A story that twists like the Rio Grande

Review of Place of Skulls by Caleb Pirtle III

One of the most satisfying literary discoveries is a truly unique story. This is particularly rare in the mystery-thriller genre. Many thrillers seem to be emulating another derivative book, trying to ride a bandwagon to market success. Far too many read as if the author were trying to write an episode of his or her favourite TV show.

So when I opened Place of Skulls by Caleb Pirtle III, I was prepared for disappointment. But what I found were realistic characters, solid writing and a satisfying, completely original story.

The plot twists and turns, but holds the road.

Place of Skulls is the fourth in Pirtle’s Ambrose Lincoln series, a spy-thriller set during the Second World War. A lot of authors give their main characters a huge character flaw—alcoholism, a history of abuse, a physical disability—and Lincoln has what seems to me to be the most debilitating for a spy: amnesia. Ambrose Lincoln has no memory of his past, and cannot remember why he knows the things he does and cannot account for certain skills he has, such as the ability to pick a lock with a hair pin.

But he does have ghosts—at least one. He’s followed by a dead man only he can see, and only at night, the ghost of a man he killed in a military engagement that he cannot remember.

A rich Dallas oilman named Eliot Bergner hires Lincoln to find whoever killed his brother, Danny. “Danny B.” is a DEA officer who was investigating the smuggling of drugs from Mexico into the U.S., carried by poor, desperate migrant workers. One night, his mutilated body arrives in Texas in an empty boxcar. But not before he sends a message to his brother, Eliot—an observant Jew—that he has found incontrovertible proof of Christ’s appearance in Mexico before the Spanish Conquest in 1492.

Drugs and religion: that would seem to be enough for one book, but then the author adds the idea that Nazi Germany is lacing the cocaine and heroine the migrants are smuggling with Thallium, a potent and undetectable poison. Their idea is to addict as many Americans as possible, and then kill them.

As if that’s not complex enough, shady U.S. government operatives are about to launch an invasion of Mexico to stop the influx of addictive poison, but because Mexico is a sovereign nation that, at the time the story is set, has not yet declared which side of the war it’s on (which would have to make it between December 7, 1941 and May 22, 1942, when Mexico declared war on Germany), they have to keep it secret, even from the President.

No, it’s not impossible to make this story plausible.

If any author had come to a publisher with an idea for a novel about a detective finding incontestable proof that Jesus Christ came to Mexico before 1492, and getting caught up in a US government plot to invade Mexico to throttle the drug trade, mixing in Nazi spies, he probably would have been advised to pick an easier mystery to pen. But Pirtle handles the challenge well, giving the readers just enough information as the plot builds to keep us readers turning pages.

There were a few places where I was afraid the novel would become excessively Christian, where a plot point could only be explained by a miracle or an answer to true faith, but thankfully, Pirtle avoided that. Everything made sense, and while there is a definite religious motif to this book, it makes sense.

The characters ring true.

Author Caleb Pirtle III

Pirtle gives us a wide range of believable characters, all with strengths, weaknesses and flaws. I loved some of them, and detested others, but I reacted to each one. All their actions and reactions logically proceeded from their situations and personalities, with no unbelievable transformations. Eliot Bergner’s agonized family relationships add some surprising depth to the story. I suspected the femme fatale at first, but Pirtle’s iron-tight plot made her completely believable.

The author  gives us a satisfying closing.

Pirtle also avoids a facile story arc. Lincoln struggles against drug cartels, traitors, cowards and ghosts, all of whom leave scars. At no point do we know for sure who’s going to survive the next battle, and it’s never certain who’s going to win.

Pirtle doesn’t cut corners. The book has been produced professionally, meeting or exceeding the standards of commercial fiction. In fact, this book was much better than the commercially published stuff I have read lately.


Visit Caleb Pirtle III’s website for links to buy this and other books.

Excerpt Week 2: Jet – Exposed

 By Lynda Filler

Written Words continues with excerpts from books by fellow author-members of the Jet. Today, sample Jet’s venture into territory that would be new even to her in Lynda Filler’s Exposed.

