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Steve Zell
Author, Illustrator
Steve Zell, author

Adult; Mystery/Thriller; (Publish)

In 1968 Los Angeles, Investigative Reporter Deanne Mulhenney and Medical Examiner Sara Poole, risk their lives in a dangerous attempt to bring a brutal murderer to justice. Mob wars, politics and a thriving drug trade have produced an assassin like no other. Evidence suggests the killer is female - a woman with terrifying skills...and tastes.

Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 8 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 8.75 out of 10


Plot: Smart and compelling, this second installment in Zell’s series is too good to pass up. Told in multiple perspectives and time periods, the author manages to close all of the gaps.

Prose/Style: Clear and concise, the words flow together well. The author uses bold headings to cue the reader that the time and place has changed, which helps the reader tune in.

Originality: An obscure complication involving one of the characters makes this an intriguing story. Most readers will find the premise behind the complication to be well-executed.

Character Development/Execution: Strong, complex characters keep all of the facets of the story moving forward. The main character’s fast-paced actions and decisions keep the reader on their toes.

Date Submitted: May 12, 2021

This violent and riveting noir thriller—second in the Mulhenney & Poole series—follows an investigative reporter and medical examiner in 1968 California on the bloody trail of a killer leaving horrifically maimed bodies in her wake. A parallel story features Alena, a woman with physical disfigurements and psychological damage, and her involvement with a brutal mob family. Meanwhile, the characters face history and the fallout from the assassination of Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles. The three women battle their own inner demons as their tasks, and obsessions, bring them toward an explosive finish.

Zell’s fascinating characters will grab readers’ attention. Sara Poole is an especially rich personality, full of startling and yet believable contradictions—a dispassionate scientist who nevertheless is capable of terrifying violence. Deanne Mulhenney is also fully drawn, with an engaging mix of ambition, talent and fear. But the most remarkable is the chilling Alena, who’s given a backstory from the grimmest days of World War II. The various plotlines get a little tangled, and it can be hard to keep track of everyone's motives (including the factions in internal mob wars), but the leads never fail to enthrall.

Zell excels in bold staging, and the frequent scenes of sex and violence are equally lavish. One death has "blood gushing between the fingers he clasped tightly to his throat… Zasha drew a pistol from the waistband of her pants and shot the dying man through the forehead," and a scene between lovers is comparably evocative: she felt "fingers on the back of her thighs, sliding her dress up to her waist...the warmth of her fingers traveled slowly, surely, then deeply inside her." These scenes, like another that walks a fine line between seduction and rape, may offend some readers but pack a serious punch. The engaging cast and their predilection for sumptuously presented sex and violence make this a definite page turner.

Takeaway: Fans of character-driven thrillers with passionate action will revel in Mantis.

Great for fans of: Robert Ludlum, Lee Child.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: B+
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: B

Feathered Quill Book Reviews

"...a thrill ride that combines the past and present in a way you will never forget."

"Zell knocks it out of the park with his Investigator/Medical Examiner team that is as entertaining and exciting as Mulder and Scully."

— Feathered Quill Book Reviews

MANTIS in the Spotlight at Feathered Quill Book Reviews

MANTIS - the second book in the Mulhenney & Poole series will release in paperback, Kindle and Nook tomorrow, March 15, 2121.

Check out this week's Spotlight section at Feathered Quill Book Reviews!