Tag Archives: Murder and Mayhem

Book Review: Dark Oceans – Modern Day Search for an Ancient Relic

Dark Oceans

Or The Geometry of Chance

By Mark Macrossan

Thrust into the world of espionage, murder and mayhem, the spectrum of characters in Dark Oceans are all linked together, albeit tenuously. The common denominator is an ancient artifact, the Isfahan Decagon. It is famed to be the only one of its kind. The Decagon has perfect tiling with a perfect golden ratio. Not only that, the Decagon is said to have an infinite non-repeating pattern that surpasses anything created today, therefore making it the Holy Grail of collectors and museums around the world. It has been missing since at least the 1800’s. It may have been in a ship wreck, but has ties to Portugal, Western Australia as well as the English.

So begins the quest to find it. Dark Oceans takes the reader around the world in the search. The race to find the Decagon includes characters on land, sea and air, doing anything within their power to be the first to grab the prize.

Among the characters that are searching for the Decagon, are thieves, murders, organized crime minions and a few in law enforcement. It is difficult to tell who is good and who is bad until the end when all is revealed to the reader. My favorite characters are Jon and Alistair. Jon is a barrister who has had a windfall of a massive amount of cash. It appeared in his account without reason. He slowly begins to spend the money, but soon finds himself to be very unlucky. Or someone is trying to kill him. He is rescued by his quirky neighbor, Alistair and his cat. But they can’t keep Jon safe if he doesn’t stop jumping into dangerous situations far out of his league.

This fast paced thriller has more twists and turns and characters coming and going than summertime crowds at an amusement park. That is if the attendees of said amusement park allowed fire arms, garrotes and objects to bludgeon anyone that hops in line in front of them. At times it was confusing due to the sheer number of characters – most of them evil – that are weaving in and out of the story.

It is the first book by Macrossan that I have read. He is a playwright, short story and poetry writer. Formerly a barrister as well as a theater producer and film extra, he has traveled the world to gather fodder for his novel. Dark Oceans is his first.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from  Reedsy Discovery in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Charles Manson and the Killing of Shorty Shea

Charles Manson and the Killing of Shorty Shea

By Edwin Colin

with Deb Silva

As an eight-year-old, Edwin Colin, the author of this book, knew Shorty. It was 1953 when Colin’s father wars hired to be a full-time foreman at Corriganville, a Movie Ranch in nearby Simi Valley. Corriganville was owned by the famous stunt rider, Crash Corrigan, who was also and friend of Shorty Shea. So begins Colin’s fascination with the man who will be killed by Charles Manson and his followers right before the infamous  Tate and LaBianca murders.

Charles “Shorty” Shea was many things in his life. He was a horse wrangler, stuntman, husband, a U. S. Military Veteran and a victim of Charles Manson and his Family. Shorty wanted to be an actor in Westerns, but he seemed to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time. By the time he made enough connections in the business, Westerns were not getting the funding to be produced as audiences no longer flocked to them.

He spent his last years working on the Spahn Ranch. He took care of the livestock, did some Wild West shows for dwindling crowds and had the unfortunate fate of meeting Charles Manson. Manson and his Family basically moved into Spahn Ranch and took it over. The owner, George Spahn was getting older and was nearly blind by the time Manson and his followers descended upon his property. For whatever reason, he let them stay.

Some say that Shorty’s death was a direct result of not ignoring Charles Manson. Not one to ever back down from confrontation, he did not like Manson and everyone knew it. Sadly, his stubbornness was most likely the reason Charles Manson, Tex Watson, Bruce Davis and Steve Grogan murdered him in cold blood on August 26, 1969.

Colin weaves a sordid insider look at the murder of Shorty Shea and subsequent deaths of Sharon Tate and the LaBiancas. With Deb Silva, the duo uncovered death certificates, autopsy results and firsthand accounts of the horrific crimes committed by the Manson Family. The small facts that surrounded the Spahn Ranch and those that lived there are fascinating to me. There are connections to famous actors, TV shows and events that most have heard of, but from a different, closer perspective. For example, one of men that participated in Shea’s death is now out of prison and another one is up for parole this year – but has dementia.

Charles Manson and the Killing of Shorty Shea is an entertaining work of non-fiction. The book is fascinating, but at times disjointed. There was a bit of repetition, as the author seemed to give the facts ahead of the timeline, then repeated with more detail later. Overall, it was an interesting insider look into the lives of the Manson Family as well as Shorty Shea and all of the people they encountered during this brief period of history.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from  Reedsy Discovery (https://reedsy.com/discovery/book/charles-manson-and-the-killing-of-shorty-shea-edwin-colin) in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Whisper Man – Haunting Thriller

The Whisper Man

By Alex North

Neil Spencer has a less than ideal life. The six-year-old has two alcoholic parents and he is left on his own devices all too often. When his father decides to let him walk back to his mother’s house alone, it is the last time he was seen. He is not the first missing child Detective Inspector Pete Willis has searched for and won’t be his last.

The small town had a serial killer targeting children years ago, but Frank Carter, aka The Whisper Man, had been caught and was in prison. But Neil’s disappearance was eerily similar to the Whisper Man cases. Some of the children’s bodies have not been found and continue to haunt DI Willis. He is determined to find Neil before he became another unsolved mystery.

Meanwhile, another family in this small town is troubled. Tom lives with his young son, Jake, in the home in which Tom’s wife/Jake’s mother tragically died. Jake is understandably troubled. He has an imaginary friend that he talked to all the time. The small family decides to find a new home so that they can move on. After the move, he tells his father that a man is whispering to him telling him to unlock the door of the new house and let him in.

Understandably Tom was distraught. He contacts the local police, who at first don’t really believe anything is amiss, especially because Jake is known to have imaginary friends. Once DI Willis hears about the whispers, he immediately knows it has to be The Whispering Man’s accomplice. Would he be able to keep young Jake safe? Would they finally locate the other missing boys’ remains?

The Whisper Man is a haunting thriller that skillfully pulls the reader into the story from the first pages. At times I couldn’t stop reading, and was holding my breath as the plot unfolded. North created characters that came alive on the pages. When I read lines such as “…grief is a stew with a thousand ingredients, and not all of them are palatable…” they stick in my mind long after the last page. This was so much more than a mystery, reminiscent of Dean Koontz, thought provoking descriptions and beautiful turns of phrase keep readers slowing down to enjoy the journey of the fast paced plot.

If you are a fan of mysteries, thrillers and heart stopping plot twists, this is the book for you. Alex North is a pen name, so I’m not sure if I’ve ever read anything else that was written by him. If anything else he’s written is as intensely engaging as The Whisper Man, I will be the first to get a copy.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Arrangement – Desperate Times Call for … Murder?

The Arrangement

By Robyn Harding

Small town girl Natalie is out of her element. It is her choice, but life is harder and more expensive in New York City than she could have imagined. Loving the freedom and following her dream of art school is the best part of her life. Unfortunately money is a big problem. She lives with two roommates but is way behind on her portion of the rent. She loses the job that is barely keeping her head above water and turning the alcohol isn’t helping.

One of her friends at school offers Nat a solution to her situation. Ava has a posh apartment, stylish clothes, makeup and hair. When she reveals to Nat that she is a sugar baby, Ava tells Natalie that she dates men for money. Quickly explaining to Nat that sugar babies can just date older men, no sex has to be involved – unless it is her choice. At first Nat is repelled by the idea of dating men for money, but the amount of cash the sugar daddy pays for a dinner date could catch her up on the money she owes her roommates. After much deliberation, she decides that she will go on a date or two, get the cash and get out. The only problem is she really likes Gabe, her sugar daddy.

Falling for Gabe was easy for Nat; he is gorgeous, smart and rich. She starts to depend on the lifestyle and wants more than dinner and going to the theater. Things quickly begin to unravel. Soon she finds out he has secrets. Just how far will Nat go to have Gabe to herself? She is convinced they love each other and are destined to be together. But his family may not agree.

In the prologue of this fast paced novel, Natalie is calling her estranged father from the police station stating she has killed someone and needs his help. So the reader knows from the beginning that someone dies. It is a delicious bit of information that was always in the back of my mind. Who will die and why? While this isn’t a mystery, the element of the unknown is a fabulous addition to the complex plot.

The Arrangement is the perfect glimpse into a life most of us will never see – or want to ever be a part of. Ms. Harding explains in Acknowledgments the depth of research she did before writing The Arrangement. Doing her homework on the subject is what brought this book alive, and made the characters real. It is the first book I’ve read from this author and I highly recommend it.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: V.E.N.O.M. – Explosively Excellent Thriller

V.E.N.O.M

By Ty Mitchell

The mysterious death of an older Chinese couple in the Catskills has multiple law enforcement agencies scrambling for answers. By all accounts the two had several children living with them that are now missing. The reference to a group calling themselves V.E.N.O.M. comes into play.

New York City detective Jake Penney is called to work the case. He was a great cop at one time. The death of his family and subsequent spiral into alcohol and drug abuse has all but robbed him of his job. Hanging on by a thread, his CO decides that investigating the murders away from NYC may be the change of scenery he needs. The outcome of the case could determine the path his life will take, either with or without the NYPD.

As soon as Jake arrives he butts heads with the locals. Enter Special Agent Ethan Parker, an investigator that is pulled into the case from parts unknown. Parker recognizes the skill and knowledge Jake possesses and latches on to him. Parker uses tactics that are barely above the law to get information from suspects, which makes Jake more than uncomfortable. Parker is willing to go to any length to find the golden grail – a Catalogue containing details of deals and debts, assassinations and assassins spanning the globe. He explains to Jake that V.E.N.O.M. stands for The Veiled and Exclusive Nation of Organized Mercenaries – for a price the best assassins in the world will do your bidding.

Meanwhile, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Zasha Avery gets wind of the events in New York. Living and working in Miami will not stop her from following the case in the Catskills. She smells a story and is determined to be the one to investigate and write another award winning series before anyone else. She hones in on Jake and Parker, realizing that they are the ticket to the ride she wants to take no matter the consequences.

V.E.N.O.M. is a fast paced action novel with no shortage of character development. Jake, Parker and Zasha, the trio of main characters, are complex and flawed, often exploding on the pages for the reader’s enjoyment.

The fast-paced plot is twisted in the perfect way to keep readers breathless as the tension builds. By the last pages all has been revealed – or has it? The last pages tie up all loose ends.  Lucky for the reader, this appears to be the first in a series and I for one cannot wait for the second book in the series.

If you are a fan of Marvel characters and movies, you will love this fast-paced thriller. I see great things in Mitchell’s future, be sure to be along for this ride.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from  Reedsy Discovery in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: We Were Killers Once – A Haunting Thriller

We Were Killers Once

By Becky Masterman

Truman Capote is famous for his “fictional novel” In Cold Blood. Becky Masterman will soon be known for her novel, We Were Killers Once. Capote writes of two men that worked together slaughtering two families for no discernible reason. Masterman tells of a third man that could have been the instigator and true killer during robberies gone bad.

First of all, Masterman acknowledges We Were Killers Once is a work of fiction. But, she has also done copious research of the murders of the Clutter family and the Walker family in 1959. There is mention of an unnamed boy in the records of the two famous murders. This boy, Jackson Beaufort, is the focus of Masterman’s novel.

Bridget Quinn, former FBI Agent is obsessed with the murders of the Clutter and Walker families. She is only six-years-old when she first hears about the deaths and time has only increased her obsession. Her husband Carlo also has a tenuous link to Hickock and Smith from when he was a priest working in the prison system. Little do they know  their lives may be in danger from the very man that had a part in these brutal murders.

Jeremiah Randolph Beaufort is getting out of jail. He has been incarcerated on and off since he was twelve and shot his little brother. He claimed the killing was an accident, but no one believed him. After reform school his parents would not let him come home, so he lived with his grandfather before striking out on his own and hooking up with two men, Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Smith when he is barely in his teens.

After his time with Hickock and Smith, he becomes a drug dealer/thief until the “three strikes “ law puts him behind bars for life. His good behavior set him free as an old man. On a mission to make sure the new DNA tests don’t put him back behind bars or on death row, Beaufort needs to find documents that Hickock and Smith may have left behind that could tie him to the 1959 murders.

Beaufort, Bridget and Carlo will intersect and then collide with one another as the story heats up. This page turning thriller will keep you up at night both reading and wondering about the true story behind the fiction.

Be sure to read the Author’s Note at the end of the book. Masterman explains the parts of her story that are based on facts and what is pure entertaining fiction. She has researched documents from the crimes and shares what she has learned. She also recommends further reading because We Were Killers Once will undoubtedly spark your interest about the events in 1959. I read In Cold Blood in the 1960’s but am going to listen to it again on audible. There are several other books, films and even a crime series that was aired in 2018 about these murders. I find myself thinking about this book wanting to know more – you will too. It is a puzzle unlikely to be solved, but you can draw your own conclusions after diving into these books.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Under a Dark Sky – Everyone Has Secrets – Some of Them are Deadly

Under a Dark Sky

By Lori Rader-Day

When Eden Wallace finds out her late husband had a reservation for their tenth year anniversary at Straits Point International Dark Sky Park, conflicting emotions boil inside her. Leaving Chicago to travel to a place where the night was king was not something she wanted to do. Since Bix died, she could not be in a dark room and venturing outside after dusk was physically impossible for the young widow.

Out of a sense of duty, like the military wife she had been, she decides to spend the week her husband mysteriously planned for them before his death. Upon her road weary arrival, she finds another couple in the house Bix reserved. That is when they all find out that the house has been rented to Eden as well as six strangers, who were college friends, for the next week. With night drawing near, Eden cannot drive back to Chicago, but plans to leave first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, one of the seven occupants in the house is murdered that night, most likely at the hand of one of the remaining six.

As the outsider, Eden is immediately under suspicion. The local police begin questioning her and each of the friends. They are not under arrest but must remain together in the house until things are sorted out. When tragedy strikes again, the tenuous link between all of them begins to crumble and secrets come to light.

Under the Dark Sky has everything a reader needs and more. The characters are engaging and realistic. I loved the way bits of the characters’ back stories are parceled out to the reader. The timing is perfect and just like meeting someone new, you only know what that character wants to share with you until they begin to open up. Everyone has secrets, some of them deadly. And last, but certainly not least, the setting is absolutely perfect. Not only the home that the seven main characters are thrust into sharing, but the Dark Sky Park itself plays a major role in the mystery.

This is the first book I have read by author Lori Rader-Day, but is the fourth one she has written. Under the Dark Sky is deservedly nominated for several awards. I highly recommend this book and would give more than five stars for this page turning mystery if that were possible. As the characters tell us in the book, there are an infinite number of stars in the sky. This author has earned them.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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