Escapist Reading – a page-turner for your consideration

Since I follow literary news for the links I post on my Facebook Author’s Page,  I have been seeing multiple reviews and book lists being circulated as good reading while we’re quarantined. Some of the books are suggested to help us cope and understand. Others are suggested to help us escape.

The Last Second by Catherine Coulter and J. T. Ellison is a sharply plotted adventure pitting the good guys against the bad guys in a scenario in which the world might end. This book is the sixth in the authors’ “A Brit in the FBI” series which began in 2013 with The Final Cut.

Coulter, of course, is widely known for her FBI series of thrillers that began with The Cove in 1996 and recently features The Labyrinth (2019). I’ve read most, if not all of both series, and have enjoyed the new ideas and new plots we’ve seen with a British character.

Both series feature re-curring characters, so as you read you learn more and more about them; this provides more depth than most stand-alone FBI, police, and black ops thrillers.

I haven’t finished The Last Second, so I don’t know yet if the world as we know it will end with a nuclear-triggered electromagnetic pulse (EMP) or not. Whatever happens, it’s taking my thoughts away from the pandemic for a while.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Special Investigative Reporter, Sarabande, The Sun Singer, At Sea, Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Washerwoman, and Lena. Click on my name above to find these books on my Amazon page.


‘Whisper of the River’: stumbling across an old friend

Sometimes it happens in a bar or on a city street or maybe in a country far away, but there’s little that’s as simultaneously dangerously new and horrifyingly déjà vu as suddenly stumbling across an old friend. They’re the same as they were and yet they’re not, and during all the capsulized updates about everything the two of you have done “since then,” the mind struggles to understand just who this old friend is at this moment.

Now, suppose this old friend is a book, in my case, one that’s sat on my shelf almost unobserved for 36 years.

Ferrol Sams, the Georgia doctor who suddenly appeared in bookstores and the press in the 1980s when he published his first novel at 60, writes in richly detailed prose that accurately captures a depression-era age far away. He’s best known for his somewhat autobiographical Porter Osborn trilogy Run with the Horsemen, The Whisper of the River, and When All The World Was Young.

Looking for something to read last night, I pulled The Whisper of the River off the shelf last night and thought about the positive impact his trilogy had on me when I first read the books. I wondered if I’d be disappointed and decide after a few chapters that the book hadn’t aged well.

But I’m enjoying the book. That’s a relief almost even though I’ve changed and the book has not.

Publisher’s Description: Young for his class and small for his age, Porter Osborne, Jr., leaves his rural Georgia home in 1938 to meet the world at Willingham University, armed with the knowledge that he has been “Raised Right” in the best Baptist tradition. What happens over the next four years will challenge the things he holds infallible: his faith, his heritage, and his parents’ omniscience. As we follow Porter’s college career, full of outrageous pranks and ribald humor, we sense a quiet, constant flow toward maturity. Peppered with memorable characters and resonant with details of place and time, The Whisper of the River is filled with the richness of spirit that makes great fiction.

Quotation: “If she hears anything, it’s tambourines, and nobody can march to them. You can’t do anything but dance to tambourines, and the likes of us will never catch the rhythm.”

Even though I’ve inadvertently started in the middle of the trilogy, I think I’ll stick with the book and then read the two others soon afterwards. I expect they’ll also be as good as I remember them.


Now folks can write but they aren’t (hmm)

But are you writing? I noted several remarks online where people are saying they are too worried and frantic to sit and write. They’re anchored to 24-hour news, waiting for the latest body count and what’s happening next.

So. . . let me get this straight. . . when things are busy and normal, you don’t have time to write. Then things are abnormal and locking you at home, you can’t make yourself write.  – Hope Clark

Wikipedia Graphic

It’s really an understatement to say that COVD-19 has disrupted a lot of things. We’re all curious about potential lockdowns and potential vaccines. But sitting in front of a 24-hour news channel watching for updates not only seems like a waste of time, but is the kind of behavior that probably creates more hysteria than what the nation is already coping with.

Frankly, I’m a little tired of people asking why we didn’t have 100000000 testing kits (much less a cure) in stock for a disease nobody knew anything about prior to December. I guess people are watching too many medical dramas on TV and are used to health issues that are solved within an hour.

I agree with Hope Clark, assuming that lockdowns aren’t making us broke or sticking us in long lines to buy toilet paper, we can use our self-quarantines and social distancing to get some other stuff done: tidy up the garden, clean out the garage, finish that novel.


Many of Thomas-Jacob Publishing’s Kindle editions are on sale throughout March for 99₵. The sale includes two of my novels, “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Special Investigative Reporter.”


Special Investigative Reporter: it will make you happier during these blue times

A message from your sponsor (AKA, me)

On sale for 99 cents:

This novel is just what you need to get through these difficult times. Why? It’s about an old-style reporter who’s not afraid to say what he thinks even though a lot of what he thinks isn’t politically correct.

From the publisher: In this satirical and somewhat insane lament about the fall of traditional journalism into an abyss of news without facts, Special Investigative Reporter Jock Stewart specializes in tracking down Junction City’s inept and corrupt movers and shakers for his newspaper The Star-Gazer. Since Stewart is not a team player, he doesn’t trust anyone, especially colleagues and news sources. Stewart, who became a reporter back in the days when real newsmen were supposed to smoke and drink themselves to death while fighting to get the scoop before their competition sobered up, isn’t about to change. Stewart’s girlfriend leaves him, the mayor’s racehorse is stolen, people are having sex in all the wrong places (whatever that means), and townspeople have fallen into the habit of sneaking around and lying to reporters and cops. Sure, everyone lies to the cops, but reporters expect gospel truths or else. Stewart may get himself killed doing what he was taught to do in journalism school, but that’s all in a day’s work.

I like this novel because the main character, Jock Steward, says what I would say if I could get away with it. Let’s just say its a comedy with a bite.


Conjure Woman’s Cat is also on sale on Kindle for 99 cents.







Some novels impact me so strongly it’s hard to function

Years ago when I read Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel All Quiet on the Western Front about World War I, I couldn’t function for days because the book plunged its readers into the worst the world can offer. Dalton Trumbo’s 1939 anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun also had a strong impact on me. Such novels fit into my personal fiction category of too much to bear.

Recently, I’ve been catching up on John Hart’s novels. They are invariably dark, a label that certainly describes The Hush which I finished reading last week. The Hush is a sequel to The Last Child.

The hush is an old hush arbor, a place where slaves worshipped in secret away from the prying eyes of their owners. The slaves’ focus was Christian in orientation with many of the trappings of the religious beliefs they had in Africa.

The Hush impacted me because of the novel’s descriptions of a landscape that’s filled with magic and menace to everyone but its current owner of the 6,000-acred tract. He walks at ease through his property while everyone else becomes lost, confused, or dead.

The lives of slaves and owners are intertwined on this property and the impacts of old terrors are still active in the present day. Since Johnny Merrimon is more or less an outcast, he is blamed for everything that happens on his land. Law enforcement and others want to bring him down even though nobody can prove anything.

I am in awe of Hart’s use of landscape, myths, and stories because he has the grit to do what I cannot bring myself to do. That is, I cannot bring myself to write the kind of horror that appears in All Quiet on the Western Front, Johnny Got His Gun or the novels for which John Hart keeps winning awards. I think it takes great strength for an author to write such books without ending up in an asylum.

I agree with the Washington Post’s review: “Ambitious and surprising… an engrossing, cumulatively disturbing narrative that encompasses murder, magic, madness, betrayal and obsessive, undying love. The result is unlike anything Hart has done before.”

I just wish they’d included a warning that reading the book might kill you.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”




The Jane Hawk novels by Dean Koontz

Koontz is a careful and literate writer who knows how to create complex plots, maintain suspense, and decorate his scenes with weather and landscape imagery that synchronizes with the moods and plights of his characters.

The five-book series about a rogue FBI agent concluded with The Night Window, a book I’ve been looking forward to while patiently waiting for it to come out in paperback.

Hawk, who left the FBI after her husband’s death was ruled a suicide that she believed was murder, began a long trek to clear his name. Law enforcement is after her because they believe she’s operating off a “frontier justice model” and the people who killed her husband–a huge and secret group that’s slowly taking over the country–are after her. Everyone who’s after her is also after her child whom she has to keep hiding. By the time one gets to The Forbidden Door, it’s apparent that Hawk has nine lives and/or the skills of James Bond.

According to the Booklist starred review, “The spectacular finale to Jane’s story…will hit series fans with all the impact of a carefully calibrated hammer blow.”

Yes and no.

Had there not been so many co-opted law enforcement agencies, leaving nobody trustworthy to whom Hawk could turn over her evidence of the conspiracy, the book might have ended with a satisfying black-ops style gun battle after which the authorities take over and put the conspirators in jail. Hawk would then be interviewed on The View and other programs.

However, lacking that, the book–which still includes the nastiness of the bad guys in a tangled plot which look like lose-lose for Hawk–seems less explosive and interesting than the earlier books because there are few (if any) bad guy/Hawk confrontations. Hawk’s time is spent trying to ferret out who the conspirators are and how to expose them in a believable way.

The ending works because the how to tell the world about the conspiracy problem is aptly solved. Nonetheless, I felt a little let down because the focus became more about hacking into databases and less about kicking the shit out of the bad guys. And then, too, I kind of like Hawk and now she’s ridden off into the sunset forever.