Greg Randall and I were were going to be on a panel together when the 2020 Left Coast Crime convention was shut down for COVID. To prepare, I read the first of Randall’s Alex Polonia Thrillers, Venice Black and loved it. Imagine how excited I was to bump into him this year in Albuquerque and be gifted a copy of Toulouse For Death, #3 of the Sharon O’Mara series. This is what I love about LCC—you meet someone one year and in another year they’re giving you books they think you’ll like, based on a conversation the year before. Greg and I must have talked about art, travel, and strong female protagonists, because Toulouse For Death has all that. Although the book was first published in 2011, the plot is a twist on a classic theme: good vs. evil and is as relevant in 2022 as it has been since biblical times.
A Toulouse Lautrec painting stolen by the Nazis. A dying man’s wish. Old evils return to the twenty-first century.
Facilitator Sharon O’Mara is hired by a client who wishes to remain anonymous. She is to facilitate the return of five stolen impressionist paintings, one of them by Toulouse-Lautrec, to the rightful owners. The family doesn’t know the paintings exist—they had been originally stolen by the Nazis in 1938. Of course, a find like this makes the news and, in South America, a Nazi survivor sees the report and starts making plans. This could be the link to the lost Nazi treasure—the greatest treasure trove from World War II lost since the allies took Germany. And the treasure is the key to fulfilling a dream of resurrecting the Reich by a clandestine group of New Nazis.
Sharon makes contact with the family per instructions, but before she can deliver the paintings, they are robbed at gunpoint from the delivery van by 4 leather-clad motorcyclists in the hotel garage. Sharon puts two and two together, realizing there is more to her client’s secret treasure than a few paintings. Sharon and helper Kevin Bryan, fly to Paris to meet with the client’s associate for answers, but again, they are attacked. The chase is on: from Paris to the fertile vineyards of the Napa Valley. Something is going down, and Sharon and her team are going to stop it. “After seventy years an American GI and a Nazi SS soldier are again pitted against each other.”
Sharon O’Mara is an ex-military police officer, Iraq vet and now an insurance investigator and “facilitator” for hire. She’s tough, smart, and can be counted on to get the job done. A fiery red-head, she’s bold, brassy—a risk taker, as well as confident, honest and valorous. She’s who you’d want leading your team—because she’s not afraid to act. And if you are an action fan, Toulouse For Death is action packed, fast paced and plenty suspense filled to send your heart racing. This book has been compared to Monuments Men. It’s an oblique comparison, but the book’s premise doesn’t feel so far-fetched after all the shenanigans in U.S. politics in the last few years. One reviewer says of the missing treasure, “Makes one want to grab a metal detector and fly off to Germany.” It makes me say, “the world isn’t safe from megalomaniacs who want to take over.” In this novel, good triumphs. I’m looking forward to more of Sharon O’Mara. She’ll vanquish the baddies and leave me feeling like the world has been made a little safer. At least until the evening news.
Michigan born and Chicago raised, Randall has made the San Francisco Bay Area his home with his wife for the last 45 years. The Randalls operate an independent publishing company, Windsor Hill Publishing. He is a cover designer and artist as well as an author. His books often look at how the past impacts the present, and he’s authored over 20 books. His young adult novel, Elk River, won awards from the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) and Northern California Book Publishers Association (BAIPA).
A blackmailed Court of Appeals judge from the 9th Circuit, a French art exchange student with something to sell, and Mari E, investigator with an agenda of her own, sets another Towles jigsaw puzzle of characters, clues, motivations, and surprises in motion.
Mari E is Marissa Ellwyn, wealthy owner of the prestigious Marissa Ellwyn Gallery, but when a former detective, her soon-to-be partner knocks, it’s on the door of her work-trailer in a seedy section of L.A.’s Fashion District. They’ve both got things to hide, but she needs back up and he has the skills. Mari is being followed by a dark grey van and has received threatening messages—obviously someone objects to her investigation, but for Mari, “The fate of my family and my heart depended on it.”
Abernathy is investigating a college student who has died suspiciously along with the disappearances and deaths of two reporters following the case and the trail that leads to the judge. The cases are linked and as they investigate, threats come from all sides, even from Mari’s former handlers at the CIA.
Hot House moves at break-neck speed from its seemingly straightforward investigation into a shadowy mystery. Although the story is infused with humor and delightful touches like Trevor, Mari’s “Human Resources Director,” a German mastiff, the motivations of characters make for a dark and layered plot. Mari and Derek are professional and determined, mostly sticking to legal investigating techniques. Both have secret histories with the LAPD Chief of Detectives, and both think the PD did a poor job of the initial search, but it’s not until the dead coed’s secrets come to light that some of the puzzle pieces form a picture. And it isn’t pretty.
