Friday, April 21, 2023

 See How I Shine A Light On. . .

The Darkest Day

In this final book of the Gun Hand series, 17 years have passed since Walsh Ritter buried his wife, and shortly thereafter, avenged her death. And as the blurb goes on to highlight, his circumstances have changed considerably:


 Walsh Ritter and the town of Tucumcari have needs. Walsh Ritter is standing on the doorstep of old age and needs a town where he can live out his final years quietly while he remembers the wife he loved that was needlessly and heinously taken from him. Tucumcari needs a resident coffin maker.

Seventeen years after he exacted his revenge on those that had killed his wife, Walsh Ritter is tired of wandering, he is ready to sleep in the same bed every night. Fate makes that possible. Walsh falls quietly and contentedly into life as a resident of a town who fills a necessary role, the role of coffin maker. Still wearing the gun that has made him so feared and so hunted, on occasion he must fall back on his old ways to stop those who would make a name for themselves by killing Walsh, but mostly he builds coffins and sits in the shade remembering her… until that young man came to town looking for help.

The town never saw Walsh again after he went to the shop to help the young man who was in need of a coffin.

Eleven days later, Walsh is allowed to emerge from one of his own coffins to see what he had hoped he would never see again. The young man proved to be much more than even Walsh had believed him to be. He was not just a kidnapper and would be murderer, he has a bloodline that makes him formidable.

Killing Walsh isn’t enough for the young man, it could never be enough. As so often before, the brutality had to precede the killing. But the young man makes the same mistake others before him made. When you take time to torture Walsh Ritter, you are giving him time to think and to get mad.

A reckoning must come, but also a final and everlasting peacefulness that had been sought for so long. Walsh sees a way for everyone involved to get what they desire the most, himself most of all…finally.

With jagged teeth and ragged lips, Walsh Ritter can finally smile in the epic conclusion to this saga.



My blog followers will know I’ve followed Jeff Crawford’s Gun Hand series from the start. And I’ve really enjoyed every painful, bloody step along the way. What impressed me the most is the way Jeff Crawford managed to elevate his story by applying & sticking to – how can I describe this – an adult approach to psychological horror from the outset.

(If you’re looking for madcap running and screaming and wanton bloodletting, then look elsewhere).

No, what you get here is something thoughtful; something insidious; something that eats away at your sensibilities so that you’re drawn into Ritter’s plight in a very personal way. THAT’s why it’s far superior to many other stories out there. And such a vibe set the series apart. And in this concluding chapter, he manages to slow the pace right down and add an intensity that allows you to prepare for an inevitability long in the waiting.

What that inevitability entails? Ah, you’ll have to find out for yourself. Just remember, Ritter does things HIS way. At a time and place of HIS choosing. Can we expect anything less, then, in this his final story when the ghosts of victims past come a calling?

A part of me is sad that Ritter’s story has to end. But isn’t that the way life is? Even so, Jeff Crawford delivers that ending in such a way that the legend will always live on, and in doing so, sets an example of how to round a hugely satisfying series off.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

 See How I made Sense Of. . .

Chaos Vector

In Chaos Vector, the second installment of the Protectorate Series, Megan O’Keefe maintains the frantic pace of her opening foray into the stars, and indeed, builds that momentum into a blistering action-adventure that pleases from beginning to end.

But let’s not race ahead of ourselves. The blurb has something to say first:


Sanda and Tomas are fleeing for their lives after letting the most dangerous smartship in the universe run free. Now, unsure of who to trust, Sanda knows only one thing for certain - to be able to save herself from becoming a pawn of greater powers, she needs to discover the secret of the coordinates hidden in her skull.

But getting to those coordinates is a problem she can't solve alone. They exist beyond a deadgate - a sealed-off Casimir gate that opens up into a dead-end system. And there's a dangerous new player who wants the coordinates for their own ends - a player who will happily crack her open to get them.


Yes, the threads O’Keefe laid out in Velocity Weapon are tightened even further, providing us with a visionary, far-flung adventure that is as gripping as it is exasperating. How so?

Sanda has a chip in her head. Something that will result in her death if anyone in authority finds out about it. Yet the chip contains coordinates that might – just might – provide answers to an ongoing mystery, hundreds of years in the making.

Her brother, Biran, is fighting to maintain his position and authority in an increasingly volatile environment where Keeper turns against Keeper, and Guard Core can’t be trusted.

And Thomas? Thinking the terms of his original contract have been fulfilled, his Nazca masters reassign him, placing him in far more danger than ever before. And unbelievably, against a woman he has started to develop feelings for. Trying to navigate a path out of this unenviable position is fraught with peril, for if either side discovers what he’s up to, it’ll mean instant death.

