BLOOD MONEY

In her exciting debut, personal injury attorney Rizio crafts a legal thriller with compelling characters and tense action that more than compensate for a familiar premise.

Nick Ceratto is a young attorney at the prestigious Philadelphia firm of Maglio, Silvio and Levin, a rising star and protégé of “supreme litigator” Joe Maglio. But when Maglio and his family turn up dead Christmas Eve, apparently the result of a murder-suicide, the incredulous Nick begins to suspect Silvio and Levin. Shortly after, when the firm’s eavesdropping receptionist is the victim of an apparently random homicide, Nick discovers that she has left him a vital clue in her safe-deposit box—what seems to be an ancient VHS copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark. With the help of Maglio’s fiery Italian cousin, Maria Elena, Nick begins to investigate his employers, while also taking over one of Maglio’s high-profile cases. Although this murderous boutique law practice will remind some readers of The Firm, Rizio’s book has several qualities that surpass that more famous work. Scenes are filled with cleverly observed details, from a conference room that was “supposed to be soundproof” but from which “yelling had been audible for at least twenty minutes” to a receptionist picking up a phone and pressing an “angry flashing button” with a “sculpted, inch-long red fingernail.” Additionally, an appealing tart cynicism haunts the novel’s scenes of legal maneuvering: “Nick Ceratto sat on one side of the dingy courtroom, its magnificent Victorian paneling and ornate plasterwork overlaid with generations of dirt,” evoking Raymond Chandler’s tone far more than John Grisham’s. Rizio also writes excellent, unfussy action scenes. A chapter where Nick attempts to subpoena a reluctant witness is a model of the form, as is a climactic confrontation in which two children are menaced by a killer. There are some missteps: An engrossing, you-are-there first chapter is besmirched by a jarring jump between characters; the murder of an appealing female character feels superfluous; and a key villain is lazily sketched, especially when cliché dictates he pontificate about classical music. But these are minor quibbles. For a debut, Rizio’s novel is remarkably accomplished. An entertaining thriller full of clever touches, whose characters and tone enliven an overworked genre.   

 

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2011

ISBN: 978-1453618707

Page Count: 332

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

Literary dynamite.

COOPER'S PROMISE

In Smith’s debut novel, a former American soldier hiding out in a small African country can’t escape the ghosts of his past.

Sgt. Cooper Chance, an Army deserter, spends his days in Lalanga drinking cheap gin in a dive. He makes a promise to Lulay, a young girl who sells herself each night, to someday take her away. What little money Chance makes comes from buying smuggled diamonds from a blind boy and his sister and turning a meager profit at an Arab merchant’s shop. There, he meets the merchant’s son, Sadiq, with whom he becomes quickly enamored; he longs to accidentally run into him at a local hammam (a bathhouse and massage parlor). But Chance’s life is confounded by a strange man named Sam Brown, who offers him a way to return to the United States with an honorable discharge—if he’ll use his sharpshooter skills again. Smith’s first effort is a poignant experience. He wastes no time in deftly establishing the atmosphere: ice-cold glasses set against sweaty brows in the blistering heat, with frequent power outages that leave Chance lying on the bed as he waits for the ceiling fan to come back to life. Characters are enhanced by their association with Chance’s past: His need to save Lulay recalls his kid sister being tormented by their father, while his wariness of forming affection for Sadiq echoes a horribly failed relationship in the Army. At its best, the book is slightly refitted yet indomitable noir: the protagonist knocked out cold and tossed in jail; Lulay’s constant pleading for help like a vulnerable dame “hiring” Chance; and the mysterious Sadiq calling to mind a femme—or hommefatale. The novel, a quick read at a little over 200 pages, is rounded out by sharp, cynical dialogue: “Where’s this?” Chance asks, pointing to a postcard; “Somewhere else,” he’s told.

Literary dynamite.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-1462084098

Page Count: 220

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2012

In a word: mind-blowing.

