Alexandria, VA – Review: Back Stories: Skeletons and Dirty Laundry
Author: Ralph Peluso
Publisher: Page Publishing
Reviewed by: John Adam Wasowicz, Guest Literary Editor
Zebra Rating: 5 Stripes
(Editor’s note: This month, Author John Adam Wasowicz stepped in to review Zebra literary editor Ralph Peluso’s recently released Back Stories: Skeletons and Dirty Laundry.*)
Ralph Peluso, the literary editor for The Zebra Press, has written a masterful multi-layered psychological thriller, Back Stories: Skeletons and Dirty Laundry. It is as taunt and suspenseful as your favorite Ken Follett or Gillian Flynn novel.
This intricately multi-faceted story opens with Jillian McDowell waiting for her blind date. This middle-aged mother of three has returned to the dating scene following the implosion of her seemingly Norman Rockwell-like marriage.
Dewey, her blind date, cruises by her home while she’s waiting for him in a restaurant. Wrong direction, dude. No, wait! That’s the game plan. He’s checking out her pad ahead of the hook-up. Why would he do that?
Suffice it to say none of the characters in Back Stories can be trusted. Not Dewey, a serial evil-doer who swoops Jillian off her feet; not Tommy, Jillian’s ex-husband, who’s fallen prey to a dangerous world of eroticism; certainly not Gil, Tommy’s bad influence in the realm of sexual taboos; nor Richard, the swindler who’s moving from one financial victim to another with the grace of Sade’s Smooth Operator; or Holly, who breaks hearts with the nonchalance of a chef breaking eggs to make a soufflé.
Back Stories introduces you to a dark world populated by fallen saints, where hearts and wallets are easily stolen and callously tossed aside. Nothing is sacred in this world, and nothing is as it seems.
In the middle of this madness, a submerged body floats to the surface and the police enter the picture. Suddenly, all the plates spinning in the preceding chapters begin twirling at top speed. You can feel the tension build. This cadre of people are fated to collide with one another, leaving broken dreams or worse in their wake — perhaps even another victim!
Peluso develops his characters by adeptly moving between “past” and “present” time, allowing the reader to gain insights into each person as webs of deceit and duplicity are spun, and innocents fall victim to the exploits and manipulations of others.
He uses the popular device of naming book chapters after various characters — Tommy, Holly, Jillian — to slide in and out of each character’s mindset while advancing a narrative that embraces all of them.
Peluso seduces you out to sea. A gentle wave carries you forward, advanced by the deceits and heartache of his characters. Behind it, another wave pushes you farther along. But look out! A massive swell is gathering. You can’t see it, but you start to feel it as each page turns rapidly in this gripping drama. That big wave you can’t yet see will grip you and hurl you onto the rough shore.
I asked Ralph what inspired him to write Back Stories. He told me: “There’s a story out there to find in everyday life. Just keep on the lookout for it. That’s what I did. The inspiration for the book was a series of real-life events and circumstances.”
It’s no surprise that Ralph counts Ken Follett among his favorite writers, citing the author’s use of time shifts. Other favorites include James Patterson for fast-paced stories and John Steinbeck for simplicity in the use of language. But don’t wait for his next masterpiece. Wade into the psychodrama of Back Stories now and enjoy the ride!
Ralph is retired and living in Delaware with his wife, Janet. He stays active writing—good news for those of you who enjoy Back Stories. Ralph is hard at work on three additional manuscripts that he hopes to convert into published novels in the years ahead. Ralph is in his 10th year as the Zebra’s literary editor and into a new hobby, performing in Delaware area theater groups. In his free time, he sneaks in a daily round of golf. His first novel, 512, was a historical fiction based on the life and career of Babe Ruth.
There are plenty of lessons for every reader within Back Stories. Don’t believe everything you hear or see. Don’t judge a book by its cover. The power of acceptance to promote healing. And an intriguing plot for mature readers. A powerful 5 Zerba Stripes
*Our guest editor this month, John Adam Wasowicz, is the author of the Old Town Mystery Series, including Hazel Falls, the sixth book in the series published earlier this year.