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





Silk Armor: my review


Silk Armor: Claire Syndenham  


How far would you go to escape the rules, cultural mores and confines of your parent’s home? Would you chance a relationship with someone does not practice the same religious rituals required by your parents and indoctrinated in you from birth? Cultures differ throughout the world and as we read each day in the news not every sect, religion or country will embrace the differences of others.


The backdrop for this novel is Turkey and the author fills the first chapter with vivid descriptions of the country, the mountains, the history and the cultural in order for readers to come away with their own mental images. The landscape is quite compelling and the diversity of the people is what makes the country so unique. Living within each town, whether large or small, the closely-knit communities often keep a watchful eye on all of the young people. Discord, dissent, controversy and diverse opinions fill the chapters of this book that many will spend hours discussing in discussion and study groups. Silk Armor begins as author and narrator Claire Syndenham relates the story of three young people each hoping to find their way in this world. Didem, a young Turkish woman and Victor an American instructor have a mutual attraction towards each other that can only lead to the downfall of one or both. A simple train ride to Istanbul sets in motion a chain of events that will change the lives of both young people and the author too. Entering the village of Eskisehir where they will be staying Victor and Claire become enveloped in the customs, nightlife and more.


Didem and Sevgi are friends living within the confines of their parent’s rules and customs yet one longs to free herself and the other is too afraid. Didem not always adorned in Turkish or traditional garb and Sevgi wearing a veil or Silk Armor as a mode of protection from peering eyes and the outside world.


Tensions mount throughout the novel as Didem’s behavior crosses the line and her parent’s reactions are not only harsh but some might say cruel. Her father the town’s butcher has lost his business and is hoping to recoup his loses. Working for someone else has embittered the man but when Didem arrives home late from giving a lesson, before she is allowed to speak and present him with the money she earned the force he uses against her would make any young person want to escape. Treated as a small child and not given a chance to become her own person she is told she will account for her time, be home when expected and adhere to his rules. Abuse comes in many ways and whether verbal or physical it comes through loud and clear in many ways throughout the novel.


While the author allows us to get to know Didem and takes us inside her relationship with Victor, we realize that her feelings often remain in check and that the outcome might surprise readers. Finding Victor’s journal at a crucial point in the story the author shares what transpires between Victor, Didem and her parents. Relationships can be complicated and although her parents think she is giving Claire lessons in Turkish allowing her to continue as long as it benefits financially benefits her father, no one is any the wiser at this point at what she is really doing and why.


A plan unfolds within Victor’s mind and the fragility of their relationship at stake. Allowing her to remain as Claire’s instructor gives her the freedom to continue their relationship and hopefully go forward with their plan. But, Claire confides in someone she thinks she can trust as her relationship with a young man blooms. Walking a very strong yet fragile tightrope hoping that it won’t snap. If the truth about their relationship becomes known just how it will be dealt with remains to be seen. Faced with cultural restrictions, obstructions, huge fences that might block their hope for a future, the two forge ahead. 



There are many voices that are heard throughout the novel but it is the author that presents them as she graphically and vividly describes the narrow streets, the vendors and her time with Victor. She continues to explain why some women wear veils, the meaning of wearing one that is black, how Didem reacts to these women, the prejudice within her and many others that comes out and caste system within the country. Victor’s journal is enlightening as we hear his innermost thoughts about his relationship with Didem.  Will they be able to pull off their plan?


Suggesting that she take the TOEFL, the Test of English as a Foreign Language test to enter a University in America, hoping that this will be her ticket to freedom. Getting Claire to teach her took a great deal of persuasion hoping her father will agree when and if she passes will get her green card.


 Different races and cultures clash and sometimes never blend. Sharing entries from Victor’s personal journal reveals what happens when one person is willing to risk continuing with their relationship and the other fears the outcome.


Claire enjoys the company of both Didem and Sevgi and when presented with their special coffee she decides to reciprocate and buys each of them a special present. Didem she gives leather gloves and Sevgi a silk veil. The reaction is quite remarkable as Claire realizes that Sevgi is not the only one that is hiding behind her own Silk Armor.


Didem becomes the victim of her father’s greed when he decides to handle her fate and her future. When Didem learns of Victor’s betrayal, finds out the truth about a dear friend she is torn between telling him the truth about something she has found out or staying silent. Education the answer to their problems as Victor hopes Didem will pass the test, get her green card and escape with him to America. But, trusts are breached, her secret revealed, what her father does will is short of placing her in permanent captivity. Betrayed by someone Claire thought she could trust, Didem learns to what lengths her father will go to prevent her from going to the University, living her own life and finding her own way. When the secret is unraveled and her fate sealed what happens next will bring tears to the reader’s eyes as one man fights and another loses the endless war. Will anyone come out ahead? Whose life will shine? Whose light will go out? Although it is thought to be Didem’s story it is really more the story of four young people whose futures are marked by the past represented by their parent’s mores.


Truths, lies, betrayals, deceits and jealously riddle the minds of each character as one young girl wants what another has leaving their friendship to stand the test of time. With Mustafa, Claire’s friend wanting to take what Victor has claimed the end result is more lies, plans and consequences that are unspeakable for one young girl. Parents rule and their desires are to be met and the possibility to change it all arrives.


Didem realizes the hidden truth behind her father’s motives and then comes face to face with another deception and betrayal. But, she is perpetrating one of her own as she hides the truth about herself as she faces another about Victor. To cover her footsteps about the test she lies about where she was but there is much more to her deception as we hear Victor’s voice, his feelings and the end result of his betrayal. Why does he commit himself to another for a short time? Why does he decide to find out what is behind the Silk Veil? When Didem finds the green veil in Victor’s apartment and shares what happens with Claire the end will surprise readers, as one action will change it all. Where does it all end and what is revealed by Sevgi as she relates her true thoughts, sets the record you might say straight in a direction you won’t see coming and as the police question Claire and the end result you will have to read for yourself. Where Mustafa winds up and what is the fate of Victor and Didem? An ending so riveting, so shocking and country filled with prejudice, rules, strict mores that would forever send shock waves and everlasting memories not only for Claire but for others too.


Sometimes we try so hard and it does not help. What would have happened if one truth were told? An ending so gripping and a story quite compelling as author Claire Sydenham takes readers inside her experiences within Turkey, the lives of two veiled girls and what happens when the only salvation is wearing a Silk Armor.


Fran Lewis: reviewer


Clementine’s Shadow: My review

Clementine’s Shadow

Author: Peggy Rothschild


The California desert provides part of the backdrop for this novel. The desert town of Ardon holds many secrets that its residents hope will remain buried under the hot sand and never revealed. A dark cloud hangs over the sun and blocks the harsh truths from coming out. Each person holding within him or her something they hope others will never learn.


Experiences can play a major part in what choices you make in life. Some choices are well thought out and will reap better benefits while others will bring you down and cause your life to take a downward spiral. Casey Lang was a good cop who worked for the LAPD. But, like most cops with a heart and conscious, killing a young child left her with a feeling that she could not really cope with. This traumatic experience almost equal to a traumatic brain injury but in a different way caused to shift gears and request a job in this small town.



Sometimes women are not given the chance to show their true potential and Casey finds herself doing traffic duty, writing up reports and doing what you might say is grunt work. Hoping to stay way below the radar and not step on anyone’s toes she realizes that she will have to tread the waters carefully.


Winston’s marriage went south when he caught his wife cheating on him at a party. Clarabelle loves men and although they share a young child that never stops her from trying to snag a date or anything else for her personal enjoyment. Winston is an alcoholic who cannot stay on the wagon and falls off at regular intervals at the same time every year. Working for a man that is hardnosed and demands perfection he has a hard time keeping his life and his drinking habits straight. When dealing with his sponsor they discuss his issues and hopefully he will repent. But, Winston is angry, unhappy and has made some bad choices in his life and the only reason he is trying to keep it together is for his young daughter Tiny. Money is all is ex-wife wants and unless he pays her support he won’t see his daughter.



Brady loves to smoke weed and his main squeeze Maisie supplies him with it. Well, she did until he forgot their 6- month anniversary. Justifying his actions and explaining his rationale for his behavior you realize that he too is headed for a slippery ride down an icy road.


Teens often mouth off and are sometimes sorry for their words and actions. Jane is rebellious. She has a fierce temper and when she and her grandfather spar the end result surprised her. Dressing inappropriately, not accepting her grandfather’s assessment of her clothes she becomes violent and the end result she no longer has a place to live. But, even worse, she never stopped to find out if he was okay after their violent encounter. Calling her brother to bail her out was her first line of recourse but as we hear her voice and get to know her better we realize that this will not be the last bad choice she made.


There is someone out there watching young children as we hear this person’s voice as one little girl named Dolly wants her candy and her mother wants her to wait until she completes her shopping. The voice is loud and clear and the end result will be a kidnapping at a concert that Casey, Winston and many others attend. Here is where the real story begins. Choices: You make them and have to live with the consequences.

There is much more as a connection is made where they found something belonging to the missing child and three men who never made it to the concert to join Brady. All were headed for Clementine Ridge and the young child’s headband was found there too.

So she has to tread carefully when her fellow officers look to her to take the lead in finding six year old Brittany Reid when the girl vanishes in the middle of a local fair. Casey sees Winston, Brittany’s father talking her another deputy and comes over to see if she can be of assistance. Having an understanding of having to run this type of investigation she is frustrated when forced to deal with someone that decided to streak during the concert. As we learn more about the child’s parents we realize that the mother sent Tiny to find her father in this huge crowd and she never made it. Clarabelle is only concerned with her needs and wants and does not hesitate to lay blame on Winston and much more.


While Brady, the streaker, is questioned a secret about Jane’s past is revealed as she shows more than just concern for the missing child. With her friend Earl, she attends the concert and on the way back to Bobbie Faye’s she explains what happened that she feels caused her parent’s death. Choices are made and often those can cause others to feel guilty and this young girl asked for her parents to rescue her from sleep away camp and the end result turned her whole life around.



A town divided with secrets that they kept hidden for so long. As they all ban together to find one little girl and the three men that disappeared. The location is found; the characters in place and the end result will send shockwaves down your spine. Hear the voice of the killer, learn his secrets and find out the rationale behind his actions and you will shiver. As Casey decides to take matters into her own hands and follows her instincts others follow and one dangerous pedophile needs their brand of justice. The story does not end there and the connection between the killer and one person will definitely create a twist in this intricate plot so well crafted and developed by author Peggy Rothschild that it will keep you in suspense until you turn the last page. As Casey continues her investigation we learn the hidden truth behind the killer and someone else that will turn one small town upside down and a hidden secret when unveiled will unearth more than just the bones beneath the ground.

Allowing readers to enter the desert, feel the heat, climb the mountains and become part of the plot you can see the backdrop of the scenery within you mind as you create your own mental image of the action described. But, nothing quite compares to each characters own account of their fears, choices and regrets when the author titles each chapter with each of the primary players within this novel.


Just when you think you have it all figured out you won’t believe what happens when someone else is about to be confronted and an explosive ending will leave the reader hoping that the author will bring Casey back again real so we can learn more about what is in store for this great deputy. Will the shadow be lifted or will the black cloud remain?

Fran Lewis: Reviewer