Top notch five star pure Reacher.

The Midnight Line

Out to stretch his legs on a bus-ride to Anywhere, ex-Army MP drifter, Jack Reacher, notices a Westpoint class ring in a pawnshop window. The implications that such a hard earned symbol of blood sweat and tears could have been stolen or pawned has Reacher setting off to track down the obviously female owner. He abandons the bus ride in favour of trouble, something that he finds like a diviner.

The journey from pawnshop to middlemen to seller is intriguing, logical, hard-hitting and philosophical in the best Lee Child tradition.

The POV slips from his search progress in the company of an ex-FBI Private Investigator who specialises in missing persons, to a female cop with her eye on a slithering drug dealer that nobody can pin down. There is a middle period of the story without much frenetic action which doesn’t detract from the tension but rather draws it out beyond what seems like breaking point.

Lee Child 1

Lee Child, author

Reacher is definitely back after a short break of mediocrity.

For a man who is usually yawning at nine, I was glued ‘til after midnight, which might just make that title very meaningful.


Thanks to PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE, South Africa for this ARC for whom I have given this honest review.


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Midnight at the BRIGHTAn original tale of a mysterious suicide in a bookseller’s shop, involving intense bibliophiles; both those that man the shop and those that inhabit the shelves to feed their habit but seldom can afford to buy.

Lydia, who has returned to the town that once was the scene of her nightmare childhood, had formed a bond with a Bookfrog – one of those almost-homeless that consistently find solace and succour between the book covers – Joseph Molino. When he hangs himself between the bookshelves on the 3rd floor, and Lydia finds his body within minutes of him taking his life, she is devastated. Very slowly, she is presented with clues that lead her to messages from Joseph himself, and to find out why he took his own life, she must follow them.

Her father, who had fled the town after the bloody murder of a family by the Hammerman, where Lydia herself was present but spared, joined the prison service. As he withdraws into himself, he no longer supplies the comfort she needs and craves. They become estranged. She knows that the investigator, who never found the identity of the killer but always believed that it was her father, hasn’t given up when he contacts her again to find out if she has remembered anything more from that ghastly night.

Her childhood friend, Raj, comes back into her life, both complicating it as well as being a comforting support, but the shocking truth begins to emerge even as Lydia starts to solve Joseph’s messages. These are intricately clever, but I found them a slightly unnecessary embellishment.

Matthew Sullivan.jpg

Matthew Sullivan, author

Be that as it may, this was a good read; tense and well-twisted, as the past and the present begin to intertwine.

Thank you to  for the ARC to which this review is a frank and honest appraisal.

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TATE DRAWDY – Michael Ludden




Like a tasty meat-and-three plate at a Southern diner, there’s something simple and satisfying that sticks to the reader’s ribs in the straight-up way author Michael Ludden serves up his latest hard-boiled crime thriller, TATE DRAWDY.

This is a prequel to Ludden’s first crime novel, ALFREDO’S LUCK, the book that introduced readers to Drawdy as a loose-cannon, take-no-prisoners Miami-Dade County detective. That book was a sweeping and violent tale with a host of characters and a complex plot that portrayed the nasty politics of Miami’s Cuban exiles and captured the high and sleazy weirdness of Florida without diving into caricature.

In this book, Ludden writes a leaner more linear story about Drawdy’s earlier years as a young detective in Savannah, a rich boy from Atlanta who decided to become a cop instead of following the easier and more comfortable course his parents had in mind for him. Drawdy is still learning his trade from an older mentor, Jimmy Patterson, but shows flashes of the smarts, the penchant for violence and the instinctive full-bore pursuit of his quarry seen in the author’s first book.

He’s also a wiseass, the kind of guy who pisses people off just by walking into a room, then doubles down by being blunt and refusing to back down or compromise. There’s no go-along-to-get-along in Tate Drawdy and it gets him in early trouble with some corrupt cops on the force, providing one of the main threads to this violent tale. It also gets him shot at and beat up — a lot.

The other thread runs through the murder of Precious Gardner, a young black woman, picked up while walking home from the Piggly Wiggly by four drifters who toy and torture her before stabbing her to death. The drifters are led by a megalomaniacal psychopath named John Robert Griffin, who quickly singles out Drawdy for adversarial attention of the personal kind.

