Book Review: The Gate Keeper

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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The Gate Keeper, by the mother/son team known as Charles Todd, is a mystery with a huge ending twist.  Fans of this series will see Scotland Yard Detective Ian Rutledge having to solve a case from a different point of view. He is not only the investigator, but is the first person on the scene so he has become a witness as well.

Because this is a different type of mystery, The Todds wanted to make sure readers understand that it is not a puzzle where “there is a race between the writer and the reader as to who figures it out first. This novel has Rutledge pursuing the truth and finding a solution.  He has a dogged determination to keep tracking the killer.”

Having left his sister’s wedding in a distraught mood Rutledge decides to take a car trip. He encounters on a deserted road a woman standing next to a murder victim.  She reports how a stranger stepped in front of the car and without warning fired a shot killing Stephen Wentworth immediately.  With a list of persons of interest piling up Rutledge must sort through the many different aspects of the case.  He is helped along by a voice in his head, Corporal Hamish MacLeod, the ghost of the Scottish officer he had executed for cowardice, who comments persistently inside this detective's weary ear. Rutledge always listens, and appears to have given Hamish a life that was taken away. Hamish is real to Rutledge, sometimes antagonistic, sometimes supportive, sometimes part of his unconscious perception, an inner-self.

An interesting piece to the storyline is the similarities between the victim, Stephen, and the detective, Rutledge.  They both had someone close to them killed in the war, although Rutledge played more of a role.  They were also both jilted by the woman they loved.”  The Todds noted, “Stephen is the ultra ego of Rutledge in some ways, and that is probably one of the reasons why he wanted to follow through and find the killer. They both developed levels of coping skills and were solitary people.  Neither became involved in a relationship after their engagement was broken.  Yet, Ian came from a loving family, and Stephen from a dysfunctional one.” 

One of the secondary characters can best be described as an early 20th Century “Mommy Dearest.”  The mother of Stephen is vicious, spoiled, and uncaring who tried to thwart any happiness her son might achieve.  “We wanted to write a character where the mother hated her son all his life. She sees him as a monster, an ugly duckling.  She has no redeeming qualities. She enjoys painting him in a dim light.  Basically, just a terrible person who is bitter and self-centered.”

Because World War I play such an important role in the storyline, readers get a glimpse into the emotional wounds of many of the men, including Rutledge. “We wanted to humanize those who have served.  Our goal as writers is to show how they were ordinary people and then were trained to be warriors.  When they come back they must learn to trust again and to relate to those outside of their unit, the band of brothers. They can talk amongst their peers because they know there is a sense of understanding. Having experienced horrors first hand they cannot just shut out what they saw on the battlefield.”

The Gate Keeper by Charles Todd is a ‘who done it’ type of mystery.  Readers will enjoy the investigative process Ian Rutledge must go through to find the culprit.


Book Review: Summoned to Thirteenth Grave

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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Summoned to Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones is number thirteen and the last in the series.  But thirteen is a lucky number for her and those that have followed the Grim Reaper Charley Davidson. 

There is some element of Christianity in the book with saten, devils, and angels.  Jones noted, “I do believe in the afterlife and think we do go on to something bigger and better.  Having grown up in a religious home, I never believed when we die that is just the end. I don’t think ghosts are real even though I had a couple of experiences that are difficult to explain.  Yet, I heard from readers who told me about their experiences, and my good friend told of something that happened to her.  There is no way explaining what happened without bringing in some spirituality.  I am not closing any doors and remain open-minded.”

This book opens with Charley returning to earth after being exiled for a hundred years in another realm.  But like dog years having a one to seven ratio, there is a one to ten ratio since 100 actually is ten days on earth. After returning the first thing she does is rekindle the desire and love she has for everyone in her family including her daughter, husband, and Uncle. She then combats with her husband Reyes those trying to take over Albuquerque New Mexico and find ways to keep her daughter Beep safe.It all comes to a head in an epic showdown between good and evil.

Jones has had challenges in her life.  “I have ADHD.  My imagination goes on forever and never stops.  On the other hand, sitting down to write is sometimes difficult.  I have learned little tricks, like if I eat a low carb diet I can focus better.  I think overall it has helped me more than it has hurt me.”

“Also, after I found out my son was deaf I decided to become a sign interpreter. It has helped me respect different cultures and see things from their point of view.  My mind has to work in a certain way to connect the word to the sign. Because I have a deaf son I went to school to communicate better with him.  I wanted to have conversations with him about anything.  I also think it has helped me write because it has opened my mind. My deaf son is now 29, and I can talk about anything, while my hearing son holds stuff back.”

Unlike many paranormals Jones is able to balance successfully humor and suspense.  Fans of this series will not be disappointed with the ending.


Book Review: River Bodies

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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River Bodies by Karen Katchur is part mystery and part police procedural. It is not a “who done it,” but a “why done it” as the characters must come to grips with two brutal murders that occurred two decades apart. There are no solid lines, with a blurring between the good and evil side of each character. But the author successfully weaves in relationships, family dynamics, and loyalty that only enhance the story.

The book examines how loyal should someone be and whether the choices people make are to protect others. Each character looks inward reflecting on what they did to survive. The heroine is Becca Kingsley, a veterinarian, who lives across the river from the Portland, Pennsylvania town she grew up in. She decides to return to spend time with her dying father, who was once Portland’s police chief. Because of his infidelity to her mom she became estranged from him. Now she wants to make amends and to get answers to the memories and long buried secrets. Everything seems to be coming to the surface after the discovery of a man brutally murdered that is tied into a previous murder.The author explores with flashbacks Becca’s teen years that include her relationship with her parents, their separation, and her friendship with Parker Reed, now the present State Homicide Investigative Detective handling the case of the murdered victim found in the river. She realizes the two murders are connected and that she is somehow involved. Becca starts questioning all her past relationships: the man she is living with has infidelities, her father who sent her away to boarding school, Parker whom she wants to renew her romantic feelings with, and a man who’s watched over her for years, that could be more predator than protector.

Becca realizes that there are times when her brain and heart compete. The author noted, “Her head told her what he did was absolutely wrong, but in her heart, she had an emotional kinship with him and saw him as her protector. Regarding her current boyfriend Matt, her Her head told her what he did was absolutely wrong, but in her heart, she had an emotional kinship with him and saw him as her protector.”

Becca’s dog Romy steals the scenes she is in. “I based her on my good friend’s dog who is so cool.  She and I run with her dog.  I would describe her as a German Shepherd that is a guard dog who is not aggressive, but protective. I also have a dog, but since she is a retriever, she is very submissive. I always grew up with pets so animals are a part of my life.  Becca gets solace from Romy.  I think when someone has a bad day pets are there to cuddle and hug.  This is why I put the book quote, “Romy pushed her warm body against Becca’s leg.  She bent down, buried her face in Romy’s face, having turned to animals for comfort ever since that day John had given her that scruffy old barn cat.” Even though my dog is 75 pounds she is still a lap dog.”

Readers will experience a wild ride with the river’s currents, both metaphorically and physically. This is a tension-filled, fast-paced novel that effectively blends together a horrific murder, a mysterious backstory, and vivid characters.


Book Review: Into The Night

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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Into The Night by Sarah Bailey has Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock returning in this follow up to The Dark Lake.  A very interesting aspect to the plot is how a celebrity gets all the attention in today’s society, while someone who is not famous is quickly dismissed.

Bailey noted, “I read about accidental deaths that are eventually ruled as homicides.  I imagined what if there were hundred people present, but no one knew what actually happened.  I wanted to have the two deaths in the book really contrasted, a wealthy man versus someone homeless.  When I was in Los Angeles, I noticed that there were many homeless people, almost one on every block.”  Because LA is an entertainment town and now has a homeless problem, readers can relate to this story.

The story opens with a homeless man brutally murdered.  Assigned to the case Woodstock must battle the seemingly complacent attitude of those in the press and her own police colleagues. She becomes especially infuriated when a second victim is found, murdered in a similar fashion: Sterling Wade, the good-looking, up-and-coming actor who was killed in the middle of shooting his latest Zombie movie. She and her partner investigate everyone who knew him including his fiancé, his secret lover, and even his parents, who are having serious financial issues. 

A powerful book quote, “Those in the orbit of the recently murdered.  Out of nowhere, bam, not only is their loved one gone but their own carefully kept secrets are suddenly everyone’s business…I feel sorry for the ones who are unwillingly along for the ride.  It’s a brutal journey.” 

Bailey noted, “If the person who dies becomes a big story, family and friends get dragged into it. In Australia, there was a story about a married man who died and was known as a big swinger.  His family had no idea about his second life.  The press went into details about the family’s personal life. I hoped I showed in this story how the media reports about gossiping stories.  They should have a clear responsibility to not fan the fire.”

Besides having to deal with her partner’s extreme moodiness, a boss who keeps his staff at arm’s length, and a whole new city with a whole new team, she also has to face her demons.  She moved from Smithson, to the city of Melbourne, leaving her young son behind to be raised by his father. Woodstock is not a very sympathetic character since she drinks too much, smokes, and indulges in risky one night stands with men picked up in bars. She is a very damaged and flawed character.

“I wrote Gemma as polarizing.  I get a lot of emails from people who tell me they find her frustrating.  People who like the book have the same comments as those who don’t like it.  They say she is maddening, difficult, and makes wrong decisions.  I think she stirs up people to be judgmental because she is ambitious and selfish.  Also, what many find challenging is that she is a mother who is not looking out for her son. I spoke with a couple of women who loved their children, but felt they could not be the primary caregiver.  I have two children myself and would not personally leave them.” 

The final act is full of surprises as Woodstock races to bring down a murderer who’s already claimed two lives and might not be done killing. 

 


Book Review: Let The Dead Keep Their Secrets

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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Let The DEAD Keep Their Secrets by Rosemary Simpson brings to life New York City during the 1880s in a historical mystery. It is rich in the culture of the time with a riveting Colombo type crime.  Readers know who has done it and seek clues with the characters to find the proof.

The plot opens with New York opera singer Claire Buchanan calling on the investigative services of Prudence MacKenzie and her partner, Geoffrey Hunter. Claire shows up at their door begging them to find out exactly how her twin sister, Catherine, and newborn daughter died, believing it was not from natural causes. Catherine’s husband, Aaron Sorenson, is a scoundrel and appears to be marrying women, getting them pregnant, and then having baby and mother die in childbirth.  Prudence and Geoffrey find that childbirth can be dangerous to one’s health as they realize that Sorenson’s current wife may also be in danger. His motive, both the late wife and the current wife would inherit a substantial estate, which will go to him upon their death. Sorensen seems to always be in need of money to pay mounting gambling debts. As the tension mounts the investigative team is putting themselves at risk in attempting to expose the murder-for-inheritance scheme.

