Book Review: Bullet in the Blue Sky by Bill Larkin

Bullet in the Blue SkyBullet in the Blue Sky
Bill Larkin
William Larkin, July 2016
ISBN 978-0-9894002-1-3Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

In the chaotic aftermath of a massive earthquake that leveled much of the Los Angeles region, a LAPD deputy chief sends an elite team of detectives on a rescue mission. They are ordered to set aside all law enforcement duties, to ignore the destruction and to focus on one task: Find LAPD Detective Gavin Shaw, who disappeared just before the earthquake.

Kevin “Schmitty” Schmidt of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department joins five others on the rescue team. With rioting, looting, attacks and homicides rampant in the streets, the six cops have to defend themselves while chasing down leads on the whereabouts of Shaw. The mission takes them through the dizzying war zone and the more they encounter, the more they wonder why they are searching for one man in these extreme circumstances. Why is this man so important to the deputy chief, and why now?

Schmitty discovers that others with high connections are also after Shaw. The questions pile even higher when they learn of a shadowy history between Shaw and the deputy chief. A history with deadly consequences for the team as they uncover a threat that elevates the mission to a race against time.

From the moment I began reading Bullet in the Blue Sky, I was captivated by this story in a myriad of ways. The core premise, that this hodgepodge group of law enforcement officers is tasked with finding one particular detective after the earthquake hits, is a fresh idea (to me, at least) and the author does a fantastic job of melding their mission with the horrible aftermath of the quake. Gang warfare erupts, looting is rampant, and the sheer effort involved in getting anywhere through the massive damage seems as true to life as I could want, never having been in such a situation myself.

The tension rarely lets up and that alone would have kept me turning pages but I also was really drawn to this band of people who can be seen as heroes but who actually are just doing the job they’ve dedicated their lives to. Each one is vividly drawn, especially Schmitty and Mata, and each has his or her own strengths and vulnerabilities, even the quite unlikeable Anderson. I wanted to know not only what would happen to them but also how they would accomplish their goal.

As for the reason behind their search and rescue mission, the reader knows only a tiny bit more than they do and it’s just enough to whet the appetite. I had my own theories but had to keep looking in different directions as more information slowly came to light. When all was said and done, Mr. Larkin’s details took me by surprise page after page until the very end. Even the explanation of the book’s title is filled with meaning.

My only quibble is that some things seem to happen a bit too easily. For instance, they’re in the midst of a disaster and looting is severe but at no point are they unable to find food, water or medical supplies. Granted, the choices might be limited to chips and over-the-counter painkillers but it’s unrealistic to think that such things would still be on the shelves in a looted convenience store or school cafeteria. Still, this was just a minor blip in an otherwise tightly woven story.

Mr. Larkin drew me in initially with two of my favorite themes, law enforcement and disasters, and he never let me down along the way, filling his tale with twists and turns and creating situations that test loyalty and ingenuity while being realistic about what would happen to society after such a major quake. I couldn’t ask for more and Bullet in the Blue Sky will be on my list of favorite books read in 2016.

Note: the author doesn’t seem to categorize his writings as a series but both Schmitty and Mata can be found in earlier work and I’ll be checking them out whenever they become available through an epub retailer.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2016.



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An Excerpt from Bullet in the Blue Sky

The adjunct lieutenant moved into the conference room and stood behind Jenkins and off to the side. Jenkins now addressed our five–person team.

“Your orders are to find Detective Gavin Shaw. He’s a member of Major Crimes and I need him here or I need to know where he is. That’s it. Nothing more.”

As Jenkins paused, several of the detectives looked at each other. Anderson opened her mouth. “Is he—“

Jenkins put up a hand. “You are not, repeat not, to take on law enforcement duties. You are not out to arrest looters, answer radio calls, help firefighters, or anything else you think you ought to be doing. Your only assignment is to find Shaw. And find him as fast as you possibly can. Am I clear?”

“Can I ask the importance of Detective Shaw at this juncture?” Mata said.

“No, you may not. Find him and bring him to me.”

“A search-and-rescue mission?” Anderson said in a puzzled tone.

“Call it that, Anderson. Lieutenant Tallon is in charge and you’d better be aware of what you’re facing. This city is falling apart. Aside from the destruction, there are forty-five thousand gang members, and at least that same number of state parolees and felons on probation. Then there are the opportunists who will loot, burglarize, and kill without the police to stop them. That’s probably a hundred fifty thousand bad guys in a city of rubble and fire.”

Jenkins let that number sink in a moment. The man projected political polish, as I would expect from somebody of his rank, but he didn’t hide his edgy urgency.

He went on. “The LAPD has almost ten thousand sworn, but who knows how many are still alive, much less how many can physically get mobilized. Break that down into twelve-hour shifts and there might be two thousand cops in the whole city at any given time. Three thousand if we’re lucky.”

Lieutenant Tallon said, “Sir that makes the odds against the LAPD about sixty-to-one.” His voice carried both cordiality and self-assurance.

Jenkins nodded. “That’s right. But you will be undercover. Plain clothes and a plain vehicle.”

“Where is Shaw?” Anderson asked.

“I don’t know.” Jenkins nodded to his adjunct who stepped forward and handed a folder to Tallon, then stepped back. “Here is his address and personal information. Best guess is home, but start wherever you need to and find the man.”

Anderson made a small snort. “What if he’s dead?”

“You find him, either way.”

One thing was for sure. Jenkins wasn’t sugarcoating the assignment.

“What about help from the outside?” I asked.

“In time. They’ll mobilize the National Guard and we’ll get relief and search-and-rescue teams, but it’ll take days.”

Tallon said, “We’ll be mostly on our own for the first forty-eight hours. Keep in mind just about every other city in Southern California has the same problems. Some worse, some better.”

“Jesus,” Anderson said.

Tallon said, “Chief, you’ll be here? We bring Shaw here?”

“At this time, I am in command of the department. The chief, assistant and other deputy chiefs have not yet been in contact. That means I’m the Director of Emergency Operations until further notice. That’s all. Dismissed.”

Jenkins motioned to Tallon to follow him and they stepped outside of the conference room with the adjunct lieutenant close behind. Tallon stood about six inches taller than the deputy chief, but Jenkins didn’t seem the least bit intimidated.

The doorway stayed open and I stood up, keeping my back to them, but close enough to hear.

“Lieutenant, I don’t know you very well, but I’ll tell you this with certainty. This is the most difficult challenge you’ll ever face on this job. I was told you have the intellect, resourcefulness, and tenacity to carry this out. Do not disappoint me.”

I heard Jenkins walk away. When I turned, Tallon had locked eyes with the other lieutenant. A beat later, she hurried after her boss.


About the Author

Bill LarkinBill Larkin writes crime fiction and is the author of two highly-acclaimed books: Bullet in the Blue Sky and Detective Lessons. He has also written several short stories, including “The Highlands” and “Shadow Truth”, both Amazon category bestsellers. Bill previously served as a reserve with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, then the Los Angeles Police Department where he worked in four different divisions and a detective assignment. Bill is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers.

Catch Up With Mr. Larkin:

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08/01 Showcase @ Rockin Book Reviews
08/02 Interview @ Writers and Authors
08/17 Review @ Buried Under Books
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08/20 Review @ Book Reviews from an Avid Reader
08/22 Review @ the Blacksheep Project
08/24 Guest Post & Showcase @ The Book Divas Reads
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08/26 Review @ Deal Sharing Aunt
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08/29 Review & Interview @ Building Bookshelves
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09/01 Review @ fundinmental
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Book Review: The Branson Beauty by Claire Booth—and a Giveaway!

The Branson BeautyThe Branson Beauty
Sheriff Hank Worth Mysteries #1
Claire Booth
Minotaur Books, July 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-08438-5

From the publisher—

The Branson Beauty, an old showboat, has crashed in the waters of an Ozark mountain lake just outside the popular tourist destination of Branson, Missouri. More than one hundred people are trapped aboard. Hank Worth is still settling into his new role as county sheriff, and when he responds to the emergency call, he knows he’s in for a long winter’s day of helping elderly people into rafts and bringing them ashore. He anticipates a lot of anxiety, many arguments, and extra costs for emergency equipment that will stretch the county’s already thin budget to the breaking point. But those are the least of his worries after he discovers high school track star Mandy Bryson’s body locked inside the Captain’s private dining room.

Every now and then, I entertain myself by trying to figure out which subgenre of crime fiction I like best. Why I do this I have no idea since I NEVER come to a successful conclusion because there are so many subgenres and then those are further modified by all kinds of nuances. There are a few I don’t particularly care for but way too many I like to be able to pick one favorite. So, I give up the quest until the next time I decide to think about it.

What can I say? I’m easily amused 😉

Police procedurals are definitely in my positive column and The Branson Beauty pushes a whole lot of my hot buttons. I really REALLY like rural or semi-rural sheriffs and deputies, small or smallish towns, humor without sappiness, clues that the cop in question actually has a good family life and that he has avoided the stereotypical alcoholism or PTSD and is intelligent and perceptive, i.e., good at his job, but I want some edginess because, after all, murder is a serious business.  In this case, there’s a bonus….a showboat! Just thinking about showboats takes me back to earlier times with a touch of romance and adventure, not to mention a terrific movie 😉

Hank is a smallish-town sheriff, actually a county sheriff, but he came from the Kansas City police department so hard crime, including murder, is not a huge surprise to him. The same can’t be said for his fellow citizens, some of whom kind of go off the deep end when, first, the boat crashes and they have to figure out how to get a lot of people off of it and, second, a very dead murdered body is found. Fortunately, Hank has at least one pretty capable deputy. A Company Man tries to throw his weight around….hence the caps….in a semi-friendly fashion, hoping to avoid a public relations nightmare and a widow with a police scanner, Lovinia Smithson, is the first to arrive when Hank sends out the call for help, ensconcing herself on a nearby rock to watch the festivities. The Company Man’s boss turns out to have a stick up his butt and the emergency district chief can’t resist whistling the theme from “Gilligan’s Island”.

And then a rather important piece of evidence disappears, in a manner of speaking.

Quite honestly, I love this book and everything about it and it will be going on my list of favorite books read in 2016. All the characters are finely developed and much more human than many fictional people and the investigation had me guessing , surprising me more than once. Most of all, I enjoyed the relationships between Hank and his family and between Hank and his colleagues. I’m sorry I now have to wait for a second book and I’m not even sure one is planned, but I can hope. Ms. Booth, please give us more!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2016.


“This contemporary take on a locked-room puzzle
is chilling, compelling and completely entertaining,
and Claire Booth is a wonderful new voice
in crime fiction.” – Hank Phillippi Ryan, Agatha,
Anthony and Macavity award winner


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About the Author

Claire BoothClaire Booth spent more than a decade as a daily newspaper reporter, much of it covering crimes so convoluted and strange they seemed more like fiction than reality. Eventually, she had enough of the real world and decided to write novels instead. Her Sheriff Hank Worth mystery series takes place in Branson, Missouri, where small-town Ozark politics and big-city country music tourism clash in, yes, strange and convoluted ways. For more about Claire, her books, and some of the true crimes she’s covered, please visit


“With nuanced characters and an intricately unfolding
plot – and a bone-deep sense of cold in this snowy
Ozark setting – this novel is reminiscent of William Kent
Krueger or Giles Blunt. Claire Booth is a writer to watch.”
– Anthony and Agatha award winner Sara J. Henry


Follow the tour:

Monday, July 18th: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, July 19th: BookBub Blog – author guest post

Wednesday, July 20th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Monday, July 25th: Mockingbird Hill Cottage

Wednesday, July 27th: Write Read Life

Monday, August 1st: Bewitched Bookworms

Thursday, August 4th: Kahakai Kitchen

Thursday, August 11th: Buried Under Books

Thursday, August 18th: Joyfully Retired

Monday, August 22nd: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen

Tuesday, August 23rd: FictionZeal


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To enter the drawing for a print
copy of The Branson Beauty
by Claire Booth, just leave a
comment below. The winning

name will be drawn on
night, August 14th.
This drawing
is open to residents
of the US and Canada.


“Claire Booth hits the ground running in this debut
novel set in the Missouri Ozarks. She writes with the
assurance and clarity of a more seasoned pro.”
– Edgar award-winning author Margaret Maron

Mourning Vivian


Vivian, December 2013

Vivian, December 2013


Yesterday, my daughter, Annie, and I took my four-footed sweet baby, Vivian, to the vet for her last visit. Those of us who are pet moms and dads dread having to do this but we owe it to take care of our “kids” to the very end.

Vivian was special. Yes, I know, everyone’s pets are special ;-). It’s true, though, that Vivian was different from most cats if only because she and her sister, Giselle, have openly loved us and have shown it over and over since they came home with me just before Christmas 2013.


Vivian, February 2014

Vivian, February 2014


We don’t know much about Vivian’s early life; she and Giselle were raised by an unknown woman in a motel for their first six years and then she disappeared one day. The motel owner called animal control and the Ginger Twins, as we called them, ended up at the SPCA. When we first saw them, they had been there four months and had limited prospects of being adopted. The biggest problems?

1. At seven years old, they were considered seniors.

2. There were two of them and the SPCA wouldn’t let them be separated.

3. Vivian was a mammary cancer survivor but her long-term outlook was not good.

Many of our local shelters, including the SPCA, are no-kill so Vivian and Giselle were not in danger but I couldn’t get them out of my mind. They were meant to come home with me so Annie and I went back to get them.

The twins were rarely far apart and were happiest when they snuggled together. Both loved looking out the windows and loved playing with the laser pointer and dangly ribbons, preferably the shiny kind. They loved to eat and they put on a few pounds but that was OK—they were a little on the lean side at the shelter.

Vivian & Giselle, February 2014

Vivian & Giselle, February 2014

The twins had not been spayed before arriving at the shelter and that’s when Vivian’s cancer was discovered. Mammary cancer is especially virulent and survival time is limited. When we took the girls to our vet for their first visit, he said it was not a matter of “if” it would recur but “when”. Two months later, the cancer was back and she had a second extensive surgery. That was in March and, a couple of months later, she was showing signs that something might be wrong again. At that time, I decided not to put her through all the diagnostic tests and possible surgery a third time.

A week ago, it became obvious that Vivian was in distress so we took her in on Friday. As it turns out, the mammary cancer was not evident again but it had metastasized to her lungs. There really is no coming back from that. Vivian came home for a last weekend and we had some really good quality time with her, knowing we’d have to take her back on Monday because, despite any rallies she might have, she was in pain and it was the right thing to do for her.

Giselle & Vivian, August 2014

Giselle & Vivian, August 2014

My heart hurts for Giselle. There’s no doubt she knows and she has been velcroed to my side for hours. She and everyone who knew Vivian will miss her terribly and I’m so very thankful she was in our lives for the past eight months.

Vivian has brought us all a lot of tears but also so MUCH joy. The rewards of rescuing seniors outweighs all of the heartache and I’ll do it again when the time is right.

Vivian, August 25, 2014

Vivian, August 25, 2014

Rest in peace, my sweet Vivian.