Category: mystery


This one is for kind of an older book. I’d actually originally stumbled across this back when I worked at the bookstore. I was hoping to find stuff featuring Batwoman and then here was this. It popped up on my BookBub suggestions not too long ago and I finally had a chance to give it a read. So here’s Alexis Hall’s Iron and Velvet. Enjoy!

Iron and Velvet cover

Private Investigator Kate Kane should know better than to take a job from a vampire, much less a vampire prince. She should know, but bills need paying and jobs are a little thing since her partner died. She’s got a dead werewolf outside a vampire’s nightclub, some kind of horrific ooze, and not a lot of clues to go on. Stepping wrong on this case could lead to a war or, worse, her dead but at least she’s got scotch.

I am mostly happy with Alexis Hall’s Iron and Velvet. The main character is by turns enjoyable and frustrating with an implied back story that I really want to find out more about. The back story elements made for awesome character building without devolving into an angst fest. The parts that did get angsty felt tone appropriate and were generally balanced out with a thread of humor.

There were a couple of rough spots early on, with the cast being introduced, where the writing went off the rails a bit. The initial descriptions for our hedonist vampire prince and lingerie model alpha werewolf got kind of male gaze-y and uncomfortable. That said, the resident incubus got similar treatment and this did improve later on. I did find myself much more into the book after the introductions were past and I got into the meat of the story.

The mystery itself unwinds slowly with a couple of false starts and room to get to know the major players while still holding enough back that it’s still a solid mystery. There’s build to a solution but then there’s more. Kate finds herself trying to solve the problem without making any more problems or setting off a supernatural war. Things get a little fiddly there and while I liked the issues it brought up I feel like more could have been done with it. I would probably say that regardless though, I have a tendency of wanting more out of tense situations where the protagonist is out of their league.

That actually leads me to a big positive I had with this book. Kate was noteably out of her depth at various points and, instead of hard headedly going for it anyway, went for help. She had contacts from her previous P.I. work that she could ask for details and she goes to them when she realizes she needs help. It was super refreshing and I would really like to see more of that.

So, that’s kind of where I’m left with this one. There was some stuff I was iffy on at the start, but then the book rolls on and got really fun. There’s a ton of implied back story that I’m really interested in, possibly more so because it isn’t just spelled out for me. Iron and Velvet gets a four out of five from me. I’m definitely going to go find the second one in the future.

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Guest Post: Pete Likins

Hey all, not a ton to say here. I’ve been meaning to host another guest post and was lucky enough to be approached with the opportunity for this one. Enjoy!

After a long and fulfilling career in such serious jobs as spacecraft engineer, college professor, and university president, I found pure joy in writing the whimsical murder mystery ACADEMIC AFFAIRS:  A Poisoned Apple.

I had published other books previously:  three engineering textbooks, a family memoir and a literary novel, each book a satisfying achievement that required real intellectual labor, but ACADEMIC AFFAIRS was just fun to write.  I’m told that it’s also fun to read!

Most of the plot twists and many of the characters in ACADEMIC AFFAIRS came to me in my swimming pool.  If I didn’t let my mind pursue such fantasies, my morning hour in the pool would be mindless exercise.

In sharp contrast, every other publication began as a serious effort, each uniquely motivated.  Every book began as something else and somehow a real book emerged.

Although every book is a different experience for me, I have always enjoyed the act of writing.  Probably the underlying pleasure is reading, which has enriched my life since childhood. In the sixth grade I was taken under the wing of the school librarian, to whom I dedicated my first novel.  She guided me through the classics before high school brought sports and the girl I married sixty-two years ago.

As my academic interests turned to science and engineering my reading narrowed accordingly, as did my writing when Stanford and MIT led me to faculty life at UCLA, where teaching projects led to an undergraduate textbook, two advanced treatises on spacecraft dynamics and fifty technical papers.  As my faculty life evolved into roles as dean, provost and (twice) university president I simply had no time to luxuriate in the pleasures of creative writing.  My family memoir and two novels were written only after my retirement at age seventy.

The memoir began as a love letter to my wife of then fifty years, a journal of some fifty pages.  Only after the Obama election did we decide that our six adopted children, black, white and brown, had a story for the world to hear.  We called it A NEW AMERICAN FAMILY:  A Love Story.   The response was gratifying, as reflected in fifty opportunities to talk to interested assemblies or television audiences about the changes in American society that are so visible in our family.

In my mid-seventies, I began to wonder if, as an old spacecraft engineer, professor and academic administrator, I had the creative capacity required to write a serious novel.  I wanted to challenge myself in my retirement to do something different and difficult, with no assurance of success.  I worked hard to write COYOTE SPEAKS:  Cross Country Run, a novel that brought me great personal satisfaction.  I felt that I had done my best and would never write another novel.

Then, with no serious intentions, I found myself playing with characters and stories during my morning swim, as I confessed above.  I had no plans to write another novel, but this was just too much fun to stop.  I couldn’t resist the birth of ACADEMIC AFFAIRS:  A Poisoned Apple.

Academic_Affairs_Cover

Author Bio:

Perhaps an unlikely author of a whimsical murder mystery novel, Peter Likins is President Emeritus of the University of Arizona, former president of Lehigh University and, while at Columbia University, first dean of engineering and then provost or executive vice president for academic affairs (a title that led to the title of his most recent novel!) Now happily retired in Tucson, Arizona with his best friend and wife of more than sixty years, he has free time to write as his heart desires.

Peter Likins - Author photo

One Was Lost

So, this turned out better than I’d hoped. This was one I’d picked up because it sounded interesting and a co-worker had mentioned enjoying it. I figured, “thriller, cool” and ran with it. So this is One Was Lost by Natalie D. Richards. Enjoy!

One Was Lost cover

Sera’s school requires its students to complete a Senior Life Experience Mission before they graduate. A big field trip that takes them some place new and away from their comfort zones. No problem, it’s a camping trip in the rain. Until it isn’t. Sera finds herself trapped with three other students and their very drugged teacher, a killer stalking the woods after them, and mysterious words lovingly written on their arms. The words are clues, maybe, maybe keys to their escape or a judgment. They’ll have to figure out what it all means if they want to survive.

Natalie D. Richards’ One Was Lost is a solid thriller in many ways. In many ways it also falls into standard teen novel pitfalls that damage the flow of the story. This leaves the book in a strange place writing wise, which is interesting for me. It has fantastic bones and a lot of ideas that I would love to see more of, but then tends to side track away from those ideas where it counts.

The biggest pull for a thriller is the characters. Who are they? How does the situation affect them and how they view each other? So, character is important. There is a fair amount of good character work here. Unfortunately that character work gets overshadowed by the romance fairly often. I got really tired of Sera’s whole circular deal with how attracted she is to Lucas and how she doesn’t want to become her mother. It took up a lot of page space compared to Emily and Jude, the other half of the group being hunted.

I wanted to see so much more of Emily and Jude. To find out more about what made them Damaged and Deceptive respectively, and see how they started working better with our lead pair. I feel like that and the killer threat should have been the core of the story. Here are these kids, they’ve each been labeled by the killer in the woods, why? What’s the game here? How is the killer making this work, leading them through the woods and sneaking around so much? More build on any or all of those would have been great and done a lot for the plot.

Because the plot is sort of scattered, the killer seems to both have a specific timeline for their plot and is totally willing to just let the kids do whatever. It almost feels a bit like a Joker plot, everything the kids do plays into the killer’s plans somehow, but there shouldn’t have been a way for everything to work without the killer getting caught. This leads to a point where the red herring makes a lot more sense throughout the book than the actual killer. And that feels like a missed mark in the writing, where I feel like removing the red herring and letting the killer be this dangerous unknown could have been fantastic, especially if we had gotten more about some of the scary stories told on one of the earlier nights. Have more work put into the foreshadowing for the big reveal.

That’s where I land with a lot of One Was Lost, more work would have made the book so much better. It has good bones, solid ideas, and the potential for good characters. Then there are also points where it seems determined not to live up to any of its potential, the romance is an example of this. It’s frustrating like that. I did like the book and I would read more of Richards’ stuff in the future, but I would probably see what other people said first. I’m giving One Was Lost a three out of five.

Head Games

I’m cutting it a little close to the wire here. I’d driven to visit my folks and spent a fair amount of time on the road today. It was fun and my car is once again fully functional, plus I got to see their new kitten. So, a win all around. This book is a bit of an odd one for me, it’s not my usual genre at all, but it was worth giving a shot. Thanks to the nice folks at First Second, this is Head Games. Enjoy!

Head Games cover

Novelist Hector Lassiter thought his adventure days were behind him. At least, he thought that until an old acquaintance lures him into one last run. He’s found Pancho Villa’s skull and a buyer, he just needs someone to get it to them. Money in the bank, easy as easy can be. At least until others get wind of the skull. Feds, frat boys, and soldiers of fortune are on Hector’s tail and the only folks he can count on are himself, a poet, and a woman hard as nails and twice as beautiful.

So, the Head Games graphic novel is an adaptation of Craig McDonald’s debut novel of the same title. It’s content is more than a little bit of a surprise, given that I’m used to more kid friendly graphic novels from this publisher. That threw me for a bit of a loop. The book very much not my usual thing. The lead character is very much a man losing his place in the world and becoming more aware of it day by day. This might be his last big adventure and he knows it. He knows that the world is changing without him and that he can’t, or won’t, keep up.

That’s actually part of the problem with the book. The protagonist, Hector Lassiter, spends so much time looking back to his glory days early on in the story that, while I’m interested in those stories, I don’t really care what’s going on in the actual plot. The action is tied too much to Lassiter’s past and his adventures in his youth. That’s where most of the characters who are after the skull come from, they’re people he knew from his army days or folks who have been hired by those people. I would have liked for there to have been more characters who weren’t connected to him or, failing that, if the protagonist had been Bud, the poet side character. I could have also done without the second and third parts included, combined they’re about half the size of part one and they don’t really add much to the story proper.

This is the part where I admit that my problems with the book are probably more due to the nature of it being a graphic novel adaptation of a novel rather than an original comic. Some connective tissue and character details were probably cut to make it flow better. For what it is, the writing is pretty solid even as it’s not exactly my thing.

The art fits really well with the plot. It’s blocked out with a lot of heavy shadows and sparse color. The character design is also solid, the characters are distinct and the backgrounds are detailed without distracting from what’s going on.

At the end of the day, Head Games isn’t really my kind of story. There isn’t much of anything wrong with the writing, and very little that couldn’t be attributed to it being an adaptation. It’s a first book as well, so others in the series could easily have less of the looking backward. I would probably be willing to read one of them. So, given that, I give it a three out of five.

Mormama

Hey all, I’ve got a review for you today. It’s a little late, just due to general life stuff, but still up on Wednesday. So I’m happy with that. Thanks to the nice folks at Tor, this is Mormama. Enjoy!

Mormama cover

Sometimes the past doesn’t like to let go. The Ellis house has been standing for three generations, a rotting shrine to fabulous wealth and festering greed.  The house keeps its own, drawing them back when they try to escape. Lane escaped once, until her husband walked out on her and her son. She had to go back to the house that nearly devoured her as a child. Memory less, Dell can only hope that the card in his pocket will take him home to the Ellis house and a family that could be his. Theo, Theo wants out, away from the elderly Aunts who haunt the house like a trio of ghosts, away from his mom being stuck unable to care for either of them, and away from the thing that whispers to him at night. Away from the Mormama who tells him about the house’s tragedies and the darkness that presses in on its residents. Sometimes the past doesn’t like to let go. Sometimes it refuses to.