The author noted, “Catherine was emotionally abused.  Women during that time period did not have much choice. Inthe Gilded Age in New York women were still property of their husbands.  They were very limited to what their husbands wanted.”

One of the important clues is a photograph of the late mother and child. Simpson weaves into the story a Victorian Era custom, post-mortem photography. During these scenes readers learn of the spiritualists who believe “about the possibility of capturing an image of the soul leaving a body at the moment of death.” It was during this time that Claire senses something from her twin sister. The author commented, “During my research, I read how twins separated by birth and raised by different families still have the same likes and dislikes and can sense how each other feels.”

Through the characters people learn of the Gilded Age era, with a fascinating description of the homes, the period clothing, and the city of New York. Unlike many women of the time, Prudence is very unconventional, desiring to take the bar exam and become a litigator. For now, she is content to be an amateur sleuth to her partner, ex-Pinkerton agent Geoffrey Hunter, as she learns on the job. “I wrote Prudence being raised by a widowed father who looked at her as a replacement for a son.  He did not make an exception for her being a girl and made sure she had a very well developed sharp legal mind.  She is determined to make her own way even though she inherited wealth. I read that the Pinkerton Agency hired a lady detective during the Civil War and knew I wanted to make my heroine an investigator who is constantly challenged by Geoffrey.”

The hero and heroine also have flaws.  The author uses events that happened during the Gilded Age paralleling them with what is happening today. Simpson explained, “Geoffrey has left his southern roots, abandoning his culture and family.  He has a lot of contradictions.  Prudence must struggle with her addiction to the drug laudanum.  She was given it by her family doctor to help her cope with her father’s passing and then her fiancé’s death. She overcame the reliance on laudanum but not without a terrible struggle and the knowledge that she would never be entirely free of it.  I parallel it with the opioid epidemic today.  People became accidental addicts because they were given the drugs legally to cope with physical and emotional pain.”

The antagonist, Simpson has no redeeming qualities.  He is a cold and calculating thief, a swindler, and bigamist who victimizes rich women. “I wanted to write an absolute villain.  He is unscrupulous, uncaring with no conscience.  He had every vile habit known.  I do not write cozy mysteries, but historical noirs.  My bad guys are really, really bad who cause awful things to happen.”

The author definitely had done her homework. “I want to feel I live in this world for awhile and to get the reader to feel that also.  I read the New York Times Archives and fall into the rhythm of the language used, how they spoke, wrote and thought.  It puts me in the mindset of the character I am writing about.”  With her detailed descriptions and gripping story Simpson has also drawn the reader into the time period through an exciting and action-packed mystery.

 


Book Review: Trust But Verify

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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Trust But Verify by Karna Small Bodman brings to life the inner workings of the White House in a financial thriller. Realistic political intrigue and suspense mirrors the current issues. The story is propelled by her past experiences as deputy press secretary and senior director/spokesperson for the National Security Council, in the Reagan Administration.

The idea for the story came from “My having a summer home in Jacksonville Wyoming and knew of the annual summer conference hosted by the Federal Reserve Board attended by financial leaders from all over the world.I also attended arms control talks with the Soviets and thought of one of President Reagan’s famous phrases.  I used it for the title and for the plot ideas.  After the fall of the Soviet Union there was the rise of the Russian mafia and oligarchs and it is estimated they are now involved in four out of ten businesses there. By putting these two ideas together I came up with the “what if:” a pair of Russian oligarchs who have lost a lot of money from sanctions devise a heinous plot to target that conference. Then the stock markets would take a dive.”

The plot has Russian oligarchs with the help of the Russian mafia attempting to create havoc within the United States.  First, they attempt to kill Samantha Reid, the Director of the White House Office of Homeland Security, not to be confused with the Homeland Secretary. She works within the White House, reporting to the head of the National Security on possible threats.  Having been foiled in their first attempt the Russians decide to wipe out an entire group of the world's bankers and other prominent money people by blowing up the Federal Reserve’s annual economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Samantha is speaking. FBI agent Brett Keating, who’s investigating the attempts on Samantha’s life realizes something is going to happen at the conference and with some luck and high-tech gadgetry he saves the day.

“I have a source that worked at the DOD.  I call him my “Q” from the James Bond series.  He tells me of products that he wishes the government would develop.  I have in the back of my mind the quote by George Bernard Shaw, “The best way to get your point across is to entertain.”  I hope to call attention to different things.  I remember a reviewer once said of my books, ‘Instead of calling it fiction why don’t we call it faction.’”

This story is realistic, harrowing, and compelling.  Combining real facts with a riveting page-turner makes it a fun read.

 


Book Review: In Too Deep

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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In Too Deep by Lynn Blackburn blends romance, suspense, and a riveting subject matter, labor human trafficking. The first book of the series was good but this book is excellent. 

Blackburn noted, “When people hear about this subject matter they think about sex trafficking. I did not realize that labor trafficking also exists. A lot of people that have to endure this have either entered the country legally or thought they entered legally, doing it the right way. Many times, they had their papers taken, threatened physically, or had their families threated physically. There is the underlying fear of law enforcement since they usually do not speak the language and have a hard time communicating. It is a horribly abusive system. Restaurants and hotels, many in the hospitality industry, are able to “hire” these people without facing consequences.”

The novel begins with a partially submerged car that drives off a bridge, killing the woman occupant, where readers might think of Chappaquiddick.  After recovering the body, the Carrington North Carolina dive team finds an encrypted laptop, and an unsettling connection with investigator Adam Campbell concerning a message written on the woman’s tummy in permanent marker. They enlist Dr. Sabrina Fleming, a professor at the local university with unparalleled computer security and forensics skills, to recover the files from the laptop.   

“I wrote her as brilliant, cautious, and leery with trust issues.  She is also resilient, analytical, and blunt.  I think she acts like Bones from the TV series because she is not materialistic and can by nerdy, always focused on her work.  Her looks were based on a few pictures I saw of Evangeline Lilly, one with her hair messed up in a bun, and the other beautiful in a drop-dead gown.” 

Through their investigation it is found that human traffickers are threatening people, forcing them to become employees with slave labor wages. The way the author tackled this tough question was done very well and extremely informative.

“With this genre, when tackling a heavy subject like trafficking, there is only so much I can write about because I also need to put in the romance and suspense. This was some of the hardest writing I have ever done. Those of us that live a comfortable suburban life tend to think it would never happen here, but somewhere else. It is not happening in a faraway place, but in our communities.”

As intense as the human trafficker subject issue is, Blackburn does a great job with the dialogue and banter between the characters. The series does not delegate the previous book’s main characters, Leigh and Ryan, to a cameo appearance, but gives them a prominent role in this book. All the characters’ interaction has the reader feel as if they were also a part of the sarcastic conversation. This camaraderie brings the story and the personalities to life.

The relationship between Adam and Sabrina is also intense. It develops slowly, since she is clueless when it comes to reading his social signals. Although brilliant, she has a hard time determining people’s body language and verbal hints.

“It was fun to explore the relationship between Adam and Sabrina. She analyzes it too much.  When she grew up she was wealthy, but now lives an astute life with very few possessions. Yet, she has fallen for the wealthiest guy in town. She considers money a negative.  But now she has to take a leap of faith and hopes to get her heart to override her brain.  Adam sees in herself what she cannot.  He is a protector, peacemaker, loyal, and family minded.  He is not a daredevil like Ryan. I projected myself in the scene where his mom comes home and rushes to him.”  

The story has a lot of suspense, family drama, and romance. Although each book revolves around four members of an investigative dive team, plus a computer expert, and a nurse, readers will enjoy that each gets their share of page time with the concentration on a different hero and heroine.


Book Review: Lies Come Easy

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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Lies Come Easy by Steven Havill brings back Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman. This is the 23rdbook in the Posadas County, New Mexico mystery series.

“I wrote Estelle as a savvy investigator. She started out in the Sheriff’s Department at the age of twenty-one.  I think of her as tough, protective, and self-contained.  She is a hands-on officer who is very brave.  But she is a very private person who loves her family and has a good relationship with her husband. I think people should read all the books if they really want to get to know her.”

The story starts out with a gripping scene of a toddler wandering down the highway on his Scamper.  This type of scooter did not protect him from exposure from the blizzardly elements. His father had kicked him out of his truck because he did not like the way the two-and-a-half year-old was behaving.  Found dead the sheriff’s office has its hands full as it tries to determine if the father’s death was a suicide or murder. Unfortunately, joy is not brought to the world this Noel because others also turn up dead, with possible murders piling up: a missing Forest Service tech, and his girlfriend’s body. All these unrelated events come together at the plot’s end.

Havill noted, “Firearms have been a part of my life since I was four years old. I used to write westerns years ago.  After writing four of them the market collapsed. In 2006, I enrolled in the famous gunsmithing school at Trinidad Sate in Colorado when I was in my sixties and enjoyed it immensely.  Guns are fun to shoot, repair, and admire as works of art.  When a jerk uses a firearm for nefarious purposes they must be dealt with, not the gun itself. I guess you can say I am an ‘unpracticing’ gunsmith.”

This story combines a police procedural, a Christmas setting, and a murder investigation. A dysfunctional family and community problems, lies, and murder all play a huge role in finding out what really happened.


 


Book Review: Premeditated Peppermint

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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Premediated Peppermint by Amanda Flower is a delectable read. People are treated to an intriguing mystery with likeable characters, some kooky, a charming setting, and humorous dialogue that will put a smile on reader’s faces. 

A book quote describes it as a “Norman Rockwell postcard.”  Flower feels, “It is typical rural Ohio. A small town with a gazebo and festivals associated with the different seasons.  This is how I wanted my readers to imagine the town.  I based it on Berlin, Ohio.Currently, I live an hour from Amish country.  I was a librarian and lived in Holmes County for three years.  I always wanted to write in a book the scene where the nativity parade marches down the street with both the English and Amish watching.  There is a Christmas market where all the shops in the village are represented.”