Michael Ludden, author

Michael Ludden, author

Throw in the double murder of a priest and his teenaged girl lover, Griffin’s escape from a doctor’s office and Drawdy’s pursuit of the killer to his hometown near Pittsburgh, where the young cop meets a crew of retired detectives who like to keep a hand in the law enforcement game, and you’ve got a rollicking tale with plenty of gunplay, suspense, ribald banter and plot twists that brings you to the final chapter way too soon.

Ludden has created a winning character in Drawdy. Pick up both of his books and hope he writes another one real soon.


JIM NESBITT – reviewer and author of hard-boiled crime fiction.

Alfredo's luck

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A sharp, to-the-point review by BARB ETTRIDGE.

Nothing Save the Bones Inside HerClayton Lindemuth brings post-war Pennsylvania into stark focus with the voice of each character who brings brutal honesty to what is a dark tale of how fate, greed and anger can destroy your life and those who cross your path.The storyline twists like a furious serpent as each shocking event unfolds – shocking, but all so plausible, as each has been set up beautifully.

Re-reading what you can’t believe just happened simply confirms the masterful seeding of small details that fester and then erupt.

Clayton Lindemuth

Clayton Lindemuth

This is a book written in a deceptively spare style where everything matters and just when you think the rabbit hole can’t get any deeper, it does.





Barb Ettridge 2



Barb Ettridge, author and reviewer.

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A REVIEW by JIM NESBITT, author of the gritty Ed Earl Burch thriller Series.


PR 2016 eBook cover


The hallmark of a Peter J. Earle novel is the vivid and evocative sense of place he effortlessly weaves into the fabric of his story. For Earle, the place is southern Africa and one of his earlier novels, PURGATORY ROAD, is a shining example of a singular skill other authors would be wise to develop.

The story is a classic noir fugitive tale of John Stafford, a South African farm supply salesman who, in a raging impulse, murders two crooked traffic cops who catch him in a late-night speed trap and strong-arm him for a bribe. Nerves rubbed raw by the pain of a wayward wife and fear of a sudden end to his career, he shoots both rogue cops dead with a Smith and Wesson .38 revolver.bullet2


Peter J. Earle

Horrified by what he’s done and knowing it will only be a matter of time before police track him down, Stafford, a veteran of the South African army who saw combat in Angola, makes plans to stage his own death and assume the identity of a distant cousin to flee to Rhodesia and join the fight against black nationalists.

Stafford is a product of his times — born in South Africa well before the end of apartheid and white-minority rule in that country, drawn to again take up arms to defend white-minority rule in Rhodesia as a death-wish penance for his horrible crime. Earle makes no apologies for Stafford being on the wrong side of history and portrays the time and place of his novel with unblinking frankness and the same absence of apologia.

Earle keeps the story focused on Stafford’s flight from the law — in this instance, a friend who has been assigned to solve what rapidly becomes a cold case as his final duty before leaving the force to spend more time with his dying father. Stafford’s scheme to stage his own death is complicated by an unexpected affair with an Australian scuba diver and the return of the wayward wife.

His expectation of joining the Rhodesian army is detoured when he is befriended by Colonel Barnes, the head of a cattle ranching family with extensive holdings and saves them during a guerilla ambush, getting wounded in the process. Barnes takes him on to run one of the fortified section compounds on his ranch, a job that melds the post of ranch foreman and security force leader into one, neatly tapping Stafford’s military and civilian experience.

However, the colonel and his sons don’t buy Stafford’s cover story or his assumed identity. They’re torn between valuing his loyalty and bravery and suspicions that he is a fugitive who has committed a serious crime. Back home, the old friend doggedly pursues the cold case, slowly closing in on a man he thinks is dead.

Stafford knows he is caught in a vice and that’s what makes this such a classic noir tale. Earle deftly ratchets up the fear and pressure while masterfully bringing to life one country well before its dramatic change and another that no longer exists. That’s what makes PURGATORY ROAD such a crackling read. 


Jim Nesbitt, author

Jim Nesbitt

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An entertaining well-plotted police procedural which grabbed me from page one and didn’t let go.

