Browsing Tag


Book Review: COLLECTING THE DEAD by Spencer Kope

collecting the deadSpencer Kope’s Collecting the Dead introduces Magnus “Steps” Craig, who works in the FBI Special Tracking Unit as the “human bloodhound.”

Steps has the synesthetic ability to see touch, i.e., he can spot the traces people leave behind on surfaces they’ve walked over and touched. “Shine” is what he calls these tracks, and each person’s shine has a distinctive color and texture, identifiers as specific as DNA.

Steps and his partner, Special Agent Jimmy Donovan, are on the trail of a serial killer of young women. Even with Steps in pursuit, the killer remains elusive with cunning ways of covering his tracks, leading Steps and Jimmy to fight against time and hostile terrains to find the murderer before more women die.

Steps is a welcome new series protagonist, not only because of his unusual talent but also his sense of humor and personality. He hates forests—“They’re like nightmares with leaves”—but often ends up in one while tracking criminals.

Refreshingly, he’s far from being a hardened hero haunted by his past. Steps had a happy childhood with a loving family—he still lives with his brother—and thus it’s particularly upsetting for him to witness so much darkness in his work. Jimmy constantly reminds him, however, that they need his ability to save who they can.

Kope, a crime analyst, gives readers insight into a world in which good people, as he says in the acknowledgments, “confront fear so that others don’t have to.” He praises these defenders of justice, and readers will do the same to Kope for creating a humane and captivating character.

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.


Book Review: HOSTAGE TAKER by Stefanie Pintoff

hostage takerDays before Christmas, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City is seized by a hostage taker who threatens to kill the captives and blow up the landmark if certain demands aren’t met. The first demand: negotiations must be handled by Eve Rossi, an FBI agent who heads up a division made up of ex-cons.

The hostage taker wants Eve and her team to bring five specific people—who have no obvious links to each other—to the scene to witness an event the perpetrator has planned. The task must be completed within hours or the church and everyone inside will be lit up, but not by Christmas lights.

In Hostage Taker, her first contemporary thriller, Edgar Award-winner Stefanie Pintoff (In the Shadow of Gotham) pulls out the big guns, literally and figuratively, by taking aim at one of New York City’s most iconic landmarks. Though several characters lean toward stereotypes (one of the five witnesses is an actress who behaves in a self-centered, spotlight-grabbing way), and the narrative occasionally states the obvious (“she saw the telltale red marks on his wrist. The sign of having been recently bound”), the suspense level is high as Eve and her unit race against the clock to prevent a catastrophe.

Eve’s tactics offer an interesting glimpse into how a negotiator must walk the thin edge between placating and outwitting her opponent. And the hostage taker’s motivation resonates, giving dimension to a character who, despite committing dastardly deeds, may not be completely heartless.

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.


Book Review: DISCLAIMER by Renée Knight

disclaimerImagine reading a thriller and suddenly realizing the much-hated main character is you. And the disclaimer about resemblances to real people being coincidental has been crossed out. This is the premise of first-time novelist Renée Knight’s Disclaimer.

Catherine Ravenscroft, a documentary filmmaker in London, finds a book on her nightstand one evening and starts reading it. With horror, she recognizes the story is about her and something that happened 20 years ago, a terrible incident no one—including her husband—is supposed to know about.

Catherine doesn’t recall buying the book or how it ended up on her nightstand. It’s published under a pseudonym by Rhamnousia, a self-publishing entity named for the goddess of revenge. As Catherine investigates the book’s origins and author, her dark secret threatens to surface and shatter her family and life.

Disclaimer alternates between Catherine’s point of view, written in third person, and the first-person point of view of the man who’s tormenting her with the book. This creates an unsettling experience, as if readers are asked to side with the person who stalks Catherine and wreaks havoc on her. It also keeps Catherine mysterious, making it unclear why she doesn’t work harder to defend herself.

But Knight’s technique pays off, and the ending delivers more than one emotional wallop. Readers’ feelings about each character will likely be upended as they’re reminded that sometimes people commit atrocious acts out of love, and those who behave abhorrently can also be honorable.

This originally appeared as a starred review in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission. Disclaimer also made the May Nerdy Special List.


Guest Book Review: PARADISE SKY by Joe R. Lansdale

When a copy of this novel first appeared on my doorstep, Mr. PCN, being a big Joe R. Lansdale fan, immediately snatched it up and claimed it for himself. After he tore through it in about two blinks, he submitted the following review. This title also made the Nerdy Special List for June—PCN

paradise skyJoe R. Lansdale’s latest novel Paradise Sky is witty, outlandish, and full of adventure. Fans of his previous books such as The Thicket, Edge of Dark Water, and A Fine Dark Line will recognize the familiar narrative framing device, as well as the usual references to the Sabine River and the fickleness of East Texas weather. Lansdale, however, deftly manages to escape being formulaic in Sky.

Not long after the Civil War, twenty-year-old Willie (aka Nat Love aka Deadwood Dick, a character first referenced in A Fine Dark Line) is sent on an errand by his Pa from their farm in rural Texas to town for supplies. It’s a long walk on a hot day, young Willie’s mind wanders, and his eyes absentmindedly alight on a woman’s bottom while she’s bent over doing laundry—just as her husband’s eyes catch Willie looking.

It’s a defining moment in the story because the couple is white, Willie is African American, and Texas has yet to embrace the notion that former slaves are now free and equal, as opposed to animals that can be killed for little or no reason. This incident begins a world of trouble and the odyssey of a young man toward wisdom. Along the way, Willie strikes up a friendship with Wild Bill Hickok, sleeps with four Asian women (one with a wooden leg), joins the army, wins a shooting contest, and even eats a dead guy.

Among my favorite passages:

I ain’t no great judge of poems, though Mr. Loving had me read a considerable number of them, but I can tell you these were so bad they hurt my feelings. I threw the book away and had an urge to bury it lest a coyote come across it, read a few lines, and get sick.

The buildings was thrown up willy-nilly along the sides of the street, as if some drunk had been given lumber, hammer, and nails and told to go at it. A few buildings had seen paint at one time or another; some rambled nearly into the street, as if they was trying to slink across it and into the hills and return to timber.

This novel is great storytelling as it ought to be, and readers should reach for the Sky.

Amazon | IndieBound


When Is a Spoiler a Spoiler?

I had two extremely annoying reading experiences recently and it brought to mind a question I’ve had for a while so I thought I’d seek outside opinions.

Here’s what happened, with two books in a row. I was reading the first ARC while using the accompanying press release as a bookmark. I hadn’t read the release because I’m so spoiler averse, I rarely read synopses, except to maybe skim the first sentence and the last to get a very rough idea of plot.

At one point I put the book down to grab a snack, a vital part of my reading ritual. When I inserted the press release into the book to keep my place, I accidentally glanced at the first sentence at the top of the page.

FullSizeRender (1)It mentioned the death of a character. In bold. I was on p. 52, the death hadn’t occurred, and it wasn’t something I was anticipating. I was super annoyed by the spoiler and haven’t picked up the book again.

The next ARC I read, I made sure to not use the press release as bookmark. But like the other book, I dove in without knowing anything about the plot. When I took a break, I put the book front cover down.

And that’s when I saw the synopsis on the back—with the very first sentence IN BIG FONT mentioning the death of a character I’d thought would be the protagonist. I was on p. 35 and the death hadn’t occurred.

Why are spoilers being given away so freely?? In press materials, no less. As I asked myself this, the obvious answer was: Because other people don’t think these are spoilers.

Which brought me to this question: When does a plot point become a spoiler if revealed? To me, if something happens before p. 5—maybe p. 8—it’s OK to mention it in a release or review. If a major development happens after that, best to keep mum or be vague when addressing it.

Not everyone agrees with me, though. Some reviewers have told me anything that happens before p. 30 is not a spoiler. Some people say p. 50 is their cut-off mark.

What do you think? When does something become a spoiler to you?


Book Review: ONE STEP TOO FAR by Tina Seskis

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.

one step too farAt the start of British author Tina Seskis’s debut novel, One Step Too Far, a married lawyer named Emily Coleman is running away from her family and establishing a new identity as the single Catherine “Cat” Brown, who lives in a hovel with a gaggle of roommates. Her personality and wardrobe get a complete makeover, as does her career.

She lands a job answering phones at an ad agency and works her way up to account manager within nine months. Her success is tempered, however, by the dreaded anniversary of the event that sent her on the run. Can she keep up her façade as the date approaches, or will her new life unravel under the strain of her secret?

Seskis slowly doles out the details surrounding the darkness in Emily’s past while keeping momentum, showing the devastation Emily’s husband experiences even as she tries to forget him, and moving back and forth in time to delve into Emily’s family history. Frances, Andrew and Caroline—her mother, father, and sister—are all flawed and often unlikable, but they’re well-fleshed-out characters with clear and plausible motivations who make no excuses for their bad behavior.

The novel is touted as a psychological thriller with a shocking twist. It’s more accurate to say One Step Too Far is a study of a dysfunctional family. The end is not so much a twist as an explanation of Emily’s behavior that will leave readers feeling gut-punched.

