Friday, July 5, 2013

Reading the Dead: The Sarah Milton Chronicles, excerpt and review

Yesterday, we met author, J.B. Cameron. Today, read my review and an excerpt from his work. If you like what you read, please comment and buy the book.

Blurb

Reading The Dead - The Sarah Milton Chronicles is the first volume of a funny, thrilling, suspenseful paranormal detective series by author J.B. Cameron.

Growing up, Sarah Milton had three constants in her life – her passion for reading, her mother's love, and Anna Nigma, her irrepressible thirteen-year-old imaginary companion. Her only friend's sudden disappearance in the aftermath of her mother's unexplained murder shattered her world, leaving a void in her life that only justice for her parent's senseless death could fill.

Fifteen years later, Sarah – now a criminal profiler with the LAPD Violent Crimes Unit – finds herself hunting a very different breed of killer, a mysterious figure known only as "Raithe." Thwarted at every turn by a seemingly random string of murders, the detective finds inspiration from the unlikeliest of sources.

A fatal shooting unexpectedly reunites her with her imaginary friend, compelling her to doubt her very sanity. She soon discovers that the truth behind both Anna Nigma and the serial killer she's hunting is stranger than she ever imagined. Her investigation leads the reunited friends to the reality of a spectral world governed by ancient magic, where Sarah's innate ability to commune with the dead could prove to be the only means of stopping the latest slayer terrorizing the city of angels.

Follow Sarah and Anna as they take their first step on the path through the graveyard of their hidden past, a journey that will ultimately lead them to a showdown against a dark force with the power over life and death itself. Their way will be fraught with peril, take them to the brink of love and loss, immerse them in mystery and clarity, and perhaps even deliver them to the closure for which they both long. Protected against the coming storm by only faith and friendship, their uncertain future begins here...

Review


What happens when you mix a practical, no-nonsense LAPD detective with her childhood, imaginary friend? Find out in this funny, well-paced paranormal thriller. Sarah Milton fears for her sanity, but she discovers Anna Nigma is more real than she at first thought. The plot is fast paced, and the characters kept you engaged.  Anna Nigma is especially appealing, well-written and believable as a perpetual 13-year-old, and the interaction between the two main characters will kept your laughing. The writing is professional and polished. I highly recommend this book to paranormal or crime story fans and give it 5 stars.

Excerpt

Doctor Sandra Frost, M.D. owned an office decorated in early Brazilian rainforest. There were so many potted plants filling up her space that the rush of fresh oxygen produced in the room was dizzying. The constant temperature and natural light from the large window behind her desk made the greenery thrive around her. The only time she would close the blinds was when she was in the middle of a session. She probably figured that the darkness was more calming. All it meant to me was that I wasn't able to use the view outside as a distraction. I settled for re-reading her wall full of diplomas.

Frost was an older woman in her fifties. She was almost schoolmarmish in her business-like clothing and bun hairdo. She spoke with a syrupy, soothing lilt. Talking to her was like having a conversation with your grandmother.

At least, that was the intention for which she strove. She was a police psychiatrist, which meant that her expertise consisted of getting the strongest, most driven and independent personalities to open up to her like the contents of an unlocked safe. I saw through her act the moment that I walked into the room. The way her sharp eyes scrutinized every facial twitch and nuance of body language, there was no doubt in my mind. This woman was a shark. I needed to be extremely careful around her.

"So is there anything troubling you, Sarah?" she inquired casually from her chair - a stern-looking, high backed seat that looked far more comfortable than the one reserved for me.

She manufactured a pleasant smile for me as she patiently awaited my response, her pen hovering inches above the memo pad on her lap. Her manner of addressing me - using my name instead of my rank - was intentionally casual. It was her way of developing a rapport with her patients by keeping the discussion on a personal level. However, the look she gave me made me feel like a child caught doing something wrong.
My eyes shifted to the space alongside her. Anna lurked behind her chair, spying over her shoulder at her notes. The girl had simply reappeared, despite what I thought would have been a crushing blow to our friendship, behaving as if everything that transpired in the elevator minutes before was just an act.

"Wow! This woman's penmanship is horrible!" she exclaimed. "I haven't seen writing this bad since the time we borrowed Tommy Babcock's notes in science class."

I blinked. "No," I answered the psychiatrist dourly.

"I see," she responded while jotting something down in her notes. "It would be all right if you were feeling conflicted right about now, you know. You've suffered a very traumatic experience. It's only natural if your emotions were getting the better of you. Have you experienced any strong feelings since the attack?"

"Is that an R?" Anna pondered.

"I'm... I'm just really happy to be alive right now," I offered, and even tried on a smile for good measure.

"Of course you are, dear. You're very fortunate." Frost wrote something else in her notes.

"She thinks you have danger insides," Anna revealed. "Seriously, who taught this woman to write?"

"I can tell that you're a very strong person. Would you say that control is important to you?" Frost continued her cross-examination.

I instinctively threw a look at Anna. She was too busy trying to make sense out of the psychiatrist's hen-scratches to notice. "I'd agree with that."

"So, as someone who likes to remain in control, how did finding yourself in a situation that was entirely out of your control make you feel?"

I shrugged. If there was a right answer to this question that would mean Frost clearing me for active duty right this instant, I wasn't seeing it. "I don't know," I murmured. "Scared, I guess."

"I see," she replied, taking a moment to observe me carefully with those icy blue eyes of hers. I was a mouse under the scrutiny of a hawk. "Perfectly understandable. It was a scary situation, wasn't it? Facing down two armed gunmen like that. Coming to terms with your own mortality. It must have been terrifying."

"Yeah," I agreed wearily. God, I want out of this room now.

"So what else?"

"What else what?"

