Book Review: Red Tide by Jeff Lindsay

Red TideRed Tide
A Billy Knight Thriller #2
Jeff Lindsay
Diversion Publishing, October 2015
ISBN 978-1626817210
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Billy Knight wants to ride out Key West’s slow-season with the occasional charter and the frequent beer. But when he discovers a dead body floating in the gulf, Billy gets drawn into a deadly plot of dark magic and profound evil. Along with his spiritually-attuned terrier of a friend, Nicky, and Anna, a resilient and mysterious survivor of her own horrors, Billy sets out to right the wrongs the police won’t, putting himself in mortal peril on the high seas.

The mood is somber in the opening pages of Red Tide as Billy’s charter boat business is down in a slow economy, his girlfriend is drifting away from what seems to be a moribund relationship and he spends his afternoons in the morose company of a bunch of diehard barsitters. Things get worse when Billy picks a fight in the bar, landing himself and said girlfriend, Nancy, in the Key West jail. In the drunk tank, Billy meets a rich kid named Rick Pearl who will show up in Billy’s life later but he’s probably seen the last of Nancy.

So begins the second in the Billy Knight series following Tropical Depression which was first published more than 20 years ago and re-issued this past August. Red Tide itself is new and may or may not lead to more stories featuring Billy, a retired cop relocated from Los Angeles to Key West, a world away from his past.

While the plot is done quite well, it’s the characters that really appealed to me, and not just Billy who’s kind of a romantic at heart and a man who’d rather leave the detecting life behind but can’t help himself. I also have become very fond of his annoying friend, Nicky, who is as hyper as they come, no more than five feet tall, and determined to rescue Billy from his own unhappiness.

In this entry, Billy finds himself involved with the Haitian refugee problem and a touch of voodoo but it’s a woman named Anna who gives him reason to investigate when the police have no interest in the dead body he and his wacky pal, Nicky, found in the Gulf. Following leads in Miami, Billy soon learns that human trafficking has come too close to home and he’s soon in pursuit of a mysterious ship on the high seas.

Lindsay’s Dexter series has had its fans—in droves—as well as its detractors—also in droves. After all, not everyone has a taste for serial killers and those books are rather gruesome at times. Readers who’ve avoided Dexter should give Billy a try as these books are much more in the private investigator vein (but a bit on the dark side) and Billy himself is a likeable guy with a dry sense of humor that lightens the mood now and then. In fact, this is a story that nicely blends a typical thriller with adventure, some humor and an interesting mystery. I’m a Dexter fan but I’ve also come to like Billy and I do hope Mr. Lindsay will give us more.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2015.

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An Excerpt from Red Tide

Miami has this problem with its boaters. Some of them are still sane, rational, careful people—perhaps as many as three or four out of every ten thousand of them. The rest act like they escaped from the asylum, drank a bottle of vodka, snorted an ounce of coke, ate 25 or 30 downers and decided to go for a spin. Homicidal, sociopathic maniacs, wildly out of control, with not a clue that other people are actually alive, and interested in keeping it that way. To them, other boats are targets. They get in the boat knowing only two speeds: fast and blast-off.

I mentioned a few of these things to the boats that tried to kill me. I don’t think they could hear me over the engine roar. One of the boats had four giant outboard motors clamped on the back; 250 horsepower each, all going at full throttle no more than six inches from Sligo. If I had put the boom out I would have beheaded the boat’s driver. He might not have noticed.

“To get a driver’s license,” I said to Nicky through gritted teeth, “you have to be sixteen, take a test, and demonstrate minimal skill behind the wheel.”

Nicky was busy fumbling on a bright orange life jacket, fingers trembling, and swearing under his breath.

“To drive a boat—which is just as fast, bigger, and in conditions just as crowded and usually more hazardous—you have to be able to start the motor. That’s all. Just start the motor. There’s something wrong with this picture, Nicky.”

“There is, mate,” he said. “We’re in it. Can you get us out of here?”

My luck was working overtime. We had four more close scrapes—one with a huge Italian-built motor yacht that was 100 feet long, cruising down the center of the channel at a stately thirty knots, but I got us out of the channel alive and undamaged. When I cleared the last two markers and turned into the wind I told Nicky, “Okay. Raise the sails.”

He stared at me for a moment. “Sure. Of course. How?”

It turned out Nicky had never been on a sailboat before. So he held the tiller while I went forward to the mast and ran the sails up. Then I jumped back into the cockpit and killed the engine.

“Home, James,” said Nicky, popping two beers and handing me one. “It’s been a bitch of a morning.”

I took the beer and pointed our bow south.

It was a near-perfect day, with a steady, easy wind coming from the east. We sailed south at a gentle five knots, staring at the scenery. Cape Florida looked strange, embarrassed to be naked. All its trees had been stripped away by the hurricane. Farther south, the stacks of Turkey Point Nuclear Reactor stuck up into the air, visible for miles. It was a wonderful landmark for all the boaters. Just steer thataway, Ray Bob, over there towards all them glowing fishes.

• • •

The weather held. We made it down through the Keys in easy stages, staying the first two nights in small marinas along the way, rising at dawn for a lazy breakfast in the cockpit, then casting off and getting the sails up as quickly as possible. Part of the pure joy of the trip was in the sound of the wind and the lack of any kind of machine noise. We’d agreed to do without the engine whenever we could.

That turned out to be most of the time. Nicky took to sailing quickly and without effort. We fell into the rhythm of the wind and the waves so easily, so naturally, that it was like we had been doing this forever, and would keep doing it until one day we were too old and dry and simply blew gently over the rail, wafted away on a wave.

The third night we could have made it in to Key West. But we would have been docking in the dark, and working a little harder than we wanted to. So we pulled in to a small marina with plenty of time left before sunset.

Nicky used the time doing what he called rustling up grub. I don’t know if that’s how they say it in Australia, or if he heard it in some old John Wayne movie. From what he’d told me about Australia, there’s not much difference.

I sat in the cockpit with a beer, stretched out under the blue Bimini top, and waited for Nicky to get back. I had a lot to think about, so I tried not to. But my thoughts were pretty well centered on Nancy.

It was over. It wasn’t over. I should do something. I should let it take its course. It wasn’t too late. It had been too late for months. Eeny meeny miny mo.

Luckily, Nicky came back before I went completely insane. He was clutching a bag of groceries and two more six packs of beer.

“Ahoy the poop,” he shouted. “How ’bout a hand, mate?”

I got him safely aboard and he went below to the little kitchen. It sounded like he was trying to put a hole in the hull with an old stop sign while singing comic opera, so I stayed in the cockpit, watching the sun sink and thinking my thoughts.

There is something very special about sunset in a marina. All the people in their boats have done something today. They have risked something and achieved something, and it gives them all a pleasant smugness that makes them very good company at happy hour. A few hours later the people off the big sports fishermen will be loud obnoxious drunks and the couples in their small cruising sailboats will be snarling at them self-righteously from their Birkenstocks, but at sunset they are all brothers and sisters and there are very few places in the world better for watching the sun go down than from the deck of a boat tied safely in a marina after a day on the water.

I sipped a beer. I felt good, too, although my mind kept circling back to Nancy, and every time it did my mood lurched downwards. But it’s hard to feel bad on a sailboat. That’s one reason people still sail.

Anyway, tomorrow we would be home. I could worry about it then.

Early the next morning we were working our way towards Key West, about two miles off shore on the ocean side. We had decided on the ocean side because of the mild weather. With the prevailing wind from the east, we would have a better sail on the outside, instead of in the calmer waters of the Gulf on the inside of the Keys.

And because the weather was so mild, we went out a little further than usual. Nicky was curious about the Gulf Stream, which runs close to the Keys. I put us onto its edge, and by early afternoon we were only a few miles out of Key West.

Nicky had dragged up his black plastic box and, surprise, pulled out a large handgun.

Like a lot of other foreigners who settle in the USA, Nicky had become a gun nut. He was not dangerous, or no more dangerous than he was at the dinner table. In fact he had become an expert shot and a fast draw. The fast draw part had seemed important to him out of all proportion to how much it really mattered. I put it down to the horrors of growing up a runt in Australia.

Somehow Nicky managed to rationalize his new love for guns with his philosophy of All-Things-Are-One brotherhood. “Simple, mate,” he’d said with a wink, “I’m working out a past life karmic burden.”

“Horseshit.”

“All right then, I just like the bloody things. How’s that?”

Nicky had a new gun. He wanted to fire off a few clips and get the feel of it. Since we were out in the Stream and the nearest boat was almost invisible on the horizon, I didn’t see any reason why not. So Nicky shoved in a clip and got ready to fire his lovely new toy.

