Book Reviews: The Shadow Broker by Trace Conger and Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr

The Shadow BrokerThe Shadow Broker
A Mr. Finn Novel
Trace Conger
CreateSpace, August 2014
ISBN: 978-1-500-96697-3
Trade Paperback

This novel serves to introduce Finn Harding, who lost his PI license and is reduced to scrounging for a living, dealing with less than savory persons to make ends meet.  He lives on a houseboat on the Ohio River in Cincinnati, has an ex-wife and six-year-old daughter.  Obviously, this book is the beginning of a series.  Finn supposedly specializes in finding people who don’t want to be found, since doing so doesn’t require a license from the state.

One such assignment comes from a man named Bishop who operates an internet site that offers purloined data illegally obtained by his criminal partners.  It involves identifying a blackmailer, who is demanding $50,000 per month of Bishop to not disclose how he hacked into the site and is able to give the FBI all the background needed to prosecute.  Finn is able to name the blackmailer, but as a result finds himself in a more complicated situation, facing possible death at the hands of his clients.

Finn is an interesting protagonist, resourceful, energetic and calculating, although less than an upright citizen as events turn out.  He knows the difference between right and wrong, but circumstances make it hard to be ethical when you have to cut corners to survive.  It will be interesting to see what develops in the next novel in the series, Scar Tissue.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2015.

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Destroyer AngelDestroyer Angel
An Anna Pigeon Novel #18
Nevada Barr
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, February 2015
ISBN: 978-0-2500-5847-8
Mass Market Paperback

Novels in the Anna Pigeon series usually take place in national parks featuring the wilderness as she grapples with the likes of forest fires and the like.  This time, as she braves a Minnesota forest, it is four gunmen who have kidnapped two friends and their daughters while she was out canoeing, thus missing out on the party at the beginning:  The five women originally planned to enjoy a long weekend camping at a park ranger site.

Thus begins a long trek of undue hardship as the captives are forced to travel toward a landing strip miles away where the kidnappers hoped to be picked up by a plane to wait for the eventual payoff.  Instead, as they slowly head to their destination, trailed by Anna whose purpose obviously is somehow to rescue her friends, the reader is treated to a gruesome blow-by-blow account of the rough treatment the women receive and lessons in how to survive in the wilderness, courtesy of Anna the park ranger, as well as how to stalk prey.

The descriptions are graphic and powerful, brutal and mesmerizing.  Unfortunately, from time to time, the author interjects opinions on a variety of side issues which detract from the forward thrust of the plot. Otherwise, this is a forceful tale, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2015.

Book Review: Dial Up for Murder by Clem Chambers—and a Giveaway!

Dial Up for MurderDial Up for Murder
The Hacker Chronicles Book 1
Clem Chambers
CreateSpace, November 2014
ISBN 9781503179981
Trade Paperback

Fascinating. Funny. Clever, and, at the end, rife with tension-filled risk. Today, most of us have some sense of the shorthand of text messaging. In the mid-1980’s that was a skill yet to be mastered. Digital technology and communication thereby gained was still only on the horizon for many people.

But, as is true of so many inventions of the clever human intellect, there is almost always a potential for evil, as well as for good. Here we have a young man, Peter Talbot, by name, who has built upon a rock of a computer, a modest information service. Forces of both good and evil immediately discover ways to use Peter and his service for their own ends. The resulting expansion is making Peter a wealthy man, but it is also making him vulnerable to forces that first would use him and then destroy him. Will he win out in the end?

Like many English crime novels, the story is heavily populated with quirky, unusual, and odd characters and ordinary folks who act in quirky and odd ways. Consider George, an old ex-paratrooper who is at odds with the world. When he saves Peter from undesirable attention, Peter offers him a job. A shadowy figure we are expected to accept at face value, apparently some sort of government spook, enjoins Peter to provide client information, some of whom are obviously on the wrong side of the law, prostitution and espionage appear in the mix. Young hackers or computer game developers wander in and out and then the American Mob show up.

Readers will have already caught on to the odd style, often cheeky observations of the characters, the unusual and often abrupt short—hand style that cuts off potentially tedious descriptive passages. The author employs a sometimes wild narrative style that fits well with the story and the characters.

