Category Archives: Suspense/thriller

The Way Out

The Way OutThe Way Out by Gordon Jensen, with C. Highsmith and G. Thomas, begins in the near future, 2025. The Alpha Centauri I is the first manned spaceship to be sent to the planet Proxima b, in the Alpha Centauri galaxy, 4.24 light years. All is going well on what would have been a ten-year mission (measured in earth time) until the spaceship encounters increased energy pulling them towards what is assumed to be a black hole. Forty years later, the spaceship appears and plummets into the ocean. After a short prologue on board the spaceship, the rest of the story is told in the form of interviews conducted by a documentarian-journalist who talks with a NASA employee who communicated with the spaceship the day of its return to Earth and major crew members.

Their arrival dispels the idea that the spaceship had been lost after entering what everyone thought was a black hole. The interviews with the crew illuminate the cool, guarded reception the crew received upon being rescued from the sea after plunging to Earth. No hugs and kisses with loved ones. No ticker tape parades. Why?

Apparently, things had changed significantly between 2025 and 2065. Fewer men, more women in power, what else had changed? Global population had fallen to just over 2.5 billion people. Why? Seemingly, when eaten, the genetically modify organism (GMO) corn used as biofuel for the spaceship interacted with the male Y chromosome and rendered it inert. This became another viral pandemic. Consequently, fewer babies were born, and even fewer of them were males.

New World Order?

Think about the world with no sports teams because of insufficient males to compete. Or a world with reduced digital and electronic communications because of a war that broke out fighting over who would control the supply of the new corn prior to the recognition of its drawbacks and repercussions. Think of the decrease in population where most survivors migrate towards metropolitan areas away from the devastation caused in agricultural areas based on trying to destroy the new corn with its ominous side effects.

The near-future Earth world created by Gordon Jensen has many of the same problems as our present-day one. Scarce resources, and fights over those resources, are still all too real. Unconscionable actions deemed necessary by the government “for the greater good” are taken or suggested that affect the human rights of the spaceship crew. Pandemics still rage and vaccines are still viewed as problematic by some of the population. Conspiracy theory alarmists would have a field day with everything carried within the vaccine in Jensen’s created world.

I enjoyed this fictional world and the characters within it. However, as stated previously, the story moves forward by means of interviews with the major characters. This is an interesting concept. On the other hand, vivid action and suspense are rather subdued. Everything is relayed to the reader second-hand and is seen through limited viewpoints. However, we get to meet each important character and learn their foibles up close.

I recommend The Way Out and look forward to reading Two Roads to Paradise, the second book in Gordon Jensen’s Be Careful What You Ask For series.

I received a free copy of this book from ireadbooktours.com in exchange for an honest review.

The Way Out
by Gordon Jensen
with Cara Highsmith and Gordon Thomas
© 2018

Never Scot-Free

Never Scot-FreeJC Norton‘s second book in the Stone Ayers series, Never Scot-Free, is a quick but complex read. Norton’s meticulous, spot-on prose makes for a smooth read with effortless transitions.

Stone Ayers works for Dominic Balducci, a restauranteur who also owns multiple other types of businesses. Ayers ostensibly is his Information Technology (IT) guy. Yes, Ayers does work of that sort for Balducci, including programs that keep track of Balducci’s under-the-table operations, of which the biggest is drug dealing in cocaine. But IT isn’t Ayers main job or even his strongest skill. Killing is – Ayers is adept at killing without remorse in a number of different ways. Snapping someone’s neck or having a death appear to be an accident. This skill of Ayers’ came to the forefront during his time in the United States Army Special Rangers.

Ayers’ justification for  his killings is that they are necessary and don’t harm others (no collateral damage, in modern parlance). That is, until he becomes seriously in love with Gudrun Weimar, who he met previously while on assignment on a trip to Antarctica. How will Ayers resolve the conflict between what he does for Balducci and his intense love for Gudrun? This conundrum is not resolved by the end of the book. We can only see what develops over the rest of the series.

Suspension of Disbelief? Maybe Not

This series is entertaining, but there are a few things in Never Scot-Free that may shake up the reader’s suspension of disbelief. Things such as everything being too perfect for both Ayers and Balducci. For example, Ayers is a 6’2”, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Adonis. He has a perfectly shaped body that he, naturally, keeps well-toned. He is on very good terms with Balducci and his family. Ayers loves a beautiful, whip-smart scientist and environmentalist, Gudrun Weimar. He sees no problem disposing of people who appear to be hurting his boss, and whom Dominic Balducci wants eliminated. Ayers “saw himself as being just a particular kind of soldier, working for a commander whom he happened to like a whole lot more than the ones who’d given him orders in the US Army.”

