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Thrilling Thirteen lives up to its name

'Thrilling Thirteen' includes entertaining suspense stories from 11 authors, including the Spokane area's own Frank Zafiro.
'Thrilling Thirteen' includes entertaining suspense stories from 11 authors, including the Spokane area's own Frank Zafiro.Amazon

'Thrilling Thirteen'

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Anyone in the greater Spokane area who loves mysteries, suspense novels, or two-fisted pulse pounding action-adventure stories will probably find something to love in "Thrilling Thirteen", a new ebook anthology that includes 10 complete novels, two novellas and a set of linked short stories by Spokane-area crime fiction author Frank Zafiro. The collection is available for a limited time for only $.99 from a variety of retailers such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Buying the individual books would cost about $20 after sales tax, so "Thrilling Thirteen" would be worth getting simply because it is an incredible bargain. The fact that all of the books are by talented authors who are popular on Amazon such as Gary Ponzo, Debbi Mack and Toni Dwiggins should make the collection a must-buy for suspense lovers at almost any price.

'Thrilling 13' is an incredible bargain collecting thirteen great stories that include something that should appeal to everyone in the greater Spokane area.
'Thrilling 13' is an incredible bargain collecting thirteen great stories that include something that should appeal to everyone in the greater Spokane area.Amazon.com, frankzafiro.com

In a recent interview, Zafiro said "Thrilling Thirteen" was organized by Ty Hutchinson. Hutchinson included his own novel "Russian Hill" along with a pretty diverse assortment of material. Some selections, such as "Arctic Wargame" by Ethan Jones or "Absence of Light" by Zoe Sharp are more action-oriented. Others are more character-based, such as Zafiro's "In the Shadow of El Paso" or "Look For Me" by Traci Hohenstein. There are several great books that fall somewhere in the middle such as Zafiro's "The Last Horseman" or Ponzo's crime thriller "A Touch of Deceit."

People in the Spokane area will probably consider "The Last Horseman" to be one of the highlights of the collection. It is a fast-paced, well-plotted, incredibly fun novel about a hit man who lives in Spokane and what happens when he is forced to take one last job before he hangs up his pistols. The novel's protagonist is Sandy Banks, a former police officer who used to be part of an unsanctioned hit squad called the Four Horsemen. He and three colleagues would assassinate criminals who got off on technicalities for their heinous deeds. At the beginning of the novel, he is the last of the Horsemen who is still working as a hit man and he is ready to stop killing people for a living. Unfortunately, somebody has other ideas and Sandy is forced to work for him in an attempt to save a friend's life.

"The Last Horseman" will appeal to Jason Bourne fans, readers who enjoy F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack novels and people who liked the movie "Gross Pointe Blank." Spokane residents will appreciate the way the book features familiar locations such as the Shadle Park Shopping Center or the Davenport Hotel. They may also get a kick out of seeing a hyper-competent assassin operate in Spokane's South Hill neighborhoods. However, being familiar with the Lilac City is not required to be kept on the edge of one's seat by Zafiro's ripping yarn. As Sandy uses all kinds of neat tricks to stay one step ahead of the FBI and his evil employer, readers will definitely be rooting for him even though he murders people for a living.

Readers who enjoy "The Last Horseman" will probably also love "Russian Hill." In Hutchinson's novel, an Asian-American FBI agent named Abby Kane and a police detective named Kyle Kang track down two married serial killers who are leaving bodies all over the San Francisco area. Kane eventually figures out that the killers are mutilating their victims' bodies because they are participating in some kind of deranged scavenger hunt. The book has some graphic sexual content that may be a turnoff for some readers, but hopefully that won't stop people from appreciating things like Hutchinson's characters exploring Chinatown and some of the more tourist-oriented parts of San Francisco or the way that Kane balances being an action heroine with being a single mother trying to raise two stepchildren.

The book is surprisingly fun, especially considering how many grisly murders are in it, as Kane and Kang put the pieces together and eventually end up tangling both with the serial killers and Chinese gangsters. Hutchinson clearly had a good time describing how his male and female leads embrace aspects of their culture while also having issues about Asian stereotypes, and Kane has a great, snarky sense of humor. The book also becomes more like a cool action movie as the tension rises. People who prefer the more grounded procedural elements of the story may find that a little jarring, but it works beautifully as Kane turns out to be both a pretty good hacker and an excellent kickboxer and Kang reveals a hidden talent for kung fu movie-style martial arts action. An elaborate sting operation toward the end of the book is really fun in a way that should appeal to fans of television shows such as "White Collar" or "Mission Impossible."

In a similar vein, "A Touch of Deceit" is an incredibly fun suspense novel just begging to be adapted as a movie. Readers who enjoy "The Last Horseman" and/or "Russian Hill" will definitely like Ponzo's tale about two quirky FBI agents who spearhead the efforts to stop Kurdish terrorists who are killing people on American soil. The protagonist, Nick Bracco is a brilliant investigator hampered somewhat by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms that cause him to have panic attacks at inconvenient times. With a lot of help from his gun-obsessed partner Matt McColm, Bracco does what he can to stop the attacks.

After Bracco's brother is kidnapped by the terrorists, the threats keep escalating as the bad guys randomly fire missiles at homes in every U.S. state. One of many complications along the way is that Bracco's mafia-connected cousin Tommy gets involved after the Kurds kill some family friends who were also mobsters. Tommy and his best friend Don "Silk" Silkari manage to track down and kill one of the high ranking members of the terrorist group, but that only makes things worse as their leader goes out looking for revenge.

Fans of "24" or the "Die Hard" series will appreciate both the unrelenting pace of the novel and the way Ponzo keeps the story from getting too grim by injecting a little humor into the proceedings at key moments. The author did a brilliant job of keeping his protagonist grounded and believable while also making it clear that he is the right one to be dealing with all the craziness in the story. "Thrilling Thirteen" would be worth getting just to see Bracco and McColm match wits with villains who are basically what Cobra from the old G.I. Joe cartoons might be like if they ever succeeded at doing anything.

Describing every book in "Thrilling Thirteen" would take too long, but it would be wrong to end this review without discussing the novella "Absence of Light" by Zoe Sharp. The story begins in medias res with Charlotte "Charlie" Fox, a former Special Forces soldier from Great Britain who now works as a bodyguard and security consultant, trapped beneath some wreckage after an earthquake. The story then backs up and explains how she and another person ended up facing that awful fate. Charlie had been hired to replace the former security advisor for a team of specialists helping with relief efforts in South America after the guy who used to have that job died under mysterious circumstances. She is to help them in any way she can as they try to save injured earthquake victims while quietly investigating what appears to have been a murder. It doesn't take long before Charlie cracks the case, and that places her in an awkward position where the people she is supposed to protect may be trying to kill her.

"Absence of Light" is both an excellent "play fair" mystery and a pretty thrilling action/adventure story. There are a lot of twists and turns involving stolen diamonds, a witness with partial amnesia and a helicopter pilot who may be trying to kill her and make it look like an accident. Unfortunately for the bad guys, Charlie's experience both in and out of the British army have prepared her for anything they might throw at her. Charlie is tough enough to give Rambo a run for his money and too intelligent to fall for most of the things her enemies do to keep her from finding out the truth. Charlie has a distinctive voice that makes her narration a lot of fun as she describes things such as the joys of traveling on military cargo planes and having to settle for substandard tea while out in the field. She is also awesome in practically every way anyone could think of, so it is hard not to love her as she kicks butt and takes name. Sharp lives up to her name with finely tuned prose, great dialogue and a fantastic protagonist.

People in the greater Spokane area who own Kindles or other devices that allow them to read ebooks would be wise to invest a dollar in obtaining "Thrilling Thirteen". Even if none of the stories described in this review would appeal to them, there are nine others ("In the Shadow of El Paso" for example) that they might love. "Thrilling Thirteen" is a great way to sample a lot of work by successful authors who have gotten a lot of good reviews on Amazon without having to spend more than what a doughnut costs at a Holiday convenience store. Anyone who enjoys any kind of crime fiction should check it out.