Book Reviews: The One That Got Away by Joe Clifford and Murderabilia by Carl Vondereau @joeclifford23 @DownAndOutBooks @CarlVonderau @midnightinkbook

The One That Got Away
Joe Clifford
Down & Out Books, December 2018
ISBN: 978-1-948235-42-6
Trade Paperback

An upstate small town where almost everyone has at least one scurrilous or dangerous secret, is the fall setting for this story. Alex Salerno is the flawed, inept and persistent hero of this long and winding tale.

A decade ago she was one of several girls in the town, located in upstate New York, who was abducted and held for unnamed assaultive practices in a dark space. Waiting there, she knew the other girls had been killed. And then, a small miracle, she is rescued by the local detective who becomes her lover. Her abductor now resides in prison.

The experience, naturally, has permanently damaged Alex’s psyche and her life in New York State, at least as she relates it, is fraught, unrooted and filled with booze, drugs and impermanence. For uncertain reasons she has now returned to her home town to meet a reporter who may or may not be preparing a story for the local paper on the history of that time when so many young women and girls had been abducted and murdered.

She knew her abductor was in jail and the reporter was focusing on the later disappearance of another teenager named Kira Shanks. The rambling torturous plot is further obscured by the belief in some corners of this conflicted community that the man now held in a nearby mental institution was not responsible for Kira Shanks disappearance.

As the plot slowly unwinds and layer after layer of a depressing community are revealed, against her better judgement and with menace ever closer, Alex Salerno persists in sticking her nose in unwanted sometimes dangerous places. She is physically and mentally abused and even her tenuous family ties in the town are stressed. The narrative blends the viewpoints of several characters and at times readers may be confused as to who is speaking. Ultimately some of the mysteries and secrets of this town are resolved but one is left wondering about the future life of Alex Salerno.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2020.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.


Carl Vonderau
Midnight Ink Books, July 2019
ISBN 978-007387-6130-5
Trade Paperback

A dark, intense story of murder and family destruction, this novel, after a slow start, will engage readers in a way that will leave them in thoughtful contemplation of family relationships.

Will McNary has a successful career as a private banker who works with individual clients on their financial investments and other monetary activities. He’s married with two young children and living in San Diego. His life is generally calm and ordinary, although he’s feeling a little heat in the form of competition from other officers of the bank. His sister Polly and their aging mother share an unsettling secret.

When Will was a child of only eight, his father was sent to prison for murdering and butchering several women. He compounded his heinous crime by posing and photographing the women, pictures that were circulated and sold on the underground market. McNary’s father was convicted and when the novel opens, has been in prison for more than thirty years. Now, a copy-cat killer linked to Will’s father has emerged, one who appears to be targeting Will and his family.

The story follows Will along a sordid twisting trail as he attempts to protect his loved ones, help law enforcement find the vicious copy-cat, and plumb the emotional depths of the knowledge that he is the son of an incredibly twisted killer.

The novel is well-written and once moving along its trail, enthralling. I hesitate to call it a page turner, however, for those readers attracted to the truly dark side of humanity in several of its manifestations, this carefully crafted story is insistently engaging.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2020.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Unleashed by Liz Coley

Tor Maddox #1
Liz Coley
CreateSpace, May 2015
ISBN 978-1508860808
Trade Paperback

From the author—

When sixteen-year old Torrance Olivia Maddox, self-confessed news junkie, figures out that the mysterious and deadly New Flu is being spread by dogs, she has one question—if the danger is that obvious to her, why hasn’t the government revealed the truth and taken action? Her search for the answer will take her farther than she ever imagined. But then again, she never imagined that man’s best friend could become public enemy number one, that men in black might show up in her cozy suburban neighborhood, that she’d spend her sixteenth birthday as a teenaged runaway, and that her effort to save one dog would become a mission to save them all.

It all starts when Tor reads a conspiracy blog without really paying attention. It sticks in her mind, though—does this blogger really think dogs are spreading pestilence and the government is covering it up? Why haven’t her beloved news venues mentioned anything about this strange new flu and its possible connection to man’s best friend? Surely her beloved Cocoa isn’t about to become an enemy  of humanity!

Tor is a teen I’d like to call my own although she really is almost too good to be true. Intelligent, pretty, comfortable in her own body, bighearted, kind, enjoys learning vocabulary, so forth and so on and, yet, she doesn’t come across as a goody two shoes. Tor does have a few failings such as being a bit headstrong and not always recognizing potential consequences but, after all, she’s not yet 16 years old so I think we can forgive her occasional lack of wisdom. She also has  a terrific friend, Sioux, and her brother, Rody, is a rather cool guy as brothers go. Then there are her parents who named their children after the places where they conceived said children—TMI indeed 😉

At first, Tor just follows what little news there is about the flu but everything takes on a much more ominous tone when her dad tells her about the first death in the hospital where he works. After the Men in Black show up on her doorstep and the CDC calls for doggy quarantine, Tor begins to morph into a bit of an avenging angel in defense of Cocoa and the other dogs in mortal danger. One twist follows another and Tor’s search for truth and justice soon leads to some very uncomfortable answers.

Ms. Coley has taken a serious idea and leavened it with just enough humor and fast pacing to make it highly entertaining as well as full of suspense and I think I’m going to have to read some more “adventures of Tor”. Lines like this will draw me in every time:

“Side bar. Actually, a lot of us ask this question
regularly. What were our parents thinking?”

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.