Friday, January 21, 2022

#Review - One Step Too Far by Lisa Gardner #Thrillers #Suspense

Series: A Frankie Elkin Novel (#2)
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
Release Date: January 18, 2022
Publisher: Dutton Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Suspense

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner, a thrilling new novel that sends Frankie Elkin into the woods in search of a lost man--and the shocking truth about why he went missing in the first place.

Frankie Elkin, who readers first met in Before She Disappeared, learns of a young man who has gone missing in a national forest. Law enforcement has abandoned the search, but a crew of people led by the young man's father are still looking. Sensing a father's desperation, Frankie agrees to help--but soon sees that a missing person isn't all that's wrong here. And when more people start to vanish, Frankie realizes she's up against something very dark--and she's running out of time.

One Step Too Far is the second installment in author Lisa Gardner's Frankie Elkin series. This story takes place mostly in Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming. Frankie Elkin is an average middle-aged woman, a recovering alcoholic with more regrets than belongings. She spends her life doing what no one else will—searching for missing people the world has stopped looking for. When the police have given up, when the public no longer remembers, when the media has never paid attention, Frankie starts looking. Frankie been successful in bringing home the lost over a dozen times. 

Five years ago, 5 college friends got together for a drunken bachelor party weekend which turned into a nightmare when one of the party, Timothy O’ Day, disappeared without a trace while another, Scott, stumbled back into town not having any memory of what happened. Five years later, Frankie Elkin hears the story of a young man who disappeared in a national forest during a drunken bachelor party weekend and decides that she will join a search party because finding people is what she does best. Thanks to one of the group getting sick, Frankie is allowed to join.

The search party includes three of the missing mans friends, Neil, Miggy, & Scott, Tim's father Martin, who promised to bring his son home to his dying mother, a search and rescue specialist, Luciana and her dog Daisy, a man named Bob who claims to belong to a group known as the North American Bigfoot Society, as well as a former Shoshone National Forest district ranger, now local guide Nemeth. Even though the hike through the woods is particularly tough going for Frankie, and sleeping out in the woods in freezing temperatures makes it even more unbearable, Frankie begins to piece together the real truth of what happened 5 years ago. 

She learns that Martin has been getting threatening messages that seem to be designed to get him to call off these yearly searches, but dad is not going to stop looking for his son until he finds his body. Especially with his wife on the verge of going home. The three former college friends all have baggage, and when the hike to the area where this years search is to take place, they reveal some highly stunning things about what really happened. Frankie's only real friend on this mission seems to be Luciana and her dog Daisy who is an air scent dog specializing in cadavers. 

I adore search and rescue dogs and give them all the props in the world for everything they did on 9/11 to find the missing among the fallen towers. The author, as usual, adds a bit of her own research to this story. There are approximately 1600 people who remain missing in National Parklands every year. They seemingly vanish into thin air, some of them return and some are never to been seen or heard from again. Even though this is a standalone with a beginning and an end, it seems as though Frankie's job will continue. I'd suggest reading Before She Disappeared to get a better understanding of who Frankie is and what's he's dealt with over the past 10 years.    

Chapter 1


The first three men came stumbling into town shortly after ten a.m., babbling of dark shapes and eerie screams and their missing buddy Scott and their other buddy Tim, who set out from their campsite before dawn to get help.

 “Bear, bear, bear,” first guy moaned.

 “Mountain lion!” second guy insisted.

 Third guy vomited.

 Maybe, maybe not, Marge Santi thought as she sidestepped the spew of liquid. Marge situated the young men in a corner booth of her diner, then got on the phone and summoned Nemeth. To be polite, Marge also contacted Sheriff Jim Kelley, likeable guy, respected by the locals, but an officer with a whole county to tend and the drive to prove it. For immediate action, Nemeth it was.

Nemeth, former Shoshone National Forest district ranger, now local guide, knew what he was doing. First, he plied the three men with coffee. To judge by the rank odor of fear and booze leaking out of their pores, they didn’t need anything else. Two cups later, he had most of the story.

Five guys set out into the woods for a bachelor party weekend. All friends since college, all with some experience camping, though the trio agreed future groom Tim was The Man. Had been backcountry hiking with his father since he was six. He was the reason they were camping. The other four wouldn’t have minded a golf weekend or quality time at a casino/resort. But for Tim, the woods were his happy place, so into the mountains they’d gone. Fully equipped, packs, tents, sleeping bags, two-burner propane camp stove, cans of beans and franks, and yeah, as much beer and Maker’s Mark as five fit young men could carry. Which was to say, a lot. But they weren’t total idiots. Again, Tim knew his shit and oversaw their packing himself.

They’d hiked in seven miles yesterday, looking for the perfect camping spot in one of the deep canyons, near a broad river. Once they found it, they unloaded packs, pitched tents, and popped open the first six-pack, leaving the other four to chill in the ice-cold water.

Dusk came fast this time of year. But all was good. They built up a fire, roasted hot dogs, and ate baked beans straight out of the can. Many fart jokes ensued.

More beer, followed by whiskey chasers. How much booze can five young healthy men drink? Plenty. But no place to be, no cars to drive, no nagging cell phones to answer given the lack of reception.

Just them and the starlit sky. They killed off the first bottle of Maker’s Mark, started in on the second. Tim sat next to the fire and scratched away on a piece of paper. Working on his wedding vows, writing a letter to his beloved? They teased, but he refused to fess up.

Hour grew late. How late, no one knew and it hardly mattered. They finally turned in for the night, two men each in two tents, Tim, the future groom, in a single shell all by himself. One of his last nights on earth sleeping alone. Should enjoy it while he could, they teased.



A sharp keening wail. Crashing in the trees around them.

“Grizzly,” Neil said now, sitting in the diner.

“Mountain lion,” Josh insisted.

Miggy, short for Miguel, crawled out of the booth and vomited some more.

 Maybe, maybe not, Nemeth thought. Marge got a mop.

At the camp, the men had burst from their tents, flashlights bobbing, nerves strung tight, trying to pinpoint the source of the disturbance. Build up the fire, Tim demanded. Make noise of their own. Double-check the food stash they’d strung up in the trees away from their campsite.

 Which is why it took a few minutes, maybe as long as five or ten, before they realized their party of five had become four. Where the hell was Scott?

Miggy had been sharing his tent and Miggy had no idea.

“No…fucking idea,” Miggy clarified for Nemeth, in between bouts of dry heaving.

Tim, future groom, got serious. Scott could’ve wandered off to pee. Scott could’ve just plain wandered off, drunk and disoriented. But given the cold temps, dangerous terrain, and carnivorous local wildlife, they needed to find him.


Arranging their group into two pairs, Tim directed the first duo to start searching north of the campfire, while the other would cover the woods to the south. Whoever found Scott first would blow their emergency signal whistle.


Except they didn’t find him. Up and down the water, bushwhacking deeper and deeper into the forest. No Scott. But they did find trampled brush. Broken tree limbs. Possibly blood.


“Grizzly bear,” Neil moaned.


“Mountain lion,” Josh ventured.


“Fuck me,” Miggy whispered.


That, Nemeth agreed with.


Four a.m., the fall air brutally crisp, the clear night relentlessly dark, Tim made the decision: They needed help, and given the total lack of cell reception, hiking back out was the only way to get it. As the most experienced-and sober-member of their party, he grabbed his pack, clicked on his trusty headlamp, and set out for civilization.


Neil, Josh, and Miggy huddled around the fire for another three hours, pounding water and working themselves into a terrified frenzy. First glimpse of daylight, they refilled their canteens and hit the trail. Left everything behind. Tents, sleeping bags, food. Young men, fit and now semi-sober, they were on a mission to get the hell out of there as fast as humanly possible.


Still tough going. They half ran, half stumbled their way up and down steep terrain, clambering over boulders, careening through brush, splashing across streams. Till they came to the trailhead and their rented ATVs. All five of them. Shouldn’t there be only four?


Which is when they started to get worried about Tim.


ATVs to town. Town to diner. And now…help. Nemeth. Sheriff. Cavalry. Hunters with big guns. Any kind of assistance, all kinds of assistance. Help.


Nemeth unfolded a topographical map, had the men walk him through their journey. They knew their initial path, which, like a lot of backcountry trails, started out marked before hitting rugged, less traversed terrain. Definitely not for the faint of heart. But the men could guess where along the river they’d camped. From there, Nemeth ran his finger along various geological features, thinking, thinking, thinking. Marge worked the phone, brewed more coffee.


Being a mountain town, they had a local team of fifteen volunteer search and rescuers. Given the circumstances, however, this would be all hands on deck. Neighbors contacted neighbors, people started pouring in, and Nemeth did what he did best: organized the efforts.


First up, hasty team. He wanted his best searchers dispersed along key perimeter areas encircling the PLS-point last seen-of their two missing hikers. Taking into account the average distance a person could travel an hour in that terrain, Nemeth drew a massive ring around the site, identifying their prime search area. Hasty teams would hike, ATV, or horseback into various points along this ring, conducting a down-and-dirty search of the trail and surrounding areas as they swept toward the center. They’d look for the men, but also look for signs of human passage, which might provide additional data on where Tim the experienced hiker and Scott the drunk buddy could’ve gone.


Ramsey, a town of four thousand situated at the edge of the Popo Agie Wilderness, was filled with experienced outsdoorspeople. The mountains were both a lifestyle and a professional calling. Nemeth was a veteran general working with expert foot soldiers.


Which made it very hard for the family to accept what happened next. The first eight hours of the search, when Scott turned up wandering blindly along the rocky banks of the river. Still clad in his long underwear, face covered in scratches, fingernails caked with dirt. Clearly disoriented and shell-shocked.


“Grizzly,” Neil whispered.


“Mountain lion,” Josh repeated.


“Shit…” Miggy moaned.


Even sobered up, Scott couldn’t provide any details about where he’d been or what he’d done. He remembered drinking with his buddies around the campfire and teasing Tim for working on his wedding vows. Scott went to bed and…Daylight. Cold. So cold. Wandering in nothing but his stocking feet, till he found his way back to the river and followed it. Eventually, people appeared and a shrill whistle blew and now he was here and hey, where was Tim, anyway?


Timothy O’Day. Thirty-three years old, first member of his family to go to college, graduating from Oregon State University with a degree in mechanical engineering. Described by his family and friends as a regular MacGyver. Engaged to be married to Latisha Gibbons, whom he’d met three years ago through his college buddy Neil. Latisha hailed from Atlanta, worked in marketing, and spent her weekends in a state of perpetual motion, hiking, biking, skiing, every bit as crazy as her future husband.


Everyone said they looked beautiful together. The ultimate, modern-day L.L.Bean couple. They’d buy a house, adopt a Lab, and produce 2.2 gorgeous children to chase along trails, down mountains, across streams.


Theirs was to be a wonderful, magnificent life lived out loud.


Until hours stretched into days stretched into weeks.


Tim’s parents arrived on-site. His father, Martin, driving from Oregon to Wyoming with his mountaineering equipment piled in the back. Marty was a lean, nut-brown professional carpenter and experienced outdoorsman ready to take up the charge. In contrast, Tim’s mother, Patrice, appeared nearly translucent. Cancer survivor, the locals learned. Fifteen years ago, multiple bouts, barely made it.


Marge made it her mission to serve the woman coffee aboveboard and administer a little medicinal assistance on the down low.


Martin conferred with Nemeth and Sheriff Kelley, who’d taken charge of the search efforts. In the beginning, Martin would nod, approve, express his gratitude. By day five, he questioned and stewed. Day seven he headed into the woods himself, snarling under his breath when both Nemeth and Sheriff Kelley tried to hold him back.


The hasty teams stopped being hasty. Search efforts slowed, grew more methodical, no longer hoping for an easy victory, but now settling in to scour the wilderness foot by foot, trail by trail, grid by grid. Choppers scanned with infrared. Air-scenting dogs tracked areas of interest. Couple of psychics called in with hot tips, most involving flowing rivers or dark caves.


More volunteers showed up. The National Guard arrived to assist. Until twenty-three long, arduous, exhausting days later, as the temperatures plummeted and snow blanketed the upper elevations…


The searchers faded back to their real lives. The canine teams went home. The choppers were redirected to new missions. And only family and friends remained.


Martin O’Day fought the good fight the longest. He had a lifetime of experience and the advantage of being the one who’d trained his son. He headed back into the mountains, expedition after expedition, while Patrice held press conferences with her future daughter-in-law by her side. Twin advertisements for grief and desperation. The college friends, Neil, Josh, Miggy, and Scott, did their best to assist while having to accommodate the demands of jobs, family, obligations of their own.


Martin O’Day searched for his son. Then he searched for signs of his son. And then he searched for his son’s body.


“Grizzly bear,” Neil whispered.


“Mountain lion,” Josh argued.


“Goddammit,” Miggy said.


As for the real answer, the woods never said. Seasons turned into years and Timothy O’Day became one more missing hiker, vanished without a trace.



Here are things most folks donÕt know: At least sixteen hundred people, if not many more times that number, remain missing on national public lands. Hikers, day-trippers, children on family camping trips. One moment they were with us, the next theyÕre gone.


There’s no national database to track such cases. No centralized training for search and rescue or, in many cases, even clear jurisdictional lines to identify who’s in charge of such operations. There’s also little in the way of designated funding. A large-scale search effort can cost upwards of three hundred thousand dollars a day. For many county sheriffs, that’s their annual budget.


Meaning when the volunteers go away, so do rescue efforts. Leaving behind a family with little hope and no closure. Most will continue on their own for as long as they can. Some, such as Martin O’Day, continue the hunt every year, assisted by friends, funded by online campaigns, and advised by various experts.


According to the article I’m reading in a small, local paper, Martin’s been at it for five years. This August will be his final attempt. His wife, Patrice, is now dying from the same cancer that tried to kill her before. She wants to see her son one last time. She wants her body to be buried next to his.


I sit in a diner not so dissimilar to the one Tim O’Day’s hiking buddies must’ve rushed into the morning after. I’ve spent the past twelve hours on a bus and am now catching my breath, somewhere west of Cheyenne and south of Jackson, Wyoming. I don’t particularly know, and I’m enjoying a sense of freedom-life on the road-as I read the article again, then again. Something about the story has sunk into my skin, refusing to let go.


My name is Frankie Elkin and finding missing people is what I do. When the police have given up, when the public no longer remembers, when the media has never bothered to care, I start looking. For no money, no recognition, and most of the time, with no help.


I have no professional training. I’m not a former detective or registered PI or ex-anything special. I’m only me. An average, middle-aged white woman, short on belongings, long on regret. I tried real life once. There was a house, a job, even a man who loved me enough to hold my hand as I fought my way to sober.


In the end, the walls closed in; the relentless sameness drowned me. And the man who loved me…


One day, a woman in my AA meeting talked about her daughter who’d disappeared and the police’s lack of interest in finding a young woman with a troubled past. I became intrigued, started asking questions, and the next thing I knew, I’d found the daughter. Unfortunately, the daughter’s fucked-up boyfriend had chosen to blow off her head and abandon her body in a crack house rather than let her go. But despite the case not having a happy ending, or maybe because of that, one search became another, which became another.


Ten years later, this is now my life. I travel from place to place, armed with only my good intentions. Currently, I’ve been traveling by bus to Idaho to take up the case of Eugene Santiago, an eight-year-old boy now missing sixteen months. I read about Eugene’s disappearance in one of the various online cold case forums I frequent. Something about his soulful dark eyes, his very serious smile. I don’t always know why I choose the cases I do. There are so many of them out there. But I spot a headline, I read an article, and then I just know.

Kind of like now, I think, setting down the local paper.  I haven’t done a woodland search in forever.  Mostly I work small rural communities or dense urban neighborhoods.  I gravitate more toward kids than adults, minorities more than Caucasians.  But my mission is to help the underserved, and as the families of those sixteen hundred people vanished in public parks will tell you, they are so underserved.

Mostly, I keep thinking of Timothy O’Day’s mother who just wants to be buried next to her son.

Eugene Santiago has been missing for nearly a year and half.  A few more weeks won’t matter.  And while there may be no chance of finding Timothy O’Day alive, I know from experience that finally bringing home a body still makes a difference.

I pick up the bus schedule, and plot my new destination.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

#Review - The Starless Crown (Moon Fall #1) by James Rollins #Fantasy

Series: Moon Fall (#1)
Format: Hardcover, 560 pages
Release Date: January 4, 2022
Publisher: Tor Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Epic

The first book in a new series from #1 New York Times Bestselling author James Rollins, The Starless Crown is a page-turning tale of action, adventure, betrayal, ambition, and the struggle for survival in a harsh world that hangs by a thread. An alliance embarks on a dangerous journey to uncover the secrets of the distant past and save their world in this captivating, deeply visionary adventure from #1 New York Times bestselling thriller-master James Rollins.

A gifted student foretells an apocalypse. Her reward is a sentence of death.

Fleeing into the unknown, she is drawn into a team of outcasts:

A broken soldier, who once again takes up the weapons he’s forbidden to wield and carves a trail back home.

A drunken prince, who steps out from his beloved brother's shadow and claims a purpose of his own.

An imprisoned thief, who escapes the crushing dark and discovers a gleaming artifact—one that will ignite a power struggle across the globe.

On the run, hunted by enemies old and new, they must learn to trust each other in order to survive in a world evolved in strange, beautiful, and deadly ways, and uncover ancient secrets that hold the key to their salvation.  

The Starless Crown, by author James Rollins, is the first installment in the authors Moon Fall series. I have read an interview that stated Rollins plans to write four total in this series. Rollins debuts a major new series that opens a riven world trapped between fire and ice. One upon a time, Urth turned as our world does. Then it stopped. Now you have a tidal locked planet with one hemisphere always in the scorching sun and the other forever shadowed in frosty darkness. While the story unfolds through several viewpoints, it is really Nyx who is the true main character and heart of the story.  

First, she was raised by Myr bats after her mother dies when she was born. Thanks to being raised by bats, she's nearly blind. Being nearly blind is a huge disadvantage against her fellow students who look down on her and bully her because they are from rich families. Nyx has spent 1/2 her life in the walled Cloistry of Brayk. Nyx experiences the world through touch, but after her fellow students attack her, and she nearly dies, her adopted brother (Bashaliia) comes to her rescue. 

Several moon turns later, Nyx can also now see clearly for the first time in her life and gets a premonition of the end of the world. Instead of heeding the warning, however, the king decides the bearer of such a dangerous prophecy must be put to death. Nyx, along with her best friend Jace, will go on a massive adventure reminiscent of the Lord of the Ring in a world where she's far more important and powerful than she ever could have dreamed.

Rhaif is an imprisoned thief betrayed by his guild. His greatest fear is being stuck in darkness. After a cave in, Rhaif escapes and finds a gleaming artifact—one that will ignite a power struggle across the globe or bring about its doom. It seems that this artifact is highly prized by some powerful and dangerous people. The only way to remain alive and free, is to find help from people who are criminals or worst. Rhaif and the Bronze woman he calls Shiva eventually meets up with Nyx's group and the action is almost non-stop.

Prince Kanthe is the second born twin of King Toranth. After being pushed aside in favor of his brighter, bolder, and more promising older twin brother, Kanthe is generally fine with his lot in life, and spends his days in something of a drunken haze. Kanthe is given a mission to retrieve Nyx which in turn becomes part of a larger plot to assassinate him and get him out of the picture. Kanthe's entire view of the world is set to change. Kanthe is naively noble. When he learns about Nyx's premonition and her fate if she falls into the wrong hands, he promises to find a way to make sure Nyk lives to find a way to stop Armageddon.

Graylin is a knight living in exile. He’s sworn never to return home or to wield his sword again, but when he receives word that the child of his slain lover might be still alive, he may be forced to break his vows once more. Graylin later learns that the woman that he once loved gave birth to a daughter who is Nyx. He experiences all the awkward and overwhelming emotions of suddenly trying to make up for the fact that he maybe could have done something to save the woman he loved and her daughter. 

There’s a lot of time spent introducing the characters and their back stories as well as world-building, but that’s not unusual in the first book in a series of this magnitude. As readers get acquainted with the characters, both good and bad, it becomes clear that there is even more going on than the journey. Evil, greed, the desire for power, and treachery are abundant. One of the more interesting parts of this book is the fact that some of the travel takes place in what would be considered to be zeppelins. 

Clocking in at 560 pages, I really don't think this needed to be as long as it is. A very significant part of the book is characters traveling and fighting, which gets to feel repetitive at times, especially because we keep switching to the perspectives of yet more characters who are also traveling and fighting that being the villains and their contemporaries. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

#Review - The Final Heir by Jon Monson #Fantasy

Series: Unknown
Format: E-Galley, 299 pages
Release Date: January 17, 2022
Publisher: Castle Peak Publishing, LLC
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy

The world is free. The world is mine.

Some call him the Usurper, the Destroyer of Worlds. Mahzun calls himself the Savior of Man. A decade of war has brought him to the precipice of victory.

Zahara, a prodigious mage, is destined to wield the Power of Creation and put an end to the Usurper. But when that power mistakenly falls to Ekarath, her best friend and elite soldier incapable of casting the simplest of spells, destiny must be questioned.

Will the Usurper complete his victory? Or will Ekarath find the strength to be the hero he wasn’t destined to be?

The Final Heir, by author Jon Monson, is the first installment in a yet to be named series. The series follows three main characters from Zahara, Ekarath and Mahzun, aka the villain of the story. 17-year-old Zahara is formally training to become a mage. Ekarath is a young man who is training to become a specialize soldier known as Hundiin who is supposed to protect Lord Dimitri, the last remaining Heir. Mahzun, aka the Usurper, has been fighting for the past 10 years to rid the world of the remaining Heirs. 

Zahara, from the region known as Karajaani, which was conquered 5 years ago by the Usurper, is ahead of most people her age thanks to training she received from her mother before she passed. She's also a minor noble. Zahara was ready to take her final test to become a full fledged Mage until the Usurper waged war on her home. She's grateful when she's asked by Lord Dimitri to travel with Ekarath to find Farban, his spy master, deep in the heart of the forest. She's shocked even more when she's named heir to replace Dimitri. But it is Ekarath, not Zahara, that the power of the Heir has found a home with.

Ekarath, who heroically fought against the Usurpers army, is shocked that the Power of Creation has found its way to him, rather than his best friend Zahara who is a powerful mage who can easily access magic called draoad. Ekarath has to learn the three basic types of power from Destruction to Illusion to Restoration while Zahara has to fake being the heir for fear that Ekarath will be easy pickings for the usurper if he is caught before he is ready.

Mahzun calls himself the Savior of Mankind, but along with the name Usurper, he's also called Wild Man, Primal Key, and Destroyer of the World. Mahzun claims he is fighting a war to liberate humanity from the tyranny of the Heirs. There was once 7 heirs decreed by the Creator, but with the fall of Dimitri by his sword, Mahzun feels as though his 10 year war has finally come to an end even at the cost of his own body which has aged decades. Until the Power of Creation decides to find a new host. Mahzun doesn't see himself as the villain. He sees himself as a hero who is getting revenge on those who has suppressed people for generations. 

Here are my regrets: The reader is literally dropped in the middle of a very complex world that is at war and expected to understand how everything works and who everyone is without the benefit of at least a bit of explanation. Mahzun is the character mostly formed by the author while Zahara and Ekarath are left to dance around from scene to scene until an encounter with the Usurper is all but doomed to fail. The ending was probably the best part of this book but it also leaves many, many unanswered questions pertaining to a certain character who seems to hang around for no apparent reasoning except to torture one of the characters. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

#Review - A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham #Thriller #Mystery

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Release Date: January 11, 2022
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Psychological / Suspense

From debut author Stacy Willingham comes a masterfully done, lyrical thriller, certain to be the launch of an amazing career. A Flicker in the Dark is eerily compelling to the very last page.

When Chloe Davis was twelve, six teenage girls went missing in her small Louisiana town. By the end of the summer, Chloe’s father had been arrested as a serial killer and promptly put in prison. Chloe and the rest of her family were left to grapple with the truth and try to move forward while dealing with the aftermath.

Now 20 years later, Chloe is a psychologist in private practice in Baton Rouge and getting ready for her wedding. She finally has a fragile grasp on the happiness she’s worked so hard to get. Sometimes, though, she feels as out of control of her own life as the troubled teens who are her patients. And then a local teenage girl goes missing, and then another, and that terrifying summer comes crashing back. Is she paranoid, and seeing parallels that aren't really there, or for the second time in her life, is she about to unmask a killer?

In a debut novel that has already been optioned for a limited series by actress Emma Stone and sold to a dozen countries around the world, Stacy Willingham has created an unforgettable character in a spellbinding thriller that will appeal equally to fans of Gillian Flynn and Karin Slaughter.

 “We live in the flicker...but darkness was here yesterday.” - Joseph Conrad

A Flicker in the Dark is the debut of author Stacy Willingham. When Chloe Davis was twelve, six teenage girls went missing in her small Louisiana town of Breaux Bridge, the Craw fish capital of the country and were never recovered. One of the girls was Chloe's friend. By the end of the summer, Chloe had found damaging evidence. Chloe’s father had been arrested as a serial killer and promptly put in prison where he's serving back to back life sentences. Chloe and the rest of her family were left to grapple with the truth and try to move forward while dealing with the aftermath.  

Her mother escaped into herself, doing less and less for herself and her family until she can handle life any longer.  Now 20 years later, Chloe is a psychologist in private practice in Baton Rouge and getting ready for her wedding to Daniel Briggs. In reality, Chloe is a mess. She self medicates with prescription drugs and alcohol. She rarely visits her mother, who lives in a care home after trying to commit suicide. Her older brother, Cooper, is dealing with their past in his own way, staying close to Chloe but also adding more stress to her life. 

For some reason, Cooper dislikes Daniel and he's always at her that Daniel isn't who she thinks he is. To make matters worse, a local teen named Audrey is reported missing. Then one of Chloe's own patients goes missing. Is she paranoid, and seeing parallels that aren't really there, or for the second time in her life, is she about to unmask a killer? To make matters even more cloudy, an alleged reporter named Aaron Jansen contacts Chloe asking questions about what happened 20 years ago. Could Daniel somehow be involved, or is it the mysterious reporter with an agenda, or could it be someone else entirely?

What makes this book twisted is Chloe herself. Chloe is your classic unreliable narrator. She often difficulties separating what's real from what isn't, which isn't helped by her pharmaceutical habits which she sometimes uses Daniel to avoid people asking too many unwanted questions. She's paranoid, convinced that these new victims are someone specifically toying with her, setting her on her own amateur investigative path to find who's copying her imprisoned father's past actions, since virtually no one else believes her suspicions.  

This is a fairly impressive debut by the author and I look forward to see what she creates next. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

#Review - Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves by Meg Long #YA #SyFy

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Release Date: January 11, 2022
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction

A captivating debut about survival, found family, and the bond between a girl and a wolf that delivers a fresh twist on classic survival stories and frontier myths.

After angering a local gangster, seventeen-year-old Sena Korhosen must flee with the gangster's prize fighting wolf, Iska, in tow. A team of scientists offer to pay her way off her frozen planet on one condition: she gets them to the finish line of the planet’s infamous sled race. Though Sena always swore she’d never race after it claimed both her mothers’ lives, it’s now her only option. But the tundra is a treacherous place, and as the race unfolds and their lives are threatened at every turn, Sena starts to question her own abilities. She must discover whether she's strong enough to survive the wild—whether she and Iska together are strong enough to get them all out alive.

Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves is the debut novel by author Meg Long. The story takes place on a monster infested planet called Tundar. The only thing that makes this Planet remarkable is its deposits of exo-carbon, a valuable material used in all the tech in the galaxy. It is a story about survival, found family, and the bond between a girl and a wolf that delivers a fresh twist on classic survival stories and frontier myths. 5 years ago, 17-year-old Sena Korhosen mothers were killed in the planet's infamous sled race to the exo-carbon mines. She vowed that she would never work with wolves or race again.
Since the planet's constant ion storms wrecks any high-tech vehicles that try to land and mine in the biggest exo-carbon deposits, sleds pulled by genetically-enhanced "vonenwolves" must be used. The treacherous journey to the deposits in the planet's mildest season gradually turned into a once-a-year spectacle of a race. (Think Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race race in Alaska on steroids). The death count is high and few race teams ever make it to the end, but for most, it is their only financial option and their only hope of getting off the planet.

Sena's mothers were racers who died tragically in one such race, leading her to hate every aspect of it and become emotionally closed off from the world. In fact, she's become a pick pocket in order to save up enough money to get off the planet. After she's caught stealing from the wrong people, Boss Kalba gives Sena a month to fix his prize fighting wolf, Iska. She has a lifetime of unique skills in training the vonenwolves and they seem to respond to her on another level. Sena finds that she and the wolf have a connection. One that can't broken. 

A team of scientists, under Professor Kaasen, offers to pay her way off her frozen planet on one condition: she gets them to the finish line of the planet’s infamous sled race. Though Sena always swore she’d never race after it claimed both her mothers’ lives, it’s now her only option. But the tundra is a treacherous place with terrible monsters, and as the race unfolds and their lives are threatened at every turn, Sena starts to question her own abilities. She must discover whether she's strong enough to survive the wild—whether she and Iska together are strong enough to get them all out alive.
Sena's relationship with the wolf Iska is everything that's right about this book. It's beautiful and heart warming, and I dare you not to shed one single tear while reading this story. There are some interesting side characters as well including Pana, who is the trained sled mechanic as well as doctor, and Remy, the teams engineer and genetically engineered human who becomes friends with Sena. I also absolutely loved the world. It was lush, and almost too realistic. From the ruthlessness of the miners to the greed of the corporations, none of it was glorified. The world was gritty and fierce, and it shone so bright because of this.

Friday, January 14, 2022

#Review - Nightrender (Salvation Cycle #1) by Jodi Meadows #YA #Fantasy

Series: Salvation Cycle (#1)
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Release Date: January 11, 2022
Publisher: Holiday House
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Epic

Kingdoms will fall, gods will die, and hearts will be broken in this sprawling new fantasy from New York Times bestselling author Jodi Meadows.

In the middle of nothingness is the Island of Salvation.   
Reality bends easily here. Villages disappear. Forests burn forever. Pockets of inconsistent time are everywhere, their boundaries strung with yellow ribbon. And the three kingdoms of Salvation have been at war for a thousand years.  
But the greatest threat is the Malice, an incursion from the demon plane slowly tearing its way through the world’s weakest seams. Seams that—once split—will lead to the total unraveling of night and day, light and dark, life and death. 
Not that the human world takes much interest. Of more concern is the upcoming marriage of Rune Hightower, Prince of Caberwill, and Johanne Fortuin, Princess of Embria—the serpent bride, a girl of famous cunning—which offers a possible end to the ancient conflict. But Rune has noticed the growing darkness, and he is determined to summon mankind’s only defense: Nightrender, the hammer of the gods, an immortal warrior more weapon than girl.
There is only one problem. The last time she was summoned, she slaughtered every royal in Salvation, and no one knows why. Will she save humanity from the Malice… or plunge it deeper into the fires of eternal war?


Nightrender is the first installment in author Jodi Meadows Salvation Cycle duology. The story revolves around three characters: Johanne (Hanne) Fortuin, Princess of Embria—the serpent bride, a girl of famous cunning—which offers a possible end to the ancient conflict. Rune Hightower, Prince of Caberwill, elevated to the position of Crown Prince thanks to his brothers murder by an assassin. Rune has noticed the growing darkness, and he is determined to summon mankind’s only defense. Nightrender, the hammer of the gods, an immortal warrior more weapon than girl. Nightrender herself, an immortal warrior--more weapon than girl--sworn to defend mankind even after a terrible betrayal.

This is a pretty curious world. It appears as though the rest of the world has fallen to the darkness and only a continent called Salvation remains. Salvation is divided between three warring countries: Embria, Caberwill, and Ivasland. The Winterfast accords divided the world of the humans from that of the Malstop, fed by the dark human compulsions and overrun with demon-like creatures called Rancor that use the weakening borders to break into the human world with their dark magic called malice. Malsites dot the landscape, trapping and torturing humans that stumble upon them. 

The Veil is weakening, and one of the three kingdoms, Ivasland, is poised to break the Winterfast Accords. To prevent this, Embria and Caberwill, the other two kingdoms, have forged a treaty to be signed in marriage of their heirs, Hanne and Rune, respectively. 400 years ago, the Malice came to Salvation and was defeated by the Nightrender who has been sleeping for hundreds of years, waiting for someone to awaken her so she can use her power to save the land of Salvation. When she's finally summoned, she realizes the world around her is not as she remembers, and neither are her memories.   

Hanne has accepted that she will one day be queen of the entire Salvation if her devious plans fall into place. She even has her cousin Nadine along for the ride which we see through diary entries. Her first stop is to marry the Crown Prince of Caberwill and then destroy Ivasland which seems to be more technology based than the other two countries. It also appears as though Ivasland has broken the accords which means war is definitely imminent. While the three countries have been warring on each other, they have ignored the most dangerous threat to the entire continent for the first time in 400 years. 

After Hanne is caught in a Malsite, she is confronted by a Rancor who tells her she will teach her hated enemies how to build a terrible weapon. A terrible weapon that might bring down the Veil forever. Meanwhile, Rune summons Nightrender who seems to have lost a whole lot of her past memories. Nightrender is a weapon created by long gone Gods that is supposed to stand in front of the darkness and protect the light. The weapon that failed 400 years ago, killing 99 percent of all Kingdom's royalty except for a missing princess who hasn't been seen.  

And, to make it even more unbearable, it seems her memories keep floating away without any explanation as to why. Rune also has a curious connection to Nightrender which makes his pending marriage to Hanne that much more interesting and Hanne that much more despicable for her own actions. Rune was a very sensitive man who wanted someone to love him and that person is not Hanne. There were those within his own family who would have preferred that one of his younger sisters was elevated to Crown Princess instead.

The speculative fantasy setting may be the distant past—or the distant future—and the reality-bending elements Jodi employs add a unique freshness to the fantasy storytelling. Think Rory Power meets Sarah Maas. Nightrender is commercial fantasy at its best—warring kingdoms, young love, gods and demons, world-ending stakes, deadly magic, cliffhanger ending—perfect for fans of hits like Furyborn, Sorcery of Thorns, Four Dead Queens, and A Court of Roses. This is a world of filled with danger, magic, and insidious politics and games played by several devious individuals. The stakes couldn't be much higher with heart rendering cliffhanger ending.

*Note* Even though this is sold as young adult, the age group the main characters fall in is more like 20-24 which is new adult. Curious if the publisher has an plans to change that focus. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

#Review - City of Shadows by Victoria Thompson #Mystery #Historical

Series: A Counterfeit Lady Novel (#5)
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Release Date: December 7, 2021
Publisher: Berkley Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Mystery / Historical

In this all-new Counterfeit Lady Novel from USA Today bestselling author Victoria Thompson, newlywed Elizabeth Miles must use her unlawful skills to expose a dangerous charlatan.

Elizabeth Miles Bates has returned from her honeymoon with Gideon and is taking great pride in having completely forsaken her disreputable past. Then her friend Anna Vanderslice begs her to use her talents to save her widowed mother from an unscrupulous medium. Since the war and the flu epidemic left so many families in mourning, séances have come back into vogue as desperate families long to communicate with their loved ones. 

Anna’s mother has been attending séances in hopes of connecting with her son, David, who died of influenza. Anna had thought it a heartbreaking but harmless activity, but she’s just learned that Mrs. Vanderslice is paying the medium ever-increasing sums of money in her eagerness to make contact. Since David’s death has already caused Anna and her mother financial hardship, Mrs. Vanderslice’s obsession is in danger of ruining them.

Madame Ophelia is working with a group of con artists to fleece as many grieving New Yorkers as possible before moving on to another city. Several of Mrs. Vanderslice’s friends, as well as some of Gideon’s clients, have already been victims. Elizabeth knows that simply exposing the medium as a fraud will not be enough to recoup the stolen money; the only way is to con the medium and her cohorts. But will Elizabeth’s family help her when it means betraying other con artists? Elizabeth recruits Gideon, her aunt Cybil, and her partner, Zelda, to lend a hand. Can Elizabeth and her gang of amateurs fool the professionals? Or will speaking to the dead lead to deadly consequences?

City of Shadows is the Fifth installment in author Victoria Thompson's Counterfeit Lady series. Elizabeth Miles Bates has returned from her honeymoon cruise with Gideon Bates and is taking great pride in having completely forsaken her past life as a con artist. In fact, she's putting in a whole lot of effort working with her mother-in-law Hazel Bates pushing President Woodrow Wilson to pass to the 19th Amendment now that the Republican party has control of Congress. Elizabeth and Hazel have already been victim of Wilson's hatred of the suffrage women as we witnessed in the first installment in this series. 

Then her friend, Anna Vanderslice, who has played her part in helping Jake and Elizabeth, begs her to use her talents to help save her widowed mother from a disreputable medium called Madame Ophelia. Since the war and the flu epidemic left so many families bereaved, interest in contacting the dead has experienced a revival. Once quite popular, seances have come back into vogue as desperate families mourn their loved ones and long to communicate with them. Anna's mother has been attending seances in an attempt to contact her son, David, who died of influenza. 

Anna had thought it a harmless activity, though a heartbreaking one, but she has just learned that Mrs. Vanderslice is paying the medium ever-increasing sums of money in her eagerness to make contact with her deceased son. Since David's death has caused Anna and her mother financial hardship already, Mrs. Vanderslice's obsession is in danger of ruining them. Madame Ophelia is part of a group of con artists, including Persephone, working together to fleece as many New Yorker's as possible before moving onto another city. Several of Mrs. Vanderslice's friends as well as some of Gideon's clients have already been victimized. 

Elizabeth knows that simply exposing the medium as a fraud will not be enough, and the only way to get at least some of the stolen money back is to con the medium and her cohorts. But will Elizabeth's family help her when it means betraying other con artists? And who can they trust? No one, as it happens, so Elizabeth turns to her aunt, Cybil, and Cybil's partner, Zelda, for help. Although Cybil disapproves of her family's shady profession, she is more than happy to lend a hand. Can Elizabeth and her gang of amateurs fool the professionals?

The author also introduces a new secondary character to the mix who is important to Anna; Frederica Quincy. They are both in college together, and Freddie seems as though she really likes Anna. Freddie gets involved with Elizabeth's brother Jake in conning one of the members of Madame Ophelia's ring of con artists and boy is she right on point with her antics. She fits right in with Elizabeth, Jake, and the Old Man when it comes to going after people who con the wrong people. I will be interested to see if Freddie sticks around or not. This book once again has multiple points of view from Elizabeth, to Jake, to Gideon who is once again dragged into Elizabeth's attempts to rid the world of bad con artists. 



Elizabeth looked up from the letter she’d been writing when the maid announced the unexpected arrival of her best friend, Anna Vanderslice. Before she could rise to greet Anna or even open her mouth to ask the maid to show Anna in, Anna brushed unceremoniously past the startled maid and cried, “Elizabeth, you’ve got to help me!”

Being a gently reared young lady, Anna wasn’t given to outbursts like this, especially in front of the servants. “Of course, I’ll help you,” Elizabeth said, rising quickly from the small lady’s desk where she’d been sitting and moving to where Anna stood, anxiously wringing her hands, just inside the library doorway. “Lucy, would you bring us something cool to drink?” Elizabeth asked the still-flustered maid.

Lucy scurried out, obviously glad to escape what promised to be a strange situation.

“What’s the matter?” Elizabeth asked, taking Anna’s hands in hers. They were like ice in spite of the warm day. “What kind of help do you need?”

The despair that clouded Anna’s face truly frightened Elizabeth. She hadn’t seen her friend so upset since Anna’s brother, David, had died of influenza last fall. “Oh, Elizabeth, I…” She glanced at the still-open library door, obviously just realizing that she shouldn’t be discussing anything upsetting where the servants could hear.

“Sit down,” Elizabeth said, hurrying to close the door and give Anna the privacy she needed.

Anna took one of the comfortable chairs placed in front of the now-cold fireplace, sighing wearily as she sank down into it. Elizabeth took the other chair when she had shut the door securely. The chairs had been chosen for comfort so two gentlemen could sit and smoke and converse in the quiet of this cozy book-lined room at the end of a long day, but they would serve just as well for women to share a bit of bad news.

“Now what is it?” Elizabeth demanded almost desperately.

“It’s Mother.”

“Your mother?” Elizabeth echoed in alarm. “Is she ill?”

“Oddly, no,” Anna said with a frown. “You knew she took to her bed after David died. I think her heart was truly broken.”

“She came to my wedding,” Elizabeth reminded her.

“And she would sometimes go to church, but until recently, she rarely left her bedroom.”

“But recently?”

Anna sighed. “Recently, she has discovered a medium.”

Elizabeth blinked in surprise. “You mean, a fortune-teller?”

“Oh, she’s far more than a fortune-teller. She conducts sŽances.”

Elizabeth knew a little about sŽances and what she knew wasn’t good. “Does she make the table move and do the spirits knock in coded raps to convey messages?”

“I have no idea, but Mother is convinced this woman, this Madame Ophelia,” Anna added in disgust, “can contact David.”

“Oh dear.”

“Yes, oh dear,” Anna agreed.

For a long moment, the two friends silently considered this very disturbing situation.

Then Elizabeth found something comforting to say. “I know it must be upsetting to you, but if it gives her some peace to think that-”

“You don’t think this woman can really talk to David, do you?” Anna asked in outrage.

“Of course not. It’s all a con.”

Anna brightened at once. “Then you know all about it?”

“Not much. I may have been raised by a con artist, but even he had standards. Bilking little old ladies out of their last pennies is beneath him. But I do know it’s a con.”

“It’s also more than just a few pennies,” Anna said gravely.

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked, newly alarmed.

Before Anna could answer, Lucy knocked at the door and brought in a tray bearing two glasses of lemonade and a plate of cookies. Elizabeth insisted Anna drink some of the lemonade before continuing. “You must be parched after walking over here.”

That made Anna smile at last. “Hardly. One of the best parts of you finally marrying Gideon is that now you only live a few blocks away.”

Elizabeth could think of other wonderful reasons to be glad she and Gideon were married, but she knew Anna didn’t want to hear about that part of married life. “It is nice being so close to you. Now tell me what you meant about it being more than pennies.”

Anna’s smile vanished again. “Madame Ophelia charges twenty dollars for each session.”

Elizabeth winced. “That does seem expensive.”

“And Mother has been going to see her three times a week.” Three visits a week would cost as much as an average man would earn in a week, but Madame Ophelia most certainly catered only to the wealthy members of society. Her high prices would keep the riffraff away.

“Good heavens.”

“Yes, good heavens. You do know that we aren’t really rich, don’t you?”

Elizabeth did know that. Many of the old New York families had seen their early fortunes dwindle with the generations. Gideon’s family was one of them, but she certainly hadn’t married him for his money. “Is it causing you a hardship?”

“More than a hardship. Father left us some money that provides a modest income, but we relied on David’s salary, too. With David gone…” Anna’s voice caught, and she needed a moment to compose herself. His loss was still fresh enough to cause tears.

“You don’t have to explain,” Elizabeth assured her as Anna dabbed at her tears with a handkerchief.

“But I do. I had to let some of the servants go, but if we’re careful, we should be fine. Or at least we would have been, but now…”

“Have you explained this to your mother? I’m sure if she understood-”

“Of course, I explained it to her, but she refuses to understand. Father and David always took care of everything. She has no idea how much things cost or how much our income is. She thinks Father left us wealthy and the money will never run out and I’m just being mean because I don’t believe in Madame Ophelia’s powers. On top of that, this Madame Ophelia has bewitched her. Mother becomes furious if I even suggest she stop attending these sŽances, and this morning she told me she’s going to start seeing the woman every day. We can’t afford that! I won’t even be able to go back to college in the fall.” Her tears were falling freely now, but at least Elizabeth could offer a bit of comfort.

“You don’t have to worry about college, my darling girl. Your fees will be paid no matter what.”

But this news was far from comforting, if Anna’s scowl was any indication. “What do you mean?”

“Just what I said. The fees will be paid.”

Anna’s scowl deepened. “I can’t take charity from you, Elizabeth.”

Oh dear, now she’d hurt Anna’s pride. “It’s not charity and it’s not from me.”

“Who is it from, then? I won’t take anything from Gideon, either.”

Elizabeth sighed in defeat. “Not Gideon. Jake.”

“Jake? Your brother, Jake?”

“The very same.”

Anna’s shock was almost comic, but Elizabeth knew better than to laugh. “Why would Jake pay my college fees?”

“Because you helped him with a con. Do you have any idea how much he made on that?”

Anna stiffened her spine. “No, I don’t.”

“Well, it was a lot, and he hardly had any expenses. By rights, you should have had a share, but we didn’t think you would take it, so Jake set up to pay your school fees instead, and there will be a nice little sum to get you started when you graduate.”

“But…what about you? You helped, too, and a lot more than I did. Shouldn’t you get that money?”

“Some of it, yes, but I couldn’t possibly take it since I promised Gideon I had given all that up.”

“But Gideon knows you helped with that con.”

“Yes, and he did, too, in his own way, but we didn’t do it for the money. That makes a difference, at least to Gideon.”

“I didn’t do it for the money, either.”

“I know, dear one. You did it for the excitement, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t benefit. You don’t have to answer to a painfully honest husband, after all.”

“And I never will,” Anna said with some satisfaction. “But why would Jake go to so much trouble for me?”

“Because you’re his friend. I think you may be the only friend he’s ever had.”

“But I’m a female.”

“That’s what he likes best about you, I think. Men are always competing with one another and women want to get married. You don’t compete and you don’t want to marry him. You’re also smart and clever, and I think he feels smart and clever when he’s with you.”

“And that makes him want to give me money?” Anna asked doubtfully.

“It’s his way of showing his respect for the way you performed.”

“He can be very aggravating,” Anna reminded her.

“He’s a man. Try not to hold that against him.”

That finally brought a small smile to Anna’s lips. It lasted only a moment, though, before she remembered her other problems. “I may need that money to support us if Mother ruins us, though.”

“Nonsense. You’re going to college so you can have a profession and support yourself for the rest of your life. Your whole future depends on it. You can’t give that up.”

“But what about Madame Ophelia?”

Elizabeth pretended to consider this very seriously. “Hmmm, Madame Ophelia. She’s surely a con artist. I’ve never tried to con another con artist, but I think it could be a lot of fun.”


Elizabeth wore a veil when she went to Dan the Dudes Saloon on Twenty-eighth Street. She wasnt ashamed of her connection to the place, but she didnt want Gideon to be embarrassed if someone saw her and reported it in a gossip column. Why anyone should care where she went was a mystery, but Gideons family was one of the oldest society families in New York, and people did care.

She didn’t actually enter the saloon, of course. She slipped down the alley, found a nondescript door and knocked a coded knock. This put her in mind of her question to Anna about spirits knocking out messages, but then the sliding panel in the door opened, distracting her from her musings. A curious eye peered out, and then the door opened at once.

“Contessa!” the elderly man said with obvious pleasure, using the title of respect she had earned. “Come in, come in.”

“How are you, Spuds?” she asked.

Spuds, so called because his face resembled a dried-up potato, grinned. “I’m better for seeing you. I am guessing you’re here for the Old Man.”

“Good guess!”

“He’s out, but I expect him soon. Come in and say hello to the fellas.”

Spuds led her back to a large room where several men of various ages sat playing cards or reading the Daily Racing Form and arguing over upcoming races. Dan the Dude’s back room was where New York City con men gathered to tell one another lies and hopefully meet up with someone who had a job for them. She knew every man there, and they enjoyed a few minutes of conversation where they teased her about marrying a Mr. Bates, which was her new husband’s name but also what con artists called their marks.

After a while, Spuds went to answer another knock, and a silver-haired gentleman wearing a tailor-made suit came in. The Old Man was already smiling because Spuds had told him Elizabeth was waiting for him.

“Lizzie,” he said with mock consternation, “what are you doing talking to all these old reprobates?”

“You mean, when I could be talking to just one old reprobate?” she asked, making everyone laugh.

“Exactly. Come into my office before you are completely corrupted.”

Elizabeth followed him into his spartan office and waited while he dusted off the visitor’s chair with his snowy white handkerchief. When she was seated beside his desk and he was comfortably ensconced in his own chair, he said, “Does Gideon know you’re here?”

“Do you think I need my husband’s permission to visit my own father?”

He didn’t exactly roll his eyes, but he might as well have. “If you want to visit me, you invite me to dinner. If you want to see me on business, you come here. So, does Gideon know you’re planning another con?”

“Not yet,” she said shamelessly.

The Old Man groaned with feigned dismay.

“He’ll be only too happy about it when he finds out, though,” she said.

He didn’t seem so sure. “Who are you helping this time?”

“Anna Vanderslice.”

He blinked in surprise. “How has the lovely Miss Vanderslice gotten herself into a situation that requires her to be rescued?”

“She hasn’t. It’s her mother. She’s been going to seances.”

“Seances? I thought they’d fallen out of fashion after those famous women admitted they were frauds and that the spirit tapping was just them cracking their toe joints or something.”

“I don’t know about that, but Mrs. Vanderslice found this medium named Madame Ophelia and-”

“Why are they always madame something or other?”

“I’m sure they have their reasons. At any rate, Mrs. Vanderslice wants to contact her son, David. I imagine a lot of people want to contact loved ones they lost in the war or to the flu.”

The Old Man didn’t look like he thought that was a good idea, but he said, “Why should Anna care, though? If it gives her mother some comfort, I mean.”

“Because the medium is charging her twenty dollars a session, and Mrs. Vanderslice wants to go see the woman every day. Anna and her mother are already in reduced circumstances because of David’s death, and they can’t afford it. And yes, Anna explained that to her mother, but her mother doesn’t want to believe it.”

“Or give up seeing the medium, I expect. I don’t suppose it would help to reveal the woman as a fraud.”

Elizabeth gave him a pitying look. “You know people never want to admit they’ve been bamboozled. That’s the basis of every con ever devised.”

The Old Man shrugged apologetically. “Then what did you have in mind?”

“I don’t know yet. I thought I should find out more about mediums and how they work first. Do you know anything about them?”

“Besides what I read in the newspapers, you mean? Let me think.”

She gave him a minute to do so, and after a few seconds, a slow smile spread across his handsome face.

“I just remembered old Barney. He had a slick little racket out in Chicago about ten years ago. Set himself up as a fortune-teller. He followed the market and was pretty savvy about guessing which stocks were going to do well. People would come to him, and he’d advise them which stocks to buy. When they increased in value, the marks thought he really could foretell the future.”