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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The Thing About Love by Julie James is a believable mystery whose strengths is the character interaction. Presenting both the male and the female differing points of view of certain events will remind readers of the classic book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray. Beyond that, this novel combines a mysterious plot, some romance, and a realistic look at the undercover world of FBI Agents. During their training rookie FBI agents Jessica Harlow and John Shepherd are constantly butting heads. Following misinterpreted motives and misunderstandings they became fierce competitors. After graduating they both go their separate ways, until six years later when they are picked to work together as partners on an undercover assignment. Being paired with a former rival comes at the worst time since Jessica is finalizing a divorce and John has just broken up with his long time girlfriend. Their assignment is to nail a Florida politician for taking bribes. Throughout the story readers learn some very interesting facts about the life of an FBI undercover agent. The details about their job and career surprisingly have many comparisons to those serving in the military, besides the obvious, defending their country. There is a unit called the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) that has a two-week selective process that appears to be as grilling as hell week for the SEALs. They have to scale a narrow ladder 75 feet above the ground, walking blindfolded underwater for seventy-five feet while caring a thirty-pound weight, running with a large raft to a lake, and being sleep deprived, getting no more than two hours each night. Realizing there is a similar analogy, James “wrote how those trying out for the HRT are recruited from the military, for me, the civilian equivalent to the Special Forces. An FBI undercover agent interviewed told me how in his class there were only two females, which I put in the story. I researched the army and FBI on their websites as well as public forums. I knew that John, who was an Army Ranger, would whiz through the physical stuff and the firearm challenges. Also, I wanted to show how undercover work is hard on relationships. Jessica and John had a failed relationship because the other person could not handle the mental toll or the lifestyle. Both were gone a significant amount of time, while their main focus was on the case. Since they could not talk about it the other person feels blocked out to a whole part of their life.” Although learning about and understanding the profession was intricate to the story, a Julie James novel will always have competitive, elegant, and witty-smart characters. This book is no different, having the characters initially appearing to be as different as night and day. Jessica is from Stanford law school. John, a former Army Ranger, is handsome and athletic with a commanding, masculine impression. The banter between the FBI training recruits enhances the story, as they give each other quips, sarcasm, and dirty looks. Their personality clash has a lot to do with the competitive nature of each. But through the course of the novel the realization takes place that there is mutual respect and their quips become talk, the sarcasm becomes laughter and joking, and the dirty looks become desire. They also begin to realize they are similar in many ways determined, committed to their work, confident, and honorable. James commented, “I made the lead male, John, young and attractive. He tries to interact with Jessica and she overreacts. She had her attitude to create a distance, because she was aware of how something would be viewed. Regarding the banter, I do love the sarcasm. I go back to the black and white romantic comedies like the Philadelphia Story, where a man and a woman can have something happen where the guy and the gal see it in completely different ways. Pretty early on I decided to have a he said/she said chapter.” This is a classic romantic mystery. There is plenty of humor and action with well-developed characters that are likable and relatable. The witty, snappy dialogue adds to the story and creates a wonderful chemistry between the characters. If this will be your first James book it should not be your last. Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline is a home run. Baseball is the springboard for the riveting mystery that includes a lot of curve balls. Not only do the characters deceive each other, but with the many twists and turns so will the readers. This suburban domestic crime thriller plays off the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing that looms powerfully in the background. Scottoline came up with the idea for the story, “Last year I was asked to throw out the first pitch at a Philadelphia Phillies game for ladies night. Honestly, I do not know how to pitch. I started to go the high school where my daughter graduated from to get pointers from the team. I noticed the different relationships between the moms and dads, the children, and between the team and the coach. Although this coach was enlightened, encouraging, and friendly, it got me to think what if there was a coach who was the direct opposite, manipulative and uncaring. I like writing ‘what if’ stories. BTW: The pitch I threw out was not that bad.” The plot begins with Chris Brennan applying for a teaching and coaching job at Central Valley High School in Pennsylvania. He is hired as an AP Government teacher and baseball coach. He is looking for the right student to act as his pawn and apprentice for an unsavory evil job. On the same day that Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building it appears Chris is planning his own bombing. He uses the Constitutional debate in the classroom to find the right teenager that can be manipulated, and then as the baseball coach makes sure he builds that bond by intentionally causing friction among the teammates. Pennsylvania is the setting for every book of Scottoline and the spring books can be considered suburban noirs. “When I write I usually try to have a strong sense of place. Since I live on a farm, I am concerned about fracking. I touched on this in the book, since it is a real Pennsylvania problem. I also wanted to get across in this story the difficulty of raising a child in this suburban world. Each mother had a problem in their life that affected how they interacted with their sons who also had some psychological issues. Every character is in effect lying to themselves and to the outside world.” Through Chris’s eyes readers see the interaction between the boys on and off the baseball field, and how they react to their mother’s circumstances. Susan, Raz’s mom, has guilt feelings for failing to step up and take control of the floundering family after her husband and their father dies. She is at a loss on how to parent her two teenage sons who are acting out. Mindy, Evan’s mom, stays at home and succumbs to the pressure of being a surgeon's wife by filling her days with social events and too many gin and tonics. She suspects her husband of having an affair, using social media to try to find answers. Heather, Jordan’s mom, is the most likable, because of her being very grounded. A hardworking single mom, she is counting on a baseball scholarship for Jordan so he can attend college. The mystery comes into play as the ATF agents try to find the bomber and what are his motivations. The supervisor, known as “The Rabbi,” is a supporting character that has a big impact on the plot. He is intelligent, caring, and effectively juggles work and family. Scottoline nicknamed the ATF character “The Rabbi,” because in the large law firm she worked for “I had a mentor who we called ‘The Rabbi.’ I always thought of him as a teacher and a voice of reason. To me a Rabbi signifies a leader. In the book the undercover agent looked up to this character. It was a loving nickname representing the wise one.” To make the story very accurate a lot of research was done including, “interviewing for three hours the Philadelphia head of ATF, the second in command, and an actual undercover agent. I think many readers get their truth about criminal and police procedure from fiction so it is imperative I get it right. The truth is government agencies will cooperate with any writer because they want the way it really works to be out there. I hoped to show in this book how collecting information by the agencies often collides with protecting people’s privacy, which includes how evidence is obtained.” This story was hit out of the park. The many issues of teenage relationships, technology, sexting, class distinction and the ever-present mother-son relationships makes the story even more intriguing. The two b’s: baseball and bombs combine to make the mystery riveting, action-packed, and gripping. Readers should be aware things are not as they seem on the surface. Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. April 15th is known as tax day, but it is also an important day in baseball history if not American history. Seventy years ago this day Jackie Robinson broke the color line in Major League Baseball. In the latest book about Jackie Robinson, 42 Faith, Ed Henry recounts the struggles of someone who just wanted to play baseball. But it also shows how faith helped Robinson overcome many hardships. Many might know the name, since Ed Henry has a hybrid role at Fox News as the chief national correspondent and a freelance anchor on various Fox programs. Within his busy schedule he decided to write this book because this is “the rest of the Jackie Robinson story. It came about ten years ago at a dinner party at the Belgium ambassador’s house. After having a bad time, I sat there thinking about the three-strike rule in baseball where you are out. I was about to leave to watch the World Series when the woman beside me shared the story of her late father-in-law. She starts telling this tale how, in 1945, a man shows up at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights, who needed to see a minister right away. Reverend L. Wendell Fifield received the man, who paced, prayed and silently stewed for about 45 minutes before telling Fifield, ‘I’ve decided to sign Jackie Robinson to his first baseball contract. It’s the hardest decision of my life. I need to be in your presence, in God’s presence, to know it’s the right thing to do.’ Fifield kept his conversation with the man confidential, but he eventually told his wife. And long after her husband’s death, June Fifield wrote in her Church Bulletin a 5-page essay about her husband’s encounter with Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey. Being a reporter I researched this fascinating story and decided to write the book.” Both Rickey and Robinson were to face many adversities with their craftiness and cunning, guts and grits, brains and brawn, as well as an overwhelming belief in G-d. It was almost that there was divine intervention on why the color barrier was broken. Carl Erskine, a teammate of Robinson, told Henry, “Athletic ability and determination could take Robinson only so far. Hidden is how pivotal faith turned out to be.” It helped give Robinson the confidence he needed to rise above not only the taunts and death threats he faced from outsiders, but also the insults he faced from some of his white teammates. Furthermore, Henry believes, “Rickey had a ‘dark fire’ within him to right the wrongs of racism, which set him on a mission to bring profound change to America. Rickey was looking for someone who had the skills but his scouting report showed he was also looking for someone that had a support network, was married, and a strong sense of faith.” Unlike politics, sports has a way for teammates to come together. There is a powerful story in the book that was recounted by another colleague of Robinson, Ralph Branca. While sitting down with five other white teammates who were from the Deep South he reminded them that all had worked in gas stations with African Americans. They responded that the blacks pumped gas, while the whites fixed cars, claiming, “We weren’t equal.” Branca retorted, “Well, you won’t be equal on the ball field either. Jackie’s better than you.” Rickey knew this experiment had to succeed and that many on other teams would show their racial resentment through slurs and attempting to do physical harm. To emphasize how faith played such an important role, Henry told how Rickey quoted to Robinson from the Bible, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil. But whosoever shall smite thee on thee right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ He then said, “Above all you cannot fight back. That’s the only way this experiment will succeed, and others will follow in your footsteps.” According to Henry, “Robinson instinctively got that reference from the Bible. He responded by saying, ‘Mr. Rickey, I’ve got two cheeks. I have another cheek.’ I think they both felt G-d was with them, and they connected through the Biblical references. In fact, in 1949 in a speech on Capitol Hill, Robinson himself stated, ‘I am a religious man. Therefore I cherish America where I am free to worship as I please.’” Life Magazine’s headline said it all, “Negroes Are Americans: Jackie Robinson Proves It in Words and on the Ball Field.” Of course it did not hurt that he was leading the National League in runs and RBI’s while topping both leagues in hits, stolen bases, and batting average. Jackie Robinson once said, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” He and Branch Rickey through their belief in G-d were able to change America and sports forever. Today, most people are color blind to the athletes on the field and that is thanks to these two courageous Americans. Continue reading
Posted Apr 15, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The Devil’s Feast by M. J. Carter plays off Anthony Bourdain’s quote, “I’ve long believed that good food, good eating, is all about risk… food has always been an adventure.” Carter had the idea for the story because of “an illness I had for the past few years that has to do with my digestion. I could not eat so I became very interested in reading about food. I was feeling sorry for myself because of all these foods I could not eat. In the course of my research I encountered Alexis Soyer, the famous chef. I decided to write a story around him and what better way to have someone die than with poison.” And so it is with this story that involves England’s first celebrity chef and a mysterious death, poisoned at the renowned Reform Club. The plot has Captain William Avery invited to dine at the private table of the famous chef, Alexis Soyer. After one of the guests at the table dies he is asked to investigate. As the suspects pile up, everyone involving food appears to be a person of interest from meat suppliers to waiters. Finding parallels with today’s world, Carter told of incorporating “the idea of the celebrity chef who had tantrums when he did not get his way. I also think the past should not be a foreign country so I included the idea of people dying by being poisoned. In the 1840’s arsenic was everywhere, on cake decorations and even the dye on children’s dresses.” Readers will find out about Soyer’s life and it becomes obvious the author spent a lot of time researching the food entries, maybe a bit too much. There is a lot of detail about the inner workings of the kitchen run by celebrity Alexis Soyer who is not only an incredible chef, but the inventor of many innovations. Having come to prominence in the 1840s, Soyer is nicknamed the “Napoleon of food,” a culinary genius who loves to self-promote, a la today’s chef, Gordon Ramsey. This first celebrity chef fascinated the author. “He was the first to use gas ovens, thermometers, accurate clocks, and clever kitchen gadgets. Determined to improve the country’s diet and alleviate the sufferings of the poor, he devised menus for London hospitals and workhouses, reinventing the soup kitchen. For me, he was a gift since he was sometimes a ridiculous figure, manically energetic, crazily ambitious, and dreadfully pretentious. Everything I wrote about him in this book is what he did in real life, including the way he dressed in lavender-colored velvet suits. After becoming chef de cuisine at London’s Reform Club it turned into, not a political association, but a place where males went to hide from their wives, have a fancy dinner, and have conversations.” This series has two protagonists that usually work together. However, in this novel Avery is mainly on his own, struggling to solve the case, while thinking for himself. His partner, Jeremiah Blake chafes at being considered a hired hand and refuses a new assignment from Theophilus Collinson, a very influential person. Claiming that Blake was already paid for work not performed, Collinson has the stubborn detective arrested and imprisoned for debt. This leaves Avery to solve the case of why diners are dying at the prestigious Reform Club. If readers think of the comparison with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, the author says not so, “I did not get my inspiration from the famous investigative duo. Patrick O’ Brian’s sea stories is what influenced me. He writes such great relationships between his characters, Aubrey and Maturin. At least consciously I never thought of Holmes and Watson.” At the heart of this novel is Soyer whose personality dominates the other characters. Readers will be taken on a tour, able to taste the dinner dishes as they attempt to solve the murder mystery. Continue reading
Posted Apr 15, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The Darkness Of Evil by Alan Jacobson brings back FBI profiler Karen Vail in a unique story. He clicks into the curiosity of many who question how does a serial killer’s family not know, and what is it like to be related to one? The plot begins when Jasmine Marcks, the daughter of a serial killer, writes a book about her life experiences. After receiving a threatening letter from her father, she must cancel her book tour. Her testimony about some bloody duct tape and other items helped to put her father in prison with a life sentence and no chance of parole. Vail goes to visit Marks there to evaluate how much of a threat he is to Jasmine. Shortly thereafter, the murderer, Roscoe Lee Marcks, escapes from prison to seek revenge on his daughter. Vail, the local police, and the US Marshals, must all work together to find him before he achieves his target. Jacobson noted, “I always do a lot of research, speaking with my go to experts, FBI Supervisory Special Agents and retired senior FBI profilers, Mark Safarik and Mary Ellen O’Toole. I also talked with some US Marshals about the escapes of convicts. They happen more often than not, but we only hear about the ones that succeed. When you talk to the different agencies; you find how they compete with other law enforcement organizations in terms of budget. They always complain how the FBI is viewed as the favorite child. Pretty much what was written in the book is true, about the rivalry and competition. As they begin to work together on a case there is some friction, but in the course of working it they bridge relationships and find a way to work together.” Interestingly, in almost all of his books, people learn about facts of the different agencies. In this novel Jacobson uses realistic scenarios to make the plot believable. The escape of Roscoe will remind readers of the ex prison worker, Joyce Mitchell, who aided two killers in escaping in upstate New York. The author also shows how Vail, a tough and seasoned profiler, must re-examine the case she inherited as a rookie, putting forth a different set of eyes. This book has a riveting story with many twists and turns. It explores a subject matter from a different angle that allows the reader to have an original storyline. Continue reading
Posted Apr 15, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The Burial Hour by Jeffrey Deaver incorporates his usual writing style with misdirection and plot twists. The subject matter is timely and relevant, taking into account the many concerns of the Western world. Although the plot begins in New York the main setting is in Italy, where the classics play an important role, intertwining Greek G-ds with legendary musical compositions of “The Blue Danube,” “The Nutcracker,” and “Danse Macabre.” The plot begins with the abduction of a business executive in Manhattan by someone known as “The Composer.” Left behind at the scene is a small hangman’s noose. Lincoln Rhymes, the notable Forensics investigator and his fiancé police detective Amelia Sachs get word that a similar kidnapping occurred in Naples, Italy. They decide to fly there and join forces with the Italian investigating team led by prosecutor Dante Spiro and a legal liaison in the State Department. As the dots get connected it appears all the victims are refugees. The team must battle their worst enemy, time, trying to find “The Composer” before he succeeds in killing one of the people snatched, apparently for no better reason than to record the sounds they make as they are choked to death. Deaver noted, “The bad guy, Stefan, is obsessed with sound. I enjoy writing an eerie depth to my villains so they have substance. Stefan ponders how music speaks to someone including what history would have sounded like, the words of Judas or Abraham Lincoln. I think as a society we are not as attuned to sound as we used to be because of the overload. Robert Frost once said that ‘you can induce meaning from sound, independent of words.’ I wanted to show the emotional sides of sound in this book. Stefan is moved by the combination of notes and timing. There is something about the ¾ tempo of a waltz I find pretty engrossing, which is why I used those musical classics.” This book has Lincoln traveling to Italy. With the new setting also comes a new direction for his profession. Since he is a formidable forensics investigator he uses his skills to get more involved with other types of crimes. Deaver did not see as a problem having Lincoln, a quadriplegic, move around the world. “Even in New York he sits in a room while Amelia does most of the legwork. I chose Italy because it cannot escape the classics. Also, this story had to move more slowly because life in Southern Italy does move slowly. The story is tied to the Italian law enforcement system that is more leisurely and takes a holistic approach to justice. To make the plot move faster I had to extract elements of crimes.” The Burial Hour has many turns. It is interesting to see how Deaver took his character out of his safe zone. Incorporating sound and music is a twist that readers will find interesting. Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The Night The Lights Went Out by Karen White is a play on the song since the title continues “In Georgia.” This novel takes place in the suburbs of Atlanta. As with all her books readers get a glimpse of the Southern culture where friendship is a major theme within a mystery. The strength of the novel is the bond that forms between Sugar Prescott and Merilee Talbot Dunlop, both with formative secrets. Sugar, a woman in her nineties, is very crusty and represents how society used to be. This is contrasted with the modern day perspective that depends on technology for communication. White is one of those authors that write such gripping characters readers become embedded with. It is fun to see the generational differences between Merilee and Sugar. Heather is another character, representing the southern suburb housewife who plays tennis, drives a SUV, and has her children in a private school, with secrets of her own. Besides these characters the blog writings are character-like with its southern words of wisdom that provide levity and frankness. She does make fun of social media, noting, “I do make digs at Facebook and social media in my stories. I have to force myself to go on Facebook. I enjoy my fan page because I can talk about my dogs and books. Unfortunately, you cannot have a fan page without a personal page. I cannot believe the things people post; they over share. I think we need to communicate directly to people. If you have something to tell me that is short then text, but anything bigger than five words call me. What really upsets me is when I leave a voice mail and then someone calls me without listening to it, forcing me to repeat myself.” The mystery comes into play when Dan, the husband of Heather and a friend of Merilee’s, is found lying face down in the lake. She becomes a person of interest since her past also includes other victims of drowning. The other sub-plot mystery is when a bloodstained jacket is found in a locker located in the basement of Merilee’s rented cottage. The author noted, “All my books are about a woman’s journey, finding her place in the world, and moving beyond a setback that many times includes a mystery. The heart of my stories is following the main character to see if she gets out of some predicament. In this book they have the kind of friendship that does not come with Facebook or texting. It comes from spending time with each other and getting to know one another.” This story has friendship, family, betrayal, revenge, loyalty, and hope. Readers will laugh with the characters, while at other times will be on the edge of their seats. White is great at combining all these elements to make a gripping story with fascinating characters. Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen is an action driven story. As with his other books, readers should be aware that this author does not shy away from ghastly issues, fictionalizing them for even more suspense. It is apparent that Laukkanen’s go to subject is the mistreatment of women. The author noted, “I always find it fascinating to write stories about the alpha male, some who are angry men that feel women owe them something. This anger can turn to violence. But my next book is something completely different. It will be a high seas adventure story. I had a crisis of confidence after I finished this book so I decided to work on other plot lines. Since I paid for my college education by working on fishing boats I decided to use that experience to write a ship story. It is based on the true facts of salvaging ships, and the tugboat teams attempting to get a percentage of the value of the merchandise saved. I am also working on for fun a fictionalized version of my dog Lucy who looks like a lab/pit bull mix. In the story she is a rescue dog who is placed with a former Marine that has PTSD. But I also want to make it clear I am definitely not done with the characters Stevens and Windermere.” He also told how the idea for this story came to him, “In the Vancouver neighborhood I live in there was this serial killer that preyed on women until 2006. He killed as many as 49 over the course of two decades. The local police were not very sympathetic and did nothing for about twenty years. In walking my dog Lucy we pass a memorial stone for these women and I was inspired to write this story. Since I am really into trains I added that aspect to the plot. This is how I spent quality time with my dad, walking by the trains. I knew a lot of people who tried to jump on trains and lost limbs, so I took it one step farther and had a killer stalking these train surfers.” In this book readers learn, “you don’t ever surf the trains on the Highline.” Rumor has it that a ghost rider preys on women who will not be missed. Native American girls, prostitutes, runaways, and those forgotten have been going missing on the High Line cross country train for years. Yet, the local police did nothing, many times ignoring the victims. After Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere of the joint FBI-BCA violent crime force stumble upon the case, they discover a string of murders on the High Line, all of them young women drifters whom no one would notice. They soon find that it is a serial killer, a ghost that seems to disappear into thin air leaving no clues behind, until his big mistake when one victim lives. Readers should see this book as a two-parter. The first is a “who done it,” while the second piece is the chase. Stevens and Windermere investigate each clue, only to be frustrated that the murderer seems to be one step ahead of them. While on the trail of the killer they also realize that they must find a young girl, Mila, out to avenge the death of her best friend, Ash, one of the victims. What adds to the intensity of the plot is the weather and forbidden geography. Anyone reading this will feel the cold and isolation. The dead of winter with freezing temperatures and multiple blizzards in the vast wilderness provide obstacles for the protagonists. They are trapped by circumstances that limit them, while the killer chooses another victim. Laukkanen does see winter as a character. “I started to do a lot of hiking since I live quite close to Montana and Idaho. I am taken by the remoteness. During a period of winter Vancouver was completely cut off because every highway was closed due to snow. I thought how the terrible weather and unforgiving geography would make the plot even more intense.” The Forgotten Girls is extremely suspenseful. Having multiple narrators adds to the tension as chapters alternate between the heroes and villain’s point of view. Readers will take a ride on these trains as they feel they are also homeless, traveling in the vast territory without any support. The story is fast-paced and action Continue reading
Posted Apr 6, 2017 at BlackFive
The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. After The Dark by Cynthia Eden is a psychological thriller intermingled with some romance. This is the first book of the “Killer Instinct” series. The premise of these novels is very unique in that they involve someone in law enforcement knowing a serial killer. The author takes the realistic studies of law enforcement to a step beyond. Research has shown that FBI profilers actually speak with serial killers to understand their motives in an attempt to quickly capture future perpetrators. The protagonists in this book, through their special relationship, are able to see the killer in a way others cannot. Through the characters readers are drawn into the dark minds of these psychopathic people. Eden noted, “Research is my favorite part of writing. Over the years I have talked with FBI agents and psychologists. My go to book is the MindHunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas. I think Netflix is doing a TV series on it. This is by the guy who started the behavioral analysis unit. Each chapter talks about the mindset of a different killer the FBI went after. It details the body language and the psychology of these infamous killers, the many faces. I have the book on my desk constantly. This is why I had Samantha try to think like a killer, to get into their mind.” The plot is “Colomboesqe” in that readers learn early on who is the serial killer. Yet, this does not prevent them from being on the edge of their seats. The twists have the hunter turning into the hunted as the killers play a cat and mouse game with law enforcement, becoming a game of wits. The story begins with FBI profiler, Samantha Dark able to get into the killers head and to understand their motives. She left the FBI after being thrown under the bus by her boss for failing to find the serial killer. Accused of letting him get away because the murderer was a former lover, Samantha moves back to her hometown in Alabama. After a tape surfaces her ex-partner Blake Gamble pleads with her to help him find this sadistic assassin. When it becomes obvious she is the ultimate trophy victim Blake uses his ex-military skills to protect her. Together they try to outwit these evil and sadistic people, and find them before they continue their killing spree. The author commented about the main characters. “Samantha is smart; yet, has trust issues and because of that keeps secrets. She is a conflicted heroine because justice matters most to her and she does not always see the world as black and white. I explored with her how it is truly hard to know someone, especially those who do not fully open up. We only know what people show us, basically what is on the surface. After losing her job she lost her self-worth and had a hard time keeping that image she wanted to present to the world. Regarding Blake, he is very different from Samantha in personality. He is all about law and order. What you see is what you get.” The two antagonists were written as psychopaths. “I wanted to make sure they did very bad things. Dr. Cameron Latham is Samantha’s former friend who she had an intimate relationship with. I think he cared about Sam, and knew she was the one person in the world he could relate to, his anchor. He was never impulsive and always had a plan. Unlike Cameron, his apprentice Jason Burke was driven by emotion, and was unable to control himself.” Eden also thinks the setting played an important role in the book. “Fairhope, Alabama is the place where I grew up. My editor tried to get me to revise some of what I wrote about this place, thinking it was unrealistic. But everything I wrote is real. In this town more people have boats than cars. I love the water and do own a boat. It is a ‘boatcentric’ area. I wrote in the book about air boat rides because it is one of my favorite things to do.” The intensity of the plot is not only with the mystery, but it also comes into play with the chemistry between Blake and Samantha. The passionate love scenes leave little for readers’ imagination. But this is also true of the gruesome descriptions of the crime scenes where the perps kill for sport and experimentation, to find how people react when they know they are about to die. They enjoy dishing out pain, making the victims suffer as they lose hope, and play G-d, deciding who shall live and who shall die. Because she enjoys writing books with romantic suspense and taking readers on a thrill ride she has her stories with a darker plot. Her next book comes out in May, part of her “lost series.” Eden gave a heads up about her next projects, “Lost stands for Last Option Search Team. These civilians’ job is to find missing people after the case has gone cold. This will be the last book in this series, because I wrap up one before another one begins. My next book in the ‘Killer Instinct” series will have Samantha and Blake as supporting characters. She is the supervisor of a new assembled team who recruits only those who have a connection with serial killers. This book comes out in July and will feature FBI Agent Tucker Frost whose brother is a serial killer. I think it is really fun to explore this theme.” After The Dark gets readers hooked from page one. Eden does a wonderful job with the character development as she allows readers to get into the minds of the antagonists and protagonists. The tense atmosphere created with the... Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. The Devil’s Triangle by Catherine Coulter and J. T. Ellison is very reminiscent of a James Bond story. With all the adventure and action readers might have to suspend belief as they take the journey with the characters. This story moves from the ancient time to modern day and includes Moses’ staff, the Arc of the Covenant, Tesla’s experiments on weather, and the mysterious Bermuda Triangle, also known as the Devil’s Triangle. Ellison commented, “The idea for the story came from a dream of Catherine where a motorcycle bursts out of an underground tunnel, flies into the air, and lands in a lake. To determine how to write something around it we tossed ideas back and forth. We thought of Tesla and his manipulation of the weather. The story taps into how science merges with the power of G-d, creating and changing the weather.” FBI Special Agents Nicholas Drummond and Michaela Caine head the FBI’s Covert Eyes Team that tackles unusual cases, both internationally and domestically. In this story Kitsune, the international thief, returns from her exploits in a previous book, The Final Cut. Also, returning, now a full fledge member of the team is Adam, the hacker who Nicholas mentored and was first introduced in The End Game. All the team’s skills are needed to battle evil twins who are trying to find the Ark of the Covenant and wield its power. They use the knowledge given to their grandfather by Nikola Tesla on how to manipulate the weather. To bring the world to its knees they are literally creating storms, first a sandstorm in Bejing, and then a hurricane to hit Washington DC. The FBI team with the help of the master thief Kitsune must race against time, and nature herself, to stop an obsessed family from devastating cities and controlling the world. Knowing they wanted to bring back Kitsune, Ellison noted, “Both of us love her character. We knew from the beginning she was to be the center of the storyline, the focus. The next book will not have her back, and she will not be a consultant for the FBI because it is more enjoyable to have her step into something.” This novel can best be described as a science fiction thriller. It is a fun read where readers will be highly entertained. Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens is a compelling read. It explores the brutality of domestic violence including obsession, entrapment, control, and manipulation. Readers will go through the same emotions with the characters of fear, love, and courage. Stevens noted, “I guess I was influenced subconsciously by what happened in my personal life. My father who was a violent alcoholic abused my mother. As I was writing I found I was thinking back on things. There was this double side where I respected my mom and recognized the domestic violence, but I really loved my dad. Even though he had these really bad issues there was a part of him that was really great. As Sophie was talking to her father I would have a tingling sensation at the base of my neck thinking, ‘wow. I never got to say this to my dad.’ I think I was able through Sophie to speak with my dad. But I want to make it clear this was not an agenda book. This book is not my family’s story.” More than anything this is a character driven novel. The strength of the story lies with the love story between a mother, Lindsey, and a child, Sophie. They were very likeable, believable, and realistic, with their relationship taking center stage as Lindsey tries to insulate her daughter. The alternating narratives between Lindsey and Sophie allow the reader to get to know them and understand the emotional tug of war they are going through. The author is hoping, “My biggest goal is to show that the cycle can be broken. I took young Sophie’s quirks from my daughter who is four. I hope I portrayed what my daughter and my relationship will grow into and maintain the closeness Lindsey had with Sophie as she turned eighteen.” The plot begins with Lindsey, Sophie, and Andrew in Mexico on a vacation. It showcases how abusive and controlling Andrew can be as he uses emotional mind games to keep her in line. He shows her that she is powerless and to leave him would mean she would lose her daughter. Knowing that she must escape this malicious and violent individual for her and Sophie’s well being she risks all that are meaningful to escape. This led to a spiral of events that included Andrew going to jail. Now eleven years later, Lindsey and Sophie have built a new life. Unfortunately, shortly after Andrew is released from prison someone starts stalking Lindsey. Sophie has mixed emotions, because she has a loyalty to her mother, knowing of her father’s abuse, but also wanting a relationship with her father. Since Stevens also had an abusive dad she has memories of feeling as if she were in a tug of war between parents. “I also went back to visit my dad. Remember Andrew was never abusive to Sophie. As with Sophie I also felt I had my own needs and I wanted to have a relationship with my dad. It was very painful and challenging to write. On a day-to-day basis both the fictional and real life fathers could be great to their daughters until they were stressed and started drinking. It seems I am protective of these memories. I channeled my longing for a father into Sophie’s feelings. The dads were clever and smart; yet, had massive anger issues that they could not control.” If this is the first book read by this author, it should not be the last. The author keeps the tension high and when the reader thinks they have figured out what is happening Stevens throws a curve ball with the many twists and turns. Continue reading
Posted Mar 23, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Vicious Circle by C. J. Box is not the usual mystery/thriller novel. It is reminiscent of the classic old-time western with “High Noon” coming to mind. Besides an intense plot, readers get a flavor for what it is like to live on the Western frontier of Wyoming. Box noted, “The way the previous book ended, I knew Dallas and Brenda Cates will be back, because I made sure to set up a dilemma. It has many of the elements of a classic Western. The bad guy gets out of jail and sets out for revenge, making sure it is personal. He attacks Joe’s family forcing him to protect them even if it means not always following the rule of law. He is basically on his own, a ‘he versus the bad guys.’ Most game wardens are like Joe, risking their life working in remote areas, and have little back up.” This is the sequel to Endangered where game warden Joe Pickett went toe-to-toe with the Cates family. Dallas Cates beat Joe’s middle daughter April to an inch of her life. The end result was his mother Brenda becoming a quadriplegic, some Cates family members dead, and Dallas doing more than a year behind bars, thanks in part to some trumped-up charges. After serving his time he is released from prison and wants to get revenge, waging a war against Joe and his family. What Box does very well is blend the modern day with the isolated West. The book opens with Pickett and two others in a small airplane searching for a missing hunter. They use high technology of an Ipad app, an infrared device to spot both animals and human beings. Right after the group thinks they have found the hunter below on the ground, they witness his shocking murder, all because he warned Joe. Another technology discussed was the wheelchair used by Brenda while in Prison. As with so many of his books, Box does the research personally. He told of how “I took a ride with the Wyoming Civil Air Patrol. It was pretty interesting how they used the technology and unlike Joe I did not even get airsick. Regarding the wheelchair, Georgia Tech came up with the idea of a tongue-controlled device. Depending on how the tongue moves that controls the direction and speed. The brain moves the tongue and the tongue moves the chair.” Readers of the series will enjoy the supporting characters as well. This includes the return of Pickett’s long-time friend Nate Romanowski, who joins Joe in the fight to save his family, and the newly elected populist Governor Colter Allen. People get a flavor of Wyoming’s politics and how justice is doled out, including a few courtroom scenes. In addition they learn more about Western culture. Box noted, “The scene about women rodeo riders is true. There is a college that does have events with women. Conceivably they can only participate in some contests because they can get really beat up. Women are able to participate in the ones involving finesse, such as barrel racing and roping a cow while riding at full blast.” This storyline is very suspenseful and the action never slows down. Besides the riveting plot readers will also feel as if they are in the wilderness with the very descriptive scenes. Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Desert Vengeance by Betty Webb is a mystery/thriller series surrounding the main character detective Lena Jones. As with all Webb books she has a gripping plot while exploring the psyche of those she writes about, intertwining human rights issues. In this installment the subject matters of sexual abuse and foster parenting are explored. As a nine year old, Lena’s foster father, Brian Wycoff, repeatedly raped her every week. To make matters worse, his wife was an enabler, knowingly looking the other way. Lena is waiting to exact revenge for his crimes on the day he is released from prison. She has every intention of killing this man, but is thwarted when someone gets to him first. Now there are more murders to solve, because his wife was killed, shot in each eye. After being cleared as a suspect, Lena uses her profession of a private detective to investigate what really happened considering there are multiple suspects with motives. The author noted, “In doing my research I actually found a site on the Internet that is devoted to women married to child molesters. Reading this is one of the creepiest things I have ever done. They are full of self-pity. They never, at any time, discuss the pain a child went through at the hands of their spouse. They really do not care. The common thread is their worrying about finances since the spouse was the money support. They very rarely blow the whistle and seem to keep their mouths shut making sure the money flows in.” Even though she is seen as someone seeking vengeance, Lena is a very likeable, believable, and sympathetic character. The theme is about letting go, and Lena must do exactly that while trying to control her obsession of getting justice. In all her books, Webb uses her past experiences to write these riveting stories. Having been a journalist for over twenty years she was exposed to many different kinds of cases. She knows what it is like to write about controversial issues, and uses those skills to make the novels very realistic. In this case, readers are able to learn about child molestation without the many horrific details. With a powerful subject, enthralling characters, and a compelling plot readers will not want to put this book down. Webb offers a twist and turn mystery, that is not superficial because of the way she presents such gripping issues. Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen is a fact filled historical mystery. The story takes place during 1941 in the English countryside. Inspired by the events of World War II this is a sweeping and riveting stand-alone novel involving class, family, love, and betrayal. She wanted to write about this era since, “I think it was the last time we had a feeling of good versus evil. Everybody felt if we do not stop the evil it would be the end of the world. Because of that they were willing to make sacrifices with a great sense of duty where everyone rooted for each other. I was born in the middle of World War II. Even after the war, in England, everything was rationed until 1953, and every time you went for a walk you passed a bombsite. It was a grim atmosphere.” The plot is built around three life long friends: Ben Cresswell, the Vicar’s son, who now serves as a homeland spy; Lady Pamela Sutton, the middle daughter of an aristocratic family who decodes German correspondence at Bletchley; and Jeremy Prescott, an injured RAF fighter pilot. Their carefree youth is contrasted with the dangers of the Nazis. They are trying to find out about a German that died parachuting into the countryside. Many believe his mission was to deliver a mysterious message to a German spy on how to assassinate either the Royal Family or Winston Churchill. The suspect pool grows as the people of interest include an English POW who escaped, those escaping the German atrocities, Canadians, a governess, and someone who could be a double spy. The main and supporting characters created are very intriguing and engaging. Readers will wish Bowen would continue to re-visit them by turning the stand-alone into a series. The two male characters are Ben who is smart and loyal, while Jeremy is the ultimate bad boy. Besides Pamela, her sister Margot allows people to get a view of the German brutalities. The youngest, Phoebe, of the five Sutton daughters, befriends Alfie, taken in by the groundskeeper for safety reasons. All desire to discover the identity of the German spy. Bowen also writes of Farleigh Field as if it is a character. In many ways it becomes the central element of the plot considering it serves as the headquarters of a British armed forces unit. Bowen contrasts the two male leads, “Jeremy was the ultimate bad boy. He was charismatic, dashing, and daring. If I was a young girl I would have been attracted to him. As Pamela says in the book, ‘you knew you would not be quite safe with Jeremy, but you knew you were alive.’ She took for granted he would marry her, but all he wanted was sex. Ben on the other hand was someone you would turn to if you were in trouble, like an older brother. He was kind, loyal, dependable, and considerate.” Because of its location, Farleigh Field is the setting where espionage and mysterious events occur, drawing in the countryside aristocracy. Many lost privilege, property, and power as their estates were taken over by the war effort. Bowen brilliantly and interestingly describes the culture of the time where the rich and powerful either made sacrifices with the rest of the English population, or were the ones who chose to join an organization that believed in making a peace with Hitler. This story of war, love, and mystery is extremely suspenseful. It is both realistic and believable. Through the character’s eyes readers will be drawn into the era and begin to understand the sacrifices and hardships placed on English society. Continue reading
Posted Mar 12, 2017 at BlackFive
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When Tides Turn by Sarah Sundin is one of those novels where readers have a gripping mystery and can learn something too. The third and final book of the series follows the Avery family. Based in Boston this plot includes the Battle of the Atlantic and US Navy WAVES, a unit of women volunteers. Although Sundin does not personally have experience in the armed forces, for her it is all in the family. “The year I started writing this book is the same year my son enlisted in the Navy. I was walking the path with him as we adjusted to the culture and the terms. I also had a military connection through my family. My grandfather was a medic in the Navy during World War II and my great uncle was a B-17 bomber pilot. My grandfather also trained US spies in the German language.” Through her engaging characters people realize the numerous contributions women made to the war effort. Although not eligible for combat duty, as more men went off to war, the WAVES performed jobs in the aviation community, medical professions, science, technology, and communication. Characters include: Nora an engineer, Lillian a pharmacist, and Tess, using her degree in business to supervise the clerical staff. Their unconventional ways had them band together in a man’s world, unlike most women who stayed at home, did not have a job, or never attended college. Sundin commented about the WAVES, “Remember, before the WAVES, the previous role of women was to be nurses. I wanted to show how the Navy did not want the WAVES at first, fearing women would get in the way and distract men. Eventually women like my characters were seen as professional, efficient, and competent. I know the picture of Rosie The Riveter is still popular today. I have had people today think it sexist that women were not allowed in combat during World War II. But we must remember the times. I think the WAVES were actually progressive. We have to be careful not to judge the past by the standards of today. The WAVES were brave and forward thinking women. I think they paved the way for women in the military today.” The plot has readers spell bound as they find out about the brutality of the Nazis, the threat of German spies and saboteurs, as well as the anti-submarine efforts including radar, weapons, and tactics. Lt. Dan Avery uses his skills to fight German U-boats, after being assigned to an escort carrier during the peak of the Battle of the Atlantic. To make the mystery applicable to Northeast America Sundin stated, “I did take some liberties. In Europe German spies did land by U-boats and there were home grown ones as well. They went after the Resistance to try to quell them. For example, they took over much of the Dutch resistance. I used creativity in taking what the Germans did in Europe to America.” The theme of the story is how the main characters, Tess and Dan, grow in their jobs, as individuals, and in their relationship. They are opposites in that Tess is playful, cheerful, and sociable while Dan is serious, an introvert, and someone who builds walls. With the backdrop of World War II Sundin weaves together a fascinating story with fascinating characters. Part historical, part mystery, with a tinge of romance the finale of this three book series is a home run. Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. A Bridge Across The Ocean by Susan Meissner spans the lives of three women, one in modern day and the other two during the 1940s. She intertwines their lives with the help of a ship, some ghosts, and historical facts surrounding the Nazi regime. The gripping story of a young German ballerina and the daughter of a French resistance fighter are heart wrenching. Meissner explained the symbolism of the title, “All of the characters are taking a journey. They are brave as they enter this unknown world, where they cannot see the other side. As I said in the book, ‘Life will send up across a bridge we did not want to cross, but when we finally open our eyes, on the other side, we see that there had been nothing to fear after all,’ and we must move forward. Both characters saw torture, misery, and felt helpless. They knew they needed to climb out of the abyss. They did so with courage and patience. I hope people see this as a story of goodness, justice, love, and loyalty.” Beyond the human characters is a ship, the Queen Mary, which takes on human qualities, seemingly with a life of its own. The mystery begins aboard the RMS Queen Mary as it transported at the end of the war thousands of World War II brides who married American servicemen. Aboard is a former ballerina who married a Nazi Gestapo Agent, Annaliese Lange, and Simone Deveraux, the daughter of a French Resistance spy. One is trying to escape her past, while the other is trying to start a new life in a new land. But, when the voyage ends in New York, only one of them disembarks. Readers will frantically want to find out what happened to Annaleise, did she jump or was she pushed? The other main character, Brette Caslake, is someone who senses and communicates with drifters, or as people commonly refer to them, ghosts. On a visit to the Queen Mary a spirit asks her to investigate Annaliese’s supposed suicide. Brette decides to solve this seventy-year-old mystery of the war bride. The author plays off the theories that this ship is haunted and a gathering place for those who have not “crossed over,” with the Queen Mary spirit watching over all of them. The ghostly part is not all encompassing to the plot. Anyone who enjoys the paranormal genre will like this book, but for those people who want to concentrate on the historical scenes, there is plenty to go around. In fact, the account of both women in the midst of World War II is the highlight of this novel. Annaliese's and Simone’s stories are engaging and heartbreaking. Meissner noted, “As I was taking a tour of the ship, I learned how she brought over all these war brides after the war in 1946. Then I found out about how she was haunted. I made the leap that there is the ability for the soul to hang around after death, so I treated it as a literary character. In the acknowledgements I wrote, ‘I am grateful to G-d, who has assured me beyond all doubt that this life on earth is not all there is.’ If you believe there is life after death than it can be possible there are ghosts. I pondered that belief. I thought if ghosts are real than there must be more to the physical world and in that world there is more than we can actually see.” This being a character driven story, readers learn how Simone watched her father and brother executed by the Nazis, had a Gestapo agent rape her, and hid from them with the help of the French resistance. While in hiding she met her future husband, an American pilot injured when his plane was shot down. As she helped him to recover, they taught each other English through the Bible, fell in love, and married at the end of the war. The other war bride, Annaliese, meets her future husband during her performance of “Swan Lake.” He is abusive, controlling, and threatening. A powerful quote hammers the point home, “It only mattered to him that she feared and respected him…” Knowing she must escape the relationship it became an obsession with her to find a way to freedom. Taking her dead friend’s identity she boards the ship as a war bride, hoping to become anonymous in America. All three women take a journey to discover whom they are and what they must do to survive. Through the mystery and the dangers encountered they realize that sometimes there is no control over events and circumstances. The famous saying “you can’t pick your family, only your friends” comes to mind. The book quote is a version of this, “That’s the beauty and burden of having a child. You don’t pick and choose the one you think you want, you are handed the one G-d gives you.” The plot and the characters are very intriguing. The spirit of the Queen Mary is intertwined within the historical lives of Simone, Annaliese, and Brette. Readers will not want to put this engaging book down. Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. I See You by Clare Mackintosh is a riveting psychological thriller. She is two for two in writing plot lines that will scare, worry and terrify readers. The novel is a police drama, a mystery, and a suspense story. The author seems to have found her niche, writing stories about ordinary women who are put in jeopardy. The plot is a warning of sorts from Mackintosh, a former police detective. She shows the dangers and benefits of the technology world. The plot begins with Zoe Walker, an average working mother, seeing an “advert” in the London Gazette. She becomes flustered and worried when it appears there is a picture of herself. Is it a mistake? A coincidence? Or is someone keeping track of her every move? When other women appear it becomes evident to Zoe that something is wrong, as she connects the dots to crimes involving these women. After calling the police and getting PC Kelly Swift involved the investigation finds women who were sexually abused, violently assaulted, and had material objects stolen. In an innovative scenario Mackintosh shows how technology has taken stalking to a whole new level, where a routine can work against someone. The author noted, “I started the book with this quote to set the tone, ‘You do the same thing every day. You know exactly where you’re going. You’re not alone.’ We stay in these routines and do not think about it because they are extraordinarily comforting and familiar. For example, when we leave for a job we take the same route and leave at the same time each day. Unfortunately, this means we are less aware of our surroundings. I realized in the cities many people know about others commutes, and how dangerous that could be.” The wide range of characters is very well developed and contributes to the storyline through different narratives. Detective Kelly Swift steals the show in this book, especially given the tidbits of her life and the detective work done to solve the crime. Having been disgraced for punching a prisoner she was demoted to the British Transport Unit. But after convincing her former superior to be given a second chance she joins the MIT unit. Although she breaks the rules it is obvious that her intentions are in the right place. A powerful quote hammers the point home, “you were doing what you thought was the right thing. It isn’t always the same.” Mackintosh had no intention of having Swift become the main character, “I certainly had no intention to make her it. But over the course of writing the story she became so vivid and such a strong character. I do think she threatened to overshadow the whole story. In the future I would dearly like to write more stories that put her front and center. There is still so much about her that I want to talk about. I am not done with her yet.” Using her vast experiences Mackintosh creates a very realistic and chilling story with a growing sense of danger. Readers feel they are part of the case as they work along with Kelly and her police team to find connections to the antagonist. Continue reading
Posted Feb 26, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Ripper: The Secret Life Of Walter Sickert is a follow up book to the one written by Patricia Cornwell in 2002. Whether people agree with the premise or not it is an interesting read, as a non-fiction book or a crime novel, either way it makes for a good story. Cornwell attempts to make the case that the Victorian painter Walter Sickert was Jack The Ripper. With photos, personal correspondence, and even his paintings as evidence she plays the role as an investigator of these hideous murders and has Sickert as the person of interest. Below is a Q/A with the author: Elise Cooper: Even though this is a non-fiction book you wrote it as a novel? Patricia Cornwell: I try to be a storyteller in everything I write. Because I started out as a journalist I feel that a part of me is still a journalist. It never leaves you. Whether fiction or real-life cases I try to present the facts. EC: Your first book caused some controversy so why write a second book? PC: This is the book I should have written the first time. I looked at the case from the lenses of modern criminal investigations, using the science as best I could to give us a guide. I think there is some good empirical evidence and primary sources such as original letters, documents, and the original police reports. EC: How would you describe Sickert? PC: A sexual violent psychopath, and a narcissist. He never felt empathy or guilt. Mostly what he felt was rage and jealousy. There is no evidence he ever loved someone. He was very calculating and compulsive. EC: How did you become fascinated with this case? PC: I happened to be in London in the spring of 2001, and somebody said, ‘While you're here, would you like to take a tour of Scotland Yard?’ One of their senior investigators, who knew a lot about the Ripper crimes, started telling me about the case. I now think that this is the most compelling unsolved murder mystery. Because of its legend I do not think it can ever be solved. No one will ever be satisfied with any resolution. The mystery has become bigger than the crime. EC: What do you want to debunk about the Ripper theories? PC: I think those who believe it was part of a royal conspiracy came from a bunch of formulations spun by the killer himself, Sickert. I also think it is nonsense that the traditional Ripper theories had him only killing those five people. I believe he killed many more victims, and continued to kill after 1888. EC: What about those who say the Ripper had to be a doctor? PC: His killings were not professional. He mutilated his victims so there was no need for surgical skills. He did have some anatomy training in art school. He had a scientific mind and followed the latest technology advances. He was a very smart and cunning person. He was careful and did not leave behind biological evidence. Maybe it was not accidental that he had himself cremated. EC: On page three there is a photo where he looks like the gangster John Dillinger. Was that his fantasy? PC: He was a master of disguises. I wonder if that is how he did his dry runs and was able to stalk his victims. Remember he did not die until 1942 and Alfred Hitchcock made the first Ripper movie in 1927 called The Lodger. I think the photo was an example of him imitating what people thought of the Ripper. This was his form of mocking the public. EC: You point out Sickert was an enigma regarding the aristocracy. Please explain. PC: He wanted to thumb up his nose to them; yet, he wanted to hob knob also. He had disdain for upper class people, but appeared to collect celebrities. He wanted to be a part of them. There is this hypocrisy where he despised them, but could not get enough of them. He wanted the acclaim that the painter James McNeil Whistler had. Sickert was treated as nothing more than Whistler’s personal assistant. EC: How compelling were Sickert’s paintings as evidence? PC: I think they were teases in his paintings. He projected his violent fantasies into his artwork. This painter never painted anything he had not seen. This man was a very smart. One painting is very reminiscent of the Mary Kelly crime scene, the body on a bed with a figure bludgeoning her to death. In another drawing there were a tremendous amount of stab marks with a pencil on a woman’s chest. EC: What about his personal correspondence? PC: If you compare two Ripper letters with three Sickert letters there is a stunning comparison. They come from the same paper mark that consisted of only twenty-four sheets and had the same watermark and dimensions. EC: How certain are you that Sickert is Jack The Ripper? PC: I am 95% certain. I am 100% certain he was involved in the case. The 5% doubt is for other considerations. The big questions that remain: what did his wife Ellen know and what did Whistler know? I do think they both feared him. EC: What do you want readers to get out of the book? PC: My goal is to make it easy for readers to be entertained and to be able to follow the story as they learn something. I hope they have an open mind as they look at this case. THANK YOU! Continue reading
Posted Feb 26, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Stolen by Carey Baldwin is a riveting thriller. It intertwines issues involving family and mental illness within relationships, a murder, and a kidnapping. What makes this psychological story even more compelling is the mind games the characters play with each other. Baldwin appears to be influenced by her fascination with the old time movie Gaslight starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. “In this movie that I just love, Ingrid Bergman is a psychologically vulnerable women who’s been through a tremendous trauma, witnessing the murder of her aunt. Charles Boyer is her villainous husband who tries to make her question her own sanity. This is a classic and speaks of mind games where over time she grows to believe what is told to her even though it contradicts what she actually saw.” Right from the very first page readers will be swept up into the plot. Baldwin is one of those authors who has a knack for keeping people guessing as to where the plot is headed by building suspense and intrigue. Because an important Senator’s daughter, Laura Chaucer, has disappeared, Dr. Caitlin Cassidy and FBI profiler Atticus Spenser are called in to investigate. Through it they find that thirteen years ago Laura and her nanny had been kidnapped, with the end result of Laura being rescued and the nanny found dead. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Grady Webber, tries to lead the investigators to think she is unstable, a danger to herself, and capable of murder. What Cassidy and Spenser must sort out, is Laura a killer, or is there a monster lurking who is out to get her and others? Many of the supporting characters were very interesting and will draw strong emotions from readers. Dr. Webber gives psychiatrists a bad name. Not only did he have a short affair with his resident, Caitlin, but is also a manipulative jerk. Anyone that knows the story of Brian Wilson’s psychiatrist can believe how Webber tries to foster dependence as he plays mind games with his patient. A quote hammers the point home, “Laura Chaucer’s been walking around with a time bomb inside her. And Grady Webber has the nuclear codes.” Part of the reason the author made Webber so evil was to “throw my pet peeves into Grady’s behavior. I really hate Polypharmacy where drugs are given for all reasons. I put in the book how Laura was prescribed drugs for anxiety and as a sleep aid. With all of these it is a wonder Laura did not sleepwalk through life. Webber gave drugs in lieu of therapy.” As much as readers will hate Webber, they will gravitate towards Laura. The center point of current and past investigations, she felt people were constantly pointing fingers at her. Growing up under those circumstances of having a stigma hanging over her she became addicted to therapy and the drugs handed to her by Webber. Eventually, she begins to wonder if her manipulators world view is correct, or are there other answers, realizing just because people say things does not necessarily make it true. Baldwin noted, “I enjoyed writing Laura’s character. She is someone extremely damaged, but has survived. She has an inner strength. A lot of people would have crumpled with the pressure she was under, but she did not.” Fans of Caitlin and Spenser will enjoy their working and personal relationship as it develops in this book. They become a more formidable team, battling Caitlin’s past with Webber and the murderer. As the relationship becomes more serious, Baldwin believes “I can have the constant tease, the romantic tension that is so organic. But I do not like playing the game as we saw between the Friend’s characters Ross and Rachel, after awhile it becomes frustrating. In my next book they will have some rest and relaxation in Tahiti. Then all hell breaks loose as they are dragged in by the local authorities after witnessing something.” Also, sprinkled throughout the book are psychological theories. Baldwin uses her vast experience as a pediatrician and psychologist to inform readers. They learn about compartmentalization, which allows for people to leave deep dark holes in their memories. It is a defense mechanism that shuts out traumatic memories so the person can function in life. They will also learn about “magical thinking” and “survivor’s guilt.” Because she does not become overly technical these little tidbits add to the storyline. This is a fast moving mystery that is gripping. The subplots add to the momentum of the plot and enhance the many twists and turns. Readers will be on the edge of their seats as they are kept guessing as to what will happen next. Continue reading
Posted Feb 20, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Gunmetal Gray by Mark Greaney is an engrossing thriller. After reading this series Greaney will definitely become a favorite where people can’t wait for the next installment. The main character, Courtland Gentry, known as the Gray Man, is a former CIA agent, an assassin turned contractor, who always takes readers on a great ride as he battles the bad guys. Greaney describes it as “a cat and mouse adventure story as people go after this particular guy. Everyone is after Fan, the Chinese government hacker, because if he defects he becomes like a virus to the Chinese. Because Gentry is a contractor the CIA can use him as a deniable asset, remaining on the periphery. He utilizes the CIA and vice versa for them.” The action begins on page one and never lets up. The CIA has hired Gentry to find Fan Jiang, a Chinese hacker and an information technology specialist, who is trying to defect to Taiwan after he escapes from the Chinese government. Geo-politics comes into play as both the Russians and Americans race to capture him for his knowledge of the Chinese systems. But also in the mix are Chinese agents who are attempting to assassinate Fan before he divulges any state secrets. He used the Asia setting to give a shout out to Vietnam veterans. “I wrote Gentry’s father as a Marine Scout sniper who fought combat missions around Da Nang. I wrote Gentry traveling to this area because it is a connection between him and his father. When someone mentions Vietnam you don’t think of a nation, but of a war. I also wanted to show that currently Vietnam is a place where many westerners travel. I wanted to travel to Vietnam, but needed ankle surgery so I could not go. While writing a Clancy novel I did a lot of research on Hong Kong and Beijing. These are all interesting places to me and I knew I wanted them all as a setting for a Gray Man book. The people, buildings, architecture, and crowds would be fun to place in an action-packed novel.” Against seemingly overwhelming odds Gentry must use his wits and moral code to complete the mission. The characters in this novel are very well developed. The Gray Man is a complex figure that allows readers to root for someone with integrity. He is a good person who must do some bad things to succeed. The female lead is Zoya Zakharova, the beautiful Russian foreign intelligence agent assigned to bring Fan Jiang to Russia. She’s Gentry’s one adversary who is his equal, a female “Gray Man,” a kindred spirit. Readers will hope that she and Gentry are put together in future books because the interaction between them is superb. The Gray Man is “based on individuals who never stand out. I found out about this term when I did my research. It is someone in the military or intelligence that moves around in a low profile. He physically moves around without drawing a lot of attention to himself. Regarding his personality, his moral compass does not always point North. Not a black hat versus a white hat; there is a lot of gray. Even though he sometimes does bad things he is still seen as a good guy.” As with all of Gray Man books, the excitement, tension, and action are never ending. There is never a dull moment. Continue reading
Posted Feb 18, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Racing The Devil by Charles Todd is a vintage novel. This mother/son team returns to the scenario that made them so well read. They have an action packed plot with characters that are intensely well liked or disliked. As in all their books many of the characters bear the internal and external scars of the War. World War I becomes a reality with its impact on the English society at large. The setting places a prominent role in the book because it adds to the powerful plot. The Todds noted, “We wanted to write a story around this setting. As we came up with a plot it was like solving a puzzle, putting in what fits and taking out what doesn’t.” The book begins with a group of English officers promising to return after the war to meet in Paris to race their motorcars to Nice. In 1919 that promise becomes a reality until serious mishaps mar the reunion when two vehicles are nearly run off the road. Nothing comes of it until one year later when another mishap with a car kills the rector of a village of Burling Gap in the South Downs. After the local constable asks Scotland Yard for assistance, Inspector Ian Rutledge is sent in to investigate. He uncovers a possible connection between the deaths of the rector and those in the race. He has to put the pieces together to find out who was the intended target, was it mistaken identity or was the rector the intended victim? The theme explores why a perfectly normal human being will resort to murder. “As we wrote this novel we wondered what has changed them so drastically in their life that they see no other way out but to kill another human being. It goes back to one of the seven deadly sins. It was fun to write how the different interactions and relationships of the characters intertwined depending on their life experiences.” Each character in the book whether main or a supporting was extremely well developed and played an intricate role in the plot. The antagonist is very evil as he lurks in the shadows. This faceless killer is willing to strike again as he attacks Rutledge to stop him, and kidnaps a child. Rutledge realizes he will need all his skills to stop the murderer before other lives are sacrificed. The female characters show the reality of how the Great War affected society. Jen, a teenage girl, had to grow up way too fast after having her brothers killed in the war. She lost her childhood as she helped her mother tend to the land of a retired Captain, an aristocratic employer. He broke off his engagement because of war injuries and his former fiancé had no other suitors. Ginger the dog showed how animals can read people and their loyalty is a trait to be admired. A cameo appearance by Melinda Crawford fits perfectly into the plot. The Todds commented, “England lost an entire generation of men who either died or were severely wounded. Many women ended up as spinsters for the rest of their lives, while others never remarried. If you look at the registries there are entire lines of titles that ceased to exist because there was no one to pass it on to.” When asked the importance of dogs, the authors said that it was a way “for us to speak with a person in England. Since the culture will not allow you just to go up to someone, we were able to do it if they had a dog. We started a conversation by talking to the dog, telling it how cute it was. The next thing you know they are telling you about their great uncle and how they suffered in World War I.” Racing The Devil is a gripping novel that readers will not want to put down. The many twists and turns add to the gripping plot. Readers will see the many sides of Rutledge as he helps solve the mystery. This psychological thriller includes murder, fear, and suspicion, all set up by a chance meeting. Continue reading
Posted Feb 18, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Readers had to wait two years for the latest Deborah Crombie book, Garden Of Lamentations, but it was well worth it. This plot follows the unanswered questions from Crombie’s last novel, Dwell In Darkness. People might remember how Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid had not solved the loose ends in the last novel. He is still troubled by a grenade attack, a devastating fire, and the odd behavior of his boss, Chief Superintendent Denis Childs. The author had the idea from “an article about the undercover British police officers for the special branch. It referred to the abuse of power by the police with no oversight. I thought it fascinating to explore those who thought it morally wrong to do what they were asked to do. They had undercover spies in campaign groups.” Crombie explained why the long delay, “This book just was really hard to write. I struggled in how I would wrap up the continuing story arc. It was hard to figure out how all the different parts of the story would fit together and how other parts would be resolved. I did not want to make it boring for those who read the previous books and to make sense for those who would read it as a stand-alone. It is really a delicate balance to provide the backstory without slowing the current plot down.” All the unanswered questions come to a resolution in this story including Kincaid’s investigation of police corruption. But there are also sub-plots that stand on their own. His wife, Detective Inspector Gemma James is investigating the death of a young nanny in the locked Cornwall Gardens, in Notting Hill. These two investigations create an intense mystery, especially since this lack of communication added to the tension in the novel. Commenting on the setting, “I made the Gardens fictional. The general place is now a housing complex at this stop. I used my writer’s power to make the place pretty. It serves as a character in the book. I chose to make the houses and gardens the way I wanted.” Duncan and James are no longer working together, which meant that they didn’t interact very much throughout the book. He is hiding his growing suspicions for fear of endangering his family, which creates an emotional divide between them. Gemma misreads her husband’s attempt to protect her, believing instead that they are drifting apart, originally caused when they started to each put their career and children before one other. The author said, “Relationships take a beating in this book: Duncan and Gemma, Duncan and Doug, Doug and Melody. I am thinking in the next book to send them off to the country house of Melody’s parents where they must all work together to solve a case.” This novel has plenty of twists and surprises involving the cautionary tale about the abuse of power. It is not only plot driven, but character driven as well where both the relationships and story make for an intense read. Continue reading
