About the author:
Born: 1954, Crawfordsville, Indiana
Education: B.A. Fine Arts-Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
Thriller Sub-genre: Forensic Thriller
Publishers: Howard Books and Thomas Nelson
Future of the series: Tim Downs’ last book of the series was written in 2011 which left his readers with a cliff hanger. Since that time Downs has been silent on the possibility of another novel. Mister Downs, if you happen to read this, you definitely have an active following as I get a hit on this site almost daily. If you can let your fans, which includes me, know one way or another if you plan to continue the series, it sure would be appreciated. (update- 9/10/15, I found this relatively recent comment by Tim Downs on Goodreads to an answer from Amanda who wanted to know when the next Bug Man novel is coming out and the response is “Not at this time, Amanda. My most recent book is called “Where the Wind Leads.” It’s a memoir I wrote for a family who wanted to tell their story. Thanks for asking!” (Not at this time sounds like a “maybe sometime in the future” to me, so there is still hope.)
The Simon Review
I thought that Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme was my favorite character in the forensic thriller genre but I have found a new character that I like even more, and that would be Dr. Nick Polchak from Tim Downs’ The Bug Man series. Nick Polchak is a forensic entomologist and, as my son would say, a great smart-ass character. Polchak, is a wise-cracking, brilliant and extremely driven scientist who relates more to the insect kingdom than members of the human race. Nick will do about anything to find the answers that he needs in order to solve the crime which includes annoying members of the law enforcement agency, the suspects, his students, and even his best friends.
Polchak has obvious problems relating to people but at the same time is very good at judging human nature except when it comes to women. Throughout the series, Polchak is a confirmed bachelor but by the end of the series he is engaged to Alena Savard. Savard has her own quirky personality, her father disappeared when she was young and she more or less raised herself. Her father trained dogs and Alena followed in his footsteps and much like Nick, relates more to dogs than humans. Naturally they would make a great couple.
I truly love this series but there is one annoying aspect of the series, particularly early in the series, and that is Downs’ propensity to kill off Nick’s friends. As one reviewer from Goodreads mentions, “It seems if you are a childhood friend of Nick’s, watch out. You’re like the Star Trek crew member in the red shirt.” Unlike the crew member in the red shirt, Down’s gives the characters a name and a personality, which makes losing these characters disappointing.
Before I get ready to write a review, I like to look into the background of the author because authors don’t live in a vacuum, they get much of the ideas from their experiences and relationships which ultimately influence their writing. Tim Downs is no exception and he has an intriguing resume. For one, he was a cartoonist for a number of years for a syndicated cartoon entitled Downstown. This helps explain Nick Polchak’s witty sense of humor and great one-liners. The other interesting tidbit is that he is an evangelist and the ‘Bug Man Series’ is considered Christian literature. I was totally astounded by this because I would not have picked that up if I did not know this little piece of information. So what is it about this series that makes it Christian? I have come up with a list of what I think:
- There are no, what Mr. Spock would call ‘colorful metaphors’, in other words no profanity. Downs does, however, allude to the fact that some of the characters would use profanity but they never actually say the word. This is all OK with me, as I think the profanity thing is considerably overdone, to a point the words have no meaning and the shock affect that they are supposed to conjure up isn’t there.
- There is a pastor or minister in each book of the series who is the voice of reason and usually gives helpful advice to other characters in the series. The characters themselves are likable and they never seem preachy.
- There is at least one biblical passage placed strategically somewhere in the book, usually at the beginning of the novel or before one of the chapters. This is not any different than any novel that may have a religious theme whether it is Christian or not.
- There is violence which seems to be OK because you know the Bible is full of violence as well as Christian history (eg. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Thirty Years War, and the Crucifixion). Even though there is violence, there is no torture or cutting up of cadavers. There are, however, maggot infestations which are absolutely necessary if you are going to do a series using a forensic entomologist.
- Nick Polchak is a highly moral person. Though he is obsessed with the science and finding the answers, his ultimate obligation is to solving a crime and seeing justice served even if it may mean his life.