I found Hot House thought provoking and suspenseful. I shouted “Ah Ha!” at the end of Chapter Fifteen when a clue fell into place for me, and I realized how much fun I was having trying to solve the case. Besides the charming banter between Mari and Derek, the book challenged me. I jotted thoughts and reactions while reading: oh, crap, this goes deep, uh-oh, hmmm-so why surveillance? What? What? And finally the shocking end—I just plain: didn’t see it coming!
Hot House is a hot book to read with a cool drink in the hammock on a hot summer’s day.
Mari E and Derek Abernathy (and Trevor) make a great investigative team in this first of the E & A Investigations Series. The next book can’t get into my hands fast enough! Hot House may have surpassed The Unseen as my favorite Towles novel. All I can say is, the books just keep getting better and better! (Don’t miss The Ridderscoming this fall.)
An Interview with Lisa Towles
am: Where did the inspiration for Hot House come from?
LT: My husband gave me a character name he thought of one day (he does that sometimes) – Derek Abernathy. I told him to write the name down and put it on the top shelf of an open file on my desk (so I’d see it every day). 18 months later (LOL!) I started writing Hot House. Why that amount of time, how did my husband know that Derek Abernathy was going to be an important part of my future? That’s part of the mystery and magic of fiction writing…and marriage 🙂
am: Like many of your protagonists, Mari Ellwyn is complicated and has something to prove and something to heal. What draws you to this type of character?
LT: I love this intriguing assessment – prove and heal. You’re right! And when you say it in those terms, I think every good protagonist has these elements. Like real people, fictional characters can have an external face that they show the world (how they want to be seen) and a more personal side of how they authentically feel. For Mari, I think she’s trying to prove that she’s healed from her shot-in-the-line-of-duty trauma and she’s ready for prime time with a new partner. But what I think she’s still working on, in this book, is being able to trust other people, which will be an issue for her as she starts this new relationship with Derek.
am: What defines Hot House as a Psychological thriller?
LT: Hot House could be thought of as a psychological thriller because the story has a psychological component in it as it relates to central victim of the story: Sophie Michaud. The narrative and backstory of Sophie’s mental illness played an integral role in why she was targeted by her killer and ultimately why she died.
am: I find your work to be like jigsaw puzzles. Bits of information need to be identified then tried in different directions to find where they fit. Eventually it all comes together.
LT: I’ve always loved puzzles, and for people who love puzzles, they typically don’t mind the not-knowing and temporary state of confusion when it comes to crime investigation. We look for obvious clues that are visible on the surface. And whether those pan out or not, there are always underlying layers of truth that have been established to conceal a crime and its perpetrators.
am: Do you think your background in IT has you wired to think in non-linear ways?
LT: Such an interesting question. Software engineering, I suppose, is a good metaphor for crime investigation. You write code to develop a new application (writing parallel: a theory), but there’s a significant amount of testing and verification in many different contexts and scenarios to ensure that it actually works (proving the theory, evidence, etc). And on the less linear side, there’s an important component of “debugging”, which is a problem-solving investigation to fix any defects and things that don’t work correctly. And I think this is where the creativity and thinking-out-of-box comes in. Why doesn’t something work as expected? What are the variables that could be playing a role? When it comes to real and fictional criminal investigations, details arise that might not readily fit into a framework you’ve created for a suspect. But often investigators feel or sense a connection that might not be visible by others (a hunch). THIS is the nonlinear part. Not sure if working in IT or just reading mysteries since I was a little girl made be interested in this. I just know the investigations are fascinating and great fun.
am: What draws you to the thriller genre? Do you write in more than one subgenre of thriller?
LT: I think the pace, stakes, and vibe of thrillers draws me in as a reader, and that’s what I’m pulled to write as well. My second book, Blackwater Tango, was also a psychological thriller, about a psychologist/profiler investigating a serial killer. I’ve heard from my readers (body in a lobster trap) that this was my creepiest book of all – LOL! The Ghost of Mary Prairie (2007) was very different – what I called a heartland suspense, about a 15 year old boy in rural Oklahoma investigating a ghost he encounters, which leads back to his family’s tangled past. BooksRadar is a great site that shows all of my books, with descriptions, in the order they were published: https://www.booksradar.com/towles-lisa/towles.html
am: You have a full time IT job, how do you manage to publish two books a year?
LT: Honestly it’s a constant struggle. Luckily I’m a night owl and I do most of my writing after 9pm and on weekends when I’m more relaxed and have time to think and reflect about my work in progress. I’ve learned that the Pomodoro Method (writing in 25 minute blasts) works well for me. But it’s a hard negotiation to consistently juggle my day job, writing new work, editing my work, and marketing/promotion.
am: What kind of publishing team do you use?
LT: I’ve had a wonderful experience working with Indies United Publishing House for my last two books and I’m really excited to keep going. And I’m so grateful to have an Editor who I completely trust, some smart beta readers (like you, Ana!), loving friends and family who support me, and a growing community of engaged readers who kindly provide feedback to let me know what I’m doing right, what needs refining, and what’s most important to them. After all, nothing is more important than our readers! 🙂
am: What was your first book?
LT: My first book (published under Lisa Polisar) was published in 2003, a suspense novel called Knee Deep about a body discovered in a mineral mine in rural New Mexico (where I lived for many years).
am: What’s coming next?
LT: My next publication is one of my favorite books, a political thriller called The Ridders, due for release on November 30, 2022.
am: When will the next E &A Investigations book come out?
LT: Book 2 in the E&A series, called Salt Island, will be released by Indies United on June 14, 2023
Don’t miss Hot House—
FIRST PRIZE WINNER of the 2022 Book Fest Awards
WINNER of the Literary Titan GOLD Award for Fiction
It’s no mistake I happened upon Bharat Krishnan’s Privilege, Book 1 of the WP Trilogy, during this time of social and political change (do I dare say upheval?) in our country and around the world. Power and politics go hand-in-hand, imbuing every aspect of society from the nabobs to the powerless masses. Privilege, an #ownvoices political thriller, takes a hard look at privilege and power in the U.S.— who holds it, how one can achieve it, and who is barred from it. Krishnan claims politics seep into every aspect of society and believes we can’t understand each other without a firm, constant knowledge of how politics affect us.
The story is told by several characters, foremost, Rakshan Baliga, an Indian-American working for a profitable hedge fund in New York City. His boss, Aditya Shetty, has risen into the ranks of the rich and powerful, including acquiring the sought after WP, a drug with magical-like properties, causing consumers to be stronger, smarter, and more prosperous than mere mortals.
WP by law is forbidden to non-whites. But Rakshan wants his share. He also wants to marry Sadiya and have a family. Rakshan has an engagement ring made containing WP and proposes. Once on her finger, she realizes he is not what she wants and breaks up with him. He is determined to win her back and comes up with a plan to steal Aditya’s WP and take over the hedge fund with the help of his best friends. With the WP he can spin a tale the world will believe and avoid arrest. His dreams will come true. That is, if he isn’t killed in the process.
Meanwhile, Sadiya has fallen for her best friend from childhood, Maadhini, and they travel back to India to tell her parents they are going to get married. Although Sadiya drags her feet on the revelation, the tension eases as the story’s themes shift to family and values.
Even though he’s got his WP, things have not gone well for Rakshan, who alienates his friends in his drugged quest. He becomes involved with a congressional hearing to consider legalization of WP for all Americans and aligns with the mother of a boy murdered by the police to give testimony. The current president opposes legalization. The country is in the balance—and the story tension and pacing ratchet up. This story might have been ripped from today’s headlines.
The peek behind closed congressional doors was realistic and chilling. Privilege makes me wonder how any real change can be made and equity for all citizens be achieved with the madness of “privilege” addling our brains. I don’t come from an immigrant experience and have had many advantages in my life. Seeing our country through the “other’s” eyes has given me new understanding and fresh resolve to help with the solution. It’s time to unify our society under an inclusive and equitable system where we all can live healthy, productive and secure lives. How many more massacres at schools can we live with? Privilege is telling us to choose.
An interview with Bharat Krishnan
am: What presidential campaigns did you work on and when?
BK: I started my career with the Obama campaign way back in June 2007. Over the next decade, I traveled the country not just on his campaign but also managing local campaigns across the country, from school board and city council to state legislature. I’ve worked in just about every geographic region of the country, from Los Angeles to Louisiana to Virginia to New Hampshire.
am: What kind of educational background prepares you for this work?
BK: I have my BA in political science, with a certificate in political campaign management which is something my alma matter, American University, specialized in. I later got my MBA at Louisiana State University. Going there and working in places like Wichita, Kansas, I found how much state schools like LSU and Wichita State relied on foreign students who also worked at the schools as grad assistants.
am: How has your education and experience influenced this trilogy?
BK: My knowledge of politics seeped into every aspect of the trilogy, from how presidential campaigns really work on a practical level (i.e., what staffers do) to some legal stuff (i.e., book three has a super PAC in it).
am: Did you have a foursome of friends from school and childhood like Rakshan?
BK: Rakshan and his buddies are based on me and my three childhood friends. I put aspects of me and my life into each one of the five characters: Rakshan, Abhinav, Krish, Ash, and Ravi.
am: When did your family come to the US? How are the characters’ experiences like yours or your family’s?
