Book Review: The Last Sin by K.L. Murphy

The Last Sin
A Detective Cancini Mystery #3
K.L. Murphy
Witness Impulse, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-249163-3
Ebook

From the publisher—

Detective Mike Cancini has seen some dark days, but his skills are put to the test when a priest is discovered, brutally murdered in a run-down church in Washington, D.C. The man who discovered the body is none other than Cancini’s longtime friend and confidant, Father Joe Sweeney. The murdered priest, Father Matthew Holland, was adored by the congregation, and it seems clear that this was a crime of opportunity in a deteriorating neighborhood.

However, Cancini soon learns some shocking details from the church secretary, and begins to suspect that Father Holland was not as saintly as he may have appeared. This new information leads to a trail of bribes and decades of corruption polluting the church. Cancini must confront his own struggles with his faith and uncover the truth of the conspiracy before more people are killed.

It’s rare for me to know in just the first few pages that I’ve found a book that truly grabs my attention and hangs on with a vengeance but that’s exactly what happened with The Last Sin. What I expected to be a fairly routine police procedural (which I’m very fond of, by the way) turned out to be much more.

When a priest is killed at St. William in Washington, DC, everyone is truly surprised. Who would have wanted Father Matthew Holland dead, this priest in a rundown church located in one of the city’s poorest communities? Certainly, Detective Michael Cancini wasn’t prepared for such a thing and he’s very surprised when he sees the elderly priest who found the body. Cancini is a lapsed Catholic but he’s kept close ties with Father Joe Sweeney.

Naturally, such a crime is high profile and Cancini’s connection to Father Joe causes a momentary blip but that’s soon overcome and he and his partner, Smitty Smithson, begin the arduous task of investigating what seems to be a senseless murder, aided by another pair of detectives, Bronson and Jensen. As things develop, it becomes clear that there’s a lot that needs looking into what with hints that Father Holland, who had a rocky past, may have been involved in criminal activity, perhaps even corruption of a different sort, and those aren’t the only possible motives. By the time Cancini figures out what really happened, Father Joe is missing and a killer just might escape justice.

There are a number of aspects of this novel that stood out to me. Ms. Murphy has a certain quality in her writing that’s a nice blend of pathos, tension and passion and she has a real grasp on how to put words together in such a fashion as to compel the reader onward. The mystery—and its denouement—here was not at all what I expected and, although I had not read the first two books, I never felt I was missing information.

Finally, there are the characters. Cancini has found a place for himself among my favorite police detectives and Smitty is not far behind. What really struck me, though, were the nuances of Cancini’s interactions with other people, including less stellar detectives, a local reporter and Father Joe himself. Even the killer is a very interesting player, the type that fascinates students of abnormal psychology. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Mike and Smitty and will begin by reading the first two books. In the meantime, The Last Sin is going on my list of best books read in 2017.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon

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An Excerpt from The Last Sin

CHAPTER 1

Sunday, February 21st: The Day Of

The smell of incense lingered in the air, temporarily masking the odor of rotting wood. Father Matthew Holland inhaled. The bitter scent stung his nose. Three years had passed since he’d taken over the church and nothing had changed. Even with the increased attendance and community outreach, the church offerings remained meager. Without offerings—without money—the parish church would die.

The priest sat down on the front pew, his robes gathered around his feet. His gaze shifted to the empty pulpit. Two large and colorful plants graced the altar, but they weren’t enough to hide the worn carpet or faded paintings, nor could the soft candlelight make him forget the plywood that covered the cracked stained glass. There was so much to do, so much need. He sighed and looked to the cross over the altar. Not for the first time, he asked for forgiveness, for understanding. There would be money now—he’d made sure of that—but at what cost? He’d done it for the church. His pulse quickened and his stomach clenched. Bending forward, he forced himself to take one deep breath after another until the moment passed.

He loosened his cleric collar and yawned. The evening’s mass had been long and difficult. The drunks in the back of the church had refused to leave, in spite of the old deacons’ best efforts.

“S’our right to be here,” the man with the long, stringy hair had said. His words slurred, he’d leaned forward as though he might topple straight into the next pew. “Worshipin’ God,” he’d said, although it had sounded like something else judging by the gasps from the congregation. The drunk had pointed a dirty hand toward the altar. “Here to see Father Holland. Tol’ us to come anytime.”

The drunk had swayed again, and his companion had reached out with a strong arm to catch him. Father Holland’s mouth had gone dry at the sight of the tattoo on the man’s forearm—a black dagger plunged into a white skull. Three drops of blood extended in a single line from the tip of the dagger to the man’s wrist. He knew that tattoo, knew what it meant.

The awkward moment had passed although not before Father Holland caught the disdain on the faces of the ladies in the choir. Still, none of the parishioners had said a word, all looking to him instead. He’d hidden his trembling hands in the folds of the heavy cassock and swallowed. “St. William is open to everyone, our members and our guests. However, since we are about to have communion, I would ask that everyone who is not singing remain quiet. Guests may come forward for a blessing, of course.” He’d been careful to keep his voice steady. Thank the Lord it had been enough. The man with the oily hair had quieted down and then stumbled out during the Eucharist. His friend with the tattoo had stayed a moment longer, then followed.

Silence filled the sanctuary now. Father Holland rubbed his hands together and shivered. He could still feel the cold eyes of the tattooed man and the curious glances from the congregation. The man’s presence at the evening mass had been no accident and no drunken whim. The message had been clear.

After the church had emptied, he’d walked to the corner market and made the call. He’d done the best he could. Money changed everything. It always did. He opened his hand and stared at the crumpled paper with the phone number. He was not a stupid man. Nothing came without a price. He murmured a prayer until his shoulders relaxed and the drumbeat of his heart slowed.

His stomach growled, the gurgling loud and rumbly, and he realized it had been hours since he’d eaten. Breaking the quiet, a sound came from the back of the church, a click and a swish as the heavy outer door swung open. He stood and smoothed his cassock. Dinner would have to wait. He strained to see, but the vestibule was dark. “Who’s there?” he asked.

The door clanged shut and heavy steps sounded on the dingy marble floor. Father Holland replaced his collar and ran his fingers through his hair. There was only silence. The hair on the back of his neck prickled. “Is somebody there?” he asked again.

A figure shrouded in black stepped out of the dark.

Father Holland stiffened. “Why are you here?”

From the shadows, the eyes of the visitor glittered in the candlelight. “I’m a sinner, Father.”

Father Holland’s shoulders slumped. “We are all sinners in God’s eyes.”

Excerpt from The Last Sin by KL Murphy.  Copyright © 2017 by Witness Impulse. Reproduced with permission from xxx. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

K.L. MURPHY was born in Key West, Florida, the eldest of four children in a military family. She has worked as a freelance writer for several regional publications in Virginia, and is the author of A Guilty Mind and Stay of Execution. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, four children, and two very large, very hairy dogs.

To learn more about the Detective Cancini Mystery series or future projects, visit her Website, Twitter and Facebook pages.

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Follow the tour:

3/13 Guest post/showcase @ The Book Divas Reads
3/14 Interview @ Mythical Books
3/15 Showcase @ Bound 2 Escape
3/16 Showcase @ Books, Dreams, Life
3/17 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
3/18 Showcase @ A Bookaholic Swede
3/20 Review @ Buried Under Books
3/21 Guest post @ Mystery Suspense Reviews
3/22 Showcase @ The Bookworm Lodge
3/23 Guest post @ Books Direct
3/24 Interview @ BooksChatter
3/25 Showcase @ A Bookworms Journal
3/26 Showcase @ The Pulp and Mystery Shelf
3/27 Showcase @ Tome Tender
3/30 Review/showcase @ CMash Reads
4/03 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
4/10 Review @ Beths Book-Nook Blog

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Book Review: Close Call by Laura DiSilverio

close-callClose Call
Laura DiSilverio
Midnight Ink Books, September 2016
ISBN:978-0-7387-4920-4
Trade Paperback

Not quite non-stop suspense as some reviewers have suggested, but mostly. The author has firm handles on the story line, the characters and the setting. She manipulates all with a deft hand. If things are a little more complicated than is the usual case in thrillers of this kind, well. It’s up to we readers to pay more than casual attention, right?

The title of the book might have effectively been pluralized. We are with the main character, Sydney Ellison, through most of the book and while she weeps gallons of tears, her determination to see the mystery and the crimes to their righteous conclusions is laudable. That she perseveres in the face of repeated set-backs is testament to her core grit. Sydney’s reconciliation with her sister, Reese, her handling of their slightly insane mother, all play important parts in what is essentially a family drama. The novel is intense, compels persistent page-turning, and introduces us to a multi-dimensioned professional assassin.

In an overcrowded deli, located in Washington, D.C., Sydney encounters her nemesis and main adversary in the story, although she doesn’t know it at the time. Nor does her adversary-to-be, a professional hit man who doesn’t appear to be quite as put-together as he should be, given apparent longevity. Their brief interaction sends both on a long and winding path through mistaken identities, murder, family rollercoaster rides and both keen and fatuous observations on D.C. politicians. Also, lots of tears.

Given the current situation in our nation’s capital, the confirmation hearings going on, the story has exciting real-life resonance. Readers seeking a tension-filled story with real characters should enjoy this novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2017.
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: Interference by Kay Honeyman

interferenceInterference
Kay Honeyman
Arthur A. Levine Books, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-81232-0
Hardcover

Kate Hamilton is genetically programmed to fix or make things right. After all, her dad is a U.S. Congressman from North Carolina and her grandfather and great grandfather held a similar office, only in Texas.  When her latest effort to reveal cheating by one of her fellow students at the posh DC high school they attend blows up, thanks to photoshopped and out of context pictures posted online, it also derails her dad’s re-election bid.

Her parents take an unusual tack. They cart Kate off to Red Dirt, Texas where the incumbent who held the seat her grandfather once had, has just died and a special interim election is going to be held. Dad was the star high school quarterback many still remember fondly…Many except Bo Stone who was the player replaced by Dad way back then. Bo is also intent upon running for the vacant seat and his son Kyle is now the quarterback for the local team.

Kate’s upset and angry when they arrive in the middle of nowhere, but no sooner do her parents tell her she can be free of campaigning and be a ‘normal teenager’ (as long as she stays out of the headlines), than Kate starts being seduced by the wide openness of Texas. One of her goals is to get back at her DC tormentor, but do it in an honorable way. She needs lots of volunteer hours as well as more photos for her art portfolio if she wants to get into a school where that is offered and one of three coveted letters of recommendation written by the principal for a graduating senior.

High school in Texas is a far cry from her old school and features a cast of characters that affect her in ways she never expected. There’s Ana Gomez who’s as good, maybe better a photographer than Kate. Ana is still acting like a deer in the headlights after lies were spread by an ex-boyfriend. There’s Ms. Serrano, the yearbook adviser who is more than she seems and challenges Kate in unexpected ways, but most of all, there’s Hunter, who she sees as a rude, slightly antagonistic student, who she first meets when she has her hands in a very embarrassing place when pressed into service by her prickly Aunt Celia to help with a difficult calving at the sanctuary.  Celia has spent her life rescuing stray and abandoned animals of all types (and naming each after a famous politician). She reluctantly accepts Kate’s offer to help out at the refuge near the home her dad inherited.

There aren’t any particularly unique elements in this story, but great recipes come out of common ingredients and that’s the kind of story this is. It’s about Kate’s growing awareness of how she needs to change, who she really is and how a congressman’s daughter can learn to love a small town in Texas as well as a guy she thought cared about someone else. It’s a great read and definitely worth adding to any school or public library caring about offering teens a neat read.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, September 2016.

Book Review: Never Kill a Friend by Martin Hill

never-kill-a-friendNever Kill a Friend
Martin Hill
Ransom Note Press, June 2015
ISBN 978-0-9773-7870-8
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Detective Shelley Krieg has lived her entire life in Washington, D.C.  At six’4”, she’s the giantess of DC Metro – – a tough cop who’s played by the rules on her long path to becoming a detective in the city she loves.  But when Rafael Hooks is arrested for killing his brother, all the rules change.  Shelley finds herself not only fighting the system, but also questioning her relationships with her co-workers, her closest friends, and even her partner.  It seems like an open-and-shut case:  Raffi confesses to murdering his drug-dealing brother.  But nothing is as it seems.  Each time Shelley finds evidence to exonerate Raffi, new evidence arises to confirm his guilt.  Fingerprints tying Raffi to multiple murders in both DC and neighboring Maryland suddenly appear out of thin air.  And on his first night in lock-up, Raffi is nearly killed.  With no allies left at DC Metro, Shelley turns to her estranged friend, Yasmira Tamer.  Together Shelley and Mira uncover a web of deceit and corruption that links a Russian assassin, a high-paid DC call girl, and an urban Robin Hood who renovates his crack houses before donating them to the poor.

Shelley, a 31-year-old African-American, works out of the Third Police District of Washington Metro, which extends “from embassies and gentrified townhouses to stretches of urban decay.”  The book opens with Shelley being called to the scene of a gruesome murder, the details of which I will kindly omit.  The young man who called 911 is 19-year-old Rafael Hooks, the aforementioned brother of the dead man, and Shelley is convinced of his innocence, his confession notwithstanding.  Her investigation leads her along unexpected paths, at times putting her in the cross-hairs of the assassin, being drugged in her own home, and not knowing who to trust, including her fellow police officers.  But she has to follow her conscience, and won’t stop till she gets to the truth.  The various plot lines did have this reader a bit confused at times (although not for too long).  The writing, although I did not feel it was particularly elegant, nevertheless pulled me along to the point that, surprisingly to me, I found myself at the end within forty-eight hours of opening it up to the first page.

This is the first in a new police procedural mystery series featuring Shelley Krieg, who is both a fascinating protagonist, and one tough gal.  I for one can’t wait for the next one!
Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2016.

Book Review: The Odd Fellows Society by C.G. Barrett

The Odd Fellows SocietyThe Odd Fellows Society
C.G. Barrett
Ink & Image Media II, November 2015
ISBN 978-0-9884419-3-4
Trade Paperback

A thriller that begins and ends with a chicken is something that has to capture your attention. Santiago Torres, a Jesuit priest in Washington, D.C., is supposed to meet his historian friend, Jasper Willoughs one February evening, but is instead handed a live chicken by an Asian woman. Since Jasper is notorious for being impulsive and late, Santi is at first more concerned that it looks like snow – and what on earth to do with the chicken –  than he is about Jasper’s well-being. Exasperated and cold, Santi leaves the meeting place, because as headmaster of a prestigious private school, there’s no way he can miss the parent-teacher meetings he has scheduled. But sadly, it turns out that this time Jasper is a no-show because he has died.

I think it would be impossible to read this book without thinking about The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. There are many similarities: an overt society, the Jesuits, are heavily manipulated by a covert shadow group, the Stewards; Jasper has left treasure hunt style clues for Santi to follow; there is a gorgeous and clever love interest; there’s a focus on research and academia; and interesting facts about the history of Washington and its monuments and buildings are woven into the storyline.

The Odd Fellows Society has a much more good-natured and humorous tone interspersed with all the drama, though, and I felt much of its strength came from its warmth. It’s a complicated thriller, not just because of the mystifying clues that Jasper has left, but also because of all the different themes and sub-plots that Barrett packs into the narrative. During the course of his adventure, Santi struggles to understand his difficult relationship with his FBI brother, Nico, and he tries to battle the seemingly unchangeable racism within his school. As well, Santi experiences constant tension in his role as a priest versus his obligations as a teacher and an employer, and especially in his long-time romantic love for his old friend, Abby.

This book was a lot of fun. Santiago was a very human character, doing his best but often baffled about what his next steps should be, and so easy to relate to. Next to Santi, my favourite characters were his blunt secretary, Pearl, and her irreverent computer whiz son, Bradley. This is an ambitious novel that avoids being sprawling, or too much like a comic book, because it’s filled with romantic yet imperfect characters doing unexpected things. Barrett successfully combines seriousness and entertainment in a very fast-moving thriller in The Odd Fellow Society, where nothing is exactly what it seems – not even the chicken.

Reviewed by Andrea Thompson, June 2016.

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 Survivors by Robert Palmer—and a Giveaway!

The SurvivorsThe Survivors
A Cal Henderson Novel #1
Robert Palmer
Seventh Street Books, October 2015
ISBN 978-1-63388-082-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Psychologist Cal Henderson has a successful practice in Washington, DC, and big plans for the future. But he can’t escape a terrible secret. When he was a boy, his mother murdered his father and two brothers and severely wounded Cal’s best friend, Scottie Glass. Desperate to keep the nightmare at bay, Cal has turned his back on everything that happened that night.

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the killings, Scottie shows up at Cal’s office—edgy, paranoid, but somehow still the loveable kid he once was. Though their lives have taken very different paths, they both believe Cal’s mother couldn’t have been a murderer. She loved them too much, no matter what dark place she found herself in. They set off to dig up the real story.

Cal uncovers one shocking secret after another about his family.  The trail leads to a shady defense contractor, a scheming US Attorney, and, ultimately a billionaire with the kind of power and connections that can only be found in Washington.  But Cal is paying a price.  The memories he has avoided for so long have come flooding back, sending him into a tailspin from which he may never recover.

It’s not often that I feel the need to take issue with other reviews but this is one of those times when I feel compelled to because I disagree with some of them quite a bit. First, the use of both first and third person point of view is a very minor thing; first person is used for the bulk of the story and third only for the prologue and epilogue and the switch is not, in my opinion, out of place. (If you’re a reader who heartily dislikes prologues, that’s another issue but I contend that it makes complete sense in this particular story.)

Then there’s the notion that the writing is stilted and contains too much telling as opposed to showing, too little action and suspense, too much talking. Put simply, I just didn’t see it that way at all. Yes, there’s a good bit of talk but these men are trying to get to the bottom of a 25-year-old tragedy and that kind of investigating necessitates a lot of talking to each other and to the people they track down during their probe. By its very nature, sleuthing has to involve a lot of discussion unless it’s one lone cowboy who talks only to himself. Also, I’ve always thought that first person POV, as popular as it is these days, is somewhat limiting in that the reader can only experience what the narrator tells or shows him and some of that has to be at a distance because the narrator isn’t present during all the action. For instance, in this case, there’s a scene in which a body is being pulled out of the water. Cal wasn’t there when the body went in so of course all he can do is tell us; he can’t let us see what happened.

Finally, there’s the thought that Cal is unemotional. All I can say to that is of course he is! After all, he’s spent most of his life holding in his emotions, for good reason, so he’s not going to suddenly let loose now. If anything, he has to be even more guarded because he feels the need to look out for Scottie who is a complete mess and highly likely to get himself and Cal into serious trouble.

I do think there are some flaws in Mr. Palmer‘s debut, especially the flatness of some of the secondary characters. On the other hand, I found Cal and Scottie to be rather compelling, particularly in the vastly different ways they have coped with their terrible past. Scottie would get on anyone’s nerves and I thought Cal’s choice of profession is what allowed these two men to come together with a common goal. Their attempts to rebuild their childhood trust were as appealing to me as the mystery itself. And just incidentally, that mystery is full of twists and turns and not everything is resolved. I don’t mean that we’re left with a cliffhanger, just that not everything gets tied up in pretty little bows and that’s OK with me. I’ll be looking forward to seeing more of Cal and perhaps some of the other characters.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2015.

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To enter the drawing for a print
copy of The Survivors by Robert
Palmer, leave a comment below.
Two winning names will be drawn
Thursday evening, October 22nd. One
will receive an advance reading copy
and one will receive a finished copy.
This drawing is open to residents
of the US and Canada.