[Since I’m talking about vampire fiction this month, it seemed right to include this review, which I originally published in 2019, of a weird western film that claimed to pit one of the most famous outlaws of the American west against the legendary vampire.–BG, 10/16/2021]

Go ahead, say that title out loud. (Okay, maybe not if you’re in a public place.) “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula.” The words seem intrinsically strange together, and become even more bizarre when you know that William Bonney, the famous outlaw known as “Billy the Kid,” was shot to death by Sheriff Pat Garrett in 1881, 16 years before Bram Stoker published his Gothic novel of vampire horror, Dracula. 

Now it’s true, Stoker’s vampire was based on Vlad III Dracula, who lived in the 1400s and thus—if he had been an immortal vampire, which most reliable historians seem to feel he wasn’t—might have found his way into a showdown with the famous outlaw.

But as the film begins, it quickly becomes clear that these details do not matter after all, because Billy the Kid isn’t really Billy the Kid—the film apparently is set in some sort of alternate history in which Mr. Bonney abandoned his outlaw ways, did not run afoul of Sheriff Garrett, and instead became foreman at a ranch, where he is engaged to marry the young daughter of the ranch owner.

Careful students of the craft of storytelling may here ask the question, “Why did the writer choose to tell a story about Billy the Kid in which Billy the Kid does not act like Billy the Kid, but somebody else altogether different?” Careful students of the craft of storytelling are advised to take a stiff drink before going any further, because it is also worth noting that the vampire is not once referred to as Dracula throughout the entire film. 

So, it’s Billy the Kid vs. Dracula, except Billy the Kid isn’t Billy the Kid, and Dracula isn’t Dracula. All quite clear? Smashing! We proceed.

The film begins with the vampire, (played by John Carradine who portrayed Dracula well in the surprisingly decent film House of Dracula) descending upon a family of German immigrants traveling by wagon in the American west. He bites the young daughter of the group, but is warded off at the sight of a crucifix.

Later, the nameless vampire comes upon a stagecoach, carrying wealthy travelers towards their ranch, where, he learns, their beautiful niece Elizabeth resides. He is much taken with a picture of young Elizabeth shown to him by the travelers. When the coach stops for an evening, the vampire attacks a young Native American woman camped nearby, sparking the rage of the rest of the tribe. They assume it to be the work of the stage coach’s occupants and retaliate by killing them—allowing the vampire to assume the identity of the ranch owner and Elizabeth’s uncle, Mr. Underhill.

Meanwhile, William Bonney and young Elizabeth are playfully shooting tin cans and flirting with each other, much to the annoyance of the previous foreman, who watches jealously from afar. Apparently, being foreman also entails being Elizabeth’s lover, since apparently Billy took both positions from him at the same time.

Realizing that Elizabeth’s uncle Mr. Underhill is due to arrive in town soon, Billy rides off to meet him at the saloon. He arrives just after the vampire, posing as Underhill, has come to the saloon and taken a room. Moments later, the immigrant family arrives, still shaken by the earlier vampire attack, and are horrified when their daughter recognizes “Underhill” as the vampire who attacked her. However, he is somehow able to convince them that he is not a vampire, and, as a gesture of goodwill, allows them to take his room for the evening while he follows Billy to the Underhill ranch.

But of course, this is all a diabolical trick, and the vampire returns that night to finish the job on the poor immigrants’ daughter. Meanwhile, Billy and Elizabeth ponder the idea that there is something odd about her uncle, although what it is they can’t quite put their fingers on…


What could it be?

So, after much riding back and forth, Billy getting into a brawl with the ex-foreman, and the old immigrant woman’s attempt to keep the vampire away failing, Elizabeth is carried off into a makeshift lair the vampire has created in an abandoned mine. Billy rides there furiously, ignoring the town doctor’s advice that to defeat the vampire, he must drive a stake through his heart. Instead, in typical outlaw fashion, he tries to gun him down with his revolver. But the bullets have no effect. 

