Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Review: Joe Conlan's Nameless

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Intensely Terrifying! Spine Tingling! Gripping! Can't continue, can't stop!

Nameless by Joe Conlan gets you  from the first page. It can trap you in the world of a psycho so twisted and evil, it is hard to escape the mind of the serial killer. The detailed and intimate relationship that develops between the words of the author and his readers is intense.

The Blurb: (You can read an excerpt from Nameless right after this review!)

Chilling and taut, NAMELESS introduces a fresh and exciting twist on the deadly game of cat and mouse. By virtue of one impulsive and deeply human, but all too grave mistake, a good and decent man finds himself pitted against the embodiment of evil and threatened with losing everything and everyone he loves and values; including the pristine reputation he has endeavored all his adult life to establish. FBI Special Agent in Charge Daniel Falcone unwittingly steps onto course for a head-on collision with a frighteningly brilliant psychotic serial killer, whose harrowing childhood abuse and neglect left him devoid of humanity and salivating for revenge. Framed for a brutal murder on a commercial cruise ship, and fighting for the right to raise his sons and clear his name, Falcone races against the clock and struggles to keep his eyes on the prize, even while his profound guilt and self-loathing threaten to destroy him faster than his maniacal adversary.

Our thoughts....

Stop! Warning to readers: Spoiler contents ahead!

I have to confess that after reading the first chapter I shut off my Kindle and set it aside, looking at it from a distance. I was scared. Plain and simple, I was terrified. I did not get to pick it up until my curiosity drove me to open the book once more and just made sure I was sitting with my kids playing with their PC games while I continued to read it. I have lost count of the times I had to shut my own mouth from screaming.

I have never, ever! reacted this way to a thriller before.

Joe Conlan is a master of the descriptive word. He has a strange talent in making and describing such a graphic novel into something beautiful. It is picturesque yet crisp, leaving just enough to get a clear view into the movie playing in his head.  The story line is well worked and it was a surprise to find out this is his debut!

On the first chapter, I screamed the book shut in fright. By the second chapter, the readers may already have a list of several suspects of who might have framed Daniel Falcone, apart from that very overt hint of a name that jumps out from nowhere.

The only thing that bothers me is how the serial killer developed from an illiterate abused child to an expert who knows how to read, write, and do excellent research. Ten years of educating yourself would not be enough if you had to start from scratch. Plus, such abuse would tend to make a person underdeveloped both mentally and physically. Yet, Nameless is exceptionally intelligent and strong. Hmmm...

Now for my criticisms....

Mind you, these do not, in any way, reflect on the writing ability of the author Joe Conlan, but these do need to be mentioned. Take note that I am reviewing from an ARC copy and if these have been corrected in the final editing, then please disregard.

*1. I feel the book is well-written but sloppily edited.  I hope corrections can be made, as it's too good a story to flop because of a few inconsistencies and typos.

*2. I noticed 3 blatant inconsistencies:

A. The author describes how Glamorosa Champagne was killed in the beginning yet when the body was found, the placement of the cut off penis went from the ass to the mouth. Although the mouth placement would be more believable. Was this a typo?

B. Nameless disguised himself with black hair and a full beard to eavesdrop on Daniel and Annie yet straight from the scene morphs into a blond god to pick up a gay john to murder.

C. The cell phone was off in a safe yet the message Leland sent was marked "received?" May be received but NOT opened?

*3. Finally,  I can't figure out how no one asked about the surveillance tapes in the ship and linked the connection to the last murder on board when the cameras went out at a very opportune time.

***All these typos and inconsistencies were corrected in the final edition of Nameless. The ARC copy this review was based on was an older version and had, to quote the author: "Many typos and the blond to black hair thing was corrected afterwards (part of the learning process). "

Final Words....

