The Catherine Howard Conspiracy (The Marquess House Trilogy #1), by Alexandra Walsh

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Alexandra Walsh, and Sapere Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Alexandra Walsh storms onto the scene with this intriguing piece of historical fiction that opens new questions about the Tudors and Catherine Howard. While attending a dig, archeologist Dr. Perdita Rivers is alerted to some startling news; her estranged grandmother, popular Tudor historian Mary Fitzroy, has passed away. Even more alarming is the fact that Perdita and her sister, Piper, are now the rightful owners of Marquess House, a massive estate that Perdita never knew was part of the family. Surveying her new property, Perdita begins sifting through everything her grandmother left behind, including massive amounts of research relating to the Tudors. The deeper Perdita delves, the more she discovers. Of particular interest is an unpublished work on Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife. The story flashes back to the time of Catherine’s life, exploring her time as a lady at Court. Catherine surrounded herself by Anne of Cleves, the foreign princess sent to marry Henry VIII. Young and quite beautiful, Catherine catches the eye of the king, especially when his hastily arranged marriage goes stale soon after it is solidified. However, Henry VIII is anything but a compassionate lover, using violence and his title to demand submission, both in and out of bed. Once Henry VIII is in search of a new wife, Catherine is the obvious choice. She soon fears for her life when the violence escalates as she is not quick to produce an heir. As Perdita reads more, she begins to piece together some highly controversial information. Could it be that Catherine Howard was never executed? If so, who stood in her place and what happened to this young woman? While Perdita seeks to uncover more, additional mysteries behind her grandmother’s death and a group that has been following her are revealed. This further explains the estrangement between Mary Fitzroy and her granddaughters for a quarter of a century. Filled with adventure and historical revelations, Alexandra Walsh pulls the reader into the middle of this opening novel in an expected trilogy. Recommended for those who love historical mysteries and fiction, as well as readers with an interest in all things Tudor.

I eagerly accepted the chance to read Walsh’s debut novel, as it provided me the opportunity to explore some Tudor history intertwined with a great historical mystery. Walsh develops the first of this trilogy with an interesting premise, whose importance becomes more apparent the more the story develops. Dr. Perdita Rivers proves to be a wonderful character who comes into her own throughout this piece. An archeologist by training, Rivers is well-versed with historical discoveries, though is quite surprised when she uncovers much of the research her grandmother left her. The reader learns a little more about the estrangement period, as well as Rivers’ own backstory and some development, both familial and personal, throughout the piece. Walsh lays the groundwork for some interesting future adventures, both as they relate to the Tudors and life within the Marquess House. Others help to flesh-out the story effectively, none more than Catherine Howard herself. Long deemed flighty and quite promiscuous—like her cousin, Anne Boleyn—Catherine Howard’s brief marriage and eventual execution seem a foregone conclusion. However, Walsh injects some interesting twists into the story, while building a wonderful narrative to offer new and potentially insightful aspects to Tudor history. The story worked quite well and serves both to entertain as well as educate the reader. There is much development of a mystery, both in Tudor times and during the present period. Readers are left with many questions, sure to help lure them into wanting to find the next books in the trilogy. Walsh has definitely offered much on which the reader can posit, including secret societies created to protect and veil those historical anomalies that have not made it into tomes. I am eager to see what Walsh has coming down the pipeline and will keep my eyes peeled for the second book when it has been published.

Kudos, Madam Walsh, for a wonderful opening novel in this series. You have me curious and hoping the intensity stays high throughout the trilogy.

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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The Puppet Master (Brooks/Lotello Thriller #0.5), by Ronald S. Barak

Nine stars

In a prequel novel to his legal thriller series, Ronald S. Barak offers readers a high-impact piece that spans the entire police procedural and legal processes. When a prominent US senator is murdered, the D.C. community takes notice. Metro PD Detective Frank Lotello is assigned the case and begins a thorough investigation. Lotello, a recent widower, is still struggling with the loss of his wife and must redefine his job as he raises two children. After two other people with ties to America’s financial fortunes are slain, people begin to wonder if there is a spree killer on the loose. Even more baffling is the message left about the victims deserving to die as ‘Ryan’ did. When a man is seen uttering similar messages around the Capitol, he is taken into custody and eventually charged with the murder. However, things are not as cut and dry as they seem. U.S. District Judge Cyrus Brooks soon learns this, having been assigned the murder trial. When the Public Defender advocates a justifiable homicide defence, many look shocked, though the constitutionality soon becomes apparent. While awaiting the trial, Detective Lotello is contacted anonymously with information that may shed some light on the murders, something that could provide significant reasonable doubt. While dubious in its ethical nature, Lotello and Brooks converse, applying pressure to allow additional investigations. Could there be someone else behind the killings, using the accused as a patsy? Once the trial begins, Brooks takes control in the courtroom, allowing strong arguments on both sides before he tosses the case to the jury. It is here that things get even more interesting. Brooks, Lotello, and many others await the decision of the twelve, whose verdict could have high-reaching results. Barak does well to create a thriller whose slow development acts as a great marinade before delivering a impactful final twist. Recommended for those who love legal thrillers, particularly the reader who found Barak’s first novel (which follows this one chronologically) to their liking.

Ronald S. Barak crossed my radar a while back, when he introduced readers to his Frank Lotello/Cyrus Brooks duo. This legal thriller series, while still in its infancy, has some great plots, enveloped in great police work and supported by wonderful narration. Barak steps back from his previous publication to offer the reader a better look into the lives of his two protagonists. Lotello is a man who is still reeling from his wife’s death, something the reader can ascertain as he has numerous conversations with her throughout the case. Lotello balances work with raising a family on his own, though does not let either task hamper the other. With an acute sense of all aspects of a criminal investigation, Lotello is like a dog with a bone, chasing leads and following up on sketchy people of interest as he seeks to uncover the truth. His diligence may not always pay-off, but Lotello’s impact can be felt throughout the novel. Lotello is contrasted nicely by Judge Cyrus Brooks, a man whose legal training has led him to create a no-nonsense courtroom. Brooks knows the rules and sticks to them, usually, while also realizing that not all defendants (or their counsel) are created equally. A fan of explaining every step of the legal process to the jury, Brooks educates the reader alongside them, as the case progresses. His handle of the court will likely impress the reader as they meander through all the evidence on offer. The story here is quite well developed, advancing on many levels through chapters of different lengths. Some are simple phone conversations while others are thorough explorations of the courtroom developments, through banter between counsel and witnesses. Barak keeps the reader captivated throughout, as the evidence mounts and the jury is presented with much. By the time the case goes to the jury, the reader likely has their own impressions. Little is left to chance while being sequestered, with a wonderful exploration of deliberations before a final set of twists to end the case. I’ll surely re-read the follow-up novel to get the full impact of the series, happy to have found another author who knows how to write comprehensive legal/courtroom thrillers that leaves no stone unturned.

Kudos, Mr. Barak, for your stellar writing. I hope others find this series in the coming months. I must ask… why release the prequel after the series debut? This piece is so full of important information that is relevant what ended up being the debut. I am baffled!

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

If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Calgary Flames Ice, Locker Room, and Press Box, by Peter Maher with George Johnson

Nine stars

There’s something magical for a sports fan to be able to read something penned by one who has been in the middle of the game for so long. Such was my feeling as I read this collection of memories by Peter Maher, long-time radio play-by-play announcer for the Calgary Flames of the National Hockey League. While I did not grow up in Calgary, when I arrived here and dusted off a (sometimes) spot on the Flames bandwagon, I took to the radio and listened to many of Maher’s game calls when I was not home. This book is a wonderful collection of Maher memories over a long radio career, form as far back as his time in New Brunswick and introduction to the world of play-by-play by the legend, Danny Gallivan, through to a three decade love affair with fans of hockey. Gathered less in chronological order than themes memories, Maher share his perspective on key moments in Flames history, personal remembrances that shaped the team and League, as well as the longevity of having seen so much, thereby creating a lasting legacy for the city. Having narrated three trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, as well as horrible years best left swept under the rug, Maher feels that he would not trade them in for anything at all. Many people from around the League recognized Maher for his hard work with the game, earning him entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006. He was, and remains, a staple to the Calgary Flames organization and will surely always be remembered for his balanced reporting and keen eye when it comes to trends within the club. Whether fans are new to the game or remember Maher’s first call on the radio back in the early 1980s, the book has a little something for everyone, including laughs, tragedy, and many bouts of celebration. Highly recommended for sports fans who want an added dose of life in the broadcast booth, as well as fans of the Calgary Flames organization.

It’s actually quite difficult to see this book appealing to many outside of the Flames circle, though Peter Maher (with the help of George Johnson) does a fabulous job showing how hockey can transcend a single season or team. He is able to bring the reader under the umbrella of the organisation, no matter how far back their being a fan has gone, while always dazzling people with his knowledge and memory of key events. That is, perhaps, the crux of this book. To show how the ebbs and flows of the Calgary Flames has found itself etched in the psyche of many who have witnessed the team’s successes and failures. Maher fills the pages of this book with wonderful anecdotes, sometimes only a few paragraphs long, as he peppers the pages with random memories. While they are not organised chronologically, they tell a poignant story all their own and leave the reader to digest much of the narrative in their own way. While i love a good biography or memoir as much as the next person, I can accept this as following a thread that becomes apparent the more you read. While there are some areas of repetition, one can accept that Maher (and Johnson) did not write the book entirely in order, perhaps forgetting that some things had been mentioned earlier on. Still, a powerful piece that I am pleased to have read. “You can put that in the win column!’ as Maher would say. “Yeah baby!”

Kudos, Mr. Maher, for a powerful book that moved even a fan of hockey, even if I am not a diehard Flames fanatic!

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

The Perfect Alibi (Robin Lockwood #2), by Phillip Margolin

Eight stars

Philip Margolin brings Robin Lockwood back for another legal thriller set in Oregon. Lockwood, a former MMA star, is ready to do battle when she is approached by a young woman who confides that she’s been raped. Robin explains that she cannot prosecute a criminal case, but is willing to help with any civil matter that might be needed. Listening to her client,  Robin learns that a football player, Blaine Hastings, turned a booze-fuelled lustful encounter into something violent that led to a sexual assault. Hastings has a much different tale, though he cannot explain the semen left in and around the victim. At trial, Hastings is less than happy with his legal representation and is sent away. However, things take a definite turn when another woman is raped, identifying a different man, but Hastings’ DNA is left inside her. As Hastings was incarcerated at the time, he could not have committed the crime, but what’s happened? Robin is baffled and unsure how to help her client, but the local authorities are sure there is some scientific explanation. Hastings is released on bail but soon disappears, just as his lawyer’s legal partner is slain. Robin is hired to defend the man accused of the murder, though no one believes that he could be involved. Working both mind-blowing cases, Robin watches as the D.A. lands himself in some hot water and turns the local legal community on its head. With time running out and answers scarce, Robin will have to act to get answers, while still keeping an eye out for Blaine Hastings, who’s sure to have a bone to pick with her. A well-crafted novel with layered sub-plots that all link together, Margolin shows why he is the master of his genre. Perfect for fans of legal thrillers full of twists and those whose search for justice is unending.

I usually enjoy Phillip Margolin and his novels, which mix the law with dramatic developments throughout. This was no exception, as the story twisted and turned from one part to the next. Robin Lockwood remains a wonderful protagonist, able to tear down anything put before her, be it a charging body or legal argument. Her attentiveness shows that she has the makings of a sensational legal mind and she surrounds herself with those who are able to help her excel. Juggling a seemingly impossible workload, Lockwood finds enough time to locate her fair share of trouble. Others in the book prove quite effective at advancing the plot and creating a niche for themselves. As Margolin creates a smaller story within each part, there are characters who shine in parts of the book, backing off in other domains. The story was strong and its scientific element did not drown out the effectiveness of the legal arguments. The reader is in for a treat, offered nuances of many aspects of the law, jammed into this mid-length novel. With fresh ideas and ever evolving themes (as well as a cameo by one of Margolin’s long-time stars), this is another book worthy of its fair share of praise. A mix of chapter lengths serves a great purpose while always leaving the reader to wonder what awaits. Perfect for a single-day reading, should time permit.

Kudos, Mr. Margolin, on another success. I am pleased to have discovered your work and cannot wait to see what else you have in store!

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

The Girl in Red, by John Nicholl

Eight stars

Master of the h psychological thriller, John Nicholl builds on a previously limited release novella (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34558350-bully-boy-blue) that offers much bone-chilling excitement as the story progresses. Kathy Conner lives the most horrible life possible. An abusive husband who bullies her unremittingly with no one who will believe her, either the family she has regularly called or the police who turn up at the door. Married to Police Inspector Michael Conners, Kathy is sure that she will never rid herself of this monster, especially when he offers such a calm demeanour to the outside world. At her breaking point, Kathy begins concocting a plan as her only way out, though it will take all the patience she can muster. Never knowing if each night Michael comes home will be her last on earth, one day Kathy takes a chance in order to free herself of his shackles and punish him for all that he has done to her. While her plan seems foolproof from the outset, it will take all Kathy has to ensure its success. A great story that reminds the reader of how addictive Nicholl can be, especially when he tosses in a wonderful twist at the end. Perfect for Nicholl fans and those who enjoy a quick-paced psychological thriller.

I remember when I first discovered Nicholl on a whim and could not put the book down. Promising I would keep an eye out for any of his future publications, Nicholl kept me on his own personal radar. Each book built on strengths from the last and this piece fits perfectly into the flow and ongoing positive development of his writing style. The story builds on a few central characters and the emotional differences between them, namely Kathy and Michael. From there, it is the slowly evolving thought processes that Kathy exhibits that keeps the reader wanting to know how it will all come to a climax, even when a pitfall almost ruins her plan. The reader goes through all the ups and downs faced by an abused woman with the desire to flee, even when she finds herself under the thumb of the abuser. A mix of short and long chapters keeps the reader hooked and demanding more. With Nicholl’s past professional experience in this area, it is no surprise that he is able to write so seamlessly and presents the reader will a stellar story whose impact resonate powerfully.

Kudos, Mr. Nicholl for such a wonderful piece of work. I am truly blessed to be able to read and share your work with others and hope you have many more stories to come.

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

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, by Patrick Radden Keefe

Eight stars

After reading a history-rich fictional pentalogy about the Irish struggles, I could not help but turn to Patrick Radden Keefe’s book. Keefe takes the reader into the heart of the Anglo-Irish conflict, particularly as it developed in Northern Ireland (or the North of Ireland, depending on which side you support). Keefe explores how the simmering tensions of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) against the British Army and Ulster (Protestant) majority in the six remaining counties turned out to be some of the bloodiest clashes of the entire push for a freed Ireland. Keefe explores all aspects of the fighting, from the creation of plots to harm and kill, to turning those who would otherwise be seen as British sympathisers, and even into the negotiations to bring about a lasting peace. Keefe lays out much of the details as seen through the eyes of the Northerners, painting degrees of abject poverty and constant concern by the Catholics, as well as their attempts to use blood and terror to bring British and the Ulsters to their knees. While the IRA and Sinn Fein (the political embodiment of the Cause) are not synonymous, Keefe connects some fairly large dots, particularly as it relates to Gerry Adams, long seen as the face of the fight in the 1970s through to 1999. A man who would not break, even when tortured, Adams did all he could to bring about a better understanding to the world about the plight of the Catholics in the North and how horrid things were for them under the British thumb. The campaign began to work, though the constant reporting of IRA violence or Ulster targeting of the Catholic population soured much of the support that began. As Keefe explores throughout, the IRA—both its long-standing version and the newer Provisional form—had its own internal problems, particularly power struggles as to how things ought to go. For some, no peace without all 32 counties united, while others saw that this could not happen with any degree of ease. There was also a strong push to make comparisons between the violence meted out on the streets of (London)Derry and Belfast and the cruel punishments that would be condemned elsewhere in the world. How could the British and Protestants act and the world would turn a blind eye? Keefe turns also to some of the revelations of the Boston College interviews, headed up by academics after a formal peace was secured. Stories that emerged when amnesty was provided helped flesh-out some of the darker and more violent aspects to life in the North over the close to three decades of hardcore fighting. However, some of the interviews were used by the British in legal settings to bring members of the IRA to justice for crimes committed, using a large loophole in the process. Even with peace established, new wars emerged, continuing to pit the IRA against the British. Told in raw and unapologetic honesty, Keefe tells a story that many readers would not otherwise believe while also being compelled to learn more. I strongly suggest anyone with an interest in learning more about the struggles in Ireland from the 1970s through to the present find this book and discover trove of sources and details likely not part of the mainstream narrative.

As I mentioned above, reading this book complemented my previous binge reading of a powerful five-novel series about the Irish struggles. I remember some of the heightened struggles in Ireland, mostly from news reports and loose historical documents. What Patrick Redden Keefe provides here is a strong and well-documented approach to the plight of the Irish in the North at the hands of the majority, providing the reader with a look at the oppressed that sought to push back against the majority. Keefe does not shield the bias, though some would say that this is the only way to get the story out there, to focus on those who were fighting for a cause, even if they also sought to use violence as a means to success. I have often wondered why sides must shed blood and bomb one another, how that could ever lead to lasting peace and change. Keefe’s book left me sympathising with some of the plight, though the use of random violence that took the lives of the innocent to prove a point does not sit well with me. Even two decades after formal peace has been established, this book rocked me and brought much of the buried narrative back to light. Stories and sentiments, as well as giving the reader and inside view into how things were run and what happened to those who did not obey. More than a primer on the subject, Keefe drawls on many sources and depicts the struggle as being not only real, but somewhat essential in order to have their voices heard. Through the blood and the bombing, the violence and the vindication, Keefe provides the reader with something sobering to give a difference perspective than many may have had. Long chapters provide the core of the book, though it sometimes takes a while to get the true sentiment across, thereby educating the reader effectively. The mighty British may appear prim and proper, but this St. Patrick’s Day, as I nurse a pint or two of Guinness, I’ll think a little harder about how the colonial power sought to control one of the last vestiges wanting independence and self-rule.

Kudos, Mr. Keefe, for a stunning book. I could not have asked for more and hope others will be as shocked and gobsmacked as I was while reading.

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

1999: A Novel of the Celtic Tiger and the Search for Peace (Irish Century #5), by Morgan Llywelyn

Nine stars

In the final novel of her Irish Century series, Morgan Llywelyn offers readers a high-impact story that ties off much of the violence and political clashes that left the region stained in blood. Barry Halloran continues his life as a photojournalist, eager to capture Ireland as a whole while the North is still under British control. While the world advances through the years, it would seem that Anglo-Irish relations as it relates to uniting the thirty-two colonies has reached a standstill. Meanwhile, blood flows freely as both sides seek targeted attacks to prove their points. As Barry seeks to capture all the action, he has a family now and must stay close by to better understand the concerns in his own household. While Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, has begun secret talks to bring peace to fruition, there seems to be many individuals who will not be happy until violence drives the British out once and for all. The Hallorans have had a stake in the Irish Question for almost a century and the Troubles—the vernacular for these clashes—do not seem to be ending anytime soon. However, as the end of the millennium approaches, might there be a lasting peace on the horizon? Something that both sides can accept to end the senseless killing and sacrifice of innocent lives, divided by a religious conviction that is marinaded in political history? Llywelyn develops her story so effectively that the series reader will want to see how things play out, ending a powerful Irish Century.

So, there we have it. Five books that have not only spun a multi-generational tale of power and passion, but a country seeking to rid itself of foreign shackles as it limps towards a lasting independence. Morgan Llywelyn has done so well to keep the reader enthralled, while still painting a narrative full of struggle and pain. Barry Halloran again holds the protagonist role, having turned in much of his gun arsenal for a camera to capture the struggles in the North. He is still firmly republican and will stop at nothing to bring the final six counties back to their rightful place with the Irish Free State. Democracy can only go so far, it would seem, so Barry is using all his connections to push for a final solution. Ignoring his wife and family when he is wrapped up in Belfast’s ongoing strife, Barry is left to fight a war on the home front, not helped by his mother, Ursula, whose sage advice stings as much as a bullet wound at times. Other characters grace the pages and show just how complex and troublesome the Irish peace process can be. It is less the politicians who are creating issues—though Llewelyn depicts them as slow to seek lasting solutions—but the splinter groups and British Army who seek violence first and answers later. Llywelyn develops this violent narrative well, placing much of it as announcements from the historical record. The novel ties things off, especially the rejuvenated clashes that have peppered the history books throughout the 1960s and 70s, but built up again throughout the 1980s, a time I remember well. While Llewelyn is using a fiction-based delivery, her story is full of history and Irish-flavoured depictions of events as the struggle to bring peace to Ireland remains all but a done deal throughout. The series using five novels to bring the story to the forefront, impacting the attentive reader with the struggles while weaving together a family’s own personal clashes with staying together as the land they so love is jostled. Morgan Llewelyn is a masterful writer and has shown that she knows her stuff. Anyone with an interest in the Irish Question ought to find this series and devour it, as the writing flows so well and will keep the reader captivated.

Kudos, Madam Llywelyn, for keeping Ireland relevant throughout. A perfect read in the lead-up to St. Patrick’s Day, though history is wonderful no matter the date!

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

A Gift for Dying, by M.J. Arlidge

Eight stars

While he has been highly successful with his Helen Grace series, M.J. Arlidge branches out here with a standalone thriller that will leave readers wondering throughout. Kassandra ‘Kassie’ Wojcek may appear to be like any other teenager around Chicago, but she has a secret ability that can only be described as eerie. Able to predict how someone will die and when, Kassie sees this premonition as something prophetic, though she has no ability to stop it happening. When a lawyer with whom Kassie had been arguing turns up dead, the video evidence points at Kassie. Enter CPD Detective Gabrielle Grey, who begins an investigation into the teen, but garners little. Kassie is sent to see forensic psychologist Dr. Adam Brandt, who hears her story and is not entirely convinced. However, there is something about her determination and openness that leads Brandt to give her the benefit of the doubt. Helping to keep Kassie’s secret, Brandt finds his walls coming down, even as Kassie predicts another victim and is spot on. When Detective Grey catches the second murder and discovers that Kassie is again one of the last people to have seen the victim, her radar begins pinging anew. However, lurking in the shadows of Chicago is the real killer, someone who earns the moniker ‘The Chicago Butcher’. Will Kassie be able to help locate him before he kills again and why are all the victims tied to her in some way? It’s all hands on deck to solve this crime, though Kassie’s premonitions may not be enough. A wonderfully complex thriller that Arlidge has constructed for his fans. Dark and eerie, with just a touch of the supernatural. Fans of slowly evolving thrillers will surely want to get their hands on this one.

I have long been a fan of M.J. Arlidge and his work, which takes thriller writing to a new level. Balancing the art of great storytelling with the darker side of a depraved antagonist, Arlidge is able to lure his readers in from the outset while toying with them as the story evolves. The two-pronged story allows the reader the dual protagonist. Kassie Wojcek proves to be as troubled a teen as can be, with drug and emotional abuse, as well as a temper to match. She seeks to isolate herself from others repeatedly, which ends up being baffling when one notices her attempts to warn the victims throughout the piece. That she forges a relationship with Dr. Adam Brandt is all the more amuse, creating a loose parental figure out of him, particularly when Kassie’s own mother leaves her at one point in the narrative. Brandt must also struggle as he comes to terms with balancing his personal and professional lives. It takes a tragedy to help sober him up to reality’s harsh bite and keeps him in a state of perpetual confusion. However, the Kassie-Brandt relationship serves to level them both out and keeps the story fresh throughout. One might also look to Gabrielle Grey as a protagonist, though the investigation theme remains rooted in the background throughout most of the novel. The investigation seems almost an afterthought, thereby turning Gabrielle Grey into an apparent lesser character. However, the premise of the plot, that there is a killer that must be apprehended, contradicts this at its core. The story was quite strong and highly unique in its approach, keeping the reader guessing throughout. What does Kassie know and how did she acquire it? What tie does she have to the Chicago Butcher? Where do the criminal and psychological aspects of the novel mesh together and how strong do they make the overall product? Arlidge is a master at his craft and, save for a few irritants that I found—setting a story in America, but having his characters and narrator use British slang—the story was stellar. That this is a one-off novel serves Arlidge well to sell his wares and hopefully capture new fans who will devour the Helen Grace novels in short order.

Kudos, Mr. Arlidge, for a wonderful standalone novel. I have missed Helen Grace, but this helped smooth things over as I wait.

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

1972: A Novel of Ireland’s Unfinished Revolution (Irish Century #4), by Morgan Llywelyn

Nine stars

Things are heating up in the fourth Irish independence novel by Morgan Llywelyn, pitting the British and Provisional IRA against one another over the six counties not ceded in 1921. Ursula Halloran has lived a decent life, trying to raise her son alone while filling him with true Irish values. Along the way, she has been able to offer up strong political views as well, though hoped that Barry would steer clear of the violence. Unable to help himself, Barry Halloran agrees to join and help the IRA in their attempts to force Northern Ireland to be turned over by the British Government. While discussions have not worked, it is time to let blood and gunfire fill the air, all for a united Ireland. While taking a trip to America, Barry learns a little more about the racial struggles there, drawing parallels between that and the Catholic situation in the North. While Barry is willing to make his mark on a small scale, the arrival of the 1960s spurns the whole world into a revolutionary sentiment, none more than in America. Watching the struggles between the races, Barry and those with strong independence views leave the IRA and form a provisional wing, all of whom will only be happy when Britain hands it over to the Irish Free State. When sentiments from 10 Downing and in Westminster are that they will only do so after the Protestant majority seek it, the Provisional IRA make their plans to resurrect a somewhat dormant revolutionary battlecry. With Barry in the middle of the action, there is little hope that he will remain unscathed. A brilliant build-up in the penultimate novel, as Llywelyn provides ample action to resolve in the final book. Perfect for series fans and those who love modern Irish history.

Morgan Llywelyn continues to show that there is no simple or straightforward answers with the Irish Question. In a strong, multi-generational series, Barry Halloran finally climbs into the spotlight, having been raised by a single mother. His passions surely develop under both the auspices of his mother’s varied sentiments about their homeland and how the world is drastically changing. Llywelyn addresses mass communication, as well as the sobering parallels that Barry has when he learns of race relations on a trip to America. When events and scenes from around the world are gathered on the television screen, Barry uses this and the ongoing push by the IRA to solve the six county dilemma to shape his political and societal views. Ready to take up the case—like his grandfather did in the early novels—Barry sees no answer without the thirty-two counties united once and for all. Many others grace the pages of this piece, historical figures and those created by Llywelyn, offering varied flavours to the complex narrative. The renewed push for an Irish revolution is not lost on the keen reader, though there is much going on around the world to help shape momentum in that direction. New ideas by the IRA may help lessen the violent impact, though there is little doubt that some prefer bloodshed over the gentleman’s handshake. The attentive reader will enjoy a mix of longer and quick chapters, offering much history and character development. I am eager to see how the series ends and what drama Llywelyn has in store for her readers.

Kudos, Madam Llywelyn, for keeping the various political and social adventures within the Irish Free State from losing their impact.

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

18th Abduction (Women’s Murder Club #18), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Eight stars

I always look forward to my annual exploration of the Women’s Murder Club, one of James Patterson’s strongest series alongside Maxine Paetro, who is a stellar collaborator. While many series lose their energy after so long, the eighteenth novel in this collection remains fresh and poignant, perfect for the series fan. After a preface in the present day, the story goes back five years, where Detective Lindsay Boxer finds herself in the middle of a baffling query. Three teachers from a prestigious preparatory school have gone missing while out together. There are few clues as to their whereabouts, which makes it all the most confusion. While Boxer is out handling this, her husband, Joe Molinari, comes across a woman on his way home. She tells a story of having seen a war criminal from her native Bosnia, a man who tortured her and her family years ago. Thought rumoured to have drowned, Slobodan Petrović May still be alive and has the glint in his eye made infamous when he held the moniker as the Butcher of Djoba. It perfectly describes the brutality to which he subjected his victims. Molinari is eager to help this woman, but must cut through her determination to take action on her own, while also working with his FBI contacts to bring Petrović to justice. Living under a pseudonym, Molinari will have to approach Petrović closely and ensure that this was not a case of mistaken identity. Meanwhile, Boxer begins to piece together some early clues and one of the victims turns up brutally murdered. Could there be a deeper connection to these three women, outside their teaching together? The rush is on to find the other two women before they are too long, though they are being mocked by the purported killer, Bloodsucker. In a case with more brutality than any Boxer has seen since she joined SFPD, this may be one killer whose determination to eviscerate their victims has deeply psychological ties. A wonderfully dark thriller that takes series readers on a journey with which they are familiar. This deep into the series, I would strongly suggest readers start at the beginning, allowing them to discover some of the character developments and nuances.

James Patterson can be hit and miss for many readers, churning out books faster than many can list them and leaving his name to sell copies. This inconsistency with the quality of writing has soured many and thereby left books like this shunned, forcing new fans not to see that there are still great JP books. Teaming up with Maxine Paetro, Patterson develops this wonderful story that builds on many of the past novels in the series, while adding some new and international flavour. Lindsay Boxer has become a strong character within San Francisco’s Homicide community, working diligently to solve any crime tossed her way. While there is little backstory left to reveal, the reader is always able to see small bouts of development within her work and personal relationships. Her marriage to Joe Molinari has long been a hot/cold situation worthy of exportation, though this book, which flashes back, dodges some of the bumpier parts of their relationship. While the other three ‘Club’ members receive their due mention, there is little the Club does to solve crimes as a unit, as has been the nature of the latter novels in the series. With Patterson’s great use of short and teaser chapters, the reader is pulled into the middle of this thriller in short order and left to explore all aspects of this multi-pronged story. Series fans will likely enjoy this book, as will those who are always looking for strong writing by Patterson and his collaborators. Definitely a series worth exploring for those who have time and are not being drowned by a TO BE READ pile.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madame Paetro, as you continue this well-established series.

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