Sweltering Summer Nights

Tom Stone SSN Front Cover

By Lon Caslet Bixby & Don Simkovich



Anthony Angelino just wants to lead a decent life after narrowly escaping a trial for murder and drug distribution. However, old enemies come back to haunt him – an organized crime boss and the investigator who arrested him.

Decent plot with the expected issue for the characters to overcome.


Tom Stone: police detective, divorced with two daughters, drives a Jeep, owns a dog

Anthony Angelino: marijuana store owner, dark hair, drives a BMW

Alisha Davidson: attorney, caramel colored skin

Howard Wu: organized crime boss, married

I thought the characters were pretty distinct with enough background information. There were some side characters who helped: Sara, Anthony’s girlfriend, a young kid going through some problems being helped by Stone.


Pretty good. Some individuals I could hear well. Wu and some of the minor characters had either good voices or accents that helped. Conversations stayed on track with the right amount of information given.



May I make a comment on the title? I think titles are important because they helped attract the interest of the reader. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, The Case of the Velvet Claws. These titles interest a mystery or adventure reader.

So, when I see Sweltering Summer Nights I think of a gritty, dirty, raw, hot, sultry, sweaty, down the dark alley type of story. Maybe a bit of noir involved.

This story, however, had Frisbee on the beach with the dog and family in the park scenes. Yes, the hot weather was mentioned a few times, but most of the action took place…in the daytime.

In short, the story did not live up to the title. This may not be a major issue for some, but for me, the title aided in my decision to read the book.

It wasn’t a long novel so Anthony’s character was the only one to really develop. Yes, Stone began a possible romantic relationship, but the struggle of Anthony was the main thrust of the story. Because of that, I expected something grand at the end, but the chase scene and the it was almost anticlimactic.

Plus, there was no aftermath report. I could figure out Anthony and what probably happened to him, but did the crime boss or the councilman suffer? What happened to Sara?

A good read but lacking oomph.

My Rank:

Green Belt


Killer On The Train


By Bruce Alan Jensen




It’s murder on a wine train tour in California. Hank Carson, retired police investigator, becomes involved in who killed the restaurant critic nobody liked. Add to that, a burgeoning romance between Hank and the lead investigator.

Good plot, however, the mystery almost took a caboose to the romance angle and the fact Hank, main character, didn’t have a lot to do with solving the mystery.


Henry ‘Hank’ Carson: former police investigator, 6’, smokes cigars, owns a black Lab, drives a motor home, freelance writer, divorced with daughter

Alicia Tomlinson: Agent for the State Bureau of Investigations, hazel eyes, 5’6” 30s, freckles

Charles Beaumont: wine train promoter, 5’11”, tinning white hair, husky, beard

Kevin Stafford: train chief of security, 50s, 6’, overweight

And there were a lot of other characters. This is a minor problem and I’ll put this here but it also goes in the writing category. For the first fifty pages there were a lot of characters introduced. Many of these were riders on the train and most of them were eliminated. This, to me, didn’t work because there were a lot of names thrown out and characters that were ‘thrown out’ because they were dismissed as suspects. By the time the list was narrowed, I had lost track (no pun intended), of the reasons for their being suspects.

Otherwise, I liked Hank and Alicia although Hank spends way too much time in this short story fantasizing about Alicia when, I thought, he should have been solving the case.


Okay. Conversations stayed on track (again not a pun here). Whether they dealt with the case or background info or emotions shared, conversations stayed succinct. However, there were capitalization errors on tag lines – “I went to the store,” She said. (Not an actual line, but an example of the error.


Profanity but just a little.

This was a shorter book so I expected the book to revolve around the case. You stick with the case, giving red herrings and clues and talking to suspects. Now, I’m not here to tell the author how to write a story. I will give my opinion on whether the way he/she writes it works for me. This book didn’t work.

– Hank, though the main character, wasn’t really directly involved in solving the case

– Hank spent way too much time on the road traveling-away from the case-playing with the dog and dreaming about Alicia

– There was a side incident of some gun play on one of Hank’s road trips that had nothing to do with the main plot and I didn’t see the point of it.

– There was a lot of filler stuff that had nothing to do with the mystery.

Now, as to this last point, I realize that part of the book was a developing relationship between Hank and Alicia, but again, this is a shorter book, and things need to keep moving. As mentioned, I felt the murder took second billing to everything else.

This wasn’t an action-packed story, though there were spurts of action here and there. The revelation of the solution was not a “A’ha!” moment and the ending wind down was, again, unimportant, especially the part with his daughter, because she was mentioned briefly and never shown until the end.

I thought about green for while but decided to drop it to:

Camouflage Belt



Incognito 453x680

By Khaled Talib



The Pope has been kidnapped. Ayden Tanner, part of a secret organization, leads a team around Europe and the Middle East to find him. He is up against a powerful organization…The Sword.

Okay, so this plays out like a shaky parallel to a James Bond type adventure. There are elements of JB floating around, but there are also problems


Gregoire: Pope, thin hair, button nose, French, attended Soronne U., Masters in Art and Museum Studies, paints, fluent in 4 languages

Ayden Tanner: 35, member of the League of Invisible Knights, for British SAS

Willem Van Der Haas: 46, Dutch senator, 5’6”, gold flecked blue eyes, golden hair, smokes cigars

Isabelle Gaugler: Belgium, League member, 5’7”, green eyes, brown hair, former army

Guy Cisse: beefy, 6’, thin lips, League member

For the most part, the characters were…okay. I thought the bad guys of the Sword, though vicious, broke down under minimal threat without a lot of pressure put upon them to talk. Ayden and Guy tried to keep the humorous banter up, but sometimes it didn’t fit.

There were other characters throughout and they were…okay. I just didn’t get into them as much as I thought I would. There’s Ayden’s Vatican contact who is a magnet for danger every time Ayden shows up to talk. There’s Haas, which, though he seems like a cool villain, didn’t get as much play as I thought he might.


Yeah, there’s some stereotypical movie dialogue and some stuff the League members said that didn’t work all the time.

The conversation between Ayden (League member) and Cavallo (other secret organization) when they first meet went on for pages and went something like this:

Cavallo: Who are you guys?

Ayden: We’re here to help.

Cavallo: Yes, but who are you?

Ayden: We’re people who want to find the Pope.

Cavallo: Yes, but who are you?

Ayden: People who want to help.

And so on and so on. Then these two work together without finding out too much about each other.


Titled Parts

There were tense problems and POV issues

Otherwise, this was a shorter book, which meant the author had to get on with the action-and there’s a lot of it-without developing a lot of character. There’s an effort, but with so many characters involved, there wasn’t time to deal with the cool stuff of the good guys and the cool stuff of the bad guys because they’re too busy running around Europe shooting at each other. Not saying a lot of shoot ‘em up is bad, but I think the author hurried a bit with the deaths.

So, as to rank. I considered Camo because of the dialogue, but then the enjoyability factor played a part and I found that it wasn’t quite there. I’m not saying this is a bad book, just things here are there bothered me or seemed off or not ‘real’ or together.

My rank:

Yellow Belt


Death & Taxes

Death & Taxes cover

By Richard V. Rupp

Rupp,Richard-162769D (1)



When a Fresno IRS agent is murdered in his office, FBI agent Dick Hartmann and his team, including a new graduate, are called in to investigate. The trail soon leads them to a gang in Fresno and a plot for massive identity theft. From California to Mexico, Hartmann is on the job ready to take down the bad guys.

I thought the plot pretty interesting. I’m not sure the unfolding of it worked, at least not all the time. As I went through the story I discovered some problems.


Dick Hartmann: FBI agent, has a sister, played football at UCLA, former Army, crew cut blond, blue eyes

Coleen Ann Ryan: new agent, attended Villanova, has siblings, former lawyer, dark hair tinged with red

Daniel Lee: FBI agent, attended USC

Brian Brooks: FBI agent, attended BYU

Harriet Foster: black, FBI agent, former Army intelligence

Robin: Carlen-Murray: FBI agent

And there are a bunch of bad guys and more authority figures. For me, the problems started here. I like the characters, but didn’t see much of the FBI guys in action. A lot of it settled around Dick (which was fine) and Coleen. I had hoped to see a bit more of what the others contributed. There was a large chunk of the book that dealt solely with the bad guys and I kept waiting for the story to go back to the investigation by the FBI. But every time it did, here are more good guy authority figures being introduced.


I thought the voices were pretty good, including the bad guys.

However, the internal dialogue ran long for many characters. People don’t think in such long passages.

Tag lines had capitalization errors.

Some of the dialogue was ‘B’ Movie or became more ‘loose’ as the story progressed. When one of the bad guys starts his short soliloquy philosophizing on the nature of the gangs, I didn’t feel that worked and added nothing to the story.


Profanity. Chapters headed by location. Various lengths of chapters. Some violence and sexually related scenes.

As mentioned I thought it started out pretty well.

My issues concerned:

  • The time the agents spend relaxing and away from the investigation, especially when down in Mexico. One or two times worked but every time they do something intensive or travel someplace, Dick tends to say, “Okay, everybody take a break.” Which is fine, but when down in Mexico, most of the team didn’t do anything except relax. So why are they down there? Their expertise didn’t come into play.
  • Speaking of the Mexico portion of the book, as mentioned, there is a large chunk that focuses on the bad guys escaping to Mexico and hooking up with a drug king. This entire segment was okay but it could have been shorter. I wanted to get back to the FBI and the investigation. Instead, many, many days pass until the story reverts to the agents. When it did, there was no explanation on the time element. Does the story go back to when the bad guys entered Mexico or does it pick up from the previous chapter after many days have passed? As I read, I figured out it seemed to go back, but that should have been clarified. And again, they don’t seem to get too excited about ‘rescuing’ the girl that joined the bad guys and alleviating the father’s fears. When the climactic battle happens, there isn’t any aftermath scene with the father.

So, as to rank. I thought about this for awhile and considered purple, but as the dialogue faltered and the plot/scenes went a bit wonky and I realized that a lot of the good guys weren’t used much, I had to down grade.

My Rank:

Green Belt




By Russ Colchamiro




Marcus Powell. Astronaut. Testing the newest in warp spacecraft. Out beyond where his mission stated. Encounters another similar spacecraft. Follows into another dimension and end on an alternate Earth in the middle of skirmishes between two cultures. Wants and plans to go home. Meanwhile back on Powell’s Earth, another man has planned and schemed for decades…to go home.

So, a sci-fi with dimensional stories. There’s a bit of action, a bit of Indian lore, a bit of philosophy. A plot that turned out a bit different than what I thought.


Marcus Powell: astronaut, married with daughter, dad dead.

Harlan ‘Buddy’ Rheams, Jr.: CEO of Taurus Enterprises, former oilman, white receding hair, liver spots.

Dale Aranuke: technician

Keela Amos: long red hair, blue eyes, fit, married

Malcolm Quincy Reno: Nickname is Chill, middle age, pot smoker

Some interesting characters some of which there is decent back story and information. More could have been done in this area but there was a lot of backstory on Harlan that took up a lot of the book.


Good voices. Chill’s came through as well as Keela’s and a couple others. I felt during the backstory part there was a lot of dialogue.


Titled Parts. Profanity.

Okay, so let me discuss the backstory. It starts with Marcus on his flight and entering the alternate dimension, meeting the inhabitants of the other earth. Then it jumps back to tell the story of Harlan. The problem I had with this was I thought it too long. You know the story already, really. Plus, there’s not much action that happens and by the end of this section I was ready to return to Powell’s earth to get some more of that world. This chunk of story could have been shorter to show more action with Marcus. There are the expected battles with the enemy on the other Earth, but his time in the other dimension could have been developed a bit more.

There was a bit of mental telepathy shared by various characters. There was some Indian aspects which I didn’t quite understand and didn’t seem to fit with Marcus and the other Earth. I thought it might connect up, but instead it was a lengthy bit in regards to his wife.

So, a pretty good sci-fi with some interesting characters and the expected deaths. One minor problem I, encountered was a time problem. Keela, on alternate Earth, mentions her husband has been gone two years. Then we have a section where you see her husband land on ‘real’ Earth in 1953. He, like Marcus, flew through a wormhole but he flew from alternate Earth to get to ‘real’ Earth.) Since the beginning of the story is present day, let’s round off the time to sixty years since her husband has been on ‘real’ Earth. Do the math. 2 years alternate = 60 years real. 1 year would = 30 years. Keep halving that and you have the time Marcus spends on alternate Earth being roughly a week or close to it. That would equal almost 1 year real Earth time. However, the present day story on real Earth doesn’t last a year before Marcus returns. It’s minor, but sci-fi fans will take note of the discrepancy.

Anyway, I’ll give this a:

Green Belt


One Decent Thing

Front cover jpg

By Michael Wills

MW Portrait 2015 500 pix



1975. Richard Scott would like to reacquaint himself with his daughter. He hasn’t been a role model father. When Scott comes across a beached raft with two IRA men, he discovers some secret plans. Now, Scott is on the run from the IRA, but when they involve his daughter, his goal is to rescue her.

I have no issues with the plot. I think it’s a good premise and brings back some of the 70s thrillers.


Richard ‘Scottie’ Scott: university marketing agent, smokes, divorced, brother dead

Tina: Scottie’s daughter, long black hair, university student

Ellen: drives a blue Morris Minor

Jean: Scott’s ex wife

There are bad guys and there are college students, the latter of which help Scott through his problems. However, I have a problem with some of the characters. While I like some of the college students, I didn’t think they were distinctive enough. I wanted a bit more personality from each.

I wanted more from Tina. She was kidnapped and I wanted more than one scene with her where POV switched around. Should have been more from her, especially at the end. Especially since she’s on the cover.

The bad guys weren’t bad enough. Here are a group of IRA rebels planning on blowing up several targets, killing and injuring scores of people and yet at least one of them is worried that they shouldn’t hurt their kidnapped victim because she’s supposedly innocent?


Here’s another issue. The bad guys didn’t sound like bad guys. They sounded like executives discussing deals and deciding every now and then to be tough. The college students had some individual voices, but not enough. Jean was irritating because all she did was harangue Scott. If she was so desperate, and didn’t think her ex was going to be reliable, why didn’t she call the police or someone else for help?

Too many people spoke without using contractions and it didn’t seem natural.

Continuity problem with dialogue. In one scene the bad guys are talking and one says she doing okay and eating. A few paragraphs later, another bad guy asks if she’s eating.


No profanity. Some chapters and scene changes are heading by date.

While the author did a good job of getting around not having cell phones and computers, I thought the scenes with breaking the code were too complex. I enjoyed how they figured out the code, but it didn’t seem tense enough. A lot of the action didn’t seem too intense.

Clean writing with no errors that I caught.

I just had problems with character and dialogue and, though I won’t play spoiler, I thought the ending was a bit abrupt. It might have been drawn out a bit. The way it was written didn’t work for me. I’m not saying the ending wasn’t an interesting way to end the book, but another way of writing might have made more impact.

I considered ranking this a camouflage, but because of the issues with dialogue and characters I must drop it down one.

My Rank:

Yellow Belt


The Twitter Troll

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By Timothy A. Price



When Kyle King gets fed up with the behind-the-times police department, he quits and starts a private investigations firm with a geeky computer nerd partner. Their first case deals with a troll who is writing vicious statements against an aging actress.

That’s about it and though a good plot, doesn’t fully develop or have much to it because the story is pretty short. (Only 27 pages on my epub version).


Kyle King: cop (at the beginning before he quits), drives a Chevy, slightly built frame, 30s

Ally: 20s, wears glasses

Jane Lake: 70s, actress, fit

Cherida Lake: Jane’s daughter, 30s, has a daughter

Anthony Lyons: Jane’s manager, 50s, greying hair

Some typical characters. I did enjoy the camaraderie between Kyle and Allie. Kyle is more into the technology side and Ally is more into the self-promoting social media side. It was interesting that as a computer nerd, she didn’t know about Bitcoins.


Pretty standard and each voice fit the character. There were some B-movie bits here and there but for the most part, okay.


As mentioned, a short story. Little action and not enough computer investigation, not enough drawing out of details, not enough suspects, not enough meat. I won’t play spoiler, but I guessed the culprit from the moment the character entered the story. I think this story could have been drawn out, developed and the result would have been a cooler more enjoyable story. Maybe the next story in the series…

My Rank:

Camouflage Belt


The Carnival Keepers

carnival keeper_FINAL

By Amber Gulley

profile pic



1879. London. James Hurlsworthy has accepted a series of bets from a friend to be completed in a day. However, he barely begins his adventure when he is thrown into some weird situations. There’s a carnival in town and magical creatures are roaming the streets with agendas of their own.

Okay, I thought the premise of James and his bets were interesting. When there’s a murder at the beginning of the book, I thought it was going to start getting really good. Then the story took a turn for left field and ended up going in half a dozen or more directions. The plot fell apart and turned into a book of multiple stories, James and his bets becoming a side story that lost ground.


James Hurlsworthy: has a title of Lord, has an older brother

Eddy Miller: pimp, owns a coffee house, large frame, has siblings

Mr Scraps: owns a curio shop

And more and more and more characters who kept popping up into the story. And very few without magical powers. There is a cat and a rat and spiders and a horse and an elephant and mermaid type creatures coming out of a lake and a girl with butterfly wings and a monster in a basement and too many characters to track and every one is involved with a story of their own and some may cross each other’s paths but there are stories that didn’t seem to develop or lost focus and…whew!

I thought naming a character Arry (get it? Harry without the H, as in one of the British accents dropping the H’s in words?) was a little much.


Mr. Scraps and Eddy had the best voices. There were a lot of internal dialogues and because of the multitude of characters, those threw me out of whatever story might have been happening. Arry and his buds had good accents.


The book is separated into titled Parts. Some profanity. The scenes with James are 1st person from his POV. The rest of the book is 3rd person from various POVs.

So, where to begin. Let’s start with the carnival having a Ferris Wheel. I did my homework and discovered that the first amusement ride with the term Ferris Wheel was designed by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. and was the largest attraction at the Chicago Exposition…in 1893. Yes there were similar type rides throughout the centuries, but the Ferris wheel was until 14 years after this story took place.

Let me discuss the carnival. I thought it an interesting place where the carnies steal souls…and lives of many of the humans who attend. That was a cool aspect. But it wasn’t developed enough to keep my interest. Ditto the monster in the basement. What a creepy, scary THING, but again, it never developed and that early story died early. Then there were a story about one of the magical creatures wanting a necklace back and spent much of the book trying to find it. Another had a girl who wanted to run away and join the carnival. Anther story had the demise of Eddy. Another story had these spiders that bothered a lot of characters. Another included the mermaid type creatures coming out of a lake, but that didn’t seem to go anywhere and never concluded. The book starts with James in a cemetery with someone else and wondering if he was going to get away from the spiders but I didn’t make the connection at the end of the book. His story about the bets fell apart in short order and never really got back on track.

There was too much going on here without a succinct development in any if the subplots. I kept hoping it would evolve and nicely tie up, but I was disappointed.

The rank I give this is because of the above comments and not because there were any grammar/punctuation/spelling errors.

Yellow Belt


Eye For An Eye


by Ben Coes




Covert operative Dewy Andreas helps discover a Chinese mole in Mossad, and thus begins a chess match of deadly proportions. When the Chinese Minister for State Security, Fao Bhang, discovers the identity of Andreas, he sends assassins to Argentina where Andreas is with his fiance, America’s National Security Adviser. When the kill mission goes wrong, Andreas reverts back to his military training in order to seek revenge. It’s a game of one-upmanship between Dewey and Bhang. But there are other players in the game, both American and British who also would like to see Bhang eliminated. And unbeknownst to Andreas, he is included in their schemes.

An oft seen plot with your typical explosions and gunfire. Nothing too new here.


Dewey Andreas: 39, covert operative, usually on assassination missions handsome, unruly brown hair, bright, cold, blue eyes, large aquiline nose, grew up in Maine, played football for Boston College. Went to Ranger school. Was in Delta Force. Had a son who died at age six from leukemia. Drives a Ford F-150, played hockey in high school, has a scar on his left shoulder to his bicep, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Fao Bhang: minister of China’s state security, has a half brother, was an assassin, smokes

Jessica Tanzer: 37, National Security Advisor, Andreas’ fiancee, auburn hair

Raul: 31, assassin, has a penthouse in Peru, drives a red Kawasaki Ninja 10r, long hair, muscular

Adrian King: 35, the President’s Chief of Staff, 5’8”, thick brown hair, bushy eyebrows

Lots of characters who come and go, play minor but important roles. Thrillers like this are noted for lots of politicos and agents and contacts. It’s pointless to list a lot of the characters, since most of them end up dead after a few chapters. Coes includes the standard array of good guys, bad buys, and those behind the scenes.


Not too bad for capturing the voices of the characters. As I mentioned, there are a lot of characters, but each seem to have a good distinctive voice. For me, I have to assign a voice (deep, calm, cynical, etc.) for each character, even if a few sound similar. Especially with a book such as this one with a plethora of voices. Conversations don’t wander too much from the point of the scene which is good because the book is long enough without extraneous material.


Lots of relatively short chapters. Chapters headed by location. Profanity, but that’s expected in a thriller such as this one. Lots of build up chapters, drawn out details. Short scenes here and there to link to other scenes later. There is a ‘busy’ feel to it. The actions scenes move but there are many instances of repeated words within a paragraph which tends to give the action a stilted feeling. I felt the story could have been written a little tighter without a lot of the extra stuff. Still, a decent thriller.

My Rank:

Purple Belt




By Richard Stark




Parker, professional thief has just ripped off an armored car. During the getaway, his vehicle crashes. With the cops bearing down, he flees into an amusement park, closed during the winter, where he finds there is only one exit. Said escape route is now guarded by members of the local mob and their paid off cops who all witnessed Parker’s actions and soon learn about the robbery. It’s thief versus the mob in funland.

A different Parker novel. Usually, Stark writes about a different job for Parker to accomplish, lays out the details, the problems and the relationships with other team members. Then you see the operation play out. In Slayground, the job is complete and in its aftermath Parker has to fend for himself. This time, it’s how Parker can effect his escape and still keep the money.


Parker: professional thief, has a girlfriend, wife dead

Caliato: 38, member of the local mob, patient nature, smokes cigars

Donald Snyder:64, watchmen for Fun Island amusement park, drives a Volkswagon, stocky, owns a Colt .44 revolver

Parker is intelligent and tries to anticipate difficulties. I really get into his head, start empathizing with the character. If the reader can get drawn in, then the character is well written. Normally, the other characters are other members of Parker’s latest team.


Basic. No fluff. Parker doesn’t waste words. In fact, Parker does very little talking. Most of the conversations are by the mobsters and bad cops. And they’re pretty distinctive voices.


Book separated into Parts. The writing is basic. No nonsense. No details sensationalized. It’s business through the eyes of Parker. Action is laid out step by step. Some profanity. This was written in the era of pulp fiction popularity but doesn’t use that type of language. Of course this is the serious side of Richard Stark, aka Donald Westlake. Parker is the serious professional thief whereas John Dortmunder is the humorous. I’ve read other Parker novels and what fascinates me is the amount of research Stark had to have done. If you’ve read any of his books, think about first, the job, then the preparations for the job, then the possible problems (which always happen). The devil-and the delight-is in the details and they’re laid out one by one. Of course, you’re rooting for a bad guy, but that’s okay, because it’s the anti-hero type of story. Parker is a thief and for him, it’s like anybody else doing CPA work, or construction, or waiting tables. In all of Parker’s stories, you’re reading to see how he defeats not only the cops (which are almost nuisances) but other obstacles (usually other bad guys). Very little, if any humor, very dry at best. Smart writing. On the cover I’ve shown, is a quote by Elmore Leonard. “Whatever Stark writes, I read.” I think that says it all. He tends to show some action then go back and explain how characters came to be doing that action.

Westlake died a couple of years ago and the world will miss him. I’m trying to collect and read all of his books. I haven’t once been disappointed.

My ranking:

Brown Belt