Suspense

“Submerged” by Dani Pettrey

 

Book Cover - Submerged

Dani Pettrey’s debut Christian novel, “Submerged,” is set in the world of Alaskan dive rescue, a frequently dangerous profession. The book opens with what may be an engineered plane crash into the sea, off the coast of Tariuk Island. Cole McKenna’s team attempts a harrowing rescue, with a tragic outcome.

 

When one of the deaths turns out to be the aunt of a former girlfriend, Bailey Craig, life gets complicated. Aunt Agnes owned a popular Russian-American store in Yancey, where McKenna and his family have a dive shop. Bailey reluctantly returns to Yancey to sell her beloved aunt’s business, knowing that her own dicey past will be painful to relive once she sets foot there. She vows to take care of the estate and leave as soon as possible. But, her position as a Professor of Russian Studies uniquely qualifies her to help with a murder investigation that may be tied to sunken treasure and so much more.

 

As romantic suspense dictates, Cole and Bailey are drawn to each other again, afraid to trust, but now ten years older and wiser. Their interaction is aching and intense; yet as they are forced to work together to solve the mystery of the ‘why’ of the plane crash, we hope that Bailey comes to understand what true forgiveness means.

 

There is a noisy, active family support system for Cole that Bailey envies and never had – dumped on her aunt’s doorstep, unwanted by her mother. The dialogue flies back and forth as people drift through rooms at gatherings, interrupting each other, teasing each other – as it would be for any large family and their close friends who depend on each other and know each other so well. Pettrey captures that verbal chaos beautifully.

 

The book is a tight read with plenty of dialogue to advance the story and the action scenes. My ebook version seemed to be missing a few scattered transitional sentences that would have clarified when some scenes were ending, but those small omissions did not keep me from enjoying this multi-layered story of a Christian family caught up in some challenging circumstances. Cole’s faith is more developed than Bailey’s and Pettrey manages to convey that without getting preachy.

 

“Submerged” won the 2013 Holt Medallion for Best First Book and the Colorado Romance Writers 2013 Award of Excellence in the Inspirational Category.

 

Readers who enjoy Dee Henderson’s books involving the O’Malley family might also enjoy Dani Pettrey’s ‘Alaskan Courage’ series. “Submerged” was followed by “Shattered,”  “Stranded,” and “Silenced.”  “Sabotaged” will be released in 2015. The personable McKennas are featured in each of the books.

 

For more information about Dani Pettrey and her work, please visit www.danipettrey.com.

 

 

“Ransom River” by Meg Gardiner

 

Book Cover - Ransom River

In Meg Gardiner’s “Ransom River,” lawyer Rory Mackenzie reluctantly returns home to Ransom River, California, after funding for the charity for which she worked, dries up. There was no place else to go, but her memories of the people in the place she grew up still haunt her. And she immediately gets called to jury duty on a high profile case. Not a great start to her homecoming.

 

She is chosen as juror #7 and settles in for the duration, notebook in hand. From Rory’s point of view, the capital murder case looks like an easy win for the prosecution, given the obvious false testimony of the two police officers on trial for killing a teenaged burglar. (The officers were having an affair, the teenager broke into the house on a dare, and everything went south.) The jury is watching a crucial piece of evidence, a video of the shooting itself, when two men storm the courtroom and take everyone hostage. Shotguns are very convincing persuaders as the jurors and spectators are threatened into following orders, and the casualties mount.

 

The action rapidly unfolds and the hostages are rescued, but the question remains, what did the kidnappers want? Rory had tried to signal for help from the courtroom windows and becomes a suspect for her troubles. The cops have her in their sights, needing someone to pin the courtroom debacle on. Her skanky relatives show up, and add to her misery, feigning interest in her well being, but looking as if they want to cash in on her sudden fame. The dead teenager’s father, a local crime boss, thinks she knows more than she’s telling.

 

But, Rory doesn’t know what she knows, except that the past is encroaching on the present in ways that terrify her. Seth, her old boyfriend (childhood friend and a former cop) gets involved and he’s about the only hope she has for getting at the truth. Gardiner has created another strong, yet vulnerable, young woman in Rory Mackenzie – worthy of her own series of books, although “Ransom River” is a stand-alone – and Seth is a convincing complement to her.

 

 

There are a number of twists and jaw-dropping surprises in “Ransom River,” and several well-written, deliciously slithery characters. Old friends may not actually be friends and help comes from unexpected places.

 

If I mention which people truly gave me the creeps and made me wonder if I really wanted to read into the night – that would be telling. I quashed the creepy feeling and kept going. Gardiner has a knack for writing ‘stay-awake-reading’ and I did need to find out how Rory got out of each of her dangerous situations. The reason behind the courtroom drama is much more complex than it first appears, and the ensuing action is non-stop in this intense thriller, as greed rules the day.

 

I must say that Meg Gardiner’s “Ransom River” has an ending that will blow your mind. Hopeful and a little scary at the same time.

 

Read my review of Ms. Gardiner's "The Memory Collector," here.

Please visit www.meggardiner.com for more information about her recent book releases, awards and appearances.

 

 

 

 

“The Conviction” by Robert Dugoni

 

Book Cover - CONVICTION

 

Top Seattle attorney, David Sloane, may be at home in the courtroom and able to outsmart his opponents, but he is out of his element when dealing with his troubled stepson.

 

Sloane’s wife has died and he has relinquished custody of his stepson to Jake’s biological father who lives in California, a move that has confused and angered Jake. “The Conviction” opens with Jake’s future at stake after he has been arrested for public intoxication (for the second time) and property damage. The judge decides to give him one last chance to straighten himself out in rehab or else go to jail. She assigns responsibility for Jake’s attendance to Sloane and they head back to Seattle.

 

Rather than re-bonding with his stepfather, Jake remains sullen and resentful. He’s back in the house where he witnessed his mother being murdered and can’t get past his grief and rage. When Jake and David are invited to go on a camping trip with an old friend and detective, Tom Molia, and his son, T.J., it looks as if a week in the woods might be a great way to reconnect with this young stranger that David no longer understands.

 

But instead, Jake tries to buy beer and cigarettes with fake ID on the first day of the trip, and drags T.J. along with him. The storeowner confiscates the ID, but the boys return later and break in, taking liquor and a rifle along with the recovered ID. Of course, they get caught by the police soon after, but not before they get drunk and shoot up the woods close to town. Sounds like a mess, with T.J. a reluctant participant, driven by his need to be accepted.

 

The boys are tried, convicted and sentenced to time in a local juvenile detention center (Fresh Start) before their fathers even know they’re missing from their room. That’s only the beginning of the nightmare that ensues.

 

The fathers attempt to get Jake and T.J. retried and released, or at least moved to a facility closer to home, but are stymied by the cops and judge in this small California town that seem to skirt constitutional rights. Sloane and Molia suspect corruption, but with what motive, what payoff?

 

Dugoni delivers an alarming story of a juvenile legal system gone horribly wrong, with teenaged inmates working as virtual slaves in boot camps, rather than receiving the rehab and guidance advertised in the fancy brochures. He takes a look at teens who make poor choices despite the help available, and the serious consequences awaiting them. Dugoni never implies that Jake and T.J. should not be punished for their actions, merely that they be counseled on their rights and then sentenced appropriately.

 

At Fresh Start, Jake grows up quickly when he discovers that something more is going on at the camp beyond their re-education, and that knowledge could get him and T.J. killed before David can get them out. The parallel plotline of the fathers trying to free the boys, while working against the clock and being threatened themselves, is gripping.

 

“The Conviction” moves from legal suspense to thriller mode in this pulse-pounding, page-turning, sleep-robbing tale. I had several ‘gasp’ moments as Dugoni built tension and advanced the dramatic story.

 

There are no false notes. Jake’s ability to deal with whatever is thrown at him physically, is set up early on and the action involving the supporting characters is completely believable, given their backgrounds. Those supporting characters, whether adults who oppose (or side with) Sloane and Molia, or teens who battle (or help) Jake and T.J., are so clearly drawn that I kept casting them in a movie in my mind’s eye.

 

This is the fifth book in the David Sloane series and in my opinion, the best so far.

 

Read the review of "Wrongful Death" here. Go to www.robertdugoni.com for information about all of his projects and where you can catch his next terrific writing class.

