Friday, September 04, 2015

The Khartoum Project

By Gabriel Timar
Suspense/Thriller, 312 pages, cover art by Pat Evans

The Khartoum project takes the reader for a ride in the netherworld of the intelligence community. On this highway to hell, one must win or die…no matter how brave, ruthless, and inventive. Monica Brett in the mission to Khartoum pushes to the limit and beyond.

After having dinner at the Cafe de Paris, Monica walked toward her hotel. The little alarm bell pounded into her mind in the intelligence school suddenly sent a warning. She looked around carefully at several occasions and realized two men wearing trench coats, felt hats and black gloves were following her.

She quickly stepped into a little accessories store no more than a block from the hotel. The two men patiently waited outside. Stepping to the cash register to pay for the pair of elk-hide gloves she bought, she kept watching the men in the mirror behind the sales clerk. Monica took as much time paying her bill as she could, and did not want to turn her face in the direction of the men. The saleslady did not understand Monica's procrastination.

"Anything wrong, ma'am?" she asked.

"No, no thank you. I was just thinking what else I was supposed to buy…"

"Another pair of gloves perhaps," she suggested, "We have a special on the white glace today."

"No, thank you. Auf wiedersehen," Monica said and spun around. At the exit, she picked up a large flyer advertising the store and walked out. Passing her shadowers, she walked in the direction from which she had come. Glancing at the two men, Monica did not recognize them; they were complete strangers.

As she did not want to lead them directly to her hotel, with deliberate strides she walked down the Rue de Mont Blanc, one of the main thoroughfares leading to the center of the city. Looking back occasionally, she noticed the men following at a respectful distance. She decided to do the wounded buffalo act, the trick she learned at the training school. The wounded beast normally withdraws into the thickest bush, stalks the hunter, gets behind the pursuer, and tramples him.

To pull this trick on two stalkers was not easy, but Monica had to try. She briskly walked to the first corner, checking the two agents more than thirty feet behind her. As soon as she turned the corner, she broke into a run for ten seconds and slowed down to her regular stride. When she looked back, the two men were rounding the corner. As she had more than fifty meters on them, when she turned the next corner, she ran flat out all the way around the block.

Passing the starting point, she stood at the corner and waited. In a few seconds, the two agents turned the corner huffing and puffing. Monica stuck out her right leg and the agent ahead of his partner fell over. The second managed to stop. Covering her left hand with the flyer, Monica stepped up to the agent still on his feet. "Hold it, buster, I've got a gun on you. Don't do anything foolish."

He looked surprised, but recovered quickly.

"Don't do anything hasty, Miss Brett. We are your friends," he stammered.

"Nevertheless, hand over your gun, please."

"My gun?" he asked in a surprised tone. "I don't carry one. In Switzerland it is against the law for a foreigner to own firearms." He opened his jacket: "You may search me if you wish."

"Why are you following me?"

"Look," he started in a convincing tone, "I'm not what you think. I'm on your side."

"Interesting," Monica said with a wry little smile.

The other agent stood up and dusted his pants.

"You don't understand, Miss Brett. We want to talk to you."

"Start talking," Monica said tersely.

"Why don't you let me buy you a cup of coffee?" he said. "Put your gun away, and I'll explain everything to your satisfaction, I'm sure you'll understand."

"That is a unique pickup line. I'm not interested."

"We work for the Rittmeister. He assigned us to provide security for your project."

Monica knew immediately that the man was not what he purported to be. The Rittmeister had not assigned anybody to protect her.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Point of No Return

By Diana J. Febry
Mystery/Crime, 284 pages, cover art provided by author

The significance of the noose left hanging outside James Palmer's barn is obvious to everyone in the village. When threats turn to violence DCI Peter Hatherall has to unmask a master of disguise determined to have their revenge.

Detective Chief Inspector Peter Hatherall stretched his legs out, interlocked his hands behind his head and closed his eyes. The last two weeks spent with Sally and the boys at her mother's house in Cornwall had been wonderful. With unlimited time together, free from other pressures, they'd talked and found one another again. The genuine love and concern in Sally's eyes still made his stomach muscles curl up in unworthiness.

When they had discussed it together, it made perfect sense for Sally to stay in Cornwall with the boys until the end of the school holidays. Since his return home alone, old doubts and fears had crept into the corners of his mind and they continued to relentlessly churn away in the background.

He dreamt last night she'd telephoned and asked for a divorce. They'd come pretty damn close to going down that route. The fear it left behind prevented any hope of sleep for the rest of the night.

Story of his love life, he   thought, always coming pretty damn close. Like he'd nearly started an affair with Fiona, his junior officer. With closed eyes, he speculated about what could have happened if he'd taken that step.


Peter dropped his hands abruptly, leaving his head unsupported and he was momentarily disoriented as he was dragged from the warm floating place between consciousness and sleep. Superintendent Rogers looked less than impressed. Peter looked over for some support, only to see Detective Inspector Fiona Williams sitting primly in front of her lap top, looking the perfect teacher's pet, leaving him to play the role of the class dunce.

"Hatherall, I know you work in unusual ways, but could you at least try to appear awake?" Rogers said.

Peter pulled his legs in and crossed them, trying to look suitably contrite.

"What are you working on, if anything, at the moment?" Rogers asked.

Peter pulled the yellow post-it note from his laptop screen. "Mrs Archer of Frampton is very concerned about the theft of her daffodil bulbs."

Rogers frowned and looked down at Peter through his spectacles. Undeterred, Peter carried on, "They dug them up in the night from her garden."

"Peter! Pass it to uniform. You're not paid to concern yourself with flower arrangements."

"The village-in-bloom committee view it as a most serious matter."

"Well, as you're not busy with anything else…"

"I'm tying up the loose ends on the Bert Jones case and waiting for preliminary dates of his hearings. We're also trying to capture the underwear thief of Littleton."

"So, nothing new. Good. I'd like you to visit a Mister James Palmer, out at Lamington." Rogers handed over a thin file to Fiona, but spoke directly to Peter. "He's received a number of threats and is experiencing problems with petty vandalism on his farm. He thinks the two are linked and is claiming there is some sort of local vendetta against him. He's a fellow member of the Kendleshire Golf Club and I'd like him reassured we are taking his concerns seriously. Give him some advice on security and leave him feeling his taxpayers' money is being used wisely."

"So he'll stop bothering you on the nineteenth hole. And that's more pressing than daffodil bulbs and stolen underwear?" The look of annoyance on Rogers' face warned Peter his humour wasn't appreciated. He pulled himself up straight and asked, "What's he like?"

"I don't know him well. He seems a nice enough chap and he's always generous at the club bar, although a little flirtatious with the female members." Rogers turned and smiled at Fiona. "I'll leave it in your capable hands," he added, leaving the room.

Peter furrowed his brow into a pained expression. He walked towards the window while Fiona studiously ignored him, flicking through the thin file left on her desk. He leant one arm against the window pane and watched life happening down below on the busy high street of Tibberton. He turned from the window. "Well, that's a pleasant morning arranged for us. A drive through the countryside followed by us saying all the right words over a civilised cup of tea."

"It's the next village along from Littleton. There could be a connection to the thefts from washing lines."

Friday, August 21, 2015

Living Lies

By Eleanor Cocreham
Contemporary Romance, 366 pages, cover art by Trisha FitzGerald

Lani destroys Laurie's happiness in a night of reckless abandon, which changes their lives forever. Suffering the consequences, Lani flees to Italy and Laurie moves to New York.

Conflicts and challenges face the mirror image twins as Lani becomes involved with a vineyard owner and Laurie learns her lover is Mafia.

Leaving Rome after breakfast the following morning, Lani again gave special thanks to her modeling agency. The previous year she had been chosen by the Maserati Company to participate in their premier showing of the new Gran Cabrio in Frankfort. The amazing four-seat convertible she couldn't resist ordering was delivered to the hotel that morning. She hadn't thought to include the special luggage designed to fit the narrow trunk space, however, and had to seek the bellmen's help to store her baggage and bottles of wine.

Hungry again by early afternoon, she stopped for lunch at a place called Ceilla on the outskirts of the city. She stretched and chose an outside table to dine al fresco beneath vine-covered trellises dripping with purple wisteria blossoms. Judging the food to be excellent by the aromas coming from inside, and unable to resist, she succumbed to another dish of pasta swimming in herbed white sauce. She patted her stomach and grimaced. Although she was tall and could probably carry the baby longer than most without showing, she couldn't continue to gorge on such foods.

The heat of the day had subsided by the time she finished her meal. Still unrecognized despite the interest and comments her sleek, black car generated, she lowered the roof, admiring the ease of it. But then everything about the convertible pleased her, including the cushioned leather seats and the way the powerful auto hugged the roadbed of Autostrada A-1. Managing to stay within the speed limit to avoid a ticket, she began her search for the road to Lucignano, her destination.

Once she arrived in the village located between Arezzo and Siena built around the hilltop, she had difficulty finding the villa and stopped for directions more than once. Darkness was fast closing in when she finally located it with the help of several old men sitting on a bench in a piazza who declared even a hound dog would have trouble finding such an isolated place.

Fortunately, the estate's iron gates were open. She drove the quarter mile to the house, parked on a gravel path at the side of the tall structure, raised the auto's top, and removed the small tote holding only what she would need for the night. After locating the keys under the designated flower box, she pushed aside the thick strands of heavy brown cord hanging over the entrance, momentarily pondering the reason for the yarn-like covering as she unlocked the solid wood door. Bugs? Mosquitos? Snakes? Ugh.

Shrugging, she entered the kitchen through the small pantry and glanced up at the impressive arched brick ceiling. She spied bread and cheese left covered on the counter, and noted that the wall lamps lighting the room also illuminated the lower hallway floored in red tile. From the kitchen doorway, she peered down the long span apparently used for dining, which ran the length of the house from front door to back. Skirting the centered grouping of a narrow table and eight chairs, she paused midway in the hall to briefly admire a side staircase almost ten feet wide leading to two upper floors. The house was so much larger than she expected, and she hadn't a clue what she would do with so much space.

Taking in the two large bedrooms cornering the end of the hall, she stared at the beige faux-stucco walls topped with elaborate scrolled borders painted to mimic crown molding. Choosing the room with the largest bed made with fresh linens, she cranked open the shutters over the tall windows, threw her things on a high window seat covering the steam radiators and eyed the meager furnishings. Other than bedside tables, there was a lone wooden chair, a small closet, and an armoire which wouldn't hold half of her clothes.

She drew a relieved breath at the new oversized towels hanging on racks in the adjoining bath, furnished no doubt by the real estate agent who had approached her about investing in a house with limitless possibilities. She knew absolutely nothing about construction and decorating, but she vowed if she did decide to buy this eyesore, painting those boring beige walls with a pop of color would be her first priority.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

A Soul Forsaken

By Kev Richardson
Mainstream/Historical, 299 pages
Cover art by Trisha FitzGerald

A true tale of how an Egyptian born son can be educated to achieve honours in his chosen university studies, yet denied the right to turn them into a career.

Every Egyptian child adopts at birth its father’s nationality, so many find themselves a foreigner in his land of birth. Another law denies foreigners in Egypt, the right to work. With neighbouring Sudan in an ongoing civil war, this young man risks assassination if even visiting his father’s country, let alone wanting to reside and work there.

What can he do when even visas are denied Sudan’s citizens to any western country, simply fearing being ‘smothered’ by countless Sudanese wanting to flee the mayhem?

In this case, a visiting westerner takes up the challenge of finding a way around this poor fellow’s political dilemma.

Zamalec, Cairo…

“This, Mama?”

She nodded. “Yes, son. For the sunroom.”

Ali and his mother were going through the house, attaching coloured Post-It tabs to every item of furniture.

Yellow designated leave-in-the-house, green meant deliver to her father’s home, pink designated being sold at auction.

They were under no time limit to quit the Sudan government property, yet the hint had been ‘within a month or two.’ They were moving only a few streets away to her parents’ home, where tradesmen were currently closing this door and opening a new one in other walls, that the el-Haq duo had their own apartment of four rooms plus a kitchen and shared bathroom.

Madame el-Haq was now agitating even more strongly that Ali began thinking seriously of marriage.

“There is garden space enough that the new apartment can be extended another room, son.”

“Yes, Mother, but again I must insist that I do not yet marry. Any son born to me in Egypt will grow up with my dreadful impediment to life’s happiness. I simply cannot cast such a slur on any child.”

“The Sudanese problem will one day be over, Ali, when you could take your family to Khartoum or El Fasher. We have talked on this so many times.”
“Yes, Mother, and every time finish realising that the ‘when’ of it can never be gauged. Only when I can see myself safely welcomed into Sudan will I marry. If you do not want me living with you, I can take my own apartment somewhere, or go back to university and further my education.”

“I should miss you dreadfully if you moved away, Ali, but a man of your age continuing to live with his mother is not Allah’s way. It must attract suspicion of homosexuality to cast doubt on my father’s entire family. A bachelor son in his twenties should be marrying.”

“Well, until accepted in the Sudan, I cannot. But if you fear slurs, Mama, I shall take the University course. However, I would prefer time to see what happens in the Sudan, also to keep appealing to the British Embassy.”

Ali was silent a long time. We have been through this so many times, every time ending up deciding nothing. I could enter the monkhood, yet I cannot devote my entire life and spirit to that. I envy Evan the freedom he has, yet whilst I could be self-employed like that, I must depend on what money I could earn from outside Egypt. And changing foreign money has a limit, one too small to grant me a livelihood.

Every which-way he looked, there were barriers.

How long can a man keep sponging on his family and maintain pride? Suffer the ignominy of having no career or even purpose in life? Man was not made to live so. Life here can only continue demeaning.

He realised that family money, while continuing to give him a comfortable life, did nothing towards giving him personal satisfaction.

My studies in physics have me qualified to be earning good money, even one day to receiving some notoriety. Surely such is every man’s dream—every man but one born in Egypt of a Sudanese father!

Sunday, August 02, 2015

The Deal

By A. W. Lambert
Suspense/Thriller. 534 pages
Cover design by A. W. Lambert, finishing cover art by Pat Evans

Seventeen years ago teenager Nicardo Clarke grasped his brother’s hand and a sibling deal was sealed. Now Nicardo’s brother is dead, brutally murdered and Nicardo, forced to honor the deal, is drawn to another continent and a dark world where life is cheap and one man fears placing his trust in another.

It was as black as pitch and Nick could see nothing. His heart was thudding like a steam hammer and his breath was coming in short cramped gasps. Pain lanced through his neck and head and one knee felt as if it had been stepped on by an elephant. But he was conscious; he could think, and slowly the situation came into focus. The car was on its roof and he was doubled in two, hanging upside down, his weight driving the still-attached seat belt deep into his stomach. It was why he was finding it difficult to breathe.

With one hand he reached down and pushed hard against the roof of the car, easing his weight from the belt. With the other hand he searched for the buckle, hoping it hadn’t been damaged and would release. It did, and with a painful thud he crumpled into the roof of the car. Screwed almost into a ball, he lay for a moment, his breathing easier now, taking stock and listening, the only sounds the hisses and creaks of a dead engine cooling in the dark night air.

Without light…probably the crash had caused the car’s battery to be ripped from its connections; he could only go by feel. He groped to where he thought Aisha should be and his hand found her head lolling awkwardly forward. She, too, was hanging, bent double in her seat belt. He ran his hand over her face and it came away sticky.

“Aisha,” he whispered. “Are you okay?”

There was no reply, but he thought he could hear the rasp of laboured breathing. He squirmed to one side and attempted to lift her body and release the belt, but the angle was too great and as strong as he was, he couldn’t manage it. Finally, turning on his back, he wriggled one shoulder beneath her hanging body and eased her weight from the seat belt, reaching round her prostrate form searching for the seat belt buckle.

Suddenly he froze.

A new sound had joined the slowly diminishing hissing and ticking of the engine. It was a gentle whoosh, a sound he instantly recognised and one that struck a cold terror in his heart.

“Jesus God,” he muttered, fumbling frantically around the front of Aisha, not caring what part of her lifeless body he clutched at. “We’re on fire, Aisha girl. We need to get out of here, so come on, move yourself.” He knew she couldn’t hear, couldn’t move anything. He was talking to himself, but somehow just talking helped, made him feel less alone. At last his right hand found the buckle buried beneath her furled up top, jammed deep into her stomach. He pulled the buckle open and Aisha collapsed on top of him. He rolled her away from him and as he did so realised he could suddenly see. He could see by the light of the flames licking around the front of the car directly in front of the shattered windscreen. The heat and fumes immediately began to permeate the car, a heavy, choking, petrol-filled fug getting thicker by the second.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Fever

By Thomas Fenske
Mainstream, 409 pages
Cover art by Pat Evans

In the late 1800s, Ben Sublett was already known for his secret gold mine in the far reaches of west Texas. When Ben died in 1892, it was thought his secret died with him. Eighty years later in a central Texas jail, a dying, homeless wino named "Slim" Longo whispered a long-held family secret to twenty year old Sam Milton. Sam had comforted Slim as the old man succumbed to injuries suffered during arrest. That secret contained one word that changed Sam's life: Gold.

In his last moments on earth, Slim had rewarded young Sam's kindness with certain clues that old Ben Sublett had given to Slim's grandfather. In eighty years, neither Slim, his father, nor his grandfather had ever found the mine. In considering the source, a filthy, broken, shell of a man, Sam instinctively knew that surely this information was more of a curse than a reward, but the clues burned a hole in his soul and he could not help but continue a search that had already stretched out for another ten years. Sam had "the fever" and he knew he would either find the elusive gold mine or die trying...

Sam got up and went to the door and attracted a patrolling guard’s attention through the same paperback book-sized opening used for the attempts at inter-block communication.

“There’s a guy in here that’s hurt,” he said, pointing over to Slim by the far wall.

“Oh, him?” The guard smiled like he was enjoying a private joke. “Don’t mind him. That’s just Slim, one of our regulars. I’m sure he’s fine,” the guard said. “Just leave him alone and let him sleep it off,” he added before turning to walk away.

After the guard left his line of sight, Sam returned to Slim, first stopping at the sink to get several paper towels from a dispenser next to the paper cups. He moistened a couple and kept the others dry, then returned to his patient, who looked worse, with fresh blood at the corner of his mouth. Sam dabbed at the blood with one dry towel to wipe it away and then patted Slim’s face with one of the moistened towels. This roused the old man.

“Wha… who? Oh, yeah,” Slim managed a slight smile of recognition. “I remember now, Sam. Thanks, son. What’cha here for?” he rasped.

“Illegal weapon,” Sam said. “I had a knife they said was too long.”

“Damn cops. Can’t they just leave you kids alone? They gotta ruin your life for a stupid knife?” Slim coughed again, and more blood dribbled down his chin.

Sam mopped a damp towel across the older man’s forehead and said, “Just take it easy, buddy.”
Slim looked up at him with wild eyes that seemed to be looking right through him.
“Take it easy? I… I’m dying, I know it.” Slim wheezed, and struggled to get a breath, then continued in a harsh whisper, “Listen, Sam, I gotta tell ya something.” The old man coughed again, so hard that Sam half expected to see a bloody lung on the floor.

Sam put his hand on Slim’s shoulder. “Okay, okay, Slim,” he said. “Don’t work yourself up.”

“I’m serious, you asshole,” Slim said, then he realized what he had said and frowned, shaking his head. “Naw, I’m sorry, you ain’t no asshole. You’re being nicer to me than anybody’s been to old Slim in a long time. I don’t deserve it. I ain’t lived a good life what with the drinking and leaving my family…but…maybe I can make up for some of it. I gots something for you, Sam.”

Slim coughed again and turned to his side, grabbing one of the dry towels out of Sam’s hand. When Slim turned back, there was deep red blood on the towel.

Sam looked around. The card games and talking and smoking continued as before. Nobody else cared what was going on over against the wall.

Slim continued with his rasping, wheezing whisper, “You gotta remember, you hear me? You gotta remember.” He grabbed Sam’s arm in a weak but desperate way, trying to pull their faces closer.

“Okay, okay, just take it easy.” He patted the old man’s shoulder again, trying to be reassuring, but deep inside he was scared to death.

Slim coughed again, then said, “Shit. Ain’t much time. I need to tell you something, but first, I need a favor. Out south of the river near Oltorf Street, you know where that is?”

Sam nodded, lying because he really had no idea.