I2

Bannon's cutting-edge science-fiction and psychological thriller revolves around a terminally ill biosoftware scientist's attempt to upload his mind into the consciousness of an unborn baby to once again be with the woman he loves.

Powered by relentless pacing and jaw-dropping plot twists throughout, Bannon's debut novel is a science-fiction thriller of the highest order—but it's ultimately a heart-rending romance and a profoundly moving exploration into the frailty and preciousness of human existence. After pioneering neuroscientist Edward Frame realizes that he only has a short time to live, he and his assistant, Samantha—a woman that he has recently realized he is madly in love with—come up with a shocking plan: to impregnate Samantha and upload Frame’s essence into her child. But something goes horribly wrong: Frame is born again as Adam into a waking nightmare. His mother is his wife, Clara, his siblings are his two children, and his new father is a ruthless company rival who has not only taken over Frame’s business, but his family as well. Thus begins a downward spiral of an existence for Adam that eventually includes foster homes, illicit sexual encounters, hard-core drug addiction, gambling, murder and, ultimately, salvation. Adam Frame, the baby born with the fully cognizant mind of Edward Frame inside of him, is a simply riveting, unforgettable character—a complex, deeply conflicted person who, as he develops into a young man, becomes “two souls in one body and still only half a man.” Bannon doesn’t pull any punches with this narrative; the character development is intense, and the sex and violence is brutal at times, but the result is an utterly readable novel that’s almost impossible to put down.

In a word: mind-blowing.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2011

ISBN: 978-0983912439

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Banco Picante Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

Several wealthy middle-aged Manhattanites—the baby boomers of the title—have been gruesomely murdered, and Detective Carina...

LATE BOOMER

Benson’s tightly plotted crime thriller is sure to please fans of police procedurals.

Several wealthy middle-aged Manhattanites—the baby boomers of the title—have been gruesomely murdered, and Detective Carina Quintana senses a connection. But how can she prove it? The killer, if he exists, varies his methods and targets and leaves no tangible evidence. Age and wealth are all that the victims have in common. Recently transferred from Miami after her partner was convicted of drug trafficking, Quintana struggles to adjust to New York City and deal with the aftermath of testifying against her former co-workers. Now partnered with the sarcastic Pete Simpson, Quintana attempts to catch the killer without creating panic among the city’s elites. Complications from her personal life—a Cayman bank account, an old lover and a connection from Miami—add to her troubles. Benson’s characters are well-drawn, and Quintana is a noteworthy heroine. The author handles her past and sexuality with a light hand, not overplaying the character. Instead, he keeps her guarded and subtle, without verging into clichéd stereotypes about damaged cops. While her decision-making is sometimes clouded, she is believable as a police officer. Secondary characters—the caffeine-addicted Simpson, a particularly droll FBI crime profiler, and New York City itself—are realistically portrayed, adding interest. Chapters narrated from the point of view of the killer contrast interestingly with Quintana’s chapters; comparison reveals both characters are relatively isolated and self-protective. The novel’s pacing is energetic and engaging, and the story flows almost too quickly. Happily, Benson’s epilogue suggests that Quintana may return in a future novel set in Miami Beach. A compelling police procedural with a contemporary setting and an intriguing heroine worthy of a series.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

A solid story of political warfare made doubly compelling by the dubious hero leading the charge.

LUST TAKES THE WHITE HOUSE

A callous mogul tries his hand at politics and uses his undue influence to get a former governor elected president, only to regret his support and redirect his resources to ousting the same man.