It was a nine millimeter Sig Sauer, an elegant and expensive weapon that Nicky needed about as much as he needed a Sharp’s buffalo rifle, but he had it and so far he hadn’t blown off his foot with it. I was hoping he would stay lucky.

“Ahoy, mate,” called Nicky, pointing the gun off to the south, “thar she blows.”

I turned to follow his point. A bleach bottle was sailing slowly out into the Gulf Stream.

“Come on,” Nicky urged, “pedal to the metal, mate.”

I tightened the main sheet and turned the boat slightly to give him a clear shot and Nicky opened up. He fired rapidly and well. The bleach bottle leaped into the air and he plugged it twice more before it came down again. He sent it flying across the water until the clip was empty and the bottle, full of holes, started to settle under.

I chased down the bottle and hooked it out with a boathook before it sank from sight. There’s enough crap in the ocean. Nicky was already shoving in a fresh clip.

“Onward, my man,” he told me, slamming home the clip and letting out a high, raucous, “Eeee-HAH!” as he opened a new beer. We were moving out further than we should have, maybe, out into the Gulf Stream. It’s easy to know when you’re there. You see a very abrupt color change, which is just what it sounds like: the water suddenly changes from a gunmetal green to a luminous blue. The edge where the change happens is as hard and startling as a knife-edge.

“Ahoy, matey,” Nicky called again, pointing out beyond the color change, and I headed out into the Gulf Stream for the new target. “Coconut!” Nicky called with excitement as we got closer. It was his favorite target. He loved the way they exploded when he hit them dead on.

I made the turn, adjusting the sheet line and again presenting our broadside, and swiveled my head to watch.

Nicky was already squinting. His hand wavered over the black nylon holster clipped to his belt. He let his muscles go slack and ready. I stared at the coconut. From fifty yards it suddenly looked wrong. The color was almost right, a greyish brown, and the dull texture seemed to fit, but—

“Hang on, Nicky,” I said, “Just a second—”

But the first two shots were already smacking away, splitting the sudden quiet.

I shoved the tiller hard over and brought us into the wind. The boat lurched and made Nicky miss his second shot. He looked at me with an expression of annoyance. I nodded at his target. He had hit the coconut dead center with the first shot. It should have leapt out of the water in a spectacular explosion. It hadn’t. The impact of the shot pushed it slowly, sluggishly through the water and we could both see it clearly now.

It wasn’t a coconut. Not at all. It was a human head.

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About the Author

Jeff LindsayJeff Lindsay is the award-winning author of the seven New York Times bestselling Dexter novels upon which the international hit TV show Dexter is based. His books appear in more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies around the world. Jeff is a graduate of Middlebury College, Celebration Mime Clown School, and has a double MFA from Carnegie Mellon. Although a full-time writer now, he has worked as an actor, comic, director, MC, DJ, singer, songwriter, composer, musician, story analyst, script doctor, and screenwriter.

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Book Review: Adrift by Paul Griffin

AdriftAdrift
Paul Griffin
Scholastic Press, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-70939-2
Hardcover

Reading Adrift is like floating on the ocean, basking in the sun one minute; being tugged under icy, churning waters the very next. It’s a kick-ass story delivered in an almost detached voice, packing a powerful punch. It’s gritty and raw, in a naturally understated kind of way. The story of two guys living on the border of Brooklyn and Queens with summer jobs in Montauk, selling cold drinks and ice-cream on beaches starts quickly, gaining momentum as it unfolds.

The brother-like bond between the boys is easily evident early on. Subtle suggestions of a shared, sinister moment are intriguing. An impulsive gift of slightly melted Klondike bars to three strangers (one of which is a beauty with a heart-stopping, crooked smile) immediately integrates two very different worlds and forces them to embark in a volatile, enthralling, seafaring expedition.

“Five of us went out on the water that night. None of us
came back whole and not all of us came back.”

The story is, quite simply, stunning. A cunning confirmation of the importance of perception is rare and remarkably well done here. Reaching conclusions quickly, accepting the “obvious” answer when studying only one, very limited, view can be disastrous. The snippets of correspondence among law enforcement, searchers and rescuers interspersed with the narrative are shocking and scary in their simplicity.

