A Fatal Grace (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #2), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny returns with a second novel in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, just as riveting and captivating as the debut piece that offered the reader so much! While many of the familiar residents of Three Pines are in Montreal to shop for the holiday season, a newer family has begun to set-up some roots of their own in this bucolic town nestled in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. CC de Poitiers heads this family, a woman who takes no prisoners and seeks to crush those in her way, including a timid husband and emotionally abused daughter. CC is talk of the town, though not for anything she has done, even though she’d be happy to espouse her new-age way of living. During his annual Boxing Day Cold Case review, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache explores those cases the Homicide Division of the Sûreté du Québec might have overlooked. Embedded in the piles is a new case, that of a homeless woman who was found murdered just before Christmas. While not known personally to Gamache or his wife, her presence in Montreal’s downtown core could not be missed. When a call interrupts Gamache’s further exploration of the woman’s murder, it’s all hands on deck and back out to Three Pines, a journey about which the Chief Inspector has mixed feelings. When they arrive in one of the surrounding towns, the body of CC de Poitiers has been found, electrocuted. As Gamache and his Sûreté team begin digging through CC’s life, they cannot help but notice the truly Canadian surroundings, for this wretched woman died at a local curling event, having gripped the end of her chair, one that was seemingly attached to a sizeable generator. As Gamache and the others notice the raw distaste that others had for CC, they cannot help but wonder why much of CC’s life cannot be substantiated. Might she have been hiding something bigger, something even more disgusting than the tidbits she puts on display? And what of this vagrant woman that caught Gamache’s attention earlier in the week? All this and much more as Three Pines envelopes Gamache and the reader for another stunning mystery. Highly recommended for those who want a ‘quieter’ murder mystery with tons of Canadiana embedded in the narrative.

I am enjoying the early stages of my Louise Penny binge, having found something that is not only unique, but captivating in its descriptive power. Penny uses not only the peaceful Eastern Townships as her setting, but continues to provide the reader with some great character development of Armand Gamache, a man whose intellect is balanced with a compassionate side. The reader learns a sliver more about his family life, with a loving wife and an extended family who cannot comprehend his need to work so much. This slow reveal, sandwiched between the current cases, keeps me wanting to learn more, yet take a moment to see the protagonist develop before my eyes. Penny continues to explore the larger Sûreté Homicide team, including some quirks in the hierarchy and some new faces, sure to stir the pot in ways that might not have been expected in such a quaint novel. It is the collection of Three Pines locals who steal the show—as I was told they would by the friend who recommended this series—with their acerbic wit and jabs at one another. This patchwork quilt of personalities keeps the story from getting too dreary, though Penny does offer much in the way of backstory and character development, such that I am going to have to keep things straight to learn all their nuances. The story moves well in this piece, with a few moments of chronological disorder to lay some of the groundwork for the murder and how CC could be so horrid a woman. Penny ensures the reader is in the middle of the investigation, watching Gamache’s mind spin as more information comes to light at key moments in the narrative. I am well on my way to a successful binge, with a new novel set to come out soon. Bring on more Penny and keep them coming!

Kudos, Madam Penny, for intriguing me greatly. I am eager to see what else you have in store for this series.

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

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Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1), by Louise Penny

Nine stars

A strong recommendation from a friend helped me decide to embark on a binge of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, penned by Canadian author Louise Penny. Her writing style and setting this novel in the bucolic community of Three Pines, Quebec, pulled me in early and kept me enthralled until the very end. Local artist and retired teacher, Jane Neal, was loved by many, which made the discovery of her body all the more troubling. With no known enemies, Jane’s death could only have been an accident, though the small pool of blood and no visible weapon open many questions and require some police presence. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of Homicide with the Sûreté du Québec, is called to Three Pines to investigate. Alongside his regular team is Agent Yvette Nichol, so new that she has never worked a scene. Gamache is sure to have his hands full trying to teach her while wrapping things up swiftly. With Thanksgiving turkeys cooking in ovens across town, no one wants to spend much time on what looks to be an accidental shooting with an arrow. While this might be the case, Gamache is worried that no arrow was found at the scene—it having been removed from Jane’s body—and no one has come forward to admit to the accident. As Gamache and the rest of the Homicide Squad begin piecing things together, they are confronted with a number of local citizens, all with their own flavourful take on events and tidbits about others in town. Gamache must parse through what he is being told and, at times, sift through the lies that some present to protect the more vulnerable in this community. Still, with Agent Nichol bumbling along and ostracizing herself from her superiors and others pushing for an open and shut case, Chief Inspector Gamache must be thorough and patient, for that is how one catches a killer! Penny pulls the reader in with this stunning debut story, which has me eager to see what else she has in this lengthy series. I will definitely be grabbing Book 2 in short order. Fans of police procedurals and Canadian mysteries will also find something worthwhile.

