“The Darkness of Evil” by Alan Jacobson (Open Road Media, 2017)

Alan Jacobson has delighted us readers for a number of years now with his gripping Karen Vail books, and in the latest installment, the sinisterly titled Darkness of Evil, Vail comes up against what could be her greatest foe yet: a convicted serial killer.

Senior profiler at the Behavioral Analysis Unit, Karen Vail, is juggling lots of projects and problems at once; but that’s just her modus operandi, in addition to dealing with a new boss who she doesn’t really get along with. She’s also keeping her eye on Jasmine Marcks, who has just published a book about her life as the daughter of a serial killer, which she had no idea about until she was a teenager and was crucial in having Roscoe Lee Marcks brought to justice and put away for a very long time. Roscoe killed fourteen people and Vail took over the case in the early days of her career, helping the guy get put away.

Jasmine receives a note from her father. He knows about the book. He knows what she said about him in the book. He wants revenge. Vail lets Jasmine know the man is locked behind bars and everything will be okay. She is finally granted access to begin interviewing Roscoe to find out what he is up to, and then before she knows it, the serial killer escapes with help from a number of people on the inside.

The rules have changed; the stakes are through the roof. It’s a whole new ball game.

Bodies begin turning up, including a cop who was protecting Jasmine. The daughter decides to go it alone, keeping hidden and quiet, only getting in contact with Vail occasionally. Meanwhile, the ace profiler joins a crack team of US Marshals and other experts to chase down Roscoe and put him back in prison where he belongs.

The Darkness of Evil kicks it into high gear right from the start, as the reader immediately gets drawn into the book. Jacobson continues to make Vail a complex and complete character, as she juggles personal life problems, other cases, and the nail-biting terror of a serial killer on the loose who seems to have no limits to whose life he may take. He could be coming around the next corner with his sights on her. But Vail is a professional. She is experienced; a veteran. She knows what has to be done, and the reader is thrilled to be along for the ride.

Originally written on March 15, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Darkness of Evil from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 8: Cover the Silence” by Cassandra Rose Clarke (Serial Box, 2016)

This is the eighth episode in the series; reviews for all other episodes can be found here.

The episode features an unexpected meeting between two unlikely characters: Sasha Komyetski, a high level operative in the KGB, and Zerena Pulnoc, wife to the Soviet ambassador, as they discuss the special radio that Sasha confiscated from Tatiana Morozova. As the reader and listener wonders what these two might be up, the next scene opens up with Jordan Rhemes once again having to deal with a couple of Flame operatives who would really like to take over everything at the Bar Vodnar. And then we get our first outright magical dueling scene, as the operatives work together casting spells, while Jordan uses charms and has her own tricks to combat them.

Meanwhile, Zerena is holding a mighty gala where every who’s who is there, including plenty of members of the KGB and CIA, as well as various other clandestine groups, all watching each other’s every move. The reader and listener gets to see all this through the ambassador’s wife’s eyes, as she pays a visit to the important members on each side, as well as a new arrival from the States, one Dominic Alvarez. We see all the facial expressions and nervous ticks that tell Zerena all she needs to know. The episode ends with the ambassador’s wife paying her own visit to Jordan for a specific item and an important fact is revealed about her.

What makes this episode so interesting is that it is a digression from the series so far, as readers and listeners get to see everything through secondary characters. The main characters who have been showing up in every episode so far may be seen in this episode but we don’t know what they’re thinking. It’s all about what the background people see and think. We also learn that this is important, for they have just as important a stake in the whole operation as do our lead protagonists and antagonists.

Originally written on March 5, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 8: Cover the Silence from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 6: A Week Without Magic” by Michael Swanwick (Serial Box, 2016)

This is the sixth episode in the series; you can read reviews of the other episodes here.

After the magic fireworks bonanza of Episode 5 of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 6 is well titled as there is no magic really going on in this episode of the story, and it is more a return to the Cold War clandestine espionage that the story is truly about at its heart. And its written by bestselling science fiction author Michael Swanwick. Having a variety of different authors writing the episodes is what makes this series so interesting, for while the characters remain the same, each episode has its own unique feel to it that is a product of that particular author’s thoughts and writing style.

It is a cold January in Prague and apparently in the spy world – much like the regular one – that means audit season. In this episode we get to see what that means from both sides of the Cold War. In the American side there are lots of accountants checking everything out and having agents filling out lots of seemingly needless paperwork. CIA agent Gabe Pritchard gets assigned an entire binder to complete that defend and quantify his every action over the last six months. So Gabe does what he does best and talks his way out of it with the accountant, proclaiming he would be committing treason is he were to complete the binder.

Meanwhile, on the Soviet side audit season has a slightly different feel to it, as everyone is on their best behavior and walking on eggshells around all these new people in the KGB who are checking into every file and detail. Tanya Morozova has a meeting with her boss Sasha Komyetski and one of the auditors from Moscow Center to spy on one of her coworkers. And then there is a washed out spy named Magnus know as the Norwegian who Gabe sends Tanya’s way and she decides to put him in touch with a recruiting member of the consortium of Ice.

Originally written on March 3, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 6: A Week Without Magic from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 7: Radio Free Trismegistus” by Ian Tregillis (Serial Box, 2016)

This is the seventh episode in the series; to read reviews for the first six episodes, go here.

In the latest audio episode of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Serial Box goes one step further employing the dramatic TV series feel opening with, “Previously on The Witch Who Came in From the Cold,” which does a great job of refreshing important recent events from the story for the reader.

After getting some info, CIA operative Gabe Pritchard is heading out into the Czechoslovakian countryside looking for a cut wife, better known as a witch, to see if he can get some help with his elemental hitchhiker. He learns the demon attached to his soul is not going to vacate his body easily, but also that its element is mercury, which then leads him to try some stupid stuff using all the mercury he can find in town and almost getting himself killed.

Meanwhile, Tanya’s boss Sasha Komyetski, after checking up on her, recently “liberated” her of her magical radio that she uses to communicate with her grandfather in Moscow. Readers and listeners get a detailed scene of Sasha creating a magical Faraday Cage to prevent anyone from knowing what he’s doing, as he takes the radio apart and studies its magical innards. He then gets it working and gets in touch with a certain someone in Moscow.

Tanya knows she has to get her radio back before Sasha finds out what it can actually do. Using Gabe’s help – as the two become closer and more comfortable with each other – they come up with a plan to switch the magical radio with a decoy without Tanya’s boss knowing. The question is whether he’ll fall for the ruse?

Originally written on March 4, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 7: Radio Free Trismegistus from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 5: The Golem” by Ian Tregillis (Serial Box, 2016)

This is the fifth episode in a series, find the rest of the episodes here.

In the fifth episode of the Witch Who Came in From the Cold things all of a sudden get kicked into high gear. Up to this point, readers have been going (or listening) along with the story, following events as they happen, but in “The Golem” there’s a lot that happens and it’s all on-the-edge-of-your-seat-nail-biting stuff that keeps you hooked to the end of the episode. Plus, with “golem” in the title, you know there’s going to be a big nasty beastie in there somewhere.

The episode opens with CIA operative Gabe Pritchard on a cold, dark night digging up a grave in Prague’s Jewish cemetery where he believes there to be a golem, with the help of confidant and close friend Jordan Rhemes. Once he gets the box open, things go to hell real fast.

Readers then get to finally learn about what went down in Cairo and how Gabe got his mental magical hitchhiker. Told from Jordan’s viewpoint we learn of her infiltrating a special meeting of the Flame in Cairo and how Gabe showed up at exactly the wrong time.

Meanwhile, Tanya Morozova, an acolyte of the Ice, is finding it hard to accept the accusation that Gabe recently made, which is that there is a boat on the Vltava River which is part of the Ice’s operation and is a magical warehouse of sorts with numerous bodies encased in ice. Tanya believes it to be a vessel containing some magical devices and that is fall. She will need to get to the bottom of this herself and find out what happened to the magical host Andula Zlata who hasn’t been seen in some time.

Episode 5 is gripping from start to finish as the story switches back and forth between Gabe and Jordan in the cemetery, in Cairo together, and Tanya’s investigation. It is a series of surprises building one on top of the other, leaving the reader open-mouthed by the end of the episode.

And for those interested, the author of “The Golem,” Ian Tregillis, just put up a blog post about writing the episode.

Originally written on March 1, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 5: The Golem from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 4: Stasis” by Lindsay Smith (Serial Box, 2016)

This is the fourth episode in the series; other episodes can be found here.

Tanya Morozova has successfully brought Andula Zlata into the protective fold of the Ice; as a “host” she has special powers sought by the Flame. Meanwhile Gabe Pritchard continues to have his occasional debilitating headaches. With the help of MI6 operative and Ice sorcerer Alestair Winthrop, they have determined he has a “magical hitchhiker” within him and that if he performs certain magic, it can appease his headaches and the mystic being within him.

Now with his life and well being a little more under control, Gabe is able to try to get into the good graces of his superiors once more, following up on Drahomir Milovic, who was a CIA recruitment operation that Gabe blundered. But he will have to decide whether to do things by the book and make his boss happy, or go his own way and get faster results.

Meanwhile, a close friend to Gabe, Jordan Rhemes, is the owner of a bar called the Vodnář, a sort of neutral ground between the Ice and Flame. Readers and listeners also learn she deals in illicit goods there. She has had two recent visitors – Karel Hasek, a professor or medieval history, and his partner Vladimir, who are both clearly Flame operatives and are very interested in some of the items Jordan possesses. There is also the reveal of how Jordan and Gabe know each other and are close due to their history in Cairo, which has something to do with the origin of Gabe’s hitchhiker, all of which is revealed further in the next episode.

And for those needing a little helpful aid, the Serial Box site has a little “previously” for each episode, much like a TV series, cluing the reader in to what has happened so far, as well as a character list and who’s who.

Originally written on February 24, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 4: Stasis from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 3: Double Blind” by Max Gladstone (Serial Box, 2016)

This is the third episode in a series, the complete series can be found here.

Things continue to not go so well for CIA operate Gabe Pritchard: his boss is breathing down his neck to develop some useful leads and he continues to get these random and debilitating migraines. But he’s not going to give up on his hunch about Andula Zlata, especially since KGB operative Tanya Morozova always seem to be close by; he also happens to be able to track her pretty well by being able to sense her in his mind.

The terrible headaches he keeps getting are because of what happened in Cairo. And he knows it’s something to be with magic and he’s going to need help from someone very eccentric: the exceedingly British MI6 operative Alestair Winthrop, who also happens to be a sorcerer for the Consortium of Ice. Then Winthrop invites Gabe to an important party where the man brings him face to face with someone he feels will be able to help him: Tanya Morozova.

In this episode, readers (and listeners) get to see the world through some other characters: Nadia Ostrokhina who works with Tanya and Joshua Toms who is Gabe’s partners. Along with the dramatic writing, the audio version has Gabe’s and Joshua’s parts being read by John Glouchevitch, and Tanya’s and Nadia’s part read by Christine Lakin, with a fast-paced back and forth between the readers adding a thrill for the listeners. Plus each episode tends to end in a nail-biting cliffhanger, leaving the reader (and listener) wanting more.

Originally written on February 18, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 3: Double Blind from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 2: A Voice on the Radio” by Cassandra Rose Clarke (Serial Box, 2016)

This review is for the second episode in the series The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, the first episode can be found here.

This second episode, A Voice on the Radio, opens with Tanya Morozova wanting to talk to her grandfather. The problem is she’s in Prague and her grandfather is deep behind the Iron Curtain, in Moscow. But she has a way of getting in touch with him through some unusual means. Using an old wireless radio that has seen better days and some magical techniques, she is able to get in touch with the her relative. She needs some advice on how best to get Andula to realize she and the Consortium of Ice only want to help her.

The episode focuses on Tanya trying to win Andula over and let her know that the Consortium of Ice just wants to help and protect her. Readers learn in this world the Consortium of Ice wants things to return to how they were before, whatever they might be, while the Acolytes of Fire want some sort of radical change.

Gabe Pritchard discovers Andula and his detective sense begins to tingle. Eventually he finds the young girl talking to Tanya Morozova at a formal event and knows there must be something going on here. The higher ups need evidence to be convinced, so he really needs to find some. Meanwhile his migraines continue to get worse and he enlists the help of a friend to use magic to try to determine what is wrong with him. He hopes it will be a quick easy spell and his head will be better, but it’s a lot more complicated than that.

The second episode in this magical thriller builds on the first, explaining some of the mysteries from the premiere episode, as well as adding some new ones to continue to pique the reader’s interest.

Originally written on February 12, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 2: A Voice on the Radio from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 1: A Long, Cold Winter” by Lindsay Smith & Max Gladstone (Serial Box, 2016)

In the 1800s when you wanted to read Dickens, you didn’t simply get a copy of his completed book, but read his latest work in serialized form. Families would gather round and read aloud the latest “installment” of Dickens. In 1984, Tom Wolfe serialized Bonfire for the Vanities in Rolling Stone magazine. Stephen King serialized The Green Mile into six short books in 1996. Michael Chabon serialized Gentlemen of the Road in The New York Times Magazine in 2007.

And then there’s Serial Box, a new publishing concept looking to bring the dramatic tension and excitement of a weekly TV show to the written word. Readers can buy individual “episodes” or subscribe to the entire book and receive the next episode as it is released in their inbox or on their ereader. The serialized books are available in ebook or also on audio in approximate 90-minute episodes.

The year is 1970 and the Cold War is in full force as the USA and the USSR face off against once another and the world stands on the brink of all out war and possible annihilation. Our story begins in the bleak city of Prague, Czechoslovakia, on the edge of the iron curtain. A young student named Andula is being stalked by something not of this world, a magical construct, and she barely has any idea. An operative of the Consortium of Ice, Tanya Morozova, knows how important and powerful the girl is, as a host, and must do whatever she can to help her. The Consortium of Ice is in a long-standing battle against the Acolytes of Fire to harness elemental magic. Meanwhile, CIA agent Gabe Pritchard screws up a case in gaining a potential asset that has been six-months in the making, due to something that changed him in a previous mission in Cairo; now he needs to make good or face the consequences which will be more than losing his job.

The authors do a great job of setting the scene of this gloomy city in the heart of the cold war making it feel like a James Bond story of espionage, and then the magic comes into play in a subtle way, giving the story a whole new feel and dynamic. The readers do their part in giving the characters life and depth, using accents where necessary, and providing added tension to the dramatic story.

The first episode, “A Long, Cold Winter” does what it should: hooking the reader, answering a few questions, but also providing many more, wanting the reader (or listener) to continue with the next episode. This first episode is also free to read through the Serial Box site.

Originally written on February 10, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 1: A Long, Cold Winter from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Career of Evil” by Robert Galbraith (Mulholland Books, 2015)

Cormoran Strike is back with a new case to solve, only this in addition to being of a usual garish and repulsive nature, is a lot more personal. It all begins when his assistant and now admitted partner receives a special package at the office. Thinking it a possible gift from her fiance, she opens it up and discovers a woman’s severed leg inside.

It’s a personal attack on Cormoran, through his assistant Robin Ellacott. Their other cases soon start disappearing when word gets out and they know they need to find who’s behind it all before they go out of business. Strike comes up with four potential suspects from his past, and while he’d like to keep Robin locked up in a safe place, she won’t hear of it and refuses, as he knew she would.

Strike gets the police involved and gives them everything he’s got on the suspects. The police want to focus on a particular man that the private detective thinks isn’t involved, leaving the other three potential murderers for Cormoran and Robin to deal with. In their most intense and tolling case yet, they have to track down where these suspects are now, since it’s been years since Strike last checked in on them; find out what’s been going on around them and find out who the likely killer will be.

The case forces Cormoran and Robin to understand their unique dynamic as partners and how much they care about each other, while their respective girlfriend and fiance rarely see them, straining their relationships. Galbraith shows another side to the characters in this case that hits a lot closer to home, as the reader gets plenty of their personal lives, as well as their professional ones, making them feel like real people. Readers will be just as hooked with this third installment and wanting more.

Originally written on February 3, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Career of Evil from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.