Joe Conlan has the ability to get his readers' heartbeats on a constant suspense-filled staccato  beat. So here, I have to warn readers: BEWARE! If you do not want to get ensnared in a beautifully described world of good vs. evil, if you don't want to risk your getting out of breath from the endless thrill, action and suspense that is the whole book, then this is not for you.

Review based on an ARC sent by Netgalley.


Chapter 1
“This is bullshit,” Nikki shouted out loud to no one in particular after her vain attempt to wave down a gray Chevy Silverado pickup. The middle-aged male driver slowed to a near stop then accelerated past her, almost running over her feet when she stepped off the curb. It wasn’t an hour earlier; she decided this would be her last night on the streets. She was sick of it all; the repulsive, dirty, old men, the perverted degenerates of the world not to mention the constant danger to her health and life. She planned to make enough money tonight to get a bus ticket home and start over. There was a slim chance she could move back into her parents’ house. Her stepdad was irrelevant. He would have no real say in the matter. She had burned bridges with her mother. “Burned” actually was an understatement. They were blown to smithereens. Nikki was hoping that time had healed some major wounds. Whatever happened, she was going to find a way to make an honest living and turn her life around.
The man parked in a Sports Utility Vehicle across the street on Biscayne Boulevard had been watching her for the last ten minutes. It was the first time he had seen her. Until only recently he was very familiar with all the whores working this strip. According to his calculations, this one was a runaway minor, new to the area, no older than seventeen. There was little doubt she was unfamiliar with local practice or was just plain stupid. There was normally a high police presence at this hour to protect and monitor patrons leaving the dollar movie theatre across the street. Most of the whores didn’t show up until just after midnight. They knew it was when the theatre closed and the parade of johns driving up and down Biscayne kicked off. It was after 10:30pm and the infrequent passersby had no interest in what the girl was selling.
Just the way she shamelessly flaunted her body parts to draw in customers was enough to evoke the man’s ire. Her willingness to screw any pathetic asshole prepared to pay was a capital crime as far as he was concerned. When she practically threw herself in front of the Chevy pickup, he knew it was time to act before she ruined everything and got herself arrested.
He started the SUV, pulled out of the parking space and made his way around the block. In the short distance he drove, he had to dodge a homeless man hoping to spit-wash his windshield for change and two derelicts selling crack. As he approached the prostitute, she stepped onto the street and flashed him a full breast. At that moment, he had the overwhelming urge to coax her into his truck, slit her throat, and be done with it. Instead, he took a deep breath and cleared his mind. The instant he stopped, she was at his passenger window.
“Can I get in,” she asked?
“It’s not locked.”
She hopped into the passenger seat without hesitation. Seemingly as an afterthought, she inquired, “You’re not a cop or serial killer, are you?”
“No. I’m gonna pull outta here before we get arrested.”
Satisfied with his answer, and more focused on making the money for her bus ticket, she replied, “That’s fine. What are you into?” “How much for the night?”
“One thousand.” She thought that should be enough for the bus, plus a few extra dollars to live on while she looked for a job after she got back home to Macon. What luck to have a big pay-off with her first john of the evening.
“That’s kinda steep isn’t it?”
“I could make that in three or four hours. Take it or leave it.” 
He pulled out onto Biscayne Boulevard and said, “I like doing it outdoors.”
“As long as you drop me off back where you found me, I’m ok with that. But I mean it. A thousand bucks.”
“That’s fine. I’ll pay.”
“I don’t take credit cards.”
He pulled a wad of cash from his pocket and waved it in the air between them. “Satisfied?”
“No problem. Where we going?”
“Do you know Haulover Beach?”
“No, but it sounds fun. How far is it?”
Her answer confirmed she was a visitor to South Florida. That was a good thing. Any resident would be familiar with the clothing-optional beach. There was a great chance she had no real connections to the area. He replied, “It’s a nude beach in North Miami. It’ll only take about fifteen minutes to get there.”
