Book Review: NINE ELMS, promising series debut

ultralight_adjustmentsIn 1995, Kate Marshall, just promoted to Detective Constable, was assigned to the Nine Elms Cannibal case. A deraigned murderer abducted young women, strangled them with a cord tied with a distinct monkey’s fist knot, and took bites from their thighs, buttocks, and backs. On the night the fourth victim was discovered, Kate connected the clues and unmasked the killer, but in the process was brutally attacked. In the aftermath, Kate was embroiled in a scandal, was forced to leave the Met Police.

Fifteen years later, Kate, a recovering alcoholic, was finding some peace as a lecturer at a small seaside university where her class was always in demand. Her ordered existence, however, was upended when the local forensic pathologist asked her to consult on a case. The young girl’s body had a cord tied with a monkey’s knot and bites were taken from her backside. A copycat was at work.

With her research assistant Tristan Harper, an insightful ally with a sullied past, Kate becomes caught up in the investigation—but she doesn’t realize that the copycat is determined to succeed where the Nine Elms Cannibal failed and make sure Kate doesn’t survive this time.

An entertaining introduction to a new series, Nine Elms has great and disturbing characters, interesting settings rendered in detail (for example, a psychiatric hospital), and poignant moments. However, some aspects of the plot didn’t quite ring true, and some situations seemed resolved too easily (such as a political conflict at the university), and I though the writing was a bit choppy at times. Still, I was very captivated by Kate and Tristan. Their partnership shows lots of promise for future stories, and I and look forward to the second Kate Marshall book.

Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer/Amazon Publishing for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: INSIDE THE HOT ZONE – you’ll wish it was fiction, but it’s a true account

 

Happy Publication Day to
Inside the Hot Zone: A Soldier on the Front Lines of Biological Warfare
by Mark G. Kortepeter

Inside the Hot ZoneMost people who know about the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland have seen it in movies or (like me) read about it in books. USAMRIID’s is charged with researching countermeasures against biological warfare and investigating disease outbreaks or threats to pubic health. Scientists there work with the most dangerous substances on the planet—such as anthrax, smallpox, Ebola, and the plague—to keep others safe from them.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Mark G. Kortepeter was literally inside the “hot zone,” first, as Medical Director of USAMRIDD, responsible for the health of the employees working in the facility, then in the Virology department doing direct research, and finally as the deputy commander making daily operational decisions. His seven-and-a-half year tenure began in 1998, so he was on the front lines as USAMRIDD was alerted in the aftermath of 9/11, called to assist in the FBI investigation of anthrax letters, and deployed to protect soldiers serving in the 2003 Gulf War from potential bioweapon attacks.

Inside the Hot Zone operates as a memoir of Kortepeter’s time in the trenches and as revealing account of the inner workings of USAMRIID. Deftly weaving science and politics, Kortepeter’s book is astonishing and frightening both for how much we know about potential bioweapons and, even more, how much we don’t know. Washington squabbles, bureaucratic hurdles, and internecine conflicts often impeded effective operation of the organization.

Though Kortepeter highly identifies as a solider, his account doesn’t shrink from criticizing the armed forces apparatus, especially in the case of Bruce Ivins, a USAMRIID scientist accused by the FBI of sending the anthrax-laced letters in 2001 and believed by many of his colleagues to be innocent. He also reveals the frustrations of taking orders from commanders who don’t understand the science or medicine behind what they are demanding. Additionally, his account touches on the affect his all-consuming career had on his family.

Reading Inside the Hot Zone, you forget it’s nonfiction—and then you hope that it is the stuff of imagination. Instead, Kortepeter’s account is an all to true engaging if disturbing narrative and recommended for anyone interested in germ warfare or USAMRIID.

Thank you to NetGalley and University of Nebraska Press/Potomac Books for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: ETERNAL SHADOW, a good story with problematic execution

Williams, Trevor - Eternal Shadow (2)Samantha Monroe, a scientist at SETI, identifies a signal that can only be first contact. She immediately contacts her boss, the unflappable Jennifer Epstein, and colleagues at other facilities, who confirm her readings. But, as they are hopefully watching, what they assume is an alien entity consumes Pluto, and it doesn’t stop at the former planet. Earth is in the crosshairs, and the scientists estimate they have only ten years before the alien ship reaches—and destroys—the planet.

Epstein marshals a hand-picked team to save the world, but changing political priorities and a fringe cult, the Seven Trumpets, encumber her progress. Only South African Muzikayise Khulu, CEO of Khulu Global, has the resources necessary to research and implement a solution, but his motives are less than altruistic. And as Epstein and Monroe work more closely together, their personal feelings intrude on their professional relationship.

Eternal Shadow is Trevor Williams’s debut novel, and the story is interesting, plus I appreciate that the main characters are women and people of color. However, the execution of the narrative has several problems that prevented me from fully enjoying the book. The pacing and proportion of scientific exposition to narrative felt off to me, and the dialogue was awkward, partly because it didn’t ring true and partly because it lacked contractions. Additionally, a number of stylistic and grammatical errors were in the copy of the book I read, which, granted, was an advanced readers edition and may have been corrected before publication. Finally, I wish my two favorite characters (whose names I don’t want to mention due to spoilers) didn’t have nearly as much time in the book as I would have liked, but the ending hints at a sequel.

The author has great stories to tell, and with experience, I hope his style becomes more polished!

Thanks to NetGalley and Trevor Writes for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: HOW THE DEAD SPEAK, the eleventh Tony Hill/Carol Jordan Mystery

Happy Publication Day to How the Dead Speak!

In the eleventh installment of the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series by Val McDermind, Hill is in prison for manslaughter while Jordan, suffering from PTSD, has been forced out of her job as DCI. Though Hill confessed his love to Jordan, he has refused to have contact with her until she gets treatment—that is, until an unexpected visitor threatens both his and Carol’s futures unless he persuades her to help resolve a dispute. Jordan has also been persuaded to join a group of experts reexamining cases in which miscarriages of justice are suspected. Though she is uncomfortable trying to release criminals, she can’t resist the mystery.

Meanwhile, development at a shuttered Catholic nunnery and orphanage is halted when the construction crew finds an unauthorized cemetery filled with skeletons of what are presumably young girls who were in the nuns’ care. DCI Ian Rutherford, Jordan’s replacement, shows preference for DI Sophie Valente who came to the police via retail management and joined through a special direct entry program while ignoring the skills and talents of the team, particularly DI Paula McIntyre, causing friction among them which only heightened when a second collection of human remains—this time young men—were found on a property near the orphanage. And one of the bodies connects to Jordan’s newest investigation. However, her concentration is derailed when Hill’s prison activities make him the target of angry inmates.

How the Dead Speak weaves several perspectives honing in on two primary mysteries, with significant conflict among the police squad. Because Hill, Jordan, and McIntyre are separated, the book adds new settings, particularly the prison environment. I also liked that it addressed the possibility of false imprisonment and showed the challenges of living with PTSD. The pacing was finely plotted, and the narratives well-resolved, though I would have liked more regarding the bodies found at the orphanage. The denouement, however, was very interesting and makes me intrigued and excited about where the series will go next.

While this is not my first Val McDermid book, it is my first Tony Hill/Carol Jordan novel. I was certainly able to jump in, though I would have had better insight into the characters and their relationships if I’d read the previous books in the series—something I now plan to do!

Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic/Atlantic Monthly Press for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: MEG & JO, a contemporary retelling of Little Women

Happy Publication Day to Meg & Jo by Virginia Kantra!

Reimagining Little Women from a contemporary perspective, Virginia Kantra tells the story of the March sisters from the alternating points of view of Meg and Jo, the two eldest.

In New York City, Jo, laid off from her job as a journalist due to budget cuts, writes an anonymous blog while making ends meet by working in the kitchen of a gourmet restaurant under renowned chef Eric Bhaer—who happens to loathe food bloggers—but who is undeniably attractive.

Meg, a former loan officer, gave up her career to stay at home with her young twins. Her husband, John, a beloved teacher and coach, resigned from the school to work at a car dealership where he could earn more money for the family. What is on the surface a perfect family hides unspoken tensions about resentments and sacrifices.

As the holidays approach, Abby March becomes ill and requires hospitalization. Her husband, Ashton, a former military chaplain, is so focused on serving veterans though his non-profit organization, he is unable to provide Abby support, leaving it to Meg and Jo.

With the family in crisis, bonds are tested, and the sisters must consider both what they really want—and if they know each other as well as they think.

I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to write a book inspired by a classic, especially one as loved as Little Women. It requires balancing the spirit of the original with a realistic modern setting. The challenges must be only compounded when the source material comes from the late 1860s, when social and gender mores were so different!

For much of the book, I was very uncomfortable with the gender dynamics. Abby March was completely self-sacrificing and taught her daughters to be the same way in relationships. Meg internalized those messages and reproduced her mother’s behavior while Jo rebelled so completely against it, she wouldn’t allow herself to be close to anyone. Their poor communication skills made their relationships and emotional health suffer. Meanwhile, Beth and Amy were coddled while Meg and Jo assumed all the responsibility for the family.

If I could have reached into the pages and shaken the characters, I probably would have. They did, though, have room to grow, and pressures that made the status quo untenable. My concern is that Meg and Jo never seemed to stop defining themselves independently of the men in their lives. Still, the setting was charming, and I think fans of the original will be satisfied!

The two younger March sisters don’t get much play in this novel, but a second book, Beth & Amy, is in the works in which they will have the spotlight.

Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.