A book for mystery fans and anyone who likes a well-written story



Independent review of The Peacekeeper’s Photograph

By ML Doyle

The Peacekeeper’s Photograph is an excellent book — easily one of the best I’ve read this year. It’s more solid proof that independent writers are publishing some of the best, and most important books today.

The Peacekeeper’s Photograph shows up in Amazon’s Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, but it’s far more than a mystery. It’s also an honest, deep portrayal of a strong, smart woman in a horrible situation. Despite all evidence to the contrary — a successful military career, proven abilities as a photojournalist and editor, and the proven ability to perform coolly under enormous pressure.

The story

Deployed to the peacekeeping (or peace-making) mission in Bosnia in the 1990s, Master Sergeant Lauren Harper returns to the trailer that serve as her quarters and work space, to find one of her soldiers, Specialist Virginia Delray, strangled to death. The military police investigators immediately place Master Sergeant Harper at the top of the suspect list. Not only did Harper have opportunity as the victim’s roommate, the Specialist was strangled with Sgt. Harper’s belt. To top it off, several people overheard Harper say she was going to “kill” Delray in frustration with the woman’s incompetence.

From this point, the plot involves a typical mystery story: the wrongly accused person must find the real killer, despite opposition from the official investigators and the doubts of her superior officers. As Harper pushes forward, she finds more and more disturbing facts implicating senior members of the U.N. peacekeeping force in what looks like a complicated human trafficking scheme.

The solution to the mystery lies in photographs the victim took, and in pictures taken of her by two British journalists. These include pictures still hidden in Delray’s camera, which becomes the Maguffin (to borrow Hitchcock’s term) of the story.

The characters

Characterization is where Doyle really shines. She skillfully brings not just Harper, but every major and minor character to life. They’re more than just believable, they’re captivating. I found myself caring very much about how Sergeant Steele would get along, and I found myself feeling more and more contempt for Sergeant Harper’s commanding officer, Colonel Neil McCallen, as I read on.

Doyle the author skillfully builds the complete portrait of the victim, Virginia Delray. Our first impression is that she’s a ditz, a lightweight who doesn’t take her job seriously enough. She seemed never to have provided a useable photograph, and did not write particularly well, either, even though she was posted to the public relations detail.

But through the story, the author gradually builds a more detailed picture of a complex, if flawed person. What’s fascinating, too, is the POV character, Sergeant Harper’s growing appreciation of Delray, and the way she deals with her feelings of guilt for having failed her soldier. Harper’s internal challenge is to deal with growing self-doubt as she learns whom she can trust.

And Harper’s final actions at the climax of the book made me admire her, and the author.

Style

ML Doyle’s writing style is smooth and tight, yet rich with a clear depictions of settings, people and events. There’s not a spare adverb, nor a misstep in her descriptions. She’s a pro, and her own history in the military provides the essential accuracy in the details.

Get this book

The Peacekeeper’s Photograph will appeal to a lot of readers: mystery fans, readers who want stories about strong women, military stories and more.

But most important, The Peacekeeper’s Photograph is a book you should read if you like good books.

5*****

Find it on Amazon

Find it on the Author’s website

It’s Launch Day for Palm Trees and Snowflakes



The second Hawaiian Storm is now available

Today’s the day!

Palm Trees and Snowflakes, the second Hawaiian Storm mystery featuring FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm, is now available as an e-book on Amazon. If you act fast, you can still get it at 99 cents from Amazon.com. It’s already at its regular price, $2.99, on other Amazon sites, like Amazon.caAmazon.co.ukAmazon Australia and Amazon Brazil.

So you Americans get a sweet deal, as usual.

But don’t hesitate, because the price is set to go up, and it’s impossible to predict when that will actually happen.

What’s it about?

In Honolulu, where the palm trees are strung with lights for the holidays, FBI Special Agents Vanessa Storm and Alan Terakawa have their hands full trying to stop the deadly flow of snowflake, the newest designer drug. Faulty intel brings the agents into a deadly firefight, which yields even more puzzles. Time is running out to stop this lethal flood.

What the critics say

Palm Trees and Snowflakes was previously published as a different version. Here are some excerpts from its reviews:

The action and suspense grabs the reader, and the ending is great.” — Jay Williams

After reading Torn Roots and Palm Trees and Snowflakes, I can’t wait to see where Scott Bury sends Vanessa next.” — E. Finn

Another great short story by Scott Bury. This book captures your attention from the start and keeps on going. FBI, crime involving snowflake the new drug of choice. It would be great if there was more books in this series.” — Marie, Amazon reader.

Really enjoyed the quick pace and accurate action scenes. Vanessa Storm is a character we should see more of in continuing books.” — Anima Giraldez

Whence Vanessa Storm?

For now, Palm Trees and Snowflakes is available exclusively on Amazon as a Kindle e-book, but that won’t last forever. In 2019, I’ll be publishing it, as I did Wildfire, through Barnes & NobleKoboSmashwordsiBooks and other e-tailers, as well.

And I’ll be following it up with wide release of the other Vanessa Storm novels, Dead Man Lying and Echoes. Stay tuned for news!

Enjoy a sample of Palm Trees and Snowflakes.

A Hawaiian Storm on the horizon



Palm Trees and Snowflakes is now available for pre-order on Amazon. This second Hawaiian Storm mystery hits Amazon’s shores officially on November 30, but you can order it now at a special price of 99 cents.

This Christmas-themed tropical mystery brings back your favourite Hawaiian Storm characters, like

  • FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm, still in her first year of a posting to the Bureau’s Hawaii detachment
  • Alan Terakawa, her FBI partner
  • FBI Special Agent in Charge Al King.

Palm Trees and Snowflakes also introduces a few new characters, such as Perry Boyd, an old flame with a reason for that.

And everyone’s favourite, Tux the black-and-white kitten.

Save on the first Hawaiian Storm

To celebrate the quick release of the second volume in the series, I’m putting the first, Torn Roots, on sale. Save 67% and get Torn Roots for just 99 cents, exclusively on Amazon Kindle, from Thursday, November 29 until Saturday, December 1.

Don’t miss out!

Pre-order Palm Trees and Snowflakes before the price goes up!

Get Volume 2 for free

I’ll send a free advance copy of Palm Trees and Snowflakes to anyone who has bought Torn Roots already. Just show me a screen capture of your receipt and it’s on its way! You can email it to contact@writtenword.ca, or send it by Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Scott.Bury.Author).

Independent book review: 5* for Ghost Star



Ghost Star is a rollicking good space opera for young readers. Anyone from reading age to mid-teens will enjoy it.

Plot

Nolo Bray, a member of the Ruam race from the planet Tac, is the most elusive smuggler the galaxy. The book opens as his ship, the Ghost Star is finally caught and boarded by the Lingering Death, a moon-sized cruiser of the Imperium, which is ruled by the monstrous Nell. The Nell are humanoid, but much bigger than Terrans and equipped with blade-like foreclaws on their wrists.

Only one crew member remains hidden in a locker. Galen Bray, Captain Nolo’s teenaged son, watches on video as Mohk kills his father and orders the execution of the rest of the crew. But he decides to keep Bray’s young daughter, Trem, alive as a prize to deliver to his commanders in the Nell home world.

Teenaged Galen waits until the Imperium marines leave the ship, then manages to frees the smuggler ship from its tether to the Lingering Death. He’s helped by one last robot, Hex, and by the AI of the Ghost Star, which has the personality of his long-deceased mother, Bartrice — something that he doesn’t appreciate at first.

But in escaping the Imperium, Galen flies too close to a real ghost star, or black hole. There, he finds an ability he didn’t know he had. Time slows for him, allowing him to guide the ship down a plasma tube, where he discovers a planet inhabited by the last remnant of his race, the Ruam.

Surprise follows surprise. His father was the last living Ruam lord, making Galen now a lord. The smuggler Ghost Star is actually a Ruam battle cruiser disguised with scarred outer plating. It was the Nell who started a war against the Ruam, killed their home world of Tac and wiped out almost the whole species.

The pace never lets up. Galen gathers a crew of Ruam on a mission to rescue his sister. However, they first have to find a device to keep their planet from falling into the black hole. Along the way, they visit the Ruam homeworld of Tac, and an artificial moon called Zed that’s a smugglers’ haven. Think the island of Tortuga from Pirates of the Caribbean, in space. It’s there that Galen finds his long-lost aunt, Eria.

Characters

This book has everything you want in a science-fiction adventure: lots of action, a fast-moving plot, hairsbreadth escapes and lovable characters. I have to admit, Hex is my favourite. Eschbacher manages to create a personality with the perfect combination of modesty, eagerness to help, and a bit of dry humour that keeps him from being obsequious.

Eria is a badass warrior intent on killing as many Nell as she can in order to save her niece. And Burr, the Ruam’s chief scientist, is a blast. I can absolutely picture him as my high-school physics teacher.

As the villain, Lord Mohk is perfect. Evil oozes out of his every word. He kills for pleasure, maims for discipline, sends thousands of his own soldiers into almost certain death in the hopes that some of them might be able to carry out his will.

The author

Eschbacher is a professional writer with a long career in children’s television. His style shows it: snappy dialogue, lots of humour, the right amount of sadness and a dash of teenaged hormones allow young readers to identify with the main character. Get to know more about Roger on his website and blog.

If you’re looking for a fun, fast-paced sci-fi adventure, or know a young reader who is, get this book.

5*

 

“The hero returned to his house.” Wait—what did Byzantine houses look like?



domus model

Model of a Roman city domus.

Writing historical fiction is like driving in a city you’ve never been to before: you have to keep stopping your progress to find out where you are and check that you’re going in the right direction. And you never know when you’ll get detoured.

I’m making good progress with my next historical fantasy, The Triumph of the Sky. I plan on writing seven major parts. (It’s predecessor, The Bones of the Earth, comprises three parts. I feel like numerology should be a part of fantasy stories.)

Set in the seventh century CE, the action moves from Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, to ancient Cappadocia to the Carpathian foothills and deep into ancient Anatolia.

While I have done a lot of historical research before starting to write, as I write I often stumble upon a tiny question that requires hours of research on the Internet as well as in books. These are usually about things we take for granted today, such as “What kind of clothes did people in Constantinople wear?” or “What were their houses like.”

I found some answers pretty quickly, such as “what kind of shoes or boots did Slavic peasants wear?” It turns out there are a lot of Web pages devoted to ancient clothing.

Then there was another that took a little more time. In an early scene in the book, the hero, Javor, returns home after a long journey. But what did wealthy homes look like in Constantinople in 603 CE? It turns out there is quite a lot of interesting information, and even pictures.

Javor in The Triumph of the Sky is a very wealthy man. (To find out how he got his riches, you’ll have to read The Bones of the Earth.) So it makes sense then that he lived in a Roman-style domus, the dominant style for wealthy homes in the Roman Empire. Remember that the term “Byzantine Empire” is a 19th-century invention. The people of the time thought of themselves as Roman, and Latin was the official language of Constantinople at the time—although most people in the city spoke Greek.

A domus was a single-storey structure, looking from the top like two rectangles, open to the sky in the middle. They were often fronted by small shops that opened onto the street. In my imagination, Javor leases those out to vendors of various things: food, household items and so on.

Entering the main door brings you to the atrium, a formal reception hall open to the sky. A basin in the centre collects rainwater, and drains it into a cistern below the house. It’s tiled and decorated with chairs and hangings to show off the owner’s wealth. In a corner was a shrine, and in the seventh century, this would include a Christian icon.

Rooms open on both sides, such as bedrooms. Bedrooms in ancient Roman cities like Constantinople were small, usually just big enough to hold a bed.

The dining room opened off the atrium, too. While in ancient Rome, rich people reclined on couches to eat, according to the research I have done this practice was fading out by the time of my story.

atrium

The atrium of a Roman Domus. The roof was open to the sky, and the basin, called the impluvium, collected rainwater and fed it to the cistern below the house. Source: Realm of History

Continuing through the atrium, the next, roofed room was the tablinum, the owner’s study. From it, the head of the household could view most of the house at once.

At the back of the house is another rectangle, the peristylium. This is a large garden with a peristyle roof—rows of columns that go around the perimeter to hold up the roof, which is open to the sky in the middle, like in the atrium. Rooms opening off the perimeter include the culina or kitchen, bathrooms and store-rooms.

Peristylum garden

While this is a villa, not a city domus, it gives you a good idea of what the peristylum was all about. Image: Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup, CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Romans spread this style of home across the Empire, including to their second capital, Constantinople. Over the many centuries of the Roman and Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire, construction techniques, architecture and technology evolved quite a lot. But at the same time, older elements would continue alongside newer styles.

I hope you have a mental image of the style of house. The next question to answer: did seventh-century Cosmopolites eat meals while lying on a couch, like the wealthy of first-century Rome?

An adventuresome holiday



I have had some pretty adventuresome vacations: Banff, where I had my closest encounter with a grizzly bear; whitewater canoeing in Ontario and Quebec; and last year, when we got uncomfortably close to the wine country wildfires.

And last month, I encountered a different kind of adventure in Portugal. It’s a wonderful place, and my lovely wife and I fully enjoyed it—with one exception.

My pocket got half-picked. More on that in a little.

Today’s hot travel destination

When we arrived in Lisbon, we were immediately surprised by how crowded everything was: streets, shops, restaurants, hotels. We usually travel in September, to avoid the summer crowds, but as the locals explained, busy season lasts almost year round now.

Roxanne’s new friend: Gallo, the rooster who came back to life to save a falsely condemned man.

We were also struck by the number of very tall people we saw. I’m 183 cm tall (6 feet—I lost an inch. Aging sucks.) Men and women towered over us. And they seemed to come from all over: the U.K., Germany, Scandinavia, North America, France, eastern Europe. I know that Brits and Scandinavians are often tall, but I was starting to feel that there was a convention for tall people in Lisbon that I was not invited to (I told you I had shrunk nearly an inch from my younger days).

The next thing we found is that the locals are almost uniformly friendly and happy to help. And the food is fantastic. Great seafood and pastries. The local favourite is a custard tart, and they are fantastic.

Prices are more reasonable than in France, Italy or California, but more expensive than the Czech Republic. The currency is the Euro, so you also have to be aware of the exchange factor—which is pretty steep for Canadians.

An exciting and beautiful city

The Elevador Santa Justa: minimum half-hour lineup.

There’s plenty to see and do in Lisbon. There is lots of beautiful architecture, lots of history. We started in the Baixa (lower) district, the centre of Lisbon rebuilt after a huge earthquake in 1755 according to Enlightenment ideas: streets laid out in a grid pattern, grand squares, graceful buildings. Many of the sidewalks and pedestrian streets are paved with mosaic-like, shiny, slippery tile that apparently has cooling properties. Portuguese pavement, or calçada portuguesa is often made into beautiful, intricate and often playful patterns.

One of my favourite parts was the Elevador de Santa Justa. Built in the 19th century, it’s really an elevator that takes pedestrians from the lower Baixa to the Alta neighbourhood.

The guidebooks warn you that Lisbon is hilly, but really, the whole country seems hilly. We did a lot of climbing. Hence elevators and funiculars in various spots.

Castelo de Sao Jorge, Alfama.

We then went to Lisbon’s oldest district, the Alfama, whose name derives from the Moorish period. It’s on a hill crowned by the Castelo Castelo de Sao Jorge. If you go, don’t miss the display of the camera obscura, the periscope built into the keep from which you can see, in real time, the city around you.

A close call near the monastery

Take the metro to the western Belem neighbourhood. Don’t bother with the coastal train. The station is inconvenient, the line-ups long and the schedule restricting. But do go to see the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, or Monument to the Discoveries. It’s 52 metres high, shaped like a caravel, the vessel used by the storied Portuguese explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Not far from it is the 16th-century Torre de Belem, built to protect the city and the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos or Jeronimos Monastery.

As my wife and I crossed the foot bridge over the highway between the Tagus River and the Mosterio, I felt something on my backside. I reached back and found my wallet halfway out of my pocket. That pocket, by the way, was buttoned, but the button was gone by the time I interrupted the theft.

I turned quickly to see a young woman and a man very close behind me.

I confronted her, announcing in a loud voice to any other tourists that she had just tried to pick my pocket. She and the man with her both vehemently denied doing so. I blocked their way on the stairway down from the bridge, hoping a cop would happen by, but of course none did. Eventually, I had to let them go on their way—which was down off the staircase, and around to the stairs on the other side of the bridge to go up again.

Eventually, I did find two police officers near the Monastery, and reported the incident to them. They thanked me, warned me about crowded areas, and said they would look into it. Takeaway: don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket in areas crowded with tourists, beacause they’re a draw for thieves.

The main takeaway: if you can, do visit Portugal. Lots to see, lots to do, very warm and friendly people, lots of great food, and reasonable prices.

Book launch: The Search for Starlight by Elyse Salpeter



My author friend Elyse Salpeter has just released the fifth volume in her Kelsey Porter mystery series that combines Buddhist spirituality with vigilante justice.

With The Search for Starlight, Elyse Salpeter culminates the journey of a young woman who has come full circle in her quest to find the murderers of her parents.

She just needed to complete a simple errand… how hard could that be?

As soon as Kelsey embarks on the Emperor and Empress’s request to locate a mysterious object and return it to them, her entire world is plunged into chaos.

Someone is following her, someone else has broken into her home, and now she believes the people she trusted most have all been lying to her.

As Kelsey unravels the truth, she learns that her journey to this moment has never been entirely her own. Until now.

Readers will love this novel, which holds the answers to all your questions that have arisen throughout the series.

Find it on Amazon.

About the series

When Kelsey was just ten years old, she witnessed her parents’ murders. Since then, she’s dedicated her life to finding the killers and bringing them to justice. Her journey took her on a spiritual quest around the globe that thrust her deep into Buddhist spiritual mysteries. She discovered things about herself, her parents and her very place in the universe.”

Elyse Salpeter is keeping Book #1, The Hunt for Xanadu, at 99 cents for the rest of October. 

From the reviewers

“The Hunt for Xanadu by Elyse Salpeter is a remarkable novel, a fascinating and fantastical journey in time and space, and one of the most gripping novels I’ve read in a long time. It flies along at the pace of a thriller, with plenty of murder and mayhem along the way. But behind the thrill-ride is a spiritual story, an archetypal tale of mystery and darkness,riddled with fascinating and esoteric concepts in Tibetan Buddhism. Vivid characters, a truly appealing protagonist, unexpected twists, and crisp writing complete this unforgettable book. I can’t wait to read the next one in the series!”

—Douglas Preston, #1 bestselling author and co-creator, with Lincoln Child, of the Pendergast series

Elyse Salpeter

is an author who loves mixing “the real with the fantastic” in her books. She likes nothing better than taking different scenarios and creating worlds where things just aren’t what they appear to be.

Her five-book thriller series, The Hunt for Xanadu, The Quest of the Empty Tomb, The Call of Mount Sumeru, The Haunting of Cragg Hill House and The Search for Starlight are about a brilliant and fearless young woman named Kelsey Porter, whose life is steeped in Buddhist spiritual mysteries and who is constantly discovering the world around her is not what she believed it to be.

Elyse’s Dark Fantasy Series, The World of Karov and The Ruby Amulet takes us to other realms filled with magic and evil as a dark presence is seeping through the dimensions.

Her Young Adult novels, Flying to the Light and Flying to the Fire, are about a young deaf boy who is pursued by people for answers because he knows what happens to you when you die.

Elyse also dabbles in horror. Her horror novel, The Mannequins, is about a film crew that enters an abandoned mansion and disappears. Her horror collection, Ricket Row, is filled with creepy tales, guaranteed to keep you up at night.

When she’s not writing, Elyse is cooking, gardening, running around with her twins and eating shock food in her Gastronaut Club.

Visit her:

And follow Elyse on Instagram and Twitter @ElyseSalpeter.