Book Review: Where There’s Smoke (Panopolis, #1) – Cari Z.

Where There's SmokeSo here’s a shortie which I was hoping to get more attention because it’s really freaking good people!

For everybody who are tired of superheroes getting in our faces and prefer to side with the villains this time (though in this story, villains does not necessarily means evil anti-heroes or whatever) – this book’s for you and Panopolis is the place to be.

Edward Dinges came to Panopolis looking for adventure and excitement in life but what does an average guy like him ought to do when the place is filled with super-heroes who get all the fun? Well, why not help the villain robbing the bank he is working for escape from the hero who’s trying to save the day? Sounds exciting yeah? What’s even more exciting and fun is when the villain returned to ask him for a date – which turned into something more.

Raul Tremblay AKA Mad Bombardier is the villain that Edward is now dating – all is well and good in their relationship until he finds himself playing with death from other villains, mixed with an insistent hero asking him for a date asking himself if he could really trust the guy he loves.

What I really adore about this story is how fast it was – well, obviously because it’s just a total of 88 pages but it felt really complete knowing that it’s just the beginning of a series. I loved the fun grit, the Alcatraz-like experimentation and the whole deal about superheroes vs supervillains.

What’s so good about Cari Z.’s writing style here is that she knows how to create exciting characters and she’s fun and funny at the same time. This story is one of those short novellas’ you’d always enjoy rereading and will definitely leave you yearning for more.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Published April 27th 2015 by Riptide Publishing (first published April 25th 2015)

Incidentally, the next installment entitled Where There’s Fire (Panopolis, #2)  will be coming out on July 13, 2015 (my birthday – just saying lol) so be sure to get a copy of that one as well!

Where There's Fire

Here’s an excerpt of Where There’s Fire

Chapter One

SuperTruther here, bringing you the down and dirty on Heroes, Villains, and the people who love them. That last one would be us, guys, your humble blogger included. We’re the gaping maw that gobbles down everything we can get on our Super people. We’re the pushy paparazzi, we’re the Super fans, we’re the ones who buy anything with a pretty girl in a bulletproof leotard on the cover. We’re the fuel that keeps the powers that be churning out Supers, be they Hero or Villain. We aren’t the grist, maybe, and we’re not the guiding hands, but we sure as hell are powering that endless persona mill.

Are you happy, knowing that your conspicuous consumption makes people like the Nightmare? Or the Mad Bombardier? Or hell, look at Edward Dinges, so lately one of us, so quickly one of them. Think about your impact for a moment, people. Think really hard.


I’m not your standard, run-of-the-mill, evil-genius Villain.

By many standards I wasn’t a Villain at all, not yet. I didn’t have a pithy crowd-sourced nickname that made people shudder with fear when they heard it in the news—the reporters just called me Edward Dinges. I didn’t have a big, flashy power-slash-mutation-slash-disfigurement that made kids stare and adults avert their eyes. I didn’t carry a weapon. I didn’t run my mouth at the cops and intimidate crowds of people with a single word, or run the heists of the century and not get caught, and I didn’t—I especially didn’t—get into fights with Heroes. That would be asking for more trouble than I could handle, at this point.

But even though I was no Big Bad Villain like my boyfriend didn’t mean I was passive in the face of a problem. And being stalked, to my mind, certainly counted as problematic. This wasn’t the first time I’d been followed in the six months since I’d been broken out of Abbott’s Penitentiary—otherwise known as the Abattoir—in rather dramatic style, but it was certainly one of the most blatant. Fortunately, I wasn’t unprepared for this eventuality. You couldn’t live in this part of Panopolis, far from the glitz and cleanliness and heavily policed presence of downtown, without learning a few tricks.

This was my first stalking without having Raul with me, though, and for all my preparations, I was still nervous. My hands bunched in my pockets, fisting and relaxing as I tried to control my breathing, act casual, act natural. I could do this. I could take care of myself; I didn’t need Raul to rescue me. More importantly, I didn’t have a choice—there was no turning around at this point, no running back home where I could lock myself away. I had a meeting to get to that I couldn’t afford to miss. Not if I wanted to stay sane.

I walked a little farther along the broken sidewalk, head mostly covered by my hoodie as I listened for my stalker’s position. Only three or four meters back, he slowed down, then stopped and ducked aside altogether when I bent over to feign retying my shoe. Yep, he was the real deal. Fortunately, there was nobody else out on the sidewalk at one in the afternoon, all the people who lived in these tenement houses either at work, at school, or inside where it was marginally safer.

