Make it Better

I recently heard an interview with John Cleese of Monty Python fame. He said something that struck me and that I can’t and won’t forget. When asking for someone’s opinion, whether for a story you’ve written, or anything else that you’ve created, don’t ask them if they liked it. Because, of course, they will tell you that they did. Instead, ask them “How can I make it better?” The input will be a quite a bit different. That person is now feels involved in your project and will be a bit more forthcoming and honest.

After dwelling on this for a while, it occurred to me that this statement “How can I make it better?” applies to our lives right now. In this divisive age where complaints and anger seem to be the norm, maybe we should all step back and ask: How can I make it better?

When you’ve answered that question, act on it. I believe that alone can make a difference.

Review of Damaged Souls

Damaged Souls. Sandra M. Colbert. Chicago: Windy City Publishers, October 11, 2017,

Trade Paperback, 225 pages.

Reviewed by David Steven Rappoport.

Ultimately, there are two kinds of detective novels: compelling and complacent.

Damaged Souls by Sandra M. Colbert is a heart-pounder. This story of a horrible crime

and its impact is a highly enjoyable read. It will keep you on the beach compulsively

turning the pages long past the protection of your SPF lotion.

Damaged Souls is the second novel in the Kate Harrison detective series, and it is far

better crafted than the first. After many years on the Phoenix police force, Kate is

haunted by a particularly dark crime, the murder of an infant, and as a result has left her

job. She has relocated to the northern Illinois town of Harley, where she is on a Chicago

commuter train when a man is discreetly murdered. Although she doesn’t know the

victim, he knows her; in fact, he’s left multiple messages on her cell phone. Thus, the

murders begin in this gnarled tale of a crime wrongly then correctly solved. It is the sort

of depraved saga that even a Jacobean theatergoer would appreciate—pitiless revenge,

drug-induced insanity, pervasive corruption, sexual enslavement, and desperate fear,

among other tragic delights—and the emotional slashes that result from all these that

cannot be forgotten or removed. No one in this novel has been spared a damaged soul.

Colbert is on her way to mastering the crime genre. The prose is lean and driven, the plot

is forceful, and transitions in time and place are handled with ease. The characters are

well-delineated and distinct. There is, perhaps, one formal element of the book that might

trouble the purist. That is the resolution of a romantic subplot, which, though written

convincingly, continues long past the resolution of the crime. But this is a relatively

minor matter and may even be enjoyable for the reader who reads crime fiction for

character as much as plot.

Damaged Souls is a deliciously dark crime novel that any reader who enjoys this genre

will savor. I look forward to the next book in the series—and the one after that.


Reviewed by David Steven Rappoport. The Reason by Sandra M. Colbert is a compelling page-turner about a heinous murder. From the beginning, there is little doubt who committed the crime. The suspense that drives the book is not whodunit but why they done it. As such, although the book is built on some of the elements of the detective novel, The Reason is not a conventional mystery. It reads more like a true crime narrative even though the crime is fictional. The psychology of the murderer is fascinating, and the crime is sufficiently vile that it is difficult to imagine a motive. Building on these elements deftly, Colbert drives the reader onward in fascination. While putting in a new fence in their garden, private investigator Kate Harrison and her police officer husband Paul discover a human skeleton. Pursuing the available clues, Kate and the police quickly identify the body and notify the next of kin. It is apparent from the beginning that this relative is involved in the crime. Yet, the circumstances of the crime are initially vague and as the clues emerge, they are increasingly hateful. Colbert eventually leads us to an explanation of what occurred and why, with the requisite twists and turns that a reader expects in this kind of novel. Sandra M. Colbert writes crime fiction well. Her prose is lean but effective, her characters are engaging, and the situations she creates are always interesting. Perhaps the revelation at the end is a bit too long, and it is difficult to understand why this particular villain is forthcoming with a confession at the end but had not been earlier. Also, the devoted mystery reader may hope that in future Kate Harrison books, the author reverts to a more traditional mystery structure: multiple plausible suspects and a knock-out surprise at the end when the murderer is revealed. These are minor concerns in the midst of a compelling read. Sandra M. Colbert keeps the reader fascinated—essential in this genre. I recommend this book to those who enjoy mystery novels and look forward to reading future Kate Harrison mysteries.