Prophecy (Giordano Bruno #2), by S.J. Parris

Eight stars

Parris returns with another great mystery using her cast of historical characters, led by the most unlikely amateur sleuth, an excommunicated former monk hiding from the Inquisition. The year is 1583 and there is much talk of the Great Conjunction, Saturn and Jupiter aligning, a once-a-millennium event that could herald in much change in the Elizabethan Court. Preparations are also being made surrounding Queen Elizabeth’s 25th anniversary of ascension to the English Throne. The ongoing plot to remove her and bring Catholicism back to England is afoot. The murders of two maids within the Court bring questions to the forefront and our sleuth, Bruno, out and on the lookout for whomever it may be that is behind these murders and plotting the ultimate coup, assassination of Elizabeth. While Bruno is still in England at the behest of the French Crown, his secret work for Sir Francis Walsingham will keep him well protected, but also a target as a traitor to the Catholic cause. While Bruno seeks a killer, he is also trying to get his hands on a most sought-after book that was long ago banned and might help mortals explain their true place in the spiritual world. Filled with great excitement and much history, Parris has done well to keep the reader interested until the very end. Recommended to those who enjoy Elizabethan mysteries, as well as the reader who found pleasure in the opening novel of the series and wishes to forge ahead.

While the book takes a while to get started, the dedicated reader is prized with an exciting second half of the novel. Parris has a clear and detailed style of writing that keeps the reader learning with every page turn. Giordano Bruno is again a wonderful protagonist, dabbling in all things celestial while proving to be the most unique historical sleuth. He continues to fight against the presumption that he is a supporter of the Catholic cause, but is equally not interested in the Protestant side of the debate (having been vilified and sought for punishment by both sides). His passions are clear, both in the academic and physical senses, though he struggles to make sense of everything throughout this second novel. As Parris sets some of the needed groundwork for the series, she creates a wonderful character who is not afraid of stirring up trouble for everyone. Other characters fill the narrative with their own points of view and keep the mystery strong while educating the reader with points of historical fancy. The story was quite well-paced, yet still a bit too detailed for my liking. Rich with history and religious clashes, as well as the politics that arises in both instances, there emerges something that is dense at times and overwhelming for some readers. With chapters of a decent length and a plot that evolves throughout, Parris does well with this second novel, as readers are still getting used to Giordano Bruno’s position in England. I am excited to see where things go from here, as the time period begs for more tales that mix religion and criminal activity.

Kudos, Madam Parris, for a great continuation to the series. I will have to focus in order not to miss anything, but am up for the challenge.

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

Heresy (Giordano Bruno #1), by S.J. Parris

Seven stars

Always a fan of historical fiction, I decided to come back to the S.J. Parris series that I tried a few years ago. Parachuting into the middle of the religious wars across Europe and using late 16th century England as a setting, Parris creates quite the story that has many facets, sure to entertain the reader. Giordano Bruno was never the most conforming monk when he took his orders in Naples. He sought to educate himself and challenge the beliefs of his monastic order quite regularly. When he was caught with a controversial (and illegal) book one day, Bruno chose to flee rather than face the severe punishment. After spending years on the run from the Inquisition, Bruno was excommunicated and left to educate himself in some of Europe’s best universities. When Bruno makes his way to England, he is welcomed as somewhat of an outcast and invited by one of the close advisors of Queen Elizabeth to make his way to Oxford. With little to lose, Bruno begins the journey in the royal party and prepares to explore the clash between the celestial and religious aspects of the universe with a well-established priest. During all this, Bruno comes upon an event that can only be murder, though the local authorities are baffled about it. A curious investigator with an interest in solving cases, Bruno begins to look into events, as more men soon find themselves dead. Bruno is eventually formally invited to help solve the cases, all of which eventually have a common theme. While trying to probe a little deeper, Bruno’s papist past could come back to haunt him in England, even as he tries to explain that he no longer has ties to the Roman Church. With a killer on the loose and Bruno’s own safety in question, no one can be sure what will happen or whose blood will be shed. An interesting tale that opens this series with a bang and keeps things moving effectively throughout. Recommended to those who love a good historical mystery, as well as the reader who enjoys exploration of the religious situation in 16th century England.

This is one of those books that will take some dedication and attention to detail in order to properly enjoy its premise. Parris writes clearly and very well, though there is so much going on and woven into the narrative that tuning out could mean disaster for the reader. Giordano Bruno proves to be a wonderful protagonist, with a great deal of backstory. His flight from his monastery offers an interesting story arc that can be followed, but it is his mysterious arrival in England and passion for challenging authority that will keep Bruno’s character one that the reader will enjoy. As Parris sets some of the needed groundwork for the series, she creates a wonderful character who is not afraid of rocking the proverbial boat. Other characters to just as well to keep the reader guessing, as they fill the narrative with their own points of view and keep the mystery strong. The story was quite well-paced, if perhaps a bit too detailed for my liking. I took the audiobook approach and was welcomed with the soothing voice of John Lee to guide me along. The story is rich with history and religious clashes, both of which creates something that is dense at times and overwhelming for some readers. With chapters of a decent length and a plot that evolves throughout, Parris does well with this piece and introduces some needed backstory that will surely play a role in coming novels. Bruno’s position will surely be questioned throughout by the English, but his attention to detail when it comes to mysteries is sure to be something the reader can enjoy. I am eager to see where things go from here, as the time period begs for more tales that mix religion and criminal activity.

Kudos, Madam Parris, for a great start to the series. I am eager to see where things are going and will try to keep focussed enough to enjoy the rest of these books.

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

Mike Harris Made Me Eat My Dog, by Linwood Barclay

Eight stars

Long have I been a fan of Linwood Barclay and his collection of psychological thrillers, particularly because he is Canadian. Before he got into the world of thrillers, Barclay worked and wrote for newspapers in Ontario, using his wit and dry humour to impress many a reader. Those who did not live in Ontario in the mid-1990s would likely not have been privy to the wonders of Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution, when the Progressive Conservatives returned to power and sought to tighten the provincial belt. These measures did not go over well with many, including the media, who mocked some of the lame-brain ideas that did not make sense to anyone. Barclay explores the Harris revolution and the silliness that the Government of Ontario’s ideas meant in the real world through a series of chapters that drip with sarcasm. From cutting money to education (scrapping textbooks too) and trying to say that teachers were refusing to be inventive; offering tax breaks to many across the province and then trying to tackle a deficit (hoping that it would all work somehow); and even trying to nip environmental costs to safe a buck and wondering why Ontarians could not pick up the slack. Barclay’s mockery is just that, poking fun, but he makes some great points and leaves the reader interested in what there is to say on the topic. While I did not live in the province during the height of these tumultuous times, I always enjoy a good piece of political mockery. It’s surely a dated piece and one whose audience may be solely those who lived through or remembered the Common Sense Revolution, but I needed something lighter and it did the trick. Linwood Barclay shows that underneath that eerie writer would can pull a reader in with a stellar psychological thriller looms a man who is destined to poke a little fun at poor decisions by the government.

Kudos, Mr. Barclay, for a lighter look at politics. This book, paired with your more recent piece on Rob Ford, were the ideal short political satire pieces that kept me smiling.

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

The Secret Dead (Giordano #0.5), by S.J. Parris

Eight stars

Looking to binge read S.J. Parris’ intense Giordano Bruno series, I thought it best to begin with this short story prequel, which appears to lay the groundwork for much of what is to come. It is Naples in 1566 and the city is in the middle of a stifling heat wave. Giordano Bruno is all of eighteen and has recently entered the monastery to devote himself to God. He is known not to be completely on the straight and narrow, having issues listening to those in authority. However, when Bruno is called away one night to help Fra Gennaro, he goes with all the curiosity that he can muster. Gennaro admits that he wishes to share something with Bruno that must be kept highly secret, taking him to the site of a body. This is a young whore who appears to have been strangled, though the reasons are as yet unknown. During the anatomising of the body (one might call it early autopsy work), Bruno and Gennaro discover that she was pregnant, which only adds to the drama. While Bruno vows to keep this to himself, he cannot help but try to piece it all together, trying to determine who would have done this to a young woman, even if she held an unwanted offspring. This is surely the spark that led to the great crime solving work of Giordano Bruno in the years to come, all while holding up his end of a monastic life. An interesting piece to launch the series and I am intrigued to see where things will go from here. Recommended to those who enjoy mysteries of another era, as well as the reader who has discovered the Giordano Bruno series or wants something along these lines.

I remember reading a few of the novels in this series by S.J,. Parris years ago and being quite interested, though I felt them a little heavy. This opening salvo, for lack of. better word, is still light enough that I was able to get it finished in a single sitting and not feel too overwhelmed. Bruno is still young here, trying to come into his own and I think some of the backstory offered up will help as the series progresses. Parris surely introduces that spark that will lead to many an adventure, layering it beneath the rules and regulations that come with living as a monk. The handful of characters who become a part of the story all have their place and Parris may lay some breadcrumbs to help the reader better understand relationships in the larger series, though I have to read those full novels to make the proper connections. The story moved along well and held my attention throughout. I am eager to see how Bruno and others will handle larger mysteries and whether events of the day (in history more than simply daily events) play into the stories to add another depth to them. With this ‘housekeeping’ done, it’s time to tackle the full novels, so let’s get to it!

Kudos, Madam Parris, for an interesting start to the series. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for your readers and this series.

This book fulfils Topic #2: Brief in the Equinox #11 Reading Challenge.

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

The Room Where it Happened: A White House Memoir, by John R. Bolton

Eight stars

Perhaps one of the most anticipated political books of the summer, I chose to leap on the John Bolton memoir before reviews filled Goodreads and other platforms I frequent. Written based on his time working inside the White House, Bolton not only brings first-hand knowledge of events, but also offers insights into what he witnessed during his time as National Security Advisor. With a long history of work within various Republican administrations, John Bolton was not a man wet behind the ears when being considered for a position in the Trump Administration. His experience and hawkish approach to international politicking surely caught the attention of Trump and some of those within his inner circle. Bolton hit the ground running, explaining that every day in the Trump White House is fraught with chaos and ever-changing views on hot button issues. Bolton sought to steer the president in a few directions that would follow policy to support those views that arose in the campaign, at times doing anything to reverse the Obama trajectory. From America’s role in the Syrian civil war to Russian involvement on world events, Bolton showed how Trump’s opinions would change with the blowing of the wind, wanting America out of military involvement and yet not letting its greatest adversary to think it weak. This Russian sentiment baffled me throughout, as Trump would speak poorly about Putin and yet relied on him to win his seat in the Oval Office. Bolton also explores issues with China at length, clashing with one of the world’s economic superpowers at every turn, and yet Trump offered them the chance to keep him in power by ‘helping’ with the 2020 election (a la Putin 2016). Dismantling NATO and contemplating destabilising the leftist Venezuelan autocrat also played heavily on Trump’s agenda while Bolton was National Security Advisor, with many offhand and somewhat outlandish ideas coming up regularly before POTUS could be talked away from the ledge. Bolton spends much time throughout the book exploring the Trump view at finally getting some concrete progress with the North Koreans, with in-depth discussions of their two summits and the ‘love affair’ the media explored through the flowery diplomacy that took place, yet nothing substantial came to pass. Of equal interest and importance is the means by which Trump sought to dismantle the nuclear weapons treaty with Iran that had been negotiated during the Obama Administration. Trump seemed keen to change the rules and make sure America came out on top, while making sure that many new how horrible Obama was as POTUS (second only to Bush 43, whom Trump appeared to loathe even more). Bolton is happy to offer blunt views of Trump and those in the know, at times sharing views with other Cabinet officials as they watched the continued implosion of all things Trump. Bolton also sheds light on the constant sentiment that Trump is one who holds firm views of people, fleeting as the interactions change from day to day, including a strong dislike for some of America’s greatest allies, while praising those who are firmly in the column of ‘enemies of the state’. Bolton provides some insight into the Ukrainian interactions that fuelled the fire towards impeachment, offering his own ideas from the facts he knew. That Bolton and Trump eventually fell out is of no shock to anyone, as those who refuse to be sycophants are apt to become, but the recent vilification of anything Bolton might have to say only furthers my belief that there are hard truths in this book that many who nurse from the presidential teat would have us deny as a new round of false news. This book is full of detail and great narrative that will be ideal for those who want some additional insights into how the Trump White House ran things, both from an international and domestic perspective. I’d recommend this to those who enjoy all things political, as well as the reader who has no trouble hearing truths that may run counter to the POTUS circus.

I have never hidden my dislike of the current American administration, particularly the ringleader of the shenanigans. While I understand that media outlets will offer their own spin on events, I have come to appreciate those on the inside who offer up books about the events they witnessed. Some would call it smear campaigns or falsehoods to trip up POTUS, though I wonder how many people could have colluded with such a similar narrative, as well as what purpose it would serve to exert such energy to bring down a man who seems able to do it on his own. Bolton is by no means a Democrat seeking to dismantle the GOP machine, which only makes some of his views all the more insightful. He offers praise where it is needed and critiques things that seem to lack the insight to keep America from running amok (alas, we are well past that). Bolton does come across as a know-it-all at times, feeling that he is the smartest man in the room and all others should bow to his intellect, which is seen in many tongue-in-cheek sentiments expressed in most chapters, as well as in recollected conversations with others. While that may be the case, Bolton’s views are steeped in some well established views of international politics and diplomacy, something that adds to the flavouring of the book and leaves the reader to wonder why someone would purposely skew things that can be substantiated so effectively. With thorough chapters that explore many insightful areas that are sure to pique the interest of the politically minded individual. While some may call Bolton too close to Trump, it is this closeness that offers the reader some of the many views from behind the curtain. Why would someone like Bolton want to find himself on the outside with this book, upsetting POTUS, thereby making him an enemy of the administration? Knowing Trump’s penchant for such things, Bolton’s better off pissing from outside the tent inwards and letting the truth ‘hang out’.

Kudos, Mr. Bolton, for such a refreshing book about the inner workings of Trump’s Administration. I could not ask for anything more!

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

Given in Evidence: A Collection of Crime & Thriller Short Stories, by Various Authors

Eight stars

Eager to sink my teeth into a collection of criminal tales, I turned to this book of short stories by a variety of authors, many of whom I have never read before. The collection is quite varied and provides the reader with unique stories about how random death can be and how murder lurks around every corner. Here are some brief sentiments on each of the stories in this collection:

Hard Time, by Roger A. Price

A short piece in which two prison officials attempt to tackle the issue of handling a tough prisoner. All those who have shared a cell with him ended up being roughed up and assaulted in short order. A plan is hatched that might help quell the attacks and provide the problem inmate with some issues of his own.

A Certain Man was Sick, by Charlie Cochrane

When a choral tenor falls dead in the middle of Evensong, all eyes look to the abby organist. The two men have had a feud for decades over a personal issue that seems quite trivial. Poisoned by a piece of fudge, the tenor seems to have accepted an odd early birthday gift. An inquest and trial are quick and to the point, but one other member of the choir chooses to investigate on his own years later. The truth will arise, like a well-prepared descant.

The Message, by D.J. Harrison

Securing a large loan for an upstart cheap flight airline, the protagonist soon finds herself on the wrong end of an attack in which she loses a thumb. With no known reason for the attack, she reaches out to her employer, who promises to gather all parties for a discussion. Once the reason for the attack is expressed and apologies made, it would seem all is better. However, one dastardly act deserves another…

The Encounter, by A.A. Chaudhuri

Megan Beaumont is an award-winning author, but has lost her way after she is attacked and raped in her home. The attack left her with complete amnesia and she is unable to continue writing, especially after learning that her attacker is likely responsible for her husband’s murder. Fleeing to a remote location, Megan meets Dan, who does not know her but is eager to help with writer’s block. He agrees to tell her a story that will likely unburden him as well as provide her with the fodder for a new crime bestseller. The plot thickens from there…

Land’s End, by J.M. Hewitt

Alex Harvey is a private detective and has recently returned from quite the mission. With a rescued client in tow, Alex takes her to his family home in hopes of getting some rest and relaxation. However, when they arrive, a former belle of Alex’s explains that her son has gone missing. Alex is willing to help her, as she is almost blood family, but something does not add up in her story.

Room 228, by Leo McNeir

Marnie Walker is known for her architectural work and jumped at the opportunity when asked to redesign a small hotel. When she and her partner arrive to see the finished product, they learn a little about the original hotel that stood in this place. There was an unsolved murder that took place in one of the guest rooms, which garnered some popularity soon thereafter. When Marnie arrives to be interviewed about the relaunch, she sees one guest having trouble trying to secure room 228, in which he has stayed many times over the years. A little sleuth work and Marnie may know what’s going on, but it is still somewhat mysterious.

Murder Hole, by Rob Parker

In this piece, Captain Benjamin Bracken is facing a hearing surrounding his discharge from the British Armed Forces. He appears ready to enter a plea of guilty to the charges being levied against him, but first the reader learns of the events that led up to this. After a chopper crash, Bracken and one other soldier are able to escape, slipping into a sewer system to protect themselves. While the other soldier sustains some injuries, Bracken does all he can with limited rations. He compares events to a murder hole, where one has limited insight into what is going on, but can make some minimal defensive maneuvers. While all those in the hearing listen to his story, the Judge Advocate General asks for his plea after hearing the evidence, leaving Captain Bracken to await his fate.

Halfway, by E.R. Fallon

Matty is a young man with a great deal of potential. His father skipped out years back, leaving his mother to raise him and instil some morals. After Matty heads out for the day, a gentleman shows up at the house, implying that Matty might be involved in something that needs fixing. There’s a solution, but it’s not a great one. Our protagonist does not take well to the options, forcing the man with the firm resolve to leave… for now.

Child of the Night, by Thomas Laird

Back in Victorian England, a man wandered the streets and killed prostitutes. He was wanted by Scotland Yard, who deemed him Jack and Ripper. But, he is no Jack at all, rather Francis S. Amjac. Fearing that things are too intense in London, Amjac sets sail for Chicago, where he feels able to blend in with the many other criminals. Fast forward to 2017 and Michael Parisi has just earned a detective’s shield with the Chicago Police Department. He’s called to the scene of a horrific crime, in which a young woman has been mutilated. He and his partner wonder who could be so sick as to leave a woman in this state. Parisi comes to the job with a passion for reading, particularly about the criminal element. Could one of those men from his book have influenced a new killer in Chicago?

Children’s Games, by Evan B. Pollock

When a young woman is found murdered in her bedroom, the obvious suspect soon comes to light. However, there is a great deal of confusion, as a ghost may have been involved in the homicide. The police and two legal representatives bandy this idea about, sure that it is just the fantasy-laden mind of some others in the family. However, with a body bludgeoned by a steel ball, someone is responsible, likely of the living variety. But who could have done it and why?

I always love to find new authors whose writing is worth further exploration. This collection of short stories has done just that, with a brief editorial note at the end of each to direct the reader towards some other publications that might be of interest. Some of the stories in this collection are quite short, while others provide more heft and therefore some thought must go into the plot development. I found myself leaning towards certain pieces over others, which is to be expected in a book full of different writing styles. Most of these pieces held my attention, though some were less than formidable. I am eager to see what others feel about this collection and if there are authors they would recommend. Being a fan of A.A. Chaudhuri (and hers being the only work I have read before this collection), I would certainly turn to her. Others, like Leo McNeir and Charlie Cochrane left me eager to try some of their other work. I hope to see some added banter from other readers/reviewers for more insight.

Kudos, all those authors who have contributed to this piece, for your hard work and crime stories. I certainly enjoyed this collection, which I devoured in a single day!

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

The Inner Darkness (Cold Case Quartet #3, William Wisting #14), by Jørn Lier Horst

Eight stars

With the release of the latest English translation in Jørn Lier Horst’s crime series, I leapt to get my hands on it, hoping for a mystery that would pull me in. I was not disappointed with this well-paced Scandinavian noir crime thriller. The day has come for convicted killer Tom Kerr to help the police. Kerr has agreed to lead the police to the scene of where he dumped one of his as yet undiscovered victims. On hand is William Wisting, head of the Norway’s National Criminal Investigation Service, Kripos, as well as many other officers. Wisting’s daughter, Line, is filming the event, a proud journalist looking for footage to use in a future documentary. While out in the rural forest, Kerr triggers a trip-wire and a number of police are injured, some seriously. Kerr is able to remove his shackles and flees deeper into the woods. It’s apparent that someone helped him orchestrate this escape, as all officers scour the area to locate and recapture Kerr. Some, like Wisting, cannot help but use this experience to substantiate their claims that Kerr always had help during his crimes, an unknown individual given the moniker, the Other One. Without knowing who this could be, everyone is left to wonder if the duo will reunite and continue their killing spree. When a young woman goes missing, there’s little doubt that the similarities from Kerr’s past victims are telling a story here. Wisting is pulled into an internal investigation for his mishandling of the entire Kerr event and his neck is surely on the line. Wisting refuses to give up, knowing that he will have to troll deeply to find out where Kerr may have gone and how the Other One might have helped develop a serial killer, as well as making sure the torch continues to burn brightly. Jørn Lier Horst has done a wonderful job with this latest novel, which will keep the reader hooked until the final pages. Recommended for those who love Scandinavian noir crime thrillers, as well as the reader with a penchant for the work of Jørn Lier Horst.

The complexities of a Scandinavian thriller make for some amazing reading, as I have said many times before. Those who love the crime genre, but are seeking something a little different than the superficial US or UK thrillers that are churned out regularly, ought to take a dive into those based in Scandinavia. I have found so many that give me chills and prove to be of a higher quality. William Wisting is such a wonderful character and I cannot get enough. While he has long since given up offering any backstory, his grit and determination makes him someone worth following as he seeks to get to the heart of the crime. Wisting uses his skills and knowledge of the criminal mind to inch closer and uncover clues that are lost to most everyone else. Those in supporting character roles also offer wonderful support in a series that is so full of twists. Horst offers a handful of returning folks whose presence helps accentuate the work that Wisting does, while also giving their own backstory a slight flavouring. The story itself was unique without being too out there. Horst works the angle from the side of the police and exemplifies the intricacies of Norwegian police procedure to pull the reader into the middle of the story without letting go. Short chapters help propel the story forward and the reader cannot help but read more in order to get to the end and final out how it all comes together. As with many Scandinavian thrillers, the translation into English does not disrupt the flow whatsoever. In fact, the English version is of a higher quality than many of the books I read where that is the language of original publication. As I have asked before (and surely other series fans will echo my query), when will the first five or so novels in this series see an English translation? If they are anything like the wonderful novels that I have been able to read, they need to be released. Those who are curious about trying something Scandinavian, I cannot recommend doing so enough. You won’t regret it, at least if you happen to choose some of the series I have found!

Kudos, Mr. Horst, for another winner. If memory serves, one more left in this cold case sub-series. William Wisting remains masterful and I cannot say enough about the books!

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

The House of Long Ago (Cassiopeia Vitt #4), by Steve Berry and M.J. Rose

Eight stars

Adding a new novella to their collaborative collection, Steve Berry and M.J. Rose present the fourth piece featuring Cassiopeia Vitt. This piece pulls together some interesting backstory in the life of Cassiopeia and some troubling revelations about her father. After holding onto her family villa in Spain for a number of years, Cassiopeia Vitt decides that it might be time to put it onto the market. Before doing so, she decides to have the fifteen pieces of art hanging throughout the villa appraised. While she grew up admiring the pieces, she never thought to ask their value. After an appraiser brings news that the paintings are fakes, Cassiopeia can only wonder what game her father might have been playing. Consulting with many close to her father, Cassiopeia learns that it is not uncommon for art to be copied and the fakes exhibited, but that there is a secluded location in Andorra that is sure to house the originals. When she visits, Cassiopeia discovers that the originals are no longer in the vault her father had sealed, only adding to the mystery. Cassiopeia begins to question the need to hide these pieces of art away and everything leads back to discussions about Nazi Germany. Might Cassiopeia Vitt’s entire image of her father be based on false memories? What troubles could he have found himself in and might Señor Vitt have been part of a sinister underground that confiscated pillaged artwork and kept it for themselves? Berry and Rose tell quite the tale while educating the reader throughout this piece. Recommended to those who love fiction embedded with historical revelations, as well as the reader who has enjoyed all that Cassiopeia Vitt has brought to the surface in her handful of novellas.

While I have long been a fan of Steve Berry and his Cotton Malone novels, I knew little about Cassiopeia Vitt, save for what was revealed in the stories. When M.J. Rose teamed up with Berry to offer more insight into Cassiopeia’s life and adventures, I flocked to read them. These pieces not only shift the focus on Vitt, but also add new and exciting layers of history from which the reader can learn a great deal. Cassiopeia Vitt is a wonderfully independent woman, whose ambitions shine though. However, she is also one to rely heavily on those who helped shape her, not least of which her father. In this piece, the reader learns more about the connection that Vitt had with her father and the love of art that he fostered. That it could have been built on lies and deceit is surely possible, something that leaves Cassiopeia troubled. The cast of secondary characters is well developed to offer the reader interesting insight into Cassiopeia’s issue and how it might be handled. While the story is brief, the authors use these characters effectively to flavour the narrative and keep the action moving forward. The piece flows well and the reader’s attention is easily kept, mixing history and current events together with ease while trying to piece together the fragments of Cassiopeia’s life together. With a short cameo appearance by Cotton Malone himself, there is surely room for some tie-ins with Berry’s mainstream work. As with the others novellas, this one reads easily with short and crisp chapters that are sure to pull the reader into the action quickly. I can only hope this collaborative effort continues, as it is highly entertaining and yields wonderful stories.

Kudos, Mr. Berry and Madam Rose, for your great work together. Cassiopeia Vitt has a wonderful platform for growth with these stories and I am happy to read more when you have penned them.

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

All Fall Down (DI Helen Grace #9), by M.J. Arlidge

Eight stars

When I noticed a new novel by M.J. Arlidge, I could not wait to see what DI Helen Grace was doing and how she might tackle yet another ruthless killer. In a story that keeps the reader guessing throughout, Arlidge does not disappoint. When Justin Lanning receives an anonymous call stating that he has only one hour to live, he is understandably upset. His panic is only increased when his hired driver takes him on a route with which he is not familiar. After Lanning’s body is found the following day, DI Helen Grace and her team arrive at the scene. Lanning’s notoriety is not overlooked, as he was one of a number of teenage schoolchildren who escaped the clutches of Daniel King eight years earlier. King abducted them and was prepared to kill them all, when all but one was able to escape and make it to the authorities. King torched his rural farm and fled, leaving one of the children inside to die. Grace must now fight against the publicity, as well as a recently released memoir by one of the others, Maxine Pryce. As Grace tries to piece it all together, she cannot help but wonder if there is a connection between Lanning’s murder and Pryce’s new book, which is exacerbated by an outspoken journalist looking for her next scoop. After a second of the schoolchildren is murdered, Grace cannot help but see the pattern clearly. All hands on deck to sift through any possible clues as to where Daniel King might have gone. While all this is taking place, some with Grace’s team take risks to follow leads and track down people of interest, so much so that the police brass must wonder whether DI Helen Grace is in over her head. A decent copper, but her leadership skills are surely in question. After a twist in the case takes the team down a different rabbit hole, Grace cannot help but wonder if their tunnel vision all along might have derailed the investigation at the worst possible time. M.J. Arlidge does a masterful job of spinning a complex web of events and takes the reader along. Recommended to those who love British police procedurals, as well as those who have come to love Helen Grace and all her antics.

When I discovered this series, I could not get enough. M.J. Arlidge writes in such a way that there is no shaking the lure of the stories or the banter between the characters. Throughout the nine novels in the collection, DI Helen Grace has shown her grit and determination, never one to shy away from things that many would deep out of their comfort zone. While her choices have sometimes been dicey, she is always focussed on her job and helping those in need. The rest of the group have all evolved in their own way over the years, some coming and going, but always developing throughout the experience. Arlidge does well in not creating a stagnant collection of characters whose sole goal is to support Helen Grace, as she pushes the envelope and tries to do what she feels is best. The story was well crafted and pulls the reader in from the opening pages. With great plot development that builds with each chapter, the reader wants to know a little more. Short chapters that clip along, as well as segments of Maxine Pryce’s memoir interspersed throughout, help give the reader the impetus to forge ahead and devour the book in short order, which I have done. A perfect addition to the series that will keep readers begging for more soon.

Kudos, Mr. Arlidge, for another winner. I cannot say enough about your writing or this series. Please keep them coming!

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

Ripcord (Billy Beckett #3), by Kelly Hodge (and Scott Pratt)

Eight stars

Continuing the series he and Scott Pratt seemingly began together, Kelly Hodge adds a new instalment to the Billy Beckett collection with another winner. Working a crime thriller angle I have not seen before, Hodge keeps the story moving along while entertaining the reader throughout. Billy Beckett is quite the sports agent, trying to get his business to gain momentum with relative success. Having found and signed Russell Mann when he was an undrafted free agent, Beckett and his client are set to negotiate a juicy new contract. Mann has taken the basketball world by storm and he is ready to ink a multi-million dollar deal. Off the court, Mann seems to still be holding onto his Bronx roots, interacting with men from the old neighbourhood. After a number of incidents on Orlando’s streets turn deadly, there is talk that Mann could have been present, though no concrete proof is ever found. This worries Beckett, but his client reassures him that he was nowhere near the scene of any crimes. Inching closer to contract negotiations, Beckett tries to see the best in his client while he worries about the other items on his plate. A former lover of his has up and disappeared, but has been sighted around the country. Her parents ask Beckett to help, but he is not entirely sure he wants to stir anything up. Beckett’s partner is looking to diversify outside the sports industry, tapping into the music scene in Nashville. Beckett remains tepid about the idea, but perhaps a rebranding is just what he needs. If that were not enough, issues in Beckett’s personal life have his focus unclear. When Beckett receives a call from a woman demanding money to stay quiet after she saw Russell Mann at the scene of a crime, he must decide if he is willing to stay quiet and guarantee himself a massive new paycheque after a contract signing, or if Mann should be outed and potentially sent away. All this weighs heavily on Beckett’s mind as he tries to do what’s best. A great new novel that keeps the high quality that Scott Pratt made popular alive, Kelly Hodge offers readers something worthwhile. Recommended to those who love a great crime thriller that is fairly light, as well as readers who have come to love Scott Pratt’s Nashville based novels over the years.

I took to this new series with ease, sensing a similar style to many of the Scott Pratt novels I enjoyed over the years. The story flows well and the characters have something captivating about them. Billy Beckett may be a sports agent, but he is also quite relatable as a protagonist. While he has an obvious focus on his work, Beckett has a softer and more pleasant side and his personality shines through. Hodge offers an emotional angle as well, with Beckett trying to come to terms with the news he is offered, seeking to balance work and personal. Others offer their own angles in this piece, flavouring the story effectively and keeping the reader wanting to know more about what is going on. The story clips along well and the reader will soon be subsumed in all that is going on, reading and enjoying the narrative as it flows. There is little doubt the short chapters help push the story forward and the reader will likely mutter ‘just a little more’ if only to themselves. Hodge has done well to keep things light, without getting silly, as he tackles some substantial issues throughout the book, which can be tackled in short order for those who have a few hours to kill. I look forward to move from Billy Beckett, through the writing of Kelly Hodge, in the near future.

Kudos, Mr. Hodge, for another greater piece. Scott Pratt would be proud at how you are keeping his legacy alive!

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