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Lisa Towles

NINETY-FIVE . . . Between the covers

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ninety-fiveZak Skinner is a pretty unremarkable guy in many ways. He’s bright enough, for sure – that’s why he is studying engineering at the University of Chicago. Why he moved there from NYU, we’re not sure at first, but we suspect that he lacks the essential ingredient of ‘stickability’. Or maybe he is running away from something? He and his old school buddy Riley room together, and Riley is most things that Zak is not. Like steady, reliable, unimaginative and not prone to destructive self analysis.

Zak is slightly in awe of a fellow who lives on the same landing – David Wade is preppy, confident, glib and has an air of natural authority. When Wade takes him off campus to the house of a man called Jane (surname – so no gender crisis) Zak’s nightmare begins. Never one to turn down a toke of anything that might be mind altering he imbibes a concoction made, apparently from several rare species of South American tree bark. Over the next few hours Zak is unsure whether he is on some strange trip, or actually walking around the streets of Chicago with a mysterious woman. What does seems to be real, however, is that he has bought a notebook from an artisan craft store, and has the receipt in his back pocket.

When he finally returns to reality and shuffles back to his accommodation to share his apparent adventures with Riley things begin to go pear-shaped. First, a fellow student mistakenly takes delivery of a pizza ordered by Riley and Zak – and becomes seriously ill; then, Wade disappears, and Zak is hauled in by the campus cops as he was the last person to be seen with him; thirdly – and most bizarrely, someone seems to be in desperate need of the receipt that is sitting harmlessly in Zak’s back pocket.

Long story shortZak takes the receipt to an obscure department of the university where specialist mathematicians ponder the intricate relationships between series of numbers. When the receipt is placed under a highly refined scanner, it reveals a sequence of numbers invisible to the human eye. Stavros, the head of this arcane department is then involved in a drive-to-kill incident, but Zak escapes the wreckage, but realises he is being followed by a group of sharp-suited men who clearly work for some big corporation.

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We learnvia Zak being snatched and taken into what appears to be an alternative world beneath Chicago’s streets – that the heavies work for System D. This organisation operates on the university campus by snaring students – via drugs – into committing crimes, the videos of which are used to blackmail the victims – who are, ipso facto, highly intelligent and capable people – into working for the corporation. System D’s mission statement seems to involve using crypto currencies to arm-twist big pharma companies into providing better healthcare for the vulnerable people in society, but Zak suspects that the true aim of the organisation is something much more sinister.

Lisa Towles has an MBA in Information Technology, and has a ‘day job’ in the tech industry, so the fast paced narrative of Ninety-Five goes from one complex techno concept to the next with sometimes bewildering speed. Towles never allows this journey into the Dark Web to obscure the human element, however, and towards the end of the book she reveals Zak Skinner’s tragic family history and thus we learn, for the first time, just what the young man might have been running away from.

Ninety-Five  travels, one might say, at 95 mph, and Lisa Towles breaks up the narrative into sixty seven short chapters, so the pace is relentless. The novel is a dazzling trip into a dystopian techno-nightmare – a place where Alice Through the Looking Glass meets The Matrix, with more than a touch of Twin Peaks. Published by Indies United Publishing House, Ninety Five will be available on 24th November.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Lloyd & Towles

I’ve had two rather special posts in the last couple of days, which is good to see, especially when one comes from America. Also, each came with some tasty ‘bits and bobs’! Neither is due out for a while, but I want to get the word out now, as they both look intriguing.

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THE BLOODLESS BOY by Robert J. Lloyd

This sounds like the literary equivalent of a Restoration banquet of many rich courses, each more piquant than the preceding one – and a dramatic contrast to the grim years of he Protectorate. From that broad hint you may already have guessed that the novel is set in the London of Charles II. it is 1678, and the main character is a man of whom I first became aware while struggling to comprehend ‘O’ Level Physics back in the 1960s. We had to study Hooke’s Law (and I failed, dismally) but Robert Hooke was a polymath who has been called “England’s Leonardo“, and he is the central character of this story. He is called upon to investigate the gruesome death of a boy, found on a London riverbank, completely drained of blood. To extend the banquet metaphor, the menu includes a suspected Catholic plot, sinister foreign assassins, wild political intrigue, and a London slowly being rebuilt after the disaster of 1666. The Bloodless Boy is published by Melville House, and will be available on 2nd November. Look out for a full review when the blog tour launches.

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NINETY-FIVE by Lisa Towles

Lisa Towles is a very smart lady who works in the California tech industry, and she also a fine writer. I reviewed two earlier books, The Unseen (2019) and Choke (2017) Her latest novel features a young man called Zak Skinner who is – to be blunt – something of a mess. Avoiding awkward decisions and ignoring reality are two of his predominant life-skills, and he has just solved problems he was having at New York University by running away – to the University of Chicago. Zak may not be someone on whom you would rely in a crisis, but he is not stupid, and when he discovers a campus crime scam that involves drugs, coercion and blackmail, his talent for being inquisitive unearths an even bigger criminal operation, which puts him in the gun sight cross-hairs of some very dangerous people. Ninety-Five will be available from Indies United Publishing House on 24th November, and I will write a review nearer the time.

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THE UNSEEN . . . Between the covers

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Lisa Towles is a California Girl by residence, but she hails from New England. She writes crime novels when she isn’t putting her IT Management MBA to good use in The Sunshine State’s tech industry. Long time followers of Fully Booked will recall my enthusiastic review of her earlier book Choke (2017) and will remember that I began that review with the words:

“Lisa Towles is over-cautious. Said no-one, ever.”

TU051She is back with a vengeance – and that same imaginative flair – with her new mystery thriller The Unseen and the action is just as breathless. We have a story that spans five decades and whirls us between Dublin, the Egyptian desert, Boston Massachusetts, London and Rome. With a cast of larger-than-life characters including archaeologists, journalists, hit men – and a direct descendant of an Eastern Orthodox Pope – the story is never short of surprises and dramatic twists.

The basic plot is that back in 1970, an archaeologist unearths a series of documents which, if they are authentic, could re-write the history of early Christianity. That archaeologist, Rachel Careski, disappears in mysterious circumstances, and the artifacts are believed to be in the safe keeping her brother, Soren. The story moves to 2010,  Soren Careski is long dead, and the secrets of the scrolls are assumed to have accompanied him to the grave.

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lisaWhat starts off in a rather Indiana Jones vein quickly morphs into Robert Langdon territory and there’s no shortage of rapidly-changing locations, sinister ancient manuscripts and malevolent religious freaks. Lisa Towles shows great skill in taking these well-visited elements and stamping her own imprint on them. The Unseen is published by 9mm Press and is out now.

 

Lisa Towles has a Facebook page, her own website, and can be found on Twitter as @bridgit66

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