Saturday, June 10, 2023

Scattered Legacy by Marlene Bell Book Review

About the Book:

To outsiders, the relationship between Manhattan antiquities assessor Annalisse Drury and sports car magnate Alec Zavos must look carefree and glamorous. In reality, it’s a love affair regularly punctuated by treasure hunting, action-packed adventure, and the occasional dead body.

When Alec schedules an overseas trip to show Annalisse his mother's birthplace in Bari, Italy, he squeezes in the high-stakes business of divesting his family’s international corporation. But things go terribly wrong as murder makes its familiar reappearance in their lives – and this time it’s Alec’s disgraced former CFO who’s the main suspect.

Accompanied by friend and detective Bill Drake, Annalisse and Alec find themselves embroiled in a behind-closed-doors conspiracy that threatens the reputation and legacy of Alec’s late father – linking him to embezzlement, extortion, and the dirty business of the Sicilian Mafia. The search for the truth sends the trio straight into riddles, secrets, and an historic set of rosary beads. Annalisse leads Alec toward a discovery that is unthinkable, and events that will change their futures forever.

You can read my reviews of the earlier books in the series: Stolen Obsession and Spent Identity.

My Review:

This novel has a complex plot and I was unsure much of the time as to where it was finally going. The focal point is a set of rosary beads of particular interest to Annalisse because of their age and puzzling heritage. Apparently someone is willing to kill to get them. The thrust of this novel is the revelation of Alec's family history.

There is travel abroad and when Annalisse and Alec investigate, some people may not be who they claim. Also, when Annalisse does historical research she find names have been changed. It is like a huge international puzzle that must be solved and the mafia is in the middle of it. Annalisse manages to get herself in trouble so there is some suspense too.

The narrative is seen mostly from Annalisse's viewpoint, in first person. But there are other parts of the book seen from other characters, such as members of the mafia, in third person. Bell's writing style is quite flowery and hard to follow at times. For example, “King turns, with an arm taking flight above his head.” (1654/4092) I have no idea what that means nor can I picture it. Bell is good at description so her novel would appeal to readers who like detailed passages.

This is the third novel in a series and it would be understood the best if the previous ones in the series were read first.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

Marlene M. Bell is an eclectic mystery writer, artist, photographer, and she raises sheep on a ranch in wooded East Texas with her husband, Gregg.

Marlene’s Annalisse series boasts numerous honors including the Independent Press Award for Best Mystery (Spent Identity,) and FAPA— Florida Author’s President’s Gold Award for two other installments, (Stolen Obsession and Scattered Legacy.) Her mysteries with a touch of romantic suspense are found at her websites or at online retail outlets.

She also offers the first of her children's picture books, Mia and Nattie: One Great Team! Based on true events from the Bell’s ranch. The simple text and illustrations are a touching tribute of compassion and love between a little girl and her lamb.

Ewephoric Publishing, 352 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime BVook Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Friday, June 9, 2023

Write Out Loud by Naomi D Nakashima Blog Tour Book Review





Write Out Loud


Naomi D Nakashima

Book Summary:

Are you still struggling with your book? Feeling overwhelmed or creatively blocked with self-doubt, fear, and general anxiety about what it means to write a book? Are you still wondering if you have what it takes to even write a book?

Not all fears are created equal.

Write Out Loud is a step-by-step guide to help you identify the fears that are keeping you from sharing your story so you can beat them back and finally write your book with confidence. In Write Out Loud, you’ll learn how to:

• identify the source of your self-doubts and fears

• validate your book idea

• gain self-belief (in your story and in your ability to write your story)

• start writing your first draft with confidence

• feel comfortable talking about your book idea

• And, yes, much more!

Amazon bestselling author and ghostwriter Naomi D. Nakashima brings her experience of
helping authors to write and publish their books along with her training as a psychotherapist to walk you through the sometimes painful process of facing your fears and sharing your story. If you're ready to finally sit down and start writing your book without the fear and anxiety, read Write Out Loud: How to Get Over your Fears and Build the Confidence to Finally Write Your Book.

ISBN-10: 8987209820

ISBN-13: 979-8987209820


Print Length: 207 pages

Purchase a copy of Write Out Loud on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or You can also get an autographed copy (and put more money back in the author's hands) by purchasing it on Glitz and Glamour. Make sure you also add it to your GoodReads reading list.

My Review:

This book contains a wealth of information for aspiring authors. Nakashima starts out by convincing us of the value of telling our story then helps define the motivation and develop the courage to do so.

Then comes the practical aspect of the book. She walks us through getting ideas, picking a genre and the elements making up each one. She helps us develop a plan for writing, getting the story out while not trying to make it perfect. She has ideas on how to get started, get support, find the time to write, finding an editor, promoting the book, and determining the method of publication.

Everything an aspiring author needs to finally write that book is included, from the beginning idea to finished product. She also provides additional help in the form of worksheets, the links to them included in the book.

I highly recommend this great resource. If you have ever thought about writing your own story or creating one of fiction, this book may very well be all you need to accomplish it.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

About the Author:

Naomi D. Nakashima is a bestselling author of nonfiction, a ghostwriter with 20 years experience, a trained psychotherapist, and a TikTok writing coach with thousands of followers who attend her coaching events and regular Q&As. Everything I Need to Know About Parenting I Learned from Watching Star Trek, her first book published under her name, became an international Amazon bestseller and stayed on the bestseller list for step-parenting and blended families for three years.

As a single mother of two, Naomi daydreams about spending her free time reading books, diamond painting, and traveling the world.

