Book Review: A Wolf in the Woods by Nancy Allen

A Wolf in the Woods
An Ozarks Mystery #4
Nancy Allen
Witness Impulse, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-06-243878-2
Ebook

From the publisher—

McCown County assistant prosecutor Elsie Arnold is prepping an assault case when a girl is found beaten and bloodied at a roadside no-tell motel. Elsie tries to convince the teen to reveal who attacked her, but Mandy is too scared—and stubborn—to cooperate… and then she disappears. Elsie’s positive a predator is targeting the Ozark hills, yet the authorities refuse to believe their small town could be plagued by sex trafficking.

Then middle school student Desiree Wickham goes missing, but only Elsie suspects it could be connected to Mandy’s assault. As she digs deeper into the events leading up to Desiree’s disappearance, she stumbles upon an alarming discovery: local girls are falling prey to a dubious online modeling agency, and never seen again. Elsie shares her concerns with Detective Ashlock and the FBI, but they shut her out.

She takes matters into her own hands and lands an interview with the head of the modeling agency. But when she meets him face-to-face, she discovers the fate of Desiree and Mandy… and becomes his newest captive. Elsie’s desperate to free the girls—and save herself—before the unspeakable happens. And she’s in for the fight of her life.

Sex trafficking is becoming a fairly common theme in crime fiction and I, for one, am glad to see authors shedding light on this hidden world that brings such devastation to girls and young women as well as their families. In this particular story, Elsie Arnold is a worthy warrior in the fight to obtain justice.

When first one girl and then another go missing and the local cops and FBI seem to be dismissive of Elsie’s concerns, she decides to follow her hunches on her own. It will come as no surprise to the seasoned crime fiction reader that her impulsive actions get her in trouble but Elsie is no dimwit. This woman is intelligent and driven by a need to set things right but she’s not a professional investigator so, of course, she makes mistakes, some of them real doozies.

Speaking of mistakes, is Elsie’s boyfriend, Detective Bob Ashlock, one of them? Some readers, including myself, might think so but Elsie hasn’t reached her point of no return yet and, to be honest, her attention right now has to be on this case, especially once she becomes a target herself.

I was first introduced to Elsie and this series two years ago with the third book, The Wages of Sin, and I thought then that author Nancy Allen was somebody I was very glad to have “discovered”. My opinion has not changed; if anything, Ms. Allen is even better with this entry and I really am anticipating the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2018.

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An Excerpt from A Wolf in the Woods

Prologue

A dark haired man lounged behind a battered desk in a second floor room at an EconoMo motel that sat on the highway in flyover country, Missouri. He pulled up Skype on his laptop and studied his own image on the computer screen, rubbing the tattoo that covered his neck. Behind him, the unmade bed was visible on the screen. A thin cotton sheet covered the form of a young girl.

He adjusted the angle to cut her from the shot. The bed disappeared, replaced by beige curtains at the window, hanging askew on the rod.

The place was a dump. He could afford better accommodations, without a doubt. It was business, and business was booming. His greatest challenge was procuring sufficient supply to meet the constant demand.

On the desktop, bottles were scattered near the computer. Alprazolam. Oxycodone. Rohypnol. Diazepam. Three value packs of Benadryl: cherry flavored. A plastic bottle of Aristocrat vodka sat beside a jumbo container of Hawaiian Punch.

As he pushed them aside, the bottle of roofies rolled off the desktop and onto the dirty carpet. He caught it just before it rolled under the dresser.

A ding notified him: his Skype appointment was ready. Right on time. He liked the girls to be punctual.

He hit the button on the mouse and fixed a smile on his face. “Lola! How you doing, baby!”

A giggling girl with a mane of curly blonde hair greeted him onscreen. “Tony, you’re so funny. I’m not Lola, I’ve told you a zillion times.”

“But you look like a Lola. If you want to make it in the modeling trade, you’ll have to project glamour. Drama.” He stretched his arms over his head, displaying muscled biceps covered in ink, and locked his hands behind his neck.

“Cool.” Her eyes shone.

“Leave that country girl persona behind in Podunk. Where are you from again?”

“Barton. Barton, Missouri. Where’s Podunk?”

He laughed, running his hand over his thick hair. “Podunk is where you’re sitting right now. What you’re itching to ditch. How’s life?”

Desiree shrugged, pulling a face.

“They still giving you shit at school, baby?”

She rolled her head back onto her neck. “All. The. Time.”

“And how’s living at home?”

“Lame.”

“Wish you could leave it all behind?”

“Totally.”

The girl turned her head; he heard a whisper from someone off-screen. Sharply, he asked: “Are you alone?”

A second head appeared over Lola’s shoulder. He saw a mixed race girl. She was taller than Lola, but he pegged her at the same age: an adolescent, around fourteen.

And she was a diamond in the rough—a black diamond. Unblemished skin, full lips, high cheekbones. Lola said, “You asked if I had any friends who wanted to meet you.”

He smiled, tapping his hand on the counter. “Who’s this?”

The tall girl looked at her friend, then into the computer. “I’m Taylor Johnson.”

“And you’re interested in modeling?”

She blinked. A nervous twitch. He shot a grin, to reassure her. “You’ve got the bone structure for it.”

The tall girl pinched her lips together. “Maybe. I think so.”

“We’ll need to conduct some auditions by video, maybe an interview, before you can qualify for a live shoot at the agency.”

She looked skittish. He wouldn’t get anything from her today.

“Let’s just get acquainted, okay?” He was about to launch into his patter: find out her story, gain her trust.

But a moan sounded from the bed behind him. The girl was coming around. He glanced over, fearful that she might raise a ruckus that could scare off his new prospects.

Tony picked up his phone. “Aw shit. Call’s coming in from one of our clients. I gotta take it.” He winked and shut off Skype just in time.

In a weak voice, she said, “Tony. Help me. Please, take off the cuffs.”

He sighed. Picking up a dirty plastic cup, he poured a measure of vodka and Benadryl, and topped it off with the red punch.

The girl spoke again, in a pleading tone. “Don’t make me do it, Tony. It hurts.”

He stirred the drink with his finger and walked toward the bed. “Mandy, Mandy. You look like you could use a magic drink, baby. This will fix you right up.”

The girl tried to sit up as he extended the red plastic cup. Tony stared down at her, shaking his head. “What’s that saying? ‘The customer is always right.’ You know what you got to do.”

The girl began to thrash against the mattress. But she was handcuffed to the metal bed frame.

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Excerpt from A Wolf in the Woods by Nancy Allen. Copyright © 2018 by Nancy Allen. Reproduced with permission from Witness Impulse. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Nancy Allen practiced law for 15 years as Assistant Missouri Attorney General and Assistant Prosecutor in her native Ozarks.

She tried over 30 jury trials, including murder and sexual offenses, and is now a law instructor at Missouri State University.

Catch Up With Ms. Allen On:
Website –
nancyallenbooks.com
Goodreads – Nancy Allen
Twitter – @TheNancyAllen
& Facebook – NancyAllenAuthor

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Book Review: The Wages of Sin by Nancy Allen

The Wages of SinThe Wages of Sin
An Ozarks Mystery #3
Nancy Allen
Witness Impulse, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-243875-1
Ebook

From the publisher—

In rural McCown County, Missouri, a young pregnant woman is found beaten to death in a trailer park. The only witness to the murder is Ivy, her six-year-old daughter, who points to her mom’s boyfriend—father of the unborn child. County prosecutor Madeleine Thompson promises the community justice, and in the Ozarks, that can only mean one thing: a death sentence.

When Madeleine’s first choice for co-counsel declines to try a death penalty case, she is forced to turn to assistant prosecutor Elsie Arnold. Elsie is reluctant to join forces with her frosty boss, but the road to conviction seems smooth—until unexpected facts about the victim arise, and the testimony of the lone eyewitness Ivy becomes increasingly crucial. Against Elsie’s advice, Madeleine brings in the state attorney general’s office to assist them, while cutthroat trial attorney Claire O’Hara joins the defense.

Elsie will not let the power of prosecution—of seeking justice—be wrested from her without a fight. She wants to win the case, and to avenge the death of the mother and her unborn child. But as the trial nears, Elsie begins to harbor doubts about the death penalty itself. Meanwhile, the child Ivy is in greater danger than anyone knows.

How credible is a 6-year-old witness to a crime? Certainly that question has been a concern in the past and will continue to be so in the future but, in the case of Ivy’s mother’s boyfriend and the murder of her mother, it’s really critical because the stakes of conviction are so high. Can…or should…a prosecutor seek the death penalty based on that small child’s testimony even when the man confesses? After all, we all know confessions are frequently false for a variety of reasons.

There are many people who do not believe the death penalty is just or effective but many others who truly do believe it’s sometimes necessary because of the nature and/or the heinousness of the crime. I won’t get into my own opinion but I was captivated in The Wages of Sin by the zeal of both Madeleine and Elsie to carry this prosecution to it’s farthest reaches although their reasons may not be entirely altruistic.

There are other threads in this story, such as domestic violence and the effects of poverty and, together with the central issue of the death penalty, Nancy Allen has provided the reader with much to contemplate. At the same time, her characters and the Ozarks setting are as compelling as any I’ve seen in a while and I’m glad to have “discovered” this fine author.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2016.

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About the Author

Nancy AllenNancy Allen practiced law for 15 years as Assistant Missouri Attorney General and Assistant Prosecutor in her native Ozarks. She has tried over 30 jury trials, including murder and sexual offenses, and is now a law instructor at Missouri State University. Her first novel,The Code of the Hills, was published by HarperCollins in 2014.

The Wages of Sin is the third book in her Ozarks mystery series.

Catch Up with Nancy Allen:

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4/27 Review @ Book Reviews from an Avid Reader
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4/30 Review w/ excerpt @ The Book Divas Reads
5/03 Review @ Booksie’s Blog
5/03 Interview w/excerpt @ Writers and Authors
5/04 Review @ Mystery Suspense Reviews
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5/06 Showcase/excerpt @ Bless Their Hearts Mom
5/08 Review @ Booked on a Feeling
5/10 Interview @ BooksChatter
5/12 Showcase/excerpt @ Thoughtful Tinker
5/13 Showcase/excerpt @ Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
5/14 Review @ Buried Under Books
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5/19 Showcase/excerpt @ Socrates Book Review Blog
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Book Review: A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge by Terry Shames—and a Giveaway!

A Deadly Affair at Bobtail RidgeA Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge
A Samuel Craddock Mystery #4
Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books, April 2015
ISBN 978-1-63388-046-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

In the course of their developing friendship, Samuel Craddock has learned to accept that his neighbor Jenny Sandstone’s personal life is strictly secret. But when her dying mother tells Craddock that Jenny is in danger, he is confronted with a dilemma. He wants to respect Jenny’s privacy, but he is haunted by the urgency in the dying woman’s voice.

When Jenny is the victim of a suspicious car accident, Craddock has no choice but to get involved. He demands that she tell him what he needs to know to protect her and to solve the mysteries surrounding the strange events that began taking place as soon as Jenny’s mother passed away.

Forced to confront the past, Jenny plunges into a downward spiral of rage and despair. She is drinking heavily and seems bent on self-destruction. Craddock must tread lightly as he tries to find out who is behind the threats to her. But only by getting to the bottom of the secrets buried in Jenny’s past can he hope to save her both from herself and from whoever is out to harm her.

Not quite two years ago, Terry Shames rather quietly appeared on the mystery scene with Samuel Craddock, former police chief of a small Texas town. Before long, word began to spread about this appealing guy and the rambunctious citizens of Jarrett Creek and, today, readers everywhere wait for the treat they know is coming with each new entry in the series. A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge is the latest and is every bit as entertaining as I had anticipated.

Make no mistake, murder is an ugly thing and this book, like its predecessors, is no lightweight romp through a horde of unlikely suspects. Samuel cares about his town and its people and is understandably worried when vandalism and threatened harm against a pair of horses seem to point to a bigger issue that initially eludes him. His friend Jenny is clearly at the core of whatever is going on and her reaction to his gentle probing is surprising as well as alarming. Later, missing persons add to the mix and dangerous secrets begin to come to light.

Jarrett Creek is full of people I’d like to know—Samuel, of course, a gentle soul named Truly, artist Ellen—and even some of the less engaging. The latter, after all, may not always be the most pleasant of people but they’re human and, thus, flawed but not irredeemable. Ms. Shames has a way with her characters that makes them very believable while she’s also quite adept at creating an interesting plot that holds the reader’s attention. I’m as pleased as I can be with this installment in Samuel Craddock’s life and am already wishing next January would get here so I can pick up The Necessary Death of Nonie Blake.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2015.

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