Congratulations to Diana Orgain,
winner of Liz Jasper’s Underdead!
Randy Rawls is a retired US Army officer. After spending twenty years in uniform, he became a civilian employee of the Department of Defense. During those years, he honed his craft as a writer in various leadership and administrative positions. After retiring, he turned his hand to writing fiction.
Randy has seven published novels including the latest, Thorns on Roses, and short stories in several anthologies. A native of North Carolina, he now calls South Florida home.
Randy says, “I’m a simple guy who enjoys writing and hopes that others will find pleasure in my words”.
It seems that every mystery I pick up these days has a protagonist I wouldn’t allow to babysit my kids—if I had kids. Three recent reads come to mind.
The one I just finished is a “police procedural”. I use the quotes to show my skepticism that he’d be a policeman very long. The hero cop can’t seem to pass a bar without stopping for a shot and a beer—over and over again, bar after bar after bar after . . . And of course, he never starts the car without taking a drink—straight-from the bottle of bourbon, scotch, whatever he keeps in the glove box. Yet his drinking never gets in the way of his “only-person-who-can-figure-it-out investigation”. Of course, to add to his drinking, he ignores his superiors who all but fire him for his off-the-books activities. But, all’s well that ends well and he becomes the hero who solves the case. Yeah, right.
Another recent read has a TV lady who races around like crazy while her bosses back at the station bug her about the footage she’s supposed to be sending in of the major catastrophe she was sent to cover. She doesn’t have time for her job, though, because she’s too busy getting in everybody’s way “investigating” the death of a body found near the catastrophic area—a body the police believe was not a murder. And yes, she not only proves it was murder, but discovers who did it. All the while, her superiors at the station are threatening to suspend her, fire her, tie her to a stake if she doesn’t deliver the footage. Another heroic, but flawed, protagonist who ignores the “rules” and does it her way.
Number three was a newspaper reporter. He gets assignments from his editor and thinks, Nah, I don’t want to. Instead, he’s onto all the crimes being committed in the city. Oh, by the way, he’s not the crime reporter, but just wants to be. Of course, he’s also an alcoholic and hates the police.
Why, I wonder, do we invest in such flawed characters? In my latest, Thorns on Roses, Tom Jeffries has good reason not to trust the justice system—reasons he tells in the story. He is not an alcoholic. He is not a druggie. He’s a straight guy who sets out to avenge the death of the stepdaughter of his best friend. Along the way, he does not make a deal with the local drug lord or visit the hot prostitute. He eats his meals without loading up on martinis first. He drinks a beer without a shot of booze beforehand. I didn’t ask, but I doubt he’s ever had a boilermaker. He doesn’t even tell his boss a fat lie. Boring? I think not. He’s a tough guy who gets the job done while living a life any of us can identify with. I’d let Tom babysit my kids—if I had kids.
I sure hope this phase the industry is going through ends soon. I’m tired of the good guys being only less miserable than the bad guys. Give me the good old American hero or heroine who toes the line and solves the crime.
Lesley A. Diehl
Oak Tree Press/Dark Oak Mysteries, 2011
Dumpster Dying by Lesley A. Diehl, is a smartly-paced page turner, with more attractions than a three-ring circus. Ms. Diehl, who must be a juggler in her spare time, keeps many plates spinning in the air, in the form of plot twists and multi-layered character studies.
Diehl’s accomplishment lies in not making Dumpster Dying a confusing blur of people and situations, but in creating a solid backdrop of Central Florida life, a cowboy life that has all but faded into the past, paired with the golfing life of the country clubs of today, and then bringing out the foibles of the native flora and fauna, which both complement and conflict with one another.
Emily, a snowbird who is in peril from page one, is bar tending in order to eat and keep a roof over her head, while she fights in court over the contested will of her deceased life partner. So much for what she thought would be her golden years. Murder, the secret lives of close friends, and the unexpected arrival of adult children further complicate Emily’s life. The old south, and Florida is the old south, has its own way of taking care of business, as Emily and the reader soon find out.
Reviewed by Marta Chausée, October 2011.
Liz Jasper always enjoyed writing, but in college and graduate school dutifully studied things that would make her “marketable.” Fortunately, she loved her stint as a middle school science teacher (most of the time), her time working as a business analyst and still really enjoys her most recent career switch into financial planning.
And yet…while teaching, doing five-page math problems in graduate school, and doing some serious bonding with Excel, she kept haunting bookstores and compulsively read her way through the library system’s fiction sections in three counties. She took unreasonable joy in fact that, while she very properly interned for a bank during business school, part of what she did for them was write magazine articles. The award she’s secretly most proud of? Her high school English department award.
Being a clever analyst, she eventually admitted she’d always wanted to write novels. And then she went ahead and wrote one. She shoved that in a drawer, took some classes and started again.
Why does she always end up writing paranormals? After five years teaching middle school followed by way too much crunching numbers, writing about blood-sucking demons is only natural.
Maybe you’re too busy with daily life to come up with a good costume for Halloween. Or maybe you can’t muster the energy to deal with the parking lot at Target, much less the insanity of the Halloween aisle.
Or maybe you’ve already eaten the candy meant for trick-or-treaters and have had to go back for the re-buy of shame and don’t have money left for a “real” Halloween costume. (Liz hurriedly shoves empty king-sized bag of Rolos out of sight.)
Not to worry. I, Liz Jasper, award-winning author of the UNDERDEAD vampire mysteries, am here for your Halloween costume needs!
Liz and her sister [plaintively]: “Mom? It’s Halloween. We need costumes!”
Liz and her sister [voices going shrill]: “Trick or treating starts in an hour! The little kids are already going out!”
Mom [Leaving kitchen with audible sigh and crossing to hall closet.]: “Okay, let’s see what we have here.” [Reaches into closet and pulls out a trench coat.] “Here you go. One of you can go as a spy. You can wear this hat.” [Pulls out crumpled hat off bottom of closet and gives it a shake.] “And, um, sunglasses!”
Liz’s sister: “Mom, that hat has flowers on it!”
Mom: “No, look! You turn it inside and out and it’s black. Very mysterious!”
My sister and I fought over that costume.
As you can see, I have it in my roots to be, um, “clever” about costumes. I will now, as promised, share with you some great costumes.
5. Little Red Riding Hood. Pull a red rain slicker from the hall closet, put the hood up and carry a basket. Cost: FREE. (Courtesy of Mom. Tested by two girls over several Halloweens.)
4. Redneck. Go to drug store on day of Halloween, ten minutes before party, and root around in what’s left of 75% off costume bin. Find red face paint or fake blood. Put on jeans and a t-shirt or men’s undershirt and wear a flannel shirt as your top layer. Slather some red gunk on your neck. Cost: $1.00 for Halloween face makeup. (Tested by author. Warning: You will not go home with a date from any party you wear this to.)
3. Bat. Take an old file folder or leftover cereal box, cut out two triangles and color them black with a marker. Tape them to an old head band for your bat ears. Cut a black plastic garbage bag into bat wings and affix to the undersides of your shirt sleeves. You can sew them on or use duct tape, but stapling is the gold standard here. Cost: 75 cents in materials. (Adapted from a costume worn by Liz’s college roommate who had craft talent way above the author’s.)
2. Cat. See “Bat.” above, only do cat ears and use black yarn or an old computer cable for a tale. Cost: 50 cents for materials. (Adapted from bat costume one year after everyone had seen bat costume. Note: Feel free to rotate bat/cat costumes year after year. You can absolutely use the same headband and possibly the same triangles for ears.)
1. The Devil’s Advocate. Get devil horns from the 75% off Halloween rack. Or make your own using the cardboard and headband technique under “Bat.” Wear a suit. Get hyped up on candy and make up a few “Soul Contracts”, print them out and carry them in a briefcase. Threaten anyone who comes near the candy bowl. Cost: $1.99 if you buy the horns. (Tested by author. Author is very proud of this one and has used it no fewer than five times.)
So come on, pull up a bowl of Halloween candy and tell us about your best or worst Halloween costume. Yes, even if you spent money on it. Everyone who comments will be entered in a drawing for a trade paperback of UNDERDEAD. Those with the really good ideas or who make me laugh get entered twice! (And as you snarf down the candy intended for Trick-or-Treaters while typing, as I know you are, be sure to pat yourself on the back for your noble generosity. Those kids don’t need the candy. Really. You’re thinking of them and their health. You are a noble, noble being.)
Passions of the Dead
Spellbinder Press, January 2011
In her latest book in the Detective Jackson series, L.J. Sellers goes beyond the headlines about the economic crisis by showing the human side of that equation, and the myriad unexpected and unforeseeable ripple effects and the desperation stemming from the “downturn” [read “collapse”] of the economy. In this particular case in point, the effects upon the town of Eugene, Oregon and its environs include job layoffs and a dearth of alternative ways of making a living and paying the rent, even to the extent of coming layoffs in the Eugene Police Dept., where Wade Jackson is told that two detectives, one from vice and one from his unit, Violent Crimes, will be cut before the week ends.
In the midst of that personal concern, the squad is called out to investigate what appears to be a home invasion which has left three family members dead and one seriously wounded. Were the family members just random targets? Or is something more personal at play here? Can it possibly be an escalation of a recent spate of carjackings in the area?
The author has again raised contemporary issues in a suspenseful tale of families and their complexities, examining the ramifications of a world struggling with financial uncertainty. She cunningly places flashback scenes going back a couple of months, strategically placed along the way of the present-day narrative, gradually bringing the reader up to speed to the date of the attacks. Another winner from L.J. Sellers, and recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2011.
The Final Reckoning
Truth and fiction merge in this thriller about survivors of the holocaust taking justice into their own hands, seeking out Nazis and murdering them. It comes to light when the last survivor of DIN, the secret group of Jewish resistance fighters (yes, there were some) and concentration camp inmates after the war, travels to the UN in New York from London on his last mission and is shot by a security guard.
Tom Byrne, a former UN attorney now in private practice, is retained to go to London, visit the victim’s daughter, and attempt to smooth over any claim she might have. Instead, he becomes both romantically involved with her and involved in a scheme that eventually has severe repercussions.
Written based on actual people and events of the past, the novel provides emotional ups and downs almost equal in intensity to the horrors of “the final solution.” It concludes with a suspense that is equally gripping, with solid prose and excellent pacing, and is recommended.
Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.
William Morrow, 2010
There is no denying that Dennis Lehane writes unusual and well-plotted novels. Yet Moonlight Mile is a difficult book to read, confusing and inconsistent. It may be the last of the Patrick and Angie series, since they seem to be tired of the PI business, and he is leaning toward leaving the business to undertake a new endeavor.
The plot is relatively simple. Patrick promises to look for a missing 16-year-old girl, one he had found many years before her present disappearance. Angie, who was a full-time mommy to three-year-old Gabby, turns the child over to a neighbor to assist Patrick in the endeavor. Along the way, they encounter a bunch of psycho Russian mobsters to enliven the caper.
The characters seem like cardboard cutouts, and a lot of the dialog appears stilted. These characteristics are unusual in a Lehane novel. Oh well, on to the next one.
Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.
Poisoned Pen Press, 2010
There are some excellent South African novels. Frederick Ramsay has a particular interest in Botswana, and this is the second novel in what appears to be a burgeoning series featuring an up-and-coming Inspector, Modise, and Ranger, Sanderson. With the World Cup about to begin in South Africa, various unsavory sorts are spread all over the landscape and Botswana’s officials are up to their eyeballs trying to establish security for visiting dignitaries like a secret meeting between the U.S. Secretary of State and North Koreans, as well as Russian Mafia types seeking to move into the territory, especially a world class casino-hotel being buily by an American in the Chobe river.
To complicate matters, there are some environmental fanatics seeking to spread Orgonite, an ostensible source of energy, to the area, a couple of ne’er-do-wells seeking to cash in on a rare earth shipment, and some murders to occupy the protagonists, not to mention local bribery, smuggling and other side issues.
This highly readable series reflects the author’s deep knowledge of the country, perhaps derived from his son who is an official there. Ramsay authored the popular Ike Schwartz mysteries, which this reviewer also thoroughly enjoyed [and hope he hasn’t forgotten the sheriff].
Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.