Killer Nashville alumni deliver the thrills

One of the exciting things about attending writers’ conferences is discovering authors whose works you might never otherwise experience. Such is the case with authors R.G. Belsky, Baron R. Birtcher, and Danny Ray Lindsey, who have each enjoyed award-winning success at Killer Nashville with the following books.

Yesterday’s News by R.G. Belsky

Yesterday's News

Yesterday’s News
R.G. Belsky
$16; 343 pages
ISBN: 9781608092819

Clare Carlson, the main character of R.G. Belsky’s Yesterday’s News, does what any good journalist does: she asks lots of questions and she doesn’t stop asking until she gets answers. Such persistence garnered Clare a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage fifteen years ago into the disappearance of eleven-year-old Lucy Devlin. So, when the case nears its anniversary, Clare’s instinct for asking probing questions kicks in all over again.

The news director for Channel 10 News in New York , Clare quickly jumps back into the role of reporter in a quest to learn once and for all what happened to Lucy. She also promised Lucy’s mother, Anne, she’d never quit trying to find her, so there’s that. And for added incentive, Anne, who Clare learns is suffering from a terminal bout of cancer, also claims she has new evidence.

Clare begins with a simple interview with Anne, then follows the string of clues from there to the murders of six other children found in an unmarked grave, to additional witnesses and/or suspects, including Anne’s estranged husband, a local politician who previously oversaw the investigation, and a motorcycle gang. Some are more cooperative than others with their answers, some open the door to new lines of inquiry, and some seem to be holding back secrets that Clare is determined to uncover. Clare, who narrates Yesterday’s News, has secrets too – secrets that propel the story in unexpected directions.

As cold cases go, the trail to the truth heats up quickly, creating a riveting page-turner for readers.

Belsky’s own years as a journalist are evident, but he’s also a skilled novelist. Clare’s resolve and emotional desire to finding Lucy make her a sympathetic and likable heroine. Her secrets make her flawed and real.

Fistful of Rain by Baron Birtcher

Fistful of Rain

Fistful of Rain
Baron R. Birtcher
The Permanent Press
$29.95; 288 pages
ISBN: 978-1579625184

“I’ve got bodies stacking up like cordwood in this county, and I’d like for you to explain your involvement.”

In other words, Sheriff Ty Dawson isn’t happy and he isn’t about to take “I don’t know anything” for an answer. Dawson, who became the somewhat reluctant sheriff of Meriwether County at the end of Baron R. Birtcher’s previous novel, South California Purples, has adroitly grown into the role in his latest outing, Fistful of Rain.

Last time, Dawson found himself contending with outlaw bikers, dope dealers, and wild mustangs while simply trying to tend to his own ranch and decompress from service in the Vietnam War. This time around, a reclusive hippie commune and a local politician hellbent on driving them out of the community collide, leaving a trail of vandalism, arson, and violence for Dawson to clean up.

Set in the mid-1970s in rural Oregon, Birtcher paints a vivid sense of place and time for readers, proving that no place went untouched by the turbulence and unrest gripping the nation’s populace. Birtcher keeps the novel moving at a brisk pace, yet lingers in all the right spots to allow his characters, and readers, time for insight and reflection.

Serial Justice by Danny Ray Lindsey

Serial Justice

Serial Justice
Danny Ray Lindsey
Danny Lindsey Books
$14.99; 286 pages
ISBN: 9781732744103

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Serial Justice, the new novel from Danny Ray Lindsey, is its bad guys. They are, after all, supposed to be the good guys.

And before you worry about spoilers, don’t. The novel makes no secret about who is pulling the trigger in each murder or who is calling the shots behind the scenes. Heck, the book blurb itself spells it all out for you.

What Serial Justice does is turn the crime novel on its head by making vigilantes out of characters who should otherwise be sworn officers of law and order.

The two culprits in a rash of killings involving convicted sex offenders are, in fact, retired law enforcement operatives. Both are following the secret directives of the head of the FBI’s Sex Crimes Division, Cliff Nolan, a 40-year veteran who is dying of cancer, and later his two successors who he lets in on the plan. The plan, by the way, is simple: exact final judgment on sex offenders released from prison after serving minimum sentences.

