Couple Found Slain: After a Family Murder, by Mikita Brottman

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mikita Brottman, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

While I rarely read true crime, I was drawn to this book by Mikita Brottman, which seeks to explore a unique perspective. After a young man killed his family, he went to authorities to admit the act, but felt that he was not in his right mind at the time of the murder. Deemed not criminally responsible, Brian Bechtold was sent to live in a psychiatric facility for the foreseeable future. After meeting Brottman there, Brottman is able to slowly reveal the truth behind what happens inside these facilities. What is presented is as chilling as the lead-up to Brian Bechtold’s arrival! An explosive book that really had me thinking throughout and a must-read for true crime fans!

In 1992, Brian Bechtold walked into a police station in Florida with a stark admission. After some mumbling and confused banter, Bechtold told authorities that he had killed his parents within the last few weeks in the family home. When the police in Maryland made their way to the Bechtold house, they found two bodies, dead for over a week, all of which substantiated Brian’s comments down in Florida.

Citing years of abuse—which the author depicts in the opening chapters that summarise the Bechtold family—Brian did not deny what he had done, but felt that his actions were fuelled by feelings that left him not responsible for his actions. The State of Maryland agreed and deemed Brian Bechtold not criminally responsible for the murders. This would not set him free, however, but rather force him to reside in a psychiatric facility for the foreseeable future. It is here that the crux of the book presents itself.

The book continues by picking up the thread of Brian’s story—and life—within the walls of this facility. The author met Brian as she came to hold weekly meetings with residents to hone their reading and fiction skills. Brian’s story explores not only life within an institution, but also how residents live under constant scrutiny of staff, guards, doctors, and the general public. Some residents, like Brian, were suffering from obvious mental illnesses, but whose live were manageable with the proper medications and daily rituals. Others, on the other hand, appeared highly troubled and in a world all their own. The variance is substantial and truly remarkable for the attentive reader.

The struggle is not only one of the life of a psychiatric patient, but how they are treated and what rights they have. The author shows on numerous occasions the powerlessness that Brian suffered and how his diagnosis all but neutered his ability to stand up for himself. There are both legal and health issues that emerge throughout, many of which led to actual court proceedings. These interactions, albeit brief, with the outside world, show the limits that patients have, particularly when saddled with crimes they have committed.

Mikita Brottman may focus much of her attention on Brian Bechtold’s life, including many of his advancements and regressions, but also branches out to tell the stories of other residents at times, offering strong contrasts in how others were treated, handled, and relegated to a sort of psychotic heap when things got to be too much. There is not a single chapter that does not raise many interesting arguments about psychiatric facilities or the treatment of those within their walls, as well as the difficulties of those who are inside to ever make it back in to the general population. While some have drawn parallels to famous movies about life on a psychiatric ward, Brottman offers fact, rather than glamourised fiction, to tell a story that will surely offer true crime fans new horrors and fears about what happens when most of their books end. The story is far from over at the point of conviction!

I will be the first to admit that true crime is not usually the type of book I flock to read, though there was something here that drew me in. Perhaps it was Brottman’s desire to ‘show the view behind the curtain’ or to discuss the other side of true crime. It may have been the author’s clear narrative that built the story up while also tackling key aspects of the Bechtold experience. The story progressed nicely and the narrative clearly laid things out in such a way that the reader could follow the story without much trouble. The content was, at times, staggering in its bluntness and also somewhat ghastly. That people are regularly treated in such a way, outside the view of the public, is astonishing. It is, however, something that must be said and Brottman has done so effectively. I felt a part of the struggle throughout Bechtold’s turmoil, which is what I expect Brottman wanted.

Kudos, Madam Brottman. You have me curious about what else you may have penned in the genre and so I will have to scour some library shelves to see what I can find.

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

The Impostor (Pat Norelli #2), by David Temple

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and David Temple for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Discovering new authors is one of the things I like most about being an active book reviewer. When given the chance to explore David Temple’s work, I gladly obliged. Powering my way through the series debut, I was pleased to get my hands on an ARC of this novel, which continued the high-impact ride. Temple picks things up a year after the debut, with many of the chilling elements still resonating in the narrative. LAPD Detective Patricia ‘Pat’ Norelli is still coming to terms with almost dying at the hands of her therapist, Darius Tercel. Stung by the fact that he slipped away has haunted her ever since. When her best friend, who was also a patient of Tercel’s, turns up dead, Norelli is sure he’s lurking in the shadows. However, all the evidence points to Norelli, who is subsequently suspended. Norelli will not sit idly by while she is set to be accused of murder. She works the angles and finds herself travelling to every corner of the world to find Tercel and bring him to justice. That being said, this is not going to be easy, or safe… but Norelli has never been one to take the easy road. Another winner by Temple that is sure to keep readers flipping pages well into the night.

Detective Pat Norelli cannot sleep, still remembering how she was one syringe injection away from dying at the hands of her therapist, Darius Tercel. He got away, but the LAPD has not forgotten what he left in his wake. Now, Norelli is ready to return to work and tries to find some semblance of normalcy, a year later.

When reports of a death come into the precinct, Norelli recognises the address as being that of her close friend, Angie. What presents as a heart attack has Norelli baffled, as they were out only the night before. Further investigation shows that Angie died from an overdose administered by an injected narcotic, which screams Darius Tercel. However, much of the evidence points to Norelli herself, including a sizeable amount amount left in Angie’s estate.

As Norelli is being investigated by Internal Affairs and could face murder changes, she is suspended and forced to stew. Anyone who knows Norelli understands that she will not sit by, awaiting the kindness of others to solve the problem. Norelli decides that this is her time to find Tercel and bring him in, no matter what it takes.

Armed with some great colleagues who are convinced that Tercel is behind the death, Norelli tracks the psychopath to Australia, sure that he has been hiding there and blending into the local surfing scene, with a great deal of plastic surgery to help. This will be a slow and methodical game of cat and mouse, which finds Norelli learning more as she travels the country. New victims litter the path, but Norelli will not stop until she gets the answers she needs and has Tercel in cuffs.

Crossing the Pacific again, with IA close on her heels, Norelli takes a gamble and ends up in New York, sure that Tercel has plans there. She inches closer, but must not act too swiftly, or she will risk losing everything once again. Darius Tercel has one weakness, Pat Norelli, but he won’t simply walk into a trap without setting his own plan in motion. A chilling story that keeps readers guessing until the final page!

David Temple offers the reader yet another well-developed piece, presenting a strong police procedural that has an international flavour. Those who read the series debut are easily swept into the continuation of the story and find the intensity has not lagged, even a year later. The race is on and while the settings constantly change, there is an element of surprise in each chapter, which culminates in something truly captivating for those with enough patience. I am eager to see if Temple will keep the series going, as he has made a fan out of me in short order.

Pat Norelli remains a strong protagonist, still coming into her own. With a strong sense of personal struggle that emerges in the opening portion of the book, Norelli must get back on her feet and remember the grittiness that made her so effective in the first novel. She will not let Tercel define her, nor is she happy to let him continue to haunt her, which emerges in everything she does throughout this piece. A great balance of personal growth and strong police work push Norelli to the edge and leave her vulnerable when faced with the ultimate decision.

In any series that is still fresh, there are a number of supporting characters who make an impact. Temple does well to create individuals to complement Norelli regularly, while others serve well in a one-off role. Temple’s use of multiple settings provides him with a vast array of options when developing characters and his Aussie gang is particularly intriguing. Still, it’s a police procedural overall, so there must be some hard-ass coppers who reel things in. This is apparent throughout and these types grace much of the book in an effective manner.

David Temple does well in developing this story, particularly by picking up some threads from the first novel. While the genre is supersaturated, Temple finds his own way to individualise the experience for the reader. Pat Norelli was well presented and left me wanting to know more, especially with her life on the line and a killer still trying to impact her. A mix of chapter lengths propelled the story forward and definitely left me wanting to keep reading. Paired with a strong narrative that switched from first to third person, the book utilised some decent twists and yet did not tie everything off, so I need more. That is the sign of a strong writer and I am happy to stick with David Temple, provided he keeps developing Pat Norelli and this series in the coming years.

Kudos, Mr. Temple, for another strong novel. I hope others trip on this series and see your talent!

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

A Tale of Witchcraft (A Tale of Magic #2), by Chris Colfer

Eight stars

I have long been a fan of Chris Colfer, first in his television career, and more recently as an author of this genre of books. In fact, it was my son, Neo, who got me interested in them and I am eternally grateful. Colfer paints a wonderful picture of the nursery rhyme/fairytale world and keeps the reader on their toes throughout. Now that she’s taken on a powerful position, Brystal Evergreen is trying to promote the wonders of magic to all four kingdoms. However, there is a push to quash it amongst an old and established organisation that will stop at nothing to neutralise anyone who chooses to practice magic. Brystal must work to stay one step ahead of this group, while also determining who has been targeting members of the royal family to gain access to the throne. Meanwhile, a young and impressionable Lucy Goose is pulled into joining a new network of witches who want to hone the skills of faeries to practice witchcraft. Lucy accepts the invitation and soon learns that not all is as it seems, putting her in the middle of an awkward situation. As sinister powers rise, someone will have to come to save the day… and Prince Charming is nowhere to be found! Colfer’s books may be geared to the younger reader, but they can be enjoyed by those of all ages. This is truly another winner for all who are intrigued.

After a great deal of effort, Brystal Evergreen has risen to become the magic academy’s administrator, along with the fancy title of Fairy Godmother. Brystal is pleased to see that magic has not only become accepted across the Four Kingdoms, but widely practiced. The academy is booming and Brystal cannot help but be happy, allowing her some time to attend her brother’s wedding. While she’s away, one of the other instructors, Lucy Goose, is approached by a mysterious woman who speaks about a new academy that is starting; one that will show the intricacies of witchcraft. Unable to turn away from the challenge, Lucy agrees to attend and hone her skills in this other form of magic.

Meanwhile, an organisation lurks in the shadows, steeped in tradition and honour. The Righteous Brotherhood sees itself as the protectors of all things that are good and has made it their goal to eradicate magic from all kingdoms, at whatever cost. The best way to do that is to find Brystal and remove her from her position of power. With the upcoming nuptials, it would seem the perfect opportunity to remove Brystal and cause chaos in equal measure.

While Brystal is enjoying the wedding, she meets a young royal, Prince Gallivant. who is seventh in line for the throne. He aptly chooses the moniker, Seven, and has turned the excited Brystal into a smitten fairy godmother. While Brystal and Gallivant are getting closer, they are thrust into a tornado of worry, as the Righteous Brotherhood strikes and tries to take the godmother’s life. Instead, a member of the royal family is killed and Brystal is beyond worried about what this means for magic around the kingdoms.

Lucy has been learning a great deal about witchcraft and trying her best to make an impact, even though those around her at the academy are not sure she can handle it. While Lucy is determined, she’s not naive to what is going on and soon discovers that all this training is not meant to make her a more well-rounded fairy, but to sharpen skills of witchcraft that can only have detrimental effects on the magic community as a whole. Lucy must decide what to do before it’s too late, risking life and limb to protect what she feels is right.

As Brystal is targeted for her proficiency in magic, she gets pulled into the middle of a horrible plot to bring down the royals. She is forced to choose the right path and stay one step ahead of those who would see her fall. It is sure to be a harrowing feat, but what fairy tale works well without a few twists and turns throughout? Colfer has pure magic in his veins as he creates this formidable series that is sure to impress many.

Chris Colfer is spot-on with his depictions throughout this piece, pulling the intrigued reader in with the opening pages and never letting the thread of the discussion go from there. While the themes may be better suited to a younger audience, the nuances are pure entertainment for readers of all levels. This book will, as many do, offer something different for each person who picks it up, which only adds depth and wonder to the piece. Each reader will pull something different from the story, allowing the discussion to be both fruitful and varied.

Colfer develops his characters really well and keeps the reader wanting to delve deeper to understand them. While Brystal Evergreen is surely a strong character, there are others who complement her well throughout. Colfer’s use of some well-known characters from fairy tales (with a spin and a twist) keeps the story light and intriguing, while also entertaining throughout. It is the best way to write, as it mixes humour and insightfulness in equal measure. There are a number of characters who have emerged for this sequel and whose presence would be great as things continue to progress. Colfer has an amazing way with development, as can be seen in all the books he’s written over the last few years.

The story may not have been challenging to read, but it was certainly worth the time invested. The characters are on point, the plot moves along well, and there is, as mentioned before, entertainment value at many levels for the curious reader. I was highly impressed with how the narrative kept things clipping along. With chapters of various lengths, the reader was able to get fully invested at times, while racing through the story at different points, hoping to get to the juicier bits. There’s surely something for everyone in this piece and I am eager to see what else Chris Colfer has to offer in the coming years, as he has surely found his niche with this type of book.

Kudos, Mr. Colfer, for another winner. I am happy to find a book that can impress Neo and also have me wanting to find more for us both to enjoy!

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

The Poser (Pat Norelli #1), by David Temple

Seven stars

The thrill of discovering a new author is heightened when the writing and story make for an electrifying read. David Temple has done just that with this series debut, putting a gritty detective in the middle of a complex murder case. LAPD Detective Patricia ‘Pat’ Norelli is used to the bright lights, having grown up in the shadow of her father, a legal legend. However, when he admits that there are some troubles that could cost him everything, Norelli is keen to help. That will have to wait, as a television star is found dead at her home, an apparent suicide that does not present entirely as it should. With the killer out there, Norelli and her partner will have to dig through the clues and find out who is targeting people and posing them off as suicidal castoffs. Temple does well to set the scene with this novel, offering up a decent procedural in the heart of Hollywood.

Detective Pat Norelli has never been afraid of the limelight, though she’s rarely seen it herself, as her father has hogged it for a long time. Once a lawyer and now a judge, the elder Norelli’s time coming to an end and with retirement close at hand. It appears someone has high hopes of extinguishing the justice early, unless he helps fix a little criminal problem. Detective Norelli is understandably worried, but unable to focus too much of her attention on it just yet.

When television star, Meredith Johansen turns up dead in her bedroom, having slit her throat and left a suicide note, the community is abuzz. However, when Norelli and her partner, Brown, arrive at the scene, something does not ring entirely true. The angle and depth of the cut lead Norelli and Brown to wonder if this was staged, though a motive is not entirely clear.

Working all the angles at their disposal, Norelli and Brown soon discover that the victim’s fame was not entirely tied to her television career, but that she had a secret life away from the small screen. Her escapades with many—men and women alike—may have created a significant amount of jealousy for some, though could it have been enough to kill? Add to that, her current flame comes off as being quite cocky, in all senses of the word.

While Norelli works to fit the pieces together, she is struggling with things in her personal life. A recommendation from her superior to see a popular therapist seems to help, as Norelli is soon able to sift through much of the personal detritus she has piling up. The man seems well respected, having a long list of top clients, as though that is the tell-tale sign of success. Still, there’s something that’s said in sessions that offers Norelli some insight into her case at just the right moment.

With more bodies appearing in staged suicide poses, Norelli begins to wonder if the killer has a fixation that cannot be quenched. She races to connect the dots, worried that if she lags too much, the killer will slip through her fingers. It’s only when the target turns on her that Norelli realises just how complex the web is and how she’s sure to get trapped unless she can remain one step ahead.

