Book Review: Wildcase: A Rail Black Novel by Neil Russell

Hi again!

A little over a year ago I read a novel from a first time novelist, Neil Russell. City of War was a well-written thriller in the vein of Robert Ludlum and Clive Cussler with a bit of the pulp of Elmore Leonard. It pulled together an appreciation for Hollywood, art, history, and intrigue that blew me away.

So when Russell asked if I’d review Wildcase, his follow-up to City of War, how could I possibly refuse? Especially when the new book ratchets up the intensity of City of War to eleven.

Where City of War focused mostly on the present day, with a bit of history thrown in, Wildcase relies much more on political intrigue and mystery in the present with a whole plot woven through it based in the events of the past. But don’t worry, Rail Black still kicks some serious ass with a bombshell at his side.

Where Hollywood and the California coast were central to the first book, Wildcase offers an interesting view of Las Vegas. Though I’ve been to Vegas personally a couple of times, even if I’m on a casino floor I’m as far from the high roller tables as I am from the moon. Rail Black knows people in high places and gets more than a touch of preferential treatment. And he knows how to handle those high rollers.

But more than that, Wildcase is a thriller with strong social commentary woven throughout. Sometimes the United States seems to pay lip service to a number of injustices around the world, from hunger, animals hunted to extinction, and war to entire generations murdered or sold into slavery. Individuals and particular organizations do what they can to save those they can, but there’s only so much they can do. When the authorities turn a blind eye to inhumanity it’s a bad thing for everybody.

In Wildcase, Russell introduces us to a group of characters who did what was right during World War II and saw it spiral wildly out of control over the next 60 years. It’s much more than a cautionary tale about good intentions however…

Even with the social commentary, this book has the same tight writing, great story, and pacing that keep you guessing at how the pieces fit together. It kept me turning pages more than a few nights wondering how everything would come together at the end. And it does come together in a spectacular ending.

If you like thrillers, give Wildcase from Neil Russell a shot. And if you haven’t read City of War yet, I’d encourage you to pick it up as well. Both are available in paperback or for the Kindle at Amazon.

I can hardly wait to see what’s next from Russell!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.
–Fitz

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Book Review: Specific Impulse by Charles Justiz

Hey all…

What do you get when you cross Near Earth Objects (NEOs), two ex-military tactical and scientific experts, Las Vegas criminal organizations, an amazingly successful assassin, and a talking machine intelligence named FRED? You get one heck of a wild ride written by a real-life rocket scientist who also just happened to fly more than 15,000 hours for the Air Force and NASA. If you like amazing details, likeable characters, and thrillers by Robin Cook or Michael Crichton, you have to check out Specific Impulse by Charles Justiz.

My journey started with the first few chapters of the book that are available on Justiz’ website – CharlesJustiz.com. By the end of chapter 4, I was hooked enough that I knew I needed to read more. Those first chapters introduce you to scientist Carin Gonzales, former submarine commander Jake Sabio, and assassin with an agenda Antonio Crubari. Gonzales and Sabio manage to survive a strange explosion over the huge meteor crater near Winslow, Arizona… an explosion that mysteriously led to the deaths of everyone else at the crater at the time…

Things only get stranger for Carin and Jake from there as they start manifesting new abilities such as the ability to slow down combat and see minute details or even being able to smell minute traces of chemicals in the air around them that normal people would never notice. Add to that the head of a covert action squad with ties to Las Vegas crime and a poor FBI agent and his team who always seem to be a step behind and you’d have a strong science-based thriller already.

But Justiz doesn’t stop there. By the end of the book, there’s a third member of the Carin/Jake team named FRED who just happens to be a sentient computer who can help them out of numerous jams and a NEO that just might be more than it appears to be. All of these threads weave to a spectacular climax that’s only major flaw is that this is the first book of a planned trilogy and dang if the next book isn’t out yet!

Since Michael Crichton passed away, there have been no new science-based thriller writers who have really stepped up to wow me. Justiz not only has a grasp of how to make complex topics such as determining where the object that explodes above the crater came from or how the Doppler shift works…

The Doppler shift was the way you could tell when a train went by. The frequency of the sound suddenly shifts much lower, but Jake had it all wrong. Carin was shaking her head. “There’s no way the Doppler could have shifted. You’ll only hear a Doppler shift in the first place if some object changes in motion relative to you. This thing was coming at us the whole time, so the Doppler can’t even shift once, much less twice…”

Justiz also has a great grasp of working humor into his writing. The exchanges between Carin and Jake are full of sarcasm and many of the characters the pair run into, including the computer, add to the wry amusement scattered throughout. I absolutely loved Chief Tuckman, the police chief in a tiny Idaho town with an airstrip. The main pair help out Tuckman realize he’s in love with the diner owner at the airstrip. And you may be thinking “what’s romance got to do with a thriller”? But believe me when I say it works and provides a bit of comic relief along the way.

Somehow Specific Impulse manages to weave a compelling story with plausible science and great characters you can relate to, leaving you wanting more by the end. If you like science-based thrillers, be sure to check out Charles Justiz’ Specific Impulse. I wasn’t sure I was going to like the book, but now I know I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next one in the trilogy!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Be sure to pick up a copy of these great books at Barnes & Noble!

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DVD Review: 21

A blackjack game in progressImage via Wikipedia

Hi all…

Thought I’d catch up on a couple of DVDs I’ve seen recently. The first was 21, starring Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, and Kate Bosworth.

The movie is based on a true story about six MIT students who became card counting Blackjack experts and took Las Vegas by storm, winning millions in the process. Jim Surgess played Ben Campbell, a MIT student struggling to find the money to get into Harvard Med. And Kate Bosworth played Jill Taylor, another MIT student (of what was never clear). Kevin Spacey played the ring leader Professor Micky Rosa, who taught the card counting scheme and recruited the students.

From the get-go, this was interesting, but seemed to drag. It took us a couple of nights to get through watching 20 minutes to an hour each time. The movie itself was 123 minutes long, but seemed a lot longer in spots.

[rating:2.5]

The story, though the characters and situations are different, is pretty basic stuff. Student gets seduced by the dark side, encounters an immovable object, and sacrifices the teacher to escape the situation.

One thing the movie did was show me that I can teach some basic math to my 2nd grader by playing Blackjack. 🙂

But beyond that, it was just ok. Didn’t really suck me in much. It proved that Kate Bosworth was still cute (I think I last saw her as Lois Lane in Superman Returns, where she looked way too young for the role – at least she sort of fits the role of student age-wise). And it proved that Jim Sturgess can act in different ways (I really liked him as Jude in Across the Universe).

So I can only give this 2.5/4. It just didn’t keep me engaged for some reason.

What did you guys think?

–Fitz

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