The novel follows cops-turned-killers George and Penny as they crisscross the country in their RV seeking out their targeted parolees and plan their demise. Their expert skills and tactics enable them to carry out each execution with cold-blooded efficiency, leaving nary a clue nor witness behind that can identify them to local authorities. The pair even review their murderous exploits with detailed “After Action” reports to help make sure they left nothing behind that can be traced to them.

Of course, the trail of bodies eventually garners the notice of a pair of honest investigators in the FBI, Jim Dawkins and Joan Kesterling. As they race from murder to murder in search of clues, Nolan and his partners quietly monitor them in case they get close. It’s not until the pair enlist the help of a group of computer analysts at the FBI that the pieces to the puzzle begin to take shape.

Lindsey, who won the Killer Nashville Claymore Award, has crafted a fascinating police procedural that will leave you questioning which  side you should be on: justice or vengeance?



Settle down for some cool winter reads

Looking for some hot reads to get you through some cold winter nights? Then look no farther. These books have just the right mix of action, mystery, intrigue, and fascinating protagonists to see you through to spring.

The Widows – Jess Montgomery

Sugar Run – Mesha Maren

the widows

ISBN 9781250184528
Published 01/08/2019 

Certain places have a tremendous power to influence people, informing their choices and inspiring their lives, past and present. For the lead characters in two remarkable novels from Jess Montgomery and Mesha Maren, the Appalachian Mountains hold sway.

In Montgomery’s The Widows, the coal mining industry of Rossville, Ohio, in 1925 serves as the ominous backdrop to the lives of Lily Ross and Marvena Whitcomb. The story opens with a catastrophic mining explosion of methane gas that kills Marvena’s husband, John, which is soon followed by the death of Lily’s husband, Sheriff Daniel Ross, at the hands of an escaped inmate.

While Marvena fights to unionize mine workers for safer conditions and better wages, Lily assumes the mantle of acting sheriff in order to track down and apprehend her husband’s killer.

Inspired by the real lives of Ohio’s first female sheriff, Maude Collins, and community organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, The Widows is told in alternating chapters from the two women’s points of view. This is the first book published by author Sharon Short under the pseudonym Jess Montgomery, and her writing is brisk, yet it lingers long enough to indulge readers with beautiful prose along the way.

sugar run

ISBN 9781616206215
Published 01/08/2019 

In Maren’s debut novel, Sugar Run, characters looking for a fresh start are also drawn to the Appalachian Mountains, specifically a tiny village in rural West Virginia, where fracking and drug running have all but replaced coal mining and moonshining.

The novel follows two eras in the life of Jodi McCarty, with the bulk of the story set in 2007 as she tries to acclimate to freedom after 18 years in prison for manslaughter.

An accomplished short story writer, Maren makes her debut count with emotionally charged prose and a sense of the yearning we all have for home.

Read the full reviews at BookPage.

Scrublands – Chris Hammer


ISBN 9781501196744
Published 01/08/2019

In Chris Hammer’s explosive thriller, Scrublands, a mass shooting committed by a preacher, around whom rumors of child sexual abuse swirl, and the discovery of two murdered backpackers a year later add up to an enthralling mystery for reporter Martin Scarsden.

Amid the blistering heat of the Australian outback, Martin’s initial assignment is to write about how the community of Riversend has endured the year following preacher Byron Swift’s five-person killing spree on the front steps of his church. But as soon as Martin begins asking questions, he soon realizes that previous reports about Byron’s motive—that he was a pedophile—were wrong.

The drought-stricken town and its denizens harbor dark secrets, all of which slowly begin to come to light the further Martin’s investigation takes him.

An award-winning journalist himself, Hammer skillfully guides Martin through a series of interviews with the reluctant townsfolk to get to the truth.

Read the full review at BookPage.

The Last Breath – Danny Lopez

the last breath

Oceanview Publishing
ISBN 978-1608092970
Publication Date: October, 2018

Take a deep breath and hang on. Danny Lopez’s new novel, The Last Breath, is a riveting, old-school whodunnit/private investigator novel that’ll leave you gasping for air.

Set on Siesta Key, one of the barrier islands off the coast of Sarasota, Fla., the novel once again revolves around down-and-out journalist-turned-investigator Dexter Vega, who made his debut in The Last Girl.

Lacking a steady paycheck and desperate for work, Vega is easily convinced to turn his journalistic nose for news into investigative work for a private client, eccentric real estate mogul Bob Fleming, who believes his son, Liam, was murdered.

