Book Review: Wrong Light by Matt Coyle—and a Giveaway!

Wrong Light   
A Rick Cahill Novel #5
Matt Coyle
Oceanview Publishing, December 2018
ISBN 978-1-60809-329-8
Trade Paperback

Rick Cahill is a San Diego private eye. He comes out of the hard-bitten lonesome cowboy tradition, one who spends a lot of time second-guessing himself and even agonizing over missteps and mistakes. But he is wedded to Truth. When he takes on a client, most of the time that client is law-abiding and honest–mostly.

Cahill’s history is, however, checkered and as a result, his new client, a radio talk-show host, with a sultry, warm voice that promises much in the dark hours of the night, does not immediately receive the kind of intense attention one usually expects from a PI in these novels. He needs to respond to a former contact or client whose demands for attention are fraught with intense danger for Cahill from the very beginning and Cahill’s activities and plans to protect the talk-show host are frequently interrupted by this other, persistent, obligation.

The novel is well-paced although Cahill’s sarcasm and jaundice occasionally drag the reader away from the main narrative. There are probably too many verbal cracks, tongue-in-cheek observations and philosophical bon mots than needed to fill out our perceptions of the main character, but the persistent drive of the narrative will overcome that minor difficulty, as it will slice over the occasional repetitious language.

With those minor caveats, I recommend the novel for fans of the hardboiled, down at the heels, persistent and upright investigator, one who feels deeply his past mistakes and missteps.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
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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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Wrong Light by Matt Coyle, just leave a
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Book Review: Child’s Play by Merry Jones—and a Giveaway!

childs-playChild’s Play
The Elle Harrison Series #3
Merry Jones
Oceanview Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-60809-191-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Since her husband’s murder two years earlier, life hasn’t been easy for Elle Harrison. Now, at the start of a new school year, the second grade teacher is determined to move on. She’s selling her house and delving into new experiences―like learning trapeze.

Just before the first day of school, Elle learns that a former student, Ty Evans, has been released from juvenile detention where he served time for killing his abusive father. Within days of his release, Elle’s school principal, who’d tormented Ty as a child, is brutally murdered. So is a teacher at the school. And Ty’s former girlfriend. All the victims have links to Ty.

Ty’s younger brother, Seth, is in Elle’s class. When Seth shows up at school beaten and bruised, Elle reports the abuse, and authorities remove Seth and his older sister, Katie, from their home. Is Ty the abuser?

Ty seeks Elle out, confiding that she’s the only adult he’s ever trusted. She tries to be open-minded, even wonders if he’s been wrongly condemned. But when she’s assaulted in the night, she suspects that Ty is her attacker. Is he a serial killer? Is she his next intended victim?

Before Elle discovers the truth, she’s caught in a deadly trap that challenges her deepest convictions about guilt and innocence, childhood and family. Pushed to her limits, she’s forced to face her fears and apply new skills in a deadly fight to survive.

I first encountered the work of Merry Jones almost four years ago and, at the time, I thought there were flaws in The Trouble with Charlie but I still found the tale intriguing and looked forward to future books. Next for me came In the Woods (a different series) almost two years later and, while I didn’t care for that one as much, I didn’t give up on Ms. Jones. Something about her books kept drawing me back and, to my mind, that says a lot about an author’s ability to engage a reader.

Now comes Child’s Play, third entry in the first series and my interest in Ms. Jones has been paid off in spades. This book is the one I consider to be her breakthough novel and I’m truly glad I had the opportunity to read it.

Here we have a dark, disturbing study of the repercussions our actions can have years after the fact, tangled with the impact a troubled home life has on children, sometimes leading to dire events. Elementary school teacher Elle Harrison has to cope with a memory disorder but she remembers Ty Evans well enough, a young man recently released from detention after serving his time for killing his abusive father. When people connected to Ty’s past and present begin to die, Elle can’t help wanting to believe Ty when he insists he’s not the killer but she can’t forget his past nor completely trust him. With continually rising tension and plenty of twists and turns, Elle’s nerves go on high alert but certain truths that come to light are way beyond what she ever anticipated.

I have to say some readers will probably find Child’s Play a bit too violent and emotionally wrenching but I appreciated how Ms. Jones handled some very disturbing topics including the horrifying aspects of true psychosis. For anyone looking for a riveting book you won’t want to put down, this is a fine candidate.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2017.

