Monthly Archives: July 2017

The Hanging Murders

cover 2

By Rex Carothers



1957. California. A serial murderer has returned after a fifteen year absence. Sheriff Cobb, though, is still drowning his sorrows over a failed marriage and the death of his wife and child with alcohol. When his former partner is killed, he makes the decision to find the killer. Thus begins a complex tale of murder, greed, corruption, and lust.

I accept books for review based on many things. Some are more important than others but all have a factor in my decision. The blurb given to me by the author or Amazon, the subject matter, book cover (yes, I do and you do, too so admit it), the author’s request, and whether any of the above catches my interest.

When I accepted this book, I expected a cool mystery with a serial killer, and a raw, gritty story. Raw, yes, but not in the way I meant. The plot, which I thought would revolve around the title, did not, for the most part. This was the first of many disappointments about this book.


Jim Cobb: County sheriff, wife and child dead, former army, mom dead

Jasper Fowler: Nickname of ‘Red’, county deputy, 63, burly, white hair

Merrill Cobb: Jim’s father, former sheriff

Conchita Ramirez: housekeeper/cook, has a sister

Archie Reid: 28, trucker driver, 6’, lanky, dark hair, pale blue eyes, former army

There are a several more characters. For the most part, they’re distinct and each has a role to play. There is one unnamed character which I’ll address later. And, for the most, part, I could ‘see’ the characters and thought they held their own.

A problem I had with Cobb, is he visits a dead guy’s house wondering where his secret cache is. However, he doesn’t spend too much time looking for it and comes away with some paperwork. Another baddie comes in and goes right for the hidey-hole. I thought Cobb was a bit incompetent in this area.

There’s a reporter who is really a throwaway filler character who pretty much disappears by the latter quarter of the book and isn’t mentioned again.


Again, not too bad, varying voices.


Profanity. This is a shorter book (141 pages in my Nook).

So, where to begin. This book has a lot of problems, so I’ll start with the POV. It’s first person from Cobb’s when he’s in the scene. But not always and that was weird. Either do it first person with him always or do it all third. Those not with Cobb (and some with as just mentioned) are third person from various POV.

Tense problems. The author writes sentences in present tense then in past tense and sometimes both in a sentence.

Misspelled and missing words. The latter really threw me because I had to go back and fill in the missing word to complete the sentence.

Punctuation errors. Commas thrown willy-nilly into sentences.

This book is chock full of sex, willing and unwilling. Very few characters don’t have sex or talk about previous sex.

There is a time problem. Archie visits his mom’s house and gets directions to a cabin. Subsequently, Cobb, coming back from another murder, where he spent a lot of time, stops at Archie’s mom’s house, then goes off to the cabin. The problem is that Cobb gets there first, there’s a gun battle and after a guy is arrested, Archie THEN shows up.

Before I get to the main issue, let me address this unknown character. There are three ‘sets’ of murders. The hanging murders (killer at the end is found and known), the murder of Haskel (killer at the end is found and known), and a series of random murders by this unknown guy driving a Chevy truck. Here’s the weird part of this – this latter killer is never named, and his identity is never discovered or revealed. So, why include him other than have his killings be mentioned a couple times by the regular characters who don’t seem to put much effort into investigating. It didn’t make sense. I kept trying to put one of the named characters in this role, but it turned out it wasn’t any of them and I’m sorry to play a bit of a spoiler here.

The main issue is repetition. Phraseology, descriptions, and parts of sentences are repeated…a lot. Red’s age is mentioned twice, the fact there were no suspects, no fingerprints, no evidence found in the previous killings is repeated. The last twenty pages has countless repetitions by various characters and the narrator of “Who killed Barton Haskel?” This repetition was bad writing and should not have been so prevalent in this short of a book.

With all of these problems, I quickly dropped my ranking and ended up having to go to the bottom.

My Rank:

White Belt



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