I am so pleased to have found yet another Canadian author whose work falls within one of the genres I enjoy so much. Set in rural Quebec, the series opens with a lovely Canadian flavour, something that will enrich the reading experience and have it stand out in the genre. With this strong debut novel in the series, Penny provides the reader with some interesting backstory and some character development of Armand Gamache that will likely develop more thoroughly as I delve deeper into the series. Gamache is highly intelligent and down to earth as he investigates the crime before him, but seems to expect much from his team, no matter their time under his tutelage. He does not appear to suffer fools, but can extract information out of an unknowing suspect while enjoying his Tim Horton’s coffee. Penny’s descriptive nature has me highly interested in learning much more about the entire homicide team, all of whom will surely play important roles as the full series develops, but have laid the groundwork for being full of their own nuances. The story moves slowly, but there is no lack of momentum as Three Pines comes alive with each passing segment of the story. Penny keeps the reader in the middle of the investigation, dropping hints throughout as she pushes towards the reveal, which ties the entire experience together. With a new novel set to come out soon, I am happy to commence binge-reading to catch up in time to enjoy the latest release alongside series fans. I cannot wait!

Kudos, Madam Penny, for intriguing me greatly. I am ready to take the challenge and see what Gamache does for me.

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

Penance, by Kanae Minato

Eight stars

Kanae Minato is back with another bone-chilling psychological thriller that will keep the reader guessing as they process the various angles of a similar event. When four young girls in a town along the Japanese countryside accept a new girl into their group the dynamic changes drastically. Emily brings a Tokyo flavour to their playing and the entire school class turns to her for guidance. While the girls are playing one day, a stranger approaches them and asks Emily to help him. Not sensing any danger, no one raises a red flag and it is only hours later, when Emily’s body is found in the boys’ change room, that these four girls begin to wonder what might have happened. Thus begins the panic, as no one can quite remember how to describe this man. Emily’s distraught mother vows vengeance if the girls do not come forward with information to find Emily’s killer, a pall that seems to hover over these four. As the story unfolds, all four girls are now women, telling their perspective of events and some of the fallout in their own lives since the killing. While each has a similar theme, there are strong differences, as well as the way in which this ‘curse’ works its way into their adult lives. Most haunting of all is that, at the time of the murder, Japan had a fifteen year statute of limitations on the crime, which is now only days away. Chilling in its delivery, Minato offers the reader a glimpse into how the innocence of youth can be negated with one wrong choice. Recommended for those who love something a little eerie and can handle a translated piece.

I discovered Kanae Minato and her debut novel this past summer, which had me highly curious. I could not put my finger on it at the time, but her multi-perspective narrative and quaint way of presenting the Japanese customs left me wanting to read more, yet not fully comfortable. In this piece, Minato returns with another story that uses four protagonists as they recount their own views on the murder of young Emily. Minato weaves together both a strong backstory and interesting character developments of all four girls/women, including the acts that might seemingly be part of the curse for not coming forward sooner. The reader is forced to parse fact from fiction while living through these events to get to the final truth. In a piece that flows so well and yet has moments of being quite dense, Minato lures the reader in and will not let go until everything is resolved, at least to her own liking. The writing style is unique and its translation into English has me wondering if it is the linguistic change that gives it the sing-song innocence or whether this is the traditional style of Japanese fiction work. I suppose I will have to investigate more, hoping other Japanese authors have themes similar to those found here.

Kudos, Madam Minato, for another great novel that had me unsure where things were going. I like this sort of blind ride, as it is a dose of something completely different.

