Archive for February, 2008

Welcome to The Dark Phantom Review! It’s nice to have you here.

Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about your book, and what inspired you to write such a story?

Smell of Death is the fourth in the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series. In each book, different member of R.B.P.D. are spotlighted. In this book, Officer Stacey Wilbur is the main character. I wanted to let the readers know how a small, female police officer is able to stand on her own among all the men she works with. As for the story itself, in movies and on TV, no matter how gruesome the murder, the viewer can’t imagine how horrible the smells are. Also, my police officer son-in-law used to always say that movies and TV crime show weren’t realistic because in real life, there is never just one case going on at a time. In Smell of Death Rocky Bluff P. D. is searching for a missing toddler, investigating a stalker and some strange burglaries and in the end, some of them intertwine.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this novel? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline? How long did it take you to write it?

I usually have a fair idea of where I’m going when I’m starting a novel. I always develop my characters first before deciding what is going to happen to them and why. Of course, once I start writing, the characters often take off on their own. It usually takes me about six months to finish a book. I always run my manuscripts by my critique group—and sometimes I let them sit for quite a long while before going back over them.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

Actually, I’ve never really had writer’s block. I have too many ideas squirming around in my brain waiting to get out. I try to stop writing each day at a place where I know what will happen next. Makes it much easier to get started again.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

For this book, I sent it to the publisher who did the third in the series, Fringe Benefits, Tigress Press.com. Before sending a query off to anyone first make sure your manuscript is as good as it possibly can be. Have someone edit it for you—and that someone needs to know what they are doing. Be sure your query has absolutely no typos or spelling errors. Publishers are looking for a reason to reject you because they have so many submissions. Keep your query short and to the point, tell what the book is about in one paragraph, why you were the one to write the book, and any publishing credits.

If you’re young enough and have time, try to find an agent first. All the things I said in the above paragraph pertain to agents too.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

I’ve been thrilled with the virtual book tour. The last one I did brought my Amazon numbers way down—and that’s a good thing. I also have a monthly e-newsletter that I send out that keeps readers informed about what I’m doing. And I’ve learned if I can talk, I’ll sell books. Which means library appearances and places where I can give a presentation work better than a regular book signing.

What is your favorite book of all time? Why?

I don’t really have a favorite book of all time. There are lots of books I love—but often it’s the one I’m reading at the moment. I have favorite writers like Jan Burke, Wm. Kent Krueger, James Lee Burke, but there are many more.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

My website is: http://fictionforyou.com and all my books and first chapters are there. Plus you can order most of my books directly from my website. http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/ is my personal blog where I’m liable to talk about most anything.

Do you have another novel on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects.

In August, the next in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, Kindred Spirits, will debut. I will be sending my next Rocky Bluff P.D. novel off to the publisher as soon as I go over it one more time. It’s titled, No Sancturary.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

Thank you for letting me chat.

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Three Novellas
By Sandra Shwayder Sanchez
Wessex Collective
ISBN: 978 0 9797516 0 8
Copyright 2007
Paperback, 154 pages, $15.00

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

Sandra Shwayder Sanchez continues to prove herself as a powerful voice in the serious, literary scene. Her latest book, a collection of three novellas, is a darkly compelling work filled with complex characters, vibrant images, and sparklingly insightful prose.

Each novella depicts the lives of various characters and their connections to one another. Sometimes the connections are because of family ties, sometimes because fate ironically brings their lives together. The novellas are about the journeys, either conscious or unconscious, that the characters take, while seemingly they roam aimlessly, lost in a vastness that’s too large for them to figure out.

In The Last Long Walk of Noah Brown, we meet Noah, a kind, innocent soul in a world of evil. Though he’s not aware of it, Noah is developmentally disabled. In other words, a person who is “too innocent for the guilty world.” (29) Noah is the product of incest, a fact he learns from his mother later in life. He begins his journey in Annapolis in 1965 and we go through his ups and downs (a lot more downs than ups) all the way to New Orleans in 2007. During his journey he meets many people, some good, other evil. He learns and experiences many things, including the carnal love of a woman. He develops a close, warm relationship with his mother, whom he had always believed to be his sister. Most intriguing of all, Noah has an ambitious dream—to build an ark (he sees this as his destiny, having being named ‘Noah’) and save people and animals from a flood. And, in New Orleans, he finally lives to see his dream come true.

The Last Long Walk of Noah Brown is filled with vivid images, at times touching, at times dark. All throughout, however, there is a quiet atmosphere of sadness and doom, of helplessness. The story has the tone of a fable and some segments are dream-like and sparkle with beautiful, sensuous writing.

