Devil in the Hole: my review

Devil in the Hole: my review.


Devil in the Hole: my review

Devil in the Hole: Charles Salzberg

Murder comes to a small town and no one knows it or is aware of it. Someone notices the lights on in a house that never seems to ever go dark and begins to think that something is strange within its walls. Waiting three weeks while contemplating whether to call the police one man watches, waits, counts the lights that shine each night and finally decides to make that one phone call that would rock a small community’s feeling of security, safety and instill fear within the residents when five members of one family are found murdered. Just who would massacre their own family? It the house could speak and the walls could relate what happened this small town of Sedgweick, Connecticut, the home of the Hartman family would relate a story that will chill you to the core. When James Kirkland peers outside of his window and see wonders why the lights in the Victorian mansion across from his house never turn dark he begins to wonder why. When he finally makes that phone call to the police what they find, realize and learn would shake the inner core of the police chief who prefers not to handle the case, the FBI and many other law enforcement agencies. Three teenage children, Adele Hartman and Hartman’s mother are shot point blank in the head, each body covered with a blanket and quietly executed mob style. Listen to the voices of the police; James Kirkland; the killer and the neighbors as each one presents his/her own version, thoughts and ideas about why John Hartman decided to methodically, carefully and brilliantly kill his entire family.

Each voice presents his/her own viewpoint about this killer. The Reverend describes his first impressions upon meeting him, his conversation and the uneasy feeling that this man was judging him. Never meeting his wife except when he came to welcome the family to the community, the Reverend begins to think that maybe he was responsible for what happened. As John Hartman phoned him but from where no one really knows to say his family would be out of town and his son Paul would not be attending Sunday school. Perhaps if he paid closer attention he might have realized something was odd. The man was cold, austere and seemed quite rigid in his manner and ways.

You hear the voice of his mistress as she relates what happens when the other secretaries discuss the murders and how she wants to shout out that they have him all wrong and that their perception of this man was misdirected and misplaced. So, where is John Hartman and how did he pull off these murders with no one being the wiser? What happens when Charles Floyd, a senior police investigator gets the case and stops at nothing to question, inquire, and search for the evidence needed to find this man? A man whose life was filled with what others expected of him and who wanted to hide from himself, would not admit his faults or frailties nor allow others to point them out. A lonely man who filled his mind and time with what he thought life should be and when things were too rough and those around him became a burden he destroyed or killed him lessening the burden within himself and finally free you might way. A father who insisted he become an accountant. His desire to draw and his love of art as Janie his mistress describes not allowed by his austere and overbearing father. John hated failure and when things got rough and he found himself falling short of his own expectations he retreated within himself. Cold, hard, strict rules that he followed and a family that became a noose around his neck, this man decided to leave his life and start a new one thinking that the past would not become the present.

As you hear the many voices of his friends, mistress, the lead investigator and the reverend you learn just how disconnected, disjointed and cold this man really is. Why did he decide to kill his family? Why did he come back and burn down his house obliterating all memories, mementos and reminders that his family ever existed? Listen to the words of so many and hear their innermost thoughts as they relive, enact and revisit the many conversations they had with this man and one man, our first narrator, relives the moment when he realized that something in that house was wrong.  When James Kirkland looked out once more he saw a burning inferno facing him. One man, Charles Sandberg will not let this go and he brings to you the reader a portrait of a man so debase, so demented and evil that in order for him to be able to reconcile what happened he needed to write about it and share the murders, the viewpoints and his thoughts with the world. John Hartman, one question that still remains unanswered. WHY?

When you hear his voice you begin to understand the character of this man who divorced himself from reality and became in his own words someone else. How could he be responsible for the murders when he lived somewhere else, reinvented his life the way he always wanted and added some color. Scary as we hear the voice of a woman he meets in a bar, the investigators that are racing the clock to find him and the many different police detectives, friends and even his sister that describe him in almost the same way. Never feeling he was good enough. Never feeling that he pleased everyone he decided to please no one except himself. His wife hired a private detective to find out what she basically already knew. Struggling with his own identity, never really able to find satisfaction anywhere in his life John Hartman decided to take the lives of those he felt were bringing him down. A wife that hated their life. Kids he felt that were out of control and a mother who complained all the time and never smiled. That was his perception but when the PI describes Adele Hartman the descriptions are quite similar. Throughout this novel so many different viewpoints are expressed yet when you reread them, sift through the information and hear the voices of so many what you hear is not all that different and what you learn about this man will make you shudder.

Many women that he meets and spends time with as they recount their meetings with him and the eerie feeling they felt after he leaves. One group of young boys that had to fight their way against him in order to be rid of John. Others describing his actions as calculated, planned and done according to his own special plan as he describes everything he did in Florida, then his decision to go somewhere else because he could not be himself there and needed a new life. Every step of the way the special investigator would move heaven and anything else, defy the rules of his job and fight to bring this man to justice. John Hartman did not believe he was guilty and still does not. Delusional, paranoid and definitely insecure in his own body and mind, John Hartman raced to clock to stay invisible.

Graves are dug for those who are about to inhabit them six feet down and across in most cases. But, some holes or graves are dug way before as one man was so far inside the walls of a grave or mausoleum that he would never dig his way out ever. Hearing the voice of the special investigator who would never give up until he brought him in you begin to wonder who was more obsessed with the crime John or Charlie. James Kirkland was enjoying the celebrity that this incident brought him and others in his town stopped to ask him about what he knew. Deep inside the mind of John Hartman we see a man filled with imperfections that hated anyone or anything that was perfect. When you read how he committed the murders, how he cleaned up when completed you will not only cringe at the sight of him as he is described so vividly by the author but just knowing that his image and movements are revealed on each page.

Charles Floyd came to a dead end in this case and then moved on to another gruesome murder. A lawyer and a stockbroker from an upper class family were tortured and murdered. The description is quite graphic and the end result unusual as their appeared to be no motive for the murder. But, when the reason for the murders is revealed you can never tell a rich couple by their cover. You will be amazed. The reaction of Charlie Floyd you might not expect.

When you hear the interview with Peter Simpson you wonder why he did not realize just who he was riding with on a train, hear what he was admitting and call the police after he left. But, he like so many others did not see what was right in front of them as the author interviews his sister again as John calls her and the conversation would haunt her. Then the shoe falls off the other foot as someone decides to declare John legally dead and what Charlie does will not surprise anyone. Going to a psychic was next so would Katherine Seabury be the answer to where John Hartman was? Just what happens and how they finally get him you won’t believe. Sometimes we never see what is right in front of us until it is too late. In May of 1989 the world would see the most famous murderer in New Jersey in a story that would run for ten minutes reminding an entire community of a murder that took place 18 years before. Charles Salzburg brings to light the power of television, the relentlessness of one man to catch John and the trial of a century that I researched and read about to learn the starling conclusion.

This is one story that everyone needs to read and one that will remind people to be more vigilant about their neighbors, noticing something odd might save a life if you call the police. What would have happened if they knew earlier on? Would anything have changed? Would they have arrested him sooner? John Hartman: till this day thinks he is innocent. Read this story and learn why!

Fran Lewis: Reviewer



The Critical Element

Critical Element: John Betcher

When Air Force Lieutenant Michael Avery pours himself a cup of lukewarm coffee little does he know that the events that follow would wake him up faster than the caffeine in the coffee? A slow night, monitoring devices operating normally and then in flash something changed. Staring at the screen realizing what is happening Avery’s console light sup with an alert reflecting a missile launch. Could this be real? Could it be something out of the ordinary or a simple anomaly? What about a simple malfunction or is it something else? After assessing the information and getting confirmation from the Aegis Ballistic Missile Detection System, he realizes this is for real and in fact a ballistic missile was launched by believe it or not North Korea. But, would they be successful and what is the real reason for this missile launch? As the information began to filter in and the threat unfolding the room where he was working filled with numerous personnel each trying to find out the true source, where it might land and any immediate threat to a specific population. As Avery checked the altitude of this missile he began to relax realizing that the intended target Philippines was safe. But, like everything else when the all-clear signal was sounded and the danger averted we often become complacent and keep on the alert. The are nine commands in the United States Strategic Command including detachments of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the SSN or the U.S. Space Surveillance Network each working to stop any attacks on the United States along with our allies by focusing, monitoring and “tracking air and space-based threats.” But, when things cool down and the danger had passed many thought that once again Northern Korea failed in its attempt to launch a missile. But, like everything else in life sometimes things are not always what they appear to be and the end result of this as the Korean’s stated, “weather satellite,” although some though dead, many claimed to be in violation of the United Security Council resolutions clearly aimed at “restricting the rogue states’ nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.” But, what no one realizes that sometimes patience wins out and the end result is definitely not what anyone expects. So, where does this missile land? What happens when it reaches its optimal height? What if you were looking through a telescope and saw two things: one a missing panel and the second a perfect sphere as this thing comes tumbling down.

Rodney Holton loves to milk people for all they are worth. His many ventures are so outlandish that when he hits attorney James Becker with his latest what most would think half-baked idea, you just won’t believe what he claims he saw, where it wound up and how it might link to our missing missile. How would you react if a meteor landed right smack dap in the middle of your farm? Well, if you were Rodney you would hire a lawyer for a dollar, demand that he keep your conversation in confidence and then find a way to make money. The conversation between Rodney and Beck is priceless as you listen to his reasoning and try to follow his logic. But, there is much more. Although Rodney claims that this meteor fell in the middle of his farm, he heard it fall but never saw it. This bothers Beck and sends him to seek the advice of his close friend and Chief Deputy Sheriff Gunner. But, not before he and so many others pay Rodney twenty dollars a head just to see this thing in person.

The setting is Red Wing, Minnesota, the meteor set amid some burnt grass and the area cordoned off with tape so that it looks like a bowling ball fell from the sky. But, this would not be a mystery if everything fit into a nice neat package, and this does not. Something about Rodney’s story does not ring true, hence the visit to Gunner to discuss what is nagging at him and hopefully together they might find the answer.

Sometimes events connect and things happen that cause people to take actions that they normally would not. Kent Evans was once a prosperous veterinary pharmacist supplies medicines, vaccines and needed supplies to farmers to keep their livestock healthy. But, what happens when the economy takes dive, some decide to cut corners and preventive veterinary care is not of upmost important to farmers. Making sure their cattle remain healthy, not ordering the needed supplies from people like Kent, allows them to cut corners and hopefully keep the beef industry healthy without the services of this man. Bills have to be paid, and costs are rising and Kent Evans decides to push the envelope, think out of his dangerous box and develops a way to reignite his business but at what cost and to whom? As the story develops and you hear his plot you begin to wonder just how far he will go to increase his sales and hide what he’s doing from his family. A short trip to South Africa might solve his problem and what he manages to bring back might cause a pandemic that would not only create havoc in the beef industry but would ruin another man’s livestock and life. Infecting cows with Hoof and Mouth Disease was the mode of infection, just how you won’t believe as one man carries out his plot bringing back this strain which comes from a South African tribal farming community and getting to the United States took some great ingenuity and expert planning. Just how this all ties in and how did Kent learn more about ways to contaminate animals, the vaccines being created and more is quite interesting. Just how one “meteor,” this disease and a missile attack connects is the creation of author John Betcher in his latest blockbuster novel: The Critical Element.

Enter in FBI agent Costa and his thoughts on the meteor as we find out that it has been stolen from Rodney’s farm and the events that follow tie in the missing North Korean Missile to this meteor. Added in Rodney’s cattle comes down with Hoof and Mouth Disease and the real mystery is how they were infected and by whom. “Foot-and-mouth disease or hoof-and-mouth disease (Aphthae epizooticae) is an infectious and sometimes fatal viraldisease that affects cloven-hoofedanimals, including domestic and wild bovids. The virus causes a high fever for two or three days, followed by blisters inside the mouth and on the feet that may rupture and cause lameness. Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) has severe implications for animal farming, since it is highly infectious and can be spread by infected animals through aerosols, through contact with contaminated farming equipment, vehicles, clothing or feed, and by domestic and wild predators.[1] Its containment demands considerable efforts in vaccination, strict monitoring, trade restrictions and quarantines, and occasionally the elimination of millions of animals.” So, when Rodney’s cattle become infected with this disease what happens will deplete his herd, cause great concern and hopefully according to one man increase his income. But, there is much more as one Korean man is charged with the responsibility to take apart the missile, find out what it is comprised and make sure its contents are safely secured. Within the confines of this object the author relates is white powder mixed with another substance, which is also white. Why would anyone want to land a missile in Minnesota? What is their major plan and who is the person that wants to enact a bioterrorist attack on America soil? Is the mastermind the North Korean Dictator who expects his word and wishes to be followed without any pause for thought or questioning? With the help of his old friend Bull, his wife Beth and the Deputy Sheriff, Beck can often circumvent the rules and regulations of other agencies and get the job done himself. Two halves make a whole and the center of the missile was filled with a dangerous white powder but another powder of substance of undiluted powder needs to be found. Just what was this critical element? Millions might be obliterated if this powder finds the right breeding ground. Linking the missile to attack on Rodney’s cattle the team of experts find the cause and where the disease came from surprises them. But, would North Korea be so creative as to create this epidemic? What about the contents of the capsule?


When Beck with the help of his wife Beth learn more about the location of the man who sent two emails to the Gunner in order to get some publicity for his Hoof and Mouth Stunt, another group will try and locate the Korean man’s wife and see just how she fits into the picture. Learning more about the white powder, the fact that only half was found within the capsule and the rest was something else alerted Beck to the fact that the FBI needs to look closer at the wife and find out where the other half of the white powder is and when and where would the threat take place.


What about a huge Mall to set up a chain reaction that would go unnoticed for a while until people got really sick? What about trying to contain whatever this substance was in without causing a commotion? When Beck and Bull narrow down the distance between them and the possible threat it takes a whole army plus the FBI to complete the task, bring it under control and hopefully get those involved. While they are at one end of the state Gunner and his rookie cop Kyle are at another hopefully stopping Kent before he completes what he hopes would help increase his veterinary medical supply business. As Beth is his computer encryption expert, Gunner takes matters into his own hands to get one man so desperate that he was willing to risk more than must the lives of some livestock.


An ending that will keep you guessing at they race the clock to stop two terrorist attacks from happening but will they get there in time. Just what is the critical element that ties both of these cases together? I have it figured out but the answer is classified and limited to those with clearance. So, in order to find out what happens you will just have to read this novel for yourself. Critical Element: One outstanding novel filled with surprises, twists, turns, Beck’s special brand of sarcasm and humor and characters that you definitely want to meet again. What is next for Beck, Beth and the rest? Only five star author John Betcher has the answer and he’s not giving anything away at this time.


Fran Lewis: reviewer