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Night Bird by Brian Freeman

Brian Freeman is a Minnesota-based author.  This is the second in his Frost Eaton detective triller series. Eaton is a handsome, single, cat-loving San Francisco police detective, a very likeable character.  The latest in the series, “The Night Bird” was just published February 1 by Thomas Mercer.

Night Bird” is a very scary psychological thriller about a serial killer who copies the techniques of a San Francisco psychiatrist, Francesca Stein, but with an evil intention.  Stein uses hypnosis and subliminal messaging to erase disturbing memories from patients and replace them with memories that will stop the phobias that developed around the trauma.  The psychotic maniac, instead, uses hypnosis and psychological and sensory torture to cause some of Stein’s patients to commit suicide upon command.  The killer wears a mask, which in San Francisco, does not cause a lot of notice.  He calls himself the “Night Bird” and uses all manner of technological tricks to spy on his victims and on Dr. Stein so that he knows what will trigger anxiety in the patients who become his targets. One of the songs he uses to trigger suicidal events in his victims is the song “Nightengale” by Carole King.  I don’t think I will ever be able to listen to that song again without thinking of this book!

It does not take long to get really sucked into this book.  One reason is the main characters all have interesting lives and stories built around their own unique situations so it became easy to feel empathy for some characters and disgust and revulsion for others. The characters are all memorable whether they are heroes or villains. One way or the other, the reader can picture these characters living and working in San Francisco.  The author appears to know the city well, even though he lives in Minnesota.

I am not totally convinced about the premise of the book that people who have been traumatized can be made to totally forget those traumatic experiences through hypnosis, drugs and subliminal suggestion, but I am willing to suspend my skepticism for the purposes of getting into the plot.  The premise is similar to that of the successful new TV show, “Blindspot.”  There are some nice twists to the plot as well that keep the reader guessing until the end.

Overall, Freeman has a winner with “The Night Bird.” It should be a hit with those who like to stay up late reading a real page-turner of a psychological thriller that will remain vividly in the memory bank for a long time to come.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

 

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An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson

The Longmire series got another new addition last fall with “An Obvious Fact.”  The name is derived from a Sherlock Holmes quote, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” The setting is western South Dakota/eastern Wyoming around Hulett and the Devils Tower, an impressive shaft of igneous rock that shoots out of the plains unexpectedly, and the site of the nation’s first national monument.  The other major setting is Sturgis, SD, the site of the annual motorcycle meet.

The biking events and the general Wyoming/South Dakota Black Hills location affords the author a lot of colorful characters to populate this mystery and Henry Standing Bear is entered in some of the biker events while Walt Longmire helps the Hulett police investigate why a young member of one motorcycle gang and the son of one of Henry’s former lovers, has been run off the road.  The young man is in a coma at a hospital in Rapid City.  Tension mounts as Lola, the youth’s mother implies that Henry was the father some 30 years earlier.

As always, this chapter in the Longmire saga is full of sage wisdom from the Indian philosopher, and hard fighting from both Henry and Walt. “An Obvious Fact” a sufficiently fast-paced page-turner to please fans of the Walt Longmire series and could win over new fans because of the colorful setting and interesting situations Henry and Walt continue to get involved in.

I continue to be a Longmire fan of both the books and the TV series.

Liz Nichols

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Shattered by Death by Catherine Finger

Shattered by Death” is the second in the “A Jo Oliver Thriller” by Catherine Finger.  The protagonist is small town police chief, Jo Oliver, who is locked out of the investigation of the brutal killings of her estranged husband and his girl friend in a double homicide.  Oliver finds them in the boat house of the property she and her husband still own together.  Oliver’s close friend and budding romantic interest, FBI agent Nick Vitarello, presents evidence to clear Oliver of the crime, against the police chief’s will.

Many women will identify strongly with Oliver.  She is generous with her time in that she volunteers at a couple of women’s shelters.  This fact she wants to keep secret to protect the identies of the battered women who are sheltered, even though security tapes from the shelters will prove here whereabouts during the murders. She is in the process of adopting a child, even as she fights a contentious divorce. She is bull-headed, full of self-doubt about her worthiness to ever be loved (doubts Nick constantly tries to assuage), and she is a born-again Christian who frequently calls on God for guidance and support.

The identity of the serial killer who tries to frame the Chief is not a particular surprise to me, but the twists and turns that lead to the ending keep “Shattered by Death” a suspenseful read.  Two thumbs up.

Review copy was provided.

Liz Nichols

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Two Mysteries About Fracking and Sex Slavery

I recently completed two novels with very similar themes, “Black Hills” by Franklin Schneider and Jennifer Schneider, a brother-sister writing duo, and “Coyote” by Kelly Oliver.  Both focus on the fate of exploited native women and Indian reservation communities in boomtowns where oil workers are forcing oil out of the ground through fracking.  Apparently, the authors of both books used similar source material and reached many of the same disturbing conclusions.

Both books were pretty rough to read because they pull no punches about what happens to sex slave workers in these oil boomtowns, the mountains of synthetic drugs (“dust”) that is consumed, and the fraud and murder that occurs in order to keep the people involved in business.

The heroine in Oliver’s “Coyote” is a philosophy graduate student from Montana who returns home for the summer to work at Glacier Park, Jessica James.  Her roommate is a member of the Blackfeet tribe who is distraught that her younger sisters seem to have been kidnapped by sex slavers.  Jessica takes a Glacier Park bus to help her roommate, Kimi Redfox, to find the missing sisters, and to investigate the death of her cousin, Mike, in a lumber mill accident.  They are assisted by a Russian emigre named Lolita, who seems to know her way around the big-shots in the community who own the fracking and lumber mill businesses.  “Coyote” is a straight-forward detective and mystery story with a likeable amature sleuth.

The heroine of the Schneiders’ “Black Hills” is Alice Riley, a Brooklyn Private Investigator hired by the wife of an employee of the fracking company in Whitehurst, South Dakota, to investigate why he has been taken into custody for assaulting a prostitute.  Alice befriends the Native American prostitute girlfriend of the man who has been jailed and they go after the truth together.  Neither Alice nor her friend, Kim, are innocents in this story.  They both partake in plenty of drugs and sex in their effort to gain information and take down the CEO of the fracking company.  The fracking company, they learn, is also behind a huge drug operation, the sex trafficking in the area, and nearly everthing else that is killing Native American people and their heritage.

“Black Hills” is a strong literary achievement by Franklin Schneider, who is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, but many will also find the unrelenting drugs and sex and the very dark take on the fracking business to be disturbing.

I’m glad I read both “Coyote” and “Black Hills,” despite their strong thematic and character similarities.  They both leave a very concerning message about fracking and the companies and communities swallowed up by that business.

Reviewed from supplied copies.

Liz Nichols

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The Highwayman by Craig Johnson

Johnson’s “The Highwayman” is a modern-day ghost story by one of the country’s foremost storytellers.  This novel is part of the series “A Longmire Story.”

Sheriff Walt Longmire of Wyoming’s Absaroka County receives a request to assess the credibility of a highway patrol officer’s reports of ghost radio messages while the officer is patrolling near a series of three tunnels that had been the scene of a searing accident that killed another highway patrol officer over 30 years before.  Reportedly, the message that an officer was in need of assistance came from that deceased HP officer.  When some of the same messages were received in Walt’s presence he and his side-kick, Henry Standing Bear, attempted to explain the phenomenon by determining who might be breaking into the HP’s radio frequency.  Things get a little scarier when the distraught HP officer falls into the raging Wind River and Walt is helped to grab her out by a mysterious stranger who also seems to be dropping 1888 Morgan dollars, the same Morgans the long-dead HP officer was accused of hi-jacking.

As always, this Longmire story is an engrossing and well written western mystery/ghost story.

The Highwayman” is recommended, especially for the many Longmire fans out there.

