Book Review: Salvation Station by Kathryn Schleich—and a Giveaway! @authorkschleich @shewritespress

Salvation Station
Kathryn Schleich
She Writes Press, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-63152-892-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Despite her years of experience investigating homicides for the force, Captain Linda Turner is haunted by the murders of the Hansen family. The two small children, clothed in tattered Disney pajamas, were buried with their father, a pastor, in the flower garden behind a church parsonage in Lincoln, Nebraska. But Mrs. Hansen is nowhere to be found—and neither is the killer.

In St. Louis, the televangelist Ray Williams is about to lose his show—until one of his regular attendees approaches him with an idea that will help him save it. Despite his initial misgivings, Ray agrees to give it a try. He can’t deny his attraction to this woman, and besides, she’d assured him the plan is just—God gave her the instructions in a dream.

Multiple story lines entwine throughout this compelling mystery, delving into the topics of murder, religious faith, and the inherent dangers in blindly accepting faith as truth. While Reverend Williams is swept up in his newfound success and plans for his wedding, Captain Turner can only hope that she and her team will catch the Hansens’ cunning killer—before more bodies surface.

Creepy cover, right? There’s something about a beat up, abandoned doll baby that immediately captures the  eye and the imagination and we know we’re in for an emotionally difficult read. Sure enough…

Linda Turner has seen a lot in her years on the Lincoln, Nebraska, police force but the discovery of the three bodies in the backyard of the pastorage and the seeming abduction of the pastor’s wife is a kicker and it’s hard to know where to begin her investigation. The missing woman is the primary concern, of course, since she might still be alive but the killings of the children, in particular, make this a high profile case. It’s always possible, of course, that Nicole Hansen is involved in the murder of her family but all anyone knows at first is that they had been expected on a missionary trip but had never arrived.

Meanwhile, another pastor, one who’s much more visible than Pastor Hansen, is ending his televangelist program in St. Louis because the revenue just isn’t supporting the expenses. Ray Williams’ heart was in the right place but he never managed to make a real success of this venture. When he’s approached by Susannah Baker, a fairly recent member of the church, with a potential plan to grow the ministry, Ray is initially disturbed by the appearance of fraud but Susannah does seem to believe in what she’s saying. Not far away, a mother and daughter have a disagreement about the mother’s attachment to Reverend Ray.

Early on, the reader learns who Susannah really is and the story arc lies in how Captain Turner will put the apparently unconnected pieces together. Linda is a woman of character, intelligent and driven by the search for justice, but can she get to the truth in time to prevent more tragedy? On the opposite end of the spectrum is Susannah, a manipulative, vicious woman compelled by greed and lacking any conscience. Blind faith plays a big part in her machinations and shines a light on how so many people are drawn into religious operations that may or may not be legitimate. Whether Linda can stop this unusual serial killer also involves a bit of blind faith of another sort.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2020.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for an advance
reading
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Book Review: The Ornery Gene by Warren C. Embree @DownAndOutBooks

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Title: The Ornery Gene
Author: Warren C. Embree
Publisher: Down & Out Books
Publication Date: April 27, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Western

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon
Indiebound // Down & Out Books

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The Ornery Gene
Warren C. Embree
Down & Out Books, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-64396-012-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When itinerant ranch hand Buck Ellison took a job with Sarah Watkins at her ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska, he thought he had found the place where he could park his pickup, leave the past behind, and never move again.

On a rainy July night, a dead body at the south end of Sarah’s ranch forces him to become a reluctant detective, digging into the business of cattle breeding for rodeos and digging up events from his past that are linked to the circumstances surrounding the murder of Sam Danielson.

Working with his boss Sarah, her nephew Travis Martin, and the cook Diane Gibbons, Buck unmasks the murderer, but at the cost of learning the reality of past events that he chooses to keep to himself.

Now this was a refreshing change of pace in more ways than one. I don’t often read western-themed crime fiction, whether historical or contemporary, with the exception of some of the better known books and I found myself enjoying this one even though it’s a bit different.

Speaking of pace, that in itself is different from, say, Reacher or Longmire because those are more action-driven. There’s a good mystery here to be solved but it’s a pretty slow process, not that slow is necessarily a bad thing. I did think a little more oomph would be good but, at the same time, The Ornery Gene did bring to mind my own impression of cowboys as being somewhat laconic. That’s most likely an inaccurate assessment of cowboys considering how working on cattle ranches is not exactly living the life of Riley 😉

Another thing I appreciated was learning more than I already knew about breeding cattle and raising them for the rodeo. For those of us, like me, who live in a world pretty far removed from such things, the western way of life can be downright inviting.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2019.

An Excerpt from The Ornery Gene

CHAPTER ONE

Wednesday, 9:15 p.m.

Sam Danielson slowed his pickup to a stop beside an old cattle chute, switched off the engine, rolled the window all the way down, and listened. He absentmindedly counted the cricket chirps for ten seconds, added forty to the number of chirps and calculated it to be about sixty-five degrees or so outside. A trick his dad had taught him. It was a little chilly for July in this part of the hills, but he had heard the low rumbling of thunder on the drive out. It smelled like rain; there was a storm moving from the northeast that was cooling things down. There could even be some ice in it. He checked his watch: nine-fifteen. Just past twilight. He opened the pickup door and took a deep breath. He reached over, grabbed the flashlight from the glove box, and slid out of the driver’s seat onto the soft sand.

Off in the distance, he heard a mama cow lowing. This was the life he had chosen, and he had never looked back. It hadn’t been easy working for, and then with, his dad. They had gone back and forth on the best way to select the bulls and broncos they supplied for “rough stock” events at the rodeos in the Sandhills of western Nebraska. There was only one way for Dad. “You don’t have the feel for how much the bull don’t want rode,” his dad would say. But Sam had gone to school and studied twentieth-century methods of livestock rearing. For his dad it was a way of life; for Sam it was a business. Sam liked the numbers. He liked to narrow the odds by more than just a feeling. He had tried to show his dad the value in breeding techniques and genetic tracking in estimating the probability that a particular bull would do well in the arena. His dad would just laugh it off. “Show me the ornery gene,” his dad would laugh. “I’ll have five bulls picked before you decide on one.” But Sam knew his would be a better one than the five. He could prove the temperament of a bull before anyone tried to ride it. He had never convinced his dad. The ornery gene had been elusive, but not the genetic makeup of the ornery bulls. He had been right, and he had a genetically identifiable line of stock to prove it.

During his travels from his ranch outside of Laramie, Wyoming, Sam had been made aware of a genetic curiosity in one of the cattle he purchased in Colorado in the spring. Being off in the records would end up being off in the genetic makeup of the calves. There never was just one gene that made the difference. It was a matter of multiple generations. He had traced the lines that looked the most promising, and closely followed the leaders in the industry. Discovering that curiosity had led him into this part of the Sandhills of Nebraska. Talking about it at the bar had got him into an argument with the old cowboy, and listening to the old man had brought him to this particular spot.

“You’ll find what you’re looking for out there,” the old cowboy had said. “Then you’ll know I was telling you the truth.” Danielson switched the flashlight on and scanned the area around the cattle chute. He had let himself be convinced that the old man knew a thing or two about cattle breeding. What had surprised Danielson most was that the old man had known about the science behind modern breeding at all. The old cowboy looked more like he’d been “rode hard and put up wet” as his dad would have said: a man who had spent a hard life out in the sun and the rain and the snow. Danielson expected someone like that to know less about biogenetics and more about old school solutions. Like his dad.

The excitement the old cowboy had shown assured Danielson it would be worth his time to find out if he was headed in the right direction. But as he looked around the area, all he saw was a dump site for old batteries, tires, cook stoves, windmill parts, cans, bed springs, and used up corral panels. He saw nothing that would explain the old cowboy’s intensity. Now he was more curious to find out how the old cowboy would explain the genetic anomaly that he was so passionate about. It was one of those things his dad would say shouldn’t make a whole lot of difference in his deciding on a bull. It probably wasn’t all that important to breeders either. But he was curious, and keeping careful records was important to the integrity of breeding livestock.

It was a necessary component in the breeding business and his business. He was hoping he could find some answers out here as he tried to piece together the puzzle. He was determined to take some time to track it down to the source and maybe be able to verify when and where the mistake was made.

He had tried to be low-key when he was asking questions, but the speed at which the old cowboy had raised his hackles this afternoon showed Danielson just how hard that was going to be. He had touched the wrong nerve on the first try. He wasn’t sure whether he had asked the wrong question or his question had been taken the wrong way. It took a couple of beers and a good bit of time getting the old man calmed down. When it finally got friendly again, the old cowboy had told him about the spot out here in the hills. He gave directions and said he’d meet him out there around nine that evening.

As he waited for the old cowboy to show up, Danielson kicked at a broken pitman, picked it up, and used it to move around some cans at the edge of the dump site. He wasn’t terribly interested in getting bitten by a rattlesnake or a rat. It was a half-hearted effort. He sniffed the air again and caught the scent of pine and cedar trees this time. The hills hadn’t changed much from when he was a kid except the cedar trees. They were becoming a weed out in the hills. He shoved a wooden box with the pitman, then threw the stick of wood back into the pile. It was altogether possible that the old cowboy had sent him out on a snipe hunt. It just as well be. There was nothing he’d seen so far that was tied to the cattle breeding. If it were here, it wasn’t something obvious. What galled him was that he could be looking right at it and still not see it. For that matter, there could be nothing to it.

A loud clap of thunder caused Danielson to look up at the sky. In the southwest the clouds were fast turning to an ugly black. He saw the lightning streak across the sky and started counting. He reached fifty-two and he heard the thunder again. The storm was only about ten miles away. He didn’t want to get caught in the storm, and he hadn’t found anything yet. It wouldn’t be the first time he had gone on a wild goose chase.

He walked over to the rear of the pickup, pulled out a can of chewing tobacco from his back pocket, and stuffed a pinch in the back of his cheek. He put the can back in his pocket and picked up an old spur that was in the pickup box. He turned it over in his hand as he walked over to the chute—just an old spur. The old cowboy had given it to him, along with some old rodeo flyers, claiming he’d known Danielson’s dad and had got it from him. His dad had never been a bull rider, so the spur didn’t belong to him. He didn’t know whether someone had given it to his dad or his dad had simply found it tearing down after one of the rodeos they had supplied the bulls and broncs for. It reminded him that he needed to go through his dad’s things, a clutter of boxes, something he’d put off for ten years after his dad died. He tossed the spur toward the pickup box but hit the fender instead, bouncing the spur at an odd angle forward of the pickup. He walked over toward the cattle chute and battery and pointed his flashlight in the direction the spur had bounced.

Danielson caught the flash of lightning in the corner of his eye, heard a pop from behind him, then felt a sledgehammer hit him in the middle of the back. The strength drained out of his legs. He felt a sharp pain spring out from where the hammer had hit that seemed to rush through his torso. His legs gave out and he hit the ground, knees first, and then fell on his face. The pain was now a hot, burning sensation from the place where the hammer had hit and his back felt wet. He thought he had been struck with lightning, cursing himself for miscalculating the distance of the storm. He tried to use his arms to push himself up, but he couldn’t gather the strength. He dropped back down. He could feel that his back was soaked, but it hadn’t started raining yet.

From off to his right, he heard something moving cans around. It wasn’t the wind. It was deliberate. No animal would do that either. A few moments later, he felt someone kick his side. He grunted involuntarily, and then tried to roll over. His legs were a dead weight. He twisted his face away from the pickup, but couldn’t see anything. “He shot me,” he whispered. He tried to raise himself with his arms, but was light-headed now. I can’t believe he shot me. A few moments later rain poured from the clouds, diluting the blood from his back and mingling it with the sand.

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About the Author

WARREN EMBREE and his wife grew up in the Sandhills of Nebraska. He did both farm work and ranch work during those years, and he still keeps track of what goes on in the hills. After leaving the area, he pursued an academic career in English, Classical Languages, and Divinity. He lectured at a couple of institutions and preached at a few churches, and he now works in Lincoln as a data analyst for the University of Nebraska. His knowledge and love of the unique culture of the Sandhills, his education in languages and literature, and his analytical skills contribute to his story telling. He and his wife currently live in Nebraska and have 3 grown children.

Catch Up With Warren Embree On:
warrenembree.com, Goodreads, & Facebook!

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Follow the tour here.

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GIVEAWAY

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime
Virtual Book Tours for Warren C. Embree. There will be two (2)
giveaway winners.  Each winner will receive one (1) Amazon.com
Gift Card. The giveaway begins on August 1, 2019 and runs
through September 2, 2019. Void where prohibited.

Enter here.

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Book Review: Worth Dying For by Lee Child

Worth Dying For
Lee Child
Delacorte Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-385-34431-9
Hardcover

It should perhaps be noted at the outset that readers waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak, after the cliffhanger ending of 61 Hours, the previous book in the series [of which this is the 15th], are – initially at least – in for a disappointment, for the explanation [such as it is] comes pretty much only by references to Reacher having been badly hurt, as well as descriptions of specific effects of the trauma sustained in the closing pages of that book, but no details.  Until a bit later in the book, that is:  After a while there is a paragraph giving a succinct description of the events themselves.

Now that that’s out of the way . . .

This time around, Reacher finds himself in Nebraska, after hitching a ride [as is his wont] “in the dead of winter in the forty-first least densely populated state of America’s fifty,” where he comes up against an old family [three brothers and the son of one of them] so powerful that they have an entire town – with everything and everyone in it – under its control.  The town in question is 450 miles due south of the Canadian border, and it soon becomes clear that said family is involved with some kind of illegal smuggling.

Reacher takes a motel room for the night, in which he finds “everything he needed, nothing he didn’t,” which happens to be his credo for the manner in which he travels [i.e., “light”].  And which, for that matter, is a perfect description of a Lee Child book, to which this one is no exception.  When Reacher is told he is crazy, he says he prefers to think of himself as conscientious.  But he is more than that.  Wrongs need to be righted.  At some point the tale includes an investigation into what happened to an eight-year-old girl who had disappeared 25 years earlier.

The expected quotient of heightening suspense mixed with violence, equally in service of good and evil, is present, of course.  As always the writing is wonderful and witty, and includes a priceless treatise on human nature.  Reacher once more relies, for the most part, on little more than ingenuity.  At one point, when he finds himself outnumbered four to one, with only a small amount of weaponry, he finds that he has everything he needs, nothing he doesn’t, once more. Not invincible, but still Reacher, after all.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2010.