Thursday, August 6, 2015

BADLANDS by C.J. Box - Murders in an Oil Boomtown

Badlands by C.J. Box is set on the frigid plains of North Dakota, where the shale oil industry has created whole new boomtowns flush with high pay and "man camps" of newly arrived workers. But with the boom comes drugs and brutal criminal gangs competing for the cash-rich territory.

Arriving in the overcrowded town of Grimstad is Detective Cassie Dewell, hired to be the new Chief Investigator of the Sheriff's Department. In her previous job in Montana, she worked a serial murder case that led to the death of her police partner. Looking for a fresh start, Cassie finds herself suddenly dealing with violent gang murders and corruption that may reach into her own new department.

C.J. Box if the author of the popular crime novel series that features Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett. Badlands has the new main character of Cassie Dewell, who appeared in a prior Box novel, The Highway. Cassie is mid-thirties, not very tall, and somewhat overweight. But she's a sharp investigator and a good shot when she has to be. This combination makes her character both realistic and appealing.

Badlands offers the same sweeping sense of rugged landscape and the threat of rough violence as other C.J. Box western crime novels. If this one is part of a new series built around Cassis Dewell, it's a great start.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

DAY FOUR a Scary Vacation Thriller Read

Day Four by Sarah Lotz is a suspense thriller that may also be part horror or part paranormal. Whatever it is, it's an unsettling novel.

The cruise ship Beautiful Dreamer is at sea in the Gulf of Mexico when disaster strikes. A fire breaks out on the lower decks. The engines stop working. All electronic communication from the ship is cut off. The ship is dead in the water, unable to signal its distress, hoping help will arrive from somewhere.

It gets worse. A norovirus spreads, sickening the passengers. Food supplies run low. There's no A/C on the sweltering inner decks. Then the toilets stop working. Conditions aboard degenerate into a fetid mess.

The captain and bridge crew don't know where the ship is. They keep stonewalling the passengers. Panic spreads. People start seeing strange phenomena on the ship. A psychic performer traveling aboard attracts a cult of frightened followers. No help ever comes as the ship drifts on toward ... somewhere not on any maps.

 Day Four has echoes of ghost ship tales, the Bermuda Triangle, and the TV series Lost. The novel makes an entertaining summer read, but not for anyone planning a vacation cruise anytime soon.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

GIRL ON THE TRAIN a Devious Psychological Mystery

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is a devious psychological mystery that shifts through a series of plot twists, first pointing in one direction, then changing course again.

The plot structure is elaborate. Events move in chapters told in the first person by three alternating narrators --- Rachel, Anna, and Megan. An added complication is that Megan's chapters take place in a time period a few months earlier than the chapters narrated by Rachel and Anna.

Rachel Watson is the central character, a troubled alcoholic with memory blackouts, who is unhappily divorced and jobless. She rides commuter trains to fill her empty life. Other characters circle around her confused thoughts. Tom Watson, her ex-husband. Anna Watson, Tom's new wife. Scott and Megan Hipwell, former neighbors at Rachel's old home. Dr. Kamel Abdic, a psychiatrist.

When a key character goes missing, followed by the discovery of a body, the truth of what happened can only be worked out through the competing narrative accounts of Rachel, Anna, and Megan. The answers build piece by piece toward the startling exposure of the killer.

The Girl on the Train is a smartly written, compelling psychological mystery read. It's a much more satisfying novel than last year's similar genre novel, Gone Girl, with its manipulative, misleading plot, unreliable narrators, and flagrantly over-written style by the author.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

CHARLIE MARTZ Shows Early Elmore Leonard Work

Charlie Martz and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard is a collection of early, mostly unpublished stories from the iconic crime fiction writer, who died in 2013.

The stories show Leonard beginning to find his trademark style: clean, hard prose along with tight, streetwise dialogue, and salted with simmering menace.

Some of the stories included are crime pieces like the Detroit mobster vengeance tale, "One, Horizontal." Other stories like "The Trespassers," and "For Something to Do," show ordinary people put into threatening situations.

Then there are the Western stories, where Leonard first made his writing mark with novels like Hombre and Valdez is Coming. Two standout tales are the title story "Charlie Martz," and the follow-up "Siesta in Paloverde."

This collection is a varied, interesting read for Elmore Leonard devotees. Leonard was a writer's writer and a rigorous craftsman and Charlie Martz shows how he learned that craft.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

JULIA'S ROOM a Chilling Suspense Puzzle

Julia's Room by William Wilde -  A chilling puzzle of psychological suspense.

Something happened to Julia inside that scary room and she's never been the same.

Teenager Julia Bell was held captive for years in a basement room before she was released.

Journalist Robert Graham locates the adult Julia living as a recluse and wants to do a book on her ordeal, but he gets entangled in a dangerous mystery. A man who got too close to Julia is now missing. Julia is receiving anonymous threats from someone. And Julia Bell herself may still be a deeply disturbed woman.

As Graham digs deeper into Julia's strange life, he unwittingly opens a door onto a violent new nightmare.

"Julia's Room is a suspenseful mystery that's centered on one woman's psychological makeup. Julia is fragile, mysterious, and somewhat creepy. Something's off about her, but you'll never be entirely sure what that might be.

William Wilde is a gifted storyteller with an eye for the uncanny and unique." -

Margaret Marr - Nights and Weekends Reviews

"I found the events circling Julia too intriguing to resist. I simply had to know what was going on and what would happen next. This disturbing psychological tale left me with a few chills and made my rainy afternoon fly by!" -

Detra Fitch - Huntress Reviews

Now available at Amazon Kindle:

Thursday, June 11, 2015

FINDERS, KEEPERS a Dark Crime Tale From Stephen King

Finders, Keepers by Stephen King is a new crime tale about a famed, reclusive author's unpublished manuscripts and an obsessed fan who will kill to possess those unseen literary works.

The deranged fan is Morris Bellamy, a ruthless sociopath who murders the Salinger-like author and steals the hoard of manuscripts. Morris doesn't want to merely sell the material, he wants to be the first one to read the unseen works by his idolized author. But he never gets the chance. He's sent to prison for another crime and the stolen notebooks remain where he hid them.

Years later, a teen named Pete Staubers stumbles onto the hidden notebooks and plans to sell them himself on the literary black market. But Morris Bellamy is paroled, and when he finds out who has his stolen trove, he goes after Pete Staubers.

The novel brings back a character from King's prior novel, Mr. Mercedes, retired police detective Bill Hodges. It's the stolid veteran Hodges who enters the picture to try to protect Pete from the maniacal killer Bellamy.

The obsessed literary fan theme has echoes of an earlier King classic, Misery. Finders, Keepers is notable mainly for its vivid character portraits and for being written in the author's earthy, idiomatic style.That said, the novel is an entertaining read from Stephen King, even if not at the top level of some of his past work.

Monday, June 1, 2015

GATHERING PREY - New Crime Thriller by John Sandford

Gathering Prey by John Sandford is the latest in the popular crime novel series that features Minnesota State Police investigator Lucas Davenport.

What begins with a young panhandler drifter going missing leads Davenport into a multiple murder case that just keeps spreading in scope.

Lucas gets on the trail of a roving, rag-tag crew of disciples led by a sociopathic, self-styled guru named Pilate. The disciples travel the country in a road convoy, luring and killing random victims to suit their whims.

As Davenport closes in along with a posse of local police officers, the hunt turns into a multi-state chase that leads up to a wild gun battle in a one-horse town in the backwoods of the Michigan Upper Peninsula.

The novel moves like a bullet train through the twists of the chase and the running shoot-out with the fleeing, ruthless disciples. John Sandford continues to produce inventive new plots built around the long running main character of Lucas Davenport. Gathering Prey is an outstanding read that further confirms Sandford's place in the top rank of crime thriller authors.

BEACH RATING: 4 Palm Trees