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Friday, December 15, 2017

Perfect Spy Novel




Need to Know by Karen Cleveland (Ballantine Books, January 2018) is the perfect spy novel, told from the POV of Vivian Miller, an American CIA counter-intelligence analyst, who has just discovered her husband, the father of her four children, is an embedded Russian spy.

Has Matt been manipulating her since they met? Is their ten-year marriage a lie? When she confronts him, he admits being a spy but claims he truly loves her and the kids, has never passed anything she’s told him on to the Russians, and he urges her to turn him in.

Viv knows she should turn Matt in, send him to prison for life. But she also knows she needs him to help her take care of their children, needs his income to pay the bills; worries she’ll lose her security clearance if her boss learns she was married to a spy; and doesn’t want to live without the man she loves by her side.

The conflict is real, the tension palpable. The stakes continue to grow as Viv makes one bad decision, then another. She becomes a traitor to her country, deleting Matt’s picture from the computers at the CIA, and plays into Russian hands. They own her. If she doesn’t do what they ask, they will reveal what she has done and she’ll go to prison along with Matt.

When she refuses to insert a flash drive that will give Russia access to CIA computers, Russian spymaster Yury threatens Vivian’s children. Viv feels trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea, damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.

Is there no way out of the hole she’s dug herself into?

Vivian and Matt are complex characters readers can identify with, juggling personal lives with professional responsibilities. Which is more important: allegiance to spouse and children or allegiance to one’s country? Which vows take precedence: the marriage vows or the vows to protect classified information?

Impossible to put down, Need to Know is masterfully written. I recommend it highly.




Need to Know by Karen Cleveland (Ballantine Books, January 2018) is the perfect spy novel, told from the POV of Vivian Miller, an American CIA counter-intelligence analyst, who has just discovered her husband, the father of her four children, is an embedded Russian spy.
Has Matt been manipulating her since they met? Is their ten-year marriage a lie? When she confronts him, he admits being a spy but claims he truly loves her and the kids, has never passed anything she’s told him on to the Russians, and he urges her to turn him in.
Viv knows she should turn Matt in, send him to prison for life. But she also knows she needs him to help her take care of their children, needs his income to pay the bills; worries she’ll lose her security clearance if her boss learns she was married to a spy; and doesn’t want to live without the man she loves by her side.
The conflict is real, the tension palpable. The stakes continue to grow as Viv makes one bad decision, then another. She becomes a traitor to her country, deleting Matt’s picture from the computers at the CIA, and plays into Russian hands. They own her. If she doesn’t do what they ask, they will reveal what she has done and she’ll go to prison along with Matt.
When she refuses to insert a flash drive that will give Russia access to CIA computers, Russian spymaster Yury threatens Vivian’s children. Viv feels trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea, damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.
Is there no way out of the hole she’s dug herself into?
Vivian and Matt are complex characters readers can identify with, juggling personal lives with professional responsibilities. Which is more important: allegiance to spouse and children or allegiance to one’s country? Which vows take precedence: the marriage vows or the vows to protect classified information?
Impossible to put down, Need to Know is masterfully written. I recommend it highly.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Fascinating First Novel



Abigail Ellery Hathaway is a survivor. She’s also a Woodbury, Massachusetts, police officer with secrets. In The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen (Minotaur/St Martin’s Press, December 2017), everyone has secrets. But not everyone is a survivor.

This is the story that won the MWA First Novel competition, and it’s easy to see why. It doesn’t read like a first novel. The characters are fully developed, the plot twists are foreshadowed but practically invisible, and the only speed bump in this mile-a-minute thrill ride is a lovable dog named Speed Bump.

Reed Markham is the disgraced FBI profiler who once rescued 14-year-old Abigail from certain death at the hands of a serial killer. Although Markham literally wrote the book on child abduction by serial murderers, one of his secrets is his wife really helped him write that book. Now she’s divorcing him, he’s fighting a possible addiction to alcohol, the FBI suspended him for making a mistake that cost a girl her life, and he’s not the hero everyone thinks he is.

When Abby grew up, she moved from Chicago to Boston, changed her name to Ellery (a tip of the hat to Ellery Queen?), became a cop, and moved to Woodbury where she thinks no one knows her past. Although Abby/Ellie hides her scars from prying eyes, she’s sure someone stalks her who has somehow discovered her identity.

Every year for the past three, a Woodbury resident disappears on Abby’s birthday. Every year, for the past three, Ellie receives a mysterious birthday card. Is it a coincidence?

With her birthday nigh and  Ellie still can’t convince Chief Sam Parker or Detective Jimmy Tipton there’s a serial killer loose in Woodbury, she goes over their heads and asks Reed Markham for help.

Everyone becomes suspect as  body parts and secrets are revealed. Was Abby so traumatized as a child that she’s now a killer herself? Is philandering Chief Parker so infatuated with Ellie that he’s stalking her? Is bumbling detective Tipton covering up his own crimes? Inquiring minds want to know.

Well-written and riveting, The Vanishing Season is a fascinating first novel by a writer to watch.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Best Frame Story I've Read


The New Neighbors by Simon Lelic (Berkley, April 2018) isn’t a ghost story. It is a lot like a ghost story, though, because main characters are haunted by skeletons in their own closets.

And it’s like a haunted house tale, because there are strange things in their new house that go bump in the night. There’s also a dead cat in the attic, for example, and a child’s treasure box. There are stuffed owls and strange pictures on the walls allegedly left behind by the previous owner.

