<i>Flash Points</i>: Excerpt Flash Points: Excerpt David Hagberg The 22nd book in the Kirk McGarvey series. Review: <i>The Broken Girls</i> by Simone St. James Review: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James Angie Barry Read Angie Barry's review! Review: <i>Death by Dumpling</i> by Vivien Chien Review: Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien Doreen Sheridan Read Doreen Sheridan's review! Review: <i>Second Story Man</i> by Charles Salzberg Review: Second Story Man by Charles Salzberg Thomas Pluck Read Thomas Pluck's review!
From The Blog
March 19, 2018
Q&A with Christi Daugherty, Author of The Echo Killing
Christi Daugherty and Crime HQ
March 16, 2018
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March 13, 2018
Q&A with Sebastian Rotella, Author of Rip Crew
Sebastian Rotella and John Valeri
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Murder and Mayhem in Chicago
Lori Rader-Day and Dana Kaye
March 9, 2018
Robbery with a Chance of Meatballs: Man Steals Meatballs & Gets Caught Red-Handed
Adam Wagner
Showing posts by: Chris Wolak click to see Chris Wolak's profile
Mar 15 2018 12:00pm

Review: The Echo Killing by Christi Daugherty

When a murder echoing a 15-year-old cold case rocks the Southern town of Savannah, crime reporter Harper McClain risks everything to find the identity of this calculated killer in Christi Daugherty's new novel The Echo Killing.

I was immediately pulled into this novel and read it in just a few sittings over two days. This might be Christi Daugherty’s first novel for adults, but her storytelling skills have been well-honed by the five novels she’s written for young-adult readers.

Adults who read YA novels often say they do so because the focus is on telling a good story without the clutter of gratuitous sex and violence that is often found in adult novels. Daugherty’s success with writing for young adults is evident in that she’s written a solid story with steady action that does not involve a complicated and/or superfluous subplot. Sure, there is some sex and violence in the book, but it is seasoning rather than the main course.

At 22 years old, Daugherty started working as a crime reporter in Georgia. Her experience and familiarity with the job and the setting are evident from page one of the novel:

[Read Chris Wolak's review of The Echo Killing...]

Feb 6 2018 3:00pm

Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Force of Nature by Jane Harper is the second book in the Aaron Falk series, where five women go on a hike and only four return, begging the question: how well do you really know the people you work with?

Last year, I approached Jane Harper’s international bestseller, The Dry, with a bit of trepidation. All those five-star ratings and breathless reviews made me wary. But I picked it up to read as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge that I participate in each year. From the first pages, I was hooked and did not want to put it down.

Jane Harper’s first novel was no fluke. Fans of place-based novels have an exciting new friend in Australian Federal Agent Aaron Falk. In Force of Nature, Falk—a financial crimes investigator—is in the midst of a case he’s working on with his partner, Carmen Cooper. Their investigation is part of a larger operation, and their target is one of the women away on a weekend hike. Carmen is new to the series and serves not so much as a love interest—although there is some of that tension—but more as someone who holds up a mirror to Falk so he can see himself.

[Read Chris Wolak's review of Force of Nature...]

Jan 9 2018 12:00pm

Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds, which probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next (available January 9, 2018).

I have one sibling and often wonder what life would be like if I had a couple more, which is one of the things that drew me to Chloe Benjamin’s new novel. The other was wondering how she’d pull off a story about four siblings who have their death date hovering over their heads. Could such a premise be pulled off gracefully?

The answer is yes.

The novel opens with a prologue set in 1969 when the kids learn of their death dates. It’s the middle of a hot, sticky summer on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and the four bored Gold siblings are killing time when one hears about a fortune teller who can tell people the date they’re going to die. The kids—two girls and two boys—are seven, nine, 11, and 13 years old. It’s the last summer they’ll spend together as a group. By next year, their dynamics change as the two older siblings age into spending more time with their friends than their younger siblings.

[Read Chris Wolak's review of The Immortalists...]

Nov 30 2017 2:00pm

Review: Hunter Killer by David Poyer

World War with China explodes in Hunter Killer, David Poyer's powerful, all-too-believable novel about how the next world war might unfold.

This novel is full of movement and the chaos of wartime. As a result, it’s difficult to write about, but at its most basic, it follows the storylines of five people: Dan Lenson, Admiral, USN; Teddy Oberg, POW and Navy SEAL; Cheryl Staurulakis, Commander, USN; Hector Ramos, recruit/Marine, USMC; and Blair Titus, military advisor, Washington, D.C.

The book opens with Captain Lenson being summoned to a Naval command bunker on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The United States is at war with China. Country after country is falling to the People’s Republic, and the U.S. has had some crushing losses—including the vaporization of an entire U.S. Battle Group by a nuclear warhead.

Poyer adds some insider humor to the opening scene with a little inter-service swipe at the Army, “Dan nodded to Army personnel—they tended to sulk if ignored in passageways—but didn’t to Navy or Air Force unless they greeted him first.” Poyer’s series, after all, celebrates the Navy and Marine Corps. Oohrah! But I digress.

[Read Chris Wolak's review of Hunter Killer...]

Sep 21 2017 3:00pm

Review: OSS Operation Black Mail: One Woman’s Covert War Against the Imperial Japanese Army by Ann Todd

OSS Operation Black Mail: One Woman's Covert War Against the Imperial Japanese Army by Ann Todd is the story of a remarkable woman, Elizabeth “Betty” McIntosh, who fought World War II on the front lines of psychological warfare.

OSS Operation Black Mail is the story of Elizabeth “Betty” McIntosh and so much more. The bulk of this book concerns McIntosh’s experience in World War II and how the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operated against the Japanese in China-Burma-India. Along the way, we learn about how the U.S. intelligence community rapidly formed during WWII, the gender obstacles that women agents faced, interagency bickering, tensions between allies, and how agents operated on the ground, all from a very different theater of war—one that hasn’t been written about as much as the war effort in Europe or the Pacific. The book also touches on the early years of the Cold War, Hoover’s investigations into communist activities, and McCarthy’s fanatical assault on American citizens.

McIntosh was recruited into the OSS in 1943 due to her background as a reporter and her personal interest in Japanese language and culture. She was also not afraid of taking risks, as attested by her hike up an active volcano as multiple pairs of shoes melted under her feet.

[Read Chris Wolak's review of OSS Operation Black Mail...]

Sep 7 2017 4:30pm

Review: Idyll Fears by Stephanie Gayle

Idyll Fears by Stephanie Gayle is the second book in the Thomas Lynch series, where the gay Chief of Police must deal with homophobic opposition as well as a frantic search for a missing six-year-old with a rare, life-threatening medical condition.

Idyll Fears is the second entry in Stephanie Gayle’s Thomas Lynch series. Thomas Lynch is the Chief of Police in Idyll, a small fictional town in Connecticut. Part of the drama in Idyll Threats—the first book in the series—was Lynch being outed as gay. While still a big deal today, back in 1997—when this book is set—it was an even bigger deal for a high-ranking public figure to be gay. Particularly in a small town. It was big news, it was scandalous, and not everyone wanted (or wants) to be a poster child or role model for underrepresented groups.

Chief Lynch is now dealing with the fall out of being outed, and he’s not sure if he’ll stay in Idyll. The town is still buzzing, and Lynch is still getting to know the town, the men on the police force, and his formidable secretary, Mrs. Dunsmore, an older woman who has been in her position for a long, long time. Anonymous, homophobic phone calls are being made both to his home number and the police station. The calls are logged, complete with the caller’s phone number thanks to the new technology of *69, which the callers aren’t sophisticated enough to realize is being used. “Homo,” “Queer,” “We don’t want your kind here.” Happy Holidays, Chief!

[Read Chris Wolak's review of Idyll Fears...]

Aug 1 2017 3:15pm

Review: Stasi Child by David Young

STASI CHILD by David YoungStasi Child by David Young is the first book in the Karin Müller series, set in East Berlin in 1975 (available August 1, 2017).

This is a Cold War thriller that has nothing to do with nuclear annihilation or international espionage. The focus is on a murder investigation in East Berlin, and all the players are East Germans.

Readers familiar with Cold War novels set in Communist East Germany will feel at home in the setting and tone that Young creates. Readers new to the genre will quickly feel the bleakness of life in East Germany, from the pollution to inadequate winter clothing to the construction of monolithic Soviet block apartments.

Nothing is quite straight forward. Everyone has something to hide and/or some kind of damage that’s a weak spot that can be manipulated by those in power. Citizens have to walk a straight line to avoid suspicion. These threats are bad, but worst of all is the corrosive force of relentless propaganda and paranoia that wears people down. Everyone is a potential informer spying on everyone else, even family members.

[Read Chris Wolak's review of Stasi Child...]