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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The locked-room component of the blurb was a well-wormed hook, so I was looking forward to this, hopefully, intriguing and promising thriller mystery.

The Dying GameAnna Francis is assigned by the Chairman the job of acting as a murdered body. She is among seven supposed candidates for a top security position for the State, but she herself is not a candidate. She is to secretly observe from hidden chambers within the walls of an inaccessible island house the actions and reactions of the other six when they realise that there is a murderer among their number, and reporting back to the Chairman.

If that was the plot, then well and good, but we are prematurely told that it goes awry before we start, so the twists, such as they are, are guessable. Anna’s backstory, of her mother with whom she has some friction but has to leave her daughter, due to far-flung postings in dangerous places, is not all that convincing as being essential, nor is her PTSD and drug abuse.

The point-of-view flips back and forth between Anna and Henry, one of their number, an ex-coworker, a man for whom she once felt some attraction and again feels when they meet again.

The voice of the tale has unfortunately got the ’flu’ and doesn’t flow very smoothly. There is little shock, little grip and no humour. And very little warmth to at least engender some sympathy.


åsa avdic

Asa Avdic

Unfortunately none of the characters, from Anna herself, Henry, her almost one-time boyfriend to the cold fish Chairman, endeared themselves to me.


This is an up-front review to an ARC sent by Penguin Random House South Africa. A Windmill Books imprint from ISBN 978-1-786-09021-8.



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The Snakewater AffairI could not resist my second visit with Spider Latham in this third adventure sent by adept author, Liz Adair, and was once again warmed by her lovely tough but moral protagonists.

When father Spider kneels beside his reluctant and troubled son Bobby to pray, you know that this is a caring dad of the old fashioned kind. When the same man hurtles over a cliff on a mountain-bike in his second attempt to ride this new-fangled machine, or takes a punch in the face in a case of mistaken identity, you also know that this is one tough son-of-a-gun. He is also a husband who feels guilty in leaving his wife Laurie to the imprisonment of looking after his dementure-ridden mother.

Liz Adair

Liz Adair

Deputy Sheriff Spider takes a week or two off without pay to accept a job offered by a mining magnate and businessman, Brick Tremain to find out why his son-in-law has disappeared after a visit to the Snakewater Mine. The miners are suspicious of Spider and at first uncooperative, but as a trained mine fitter, he solves a problem for them and wins their trust. The plot is suitably puzzling and twisted and the skeins are unravelled with tantalizing tension.

The characters are flesh and blood and the back stories intriguingly real. The motives are valid and reactions perfectly acceptable. Bravo, Liz Adair. Five stars.

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The Enigma StrainThere is no doubt that NICK THACKER is going from strength to strength, both as a writer and as a story teller. This story involves an attempt to nudge the Yellowstone Caldera towards erupting, at the same time ensuring that the nearby supply of nasty synthetic virus gets well distributed around the world along with the sun-blocking dust cloud.

It is not that overkill that bothered me as much as the motives of the perpetrators and the motives of the manipulators pulling their strings.

The trouble with giving away a free copy of the first in the series when you are on #3 or #4 is that readers are faced with all the errors the author has by now grown out of or improved on, so #1 is not always the best introduction.

Still, it is an entertaining read and there was never any desire to put it down. There are two main characters. Yellowstone Park Ranger Harvey “Ben” Bennett, a prickly solitary man who gets drawn out of his shell by the effervescent scientist Julie Richardson from the Centre for Disease Control. Their interaction as polar opposites is a big part of the human-interest story, but sometimes a bit unnecessarily frustrating.

Nick Thacker

Nick Thacker

The POV flip-flops sometimes, even in the same paragraph; a big writer’s no-no, and with some other glaring errors, it detracts from the essential readability. A good editor would smooth out the bumps.

This eBook was a freebie promo copy and this honest review is given in thanks for that, and in encouragement to NICK THACKER. May his reader list grow; he deserves it.

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The WORD is MURDER – Anthony Horowitz

The WORD is MURDERKeeping in mind that the author is the hugely talented author of a James Bond novel as well as being a Sherlock Holmes expert and screen-writer of some fame, with FOYLE’S WAR, one of my all-time favourites, to his credit, this offering does live up to demanding expectations.

The Word is Murder was more than an unputdownable whodunnit; it was a reading experience so on the edge of reality, linked to so many real people, with the author playing the part of himself, that the line between reality and fiction got so faint as to almost disappear.

Anthony Horowitz

Anthony Horowitz

As the blurb puts it, to the unpleasant detective, Daniel Hawthorne, fired from Scotland Yard, Horowitz reluctantly becomes the Watson to his Holmes. The Hastings to his Poirot. Hawthorne wants him to write a book about Hawthorne solving the mystery of a woman who arranges her own funeral and then is murdered a few hours later. There is one slight drawback – the mystery hasn’t yet been solved…

The plot is well twisted, the characters sharply sketched and the writing almost Conan-Doyleish. A seriously entertaining read.

My reviews are strictly honest. Thanks to Penguin Random House South Africa for this ARC.


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Five Stars! I loved this whodunnit.

Trouble at Red PuebloDeputy Sheriff, Spider Latham takes time off to go the Red Pueblo Museum for a friend to find out who is behind the efforts to wreck the museum financially. His wife Laurie goes along for the trip and, unsuspectingly they find themselves, and the community, up against a murderer.

It is quite awhile since I have come across such a huge group of valid suspects! There are a dozen possible perps and as many motives. Love, rejection, greed, ambition, desperation, hate, jealousy. The depths are well plumbed and the characters are real and recognisable. There is as least one character there just for the humour and warm eccentricity. So many of them are just plain real.

The raw Western US setting is described by an author with a great love of the country and a marvellous sense of place and history. The blood and the sex is subtly understated, which is a trait that suits me well. She has an equally fine ability to tune a mystery to the last surprising twist, but what I found overwhelming was the warm humanity of her principal protagonist, and his vulnerability to self doubt.

Liz Adair

Liz Adair

After never having heard of LIZ ADAIR, I now cannot wait to get my hands on more of her whodunnit stories.

My review is a Thank You to her free promo for the eBook copy.

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