You see? A lot happens in this second book, and we haven’t even considered some of the finer points of the ever-evolving sub plot taking place among some of the other players introduced in Velocity Weapon. As I said, the momentum is frantic. But at no time do you ever lose track of what’s happening, where, when, or to whom.

And, just when you think it’s safe to relax, O’Keefe does it again, by adding that plot-twist to zing things along in a different direction. Great fun. Thoroughly enjoyable, and a superb example of what space opera is supposed to be.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

 This Was No Hit & Miss Affair. . .

Dead Close

I can’t emphasize enough how much I enjoy stories that are that little bit different. Stories that are unpretentious, yet subtle enough to grab your attention from the outset. And in Dead Close by Mark Robinson, that’s exactly what you get.

Take a look at the blurb, and you’ll see why it caught my discerning eye:


Following a power outage in the dead of night, the residents of a leafy cul-de-sac mysteriously vanish. Amongst the missing are Eve Parker’s aunt and uncle. Desperate for answers, Eve starts digging into the history of Roanoke Road with the help of her friends, who host a true crime podcast series. What they discover could not only put them in harm’s way but also make this their last podcast, ever. . .


And this modest intro leads into one of the best murder/mystery/horror whodunnits I’ve read in a long time. Seriously . . . it’s THAT good.

What helps elevate this story is the fact that Robinson keeps to a simple formula:
Keep things short and sweet.
So, you’ll find the mystery starts from the very first chapter. And once you’re hooked, the breadcrumbs start to trail through the story arc. You are led from character to character; victim to victim; crumb to crumb, with the occasional revelation thrown in.

But never too much. Never too quickly.

It’s quite exquisite how Robinson establishes a thread, allows it to tighten, and then moves on to the next facet of his story, only to repeat the process again. In doing so, he gradually tightens the overall theme and brings the larger picture into focus. (Think of the way some people start a jigsaw by establishing a perimeter, and then work their way inward).
Each chapter is concise; it plays into the overall premise; and it keeps you involved from beginning to end. The pacing, the characters, the delivery . . . it all works beautifully.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and am sure you will too.

Amazon Link

Thursday, March 23, 2023

 There's No Chance of Slowing Down For. . .

Velocity Weapon

As my followers know, there are few things I like better than an ‘unconventional’ space opera. You know; stories that span the galaxy in scope, and yet manage to hang on to those old-fashioned values that make us what we are. Human(ish). And in Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe, you get exactly that. . .

Though the blurb doesn’t give much away:


The last thing Sanda remembers is her gunship exploding.

She expected to be recovered by salvage-medics and to awaken in friendly hands, patched-up and ready to rejoin the fight. Instead she wakes up 230 years later, on a deserted enemy starship called The Light of Berossus - or, as he prefers to call himself, 'Bero'.

Bero tells Sanda the war is lost. That the entire star system is dead.

But is that the full story? After all, in the vastness of space, anything is possible . . .


As usual, I’m going to be very careful about giving anything away regarding plot development. I’ll leave that to O’Keefe and her story. But what I will reveal is that she lays out the threads of her story so that it can be told from three main perspectives. Then, as events unfurl, you’ll see how she begins to tighten those threads until it begins to knot into a coherent whole. (Remember that, because this first book is just the beginning of something special).

And it’s cleverly done, we’re not only introduced to an intergalactic society set in the far distant future, but we also see how humanity remains divided by the same old hang-ups we’ve always had.

There’s interplanetary political intrigue aplenty. Forbidden tech in the wrong/right hands. Hidden subtext. Space action and hi-jinks. Sound world building and character development, where the theme of familial ties and loyalty abounds. And it’s all delivered in a beautifully crafted, superbly executed and down to earth way that gets you involved from the outset.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. And for me, what I particularly liked was the way O’Keefe leads you along a particular path, only to trip you up with an unexpected plot-twist. And then another. AND another! (It really is that good).

Buuut that’s not all. As the plot thickens and certain revelations are made and laid to rest, she also manages to sow the seeds of future developments that you know will be addressed in later books. And THAT’s good storytelling. Because with something this complex, it takes time to tell the story properly. And I really appreciate the author who doesn’t rush, allows the story to set its own pace, and teases you with even more diabolical machinations to come.

Excellent stuff! I can’t wait to see what happens . . . and really, isn’t that the reaction every author should try to elicit from their readers?

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

 See How I Navigated The Dangers Of. . .

The House of Styx

Those of you who follow my blog know how much I loved the Quantum Evolution Series, as I found the universe in which it was set, as innovative as it was inspiring.

Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered Derek Künsken is currently in the middle of a number of prequels to that work, set 250 years before the events portrayed in The Quantum Magician.

Here’s the blurb to The House of Styx, the very first Venus Ascendant novel.


Life can exist anywhere. And anywhere there is life, there is home.

In the swirling clouds of Venus, George-Étienne and his children are one of a few families of la colonie living on floating plant-like trawlers, salvaging what they can in the fierce acid rain and crackling storms. Outside is deadly for the unprepared or unwary, but the planet’s atmosphere is far from the only threat a family can face.

For the surface of Venus carries its own secrets, too. In the depths, there is a wind that shouldn’t exist. For George-Étienne and the House of Styx, harnessing it may be worth risking all.


As fans of The Quantum Evolution series will know, the Vesuvian Congregate was a pivotal power throughout colonized space. A political power, with the punch to influence just about anyone they wanted. But here, in this story, Venus is the poor man’s version of a rough and ready hick town.

Yes, mankind has managed to settle in the volatile environment of the upper atmosphere of Earth’s nearest neighbor, but life is far from easy. Existence is hard. So hard, that dogmatic routine – of check, check, and check again – is the key to survival. The slightest exposure to Venus’ toxic atmosphere will burn you; the smallest misstep will send you plummeting into the crushing depths of the lower atmosphere; the tiniest inclination to relax your guard will set of a series of catastrophes that get you killed.

Yet people have not only set up a colony here, they’re doing their best to thrive . . . if owing the Bank of Pallas an ever-extending debt from which you’ll never be free is your idea of thriving. And it’s into this cauldron of fomenting menace that we look in on the D’Aquillon’s, a family who were part of the original settlers who took the chance of making Venus their home.

But as I mentioned, life isn’t easy. The banks are always out to make a profit. They even have a controlling influence on the distribution of medicines and spare parts, vital for survival. And if you don’t toe the line, then you just might discover that Venus becomes your grave. This creates something of a division between the settlers. There are those who do prosper – to a degree – the kowtows and the lackeys, who do exactly what the Bank of Pallas wants. They get the better, more sophisticated habitats higher up in the atmosphere where it’s safer.

Families like the D’Aquillon’s, however, live deeper down, in floating, plantlike homes where thunder and lightning rages, and death is only a stuttering heartbeat away. But what do you expect when your whole economy is based on salvaging what you can from the endless storms that churn Venus’ atmosphere into a frothing rage?

And then the D’Aquillon’s make a remarkable discovery. One that will guarantee a future free from debt and the controlling fist of oppression.

Regardless, if the wrong people find out, then not only will the bank step in and take their discovery from them, but the D’Aquillon’s may very well find themselves arrested on trumped-up charges, or even killed.

Now, what that find is, exactly, you’ll have to uncover for yourself.

But you’ll be glad you did, as Künsken’s immersive style will allow you to ‘connect’ with the every-day-in-day-out struggle the D’Aquillon’s must endure to simply eke out a living. And that endurance is what makes them special. Yes, they’re flawed. Their personalities often create as much friction as the storm clouds in which they live. But being downtrodden and ignored and rejected for so many years has made them tough. Self-reliant and determined. Resilient. So much so, that when a golden opportunity comes their way, they have just the right qualities and skills to make a daring plan work.

And I thoroughly enjoyed how Künsken put that across in this story. We delve into what makes people tick. What motivates them. What makes one person stand up and be counted when it matters, while others fold. It’s about loyalty and unity. And, quite simply, it’s yet another fine example of how good old-fashioned sci-fi should be written.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

 This Week, I've Been Braving. . .

Deadly Ground

I rather enjoyed the first installment of the Base Fear series – Deadly Secrets – by S.C. Fisher, involving the Daniels family and their move into a military married quarter ay Ynys Mon, Wales, following dad’s new posting in the RAF. As we discovered, the house comes with a rather sinister history. One that begins to bleed into their everyday lives and take over.

Of course, that story set the scene for what now takes place in Deadly Ground. And as the blurb highlights, events take a dramatic twist and become much more menacing.


It wasn’t just the house. Something else stalked her family; something ancient and relentless.

In book two of the Base Fear series, (the sequel to Deadly Secrets), Paige Daniels must wage war against the entity that has staked a claim on her family, or lose her loved ones forever. With her little brother, Griffin, and her friend, Ben, by her side, can Paige unearth the final secrets her new home guards?

Time is running out, and this ground is deadly.


Once again, S.C. Fisher’s knowledge of military procedure comes to the fore.

As the unknown entity haunting their home starts to emerge more fully, the family is thrown into a panic. But what to do? This IS a military home, after all, and certain protocols have to be followed. But when those protocols fail to help in any way, it’s left to Paige and her brother – and close friend, Ben – to do what they can to stay alive and prevent an ancient evil from taking root and spreading.

As you can imagine, the pace of this second story steps up a gear, and maintains an intensity that has you rooting for Paige and Co as things turn from bad to worse. Folk law and myth are also combined with the actual history of the story’s setting – Llyn Cerrig Bach – a place where ancient relics were discovered during WW II dating back more than 2000 years. So kudos there, because mixing reality/history with fiction is a surefire way to strengthen any story with a foundation that will pull the reader in and involve them in the magic from the word go.

Great fun!

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

This Book Really Cut Me Up.

See My Review Of. . .

My Heart is a Chainsaw

As followers of my blog will know, I’m absolutely ‘stacked’ when it comes to my read and review list. So much so, that sometimes I don’t have time to scour the internet for fresh ideas. Especially those that will fit my ‘quirky’ preferences. However, THAT’s where Black Gate Fantasy comes in, as the staff there have an eye for spotting things that will appeal to my particular tastes.

Just look at the blurb for My Heart is a Chainsaw:


Jade is one class away from graduating high-school, but that's one class she keeps failing local history. Dragged down by her past, her father and being an outsider, she's composing her epic essay series to save her high-school diploma.

Jade's topic? The unifying theory of slasher films. In her rapidly gentrifying rural lake town, Jade sees the pattern in recent events that only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror cinema could have prepared her for. And with the arrival of the Final Girl, Letha Mondragon, she's convinced an irreversible sequence of events has been set into motion.

As tourists start to go missing, and the tension grows between her community and the celebrity newcomers building their mansions the other side of the Indian Lake, Jade prepares for the killer to rise. She dives deep into the town's history, the tragic deaths than occurred at camp years ago, the missing tourists no one is even sure exist, and the murders starting to happen, searching for the answer.

As the small and peaceful town heads towards catastrophe, it all must come to a head on 4th July, when the town all gathers on the water, where luxury yachts compete with canoes and inflatables, and the final showdown between rich and poor, past and present, townsfolk and celebrities slasher and Final Girl.



So, we have all the ingredients of an absolute gem here.

Jade Daniels is something of a social misfit, both at school and within her local community. Her dad’s a deadbeat drunken bum; her mother’s absent; nobody gives a damn about her. And to top it all off, she walks the proverbial tightrope by retreating into a blood-tinted haven in which 1980’s horror movies color her perspective. But that’s how she copes, by viewing the world about her and all its pressures through a lens of grime and gore.


Weird eh?


Well, it would be, except for the fact that Jade is a walking library when it comes to the horror genre. She knows everything. All the twists and turns. All the feints. All the clichés and tropes. So much so, that when the everyday drudgery of life is suddenly jarred by a number of unexpected deaths, Jade becomes convinced she can see the link. There’s a serial killer on the loose. A killer who is no doubt preparing for a grand, July 4th slasher-fest finale.


The thing is, nobody believes her when she tries to tell them what’s coming. So how the hell will she convince the authorities that they have to do something?


Well, as I found out, this is a story of two halves. Or more accurately, a story of 99.5% Awesome and 0.5% What the hell?


Let me explain. . .


Jones’ knowledge of the horror genre is encyclopedic, giving his main character an undeniable depth that makes you just want to dive in and help her. Yes, Jade’s a rebel. She’s an oddball who deliberately tests the boundaries of what’s acceptable. But she also has a heart of gold. She wants to help an unwilling and undeserving community from a fate worthy of the most horrendous bloodbath imaginable, and she goes out of her way to do just that. In doing so, she digs herself an ever deepening hole in which her reputation will remain forever buried.


But she doesn’t care. She wants to do the right thing. . .
And nobody believes her, setting in motion a chainsaw of events that are as morbidly hypnotic as they are inevitable and compelling. Jones sprinkles clues throughout his narrative that point toward an apocalyptic climax. And you can literally feel the tension building as we inevitably head toward that climax, until . . . BAM! The story leaves you floundering.


And not in a good way.


As I mentioned above, 99.5 % of the story is a 5-star blitz of excellence. A blitz that suddenly fizzles to a puff of elusive smoke in the last pages that – how can I say this – takes all the wind out of your sails, and all the pzazz out of the fabric of the story.

In fact, I had to re-read the last chapter in its entirety three times. Yes, THREE times, just to make sure I hadn’t missed something vital in my haste to witness the grand finale.


You’ll see what I mean if you read this story for yourself.

All that work. All that depth and creativity. All those breadcrumbs and slow, pressure cooker buildup for . . . THAT? There was certainly nothing grand about it. And as for a finale? I’m sorry, I’m still waiting.


I note with interest how many other reviewers thought the book was brilliant. And to be fair, it is. Except for the ending, which I felt was a horror story in itself. A shame, as this could easily been one of the best books I’ve read and reviewed in a long time.