Follow her online at:








The Mighty Pen Publishing, 212 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through WOW! Women on Writing. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Thursday, June 8, 2023

With Every Memory by Janine Rosche Book Review

About the Book:

Is the life she can't remember one she'd rather forget?

One year after her family was in a tragic car accident that killed her teenage son, Lori Mendenhall returns home with a traumatic brain injury that has stolen the last eight years of memories from her, leaving the life she has returned to unrecognizable. Her once-loving husband, Michael, is a distant workaholic she isn't sure she can trust, and her once-bubbly daughter, Avery, has spent the last year hidden away in her room.

If Lori wants to reconnect with her family, she'll have to uncover the information her brain is trying to keep secret. As her memories return and past secrets resurface, it will take the whole family to repair what's been broken and find a new future together.

You can read an excerpt here
You can watch the book trailer here.

My Review:

This novel got off to a really slow start for me and remained that way until surprising memories surfaced about three quarters through the book. There were enough heart wrenching twists and turns in the revelations that, in the end, I was really glad I stuck with it. Ultimately, it is a good story about relationships, misunderstandings and relationship restoration.

It seemed like there were two stories here, Lori as she grapples with returning memories and Avery, grappling with the dual whammy of high school emotional theatrics and the loss of her twin. The narrative is seen from both Lori and Avery in an alternating manner. Either story could have been a good novel on its own and the two in one novel may not have given either story its full weight.

Roche's writing style is good, clear and understandable. With respect to the characters, I was surprised at the rather unaffected attitude of the person who, in a real sense, caused the accident and the death of Austin. No remorse, no nightmares, no sense of responsibility, no struggle with guilt. I found that unrealistic. There was a bit of a faith message as the family went to church but there was not the deep faith message of relying on Him during times of tragedy.

I liked this novel in the end, even thought I do think it should have had a much stronger faith message.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

Janine Rosche
 is the author of the Madison River Romance and Whisper Canyon series of novels. Prone to wander, she finds as much comfort on the open road as she does at home. This longing to chase adventure, behold splendor, and experience redemption is woven into her stories. When she isn't traveling or writing novels, she teaches family life education courses, produces The Love Wander Read Journal, and takes too many pictures of her sleeping dogs. Photo Credit: Sarah Moan Photography

Revell, 300 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Now Is The Time by Lee Spotts Book Review

About the Book:

A raw, honest, and relatable true story of one young girls emotional and physical abuse and how her faith helped her to persevere, overcome and ultimately break free. Follow Lizbeth's journey as she deals with her mothers schizophrenia and watch her grow in faith and connection to God. The abuse is heartbreaking but God shows up in mighty ways to pull her through.

My Review:

This is an honest story of growing up in a dysfunctional family and finding hope in God. Hers is quite a story. Spotts' mother was mentally ill, with extreme mood swings and then paranoia. Spotts had to rely on God for strength to navigate her perilous childhood. Periodically she would wander away from keeping God as her focus and problems would develop. Yet God saw her through all the situations that could have ended in terrible tragedy.

Spotts encourages readers with her inspiring story. She has included a link to an informative video and draws our attention to several songs. That brings more of an emotional experience to the memoir. Her writing style is straightforward and easy to comprehend.

Spotts knows from experience God is forming us, drawing us closer to Him. “Christ sees us not full of impurity, but full of potential.” (163) Her memoir is one that reminds us to remember the difference God makes in our lives when we rely on Him.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

From the Author:

For years I felt led to tell my story, but the time never felt right. One day while praying and listening to worship music I heard God’s voice tell me Now is the Time. I have learned that when I hear that voice I need to obey. I picked up my laptop and the pages began to flow. What previously would not come suddenly came with ease.

The pages of Now is the Time will reveal the story of a young girl who found hope, strength, and peace through trials and tribulations. You will be drawn into her world, see her heart, and see what God did in the midst of a life that looked like it was destined for tragedy. It is the story of abuse overcome by faith. I pray the story brings hope to others that may be struggling in a similar circumstance.

Independently Published, 173 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the author. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The Dark Side of Grace by Ronald Chapman Blog Tour Book Review

About the Book:

A devastating terrorist bomb blast at a spiritual retreat outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, sends journalist Kevin Pitcairn and his beloved Emmy on a quixotic quest to understand the roots of violence. Traveling across the country deep into the bowels of Southern Appalachia, their search takes them through a long-standing rift in the American consciousness to confrontations with remarkable and anomalous characters, some of them deeply spiritual, others well-grounded in research and psychology.

In this sequel to the much-acclaimed A Killer’s Grace, Pitcairn and Emmy return to the exploration of innocence while adding to it a deepening understanding of injury and ordeal―and its amazing corollary of Post-Traumatic Growth. As the quest and its dangers rip their lives apart, doors open that lure them back and forth across the country in search of tendrils tying together the events and anguish, as well as bringing the protagonists more deeply together.

  • ISBN ‏ : ‎ 1948749874

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Terra Nova Books (May 1, 2023)

  • Genre ‏ : ‎ Mystery Action & Adventure, Thriller & Suspense Action Fiction, Psychological Thriller

  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 200 pages

  • Buy the book: Amazon 

  • Add it to Your GoodReads listGoodReads reading list

My Review:

This novel is a sequel and while it can be read relatively well on its own, to fully appreciate the story one should read the earlier novel first. There are many references to life events in the earlier novel that have ramifications in this one.

This is a gritty novel. There is a great deal of language some may find offensive. There is a great deal about AA and how it teaches one to manage life events. There is also quite a bit about various religious techniques, such as Buddhism, exploring how people grow and develop self awareness. A major theme of the novel is how people recover from trauma and experience post traumatic growth. The idea is to have an experience be a springboard rather than deep, enduring damage. The importance of telling our story is part of that recovery technique. There is also the idea of a new way of dealing with violence.

Chapman's writing style is good. The plot, while it seemed to ramble at times, held my interest to the end. This novel is a good example of one written to communicate the author's views on various topics. Teachings are woven into the plot through character thought and interactions with others.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

Ronald Chapman is an author, speaker, and facilitator of approaches that increase well-being-ness and produce breakthroughs when practiced deeply and in a sustained fashion. He is the creator of Seeing True™ and Progressive Recovery, resources dedicated to exploring concepts of engaging, releasing, and transcending blockages in our lives. At the heart of Seeing True and all of his work is the Greek notion of “metanoia,” which could translate as a profound change of heart. Ronald maintains two core businesses as well. Leading Public Health provides facilitation, strategy and consultation to public health clientele, while Magnetic North delivers similar services to a broader array of clients.

Ron spent many years as a national award winning radio commentator on KUNM radio in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is an elite Accredited Speaker through Toastmasters International, and an accomplished leadership facilitator working with clients from all over the world, including the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Ron currently resides in Atlanta, and spends much of his time immersed in art and beauty wherever his travels take him.

You can find out more at and and  

Enter the Giveaway, for a chance to win a copy of the book:

Contest closes June 18.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through WOW! Women  on Writing. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Monday, June 5, 2023

The Body in the Web by Katherine Hall Page Book Review

About the book:

Faith Fairchild joins the rest of the world in lockdown mode when reality flips in March 2020. As the pandemic spreads, Faith and her family readjust to life together in Aleford, Massachusetts. Her husband, Tom, continues his sermons from Zoom; their children, Ben, who's in college, and Amy, a high school senior, are doing remote learning at home .

Faith is happy to have her family under the same roof and grateful for her resilient community, friends, and neighbors in Aleford. Town halls remain lively and well-attended, despite residents joining from their living rooms. It is at one of these town halls that scandal breaks out. In the midst of a Zoom meeting, damaging images suddenly flash upon everyone’s screens. Claudia, local art teacher and Faith’s dear friend, is immediately recognized as the woman who has been targeted.

When Claudia is later discovered dead, Faith, with the help of her friends, journeys deep into the dark web to unravel the threads of Claudia’s mysterious history and shocking passing.

You can read a sample here.

My Review:

This novel is way down the line in the mystery series featuring amateur sleuth and pastor's wife Faith Fairchild. I have read several in the series and like them. This one reads quite well on its own.

The plot is one with a long build up. The murder does not happen until the second half of the book. Faith has to go against the views of officials when she is convinced the death is murder. She enlists her friends and family to unravel the complex history of the dead woman and find her murderer.

My favorite part of this mystery is that it takes place just as the covid vaccines are becoming available. The whole novel is a walk down covid memory lane. I liked being reminded of items missing from store shelves, the attempts to have human interaction with technology and the long lines for that initial shot. I always like to learn something when I read a novel and in this case it was about zoom bombing.

This is a good novel for readers who like a low key mystery. The revelation of the villain was a bit unrealistic but other than that, an enjoyable novel and trip down memory lane.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the author:

Katherine Hall Page
is the author of twenty-five previous Faith Fairchild mysteries, the first of which received the Agatha Award for best first mystery. 
The Body in the Snowdrift was honored with the Agatha Award for best novel of 2006. Page also won an Agatha for her short story “The Would-Be Widower.” The recipient of the Malice Domestic Award for Lifetime Achievement, she has been nominated for the Edgar, the Mary Higgins Clark, the Maine Literary, and the Macavity Awards. She lives in Massachusetts and Maine with her husband. Photo by Jean Fogelberg.

HarperCollins, 272 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Formed in His Image by Coleman Ford and J T English Book Review

About the Book:

Every day, we are being formed by what we consume and engage. From social media to the latest Netflix binge, our minds are being led by what we ingest with our eyes. Yet, the call of the Christian is this: to be conformed to Christ.

The work of Christian formation is an exercise in surrender of the whole self, dwelling in God's Word and allowing Him to shape and mold His people. In this book, you'll find:  

·       A call to recover truth, goodness, and beauty in the work of formation 
·       A clear presentation of key doctrines and the work of "getting it right" for rich Christian formation 
·       Practical guidance on developing a culture of formation within your church 
·       A call to a deepened commitment to formation through embracing humility, cultivating friendship, and pursuing a vibrant spiritual life 

My Review:

Spiritual formation has been an interest of mine for decades and I had high hopes for this book. I was particularly impressed by the authors realizing a kind of spiritual formation appealing to the intellect has not served us well. “Only when we see formation as an exercise in love, not information, will our Christian life begin to flourish." (136/2118) They suggest the use of imagination. They say our aim should be “knowing and enjoying God in his manifest works in the world and salvation.” (319/2118) They appeal to the historic idea that the pinnacle of Christian life is beholding God in his infinite wonder and beauty. We are off to a good start, I thought.

However, when the authors write of the work of the Spirit, they suggest understanding that work, as act of the intellect, the accumulation of information, rather than a spiritual endeavor. While they do later write about meditating on the Word, there is no encouragement to learn how to sense the leading of the Spirit. In fact, they say we are not to depend on spiritual and emotional experiences but rather the “gospel fruit forged in the trials of everyday life.” (952/2118) We are not given any insights into living in the Spirit or walking in the Spirit as Paul commanded in Gal. 5:25, something I think is essential to being transformed in the inner being.

