Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cary Allen Stone Wins the Bet - A review of After the Evil

A Review by Linda Root

A few months ago author  Cary Allen Stone's publicist sent me a challenge.  She attached a copy of the second book in his mystery series with a bet I would want to review it.  Then I heard from Stone, who thought it might be my kind of mystery. He was right. I ended up reading each of the four books in the series. This is the first one in the chronology and the second one I read.

Those who know me personally are aware of my professional history as a prosecutor. The men and women I worked with on the Homicide Detail knew I made a practice of visiting crime scenes. There was a reason for this.When I became a supervisor, I urged others to do so.  In essence, crime scenes speak. Every scene I ever visited had a message. Some screamed.

I am absolutely candid in saying I never once visited a scene that made me physically sick. Maybe I was just lucky. The most startling of my observations from the first scene to the last one --a triple shortly before I retired--was always the same: the absence of life. Stone captures it in his writing. The surprise came in discovering Stone was not a veteran detective, but a retired pilot flying corporate jets, another career which cultivates an awareness of issues of life and death and a unique glimpse of the dynamics of power. Applying the adage 'write what  you know', Stone picks his serial killer from his experience with the airline industry.  Nothing else about her is Orthodox.

Obviously, the profilers' classic definition of a serial killer is not set in granite: if it were, they would be easier to spot.  The one word that seems to fit them all is 'driven.'  Stone's killer is not a thrill seeker or megalomaniac.   A federal agent trained at Quantico might poke holes in Stone portrayal, claiming the character is not a true serial killer, just a twisted soul who kills a lot of people. The profile at issue in Stone's novel is the killer's profile of her victim. In her eyes, she is an Avenger.  On the other side of the battle, we have hard-boiled Homicide Detective Jake Roberts and FBI Profiler Mika Scott, and a host of characters, most of them exceptionally well-drawn. The combination of a sympathetic serial killer and a flawed law enforcement professional, each obsessed by demons of their own construction,  provides a satisfying reading experience for anyone who sees the line between Good and Evil as having a jagged edge.

Stone writes with a touch of Spillane but in a contemporary style hinting of Nelson Demille. Jake Roberts reminds me of DeMille's John Corey, but with a touch more pathos. At times, I was turned off by what I considered unlikely homespun dialog from Lori, but overall it fits the plotline, especially after we realize she is not the only killer in the mix. If the copy has a few rough spots, my advice is to forgive them.  This not a book to read while holding a red pencil. The novel earns the label 'mystery thriller.' And the series gets better as Stone's style evolves.

Author's Note:

Stone's JakeRoberts books are senstibly princed and can be seen on Amazon:

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A review a week - and this one is terrific: The Newest in the Roma Nova Series and a very 2016 theme

I fervently hope that Alison Morton is busy writing the next book in her Roma Nova series. I have just finished Insurrectio, but Insurrectio is not finished with me. While it is the most recent of the five books to date in Ms. Morton’s Roma Nova series, it is second in the chronological order of the series. When I opened it, it was the first Alternative History I have read in recent memory. I no sooner put it down before I moved on to the boxed set Inceptio, Perfiditas, and Successio, and ordered Aurelia.  In five days, I had read them all.
The concept of Roma Nova differs from most alternative histories.  Many begin at a definitive moment in the past, but proceed with a different outcome: What if the Russians had been colonizers instead of fur traders, or if NapolĂ©on had won? What would Europe look like if Hitler’s nuclear programs had progressed a tad faster?  Morton’s alternative histories begin in the1960’s (Aurelia), in a small country about the size of Luxembourg, crowded in between what we call Austria and modern Italy, but which happens to be the remnant of Roman civilization, hence, Roma Nova, the New Rome. In a sense, the book is a time slip in reverse.  In the first five books of the series, the reader is not troubled by the roughly fifteen hundred year history of civilization since the Fall of Rome and the Rise of Donald Trump. Hopefully, Morton is saving that for later. What we experience in Insurrectio is a small nation with a vestige of Roman society and values occupying a small corner of a modern 1980’s world complete, with late Twentieth Century technology and institutions including, for example, the CIA.
This is not a book for those who are addicted to the history of the Dark Ages.  The citizens of Roma Nova are moderns, but with a twist. Nevertheless, Morton, who is a student of Roman history, gives her novels and authentically Roman flavor that edifies and entertains.  Her Roma Nova is an oligarchy ruled by The Twelve Families, each headed by women, under the titular governance of an Imperatrix.  In Insurrectio, the female figurehead is gullible and weak. Our protagonist, Aurelia Mitela, is the leader of the most powerful of the families. The antagonist is a handsome and utterly amoral Cauis Tellus, scion of another of the ancient families, who has been serving prison terms for a variety of crimes against the state and Aurelia in particular. 
The stage is set when the hesitant imperatrix, who is unable or unwilling to address the corruption and injustices in the society she rules, welcomes him back into the fold. .As Aurelia fears, Count Tellus has an entirely different view of how and by whom Roma Nova should be governed. While his early goals are achieved through charm and manipulation, Aurelia is not fooled. He is setting up a power play. Eliminating or incapacitating Aurelia is part of his agenda. He first strikes out at her fragile daughter, but he also moves against others who oppose him including his brother Quintus and his newly acquired stepson, child of the Imperatrix. But Aurelia is more than a skilled stateswoman. She is a former member of the Praetorian Guard and a combat veteran, and she has already experienced Tellus at most ruthless. Nevertheless, her enemy has spent well more than a decade in prison plotting the overthrow of his country’s government and the personal destruction of the woman he has loathed since childhood. His initial successes leave her spearheading a faltering resistance. When she cannot prevail against Tellus’s meticulously planned insurrection, she concentrates her efforts on survival. Morton has framed the final chapters of Insurrection in a manner assuring her readers that regardless of the fate of Aurelia Mitela and Cauis Tellus, the struggles of Roma Nova are not over yet. 
From a purely analytical point of view, this is an intelligently conceived and meticulously researched and written action book that will not disappoint the most discriminating of readers. While others disagree with me, I am happy to have read the series in the order in which they have been written.,

Sunday, January 3, 2016


I have not been updating this blog for several reasons, the major one because my husband Chris, my constant lover and best friend, was approaching the last chapter in our love story. Also, I have been spending a great deal of time and effort reading and posting reviews on the excellent blog entitled  The Review and reading entries in the 2015 M.m.Bennetts Award competition, with the winner to be announced at the Historical Novel Society annual convention in Oxford in September.  The long list comes out in February, which is fast approaching.

However, as 2016 dawns, I have resolved to begin posting reviews I would not publish elsewhere because they may contain an occasional spoiler and almost always will be a rant. I consider them an intellectual exercise in polemics not unlike the reviews I wrote of that silly television spectacular called Reign.  But be assured, I do not waste my time or yours on a rant without a reason.

What follows in a Four Star Review I wrote of 14th Protocol by Nathan Goodman and posted on Goodreads.The reason for its inclusion here is simple. Mr. Goodman debuts as a novelist with a remarkable Five-Star spy novel with a One-Star ending.  He stops his narrative as the protagonist Special Agent JanaBaker is either dying or already dead. To discover which, a reader must access another of his works, which with incredible chutzpah, Goodman calls a Post-Quel.
Because the first ninety-five percent of the book is compelling, I rated Fourteenth Protocol a four-star, but if I were grading Mr.Goodman's approach to promotion and marketing, he wouldn't even rate a single star.  So, do you want to read an outstanding book from a promising author but find yourself compelled to download another publication to discovered how it ends,  or should you just stop at the last five pages and supply an ending of your own?  I admit I am a sucker. In a weak moment, I downloaded the Post-Quel.  But do you want to bother? Read my review, and then, you decide.

This is a better than average, fast paced international techno-thriller that would be totally implausible if we did not live in such an implausible world. How far would a clandestine service go to win the prize? Perhaps father than any of us wants to believe until someone lets slip a dirty secret or starts asking forbidden questions. A past paced, well-written novel with undertones of the king of principles our society is lacking, such as self-sacrificing friendship and integrity that defies all logic. Far-fetched unless you read the news. The protagonist S.A. Jana Baker is a strong character, and her infatuated nerdy counterpart is believable and charmingly naive. If there is an antagonist, it is the unbridled forces of government spy agencies and the executive branch. As to the quality of the overall reading experience, a reader would be wise to stop a couple of pages before you reach the end or be frustrated by a five-star novel with a one-star ending. Being a novelist myself, I rewrote the last four pages in my mind and decided not to bother with another of Mr. Goodman's books unless I can read the last four pages before I read the first three hundred and hope he has reformed.

When I checked the reviews on Amazon, I discovered many other readers had the same reaction I did to what one reviewer called 'cheesy'.  Notwithstanding the fact that Goodman's book is being cleverly marketed by his publisher and hyped by his agent and thus, will probably outsell all seven of mine, shame on you, Nathan Goodman,  for alienating your audience.