Jim Nesbitt on HOWARD OWEN and Willie Black

WJS_0349Jim Nesbitt is the author of three hard-boiled Texas crime thrillers, The Right Wrong Number, The Last Second Chance and The Best Lousy Choice. All three are available in paperback or Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/author/jimnesbitt


Journalists are a clannish lot, particularly the ones who’ve got ink in their veins and an intimate familiarity with the charms of a hangover that requires a fistful of aspirin chased by the 90-proof dog that bit you the night before.

If you’re of a certain vintage, you hate what has happened to the calling you’ve followed for decades — the clickbait chase, the impermanence of the almighty blog, the primacy of the online edition, the withering layoffs and the elimination of the printed word on paper that stained your fingers and made the news a tactile experience enjoyed daily.

You hang on because this is what you’re good at, hustling after front-page glory for chump change, too proud, too old and too scared to change. You would be a guy named Willie Black, Howard Owen’s protagonist in Oregon Hill, the first of six mysteries that feature this dogged Richmond, Va. reporter.

Willie’s an old-school ink-stained wretch with a smart mouth, a bad attitude, a liquor-cured liver and a trail of broken marriages. He’s on the bad side of forty and demoted from the capitol press corps to once again cover the night cops beat, a place for rookies and burnouts.

But there’s still a lot of rebop in Willie’s game. He’s wily and deceptively tough. He had to be both to survive growing up in Richmond’s most redneck neighborhood as the half-black son of a father he never knew and a dope-addled mother who never met a man she didn’t like.

He’s working the beat when police find the decapitated body of a Virginia Commonwealth University student, a young woman about the same age as Willie’s semi-distant daughter. The cops quickly zero in on the victim’s boyfriend, an older guy who poses as a grad student to score with the seemingly endless supply of far younger co-eds.

One of Willie’s ex-wives is the boyfriend’s attorney and gets Willie in to see her client for an off-record chat. Willie is skeptical at first, but his reporter’s instincts kick in and he starts picking away at the case against the boyfriend — ignoring the orders of his bosses and the advice of the few cops who will talk to him.

Willie can’t help himself. He smells a story and keeps chasing the truth. This is where the author’s long experience as a newspaperman comes into play. Instead of morphing into a super sleuth, Willie remains exactly what he’s always been — a reporter. Owen knows newsrooms and journalists and keeps Willie — and himself — honest. No cheap tricks or shark jumping. This book bleeds authenticity.

Willie’s dogged pursuit inevitably brings him face-to-face with an old Oregon Hill nemesis who is now the homicide detective that put the boyfriend behind bars. There’s also the shadow of a killing that took place in the parking lot of a beer joint forty years ago and the murderous reckoning of an account everybody thought was closed.

Everybody but Willie Black.



If you ever worked at a newspaper, you knew a guy like

Howard Owen

Howard Owen – author

Willie Black. Hard-nosed and obsessed when chasing a story. Hard-drinking whether he was on the hunt or not. More ex-wives, back-street lovers and one-night stands with other reporters than Tanya Tucker’s had hot meals.

A smartass who never knew when to shut up. To bosses, cops or pols. Might get him demoted from the capitol beat to night cops, but he was too good a reporter to fire.

Newsrooms used to be full of guys and gals like Willie. Back when print journalism was lively, vibrant and bawdy fun. Back before newspapers went the way of the buggy whip and the steam locomotive and newsrooms became dead zones of empty desks and survivors doing the jobs of four or five of the departed.

Willie’s old school, pushing 60 and too stubborn and scared to change. Along with last night’s booze, Willie oozes authenticity. Which is why Howard Owen’s most durable character is so compellingly believable, book after book, a tribute to the author’s own ink-stained career.

In Owen’s latest book, Evergreen, Willie’s latest obsessive story chase is his own legacy — the black father he never knew, killed in a one-car wreck on a back road when Willie was a toddler, leaving him to be raised by his white mother in the most redneck enclave in Richmond, Va. He grew up during the deeply segregated early 60’s, when it was illegal for whites and blacks to marry, the Klan was a lethal terror and a mixed-race child was a shameful thing.

Willie, a survivor who has learned to skate through both the white and black world, has never bothered to learn about his father. That changes when Philomena Slade, a dying aunt on his father’s side who Willie reveres like a grandmother, gives him a last request — keep his father’s grave clean, a task she has been performing for decades.

