Opening Lines: Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (yet, publishing companies spend big bucks on cover design/art) (also, this has a great cover). But, the opening sentence(s)/paragraph(s) are fair game. So, when I stumble on a good opening (or remember one and pull it off the shelves), I’ll throw it up here. Dare you not to read the rest of the book.

from Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg:

           Ian Ludlow’s UCLA creative writing professor insisted that the key to being a successful novelist was writing from personal experience. That’s why the professor was the author of five unpublished novels about sexually frustrated novelists who toiled in obscurity while teaching talentless and ungrateful students how to write.

So Ian ignored his professor’s edict and wrote escapist adventure stories that had nothing to do with his own mundane life. That’s how he flunked the class but eventually became a writer for TV shows like Hollywood & the Vine (half-man, half-plant, all cop!) and the author of the internationally bestselling series of action thrillers about Clint Straker, freelance spy for hire.

“And that’s how I ended up here,” Ian said, standing in front of a hundred people at Seattle’s Union Bay Books on a warm Saturday night.

It took precisely two sentences to make me chuckle, and two paragraphs to make me remember just how fun Ian Ludlow is as a character. It doesn’t get much more efficient than that.


Going Dark by Neil Lancaster: An Action-Packed Thrill Ride, an Interesting Spin on the Hero, and a Dynamite Plot

Going DarkGoing Dark

by Neil Lancaster
Series: Tom Novak Thriller, #1

Kindle Edition, 314 pg.
Burning Chair Publishing, 2019
Read: May 15 – 17, 2019

So Tom Novak came to the UK as a refugee from Bosnia at the age of twelve and was raised in Scotland by a wonderful couple. He joined the military, did a lot more than many soldiers had to and then came home and became a cop. He’s driven and focused — one could argue that he’s obsessed with the job — he’s talented and frustrated with the attitude of many of those above him in ranks and how little they’re able to accomplish for the common good. When given a chance to use his background to infiltrate a group of Serbian criminals who are engaging in human trafficking, prostitution, and immigration fraud he jumps at it. The primary target is a lawyer who is defrauding the government, innocent refugees, and young girls — while making a lot of money — but if he can take out the Serbs funneling girls to him, well that’s just icing on the cake.

I loved the pacing of the undercover work — it’s not one of those where the UC officer meets the bad guy and almost instantly gets taken into their confidence — there’s work, there’s time involved. Now, Lancaster takes care of most of that work and time with a time jump and a summary sentence or two. But that’s okay, the book would’ve slowed down considerably and added a few dozen pages to show us all that. He’s not giving us a play by play of UC work here — and he has the qualifications to do that — it’s not that kind of book, it’s a Thriller. He makes the nod to reality, and then keeps things moving so that the book can get to the exciting stuff.

It’s after the time jump that things go horribly, horribly wrong. Evidence goes missing and the bad guys know who Novak really is and put out a hit on him. Clearly, the police have a leak and Novak can think of only one way to survive — and maybe uncover the leak and still take care of his criminal targets — that’s by (title alert!) by Going Dark. He hops off the grid, grabs a burner phone and a phony ID he’s had ready for just such a contingency, makes a call or two to people he can trust and sets about doing what he can (which is plenty).

Like many action heroes, focus on martial arts, physical fitness, weapons and police procedure doesn’t leave a lot of time for things like learning a lot about tech, hacking, and the like. So one of the favors he calls in (from outside the police force, because he really doesn’t trust anyone there right now) results in getting loaned this nice young computer savant named Pet. Pet’s awesome — she can do pretty much everything that Novak wants, and doesn’t care what rules she breaks while doing so — and is perfectly willing to risk her neck for this relative stranger. Sure, she strains credulity a bit, but she’s entertaining enough that you really don’t care (besides, just about everyone else in the book is as realistic as you could hope for. Every thriller needs a couple of larger than life characters, might as well make it a fun techie girl in addition to the super-solider/cop).

With Pet’s help, Novak goes on the hunt for everyone involved in his precarious situation — both within and without the Metropolitan Police. And you know it’s not going to go well for anyone he finds.

You’ve really got three criminal groups at work here — the Serbs (a couple of brothers, their mother, and eventually their father); the lawyer and his brother; and the corrupt police. The Serbs are your typical rough and tumble crooks who don’t care much about their victims, the people they use or the necessity of violence — they know what they want and will do what they can to get it. Links to war criminals and larger criminal groups back home, make them more dangerous. You’ve seen the type before, you’ll see them again — and Lancaster nails their characterizations. He possibly does better with the sleazoid lawyer. It took no time at all for me to want bad things to happen to him, and then things got worse. He feels all-too-real and all-too-horrible. The same sentence could be applied to their inside-the-police tools, but I’m not going to say anything more about this group because I’ll end up giving something away. So, let’s just leave it there. Really this is a pretty impressive group of opponents for our fledgling hero to go up against, larger-than-life assistant or not.

