Tag Archives: James Swain

‘No Good Deed,’ by James Swain

The second book in James Swain’s intriguing Lancaster and Daniels series has now been released. No Good Deed is well worth your time and money.

Former Navy Seal and cop Jon Lancaster, and FBI agent Beth Daniels, are not officially a team, but once again they end up working together. Jon works for The Adam Project, a group devoted to finding kidnapped children. When he learns of the abduction of a teenaged girl in a small Florida town, he cancels a fishing vacation to see if he can help. And he does – he discovers a clue suggesting that the missing girl was not the kidnappers’ real target. They wanted her grandmother, who was murdered at the scene, but things didn’t go according to plan.

This links the crime to a string of abductions of adult women across the state. That brings in the FBI, and Lancaster and Daniels meet again – awkwardly. They’d had a couple dates after their last case, but then Daniels stopped answering his calls. They like and respect each other, and share a passion for their work, but their approaches are different. Lancaster is all about the objective – he’ll cut corners to save a life, without hesitation. Daniels needs to do things by the book. Cooperating with Lancaster will mean compromising her standards and breaking FBI regulations. Can she justify enabling Lancaster? Can she justify not enabling him? Each of them will learn the others’ darkest secrets, and share their own, before they solve the case.

No Good Deed is an exciting story, well told. Christianity gets a couple favorable mentions. I liked it. Cautions for language and intense situations.

‘Grift Sense,’ by James Swain

When it came to bad relationships, he had no equal, and Valentine couldn’t help but like him, even though he liked practically nothing about him.

James Swain writes novels about cheating in the gambling world, based on the expertise of a magician. I took a chance on Grift Sense, the first book in his Tony Valentine series, because I thought it might be interesting to peek into that world.

Tony Valentine is a former Atlantic City cop who knows just about everything there is to know about gambling cheats. He’s retired in Florida now, but casino owners still send him surveillance tapes, so he can study them and identify some particularly clever scam.

He gets a request from Nick Nicocropolis, who owns the Acropolis casino in Las Vegas, once a premiere venue, now aging and on its last legs. A guy has come in twice and won big. Too big for the odds. And the video offers no explanation for his “luck.” Tony doesn’t care for Nick much, but he accepts his offer to fly out to Sin City for two reasons – one is the challenge. The other is to avoid his estranged son Gerry, whom he wants to avoid just now.

Tony will learn, after a lot of looking, that Nick has a bigger problem than just a single card shark. Something major is being planned, a crime that will shake Vegas and destroy Nick – unless Tony can stop it.

There was a lot to like in Grift Sense. Author Swain plots with the instincts of a sleight-of-hand artist, equipped with big surprises up his sleeve. He’s also a good writer, capable of turning out a pretty good sentence. His characters are interesting and layered.

But I won’t be reading any more. I find that I just don’t like the world of gambling. It’s full of predators, and cynicism is the only sensible attitude. The nicest, most sympathetic people are either victims or con artists. I feel no desire to revisit that world.

You might have a different response. If so, this is a pretty good book.

‘The Program,’ by James Swain

James Swain’s Jack Carpenter series continues – sort of – in The Program. It’s not strictly a Jack Carpenter book though, as Jack only appears a couple times. This adventure belongs to a secondary character in the previous books – FBI agent Ken Linderman. Linderman runs the FBI’s Miami Abducted Children office. His work is motivated by his own unfinished business – his teenaged daughter was abducted, and her fate remains unknown.

A serial killer has been murdering women – mostly prostitutes – by cutting their throats. However, that killer has now been forensically linked to a pair of abductions of young boys, who were later found shot in the head. Now a third boy has disappeared.

Serial killers don’t generally change their game plans in this fashion. Ken teams up with Rachel Vick, an ambitious young FBI agent, to try to identify and stop this killer, whom they call Mr. Clean. Their trail leads to an even more dangerous figure – an incarcerated serial killer with a brilliant mind and a plan for escaping and commencing a new round of atrocities.

The Program was the kind of book that keeps my interest, but makes me uncomfortable. I have some trouble handling stories where I spend substantial time inside the minds of very evil people, and in the minds of imprisoned victims. Such episodes were limited here, but I did sometimes have trouble getting back to the book for that reason. I should mention that, unlike most of Swain’s books, this one included a fairly explicit sex scene (actually a rape scene) which made me uncomfortable. The scene was, however, pretty necessary to the plot. So I don’t blame it, but I think you should be warned.

There was an inordinate number of typos in this book. It’s been released solely as an e-book, and shortcuts appear to have been taken.

I found the ending (mostly) highly satisfactory. So I do recommend The Program, if you bear my cautions in mind.

‘The Night Monster,’ by James Swain

I have seen the dead more times than is healthy. One thing I’ve learned from the experience: The dead don’t talk, but they do scream.

I’m continuing with James Swain’s interesting Jack Carpenter series. Jack is a former Broward County, Florida, police detective, once head of their missing persons unit. Now he makes a marginal living as a private eye, specializing in missing children. He lives above a bar. His marriage has broken up, but he’s still friendly with his wife and college-aged daughter. He has a dog, an Australian Shepherd named Buster.

Years ago, when he was in uniform, Jack blew the opportunity one day to stop a gigantic kidnapper who nearly killed him, and disappeared with a young girl, who was never found again. It was that experience that left him obsessed with finding kids.

At the beginning of The Night Monster, Jack gets a call from his daughter, who is on a university basketball team. A creepy guy has been following her team around, filming them with a cell phone. When Jack intercepts the guy after a game, he finds himself attacked by a familiar form – the very giant who nearly killed him when he was a rookie. Again, Jack barely gets away with his life. But the creepy stalker and his giant partner make off with a prize – one of Jack’s daughter’s teammates, the daughter of a very rich man.

This time, Jack is determined to find the giant, and end a string of abductions going back years. The investigation (bankrolled by the victim’s father) will take him to a closed state mental hospital with a dark secret, and to a quiet Florida town with a secret even weirder.

Pretty good thriller. Like the other books in the series, The Night Monster keeps the tension high and ramps it up. The language is relatively mild for the genre. Some of the situations are disturbing. But the storytelling is tops, and the surprises really surprising. Recommended.

‘The Night Stalker,’ by James Swain

Five minutes later, a cruiser pulled up in front of LeAnn Grimes’s house with its bubble light flashing. It contained the classic mismatch of uniformed officers; a crusty male veteran, and an inexperienced young female. The pairing worked great on TV cop shows; in real life it created nothing but friction.

Book 2 in James Swain’s Jack Carpenter series. In The Night Stalker, Abb Grimes, a convicted serial killer on Florida’s death row, nearing execution, calls Jack – who helped put him away – to ask for a favor. His grandson has been kidnapped, he says. The police think his son snatched the boy himself, but Abb says that’s not true. Someone has taken the boy and is threatening to kill him unless Abb keeps silent about certain things he knows.

Jack is impressed by Abb’s appeal, and agrees to look into it. He will clash with old fellow cops and rivals, and discovers long-buried secrets and cover-ups. As in all James Swain’s books, the suspense never lets up as Jack (assisted by his faithful Australian Shepherd dog) races the clock to learn the truth.

Fun book. I found it interesting that a couple characters are described as born-again Christians, and their conversions are seen as valid and good things. I don’t know whether author Swain himself is a believer (he also writes occult fiction), but at least he respects Christianity.

He does, however, promote the false message of “always follow your heart.”

The language is relatively mild, but there are intense scenes and descriptions. Fun and recommended.

‘Midnight Rambler,’ by James Swain

The King Tides, which I reviewed last night, is the first book in a new series by James Swain. But he has an earlier series – which is oddly almost identical in character, setting, and themes – and Midnight Rambler is its first volume.

Jack Carpenter, the series hero, is a former Fort Lauderdale police detective. He used to be in charge of Missing Persons, until he resigned (or was fired, stories vary) after beating up a suspect. Now he works as a private eye, searching for lost children.

The book starts with a neat little story where Jack locates a lost child. But soon he gets shocking news. The murderer he beat up, Simon Skell the “Midnight Rambler,” who was convicted anyway, is now appealing for release. The body of one of the Midnight Rambler’s victims has been found (the first to be found). His lawyer claims this proves his client is innocent. Skell will be released if Jack can’t discover the truth in a couple days.

The cops don’t trust him, and the press doesn’t believe him. And as he hunts, Jack realizes the Midnight Rambler crimes were more than a one-man show. Many lives will be at risk if he can’t learn the truth, fast.

I’m enjoying James Swain’s books quite a lot. I wouldn’t rank him up there with Connelly or Sandford, but he writes good, solid stories. (The plots veer into the improbable at times, but that’s how it is with thrillers.) The language in the books is fairly tame (sometimes, for instance, he uses “crummy” where I’d expect a real-life character to use a saltier word), and when Christianity or the Bible are mentioned, they get respect.

I recommend Midnight Rambler, with cautions for disturbing situations involving sexual perversion.

‘The King Tides,’ by James Swain

James Swain is an author I haven’t read before. But he turns out a good story. The King Tides grabbed me from the first page, and kept my interest as few books have in a while.

Jon Lancaster is the hero. He’s a former cop and Navy Seal who now works as an unlicensed private eye in Fort Lauderdale, specializing in finding missing children. Instead of charging his clients a fee, he asks them to buy him something – a refrigerator, or a set of silverware or something. That way, he says, he’ll always remember them as individuals. (Author Swain has also made an interesting – and puzzling – choice in giving Lancaster a big stomach. It’s the result of a congenital condition, he explains. He’s not overweight, and is in excellent shape.)

At the beginning of the book Lancaster makes a quick rescue in Melbourne, Florida (I mention that because I used to live near Melbourne). Then he gets called in by a family whose daughter has not disappeared – yet. 15-year-old Nicki Pearl is beautiful and seems innocent. But wherever she goes men are following her, carrying their cell phones. And today somebody tried to kidnap her.

About half-way through the book Lancaster connects with FBI agent Beth Daniels, a one-time abduction victim herself (it appears they’ll be a team from here on out). Together they uncover a vicious ring of human traffickers and child pornographers, protected by some very dangerous people.

I didn’t consider The King Tides among the best-written novels I’ve read, but author Swain knows how to grab the reader and keep him riveted to the story. I enjoyed reading this book immensely, and look forward to the next installment.

Cautions for language and some very disturbing accounts of sexual abuse.