Review: The Missing Element by John L. Betcher with Q&A

This post originally appeared on Dollycas’s Thoughts May 18, 2010.


James (Beck) Becker and his wife Elizabeth (Beth) have retired from their high pressure lives as government operatives, Beck in military intelligence, Beth as a CIA code-cracker and moved back to Beck’s childhood home of Red Wing, Minnesota to enjoy some rest and relaxation.

Rest and relaxation doesn’t last long as Beth gets a call from an old acquaintance begging her to help find his wife, who he believes has been kidnapped.  Katherine Whitson, a computer genius, has left her husband her car keys, credit cards, most of her belongings and a note saying she’s leaving him, but he doesn’t believe it for a minute.

Beth talks Beck into taking the case and it takes him on a route through Katherine’s personal and professional lives and into the inside the mind-bending world of computers and microprocessors that he doesn’t even understand.  He realizes he needs Beth’s help, and the help of some of their friends if he is ever going to find Katherine alive and close this case.

This is such a good book.  It is written at the perfect pace that keeps you turning page after page after page.  It is hard to believe this is the author’s first mystery novel.   The characters are wonderfully developed, my favorite character of the book is Bull, an American Indian, with some very special skills and a very dry wit.  The plot is one that may scare anyone who uses a computer, which today is everyone, when you realize this story can actually be true. Are machines running the world? Are humans THE MISSING ELEMENT?

There is also the wonderful love story of Beck and Beth and the perfect amount of humor to keep the story from getting to technical or heavy.  If you are a fan of Tom Clancy, John Grisham or Robert Parker, you will truly enjoy this book, but even if you a just a cozy mystery reader this is still a book for you.  I truly recommend you add this book to your Summer Reading Lists today!!!

About The Author

John L Betcher is a University of Minnesota Law School graduate and has practiced law for more than twenty-five years in the Mississippi River community of Red Wing, Minnesota. He has also been a long-time supporter and coach of youth volleyball there.

He has authored three feature articles for COACHING VOLLEYBALL, the Journal of the American Volleyball Coaches Association. His most recent article was the cover story for the April/May, 2009 Issue. His book on volleyball coaching philosophies entitled THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK OF VOLLEYBALL COACHING is available at and at He is also an active member and writing peer coach at the Agent Query Connect writer’s forum.


After finishing this book Sunday night I emailed John Monday morning to tell him how much I loved the book and asked him to join me here to answer a few questions and find out if there would be more books in Beck & Beth’s future.


Q & A with Author John L. Betcher 
Was writing a book something you always wanted to do?
Writing fiction is a vocation I came upon gradually. I had never really pictured myself as an author before I decided — about a year ago — to become one. Having an English major in college and doing a lot of legal writing certainly helped writing skills along. But I hadn’t really aspired to be a writer. In fact, until last summer, I had been very involved in my two daughters’ school, artistic and sporting activities. Parenting occupied most of my time outside of lawyering. Then my youngest graduated from high school, and my schedule changed dramatically. Suddenly, I had time to do something else.
Actually, coaching youth volleyball for the past ten years was the impetus that got me writing for publication. I published three articles in “COACHING VOLLEYBALL, the Journal of the American Volleyball Coaches Association” between 2006 and 2009. The last article turned out to be the cover story for the April/May 2009 issue. In May, 2009 I wrote a small book on volleyball coaching philosophies entitled The Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching. By this time I was ready to move on to more challenging writing projects.
I guess you could say that my passion for coaching volleyball, and a recent appearance of some free time in my family schedule, were the major factors that allowed me to explore writing fiction. And like Beck, when I take on a challenge, I do so wholeheartedly. I now consider myself a full time lawyer and a full time author.


Are you really computer savvy or did you have to do a lot of research for this book? The book implies that humans are ‘The Missing Element” in computer technology. How did you come up with this storyline?
In 1980, I was fortunate enough to have access to one of IBM’s very first personal computers — the IBM XT — through my part-time job during law school. I’ve kept up with computers ever since. So on one hand, computers and technology have been parts of my life for a long time.
The really deep and involved aspects of computer chip design and manufacturing featured in the book came to me through an engineer friend of mine whose family has its own technology business. I invited him to my home one evening to share a beverage. I kept asking technology questions. And he kept giving me more and more intriguing answers. I backed up that personal interview with some web research to make sure I had all the terminology straight. It was my engineer friend who first expressed to me his concern over humans becoming increasingly absent in the technology equation. That idea blossomed into a good part of the book’s plot.
Do I really believe that “technology is becoming an uncomfortably black box,” as Beck would say? Yes. I’m not alarmist about it. But there are definitely Orwellian overtones to the expansive role technology plays in today’s world — mostly with little or no human intervention.
Are you Beck? I ask because he’s also a lawyer in the Red Wing area.
In writing The Missing Element, I tried to adhere to the common wisdom that an author should write about a subject with which he is familiar. I know a lot about lawyering, computers, the small town of Red Wing, Minnesota, and the Twin Cities metro area. So it is definitely true that there are parallels between my life and Beck’s. And Beck and I share some personal philosophies.
But one must remember that this book is fictional. And so are its characters. No one should believe for a minute that I am Beck, or vice versa. It would be exciting if I were capable of some of Beck’s heroics. But then I probably would be out saving people instead of writing books, wouldn’t I?
Beck and Beth make a great team. Will we see them working together in future books?
I like the characters of Beth and Beck very much. They are a little too perfect. And maybe they’re a bit self-absorbed. But their interaction with each other makes me feel good inside. Too few books leave you liking the main characters and happy about the ending. The Beck books will always be exceptions to that rule. And Beck and Beth will always be there.
I also like the characters of Bull and Gunner. Red Wing has substantial populations of both Scandinavians and Dakota Indians. So readers should expect to see more of Gunner and Bull in future books as well.


The next book in this series is in the works!!!!  
The title:  THE 19th ELEMENT
Expected Release Date: Later this year, maybe as early as late summer
It features the familiar core cast you got to know in THE MISSING ELEMENT — Beck, Beth, Bull and Gunner and is said to be a THRILLER!!!!!
Thank you to John for stopping by today and answering my questions.  I can’t wait to read The 19th Element and many more stories featuring Beck, Beth and the gang.
To learn more about the author visit

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author.. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”