Deadly Focus by Sue Hinkin

(4 / 5)

None of this would be happening if she had just let him jump. She wouldn’t be sitting in a windowless prison in the-middle-of-nowhere, Mexico, if she had just let him jump off the ledge of that dive hotel in Hollywood, California. Not that Lucy could have probably actually done that — she’s a good person, after all, but it certainly would have made her life much easier. There’d be no murder, no poisoned cattle, no Mexican drug cartels, and no sexy CNN correspondent. But then, where’s the fun in that? And S.A. Hinkin’s Deadly Focus: A Vega & Middleton Novel certainly is fun.

 

Deadly Focus’s main protagonist is Lucy Vega, a smart, headstrong reporter who gets drawn into a world of political intrigue beyond her imagining when her uncle is killed in a car accident. While wet roads and bad weather are officially to blame, Lucy suspects something more sinister is at play, and decides to find out what really happened. Her sleuthing takes her to a far-flung village in Mexico, where she uncovers an international heroin operation abetted by corrupt law enforcement and a priest who is not near as holy as he seems. She also discovers that her imprisonment in Mexico and her uncle’s death on the Pacific Coast Highway are much more connected than the geographic distance would suggest.

 

This is the first book of the Vega & Middleton series. Lucy Vega, Bea Middleton, Ray Truckee, and the lot are likeable and genuine, and Hinkin does a good job of portraying the trust, camaraderie, and friendship that develops between people when they have been working together for a while, often under tense circumstances. While the Middleton of Vega & Middleton takes a bit of a back seat to Lucy in this book, Bea is a strong, capable, entertaining character in her own right. Hopefully we’ll see more of her in a future Hinkin novel. Until then, Lucy and her wild, page-turning exploits in a remote Mexican jungle will definitely satisfy those looking for a story chock-full of adventure and chicanery with a tough, tenacious, and tender heroine at its heart.

The Prize by Geoffrey M. Cooper

(4.5 / 5)

Scientists are often thought of as being hardworking and disciplined and the kind of people whose reason and intellect usually prevails over the baser human traits of envy, hubris, and greed. The Prize’s Pam Weller sure fits that description. As a matter of fact, her years of perseverance have led her and her team to one of the most monumental scientific discoveries of our time – a potential cure for Alzheimer’s. It’s the kind of work that could easily garner her a Nobel Prize. While her research is quite promising and there is much cause for celebration, not everyone is so thrilled with Pam’s findings. Eric Prescott, a renowned scientist and Alzheimer’s researcher in his own right, is watching his own chances at the prestigious award slip away as Pam appears to have had the scientific breakthrough he had long been hoping for. He decides he can’t let that happen, no matter what the cost.

While author Geoffrey M. Cooper is no stranger to writing (he has several non-fiction books under his belt), this is his debut novel. You wouldn’t know that from the way he writes. His sentences are smooth and lean. The dialogue feels natural; the means and motives of his antagonists are solid. He does a brilliant job of simplifying the testing involved in medical research for us non-scientists while still maintaining the integrity of the processes. Cooper effortlessly changes the point of view between characters, allowing the reader to know who did what before those in the story do. Hence, the real thrill in this thriller comes from seeing if the good guys will put all of the pieces together before it’s too late, or if Eric Prescott will get away with his crimes. The Prize is a clever, suspenseful page-turner for seasoned lab-coat wearers and novice geeks alike. The real question here is not whodunit, but what took Geoffrey M. Cooper so long to start writing fiction. If he ever gets tired of test tubes and academic politics in real life, The Prize proves that he has the imagination and literary chops to have a robust second career as a writer.

19 Souls by J.D. Allen

(3.5 / 5)

 

19 Souls begins with a great opening line.

 

Her bloody finger left a translucent smear on the phone screen as she glanced through the list of private investigators in Vegas.

 

 

The sentence raises questions. Who is she? Why is she bloody? Why does she need a PI? Is she a victim? Is she a killer? Turns out she may be both. The PI that she calls is Jim Bean. Jim thinks he is on track when he picks up a new client, Sophie Ever

s, the above-mentioned woman. Sophie contacts him because she needs help finding her long-lost brother, Daniel. But soon Jim discovers the truth. Daniel is not Sophie’s long lost brother at all. In fact, Daniel is the brother of Cynthia Hodge a.k.a. the body. There’s been a murder. Remember the opening line?

 

And so begins the bizarre series of twists and turns of the novel.

 

This thriller is fast paced. The main character is engaging and the story begins deceptively as a noir tale with a straight-laced but reserved PI with a tragic past but makes an unexpected turn. Soon Jim is on the hunt for a killer a.k.a. his client.

Mind Virus by Charles Kowalski

(5 / 5)

“Religion is the smallpox of the mind, and I am its Jonas Salk,” states the evil mastermind who is behind a wave of global terrorist attacks in Mind Virus.  The villain (whose name shall not be revealed here so as not to spoil some of the fun) believes the optimum way to eradicate this virus of the mind is to kill the infected hosts – otherwise known as people of faith.  Enter religious studies teacher and Army veteran, Robin Fox, whose job it unwittingly becomes to stop these international attacks and find the person responsible.  His task becomes all the more personal when colleague and friend (or more?) Emily Paxton is kidnapped and held as leverage to get Fox to stop interfering in the terrorist’s plans.

 

It is no wonder Charles Kowalski won RMFW’s Colorado Gold Award for Mind Virus.  It is a thoroughly-researched,  thoughtful novel regarding the nature of belief, and how what we believe governs how we treat each other, and in turn, how the way we are treated instructs what we come to believe.  Don’t let words like “thoroughly-researched” and “thoughtful” fool you – Mind Virus is also well plotted, nicely paced, and packed with action.  To wit, Professor Fox survives several attempts on his life, saves the Royal Family from a terrorist attack, and makes it from D.C., to Israel, to London, and back during the Passover and Easter holidays.  Not bad for a week’s work.

 

In Mind Virus, Kowalski skillfully tackles some of the largest issues of our time – namely religion and terrorism and their respective roles in shaping who we are as a global people.  And who we are choosing to become as we move forward.  He adroitly weaves together Bible verses, deadly nerve agents, and the imminent murder of thousands of innocent people to create a brilliant, riveting read.  Hopefully, we will see much more from Charles Kowalski in the years to come.