David Temple provides the reader with a decent story here, offering all the elements of a strong police procedural. He uses these elements to his advantage and the reader is swept into a well-crafted piece that moves along, while adding the element of surprise at various points. While the series is only getting started, I have high hopes for Temple and those within the pages of this collection. With a second novel on the horizon, one can only hope that there is more action of this caliber to come.

Pat Norelli proves to be a great protagonist in this piece, offering up a mix of strong crime fighting abilities with the urge to create her own narrative. Having lived in the shadow of her successful father, she seeks to stand alone whenever possible, without forgetting her roots. The grit and determination found within the piece helps to shape her, balanced effectively with the personal side Norelli seeks not to hide, through her familial ties and playing the role of a mother to a daughter who is just trying to find her way. There is still a great deal about the Norelli character that remains a mystery, something that I hope Temple expands upon in the coming novels.

With any series debut, there are a number of characters in a supporting role that catch my eye, some of whom I hope to see enter further novels, while others were fine as one-offs. Temple does well to create these individuals to complement Norelli, though it is hard to tell how they will effectively be utilised in other pieces. The good-bad balance is surely there in this story, keeping the reader connected to a number of characters for a variety of reasons, though none leapt out at me as being ‘must haves’ for the next piece, save perhaps, Stuart Brown, Norelli’s partner and a new father himself.

David Temple does well in developing this story. The genre is surely supersaturated with stories and characters trying to make the streets safer in a detective role. Los Angeles itself is full of gumshoes and homicide teams, scouring the streets for killers and those who would do harm. While there was nothing earth shattering about Pat Norelli, her presence was well presented and left me wanting to know a little more. Short, swift chapters pushed the story forward and left me wanting a little more, while the narrative’s momentum kept the story clipping along. The book utilised some decent twists throughout to keep the reader guessing and while it would not keep me up well into the night, the story was entertaining, something I needed at that point in time. I am definitely off to get the second novel to see what awaits Norelli and the handful of others who are surely a part of this next adventure.

Kudos, Mr. Temple, for a great series debut. Let’s see what else you have to entertain readers with the next in 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

The Bone Code (Temperance Brennan #20), by Kathy Reichs

Eight stars

I have long been a fan of Kathy Reichs novels, particularly her forensic anthropology series featuring Temperance Brennan. The stories not only entertain and keep the reader on the edge of their seat, but are full of educational moments and peppered with humour to keep things moving along. This was another winner by Reichs, with her cross-border protagonist working magic with bones and unsolved cases. While Dr. Temperance (Tempe) Brennan is preparing for a hurricane in North Carolina, she is visited by a patient woman with a curious mission, to help uncover a death mask that might have been made of her great-aunt many years ago. Brennan is intrigued, but also wary of the heightened winds. She decides to head to South Carolina to see a friend for a few days and is pulled into a mysterious case when the local coroner enlists her assistance with a medical bin that has two unidentified bodies within. While Brennan helps, she is chilled by the memory of a similar case she worked in Montreal. Might they be related? Crossing into Canada, Brennan works the angles of the cold case and tries to find a link, all while being helped by her lover, retired homicide detective Andrew Ryan. Things take many a twists and Brennen will have to work both cases at the same time to find an answer. Reichs uses all her abilities to really bring this story to life and keep the reader hooked until the final page turn.

There’s nothing like the thrill of a hurricane, said no one. Dr. Temperance Brennan is prepping for one and rushing around her office to get things in order, while meteorologists are calling for evacuations. That does not seem to stop some woman from seeking Brennan’s assistance, even if it means waiting all day. Brennan agrees to meet the woman, who shared a twisted tale about her twin sister and how multiples run in her family. It would seem that the woman’s great-aunt was also a twin but disappeared long ago. Now, there is only a death mask of her and yet nothing to go along with a photo of it. Intrigued, Brennan agrees to look into it, but is also leery of the advancing storm.

After surviving the gale force winds, Brennan agrees to visit a friend in South Carolina, particularly with this new mystery of the death mask. On her way there, Brennan is contacted by a local coroner, with a case consultation request. It would seem that a medical bin has washed up after the hurricane, with two decomposing and unidentified bodies within. While Brennan goes to help, she is eerily familiar with the details, as she was part of a case like this in Montreal. Unknown bodies, presumably a teenage girl… could the two be connected, even though they were years apart?

Brennan begins working the angles, which will require her to head north to her second home in Montreal. There, she tries to dig up the case file and draw parallels to the Carolina case. While the detective in Charleston is keen to solve the case she is not one to take any guff, causing Brennan to grit her teeth with some regularity. Luckily, Montreal brings Brennan closer to her lover and former colleague, Andrew Ryan. They are able to make some headway and soon discover that the victim may have arrived in Canada from elsewhere long ago.

While unravelling the story on the old Montreal victim, Brennan uses some newer DNA testing to identify the Charleston victim, a teenage runaway with a sordid past of her own. However, there is much to uncover while trying to trace the story from her last day at home until she ended up in a medical bin. Brennan is determined to not only put a face the the victims, but also find the killer (or killers) who could do such a thing. It won’t be easy, and there is still that nagging death mask query that has Brennan pulled in many directions.

I have long been a fan of Kathy Reichs and her work (including loving Bones, the television spin-off of the books), which has never left me feeling cheated in the world of forensic anthropology. Reichs uses her own life experiences and turns them into wonderful books, helping readers better understand the ins and outs of forensics, medicine, and how victims can go from unknown to identified. While the book series has been long, Reichs has been able to keep it fresh, working two primary setting ands pushing her protagonist out into other parts of both countries when it suits the story. Kathy Reichs is a master of the genre and I hope many others will find (or continue with) this series to see how intense things can get.

Dr. Tempe Brennan is nothing if not a busy woman. As series fans will know, she never rests on her laurels and always has something going on to keep her busy. When she is not using forensics, she’s trying to keep her life in order, finding humour whenever possible. She’s come to really connect with colleagues and friends in both the US and Canada, which adds depth to her character and allows the reader added entertainment throughout. I’m always eager to eye what else one can learn about Brennan in these novels, as Reichs adds tidbits in each piece.

While there is always a strong core of secondary characters, Reichs is sure to add some new faces to keep things interesting. The reader will find many of those here, some who are meant to be loved while others are best left at arm’s length. Reichs uses her great style to breathe life into each individual and uses them as needed to advance the cases or backstories of others, which appears to work well here. It’s nice to have some of those familiar faces, including Andrew Ryan, though old storylines are sometimes best used to pass the time, rather than plan centre stage.

The story was strong and held my attention throughout. Reichs uses COVID-19 as a passing subplot, hinting that it has passed, so there is no mention of pandemic protocols or masked limitations, though something new has popped up in South Carolina (read the book to learn more). The plot works well and, in usual Brennan fashion, ties unknown remains into a quest to offer a victim their own identity. In a story that spans a few months, Reichs adds some ‘realism’ to the story, ensuring it does not seem that a week is long enough to crack open the case with ease. This paced approach and mid-length chapters keep the story moving along at a relatable pace, with twists and turns throughout to keep things exciting. With strong medical and forensic topics throughout, Reichs educates her readers as they are highly entertained, adding humour where needed to keep things from getting too somber. I have come to love the series and cannot get enough of these books. I cannot wait to see what’s next, as Tempe Brennan has not lost any steam, in my humble Canadian opinion.

Kudos, Madam Reichs, for another winning novel. This series is one that always gets me excited and reader for new discoveries. I hope many others will find it, if they have not already!

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

Shadow Target (Jake Keller #4), by David Ricciardi

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, David Ricciardi, and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After a binge of the previous three novels in this series, I was able to get to this, the gem of the collection to date. David Ricciardi has done a wonderful job building up to this piece, planting story arcs and developing his Jake Keller character, only to put him in the crosshairs of a convoluted plot that spans years and many parts of the globe. Keller awakens in rural France, having been in a plane crash, but is unaware of what just happened. Barely able to escape, he makes his way back stateside and tries to discover what has happened. After a few more attempts on his life, Keller realises that his safety is not guaranteed. Meeting an old friend, Keller discovers that someone is trying to hunt down CIA paramilitary officials for reasons that are not yet clear. He will need to dig deep and rely on many resources to get to the bottom of it all, trying to stay one step ahead of a ruthless killer with connections all their own. Perhaps the best Ricciardi novel to date, it is sure to impress series fans.

It was all a blur to Jake Keller as he lay in the snow. There was a plane crash and he was involved, but the specifics have eluded him and the cold is beginning to envelop his body. Able to hide as two men scour the wreckage, Keller is able to evade capture and is rescued by the authorities before he makes his way back to America.

Once there, Keller begins to piece things together, though he is not sure why he has been targeted, having been on leave from the CIA. When someone tries to kill him again, Keller knows that something’s up and his name is on a hit-list of sorts. He connects with an old friend and discovers that there have been a few unexplained deaths of fellow CIA paramilitary officials around the world, as well as some whispers that Jake’s own troubles can be tied to some Russian officials having tipped off the locals. Armed with this intelligence, Keller does the one thing he was sworn not to do, connect with a person in his past who thinks him dead.

Travelling to France, Keller has an awkward reunion with the first woman he ever loved, someone with credentials within the French security agency. Keller receives a cold shoulder to begin, but is soon able to connect and prove that he’s being targeted for reasons as yet unknown. A Russian oligarch appears to be pulling some strings and using his connection to the Russian president to bring Keller down, as well as trying to extinguish the lives of many CIA officials. There must be a mole within the Agency, offering some help, but Keller is not yet entirely sure.

Working angles and trying to stay one step ahead of those seeking to kill him, Keller gathers more intel and works with some British officials as well to craft a plan not only to trap the Russians, but to lure a rogue American official out of hiding, in hopes of revealing the CIA mole once and for all. Additionally, there is a major plot to assassinate a head of state, one that will leave more than blood running in the streets. It’s up to Keller to utilise his skills and mindset to foil the plot, all while trying to stay alive long enough to reveal truths many had hoped to bury.

In the short time I have been aware of David Ricciardi’s work, I have truly come to enjoy it. His fast-pace action and attention to detail keep me feeling as though I am right in the middle of the action. While each book develops themes of their own, there is a loose connection that spans more than the protagonist, all of which comes together in this fourth novel in the series. With wonderful characters and a plot that never stops evolving, it is not hard to believe that David Ricciardi is rising within the ranks of the genre to make a name for himself.

Jake Keller has evolved greatly since he was summoned onto a plane, heading for Singapore in the debut novel. His personality has deepened faster than the needed plastic surgery he received when he was a man wanted in all corners of the world. Keller shows his grit and determination to get to the truth, but also has a personal side that yearns for that romantic connection he’s lost a few times along the way. Relatable and down to earth, Keller shows readers that not all those who star in the genre need to be indestructible, but it helps to have an unbreakable sense of determination.

Ricciardi crafts wonderful supporting characters throughout his novels, some of which serve as recurring characters, while others find their purpose in a single book. There was a great mix here, allowing series fans to revisit some of those they have enjoyed in the past while also finding new and exciting storylines emerging from fresh faces. This is a story of loose thread, allowing the reader to see unfinished plots resumed and pieces of the puzzle fitting together at opportune times. A great cast complements Keller at times, while also contrasting with the grit the protagonist offers throughout the novel.

The test of a true novel is the ability to grip the reader from the opening pages. This is done effectively throughout, beginning with the opening chapter. Ricciardi crafts his story around the mystery of what’s happened to Jake Keller and what’s to come, slowly revealing plot twists as needed. The narrative gains needed momentum throughout and keeps the reader guessing, while also showing both sides of the tale—the hunter and the hunted—for added excitement. Great characters and decent dialogue banter inject some humour where needed to lighten the mood, but nothing takes away from the urgency that emerges throughout the piece. I can only wonder what’s next for the group and how their coming together may have forged a new and exciting alliance that could work effectively in future series novels. The wait is on, though one can hope it will not be too long!

Kudos, Mr. Ricciardi, for another winner. I liked the change of pace, though it does not lessen the impact of the plot or the excitement found herein.

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

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/shadow-target/

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

A Curious History of Sex, by Kate Lister

Nine stars

I am always interested in books that force me to think and teach me something while I enjoy them. I have read many a biography or memoir, alongside books that expound on world history, all in hopes of coming away with more knowledge (or any) on a subject. However, when it came to Kate Lister’s piece, it was a few people who recommended it simply to see what I would write in my review that had me reaching for this piece. Lister tackles the wide world of sex, reproduction, and how humans have handled the enormous topic throughout history. Mixing detailed explanations with wonderful humour to offset any nervousness that might be found when discussing the topic, Lister produces a stunning account that is full of education, elucidation, and even ejaculation (alliteration can be so much fun)! Not for the prude of mind, Lister’s book is wonderfully detailed and easily digested, with just enough humour to keep the reader pushing further.

Before getting too deep into things, Lister makes sure to explore some of the common words that have arisen in the discussion of sex. Many of these words have become woven into the fabric of modern language, though few can trace them back to their origins. Lister makes a point throughout of explaining these words and where they may have first come into print, surprising many readers as to just how many euphemisms exist for vagina, clitoris, or even penis. This laying of the groundwork proves useful, as it is key to understanding how humans have seen the body and what means have been used to ‘decorate’ words to help them pass muster. Lister pulls no punches, which may be a tad too vulgar for some readers, but more on that in a bit.

From the medical to the personal realm, the act of sexual congress and its associated climactic events receive some interesting discussion. Lister explores the orgasm and how it affects both sexes differently. While men appear to turn into ‘sleepy bears’ thereafter, it almost energises a woman into wanting more, so Lister presents in some of her research. Medicine has sought to explore how to help or hinder orgasms over long periods of time, with the help of salves, instruments, and even ways to approach sex. All of this is highly intriguing, especially when seen over a long historical approach. To say that the Victorians were the first to seek the vibrator to assist would be incorrect, though orgasmic liberation may have come to its zenith at that time.

Lister also looks into some interesting social norms as they relate to the human body and how sex has played into it. From personal grooming sentiments to body odour balancing and even prophylactics, sex and the body surely go hand in hand. Social norms and expectations have surely changed over time, but Lister takes the time to tackle how and why these changes have dictated what is ‘accepted’ today and how certain stigma mount because of the super-sexualisation of society. She really gets to the heart of the matter, offering some of her own opinions, as well as key scientific studies to help substantiate arguments on both sides.

Lister cannot complete her journey without looking at sexuality and how it has evolved as a business, exploring brothels, prostitution, and all manner of paid enjoyment. While it can surely be called the oldest profession, prostitution and paid sex has not always been sinister and part of an evil realm. Lister seeks to better understand human need for sex and the lengths to which some will go to procure it, even briefly. Taking the stigma out of it lessens its impact and allows the reader to understand sex as a business, as well as how it as grown over the centuries. This proves enlightening, as laws around the world towards prostitution are becoming looser and the stigma appears to be lifting in some form or another. She parses no words or topics, seeking to expound on both male and female sex workers, including how they ply their trade.

While many prudish readers may shy away from the piece, I would encourage them to come back and give the book a try. Being uncomfortable or ‘scandalised’ is all a part of societal norms. Peeking behind the curtain to see what’s really going on may open one’s eyes in a positive way, rather than shunning something as ‘dirty’ and ‘disgusting’. Education is the great equaliser, or so I have come to believe. While it is not for everyone, Lister seeks to teach and keep things as light as possible. Open mindedness is a must with this piece, as is a desire to learn, though having a great sense of humour cannot hurt either. Lister is thorough in his analysis, using great examples in chapters that make sense as one moves along through the book. There is so much to learn and the photographs added throughout offer a wonderful addition to the experience. Then again, having listened to the audiobook, narrated by the author, I have never heard so many “whore” and “cunt” references in the opening few chapters of a book as I did here. Still, it permitted me to better understand without feeling desensitised to the verbiage that has a strong connotation on this side of the Atlantic.

Kudos, Madam Lister, for such a great reading experience. I will have to read more of your work, as you really get to the heart of the matter and use humour to make it all a little easier to digest.

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

A Gambling Man (Aloysius Archer #2), by David Baldacci

Eight stars

There’s something about David Baldacci and his writing that has me intrigued whenever I grab for one of his books. Always keen to depict a wonderful piece of sleuthing, Baldacci has a knack for bringing a story to life. In this series, he’s added a throwback angle, setting things in the early 1950s, which gives the reader another aspect to enjoy a great deal. Aloysius Archer has seen a great deal, having served in the war and spent a little time behind bars. Now he’s headed west, where he may have a job, working as a private detective, waiting for him in California. After a stop in Reno, where trouble and a few interesting characters find him, Archer’s ready to head towards the bright lights. There, he’s pulled into a case of blackmail and murder, which is just how someone wants to cut their teeth in the sleuthing business. A great story that shows just how versatile Baldacci can be.

It has always been Aloysius Archer’s dream to solve cases, even if he has no notable experience. He’s made it through the war and tried to come out of it a changed man. A few dust-ups left him to serve time for a crime he did not commit, but that is behind him. Now, it’s California that’s calling and a potential job working as a private detective under a man who has quite the reputation. All Archer need do is make it there and prove his worth.

Along the way, Reno, Nevada calls. Archer is no gambling man, but he agrees to take in the sights, if only briefly. After learning the art of gambling and risk taking, Archer and a new companion prepare for a venture west, but are hampered when a local man meets up with some trouble of the gambling debt variety. Archer’s big heart and wily ways help rectify the situation.

With the bright lights of California on the horizon, Archer proceeds to a small town to present himself, in hopes of solid work and something to show for himself. He’s pulled in for a quasi-interview, which turns into being tossed in the middle of a case. There’s an election for mayor and one of the candidates is being blackmailed. Archer will have to prove that it’s all nonsense and that the philandering is a smear campaign. Asking some poignant questions, Archer begins to see how the town runs and who is pulling the strings.

However, when a woman turns up murdered, Archer cannot help but take notice and suspects it is to silence her. Politics has always been a dirty business and Archer’s come to see that this is no exception. Delving into the darkest of corners, Archer must not only find out who has been blackmailing the mayoral candidate, but also why murder seems the only way to keep players in the scheme from talking. When a few others turn up dead, Archer realises that this is a case that will require much of his time and intuitiveness,.. What a way to begin life in the gumshoe business!

Versatility is key for any author who wants to stay at the forefront of writing. Readers can be fickle, or at least demand some new angle to keep them coming back. David Baldacci has done just that and it seems to work. Setting the story back in the early 1950s and working some more primitive angles (no smartphones here, gasp!), the reader can see how things were done when sweat and intuition served to grease the wheels of detective work. It all comes together nicely and I cannot say it was anything but a success.

Aloysius Archer has a laidback approach to life that makes him the perfect protagonist for this piece. Wanting nothing more than to live and let live—so long as it does not impede his ability to enjoy things—Archer does what he can on a daily basis. He comes off as gritty, yet not overly temperamental, seeking truth over trying to make trouble for others. Should the series continue, I can see myself wanting to know a great deal more about the man and perhaps more of his past, as well as what the future has in store. It’s sure to be an interesting experience for any reader.

Baldacci presents a handful of interesting supporting characters, all of whom set the scene well and offer a flavour to the story that helps substantiate its 50s throwback. There is a lot of work that went into this piece, the characters doing their part to help the reader feel fully involved. While some folks do come off as somewhat stereotypical, the story needed them to offset some of the bold and brazenness that emerges throughout the narrative.

While I have never been one to flock towards dime store novels that depict detectives and women who beg to be protected, this piece worked well for me. Baldacci paints a wonderful picture of life in 1950s America and things come together with ease. A strong narrative keeps the reader wanting to know more, while the characters add a certain depth to things that made me feel as though I were part of the action. The dialogue and vernacular certainly took me back, where I expected everyone to be smoking and the men donning fedoras. It worked and shows the versatile nature of David Baldacci’s writing. It’s certainly worth the gamble of any reader wanting something a little different.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for another winner. You have me intrigued with Aloysius Archer and I hope to see him again soon!

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

https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Behind the Wall: A Short Story, by Harris Kloe

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Harris Kloe for providing me with a copy of this short story, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After a long day of travelling, Henry wanted a nice place to lay his head, choosing the penthouse suite of the Hill View Hotel. After a short bit of banter with the clerk, Henry is shown his room and wished a good stay. While the room is all he could have asked for, one of the walls seems out of place, a mental irritant that Henry cannot shake. Henry settles in and is soon fast asleep, but hears an odd dripping sound, something he cannot place.

After finding the clerk in the morning, Henry relays his concern and is told that it will be handled as soon as possible. However, when taken a short nap later that day, Henry hears the sound again, which precedes an even more disturbing realisation. The misplaced wall is soon the least of Henry’s worries, as he discovers something much more troubling.

Harris Kloe asked me to read this short piece, a story that took me a mere fifteen minutes to finish. The story flowed well and kept me intrigued until the final page, when everything came together. I was impressed with the writing, the plot, and even the story’s development. As this was the first in the collection, I am eager to see what Kloe has next for readers and how walls play a role throughout.

Kudos, Mr. Kloe, for leaving me curious and impressed as well. I am eager to see what the rest of the short story collection has to offer.

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

Rising Tide (DI Jamie Johansson #2), by Morgan Greene

Eight stars

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

I have been following Morgan Greene since his fist novel caught my attention. It seems that Greene has a knack for writing that keeps getting better with each story he produces. While Jamie Johansson has evolved, she has never turned into a predictable character, finding strength and grit in every situation. This book takes the story out of the ‘traditional’ police venue and places DI Johansson and her partner in survival mode. When aa murder on a Swedish oil rig requires some investigation, DI Johansson and Kriminalinspektör Wiik are chosen to take the trip over 500 kms off the Norwegian coast to find the killer. What begins as a simple investigation takes a turn for the worse quickly. As no one can get on or off the rig, the killer must be there, but who could it be? Johansson and Wiik become hunted prey as they try to survive until help can arrive, hindered by stormy weather. As the body count mounts, it will be a race to reveal the killer before Johansson and Wiik become victims themselves. Series fans will be eager to get their hands on this novel, as Morgan Greene dazzles throughout.

While DI Jamie Johansson remains seconded to Stockholm Polis, she is eager to keep working leads on who might have killed her father. However, her time to do so is short lived when summoned to begin a daring investigation. There’s been a murder on a Swedish oil rig off the Norwegian coast. Bolstad has called on Stockholm’s best homicide detectives to take the lead and catch the killer, thereby saving their teetering reputation. When Johansson and her partner, Kriminalinspektör Anders Wiik, are shuttled 500 kilometres out to sea, they can only hope it will take a few hours to find a killer, who must be among the crew.

However, arriving on the rig is the easy part, as DI Johansson and Wiik find themselves not welcomed by the crew from the outset. As the detectives try to get a handle on what’s happened, Johansson and Wiik find themselves targeted by someone who wants to snub out the investigation before it gains any momentum. However, with a strong intuitive sense, Johansson and Wiik are ale to dodge a few bullets—literally—while others are not so lucky.

Once DI Johansson learns that there may have been some tampering with the rig, it’s a matter of determining who hatched the plan and how the secret’s been kept. All the while, gale-force winds and stormy seas keep Johansson and Woiok from being able to receive any additional backup. It does, however, permit them a little time to discuss another matter, that being the impetus to see them take the case and how it connects to Johnasson’s own investigation into her father’s death. However, all that will be moot if they cannot make it back to land, something that becomes more unlikely with each passing hour. A chilling story where the hunters become the hunted and police work turns to pure survival!

There is something to be said of an author who can push outside their usual confines and still create a story that matches past publications. It would seem that Morgan Greene can do both with ease, keeping his fans flipping pages well into the night. There is much to learn and even more that remains hidden within these books, though each piece offers some crumbs that point the way to the larger picture. Greene is masterful and anyone curious about a unique take on police procedurals need look no further than this series with a strong protagonist in Jamie Johansson.

Series fans will see the growth that DI Jamie Johansson has made throughout, even if it is incremental. She has her eye on the prize and never strays from finding the truth. While policework is her primary interest, solving the cold case that is her father’s murder (covered up to appear like a suicide) proves to be the added momentum needed to keep the young detective on track. Greene has done well to craft her as both unique and intriguing, with just enough grit to keep her ready to push the boundaries of all that is set out before her. There’s so much more to learn, which I hope Greene will reveal in time.

As with most of Greene’s other works, the supporting cast makes the book come to life, complementing and contrasting with Johansson in equal measure. This is a story unlike many of the others, where the killer is right there, though their identity remains unknown. With nowhere to hide, it becomes a game of cat and mouse, forcing the reader to find clues in all those who grace the pages of this procedural. That adds depth and much intrigue to an already great story.

As Greene admits in his author’s note, the story seeks to reinvent the police procedural by moving the setting away from what many might expect. Like an isolated island or even a moving train, the setting forces the reader to examine all those in the confined space and posit who might be acting and for what reason. Turning the investigators into prey themselves, the dramatic approach is heightened and I am pleased to see Greene has done this so well. The narrative moved along well and there were few moments I felt it lag. Strong characters, witty dialogue, and a plot that kept me guessing are all parts of the overall story that will have me coming back for more. The story arc of the suicide that was murder has me wondering who is hiding something, particularly with that stunning epilogue that left the reader seeing new pieces of the puzzle emerge and fall into place in the closing sentences. Brilliant work… with another novel soon to come!

Kudos, Mr. Greene, for another winner. You have the gift and I enjoy how you pass it along to your readers with such apparent ease.

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