Thursday, 28 May 2020

Portrait of a Snow Queen by Micah S Harris



Title: Portrait of a Snow Queen
Series: The Chronicles of Aarastad Book 1
Author: Micah S Harris



An epic fantasy of forbidden romance that chronicles the coming of age of a princess who is possessed by the Snow Queen and fated to rule her kingdom with a strong hand and icy heart.


As a child, Princess Freyja looked into the Snow Queen’s cursed mirror - and was changed.

Now an aloof and difficult young woman with a wit as sharp as her tongue, the future monarch is in need of a tutor. And Ambrose, a failed poet, is in need of a teaching position. He just never suspected how dangerous the extracurricular activities would be!

Soon, Ambrose finds himself on a grand adventure fighting to save the vexing but alluring princess from the court occult conspiracies that have targeted her. He is opposed not only by sorcerers and the evil Snow Queen, but also the icy royal damsel who holds his heart.

Will Ambrose’s love cause Freyja to thaw…or will she put him in the deep freeze instead?

Sensuous, suspenseful, supernatural and filled with witty banter, this romantic fantasy will both turn up the heat and leave you thoroughly frost smitten!

A 2019 Critters Readers Poll top ten finalist in the category of Science-Fiction and Fantasy.

The price of this book as been steeply discounted on Amazon for this event!
Check it out!


Excerpt:

      “Now,” Lord Melchior said, producing a small key which he turned in a lock in the desk’s drawer. “I am going to read the account of what happened next in the words of my friend, Prince Rudolph himself, from a diary entry dated July 21, 1839.”

      He took out an envelope and removed some browning papers from of it, which he proceeded to unfold. Holding the pages at half an arm’s length, he began:


     Much time had passed since I last felt the chilling embrace of the Ice Princess (whom others call ‘Maiden’ but I know she was not so!). My hope was that the warm caresses of my beautiful young wife, which she rejoiced to administer and I rejoiced to receive, would one day put those of that witch out of my memory entirely.


      Indeed, the intervening years by far had been happy ones. My daughter Freyja was now almost three years old, and soon my darling Isolde and I would have a sibling for her.


     I remember that night that would change my young family’s life forever was an unusually freezing one for the spring. We had seen the snow on the mountain, and odd it was. We knew the wind was blowing down to us from off it.


      This unseasonable snow brought back memories of my captivity, and the icy caresses I had been forced to endure.


      But, I assured myself, certainly this snowfall is but a freak occurrence. I had handled the Ice Princess’s severed head myself. She had not been human, but that did not make her immortal or supernatural– only other natural. And she was long dead. Thus, I did not speak of my fears and unsettle my wife and daughter.


      That night, we awoke to a woman’s scream. I sat up in bed, all my fears immediately recalled upon waking. We found the nurse collapsed on the floor of the nursery and Freyja squalling uncontrollably.


      Our daughter was unhurt; we thought at first that she was only upset from the nurse’s screeching. But the nurse said that she had been awakened by Freyja’s cry at what she had seen hovering over her bed, and then she, too, had screamed at the eldritch vision:


      A tall pale woman with long white hair whose clothing tinkled like sleet against a window pane when she moved. Her sparkling gown fell to her feet shod in silver slippers, and a cloak of pale blue draped her shoulders, reaching to the floor and forming her train.


      At first, I feared the Ice Princess had reconstituted. But as I pressed the nurse for more description of whom she had seen, it became clear that this was a different entity, though her intentions for our daughter were no less frightening.


      She kissed Freyja’s lips, and then a toe, and then an ankle. “More than one but no more than three,” she said. Then the nurse told us the terrible doom this creature pronounced over our little girl:


      “A daughter for a daughter and the Snow Queen shall be avenged. Should this child escape me, then unto her progeny be my curse, until the Snow Queen is avenged.”


      She brushed by the nurse on her way out, leaving a trail of glittering frost behind, and the nurse some blackened fingers from the touch of her train.


      We searched the castle, but the frost trail did not remain long behind its source and had melted before we could overtake the creature.


      Thereafter we were on guard for the Snow Queen. Hot coals were kept burning on the window sills and at the threshold of each castle door throughout the days and nights until the unusual cold snap had passed. She did not return.


      Still, I never let drop my vigilance, especially when winter arrived, until that day of great familial happiness – which became the last such that I would ever know.


      On Freyja’s eighth birthday, she received a large package. I unwrapped it and found it contained a looking glass in an ornate metal frame. My heart was heavy with love for my eldest daughter that day, and our new addition was darting about our feet to my joy. In this bliss, I smiled into the mirror – and saw the most hideous leer reflected back at me.


      Clearly, the Snow Queen was behind this vile present and had hoped that Freyja would open the gift and look into the glass. But to what end? She surely would gain no great revenge from simply frightening the girl. I would learn all too soon what was her scheme.


      For Freyja had come behind me and was already staring into the mirror. And who she saw staring back at her – yes, I saw, too – was the Snow Queen! Freyja recognized that face at once, and now it was hers!


      From that moment on, my daughter was changed. The Snow Queen’s personality dominates her own to this day with no sign of remission, despite all our efforts.


      My wife, though she saw that Freyja had already slipped beyond us, was screaming for me to do something if I loved her. I fetched Ifguter’s axe that had severed the head of this creature’s daughter. I should have called for Caius whose father’s weapon was his alone to wield. The blade was enchanted, there was thus a ban upon it, and the handling of it was beyond me.


      Knowing all this, I still swung, with my wife’s shrill screams filling my ears, at that awful face in that glass that transfixed my daughter. I shattered the mirror and sent a tiny splinter to lodge in Freyja’s eye – and an eye of her sister, whom her mother had not removed from the room as I had ordered.


      Those pieces still retain the Snow Queen’s reflection! Thus, my own hand insured that neither Freyja herself nor her sister would ever see my oldest daughter again as anything but the Snow Queen. Asa now views the whole world as an uncertain place where good appears evil and evil appears as good. All is fearful in her eyes, but nothing more so than her own sister.



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Micah S. Harris is the Author of the epic fantasy romance Portrait of a Snow Queen, which took third place in the category of science fiction and fantasy in the Critters Readers Poll.  Strong female protagonists and banter are trademarks of his work. Portrait of a Snow Queen is no exception and is recommended for older fans of Frozen and lovers of the witty verbal sparring in The Princess Bride.

He won the 2016 Pulp Ark Award for best novel for Ravenwood, The stepson of Mystery: Return of the Dugpa. He is also the Author - Along with artist Michael Gaydos (Marvel’s Jessica Jones) - of the graphic novel Heaven’s War, a historical fantasy pitting the Oxford Inklings against Aleister Crowley.

His lifelong love of movies also influences his fiction, whether a fairy tale retelling, horror story or paranormal mystery. He taught film on a collegiate level and has chronicled, both in print and via podcast, fascination lost genre gems.



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Top Ten List:
Top Ten Esoteric Fun Facts About Micah S. Harris
  1. My teddy bear Boo Boo ran away from home because I wouldn’t stop sucking my thumb. After this intervention caused me to declare my sobriety, we found him hanging out in a nearby tree.
  2. My childhood pets include a Venus fly trap, a pink chicken, and a wolf spider…at least, it might have been a wolf spider.
  3. As a kid, I read the book The Gingerbread Rabbit, so I had to have my mom bake me a gingerbread rabbit. He was delicious.
  4. I attended the graveside memorial service for Schlitze, a sideshow “pinhead” (he suffered from microcephaly) who was the inspiration for the character of “Pepper” in American Horror Story. He can be seen in the 1932 cult classic movie Freaks. I wrote a book about him.
  5. I was friends with the late Verne Langdon, make-up man on the original Planet of the Apes and the old TV game show Match Game among his many other projects. His company used to cast the foam rubber for the old stop motion animation Pillsbury Doughboy.
  6. I have always loved cats. My last one was named “Emmy” after Emma Peele from the old British Avengers spy show.
  7. I am a life-long Tar Heel who grew up nearby the real Mayberry: Mount Airy, N.C.
  8. My favorite movie is the 1933 King Kong.
  9. My favorite book is a tie: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin and unexpurgated, uncut Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
  10. I have the heart of a little boy…I use it for a paperweight.