 

 

“The Book of Lost Fragrances” by M.J. Rose

 

Book Cover - Book of Lost Fragrances

MJ Rose delivers another suspenseful tale with The Book of Lost Fragrances.

 

A brother and sister have inherited the House of L'Etoile, and then discover the perfume company is in serious financial difficulty. They need a hit fragrance to save the corporation or else parts of it will have to be sold off, something Robbie does not want to do. Robbie feels that delving into the 250 year old family business history will uncover an ancient perfume formula that will save the day. He has the professional talent, but not the nose to sort through formulas that he knows the family possesses, somewhere hidden. His sister, Jac, has the nose, but not the interest in investigating something that she considers a fantasy. She is more pragmatic and wants to sell off bits to save the whole. Neither of them suspects at first that the lost fragrance could save more than just the business.

 

During the years since her mother’s death, Jac has suffered with unsettling dreams she does not understand. For a long time she (and others) thought she was mentally unbalanced and she never believed that she might be reliving the distant past. Her struggle with her own past, her trust issues, and her conversations with family ghosts – create a multi-layered, vulnerable lead character. We want her to make the right decisions, to be happy, trust, and find love again.

 

M.J. Rose believes that who we were influences who we are today, and her four books in the Reincarnation series apply that concept across the centuries. The Book of Lost Fragrances deals with the power of a love that endures from the time of Cleopatra. Fragrance is employed in the book as a memory tool to not only attempt to bring reincarnated lovers back together, but also as an aid in returning to a difficult time when one can undo mistakes and therefore ease the pain of the future. If it’s true that a memory tool exists and has that kind of influence, it would change the world as we know it. In The Book of Lost Fragrances, governments and religious institutions race to find this tool before it falls into the wrong hands.

 

The brother and sister have an interesting dynamic and as we learn the business and history of perfumery from the inside out, their desperate interaction rings true on every level, even after a murder is committed and Robbie is suspected. A former lover, who knows them both, adds tension and intrigue to the mystery. Dr. Malachi Samuels, a scientist working to prove that reincarnation exists, is a recurring character in the four books, continuing his search for ancient memory tools, sometimes involving others in dangerous schemes to achieve his own goals, always under scrutiny by the FBI.

 

Supporting characters are well written in this enthralling tale that addresses issues in Tibet and China, the Dali Lama, the French Revolution, lost and found again lovers, Cleopatra’s priceless perfume formula book, and more. Students of archeology will be drawn to the importance of ancient Egyptian pottery shards in the storyline.

 

Rose is a master at writing sensual descriptions and I found myself emotionally enveloped in the aromas of the flowers and herbs described. I was transported to memories of my own experiences with these same blossoms. The peonies in my own yard beckoned me, even though blooming season had long been over. 

 

Rose always does impeccable research in order to build the historical foundation for the ‘Reincarnation’ books. Each title spans several centuries and countries and she has openly admitted loving this part of her process. While working on The Book of Lost Fragrances, Rose sent the manuscript to a perfumer in France, who designed a fragrance (Ames Soeurs) inspired by the book. She subsequently showed the fragrance in NYC when the book was being launched. 

 

The Book of Lost Fragrances was on the ‘Indie Next List’ in 2012 and was named one of the Top Ten Mystery/Thrillers for 2012 by Publishers Weekly. While it is part of a series, it is a solid stand-alone title. Just don’t let it be.

 

For more information about M.J.Rose, the Reincarnation series, her other books, as well as her AuthorBuzz work, please visit www.mjrose.com

To read my review of "The Reincarnationist," go here.

 

 

 

“The English Girl” by Daniel Silva

 

Book Cover - The English Girl

 

Gabriel Allon is a master art restorer whose finally tranquil life is endangered by politics and demands of former bosses. Once a ruthless Israeli operative at the top of his game, he’d like to be left alone. He’s been shot at, tortured, threatened, held behind enemy lines, his family killed, and yet the ‘powers-that-be’ ask for more in the name of patriotism and helping old friends.

 

This time, a young English woman disappears in Corsica while on vacation. Why is Allon asked to help a foreign government find their missing citizen? She was having an affair with the British prime minister. The P.M. is embroiled in a political crisis at home and she was a rising star in British politics. Any scandal that breaks would be catastrophic. Any ‘handling’ of the situation by English operatives would be looked upon as misuse of MI5 funds. Of course, it would also be wildly inappropriate to use Israeli funds, so the operation would be privately financed.