Posted Feb 11, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Law And Disorder by Heather Graham is a mystery set in Florida. It blends suspense, romance, and action. What make this book standout are the clues spread throughout the story so that the reader can try to find the buried treasure along with the characters. For those fans of the actress who starred in Austin Powers this is not her. The story begins with the kidnapping by a group of thugs of a well-to-do Floridian, Kody Cameron. She is taken to a historical house and becomes a victim with the rest of the working staff. Each thug has decided to use the 1930s gangster names as their alias. Their goal is to have Kody translate a map and find where the stolen money has been placed. After some time her instincts lead her to believe it is buried in the Everglades. What makes matters more intense is that some of the kidnappers are ruthless, crazy, and unpredictable. Lucky for her, one of them is Nick Connolly, an FBI agent who has gone undercover. His decision to follow his own rules makes for many action scenes. Graham has included many historical details about Florida, which allowed the reader to feel as if they were there. “Florida is my home and I used very unique properties. The house in the beginning of the story is loosely based on an Italian mansion. I also used as inspiration the Biltmore Hotel since Al Capone stayed there. I drew upon local lore and legend. I hope the setting was as unique as the characters.” The actual crime in this novel is very intriguing. It is definitely plot based with the setting a major part of the story. Continue reading
Posted Feb 11, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Three Days In January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission by Bret Baier is a very informative book. Readers learn about the time, not by being pounded over the head with facts and figures, but through the personalities themselves. The issues discussed in the book come right out of today’s headlines. Mr. Baier is the Chief Political Anchor for Fox News Channel and the Anchor and Executive Editor of Special Report with Bret Baier. What is fascinating is how he takes readers on a journey of the time period between Eisenhower’s last days in office and JFK’s inauguration. The book also reflects on the influences in his life from growing up in Kansas to the Supreme Commander during WWII to the election of 1952. The book opens with the meeting on December 6th, 1960 between the outgoing President Eisenhower and the incoming President-elect JFK. Thinking Kennedy too green he dismissed the younger Kennedy as ineffective. JFK with his charm, young family, and ready to implement the New Frontier was the direct opposite of the older and less flamboyant Dwight Eisenhower. Baier noted, “The media storm around Kennedy was so effective and biased it swept the general public up in its wave. People were persuaded that Eisenhower was nothing more than a historical artifact.” The book also compares Eisenhower to America’s first President, George Washington. They shared the same qualities of being good listeners, reflective, confident, persuasive, and understanding of the larger picture. Baier feels they “were kindred spirits. Both were generals who did not seek out the public limelight, but eventually chose to run for President. They wanted to empower people. What Washington expressed in his farewell address resonated with Eisenhower, the need to protect the freedoms of Americans.” Throughout the book there are similarities between the election of Dwight Eisenhower and Donald Trump. “I wrote how Ike was not a traditional politician, something that appealed to his supporters. He criticized on the campaign trail the bureaucracies. In fact he joked before a trip to Philadelphia about a thirty-five page set of logistics, ‘politics is a funny thing. Thirty-five pages to get me into Philadelphia. The invasion of Normandy was on five pages.’ Another comparison is that both elections were referendums on the Democratic Party that had been in power for a long time.” Eisenhower was told not to go into the Democratic stronghold of the South, while Trump was told the same about Michigan and Pennsylvania. Interesting how neither candidate took the advice and forced their opposition to devote more time and money in those areas. He describes the similarities between past and present candidates: “Both are outsiders, non-politicians. In fact, Eisenhower was the last one before Trump. They are unconventional Republicans, despise labels, despise political ideology, and operated out of patriotic feelings. The difference is in tone, tenor, and how they communicate.” There is also the comparison in that both attempted to drain the swamp. Eisenhower favored practical tacticians, a matter of getting people who could get things done. Sound familiar? “I describe in the book how Eisenhower had picked a cabinet of eight millionaires and a plumber, the Secretary of Labor Martin Durkin. He also chose as his Secretary of Defense, Charlie Wilson, the former CEO of General Motors, and businessman George Humphrey as Secretary of the Treasury. The one contrast was that he did not have any other military people in the cabinet, other than himself.” Baier furthermore explained to blackfive.net that the reason for not having any other military people was that “he did not want it to look like a take over of the military or a war cabinet. He was a man who craved peace.” It seems that the former President would agree that anyone who has been to war themselves knows what it is like. They are probably the most reluctant to send troops into a war. What Donald Trump should do is read this book, because it shows how Eisenhower in his Farewell Address wanted to provide a blueprint on where America should be headed and a warning to President-elect Kennedy. “I wrote the dedication of the book to my sons, hoping they and their generation would allow history to inform their decisions in the future. For example, the Cold War when he attempted to soften the hard line with Russia. He wanted to reduce the inflammatory rhetoric constantly tempering his words about common values built from within rather than based on abhorrence of the other. Yet, he was not naïve and felt we should have our eyes wide open. The advice he gave to Kennedy could apply to Donald Trump today. ‘Don’t go to any meeting with the Russians too early; get your sea legs first. Otherwise you will be eaten alive.’” Baier summarizes the speech by describing Eisenhower as “a whistle-blower. He strove a balance between military strength and domestic needs. If America should get involved in a crisis, we should use overwhelming force, but there is no need to get involved everywhere in the world. Future Presidents should have a balance, listening to dissenting views, and work in a bi-partisan way to get things done.” This is a masterful piece of history in the understanding of President Eisenhower. It is a gripping read with a lot of detailed facts that are both interesting and informative, but definitely not boring. Continue reading
Posted Jan 30, 2017 at BlackFive
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The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar. Silver City by Jeff Guinn is a fascinating historical western that blends action and adventure with factual information. He is not a stranger to westerns, having written two other novels in this series and a non-fiction book about the shootout at the O.K. Corral. In this story revenge and vengeance take center stage. Readers might remember that the male lead, Cash McLendon is on the run, as he tries to hide from a murderous thug, Killer Boots. His former employer, a powerful St. Louis businessman, wrongly blames him for the death of his drug-addicted daughter. In addition, Cash is attempting to win over Gabrielle Tirrito, the woman he initially wanted to wed but spurned when he was pressured to marry into wealth and prestige. After being seen as a reluctant hero of the epic Indian battle at Adobe Walls, he has journeyed to Mountain View in the Arizona Territory with one goal: to convince Gabrielle Tirrito that he is a changed man and win her back from schoolteacher Joe Saint. Killer Boots, aka Patrick Brautigan kidnaps Gabrielle to force Cash to trade himself for the love of his life. He, his good friend Major Mulkins, and his rival for Gabrielle Joe Saint hit the trail in pursuit of Killer Boots, hoping to make a trade before it’s too late. The book has very well developed characters. Gabrielle is seen as a tough, intelligent, and independent. Cash is an opportunist, caring, who grows in character with each book. Joe Saint is resentful, manipulative, who uses guilt to get his way, and spineless. The antagonist Killer Boots is fierce, frightening, without any moral code. He subdues his victims using overwhelming intimidation, both psychologically and physically. There is also the terrain, which in many ways is a character as well. It plays a role with the overwhelming dust, mountain range, and floods. Readers get a sense of the setting, feeling as if they were there, while getting a flavor of what the Arizona frontier was like. The provinces displayed are mining towns where prospectors were able to hike into the nearby mountains to find silver and gold. Guinn describes Silver City as “a seedy hell hole run by a corrupt sheriff. Towns that sprung up around mineral strikes either aspired to sophistication or descend into anarchy. I hoped I provided real historical context that contrasted Mountain View and Silver City. Mountain View was a sophisticated town that had bowling alleys, ice cream parlors, and eventually libraries. There was also Clantonville where Newman, Ike, and Finn tried to establish a town controlled by them. They are typical of a group of individuals who came into the frontier to make their own fortune.” Quinn furthermore pointed out to blackfive.net how “the women throughout the frontier are the ones who actually made the settlements something more than bare subsistence. The men brought in the economic system while the women brought in the culture and lifestyle. In this book Gabrielle is working at a hotel at the same time she is helping to organize a library system for the community. In the first book, Glorious, the character Sydney Chow provided laundry services, but also much needed medical care. By the way she is not gone and will be heard from again.” Readers will enjoy an action packed book, but also enjoy how the author intertwines into the plot the Western history, culture, and influences. These books of western fiction are based on real history that gives readers a feel for the frontier. Continue reading
Posted Jan 22, 2017 at BlackFive