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Friday, 22 May 2020

Dragon Head by James Houston Turner



Title: Dragon Head
Series: Aleksandr Talanov Thriller #4
Author: James Houston Turner
Genre: Action Thriller
Publication Date: May 1, 2020
Publisher: Regis Books
ISBN: 978-0958666497




One-and-a-half billion dollars vanishes out of a numbered account into a cyberspace maze. But the thief who stole it lies dead on the tracks of Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway, his access codes having perished with him.

If it were simply a matter of missing money, the United States would not be concerned. But a Hong Kong crime boss named Dragon Head wants the money to fund an army of hackers, one of whom has already penetrated America’s GPS network. The result: a midair collision that kills more than a thousand people.

With national security at stake, the Director of National Intelligence becomes very interested in the whereabouts of that money. He wants the funds to remain lost. But Dragon Head wants them found. And Colonel Aleksandr Talanov is caught in the middle.

Both sides believe Talanov knows where the money is. But Talanov doesn’t have a clue. So both sides threaten to kill his closest friends unless he locates and surrenders the money. It’s an impossible situation when impossible is not an option, because whatever choice Talanov makes, someone will die.



“This thriller works beautifully ... a highly enjoyable potboiler of plot twists, action, and suspense.”
--Kat Kennedy, The US Review

“Snappy dialogue … humor and heart … scenes crackling with life as Talanov races against the clock in this complex spy thriller that delivers charm and thrills.”
--John M. Murray, Foreword Reviews

“Dragon Head is an explosive story packed with plenty of action and excitement. Like all good spy stories, it’s unclear exactly what everyone is up to and who can actually be trusted. Facing threats on all sides, Talanov is a great hero to follow, tough and quick to dive into the action, but also smart and more than capable of outmaneuvering his enemies. Dragon Head is an exhilarating story that tackles contemporary issues … a top-notch thriller.”
--Erin Britton, The Manhattan Book Review




Excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

Wu Chee Ming looked anxiously behind him. Where were they? Who were they? When would they strike? An attack in a crowded street like this would be over in seconds. A silenced pistol. A knife. A needle. Death would be quick and the assassin would vanish. One face in an ocean of faces.

He was not even sure they were onto him. In fact, they probably weren’t. He had taken extreme care over the last few months to make sure his movements went undetected.

One does not seek what one does not see.

It was a proverb that guided his every move.

And yet, in spite of his meticulous planning, he had to proceed as if they had noticed, which was why he had chosen Lan Kwai Fong, a small, bustling tourist district in the heart of Hong Kong, to make his escape. The narrow streets of Lan Kwai Fong were perfect for what he was planning. Flashing neon. Music. Thousands of people surging in and out of nightclubs and restaurants. The perfect place to disappear.

The perfect place to be killed.

The proverb, however, held the secret to his survival; namely, that the best place to hide is often in plain sight. That people usually do not notice what is right in front of them. Hence, his choice to pass through Lan Kwai Fong each night on his way home from work, so his being here tonight would not attract any undue attention.

Suddenly, an elbow caught him in the chest and knocked him into a group of Chinese girls texting one another. They were holding their phones so close their eyes glistened with light from the tiny screens.

“Kàn tā!” one of them barked.

Wu Chee Ming pushed on.

Ahead, the street bent ninety degrees and sloped downhill for a short block before meeting D’Aguilar Street. Wu Chee Ming turned at the corner and threaded his way uphill along another street filled with partygoers. Within minutes, he reached a short flight of steps that branched away from the street. Taking the steps two at a time, he reached the top and began running along a darkened walkway that angled between a pair of highrise office towers. Before long, the sounds and smells of Lan Kwai Fong had receded into the distance.

Wu Chee Ming knew he would miss those sounds and smells. But at least he would be alive to remember them. He glanced behind but saw no one.

One does not seek what one does not see.

His survival hinged on the truth of that proverb, and yet if he truly believed it, why was he running? Why was he not relaxed in the knowledge that he was but another face in an ocean of faces?

Under normal conditions, Hong Kong was the perfect city in which to vanish. But these were not normal conditions. He was running from a crime boss who knew every inch of the island. A crime boss with eyes and ears everywhere. A crime boss so skilled in the art of death that some people considered it an honor to die by his hand. Dexter Moran was his name, although no one dared address him that way. To everyone in Hong Kong and the New Territories, he was known as Dragon Head, and he was the supreme leader of the Shí bèi organized crime society, which was based in the Zhongzhen Martial Arts Academy.

The name “Dragon Head” was actually a title that had been seized by Moran in the same manner a lion becomes the alpha male of his pride: by defeating or killing his rivals. And not just known rivals, but anyone suspected of being a threat. Which was why Wu Chee Ming had chosen to run. He wanted to make sure he was not among them.

Ahead, beside a tree, was an old bicycle. Wu Chee Ming had purchased it from a repair shop with instructions that it be placed beside the tree this afternoon. It had a basket above the front fender and a tiny dome bell on the handlebar. Lifting the bike onto the path, Wu Chee Ming walked it to an intersecting walkway, where he turned left, jumped on, and began pedaling. In less than a minute he emerged onto a busy street.

Like New York, Hong Kong was a city that never slept. Even at this late hour, cars filled the streets and the sidewalks were gorged with people. A few dings on his bell caused pedestrians to stop long enough for him to bicycle across the sidewalk and into the bicycle lane, where he turned left and began pedaling with the flow of traffic. He kept pace for two blocks, then cut across to the other side of the street, where he began pedaling with the flow of traffic in the other direction. He bicycled past noodle bars, restaurants, and retail outlets offering everything from designer clothing to electronics, phone cards, and cosmetics. Before long, he turned down a side street and raced to the next corner, where he turned right and raced to the next corner, where he turned again. The zigzag pattern took him away from the neon madness of the tourist district and into Hong Kong’s shadowed side streets.

Within twenty minutes, Wu Chee Ming had made his way to a four-story apartment building in a rundown part of Wan Chai. Unlike the glamour and polish of the financial precinct where he worked, this part of town was stained with the gloom of poverty. There were no gleaming office towers of tinted glass. No stepped terraces with architectural flourishes. The buildings were rectangular and squat. Rust and soot were the predominant colors.

Leaning his bicycle against a metal roller door, Wu Chee Ming entered a darkened stairwell and dashed up a flight of steps. There were no lights in the stairwell because Wu Chee Ming had broken the bulbs. No one must remember his face to anyone asking questions. And there would be questions, and Dragon Head would be asking them. By that time, however, he would be long gone, which meant Dragon Head would have no choice but to hunt down the only other person who could give him answers. That person was former KGB colonel Aleksandr Talanov. Talanov, of course, would have no answers because he would not know what had happened. Torture would be employed, and Dragon Head would be merciless, but Talanov would not be able to reveal what he did not know. Yes, Talanov was a walking dead man, while he, Wu Chee Ming, was about to become a ghost.

Excerpt from Dragon Head by James Houston Turner. Copyright 2020 by James Houston Turner. Reproduced with permission from James Houston Turner.
All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Winner of numerous awards, including "Best Thriller," bestselling author James Houston Turner is known for his Aleksandr Talanov series of spy novels. Talanov the fictional character was inspired by the actual KGB agent who once leaked word out of Moscow that James was on a KGB watchlist for his smuggling activities behind the old Iron Curtain. "His act of heroism – he could have been executed for what he did – gave me the idea of a good-guy KGB agent who became a spy for America," Turner explains.

A native of Kansas, James Houston Turner has been writing since he was ten. After earning his bachelor's degree from Baker University, he moved to Texas, where he earned his master's degree from the University of Houston (Clear Lake). He then headed west to California, where his love of writing turned into a profession with publication of The Spud Book: 101 Ways to Cook Potatoes. Publisher's Weekly called it "A cookbook with ap-peel." Between TV cooking tours, he worked as a journalist at the famed Los Angeles Union Rescue Mission, where he revised their magazine, Lifeline, from a needs-based ministry appeal to a collection of interviews from the streets about changed lives. Those interviews included numerous victims of human trafficking. The magazine won several awards.

During this time, James also worked as a smuggler into Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe, where he transported tons of food, clothing, Bibles, and medical supplies, to needy hospitals and churches. While there, he interviewed many heroes of death camps, gulags, Siberian exile, persecution, illness, hardship, and torture, including assassination squads.

James is also a cancer survivor after doctors in Australia removed a tumor the size of an orange from his face. "I was told if I lived eighteen months I would probably live to be one hundred. That was in 1991, so I am happy to report I am well on my way toward that goal. These experiences continue to influence my storytelling, whether in novels, or, now, in film. My stories are 'overcomer stories,' because that's what I've had to do, and is why I want my stories to leave people with the same hope and faith that strengthened me."

As a self-published author who made the deliberate choice away from traditional avenues, he has accomplished what he calls "the writer's dream" with a film option on one of his novels, Greco's Game. He is also one of a small handful of writers who can function both as a novelist and a screenwriter, with two of his screenplays having also been optioned, with production on his projects scheduled to begin in 2020.

After nearly twenty years in Australia, James and his wife, Wendy, now live in Austin, Texas.




This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for James Houston Turner. There will be 7 winners. One (1) winner will receive an Amazon.com Gift Card. Six (6) winners will receive DRAGON HEAD by James Houston Turner (print). The giveaway begins on May 1, 2020 and runs through June 2, 2020. Open to U.S. addresses only. Void where prohibited.




On Tour May 1 - May 31, 2020

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!
These are the stops on the tour as of April 16 and are subject to change.


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Thursday, 21 May 2020

Celeste Three Is Missing by Chris Calder



Title: Celeste Three Is Missing
Author: Chris Calder
Genre: Thriller
Publication Date: July 2019


The world’s first earth-orbit passenger plane, the sensational Celeste Three, takes off from its base in Arizona, also the only place where it is designed land. On a routine flight the craft disappears.

On board is Viktor Karenkov, billionaire oil magnate who has used his wealth to evade prosecution for a murder he committed years earlier. Gregory Topozian, the murdered man’s friend, has been waiting for a chance to bring Karenkov to justice. With dogged determination and considerable ingenuity, he conceives an audacious plan.

Getting the craft down in total secrecy is key. And someone has to pay the huge costs involved.






Author Bio:

After ten happy years of retirement in rural France, Chris Calder is back in England. He came late to writing novels, penning his first whilst incarcerated in a French hospital following cancer surgery. At the time he spoke little French. Unable to communicate effectively with the staff, he spent his time fleshing out his first novel. Five more have followed; light thrillers leavened with humour. Best of all, the cancer is now history.

Chris knows that readers of fiction expect to be diverted and entertained. He loves feedback and believes passionately that taking on board readers’ views improves what he does. You can email him at chris@chriscalder.com. Go on, he’d love to hear from you.



Guest Post by Chris Calder:

Where was I born?

A simple question but, strangely, one to which I cannot give a straight answer. The reason is that I was born in India, in a city that is now in Pakistan. A different country, so I could have answered with either.

But memories of my childhood in a distant place at a historically interesting time have proved invaluable for providing the backdrop to my next novel. The provisional title is Growing Apart and it is about twin boys born in India at the end of the British Raj, as I was. They were the result of a clandestine affair between an English civil servant and a vivacious Anglo-Indian girl who dies in childbirth, at a time when the father is on leave in England.

One twin is adopted and raised in India, the other is taken by his natural father to be raised in England, unaware of the existence of his brother. And all this happens between the years 1936 and 1962. I suppose that would be classed as ‘history’ by most readers today!







Monday, 18 May 2020

Miranda and the D-Day Caper by Shelly Frome



Title: Miranda and the D-Day Caper
Author: Shelly Frome
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publication Date: March 1st 2020
Publisher: BQB Publishing
Number of Pages: 338
ISBN: 1945448571 (ISBN13: 9781945448577)


A modern day mystery with WWII tactics, old-time heroes and values, and the efforts of two amateur cousin sleuths from the Heartland.

On a sparkling spring morning in the Blue Ridge, small-town realtor Miranda Davis approached the tailgate market, intent on dealing with her whimsical cousin Skip’s unexpected arrival from New York. It turns out that Skip was on the run and, in his panic, grabbed his beloved tabby Duffy, recalling that Miranda had a recent part in solving a case down in Carolina. His predicament stemmed from intercepting code messages like “Countdown to D-Day,” playfully broadcasting the messages on his radio show over the nation-wide network, and subsequently forced to flee.

At first, Miranda tried to limit her old childhood companion’s conundrum to the sudden abduction of Duffy the cat. But the forces that be were hell-bent on keeping Skip under wraps by any means after he now stumbled close to the site of their master plan. Miranda’s subsequent efforts to decipher the conspiracy and somehow intervene placed both herself and her old playmate on a collision course with a white-nationalist perpetrator and the continuing machinations of the right-wing enterprise, with the lives of all those gathered for a diversity celebration in nearby Asheville and a crucial senatorial vote on homeland security hanging in the balance.


Excerpt:

“Okay, I get it,” said Miranda, assuming it was playtime as always. “We’re double agents. You keep reading the paper and light a cigarette. A minute later, you toss the cigarette and leave the book of matches on the table with the coded inscription Moscow rules. That’s when I take it and slip away awaiting further instructions.”

This was flippant Miranda. The one with the short bob, over thirty, just trying to set the tone on this glorious Saturday in the Blue Ridge and ease out of it. But at the moment, playful Skip seemed to have lost his way. His eyes were bloodshot, underscored by dark circles. And the signature mischievous smirk on that sliver of a face had been replaced by a worrisome twitch.

Folding the newspaper, with his cornflower blue eyes still gazing into the distance, Skip said, “I don’t know, kiddo. I tell you, I just don’t know.”

“Which makes two of us. So tell me why you couldn’t simply e-mail me?”

“Why? Am I holding you up or something?”

“No, you’re not holding me up. Look, what do you say we cut to the chase? Glancing around, taking his sweet time, making sure no one was within earshot, Skip said, “All right.”

“From the top.”

“Okay. Like I indicated, I was filling in, got a break on a prestige AM station.”

Getting more anxious by the second, his lanky body beginning to twitch, Skip said, “So, when opportunity knocks, you seize the day. Right?”

“Out with it. I am still waiting.”

Scrunching forward this time, Skip said, “One night I started to wing it. No more of this ‘Yup, it’s midnight, folks. Some of these homespun Indiana tales should ease you right off to sleep.’ I was antsy. I’d had it with Russ Mathews who’d signed off that night right before me, sounding more and more like some fear monger back in the day.”

“And what day was that?”

“World War Two.”

More glancing around on Skip’s part. More checking the flow of visitors coming and going.

Getting antsy as well, Miranda said, “Will you get on with it? Is there an upshot in our future? ”

“I’m coming to it,” Skip said, looking right at her this time. “Right after my kazoo rendition of I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash, I lean into the mic and say, ‘Guess what? Ole Russ Mathews must be on to something. I’m talking the plot against America. So I tell the insomniacs all over the Liberty Broadcasting system that, at first, I thought Duffy was pulling down on the blinds out of longing.”

“Duffy?”

“Just your average ginger house cat, left alone, separated from other felines on the prowl. But I come home to my sublet and notice he’s perched in the exact same spot, his green eyes staring across the street. So, over the airwaves, I said, ‘What if I told you night people something was up in a dilapidated rooming house in Hoboken? Right across the river from the Big Apple?’” “That does it,” Miranda said, getting to her feet. “How am I supposed to follow this? When you’re ready to get to the point, let me know.”

“Wait a minute. Don’t you see?” said Skip, getting to his feet as well. “I stumbled onto something. Before you know it, my ratings are starting to climb. But since the weather’s getting warmer, those guys across the street aren’t scurrying in and out of the cold. They’re loitering by the stoop, glancing across the shadows. Next thing I know, I’m getting negative call-ins. Listeners telling me to knock it off or else.

Undaunted, I tell everyone in radio-land what’s going on out there may have far reaching consequences. Unless I intercept.”

“Oh, please,” said Miranda, walking away. “Listen to me.” Skip scurried over and held her arm. “I tell you, at the same time, those guys across the street were carting off concealed stuff.”

“I’m not listening anymore.”

“You’ve got to. You have obviously become a born tracker. Tracked down a poison pen perpetrator like the paper said.”

