Book Review: The Transatlantic Conspiracy by G. D. Falksen

the-transatlantic-conspiracyThe Transatlantic Conspiracy
G. D. Falksen
Soho Teen, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-61695-417-8
Hardcover

Oh, I do love a story about bad girls and The Transatlantic Conspiracy is quintessential.  Rosalind’s own words best define her when she explains to Alix, “I drive motorcars and I’m a suffragist, so my reputation is already a bit uncertain.”  Their mutual friend Cecily not only tinkers with clocks, but has been known to write “strongly worded letters” to express her displeasure or disappointment.  Embarking on the maiden voyage of the underwater railway, Alix is quick to confirm that her traveling companions both know “how to give a swift quick and a good stab” (with a hatpin).

Perhaps I should mention that this steampunk story begins on May 25, 1908.  My first book from this fantastical, science-fiction subgenre complete with advanced machines and modern technology.  It did not disappoint.

Rosalind is quite accustomed to traveling alone, despite being female and seventeen years old.  She has every confidence in her father’s perpetually advancing railways, whether it be traveling above water on an impossibly long bridge or seven days underneath, riding a train through the ocean from Germany to New York.   She may not cherish her reluctant role as a “pawn in her father’s advertising campaign”, but she has never felt afraid.  Until now.

From the beginning, with Cecily and sibling Charles unexpectedly announcing plans to accompany Rosalind to America, to feeling inexplicably unnerved at the station, Rosalind is overcome with unease as she boards.  A strange skepticism settles; people seem to smile around secrets tucked safely away.  Charles disappears.  Two passengers are murdered.  It is only the second day.

Fully engaging with twists and turns, sneaky surprises, loyal friendships and levity, The Transatlantic Conspiracy was a fascinating foray into steampunk.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2016.

Book Review: Thirst by Katherine Prairie

thirstThirst
An Alex Graham Novel #1
Katherine Prairie
Stonedrift Press, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-9949377-0-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Explosive violence rocks Canada’s Slocan Valley after the shooting deaths of three teenagers in a bombing attempt at the Keenleyside dam. A joint U.S.-Canada military force locks down the Valley to protect Columbia River dams critical to both countries but martial law incites more violence.

Geologist Alex Graham refuses to let politics stand in her way. She evades military patrols to slip into a restricted zone in her hunt for a silver mine to claim as her own. But her plans are derailed by an intentionally set fire that almost takes her life.

Someone wants her out of the Slocan Valley.

When Alex discovers a gunshot victim in an abandoned mine, she fears she could be next. But she s never been one to wait for trouble to come to her and she tracks a suspicious man seen once too often in the lonely mountains.

All eyes are on the dams, but the true threat lies elsewhere.

Every now and then, very rarely, a story grabs me by the throat from the first page and doesn’t let go until the end. Such a story is Thirst by Katherine Prairie and I’m here to tell you, if you’re looking for a thriller with heart and a darned good mystery, this one needs to go on your Christmas wishlist right now.

I won’t waste a lot of time delving into the plot—you can get that from the jacket copy and other reviews—but I’ll just say Ms. Prairie knows how to do plot as well as all the trappings that should go with it but often don’t. First, there’s the opening setting in which we learn that this is a place subject to fearful weather, something that always sends shivers down my spine whether it’s warm or cold. Then there are the remote locations so common to Alex’s work as a geologist and the ferocious pressure that comes with hunting down gold and silver deposits. In this particular instance, political machinations, Canadian-US relations, an overbearing US military, a driving need for revenge, an attack on a critical resource and a potential for bioterrorism all mesh together to produce murder and intrigue that initially seems over the top but is, in fact, all too possible.

Alex herself is a bit of an enigma and, yet, we know enough to realize right off the bat that here is a woman who is nearly fearless though guarded, making her way in what’s usually considered a man’s field. She tries to live by certain self-imposed rules such as keeping a low profile but, when she can’t, she goes after the answers needed. As an investigator, Alex is intelligent and open to possibilities while protective of the endangered people and environment. In short, she’s the kind of investigator who isn’t shackled by professional restrictions and, as such, she can and does go the extra mile.

Thirst is Katherine Prairie‘s first novel and I hope to see much more of Alex Graham in the future. This author and her protagonist are too good not to be around for a long time and, in the meantime, this first adventure is going on my list of favorite books read in 2016.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2016.

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katherine-prairieKatherine, a geologist and IT specialist, stepped away from the international petroleum industry to follow her passion for writing. An avid traveller with an insatiable curiosity, you never know where you’ll find her next! But most days, she’s in Vancouver, Canada, quietly plotting murder and mayhem under the watchful eye of a cat. She is an award-winning presenter and the author of the thriller THIRST.

www.katherineprairie.com

www.facebook.com/katherine.prairie

www.twitter.com/authorprairie

Buy links for Thirst:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Sense of Place

I passed by a downtown corner the other day, a location I hadn’t visited in a few months, only to find that nothing looked familiar. The coffee shop, the clothing store, the restaurant I knew so well – all were gone, replaced by a plywood and chain link fence protected construction zone.

It reminded me of the challenge of writing about real places, something I’ve chosen to do in my mysteries. I want my reader to believe that the story I’m telling could happen tomorrow, and a certain amount of realism is necessary to accomplish that.

Although I visit most of the places I write about, it’s not enough. A fire can destroy a landmark building, or as happened to my corner, urban renewal can change the landscape. So how to work with real locations in fiction, especially when even careful research may not be enough?

I admit to a certain vagueness in my descriptions of stores, and restaurants. Although I can generally count on a street name, civic building or hospital to remain relatively unchanged over time, businesses come and go, even without construction! But sometimes it’s necessary to take a risk, especially if a location plays a key role in a mystery.

Thirst wouldn’t have been the same story in any other location than the Slocan Valley in southeastern British Columbia near the U.S. border with Washington, and the city of Nelson is at its centre. Nelson is a unique, special place that has its quirky side, and it was as much a character in Thirst as Alex Graham and Eric Keenan! And so, I chose to name both a well-known coffee shop and restaurant, because the coffee shop especially, is an intrinsic part of Nelson and it conveys the true essence of the city.

Many authors set their stories in fictional cities or locations that are just similar enough to real locations that they work as successful substitutes. An unnamed bedroom community outside of San Francisco that resembles Sausalito or Oakland in everything but name, or a Texan town near sprawling cattle ranches, that could be Austin, Laredo or a dozen others. These types of settings allow a reader to conclude that this place must be the city or town they know so well, but because it is never identified as such, they forgive the author’s use of non-existent names.

There’s also a sense of place that can be suggested by general locations, like Stephen King’s use of fictitious small towns in Maine. There’s an attitude and way of life in Maine that he builds on that doesn’t require the use of a specific town.

Other authors take the plunge and generously sprinkle real places into their story. It’s a gamble because you can all-too quickly date your story, and not every business will thank you for naming them. It’s important to remember that a grisly murder in a café, or a poisoning death in a romantic restaurant, can bring irreparable damage to those businesses.

If I use a real business, I always try to put it in the most positive light possible. In addition, I take the time to ask permission from the business owner, including the story synopsis and the specific excerpt in which the business is named, with my request. Generally, I’ve found them to be very supportive and down-right excited by the prospect of inclusion in a locally-set thriller, however it doesn’t always turn out that way. A winery surprised me by declining permission for a single mention of their excellent chardonnay as a romantic dinner choice, but I understood their reasoning. They had worked hard to create a brand and they wanted to protect it, and that meant that they took extreme care as to where and how their wines were mentioned. This particular winery told me that they had even turned down several movie producers too, so I was in good company!

The nature of my mysteries requires real locations, but a small detail like a local winery isn’t going to make or break the story. I’ve come to weigh each choice carefully, to risk naming real businesses, street corners, parks and other elements, only if they’re truly important to the character of the location. Otherwise I retreat to vagueness and leave the rest to my reader’s imagination.

