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.