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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Sound And The Silence



By JoEllen Conger
Historical, 208 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud
 

Excerpt:
Let me introduce myself. I’m Nick A. Nickell, and in my late teens, I was just a simple country boy raised on a farm. It changed my life after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I wasn’t ready for what came next, and this living hell became my story.
~ * ~
The old Marine Corps bus jolted me when it swayed, turning off the main road onto the graveled area at the base railhead. I had almost fallen asleep. It was four A.M. and I felt cold and disgruntled. At three A.M., the company commander had ordered us out of our warm beds and told us to pack up; we were leaving for a train ride. This was life in the Marine Corps.

I was cold because we had turned in our overcoats. Since troop movements were never discussed with enlisted men, we could only guess what that meant; they would be unnecessary where we were going. I listened to the crunch of tires on the gravel as we crossed the huge loading area. This was where equipment and personnel arrived and left Camp Lejeune Marine Base in North Carolina. At least I was happy they weren’t taking us off base to some city railroad station. I hated railroad stations; there was something lonely about them. My mind wandered back to the first time I could remember ever being in one.

The station was in Oakland, California. It had been alive with activity; wagon loads of luggage were being pulled here and there and people were standing in line to buy tickets to board trains. I watched a mother struggle to carry her luggage and still try to keep control of her flock of unruly children. Groups of servicemen moved in all directions. Girls were saying tearful goodbyes to their military sweethearts. One couple stood in a corner talking in low, serious tones. A girl stood alone, leaning against a column crying silent tears. The shoeshine man had business standing by, waiting.

The loudspeaker was blaring information about a train that was either arriving or departing; I couldn’t tell which. The words were almost lost against the background noise.

It was 1943… I was eighteen years old. The whole nation was involved with the war. Everywhere, there were posters and signs encouraging enlistment, extolling the virtues and advantages of buying war bonds, or warning against loose talk— “A slip of the lip can sink a ship.” Everywhere there were signs of the military presence. Army trucks moved along the highways, and uniformed men lounged around street corners in towns and cities. Flags flew from front yard poles, from porches, from the tops of buildings and from ropes tied across streets. Small flags began showing up in parents’ windows, with a star in the center, testament to the young men lost at war. It was a flag that reflected my own sense of sadness and grief for their loss.

I was used to being on my own to make my own decisions, to go where I wanted. But this was different. I had to remind myself that all I had to do was follow the instructions of the chief petty officer in charge of our group. I was standing with about a hundred other young men, who all wore arm bands reading “U.S. Navy.” We were inductees, and we were waiting to board a train that would carry us away from our homes and families, to a new and strange world; to the Navy Boot Camp at Farregat, Idaho. I had been living alone for some time, but for the first time, I felt disconnected, confused and a little lonely.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Whisper of the Ozarks

By Ed Koonce
Inspirational Romance, 235 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud

After attaining wealth in Wichita, Kansas, Ann Crowley is drawn back to the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas to find something that's missing, and finds a love that she thought was lost forever, as well as her childhood faith.

Excerpt:

As she emerged from the trees and found herself once again in that hallowed place, she stopped abruptly as she saw-sitting in the spot that she had called her own-a young girl watching a doe feeding across the valley. The girl, unaware of her presence, gazed dreamily out over the valley, which was somewhat obscured by a low-lying fog. Two red-tailed hawks circled lazily above the trees, watching for unwary rodents that would become their breakfast. The older woman stood still, not wanting to intrude on the child's solitude. As her eyes wandered over the familiar scene, unexpected warmth flowed through her body. How this place could bring anything but sadness, she didn't know. Had she not longed to flee from this area as soon as she could? The poverty and hunger brought about by the Great Depression of the 1930s had made little difference here; poverty had always been a way of life in these hills as those who lived here tilled the thin stony soil trying to make a life from the stubborn grudging earth.

Her eyes returned to the young girl, who appeared to be about twelve or thirteen years old, sitting in the spot where she herself had spent many lonely hours. The girl swayed gently to music coming from a small radio sitting beside her. She recognized the popular new song: "Just the Way You Are" by Billy Joel. The pink silk sleeveless blouse she wore was tucked neatly into the waist of her designer jeans, and expensive-looking walking shoes adorned her feet. Her light brown hair was neatly trimmed mid-way down her back. Although the girl reminded Ann Crowley of herself at that age, this girl's attire was far different from that of the girl who had sat there years before.

For just a moment she thought about revealing her presence and becoming acquainted with the child, but decided to leave her to enjoy her solitude. However, as she turned to go, a rock dislodged by her heel tumbled down the path and bounced over the ledge next to the girl, startling her and causing her to turn around to see what had made the rock fall. As their eyes met, the older woman was surprised to see a striking resemblance to herself at that young age: deep brown eyes, dark eyebrows, high cheekbones and a petite turned-up nose. Maybe it was her imagination, or perhaps the forgetfulness that comes with age. At any rate, there was no longer the option of leaving without making her presence known, so she smiled a greeting.

"Hello child. My name is Ann Crowley; what's your name?"

For a moment the girl was too startled to speak, but soon found her voice.

"My...my name's Whisper Dawn Randall. I didn't hear you coming. Do you live around here?"

Ann hoped the little girl hadn't seen the startled look on her face at hearing the name, Whisper. "I live in Wichita, Kansas, but I used to live here. I'm sorry; I didn't mean to disturb you."

"Oh, that's okay. You used to live here?"

"Well, to be exact, right over there." Ann pointed to a small clearing on the hillside to the left. "My father built a small log cabin there, but it's gone now."

"Was that a long time ago?"

"Yes, it was during the Great Depression, although I never could figure out why they called it 'great'; it was anything but great!"

Friday, March 13, 2015

Peace on Earth

By Paddy Bostock
Adventure/Humour, 381 pages
cover art by: Richard Stroud

Mankind profits from nothing more than war. Hence, rumours about the existence of a disk said to contain the formula to "peace on earth," obtained by a failed actor with a penchant for visions, pose a major threat to the planet. This unleashes a frantic hunt for the disk across continents, involving government agencies, master criminals, petty criminals, and would-be criminals, plus the local population of Pont-y-Pant: the tiny Welsh village on which disparate characters converge as the putative location of the errant disk.

However, nobody has taken into account the role that will be played by the three-year-old Newfoundland acting as the disk's self-appointed custodian.

Excerpt:

Life for residents of Sitges's Carrer Espanya, where Miguel Ramírez's hideaway-from-family apartment was located, might easily have continued in its normal drowsy, boozy, sexy, August fashion on the balmy night in question had it not been for the peculiar conflux in their midst of three factors:
Factor A: (per se not all that remarkable), the re-arrival in the street of Miguel's Range Rover Evoque. Residents looking down from behind their summertime lace curtains and Venetian blinds knew all about the Evoque and admired Miguel's cojones for owning it. Also, given his underground parking facility, the car had never caused trouble for either pedestrians or other vehicles. So...no hay problema.

Factor B: the appearance, only moments later, of an all-black-with-silver-tinted-windows Hummer the size of a bus, which parked slap in the middle of the road, and out of which climbed four bullfighters-two banderillos, one picador, and one torero-all of whom took to mooching about, looking up at windows and speaking to each other in a variety of languages, none of them Catalan or Spanish so far as residents could tell. The lace curtains and Venetian blind slats parted considerably at this arrival. Ears cocked, eyes peeled, anger building in case anybody wanted to get out of his underground parking facility and the jodering Hummer was in the jodering way. Plus, who were these guys...?
Factor C: the parking, behind the all-black-with-silver-tinted-windows, of the little red Seat Ibiza, out of which jumped two young women who might, or might not, have been whores.

Unbeknownst to any of the Carrer Espanya residents-obviously-was the deal Magistrate Lady Dunwithy had brokered with Sergeant Gwyn Williams such that Esperanza and Chiquita would avoid prosecution in Welsh courts for kicking the crap out of three locals and be freed to return to Spain as long as they promised to leave Pont-y-Pant immediately and never return.

Why? Because Lady Dunwithy-a staunch admirer of Emmeline Pankhurst-championed the girls' brutal athleticism and only wished she had been taught similar tricks when young. And, if Gwyn Williams wanted to keep his job, never mind his pension, he would stop whingeing about prosecutions, jail, and suchlike.

So it was that Esperanza and Chiquita, still very keen to learn more about the…albeit possibly apocryphal…paz mundial story despite their recent setback, had caught the next plane back to Barcelona where it didn't take them long to learn-by smacking Xabi Hernández around the head a bit-where (thwack, thwack) they might (thwack, thwack) find Miguel Ramírez whom they reckoned to be the mastermind behind the operation, seeing as Xabi was too dim to find his own arse with an arse map.

"At Carrer Espanya, número 65, Sitges," a beaten Xabi had cravenly told them. Whither the girls headed as fast as their little red Seat Ibiza would take them, and, finding no available parking place, left the car bumper-to-bumper with the all-black-with-silver-tinted-windows Hummer in the middle of the street.

Friday, March 06, 2015

The Most Toys

By Matthew Malekos with Dennis Nilsen
Mystery/Crime, 250 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud

In The Most Toys, acclaimed crime-fiction author & former psychiatric nurse, Matthew Malekos joins forces with the British serial killer, Dennis Nilsen, to produce the third novel in the Dr Karen Laos series, which tells the ongoing story of the fictional forensic pathologist first seen in Peroxide Homicide and thereafter in Snow Wasted.

The Most Toys finds Dr Laos attending a conference on missing people in the heart of central London when she is contacted by private investigator and ex-cop, Sean Hilt, who is seeking her expertise and assistance to help solve a large number of cases of missing young adults. The more involved in the investigation she becomes, the more apparent it is that the missing people she is trying to help locate all share a common history of petty crime and involvement with prison and social services. Dr Laos soon identifies a disturbing trade in human body parts and shortly after her suspicions are raised that a necrophiliac serial killer is on the loose, she too finds herself subject to the potentially disastrous actions of one the novel's key antagonists.

Excerpt:

Desmond Nickleton had spent the last hour prising open the wooden floorboards that comprised the surface of a corner of a dining room area on the lower ground floor of his large family house. The room itself measured an impressive forty-nine by fory-five feet; a rare commodity in modern day London, all the more so when Nickleton reminded himself that he lived alone and, rather than grow and adapt to the space of his living area, he had somehow managed to make the house adapt to him. There had been times during his work over the past couple of years that he had not been able to make his mind up about whether or not to keep the corpses of those he had murdered. On such rare occasions where he found himself unable to make up his mind, he had decided to simply place the bodies into what he called his "storage area."

Although not as special as the small audience of reanimated corpses he kept in the theatre upstairs, these were victims of which he had felt unable to completely let go. The agreement he had come to with Benjamin Turnbull was such that a brown A5 sized envelope would frequently drop onto his doormat; in it would be the names, descriptions, and a photograph of those Turnbull wanted disposed.

Nickleton would sit for several hours studying the photographs of those that had to be killed.
He would look carefully at their facial features and body shape, and judge his physiological reaction to what he saw. If he felt excited when he looked at the photographs, he would place them aside on a small pile that told him these were his to do with as he pleased. If, however, he felt no physiological reaction from a photograph, he would place it into another pile, and later that day outsource the work to anonymous others.

Other than a few items of antiquated furniture, Nickleton's dining room was relatively sparse-on the surface at least-and he was therefore able to remove several floorboards in the southern corner of the room easily. He reached his hands into the gaping space and pulled out several well-sealed bags. In them he had placed various remains of more than half a dozen bodies he had been unsure about what to do with. He hated this stage of his work; disposing permanently the remains he knew he could have enjoyed and preserved had his workload not been so demanding.

In order to make sure the bodies fitted neatly underneath the floorboards into the two foot deep foundations, he had dismembered them, usually separating the torso from the lower half of the victims' bodies, but sometimes had dismembered them into three sections, depending on need. He found keeping two or three whole sections intact easier to store. The last time he had conducted such a clear-out was exactly a year previously.

On this occasion, Desmond Nickleton wanted to try his hand at a new "fad" he had read about in a national newspaper. He needn't tell his paymaster about this; it would be an additional self-bonus for the enterprising nature of the work he was completing. He would dispose of the majority of body parts that took up a great deal of space beneath his floorboards. On this occasion, however, he would keep one bag of mixed body parts for himself.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Opal's Faith

By Agnes Alexander
Historical Western Romance 364 pages
Cover art by Trisha FitzGerald

Nineteen-year-old Opal Barnett never dreamed that leaving her home in Memphis, Tennessee to settle on a ranch that her father had inherited near the little town of Wildweed, Arizona would bring such an unsettling change in life. Not only did she find a half-breed cousin, but she found she had to give up dreams of wearing beautiful gowns and dress in britches, ride a horse, round up cattle, and do many jobs required of a rancher. She never dreamed that the hired hand who was such a help to would become the object of her secret dreams. She knew she had to fight the impulse she had to touch him every time they were together because she didn't have time in her life for anything except helping her family.

Jace Renwick had one goal, to find the man who had murdered his father in a Colorado gold field ten years earlier. The fact that he was pushing thirty, time most men who wanted a family had settled down, didn't tempt him to give up the pursuit. Informed the culprit was in Arizona, he set out to track  him down and landed up at the Barnette ranch. Knowing this would be a good place to keep a low profile in his search, he volunteers to help George Barnett get the place up and running. But the auburn haired Opal was harder to ignore than he ever dreamed a woman would be.