Frost gave me another one of her carefully orchestrated smiles. I'm sure she meant it as a way to help relax her patients and put their minds at ease. All I saw was the expression a wolf might make upon spotting dinner.

"It's all right, dear. I can see how badly the experience has affected you, but you're safe now. You don't need to carry this burden alone. I'm here to help you get past your pain, but I need you to trust me. Can you do that for me?"

"Sure."

I shuddered. I think Hell just froze over. 

"Good. That's very good," she smiled and leaned back in her chair. Her smile looked genuine this time. In a way, it was actually a little creepier than her fake ones. "So, what else do you feel when you think about the events of that day? Tell me about your feelings towards the men who shot you."

"They're definitely off my Christmas card list," I joked.

Frost didn't react. She didn't smile, nor exhibit signs of exasperation at my flippancy. She simply continued to sit peacefully in her chair, observing me with her writing hand at the ready. I suppose mine must be a reaction that she experienced quite frequently, working as a police shrink.

My smile died down and I gave her the answer that she was obviously waiting for. "I'm angry with them, sure. They nearly killed me. I think I'm entitled."

"Go on." She wrote something else in her notes. Anna frowned at it and shrugged.

I nodded. "But I understand that they've already been captured, which is great news. It's a huge relief to know that they aren't still out there, hurting others."

"And what if they weren't apprehended? How would that make you feel?"

Careful, Sarah! I could see her pen getting ready to scribble something down in her little notepad. I was trekking through a minefield here. It was time for a change of course.

"Look, Doctor Frost," I started, leaning forward in my chair with my hands on my knees, "the truth is that I just spent the past two weeks on my back, reliving every moment of that horrible event over and over in my head. You're asking me about feelings that I've already worn to the nub from constant introspection. I've bled through the extent of my anger for my attackers, my terror at the prospect of dying under a mound of newsprint, even my grief and guilt over my inability to protect the storeowner from becoming a victim himself.
"I've analyzed the situation over and over in my head a million times while my body mended, and not once was I able to come up with a scenario that didn't end up in exactly the same way. It was the most frightening, awful experience of my life, only made worse by the fact that I could do nothing about it. As you said, it was out of my control."

That gave Frost some ammunition for her notes.

"We can discuss my feelings all day, but that won't make them genuine. The truth is that the only thing I have left is my relief that I'm still around to talk about it," I continued. "I feel like I've been given a second chance. This whole experience has just made me more determined than ever to go out there and catch the bad guys before they can do these sorts of things to anyone else."

Frost fell silent, considering my heartfelt plea. Anna and I both gaped at her.

"Sarah," she started in her calm, soothing voice, "in my capacity here, I've helped hundreds of officers just like you to overcome the rigors of their stressful jobs and any number of traumatic incidents in their lives. They've all gone on to become better police officers and better people, for having taken the time to deal with their issues. You want to know how many of them insisted at the beginning that there was nothing wrong with them and that they didn't need to be here?"

"I'm guessing probably all of them," I responded dejectedly.

"Correct. Now can you guess how often I took their word for it?"

"Never?"

"Correct again," she replied humorlessly. Then she added, "However, in your case, I might be inclined to make an exception."

I blinked at her in surprise. "What?"

"Yes!" Anna squealed.

"It's obvious to me that, despite your assertions to the contrary, you still have very strong emotions regarding the attack on your life. Your difficulty in talking to me about what happened is a clear indication of that fact," she said. "It's also clear to me that your fear isn't limited to just that single event. You've experienced some other trauma in your life that you're afraid to share with me, isn't that true?"

I forced myself to meet her eyes. I had trauma and issues pouring out my ears, but there was no way I would share that voluntarily. I remained silent.

She took my silence as affirmation and continued, "Just as you've managed to compartmentalize any troubling memories from your past, I suspect that you've already begun to lock away this latest trauma. Your achievements suggest to me that you are fully in control of your emotions and have been managing your psychological issues for some time now. Since childhood, I'd guess."

Damn. She's good.

Frost leaned forward in her seat. "It's important that you understand that you can only keep these things bottled up for so long, Sarah. Eventually, no amount of self-control is going to keep them in check. I want to help you to face your demons head-on. It's the only way that you'll ever find peace."

Doctor Frost stood and walked around her desk. After setting her pad down on the surface, she opened a large, thin book with a black cover. She scanned through her scheduled appointments until finding an opening that satisfied her. She marked something in the book and dropped the cover closed with finality.

"I'm going to provisionally reinstate you for active duty," she declared. "I believe that in the short term, returning to work will actually prove more beneficial to you than any other type of therapy."

"Provisionally?"

"I want to see you back here on a regular basis," she said. "I've scheduled an appointment for you next week at this same time. We'll see how you're faring then and reassess your duty status accordingly."

"Next week?" My heart sank at the prospect of having to endure this torture on an on-going basis. How on earth was I going to keep Anna's presence a secret every week? I'm sure the eagle-eyed psychiatrist couldn't have missed my constant scrutiny of nothing but empty space. Frankly, I was a little amazed that I wasn't already in cuffs, until the men with the white coats arrived.

She patiently awaited my answer with the same placid expression that she wore throughout the entire session.

"Fine," I sighed. "Next week." At least that bought me a seven-day reprieve. Maybe I could come up with some way to deal with the whole Anna situation before then.

"Good," she smiled. "I'll see you then."

We stood and shook hands. Her keen eyes remained glued to my face the entire time. Unbelievable, I thought. Even now that our time was up, she was still trying to analyze me.

"And remember, Detective, if there's ever anything you want to talk about in the meantime - anything at all - my door is always open."

I nodded, and even produced a faux smile of my own. I think it was painfully obvious to both of us by this time that if I felt the need to open up to this woman that badly, I'd probably cut my own tongue out first.