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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// Amazon

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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.

***

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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Purchase Links:

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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:

Website Button     Twitter Button     Facebook Button     Goodreads Button 2

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4/27 Review @ Book Reviews from an Avid Reader
4/29 Showcase/Excerpt @ Fiction Zeal
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
5/05 Showcase (&excerpt) @ Celticladys Reviews
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 Reviews: False Tongues by Kate Charles and Murdering Lawyers by Larry Fine

False TonguesFalse Tongues  
A Callie Anson Mystery #4             
Kate Charles
Poisoned Pen Press, April 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0488-3
Hardcover

More than one mystery intersect in another adventure from Kate Charles. She’s an experienced expat author living in England exploring the mysteries of faith, love, family and violence in her books. In this fourth Callie Anson novel, it is her circle of acquaintances who are involved in a variety of actions and decisions, old and new, that drive the story and its sometimes complicated relationships.

Callie travels from London to Cambridge to attend a reunion of her classmates, graduates from theological seminary. She will have to confront both the scenes and at least one man with whom she was deeply emotionally involved during her time there: a man who unceremoniously dumped her in a shameful and hurtful way. Around her are arrayed classmates and older theologians who help Callie’s travel to emotional understanding. Meanwhile, the new love of her life, a London policeman who functions as a Family Liaison officer, becomes involved in the murder of a young man in Paddington Square. As intriguing as the convoluted relationships among the religious that are examined in this story are, the murder of a school boy with only a single tenuous link to the other plot, leads to examinations of working and absent parents, stresses in modern society and pressures of various kinds on law enforcement. Together, the development of these separate plot lines present a realistic picture of modern life.

These ideas and more are nicely embodied in the characters brought to the page by the author. The messages are many, perhaps too many, but the author’s delicate touch leaves them to the reader to accept or pass over. None is presented in such a way that one feels manipulated or into forced acceptance.

Charles nicely places the action in several consummately English locations. No generics here. She’s been called a most English of writers and compared favorably to Agatha Christie in these aspects. All in all an excellent, calm and deliberate story that can leave a reader with considerable food for thought.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Murdering LawyersMurdering Lawyers    
Larry Fine
Grey Swan Press, July 2014
ISBN: 978-0-9834900-9-8
Trade Paperback

One wonders about the author’s motivation for writing this novel. There are no good, as in morally acceptable, attorneys in this novel. None. Even the protagonist, a naïve almost simple-minded Marc Wilson, seduced in a nanosecond into a morally bankrupt underworld by the lure of big money, seems at crucial times unknowing and morally bankrupt..

Of course, the story is total fantasy, right? The product of a clever talented writer, right? There is absolutely no truth to the story, right? Total corruption of the New York City legal system. And not just the criminal courts. Oh, no, the entire legal system, if this novel is at all believable, or believed, is under the thrall of the most evil, most corrupt, devil worshipers ever invented. Male dominated of course.

Satan is one powerful angel, fallen or not, depending on your faith. The story concerns murder, rape, pollution, international politics, and always the attendants to the dark lord are the most corrupt attorneys and judges. The novel follows poor Marc Wilson through a labyrinthine journey of discovery, not just of former friends and colleagues, but of members of his own family. Satanists all.

Will he work things out and stay alive long enough to even put a dent in the tightly woven net that seems to control all of the city, and will his family forgive him if he does?

The novel has some interesting ideas and a complex plot. In style, however, it begins to erode at the edges. There is a distinct lack of emotional pull in the writing and the plot lines are just not sufficient enough to overcome dreary characterizations and lack of drive, even in the orgy scenes. In the end, the novel reads more like the kind of investigative report a researcher might produce: pedestrian and emotionless language about explosive, alarming and all-pervasive corruption.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: Outwitting Trolls by William G. Tapply, Gideon’s War by Howard Gordon, and The Whisperers by John Connolly

Outwitting Trolls
William G. Tapply
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-53127-0
Hardcover

Unfortunately, this is the final Brady Coyne novel.  It was completed shortly before William G. Tapply’s death last year.  He left behind a substantial body of work, including 25 books in the Brady Coyne series alone.  Mr. Tapply was a masterful storyteller.  Reading his books has always been an immense pleasure, and he will be greatly missed.

Brady Coyne, of course, is a Boston attorney, specializing in a few private cases and kept up to snuff completing the drudgery of a mountain of paperwork by his long-time secretary.  He is rescued from this tedium when he receives a phone call from a former close friend and neighbor, informing him that she is in her ex-husband’s hotel room where she has just found him stabbed to death.  Brady had just had a reunion with the victim the day before for a drink after a hiatus of a decade.

Naturally, Brady accepts the woman’s request to represent her, and she quickly becomes the number one suspect.  It’s up to Brady not only to support his client’s emotional state, but to protect her from the police and come up with the necessary clues to identify the realmurderer.  While  it’s not a complex plot, it is well-told.  This book, as all his others, is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2011.

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Gideon’s War
Howard Gordon
Touchstone, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-7581-1
Hard cover

Aficionados of action movies or television will certainly enjoy this novel, authored by someone already identified with endeavors like writing or producing such works as “24,” “The X Files,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.”  All of the characters in these efforts are firmly embedded in the plot, with enough action, killing and mayhem to satisfy even the most jaded of viewers or readers.

The tale involves two brothers and the twisted politics of Washington power plays.  Gideon Davis is a quiet UN negotiator specializing in obtaining compromises among factions, attempting to secure peace around the globe.  His brother, Tillman, apparently is involved in an insurgent Muslim faction in a fictional southeast Asian country aiming to unseat the sultan, who the U.S. President believes can bring democracy and peace to the nation.  The President, upon learning that Tillman has offered to surrender to Gideon on an offshore drilling rig, sends him flying off to accomplish the task.

Then all the action starts.  Page after page.  There is enough to keep the reader guessing, while the plot surges ahead at a lightning speed. The writing is smooth and the story well-told.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2011.

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The Whisperers
John Connolly
Pocket Books ,June 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-6524-9
Mass Market Paperback

There is always the element of the supernatural in a Charlie Parker novel.  And The Whisperers is no exception.  However, reality plays an important part in the theme, giving the author the opportunity to reflect on the horrors of war and its effects – especially combat stress – on the lives of those who fought them.

There are veiled references to the condition in the Iliad; during the Civil War it was known as “irritable heart;”  “shellshock” was the term used during World War I and its aftermath; for World War II it became known as “battle fatigue” and “war neurosis;” then “post-Vietnam syndrome”; and today “post-traumatic stress disorder.”

The plot involves a group of Iraqi veterans (all from Maine, Parker’s bailiwick), who return home to set up a smuggling operation.  One by one they commit suicide, and Parker is retained by the father of one of them to learn the reason for his son’s death.  This leads Parker to travel an unexpected path.

As a result, we meet some old friends, Angel and Louis, who always manage to cover Parker’s back.  But more important, Parker has to work with an old nemesis, The Collector.  And the eerie Herod, a man with strange tastes, and his shadow, the Captain.  The characters and the plot interweave on various levels, with prose that mesmerizes the reader.  The book is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

Book Reviews: Outwitting Trolls by William G. Tapply, Gideon's War by Howard Gordon, and The Whisperers by John Connolly

Outwitting Trolls
William G. Tapply
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-53127-0
Hardcover

Unfortunately, this is the final Brady Coyne novel.  It was completed shortly before William G. Tapply’s death last year.  He left behind a substantial body of work, including 25 books in the Brady Coyne series alone.  Mr. Tapply was a masterful storyteller.  Reading his books has always been an immense pleasure, and he will be greatly missed.

Brady Coyne, of course, is a Boston attorney, specializing in a few private cases and kept up to snuff completing the drudgery of a mountain of paperwork by his long-time secretary.  He is rescued from this tedium when he receives a phone call from a former close friend and neighbor, informing him that she is in her ex-husband’s hotel room where she has just found him stabbed to death.  Brady had just had a reunion with the victim the day before for a drink after a hiatus of a decade.

Naturally, Brady accepts the woman’s request to represent her, and she quickly becomes the number one suspect.  It’s up to Brady not only to support his client’s emotional state, but to protect her from the police and come up with the necessary clues to identify the realmurderer.  While  it’s not a complex plot, it is well-told.  This book, as all his others, is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gideon’s War
Howard Gordon
Touchstone, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-7581-1
Hard cover

Aficionados of action movies or television will certainly enjoy this novel, authored by someone already identified with endeavors like writing or producing such works as “24,” “The X Files,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.”  All of the characters in these efforts are firmly embedded in the plot, with enough action, killing and mayhem to satisfy even the most jaded of viewers or readers.

The tale involves two brothers and the twisted politics of Washington power plays.  Gideon Davis is a quiet UN negotiator specializing in obtaining compromises among factions, attempting to secure peace around the globe.  His brother, Tillman, apparently is involved in an insurgent Muslim faction in a fictional southeast Asian country aiming to unseat the sultan, who the U.S. President believes can bring democracy and peace to the nation.  The President, upon learning that Tillman has offered to surrender to Gideon on an offshore drilling rig, sends him flying off to accomplish the task.

Then all the action starts.  Page after page.  There is enough to keep the reader guessing, while the plot surges ahead at a lightning speed. The writing is smooth and the story well-told.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Whisperers
John Connolly
Pocket Books ,June 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-6524-9
Mass Market Paperback

There is always the element of the supernatural in a Charlie Parker novel.  And The Whisperers is no exception.  However, reality plays an important part in the theme, giving the author the opportunity to reflect on the horrors of war and its effects – especially combat stress – on the lives of those who fought them.

There are veiled references to the condition in the Iliad; during the Civil War it was known as “irritable heart;”  “shellshock” was the term used during World War I and its aftermath; for World War II it became known as “battle fatigue” and “war neurosis;” then “post-Vietnam syndrome”; and today “post-traumatic stress disorder.”

The plot involves a group of Iraqi veterans (all from Maine, Parker’s bailiwick), who return home to set up a smuggling operation.  One by one they commit suicide, and Parker is retained by the father of one of them to learn the reason for his son’s death.  This leads Parker to travel an unexpected path.

As a result, we meet some old friends, Angel and Louis, who always manage to cover Parker’s back.  But more important, Parker has to work with an old nemesis, The Collector.  And the eerie Herod, a man with strange tastes, and his shadow, the Captain.  The characters and the plot interweave on various levels, with prose that mesmerizes the reader.  The book is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.