Willie’s father, Artie Black, a jazz sax player and proud black man, is buried in a graveyard called Evergreen. It’s a remote, nearly-forgotten place, a “colored” burial ground overgrown with brush and littered with toppled tombstones — except the graves of a dwindling number of souls who still have family members alive who keep them clean.

At first, Willie reluctantly honors his aunt’s request — but little more. Gradually, curiosity kicks in and he starts asking his mother about his father. Her answers skim the surface as she talks about being smitten by his looks, musical talent and charm, but offer little more.

He tracks down two of his father’s running buddies — old men now who talk about deep friendship and fun times, but also darkly allude to his father’s penchant for trouble and his refusal to bow down to the white man, a fatal flaw in those times.

Willie can smell a story, but every time he pushes a little harder, the old men clam up. There’s a buried secret there and Willie is determined to dig it up, a quest that uncovers murders, betrayal, racist cops, Klansmen and the descendants of men with blood on their hands that want to shut Willie down.

He’s always been willing to pay the price for the truth he seeks. But this time, the cost includes pain and suffering for those Willie loves.



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(An Ed Burch Novel #3)

The Best Lousy ChoiceTake good note of the genre-tag: Hardboiled. Don’t take it lightly.

This, the third in the Ed Earl Burch series, is that in spades. If you can’t take the flow of bodily fluids in all its forms, in sickness and in health until death do they depart, so God help you.

Having followed PI Ed Earl Burch’s Texas boot prints from Dallas late nineteen-eighties to the harsh beauty of the West Texas border country all the way from THE LAST SECOND CHANCE through THE RIGHT WRONG NUMBER to THE BEST LOUSY CHOICE, I see no reason to grind out the spoiler details. But concentrate; there are a lot of characters, well painted with a master’s brush that blends them beautifully with the sunburned rocks, mesquite, horses and rattlers.


Jim Nesbitt – hardboiled author

Someone said Burch has the Old West sense of justice. I’d go with that. He doesn’t hold much truck with modern law, except to adroitly avoid it. He’s middle-aged, physically cracked, psychologically damaged and survives on a sharp brain, a sure .45, lots of whisky (with or without the “e”) and painkillers, and a bit of carnal care. If and when he can keep the nightmares at bay, like when he’s on a survival adrenalin high, he will probably make it through to help Jim Nesbitt provide us hardboiled junkies with a couple more unputdownables.

Loved it, especially the voice; the hard flowing chopped commentary, and the sardonic humour.

ISBN13: 9780998329420.

Published July 9th 2019 by Spotted Mule Press.

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TERROR MACHINE – Denison Hatch

Terror-MachineBoth the author, Denison Hatch, and his protagonist, NYPD detective Jake Rivett, have gone from strength to strength. I enjoyed the previous Rivett adventures a lot, but this tops the three as the determined impulsive investigator goes from undercover cop as a screamo rock band lead singer to an unwitting front-page police celebrity hounded by the press.

A truck full of explosives detonates in Bryant Park in the biggest terror attack since 2011. Jake finds a clue that leads the police to the bogus licence plate maker and the driver of the truck. But Abdul Hayat was a successfully settled immigrant from Pakistan, and there is no sign of militancy or discontent. However, a video of Hayat repeating his mission instructions to a store clerk like a robot convinces Jake that he has been programmed.

Katinka Johanssen has a grudge against her former professor who was obsessed with mind manipulation. She posts video after video denouncing him, and Jake and his fellows start to be convinced that she may be on the right track.

Denison Hatch

Denison Hatch – author

This is more than a satisfactory rip-action thriller, the characters are real to me, too. A modicum of control has begun to influence this loose-cannon cop as he falls in love with, and gets engaged to, Mona, a previous suspect. Rivett’s relationships, with Mona, the members of his band the Mystics, and his fellow officers, are richly brought to life.

And the further good news is that I suspect that this won’t be the last we hear of Jake Rivett!


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BEYOND THE TRUTH – Bruce Robert Coffin


Beyond the truthBruce Robert Coffin’s BEYOND THE TRUTH is a gritty and relentless tale of Detective Sergeant John Byron and his squad of Portland, Maine police investigators on the trail of truth about one of their own — Officer Sean Haggerty, who in the pursuit of two robbers shoots one while the other gets away.