The thing that sets Tom Novak apart from so many super-cops/soldiers/spies that the Thriller world are his particular background and his current psychology. The two are likely related, but lets ignore that. While you can’t say his childhood was as horrible as many are, or as it could’ve been given some of the events that surrounded him. It left an impression on him, it set him apart from his peers and still shapes him — he’s quick to tell anyone who says something that he’s not Scottish, or English, or anything else he’s tagged with. He may have adopted (willingly or not) his new country, but that’s not who he is at his core. More than once — particularly after things get violent — that we’re shown Novak’s emotional/psychological state. It’s not what one would expect — it’s not what he’d prefer to see — but it’s who he is. He knows he’s different, and his self-awareness helps the reader get insight. I don’t want to get into details at this point, but I really hope that Lancaster and his readers get to explore this more.

This is Lancaster’s first novel and it shows some, but really he’s pretty impressive. I really thought that early on, Lancaster had set up a particular ending. And boy did he not deliver at all. It wasn’t as narratively satisfying or expected as what I thought — but it was a lot more realistic and practical. And Novak is nothing if not practical, so it was fitting. And I always appreciate when an author makes you think you’re going to get something and gives you the opposite (in a way that’s justifiable, and not lazy or clumsy, anyway). Technically, there was an awkward phrase or two, but nothing major — I did think he stumbled pretty early by giving us the same information in two back-to-back paragraphs. But those were minor hiccups and it wasn’t long before I was too wrapped up in the story to remember them.

This is the second book I’ve read recently largely based on the recommendation of Ian Patrick, at this point, I’m thinking of just paying him a monthly fee to curate my TBR. It’s just a fun read, with the right amount of touches of realism to ground the more fantastic elements. The undercover stuff feels authentic (but what do I really know); the bureaucracy reeks of realism (but DS Novak’s complaints seem different than Sam Batford’s, Peter Grant’s, or Washington Poe’s — to name a few); the inciting crime feels as “ripped from the headlines” as anything that Dick Wolf has done; the characters are solid; pacing and twists are as well executed as you could hope and the action is right up there with the seasoned pro’s. All in all, I’m not sure what more you could want from a debut — I’m hoping I get the chance to see more from Lancaster and more about Novak tout de suite!


4 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Robot, Take the Wheel by Jason Torchinsky

Today I’m pleased to welcome the Book Spotlight Tour for Robot, Take the Wheel by Jason Torchinsky. I jumped at the chance when asked if I’d participate in this because: 1. Content I didn’t have to work for at all; 2. It looks like a fun book that I’d like to help get eyeballs on; 3. How often to I get asked to do anything with a non-fiction book?; and 4. Check out the cover — that’s just awesome.

Read the post, enter the giveaway — or don’t wait for fortune to smile on you, go buy the thing!

Book Details:

Book Title: Robot, Take the Wheel: The Road to Autonomous Cars and the Lost Art of Driving by Jason Torchinsky
Publisher: Apollo Publishers
Category: Adult Non-Fiction
Release date: May 7, 2019
Format: Ebook/Hardcover
Length: 207 pages
Content Rating: PG (this book is accessible to everyone)

Book Blurb:

From the witty senior editor of Jalopnik, Gizmodo Media’s acclaimed website devoted to cars, technology, and more, comes a revealing, savvy, and humorous look at self-driving cars.

Self-driving cars sound fantastical and futuristic and yet they’ll soon be on every street in America. Whether it’s Tesla’s Autopilot, Google’s Waymo, Mercedes’s Distronic, or Uber’s 24,000 modified Volvos, companies across industries and throughout the world are developing autonomous cars. Even Apple, not to be outdone, is rumored to be creating its own technology too.

In Robot, Take the Wheel, Jason Torchinsky explores the state of the automotive industry. Through wit and wisdom, he explains why autonomous cars are being made and what the future of automated cars is. Torchinsky encourages us to consider autonomous cars as an entirely new machine, something beyond cars as we understand them today. He considers how we’ll get along with these robots that will take over our cars’ jobs, what they will look like, what sorts of jobs they may do, what we can expect of them, how they should act, ethically, how we can have fun with them, and how we can make sure there’s still a place for those of us who love to drive with manual or automatic transmission.

This unique and highly readable volume is brimming with industry insider information and destined to be a conversation starter. It’s a must-have for car lovers, technology geeks, and everyone who wants to know what’s on the road ahead.

Purchase Links for Robot, Take the Wheel:

Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Indiebound ~ Book Depository

About Jason Torchinsky:

Jason TorchinskyJASON TORCHINSKY is senior editor of Jalopnik, a website devoted to news and opinions about all things automotive. As a writer and artist, he is known for his articles, artworks, talks, and videos about cars, technology, and culture. He has raced cars, wrecked cars, and driven possibly one of the most dangerous cars ever made with the King of Cars on the Emmy-winning Jay Leno’s Garage. He lives in North Carolina.

Connect with the author: Twitter


Win a print copy of Robot, Take the Wheel (5 winners / open to USA only)
(ends May 31, 2019)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(if the Rafflecopter script isn’t working, just click here — it’s not as pretty, but it works)

Saturday Miscellany — 5/18/19

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Releases feature a bunch of books that have a lot of potential, but I’m not sure I’ll work too hard to get to (but I might, because I’m pretty curious about them), and one that I’m really looking forward to:

  • Bad Bastards by Paul Heatley — Guy falls in love with a Girl. Girl’s father is head of a motorcyle gang and doesn’t approve. Gang expresses this disapproval all over the guy. Guy decides to fight back. Problems surely ensue. Sounds like the closest thing Fahrenheit Press can get to a Love Story.
  • If She Wakes by Michael Koryta — the plot doesn’t sound like something I’d enjoy (but wouldn’t judge those who do), but Koryta is constitutionally incapable of writing a non-gripping book….
  • The Window and the Mirror Book One: Oesteria and the War of Goblinkind by Henry Thomas — sounds like a perfectly fine fantasy story, and he’s that Henry Thomas, so I’m curious about what he’s done.
  • Dragons Suck by Benjamin Gamble — snarky, slacker in Fantasy World gets sent on a quest to save his village from a dragon. Looks like a bunch of fun, really.
  • Last Tango in Cyberspace by Steven Kotler — A cyberpunk tale about drugs and other things.
  • The Obsoletes by Simeon Mills — undercover teen robots in high school
  • Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope by Mark Manson — the sequel to The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to flowersinthebrain, tracyvende and Britt Skrabanek for following the blog this week.

The Killing Joke by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips: The Legendary Graphic Novel Gets the Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Treatment

The Killing JokeThe Killing Joke

by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips
Series: BatmanHardcover, 293 pg.
Titan Books, 2018

Read: May 14, 2019

Leland liked to think that she had a finely tuned bullshit detector. It went with the job and–much to the dismay of the men she dated–tended to spill over into her private life, as well. Something about the Joker, however, messed with her ability on the deepest level. Like a magnet throwing off a compass needle.

She’d dealt with more than her share of compulsive liars, narcissists, and psychotics so alienated from reality that they were unable to distinguish truth from fiction. But the Joker was different.

Her testimony in court had led to the judgment that he was not guilty by reason of insanity, and he had been remanded to her care at Arkham. Yet, in her darkest, most sleepless hours she wondered if maybe he wasn’t insane after all. Not in the clinical sense, at last. Perhaps it was all just an elaborate act. A complex joke with an unfathomable punchline they might never see coming. If it ever came at all.

I don’t think I got my hands on the original The Killing Joke in 1988, I think my friend and I waited until ’89 for financial reasons (in your early teens and unemployable, funds were tight), but maybe we were some of the early readers. The when is murky, but our reactions were not. This was a fantastic story with unbelievable art — it blew our young minds. In the years since, I’ve read it countless times, and while I still enjoy the core of the book, there are bits that make me wonder why. Bolland’s art still blows me away.

The animated movie version wasn’t bad, as I recall. I’ve only watched it once and my memory’s not crisp about it. My point is, that I know this story pretty well. When I heard that Titan books was going to be doing a series of new novels about Batman and they’d start with an adaptation of this story, I was skeptical, but at the same time — an extended version of this story? This could be really good — but how were they going to get that much material?

It turns out that the key to that is the same strategy that allowed Peter Jackson to make a smallish children’s novel into a very long movie trilogy — just make up a bunch of stuff and shove it in here and there. Obviously, any novel treatment of the graphic novel (or movie) is going to do that to some extent — but I’d be willing to wager that up to 65% of this book is new, and not even hinted at in the original. Which bothers me on one level, but intrigues me on others — also, I liked the new stuff.

Batman and Batgirl are independently (usually) looking into the appearance and distribution of a new drug on Gotham’s scene — Giggle Sniff. It’s based on the Joker’s venom and is selling like crazy. There’s a lot of bouncing around as the Caped Crusaders tear through the underworld, looking for the sources of the drug — and interfering as much as possible with the sales and distribution. Commissioner Gordon and Detective Bullock are also nosing around, and turning up the heat on the dealers. There are some great action sequences, some interesting characters introduced.

While that’s going on, the Joker’s breaking out of Arkham and setting the stage for what he wants to do next. Then we get the adaptation of the Killing joke in the last quarter or so of the novel. Here, there’s minimal changes form the source material — some expanding of ideas, but nothing major or objectionable. If you know the graphic novel, then you know exactly what happens at this point, and if you don’t, I’m not going to spill the beans. I even liked their take on Batman’s reaction to the dumb joke told at the end — I think they made that problematic moment work.

