

My guest today is thriller author Jon Land. I asked him the following question:

Bookstores and libraries love to categorise. Generally ‘crime’ gets its own spot, whereas a ‘thriller’ will get placed within the ‘general fiction’. So what separates ‘crime’ from a ‘thriller’ and when do the bookstores and libraries get it wrong?

Here’s what Jon had to say:

JonLandThat’s actually my absolute favourite question in the world. Could take a whole book to answer, but let me try to give you the gist of things here.

First off, some background: For much too long, thrillers were the bastard stepchildren of the publishing industry. Denied a firm placement of their own, they have struggled to carve out an identity and definition separate from mysteries and crime stories. Sure, there’s some overlap, quite a bit sometimes, but for our purposes today, let’s review the primary criteria that define what makes a thriller distinct.

1) STAKES: In his first book, Killing Floor, the great Lee Child introduces his iconic Jack Reacher character stopping over in a town where his brother, coincidentally, was just murdered. Now if Reacher was concerned only with finding his brother’s killer, we’d have a mystery. Along the way, though, he uncovers a massive counterfeiting plot that his brother had been investigating. So the book isn’t just about investigating a murder, it’s about seeking revenge on the perpetrators and bringing down their crime ring in the process. That’s a perfect example of how a book’s stakes figure into defining what that book is. Think back to James Bond’s cinematic debut in Dr. No and the great line where Bond, lighting a cigarette, responds flippantly after the evil genius villain has just sketched out his plan: “World domination . . . Same old plan.” Maybe so, but stakes as high as that are what help make a thriller a thriller.

2) A HERO IN JEOPARDY: Another key element in distinguishing a mystery or crime novel from a thriller is the plight of the hero. In a mystery, we follow the investigation through the eyes of the hero who is chasing the perpetrator while not always being threatened by that perpetrator or larger forces surrounding him. But a thriller places the life of the hero at risk, in danger. In order to survive, he or she must get to the bottom of what’s going on. The villains must not just be caught, they must be stopped. See, thrillers are at their heart quest stories in the grandest tradition and for that reason they are often intensely personal. Remember the great Hitchcock film The Man who Knew Too Much? Jimmy Stewart’s son is kidnapped to stop him telling the authorities what he knows, so the only way to get the boy back is to stop the bad guys himself. The ultimate quest with the lives of his entire family hanging in the balance as he gets to the root of an assassination conspiracy.

3) AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION: Jumping off a bit from the point above, thrillers are almost invariably about stopping something really bad from happening, not just investigating something that already has happened. It’s not a mystery, so much as a puzzle where the hero must fit all the pieces together in order to pre-empt a truly evil plot sure to harm lots of people. In that sense, the thriller form is interactive, asking the reader to play along with the hero in assembling all the clues. The villain, in turn, is determined to stop the hero’s efforts which creates the kind of nail-biting suspense that lies not only in wondering whether the hero will survive, but also whether he or she will succeed in preventing the Really Bad Thing from happening.

4) SETTING: Thrillers, for the most part, are defined by their rapid-fire pace. And that kind of pacing tends to move the heroes around a lot as they embark on their quest to stop the Really Bad Thing. The great tales of James Rollins and Steve Berry take us all over the world, any number of countries per book. While there are plenty of exceptions to this, Lee Child’s books foremost among them, the nature of the thriller has long been defined by characters shifting about settings both dark, mundane and exotic in a staccato-like fashion. Like a treasure hunt, where each clue leads to another that takes the hero somewhere else. This is in stark contrast to mysteries or crime tales which normally take place in a single city or, even, town.

5) HOLDING UP THE MIRROR: Mysteries and crime tales are seldom motivated or defined by societal concerns. Contrast that with the modern evolution of the thriller. The great paranoid conspiracy books by Robert Ludlum, like The Holcroft Covenant and The Matarese Circle, were spawned by the Watergate era where government became the enemy. Ronald Reagan restored trust to government but also reignited the Cold War, giving birth to the likes of Tom Clancy and a whole spat of thrillers more interested in machines than men. The end of the Cold War that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s pretty much killed the thriller form for a while. Sales plummeted, as thriller writers sought a new identity, a new enemy. We got both on 9/11. Suddenly a whole new generation of bad guys were born in Islamic terrorists, obviously capable of doing the Really Bad Thing thought to be only the product of fiction until that fateful, redefining day. The post 9/11 era, that birthed the likes of Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, Daniel Silva, and Alex Berenson, reinvigorated the thriller form and planted the seeds for the explosion of the genre’s popularity today. All of a sudden, we needed heroes again, and characters such as Mitch Rapp, Gabriel Allon and Scott Harvath more than fit the bill. If we couldn’t kill the boogeyman in real life, at least we could kill him in fiction, and the new wave of heroes was more than up to that task. But thriller writers are also ahead of the curve as well. Before he created Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris foresaw 9/11 in Black Sunday, his brilliant book about a terrorist attack on the Super Bowl. The Really Bad Thing in Ian Fleming’s 1961 Bond novel Thunderball was nuclear terrorism. Who could have known?

I could go on with this forever, but any writer needs to know when to stop, when enough is enough. There are no absolutes in this business and exceptions surely to every rule. Thrillers are as broad as our imaginations, elegantly encapsulating what the great John D. McDonald defines as a story: “Stuff happens to someone you care about.” To that, let me add “lots of” stuff and someone you care about “who’s in danger.” Now, that’s a thriller!

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Book Review: Pandora’s Temple by Jon Land

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Synopsis:

What if Pandora’s box was real. That’s the question facing Former Special Forces commando and rogue agent Blaine McCracken who returns from a 15-year absence from the page in his tenth adventure.

McCracken has never been shy about answering the call, and this time it comes in the aftermath of deepwater oilrig disaster that claims the life of a one-time mem-ber of his commando unit. The remnants of the rig and its missing crew lead him to the inescapable conclusion that one of the most mysterious and deadly forces in the Universe is to blame—dark matter, both a limitless source of potential energy and a weapon with unimaginable destructive capabilities.

Joining forces again with his trusty sidekick Johnny Wareagle, McCracken races to stop both an all-powerful energy magnate and the leader of a Japanese dooms-day cult from finding the dark matter they seek for entirely different, yet equally dangerous, reasons. Ultimately, that race will take him not only across the world, but also across time and history to the birth of an ancient legend that may not have been a legend at all. The truth lies 4,000 years in the past and the construction of the greatest structure known to man at the time:

Pandora’s Temple, built to safeguard the most powerful weapon man would ever know.

Now, with that very weapon having resurfaced, McCracken’s only hope to save the world is to find the temple, the very existence of which is shrouded in mystery and long lost to myth. Along the way, he and Johnny Wareagle find themselves up against Mexican drug gangs, killer robots, an army of professional assassins, and a legendary sea monster before reaching a mountaintop fortress where the fi-nal battle to preserve mankind will be fought.

The hero of nine previous bestselling thrillers, McCracken is used to the odds be-ing stacked against him, but this time the stakes have never been higher.

About the author:

JonLand

Jon Land is the critically acclaimed author of 32 books, including the bestselling series featuring Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong that includes STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE, STRONG JUSTICE, STRONG AT THE BREAK, STRONG VENGEANCE (July 2012) and STRONG RAIN FALLING (August 2013).

He has more recently brought his long-time series hero Blaine McCracken back to the page in PANDORA’S TEMPLE (November 2012). He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Website Twitter Facebook 

Excerpt:

The Mediterranean Sea, 2008

“It would help, sir, if I knew what we were looking for,” Captain John J. Hightower of the Aurora said to the stranger he’d picked up on the island of Crete.

The stranger remained poised by the research ship’s deck rail, gazing out into the turbulent seas beyond. His long gray hair, dangling well past his shoulders in tangles and ringlets, was damp with sea spray, left to the whims of the wind.

“Sir?” Hightower prodded again.

The stranger finally turned, chuckling. “You called me sir. That’s funny.”

“I was told you were a captain,” said Hightower

“In name only, my friend.”

“If I’m your friend,” Hightower said, “you should be able to tell me what’s so important that our current mission was scrapped to pick you up.”

Beyond them, the residue of a storm from the previous night kept the seas choppy with occasional frothy swells that rocked the Aurora even as she battled the stiff winds to keep her speed steady. Gray-black clouds swept across the sky, colored silver at the tips where the sun pushed itself forward enough to break through the thinner patches. Before long, Hightower could tell, those rays would win the battle to leave the day clear and bright with the seas growing calm. But that was hardly the case now.

“I like your name,” came the stranger’s airy response. Beneath the orange life jacket, he wore a Grateful Dead tie dye t-shirt and old leather vest that was fraying at the edges and missing all three of its buttons. So faded that the sun made it look gray in some patches and white in others. His eyes, a bit sleepy and almost drunken, had a playful glint about them. “I like anything with the word ‘high.’ You should rethink your policy about no smoking aboard the ship, if it’s for medicinal purposes only.”

“I will, if you explain what we’re looking for out here.”

“Out here” was the Mediterranean Sea where it looped around Greece’s ancient, rocky southern coastline. For four straight days now, the Aurora had been mapping the sea floor in detailed grids in search of something of unknown size, composition and origin; or, at least, known only by the man Hightower had mistakenly thought was a captain by rank. Hightower’s ship was a hydrographic survey vessel. At nearly thirty meters in length with a top speed of just under twenty-five knots, the Aurora had been commissioned just the previous year to fashion nautical charts to ensure safe navigation by military and civilian shipping, tasked with conducting seismic surveys of the seabed and underlying geology. A few times since her commission, the Aurora and her eight-person crew had been re-tasked for other forms of oceanographic research, but her high tech air cannons, capable of generating high-pressure shock waves to map the strata of the seabed, made her much more fit for more traditional assignments.

“How about I give you a hint?” the stranger said to Hightower. “It’s big.”

“How about I venture a guess?”

“Take your best shot, dude.”

“I know a military mission when I see one. I think you’re looking for a weapon.”

“Warm.”

“Something stuck in a ship or submarine. Maybe even a sunken wreck from years, even centuries ago.”

“Cold,” the man Hightower knew only as “Captain” told him. “Well, except for the centuries ago part. That’s blazing hot.”

Hightower pursed his lips, frustration getting the better of him. “So are we looking for a weapon or not?”

“Another hint, Captain High: only the most powerful ever known to man,” the stranger said with a wink. “A game changer of epic proportions for whoever finds it. Gotta make sure the bad guys don’t manage that before we do. Hey, did you know marijuana’s been approved to treat motion sickness?”

Hightower could only shake his head. “Look, I might not know exactly you’re looking for, but whatever it is, it’s not here. You’ve got us retracing our own steps, running hydrographs in areas we’ve already covered. Nothing ‘big,’ as you describe it, is down there.”

“I beg to differ, el Capitan.”

“Our depth sounders have picked up nothing, the underwater cameras we launched have picked up nothing, the ROVS have picked up nothing.”

“It’s there,” the stranger said with strange assurance, holding his thumb and index finger together against his lips as if smoking an imaginary joint.

“Where?”

“We’re missing something, el Capitan. When I figure out what it is, I’ll let you know.”

Before Hightower could respond, the seas shook violently. On deck it felt as if something had tried to suck the ship underwater, only to spit it up again. Then a rumbling continued, thrashing the Aurora from side to side like a toy boat in a bathtub. Hightower finally recovered his breath just as the rumbling ceased, leaving an eerie calm over the sea suddenly devoid of waves and wind for the first time that morning.

“This can’t be good,” said the stranger, tightening the straps on his life vest.

* * *

The ship’s pilot, a young, thick-haired Greek named Papadopoulos, looked up from the nest of LED readouts and computer-operated controls on the panel before him, as Hightower entered the bridge.

“Captain,” he said wide-eyed, his voice high and almost screeching, “seismic centers in Ankara, Cairo and Athens are all reporting a sub-sea earthquake measuring just over six on the scale.”

“What’s the epi?”

“Forty miles northeast of Crete and thirty from our current position,” Papadopoulos said anxiously, a patch of hair dropping over his forehead.

“Jesus Christ,” muttered Hightower.

“Tsunami warning is high,” Papadopoulos continued, even as Hightower formed the thought himself.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, we are in for the ride of our lives!” blared the stranger, pulling on the tabs that inflated his life vest with a soft popping sound. “If I sound excited it’s ‘cause I’m terrified, dudes!”

“Bring us about,” the captain ordered. “Hard back to the Port of Piraeus at all the speed you can muster.”

“Yes, sir!”

Suddenly the bank of screens depicting the seafloor in a quarter mile radius directly beneath them sprang to life. Readings flew across accompanying monitors, orientations and graphic depictions of whatever the Aurora’s hydrographic equipment and underwater cameras had located appearing in real time before Hightower’s already wide eyes.

“What the hell is—“

“Found it!” said the stranger before the ship’s captain could finish.

“Found what?” followed Hightower immediately. “This is impossible. We’ve already been over this area. There was nothing down there.”