Liz Nichols

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Bright Midnight by Chris Formant

Chris Formant is a life-long student of classic rock and roll and a collector of rock memorabilia. He holds a seat on the Board of Trustees of the Rock and Role Hall of Fame in Cleveland.  “Bright Midnight” is his first novel and it will be a crowd-pleaser for all the baby boomers who love classic rock and all those conspiracy theorists who believe in the “Myth of 27.”

For the uninitiated, the  “Myth of 27” hypothesizes that there is simply too much coincidence around the fact that so many rock stars, and particularly during the height of rock and roll post-Woodstock, died of mysterious causes at the age of 27– too many for it to simply be coincidence.  While Formant’s work is fiction, he has thoroughly researched each of the artists who died within a few years of each other in  the late 1960s and early 1970s including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Ron McKernan, Peter Ham, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and Al Wilson.  Formant uses modern forensic analysis techniques to combined with clues from research of memorabilia and historical records to pose plausible explanations as to why all these deaths were not just accidental deaths or suicides, and how they were related.  Certain sinister aspects of the rock and roll record industry seem to have doomed some of the more rebellious and independent artists to short lives.

The protagonist is a classic rock editor for Rolling Stone, Gantry Elliot.  He is an aging “has been” struggling to keep up with the the changes in rock music until he begins to receive anonymous tips about the rock stars of the 1960s and 1970s who all died at age 27.  The tipster maintains that all of these artists were murdered and presents clues with each package to support the claim.  By the time Gantry has received several of these packages he takes the evidence to the head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit who, after expressing initial doubts, decides to take on the cold cases and involves associates in Scotland Yard and the French National Police to take the lead on solving the deaths that occurred within their jurisdictions. Gantry involves his boss, the editor of Rolling Stone and eventually gains his full support.

There are fascinating details about the music industry, and modern day forensics.  It turns out that as good as technical forensics is now, old-fashioned interviewing of former associates of the dead and people who might shed light on the commonalities between all of the victims is what actually breaks the case.  The closer Gantry gets to breaking some of these cases, the more dangerous the international crime thriller gets for Gantry and the people who open up to him and the FBI.

Bright Midnight” is an inventive read sure to please those who are nostalgic for the Age of Aquarius and its rock legends and those who enjoy speculating on conspiracy theories such as the “Myth of 27.”

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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Downfall by J A Jance

Once again J.A. Jance has produced a suspenseful and timely police procedural in the “Brady Novel of Suspense” series.  “Downfall” is about an investigation by Sheriff Joanna Brady and her Cochise County (AZ) Sheriff Department into a double homicide that appears to be instigated by a high school teacher’s statutory rape of one or more teenage boy student.  The reactions of the parents and students to the realization that a pedophile has been teaching at the school for years and getting away with seducing teenage boys run the gamut from parents blaming the boy more than the teacher to outrage and a desire to sue the school for not doing something to stop this behavior.  Some parents wish they had gotten to the teacher first before her actual killer.

This story about a teacher pedophile takes place amid Joanna’s own personal tragedy in that she has just lost her mother and step-father to a highway sharp-shooter and is also several months pregnant with a baby girl. She is supposed to be taking time off to plan and host a funeral service for Eleanor and George when the deaths of two women who appear to have been pushed off a cliff occurs.  The book contains some poignant moments where Joanna comes to a better understanding about her mother and the reasons why Eleanor has always been so hard on her ambitious tomboy of a daughter.  Longtime readers of the Brady series will appreciate the closure Joanna is able to put on this complex relationship with her mother and will also admire the ingenuity Brady and her staff use to solve the mystery of the double-murder and Joanna’s own kidnapping.  To add to the complexity there is another murder in the mix, the death by golf club of a man who appears to also have been poisoned with arsenic by his wife.  That investigation raises the question of how far the DA should go to offer a reduced sentence just to settle when it appears likely the murder was premeditated.  Unfortunately, there is little the sheriff can do once the police have turned the case over to the DA, other that to offer her two-cents worth.

As always, the action is so suspenseful it was hard to put down “Downfall” until the very last page.

Highly recommended.

Liz Nichols

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Peregrine Island by Diane B Saxton

Saxton’s “Peregrine Island” left me dissatisfied for one primary reason.  The three main characters alternate chapters in first person and yet all of the voices sound alike to me.  We get to know the matriarch best, Winter Peregrine, the owner of a small island off Long Island Sound.  She owns a painting by a major twentieth century artist who disappeared about thirty years earlier.  Two art experts and the son of the missing artist show up on the island to examine and appraise the painting and to determine its authenticity.  The son gains a romantic attachment to Winter’s daughter, Elsie.  The third main character is Peda, Elsie’s young daughter, who speaks too remarkably like her grandmother to be believable as a young girl who has discovered and befriended a homeless man living under their pier.

Peregrine Island” is interesting enough and there are twists and turns sufficient to keep the reader interested– it is just that the author should have either had Winter, Elsie and Peda use language and word complexities that are different and appropriate for their own ages and points of view, or written the whole book in third person.

Readers can skip this first-time novel by Diane Saxton, a journalist and activist, unless there is a particular interest in the Long Island Sound area or the art thriller genre.  Perhaps her next novel will improve.

Reviewed with a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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The Candidate by Lis Wiehl

Lis Wiehl is a an attorney, faculty member at the University of Washington School of Law, and a legal analyst for Fox News.  She has several successful novel series.  “The Candidate” is the second in the “Newsmakers Novels” series with protagonist, Erica Sparks, a cable news network anchor.  The subject matter is chillingly appropriate in this presidential political season.  In fact, the only political campaign more strange than the one that is being played out this year for real, is the plot that Lis Wiehl weaves in “The Candidate.”

Without having to put out a spoiler alert I’ll just note that Sparks comes to suspect that one of the candidates is being manipulated using a Chinese mind control technique and she sets out to test that hypothesis.  Unfortunately, the more she tests the more she puts herself and everyone she comes in contact with in danger.

While not every aspect of this political thriller’s plot seems that plausible enough rings true to keep the reader intrigued.  There is certainly a lot of action to hold interest as well.  The book starts out with a bang (literally) when one political candidate and a number of by-standers are blown up by a domestic terrorist and then the bomber is taken out immediately by an assassin before he can be questioned– very reminiscent of JFK conspiracy theory.

Lis Wiehl’s writing style is very matter-of-fact and literal.  “The Candidate” is certainly not a literary masterpiece, but it makes up for it in fast-paced action and intensity.

Recommended with a few reservations in terms of believability.

Reviewed from a supplied advance copy.

Liz Nichols

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Write to Die by Charles Rosenberg

Charles Rosenberg is a Los Angeles attorney who has also consulted on a number of legal-themed television shows and been a legal consultant for an entertainment news show.  The most successful novels are generally written by people who are experts in the same field as their protagonists and Rosenberg is no exception. “Write to Die” is Rosenberg’s fourth mystery-thriller.

Write to Die” is a legal thriller/trial procedural where the protagonists are a Hollywood intellectual property litigator, Rory Calburton, and his new assistant attorney, Sarah Gold.  Their styles and personalities are such that sparks fly often because Sarah prefers to skirt the law when it comes to gathering evidence and Rory goes strictly by the book.  The senior partners are willing to put up with more shenannigans from Sarah because she comes with prestigious experience as a law clerk for a Supreme Court justice.

The plot revolves around the murder of the general counsel for a Hollywood studio that is being represented in a plagiarism case by Rory and his law firm.  Eventually the senior partner of the firm is accused of the murder.  Are the plagiarism case and the murder related?  Sarah gets in and out of scrapes trying to find out.

Write to Die” is a lengthy and detailed, but entertaining and enlightening look into entertainment law through the eyes of a legal expert who happens to be pretty good as a mystery writer.  I look forward to reading more about the legal team at The Harold Firm, and particularly Sarah Gold and Rory Calburton.

Recommended.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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