 Life interupted by Death

This introduces Superintendent Veronica Reason, a tough clever determined investigator dealing with the intricate weave of two criminal threads. One concerns corruption in the British Police hierarchy and the other the murder of a beautiful young woman, strangled but smiling. The victim’s phone leads the investigating team to a dozen select sexual customers who need to be eliminated one by one until they are left with a randy priest who has been found guilty of embezzlement by the Bishop, defrocked and expelled, forced to survive on the streets of a northern city.

When his DNA does not match that left at the crime scene, the team must look elsewhere and find themselves on the trail of an unbelievable suspect. On the brink of an arrest, the trail twists yet again.

The detecting detail is competently effective as well as intriguing. However, that the same attention, when it is paid to the gastronomic intake of Subway offerings and coffee amongst other stuff, it becomes a tad tedious, which is my only criticism. The detail of living homeless on city back-streets is interesting but too much detail was given to that particular red herring. That the flow is so smooth and readable, however, made this less of an irritation that it might have been.

 The leading characters are very likeable and as a series I would decidedly enjoy meeting up with them again. The attached taster of the first chapter of the second in the series was a good move, and if I didn’t get my ARC’s free, I would definitely snap up this dish and look for the next course!

Jefferson Merrick

Robin Peacock, alias Jefferson Merrick, author


I selected this Free ebook from a bunch of possibles and was delighted that this one was worth a review here. This author merits a lot more reviews, the staff of life for writers.


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South California PurplesAt their best, the Western and the hard-boiled crime novel are distinctly American art forms that rise above the conventions of genre, the clash of good guys and bad guys and the word maze of the whodunit.

They hit this literary high ground when their authors tell a tale that not only entertains the reader, but provides trenchant and penetrating commentary and observations on everything from politics and the foibles of social expectations to music, the culture of a time and place, the frequently dicey interplay between men and women and the impact of the land on the people trying to wrest a living from it.

Chalk up Baron R. Birtcher’s South California Purples as a book that punches well above the weight of a crime thriller or modern-day Western. And let’s settle something right here — this book is more of the latter than it is the former, although enough bad deeds, violence and mayhem take place to give it a hard-boiled edge.

At the heart of Birtcher’s grim tale is rancher Ty Dawson, a Korean War veteran with a dark and troubled history that is obliquely hinted at. He wants to be left alone to punch cattle on his family ranch, the Double Diamond, tucked in the river valleys and mountains of southern Oregon and fictional Meriwether County. And those cattle are what give the novel its title — a breed so deeply black they have a purplish tint when the sun hits them just right.

Dawson is old school in his ranching — wouldn’t be caught dead rounding up cattle with a chopper. A third-generation rancher, he’s also old school in his sense of duty to his family, the land and the way of life he and his neighbors have carved from this special place.

Those values set him up to be badgered by a smarmy sheriff into taking on a job he doesn’t want — the deputized lawman charged with keeping the peace in the southern end of the county. The sheriff is cagey and plays up the threat of bikers, dope dealers and violent agitators drawn to a grassroots protest over a Bureau of Land Management roundup of wild mustangs for sale and almost certain slaughter.

The story is set in 1973, the year Saigon fell and the American economy was poleaxed by the Arab oil embargo. President Richard Nixon was caught in the glare of the Watergate scandal and federal agents and Native Americans clashed during the bloody occupation of the Wounded Knee, South Dakota reservation by the American Indian Movement.

The Kennedys and Martin Luther King are dead and America is torn ragged by a decade of often-violent turmoil over the Vietnam war and civil rights. It was a time when Americans were sharply divided and learned to distrust their leaders, turning deeply cynical about the country’s future.

This is where Birtcher hits the high ground, in the telling of these events through Dawson’s eyes and the rancher’s desire to protect his family, his ranch and his rural community from the turmoil he sees tearing up the country he loves. At the same time, Dawson is no law-and-order reactionary. He values the rights of the protesters to speak their mind and demonstrate their opposition to the mustang roundup, no matter how much he thinks they and the local political activist who organized the protest are wrong-headed and naïve.


Baron R. Birtcher, author

Birtcher’s prose is lean and semi-terse, but lyrical in his descriptions of the land and the tumult of the times. His style also serves him well in describing Dawson reluctantly stepping into his tin star role and the rapid escalation of violence that unfolds, from the murder of one of his ranch hands on the far reaches of his ranch to the grisly murder of two young men filming a documentary about the protest and Dawson’s confrontations with a biker gang that include a barroom shootout.

He serves up some rough, Old West justice that stops just short of hot lead when he and two of his deputized ranch hands take down the bikers at a local motel where the lawmen find a local girl getting gang raped. That arrest will have violent consequences aimed at Dawson, his wife and his college-age daughter.

Throughout the story, Dawson is very much an Old West lawman sticking to his code and his sense of right, wrong and duty as he wades through the corruption, incompetence and bankrupt morals of modern times. He has a strong sense that he is being set up as a patsy by unseen hands that are part of a larger conspiracy that involves state and federal officials. It is a hunch underscored by the appearance of a chopper-riding ex-Navy SEAL who backs his play during the barroom shootout and makes cryptic references to forces larger than Dawson.

Unlike far too many authors these days, Birtcher keeps a tight rein on the conspiracy angle and the actions of unseen and shadowy government players, keeping both the narrative and the action firmly centered on Dawson, his family and his ranch hand stalwarts. That reinforces the Old West feel of a novel set at the dawn of New West times, with a character in Ty Dawson who echoes a Gary Cooper striding down a dusty street alone at high noon.

The author provided Jim Nesbitt a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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A true Whodunnit with more twists than hawser. Pack a picnic life support and get stuck in. Catheter optional.

If I die tonight - Gaylin_0001.jpg

The treasured car of an aging pop star runs down and kills a teenage boy one wet early morning. His phone cam shows his last moments and the singer declares that the lad was a hero, trying to help her when her car had been hijacked by another teenager in a dark hoodie. The boy/man had been trying to sell her drugs after she left a gig where she had been performing. Investigating cops, Pearl and Bobby don’t believe her.

Jacqueline is a divorced mother of two teenagers. Wade is the elder, a loner, a talented artist. Conner, 13, is woken by Wade in the early morning of the incident, dressed in wet dark clothes and instructed to get rid of a bag in a remote dumpster and not breathe a word to anyone. Wade is becoming increasingly unpopular with his school fellows and the social media turns increasingly nasty and suppositions become facts until Wade becomes a suspect in the homicide.

Conner is also subjected to increasing pressure by association; pressure he is afraid will overcome the trust and loyalty he has for his brother.


Alison Gaylin, author.

Helen is Jacqueline’s fellow worker and best friend. Her daughter, once Wade’s girlfriend, has dumped him. As Jackie battles with Wade’s increasingly weird behaviour, and his refusal to defend himself, she must battle with her belief in her son and while she relies heavily on Helen’s serene support as the community’s suspicion of Wade mounts.

New clues surface to cast doubt on the innocence of not only the old singer, but other players as well until Gaylin slaps us with the shocking final twist. Her characters are warmblooded with natural foibles, weaknesses, strengths and addictions. With some, integrity wins the day while others slide into ruthless self preservation.

Five-star recommendation for this one. The pace is whip crack, the clues keep coming and the agony of a loyal mother’s doubts is so real. Keep ‘em coming, Alison Gaylin.

Thanks to Penguin Random House, South Africa for the ARC. Herewith this honest review.

ISBN 978-1-78-089637-3.



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BLONDE ICE – R.G. Belsky


Blonde Ice Cover

Dick Belsky’s Blonde Ice is a classic, fast-paced thriller that serves up it’s sex-laced mayhem straight up and strong, like a double-shot of bourbon, easing the burn with wry humor and wisecracks from the story’s narrator and protagonist, star New York reporter Gil Malloy.


Malloy finds himself not only chasing the big story of a homicidal rarity — a knockout blonde serial killer preying on wayward husbands she lures to their deaths — but also reliving the scandal that nearly wrecked his career and cost him his marriage to his ex-wife Susan.

The scandal he barely survived is revived when the wife of the killer’s first victim comes calling at the offices of the Daily News to ask Malloy to help find her missing husband shortly before his body is found stabbed to death in a mid-town Manhattan hotel. Her name is Victoria Issacs and her husband was a prominent corporate attorney. They lived in a townhouse on Sutton Place and had two beautiful children.


Malloy knows her by a different name — Houston, a legendary New York prostitute desired by every high-roller in the city during her carnal heyday. He wrote a sensational profile of Houston that had only one flaw — he never met her or interviewed her. He strung together interviews from people who claimed they knew her and made it seem like the quotes and anecdotes came from Houston herself — a huge journalistic transgression he somehow survived.

Malloy agrees to help her and again compromises himself by not writing about her past as Houston even though it would partially vindicate his earlier story about her. It is a decision that forces him to walk an ethical tightrope with his bosses — and the cops who are letting him ride along on the case of the husband’s murder.

The bodies start to pile up and the trail leads to a sexy blonde private investigator, Melissa Ross, who specializes in tracking down wayward husbands for the wives she meets through a women’s empowerment group run by a woman psychiatrist. The killer contacts Malloy, leaving him e-mails that give a lethal twist to dumb blonde jokes that taunt the cops. These notes also keep him ahead of the pack on this big story, fulfilling the round-the-clock demands of a modern-day reporter who has to feed the online beast as well as the old-school print edition — and in his case, a starring role as an on-air contributor to a TV news show, Live from New York.

He’s also juggling another major story — the political ambitions of a powerful deputy mayor, Bob Wylie, in charge of the city’s law enforcement agencies and eyeing a run for his boss’ job. He wants Malloy to join his team, an offer the reporter shrewdly lets dangle to gain inside access to pursue both big stories. When Wylie’s top aide winds up dead in the trunk of his car as the next victim of the Blonde Ice Killer, the two stories become intertwined and Malloy is determined to track down the connection.

This is where Belsky’s inside knowledge of New York journalism and politics really adds meaty context to his tale, with authentic nuggets seamlessly woven into the narrative based on the author’s experience as former managing editor of the Daily News and metropolitan editor of the New York Post.


Belsky tells his tale in the rat-a-tat-tat staccato of a veteran print journalist, with sparse, but detailed narrative, snappy dialogue and colorful, well-developed characters. It is a style this reviewer found both familiar and appealing, given his own past as a former ink-stained wretch. To borrow an old journalism phrase, Belsky’s book is fast copy.

The story takes a surprising twist about halfway through the book, one that places Malloy squarely in the killer’s crosshairs. To find out how it ends, you need to buy a copy of Blonde Ice — you’ll be glad you did.

The author provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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DON’T LET GO – Harlan Coben

The best who-dunnit I’ve read for quite awhile; this is Harlan Coben at his best. For me, his last series rendition was not up to his usual high standard, but this stand-alone is a killer.

Don't Let Go - Coben

 Nap Dumas, a small town cop, is obsessed with two people from his childhood memories. His twin brother, Leo, a nerd and part of a small group who called themselves the Conspiracy Club, and another member, Maura, the girl he was in love with. Fifteen years back, Leo and his girlfriend were found pulped on the railway track outside the town. Nap, in the last year of being part of their lives, was totally involved in his life of sports, and not even aware of the Club. Now, in another state, another member is shot dead, and the fingerprints of a woman at the scene turn out to be those of Maura who had totally disappeared at the same time. Prints that Nap himself had submitted to the data-base when he became a cop, mentored by the Captain whose daughter, Diana, died with Leo on the tracks.


Harlan Coben

Not for nothing is Coben known for his twists and surprises. The flow is great and the plot of an old cold-war missile site being taken over by the Department of Agriculture totally feasible. It is this site and its Keep-Out signs that intrigue the Conspiracy Club. Nap stubbornly follows the slender clues to lay to rest the death of his twin and the disappearance of Maura, soon realising that the Club and the remaining members are the key. We invest in these main characters and their loyalties and friendships, their follies and obsessions as the screws ever tighten right up to the surprising finale.

This honest review is thanks to Penguin Random House, South Africa for the ARC.

ISBN 978-1-78-089424-9.

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