Coastal Mountain Range, Canada

Luke Raven, the elusive billionaire, laughed out loud.

“This is too easy. You want to control the world Sying? You’re going to have to take it from me. And that’s never going to happen!”

Luke strode from a portable computer terminal to the five-foot square LCD on the north wall. Dominating the room was a satellite view of North Korea.

“I am the gatekeeper and this powder keg is about to erupt.”

To his right, he could watch downtown Shanghai, the Jin Mao Tower to be exact. He turned to Russia. Grigenko was up to something again. Sharif was scheming; he could feel it. Disgusted, he turned away from another screen and the ranting of the ISIS leader.

The world’s tightest security protected everything that went on in his three war rooms. No one could breach them. He’d designed each room with elements that were literally out of this world; and he manipulated all of it. He called them his ‘playgrounds’.

“Maybe the government should have thought twice when they brought me inside. The technology I’ve let them have and what I’ve kept for myself makes me the most powerful man on this planet.

How can I trust this group in office to put the country’s interests first? They are money hungry warmongers, in for the fast buck from whatever special interest group will pay them the most. ”

Luke took control of his emotions. He was a man of honor. A true American patriot.

He opened the bar fridge next to his laptop. I need to chill out, he thought. Tully’s black coffee ice cubes.

He returned to an ongoing Chess game with the world’s top Chess Master in Australia. “Come on Max, don’t give up yet. You might beat me if you keep trying.” He sucked noisily, made his move and closed his personal laptop.

Back to world affairs.

Luke sat down on a Yoga mat on the floor. From this position he watched Sying Li Ma at work in her office in Shanghai.

The cyber attack on the Office of Personnel Management of the United States government was a brilliant play on her part. Luke warned them three years ago. They didn’t listen. Those in power believed it was a Chinese Government hack. But Luke knew Sying’s work. He’d taught her.

And after the fact, the Government had contacted him.

Of course the President’s Security Council was certain it was a Chinese military intelligence play. Luke knew better.

And now he had to clean it up.

All he needed was a few more days.

“She has no idea who she is working against. I will destroy her.”

About Jet – Exposed

The US government is in the throes of cyberwarfare with China. Luke Raven, a high-tech billionaire, is the only man that can save America from the deadly fallout. Jet, a highly trained operative, returns from Kosovo to retrieve two hundred and fifty million dollars in diamonds safely stored in Uruguay. Spotted by a drug cartel, she is chased up the Pacific coast of Mexico where she is saved by ex-Navy Seal Zach, a member of “Raven’s Group.”

Luke and his team recruit Jet to help execute a dangerous, highly classified special operations mission that is crucial to national security. Jet completes the critical Team Profile. They take their high-paced adventure across the USA and over the ocean to Paris. The action culminates in Shanghai, China where an ultra-wealthy and ruthless business tycoon possesses highly sensitive information that would have catastrophic results in the wrong hands. But will they get there soon enough to secure the information from their enemies?

Get it exclusively on Amazon.

About Lynda Filler

Lynda Filler is a writer, painter and photographer. Her first published work was The Love Fix, a compilation of urban free-style poetry and stunning black and white photography. She followed that with Love Rehab, and I (Spy) Love.

About her poetry her readers have said:

  • “You have many layers to your soul; and each one I see uncovered in your words is breathtaking.” — Lena Wing
  • “You literally stole my breath from me with your latest. I don’t know that ANY piece has ever stunned me into such quiet, cathartic stillness as this.”—Mikki Williams
  • Find her on Amazon.


Excerpt week 2: Jet Black — A Jet Kindle World novella

Written Words continues to with daily publishing of excerpts from books by fellow author-members of the Jet and Lei Crime Kindle worlds. Today features a dollop of Steven Konkoly’s Kindle World crossover between Russell Blake’s Jet series and Konkoly’s Black Flagged series.

By Steven Konkoly

Jet-Black-Konkoly-coverJet pressed her lips together, spreading the burgundy shade of lipstick evenly. The dark red accentuated her tan skin, leaving just enough color to attract attention—or distract a bodyguard. She examined her appearance in the full-length mirror, searching for the smallest detail that might draw the wrong kind of attention. A missed button, frayed sleeve corner or errant wrinkle could spell disaster. The hotel staff dressed impeccably, one of the luxury resort’s signature touches.

