Book Review: ‘Still Life in Blood’

Cover of book, and the background is a detail of an abstract painting, as red and black paint mesh together.

Still Life In Blood: A Delaware State Police Homicide Unit Mystery by Crystal Heidel 

Having grown up in Rehoboth Beach, I was really curious to read this mystery novel that happens there and in nearby Lewes. The story sucked me into it, delivering plot twists and suspense. That suspense and the short chapters caused me to keep wanting to turn the pages and find out what happened next.

A heads-up: This book is not a “tea cozy” mystery. There are gory parts.

As a few women are found murdered, we go along with Detective Jack Remington and his partner Jonny Stillwater as they seek clues to track down the killer. And they try to figure out how Francesca Munro is somehow connected to the murders. Francesca does her own detective work to find out information with that same goal.

She goes by the curious nickname Frenzy. She’s an artist with a gallery in Rehoboth. But she’s more than that. She experiences visions and dreams that tell of future events — an ability that runs in her family, from Frenzy’s mother to Frenzy to possibly her niece. And her past has secrets. These add interesting aspects to the story that enrich the “whodunnit” plot line.

This is an entertaining book that combines the puzzles of the killer’s identity and Frenzy’s past with suspenseful moments. If you’re open to reading a mystery with coastal small town flavor, I recommend it.

This novel is available on Amazon.

Bartholomew Eskrew

Bartholomew Eskrew reached the end of his story and walked away from his writing desk and turned around to look upon the pile of papers next to the typewriter and said, “It’s got to be tighter.” And so, he set upon cutting the story down: removing unnecessary back stories of characters, tossing out implausible situations, slashing needless dialogue that really had nothing at all to do with the plot, crossing out descriptions of places that seem to go on and on and on. He worked like this, a man with a red pen instead of a machete that he would’ve used to bring low the tall grass out in the country to clear an area for a field next to a house he had built with his own two hands, a field in which to plant vegetables and fruit trees, a field with which to feed a family he hoped to someday have to bring life into the house and fill it with laughter, talk, crying, and more–all the noises of human emotions bursting out to remind ourselves we are really and truly alive. Bartholomew Eskrew worked far into the night editing his work this way. The nights strung together, each lit by a feeble light that some people noticed as it emanated out of the tallest window in the old house where many other tenants lived underneath the floor boards of Bartholomew Eksrew’s apartment. The light–seen by those people looking up as they walked the sidewalk, possibly gazing up at the stars and moon, or possibly simply stretching a tired or pained neck–burned each night, with each night’s light connecting to the next like a string of Christmas lights from years ago that’s dim but still works. Bartholomew Eskrew worked steadily, patiently, making slow, ponderous progress, for the more he read of his story, the more it seemed to him that most of it was him just trying to impress the reader, and he wished to pare this apple down to the very core where the seeds remained, waiting to be discovered. Night after night, the pages from the original pile lowered, and the edited pile grew higher. Finally, after two weeks of editing, Bartholomew Eskrew again stood up and walked across the room and turned around to look upon his writing desk and saw what remained and he smiled, finally satisfied with the story. There, on the top page of the pile, written in his careful handwriting in red ink: “He tried.”

Book Review: ‘Eternal Road’

Front cover of Eternal Road, with a 1956 blue and white Oldsmobile on a road

Eternal Road: The Final Stop by John W. Howell

An imaginative story of one man’s entrance and journey in the afterlife. This is quite different than St. Peter standing before the pearly gates and checking a book to see if you can enter, or if you’re sent downward.

James Wainwright dies in a car wreck early in the story. As a spirit, he’s still driving, and he picks up a hitchhiker — who turns out to be Samantha Tourneau, with whom James had a childhood love. Samantha (mostly going by Sam) has grown up in the afterlife, as she was killed when she was in the first grade.

So a trigger warning: a girl is murdered at the beginning of the book. More depth comes to that plot line toward the ending.

James and Sam embark on a time-traveling journey: jumping into Tombstone, Arizona during the OK Corral gunfight, to the Alamo just before the battle, to more. I don’t want to list all the destinations and give away surprises in the story.

The time-travel locations have a feeling of randomness, but that gives an entertaining unpredictability. Also, these are times and places where James could spend his eternal home. Sam serves as a guide to help James find his eternal home, but the jumping through times is mostly out of their control.

Indeed, the time bouncing makes for a fun story, and it helps James and Sam get reacquainted after not seeing each other for 17 years. Their relationship deepens beyond that childhood affection. And Sam is a good guide to get James acquainted with this stage in his spiritual life.

However, James must face some struggles alone, as Lucifer himself makes several appearances in trying to convince James to join him in the hot place.

The book works on several levels and isn’t simply a time-travel adventure. In the book’s dedication, John talks about a lesson from his father: “we all have challenges in our lives, and those that can succeed in reaching their goals despite them will find happiness.” John certainly wrote a story to describe challenges for James to endure. James needs smarts and courage and assistance from Sam for those challenges. And throughout, he holds on to hope.

The book is available on Amazon.

Also, John is a prolific blogger, and you can read more of his stuff here.

Book Review: Before Familiar Woods

front cover of Before Familiar Woods

Before Familiar Woods: A Novel by Ian Pisarcik

Two teenaged boys from North Falls, Vermont are found dead. Three years after that tragedy, their fathers disappear. Those events occur right away in this amazing novel.

Ruth Fenn and Della Downing are the unfortunate characters who have to bear the burdens of killed sons and missing husbands. They investigate in separate ways to try to find out what happened to their husbands. In this storyline, we spend time with Ruth, as she’s one of the two main characters.

The other is Milk Raymond, a young man who has returned to town after serving overseas in the military. He takes custody of his son because the mother has left. Milk rents a place to stay with his son Daniel, but Milk needs to find a job.

With the setup of the tragic events, this book sounds like it could be a suspense thriller. And there are thrilling parts.

But to me, the book was more about how people deal with the absences of loved ones. In addition to the absences of Ruth’s son and husband, her mother has memory issues. Daniel Raymond first had to deal with Milk’s absence, and now must deal with his mother’s.

The book has a steady, deliberate pace as the characters struggle to gain understanding and footholds. And throughout, the book describes the small Vermont town and the woods around it.

In this book’s blurb, we learn it’s the first novel by Ian Pisarcik. So I knew that going into the story. And after reading it, I thought, “What the hell? He’s this good on his first book?!”

Why that reaction? Before Familiar Woods has a precision of language along the lines of what I admire of Cormac McCarthy, Karen Russell, and George Saunders. We’re talking sharp and vivid. There are some lines that stopped me in my reading tracks. I read the lines several times because they so finely conveyed the ideas. For example, the sentence after how Ruth Fenn “had treated her son like a tanager that she could hear but not see.” I won’t put the sentence here, from concern that would lessen the impact if you read the book.

Eternal Road – The final stop is on Sale at 99¢ Till Wednesday — Fiction Favorites

The description of Mr. Howell’s book is quite intriguing, ending with “If you like time-travel, adventure, mystery, justice, and the supernatural, this story is for you.” And the book is on sale through Wednesday!

In case you missed the announcement,  Eternal Road – The final stop e-book is on sale on US Amazon through Wednesday, March 24 at midnight Eastern Time. Here is the link Eternal Road – The final stop has 26 ratings for an average of 4.8. This special is being featured on Ereader News Today. […]

Eternal Road – The final stop is on Sale at 99¢ Till Wednesday — Fiction Favorites

Book Review: The Teleporter

cover for The Teleporter

The Teleporter by Lee Hall

This is an entertaining superhero story about Kurt Wiseman, who’s bumbling through life. He loves booze so much, having a hangover on a Tuesday morning is not out of the ordinary for him.

Kurt once wrote a graphic novel — One Night in New York — and that seems to be the extent of his ambition beyond drinking at his buddy Douglas’s bar. Kurt could write another graphic novel, but hasn’t made the effort. And he makes minimum effort at his job.

But when an accident happens at his place of employment, Kurt’s life is changed forever. The kind of change along the lines of Peter Parker getting bitten by a radioactive spider and Dr. Bruce Banner shot with a gamma ray. These changes dramatically transform their lives.

Kurt’s new power to teleport cracks the cycle of lazing around at his job during the day and drinking deeply at night. Along with the power, he’s transformed on an emotional level. Yes, you could just use teleporting to save the hassle of walking, but you could use it for more, namely helping people.

Kurt makes for a fun narrator, with snarky remarks and how he describes things. I especially enjoyed the first part of this novel, as the narration took the time to develop each scene. The writing became more streamlined in the middle and final parts. I realize that happens as the action picks up, but I would’ve liked a bit more meat in those scenes.

The story takes a serious message — struggling with our demons and transforming into a stronger, more selfless person — and delivers it in a playful wrapping. I had fun along the way.

*****

Check out Lee Hall’s blog for updates about his writing.