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

The Dance of Shiva, by William Deverell

Nine stars

There are few who can weave a gripping legal and courtroom drama into a single novel and fewer still who can do so in a Canadian setting. William Deverell is one such man whose novels not only touch on the core of the Canadian legal system, but also inject social and political aspects that are unique to this great country. Maximilian ‘Max’ Macarthur is a young lawyer who has lived in his father’s legal shadow all his professional life. Working inside the Vancouver courtrooms in the mid-1980s, Macarthur seeks to push speech and expression rights to their limits under the new Charter. When he is approached by legal giant Arthur Beauchamp to second chair a highly-politicised murder trial, Macarthur jumps at the opportunity, hoping for some significant tutelage. Their client, Shiva Ram Acharya, was found at his commune, surrounded by his followers, most of whom had recently been slain by gunshots. Shiva is said to have been inviting his followers to die and attain some higher understanding. With fingerprint and eyewitness evidence stacked against Shiva, it would seem this is a slam dunk case. However, Macarthur is not ready to let the facts speak for themselves and makes a trip to the crime scene, where something comes to light and an alternate suspect may have been overlooked. Communicating with Beauchamp, Macarthur seeks to bring this information before the jury, even as the Crown is closely supported by a judge who has little use for the antics the defense has brought into the courtroom. Beauchamp is a masterful courtroom player and has the jury eating out of his hands while Crown witnesses are pulverised before they know what’s going on. When a freak accident sees Beauchamp out of commission, all eyes turn to Macarthur to take over and win the case for Shiva, who remains stoically silent, sputtering inane transcendental positions to his counsel at the least opportune moment. All the while, Macarthur is trying to keep his personal life from exploding and his firm from bursting at the seams in this entertaining legal piece. Highly recommended for those who love a legal thriller that is a little more ‘intellectual’ than those on the market, as well as readers who are familiar (and enjoy) Deverell’s work.

I stumbled onto Deverell’s writing last spring when I was reading the—of all things—Arthur Beauchamp series. While it took a while to get acclimated, the series grew on me and by the end I know I would have to try some of the author’s one-off work. Deverell does well to paint his characters in such a way that the reader cannot help but love them, or want to know more. Max Macarthur may be a newer attorney (five years since his call to the Bar), but he is energetic and has a strong inclination towards defending his clients. Juggling a troublesome attempt to keep his personal relationship on track as he seeks justices, Macarthur is a man many readers may admire, though he has little time for praise. The master, Arthur Beauchamp, is as exciting as he was in his own series. The reader will love (or hate) his incessant use of Latin to get the point across, drowning those around him with legalese and seemingly non-sensical blather to sting them. While Beauchamp has a seductive mistress in the form of alcohol, he is usually ready to slay the Crown witnesses at the drop of a hat. Many of the other characters who find a home on the pages of this book help to solidify the legal and courtroom aspects of the narrative, moving things along effectively. With a true Canadian flavour, both the legal proceedings and the indigenous witnesses provide something that few unfamiliar with the Great White North would effectively understand, though the story is not lost on the non-Canadian (or younger) reader, as the narrative is that well developed. Deverell’s masterful work at pacing the narrative while instilling a better understanding of legal and social issues is to be applauded, as well as trying to handle cults in a way that leaves the pejorative at the door. Balancing an interesting legal matter with highly complex characters, Deverell has penned a winner that I hope many explore at their leisure.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for another stunning novel. I am so pleased to have been able to get my hands on some of your non-series novels. Bring them on!

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

Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr, by Nancy Isenberg

Nine stars

There are some who know Aaron Burr solely for his role in a 1804 duel with fellow politician, Alexander Hamilton, while others admit to knowing nothing about the man at all. Before I cracked open this book, I admit I was in the former category, but only just. While Nancy Isenberg does not deny that Burr has received significant mention throughout history (usually for the duel and other treacherous activities), much of what has been written about him seems to have come from the pens of amateurs, cobbling together vignettes piecemeal to suit their needs. This sewing together of small tales may serve some, but does little to offer a piece that presents the man in a balanced manner. Isenberg chose to use her role as a professional historian to set the record straight in this comprehensive biography, leaving the reader to decide for themselves . Well-documented and wonderfully written, Isenberg makes a strong case that Burr was a man whose role in the early years of American statehood ought not be forgotten or dismissed.

Orphaned at an early age, Aaron Burr spent much of his young life with an uncle, before beginning his studies in the priesthood. This early career choice came from a history of important religious leaders on both sides of his family, though Burr soon saw that he was ill-suited for the pulpit and soon chose a legal career. Burr’s studies at Princeton allowed him to engage with other like-minded young men about the role that the colonies ought to play in a larger Britain, sparking a passion for all things political. Burr settled back in New York, but helped out in the War of Independence, having served as a key aide to senior military personnel, as Isenberg explores in the early chapters of his biography.

