Review: Vacant by Alex Hughes (+ a giveaway and a scavenger hunt)

vacant by alex hughesFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Mindspace Investigations #4
Length: 347 pages
Publisher: Roc
Date Released: December 2, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Nothing ruins a romantic evening like a brawl with lowlifes—especially when one of them later turns up dead and my date, Detective Isabella Cherabino, is the #1 suspect. My history with the Atlanta PD on both sides of the law makes me an unreliable witness, so while Cherabino is suspended, I’m paying my bills by taking an FBI gig.

I’ve been hired to play telepathic bodyguard for Tommy, the ten-year-old son of a superior court judge in Savannah presiding over the murder trial of a mob-connected mogul. After an attempt on the kid’s life, the Feds believe he’s been targeted by the businessman’s “associates.”

Turns out, Tommy’s a nascent telepath, so I’m trying to help him get a handle on his Ability. But it doesn’t take a mind reader to see that there’s something going on with this kid’s parents that’s stressing him out more than a death threat…

My Review:

Alex Hughes’ Mindspace Investigations is a series that absolutely requires starting at the very beginning. (This seems to be my week for that.) If the idea of an urban fantasy series that reads like a marvelously twisted cross between Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and J.D. Robb’s In Death series, you’ve come to the right place.

Just start clean with the first book in the series, Clean (reviewed here). The following titles in the series are Sharp (reviewed here) and Marked (reviewed at The Book Pushers) It is SO worth it, and also necessary to help figure out the roots of the case in Vacant.

Like so many of the titles in this series, that word, Vacant, is a multiple entendre. It refers to Isabella Cherabino’s career, Adam Ward’s ethics, and the office they come to at the end of the story. Possibly also to any threads of a future that Adam might have, but we’ll see.

The cases that Adam and Isabella have to solve in the present are very much tied in with a larger conspiracy that they uncovered in the earlier stories. But even though that possibility is fairly clear to the reader, it is only a vague hint on the horizon for Adam, and not at all on Isabella’s radar.

This is the first time that they solve a case completely separately. It is also the first time that Adam is away from DeKalb County and operating entirely on his own and without training wheels or a support network. He’s on his own for the first time after his descent into addiction and in his long hard climb back to sobriety.

That separation nearly wrecks his extremely slowly developing relationship with Isabella Cherabino. More importantly, it nearly wrecks him. But he comes out stronger for it, albeit with a few more broken places. The difference is that he is not filling those broken places in with drugs. At least not today.

Isabella is charged with police brutality, and becomes the county’s poster child for non-tolerance of such a crime. The only problem is that she didn’t do it, and both the evidence and the hearing are rigged. The question that is asked throughout the story, and only answered by the end, is that of the rigger.

Adam is off in Savannah, chasing down a precognitive vision with the help of the FBI, although they consider that he is helping them. A child will die if Adam can’t figure out how to subvert the vision before it is too late. In order to derail the vision, he also needs to figure out what a judge in a high-profile case is hiding, and who benefits from killing her child.

And what does any of this have to do with actions in Adam’s past? In the end, it is all about him. And not in a good way. Saving that kid may not fix any of the other things that Adam has broken, but it will be enough to make today worthwhile. It gives him yet one more reason to remain clean.

But some of his screwups still catch up with him. Payment will be demanded, but not all of it today.

Escape Rating A: The world of Mindspace Investigations is a very dark and gritty one. While it seems that things are getting better after the chaos of the Tech Wars, it’s going to be a long, hard time until society gets back to where it is in our now. The levels of pollution in the air and water are a factor that Adam is constantly aware of on his trip to Savannah, and so are we.

What is different about this case is that Adam is operating completely solo. While the series has been told from his first-person perspective from the very beginning, we are always aware of Adam’s nearby support group; especially his police partner Isabella Cherabino and his NA sponsor Swartz.

In Savannah Adam is forced to work with an FBI team that he has never met, and one that resents the need to bring in an unknown teep on an emergency basis when theirs is injured. Adam is there to save a 10-year-old boy’s life, and the FBI team is there to prevent a second kidnapping attempt on that same boy.

Adam is also there because the Telepath Guild is yanking his chain, but that’s nothing new. One of the ongoing themes of the series is that Adam wants to distance himself as much as possible from the Telepath Guild, but he keeps getting sucked back in. It is very convenient for everyone, the police, the FBI, the Guild themselves, to have a telepath whose loyalties seem somewhat fluid.

They aren’t, and that’s what keeps getting him into trouble. Although in this story that same sense of loyalty also keeps him out of trouble. Just a bit.

Adam is forced to make a choice. Actually, he’s forced to make a lot of choices, and they are all choices between bad and less bad. He never really gets to choose between bad and good. He’s come a long way from the drug user he remembers being. He makes the best choices he can, and then lives with the consequences, knowingly.

In addition to the harrowing case that Adam is investigating, what we see is him learning to stand on his own again. The question, as always, is for how long.

While the events in this particular story had a lot to do with previous cases, there was also a sense that the events in this book have pushed the story into a different direction. After the bombshell at the end, I’m on pins and needles waiting to see what happens next.

Reviewer’s note: When I began this series, part of the fun for me was that I used to live in the Atlanta metro area where this series is set. As I write this, I am moving back to the Atlanta area. It made reading about the places involved that much more fascinating for me. I could see it, I have seen it, and I’m going to see it again.


Alex is giving away an ebook copy of the winner’s choice of one Mindspace Investigations novel (INT). To enter, use the Rafflecopter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Alex is also conducting a scavenger hunt based on the game CLUE. Here is the clue for this stop on the blog tour:


So you can cross this clue off your checklist. For more details on how you can use this clue to get the grand prize of a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble, a signed copy of Marked, and a character from a future book named after him/her., visit this page that explains the contest and tells you where to find the other clues.


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Sharp by Alex Hughes

Sharp by Alex HughesFormat read: paperback provided by the author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Urban fantasy; science fiction
Series: Mindspace Investigation #2
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Ace/Roc
Date Released: April 2, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository


As a Level Eight telepath, I am the best police interrogator in the department. But I’m not a cop—I never will be—and my only friend on the force, Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino, is avoiding me because of a telepathic link I created by accident.

And I might not even be an interrogator for much longer. Our boss says unless I pull out a miracle, I’ll be gone before Christmas. I need this job, damn it. It’s the only thing keeping me sane.

Parts for illegal Tech—the same parts used to bring the world to its knees in the Tech Wars sixty years ago—are being hijacked all over the city. Plus Cherbino’s longtime nemesis, a cop killer, has resurfaced with a vengeance. If I can stay alive long enough, I just might be able to prove my worth, once and for all…

My Review:

In this second full-length novel in Alex Hughes’ absolutely awesome Mindspace Investigation series, the mind of the killer is sharp; unfortunately, the mind of the telepath investigating the crime is anything but.

clean by alex hughesLevel 8 telepath Adam Ward injured his mental pathways at the end of Clean (incredible, stunning debut, see review) and is left trying to hide his hopefully temporary disability from the school of sharks he works among, otherwise known as the DeKalb County Police Department.

He’s estranged from his only friend and protector, Isabella Cherubino, because saving her life required revealing that he had been resting against her calming mindspace just a bit too often, and that they had accidentally developed a mental “Link”. Now he really can’t stay out of her head, and she feels, rightly so, that he has betrayed her trust.

In the ever-simmering background of the cop shop, there’s the seething resentment of a consultant making the “real” cops look bad with his showmanship, and as the perfect cherry on the sundae, a new round of budget cuts. People’s jobs are on the line, and every cop in the place thinks the first one to go should be Adam, because he’s not one of “them”.

But Adam needs the work. Not just the paycheck, the work. Coming in to solve puzzles, to get bad guys off the streets–to work with Cherubino–is a big chunk of what’s keeping him clean and off drugs.

That and an awful lot of NA meetings and service projects with his sponsor Swartz.

But this case that lands in Adam and Cherubino’s laps turns out to be all about the sins of the past–and it nearly ends both of their futures.

The first murder victim is also the last victim of Adam’s drug addiction while he was still part of the Telepath Guild. His botched mental surgery killed her telepathic gift. Now she’s dead, and one of the other victims is missing.

The cop killer who murdered Cherubino’s fiance has started another serial spree. These things should not be related, but are they?

And while Adam needs desperately to get back into Cherubino’s good graces in order to save his sanity, one of the pillars of his life is struck down–Swartz has a heart attack and the only way to save him is for Adam to strike a deal with the Guild.

He’s not sure who is betraying whom or if it will all be worth it in the end, especially when it looks like the Guild is involved in the entire murder spree, up to its secretive corporate neck.

Escape Rating A+: The Mindspace Investigations series takes place in a gritty and realistic dystopian/post-apocalyptic setting. Even cooler, the setting is a very recognizable Atlanta and its suburbs. I used to live there and it feels right in a just-off-kilter way.

Even cooler, this dystopia is not that far in the future. People then remember our now, or close. The apocalypse inbetween them and us are the Tech Wars, when wired technology went sentient and then viral. We could get there from here.

The Telepath Guild developed to fight tech with human-based mental skills. It makes a sick and twisted sense. But power still corrupts and absolute power definitely corrupts absolutely.

Adam is so very human. Even his name; Adam, the first man. (It’s slightly geeky cool that his name is Adam Ward. I wonder if he was named after Adam West and Burt Ward; the Batman and Robin of the 1960s?)

In some ways, Adam is Icarus, he flew too close to the sun, his wings melted, and now he’s fallen. But the fallen Adam is a better person than the original. He tries harder.

A lot of reviewers compare this series to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, because of the urban fantasy plotline. The comparison doesn’t work for me, much as I love Harry. Dresden borrowed the cops but didn’t try to be part of them, and you don’t get much of the cop shop vibe in Dresden. Also Dresden is firmly fantasy, while Mindspace is absolutely science fiction.

A closer parallel might be J.D. Robb’s In Death series, minus the romance. There’s the same police procedural mystery driving the case, albeit with some different procedures. But also there’s the same looming near-future post-apocalypse in the background. Robb’s Urban Wars and Hughes’ Tech Wars have a lot in common.

Adam and Cherubino are extremely flawed, scarred people. They need each other, but navigating their way toward each other, even as partners, is a big part of the fascination in this ongoing series.

As well as the continuing corkscrew convolutions of the mundane politics, the Telepath Guild and whether the humans in this world are going to draw back from the brink of destruction again. And whether Adam will manage to thwart his precognitive visions of his own self-destruction.

marked by alex hughesThis series is awesome stuff. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for Marked.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Post by Author Alex Hughes: A Discussion of the Tech Wars + Giveaway

Today I’d like to welcome Alex Hughes, author of the absolutely awesome Clean (reviewed here).This fascinating combination of urban fantasy, science fiction and near-future dystopia was one of the best books that I have read this year. I can’t wait to read the rest of this series!

A Discussion of the Tech Wars
by Alex Hughes

The Mindspace Investigations series (Clean, Payoff, Sharp, Marked) is set about sixty years after a devastating event called the Tech Wars. A madman and his followers circulate computer viruses that shut down the entirety of the world, from smart houses to smart cars, leaving huge casualties in their wake. Then, because of peoples’ brain implants and biotechnology, the viruses end up going bloodborne in one of the worst plagues the world has ever seen. Then, it gets worse. And yet worse.

clean by alex hughesIn the end the Telepaths’ Guild steps in to save the world—but what they do to end the war changes forever how the normals see them. The Guild earned their freedom and their right to choose their own destiny—at the price of fear that hasn’t died out even sixty years later.
People often ask me why I leave so much of the Tech Wars backstory unsaid. Partially, I do this because my readers on the mystery side care far more about cases and pacing than they do about backstory. Partially, I enjoy holding secrets and parceling them out in small doses—it keeps both me and the reader interested over a long series. But mostly, I have this idea in my head that one day, when I’m good enough, I’ll write the Tech Wars as a separate series. To do that well, I’ll need plenty of empty space to fill with individual characters’ choices; the major players will need the room to tell me how they, personally, will change the world.

While I like structure, my best work often happens in these empty spaces, in the things left undecided. So I’m guarding that space, quietly, in consideration for a future series—guarding the magic that will let me write it well.

Today, though, I’ll open the box just a little more to talk about the personal side of the Tech Wars, where the idea comes from and what I have to say on the topic. (Warning: opinions ahead!)

The Tech Wars reflect a concern I and a lot of others have with technology becoming so much a part of our lives so quickly. I grew up with a green-and-black-screen computer, and later with the early Internet. I follow science, and I love the information and history available online, things I would never have been able to get twenty years ago without trips around the world and a lot of patience. I delight when new gadgets come out to make our lives easier. I am by no means a Luddite. But when the whole world is in your pocket, along with constant interruptions by social media and the latest trends, there is no silence.

With the advent of social media, the Internet—and all the people and ideas it involves—becomes a daily part of our lives, one click away. We are drowning in a sea of information all the time, and because the information is set in sound bites, even ‘scientific’ and ‘serious’ information is often sensationalistic and overly simplified to fit in the form. My attention span, at least, has shrunk significantly, as my brain becomes less and less comfortable with down time. I fight for that down time and that silence with a true passion, but it’s hard to get and hard to keep—there are constant distractions and deep thought doesn’t seem to be the currency of our generation. I have to be counter-cultural, and I have to turn off the world, to get my true work done.

Sharp by Alex HughesI imagine a world one step ahead of ours, in which you are jacked into the sea of information directly through an implant in your head. The world is ‘enhanced’ so there is no more silence, no more direct experience without analysis and subtext. Every part of your life is run by a computer in direct communication with your preferences and likes. The polarization of politics is just the beginning; when you’re only shown information that agrees with your ‘preferences,’ confirmation bias takes over your life. Your way is the only way. You are always right. And, whatever fast food commercials say, that’s actually a dangerous thing. You begin to miss important clues that the world is about to change.

And then the wars begin, and the world falls apart. You’re forced to rely on neighbors—people you may never have met—and poorer folks unable to afford the implants. You’re forced to deal with reality without the filter, for the first time in your life. What kind of world change would that create?

I’m still figuring that out. But I can say, that kind of world-change would stick with you. People would remember, even two generations later, even after sixty years. And that’s the legacy of the Tech Wars in Adam’s world. A legacy of quiet fear and remembrance.

Alex HughesAbout Alex Hughes

Alex Hughes is the author of the Mindspace Investigations series from Roc. She is a Semi-Finalist of the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, a Finalist in the 2013 Silver Falchion Awards, and a graduate of the pro-level Odyssey Writing Workshop. Over the years, she has lived in many neighborhoods of the sprawling metro Atlanta area, including Decatur during her time at Agnes Scott College.
On any given week you can find Alex in the kitchen cooking gourmet Italian food, watching hours of police procedural dramas, and typing madly. Find out more about Alex at her website or follow her on Twitter.


Alex is giving away one paperback copy of Clean to one lucky winner (US/Canada). To enter, use the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Clean by Alex Hughes

clean by alex hughesFormat read: mass market paperback provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback, mass market paperback, audiobook
Genre: Urban fantasy; science fiction
Series: Mindspace Investigations, #1
Length: 351 pages
Publisher: Roc
Date Released: September 4, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

I used to work for the Telepath’s Guild before they kicked me out for a drug habit that wasn’t entirely my fault. Now I work for the cops, helping Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino put killers behind bars.

My ability to get inside the twisted minds of suspects makes me the best interrogator in the department. But the normals keep me on a short leash. When the Tech Wars ripped the world apart, the Guild stepped up to save it. But they had to get scary to do it—real scary.

Now the cops don’t trust the telepaths, the Guild doesn’t trust me, a serial killer is stalking the city—and I’m aching for a fix. But I need to solve this case. Fast. I’ve just had a vision of the future: I’m the next to die.

My Review:

The first book in Alex Hughes’ Mindspace Investigations series is one of those stories for which the concept of “book hangover” was invented. I was so completely absorbed by her vision of near-future slightly-dystopian Atlanta, and not just because I used to live there.

This is a dark and gritty landscape in a paranoid post-Tech Wars future. Admiral Adama (Battlestar Galactica) would feel right at home, because what little Tech they have left is not allowed to network with much other Tech, for fear it might get itself together and fight back. Again.

But in order to fight off the viruses created in the Tech Wars, they unleashed something even more potentially dangerous. Some people have developed telepathic powers. And in return for bringing the Tech Wars to an end, the Guild of Telepaths won the right of self-governance.

They seem to be a “state within a state”. Some people with Ability don’t have enough to be more than sensitive. Others are forced to register with the Guild and live under Guild jurisdiction for the rest of their lives. It can be a pretty cushy life, unless you screw up.

And then there’s our hero. The story is told from his first-person perspective, so we don’t know his name until the very last line of the book. (You don’t call yourself by your name very often, do you?)

Our hero is a consultant with the DeKalb County Police Department. And he is way beyond screwed up. He used to be the darling of the Guild, until he got addicted to a very dangerous narcotic called Satin. Now he clings to sobriety by his fingernails and by resting a little too often in the Mindspace of his police detective partner, Isabella Cherabino.

Until his past comes hunting for him, racking up a body count all over the county. Someone in the Guild has a score to settle with him, and he doesn’t even remember why. All he knows is that he has a vision of death that he has to prevent, any way he can. Even if no one trusts him enough to believe him.

payoff by alex hughesEscape Rating A+: I loved Clean so much I bought the novella, Payoff, the instant I finished. The world that Alex Hughes has created is absolutely awesome, and I want to wallow in it. I wouldn’t live there if you paid me, but I want to keep reading until my eyeballs fall out.

Her flawed hero is somebody special. The darling who forgets who he stepped on when he was climbing up, and then gets kicked on the way down. All the way down. He’s vulnerable and wounded and still trying so damn hard to just get through each day clean. Sometimes he fails, and we feel his control slipping. He reminds me a lot of the variation of Sherlock in Elementary; the addict who is using his cases and being needed to solve them as an alternative drug. Hughes’ hero has fallen further and broken harder, he’s also cracked open more and has learned the value of some of the social niceties. But there’s a kinship.
Cherabino seems like the classic combination of tough chick and by-the-book cop, until we find out what made her that way, and then this hidden core of pain is revealed. She’s still tough and she’s still by-the-book, but there’s so much more to her character.

Someday there might even be a romance, but in the fine tradition of urban fantasy, I expect to wait an excellent long while for it.

About the case itself…this was a time where the first-person perspective worked very well (it doesn’t always). Our hero doesn’t remember why the villain is targeting him, so he can’t reveal what he doesn’t know. And the villain is more than a bit off his rocker. Adding to the tension is the need for the hero to decide how many of the Guild’s secrets he can afford to reveal to his police employers in these particular circumstances, where a telepathic serial killer is dumping bodies all over the landscape, bringing the attention of the newspapers to secrets the Guild would rather be kept, well, secret.

Cops, killers, telepaths and stellar worldbuilding. What’s not to love?

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.