Thursday, March 27, 2014

"The Cal O'Connor Series: Season One" by C. K. Carlton

The Cal O'Connor Series: Season One
by C. K. Carlton

The Cal O'Connor Series: Season One consists of the previously published Saving Chase, Wandering Dagger, and Guarding Harm. Also available: Returning Harm.

Imagine you’re sitting in your car at a stoplight and a boy in the car next to you looks over and mouths the word “help”. What would you do? Not many people would do what Cal O’Connor did.
Six weeks earlier, Cal had been a Naval intelligence operative in Afghanistan. How quickly things change. Discharged for using deadly force to save an Afghan woman from being raped, Cal is back in the U.S., not coincidentally in the same city as his first love, with what happened in Afghanistan and flashbacks from his childhood consuming his every thought. Cal glances over at the car to his left. Did the boy say what Cal thought he said? There’s no time to think. What happens next will leave you stunned.
Season One includes the first three novellas in The Cal O'Connor Series, but it's only the beginning of Cal’s journey. Will saving others bring him peace, or will hunting child predators cause him to be consumed by his past?

Chapter 1
Cal slid his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose, squinting into the rearview mirror just enough to draw his bleary blue eyes into focus. How quickly the night before had evaporated into morning. The often clumsy transition from bar, to car, to apartment, to bedroom was a seamless blur. She was a nice girl, he thought to himself. Maybe he’d go out with her again.
The previous twelve hours had become the norm for Cal O’Connor since arriving in Richmond, Virginia from Afghanistan over six weeks prior. He had been drifting from bed to bed, one laugh-filled night after another, desperately but unsuccessfully trying to connect with the real world again.
Returning from deployment was different this time. After six years in the US Navy’s covert Human Intelligence, or HUMINT department, with an impeccable service record, he was abruptly discharged; he still didn’t know what had gone wrong.
Cal ran his hands through his full head of bourbon-brown hair, repositioning a few castaways no doubt caused by the sexual whirlwind that had occurred not twenty minutes before. He attempted a smile as he remembered the condition the room had been in as he’d slipped his jeans on and tip-toed through the small crack in the bedroom door while she showered.
He settled back in the driver’s seat. His smile quickly changed to a long distant stare through the license plate of the car in front of him as he replayed in his mind the altercation that sent him from Afghanistan to Richmond in the blink of an eye.
Cal snapped out of his trance and took a moment to enjoy the beautiful weather. Spring in Richmond was something from a Monet painting, with the dogwood and cherry trees that lined the streets beginning to show their brilliant, yet delicate colors. The air was cool and dry. It was nine o’clock in the morning on a Tuesday.
He waited for the light to change. His Jeep Wrangler, missing the doors and top, wasn’t the ideal year-round car for a place like Richmond, Virginia. But on this day, it was perfect.
He glanced at the car in the turn lane to his left. A 1967 faded yellow Mercury Cougar with a torn, greenish vinyl top. Cal knew the car from working on cars with his dad when he was young. Surely this one was a week or two from finding a place next to the other Cougars in a junkyard somewhere. The inside of the car was littered with stacks of paper, and in the rear window sat an assortment of faded baseball caps; the kind of interior Cal would come to expect from the bald, overweight dreary-looking man behind the wheel. Cigarette smoke billowed from the three-inch gap in the passenger-side window.
Cal’s eyes moved to the passenger seat where a young boy, probably nine or ten years old, sat staring forward. It’s a little late for this kid to be heading to school, Cal thought.
The traffic light for the turn lane changed from red to a green arrow, and the yellow heap began to inch forward. Just as it did, the boy turned back and made eye contact with him. There was a strange concavity to his expression. With a swift movement, the boy raised his left arm and placed his hand at the top of the window. The car continued forward, beginning to make its turn onto the cross street. The boy’s eyes stayed locked on Cal’s, and just as the car began to turn, the boy mouthed one word: “Help.”
Cal sat for a brief moment, almost in disbelief at what he just witnessed. Was this a cry for help? Did the boy actually say “Help,” or was it “Hello,” Cal questioned. He felt a chill up his spine.
He couldn’t hesitate, and immediately maneuvered his Jeep to the left, hitting the corner of the rear bumper of the car in front of him. He continued into the turn lane, the light changing from yellow to red. His driving tactics course with the CIA served him well, and he popped the clutch to gain the most engine torque possible as he hopped over the median to stay ahead of the fast-approaching traffic. It wasn’t enough. An eager morning driver in a Dodge Durango had lurched off the line, and in a split second, the car slammed into the passenger side of Cal’s Jeep like a runaway locomotive. It was the perfect T-bone, catching the Jeep in just the right spot to lift it up on two wheels and roll it on its side in a forceful explosion of metal and glass. Cal felt the burn of pavement on his left shoulder as his body was thrown to the road with his vehicle. His head slammed into the roll bar that framed the driver’s side door. The unmistakable sound of crunching metal quickly transitioned to silence. He opened his eyes, which filled with blood until his vision was entirely lost. He felt for the seatbelt latch. He knew he had to get out of the car and get to the boy, but he was losing consciousness. What little light he could sense was being overtaken by darkness. His head slumped to the ground. He was out.

The Season format for the Cal O'Connor Series is very clever. Three short, exciting novels that can each be read in the time it takes to watch a DVD. Packaged in a boxed set for Series 1. Love the concept. Each book is well written, exciting, and fast paced with many twists and turns. The hero's back story is slowly revealed across the three "episodes"/books, but there seems to be much more to unravel. I can appreciate Cal O'Connor's urgency to capture and punish the abusers while avoiding an examination of his own past and motivations. The author writes with insightful depth and occasional humor. Definitely recommend!

About the Author
One of the reasons C. K. (Chris) Carlton began writing was to provide those of us with busy lives an alternative to the novel-length thriller. The Cal O'Connor Series reads more like a high-energy television drama: short form (80-130 pages), heavy action, with each book telling a captivating tale, and it all building a larger story about the complex main character, Cal O'Connor. Each book picks up exactly where the last book leaves off, allowing readers to enjoy the series in spurts, stepping away after one book, and then returning to the series as their life allows without missing a beat.
Another reason Chris is writing is to communicate an important message often swept under the rug: the subject of child abuse. It's no coincidence that The Cal O'Connor Series goes hand-in-hand with his memoir, Nice To Meet Me, a brutally honest, poignant, and often humorous journal about his own battle to overcome his past. Nice To Meet Me was referred to by one therapist as one of the best books ever written on the subject of childhood trauma. An outdoor enthusiast and guitar apologist, Chris was a successful U.S. Navy intelligence officer turned business executive before he began writing.
Chris is also a featured blogger for The Huffington Post. He lives in Richmond, Virginia with his wife, Ellen, and their young son, Teddy.