Book Review: If I Die Tonight

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

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If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin brings psychological suspense stories to a whole new level.  The focus of the plot emphasizes the relationship between parents and children and how social media plays a role.  The I-GEN generation characters that keep secrets and isolate themselves, allows readers to realize it is sometimes impossible for parents to really know their children.

The plot begins with Wade, a teenager’s, suicide note, then flashes back five days and unfolds from the perspectives of Jackie, Connor, Pearl, and Amy Nathanson. Amy files a police report claiming that she was car jacked by a teenage boy.  Another boy, Liam, rushes to help and is hit by the car. The case quickly consumes social media, transforming Liam, a local high school football star, into a folk hero, and the suspect, a high school outcast named Wade Reed, into a depraved would-be killer. His mother, Jackie, and brother Connor, are convinced Wade is innocent, but must face their own life changes as they too are seen as pariahs.

Gaylin has the uncanny ability to develop likeable and dysfunctional characters.  A shining character in the story is police officer Pearl Maze.  She has problems that must be worked out with her father.  But as a cop she is very astute at realizing there is more to the crime than meets the eye and she is a great judge of personality.  Suspense ratchets up as Pearl tries to figure out if Wade is innocent or guilty.

Readers might not see the last of Pearl since Gaylin is thinking of writing a Pearl novella.  “I can definitely see a possibility of doing a series with her.  I wrote her backstory because I’ve always been haunted by the stories I’ve read about toddlers picking up guns and accidentally killing a parent, wondering about what effect that would have on the child. In writing Pearl, I saw an opportunity to introduce that idea. She describes herself as, ‘a murderer before she could even read.’ I imagined what toll that could take on an otherwise level-headed person. Pearl is a complicated young woman who tends to isolate herself from others. Overall, she is a basically good and moral person and a keen judge of character.”

Jackie Reed, a single mother of two teenage boys, loves and embraces them, always believing in them.  Her sons Wade and Connor alternate between being the older wiser brother and the dependent one; even though Connor is the thirteen-year-old and Wade is seventeen.  They rely on each other for stability and support, and want to protect one another.

Gaylin noted, “Secrets. I write about secrets in most of my books.  We really do not fully know someone.  There are characters in this book who are willing to let others go down just to make sure their secret does not get out.  What I like to do when I start writing is to find out everyone’s secrets. In this book, I felt for Jackie because I am also the parent of teenage children. I love writing a twisting plot, but this is probably my most character-driven novel. A lot of the twists come out of characters lying to each other and to themselves.”

Also, a character in the story is social media.  It creates fake news, victims, and heroes, and allows everyone to keep secrets and manipulate those around them. What should scare people the most is how it can destroy when instantaneous posts become permanent.

This engaging tale stresses family relationships and the role of social media in society today.  As with her other books Gaylin takes readers on an emotional roller coaster ride with her many twists.

Book Review: Agent In Place

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


Agent in Place by Mark Greaney has lots of action, some current events, and a great storyline. The main character, Court Gentry, known as “The Gray Man” ventures into places where not many would dare to go having to overcome some very bad people. The reader feels as if they are placed right into the center of the Syrian Civil War as they go along for the ride with Gentry as he faces all of the different factions and players including mercenaries, the Free Syrian Army, ISIS, the Russians, just to mention a few.

Greaney wants “Court to operate with a mission he thought of as noble.  Because I have been interested in this Civil War ever since it started I decided to create this idea for the story.  Assad is currently using chlorine against his people and seems to get away with quite a bit.  It seems over the years governments say, ‘we will never let this happen again.’  When it happens again they look the other way and appear to do nothing.  It is pretty pathetic. Many of those who are anti-Assad or in my case anti- al-Azzam are radical Jihadists.  There is the saying, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ but the reverse it also true.  Then there is Russia that basically wants to use Syria as an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean, where they have a military presence.  All these groups including those against the Russians commit atrocities, but then there are the innocent children and those who just want to live their lives.  It is not like World War II where there were distinct good guys versus bad guys.” 