BK: I really wanted to highlight the first-generation Indian-American experience, and also call out the differences and similarities. Most of Rakshan’s friends grew up here, but you still have Krish who came to the US only later in life. There’s no homogenous experience and I wanted to show that. For myself, my family came to the U.S. when I was about two years old.
am: What are your views on immigration?
BK: We need to do more to encourage immigration. Especially since Trump’s election, people are now afraid to come here and it’s a damn shame we’ve nurtured that type of environment. There’s a long history of immigrants coming here for their education and staying, and to the extent we can encourage that with a more relaxed visa policy, the better.
am: Will we find out what happens to Rakshan, Sandiya and Maadhini?
BK: All three of these characters get an ending that makes sense for them! Everything will be clear by the end of the trilogy.
am: What do you hope readers will take away from Privilege?
BK: I use a story telling device I created myself called STOP. It stands for Story, Theme, Origin, and Plot. I try to sum up all my novels’ stories in one or two sentences, and for the trilogy I’d say it’s this: Power and Happiness are two separate things, and you have to choose which one you want.
am: Where are we going in the next two books? Will there be any happiness?
BK: Book one was just about New York, but in Book two we go to D.C. and India, and in Book three you’ll go to Belize and Guatemala as well! And yes! There is happiness, but it takes big, bold choices and it doesn’t always look the way we expect.
am: What else would you like to say to readers?
BK: I try to make the through-line in my novels radical emotional honesty, with politics always sprinkled in, because everything is political in my opinion. I’m very proud of Privilege for winning “Best Adult Fiction” in Ohio last year, and I hope you have a chance to check it out and my other stuff at www.bharatkrishnan.com.
Bharat calls himself a professional storyteller and amateur cook. After 10 years of working in politics, he’s tried to explain how the country went from Barack Obama to Donald Trump by writing Confessions of a Campaign Manager. Then he wrote Oasis, a desert-fantasy novel that examined what makes a family and how refugees should be treated. Now the WP Trilogy. Looks like he’s on a roll with themes of immigration, equity and power! If you enjoyed reading House of Cards, you’ll enjoy Privilege.
“Krishnan has created a genre-bending ride that reimagines how we tell stories about class in America. A must read. “
AS MANY OF MY READERS KNOW, I never miss DV Berkom’s Leine Basso adventures. Leine, a former dark ops CIA assassin has become a kick-ass champion of trafficked people over her series, but this book is a departure from her work with the NGO. Leine is asked to train a group of ex-military for a joint CIA op to recover a deadly substance. Created by a Russian lab, the vials of virus are now in the hands of a jihadist. As the chase across Africa ensues, it’s clear that there are more players than the terrorist Samir and Leine’s team. A Plague of Traitors is a heart-pounding, horrifying, page turner—especially after what we know about pandemics since COVID. The story kept me awake after I was finally able to put the book down.
Another hit in the series!
The Leine Basso Thriller Series: A Killing Truth Serial Date Bad Traffick The Body Market Cargo The Last Deception Dark Return Absolution Dakota Burn Shadow of the Jaguar A Plague of Traitors (August 2021)
DV Berkom is the USA Today bestselling author of action-packed, riveting adventure and crime thrillers. Known for creating resilient, kick-ass female characters and page-turning plots, her love of the genre stems from a lifelong addiction to reading spy novels, action/adventure stories, and thrillers.
A restless soul and adventurer at heart, she spent years moving around the US and traveling to exotic locales before she wrote her first novel and was hooked. More than a dozen books later, she now makes her home in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Mark, and several imaginary characters who like to tell her what to do. Her most recent books include the Claire Whitcomb Western Series: Retribution, Gunslinger, and Legend, and the latest in the Leine Basso thriller series: A Plague of Traitors, Shadow of the Jaguar, Dakota Burn, and Absolution. DV’s currently hard at work on her next thriller.
For more information, visit her website at www.dvberkom.com. To be the first to hear about new releases and subscriber-only offers, go to: bit.ly/DVB_RL
In 1991 I drove to Mexico to research a novel. I bought a 1969 VW pop-top camper and tricked it out with everything I thought I’d need for a six-month stay: no-see-um netting, a generator to run my desk lamp and a pre-laptop portable Toshiba computer and printer, solar fans to suck the heat out of the cabin and air shocks to smooth out the bumpy, pot-holed back roads of Mexico. My eleven-year-old German shepherd, Parsley, co-piloted from her red leather seat salvaged from a Cadillac, the twin to mine.
California had taken an economic nose dive around the same time we bombed Iraq and I’d gone from a thriving bookkeeping and tax preparation business with little in my savings, to a bulging portfolio and clients who couldn’t pay me anymore. The universe pointed south. It had been my dream to learn Spanish and delve into the mesoamerican cultures while exploring Mexico, and overnight, the dream became reality. I made a plan, custom-built my bus’s interior, packed my bags and headed out.
Three years later I hadn’t written the planned book, but I’d lived an amazing array of experiences, starting with being threatened by armed narco-thugs on a lonely stretch of the Pan American Highway in the State of Michoacán—just like JadeAnne Stone, the heroine of the books I did write. It may have been a long time coming, but it was a Set Up from the start!
When JadeAnne Stone and her German shepherd, Pepper, are kidnapped off a lonely highway in Mexico en route to locate a banker’s missing wife, she unwittingly enters a world of high-stakes oil politics, money laundering, and El Narco’s grab for power. JadeAnne finds the missing wife and realizes she’s been set up. To stay alive she must unravel the Aguirre family’s secrets. Who will she trust as loyalties shift and greed rules?
Kate and her college friend take a vacation in Mazatlán after graduation before settling into careers. But Kate meets Roberto Salazar at a disco, and doesn’t go home—at least until she steals a case of more than a million in cash from her narco boyfriend and his kingpin boss, Anaya—and flees—with the narcos hot on her trail in the debut, Bad Spirits. For Kate, testifying against a Mexican drug lord and a dirty DEA agent doesn’t turn out to be a life enhancing choice and she’s been on the run ever since, through six more novellas and novels. Kate tells her story in a fast paced narrative that’s part regret, part bravado, part snarky and always entertaining. For audiobook lovers, reader Melissa Moran is perfect as Kate Jones.
It’s been months since I posted to Building a Better Story. Every week my posting deadline rolls by and my guilt and shame grow. I needed absolution: n. the act of absolving; a freeing from blame or guilt; release from consequences, obligations, or penalties. Toward that, I committed to reading a favorite author’s entire series and writing reviews. Meet D.V. Berkom.
Reading was the easy part. I had a long round-trip plane ride over the holidays and immersed myself in books .5 through 6. Hardly penance. I can’t get enough of Leine Basso adventures. By the time I finished the series, I was hooked and anticipating the next book. I didn’t have to wait long. Absolution, released on all platforms on January 26th! (Congratulations to D.V. Berkom)
And I haven’t wasted any time freeing myself from my guilt. I’ve found Absolution in Leine Basso, the kick-ass former government trained assassin turned “good guy” operative for SHEN, a non-profit group fighting human trafficking. What could be a more noble occupation than rescuing innocent people (and animals) stolen and sold for profit? But Leine doesn’t stop with SHEN rescue assignments, she fights evil where she finds it, including coming to terms with her own dark past.
Leine has encountered the devil herself in the form of the sexy, powerful and really, really mean French-born terrorist, Salome.
In Absolution, Leine must sever ties with her employer and everyone she loves to flush Salome out of hiding and stop her from an attack Leine fears is coming.
But where—and when?
With her signature relentless pace, author DV Berkom has delivered an international race from London to Edinburgh to L.A. to stop Salome’s mad scheme that hinges on killing Leine, before it’s too late. The story is populated with friends and foes who may, or may not be who they claim, and plot twists enough to cause vertigo. In Berkom’s Leine Basso Thrillers, nothing can be counted on except Leine’s resolute pursuit of justice and dogged persistence in protecting whom she loves— even if it might kill her.
Written in a modern, West Coast casual style, the language is believable, smart and appropriate to the situations and action. Berkom’s story structure is perfectly constructed, the plot unfolds logically yet often surprisingly, and the characters reveal sufficient depth for their roles. I was drawn in by the bright descriptions and detailed settings, at time having to shake myself to focus back into my room.
Does Leine find the absolution she seeks? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
Absolution is an all-consuming, heart-thumping read, hard to put down, and one of the 7.5 best Leine Basso Thrillers. I’ve loved them all! I can’t wait for number 8.
About DV Berkom:
After years of moving around the country and skipping off to locations that could have been movie sets, she wrote her first novel and was hooked. Over a dozen novels later, she now makes her home in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Mark, and several imaginary characters who like to tell her what to do.
Her most recent books include Absolution,Dark Return, The Last Deception, Vigilante Dead, A Killing Truth, and Cargo. Currently, she’s hard at work on her next thriller.
I believe in serendipity. Throughout the late summer I consumed novels set in Spain in anticipation of my trip. Guidebooks are great for seeing the sights, but novels capture the national character and identify the flavor of a place. Among the books I read were two police procedurals by Antonio Hill and three of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series by Carlos Ruis Zafón. I noticed something labyrinthine and dark about all the books I read. I imagined Spain as the backdrop for a Gothic novel. Then, just before leaving for Barcelona, I had the opportunity to read the manuscript of Blood Allegiance. As I read this bone chilling crime novel set in Silicon Valley, I felt pulled into a dark world of exotic secrets, overwrought emotions, and tingling suspense. This modern-day police procedural—for me—a metonymy for gloom and horror, that is until the end. Could these crimes happen here? I was again reminded of Gothic tales, and I was sucked right in.
As it turned out, there’s a good reason why Elin Barnes’s novel reminded me of the Spanish writers. She’s from Madrid. Blood Allegiance contains elements of modern Gothic fiction: rationality vs. irrationality, guilt, strangeness within the familiar, monsters (human ones in this book), and abjection. What a master of suspense, twisting her plot in surprising directions as it weaves around the central story creating a maze of relationships, motivations, violence, and secrets: the lead Santa Clara criminalist is found dismembered at a local restaurant and the crime scene is tagged with gang graffiti. Detective Darcy Lynch (who we know from the first two books in this series) is wading into unknown territory when he’s sent on loan to CATCH, the Cross-Agency Tactical California Homicide Unit. But the case carries more weight for Darcy than apprehending the man who slaughtered a colleague. If he fails, he won’t be reassigned to the task force and his career could be over.
Another member of the unit is gunned down and a drone crashes into a San Jose Police Department helicopter turning the case into a bloody disaster. Lynch must stop one, or two, of the most vicious California gangs before they execute his entire team.
The characterization is multilayered. Protagonist, Darcy Lynch, and antagonist, Oscar Amaro are complex and individualized. Both are damaged and both have the capacity for “getting the job done” at whatever cost, yet are imbued with deep humanity. The surprise ending showcases these two characters as clouded mirrors of each other. The secondary characters are also rounded: Sorenson, Lynch’s overweight and gritty partner, Quinn, the sergeant with a deep secret that leads him to a crisis of heart, and Chavo Buenavente, of the rival gang and Oscar’s nemesis all have distinct personalities and distinguishable speech patterns. The characters are many, and their relationships are webbed. I found the hierarchy of gang members most interesting and well-researched, as are the portrayals of law enforcement agencies and employees. Barnes does her homework.
Barnes uses language and plot to instill uneasiness and fear in the reader. Her diction is less elaborate and ornate than the Gothic literature of the past. Instead, it reflects the language of everyday life in Silicon Valley in 2017. One reviewer from the Silicon Valley said, “The characters sound and behave like South Bay folks do.” I found the book to be easy to read and authentic in narrative and dialog.
Thematically Blood Allegiance raises serious questions about integrity, honor and the bonds of family and fraternity. It also sheds light on one of elite Northern California’s dirty problems swept under the rug: gangs. There’s a lot to think about after putting the book down—but don’t expect too much pondering during this action packed page-turner!
I’m not a Spanish Literature scholar, but I’m betting Ms. Barnes was introduced to and influenced by the Spanish misterio (mystery) genre in school: serial novels inspired by Eugène Sue’s bestseller Les Mystères de Paris (1841-1843). The genre is in fact a spin-off of 19th century French Gothic fiction and represents an attempt to explore society in an urban context. The misterios actively participated in the discourses of their day, as does the Darcy Lynch Series. Serial novels like the misterios and the Darcy Lynch Series act as foundational narratives that record the new order of society. The misterios presented by the novels were in part the mysteries of the new society in the 1800s, one that its readers were learning to navigate—just like the new cyber world of our century. It’s been said that [Spanish misterios] are stories of patriarchal systems in crisis and the consequences of social transgression and relevant today.
The Gothic form is able to articulate the anxieties of society. Blood Allegiance employs the Gothic tropes of family romance, incarceration and contamination to represent the conflicting ideologies of the 21st century. I congratulate Elin Barnes on taking her place in the venerated tradition of the Spanish misterio—21st Century style!
Elin Barnes grew up in Spain. Her father is a film director and her mother a Swedish author (with a past life as an actress).
After graduating HS, Elin pursued her dream of becoming an airline pilot. When her eyesight impeded her to fly passenger aircrafts, she switched gears and obtained a BA in Philosophy. After a short stint working for a criminal appeals lawyer, Elin returned to Spain to get her MA in International Commerce.
For the last decade she’s worked in technology for companies like, AT&T, T-Mobile, Google, Microsoft, TiVo, and Samsung. She is on the Board of Sisters in Crime Northern California.
Her passions for law, technology, and thrillers inspired Elin to write the Darcy Lynch Series of thrillers set in Silicon Valley, where innovation is always brewing.
There are days when I yearn to sit at my desk and let the muse wash through me onto the screen. Those are the days I rue participating in so many writers’ groups, reading so many blogs and keeping up with all my writer friends on Facebook. Let’s face it, life itself throws enough in the way of getting a novel written, why join all these groups then volunteer to: be treasurer, chair the 1-day conference committee, sell at the book festival, and edit the anthology? Well, once in awhile the universe answers!
I’m a member of the Sisters in Crime Guppies group, an on-line chapter of an organization devoted to supporting writers through the mysterious and twisting maze from writing the novel to revising to determining how to publish, publishing and finally marketing our books. It was through Guppies that the universe introduced me to Seth and his author, JB Morris. I was assigned to be Morris’s BETA reader and the assignment couldn’t have been a better fit for me. I’m already looking forward to the next book!
Both the title of the book and the protagonist, Seth is a war-weary Staff Sergeant of the elite Marine Corps Force Recon, recalled home after six combat deployments to care for his aged and infirm father. Highly decorated, but broken from the losses of war and haunted by the memories of Marines killed, Seth now works as a police officer for the Hillsdale, Ohio police department. Unfortunately, fate hasn’t offered Seth respite from his demons. The Hillsdale Police Department is overrun with dirty cops and Hillsdale is ground zero for a bloody war between Mexico’s Los Guerreros and Halcon Cartels for control of this strategic access to the lucrative Eastern drug trade.
After a takedown goes bad, Seth’s mission is to clear the department of the cops who have opened Hillsdale to the drug trade. With the help of a ‘clean’ superior and trusted colleague, Officer Kat MacKenna, Seth jumps into his assignment and begins to uncover layers of corruption. As he and Kat get too close, the drug-selling officers threaten Seth’s father and he fights like a Marine.
The story is about a drug war and Seth’s healing. Seth is a multi-faceted character. Damaged early in life through living with a mentally ill mother, Seth suffers loss after loss. His wife, Allison, betrays him and dies in an automobile crash. He loses men in Iraq, and fails to save his best friend, Billie, who commits suicide after coming home from Iraq. While Kat and his father are constants in his life, his father is fading and he does not love Kat as she loves him. He grapples with guilt on both accounts and especially for Billy’s death. He doesn’t feel Hillsdale holds anything for him, but honor binds him to his job and he goes after the corrupt cops and both warring cartels with a vengeance.
Seth is told from the point of view of many characters. In the hands of a less skilled writer, the shifts from character to character might be confusing, but I found the transitions clear and the look inside all the players’ heads to be gripping. In particular the assassin, Angel, a Mexican woman aligned with Halcon cartel, to be fascinating. She truly is the Angel of Death and appears almost as a magical being emerging from the jaguar skin of the ancient Aztec warrior cult of the Cuāuhocēlōtl. Angel and Seth are two sides of the same coin—warriors to the core, deeply principled, and doing a job.
Angel yearns to buy her freedom from the cartel and return to her warrior cult, just as Seth yearns to leave Hillsdale and the police behind.
Author JB Morris is a master of the battle scene. He also has a sound understanding of drug cartel culture and operations. My heart pounded with the excitement of the gun battles. Like Tom Clancy, Morris gives his readers in-depth details on weapons and battle. I came away from Seth with loads of information and even a great idea for a shoot-out in my own suspense novels. Readers who like specific details of weapons will find Seth satisfying.
Morris also does a good job with his character’s voices. Seth’s voice is spare—he’s a man of few words. His superior is more erudite. Angel obviously is speaking English as a second language, although her fluency is excellent. Kat sounds like a modern woman. I appreciated Morris’ tight, spare style. He doesn’t drift into flights of lyrical fancy yet I felt the imagery sufficient to feel like that “fly on the wall” in the scene.
Seth is an intelligent, layered, and fast-paced thriller that will keep the reader turning pages. There is plenty of action and plenty of character development to offer a rich experience for the reader. When things look bleakest for Seth, a savior appears in the form of a “brother in arms” and if Seth makes it through the “mission” his future may be happier. I’m banking on more books!
JB Morris didn’t imagine he would become an author, although he began writing poetry in high school. When he was offered a contract for a book of poems, he turned it down, too busy with his career as a funeral director and manager of a cemetery. He served as a commander in the Army Reserves and went on to working as a TV weatherman, a city council member and a state legislator.
But Morris claims that something was always missing. Other than articles he wrote, he wasn’t working on any novels. Much later the vision of Grace an Unexpected Love filled his head and he began work on his first novel. Now JB Morris fills his time writing romance and thrillers in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.
Let’s all give him a big hand on the publication of his second novel, Seth. And keep your fingers crossed for the speedy delivery of the next book!
The clock struck ten o’clock that Wednesday morning. A clairvoyant, a medium, a crystal ball reader, a seer of ghosts and a nurse with healing hands sat around the polished, antique table in the Hamilton House mansion library, now their conference room. The stormy weather that heralded America’s entrance into the war had finally passed. Balmy breezes crept through the opened French doors allowing exit to a flagstone patio and extensive estate grounds. They—the Operation Delphi team—were the White House’s top-secret psychic defense against Nazi mind control. (From Expect Deception)
Sound far-fetched? According to author, JoAnn Smith Ainsworth, there really was a top-secret U.S. military branch comprised of psychics during World War II. And I believe her because I believe in all this woo-woo stuff—I have proof.
Let me explain. In the 1980s I kept books for an environmental firm and one of the principles studied at the John F. Kennedy University at night where she researched the possibilities of mind over matter. She and her advisor had developed a tone machine that sounded when a subject thought about the sounds. She couldn’t make the machine sing—but I could. I never learned to fully control my ability, but I became proficient in remote viewing (my boss would look at something, call me and I’d tell her what it was.) She never had to call to change our appointment!
I never achieved the same levels of psychic ability as U.S. WAVE Livvy Delacourt, or perhaps I’d be working for the government instead of writing book reviews. Ainsworth certainly makes the job of psychic sound exciting, and for readers of WWII novels, she gives a riveting story of espionage and treachery set in an era of polite national determination.
A sequel to Expect Trouble, Ainsworth pits Lt. Livvy Delacourt and the Delphi team of paranormal investigators with an undercover German wizard, Deryk Fergus, who is performing regularly as a USO magician. He is involved with the Nazi group der Mumm and when he is ordered to eliminate the Philadelphia-based Watch and sabotage supply ships bound for Europe, he is certain he will be rewarded with entrée into Hitler’s inner power circle.
After the team attends his performance at the local USO, things start to go wrong and they must investigate a baffling sickness at NAMU, the U.S. Navel Aircraft Modification Unit, then the sabotage of Dock 2 and the Liberty Ship carrying needed supplies. At the same time Fergus attacks Livvy and her superior officer, US Navy Commander Barrington Drew II. Acquainted since high school, Livvy and the Commander are reunited through the Delphi Unit and romance buds, although Livvy’s attention is on stopping Hitler’s psychic spy. The stakes are high. Not only might she lose Trey and her friends, she might lose her own life. And worse, the Nazi’s might gain the upper hand and win the war.
Aside from Ainsworth’s unique premise, I found the spells, powders and other magical elements used in the story to be fascinating. I dog-eared the page that tells about the wall of psychic red roses Livvy’s mother (yes, it runs in the family) constructed to protect her from school bullies. Wouldn’t it be a cool trick for writers to protect themselves from all the rejections? Later, we learn some of the ingredients of the evil spells Fergus casts. It appears the author did her homework.
The attention to detail and setting is also a sign of sound research. I felt like I’d been dropped into 1943 and imbued with wartime zeal. Our country rallied behind the war effort, even as the war changed life, as Americans had known it, especially women’s lives. The era seems simpler, more innocent, but the allies faced a supreme evil and Ainsworth captures both the mores of the times and the urgency of the horror facing the world. At the book’s climax, Livvy faces the demon and the hard decisions that comes with leadership. I don’t want to give a spoiler, but I’m betting there’s another book to come.
Expect Deception is written in a straightforward style with the feel of a cozy mystery, although it’s what I call a soft thriller. Livvy’s job is to stop evil rather than solve a mystery and while violence is included in the book, the author doesn’t graphically describe every awful action or use language that might be offensive to some readers. The language is the language of the 40s, slightly formal yet seasoned with idioms of the day. Descriptions are sufficient, but not over drawn and the setting feels authentic.
I found each character has a unique personality according to his or her role in the story, and while we see Livvy, Trey and Fergus most, the rest of the team come alive in their scenes. Fergus was my favorite after Livvy. I like a villain and he fills the bill. That he was given a point of view added dimension to the plot. I also enjoyed Fergus’s niece who shows some mettle and sincere caring for her evil uncle at the end.
Lovers of World War II stories will enjoy this book, as will folks interested in the paranormal. If you like both, this novel is for you! Give Expect Deception a try. It’s out today in all the usual places. Check out Goodreads for links to your favorite bookseller.
If you like it, why not help JoAnn Smith Ainsworth with her launch? Join me at http://www.publaunch.com/campaigns/expect-deception to help make the launch of Expect Deception a success, and give JoAnn Smith Ainsworth a hearty “congratulations” on publication of a delightful sequel to the Operation Delphi Novels.