Cult of Darkness, by D.W. Whitlock

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and D.W. Whitlock for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having been handed this ARC by D.W. Whitlock, I was eager to see if the core of the novel proved to be as enticing as the dust jacket blurb. Having read some of his other work, I was prepared for a thrilling and intense read, which would surely pull me into the middle of the action. I was not disappointed, as Whitlock told a story of great interest and kept me wanting to delve a little deeper.

While drugs continue to find their way onto streets and in the hands of the most vulnerable, there is a power struggle much higher up that is just as dangerous. Mexican drug cartels are battling not only to get their product onto the streets, but to control distribution and sales to any and all who find themselves needing a hit.

Of those groups who are wrestling for control, one has risen above all others: the Riviera. Headed by the ruthless Kukulkan, members of the cartel have begun peddling fentanyl, a drug more powerful than anything else on the streets. Bodies are strewn all around pristine Mexican communities, proving that this is one battle that will not end easily.

When the son of a prominent local businessman disappears, a call goes out to Alex Schofield, whose time in the Delta forces and investigative techniques are second to none. Schfield enters the landmine that is Mexico, in search of a boy who may have become involved in something more complex than he could have imagined.

While Schofield has made a vow to himself, he may have to break it in order to save one boy from imminent danger. However, there are other demons creeping up that could seriously harm Schofield on a more personal level. D.W. Whitlock weaves a chilling tale that will surely leave the reader on the edge of their seats throughout this great story.

While I have read the other novel published by D.W. Whitlock, this one was more captivating and enthralling than its predecessor. Full of action and wonderful character development, Whitlock proves that he belongs in this genre an should be noticed by those who love reading books of this nature.

The test of a great book is the ability to pull the reader in with ease as the story progresses. Whitlock does that well, as his narrative builds to a crashing crescendo and takes the reader on a journey like no other. With strong characters and some wonderful development to keep the reader wanting to know more, Whitlock teases the reader throughout the process, while tossing in some great plot twists to keep things interesting. There is no time to take a break between page turns, as the action culminates in something well worth the wait. I will keep my eyes open for more by D.W. Whitlock and hope others take notice.

Kudos, Mr. Whitlock, for another great read. I’m eager to see what’s to come!

Crucible of Fear, by D.W. Whitlock

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and D.W. Whitlock for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always eager to try something away from my usual genres, I agreed to read this ARC by D.W. Whitlock. The novel poses as a thriller, with a strong tech undertone, perfect for those who like exploring the darker underbelly of online cyber crimes. When an advertising executive is targeted, his life is turned upside down and he soon realises that nothing is off limits when it comes to getting a pound of proverbial flesh. Whitlock leaves the reader thinking throughout in this chilling tale of tech-based blackmail.

Dante Ellis thought that he had it made. A successful advertising executive whose career was still climbing, Ellis was sure success was in his back pocket. When he receives an odd text message one morning, he’s not sure if it is a threat or some joke. However, things soon spiral out of control and Ellis is faced with some chilling realisations. Someone is prepared to go quite far to flex their muscle and bury Ellis’ reputation at the same time.

As the story progresses, the reader is introduced to a number of other characters, all of whom are met some some similar, if less intrusive, attacks on their lives. The perpetrator is soon identified as the faceless ‘Dark Messiah’, showing that nothing is off-limits when technology is used. Through the seemingly harmless use of a dragonfly drone, Dark Messiah is able to keep an eye on those it targets, stirring up trouble or nuisances at the click of a button, with its drones always on scene.

While Ellis continues to get wrapped up in the sticky web that is spun around him, Dark Messiah ups the ante and targets the younger generation. A single parent, Dante Ellis soon has to worry about his daughter’s safety, as Dark Messiah crosses the line and targets the young girl. Her life on the line, Ellis is left to do whatever is asked of him in order to ensure his daughter’s safety.

Who is this faceless entity that calls itself Dark Messiah? What is the reason for targeting these seemingly unconnected group of people? All is revealed in a chilling story that D.W. Whitlock presents to the curious reader. This is one debut that will have many flipping pages well into the night, if only to see who is behind all the mayhem, all while peering around, looking for dragonflies or other ‘watchful eyes’.

I liked the dust jacket blurb of this piece and was sure that I would get sucked in by D.W. Whitlock’s story. While the book started with a bang and never gave me time to breathe, I am not sure I was as sold as some. The piece clipped along and left me wondering throughout, but it was also not as gripping as I would liked. However, I cannot place my finger exactly on what was missing or might have been a means of solving this reading dilemma.

Dante Ellis is surely the central protagonist in this piece, though the story does offer a large collection of characters with which the reader can connect. Ellis finds himself on full display, his life and reputation slowly torn apart throughout the piece. There are glimpses of backstory needed to fill in the gaps of the narrative, though it is the development (or dismantling) of the character that remains the core of the novel’s impetus as it relates to Ellis. The reader finds themselves trying to piece together who or what might want to target the ad executive, while feeling some degree of sympathy for his continual downfall. Whitlock does well to create this connection for those who enjoy linking themselves to characters.

There are plenty of characters and subplots for the reader to enjoy throughout this piece. While the early portion of the novel presents them as unconnected, there is a sense that Dark Messiah has a purpose. The villainous antagonist is ever-present throughout, providing the reader with something to dislike as the story progresses. That being said, there is surely a degree of respect for the evil doing, represented by the seemingly innocent dragonfly drones.

I liked the story to a degree, but was not sold entirely by the plot. As I mentioned above, I cannot pinpoint what was missing, but there was a disconnect that I desperately wanted to see throughout the novel. The premise was sound and the narrative kept moving along nicely, but I could not find myself fully enthralled or connected with what continued to occur. That others loved the piece is no surprise to me. Whitlock has a knack for writing and his crisp chapters pushed the story along with ease. Offering multiple perspectives proves refreshing and adds a layer of ominous sentiment to the overall delivery; that it is not a single person—Dante Ellis—who is suffering at the hands of this faceless entity. I’d likely read something else by D.W. Whitlock down the road, just to see if it might be me and my current mindset that left me less than fully committed.

Kudos, Mr. Whitlock, for a strong debut. I can see many who will thoroughly enjoy this piece, though there needs to be a balancing out. I suppose I am one who offers that, in review form.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons