Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Review: A Ton of Gold by James R Callan

Genre: Thriller/Western


"A 178 year-old folktale causes murder, kidnapping, and arson in 2012 Texas. A contemporary suspense novel, in which Crystal Moore, a young computer scientist, is dragged into danger when thugs set out to kill her only living relative, the 76 year-old grandmother who raised her. Crystal has no idea who would want to harm her grandmother, or why. In the midst of murder, arson, and kidnapping, the man who nearly destroyed Crystal emotionally is coming back. This time, he can ruin her career. She will need all the help she can get from a former bull rider, her street-wise housemate, and her feisty, straight talking grandmother."


"After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing. He has had four non-fiction books published. He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mystery/suspense. His eleventh book is scheduled to be published in 2016."

James also presents workshops in the U.S. and in Mexico on various aspects of the writing craft.

For more information visit the author's page on Amazon


This book is more remarkable for its characters than its plot - but that is pretty good too. It's a thriller with plenty of humour:

I'm not sure how hard to hit you. But you can help me. You keep making noises and I'll hit you a bit harder each time. You stop making noises when I hit you hard enough. Ok? Shall we start?”

The prologue sets the scene in Texas where a ton of gold is tipped into a lake and a small boy is taken by Indians. Nearly 200 years later we meet Crystal who works for a data recovery firm. When her beloved grandmother, Eula, says that someone is trying to kill her the story takes off. Is the lost gold deep in a lake on Eula's land? There are those who think so and they won't hesitate to commit arson or murder in their pursuit of the treasure.

Crystal is the main character, clever and aware of her abilities. However, she lacks the strength to assert herself in the face of opposition from those who are older and more experienced than herself, especially her old college tutor, Dr Krupe. He lurks in her memory, making her feel incompetent and it is very interesting to watch her develop throughout the book into a courageous, resourceful woman. The other characters hold good too: Mark, her boss who used to be a bull-rider in rodeos; Brandi, her colourful, supportive flat-mate; and of course, Eula, her capable, undefeated grandmother.

The story is well paced, with tension maintained throughout and it is especially good near the end:

He pictured the target moving as he twirled the rope. Even in the dark, his mind locked on the man as the rope picked up speed. Without consciously thinking about it, he let the hemp glide through his hand. One second, two seconds, and he pulled it back.

About half way through the story the policeman, Tom, with Crystal and Mark, sets out the facts as they know them and pulls in all the strands of information. This is very helpful to the reader who gets a breathing space from tension and a chance for a clear look at the mystery before moving forward again.

The dialogue flows easily and entertains:

"Sounds like you're luckier'n a three-legged chicken. You get a good look-see?"

The sense of place is strong; the dialogue makes it real and you can feel the heat and smell the dust. There is a great sense of peace around the lake on Eula's land, the marshy shallows, the deep blue of water and sky, the slopes green with pine trees. And then a contrast of dark, smoke-filled bars and predatory cowboys:

A young man, a big hole in the seat of his jeans, shirt unbuttoned and hanging open to reveal a mass of dark hair, sat on the corner of their table . . .

On the negative side - the character, Phil, is a bit of a distraction. He adds nothing to the story; his only purpose is to echo Crystal's situation with Dr Krupe which is unnecessary.

Altogether, this book is both exciting and fun with a very satisfactory ending - including just a hint of romance. It is the first of a series, with the second one published already. Readers will be delighted to begin another mystery and it will be so interesting to see how these, now familiar, characters develop . . .

Buy now from:    Amazon US   Amazon UK


Some mild violence

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Joan Slowey

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

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