One thing I am very intrigued about is Downs use of a scientist as the main protagonist because science and evangelism mix as well as oil and water. In fact in one interview with Downs on a Christian website, the interviewer refers to Polchak as a non-Christian. This surprised me because nowhere in the series does it ever refer to Polchak as being a Christian or not. I guess it is automatically assumed that any scientist is an atheist which is far from the truth. I have known many scientists in my day and a number of them have some kind of belief that is not considered atheism including some of them that consider themselves Christians. It is often quoted that Albert Einstein was an atheist and he was rather taken aback by that label as he believed in a God similar to the views of Baruch Spinoza and was quoted as saying;
In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.
I think it was very brave of Downs for using a scientist as a main character in Christian literature and have him be the good guy.
Anyways, whether you are a Christian or not, this series is a very enjoyable read. Two of the novels, Chop Shop and First the Dead could be read as standalones, however the other books should be read in order. Downs wrote the last novel of the series in 2011 and his website has recently (7-8-14) been taken offline, and according to one Facebook comment, Downs’ publisher is not planning on publishing another ‘Bug Man’ novel. So it is uncertain if the series will continue which would truly be sad, because it is a great series and Tim Downs is a very talented writer.
Most Favorite Novel in the Series- Nick of Time, because of the best bachelor party ever imagined. Downs does, however, end the story with a cliff-hanger which is cruel if this is the final book in the series.
Least Favorite Novel in the Series– Chop Shop, because the ending was very unsatisfying.
What about the science? Downs is not a scientist but he is very thorough in his research. According to his website, he attended a workshop on forensic entomology for coroners, so he seems to have the basics.
The Nick Polchak Technical Word in Review: Cutaneous myiasis– The term cutaneous comes from the Latin term cutis which means skin and myiasis is derived from the Greek term myia meaning fly, so in general the term cutaneous myiasis is an infestation of fly larvae in or on the skin of live human beings or animals. Polchak use of the term in conjunction with Maggot Therapy means that very specific flies are used to digest dead tissue while growing on the living tissue. The specific fly used in this situation is Lucilla sericata, the common green bottle fly and another fly commonly used is, Protophormia terranovae– the blue bottle fly, which produces antibiotic secretions that will combat specifically Streptococcus infections. A non-medical example of cutaneous myiasis is an infestation of Dermatobia hominis also known as the tropical bot fly which can occur in hot, human regions like the Amazon Basin. The infestation causes a red, painful boil-like wound.
“But let’s give Mr. Jones credit-he was half right. Maggot therapy has been used for hundreds of years, and maggots will eat away decaying tissue and clean out a wound-the procedure is known as cutaneous myiasis.-Ends of the Earth
Books in the Series by Order:
Vote for your favorite Forensic Thriller on the Forensic Fiction List on Goodreads Listopia.
Most Favorite in the series: Less Than Dead with a score of 4.42
Least Favorite in the series: Chop Shop with a score of 4.20
Based on overall ratings from Goodreads, Barnes and Nobles, Library Thing and Amazon (US & UK)
Listed #57 out of 120 on Goodreads Forensic Fiction Book List
Zachary Sloan stepped out of the Rayford ABC Package Store and walked to the bed of his primer-gray Ford pickup.
Dr. Nick Polchak: Forensic entomologist with North Carolina State University, Raleigh and affectionately known as ‘The Bug Man’. One of Nick’s trademarks is his glasses with very thick lenses.
Kathryn Guilford: Hires Polchak to investigate the alleged suicide of a childhood friend.
Jimmy McAllister: Kathryn Guilford’s childhood friend that appears to have committed suicide.
Pete St. Clair: Sheriff of Holcum County and childhood friend of Kathryn Guilford
Andy Guilford: Kathryn Guilford’s deceased husband who was killed in Iraq
Dr. Noah Ellison: Chairman of the Entomology Department
Dr. Tedesco “Teddy”: Polchak’s research assistant
Holcum County, North Carolina
In a remote county in North Carolina, thirty-year-old Kathryn Guilford receives the news that her long-time friend and one-time suitor is dead. The authorities declare the death a suicide, but Kathryn is not convinced. In desperation she turns to Dr. Nick Polchak, the Bug Man, to help her learn the truth- and she is introduced to a mysterious world of blood seeking flies and flesh eating beetles.
But there is a problem…Kathryn Guilford has a pathological fear of insects. Now she must confront her darkest fears to unearth a decade-long conspiracy that threatens to turn her entire world upside-down.
“The way I see it, you’ve got two choices: You can be eaten by little bugs, or you can be eaten by big bugs. Either way, you’re just shoofly pie.”
“Nobody should end up as- what did you call it? Shoofly pie. The man deserved a decent burial.”
Looking for a review of Shoofly Pie? Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.58 out of 5 stars based on 54 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: not rated
GoodReads Rating: 4.18 out of 5 stars based on 1,127 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: 4.78 out of 5 stars based on 9 ratings
Library Thing Rating: 3.97 out of 5 stars based on 29 ratings
Total Score 4.20 (updated 5/23/16)
Nick Polchak stood with his nose less than twelve inches from the blackboard, his right hand waving a stick of chalk like a conductor’s baton.
Dr. Nick Polchak and Dr. Noah Ellison
Dr. Riley McKay: A pathology intern with the Allegheny Coroner’s Office. Contacted Polchak for consultation on a suspicious death
Julian Zohar: Ethic advisor for PharmaGen
Tucker Truett: CEO of PharmaGen
Sarah McKay: Riley’s younger sister
Intern forensic pathologist Dr. Riley McKay has noticed irregularities in autopsies at the Allegheny County Coroner’s lab. Suspecting foul play, she seeks help from Dr. Nick Polchak, the bug man renowned for his ability to solve murders by analyzing the insects on victim’s bodies. Nick and Riley uncover a sinister link between the lab’s director and PharmaGen, a start-up drug company specializing in genetic research. They also discover that PharmaGen fronts an underground system to procure transplant organs for wealthy clients by finding and murdering matching donors. But PharmaGen learns of their security breach and orders the couple destroyed. While staying a step ahead of PharmaGen assassins, romantic attraction develops between Nick and Riley. But the attraction is complicated by a tragic secret that Riley hides — a secret closely tied to one member of PharmaGen’s operation which propels the novel to its astonishing conclusion.
You can tell that Sharon from Goodreads is obviously a Star Trek fan after reading her review of Tim Down’s Chop Shop.
It seems if you are a childhood friend of Nick’s, watch out. You’re like the Star Trek crew member in the red shirt.
Looking for a review of Chop Shop? Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.72 out of 5 stars based on 29 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: not rated
GoodReads Rating: 4.19 out of 5 stars based on 723 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: 4.33 out of 5 stars based on 3 ratings
Library Thing Rating: 3.97 out of 5 stars based on 19 ratings
Total Score 4.20 (updated 5/23/16)
He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand but forgot that his hand was sealed in a latex glove.
Dr. Nick Polchak
Jerry Kibbee: Funeral director and long-time friend of Polchak’s
James Terrebone Walker aka JT: A ten year old kid that Polchak befriends during his rescue mission
Dr. Beth Woodbridge: A psychiatrist that has a particular professional and personal fascination with Polchak
New Orleans, Louisiana
When a national disaster strikes, “first the living” is the rule.
Unless you’re the Bug Man.
When Hurricane Katrina strikes New Orleans, forensic entomologist Nick Polchak signs up to help with the recovery effort. He is known as the Bug Man for his knowledge of insects and what they can reveal about the dead. The government’s mandate is clear–rescue the living first, recover the dead later.
But something is very wrong in the toxic soup-bowl of post-Katrina New Orleans.
Someone is using the cover of disaster to kill . . . hiding the victims of murder in the same watery grave as the victims of Katrina.
It’s a tale only the dead can tell. But no one besides the Bug Man is listening.
Looking for a review of First the Dead? Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.54 out of 5 stars based on 47 reviews
Amazon Rating-UK: not rated
GoodReads Rating: 4.23 out of 5 stars based on 949 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: 4.78 out of 5 stars based on 9 reviews
Library Thing Rating: 4.08 out of 5 stars based on 20 ratings
Total Score 4.25 (updated 5/23/16)
Listed #69 out of 120 on Goodreads Forensic Fiction Book List
Listed #96 out of 168 on Goodreads Best Science Thriller Book List
The sheriff looked out over the crowded backyard.
Dr. Nick Polchak
Nathan Donovan: FBI agent and a friend of Polchak’s
Victoria Braden: Potential presidential first lady
Alena Savard: Known as the ‘Witch of Endor’, is a dog trainer and love interest of Polchak
Dogs have long been man’s best friend, but the Bug Man’s friend is a rare breed . . . the cadaver dog.
All roads lead to the White House for John Henry Braden, the charismatic senator from Virginia aristocracy whose beautiful wife Victoria is the talk of Washington and the crown jewel of Endor, her backwoods Virginia hometown.
But when bodies turn up on Braden’s property–the site of a multimillion dollar construction project he’s spearheading–the senator’s spin doctors, led by his future first lady, must act quickly to quell a conspiracy before it blemishes their presidential campaign.
Enter entomologist Nick Polchak, the quirky bug expert enlisted to determine if the senator’s bone yard is a forgotten cemetery or a crime scene.
To help with the investigation, Polchak follows local legend to Alena Savard, a mysterious woman known for her ability to turn mongrels into the best search dogs around. They soon find themselves on the trail of a desperate individual bent on protecting a terrible secret.
“You’re just less than dead-might as well get started”
Looking for a review of Less Than Dead Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.88 out of 5 stars based on 62 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: not rated
GoodReads Rating: 4.38 out of 5 stars based on 710 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: 4.64 out of 5 stars based on 11 ratings
Library Thing Rating: 4.17 out of 5 stars based on 12 ratings
Total Score 4.42 (updated 4/14/17)
The old man looked at the driver of the car.
Dr. Nick Polchak, Dr. Noah Ellison, Kathryn Guilford, Nathan Donovan, and Alena Savard
Pasha Semenov: A Russian graduate student studying entomology
Nick Polchak must stop a terrorist from causing a global ecological nightmare.
Two beautiful women from Nick’s past are competing for his heart.
He’s not sure which impending disaster makes him more nervous.
When forensic entomologist Nick Polchak is called to the scene of a murder on a small organic farm in North Carolina he is astonished to find that the victim’s estranged wife is an old friend, a woman he once worked with–a woman he once had feelings for. When she asks Nick to investigate her husband’s drug-related murder, Nick seeks the assistance of Alena Savard, the reclusive dog trainer known to the people of northern Virginia as the Witch of Endor.
Alena jumps at the chance to renew her relationship with Nick–but when she arrives in North Carolina she discovers that she’s not the only woman who has her eye on the Bug Man. Soon Nick finds his usually analytical mind clouded by thoughts of a strangely human nature. These two women have stirred feelings that he can’t quite fathom, feelings of lost opportunities and future possibilities . . .
Now Nick must navigate the unexplored territory of his own heart while he solves an agro-terrorist’s plot to ignite an environmental holocaust that could spread to the ends of the earth.
Looking for a review of Ends of the Earth? Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.33 out of 5 stars based on 78 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: not rated
GoodReads Rating: 4.29 out of 5 stars based on 492 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: 4.33 out of 5 stars based on 6 ratings
Library Thing Rating: 4.39 out of 5 stars based on 9 ratings
Total Score 4.30 (updated 5/23/16)
“I’m not sure I can do this,” Nick said.
Dr. Nick Polchak, Dr. Noah Ellison, Nathan Donovan, and Alena Savard
Peter Boudreau: A forensic botanist and friend of Polchak’s
Pine Summit, Pennsylvania
Tying the knot may be the toughest thing Nick Polchak has ever tried to do.
Nick Polchak is comfortable with bugs. Their world is orderly. He knows where he stands and exactly how to interpret the signs they give him. But a fiancee and an upcoming wedding? Not so much.
That’s why-a mere four days before the nuptials-Nick finds himself driving to Philadelphia for the monthly meeting of the Vidocq society. Being among a group of forensic professionals consulting on cold cases will surely allow him to feel useful and normal.
But while there he discovers that a close friend has been murdered . . . and in classic Nick style, begins to follow the trail of evidence rather than returning to his fiancee. Fearing that his one-track mind won’t lead him home by Saturday, Alena and three of her dogs go to track him down.
When she finally finds him, nothing is as Alena expected . . . because the twists in this case will surprise even the most dedicated Bug Man fans.
Looking for a review of Nick of Time? Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.40 out of 5 stars based on 174 reviews
Amazon Rating-UK: not rated
GoodReads Rating: 4.21 out of 5 stars based on 563 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: 4.30 out of 5 stars based on 41 reviews
Library Thing Rating: 4.37 out of 4 stars based on 15 ratings
Total Score 4.26 (updated 5/23/16)