Book Showcase: THE PINEBOX VENDETTA by Jeff Bond

The Pinebox Vendetta by Jeff Bond Banner


The Pinebox Vendetta

by Jeff Bond

on Tour May 1 – June 30, 2020



Synopsis:


The Pinebox Vendetta by Jeff Bond

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.




Book Details:


Genre: Thriller
Published by: Jeff Bond Books
Publication Date: February 19th 2020
Number of Pages: 264
ISBN: 1732255253 (ISBN13: 9781732255258)
Series: Pruitt-Gallagher Saga, #1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads




Read an 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 heart rate 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

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.


Catch Up With Jeff Bond On:


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Book Spotlight: PROBLEM CHILD by Victoria Helen Stone



Problem Child: A Jane Doe Thriller

by Victoria Helen Stone



About Problem Child





Problem Child: A Jane Doe Thriller
Thriller
2nd in Series
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (March 24, 2020)
Paperback: 265 pages
ISBN-10: 1542014395
ISBN-13: 978-1542014397
Digital ASIN: B07SDTRJP9



She’s cold, calculating, and can deceive with a smile. Jane Doe is back in the Amazon Charts bestselling series—and this time she’s met her match.

After a brutal childhood, Jane Doe has been permanently wired to look after herself and only herself. Now, looking next to normal, Jane has a lover and a job. But she hasn’t lost her edge. It sharpens when she hears from her estranged family.

Jane’s deeply troubled sixteen-year-old niece, Kayla, has vanished, and no one seems to care. Neither does Jane. Until she sees a picture of Kayla and recognizes herself in the young girl’s eyes. It’s the empty stare of a sociopath.

Jane knows what vengeful and desperate things Kayla is capable of. Only Jane can help her—by being drawn into Kayla’s dark world. And no one’s more aware than Jane just how dangerous that can be.



Purchase Links – AmazonB&N



About Victoria Helen Stone

Victoria Helen Stone, formerly writing as USA Today bestselling novelist Victoria Dahl, is originally from the Midwest but now writes from an upstairs office high in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. After a career in romance that included the American Library Association’s prestigious Reading List Award, she turned toward the darker side of fiction and has written the critically acclaimed novels, Evelyn, After; Half Past; and False Step. Her Amazon Charts bestselling thriller Jane Doe has been optioned by Sony Television. For more on the author and her work, visit VictoriaHelenStone.com.  And on Twitter @VictoriaDahl


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March 19 – I Read What You Write – REVIEW, AUTHOR INTERVIEW

March 19 – The Book Diva’s Reads – SPOTLIGHT

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March 21 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – SPOTLIGHT

March 22 – Rosepoint Publishing – REVIEW

March 22 – This Is My Truth Now – SPOTLIGHT

March 23 – That’s What She’s Reading – REVIEW

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Book Showcase: THE LOST POWER by Avanti Centrae

VanOps: The Lost Power by Avanti Centrae Banner

VanOps: The Lost Power

by Avanti Centrae

on Tour November 4, 2019 – January 10, 2020



Synopsis:

VanOps: The Lost Power by Avanti Centrae



Da Vinci Code meets Tomb Raider in this award-winning thriller that #1 NYT’s author James Rollins called, “Full of action and suspense.”

Spain 1057: During a thunderous battle, the first King of Aragon wrestles Alexander the Great’s priceless Egyptian weapon from the Moors, but finds it holds a terrifying and mysterious power.

A thousand years later, on a hushed, fog-shrouded, Napa morning, gunshots and the sound of breaking glass rip through the silence. Maddy Marshall, an app designer and aikido instructor, and her twin brother, Will Argones, an engineer, quickly run toward the sound. Horrified, they discover a sniper’s bullet has found its human target.

Before the pool of blood on the living room floor is dry, the twins are sent on an arcane quest to recover Alexander’s ancient weapon. Joined by a VanOps covert agent, they soon discover the rifle’s sights are now set on them. No place is safe, a wrong move means death, and even a simple phone call is off limits if they are to survive.

From a medieval Spanish castle, they follow a time-worn trail, starting at a secret warren under the streets of Jerusalem. But if the killer finds the weapon first, it will be used to cripple the United States’ eye-in-the-sky early warning systems, allowing the Russians to swoop in and prey on the vulnerable nation.

Can Maddy learn to wield the power of the dangerous weapon in time to stop the Russian scheme? Failure means the fragile world peace will be forever shattered…



Critical Praise for VanOps: The Lost Power



“Avanti Centrae’s VanOps: The Lost Power opens a tantalizing new series that combines historical mystery and cutting-edge science into a masterwork of international intrigue—with the promise of more to follow. Written with a dynamic, cinematic style and full of action and suspense, here’s a book that defines page-turner. Don’t miss this riveting debut!”
~ James Rollins, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Crucible


“Just a good ole’ fashioned rip-roaring adventure from start to finish. Enjoy the ride.”
~ Steve Berry, New York Times best-selling author


“A high-stakes, daring adventure charged with suspense and mystery!”
~ Ann Charles, USA TODAY bestselling author of the Deadwood Mystery Series


“The writing is superb. Easy to read and captivating. There is a mixture of mystery and action that keeps me turning pages. Readers who like Indiana Jones, or the books by James Patterson, Tom Clancy, and Vince Flynn, will enjoy Centrae’s first installment in her VanOps series.”
~ John Bernstein, Professional Reviewer



Book Details:


Genre: Thriller
Published by: Black Opal Books
Publication Date: November 9th 2019
Number of Pages: 308
ISBN: 1644371960 (ISBN13: 9781644371961)
Series: VanOps #1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads



Read an excerpt:




CHAPTER 1



Napa Valley, California, June 25, 8:56 a.m., Present Day

Through the crosshairs of his long-barreled sweetheart, Ivan scanned the wood-casement window of the vineyard’s stone-walled residence, and waited for his intended target to walk into view. His movements were slow and meticulous.

Lying in the loft of an old barn, he calculated range, altitude, temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed, and humidity. His skin was irritated by the coarse hay that surrounded him, but he ignored the sensation and focused on his calculations. Click. He made a minor adjustment on his rifle to account for the drop of the round due to air density. And another for windage.

Although misty rivers of fog swirled into gray whirlpools around the winery, the computer-enhanced scope of his Springfield EBR allowed him to visually lock onto the home’s large bank of windows. Human movement flickered behind the glass.

He didn’t want to pull the trigger. Nevertheless, Ivan waited for the perfect moment, the perfect shot.


CHAPTER 2



8:57 a.m.

As she headed toward her father’s vineyard, Maddy drove as fast as she dared down a familiar tree-lined Napa country lane. Today, she didn’t recognize the road. It looked eerie and unnatural. The area was draped in sheets of fog from yesterday’s unseasonable rain, and the silver half-light gave the trees an ethereal patina.