Katherine Prairie

Feit Book Reviews x 3

Still Missing
Chevy Stevens
St. Martin’s Press, July 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-59567-8
Hardcover

This is an interesting novel, despite its shortcomings:  Basically the writing is uneven, and in many ways pretentious.  A young woman, Annie Sullivan, a realtor on Vancouver Island, Canada, is abducted by a psycho and kept captive for a year, subjected to daily rapes and severe regimentation, severe enough to drive anyone practically insane.  She becomes pregnant and the baby dies after a short period of time.

The story of her year-long captivity is recounted in a series of sessions with a psychiatrist.  In fact, instead of calling each new section of the book a chapter, it is called a Session.  And, of course, the after-effects are recounted as well.  What is unexpected is the ultimate unraveling of just why she was abducted to begin with, in a terrific twist.

The descriptions of just how unbalanced the abductor is, as well as Annie’s mental torment, are excellent.  What this reader found somewhat disconcerting was the language too often used by Annie, especially four letter words, which to me was excessive.  Surely some of it was appropriate to mark her discomfort or anguish, but the constant repetition really could serve little purpose other than to shock the reader or display the fact that this is the author’s debut. Nevertheless, this thriller is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2010.

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Silent Scream
Lynda LaPlante
Touchstone, July 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4391-3928-8
Trade Paperback

This is the story of two women whose lives become intertwined, one a beautiful and upcoming actress, the other a talented and ambitious detective.  The former, Amanda Delany, is a promiscuous, drug- and sex-addicted film star found brutally stabbed in her bed.  Anna Travis’ career is put to the test as she and the rest of the Metropolitan Police team investigate the bizarre murder.

This is a highly detailed British police procedural, with lots of suspects and false leads.  In the beginning there is certainly a great lack of leads, but Anna, who, by the way, is up for promotion, goes solo too often to come up with the breakthrough information to solve the case.

The plot is cannily crafted to keep the reader absorbed, with the suspense building page by page.  The author brings to life the unfortunate victim as Anna looks back deeply into her past to determine just who the murderer may be.  And not until the very end when we learn all the necessary information can the reader even begin to guess the result.  Written with simplicity but great detail, the novel is recommended.

[The book has also been issued in a hardcover edition.]

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2010.

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As Husbands Go
Susan Isaacs
Scribner, July 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4165-7301-2
Hardcover

As Husbands Go . . . well, the husband who is at the center of this novel – went.  As in, murdered, in a scenario which initially put this reader in mind of Eliot Spitzer, former New York governor, except this time it’s not a politician.  Dr. Jonah Gersten, who to all appearances had been a very successful Park Avenue plastic surgeon, devoted husband to Susie, and proud father of four-year-old triplets, has been found stabbed to death in a call girl’s Manhattan apartment.  On the night he first fails to return home, Susie had been thinking to herself:  “Jonah and I have some lucky star shining down on us.”  That mindset is soon dispelled when, the following morning, the police are at her door to give her the news.

Theirs was an idyllic relationship, having met when Jonah was a senior at Yale, quickly fell in love and married.  Though she feels others may fail to see how she had “score[d] a  privileged-attractive-charming-gifted-successful Yale doctor,” Susie would have sworn by all that was holy that Jonah had never been unfaithful to her, and refuses to believe  that he was patronizing a prostitute.  She is determined to find out the truth, even if it undermines the case against the woman who everyone else believes is guilty of the murder.  Jonah’s s parents and brother believe Susie is in denial, if not completely delusional, which seems to be the opinion of the police and the chief of the DA’s Homicide Bureau as well.

Susie’s only allies are her business partner, Andrea, and Grandma Ethel, the grandmother she had met for the first time not long after she and Jonah had married.  The portrait drawn by the author of Ethel Nachman O’Shea, 79 years old, for 25 years the host of “Talk of Miami” and presently in a lesbian relationship with a much younger civil liberties attorney known as Sparky, is an indelible one, as are many of the other characters who provide the backdrop to this novel.

I have enjoyed Susan Isaacs‘ writing since reading her first novel, Compromising Positions, in 1978.  Her finely honed sense of humor and irony is evident throughout, and the murder mystery, the relationships among the various Gersten/Rabinowitz family members satisfying, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2010.