The characters are well done, the action moves well — it’s just the execution of the idea overall that gives me any pause. There’s a little bit about the birth of the Internet as we now know it that’s really nicely pulled off.

The bits of this book that were an adaptation of the Moore/Bolland graphic novel were really well done — and the way these authors filled in some of the details and gave a very contemporary backstory to part of it worked in ways I didn’t expect. Also, the Giggle Sniff part of the book was pretty good. And if either one of them had been the core of a novel, I’d very likely be more positive about those books. But shoving the two of these together? It didn’t work that well. I liked the novel, but I can’t recommend it too highly because the two parts of the novel are just too distinct from one another to see why the authors made these choices.


3 Stars

GUEST POST: About THE RUSSIAN LIEUTENANT by Peter Marshall by Peter Marshall

The Russian Lieutenant
This is a story about Marina Peters, whose grandparents, Vlad and Marina Petrov, emigrated to England from Russia in the 1930s. She is a likeable and quietly ambitious single young woman working in the Communications Department of the Royal Navy’s Portsmouth Base.

Nikolai Aldanov is a handsome 35-year old widower and a Lieutenant in the Russian Navy who has been corresponding with Marina through an online dating site. The pair have been sharing details of their lives, common interests and histories. But when his ship visits Portsmouth and Marina arranges to meet her Russian Lieutenant in person, she has no inkling of the unexpected consequences of her date, as she is introduced into the ruthless world of international espionage

This is a first novel by a former journalist and broadcaster, Peter Marshall. Since his retirement in 2002, he has written or edited a dozen books on subjects including satellite communications, space flight, international travel plus two biographies. But he explains that after a career in the world of news and information he often thought about trying his hand at fiction!

Peter said: “It was the Salisbury novichok incident which focused my mind on a story bringing together Russian spies and my past experiences in both journalism and the Royal Navy – I also served as an RNVR officer in the 1960’s. Once I started writing, I found it was a really compulsive activity to create my own narrative. One chapter quickly led to another and before long I had 50,000-plus words – without knowing quite how it would end! Then after completing it with a dramatic finish, and finding a publisher, I have now embarked on writing a sequel involving some of the same characters.

“I suppose words have always been my fascination from my early days as a reporter with local and national newspapers, and then ten years with BBC News. I moved into international TV news with a subsidiary of the BBC and Reuters and became involved in developing the use of satellite communications for global news coverage and distribution. This took me to the United States, where I was involved in satellite broadcasting until my retirement when I moved back to the UK and my native West of England.”

Peter was elected as Chairman of the Royal Television Society in 1986; and during his years in America he became President of the Society of Satellite Professionals.

“The Russian Lieutenant” is available from as a paperback or e-book.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: The Russian Lieutenant by Peter Marshall

I didn’t have time to help out the publicist and read this book, so I volunteered to post this Spotlight and the Guest Post by Peter Marshall that’ll go live in a bit. I appreciate the offer to receive and read the book, and pass these along in case some of you want to give this a read.

Book Details:

Book Title: The Russian Lieutenant by Peter Marshall
Release date: April 11, 2019
Format: Ebook/Paperback
Length: 136 pages

Book Blurb:

Marina Peters, whose grandparents, Vlad and Marina Petrov, emigrated to England from Russia in the 1930s, is a likeable and quietly ambitious single young woman working in the Communications Department of the Royal Navy’s Portsmouth Base, a member of the Dockyard Commodore’s staff.

Nikolai Aldanov is a handsome 35-year old widower and a Lieutenant in the Russian Navy who has been corresponding with Marina through an online dating site for some time. The pair have been sharing details of their lives, common interests and histories and have struck up quite a friendship.

When Marina arranges to meet her Russian Lieutenant in person, she has no inkling of the unexpected consequences of her date, as she is introduced into the ruthless world of international espionage.

About Peter Marshall:

Peter MarshallPeter Marshall was a journalist in his early career, working for local and national newspapers and then the BBC before moving to Visnews, the international TV news agency (now ReutersTV) where he became General Manager. This drew him into the satellite broadcasting business, first in the UK and then in the USA for 12 years. In the UK, he served as Chairman of the Royal Television Society; and in the USA he was elected to the Satellite Hall of Fame for his pioneering work in the satellite business.

On his retirement, back in his native West of England, he began writing again and has worked as author or editor on a dozen books – on space flight, on travel and then two biographies. And now he has drawn on some of his past experiences to write a first novel – partly inspired, he says, by his promixity to the tragic Novichoc poisoning events in Salisbury. He has enjoyed writing “spy fiction” so much that he is already working on a sequel to this story about Marina and her “Russian Lieutenant.”

The novel is available at