Melvin Shultz runs Lust Cosmetics, a billion-dollar company. Unsatisfied in the private sector, Shultz decides “on a whim” to commit all his time and money into backing long-shot candidate Robert “Buck” Porter for president of the United States. Whereas controversially provocative ads succeeded in promoting Lust Cosmetics, Shultz turns Porter into a contender via the standard shallow campaign of false promises. Once Porter is in office, however, Shultz realizes he’s made a considerable mistake in electing the contemptible former governor. After being appointed CIA director by Porter, Shultz tries to contain and dismantle the president’s ineptitude, which threatens to drive the country into the ground. Grayson (My Troubles with Time, 2011, etc.) ably establishes Shultz as a cold, detached power broker but also as a man who inspires confidence by the impressive ambition and cunning in his often despicable scheming. True to form, realpolitik is a constant battle—even after the successful presidential campaign, Shultz necessarily employs the same hardball tactics in his fight for the CIA directorship and, ultimately, in the campaign to bring down President Porter. In contrast to the playfulness suggested by its title, the novel has a frank tone and a clear style that feels comfortably old-fashioned. Shultz, for instance, may be an assertive personality, but he steers clear of hard liquor, drives an old, dilapidated Buick and has a nine o’clock bedtime. He’s a loyal husband, though even he must tire of his wife’s incessant grumbling.

A solid story of political warfare made doubly compelling by the dubious hero leading the charge.

Pub Date: Dec. 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-1468093988

Page Count: 324

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2012

Terrific escapist entertainment, as good as anything in Janet Evanovich’s oeuvre.

MATERIAL WITNESS

Mondello’s latest, a pulse-pounding, pitch-perfect addition to the romantic-suspense genre.

Cassie Alvaraz, a mystery writer in Providence, R.I., is smart, funny and attractively down to earth. She’s also on deadline and in need of inspiration. In search of fresh material, Maureen, her editor, suggests that Cassie dress alluringly and hang out in an infamous underworld bar. Cassie realizes the absurdity of Maureen’s idea too late, but she still feels game after spotting hunky undercover cop Jake Santos. Jake can tell right away that Cassie is no prostitute, and if she doesn’t get herself out of the seedy dive where he’s waiting to meet an informant, she might get hurt. Just as their flirtation threatens to get heavy, gunfire rips apart the bar. When the smoke clears, a local mobster lies in a pool of blood, and Jake realizes that Cassie is the only one who got a good look at the killer. Soon, the duo is on the run with, and later without, FBI protection, and the spark they first felt at the bar slowly kindles a roaring passion. Mondello brings terrific enthusiasm to this material: Cassie, the sassy heroine, is immensely likable, Jake, the dreamboat, is also a thoughtful cop, and their passion feels genuine. Action scenes are taut, while snappy dialogue manages to be by turns tough and cute. The supporting cast provides the right number of red herrings, but the plot breaks no new ground, with the heroes racing through a series of classic witness-in-peril clichés, such as a safe house that isn’t so safe after all. In the end, the real hook is the nimble tone that shifts from breezy to thrilling and back again with masterful precision.

Terrific escapist entertainment, as good as anything in Janet Evanovich’s oeuvre.

Pub Date: June 6, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 194

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Review Posted Online: Sept. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

An engrossing blend of creepy atmospherics, gory jolts and mind-bending conundrums.

PHOENIX ROSE

In Bailey’s (Palindrome Hannah, 2005, etc.) horror saga, a small town seethes with ghouls, apparitions, pranksters and dysfunctional families.

Bailey returns to the haunted landscape of Brenden, Wash., with a sequence of intersecting plotlines that balance all-American ordinariness against outbursts of supernaturalism and carnage. Among them: A young boy mauled by a wolflike dog discovers an even more disconcerting foe in a dentist who puts silver fillings in his teeth, while a gas station attendant staring down the barrel of a mugger’s gun is improbably rescued by an animated corpse. Elsewhere, a priest wakes up after 150 years in the grave, thirsty for blood, and two snarky brothers hatch a scheme to craft grandiose crop circles, although they encounter something ominous in the dark wheat fields. Tying these narratives together is the story of Todd, a 3-year-old boy maimed when a horse kicks him in the head. As the tragedy causes his family to unravel, Todd gets caught up in a spiritual calculus of life and death. Bailey’s accomplished novel loops through time and logic in luxuriant tendrils as characters drift through dream states and alternate realities; the players see their futures and return to their pasts in a terrain stocked with insinuating crows, withering blood-red roses and disembodied entities obsessed with a grisly numerology. Although his prose teems with mystic symbolism and hallucinatory enigmas, the author keeps the novel firmly grounded in reality by way of pungent characterizations, sharply observed behavior and an evocative sense of social setting. Here, Poe-like phantasmagoria amid Stephen King–style naturalism results in a fictive world that’s familiar yet eerily strange—and plenty scary.

An engrossing blend of creepy atmospherics, gory jolts and mind-bending conundrums.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2009

ISBN: 978-1449902452

Page Count: 366

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

The gripping pursuit and protection of the love of a lifetime.

Repeaters

The petrifying tale of a chain of reincarnations that can only be broken by finding true love.

Kim is a blind college student who’s in a relationship with her biology teacher. When they get engaged, he urges Kim to contact her estranged mother, Astra, a psychiatrist who didn’t come back after leaving Kim at a school for the blind when she was 6 years old. For Astra, having a child was a failed attempt to feel love—the only way for a Repeater to conclude his or her string of lives. Finding herself incapable of the emotion, Astra abandoned Kim; but over a decade later, Astra finds the motivation to monstrously destroy her life as part of their grisly mother–daughter rivalry. The destruction bleeds into 16-year-old Lucy’s life as well; she’s a new patient who’s been having blackouts and flashbacks from another life. Lucy doesn’t yet understand that she, too, is a Repeater. With prose so poetic, it’s easy to forget this is a horror story: One evil action collides with the next as a cursed Repeater ruthlessly seeks the true love she hasn’t yet found in the hundreds of lives she remembers—love that would finally end her streak of reincarnations. More than a battle of good and evil, Ferencik’s (Cracks in the Foundation, 2008) story is rich with layers, well-developed characters, and moments of gruesomeness and tenderness. The loveless malice contrasts sharply with characters—some Repeaters, some not—who feel love so deeply that they seem to glow from it on the page.

The gripping pursuit and protection of the love of a lifetime.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2011

ISBN: 978-0981574110

Page Count: 382

Publisher: Waking Dream Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

SENDERO

Tomlinson’s princely, epic debut spans decades in a Peruvian family’s separation and reunion amid political unrest and terrorist atrocities.

In 1987, Peruvian peasant siblings Nina, 12, and Miguel Flores, 16, live on a potato farm raised by proud, hardworking parents. Their homeland is being terrorized by the “Sendero Luminoso” (Shining Path), a Maoist insurgent militia, as locally armed soldiers become outnumbered and more and more of the land is dominated by the violent faction. When their father, Adan, is shot by soldiers and Agustín Malqui, the village pastor, is abducted, Miguel, ever the picture of restless youth, sacrifices himself by joining the Shining Path guerrillas to spare the rest of his family from certain death. Tomlinson masterfully propels his ambitious narrative two decades forward to find Nina, a Cuzco tourism police official in southeastern Peru, miraculously reuniting with a downtrodden, alcoholic Pastor Malqui who’d been isolated for almost a decade in a political prison. Before he disappears again, however, Malqui tells her that Miguel is still alive but ensconced in drug trade narcoterrorism. Nina ignores stern warnings from her lover, Francisco Guislán, a high-ranking anti-terrorist official, and risks her life to first find Malqui again and then her long-lost brother. These powerful events enable Tomlinson to unfurl a vividly described journey throughout Peru’s underbelly as the narrative gains momentum, hurtling toward a dramatic climax and a surprisingly unconventional conclusion. A lushly atmospheric novel consistently churning with intrinsic familial yearnings and authentic suspense, the author’s story works on a variety of levels. Incorporating Peru’s rich yet turbulent history, high drama amid the villages perched in the expansive Andes mountains, a cast of impressively crafted characters and a cinematic plot that would translate wonderfully to the big screen, Tomlinson’s debut is golden. Elaborate and robust; a prime example of history and histrionics juggled with equal precision.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2011

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Max Tomlinson

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

What else is there to say? It’s slick.

SLICK!

As a deadlocked election grips the fictional sultanate of Moq’tar, no issue is safe from Perlstein’s (God’s Others, 2010, etc.) wit as he lampoons politics in the Gulf.

Bobby Gatling, a retired U.S. soldier now employed by a private security firm, is on assignment in Moq’tar. While Bobby’s been training security forces, the aging sultan has allowed his favorite son, Yusuf, to run the country. Western-educated with an MBA from Berkeley, Yusuf has been hard at work, in the capitalist fashion, transforming Moq’tar into “Moq’tar, Inc.” And his sister, the alluring Zoraya, has been with him every step of the way. But everything gets complicated quickly when it turns out that the succession isn’t as certain as Yusuf (and America) thought. Between a drunken U.S. ambassador, a cultural affairs officer with a penchant for cinema, and Yusuf’s playboy-turned-traditionalist older brother, Bobby has his work cut out for him. Stuck in the middle, he’s forced to balance his duties, his loyalties and his conscience as he navigates the dangers of a Middle-Eastern election rife with double-dealing and assassination attempts. The setting works brilliantly for Perlstein to show how ridiculously volatile the region can be, as he takes well-aimed shots at capitalism gone too far, gulf politics, forced democracy and anti-Semitism (to name just a few). It’s satire at its finest—laughing until the sobering moment of realization that the events in Moq’tar aren’t as fictional as you’d hope. To his credit, Perlstein never crosses the line into offensiveness, despite the numerous hot topics and cultures in his sights. And although he tends to dump characterization on the reader, that’s hardly a bother since each one is compelling. Best of all, the novel isn’t written just for scholars of the region; the plot is packed full of car chases and plot twists that keep the tension high and the pace fast. Those looking for subtle humor will find plenty, but those interested in action and intrigue alone won’t be disappointed either.

What else is there to say? It’s slick.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1462045457

Page Count: 252

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

A page turner of the highest order.

THE FINAL RACE

An intriguing, thought-provoking fusion of medical thriller and apocalyptic fiction.

Physician Chiapco’s debut novel begins with inexplicable outbreaks of deadly diseases all over the southern United States and around the world: brain-eating amoeba, malaria, dengue hemorrhagic fever, etc. With trophozoites (“savage microscopic beasts”) inhabiting the water and hordes of mosquitoes infesting the air, the death count soon rises into the millions; medical infrastructures all over the world verge on collapse. As civilization devolves, unheralded heroes like Bronx Metropolitan Hospital physician Jamal Jackson race to somehow find a way to stop the modern-day plague, which has brought out the worst in human nature—selfishness, brutality and deep-seated prejudice. The pandemic scenario isn’t exactly original, but the brilliance of this storyline comes from Chiapco integrating deeply contemplated scientific speculation (the influence of fossil fuels on climate change and the viability of potential renewable energy sources, for instance) and history (the trans-Atlantic slave trade, racism, etc.) with Jackson’s profound experience with sickle cell disease—his younger brother died from it—and its possible connection to saving the human race. Although the narrative’s multiple-viewpoint structure helps showcase the scope of the looming disaster, it also, in places, slows down the story’s momentum and dilutes some of its impact. Even though Chiapco’s story isn’t character-driven, he succeeds in creating multidimensional players who are integral to the story’s overall arc, like Jackson, meteorology professor John Garrett and even white supremacist Wayne Joseph Tucker. Fans of medical thrillers by Robin Cook, Tess Gerritsen and Daniel Kalla (all doctors turned authors, like Chiapco) will find this thematically powerful novel well worth a read.

A page turner of the highest order.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-938223-28-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Mill City Press

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Sexy, savvy and utterly satisfying.

THE KENNEDY RIFLE

A MICHAEL COLE NOVEL

The first installment of Brandon’s saga features Phoenix-based ballistics expert Michael Cole in an un-put-down-able thriller noir.

Cole knows Kate Marlowe is trouble. Two thugs have already visited his office and beat him up, warning him to stay away from her or else. But when the divorced legal secretary from Houston shows up shortly thereafter—“Blonde hair and long legs was all he could see. That was enough”—Cole decides to hear what she has to say; he’s almost immediately hooked. He has an obsession with the JFK assassination—his father was in Dealey Plaza back on November 22, 1963, and was allegedly hit with a stray bullet. Cole even wrote a controversial book about the assassination. So when Marlowe tells him that she has the actual rifle that killed the president and she now wants nothing more than to prove there was a grand-scale conspiracy, Cole agrees to help. The weapon is hidden on a remote ranch in southern Arizona; all they have to do is find it. But there are those who will do anything to keep the truth from being revealed—even it if means mass murder. Although the duo’s relentlessly paced quest is daunting, not to mention historically monumental, Brandon adds gritty humor to counterbalance the thematic gravity. A thug, for instance, is described as “an ethnic mix, maybe half-Asian and half-Rottweiler.” Ultimately, this tightly plotted, action-packed thriller will appeal to crime-fiction aficionados, fans of mainstream thrillers and conspiracy theorists in particular. A cast of brilliantly developed characters, intriguing speculation and bombshell plot twists will keep readers turning the pages until the very end of this starkly realistic, desert-hot thrill ride.

Sexy, savvy and utterly satisfying.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2012

ISBN: 978-1468145809

Page Count: 208

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

THE MOONHAWKER

When ever-resilient, stubborn Atticus Gunner teams up with Butch Gorpon to uncover the mystery behind the deaths in an island community, the duo discovers that something far greater is in the works.

Atticus Gunner is offered $310,000 in addition to a 32-foot sailing sloop, the Moonhawk, as compensation for assuming the role of school administrator and police officer on Washington Island. On his way to the island, he encounters a boat full of drunkards, who later try to shoot at the Moonhawk. From his arrival on the island, Atticus has his hands full. In fact, his first full day culminates in a barroom brawl with the Cline boys, an event that foreshadows the no-nonsense attitude that Gunner will enforce throughout the story. The potential sabotage of his boat and his meeting with local psychic, Cynthia, who anoints him the warrior that will fight off the darkness, put an intriguing twist in the plot. Perhaps the book’s most compelling element is the author’s ability to weave character relationships, especially the budding friendship between Atticus and Butch, the school board president. Nevertheless, Atticus’ relationship with his two daughters, Stacie and Inger, is beautifully portrayed, particularly the scenes on the Moonhawk where readers realize that Atticus is an individual of substance—he will not let anyone harm his family or friends. As the deaths of several island boys confirm, those that harm Atticus’ family or friends will face retribution. The novel shines with engaging dialogue, seamless transitions and kinetic plot development, making the story flow smoothly. When seemingly ordinary individuals start dying in extraordinary ways, Gunner puts everything aside and dives into the situation. This attitude, despite placing him in far too many precarious situations, will undoubtedly endear him to readers. With reckless abandon, and his administrative duties in jeopardy, Gunner teams with the FBI and CIA in an attempt to reveal the true identity of the island’s so-called “good guys.” Gunner fails to realize, however, that he may have taken on more than he can handle; with a history of bloodshed, the assassins are coming for Atticus full force. Unfortunately for them, that makes little difference to Atticus. Fox fuses tantalizing action, adventure and memorable characters with nearly three decades of real-life experience to deliver an addictive page turner with blistering intensity.

 

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2011

ISBN: 978-1462046492

Page Count: 621

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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