Finding nothing out of place on her tight-fitting outfit, she affixed a brushed silver, oval name tag just above the left breast pocket of her royal blue suit jacket. Today she was Selena Amador, Senior Concierge, La Joya Azul Resort and Spa. Tomorrow she could be a visiting European banker in Buenos Aires. Whatever they wanted her to be. She was their chameleon, and more often than not—their viper.

Jet turned from the mirror and approached the white-marble-topped, dark mahogany vanity next to the spacious sink, noting the watchful eye of the team’s mission leader—and her stand-in husband for the operation. Without either of them saying a word, she removed a suppressed compact pistol from the top of the vanity and tucked it snugly into the custom holster sewn into her black leather Prada shoulder tote. A knockoff bag, she suspected. The Mossad’s budget didn’t include disposable thousand-dollar accessories—unless those accessories killed people. With the bag in place over her left shoulder, she smiled at Gilad.

“How do I look?” said Jet.

“Deadly as always,” he replied, without expression. “I just hope deadly enough.”

“I can handle two thugs at close distance,” she said. “The second guard will still have his eyes on my breasts when the first guy’s brains hit the wall.”

“Those aren’t your best assets,” he said, shifting casually in the bedroom’s door frame.

“I keep lobbying for implants,” said Jet, making a final adjustment to her jacket collar.

“We’d prefer to focus on investments that will get you out of trouble, not in,” he said, finally betraying a thin smile. “I’m thinking more along the lines of an advanced Krav Maga course.”

“I could teach those courses by now,” she said, stepping back.

Gilad raised an eyebrow, challenging the inherent smugness of her statement. She was right, to a degree. Unless the master Krav Maga instructors had invented a series of new moves, there was little point—she had mastered every technique offered. He imperceptibly shook his head.

“If the guards are more alert than intelligence suggests—you walk away. It only takes the blink of an eye to pull a trigger. We’ll find another way,” he said.

“I just need to get within thirty feet,” she said. “This ridiculous outfit will get me close enough.”

“You’re good, but not that good,” he said.

“Really?” said Jet. “I’m the best shot on the team.”

“You need to ensure two dead-center head shots. A skull ricochet might hit the door, alerting the guards inside. Fifteen feet minimum. Preferably five. The closer you get, the narrower their focus,” he said, shifting his eyes toward her chest.

“I thought they weren’t my best assets,” she said, pulling her jacket tight.

“They’ll have to do,” he said, winking at her.

Her concealed earpiece crackled. “Strike, this is overwatch. Shift change underway.”

Gilad’s eyes darted up and to the right momentarily, a subtle tell that he had received the same message.

“Five minutes,” he said, glancing at his watch. “Let them settle in.”

She nodded, slipping her hand into the shoulder tote and checking the holster action. Within a fraction of a second, Jet pointed the suppressed Glock 26 subcompact at her image in the mirror.

“Maybe twenty feet,” said Gilad, finally smiling.

About Jet – Black

At a luxury resort on the coast of Uruguay, Jet prepares her Mossad team for a daring attack against a Russian mafiya boss suspected of selling bioweapons to the Iranians. Simultaneously, Jessica Petrovich readies a small team of Black Flagged operatives with order to kill Dr. Anatoly Reznikov, the source of the mafiya bioweapons.

There’s only one problem: both targets are located in the same suite, and neither team knows the other is coming!

Two of the most lethal femme fatales in recent thriller history are about to come face to face in the explosive return of the Black Flagged saga.

About the author

Steven graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1993, receiving a Bachelor of Science in English Literature. He served the next eight years on active duty in various Navy and Marine Corps units.

From leading Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) operations as a boarding officer in the Arabian Gulf, to directing Close Air Support (CAS) as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) assigned to a specialized Marine Corps unit, Steven’s “in-house” experience with a wide variety of regular and elite military units brings a unique authenticity to his writing.

His first novel, The Jakarta Pandemic (2010), explored the world of “prepping,” well before television and books popularized the concept. Hailed as a “grippingly realistic” family survival story, The Jakarta Pandemic introduced thousands of readers to the unfamiliar concept of “survival in the suburbs,” motivating many of them to take the first steps to better prepare themselves for a major disaster. His recently launched series, The Perseid Collapse, continues Steven’s legacy of engaging (and informative) post-apocalyptic (SHTF) fiction.

Steven lives with his family in coastal, southern Maine, where he wakes up at “zero dark thirty” to write for most of the day. When “off duty,” he struggles to strike a balance between a woefully short sailing season and unreasonably long winter.

You can contact Steven directly by email (stevenkonkoly@gmail.com) or through his blog (www.stevenkonkoly.com).

About Amazon Kindle Worlds

Kindle Worlds is an Amazon initiative that allows authors to publish stories set in another author’s fictional universe. The Jet Kindle World is based on the character Jet, created by bestselling author Russell Blake.

Excerpt week: It Takes Two — A JET Kindle World novella

By EJ Kimelman

All this week, Written Words is publishing excerpts from books by fellow author-members of the Jet and Lei Crime Kindle worlds. Today, you can get a feeling for how seamlessly Emily Kimelman has blended her Sydney Rye series with Russell Blake’s Jet in It Takes Two.


Condensation from the leaves left wet trails through the dog’s long fur. A mutt, the son of two mutts, born on the streets of Brooklyn, Blue was an exception to his lineage. His parents never had good homes. Their coats were matted and their deaths early. The height of a Great Dane with the long snout of a collie and warm fur of a wolf, Blue didn’t belong in this hot and humid environment. But he did not feel out of place. When following his master, Sydney Rye, Blue always felt right at home.

The woman who led Blue through the hot jungle was of average height with a body made hard by hours of exercise and hard-won discipline. Scars, one above and one below her left eye, were still bright pink after more than a year of healing. They followed a path worn through the thick vegetation by animals. Sydney hacked at the larger limbs of trees that encroached on the space. The scent of sap spilling into the air around them, hanging in the thick humidity. The buzz of bugs rose and fell, like the persistent waves of the ocean. The dirt under their feet was damp, sticking to Blue’s paws and filling the treads of Sydney’s hiking boots.

A low growl from Blue stopped Sydney, her arm raised above her head, the blade of the hatchet ready to descend onto a vine that crossed their path. A drop of sweat trickled from her hairline, curved around her ear, and slid down her neck, absorbing into the green T-shirt she wore. Sydney looked down at Blue. His ears were perked to the left as he stared up at her with his one blue eye and one brown. Sydney listened, closing her eyes to better hear. Footsteps, human.

Sydney lowered the hatchet, silently replacing it into the holster on her hip before removing her pistol, a SIG Sauer P226, standard issue for her agency. This was to be expected. Others out in this jungle. Different sides of the same coin. Sydney was here to protect, and the people out there were trying to kill. The man that Sydney was working to keep alive seemed nice enough.

Heavyset and tall he’d smiled at her, shaking her slim hand with his meaty one. “Glad to meet you,” he’d said, his Texas accent so thick that Sydney thought he might be faking it. But as the days passed and she’d never heard it slip, Sydney started to think that the man was for real. A genuine friendly fellow. But really, why would anyone want to kill a guy as nice as Mr. Jackson? It wasn’t Sydney’s job to question why he was in danger. It was her job to keep him alive while he vacationed, while he and his family enjoyed their cruise down the Amazon.

Sydney gave a small nod of her head and Blue ducked, pinning his ears to his skull and began to forge a new path through the jungle, running adjacent to the one they’d just been walking along. Sydney pushed through behind him, her eyes roaming over the diamonds of light that the thick foliage allowed through.

Blue stopped, raised his nose in the air and sniffed at a scent Sydney could not capture with own inferior human olfactory senses. Then Blue started forward again. Within a few minutes they reached another path. The soft imprint of hiking boots marked the ground. Blue sniffed at the spot, his tail wagging with anticipation. He wanted to go after them but Sydney shook her head. They needed to return to camp, report this to her superior. Removing her phone Sydney took pictures of the imprints, the disturbed vegetation, and then dropped a pin on her GPS so that it would be easy to return to this spot if necessary. Before leaving she placed one of the motion detectors she was carrying on a nearby tree. If the person, who wore very similar size shoes to Sydney Rye, returned they’d have warning.

About It Takes Two

Two women trained to kill, both will stop at nothing to get the job done.

Hoping to finally make a normal life for herself, Sydney Rye is trying her best to settle into her role as mission leader, but taking orders and playing by the rules has never been her strong suit.

Along with her partner, a wolf dog named Blue, Sydney has been assign to head a security team protecting an rich oil man from Texas while he and his family vacation in the Peruvian jungle. But she wasn’t expecting to come up against her most formidable opponent to date.

Jet, still reeling from a personal discovery that will change everything she ever believed about herself, is under orders to kill the man Sydney is trying to protect. If she is to have any hope of a life beyond the Mossad, she knows she has to find the strength and focus to complete her mission, to fake normalcy in her own life for those who are watching.

Pitted against one another Jet and Sydney face off in battle after battle, spreading blood and carnage as they travel the globe. Through it all they find an admiration and respect for each other’s skills.

But will it be enough? Could two such powerful women fighting on opposite sides, team up to save the innocent lives from a man so ruthless and powerful that he has evaded capture for years?

Get it on Amazon.

About the author

Emily Kimelman is the author of the Sydney Rye Series including Unleashed, Death in the Dark, Insatiable, Strings of Glass, The Devil’s Breath and Inviting Fire. This series feature a strong female protagonist and her canine best friend, Blue. It is recommended for the 18+ who enjoy some violence, don’t mind dirty language, and are up for a dash of sex. Not to mention an awesome, rollicking good mystery!

Emily splits her time between the Hudson Valley and traveling the world with her husband and dog, Kinsey (named after Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone), researching exciting locations for the Sydney Rye Series. You can follow along on their adventures through Instagram, Facebook, and on Emily’s blog.

If you’ve read Emily’s work, and enjoyed it, please let her know. You can reach Emily via email ejkimelman@gmail.com, on Twitter @ejkimelman, on Facebook and on her website www.emilykimelman.com.

About Amazon Kindle Worlds

Kindle Worlds is an Amazon initiative that allows authors to publish stories set in another author’s fictional universe. The Jet Kindle World is based on the character Jet, created by bestselling author Russell Blake.


Excerpt week: Nightbird, a JET Kindle World novella

By Toby Neal

All this week, Written Words is publishing excerpts from books by fellow author-members of the Jet and Lei Crime Kindle worlds. Today, enjoy this taste of Toby Neal’s Jet novella, Nightbird.

small NightbirdThere was never anything good in the news, nothing but more bombings and destruction. Dr. Lila Weiss wondered why she even bothered to read it. She set the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv aside and looked back into the ocular piece of the microscope.

The long, slender fibers of the neurons on the slide looked like graceful branches, their delicate synaptic filaments frozen forever, fixed with a purple stain. She studied the slide carefully, delicately tracking along the cell fiber, using a motorized dial to move the slide whose exact position could be captured like map coordinates.

There it was: a tiny snarl in the slender trunk of the neural cell.

She isolated the spot, zoomed in on it further, and discerned the telltale patch of plaque that was interfering with the transmission of signals along that particular neuron. Saving a digital image for the project’s file, she lifted her eyes, focused on the bleak far wall of the lab, and rolled her shoulders, standing up from her stool.

Doing this pathology work was a necessary part of her latest research project, a catalogue of known brain diseases and their etiology—but it became monotonous, and her eyes needed a break.

Straightening her back, she picked up the paper again, scanning through the story on a firefight that had occurred last night at a mosque. “Investigation is ongoing, but an Israel Defense Forces soldier, Maya Weiss, has been taken into custody in connection with the attack.”

Maya Weiss.

Lila sat abruptly on the steel stool in front of her workbench, one hand coming up to cover her mouth as her finger touched the grainy photo on the rough newspaper of a woman, shrouded in a headscarf, held between two soldiers.

“Maya,” she whispered. “I can’t believe I’ve finally found you.”

Lila shot to her feet and pushed away from her microscope, shrugging out of her lab coat. She had to help her little sister.



Amos Arran, codename “Benjamin,” watched the prisoner through a one-way unbreakable mirror into the holding cell. Maya Weiss, supposedly fluent in six languages, looked small, bedraggled and about as deadly as a kitten curled on the mattress in the corner of her cell, her Israeli Defense Force uniform filthy and stiff with dried blood from the head injury she’d sustained during the firefight.

She’d been one against twenty, and she hadn’t been doing too badly until a rifle butt brought her down. According to the woman’s lawyer, Ari, her mediocre application to Mossad had been messed with. It was going to be interesting to find out if that was indeed the case, because if she had half the skills he claimed she did, this little kitten was someone he needed to bring in.

Turning away from the window, he faced Ari. “Set up the interview,” he said. “I want to verify your claims.”

“Yes.” Ari gave a brisk nod. “Maya says her superior was sexually harassing her, and that he tampered with her application. She speaks six languages, is highly intelligent, and has at least ten kills under her belt. You need someone like her.”

Six languages meant a brain that was uniquely plastic, wired to learn language easily. Amos remembered another woman like that, also named Weiss—a tall, willowy girl with golden-brown eyes and black hair. He didn’t think he’d ever forget the linguistic and neurology doctoral student he’d had in one of his psychology classes before he began screening and profiling for Mossad full time.

He glanced back at the figure on the bed. Even curled up, he could see that Maya was a petite one and a half meters. He had her file tucked under his arm and in the photo inside, Maya, with her Asian features and green eyes, looked nothing like the Lila Weiss he remembered. The name and linguistic aptitude had to be a coincidence.

He itched for a cigarette. He brushed the wrinkled fabric of the charcoal-gray suit he’d been wearing for more than a day. It didn’t look like that day was going to be over any time soon.

“The truth about her will come out in the testing and interviews.” Amos turned and lengthened his stride as he walked down the echoing corridor, so that Ari had to jog to keep up. “I hope Maya’s half what you say she is.”

About Nightbird

What if Jet had a sister?

Lila Weiss, full time neurobiologist and part time ballerina, has been searching for the little sister she lost through divorce and death. She finds Maya in prison—and a whole lot more, in the brooding presence of a psychological profiler codenamed “Benjamin.” Benjamin sees Lila’s potential value to Israel’s interests and recruits her as an asset for Mossad, giving her a crash course in spycraft, destruction and love that has international repercussions.

“This story has legs.” — Russell Blake

About the author

Toby-thoughtful1Award-winning author Toby Neal was raised on Kauai in Hawaii. A social worker turned author, she says, “I’m endlessly fascinated with people’s stories.”

Toby credits her counseling background in adding depth to her characters, from the villains to Lei Texeira, the courageous and vulnerable heroine in her mysteries.

Over a million copies of Lei Crime Series are in circulation, and her books have won multiple awards.

Toby loves life in Hawaii with her family and dogs.

About Amazon Kindle Worlds

Kindle Worlds is an Amazon initiative that allows authors to publish stories set in another author’s fictional universe. The Jet Kindle World is based on the character Jet, created by bestselling author Russell Blake.


Cover reveal: JET – Stealth

JET - Stealth - 500 x 800



My next book will come out in about a week when the new JET Kindle World launches on July 28. So now it’s time to reveal the cover, designed by my favourite book cover designer, David C. Cassidy.

What’s JET – Stealth about?

Once Mossad’s deadliest assassin, Jet is headed for a new, quiet life in a tropical paradise. But when a mysterious, handsome agent with no tradecraft but with brilliant blue eyes asks for her help to secure a new stealth weapon, she finds she just can’t say no.

This addition to the JET Kindle World combines breakneck pacing and non-stop action with wry humor.

The JET Kindle World features new books and stories by many authors, all based on the characters and world created by bestselling author Russell Blake.

Watch this space and my Facebook Author page for an announcement about availability.