Monday, August 31, 2015

Audiobook Review: FLESH: The Disappearance of Portia Barrington by Keith Lee Johnson

Keith Lee Johnson
Portia Barrington is the 15-year-old daughter of a high-powered defense attorney, and she's been kidnapped. Those who took her have demanded and been paid two ransoms, but now they are demanding a third so, despite the kidnappers' warnings to the contrary, the FBI has been called in. Enter Agent Phoenix Drew-Perry, a woman of color with her own daughter in turmoil.

The story is told in a combination of third person and first. Half of the story is Phoenix' personal first person recollections. The other half is from an omniscient third person point-of-view; a technique I personally find distracting. Pick a PoV and stick with it, I say, but I understand that this is becoming a popular story-telling modus. I just find it off-putting and lazy.

The author relies heavily on cliches. I swear I heard the phrase "Off the hook!" more times in the first chapter than a Mel B outtake-reel from America's Got Talent. Also the book references the sex act so frequently that the author often relies on such over-used erotica standards as "get all up in that," and "on fire down there."

There are a number of other weird aspects to the book. It's clearly written to titillate, but at the end, the heroine goes into a long puritanical aside about how over-sexed and debauched Americans are. Another example of the book's weirdness is that a character in the book is named Christopher Chance, and one of the protagonists assumes it's a false identity because it's such a cheesy name. This in a book with characters named Phoenix, Portia Barrington, Topaz, Vanderbilt, Myles, Palmer, and Savannah.
Lucinda Gainey

In another example, the story makes overly specific use of the story-line of a 1970 film called The Grasshopper starring Jacqueline Bisset, or as the narrator, Lucinda Gainey, calls her for some unexplained reason, Jacqueline Bay-set. The narration also has a somewhat sterile almost-documentary-style feel to it in several places, which is odd considering how hyper-sexual the book is. Other than that the voice narration was competent, although there were a few moments where the longish sentences taxed her breathing.

One thing I did enjoy about the book was a clever plot element where the FBI agents were able to determine the reason why the kidnappers kept demanding more and more ransom. But then, by the end of the book even that became a plot hole. I don't want to post a spoiler, but suffice to say you don't lead a horse to water if you don't want him to take a drink.

Overall, I wasn't impressed with the story or the writing, but apparently I'm in the minority. The author has a substantial following, and numerous glowing reviews on this title alone in the paperback and eBook listings at Amazon. Personally, I'm not recommending it, but what do I know? Twenty plus horny housewives can't be wrong.

Amazon, Audible

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Meet This Thriller Author

I was recently interviewed by thriller author, Alan Peterson, for his podcast, Meet the Thriller Author. We talk about my influences, where story ideas come from, and my podcast, The Thrills and Mystery Podcast. Have a listen.

Direct download

Books I mention in the interview: The Quartzsite Trip, Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Guest Post: Unique DNA Search Catches the Grim Sleeper by DJ Swykert

DJ Swykert
   The underlying theme in The Death of Anyone, Melange Books, poses the Machiavellian question: Does the end justify the means? Bonnie Benham, the lead detective in my story, has her own answer. But the legality of this question will be answered in a real life courtroom in the California trial of a serial killer dubbed by the media: The Grim Sleeper. 
   Lonnie David Franklin, the Grim Sleeper, was caught because his son’s DNA was the closest match to DNA collected at the crime scenes in the database. Investigating Franklin’s son led them to investigate Lonnie Franklin. But there was no direct DNA evidence that linked Lonnie to the crime scene until they obtained a sample from him after his arrest. Lonnie Franklin will be the first person in the U.S. to ever stand trial for murder based on this type of evidence, and its admissibility issues will be thoroughly tested by defense attorneys. 
   Only two states at this time, California and Colorado, have a written policy concerning the use of Familial DNA in an investigation. The admission of Familial DNA, with its potential Fourth Amendment violations, has never been tested in court. The California trial of Lonnie David Franklin will become a landmark case for the future use of Familial DNA Searches by law enforcement agencies nationwide.
   This is an update on the legal progress of the trial. Franklin was arrested on July 7, 2010, The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office charged him with ten counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, and special circumstance allegations of multiple murders in the cases. A grand jury indictment was issued on March 23, 2011. The Grim Sleeper has been resting comfortably in jail since his arrest awaiting trial; the large quantity of evidence in this case, some dating back thirty years, has caused a lengthy pretrial discovery. The trial was originally scheduled to begin the summer of 2014, but was put on hold. It was rescheduled for June 30, 2015, but that didn’t happen. On Monday August 17, 2015, at a pretrial hearing, the trial was rescheduled for October 14, 2015.
   I first heard of the technique while working as a 911 operator in 2006. It came up in a conversation with officers. I thought at the time it would make an interesting premise for a book. I began writing the mystery some three years later after leaving the department. I had just finished editing a first draft of The Death of Anyone in the summer 2010 when news of The Grim Sleeper’s capture in Los Angeles was released. I read with interest all the information pouring out of L.A. regarding the investigation and the problems confronting prosecutors. All of which are explored in The Death of Anyone.
   In my fictional story Detroit Detective Bonnie Benham has been transferred from working undercover in narcotics to homicide and is working the case of a killer of adolescent girls. She is a straight forward investigator who describes herself as a blonde with a badge and a gun. CSI collects DNA evidence from the scene of the latest victim, which had not been detected on the other victims; but no suspect turns up in the FBI database. Due to the notoriety of the crimes a task force is put together with Bonnie as the lead detective, and she implores the D.A. to use an as yet unapproved type of a DNA Search in an effort to identify the killer.  
   The Death of Anyone is available on the Melange Books website and also on in Kindle and print formats.

DJ Swykert is a former 911 operator writing and living in the Cincinnati area. His work has appeared in The Tampa Review, Detroit News, Coe Review, Monarch Review, The Newer York, Lunch Ticket, Gravel, Zodiac Review, Barbaric Yawp and Bull. His books include Children of the Enemy, Alpha Wolves, The Pool Boy’s Beatitude and The Death of Anyone. You can find him at:
He is a wolf expert.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Final Weekend for All 5 eBooks Under $12

After this weekend all prices return to normal

As you know - or should know if you actually read my blog ;) - The fifth book in the Lupa Schwartz mystery series, Five Secrets, dropped last month. The eBook version was released at the introductory price of $2.99 and the prices of books 2,3, and 4 were set to match. Book one is free in eBook, so all five books were available for less than $12. On Monday, the prices will begin returning to normal. Book one will remain free indefinitely as an incentive for new readers of the series, but book's 2, 4 and 5 will all be increasing in price. Book 2 will be $3.99 and books 4 and 5 will each be $4.99.

So get the series NOW while you still have the chance to save. Find the links to your favorite retailer at

Friday, August 7, 2015

Audiobook Review: An Eye for Murder by Libby Fischer Hellmann

I was provided this audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher, and/or narrator in exchange for an unbiased review.

Libby Fischer Hellmann
Ellie Foreman is a recently divorced woman with a tweener daughter and an aging father to care for. She works as a film director for a small independent production company in Chicago, and her greatest claim to fame is a small regional history piece she produced for the mayor a few years back. Everything is getting to a normal place in her life, when three unrelated incidences converge to force her world to come undone.

First she receives a request from a TEA Party candidate for the governorship to produce a bio-pic which the campaign hopes will introduce the candidate to the voters. Next, her ex-husband brings her the bad news that he is having financial difficulties due to a poor investment decision which threatens his ability to contribute to her financially. Finally, an unknown elderly woman calls to inform her that upon the death of an aged border, Ellie’s name was found amid the dead man’s possessions, and she believes that Ellie may be the intended heir of his meager belongings.

How these three otherwise minor incidences play out to bring Ellie to the brink of bankruptcy and involve her in a 65 year-old conspiracy to revive Hitler’s final solution makes for a fast paced, and colorful tale. Along the way we meet Ellie’s Syrian gardener, a handsome stranger named David, an Hispanic woman with secrets of her own, the charismatic leader of a Neo-Nazi Church, and a young boy who hopes the library might be his ticket out of gang life; as well as a number of other peripheral characters who all have a part to play in this tightly told yarn.

Capably voiced by Karyn O’Bryant, the audio version of An Eye for Murder by Libby Fisher Hellmann is not overly produced with sound effects and distracting mood music, which I always appreciate. The story did require some accent work, and a little emotional depth from the narrator, all of which Ms O’Bryant handled masterfully. In fact, for the whole of the production, I was only pulled out of the narration at one point during a scene describing how Ellie dealt with an unrealized romantic moment. During a few paragraphs where Ellie describes how she brought herself to completion, the narration felt just a little disconnected.  
Karyn O'Bryant

There are also a few very minor issues with the story. For one, I find it very difficult to believe that the liberal daughter of a Jewish WWII survivor would be easily swayed to believe that a TEA Party darling could be even a little bit pro-union and pro-choice and still have party backing. There’s also a short scene describing in too much detail how Ellie chooses to hide a copy of an old document. She hid it in a seldom used window-well. That’s all we need to know. But these two issues and a few other quibbles are nothing to complain about.

Overall, the story is satisfying and believable and entertaining. All the things one wants in an audio thriller. This is billed as the first in the series of Ellie Foreman mysteries. It might be worthwhile checking out the rest.

Amazon, Audible

Monday, August 3, 2015

Author Interview: Harry Longstreet, Author of Falling Birds

   Harry Longstreet retired after twenty-five years as a writer, producer and director of filmed entertainment, primarily for television.  For the past ten years he has pursued ‘humanist realism’ photography…  still pushing film through a camera but one frame at a time instead of 24 frames a second.
   He has received two Writers Guild of America nominations for script writing, as well as a Humanitas Nomination and a Genesis Award for an after-school special he co-wrote and directed.  Aside from one-man shows, his award winning photography has appeared in over two-hundred National and International Juried Exhibitions.
   “Falling Birds” is his first published work.  “Blood in the Water”, the second in the GYB series is a work in progress. He lives on Bainbridge Island, WA.
Falling birds is described as follows:“Falling Birds”, is the first in a series featuring “GYB” [Got Your Back] an agency specializing in protection and investigative services. The three principals of the Los Angeles firm; (Tracy-ex-military, Jake ex-mobster, Dave ex-cop washout) and their bizarre contract confederate, Grodsky, an infamous paparazzo. The agency works to protect a ‘Jeans Queen’ designer from a psychopathic stalker. At the same time, Jake is the subject of a contract hit ordered by a dying mob boss he is responsible for putting in prison and Grodsky searches for the killer of a film star he once loved.
Who are your influences?
Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, Robert Parker, Donald Westlake [Richard Stark] Ross Thomas, William Murray, John D. MacDonald

 When did you begin writing?
As a teenager but I realized how imitative my work was and gave it up. Later, in my thirties I became involved in writing again as a corporate PR executive and later the transition to fiction wasn’t too difficult. I was a writer-producer-director (mostly TV) for twenty-five years. Episodes and movies for television got five kids through college.

 How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
Everything we see, hear, read goes into a conscious and subconscious collective. You draw on it and travel both old and new roads looking for story first… the rest will follow (hopefully). Not easy to be fresh but always trying.

 Do you work from an outline?
Not yet… I’m still stealing the notions and plots from all those showbiz years that worked, didn’t work or got rejected.

Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
All the ones that still make me laugh no matter how many times I read them… but the ones with the gourmand pair of contract killers was fun to write and read.

 Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
Have fun and don’t be afraid to take chances or offend.

Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
As noted…25 years in the TV vineyard and one feature destroyed by four subsequent re-writes. Welcome to Hollywood.

Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
Too many and I don’t want to get sued… but I’ll share one without names. Pitching to a “show runner” in an interview to come aboard as a producer… offered a slew of story ideas. Loves two of them, would we (wife partner) write that episode?  Reminded him we are interviewing for the producing opening. OK, he’ll think it over.  Next day a good friend is telling us she also interviewed for a script assignment on that same show and she got the gig! Great we say what did you pitch. She didn’t, they gave her a two element story. Yep, the same two we had pitched the day before. She was a good friend and we let it go… took a different show. Welcome to Hollywood.

You can find Harry on Facebook. You can also check out his IMDB page, and his photography. And his book is is available on Amazon