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February 27, 2014

DEATH CANYON by David Riley Bertsch
KILLER’S ISLAND by Anna Jansson

Killer Nashville Featured Books

Dear Murderous Reader –

This week my reading was all over the place. I went from a mystery-western, to a Swedish version of a deranged killer on Martha’s Vineyard, to a whacked-out mental trip inside the head of a man falling apart in New York City. For my ADD brain, nothing could have made me happier, especially knowing two of these authors are debut.

Death Canyon by David Riley BertschDEATH CANYON by David Riley Bertsch

Debut author. Great new mystery/thriller. This book is the start of a series; but this story is so good, I’m not sure how Bertsch is going to top it using this scenario and these characters following this much fictional destruction.

The beginning gets my attention: earthquakes in Wyoming, men getting rid of the body of a friend of theirs in a watery gorge, and a group of half-naked Native Americans participating in a “relations” dance, which to this reviewer of Irish decent, looks a lot like the Celtic rituals of old.

Death Canyon is much better than the initial generic blurbs offered. This is an intertwined story of species’ rage and greed – both human and nonhuman. I really didn’t see in advance where this story was going (didn’t see it coming until page 157), which made it fun. This isn’t a story about fly-fishing and murder set in Jackson Hole; this is a story of avarice to the point of annihilating the human race, the propulsion to the end of the world as we know it. What starts small blows up to world-ending proportions. The backstory plays out with perfect pacing; not too much at the beginning, and then only peppered nicely when the explanation is needed. And add all the crazy and unexpected elements: Rocky Mountain wildlife, ex-lawyer, politics and corruption, Mafia thugs, real earthquakes in Wyoming (what’s up with that?).

In the beginning, Bertsch thanks his wife and family for giving him the courage to write this book. I thank them, too. There is a long career ahead for this new writer. Someday, I would like to take a little trip to Jackson, Wyoming and do a little fly-fishing with Bertsch. When the ground starts shaking, he would be a good one to have nearby.

Killer's Island by Anna JanssonKILLER’S ISLAND by Anna Jansson

I’m a fan of the differing perspectives in foreign novels (yes, my fellow Americans, there is a world outside the U.S.) and I’m a particular champion of the dark world of Swedish mystery writers. Killer’s Island is the action-packed seventh Detective Inspector Marian Wern book and the second of Anna Jansson’s – I think – translated into English, this one skillfully retold by Enar Henning Koch. I wish I spoke Swedish because – after reading this book – I’d love to read the rest in the chronology and also view the Swedish TV series based upon the character of Wern.

The story starts with a decapitated young nurse dressed in bridal clothes (hopefully not from Jansson’s part-time life as a nurse herself). Killer’s Island is part mystery and part scientific thriller. The supertech villain does a tremendous job playing cat-and-mouse with the police and Wern. What drew me in were my feelings for the victim. This is one of those books where, if you can figure out the motive, you can possibly figure out the killer. All deaths in this novel are taking place on an island – I love confined places stories.

What I got from this book: I have a new author to explore. With over 2 million copies of Anna Jansson’s books in print in over fifteen countries, I can only read two of them! We definitely need more translators and more publishers like Stockholm Text to get onboard sharing works such as this around the world.

The Last Time I Died by Joe NelmsTHE LAST TIME I DIED by Joe Nelms

Okay, this one made me pause. Highly different from my normal fare. At first, I wasn’t fond of the novel, but I couldn’t stop reading. That’s crazy. The reason is because the writing is just too darn good. Then after I got sucked into this character’s mad descent, the character was so complexly written that I couldn’t give the guy up. You’ve got to read this book! The last book I read that did this to me was Fight Club. I read that book once, but when the movie came out (starring a young Brad Pitt), I saw it (literally) six times at the 99-cent movie theater. This novel had the same effect on me. It’s a story I don’t think I would ever be able to write and it amazes me authors such as Nelms can turn out a world such as this.

This is a first-person novel of a man looking back at his unraveling life while his present life falls apart. The psychological first person format helps the reader view it from the main character’s perspective, even the fantasy of his detached self, where I began to wonder – and this is what the book is about – what is real and what is not? Sometimes I think the guy is going out-of-body for a detached third-person, which is freaky unto itself. It’s a dark book filled with caverns of repressed memories. The main character is a man focused on the negative who clearly sees the negative in others and acerbically – even laugh out loud – describes them. Reading this book is like watching a slow death. I can only imagine how tired Nelms was at the end of each day as he worked on this novel. For character studies, you don’t beat this one. It brings new meaning to the old phrase, How do I make you love me? As I read, I kept hearing Elton’s Blue Moves album in the background. You know, citing this character and in my own armchair-psychologist’s opinion, sometimes forgetfulness can be a good thing; I’m convinced that it is not always best – and I’m sure health professionals would disagree – to go digging in old tired mental graves. Obviously, this is a thrilling story that interested Nelms and one that he cathartically needed to write, definitely one you need to read, and a new author whose next book you should eagerly await.

Well, this should give you a few eclectic titles to read over the next few days. Get in touch with these authors, learn about them, and tell them you would like to see them at this year’s Killer Nashville.

And remember, if you buy your books through the links on Killer Nashville, you’ll still get the great Amazon discount prices, but – better yet – a portion of the proceeds goes towards the educational events sponsored by the good volunteers at Killer Nashville. So support Killer Nashville while you’re supporting our featured authors!

Until next time, read like someone is burning the books!

Clay Stafford

– Clay Stafford is an author / filmmaker ( and founder of Killer Nashville (  As a writer himself, he has over 1.5 million copies of his own books in print in over 14 languages.  Stafford’s latest projects are the feature documentary “One of the Miracles” ( and the music CD “XO” ( A champion of writers, Publishers Weekly has identified Stafford as playing “an essential role in defining which books become bestsellers” throughout “the nation’s book culture.”  (PW 6/10/13)

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