John Messer

"Mr. Charles LeBlanc, and his companion, Ms. Mildred Spurlock, will be visiting friends and relatives in Cliffside during the coming weeks. During their visit, the couple will be staying with a family friend, Benjamin Henshaw." In award-winning author William Hoffman's new novel, this notice never actually appears in the social events column because the newspaper in tiny Cliffside, West Virginia, folded years ago when the coal ran out. Locals could tell you, however, that Charley LeBlanc is a convicted felon who received a bad conduct discharge after the Vietnam War. They could also point out that his girlfriend, Blackie Spurlock, just served seven years in prison for killing her husband.

Charley and Blackie were camping on Montana's high plains when homesickness drew them back to what remains of Cliffside. Charley, the black sheep of a prominent Tidewater family, wants to visit Jessie Arbuckle, an elderly spinster he once befriended. On his return, he learns that Jessie has been murdered and that Esmeralda, a mysterious older woman, is the leading suspect.

He is determined to find the true motive behind the killing and uncover what brought Esmeralda to the scene of the crime. Charley, who appeared in Hoffman's previous thriller Tidewater Blood, shows the same self-destructive tendency that has plagued him in the past; relationships with his brother and Blackie may be the price for nailing the killer.

Sheriff Basil Lester bars Charley from the crime scene and bears down on anyone who speaks with him. Still, Charley's search uncovers enough suspects to suggest a conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of Cliffside's society. With its stunning ending and sobering lessons for Charley, Wild Thorn is representative of the well-crafted suspense that has earned accolades and faithful readers for Hoffman during his long career.

John Messer writes from Ludington, Michigan.

 

"Mr. Charles LeBlanc, and his companion, Ms. Mildred Spurlock, will be visiting friends and relatives in Cliffside during the coming weeks. During their visit, the couple will be staying with a family friend, Benjamin Henshaw." In award-winning author William Hoffman's new novel, this notice never actually appears in the social events column because the newspaper […]

n his latest thriller, Deep Sleep, Charles Wilson returns to one of his favorite themes: murder and mayhem triggered by a foreign invasion of the mind. The author of several best-selling scientific thrillers, Wilson has a knack for crafting riveting plot lines around kernels of scientific fact. In Deep Sleep, he focuses on treatment for sleep disorders, and ventures into a mysterious world of mind games played with hypnosis, Cajun voodoo and hallucinatory drugs. Wilson has chosen the South Louisiana bayou country as the setting for this absorbing tale of local culture with a 21st century face.

The action begins when a local deputy sheriff discovers the body of a young girl raped and beaten on the grounds of the South Louisiana Sleep Disorder Institute. The macabre scene reads like something by Edgar Allan Poe an antebellum mansion shrouded in mist rising from surrounding crocodile-infested mangrove swamps and partially obscured by hanging moss. When the victim is identified as a patient, Senior Deputy Mark French locks down the institute and takes a closer look at its fantasy fulfillment program, one that recreates wealthy patients' dreams and fantasies with enough realism that they are recalled as true experiences by those undergoing the treatment.

French soon establishes that another patient is missing and may have stolen a car. Other suspects include a grotesquely deformed boy and his hardscrabble parents eking out a primitive living on the edge of the swamp, the institute's sinister director and several members of her staff with violent criminal records. While tracking the missing patient through the steamy swamp, the deputies come across two more sadistically murdered victims whose deaths suggest that a second psychopath may be on the loose. The pace accelerates as French closes in on at least one of the killers. The stormy night scene of the hunters racing through a lightning-laced swamp with flashlights reinforced by a helicopter's searchlight equals Hollywood's best. Wilson is even able to weave a thin but appealing romantic thread into the violent tapestry that makes Deep Sleep a memorable reading experience.

John Messer writes from Ludington, Michigan.

n his latest thriller, Deep Sleep, Charles Wilson returns to one of his favorite themes: murder and mayhem triggered by a foreign invasion of the mind. The author of several best-selling scientific thrillers, Wilson has a knack for crafting riveting plot lines around kernels of scientific fact. In Deep Sleep, he focuses on treatment for […]

Australian writer Michel Faber, now well ensconced in Scotland, has written a wildly imaginative, scorching, bizarre, and insidious first novel that is generating critical praise and word-of-mouth buzz. In Under the Skin, Faber reverses many roles: animals are humans; humans become animals; and hitchhikers are victims rather than dangerous passengers.

Isserley, the book's heroine, has had her animal figure surgically altered to attract suitable human male hitchhikers men with no families who won't be missed and, most importantly, men with just the right balance of body fat and muscle. Her passengers see only enough to be sexually drawn in, as moths to a light. These hitchhikers run the gamut of the male sex; she befriends a graduate student, a piece of trailer trash, an itinerant philosopher, and a quayside mug, among others. Each fails to see in Isserley's thick-lensed glasses and odd posture anything more than a tragic genetic failure. This oversight usually proves to be a fatal error.

Faber's attack on contemporary morality and hypocrisy is unsparing and leaves few human virtues unscathed. Although the message of Under the Skin is ultimately compassionate and humane, the book is not for the faint-hearted or squeamish. Its only shortcoming is the lack of a cover endorsement by Hannibal Lecter, who would surely find Under the Skin great reading.

Australian writer Michel Faber, now well ensconced in Scotland, has written a wildly imaginative, scorching, bizarre, and insidious first novel that is generating critical praise and word-of-mouth buzz. In Under the Skin, Faber reverses many roles: animals are humans; humans become animals; and hitchhikers are victims rather than dangerous passengers. Isserley, the book's heroine, has […]

A single mother trying to raise a teenage son; a past affair she cannot forget; a resolute belief in justice despite the death of her husband and the threats issued by his killer. These are the elements that have defined Lake Tahoe lawyer Nina Reilly's life in the earlier bestselling legal thrillers written by sisters Pamela and Mary O'Shaughnessy under their common pen name, Perri O'Shaughnessy. These terms also dominate their latest work, Move to Strike, in which Reilly struggles to prove the innocence of a 16-year-old girl accused of murdering her wealthy uncle, a prominent Lake Tahoe plastic surgeon.

Reilly is drawn into the case at the urging of her son, only to learn that the case is considered a slam dunk by a district attorney who easily establishes her client's means, motive, and opportunity. Nina finds herself trying to picture the crime based on the widely divergent accounts offered by an array of suspects. Her adolescent client does not help with a series of misguided attempts to mislead the police and withhold vital information.

Nina turns to a former lover and private detective, Paul Van Wagoner, to help piece together the conflicting details surrounding the sensational case. Like Nina, Paul brings his own problems: his agency is about to fold; he never fully recovered from his earlier affair with Nina, and he carries a deadly secret that could end their relationship forever. There is no shortage of suspects: the mother of a teenage patient who died on the surgeon's operating table and has sworn vengeance; a local burglar observed at the scene; a bearded foreigner seen arguing with the victim shortly before the murder; Nina's client, a juvenile delinquent who was seen at the crime scene and acknowledges an intent to rob the victim; and, finally, the client's mother, a ditsy, aspiring actress whose car was spotted at the scene of the crime.

O'Shaughnessy's solution to this vexing puzzle comes as a sudden and violent surprise proving that the Irish sisters have not lost their touch for providing suspenseful, entertaining reading.

John Messer writes from Ludington, Michigan.

A single mother trying to raise a teenage son; a past affair she cannot forget; a resolute belief in justice despite the death of her husband and the threats issued by his killer. These are the elements that have defined Lake Tahoe lawyer Nina Reilly's life in the earlier bestselling legal thrillers written by sisters […]

One hallmark of a good writer is the ability to follow a very successful first work with one that surpasses it. April Smith has done just that with her latest suspense thriller, Be The One. This new book reflects the same originality and thorough research as her North of Montana, which was widely praised by critics and readers. This time, Smith reveals her life-long fascination with baseball when she takes the reader behind the front office of the Los Angeles Dodgers to meet the club's fiercely competitive scouts, who are charged with finding and signing the league's future all-stars.

Cassidy Sanderson is the daughter of legendary pitcher Smokey Sanderson and the only female scout in major league baseball. Like her male counterparts, Cassidy is a hard-living, hard-drinking, passionate follower of the game; her life revolves around the young men who struggle to make it to the minors in the hope of a shot at the big time. She is constantly on the lookout for that rarest of diamonds, The One, a player who will carry the day and lead his team to victory.

A well tended network of friends and coaches alerts Cassidy to promising prospects. Although nominally assigned an area in the United States, she is drawn to a call from Pedro Padrillo, her father's teammate and a close family friend, who reports observing Alberto Cruz, a young player in the Dominican Republic. While in Santo Domingo observing Cruz's play, Cassidy begins a torrid affair with Joe Galinis, a flamboyant Greek developer from Los Angeles, who owns one of the city's plushest casinos.

Cassidy confirms Pedro's instinct that Cruz has the talent to reach the majors and convinces her bosses to fly him to L.

A. for a closer look. Soon after he arrives at the Dodgers's training camp, Alberto begins receiving blackmail letters, voodoo warnings, and a gruesome video all threatening to reveal the details of a fatal hit and run accident in Santo Domingo that might have involved him, Cassidy, and Joe Galinis. The blackmail threats evolve into violence when Cassidy advises Alberto not to pay; she is attacked in a nightclub parking lot and survives only because of the timely arrival of other customers.

Cassidy turns to Joe Galinis in an effort to sort out the pressures that seem to be crashing in on her usually hectic life pressures that jeopardize Alberto's chances. The police suspect an underlying drug connection behind the violent intimidation.

Cassidy herself becomes a suspect and feels her declining influence with the club as she pushes to elevate Alberto in the upcoming player draft.

Only a true insider could include the details that flesh out Smith's absorbing yarn as she brings all these strands to a stunning ending certain not only to make readers ask for more, but also help them appreciate the rocky climb from barrio sandlots to the majors.

John Messer is a writer in Michigan.

One hallmark of a good writer is the ability to follow a very successful first work with one that surpasses it. April Smith has done just that with her latest suspense thriller, Be The One. This new book reflects the same originality and thorough research as her North of Montana, which was widely praised by […]

In Victory 1918, Alan Palmer, the noted historian and author of definitive biographies of Bismarck and the Habsburgs, looks beyond individual battles and campaigns and offers a new and broader view of the First World War. Palmer does not dwell on either the strategies that led to the stalemate on the Western Front or the details surrounding Russia's withdrawal; nor does he reiterate the facts surrounding America's entry into the War. Rather, he creates a mosaic that reflects the intersection of personal agendas. France's Clemenceau and Britain's Lloyd George emerge as pragmatic leaders determined to preserve and widen their nations' post-war sphere of influence. Each entrusted conduct of war on the Western Front to his country's most senior and respected military figures. Palmer notes that only the Americans entered the war without colonial ambitions and that European commander General Pershing spent much of his time insuring that his troops did not become additional cannon fodder for the Allies. Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and Hindenburg each found aggressive military leaders who shared their visions. For Clemenceau that general was Franchet d'Esperey and for Lloyd George, generals Allenby and Milne. The Kaiser turned to General Erich von Falkenhayn. Although these generals first saw combat in Europe, they were ultimately entrusted with preserving his country's interests along its farther reaches. Their war was fought in Egypt and distant places once called the Levant, Mesopotamia, and Salonika. While many of these campaigns have been the subject of books, studies, and even movies, Palmer brings them together as elements of a coherent Allied strategy.

Victory 1918 recounts a war that resulted from misunderstandings and that was needlessly prolonged by the Allies' misreading of Austria's appeal for peace. It was also the war that reversed the tide of colonialism and sparked the rise of self-determination as the ultimate expression of nationalism. Alan Palmer offers a thought-provoking analysis of a defining event of the century just past.

John Messer once served at the Pentagon.

In Victory 1918, Alan Palmer, the noted historian and author of definitive biographies of Bismarck and the Habsburgs, looks beyond individual battles and campaigns and offers a new and broader view of the First World War. Palmer does not dwell on either the strategies that led to the stalemate on the Western Front or the […]

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