The dead robber turns out to be a high school student and star basketball player. Haggerty thought he saw the muzzle flash of a gun before he fired. No gun is found on the scene and the second robber has disappeared like a ghost.

This sets the stage for a pressure-packed case that cranks up a media frenzy, angry protesters and nasty political infighting within the department and with a mayor determined to score points at police expense to further her political career.

At first, all signs point to bad shoot, which will ruin Haggerty’s career and leave an indelible black mark on the department. But Byron is a grinder who doggedly pushes his squad to dig deeper to find the hidden truth — be it the missing gun and second robber or confirmation that Haggerty shot an unarmed teenager. To lead his squad, Byron must compartmentalize his friendship with Haggerty and his duty to get to the bottom of this case. That’s just the first of many turns of the screw on Byron’s emotions.

It gets worse. An FBI agent lets Byron know that Haggerty, who is also the high school’s resource officer, is a suspect in an ongoing bureau drug case. All leads continue to lead to nowhere. The public’s fury builds. Then Haggerty is shot in a drive-by hit ordered up by convict doing time in the state pen — a bad hombre Haggerty put behind bars.

Bruce Robert Coffin

Bruce Robert Coffin – author

Although Coffin’s latest book is labeled a police procedural, at heart it is a mystery told from the cop’s point of view. The author is a former detective who uses his experience to tell a realistic tale of a high-profile police investigation — without histrionics, but with the unstoppable momentum of a freight train.

There’s plenty of action and knowing details about political infighting and the emotional toll paid by the officers investigating this case. But to find out the meaning of the title, you’re going to have to pick up a copy of Coffin’s latest. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll probably buy his other books.

Jim Nesbitt is the author of three hard-boiled Texas crime thrillers, The Right Wrong Number, The Last Second Chance and The Best Lousy Choice. All three are available in paperback or Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/author/jimnesbitt.




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THE TITANIC SECRET – Clive Cussler & Jack du Brul

BPM_0003An Isaac Bell adventure, #11.

If you shut down your recall of previous Dirk Pitt or Isaac Bell adventures and enjoy this as a pretended one-off, you will probably enjoy it more.

Visiting an excavation near New York to catch a glimpse of a century old submarine, Dirk Pitt risks his life to rescue the ancient machine as the excavation collapses and the river claims it. Due to this Pitt obtains a document which involves Victorian detective Isaac Bell’s tale of his investigation into the death of some Colorado miners who supposedly died after claim-jumping a silver mine which then caved in, back in 1911-12.

The trail leads to France, Russia and England, pitted with death and destruction the best Dirk Pitt would be proud of, pursued by nasty killers all the way.


Clive Cussler

Jack Du Brul

Jack du Brul – author

For instance Isaac is more Dirk Pittish here as action man rather than detective. And while eliminating baddies and leaving their bodies all over the landscape may be believable in the US of A, it just won’t do in England, old chap. The fellow should have been locked up, what?

That said, I enjoyed it. Four stars, at least, but nothing much to do with the Titanic, except as a prequel to Raise The Titanic, a Dirk Pitt classic, which sails before Isaac can get on board… Which is just as well, I suppose.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House SA for this ARC from Penguin/Michael Joseph.

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The RIVER MURDERS – James O. Born & James Patterson

BPM_0005James O. Born may be the “lesser” of this author combo, but I’ve put his name first as this three-story interlink is quite un-Patterson. And that is not always a bad thing as the thriller factory does not always churn out engrossing stuff, unfortunately.

Mitchum, as he likes to be called, is a newspaper deliverer who devotes the rest of his time to helping his small community by some amateur sleuthing. The disappearance of his cousin and the murder of an elderly couple lead him to the discover the site of a secret prison in the mountains.

The second and third stories sprout from these beginnings. I liked the basic interconnected plots, the exciting action flow and the readability. I liked Mitchum’s  character, even if I didn’t always swallow some of the improbable aspects.

James O. Born

James O. Born – author

More improbability was, however, a hallmark of the likelihood of the repercussions to Mitchum as he pursues his leads all the way to Afghanistan. So for a hard-hitting thriller, it’s a four-star, but for a convincing, plausible tale, it might just make a two.

As to where the rivers fit into these stories, I am completely baffled.

Thank you to Penguin Random House – SA for this ARC, an Arrow Books imprint. ISBN 9781787464605.

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FINAL OPTION – Clive Cussler & Boyd Morrison

(Oregon Files #14)

BPM_0004When a powerful and vengeful man hellbent on destroying Juan Cabrillo, Chairman of the Corporation and Captain of the tramp steamer, the high-tech Oregon, builds a ship identical to the Oregon, and which is just as well armed, he has every chance of succeeding. Cabrillo is lured to the waters off the coast of Brazil when three undercover agents are exposed and he is the only resource in the area the CIA can call on to rescue them.

A heart-pounding read: From one narrow escape to the next, Cabrillo soon realises that he has never faced as ruthless an enemy. For every move he makes, his enemy counters the Oregon with ruthless destruction. The only difference between the combatants is Cabrillo’s tried and trusted crew, but even they may not be enough to prevent the final disaster.


Clive Cussler

Boyd Morrison

Boyd Morrison – author

I’m not sure why I liked this one as well as, if not better than, any of its predecessors. But there was something tangibly less flippant about it that had me more involved. I was hooked right up to the unexpected finale.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House, SA for this ARC from Penguin/Michael Joseph.

ISBN 9780241386866.

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BPM_0007In some ways, this is a diversion from what I expect from Andy McNab in that the main character is less of a hardbitten hero than his usual characters. But that probably made him more human for me. I expect a lot of readers will empathise with James Mercer’s crusade vs. The One-percenters, those super-rich who stomp on the fingers of those below them on the ladder of success, and have the legal loophole experts that help them pay no taxes.

Mercer steals from these men in revenge for the financial ruin of his family to compensate for the wrongs they have caused.

Then he is caught by his current target and forced to plan and execute another theft ; a ledger from the premises of another super rich oligarch, one among the many who have erected elaborate hidey-holes in the relative geographical isolation of New Zealand. But nothing is what it seems. As Mercer puts together a team of experts and lies convincingly enough to lure them down under to attempt the theft, to his consternation, his beloved adopted-sister gets involved.

Andy MvNab

Andy McNab – author

The plot twists from one surprise to the next, involving benevolent crusaders and ruthless opponents. A worthwhile read, as good as any of McNab’s previous thrillers. Thank you to Penguin Random House, SA, for this ARC by Bantam Press.

ISBN 9781787630260

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THE GRID – Nick Cook

BPM_0006Harness psychokinetic power and turn it into a weapon. Far fetched Sci-fi nonsense, of course. The stuff of thriller novels…

Or is it nonsense? The personal physician to the US President, a military psychologist, Josh Cain, is called to the scene of a potential suicide as the man asks for him by name. Moments before a sniper’s bullet silences the man, Dr Cain is told of a plot against the President.

POTUS is having nightmares, dreaming of his own death. Cain must find out what is going on before the dreams come true.

Nick Cook

Nick Cook – author

I enjoyed this far out unputdownable thriller. Five-star stuff of great originality, exploring the abilities and possibilities of the psychic mind as a weapon of war.

Highly recommended.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House SA for this ARC from Bantam Press.

ISBN 9781787630383.

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BPM_0002The well-told story concerns how two sisters in early old-age finally manage to understand each other, to forgive, and to love.

South Africa on the cusp of a new beginning as Nelson Mandela moves from prison to President. Brilliant. Poignant. Full of human emotion and, sometimes, huge compassion.

Rape, and all its ramifications for the rest of the women’s lives, is a central theme, complete with HIV and AIDS, superstition, and the damage of ignorance.

A Zulu girl living with her ill mother in a squatter camp near the farm belonging to the two sisters gives birth to her rape induced baby boy. She awakens to find the child gone. Dead, her mother tells her, but it has been left on the doorstep at the farmhouse where one of the sisters wants to keep it to fulfil her yearning for a child of her own after a lifetime of miscarriages.

But the farm is under threat, too. A neighbouring game farm business wants to buy it because it sits between two of their existing farms. When their offer is refused, the white racists try terror tactics, and the sisters harbouring a black baby is enough to whip up the community anger.

It is the story of three women of courage against the backdrop of the birthing pains of a new South Africa. A story of fighting back against prejudice, racialism and ignorance.

Bianca Marais

Bianca Marais – author


If you want to make God laugh, then tell him your plans…

I swallowed big lumps, and cried not a little. A beautifully written tale that will surely be a classic one day soon.

Thanks to Penguin Random House SA for this ARC.

ISBN 9780735219311

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