The main character, Bailey King, returns to Harvest Ohio in Holmes County to help take care of her Amish grandmother after the death of her grandfather. She takes over the running of the family shop, Swissmen Sweets. In this story, Bailey is preparing peppermint treats for their booth at the Yuletide in Harvest Festival when she gets an unexpected and unwanted visit. Eric Sharp, her ex- boyfriend and a celebrity chef, has brought a film crew to Harvest to produce an episode for his new reality cooking show. His plan is to include Bailey and her Amish ties and possibly rekindle their romance. But a wrench is thrown into the community when the crew’s producer is found murdered and Eric is the prime suspect. Complicating matters is Bailey’s current boyfriend, the deputy sheriff, Aiden, who thinks Eric is guilty.  Bailey only wants justice to be served and proves that there are a number of people of interest. She must juggle finding the killer, running the sweet shop, and dealing with townspeople such as Juliet and her service animal, pot belly pig, Jethro, a live nativity which includes a camel, and a Christmas parade.

"Bailey is one of my favorite characters since she is smart, successful, dedicated, empathetic, and motivated, which is why she makes such a great amateur sleuth.  She runs into danger, not away from it. At the age of eighteen she moved out of her parent’s house and supported herself through culinary school.  She knows what she wants in her life.  I think she is a tough cookie because she is so spunky. She has chosen herself as the go between concerning the Amish and the police since her relatives are Amish. She is able to help Aiden solve crimes.”

This story gives a sense of a small-town community and the differences between the Amish and “English” cultures. People will feel they are taking the horse and buggy ride with the Amish. The plot gives off an old-fashioned feeling without the present-day technologies.  Readers will eat up the delightful cozy mystery with fascinating characters and a pleasant setting.


Book Review: War Animals

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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War Animalsby national bestselling author Robin Hutton recounts the experiences of the forgotten members of the Greatest Generation. Horses, mules, dogs, and pigeons were all a part of the Allied war machine. They were messengers, spies and sentinels. They carried supplies to the front, comforted wounded soldiers, became a POW, and were a vital part of the search/rescue effort during the German Blitz of London.

This is Hutton’s second book in the “War Animal series.”  In the first one she recounted the story of Reckless, a sorrel mare, small for her size, that joined the Marines during the Korean War. Employed to help move heavy recoilless rifles and ammunition across steep and treacherous terrain, she regularly proved her bravery and endurance, making precarious trips hauling ammunition to soldiers in need, often during heavy fire. Once home, news of her promotion to Staff Sergeant quickly spread, though that notoriety has since faded. Hutton's passion and admiration for Reckless is shown when she raised the money for not one but three monuments to this courageous horse, at Quantico, Camp Pendleton, and at the Kentucky Horse Park.

In this latest book, incredible and inspiring true stories are told of some animals who received the PDSA Dicken Medal during WWII and lesser-known stories of other military animals whose acts of heroism have until now been largely forgotten. Founded in 1943, the prestigious PDSA Dicken Medal is the highest award an animal can achieve for gallantry and bravery in the field of military conflict, a Victoria Cross of sorts for animals.

War dogs came about after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, because it was decided the US military needed a war dog program.  Instead of originating from within the military, it was founded by a New York Socialite, Arlene Erlanger.  She was a poodle breeder and wanted to help the allied effort.  Starting a grassroots movement, she created Dog for Defense Inc., a volunteer organization that recruited a canine army, known as the K-9 Corps. Owners of dogs donated their personal pets to the war effort.  The 40,000 animals were whittled down to about 19,000 after the first cut, but ultimately a little over 10,000 were chosen. The requirements included, dogs that were between 28 inches tall at the shoulder, and no more than five years old. Once trained they were put on assignment with strict secrecy imposed.

Each of these stories will leave readers spell bound, but the most heartfelt one was that of Judy, an English Pointer. Chosen as a mascot for a Royal Navy gunboat she provided a huge morale boost. After some of the crew was reassigned to another ship, Judy went with them.  In 1942, attacked by more than a hundred Japanese bombers, the ships sank, but luckily Judy survived the shipwreck with some crew members. On March 18th, 1942 Judy and the surviving sailors were captured by the Japanese and became prisoners of war in forced labor camps. A new arrival, RAF pilot Frank Williams, took pity on her and decided that she would be his companion. He taught her to obey signals and whispered speech, while she brought scraps of food she salvaged to him. Transferred to an even more brutal labor camp, Frank worked up to sixteen hours a day to build railroad tracks. Williams described her as “a skinny animal that kept herself alive through cunning and instinct…I do not exaggerate when I say that this dog, with her example of courage to live, saved many of us who would surely have died.” Liberated in August 1945 by the allied soldiers, she lived with Frank until her death on February 16th, 1950.

Hutton noted, “When I heard about Judy I knew she would be the heart and soul of this book.  Her story touched me and it would also touch readers.  She was resilient and became the heart of the POW camp.  The men would say ‘if Judy can make it so can I.’  They persevered because of her and never gave up. Today dogs are used to help with PTSD and back then Judy was no different.  She provided comfort and security.”

Another brave dog was Chips, a German Shepherd trained as a sentry who attacked an Italian machine gun team, sustaining powder burns and saving his handler's life. He actually received the Silver Star, but it was revoked in 1944 after a national commander complained.  Known as “Mr. Chips” he was honorably discharged on December 10th, 1945. Private John Rowell who served with the canine partner wrote, “We went through a lot together…he is really wonderful. He saved my life more than once when things were tough.”