The novel begins with ISIS about to execute Court. The story then backtracks a week ago to show readers how Gentry got in this mess to begin with. Because he was never an official employee of the CIA Court decides which missions he will choose, some for the Spy Agency and some from freelance work.  In this case he is working on his own for the Halabys, leaders of the Free Syria Exile Union who hire him to kidnap the mistress of the Syrian President, the model Bianca Medina. The plan is to have her release information that will deal a serious blow to the Syrian regime and hasten the end of the cruel civil war. Complications arise when she refuses unless her son is rescued from the grips of his father, Ahmed al-Azzam, the Syrian President. After agreeing to this new job, Gentry realizes that there is a tangled web including Syria’s First Lady who wants Bianca and the heir to the throne dead. The tension ratchets up even higher from here.

His nickname of “The Gray Man” suits Gentry since he always seems to keep a low profile and work in the shadows.  He's a fiercely loyal and trustworthy individual and when he says he's got your back you can believe him. What makes him special is his desire to do what is necessary to make sure the bad guys never are a threat again. It is a welcome relief considering the real world has the bad guys winning way too much. 

Greaney uses current events to make the plot even more realistic.  “It is very important to me not to make them so complex they are not understandable.  Of course, I am obviously pushing the envelope, but I do want everything to be possible.  I hope Court is not viewed as a Superhero like Captain America.  Instead, he should be seen with vulnerabilities and can get hurt at any time.  For example, there is a kernel of truth about my character, Shakira Azzam, and the real Syrian First Lady.  In this book, she is a power broker because she is the villainous.  She is beautiful, brilliant, and was once referred to as ‘the Rose of the Desert’, and ‘Lady Diana of the Middle East.’ But in actuality she is a master manipulator and wants to be in control. Now, after seven years of a Civil War, her public image has been destroyed, and she is now referred to as ‘The First Lady of Hell.’”

Agent In Place blends historical facts, current events, and a gripping action-packed story.  It is nice to have The Gray Man fighting on the side of righteousness.

Book Review: The Tuscan Child

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen is one of those rare books that will stick with people long after they finish it.  The story is based in two time periods, 1944 and 1973, where the former is an historical account of World War II and the latter embodies a mystery. 

Wanting to challenge herself, Bowen wrote in two time periods with parallel stories coming together at the end.  “I always wanted to write something set in Tuscany because I love it so much. I have been there quite a few times in my life, including two years ago when I was asked to teach an author’s workshop.  The World War II aspect came from an account I read where an English airman bailed out of his plane before it crashed into Tuscany.  All these bits and pieces come together in this story.”

The novel begins at the end of 1944 when British airman Hugo Langley must parachute out of his crashing plane into German occupied Tuscany Italy.  Badly wounded he finds refuge in a monastery and is discovered by one of the villagers, Sophia Bartoli.  She aids him in his quest to become well enough to escape to the Allied lines.  As time passes both realize that they have fallen in love and plot to escape together.  During these scenes WWII is brought to life as readers jump out of the airplane with Hugo, fear the German atrocities with Sophia, and realize how severe are the conditions.

Fast forward to 1973 where Hugo’s daughter Joanna goes through her just deceased father’s old trunk filled with his possessions. In it she finds an unopened letter addressed to Sofia. As Joanna had little knowledge of her father’s wartime life, the revelation it contains startles her. Joanna travels to the small Tuscan hill town of San Salvatore to learn about her father and the time he spent there. The mystery comes into play when everybody in this small town refuses to acknowledge that Hugo hid near the village.

The most sobering parts of the book are the descriptions of the cruelties committed by the Nazis on the Italian population.  “I wanted to show that after the Italians switched sides, the Germans were brutal and committed atrocities including machine gunning down whole villages. World War II is the last time we had a clear sense of good versus evil.  I think it is important we remember it and understand what people went through.  I wanted to show the major risk Sophia took by helping the British airman.  She bought danger to herself, her child, and her village.  Even though it was at the end of the war the Germans became like vicious dogs that are cornered and deliberately killed people.”

