By Nike Chillemi –
Elizabeth Lynn “Lizzie” Engel grew up in Kingdom, Kansas, an Old Order Mennonite community hidden away in a remote rural area. She became pregnant as a teen, and her stern and unbending father, an elder in the church, planted a seed of shame in her. The youth who was the father of her baby was promptly whisked away by his parents, and Lizzie didn’t know what had become of him. Not able to take any more condemnation, Lizzie ran away with her baby to Kansas City.
Fast forward, five years later. Lizzie is about to lose her job at a women’s shelter as she’s been accused of stealing money. There’s also someone stalking her and sending her threatening notes. Afraid her young daughter, Charity Lynn, will be taken from her if she’s arrested, Lizzie flees, quite reluctantly, back to her home town. When she gets there, she finds her father is as unforgiving as he had always been. So, she takes a job as a waitress in the local diner where she and Charity are allowed to live in rooms above the eatery.
Charity asks why her grandfather never comes back to the village of Kingdom looking for her. So, once settled in the village, both mother and young daughter have to face the same issue. Both have the same question. Does my daddy love me?
I’m used to being faced with a body at the start of a murder mystery, but in this story, the murder takes place well into the story. I didn’t find that to be a problem as it’s seamlessly woven into the plotline.
Lizzie’s character is crafted in such a way that I felt as if I actually new her. A number of secondary characters came vividly to life as well. The author describes Mennonite traditions, apparel, the scenery of rural Kansas, as well ferocious winter storms in such detail the reader can clearly picture them. Yet, meticulously depicting all of these elements doesn’t negatively impact the pace of the novel.
I hate to call this a bonnet book, as it doesn’t resemble in any way the usual Lancaster, PA type of romance story. There is tension between the religious Mennonite community and the outside world, with church elders doing what they can to keep outsiders out, or at least their influence. This is to be expected. There is also a mini-revolt within the church itself: legalism vs. grace. Several of the more strident members of the church come off as slightly deranged, yet they are depicted in such a way as to allow the reader to see their humanity, as well as some of their past hurts.
A sweet romance begins to bud. Noah, a young elder in the church who is part of the contingent who believes in God’s grace, has loved Lizzie since childhood and is finally not too shy to say so. Just as this romance is taking off, the author throws a curve ball into the mix. That curve ball itself turns out not to be what it at first seems to be This is a story that can be enjoyed by readers from 12 to 112.
By Nike Chillemi –
Police Chief Matt Foley’s beloved, deceased wife Mary was best friends with Sara Bradford, but Matt doesn’t like Sara or trust her. In fact, deep down, he thinks she’s guilty of having murdered her own husband. He just hasn’t been able to prove it…yet.
Sara is very attractive, smart, capable, and loving. She adopts two orphaned children who were involved in her church’s bus program bringing under privileged kids to Sunday school. Yet, she’s by no means invincible. She has fears and makes mistakes. She comes off like a real living, breathing person.
Then a small child’s body is found on the grounds of what used to be a Christian campground. This missing persons’ cold-case is twenty-five years old. The little girl who is now known to have been murdered was Sara’s childhood neighbor and best friend. In fact Sara was the last person to have seen little Penny Pryor alive. Could Sara have a valuable memory locked away the police can use to solve this heinous crime? That’s what Chief Foley wonders. This heart wrenching cold case opens terrible old wounds for the child’s parents and those who knew the family, including Sara’s aunt.
There are no shortage of plot twists and turns, and they’re done in a seamless and believable way. Sara is buffeted by brutal corporate maneuvering at her job. Then she becomes a target and her physical safety is in jeopardy. She’s on a roll…a downward roll. Matt Foley begins to have sympathy for her plight but can’t let go of his conviction that she’s a murderess.
Local town politics and corporate politics is portrayed in a knowing way. The way upwardly mobile characters jockey for position and advantage is convincing. They definitely make a direct hit below the belt when somebody suggests Matt married his somewhat older wife for her money. Matt is hurt and angered when he hears of this ugly rumor, not for himself, but because he thinks these allegations might mar Mary’s memory and legacy.
The author supplies credible red herrings. In fact, she had me believing a certain character I liked a great deal was viable as the child’s murderer and the one behind Sara’s physical danger. Then the author pulls in the other lose end, Sara’s husband’s murder, in a manner I was not expecting.
While Chief Foley has nothing but mistrust for Sara, a lop-sided romantic triangle of sorts is unfolding. The cantankerous female medical examiner has her eyes on Matt (or should we say, her hooks out), but Matt is still grieving his wife’s death from cancer. Meanwhile, Matt’s friend, the county sheriff has a hankering for the lady ME.
The author brings the novel to a close with a crescendo. But it appears as if the villain might be victorious. Then in a most unexpected way, he is defeated.
By Nike Chillemi –
An accident that killed his son, shattered Detective Tom Kagan’s life. The offending driver, a gangbanger, ran from the scene and was never brought to justice. Now back from a temporary assignment with the FBI,Kagan’s once again hunting down gang members in Santa Rosa, CA.
The author pulled me into the emotional turmoil that is Tom Kagan’s life. Although he deeply loves his wife Sara, since the accident, he has shut down all emotion and is often remote from her. We see Tom with all of his warts. He drinks too much and is also a first class cheapskate who begrudges tips he gives to waitresses.
Having been called out to the murder crime scene of Paco, a high ranking, seemingly untouchable, “all good” member of the Nuestra Familia (NF) street gang, he knows this could become a no holds barred fight within the gang, with innocent people getting hurt along the way. What he doesn’t know is a gang leader named Ghost is calling the shots from his cell within Pelican Bay State Prison, CA.
Kagan has a history with the Hispanic gangs since the accident that killed his son—a bad one. His sergeant thinks he’s a loose cannon who should be retired back to patrol, but the chief wants Tom in gangs. The detective has been receiving photographs of himself, his wife, and his partner’s wife with the message: we’re watching you. His partner, grounded in the spirituality of his Christian religion, is a sharp contrast from Tom’s depression and rage. Kagan keeps knowledge of this surveillance from his supervisors out of fear he will be removed from working on gangs, which is where he gets intelligence with which to protect his wife.
When Kagan and Hector Garcia, a gang expert with the Special Service Unit (SSU), visit Ghost in Pelican Bay, the gangbanger taunts Tom. He says he was the one driving the car that killed Tom’s young son, years ago. Agent Garcia has to hold Tom back. Ghost screams at Tom, “You’re a dead man.”
After an assault on Ghost in the prison, he’s transferred from Pelican Bay to a community hospital, from which he escapes. Now the gangbanger is hunting Tom Kagan and his partner Detective Bill Stevenson. There is an emotionally wrenching scene where Tom and his wife go to his partner’s home for dinner, unaware that Ghost lurks outside watching the house. Bill reads his young son a story and then he and Tom listen as the boy says his prayers before bed. They have no clue there is evil lurking outside.
It is obvious the author has personal, career experience in law enforcement with gangs. He is totally successful in getting across how senseless gang violence is, that nobody gets out alive from a gang. Regardless of the demand for loyalty by the gang, there is no loyalty within. Eventually every gang member is killed by a rival gang, or by a stronger member of his own gang who seeks power. This novel is well written and readers who are thrilled by a good detective novel will love this one’s authenticity.
Reviewed by Nike Chillemi –
The Darkest Valley by Rick Dewhurst is a profound novel, and like all profound books is not always easy to read. I’m reminded of an old cocktail party cartoon I once saw, I believe in the New Yorker. A man races toward his wife, through a chic living room filled with partygoers, a highball in his hand, “Niles Peterson is coming. He’s read a book that changed his life. Run!”
This is a story of an ordained minister in Canada’s Cowichan Valley who is about to have his church taken from him. The elders want somebody at the helm who appears a more seemly than Pastor Tom Pollard. His heart for the natives on the nearby reserve and in his center, along with his penchant to help the more degenerate elements of the community, has not endeared him to the most powerful elements in his church.
The novel is not action packed, and in fact is rather depressing, but I kept turning pages. I didn’t like the pastor’s wife, Ruby Pollard, due to her nasty streak which I felt predated her terminal cancer. Her dishonesty in her marriage also turned me off. However, I agreed with her. I would’ve liked her husband Tom to work up a bit of gumption now and then. It became awfully painful watching him fail. And yet, as I turned the pages, I began to care about them a great deal. I also found myself chuckling from time-to-time, as they could be quite pithy. It was apparent they loved each other deeply and were doing absolutely the best they could.
If the most interesting character is Jesse, the self-absorbed atheist/nominal Catholic editor of the town’s small newspaper, the one I liked the best is Will, the half-breed Christian whose new found faith in Christ has angered his native father and his tribe. After Will is kidnapped, I wanted to slap Pastor Tom for having been so listless and apathetic when Will repeatedly tried to tell the man of the cloth of this coming danger. At one point in the story, Jesse says to Tom, “With Christians like you in the lead, it’s a wonder anyone ever joins your flock.” I have to agree.
At another juncture, worldly and jaded Jesse says he’s happy Tom and Ruby don’t hide behind the typical self-righteous Christian façade. He’s thrilled to find they’re as messed up as the rest of us. I do think this is very important to many nonbelievers, especially intellectual nonbelievers whose razor sharp minds have not saved them from the mess, pain, and dysfunction of life. I would highly recommend this novel to them.
My feeling is this is the “every church” story . . . and my meaning is akin to what is meant by the “every man” story. I’m sure there’s more of Tom Pollard and his wife Ruby at the helm in churches all over the globe than most Christians would like to admit. After all, church leaders are only people, calling notwithstanding, and people all have feet of clay. Church politics in churches in every mountain and glen resemble the unkindness and backstabbing in this novel, of this I’m sure. It is obvious the author is a pastor.
Reviewed by Nike Chillemi –
I most often review murder mysteries, thrillers, police procedurals, and if I’m up against a wall a romantic suspense. That’s tongue in cheek, but you get it. So why am I reviewing CHARISSE, a romance novel? Well, because there’s plenty of mystery in this story, the kinds of mysteries and dilemmas life throws at individuals. And, it’s well written.
Main characters Charisse Wellman and Judge Gideon Tabor are both hiding something. Add to the mix a jealous harridan in stilettos named Delilah, who lives up to her name and you’ve got one interesting story.
Charisse carries pain, insecurity, and disappointment from her high school days, when she was quite overweight. Now as a widow who has just lost her beloved husband, she’s trying to raise her young son. It becomes apparent she must give up her dream of law school and go to work to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. She finds herself interviewing with Gideon Tabor, a local criminal court judge, with whom she had an unpleasant run-in many years ago. But does he remember her? Whatever the case, that incident from long ago, disheartening as it was, is not the only bone she has to pick with him . . . not by a long shot.
Of course, she aces the interview and begins clerking for Judge Tabor. Just as she’s hoping she can put the past behind her and settle into some kind of normal work routine, Judge Delilah James begins playing office politics. Using underhanded tactics, this vixen in judicial robes, turns what could’ve been a pleasant working experience into a nightmare where Charisse is in fear of losing the job she so desperately needs.
On top of this Charisse is battling deep resentment toward the hit-and-run driver who killed her husband and the judicial system that allowed him to get away with it. No matter how much she prays, she can’t get over the bitterness she harbors.
I immediately warmed to V.J., Charisse’s young son. He is the sweetest child, and at times, the pain of the loss of his father is palpable. However, if there is a flaw in this novel, in my opinion, it would be that this darling little boy is just a tad too perfect at times. However, I have a penchant for obviously flawed characters. Other readers might not agree on this point.
There are Christian themes running throughout the entire story. As the characters develop and grow emotionally they attain greater spiritual maturity as well. This is a read I could recommend to any fifteen-year-old, as well as anyone’s great-grandmother. Although romance novels are most often read by women, this is a story I believe many a man would enjoy.