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By L. J. Sellers

Spellbinder Press, 2011 ($13.99)

ISBN-13: 978- 0-9832138-5-7
Kindle eBook: $2.99

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

In the very near future, 2023, the world has changed, and not for the better. All the concerns of today's world, including rampant unemployment, crazy weather patterns and severe climate change, flat economy, and limited access to health care, have come true. Police and fire departments, educational systems, and medical institutions have all suffered severe budget cuts. At the same time, all regulations for firearms have been dropped, and the population is heavily armed.

This leads, naturally, to a huge increase in shooting victims and a need for people who are trained to treat them. Lara Evans, who served for several years as a police detective in Eugene, Oregon, is now a freelance paramedic, and business is booming. She is just getting ready to take part in the most important event in her life when she gets a last-minute call for help. As she approaches the house, a man with a gun runs out, taking a shot at her that luckily misses its mark. She is armed with both a taser and a firearm, but decides treating the victim is more important than chasing the suspect. She finds a government official in an embarrassing position, with a severe but non-lethal wound. He tells her the man was his jealous lover, and begs her not to inform the police. Knowing she could lose her license if she doesn't, she reluctantly agrees. The man could have either a positive or negative influence on her life, and she might need his help in the days ahead.

The one bright spot in this dreary world is the yearly nation-wide competition called the Gauntlet. It's a cross between the Olympics, an Iron Man competition, and Dancing With the Stars. Each state sends the best and brightest athlete to represent them in a series of mental and physical challenges. The winner earns money for their state to spend on jobs and social programs, and Lara, the oldest contestant at forty-two, really wants to win.

She arrives in Washington, D.C., checks into her room and finds she's drawn a roommate from Hell, a tall, blond Amazon with an attitude. They clash right away and are called into the office of the program manager, who'd seen the whole incident on video. Instead of letting them change roommates, she urges them to keep up the conflict. Part of the deciding factor in who wins is public input. People pay to vote for their favorites, and have the power to make a challenge easier or harder, depending on their feelings toward a contestant.

Things go very well on her first day, but that evening things go very wrong. A contestant is murdered, and the aftermath threatens Lara's chances of staying in the contest. She knows her life is in danger as well. She suspects the killer's identity, but the police aren't willing to put much effort into helping her prove it. Relying on her own skills and some support from her friend back in Oregon, Detective Jackson, she sets off to do just that.

Eight months previously, Paul Madsen, a sad, homely and lonely government employee is trying to find a way to win the heart of his dream girl, Camille. A world-wide epidemic had wiped out several high officials, and Paul is given the task of drawing up a list of three replacement candidates for each government position in case such a calamity should happen again. When Camille asks him to put in a good word for her to be promoted to a more prestigious job, he develops a plan to do that, and to increase his chances of getting Camille to fall in love with him. He and Lara have a connection that will lead to a deadly conclusion in Washington.

Sellers has written some fine mysteries, beginning with The Sex Club, the first of five books in the Detective Jackson series. She has also written two other standalone thrillers. THE ARRANGER, her "futuristic thriller," is my favorite to date. The condition American society is in in 2023 is almost too real, given the current conditions. The parallel story lines take an intricate path, joining in an explosive and satisfactory ending.

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