 

Ever cautious, ever suspicious, Allon investigates the English girl’s disappearance and the subsequent ransom (meet the demands in seven days or she dies) before he agrees to take on the case. Allon works with former as well as current enemies to gain access to the people who are in a position to find out what happened and why. The pressing questions: Who were the players? What else was going on?

 

“The English Girl” is more than a spy story with international intrigue in the background. It is an absorbing character study of a man driven by patriotism once upon a time, but now haunted by his past. His life was ripped apart and the anger at what was taken from him still lingers, along with an inner sadness created by the knowledge that his profession is the source of his pain. The demons at first prod him to turn down the assignment, but then the assignment itself becomes a way to quiet his torment.

 

Silva studies politics on an international scale – the domino effect of decisions made by our country’s leaders, both personally and publicly, that shape global policies. Can the mere fear of public exposure of private matters really topple governments?

 

One of the interesting subplots in “The English Girl” is the interplay between two operatives who must work together out of necessity. During the time Allon and his counterpart, Keller, are together, they spar about the difference between a hired assassin and a Mossad agent – one does it for the paycheck, the other for love of country. Allon feels morally superior even though they both do the same things – interrogate, kill, rescue, scheme, save/steal secrets. But in this interplay, along with Allon’s relationships with those in his inner circle, a spy is shown to be multi-dimensional, not just an assassin, but having a home, a wife, and educated interests.

 

Silva has a compelling writing style, employing dialogue that works brilliantly. Several times the main characters made remarks that were repeated soon after for mild comic relief or for dramatic emphasis. He has captured the natural flow of interaction to such a degree that I always felt a part of the story, never sidelined or merely watching the action unfold.

 

“The English Girl” is a gripping page-turner, with plenty of twists and turns to satisfy. How will this operation affect Allon as aspects of the operation remind him of his dead wife and child? How will this operation change his future?  What deals does he have to make along the way?

 

Silva’s thirteenth novel in the Gabriel Allon series debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. The next one, “The Heist,” was released in the summer of 2014.

 

Please visit www.danielsilvabooks.com for more information about Silva and his books.

 

 

“Buried by the Roan” by Mark Stevens

 

Book Cover - Buried by the Roan

Big game hunting guide, Allison Coil, loves the mountains of Colorado and their utter serenity, “the sensation of nature, of horse, of lakes and woods.” It is her “addiction.” Her music is the mournful howl of a coyote. Her job allows her the freedom to enjoy it all.

 

The problem is, the Roan Plateau, west of her hunting campsite in the Flat Tops, is the target of natural gas developers, of a corporation that plans to start ‘fracking’ to access the gas. If ranch owners sell their mineral rights, they stand to make millions. But, in the process, the woods might disappear and so would the game.

 

The death of one of her clients, Josh Keating, appears to be an accident, but Coil isn’t buying it. Keating was too experienced to have been as stupid as the so-called drunken ‘accident’ made him appear. And, then there is the fact that now that he’s dead, Keating’s wife gets to make decisions about their gas-rich land that he might not have approved.

 

Add in dead buffalo on Keating’s property, pristine mountain water being poisoned, scheming relatives, businessmen determined to get their piece of the financial windfall, militant environmentalists, a media frenzy as federal officials make decisions, a devolutionist who reports his back-to-nature experience on YouTube, and we have a multi-layered story in “Buried by the Roan” that was a finalist for the 2012 Colorado Book Awards and the Colorado Authors League.

 

Author Mark Stevens successfully presents both sides of the environmental fight, allowing his characters to become as passionate as the real-life residents of the high country. Big money aside, several locals care deeply about retaining the look and feel of the mountains, even bashing the impact of the ski resorts on their beloved state. 

 

One faction in “Buried by the Roan” is in favor of slow-food, produce and other goods grown and sold locally so as to have less impact on the ecosystem. Herbalist Trudy Heath, Allison Coil’s close friend, sells homemade pesto, cooks mouth-watering organic food, and is reluctantly drawn into the politics of the slow-food cause. That involvement and Allison’s murder investigation cross paths in a believable way as Allison’s life is threatened.

 

Stevens weaves two romances into the novel, for Allison as well as Trudy, both realistic, but quite different. Allison’s daydreaming about younger Colin is amusing and we root for the relationship to blossom into something more.

 

Robin Cook, a bestselling author of 31 thrillers, famously said that mysteries should be about something beyond the puzzle in the mystery itself. “Buried by the Roan” has plenty of hot topics to occupy book club (and other) discussions without hitting us over the head with the very real issues at its core.

 

Please visit www.writermarkstevens.com for more info about the Allison Coil series. Happily, "Trapline" was published in 2014.  See the review here.

 

 

 

 

 

“Misery Bay” by Steve Hamilton

 

Book Cover - Misery Bay

 

The best mysteries are great puzzles, giving us bits and pieces of the storyline, one by one until the killer is revealed and the reason for the crime becomes apparent. The lead character is compelling, likable even though flawed, and when faced with a challenge? Never walks away until the case is closed, despite the heavy toll that case may exact upon his/her soul.

 

Alex McKnight, a former cop from Detroit, sometime Private Investigator, now spends his time working on one of his rental cabins. He avoids any real contact with the world except for meals and imported Canadian beer at the Glasgow Inn. He doesn’t even own a TV. When a cold wind blows in through the pub’s doorway and a former hated colleague, Chief Roy Maven, walks in, McKnight is pretty sure nothing good will come of the visit. And it doesn’t.

 

The Chief has a friend, Raz, whose son has just committed suicide. The man wants to know why. An impossible question to answer, but McKnight is being asked to spend some time looking into it in order to ease the father’s mind. McKnight connects with Raz because of a shared need to do something about a death that could not be explained, and because the case is a reminder of his own past that troubles him.

 

McKnight conducts some light inquiries, chats with the son’s former classmates, and then heads back to report his findings, however slim. Except that Raz is dead. And his death is no suicide.

 

McKnight and Chief Maven have never liked each other and that dynamic is perfect as they work together to convince the FBI investigators that there is a killer on the loose and that the case is not closed. They bully each other as they search for answers, defying the FBI orders in the process, but more effective in their tenacity. The body count rises and connections and motivation must be found before the next victim dies. Even they are at risk.

 

No plot spoiler here, but clues to the ’why’ begin early on. There’s nothing to tie them to the story, so we wonder why they’re there, dangling, causing us to twitch with curiosity. Patience, dear reader.  😉

 

The Michigan Upper Peninsula winter is a character in the book; as the backdrop in the first paragraph, and a recurring theme. The landscape and the weather each play a part in the initial case and the dramatic climax to “Misery Bay.” I’ve never been so cold while reading a book. I reached for sweaters as the six or eight inches of snow fell every day and the wind blew and ice formed everywhere. When Hamilton wrote, “By the time the end of March rolls around, everyone’s just a few degrees past crazy,” I believed him.

 

There is a haunting scene when McKnight sees the spot where the first body was found overlooking Lake Superior. What a bleak, cold, lonely way to die, hanging by a rope from a tree next to a frozen lake, alone. But, there are many haunting scenes. The “I am bleeding” passage is riveting, harrowing, masterful.

 

This is a dark book, touching upon past crimes against McKnight and those close to him, old injuries, old demons. There is little that is cheery about it, few soft edges. Even the ‘thought about’ romance is sad, tinged with regret and what McKnight isn’t ready for right now. Maybe later, but not now. The man is suffering, in a dark place, and still can’t go into the cabin where a tragedy occurred in his own life months before. His friends try to help, but he can’t quite turn the page on his sadness, can’t quite release his guilt. Yet, the man has a sense of humor that relieves the tension periodically, and a warm, caring, dedicated strength that generates loyalty and respect from even those who dislike his rule bending actions.

 

“Misery Bay” is the eighth in the Alex McKnight series and the first I have read. It can be read as a stand-alone, but the references to past cases are so intriguing that it won’t be my last.

 

Bestselling author Steve Hamilton is a two-time recipient of the Edgar award as well as several other very cool crime writing awards. Please visit www.authorstevehamilton.com to learn about the rest of his novels.

 

 

 

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