Monday, July 31, 2017

BACKSTRAP by Johnnie Dun

     Callie Byrne is an Iraq war vet, former MP, recovering drug addict and suicide attempt survivor working to get her life together enough to regain custody of her young son, Dillion. When her friend and fellow MP veteran, Rachel Martelli, sends her some digital files and a request for help from Guatemala, Callie balks, but knows she must go. She quickly finds herself in the middle of a drug cartel and human trafficking ring that seems to be imploding as key players turn against each other. 
   Backstrap is the first novel by Johnnie Dun. The first half
had a few slow spots, and what I thought was an abstract tone throughout, giving a sense of feel for the plot. The characters were compelling, particularly Callie Byrne and the complicated, compromised, unpredictable, and even by the end of the book hardly understood John Slinger. The plot was solid, unpredictable, and finished with the emergency abated but certainly no resolution for Callie and her unlikely allies, leaving wide open a follow-up featuring Callie Byrne.  

Dun, Johnnie. Backstrap, Pearly Baker Crimes, November 8, 2016

  • ISBN-13: 978-0997968309

A copy of Backstrap was provided by the publisher via NetGalley. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


   When two-year-old Chrissy disappears from her bed overnight, the Kenilworth Police Department mobilized all its resources to catch her kidnapper, including a newly implemented Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. And the police have a lot to consider, especially after Chrissy's own mother featured her in an art exhibited that was criticized as bordering on pornographic days before her disappearance.  The Department and the Task Force, particularly Officer Manny Ochoa, have a lot to consider in the case. In addition to the art show, there is a nanny who flees the country, a commune home where dozens of unknowns have access to the child, a father angry and jealous not to have the child as his own. 
     "I am the owner of my actions, heir of my actions. Whatever actions I do, good or evil, of these I shall become heir"--Buddha's Fifth Reflection
     The Fifth Reflection is the third novel by Ellen Kirschman featuring police psychologist Dot Meyerhoff, a middle-aged divorcee who works hard to deal with the emotions of her own failed marriage and the baggage it has brought to her new relationship while she tries to help the men and women of the Kenilworth Police Department, a group who, by their nature, are averse to taking help for anything, let alone from a shrink. 
     But Dr. Meyerhoff isn't your ordinary shrink. She has a knack for getting herself into situations that could get her into trouble, both with her job and real danger. While the police chief calls it meddling or butting into official police business, she prefers to think of it as doing The Right Wrong Thing. However, Dr. Meyerhoff finds herself caught in the middle of a police investigation, her motives are always to help; a grieving family, a cop in trouble, or a crime that needs solving. 

     Dr. Kirschman writes what she knows. She has a successful career as a police psychologist and wrote the book I Love a Cop to help families get through the unique challenges that accompany loving and living with a police officer, and Counseling Cops, to offer advice to therapists with police clients. (She also wrote I Love a Firefighter, which I just don't understand...) Her experience in psychology and police work is evident in her Dot Meyerhoff series. As Dr. Meyerhoff feels some stress in her relationship with her fiancĂ© Frank, she thinks, 
"He doesn't have trouble sharing his opinion about what he calls the important things of life, religion and politics, but the closer we get, the harder it is to talk about our differences because we have so much more to lose." 
 And as she is talking with one of the police officers she serves, she proves she knows the business, writing something similar to what I've found myself saying and thinking over my career,
"This is the typical progression. In the beginning of their careers cops are so overwhelmed with novelty and new found power they would work for free. Give them a few years and boredom sets in. They start looking around for ways to re-stimulate the feeling of excitement and passion."
     I had the pleasure of meeting and spending some time with Dr. Kirschman at Bouchercon last year when she was on a panel I moderated. She is an expert in her field and it is quickly apparent to anyone who meets her how dedicated she is to her career, the law enforcement community, and the myriad issues facing them now. The Dot Meyerhoff books are fun and entertaining crime fiction novels, each one better than the last. Perhaps they can also bring attention to some of those important issues in a way or to an audience that nonfiction can't. 

"Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth." 
Albert Camus

Kirschman, Ellen. The Fifth Reflection, Oceanview Publishing, July 11, 2017. ISBN-978-1-60809-250-5

A copy of The Fifth Reflection was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the author. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

DARK MATTER by Blake Crouch

     Jason Dressen is a physics professor at second rate Lakemont College in Chicago. A family man, content with the choices he’s made and his station in life. But, maybe there is some regret, a few “what ifs” that haunt him from time to time. But when Jason is kidnapped at gun-point and taken to an abandoned power plant, he knows exactly what is important to him, exactly how much his family and comfortable life mean to him. As he begins to lose consciousness from the drugs administered by his kidnapper, believing death is imminent, the kidnapper asks, “Do you regret your decision to stay with Daniela and make a life with her?” Jason answers, “No…never.” He wakes up in a world that isn’t his. He’s Jason Dressen, a renowned, award winning physicist, successful beyond his wildest imagination. But he has never married, no son. And he doesn’t remember any of it. The novel is then about Jason’s quest to get back to his wife and child, no matter the cost, while navigating scientific breakthroughs that he discovered, yet doesn’t understand.
     DarkMatter is Black Crouch’s eighteenth novel, but the first I’ve read. It is a science fiction mystery, not something I usually read, but after hearing so much about it from so many different people, I had to give it a try. The science was a little over my head, but no so much that I didn’t understand the implications it had on the rest of the story.
     Mr. Crouch does excellent work in the development of Jason Dressen, something that seems hard to do in a fast paced thriller. A man who starts as a content, humble, and somewhat timid man has to become more than that to accomplish his goal. He not only needs to find his strength, but also a viciousness that most of us hope we never need; and to learn that sometimes love means letting go. The challenges he faces in the alternate realities force him to do that, but if he’s able to find his own world, his Daniela, will he be the same Jason he was when he was taken?
     Science Fiction readers will love Dark Matter, I’m sure. But if you’re a mystery/thriller lover, step just outside your comfort level and give it a try. I expect you’ll be thrilled you did!

Crouch, Blake. Dark Matter, Crown, July 26, 2016. 
  • ISBN-13: 978-1101904220

A copy of Dark Matter was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher via  No compensation was provided for this review.