Another key theme that arises throughout the biography would be Burr’s strong desires for the opposite sex, including his luring of Theodosia Bartow Prevost into his marriage bed during the military actions. Theodosia was older than Burr and used this refined nature to help shape him into the man he was to become, though Isenberg does not dispute that Burr always had a strong libido and love of women. Burr’s reputation followed him after the warring ended, when he entered life as a lawyer before taking on political roles. Fellow New Yorker, Alexander Hamilton, became a key player in Burr’s life, first as a legal partner and eventually as a political foe. Burr’s start in the New York Assembly honed his skills to seek higher office in the form of a Senate seat. Isenberg effectively shows how this Senate seat helped fuel the ongoing feud with Hamilton, who felt offended that the young man would seek to create controversy in the political arena. While Burr and Hamilton worked to push forth key elements of the New York delegation’s views on a new Constitution, they differed greatly. In an era before political parties, these two men helped lay the groundwork for this formalised political schism in the years to come. Not even the death of his beloved Theodosia could extinguish his focus on work in the Senate, where he sought to represent his constituents and apparently flirted quite openly, but always in a classy manner. Isenberg discusses Burr’s various letters, full of coded stories rather than lewd admissions.

The height of Burr’s political footprint came when he ran for President of the United States in 1800. Burr entered what has been come to be known as the most intense election in US history, one in which the House of Representatives was forced to resolve. In the end, Thomas Jefferson emerged victorious, with Burr serving as his vice-president. Isenberg shows that Burr tended to be a strong statesman and served America well, overseeing the US Senate, as per his constitutional expectations. Burr made sure that Democratic-Republican laws were passed and kept an eye on the Federalists who sought to shape legislation and the young country in their own image. All the while, Alexander Hamilton continued his barrage and slanderous statements, through speeches and in the press, leaving Burr somewhat unsure how to handle things in a gentlemanly way. When he had reached his limit, Burr and Hamilton engaged in a duel—the way men handled their differences at that time—and this proved to be the event that history books knows best as it relates to Burr. While even Isenberg cannot be entirely sure who fired first, Hamilton was mortally wounded and died soon thereafter. His name seemingly cleared, Burr’s reputation took a serious hit and he was never to play a significant role in elected politics again. However, as Isenberg depicts so thoroughly, Burr looked to the West and sought to stir up some trouble in the newer states, fanning the flames for secession and almost cobbling together enough support to lead a third party into a future election. This led to further political crises that saw Burr tried for treason, with a full congressional court and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding. Isenberg does a masterful job of portraying the background and story of the trial itself, in which President Jefferson sought to ensure his former friend was annihilated politically and personally. Thereafter, Burr slipped into a quieter life as his public persona dwindled. Isenberg offers up a few nuggets that the interested reader can discover in the waning pages of this strong biographical piece.

While much of the summary above could likely be found in a number of sources, it is Isenberg’s attention to detail to gather it together that makes this book one that is well worth the curious reader’s time. Told not only in a somewhat succinct manner, Isenberg does not ignore the many vignettes that serve to define the life of Aaron Burr. Her writing style is quite easy to comprehend and the narrative flows quite well. Taking portions of Burr’s life, Isenberg creates sizeable chapters to describe them, while using smaller division to help portray the pieces of the larger whole, making the entire process all the more digestible. Her use of extensive research can be seen throughout, not only with the number of quotations, but that the narrative presents as smooth and not disjointed. Isenberg seeks to fill in many of the gaps left by others—including outrightly criticising Gore Vidal’s biography for being vilifying—while not pushing out her own soapbox to depict Burr as entirely worthy of honour or villainy. The reader is given much of the information and permitted to judge for themselves, which is something many great biographical tomes I have read seem to do. Wonderful in its depiction of the man and with a great deal of information of the other players in early American politics, Isenberg has correctly titled this piece to show how Burr was a Founding Father of sorts, even if he fell from grace in the history books. A wonderful biography for those who want to know more about the early actors in American politics and how their lives differed greatly from the depictions we have of the current group who vie for power and notoriety.

Kudos, Madam Isenberg, for a wonderfully researched piece that deserves all the praise I can offer. I feel more educated about the man and will look to see what else you may have published.

This book fulfils Topic #1: Just the Facts, Ma’am in the Equinox #5 Reading Challenge. A hearty thank you to Susan in NC for suggesting this topic!

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

Those Who Go By Night, by Andrew Gaddes

Six stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Andrew Gaddes, and Crooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I was keen to give the work of Andrew Gaddes a try, as it explores not only a mystery, but includes a dose English history, which can be highly entertaining. When a beggar is found murdered and placed in a compromising position on a church altar in Bottesford, panic ensues in the small English town. It is the mid-14th century and Rome has a firm grasp over its congregations. Worried that something will come to pass, the Bishop of Lincoln agrees to send an emissary, Thomas Lester, to investigate and report back. However, it would seem the Archbishop of Canterbury has his own man in the region, looking to explore whether the pagan rituals rumoured to be rife in the area might need a more powerful fist to quell them. Lester comes upon a community with many colourful characters, all of whom offer plausible reasons for being the killer. As Lester works, he must worry that the killer could strike again, all the while trying to protect this corner of England from being painted in a poor light. There is little time and Lester possesses an explosive secret that he cannot let the general public discover, as it could undermine his abilities to bring order to the region. Lester’s personal and professional lives clash in this piece, pinning criminal law against that of the Church, as well as personal morals that seem to conflict with ecclesiastical tenets. Gaddes does well to offer up a decent tale that will keep the reader wondering until the very end!

I enjoy historical mysteries, as they are usually able to mix curiosity with education in equal measure. Gaddes bit off quite a bit here and presented the reader with a decent narrative, though it missed the mark for me. Thomas Lester’s character has some interesting aspects, including his ties to the Church and ability to retrieve information from most anyone he meets. He may be a Church emissary, but he is human and his personal longings cannot be completely neutralised, even with a religious background. Gaddes portrays Lester as a gritty man who seeks the truth while trying to deflect his own personal opinion on occasion, which is a struggle throughout the piece. His Templar background is sure to offer some additional flavour to an already complex character, as the reader will see throughout. Many of the other characters serve to offer interesting perspectives to fill the narrative with different angles, sure to offer up a discussion amongst those who enjoy book bantering. Witchcraft, Church resistance, and wariness of outsiders prove to be themes embedded in the many characters Gaddes offers to the curious reader. While the story seems sound and the narrative progresses nicely, I could not find myself connecting with it throughout. I am no perfect reader, but something had me skimming rather than basking in a story that could have been so enjoyable. Perhaps it was the lure of the dust jacket blurb, but I expected so much more for my personal reading pleasure. It fell short for me, though I cannot expect that others will feel the same. Try it and offer your own opinions, for Gaddes certainly has the tools for a successful novel. Perhaps I am just not seeing the diamond embedded herein!

Kudos, Mr. Gaddes, for what certainly could be a stellar piece. I can only hope that others see something I did not. I will give you the benefit of the doubt and wait to see what you serve up next to the curious reader!

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

Dracul, by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

Eight stars

There are surely many who have wondered where Bram Stoker got his idea for Dracula. After creating an interesting sequel to his ancestor’s popular book, Dacre Stoker decided to team up with J.D. Barker to pen this prequel of sorts, though its exploration is less of Prince/Count Dracula than of a younger Bram Stoker. It is here that the seeds of all things ghoulish germinated, or so the reader is led to believe. Bram Stoker was quite a sickly child, being bedridden for the first number of years of his life. The family’s nanny, Nanna Ellen, did all that she could to help, though caring for many children kept her occupied. It was only when Bram’s uncle came to bleed him with leeches that things took an interesting turn. At that time, Nanna Ellen also visited her young charge and, by all of Bram’s accounts, undertook a unique form of medicinal care through a small bite along his arm. Soon thereafter, Bram was healed, though to everyone it was thought that the leeches did the job. Upwardly mobile, Bram and his sister, Matilda, begin exploring their environs in the Irish countryside, which includes a closer examination of Nanna Ellen. What they discover serves to shock and concern them, for she acts in such a unique manner. When she disappears one day, Bram and Matilda can only surmise that something extremely mysterious is going on and they might have witnessed a key that relates to her disappearance. Moving forward more than a dozen years, Bram and Matilda are again witnesses to some odd happenings, both related to their nanny and some other folks from the town. Could the mysteries they uncovered as children be back again, in new and curious forms? As they press to understand what is going on, they discover the world of vampires and the un-dead, a realm that is highly dangerous for adults and children alike. However, nothing has prepared them for what is to come, or the residue it will have on their lives. Contrasted nicely with a more ‘modern’ Bram Stoker, who struggles with some additional demons, Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker instil a significant chill into the narrative that is perfect for fans of the Dracula novel. Highly recommended, especially during the haunting month of October, when ghosts and ghouls begin to emerge!