Haulover Beach was one of many park sites he had researched, visited and studied for a night like this one. In the midst of the big city, it afforded privacy from both the normally busy A1A and the beach itself. The five blocks it covered were lined by a dense forest of Florida sea grape trees. From personal observation and its reputation, he knew it was the site of daily sexual escapades along its self-guided nature trail. The beach closed at sunset. Having been there at all times of the day and night, he was confident they would have no company.
He parked in the large Haulover Beach lot in the space closest to the underground pedestrian walkway. There were no other vehicles. The only lighting was provided by street lamps and the barely visible crescent moon. A slight, land breeze made the cool winter temperature shoot a shiver up Nikki’s spine as they passed through the tunnel toward the beach.
Goose flesh popped up on her skin. The tunnel reminded her of the many nights she‘d slept in places just like this. She’d left her parents’ home when she was fifteen. Drinking, drugs, and a bad attitude were her M.O. since the age of twelve, when her father passed away and her mother married a deadbeat, gold digger who was after the insurance money. Luring her stepfather into her bedroom for sex was the last straw. Nikki’s plan to remove the piece of shit from their lives had backfired. Her mom forgave her new husband and kicked her troubled daughter out of the house. For a year, Nikki lived with her twenty-three year old drug dealing boyfriend. When he had no more use for her, she hit the streets.
They emerged from the tunnel and turned north toward the forest and nature trail. Her client hadn’t spoken a word since they’d arrived. She was starting to get the creeps and decided to strike up a conversation to ease her anxiety. It didn’t give her much relief.
“You don’t plan on spending the night out here, do you? It’s kinda cold.”
“Don’t worry about it. I have blankets and sleeping bags in the backpack. You’ll be fine.”
Going silent once again, he led her down a path into the forest of sea grape trees. The trail was extremely narrow, barely wide enough for two small children walking side by side. The underbrush scraped at Nikki’s bare ankles, shins, and calves. With the moon and streetlights almost completely obstructed by the tree tops, she could barely see more than a few feet ahead of her. Following directly behind him, she couldn’t fathom how he was able to make his way through the pitch-dark without a flashlight. By the time they advanced 50 yards along the tapered path, the chill up her spine had evolved into a full-scale, uncontrollable shiver. Having grown up in Minnesota, 50 degree weather normally didn’t affect her this way. The blackness of the night and the dead silence weren’t helping. Mostly, it was the vibe she was getting from her john. There was definitely something very bizarre, if not sinister about him. She was starting to regret following him into the deserted park. She seriously considered spraying his face with the can of mace she had in her purse, taking his roll of cash and running. If he wasn’t about 220 lbs of ripped muscle, she just might have tried.
“Hey! There isn’t enough room to walk through this shit, much less have sex. Where the fuck are you taking me?”
“Watch your fuck’n mouth, bitch.” Before she could respond, he turned around and punched her square in the face with a closed fist knocking her off her feet.
In an instant, he was on top of her. She tried to maneuver her hands into her purse to retrieve the mace, but he was too fast. He snatched it from her grip and threw it into the sandy underbrush. Sitting on her chest, he leaned forward digging his knees deep into her armpits. Gravel, twigs, and mulch burrowed into her neck and shoulders and cut through the skimpy red Lycra Lame dress she was wearing. The pressure he applied sent bolts of pain up through her shoulders and down her arms. The extreme discomfort and her inability to breathe without difficulty were making it almost impossible to formulate coherent thoughts. Sheer impulse for survival produced the only defensive response available to her. She kicked up and back as hard as she could with both legs and managed to connect hard with the nape of his neck and back of his head. He was stunned for just a brief moment, yet enough to cause him to lift his weight from her chest and arms and allow her to partially push him off her body. She immediately rolled over onto her stomach and clawed at the ground crawling to free herself from the remainder of his hold. Regaining his senses, he missed when he lunged toward her to grab the back of her dress as she stood.
Once on her feet, Nikki began to run as fast as she could although she had no idea which direction she was headed. She screamed at the top of her lungs for help then looked behind her to see that her assailant was right on her heels. Not 20 yards into her sprint, she tripped over a branch lying across the path, the same one he had helped her step over just minutes before. Her momentum vaulted her into the air. She struck the ground face first with a resounding thud that completely knocked the wind out of her and broke her nose. Blood gushed from her nostrils and down the back of her throat causing her to gag. Like a tiger in the final stages of the hunt, he leaped on her back, grabbed a fistful of hair and mashed her face into the dirt and mulch. Satisfied any further attempts at escape would be futile; he took several moments to listen to the sounds of the night. The distant hum of the surf and the girl’s ragged breathing were all that infringed on its serenity. No one had heard her screams.
He released his grip on her hair then stood up and slipped the backpack off his shoulders. There were no blankets or sleeping bags inside. In their place were a butcher’s knife, surgeon’s scalpel, hammer, chisel, twine, flashlight, and several oversized plastic garbage bags. He lifted her head to assess her level of awareness. She was moaning, semiconscious at best, eyes closed. He stood up, reached into his backpack and pulled each item out of the bag. He turned on the flashlight and set his instruments in a neat row alongside her. Then he waited until she began to show signs of waking to full alertness. He wanted to look into her knowing eyes as he slit her throat.
In the interim, he tied her ankles and wrists. Moments after she was securely bound, her eyelids fluttered rapidly as if in R.E.M. sleep then opened wide. He picked up the butcher’s knife and sat on her stomach. Instinctively, she struggled against the frayed string that constricted her wrists. Unadulterated panic consumed her. Seeing the look of terror in her eyes, he slashed the butcher’s knife across her throat, from left to right. Warm, thick blood exploded out from the wound, spraying him about his upper torso and face. The pain felt like nothing more than the prick of a pin sliding across her neck. However, the sight of the copious amounts of her own blood soaking him elicited a terror that stung more sharply than any ache she had ever suffered. The blurring of her vision and the sensation she was floating into unconsciousness were not enough to spare her the realization of what was happening. In a matter of minutes, her life would be over. Tears welled in her eyes then overflowed leaving heavy mascara tracks down the sides of her face just below her temples. Then all went black.
** *
Fourteen hundred miles north, while Nikki was taking in her last breaths, a winter storm was raging through Otisville, New York, home to one of the state’s federal correctional facilities. Former FBI agent, Daniel Falcone, pulled the meager, jail-issued blanket tightly over his head, hoping beyond hope to achieve mindless sleep. It might as well have been a three inch thick, electronically heated comforter. It wasn’t going to make a lick of difference. His failure to find warmth or sleep was the result of much more than the frigid weather. The relentless, nagging thoughts racing through his head were the real culprits. An unyielding, judgmental introspection brutally tormented his peace of mind and sense of well-being.
Daniel was having a hard time believing he didn’t deserve everything that had happened to him over the past year and a half. Karma was a bitch and he was feeling its unabated wrath. In some ways he was waiting for something like this to happen his entire life. Other than the extreme guilt that plagued his thoughts each day and his dreams every night, he’d never truly paid for his brother’s death so many years ago.
As if on cue, the shrill horn of a train sounded as it made its approach into the Otisville Metro North Train Station located less than a half mile southwest of the jail. Daniel was a sixteen year old boy again, back home in his family’s brownstone in Chicago. It was a Friday night, December 3, 1987, his brother Peter’s fifteenth birthday. Earlier in the evening, the family had celebrated by eating dinner at Peter’s favorite restaurant, and then held a small party at home, just for the immediate family. Peter’s big bash was scheduled for the following day. Friends and the rest of the family were invited for a night at the Navy Pier- ice skating and pizza- Peter’s two great passions.