Hutton decided “to nominate Chips for a Dickin’s Medal since he is America’s most decorated war dog.  He received it this January.”

The British also started up a war dog program in May 1941, and asked for citizens to volunteer their dogs. The War Dogs Training School officially opened for business on May 5, 1942 at a greyhound kennels in Northaw. Forty recruits were awaiting training. By the end of the war some 3,300 had been successfully dispatched to units across the globe.

But some of the most special dogs were those used for search/rescue.  As the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said of the German blitz, “Hitler hopes by killing large numbers of civilians and women and children that the will terrorize and cow the people of this mighty imperial city and make them a burden of anxiety to the government…Little does he know the spirit of the British nation.” This includes the dogs who located buried air raid victims.

Irma is an example of how the dogs gallantly found survivors.  She is an Alsatian that was bred with exceptional intelligence and a strong devotion to duty.  Her owner wrote in 1945, “Irma gave the position of victims under a collapsed house and although there was some doubt in the minds of the men who were working on the ruins, excavations were made.  As a result, they discovered two girls, both alive. This rescue was especially impressive because Irma refused to give up on the location, and kept returning to it, even after two days.  Only because of her tenacity did the two girls survive.” Today there are dogs whose duties are to search/rescue and others that recover.  Irma was a pioneer since she was able to discern if a victim was alive or dead, and inform the human rescuers with different barks. 

Hutton hopes readers discover the heart of the animals and ‘how they will do anything for us.  They deserve to be honored because they answered the call of duty.  I have some projects that I hope will do just that. I am putting together an International War American Museum in Washington DC where people can learn about these wonderful animals.  I think there should be a medal of honor for dogs served.  Each branch should have a medal to bestow on these animals. I also would love to do a war animal TV series that would have two or three stories with re-enactments showing the role they had throughout history, especially during war time.”

In reading this book people are able to see how the animals served valiantly. An added bonus, through the animals’ eyes readers are informed about the events that occurred during World War II.


Book Review: Valley Forge

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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Valley Forge by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin allows readers to go back in time and journey with the American revolutionaries in their attempts to defeat the British. It delves into the Continental Army’s six-month stay at Valley Forge, which enabled them to transform fromundisciplined militia men to a professional army.

 “We wrote how our Founding Fathers sacrificed for future generations.  The spirit they had is in our DNA.  Washington showed that Americans have a steely backbone with a steely composure. After spending time with a Valley Forge historian, we realized there is so much we did not know about it, including that it was the turning point of the Revolution.”

 The authors delve into Baron von Steuben’s ability to use the knowledge he gained on the Prussian battlefields, drilling dedication, discipline, and proficiency into the Colonist army. While George Washington’s aides were fighting the British, disease, starvation, and the elements, he and Alexander Hamilton were combating those in the Continental Congress. His political enemies were calling for the General to be replaced.  They saw him as unqualified after the humiliating loss of Philadelphia.  Yet, Washington is able to hang on and after defeating the British at the Battle of Monmouth Court House, the momentum is never again with the Redcoats.

Drury explains, “Washington had to groom his generals and have them mature into their role, especially Pennsylvania’s Anthony Wayne, Boston’s Henry Knox, and Rhode Island’s Nathanel Greene. They basically learned on the job. He trusted them, but did not trust the colonists’ British born generals Charles Lee and Horatio Gates.  Both these men were extremely jealous of Washington and were inept.  As the war progressed it showed Washington’s instincts were correct.  

He was astonished that Lee wanted to retreat during the Battle of Monmouth Court House at the sound of gunfire.  Every time Lee was put in charge of something he showed his incompetence. The 10,000 elite British troops were driving hard for a counterattack, determined to crush the colonists’ rebellion here and now.  They thought the mere sight of an endless wall of British ‘cold steel’ would send the Continental rabble fleeing in disarray.  But Washington knew that having endured the mud and elements at Valley Forge he could use his presence to spur the troops to fight.  Because this was the critical juncture of the war, Washington knew he had to exude a sense of urgency and inspiration, which he did. As Lafayette said, ‘His presence seemed to arrest fate with a single glance.’ Washington dismissed Lee and took command of the troops himself, turning the tide to a victory.”

This book show how Washington emerged as fallible but indispensable; succeeding in the face of so many hardships. With extensive documents, they capture the iconic characters that instilled the energy needed to defeat the British empire leading to America’s independence.


Book Review: The Red Ribbon

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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The Red Ribbon by H. B. Lyle blends fiction with historical reality. The essence of the story is the up and coming British Secret Service that must look for spies on the home front and abroad.

Lyle noted, “I was inspired by the 100thanniversary of the British secret service.  While in the film industry, I was working on some spy movies and also read an official book on the anniversary.  American readers need to understand that the UK secret service is different.  In the States, it is a protective service, while in Britain it is split in two halves, to find spies in the UK and in other countries. They were after a lot of anarchists who were also known as communists. The East end of London had a lot of European agitators.”

Captain Vernon Kell became the head of the recently established Secret Service Bureau, but had only one agent, Harry Wiggins. Instead of looking for Russian and German spies Wiggins is pre-occupied with his own cases. As someone who grew up on the streets of London, one of the urchins trained in surveillance by Sherlock Holmes and known as the Baker Street Irregulars, Wiggins has promised to avenge the death of his best friend, and to track down a missing girl from the East End. The investigation leads him to a mysterious embassy located in the affluent neighborhood of Belgravia, which is actually a high-class brothel frequented by the rich and powerful of London. The red ribbon hanging in the window of “The Embassy of Olifa,” represents red as the color of revolution.