A similar glowing light shines on Dominic Balducci. He’s wealthy, with several businesses. He has a loving wife, Brenda, whom he’s loved since they were teenagers. His 17-year-old son, of whom he’s proud, is smart, honest and has a great girlfriend. Nice house, businesses doing well. Even making a profit from the cocaine sales. Ayers looks up to him because Balducci is “tremendously loyal to those who worked closely with him.”

Peter DelBino, Balducci’s brother-in-law, runs one of Balducci’s businesses and deals cocaine for him, too. DelBino syphons off some of the cocaine he receives and profits by selling it for a higher price to another dealer. Balducci instructs Ayers to find out what’s going on and stop it.

A Little Too Rosy

Never Scot-Free focuses on Ayers’ tracking of DelBino and his associates. Ayers’ relationship with Weimar also matures to a certain extent. This addition to the Ayers series gives enjoyment. But its depiction of Ayers and Balducci is a little too rosy. Lots of good qualities and few or no flaws. Also irritating is Ayers’ and Balducci’s attitude to killing – it’s justified. For example, Balducci had a high opinion of himself: “He was not a bad person, he’d once told Stone. He did bad things sometimes…but only because they were necessary to protect his family and what they had, or to avenge a wrong. He would never ‘turn the other cheek.’ These deeds were, as he saw them, justified, and he did good things too, lots of them.” Such a self-centered philosophy is questionable, to say the least.

Despite the rather too rosy portrayal of Ayers and Balducci, Never Scot-Free was a welcome diversion. Good pacing throughout, even with some overlong descriptions of Ayers’ methods for tracking DelBino. Plus, relished the many “naps” in which Ayers and his amour indulged.

I will continue to read about Stone Ayers and look forward to future installments. For my review of Orca, the first in this series, click here.

I received a free copy of Never Scot-Free in exchange for a voluntary, honest review.

Never Scot-Free
By JC Norton
© 2020
Self-published

Orca and Ayers – Predatory Killers

 

Orca and Ayers - Predatory Killers

Orca by JC Norton does a slow, stealthy burn. Stone Ayers stalks a man as they cruise to Antarctica aboard Polar Adventurer, a luxury expedition ship. Like the orcas, Ayers, a former Special Forces Ranger, is not faint-hearted when it comes to conflict and death. Ayers plans to kill another passenger, of whom he has been contracted to dispose. Orcas and Ayers, predatory killers, is the theme here.

As time passes in Orca’s milieu, Ayers morphs from a ski-loving, IT guy into a contract killer. He works for Dominic Balducci, who has businesses on both sides of the law. Shades of the mafia? Characterization of Ayers and a few of the secondary characters stands out as well done. The story’s pacing is steady, but somewhat sluggish. Much is said about penguins, with other wildlife in that region, such as the huge elephant seals, given short shrift. In fact, only one mention is made of an orca pod. Considering orcas, and by extension, Ayers, are alpha killers, that’s an indirect connection that hits below the radar. 

Orcas and Ayers – predatory killers extraordinaire

Although likeable, Ayers’ compartmentalization of what he really does, is off-putting. He considers his body a machine and killing as “just a job.” To others, he says he works as an IT consultant—true enough as far as it goes. He does have a college degree in information technology. What will happen to his budding relationship to Gudrun, one of the naturalists leading the expedition, if and when she finds out? Granted, Ayers becomes personally involved with a few of the crew members. He even starts considering their passions and feelings. Hopefully, this change continues as the Ayers series progresses.

For me, the ending was anticlimactic. The plot plods a bit too slowly to be suspenseful. For fear of spoilers, I’ll leave it at that. 

Orca
by JC Norton
© 2019

Great Mystery Mags – Turn the Doldrums Tide

I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while. Blame this lack of motivation on pandemic blues (still sticking close to home due to household members’ underlying conditions). This has also caused a reading slump. I began subscribing to two great mystery mags to turn the doldrums tide: Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Mystery Scene.

Great Mystery Mag - Ellery Queen Mystery MagazineI’ve read Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine off and on over the years, buying current editions wherever I could find them—usually in my semi-local big-box bookstore chain. (Unfortunately, I don’t live near any independent bookstores.) I’m a short story fan, whether or not they contain a murder or other mystery. So, reading this mag is a no-brainer for me. Writers who’ve contributed are a who’s who in literary fiction: Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Dashiell Hammett, Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway, to name but a few.

Along with stories from the likes of Marilyn Todd, most issues have two regular columns. The first, “Blog Bytes,” highlights websites that discuss the mystery and thriller book scenes, as well as authors and booksellers. The second, “The Jury Box,” highlights upcoming mystery fare from various publishers. EQMM is now published as a double issue every other month. It will seem a long, dry wait until the next issue comes over the transom.

Great mystery mag - Mystery SceneMystery Scene defines itself as “Your Guide to the Best in Mystery, Crime and Suspense.” This magazine normally contains articles about, and interviews with, current authors at the top of their field, new authors to watch, and information for collectors. Also included are numerous book reviews. So many reviews, in fact, it could be hazardous to your wallet! Mystery Scene is issued five times per year.

I foresee that these will be great mystery mags to turn the doldrums tide. See you soon with another book review.

Heirs Apparent – A journey of love and death

Heirs Apparent

Malcom Winters, alias for the initially unnamed narrator of Heirs Apparent, by Thomas J. Thorson, escorts the reader on a journey. Wandering through Greyhound terminals, always on his way to the next place, Winters introduces us to a variety of characters, human and architectural. Freddie Four-Fingers, the African American forger, from Winters’ old life. Felicity “Fyre” Stockton, Winters’ new lover, as tight-lipped about her past and present as Winters is about himself.

The list of bizarre characters grows longer once Winters settles down in a three-flat he buys in Chicago. Leo, a tenant, and ersatz chef, supposedly made an assassination attempt on Castro. Ted, or Rebecca, a cross-dressing businessman, Winters’ other tenant. V. N. “Vinn” captures the prize for normalcy in Winters’ expanding network. She’s a science professor at the local university where Winters takes a creative writing professorship for which he’s not credentialed. But even Vinn keeps secrets about her past.

Are Fyre’s secrets the reason for an assailant to fire at her and Winters when they exit a restaurant? Why does Fyre evade Winters, who follows her to the Old Post Office? Who kills Fyre and wounds Winters while there? Help tracking Fyre’s killer comes from Winters’ network of odd-fellow friends.

Leo, Ted/Rebecca and eventually Fyre are fleshed out in Heirs Apparent. Even the Old Post Office comes alive under Thorson’s light and able touch. Each character is deftly drawn and given their own, credible, story. Vinn and Winters remain something of an enigma—hopefully to be further developed in the next installment in the Malcom Winters mystery series.

Heirs Apparent
by Thomas J. Thorson
Austin Macauley Publishers
© 2020

Mystery along the Thames

Mystery on the ThamesGreat mystery along the Thames. Set in mid-17th century England, Rags of Time, by Michael Ward, is a marvelous adventure. Steady, quick pacing and skillful characterization put their arms around your shoulders and pull you headlong into the chaos and confusion surrounding Thomas Tallent. Even the minor characters are interesting and endearing.

Thomas Tallent, a spice merchant, just back from India, is thrust into the midst of uncertainty. In addition to the beginnings of civil unrest fomenting in London, a rich wool merchant has died under mysterious circumstances. Within months, the merchant’s partner is also dead. Likewise a destitute young teenager caught inside Tallent’s warehouse. Whispers among the nouveau riche merchant class point to Tallent as the perpetrator. Why would Tallent kill these men? What would he gain? Who can he trust to help clear his name? Edmund Dalloway, his oldest friend? Or Elizabeth Seymour, his new love interest? Is there anyone he can trust besides his parents? They can only do so much. Tallent sets out to prove his innocence, but that doesn’t stop the gossip mill and one of the not-too-bright officials. What’s to be done? Can help come from Robert Petty, one of the investigators?

This mystery on the Thames is a spectacular read. According to an interview Mr. Ward did with Esther Rabbit (see her blog), there will be at least four more books featuring Thomas Tallent during the English Civil War period. Looking for more from this author. 

I received a free copy of Rags of Time in exchange for a truthful review.