Tuscany is a character onto itself.  Having been there several times Bowen wanted readers to understand how the “town has a feeling to it with the high stonewalls and narrow streets.  I walked through the market and did wine tastings. I also found out there is a central olive press in and area where bribery allowed for a better time slot.  I will be going back this summer to teach the same course.  The festival I described in the book happened the last time I was there.  It was a procession with bands and banners combining religion and folk culture.  Regarding the earthquakes I wrote about, they can be devastating.  Remember in Italy all those stone houses will fall down.”

Bowen brings to life the setting where the reader can smell the cooking scents, see the brilliant olive groves, and hear the Italian chatter. This is also an action packed story that is very intense and haunting.

Book Review: The Sea Before Us

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


The Sea Before Us by Sarah Sundin brings into focus British cultural and historical tidbits, a mystery involving an embezzler, a World War II setting, and a love triangle.  It is a reminder of how America’s finest prepared for the D-Day invasion to defeat the Nazis.

The year is 1944 and the Allied forces are preparing for the invasion of Normandy.  Lieutenant Wyatt Paxton is a US Naval officer advising on how to use naval power during the assault.  He works closely with Dorothy Fairfax, a "Wren" in the Women's Royal Naval Service. Her duties include piecing together reconnaissance photographs of France that include those of her own family's summer home. These accurate maps of Normandy, are used by Wyatt to create naval bombardment plans. As their friendship blossoms he uses his other skills as an accountant to help her figure out which employee has been embezzling in her father’s company.  The tensions increase as they both must deal with enemies on the home front and abroad.

Having visited Normandy, Sundin was struck with “the impressive sight than we learned in the history books.  When I looked at Point du Hoc, where the US Rangers scaled the cliff, I thought that someday I wanted to write about it.  I was blown away by what the men did there.  After I started to do my research I found out that the US Navy was very involved.  I was awed by the role the US destroyers had in Operation Neptune.  These ships charged within eight hundred yards of the shore, heedless of mines and artillery, to protect those on the shore.  They knocked out strongpoints and toppled gun batteries off cliffs that were pinning down the allied forces.  I also wanted to inform readers about the ‘Little Blitz.’  It was overshadowed by the German Blitz during 1940-41.  In 1944 the Luftwaffe retaliated for the heavy Allied bombing of German cities, killing 1,500 Londoners.  But it actually backfired because they lost 300 bombers, crippling the German Air Force on the eve of the Normandy invasion.”

The characters are very well-developed. They share the feeling of being all alone and having a fractioned family.  She has lost her mother and brothers in the war and senses that her father resents her. In the meantime, Wyatt ran from his troubles, being blamed by his brother Adler for his fiancé’s death, even though it was an accident, then stealing two thousand dollars from his brother Clay.  Having admitted his mistakes, he is repenting by saving his salary to pay his brother back.  

In the beginning of the story Dorothy comes across as insecure, trying to be someone she is not, even going to a point of hiding the freckles on her face.  She is doing this for what she perceives is the love of her life, Lieutenant Commander Lawrence Eaton, a self-centered playboy.  She looks on Wyatt as a brother and sees Eaton as a heart throb.  This romance plays out within the background of WWII and emphasizes the different cultures between the Texan Wyatt and the English Dorothy and Eaton.

Sundin explained, “In hiding her freckles with make-up she is hiding who she is. I put in the story how Wyatt thought they belonged with her red hair and Lawrence thought it dreadful.  Wyatt accepted them, and Eaton wanted them covered up and hidden.  It is typical of some guys who tell women ‘you would be cute, if...’  Dorothy also tried to be more sophisticated, molding herself into someone she is not to impress Eaton.  She basically compromises herself to impress him.”

This new series, ‘Sunrise at Normandy,’ is about three brothers:  Wyatt in the Navy, Adler in the Air Force, and Clay a Delta Ranger.  Readers will be looking forward to the follow-up books because this first in the series is a home-run.

Book Review Edge Of Darknes

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


Edge of Darkness by Karen Rose is the fourth book of the famous suspenseful Cincinnati series.  As with most of her books she explores relevant issues centered around friends and colleagues.  This one is no different since the current issues of abuse and addiction become the main theme of the novel.

Meredith Fallon counsels sexually abused women like Mallory Martin to help them reintegrate into the world. But not everyone sees it as honorable and decides to eliminate her by hiring a killer. Detective Adam Kimble doesn’t even hesitate when his boss orders him to investigate.  Old feelings come to the surface since the two had a brief relationship earlier.  But Adam pulled away as he struggled with events that were truly harrowing.  Knowing he is a recovering alcoholic he feels he doesn’t want to depend on the relationship with Meredith, essentially moving from one addiction to another. This becomes a tale of damaged people who re-connect during a violent and frightening time of their life. They must struggle with their demons, getting the relationship to work, and finding the killer. 

Readers will know a lot about Adam Kimble because Rose explores his backstory.  “In the first book I wrote him as a belligerent jerk. As the series progresses we see him changing and having to deal with something terrible that happened to him, which throws him off the rails.  Now he is a recovering alcoholic who is learning to face his demons.  Even though he feels very connected to Meredith, Adam understands she cannot be his reason for sobriety.  He knows he must get better on his own, and not be dependent on her.  Readers see that Adam is capable of surviving without Meredith, but also knows he will be happy if they are together. As with most people, they do not have charmed lives and have some source of pain. During several points in this book I cried because it is what many of my friends experienced. They needed to understand you must live your life for yourself, not for others. My characters are banged up by life, but can still hold their own.”

Because she has experienced first-hand harassment Rose wants to write in almost all of her stories this and abuse.  “Abuse of women is a big theme in my books. I continued the story from the previous book, Every Dark Corner. It dealt with Mallory Martin who was abused and now in this book she is recovering. I think there is a fine line between actively showing abuse on the page and being too provocative.  I don’t want to provide any material that will be too salacious.  I had my own ‘#MeToo’ moment. At nineteen I had to quit a job that was good paying and one I liked because I did not see any way out of the situation.  I did not think anyone would believe me. Almost every woman I talked to had a Me Too incident.  It is a big part of my books because it is a big part of our lives.” 

Fans should be happy this will not be the last book in the series and will be treated to another suspenseful novel that delves into Dani and Diesel’s life. 

Book Review: The Great Alone

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is another winner from the author of the bestseller The Nightingale.  There are not enough adjectives in the English language to describe the greatness of this novel. It is an adventure story where readers feel they are put in the middle of the Alaskan frontier; it is a relationship story that also confronts abuse and obsession; and it is a love story between a mother/daughter, father/son, and two young adults as well as the land and those who lived on it.

Hannah titled this novel, The Great Alone, because “Alaska is such a wild landscape and the people who live there are rugged, fierce, and individualists. It is what the poet Robert Service called Alaska. The primal essence of the book is survival. The actual day-to-day survival in these incredibly harsh conditions depends on the individual who needs to be tough.  It is a remote geographical area from the Continental US.  80% of Alaska still has no roads at all.  In the winter rivers become the highways and in the summer, it is difficult to get around.”

The plot begins with the Allbright family moving to Alaska after a Vietnam buddy willed them a cabin by the Kenai River.  The daughter Leni hopes that this new start will lead to a better future for her family since her father can never keep a job.  At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The generosity of the locals makes up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources. Through the Allbright’s story readers will encounter the rugged Alaskan landscape and the different relationship dynamics that will form amongst the characters.

