Guest Reviews

The Saint of Wolves and Butchers

Alex Grecian

G.P. Putnam’s Sons

April 17, 2018

With his latest novel author Alex Grecian is moving in a new direction with a new series, a new era, and a new setting, Kansas. Another book that took place in that state, Wizard of Oz has a famous line “Lions, Tigers, and Bears. Oh My.” Replace that with The Saint of Wolves and Butchers and readers havethe title of this new book.

 

This intriguing story involves Travis, a man who chases down evil-doers with help from his trusting companion, a dog named Bear, and a Kansas State Trooper, Skottie who join forces to track down a Nazi in hiding.

 

Grecian wanted to write more of a modern-day contemporary story than his past series, set in Victorian England.  “While driving through Western Kansas to visit my wife’s family I saw a lot of ranch/farm country.  Regardless of where I am I look for angles I can use to write a story. I found out that German POWs captured in Africa were sent to Kansas. After the war, most of these people were allowed to become farmers and stayed here as authorities turned a blind eye.  It occurred to me this would be a great place to hide if I ever committed a crime.  Since Travis and company will hunt for evil-doers, for the next book I would love to have Skottie, Bear, and Travis searching for the bad guy behind the funding of the Nazi in this book who runs a human trafficking ring.  I think I will set it in Alaska.”

 

The plot begins in 1951 when wanted war criminal Rudolph Bormann succeeds in making his way from South America to rural Kansas, where he begins a new life as Rudy Goodman. In the present, Travis Roan, the head of a family foundation devoted to bringing war criminals to justice, comes to Kansas after a report that the German was recognized by Ruth Elder, a concentration camp guard. Aided by his canine companion, Bear, a massive dog, and another ally, Kansas Highway Patrol trooper Skottie Foster, the search continues for this horrific figure who had performed medical research on unwilling victims. To make matters worse, Goodman decides to become a Church Pastor for a Nazi-type cult where he continues his cruel experimentation.

 

All the characters are either very likeable or very unlikable. The character that stole all the scenes was Bear, a Tibetan mastiff who understands Esperanto and became mute after poachers cut off his vocal cords. He is brave, smart, and loyal, where everyone except the antagonists have complete trust.  Surprisingly, Elder, was written as sympathetic considering she was forced into becoming a guard by the Nazi regime, after refusing to have sex with German military officers.  The main character, Travis is calm, intellectual, unfailingly polite, and very moralistic.  

 

Because Grecian wants this to be a series he plans on developing each character’s backstory as the books progress.  “Travis keeps to himself so we do not know where he has been in the world and where he has come from.  He is mysterious and I purposely did not say if he is Jewish.  I do hint at the terrible tragedy he has gone through.  As time goes on readers will find out more about him.”

 

An interesting aspect is that the Nazi was hit by lightning, not once, but twice, while in Kansas, and lived to talk about it.  After being struck people have their bodies affected in unexpected ways, such as a person’s hair and toenails will not grow back, and they can have hearing loss.  Goodman used it to claim he could heal people, because it gave him energy and insight. This for some could be the fantasy part of the book.    

 

Hopefully readers also understand that guns are tools. Grecian explained, “This is why I put in the book quote, ‘These chunks of metal that were largely useless without a hand to point them.’ The evil comes from the person who uses it to their advantage.  It is the person that needs to be blamed.”

 

Readers will yearn for the next book to see how Grecian flushes out the characters’ backstory, especially Travis Roan, whose mysteriousness is intriguing. Hopefully, this does become a series, because of the unique characters and storyline.

Beneath The Surface by Lynn H. Blackburn has both suspense and romance although it has more of an emphasis on the relationship between the two main characters, Leigh Weston and Ryan Parker.  

It is interesting how she weaves everything in the plot around the Dive Team, including relationships between the team members, the victim, and the outside experts.  The sarcastic banter between the characters allows for a humorous interlude.

Because she wants to emphasize the character interaction, she noted, “When we pitched the series my editors asked how much of this is going to be underwater, because it is difficult to develop relationships there. Any law enforcement dive team knows the dive is very intense, mainly because of the horrible conditions.  I want readers to understand I am writing about the team, not necessarily the dive. The unifying factor for the story is that they are all on this dive team. Besides, I wanted to make this realistic. Most of the time they cannot see anything underwater. It is like someone driving in a fog. I talked to a professional who said ‘you cannot see anything and must feel around since it is so very dark.’”

There are actually two mysteries to the story, dismembered bodies found at the bottom of the lake by the dive team, and someone stalking Leigh with the intent of doing bodily harm.  They come together when Ryan and his colleagues ask Leigh if they can use her boat deck as they work the investigation. Soon after, Leigh’s life is threatened having law enforcement wonder about a possible connection.  Ryan knows his team must solve the murder case quickly, especially when Leigh may be the next target on the list.

Sprinkled throughout the story are images of the Carolina community that includes their culture. “I wanted to show how Leigh connects to her mom through cooking. After all, Carolina girls love to cook.  In the South, we cook for the people we love. No one gets together without having lots of food around. Through her baking and cooking she is able to initially get close to people.  If she likes you she will try to feed you. One of her love languages is cooking and baking cookies. I actually developed a little recipe book for my newsletters’ subscribers, a dive team recipe book.”  

This first in the series will leave readers wanting for more.  Fortunately, the next book will be coming out at the end of this year, but it is also unfortunate that people will have to wait months for the next installment.

 

The Gate Keeper

Ian Rutledge Book 20

Charles Todd

William Morrow

Feb. 6th, 2018

Mystery/thriller

9780062678713 

The Gate Keeper, by the mother/son team known as Charles Todd, is a mystery with a huge ending twist.  Fans of this series will see Scotland Yard Detective Ian Rutledge having to solve a case from a different point of view. He is not only the investigator, but is the first person on the scene so he has become a witness as well.

 

Because this is a different type of mystery, The Todds wanted to make sure readers understand that it is not a puzzle where “there is a race between the writer and the reader as to who figures it out first. This novel has Rutledge pursuing the truth and finding a solution.  He has a dogged determination to keep tracking the killer.”

 

Having left his sister’s wedding in a distraught mood Rutledge decides to take a car trip. He encounters on a deserted road a woman standing next to a murder victim.  She reports how a stranger stepped in front of the car and without warning fired a shot killing Stephen Wentworth immediately.  With a list of persons of interest piling up Rutledge must sort through the many different aspects of the case.  He is helped along by a voice in his head, Corporal Hamish MacLeod, the ghost of the Scottish officer he had executed for cowardice, who comments persistently inside this detective's weary ear. Rutledge always listens, and appears to have given Hamish a life that was taken away. Hamish is real to Rutledge, sometimes antagonistic, sometimes supportive, sometimes part of his unconscious perception, an inner-self. 

 

An interesting piece to the storyline is the similarities between the victim, Stephen, and the detective, Rutledge.  They both had someone close to them killed in the war, although Rutledge played more of a role.  They were also both jilted by the woman they loved.”  The Todds noted, “Stephen is the ultra ego of Rutledge in some ways, and that is probably one of the reasons why he wanted to follow through and find the killer. They both developed levels of coping skills and were solitary people.  Neither became involved in a relationship after their engagement was broken.  Yet, Ian came from a loving family, and Stephen from a dysfunctional one.”  

 

One of the secondary characters can best be described as an early 20th Century “Mommy Dearest.”  The mother of Stephen is vicious, spoiled, and uncaring who tried to thwart any happiness her son might achieve.  “We wanted to write a character where the mother hated her son all his life. She sees him as a monster, an ugly duckling.  She has no redeeming qualities. She enjoys painting him in a dim light.  Basically, just a terrible person who is bitter and self-centered.”

 

Because World War I play such an important role in the storyline, readers get a glimpse into the emotional wounds of many of the men, including Rutledge. “We wanted to humanize those who have served.  Our goal as writers is to show how they were ordinary people and then were trained to be warriors.  When they come back they must learn to trust again and to relate to those outside of their unit, the band of brothers. They can talk amongst their peers because they know there is a sense of understanding. Having experienced horrors first hand they cannot just shut out what they saw on the battlefield.”

 

The Gate Keeper by Charles Todd is a ‘who done it’ type of mystery.  Readers will enjoy the investigative process Ian Rutledge must go through to find the culprit.

Cutting Edge by Ward Larsen is a modern-day western, that also reminds readers of Superman and The Six Million Dollar Man.  As the book describes it, the antagonist, Delta, and the protagonist, Trey have a “High Noon standoff 21st Century.”  The Superman qualities is that each have x-ray vision of sorts where their brains become a computer monitor, and Delta has similar qualities of the Six Million Dollar Man with his speed and strength.

The other character in the book is technology.  Larsen connected his characters to the Web, which he does not see as far-fetched.  “Trey has a screen in his right eye.  Voice and facial recognition are at his fingertips where he can even record and send conversations.  I made sure to allow him to have access to only people who are in databases, so he could not find recent refugees or children.  He can find any information on a person because he is given top level security access.  It is doable where implants are put in the brain and then a person can connect directly to the Internet.  I would describe it as an implantable brain computer that interfaces.  It is being designed to for those who have prosthetics.”

The plot has Trey Debolt, a Coast Guard rescuer swimmer, fighting for his life after a helicopter crash.  Officially he was declared dead, because no one knows that there is a rogue government experimental unit who chose to use him as a guinea pig.  He becomes a man on the run after he witnesses his savior, nurse Joan Chandler, being gunned down. It becomes a game of cat and mouse as the hunted and the hunter try to outwit each other.  Fortunately for Trey, Shannon Lund decides to investigate his death.  Having access to records as a civilian working for the Coast Guard Investigative Service, she agrees to help him get to the bottom of what was done to him and to find the culprits chasing him including Delta.

Besides the fast-paced plot Larsen explores how technology has both good and bad points.  Readers will hope that he turns Trey and Shannon into a series and that there will be sequels written.

With the holiday season here, readers can find novels that blend a good mystery within the Christmas atmosphere. A word of warning, these are not “sugar and spice and everything nice” holiday books.  Yet, they are very realistic, believable, and leave readers with a good feeling at the end, a feeling of faith and redemption. 

 

The Christmas Room by Catherine Anderson is one of these special stories.  Two holiday generational romances touch on grief, healing and redemption. Readers will go through a range of emotions with the characters from joy, to laughter, and sadness. Anderson leaves the reader wishing the story would never end, hoping she will consider making a series involving these great characters. 

 

She believes that one of the overwhelming aspects of the holidays is hope. “We should not forget about those people who came to the holidays with strife, stress, or financial troubles.  Many people have lost loved ones and on Christmas there are empty places. They do feel sad.  Because I did experience grief firsthand I wanted to write about it.  I wanted to show how the death of the featured character’s husband impacted not only her but also her son and grandson.  The message I really wanted to send is that if you put one foot in front of the other there is light on the other side of the darkness, and there can be a happy ending.”   

 

The Ghost of Christmas Past by Rhys Bowen has a sinister atmosphere of sorrow that is also a part of this story. With Christmas approaching the characters must overcome their own set of heartaches that revolve around losing a child. The main character, Molly, feels the despair of having recently miscarried because of her physical hardships. Deciding to spend the holiday with her mother-in-law and a family living in the countryside, she discovers that the hostess Winnie’s moodiness is based on the disappearance of her daughter ten years ago on Christmas Eve.  Molly decides to investigate and find answers to this Cold Case. The spirit of Christmas will ring through. 

 

Bowen experienced first hand losing a loved one during the holidays. “I flew over to Australia to be with my mother who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I    actually missed Christmas Day because of the date line. A part of me will always associate Christmas with that call that says you need to come right now. Yet, I do love the celebration of Christmas. Just think, during the time period of the plot, there were no TVs, no videogames, and no cell phones.  I was able to create an ideal Christmas that we all long for.  We all have this idea of the snow, a sleigh ride, the big roaring fire, playing games, and singing Carols around the tree. We do not have the simplicity of Christmas anymore.  I fantasized and wrote the Christmas I would really like with all the warmth.”

 

Last Christmas In Parisby Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb is a reminder that not everyone has complete joy during the Christmas holiday and that some families have chairs left empty. It is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of victory and loss during World War I. The love and romantic scenes are a great balance against the horrors of the Great War. What makes this book stand out is that the story of World War I is told predominantly in letters and telegrams. In the beginning the letters are full of excitement, a sense of adventure, pride and thoughts that the war won't last long, yet, as it becomes evident that it will not be over by Christmas, the correspondence becomes more serious and speaks of the atrocities and hardships.

 

The authors told of the springboard for the story, wanting it to be a shout out to military families, “These friends who lead a comfortable life planned to meet up in Paris during the holiday.  There was the continued sense of believing that it will be over by the next Christmas.  But we wanted readers to understand that it was disrupted by this horrific war. Today there is a disconnect between those fighting and the civilian population.  We wanted to contrast those on the home front versus those actually fighting, and how the Christmas holiday affected them.”

 

Pride And Prejudice And Mistletoe by Melissa De La Cruz modernizes Jane Austen’s classic Pride And Prejudice.  She turns the characters on their heads, switching the roles of the male and female leads. The heroine, Darcy, flies back to Pemberley, Ohio to see to her mother and spend the holiday season with her family. She might remind readers of Scrooge from A Christmas Carol because she is rich and self absorbed, disdainful of others not like her.  But it is Luke who covertly shows her how to be humble, and that there is more to life than her profession, leaving her to wonder if she could have a chance at love. This is definitely a modern day fairy tale.

 

Melissa believes that part of the joy during Christmas is spending time with family and close friends. “Darcy gives everything up for her career and has an empty life. It is necessary to find a balance between career and those in your family.  I wanted to show that during Christmas most everyone takes a little time off to spend time with friends and family.”

 

These books are a reminder that during the holidays there are some who suffer, some who celebrate, and some who can reflect on their loss but joyously participate in the holiday cheer.  The novels will evoke old-fashioned Christmas traditions with plots that will warm the heart, and allow readers a smile at the story ends.

Latest comments

23.06 | 23:24

Great interview!

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27.05 | 23:23

Outraged, too! It is just getting coverage. This government is shameful under this leadership.

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26.03 | 16:01

At first I thought it said spa season. Either way it is a sign of rejuvenation! On a Kristin Hannah kick, loved Winter Garden. Happy reading!

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19.03 | 14:10

Cities are fun but exhausting. Like you the quiet is needed.

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