Book Review: 19 SOULS by J.D. Allen

Little girls never forget their butterflies-in-the-gut first crush. Sophie Ever’s crush turned into a lifelong obsession fueled by the dangerous voice in her head, driving her to do whatever it takes to get her man to love her back. J.D. Allen’s first book in a new series 19 Souls (Midnight Ink) brings us face to face with a woman on the edge of sanity who tricks Private Investigator Jim Bean into locating the object of her desire, Dan Hodge, who’s gone off the grid in hopes she never finds him.

The book opens with tension and continues to build it even though we are immediately aware of who the villain is. The noir style and Las Vegas setting give the book a distinct hard-boiled feeling, and the voice in Sophie’s head doubles down on the deviant femme fatale trope. Allen does an excellent job with dialogue, description, and making Sophie fallible enough that we can’t completely hate her.

As Bean tracks her movement through a trail of dead bodies we readers get up close and personal with her inner critic, almost rooting for Sophie just to spite the psychopath in her head. The story oscillates between Bean and Sophie perfectly, giving the reader opportunity to learn more about both characters without it seeming like an information dump.

Fans of female antagonists will devour this mystery, as Allen found the recipe for creating a villain both vicious and vulnerable. The body count clicks higher without gratuitous gore, making for a great guilty pleasure weekend read.

Allen is a graduate of Ohio State University where she earned a degree in forensic anthropology and a creative writing minor. 19 Souls is her first full-length mystery.

Book Review: THE GIRL IN THE ICE by Robert Bryndza


Review by Holly Chaille

By Robert Bryndza

A cold night, fog in the air, and moonlight casting unreliable shadows. She’s upset to the point of wandering so far no one will hear her cry for help. This is the kind of prologue with layers of description that create an atmosphere so tense I was instantly transported to the setting of the crime. Even knowing something terrible was gaining on her, I couldn’t look away. And I didn’t until the last page of this sprint-paced story, which lands perfectly at an ending that satisfies the whodunit faithful.

A British crime mystery that hit several bestseller lists, Robert Bryndza’s The Girl in the Ice introduces a strong female protagonist in Detective Erika Foster. A woman with very recent demons still haunting her, Erika expects to be on desk duty for the foreseeable future. But an old friend, feeling she needs to get back in the game, calls her into a high profile murder investigation of a young socialite whose influential parents seem hell-bent on preventing Foster from solving the case.

Navigating her new team—not all of whom are thrilled to bring her on—adds tension to an already stressed out Foster, whose disdain for authority and fragile psyche take a few chapters to figure out.  As protagonists go, she’s well-written and believable, giving the reader more than enough personality to connect with.

With the body count rising Detective Foster challenges those around her to dig deeper to find the common denominator. But the closer she gets the more pressure she gets from her higher-ups to reroute her investigation away from the socialite’s famous family. Foster is abruptly removed from the case and, as strong women are wont to do, seizes the opportunity to go even harder toward her goal.  She’s a brilliant, fearless strategist with no apologies for her direct approach, and this is why the series has sold millions of copies.

The dialogue is the strongest aspect of the story, giving the minor characters dimension and depth. Bryndza threads the kind of nuance throughout the dialogue that makes everyone seem like a viable suspect. Fans of Elizabeth George and Ruth Rendell will appreciate the uncompromising style and British elegance of his writing and character building.

Though this was Bryndza’s first in the Erika Foster series he’s just released number six so fans are advised to select a good bottle of red and hunker down with a stack of these page-turning thrillers and get to know Detective Erika Foster.

Bad-Natured Botany

I am a featured guest blogger this month on Writer’s Who Kill. Check it out!

Poisonous plants have long played the villain in both fiction and non-fiction over the centuries. Perhaps you’ve read about Socrates being forced to drink poison hemlock while his acolytes watched. There’s also that most badass of botanists, Locusta, who became such a well-known expert in her field that the Romans essentially had her on speed dial to off one another when reasonable discourse failed them, which happened frequently. She was prolific in knowledge and talent, utilizing such classics as nightshade and arsenic, and, when it came time to take out that most Noblest of Romans, Augustus, she added mushrooms—the Deathcap variety.

Agatha Christie is perhaps fiction’s most profuse poisoner, utilizing digitalis (Appointment with Death), opium (Sad Cypress), monkshood (4.50 to Paddington) and hemlock (Five Little Pigs) and many others. One might wonder why so many of her books revolve around poison. She developed an interest while working in a medical dispensary and sealed her fate once she took her exam for the Society of Apothecaries. She often spoke of her admiration of poisons as the ideal murder weapon because of the many ways they can be delivered to the intended victim and the amount of time certain poisons take to manifest in murder. Guns shoot, ropes strangle, but poisons, ah poisons. They stalk, pounce, and paralyze in ways that guarantee surprising and unnerving story lines for readers.

Here in the twenty-first century the happenstance of hemlock or opium is too out of place for reasonable minds to accept as a likely murder weapon. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t dozens of other potential perps lurking around your back door or local Lowe’s. I have a dedicated area in the backyard that’s my poison garden, which includes several plants that were already growing here when I moved in. The aforementioned monkshood and digitalis (foxglove) are present, as are hellebore (Lenten rose) and yew. I’ve added castor bean, poppies, larkspur, and Angel’s Trumpet.

Angel’s Trumpet, also known as Brugmansia, is my favorite and it has a lead role in my manuscript The Poison Season. It’s a member of the nightshade family which also includes jimson weed, bindweed and moonflower. In the summer evenings I can sit and watch the blooms of my peach and cream plants spiral open. The scent is, quite literally, swoon-worthy. While researching the flower for my story I spent a little too long sniffing blooms and became a bit nauseated. It passed after a few minutes, and I’ve learned to be more cautious when I’m hanging out with these clever killers.

Another favorite, Moonflower, is a close relative of Angel’s Trumpet. Whereas the Angel’s Trumpet blooms hang down and sway like the skirt of a southern belle, the moonflower faces upward, a beacon for evening moths to come and get their pollen on. Moonflowers open rather quickly, in about seven minutes, right at dusk. It’s a lovely show and guaranteed to provide great photo opportunities.

As a writer I am, by definition, curious. I could spend all of my time researching poisonous plants and like the rest of you authorial assassins, my browser history is ridiculously suspicious. By having a poison garden in my back yard, I can tear myself away from the computer, go outside for a breath of fresh air (not too close to the Angel’s Trumpet), and still be researching my work. I highly recommend investing in a few felonious flowers for your research and relaxation. Plus, a garden gives you a good place to dump the bodies.

If you’re into Mother Nature’s murder mob, check out these sources for more information:

Amy Stewart’s fantastic book WICKED PLANTS.

Kathryn Harkup’s book on Agatha Christie’s poison A IS FOR ARSENIC.

The Potent Plants garden at Torre Abbey.

The Alnwick Poison Garden.

Holly A. Chaille is an advanced master gardener and writer plotting gardens and murders in northern Indiana. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime and knows more ways to use poisonous plants than her husband would like. Chaille is querying her first novel, The Poison Season, a suspense about sisters, the thin tendril between love and betrayal, and of course, poisonous plants.