It is also the story of how seven characters must not only fight nature, but help those fight their own demons.  Ernt Allbright is a Vietnam POW who has returned home with PTSD, suffering sleepless nights, flashbacks, nightmares and a volatile behavior. His wife Cora is consumed by caring for their daughter.  Leni tries to understand her parents and is someone who must grow up way too fast, becoming her mother’s protector from her abusive father. She falls in love with Matthew Walker who wants to show her happiness, loyalty, and security.  His father Tom is someone who perceptively realizes that the Alaskan environment must be modernized, and his son should no longer be isolated and enclosed. He has a feud with Ernt and Mad Earl, who team up in their resentments of government, the military, and the Walker family.  Representing an Alaskan homesteader is Large Marge, a no-nonsense woman who tries to help the Allbright women see the light.

There are two compelling issues the author delves into, abuse and PTSD.  “I wrote Ernt as someone who suffers from PTSD and mental illness that went undiagnosed.  My personal take is that he was troubled before he went off to war and became trapped by his own demons.  He ultimately evolves into the villain.  In the remote isolated cabin, he becomes a threat to his daughter and wife.  At the end of the story when Leni finds his medals and the newspaper clip showing his ghostly features after returning home, I hope it is a reminder that there was a time he was not despised.”

Regarding the violence, Ernt has toward his wife, “I wanted to show readers they had a toxic relationship. Cora would do anything for her daughter except leave her husband. She describes the relationship as if he has cancer and is sick.  He describes it as similar to heroin.  Both are aware of the deep flaw in their love. They represent the dark side of love.  A love gone wrong that was probably more of an obsession.  On the other hand, Leni and Matthew’s relationship is a dream, romantic, love at first sight where they are meant to be together.  A love that overcomes everything and lasts.  They both sacrificed for each other.”

But the setting of Alaska is also a character, a place of beauty and danger. Readers discover the state with its summers of constant light, ferocious winters that blankets eighteen hours of night and enormous amounts of snow, as well as the need for each person to protect themselves as they learn to raise vegetables, overcome the isolation and remoteness, and hunt, making sure that nothing goes to waste.

An added bonus is how Hannah intertwines events of the 1970s into this novel. She puts in historical tidbits including Ted Bundy, Patty Hearst, the Munich Olympics, punk rock, and the latest novel of Stephen King. “I wrote in the character Mad Earl as a very bad influence on Ernt.   He has resentment against the government. But remember, almost everyone in his family did not go along with his attitude.  He was probably the worst person Ernt could have met. Just as throughout the US, in Alaska there are pockets of these ‘Survivalists.’ Through him I was able to show the 1970s was a time of political and social unrest including the Vietnam War that brought such division.”

The Great Alone is a tale of love, despair, and hope within the dangerous frontier. This story takes readers on a journey hunting with Leni, seeing the Alaska landscape, and trying to process how one individual who supposedly loves his family can be so cruel. But it is also an optimistic look at how Leni’s strength grows throughout the book as she turns from naïve adolescent to a grown woman. A word of warning, read it with a tissue box nearby because this story is an emotional roller coaster ride.

Book Review: Into The Black Nowhere

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


Into The Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner is such an intense plot that the light should be on when reading this.  It is a testament to her writing that she can have a dark action-packed plot without the gory details and still grab readers from page one.  This novel delves into the minds of a serial killer and those in law enforcement who pursue them.  In this second book of the series the psychopath mirrors the real-like killers Ted Bundy with a little of Dennis Rader.

Her descriptive scenes allow for Gardiner to “have a touch of blood going a long way.  Readers’ imaginations are much more powerful than what I could put on a page.  All I do is suggest and then people’s fears take it from there.  It is a creepy idea that people are just here and then are gone.  There are still victims of Ted Bundy that have not been found.  I read about recent cases around the country where people have just vanished.  Imagine, even with forensics, surveillance, and drones it is still possible for people to disappear.”

The premise of the story is that people can vanish without a trace.  The book opens with a gripping scene in which the killer is holding an infant on his lap.  He lures the new mother to him and is able to abduct her. She is not the first victim but actually the fifth.  The local police enlist the help of Caitlin Hendrix, a former narcotics detective who had a knack for tracking killers, and is now a rookie FBI agent assigned to the elite Behavioral Analysis Unit. She and her colleagues, Brianne Rainey and C. J. Emmerich are called in to find this perpratrator. All the victims vanish on Saturday nights, one from a movie theatre, another from her car, and others from a salon, a college campus, and a café. What Caitlin must do is get inside the mind of this psychopath to figure out his selection process.  The FBI is desperately searching for him before he can kill again.

The reason for Ted Bundy, “I wanted to show how he was someone on the outside who every mother would want for their daughter.  He was so good at camouflaging himself and was able to slip through the cracks. Kyle is hiding in plain sight similar to what Ted Bundy did.  Both passed themselves off to the world at large as clean cut American guys who were bright, had a big future ahead, charming, who knows how to easily gain people’s trust. I wanted to show how these monsters wear the mask of sanity because they look normal.  They take advantage of that to have people let down their guard.”

This is a gripping novel that concentrates on the pathological ways of a serial killer.  It is informative, action-packed, and has well-developed characters.

Book Review: Cutting Edge

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


Cutting Edge by Ward Larsen is a modern-day western, that also reminds readers of Superman and The Six Million Dollar Man.  As the book describes it, the antagonist, Delta, and the protagonist, Trey have a “High Noon standoff 21st Century.”  The Superman qualities is that each have x-ray vision of sorts where their brains become a computer monitor, and Delta has similar qualities of the Six Million Dollar Man with his speed and strength.

The other character in the book is technology.  Larsen connected his characters to the Web, which he does not see as far-fetched.  “Trey has a screen in his right eye.  Voice and facial recognition are at his fingertips where he can even record and send conversations.  I made sure to allow him to have access to only people who are in databases, so he could not find recent refugees or children.  He can find any information on a person because he is given top level security access.  It is doable where implants are put in the brain and then a person can connect directly to the Internet.  I would describe it as an implantable brain computer that interfaces.  It is being designed to for those who have prosthetics.”

The plot has Trey Debolt, a Coast Guard rescuer swimmer, fighting for his life after a helicopter crash.  Officially he was declared dead, because no one knows that there is a rogue government experimental unit who chose to use him as a guinea pig.  He becomes a man on the run after he witnesses his savior, nurse Joan Chandler, being gunned down. It becomes a game of cat and mouse as the hunted and the hunter try to outwit each other.  Fortunately for Trey, Shannon Lund decides to investigate his death.  Having access to records as a civilian working for the Coast Guard Investigative Service, she agrees to help him get to the bottom of what was done to him and to find the culprits chasing him including Delta.

Besides the fast-paced plot Larsen explores how technology has both good and bad points.  Readers will hope that he turns Trey and Shannon into a series and that there will be sequels written.

Book Review: The Wife

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


The Wife by Alafair Burke starts out the New Year with a thrilling read.  It is more plot driven since many of the characters are not very likable. The story is intense and dark being told by a possible unreliable narrator. 

The author does think “readers might disagree who is likeable and who is not.  It is a myth that characters must fall into one category or the other.  I want to write complicated characters. Just as in real life it is hard to be always likeable or not.  At some point, everyone in the book is doing something that might be conceived as bad, with degrees of culpability.  There are reasons why they are doing certain things and people can decide if those reasons are justified, excused, or understandable.  The characters I like are Angela, her mother, her son, Colin, and Susanna.” 

The storyline concentrates on Angela, who suffered extreme trauma in her teen years and now learns that her husband, Jason, may be a sexual predator.  This novel is timely and will force people to question how they think about the victims of sexual misconduct and those they accuse.  Today more and more women accuse politicians, celebrities, and businessmen of harassment. Burke must have had a crystal ball since she wrote this novel a year ago.  The author delves into both facets, the accuser and the accused, where readers wonder if Jason actually raped someone, harassed them, was it a misunderstanding, or was it mutual?

