Book Review: Baby Blue by Pol Koutsakis

Baby Blue
Stratos Gazis Series, Book 1
Pol Koutsakis
Translated by Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife
Bitter Lemon Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-908524-91-1

Modern day Athens is rife with corruption. Stratos Gazis makes his living by dealing with that corruption. He doesn’t consider himself a hit-man, although plenty of other people do. He sees himself as more of a problem solver; often the problem requires removing a person from a given situation on a permanent basis. Stratos is OK with that; some people deserve their fate. Stratos does have a code: if a client lies to him, he keeps the deposit and doesn’t do the job. Many people don’t believe this. Stratos believes that when you’re the best, you can afford to make the rules for your job.

One evening a friend, Angelino, calls in a favor. Angelino has a protégé, Emma. Emma wants Stratos to find out who killed her adoptive father several years ago. Definitely a cold case. Emma is blind, and has an amazing talent for card tricks. Angelino, who normally deals in information in and around Athens, plans on making a bundle of money by promoting Emma. Concurrently, there is a group (or maybe just one person) who killed pedophiles; there is a definite signature to the killings and this resembles the way in which Emma’s father was killed. Was Themis Raptas, once a well-known and respected reporter, a pedophile?  Why is there virtually no trace of him on the Internet?  Why was his adoption of Emma expedited?  The more Stratos looks into this old case, the worse everything looks for practically anyone and everyone involved.

There is a sub-plot related to Stratos and his past. The woman he is living with, Maria,  is pregnant. Stratos is not sure he is the father; there is at least one other potential candidate, who happens to be Maria’s previous boyfriend and a man Stratos considers to be his best friend, Kostas Dragos. Drag is also a policeman, a detective. He is investigating the pedophile murders; there may be some overlap with Emma’s situation. Maria isn’t sure where her relationship with Stratos is going, considering his occupation. Life is complicated.

Koutsakis paints a very dark portrait of Athens. Corruption is the rule and there seem to be almost no exceptions to that rule. Good people are difficult to find in this city, and their lot is not generally a pleasant one. Stratos comes by his world view via American film noir; references to classic films are scattered throughout the novel. Like back alleys in some Greek neighborhoods, the plot twists and turns many, many times before the truth (if that what it actually is) is revealed. There are lots of dead bodies, most of them justifiably so. This is the second book in the Stratos Gazis crime series; if one is prone to dark reads, tracking down ATHENIAN BLUES (the first) would probably be time well spent. BABY BLUE can stand quite well on it’s own two feet.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, May 2019.

Book Review: Vision by Lisa Amowitz

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Title: Vision
Author: Lisa Amowitz
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press
Pub. Date: September 9, 2014

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VisionVision
Lisa Amowitz
Spencer Hill Press, September 2014
ISBN 978-1-937053-99-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

The light is darker than you think…

High school student Bobby Pendell already has his hands full–he works almost every night to support his disabled-vet father and gifted little brother. Then he meets the beautiful new girl in town, who just happens to be his boss’s daughter. Bobby has rules about that kind of thing. Nothing matters more than keeping his job.

When Bobby starts to get blinding migraines that come with scary, violent hallucinations, his livelihood is on the line. Soon, he must face the stunning possibility that the visions of murder are actually real. With his world going dark, Bobby is set on the trail of the serial killer terrorizing his small town. With everyone else convinced he’s the prime suspect, Bobby realizes that he, or the girl he loves, might be killer’s next victim.

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I’ve seen a few reviews that, although very positive, specifically mention that the reviewers found the beginning of this book to be rather slow. I didn’t feel that way at all; indeed, those first pages are crammed with information without being the dreaded info dump. Through Ms. Amowitz’s skillful prose, we learn that Bobby is conflicted, more so than most boys his age. He has to be the responsible member of the family and while he loves his father, he resents having to be the adult. He’d like to get out but he’s much too loyal to his young brother to leave him behind and so, he’ll soldier on. For relief, Bobby loves music and he is never as peaceful as when he’s fishing. Then, a very strange thing happens to him and he has a blinding headache and what he can only assume is a terrible hallucination. The pain and fear and near blindness make him wonder if he can even make it home.

All that in the first four or five pages!

Are the horrendous scenes Bobby is seeing some sort of psychic visions or entirely his imagination? Or are they, perhaps, something far worse, something he won’t be able to bear? People he cares about are in critical danger if he’s not crazy but, just when he thinks he’s figured it out, a woman named Maura Reston comes into his life with an amazing story to tell and an offer he might not be able to refuse. First, though, he’s in for an even bigger shock that could turn his whole life on end.

Bobby is an appealing young man, one who drew my attention from the very beginning. He is at turns frightened, falling in love, loyal, angry, confused, happy, depressed,  all the things you would expect to find in a seventeen-year-old boy and so much more that he shouldn’t have to be. At one moment, he’s sure he has no future and, at the next, he’s soaring on the wings of hope. Bobby will linger in my thoughts for quite a while.

A number of the other people in Bobby’s life stand out for a variety of reasons, especially his dad, a man who has been beaten down to nothing, and Coco, a true example of what a best friend can be. Gabe seemed a bit unrealistic but is still engaging and Pete…well, Pete is the dog everybody should have. Really, all the characters in Vision are interesting and well-rounded and are a testament to Ms. Amowitz’s writing ability.

The author also knows how to create and carry out a solid plot. I had an inkling early on as to who the killer might be and, as it turned out, I was right, but that didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story because there was still a lot to find out. Ms. Amowitz kept the tension high till the final pages and that’s what I expect in a good thriller.

I’m not sure whether Ms. Amowitz intends to continue Bobby’s story but I certainly hope she will—I want to know what will happen next to him and all the folks in his life  😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2014.

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About the Author

 

Lisa AmowitzLisa Amowitz was born in Queens and raised in the wilds of Long Island, New York where she climbed trees, thought small creatures lived under rocks and studied ant hills. And drew. A lot.

Lisa has been a professor of graphic design at Bronx Community College where she has been tormenting and cajoling students for nearly eighteen years. She started writing eight years ago because she wanted something to illustrate, but somehow, instead ended up writing YA. Probably because her mind is too dark and twisted for small children.

BREAKING GLASS which was released July 9, 2013 from Spencer Hill Press, is her first published work. VISION, the first of the Finder series will be released in 2014 along with an unnamed sequel in the following year. LIFE AND BETH will also be released in the near future. So stay tuned because Lisa is very hyper and has to create stuff to stay alive.


To contact Lisa try:


Website
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