Friday, December 21, 2012


Fun & Games                
By Duane Swierczynski
ISBN: 978-0-316-13328-9
A TP 2011 release from Mulholland Books,
283 pages

Accurately titled, this breathless thriller is a laugh a minute, a gunshot or an assault every other minute, and an unerring logic that ties the whole thing together as tight as can be and that will leave most readers smiling and satisfied.

Protagonist Charlie Hardie is an itinerant house sitter. You go away for a time but you want somebody to keep the castle from harm, you call Charlie. Turns out there are subterranean reasons why Charlie does this all over the country and you’ll learn about them in due time.

Charlie flies out to California to house sit for a client who is overseas. Seems simple enough, but by the time he gets to the house and discovers there are no keys waiting for him, things begin to deteriorate in a swift and alarming way. Interestingly, every character we meet in the early going seems to have a secret life, or at least some serious secret they need to conceal from the rest of the world. This profusion of secrets in the hands of a less skilled writer could easily be a disaster. Fortunately this author is up to the challenge.

This novel is a violation. It violates rules of good taste, of the genre and of good sense. It is not only funny, it is a fun read. It is illogical and preposterous and contains more than one or two coincidences that in other hand might cause a reader to abandon the novel, but by the time they crop up, most readers will be thoroughly hooked. This novel experience is enhanced by the apparent close collaboration between author, editor and designer so that the look of the pages in many instances helps highlight the point.

Monday, December 10, 2012

authors will be interested

 I am familiar with the publisher whose announcement is below. This is a legitimate effort.

Adventure Publications, an award-winning publisher of outdoor guides (, is accepting fiction manuscripts for its new series of outdoor/wilderness mysteries. We are looking for mystery fiction (68,000 through 100,000 words) that will appeal to both the mystery reader and the outdoor enthusiast. The books will be produced in both print and e-book format (not PODs). Example of authors we love are: Nevada Barr, Victoria Houston, C.J. Box, William Kent Krueger and Beth Groundwater. Currently, we are seeking novels set in the Midwest, Southwest, Northwest, Northeast and Rocky Mountains. Please email the first chapter and a synopsis along with a cover letter. Your entire submission must appear in the body of the email and not as an attachment. The subject line should be “QUERY” along with the title of your manuscript. Also, in your email, please include the number of words ! in your completed manuscript, as well as a bio, and pertinent writing and/or outdoor wilderness experience. Email your submission to: Email queries sent to any other address will not be read.  We do not open email attachments, unless we request them. If you prefer, you may snail-mail your query, along with your first chapter and bio to Fiction, Adventure Publications, 820 Cleveland St S, Cambridge, MN 55008.


Wednesday, December 05, 2012


Darker Than Any Shadow
By Tina Whittle
ISBN: 9781590585467
2011 release from Poisoned
Pen Press. HC, 291 pages

The second entry in the author’s intriguing series featuring a gun shop owner and a corporate security officer is a winner. Heavily populated with interesting characters, the turbulent love affair between the protagonists informs and leavens what could otherwise have been a run-of-the-mill mystery. Indeed, the identity of the killer, while important to the story, was, to this reader, not as compelling as the characters, and the milieu.
The setting is Atlanta, Georgia, during the run-up to a major poetry slam competition. Some of the characters have known each other from childhood and others seem to have uncertain, even mysterious backgrounds. It’s hot in Atlanta, and gun shop owner Tai Randolph is mentoring her long-time friend, rising poet, Rico. There are teams of competing poets as well as individual efforts and a surplus of egos swirling around as participants prepare. Then murder intrudes.

The relationship developing between our principal “investigator,” amateur tho she is, Tai Randolph and her lover, Trey Seaver, is much more than casually interesting to observe. Seaver is a former cop with a high level of crisis and SWAT training, excellent skills and more than a little rigidity as regards the rules of life and the law. The almost constant battles between the lovers as they try to accommodate each other is a fascinating piece of this very entertaining novel. I recommend the novel without reservation.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

CHOKER is the title

This is a dandy thriller. Author Ramsey spends a fair number of words thanking experts and vetting some of the essential elements of a decent terrorist plot.  He sets things up in an animated and tense fashion, bringing forth several key elements that are necessary to anchor the threads of the main plot.  Then he throws in some trouble back home in the Shenandoah Valley with parallel warnings.
This is the fifth in Ramsey’s thoughtful series featuring ex-CIA agent Ike Schwartz.  He’s continuing his tenure as sheriff of Picketsville, Virginia, but in this novel he’s on vacation, a vacation interrupted by his CIA buddy, Charlie Garland, who needs a personal favor.  With great reluctance and some good-natured raillery, Ike agrees to try to locate a missing pilot, betrothed to Charlie’s niece.  The pilot disappeared over a piece of Chesapeake Bay where most of the action takes place.
The author has developed a fine set of characters in the folks of Picketsville.  They are varied in their personas and have a wide range of characteristics on which to hang many stories.  This one, however, deals primarily with the very modern and global proposition of international terrorism.
An important subplot on the subject of Satanism is a worthy counterbalance.  I do wish the author had vetted more carefully some of the early ship handling scenes and had been a bit more restrained in his condemnation of flawed parents and flawed government however accurate his opinions as expressed by some characters may be. Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable novel.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Open Source  
By M .M. Frick
ISBN: 978-1-453-71985
A 2012 release from the author
334 pages

Here is a fascinating premise, in this newly shaped world of aggressive social media and instant information exchanges. Suppose, for an instant, you are a special operative for a foreign power—any foreign power. You have been assigned to monitor blogs from various sources in order to determine certain attitudes of leaders regarding the drilling of a new oil field in, oh, Canada. Your employer wants an early warning about possible strikes that could lead to a change in oil prices on the world market. He also wants you to track the Internet conversation about this subject. You have a search bot which travels the world of the Internet matching words, phrases, and collecting data.
Now let’s assume you are a bright and inquisitive citizen with an ordinary job. You live in Georgia and one of your hobbies is searching the Internet for odd events of interest to you. When you find such an event, you blog about it. Perhaps your interest is oil fields. You read open sources on the Internet, construct a possible scenario, just for fun and it triggers the operative’s search bot. That triggers ripples through shadowy organizations and suddenly evil people are questioning how you know certain things and where you get your information. You of course, are merely a bright person raising questions based on  readily available information.
But your connections and your questions on your blog begin to look dangerous to people who are suspicious of everybody. YOU begin to look dangerous. Soon an operative is dispatched to deal with you., an operative who knows how to kill.
My scenario, like that of author Frick, is fiction. But this world-spanning thriller is as real as it gets and might cause you, my gentle reader, to think twice about what and where you post.
Open Source is a clean, well—constructed thriller with only one serious deficiency, one which detracts very little from a gripping, fast-moving story. One of the characters seems to me to have some personality defects which are troubling enough that she would probably not have been hired into the important position she has with a private data-mining company.  However, she is in most other aspects a competent, bright and charming woman who otherwise fits nicely into the scenario constructed by Frick in his debut novel. A very interesting and challenging story, and one which should provoke thoughtful consideration by all of us who regularly use social media.

Monday, October 22, 2012

HEIR TODAY                                  
By J.J. & Bette Golden Lamb
Five Star Mystery, August, 2005
279 pgs.,
ISBN: 1-59414-356-0

Paige Alper, free-lance writer and her husband, Max, receive a letter from a tracer firm in New York.  For a hefty fee, the letter says, the heir tracers will locate a dead relative’s assets and hand over some money.  The dead relative is, of course, a black sheep, the most fascinating member of her family and a world-wandering sailor whom she doesn’t see much of.  Nor does her sister who turns out to be a ten-carat bitch and even more interesting, even though she has only a minor role in the story.

Paige’s sister Sheryl, is a grasping, quick-buck hausfrau who wants to immediately sign away her rights and get whatever small amount of cash is available.  Paige, more astute, more suspicious and less in need of quick cash, declines to sign.  She and her husband, crusading free-lance journalist Max, set out to find Uncle Jock’s money.  Family conflict and some fine spats between sisters is one result.

What Max and Paige don’t realize is that an evil Chinese organization with world-wide interests and tentacles has also been stalking Uncle Jock.  That’s because Jock, incautious sailor that he was, had for years been collecting damaging evidence against the Hong Kong based crime syndicate.  Jock was on a personal vendetta. 

If this all sounds a little like that old comic strip “Terry and the Pirates,” it’s not surprising.  Nevertheless, Paige and Max are fun characters to follow, and even if their dialogue is sometimes right out of the forties, it’s clear they have a solid relationship and are very supportive of each other.  Couple conflict is not really in their makeup.

That’s a good thing because their search takes them from the Far East up and down the California Coast, and to New York, among other places.  They are attacked in any number of ingenious ways and it’s a wonder they make it through even a single day with the power of the huge, malevolent, Asian gang arrayed against them.  They do survive to fight another day and it really is a lot of fun following this breathless pair on foot, on motorbike and by car, train and plane to a final solution.  The book sports an intriguing cover and an awkward title. I confess to not generally liking punning titles, which detracts not at all from this charming novel.