PERILOUS SHADOWS by Nike Chillemi

Reviewed by Tammy Doherty –

Book #3 in the Sanctuary Point series sees the return of Argus Nye. This time, he’s the hero of the story. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the first two novels in this series, though previous plots and characters are referenced, these novels are each individual and enjoyable on their own.

In the opening chapter of PERILOUS SHADOWS, a body is discovered in the supply closet at WSAN radio station where Argus works. Beautiful, vivacious intern, Clarissa Vreeland, is dead of a broken neck. Station manager Jim Heaney puts Argus on the case even as the police investigate. Argus juggles his desire for justice with the need for news for his radio broadcasts.

Kiera Devane is a newspaper reporter swiftly making a name for herself as a woman working in a man’s world. Unfortunately, that name isn’t all good. Though her skills as an investigative reporter are mostly respected, people say she’s cold-hearted. Kiera struggles with demons from the past that cause her to keep people at arms’ length.

Kiera and Argus join forces to solve Clarissa’s murder. Ever the gentleman, Argus finds himself attracted to Kiera. He wants to protect her from not only physical threats that arise during the investigation but also from emotional pain, past and present. Kiera is drawn to Argus through his kindness and friendship. The budding romance is firmly established when Argus learns Kiera’s terrible secret—and isn’t turned off.

PERILOUS SHADOWS is set in post WWII 1940’s. Ms. Chillemi does a nice job of describing fashions of the time and accurately portraying people’s attitudes and morals. The reader is immersed in the era with a movie quality feel. Despite her “ice princess” reputation, Kiera is immediately likeable; it’s easy to identify with both her ambition and drive as well as her fears. Angus is loveable, yet it’s almost difficult to imagine someone so chivalrous, which is a sad reflection of society today. He’s not too perfect to be true, though. His temper nearly gets him in hot water several times and his unwillingness to report scandalous material allows Kiera to get “the scoop” occasionally.

Red herrings abound in this novel. The mystery is masterfully developed and the list of suspects grows with each turn. Who killed Clarissa and why? Was it lecherous Paul Gregorski, Angus’ co-worker? Or Edward Harper, spurned ex-boyfriend? Perhaps Paul’s new wife killed Clarissa in a fit of jealous rage. Then again, it could be someone else yet undiscovered. The trail of clues seems to clearly lead in one direction only to peter-out. The end has a surprising twist.

Book Review: The Clouds Roll Away

Written by Sibella Giorello
Reviewed by Nike Chillemi –

How do you come back from being stuck in the boonies on a disciplinary assignment with a modicum of self-respect? When she comes home, FBI Special Agent Raleigh Harmon has to run that gauntlet and face Victoria Phaup, her supervisor who hates her.

She’s back in her beloved Richmond, Virginia, assigned to a case and trying to keep her nose clean. Unfortunately that’s not going as well as she’d hoped. Phaup opens another investigation of her professional actions, which could send her back out to a tiny field office in nowhereland.

Raleigh is assigned to investigate a hate crime when someone burns a cross on the lawn in front of “Rapland,” an African American music mogul’s mansion. Is a snooty, blue-blooded champion of preserving the history of the old south responsible? When the initials KKK pop up, it seems this bigoted organization is rising from a poor neighborhoods where ignorant white supremists concoct their nefarious plots.

The case is given to Raleigh because it seemed like a no-brainer. Which Phaup feels is exactly what fits Raleigh’s capabilities. Raleigh finds evidence that all is not as it seems. Her supervisor is not interested in Raleigh’s assessment of the case and gives no credence whatsoever to Raleigh’s gut instincts. She saddles Raleigh’s with another low profile case involving gangbangers. When the two cases begin to intersect, Phaup thinks Raleigh may be forcing the issue. Needless to say, she’s is not a happy camper and now hopes to get Raleigh discharged from the FBI.

Raleigh is also traversing a difficult relationship with her “absolutely perfect sister” and her mother Nadine who has some psychological issues rooted in deep grief over the unsolved murder of her husband, Raleigh’s father. The beauty of the author’s prose takes the reader and Nadine through a very trying Christmas. By coming home, Raleigh had hoped to give Nadine a needed emotional lift, but she seems to increase her mother’s fragility. To add more confusion to the house, Wally, a struggling young photographer moves in as a tenant.

