Book Review: Dark Deception by Nancy Mehl—and a Giveaway!

Dark Deception
Defenders of Justice #2
Nancy Mehl
Bethany House Publishers, June 2017
ISBN 978-0-7642-1778-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Kate O’Brien has been leading a quiet life in small-town Shelter Cove, Arkansas, for the past four years when her past suddenly comes roaring back to life. Four years ago, she and her twin sister were attacked by an elusive serial killer. Only Kate survived, and it was her drawing of the attacker–along with some last-minute evidence–that convicted the suspect.

She’s been in witness protection ever since, but new evidence suggests the convicted man isn’t the murderer and she’s been subpoenaed to testify in the new trial. Nervous about the risk, she’ll only agree if the same marshal who protected her during the original trial escorts her to St. Louis.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Tony DeLuca accepts the assignment to bring Kate to the trial, remembering how her strength impressed him. While in Shelter Cove, however, he gets a call from his chief, advising them to stay in Shelter Cove until a new development in the case can be straightened out. But when Kate’s safety is threatened, Tony must race against the clock to keep her alive and put this ugly case to rest before anyone else gets killed.

There’s nothing quite like a good serial killer story, you know? Well, yes, I know not everyone will agree with that assessment but I happen to like such things, whatever that night say about me or my reading taste 😉 Moving right along, Dark Deception has an extra added attraction, the white-knuckle effect of knowing said serial killer is out to get you, unlike being the usual random target.

Kate is a really likeable woman with the intent to do good but she also is intelligent enough to recognize danger and want to avoid it plus she’s willing to accept help when she needs it, especially from the marshal who looked after her the first time. For his part, Tony remembers Kate and her strengths and accepts his assignment most willingly. The two have a connection from the past and there’s more of that this time around but not so much as to overwhelm the core story.

In a way, the premise here is a little lacking, at least for me. The excitement of a serial killer kind of fizzles when the guy who’s after the heroine may not actually be a serial killer, just a run-of-the-mill wrongfully convicted guy out for revenge. On the other hand, that does mean Tony’s going to have to figure out the truth and I did appreciate that this element makes Dark Deception more intense than many romantic suspense novels.

Lots of twists and turns keep things moving at a good clip and I really enjoyed spending time with Kate and Tony. It’s been a while since I read anything by Nancy Mehl but that’s my mistake, one I plan to rectify ASAP 🙂

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

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Purchase Links:

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Google Play // Amazon

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About the Author

Nancy Mehl is the author of twenty-three books, including the Road to Kingdom, Finding Sanctuary, and Defenders of Justice series. She is a Carol Award finalist and writes from her home in Missouri, where she lives with her husband, Norman, and their Puggle, Watson.

Connect with Nancy

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Book Review: The Mask of Sanity by Jacob M. Appel

The Mask of Sanity
Jacob M. Appel
Permanent Press, March 2017
ISBN: 978-1-57962-495-8
Hardcover

From the publisher:  On the outside, Dr. Jeremy Balint is a pillar of the community: the youngest division chief at his hospital, a model son to his elderly parents, fiercely devoted to his wife and two young daughters.   On the inside, Dr. Jeremy Balint is a high-functioning sociopath – – a man who truly believes himself to stand above the ethical norms of society.  As long as life treats him well, Balint has no cause to harm others.  When life treats him poorly, he reveals the depths of his cold-blooded depravity.  At a cultural moment when the media bombards us with images of so-called “sociopaths” who strive for good and criminals redeemed by repentance, The Mask of Sanity offers an antidote to implausible tales of “evil gone right.”  In contrast to fictional predecessors like Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov and Camus’ Mersault, Dr. Balint is a man who already “has it all” – – and will do everything in his power, no matter how immoral, to keep what he has.

The author’s Foreward lets us know immediately the source of the title phrase:  “I have come to know a number of individuals who wear . . . ‘The Mask of Sanity,’ yet at their cores proved incapable of feeling empathy or compassion for their fellow human beings. . . Only recently, especially as a result of the exposure of gross misdeeds in the financial services industry and of large-scale Ponzi schemes, has the public become aware that many amoral individuals lurk in the highest echelons of power, be it business, law, and even in medicine.  They are all around us, smiling and perpetrating evil.”  Himself an attorney, physician and bioethicist, the author obviously knows whereof he speaks.  And then he introduces us to Dr. Balint.

Married to his wife, Amanda, for 9 years, and with two daughters he adores, at 47 he has just been appointed chief of cardiology, the youngest in the hospital’s history to have that distinction.  He has known the man he now discovers to be his wife’s lover is a man with whom he attended Columbia and then medical school, and is now a transplant surgeon at the same hospital as he.  He becomes obsessed with killing the man.  And not getting caught.  “Inevitably, avoiding detection meant selecting additional targets.”

Not a page-turner in the usual sense of the word (i.e., taut suspense), the plot nonetheless pushes the reader to keep reading to see how it will unfold, and I rather unexpectedly found myself unable to put it down, consuming the novel in less than 36 hours.  The final page will leave you, as it did me, startled, if not shocked, and saying “WHAT??”

This is a novel that grabs the reader from the first page and doesn’t let go.  It is, obviously, highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2017.

Book Review: One By One by Sarah Cain

One By One
A Danny Ryan Mystery #2
Sarah Cain
Crooked Lane Books, March 2017
978-1-68331-087-7
Hardcover

Danny Ryan, a Pulitizer prize winning journalist, is approached by a former high school classmate asking him to look into the strangely similar deaths of several others in their senior class. They all had received odd-ball texts spouting biblical verses and threats that seem to be a warning of some sort, Greg Moss tells Danny. Whatever, they all wound up dead. Now Greg is getting the texts, too, and so, very soon after starting his investigation, does Danny. He eventually realizes all the victims were guests at a drunken, drug-ridden end-of-school party. What happened there? Danny doesn’t know and the people who could tell him are either dead or soon will be.

With the help of a newspaper reporter, the smart and beautiful Alex Burton, Danny determines to get to the bottom of things before there’s another victim. Too late, because Greg dies. Is Danny next? Or will it be Alex, who isn’t a member of the class, but who is maybe too close to Danny.

All tied up in crooked land deals, grasping politicians and crooked cops, as well as at least one deranged former classmate, this is a well-plotted, hold-your-breath story of revenge and twisted motives that will keep you guessing.

The writing, as you would expect, is excellent. We’re given a diversified cast of characters, from which you’re sure to find someone to hate as well as a few to root for.

This is the second book of the Danny Ryan series, and I’m looking forward to the third.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: The Poison Artist by Jonathan Moore

The Poison Artist
Jonathan Moore
Mariner Books, December 2016
ISBN 978-0-5448-1182-9
Trade Paperback

There are obsessions and there are fantasies.  And usually they don’t coincide.  But they do in this fascinating novel, which encompasses the elements of a serial murder mystery, a thriller and possibly a psychological analysis of a sick mind.  It is the story of Dr. Caleb Maddox, a brilliant San Francisco toxicologist studying the chemical effects of pain in the most advanced laboratory in the country.

After his live-in girlfriend walks out on him following an argument, he goes out drinking.  In a bar, he meets a beautiful woman named Emmeline. He becomes obsessed with her, and has to find her again. Meanwhile, he gets caught up in a serial murder investigation, helping his best friend, the Medical Examiner.  One of the victims turns out to be someone who also was drinking in the same bar as Caleb that night.  The detective  in charge of the case is aware of Caleb’s early history, and suspicion arises implicating him.

The novel is a complicated tale and is rather confusing until the author finally gets around to providing details on earlier history.  Until then, the reader remains in the dark and has to take everything at face value.  And the conclusion is somewhat offbeat as Caleb, perhaps, slips away from reality.

Written well, it is an unusual story well worth reading, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2017.

Book Review: Keys to Nowhere by Dorothy H. Hayes

Keys to Nowhere
The Carol Rossi Mystery Series #3
Dorothy H. Hayes
CreateSpace, January 2017
ISBN 978-1541242876
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A Tucson vacation morphs into terror when two teenage girls and their aunt vanish. When the girls’ desperate parents beg their friend and Connecticut investigative journalist Carol Rossi for help, Rossi can’t refuse. She leaves her infant daughter, police detective husband, and treasured farm and animal sanctuary to lead the hunt through the desert. It’s 1985, and Rossi is chasing down a new kind of danger: the serial killer. When the Tucson police aren’t interested in her theories, Rossi acts alone before the killer can strike again.

I have a vague memory of the first time I heard of an abductor/killer posing as a police patrolman but what isn’t vague is how it sunk in that this is a trap all too easy for most people to fall into. Ever since, I’ve been prepared to do what the police themselves advise, to never stop at night or in a lonely area when a cop flashes the lights or taps the siren but go directly to a precinct if possible or at least a well-lit spot with people around. The first pages of Keys to Nowhere gave me the creeps as it became obvious how easy it is for a fake cop to overcome one’s natural concern and sense of self-preservation. By the end of the second chapter, I knew I was in for a heck of a story.

Carol Rossi is one smart cookie and has solved crimes before so it’s no surprise that her friend Vera begs her for help when she can’t reach her teenaged daughters and her sister who’ve been vacationing in Arizona. Helping Vera means Carol has to leave her infant daughter and her police detective husband behind in Connecticut so she’s understandably reluctant but a less than satisfactory call to the Tucson police convinces her she has to go.

Carol is an appealing protagonist, determined to find the three women despite a lack of interest from the police, but it’s the killer who really stands out in my mind because he’s so mesmerizing in his looks and smooth talk, very much like Ted Bundy. That’s the thing about really bad people—they frequently are impossible to spot until it’s too late and that’s one of the traits that’s so fascinating about them. The third character who really impressed me is 16-year-old Ginger, a girl in desperate trouble who isn’t the sort to just let things happen to her. I like this girl a lot and she’s the one who lends an atmosphere of hope to a tale of terror.

As for the story, there isn’t much that’s more intriguing than the battle between good and evil and that’s exactly what this is. It’s uncomfortable to be in the killer’s head but, at the same time, this is what makes his actions and behavior so compelling and, from page to page, I wanted, needed to know what would happen next with the tension building to almost unbearable levels.

Keys to Nowhere is one of those thrillers that blends plot and characterization on an equal basis and Ms. Hayes once again has crafted a tale that kept me enthralled from beginning to end. Anyone looking for an exciting, disturbing, highly satisfying read won’t go wrong with this one.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

Book Reviews: Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes and Surrounded by Witnesses by Jeff Foster

hidden-bodiesHidden Bodies
Caroline Kepnes
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, February 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4767-8562-2
Hardcover

Joe, narrator and protagonist of this turbulent novel is arrogant, smart, clever and well educated. He is also misogynistic, athletic, immoral, talented and a serial killer. As an adept seducer of women, he travels the nation, expounding on his distorted philosophy, scamming various people and murdering those who get in his way, often for the flimsiest of reasons. He is an extremely engaging modern character.

The story begins in a New York bookstore and ends in a California lockup. In between, Joe rambles both physically and intellectually about the human condition, about relationships and about what he should do next. And he pursues a distorted nihilistic philosophy of life that leads him into a morass of morally questionable actions that take place in often unusual and well-described locations. Yet he is a charmer and as pursued by his chronicler, author, Caroline Kepner, he is successful in persuading a great many people to buy at least some of his arguments and actions.

Of course, it is the skill and talent of the author that helps persuade us to continue to pay attention to this most reprehensible of characters and to give his oft-times hare-brained philosophizing serious consideration. A well-conceived, finely written effort that somehow seems peculiarly relevant in today’s world.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2016.
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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surrounded-by-witnessesSurrounded By Witnesses
Jeff Foster
North Star Press, January 2007
ISBN: 978-0-87839-258-0
Trade Paperback

The novel has an interesting premise: a Muslim terrorist scout team is heading for the middle of the middle west in order to set up some kind of attack. They travel as a family and with typical short-view planning, come down from Canada into the Upper Midwest during the height of winter. This of course means blizzards, disruption of timing and attendant growing rage from the family’s controllers.

The novel centers on the family’s interaction with an intensely rural Minnesota family of taciturn Scandinavians. Swede and Heidi and their children are the epitome of type. Manifold difficulties rise to hamper the progress of the terrorist unit toward their intended target. The novel is replete with high tech maneuvering which at times gets in the way of human interaction and the pace of the novel.

I was bothered by the remote language of the narration, disconcerting shifts of points of view and a few clichéd characters. That said, the story line is interesting, but at 330 pages, this trade paper novel could have benefited from some judicious editing. At times the language including the dialogue is stilted and awkward. Those caveats aside, this is an enjoyable novel, worth a few hours of leisure.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2016.
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 Daemoniac by Kat Ross

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Title: The Daemoniac
Series: A Dominion Mystery #1

Author: Kat Ross
Publication Date: October 12, 2016
Genres: Mystery, Historical, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:

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the-daemoniacThe Daemoniac
A Dominion Mystery #1
Kat Ross
Acorn Publishing, October 2016
Ebook

From the author—

It’s August of 1888, just three weeks before Jack the Ripper will begin his grisly spree in the London slum of Whitechapel, and another serial murderer is stalking the gas-lit streets of New York. With taunting messages in backwards Latin left at the crime scenes and even more inexplicable clues like the fingerprints that appear to have been burned into one victim’s throat, his handiwork bears all the hallmarks of a demonic possession.

But consulting detective Harrison Fearing Pell is convinced her quarry is a man of flesh and blood. Encouraged by her uncle, Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry hopes to make her reputation by solving the bizarre case before the man the press has dubbed Mr. Hyde strikes again.

From the squalor of the Five Points to the high-class gambling dens of the Tenderloin and the glittering mansions of Fifth Avenue, Harry and her best friend, John Weston, follow the trail of a remorseless killer, uncovering a few embarrassing secrets of New York’s richest High Society families along the way. Are the murders a case of black magic—or simple blackmail? And will the trail lead them closer to home than they ever imagined?

Harrison Fearing Pell has an older sister, Myrtle Fearing Pell, who’s quite famous….infamous, if you will….as a Pinkerton detective and Harry is bored so, when opportunity arises, she takes on a case of her own. With the help of her best friend, aspiring doctor John Weston, Harry sets out to find a missing man and life for these two will never be the same.

New York City itself is a character in the story with it’s dark streets, corruption, crime and all the squalid glories of its 1880’s existence, all of that enhanced by the hints that perhaps something truly evil is going on as they search for Robert Straker. Robert had fallen on hard times and his friends, Leland and Elizabeth Brady, are understandably alarmed when he vanishes following a frightening visit to a spiritualist, even more so when a vicious murder turns the investigation on its ear.

Harry and John are a most appealing pair and The Daemoniac is a lovely sendup of mystery and the coming Jack the Ripper atmosphere, leavened by the across-the-pond assistance of Harry’s “uncle”, Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as the inimitable reporter, Nellie Bly . Frequent nods to the Sherlock Holmes canon and a blend of charm and darkness turned this first volume of a hopefully long-running series into a few hours of pure pleasure and I’m looking forward to much more.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2016.

About the Author

Kat Ross worked as a journalist at the United Nations for ten years before happily falling back into what she likes best: making stuff up. She lives in Westchester with her kid and a few sleepy cats. Kat is also the author of the dystopian thriller Some Fine Day (Skyscape, 2014), about a world where the sea levels have risen sixty meters. She loves magic, monsters and doomsday scenarios. Preferably with mutants.

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