“Earthquake must’ve changed that in a big way, el Capitan. I hope you’re recording all this.”

“There’s nothing to record. It’s a blip, an echo, a mistake.”

“Or exactly what I came out here to find. Big as life to prove all the doubters wrong.”

“Doubters?”

“Of the impossible.”

“That’s what you brought us out here for, a fool’s errand?”

“Not anymore.”

The stranger watched as a central screen mounted beneath the others continued to form a shape massive in scale, an animated depiction extrapolated from all the data being processed in real time.

“Wait a minute, is that a . . . It looks like— My God, it’s some kind of structure!“

“You bet!”

“Intact at that depth? Impossible! No, this is all wrong.”

“Hardly, el Capitan.”

“Check the readouts, sir. According to the depth gauge, your structure’s located five hundred feet beneath the seafloor. Where I come from, they call that impos—“

Hightower’s thought ended when the Aurora seemed to buckle, as if it had hit a roller coaster-like dip in the sea. The sensation was eerily akin to floating, the entire ship in the midst of an out-of-body experience, leaving Hightower feeling weightless and light-headed.

“Better fasten your seatbelts, dudes,” said the stranger, eyes fastened through the bridge windows at something that looked like a waterfall pluming on the ship’s aft side.

Hightower had been at sea often and long enough to know this to be a gentle illusion belying something much more vast and terrible: in this case, a giant wave of froth that gained height as it crystallized in shape. It was accompanied by a thrashing sound that shook the Aurora as it built in volume and pitch, felt by the bridge’s occupants at their very cores like needles digging into their spines.

“Hard about!” Hightower ordered Papadopoulos. “Steer us into it!”

It was, he knew, the ship’s only chance for survival, or would have been, had the next moments not shown the great wave turning the world dark as it reared up before them. The Aurora suddenly seemed to lift into the air, climbing halfway up the height of the monster wave from a calm sea that had begun to churn mercilessly in an instant. A vast black shadow enveloped the ship in the same moment intense pressure pinned the occupants of the bridge to their chairs or left them feeling as if their feet were glued to the floor. Then there was nothing but an airless abyss dragging darkness behind it.

“Far out, man!” Hightower heard the stranger blare in the last moment before the void claimed him.

My Review:

Pandora_Cover_Lg55b7c2Buckle-up! Hold Tight! Pandora’s Temple is one hell of a ride.

If you’re looking for a thriller with a break-neck pace then this could be the book for you. It has everything from unexplained natural phenomena to giant undersea creatures; and megalomaniac industrialists to suicidal Japanese fanatics. There are even some eco-terrorists and crazy gun-toting robots thrown in for good measure.

Blaine McCracken is the hero of this story; he’s a former Special Forces commando, who’s once again answering his country’s call to help. He carries a sense of vulnerability from a previous mission that wasn’t totally successful but is basically a strong, sound character, who with the other principle characters paints the believable cast. I particularly liked Wareagle, and the just plain crazy, Captain Seven who complimented their fellow adventurers.

At times, some of the action pushed the believability threshold a little, but the author kept things within the realms of possibility and scientific fact without going too far. The action when it came was swift and credible, and felt authentic; with good attention to detail where it mattered.

There are plenty of Blaine McCracken adventures to read, but this one stands alone well, and there’s enough detail that means you don’t need to read them in order and can easily start with this one if you wanted to.

Pandora’s Temple is an entertaining read, and perfect for when you need a book to let you escape your own world for a bit. Come and join Blaine McCracken and his companions on a non-stop adventure.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars – I Really Liked It.

Special Giveaway:

The author has very kindly offered an e-book version of one of his previous novels The Omega Command. If you’d like a chance to win this, please leave a comment to this post below. Please state the e-book type you would like in your comment e.g. kindle, nook etc.

Thanks to Jon Land for his generosity.

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Book Review: Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd

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Synopsis

An unidentified body appears to have been run down by a motorcar and Ian Rutledge is leading the investigation to uncover what happened. While signs point to murder, vital questions remain. Who is the victim? And where, exactly, was he killed?

One small clue leads the Inspector to a firm built by two families, famous for producing and selling the world’s best Madeira wine. Lewis French, the current head of the English enterprise is missing. But is he the dead man? And do either his fiancée or his jilted former lover have anything to do with his disappearance—or possible death? What about his sister? Or the London office clerk? Is Matthew Traynor, French’s cousin and partner who heads the Madeira office, somehow involved?

The experienced Rutledge knows that suspicion and circumstantial evidence are not proof of guilt, and he’s going to keep digging for answers. But that perseverance will pit him against his supervisor, the new Acting Chief Superintendent. When Rutledge discovers a link to an incident in the family’s past, the superintendent dismisses it, claiming the information isn’t vital. He’s determined to place blame on one of French’s women despite Rutledge’s objections. Alone in a no man’s land rife with mystery and danger, Rutledge must tread very carefully, for someone has decided that he, too, must die so that cruel justice can take its course.

About the Author

Charles Todd is the author of the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries, the Bess Crawford mysteries, and two stand-alone novels. A mother and son writing team, they live in Delaware and North Carolina, respectively.

Excerpt

Chapter One

Funchal Harbor, Madeira 3 December 1916

He couldn’t remember, later, what had taken him down to the harbor.

Now, staring out at the masts of the CS Dacia, the British cable-laying ship, he found himself thinking about England.

Dacia was said to be diverting the overseas cable, in an attempt to deny the Germans access to it. Whether it was true or not, he didn’t know. But she and the French gunboat Surprise had brought the war home to him in an unexpected and unwelcome fashion.

England had been at war since August 1914. But Portugal and, by extension, Madeira had remained neutral in spite of a centuries’ old alliance with Britain. In spite, as well, of clashes with Germany in the Portuguese Colony of Angola, in Africa. Neutrality was one of the reasons he’d decided to live here. His grandmother had been a Quaker by conviction, and he himself held strong views about war and the waste it brought in its wake.

He turned to look upward. Madeira was volcanic, its climate temperate, and its soil fertile. A paradise of flowers, which his mother had loved. Clouds were beetling down the mountainside, concealing the heights, but on a promontory to the far side of the bay, he could still see the tower of his house. Three stories, like most in Funchal, and in his eyes far more handsome than the house where he’d grown up in Essex. It was his late grandfather Howard French, his mother’s father, who had introduced him to the wine business here. He’d come as a boy and stayed as a man. An exile, but a happy one.

A flash spun him around to stare at the harbor just as an explosion amidships sent a column of black smoke rising from Dacia. He was trying to think what could have happened aboard when another explosion rocked Surprise, and just above him, from the vantage point of the Grand Hotel grounds, someone was pointing and shouting.

“There—look, it’s a submarine!”

The voice carried clearly, this close to the water.

He didn’t lose time trying to see. He began to run, turning his back on the harbor as other explosions shook it. People were coming out of doorways, stopping in the streets to stare, calling to one another, unable to believe the evidence of their own eyes. He risked a glance over his shoulder and saw pillars of black smoke rising from Dacia, which had been hit again, and Surprise, and even Kangaroo, a third ship near them.

Someone in the water was screaming, and he could hear other cries as the heavy smell of burning timbers wafted inland on the onshore breeze, making him cough.

His offices were on the street just above the harbor. French, French & Traynor, Exporters, handled Madeira, the fortified wine that had made the island famous. And if this shelling of the ships in the harbor was a precursor to an invasion, there was work to be done in a hurry.

Sprinting across the street, where a few motorcars were halted, and several carriages and drays had pulled up, their occupants transfixed by the burning ships, he passed a wild-eyed horse rearing in its traces, the odor of smoke terrifying it.

In the doorway of the export house stood most of his employees, and those who couldn’t crowd into the narrow space were at the windows, their faces nearly as shocked as he felt. “

Mr. Traynor!” his foreman shouted in English. “What are they doing?”

“I don’t know.” He pushed his way inside and ordered his people to follow him.

His own office was in the front, overlooking the street. Behind the offices was the long space where the shop stood and the heavy drays were kept. Above and beyond that the cavernous rooms where great barrels of Madeira, coded by age and type, rested on their sides. And the high-ceilinged rooms with the kettles and vats and gauges that heated the wine, along with the smaller room where all the tools collected through centuries of winemaking were displayed. And at the very back, the long room where employees ate their meals, walls hand-painted by them down the generations and a source of much pride.

Wood, all of them, and they were all vulnerable to fire.

He stopped short, suddenly overwhelmed.

What to do? It would take days—and at best would be a very risky task—to move the wine, and as for the equipment, more days to disengage the pipes and lines that connected kettles to vats. An impossible task.

Even if he managed it, where could he take an entire building to safety?

Matthew Traynor stood there, feeling helpless.

Damn the Germans. And damn the war.

Someone was asking him if Portugal had been attacked—if it had fallen—if this was a prelude to invasion. Others were pleading with him to allow them to leave, to reach their families before it was too late.

Torn, feeling for the first time in his life that he didn’t know how to answer, he tried to collect his wits and act.

Just as he was about to speak, someone poked his head into the doorway behind Traynor and shouted, “The U-boat. She’s surfacing.”

He went to the door to see for himself, and there was the U-boat, in plain view, water still spilling across her hull, gun crews clambering out of the tower, racing across to the deck guns. The fort’s harbor batteries, such as they were, hadn’t opened up. By the time he looked back at the submarine, men had reached the guns, swung them around, and the shelling began.

Not of the harbor, but of Funchal itself.

He realized then that it was too late. “Go home. While you can,” he told the employees waiting anxiously behind him. “If this is an invasion, stay at home. Don’t do anything rash.”

“What about the wine?” his foreman asked. “What are we to do?”

Traynor took a deep breath. “We’ll just have to pray it survives. Now go, take the back streets. Hurry. No, not this way, out through the rear door.”

He could hear the shells exploding now, picture in his mind the damage being done, the cost in property and lives. People were screaming, running in every direction, panicked.

His secretary, a young Portuguese man he’d hired last year, was tugging at his sleeve. “Come, you must go too. Look how the shells are falling!”

And Matt Traynor let himself be led to his own rear door, his mind numbed by shock and a terrible anger he couldn’t control. Around him the building shuddered as a shell landed not more than three houses away.

Years of work. Years. And there was nothing he could do.

The shelling lasted all of two hours. The harbor guns, ineffectual at best, could do little to stop the ravaging of the capital. Runners had been sent to other towns on the island, asking if there had been landings of German troops, but no reports came back.

And then, as suddenly as it had begun, the shelling stopped. The submarine decks cleared, the hatch was closed, and she slipped quietly beneath the harbor waves, leaving behind two burning vessels, the Dacia already sunk, and countless lives lost. In the town itself, shells accounted for other deaths, falling masonry and timbers for more wounded and dying.

Matt Traynor, hurrying by horseback into Funchal again, saw to his utter amazement that the firm’s windows had been blown out, glazing everywhere, but the building was still standing and appeared to be sound. Still, there were the casks, the great barrels, and the shaking they must have sustained, seals broken, staves sprung. The new wine the vats held, which would either be all right or a total loss, nothing in between. Weeks would pass—months— before he learned what the cost of the shelling would actually be. And there were the glaziers, to replace the glass. They would be busy—he must contact them at once, today, to protect the building from looters come for the wine. Meanwhile, he must hire more night watchmen to stand guard until the House of French, French & Traynor was secure once more.

Dismounting, he stood there for a moment, staring around him at the destruction that had changed this familiar street into a nightmare, masonry everywhere, trees shattered, the pavement itself pocked and broken.

And then, taking a deep breath, he prepared himself for what he’d find inside.

Someone was running down the littered street, calling his name. It was a maid from the house of his fiancée. He felt his heart turn over. “What is it?” he shouted to Manuela and stood where he was, rooted to the spot.

“It’s the Senhorita,” she cried, and he wanted to cover his ears.

Please, God, nothing more. I can’t face anything more.

The bleeding of war-torn France, the endless lists of dead, wounded, and missing from Ypres and the Somme, the suffering in England—none of these had touched him. But this was different. This was his own safe, happy world.

“She’s dead,” Manuela was saying, tears streaming down her red face, and he could read her lips even though the words refused to register. “The beam in her bedroom—she was praying before the Madonna, and it—She’s dead.”

He heard himself say, “But—that’s not possible. Her house was out of range, it was safe.”

“It was the shaking, Senhor. It went on and on, and the plaster gave way..”

A week later, his affairs set in order, his fiancée and her mother buried in the hillside cemetery where scarlet bougainvillea spilled luxuriantly over the wall, a brightness that hurt the eyes, he set sail for Portugal. To enlist there.

 

My Review

proofofguiltA procedural with a historical setting sees Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard investigating a death in unusual circumstances and a disappearance. All is not as it seems as Inspector Rutledge investigates.

I’m a great fan of modern police procedurals, and this was a departure from my normal tastes. The book remains faithful to its historical setting and as such elements of the procedural content take much longer than they might now, there are no mobile phones or computers, but the author ensures that he keeps the reader’s attention focussed on the story and the investigation.

The mysterious nature and suspense is maintained throughout the story with little pieces being revealed to the reader paying close attention, but otherwise key parts of the plot come with a sudden bang.

I liked the characters; they seemed true to themselves and to the period setting, with minor characters such as servants playing a role to add authenticity to the story. I personally disliked the character of Hamish (I don’t want to say too much here as that will spoil an element of the story), because I found him annoying, however he was quite fundamental to telling some of the story and to helping Rutledge reach his investigative conclusions. By the end of the book he was tolerable, but I wish the author had found another way to tell this part of the story.

I found the constant driving of Rutledge in his “motorcar”, to be a bit wearing. It was a necessary evil due to period setting of the story, but again I think the author could have found another way to cover this without constant reference to the ‘car.

If you’re a fan of the police procedural, you might enjoy this story; I think you’re more likely to enjoy it, if you’re a fan of historical stories and like a good mystery thrown in for good measure.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars – I Liked It

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Book Review: Amanda’s Story by Brian O’Grady

Synopsis:

In his national bestseller HYBRID, Brian O’Grady created a bracing and vividly realized tale of a virus gone out of control. At the center of that story was Amanda Flynn, a woman not killed by the EDH1 virus, but changed in frightening ways. HYBRID only hinted at the story of Amanda’s work in Honduras that led to her exposure and the ramifications when the American government sought to contain the damage. Now, that story can be told. AMANDA’S STORY is the heart-stopping tale of a woman caught up in a storm she wanted no part of, and what happens when she refuses to be collateral damage. It is the story that readers of HYBRID have been waiting for and that new readers will find impossible to put down.

About the Author


AMANDA’S STORY is Brian O’Grady’s second novel after his best-selling debut with Hybrid. He is a practicing neurologic surgeon and, when he is not writing or performing brain surgery, he struggles with Ironman triath- lons. He lives with his wife in Washington state.between California and Western Washington.

AUTHOR SITES: Website

Excerpt

“Does it make any of you angry that a little less than a year has gone by and very few Americans remember what happened?” Mindy McCoy, super-model turned talk show host asked the four women that surrounded her. She shifted her long legs and casually inclined toward the pale, blonde woman to her left, just as the voice in her ear had instructed.

For a moment Amanda met the gaze of her host, but became distracted by the movement of the cameras that prowled the perimeter of the group just beyond the glare of the stage lights. She had said very little during the fifteen minute interview and it was becoming uncomfortably obvious. Heather Waylens shifted her legs as well, just not as casually as Mindy, and the older woman’s stony glare communicated one message to Amanda: do your part. A weak, joyless smile crossed Amanda’s face as she stared into the cameras; she took a long breath as the panel, the audience, and the TV world waited.

“At this point in my life it takes almost everything I have to get out of bed in the morning. I simply don’t have the luxury of being mad at anyone.”

Mindy McCoy and the rest of the world waited for more, but Amanda’s gaze had returned to the floor. The moment began to stretch and, just as everyone began to shift rather uncomfortably, Heather and one of the other panelists jumped into the void. At first, their comments stepped over the others, but it was Heather’s voice that prevailed. “The American mindset is always looking forward. It is a requisite for progress and one of the reasons that America leads the world in so many ways. Of course, the cost of that is a short memory; we have to guard against the mistakes of the past being forgotten so that we as a people can incorporate those lessons as we work to fulfill our great destiny…” Heather continued for a full two minutes before yielding the floor back to their host who immediately took them to a commercial break.

The stage quickly filled with show personnel. Despite the attention of her make-up artist, Mindy whispered to Amanda, “Honey, we need a bit more from you.” Her careful and practiced elocution had been replaced by a more natural drawl.

“Hold still or you won’t be beautiful,” the make-up artist scolded Mindy with a lilt.

“Amanda,” Heather called from across the stage, but the frenetic activity gave Amanda a convenient excuse to ignore her summons. “You need to tell your story, for everyone’s sake,” she pleaded with a tone that was much too close to a demand.

“Especially yours,” Amanda whispered to herself. Everyone was trying to turn her grief to their advantage, particularly Congresswoman Heather Waylens. Her husband, the previous Representative of Kansas’ third district, had died along with 202 others, including Amanda’s husband and their two-year-old son, when Delta flight 894 crashed into an Iowa cornfield. The governor of Kansas appointed Heather to serve out her late husband’s term, but she had every intention of holding onto that seat well beyond the remaining sixteen months, and perhaps other seats as well. She used her loss and the pain of others to further her ambition, and right now Amanda hated her. She had never hated anything or anyone in her entire 24 years, but she was certain that at this instant she hated the Congresswoman from Kansas. It was a good hate, a righteous hate that for a moment burned brightly in the confines of her hollow soul, and then, just as quickly as it had flared, it began to fade, depriving Amanda of its heat and energy, leaving her drained from the emotional effort.

A figure suddenly blocked the bright lights and Amanda found a young, slight man scanning her face. “Just checking for shiny spots,” he said while leaning in close and inspecting her forehead. “Sweetheart, you were made for TV,” he sang while straightening, and playfully patted her nose with his powder-puff.

“Coming out in thirty seconds,“ a voice screamed, and the flurry of activity that surrounded the group spun even faster. Something touched Amanda’s hand and she turned to find Mindy’s face inches from hers.

“I know that this makes you uncomfortable, and it’s more than a little intimidating, but try and forget all this,” her arm swept across the stage. “Ignore the lights, the cameras, even the Congresswoman, and just talk to me as if we were in your kitchen. Lust us two girls, no one else.” Mindy’s eyes sparkled, her smile was natural and infectious, and Amanda realized that Mindy had more going for her than just a singular beauty, a perfect figure, millions of dollars, her own TV show, and uncounted adoring fans.

“I’ll try,” Amanda answered.

“People what to hear what you have to say; they should hear it, and between you and me, I would prefer that it come from you rather than a politician.” Her head gave a quick jerk toward Heather.

“It’s difficult for me to care about what other people need.” Amanda paused as the stage lights came up. “That didn’t come out right.” She smiled. “I probably should be angry; maybe at the mechanic who didn’t fix the door correctly or Delta Airlines for not insuring that he was properly trained, or, as Heather would like people to believe, the Transportation Board and the government for allowing Delta to perform their own inspections. Maybe I should take it all the way up to God, who gave me something wonderful and then snatched it back. But what does it matter? In the end they’re still gone, and their absence is all I can feel.”

“You’re trapped,” Mindy said.

“I’m stuck; that’s what everyone tells me. It’s why I’m here; to get ‘unstuck.'” Amanda briefly smiled but then her head sagged as she began to examine a spot on the stage a few feet in front of her shoes.

“But you don’t want to get unstuck, because as long as you still feel their absence in some way they’re still with you,” Mindy said softly with a tone that revealed more than understanding. “Getting unstuck means taking a step away from their memory and is an acknowledgement that they are never coming back; that things will never be as they were.”

Amanda looked up from the studio floor and found Mindy’s eyes glistening with unshed tears.

“My parents when I was thirteen.” Mindy said, answering Amanda’s look. “The details aren’t important. What is important is that I know what it means to be stuck. I know what it’s like to have others tell you that you need to do this or that, feel this way for this amount of time, and then move on to this next stage. But they really don’t understand what being stuck means. In some ways, it’s an acknowledgement of the people that we’ve lost, how their passing has torn out a large part of you, and that “moving on” means filling that void with something other than them. In some ways it’s a violation of their memory.”

Amanda stared into Mindy’s flawless face and realized that someone else in the world understood; that she really wasn’t alone. Since the accident, she had met with more than a dozen other “survivors” of Flight 894, and each of them had managed to either move past their grief or controlled it well enough to put on a brave face, which only increased Amanda’s isolation.

“But you survived,” Amanda managed to say with only a slight waver.

“For a long time, that’s all I could manage.” Mindy’s perpetual smile had a painful edge as her hand slipped into Amanda’s and they shared a private moment on national television. “My director is having a fit upstairs because we are so far off topic and I’m starting to sound more like Dr. Phil than an empty-headed talk show host. I think he’s afraid that if I show more than one-dimension I’ll demand more money.” The studio audience erupted in a mixture of laughter and applause. “Well, I think we are right on topic.” Mindy let go of Amanda’s hand and half-rose from her seat. She faced the camera and had to shout over the audience who began to cheer. “A year ago two hundred and two people died in what some say was a plane crash that should never have happened, but the human toll was far greater than that, and these four ladies, along with hundreds of others, will have to deal with their loss every day for the rest of their lives. My next two guests will hopefully try and explain why. Coming up after this short video salute to the victims of flight 894 is Kevin Tilits of the National Transportation Authority, and Dennis Hastings, President of Delta Airlines.” The audience cheered louder and the stage lights dimmed.

A stagehand appeared at Amanda’s side and began to unclip the microphone attached to the collar of her blouse. “Please follow me,” he told Amanda rather curtly the moment she was free.

“Can you give me just a moment?” She asked the young man. “Thanks, Mindy,” she said reaching for her host’s arm.

“Can you stay until I’m done here?” she asked Amanda, who nodded. “Good. Will you please escort Mrs. Flynn to my dressing room?” She ordered the stagehand as much as asked him, and then returned to the argument she was having with her director.

Amanda followed the irritated and hurried man offstage; apparently Mindy’s dismissive attitude toward the crew was not entirely unusual and Amanda felt obliged to apologize for his help.

“Don’t worry about it; she always gets this way when the boss man is riding her.”

“I think she’s in trouble because of me,” Amanda said as they navigated through a maze of cables, wires, and video equipment.

“Are you kidding me? That was great TV. It’ll be all over the entertainment channels in an hour, and tomorrow our share will be up by at least ten points. If she keeps this up she won’t have to ask for more money; they’ll be throwing it at her.” He opened a door for Amanda, and as she walked through, she felt his eyes follow her into the room. “Do you have anyone here with you/ I could bring them up while you wait.”

“That would be nice, but I don’t want to impose.”

“You’re not imposing, it’s my job.”

“My mother-in-law, Lisa Flynn, is in the yellow room. She’s about five-five, short brown hair…”

“It’s OK; I think I can find her. I’ll be back in a moment.” He closed the door and the latch closed with a muted click.

Mindy’s dressing room was in a word sparse. She had a table covered with a variety of cosmetics. Above it was the obligatory mirror rimmed with bright lights, and aside from a small sofa and a recliner, the only other thing in Mindy’s room was a television, which was tuned to her show. Amanda quickly turned the TV off as the video showing the remains of Flight 894 focused on an undamaged teddy bear lying on its side. Behind it was a shattered airplane seat. This particular frame had become the symbol of the tragedy and it pierced Amanda to the core. It was the main reason that she had been invited here. The bear’s name was Fred T. Bear, and Amanda had bought it for her son’s second birthday, a month before he died. She had no idea whether the seat behind Fred belonged to her son, her husband, or someone else. It didn’t really matter; they were gone. Only Fred had survived, and he was safely wrapped in plastic somewhere in her in-laws’s home.E

My Review:
Okay, first things first, this is more of a thriller than a crime novel. That said the thrills do come thick and fast.

The story is strong as are the characters, but at times some of the scenes felt a little overplayed, with detail that perhaps wasn’t necessary.

Don’t get me wrong though, I enjoyed it. It reminded me of the medical thrillers of Robin Cook and others, but bought up-to-date. The action was slick when it came and kept the to moving. The story was good and kept within the realms of believability, which I’ve sometimes found lacking in other books of this particular genre.

I could clearly visualise the characters, including those who only played a small part. This was also true of the background and scene settings, all were clear pictures, and made for a well rounded narrative.

If you’re a fan of thrillers, particularly of the medical variety, then this is definitely one for you.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars – I liked it.

Guest Post: Vincent Zandri author of The Disappearance of Grace

FINAL_Grace_3authorpicbylauraMy guest today is Vincent Zandri, author of the Disappearance of Grace, as well as a number of other thrillers including the standalone Concrete Pearl and the Dick Moonlight series. I had a few questions for him about his latest book and also what his up and coming plans are. Here’s what he had to say:

 

 

Q: You really nailed Venice for the reader with the detail in The Disappearance of Grace. Did you decide to use the City before your recent visit or as a result of it? Was there somewhere else in mind? You’re also currently in Egypt, can we expect to be reading a book set there in the near future?

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Venice a few times over the past twenty years. Once during Carnival which is its own unique, dream-like experience. It’s such a mysterious maze of narrow alleys and stone walkways that actually light up in the rain. On occasion, those paths lead to nowhere but water. You can’t help but get lost. You also want to get lost. Or, you should anyway. Navigating Venice is kind of like walking a forest in that what you see when walking one direction doesn’t always resemble what you see when walking in the opposite direction. Venice creates wonder and awe in the people who see her for the first time. But it just might be one of the most beautiful places on earth that also causes great fear. Out of my own anxiety I wondered how it would feel to lose someone you loved very much in a city of water, love, art, and mystery.

 Yes, I’m in Egypt researching a new project called CHASE which will initially be a Kindle series for Thomas & Mercer, and then a book. It’s possible Egypt will be included in a future stand-alone novel as well.

Q: Your principal character suffers from a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which you managed to make very real for the reader. How did you research this and was there anything in particular you were able to use to make it feel so real for the reader?

I did some research, academically speaking. But mostly I talked to real people who have suffered PTSD under various circumstances. I come from a long line of combat infantry soldiers so I was able to witness the effects of prolonged combat to a certain degree. Years ago many of my friends were Viet Nam vets who underwent some horrible combat situations which mimic much of what happens in the Afghanistan portion of the novel. Sadly, most of the vets are dead now, having died early from self-medicated the malevolent effects of the PTSD. Even today, I make a point of listening to the stories of soldiers currently fighting in Afghanistan or who have fought in Iraq. I also meet many of them on my travels.   

Q: I felt that Grace was a bit of an enigma for a large part of the book, meaning that I was never quite sure what her fate had been and why she had disappeared. Was this intentional on your part or just a lucky coincidence?

Absolutely intentional.  Without spoiling, I wanted to create the effect of viewing this story entirely through the eyes and mind of Nick. In doing so it’s possible the reader might actually consider Grace a figment of his imagination. Part of the PTSD. Her name is not coincidental either. She is more than a woman to Nick. She is a state of being, and a necessary part of who he is as a complete, but damaged, human being.

Q: Over the last year, you’ve signed some major deals with publishers and we’re starting to see some of your earliest books being republished. What are your plans for the next year in terms of new books, or are we going to have to wait and see?

In two weeks my next major book, Murder by Moonlight will be released by Thomas & Mercer of Amazon Publishing. A few months after that, Moonlight Sonata will also be released. The third in the Marconi series is also coming. It’s called The Guilty. Just now I’m beginning to outline a stand-alone called, The Ashes. Also, I’ll be working on the new series CHASE which will probably see the light of day in early 2014. So, yes, lots on the fire.

Book Review: The Disappearance of Grace by Vincent Zandri

SYNOPSIS:

Now you see her. Now you don’t…

Captain Nick Angel has finally made a separate peace with the war in Afghanistan. Since having been ordered to bomb a Tajik village which resulted in the death of a little boy of no more than two, he’s been suffering from temporary bouts of blindness. Knowing the he needs time to rest and recover from his post traumatic stress, the US Army decides to send him to Venice along with his fiancee, the artist, Grace Blunt. Together they try and recapture their former life together. But when Grace suddenly goes missing, Nick not only finds himself suddenly alone and sightless in the ancient city of water, but also the number one suspect in her disappearance.

A novel that projects Hitchcockian suspense onto a backdrop of love and war, The Disappearance of Grace is a rich, literary thriller of fear, loss, love, and revenge. From the war in the Afghan mountains to the canals of romantic Venice, this is a story that proves 20/20 eyesight might not always be so perfect and seeing is not always believing.

About the Author:

Vincent Zandri is the No. 1 International Bestselling Amazon author of THE INNOCENT, GODCHILD, THE REMAINS, MOONLIGHT FALLS, CONCRETE PEARL, MOONLIGHT RISES, SCREAM CATCHER, BLUE MOONLIGHT and MURDER BY MOONLIGHT. He is also the author of the Amazon bestselling digital shorts, PATHOLOGICAL, TRUE STORIES and MOONLIGHT MAFIA. Harlan Coben has described THE INNOCENT (formerly As Catch Can) as “…gritty, fast-paced, lyrical and haunting,” while the New York Post called it “Sensational…Masterful…Brilliant!” Zandri’s list of publishers include Delacorte, Dell, StoneHouse Ink, StoneGate Ink and Thomas & Mercer. An MFA in Writing graduate of Vermont College, Zandri’s work is translated into many languages including the Dutch, Russian, and Japanese. An adventurer, foreign correspondent, and freelance photo-journalist for RT, Globalspec, IBTimes and more, he lives in Albany, New York.

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Excerpt:

The wind picks up off the basin.
It seems to seep right through my leather coat into flesh, skin and bone. I try and hold my face up to the sun while the waiter takes our orders. Grace orders a single glass of vino russo and a pancetta and cheese panini. I forgo the Valpolicella and order a Moretti beer and a simple spaghetti pomadoro. The waiter thanks us and I listen to him leaving us for now.We sit in the calm of the early afternoon, the sounds of the boat traffic coming and going on the basin filling my ears. People surround us on all sides. Tourists who have come to San Marco for the first time and who’ve become mesmerized by it all. I don’t have to physically see them to know how they feel. The stone square, the Cathedral, the bell tower, the many shops and high- end eateries that occupy the wide, square-shaped perimeter. The pigeons. The people. Always the throngs of people coming and going amidst a chorus of bells, bellowing voices, live music emerging from trumpets, violins, and guitars, and an energetic buzz that seems to radiate up from underneath all that stone and sea-soaked soil.It’s early November.Here’s what I know about Venice: In just a few week’s’ time, the rains will come and this square will be underwater. The ever sinking Venice floods easily now. The only way to walk the square will be over hastily constructed platforms made from cobbled narrow planks. Many of the tourists will stay away and the live music will be silenced. But somehow, that’s when Venice will come alive more than ever. When the stone is bathed in water.

The waiter brings our drinks and food.
With the aroma of the hot spaghetti filling my senses, I dig in and spoon up a mouthful. I wash the hot, tangy sauce-covered pasta down with a swallow of red wine.

“Whoa, slow down, chief,” Grace giggles.

“Eating, smiling, making love to me. What’s next? Writing?”

“Don’t press your luck, Gracie,” I say. “The sea change can occur at any moment. Just don’t start asking me to identify engagement rings.”

She laughs genuinely and I listen to the sounds of her taking a bite out of her sandwich. But then she goes quiet again. Too quiet, as if she’s stopped breathing altogether.

“There’s someone staring at us,” she says under her breath.

“Man or woman?” I say, trying to position my gaze directly across the table at her, but making out nothing more than her black silhouette framed against the brightness of the sun. Later on, when the sun goes down, the image of her will be entirely black. Like the blackness of the Afghan Tajik country when the fires are put out and you lie very still inside your tent without the benefit of electronic night vision, and you feel the beating of your never- still heart and you pray for morning.

“Man,” she whispers.

“What’s he look like?”

“It’s him again. The man in the overcoat who was staring at us yesterday.”

A start in my heart. I put my fork down inside my bowl. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. I think. He’s wearing sunglasses this time. So,. I think it’s him.”

“What’s he look like?”

“He’s a thin man. Not tall. Not short. He’s got a dark complexion.”

“Black?”

“No. More like Asian or Middle Eastern. He’s wearing sunglasses and that same brown overcoat and a scarf. His hair is black and cut close to his scalp. His beard is very trim and cropped close to his face.” She exhales. I hear her take a quick, nervous sip of her wine. “He keeps staring at us. At me. Just like yesterday, Nick.”

“How do you know he’s staring at you? It could be something behind you, Grace. We’re in Venice. Lots going on behind you. Lots to see.”

She’s stirring in her chair. Agitated.
“Because I can feel him. His eyes…I. Feel. His. Eyes.”

I wipe my mouth clean with the cloth napkin. I do something entirely silly. I turn around in my chair to get a look at the man. As if I have the ability to see him right now, which I most definitely do not.

“What are you doing?” Grace poses, the anxiety in her voice growing more intense with each passing second.

“Trying to get a look at him.”

“You’re joking, Nick.”

I turn back, try and focus on her.

“You think?”

We sit silent.
Once more I am helpless and impotent.

“I’m sorry,” she says after a time. “I’m not trying to insult you. This isn’t like yesterday with the ring. But this man is at the same café we’re at two days in a row? This is really starting to creep me out, babe.”

My pulse begins to pump inside my head. Not rapid, but just enough for me to notice. Two steady drum beats against my temples. I find myself wanting to swallow, but my mouth has gone dry. I take a sip of beer thinking it will help.

“He’s coming towards us, Nick. I don’t like it.”

Heart beat picks up. I feel it pounding inside my head and my chest.

“Are you sure he’s coming towards us, Grace?” I’m trying not to raise my voice, but it’s next to impossible.

“He’s looking right at me. His hands are stuffed in the pockets of his overcoat. And he’s coming.”

I feel and hear Grace pulling away from the table. She’s standing. That’s when the smell of incense sweeps over me. A rich, organic, incense-like smell.

There comes the sound of Grace standing. Abruptly standing. I hear her metal chair push out. I hear the sound of her boot heels on the cobbles. I hear the chair legs scraping against the stone slate. I hear the sound of her wine glass spilling.

“Grace, for God’s sakes, be careful.”

But she doesn’t respond to me. Or is it possible her voice is drowned out by what sounds like a tour group passing by the table? A tour group of Japanese speaking people. But once they pass, there is nothing. No sound at all other than the boats on the basin and the constant murmur of the thousands of tourists that fill this ancient square.

“Grace,” I say. “Grace. Stop it. This isn’t funny. Grace.”

But there’s still no response.
The smell of incense is gone now.
I make out the gulls flying over the tables, the birds shooting in from the basin to pick up scraps of food and then, like thieves in the night, shooting back out over the water. I can hear and feel the sound-wave driven music that reverberates against the stone cathedral.

“Grace,” I repeat, voice louder now. “Grace. Grace…Grace!”

I’m getting no response.

It’s like she’s gone. Vanished. But how can she be gone? She was just sitting here with me. She was sitting directly across from me, eating a sandwich and drinking a glass of wine. She was talking with me.
The waiter approaches.

“The signora is not liking her food?” he questions.

I reach out across the table. In the place where she was sitting. She is definitely not there.

“Is there a toilet close by?” I pose. “Did you see my fiancée leave the table and go to the toilet?”

The waiter pauses for a moment.

“I am sorry. But I did not. I was inside the café.”

“Then maybe somebody else saw her. Maybe you can ask them.”

“Signor, there are many tables in this café and they are all filled with people. And there are many people who walk amongst the tables who can block their view. I am looking at them. No one seems to be concerned about anything. Sometimes there are so many people here, it is easy to get lost. Perhaps she just went to the toilet like you just suggested, and she got lost amongst the people. I will come back in moment and make sure all is well.”

I listen to the waiter leaving, his footsteps fading against the slate.
Grace didn’t say anything about going to the toilet or anywhere else. Grace was frightened. She was frightened of a man who was staring at her. A man with sunglasses on and a cropped beard and a long brown overcoat. He was the man from yesterday. The man with black eyes. He was approaching us, this man. He came to our table and he smelled strongly of incense. He came to our table. There was a slight commotion, the spilling of a glass, the knocking over of a chair, and then Grace was gone.

I sit and stare at nothing. My heart is pounding so fast I think it will cease at any moment. What I have in the place of vision is a blank wall of blurry illumination no longer filled with the silhouette of my Grace.

I push out my chair. Stand. My legs knock into the table and my glass spills along with Grace’s.

I cup my hands around my mouth.

“Grace!” I shout. “Grace! Grace!”

The people who surround me all grow quiet as I scream over them.

The waiter comes running back over.

“Please, please,” he says to me, taking me by the arm. “Please come with me.”

He begins leading me through the throng of tables and people. He is what I have now in the place of Grace. He is my sight.

“She’s gone, isn’t she?” I beg. “Did you check the toilets?”

“We checked the toilets. They are empty. I am sorry. I am sure there is an explanation.”

“Grace is gone!” I shout. “A man took her away. How could no one have seen it?”

“You’re frightening the patrons, signor. Please just come with me and we will try and find her.”

“She’s gone,” I repeat. “Don’t you understand me? My. Grace. Is. Gone.”

My Review:

This one has it all. Strong characters, human interest, action, emotion, pace and a cracking story location.

From the hills of Afghanistan to the canals and alleyways of Venice, an unlikely combination and one which perhaps only a few authors could pull off, but Vincent Zandri has certainly done that here. The level of detail in the setting, places you at the heart of the scene each and every time. You can actually picture in your mind’s eye what’s going on and the backdrop to it.

The same is true of the characters; the book is not a particularly long one, but even in such a short space, the main character is laid out in detail so that you really get into his head from early in the book, which is what makes it work so well. On the other hand ‘Grace’ is more of a mystery to the reader and I think this adds to the centre of the plot in terms of what actually happened until this is revealed later in the book.

I’ve already said that this wasn’t a particularly long book, but it didn’t need to be, and could easily be read in one sitting. Again this makes the book ‘work’, as you turn the pages each chapter hooks you in more than the last and keeps you going until the end.

I have read a number of Mr Zandri’s books in the last couple of years, and whilst I would describe him as a thriller writer in the main, each time he manages to surprise me with a little something. Either a strong character or a detailed location, each book has an edge that makes it a page turner. With The Disappearance of Grace, Vincent Zandri has once again hit that sweet-spot, and if you haven’t already sought him out, it’s about time you did.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars – I Loved It!