Excerpt:

"Who is that man, Opal?" Her mother asked as soon as she was in the door.

"He said his name was Jace Renwick, not that that means anything to us. He wanted to water his horse and get a drink for himself."

Her mother frowned. "Is he going to leave as soon as he waters his horse?"

"He said he wanted to talk to Papa."

"Papa's in town," Pearl butted in.

"I know. Mr. Renwick said he'd wait for him at the barn. I didn't tell him that it would be a while before Papa came home."

Gloria glanced out the door. "It kind of makes me nervous with a strange man being here and your father gone."

"Maybe he'll get tired of waiting and leave, Mama." Opal hoped those words would waylay her mother's fears, but she didn't believe them as she said them. From her first impression of the man, she got the feeling that once Mr. Renwick set his mind to something, he'd see it through. She wasn't sure how she got this feeling. It was just there.
~ * ~

Though neither he nor his horse needed water, Jace had a drink, then led China to the trough for a few sips. Afterward he moved him to the corral and looped the reins over one of the standing posts. He removed the saddle and hung it over the fence where the rails weren't broken. He couldn't help noticing how rundown the place looked. He'd learned in town this morning that the owner had recently died and his greenhorn brother and his family had not only inherited the place, but had moved in the day before. He wasn't sure the family's trip from the east was worth the trouble to claim the inheritance. It would take a lot of backbreaking work to make this ranch turn a profit. Work he was sure a tenderfoot wasn't able to put in, even if he were willing.

But the people on this ranch weren't his problem. He had his own objective and these naïve people were unwittingly going to help him achieve it, though they didn't or wouldn't realize they were doing it.
Stepping inside the barn, not only to escape the extra warm spring day, but to look around, he was pleased to find the structure solid, with no signs of leakage from the roof or the walls. There were four stalls and the back doors would give access from both directions. He climbed the attached ladder to the loft and walked around. The boards were fine with the exception of one or two that needed nailing down.

Returning to the main floor, he went to the room which interested him the most. It was built on the right side of the barn before the stalls began. He pushed the door open and entered. He was surprised to find the room larger than he'd thought it would be.

As he did in other areas of the barn, he tested the walls for stability. They were as strong as the rest of the building. He walked to the window and looked out. There was an unobstructed view of the house and the approaching road.

Finding this to his liking, he muttered, "With a little cleaning and a bed built in the back wall, this will be ideal. Yep, for the next few months this will be my bedroom."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Ghost of Gunfire

By Dorothy Bodoin
Cozy Mystery, 392 pages
Cover art by Pat Evans


Months after gunfire erupted in her classroom, leaving one student dead and another wounded, Jennet Ferguson begins to hear mysterious gunshots inaudible to anyone else.

While Jennet fears she may be losing her grip of reality, she encounters a threatening stranger near her home. Soon after, she finds a collie tethered to a tree in the woods and left to die. When another collie meets the same fate, she resolves to find the abuser and put an end to his demented activities

Excerpt:
“There’s something unsettling in the air today.”
Lucy Hazen gazed at the woods across from Jonquil Lane, her eyes searching for the mysterious something that had taken her attention away from my blueberry pie.

“Sure there is,” Brent said. “It’s electricity. There’s a thunderstorm on the way.”

Lucy shook her head. “Besides that.”

“It won’t be here for a while, I hope.” I glanced at the sky, which was still overcast. Thunder rumbled in the distance, but we should be safe for a while. From the rain, that is.

Whenever Lucy talked like a character in one of her horror stories, I’d learned to pay attention. At times she knew an event was imminent long before it occurred.

I surveyed the woods, trying to see what she saw. They were dark and shadowy, as always, but far from sinister, at least by day.

These days, it seemed, I was always poised for the unexpected. For trouble. Always waiting for a rude disruption to the status quo. Like a gunshot coming out of nowhere.

“The flowers can use the rain,” Camille said.

Lucy went back to her pie. As did I, a bit warily.

Any gunfire in the woods would have a natural explanation. In spite of the numerous ‘No Trespassing” and ‘No Hunting’ signs posted at the perimeters, someone always ignored them. The graceful deer that roamed freely in the area were too tempting to escape the notice of illegal hunters. Then there were game birds.

I pulled my mind back to practical matters. We were at the dessert stage of our barbecue. I glanced at the glasses and plates, some of them empty, some almost so. “Does everyone have enough to drink?” I asked. “How about a second helping of Camille’s flag cake?”

