The Collector (The Bone Collector #2), by Fiona Cummins

Eight stars

Fiona Cummins’ second novel holds all the intensity of the first, captivating the reader yet again. Picking up soon after the first novel ended, Cummins envelops the reader in this thriller, tantalising them with her wonderful abilities and cliffhanger moments. Clara Foyle is still missing, having not been found when the police raided one of the residences of the Bone Collector. In a gaffe during transport, the Bone Collector got loose and fled, remaining off the radar. These developments have been haunting DS Etta Fitzroy ever since, forcing her to come to terms with the horror of a child that has been lost. While she remains determined to find Clara, DS Fitzroy must wait for a significant clue to emerge. Meanwhile, after settling in rural Essex, the Bone Collector, now going by the name Mr. Silver, is trying to reestablish himself, much of his work still unfinished. He has found an apprentice who will be able to help him with his work while also trying to decide what purpose Clara might serve. Saul is a teenage boy forced to care for his alcoholic mother alone, after his father fled. Filled with angst and animosity, he is the ideal candidate to work alongside Mr. Silver, though he is still not entirely sure what is in store for him. After a new victim is lured to the beachfront house and killed for her bone anomaly, Mr. Silver has found his legs and is back in business. All that he needs to do now is tell the world he’s back, with a cryptic message affixed to the skeleton of a rabbit. DS Fitzroy is ready to resume the hunt, but will she be prepared for what Mr. Silver has planned now, and with someone to help? Cummins keeps up her electrifying story and leaves the reader stunned as they push through to see how it will all come to play out. Those who enjoyed the first novel in the series, as well as readers who love a good psychological thriller, will love this second piece.

Fiona Cummins has not lost the momentum she developed with the start of this series, pushing the genre out of its comfort zone. This only goes to show that Cummins is ready to use her ideas and reshape an already crowded genre, pushing her to the top of the list, amongst other powerful writers. Etta Fitzroy is still superb cop who has been processing the difficulties of a jaded work-home balance and a husband whose forced her to rethink her life choices. Armed with the failure to apprehend the Bone Collector once and for all, with Clara Foyle still out there, DS Fitzroy must work even harder not to botch the case again. The Bone Collector—Mr. Silver—has regrouped and sees the benefit of cultivating a new generation to continue his macabre museum of bones and medical anomalies. He’s found Saul and will do whatever it takes to ingratiate himself with the teen, hoping to fill a massive gap in the boy’s life. Still, there is much work to be done and many lives hang in the balance, as well as victims that must be culled around the country. Cummins offers some great backstory here to explore where the penchant for bones and murder might have originated, providing the reader with wonderful insight. The story is just as strong as before, flowing well through chapters full of information and cliffhanger moments. It would appear that date and time stamping each chapter poses the dual benefit of providing the reader some context and showing that Clara is still missing, and has yet to be recovered. This chill is not lost on the attentive reader, who wonders what is in store for the victim who has touched the lives of many characters in this book. Cummins does a magnificent job at injecting thrills and suspense into her narrative, leaving things hanging as she forces the reader to beg for more.

Kudos, Madam Cummins, for another award-worthy novel. I hope others will see what I have discovered and pick up this series in short order.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:


The Triple Frontier (Jericho Quinn #7.6), by Marc Cameron

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Marc Cameron, Kensington Books, and Pinnacle for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In his latest novella, Marc Cameron brings Jericho Quinn back for another high-octane adventure, this time way out of his comfort zone. The Triple Frontier—the area where the sovereign states of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay converge—is extremely dangerous. Drug running and human smuggling are common, creating a zone where the authorities have all but stopped trying to enforce the law. Bo Quinn is down in the region with a group of rich Americans to ride their motorcycles around the country. While travelling one morning, they are ambushed by a group of locals, though Bo is able to activate his SOS and GPS beacons before being tossed into the back of a van and led away. Back in America, Bo’s older brother, Jericho, receives word that the beacon has been activated, but cannot raise his sibling over the phone. Panicked, Jericho prepares to make his way down to South America, though his close friends will not let him go alone. On a rescue mission, Jericho prepares to head into the unknown, though is promised the help of a local when he arrives. Meanwhile, a ransom note comes in, seeking $3 million, only to be trumped by another offer of five million. Could rival cartels be using Bo and his clients as pawns in a larger battle? By the time they reach the Triple Frontier, Jericho and his entourage realise that this is one mission that will not end peacefully. When an unexpected individual shows up to offer Jericho added support, the mission takes on an entirely different flavour. Jericho forges ahead into the unknown in hopes of trying to clean up the mess that is this hostage situation without alerting the formal authorities. Faced with kidnappers who have nothing to lose and seek a major payday, the end result is anything but predictable. Cameron provides an entertaining addition to the Jericho Quinn series that fans of the collection will surely enjoy as they wait for the next full-length book.

Marc Cameron has done well crafting the Jericho Quinn series over the past numbers of years. While he has taken on some additional series work elsewhere, fans of the novels have been biding their time with some novellas, though their quality remains at the highest calibre. While much attention has been spent on Jericho and his interesting backstory, Cameron has only recently shed any light on the life of the younger Quinn, Bo. In this piece, the reader is able to see just how resilient Bo can be when faced with trouble, cool under pressure and ready to fight for what he feels is right. As the premise of the piece is an intense rescue mission, Jericho is still able to take centre stage in this story and does so, showing a compassionate side when it comes to protecting his family. Some of the secondary characters on both sides are able to keep the attention focused on the fast pace of the rescue mission, adding interesting flavours to the narrative. The story remains a ‘cookie cutter’ effort to save those who are being held captive, but it is the way in which Cameron approaches the story and how he is able to inject some much-needed humour into the dialogue to lighten the mood. With a narrative that clips along, the reader is swept up in this novella that has as much action as any of the stories that Cameron has published to this point. That being said, I eagerly await something longer in the near future.

Kudos, Mr. Cameron, for this entertaining piece. I can always count on something interesting and full of adventure when you write.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Deadly Secrets (Detective Erika Foster #6), by Robert Bryndza

Eight stars

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

Robert Bryndza is back with another Detective Erika Foster novel that takes the reader on a heart-thumping adventure in a thrilling police procedural. While headed out for Christmas lunch, DCI Foster comes upon a recent murder scene and decides to lend a hand. What she finds is a slain Marissa Lewis, her body frozen to the ground after having had her throat slit the night before. Lewis, a burlesque dancer who used the name Honey Diamond, was quite well known around the community, though not always liked. It would seem that she was quite popular with some of the local men, though used her wiles to blackmail them and pad her own bank account. With the investigation in full-swing, Foster begins using some CCTV footage and witness statements to determine that the killer was likely wearing an odd gas mask, a photo of which appeared in a document dump from emails of an early suspect. As a number of those on the police radar take drastic measures not to be fingered for the crime, Foster and her team hear of a man attacking people in a similar gas mask. Might the cases be connected? When an urgent call from Manchester pulls Foster away from the case, the team turns to DI Moss, who is unsure if she can handle the pressure of being in charge. With the case heating up and leads emerging from numerous parts of Marissa Lewis’ life, Moss takes a gamble to bring the case to a close, all while DCI Foster wrestles with demons from her past. Bryndza keeps the reader guessing throughout this piece, with captivating twists in a story that will keep series fans up late into the night.

I have long enjoyed the writing of Robert Bryndza, particularly his work with DCI Erika Foster. Some may call the series too superficial for their liking, but there are times with a quick read police procedural checks all the necessary boxes. As with the previous five novels, this piece allows the reader to develop a closer relationship to Erika Foster, foraging through her personal life to touch a nerve, while also helping to build-up her strong police presence. Bryndza also seeks to personalise Erika’s struggle to move on after the loss of her husband and the pitfalls of finding that balance between work and a personal life. Foster remains a sharp character who answers to no one and seeks to find the minutiae in each piece of evidence to determine its validity. The handful of secondary characters in this story continue to develop as well, as Bryndza does offer scraps of information to flesh-out their work and personal lives. Readers can enjoy seeing this growth, which provides interesting sub-plots and offsets the intensity of the crimes central to the narrative. The story is clear and flows well, taking a few tangents, if only to allow the reader to be befuddled alongside the coppers. Bryndza weaves his narrative around two sets of crimes and merges them at just the right moment, only to leave gaps that need to be filled to solve the larger murder investigation. Through his use of short and choppy chapters, Bryndza offers up a story that cannot easily be put down and forces the reader to forge onwards, begging to know how things resolve in this high-impact case. To call the story addictive would be an understatement, even if there are police procedural purists who remain bitter on the sidelines.