In the end, this book is typical to others on spiritual formation and does not add any new insights into means or methods. Go to church. Be in the Word. Have a spiritual friend. Learn through suffering.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Authors:

Coleman M. Ford 
is an author, teacher, and speaker devoted to imparting the goodness, truth, and beauty of the Christian tradition. He has taught for numerous schools and theological seminaries and currently serves as Assistant Professor of Humanities at Texas Baptist College in Fort Worth, Texas. His work has appeared in Christian publications such as The Gospel Coalition and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, as well as numerous academic journals and presses. He writes on early Christian thought and spirituality, as well as spiritual formation for modern Christians. He is married to Alex and they have three beautiful children. You can find out more at 

J. T. English
, PhD, is an author and teacher, and currently serves as the lead pastor of Storyline Fellowship in Arvada, CO. Previously, J.T. served as a pastor at The Village Church in Flower Mound, TX, where he founded and directed The Village Church Institute, which is committed to theological education in the local church. He received his ThM in Historical Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary and PhD in Systematic Theology from Southern Seminary. He is married to Macy English, and they have two children, Thomas and Bailey.

B&H Publishing Group, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Bastard Verdict by James McCrone Blog Tour Book Review

Bastard Verdict

by James McCrone

May 15 - June 9, 2023 Virtual Book Tour



In politics, people cheat to win, or because they're afraid to lose. Which isn't always the same thing. A second referendum on Scottish Independence looms, an unlikely investigator uncovers meddling in the first, and desperate conspirators panic, with deadly results. Bastard Verdict weaves high stakes, low politics, and complex characters into a noir tale of power, loss and Faustian bargains.

When a Scottish government official enlists FBI Elections Specialist, Imogen Trager (on research leave at the University of Glasgow) in the fall of 2023 to look into the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum—ostensibly as a means of ensuring that a possible second referendum will be conducted fairly—he claims that he wants an outsider’s unencumbered view.

The government official may not be what he seems, and the trail Imogen follows becomes twisted and deadly, leading to a corrupt cabal intent on holding on to power.

But they didn’t count on Imogen, a feisty, conflicted and driven investigator who goes strictly by the numbers, if rarely by the book. To find the truth, Imogen will risk everything—her reputation, career, and possibly her life. None but a very few know that truth. And those few need it to stay hidden. At any cost.

My Review:

This novel is a deep dive into the politics of Scotland, especially around the issue of independence, separating from England. It highlights the desperate actions powerful people will take to protect their governmental position and hide nefarious acts. I did find it a bit hard to understand all of the government agencies and positions of authority in the novel as I am not familiar with Scotland's governing system and political hierarchy.

McCrone does a fine job of presenting the vernacular of the various areas where action takes place. That did slow down my reading a bit but I appreciated the local dialects. There was also the difficulty of terms. I had to look up the meaning of busker, for example. But these fellows were thugs rather than musicians on a street corner. Also, there was no Author's Note in the galley I read to clarify the historical and fictional elements of the novel.

McCrone has woven a good plot introducing us to election fraud in a European country. Imogen remains a good heroine as she tries to outsmart powerful people in high places to reveal the illegal activities. This is a good novel for readers who like deep immersion into a country's dirty politics, a bungled cover-up, a pervasive culture and an exciting conclusion. I hope Imogen has further adventures in store.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

You can read my review of the earlier books in the series: Faithless Elector, Dark Network, and Emergency Powers.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery-Crime, Thillers
Published by: Hernes Road Books
Publication Date: May 2023
Number of Pages: 293
ISBN: 978-0999137741

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

‘But facts are chiels that winna ding,
An downa be disputed’
-Robert Burns, A Dream (1786)
Glasgow – 28 September


Anyone with the temerity to look upward into the rain that night on campus would have witnessed a kind of negotiated settlement between light and dark, as the wet Glasgow night held the pale glow from the Adam Smith Building’s top floor close in a murky halo. One man did look up, before sullenly returning to the meager shelter of a young birch tree outside the west entrance to the building. He mopped his face and dabbed his bald head with a handkerchief as he settled back against the tree trunk.

Inside those high windows, brightness reigned, the lecture theatre dazzlingly arid and contemporary. Though it was chilly for all that. Not that Imogen noticed. Within her slow-burn, imposter syndrome panic, she felt flushed, anxious as she began taking questions.

FBI Agent Imogen Trager had finished her first lecture as the Alma Guthrie Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences at University of Glasgow. Twenty-five scholars, professors and graduate students sat bunched toward the front of a large lecture room in broad, curving rows of steeply raked seats. Each had listened with that cultivated, scholarly air of bored attentiveness to her inaugural lecture, meant as an introduction and discussion of her research interests for the coming year. Rain pattered against the windows, a discomfiting susurration that swelled and hissed during the agonizing moments of silence before questions and comments began.

The Head of School, David Reidy, sat next to her at a table beside the lectern in what felt like a well at the front of the room. He was himself cultivated, though administration had groomed him in its image. While most of his colleagues affected a smart-casual, anorak diffidence, he radiated trim-suited, camera-ready gravitas. To her immense relief, the gathered academics began to ask questions: regarding methodology, about the role and effects of policing in urban environments; two extended offers of help in research design methods.

As Reidy sensed that things were coming to an end, he asked a question of his own to wrap up.

“Thank you, Dr. Trager. Most enlightening and well presented,” he said from the bottom of their shared well space. “You’ve given us insight into your research agenda for this year,” he continued. “But I’m sure we’d all like to understand, as an FBI Special Agent, if you’d care to discuss how you begin your investigations. What’s the catalyst?”

Even at the bottom of a well, Imogen stood out, long-limbed, a sharp bearing, with striking red hair and green eyes. “As I mentioned, my special brief is voting integrity,” she began. “It’s said that the difference between voting in North Korea and Texas is that in North Korea, if you vote, you’re dead: whereas in Texas, if you’re dead, you vote.”

That won the chuckle she had hoped for, and she relaxed a little. She had a doctorate in political science but hadn’t made a presentation to a group of academics in years. She was pleased that her proposal to investigate how voting security was processed in another country had met with some measure of approval and interest and pleased to now be on the firmer ground of criminal inquiries.

“Both of those methods, by the way,” she added, “intimidation and fraudulent voting, fall under my group’s purview, and we would investigate...though obviously not in North Korea. We’re a domestic agency, after all.”

Of course, she thought dismally, she wasn’t part of that group any longer. Whatever praise the FBI bosses accorded her publicly, it was given through gritted teeth and rictus smiles. Most of the higher-ups at the Bureau still regarded her as a pariah. They were thrilled that she was taking her leave out of the country in the great abroad. The cowards.

“You’ve no doubt heard the braying about fraudulent voting in the U.S,” she continued, looking out at the gathered academics. “But despite my little quip about Texas, in the U.S., like here, voter fraud is exceedingly rare and hasn’t been a determining factor in an election in decades. But electoral fraud—manipulating, suppressing or outright disenfranchising voters—remains a danger. In each case, the fraud is an attempt to undermine or outright destroy the right of the people to determine their future.

“So typically,” she continued, tapping the mental brakes lest her newfound calm erupt into indignant anger, “an investigation begins when someone at the Federal Election Commission, a State Attorney General or some other official files a complaint. Having determined that there’s a case, and that it falls under federal jurisdiction, we open an inquiry and then I, or someone in my group, will be tasked with investigating. But we’re also meant to be entrepreneurial, actively looking for potential cases.”

Of course, she thought, it was the entrepreneurial part that seemed to land her in trouble. Then, because she couldn’t help herself, she added, “And there’s sometimes an infuriatingly myopic interpretation of the line between what’s deemed to have violated the law, and that which is just morally unacceptable.”

“I assume,” ventured a small man with a knotty thatch of iron hair seated in the front row, “that you’re aware Scotland may yet have its second referendum on independence from the UK some time this year or next, and—”

“—I knew you’d bring that up!” Reidy yelled. He looked at Imogen with embarrassed exasperation, then shook his head mournfully.

“And so,” the second man continued, his eyes bearing into Imogen as though much depended on her answer, “how could we ensure that the next referendum isn’t stolen?”

“Give it a rest, Frankie!” a scholar at the back of the room called out.

“I’ve read that Scottish Parliament wants a second referendum,” she began, “and that they ran on it in the most recent election, but I wasn’t aware there were irregularities in the one held in 2014—”

“Right,” said a professor sitting next to Frankie, “that’s because the irregularities’re only in Wee Frankie’s mind.”

“See you!” Frankie began, turning to the man as uncomfortable laughter stirred through the room.

“Well, I...” Imogen murmured into the growing noise. “This may not be the place to talk about it. I don’t know as much as most of you must about British politics, and irrespective of whether there was tampering the first time...”

Here the room erupted in passionate debate. By the look of things, the lecture hall could well have been parliament, with parties divided to left and right across the aisle. For a moment, she wondered whether she was cast as Speaker, and should be shouting “Order!” or whether that task fell to Reidy.

“HOWEVER!” she continued, as if taking the first role. “To answer the substance of your question: in my investigations, I make historical comparisons with similar elections, and I’m guided by events that don’t conform. Anomalies don’t always indicate malfeasance, but they’re a good place to start digging.”

“Aye, well there were anomalies aplenty!” Frankie interjected.

“The problem,” she continued, “is that referendum votes are such rare events that there’s not really a history to compare.” She let that sink in. “How do you know something’s an anomaly? Prior to 2014, there’d never been a referendum on independence, so what do you compare it to? Where do you look?”

She ended her presentation there, thanking all who had come as Reidy shook her hand and congratulated her. “Well,” he said, “that was a little more robust than the previous lectures.”

That was true, she thought. As a visiting fellow, she had attended the two previous lectures in the series, “Determination and consequences of the recognition of education among immigrants in Germany” and “(Un)settling epistemologies using digital tools.” There hadn’t been much controversy during the questions after those.

Reidy smiled. “What do you do for an encore?”

As the final cluster of scholars filed out of the room and Imogen began packing away her laptop, a man who had been sitting on his own near the back came forward. He was one of the few who hadn’t entered the fracas. He had stood out, though. Handsome, well-groomed, with soft, boyish features on a man’s slender body. Crisper, and with sharper angles—sharper elbows, too, by the look of him—than the graduate students and professors who had made up the bulk of the audience, he seemed more like a confident advertising agent. The department head nodded to him.

“Dr. Imogen Trager,” he said, “this is Ian Ross, Special Adviser to the First Minister.” He looked pointedly at Ross and made to leave. Imogen registered the look but didn’t know what it meant. “You’ll both be at the dinner?”

Ross nodded and the department head left them alone.

Holding out his manicured hand to shake hers, Ross said, “Wee Frankie’s concerns—“

“—I’m sorry,” she interrupted, “is that what you call the eminent Political Philosopher, Francis McDougal?”


“And he’s Wee Frankie to everyone?”

“Not to the students, no. Not to his face, anyway,” he added, with a mischievous grin. “Reidy misspoke just now. I report to Janette Ritchie, Chief of Staff to the First Minister of Scotland, not to the FM directly.” The smile dimmed. “The chief of staff is aware that you can’t establish a norm in a referendum like this, but it might nevertheless be useful to note and explore potential points of difficulty or weakness in the system, don’t you think? Wasn’t that part of your analysis of what happened in the Electoral College?”

“Indeed,” Imogen responded. “But I would hope that if there’s an open inquiry the Scottish or UK Election Committee is doing just that.” She reached down for the UK-US plug adapter.

“Yes,” he said nebulously. “Maybe you might look at it as well? Unofficially, of course. Because irrespective of what’s been said publicly, a number of us are pretty convinced it was stolen last time. And if this referendum does go forward, we want to make sure it isn’t stolen again.”

Dundee – 28 September


He’d felt it for a day or two already, a presence watching him from across a street, or the someone who turned a corner just as he looked round. The previous day he’d noticed a figure sitting alone in a car. The engine started, and it pulled away when the driver saw that he’d been noticed. So, he was being watched, followed. But by whom? And why? He’d had a good look at his shadow the previous day when he started the car and pulled away, and the clues only raised more questions. It wasn’t a Serious Organized Crime Command operation. He’d more than likely have been tipped off about something like that. And even so, he’d have been able to tell, would have seen them working in pairs and noted the “handoffs” from one officer to another. This seemed to be solitary, possibly the same man each time. Which was a worry.

Buff Lindsey was head of the Madmen crime syndicate in Dundee, itself part of a larger criminal enterprise throughout the UK and abroad. He referred to himself as the Dundee “shop steward.” Whoever was watching him didn’t seem to come from management. The Madmen used foreign outsiders for this kind of work, and the shadow, based on what Lindsey had seen of the man’s clothes, his face and build, was local, loutish. British. And not the police.

A rival gang? he wondered as he sauntered alone that night out the alley leading from the collision centre chop-shop where one of his offices was located. Reaching the main street, he looked up and down it, noted someone waiting in the passenger seat of a car across the road to his right. Lindsey turned left. He had no rival in Dundee, he mused, and any potential usurper would know that his death would only goad the larger syndicate into scorched earth retaliation.

A dismal night. The air seemed smothered in gray baize. Light seeped from the few working streetlamps, registered in large, greasy pools along the pavement and the road. As Lindsey walked down the empty street between derelict warehouses and shuttered shops, he heard whoever it was get out of the car and fall into step some thirty or forty yards behind him. Could it be someone who wanted revenge? This last seemed the most likely, and the most worrisome. Such men were unpredictable.

Buff was taking a chance being out alone on the streets like this, but he needed to turn the tables and put an end to whatever this was. He had chosen to face this problem alone because if he was wrong and it was his bosses looking to clean house, his favored, right-hand man Alec would likely be part of the scheme. “Ye don’t get tae be heid, alive and fifty-seven all at the same time,” he thought, “without a healthy dose a paranoia.”

There was a pub ahead, at the near corner marking a tentative hipster foray across the boundary road between the Madmen’s playground and an up-and-coming district. In the boozer, it was all beards, tattoos and grim Spotify playlists, but the owners knew the score, and Lindsey enjoyed dropping in from time to time, was pleased to find that part of the hipster ethos was keeping on tap some of the brews he liked and remembered from earlier days.

“Liam,” he roared at the barman as he entered. “A pint of heavy, if ye’ve no objection.” He put a five pound note at an empty spot on the bar and indicated that he was heading for the Gents. The barman nodded as he drew the pint.

Lindsey slipped out the back door.

A narrow service alley for deliveries and rubbish collection ran along the back of the building. Lindsey crept toward the street, stepping carefully in the darkness between puddles and grease. He was approaching the corner where the alley met the road when his shadow arrived. The stalker moved cautiously but his eyes were fixed on the pub’s doorway at the corner. “Definitely an amateur,” Lindsey thought. “No even a glance down this way.” His follower was a big lad, a head taller than Lindsey and outweighing him by two stone. Now, barely six steps from him but still focused on the pub door at the corner, Lindsey saw him slow and touch a bulge in his jacket. Gun.

At 57, Lindsey might not have been as spry as in earlier days, but he still knew his business—and someone carrying a gun had to be subdued. Quickly. Lindsey’s knife was out. The shadow registered him too late as he struck from the darkness. He slammed the butt of the hilt into the man’s left eye and again at his temple. As the man recoiled, Lindsey stamped viciously into the man’s left knee. Then a swift kick in the groin.

The big man’s bulk collapsed in sputtering, breathless agony. A hand fumbled inside his jacket toward the gun. Lindsey stabbed this time, slicing him across the hand and wrist. With one hand he stuck the point of his blade into the man’s fleshy neck and with the other grabbed him under the jaw and hauled him deeper into the alley behind the bins.

“Who sent you?” Lindsey hissed, when he was sure they were out of view of the street.

“Fuck off!” the man sputtered, as he sat in one of the grimy puddles.

English, Lindsey thought. Manchester? “Who’re you working for? Why are you following me?”

“I don’t know what you’re on about, I was just—”

Lindsey pushed the tip of the blade a little further into the donut folds of flesh at the back of his neck. “Keep it down, now,” he advised. A thin stream of blood pulsed along the cutting edge.

“You people, always fucking things up!” the man said boldly, as Lindsey patted him down. No wallet, no identification. He grabbed hold of the pistol from inside the coat and skidded it across the ground to the far side of the alleyway. “You don’t even know what you’ve done, do you?” the man on the ground gasped. “You want the police on you?”

“And you with a pistol on ye? Ah’d love ta here ye explain tha to the polis.”

“I don’t have to worry about them.”

“Explain that,” said Lindsey, thumping his fist in the same bleeding eye. The man’s shoulder and head rested against the brick wall of the alley, but he remained seated.

“When they find out,” he said, still looking downwards, “your life won’t be worth shit.”

“Ah’ll ask ye again. Who’s ‘they?’ Who’re you working for?”

“Fuck you.”

It sounded like ill-advised revenge, a civilian out of his depth in a soldiers’ world. Well, civilian or no, Lindsay thought, you can’t let this kind of thing slide, can’t give him a good hiding and leave him be. Or he’ll be back. With mates. For two days, Lindsey had been living with the fear that his bosses wanted him out of the picture, on edge for every nuance that might give him a clue as to why. Now, it was clear he was safe on that score at least. And he had a pint waiting inside.

The civilian on the ground struggled, glared at him defiantly through his one good eye.

It had been Lindsey’s experience that no one ever believes you’ll kill them. But this needed to be done for a good many reasons. Still standing behind him, Lindsey plunged the knife between the neck folds at the back of the man’s bald head and let him fall in a heap. Gazing down at him, Lindsey wondered whether people would be more, or less, willing to give you information if they knew they were going to die. Still, the shock in their eyes was always disquieting.

He fished a set of keys out of the man’s pocket. Maybe there’d be some information inside the car when his boys took it apart in the chop shop. Lindsey wiped the blade on the man’s coat and cleaned his hands on the man’s trousers. He picked up the gun. Then he made a phone call.

“Is that Mr. Dettol?” he asked. “Clean up on aisle seven, if you please. Jist the one. But mebbe bring a mate. It’s a wide load. The wynd behind that hipster bar.” He paused to listen, then chuckled. “Naw, nothin like tha. Ah try not ta shit where Ah drink.”  



Imogen’s reputation, it seemed, had followed her across the Atlantic, and Ross was still waiting for an answer. At home in the US with a blend of good casework, canny analysis and tenacity, she had tracked down and brought to justice those responsible for conspiring to steal the presidency by manipulating the Electoral College. It was the kind of important case that would have made any other agent’s career. But to bring the case, she had exceeded her authority. She had gone outside the FBI, had worked with outside agencies, bypassed proper authority and had used non-FBI staff. She had even gone to the press.

For her efforts, Imogen became the public and photogenic face of the “Faithless Elector” investigation, but an exile within the Bureau. Those who knew that what she’d done was the right thing nevertheless joined the wagon circle against her because she had embarrassed the Bureau, which among careerists was regarded as the cardinal sin. What was more, an anonymous agent shouldn’t have her picture on the front of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, however good-looking she was.

After all she had achieved and despite the public recognition she received, she found herself sequestered in the Studies in Electoral Integrity office in a non-investigative role, still reviled by many of her colleagues and superiors, still discounted. From the start, her superior at Electoral Integrity had been trying to get rid of her, the FBI’s redheaded stepchild. At their first meeting, he had helpfully suggested that she might enjoy an academic post, away from him and the Bureau. He had tried not to show his elation when she requested leave. She was exhausted, spent. She hadn’t made up her mind whether she’d go back to the Bureau after her one-year leave of absence, but she needed to keep her nose clean irrespective of what came next. Whatever this Special Adviser Ian Ross was selling, she wasn’t buying.

“Shall we go together?” Ross asked. “The restaurant’s about a ten-minute walk from campus on Eldon Street.”

“That would be fine, thank you,” she agreed. “I’d like to put my laptop away in the office first.”

They walked in silence down two flights of stairs. He was waiting for her to respond, she felt, but was giving her space. She knew what she should say—No—but something wasn’t letting her do so. She wondered what Duncan would have had to say. He would have been intrigued by the prospect, as she was, but it was a ruinously bad idea.

She had chosen University of Glasgow for her research leave of absence in large part because years earlier, before she and Duncan Calder were together, Duncan had spent a year at Glasgow as a Fulbright Scholar. He had often spoken of his time there, and of Scotland in general, in glowing terms. Coming to Glasgow had felt like a means of staying connected with him. There was a family connection for her, too. The favorite aunt for whom she was named—and from whom she’d inherited her deep, red hair—had emigrated with Imogen’s maternal grandparents, the Lochries, from Ayrshire, less than 30 miles to the south and west of Glasgow.

She had wanted time away to heal, to work on some research and maybe a bit of genealogy while she thought about next steps. The idea of doing it somewhere with a connection to Duncan, however tenuous, had been irresistible. She had gone so far as to imagine there might be a kind of ghostly dialogue with him as she worked or took in the sights, like feeling the chill light of a full moon when far from home and knowing that it also shined on a beloved. But a gaze across time—Duncan, younger than when she knew him, walking these streets in the rain.

She had imagined his voice teasing her that first day when she’d gone to the wrong floor looking for her new office—“It’s not the metric system, ’Gen,” she had heard him say, “but you do still have to convert: UK ground floor equals US first floor.” Now, as she and Ross trod the wide, metal staircase she imagined Duncan giving an unflattering disquisition on the Brutalist style of the building they were in, the Social and Political Sciences Adam Smith Building:

“I get that ‘brutal’ comes from the French for raw,” she could hear Duncan saying, “but it’d make more sense if it was based on the Italian ‘brutto’ – ugly.”

She almost nodded in agreement. Squat and gray, it seemed better suited as a bunker than an academic building. “And surely,” Duncan’s indignant voice continued in her head, “a building named for the author of Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments deserves better.” It was entirely possible that she was going mad.

The idea of communing with him like this was fraught. No fond memory, no warm thought was free from gut-stabbing regret. Every cheery moment began in her mind’s eye with Duncan as he had been, generous yet snarky, bookish but passionate, and it ended where it all ended, with him dead on a slab at the morgue. Although she tried to suppress the memory, it often burst in on her without warning.

As she put her notes and laptop away in the office, she found herself crying bitterly. Jesus, why now? she wondered. Fortunately, Ross had stayed in the hallway to make a phone call while she put away her things. He rapped on the doorframe as she collected herself and dabbed at her eyes.

“Ready?” he asked.

Imogen drew a clearing breath. “Yes,” she said.

“Well, you’ve settled in, I see,” he said, eyes roving over the office with its well-stocked shelves and a tartan throw over the armchair.

“The only things that are mine are on the desk,” she said, her back to him. “The rest belongs to Professor Ogilvy, who’s on leave this term. He stops by now and then when he knows I’m not here, to pick up a book or something. He leaves passive-aggressive notes thanking me for keeping it tidy. Cleanliness that I can only assume applies to everyone but him.”

She smiled as she turned toward Ross, her eyes still wet. “I’ll have to move out of the Druid’s quarters and find somewhere else next term.”

“The Druid?” he asked, amused.

“That’s the nickname.” She shrugged as though it couldn’t be helped. “A bit like Wee Frankie, I guess. I’ve never met the Druid in person, though we correspond in snark.”

“Snarky runes, eh?” He stared at her as if there was something more he wanted to say. Whatever it was, he let it go and gestured toward the door. “Shall we?”

The rain had stopped. Patches of grass shimmered with icy wet, and there was a cold bite to the air. Light from the streetlamps played and scattered on the pavement and flagstones as they retraced their steps out of the building, behind the library and down the hill toward Eldon Street.

At the edge of campus, they passed a thick-set man in a leather overcoat. Though he’d sought refuge from the rain under a tree by the Adam Smith Building, he looked sodden, and his bald head glistened. As they continued past him, he left off whatever he was pretending to look at on his phone and fell in behind them, matching their sauntering pace and taking care to keep about thirty yards behind.

Twice, as Imogen passed under one of the streetlights, their damp, trailing admirer snapped her and Ross’s picture from his phone. Engrossed in their conversation, they paid him no mind, even if he was one of the few others on the street.

“You’re not interested in helping us ferret out any weaknesses then?” Ross asked her finally.

“I’m an FBI Agent, Mr. Ross.”

“Call me Ian,” he said.

“Even on leave, I’m not allowed to be involved in non-federal cases. I expect someone from MI5 wouldn’t be able to work outside the UK.”

Ross shrugged.

She thought again of what Duncan would make of this new puzzle. He’d jump at the chance, she was sure, but he was a professor. Well, he had been. He could follow his whims, could take up “interesting questions” because his very job required him to do so. He was also dead because of it.

As they approached the King’s Bridge, the bald, beefeater in the leather jacket turned away and headed down a steep side street. When he was out of sight of the bridge, he pulled out his phone and dialed a number. “Can’t say,” he said into the phone. “Did you see the pictures?”

On the bridge, Ross noted in his lilting accent: “You still haven’t said no.” He arched his neck to look down over the iron railing into the Kelvin.

“Why me?” she asked again.

“It’s delicate,” he said, looking behind them for a moment. “Anyone we might use officially would be embedded in or seconded from the Electoral Commission or the Met. Or both. And they would have to make reports. Once that starts, we couldn’t be certain whom they were telling or where their directives were coming from—a clusterfuck, if I might borrow a vivid American term—of epic proportions.”

Christ, she thought, it sounded a lot like the situation she was running from at the FBI, even if it was delivered in a dulcet Scottish accent.

“You’re an outsider,” he continued. “One with an astounding track record.”

Despite herself, she scoffed. That wasn’t the way they saw it back home.

“Am I missing something, Dr. Trager?”

“No,” she sighed. “Not really. And please, call me Imogen.”

“Well, Imogen, you took on—and took down—the president of the United States.”


Excerpt from Bastard Verdict by James McCrone. Copyright 2023 by James McCrone. Reproduced with permission from James McCrone. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

James McCrone is the author of the Faithless Elector series—Faithless Elector, Dark Network, and Emergency Powers—“taut” and “gripping” political thrillers about a stolen presidency. Bastard Verdict is his fourth novel. To get the details right for this thriller, he drew on his boyhood in Scotland, and scouted the locations for scenes in the book while attending Bloody Scotland in 2019 and again in ’22.

His short stories have appeared in Rock and a Hard Place; Retreats from Oblivion: The Journal of NoirCon, and in the short-story anthology Low Down Dirty Vote, vols.2 and 3.

He’s a member of Mystery Writers of America, Int’l Assoc. of Crime Writers, Philadelphia Dramatists’ Center and he’s the vice-president of the Delaware Valley Sisters in Crime chapter. A Pacific Northwest native (mostly), he lives in South Philadelphia with his wife and three children. James has an MFA from the University of Washington, in Seattle.

Catch Up With James McCrone:
BookBub - @JamesMcCrone
Instagram - @james.mccrone
Twitter - @jamesmccrone4
Facebook - @FaithlessElector


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