‘Raining Fire’ is a fast-paced steampunk sci-fi action thriller

Raining Fire

Rajan Khanna

Pyr Books

I’ll be honest. I’ve thought I’m a bit too old to read steampunk novels. But Rajan Khanna’s Raining Fire has opened my eyes and widened my horizons a bit. It is a fast-paced sci-fi action-thriller where the steampunk hero goes into battles armed with an old Smith & Wesson revolver and can fly airships when he can get aboard one.

Raining Fire is set amid a dark, post-apocalyptic Earth that is being hammered by two deadly forces. One is the Ferals. These are disease-ridden, zombie-like humans can infect other humans and turn them into Ferals, as well. The other baddies are the twisted, evil scientists who live aboard a large floating city known as Valhalla. They keep spreading terrifying diseases so that raiders from Valhalla can plunder, kill and further add to the misery in what’s left of Earth’s civilization.

Ben Gold, the book’s central character, is a former airship pilot who now has lost his friends and the woman he loves, as well as his own airship. What he has left, essentially, are a thirst for revenge, a strong desire to set things right, and his father’s old but high-caliber six-shot revolver.

Raining Fire moves at a fast clip, and Ben gets into many hair-raising and life-threatening scrapes as he charges from fisticuffs to firefights to battles, and beyond.

Author Rajan Khanna emphasizes in his acknowledgements that Raining Fire “is largely about finding your will to fight, and about trying to defeat the bad guys.” Ben repeatedly has to find his will to fight and stay alive. And he encounters some surprising “bad guys.”

Raining Fire happens to be the final book in this three-book series. While it does work well as standalone reading, you might wish to consider starting with the first two books, Falling Sky and Rising Tide, to keep the chronology straight.

Incidentally, (and no spoilers here), a pathway is left open to future adventures for some of the characters.

Si Dunn

‘The Heavens May Fall’ – A Minneapolis mystery-thriller – #bookreview

The Heavens May Fall

Allen Eskens

Seventh Street Books, paperback, Kindle

In his third novel, The Heavens May Fall, Allen Eskens has created an engrossing tale built around two Minneapolis police investigations and a high-profile murder trial.

In this book, fans of Eskens’s writing will be pleased to see that he has brought along three characters from his previous works: Minneapolis police detective Max Rupert, retired law professor Boady Sanden, and Ben Pruitt, a highly successful criminal defense attorney who is now on trial, charged with murdering his wife.

All three have had dealings in the past–some better than others. This adds more twists and turns to Eskens’s well-written new mystery-thriller. Meanwhile, Eskens’s own courtroom experience brings depth and believability to his fiction. (He is a veteran criminal defense attorney.)

Still, there is one moment in an intense trial scene when I found myself asking, “Wait a minute, how could a crack defense attorney being tried for murder not recall hearing a key bit of testimony in his own trial?”

That awkward moment aside, this novel flows well. The two police investigations begin to intertwine while the courtroom drama plays out. And, the ending unfolds with some startling surprises.

Allen Eskens’s previous books are The Life We Bury and The Guise of Another.

Si Dunn

‘Spear of Light’ – Human vs. post-human on a planet facing destruction – #scifi #bookreview

Spear of Light

The Glittering Edge, Book Two

Brenda Cooper

Pyr – Kindle, paperback

Spear of Light is the second book in The Glittering Edge duology. And it has been my introduction to Brenda Cooper’s science-fiction writing.

For the most part, I am impressed. While I missed Edge of Dark, the duology’s first book, I am pleased at how smoothly I was drawn into Spear of Light, a complex but engrossing tale of humans, post-humans, and robots on the “re-wilded” planet, Nym. This second book in the duology stands nicely on its own.

The general flow of the novel is summarized on other sites, such as Amazon and Pyr, so I won’t rehash it here. But a lone ranger, Charlie Windar, wants desperately to save his rebuilt planet and is caught in the middle of an approaching war between the post-humans (the Next) and the Shining Revolution, a group of humans who want to attack the Next, no matter if it means Nym will be wrecked (again) in the process.

Meanwhile, the Next, who previously were banished from Nym’s solar system and later returned in force, are now quickly building a massive new city on Nym. And the humans caught between the Next and the Shining Revolution cannot figure out why the Next seem driven, this time, to uncover something mysterious within Nym’s ancient history.

(Thanks, Pyr, for sending a review copy.)

Si Dunn

 

‘See Also Deception’: A good addition to the Marjorie Trumaine mystery series #bookreview

See Also Deception

Larry D. Sweazy

Seventh Street Books

As I have mentioned here before, I love mystery stories where the investigator is an ordinary citizen, not a well-trained police detective or a struggling private sleuth beaten down by drunkenness, personal demons, and too many bad cases.

The investigator in See Also Deception, the second novel in the Marjorie Trumaine series, is dealing with than her share of life challenges. She is trying pay bills and scratch out a hardscrabble existence on a farm in rural North Dakota. She also is a full-time caregiver for her husband, Hank, a once-vigorous farmer now paralyzed from the neck down following a hunting accident.

During the very lean months between crops, Marjorie works from home for publishers, as a freelance indexer of books. Her ability to categorize and organize facts and details not only helps her get assignments and pay household bills; it also helps her solve murders in the countryside and in the small town nearby.

Set in the mid-1960s, amid Cold War tensions, See Also Deception has Marjorie struggling with demands at home and struggling with her belief that her friend Calla Elmore, the local librarian, did not shoot herself in the head but was murdered. Local law enforcement officials don’t share Marjorie’s suspicions, of course. So it is up to her to solve the case and prove them wrong.

Larry D. Sweazy, author of this series, is a prize-winning fiction writer who has turned out numerous other books. For the most part, the writing in this novel is very good. But the stark rural setting offers perhaps too many opportunities for internal monologue, once you’ve noted — and re-noted — the jackrabbits scurrying across the unpaved roads and the dust clouds billowing behind Marjorie’s world-weary Studebaker.

On a few occasions, Sweazy also uncorks a sentence that is just a bit too folksy, such as: “I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay away from my questions about Calla’s death any more than a June bug could stay away from the dusk-to-dawn light at the peak of the garage roof.”

Nitpicking aside, however, See Also Deception is an entertaining, engrossing sequel to See Also Murder, the debut novel in the Marjorie Trumaine series.

Si Dunn

 

‘A Brilliant Death’ – Murder mystery, coming of age and homage to 1960s small-town Ohio – #bookreview

A Brilliant Death

Robin Yocum

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

Writers often are advised to “Write what you know.” Author Robin Yocum clearly has heeded that advice. This is a well-written mystery that also is a coming-of-age story, plus a fine portrait of simpler times in the American heartland during the mid-1960s.

A Brilliant Death is set in a real-life but now unincorporated village, Brilliant, Ohio. Brilliant is a settlement on the Ohio River near the West Virginia border, in an area where steel mills, coal mines and a glass factory once held sway and Polish and other immigrant names are common.

Yocum’s novel focuses on two teenage friends, Mitch Malone and Travis Baron, as they near adulthood in Brilliant and start trying to uncover the truth behind the death of Travis Baron’s mother when he was still an infant. Along the way, the two youths, both promising athletes, continue growing up, getting into typical teenage scrapes, and nearing the time when they will go off to college or off to the Vietnam War.

They do manage to discover the terrible truth behind Travis’s mother’s death. And what they learn puts both of their lives immediately into danger.  Now they must make difficult choices from options they  hoped they would never have to consider.

Si Dunn

“Rain Dogs” – Adrian McKinty’s best Sean Duffy murder mystery? #bookreview

Rain Dogs

A Detective Sean Duffy Novel

Adrian McKinty

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle, audible

Now that I have suckered you into this review with a question, I’m going to give you something of a cop-out answer: Rain Dogs is the best Sean Duffy detective story I have read…since the last Sean Duffy detective story I read, which is Gun Street Girl. I have now read all five Sean Duffy mysteries, and I am a rock-solid fan of each one. Adrian McKinty is one hell of a good novelist, and his Sean Duffy series is first-rate police-procedural fiction.

Rain Dogs did unnerve me for the first few pages–it got off to a bit of a plodding, unexpected start. What? Detective Inspector Sean Duffy is helping protect Mohammed Ali from adoring crowds in Belfast?

And, it takes a while for the mystery Duffy must solve to come into focus. Yet, there is also plenty of introspection and unease on Sean Duffy’s part, and this keeps the reader engrossed and the story moving forward. Duffy has reached a point in his career when midlife crisis suddenly is in full-tilt boogie mode.

He has grown weary of the sameness in his job, weary of the Troubles that keep Protestants, Catholics, and paramilitaries in violent conflict, weary of constantly having to check under his car for mercury tilt switch bombs placed there by one side or the other or by criminals wanting him dead. Meanwhile, it keeps raining, raining, dreary raining. And Beth, the latest woman in his life, has broken off with him and moved out, taking most of what’s left of his heart with her.

Meanwhile, things keep going from really bad to really worse for Duffy, a suburban cop in the Carrickfergus branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). He suddenly finds himself investigating the second “locked room” violent death of his checkered career. This time, it looks a lot like a case of suicide. And there is high-level pressure to wrap up the case quickly and put it away. A big business project with many potential jobs for Northern Ireland is on the line.

But Duffy, even when depressed, drunk or beaten down, cannot let go of the suspicions and strong sense of justice that keep him moving forward.

As a detective and empathetic human being, he never stops pushing against the rising tides of bureaucracy, burnout and self-doubt.

“I stared down at the body again. There was something not quite right about this crime scene, something that I was missing, but try as I might I couldn’t figure out what it was. Had Beth’s departure frazzled me, or was it just thirteen long years of this exhausting profession in this exhausting land?”

Not even pressure and criticism from British government agencies can turn him aside once he has a theory and starts following it.

At one point, after chasing a lead into Finland and back, he is confronted by a shadowy representative of an unnamed British agency that is trying to get him to quit the case, in the name of fifteen hundred potential jobs for Belfast and Northern Ireland:

“You must be aware of your RUC record. A less-than-stellar police career, no real high-profile convictions. The fact that you never found out who killed  Lizzie Fitzpatrick in that other so-called ‘locked room’ incident when you were with Special Branch. The fact that, for the last six years, you’ve been treading water here. A constant source of embarrassment to your superiors, a disappointment to your friends.”

To which Duffy retorts: “Maybe I’m not a great detective, maybe I ‘m not even a good detective, but I am fucking persistent….The UK government might not like it, the Irish government might not like it, but if I can make a case, the RUC will support me and the police down south will support me, too. Cops everywhere love nicking villains.”

Sean Duffy indeed is persistent. That is why he is able to solve cases that many other cops would not recognize, nor have the desire, energy and drive to pursue.

But, again, the strongest driver in Duffy’s life is his personal sense of justice. He will bend rules, strain budgets, knock heads, disobey orders, and sometimes even go around or straight through a few laws to get his hands–or his bullets–on a murderer.

Adrian McKinty fans and readers new to McKinty will find much to relish in Rain Dogs. Duffy is at his driven-down-but-rise-above-it best in this book. And some surprising changes occur in his life. If, with this book, you are new to the Sean Duffy series, get “the Troubles Trilogy” ASAP: The Cold, Cold Ground; I Hear the Sirens in the Street; and In the Morning I’ll Be Gone. Oh, and don’t miss the trilogy’s fine sequel, Gun Street Girl. One Sean Duffy tale, you may agree, is not enough.

Si Dunn

‘Woman with a Blue Pencil’ – Characters in a mystery novel that is being rewritten find themselves in conflict in a world that keeps changing – #bookreview

 

 

 

Woman with a Blue Pencil

Gordon McAlpine

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

 

What if the characters in a mystery novel are alive in some other universe, and their world keeps changing, because their book, unknown to them, is being edited and rewritten?

And what if one of those characters is trying to solve a murder, but almost everything he knows or remembers, in his version of 1941 Los Angeles, keeps changing or vanishing? What if the people to whom he has been close suddenly cease to exist or no longer know who he is?

Woman with a Blue Pencil is well-written and cleverly structured. It can make you laugh with pleasure when you realize how the story will unfold along two tracks. And you can get engrossed in the actions and motivations of both main characters as their separate tracks begin to merge, and they come into conflict.

This is an intelligent murder mystery with a heart, a message and a poignant, surprise ending. It is set just before and after the Pearl Harbor attack and its aftermath, including the now roundly condemned, racism-driven mass roundup and internment of Japanese-American citizens living on the U.S. West Coast.

Behind the two tracks of story in this tale is an ambitious young Nisei (first-generation Japanese-American) writer who has been trying to get his first novel published. Now, suddenly, he has been relocated to one of the internment camps. And the woman with the blue pencil is his book editor in New York. She keeps trying to help him come up with a new plot that replaces his now-unsalable Japanese protagonist with a Korean-American one, plus create a strong, Western-sounding pseudonym that the author can hide behind once his book goes to market in World War II America.

One word sums up this novel-within-novel: Brilliant.

Si Dunn