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Monday, April 25, 2016

Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope

Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope (St. Martin’s Press, June 28, 2016) is told in first person present tense, something incredibly difficult for any author to do well. Kope manages to pull it off because Kope’s style — riddled with understated humor like Joe R. Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard novels — humanizes characters with snappy dialogue.

Magnus “Steps” Craig, a “Tracker” for the FBI, is the viewpoint character. Unlike other search and rescue (SAR) trackers, Steps acquires the unique ability, after he nearly dies (or does die) in the woods at age eight, to see “shine.” Whether shine, manifested in various colors, is the residue of life-force aura left behind at a crime scene or a connection with the supernatural is left to the reader to decide. Steps has to fake doing a step by step search for clues to appear legitimate. Only Steps, his FBI partner Jimmy Donovan, and the FBI director know the truth. Should Steps tell Heather, his girlfriend and a crime reporter, his secret? Can he trust a reporter not to reveal the secret to the world?

Steps identifies the presence of a serial killer who abducts young women in Oregon and Washington State by his magenta and rust shine and by the sad face icon the killer draws near each victim. Mr. Sad Face, aka Mr. Magenta and Rust, leaves behind his invisible-to-all-but-Steps shine on everything he touches, including vehicles and houses and people. When Steps, Jimmy, and local Sheriff Walt Gant get too close, the killer’s shine appears at their homes and on their cars. Now the hunters have become the hunted.

Rich in characterization and dialogue, Collecting the Dead moves along at a break-neck pace. Steps’ self-deprecating wise-cracking helps offset the tension as deadlines for saving victims approach. Step’s gift is also a curse. Each time Jimmy and Steps uncover another corpse, Steps has to remind himself that “We save the ones we can.” Nevertheless, the sad faces of the dead haunt Steps’ life as much as his dreams.

I recommend Collecting the Dead to anyone who enjoys devouring a first-person fast-paced thriller with snappy dialogue and a slice of gallows humor thrown in for good measure.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Wonderfully Well-Written First Novel

The Raven’s Daughter by Peggy A. Wheeler (Dragon Moon Press, February 2016) is a wonderfully well-written first novel. Maggie Tall Bear Sloan, half-Irish and half-Native American, is a retired big-city detective and profiler who has made her share of bad mistakes. She’s always too close to the action to see the forest for the trees. Plus, Maggie’s taste in men is atrocious. How could anyone as smart as Maggie act so dumb?

Maggie has spent most of her life favoring her father’s Gaelic ancestry over her mother’s American Indian. Maggie listens to Irish music, drinks in an Irish pub, studies Gaelic, and hangs around with white folk. She rarely sees her twin brother, Danny Tall Bear Sloan, who celebrates his Native-American heritage. If not for Flower and Bird, her twin grand-nieces, Maggie would have nothing to do with that side of the family.

When twin children are abducted, murdered, their hearts cut out, and ritually buried near Maggie’s A-frame home in rural Wicklow, California, Wild River County Sheriff Jake Lubbock asks Maggie to come out of retirement to help catch the serial killer. At first, Maggie refuses. But Jake is persistent. When Maggie thinks her nieces will become the killer’s next target, she agrees to help solve the case.

Although The Raven’s Daughter isn’t perfect (it is, after all, a first novel), it is a page-turner that’s hard to put down. The twist at the end is something I didn’t see coming because of all the red-herrings. Maggie’s character is multi-layered and full of angst. But there are a handful of typos that an editor or the author should correct, and a few loose ends that could have been avoided. I hope the author will write a sequel that will explain the supernatural elements in more detail.

I loved reading The Raven’s Daughter. I think you will love it, too.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Finding Fraser by kc dyer

Finding Frazer by kc dyer (Berkley Books, May, 2016) is a fast, fun read. Imagine a young divorcee selling everything and giving up a good-paying job (well, she was fired and the job didn’t pay all that great anyway) to travel to Europe where she hopes to find her dream lover. Every woman has their ideal man, and Emma’s dream man is a fictional character—Jamie Fraser—from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels.
Emma Sheridan’s sister, Sofia, is a doer, not a day-dreamer like Emma. Sophia and Emma are as different as night and day. Sofia has to put Emma down every chance she gets, and it is their sibling rivalry that spurs Emma on despite financial and emotional setbacks.

Working writers who do the convention circuit will certainly identify with the hilarious scene at the Philadelphia romance writers convention where fen (plural of fan) wait in line for an author’s autographs. We’ve all been there as fans or as pros, depending on which side of the table we’re on at any one time. Emma is, after all, a writer of sorts (she writes a blog about her search for Jamie Fraser), and she even has printed business cards to prove it.

The debacle in the hotel bar is funny as hell. But she does meet Jack, a real writer from Scotland, there and shares a taxi ride with him.

After Emma manages to survive, though she has doubts on the way, the plane ride to Scotland, she meets Susan who robs her of all her cash, her backpack, her laptop, and her debit cards. She tours castles and cairns, runs into Jack Findlay again, and works briefly as a fish monger and a door-to-door subscription agent before becoming a waitress and renting living space in a converted barn.

And then she meets Hamish Lewis. He’s everything she had looked for in a man: handsome, rugged, an automobile and truck mechanic, and a Scot’s Highlander. His kisses arouse her passion. Emma is certain he’s the one, her very own Jamie, and she falls head over heels in lust with Hamish and his six-pack abs.

Spoiler alert: We know from the moment Emma meets Jack that he’s the perfect man for her. But Emma, of course, does not know that, can’t see the forest for the trees, and mistakenly believes Jack is married or in a relationship. She has to go through a series of misadventures before she’s matured (grown, wised up) enough to recognize Jack as handsome, intelligent, caring, a reader and researcher like Emma, and someone who’s actually been madly in love with Emma since the moment he saw her.

Emma does find Fraser, but Fraser is neither who nor what Emma thought he would be.

Very highly recommended because of the superb character development, the twist and turns along the way, and the vicarious tour of the Scottish Highlands that’s almost as good as actually being there.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Some of my best friends are fictional characters

Sledgehammer is Book 8 in my Instruments of Death series of suspense thrillers from the Gordian Knot imprint of Crossroad Press. I like Sledgehammer a lot, and I think you’ll like Sledgehammer, too. You don’t have to read the other 7 novels first. You can start anywhere in the series and have a good read.
But once you read Sledgehammer I hope you’re hooked. Even as the author, I found myself wanting to go back to earlier novels because the characters have developed such interesting interrelationships.

Jackhammer is the next novel in this series. By the time one novel sees print, I’ve already finished the first drafts of several more novels. What I love about reading and writing is that you get to meet such interesting fictional people and travel to other locales and even other worlds and other dimensions. But West Riverdale is one of my favorite places, and Troy, Andy, Connie, Linda, Sally, Rat, and George have become some of my best friends.