Blessed Mayhem by Sue Coletta is filled with suspense

blessed mahem

Blessed Mayhem by Sue Coletta (Crossroad Press, August 9, 2017) is the second book in this author’s Mayhem series, featuring cat-burglar/computer hacker Shawnee Daniels.

I’ve been watching Coletta develop her unique style of storytelling and complicated characters during the past several years, and I’ve become a devoted fan of her fiction. Like any experienced crime writer she begins with a murder. Then she places her protagonist in jeopardy and heaps on the complications. Shawnee is caught, again and again, between a rock and a hard place. Although she’s incredibly resourceful, you just know one of these days she’ll get into trouble she can’t talk or fight her way out of.

Or the people closest to her will be killed, and it will be her fault for placing them in jeopardy.

Nadine, Shawnee’s BFF and roommate, tries to be helpful but usually manages to make things worse. I’ve never known a real librarian to be so clueless. She’s like a cross between Lou Costello and Stan Laurel. If Coletta wants to highlight the differences between the two friends, she’s certainly succeeded. Shawnee has a wisecracking mouth on her that won’t quit. She swears like a sailor and kicks ass. Nadine, on the other hand, won’t even say “shit.” She’ll say “ship” instead. They’re as different as night and day.

Coletta also gives Shawnee Daniels a unique first-person voice while using third-person POV to define Levaughn and Mr. Mayhem. Nadine is such a nay-sayer, she doesn’t deserve a voice.

As in her previous novels, Coletta obviously does lots of research and passes along what she’s learned. Blessed Mayhem includes factual information about crows, crime scene procedures, and the meaning of BLEVE (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion), plus a few choice tidbits about computer hacking.

And kudos to Coletta for heightening the suspense. Just when Shawnee is hip-deep in alligators, she tosses a poison snake—maybe not literally, but close enough for government work—into the pond.

I look forward to the next book in the Mayhem series.

 

Great Mystery, Superb Suspense

The Other Girl

The Other Girl by Erica Spindler (St. Martin’s Press, August 22, 2017) is a great mystery story, expertly crafted.

Miranda “Randi” Rader and Jake Billings, police detectives in rural Louisiana, investigate the murder and mutilation of a college professor. Before Miranda became a cop, she’d been a victim herself of kidnapping and attempted sexual assault. Evidence found at the murder scene leads her to believe the professor, who is also the college president’s son, was the man who abducted her and another girl fourteen years ago.

Spindler builds suspense by piling up more and more evidence that points fingers at the wrong people, including Randi. Is someone trying to frame her for murder? Who? Why?

No one seems to believe Randi (Miranda), except her partner Jake and her best-friend Summer. She’s removed from the case and suspended from the department. She has to hire an attorney because she’s about to be arrested for murder.

Things go from bad to worse. Miranda learns Summer has an inoperable brain tumor and is going to die. Randi’s brother informs her their estranged mother is in the hospital recovering from a heart attack.

And when she and Jake fall in love, it only complicates things even more.

There’s an old saying among suspense writers that when your protagonist is hip-deep in alligators, you should throw a back-biting poisonous snake into the mix to add excitement. Spindler does that in The Other Girl, only she throws in more than one. Miranda doesn’t know (nor does the reader) she’s about to be bit in the butt until the snake strikes.

Great mystery, superb suspense. The Other Girl is a page-turner you won’t be able to put down until the very end.

 

A Perfect Obsession by Heather Graham

a perfect obsession graham

A Perfect Obsession by Heather Graham (Mira, April 2017) is full of surprises. The first surprise is discovery of supermodel Jeanette Gilbert’s body in a crypt below an old church. The second surprise is Kieran Finnegan’s twin brother Kevin is the “Mystery Man” Jeanette’s been secretly dating. The third is FBI special agent, and Kieran’s boyfriend, Craig Frasier being assigned to the case.

And the surprises just keep on coming as one beautiful corpse after another gets unearthed, proving a serial killer is loose beneath the crowded streets of New York City.

Graham loves to include history and geography lessons in each of her novels, blending fact with fiction whenever she can. But this is first and foremost a murder mystery Kieran and Craig must solve before Kieran becomes a victim herself.

It’s no surprise that A Perfect Obsession is part of a series. Graham has fully developed the Finnegan family, the bar they own, and the regulars who frequent Finnegan’s Irish Pub into something special. Kieran’s day job as a forensic psychologist and her night job as a bar maid, Craig’s job as an FBI agent, Kevin’s roles on Broadway and film, and Danny’s tour guide business are icings on the cake (or, in this case, suds on the Guinness). The pub and the city of New York overshadow everything that happens.

An exciting and fun read by a mistress of suspense.

 

Zippered Flesh 3

Zippered Flesh 3: Yet More Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad, edited by Weldon Burge (Smart Rhino Publications, October, 2017), contains nineteen stories, more than half of which are new. Reprints are by Billie Sue Mosiman, William F. Nolan, Jason V. Brock, Jack Ketchum, Graham Masterton, Sandra R. Campbell, and James Dorr.

The book leads with Mosiman’s “Horns, Teeth, and Knobs”, a viciously twisted tale with a shocking ending. Billie Sue is a wonderful writer, and this story showcases her skills. It’ll make you think twice about who your real friends are.

“Upgraded” by Shaun Meeks is about teenaged angst over acquiring the latest and greatest electronic gadget. “Going Green” by Christine Morgan has a similar theme, but it’s as different as night from day, the language rich and verdant, the futuristic gizmos even farther outside the box. “Worm” by Jeff Menapace leaves one feeling hungry. “Reduced to Tears” by Adrian Ludens turns body mutilation into a religious observance, proving less is more. “A New Man” by William F. Nolan tells what bad things might happen if there’s a high-tech software glitch. “Transposition” by Jason V. Brock tells of a face-transplant gone terribly wrong. “The Rose” by Jack Ketchum is about a rose tattoo come to life. “Consume” by Daniel I. Russell is another “less is more” story with scary religious overtones of a supernatural nature.

“All Will Turn to Gray” by Jezzy Wolfe is a remarkable story, textured in rich hues and overtones unlike anything you’ve seen before. “Invisible” by E. A. Black is a meaty tale of repressed anger. “And the Sky was Full of Angels” by L. L. Soares is about coming home from war a changed man. “Shopping Spree” by Meghan Arcuri imagines Photoshopping people. “Closer” by Charles Colyott is a wonderfully poignant and romantic story you really should read. It’s the perfect emotional segue to “Dog Days” by Graham Masterton, another real tear-jerker.

“Switch” by Jasper Bark is extreme horror, very graphic, that may offend some readers. But Krasinski is a real asshole in more ways than one, and he deserves whatever bad juju or bad dodo comes his way. “Hypochondria” by Michael Zeigler tenderly tells of the dangers of medical misdiagnosis and afflictions of the heart. “Gehenna Division, Case #609” by Sandra R. Campbell furnishes a guided tour though Hell. And “Golden Age” by James Dorr celebrates the pioneering tradition that connects past generations with future generations.

My three favorite stories are: “All Will Turn to Gray” by Wolfe, “Horns, Teeth, and Knobs” by Mosiman, and “Shopping Spree” by Arcuri. “Dog Days” by Masterton is also exceptional, and one of the most satisfying stories I’ve read this year. “Going Green” by Morgan is so original, timely, and well-written it deserves special mention (and maybe a Stoker). Kudos to Burge for putting together another fine anthology of cutting-edge fiction.

Since I read an uncorrected ARC of Zippered Flesh 3, I don’t have a  picture of the cover to show you. But the first two covers give you a good idea of what the third will look like.

 

One hell of a weird story! Surreal and spellbinding

what immortal hand

Johnny Worthen’s What Immortal Hand (Omnium Gatherum, October 2017) is one hell of a weird story. It’s the darkest horror I’ve read in a long time.

Michael Oswald stares into the Abyss. He’s already lost his wife, his home, his kids, and now he’s about to lose his job. He feels himself on a slippery slope sliding into nothingness. His self-destruction is nearly complete. He feels as if he has no past, no future. It’s as if time itself plays tricks on him. He loses hours, days, weeks, maybe even years.

He can’t remember his early childhood the way other people can. He can’t even remember half of what happened yesterday. To the world, Michael Oswald is a loser because he values none of the trappings of civilized society. Michael has always been different than others. He believes it’s because he was raised within the foster care system, a ward of the state. He’s had many names, a different last name each time he entered a new foster home, and he has no idea at all who he truly is, who his real parents are, or who raised him during those influential years from three to seven.

Who is he? Where is he? When is he?

What is he?

All his life, it seems, Michael has been aware that there is a caste system—a natural order—at work in the world, even in democratic America. There’s always been haves and have-nots. There’s always been thugs who prey on Travelers. Some people deserve to die and need to be killed as a public service. But, in the end, all living things must die.

If God gives you lemons, get another god. Everyone is born of a Mother, isn’t he or she? And isn’t everyone reborn again and again?

Heh heh.

One hell of a weird story! Surreal and spellbinding. Johnny Worthen’s What Immortal Hand is the darkest tale I’ve read in a long time.

 

 

 

Scottoline Scores Again

Damaged A Novel by Lisa Scottoline

 

Damaged: A Novel by Lisa Scottoline (A Rosato and DiNunzio novel, St Martin’s, August 2016) is full of surprises. It’s also filled with psychological insights. It’s a murder mystery, a thriller, a romance, and offers real information about dyslexia, bullying, the family court system, and Philadelphia.

I became intrigued with Scottoline’s writing after reading her short story in Matchup, the recently published (and reviewed) International Thriller Writer’s anthology. Although Damaged features an emotional Mary DiNunzio instead of the more hardboiled Bennie Rosato, the latter does make a brief appearance.

Scottoline’s attention to detail is legendary. She alters long narrative passages of highly descriptive prose with realistic dialog. She does include several fast-paced action scenes, though most of the novel deals with the day-to-day actions and emotions of sympathetic characters. Machiavelli, however, is a manipulative monster, and there are a couple of other bad guys lurking in the wings. There’s enough tension throughout to keep one engrossed, and surprises keep turning up every few pages to complicate matters.

Planning your own wedding is complicated enough, but when Mary takes on a ten-year-old boy who’s accused of attacking a teacher with scissors as a client her life is turned upside down. She’s accused of murdering the boy’s grandfather to gain custody, has a falling-out with her husband-to-be, is followed by a mysterious man in a brown Subaru, and is physically and emotionally attacked by Machiavelli.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then Mary’s extended family is the perfect village. After all, they raised her, didn’t they?

A five hanky read for mystery lovers.

4MK is a gruesome thriller

the fouth monkey

 

The four wise monkeys of ancient oriental myth — hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil, and do no evil — give the killer in The Fourth Monkey by J. D. Barker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 28, 2017) his name. The 4MK abducts women and sends an ear to the next of kin. Two days later, the victim’s extracted eyeballs arrive in the mail. Then the tongue. Two days after that, 4MK positions the victim’s mutilated body where easily discovered.

Hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil, do no evil. Those are the rules.

Detective Sam Porter, on bereavement leave following his wife’s tragic murder by a convenience store robber, receives a phone call from his partner. The Four Monkeys Killer was accidentally run down this morning  by a Chicago bus on his way to mail an ear of his latest victim to Arthur Talbot, one of the richest men in the city.

Sam’s chased the 4MK for five years. Seven dead girls he couldn’t save. Now it appears Talbot’s illegitimate daughter Emory will be 4MK’s next victim. The clock’s ticking as Sam assembles his task force and tries to find Emory before she dies of dehydration.

The killer’s diary found on the man hit by the bus tells what it’s like to be raised in a family of psychopaths. Barker effectively rotates POV among Porter, Emory, task force members, and the diary. The burning questions become: Is the diary real? Is the dead man the 4MK? Will Emory survive? What did Talbot do to warrant punishment by 4MK? Who killed Heather, Sam’s wife, and what will happen to him?

Set in metropolitan Chicago, the action delves into underground tunnels once used by bootleggers where thousands of rats thrive and Emory may be sequestered. Will she be eaten by rats, die of hydration, or have her eyes and tongue plucked out before 4MK is through with her?

Suspense builds as time runs out. Sam, who was neither able to protect his wife nor the seven previous 4MK victims, is desperate to reach Emory before she perishes.

The Fourth Monkey is as much a great horror novel as a mystery or thriller. Very highly recommended for readers with strong stomachs, insatiable curiosities, and time on their hands because they won’t be able to stop until the very end.