It’s really a story about relationships. That fact is brought home right from the beginning by framing alternating chapters with Jack’s confessional letters to Syd, and then Syd’s written reply to Jack, using he said/she said as a device  for story reveals. It’s the best frame story I’ve read in a long time. You know what I mean by frame story, don’t you? Of course, you do.

Jack and Syd are only a little suspicious when they acquire their new house for a song, because they’re unwilling to look a gift horse (or gift house) in the mouth. Why should they?

And when all that could possibly go wrong suddenly does, Jack and Syd naturally blame each other and not the house. Jack also blames Bart, his best friend and co-worker. And his nearest neighbor, Elsie’s father.

Syd, of course, blames Jack.

Elsie is the teen girl next door Syd befriends because, like Syd, her father physically and mentally abuses her. Elsie reminds Syd of Jessica, her younger sister, who committed suicide when Syd left home in her teens.

The New Neighbors is also a murder mystery, a whodunit, as well as a nearly-perfect frame story. Brits love a good mystery, don’t they? Almost as much as they enjoy a good ghost story or haunted house tale.

Both Jack and Syd have been insecure since childhood, and that leads them to withhold information and tell lies. And makes it easy for them to wind up in a hellish situation. Relationships are always complicated anyway, aren’t they? But being deprived of parental love while growing up only makes matters worse.

The New Neighbors is a bloody good read. Very highly recommended.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

What's in a Name?





“Paul Dale Anders…son,” the women sang. They broke my name up into two stanzas of two syllables each, placing the emphasis on the second syllable.

“Paul Dale,” they sang. “Anders Son. Paul Dale. Anders son. Paul Dale. Anders son.”


It became a magical chant. So rhythmic. So hypnotic. So simple.
Louisa and Virginia were my two partners in crime on the Faking it in Fandom panel at Windycon, the Chicago-area science fiction and fantasy convention November 10-12 in Lombard, Illinois.

It turns out they were also heads of the programming committee who made panel assignments. When they came across my name, they didn’t know what to do with it.

It was much too long to fit on name placards.

So they shortened it to Paul Anderson.

And it became simply P. Anderson in places on the printed program.

Anyway, they sang my name. They claimed my name was musical, and they really made it sound like music.

Paul Dale. Anders Son. Paul Dale. Anders Son.

One of the reasons I used to use pen names was the unwieldy length of my full name. I needed to include Dale to differentiate myself from authors like Poul Anderson and Paul Michael Anderson. That made my name too long to fit easily on book covers or spines and on convention badges and placards.

And one of the reasons I’m not better known in the sf community is because my name often gets truncated on programs, name badges and placards.

“You’re who?” people ask.

“Paul Dale Anderson.”

“Never heard of you.”

“Try singing it. Break it down into syllables so you’ll remember.”

Paul Dale. Anders Son.

My father was Paul Anders Anderson, and I really am Paul Anders’ son.

I lived the first twelve years of my life as Dale Anderson. My parents, relatives, and friends all called me Dale to differentiate me from my dad. Some of my friends still call me Dale.

Because editors found it difficult to include my full name on book and magazine covers, you can find some of my novels with only Paul Anderson on the spine. I used Dale Anders as a pen name for a while. It proved useful for contemporary romances and erotica. My first story in The Horror Show bore the Dale Anderson by-line.

But I prefer to use my full birth name for fantasy and horror.

Maybe Paul Dale Anderson doesn’t sound as scary as Stephen King or Dean Koontz. Try punctuating it. Paul Dale. Anders Son.

Yeah. That’s scary.

Monday, October 9, 2017

More Screams for Halloween









Dark Screams Volume Eight (Hydra, October 31, 2017), edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar comes out just in time for Halloween. Cemetery Dance’s editors include five original tales and one reprint from CD in 2015. “Walpuski’s Typewriter” by Frank Darabont is the reprint.





“The Boy” by Bentley Little stinks. Not the story. The boy stinks. Christine, new to the suburb where the boy lives, smells him walk past each day on his way to school. How can anyone smell so bad?





“Tumor” by Benjamin Percy is filled with rich imagery.





“Twisted and Gnarled” by Billie Sue Mosiman is superbly written, a tale of psychological suspense with supernatural elements.





“The Palaver” by Kealan Patrick Burke is a bit too hairy for my tastes. “India Blue” by Glen Hirschberg is about the start and end of Professional Cricket in America.





My favorite story is “The Boy”. It really got me thinking.




Friday, October 6, 2017









Halloween Carnival Volume Four (Hydra, October, 2017) edited by Brian James Freeman includes four new stories and one reprint. Kealan Patrick Burke’s “The Mannequin Challenge” is a nasty little tale that’ll stab you in the eyeballs. “Across the Tracks” by Ray Garton is truly frightening, and it’s so well-written it deserves a Stoker nomination. Three middle-school boys are bullied by Ed Mortimer and his minions on Halloween, and you expect something really bad will happen. But what does happen, is beyond your expectations. “The Halloween Tree” by Bev Vincent has some intense moments each time the boys pass the tree and the Corrigan house. “Pumpkin Eater” by C. A. Suleiman is about pies and pumpkins and a marriage made in hell. “When the Leaves Fall” by Paul Melniczek is the longest story in the book, and one of the best. More than just a tale of a boy and his dog, it’s downright creepy. Halloween Carnival Volume Four is definitely worth a read.