Monday, October 9, 2017

Book Review: 'Serenity Stalked' by Craig A. Hart

Iowa author Craig A. Hart is both a writer and an editor: he has served as editor-in-chief for The Rusty Nail literary magazine, as manager for Sweatshoppe Media, and director of Northern Illinois Radio Information Service, an outreach that brought daily news and information to the visually impaired. His works have been published in The Orange Room Review, Voices, The Stray Branch, Red Poppy Review, The Mindful Word, Inclement, Right Hand Pointing, 7x20 Magazine, among others. In addition to writing fiction Craig has published self help manuals on writing and critiques of other writers’ works. SERENITY was the initial installment in a series he calls The Shelby Alexander Thriller series. – SERENIITY STALKED is a very fine second installment in a series that grows in importance.

Craig has a fine grasp on character development, and when launching a series based on a main character (Shelby Alexander) it is even more important that we get to know him quickly and watch his development grow in a first novel of the series. Craig supplied that in the first installment and in this book he sets in motion the grisly deed that is the focus of the novel: ‘Smith felt in his jacket for the knife stuck in its leather sheath. It pressed flat against his chest, solid and comforting, waiting. He burned with the urge. It had started a month ago, but he had taken time to find victims and learn their lives. He never killed out of anger. He chose victims from the vast pool of anonymous people who moved around him every day. If he interacted with them in the outside world, they were crossed off his list. He smiled, thinking how odd that living next door to a killer was safer than being across town. Don’t shit where you eat. The frequency of his killings depended on the urge to kill. And the frequency varied; it was not something he could control. Sometimes it was a week, sometimes a month. And once, in a surreal period of peace and normality, an entire year passed without a killing. He had noticed of late, however, the periods between killings were becoming shorter, to the point where he was sensing the need to deny himself. In the past, this had not been an issue. But too many killings would be dangerous. He liked a sense of danger but didn’t wish to be foolhardy. Yet denying himself a kill worried him; he’d never faced this and was unsure how it would affect him. This explained his excitement when he’d noticed the couple. They had been out jogging and their attractiveness struck him like an ad for America. The man, tall but brawny, with a full head of dark hair and a square jaw. The woman, lithe but well proportioned, with full breasts, classic features, and blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. The perfect couple. So perfect they attracted his attention. It wasn’t until he’d watched them that he realized it was all just for show. He became intrigued, then obsessed.’

Enter the plot as summarized by Craig: ‘A cold-blooded killer has blazed a trail of dead bodies across the country, with no one to stand in his way...until he starts killing on Shelby Alexander's home turf: the small Michigan town of Serenity. A killer with a trail of dead bodies has come to Serenity, seeking to slake his thirst for death. As the first unspeakable murder shocks the sleepy Michigan town, the local media demands answers. Sheriff Wilkes, the crooked young lawman, targets Shelby Alexander, whose only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Shelby moves quickly to clear his name, even as the killer closes in on his next victim…and this time it's personal.’

All the ingredients are there, but it is the chef’s hand at mixing them that makes this novel so successful. This is a bite out of Middle America, bursting with flavor and atmosphere. The book is relative short – making for a fine evening’s read. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, January 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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