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An Excerpt from Child’s Play

I was the first one there.

The parking lot was empty, except for Stan’s pickup truck. Stan was the custodian, tall, hair thinning, face pock-marked from long ago acne. He moved silently, popped out of closets and appeared in corners, prowled the halls armed with a mop or a broom. In fourteen years, I couldn’t remember a single time when he’d looked me in the eye.

Wait—fourteen years? I’d been there that long? Faces of kids I’d taught swirled through my head. The oldest of them would now be, what? Twenty-one? Oh man. Soon I’d be one of those old school marms teaching the kids of my former students, a permanent fixture of the school like the faded picture of George Washington mounted outside the principal’s office. Hell, in a few months, I’d be forty. A middle-aged childless widow who taught second grade over and over again, year after year, repeating the cycle like a hamster on its wheel. Which reminded me: I had to pick up new hamsters. Tragically, last year’s hadn’t made it through the summer.

I told myself to stop dawdling. I had a classroom to organize, cubbies to decorate. On Monday, just three days from now, twenty-three glowing faces would show up for the first day of school, and I had to be ready. I climbed out of the car, pulled a box of supplies from the trunk, started for the building. And stopped.

My heart did triple time, as if responding to danger. But there was no danger. What alarmed me, what sent my heart racing was the school itself. But why? Did it look different? Had the windows been replaced, or the doors? Nothing looked new, but something seemed altered. Off balance. The place didn’t look like an elementary school. It looked like a giant factory. A prison.

God, no. It didn’t look like any of those things. The school was the same as it had always been, just a big brick building. It seemed cold and stark simply because it was unadorned by throngs of children. Except for wifi, Logan Elementary hadn’t changed in fifty years, unless you counted several new layers of soot on the bricks.

I stood in the parking lot, observing the school, seeing it fresh. I’d never paid much attention to it before. When it was filled with students, the building itself became all but invisible, just a structure, a backdrop. But now, empty, it was unable to hide behind the children, the smells of sunshine and peanut butter sandwiches, the sounds of chatter and small shoes pounding Stanley’s waxed tiles. The building stood exposed. I watched it, felt it watching me back. Threatening.

Seriously, what was wrong with me? The school was neither watching nor threatening me. It was a benign pile of bricks and steel. I was wasting time, needed to go in and get to work. But I didn’t take a single step. Go on, I told myself. What was I afraid of? Empty halls, vacant rooms? Blank walls? For a long moment, I stood motionless, eyes fixed on the façade. The carved letters: Logan School. The heavy double doors. The dark windows. Maybe I’d wait a while before going inside. Becky would arrive soon, after she picked up her classroom aquarium.

Other teachers would show up, too. I could go in with them, blend safely into their commotion. I hefted the box, turned back to the car. But no, what was I doing? I didn’t want to wait. I’d come early so I could get work done without interruption or distraction before the others arrived. The school wasn’t daring me, nor was I sensing some impending tragedy. I was just jittery about starting a new year.

I turned around again, faced its faded brown bricks. I steeled my shoulders, took a breath and started across the parking lot. With a reverberating metallic clank, the main doors flew open. Reflexively, I stepped back, half expecting a burst of flames or gunfire. Instead, Stan emerged. For the first time in fourteen years, I was glad to see him. Stan surveyed the parking lot, hitched up his pants. Looked in my direction. He didn’t wave or nod a greeting, didn’t follow social conventions. Even so, his presence grounded me, felt familiar.

I took a breath, reminded myself that the school was just a school. That I was prone to mental wandering and embellishing. And that children would stream into my classroom in just three days, whether I was ready or not.

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About the Author

Merry JonesMerry Jones is the author of some twenty critically acclaimed books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has been translated into seven languages. Her previous Elle Harrison novels have been THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE and ELECTIVE PROCEDURES. Jones lives with her husband in Philadelphia.