Mr. Griffin weaves a wicked good tale; flirting with foreshadow while revealing bits of the characters’ past, creating a web of questions, confusion and abruptly apparent answers. With a diverse cast of captivating kids, an epic and mysterious escapade-turned-mission, and authentic dialogue, Adrift will have mass appeal. Appropriate for the middle-grade reader but too broad to be limited, Mr. Griffin’s upcoming survival story will be an awesome addition to anyone’s Summer Reading List.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2015.

Book Review: Just Deserts by Jinx Schwartz

Just Deserts
Jinx Schwartz
Self-published, October 2011
Ebook available on Nook, Kindle and elsewhere

Needing some ready cash to get her beloved boat bottom fixed, Hetta takes a new job at a copper mine close to the Arizona border in Cananea,Mexico.  In Hetta’s words, “And, presto change, I was off on another adventure, and this time with a regular old, probably boring job where I couldn’t get into any trouble. I heard wings flapping and a pig flew by.”

If you’ve read her other Hetta Coffey books you too can laugh at the pig as he flies by because you know Hetta will soon be neck deep in trouble.  Sure enough, Mexican bad guys, international smugglers, a semi-domesticated coyote, a not so domesticated bad-boy who goes by the name of Nacho, some home-grown American terrorists, a love life that threatens, and friends and family who begin to show up, threatening her sanity. It’s enough to drive a girl to drink.

There’s enough humor to keep you laughing through the book and enough mystery to keep you turning the pages. Regardless, I guarantee, you won’t be bored. Just Deserts is the fourth in the Hetta Coffey series and the author likes to say these are Baja adventures—they certainly are every bit of that.

Reviewed by guest reviewer RP Dahlke, November 2011.

Book Reviews: Death Echo by Elizabeth Lowell and Money to Burn by James Grippando

Death Echo
Elizabeth Lowell
Avon, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-16442-7
Mass Market Paperback

International intrigue is at the heart of the plot which joins Emma Cross, former CIA operative and now with St. Kilda’s Consulting, and Mackenzie Durand, former Special Ops leader, the only survivor of his team in its last mission.  Now a transit captain, he picks up a brand new yacht, the Blackbird, offloaded from a container ship to bring to a small port where it is to be fitted out.  Meanwhile, Emma has been looking for the yacht’s twin, the Black Swan, for an insurance company since its disappearance.

The two are thrown together when all the intelligence agencies pick up vibes of an impending terrorist act against a major U.S. urban center. It is not known whether the threat is biological, chemical or nuclear.  So Mackenzie becomes the captain of the Blackbird, with Emma as “first mate,” on a voyage through the inland passageway on the West Coast of Canada, ostensibly to bring the ship to its new owner.  It is quite a trip.

The descriptions of the passageway, the tides, weather and difficulties of steering a ship under various conditions are graphic and exciting.  And despite all the dangers from the sea and adversaries, love finds a way.

Recommended.

[It should perhaps be noted that the pb edition has also been issued in a larger trim size, ISBN 978-006204484-6.]

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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Money to Burn
James Grippando
Harper,2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-155631-9
Mass Market Paperback

By combining the issues of market manipulation and identity theft, James Grippando has raised some interesting questions in this somewhat flawed but timely novel.  This reviewer’s reservations, which admittedly are probably in the minority, apply to whether or not the premise that a single hedge fund could actually bring down a thinly disguised Goldman Sachs without steps being taken by the New York Stock Exchange or the Securities and Exchange Commission stepping in to stop naked selling of the brokerage’s stock is valid.

Nevertheless, legal issues aside, it makes for a provocative tale, especially in view of recent events in the financial world. Essentially the plot involves a 35-year-old star of the venerable Wall Street firm Saxton Silvers, Mike Cantella, who discovers on the night of his birthday that all his accounts have been transferred to an offshore bank and he is left without a penny.  At the same time, these funds are used to short the firm’s stock, driving its price down, and continued pressure pushes the firm into bankruptcy.  Further, other events point to his involvement in the demise, as well as in subsequent murders.

The story is over-plotted, with all kinds of devices including spyware on cell phones and computers, enigmatic e-mails from unidentified sources, FBI probes, corporate espionage, and a wife of four hours who disappears and is presumed dead, eaten by a shark, not to mention a second wife who complicates Mike’s life while he is fighting to clear his name.  And to wrap up, introduction of the Madoff Ponzi scheme seems a bit gratuitous. Nevertheless, the novel is an entertaining read, and does have some useful insights into today’s financial picture.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.