Book Review: Viral by James Lilliefors

James Lilliefors
Soho Crime, April 2012
ISBN 978-1-61695-068-2

From the publisher—

In remote pockets of the Third World, a deadly virus is quietly sweeping through impoverished farming villages and shanty towns with frightening speed and potency. Meanwhile, in Washington, a three-word message left in a safe-deposit box may be the key to stopping the crisis–if, that is, Charles Mallory, a private intelligence contractor and former CIA operative, can decipher the puzzle before time runs out.

What Mallory begins to discover are the traces of a secret war, with a bold objective–to create a new, technologically advanced society. With the help of his brother Jon, an investigative reporter, can he break the story to the world before it is too late–before a planned “humane depopulation” takes place?

As the stakes and strategies of this secret war become more evident, the Mallory brothers find themselves in a complex game of wits with an enemy they can’t see: a new sort of superpower led by a brilliant, elusive tactician who believes that ends justify means.

What is Covenant?

Three small, obscure African countries are the focus of a plan to solve the Third World “problem”, a plan that involves biological weapons and the rampant corruption and poverty that plague such countries. A kernel of a well-intentioned idea has evolved into a megalomaniacal assumption that the end does, indeed, justify the means and overwhelming amounts of money have made it possible to accomplish a terrible purpose.

As in any good thriller, uncertainty is paramount and the reader is never quite sure where the dividing line might be between the good guys and the bad. Surprises and twists abound and Mr. Lilliefors does an admirable job of keeping the reader teetering on the edge along with his heroes and heroines. Cryptic puzzles, terrorism, greed and the dangers of good intentions all serve to keep the protagonists—and the reader—unbalanced in this race to stop the horror that has already begun and  that is poised to wipe out millions of lives.

There are some rather gruesome scenes that are not for the squeamish and the author brings the reader into the story with chilling words. Chapters 20, 21 and 49, in particular, show just how high the stakes are and, although they are not easy to get through, they are effective and necessary.

I really disliked one particular character besides the actual villains (who, in some cases, show signs of humanity)  and wish Jon Mallory had had more of a backbone regarding this person’s duplicity and self-centeredness. I suppose we can’t expect heroes to always see through the facade, though; perhaps that character will be more honorable and likeable in future books. Whether or not that happens, I’m looking forward to more tales about the Mallory brothers.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2012.

Building A Better Mousetrap

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, explains why authors need to quit complaining about the hard work of self-promotion and just get on with it.

It seems every time I click on a discussion online from authors, all I see is moaning and groaning that all this media socializing we’re encouraged to do doesn’t produce sales. Authors point out that we seem to be “preaching to the choir.” Where are the readers we need to target?

My question to the whiners is “What’s your solution?” Doesn’t anyone realize what a huge leap we’ve taken in the marketing department? When many of us started, there were limited opportunities to aim for a national readership unless you had a PR person to work with (at a high cost). Newspapers existed, but were not necessarily inclined to interview local authors. Self-published authors were looked down on. Should we go back to the good old days where we only had postcards, bookmarks, bookstores to do book signings? Geez Louise. Social media has somewhat leveled the playing field and even big-name authors have locked on this form of promoting.

Let me say right off the bat that I LOVE marketing. To me, the challenge is to lure readers to my books. I’m willing to try different bait. Okay, not on board with my fishing analogy? How about this? Don’t just think outside the box, look at the way the box is constructed, take it apart and put it back together in a way people haven’t seen it before. Make it your box.

In my opinion, promotion and acquiring a fan base is only limited by an individual author’s lack of drive and/or imagination. We are, for the first time in author history, allowed full control of our career path. Nothing can hold us back except ourselves.

Here’s one whine I read in an online group I subscribe to: “I blog constantly but nobody orders my books.” I countered with “How many times have you ordered a book from reading a blog? Probably never, or you’d have a house full of books and an empty wallet. So, why expect people to do what you don’t do yourself?”

What DOES sell books? Aside from a well-written manuscript and creative storyline, personality (and mine is fairly obnoxious) sells books. Standing out from the crowd sells books. Getting attention sells books. An interesting way with words when you speak or blog sells books. Provoking conversation sells books. Whiners and wallflowers don’t sell books.

Isn’t this what the buzz word “Branding” is all about? Oh, don’t give me the tired complaint that we shouldn’t have to “sell out” to sell. Why shouldn’t we be as interesting as the characters we write about? Or, at least seem so with our public image?

As writers, we spend a lot of time finding our writing “voice.” Why aren’t we spending the same amount of time finding our marketing voice? Dig deep and figure out what makes you different. Bring that quality to the foreground. This isn’t just with what you say, but how you say it. Lawrence Block once said voice was like “two people telling the same joke.” It’s all in the delivery, folks. The same goes with marketing.

My voice is coming atcha loud and clear in everything I’ve written in this piece. If this is the first time you’ve read my writing, you might notice I don’t mince words. I don’t play it safe. I have no problem calling people out. Many of you are familiar with my blogs on Buried Under Books and my chafing personality. I suspect you chortle. I hope you learn. I give kudos to Lelia who stands back and supports what I choose to say. She’s a keeper.

Final words of wisdom: When you find your brand, when your marketing voice comes through,


Taxidermied weasel Juanita, courtesy of The Bloggess

A Few Teeny Reviews

Trisha Wolfe
Trisha Wolfe, February 2012
ISBN 9780983868156

In a novelette (somewhere between a short story and a novella), the author introduces 17-year-old Fallon, who lives in a dystopian world where the past is the present, in a manner of speaking. Trained by a rebel faction to be an assassin, Fallon’s first target is Xander, a knight of Karm, home of King Hart and the utopian society he has created from the remains of the world that used to be. Fallon doesn’t know why Xander has been condemned but she will follow her orders—or will she?

Too much use of incomplete sentences when a simple comma or semi-colon would make the words flow and flowery language that is distracting and made me have to re-read are flaws that stand out in a short work such as this. I also found a number of incorrect words—discretely instead of discreetly, sectors off instead of splits, bad instead of badly, different than instead of different from—that also pulled me out of the story but all of these are things that can be fixed by a little more rigorous editing. There also is not enough backstory but this tale interested me enough to hope Ms. Wolfe will expand it into a full-length novel and answer some of the expected questions, primarily how did Karm come to exist and what happened to the Outside?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2012.


Dead Dogs and EnglishmenDead Dogs and Englishmen
Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli
Midnight Ink, July 2011
ISBN 978-0-7387-1878-1
Trade paperback

Freelance reporter Emily Kincaid and her testy friend, Deputy Dolly Wakowski, set out to investigate the murders of a woman and a dog and are alarmed to discover that there seems to be a concerted campaign to intimidate many of the migrants in their rural area. In the meantime, Emily is hired by a flamboyant author to edit his manuscript and begins to think there’s something very creepy about the story he has written and that perhaps there is a connection to what’s going on in the community. A growing list of crimes and Dolly’s unexplained moodiness add to the mystery and Emily eventually finds herself at a most unusual and disturbing party.

Cozy readers will be put off by a fair amount of violence and descriptions of animal cruelty but many will find this fourth entry in the series to be well worth reading, thanks to the author’s tight prose and her willingness to address difficult subjects. I, for one, hope there will be many more books to come.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2011.


The Silent LandThe Silent Land
Graham Joyce
Read by John Lee
Blackstone Audiobooks, March 2011
ISBN 9781441780324
Unabridged Audio Book

English husband and wife Jake and Zoe take a ski vacation to the French Alps and. as the story opens, they have been buried by an avalanche. They manage to dig themselves out and head straight back to their hotel where they are surprised to find everyone gone. Is it possible all the inhabitants of the town were evacuated, leaving them behind? Will someone come back to get them?

As time goes on, odd things begin to happen—cell phones that don’t work the way one would expect, cars that will only go so far, food that doesn’t seem to spoil. Is it possible that something far more sinister is going on?

The Silent Land is an hypnotic story with a distinctively creepy feel to it and narrator John Lee has the ideal voice for it. In the end, each reader/listener must decide whether the truth here is devastatingly sad or unutterably romantic. In the end, although I enjoyed the story, I felt it was a bit thin for its length and would work better as a short story.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2012.


Book Reviews: Dying for Justice by L.J. Sellers, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, The Informant by Thomas Perry, The Ridge by Michael Koryta, and One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Dying for JusticeDying for Justice
L.J. Sellers
Spellbinder Books, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9832138-3-3
Trade Paperback

Detective Wade Jackson, with the violent crimes unit of the Eugene, Oregon Police Department, an investigator with the best track record of closing cases, has never worked a cold case before.  In the fifth and newest entry in this terrific series, he is faced with two of them, one in particular of a very personal nature:  the murder of his parents, ten years earlier.  Convinced that the man who has been imprisoned for the crime, now terminally ill with cancer, is innocent, he is determined to find justice for them, and peace for himself.

The second case has to do with Gina Stahl, now 46 years old, who has been in a coma for two years, believed to be the result of a suicide attempt.  When she awakens for the first time, she quite lucidly tells the authorities that she had been attacked by a man wearing a ski mask but who she believes was her ex-husband.  That investigation is complicated by the fact that her ex is a police officer.

Jackson ultimately works both cases, assisted by 32-year-old detective-in-training Lara Evans, the chapters for the most part alternating p.o.v. between the two.   The tale, as much as anything, is one of dysfunctional families in general, and siblings in particular.  The author’s expertise in creating deeply human characters is again much in evidence, together with a plot that keeps picking up speed as it hurtles to an ending that, quite literally, sent chills up and down my back and arms, and just as that was settling down, the ending had me again in goosebumps.  Ms. Sellers’ books just keep getting better and better, and accordingly this is her best one yet.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2011.


Crooked Letter, Crooked LetterCrooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Tom Franklin
Harper Perennial, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-059467-1
Trade Paperback

Whether this novel is a mystery, or a story about two men, or a tale about the Deep South, it is a riveting look into the characters, their development and their environment.  Larry and Silas, one white and the other black, were boyhood friends for a short time in rural Mississippi more than a quarter of a century before (where children were taught to spell the name of the State and river: M, I crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I humpback, humpback, I,).  They are tied together by more than just an apparent crime that changes both their lives.

Larry is a shunned outcast in the town as the result of the disappearance, and presumed murder, of a girl with whom he supposedly had a date as a teenager.  Silas moved to Chicago with his mother, but returns to the small rural town, eventually serving as its only constable.  Now their lives intertwine again as Larry falls under suspicion when the daughter of the town’s leading citizen disappears. The situation makes Silas face the past, something he’d rather avoid.

As a mystery, the novel is intriguing.  As a description of life in a small Southern town, it is vivid.  As a tale of racial conflict, it is mesmerizing.   The complex analyses of the characters, their motivations and actions are profound, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.


The InformantThe Informant
Thomas Perry
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-547-56933-8

As in his earlier novels [and I’m thinking particularly of the wonderful Jane Whitefield series], the devil is in the details, and this author excels in conveying the meticulously planned and executed steps taken by his protagonist, so that credibility is never an issue. In this standalone – actually, a follow-up to Mr. Perry’s very first novel, The Butcher’s Boy [for which he won an Edgar award] – that eponymous character returns, twenty years older.  Although he goes by any number of other names, that soubriquet is the name by which he is known, both to the authorities and to the mafia members who variously employed him, betrayed him, and then became his victims.  The Butcher’s Boy kills without compunction.  It is, after all, what he does best, taught since childhood, simply as a job, or a way to stay alive, or to seek revenge for the aforementioned betrayal.  Rarely is it personal.  Although somewhat more so of late.

Well-trained from the age of 10 by an actual butcher, whose “side job” is in “the killing trade,” beyond the necessary skills he is also taught “Everybody dies.  It’s just a question of timing, and whether the one who gets paid for it is you or a bunch of doctors.  It might as well be you.”

While working as a hit man, his philosophy was simple:  He had “resisted the camaraderie that some of the capos who had hired him
tried to foster.  He had kept his distance, done his job, collected his pay, and left town before buyer’s remorse set in.  He made it clear that he was a free agent and that he was nobody’s friend.”  He has been out of the US for over twenty years, now over 50 years old, and afraid he had gone soft.  But his skills are not diminished.  He leaves no witnesses.  The ones who aren’t dead never notice him entering or leaving a crime scene:  “He was a master at being the one the eye passed over in a crowd.”  And the authorities – –  with one notable exception – –  haven’t a clue.  That exception is Elizabeth Waring, of the Organized Crime & Racketeering Division of the Department of Justice.  She connects the dots and has no doubt that he has come out of retirement and is the one now murdering Mafiosi at an alarming rate, and sees in him, potentially, “the most promising informant in forty years.”  Of course, to fulfill that possibility she must get him to agree and, even more difficult, keep him alive, as “he wasn’t worth anything dead.”  They embark on an ambivalent, and somewhat fluid, relationship, equal parts grudging respect and fear of
the danger the other represents, somehow both earning sympathy.  The author’s trademark suspense as the end of the novel draws near had this reader literally holding her breath.  I loved this book, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.


The RidgeThe Ridge
Michael Koryta
Little, Brown and Company, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-05366-2

Mixing mystery with the supernatural, Michael Koryta has developed works that are eerie and fascinating, and The Ridge is no less than captivating.  The plot is somewhat complicated, and it takes a while to follow the thread.  And, of course, it requires suspension of disbelief.  But it does hold the reader from start to finish.

The story involves a particular area in Kentucky where over a century or more, a series of accidents and deaths occur.  In the midst of a forest, a drunkard has built a lighthouse.  For what purpose?  Then the man who built it is found dead by his own hand, oddly enough leaving a note asking chief deputy Kevin Kimble to investigate it. Meanwhile, a big-cat sanctuary has opened across the road, and the lions and tigers are uneasy in their new surroundings.  What does it mean?  Are there sinister forces at work?

Written with a keen eye, the novel moves rapidly from scene to scene. The characters are well-drawn and the surroundings described vividly, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.


One Was a SoldierOne Was a Soldier
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Minotaur Books, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-33489-5

In the tiny Adirondack town of Millers Kill, in upstate New York, a group of seven recently returning veterans are attending therapy sessions, PTSD the common factor among them, affecting each differently.  There is also a 25-year-old woman, ex-Army.  Each is finding the transition back to civilian life a difficult one.  They are a rather disparate group, variously described as “the doctor, the cop, the Marine and the priest” or, less kindly, “a cripple, a drunk, a washed-up cop . . . , ”  any or all of whom might be at risk for suicide.

Against all odds, Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne are, finally, going to get married, and fans of this wonderful series can breathe a sigh of relief.  Clare, an Army Major and an Episcopal priest originally from southern Virginia, has just returned after serving eighteen months in a combat zone.  Russ, the police chief from Millers Kills, in upstate New York, is now widowed [after 25 years of marriage], and they no longer have to hide their love.  But believing that he has never gotten over his wife’s death and that he is starting to have second thoughts, she starts having second thoughts of her own. For his part, Russ thinks “What did she want out of marriage? Specifically, marriage to a guy fourteen years older, who thought God was a myth and whose job could get him killed.”

The chapters of this newest book from Julia Spencer-Fleming, her seventh and her strongest yet [high praise indeed], alternate between these two major plot points, until they merge when one member of the therapy group is found dead and Russ is the lead investigator.  Clare is convinced, all evidence to the contrary, that it was murder.  In denial, perhaps, because that might threaten her own sense of safety, fighting, as she is, her own demons.  Russ, too, is ex-Army, had served in Vietnam, and is mindful of the problems faced by returning vets.

There are several plot twists, including wholly unexpected ones near the end, and the precision of the way they are woven into the tale completely satisfying.  In addition, the book makes the reader aware that aside from the obvious politics involved, one tends to forget the toll on lives lost and ruined by wars now lasting over a decade.


Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

In Defense of Agatha: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

kathleen-kaskaKathleen Kaska is the author of the Classic Triviography Mystery Series, which includes The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book, The Alfred Hitchcock Triviography and Quiz Book, and The Agatha Christie Triviography and Quiz Book. All three books have just been reissued by LL-Publications. Kathleen also writes the award-winning Sydney Lockhart mystery series set in the 1950s. Her first two mysteries, Murder at the Arlington and Murder at the Luther, were selected as bonus-books for the Pulpwood Queen Book Group, the largest book group in the country.

The first edition of my trivia book What’s Your Agatha Christie I. Q?, (now titled The Agatha Christie Triviography and Quiz Book), was released in 1996. A local bookstore in Austin, Texas hosted my first book signing. Soon after I sat down at the table and uncapped my pen, a rather respectable line began to form, mostly friends and family, attending to give their support and help me celebrate this long awaited moment. The atmosphere was party-like, introducing out-of-town friends to work colleagues and family.  A dear friend from Dallas just left the table with four signed copies when an elderly woman stepped forward. I reached out to take her book and realized that she did not have one. I picked one up off the table and asked if she’d like me to sign it. This was her response.

the-agatha-christie-triviography“I am not here to buy your book. I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd decades ago and I have never read another Christie book.” I raised an eyebrow. She continued. “Agatha Christie cheated when she wrote that book. In my opinion she had no idea who the killer was and just made up the ending at the last moment.” She stormed off.

I knew what she was referring to. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, written in 1926, has become known as Christie’s most controversial novel. In fact, it is one of the most talked about detective stories ever written. She’s gone on record to say that this Hercule Poirot mystery was her masterpiece. If you’re a Christie fan, you’ve most likely read this ingenious mystery; if not, I will not spoil the ending.

In Christie’s defense, the author knew exactly what she was doing. The idea had been put to her the year before by her brother-in-law, Jimmy Watts. Then a short time later, she received a letter from Lord Louis Mountbatten (uncle of Prince Philip) who had made the same suggestion. The idea intrigued her and she ran with it, using a technique that had never before been used. Nevertheless, colleagues accused her of breaking the mystery-writing rules, but rules are made to be broken murder-at-the-arlington(excuse the cliché), and if done well, prove effective. Eighty-eight years later, the controversy still remains. I’ll say no more. Read the book and decide for yourself.

Had the disgruntled woman at my book signing stayed a few moments longer, my response would have been, “Dame Christie knew what she was doing. In fact, she offered a few brilliant hints on page one and scattered many more clever clues through the book.”

Kathleen Kaska covers every aspect of the Queen of Crime’s life and career in The Agatha Christie Triviography and Quiz Book. She has packed an astonishing number of quotes, characters, plots, settings, biographical details, and pure fun into these quizzes. As Poirot might say, your “little grey cells will get the exercise!”

This book, fiendishly clever and remarkably researched, is pure gold for fans of Agatha Christie.

—Kate Stine, editor of Mystery Scene magazine.

Book Review: Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark

Guilt by Association
Marcia Clark
Mulholland Books, March 2012
ISBN 9780316198967
Trade Paperback

Take a trip to Los Angeles, where prosecution has its own style. Written by one in the know (and how), Clark delivers up a double shot of high profile cases and a whole lot of trouble. Travel from the manses of the wealthy to the dive motels in the poorest neighborhoods. It’s L.A., baby, and it’s a whole ‘nother country.

After celebrating a victory with her coworkers in the Special Trials division of the District Attorney’s office, Rachel Knight walks home only to be distracted by sirens nearby. She discovers, to her horror, one of those friendly coworkers, Jake Pahlmeyer, being carried out on a stretcher, dead. Immediately, she is warned off the case, a potential murder/suicide with Jake allegedly killing a teenage prostitute, then himself. However, she soon has more to worry about when she is assigned the rape case of a wealthy doctor’s daughter. Investigating suspects in the rape she disobeys orders and continues to dig into Jake’s case. Her car being destroyed by graffiti and also being shot at doesn’t discourage Knight’s determination.

Rachel Knight is a drinker, a woman who wants desperately to watch her diet, and who’s afraid of starting up a new romance. Clark puts so much personality into Knight’s character, making her more than just a routine prosecutor. I enjoyed the dichotomy between the classes – wealthy versus poor, doctor versus foster mother, lavish hotel versus junkies’ haven. There is so much of Los Angeles here. With cynicism and tense action scenes, Guilt by Association thinks outside the jury box.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, March 2012.
Author of Night Shadows and Beta.