“Enough. Stop hyping everything up. Look at you. You’re coming down with full blown hysteria.”

“Exactly. Because it appears there’s no longer any line between entertainment and politics. While messing around, doing a take-off on Russ Mathews and boosting my ratings, I may have stumbled onto an actual plot utilizing WW II codes.”


Excerpt from Miranda and the D-Day Caper by Shelly Frome. Copyright 2020 by Shelly Frome. Reproduced with permission from Shelly Frome. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Shelly Frome is a member of Mystery Writers of America, a professor of dramatic arts emeritus at the University of Connecticut, a former professional actor, a writer of crime novels and books on theater and film. He is also a features writer for Gannett Media’s Black Mountain News.

His fiction includes Sun Dance for Andy Horn, Lilac Moon, Twilight of the Drifter, Tinseltown Riff, Murder Run, Moon Games and The Secluded Village Murders. Among his works of non-fiction are The Actors Studio and texts on the art and craft of screenwriting and writing for the stage. Miranda and the D-Day Caper is his latest foray into the world of crime and the amateur sleuth.

He lives in Black Mountain, North Carolina.



This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Shelly Frome. Two (2) winners will each win (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on May 1, 2020 and runs through June 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.


On Tour May 1 - May 31, 2020

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!
These are the stops on the tour as of April 16 and are subject to change.


Get More Great Reads at

Friday, 15 May 2020

The Soul Killer by Ross Greenwood



Title: The Soul Killer
Series: The DI Barton Series Book 2
Author: Ross Greenwood
Genre: Crime
Publication Date: 7th May 2020
Publisher: Boldwood Books


‘Repent in this life, rejoice in the next…’

A murder made to look like suicide. Another that appears an accident. DI Barton investigates the tragedies that have shattered a family’s lives, but without obvious leads the case goes nowhere. Then, when the remains of a body are found, everything points to one suspect.

Barton and his team move quickly, and once the killer is behind bars, they can all breathe a sigh of relief. But death still lurks in the shadows, and no one's soul is safe. Not even those of the detectives…

How do you stop a killer that believes life is a rehearsal for eternity, and their future is worth more than your own…?

Ross Greenwood writes gritty, heart-pounding thrillers, with twists aplenty, and unforgettable endings. Perfect for fans of Mark Billingham and Stuart MacBride.




My Review:

Written from two very different points of view, the author, Ross Greenwood, has given us a gripping read with a well-crafted plot.

The first viewpoint is that of the killer, who we meet at the start of the book, as a young boy suffering at the hands of his cruel and religious mother. Although we don't know who he is, this pov takes us inside his mind and lets us learn about his life and the reasoning behind his crimes.

The other perspective is that of DI Barton and his team as they investigate an apparent suicide, which is soon followed by a tragic accident within the same family. As the death toll mounts up, the team race to catch the culprit before he kills again.

The Soul Killer is a fast-paced, suspenseful thriller, with many twists and turns, and which I found difficult to put down. Although the second book of the series it works very well as a standalone read.

( I received a complimentary copy of the book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.)



Author Bio:

Ross Greenwood is the author of six crime thrillers. Before becoming a full-time writer he was most recently a prison officer and so worked everyday with murderers, rapists and thieves for four years. He lives in Peterborough.









Saturday, 9 May 2020

The Lazarus Charter by Tony Bassett



Title: The Lazarus Charter
Author: Tony Bassett
Genre: Spy thriller
Publication Date: 1st March, 2020



Bob Shaw is baffled to see a man in a brown coat at a bustling Underground station. Surely it can’t be his friend, the scientist Professor Morley? Morley perished weeks before in a blazing car. Is the man an impostor or did his friend fake his death?

This fascinating and ingenious thriller tells of Bob’s battle to find out the truth, helped by his wife Anne. They are confronted by ruthless enemies and forced to flee their home in this fast-paced spy thriller from the author of Smile Of The Stowaway.



Extract from Chapter 23, The Lazarus Charter:

(One of the two main characters, Bob Shaw, is on the trail of two Russian men he suspects of poisoning a Government research scientist. His only clue is that the pair once bought soup from a Russian food shop in North London. He visits the shop, but staff are unhelpful. However, as he walks away, he realises a black car is following him).

      It was then I noticed a black car travelling behind me. Although on foot, I managed for several minutes to keep well ahead. I racked my brains, wondering if I had seen it before.
      ‘Any moment now, it will drive off,’ I thought. ‘Or maybe they’ll stop and ask me the way to the embassy.’ I turned left and hurried down the gently sloping road, Orchard Gardens, where I had parked.
      Rows of silent houses stood on each side with trim lawns, rhododendrons and occasional birch trees. A white car swept up the hill. Its brakes screeched as it reached the T junction before roaring off.
      I looked round again. The black car had stopped a short distance behind me. It was either a BMW X5 or an Audi Q7. I was uncertain which. There were two men in the front. I couldn’t see if anyone was in the back.
      On reaching the Mondeo, I fumbled for the keys. I opened the door quickly and placed the newspaper and soup on the passenger seat. I started the engine. As I did so, I saw in my rear view mirror the black car had begun moving slowly towards me.
      Then it was beside me – the black metal just inches away, stopping me from opening my door if I’d wished to. My heart was racing like a runaway train.
      The thickset man in the passenger seat with short, cropped hair opened his window. He made a turning gesture, signifying I should lower mine so he could talk to me. No way, I thought.
      I released the brake and set off down Orchard Gardens at speed. My hands were shaking.
      I turned left and then left again, believing this would bring me to the traffic lights at the crossroads, where I could find the route back to the North Circular. Thankfully, it did. I peered in my mirror. The black car was still there.
      If I had to stop at the lights, I might be in trouble, I thought. One or both of them might get out and come round to my door. Anne’s words about visiting the food shop came back to me over the evening air.
      ‘That’s far too dangerous,’ she had warned. ‘Leave it to the police and security services.’ I wished now I had listened.
      Luckily, the lights remained green and I shot off along the dual carriageway heading east at a rate that, I knew, was breaking the speed limit. I could not see the black car. Perhaps I’d lost them.
      But moments later, as I turned onto the North Circular, I realised I was mistaken. Their driver had found sudden reserves of power.
      Now they were so close the two men were almost sitting on my back bumper. My breathing quickened. Then the shooting started.’



Author Bio:

Tony Bassett, who was born in West Kent, grew up wanting to be a writer from the age of nine when he edited a school magazine. After attending Hull University where he won a `Time-Life' magazine student journalism award, he spent six years working as a journalist in Sidcup, Worcester and Cardiff before moving to Fleet Street. Tony spent 37 years working for the national press, mainly for the `Sunday People' where he worked both for the newsdesk and the investigations department. He helped cover the Jeremy Thorpe trial for the `Evening Standard', broke the news in the `Sun' of Bill Wyman's plans to marry Mandy Smith and found evidence for the `Sunday People' of Rod Stewart's secret love child. On one occasion, while working for `The People', he took an escaped gangster back to prison.

His first book, `Smile Of The Stowaway', is one of four crime novels Tony has written over the past three years. He has five grown-up children and eleven grandchildren. He lives in South East London with his partner, Lin.









Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Magical Intelligence by M. K. Wiseman



Title: Magical Intelligence
Series: M. I. Book 1
Author: M. K. Wiseman
Genre: YA / NA/ Adult historical fantasy
Publication Date: 5th May 2020




When you are a member of Britain’s first team of wizard spies, every mission might be your last. But as the dawning of the 20th century draws ever nearer, magic grows weak. Violectric Dampening, the clash of man-made electricity with the Gifts of magekind, threatens M.I.’s existence. And if that isn’t enough, they’ve now been discharged from their own government. Obsolete. Distrusted.

And now hunted by one of their own.

Myra Wetherby has always feared her so-called fits, strange visions of people and places that she cannot explain. It is the emotional manipulation, however, a strange empathic connection to those around her, which threatens her very sanity. A danger to her family, Myra runs away, falling straight into the hands of the newly ousted Magical Intelligence team. Who just so happen to need an ability like hers.

Which makes Myra one of them . . . whether she likes it or not.





My Review:

A solid start to a potentially great series.

We join 14-year-old Myra in Queen Victoria's London, as she finds out that she's not insane, she is, in fact, a wizard. She is discovered and taken in by the Magical Intelligence team who need a mage with her abilities.

After a slow, and occasionally confusing, start the story picked up the pace and briskly carried me towards the satisfying conclusion, although leaving me with questions that I hope will be answered in future books.

As the first book in a planned 8 book series, Magical Intelligence takes it's time to introduce the fleshed-out characters and the interesting take on magic. I am definitely interested in seeing how the next book pans out.

( I received a complimentary copy of the book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.)




Author Bio:

M. K. Wiseman has degrees in animation/video and library science – both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Today, her office is a clutter of storyboards and half-catalogued collections of too, too many books. (But, really, is there such a thing as too many books?) When she’s not mucking about with stories, she’s off playing brač or lying in a hammock in the backyard of her Cedarburg home that she shares with her endlessly patient husband.









Monday, 4 May 2020

The Pinebox Vendetta by Jeff Bond



Title: The Pinebox Vendetta
Series: Pruitt-Gallagher Saga, #1
Author: Jeff Bond
Genre: Thriller
Publication Date: February 19th 2020
Publisher: Jeff Bond Books
Number of Pages: 264
ISBN: 1732255253 (ISBN13: 9781732255258)


From the author of The Winner Maker and Blackquest 40 comes The Pinebox Vendetta: a genre-bending thriller that combines a love story, cold-case murder mystery, and political blood feud — told over the course of a single breathless weekend.

The Gallaghers and Pruitts have dominated the American political landscape dating back to Revolutionary times. The Yale University class of 1996 had one of each, and as the twenty-year reunion approaches, the families are on a collision course.

Owen Gallagher is coasting to the Democratic nomination for president.

Rock Pruitt — the brash maverick whose career was derailed two decades ago by his association to a tragic death — is back, ready to reclaim the mantle of clan leader.

And fatefully in between lies Samantha Lessing. Sam arrives at reunion weekend lugging a rotten marriage, dumb hope, and a portable audio recorder she’ll use for a public radio-style documentary on the Pruitt-Gallagher rivalry — widely known as the pinebox vendetta.

What Sam uncovers will thrust her into the middle of the ancient feud, upending presidential politics and changing the trajectory of one clan forever.

The Pinebox Vendetta is the first entry in the Pruitt-Gallagher saga: a series that promises cutthroat plots, power grabs, and unforgettable characters stretched to their very limits by the same ideological forces that roil America today.


Excerpt:


1

Jamie Gallagher stood beside the pirate at the skiff’s rail, the African sea thick on his skin. Neither man could see the other in the moonless night, but Jamie smelled the khat the Somali never stopped chewing—sweetly sharp, a scent that made Jamie feel part cleansed and part crazed.

“The money is ready,” said the pirate named Abdi. “My men have packed the briefcase.”

Wanaagsan.” Jamie ducked his head in gratitude. “You believe the general will accept a briefcase?”

“This is the usual way, yes. It will be checked for explosives with X-ray and IMS swabs.”

“Of course.”

“Also, the general will insist on verifying the amount before the release occurs.”

“His men are going to count ten million dollars?” Jamie asked.

The Somali spat khat leaves into the sea. “He has machines. The machines check by weight.”

Jamie exhaled, pushing his own breath into the hot, still air. The money would weigh out.

The money wasn’t the trick.

Abdi continued, “Once the amount is verified, the general will call his people in the jungle by satphone, and they will free your journalist.”

“Immediately? I’ll need confirmation from HD before we leave the yacht.”

“That is the arrangement.”

Jamie mopped his brow. Acting wasn’t his strength, and he hoped his insistence on this procedural point was convincing. In fact, Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) knew nothing about tomorrow. There would be no representative at the hand-off spot, and the French journalist—whose reporting on minority suffrage truly had opened the world’s eyes—would not be freed.

This was a regret. But Jamie Gallagher had lived with worse.

He said, “I’ll be X-rayed, too?”

“Yes.”

“Strip-searched?”

“At a minimum. You should expect a body cavity search.”

“Fine.” In his years advocating for peace and public health around sub-Saharan Africa, Jamie had had his cheeks probed, his neck magnetically combed, and the arches of his feet flayed. “I suppose the general’s in no position to be trusting.”

The pirate took a while to respond. Was he eyeing Jamie in the dark? Signaling to his men back on the mothership? Jamie’s statement had been obvious and shouldn’t have invoked offense.

Since joining the pirates at Merca, a white beach paradise down the coast from Mogadishu, Jamie had detected hostility—even after paying their exorbitant convoy fee. Abdi himself had been civil enough, but his three young lieutenants, after pointedly using their left hands to shake Jamie’s, had glared at him with undisguised contempt.

He understood this. A westerner waltzes onto their ship with unimaginable stores of cash—cash that, in a matter of hours, will bring them into contact with the most wanted war criminal on the planet. Naturally, they resented him.

He was what, five years older than them? With his bandanna and dishwater-blond hair?

Abdi said, “This is a great risk for us. We have earned the general’s esteem. We do not wish to squander it.”

Jamie heard the clench in the man’s jaw. “I assure you, I will comply with every procedure he or you tell me to follow.”

General Mahad and these Somali pirates fought on the same side of many issues. Both wanted the ruling Muslims out of Puntland. They didn’t care that the Muslims had remade the conflict-ravaged region into a prosperous enclave, introducing compulsory education and a foodstuff-based living wage.

For the pirates, the problem was their strict, Islam-centric brand of law and order, which had made the coastal waters harder to pillage.

General Mahad’s beef was simple: the Muslims had replaced him in power.

He’d ruled Puntland for a decade, enriching himself and his cronies using any resource available—khat, guns, people. When word of his atrocities leaked, international pressure mounted for a free election. The general agreed after a period of stonewalling, believing he could manipulate the results. When Al Jama-ah won anyway, the general stole all he could in the weeks before yielding control.

According to a local guide Jamie trusted, the general toured polling stations his last day with a machete, taking three fingers from each precinct leader.

“If I lose next time,” he told them, “you lose the rest.”

Though he retained a few loyalist strongholds like the one holding the French journalist, General Mahad himself lived on a yacht, moving constantly to evade capture. The Hague had convicted him last year in absentia.

Now Jamie asked, “Who’ll be coming aboard with me?”

“Me and Josef,” Abdi said. “We are known to the general.”

“Will you be armed?”

“No. He will search us, too.”

Jamie shuffled in place, the skiff feeling suddenly unsteady beneath him. “I—er, I hope it’ll be okay that I bring a gift. Akpeteshie. I was told it is the general’s favorite liquor?”

The pirate groaned pleasurably. “Akpeteshie, yes.”

“I thought we might share a drink as a token of good faith.”

“The bottle is factory-sealed?”

“Yes.”

“The general will like this. The general believes in courtesy.”

Several retorts came to mind at the ludicrous idea this butcher had any claim on civility, but Jamie swallowed them. He removed a pair of night-vision goggles from his rucksack. Before looking himself, he offered them to Abdi. Abdi waved them off as though the technology were frivolous.

Jamie scanned the horizon, right to left, left to right. The skiff’s sway seemed to increase. The eye cups stuck to his sweaty forehead.

The smell of khat, which hadn’t bothered him before, grated now, like sugar grit needling into his nose and eardrums. He felt the pressure of this place keenly. Every actor—man, woman, or child—who entered this stretch of ocean would be girded to fight. They must be. Choice never came into it.

A shape appeared on the horizon. Jamie thumbed his focus wheel until red blurs resolved to running lights.

“The general,” Abdi said.

Adrenaline jolted through Jamie. Here was a ghost vessel—a vessel many militaries of the world would board on sight, and one the United States wouldn’t think twice about blasting to smithereens with a drone strike.

The yacht grew larger in the greenish display. Jamie screwed on a bulky magnifier lens and was able to make out guards on the gunwale, ambling, AK-47s on their shoulders. The yacht was perhaps twenty meters. Several figures were sprawled out on deck, sleeping in the open for the heat.

Jamie raised the goggles, thinking to find the general on the bridge. The cockpit windows were smoked—opaque from outside and surely bulletproof.

He panned back down. The craft made a leeward turn, and he glimpsed new figures at the base of the pilothouse. These were prone like the others but smaller—a dozen in a line, little pulled-apart commas. Most of them were still, but one squirmed restlessly.

Children.

Jamie’s stomach shrank to a cold fist.

#

He barely slept. Long after rowing back to the mothership and helping Abdi loosely tie up the skiff, and bedding down in the holds beside crates of ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades, Jamie lay awake thinking of those children.

He’d known the general had kids, twenty or thirty that he acknowledged. And it shouldn’t have been surprising such a monster would keep family members near, in the cross-hairs of danger. Still, the concrete knowledge of these innocents shook Jamie. His moral clarity waned, like a tower of blocks losing its crosspiece.

How will the general’s children move on? What if they fall into the arms of the pirates or the next warlord up?

From here, it was no leap at all to obsess about the French journalist. When the exchange was revealed as phony, would the general’s men execute her on the spot? They would blame her, despite the fact that she had played no role whatsoever in the ruse.

Renée Auteuil had been raised by a jobless father in Roubaix, the post-industrial husk of a city. She’d worked sixty-hour weeks as a line cook to support them. She’d defied dictators on three continents to achieve the eminence and audience that had prompted General Mahad to snatch her last spring.

Now Jamie was putting her in jeopardy, and for what?

So that he could feel better about himself? So he could feel absolved?

Jamie had chosen Puntland precisely because it was neutral territory in the feud between his family, the Gallaghers, and their conservative arch-enemies, the Pruitts.

The two clans had been fighting for nearly three centuries—and while there was hardly a facet of American political, corporate, or philanthropic life their battles hadn’t touched, neither family had much connection to Puntland. As president, Jonathan Pruitt hadn’t carried out any significant dealings with the territory during his term. (His only term, thankfully.) The Gallaghers facilitated relief missions all over Africa, but nothing specially in Puntland.

Jamie’s action tomorrow wouldn’t be interpreted as having grown out of the feud, or impacted the feud, or given the Gallaghers some edge in the next midterm elections.

This was separate. This was good, a thing nobody could spin or debate.

That had been the plan, at least.

Now doubts roared in Jamie’s mind. He dug at the roots of his hair, flopping about the damp, creaking boards. The Somalis snored in the adjacent room. Their arsenal reeked of grease and sulfur. Jamie crunched his eyes and pulled his rucksack, which he’d been toting around since freshman year at Yale, down over his head.

The thoughts still came, and the guilt.

His emotions spiraled and sickened and fought, and finally came to a head. He growled, disgusted by himself, then tore through his rucksack for the shoe that contained, wedged up in the toes, a newsprint photo of a mass grave discovered in northeast Puntland.

By penlight, he stared at the image. He seared it into his brain. The open trench of dusted gray bodies. The overlapping femurs. The fleshless faces.

The photo was merely one of dozens. Jamie knew the general was well-positioned to continue the slaughter once the collective international eye moved along.

“That’s it,” he whispered aloud. “Not one more thought.”

#

The meeting was to take place twenty minutes after sunrise. Jamie woke, having finally fallen asleep around four a.m., to the Somalis chatting in their native tongue over pieces of flatbread. He dragged himself aboveboard, feeling at once languid and jittery.

“Bread?” Abdi offered, tearing a piece from a slab.

“Thanks, no.” Jamie reached into his rucksack instead for a piece of biltong, the wildebeest jerky he’d grown fond of. “Has the general been about?”

“Yes, Josef saw him. The hat.” Abdi made a sifting gesture above his head to indicate the general’s beret.

The day was already scorching, the sky’s blue brilliance broken only by the boiling disk of the sun. The general’s yacht rocked softly in the west, appearing quite large now, its bow sleek and spear-like.

“They’re within gun range,” Jamie observed.

“Oh yes. We are in their scopes.”

As if to prove the point, Abdi raised a hand in the yacht’s direction and laughed. Nobody joined him.

The pirate named Josef, taller and broader in the chest than Abdi, loaded the ten-million-dollar briefcase into the first of three skiffs. Jamie stepped in after, fitting his rucksack into the hull—careful of the Akpeteshie inside—and tying back his hair.

Abdi took a minute instructing the two men staying back on the mothership. Was he arranging a distress signal? Telling them what to do if shots were fired?

Coordinating a double-cross?

There was no use worrying. Jamie had placed himself between dangerous people, but dangerous people performed the same calculations benign ones did. The pirates would keep up their end so long as the benefits remained clear: not only cash, but stronger ties with the general and the establishment of a new back-channel to the powerful Gallaghers.

The skiff loaded, Adbi yanked the outboard motor’s cord. The engine sputtered alive and settled to a rumbling purr. Josef untied them, flashing a grim thumbs-up to the men staying behind.

They charted a course for the general’s yacht. The sea felt choppier on the smaller craft, which didn’t bother Jamie—a lifelong boater and varsity swimmer in college—but did compel him to pull the rucksack protectively into his lap. If the Akpeteshie somehow ruptured against the hull, the mission would be lost.

As they neared the general’s yacht, the faces of his guards became visible—wary, textured faces. The carry-straps of AK-47s sawed their necks.

Abdi cut the motor and drifted in.

A section of railing was unclipped, and a ramp extended from the yacht’s stern. After helping Josef tie up, Jamie slipped the rucksack onto his back and boarded. The Somalis trailed him with the briefcase.

Halkan, ku siin!” said one of the general’s men.

Abdi shook his head forcefully at the request—to hand over the briefcase. The guards backpedaled, their formation hemming Jamie and the pirates into a corner of the aft deck. Abdi and Josef walked with their bodies shielding the case as if it contained plutonium.

With these uneasy field positions established, the general’s men conferred briefly and parted to form an aisle to the pilothouse. General Mahad emerged.

The general wore his full dress uniform: navy blue, epaulets, ribboned medals. He lumbered forward with a mild limp, said to have originated during the Simba rebellion of 1964.

He raised his chin to Abdi, then spoke to Jamie. “Welcome to the one and true seat of Puntland, Mr. Gallagher.”

Jamie felt the man’s deep, scarred voice in his bowels. “That’s none of my concern. I’m here for Renée.”

The general smiled, his lips fat and sly. “How fortunate she is. You are the white knight, eh? Sir Jamie?”

The characterization stung, but Jamie pushed on. “I’ve been in touch with Humanitarian Dialogue—their helicopter is ready. Give me a latitude and longitude for the exchange and let’s get this over.”

“Your friends have the money?”

Every eye on the yacht turned to Abdi, whose knuckles tightened on the briefcase handle.

“Ten million,” Jamie said. “Count it if you like.”

The general crooked a finger at one of his men, who disappeared to the pilothouse. The man returned with a machine resembling a fax with bill-sized trays.

Abdi stepped forward with the briefcase. The man with the counting machine passed a handheld X-ray scanner around the case and swabbed a cloth along each edge.

He started for the pilothouse with the cloth, likely to perform a residue test for explosives, but the general stopped him. Then gestured for Abdi to go ahead.

When Abdi undid the clasp, the lip snapped open—ten million was a squeeze, even with an oversize case—and a few packets spilled out.

The counting began.

Now Jamie reached into his rucksack for the Akpeteshie.

“I’ve heard tell around campfires,” he began, gathering himself, “that you enjoy a certain Ghanaian beverage.”

The general grinned when he saw the bottle, squat, the neck’s glass bowed in the distinctive shape of a baobab tree.

“This is true.”

“Shall we drink together?” Jamie said. “It’s early, but I find a day started well nearly always ends well.”

The general palmed his jaw. There was a risk he would set the gift aside, but Jamie was counting on this subtle challenge to his manhood—in front of his crew, in front of Abdi and Josef. People like the general didn’t back down from such dares.

Jamie thought of his old classmate Rock Pruitt who’d downed a fifth of whiskey disproving a frat brother’s claim that prep-schoolers only drank martinis and smoked reefer.

“I would quite enjoy that,” the general said. “After the bottle is checked.”

Jamie raised a shoulder, feigning indifference as two men seized the Akpeteshie and held it sideways up to the sun, testing its feel in their hands, poking fingernails along the dripped-wax seal.

They would find nothing. Jamie’s sister Charlotte Gallagher, founder of internet-of-things giant SmartWidget and the eighteenth-richest person in the world, owned 45 percent of the local distillery that produced Akpeteshie. She had allowed Jamie to follow this lone bottle through the factory. At the final step, just before corking, he’d poured out 150 milliliters of liquor and replaced it with an equal amount of king cobra venom.

For fifteen months, Jamie had been inoculating himself with increasingly larger doses of the venom. He had started, after discussing the strategy at length with a Sudanese shaman, with a pinprick diluted in a pint of water. Last week, he had managed eight milliliters of venom—the amount a shot from the spiked Akpeteshie would deliver, depending on the pour—and suffered only dizziness, blurred vision, and severe cottonmouth.

When his men were satisfied the bottle was unaltered, the general took a pair of tumblers from the yacht’s fiberglass sideboard.

Tumblers, not shot glasses. Eight ounces at least.

“To finding a middle, eh?” The general poured each tumbler to the brim. “Two parties can start from opposite ends and, with good sense, find a common understanding.”

Jamie’s teeth pulverized each other in the back of his mouth. He’d always found the rhetoric of compromise disingenuous, whether it came from television pundits or the North Carolina Gallaghers exhorting the clan to give ground at the fringes of the abortion debate.

To hear it from the mouth of a man like Mahad? Revolting.

To the middle,” he spat.

He raised the tumbler to his lips. Calculations whipped around his brain. Eight ounces divided by one point five…

Equaled six times the amount of venom his body had previously endured.

The liquid was amber, almost orange. As the glass tilted, Jamie imagined he saw currents of venom slithering among the palm wine. His fingers trembled. Some sloshed over the side, but not nearly enough.

In his periphery, Jamie became aware of Abdi and Josef arguing with the general’s men. Abdi slapped one empty well of the briefcase. The general’s men shouted. More rushed to the deck from below board.

The general balked at Jamie’s tone. “You do not like my toast. That is your right. You are the guest, so make your own.” He smirked about. “We are democratic here, aren’t we?”

Jamie ignored the low hoots. “To justice.” He regripped his tumbler. “To justice, and fair treatment for all living things.”

The general guffawed, big and toothy. “For ten million, yes. Why in hell not?”

Their eyes locked over the tumblers’ rims. Jamie perceived something in the man’s look, some hustler’s instinct, and knew if he faltered now—even for a moment—the trap would be blown.

Jamie stared into the lethal brew, waited for bright madness to rise, and drank. The Akpeteshie burned his throat. His jaw felt weak and daggers pressed into his eardrums from inside. Still, he kept his head tipped back and drank it all.

The general and several of his men goggled at the feat. When their eyes turned to him, the war criminal downed his, too.

“…no, the release!” Jamie heard behind him. “No money before release!”

“We will keep it.”

“No, us! We will hold the money.”

A guard wearing ripped denim leveled his rifle at Abdi. Josef stepped forward to push aside the muzzle. Another guard drove the butt of his rifle into Josef’s back, crumpling the pirate.

Jamie didn’t know how long he and the general had. During his inoculation, the symptoms would begin in about a minute, but he’d never ingested this large a dose.

His heartrate zoomed and breath pumped through his chest like air from a bellows—still, this could be the effects of anticipation.

“So, um…the release,” he said, feeling a vague duty toward Abdi. “If you…so I’ll call HD and be sure Renée, er…s’all okay with the money…”

Words were deserting him. The scuffle on deck was intensifying. Josef had recovered to pounce on the man in denim. Abdi was buried in a furious tangle of fists and churning hips.

Jamie didn’t understand the fight. Let them have the money—who cared?

He began to feel disconnected from his body, Abdi and Josef blending into other people he’d known in life, Gallaghers and Pruitts, senators and reporters, grad students and business titans, all fighting without reason, finding joy and enemies, grinding their life into the larger sausage.

The general unleashed a thunderous whistle and raised his hand for calm. The struggle paused. Every eye turned his way. He began to lower his hand but suddenly couldn’t.

His arm convulsed and became some bucking stick-animal beyond his control. His fingers twitched unnaturally. He grasped his throat, staggering back. Froth bubbled in his nostrils.

The man who’d retrieved the money scale from the pilothouse pointed at Jamie.

“What is this?”

Jamie tried answering, but his tongue would not obey, dead and heavy in his mouth. Pain gored his brain. Sweat screamed from his pores, a thousand beads altogether.

This wasn’t the outcome Jamie had wanted, but neither was it wholly unexpected. He thought now of life’s best moments. In Burundi, feeling that boy’s skeletal hand squeeze as he sucked a tab of enriched peanut butter. On the vineyard, fourteen years old, swinging his cousins round and round in celebration after his mother—the senior senator from Connecticut and Democratic National Committee chairperson—had succeeded in her long-shot campaign to retake majority control of the Senate.

Above all, though, he remembered kissing Sam. Seniors on their last night at Yale, about to go conquer the world, standing together in an entryway. Emotions spiked to the heavens. Their mouths came together in the gentlest, deepest touch he’d known before or since.

Samantha Lessing. God, she was it. The life he missed.

Half the general’s men were swarming the Somali pirates while the other half moved on Jamie. There was a gap between the two, but it was closing.

Jamie willed his tongue back into service.

“This was right,” he croaked. “Here, today. This was not a waste.”

And he believed this—dashing across the deck through grasping hands, over the gunwale, into the black ocean.


TEN YEARS LATER

2

Sam slipped out of the WNYC studios at four thirty, waving off cheers of “Have fun!” and “Take me with you!”, hurrying through the lobby, jogging a short block to catch the uptown C. She needed to pick up a daughter and possibly husband in Brooklyn, then be back in Manhattan for the 5:41 p.m. train to New Haven. Reunion check-in closed at eight. If the train arrived on time, she’d make it easy.

If not? If any of the dizzying array of pitfalls inherent in teenagers and public transit popped up? Sam guessed they were sleeping on the street.

Half an hour later, she hiked three flights of stairs with key at the ready. The apartment was unlocked.

“Joss?” she called. “You are packed, yes?”

Her daughter’s door was closed, but guitar chords thwanged through. Sam stepped around French bread pizza and a stack of indie music magazines to pound twice.

“Not telling you what to wear,” she yelled, “but I suggest a dress or dress-like garment for Saturday night.”

The music inside dulled, indicating Sam had been heard. The warning bell had been sounded. She found an oversize duffel bag in the hall closet and tossed in her stuff: toiletries, three-odd outfits for the weekend, Zoom audio recorder.

About outfits: Sam both cared and didn’t care. She was forty-three. Her classmates were forty-three, give or take. Nobody should go rocking a prom dress, but they weren’t dead yet either. She brought dark-red sleeveless, plus yellow floral in case of glorious weather.

“Leaving twelve minutes!” she said through Joss’s door. “Zero wiggle situation.”

Tight timelines didn’t bother Sam—the studio commonly dropped post-production on her for shows that were airing in mere hours. Packing now, she thought pleasurably of the friends she’d see at the reunion. Laurel in from San Francisco. Jen Pereido. Naomi, even though she was still recovering from the birth of her fourth(!) child.

From her own daughter’s room came a squeal, streaked with joy. The noise pinched Sam’s heart. Her husband Abe was in there—they’d probably harmonized on some new melody. Which was awesome. Truly. Except that it was 4:48.

She opened the door. “I hate to be Yoko, but the time’s come to break up. Leaving in five minutes.”

Fourteen-year-old Joss looked up from fingering the neck of her guitar, still grinning. Abe sat cross-legged on the floor with the Yamaha across his knees, a kind of strung-out, hipster Dalai Lama. Both appeared stumped.

Sam said, “Yale? My alma mater, where you’ve been dying to go for months?”

Joss’s grin vanished. “Dad said you were leaving whenever! Isn’t it like an all-weekend thing? Today’s only Thursday.”

“Yes, but in order to check in Thursday night, as I hope to,” Sam said, patiently as she could, “we need to arrive on campus by eight o’clock.”

“That’s ridiculous, I’ve barely even looked at clothes.”

“Then look quickly. I’m winging it myself.”

Joss shot upright, dropping her guitar with a clang against the bed. “I’m not going to Yale on, like, zero notice. You can’t just spring this on me.”

“I sprung no thing on no body. We discussed timing last night, and this afternoon I sent your father four texts—every hour, on the hour—reminding him.”

“But those go to his phone,” Joss said. “Remember, I don’t have one? Because you won’t let me?”

Sam stretched one arm laboriously toward the ceiling, focusing on good breaths. Apparently, they were skimming right over Abe’s not passing along the messages. His long-running campaign to absolve himself of any and all responsibility—waged by a steady pattern of never giving a crap for anyone but himself—had succeeded at last.

“Look, we can argue about phones again or we can try to make this train. Otherwise, we basically miss half the reunion. We might as well skip.”

This genuinely spooked Joss. Her face hollowed even more deeply than usual. (She’d grown three inches this year, causing Sam to marvel at this moody, suddenly supermodel whose laundry she washed every week.) They’d been talking about the reunion forever, what architecture couldn’t be missed, whether student activists would be around for Joss to connect with.

Sam hated to use fear, that blunt-force instrument of the parenting arsenal, but she knew a reasoned argument would produce nothing but gridlock.

Joss started packing.

Abe, who’d disappeared to the bathroom, emerged now with drawstrings dangling from his sweats. He nodded to a pair of shiny heels in Sam’s duffel.

“Somebody’s dressing to impress.”

“I haven’t seen these people in twenty years,” she said. “I’m erring on the side of adequate.”

Her husband snorted, seeming to take the comment personally. Twelve years older than Sam, he’d been an already-aging rocker when she had met him in her late twenties. Between drugs and alcohol, and having nowhere in particular to be for the last twenty years—no office or classroom mores to adhere to—Abe had aged poorly. His leatherette skin belonged to a person decades older, and beige hair had fled the top of his head for his ears and nostrils.

“You’re more than welcome to join,” Sam said, stuffing in a toothbrush. “But we are leaving mucho rapido, so…”

He ambled a step away, picked up Joss’s guitar and set it in its case.

She heaved the duffel’s halves together to make the zipper zip. “You’re passing, correct? I just want to confirm with a verbal yes or no answer.”

Sam knew with four hundred percent certainty that some future argument would hinge on this point—whether or not Abe had been invited. They would be sniping back and forth about Yale, how phony or not phony her friends were, what first-world problems they were finding themselves crippled by, and he would break out his trump card.

You were embarrassed. You didn’t want me there, dragging you down.

And here it came, earlier than expected.

“You don’t have to faux-invite me,” Abe said. “You prefer to go alone. Oh, you’ll tolerate Joss. Joss is an acceptable accessory. Perfectly cool, I get it. I won’t ruin your triumphant return.”

Sam again focused on respiration.

In, out. In, out.

“This is a real invitation,” she said. “Just like the one I offered in April, and in May. You are absolutely welcome at my reunion. Come. Please. Joss would love having you there. Maybe you could jam with Thom—he’s supposed to be playing Toad’s.”

As convincingly as Sam delivered these words, her husband was right. The invitation wasn’t real. Abe thought Thom’s music was derivative and had zero interest in strumming out tired chords while Activist Boy preened at the mic for the ladies. If Abe went, he would grump and sulk and criticize, and ruin the whole thing.

“Pass,” Abe said. “Thom can play ‘Better Man’ solo. That is where he opens, isn’t it? Pearl Jam? Or is it the first encore?”

Sam chuckled with relief. Complicity with ragging on her own friends? Fine. Fine, she’d do it—so long as he stayed home.

Their daughter’s voice came through the wall, “What’s the formality situation for Saturday night dinner?”

“Less stuffy than a cotillion,” Sam called back, “but expect mosh-pitting to be frowned upon.”

As she waited on her daughter, Sam kept tabs on a few text conversations by phone. People were arriving into New Haven and wondering where Demery’s had gone, or at the airport dreaming of hugs on the quad, or annoyed because they had to work tomorrow which royally sucked!

Sam grinned at this last but didn’t tap back a response. Abe was watching her, surely guessing what the rapid-fire chimes were about. For Sam to actively join in would risk an argument or, worse, a change of heart.

She didn’t think her husband was capable of attending the reunion for spite, enduring a rotten weekend just to play the killjoy. But why push him?

Finally, Joss emerged. She had changed into a clingy ankle-length skirt and carried a backpack.

“Thank you for hurrying,” Sam said. “Excited?”

Joss rolled her eyes but couldn’t completely suppress a smile. Sam clutched her hand. After double-checking the cat dish had food, she slipped on her jacket and pulled her cell charger out of the wall, jamming it into the side of her bag.

Abe tilted his head. “Why’re you taking the Zoom?”

Shoot. Sam inwardly punched her brain for not packing last night.

“Ah…I’m kicking around this audio doc. Just ideas. Might record some clips.”

“Topic?”

She hated how he asked, all aggressive and pedantic.

“I doubt I’ll have time.” She considered lying outright. Joss was watching, though, and the idea of cowering in front of her daughter—who was learning how to relate to others and respond to adversity and be an assertive female—repulsed her. “It’s about pinebox. How it affected our class, et cetera. Of course the vendetta’s been done—this would try to get at it through the lens of our class at Yale. We had one Pruitt, one Gallagher, that death freshman year. Kind of the whole feud in miniature.”

She shrugged, pretending to be flip, and started for the door. It was 4:32.

Abe asked, “Is Rock Pruitt going to the reunion?”

“Dunno,” Sam said. “We didn’t exactly run in the same circles.”

“Really? That seems disingenuous given you were bosom buddies there with the immortal Jamie Gallagher.”

Sam felt her chest constrict. Let it go, she told herself. Let it go like Elsa. Turn yourself to ice, and everything slides right off.

Except she couldn’t.

“Jamie despised Rock. You could walk the earth and never find two people with more diametrically-opposed worldviews than Rock and Jamie.”

Abe huffed. “Those beautiful people and their worldviews. What rarefied air you’ll be breathing again.”

Sam opened her mouth hotly to speak. At the last moment, she stopped and finished zipping her bag instead. She stood tall-shouldered, smiled, and invited Joss to lead the way out.

“The audio doc does sound right out of This American Life,” said Abe, evidently unsatisfied with the fight’s resolution. “Who produces that? Must be one of those Yale ninety-sixers working there you could pitch.”

She felt like asking how he could possibly believe in mythical Ivy League connections after this life of theirs: Sam’s twelve years bouncing around the periphery of pseudo-academic film, hustling after grants, performing peon tasks in job after job to bulk up a CV so it could sit on her Patreon page getting a half-dozen page views per month. She had finally risen to prominence at WNYC but almost in spite of Yale, which carried significant prima donna baggage in the field.

Again, though, Sam restrained herself in front of Joss.

“Hey, quick Zoom question,” she said. “You think forty-eight/twenty-four-bit, or forty-four/sixteen is better? It’ll be mostly outdoor clips.”

Abe tipped his balding head left, then right. “Forty-eight. File sizes won’t be that different, and at sixteen, the Zoom gets super noisy.”

Sam crinkled her nose. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess that’s right. Thanks.”

Mother and daughter both pecked Abe goodbye and bounded off to catch a train.

Joss seemed to study Sam down the stairs, and she wondered momentarily if her ruse had failed—if Joss understood that Mom had forgotten more about sampling rates than Dad had ever known—and had only made this final query to escape the apartment on a positive note.

Other fictions existed between the couple. That Abe respected her managerial position at WNYC. That she believed his vow to start playing shows again—that those freelance audio-tech Fiverr gigs he’d parlayed fairly successfully into income were just temporary and not his professional endgame. That reuniting each night for dinner, they asked about the other’s day with anything like genuine interest.

Sometimes Joss would make comments indicating she knew. “Gee, Dad, bitter much?” or, “I’d rather not be involved in this,” swirling her hand as though over a cesspool. Other times, she seemed oblivious, just a regular kid consumed by regular kid stuff.

Either possibility broke Sam’s heart.

Excerpt from The Pinebox Vendetta by Jeff Bond. Copyright 2020 by Jeff Bond. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Bond. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Jeff Bond is a Kansas native and graduate of Yale University. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Michigan, and belongs to the International Thriller Writers Association.






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