‘Vultures’ by Grant Palmquist – Review

*Disclaimer – I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

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At ten o’clock, Trent Sable grabbed the revolver, shoved it in the back of his pants, slipped on his latex gloves, and took the black balaclava from his duffel bag. He stepped out into the humid June night, and sweat rolled from his pores like wax down a melting candlestick. Mosquitoes buzzed around him. One of them landed on his forearm and sucked at his skin. Trent pulled a Marlboro 100 and chrome lighter with Trent etched into it from his pocket, lit a cigarette, breaking his two-a-day habit, and brought the cherry to the mosquito on his arm. It curled into a dry, dead ball and rolled into oblivion, then Trent made his way down the stairs, the wood creaking beneath each step. He could see the light of the Stop ‘N Shop sign by the moonlight, its fading yellow background flickering off and on.

Almost closing time.

The parking low was empty, and the man who owned the place was probably busy cleaning up inside. Trent looked up and down the street to make sure no cars were coming, and he gripped the balaclava tightly in his clammy hand, ready to draw it over his face. He reached the edge of the parking lot, gravel crunching beneath his feet. The smell of exhaust still hung in the air. Trent spotted puddles of gasoline near the gas pumps and dragged on his cigarette as he passed them, imagining someone drenched in fluid, begging Trent fore help, only to find himself ignited in flames a few seconds later.

Trent laughed to himself.

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Synopsis –

Heath is a family man with a nine to five job, a wife that he loves, and a teenage daughter going through a breakup and the

Trent is a sociopathic killer intent on proving himself a god and uprooting the laws of society. Trent picks Heath and his family as a target and stalks them relentlessly. What happens when chaos targets a middle class family? Can they survive the violence?

Thoughts –

I found a fun thing to do with this book! Here’s a drinking game you can play while reading. Drink when

– eyes are referred to as orbs

– you see the word phantasmagoria

– some ‘gets acclimated’ to sudden light or dark

– a random snake shows up

– Trent seems aroused but then blankly states that he can’t get aroused

– Victoria ignores blatant and immediate danger

– someone is clearly being followed but just shrugs and carries on anyway

– Trent swings ‘up and down’ on the swing

(Please be aware that if you play this game you will die because at least four of these happen in every single chapter)

First of all I would like to say that the general writing of the book is well done, Palmquist has a voice and he uses it and the sentence by sentence structure is well done. It was an easy book to read and if you are interested in synopsis of the book, I would say you should give it a try, however there were a few things that stuck in my teeth like a popcorn kernel, but I wouldn’t say this is a bad book, just possibly a confusing one.

So Vultures sets itself up as some kind of stalker story and I actually got the impression that maybe the family would be held captive in the house by the sociopath and that would be the majority of the novel. I’m not entirely sure where I got this idea from, maybe because Trent wants to destroy their ‘home and family’, so that assumption is on me. However, I did expect more to happen in the actual book than what did.

Without spoilers, there are two deaths pretty early on and this gives the impression that the story will ramp up to something, but the energy fizzles out very quickly after the second woman is brutally killed. I’d like to also point out that Heath the family man with a lovely wife and daughter, doesn’t seem to like women very much. He had a vendetta against Gloria (personally that hurt to read) at work and seems obsessed with hating her, and when he is blackmailed for the murder of another woman who’s body he wakes up beside, he never gives a single thought for the life of that woman. He never even thinks ‘that could be Yvonne or Victoria’, nope, he only cares about his own reputation which doesn’t fit with the character, or at least what we are supposed to believe about the character. Not to mention when Gloria goes missing, it seems more like he’s missing the conflict rather than actually concerned about her well being.

Heath as a character is completely caught up in his own insecurities and anger. Throughout the book he completely leaves his wife in the dark even after it would be far more beneficial to tell her. When it is one hundred percent clear that a verified killer is stalking your family, you tell your wife and daughter, you don’t leave them alone in the house, and you don’t let them leave under any circumstances. Heath just kind of… worries, without telling either of them. And Yvonne, his wife, is characterised as a submissive, loving but unquestioning wife even when her husband disappears for forty eight hours and is acting the weirdest he’s ever acting in their entire marriage. She’s basically not there for the entire story.

Victoria is, for the most part, is an ordinary seventeen year old. Trent tries to seduce her and it’s believable that in her fragile emotional state that she would fall for him, if it weren’t for the fact that he is completely devoid of any charm whatsoever. Serial killers, historically, are known to be very charming but Trent is just boring and mean and Victoria’s obsession with him is unbelievable to me as a reader. There are sermons scattered throughout from the family going to church, the book that I will be honest I mainly skipped because I did my time in church and the first few it wasn’t relevant to the plot of the story. At the end of church one day, for seemingly no reason Victoria declares that her goal in life is to have children. ???? Like, fine if you want to have children, but it was unprompted and told to her father, also at the beginning of the story she says she pledged her virginity to her father (promises her father she won’t have sex until she is married) which is uncomfortable to say the least.

But obviously the family aren’t devout Christians as Heath doesn’t seem to care about the deaths of the women around him. And a main theme in this book is masculinity and what it means. Trent believes he is a true man because he murders, and Heath feels emasculated because he doesn’t? Like you can’t be masculine unless you are violent. And you aren’t truly feminine unless you give birth?

There’s a lot of following but no reacting, there’s a lot of overlapping text conversations that didn’t need to be repeated. What could have been a great standoff between an average man protecting his family and a crazed sociopath hellbent on ruining societal norms, ended up being a strange squaring up that lasted way longer than it needed too, ironically showing two people who are too caught up in stereotypes about masculinity they forget to act out those very violent stereotypes at all.

Vultures is not badly written, but a confused book that is aspiring to greater themes than it displays. There are confused statements about masculinity and femininity and there isn’t as much of a showdown as was promised. Also a lot of ‘society are all zombies who don’t feel anymore’ talk which gets old quick.

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About the Author –

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Grant Palmquist is a writer of dark fiction and horror writer who doesn’t have any bios online that I can find.

Links to Buy and Review –

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

Do you like serial killer horrors? What’s your favourite stalked family story? How do you feel about blatant societal narratives in horror?

‘Silence in the Woods’ by J.P. Choquette – Review

*Disclaimer – I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

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Paul sank back onto his bed, stared up at the spiderweb cracks in the high ceiling above. Many of the aides and nurses were kind at the hospital. But a handful were not and the night monitor for Ward III  was one of these. Truthfully, it made no difference to Paul whether the other man screamed the night away or not. He hadn’t slept a full night in weeks. When he’d first arrived he’d been in so much pain he hadn’t been lucid. Later, after the medicines wee decreased, he was able to get his bearings… and almost wished for the sweet oblivion the tiny pills had offered. 

But he couldn’t – wouldn’t – allow himself the luxury. Whenever he closed his eyes he saw the horror he’d witnessed deep in the wood again and again. The same images would flicker, an endless loop. The two couples – he and Jane, Allen and Deirdre – in the woods, always dark and twisted, like ghostly photographs from long ago. Then the blood on the ground, a body swinging and stiff at the end of the makeshift noose –

No. 

Paul sat up, putting his feet on the bare, cold floor underneath him. Timmy let out a partial giggle and Paul glanced over. The big man was so large his bulk didn’t fit on the bed. A roll of flesh, soft and white like dough, flopped over the side of his cot. His face was serene, full-mooned, with his lips parted in a smile. Even in sleep, Timmy was happy and blessedly oblivious. Paul envied the big man. His childlike mind meant that he never fully grasped the harsh realities of life. 

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Synopsis (Taken from Goodreads) –

In 1917, four friends and photojournalists set out in the woods looking for answers. Why have so many hikers and hunters gone missing in the area of Shiny Creek Trail?

The two couples anticipate a great adventure, one they’ll tell their kids about someday. No one imagines the evil lurking in a remote cave. A horrifying discovery leaves one person dead and two others missing.

Two months later, Paul, one of the four, returns to the forest to find his wife. But will he find her before someone—or something—finds him?

Silence in the Woods is the long-awaited prequel to Shadow in the Woods and delves into the frightening territory of the supernatural and the human mind

 

Thoughts –

Silence in the Woods starts off with our main character Paul and a high tension escape from the mental asylum he’s been in for the past six weeks, circa 1917. Paul, his wife Jane, and their friends Allan and Deirdre, went hiking in the woods and only Paul managed to get back out again, adamant that some kind of creature killed his friends, but unable to accept the fact that his wife might be dead even after all this time (possibly) alone in the wilderness. Is Paul deranged or is he telling the truth? Is there a creature in the woods and is it the same one that took the hikers they went up there to research? No matter the answers you are now along for the ride with Paul on this treacherous journey mired by shadow, danger and mystery.

The pacing of Silence in the Woods is exemplary. Switching between November Paul and his trek to get back to where he last saw his friends and hopefully find them alive, and September Paul and Co. as they reach the trail and the cave they settle in at the beginning of their journey, both sides of the story unravel together leaving no room for a sagging middle section to this novel. However, exposition and character development aren’t left by the wayside to accommodate the fast pace either. Choquette’s writing is skillful and enthralling, creating believable and sympathetic characters whose motivations are clear when they need to be and ambiguous when it suits. Her switching of point of view and time jumps, which are both difficult devices to get right at times, brings the story to life and gives the novel dimensions that would sorely be missed if this were a linear novel.

The ‘creatures’ in the story representing an inhuman good and evil are not thoroughly explained and can only be judged by how they interact with the small group. A cave with strange markings that infiltrate the mind, a shadow creature that brings out the worst in people, a humanoid with intelligent eyes and a knack for showing up just in the nick of time. Our small group of photojournalists are thrust into the centre of a tug of war they could have never imagined, and their own insecurities are brought to the surface by the monsters they struggle against. Infidelity, inferiority, lies, and love all come to light in the darkness of that cave, and the reader is delicately led through the minds of the group as they unravel and change for better or for worse.

The setting of this story is mostly a cave, and the back sections of that cave that go deeper than the group imagined and this gives the story a timeless and isolating feeling. There’s old stone furniture used at one point giving the impression that the group are only one small link in a chain of darkness and violence that has been going on for possibly centuries. Nature as an immutable force that holds secrets humanity has forgotten, perhaps willingly, is a theme through this story and one that makes the characters of Paul, Jane, Allan, and Deirdre seem like pawns in an unfortunate game that they didn’t sign up for. This story will make you think twice before stepping into the woods again.

Silence In The Woods is a story of relentless perseverance, of human curiosity, and of the strange and unexplained creatures that can warp our minds so easily. Fast paced and carefully written, a prequel that only wets the appetite for the next book in line, Silence In The Woods will leave you shivering, wondering, and eager for the next leg of the journey.

 

About the Author –

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J. P. Choquette is an author of thriller novels from Vermont who enjoys writing about stories that tie in art, nature, and psychology. When not writing she spends time watching Gothic movies, spending time with her family, or visiting old cemeteries. You can find out more about her and her work from her website jpchoquette.me

 

Links to Buy and Review – 

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

 

Is Bigfoot good or evil in your mind? What’s your favourite scary story set in the woods? Do you find time jumps confusing or intriguing?

‘Whispers in the Dark’ by Laurel Hightower – Review

*Disclaimer* I was given a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

 

It wasn’t much, that bare inch of scalp sticking up beyond the protective concrete wall Charlie Akers crouched behind. Wispy blond stands ruffled in the light breeze, giving away just enough of his location location for me to center him in my scope. He probably wasn’t aware that any part of him was visible at all, but an inch was plenty for me. One shot and I could take the cap of his skull off, scatter his brains across the bricks behind him, and end this standoff. The index finger of my right hand was light on the trigger, my shoulder braced for the recoil. I let myself picture it, indulge the fantasy. Anything to take my mind off the way my knee had begin to cramp. 

It never mattered what position I took up at the start of one of these damned things, it always got uncomfortable. Usually I can risk moving, take a moment to shift my leg and ease the screaming joint, but not now. We were in the magic hour, the decisive time at the end of a standoff that would decide who was going to walk away whole. I didn’t think it would be Akers. 

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Synopsis –

Rose McFarland is a killer. Her job as a sniper means she knows to how to stay focused and do what needs to be done, no matter how difficult, but her latest bullet has got her rattled. An FBI agent shows up eager to speak to her, knowing a little too much about her past that she would like to have kept in the shadows, and now her son is showing signs of seeing the same terrifying things she saw when she was a kid. As she looks for answers, more questions show up, unraveling the mystery of her past and casting the person she thought she was into doubt. Can Rose protect her family and herself while confronting the darkness she was born to confront?

 

Thoughts

On a more shallow note, we all judge a book by it’s cover, that’s why they have covers in the first place. I was immediately intrigued by the cover of Whispers in the Dark is bright, eye catching and but it has a darkness about it that reflects the interior of the plot and the main protagonist Rose. And that fire! I’ll read anything on fire.

Now, onto the story, and what a story it is. The plot itself is a paranormal mystery horror that gives you the chills, sparks your curiosity, and one that you won’t guess the twist to trust me. You’re thrown right into the action as the protagonist has her sniper rifle trained on a disturbed and dangerous man and that’s just the first page. You’re taken on a journey with Rose learning about her heartbreaking past and the darkness that has always followed her. The creeping dread that you can feel coming from the first chapter like a far off tidal wave never lets up, it’s well paced, and the pay off is well worth the read.

As for the protagonist of Rose, it’s refreshing to have a woman like Rose written by another woman. Generally stoic sexually active women like her swing wildly from frozen bitch to sex bunny damsel in distress and I’m so glad that’s not the case here. Rose has had a terrible childhood and worked hard to get to where she is. She trusts her own instincts, she’s defensive to most apart from those she truly loves, she asks for help when she needs it, but with her skills she rarely needs it. She’s multi-faceted and never once is her cup sized mentioned! Amazing. Rose has led a complicated and messy life, much like the rest of us – she’s got an ex-husband, a dead husband, a child with each of them and a good friends who she occasionally shares her bed with, so if you’re worried the plot will run too thin on these whispers, you have nothing to worry about. Hightower handles all of these aspects and sub plot points deftly and with grace, never losing the real stakes of the story, but giving the reader time to breath between the terror.

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I can’t recommend this book enough. I’ve always been ever so slightly bored by police procedurals and cop stories, though I’m aware that a story with no police involvement would also irk me, but Hightower gets the balance just right. The prose is well written, thought out and I’ve actually taken down a few paragraphs for later review so I can practice her approach in my own writing. I can only dream that my debut novel will be as well written as this (it won’t, but I can dream) and I highly anticipate what’s next for this author.

 

About the Author –

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Whisper in the Dark is the debut horror novel of Laurel Hightower, a paralegal by day and a writer by night. She is a fan of real life ghost stories and a good horror movie and currently lives with her husband, son, and two rescue animals.

 

Links to Buy and Review-

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

 

Whose your favourite great female character written by a woman? Has your judgment of the cover of a book ever been completely wrong?  How do you feel about paranormal/ghosts in suburban settings?

‘Terminal’ by Michaelbrent Collings – Review

*Disclaimer* I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The terminal.

An appropriate name for the place, which is a squat, concrete box that hunches just this side of Hell and just the other side of Nowhere.

A Shit County Sheriff’s Dept. squad car sits near the terminal. It does not occupy any of the spots closest to the front door, or even to the small exit that leads to the sheriff’s satellite station in the terminal itself. The sign of an officer who wishes others to have the better placing. Or the sign of an officer who wants to get a few extra steps of exercise. Or, last of all, the sign of an officer who is incompetent and who doesn’t want anyone looking when he sneaks out to take a nap during his “rounds”.

The Watcher notes all this. That is the Watcher’s job.

There are other Watchers, of course, but this one is here now. This Watcher has been charged to take note of these things. To prepare the way for what will come next.

As though bidden – for bidden it was, and is, and shall continue to be – a think fog rolls in. It eats the night as it crawls forward, otherworldly and strange.

That is as it should be. That is as it was designed to be.

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Synopsis –

Ten strangers in a bus terminal. A cop who made a mistake and now drinks to dull the pain of a dead end job. A ticket collector who wants her daughter to have the life she never had. Said daughter hiding a dark secret from her mother. A newlywed couple high on love. A makeup saleswoman on the way to meet someone she’s waited far too long to meet. A tattooed man who just wants to finish his book. An autistic man trying his best to function. A nervous man with lots of bags. A beautiful young woman held in a cell who wants to make it to the big screen. An eclectic group that on the surface seem to be holding themselves in check, bowing to social convention, but a fog is rolling in, a fog that happens to have eyes that see much more than light, and for the group and their rational minds, it’s about to get very dark inside that terminal. It doesn’t take long for threads to be pulled and things to unravel. An anonymous source is demanding a unanimous decision – only one can leave, the rest will die. All in favour?

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Thoughts

I’d first like to say that I read the email requesting to review this while I was standing in a recently renovated airport terminal and as I was reading the unsettling synopsis, the lights began to flicker. Well, I wasn’t about to turn down a sign like that. This did lead to me thinking I was going into a story about planes rather than buses – I may have had to read the first passages a few times to get my mind in the right area, but never let it be said that I don’t adapt quickly.

But after my own induced confusion, Terminal turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable read. The plot arch may be a familiar one to any horror movie fans – a group of strangers terrorized by faceless evil, being forced to give up their humanity to save themselves – but in no way did I feel bored or uninterested with how it was laid out in Terminal. The characters are deftly handled, each one presented in depth and realistic detail to leave the reader with individuals who you certainly won’t find easy to like, but will find impossible to dismiss. There’s a very human, flawed element to the story that only becomes clearer and clearer with each turn of the page, like travelling into the fog itself. Greed, insecurity, shame, arrogance; you can find all of it in this novel with a healthy dose of blood, mystery, and terror as well.

What makes the story so compelling and really what stretches out the short timeline and the plot that only has one driving force behind it, are the characters. What Collings achieves with the multiple character perspective that he gives the reader a reason to care. He gives you a snippet of each diverse characters background and desires, without saturating the current immediate moment, but just enough that you can see past the surface stereotype that the characters are seeing themselves. Maybe the lazy cop has a spark of energy in him, maybe the crazy in love newly weds are hiding more than just romance up their sleeves, maybe the middle aged saleswoman isn’t just a perfectly powdered face. There are layers to these people that make them real, and make them more than the 2D outlines that a lot of stories fall flat on. Whatever you make of Terminal and it’s story line, the people are frighteningly real.

The ending was an unexpected delight. I gave up trying to figure out who would be left standing with all of the twists and turns thrown at me, and it turned out I had no idea where that left-hook was coming from anyway. I was too caught up in the human elements/stories to see what was being deducted right in front of my eyes. There were twists and elements that were skillfully unraveled about each character, calling everyone’s motives into question. Whoever you choose to root for, whoever you want to be all in favour of, I think you’ll be surprised in the end.

 

I’d recommend this book for anyone looking for a compelling read with rich characters. It hosts a cast of diverse personalities, tells a modern story of isolation in our technologically obsessed world, and will give you heart palpitations the next time you see a fog roll in.

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About the Author

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Michaelbrent Collings is an international bestseller and a multiple Bram Stoker Award Nominee. He writes across multiple genres, including but not limited to, horror, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, and YA. You can find out more about Collings and his work at his website.

 

Links to Buy and Review

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

 

How do you think you would deal with a vote for death situation? Could you keep your morals? Or do social conventions matter in the end?

‘Smitty’s Calling Card (Dark Retribution Book 1)’ by B.R. Stateham – Review

*Disclaimer* I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

“No one could pin anything illegal on this guy. All anyone could say for sure was the guy was an absolute merciless killing machine. He somehow could slip in, silence his victim,  and slip out and no one would know until hours later. And he had connections. Knew everyone who was anyone to be known on the streets. That was the deciding factor. That was single point for him to get this wild idea. Ask Smitty for help. The police department, the entire city, was baffled. Scared. Frozen in indecision. This madman left no traces. He left no evidence behind. He left no DNA material behind. It was like, like he was a ghost who prayed upon those who practiced the oldest profession in the world. No one knew why. 

So maybe it would take a ghost to find a ghost. No one knew why.”

Synopsis

Artie is a police detective tasked with finding and apprehending a local serial killer who has been mutilating sex workers in the area for months. But he knows he can’t find them all by himself, he needs help. So, risking his career and possibly his life, Artie enlists the help of local assassin and ‘boogie man’ of the night, Smitty, a legend among the shadows and a man who will stop at nothing to get the job done. But there’s more to just this mystery than the identity of the killer and Smitty wants to know it all.

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So, I was asked to review this book and as I do normally find some sort of morbid enjoyment from books about serial killers, I thought I’d get something out of it. Turns out I didn’t like it for many reasons, the first being that there are spelling and grammar errors constantly, I mean every other page. I stopped making notes of them because there were just too many, so many that they did sort of become background noise by the middle unfortunately. This book needs another run over by an editor.

 

 

Now onto the real issues with the plot and the writing. Right off the bat I was confused as to why a seasoned detective would enlist the help of some sort of freelance assassin – in some ways a serial killer himself – to help with his search of the killer. It all happened very quickly and without much insight leaving me feeling that the police are wholly incompetent in this story, and that’s not entirely unheard of for crime thriller books, but it was a point that took me out of the narrative. But, this could be seen as nit-picking which would be fair.

“A strong woman. A beautiful woman. A woman of taste and refinement. She didn’t look like a hooker. She looked like a successful business executive.”

Character description is a difficult thing to get right but a good general rule is that you only need to describe someone once. The reader then knows what they look like, they keep this in their mind, and their imagination embellishes when needed. If you are fully describing a character every time they walk in like it’s the first time they are introduced, your reader will die of boredom. They will skip forward to when you stop drooling over Charlene’s ‘divine breasts‘ because we know what she looks like and it doesn’t further the plot.

“The same raw sexual attraction which attracted men to them like freshly spilled molasses attracted ants to a picnic.”

 

The basics of the plot are fine, not revolutionary or unique, but fine, which means the story should really be in the execution and handling of the plot. Unfortunately for Smitty’s Calling Card, the cliches are abundant and repetitive. Yet another serial killer cleaning the ‘whores’ off the streets? A man with a caged animal inside that he struggles to control? High class prostitutes who are unimaginably beautiful, classy, confident, and sexy who need a whole host of men looking out for them to keep them safe because they are such fragile creatures? We’ve seen all this before and quite frankly I was bored with it before the novel even began. Stateham spends so much time making the character of Charlene so irresistible and interesting, switching from the P.O.V. of all the men to look at her, but he never gets inside her head to let the reader see what she is really thinking which is insane when you think that she is the driving force of the entire plot.

 

 

Very Important Things you need to know:

Smitty has dark eyes. His eyes are dark. He is a dark eyed killer. Why does he kill? No reason whatsoever, that’s what makes him interesting apparently. With absolutely no backstory he can kill six of the best assassins in the world with just a pen knife and multiple people report that he is a ghost and no one has ever seen him even though he is constantly wandering around town shooting people. Everyone reports that he is faceless, yet he has no qualms showing everyone his face either, so by the end of this book, he isn’t that mysterious anymore is he?

“Beautiful simply did not describe Charlene Hicks. Words would always fail trying to do so. […] Making her one of the most dangerous creatures he had ever encountered.”

Charlene is beautiful. She has divine breasts. She seems to be telepathic at times and despite being a full time medical student and sex worker, never seems tired, irritated, or aware of a murderer disemboweling her closest friends. Did I mention she is an angelic creature whose hips sway with a ‘girlish confidence’ that makes men weak at the knees? Even nuns stop to stare at her in the street – (That is an actual point made in the book).

 

If you are looking for a formulaic serial killer mystery thriller then give this one a go, but don’t expect much from this book. The characters are paper thin, the misogyny is rampant, and the idea that a group of female sex workers would have no reaction or agency whatsoever in the continuous murder of their peers, is frankly disturbing. Smitty’s Calling Card does not pass the Sexy Lamp Test, in my opinion. I think the Author has some skill and if he could only engage more with realistic characters outside his line of experience, he could write a really good book. But this book wasn’t written for women, or with women in mind.

 

About the Author – 

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B. R. Stateham is crime fiction writer hailing from America. You can find him on Amazon, Goodreads, and Twitter.

 

Links to Buy

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads