Wolf Point (Ashe Cayne #2), by Ian K. Smith

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ian K. Smith, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Ian K. Smith is back with another gritty investigative thriller where nothing is quite as it seems. Ashe Cayne knows the world of private investigating quite well and Smith has developed him into a strong character who is prepared to turn over every stone to get to the truth. While the series is still coming into its own, the foundation is strong and sets Smith apart from many within the genre, which permits the reader to sit back and enjoy some stellar writing and suspenseful plot twists.

Corruption is rife on the streets of Chicago, something that private investigator Ashe Cayne knows all too well from his time on the CPD. When the adult children of prominent political figure Walter Griffin turn to Cayne, he’s not sure what he can do. Griffin was found dead in a seedier part of Chicago, but it was clearly a suicide. That said, neither of Griffin’s children believe that their father could have done this and implore Cayne to get to the truth.

Two years after the fact, Cayne must work extremely hard to cobble anything together, while also fighting against the suicide label. What he discovers not only refutes the official cause of death, but opens up new problems that could easily provide a list of suspects. Might it have been the Russians? A political figure Griffin wronged? Someone with a secret who wanted to ensure it never saw the light of day? Cayne is busy tracking down all the possibilities while trying to keep himself from being a new target.

While Ashe Cayne knows his city well, there’s something going on that even he could not have predicted. Nothing is coming together, leaving him to wonder if there’s a cover-up in place. Cayne owes it to Griffin’s family to find the truth, even if he ruffles a few feathers along the way.

I remember being highly impressed with Ian K. Smith’s series debut, feeling that the book took private investigation to a new level. This was not the hokey investigator looking into simple cases to appease an insistent family. Rather, Ashe Cayne dives headlong into the dark underbelly that is Chicago’s most dangerous neighbourhoods, seeking answers that are likely best not revealed. The grit oozes from every page and Smith keeps the reader wanting to know more, particularly as new twists take the story in unforeseen directions.

Ashe Cayne continues to reveal himself throughout the story, adding a little more to his backstory while forging ahead with abandon. Well-known to some of the richer parts of the city, Cayne does not mind getting his hands dirty if it helps a client, especially one he trusts has been wronged. Surrounded by a number of strong characters who bring the streets of Chicago to life, Cayne is sure to be a memorable protagonist for as long as the series continues.

This was another strong effort by Smith, who has a way with words and description. The narrative moves swiftly and keeps the reader trying to match its pace, while never being truly predicable. Smith peppers the story with unique characters and plausible plot lines, all while developing an air of mystery until the final reveal. Ashe Cayne may know Chicago, but even he is sometimes surprised just how corrupt its politicians can be when trying to vie for ultimate control. This is a series worth noting, as Ian K. Smith has laid the groundwork for something spectacular, provided he continues with the effort he’s invested into these first two novels.

Kudos, Mr. Smith, for delivering yet again. Readers are sure to take note and see that the genre has a new master.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/wolf-point/

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Later, by Stephen King

Seven stars

When it comes to Stephen King, few expect to find something straightforward and easy to digest. Such is the life of a man with a million ideas, racing from one side of the page to the other. While King certainly stands alone in the genre, he can sometimes come up with some gems that stick with the reader for years to come. Other times, it seems as though he simply needs to open up his head and get the idea out, a sort of mental spring cleaning. This piece appeared to be somewhere in the middle for me; entertaining with a slice of ‘well then’.

Jamie Conklin wants to grow up as normally as he can, though that is is not in the cards. His mother is raising him alone and struggling each step of the way, though provides the best she can for Jamie, even with the secret the young boy possesses. While it’s to remain a secret, Jamie can communicate and visualize those who have passed on.

This proves to be quite troubling for Jamie, as he cannot turn it off and on, but rather must live with the consequences on a daily basis. As Jamie inches into adolescence, the skill gets even more intense and he’s pulled into a scenario where his abilities could help others, while ruining himself at the same time. Jamie’s got to master the art of developing the skills without letting it subsume him.

After someone on the NYPD learns of Jamie’s ability, it could be a major benefit, particularly with a killer on the loose. Could Jamie lead the authorities right to the doorstep, using the ability to speak with victims in order to ascertain who’s behind the killings? Anything’s possible when Stephen King’s at the helm!