Burke explores how “Angela sees her life going viral.  She has no idea of the process because she has no background in law enforcement.  People always think the wife had to know and is complicit.  The idea for the book came from my responses as a prosecutor, which is ‘she would be the last person to know.’ Jason is not going to tell her he is sexually harassing women.  Since she has no expertise or reliable information she must piece together the truth through her memories, news reports, and just having some skepticism of what he tells her.  Think about it.  Her husband was accused of sexual misconduct so his defense has to be there was mutual consent.  For him, to be criminally innocent makes him culpable in the marriage.  His legal exoneration means he has been having affairs.”

The Wife expertly delves into the different dynamics of relationships and the needed compromises that must be made to resolve conflicting values.

Book Review and Author Q/A Light It Up

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.


Light It Up by Nick Petrie is the third installment of the Peter Ash series. It is a fascinating story, but what makes this book special are the many layers.  It has an action-packed plot intertwining guns, drugs, and money. But it also probes the subject of returning soldiers.  People might think of Peter Ash as a clone of Lee Child’s character Jack Reacher, but in actuality the only similarity is that both are wandering characters. Ash’s military life and his current status as a veteran with PTSD are thoughtfully explored and unlike Reacher Petrie’s character has formed bonds with his girlfriend June and a good buddy Lewis.

Readers will not have a chance to get settled in because almost from the first page the action begins.  Peter decides to take a job riding shotgun to protect an enormous amount of cash being transferred.  His friend, Henry, whose daughter runs a Denver security company that protects cash-rich cannabis entrepreneurs from modern-day highwaymen, Peter, and two others are in an armed truck in the mountains of Colorado.  The $300,000 cargo comes under attack by Highway hijackers. Of the four, Ash is the lone survivor of the melee. He is determined to get to the bottom of what happened and will use all his skills learnt while in the military, including being a hunter, tracker, and if necessary a killer. He enlists the help of his girlfriend June Cassidy and his good friend Lewis to find the culprits.

Elise Cooper:  In many ways this is a story of a veteran?

Nick Petrie:  I am not a veteran so I am not writing from personal experience.  However, I did speak with many who have returned from active duty.  They told of the challenges they have faced and my hero, Peter Ash, is based on those conversations.  I enjoy talking with vets when they reach out to me. 

EC:  How would you describe Peter?

NP:  He is reserved, ambitious, loyal, tough, resourceful, and able to use the skills he learned in the military. I wanted to make sure he is morally driven, and is very capable of solving a mystery.  But as with many returning veterans he has PTSD, something he calls ‘white static,’ where he has extreme claustrophobia.

EC:  The June character compliments Peter?

NP:  I love writing her character. She is Ash minus the military. I would describe her as ingenious, intelligent, no-nonsense, and strong.  She and Peter relate well together.  I put in the scene of her locked in the trunk of a car to show how she did not think of herself, but how Peter feels being in enclosed places. I based her on the women in my life.

EC:  In what way?

NP:  Every woman in my life are pretty ferocious people.  My mom is someone who wakes up very day raring to go and has an office nickname of ‘the hammer.’  My sister is super smart and super strategic.  My wife Margaret doesn’t take anything from anybody and has no patience for people who are incompetent, lazy, and will not get the job done.  They all push me to be a better person.

EC:  How would you describe June’s and Peter’s relationship?

NP:  They have found something in each other.  I think they profoundly understand one another and are rescuing each other all the time.  They also help each other feel safe.  I put in the scenes with the letter writing to each other, the Pony Express mail, because each can put down in words their feelings.  Peter is a romantic and wanted to woo June.

EC:  How would you describe Lewis?

NP:  I think he is bright, curious, and self-taught. He is a career criminal who has decided to go straight.  Peter and Lewis have an unconditional friendship similar to the connection those in the military have who served in combat together.  A woman who was Lewis’ childhood sweetheart became reconnected to him through Peter since her late husband was his best friend while in the military.

EC:  Do you think Peter compares to Jack Reacher?

NP:  I am a great fan of Lee Child and think he is a superstar of crime fiction.  I think the world surrounding Peter is a bit different from Reacher’s world.  I am very frank that I stole from Lee this character who sticks his nose into another person’s business.  You know what they say, ‘bad artists borrow and great artists steal.’  I do see my character as more vulnerable both physically and emotionally. 

EC:  Do you think PTSD is a character in the book?

NP:  Yes.  ‘White Static’ is a voice in Peter’s head.  I wrote in the previous book that it is his ‘Spidey sense.’  It is not quite his conscience, but a voice of his warrior self.  Speaking with veterans who have this, they say it is a profound piece of their life.  At its worse it takes out their relationships and friendships. As in many true cases, I had June push Peter to get help. I put in the quote, ‘Even after months of therapy, part of him still felt like it was his fault, something personally wrong with him.  Not just his brain chemistry altered by eight years of war, locked into a fight-or-flight zone.’

EC:  Many veterans noted that they feel it is a silent wound and that reintegration is a major problem?

NP:  All the military characters in this book have some trouble.  Peter had PTSD and feels embarrassed and has panic attacks.  He does not want pity, but just for others to understand what he is going through. This is why I put in the quote, ‘A lot of guys had trouble figuring out how they fit back into their old life, or imagining the new one.’

EC:  It is interesting that you have bad guys and good guys that were former military?

NP:  Of course Peter is the good guy.  Marine Colonel Daniel Clay Dixon is somewhere in between in that he did some bad things, but when it counted did what was right.  Then there was Leonard Wallis, pure evil, a psychopath who basically enjoys doing bad things and killing people.  I wanted to humanize those in the military because sometimes we forget they are people.  A veteran told me he hates stories where everyone in the military are heroes because he served with some real jerks.  I wanted to show the full spectrum.

EC:  Can you explain this quote, “That restless urge toward the fight, like some clattering windup mechanism whose coiled spring never rewound”?

NP:  It is that adrenaline rush.  I heard this often from those who were in combat.  The intensity of the experience is hard to give up.  The deployment overseas in a combat zone has every moment with a heightened feeling.  I think that is why some have so many deployments.  I spoke with this guy who told me after waking up the first thing he did is reach for his gun.  It took him six months to lose that reflex.  I had this feeling stay with Peter, even now, that tension and alertness. The thread is that war never leaves those who were in combat.

EC:  Why the Robert Frost poem in the beginning of the book?

NP:  I am a big fan of his.  The theme of this book is obligation and what we owe to those we care about.  This book is about how they are rescuing each other all the time.  It feeds into the veterans I spoke with. They had the attitude of debt and obligation, and how they owed their country and their peers.  It is about empathy and connecting with the other person by putting themselves in their shoes. 

EC:  Do you think the weather plays a role in the plot?

NP:  It is a variable.  I found it to be very dramatic when I was there.  In Denver lighting is a big deal so much so that there are lighting shelters.  If you noticed I started and ended in the mountains to bring in the weather as a prop.  One of the most vivid scenes in when the gurney was rolling down the mountainside and Peter used it as an escape vehicle.  My goal was to put people in the middle of this action sequence as if they were actually there. 

EC:  What do you want readers to get out of the book?

NP:  Of course an entertaining story.  But I also wanted to explore some issues in a substantive way. I hope the novel resonates with people.  I wrote the Ash character because I think that we as Americans see the war as an abstract concept. Many have not discussed with those who have come back their emotional and physical scars.  I want to show people that there are actually human beings who went to protect us.  We should try to understand them as well as thanking them for their service.

EC:  Can you give a heads up about your next book?

NP:  June and Peter start their life together but since he is not an indoor domesticated creature he is having some problems.  It is metaphorical for his life and having to live within society’s norms.  She will be in the book, but less of a character.  June sends him to Memphis to help a good friend of hers who is a war photographer and is being harassed.