“I’ll try a piece of pie,” Brent said, scraping his plate. His cake had been generously sprinkled with halved strawberries, a portion from the edge of the flag.

“Blueberry or cherry?” I asked.

“Blueberry.”

The thunder was closer now, and a gust of wind sprang to life, taking a swipe at the stack of paper napkins on the table. As I anchored them with a salt shaker, I felt a brush of velvet against my ankles. Sky, so easily frightened by storms and loud noises, sought reassurance that all would be well. I stroked her head and whispered, “It’s okay, girl.”

With a whimper, she lay down.

“Let’s clear the tables,” Camille said. “We can finish dessert inside.”

“Did anyone hear that?” Lucy asked.

“The wind?” Brent rose, holding the cake platter. Crane grabbed the pies. Everyone except Lucy had something in hand.

“No, it sounded like a cry,” she said.

Faintly alarmed, I listened. “I didn’t hear anything. Only the wind.”

“It sounded like a cry for help,” Lucy murmured. “Someone out there is in trouble.”

“You probably heard a creature in the woods,” Brent said. “A bird could make a crying sound.”

He put his arm around Lucy. “You’re really concerned?”

She smiled up at him. “Could it be one of the dogs, Jennet?” she asked. “Are they all accounted for?”

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Deadly Bayou


By A. C. Mason
Click on above line for buy link.

Mystery/Crime, 357 pages
Cover art by Trisha FitzGerald

Blurb:
Cypress Lake Chief of Police Jim Foret is found critically wounded near the place his father committed suicide and dies later at the hospital. Evidence at the scene suggests his gunshot wound is also self-inflicted. His widow, Susan believes he has been murdered. Will she end up a victim herself before the killer is brought to justice?

Excerpt: Cypress Lake, Louisiana, Monday, July 22

I took one look at Sheriff Danny Marchand standing in the doorway and knew immediately something was terribly wrong. My usually easy-going neighbor had the most somber expression I’d ever seen on his face.

“You look so serious. What’s wrong?”

He took a step inside, ducking his head slightly to accommodate his over six foot height as he came through the doorway. “Jim’s been shot.” His voice sounded official.

My heart thumped loud and fast. I could hardly breathe. “How…?”

“He’s at West Lake Memorial in surgery. Come on. I’ll drive you there.”

“The kids are across the street…”

“Don’t worry. Rachel will take care of them.”

I moved in a daze out the door. Before I realized, the city had whizzed by the car windows in a blur.

The siren sounded muted in my ears. Danny refrained from speaking; I was thankful for his consideration. Even though I wanted to know how this had happened, I wouldn’t have been able to carry on an intelligent conversation. All my thoughts centered on this nightmarish scenario. My husband Jim, the Cypress Lake police chief, had been shot and was lying on an operating table. Maybe those were also Danny’s thoughts.

Hospitals with their stark and sterile environment always depressed me. Today West Lake Memorial Hospital seemed even more austere. I wanted to see Jim, to know he was still alive. Touching him wasn’t possible at the moment. All I could do was say prayers.

Several of Jim’s officers, along with a couple of sheriff deputies, milled around in the hall outside the waiting room. Their facial expressions conveyed sympathy for me. I didn’t want sympathy—I wanted my husband.

I took a seat in one of the padded chairs in the waiting room. Danny sat next to me and clasped my hand in his much larger one.

Finally summoning the courage, I asked, “Tell me the truth. How bad are his injuries?”

“Pretty bad,” he said. “Critical, in fact—a shot to the abdomen.”

Chills ran up my spine. The worst nightmare a policeman’s wife could imagine was her husband getting wounded in the line of duty.

“Where did this happen?”

Danny averted his gaze for an instant. “Out by Bayou Jean Baptiste.”

My heart raced. The location his father had chosen to commit suicide. “What happened?”

“We don’t know anything right now.” He looked uncomfortable.

“What do you mean? Was he alone?”

“As near as we can tell. The scene’s still being investigated. A couple of fishermen discovered him and called nine-one-one.”

“How’d he get out there?”

“We found his boat tied up nearby.”

“His boat?”

“You didn’t notice it was gone?”

I shook my head. “He kept the boat in that little shed in the back yard. I had no reason to look over there.”

He nodded. “So he left the house before you woke up.”

“Yes. In fact I didn’t even hear him leave.” Something about Danny’s demeanor told me he wasn’t telling the whole story. “Danny, I want to know everything.”

“There’s nothing more I can tell you right now,” he said in a gentle, but still official voice.

I persisted, “I know you’re not telling me everything.”