Later that Friday night, Daniel had plans for a special birthday blow-out of his own for his younger brother. At midnight, Daniel lay awake in his bed, fully clothed, waiting to be sure his parents were asleep. Normally, they went to bed early, around ten, and were well into the fifth and final stage of dream sleep by midnight. Delayed by the party, they hadn’t gone to their room until eleven. Daniel waited patiently the extra hour, though sure they had probably conked out right after their heads hit their pillows. He was up, throwing on a jacket and on his way to his brother’s room before the clock struck 12:01.
“Get up, Pete,” Daniel whispered as he shook his snoring brother’s shoulder, ready with his index finger over his pursed lips to keep Peter from making any loud noises.
Peter jumped up to a seated position. Seeing his older brother’s indication to stay quiet, he fought his inclination to shout. “What the fuck? What are you doing?” he asked in a half- whisper.
“Just get up and get dressed. We’re goin’ out.”
“No way. Get the hell outta here. I’m tired. I’m goin’ back to sleep.”
“Get your ass up. Don’t be a pussy. It’s time to really celebrate your birthday.”
“I ain’t goin’ nowhere. Dad finds out he’ll kick our asses.”
“Dad’s not gonna find out. Stop with the fuck’n goody two- shoes routine. Have some
balls. Get up and let’s go.”
The roles between the two brothers were in some ways reversed from what would be expected of a first and second child. Peter was the structured one, mature, well-behaved, the caretaker. Daniel was much more likely to break the rules and challenge authority. They were typical in one respect. Peter idolized and adored his older brother. It took some doing, but Daniel could usually talk him into just about anything. That night was no different. After a few more curses mumbled under his breath, Peter got up and slipped into a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt.
It was an atypically mild night for December in Chicago. The temperature was in the mid-fifties and in the part of the city where the Falcones lived, the windy city was nothing of the sort. The trees were as still as a leopard lying in wait to seize its dinner. Before heading downstairs, Daniel grabbed a bag with two six packs of Bud Light from under his bed and they were on their way, tiptoeing as they descended the steps which lead directly to the front door. Daniel checked his pocket to be sure he had his house keys, then the two teenage boys stepped out into the quiet night, well-lit by the lights of the city and a full moon directly over their heads.
“Where we goin’ and what’s in the bag?” asked Peter as soon as they closed the door behind them.
“You’ll find out. Let’s go.”
Daniel set out at a brisk pace in the direction of Lake Michigan with Peter at his side.
The Falcones lived on the second and third floors of a brownstone built in the early 1950s, about a mile from the lake. On foot, it took them just less than fifteen minutes to arrive at Grant Park, a state compound covering three-hundred acres situated along the waterfront. They made their way directly to one of Chicago’s most famous landmarks, the Clarence Buckingham Fountain. Distracted by the dancing, multi-colored spotlights reflecting off the surging water, Peter initially failed to notice his best friend, Ross, and Daniel’s football teammate, Contrell, waiting for them on the lakeside of the fountain. Daniel’s buddy was also carrying a bag with two six packs of beer. Together, the four teenagers crossed Lake Shore Boulevard in search of a secluded spot away from any potential, unwanted onlookers.
Once they were settled on the partition wall overlooking the black expanse of Lake Michigan, Daniel pulled out the first six pack.
“My baby brother didn’t want to come out here. You think he’s man enough to drink his first beer?” Daniel asked the group.
“Fuck you, Daniel. I’m here, ain’t I?” replied Peter.
“You gonna drink or are you afraid you might get in trouble with Mommy and Daddy?” Daniel teased. Contrell found Daniel’s goading hilarious, and laughed louder than the situation warranted.
“Shut up, Contrell. Why don’t you keep on sniffing Daniel’s ass? It’s what you do best,” quipped Peter. Now, it was Daniel who was bent over laughing. Contrell, defensive tackle for the football team, was 6’5” and weighed about two-sixty. He stood up and made a move toward Peter that Daniel quickly quashed by stepping between them.
“Knock it off, Contrell. I’m the only one that gets to beat his ass... So, what’s the deal, Pete?” Daniel twisted the cap off a Bud Light and held it out to his brother.
Nervous, but not about to have his manhood challenged by the person he admired most in the world, Peter grabbed the beer and chugged several gulps. The other boys showed their approval with some hooting and hollering, breaking open their bottles and attempting to swallow bigger swigs than the rest. Peter’s best friend, Ross, was the first to finish his beer. Unlike Peter, Ross didn’t keep strictly to the straight and narrow. When Daniel called him two nights ago to invite him to the gathering, he’d agreed without hesitation. Ross had been trying to get Peter to party for more than a year.
It didn’t take an hour for each of the boys to finish their respective six packs of beer. Peter was already slurring his speech and having difficulty keeping his balance when he stood. The other boys had more experience and were handling the alcohol a bit better.
“We need some more beer,” commented Ross.
“I have a friend who can get us some,” offered Contrell. “He’s twenty-one. I can get him to bring it to us, but we’ll have to pay him extra.”
“I’m in,” Ross raised his hand high in the air as if making a bid at an auction. “I’ve got twenty bucks.”
“Me, too,” said Daniel. I’ll pay for Pete.”
Contrell walked the twenty yards to the bank of payphones east of the fountain and called his friend, who agreed to get them two more six packs. After notifying the group of his success, he pulled a small marijuana roach from his jacket pocket and held it up to Peter.
“I brought this for the birthday boy. He can probably get three or four hits from it. That’ll knock him on his ass. It’s really good kryp.”
“Man, I don’t know about that,” Daniel said. Drinking was one thing for Daniel, but drugs were a whole other issue. He already had aspirations to be an FBI agent. Drugs were strictly off-limits.
“Come on,” Ross replied. “It’s his birthday. You’re only fifteen once. He’ll be fine. He’s not gonna turn into a druggie.”
“Gimme that thing,” Peter slurred. “I’m a man. I make my own decisions.”
Contrell handed the roach to Peter, who promptly put it in his mouth. As Contrell was lighting it he instructed, “Inhale real deep and hold it.” Before Daniel could stop his brother, Peter sucked in a double-size dose then immediately started hacking uncontrollably. Daniel knocked the roach from his mouth and stomped it out, but his response was too late. A considerable amount of the potent kryptonite marijuana penetrated Peter’s blood stream. The drug in combination with the alcohol resulted in a high that would have significantly impaired the capacities of a grown man with a strong tolerance for mind-altering substances.
“What the fuck, man,” shouted Contrell. That stuff is expensive. I could’ve smoked it.” “Then you should’ve. Don’t be giving that shit to my brother.”
Peter mumbled something incomprehensible then proceeded to vomit up his dinner and birthday cake. Ross and Contrell found it quite funny but Daniel wasn’t as amused. “Serves you right,” he said. Minutes later, Contrell’s friend arrived with the beer and the incident with the marijuana was forgotten.
“You sure you can handle more beer, Pete? I’m not cleaning it up later if you puke all over yourself,” warned Daniel.
“I’m fine, dude. I feel much better.” “If you say so. Just don’t pass out.”
“Let’s get outta here,” said Ross. I’m sick-a-lookin’ at the lake.”
The horn of the Red line train blasted in the distance, giving Daniel an idea he would regret for the rest of his life. “Let’s go check out the train tracks,” he suggested. Near Michigan Ave., on the west side of the park, a series of bridges crossed over six sets of rails running north and south below ground level. From each trestle there was an unobstructed view of downtown Chicago, the train tracks disappearing into the base of the skyscrapers. By the time the teenagers arrived at the first bridge, they had each consumed two more bottles of beer and all had lost their holds on good judgment. It was Daniel’s idea to climb down the trestle support to the tracks twenty feet below and follow them into the heart of the city.

Written in collaboration with Ramona

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