2019 Silver Falchion Candidate



Better Days

Treachery in Tuscany

By Len Joy
Independently Published
ISBN 978-1717911421
Publication Date: September 2018

Better Days

Review by Kathryn Lane


Better Days by Len Joy, peppered with humor, is an exciting and entertaining novel. The lead character Darwin Burr, a legendary high-school basketball champion, indirectly reminds me of Rick Blaine in Casablanca in the sense that both men are the epitome of the anti-hero. Darwin avoids taking responsibility for anything beyond his cushy job and family life. That’s where the comparison to Casablanca ends.

Darwin is married to a woman who chides him about his inherent laziness. Manager of an auto parts distribution center and working for his best friend, Darwin’s primary responsibility is pairing up as golf partner with his flamboyant, wheeler-dealer boss – Billy Rourke. Executives of auto parts companies entertain Billy lavishly, and Billy always brings Darwin along, adding stress to Darwin’s marriage. The two men have been friends since their high school days.

Darwin’s wife, Daina, who escaped from Latvia when she was nineteen, expects Dar, as his friends call him, to live the American Dream of getting ahead and making money. Darwin is quite content managing the distribution center and playing golf with Billy.

When it comes to sports, Dar’s heart is in basketball. And it’s Billy’s enthusiastic and charming recounting of the story of Claxton wining the Illinois state basketball championship in ’75 that keeps Dar’s legendary status alive. Billy, in contrast to Dar, is a bigger than life character. Or at least wants to be!

Billy is into everything, including making money on the side. He always counts on his friend and ally Darwin to sign off on the legal documents of his risky deals, a pattern that eventually lands them an FBI investigation.

That’s when Dar’s life begins to unravel. At the same time, he’s asked to step in and help coach his daughter’s varsity basketball team, saving Dar’s sanity from the craziness at work and the FBI probe. But soon complications set in as he falls for the young substitute coach, not much older than his teenage daughter.

Daina, a social worker, contributes her own problems when she brings home a teenage girl from a dysfunctional family who is also the star on the basketball team Dar is coaching. As this young woman walks into the Burr household, so do her problems. By protecting the young woman, Daina’s past emerges, including secrets she has kept hidden from Dar.

A novel with strong characters, each with a unique voice, will captivate you and keep you turning the pages to figure out if Billy is guilty, if Dar is implicated, and what will happen to the Burr family. Will Dar’s anti-hero attitude change him when serious issues arise? Or will he continue down his path of least resistance?  


Treachery in Tuscany

By Phyllis Gobbell
Encircle Publications, LLC
ISBN 978-1893035973
Publication Date: January 2018


Treachery in Tuscany

Review by Joy Gorence

Treachery in Tuscany is a novel that captures the essence of Florence and the countryside, which helps to enhance the plot and its subplots. The description “south of the Arno River” effortlessly transports the reader to the “piazzas dominated by the magnificent churches, Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella, the Piazza della Signoria with its old Town Hall, and the Medici family’s palace…”. Even the lines for the tour and walk up the stairs to the Duomo are essential for evoking a taste of the city of Florence.  However, it is the last statement, “And that was how I would think of Sophia Costa—Sophie—even when nightmares blurred my memories”  that ends the first chapter and entices the reader to continue. The novel keeps one riveted to uncovering the mystery of the Sophia’s murder and her connection with the other characters in the book. With a steady pace that builds tension in the plots and subplots, all questions are answered except for the Bella’s actions that are the catalyst for Jordon and Paul’s conflict.

Retired judge Bill Hopkins is from Missouri. His poems, short-stories, non-fiction, and plays have appeared in different venues. Bill is a member of Sisters In Crime, Horror Writers Association, Heartland Writers Guild, and SEMO Writers Guild. He and his wife Sharon Woods Hopkins (also a mystery writer) live in Marble Hill. COURTING MURDER was Bill’s first novel in the Judge Rosswell Carew series. The second novel RIVER MOURN won first place in the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-Me Best Book Awards in 2014. THE ANGEL SPOKE MURDER, the latest and seventh novel, was published in 2019.

Kathryn Lane Kathryn Lane, originally from Mexico, is the author of the Nikki Garcia Thrillers. Waking Up in Medellin won “Best Fiction Book of the Year-2017” at Killer Nashville’s International Mystery Writers’ Conference. Coyote Zone won First Place in the Action-Adventure category in the “Latino Books into Movies” award announced in December 2018. Kathryn also wrote, Backyard Volcano and Other Mysteries of the Heart, a collection of short stories named “Best Short Story Collection-2018” by Killer Nashville.