Lopez’s prose is fast-paced and addictively fun. Vega comes across as a typically cynical journalist, a terrible father to his daughter, and is easy to dislike, but he quickly grows on you the more you get to know him.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

Fugitive Red – Jason Starr

fugitive red

ISBN: 9781608093144

Jack Harper isn’t the brightest protagonist you’ll meet in a crime novel this year. In fact, he makes a lot of bone-headed decisions that serve only to get him into deeper and deeper trouble — like being suspected of murder, for instance. Yet for all of that, readers of Fugitive Red, the new novel from Jason Starr, will want to stick with his story just to see if he gets what he deserves or if he can somehow wriggle out of the fix he’s in.

Seeking something that can restore his happiness, Jack stupidly seeks solace through a digital online dating site and a fantasy relationship with a woman known only as the titular Fugitive Red. At first, his “fling” amounts to nothing more than flirting. But the more he becomes fixated on Red, the more his desire for a real relationship grows. Red entices him further when she suggests a real-life, clandestine rendezvous, a proposal Jack readily accepts.

But when Jack gets to the arranged meeting spot, he’s shocked to discover the object of his affections has been brutally murdered.

Starr, who has written fourteen previous crime thrillers as well as stories for Marvel and DC Comics, keeps the action quick and the twists plentiful in this suspenseful read.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.




Every Wicked Man builds suspense at every turn

There’s so much going on in Steven James’s new Patrick Bowers thriller, Every Wicked Man, you may need a cheat sheet to keep track. From the mysterious, live-streamed suicide of a senator’s son to the threat of a new designer drug on the market to a twisted novelist-turned-serial killer, James’s novel is loaded with intrigue and suspense. 

Bowers is initially presented with looking into the suicide of a senator’s son, which takes an unexpected turn when the shadow of a person is seen on video tape observing the suicide. Evidence that the victim may have used a possible new designer drug opens a deeper investigation into the distribution of the drug. And when a longtime criminal rival’s henchman is spotted at the scene of the victim’s suicide, the investigation takes another unexpected turn.

Read my full review at Killer Nashville here.

Powerful women stand apart in new crime fiction

For readers who enjoy fascinating characters, gritty plots and unforgettable settings, Jonathan Lethem and Katrina Carrasco have crafted two detective novels with a distinctive edge.

The Feral Detective is Lethem’s first mystery since his award-winning 1999 novel Motherless Brooklyn, while Carrasco’s The Best Bad Things is an unforgettable debut. Both novels spotlight smart female protagonists whose determination and feisty dispositions see them through a barrage of incredible situations that would send a lesser person running.

Read my full review of the novels here.

Catch up on my latest book reviews

I’m a bit behind in posting links to my book reviews to this site, so let’s catch up! All of these reviews are posted in full at BookPage. You can visit my BookPage review page to access all my reviews or just follow the links below to read about the individual books. Enjoy!

The Line That Held Us

The Line That Held Us

The plot of David Joy’s third novel, The Line That Held Us, is simple: A man accidentally kills another man and tries to cover it up with the help of a friend, while the murdered man’s brother seeks vengeance on them. The complexity of the novel comes in Joy’s evocative language, his unforgettable characters and how he weaves themes of family, friendship and justice throughout this darkly engrossing Southern crime noir.

Rust and Stardust

Rust & Stardust

All Sally Horner wanted was to fit in with the cool girls at school. What she got instead was two years of harrowing captivity at the hands of a sexual predator. Author T. Greenwood recounts Sally’s real-life plight in Rust & Stardust, a shocking crime novel about the famous real-life 1948 abduction that inspired Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and the film that followed.

Whiskey When We're Dry

Whiskey When We’re Dry

Western novels are cool again, and Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison is a perfect example of why. Set in 1885 in the heart of the Midwest, the novel shirks the traditional white-hat-versus-black-hat shtick for a more grounded, emotional view of life on the range. In this instance, we experience the wild country’s hardships thorugh the eyes of 17-year-old Jessilyn Harney as she wrestles to find her place in a man’s world.

Red White Blue

Red White Blue

Red White Blue, the new novel from screenwriter Lea Carpenter, is an intriguing, albeit challenging, read. Intriguing in that it revolves around a woman’s exploration into her father’s life — and death — as a CIA operative. Challenging in its narrative structure, which briskly alternates between two points of view over a series of short, nonlinear chapters. But for lovers of spy novels, it’s more than worth the read.