Rags of Time
by Michael Ward
Barnaby Press
© 2019

Life-and-Death Decisions

Life or Death Decisions in the Canadian PrairiesLURE by Jeff Marschall (© 2019) begins on an interesting, fast-paced note. Dr. John Mueller is an intern doing a research project at a university lab in somewhat remote Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Mueller is bored with the dark, cold winter weather as well as his minor research project. His outlook abruptly changes as two supposed “agents” of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration accost Dr. David Devilliers, Mueller’s lab director, and demand that Devilliers turn over his cancer research. Mueller witnesses the altercation, takes Devilliers’ laptop and escapes with it, with the bogus agents in hot pursuit. Life-and-death decisions could result.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book does not maintain the fast pace. A close third-person narration that follows Mueller as the protagonist dominates LURE and effectively crimps the story’s style. For most of the book, the reader is subject to Mueller’s uncertainty and indecisiveness about what to do with Devilliers’ research. Such flip-flopping indecision creates an all-too-human, but unsympathetic protagonist.

In addition, women in Mueller’s life are rather stereotypical. Stephanie, Mueller’s ex-girlfriend, exhibits self-centered, egotistical attitudes. “Stephanie had natural presence and loved attention.” “She always wore jewelry…She could talk passionately and knowledgeably about amber, pearls, the many varieties of agate and jasper, and more that he couldn’t remember.” “She was always very careful about her appearance.” Signs of expensive tastes? When having a few drinks during a meeting with Stephanie later in the book, Mueller notices, “Stephanie wasn’t far behind, although she was definitely more accustomed to drinking wine; he suspected her tolerance was quite a bit higher than his, despite his greater body mass.” Signs of a drinking problem for Stephanie? Even Mueller’s mother is stereotypical. “When he got home, his mother was there, standing in her spotless kitchen, quivering with curiosity.”

Population Expansion, Life-and-death Decisions

On the positive side, Marschall takes on hot, current social topics such as population expansion and, to a lesser degree, climate change. (Population expansion comes up because Dr. Devilliers’ research involves a cure for cancer and, thus, a longer life expectancy for some people.) Conversations with some of the folks wanting to steal Devilliers’ research highlight Mueller’s indecisiveness. The reader is never certain what Mueller’s definitive opinion is about these topics. Who gets to decide who lives and dies by withholding medical cures, among other means? Unless readers take the final actions of Mueller and new girlfriend, Julie, as an answer. One that involves a seeming lack of remorse and a good helping of current-state capitalism. (The movie, Avengers: Infinity War, in its way, also looks at population control on a universal scale.)

I received a free copy from the author to give my honest opinion.

Autism and Sex-trafficking

Novel about autism and sex-traffickingTrue Mercy by Idelle Kursman is a page-turning thriller. Marina, kidnapped from her native Moldova by a sex-trafficking ring, escapes once she and her captors land by ship in America. While running from her captors, Marina meets Adam Hutchins, an 18-year-old who happens to have autism. Taken in by Adam and his father, Bruce, the rest of the plot revolves around Marina’s attempt to evade recapture by Igor, one of the kidnappers.

Continue reading

Cults, Daggers and Rekindled Love

The Dagger by Pam AndersThe Dagger
By Pam Anders
© September 2018
Real Publishing Company

Author Pam Anders leads readers on a merry chase through the USA’s Pacific Northwest in The Dagger, her debut novel in the Kat Delaney series. From the forests of Idaho through Walla Walla, WA, towards Portland, OR, Kat’s grit and perseverance defeat a madman and a cult of incestuous monsters.

The Good Life

Kathryn (Kat) Delaney has a good life. A 24-year-old teacher who enjoys her work, Kat lives with her father in Portland, OR. Although Kat enjoys the nice house and nice cars, she wonders about her father, but has stopped asking. For all her life, Kat’s father refused to answer any questions about himself, his income or background. Or the identity of Kat’s mother. Her father just stonewalls her. She also ponders the need for an elaborate alarm system that is monitored from a secret room built by her father.

Lots of Questions

Consequently, Kat knows nothing when her father, Sean Delaney, is found dead in the woods while on one of his periodic “hunting trips.” Where had her father gotten the several thousand dollars in his possession? Can she convince Detective Leo Burton that she and her father were not drug dealers or part of a spate of recent bank robberies? Who was the mysterious woman at her father’s funeral? Why did the Circle of God cult kidnap Kat and insist on calling her Ursula? Why did the cult leaders insist that Kat hand over a ceremonial dagger? Would Kat’s ex-boyfriend, Doug Stamper, and his father, Marty, be able to help her after she escapes from the cult?

Overall, The Dagger is a very good, suspenseful read. Plenty of fast-paced action engaged me and kept me turning pages. Anders’ writing was terse and spot on. I look forward to more character development of Kat, Doug and Marty as the series progresses.

The Dagger would be a good holiday or birthday gift for the mystery lover in your life.