“Noah started walking to the water, watching its oily darkness, the soft sound of it lapping up against the sides of the boat. The moon glimmered on the water, a mother watching him, and he stared at it for hours mesmerized and soothed. Eventually he had to leave, go back home, he couldn’t stay here forever, watching the moon’s reflection on the water…unless… he did nothing that first night by the water. He returned every night and stared at the moon until it had grown from a silver crescent to a large full round moon and it was simply too lovely to leave so he looked for a way into the water, and finally jumped, shocked by the coldness of it, the breath knocked out of him and he let himself sink, stopped breathing even before he was completely under and passed out.” (34-35)

Sanchez accomplishes a marvelous rhythm and cadence by combining short sentences with very long, run-on ones. At times her paragraphs are made up of only one long sentence, a la Garcia Marquez. Although this can be annoying with some writers, Sanchez seems to have a talent for it.

In The King and the Clockmaker, the author examines the origins of evil and the meaning of time. The story itself is a nightmarish dream, a dream the narrator consciously has in order to avoid the pain of loss, and the random, senseless violence of the real world. In this dream, which reads like a sinister fairytale, there are two main characters—the king and the clockmaker. The clockmaker builds the most magnificent clock for the king, who’s always been obsessed with time. Afterwards, however, the king sears the clockmaker’s eyes with molten iron. Thus begins their disturbing relationship, for the kind clockmaker is set on getting his revenge, and the terrible king, in some ill way, seeks his forgiveness. As they come to know each other, bonded by the infamous clock, truths emerge about the king, his childhood, and his gruesome nature. They become oddly dependant on one another until the king’s demise. Afterwards the clockmaker’s journey continues, a journey that takes him through many pathways.

This novella in particular is filled with complex metaphors and allegories, and some scenes shine with vivid, haunting imagery. More poignant segments include the king killing a bird, then impaling it to bury it; or another even more lingering, the king happily lying under the bleeding body of his servant, whom he has just stabbed to death, and afterwards needing three bronze tubs of fresh water to cleanse himself of all the blood.

Sanchez also uses elements of magical realism to add intricacy and symbolism to the writing, like in the scene where a woman is turned into a stone and later on, when someone splits the stone, the woman’s heart is found inside it. She also gives forest animals preternatural attributes, as in the case of the buck and the mountain lion, thus adding to the magical realism effect.

The dream in this novella is an allegory of the perverse cruelty of the world, of “the accumulation of violence that is everywhere around us.” (109) “ However vast the expanse of time and space that surrounds us,” reflects the narrator, “every soul entrapped in a human body is trapped in a cell with the poisonous snake of violence coiled in a corner ready to strike.” (109)

In the last novella, The Vast Darkness, we meet Sara, a young student of anthropology who, temporarily, takes residence in the mountains to study the influence of isolated mountain living upon its residents. She soon becomes acquainted with Robert, a sinister young man who arouses fear in people and who enjoys manipulating them into committing ‘evil’ acts. In fact, he’s like the devil himself, whispering words into the characters’ ears, tempting, gently provoking, until murder and violence ensue. Without meaning to, Sara causes a man—a good man who’s committed murder to avenge the crime committed against his young, innocent daughter—to go to prison. Afterwards, Robert softly coaxes this man to take revenge against Sara.

As with the other novellas, this one also deals with the concepts of evil and violence and how they are inherent in all of us, a theme that often surfaces in Sanchez’s works. “I think God made us in his image and God has a mean streak a mile wide is what I think,” (131) says Robert to Sara.

Dreams, often violent, are always an element used by this author to add insight and symbolism to the writing. Sanchez also enjoys including wild animals in the story, not only as tools for magical realism, but to somehow show the paradox of the beauty and brutality that is nature—another one of her recurrent themes.

Three Novellas isn’t an easy read. For the average reader, it is a challenge. For the sophisticated booklover, it is a tasty morsel to be savored slowly and patiently in order to absorb all it has to offer. What stands out, above all, is the purity and splendor of the writing. Sanchez’s works are rare delicacies.

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Author Camille Marchetta is touring the blogosphere to promote the release of her latest book, The River, by Moonligh. She was kind enough to give me a few minutes of her time to talk about writing and publishing. 

Welcome to The Dark Phantom! It's nice to have you here.

Thank you. I'm so pleased to have this opportunity to visit with you. It's an interesting site. I've been having a good time wandering around in it.

Why don't you start by telling us a bit about your book, and what inspired you to write such a story?

Friends on vacation wandered into an exhibition of paintings by a young woman artist who had died in mysterious circumstances. They were so impressed by the work that they mentioned it, and her, to me when they got home. I found the story haunting. I couldn't get it out of my head. Finally, I wrote THE RIVER, BY MOONLIGHT, my third novel, as a way of dealing with the issues raised for me. The book is set in New York City and the Hudson River Valley in 1917, just as the United States is on the verge of entering World War I. It's about the death of a young woman, Lily Canning, and the effect of it on her family and friends, all of whom are devastated by her loss and tormented by questions of how and why. But it's not a "true" story. The setting, the characters, the plot, everything is as I imagined it.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this novel? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline? How long did it take you to write it?

No, I didn't work from an outline. I always find that too restricting. But I did a huge amount of research, and I took endless notes. Then I just sat and thought, really, until I found a way to tell the story, until I found its "voice." Once I had that, I was off. I would write page by page, letting things happen as they did. Frankly, the whole process is a mystery to me. But the writing isn't what I would call "stream-of-consciousness", which has, I think, a more fluid and interior quality than this work. It's been "polished" too much, I suppose, to seem spontaneous. I began actually writing the novel in 2000 and I did the last draft in July of 2007. I wasn't working on it constantly all that time, but I did do a good number of drafts.

Have you ever suffered from writer's block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

I think I suffered from writer's block for all the years before I began writing. Finally, though, all the pent up desire just burst through and I began a screenplay. Since then, I do get blocked from time to time, but it's never crippling. What I do when it happens is play a Mozart CD, get on the sofa with a pad and pen, tell myself I don't have to write if I don't feel like it, all I have to do is listen to the music. Amazingly, I'm writing before I know it. Peanut butter helps, too. I used to think that was insane, but then I read that peanut butter is full of vitamin B, a natural tranquillizer. It seems to help dissipate the tension, the anxiety. Or maybe I just like to think it does because I love it. But every writer has to discover his or her own trick for getting around the block.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

My first two books were submitted to publishers by my agent, and both sold within a few weeks, with no problem. This time, it was more difficult. My previous publisher turned down one of the first drafts of THE RIVER, BY MOONLIGHT, which didn't surprise me much as it was so different from my preceding books. The first two, though I always considered them "literary" fiction, could be marketed as more commercial works, which was impossible for this one. When my agent didn't want to submit it anywhere else without changes, I didn't know what to do, but then I thought, well, I'll just find another agent. (In my experience, editors never read anything unless it's submitted by an agent.) Though I had lots of credits, that turned out not to be so easy. And after two years of looking, I gave up, decided not to waste anymore time, and to publish the book myself. I can understand someone not wanting to do that. If I were younger, I might have been willing to wait longer, try harder, and who knows but I may eventually have found an agent who saw in the book what I (and, by then, many other readers) did. So, I suppose my advice to a novice author would be to follow the rules, to read the literature, find the agents who handle books like the one you've written, send the query letter, the sample chapters, whatever the agent requests, and hope something good will come of all your hard work. It usually does. It just takes time and persistence.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

Ask me that a couple of months from now, and I'll be able to give you a more informed reply. I'm not sure what works best, yet. But, so far, I think this online touring is the most interesting and potentially most productive kind of promotion I've ever experienced.

What is your favorite book of all time? Why?

I don't have one favorite. I have lots of them. And each time I'm asked that question a different book pops into my head. At the moment, it's WUTHERING HEIGHTS demanding a mention. Every time I read it, it just blows my mind. The power of the prose, the mastery of the story-telling, the violence of the emotions. How could Emily Bronte, a nineteenth-century vicar's daughter living in a remote Yorkshire village, know all that?

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Yes, I do. I have a website. As well as links to related sites, it's got information about me, and about all my books, including excerpts.

Do you have another novel on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects.

I've been so busy first writing and then publishing and now promoting THE RIVER, BY MOONLIGHT that I haven't really settled on my next project. And I confess that's making me nervous. I need to get back to work!

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

I've enjoyed it. Thank you.

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Tha Author


Born in Brooklyn, Camille Marchetta received her BA in English Literature from the College of New Rochelle, in New Rochelle, New York, and later studied fiction with noted writer Anatole Broyard at The New School. Shortly afterward, on a visit to England, she fell in love with the country, decided to stay, and was fortunate enough to find work with Richard Hatton Limited, a theatrical and literary agency, in a few years becoming a literary director of the company.

The agency was small but powerful, its client list including well-known writers, directors, and actors such as Sean Connery, Malcolm McDowell, and Leo McKern. Among the writers with whom Ms. Marchetta worked were Robert Shaw, author of many award-winning novels and plays (though he is best known in the United States for his acting performances in To Russia With Love and Jaws); the playwright Richard Harris, whose Stepping Out appeared on Broadway; and Anthony Shaffer, who wrote Sleuth, a hit in the West End, on Broadway, and as a feature film.
Returning to the States, Ms. Marchetta went to Hollywood, found herself an agent, and eventually got an assignment on the Dallas mini-series. Asked to join the staff, she remained until the series soared to the top of the ratings. With that, her career in television was established. She wrote television movies, pilots for new series, produced Nurse, which won Michael Learned an Emmy, and Dynasty in the season it finally crept past Dallas in the ratings and reached number one.

In 1985, Ms. Marchetta took a sabbatical from television, returned to London, and, fulfilling a lifetime ambition, wrote her first novel, Lovers and Friends, which was published in the United States in 1989 and subsequently in England, Finland, Sweden, and Germany. Following its publication, Ms. Marchetta co-executive-produced Falcon Crest, co-authored two best-selling novels with Ivana Trump, and worked as a story consultant on the television series, Central Park West. St. Martin’s Press published her second novel, The Wives of Frankie Ferraro, in 1998. The River By Moonlight is her most recent book.

You can visit her website.

The Book


ON A RAINY APRIL NIGHT in 1917, a passing vagrant sees a young woman fall (or is it jump?) into New York City’s Hudson River. He tries to save her, but fails. The police tentatively identify the woman as Lily Canning, twenty-five years old, from Minuit, a town in the Hudson Valley.

But is it Lily? The question torments her mother, Henrietta, as she awaits confirmation. And when it comes, even more anguishing questions arise, for neither accident nor suicide makes sense. Lily could swim like a fish, and with her looks, and wealth, and talent, with an exhibition of her paintings about to open at a prestigious New York gallery, she had everything to live for.

In the days following her drowning, her heartbroken mother, her estranged husband, Edmund, her family, her friends, even the servant girl, Nuala, try to unravel Lily’s secrets and to come to terms with the devastating consequences of her loss on their own lives.

Set in New York City and the Hudson River Valley, when the country was poised on the brink of the First World War, The River, By Moonlight is a vivid evocation of time and place, and a poignant portrayal of what happens when individual actions and national events collide.

Above all, it is a deeply moving study of grief and despair, of the resilience of human nature, and the triumph of determination and hope.


Nuala awakened her, coming into her room without even knocking, saying, “Sorry, missus, but there’s a telephone call.” For an instant, Henrietta clung to the comfort of sleep, to the pleasure of the dream she would not later remember. But Nuala would not let her be. “Missus,” she repeated, “the fella says it’s urgent.”

The “urgent” did it, the word a brush fire in her mind, clearing it of everything but the fear it left in its wake. Alert now, Henrietta sat up and allowed Nuala to help her out of bed and into her robe and slippers. Ignoring the erratic thud of her heart cautioning her to move slowly, she hurried down the stairs, clutching the wooden banister for support, thinking as she went, It’s Lily, something’s happened to Lily; then, just as quickly, fighting back the rising tide of dread, telling herself, Don’t be foolish. It won’t be anything too awful. A wrong number perhaps. It was just past six o’clock in the morning.

The black candlestick telephone sat on the oak table in the center hall between the Tiffany lamp and silver desk set. The receiver was off the hook. Picking it up, she held it to her ear and said into the round mouthpiece, “Henrietta Canning speaking.”

“Mrs. Canning? I’m Detective Malone. New York City Police Department.” She could hear the beat of her heart, the rasp of her breath, the detective’s voice, halting and apologetic, difficult to understand at times because of the crackling on the wire, telling her that at shortly before midnight a young woman had entered (that was the word he used, absurd as it was) the Hudson River from a slip at the Columbia Yacht Club at Eighty-sixth Street in Manhattan. “A vagrant walking along the New York Central tracks saw her go in,” the detective said, though jump in was what he meant, Henrietta knew. “The man raised an alarm, and attempted a rescue, but . . . by the time he found her and pulled her back to shore, it was too late.”

“What has this to do with me?” Henrietta asked. She was surprised by how calm her own voice sounded, and how faint, as if she were hearing it from a vast distance.

In the woman’s purse, the detective explained, among other belongings, was a key to a room in the Pelham Hotel. “We found that the room was registered in the name of your daughter, I believe. Miss Lily Canning?”


“Do you know where she might be?”

Henrietta fought back the tears, the desire to scream. “In her room there, sound asleep, I should imagine,” she said, her voice steady, confident. “There must be some mistake. Someone’s confused the numbers.”

“I’m afraid not, ma’am.” When they got no response to their knocking, the police had entered the room, and the night clerk had absolutely identified its contents as belonging to Miss Canning, said the detective. He sounded as if he would rather be talking to just about anyone but her, thought Henrietta. He sounded like a very nice young man. “Of course, there’s always the chance the purse was stolen, and your daughter is . . . elsewhere.”

“Yes. I’m certain that’s it,” Henrietta said, determined to grasp whatever straws blew her way. “No doubt she decided to spend the night with friends.” Teddy and Alice, she thought. Lily’s stayed over at their studio. Or she’s with Edmund. If she were not so frightened, Henrietta would have laughed at the relief she felt at the idea of it when, at any other time, she would have been overcome with anger, and shame. Edmund!

“I’m sorry to have to ask you this, ma’am, and it may well be a waste of your time, but could you come to New York? Today, if possible? We have to try to identify the . . .” He had been about to say body, or worse, corpse; instead, he finished lamely, “the young lady.” After again giving her his name, and his number, which Henrietta wrote down carefully with the pen from the desk set, he said, “If you’d let me know when you’ve made your travel arrangements, I’d appreciate it.”

Her hand was barely shaking, Henrietta noticed as she replaced the receiver and put the telephone down; but then, however cynical experience might have made Detective Malone, it was not her custom to believe the worst until she must. The whole matter was undoubtedly a mistake, a ghastly mistake. Lily’s purse had been stolen. She was with friends. She was safe.

That was the only reasonable thing to think. Turning toward Nuala, who hovered anxiously near the steps leading down to the kitchen, Henrietta said, “They think something might have happened to Lily. Silly girl. Out gallivanting when she ought to be getting a good night’s rest.”

Again her voice sounded very faint, very distant. Go back upstairs, get dressed, go to New York, she urged herself, but she could not seem to move. Please, dear God, she thought. Please. Don’t let it be Lily.

What reviewers are saying…

“One phone call and a widow is left distraught. One visit to the hospital and a young woman loses her best friend. One letter and a selfish cousin sees new opportunities. One obituary and a reporter goes straight to New York. One woman dies and the stage is set for “The River, By Moonlight,” an extensive and emotional novel by Camille Marchetta.

The story takes place over a few days in 1917, focusing on the drowning of Lily Canning, a young artist and prominent member of the small Hudson River town of Minuit. Her death – possibly an accident, possibly suicide – sets a wave of grief among the town’s residents, all wondering how this talented girl could have come to such a tragic end.

Emotionally, the novel connects fiercely with readers as it takes us through Lily’s friends and family. Each chapter is set from the mindset of different characters, ranging from Lily’s emotionally battered mother Etta to her empathetic best friend Rosaline and estranged ex-husband Edmund. Though written in third-person, there is a definite change of voice between each chapter – in addition to grief we see callousness, artistic distraction and unrequited love.

“The River” works not only as a story of loss, but as historical fiction. Beyond frequent mention of America’s entrance into World War I – and the debate of several male characters on enlisting – Marchetta details the era’s newspapers, river industry and the advent of Pablo Picasso’s modern art. The writing also has a vintage feel to it, with character voices matching their station: old-fashioned precision for the wealthy, calm and conversational for servant and rougher everyday for Edmund’s newspaperman background.

Though Lily’s chapter takes away some of the momentum, it is quickly restored by the last chapter taking place five years later. Characters have died or moved on with their lives, and Lily becomes an image that they turn to on occasion to simply ask “why?” With this feeling of loss and recovery the book closes, ending on the themes which make “The River, By Moonlight” such a forceful read.”


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Cosmic justice has many faces, and this time it has the face of plants…

For egotistical, arrogant Bertram Luce, life couldn't get any better. He's a famous author. He's rich. He lives in a gorgeous mansion and drives luxurious, expensive cars. Oh yes, and he's also gotten away with murdering his kind, plant-loving wife. That is, until the world of vegetation decides to avenge her death and make him pay; and pay he will, in the most bizarre, unusual way possible…

In the beginning, Luce believes the strange incidents to be coincidences, but it's not too much later when he realizes the 'accidents' he's been suffering have a lot more to do with premediated acts than with mere chance. But is he going insane? For how can a tree branch or an orquid mean him any harm? Is there such a thing as a unified, vegetative consciousness? Or is this simply his own guilty conscience playing tricks on his psyche?

Vegetation is an unusual, enjoyable read, one filled with bizarre and sometimes downright hilarious scenes. The writing is crisp and vivid and the pace flows well. In spite of the attacks of plantlife on the protagonist being a bit repetitive at times, the author keeps a strong sense of suspense and, to be fair, it takes ingenuity to create so many segments where Luce is attacked by the various plants and flowers. Since the protagonist is such an unsympathetic character, the reader will perversely enjoy all that befalls him until the very satisfying, surprising ending.

LaFlamme continues to prove his talent and skill as a horror writer. His first novel, The Pink Room, which I also had the chance of reviewing, makes for compelling reading as well.


Order Vegetation from Amazon or from your local bookstore.

–Mayra Calvani

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Available from Amazon and B&N

The Stoker File is a fascinating and ingeniously-written novel that will keep your hands glued to the pages until you've reached the ending.

Due to a tragic flood that sweeps the city, a mysterious bundle of papers is found in the basement of the University of Budapest. On closer examination, the papers appeared to be something unimaginable… the lost diary of Bram Stoker. Soon a team of researchers from the University of Columbia is assigned the job of proving the diary's authenticity. But then, people associated with the strange manuscript begin to suffer deadly accidents. Is the diary cursed or is it something even more sinister?

Brilliant and beautiful Laura Olsen Wynne, one of the researchers, discovers the secret of the diary and, at the risk of her own life, tries to prevent more deaths. To achieve this, she goes into hiding. Thus enters Detective Arnold Walters, who's put in charge of her disappearance and who becomes somewhat obsessed and fascinated by the lovely researcher. He must find her before other people–or dark forces–get to her. What is the real meaning of the diary and why are so many willing to kill for it? Will Walters find Laura in time to save her–and his own–life?

This was a highly enjoyable novel to read, not only because of the mystery, but because of the author's writing style–traditionally toned and reminiscent of those writers from the 19th Century. He makes Stoker's diary and voice sound surprisingly genuine. The atmosphere is dark and threatening thoroughout, and the puzzle will keep readers guessing for the conclusion. The story switches back and forth between the present and Stoker's narration in the diary, so we're transported to two very different worlds and times, each one vivid and filled with its own kind of suspense. Highly recommended to all who enjoy a dark, spooky read.



–Mayra Calvani

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The Book:

Have you ever thought what the world might be like if the present-day vices of society are allowed to continue to run rampant? That is the subject of The Last To Fall, a look at the legacy we leave our children. Civilization as we know it has fallen and the United States has been broken into a series of dictatorships, each with its own army. Death and disease, poverty and starvation, walk hand in hand with greed and madness. Three teenagers seeking a safe haven are caught up in a commune’s battle for survival against the armed might of a power mad resident and his henchmen.

The Author:

Anne K. Edwards enjoys writing in various genres and experimenting with new ideas for stories. She likes writing mystery novels, children’s stories about the misadventures of a dragon named Elvis and the little boy named Jeremy who outwits him. Anne also writes short stories about Death and the Detective that are published occasionally in an online mystery ezine. She’s editor of The Voice in the Dark ezine. Visit her website.

The Excerpt:

Jeanne Foster brushed a weary hand over her stinging eyes. It was impossible to see anything through the hanging mist that mixed with the smoke of burning buildings. What streetlights there were cast shapeless, bluish blobs of light. Buildings appeared as shapeless blackened ruins in the yellowed haze.

Worried, she studied Lester as he sagged against a grungy brick wall for support. It seemed hours since they’d started for the hospital, and their goal was no closer. He sank to the sidewalk coughing, a nerve-shattering sound in the predawn silence.

His thin body shuddered as he tried to draw the polluted air into his damaged lungs. “Jeanne, get help,” he gasped.

She felt a rising hopelessness. “But nothin’s open.”

“Get someone,” he begged as a new spasm seized him. His bloodshot hazel eyes pleaded with her. “Please.”

“I’ll try.” Unhappily, she moved away. The swirling yellow murk immediately engulfed his skinny body as he sprawled on the walk.

Turning her head in an effort to keep him in sight, she collided painfully with a public phone stand that loomed out of the mist. Rubbing her bruised shoulder, she shoved the lowered plastic privacy shield up into its groove and fumbled in the change slot seeking a stray coin. Nothing! The box was greasy and smelled of souring humanity. The line was dead. Just like all the others.

“Damn–” She set her jaw and fought against the pressing tears of frustration.

The choking stink of fire thickened. Her eyes watered as she blinked rapidly, squinting to see what lay ahead. She’d never traveled alone through northwest Washington, D.C. and had no idea where she was. Through an unexpected break in the fog, she spotted the blurry shape of a blue and white police vehicle moving slowly along the street. Running toward it, she shouted for help.

* * *
Officer Delon Stimm heard a girl yelling and swung his vehicle to the curb. He and his massive partner, John Kersey, got out. They kept their hands on their weapons, poised for trouble.

“What’s wrong?” Delon asked the slim, brown-haired girl who came out of the fog like a ghost.

“I need help. My friend’s sick,” she spoke in a voice shrill with urgency.

“Jojo?” He bent to look into her frightened brown eyes. It was the latest illegal drug to take over the younger generation.

“No! He can’t breathe.” She covered her face with her hands and began to cry.

“Where is he?” he asked with a sigh. The morning was to be a continuance of the night before–nothing was going right.

“About a block from here. That way.” Impatiently, she pointed, wiping away tears with the back of her hand. “Please hurry.”

The fog closed in again.

“Get in.” He held the door for her. These kids… He shook his head. They get garbaged up and then cry for help.

Was that what the crumbling society he served did to its children? So many walked the streets looking for something solid to believe in and found nothing. So they turned to jojo and each other. It did not bode well for the future of the country. What future there was, he thought.

He exchanged knowing glances with John. Kids had to learn the hard way. In the rear view mirror, he saw the girl huddle into herself, shivering as she searched the street for her friend.

They found him where she’d left him, a convulsed heap of long blond hair and old blue denims. One of his sandals had fallen off.

“Lester, they’ll take you to the hospital,” she told the boy, bending to touch his shoulder.

Delon could tell by the way Lester tried to push himself up, the police were the last people he wanted.

In spite of his protests, John and Delon carried him to the car. Skinny kid. Not any bigger than the girl. Wonder when he ate last. They placed him on the back seat, his head on the girl’s lap. “Looks like bad stuff to me,” Delon muttered.

“I told you, he’s not on anything,” she said fiercely through renewed tears. “It’s his lungs. He’s got emphysema or asthma.”

“Could be.” John Kersey started the car. “Could be. The air’s rotten. All that smoke… Don’t know why anyone would start fires now. My nose burns all the time from this polluted rot we call air.” He grunted as he turned the car around.

Delon nodded in agreement. As soon as the sun rose above the haze enveloping the city, the smoke would mix with heated humidity, making the air almost too thick to breathe. His sweat-soaked, light blue uniform shirt was already clinging to his spine against the plastic seat covers. Everything smelled of smoke. He shuddered involuntarily.

This wasn’t the first trip they’d made before daybreak to The Old University Hospital, nor would it be the last.

“The hospital isn’t going to like this,” he mumbled over the boy’s wheezing gasps. He hoped they didn’t run into any of the roving military groups searching for looters or streeters. He’d have to turn these children over to them.

John caught his meaning. “We’re becoming an ambulance service,” he said as he steered the car into the emergency entrance, passing the remains of the sign that bore the once-proud name of Georgetown University. Peering through the rounded swaths the wipers made on the windshield, he said, “Going to be an ugly day. Sun isn’t going to break through this muck.”

* * *
White-coated attendants wheeled out a squealing gurney to meet the cruiser. Jeanne waited impatiently as the dark-skinned officer opened the rear door so she could stretch her legs to get rid of the cramps caused by holding Lester’s head in the confined space.

Sniffing at the stale odor of heavy pine-scented cleanser used to cover hospital odors, she reluctantly followed them into a dim, green-walled corridor.

Officer Stimm drew her to a battered counter set to the left of the scratched glass doors.

Twisting a lock of her long brown hair, she watched sadly as the guerney carrying Lester’s twitching body disappeared through double steel doors on the right.

A round-faced clerk with green-tinted hair and discontented mouth handed Jeanne a sheaf of forms and a pen. “Are you a member of his family?” she queried, eying Jeanne suspiciously.

Jeanne shook her head.

“Where have you been living?” the officer asked, his teeth flashing white against his dark skin.

“Two thousand two Connecticut Avenue in Northwest,” she mumbled, twisting the hair over her left eye. The old hotel, once an uptown address, had long ago been condemned. It was home to dozens of young streeter couples like herself and Lester. She’d miss it, but without Lester, she didn’t belong.

“I see,” he said flatly. “One of those old places beyond DuPont Circle. Not a safe neighborhood for a girl.”

She didn’t answer.

“Do you know his family or where he’s from?” he prodded.

She shook her head, avoiding his kind brown eyes. His unspoken sympathy would only increase her need to cry. She had no idea who his people were so she focused on the forms, placing them on the counter. “I can’t fill these out.”

“They have to be filled in,” the clerk tapped her chewed pencil on the counter.

“I can’t. I don’t know if he’s allergic to things. I don’t know if he’s been sick before.” Jeanne’s temper edged into her tone.

“Does he have hospitalization?” The girl flashed Jeanne a quick look.

“He never told me,” Jeanne snapped. Most people didn’t have it.

“Does he have a bank account?” The clerk reddened, scrawling angry notations on a pink form.

“No. He’s unemployed.” Jeanne turned away.

The girl chewed her fleshy lower lip in silence. “I see,” she said after a pause and picked up the telephone. She toyed with a pulled thread in her blue knit top. Something red stained the shoulder.

“Will they take care of him?” Jeanne asked, pulling on her own clothes to straighten them. It had been so long since she’d fussed over her looks, she rarely thought about it. All she had was what she wore, jeans and a faded blue blouse.

“Yes. Now, can you answer a few questions about yourself?” the policeman asked in a kind voice. “Do you have a family?”

She shook her head again. No sense in getting her mom involved. She’d only say she didn’t know where she failed, her excuse for everything that happened in her life. Jeanne didn’t want any more of those horrible crying scenes with the well-remembered recriminations. The recollection of the hurt they caused each other nudged her conscience.

“Do you have anyone at all?” he persisted. He guided her to some chairs with patched red-cloth seats along the wall.

“No, nobody.” She took the one nearest the exit sign. The fabric was unraveling and it wobbled when she shifted her weight.

“How old are you?” He sat next to her, putting his hat on his lap.

“Twenty. I left home last spring after papa died.” Tears pressed in her throat. In some ways Lester had reminded her of her dad. Now he was gone again.

She straightened her shoulders and looked at the policeman. Knowing he would want proof of her age, she handed him a driver’s license she’d found on the street. The plastic coating had cracked and water had distorted the features in the picture, but it looked a little like her.

“This is expired.” He handed it back, his expression reflecting his belief the photo wasn’t her.

Jeanne shrugged. “Don’t have a car anyhow.” She shoved her hair back from her face with shaking fingers. She clamped her lips shut. The license said she was twenty, but she felt more like a hundred.

He studied her intently. “We’re just trying to help. You kids come here looking for God only knows what. I see it every day. You get hooked on jojo or sick like your friend.”

She remained silent. The police always knew all the answers.

The officer stood. “If you have a family, go home and make up. This way doesn’t work.” He peered down at her, adding, “Wait here. I have other questions for you, but I want to check on your friend.” He put on his black hat, pushing it back, and walked away.

Jeanne eavesdropped as he spoke to the nurse who chewed the end of a pencil. She wanted Lester to be all right, but doubted he would be. He’d been spitting up blood this time. Fear formed a knot in her chest.

“How is he? Good news might help me get the truth out of her.” He nodded toward Jeanne who read concern in his gaze.

The nurse took her pencil out of her mouth. “You know University takes no public cases now that our federal funding has been cut off. The new owners are very specific about accepting only paying patients. The boy was been sent directly to Cartersea in Northeast with a few others. He was on oxygen when they left.”

“Thanks.” Officer Stimm turned to John Kersey, who stood near the unplugged coffee machine. “I guess that’s better than nothing. We’d better get the signatures on these new service cards to show how we spent the last hour. I miss the old days when all we did was patrol through our shift. This new paperwork is a pain.” He sounded tired.

The waiting gave Jeanne the jitters. If I stick around, I’ll get sent to the juvenile center. And they’ll get word to Mom. She felt the tears pressing again. I don’t wanna go home. It’s always the same thing.

She’d lost count of the times she’d been returned only to run away again. The burden of guilt her mother shifted onto her for her troubles was too much to face any more. The thought of it impelled Jeanne to her feet as the two officers were distracted by the nurse inquiring about the identity of another patient they’d brought in earlier. Catlike, she moved to the door to make her escape. Lester didn’t need her now.

He’d probably never leave the hospital or, if he did live, they’d send him to one of those detainment camps where people without permanent addresses were held. She shuddered. Much as she didn’t want to go home, she didn’t want to wind up in one of the horrible camps she’d heard about. Even if the rumors or torture and death weren’t true, the people were still prisoners.

Sadly, Jeanne accepted that she’d never see Lester again. The best thing to do was get away from D.C.

She headed into the thickening mist where she felt secure from curious eyes, but as dawn broke, the smoky tendrils began to lift and thin. Another ugly day in an ugly city.

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