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Follow the tour:

01/26 Blog Talk Radio w/Fran Lewis
01/26 Review @ Just Reviews
02/01 Review/showcase @ Books, Dreams, Life
02/02 Review @ Wall-to-wall books – Giveaway
02/03 Review/showcase @ CMash Reads
02/04 Showcase @ The Pen and Muse Book Reviews
02/05 Review @ Book Babble
02/06 Review @ Buried Under Books – Giveaway
02/07 Interview/showcase @ BooksChatter
02/08 Guest Post/Showcase @ The Book Divas Reads
02/09 Showcase @ Mythical Books
02/14 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
02/15 Review @ fuonlyknew
02/20 Guest post & Review @ Jersey Girl Book Reviews
02/21 Interview @ Writers and Authors
02/22 Interview @ Jean BookNerd – Giveaway
02/23 Review @ Books Direct
02/23 Review @ JBronder Book Reviews
02/24 Review & Guest post @ Blog Rockin Book Reviews – Giveaway

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Book Reviews: Sister Eve, Private Eye by Lynne Hinton, Speak of the Devil by Allison Leotta, and The Black Stiletto: Endings and Beginnings by Raymond Benson

Sister Eve, Private EyeSister Eve, Private Eye
A Divine Private Detective Agency Mystery #1
Lynne Hinton
Thomas Nelson, December 2014
ISBN 978-1-4016-9145-5
Trade Paperback

Sister Eve has been a Benedictine nun for twenty years, but changes in Church policy are making her question her vocation.  When she learns that the Captain, her detective father, is about to lose a leg to diabetes, she takes a leave to nurse him, whether he likes it or not.  The irascible Captain–a retired police officer–was hunting for a missing movie producer when his illness spiraled out of control.  The discovery of the man’s body and Sister Eve‘s conviction that his client, the producer’s mistress, did not kill him, leads her to join in the investigation.

I like Sister Eve, the Captain, Meg Finch, his client–all of the characters feel real to me.  I love the Southwest setting.  The plot twists around nicely, and I didn’t spot the killer.  I spotted the clues after I finished the book.

I can see no easy answer to Sister Eve‘s spiritual dilemma.  Her talent for and love of detecting call her one way, her Community calls her another.  Her family needs her, but so does her Church. The situation isn’t resolved in this book, so I’m really glad that it’s the first in a series.   I hope there will be many more.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, October 2015.

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Speak of the DevilSpeak of the Devil
Anna Curtis #3
Allison Leotta
Touchstone, August 2013
ISBN 978-1-4516-4485-2
Hardcover

Anna Curtis, a tough sex-crimes prosecutor in Washington D.C., is in the process of asking her lover to marry her when she’s notified of a horrific murder and mutilation case. Assigned the investigation, she soon finds even the victims who lived through the attack are unwilling to testify. Why? Because “the Devil,” leader of the wicked MS-13 street gang, will retaliate, and he is brutal beyond compare.

The story sweeps the reader along with Anna as she builds her case, finds her witnesses and, as the gang leaders come to trial, almost becomes another of the Devil’s victims. I thought Ms. Leotta did a particularly good job of showing the reader how certain gang members became murderers and rapists, among their other crimes, whether that was their nature or not.

Even as all of this is going on, Jack, who first turns down Anna’s proposal, turns the tables and asks her to marry him. She says yes, but troubles are on the horizon, partially because Jack is African-American with a young daughter from a previous marriage.

The rest of the tale gets messy (in a good way) and I’m not giving out any spoilers here. The twist at the end is quite emotional. The plot, pacing, and characterization in the story are excellent. There is one rather graphic sex scene that would’ve been better omitted, in my opinion. Otherwise, this is a most satisfying book.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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The Black Stiletto Endings and BeginningsThe Black Stiletto: Endings and Beginnings
The Black Stiletto #5
Raymond Benson
Oceanview Publishing, November 2014
ISBN: 978-1-60809-103-4
Hardcover

Prolific crime writer Raymond Benson has a genuine flare for the use of words. He demonstrates that talent many times in this overlong tale. He also is talented in his ability to translate narrative and dialogue into the flavor of words and phrases that might be used by a young troubled girl growing up in Texas in the latter half of the Twentieth Century

A lot of girls grew up in Texas during that era but none of them had the kind of family represented by the mystery woman known as the Black Stiletto. She was a woman who traveled fast and quietly, associated with gangsters and cops and carried a very sharp knife. She embodied the legend of Lilith, the first woman. A woman who could take a life when necessary.

This novel moves effectively back and forth between time periods, delineates characters precisely and often wittily, and drives the twisted complicated plot and its many intertwined relationships to final fruition with multi-generational windings. It’s a fascinating novel, well-done in nearly every aspect and will undoubtedly expand the legion of followers.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 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 Review: The Right Wrong Thing by Ellen Kirschman—and a Giveaway!

The Right Wrong ThingThe Right Wrong Thing
A Dot Meyerhoff Mystery #2
Ellen Kirschman
Oceanview Publishing, October 2015
ISBN 978-1-60809-154-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Hesitate or Respond—Either Choice Can Lead to Disaster

Officer Randy Spelling had always wanted to be a police officer, to follow in the footsteps of her brothers and her father. Not long after joining the force, she mistakenly shoots and kills Lakeisha Gibbs, a pregnant teenager. The community is outraged; Lakeisha’s family is vocal and vicious in their attacks against Spelling. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and filled with remorse, Randy is desperate to apologize to the girl’s family. Everyone, including the police chief, warns her against this, but the young police officer will not be dissuaded. Her attempt is catastrophic. Dr. Dot Meyerhoff, police psychologist, plunges herself into the investigation despite orders from the police chief to back off. Not only does the psychologist’s refusal to obey orders jeopardize her career, but her life as well, as she enlists unlikely allies and unconventional undercover work to expose the tangled net of Officer Spelling’s disastrous course.

There have been tragic shootings by police in recent years that have garnered much attention, usually appropriately but sometimes, right or wrong, tempers rage and accusations are made. The events that turn out to be malicious in some way are terrible, no doubt, and the suffering of the victims and their survivors is very real but the news media rarely pays attention to the emotional and mental fallout the police officer faces when the shooting truly was validated by the circumstances. Equally if not more difficult are the repercussions when the shooting was accidental.

And so we come to know Randy, a young and mostly untried police officer who has a moment of panic that causes mistrust among her fellow officers, especially her partner. The police psychologist, Dot Meyerhoff, shepherds Randy through this difficult time but disaster strikes when Randy, back on duty, makes a horrible mistake and kills a pregnant girl. The awful repercussions are certainly not unexpected but Randy makes things far worse when she attempts to apologize, against all advice, and Dot steps back in to try to help this girl as well as her fellow officers, finding herself in a situation that’s as potentially deadly to her as it is to the officer. When murder happens, Dot is compelled to find answers without official police approval.

Dr. Meyerhoff is a brilliantly-drawn character which is no surprise considering the author’s own background as a police psychologist. Not only does Dot have the knowledge to do her job but she does it with kindness and candor, two attributes that don’t always mix well. It’s easy to see why police officers often resent being required to see a psychologist (if the books I read and the TV shows I watch are accurate on this point) but, if I had to see one, I’d want Dr. Meyerhoff. This woman brings a strong sense of stability and caring to fragile situations.

Randy is another character I came to have strong feelings for, if not quite so positive. This girl is a painful mess and not helped any by the male-dominated world she has chosen to be part of or by her acute need to prove herself to her colleagues and to her own family. Randy is not well-suited to cope with this kind of pressure and that makes her career choice a real problem.

I won’t say much about the plot because it would be difficult to avoid spoilers but I will say this—Ms. Kirschman knows how to write a story full of suspense, the kind that makes me start to feel the hairs rising on the back of my neck. I’m really glad I’ve been introduced to her work and I’ll be picking up her first Dot Meyerhoff book, Burying Ben, as soon as I can.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2015.

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Praise for Ellen Kirschman & the
Dot Meyerhoff Mystery Series:

“Ellen Kirschmann’s Dot Meyerhoff is the most intriguing character in contemporary fiction. Her narrations remind me of a cabbie I had in Istanbul. He drove too fast, took me down dead ends and through dangerous neighborhoods. He yelled at pedestrians and cursed at dogs. And just when I finally decided he was hopelessly lost, he delivered me safe and sound to just the place I wanted to be and left me on the sidewalk, shaking and smiling.”
—J. Michael Orenduff, award-winning author of the “Pot Thief” murder mystery series

“Ellen Kirschman is a no-nonsense writer. She manages to set the scene smartly, populate it with sharply drawn personalities, and pour the story over us without wasting a word. Her confident wit, energetic prose, and special insight into the workings of the human mind make The Right Wrong Thing an outstanding read. In this timely novel of strained community relationships, where police department psychologist Dr. Dot Meyerhoff is held hostage in a way, there’s no relief from the suspense and the exciting journey into the motivations of people on both sides of the law. But even as Dot is pushed to the limit, she’s determined to do the next right thing, no matter the cost.
—Camille Minichino, physicist and award-winning author of the Periodic Table mystery series

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About the Author

Ellen KirschmanEllen Kirschman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in independent practice. She is a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Society for the Study of Police and Criminal Psychology, the American Psychological Association, and the International Association of Women in Law Enforcement. She is the recipient of the California Psychological Association’s 2014 award for distinguished contribution to psychology as well as the American Psychological Association’s 2010 award for outstanding contribution to the practice of police and public safety psychology. Ellen is the author of the award-winning I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, I Love a Fire Fighter: What the Family Needs to Know, and lead author of Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know (2013). Her debut novel, Burying Ben: A Dot Meyerhoff Mystery (2013) is about police suicide told from the perspective of the psychologist. Ellen and her husband live in Redwood City, California.

Please, note, in no way does Ms Kirschman condone unjustified brutality at the hands of police. She offers insight into the other side of a possible situation. The possible outcome is very moving, and thought provoking.

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Giveaways

(1). To enter the drawing for a signed hardcover copy of
The Right Wrong Thing by Ellen Kirschman, leave a
comment below. The winning name will be drawn
Friday evening, November 6th, and the book will be
sent after December 12th. Open to residents of the US.

(2). This is a giveaway hosted by Partners In Crime Virtual
Book Tours for Ellen Kirschman & Oceanview Publishing.
There will be 1 winner for this tour. The winner will receive
1 Oceanview Publishing Thriller each month for 1 year. This
giveaway is for US residents only. The giveaway begins on
November 1st, 2015 and runs through December 2nd, 2015.

Enter the drawing here.

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Book Review: Method 15/33 by Shannon Kirk—and a Giveaway!

Method 15-33-2Method 15/33
Shannon Kirk
Oceanview Publishing, May 2015
ISBN 978-1-60809-145-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Imagine a helpless, pregnant 16-year-old who’s just been yanked from the serenity of her home and shoved into a dirty van. Kidnapped…

Alone…Terrified.

Now forget her…

Picture instead a pregnant, 16-year-old, manipulative prodigy. She is shoved into a dirty van and, from the first moment of her kidnapping, feels a calm desire for two things: to save her unborn child and to exact merciless revenge.

She is methodical—calculating— scientific in her plotting. A clinical sociopath? Leaving nothing to chance, secure in her timing and practice, she waits—for the perfect moment to strike. Method 15/33 is what happens when the victim is just as cold as her abductors.

The agents searching for a kidnapped girl have their own frustrations and desires wrapped into this chilling drama. In the twists of intersecting stories, one is left to ponder. Who is the victim? Who is the aggressor?

Well, this is an odd turn of events. Just yesterday, I reviewed a book about a young woman’s fight back when she’s held captive. Today, I’m reviewing a book about a young woman’s fight back when she’s held captive. And there the comparisons end.

This time, the reason the girl has been taken is not because the usual really bad guy wants to hurt her in his own “special” ways. Sixteen-year-old Lisa is being held because she’s blonde, blue-eyed and pregnant, making her baby worth quite a premium. Ms. Kirk has taken a fairly common theme in crime fiction and given it a very interesting twist—her protagonist is almost as creepy as her captor, especially in the unnerving way she seems able to turn her emotions on and off. She’s also very clever at finding uses for odd items and, when the FBI finally arrives, they just might find the captive has gotten the better of her captors.

FBI agents Roger Lui and his partner, Lola, are interesting characters on their own merits, especially Liu with his hyperthymesia, an extremely rare condition causing him to remember his own past in great detail. As for Lisa, one might wonder if she’s a sociopath or just a very intelligent girl with an inventive mind and the ability to focus on the needs at hand without getting distracted by such unimportant things as fear or loneliness and certainly not by remorse.

Lisa is a protagonist I’m not likely to forget and I’m getting a bit tired after having two books in a row keep me up all night 😉 To say anything more would mean spoiling the things that make this book so terrific so I’ll just say…read Method 15/33 as soon as you can.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.

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About the Author

Shannon KirkShannon Kirk is a practicing attorney and a law professor. She attended West Virginia Wesleyan and St. John’s Universities, is a graduate of Suffolk Law School, and was a trial lawyer in Chicago prior to moving to Massachusetts. She has been honored three times by the Faulkner Society in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, a physicist, and their son. Method 15/33 is her first novel.

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Leave a comment below to enter the
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  Method 15/33 by Shannon Kirk.
The winning name will be
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Book Review: The Fallen by Mark Terry

The Fallen 2The Fallen
Mark Terry
Oceanview Publishing, April 2010
ISBN 978-1-93351-575-5
Hardcover

World leaders from twenty countries are gathering for a G8 summit. Their meeting place is a Colorado resort where the preparations include the tightest security imaginable…and more. The secrecy is so deep only a couple men know there’s an extra safeguard in place.

Derek Stillwater is a maintenance man at the resort, with credentials that make him a little over-qualified for the job. But as Richard Coffee, a former government agent now known as The Fallen Angel, sets out to hold the summit attendees hostage, it’s Derek who must eliminate the terrorists one-by-one.

The plot, as explosive as the resort’s doors that are wired to blow at a touch, races along at a frenetic pace. The body count adds up quickly, both good guys and bad guys. Derek, wounded several times, acquires a great sidekick to help him out, a young woman named Maria who is the last of the kitchen staff left alive. They make a great team. Mr. Terry avoids the big info dumps of back story that sometimes plague thrillers, feeding the reader just enough at any one time to help the story focus.

The characterization, which is sometimes lacking in thrillers, is done well in The Fallen. Even minor—meaning short-lived—characters are given a bit of personality, as are the terrorists. As Derek and Maria crawl around in the ceiling ducts avoiding explosives and bad guys out to kill them, there’s a fine sense of claustrophobia and suspense.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, May 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: The Trouble with Charlie by Merry Jones

The Trouble with Charlie Tour Banner

Genre: Suspense

Published by: Oceanview Publishing

Publication Date: Feb 5, 2013

Number of Pages: 272

ISBN: 978-1-60809-074-7

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The Trouble With CharlieThe Trouble with Charlie
Merry Jones
Oceanview Publishing, February 2013
ISBN 978-1-60809-074-7
Hardcover

From the author—

The biggest trouble with Charlie is that he’s dead. His soon-to-be-ex-wife, Elle Harrison, comes home from a night out with friends to find his body in her den, her kitchen knife in his back. And, oddly, Elle has no memory of her activities during the time he was killed.

Another trouble with Charlie is that, even though he’s dead, he doesn’t seem to be gone. Elle senses Charlie’s presence–a gentle kiss on the neck, the scent of his aftershave wafting through the house, a rose that seems to move from room to room on its own. And a shadow that appears to accuse her of murder–and with whom she argues.

In the process of trying to prove her innocence, Elle investigates Charlie’s death–and his life. A psychiatrist diagnoses her with a dissociative disorder that causes her to “space out” especially when she’s under stress. This might explain the gap in her memory, but it doesn’t clear her.

As Elle continues to look into Charlie’s life, she uncovers more and more trouble–an obsessed woman who might have been his lover. Siblings with unresolved bitter issues. A slimy untrustworthy business partner. And wealthy clients with twisted, horrific appetites. 

Before she knows it, Elle is involved in more murders, a struggle for her life, and a revived relationship with Charlie, whom–for all his troubles–she has come to appreciate and love only after his death.

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Finding a novel of suspense that delivers the goods is always a pleasure and The Trouble with Charlie is no exception. The whole idea behind suspense, for those of us who love to read mysteries, is to keep us wondering about one or more things in particular. Frequently, it’s about whether the lead character will survive but, in this case, we don’t have to worry about that; since the protagonist is the past tense narrator, she obviously does. We do get to wonder about who is going to be killed and who is going to do the deed(s) and there is no shortage of possibilities. We also get to wonder about motives and, as the story progresses, there are more and more options.

What sets this book apart a bit is the author’s use of amnesia. Sometimes we mystery readers think amnesia is a much too convenient excuse but, here, Merry Jones has added the issue of a long-term psychological disorder and we’re left completely baffled by what Elle is really seeing, hearing, smelling, remembering and what is hallucination. Even the fact that she has conversations with her dead husband is puzzling—is he a ghost or is his presence all in her mind?

I also have to commend Ms. Jones for her characterizations. Nearly all these people are vivid and easy to identify even when they’re in a group. Whether they’re likeable or not, you understand their essence.

