Monthly Archives: February 2016

Dark Money


By Larry D. Thompson



Attorney Jackson Bryant is called by his old friend, Walt Frazier, for advice on how to handle security at a Halloween party/fundraiser with the featured guest being the governor of Texas. Danger looms and when a shooter wounds the governor and kills one of the hosts, not only is Walt under fire for neglect of duty, but Bryant has to figure out who is ultimately behind the killing. You guessed it, politics and money are involved.

I expected a court case but didn’t get one til the end. Most of the book was tracking down and capturing the killer and the investigation into the shooting. I think this covered the spectrum of mystery and legal. Again, not what I expected, but enjoyable nonetheless.


Jackson Douglas Bryant: lawyer, former military, uses a cane, reserve county deputy, drives a pickup

Walt Frazier: former military, still has moments of PTSD, part of the governor’s protective detail, 6’2” muscular

Richard ‘Colonel’ Van Zandt: Vietnam vet, leader of an anti government group, bearded, lean, blue eyes

Miriam Van Zandt: Richard’s daughter, marksman, works at a convenience store, drives a pickup

Oscar Hale: wealthy, married

J.D. Bryant: Jackson’s son, plays football at TCU, former Marine

A good cast of characters including who I thought was a minor character, a washed out musician and one of Bryant’s clients, but who managed to be involved in the main plot. I think the author used him very well in the story.


Good voices. Conversations didn’t wander.


I didn’t see anything wrong with the story. I wish the court case could have been longer because when I read about attorneys in mysteries, that’s the enjoyable part, the battle in the courtroom.

I think it was a well rounded story, covering all bases, not leaving something hanging and no obvious ‘filler’ material. One of the bad guys came and went too fast and that’s too bad because I liked him and would have liked to have seen more of him.

I think the author brings to light a problem with politics but didn’t keep bashing the reader with it.

The author shows knowledge in the subject matter without overdoing it.

So, with this all taken into account, with the rank I’m giving, I want to mention that I didn’t dislike the book and I think it’s a solid story. I enjoyed the last legal mystery by this author and would definitely read him again.

My Rank:

Green Belt



Shadow Cell


By Joseph D’Antoni



It’s the 1980s. Covert operative Hanna, just back from a mission overseas, discovers his lover has gone missing. Through resources, he tracks her to South America where he ends up battling a villain who plans to use children as weapons.

Interesting plot..however, as will be discussed later, the plot doesn’t stay on track from what it starts out to be.


Wade Hanna: covert operative

Harold ‘Yari’ Yankovich: works for the N.S.A.

Isaac ‘Chip’ Palmer: 46, microbiology professor, has a son, has an M.D. and a Ph.D

Gabe Morrison: Homicide detective

Max Yeoman: Was in Vietnam in Special Forces, know martial arts

Don Juan Carlos Mendoza: rancher

Scant information on any of the characters. No physical descriptions to speak of. Don’t know how old the main character is. We don’t get into the underlying emotions from any of the characters. It’s not mentioned for what branch of the government Wade works. CIA? If so, I’m not too sure about the buddy-buddy relationship with an NSA guy. Yari, by the way, does a lot of work of tapping and ferreting out information…apparently without any supervisors any the wiser.


No distinguishable voices because everybody talks the same way, more formal than normal people would talk. Hanna speaks the same to his friends as he does when he’s undercover or talking to those he’s interrogating. “We can’t remove our masks because we don’t want to be identified.” Well, that pretty obvious. Wade tends to repeat a lot of what has already been said or understood. All of the characters speak, at times, without contractions, which isn’t normal and became annoying.

With the dialogue, there is a lot of telling the reader the tone of voice either through telling it straight out or ‘ly’ words. Example: Wade’s voice as well as his intent conveyed if his suspect showed any unauthorized movement he would not hesitate to shoot him.

This is telling, not showing. The scene itself should imply this.


Okay, best place to start is at beginning. For the first 50 pages or so there is a lot of reflecting and analyzing and remembering and thinking and recalling and a few phone calls. It sets the tone for passive voice that is seen throughout. Plus, during these opening chapters, the plot seems to head in the direction of a shadowy military element. Wade remembers some murder based on illegal happenings in Vietnam and this somehow ties into a rogue faction. However, the story then turns to medical experiments on children and this secret military group is never mentioned again. So, what was the point of the first 50 pages? What was the point of Gabe’s character because he was the investigating officer of the murder? He really isn’t involved in the other part of the story.

There is a lot of repetition of words and phrasing and POV shifts throughout that became annoying. Too much overwriting. Some sentences are too wordy when simple would do. Example: Wade responded by thanking Yari for his good work. “Thanks, Yari.” would have been sufficient.

Weak writing all around and some things didn’t make sense or was not believable.

– Wade takes down a suspect posing as a police officer. However, the reader is told that he doesn’t care about the rights of the person. Again, obvious, since he’s already broken a few laws to get the guy. The reader doesn’t need to be told this.

– Wade and Max learn a lot of information about some Burmese operatives…everything except their names.??

– Hardly any action and only in the final bit is there any sense of tension or danger, but no emotion shown, no pain felt. Most of the time the plans are carried out with no danger at all. And one scene where there was a bit of action, Wade wasn’t involved. A secondary character, Max had a fight with a suspect.

– Wade leaves to go to Canada because there might be a problem with his being discovered and/or caught. Unfortunately, there is no feeling that that is the case. And why all the way from the east coast to Vancouver? His subsequent cover story about being from Canada could have been built anywhere.

– Way too long analyzing and formulating the plans down in South America. Too many pages of discussion when there could have been action.

– Strange that Wade, in all his covert years, has never hear of USAMRIID.

– Days and days go by, but no superiors call Wade to debrief him, wonder how he is, or give him a new assignment?

– Weak writing example: As Wade continued his telephoto shots of the school area something immediately caught his attention…

In the above sentence ‘as’ implies a period of time, so the ‘immediately’ doesn’t make sense.

– In one scene, Wade investigates the bad guys’ room while Max watches the bad guys eat. Afterward, Max and Wade reconvene to tail Palmer and the baddies go out someplace else to eat some more. I didn’t understand that. How do they pick up the baddies again?

– Author tries to hard to show Wade as an undercover operative. No need to explain a lot of things. The reader understands. And the dialogue when speaking over the radios is too B-movie.

– Weak writing example: Suddenly, to Wade’s surprise…

If it was suddenly it would be a surprise. This sentence is followed up with Wade being ‘caught off guard’ which is redundant.

– Poorly written sentence: After lighting it (the baddie with a cigarette), he began smoking as Wade took a deep breath as his heart raced, wondering if his suspect saw something that made him suspicious.

And there are more problems throughout. I caught only one misspelled word, but with everything taken into account, I must rank this an:

Orange Belt


Red Storm


By Thom Tate



CIA agent Blake Mackay is on the job. He’s out to stop a Russian billionaire who owns a device to control the weather.

A short thriller with a standard plot. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad read. Sometimes familiar is good. However, there are things that deprive it of a higher rank.


Nikoli Petrovich: owns a research facility, billionaire

Sofia Kuzma: 29, works for Petrovich, doctorate in meteorology, blonde, green eyes, attended Cambridge, parents dead

Vasily Nikolas: Petrovich’s right hand man

Marshall Reed: CIA agent

Blake MacKay: CIA agent, tanned, owns a black Jeep Wrangler

Mike Brennan: short, Blake’s handler

Veronica Slocum: redhead, Director of National Security

Standard hero and villain. I know in a short story you want to get on with it quick, so sometimes, details are deleted. I would have liked to have seen a bit more physical description of both Blake and Nikoli. Sofia I could picture.


B-movie dialogue at times Okay for voices.



As mentioned, short means get into the plot quickly and I think that happened. Good action but the writing could be tighter. Example: when someone is injured, it is not necessary to say the person winced/screamed because of the pain. There was a lot of unnecessary wordage along this line.

Some of the things the hero did have been used before and I would have like to have seen something a bit different. Yes, familiar can be good, but it’s always refreshing to give the familiar a new twist.

All in all, I think I wanted more, not in length, but in story.

My Rank:

Camouflage Belt


Blood Brothers


By R. Weir


Jarvis Mann, P.I., is up for another case. This one brings him to Des Moines to discover what shenanigans his brother has been up to. Philandering? FBI trouble? Bullies from the past? All those and more. Mann tries to help, but when tragedy strikes, he won’t stop until justice is rendered.

This is a plot that builds from the simple to the complex. Not confusing, just a lot of elements. Several layers, a few that pick up from previous stories. It’s not necessary to read the previous mysteries, but it might help understand Mann’s relationships better.


Jarvis Mann: Denver P.I., 6′, 38, parents dead, has a brother

Flynn Mann: Jarvis’ brother, has daughter, smokes, rides a Harley, owns a red Mustang, accountant

Helen Mann: Flnn’s wife, 5’8”, long dark curly hair, has a dog

Melissa: Mann’s girlfriend

Casey Gaines: drives a Saab, hazel eyes, late thirties, parents divorced, father is in securities

Bart Wilson: FBI agent, buzz haircut, large ears

Bryer Campbell: former sheriff, wears hearing aids, uses a walker, 70’s, almost bald, widower

Sterling Frakes: 50’s homicide detective, blond, mustache, wears glasses

Roni Berry: slender, attended Iowa State, degree in graphic design and culinary science, owns a restaurant, divorced

Lots of characters, many with personal relationships with Jarvis. I enjoyed them all. Rocky the bodyguard is always good for a smile.


I’ve mentioned in reviews of past Weir mysteries, how all of the characters, at one time or another don’t use contractions. This is really noticeable here. Not necessarily distracting, but, most people don’t naturally talk like this. And all characters shouldn’t. One or two, maybe if that’s his/her style.


Okay, let me start off by saying that I was hooked right away by having him come to the metro where I live. Lots of familiar references and I wanted more. Personally, I wanted more references, not necessarily for the story to be good.

I must also give the author a raspberry for dissing the Cubs. Okay, done with the personal notes.

Profanity. Several flashbacks. A couple punctuation and spelling errors.

Otherwise, I think this is a good story. It brings in concepts from the previous mystery in having the reader think, “Okay, Mann is up against a super bad guy. What’s he going to do?” and then giving a couple of tension filled scenes. The latter one, I think philosophized a fraction too long, but still let Mann out with dignity.

The very ending also showed Mann’s integrity and I had a wry smile because, the author finished the book by leaving me hanging. I don’t doubt that the soap opera will continue in the next book. It better. Lol

Okay. So, now to rank. This was a dilemma because I have to remember other books. If I give one book a lower ranking because of errors and not do that with another, then I’m not being a fair reviewer. Of course, I’ve discussed the ‘likeable’ factor that, on occasion, bends the rules. If I wanted to complicate matters more, I could introduce a low/high aspect like my organization does with its belts. I’ll think about doing that if more books like this show up.

Anyway, I thought for awhile on this and I did enjoy the book and would recommend the series to readers and would look forward to reading more from this author. However, I will have to go with:

Green Belt


The Lesson Plan


By G. J. Prager


Robert Klayman is a Los Angeles substitute teacher by day and a budding private investigator by…well, any day he’s not teaching. He wants so much to be a P.I. First up, tailing a woman. When that ends in near death, he turns back to teaching. Only to meet another sub, who offers him what seems to be a simple case: hand over some items to her son in Arizona. But the case is not so simple and Klayman is fleeing for his life and looking for answers.

So, we have a first-timer P.I. story. Well, every P.I. had to start somewhere. As for the plot, well, it was a little disjointed at times and connections were made that I didn’t catch.


Robert Klayman: Around 40, substitute teacher and amateur P.I., drives an ’83 Honda, owns a dog

Cal: P.I.

Sheila Farelly: Around 40, dirty blonde, divorced with a son, owns a cat, drives a black Mercedes

Maria Castro: 17, attractive

No description of Robert. Robert’s relationship with Maria is downright creepy and a turnoff. Didn’t get too much description of some of the other players, Cal and Zeke.


Okay for voices. Maria’s came through. Some B-movie bad guy lines near the end.


This is where the problems lie. First off there was unnecessary profanity and several racial slurs. Second-and I became aware of this though about halfway through: Robert’s dog was spoken about a lot. Good buddy, I understand, but what breed of dog is Homer (the dog’s name? This was never mentioned. I gather he was large-ish, furry, and built for the Arctic. I thought, a-ha, Husky. But then he is mentioned as being colored orange. Golden Retriever? I don’t know but when I found myself thinking more about the dog than the actual plot, it became a problem.

Part of the reason for this is because the author spends too much time on the teaching part of Klayman’s life and not enough on the detective stuff. I realize that a lot of the crime involves the teaching side, but about 1/3 of the book goes by before he’s given the major case. Yes, he has a case at the beginning (that connects up in time), but the next one doesn’t come along till much later. Then nearly half the book goes by before there’s any real action, meaning danger. Again, there was some at the beginning, but it was done and gone pretty quick.

Again, I must reiterate the relationship between Robert and Maria. A sub-teacher should know better and because of this I found Robert not likeable, especially since he wants so much to be a good detective.

Sheila’s last name is spelled differently in two chapters.

Not believable parts:

– Maria allowed in a Vegas casino and allowed to gamble.

– when Robert meets Sheila, she hands him a business card. In a later meeting, he asks her name. Wouldn’t her card have her name?

– I cannot believe that after Robert flees Arizona, leaving his car, that the police didn’t find the car and discover its owner before Robert retrieves it. I can maybe believe the police didn’t find a weapon he tossed, but the car should have been found, especially since there was a BOLO on him and his car.

– during a scene where Robert is robbed, his dog has been growling low before, but when the action starts, the dog does nothing?

– the last chapter was completely not believable. The cops show up to arrest Robert for attempted murder. They’re not going to wait outside while Robert puts on his pants. They are also not going to act and talk like they did. This is a serious crime and they’re joking around.

Again, I missed the connections Robert apparently caught to put the case together. Maybe it was my thinking about the dog too much or catching some of the mistakes. Whatever the reason, the weakness of the writing brought this, at first down to camo, but after the last chapter went over the line, I had to drop the rank to:

Orange Belt