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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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Erroneous Report

I received a message that this site has been labeled as suspicious. This is completely false and should be ignored. Those who have been logging in to get current mystery and thriller reviews for years can rest assured that we will continue to publish reviews regularly at this site. Liz Nichols, Blog publisher

The Bursar’s Wife by E.G. Rodford

The Bursar’s Wife” is an old-fashioned gumshoe story in the tradition of Raymond Chandler.  I found it a little slow-going, but then I’ve read so many fast-paced thrillers lately that a more sedate British who-done-it like “The Bursar’s Wife” just doesn’t have enough action in it for my tastes, especially in the first half of the book.

This is the first novel in the “A George Kocharyan Mystery” series which is set in Cambridge, England.  George is an old fashioned PI who does almost all of his snooping the old-fashioned way by doing stake-outs and sneaking into crime scenes and suspected murder’s flats.  His only computer must be set to dial-up in order to gain access to the Internet.  When he needs online research done quickly he has to have his assistant or her son use their home computer.  This would be fine if the plot were set in the 1980’s, but it is supposed to be set in a modern-day Cambridge.

George is hired by the wife of the Bursar at Morley College, which is one of the colleges within Cambridge University.  She is concerned because her daughter is going out with an older man she is concerned might be capable of raping her daughter.  The wife is also being blackmailed because of a sex tape that was created of her by the same man years before while she was in college and was put under the influence of a date rape drug.  Mrs. Booker is afraid of history repeating itself and asks for George’s help to protect her daughter and possibly bring Quinton Boyd to justice.  Considerable murder and mayhem take place before George is able to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that Boyd is behind a series of sexual and drug ecapades.  Date rape and forced sex for porno exploitation are certainly a relevant topics and worthly of exploration in this novel.

I’d give “The Bursar’s Wife” one a one thumbs up.  The character Kocharyan is a memorable one and he should develop as a character sort of like fine wine ages over time.  The author is in the process of writing book two in this series entitled “The Runaway Maid” to be out in March 2017.  Hopefully, the pace will pick up in subsequent mysteries.

Liz Nichols

Reviewed from a supplied copy.


Avoidable Contact by Tammy Kaehler

I have been a fan of Tammy Kaehler’s since the publication of her first Kate Reilly Mystery, “Dead Man’s Switch” in 2011.  “Avoidable Contact” is the third novel in this series, and the best yet.  In the course of the first three novels Kate has grown from a rookie who lacks confidence and credibility at times to a mature, respected race car driver capable of pouring on the speed to support her team  and able to put together the clues of a murder mystery with equal finesse.

In “Avoidable Contact” Kate must ignore the fact that her love interest, Stuart, is seriously injured in a hit-and-run accident shortly before the start of the Daytona 24 hour race so that she can concentrate on her role as one of the three drivers for one of her team’s Corvette cars.   In between the adrenaline rush of racing Kate and her friend Holly nose around Pit Row trying to help the police discover clues to who purposely ran down Stuart.  A tragedy on the tracks appears to also be suspicious and may be related to Stuart’s attack.

The racing circuit provides a perfect venue for the thrills and chills of a first class mystery.  The action is naturally fast-paced and dangerous.  The race car drivers and the people who hang around them have big, interesting personalities that make for lots of descriptive color in the book.  Story arcs are also quite naturally segmented around the routines required to drive, relax and gear up again for the next shift behind the wheel.

As a reader I felt as if I had a Pit Row pass and was following Kate’s every move both on and off the race track.

Kate Reilly fans will love the addition to the series with “Avoidable Contact” and the series is bound to make many new fans with this book.

Liz Nichols

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Sneaky Pie for President by Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown

Rita Mae Brown takes a break from her best selling Mrs. Murphy Mystery series to let the animals speak up on the topics of politics and good government in “Sneaky Pie for President.”   The human in the Mrs. Murphy series, Virginia farmer and horsewoman, Harry Haristeen, only appears in passing in this book.  The novel, narrated by the gray tabby herself, Sneaky Pie, is not a mystery.  Sneaky Pie makes no mystery of where she stands on the issues of greatest importance to predator and prey alike.