Okay, look: I know it’s absurd to complain about logic in a film called Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. But I can’t help myself. Bullets are just fast-moving, miniature stakes, right? So why shouldn’t they work on the vampire? Now, you might say, “Well, they didn’t hit his heart, so it didn’t work.” I could buy that… except that then Billy throws his gun at the vampire and hits him in the face and knocks him down!

Seriously, what is this? If being hit with bullets didn’t hurt him, why should being hit with a much slower-moving hunk of metal? I know, you all are thinking I’m being Comic Book Guy at this point, but I have a reason for talking about this, and it’s not because I’m one of those people who is going to go off and start a petition demanding that Billy the Kid vs. Dracula  be remade with proper consultation of a period firearms expert and a close-quarters combat specialist.

The reason is because it’s an important lesson for anyone who writes fiction: there are bound to be illogical things in any work of fiction. That’s a given. If there weren’t, it wouldn’t be fiction. But the important thing is that the logic must be internally consistent. We get to make up our own rules for our fictional worlds, but they must never conflict with each other. 

All right now, where was I? Oh, yes! So, Billy then stabs the vampire through the heart with the doctor’s stake, and releases Elizabeth from the spell the creature placed on her. He then carries her out of the mine, in the words of Wikipedia, “presumably to live happily ever after.” I love that use of “presumably.” Like, we think they’re going to live happily ever after, but who knows? It could be they’ll realize that they’re just two very different people who happened to get involved in this weird vampire business, gradually grow apart, and eventually come to the point where they argue over petty things like who should do the dishes before finally realizing that they need to go their separate ways.

So we’re 1,097 words into this review and you’re wondering, “Berthold, why are you even writing about this random lousy 55-year-old movie?” 

The reason is very simple: I’m fascinated by the Weird Western genre. I like westerns for the desolate desert landscapes and their frequent use of themes of loneliness and revenge, and of course, weird supernatural horror was my first love in fiction, and the combination of the two will always interest me. And so while I’ve made a huge amount of fun of the film, it’s nonetheless, in its own odd way, significant as one of the first Weird Western films. 

I mentioned the title at the beginning because I honestly think that a competent storyteller could make something interesting out of that. Make Billy the Kid be honest-to-God Billy the freakin’ Kid, the ruthless outlaw who boldly escaped from a New Mexico Jail, and have him encounter a vampire while on the run from the law, somewhere in the gorgeous New Mexico landscape. A skilled writer could spin all kinds of compelling yarns about death, murder and revenge out of that.

But, instead we got a move that shows a vampire strutting around in daylight! For shame!

That’s okay, though. They say that once you invite the vampire in, your fate is as good as sealed. And since early Weird Westerns invited the vampires west, it’s paved the way for all sorts of interesting stories to follow.

[Audio version of this post below.]

This was the first Burke book I heard of, but as it’s the second in the series, I had to read the first installment, Burke in the Land of Silver. I loved it, and eagerly anticipated reading this one.

A bit of background: Burke is like a Napoleonic-era James Bond. (I actually think he’s more like Patrick McGoohan’s “Danger Man,” but hardly anyone remembers that series.) A spy for the British who monitors and sabotages the activities of Britain’s main geopolitical enemy, France.

Unlike Land of Silver, which was based on the true story of the real James Burke, Burke and the Bedouin is a fictionalized account, though most of the major events, such as Napoleon’s army clashing with the Bedouin and the Mamelukes, and the climactic Battle of the Nile, are real, and it is no doubt true that Britain would have had men like Burke present in Egypt.

The book is a bit faster-paced than the first one, and it seemed like there were fewer characters. That’s not a negative, though; just a difference in style. This felt more like an old-fashioned desert adventure story, compared with the political intrigue and machinations of the previous entry. Fortunately, I love a good desert adventure, so that’s all to the good.

And like the previous book, there are definitely times when you have to question just who you should be rooting for. Burke is a very likable protagonist, with a clear sense of personal honor and bravery, so he seems like a straight-up hero… but then you get a scene of him torturing a young French surveyor for information, or spreading sensational lies about the French among the Bedouin. Of course, he’s not doing this randomly–he’s a soldier, in a war. Ugly stuff happens, and people just have to deal with it.

The book does a great job of conveying the sheer brutality of the era. It’s easy to romanticize the Napoleonic wars, especially if you learn it as the history of dashing, larger-than-life figures like Nelson, Wellington, and of course, the Corsican himself. The everyday reality of it was much nastier, and this book captures that well.

If you enjoyed the first one, this book is a worthy sequel. And while it is true this would work as a standalone book, I would strongly recommend reading them in order. Fans of historical fiction, spy thrillers, and adventure books alike should all check out the Burke series.

This book begins with a clever hook: the protagonist, Cassie Black, is shocked when the corpses at the funeral home where she works start coming back to life. She quickly learns the reason for this sudden re-animation is that they have “unfinished business.” At first, she’s able to help put them to rest, but when the eponymous Mr. Tenpenny returns to life, putting him at peace proves to be a daunting task that sucks Cassie into a whole parallel world of magic and mystery.

The book is very much in the tradition of fantasy novels like Alice in WonderlandHarry Potter, etc. (There are a few references to the latter throughout.) It’s the classic setup of a seemingly ordinary person who finds themselves in another society where they are of immense importance. From there it’s Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Quest, through and through, but Cassie narrates her adventures with a smart-aleck, macabre sense of humor. The book is suffused with dark humor, of the sort at which Painter excels. 

Cassie can be a little difficult; I won’t lie. There are times when her anti-social personality and paranoia make her tough to relate to. Although, as is explained in her backstory, she’s had a hard life, shuffled among various foster families that treated her quite badly, so it makes sense she would be this way. And eventually, her instincts do point her in the right direction. (Sort of.)

I actually enjoyed the “real” world of everyday Portland most of all; it felt very vivid and interesting. I especially liked the officious government inspector who is investigating the funeral home where Cassie works, suspecting, (quite correctly) that something is amiss.

That reminds me: this is book one in a series, and it ends on a cliffhanger. So, there are a lot of threads that remain to be tied up in future volumes, and I look forward to seeing where it all goes. It’s a fun read for anyone who enjoys fast-paced, somewhat snarky, somewhat twisted fantasy adventures.

[This review is based on an ARC. The Undead Mr. Tenpenny releases today, February 23, 2021.]

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all! I started this year with the goal of posting a book review every Friday, and as this is the last Friday of the year, I’m going to recap them all. Since many of these are available as e-books that can be instantly delivered, you might find a truly last-minute gift on here! The covers are in the slideshow above.

In January I reviewed Joy Spicer’s coming-of-age fantasy novel The Cursed Gift, a story full of adventure and magic. Next was part two of Lorinda J. Taylor’s epic science-fiction series The Man Who Found Birds Among The Stars, Wounded Eagle. More sci-fi followed with The Secha by Dawn Trowell Jones and The First Protectors by Victor Godinez. (For Vintage Sci-Fi Month, I also reviewed Asimov’s classic Caves of Steel.) The month finished up with Kevin Brennan’s Eternity Began Tomorrow, a novel which presented an alternate vision of 2020 that ended up being less bizarre and more logical than the real one.

February kicked off with Shady Acres, a collection of short stories by Mark Paxson. For Valentine’s Day, I reviewed Isabella Norse’s medieval fantasy romance Assassin’s Heart, and followed that up with A.C. Flory’s science-fiction novel Vokhtah and volume two of Nicky Drayden’s Delightfully Twisted Tales.

In March I first went with more sci-fi with G.J. Scobie’s Small Print and then delved into a mad world of disturbing, madcap weirdness with the hilarious, unsettling and profoundly unusual Hyperlink from Hell by Lindy Moone. To try and reacquaint myself with sanity, I next reviewed Jackson Banks’ humorous non-fiction I Put Pants on for This? and then more sci-fi with L.E. Henderson’s Binary Boy.

April started off with C.S. Boyack’s weird western adventure Panama and Jason Abbott’s short story Harvest. (For those keeping score, Harvest was a non-Friday review, allowing me to maintain an average of one review per Friday.) Because I’d been leaning heavily on sci-fi and fantasy, I varied things with a review of Jennifer Kelland Perry’s literary drama, Calmer Girls. After that, a trip to the world of mythology with Tammie Painter’s short story Testing the Waters and a humorous mystery novel, Sweet and Sour by T.L. Dyer.

For May 1st–a date with some spiritual significance in folklore–I reviewed Joy Spicer’s Moon Goddess, a book that teems with references to mythology and mysticism. After that, Laurie Boris’ dramedy The Joke’s on Me, and Geoffrey Cooper’s latest Brad and Karen medical thriller Forever. Then–because I can never stay away from sci-fi too long–Henry Vogel’s sword and planet adventure Scout’s Honor and the science-fiction/fantasy conspiracy YA thriller, The Adventures of Sarah Ann Lewis and the Memory Thieves by Joshua C. Carroll.

June saw me review Abbie Evans’ glorious swashbuckling comic fantasy The Gossamer Globe, a truly clever book which is still free on Kindle! Next was the compelling philosophical short story IHU by Cliff Hays and then more Henry Vogel with The Fugitive Heir, before concluding the month with Tammie Painter’s macabre and darkly comic A Feast for Sight.

July began with a bang–specifically, Meteor Strike, the first book in Pat Prescott’s re-released Fan Plan series. As a bonus, I did a Wednesday review of another Henry Vogel book, Hart for Adventure, before proceeding on to the delightful cozy mystery The Cruise Ship Lost My Daughter by Morgan Mayer. Since I tend to favor fiction over non-fiction when it comes to what I review, I again varied things by reviewing the non-fiction Close to Perfect, which is a transcription of a conversation among three indie authors: Kevin Brennan, Dan DeLong and Karen Choi. (Sadly no longer available.) I then reviewed John Brunner’s 1974 novel Total Eclipse, which is not an indie book but is still very interesting. The month closed with the fast-paced horror adventure Hannah the Huntress by Saul Bishop.

For August, I realized I had been giving short shrift to the romance genre, and attempted to atone by reviewing Sha Renée’s Forbidden Kisses. That was followed by the long-awaited second book in the wonderful Carrie Rubin’s Ben Oris series, The Bone Hunger, a pulse-pounding medical thriller. A weird western, Terror Beneath Cactus Flats by Seth Tucker was next, followed by Lydia Schoch’s Tumble. I closed the month out with a review of the ancient Chinese epic, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, volume one.

September began with yet more sci-fi in E.A. Wicklund’s The Huralon Incident, and then Joy Spicer’s fairytale re-telling The Spellbound Spindle. Since summer officially ends in September, I had to review Em Leonard’s collection of weird stories set in amusement parks, Summer’s Over before returning to check in on Lorinda Taylor’s Capt. Nikalishin in part three of the series, Bird of Prey.

October is, of course, my favorite month, and I’d done enough reviews that I could pause and kick-off the month with some recommendations for the Halloween season. The rest of the month, I dedicated to Halloween-themed books, beginning with Alex Vorkov’s excellent sci-fi horror adventure All the Colors of The Deadfollowed by Mae Clair’s evocative mystery set in the Mothman-haunted river town of Point Pleasant A Thousand Yesteryears. Jason H. Abbott’s Angel: A Short Story of the Un-Dead was next, and I was delighted to be able to cap my favorite month with a review of Audrey Driscoll’s sublime collection of weird fiction Tales from the Annexe, a true must-read for any fan of horror.

November began with a return to Abbie Evans’ Gossamer series with The Gossamer Power. For Friday the 13th I reviewed Hank Bruce’s book of western stories with ironic twists, Cowboy Karma. For Thanksgiving I reviewed George Plimpton’s classic football book Paper Lion and finished the month off with D. Wallace Peach’s fantasy novel Liars and Thieves.

For December, I took an imaginary trip to 19th century South America with Tom Williams’ Napoleonic spy novel Burke in the Land of Silver, followed by Noah Goats’ collection of speculative short stories An Assortment of Rejected Futures and finally Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel Dune, which I reviewed on the day when the upcoming film adaptation was originally scheduled to debut.

I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had reading all these books, and even more reading your comments on my reviews. I’ve even been lucky enough to hear from some readers who checked them out on my recommendation. It always makes me happy to hear that someone enjoyed a book they learned about through this site.

Most of these are indie books, which I find are the most fun to review, because they are different, and because fewer people have heard of them. And after all, how can I reasonably expect anyone to try my books, if I’m not willing to try indie books myself?

Looking back over this list, I realized that I do tend to lean towards sci-fi more than I had really been aware. I’ll try to be more balanced in the future. 

Although… January is Vintage Sci-Fi Month… so no promises. 🙂

But for now–Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and here’s to a Happy New Year!

Oh, and one more thing: my long short story 1NG4 is free on Kindle today. I came up with the idea for it on Christmas two years ago, so it seemed like a good way to celebrate. 

Ten years ago today, when I was still on Blogger, I welcomed Pat Prescott as a follower. We’ve followed each other ever since, and had many interesting discussions about art, history, literature and politics, and he’s given me invaluable advice on my writing. He also taught me about the Peterloo massacre, the origin of the word “geek,” and introduced me to the wonderful film The Fifth Element.

Pat’s contribution to this blog, in the form of his many comments over the years, is incalculable. Check out his own blog, and his books. (Vander’s Magic Carpet is my personal favorite.)

Here’s to many more, Pat!


“Big ol’ storm’s rollin’ in,” Sandra noted after the thunder subsided. “Anyway, you were tellin’ us about this Eidolon thing.”

Charlie nodded importantly. “No one knows what it is. It’s invisible, but you can feel it coming, because it knocks out the power when it does. Old Doyle, the weekend guard, swears it’s a failed experiment with nanobots. He figures the nanites were given the programming of a hush-hush prototype network-distributed crime-fighting artificial intelligence they’d been working on in R&D, and they went nuts. Now they roam the factory in a swarm, killing anyone they find.”

“Uh huh. So what’s this got to do with the night you found Mr. Lurge?”

“Well, I was at my station up front, just doing my usual. I thought I heard noises back here and but figured it was just Samuel. I was looking at some, uh, pictures—security footage, that was it—when I looked up and out the window.  That’s when I saw the parking lot lights going out—first they’d flicker, and then they’d pop out. When my desk lamp started doing the same thing. I knew it had to be the Eidolon coming.”  He nodded with great seriousness.

“And you realized since it was coming across the parking lot, your best bet was to retreat into the factory,” Venus finished.

Charlie blinked a few times. “Yeah… that’s right. How’d you know?”

“We’re detectives,” said Venus.

“Oh, yeah…”

“So, Charlie, let’s all go into the factory. Ms. Darcy and I will go first, make sure the coast is clear, then you can show us where you found Mr. Lurge, and we’ll clear out, okay?”

“You’ll go first?” he said, his cocky manner starting to return. “I’ll keep watch on the rear.”

Sandra again fought the urge to roll her eyes. Some security guard, she thought to herself.

“Let’s get going,” Venus said blandly.

“Well, okay. But I’ve gotta warn you: there’s no telling what’ll show up in there. You know, there have been teams of pro ghost hunters that come to investigate this place, and you know what?”

“They were all killed by ghosts, providing hard evidence of a spirit world which somehow has still received no attention from the media?” Sandra snapped.

“Uh, no… not that.”

“Didn’t think so, actually.”

“But they recorded these freaky noises! Here,” he pulled his phone from his pocket and tapped a few times, then held the device up for Sandra and Venus to see.

On the screen was displayed green-tinted night vision footage of a bearded man standing in the beam of a strong light, throwing an eerie halo around him as he walked through what appeared to be an endless black abyss.

“They say this is where the old floor manager was burned alive by the robot’s cannons,” the man on the screen was saying. “It’s pretty spooky, I can tell you. It feels like there’s something here. We’re lucky our equipment works down here, the energies in this place can disrupt electronic devices. Our cell phones have been on the fritz since we got here.”

From his pocket, the bearded man took a small rectangular device and held it up to the air.  “Let’s see what our proprietary ectoplasmic aural spectrometer can detect.” After a few moments, he lowered the device and pressed a button on the side. It began to playback a weird series of noises which resembled badly-garbled speech, as if spoken on a radio frequency full of interference.

“Do you hear that?” He said. “It’s saying ‘get away,” isn’t it?”

He played the noise back several times: “Get away! Get away! Get away!” it said, and though still garbled, each time it seemed clearer and clearer.

“The human ear can’t detect the cries of lost souls,” the man concluded, “But our devices detect the frequencies from the planes beyond, of spirits stuck between this world and the next.”

The clip ended there, and Charlie gave a firm nod towards his phone, as if to say, “I told you so.”

“That was recorded on the factory floor just about a year ago,” he said. 

“Okay, good,” said Sandra. “Come on, enough stalling; let’s get this over with. How do you turn the lights on in here?” She stepped through the huge doorway and into the cavernous room beyond. Although in the darkness she could see only a few feet ahead, the echoing of her footsteps told her the room was vast indeed. 

“You don’t,” said Charlie.


“You don’t turn the lights on. The old man took out the wiring years ago; he said he didn’t want to waste the money. During the day, enough light comes in that you can see pretty good.”

“And at night?”

“No one’s supposed to go in here at night; except for ghost hunts, and those happen in the dark anyway.”

“It’s okay,” Venus said, “Sandra; I think my eyes’ll adjust pretty well, if you want to hang back, I’ll go with him—”

Oh, so you can take the credit? Sandra thought. “I’ve got a flashlight; I’ll be fine, c’mon, let’s go.”

Sandra flicked on the beam of light and the three walked into the room. More muffled rumbling from outside indicated the storm was drawing near. Sandra flicked the beam of her light from left to right; inspecting the surroundings. Dilapidated conveyer belts and welding arms sat on the left; on the right, massive rust-covered hooks, designed for loading the finished products into government trucks, hung ominously from chains that disappeared into the blackness above. At irregularly-spaced intervals were pyramidal stacks of cardboard boxes, all labeled “Fragile” and some “Top Secret.” Every few yards, mounted about nine feet up the grey, featureless wall, were inoperative, bulb-less light fixtures, and just below these, small silver disks resembling smoke detectors. The room was cold—clearly, Lurge had not been any more willing to pay for heat than he had for light—and the total absence of the reassuring white noise found in almost all buildings made it feel even more remote and empty. 

Eventually, the narrow cone of Sandra’s flashlight fell upon something that made all three stop at once, and Charlie yelped with a noise halfway between terror and excitement as he crashed into Venus’ back. She pushed him away, and all three stared at the thing before them.

It was huge, at least 7 feet in height, and in the general build of its frame, resembled a massive ape. This was by design; it was meant to instill fear by conjuring the genetic memories of great menacing beasts. But where an ape would have had curved muscle, soft flesh, and fur, this figure was outfitted with sharp, angular points of metal—one arm terminating in a long cylinder pockmarked with holes, and the opposite limb in a serrated blade nearly two feet long. Its blocky legs were bent as if it were poised to spring upon its prey, and on its shoulders sat what, by analogy to organic bipeds, might be called its head; a silvery metal cube, covered with thin wire mesh. This appendage was small in comparison to the rest of the armored monster, and if the rest of the figure were not so manifestly intimidating, might have appeared comical.

“Wow, a genuine combat infantry bot,” Venus whispered. 

“More like fifty genuine combat infantry bots,” Sandra said, shining her light behind the figure, revealing more identical forms assembled behind it, in a long, perfectly-spaced line; soldiers standing eternal guard at their posts.

“Technically, these are assault bots,” Charlie with some self-importance. “The way you can tell is that they have more armor in the chest and shoulder areas than a standard infantry bot. These are for storming fortified positions, whereas the typical infantry bot—”

Venus and Sandra simultaneously glared at Charlie in a way that clearly communicated to him that further details regarding the different attributes and uses of war robots were not required at this time.

“Is this where you found Lurge?” 

“Er, yeah; just about. He was…” Charlie looked at the floor and held up his hands as if to measure, pointing to a spot some three yards from the clawed feet of the first robot in line. “…right about here. Well, mostly. Part of him was here. And there.” He indicated an open area a few yards away. “And some more over there.”

“So, you’re quite sure the robots did it, then?” Venus asked.

Charlie shook his head. “Well, maybe the robots pulled the trigger. But there’s no way they shoulda been on! These things are deactivated—they’re just here for tourists to see.”

“Do they have an energy source?” Venus asked.

“Well, yeah; I mean, there’s a power core in ‘em for demos. But they should never open fire. At most they’d just stomp around a little and look threatening. But that’s only if someone went to the main office and manually activated ‘em.” Charlie could tell he had their attention, and he intended to keep it as long as he could. “There’s this whole security protocol the bots have to go through—they have a voice-controlled activation system. There’s a series of questions the bots ask whoever activated ‘em.”

“So, they have voice recognition capability?” Venus asked.

Charlie nodded. “Yup. Voice samples of all key Lurge personnel on file.” There was a very long pause, and Sandra and Venus exchanged a glance. Then both of them looked at Charlie.

“Chief of Security would be key personnel, huh?” said Sandra quietly.

ForeverThis is Geoffrey Cooper’s best thriller yet, and if you’ve read my reviews of Nondisclosure and The Prize, you know that’s saying something. All his books are gripping page-turners that offer fascinating glimpses into the politics of academia. Forever includes all these signature elements, but the plot is even more layered, and consequently, the mystery even more exciting to piece together.

The two lead characters from Nondisclosure, Dr. Brad Parker and investigator Karen Richmond, are back and just as likable as ever. Their relationship is one of my favorite things about this series. There is an easy give-and-take between them that makes them feel like a believable couple.

Brad is on sabbatical, working on research at a Harvard lab, when two FBI agents–one of whom is a friend of Karen’s–approach him to ask for his help solving a case of academic espionage being carried out by one of his colleagues. He’s annoyed at having to take time away from his research so soon after having his career was temporarily-but-spectacularly derailed by the events of Nondisclosure, but as a favor to his partner, he agrees to help.

In doing so, however, he and Karen find themselves once again caught up in a complicated tangle of death and double-crossing. In addition to the spy in Brad’s lab, Karen and her friend are also investigating a disturbing string of serial murders. And in the midst of all this, Brad finds himself tempted–in more ways than one–by a fellow colleague, offering him a chance of securing lucrative private funding, as well as some other benefits.

It all builds to a dramatic and satisfying climax that forces Brad and Karen to use their respective skills to the utmost if they are to have any chance of putting the pieces together and solving both the espionage and the murders.

It’s a fast-paced story, although Cooper skillfully includes some pauses for the reader to catch their breath. The descriptions of the lovely New England locales (and restaurants) that Brad visits make it easy to picture the setting. I wished I were there; albeit in some cases, under very different circumstances than the ones Brad and Karen find themselves in!

As with Cooper’s previous books, there’s a fair amount of references to real-word medical science, and it’s done in a way that is accessible for the layman. In fact, it’s so well-written that it informs as well as entertains–I learned a few things from reading it.

If you like medical thrillers, or just thrillers in general, this is for you. And be sure and read Nondisclosure too. While this book certainly can stand on its own, it’s really best if you are familiar with Brad and Karen’s previous work together.

[Note: This review is based on an ARC of this book. Forever releases today.]


SechaThe Secha is an ambiguous and somewhat disturbing short science fiction story. The Secha are a race enslaved by another species known as the Bakkens. Although initially the female Secha narrating the story seems resigned to the Bakkens’ treatment of her and her species, gradually it becomes apparent that the order of things she seemingly takes for granted is anything but pleasant.

There isn’t much detailed description of the Secha, which makes their exact physiology a mystery. I liked this; it left it to the reader to imagine their characteristics. The Bakkens are described in a bit more detail, as are another species known as the Ediks.

The disturbing part comes as the Secha describes the things to which the Bakkens subject her and others of her species. It is both interesting and unsettling; and all the more so because of the ambiguity regarding just what the Secha are. 

Like some other science fiction I’ve reviewed lately, it’s short, but raises a lot of interesting questions for readers to ponder.