TWTW # 14 – A Scorcher

It’s Bank Holiday Monday as I write this, and I’m a little bit later than usual sitting down to think about what’s happened in the last week. Essentially a short working week for most with the long weekend around Easter and quiet for me as I am waiting for my client to respond regarding a report. He has responded and is taking a wider view across his organisation before giving formal comments.

It’s been getting progressively warmer all week with the weekend turning into quite a scorcher and I’ve been doing quite a bit allotment and garden wise, while I’ve had the time. I’ve sown some lettuce seed as individual plugs – some for my Mum’s garden and the remainder as back-ups for the allotment. I’ve potted on some tomatoes and have got some more seed to sow a few more plants.

I’ve also started off my runner beans. Garden lore says that you should sow your runner bean seeds on the first Bank Holiday in May and plant them out on the second one, so these are a little early but that might not be a bad thing as they were covered in a little mould which I washed off and they seem to be okay – not soft or any obvious other damage other than the mould – so if they don’t grow I’ll have time to get some more.

My car was MOT’d and serviced at the beginning of the week. It passed and so there’s nothing further to do until next year or unless there’s a problem.

Wilson was also back at the vets for his next round of tests – we’re awaiting the results.


I’ve been reading “The Way Home – Tales from a Life Without Technology” by Mark Boyle, essentially the stories of the author when he completely gave up technology, including electricity and other mains utilities, living on an island near Ireland. I’m not that far in, but I’m enjoying it so far.

Slightly ironically I’m reading it on my Kindle.


I’ve also  got  the  (re)review  of “Under  The  Rock” coming  up next weekend with the chance to receive a copy of the paperback.



Been watching the new season of Bosch on Amazon over the weekend, it’s another great season of the show, and it’s great that such high quality tv can be be made to this standard – thoroughly recommended! If you’ve read Michael Connelly’s “Two Kinds of Truth”, it’s mostly based on that.


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.

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!

Book Review: The Prophet by Ethan Cross

Synopsis: 

OLD ENEMIES…
Francis Ackerman Jr. is one of America’s most prolific serial killers. Having kept a low profile for the past year, he is ready to return to work – and he’s more brutal, cunning, and dangerous than ever.

NEW THREATS…
Scarred from their past battles, Special Agent Marcus Williams cannot shake Ackerman from his mind. But now Marcus must focus on catching the Anarchist, a new killer who drugs and kidnaps women before burning them alive.

HIDDEN TERRORS…
Marcus knows the Anarchist will strike again soon. And Ackerman is still free. But worse than this is a mysterious figure, unknown to the authorities, who controls the actions of the Anarchist and many like him. He is the Prophet – and his plans are more terrible than even his own disciples can imagine.

With attacks coming from every side, Marcus faces a race against time to save the lives of a group of innocent people chosen as sacrifices in the Prophet’s final dark ritual.


About the author:

When a fireman or a policeman would visit his school, most of his classmates’ heads would swim with aspirations of growing up and catching bad guys or saving someone from a blazing inferno. When these moments came for Ethan Cross, however, his dreams weren’t to someday be a cop or put out fires; he just wanted to write about it. His dream of telling stories on a grand scale came to fruition with the release of his first novel, the international bestseller, THE SHEPHERD.

Ethan Cross is the pen name of a thriller author living and writ- ing in Illinois with his wife, two daughters, and two Shih Tzus. In addition to The Shepherd and The Prophet, he has published two novellas––The Cage and Callsign: Knight (with Jeremy Robinson).

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Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

Francis Ackerman Jr. stared out the window of the dark copper and white bungalow on Macarthur Boulevard. Across the street, a green sign with yellow letters read Mosswood Playground – Oakland Recreation Department. Children laughed and played while mothers and fathers pushed swings and sat on benches reading paperback novels or fiddling with cell phones. He had never experienced such things as a child. The only games his father ever played were the kind that scarred the body and soul. He had never been nurtured; he had never been loved. But he had come to accept that. He had found purpose and meaning born from the pain and chaos that had consumed his life.

He watched the sun reflect off all the smiling faces and imagined how different the scene would be if the sun suddenly burned out and fell from the heavens. The cleansing cold of an everlasting winter would sweep across the land, cleansing it, purifying it. He pictured the faces forever etched in torment, their screams silent, and their eyes like two crystal balls reflecting what lay beyond death.

He let out a long sigh. It would be beautiful. He wondered if normal people ever thought of such things. He wondered if they ever found beauty in death.

Ackerman turned back to the three people bound to chairs in the room behind him. The first two were men—plain-clothes cops that had been watching the house. The older officer had a pencil-thin mustache and thinning brown hair while his younger counterpart’s head was topped with a greasy mop of dark black. The younger man’s bushy eyebrows matched his hair, and a hooked nose sat above thin pink lips and a recessed chin. The first man struck Ackerman to be like any other cop he had met, honest and hard-working. But there was something about the younger man he didn’t like, something in his eyes. He suppressed the urge to smack the condescending little snarl from the younger cop’s ferret-like face.

But instead of hitting him, Ackerman just smiled at the cop. He needed a demonstration to get the information he needed, and the ferret would be perfect. His eyes held the ferret’s gaze a moment longer, and then he winked and turned to the last of his three captives.

Rosemary Phillips wore a faded Oakland Raiders sweatshirt. She had salt and pepper hair, and ancient pock marks marred her smooth dark chocolate complexion. Her eyes burned with a self-assurance and inner strength that Ackerman respected.

Unfortunately, he needed to find her grandson, and if necessary, he would kill all three of them to accomplish his goal.

He reached up to her mouth and pulled down the gag. She didn’t scream. “Hello, Rosemary. I apologize that I didn’t properly introduce myself earlier when I tied you up, but my name is Francis Ackerman Jr. Have you ever heard of me?”

Rosemary met his gaze. “I’ve seen you on television. You’re the serial killer whose father experimented on him as a child, trying to prove that he could create a monster. I guess he succeeded. But I’m not afraid of you.”

Ackerman smiled. “That’s wonderful. It means that I can skip the introductions and get straight to the point. Do you know why I asked these two gentleman to join us?”

Rosemary’s head swiveled toward the two officers. Her gaze lingered on the ferret. Ackerman saw disgust in her eyes. Apparently, she didn’t like him either. That would make things even more interesting once he started to torture the young cop.

“I’ve seen these two around,” she said. “I’ve already told the cops that my grandson ain’t no damn fool. He wouldn’t just show up here, and I haven’t heard from him since this mess started. But they wouldn’t listen. Apparently they think it’s a good idea to stake out an old lady’s house instead of being out there on the streets doing what the people of this city pay them to do. Typical government at work.”

Ackerman smiled. “I know exactly what you mean. I’ve never had much respect for authority. But you see, I’m looking for your grandson as well. I, however, don’t have the time or patience to sit around here on the off chance that he might show up. I prefer the direct approach, and so I’m going to ask you to level with me. Where can I find your grandson?”

“Like I told them, I have no idea.”

He walked over to a tall, mahogany hutch resting against the wall. It was old and well-built. Family pictures lined its surface and shelves. He picked up a picture of a smiling young black man with his arm around Rosemary. A blue and gold birthday cake sat in front of them. “Rosemary, I’ve done my homework, and I’ve learned that your grandson thinks the world of you. You were his anchor in the storm. Maybe the one good thing in his life. The one person who loved him. You know where he’s hiding, and you are going to share that information with me. One way or another.”

“Why do you even care? What’s he to you?”

“He’s nothing to me. I could care less about your grandson. But someone that I do care about is looking for him, and I try to be useful where I can. And like you said, sometimes bureaucracy and red tape are just too damn slow. We’re going to speed along the process.”

Rosemary shook her head and tugged on the ropes. “I don’t know where he is, and if I did, I’d never tell a monster like you.”

His father’s words tumbled through his mind.

You’re a monster…Kill her and the pain will stop…No one will ever love you…

“Oh, my dear, words hurt. But you’re right. I am a monster.”

Ackerman grabbed a duffle bag from the floor and tossed it onto a small end table. As he unzipped the bag and rifled through the contents, he said, “Are you familiar with the Spanish Inquisition? I’ve been reading a lot about it lately. It’s a fascinating period of history. The Inquisition was basically a tribunal established by Catholic monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile in order to maintain Catholic orthodoxy within their kingdoms, especially among the new converts from Judaism and Islam. But that’s not what fascinates me. What fascinates me are the unspeakable acts of barbarism and torture that were carried out in the name of God upon those deemed to be heretics. We think that we live in a brutal age, but our memories are very short-sighted. Any true student of history can tell you that this is the age of enlightenment compared to other periods throughout time. The things the inquisitors did to wrench confessions from their victims was nothing less than extraordinary. Those inquisitors displayed fabulous imagination.”

Ackerman brought a strange device up out of the duffle bag. “This is an antique. It’s previous owner claimed that it’s an exact replica of one used during the Inquisition. You’ve got to love Ebay.”

He held up the device—built from two large, spiked blocks of wood connected by two threaded metal rods an inch in diameter each—for their inspection. “This was referred to as the Knee Splitter. Although it was used on more than just knees. When the inquisitor would turn these screws, the two blocks would push closer together and the spikes would first pierce the flesh of the victim. Then the inquisitor would continue to twist the screws tighter and tighter until they received the answers they wanted or until the affected appendage was rendered useless.”

Rosemary spit at him. As she spoke, her words were strong and confident. He detected a slight hint of a Georgian accent and suspected that it was from her youth and only presented itself when she was especially flustered. “You’re going to kill us anyway. No matter what I do. I can’t save these men anymore than I can save myself. The only thing that I can control is the way that I go out. And I won’t grovel and beg to the likes of you. I won’t give you the satisfaction.”

He nodded. “I respect that. So many people blame the world or society or others for the way that they are. But we’re all victims of circumstance to a certain extent. We like to think that we’re in control of our own destinies, but the truth is that much of our lives are dictated by forces far beyond our control and comprehension. We all have our strings pulled by someone or something. It’s unavoidable. The only place that we have any real control is right here.” He tapped the tip of his fifteen-inch survival knife against his right temple. “Within our minds. Most people don’t understand that, but you do. I didn’t come here to kill you, Rosemary. It will give me no pleasure to remove you from the world. But my strings get pulled just like everyone else’s. In this case, circumstances dictate that I hurt you and these men in order to achieve my goal. I’m good at what I do, my dear. I’ve been schooled in pain and suffering my entire life. Time will only allow me to share a small portion of my expertise with you, but I can tell you that it will be enough. You will tell me. That’s beyond your control. The only aspect of this situation that you can influence is the duration of the suffering you must endure. So I’ll ask again, where is your grandson?”

Her lips trembled, but she didn’t speak.

The smell of cinnamon permeated the air but was unable to mask a feral aroma of sweat and fear. Ackerman had missed that smell. He had missed the fear, the power. But he needed to keep himself contained. He couldn’t lose control. This was about information, not about satisfying his own hunger.

“Time to begin. As they say, I’m going to put the screws to this officer. Makes you wonder if this device is responsible for such a saying, doesn’t it?”

~~*~~

After several moments of enjoyment with his new toy, Ackerman looked at Rosemary, but she had diverted her gaze. He twisted the handles again, and the officer’s thrashing increased.

“Okay, I’ll tell you!” she said. “He’s in Spokane, Washington. They’re set up in an abandoned metal working shop of some kind. Some crooked realtor set it up for them. I’ve tried to get him to turn himself in. I even consider calling the police myself, but I know that he and his friends won’t allow themselves to be captured alive. He’s the only family I have left.” Tears ran down her cheeks.

Ackerman reached down and twisted the pressure from the officer’s legs. The man’s head fell back against the chair. “Thank you. I believe you, and I appreciate your situation. Your grandson has been a bad boy. But he’s your flesh and blood, and you still love him.”

He walked over to the table and pulled up another chair in front of Rosemary. As he sat, he pulled out a small notepad. It was spiral-bound from the top with a blood red cover. “Since you’ve been so forthcoming with me and out of respect, I’ll give you a genuine chance to save your lives.” He flipped up the notepad’s cover, retrieved a small pen from within the spiral, and started to write. As the pen traveled over the page, he said, “I’m going to let you pick the outcome of our little game. On this first sheet, I’ve written ‘ferret’ to represent our first officer.” He tore off the page, wadded it up, and placed it between his legs. “On the second, we’ll write ‘Jackie Gleason’ to represent the next officer. Then Rosemary. Then all live. And all die.”

He stirred up the wadded pieces of paper and placed them on the floor in front of her. “I think the game is self-explanatory, but to make sure that there’s no confusion, you pick the piece of paper, and I kill whoever’s name is on it. But you do have a twenty percent chance that you all live. And just to be clear, if you refuse to pick or take too long, I’ll be happy to kill all three of you. So please don’t try to fight fate. The only thing you have control over here is which piece of paper you choose. Have no illusions that you have other options. It will only serve in making the situation even less manageable for you. Pick one.”

Rosemary’s eyes were full of hate. They burrowed into him. Her gaze didn’t waver. A doctor named Kendrick from the Cedar Mill Psychiatric Hospital had once told Ackerman that he had damage to a group of interconnected brain structures, known as the paralimbic system, that were involved in processing emotion, goal seeking, motivation, and self-control. The doctor had studied his brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging technology and had also found damage to an area known as the amygdala that generated emotions such as fear. Monkeys in the wild with damage to the amygdala had been known to walk right up to people or even predators. The doctor had said this explained why Ackerman didn’t feel fear in the way that other people did. He wondered if Rosemary had a similar impairment or if her strength originated from somewhere else entirely.

She looked down at the sheets of paper then back into his eyes. “Third one. The one right in the center.”

He reached down and uncrumpled the small piece of paper. He smiled. “It’s your lucky day. You all get to live. I’m sorry that you had to endure this due to the actions of someone else. But as I said, we’re all victims of circumstance.”

Then he stood, retrieved his things, and exited onto Macarthur Boulevard.

~~*~~

Ackerman tossed his duffle bag into the trunk of a light-blue Ford Focus. He wished he could travel in more style, but the ability to blend outweighed his own sense of flare. He pulled open the driver’s door, slipped inside, and dropped some jewelry and the wallets and purse of his former captives on the seat next to him. He hated to lower himself to common thievery, but everything cost money. And his skill set didn’t exactly look good on a resume. Besides, he didn’t have time for such things.

He retrieved a disposable cell phone from the glove box and activated the device. As he dialed and pressed send, he looked down at the small slip of paper that Rosemary had chosen. The words All Die stared back at him.

After a few rings, the call connected, and the voice on the other end said, “What do you want?”

Ackerman smiled. “Hello, Marcus. Please forgive me, for I have sinned. But I do it all for you.”

My Review:

If you’re looking for a thriller that doesn’t let up on the action and keeps you guessing at each turn of the page then, The Prophet could be for you.

The action comes thick and fast, with the main characters constantly finding themselves in situations calling for skill, intelligence and heroism. That’s not to say it’s all plain sailing for them, anything but.

Character development is good, and this is the second in a series. It does work as a stand-alone, but I did find myself wishing that I had read the first book in the series. Due to the number of characters at times I lost track of who was who and what they were doing, particularly when the action was coming so thick and fast.

The story was strong and believable. There were times when plausibility was stretched, but only slightly and it made the overall tale more believable. Some of the detail of the murders might put those of a weak-stomached disposition off a bit, but they’re not too gratuitous and bring home the horror of the crimes, and what is going on and how it is affecting some of the main characters.

I will be going back to the first book after reading The Prophet, not because I want to fill in the back story, but because this was a great book and I would like to read more by this author. Although not an author that I had heard of before being asked to review this book, he’s certainly one that I will be keeping my eye on from now on.

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