Category Archives: British authors

Steps To Heaven by Wendy Cartmell is crime thriller novel a tad short on the thrills

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Sgt. Major Tom Crane is a British military cop with a big problem. Soldiers are turning up dead. Their throats are slit — and so are the jugulars of their wives and sons — the crime scenes are a horrid bloody mess.

The first case seems like a classic double murder suicide, maybe the result of a marriage gone bad, or perhaps a soldier suffering from PTSD. But Sgt. Crane smells a rat. When a second murder suicide turns up on another garrison, Crane becomes a human bloodhound, nose bent to a trail of clues that strangely point to a local church.

If this sounds like a terrific premise for a thrilling crime novel, well it is. Author WENDY CARTMELL has hatched a first rate plot and she does a credible job of laying it all out, holding it together and keeping us guessing to the end.

However, STEPS TO HEAVEN is not a great novel; it’s merely an average or perhaps a “just ok” offering to the crime fiction genre. There are several reasons why this novel fails to be all it could be.

Sgt. Crane’s methods are procedural, clerical and plodding. The majority of the action plays out far more like a bunch of bored cops sitting around for committee meetings to read reports and compare notes. They analyze computer data and comb through various records — and then they stay late to go over it all again.

Granted, this might be the way real police work is actually done, rather than the high-octane gun-play, car chases, knife fights and narrow escapes of movies or TV — but this is fiction and we don’t want paperwork and reports — we want our adrenaline to boil through every page.

Another significant drawback for me are characters that are flat. Everyone here is more or less a cliché — the prim, proper and a-bit-too-tightly wound Sgt. Kim Weston. Her well-starched uniform crackles as much as her obsessive efficiency.

Kim Weston is set off against Staff Sergeant Billy Williams — an easy going athletic type who feels more comfortable on a football field than in front of a computer. He’s cheerful, happy-go-lucky but sometimes does sloppy work — which draws the evil eye from the uptight Sgt. Williams.

But the most bland of all is Tina, the wife of our viewpoint character, Sgt. Major Crane.

Wendy Cartmell

The author makes a valiant effort to flesh out the character of Crane through scenes that show interaction with his wife when he’s off duty — but we get little traction there since Tina Crane is about as vibrant and interesting as a jar of mayonnaise.

Crane and his wife bicker tediously over her sloppy housekeeping when they aren’t mulling over having a baby — the discussion of which centers around projections of the family budget. Wow! They do everything but get out some spreadsheets to regale us action-hungry readers about how they might micromanage future income potentials which combine the pay of her boring job as bank teller vis-a-vis his military salary.

GAK! Poor Mrs. Crane! She might have to give up getting pedicure at the occasional spa outing, or sacrifice carefree jaunts with her gal pals if she has to stay home and wet nurse a freshly minted army brat!

It’s all pretty dull.

The author almost saves the day by providing some dramatics at the end — but the biggest story here is a tremendous case of missed literary opportunity, and let me explain:

For me, the final actions scenes are rendered problematic because of implausibility — and that implausibility centers around the fact that I don’t think the “Bad Guy” could have pulled off what he did in acting alone.

I’m trying hard to word this in a way without having to issue a spoiler alert by revealing too much about the ending — but when I say this is a titanic case of missed opportunity — I am talking about the idea that the “Bad Guy” guy should have had an accomplice — and that accomplice should have been Mrs. Morrison!

Let me repeat: If the author would have made Mrs. Morrison an accomplice in the horrible crimes played out in this narrative, it would have saved the day for me, and would have made schlepping through the rest of this novel much more worthwhile.

But, alas, it was not to be.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Timelock by R.G. Knighton is Devilishly Clever Fun: Well Written Campy Blood and Gore Horror At Its Best

Review by KEN KORCZAK

I was trying to think of the last time I had as much fun as I did while reading TIMELOCK by R.G. Knighton, and then it hit me: The year was 1987.

I was at the movies with a friend. The film we were seeing was EVIL DEAD II, Sam Raimi’s campy-but-ingenious blood and gore classic. Evil Dead II is outrageously goofy but devilishly clever. It became an instant laugh-and-shock-a-minute classic. I still consider it to be among my personal “best movies of all time.”

Devilishly clever, nutty, bloody, gory, funny and fun would well describe TIMELOCK, which is actually a set of two novels.

The first book involves a group of twenty-something college students attending a second-tier, but upper crust British university. They began to dabble in occult practices and stumble into a way to open a portal into another time and dimension. Trouble ensues when malevolent spirits leap through the portal and attach themselves to the students.

Each student is now “infected” with evil forces from the distant past. A variety of nutty hijinks ensue. What’s worse, one of the evil spirits is that of an extremely powerful witch with the wacky name of “Toomak.” She has the power to bring about he return of the Antichrist — Satan would be unchained resulting in the destruction of everything that is good, decent and holy forever.

R.G. Knighton

While the first novel takes place in the 1980s, the second novel shifts the action to the ancient Mideast at the time of Jesus. In the end, the events of the first novel and the second converge in a climatic ending pitting a fierce battle between the forces of Good and Evil.

What really makes this a first rate novel is the author’s superior ability to create interesting characters — they are ordinary human beings with all the normal strengths and weaknesses of people we find in the real world.

Each character’s motivations are shaped by their circumstances and background — which the author inserts into the narrative with marvelous finesse and ease.

R.G. Knighton is a rare writer — I believe he is a natural talent. He commands a razor-edged wit and a wonderful sense of sardonic irony. His ability to place ordinary people into extraordinary situations is what gives this book a breezy kind of power that doesn’t pretend to be anything but sheer entertainment.

The humor of Timelock is dripping with cynicism. Yes, this is dark humor, but pleasant; it’s like a premium dark chocolate with a tad of bitterness but ultimately sweet.

Timelock gets my highest recommendation and will easily make my Top 10 List of best books I’ve read in 2013.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer and has been successfully freelance writing for the past 25 years. He taught writing at the University of North Dakota. Ken in the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Erotic short story collection, Lazuline, by Elizabeth Woodham manages to stir passions with skillful prose

Review by KEN KORCZAK

A while back I reviewed a book of Christian literature and I mentioned in the review that I was not a Christian. This prompted one indignant reader to comment that I had no business reading and reviewing Christian literature without being a Christian.

How ridiculous is that! What if only Jews should read Jews and only blacks read blacks and Native American read Native Americans? I have a friend who is pure European lily-vanilla white and has written a book featuring Native American characters, and he is already taking heat from some Native Americans who are telling him he “has no business writing about Our People.”

I mention all this because today I am reviewing a book of erotic fiction, and well, it’s just that I never read erotic fiction. I can imagine the writer thinking: “Why is this bloke reading and reviewing a work of erotic fiction if he never reads erotic fiction?” Well, see paragraphs one and two above.

Sure, I’ve read a lot of erotic scenes as part of other mainstream novels, but I am always a tad cynical about it. That’s because when the time comes for the characters to “do it” my jaded editor kicks in and I think, “Okay, here it is; the obligatory sex scene. It’s part of the formula and the publisher demands it because they know sex sells.” The point is, no matter how skillfully the sex scene is handled, there is an element of gratuitousness about it because the writer thinks it’s obligatory. He or she doesn’t necessarily need the scene to move the plot forward, or develop the characters but, well … they just “stick it in” anyway.

Anyway, my status as an outsider to ertotic lit gives me greater objectivity, wouldn’t you agree? My objective opinion, then, of LAZULINE by British author ELIZABETH WOODHAM is that this is fairly terrific literature – lovely, effortless prose that flows with grace, marvelous imagery, superb word choice and revealing insight into human character and motivation.

My criticism is that this is a collection of short stories, but these works by and large do not bear out as short stories. They do not have all the four necessary elements of short story form: Plot, character, setting and theme. Most of these tales are more akin to poetic vignettes. For example, the titular offering, Lazuline, is not a story at all, but a dreamy, in-depth musing on the extreme pleasure of sexual revelation.

In other instances the author attempts to tie everything together to make a solid story with a beginning, middle and end, or resolution – especially in the case of “The Decision Tree” – but the effort falls flat.

But I don’t think it matters – I have no doubt that fans of erotic literature will get their money’s worth and then some from these powerfully erotic tales. The author manages to use the cold utility of words to conjure up and invoke that primal heat of lust nestled in the psyche of every human being.

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER

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The Orange Girl by Sir Walter Besant, published 1899, is a rambling, wordy book with familiar themes of the era and will probably bore most readers

Review by KEN KORCZAK

This book by a 19th century British author reflects many of the themes one would expect in the era of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy:

Kind-hearted but achingly poor folks being preyed upon by greedy businessmen and corrupt lawyers; lovely pure-hearted maidens; the filthy mean streets of London teaming with pickpockets, rogues and criminals; the absurd horrors of debtors prisons – but underlying it all, an avenue of escape promised by an overriding belief that there is a higher good, and a few well-placed saintly people determined to uplift the lowly.

What was surprising to me, however, was the tedious, disjointed and verbose rendering of this over-long novel. The writer is Sir Walter Besant, a bona fide scholar, intellectual and prolific author. Yet with The Orange Girl, he delivers a rambling mess of a work that is repetitive, pandering and ludicrously mawkish.

The story revolves around Will Halliday, a young man whose father is one of London’s richest shipping merchants. Halliday is expected to take over his father’s empire, but young Will becomes enamored with the fiddle. He desires the life of a musician. To his family, a musician is a step above a common footpad. Young Will chooses music anyway, is disowned, and is thrust into a life hovering at the edge of poverty.

The plot thickens when Will’s father dies and implements a real twist in his will – he leaves £100,000 to either his son or his nephew – based on which one dies first. If the poor musician outlives his cousin, he gets the fortune. If his cousin, the avaricious Matthew Halliday, who remained in the family business, lives longer, he claims the loot.

To make a long story short – a very long story – the matter of the inheritance attracts greedy lawyers, criminals and sundry troublemakers who hover around the fate of the unclaimed fortune like flies around a steaming pile of manure. They all scheme to make the life of the innocent fiddle player Will Halliday a living hell.

So who is the “Orange Girl?” That would be Jenny Wilmot, a blissfully beautiful, overpoweringly lovely and magnificently gorgeous goddess of a woman who is the purest of pure saints – so virtuous she is willing to sacrifice anything and everything for the sake and comfort of her fellow man. She crosses paths with Will Halliday, gets entangled in his life – and so the plot plays out.

The character of Jenny Wilmot is modeled on the real-life 17th Century British actress Nell Gwyn, and something of a folk heroine who also happened to be the mistress of King Charles II.

By the way, an Orange Girl is a young woman who worked the crowds at theaters or other public events. They carry baskets of oranges and either give them out for free or sell them for pennies. They do so while dressed as risqué and revealingly as the stilted 18th or 19th Century British society allowed – they are like an Elizabethan version of a Hooter’s waitress – although the Orange Girl enjoys a status more akin to a prostitute.

I have a theory as to why Sir Besant managed to deliver such a substandard heap of fiction, but since zero out of zero readers of this review have made it this far, I’ll just end it here by saying that “The Orange Girl” is not a work destined to be a classic, but a work destined to be forgotten.

Download a free copy of The Orange Girl here: THE ORANGE GIRL

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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“Antiques Don’t Bounce” by Richard Bullivant is a breezy, delightful read

Review by KEN KORCZAK

This is a delightful book because it manages to achieve what few books do: It makes the ordinary seem extraordinary. ANTIQUES DON’T BOUNCE by British author RICHARD BULLIVANT is proof that craft of writing will never go stale as long as there are authors who can look around their ordinary worlds with a sharp eye and tell us about what they see and experience in a way that seems magical.

The story follows the journey of a young college student seeking a business degree performing a mandatory year of work service in the real world of doing an ordinary job. Out of sheer lack of direction he drifts into a bottom-basement, entry-level position with a firm whose primary function is transporting antiques. It’s basically a glorified moving company, or what the Brits call “a removal service” although what they move in this case is often unique and highly valuable. The year is 1977.

This is not a plot driven book, and the view-point character is merely a voice in the background. But think of it more like Homer’s Odyssey. In that epic tale Ulysses find himself blown off course, cast away and thrust into a vast world of strange unknowns. He encounters bizarre characters and experiences strange new lands.<> In this case, the sprawling London firm, Lloyd & Taylor Ltd., is the ocean, and our student, like Ulysses, is tossed about from department to department to work as a common gopher or more accurately: a jack-of-do-whatever-we-tell-you-to-do. Like Ulysses, he grapples with confounding situational problems and meets eccentric (or comically dull) characters in each department.

Richard Bullivant

Bullivant’s ability to bring alive common folks as vibrant, fascinating characters is a primary strength of this book. You’ll meet drab clerks, salty truckers, smooth salesmen, cagey warehouse workers, a boozed up messenger grunt, prissy art dealers, small-town blokes – each an absolute enchantment.

The author is also able to convey to the reader a marvelous feeling – such as the joy of a breezy drive through the countryside on a lovely spring day – in a way that makes you feel you’re actually riding along on a lark through Merry Old England. It’s great escapism,

As the year comes to an end, I have read and written reviews for more than 100 books, and Antiques Don’t Bounce easily makes my Top 10. If this book doesn’t find best-seller status, I hope it achieves a significant niche audience or cult following. It’s the kind of book that you “discover” and makes you feel like you found a gem.

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE FAIRY REDEMPTION OF JUBAL CRANCH

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