There’s a hint of romance. With Raleigh’s ex-boyfriend DeMott seemingly shadowing her, trying to get her to give him another chance, you have some complex plot twists. The novel is written in first person, which gets us deep into Raleigh’s head. I thoroughly believed the scene where her mind wanders to solving the case during a Christmas sermon in her church.

This is my kind of Christmas story, but the reader must be aware it’s pretty gritty and in parts reads like a CSI episode. There’s blood and guts all over the place in a few scenes. The author spins an incredible tale and ties together disparate storylines into an ending that comes as a complete surprise.

Book Review: The Hand of Fate

Written by Liz Wiehl and April Henry
Reviewed by Nike Chillemi –

The Hand of Fate is the second in the Triple Threat series. While I enjoyed the first book, Face of Betrayal, to my mind, the second book is better. Perhaps the authors simply hit their stride. The three main female characters are stronger and more developed in this book.

I love talk radio and this book catches the immediacy of the medium. Abrasive, opinionated, and self-centered, popular Portland talk-show host Jim Fate receives an envelope at the station and when he opens it, a powdery substance sprays in his face (possibly sarin), shortly thereafter killing him.

The members of the Triple Threat Club put their heads together to solve the broadcaster’s murder. Allison Pierce, a federal prosecutor, happily married and at the beginning of her first pregnancy, who is  also a practicing Christian. Nicole Hedges, the FBI special agent who is the lead on this case is a single mother, was brought up Christian, but is now an agnostic. Cassidy Shaw, a popular crime beat TV reporter feels she’s aging, is abusing prescribed sleep meds, has a tendency to hop from bed to bed, and had a relationship with the victim she’s trying to hide.

At first this appears to be a terrorist attack on the entire city, as sarin is that deadly. The downtown area is evacuated and there are injuries, heart attacks, and several deaths as result of the general evacuation. The pregnant Allison finds a tiny Hispanic girl who’s been separated from her mother and carries the child several miles to safety. After several hours of panic, medical personnel determine the substance is not sarin and the city is safe. Now the Triple Threat Club swing into action to find out who killed Jim Fate.

Fate, a combative, right wing, shock-jock, who we learn about posthumously, is a fascinating character. As the three women investigators look at the suspect list, they realize a shorter list would be one with people who liked the man.

Christian characters in this novel pray and seek solace in God, but the book is not preachy nor is there any heavy theology. A question that pops up in the last book is answered here. Why Nicole turned her back on God. While the novel is not too graphic, this is one of the scariest and most brutal parts of the book, which I can’t go into as it would be a huge spoiler. Cassidy continues to do stupid stuff, like combining a sleep aid with alcohol and falling asleep in a bathtub full of water — and her friends, like in the first novel, find they must rescue her…literally.

The identity of the murderer comes as a total surprise, as does the motive for the murder. One of the seemingly normal, career driven characters has an agenda, and well hidden underlying emotional issues.

I recommend Hand of Fate to murder mystery readers who enjoy novels that utilize contemporary, topical themes as sub-plots and back-story.

Book Review: Never Without Hope

Written by Michelle Sutton
Reviewed by Nike Chillemi –

There’s something about Michelle Sutton’s Never Without Hope that kept me turning pages. Maybe it was because the author hooked me and got me to desperately want things to get better for heroine Hope Williams. But the author wouldn’t allow that to happen. Throughout most of the novel consequences keep piling up due to Hope’s sexual sin. It was as if every time Hope took a step forward, somebody dropped a proverbial safe on her head.

This novel goes where many fear to read, into the arena of male erectile dysfunction and what happens in an otherwise happy marriage when this medical condition occurs.

The novel opens with Hope is in a world of hurt. James, the husband she loves and desires has had waning desire for her for almost a year and their sex life has been nonexistent the past six months. Aching for affection in her marriage bed, Hope tires to communicate with James about the issue and he angrily rebuffs her. When she tries to seductively entice him back into the marriage bed, he actually pushes her, physically hurting her and humiliating her. After that, she is easy pickings for the extra-marital affairs she feels herself slipping into. However, Biblically, one could argue her husband had already broken their marriage vows by leaving Hope so bereft of affection in the marriage bed. Be that as it may, the author doesn’t in any way excuse Hope for her mistakes.

To her credit, Hope does not dwell on the speck in her husband’s eye, but rather, she fully focuses on the issue of her own sin. The author depicts for us the metamorphosis of a church going Christian wife and mother who has slipped from saint to sinner. She has failed not just her family, but her God. In fact, Hope fears her sin has become so deeply rooted and pervasive in her life that God cannot forgive her. She has been drinking from another woman’s well. Yes, Hope is sleeping with another woman’s husband.

The author skillfully moves Hope through a series of emotionally devastating situations to the point where she discovers God’s love, grace, and redemption.

If I’m going to be a bit nit-picky, I’d have to say at times I got a bit tired of Hope’s first person narrative. I would have enjoyed having the story broken up some, perhaps with a scene here and there in James point-of-view.

Even thought it was Hope’s story, I felt horribly for James. The man, so frustrated and debased by his sexual dysfunction, refused not only to discuss this with his wife, he also would not see a doctor. James suffers a heart attack and discovers his erectile dysfunction was a symptom of heart disease. His treatment is successful and he and Hope begin working through their trust, marital, emotional, and spiritual issues.

This novel falls squarely into the category of edgy Christian fiction. There are some explicit scenes. However, this book just might ease the pain of a woman in the throes of an affair and help her to find her way out of that bad situation. It certainly offers spiritual encouragement to any woman with an affair in her past. This novel encourages the reader to deeper faith.

Book Review: Back On Murder

Written by J. Mark Bertrand
Reviewed by Nike Chillemi –

This is the Christian crime fiction novel I’ve been waiting for. It’s intelligent and well written. Author J. Mark Bertrand knows his police procedure and has got cop culture down.

Main character detective Roland March wants back on murder. He’s kind of flushed his career due a dark depression he’s been wallowing in which has led to his apathy about the job. As result he’s been assigned a string of undesirable cases, none of them homicide. Even his old partner, once a close friend, wants nothing to do with him. Then he notices a detail at a murder scene the other cops have missed and that lands him squarely on the case. This is his last chance to redeem himself and resuscitate his failed career.

Roland’s instincts tell him this homicide at a drug house, missing it’s female victim’s body, is linked to a high profile missing person’s case, where the other young female victim is a church going good girl. Sometimes it seems as if he’s trying to make the pieces fit. Sometimes he might be hoping they fit to prove a theory of the case that will allow him to exact revenge upon his old nemesis on the police force.

I didn’t always like protagonist Roland March. He can be petty, mean, dense, and not above begging. Near the beginning of the story, something snaps inside him and he manhandles a very drunk woman trying to get into her car outside a bar he frequents. He takes her keys away and might’ve even saved her life, but his behavior was over-the-top. Later, it’s revealed what personal demons drove him to conduct himself in so vile a manner.

The novel is definitely edgy. The main character is not saved and doesn’t get saved by the end of the book. One of the murders has highly sexual overtones. One of the characters may or may not have date raped a girl and Roland does little to nothing about it. There’s tons of violence. More than a few scenes take place in a cop bar. The hero thinks about sex with his wife more in sexual terms than in a romantic manner…or perhaps it’s in a habitual way. The autopsy scene is graphic. All this adds up to edgy Christian fiction. But it’s a fantastic ride. A detective story reader’s dream comes true.

I’m glad this is going to be a series. I don’t want to see Roland March go away any time soon. I’ll put this book up against any secular crime fiction best seller. Though writing style and hero personality is different, the book is comparable to Michael Connelly’s long running Harry Bosch series.

What makes Roland compelling is his cop’s sense of righting a wrong on behalf of the victim. He particularly wants justice for the nameless, faceless girl whose body is missing, but who so obviously died in that drug house. While Roland obviously has a gazillion negatives to his personality, he can also be noble, brave, loyal, and doggedly persistent.

Roland March is not a spiritual man, yet he’s the perfect one, to objectively show how the secular world views the church. He’s saddled with a new female partner, a Christian, who’s easy on the eyes and he’s ogled her, only to be slapped down. He later comes to respect her as a woman, cop, and valued partner. Through his eyes, we meet the young missing person victim’s mother, a church worker who indeed lives her faith. We get to see her at first through his jaded eyes and then slowly see she’s the real deal. We marvel at her compassion, just as he does.

I highly recommend this book to crime fiction fanatics of every stripe, or anyone looking for a terrific police procedural/thriller. This is an intelligent, complex, gritty mystery and the writing is excellent. It’s a real page turner.

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