In these pages Sneaky Pie with her dog and cat entourage visit many of the farm’s animal residents to campaign for a place at the top of the ticket for president of the United States.  Sneaky Pie has absolute confidence that a wise, opinionated and energetic tabby can do a better job in Washington than either Republican or Democratic human candidate.  The platform is, I suspect, partly meant to supply a few chuckles, and partly a convenient soapbox for some of Rita Mae Brown’s own political beliefs.  These beliefs do not owe their beginnings in either traditional party, but rather are more an  argument for environmentalism mixed with a healthy dose of libertarianism.

Sneaky Pie recognizes that it will never be possible to keep predators from preying on the animals they naturally hunt, but the process should be as humane as possible.  Those animals not required to eat meat in order to survive should abstain to a much larger extent than now happens.  Ecosystems must remain in balance for the good of every creature on earth.  Sneaky Pie sees usefulness in the services provided at the local and, to some extent, state level, but she has no use for income taxes and does not understand what the federal government does with all the money it collects.  Services are best funded and provided locally except for defense and a few other key areas.  Sneaky Pie believes in live and let live and treating all creatures by the golden rule.  No one should mess with another individual’s lifestyle or livelihood as long as no one else is being hurt. Sneaky Pie (and I would suspect her real mistress, Rita Mae) expresses fundamentally a libertarian philosophy in “Sneaky Pie for President.”  In the context of a fight for the White House by a house cat, the arguments make a lot of sense.

I found this political tome an interesting diversion from my usual mystery fare, and a fitting commentary for the end of the presidential political season.

Liz Nichols

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Free Robby Update

A quick thank you to those who have read and given a thumbs up to the story about my American Dreamer future son-in-law and his immigration roadblock. He remains incarcerated awaiting a decision on his last appeal, but donations have made it possible for Robby and my daughter to proceed on paperwork needed to allow them to get married. Any additional funds will be used to make sure they can travel to be together and stay safe where ever they end up.

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Free Robby: An American Dream Shattered by Elizabeth Nichols

Today I am revealing my own personal heartache to my faithful readers.  It is a story that is only in my heart and my mind at this point, but it is my life’s ambition to bring out the truth in full in the form of a memoir or perhaps a true crime story.

Today my future son-in-law is sitting in an INS detention center as he has for the last 9 months in isolation awaiting the decision on his final appeal.  In May the judge ruled that he is to be deported back to his home country of Trinidad without the possibility of return to the U.S.  Ever.  The last appeal is under review.  We are pleading the the judge will grant Robby the ability to stay in this country on humanitarian grounds.  He was badly injured in an auto accident two years ago leaving him without a spleen and in need of modern medical support in order to make sure his blood cells are regularly monitored.

Robby is an American Dreamer for whom the possibility of being able to stay in this country was removed as the result of a false set of charges that sent him to jail several years ago.  Robby arrived in this country at the age of 12 with his parents and brother.  His family is of East Indian descent, but they have lived in Guyana and Trinidad in most recent generations.

Being traditional Hindus his mother sought to resolve the immigration status of her children by arranging marriages for them in the U.S.  Robby was married at 19 to a U.S. girl I assume of Indian descent, but after 3 weeks it was apparent that the marriage was not going to work out.  A divorce that was supposed to have occurred over a year ago was never completed and now it is necessary for Robby and my daughter, his fiance, to raise the funds to end this first marriage so Robby and my daughter can marry.

DeDe NicholsDeDe Nichols and Robby Seeparsad

My daughter, DeDe, fell in love with Robby about three years ago.  We have gotten to know Robby and appreciate his kind, thoughtful nature.  I admire his entrepreneurial, scrappy spirit and the optimism that he always displays even in the darkest of situations.  I know theirs is a true love story and I support their desire to be together even if it means that DeDe will be an expat for the rest of her life.  It breaks my heart, but I support it.

These two young people have been through so much together.  DeDe rushed to Robby’s side when he was seriously injured when tires blew out on a van he was riding in two years ago.  It caused collapsed lungs, an injured spleen, and a lacerated liver that kept Robby on a breathing tube in intensive care for three weeks and the hospital for six weeks.  The accident left Robby’s best friend a paraplegic.  Arwen eventually died of the effects of his injuries.

When DeDe was in the hospital with a serious infection, Robby was at her side constantly.  About 18 months ago they set out in an RV together to figure out where they wanted to settle down and put down roots.  They were so full of hope and the future looked bright.  They would get married, solve Robby’s immigration issues, start a business and raise a family. They wanted all the same things every other young American couple want.

Then last January Robby was in Chicago working with some friends and the van he was riding in skidded across an intersection in the sleet.  The Chicago police carded everyone in the vehicle, and because he did not have any ID (other than a Trinidad passport) he was taken in and held without charge indefinitely.  His only “crime” is being in this country illegally, having been brought in as a 12 year old.

What complicates the whole picture is that several years ago in his Guyanese neighborhood in Queens, NY, a neighbor of Robby’s was taken in by the police for allegedly assaulting and injuring his girlfriend.  The detectives said they would let this young man go if he’d wear a wire and catch someone else admitting to a worse crime.

Robby was the odd man out in the neighborhood.  He was the only guy who had tattoos or piercings. He didn’t run with any gangs or clicks.  He was an easy target– just an illegal who was easy bait when someone needed to pin something on someone who had no strong connections to the neighborhood.  Robby’s mother and eight year old sister who lived in the apartment below Robby’s were his only ties to the neighborhood.

Apparently, at a neighborhood gathering some of the young men got together and talk ran to the topic of what happened to a garage at the end of their block that had been torched.  Lots of guys speculated, but it was Robby’s voice that got picked up on tape.  Robby merely thought the same thing others thought–that the garage was probably a meth lab.  Robby never was given the chance to hear the tape, so he can only speculate that it was doctored to make it sound like he knew more than he did (which is nothing) about the arson.  Detectives picked him up and charged him with arson.  He fired his first court-appointed defense counsel who told him he should plead guilty.  No way was Robby going to plead guilty to something he did not do and face 25 to 50 years in prison!

Then the detectives came back with a plea deal.  If he would plead guilty to aggravated assault they’d reduce the sentence to one year.  They said if he did not plead to that charge he would be stuck in Rikers Island in New York’s prison system for two or three years just waiting for trial.  After the unspeakable things Robby witnessed and perhaps experienced personally in prison, he did not think he could survive for two or three years in prison.  He took the plea agreement even though he was guilty of nothing.  I do not believe he ever was made aware of what a devastating impact pleading guilty to aggravated assault would have on his dream to remain in the United States!

Robby was actually released from Rikers after 8 month on good behavior.  I ask you, if he were really a violent felon would he have gotten out on good behavior after 8 months?

Those of us who know this gentle and kind young man know that he is totally incapable of any kind of violent crime. I can only imagine him raising his hand in anger to protect himself and his loved ones and in no other circumstances. It is not in his nature and it would totally fly in the face of the kind of behavior so common to those American Dreamers who have had to fly under the radar for years and not draw any attention to themselves in order to keep from being deported.

The information found in the detective report from his arrest in New York was submitted as evidence in his deportation hearing to prove that Robby is a dangerous criminal.  The report was found to be so riddled with misinformation and untruths that it was thrown out of court. The INS did not present any other information that supported their contention that Robby is a dangerous criminal.  Pleading guilty to aggravated assault– a plea that was obtained under duress and was not true– was the only evidence presented.  That plea may well have nullified his ability to remain in this country!

I can no longer stand by silently while an injustice is done.  As a mother my heart is breaking for my daughter and my future son-in-law whom we love and support completely.

We realize that what has been done may not be able to be repaired.  Robby cannot take back his guilty plea.  The judge in his deportation hearing said she did not have the authority to overrule whatever happened in a New York court room.

