Tag Archives: James Scott Bell

‘Romeo’s Stand,’ by James Scott Bell

“I can’t do this ish,” Sam said.

“Ish?” Ira said.

“Ah, something my dad told me to say instead of the S word.”

I said, “You don’t say the S word, but you’ll shoot a man?”

“I know,” Sam said. “It’s effed up.”

“I approve of his language choices,” Ira said.

Mike Romeo, James Scott Bell’s improbable intellectual tough guy detective, is back for more fun in Romeo’s Stand, Book Five in the series.

Mike is on a passenger flight that makes an emergency landing in the Nevada desert. The woman sitting next to him has a rough landing, and he helps her get off the plane. Then she’s driven away. When Mike gets to the nearby town of Dillard, he asks about her at the hospital, and they give him the runaround.

Then a local tough guy tries to beat him up.

Then the sheriff tells him to get out of town by sundown.

This is not the way to get Mike Romeo out of your hair.

Through a series of unlikely fights, captures and escapes, Mike discovers and, working with the FBI, brings down a major criminal operation centered in Dillard. While making a couple new friends along the way.

Lots of fun. No bad language. Recommended. Maybe not as good as the earlier Romeo books, but plenty good for a summer read.

Double review: ‘Blind Justice,’ and ‘One More Lie,’ by James Scott Bell

Not that I am unemotional, but I do have a certain kind of permanent brain damage known as the “legal mind.”

Jake Denny, the hero of James Scott Bell’s Blind Justice, is a legal accident waiting to happen. Fiercely determined to succeed, he came to Los Angeles and had some success, before developing a drinking habit and suffering the breakup of his marriage. Now he’s looking at the end of the line, without work and facing eviction from his shabby little office.

Then he gets a call from the mother of Howie Patino, a childhood friend. Howie was below average in intelligence, but sweet natured and harmless. Now he’s been arrested for the brutal stabbing murder of his wife in the small town of Hinton.

Jake knows this case could be his redemption, but his confidence is gone. On top of that, Howie himself insists he’s guilty – though his story doesn’t make much sense, including the part where he says he saw the devil. Still, Jake’s the only lawyer the Patinos can afford, and he doesn’t feel he can turn them down.

When it comes to the trial, he has two seemingly invincible opponents – the small town district attorney who masterfully opposes him, and his own incompetence, fueled by alcohol. The worse things go for him, the more he drinks.

But he has a couple friends supporting him – one is his investigator, the other is Howie’s sister. They both tell him God can help him, and warn him of dark spiritual forces at work in Hinton.

There was a lot to like about Blind Justice. I personally thought the supernatural elements that got worked in (the book veers toward horror in places) were distracting and unnecessary. But I enjoyed the book overall. This is Bell, so there’s no obscenity.

Just me and a tray of cold cereal and a roll they could have picked off the ice at an L.A. Kings game. Coffee squeezed from the underside of a welcome mat after a hard rain.

I’m reluctant to tell you too much about the plot of James Scott Bell’s novella, One More Lie. There are so many surprises coming so fast that I’d spoil them for you.

Suffice it to say that Andrew Chamberlain, the hero and narrator, starts out the story on top of the world. He’s a highly successful Los Angeles lawyer with a beautiful wife and all the toys money can buy. Very suddenly his world goes to pieces – he’s accused of murder, and very neatly framed. In spite of the services of a friend who’s a top criminal lawyer, he finds himself on trial for his life. He will hit bottom hard before he begins to realize what really happened to him.

One More Lie is an engaging story, though I must tell you I figured out the last big surprise ahead of time. However, there are lots of other surprises to keep you interested.

One More Lie is, as I said, a novella. Three clever short stories are also appended, to give you your money’s worth.

It should be no surprise by now that there’s no obscenity in the book.

Double review: ‘Your Son Is Alive,’ and ‘Watch Your Back,’ by James Scott Bell

“I had to give up hope ten years ago. The hope was killing me.”

Dylan and Erin Reeve, the principal characters in James Scott Bell’s Your Son Is Alive, had a storybook life until one day 16 years ago, when their five-year-old son Kyle disappeared from a tee-ball game. No trace of him was ever found. The pain destroyed their marriage. But gradually they’ve learned to live with the sorrow. Dylan is even taking a chance on dating again.

Then, one night, he finds an envelope pushed through his mail slot. The message, written in crayon, says, “Your son is alive.” Erin gets mysterious phone calls. Is someone playing a game with them, or is this the beginning of a ransom demand, after all these years? Or both? There will be shocking surprises (some of them humdingers), and the implausible becomes very real as our heroes are thrown onto a roller coaster of re-opened emotional wounds and genuine physical danger.

I enjoyed reading Your Son Is Alive. It worked very well as a thriller, pushing all my empathy buttons. And the conclusion was satisfying.

The final revelation, though, struck me as pretty implausible. It was the sort of thing I expect more from Dean Koontz. Of course, I love it when Koontz does it. But one expects Koontz’s villains to come out of left field.

Recommended, with points deducted for believability. As usual with Bell, no obscenity.

This is how insanity starts. You get these thoughts and you let them play out and they cut a groove in your brain. If the groove gets big enough, you stay in it, like a diseased yak chained to a pole.

James Scott Bell writes pretty well in the shorter form as well as in novels. This is demonstrated in his collection, Watch Your Back, which contains a titular novella plus several short stories.

Watch Your Back is an interesting study in self-destruction, inspired by James M. Cain. Cameron Cates works for a large pension management company, doing computer security work. He makes a lot of money and is engaged to a lovely young woman. But he hates his job (though he’s good at it) and secretly chafes at the prospect of commitment in marriage.

Then a woman named Laine comes to work at his company. Laine is exotically beautiful and seductive, and Cam can’t stop thinking about her. When she shows an interest in him, he’s easy to seduce. And when she suggests a way they can become insanely rich, his resistance is as flimsy as his character. Trouble is, he doesn’t know some important things, and those things just might kill him.

Watch Your Back is a very neat Noir tale, nicely set up and paid off.

The other stories are good too. I especially enjoyed Heed the Wife, which played off an orthographic detail with which many of us who know old literature will be familiar.

Author Bell says that he published this book to explore a modern medium for re-creating the market for short stories, which died with the demise of pulp magazines. Sounds like a good idea to me. Mature themes, but no obscenity.

‘Try Fear,’ by James Scott Bell

I fired up the car and found a Denny’s on the way back to the freeway. I went to their bathroom and freshened up, as they say, and came out feeling like three bucks.

James Scott Bell wraps up his very satisfying Ty Buchanan legal thriller trilogy with Try Fear. Our hero, a very good lawyer who has dropped out of the big time, is called on to defend Carl Richess, a 6’ 5”, 250 pound alcoholic who was arrested just before Christmas for drunk driving and being a public nuisance after fleeing the police dressed only in a g-string and a Santa hat. Amazingly, Ty gets him off, hoping the man will get some help. Carl’s mother and brother are grateful.

Then there’s a murder in the family, and Ty is called to action again in the defense. But there’s more to the case than meets the eye. And the trail will lead very high in the city, indeed.

Also, somebody has been cyber-stalking Ty’s volunteer assistant, Sister Mary Veritas. Ty calls in favors to try to hunt the stalker down, but it’s kind of awkward because they’re trying to distance from one another. Sister Mary hasn’t taken her solemn vows yet, but she feels that Ty is an impediment to her calling.

It all turns out in a very warm and satisfying way, at least for me (a certain segment of Christian readers may disagree).

The Ty Buchanan trilogy is an extremely rewarding reading experience. Besides the clever mysteries, there’s a rich meta-narrative involving Ty’s spiritual journey. This is not a conversion story, but it is a pilgrimage story. And quite a good one.

Mature themes. No objectionable language.

‘Try Darkness,’ by James Scott Bell

We drank. Whatever it was, it had a gentle kick, like an eight-year-old girl soccer player.

When I reviewed Try Dying, the first novel in James Scott Bell’s Ty Buchanan trilogy of legal thrillers, I said I found it a little pallid compared to his Mike Romeo books. That was a hasty judgment. This series, I now realize, is wonderful in its own way.

Ty Buchanan, as you may recall, was a high-powered lawyer with a big Los Angeles firm. His life got turned upside down when his fiancée was killed and he himself was arrested and charged with murder. He managed to prove his innocence and identify the real killers with the help of unlikely allies – a priest and a nun, from a nearby Catholic retreat center.

Try Darkness finds Ty living a strange, transitional new life, inhabiting a little trailer at the retreat center. He’s given up his old job, and for the time being is providing legal help to the poor, operating from a table at a coffee shop. Father Bob and Sister Mary Veritas are still his best friends – except that his feelings for Sister Mary are causing both of them considerable discomfort.

Father Bob brings Ty a potential client, a woman who’s living with her daughter, Kylie, at a transient hotel. The hotel makes it a practice to evict all tenants after 28 days, which prevents being reclassified as a residential hotel, making them subject to housing regulations. The practice is illegal, but the law is rarely enforced. Ty agrees to help her sue them.

But suddenly she’s found murdered, leaving little Kylie behind. Ty, leery of handing her over to Child Protective Services, takes her to the retreat center, where the nuns welcome her immediately (except for Sister Hildegarde, the unsympathetic mother superior, whom Ty, Father Bob and Sister Mary attempt to keep in the dark as much as possible).

Ty’s investigation – as you’d expect – will bring him up against powerful and dangerous people.

What was particularly fine about Try Darkness was that it had a lot of heart. Ty is working his way through grief, and his relations with Kylie – and with Sister Mary – are opening his mind and heart to a whole new way of life.

Highly recommended. The books should be read in order. No objectionable language.

‘Try Dying,’ by James Scott Bell

He had a salt-and-pepper ponytail and L.A. eyes—trying to look cool and detached and hungry for money.

When you think about it, the thriller genre is almost ideal for Christian storytelling. A good thriller takes its hero and strips him of every comfort and illusion, forcing him to look at the plain truth unblinking.

Kind of like repentance.

James Scott Bell’s thriller, Try Dying, does a very good job of doing just that thing.

Ty Buchanan is a hotshot young L.A. lawyer. He works for a prestigious firm, owns a nice home, drives a nice car. He’s involved in a high-profile case, a lawsuit against a celebrity psychologist famous for helping people recover “repressed memories.” But best of all, he’s blissfully in love with schoolteacher Jacqueline Dwyer, to whom he’ll be married in a few days.

Then Jacqueline dies in a freak accident on the freeway.

After the funeral, he’s approached by a guy who looks homeless. He says he has information to sell him. That Jacqueline wasn’t killed in the accident. “They” killed her, he says.

When Ty presses him for more information. The man attacks him and runs off.

Ty can’t let this go. He starts hunting for the man, and trying to figure out why anyone would murder Jacqueline. Clues lead him to investigate a trendy self-help cult, one that has thugs on its payroll. But Ty won’t give up – even when he finds himself accused of murder and locked up.

This first novel in the Ty Buchanan series wasn’t as much fun as Bell’s Mike Romeo books, in my opinion, but I found it engaging and compelling. Prose, plotting, and characters were excellent. Ty’s existential crisis allows him to think about some of the the most important questions.

Highly recommended. No offensive language.

‘Last Call,’ by James Scott Bell

Keely Delmonico is a high-end call girl in Los Angeles. She does not have a heart of gold. She is, however, extremely intelligent. Enough to know that her present career has no future. She just doesn’t know what to do about that.

As James Scott Bell’s Last Call begins, one of Keely’s clients dies of a heart attack during a session. On instinct, she takes his cell phone away with her.

Her instinct is correct that the cell phone is valuable.

But she had no idea how valuable it is to certain people, and to what lengths they will go to reclaim it. Murder is just the beginning.

Keely runs to Las Vegas, to try to drop out of sight. But she’s underestimated the power of the people she’s crossed. And now she’s placed someone she cares about in mortal danger.

My reaction to Last Call was mixed. Author Bell did an excellent job ramping up the suspense. The tension was almost unbearable at times.

But plotting can be too tight. This story required some highly choreographed coincidences and deus ex machinae (is that the correct Latin plural?) to avert disaster. The plausibility suffered for this reader.

As with Bell’s other books, there is no obscene language.

The Mike Romeo novels by James Scott Bell

A bookstore is the best place to be lost. There’s always a volume to grab, and inside there may be pleasures awaiting, wisdom to be gained, or at least something to make you mad. If you’re mad, you know you’re alive, which is a good thing to know from time to time.

I’d heard of James Scott Bell (he used to write the monthly fiction column for Writer’s Digest). I had an idea he was a Christian. I also had a vague idea I’d tried one of his books and didn’t care for it. But now I don’t think I did, because I’m suddenly a fan.

I’ll admit I was skeptical of Romeo’s Rules, the first volume in his Mike Romeo series, initially. I thought it a little ham-handed, working too hard to be amusing. But I kept reading. And the more I read, the better I liked the book. And the one that followed. And so on.

Mike Romeo (not his real name) is a genius. He was admitted to Yale at 14, but left at 15 due to a personal tragedy. Then he knocked around, learning the trade of private investigator, training his body, and becoming a champion cage fighter for a while. Now he’s drifted into Los Angeles, where he’s staying with his only friend, Ira, a wheelchair-bound former Mossad agent, now a rabbi. Mike has begun to think he’s stayed in one place too long. People are hunting him, and he needs to keep moving. But life keeps holding him here.

In Romeo’s Rules, Mike is out jogging one day when a woman approaches him, asking his help in looking for her children, who have disappeared. Then a nearby church blows up. Mike goes inside to make sure the kids aren’t there, and finds a dead body. This brings attention from the police, something Mike does not want. He gets sucked into the woman’s problems – she’s trying to get custody of her children from her powerful husband, who may have kidnapped them. In any case, they’ve gone missing.

In Romeo’s Way, Mike is hired to go to San Francisco as a mole in a political campaign, working for the opponent, whom he considers a rare decent candidate. San Francisco will be everything he expected (that is, just as bad as he expected), but he will meet an interesting woman who may or may not be on his side.

In Romeo’s Hammer, Mike finds a beautiful woman on the beach, naked and disoriented, and rushes her to a hospital. Then she disappears again, and her father appears to ask Mike to look for her. The trail will lead to radical environmentalists and a cult that’s even weirder than the usual California variety.

Finally, in Romeo’s Fight, Mike gets an offer that’s hard to refuse. A big fight promoter wants him to do a major cage match for him, for a lot of prize money. Mike knows he can beat his opponent, but he desires neither the fight nor the money. However, an old friend, another fighter, is arrested for murder and begs Mike to help clear him. That involves getting involved in the fight world again, only this one will be a fight for his life.

Once I developed a taste for the Mike Romeo stories it was like eating potato chips. I devoured them one after the other. Mike is a guy who’s forever citing philosophy and mythology to people, and they never get it. I can identify with that. He was almost the perfect male fantasy character for me. There were echoes of Travis McGee and Spenser here, but the ideas were conservative.

I enjoyed these books a lot, and recommend them highly. The Christian themes are only implicit, but the books are delightfully devoid of profanity. That’s hard to do well in a realistic story, but author Bell carries it off admirably.

Tips on Becoming a Prolific Writer

Bestselling author James Scott Bell has a few good ideas about how to write well and push yourself to produce.

I was 34 years old and hadn’t written much of anything for ten years (I’d been told in college that you can’t learn how to write fiction, and since I couldn’t write fiction—fiction that was any good, anyway––I figured I just didn’t have it). So when I made the decision to finally go for it, even if I failed, I wanted to make up for lost time.

He’s produced a good bit of work since then, so here are a few ideas on increasing your writing productivity. (via Nick Harrison)