“Sensei, would you kill someone if you had to?” AJ asked. Surprised, Maddy frowned. “I’m not a sensei yet, remember?” She paused for a moment before she replied to his query.

“Where did that question come from?”

“We were talking about it in the locker room at the dojo after class. We know aikido is about non-violence, but what if you don’t have a choice?” His voice dropped to a dramatic whisper. “What if it was kill or be killed?”

Maddy shook her head. The things children thought about. “I would always look for another way.”

She glanced over at AJ, glad she’d brought him along today. His ears stuck out and his face was dotted with freckles. She found him adorable.

“Okay. Can martial arts masters light paper on fire with just their hands?”

Maddy halted the car at a stop sign and peered through the swirling patchy-dense fog, trying to get her bearings while she figured out how to answer this question. The mist distorted everything. She turned right.

Without warning, a smothering mass of black rustling feathers flew toward the car. She flinched in her seat and slammed on the car brakes. Her heart pounded. She stopped breathing and scanned the road ahead of her. After a long moment, she realized with chagrin that she had just scared a bunch of ugly, red-faced black turkey vultures into flight by turning onto a new road after a stop sign.

She took a deep breath. It wasn’t like her to be so jumpy. She was, after all, shodan, a first-dan black belt. But the sudden movement of wings, obscured through the morning’s foggy haze, had pulled her off balance. Maddy gave the car some gas and it inched forward down the road.

Maddy looked over at AJ. “Are you okay?” AJ laughed. “I’m okay. But that scared you!”

“Did not!” Maddy replied, twisting her ponytail.

“Did too—I saw you jump! And you smashed on the brakes.”

Maddy grinned for a moment at the childish banter and AJ’s creative language. It could be a happy day, in spite of everything. She loved AJ, she and Vincent had even talked about adopting him. Vincent, her former fiancé. Of course, that was before the breakup. Since then, she’d been feeling brittle, and the nightmare last night didn’t help. The dream was gut-wrenching. Although the sensation had faded in the dim light of morning, much of it lingered like a bad relationship. That dream was probably why she was on edge and had jumped at the thrashing wings.

She looked at the dash clock—only a few minutes late. Heart still beating faster than normal, she turned down the long shadowy driveway of the once-proud vineyard.


CHAPTER 3


9:02 a.m.

Up in the old barn, Ivan was close to the target, only seventy meters from the glass curtain that separated him from his quarry. Although the misty morning limited his visibility, he felt confident in his ability to execute the task Baron Sokolov had assigned to him.

Ivan recalled much longer-range kills. Two months ago, from a nearby skyscraper, he’d eliminated a traitorous spy during a French soccer match, piercing the man’s forehead as directed. His record was just under two thousand meters, one hundred fifty meters shy of the longest recorded sniper kill in history. But he reminded himself to stay vigilant and cautious, traits that had earned him medals as one of Russia’s most accurate shooters.

Being watchful was his nature. It was the silver lining of his disorder, congenital analgesia, which made him insensitive to pain. My gift from Mother, he thought.

Ivan wondered where on his body he would mark this job. His left arm was covered in sets of hash marks—scars, where he had marked his kills. He started scarring himself in school to impress the other children, and in time it had become a blood ritual after a task to remind himself to be careful, that he too could die. After this morning, it would be time to add another scar. At one hundred and fifty-five confirmed kills, he had scars on both thighs, both arms, and was running out of room for the marks.

Soon he would catch up to the kills his grandmother had recorded during World War II. After Germany had invaded, she had volunteered for the military and had one hundred and seventy-nine confirmed kills to her credit. Impressive. He remembered how she had taught him to shoot when he was young. She had a fondness for killing rabbits and he could still picture their crimson blood sprayed on the bright Siberian snow. However, patience was her favorite lesson and it had served him well.

A puff of wind tugged at a windmill in the distance, and the melancholy creak of metal scratching metal disturbed the morning silence. He held his breath and listened for any sound to indicate he’d been discovered. There was nothing further, only an unnatural, muted quiet.

Focused on his breathing and the window, he continued to wait for a clean shot.

He was tired of killing, but he had to do his job. This last job. Or his son would die.


CHAPTER 4



9:05 a.m.

Maddy’s car hit a pothole on the vineyard’s long gravel driveway. It annoyed her that Dad hadn’t said what was so urgent, and she’d been too distracted with the breakup to call him back.

As she drew closer to the house, she was irritated to see Will was playing fog-fetch with the dog in the front yard. What is he doing here? Did dad call all the siblings? Bella, too? Will waved, walked toward an obnoxious sky-blue convertible that must be a rental, and opened the trunk.

Maddy parked by Will’s car, near the house. She wished Dad would get the place painted. It was overdue and made the house look dilapidated in the gloom. Barking, her dad’s middle-aged golden retriever ran up to the car.

“A dog! Can I play with the dog?” AJ asked, true excitement in his voice.

“Sure, just don’t head too far into the vineyard,” Maddy replied. “His name is Squirrel.”

AJ bounded from the car and ran off, chasing the dog through the murky, fog-bound yard.

Will closed the trunk of the Mustang, moved around to the side of the car, and watched AJ and the dog playing. Dressed in his usual style, he wore tan cargo shorts, leather sandals, and a dark-blue Ralph Lauren polo shirt. Ever prepared for disaster, he had a small flashlight hanging from the front of his shorts, and she figured he had a knife in his pocket. He was holding two small travel bags and managed to cradle a book in his hand. Without a doubt, a geeky physics book.

Maddy had avoided prolonged contact with Will since their senior year in high school when he had pulled that awful prank. She had turned her back on him then, and her face flushed with the memory. As she opened her car door, she stood and swung her hair out of her face. Then she shut the door and walked over to him. It was so foggy and quiet, she didn’t even hear songbirds.

Maddy tried to keep the annoyance out of her voice. “Hello, Will.”

After they’d spent time apart, she was always surprised at the strength of their emotional bond. She couldn’t believe he was happy to see her—he had no shame! She had felt some connection to her boyfriends, Vincent included—I hate you right now, Vincent—and sometimes to her students at the dojo. But the connection was always strongest with Will, her twin, like it or not. He felt content now. She had almost missed his charm.

Will flashed his irksome, boyish, lopsided grin. “Hey, Maddy, it’s good to see you! Did you have a safe drive?”

To meet her, he walked around toward the front of the car. She noted his dark curly hair looked ruffled and a little shorter than the last time she’d seen him. His green eyes looked pinched, as if he were worried about something.

Dad sometimes teased that they all had Spanish olives for eyes, but she enjoyed sharing the feature. She just wished she’d been blessed with Will’s long eyelashes, instead of having to create them every day with mascara.

Maddy studied Will’s face. She noticed that the scar on his chin was almost hidden by a fashionable new beard that he’d grown since she’d seen him last year at Christmas dinner. The scar was always a painful reminder of the childhood accident that killed their mother.

As he put down the bags, he scratched the beard, casually leaned back against the hood of the Mustang, and crossed his long lanky legs.

She knew protocol called for a hug, and considered it. Rejecting the idea, she also ignored his worrywart question about the safe drive. “Did you leave Maria in Brazil?”

Maddy could tell from his eyes that Will didn’t understand her cold shoulder, and she didn’t care. He had never made amends for that thoughtless stunt back in high school and she wasn’t going to let him off the hook.

“No, I brought her with me,” he replied.

Remembering her nightmare, Maddy’s gut clenched. She tried to ignore it.

“We’ve both been working too hard.”

Instead, she lashed out, her voice rising more than she intended. “Was that wise? Bringing her? Do you even know what Dad wants?”

Will took a deep breath. “Gee, sis, simmer down. I thought I was the worrier of the family.” He met her gaze. “Maria was up for a change of scenery so we planned a romantic wine-country vacation. You know, the train, mud baths, that sort of thing? We might even stop by Safari West. Besides, you brought company.” He nodded toward AJ. “Who’s the little guy?”

“His name is AJ. He’s a foster kid from the dojo and it’s his birthday.” She watched AJ and the dog play a spontaneous game of tag. “Is that all Dad wants with us? A vacation? He sounded concerned on the message he left me. And didn’t mention you’d be here, or Bella. Is she coming? He didn’t even say why he wanted me to come, which just seems odd. Did you talk with him?”

“Bella is on her way, but no, we didn’t talk before I came up. I hope nothing is wrong. We just got here and haven’t had a chance to visit much, but he did mention he had some disconcerting news.” He paused. “You feel upset. What are you not telling me? What’s the big deal?”

On days like today, Maddy hated that the emotional bond between them worked both ways. She didn’t feel like telling him anything, especially about the dream. Irritated, she looked around for a way out of the conversation but didn’t see one. The sun was hidden, the vineyard foggy and subdued, like it was holding its breath.

She clenched her teeth and took a deep breath of her own. “I had a dream last night.”

Now his tone sharpened a notch. “What kind of dream?”

“A bad one. Maria was in it. I woke up early and it’s stuck with me since.”

“Tell me,” he demanded.

“I don’t know…there was blood on her face.”

She remembered another dream she had when they were six. The night before their mom died. She knew by the look on his face that he was remembering that dream, too.

“Blood on Maria’s face—” he frowned, thinking, questioning.

“Yes, it was horrible. Splattered like a Pollock painting. I don’t remember much else. But the feeling is still with me.” Her mood picked up a little, having gotten it off her chest. “It’s probably nothing. I just wish you hadn’t brought her.”

“Interesting,” he said. “You haven’t had one of those dreams in a while, have you? A real one?”

“No,” she said. “It’s been a few years and the last was about a boyfriend cheating on me. The dream ended that relationship.”

Will put his hands on his hips. “How is Vincent?” She grimaced.

Irritated, Maddy turned and headed up the sidewalk toward the house. Will grabbed the bags and his book, and followed her, his feet padding on the concrete.

As they walked, she remembered the lush landscaping that had been here once. It had provided a jumbled, colorful contrast to the acres and acres of straight green vines in the fields. Her father’s landscapers, back when he could afford them, had done well in this entry area. She couldn’t see it, but she inhaled the light scent of gardenia, and she recognized remnants of some sort of native grass, night-blooming jasmine, pansies, and roses. Vincent had brought her roses only three weeks ago. Bastard.

“I see,” Will said. “So…maybe this dream was a reaction to whatever is going on there?”

“Maybe—” she said. “I hope so.” Then she added, “Let’s go see what Dad wants.”


CHAPTER 5



9:15 a.m.

Ivan tugged on the two-stage trigger, testing it. He was used to his Soviet bolt-action SV-98, but in the interest of time and ease of entry into the country, he had purchased a black-market rifle in the  States.  He was pleased with his choice, and glad it had come with a suppressor. The Enhanced Battle Rifle was decent—he tested it out yesterday in an isolated vineyard he found for the purpose. The rifle was a little heavy, but he liked the trigger-shoe modification the prior owner had done, as it gave the pull a more natural feel.

He drew his attention back to the wood-casement window and twice glimpsed the oblivious inhabitant, dancing his way to death. A minute ago, the sound of car tires on gravel had come to him through the fog, so his partner, on lookout, should be reporting in.

On cue, a voice in his head broke the morning stillness, “Green Prius has parked at the front of the house.” The sniper appreciated that he could hear his partner’s Russian voice clearly through the high-tech device, as he was old enough to remember missions without such advanced technology.

“Driver?” he subvocalized the question, also in Russian, into the tiny molar microphone that had been custom formed to fit his teeth.

“She’s female, young, maybe thirty. Slim, with an olive complexion. Has sexy long dark hair in a ponytail, and is tall. Pretty tall for a woman. Rape-bait if you ask me. Dressed in jeans and a snug purple T-shirt,” his partner said.

On this job, his partner was here as much to keep an eye on him as to help, Ivan knew. The man’s simple mind and cruel nature were evident every time they worked together. The idiot had caused them to run late this morning. This part of the job should have been over an hour ago. Now it was getting complicated.

“That’s not what we’re here for,” Ivan hissed.

“Maybe. If so, you need to take your shot.” A few beats later his partner continued, “She was talking to the tall man next to the blue sports car. They look alike. Now they’re headed to the front door.”

There was a long pause. The sniper adjusted his hold on the rifle, concentrating. He’d read the dossiers on Maddy Marshall and her twin brother, Will Argones. Argones was an engineer, no real threat. But the Marshall woman. A world-class athlete and national ski champion who had been a favorite for Olympic gold, she’d used her lightning-fast reflexes to become a warrior in an unusual martial art. And she was gifted with a keen intelligence. A dangerous combination. In another time and place, he’d have been interested in her as a mate.

He swore. Based on his orders, their arrival meant he had run out of time.

A low whistle pierced his ear.

“Ivan, she’s got long legs. You know I like long legs, right? Why don’t we stick around and have some fun?”

“You’re a pig and the baron was clear in our instructions,” the sniper replied, with heat in his tone.

“You’re a bore. Oh, she had a kid with her in the car.”

“A kid? What kid?” The dossier didn’t mention a child! That wasn’t part of the deal. I may go down in flames if the baron makes me shoot a kid. This target is one thing but

“How do I know what kid? He looks like he’s eight or nine. Red hair, big ears. He’s playing with the dog in the vineyard.” Ivan hoped the kid and dog were off in a different direction. At home, Ivan’s son might be playing with his own dog. But that thought was dangerous. “Just make sure they don’t come this way.”

His attention back on the window, Ivan finally got a complete look at one of the other inhabitants: a short, dark-skinned woman. She wore a pale pink blouse above a blue skirt and Ivan prayed she would get out of the way. He didn’t like killing women. However, he knew that, whether he liked it or not, the latter part of the baron’s plan already called for its share of female bloodshed.

The older man, near a black sofa, came into Ivan’s sights for a brief moment. It appeared that he and the younger woman were moving into the room with all the windows. Ivan knew it was time.

Ivan was glad now they’d chosen a fast getaway car. “I must focus—go get the car ready.”

The older man came completely into view. He was tall, clean-shaven, tan-skinned, with owlish glasses. His receding black hair was streaked with gray, and he wore slacks and a white button-down shirt. Yes, finally.

But the woman was directly behind the target! Move, he willed to her. Please.

This was the best shot he had. Time had run out! He had no choice but to urge her to move at the last minute.

He took a slow, steady breath and tugged again on the two-stage trigger. Only this time, it wasn’t a test.


CHAPTER 6



9:20 a.m.

AJ and Squirrel, done with the chase and on to a game of fetch, ran around the side yard, enjoying the grass and the feel of morning in the dense, wet fog. AJ loved all things nature.

Feeling happy today made him miss his parents. He had vague memories of joyful times when they took him to his grandparent’s Ukrainian dairy farm. When the Russians came and killed his grandparents, his parents and he had fled to San Francisco. Then, one day, his mom and dad had been caught in the crossfire of a convenience store holdup while stopping for milk. That’s what he’d gathered, no one had told him.

Since his parents’ death he’d been in foster care, because all of his family back in Ukraine were dead, too. He didn’t like his foster family because they ignored him, but he loved Maddy and did whatever his foster creeps asked so that he could go to the dojo. Maddy treated him the way his mom used to, warm and caring.

Today, he was full of pleasure—hanging out with Maddy, getting to chase a dog outside. More than anything, he wanted a real family again. And a dog, just maybe not one named Squirrel. Someday, he’d get a big dog to protect him and name it Rufus, or Damien.

AJ threw a stick and tried out the new name, “Damien, fetch!”

After several minutes of chasing the stick in the side yard, AJ decided they should play a new game in the rows of vines.

“C’mon, Damien,” he called as he ran into the shadows, followed by the panting dog.

The morning was blissfully perfect as they ran up and down the rows. Then a loud crack sounded from the direction of the barns, like a tree branch breaking. He called his new canine friend and they headed off to investigate.

***


Excerpt from VanOps: The Lost Power by Avanti Centrae.  Copyright © 2019 by Avanti Centrae. Reproduced with permission from Avanti Centrae. All rights reserved.



Author Bio:


Avanti Centrae

International award-winning author who blends intrigue, history, science, and mystery into nonstop thrillers.


Avanti Centrae is the author of the international award-winning VanOps thriller series. An avid world traveler, she’s studied aikido, been a river raft guide, and thrives on adventure. Her book, The Lost Power, took home a genre grand prize blue ribbon at the Chanticleer International Book Awards, and an Honorable Mention at the 2018 Hollywood Book Festival. She resides in Northern California with her family and German Shepherds.


Catch Up With Avanti Centrae:



avanticentrae.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!



Tour Participants:



Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!





Enter To Win!:



This is a Rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Avanti Centrae. There will be 2 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on November 4, 2019, and runs through January 13, 2020. Void where prohibited.


a Rafflecopter giveaway



Book Showcase: THE ESCAPE ROOM by Megan Goldin



The Escape Room by Megan Goldin
ISBN: 9781250219657 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250219671 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250221520 (audiobook)
ASIN: B07J4LQFK5 (Kindle edition)
Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: July 30, 2019


Welcome to the escape room. Your goal is simple. Get out alive.

In the lucrative world of finance, Vincent, Jules, Sylvie, and Sam are at the top of their game. They’ve mastered the art of the deal and celebrate their success in style—but a life of extreme luxury always comes at a cost.

Invited to participate in an escape room as a team-building exercise, the ferociously competitive co-workers crowd into the elevator of a high rise building, eager to prove themselves. But when the lights go off and the doors stay shut, it quickly becomes clear that this is no ordinary competition: they’re caught in a dangerous game of survival.

Trapped in the dark, the colleagues must put aside their bitter rivalries and work together to solve cryptic clues to break free. But as the game begins to reveal the team’s darkest secrets, they realize there’s a price to be paid for the terrible deeds they committed in their ruthless climb up the corporate ladder. As tempers fray, and the clues turn deadly, they must solve one final chilling puzzle: which one of them will kill in order to survive?





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Read an Excerpt

PROLOGUE



It was Miguel who called 911 at 4:07 a.m. on an icy Sunday morning.

The young security guard spoke in an unsteady voice, fear disguised by cocky nonchalance.

Miguel had been an aspiring bodybuilder until he injured his back lifting boxes in a warehouse job and had to take night-shift work guarding a luxury office tower in the final stages of construction. He had a muscular physique, dark hair, and a cleft in his chin.

He was conducting a cursory inspection when a scream rang out. At first, he didn’t hear a thing. Hip-hop music blasted through the oversize headphones he wore as he swept his flashlight across the dark recesses of the lobby.

The beam flicked across the classical faces of reproduction Greek busts cast in metal and inset into niches in the walls. They evoked an eerie otherworldliness, which gave the place the aura of a mausoleum.Miguel paused his music to search for a fresh play list of songs. It was then that he heard the tail end of a muffled scream.

The sound was so unexpected that he instinctively froze. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard strange noises at night, whether it was the screech of tomcats brawling or the whine of construction cranes buffeted by wind. Silence followed. Miguel chided himself for his childish reaction.

He pressed PLAY to listen to a new song and was immediately assaulted by the explosive beat of a tune doing the rounds at the dance clubs where he hung out with friends.

Still, something in the screech he’d heard a moment before rattled him enough for him to be extra diligent.

He bent down to check the lock of the revolving lobby door. It was bolted shut. He swept the flashlight across a pair of still escalators and then, above his head, across the glass-walled mezzanine floor that overlooked the lobby.

He checked behind the long reception desk of blond oak slats and noticed that a black chair was at an odd angle, as if someone had left in a hurry.

A stepladder was propped against a wall where the lobby café was being set up alongside a water fountain that was not yet functional. Plastic-wrapped café tables and chairs were piled up alongside it.

In the far corner, he shone his flashlight in the direction of an elaborate model of the building complex shown to prospective tenants by Realtors rushing to achieve occupancy targets in time for the building’s opening the following month.


The model detailed an ambitious master plan to turn an abandoned ware house district that had been a magnet for homeless people and addicts into a high-end financial and shopping precinct. The first tower was almost finished. A second was halfway through construction.

When Miguel turned around to face the elevator lobby, he was struck by something so incongruent that he pushed his headphones off his head and onto his shoulders.

The backlit green fluorescent light of an elevator switch flickered in the dark. It suggested that an elevator was in use. That was impossible, because he was the only person there.

In the sobriety of the silent echo that followed, he convinced himself once again that his vague sense of unease was the hallucination of a fatigued mind. There was nobody in the elevator for the simple reason that the only people on-site on weekends were the securityguards. Two per shift. Except to night, Miguel was the only one on duty.

When Stu had been a no-show for his shift, Miguel figured he’d manage alone. The construction site was fenced off with towering barbed-wire fences and a heavy-duty electric gate. Nobody came in or out until the shift ended.

In the four months he’d worked there, the only intruders he’d encountered were feral cats and rats scampering across construction equipment in the middle of the night. Nothing ever happened during the night shift.

That was what he liked about the job. He was able to study and sleep and still get paid. Sometimes he’d sleep for a couple of hours on the soft leather lobby sofa, which he found preferable to the lumpy stretcher in the portable office where the guards took turns restingbetween patrols. The CCTV cameras hadn’t been hooked up yet, so he could still get away with it.

From the main access road, the complex looked completed. It had a driveway entry lined with young maples in planter boxes. The lobby had been fitted out and furnished to impress prospective tenants who came to view office space.

The second tower, facing the East River, looked unmistakably like a construction site. It was wrapped with scaffolding. Shipping containers storing building materials were arranged like colorful Lego blocks in a muddy field alongside idle bulldozers and a crane.

Miguel removed keys from his belt to open the side entrance to let himself out, when he heard a loud crack. It whipped through the lobby with an intensity that made his ears ring.

Two more cracks followed. They were unmistakably the sound of gunshots. He hit the ground and called 911. He was terrified the shooter was making his way to the lobby but cocky enough to cover his fear with bravado when he spoke.

“Something bad’s going down here.” He gave the 911 dispatcher the address. “You should get cops over here.”

Miguel figured from the skepticism in the dispatcher’s cool voice that his call was being given priority right below the doughnut run.

His heart thumped like a drum as he waited for the cops to arrive. You chicken shit, he berated himself as he took cover behind a sofa. He exhaled into his shirt to muffle the sound of his rapid breathing. He was afraid he would give away his position to the shooter.

A wave of relief washed over him when the lobby finally lit up with a hazy blue strobe as a police car pulled in at the taxi stand. Miguel went outside to meet the cops.

“What’s going on?” An older cop with a thick gut hanging over his belted pants emerged from the front passenger seat.

“Beats me,” said Miguel. “I heard a scream. Inside the building. Then I heard what I’m pretty sure were gunshots.”

“How many shots?” A younger cop came around the car to meet him, snapping a wad of gum in his mouth.

“Two, maybe three shots. Then nothing.”

“Is anyone else around?” The older cop’s expression was hidden under a thick gray mustache.

“They clear out the site on Friday night. No construction workers. No nobody. Except me. I’m the night guard.”

“Then what makes you think there’s a shooter?”

“I heard a loud crack. Sure sounded like a gunshot. Then two more. Came from somewhere up in the tower.”

“Maybe construction equipment fell? That possible?”

A faint thread of red suffused Miguel’s face as he contemplated the possibility that he’d panicked over nothing. They moved into the lobby to check things out, but he was feeling less confident than when he’d called 911. “I’m pretty sure they—” He stopped speaking as theyall heard the unmistakable sound of a descending elevator.

“I thought you said there was nobody here,” said the older cop.

“There isn’t.”

“Could have fooled me,” said the second cop. They moved through to the elevator lobby. A light above the elevator doors was flashing to indicate an elevator’s imminent arrival. “Someone’s here.”

“The building opens for business in a few weeks,” said Miguel.

“Nobody’s supposed to be here.”

The cops drew their guns from their holsters and stood in front of the elevator doors in a shooting stance— slightly crouched, legs apart. One of the cops gestured furiously for Miguel to move out of the way. Miguel stepped back. He hovered near an abstract metal sculptureset into the wall at the dead end of the elevator lobby.

A bell chimed. The elevator heaved as it arrived.

The doors parted with a slow hiss. Miguel swallowed hard as the gap widened. He strained to see what was going on. The cops were blocking his line of sight and he was at too sharp an angle to see much.

“Police,” shouted both cops in unison. “Put your weapon down.”

Miguel instinctively pressed himself against the wall. He flinched as the first round of bullets was fired. There were too many shots to count. His ears rang so badly, it took him a moment to realize the police had stopped firing. They’d lowered their weapons and were shouting something. He didn’t know what. He couldn’t hear a thing over the ringing in his ears.

Miguel saw the younger cop talk into his radio. The cop’s mouth opened and closed. Miguel couldn’t make out the words. Gradually, his hearing returned and he heard the tail end of a stream of NYPD jargon.

He couldn’t understand most of what was said. Something about “nonresponsive” and needing “a bus,” which he assumed meant an ambulance. Miguel watched a trickle of blood run along the marble floor until it formed a puddle. He edged closer. He glimpsed blood splatter on the wall of the elevator. He took one more step. Finally, he could see inside the elevator. He immediately regretted it. He’d never seen so much blood in all his life.


ONE
THE ELEVATOR


Thirty-four Hours Earlier

Vincent was the last to arrive. His dark overcoat flared behind him as he strode through the lobby. The other three were standing in an informal huddle by a leather sofa. They didn’t notice Vincent come in. They were on their phones, with their backs to the entrance, preoccupied with emails and silent contemplation as to why they had been called to a last-minute meeting on a Friday night at an out-of-the-way office building in the South Bronx.

Vincent observed them from a distance as he walked across the lobby toward them. Over the years, the four of them had spent more time together than apart. Vincent knew them almost better than he knew himself. He knew their secrets, and their lies. There were times when he could honestly say that he’d never despised anyone more than these three people. He suspected they all shared the sentiment. Yet they needed one another. Their fates had been joined together long before.

Sylvie’s face bore its usual expression, a few degrees short of a resting-bitch face. With her cover-girl looks and dark blond hair pinned in a topknot that drew attention to her green eyes, Sylvie looked like the catwalk model that she’d been when she was a teenager. She was irritated by being called to an unscheduled meeting when she had to pack for Paris, but she didn’t let it show on her face. She studiously kept a faint upward tilt to her lips. It was a practice drummed into her over many years working in a male-dominated profession. Men could snarl or look angry with impunity; women had to smile serenely regardless of the provocation.

To her right stood Sam, wearing a charcoal suit with a white shirt and a black tie. His stubble matched the dark blond of his closely cropped hair. His jaw twitched from the knot of anxiety in his guts. He’d felt stabbing pains ever since his wife, Kim, telephoned during the drive over. She was furious that he wouldn’t make the flight to Antigua because he was attending an unscheduled meeting. She hated the fact that his work always took precedence over her and the girls.

Jules stood slightly away from the other two, sucking on a peppermint candy to disguise the alcohol on his breath. He wore a suave burgundy-and-navy silk tie that made his Gypsy eyes burn with intensity. His dark hair was brushed back in the style of a fifties movie star. He usually drank vodka because it was odorless and didn’t make his face flush, but now his cheeks were ruddy in a tell-tale sign he’d been drinking. The minibar in his chauffeured car was out of vodka, so he’d had to make do with whiskey on the ride over. The empty bottles were still rattling around in his briefcase.

As they waited for their meeting, they all had the same paranoid notion that they’d been brought to a satellite office to be retrenched. Their careers would be assassinated silently, away from the watercooler gossips at the head office.

It was how they would have done it if the positions were reversed. A Friday-evening meeting at an out-of-the-way office, concluding with a retrenchment package and a nondisclosure agreement signed and sealed.

The firm was considering unprecedented layoffs, and they were acutely aware they had red targets on their backs. They said none of this to one another. They kept their eyes downcast as they worked on their phones, unaware they were the only ones in the lobby. Just as they hadn’t paid much mind to the cranes and construction fencing on their way in.

Sam checked his bank account while he waited. The negative balance made him queasy. He’d wiped out all the cash in his account that morning paying Kim’s credit-card bill. If he lost his job, then the floodgates would open. He could survive two to three months without work; after that, he’d have to sell assets. That alone would destroy him financially. He was leveraged to the hilt. Some of his assets were worth less now than when he’d bought them.

The last time Sam had received a credit-card bill that huge, he’d immediately lowered Kim’s credit limit. Kim found out when her payment for an eleven-thousand-dollar Hermès handbag was rejected at the Madison Avenue store in front of her friends. She was mortified. They had a huge blowup that night, and he reluctantly restored her credit limit. Now he paid all her bills without a word of complaint. Even if it meant taking out bridging loans. Even if it meant constantly feeling on the verge of a heart attack.

Sam knew that Kim spent money as much for attention as out of boredom. She complained that Sam was never around to help with the twins. He’d had to point out that they’d hired a maid to give her all the help she needed. Three maids, to be truthful. Three within the space of two years. The third had walked out in tears a week ago due to Kim’s erratic temper.

Kim was never satisfied with anything. If Sam gave Kim a platinum necklace, she wanted it in gold. If he took her to London, she wanted Paris. If he bought her a BMW, she wanted a Porsche.

Satisfying her unceasing demands was doable when his job prospects were good, but the firm had lost a major account, and since Christmas word had spread of an impending restructure. Everyone knew that was a euphemism for layoffs.

Sam never doubted that Kim would leave him if he couldn’t support her lifestyle anymore. She’d demand full custody of the girls and she’d raise them to hate him. Kim forgave most of his transgressions, she could even live with his infidelities, but she never forgave failure.It was Sam who first heard the footsteps sounding through the vast lobby. The long, hurried strides of a man running late to a meeting. Sam swung around as their boss arrived. Vincent’s square jaw was tight and his broad shoulders were tense as he joined them without saying a word.

“You almost didn’t make it,” observed Sylvie.

“The traffic was terrible.” Vincent ran his hand over his overcoat pocket in the habit of a man who had recently stopped smoking. Instead of cigarettes, he took out a pair of glasses, which he put on to examine the message on his phone. “Are you all aware of the purpose of this meeting?”

“The email invite from HR wasn’t exactly brimming with information,” said Sam. “You said in your text message it was compulsory for us to attend. That it took precedence over everything else. Well, we’re all here. So maybe now you can enlighten us, Vincent. What’s so important that I had to delay my trip to Antigua?”

“Who here has done an escape-room challenge before?” Vincent asked.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Sam said. “I abandoned my wife on her dream vacation to participate in a team-building activity! This is bullshit, Vincent. It’s goddamn bullshit and you know it.”

“It will take an hour,” said Vincent calmly. “Next Friday is bonus day. I’m sure that we all agree that it’s smart to be on our best behavior before bonus day, especially in the current climate.”

“Let’s do it,” said Sylvie, sighing. Her flight to Paris was at midnight. She still had plenty of time to get home and pack. Vincent led them to a brightly lit elevator with its doors wide open. Inside were mirrored walls and an alabaster marble floor.

They stepped inside. The steel doors shut behind them before they could turn around.


TWO
SARA HALL


It’s remarkable what a Windsor knot divulges about a man. Richie’s Italian silk tie was a brash shade of red, with thin gold stripes running on a diagonal. It was the tie of a man whose arrogance was dwarfed only by his ego.

In truth, I didn’t need to look at his tie to know that Richie was a douche. The dead giveaway was that when I entered the interview room, a nervous smile on my pink matte painted lips, he didn’t bother to greet me. Or even to stand up from the leather chair where he sat and surveyed me as I entered the room.

While I categorized Richie as a first-class creep the moment I set eyes on him, I was acutely aware that I needed to impress him if I was to have any chance of getting the job. I introduced myself and reached out confidently to shake his hand. He shook my hand with a grip that was tighter than necessary—a reminder, perhaps, that he could crush my career aspirations as easily as he could break the bones in my delicate hand.

He introduced himself as Richard Worthington. The third, if you don’t mind. He had a two-hundred-dollar haircut, a custom shave, and hands that were softer than butter. He was in his late twenties, around five years older than I was.

When we were done shaking hands, Richie leaned back in his chair and surveyed me with a touch of amusement as I settled into my seat across the table.

“You can take off your jacket and relax,” he said. “We try to keep interviews informal here.”

I took off my jacket and left it folded over the back of the chair next to me as I wondered what he saw when he looked at me. Did he see a struggling business-school graduate with a newly minted MBA that didn’t appear to be worth the paper it was written on? Or was he perceptive enough to see an intelligent, accomplished young woman? Glossy brown hair cut to a professional shoulder length, serious gray eyes, wearing a brand-new designer suit she couldn’t afford and borrowed Louboutin shoes that were a half size too small and pinched her toes.

I took a deep breath and tried to project the poise and confidence necessary to show him that I was the best candidate. Finally I had a chance at getting my dream job on Wall Street. I would do everything that I could humanly do not to screw it up.

Richie wore a dark gray suit with a fitted white shirt. His cuff links were Hermès, arranged so that the H insignia was clearly visible. On his wrist was an Audemars Piguet watch, a thirty-grand piece that told everyone who cared that he was the very model of a Wall Street player.

Richie left me on the edge of my seat, waiting awkwardly, as he read over my résumé. Paper rustled as he scanned the neatly formatted sheets that summed up my life in two pages. I had the impression that he was looking at it for the first time. When he was done, he examined me over the top of the pages with the lascivious expression of a john sizing up girls at a Nevada whorehouse.


Excerpt from The Escape Room by Megan Goldin reprinted with permission from the publisher. 
Copyright © 2019 by Megan Goldin. All Rights Reserved.




Meet the Author

Megan Goldin is the bestselling author of The Escape Room, praised by Lee Child as “one of my favorite books of the year”, as well as The Girl In Kellers Way, a critically-acclaimed domestic noir thriller nominated for Australia’s leading crime fiction awards.


Megan worked as a journalist for Reuters, the Australian ABC and Yahoo! News before writing her debut psychological thriller The Girl In Kellers Way



Connect with the author via her website, Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads

2018 Book 43: THE CLINIC by David Jester

The Clinic by David Jester
ISBN: 9781510704374 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781510704442 (ebook)
ASIN: B0773TYH2C (Kindle edition)
Publication date: February 6, 2018 
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing


An isolated rehab clinic. Three lost souls. One big secret. 

They each had their own demons to face, and none of them had much to live for. Malcolm was alone in the world, Darren might as well have been, and Eddie . . . well, Eddie wished he was. Crime wasn’t a way out for them; it was just a way to survive.

But the clinic was a job too far, a risk that didn’t justify the reward.
The isolated rehab clinic should have been an easy target. But this simple job would turn into a nightmare that none of the young men could have foreseen, unleashing an evil that was sown way before their time.

The Clinic is a twisted, macabre, and chilling tale told from the perspective of three delinquents, young men who never had a chance and are forced to make their own ways in life. They set their sights on an out-of-town rehab clinic, hoping to pilfer the prized possessions of rich alcoholics and addicts. But the clinic is not what they thought it was. Their plan inevitably goes awry and their night of petty crime turns into a fight for survival.

Can the boys make it out alive, and will their lifelong friendship remain intact once the truth is revealed?



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Eddie, Darren, and Malcolm are all only children and have been friends for as long as they can remember. Darren lives with his mother, an alcoholic and drug-addict, and her latest live-in boyfriend. Malcolm is currently living alone since his mother has disappeared and his father left years earlier. Eddie lives in a much nicer neighborhood than either Darren or Malcolm and resides in a four-bedroom house with his mother and father. These are not your average rambunctious, spirited teenage boys, as they’ve burgled homes and are looking to move up to something more. Eddie tells them about a posh rehab clinic outside of town and suggests they head out and rob the clinic. They venture out to check out the location and decide to give it a go with the thoughts that the place is far outside of town, the security guard is old and seems to be sleeping on the job, and there doesn’t seem to be a good security setup. What could possibly go wrong? Everything can and does go wrong. This isn’t a posh rehab clinic but a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane and the boys have wandered into the midst of a living nightmare. They find tortured and mutilated bodies of staff and “residents.” They have to fight, several times, to get away from the residents wanting them to play their torture games. It was relatively easy getting into the clinic, but it’s not so easy getting out. They get separated and things seem to go from bad to worse. Just when it seems like all hope is lost, they find one another and attempt to leave before it’s too late? Will they be able to escape from this night’s horror?

I’m not a huge fan of horror, by any stretch of the imagination, and although I began reading The Clinic on a Friday afternoon, I had to set it aside for awhile because it was just a bit too creepy. I finished reading it on Saturday morning and it gave my chills chills. I found it a bit difficult to get into the story primarily because I felt all three of the primary characters were pricks and I didn’t like them (sorry, but they had little redeeming qualities). This doesn’t normally turn me off, but there was just something about all three of these teen boys that set me off until I was midway through the story and they began to literally fight for their lives (okay, I still don’t like Eddie and if you read the book you’ll understand why). There’s a lot of murder and mayhem in The Clinic along with twisted characters (again, read the book to fully understand this statement). If you’re into the macabre, horror, or want a twisted read, then I can recommend you read The Clinic. Mr. Jester doesn’t provide overly graphic details, but it does get a bit gory at times. If you’re faint of heart and not quite sure about horror thrillers, then you may want to give this a pass or simply read it during the daylight (and steer clear of seemingly unattended buildings in rural areas). As I’ve previously stated, I’m not a horror fan but I actually enjoyed reading The Clinic and found that Mr. Jester provided just enough thrilling twists to keep me entertained and turning the page, hopefully, you will too.

Disclaimer: I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss+. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



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The Clinic: A Thriller

The Clinic: A Thriller

The Clinic: A Thriller

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The Clinic : A Thriller

2016 Book 35: A CURE FOR MADNESS by Jodi McIsaac

A Cure for Madness by Jodi McIsaac 
ISBN: 9781503951624 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781511358965 (audiobook)
ASIN: B013WTKH08 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: January 19, 2016 
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer



Clare Campbell has worked hard to create distance between herself and her troubled family. But when she receives news of her parents’ murder, she’s forced to return to the quiet town of Clarkeston, Maine, to arrange their funeral and take legal guardianship of her unpredictable and mentally ill brother, Wes.

While Clare struggles to come to grips with the death of her parents, a terrifying pathogen outbreak overtakes the town. She is all too familiar with the resulting symptoms, which resemble those of her brother’s schizophrenia: hallucinations, paranoia, and bizarre, even violent, behavior. Before long, the government steps in—and one agent takes a special interest in Wes. Clare must make a horrifying decision: save her brother or save the world.  


Claire Campbell is making a life for herself on the West Coast, as far removed from her family in Maine as possible. She maintains phone contact with her parents and brother, but hardly ever goes back to Maine to visit. Claire’s life will never be the same after receiving a phone call telling her that her parents have been murdered and she’s now the legal guardian for her older brother in A Cure for Madness by Jodi McIsaac.

Claire left Maine shortly after her graduation from college. The exact reasons for her departure aren’t clear, but she’s kept herself apart from her family for years, maintaining contact via phone calls only. With the murder of her parents, she has no choice but to return to Maine and straighten out her brother’s care, as well as make arrangements for her parent’s bodies. All Claire knows about her parents’ murder is that the act was committed by a fellow church member before the murderer killed himself. Little does she know, but that one reportedly random act of violence is the beginning of a health care crisis for the town of Clarkeston, Maine. When the CDC, USAMRID, and the National Guard arrive, the town becomes quarantined and it appears that Claire’s brother may hold the key to a cure. Claire is forced to choose between her brother’s health and welfare and that of her hometown and possibly the society as a whole.

I found A Cure for Madness to be a fast-paced, engaging, and enjoyable read. Ms. McIsaac has crafted a nightmare scenario that sounds slightly absurd but isn’t too farfetched to be unbelievable. Added into the mix of a bizarre healthcare crisis, a family with conservative Christian values, mental health issues, public safety versus personal freedoms, government surveillance, man-made diseases, conspiracies, and more. Claire has to deal with the notion that Wes has been in-and-out of mental institutions for most of his adult life, but he is her beloved older brother and his decline began with an incident involving Wes avenging her virtue (I know it sounds old-fashioned, but trust me and read the book to find out more). A Cure for Madness provides a lot of thrills and chills, as well as a touch of romance. I wish I could tell you more about this amazing story, but you’ll just have to read it for yourself. Seriously, you need to add A Cure for Madness to your TBR list and set aside a weekend to read this book. I’m looking forward to reading more from Ms. McIsaac in the future.


Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”




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A Cure for Madness


A Cure for Madness



2012 Book 127: ONLY ONE LIFE Review

Only One Life by Sara Blaedel
ISBN: 9781605983509
ISBN: 9781453249321 (ebook)
ASIN: B008AUC93I (Kindle ebook)
Publication date: July 1, 2012
Publisher: Pegasus Books


It was clearly no ordinary drowning. Inspector Louise Rick is immediately called out to Holbraek Fjord when a young immigrant girl is found in the watery depths, a piece of concrete tied around her waist and two mysterious circular patches on the back of her neck.

Her name was Samra, and Louise soon learns that her short life was a sad story. Her father had already been charged once with assaulting her and her mother, Sada, who makes it clear that her husband would indeed be capable of killing Samra if she brought dishonor to the family. But she maintains that Samra hadn’t done anything dishonorable. Then why was she supposed to be sent back to Jordan? Samra’s best friend Dicte thinks it was an honor killing. A few days later Dicte is discovered, bludgeoned to death, and Samra’s younger sister has gone missing.

Navigating the complex web of family and community ties in Copenhagen’s tightly knit ethnic communities, Louise must find this remorseless predator, or predators, before it is too late.


Louise Rick has been reassigned to the Unit One Mobile Task Force, an elite division of the National Police force, to investigate the murder of Samra Al-Abd. This reassignment requires her to temporarily relocate to Holbaek where the body was found. Louise has the opportunity to reconnect with a former partner, Soren Velis, and meet new officers including Mik Rasmussen, her new partner for this case. The investigation reveals that the Al-Abd family has had problems, with the mother and children briefly leaving the family home for a shelter. The facts are that the family is an immigrant family, Muslim and there is a past history of abuse quickly lead everyone to presume that this murder was a so-called honor killing. After interviewing Samra’s closest friend, Dicte Moller, Louise learns more about Samra’s life and the more she learns the more confusing the case becomes. 

Louise’s journalist friend, Camilla Lind, makes a return and also goes to Holbaek. She quickly befriends Sada Al-Abd and actually makes an effort to understand the cultural differences between the Al-Abd family and traditional Danish values. After an article that all but blames Sada for her daughter’s murder, Camilla quickly does research that shows that Muslim families aren’t that different from other strict religious Danish family, something no one wants to admit to or even hear – especially her editor.

After a few weeks and no new information Dicte is found dead, another murder. The police quickly arrest Samra’s father and brother for both murders. But there’s something that just doesn’t ring true to Louise about the arrests. The more she investigates Dicte’s murder the more she begins to realize things may not always be as they appear. Just when it looks like the community is going to be torn apart as a result of the deaths of these two teenage girls and the apparent ties to the immigrant community, the youngest Al-Abd daughter disappears. Will the police be able to find the truth before it’s too late?

Ms. Blaedel has once again crafted a story that pulls the reader in from the very beginning with Only One Life. The primary cast of characters, Louise Rick and her journalist friend Camilla Lind, are investigating another gruesome murder. Both Louise and Camilla’s personal lives are deftly interwoven into the story and provides more insight into what makes these women who they are. Ms. Blaedel doesn’t sugarcoat the preconceived prejudices against ethnic groups but makes it the focus of the investigation. Louise and the police immediately presume the murder of Samra is an honor killing, a completely foreign concept, and focus their investigation on obtaining proof that the family was involved. Although Camilla initially presumes that the family may be involved, the more she learns about the family and their values the more she realizes that the concept of shunning due to religious beliefs isn’t as foreign as initially presumed. 

Originally published in 2007, Only One Life made its US debut earlier this year. This is the third book in the Louise Rick series, but only the second published in the US. If you enjoyed Call Me Princess by Ms. Blaedel, you don’t want to miss out on reading Only One Life. I actually found it somewhat difficult to write a review of Only One Life. This was because there was so much I enjoyed about the story that I found it difficult to pick only a few things to highlight. I found Only One Life to be such a riveting read that I completed it in one sitting for my first read, and I savored it over a few days on my second read. If you enjoy crime thrillers then this is one book you want to add to your to-be-read list. 

More good news is that the fourth book in this series, Farewell to Freedom, has just been released and Blue Blood, the second book in the Louise Rick series, is scheduled for release in February 2013. I’ve already added them both to my to-be-read list and can’t wait to read them.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes through NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book 28: KODACHROME Review

Kodachrome by Jason Jahns
ISBN: 978-0984749102
Publisher: North Star Books

What Do You See?

Kodachrome is a novel about a global revolution that cuts across cultural, economic, and geographic divides; a conflict between the forces of rampant greed and demands for fairness and dignity.
The two main characters are extraordinary yet solitary – reluctant warriors who never meet. Miranda Carter is a cloistered graduate student dispatched to meet her estranged Mormon grandmother and examine a bizarre medical prognosis. Zhuli Cai is an unassuming young Chinese army officer willing to give everything to save the members of his unit. He holds a heavy secret.
Miranda and Zhuli are thrown headlong into technological and supernatural intrigue and deceit. They reckon with true impossibilities and face their own worst fears in a world of double-crosses, prophets, spies, presidential candidates, and Chinese revolutionaries.
On its way to a truly surprise ending, Kodachrome will beguile you with thriller-like tempo, the foresight of science fiction, deep social truths normally found only in historical novels, and a plot that you have never seen before – anywhere.


Miranda thought that she was without any family, alone in the world, until she is informed that her maternal grandmother is alive. Unfortunately there are ulterior motives as her superiors want to send her to Utah to not only meet her grandmother but have her examine her, ostensibly for medical research purposes. 

While Miranda goes off to Utah to discover her Mormon roots and meet her grandmother, there are strange happenings going on in China. Initially we are lead to believe that Zhuli is in the Chinese army as he works hard to protect his unit and provide a better environment for all. It isn’t until the reader is part of the way into the story that you realize that Zhuli is playing a computer simulation game. 

It is hard to imagine that a computer simulation game and an elderly Mormon woman in Utah have much in common. It is even harder to imagine that Zhuli, Miranda and her grandmother may hold the keys to a new world order. To say that there are twists in this story is a massive understatement. I initially had a very difficult time reading Kodachrome as it wasn’t clear how a Chinese gamer, an American researcher and Mormon history could have anything in common. The author does a credible job on combining the various plots and subplots into one cohesive story and just when you think you understand what’s going on there’s another twist. Kodachrome, for me, was part thriller and part fantasy. Both Zhuli and Miranda’s adventures could be classified as thriller but Miranda’s storyline was the more appealing of the two for me. Zhuli’s story was a little more fantastical and seemed to provide most of the plot twists. Even with all of the plot twists and more fantastical elements Kodachrome works and was an enjoyable read. I was a little disappointed with the ending and sincerely hope that there’s more for these characters in the future.

To read more about Kodachrome please visit: www.kodachromethebook.com


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”