What I can do is to tell Robby’s story and set the record straight.  I will dedicate whatever time I have left to clear his name, and if he is deported,  hopefully make it possible for my daughter, Robby and their future family to return to the U.S. sometime in the future.

Justice has NOT been done.  An American Dream has been shattered.  A mother’s heart is broken.

For anyone who can find it in their heart to help support the Free Robby cause, I have left a donation button on my site and I’ll be putting one up as a fan page at my Facebook site and I’ll be doing a Youtube video as well.  We need funds to offset legal expenses, help DeDe and Robby submit paperwork that may allow him to return to the U.S. some day (or if a miracle happens– stay in the U.S.)  They will need help setting up anew where ever they end up in this world, and I need some support to help researching and telling this story  so that no more Robby’s become pawns of the U.S. justice and immigration systems.

Liz Nichols

The Shyster’s Daughter by Paula Priamos

In reviewing “The Shyster’s Daughter” by Paula Priamos I am going a little off-topic because this is a “detective noir memoir” rather than a mystery novel. The book does read like a novel even though it is an autobiographical account about Priamos and her life with her “shyster” lawyer dad.

A “shyster” is an attorney to servers mostly low-life clients and often takes advantage of clients who are most vulnerable.  Priamos becomes aware during her teenage years that her father is spending more money than he is making.  He pays cash for a house in Tennessee, show horses, fancy cars and other extravagances.  She discovers that her father is milking the accounts of certain wealthy clients he does not think will miss the cash. Priamos never seems to judge her father on his flaws or criminal activity, and yet she often blames her mother for having gotten away from the bad marriage, and having abandoned Paula.

Priamos  hates when the family visits her grandmother and her Uncle Gil.  Gil is a child molester who also secretly fantasizes about having his way with Priamos’ mother.  Gil lives with Yia-Yia, the grandmother.  The extreme menace of Psycho Gil, who keeps an arsenal of weapons in his room, is one reason for Paula’s mother to take her sister and brother to live in Tennessee.  Paula is given a few minutes to decide whether to stay with her dad or go with her mom and siblings; she choses her dad because she  thinks he cannot get along without her.

Priamos witnesses the slow disintegration of her dad’s law practice, the loss of all his possessions, and the eventual loss of his life.  The mystery in the book comes with Priamos’ investigation of whether her father really died of a heart attack in the room he moved in to at Yia-Yia’s house, whether he committed suicide or was murdered.  Her uncles and grandmother cover up the death and hold a funeral quickly.  They call in favors to make sure that an autopsy is not performed.  Are they in a hurry to bury Paul to make sure he can be buried in sanctified ground (which in the Greek orthodox tradition would not have been possible if Paul committed suicide), or to cover up a crime?  Paula includes comments from friends and family from her investigation interspersed throughout the book.

Nothing is ever concluded as far as the cause of Paul’s death.  It was officially listed as a heart attack, but Paul had plenty of reasons to commit suicide, and he had plenty of enemies and psycho relatives perfectly capable of doing him in.  Unlike most mystery novels this “detective noir memoir” does not reach a final conclusion.  Instead, life goes on for the author with her teaching for the California State University system and living with her husband and stepson in Southern California.

This is a well written coming of age and “detective noir” memoir and is a testament to a strong but flawed father-daughter relationship that survives even the father’s wrong-doing and death.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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A Hole in the Ground Owned by a Liar by Daniel Pyne

Daniel Pyne is well known as a screenplay writer for television and the big screen having worked on “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Fracture,” “Any Given Sunday,” and the new television show “Alcatraz.”  “A Hole in the Ground Owned by a Liar,” is a delightful, quirky work of literary fiction.  I guess it could classify as a mystery in that there is a murder that is ancillary to the main plot.  Whether or not the gold mine bought online and sight-unseen by the main character, Lee Garrison, will play out is a mystery of sorts.  Lee doesn’t really care.  He buys the Colorado mine for the adventure of it, not for the potential riches.  He buys it for something to do when he is not teaching, and to provide his brother with a livelihood when he gets out of prison for beating up the man Lee suspects is having an affair with his wife. (The man wasn’t; but he ends up marrying Lee’s former wife anyway.)

We meet a series of interesting, but flawed, characters in this book who come together to explore the mine and tap its potential.  Some are incompetent, like the mayor of the town that sits directly below the mine, and the county recorder.  Both offer their services in exchange for a portion of the take.  The mayor and the deed recorder provide a lot of the humor that is salted throughout the book.  Lee and his cohorts also fight a take-over bid by two wealthy brothers who make it their business to take over mines throughout the west on the chance that they will yield untapped riches.

I had a good time reading this action adventure novel.  It’s funny and there’s a nice little twist at the end. I learned more about mining and the history of the exploration that went on in the Colorado Rockies than I ever expected to.  The book took me back to several trips through the Colorado Rockies to some of the early mining towns. It definitely catches the flavor of the area and the people that make the old mining communities their home.  The name of the book is indicative of the practice of miners to lie about the whereabouts of their claims.  Even the deeds give faulty information to make sure no one jumps a claim.  While most of these mines have been abandoned since the 1930s, the recent rapid rise in the price of gold and silver have led to a new interest in clearing out old, caved-in mine shafts and looking for more hidden veins of ore.  It’s harder these days to hide a claim.

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a pre-publication copy.  Publication date: February 1, 2012.)

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A Perilous Conception by Larry Karp

Larry Karp is a retired Seattle area physician who was involved in reproductive genetics from the early days of in vitro fertilization. There was so much controversy over the procedure in the mid-1970s that Karp remembers thinking at the time that the issue would make a good plot for a mystery. To Karp’s knowledge, no one actually was murdered over the issue of in vitro fertilization, but the controversy raised so many heated arguments that the potential for violence and blackmail was certainly present.

Karp’s intimate knowledge of what can and does go on in a medical research facility and in an OB/GYN practice make the plot of “A Perilous Conception” chillingly real. I can recall reading about the race for the first “test tube baby” (more accurately, petri dish fertilized eggs) and there was definitely divided opinion about what would happen if the baby turned out to be abnormal. Did man have a right to play God? Others saw it as the best chance for couples who could not conceive normally to have a baby. Time has proven out most of the positive results that have come from in vitro fertilization.

The book is set in 1976 when teams in the U.S. and the U.K. were in the midst of a race to the birth of the first in vitro baby. The story is about an in vitro fertilization that went seriously wrong and had to be covered up to protect the doctors involved when a distraught dad kills the research doctor who was responsible for the fertilization process for his son.

Police Detective, Bernie Baumgartner latches on to the case and will not let it go until he gets the OB/GYN, Dr. Colin Sanford, to admit that the procedure used was in vitro fertilization against the express orders of the chairman of the OB/GYN program at the University hospital. Baumgartner also is determined to find out what happened to a lab tech supervisor who disappeared shortly after the patient involved in the covered up in vitro case conceived.

The author uses a fairly unusual technique of writing alternatively in the voices of Sanford and Baumgartner. By doing so the reader gets inside the heads of both guys and finds out that both men are flawed. It is actually hard to like either character at times, although both redeem themselves in some ways by the end of the book.

Sanford displays that annoying hubris that is common in doctors who make it clear that they possess superior intelligence and can wield god-like power over the lives of other people. In the end Sanford recognizes his hubris as a short-coming and understands how deep scars from childhood helped to mold his character.

Baumgartner is the stereotypical cop who works so much of the time that it ruins his marriage. He is content to sleep on the couch of one of his regular informants. After proving that he’s the smartest cop on the force he can’t wait to thumb his nose at the police department and to go independent as a PI. Karp could easily turn Baumgartner into a mystery series character.

This is a unique story with an intricate cat-and-mouse plot that will particularly appeal to those who are familiar with academia and medical research.

Liz Nichols

A review copy was provided for this article.

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