There are some aspects of the book that may put readers off. Logical progression sometimes is let go by the boards in favor of a faster pace. Foregone conclusions and almost-obvious results crop up from time to time. Still, the characters are charming if mis-identified. Talbot, for example, is not a computer hacker, he’s a smart, up-coming young businessman. He’s also wise beyond his years, careful around murderers, fit enough to get out of tight scrapes and has a way with certain female characters.

High tension, screaming car chases, a brief air-borne chase, guns and bombs all make this a delightful cyber-crime reading experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2015.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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Leave a comment below to enter the drawing
for a print copy of Dial Up for Murder
. There
will be three winners and the winning names
will be
drawn on Tuesday evening, March 31st.

Open internationally.

Book Review: Assured Destruction by Michael F. Stewart

 

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Assured Destruction Series
Michael F. Stewart
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult

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Teenage hacker, Janus Rose, doesn’t care about the moral choices of
living multiple lives online, until the real life consequences of her
actions enslave her to the local PD’s High Tech Crime Unit, forcing
her to become the very creature hackers hate, a spook.

Jan owes the world nothing. Her father left without a word. #BIGSECRET
Her mother has progressive Multiple Sclerosis. And Jan juggles the need
to complete homework with the need to keep pizza on the table, running
the family computer recycling business. Living in an industrial park with
crappy Feng Shui, Jan’s pretty sure that the only one she can depend on is
herself. Maybe. And yet, just because she knows how to code, people seem
to think they can depend on her to save their butts and solve their crimes.

Jan does take short cuts. She skirts the shadows of what’s right and
wrong. But she has to; if she’s not multitasking then she fails out of
school, or the family loses the business, or someone dies …

It’s a brave new world. Welcome to ASSURED DESTRUCTION.

 

Goodreads

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Assured DestructionAssured Destruction
Assured Destruction #1
Michael F. Stewart
Michael F. Stewart / Non Sequitur Press, February 2013
ISBN 9780981269948
Trade Paperback

From the author—

You can learn a lot about someone looking through their hard drive…

Sixteen-year-old Jan Rose knows that nothing is ever truly deleted. At least, not from the hard drives she scours to create the online identities she calls the Shadownet.

Hobby? Art form? Sad, pathetic plea to garner friendship, even virtually? Sure, Jan is guilty on all counts. Maybe she’s even addicted to it. It’s an exploration. Everyone has something to hide. The Shadownet’s hard drives are Jan’s secrets. They’re stolen from her family’s computer recycling business Assured Destruction. If the police found out, Jan’s family would lose its livelihood.

When the real people behind Shadownet’s hard drives endure vicious cyber attacks, Jan realizes she is responsible. She doesn’t know who is targeting these people or why but as her life collapses Jan must use all her tech savvy to bring the perpetrators to justice before she becomes the next victim.

 

I have to admit to being just a bit worried in the early pages of Assured Destruction when I found myself reading quite a bit of technical jargon about computers. I’m not precisely computer-illiterate but I’m no tech-savvy geek either. Some of what Janus was up to had me doing a little head-scratching but, after a while, I got in the swing of things and, by the end of the book, I realized Mr. Stewart had actually taught me a thing or two, never a bad outcome.

Jan is the stereotypical poster child for the IT whiz (usually a guy so having the protagonist be a girl was refreshing) living in his parents basement, socially awkward, chowing down on pizza. As a matter of fact, the likeness is almost funny but, at the same time, it’s sad because the circumstances of her life have isolated her somewhat from her peers. Still, she seems to fit in well enough at school and there is no serious friction with the other kids so, then, one has to wonder why she has set up such an elaborate artificial social world. The answer to that is easy when you consider her home environment.

Jan’s strength and appeal for me lay in her high intelligence (even when she does some really dumb, unthinking things) and in her essential goodness—she has no intent to hurt anyone. I came to really like this girl but she’s the only character that I thought was well-developed. I just didn’t have any real connection to anyone else, especially the two potential love interests who, to me, were pretty interchangeable. When you get right down to it, I never felt anything about which boy would win her heart, if either, because neither was much more than two-dimensional. Funnily enough, the characters that did stand apart a little for me were her creations, particularly Heckleena and Gramps. That in itself is a sad commentary on Jan’s life, isn’t it?

When it became apparent that a serious crime was taking place, I was very surprised at the truth of what was going on although I did think it was a bit contrived because the bad guy’s ultimate goal really wasn’t necessary for the continuation of his “business”. That’s okay, though, because it still made for a good story with a few nailbiting moments and the pleasure of being alongside Jan as she figures out what to do. This is one smart cookie and she’s strong-willed, too. No wonder I like her so much and am looking forward to reading Script Kiddie and With Zombies  😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2014.

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Assured Destruction 2 Script KiddieSynopsis book 2 – Script Kiddie:
Jan Rose no longer steals data from the old computers she recycles. She doesn’t need to. As the newest member of the police department’s High Tech Crime Unit, the laptop of a murderer has landed on her desk. Her job: to profile and expose a killer.

But that’s not all.

A creep lurks in the shadows, stalking a friend, and Jan must stop him before the hunt turns deadly. The clock counts down for Jan to save her friend, her job, her boyfriend–maybe even her life.

Assured Destruction 3 With ZombiesSynopsis book 3 – With Zombies:
The final book in the Assured Destruction series!

Jan Rose may already be expunged from the police department’s High Tech Crime Unit. Her mother’s hospitalized, and Assured Destruction’s on the cusp of bankruptcy. But Jan doesn’t wait on anything, she seeks out the customers who used to keep the family business afloat. That’s when everything starts to go wrong.

A computer virus–aka the Zombie Worm–threatens not only her school and Shadownet, but the entire city. A skull with a chain running through its socket links a powerful gang to her former customers, and holds the secrets to why her father left and the identity of her mother’s boyfriend.

To save her family and the business, Jan must determine who is friend and who is foe. And decide what type of hacker she wishes to become: Gray, white, or black. Not only her life hangs in the balance.

 

Assured Destruction Complete Series

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About the Author

Michael F. StewartAfter crewing ships in the Antarctic and the Baltic Sea and some fun in venture capital, Michael anchored himself (happily) to a marriage and a boatload of kids. Now he injects his adventurous spirit into his writing with brief respites for research into the jungles of Sumatra and Guatemala, the ruins of Egypt and Tik’al, paddling the Zambezi and diving whatever cave or ocean reef will have him. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers and SF Canada, and the author of the Assured Destruction series, 24 Bones, The Sand Dragon, Hurakan, Ruination and several award winning graphic novels for young adults. His most recent project, The Terminals, has been optioned for television by Sudden Storm Entertainment.

Michael lives in Ottawa, Canada, with his wife and four daughters. He tries very hard to keep life an adventure both on and off the page. Please come find him on Goodreads.

 

Author Links:

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Book Review: Identity Theft by Anna Davies

Identity TheftIdentity Theft
Anna Davies
Point Horror, May 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-47712-3
Trade Paperback

Sometimes, the best decision can feel very, very wrong; particularly for a teen-ager.  When Hayley chose to give up extracurricular activities to focus on schoolwork, she knew that she would become a bit of an outcast.  The prestigious scholarship that she has set her sights on will be totally worth it, though.  Or so she keeps telling herself.

Of course, the pursuit of excellence can be quite stressful.  Without the distractions of peers, Hayley’s summer had gone very well; but, with the beginning of school, self-doubt rears its ugly head.  Sure, her skin is thick enough to handle the stage-whispered barbs from girls that once were treasured friends.  Okay, her relationship with Adam may feel a bit strained, but what does he expect?  He is her toughest competitor for the Ainsworth scholarship and he most certainly doesn’t need the financial assistance; whereas it is Hayley’s only chance at college.

Fully immersed in school assignments, acting as Editor of the yearbook and continuing her work towards her scholarship, Hayley begins to feel that the stress is affecting her.  At first, she hears snippets of conversation that appear to be aimed at her, but she doesn’t know why.  Rumours are being spread about things she has supposedly done.  Total nonsense, but eerie, nonetheless.

Just as Hayley begins to suspect sabotage, proof emerges, in the form of a Facebook page.  Now, she is forced to question her sanity.  “Hayley’s” new Facebook has pictures of her in places that she doesn’t remember being, doing things she most certainly would not do……under normal circumstances.  Has the pressure created an alter-ego, is someone out to get her, or is she simply going crazy?  Hayley must solve this mystery quickly, while she still has a tenuous grip on who she really is.

Ms. Davies created an outstanding, creepy, mystery with Identity Theft.  This reader was quickly consumed and constantly “solving” the conundrum.  The twists and turns were plentiful without bogging down the story, and I was completely surprised by the ending.  This is a perfect book for the Middle-Grade and High School audience.  A special thank-you to Ms. Davies for having her characters listen to my two very favourite bands of all time.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2013.