Nerd verdict: Absorbing if not Too twisty


Book Review: THE DISTANCE by Helen Giltrow

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.

the distanceCharlotte Alton may seem like a well-bred London socialite, but her alter ego, Karla, operates in the shadows, gathering information that can be used for deadly purposes but also for good. While at the opera one evening, Charlotte sees a man she helped disappear eight years ago–a man she never thought she’d see again. Simon Johanssen is a killer for hire who was forced to go underground when a job went wrong.

Johanssen has returned to take a new assignment, but he needs Karla’s help—to break into a prison to kill a woman. Karla arranges the necessary paperwork and gets him admitted as a convicted double murderer, after she warns him that the man who wanted him dead eight years ago is incarcerated at the same prison.

Karla digs further into the identity of Johanssen’s target and discovers no record of the female prisoner or her supposedly horrific crime. Fearing Johanssen has walked into a trap, Karla gives orders to her colleagues to pull him out… and is told he can’t be found anywhere.

Helen Giltrow’s debut novel, The Distance, has many threads with multiple narrators, and nothing can be taken at face value since most of the characters mistrust each other. Johanssen’s determination to finish the job—despite the sadistic treatment he suffers, the lack of information about his target, and Karla’s repeated attempts to get him to abort—seems unreasonable if not foolish at first, but his commitment helps bring about a satisfying ending to this brutal thriller.

Nerd verdict: Intense Distance


Giveaway: SUSPICION by Joseph Finder

I’m excited to say I get to give away three copies of Joseph Finder‘s latest thriller, Suspicion. This is just the first of several fantastic giveaways I’ll be hosting for the next month. If you’ve been a longtime reader here, you know I don’t do giveaways often. I turn down many requests to do them because I only offer you books I’ve liked or ones I want to read.

But some really interesting books are being released in the next few weeks and I want to help put them in your hands. For some reason, my e-mail subscription function isn’t working so you’ll have to keep checking back here or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or via Bloglovin. (No, this isn’t a ploy to get more followers. Just letting you know the e-mail subscription service has stopped working.)

Anyway, on to Suspicion. Here’s the official description:

suspicionSingle father Danny Goodman would do anything—anything—to protect his teenaged daughter, Abby, from more unhappiness after her mother’s death. Struggling to keep her at the private school she loves, he accepts a favor from an unexpected benefactor: Thomas Galvin, father of Abby’s best friend and one of the wealthiest men in Boston. Galvin offers Danny a loan that would be enough to pay Abby’s tuition and relieve some of Danny’s other financial pressures, and Danny can’t help but be charmed by Galvin’s generosity and kindness.

Danny’s new friend, however, turns out to have some dangerous enemies—including some Federal investigators who think Danny’s in a perfect position to collect evidence against Galvin. The moment Galvin’s loan hits Danny’s account, Danny finds himself trapped into a dangerous undercover assignment that will put both his life and his daughter’s at risk. Danny tells one lie after another to hide more and more secrets, weaving a net that will ultimately require a desperate plan of action.

Suspicion is everything readers expect from a Joseph Finder thriller, and more.

Because this giveaway is in conjunction with Riffle and Dutton Books, the instructions are a little different this time. Click on the link below and fill out the form for your chance to win one of three finished copies. Giveaway ends May 27, when the book will be available in bookstores everywhere. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Giveaway: THE COLD NOWHERE by Brian Freeman

Just popping in to give you a chance to one of three copies of Brian Freeman‘s The Cold Nowhere from Quercus. I haven’t had a chance to read this one yet so the review will come later.

Here’s the description from the author’s website:

cold nowhere coverThe eighth psychological suspense novel by international bestselling author Brian Freeman brings the long-awaited return of Lieutenant Jonathan Stride to the bitter cold of Duluth, Minnesota.

“My mother told me that if there was ever a time in my life when I needed protection, and no one was around for me, I should go to you. Find Mr. Stride, she told me. She said you’d help me.”

As Jonathan Stride returns home to his cottage on the shore of Lake Superior after midnight, he finds a teenage girl hiding in his bedroom. She’s pretty, scared, and soaked to the bone…and she says that someone is trying to kill her. The girl isn’t a stranger to Stride. She’s the daughter of a woman he tried—and failed—to protect from an abusive, murderous ex-husband years earlier.

With the guilt of that failure still hanging over his head, Stride is determined to protect this young girl, Cat Mateo, from a shadowy predator. However, Cat seems to have secrets of her own. She’s led a tough life on the streets; she doesn’t always tell the truth; and she has an unhealthy obsession with knives. Stride’s partner Maggie is convinced that the girl can’t be trusted, and she’s afraid that Stride may be putting himself in danger by letting Cat inside his house.

Wherever Cat goes, death seems to follow. A journalist who interviewed the girl has disappeared. Two more women are found murdered. Stride feels as if he is always one step behind a brutal killer who has Cat in his sights, and as the investigation races ahead, he finds himself on a collision course with another detective—a woman who shared his bed for years: Serena Dial. With all of their fragile relationships hanging in the balance, Stride, Serena, and Maggie must find out why this young girl has been targeted for death – and why a decade-old crime is coming back to life.

Sound good to you? Enter by answering the following question in the comments: What/who is the strangest thing/person you’ve ever found in your bedroom? As usual, lies are accepted. All entries without an answer will be disqualified. If you don’t even want to read all of this post for the instructions, you probably don’t want to read the book that much.

Giveaway ends next Wednesday, April 30, at 9 p.m. PST. Winners will have 48 hours after being notified to claim the prize before alternate winners are chosen.

Good luck! Let me know what funkiness you’ve found in your bedroom!


Stalker Awards 2013—Submit Your Nominations!

May is Mystery Month and June is International Crime Month so it’s time to submit your nominations for the third annual Stalker Awards, given to crime novels you’re obsessed with and the authors who write them. You can be obsessed with the authors, too, but please stay legal.

Anyone from anywhere can submit nominations and vote, as long as you’re passionate about crime fiction. If you’ve ever seen the winners lists for different awards and thought, “Huh? Who picks these things?” let us know what you read and loved.

All nominees must’ve had a release or been released in the US in 2012 (original publication, not re-release, OK if it’s a foreign title available for the first time in the US last year).

Fill out the form below, and submit before 9 p.m. PST on Thursday, May 30. Nominate three in each category, and rankings will count so place your absolute favorite first. Include titles and authors for all nominations, except for the final two categories, which are only about authors.

I’ll announce nominees by the end of the month, at which time voting will begin. See last year’s winners here.

Let the stalking begin!


Q&A with Authors Brett Battles and Robert Gregory Browne

Recently, Brett Battles and Robert Gregory Browne, two popular thriller writers, released their first collaboration, Poe, a first-in-series action adventure about a woman who infiltrates a prison as part of a deal to learn more about her father, who disappeared years earlier and is accused of treason.

But she encounters an assassin in prison, someone there to kill the very woman Poe is sent to break out, and Poe may not even survive her mission, much less see her father again.

The authors, who have been friends for years, found a way to write together without killing each other. After they developed an outline based on Rob’s idea, Brett wrote the first draft, Rob did a major rewrite, then Brett did another revision before sending it to the copyeditor (me!), and handling additional revisions after copyedits. The two will swap duties on the next book in the series. (Rob designed cover.)

Their styles fuse well on the page, and they’re funny people, which is why I’m delighted to have them here today to answer some questions, and to let you know that the Kindle version of Poe is FREE today, April 30, until end of Thursday, May 2. Get it now!

Pop Culture Nerd: Alexandra Poe doesn’t come across like she was created by two men. Which one of you is more responsible for her female qualities? Who was girlier?

Robert Gregory Browne: Well, Brett’s definitely girlier, but I think we both tend to think of women as, you know, human beings, and tend to write solid women characters into all of our fiction. I don’t know about Brett, but when I was in high school, most of my friends were girls, and when I worked in day jobs in the past, I tended to hang around with my female coworkers quite a bit, so I’m sure I picked up a lot purely by osmosis.

Brett Battles: Rob’s right. It’s probably me.

PCN: So, was there a conscious decision to write a female protag, or did that arise out of the story you wanted to tell? How would it have been different if Poe were male?

RGB: The character was one I dreamed up several years ago as a movie idea, back when I was screenwriting. I came up with the idea of a woman whose mother had been killed in a terrorist attack and a father who had disappeared and she was hired by an international fugitive retrieval organization to infiltrate a prison in hopes of retrieving information about her missing father, who was wanted by the US government. It was a script I never got around to writing that later evolved into an idea for a novel that I never got around to writing.

There was a time when I considered turning Poe into a male, but I felt the father/daughter connection was more compelling and decided to stay true to the original storyline. When I told Brett about the idea, he thought it was terrific and when we decided to write a book together, it was his suggestion that we take the Alexandra Poe idea and run with it.

BB: My idea to run with it, but Rob’s idea [originally]. As far as writing female protags go, the main women in my solo books are, for the most part, strong, smart, and independent. Transitioning to writing one as a main character was a no-brainer and something I always knew I’d eventually take on.