Historical facts include the deaths of Edward VII, where monarchs from all over Europe arrive for the funeral, “the greatest coming together of royalty the world has ever known,” with the fear that a potential assassin could spark a worldwide conflict. At the same time, dockworkers threaten to strike, people rumble about unions and revolution, and women suffragettes are becoming increasingly militant. Home Secretary Winston Churchill takes a hard-nosed attitude against all domestic unrest, fearing anarchists are infiltrating these groups.

“I wanted to show how the Irish wanted independence and began to militarize, something I will explore in the next book.  Also, readers should understand that half of the Kings of Europe had as a grandmother Queen Victoria.  For example, King Edward is a first cousin to Czar Nicholas of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm. Only four years later they were all fighting in the First World War.”

The book does not put Winston Churchill in a favorable light.  “I do feel in many cases he was the bad guy.  Although he had a heroic role in the Second World War, I myself do not see him as a heroic figure and feel he has placed a high value on his own destiny. He had crossed the floor twice, flip flopped during his career: first a Conservative, then a Liberal, and back to Conservative. His history is based entirely on 1940 to 1945, which is when his moment of destiny came.”

Readers can read this for a mystery and an understanding of events of the time.


Book Review: Bright Young Dead

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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Bright Young Dead by Jessica Fellowes brings to life the mid-1920s amid a strong who done it mystery.  Fellowes known for writing the companion books to the Downtown Abbey TV series has used those skills to write a riveting historical novel. This is the second novel that delves into the lives of the aristocratic Mitford household during the Golden Age.

Fellowes noted, “I have been writing a lot of non-fiction and the Downtown Abbeyseries of books. I love this era and wanted to write a novel in it.  I was approached by my editor who suggested I write a vintage crime series. My continuing characters Guy and Louisa were born.”

During a treasure hunt a murder is discovered.  Arrested is one of the servants, Dulcie, of a guest since she was overheard having an argument with the victim. She had previously been associated with a gang of criminals known as “The Forty Thieves.”  Lead by Alice Diamond this group shoplifts, robs the wealthy, and fences the stolen goods.

“I can’t remember exactly how I heard of Alice, but I was reading generally about the period, as I have done for some years now, and came across her story. It seemed to me immediately obvious that I had to use her in this book! Alice Diamond and the Forty Thieves were all the girlfriends of the Forty Elephants, a notoriously violent gang from South East London. Gang culture can be very pervasive when young people are looking for motivation and glamour to lift them out of their surroundings. Her story is a complicated one. She was born into a criminal very poor environment, where it was the norm for people to get what they needed in aggressive, illegal ways. That said, she was not frequently violent and her chosen method of getting what she wanted was shoplifting.”

Caught in the middle is Louisa Cannon, a servant in the Mitford household and a chaperone of the young adult daughters, Nancy and Pamela. She has become a good friend of Dulcie and believes she is innocent, determined to get to the truth of the matter. Intertwined is the relationship Louisa has with a young officer, Guy Sullivan, and his partner, Mary Moon.  They have been assigned to go undercover and arrest her and the gang. During her investigation Louisa seeks the help of Sullivan, since there is a definite connection with the Diamond gang. Together they connect the dots to find the true killer and end Diamond’s reign of crime.

Readers will also enjoy learning about the 1920s era. The young society aristocrats are determined to have fun, going to dance clubs, becoming flapper girls, experimenting with drugs, and showcasing the latest fashions.

“I wanted to write about the reality of life for the upper classes before the Second World War, was that they largely shared their houses with servants, the working class. In portraying the Mitford sisters, there would be servants in the house and I wanted very much to include them in the story. As a servant in the nursery, my fictional heroine, Louisa Cannon, would be both up and downstairs, as it were, spending time both in the servants’ quarters and closely with the family. This meant we could have an insight into the workings of the whole house and all its inhabitants.”

The mix of historical fiction adds authenticity to the novel. The murder investigation allows people to understand the tensions between the upper aristocratic class and their lower-class servants.  This story makes for a very interesting read.


Book Review: Lies

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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Liesby T. M. Logan is his debut psychological thriller. From page one readers will be riveted to the storyline and it never lets up. The plot focuses on what can happen to someone’s normal life when, in one moment, it comes crashing down with the main culprit, lies and betrayals.

The plot begins with Joseph Lynch and his 4-year-old son, William, navigating North London traffic when William spots his mother’s car exiting the highway. A spur-of-the-moment detour leads to disaster. Mel, Joe’s wife and William’s mother, is spotted at the Premier Inn bar arguing with her best friend’s husband, tech millionaire Ben Delaney. After Mel leaves, Joe confronts Ben with a civil conversation, but it quickly develops into a confrontation. Words lead to shoving and Joe pushes Ben a little too hard where he falls and bangs his head. At the same time, he must help his son who is having a major asthma attack, leaving Ben unattended.  Unfortunately, when he goes back later Ben is missing and so is Joe’s phone.  Later that night Mel is confronted and delivers her first lie, saying it is only a business meeting.  Eventually she admits to an affair that begins a downward spiral for Joe’s life. The more he tries to unravel the lies, the more deception he discovers. As the lies gain momentum, he realizes he can trust no one, and must mount a personal investigation to find the truth. Accused of having something to do with Ben’s disappearance, Joe must find Ben to prove his innocence.