Unfortunately, there’s a significant TSTL factor at play and that’s a real shame because Elle is a likeable person. True, she has a lot on her mind but some of her behavior is just beyond rational explanation. I also found it puzzling that she is so very weak when it comes to standing up for herself when she’s face-to-face with people whose personalities are stronger than hers. Despite all that, I did find The Trouble with Charlie very entertaining and I kept right on reading because, well, it’s a darn good story.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2013.

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Excerpt

PROLOGUE

Sometime before Charlie moved out, I began reading the obituaries. It became a daily routine, like morning coffee. I didn’t just scan the listings; I read them closely, noting dates of death, ages of the deceased, names of survivors. If there were photos, I studied faces for clues about mortality even though they were often grinning and much younger than at death. Sometimes there were flags at the top of notices, signifying military service. Salvadore Petrini had a flag. Aged 64. Owner of Petrini’s Market. Beloved husband and father and stepfather and brother and uncle. Viewing and Life Celebration at St. Patrick’s Church, Malvern.

Some notices were skeletal, giving no details of the lost life: Sonia Woods went to be with the Lord on August 17. Viewing Friday, from 9 to 11, First Baptist Church. Service to follow. These left me disturbed, sad for the deceased. Was there, in the end, really nothing to be said about them? Were their lives just a finite number of breaths now stopped?

For weeks, I followed the flow of local deaths and funerals. I tried to surmise causes of death from requests for memorial contributions in lieu of flowers. The American Cancer Society. The Vascular Disease Foundation. The American Heart or Alzheimers Association. When there were epigraphs, I read about careers accomplished, volunteer work conducted, music played, tournaments won. Lives condensed to an eighth of a page. Less, usually.

Though the notices were brief, the words and patterns of language had a gentle rolling rhythm, comforting, like prayers, like nursery rhymes. And between listings, stark and straight lines divided one death from another, putting lives neatly into boxes, separating body from body. Soul from soul. Making death quantifiable and normal, a daily occurrence neatly announced on paper in black and white, on pages dense with ink, speckled with gray smiling photos. Smiles announcing that death wasn’t really so bad.

I don’t know why I was compelled to read those listings every day. At the time, I’d have said it had to be about the death of my marriage. After all, my own life, in a way, was ending. My life as Charlie’s wife was dying, but there would be no public acknowledgment of that demise. No memorial service. No community gathering to mourn. Maybe I read the listings to remember that I wasn’t the only one grieving, that others had lost even more. Still, I would have felt better if the obituary page included dead marriages and lost identities: Mrs. Charles Henry Harrison (nee Elle Brooks) ceased to exist on (date pending), when the couple’s divorce became final. Maybe it would help to have some formal recognition of the demise of my former self. Maybe not.

It’s possible that my own losses brought me to the daily obits. But I doubt it. Looking back, I believe what drew me was far more ominous. A premonition. An instinct. For whatever reason, though, every morning as I chewed my English muffin, I buried myself in the death notices, studying what I could about people who were no more, trying to learn from them or their photos or their neatly structured notices anything I could about death.

Of course, as it turned out, the notices were useless. None of them, not one prepared me for what was to happen. According to the obituary columns, the circumstances of one’s life made no difference in the end. Dead was simply dead. Final. Permanent. Without room for doubt. The pages I studied gave no indication of a gray area. And the boxes around the obituaries contained no dotted lines.

About the Author

Merry JonesMerry Jones is the author of the suspense novel, The Trouble With Charlie, as well as the Harper Jennings thrillers (Winter Break, Behind the Walls, Summer Session),and the Zoe Hayes mysteries (The Borrowed and Blue Murders, The Deadly Neighbors, The River Killings, The Nanny Murders).

Jones has also written humor (including I Love Him, But…) and non-fiction (including Birthmothers: Women who relinquished babies for adoption tell their stories.)

Jones has a regular contributor to Glamour, and her work has been printed in seven languages and numerous magazines. Her short story, “Bliss”, appears in the anthology Liar, Liar, a project of the Philadelphia Liars Club.

In addition to the Liars, Jones is a member of Mystery Writers of America, The Authors Guild and International Thriller Writers.

For the last fifteen years, she has taught writing courses at a variety of institutions, including Temple University and Delaware County Community College. She has appeared on radio and television (local and national), and participates in panel discussions and workshops regularly.
Website: http://merryjones.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/merry.d.jones

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MerryDDJones

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