I have usually enjoyed reading Stephen King’s work, more because it is varied and one never knows what is waiting around the corner. His vast array of ideas and characters makes any read something unique and highly unpredictable. However, I cannot connect with every story or plot, making some pieces less alluring to me than others. I find myself in a grey area here, not sure what I thought or how to react to the experience.

As with many of the characters King develops, Jamie Conklin was an interesting individual with his own backstory and quite the active life. He’s seen a lot for a kid and does not hold back when speaking to the reader. The maturity he possesses is great, though it is matched with some bombastic and outlandish choices, some of which leave him in a great deal of trouble.

Those who have read a fair bit of the Stephen King collection will know that he rarely enjoys being succinct. Adding tangents upon tangents, King can spin a tale into a massive tome or take the reader down what appears to be a rabbit hole, only to turn it into the main theme of the novel. Doing so can create odd narratives that appear out of nowhere, as happened at times in this book. I sought something a little more straightforward, but got this. While there was strong narrative progress, it just did not go in the direction that I wanted and left me hoping for more. What that ‘more’ is, I cannot be entirely sure, but it is an itch that has not been scratched. King’s prose is strong and creates vivid images in the reader’s mind. Those who are new to King will have to learn that patience is the greatest tool in order to find answers within his stories.

Kudos, Mr. King, for an interesting take on the ‘child with powers’ theme. Not one of my favourites, but I applaud the effort.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Mighty Johns: A Novella, by David Baldacci

Eight stars

Fans of David Baldacci know that he possesses a great versatility when it comes to writing. I have experienced a variety of his work and enjoyed most of it. This is a unique novella, a mystery four decades in the making, with college football as an underlying theme. Baldacci keeps things sharp for the reader who has only a short time to invest, or those seeking a ‘bridge piece’ between two longer reading commitments.

Draven Univerisy prides itself on its football team, the Mighty Johns. Their most prominent player, Herschel Ruggles, is still spoken in the halls and many who are old enough remember where they were during one of his award-winning catches. Four decades ago, Ruggles made an astounding touchdown catch and then simply disappeared into the bowels of the stadium, never to be seen again. No one was able to make heads or tails of it, adding to the lore.

The disappearance is still mentioned and it is only when a new player— Merl North—begin shattering the Ruggles records, that the mystery resurfaces. North has a penchant for science and must have answers, beginning his own investigation into the disappearance. What North finds only adds to the mystery, though this is one problem that demands a solution, even if it costs North all he has. It’s an eerie intervention that may point in the direct of truth once and for all.

While I am used to gritty mysteries that include the US Government, Baldacci is able to move outside of his apparent comfort zone and dazzle the reader with ease. There’s something about the writing style and narrative flow that keeps me interested, as I flip pages with ease to get a little deeper into the story. Originally penned as part of a collection of shorter writings, Baldacci’s piece works well as a standalone publication.

With little time to waste, Baldacci develops his characters from the opening pages and keeps adding to their backstory as the mystery builds. This is not uncommon and the reader is forced to keep pace or risk being left behind. Many of the faces that appear in this piece could just as easily be used as secondary characters in any of Baldacci’s prominent series.

While the book opened with a strong scientific analysis of football, things soon fell into place and I was able to enjoy the narrative without investing too much devoted concentration. The plot emerged and the mystery gained the needed momentum to create something the reader could latch onto quickly. With a little flashback here and there, things definitely caught my attention and held it until the final reveal. While I do enjoy some of the more intense Baldacci thrillers, this was a great treat that filled a short gap in my reading list.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for tossing a Hail Mary that worked well!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The World Played Chess, by Robert Dugoni

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Dugoni, and Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

While I have long had an affinity for Robert Dugoni’s series work, he is extremely talented, enough to pen some stunning standalone novels as well. This is another of those, taking the reader through three time periods as the characters explore themselves, the world around them, and struggles of young men in various situations. Dugoni’s theme of struggle is further strengthened by his depiction of one soldier’s view of the Vietnam War, sure to impact many readers who take the time to connect with that particular narrative. A wonderful piece that shows how versatile Dugoni can be in his writing.

Vincent Bianco has high hopes for the summer of 1979. Having just graduated high school, Bianco is hoping to make some pocket money before heading off to college. When he’s given the chance to work with a construction crew, he soon learns just how hard the work can be. He connects with two of the men, William and Todd, just enough to realise that they have quite the history themselves. Both served in the Vietnam War, with stories of their own. Throughout the summer, Bianco finds himself trying to emerge from teen to young man, while also seeing how different his struggles are from those of his coworkers, whose time in Asia eleven years before left an indelible mark, as well as remnants of PTSD.

In a parallel narrative, modern-day Vincent Bianco watches his own son, Beau, come to terms with life after high school and the choices he will make to shape his own future. The elder Bianco tries to steer his son in the right direction, but realises, thinking back to 1979, how important self-discovery can be. Beau suffers his own issues and must make sense of them as best as possible, while striving to better himself, both scholastically and as a young man.

A third perspective emerges in journal entries from William’s personal documentation in 1968 in the jungles of Vietnam. The young man questions himself, the choices of his fellow Marines, and the war as a whole. Seeing horrors unlike anything he could have imagined, he wonders how much is actually making it back home, where people read newspapers and see television news reports of the fighting. Death is everywhere, something no eighteen-year-old could have fathomed a few years before. All while the world seems somewhat ignorant to the real story.

Robert Dugoni is a master at the written word and is able to pull the reader into the middle of each story with ease. His standalone novels always resonate a little more with me, as the themes emerge independently from the series he has has crafted over the years, getting to the core of the reader and forcing them to reflect on what they’ve read. While stories of espionage and police procedurals are great, it’s nice to take a deeper plunge at times as the reader must come to terms with their own feelings, rather than read on autopilot.

The three young men featured in the piece could not be more different from one another, yet rate also so very similar. Just out of high school, each has a plan that is stymied by life events outside of their control. William, Vincent, and Beau all must have epiphanies to see what life means and how they want to leave their mark, wondering at times if they matter at all. The attentive reader will see these three struggles as well as a commonality between them, sure to bind the story together by the closing pages.

I have never had an issue with narrative momentum when it comes to Dugoni’s writing and this was no exception. The story takes hold of the reader from the opening pages and carries them along throughout. There are moments of humour alongside deeply pensive times, forcing moments of contemplation, all while keeping the story clipping along. Each chapter contrasts a longer narrative, set either in 1979 or 2016, with a journal entry from 1968. This permits the reader to contrast and compare effectively as they get to know the three protagonists. While some will bemoan the overly serious nature of the novel, many readers who can take a step back and enjoy something a little ‘meatier’ will likely want to delve deeper and see another side of Robert Dugoni. I loved it, as I needed something to pull me out of my drone reading, forcing me to take notice and ponder my own choices, as well as those of my young son.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, for taking the time to write this. Your efforts do not go unnoticed and I am eager to see what else you have in store for your fans in the coming months.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/the-world-played-chess/

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Madness of Crowds (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #170, by Louise Penny

Nine stars

I can be assured of something sensational when Louise Penny pens a Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novel and I was not disappointed with the latest offering. Penny develops a strong story and layers it with narrative twists that take the reader on an adventure, without venturing too far from the bucolic community of Three Pines. Gamache juggles another homicide and some family issues as he focuses his attention on that which many overlook. Penny provides some of the best descriptive writing I have seen in years, entertaining and offering social commentary along the way. I cannot offer enough praise to her for what she’s done with this novel and series.

The rural community of Three Pines, Quebec is in the festive season with the New Year on the horizon. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is looking forward to spending some time with family only to have it cut short by an odd request. When a visiting Professor of Statistics arrives to deliver a lecture at the local university, she’s in need of some security. Abigail Robinson has made a name for herself and causes a whirlwind of sentiment wherever she goes. Enter, Gamache.

During the lecture, shots are fired and Professor Robinson is whisked off to safety, leaving Chief Inspector Gamache to determine what’s happened and how security has been compromised. While the shooter is identified and taken into custody, Gamache is not ready to rest on his laurels. As New Year’s Eve celebrations begin, Gamache cannot help but wonder if the shooting was planned well ahead of time.

After a body is discovered in town early on New Year’s Day, Chief Inspector Gamache opens up the investigation. The body is soon identified as Professor Robinson’s assistant, leaving some to wonder if it was a case of mistaken identity in the pale moonlight. However, nothing is as simple as that and Gamache pulls together his team of Homicide investigators to comb through all the evidence.

With a number of subplots taking the investigation in a handful of directions, Gamache must pay close attention to what’s before him and peel back the layers to get to the heart of the matter. With the usual Three Pines residents adding flavour to an already busy story, it’s no doubt that the madness of crowds will cloud Gamache’s thoughts on a regular basis.

It was a few years ago that I stumbled upon Louise Penny and this stunning series, which grips onto the reader and will not let go. Penny develops complex storylines and lively characters throughout the novel to educate and entertain in equal measure. Many have applauded Penny’s work and this novel falls in line with many of the preceding books, making it well worth the reader’s time and effort.

While Chief Inspector Armand Gamache remains front and centre throughout, Penny brings back many of her core characters to offer a number of perspectives and lighter moments amidst the heartier narrative. Many of the familiar faces are past offering backstories, though there is some minor character development in the piece, primarily in the realm of Gamache’s own family. This provides some interesting subplot development and Penny does not shy away with the controversy there. Those familiar with Penny’s writing will likely enjoy her introduction of some new faces throughout this novel.

I have read a number of novels lately that allow me to push through in short order. However, Penny’s novels always force me to pay close attention and listen/notice the nuances offered throughout the narrative. The story moves quickly and the reader is pulled into the middle of it all, never losing its momentum throughout, though there is so much going on, making it difficult to enjoy without investing my full attention. Strong characters appear throughout and keep the reader on their toes. Some novels appear to lose steam the longer the series progresses, but Penny is able to defy the norm and has me begging her to keep writing years into the future. I can only hope that this collection of Canadian mysteries receive their due and readers from all over the world take notice.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for showcasing Canada so effectively. Brilliant work, sure to impress readers who take the time to enjoy your novels.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Missed Me (Mabel Davison #2), by Trevor Wiltzen

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Trevor WIltzen for providing me with a copy of this novel, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After I enjoyed his debut novel so much, it was a pleasure to hear from Trevor Wiltzen, asking that I read and review the second in the Mabel Davison series. Wiltzen brings his unique private investigator back for another case, using the plot of the previous novel to build on another chilling crime. Mabel Davison has her hands full with work, though she cannot deny loving the sleuthing she’s been able to do. It seems to come together nicely, as Wiltzen crafts another sensational story around her work and the small community of Blue River, Washington. Mabel is pushed to the brink in this piece, taking the reader on a harrowing journey to keep her family away from a cruel individual. There will be repercussions, perhaps permanent ones!

Mabel Davison has made a home in Blue River, Washington, where she raises her two sons and niece. It’s 1987 and the community is tight-knit, relying on Mabel’s diner to spread local gossip. However, after inadvertently getting into the private investigator business a while back, Mabel is back at it, helping a down and out single mom with her drug-addicted teenage daughter. Some say the girl ran off to live amongst her drug dealer and his white supremacist soldiers, but Mabel’s being asked to look into what could be an abduction.

Juggling work and this sleuthing on the side, Mabel seeks to penetrate deeper into the criminal underbelly of the region, where raves are thrown and young girls are lured into a life of illicit activity. What Mabel discovers shocks her, though she is not able to keep it on the down-low and is warned to stay away. As the investigation gets more intense, Mabel’s niece, Kerry, tries to take matters into her own hands. This could prove dire, as Mabel’s greatest weakness is revealed, her family!

While I cannot precisely put my finger on it, there’s something about Trevor Wiltzen’s writing that has me wanting to keep reading. It could be the ease with which he writes a gripping crime thriller in ‘pre-tech’ days, forcing the story to rely on grit, rather than apps and text messages. It might also be that he has a wonderful way of developing characters that complement the plot so well, or even the bucolic depiction of rural Washington that makes the story all the more relatable to the reader who prefers life away from traffic chaos. Whatever it might be, Wiltzen pours it all into his work and develops something well worth the reader’s time.

I often find myself trying to picture characters in my mind as I read, seeing how the author portrays them in the narrative. Wiltzen does a fabulous job with Mabel, leaving me to see the sweat on her brow and the glow of her smile. There is also an easy means of visualizing the less than noble men who make up the criminal element throughout the story. Wiltzen presents a handful of supporting characters who add depth and intrigue to the piece, some of whom are back from the debut novel, while others are new faces with personalities to match. Wiltzen makes them easily likeable or despised depending on the reader’s inclination.