The storyline raises some valid and important issues about technology and social media. Joe realizes that someone is manipulating his text messages, the home PC, his Facebook account, photos, and anything else they can get their hands on. It becomes clear the crime and the technology were going hand-in-hand.

Because social media is an antagonist “I wrote this quote, “I was struck by what a strange view you could get of someone’s life from looking at his or her Facebook profile.” I do not think Facebook reflects someone’s real life.  No one is as happy as they appear on Facebook nor as angry as they appear on Twitter.  I once read about an academic study by Birmingham City University that showed how Facebook was involved in 40 to 50 murders.  People had a dispute and became antagonistic, some pretended to be others, luring people into dangerous situations, or to make it appear someone was alive when they actually were not.”

It is interesting to have a story written from the male point of view. Joe is an average, contented, trusting man, happily married man, a daunting father, and a respected teacher with a wife he loves and a son he worships. But he is also very naïve, lying to himself as he tries to persuade himself that he was not betrayed. He is the kind of character a reader can root for.

“Joe is similar to me.  I am a father like Joe.  What he says about William, his four-year-old, is what I would say.  William is based on my son at that age, including his traits, games, and challenges. Both Joe and I are family oriented. Just like William, my son was obsessed with cars and one of his first words was the car company Audi. The scene in the book is true, where we would sit in traffic, calling out car names.  My son matched up the shapes of his toy cars with the real cars owned by myself, my wife, and my parents.He is righteous, every man, an average man, a good father and a loving husband. In the beginning of the book he is optimistic, kind, steady, and honest. It takes him a while to figure out bad things can happen to good people. He wants to see the best in someone, which leads them to take advantage of him. People manipulate him because they could predict what he would do and how he would react.”

This gripping psychological thriller is a twisted page-turner that will keep readers guessing with an unexpected turn. There are layers of lies, secrets, and betrayals.


Book Review: Seduced By A Scot

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.

Seduced by a Scot by Julia London is a book about survival and how someone can overcome extraordinary obstacles. The hero and heroine had to overcome their past and learn to move forward.

London recounted how this is “It is the sixth and final book in “The Highland Grooms” series.  I wanted to base it in the early eighteenth century when Scotland and England were unified and acted like bad cousins. I thought it was a great backdrop to set a series about a Scottish family where the women were English.  I thought it would be interesting to have the English women and the Scottish men struggling with the same problems the countries were going through.” 

A prominent Scottish family hires a fixer, Nicholas Bain, to help them weather the possible scandal. Calvin Garbett has arranged for his daughter, unassuming in personality and beauty, to be married to someone whose family will help his business dealings. Falsely accused of enticing the fiancé, the ward, Maura Darby, is taken by Bain to marry an aging bachelor. Having no other options, she agrees, but silently is plotting to return for her family heirloom necklace, taken from her by the mother and daughter. During their long journey, she vents to him about being hurt and disappointed by those who are supposed to care for her. Maura challenges Bain at every turn to see her as a person rather than a problem to be solved.  He realizes that she is entitled to her necklace and plots with her to get it back. As they spend time together they grow closer and sparks start to fly between them.  Bain realizes that they are kindred spirits since he was thrown out by his supposed father and the one possession, a pocket watch, he cherished was taken away. They find love and realize that they can trust one another.

Readers will enjoy the Cinderella element to the story.  She was given the servant’s quarters and hand me down clothes.  Mrs. Garbett took Maura’s beautiful clothes, belongings, pets and gave them all to her daughter Sorcha who was extremely spoiled.  Maura tried to stay out of her way, lurking in the shadows. Both women were petty, jealous, and cruel to Maura and would do anything to make her feel unwanted.  Only while traveling with Bain does she become someone determined, bold, and brash.

“I wanted to write Bain and Maura as soul mates. Both never had anyone miss them, care for them, or love them.  Those who should have protected them betrayed them.  I think this created barriers.  Unlike most men of the time, Bain did not believe she was just property and under the thumb of every man, without the ability to make decisions for herself. He treated her as an equal.” 

Relationship stories are the best when the hero and heroine can share a similar background. They both had to face secrets, lies, cruelty, resentment, enviousness, and spite. Taking a journey with these two wounded souls allowed readers to share their emotions ranging from sadness to laughter.


20 lesser-known aircraft of the Vietnam War

While you surely know about iconic Vietnam-era planes like the F-4 Phantom II or the UH-1 Huey helicopter, you probably haven't heard much about aircraft like the Black Spot, Skyknight, or the Dragonfly. Although they aren't as well-known, these fascinating warplanes played crucial roles during operations in Southeast Asia.

Hiller OH-23 Raven

image from www.victoryinstitute.net

 The OH-23 was used as a scout helicopter during a time when the U.S. military was still figuring out how to best utilize helicopters on the battlefield. Ravens would scout ahead of friendly units, but were underpowered for Vietnam's terrain and their skid guns (when they worked) weren't adequate either. Nearly 100 of these lightweight helicopters were lost before the Army replaced them with the vastly improved OH-6 Cayuse in 1966.

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