Friday, March 29, 2019

AMBUSH - Next in Series by Barbara Nickless - Produces WOW Effect!

The call came late on an August evening while Jeremy Kane was upstairs, rocking his infant daughter. When the phone buzzed, Kane shifted Megan in his arms and pulled his cell from his pocket. An out-of-state number he’d never seen. He pressed a button and silenced the call. 
Megan’s breath hitched as if she would fuss, and Kane rubbed her back. She swallowed her cry and nestled into his shoulder, her tiny hand a petal against his throat. His bum leg ached. Closing his eyes, he shifted his weight. He inhaled the baby’s clean, sweet scent and listened to his older daughter singing softly in the next room. At moments like these, the war and its aftershocks seemed very far away. 
Still, Kane knew there were some things you couldn’t fix. No matter how much help you had. No matter what interventions people ran on your behalf. No matter how hard you tried.
Some things stayed broken. A bum leg. A bad memory. But he believed in work-arounds. If you had the sense God gave a goat, you learned to trim back, cut down, reroute. You accepted that no plan came with guarantees, and when life blocked one lane, you found another. He had his family. He mostly had his health. And he had a good job as a security officer for Denver’s Regional Transportation District—the RTD. 
The gig wasn’t the life he’d dreamed of before the war. It wasn’t medical school. It wasn’t a bright, sunny office and a steady stream of patients and a world that admired a man’s intelligence and awarded him money and accolades for his dedication. 
But there were compensations. Like these times with his girls. The phone buzzed again. Same number. A cold thread wriggled its way into Kane’s thoughts. Lester Crowe. For Crowe, the war was always right there. In his face or on his back. In his dreams, and always on his mind. When things got too dark, he would call Kane from someone’s cell or use the phone in whatever dive bar he found himself in when the shakes hit. Kane answered with a soft hello. “Someone’s been following me,” Crowe said without preamble. “Trying to smoke my ass.”
An icy fear knifed into Kane’s neck, right at the base of his skull. He kept his voice soft. “Hey, Crowe, you okay?” 
“I was until some fancy suit started following me. Watching me eat my food and scratch my ass. Watching me every time I take a shit, I swear. Not safe anywhere. It’s fucking Iraq all over again.” 
A week ago, Kane would have tried to talk Crowe down from whatever mental ledge his war buddy had crawled out on. But that was before Kane began digging into the past. Before he learned just how wrong things had gone in Iraq. And how it had spilled out over here. Maybe someone had noticed his online research. The drive-bys and photos. Maybe he’d endangered his entire fireteam. 
“Crowe—” Megan woke with a mewling cry. Kane stood and jounced her in his arm. He walked to the window, taking a sentry’s position above the quiet street. “What are you talking about?” 
“Some nutso shit, man.” Kane caught the rumble of a truck through the line. A horn honked. Then Crowe said, “It’s like we’re the heroes in a fucked-up movie. And Iraq is the monster that won’t stay dead.” 
“Where are you? I’ll come and get you. Doesn’t matter where you are.” 
“I’m calling from a pay phone. Only way that’s secure. An hour from now I’ll be in another state. You hang with your family, take care of your own. Stay on watch and be careful. These guys are serious trouble. They’re probably listening in right now.” 
Kane did not want to go down the path his friend had taken. “Crowe, c’mon. You been smoking something?”
“I’m telling you. It’s Iraq, back with a mouthful of teeth. We should never have done what we did. It was wrong, man. It was so wrong.” 
Kane swallowed down the panic and reminded himself this was, after all, Crowe. Unstable in the best of times. Crowe had gone radio silent right after he returned to the States. And a man didn’t disappear from his Marine brethren unless there was something very wrong with what was bouncing around between his ears. But still. Kane considered what he’d learned this last week. Covert deals, illegal weapons, faked reports. There were enough pieces missing that he couldn’t yet make out the overall image. But what he could see made him think that what Crowe had going on was less PTSD than self-preservation. “You been to see anyone, Crowe? You know, just to talk. You sound—” “Paranoid?” Crowe snorted. “Don’t give me that bullshit. These dudes will hand everyone on our team their asses and make us thank them for the pleasure. It’s something to do with that Iraqi kid whose mom got killed. He’s in the middle of this clusterfuck.” 
This was a sucker punch. “Malik?” 
“He saw something over there. Those weapons. Remember that?” The panic clawed free and tried to pull Kane down. Megan began to fuss. He walked her back and forth across the room, struggling to pull up an image of the small boy who’d been adopted by the Marines after his mother’s murder. “You think they’re after you because of—” He stopped himself, abruptly aware that if Crowe’s fear was grounded in reality, someone really might be listening. “Because of that?” he finished weakly. 
“Only thing I can think of. Look, I gotta go. Stay on watch, brother. Remember what we used to say? Just ’cause you’re paranoid don’t mean they’re not out to get you.” Crowe disconnected. 
Kane’s thoughts flew in a hundred different directions. No question, Crowe was crazy. He saw things no one else did. He babbled on about conspiracy theories and space aliens. He’d never learned to rest his head anywhere for more than a night or two. Then again, given what Kane had learned, maybe right now Lester Crowe was the sanest man on the team...

Sydney Parnell Series

By Barbara Nickless

I was committed to this series as soon as I met and was mesmerized by the lead character, Sydney Parnell. There's not another female main character like her! First, she was a Marine...and proves to be all that everybody says Marines are. Second, she volunteered to care for the dead during her service--and ghosts are with her constantly, especially for those she'd had to kill in battle...

See Reviews of 

Now she is a cop with the railroads. In this book, however, we are taken back to that time during the war when it all had started. It was bad; it was wrong. Most said. What Sydney remembered most was that she had cared for the boy of a mother who had been killed that day. And then she'd been forced to leave him. She had never been able to forget, or forgive herself, for that. And, now, she'd learned where he might be. She left for Mexico immediately, alone, and on the hunt.

But, while there, she learns that her friend and co-worker, Jeremy Kane, was murdered. Kane had also been a part one of the Marines who had responded to orders and believed they were doing what was right for America... Was there somebody working to eliminate that entire team? It wasn't a new idea. She even called the individual, Alpha, to pinpoint exactly who had authorized that mission... And she was always on alert...

The local assigned investigator for the case was thankful to have Sydney offer to help. It appeared that Kane had been killed by a homeless man and since Sydney did a lot of interaction with the homeless in the area, she was surprised that she had never seen the man before... But, almost immediately after studying the crime scene photos and videos, she was certain that the man had not been a homeless man, but had dressed as one as a disguise...which meant, he would have totally changed his appearance, and could be anywhere now.

I appreciated the twist when Sydney finds evidence that Kane had collected and used it to work the case. Sydney's lover, a homicide cop, Cohen was involved to some extent, and they discussed everything that happened. Until he realized that she should have already told him much earlier, what she was now sharing. And it was going to get tougher for them before this all ended...
Since Cohen and I had been together, I’d wanted to make our relationship normal. Create a bond that wasn’t hobbled by my past. A “how was your day at the office, dear?” kind of relationship. 
But he was right. I was way too skittish to walk all the way into the room. “I’m sorry,” I said. 
“It’s not what you did in Iraq. As a cop, I know we’re all just trying to do our best. And I know that sometimes it’s impossible in the moment to perfectly draw that line between right and wrong. I get that.” 
My pulse throbbed in my temple. “What, then?”
“It’s how you handled it with me. You’ve buried yourself so far behind your walls that even when both our lives were in danger, you wouldn’t let me in. Wouldn’t tell me what was going on. And now . . . now I don’t know if I can trust you to have my back.” 
A needle slid into my heart. “I thought I could handle it on my own.” 
“That’s exactly the problem. You think you have to handle everything by yourself. You should have included me, Sydney. Dammit.” He turned to face me. Anger and pain and hurt swam in his eyes, eddies in a dark current. His entire body slumped, as if gravity had finally gotten a grip on him. 
“Can you try not to die while I’m gone?” 
My eyes filled. “Marines are hard to kill.”

On the other hand, outside of her personal life, one of the points that makes Sydney so special, is that the author has created her so that Sydney is well-respected, liked, and trusted. so that, even in Mexico, she was able to make contacts that would help in any way needed... 

And whenever there is danger or facing enemies in order to do what is right, Sydney will be the first, or among those that move in for the battle. What happens in Mexico brings both terrible deaths, as well as a renewal of peace of mind. But no event there could top the major surprise that occurs when Sydney follows the tracks discovered by Kane... as well as responding to the kidnapping of her cop lover... (only one hint for those who've been reading the series.)

Nickless writes exciting books--no doubt about it! They are edgy, where her main characters take risks and somehow make it through. Brave heroes are the central point, but it is also pointed out that, really, those in the Marines have seen things that not even homicide cops have seen--and many still live with all that has gone down during their service. Nickless presents a reality that we all know that...nobody...should have to go through. Yet some are called to protect and serve.

But when it's never over for some of them...those Marines get mad...they get angry that, now, after all those years, what they were told to do is no longer an acceptable action to be forgotten. No, because, those that made those things happen don't want to pay. They want to continue the money-making schemes that criminals are always looking for...

This is edge-of-the scene action in two different settings with different characters, but all surrounding what one brave boy, Malik, did while he watched his mother be murdered...he recorded it...

In order to get justice for the loss of his mother...

Fortunately, with books we don't have to make comparisons between which book to choose, most of the time. But, I would say that the author has outdone herself on this one...WOW Effect for me! Unique story, unique situations, unique main characters. Can't get any better! I can't wait until the next book comes! Highly recommended.


Barbara Nickless promised her mother she'd be a novelist when she grew up. What could be safer than sitting at a desk all day? But an English degree and a sense of adventure took her down other paths--technical writer, raptor rehabilitator, astronomy instructor, sword fighter, piano teacher and journalist. Now an award-winning author, she spends her free time snowshoeing, caving and hiking the Colorado Rockies. Connect with her at

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