I was so very excited to learn of this book and awaited its publication so that I could add it to my October holiday reading list. I have some experience with Barker’s work and have come to admire Dacre Stoker, as he penned that aforementioned sequel to the extremely popular Dracula. Now, it’s time to look back and allow these two authors to paint some interesting pictures for the reader, taking their own liberties with Bram Stoker and his life, though they make clear that some of their story is based on his writings and early journals. The authors handle Bram Stoker in a very interesting light here, even more interestingly than Dacre did his ancestor in the Dracula sequel. Bram is seen not only as a precocious young boy, but one who is driven to understanding the mysteries of the world, particularly when oddities pop up around him. The reader will see his progression throughout the story, both in the ‘journal format’ and in his elder form, where he surely undergoes many events that shaped him before writing his novel about the prince from Transylvania. The attentive reader will see this progression and the crumbs of information in this text that relate to the best known work, utilizing many interesting themes and ideas. Many of the other characters, who play strong roles as well as minor narrative flavouring, must also receive great recognition, as their presence keeps the reader enthralled until the final pages. The narrative is wonderfully strong and filled with nuggets of wonderful speculation which, through to the authors’ note at the end, can be left to hang in the air, wondering how much was real. Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker dispel much of the fiction versus fact in their note at the end, as well as exploring how much of Dracula itself was based on real happenings, as opposed to a fictional account of a monster from history. While the use of journals and clippings may not be to everyone’s liking, it serves a wonderful purpose and is a true adage to Bram’s original work, deserving praise for that writing format. At this time of ghouls and monsters, this story hit the spot and will surely make it onto my annual reading list.

Kudos, Messrs. Stoker and Barker, for such an intense story. I am eager to see if you two will work together again, as this was surely a strong collaborative effort.

This books fulfils Topic #6: A Book About the Current Equinox, for the Equinox #5 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 Bomb Maker’s Son (Parker Stern #3), by Robert Rotstein

Nine stars

Robert Rotstein’s third legal thriller packs another punch that is sure to keep the reader flipping pages late into the night. Mixing the best from legal and courtroom sub-genres, Rotstein pulls the reader into yet another battle that has deep-rooted implications for many involved. Parker Stern has been able to cobble together a decent legal career, after years as a child actor and being subjected to a horrible early life in a cult, alongside his vapid mother. When he arrives home one day, his mother awaits him with major news; she wants him to defend a long-time friend of hers who has been on the lam for almost forty years. Accused of bombing a government building in 1975, Ian Holzner admits that while he had revolutionary leanings, he is innocent of this crime. Wanting to clear his name once and for all, Ian has come in from the cold and will accept no one other than Parker as his defence attorney. Why? It would seem that Ian is Parker’s elusive father, a man about whom Parker has only heard fairly tales since he was young. As this is a capital crime, Parker will need to enlist the assistance of a seasoned lawyer. This also means that he’ll be working alongside his former love interest, Lovely Diamond. As they begin trying to piece together the information from decades ago, they realise the deck is stacked against them. The judge is none other than the one who presided over the trial of one of the other conspirators that fingered Ian for the crimes, the original documentation was ruined in a fire from the early 1980s, and many of the witnesses are unwilling to help Ian. As legal proceedings begin and Parker is able to secure house arrest for his client, a bombing at the courthouse brings back memories of 1975, with a note from a revolutionary group demanding Ian’s release. Could his underground organisation be resurrected to wreak havoc yet again? While trying to juggle legal matters, his relationship with Lovely, and an apparent half-family about which he knew nothing, Parker Stern is hit with news that some of the abuse he suffered at the hands of the Church of the Sanctified Assembly might finally see the light of day. There is surely no time to rest for Parker, as the life of his father literally hangs in the balance. A stunning novel by Rotstein that pulls together all that the series reader has learned to date. Highly recommended for those who have followed the series, as well as legal thriller enthusiasts. I’d suggest reading the previous two novels to have the full impact.

Rotstein’s writing style is a clever mix of legal arguments and personal development shaped into a well-paced narrative that intrigues the reader. The story is yet another unique legal situation with the added bonus of allowing the series reader to see just how Parker will react to another round of devastating news. The lingering mentions of Lovely and the Church of the Sanctified Assembly provide ongoing issues for the protagonist, but there is always a new and troublesome situation with which Parker cannot fully divorce himself. Parker Stern remains a strong character, exhibiting a great legal mind, though it has been quashed by bad luck over the past number of years, something the series fan will know already. His early years as a child film actor and more recent debilitating stage fright in the courtroom play a role in the story yet again, though their place is firmly in the rear view mirror, permitting some character growth. Rotstein pushes the ‘new-found’ father angle quite well, particularly since it is impossible for Stern to ignore it with Ian so close to him at all times. This struggle is one that comes to the surface throughout and the reader may see glimpses of Stern’s trying to digest the news and place it in some semblance of order in his mind. Stern uses his strongest legal maneuvers to keep the reader entertained, working not only against time but the lack of interest many have to save Ian Holzner. There are a handful of other characters who shape the story, including the aforementioned Ian Holzner, whose renegade past and anti-government sentiment make him an interesting character as the narrative advances. There are strong legal, political, and personal characters scattered throughout, all of whom play integral roles to shape the story in ways that could not have been predicted, adding flavour to an already intense plot. The story of this book is anything but simple with its foundation decades in the past, yet Rotstein makes it easy to switch between eras and get a sense of the mindset of those who lived in the early 1970s and the passion they possessed. The reader must buckle down to take part in this fast-paced thriller, which touches on a number of legal and personal issues simultaneously without pausing to permit synthesising. I can see a great deal of interest coming from these books by those who enjoy the theme and hope more books in the series emerge in the years to come.

Kudos, Mr. Rotstein, for a great series. I am addicted and count myself as lucky for stumbling upon your recent standalone novel for introducing me to this series.

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

Down to the Woods (DI Helen Grace #8), by M. J. Arlidge

Eight stars

M.J. Arlidge is back with his eighth novel in the Helen Grace series, adding a new layer of thrills in this unique piece. While DI Helen Grace is still trying to piece her life back together after a year of significant changes, she learns that there is a new addition to her Major Incident Team (MIT). DS Joseph Hudson has a great deal of police work under his belt, all across England, but has finally decided on a transfer to Southampton. The team is soon called out to a campsite, where a man has disappeared without a trace. Scouring the surrounding forested area, DI Grace and her team find him hanging from a tree, his organs dangling and embedded with crossbow bolts. Could the killer still be lurking in the forest? This begins a thorough exploration, where one member falls victim to a man who chooses to live way off the grid. It is only pure luck that has DI Grace stumble upon her teammate, saving her from another tragic incident. When a second victim goes missing and is found in the same state, DI Grace knows that this killer has a message and will stop at nothing. Now it’s time to determine if these are random kills or whether there is a connection, as yet unseen. While the MIT works their magic, journalist Emilia Garanita is back to find the scoop of her life. Her past run-ins with DI Grace do not deter her from using her powers of persuasion to get the story to ensure the public is aware of what’s going on. As the case heats up, both DI Grace and Emilia must come to terms with potential changes in their personal lives, both of which could have a significant bearing on the case. Arlidge does it again with a thrilling piece that will have series readers talking. Those who have yet to discover this series ought to take this as a strong recommendation. Do not let their length become a deterrent, as it is jam packed with highly entertaining thrills.

I have long been a fan of M.J. Arlidge and his writing, which has kept me up well into the night. He never seems at a loss for twists in the stories or series to keep the reader captivated, while pushing DI Helen Grace to her limits. It is this unpredictability that keeps the stories from getting stale and allows the series to grow effectively. Helen Grace has been through much in the series and this continues with this novel, in which she finds herself at a crossroads, seeking to better herself while also being highly introspective. She has seen loss and chooses to steer clear of it, though her current position makes that all but impossible. With a strong crew around her as part of the MIT, Grace and her cohort are always interacting on a professional level, with bits of personal aside to keep the subplots moving together effectively. The introduction of DI Joseph Hudson may prove to be an interesting new angle that series fans can chase, as he brings something new and exciting to the game. He, along with the many of the other supporting characters, prove effective in keeping the story intense and force the reader to wonder where things are headed. This has always been a wonderful aspect to Arlidge’s writing, as the characters enrich the story in ways that might not have been predicted. The story is great and, as long as the reader is not seeking anything overly deep, is perfect to push through in a few sittings. Arlidge uses an effective short chapter system that keeps the reader hanging and seeking “a little more”, which turns into late-night reading binges. The book has just what I am looking for and I cannot wait for the next instalment, which is sure to have just as many enticements.

Kudos, Mr. Arlidge, for another winner. Series fans will surely not be disappointed and I can only hope others will commence this series sooner than later.

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

Dracula The Un-Dead, by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt

Eight stars

An annual re-read, perfectly matched with Horror Week on Goodreads!

After my latest re-read of Bram Stoker’s famous piece, I chose another story with eerie undertones, though this one is sure to stir up some controversy. Serving as a sequel to the classic original, Dacre Stoker works with renowned Dracula historian Ian Holt to bring this continuation of the story to life in fine form. It is now 1912, twenty-five years since Count Dracula has crumbled into dust. Can this have been long enough for those who were directly involved in the hunting to have shelved their memories and moved on? Dr. Jonathan Seward, who was instrumental in the original chase has turned into a washed-up medical professional, addicted to morphine and chasing demons all across Europe, nothing like his mentor, Abraham Van Helsing. Young Quincey Harker, born in the final pages of the original novel, has been sent to France to pursue his legal studies, but is drawn into the world of stage acting. Quincey is further impressed when Shakespearean actor, Basarab, takes him under his wing. When Quincey stumbles upon a stage-play version of Dracula, directed by Bram Stoker himself, he begins to learn some of the long-buried secrets his parents kept from him. Trying to digest it all, there seems to be a presence in and around London, as the original collective who stayed Dracula meet their ends in horrific fashion. Meanwhile, 16th century Countess Elizabeth Bathory has returned to wreak havoc on those seeking to explore the Dracula question a little more. Bathory has a long history with the Romanian prince and may hold the answers that others seek, though she is more interested in new blood to satiate her extreme hunger. What’s brought Countess Bathory back to visit those whose adventure a quarter-century ago rid the world of blood-sucking evil? With a new collection of characters and tapping into Holt’s expertise in the field of all things Dracula, Stoker does well to carry the torch for his great-granduncle and entertains curious fans throughout. Perfect for those readers who enjoyed the original Dracula and who can accept applying some of the history of this Romanian prince, alongside a continuation of a classic piece of 19th century literature.

I have heard it said that one ought never mess with the classics, which is why parody pieces get a major eyebrow raise from literary purists. However, this piece that seeks to act as a sequel to Bram Stoker’s classic, not only grounds itself in seriousness, but also has the blessing of the Stoker family (and was penned by a descendent). Stoker and Holt look to progress the entire Dracula story by adding backstories to the well-established characters who brought to piece to life, as well as adding fresh angles to Dracula in this follow-up.The eerie nature of the original piece is replaced by a history that permeates the narrative, allowing the patient reader to discover much more and delve deeper than the late 19th century novel permitted. The story itself differs greatly from the original, not only because it is told in true narrative (as opposed to journals and letters), but also serves to provide cameos for many famous individuals (Bram Stoker and John Barrymore, to name a few) as well as pulls on some of the history of the original novel’s reception and development into a stage-play. Ian Holt’s influence can also be seen, as the story pulls on numerous Dracula stories from centuries ago and where Stoker may have developed his ideas for this vampire that became the go-to reference for all blood-imbibing creatures. Some of the narrative and historical assertions do keep the reader wondering, but it is difficult not to downplay the tidbits as being wrapped in a way to fill cracks that time has not caulked. As I mentioned above, some purists will scoff at this book simply because it seeks to build on a classic that can survive on its own. Others will mock it for lacking the same flowing prose or spooky foresight. While I will not engage in trivial banter about this being ‘allowed’ or not, I will say that Dacre Stoker’s piece served as a wonderful complement to my recent reading of Bram Stoker’s classic.

Kudos, Messrs. Stoker and Holt for entertaining and engaging me at times as I made my way through this novel. I know there are massive footsteps to fill, even to stand alongside the classic novel and I applaud you both for 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