While I do enjoy novels that take me deep into a case, there are times when something a little easier to digest is also wonderful. Wiltzen’s writing is easy to follow and his storytelling makes it a quick read. The flow is such that there’s no issue with devouring the novel in a sitting or two, depending on how much time the reader has to dedicate. The narrative flows well, with a plot that keeps things moving until the climactic ending, which the reader will not want to gloss over. Wiltzen tends not to focus on too much frivolous storytelling, keeping the thriller on a single plot track. I cannot wait to see what’s next for Mabel and how the fallout of this novel will tie into the next. I’ll need to use my patience, something I find difficult when I discover an author that I thoroughly enjoy.

Kudos, Mr. Wiltzen, for showcasing your abilities yet again. Nice to know that there are some who write with passion and yet remain humble.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Odd Numbers, by J.J. Marsh

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, J.J. Marsh, and Saga Egmont Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having never read anything by J.J. Marsh, I had no idea what to expect. It was certainly an interesting thriller, exploring not only the events on one cold New Year’s Eve, but the fallout over the next two decades. Marsh does well to keep the reader guessing and building on her characters, even if the core event that pulled everyone together is soon left in the past. With a great twist in the latter part of the story, Marsh has a wonderful way of storytelling and I am eager to see how this compares to some of her other work.

It was a biennial tradition for a number of college friends to gather on New Year’s Eve somewhere in the world. In 1999, it was the Czech Republic, where the cold and some unique activities would take certain group members by surprise. After an evening of drinking and cavorting, one of the group ends up in the water and disappears. The pall of his disappearance and suspected drowning hangs over them all as they process the truth.

As the narrative continues, the reader learns of subsequent New Year’s encounters, as each of the five remaining friends grow and develop in their own ways. Some begin to come out of their respective shells, while others turn away from college memories and try to forge their own personalities. Soon, it’s been two decades and some cannot believe that fateful time in 1999 has been left in the past, without proper resolution.

It’s on this 20th anniversary that old wounds are torn open anew, when a revelation comes to pass. Everyone discovers that what seemed a foregone conclusion could not be further from the truth. It’s only when the fallout is realised that new truths must be forged.

While the book plays out in a unique way, it’s by no means hard to digest. J.J. Marsh does well to build up narrative momentum in the early stages of the novel, only to turn down the pressure for most of the remaining story. With a mix of unique characters, the reader can attach themselves to someone of their choosing, seeing their growth over the twenty years, but also realise the stagnant nature of life at times. Mid-length chapters keep the reader wanting to know more, particularly as the narrative switches to explore various perspectives and timelines. Marsh weaves a curious tale with strong psychological undertones that surface in the most tense manner during the climactic portion of the story.

As this was sent to me as an audio ARC, I had better make some comment on the narration. While using two narrators, the story came to life, with great personalities emerging and accents to add to the creative presentation. I enjoy a well-casted audiobook and it would seem those chosen for this piece fit the bill perfectly. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for their work when next I am trolling for an audiobook to help pass the time.

Kudos, Madam Marsh, for an intriguing novel that is both impactful and succinct. I’m eager to see what some of your other writing might be like.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

We the Fallen People: The Founders and the Future of American Democracy, by Robert Tracy McKenzie

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Tracy McKenzie, and InterVarsity Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

As a former student of politics and one who enjoys the analytical side of things, I grabbed this tome by Robert Tracy McKenzie with great interest. His basic premise is that America is neither GOOD, nor GREAT in its current political state, even as politicians would espouse this falsehood freely. While one could look at insurrectionist activities, the treatment of certain races, or even the state of protection from the pandemic that some state governments offer their people, McKenzie chooses to look at the political core, democracy.

McKenzie asserts clearly that the democracy embedded in the US Constitution is not what is being practiced today, nor has it been throughout the ages. McKenzie does not pretend that even the original democratic foundation in America was perfect, nor does it have the fluidity of a textbook presentation. However, the Founding Fathers worked with what they had and could not have foreseen every eventuality, some of which were abused in years to come. A number of democratic shortcomings are explored in the tome itself.

The general sentiment that there is a need for proper democratic input and output holds true, though it is impossible to run a country in a vacuum. McKenzie presents some of the struggles with trying to run a new country that sought to forge its own rules, pitting democratic ideals with everyday goings-on. Protecting the minority in a system where majority rules was one such example and there is significant ink used to explore this. The balance is both essential and complicated, though McKenzie makes fair points about its implementation.

McKenzie would be remiss if he glossed over some of the larger democratic abuses in the early stages of American democracy. His focus on the treatment of Indian resettlement during the Andrew Jackson presidency is a blight on the entire process. This continued when Jackson sought to wrest control of the banks during his time in the White House. McKenzie clearly espouses that there are gaping holes in democracy, which Jackson used to his advantage.

An interesting contrast emerges when McKenzie pulls in the analysis that Alexis de Tocqueville made when he came to America and penned his magnum opus, Democracy in America. Tocqueville spent numerous months in the country and sought to present his findings for all to synthesise. However, as McKenzie argues, the end result was a massive tome that was completely indigestible for the common person and remains so today. Tocqueville offered some poignant comments about how America ran its political affairs and some key lines have been taken out of context while also falsely presented in the years that followed.

McKenzie makes clear that there are problems, and that America is in need of some major changes. He is not of the opinion that it is impossible to rectify, though it is not as simple as reading the book and gloriously shaking off the shackles of the past. There is work to be done, beginning at the grassroots. Whether this is something someone wants to undertake is another matter. That said, “democracy isn’t intrinsically intolerant and authoritarian, but it can be”, given ongoing ignorance.

While I have read my fair share of political non-fiction over the years, the span of ‘readability’ is not equal. Some books are able to boil things down to the basics and make it easily digested by the layreader, while others are more academic and seek a deeper understanding to comprehend the detailed analyses. McKenzie is part of the latter group, though I did not find this to be a deterrent. I need to flex my brain at times and really get to the heart of the matter. This makes it a denser read, which is fine if I am expecting it. McKenzie offers strong arguments with many core examples to substantiate them, without belabouring too many points. In a handful of well-structured chapters, McKenzie makes his thesis clear and keeps the reader engaged. If I had to offer any critique, it would be the layout of the footnoting, though the sloppiness may simply be a part of the ARC I received. The mish-mash took away from the flow throughout, though I suppose some readers prefer easy access to citations as they read.

Kudos, Mr. McKenzie, for a decent read and some strong arguments. My brain is buzzing and it’s just what I needed.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Jack of Hearts (The Hunt for Jack Reacher #15), by Diane Capri

Eight stars

There’s nothing like a good Diane Capri thriller to bring out the excitement for me, particularly when I am waiting for the next of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. The ‘man with no fixed abode’ continues popping up in small towns across America, while Capri crafts stories around locating and capturing him once and for all. The FBI wants to talk to him, people he has harmed seek to get retribution, and the reader can see how Reacher stays one step ahead, usually.

FBI Special Agent Kim Otto is still getting used to a new partner, which has not been easy. However, she has bigger problems, as she is almost certain that she saw Reacher die in a plane crash…almost. While nothing is absolute, the hunt for him continues, which leads to Otto and Burke making their way to Nebraska. Reacher was there at one point, having saved a local woman and a handful of Thai girls from a man who had human trafficking on the mind.

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that this woman has been targeted anew, with no Reacher to protect her. Otto will have to intervene as best she can, but it is sure to put her into significant danger. From Nebraska, it’s off to Denver to work through some of the clues and try to make sense of things. Otto is all about the case first and safety afterwards, which has both her current partner and the man who held the role before slightly concerned.

When things get tense, Otto finds herself falling into a trap and almost dying, only to the rescue and back on the trail of these re-captured women. It’s all part of a larger plan, and a powerful man who resides in Las Vegas, hoping to coax Reacher out of the shadows again, where a bullet awaits him. This is one storyline Otto could not have predicted.

I’ve long enjoyed Lee Child and his books, which was only augmented when Diane Capri began using them as background for her own series. This thriller series that pits two FBI agents against the wiles of Jack Reacher has all the ingredients for a successful series and has never let me down. Each Capri book is loosely based on events Reacher experienced in own of his own novels. This story is pulled from the pages of Worth Dying For, one of the series’ bests. Reacher fans out to explore some of all of Capri’s work to complement their love of what Lee Child developed.

FBI Special Agent Kim Otto keeps up her great work as protagonist. Struggling to come to terms with her new partner, Otto must accept him while trying not to rely too much on the man who used to be at her side. This has been a struggle in the past two novels and really comes to a head in this piece. Otto is, however, razor focussed on trying to make it all work, in hopes of finding Jack Reacher once and for all.

The series is quite entertaining, particularly for those who have developed an affinity for Jack Reacher’s nomadic ways. The narrative pushes the story along effectively yet again, paired with strong characters that accentuate nice plot points. While the Reacher novels are not affixed to any specific time, all of Capri’s novels have taken place over 7 months, adding intensity to the manhunt and series development. While I suppose they could be read as quasi-standalone, why would anyone ever wish to parachute in and not see things as they progressed over time?

Kudos, Madam Capri, for keeping me enthralled throughout. I cannot wait to see what’s next and how Reacher will make an impact from the shadows.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Missing Hours, by Julia Dahl

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Julia Dahl, St. Martin’s Press, and Minotaur Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having never read anything by Julia Dahl, I was eager to give this standalone novel a try. Dahl writes in a gritty and fast-paced fashion, perfect for those who love a story that never gives the reader time to enter a lull. When Claudia Castro realises that she’s been raped, it is a mix of embarrassment and determination that fuels her to move forward. With the help of an unlikely dorm mate, Claudia soon realises that she’s been a target of revenge porn, as a video of the act surfaces. Now, she’s determined to get her own retribution and make a statement that she is not to be treated so poorly. With a little help, she’s able to put the wheels in motion to show that she is stronger than any boy who thinks she can be used for their own pleasure! A great piece that has me eager to see what else Julia Dahl and penned!

When Claudia Castro woke in her dorm room, she knew something was the matter. The night before had been a haze, but the burning sensation between her legs was indicative of something, and she could not remember consenting. With the place almost empty because of Spring Break, Claudia is left to stew, but comes across Trevor, who seems eager to help however he can.

While Claudia comes from a family with money, Trevor has lived the simple life in Ohio before making his way to New York City. Together, the unlikely pair connect, though never romantically, as they maneuver their way through Claudia’s rape and how to handle it. Having missed her sister giving birth, Claudia knows that she will have to tell her family one thing, but she has yet to cobble together a story that will fit the bill.

When Trevor receives an anonymous text with a video of the rape, he’s enraged. It’s two boys that Claudia knew from her time at NYU, more trouble than they are worth. While they are content to say that it’s ‘just Claudia being her slutty self’, Trevor takes offence and lets Claudia convince him that they need to act. With money burning in her pocket, Claudia has a plan, but it will take time and precision to work.

As Claudia and Trevor work to exact their own form of revenge, they are fulled by the fact that this was no simple act of young people goofing off. It’s time to show that the victim need not wait for the legal process to run its course. The missing hours may still be blurry, but Claudia intends to make those who participated feel her wrath. A jolting story that sped along at a wonderful pace.

The premise of the book left me curious and yet slightly unnerved, though I was intrigued to see how Julia Dahl might handle it. Having written a few thrillers before, I knew Dahl would jump headlong into things and she did well to capture my attention from the outset. This is a story that is sure to keep the reader flipping pages, if only to see how everyone plays a part in the larger whole and what sort of revenge can be expected.

Dahl uses a wonderful collection of characters, depicted well throughout the narrative. Contrasting the rich with the more ‘grounded’ provided the reader with great comparisons as to the tools available for retribution. Backstories and development occurred in equal measure throughout, keeping the reader attentive so as not to miss anything being offered. The flippant nature of some who play a role in the story made it all the more believable, especially when the narrative explores so many perspectives. That said, Claudia and Trevor surely steal the show as strong and multi-faceted protagonists.

Dahl uses her skills to explore the themes effectively throughout the narrative. Perhaps her greatest feat in a story of this type is to use varying narrative perspectives, bringing many of her characters into the central role and telling events from their own experiences. This helps quicken the pace of the plot and keeps the reader aware of all that is going on throughout the development of events. Chapters flowed freely, usually quick and to the point, leaving the reader to desire more as the story unfolds. I was captivated with it throughout, even if the subject matter got dark or sometimes quite violent. Told over a few weeks, the plot never lost its intensity or left the reader feeling less than satisfied with the end result, which comes in the final pages of this well-paced novel. I am eager to explore more of Julia Dahl’s work before too long.

Kudos, Madam Dahl, for a great introduction to your writing. I am definitely going to explore some of your other writing to see if it is just as captivating.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/the-missing-hours-2/

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons