Blood on the Tracks

Blood on the Tracks

A Suspense Magazine Best of 2016 Books Selection: DebutA young woman is found brutally murdered, and the main suspect is the victim’s fiancé, a hideously scarred Iraq War vet known as the Burned Man. But railroad police Special Agent Sydney Rose Parnell, brought in by the Denver Major Crimes unit to help investigate, can't shake the feeling that larger forces are behind th...

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Title:Blood on the Tracks
Author:Barbara Nickless
Rating:

Blood on the Tracks Reviews

  • Tulay

    This author must have been studying the eyes of everyone since birth, she is more mature than her years on this earth. Description of places, cold, blowing desert sand short, but you feel like you were there with her characters. Marine Sydney Parnell back from Iraq, she is strong and haunted by the ghosts of soldiers she picked up, sometimes just the few body parts, so they come back home. Gripping story, beautifully written, suspenseful book. Can't wait to read more books w

    This author must have been studying the eyes of everyone since birth, she is more mature than her years on this earth. Description of places, cold, blowing desert sand short, but you feel like you were there with her characters. Marine Sydney Parnell back from Iraq, she is strong and haunted by the ghosts of soldiers she picked up, sometimes just the few body parts, so they come back home. Gripping story, beautifully written, suspenseful book. Can't wait to read more books written by this author, and I will be reading this book again and again.

  • Tracie Payne

    This was EXCELLENT! At first it was a little shaky but I think it was just me. I loved Sydney's voice and inner thoughts. She was a serious bad ass but she was also broken. I loved Clyde a ton. This had a great mystery and it kept me guessing the whole time. I can't wait for the next book and I'm shocked this was the first novel for this author. The writing was fantastic.

  • Veronica

    I was dithering back and forth between giving this four or five stars. Since I stayed up late to finish it and because I thought it did a really good job of dealing with PTSD in war veterans, I settled on giving it the rare five stars.

    This is a new to me author so I went into the story with absolutely no expectations. What I found was a compelling story with interesting char

    I was dithering back and forth between giving this four or five stars. Since I stayed up late to finish it and because I thought it did a really good job of dealing with PTSD in war veterans, I settled on giving it the rare five stars.

    This is a new to me author so I went into the story with absolutely no expectations. What I found was a compelling story with interesting characters that left me wanting more. Sydney Parnell, the female protagonist, is a former Marine who served in Mortuary Services during the Iraq war. I work with veterans daily and have spoken with several whose MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was in Mortuary Services and it's a pretty grim experience by anyone's standards. It's no surprise then that Sydney has been diagnosed with PTSD and this book comes as close as any I've come across in accurately describing the inner turmoil and pain felt by those who suffer from it. Sydney sounds like almost every veteran, male and female, that I've worked with in the past ten years.

    Now back home in Colorado, Sydney works as a railroad detective with her canine partner, Clyde - a veteran war dog, at her side. I loved Sydney's relationship with Clyde and he was a character in his own right. Both are called in by Detective Mike Cohen of the Denver P.D. to help with a murder case when it's suspected that railway hobos are involved but the case soon becomes far more personal than Sydney could have guessed.

    I was pretty much hooked from the start and my interest never wavered. There was enough going on in the story that I did not see the end coming. Speaking of the ending, the author really turned up the intensity in those last couple of chapters hence my staying up late to finish it. I felt pretty attached to both Sydney and Clyde by the end and I'm rooting for both to find some peace.

  • Christine

    4.5 stars

    Well, my goodness—yet another outstanding debut thriller!! I cannot believe how many wonderful new authors I have discovered this year. It is a real pleasure to add Ms. Barbara Nickless to the list.

    Blood on the Tracks is a thoroughly engrossing read about Denver railway cop and former Marine Sydney Rose Parnell, her K9 partner Clyde, and their efforts to bring down the murderer of a young woman named Elise. Elise was known to the railway jumper community as “the good-hearted lady.” Who

    4.5 stars

    Well, my goodness—yet another outstanding debut thriller!! I cannot believe how many wonderful new authors I have discovered this year. It is a real pleasure to add Ms. Barbara Nickless to the list.

    Blood on the Tracks is a thoroughly engrossing read about Denver railway cop and former Marine Sydney Rose Parnell, her K9 partner Clyde, and their efforts to bring down the murderer of a young woman named Elise. Elise was known to the railway jumper community as “the good-hearted lady.” Who would want to kill this woman? This plot point is actually just the tip of the iceberg in this topsy turvy gripping tale. The story goes deep and wide from there.

    Yes, the plot is definitely a winner. And there are so many elements. We have suspense, thrills, a touch (just a touch) of potential romance, family relationships amongst troubled souls, the workings of the railway and its transient community, and the dilemma of when something innately wrong could be really right. We get much angst and emotion that will appeal to men and women readers alike. Most important is the beautifully written theme of PTSD. There are several characters who have been brutally affected by this condition, including the dog Clyde, but none more so than our protagonist Sydney Parnell. Each chapter begins with an insightful statement from Sydney, either from her personal journal, a therapy session transcript, or from a publication/interview. Her words reflect her experiences in Iraq and her philosophical reactions to those experiences, and how those are affecting her current journey. I’m not one for military themes, but I found this thread of the story profoundly moving.

    Several other things are worth mentioning. The dog Clyde is a wonderful addition to the story. He is not in it for cuteness. He is a serious character you won’t soon forget. Secondly, though Sydney sees ghosts of the dead people she dealt with in assignment in Iraqi, we are not dealing with a strong paranormal element. Thirdly, I must give kudos to Ms. Nickless for the tremendous amount of research that went into this book—most impressive. Finally, get a look at that gorgeous cover and the wonderful title, which turns out to be perfect.

    I have two criticisms, which added up to a half star deduction. I found the first 20% of the book rather slow and this very putdownable section took me three days to get through. But an out of the blue event shot the pace up tremendously around that point, and from then on it was extremely hard to pull myself away. Also, I thought the end was too rushed. The wonderfully suspenseful and thrilling action scenes could have been more drawn out in my opinion. Furthermore, I would have liked to have had more about the final consequences of all the events on the survivors. Now, this book is #1 of a new series, so I am thinking we might get the latter in book 2; I hope so as I want to know more about these characters. Needless to say, I became heavily invested in Sydney Parnell. She has vaulted up to become one of my favorite protagonists ever.

    This novel is well worth a read, trust me. If you are looking for a richly layered story imbued with a hefty amount of emotional and intellectual depth, pick this one up. Most strongly recommended.

    I wish to thank Net Galley, Thomas and Mercer, and Ms. Barbara Nickless for an advanced copy of this novel. My opinions are totally mine and are not biased in any way.

  • Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede

    Once in a while, a book turns up that right from the start sucks me into the story and makes me fall in love with its characters. Blood on the Tracks is a book like that. I was instantly hooked with the story and I could not for my life figure out the truth about the young woman death before Syndey Rose herself figured it out. Railroad police Special Agent Sydney Rose Parnell is a new favorite heroine of mine. Her past in the army has left her with a broken heart and awful memories that plague h

    Once in a while, a book turns up that right from the start sucks me into the story and makes me fall in love with its characters. Blood on the Tracks is a book like that. I was instantly hooked with the story and I could not for my life figure out the truth about the young woman death before Syndey Rose herself figured it out. Railroad police Special Agent Sydney Rose Parnell is a new favorite heroine of mine. Her past in the army has left her with a broken heart and awful memories that plague her every day. And she sees ghosts, they don't talk to her, but they are with her. A constant reminder of the war and not only that soon she sees the murdered woman as well...

    Blood on the Tracks is Barbara Nickless debut book and the first in a series and I just can't wait to read the next book. I was impressed both with the story and the writing and I found Sydney Rose Parnell to be such a wonderful character, damaged both from childhood traumas and from the war when her lover Dougie died during a mission. I found myself loving Dougie as well, despite him hardly being in the story, just memories. The link to the war in Iraq is fascinating and I can't wait to find out more in the next book because something clearly isn't right with the "secret mission and events around it" and it seems that there are people who don't want Parnell to investigate it. I also found Parnell's relationship with Detective Mike Cohen interesting, and it will be interesting to see if he will be able to break down her walls. Then, we have Clyde, her K9 partner, I just love books that feature K9 dogs and Clyde just as Parnell has gone through hell in Iraq. In a way, they cling to each other after losing the one person that they love the most; Dougie.

  • Mark Stevens

    "Blood on the Tracks" starts out as a thriller, morphs into a mystery, and turns back again into a movie-ready action-packed finish. But if you mention "movie," that sounds like this story hits the usual marks and follows the normal arcs. It doesn't. It's messy--in a good way--because it feels so driven by character. It's ambitious and sprawling. The story swoops from big picture (hey, stop that train!) to intimate. It's both violent and raw. "Blood on the Tracks" is about the ghosts of war, rac

    "Blood on the Tracks" starts out as a thriller, morphs into a mystery, and turns back again into a movie-ready action-packed finish. But if you mention "movie," that sounds like this story hits the usual marks and follows the normal arcs. It doesn't. It's messy--in a good way--because it feels so driven by character. It's ambitious and sprawling. The story swoops from big picture (hey, stop that train!) to intimate. It's both violent and raw. "Blood on the Tracks" is about the ghosts of war, racism, class, rank, a harrowing search for identity and, of course, truth and justice. It rolls all those topics, and more, into a multi-faceted manhunt, at first, and clue-finding mystery.

    Railroad Police Special Agent Sydney Rose Parnell is one complex and interesting character. She sees dead people, for one thing. But don’t think paranormal. Uh, hardly. These are “skills” she doesn’t necessarily want. She’s haunted for many reasons, including the fact that she worked in corpse retrieval in Iraq. She was also involved in a situation covering up certain atrocities over there.

    The plot involves the murder of young woman who was known for her kindness to hobos and drifters. She is murdered in vicious fashion. The victim had been "sliced and diced." The killer scrawled bloody hobo symbols nearby so Sydney and her K9 partner Clyde are pulled into the investigation and soon working to stop a northbound freight train as they hunt for the killer. Clyde is a great character, too. He’s got his own darkness. Something is broken inside him, too. They are a good pair.

    But this is Sydney’s story—all Sydney. She is very much a loner. She had a “ragged” childhood, effectively without parents. Her father abandoned the family. Her mother murdered her new boyfriend. By age thirteen, “after a long period of furious, wounded rebellions,” Sydney Rose thought she had buried her demons “and set out to prove she was nothing like them.” She joined the Marines and later the railway police “out of courage” and tried to find a new identity, but kept realizing that the angry thirteen-year-old had never quite disappeared.

    Sydney Rose wants nothing to do with murder and mayhem, but can’t avoid getting sucked into this one. She also has railroads and diesel in her blood, and this case goes straight to her heart. “I just wanted to be a regular twenty-seven-year-old woman, holding down a decent job, enrolled at the community college, and studying whatever caught my interest while I tried to figure out my life. Maybe later I’d want something more, but all I cared about right now were the simple things—my grandmother and my dog and a roof over our heads and not losing all of that because of something that went down in another life on the other side of the world.”

    After Sydney Rose leads a big scene where they stop and search a freight train bound from Denver north toward Ford Collins. Sydney and the cops all think they’ve got their man—or do they? The guy in custody is Tucker Rhodes and here’s where Blood on the Tracks gets layered and rich. Rhodes is a war vet, too, and he’s dealing with the same mental struggles and a “war-broken heart.” Do you think there might not be something fresh about a character struggling with PTSD? Think again.

    Tucker seems like the obvious culprit but based on the number of pages left to read we know there are some problems coming. Those problems start rushing at Sydney in waves. The hunt leads to big-picture conspiracies and into the deadly lair of white supremacists and ultimately into a terrifying confrontation with a predator during a snowstorm in Wiggins. In the end, there is blood on the tracks and many other places, too.

    Sydney Rose is a terrific character. Her demons feel real. She broods about them but keeps pressing forward, too. She quotes Hemingway and Shakespeare (not Bob Dylan?), but doesn’t overdo it. Nickless no doubt put a ton of research into finding just the right credible details about railway cops and freight trains and all the flashbacks to Iraq, but nothing bogs this story down. Nickless gives "Blood on the Tracks" a chugging, relentless appeal. You will long remember this spectacular debut, especially after they make the movie.

    More on my book review page including an interview with Barbara:

  • Theresa Alan

    This is great writing. The story and characters grab you right away and the pace is unrelenting.

    Railroad cop and Iraq veteran Sydney Parnell is brought in to help track down The Burned Man, a man known for riding the rails and suspected of a vicious murder of a woman who reached out to people in need, including those who ride trains.

    The Burned Man is an Iraq vet who has burns over thirty percent of his body, including his face. He should be easy to find, but when Sydney and her canine, Clyde (w

    This is great writing. The story and characters grab you right away and the pace is unrelenting.

    Railroad cop and Iraq veteran Sydney Parnell is brought in to help track down The Burned Man, a man known for riding the rails and suspected of a vicious murder of a woman who reached out to people in need, including those who ride trains.

    The Burned Man is an Iraq vet who has burns over thirty percent of his body, including his face. He should be easy to find, but when Sydney and her canine, Clyde (who is also haunted by his time in Iraq), join the Denver Police on the case, Sydney begins to suspect that maybe someone other than The Burned Man is responsible for the woman’s horrible death.

    Sydney still sees the ghosts of the people she put back together during her time in mortuary affairs in Iraq. Even before her two tours of duty, she had a rough childhood. She is a complex individual, and both Sydney and her dog are likeable characters. The snowy, cold Denver weather and setting play an important role in this story as well.

    I highly recommend this suspense-filled story.

    Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book.

    For more of my reviews, please visit:

  • Donna

    This book was a solid 4 stars. I enjoyed this. It falls into the Mystery/Crime genre and there were many things to like about this one. I liked the MC. She is not the normal MC for this genre. She was flawed and a little broken, but she was also strong. Her side kick is a dog which in some way makes her even more likable.

    The story line meandered a bit, but I loved the plot points and there were some great twists. The thing that I liked the most was the creative writing of the author. She has a g

    This book was a solid 4 stars. I enjoyed this. It falls into the Mystery/Crime genre and there were many things to like about this one. I liked the MC. She is not the normal MC for this genre. She was flawed and a little broken, but she was also strong. Her side kick is a dog which in some way makes her even more likable.

    The story line meandered a bit, but I loved the plot points and there were some great twists. The thing that I liked the most was the creative writing of the author. She has a great way with words regarding the descriptive strokes. I would definitely read more by her.

  • Shelley

    The temptation is to star the book and leave it at that. But most critical objections I've seen were to the language and subject matter of the novel, the less-than-angelic depiction of American troops, and the heroine's ETOH and drug use. While not to everyone's taste, surely, those are silly reasons to object to a book. (If you don't like these things, don't read the book. What on earth are you doing reading in this genre?)

    Those things don't bother me at all. I had a brother in Iraq. I may look

    The temptation is to star the book and leave it at that. But most critical objections I've seen were to the language and subject matter of the novel, the less-than-angelic depiction of American troops, and the heroine's ETOH and drug use. While not to everyone's taste, surely, those are silly reasons to object to a book. (If you don't like these things, don't read the book. What on earth are you doing reading in this genre?)

    Those things don't bother me at all. I had a brother in Iraq. I may look sweet, but I can cuss the paint off the walls, and I know far too much about sex crimes and aggravated murder (thankfully secondhand and professionally, but that was close enough). I found the characters mildly unbelievable (but not absurdly so--at least in the main) and I'm more likely to take umbrage at the depiction of the Belgian Malinois, having owned (or been owned) by a Mal from working police/military lines. RIP Norris (1998-2009).

    My objections stem from the writing itself, from a craft POV. The beginning is overwrought, full of strained metaphors. (For every simile, take a drink and see if you're not more f-ed up than the heroine.) The connection between the heroine and the love interest cop is based on what seems to be a previous novel, although this is billed as the first in the series. (Alluding to a previous relationship/contact is NBD, but there was too much--bad editing.)

    The middle is usually the weakest part of the novel, but it's the most interesting part of this one, complete with conspiracy theories that are more than just that. (IMHO the conspiracy doesn't seem to merit the fear of exposure associated with it--I suspect it may have been toned down.)

    Sadly, the end is a hot mess.

    Mild spoilers

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    The heroine has spent the entire novel being beaten to a pulp but has "comforting" sex with a "murder detective" who is also injured. You know, because that's attractive and exactly what people want to do when they're in acute pain. Also, the murder detective thing? The guy's a city detective and the heroine's a RR cop, and in addition to the predicable turf wars, there is this endless, pointless, wasting of words on calling him a "murder cop" instead of, I don't know, a cop. Again, sloppy editing and a waste of words.

    Another irritation: the heroine's grandmother, an ER nurse, plies her granddaughter with a bunch of Vicodin, a mild painkiller paired Tylenol, but a controlled substance. (Illegal, unethical, and unsafe for an RN to do.) And that's after the heroine has already taken a bunch of (Tylenol) and other pills. Perhaps this is too nitpicky, and putting aside the alcohol some reviewers found objectionable--why does this woman still have a functioning liver? It only takes 9 grams of Tylenol in a 24 hour period to whack a liver.

    Craft irritation: giving the heroine a double-barreled name pads the word count. I didn't count, but when "Sydney Rose" or "Detective Cohen" or any other name is used with two words instead of one, you've used words that would have better been spent on plot (or weeded out, preferably with the over-the-top attempts at hard-boiled tone in the first third of the novel).

    Major spoilers (will ruin the plot for you, perhaps):

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    Following the implicit rules of a murder mystery, the bad guy is going to be someone unlikely but introduced early on. That's limited to one of two people, and it is. In fact, in some ways, it's both of the likely (but not on police radar) possibilities.

    It's not hard to imagine that Nik is an asshole who'd kill someone, especially since he spends the beginning of the novel tramping around where he is very much not supposed to be, trying to kill the main suspect, and there are plenty of hints that he doesn't value his nieces as much as he does his son.

    The theme of the book seems to be that in war, good people do bad things because of expediency or some other reasons, that they come home and are damaged, and whether or not they are redeemable is up for grabs, but it's implicit that they are, in the main, redeemable. Having Nik as the murderer--I suppose the flip side of the "good" Marine--is predicable and boring, because he was clearly trying to interfere with the investigation from the start (and the heroine allowed it; another strain at credulity and a mark against professionalism).

    Three people would have made better murderers: the battered woman (a valid theory for a while), the private detective (although motive would have required a change) and Gentry, with Nik covering up for his son (something he'd already done). Having a bad civilian (bonus: he's a lawyer and even this lawyer knows everyone loves a bad lawyer--it's satisfying to the public) instead of a bad Marine as the murderer would have been more satisfying.

    So, unlike most Kindle First books, I didn't hate it. I wasn't in love with it. It's not something you lightly read. It didn't particularly read like a thriller (on the main--the main--the scale was too small) or military fiction (not enough military). It's like a really bloody cozy/police procedural (except for the fact there was almost no police procedure and when it is used, it's a cluster**ck) and it almost works. Almost.

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