The Boy at the Keyhole

The Boy at the Keyhole

Nine-year-old boys can have active imaginations. Left alone, without a mother or father and int he care of a doting but well-meaning housekeeper, that imagination can easily reach extremes, from incredible fantasy to irrational terror. Such is the case for the impressionable Samuel Clay, who yearns for his mother constantly and can recite the exact number of days she has been gone to the United States, in Stephen Giles’ intensely gripping thriller, The Boy at the Keyhole.

November Road

November Road

Novels revolving around the assassination of John F. Kennedy have become a genre unto themselves. There are plenty, and likely even more conspiracy theories to boot. So at first take, November Road, the new thriller from author Lou Berney, may seem like just another book to add to the stack. Berney, though, is not just another author. Through gorgeous prose, the Edgar, Macavity and Anthony Award-winning author elevates an otherwise simple cat-and-mouse story into a heartfelt journey of hope and discovery for two characters running from their pasts.

Bonus: Don’t miss my interview with Lou Berney!

Mycroft & Sherlock

Mycroft and Sherlock

Mycroft and Sherlock, the new novel by NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with an assist from screenwriter Anna Waterhouse, sees the Holmes brothers in their first joint investigation, which involves a series of brutal murders, cryptic Chinese glyphs and the opium trade. But what’s even more entertaining is watching the Holes brothers try to outdo each other with their deductive reasoning.

All right, that’s it for now. But keep watching this site and BookPage for upcoming reviews of The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco, The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem, Sugar Run by Mesha Maren and The Widows by Jess Montgomery!

Author Interview: Tremblay uses empathy to build trust with readers

By G. Robert Frazier

Praised by horrormaster Stephen King, Paul Tremblay’s shocking new novel, The Cabin at the End of the World, is an often graphic account of one family’s ordeal when their vacation is shattered in a cult-like home invasion. We asked Tremblay about the book’s origins, its dark path and his inner fears that helped forge the novel.

Paul Tremblay

Paul Tremblay

How does it feel to receive a compliment from a literary horror master like King?
I was a mathematics major in college and about to go off to a graduate program for two years, and Lisa (my wife) gave me The Stand for my 22nd birthday. It would be a cliché to say that book changed my life, but it did. I haven’t stopped reading King since. I became a reader—never mind a writer—because of Stephen King. That Stephen now reads my books and enjoys them is one of the highlights of my career.

Your previous novel, A Head Full of Ghosts, was a Stoker Award winner for best horror novel in 2015. What is it like to follow up a book that’s been so well received? Did it change your writing process at all?
The response to A Head Full of Ghosts has been amazing and thrilling. I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel a little extra pressure trying to follow it up. Some of that OK, what the heck are you going write now? is natural and healthy. Letting it take over and paralyze the process is not healthy.

Aside from worrying if what I’m working on was as good as AHFoG or not, my writing process hasn’t been changed. Cabin is my seventh novel, and while I still have to push through plenty of doubt and anxiety, I’ve earned a little bit of confidence. I’ve been to the finish line with those other novels, so it’s a bit easier to believe I can get there again with the next one.

A few years ago I was in the midst of gnashing my teeth while working on my novel Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. I sent friend/mentor/genius Stewart O’Nan an email telling him I was worried the book wasn’t as good as the last novel and didn’t know how people would react to it, blah blah blah.

He said, “Eh, not everything you’re going to write is going to be great.” I laughed out loud when I read the email, and it was exactly what I needed to here. I still find his pithy quote oddly comforting, reaffirming and inspiring. Maybe I should put it on a T-shirt.

“Most horror stories feature the reveal of a horrible truth (or potential truth) or some terrible event, ambiguous or not. My favorite stories then focus on the aftermath and on what the characters are going to do next. What decisions are they going to make?”

There are some shocking developments in store for each of the characters in Cabin. Did you ever pause midstream during writing those scenes to ask, “Did I just go too far?”
I never thought or asked that question during the writing of Cabin. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a pause when it comes to the use of violence.

In Cabin the cast is so small and the violence is up close and personal, so my pause was about making sure to take the proper amount of time to figure out how the violence was to be portrayed and how it affected the characters. I did not want those scenes to simply be about titillation or shock, although there’s no denying there are elements of both whenever violence is used in entertainment/art. I hope those scenes are super disturbing in Cabin, and I hope I’m successful in treating the experiences of both the victim and perpetrator(s) of the violent act with authenticity. There are great and terrible consequences to any act of violence, and they reverberate beyond the act itself. The survivors and witnesses are fundamentally changed by what they experienced. There’s no going back for anyone after the horror and transgression of violence.

This story is powerful both emotionally and viscerally. How do you balance the two for the benefit of the reader?
Thank you! I think if you treat all of your characters, even the odious ones, with empathy (not sympathy; there’s a difference), the reader will be willing to follow you into dark places. When you use empathy as a base—the want to understand a character, why she does what she does, says what she says—I think it’s easier to build trust with the reader, particularly in a horror/suspense story. That’s not to say bad things won’t happen or there won’t be surprises, but the reader’s emotional investment is rewarded because that investment was grounded in empathy.

Most horror stories feature the reveal of a horrible truth (or potential truth) or some terrible event, ambiguous or not. My favorite stories then focus on the aftermath and on what the characters are going to do next. What decisions are they going to make? How are they going to live through this? And by proxy, we readers ask, how are we going to live through this?

There are great and terrible consequences to any act of violence, and they reverberate beyond the act itself.”

Where did the genesis for this novel come from? Is there some inner fear that you have that you’ve incorporated here?
I was on a plane scribbling in one of my notebooks, looking for a new novel/story idea, and I looked down to find I’d randomly drawn a cabin. (An artist I am not, by the way.) I looked at the cabin and drew a few stick figures (again, not an artist) outside the cabin, and I got to thinking about the home-invasion subgenre of horror. It’s a subgenre that I really don’t enjoy all that much. There are some books/films that I like (Wait Until Dark, Ils (Them), Hush), but generally, too many of those stories are mean-spirited, cynical and at times sadistic. With all that in mind, I was excited by the challenge of writing a home-invasion story that I would want to read. So why not a home-invasion-maybe-the-apocalypse-is-happening-too story? Very early in the process, the book became an allegory for our current socio-political predicament, which was another hook for me.

Home-invasion stories scare me for sure, but I think one of my biggest metaphysical fears is represented in the novel, but I can’t really talk about it with spoiling the whole thing. Sorry!

Many writers believe they are their own harshest critic. Is that the case with you as well, and if so, what do you do to silence that inner critic?
I’m harsh on myself. But let’s be honest, I’m not as harsh as the online one-star critic who says, “This book is boring and stupid and smells like poo.” The smell part is the most hurtful.

As much as a pain in the butt as he is, I don’t want to totally silence my inner critic. Generally he’s helpful. When the inner critic’s voice gets too loud, I promise him I’ll deal with him and his concerns, but later, and not until after I write my 500 new words for the day.

What are you working on next?
I just finished a draft of my short story collection Growing Things and Other Stories. It’s due to be published summer 2019. The collection features a few stories that have connections to my novels, including one story that features adult Merry from A Head Full of Ghosts after her tell-all book was published. I’m working on a short screenplay for a secret project, and I need to get off my duff and start the next novel. That, and working on helping my kid visit and apply to colleges. Send help.

The above article initially appeared at BookPage.

Stay up all night with these new thrillers

By G. Robert Frazier

Summer may be over, but these five stories of mystery, intrigue and horrific happenings are just ripe for cool October nights.

Cabin at the End of the World

ISBN 9780062679109
Published 06/26/2018

What begins as a fun, relaxing getaway at a New Hampshire lake for 7-year-old Wen and her dads, Andrew and Eric, turns into a terrifying ordeal of survival in The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay. When the trio is visited at their cabin by four mysterious strangers—Leonard, Adriane, Redmond and Sabrina—their familial bond is put to the ultimate test. “We are not going to kill you, Wen, and we are not going to kill your parents,” promises Leonard, the smooth-talking leader of the visitors and an alleged bartender from the Chicago area. He goes on to explain: “The four of us are here to prevent the apocalypse.” But to ensure that happens, Wen, Andrew or Eric has to die, and they must choose among themselves who it will be. The unusual deal thrusts the family into a tense moral dilemma that tests the limits of their love. Tremblay won the 2015 Bram Stoker Award for A Head Full of Ghosts and may be on his way to a repeat with the chillingly good The Cabin at the End of the World.