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza, for another captivating novel in the series. I am eager to see how things will continue to evolve with DCI Erika Foster and her team in the coming novels.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Rattle (The Bone Collector #1), by Fiona Cummins

Eight stars

Fiona Cummins’ debut novel has all the ingredients of a captivating thriller and keeps the reader hooked until the final chapters. After Clara Foyle is abducted outside a sweets shop, the community is swept up in the panic and a search commences. Detective Sergeant Etta Fitzroy is used to this panic, but must work quickly to nail down some leads before the trail goes cold and Clara is all but forgotten by the public. As she pokes around the crime scene, DS Fitzroy comes upon the skeletal remains of some animal, something she eventually learns is a rabbit. Affixed to the rabbit’s foot is a message, some code that might refer to a biblical passage, related to bones. There is surely an abductor out there, but no leads to offer anything concrete. Fitzroy is still haunted by another child abduction on her plate, one that has yet to be solved, though the family remains hopeful. When another young boy disappears, this time from his hospital bed, Fitzroy discovers another set of rabbit bones and is certain there is a connection. Who might have done this and for what reason? The only connection between Clara and Jakey Frith is their age…and that they both suffered from a bone anomaly. Poring over the evidence and family histories, DS Fitzroy concludes that the abductor must have an interest in bones. Meanwhile, lurking in the shadows, the Bone Collector has both children held captive, prepping them to add to his macabre personal museum, passed on to him by a curious father. With Clara and Jakey almost ready for their induction into the bone museum, DS Fitzroy has no time to lose. The smallest clue could crack the case wide open, but one false move and two children may soon become medical specimens. A brilliant novel that exemplifies just how ready Fiona Cummins is to break onto the scene. Fans of a ‘bone chilling’ thriller will flock to this and stay up late trying to race to the finish.

I always enjoy discovering new authors who seek to push their way onto the psychological thriller scene, perfecting their craft with a few strong novels. Cummins has done so with this single novel, laying the groundwork for a wonderful series with detailed plots and strong characters. Etta Fitzroy is a decent cop who has been trying to come to terms with a work-home balance and failing miserably. However, home is but a distraction as she is elbow-deep trying to trace the path of a serial killer/abductor who has an odd fascination. This drive pushes Fitzroy to break away from the mould her father—also a copper—left her, in a world where female strength is still in its infancy. The Bone Collector, that curious man in the shadows, has an interesting backstory and drive to continue his work. Able to plant himself into society, he has a history that is as detailed as it is horrific. Trying to continue his work, the Collector seeks to find the most interesting cases and display them, though only the most macabre will ever come to view the specimens on offer. The story is strong and flows easily from chapter to chapter, helping the reader to find their footing in short order. Short teaser chapters with time prints bridge the larger and more exploratory ones, all in an effort to keep the reader engaged until the very end. Cummins does a magnificent job and has left things hanging, if only to keep the reader begging for more. Depending on the depth that Cummins wishes to explore, I can see this series developing into something addictive for readers who enjoy the darkest side of police procedurals.

Kudos, Madam Cummins, for introducing fans to your work and showing that you belong in this genre. Your ability to spin such gruesome tales could catapult you shifting to the top, amongst some of the best in the field.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Macbeth (Hogarth Shakespeare), by Jo Nesbø

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jo Nesbø, Hogarth, and Crown Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Contributing to the Hogarth Shakespeare collection, Jo Nesbø has created a modern retelling of the Bard’s Macbeth. Set around 1970, the story opens with a police raid on a local gang running narcotics. When the authorities bungle things exquisitely, leaving blood and bodies scattered around the clubhouse, heads must roll within the police force. During the shake-up, Macbeth is brought on as the new head of Organised Crime, set to turn his men into a respectable arm of the force. Learning of her husband’s new position, Lady Macbeth encourages her husband to continue his climb, which is further supported by a high-level crime boss, Hecate. During one of Macbeth’s visits to Hecate, three substance-altered prostitutes foresee Macbeth’s rise to the position of Chief Commissioner, at the top of the entire police force. With a number of officials ahead of him, Macbeth is unsure how he will accomplish this, happy to run Organised Crime for the time being. Lady Macbeth can see a clear path to the top and knows her husband has it in him, if only he will bend the rules to better his chances. She convinces her husband to murder the current Chief Commissioner and frame another official, which he agrees to do while under the influence of narcotics. From there, one murder begets others to cover-up the trail being left. Even when the sought-after position is achieved, neither Macbeth or his wife are satisfied. However, their paranoia force more cover-ups and the need to constantly look over their shoulders. It would seem that power is the most addictive drug of all, one that cannot be sated by a simple snort or needle. Might the rise to power lead to a devastating crash into oblivion? Nesbø weaves quite the tale, using the framework Shakespeare made famous, providing his fans and those who enjoy the Bard’s work quite a great story. Hogarth did well picking Nesbø to explore this dark tale.

Nesbø has quite a dark side when writing for his adult audience, though is also well-versed in creating police thrillers that keep the reader engaged. Some love his writing—as well as the darker side of crime that emerges from the narrative—while others find his work too dense to enjoy, as it is not easily digested. I found myself straddling both camps here, though was able to forge ahead when I gained enough momentum (and time to read!). Macbeth is, of course a central character in the piece and Nesbø does a wonderful job portraying this man as someone who is in touch with his passions, but soon becomes swept up by all the power that is laid at his feet. One can only presume that it is the influence of his power-hungry wife and the influence of narcotics that led him down such a difficult path, one that would be paved in gold, only to reveal tarnished brass by the end of the book. Other characters emerge to support and block Macbeth’s climb to power, adding depth and flavour to the narrative, including those who see Macbeth for the corrupt leader he becomes. The story is strong and ties nicely into the original narrative laid out over four centuries ago. Using the same characters and most of their fates, Nesbø stays true while also modernising the story in an effective manner. Fans of Shakespeare will surely find their own weaknesses, but in an effort to entertain effectively, Nesbø is spot-on with his storytelling. Mixing short and longer chapters, the reader is able to develop a connection to the story and its characters, as long as a steady momentum is kept. As with all Nesbø pieces, the translation does not take away from the power of the message found within and, if anything, provides an even stronger piece.

Kudos, Mr. Nesbø, for another excellent piece of writing. While your style is an acquired taste, those with the patience for it are surely in for a wonderful adventure.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Wave of Terror, by Jon Jefferson

Seven stars

Jon Jefferson has created this intriguing science-based thriller that stirs up some interesting possibilities for 21st century terrorism. While completing some research on the Canary Islands, astronomer Megan O’Malley is angered to see that her telescope images are blurry and the placement of the instrument is constantly bumped out of place. However, when she places some calls, she is baffled to learn that there are not anomalies with the telescope and no seismographic documentation to explain any earth tremors, the usual suspects for such erroneous images. Megan is sure of what she’s seen, the photos acting as concrete documentation that something’s happened, no matter how minute. Digging a little deeper and running some of her own tests, Megan soon learns that the official seismic information has been altered online, helping to hide the actual tremors, but from what? Discussing these findings with a British academic, Megan learns that there has been chatter about some tsunami-like waves bound for the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Security experts have downplayed this as hogwash, as there is nothing to suggest that there are any seismic shifts that could bring this about. FBI Special Agent Christopher ‘Chip’ Dawtry seems to feel that there is more to Megan’s story than many will admit and begins to follow the trail, even when he is ordered not to give it any credence. Tracking her down and coming to offer his assistance, Chip works with Megan to reveal the truth before they can be targeted for extermination. As they learn just how deep the plot runs, Chip and Megan must convince the authorities before the seismic technology creates an act of terror that would make September 2001 seem like a warm-up act. Jefferson does a decent job with this End of Days thriller, mixing the right amount of science to keep the reader wondering about how plausible this might be in the coming years. Those seeking a lighter fare in their reading may enjoy this piece.

I have read a number of Jon Jefferson novels, though he was always collaborating with William Bass in the Bone Field series (with their great ‘Jefferson Bass’ moniker). The story proved to be entertaining and the premise quite engaging at a time when terrorism has become stale and any mention of ISIS or Al-Qaeda has many readers walking away. Jefferson creates quite an interesting character in Megan O’Malley, whose passion for the skies is matched by her inability to get her point across in social situations. Megan remains the academic damsel in distress, unable to defend herself effectively when the guns and blades come out. She comes across as passionate, even though the reader may find it hard to connect to her throughout the narrative. Equally complicated is Chip Dawtry, who has a dedication to his work and a passion for security that clouds his ability to be as open and engaging as the reader may like. Sticking the two together, and peppering many other secondary characters, makes for an interesting story that keeps a decent level of energy throughout. The premise of the story is decent, a new form of terrorism hidden within scientific occurrences, as well as some developing organisations to strike against the Americans, though I felt that the overall piece failed to grip me to the extent that I had hoped. The story had some decent foundations, though it seemed only to skim the surface when it came to creating a thriller sensation. The science is strong but the narrative needed more to push things into full-fledged panic mode. Perhaps I am trying to compare Jefferson’s solo work against his collaborations, which I enjoy tremendously. Jefferson’s past work with Bass is surely a stronger effort, though I am sure this is only an anomaly and there is more to come in the next novel. Catastrophic thrillers do tend to have a hard time not becoming too cheesy in their delivery.

Kudos, Mr. Jefferson, for a valiant effort on your own. I like what you have and hope you’ll be able to sculpt something even better next time around.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Kremlin Conspiracy, by Joel C. Rosenberg

Nine stars

Joel C. Rosenberg is back with another stellar novel that explores the current international political climate with stunning accuracy, leaving the reader to wonder just how close to non-fiction the story might become over the next few years. Aleksandr Ivanovich Luganov is the prime minister of Russia in 1999 when numerous apartment bombs have been exploding across Moscow. With an ailing president, Luganov assumes the role and chooses Oleg Kraskin to be one of his senior aides. Kraskin, shocked by this, is honoured and admits in the early narrative to be dating Luganov’s daughter. He hopes to marry her in short order and broaches the subject with Luganov in the early chapters. Working with Luganov, Kraskin sees his boss assume the role of President of the Russian Federation with hopes of putting Mother Russia back in her place of prominence. Across the globe, young Marcus Ryker is living in Colorado and hoping to make a name for himself. When he witnesses the attacks on September 11, 2001, he sees a chance to serve the United States in its military efforts. A courageous mission sees him almost lose his life and he decides to find new (and safer?) ways to serve. With a wife and a young son, Ryker joins the Secret Service, hoping to find his niche. While Ryker is rising the ranks and protecting significant political players, Kraskin is back in Russia and watching President Luganov begin a game of political chess as he seeks to reclaim some of the old Soviet territories, with an eye on Ukraine and some of the other breakaway republics. Kraskin becomes leery of his father-in-law, particularly when even those closest to him seem expendable. A devastating crime in Washington forces Marcus Ryker to rethink his future, and pushes him to a crisis of faith, if only for a time. Ryker has much to offer, but is rudderless and drifting around in a mental fog. After devising a plan to strike three NATO allies and keep the Americans in the dark, Kraskin can no longer watch Luganov flex his political muscle. With the Russians prepared to begin their military attacks and armed with significant nuclear weapons, Kraskin must make a decision. Ryker is offered an interesting job that sees him use some of his past experiences, though no longer formally employed by the American Government. There, Ryker faces a decision could not only affect his future, but that of the entire US Administration. Can either man risk everything to save their respective countries from a nuclear End of Days that not even the Book of Revelation could have predicted? Rosenberg delivers a brilliant piece that fans of his novels will surely enjoy. As always, new fans will likely flock to this book, which may foretell an interesting next round in geo-political manoeuvres.

I have long enjoyed Rosenberg’s novels, not only for their content, but also because they have been close to spot-on with their predictions. He understands all the actors and the political temperatures, putting it all into a digestible novel for those who love stories ripped from the headlines. Here, Rosenberg provides what most will see as a veiled story of the rise of Putin in Russia, though there are enough vague descriptors to leave the reader some leeway in their interpretation. Ruling the country with an iron fist, Aleksandr Ivanovich Luganov proves to be not only a new Russian Czar, but also one who is prepared to poke the hornet’s nest in hopes of pushing the world to a new war. And while his predecessors may not have been ready to push the red button, Rosenberg creates this czar as happy to do whatever it takes, nuclear obliteration or not. Kraskin is an interesting character as well, though his timidity seems to work only at certain times. There is surely much to this man who tries to juggle his personal sentiments with the knowledge that his father-in-law is becoming a dictator as ruthless as Stalin. Trying to do what he feels is right may come at the ultimate cost, though Kraskin may be ready to lose it all, including his family, to save Russia. With both strong parallels and sharp contrasts, Marcus Ryker is the third central character in the novel. As Rosenberg shows throughout, Ryker grew into himself through a number of key life moments, all of which shaped the man he became. Like Kraskin, the reader is able to see Ryker’s development over the years through to the tumultuous climax of the novel. Personal loss and extreme emotional strain met Ryker head-on, though he never shied away from bearing it all in an effort to bring justice to a world riddled with disparity. The story is not only on point, but Rosenberg’s writing helps pull the reader into the centre; as though they are in the middle of each meeting, participating in every dialogue, and able to feel each sentiment the characters exude. Politically powerful, the ideological divide is clearly on offer, as is the attempt by Luganov to resurrect the Mother Russia persona in his own image, much as is being done currently within the Kremlin. Rosenberg is a staunch conservative and admits as much, but even he could not create a POTUS that would align with the Russian Czar and for that I am eternally grateful. We need some degree of fiction and this was surely a portion of the novel that does not parallel the current political situation. Rosenberg’s writing is some of the best I have read in the genre, though some readers will want fair warning that he also pushes a strong Christian theme throughout. Prayers, reference to Scripture, and even the occasional crisis of faith (whereby the character must turn to God and Jesus to overcome something). While I prefer to steer clear of this, Rosenberg has toned things down and no longer inculcates us heathen readers with seeing the Light as we try to enjoy a political thriller. Many of Rosenberg’s predictions in past series have come true, alarmingly not long after a book is released. If the same can be said of this piece, the world had best be ready for quite the showdown. Then again, should the US attack, who’ll be there to troll social media and corrupt another American election?!

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg, for your thorough analysis and poignant arguments on this subject. I will recommend it to any and all who love a well-crafted political thriller, and hope your other series tempt them as well.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Escape Artist, by Brad Meltzer

Eight stars

Brad Meltzer is back with another thriller to appease his adult fans. With a story that dazzles and characters whose lives enrich the storytelling, the wait for this gem seems justifiable. Jim “Zig” Zigarowski works as a civilian mortician at the Dover Air Force Base, having seen much during his long career. After a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness, the bodies begin their return for final preparation before being released to the families. While one of the victims is the Librarian of Congress, a close friend of POTUS, Zig is most interested in Sergeant Nola Brown. Memories from his past flood back as Zig remembers Zola from an excursion with his now-deceased daughter. Nola was a very quiet girl with a troubled past, though Zig remembers her heroics above all else. Zig’s investigation and preparation of the body seems to raise some red flags and a rushed identification leaves him to wonder if someone is trying to participate in a cover-up back in Alaska. Add to that, a note in the body’s stomach and Zig is sure that Nola is not the one before him, but why?! When the body is intercepted at Dover and the actual Nora emerges, Zig realises that there is a significant mystery surrounding the plane crash and those on the passenger list, including three individuals whose names have ties to the famous Harry Houdini. With Zig and Nora working together, they discover that something called Operation: Bluebook, which could be the impetus for the crash. The original Bluebook refers to a plan hatched by Houdini when he travelled into towns with his own team in the audience, garnering information to be used on stage. Learning that both their lives remain in danger, Zig and Nora work to uncover what’s been going on before they suffer the same fate as the others. Tying the clues together and discovering the Houdini inference, Zig and Nora try to remain one step ahead of this US Government covert sleight of hand. Another well-crafted novel by Meltzer that is recommended to his fans and those who want a little magic with their reading experience.

I have long enjoyed Brad Meltzer and his writing style, though I did sigh and shook my head when he turned to writing more for children. However, looking back on it, the anticipation of his thriller novels builds and this one was worth the wait. I am eager to see what else he has in store for Zig in the coming years, should this novel receive the praise it is due. It would appear that the Zig character is the start to a new series, which has some real potential, mixing civilian and military aspects quite effectively and Meltzer’s attention to detail is a significant help. Meltzer does a wonderful job creating a thorough backstory for Zig, especially as it relates to his daughter and the tragedy that befell her. The reader can feel a strong connection, while also being at ease with Zig’s current position as a mortician. Nola Brown’s character receives significant backstory throughout this novel as well, usually in the form of flashback chapters, which flesh out some of the nuances in her personality and explain that sense of independence. Her development in a ‘foster home’ becomes a central thread, as does her development into the woman she began when Zig met her again. There is surely much to be said about Nola and her resilience. Secondary characters are peppered throughout, which provides the reader with a pathway for better understanding how the story will develop. Meltzer adds his own flavour to these folks, injecting historical aspects as well as his own unique characteristics. The story and its delivery are stellar and keep the reader connected throughout, weaving together a few storylines to keep the reader guessing until the very end. Meltzer uses his love of history and intricate detail to fuel this piece, educating the reader as often as possible while not burdening them with too many intricacies that might slow things down. Well-paced chapters and those powerful flashbacks of Nola provide all that the reader needs to feel drawn to the story while hoping for another one in the near future. This is a successful reemergence for Meltzer, whose adult fans are surely pleased to see him back!

Kudos, Mr. Meltzer, for another wonderful piece of writing. I can only hope you’ll capture the attention of your fans and remind them why you are top of your genre.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Good Liar, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

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

Catherine McKenzie is back with another novel that pushes the reader to think while enjoying this fast paced story. On October 10th at 10am (Triple Ten), an explosion rocked a building in Chicago, leaving more than 500 dead and destroying many families. This story surrounds the lives of three women with intimate ties to that explosion and the personal tragedy that befell them. Cecily has spent the last year coming to terms with the loss of her husband, Tom, and how she will raise two children on her own. Not only does she have that on her plate, but she was on her way to see Tom when the explosion occurred and her face was caught by a freelance photographer, making her the ‘face’ of the tragedy. Cecily has been forced to endure the faux-celebrity of being ‘that woman’, personifying the Triple Ten event for the last twelve months. Franny Maycombe has become a friend of Cecily’s over the last year, as they both sit on the compensation board for the families of the victims, in hopes of bringing some financial stability during these trying times. Franny lost her biological mother in the blast, an event that is still hard to digest. Franny was adopted as an infant and just recently discovered her birth mother who lived in Chicago, only to see her killed after such a short reunion. Franny’s story emerges in a series of interviews conducted by an eager filmmaker, trying to create a documentary of the Triple Ten event a year later. The more the reader learns of Franny, the more mysterious she becomes. The third woman who plays a key role in the story is Kate, who has relocated to Montreal and tried to put the events of Chicago behind her. Kate has a secret that no one knows and a family that presumes she is never coming back. With the anniversary of the Triple Ten, Kate is forced to come to terms with what happened and her role in the larger scheme of these. Cecily, Franny, Kate… three women who have suffered, though all have also been holding onto a lie from that day; a lie that could destroy them. Keeping it under wraps might be the only way they can come out of this as a good liar, if such a thing exists. McKenzie offers up another wonderful piece of writing that is sure to attract the attention of many, as it is thought provoking and leaves a definite aftertaste. Those familiar with her work will likely enjoy this piece, though new fans are sure to emerge as well.

I can admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, even if I felt there was something holding it back. I kept thinking to myself that this book is on the cusp of being ‘great’ for me, but lacked something on which I cannot place my finger. As though superb is on the other side of a thin cellophane wall, but I was kept from it by McKenzie holding something back with the story and her characters. The three women who spend much of the time in the spotlight could not be more different and similar at the same time. Cecily is struggling with digesting Tom being gone and the strains within her marriage. Franny wants nothing more than to connect with her biological mother’s family, as well as slide into the middle of the drama that is Triple Ten mourning. Kate hides herself away, though has an interesting backstory for leaving and choosing to make her way up to Canada. All three propel the story forward, working with a handful of well-crafted secondary characters. The story is rich in both backstory and character development, a strong suit for McKenzie, and said pieces help form a strong foundation on which the story can rest. There is something eerie and yet heartwarming about the story and the way it develops. Struggle is woven throughout, though each of the three protagonists comes at it from a unique perspective. Added to that, the constant theme of lies and deception helps to imbue a strong sense of distrust between characters and forces the reader to judge the actions of those on the printed page, while also trying not to be too harsh. McKenzie uses some interesting techniques in the book to pull out the plot, with the direct approach that Cecily portrays, the more ‘interview-centric’ release of information that Franny utilises, and Kate’s thoughts and flashbacks to deliver her own personal angle. All three work effectively, as does the documentary that pushes the story along, though there seems to be something missing that kept me from proclaiming that this was another masterpiece. I suppose the slow development that led to an abrupt end, as though the reader was expecting a climax and had the carpet pulled out from under them. However, McKenzie’s writing is so strong and alluring that some weaknesses cannot take away from the overall pleasure that comes from reading this novel.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for dazzling and keeping things fresh throughout. I have encouraged others to read your work in the past and will continue to do so.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

All-American Murder: The Rise and Fall of Aaron Hernandez, the Superstar Whose Life Ended on Murders’ Row, by James Patterson, Alex Abramovich, and Mike Harvkey

Eight stars

Capitalising on some ‘pulled from the headlines’ impetus, James Patterson collaborates with Alex Abramovich and Mike Harvkey to bring readers into the troubled life of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez, exploring his rise to fame before he stumbled and crashed into a legal quagmire that would eventually lead to his suicide in 2017. While football may not have been the first thing people considered when mentioning Connecticut, anyone who had heard of Aaron Hernandez might feel differently. A powerhouse in high school, Hernandez excelled both on the field and along the basketball court. His phenomenal rise to fame saw college scouts attending many of his games, hoping to secure his talents with lucrative financial offers. However, Hernandez was not all about football in his small community. Both he and members of his family had ties to gangs and drug dealers, something that Hernandez used to his advantage throughout his high school career. After graduating at seventeen, Hernandez made the leap to college ball, choosing the University of Florida over local UConn, where he obtained an early taste of stardom. He could walk around town and be noticed, receiving freebies at every turn. Additionally, he could waltz into clubs and be the centre of attention, though this might sometimes lead to a flair in that Puerto Rican temper for which he was so well known back home. After numerous dust-ups and shady ties to local dealers, Hernandez began to subsist in a life away from football, where guns, weed, and other illicit items crossed his path on a daily basis. Still, as a star player, some of his failed drug tests were swept under the rug so that Hernandez could remain on the field. When it was time for the NFL Draft, Hernandez went in a later round, much to his dismay, but was chosen by the illustrious New England Patriots, a team on the verge of creating a dynastic powerhouse. His playing days were filled with receptions and his star continued to rise, still being protected by the team. However, Hernandez began to run in some very troubling circles, dodging being fingered at brawls and shootings by mere minutes. When a disagreement with an acquaintance went too far and the man lay dead from gunshot wounds, Henandez ended up with literal blood all over his hands and tried to play it cool, only to lead police to his doorstep. In a shocking revelation, the sports world was abuzz when Aaron Hernandez was arrested for murder, forcing the NFL and Patriots to rush in the other direction, their attempt to disassociate with him at soon as possible. Hernandez left evidence at the scene and created a tepid alibi soon dispelled by the prosecutor. Stunned, football fans watched as Hernandez went to trial for over two months before a verdict came in. From there, the spiral down seemed never-ending, with an abyss awaiting him, his future forever tarnished. While the NFL had dealt with many errant active players, the Aaron Hernandez situation might have been its largest stain to date. The authors run with this story and have created a wonderful read, easy for anyone with a passing interest to digest. Less the traditional Patterson fare, but still highly entertaining and a great filler read.

I have noticed that Patterson has been busy as he branches out in many directions of late, tapping into the world of non-fictional crime to broaden his horizons. Working alongside Alex Abramovich—a collaborator on some of his BookShot short pieces—and Mike Harvkey, Patterson brings to life this second famous individual who found a life of crime too tempting to leave on the shelf. Aaron Hernandez is the central character, obviously, and his rise to fame is shown effectively in the early parts of the book, as this young phenom gets an early taste of the limelight. His play on the field could not be discounted, even if individuals knew all about his extra-curricular activities. However, this quick intoxication and seeming ‘untouchable’ status is shown as the book progresses, allowing the reader to revel in the continues foibles. The authors illustrate this on numerous occasions as the reader can see red flags popping up throughout. The narrative builds effectively, offering the reader more detail with each chapter—short, in the Patterson style—and culminates in Hernandez’s personal realisation that he had lost it all, though the epilogue does open a new set of questions. The writing style is effective in a non-fiction sense and keeps the reader wanting more, without getting too outlandish. There are a significant number of facts layered throughout, though the pile is not overwhelming and permits the reader to digest it all. The impact of this helps push the story through to the end, attempting to secure the reader’s belief that Hernandez was guilty and deserved his incarceration. Unfortunately, in a way, there are many superstars whose lives could be detailed in such a book, leaving me to hope that Patterson will find more to publish in the years to come.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Abramovich, and Harvkey. This was an wonderfully entertaining piece and I hope more collaborations will permit readers to see other cases like this receiving their time in the spotlight.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: