Book Reviews

Book Review Policy

Authors and publishers--I review action thrillers. Could be science-action thriller; could be political-action thriller; could be contemporary-action thriller; could be military-action thriller; and so on. 

I do not review other genres. If you are interested in submitting your book, I prefer Kindle format, but will also review hardcover (paperback). Please contact me through the contacts page or email me at dedlund (at) lightmessages (dot) com. 


The Voynich Deception 

51pKeguyG9LThe Voynich Manuscript – an untranslated, medieval document in a mysterious, unique language – has baffled scholars since it was discovered a century ago. To this day, nobody knows what secrets are buried in its pages.

When a book dealer comes to him with the key to the manuscript and a promise of untold riches, notorious London mob boss Gezim Petrela is hooked. Then the dealer disappears and Petrela tracks down the team he’d chosen to demand that they finish decoding it. And he uses his own brand of persuasion to make sure they comply.

Petrela gives Ben Jarvis, a linguistics reader at a small university, two weeks to do what the world’s top cryptologists have failed to do in a hundred years. Or his girlfriend will die…

Secret codes, a turf war between rival gangs, a theft from a government building and a shadowy, offstage figure known as the Architect all collide in this gripping thriller that will keep you guessing to the end.

Based on the book blurb, I had expected a plot that was roughly based on outlandish theories about the Voynich Manuscript and alien lifeforms, or undiscovered ancient civilizations. That is not this book. Instead, Lancashire delivers a thoughtful—as in Hitchcockian—mystery. The ending is sure to surprise. However, I found the lengthy dialogue in Albanian along with the excessive use of parenthetical clauses, to be both unnecessary and distracting. If you love a good mystery, The Voynich Deception is worth reading. But don’t be misled by the title, the Voynich Manuscript is not the foundation of this story. Four stars.

Gun Kiss 


51Ypk4nrp2L._AC_US218_When the Derringer pistol that shot Abraham Lincoln is stolen and ends up in the hands of a Russian military general, covert agent Blake Deco is tasked by the FBI to head to the Balkans to recover the historical weapon. Meanwhile, the United States media is abuzz with news of the mysterious disappearance of Hollywood movie star, Goldie St. Helen.

After Blake’s return from overseas, he receives a tip from a Mexican friend that a drug lord, obsessed with the beautiful actress, is holding her captive in Tijuana. With the help of a reluctant army friend, Blake mounts a daring rescue. What he doesn’t expect is to have feelings for Goldie—or that a killer is hunting them.

Author Khaled Talib delivers a fast-moving, action-filled thriller. Sure, it is light, almost tongue-in-cheek in some parts, with dialog that feels contrived. I’m not complaining, in fact this is what I expected from the plot description and professional reviews. I could easily see Gun Kiss as an entertaining movie—a point that Talib playfully toys with at the end of the story.

I generally enjoy thrillers with a significant tie to a historical event or mystery, or elements of science. In this case, I was disappointed that the subplot involving the Derringer never really develops, and feels as a pasted add on. A missed opportunity, but I still liked the book and give it four stars.

Altered Views 

61wjTlLxlaLIn the sleepy town of Ione, Preston Castle stands like a sentinel on the hill, a home to history, rats, bats, and owls, everything to make up a good ghost story. But does it house more than that?

Skeptical Nick Hays becomes enamored with the old building, volunteering to help with landscaping and renovation projects. However, his obsessive nature causes him to spend an inordinate amount of time there, leading him to believe there are more things existing than what the eyes perceive.

His obsession embroils him in a confrontation with something supernatural in this adrenaline charged battle for a hostage where Nick’s sanity may become a casualty, and a lost soul the eternal victim.

This story surprised me (in a very good way) on numerous levels. Written in the first-person, Altered Views reads as a non-fictional account of the protagonist's, Nick Hays, transformation from Missouri-show-me skeptic to true believer in the supernatural. I instantly bonded with Nick, as I am committed to logic and reason--there is no room for spirits in the reality I inhabit--and then felt my thought processes challenged, as Nick does, when he faced the inexplicable. The dialog is very believable, as are the characters (Emma is my favorite), and Mr. Stout demonstrates his mastery of writing with the beautiful and graceful flow of the wording, a constant enrichment for the reader's senses. The tension builds to an exciting, and unexpected, climax as both human and inhuman are challenged by dark and dangerous forces. I've read all of Mr. Stout's books--he is an eclectic as well as accomplished author--but to my taste Altered Views is easily the best. Highly recommended, whether you are a believer or skeptic!

The Silver Prince 

41zuwnDOgeLDeep in the Middle East, an innocuous note to a British consulate official starts a crisis and leaves many at the top nervous. A minister within the Saudi Arabian government fears for his life and the royal family is implicated. 

Dispatched to solve this mystery is Freya Caroline Mathews, a beautiful and fearless intelligence officer. But even she has no idea of what she is walking into – a high stakes game of cat and mouse in which she must confront her demons and choose who to trust. For failure comes at the ultimate price. As the major factions move into position ready for the final battle, she must race against time to find the evidence she needs, if she is to have any chance of stopping the Silver Prince. 

In his debut novel, Joe Mathers delivers an exciting international spy thriller that could easily be tomorrows headlines. A significant amount of research went into crafting his plot, and no doubt Mathers drew heavily on his first-hand knowledge of Middle East affairs and his fluency in Arabic. Historical and current events are woven seamlessly into the story as the tension ratchets higher and higher to a climactic ending that will leave you stunned and breathless.

It is refreshing to read a spy thriller written from the perspective of our friends on the other side of the pond, and the reader will get a glimpse into the inner workings of MI6 and UK foreign policy. Definitely looking forward to author Mathers' next book!

The Final Reality 

5127hFyHNTLIn the high-octane conclusion of the Alex Pella science-fiction trilogy, the brilliant doctor and inventor finds himself racing against the unstoppable ambition of Jules Windsor who now leads The New Reality. When Jules begins to uncover the powerful, long-forgotten technology behind the world’s massive megalithic structures, he sets into motion the same cascade of events that once destroyed the ancient civilization that built them. As the planet heads toward an apocalyptical upheaval not seen since biblical times, Alex and his team know they must stop Jules—and The New Reality—once and for all.

Amazon bestselling author Stephen Martino, member of the International Thriller Writers, delivers the final installment in the Alex Pella trilogy. This dystopian thriller series, set in the not-to-distant future, imagines a failed global society, the result of a human-caused pandemic that killed billions. Martino combines ancient mysticism and mid-20th century philosophy in an entertaining and thought-provoking plot, filled with multi-dimensional characters. In this final book of the trilogy, the reader is taken on a harrowing journey to a breathtaking climax that riveted my attention well into the early morning hours!

Grudge: Operation Highjump 

In51FfezsKpyL 1946 the United States Navy conducted Operation Highjump, an expedition to evaluate the effect of extreme Antarctic cold on US equipment. However, their true purpose remains shrouded in mystery. Were the reports of Nazi activity on the Southern Continent accurate?

After engaging unknown forces in aerial combat, weather forced the Navy to abandon operations. Undeterred, the US returned every Antarctic summer until escalating tensions in Southeast Asia forced the government to secretly detonate three nuclear warheads over the continent in 1958. With the threat eliminated, the files were sealed and forgotten by all but the men who fought there.

Now the enemy has returned with a genetically superior army, indoctrinated from birth to hate Americans for their savagery, and they’re intent on exacting revenge for the loss of their homeland and banishment to the icy wastes.

As thrilling as the premise may be, author Brian Parker fails to deliver the goods. Sadly, the story suffers from characters that are not fully developed, a timeline that bounces back and forth like a yo-yo, and numerous technical errors. But the intriguing plot was just enough to keep me reading. This book is set up as the first in a series, so don’t expect a conclusive ending—there isn’t one.

Entry Point 

51NHVVn+pRL._SY346_Carrie O’Connor survived Afghanistan twice before and swore she would never go back.

But at the request of a high-level Taliban commander, the Europe Clandestine Service is sending her back to investigate a suicide attack that targeted a remote, provincial police station.

Reluctantly, Carrie agrees to the mission and soon after arriving, uncovers a widening conspiracy involving the Taliban, the CIA, and the Russians: a conspiracy that reaches all the way to the President of the United States. Unsure of who to trust, she must rely on her years of training. Is the president the terrorists’ target? Or is that a diversion for something more sinister?

I’ve read many good thrillers written by Australian authors, and it’s good to know our neighbor to the north is also home to talented thriller writers. In Entry Point, Ethan Jones delivers the goods. This military thriller, featuring Canadian Intelligence Service agent Carrie O’Connor, moves along at a brisk pace and is packed with realistic action that could be yesterday’s news. Jones does a nice job of developing the character of O’Connor, and it is a welcome and refreshing break from the norm to have a strong female protagonist. This is a good read, recommended without any reservations.

Beyond the Sea: An Event Group Thriller 

downloadThe Soviet battle cruiser Simbirsk, which launched in June 1940 and was reported sunk in 1944 with the loss of all hands, is still sailing the open sea.

January 2017: American Los Angeles class submarine USS Houston is tracking a surface target that is not listed as part of the Russian navy’s response to the NATO maneuvers. What they find will set in motion the answers to one of the great mysteries of World War II. With the Russian navy bearing down on the Houston and international tensions running high, the United States Navy declares the Soviet-era derelict legal salvage under international law.

With the world’s most powerful navies going toe-to-toe in the North Atlantic, the President of the United States calls upon the one organization that has a chance to figure out why this ship is in this time, in this place―Department 5656, also known as the Event Group.

When the Event Group arrives, they are confronted by three warships of the Russian Navy who have come to claim their nation's property. The two groups meet and soon discover that the ancient battle cruiser is not a derelict at all, but fully functional with a mysterious apparatus that sent the original crew to their deaths. In the midst of their warfare in the tossing seas, both navies are sent into a realm of unimaginable terror―an alternate world of water, ice, and death.

New York Times bestselling author David Golemon weaves the fabled Philadelphia Experiment into his latest Event Group saga. The story moves at a brisk pace following a somewhat slow opening. And like his other Event Group thrillers, there plenty of suspense punctuating an imaginative plot that falls short of hard sci-fi but goes well beyond traditional present-day thrillers. I would have preferred if the novels were truly stand-alone, however such is not the case. The numerous references in “Beyond the Sea” to a prior novel reached the point of annoyance and added nothing of value to the plot. Also, at the risk of being picky, I was jarred by several inconsistencies in the plot. Both of these objections are relatively minor, and I am not dissuaded at all from recommending this exciting read.

The Starchild Compact 

The uStarchildniverse is filled with cosmic oddities, and some of these are right in our own celestial backyard. For example, consider the moons of Saturn. Titan has a landscape composed of heavy hydrocarbons, where it rains liquid methane. The third largest moon orbiting this gas giant, named Iapetus, appears to be a standard rocky orb, but has a peculiarly regular belt of 20-kilometer-high mountains girdling its equator. Additionally, the surface is marked by a pattern of regular hexagons, some of which appear to have collapsed into the moon. And the density, 1.09 grams per cubic centimeter, is very nearly the density of water, and far to low for rock.

So, what is the true nature of Iapetus? Is it just another example of extreme, but natural, cosmic geology? Or could the moon be artificial, a vessel perhaps?

Author Robert Williscroft treats us to his tantalizing interpretation in The Starchild Compact. An international crew travels the vast distance from Earth to Saturn to investigate Iapetus. What they discover is a hollow sphere, incorporating technology so advanced, at first it is unrecognizable as technology to the crew members. If you are imagining parallels to Arthur C. Clarke, you are on track, as this is a well-deserved comparison.

The plot includes a dangerous stowaway, intent on murdering the crew. But this is hard science fiction at its best, and Williscroft demonstrates not only his ability to seamlessly blend real science into the story, but also takes the reader in unexpected directions, tackling questions of theology and human behavior.

The Starchild Compact should be at the front of the reading list for any sci-fi fan!

Slingshot: Building the Largest Machine in Human History 

51MoyZhVFGL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Previously I reviewed “Operation Ivy Bells”, a submarine Cold-War thriller by Robert Williscroft, based on factual events involving the author. To say Williscroft has a fascinating resume is a huge understatement. Here’s a short summary from his Goodreads author page:

“Served 23 years in Navy and NOAA. Started as enlisted Submarine Sonar Tech, selected for the Navy Enlisted Scientific Education Program, and graduated from Univ. of Wash. in Marine Physics and Meteorology. Returned to subs as Navy’s first Poseidon Weapons Officer. Then was Navigator, and Saturation Diving Officer on both catamaran mother vessels for the DSRV, and then as Officer in Charge of the Test Operations Group out of San Diego, conducting deep-ocean surveillance and data acquisition. In NOAA, directed diving ops throughout the Pacific and Atlantic. NOAA published and distributed Doctoral dissertation, A Method for Protecting Scuba Divers from the Hazards of Contaminated Water , to ports around the world.”

In “Slingshot”, the author takes us in a different direction from his exciting submarine adventure. Rather than visiting the depths of the ocean, we are going up, 81 kilometers to be exact. The plot revolves around three main characters—Alex, Margo, and Klaus—who are leading the construction of the largest machine ever built, a magnetic launch loop 2,000 kilometers in length. “Slingshot is part romance, part mystery (a search for none other than Amelia Earhart), part adventure, and very suspenseful. There’s enough real science in the launch loop machine to engage my inner geekdom—reminiscent of the masterful Michael Crichton. As the launch loop nears completion, acts of sabotage slow progress. But who is behind these misdeeds, and why? As the answers unfold, the reader is taken to a thrilling climax that will have you turning the pages well into the late night hours. Put on the coffee, and strap yourself in for a whirlwind adventure!

Left of Bang 

20170909_163007_HDRLeft of Bang is aimed at sharing the teachings from the Marine Corps Combat Hunter course. If one is in imminent danger but still left of bang, there is opportunity to avoid or prevent disaster. To the right of bang, all that can be done is reactionary in nature to assist the victims and, later, find the perpetrator.

Given that we share a dangerous world, no one is immune to the real threat of becoming a victim of violence at the hands of another. Whether we are considering a war zone in the Middle East or the streets of an average American city, the threat of danger is real and affects everyone. But don’t be misled, the authors are not presenting a book on self-defense using physical means. Rather, they present and discuss scientific means to read the intended actions of another person, with the goal being to detect aggressive and violent intentions before they become actions. Riley states this well in the introduction: “Getting left of bang requires two things. The first is a mindset and mentality to actively search your area for people that don’t fit in. The second is the knowledge to know what causes someone to stand out from the crowd.”

Chapters are devoted to topics ranging from combat profiling (no, this is NOT ethnic profiling), to baseline and anomalous behavior, to body language (including biometrics and kinesics). I found these chapters especially interesting and immediately began paying more attention to specific behavior in public locations. Being familiar with body language is useful (I’d argue) in most aspects of normal civilian live as we deal with colleagues, business contacts, and other people we meet daily.

I highly recommend Left of Bang for anyone interested in how to read the intentions of people before actions occur. If nothing else, it provides fascinating insight into human behavior.

Bonus—if you are an author, the book is loaded with descriptions of how the human body responds to stress. Good info for making your characters real! 

The Lost OrderThe Lost Order 

“The Knights of the Golden Circle was the largest and most dangerous clandestine organization in American history. It amassed billions in stolen gold and silver, all buried in hidden caches across the United States. Since 1865 treasure hunters have searched, but little of that immense wealth has been found.” So begins the teaser for The Lost Order.

This most recent thriller by Steve Berry easily demonstrates why he maintains bestselling-author status. The plot, featuring the indefatigable Cotton Malone, is steeped in historical references to the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC), a secretive organization dating to the mid-19th century whose goal was to annex territories in Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean, and add these lands to the Confederate States of America. The KGC later gave rise to the Ku Klux Klan, so there is good reason to characterize the KGC as a domestic terrorist organization. Berry has rooted the plot in the Smithosnian Institution, featuring the Castle, the natural history museum, and the American history museum prominently.

When we first meet Cotton, he and his partner, Cassiopeia, are on a treasure hunt in Arkansas, and they’ve discovered a cache of gold coins. Trouble soon finds them in the form of a sentinel, a member of the Order charged with protecting the treasure. Berry introduces us to the KGC and masterfully uses the dialog and action to provide a rich (and accurate) understanding of the history of this secretive group as well as their drive to engineer a strong and independent Confederate States of America.

Cotton and Cassiopeia soon find themselves in a race against members of the long-forgotten Order to find “the vault”—a hoard of gold and solver amassed by the KGC and, according to legend, worth an immense fortune. The treasure hunt involves deciphering clever clues inscribed on five stones. Finding the stones is only half the battle, as the sleuths must use all their wisdom and knowledge to piece together the clues. What the Order intends to treasure gives dual meaning to the title, The Lost Order.

Berry does not shy away from placing his main protagonists in peril, and there are moments where the outcome is uncertain (and I won’t reveal any spoilers!). The pace is steady and keeps the reader wanting more. For someone who enjoys history (yours truly), the connections to the Smithsonian museum and the history of the KGC are very enjoyable bonuses to a fantastic plot and fascinating characters.