I reached into my pocket and then laid a tiny, weblike array of wires with a tiny battery in the center on the ground, before getting up and resuming my steady pace. I waited until I was almost positive my stalker was in the radius of the trap before I triggered it with a button on my key fob.

Hkt—” There was the telltale sound of someone’s throat closing up, followed closely by a noisy thud. I sighed, then turned around and walked back to where my erstwhile stalker had fallen, his body still convulsing from the effects of the static taser. It was one of Raul’s inventions, notable because he’d worked out a way to get the shock to travel through the insulated sole of a person’s shoe, and because it could be remotely operated. I waited for the shocker’s battery to run out to grab the little taser and put it away. Once I’d made sure the guy was breathing okay, I rolled him onto his stomach and zip-tied his hands together.

“Hey.” I turned him back onto his side so we could see each other’s faces. “Well, this is an awkward way to meet someone for the first time.” My voice shook from the nerves I couldn’t quite get over, but hopefully he was too out of it to notice.


“Give it a second; sometimes the charge can make fine-motor control a bit wonky.” I could spare a few minutes to figure out who this guy was and whether I should call the cops to take care of him. Not that they’d make it down here in less than an hour: this was a red zone, hot with Villainous activity and too poor to merit rapid attention. And honestly, I wasn’t really comfortable with the idea of leaving another Villain trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey for the cops to come grab. We were bad to each other, but they were worse to us.

As for Villainous activity . . . I considered the guy as he tried to catch his breath. He was way bigger than me, with bulky muscles that looked sculpted and scars all over his exposed forearms. There were heavy ones around his wrists stretching out from under the zip-tie, and my stomach rolled over when I realized that I’d seen those marks before. A lot of Villains, both big-time and small-fry, had escaped from the Abattoir when I did. A lot of them had been experimented on, like me, and the scars around his wrists were exactly the width of the manacles I remembered.

When my stalker finally glared up at me, his eyes glowed pink. I glanced away. The last thing I needed today was a dose of mind control, or whatever it was that the glow indicated.

“Fuck you,” he spat. “Fucking let me go.”

“Mmm, no,” I replied. “Not until you tell me why you were following me.”

“I wasn’t following shit!”

“You’re lying.”

“Why’d I want to follow you anyway?” I could hear the sneer in his voice. “You’re nothin’ special.”

I might not be very special, but the fact remained. “You can either tell me why you were following me, or I can make things really uncomfortable for you and force you to tell me.”

“You know what? I don’t believe you.” The guy flexed and, in one smooth movement, broke right through my zip tie. I had a second to curse the fact that I’d been dumb enough to rely on something made out of plastic before he had his hands around my neck, and had stood up to lift me clear off my feet. Stupid, stupid! I fumbled with my thin leather gloves.

“I don’t believe you’re anythin’ at all.” The guy was smiling now. The pink glow built up in his eyes until it was almost blinding. Nothing good was going to happen when it spilled over, I was sure of that. “I told Maggot followin’ you was gonna be a waste of time, but he insisted. Maybe he’ll believe me when I bring him your—”

Then he stopped talking, and stopped smiling, because I had my bare hands on his wrist. Sparks swam across my vision like Christmas lights, but I was frightened enough that my fear tore down the carefully constructed mental wall between Inside Me and Outside Me.

Outside Me was the part of myself I kept in the forefront of my mind, cool and collected at all times. It kept me from using my power to transmit any of my more traumatizing feelings unintentionally to someone I was touching. Inside Me, however, was a tidal wave of panic and bone-shattering terror right now that surged through my body and into my attacker.

Pinky screamed, the light in his eyes blinking out completely as he doubled over. He let go of my throat, and I coughed and coughed but didn’t drop his wrist, letting the fear well and crest instead of trying to control it. My Villainous power might not be flashy, but it was extremely effective one-on-one. By the time I finally let go of Pinky’s wrist, he was a shivering mess on the pavement. His pants were wet, and he didn’t open his eyes as I bent down next to him. Shit, shit.

“Who’s Maggot?” I asked, not really expecting an answer at this point. It was worth a try, though. I shut my eyes and did my best to clear my head, then focused on the feeling of honesty. The closest I could come to describing it was the pure relaxation you experienced when you finally told someone the truth about something; the load off of your shoulders, the acceptance. I tried to pass that promise of relief on to Pinky, to get him to speak to me. Occasionally with my power I could make a person do what I wanted them to do, but usually not. I wasn’t sure what dictated the difference yet, but maybe this time . . .

“Who is Maggot?” I asked again, filling myself with persuasive promise. “Who is he?”

Pinky just whimpered. I opened my eyes and huffed. It wasn’t going to happen, not today. “Is he your boss?” Still nothing. Maybe Pinky couldn’t hear me over the sound of his own sobs. I bit my lip with frustration as I stared down at him. My control was supposed to be better by now, damn it. I raised my voice. “I’m going to assume so. If you make it back to him in one piece, I want you to tell him that he needs to leave me and mine alone. Otherwise bad things are going to happen. Got it?” At last Pinky responded, nodding weakly. “Excellent.”

I wasn’t comfortable abandoning him like this on the sidewalk; I was a Villain but not a complete asshole. However, I had a very short window to meet my contact in, and could already feel the outskirts of a massive headache in the space right behind my eyes. If I didn’t get dosed up soon I’d be the one lying prostrate, thanks to one of the shittier side effects bequeathed on me when I got my power. Still, a little bit of nice wouldn’t hurt me much more now. Too nice for your own good, I could hear Raul saying. And maybe he was right, but that didn’t make me happy about the situation.

I took a moment to rebuild my mental wall, layering the bricks until the remnants of my frantic, adrenaline-fueled fear were tucked back into Inside Me. Then I put my hand on Pinky’s wrist once more. Calm, I thought, and breathed deeply as the feeling flowed from sanguine Outside Me into him. After a few moments his heartbeat slowed down, his panting turned into something deliberate, and as the tears started to dry up, I let go.

“Be more careful in the future,” I said as I stood up and turned away, shoving my hands into their gloves to help hide the tremors. “I’d hate to have to do this again.”

Leticia’s apartment was a few blocks south, in that strange area between the red zone and the commercial districts where the powers that be started to give a damn again. Instead of heading in through the front door where anyone would be able to see me, I went around to the alley side, where someone in the know could lift up a grate and get into the tunnel that had been installed sometime during Prohibition. It led to a staircase with a thoroughly modern metal door, complete with alarm system, built-in defenses that would be set off if I tried to force it, and an intercom. I pressed the button. “Hey Lettie, it’s Edward.”

“You’re running late, Edward.” The sound quality was as clear as glass, which meant I could hear the edge of suspicion in Leticia’s voice.

“I’m sorry about that. I got waylaid on Z Street.” I pulled my hood down and looked straight at the camera above the door. There I was: thin and unremarkable face, pallid skin, crazy dark hair that I’d done my best with that morning—who would want to pretend to be me? I smiled a little uncertainly, and a moment later the door opened with a clunk.

“Come on, then.”

I nodded and headed up the stairs. I exited through a closet in the hall and walked to the living room. Kami was there on the couch, staring at the television, where the indomitable Cantrip Crew were battling their way across an animated plain, fighting for truth, justice, and good magic. It was a children’s program, and the only thing that Kami would watch. She was twenty, but thanks to a drug mix-up in the hospital during her unfortunately complicated birth, she had yet to speak an intelligible word as far as I knew.

She glanced over at me when I got close. She didn’t smile, but there was an air of expectation about her that I wasn’t about to disappoint.

“Hi.” I sat down on the couch, reached into my pocket and handed her a fresh sheet of stickers. These sported glittery flowers and glowing metallic rainbows. Kami immediately pulled one off and stuck it on my cheek. “Oh, thank you.” She put the next on her cheek, and I smiled. “Now we match. It’s like we’ve got our own club.”

“You don’t need to be spoiling her,” Leticia said from the attached kitchen. “She can live without getting stickers from you every time.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Yeah, well, maybe I mind. I swear I spend half an hour every morning peeling those off the mirror in her bathroom.” She didn’t sound too bothered, though. “Come here; let’s get you what you need.”

I joined her in the kitchen. Tired eyes looked at me from an equally exhausted face. Leticia Clark was a pretty woman, with mahogany skin and short, naturally curly hair, but there were strands of gray here and there, and lines beside her eyes.

She held out a hand and I gave her five grand in a tight roll of hundreds in exchange for an old gray film canister that rattled reassuringly. The price was steep, but worth it for the relief that the pills gave me from my migraines. The medication was still in clinical trials, apparently, and wouldn’t go onto the wider market for months if not years. Working at a pharmacy wasn’t incredibly lucrative for Lettie, but working in one of the few pharmacies to stock GenCorp’s trial medications certainly was. Especially when she could sell them on the black market for ten times the price.

I opened the canister. “May I have some water?”

“Sure.” She got me a glass and watched as I downed one of the tiny green pills, a frown on her face. “You say you ran into trouble on Z Street?”

“Yeah. Some creep was following me. I took care of it though. I wouldn’t bring trouble here.”

“I know you wouldn’t mean to, Edward.”

“I promise you, I didn’t let anything slip.” Behind me I heard Kami get up and head over to her easel, cartoons and stickers apparently forgotten. “If I hadn’t been able to shake him, I wouldn’t have come.”

“That’s the best I can expect, I suppose.” She sighed and glanced down at the money in her hand. “Least now I can make the next payment for Kami’s therapy.”

“How’s that going?”

“Like all the rest, which is to say that its full of promises and equally full of shit.” Leticia laughed, but it had a hopeless undertone to it. Things had to be worse than usual—Leticia was generally good about putting up a strong face. “But who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky this time.”

“You know . . . I’m still willing to try and help.” Leticia was one of the few people who knew that I was a reverse empath, and at first my ability to share my emotions had excited her, made her think I might be able to do something for Kami; help her express herself, or keep her calm so she could go outside without screaming. Then she’d learned what a novice I was and changed her mind.

“Nah, we’re not quite that desperate yet,” she said, and now her smile was real. “There’s enough in there to last you a few months, I think. I’ll try to get more as soon as I can, but you know I’ve got to siphon them off quietly. We’re coming under a lot of scrutiny from the press now.” She gestured toward the paper on the tiny kitchen table.

GenCorp Caught Falsifying Research Results! the headline screamed. Oh yeah, that was becoming a big scandal. Normally the companies powering the machine that was the city of Panopolis were immune to bad press, but in this case a shipment of GenCorp’s latest anti-cancer drug had killed three of its recipients, one of them the seven-year-old son of a district attorney. The doctor in charge of their care had been brutal in lambasting the company, and public opinion was on his side for once. No one cared if the doctor at the Abattoir had killed scores of prisoners with faulty drugs, but when it happened to regular, everyday citizens, people started to get angry.

Freight Train Stands Up for GenCorp, the article to the side said. It showed a picture of Freight Train, one of Panopolis’s most popular Heroes, standing outside the corporation’s headquarters looking stern and square. Naturally he’s standing with them, I thought sourly. They make the stuff that keeps him alive.

“I don’t get it.” Leticia’s eyes were on the paper as well. “How does he . . . you know. How does the man take care of business?”

An accident six years ago had left Freight Train surrounded by a force field that was impenetrable to most things. Back when we’d been friends—well, sort of friends—he’d even explained how it worked to me.

“More force fields,” I said absently. “They don’t last, though. They only adhere to organic materials, and they break them down too quickly to be useful for the long term.”

Leticia stared at me in surprise. “How do you know that?”

Oh, because underneath his force field Freight Train is actually a dorky guy named Craig who used to hit on me even though I was already taken. “Oh . . . gossip.” Not gossip I needed to be spreading around, though. “I should go, Lettie.”

“Yeah, I’ve got to get to work soon.” She nodded at the canister in my hand. “Make ’em last, okay?”

“I’ll do my best.” I waved to Kami, put up my hood, and headed for the exit.

It was drizzling when I got back onto the streets. I sighed and shoved my hands deeper in my pockets. It would be a dismal walk home, but at least in this weather I was less likely to be stalked. I put my head down and turned toward Z Street. Only twenty blocks to go.

via riptide publishing

You can pre-order your copy by clicking:

About The Author
Cari Z. is a Colorado girl who loves snow and sunshine. She has a wonderful relationship with her husband, a complex relationship with the characters in her head and a sadomasochistic relationship with her exercise routine. She feels like Halloween should happen every month, which is why you get this picture of her, and hopes that you enjoy reading what she’s put out there as much as she enjoyed writing it in the first place.

One response to “Book Review: Where There’s Smoke (Panopolis, #1) – Cari Z.

  1. Pingback: Where There’s a Will (Panopolis, #3) by Cari Z. Out On May 2, 2016! | PADDYLAST INC.

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