Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book Review: Lust, Money & Murder by Mike Wells

Elaine Brogan was born in a poor Pittsburgh suburb to a doting working class construction worker father. As a child, he regaled her with tales of fictitious royal ancestors and he provided her with everything she could want or need, even if he had to beg, borrow or steal (mostly steal) to provide it. As a young woman, her aspirations were to enter the modeling profession to stake her fortune. She was content, comfortable and proud of the life she and her father had staked out for themselves. That all changed, however, when a seedy scam artist running a modeling school con set her father up to take the fall on a counterfeiting dodge.

Unable to face life behind bars, Elaine’s father, Patrick Brogan, commits suicide, and Elaine sets out to avenge his death. Men continue taking advantage of Elaine’s naivety and trusting nature through college and into her career in both the Secret Service and the US Treasury Department. Elaine makes a name for herself due to her uncanny ability to spot the flaws in counterfeit US currency, and this attracts the attention of various unsavory types.

Lust, Money & Murder by Mike Wells is a story in three parts. The narrative follows Elaine’s life through a trio of novelettes combined into one story, detouring only briefly toward the middle of the third novella to tell us the story of a Mafioso Elaine becomes entangled with. There’s sex, car chases, cons, moral ambiguity, and descriptions of scenes of both beauty and of utter destitution. The story follows a well-worn path making it sometimes predictable, but it does it all in a way that feels fresh and unique. The writing is informative and inventive. The plots, especially one concerning a smuggling operation, are so believably inventive that one wonders how much of the story is based on true criminal events the author was somehow privy to.

The omnibus is available as an eBook, but I was lucky enough to receive the audio version of the book, recently made available on Audible, Amazon USA, and iTunes. Competently narrated by professional voiceover artist Sue Sharp, the recorded version avoids all of the trappings I tend to dislike in an audio-book. Often, producers feel the need to create a sort of radio-play experience, adding such superfluous Foley-fluff as music, sound effects, and multiple voice actors. Personally, I don’t need those things. An audiobook, in my opinion, should be as much like a reading experience as possible. When I sit down with a coffee and a tablet, I don’t generate the sound of footsteps to set a mood. I don’t bring in women to read the female parts or children to read the kids’ roles. Just give me the story, and let my imagination do the heavy lifting.

To that end, the choice of Ms Sharp was fairly spot-on. With a few exceptions, she kept me inside the story the entire time. Considering that the tale was penned by a man, it actually helped make the feminine voice of the narration more palatable having an actual female voice read the words. Ms Sharp expertly assigned nuanced inflection changes in her voice to represent different characters, both male and female, and her southern drawl and Russian accents were – to my ear – accurate. Unfortunately her Italian accent and her Irish brogue seemed to have been learned watching Mel Blanc or Cid Caesar at work, but that can be forgiven.

I listened to the story over several days while commuting to and from work. The fact that by the second day I found myself actually looking forward to the drive should tell you all you need to know about whether the experience was a good one. I thoroughly enjoyed Lust, Money & Murder. It had a Patterson/DeMille/Baldacci vibe I like, and a female protagonist that I found compelling and sympathetic enough to put me in a mind of Evanovich/Larsson/Paretsky.

Mike Wells can be found at his blog ( on Twitter ( and on Facebook ( The eBook and audio version can be downloaded from a number of sources.


When they got back to Sofia, Elaine seriously considered asking for a transfer to another Secret Service office. Her one-year anniversary was almost up. Technically, it was possible.
Why should I keep torturing myself? she thought. Working side by side with a man she was madly in love with, but who would not return her feelings? It was masochistic.
Finally, Elaine could stand it no longer. Two days before her one-year anniversary, she downloaded the Request for Transfer form on her computer and started filling it out.
When she reached the blank that said, Reason for Transfer Request, she hesitated, her fingers hovering over the keyboard.
Can’t take this anymore—have the hots for my boss, and it’s driving me insane.
“Morning, Elaine.”
She looked up sharply. Nick was standing in her doorway, smiling at her.
She quickly minimized the window on her screen. “Good morning.”
“Are you free Friday night?”
“Why?” she said guardedly.
"I thought we’d go out and celebrate your anniversary.”
“I—” She feigned surprise. “Has it been a year already?”
“Sure has.” Nick grinned. “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
Elaine watched him a moment, standing there in his jeans and leather jacket, his hair disheveled. He looked like he just tumbled out of bed with one of his bar girls.
She wanted to strangle him.
With a sigh, she said, “Nick, I really don’t want to go out with you and your...”
He looked puzzled. “My...what?”
“My groupies?” He laughed. “Is that how you think of them?”
Elaine didn’t answer. He stood there a long time, gazing at her. “If I didn’t know better,” he said, “I’d think you were jealous.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said, blushing. She opened the window on her screen. He couldn’t see what she was doing, so it didn’t matter.
He said, “The only reason those girls like me is because I spend money on them.”
She looked up at him. Smiling, he reached into his pocket and took out a small cardboard box. It was about the size of jewelry box for a ring.
Keep dreaming, she thought, but her heart beat a little faster as he set it on her desk in front of her. “Just a memento of your first day in Bulgaria.”
All she could remember about the first day here was how good her hand felt in his. Hiding her bitterness, she opened up the box.
Inside was a little plastic turkey, with funny little legs hanging down. Nick picked it up, wound the knob on the side, and let it go. It waddled crazily around the desktop, making an awful grinding noise.
T hey both started laughing.
“The Turkey Roll,” Elaine said.
“Bet you’ll never forget that day, will you?”
No, Elaine thought, but not for the reasons you think.
He just stood there and they both watched the little toy wind down until it fell over on its side.
“Well?” he said.
“Well what?”
“About Friday night. Do you want to go to dinner, or not? I made reservations at Maison Godet. It’ll just be you and me.” He smiled. “No groupies allowed.”
Maison Godet was the best restaurant in Sofia, an, intimate, romantic setting.
No way was she going to set herself up for another letdown.
“What time?” she said.
“About seven? Pick you up at your place.”
After he walked away, she looked after him, thinking that the dinner would be a good chance to tell him that she was requesting a transfer.