Read my Q&A with Paul Tremblay.


Lying in Wait

ISBN 9781501167775
Published 06/12/2018 

What secrets do a mother and her son keep, and how far are they willing to go to protect those secrets? These are just two of the questions facing Lydia Fitzsimons and her son, Laurence, in Lying in Wait, set in 1980s Dublin. Lydia explains on page one that her husband, Andrew, “did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.” It’s off to the races from there. Within short order, 18-year-old Laurence—who recently had sex for the first time with his girlfriend and endures bullying every day at school because of his excess weight—discovers Annie’s body buried in their backyard. As Laurence wrestles to learn what happened and how his parents could have done such a thing, Lydia goes about her business as if nothing happened. Elsewhere, Annie’s twin sister, Karen, begins a meticulous investigation into her sister’s disappearance. Events cascade toward a collision as the trio’s stories unwind in alternating chapters. Author Liz Nugent, whose debut novel, Unraveling Oliver, earned high critical praise, has upped her game here with a darkly twisted tale of murder, lies and secrets best left buried.


Watch the Girls

Grand Central
ISBN 9781538760840
Published 07/10/2018

Sibling rivalry and Hollywood obsessions collide in young adult novelist Jennifer Wolfe’s adult fiction debut, Watch the Girls. From the start of her acting career, Liv Hendricks (formerly known as child actress Olivia Hill) has been pushed at every turn by her domineering mother, Desiree, and has lived in the shadows of her successful sisters, Miranda and Gemma. Then Liv’s career reaches a dead end when Miranda goes missing. Years later, after a bout of alcoholism and being ousted from a reality series, Liv decides to reignite her career by filming her own detective web series. Her first case: find the missing daughter of auteur Jonas Kron, whose horror films have earned him a cult-like following. Liv follows the trail to Kron’s California hometown of Stone’s Throw, where fans are converging for an annual film festival in Kron’s honor. With bitter townsfolk, a none-too-helpful sheriff and Kron’s crazed followers to contend with, Liv discovers that finding the truth will be a challenge. When Liv’s younger sister Gemma also goes missing in the haunted woods of Stone’s Throw, the stakes intensify. Wolfe incorporates text message exchanges into the more traditional first-person narrative to create a novel that reflects today’s social media-obsessed world. Fast-paced and fraught with suspense, Watch the Girls unravels like a perfect summer-night movie.


The Last Time I Lied

ISBN 9781524743079
Published 07/03/2018

Riley Sager, who made a splash with last year’s Final Girls, returns this summer with another tense thriller. Whereas Final Girls followed the plight of the sole survivor of a horror movie-like massacre whose past comes back to haunt her, The Last Time I Lied follows Emma Davis in her quest to find her friends, who disappeared in the dead of night during a camp outing 15 years ago. Emma, who has become an accomplished New York artist, is invited to return to Camp Nightingale as an art instructor and sees it as an opportunity to learn what really happened that night. The past has a way of repeating itself, and it isn’t long before Emma suspects she and her new camp companions may be in as much danger as her lost friends. The tension ratchets up with each chapter, leading to a suspenseful showdown. Like Final Girls, The Last Time I Lied has all the earmarks of a campy Friday the 13th-type horror flick, but Sager elevates the story with a strong lead character and a grounded, realistic threat.


The Banker's Wife

ISBN 9780735218451
Published 07/03/2018 caption

In case the previous thrill-a-minute reads are a little too intense, or readers are looking for a more intellectually stirring, sophisticated mystery, The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger may fit the bill. A former financial analyst and corporate attorney, Alger brings her real-world experiences to bear in this novel about the world of global finance, insider trading and corruption. After Swiss banker Matthew Lerner’s private plane bound for Geneva crashes in the Alps during a storm, his wife, Annabel, is left to piece together her life and, perhaps more importantly, the mysteries he leaves behind—namely, an encrypted laptop and a client who doesn’t want Matthew’s secrets getting out. At the same time, journalist Marina Tourneau is enlisted to obtain a USB drive containing highly sensitive materials from a Luxembourg courier that may reveal the whereabouts of long-thought deceased financial schemer Morty Reiss. Along the way, Marina discovers a financial web with far-reaching implications, inevitably bringing the two storylines together. With global settings, covert government agencies and intricate plotting, The Banker’s Wife reads like an old-fashioned international espionage thriller. But Alger’s talents keep the plot digestible for readers while her female protagonists provide strong, smart alternatives to this typically male-dominated genre.

This article was originally published in the July 2018 issue of BookPage. 

Reviews: Spillane, Deaver, Wolff novels provide summer of thrills

If you’re looking to spice up your summer reading with thrills and mystery, look no further than these three titles:

A life for government secrets

Beside the Syrian Sea

By James Wolff
Bitter Lemon Press 
ISBN 9781908524-980
Publication Date:  May 15, 2018

Information, as Jonas Worth equates it, is “a currency more sought-after than cash.” Worth, a British intelligence worker, knows this firsthand. But he faces a weighty moral dilemma: Can he trade his access to government secrets to the terrorist organization of ISIS, even if it means saving the life of his kidnapped father?

Author James Wolff, who is himself a former British government worker, poses that question for his main character, Jonas, in his gripping debut spy thriller Beside the Syrian Sea ($14.95, Bitter Lemon Press).

At first, Jonas’s own government, along with the Foreign Office and the police, implores him to simply be patient: “It’s a waiting game.” He is told in no uncertain terms that the people holding his father will eventually come under the control of more moderate forces who in turn can be persuaded to release their hostages without paying a ransom, which is against British government policy.

But after three months of anxious waiting, Jonas’ patience wears thin.

Set in Beirut, Wolff masterfully pulls off this complex modern-day spy thriller in convincing fashion.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville

Lincoln Rhyme returns

The Cutting Edge

By Jeffery Deaver
Grand Central Publishing | $28.00
April 10, 2018

Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are back for another head-scratching puzzle in Jeffery Deaver’s newest novel, The Cutting Edge. This one – the fourteenth in the series to feature the intrepid, quadriplegic detective – begins with a shocking triple murder during an apparent holdup in New York City’s diamond district–where diamonds are cut from raw stones into tiny, expensive baubles.

When a witness walks in on the murders in progress and is almost killed before he can get away, the novel becomes a game a cat and mouse as both the murderer and the cops race to find the witness first. As Sachs follows the physical clues, Rhyme, assisted by a team of officers, examines video evidence that can help track the potential witness, who, naturally, doesn’t want to be found by anyone.


Deaver’s prose is straightforward and the action comes fast and furious. Tight chapters keep readers from getting bored.  And there is more to the story than just solving the crime.  The reader will also benefit from a master class full of information about the diamond industry as well as an inside look at the lives of diamond cutters.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

Mickey Spillane lives again!

The Last Stand

By Mickey Spillane
Hard Case Crime | $22.99
March 20, 2018

The grand master of mystery/pulp fiction and creator of private detective Mike Hammer may have passed away in 2006, but fans marked what would have been his 100thbirthday on March 20 with a new novel. Billed as his final completed, unpublished novel, The Last Stand hits bookstores courtesy of Hard Case Crime.

While it’s not the gritty, in-your-face detective noir Spillane was famous for, and Hammer is absent from its pages, The Last Stand is nonetheless an entertaining adventure.

The novel begins when pilot Joe Gillian’s BT-13A  plane inexplicably loses power during an old-timer’s cross-country junket, forcing him to land in a desert somewhere in the U.S. But it’s the discovery of an unusual glass-like arrowhead of unknown substance and origin that provides the mystery, and impetus, for the remainder of the story. The shard draws the attention of both ruthless businessman Maxie Angelo and a cadre of federal agents, all of whom want the shard and any similar artifacts at any cost.

Combined with his trademark sharp dialogue and simple prose style, he keeps the tale moving at an entertaining clip.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.


Review: Tatjana Soli recounts dangerous lives on American plains

Our lives are always one step from being displaced—and replaced—by something new and unexpected, and it’s up to each of us to determine if and ultimately how to adapt. Tatjana Soli, the bestselling author of The Lotus EatersThe Forgetting Treeand The Last Good Paradise, weaves two such tales together in her stunning new historical novel, The Removes.

The Removes

By Tatjana Soli
Sarah Crichton 
ISBN 9780374249311 
Published 06/12/2018

Beginning during the Civil War and continuing into the height of the Indian wars in the 1870s, the novel follows two women whose old lives are forfeited—one by choice, one not.

