Book Reviews: Death Spiral by Janie Chodosh and Identity Crisis by Debbi Mack

Death SpiralDeath Spiral:
A Faith Flores Science Mystery
Janie Chodosh
The Poisoned Pencil, April 2014
ISBN 978-1929345007
Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1929345014

Faith Flores is a sixteen-year-old high school girl from the low side of Philadelphia. Faith wears thrift-store clothes, exists at the margins of society. She wears combat boots and she exudes attitude. Her mother is a recently dead heroin addict. Now she’s been taken in by her mother’s sister and is living in a better neighborhood and attending a different high school, where she’s having difficulty fitting in. Faith Flores is also bright, stubborn and street smart. When she gets a little distance from finding her mother’s body on the bathroom floor, she begins to realize something is off. Her mother was in a clinical trial and clean. So how is it she dies of a purported heroin overdose?

The tale begins sixteen weeks later and Faith is struggling to acclimate to her new school and new and different classmates. As she moves through the halls, attending class and negotiating all the differences of a new school and climate, her observations of her contemporaries are pointed, trenchant and often funny. You begin to realize that in spite of her background and deprived circumstances, this is a bright and determined young woman. In these early paragraphs, the author cleverly introduces most of the pivotal characters and the circumstances that force Faith into a terror-filled race to save her mother’s reputation, her very life, and bring down a powerful adversary.

I don’t hang about with teen-agers although I am certainly aware of many of their public tribal idiosyncrasies, however, the dialogue here and the expressed attitudes and opinions have the absolute ring of authenticity. With considerable skill, the author draws readers into the story and as the tension and pace continue to rise, we are tormented by the reminders that this story and Faith’s objectives are propelled by children, however bright and sophisticated they may be.

The story is written to a high level of competence and while there are occasional wandering lapses, and though there is a wondering sense of stretching credibility from time to time, here is a group of teens, led by a persistent young woman of uncommon grit and little tact whom I predict offers an enduring attention and approbation, if not outright loyalty and adoration, from fans sixteen to sixty.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.


Identity CrisisIdentity Crisis
A Sam McRae Mystery
Debbi Mack
Debbi Mack/Lulu, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-557-08325-1
Trade Paperback
Renegade Press, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-9829508-7-6

The novel rides squarely on the protagonist’s capable shoulders. She’s a bright and upright independent lawyer with her own practice. Stephanie Ann McRae can be a potty mouth at times, but her infrequent tirades are self-directed. Does she make mistakes? You bet. Does she fault herself when it happens? You bet. Does she occasionally skate a little close to the legal if not the ethical line? For her clients, sure she does. Maybe her emotions are a little close to the surface, for a lawyer, but it all works and somehow, by page 10 you’re saying, “I’m on board. I wanna see this through to the end. Go Sam!” Because “Sam” McRae has grabbed you for the full ride.

Sam is smart, but not infallible, doesn’t leap even low bushes at a single bound, so she’s easy to relate to. Early on she discovers that the FBI and her local cops are interested in her client, Melanie, because of a murder. Melanie isn’t exactly a suspect, she’s a person of interest. The problem is, Melanie has gone missing.

The next thing you know Sam, who isn’t what you’d call well-off, learns that she—or someone using her name—is applying for a substantial line of credit. Mild panic ensues and another layer is added to the mix. Is Sam’s client involved in the identity theft? And what’s that black limo doing, the one that appears to be shadowing her at times?

There are a lot of characters in this novel, most of whom are interesting, some of whom might has been more fruitfully developed. Sam’s love interest is at times almost an afterthought. Occasionally the writing meanders, but mostly the story maintains a high level of interest and forceful pace. The author has a keen eye for character and her writing is usually smooth and interesting. I enjoyed the novel all the way to its satisfying conclusion.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.