Southern gothic isn’t a genre I’ve done much with before. Based on Kit Reed’s Mormama, it’s not quite horror, and it’s not quite genre literature, but somewhere between the two. There’s a lot of almost character versus atmosphere going on and, more than that, a character versus past thing. I really dug both of those aspects. The downside to how atmospheric and into how trapped the characters feel by their situations is that the book can be very easy to put down.

So, what do I mean by that? Part of the atmosphere for the book was this sort of floating hopelessness. It seeped into little corners of the characters lives and pulled them more tightly to the house. Lane wants out as soon as possible, but she can’t find a job to allow that. Dell wants his past back, wants to know where he came from, but he’s so desperate for it to be this one version of him that he can’t accept anything else. He also can’t bring himself to use the one source he has that might tell him everything. Even the Aunts are trapped in their past and the bitterness they have over merely being caretakers of the house rather than the belles they had been in their youth. It’s both something that slows down the book and cuts its readability and also, ultimately, really cool.

That’s kind of my feeling on a lot of the book ultimately. It’s a slow read with a lot of bits that don’t feel super important to the story but that absolutely build the characters and atmosphere. Which makes for an interesting read. I do feel like some of the supernatural bits could have been tied in better, but that’s a little thing for the most part. The fairly slow pace over can make the ending feel a little too fast, but that’s not a huge deal, that little too fast can also make it feel cataclysmic. It’s a scale thing I guess. I actually don’t have a ton to say about this one so on to the score I guess?

Like I said earlier, southern gothic isn’t a genre that I have a ton of experience with. That’s part of why I don’t have a ton to say about it. There’s also a lot of almost fiddly bits that would probably count as spoilers, so I’m not talking a ton about those. That said, I did quite enjoy this book. While it can get slow at points that works for the overall feel of it. I’m giving Mormama a four out of five and would read Kit Reed again.

As promised, I’ve got a review for you all. This one comes from Bold Strokes Books via netGalley. Enjoy!

The Girl on the Edge of Summer cover

Micky Knight has taken on two cases, one to pay the bills and the other because she feels she has to. The first has a rich out of towner wanting her to solve a murder from a hundred years ago, research at the most. The other was brought to her by a grieving mother, looking for why her daughter killed herself. It doesn’t look like either case is going to have a happy ending, if she can find an ending at all. But secrets seldom keep and, as Mickey will find out, the lives of teens rarely simple.

The Girl on the Edge of Summer by J. M. Redmann is something of a cozy mystery, high on personal character drama and low on plot. The protagonist, Micky Knight, is mired in her feelings over her girlfriend leaving her and her friends all acting strange. The book doesn’t seem interested in the plot for the most part. None of this adds up to a particularly compelling read. I would also feel remiss in not mentioning that this is the ninth book in the series, and I do think that a lot of my issues with the book tie into that in one way or another.

A big part of jumping in on a later book in a series is that I’ve missed everything that came before this book. The entirety of Micky’s character development, the entirety of the relationship she’s mourning the loss of, I have none of that. So my first impression is of a character who is such a downer that it became a slog to get through the book at times. She just felt so sorry for herself and the book got mired in that. Plus, there was a lot of stuff that felt like early series character development stuff, stuff that’s important to shaping who Micky Knight is meant to be. But given the general downer vibe of the book and how often it was repeated, it just felt like Micky looking for more things to be sad about. She’s down on herself, on the women she meets online, on her friends, and even on the people who hired her. It gets tiring.

Was there anything in this book that I enjoyed? The parts where Micky actually does her job, particularly the parts with her doing research for the rich guy’s case, were pretty solid. The Micky Knight working in the library trying to find out what happened to this guy’s ancestor was almost a different character, one I’d be interested in reading more. She was invested in what she was doing and talking to people without the self pity from the rest of the book. I would have really liked to see more of this part. It might count as a mild spoiler but I also liked that, towards the end at least, Micky seemed to realize that she was being a downer and started trying to fix that. It’s not enough to save the book for me but I appreciate that it’s there.

So, wrap up time. I feel like I would have enjoyed this book a little bit more if I’d read the first eight books. Having not, the book is a slog with an unlikeable main character and a habit of not caring about its own story. This is one of the few books I’ve seriously considered just not finishing. Which is a shame, because when J. M. Redmann writes well she writes really well, unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of that in this one.  The Girl on the Edge of Summer gets a one out of five.

The Sitter

Hey, guess who’s reviewing a fourteen year old book! This gal! So, yeah, there might be some spoilers here. I tried to avoid them, but this was surprisingly hard to talk about without getting into what, specifically, made my reactions happen. I got really hung up on one thing, guess what it was. That’s pretty well it though. I’ll have another post up probably tomorrow or Friday. For now, enjoy!

the-sitter-cover

Ellie Saks is at the end of her lease, the end of her temp job, and the end of her patience with her mother and her ex-boyfriend turned stalker Clay. So, she jumps at the opportunity to leave the city behind for a trip to the Hamptons for a summer of fun away from it all. A stroke of luck even lands her a babysitting job and place to stay. That luck turns sour though when someone starts sending her threatening notes and disturbing gifts. With a disturbed child to care for, a stalker on the loose, and a ghost story unfolding with her in the middle of it can Ellie figure out what’s going on or even survive her summer as the sitter?

Not going to lie, I didn’t enjoy The Sitter. This is one of those books that feels so, so like a lot of the books I have tremendous nostalgia for but with all the nostalgia stripped away and a painful attempt at retargeting its readership. See, R. L. Stine does a great job with teen horror, particularly cheesy teen horror. His books can be very formula and very like a B horror movie, but they tend to be fun and quick and you know what you’re getting in to when you pick one up. That’s sort of the case here and with a few changes this could have been a pretty standard Fear Street book. That’s part of the problem though, with The Sitter Stine tries too hard to make his book “adult” and it feels very forced. There’s a fair amount of profanity, some drinking, a really gross sex scene, drug use is mentioned, but it all feels like someone reminded Stine that he was writing for grownups after the book was already finished, so he just threw that all in.

So, that said, what made me dislike this book other than the audience related weirdness? There are a lot of things that get a pass in teen novels that shouldn’t and don’t in adult novels, this book for example had terrible foreshadowing. Early on, we find out about Ellie’s cat, he’s sweet and trusting and she misses him so because she couldn’t have him in her apartment. Yeah, he didn’t make it to the end of the book. The problem with that is twofold. Stine’s used killing the beloved family pet to gain a quick cheep hit to the feels before, several times actually, so as soon as the cat gets mentioned you know what’s going to happen. It’s a similar thing with the big twist at the end. It also ties into my next big issue.

A ton of terrible stuff happens between Lucky’s introduction and Lucky’s plot appointed death, but Ellie doesn’t seem to take that into account. The book’s plot was almost entirely reliant on the protagonist making stupid choices. Again, a lot of those choices would have made more sense in a book with a teenaged protagonist rather than one in her twenties both because relative youth and because a teen protagonist could be stuck being the sitter rather than it being a summer job. This bit is really hard to go into without spoilers, but our protagonist gets death threats and vile stuff mailed to her. She stays, doesn’t even talk to the police after like the second thing. Not for the threats, or her cat getting killed, or her stalker ex showing up and threatening her. Most of the tension in the book relies on the reader having never read R. L. Stine before and Ellie being an idiot.

Add to that, The Sitter has a ton of stuff going on that doesn’t seem to go anywhere until the end. There are chapters from the antagonist’s view point. They could have been cut entirely. There was a side plot about some curse on the guest house. That could have been cut. Clay probably should have been cut, he doesn’t really add much to the story and is basically made of cringe. The cat could have been cut, he was a completely pointless inclusion. Any of that could have been removed to tighten up the main plot and work the twist in better.

Those are my big issues with the book, everything else kind of spins off of those. It had a twist ending, but that was completely unsupported by the rest of the book. The only reason I didn’t see it coming was that it was so completely out of left field it came from another game entirely. It’s silly in the grand scheme of things, but this book made me angry. There were so many places where Stine could have done better, could have not done the blatantly obvious thing, could have shored up the writing instead of going into another side plot. This book gets a one, as much for what it could have been as for what it is.

Broken Red

I’m back with a couple reviews for you guys. Quick thing with this one, I received the book through my job. It was printed in store at the Brookwood Books-A-Million on our Espresso Book Machine and can be found here, or by ordering it in store.

Who do you trust when the person closest to you might be a murderer? Tegan Kelly has been running from her traumatic childhood for as long as she can remember. When her mother is found murdered her life is thrown into chaos and the killer might be much closer than she thinks. As the body count rises will she be able to protect her family or will she fall prey to a mad man who knows too much.
So Heather Avello’s Broken Red is kind of a mish mash book for me. On the one hand, the blurb promises a murder mystery thriller with a heroine who can’t know who to trust because the killer is someone super close to her. On the other hand, the book gets bogged down in a romance side plot that really didn’t do anything for me and that I feel could have been cut dramatically without damaging the story. On the inexplicable third hand, I’d have probably been more into the romance side plot if the murder mystery main plot had connected it’s events better in the beginning of the book.
Where to begin, because there are a couple of big things that I think could have taken this from being okay to being pretty good. The big separation between the main and side plots is probably the easier thing to address. It actually feels in a lot of ways like this is two separate books featuring the same characters but with very different stories. In the main plot Tegan is a woman who’s had essentially every horrific back story element thrown at her, but she’s kept going despite that, and now there seems to be a murderer after her family. Her husband is a cheating jerk who isn’t there for their three kids or her and, when things start going weird for her, he immediately blames her for it. Contrasting her husband is Victor Ramirez, the knight in shining armor who’s had it bad for her since forever and who might be hiding something seriously dark. She calls him when she can’t reach her husband; he checks in on her and is there for her, often at her eldest son’s insistence. It’s pretty obvious they’re going to end the book a couple from the start. In the romance plot Tegan’s back story stuff results in a distrust of people that is mentioned, but essentially hand waved for Vic, and Vic despite thinking he’s bad for wanting Tegan is great with her kids and lavishes her with attention and stuff. There’s a distinct disconnect there for me.
The romance side plot is kind of expected since it’s telegraphed from the beginning, but rather than being entwined with the main plot it takes over a significant chunk of the book. The writing changes to match this and the mystery plot mostly disappears for this whole section, it gets brought up a couple of times, but it doesn’t do anything. That feels wrong for me on a couple of levels, the previously mentioned thing about this reading like two different books, and that while a big deal is made about her husband’s cheating being terrible and evidence of him being an awful human being it gets brought up when she and Vic are about to jump in bed but isn’t really treated as a big thing. It’s sort of like she gets a pass because he is terrible to her and the plot doesn’t really care about him, and that’s what doesn’t work for me.
Which kind of brings me back to the inexplicable third hand. See, my big thing here is that the mystery parts, especially the bits later in the book, are legit good for a first time author. They aren’t tied together as well as they deserve though, in part because the romance plot intrudes, but it’s pretty easy to see where the connections could have been made. There are bits that could have been included earlier to bolster the overall story and to tighten up the writing, things that are introduced at the last second could have been hinted at or hinted at more strongly. The biggest problem created by this is that it makes the murderer seem right out of left field and badly supported by the story itself. The lack of things being tied together does lead to a couple of hanging plot threads, but I’m thinking those were deliberate to set up a sequel.
Where does this leave me? The romance is bad and our protagonists’ characterization can be a little all over the place, but when the writing focuses on the mystery it’s pretty good. I would definitely want to see more build up to the climax in the next book and less focus on the protagonists’ love lives, definitely more foreshadowing the antagonist’s identity. It’s a good freshman effort and I think that Ms. Avello will improve greatly as she continues writing so, from me, Broken Red gets a three out of five.

Guest Post: Tom Doyle

Blending Magic and Technology in The Left-Hand Way.

The second book in my American Craft series, The Left-Hand Way, is a new set of adventures for the magician-soldiers and psychic spies I call “craftsmen.” These craftsmen are armed with both spells and bullets, and my books have been described as fantasy techno-thrillers. This sounds like a contradiction in terms. Fantasy is associated with magic and supernatural creatures. The techno-thriller is associated with gritty, concrete details of the latest gadgetry, weaponry, and military/intelligence practices. How did I go about combining these disparate story forms of magic and tech?

One way these elements fit together in my series is, paradoxically, through the tension and conflict between their world views. The fantasy perspective allows for a critique of our reliance on tech and may reaffirm the continued importance of personal trust and connection. For instance, the villain of The Left-Hand Way has a preternaturally augmented ability to interfere with the texts, voicemails, and other communications of the heroes. The heroes are nonetheless able to find and help each other because of their mutual knowledge and trust, yet they also have a lot of low-tech self-reliance when isolated from modern networks.

The technological perspective may in turn provide a critique of the elitist or anti-democratic elements that are inherent in many fantasy tropes. With magic in the possession of an aristocratic few, my mundane authorities have a continuous problem of keeping even loyal practitioners in check. As much as I may sympathize with the perspective of my magical heroes, it’s easy to see that their very existence could pose a threat to democratic institutions.

The conflict between these elements comes to a head with the problem of life extension. Up until now in my cryptohistory, the quest for practical immortality has been the monopoly of evil practitioners, the so-called Left Hand.  But as technology increases, so does the prospect of significantly enhanced life spans for all. Why should my characters continue to forego immortality or other magical abilities that may be available to everyone through technology within a generation or two? In our real world, should financial elites forego certain post-human technologies or alterations, at least until they are generally available? Such questions lead to the corruption of the craft secret services, and will continue to haunt my third book, War and Craft.

But of course, the merging of fantasy and technology in my series can’t be exclusively through their conflict; they must also dovetail cooperatively to fit into the same world. Part of how I keep the fantasy elements in line with a “realistic” techno-thriller tone for my novel is by excluding any nonhuman magical entities. I’m as big a fan of a good vampire, werewolf, or elf tale as the next fantasy reader, but some techno-thriller fans will tune out of a story that includes such creatures.

Another way that I keep the story tone appropriate for a techno-thriller is how I handle the magic itself. First, rather than contradicting what we know of the world, my magic system largely fits beneath the facts of science and history, and my modern characters think of magic in the language of technology. The protagonist of my first book, Dale Morton, describes his spells as skewing the probabilities of events rather than running directly contrary to natural law. Certain uncanny incidents in American history, such as how George Washington’s army was saved at Brooklyn Heights, are almost as well-explained by magic as anything else. Arthur C. Clarke wrote that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” but what my characters think is that any sufficiently advanced magic is also indistinguishable from technology.

Also, the magic in my series has limitations similar to other armaments. It has logistical issues: craftspeople find it easier to recharge their power on home ground. Magic is also like a normal physical ability. A well-rested and healthy craftsperson will have more power than one who hasn’t slept or is wounded.

For my practitioners, magic is not viewed as contradicting their religious or other beliefs and practices. Craftspeople come from the full spectrum of belief or non-belief. For my modern-day Puritan protagonist of book two, Major Michael Endicott, magic fits within his ideas of Christian prayer. In terms of ritual language, simple words in the native tongue of the practitioner often work best, so long as the mind is properly focused.

A last component of having my supernatural elements fit into a techno-thriller context is the realism of my locations. In The Left-Hand Way, my characters are scattered across the globe in cities such as London, Tokyo, and Istanbul. I can make my far-flung settings seem real to the reader because I’ve been to most of them, and I think the spells in a location seems more concrete when the sights and smells are true.

Thanks to Tympest Books for inviting me here. If you like to find out more about The Left-Hand Way and my other stories, please go to www.tomdoylewriter.com.

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Tom Doyle is the author of the American Craft fantasy series from Tor Books. In the first book, American Craftsmen, two modern magician soldiers fight their way through the legacies of Poe and Hawthorne as they attempt to destroy an undying evil–and not kill each other first. In the sequel, The Left-Hand Way, the craftsmen are hunters and hunted in a global race to save humanity from a new occult threat out of America’s past. Tom’s collection of short fiction, The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories, includes his WSFA Small Press Award and Writers of the Future Award winners. He writes science fiction and fantasy in a spooky turret in Washington, DC. You can find the text and audio of many of his stories on his website.

So, I’m back after only, what two months now?  I’m not dead.  A little zombified sure, but not dead.  So, behind schedule as always, being crushed slowly by work and classes and all that.  Nothing big, just the usual.  But I do have a review for you lovely people, isn’t that exciting.  Here we go and don’t mind the rust.

Amateur detective Anne Marshall and her fiancé Jason Perry are headed down to Florida for Thanks Giving vacation with his parents only to find that his mother’s best friend Maude has been murdered.  The only clue is a fragment of a nursery rhyme pinned to her shirt.  “Pocket full of poesies.”  Anne dives into the mystery, finding out that the victim’s brother had been killed months earlier with a similar note attached to his body.

Jackie Fullerton’s Ring Around the Rosy is, at its core, a book that doesn’t seem to quite know what it is.  It combines the out matched heroine of a cozy mystery with urban fantasy’s just kind of there magic with a romance novel’s dead end love triangle.  Anne makes for an interesting heroine because she knows that she shouldn’t be digging into the police’s investigation.  Her friends tell her not to, her dead father tells her not to, but she does it anyway apparently because she’s the heroine.  So she stumbles around trying to figure out what could cause someone to try to wipe out an entire family.  And of course she’s torn between the comfortable love that she has with her fiancé and the shock of lust she feels for Detective Reynolds.  She’s also teamed up with her father’s ghost who, despite later in the novel revelations about the nature of the other side, seems to mostly exist to be a plot dump and to comfort her about her attraction to Detective Reynolds.  So the book kind of feels mushed together between several genres in ways that don’t really work for me.

The villains are also a bit of a problem.   Carl Martin is teamed up with his own ghost, Jeremiah, in trying to murder this family.  This could have been awesome if the protagonists had been aware of Jeremiah earlier in the novel.  As it stands, Carl is being pushed to take revenge for Jeremiah because of their mutual dead families and grief, but Carl and the reader are the only ones aware of Jeremiah for the first three quarters of the book.  It makes it impossible for the protagonists to figure much out, so they spend pages and pages spinning their wheels until accidents happen to move the plot along.  Plus, again, Anne’s father was following people to find out as much as he could why, after they identified Carl, wasn’t he aware of the other ghost?  Especially given that Jeremiah seems to have known everything he needed to regardless of whether he should’ve or not.

Given all that, Ring Around the Rosy winds up being just sort of flatly mediocre.  It isn’t bad even with a few instances of overly romanticized dialogue and plot troubles, but it isn’t good either despite decent side characters and what could honestly be an interesting dynamic between Anne and her father.  So where does this leave me?  I’m honestly not sure.  As I’ve said, it isn’t a bad novel and some of my issues with it almost definitely come from having read it out of sequence, but I don’t think I would read the other two based on this one.  All in all, it’s a three out of five book that could have used some whittling down and focusing on its plot.