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Murder Most Foul as a Forest Burns

Review of Lake of Fire by Mark Stevens

The forests and mountains where Alison Coil runs her hunting adventures are ablaze. Trees that have stood for hundreds of years in the area known as the Colorado Flat Tops Wilderness are exploding, causing the fires to jump to new areas, bringing even more disaster. There's been no rain and this in itself adds to the extensive damage.

Devo has a keen sense of smell, thanks to the very nature of how he lives – he is a man who walked away from civilisation and has been hiding out in the forest with a group of similar minded individuals, who have taken up life on the same scale as their ancient forefathers, as hunter gatherers. (With one bizarre exception: their everyday lives are fed directly to a reality channel!) Soon Devo discovers by literally following the smell he's picked up, that this catastrophic fire has been started for one reason only: to destroy beyond recognition the corpse he finds at the actual spot where the fire was started.

Devo will speak to no one except Alison (he's managed to stay hidden from humankind apart from the teams sent to film him) and after waiting patiently, finds Alison on her return trip from her boyfriend Colin McKee's farm where she's been helping to keep the fire at bay. He shows her where the corpse is and Alison must now get the authorities, already stretched thin on the ground, to open a murder investigation.

This isn't just any murder. What nobody realises at the beginning of the enquiry is that they are dealing with a very well organised group of secessionists.

Mark Stevens has managed to outdo his last Alison Coil mystery (which was brilliant!) In this book we have a group led by Devo calling themselves the Devolution. They are happy to live in a commune doing their hunter gathering "thing" while raking in the money thanks to their reality show.

We also have recluse Dante Soto, with his eco-friendly activists upsetting the diehards.

And then, we have this group of secessionists whose whole purpose in life is to cause mayhem. Alison, with the help of Duncan Bloom, the local reporter and her best friend Trudy's boyfriend, start to uncover some very disturbing facts. One relates directly to Alison. Is her boyfriend Colin McKee somehow involved or is he trying on his own accord, to work out if his brother is?

Thank you Mark Stevens for putting together a book that flows with totally believable characters. And for creating thought provoking plots but always coming back to what really makes these books work: the strong friendships that bind the main protagonists while they fight catastrophic events together.

One last question Mark Stevens: where's Devo?

-- Treebeard


Star Rating: Five Stars

5-Star Rating


A Good Old Fashioned Cowboy Yarn

Review of The Reluctant Gun Hand by Paul Lederer

Jake Worthy has finished his six month stint in jail after shooting Ned Quirk, a card cheat. He's on his way home to Rio Lobo, hoping that his girl, Becky Holland is still waiting for him. All his plans change when he is shot and his horse is killed.

He manages to get to higher ground where he stumbles upon a group of men, one of whom, Eric Grove, he shared a cell with for two months. He's accompanied by two other men and after making him give up his guns, they lead him to a house where a beautiful woman, Yvonne Blaine, opens the door for them.

She takes charge of Jake's wound, much to the disgust of Bill Davenport, who, to all appearances is the leader of the scraggly bunch.

It's only the next morning, that Jake finds out why they want him along with them: they are planning to burgle the safe at the offices of Yvonne Blaine's father's mine. The burglary doesn't go according to the plans that Bill Davenport originally made because Yvonne manages to out manoeuvre them by taking all the money. She forces Jake to flee with her.

Jake and Yvonne manage to get as far as the nearest railway. Yvonne's whole plan has always been to return to a life of luxury in the city, but Jake manages to grab the money from her.

Having done this, he must stay alive long enough to return the money to the people it is owed to, namely the workers who have not been paid.

I suppose the best way to sum up this very short story (a couple of hours reading) is to say that the author has managed to put enough grit, gunslingers and shootouts in it to make this an enjoyable afternoon read.

I'm a sucker for this type of genre and love it. It reminds me of wonderful times spent with my dad reading "cowboy yarns." If you have never ventured into the realm of wide open spaces, shootouts and skullduggery, then do yourself a favour and read this book and others by this author. Maybe even share them with your sons and daughters and in encouraging them to read, they too will become bookworms like me, from sharing books like this with their dads (and mums, but unfortunately not mine; she was into romances! A definite no-no as far as I was concerned!!)

-- Treebeard


Star Rating: Three Stars

3-Star Rating


A Gripping Tale of Elizabethan Derring-Do

Review of Secret World by M.J. Trow

This is the latest in Trow’s ‘Kit’ Marlowe series and for his followers and also for new readers, it is a most satisfying and entertaining read.

Kit is the Elizabethan poet, celebrated playwright and atheist Christopher Marlowe, and sometime ‘projectionist’ for Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s Spy. He is charming, urbane, witty and generally adored especially by the actors of the Rose Theatre, who in this novel are struggling with Shaxsper’s ‘Henry VI’.

Marlowe is visiting his parents in Canterbury when he becomes involved in the disturbing murder of a ‘mad’ woman, Mistress Jane Benchkyne. At first it seems senseless, but Kit soon discovers that the victim was the owner of a jewel representing a map of the world, and that there are evil forces abroad trying to gain ownership of this jewel.

So begins a tale of derring-do which takes Kit from Canterbury to Kent, and of course the stinking and corrupt city which is London. It seems that there are more than one of these jewels and that together they are believed to lead to a vast fortune concealed by Sir Francis Drake. Walsingham is determined to gain possession of the complete set and dispatches his henchman, Nicholas Faunt together with Marlowe to obtain them, by fair means or foul.

Trow is a master in portraying the glory and the squalor of Elizabethan England, and the realism simply leaps off the page; you can almost smell the stink and feel the squish of boots treading through mud, offal and sewage on its teeming streets. What Trow also achieves, and what makes his stories accessible to the modern reader, is a level of humour and authenticity in his characterisations, with Marlowe quoting Shakespeare who perhaps lifted his lines from Marlowe? There is also, the odd deliberate lapse into modern idiom, for example, the lawyer at the Rose who states “I’ll get my people to look into it,” a phrase very resonant of twenty-first century society.

Overall this is a gripping tale, chock full of suspense and surprises, and marks Trow as a master of the Elizabethan mystery genre. If you don’t normally read historical fiction, then this will convert you.

- Pashtpaws


Star Rating: Four Stars

4-Star Rating


Tough Female Cop Versus Russian Mafia

Review of A Hard Woman to Kill by Alex Howard

Serg was just a small boy in the nineties. As his Russian father, Colonel Serikov, was in battle against the Chechens, Serg was drawing in a school in Berlin. His teacher asked if the angel he drew was to protect his father. Serg answered, “Or to avenge him.” As if his words were foretelling, Colonel Serikov was killed; not by the Chechens but by another Russian.

In present day, Berkshire, England, DCI Hanlon is only half listening to Oksana as she reveals her husband is missing. Then, she says her husband, Charlie Taverner, was to have presented evidence to a commission chaired by Assistant Commissioner Corrigan -- evidence regarding the head of the Russian mafia and human trafficking. They knew Arkady Belanov was the ‘watcher’ for the ‘vor’ (Russian Godfather, so to speak), and they knew Demitri, Arkady’s ‘minder’, but they didn’t know who the ‘vor’ was. Corrigan is Hanlon’s boss. She agrees to find Charlie, even though she’s sure he has already expired. At the same time, the Commissioner is also sending DI Demirel to London to find what happened to Charlie and to uncover the identity of an officer that the mafia have in their pocket.

DCI Hanlon has made herself tough – inside as well as outside. So, she’s hard to ‘like’ as a character. We're not even given her first name. Even still, the reader will grow to admire her. She’s pretty, but you wouldn’t know it; she scowls more than she smiles. Her strength, which she continues to work on, is amazing. But then, she finds herself in a situation that she could never have imagined. And, while there is sometimes a fine line between legal and illegal … at other times, it is a wide gap. Does she cross that barrier? This is a good story, but didn’t really pick up for me until a little over half way in. The latter half was brisk and most satisfying.

My biggest issue was the point of view. It was narrated in Third Person Omniscient in which the narrator is aware of thoughts and feelings of the protagonist as well as the supporting character. This felt confusing as we were taken from one character’s thoughts to another within the same scene.

– Diane Coto aka FictionZeal


Star Rating: Three Stars

3-Star Rating


Confusion Clouds the Early Promise of this Novel

Review of Beneath the Lake by Christopher Ransom

On a seemingly perfect camping trip at Blundstone Lake, Nebraska, the Mercer family find themselves embroiled in another family’s violence. The Mercers are forced to take action, and then to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives. Thirty years later, Ray, the youngest of the Mercers, is summoned from his life of coasting, to a family reunion at the lake. There, they must confront the past if there is to be any hope of a future.

A glorious sense of unease drifted through this book, like fog on a winter’s night; rising, falling but never truly dissipating. From the opening drama, which is never fully explained, to the final climax there is an eerie tension that promised a great deal.

We first meet the Mercers part way through their holiday, and each character is artfully drawn: their strengths, their flaws, their relationships with one another, all beautifully defined and relatable to any modern day family. The Mercers and the mystery of the opening chapters had me clamouring for more, but unfortunately the rest of the story didn’t carry the same momentum.

Intrigue dissolved into indifference and confusion: there was a supernatural element to this story that felt muddled. This was further complicated by poor pacing: instead of arcing to a crescendo, the story peaked in a number of places and then fell flat again. A few times I was certain I had reached the conclusion, only to find there was another ‘encounter’ to be had, with no clearer explanation than before. The story jumped between the present day and the events of thirty years ago, at times rewriting those events. At times I was so unsure of what had actually happened, my frustration tempted me to abandon the book altogether. And the ending was such a disappointment, I now wish I had!

Christopher Ransom is a fantastic writer, his debut novel, The Birthing House, is proof of that, and there is evidence in Beneath the Lake that that talent still exists. But the rhythm and pacing of this book are its downfall.



Star Rating: Two Stars

2-Star Rating



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