In the case of 15-year-old Anne Cummins, her life-changing event occurs when Cheyenne warriors brutally attack her homestead, killing her parents and siblings, friends and neighbors, before taking her captive. Facing starvation and abuse from her captors, Anne quickly learns to become useful to the tribe’s survival—or else she may be “quickly dispatched.”

Libbie Bacon, by contrast, voluntarily gives up a life of refined luxury as the daughter of a small-town judge to marry flamboyant Civil War hero and longtime beau George “Autie” Armstrong Custer, even going so far as to accompany his half-starved, desperate troops to the bloody fields of battle. Heralded as heroes at the conclusion of the war, Libbie and Autie face removal once again with the assignment to the 7th Cavalry at Fort Riley, Kansas, trading their fame “for the empty prairie, crude clapboard buildings, and poor rations.”

“It was a reckoning,” Libbie mused. “As if their pride had grown out of proportion, and they were being slapped down into their places.”

For these women, with devastating losses on both sides of the war and with their own lives in horrific turmoil, “it seemed easier to die than to live.” But neither Anne nor Libbie is the type to give up, even as their lives ultimately race toward an unavoidable collision on the frontier. Soli’s novel is both gut-wrenchingly violent and heart-wrenching, but above all, it’s an unforgettable journey of loss and hope.

Michael Ondaatje discusses the clues that lead to stories

The mindset of a writer—from the relationship between character and author to the process of creating a literary work—is an exploration that fascinates many readers. Michael Ondaatje, the author of several critically acclaimed literary novels, including The English Patient, considers himself an archaeologist. Not the kind that roots around in the dirt for prehistoric skeletons, but the kind that extracts memories and transcribes them to the written page.

Michael Ondaatje discusses his novel, Warlight, at Parnassus in Nashville.

“Many of my books—many writers—are in an archaeological situation of unearthing story, of unraveling clues and events to find out what really happened, who was the patient and so on,” Ondaatje explained during a recent visit to Parnassus Books in Nashville to promote his newest novel, Warlight.

Like an archaeologist who may discover a tiny fragment of a bone prior to exposing a larger find, Ondaatje’s books tend to begin with something very minimal, “almost like a clue,” which in turn leads to a more encompassing narrative. In The English Patient, it is a nurse speaking with a patient in bed. “I don’t know who he is, I don’t know who she is,” Ondaatje said. But as he wrote further, he began the process of discovering who they are, how they got to this particular point in time and how each feels in this moment that gives rise to their fascinating story and relationship.

“A lot of novelists know where they are going to go, which is just terrific for them. I just don’t,” he said.

In Warlight, the author (born in Sri Lanka but now a Canadian resident) had only an image for the first sentence: “In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals.”

“Right away I had the possibility of not just the parents and the children who invade their lives,” Ondaatje said. “They kind of take over the story and govern what happens to Rachel and Nathaniel in the story. So I could kind of go anywhere with that.”

The first line immediately evokes the possibility of adventure, whether ominous or joyous or both. The narrative ultimately follows Nathaniel into adulthood, where Ondaatje adds another perspective as Nathaniel is able to reflect on his memories of his childhood.

The process of discovering his characters through their memories and interpretations of events—rather than simply listing events as they happen—adds authenticity and richness. “In The Cat’s Table—some people think of it as a memoir, but it’s a novel—it was supposed to be a story about an 11-year-old boy [coincidentally also named Michael] on a ship and his journey,” Ondaatje said. (The author took a similar trip in his childhood from Sri Lanka to England.) “But there came a group of people getting involved with the boys on the ship, so it became a story not just from the point of view of the boy.” Like the characters in Warlight, Michael also offers his interpretation of events from that of an adult looking back on his journey.

As with a spelunker of fossils, Ondaatje’s process is one of patience and intuition. He writes the first three or four drafts by hand (“I don’t think I could write on a computer or typewriter. I need to see the scratches and doodle. It makes me feel closer to the story.”) and avoids thinking about sentences as he’s writing them (“I just try to see what’s happening as clearly as I can, not just physically but mentally, about how people are thinking about what’s happening.”).

It’s a lesson in trusting the process, and it allows readers to act as archaeologists, too. “In a poem, you don’t say everything. You suggest. The reader is a participant. In prose, I want to keep that.”

This article originally appeared on BookPage.

Jim Nesbitt

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