PCN: Most of this book takes place in a women’s prison. In Ukraine. How did you do research?

RGB: In my original pitch, the prison was in the Middle East, but we both felt that had been done to death. So it was Brett’s idea to put the prison in Ukraine. Since neither of us has ever spent time in a Ukrainian prison (at least I don’t think Brett has, but you never know), the research was largely online. Thank God for the Internet.

BB: I’d rather not talk about my prison years. Did I say prison years? I’ve, um, uh, never been in…look, an airplane!

PCN: I still sleep with a shank under my pillow.

BB: The research was a combination of books and the Internet (travel blogs, videos on YouTube, images, and all sorts of different resources.) I would have liked to have taken a trip there but that wasn’t in the cards this time.

PCN: Why make her a descendant of Edgar Allen? Will that feature more into future stories?

RGB: Poe is not necessarily a descendant of Edgar Allen Poe, although she does live in Baltimore. We haven’t decided if Edgar will be worked into the stories in any way.

Rob, wondering how he’d live without Facebook

PCN: You both agreed to check your egos at the door before you started down this path. In case one of yours did get too big, though, what was the agreed-upon punishment? A punch in the kidney? No Facebook for a month?

RGB: Ha. We actually didn’t really discuss it beyond that, and fortunately it never became an issue. Besides, no Facebook for a month might be doing us a favor…

BB: I’ll just say it involved red-hot irons and potential loss of manhood. That seemed to be enough to keep us in line.

PCN: Yow! What, if anything, did you learn from each other about writing that you hadn’t known before?

RGB: I learned that Brett’s diva behavior is not an act. He’s impossible to be around. Everything is him, him, him.

Brett, reacting to red-hot irons aimed at his…um, at him

BB: Diva? Well, I think Mr. Browne (as he insisted I call him throughout the process) is confusing me with him. I’m not the one who demanded a cup of freshly roasted coffee before I even deemed to discuss anything every morning. And don’t get me started on his manicure schedule!

PCN: Oh, man, at first I read that as “pedicure,” and pictured toenail clippings on his desk.

BB: In truth, we’re both pretty familiar with each other’s work, and have acted as one another’s soundboards over the years, so there wasn’t a lot new left to be learned. I guess a small thing would be that we both have certain phrases/words we each use consistently. So there were a few times we had to find a balance. Nothing big, though. It was an amazingly smooth process.

PCN: You both have large groups of loyal readers, and with Poe, you’re potentially picking up each other’s fan base. What would you like fans of the other to know about you and your body of work?

RGB: All I really care about is writing good books and exposing them to as wide an audience as possible. Writing Poe helps each of us expand our audience, but our main concern was to write a good, exciting story. And that’s all readers need to know, I think, about both of us. That we write books that are fun, exciting, and will take them somewhere else for a while. 

BB: Exactly. When you pick up one of our books, expect an exciting adventure that’ll keep you on your toes to the very end. Those are the kind of books Rob and I write, because those are the kind of books we both like to read. 


Book Review: RAGE AGAINST THE DYING by Becky Masterman

I’ve been raving about this book since I read it a couple months ago. My review ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers last week, so I can finally publish it here with permission.—PCN

The prologue of Becky Masterman’s debut thriller, Rage Against the Dying, announces the arrival of a major talent on the crime fiction scene. As a killer preys on a seemingly fragile old woman, the scene is fraught with tension; the reader wants to scream for the woman to save herself, but it’s the killer who’s unlucky, because he just picked the wrong person to mess with.

Masterman’s heroine is Brigid Quinn, a 59-year-old retired FBI agent who still carries guilt about an unsolved case from years earlier, in which her protégée disappeared and is presumed dead. Then a man is arrested and confesses to being the serial killer in that case, spouting information only the murderer would know. When young FBI agent Laura Coleman doubts his confession, her life is endangered. Brigid refuses to let history repeat itself, and realizes she may be the only one who can close the case.

Masterman, an acquisitions editor at a publisher of forensic medical textbooks, knows about the creepy, perverse stuff murderers are into, but she doesn’t go too far, using just enough detail to chill readers’ spines. Brigid seems as if she sprang fully developed from Masterman’s imagination, striding confidently into the world despite using a walking stick. The title is a reference to the Dylan Thomas poem about how one should “not go gentle into that good night” and instead “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Brigid’s light isn’t even close to dying, and hopefully she’ll continue raging for a long time.

Nerd verdict: Embrace the Rage

Buy it now from Amazon|Buy it from an indie bookstore