The Boy Who Saw (Solomon Creed #2), by Simon Toyne

Six stars

Simon Toyne is back with the next instalment of the Solomon Creed series, picking up where the last story ended, a major cliffhanger leaving readers guessing. With Arizona in his rearview mirror, Solomon Creed has made his way to France, wondering more about himself and trying to determine if the tailor who crafted the suit he wears might know something about his past. Just as he arrives at ‘Atelier Engel’, Josef Engel has been murdered. Creed’s presence in the region tied with him being a strangler, makes him a prime suspect. Creed befriends a young boy, Leo, and his mother, Marie-Claude, relatives of Engel, and they try to piece together the man’s past for themselves. It would appear that the Engel had a past in a Nazi concentration camp, but soon became a hero during the liberation movement. However, friends of his from the movement have also been found murdered, leaving many to wonder if the killer is targeting a certain group. Meanwhile, a psychiatrist has arrived in France, following Creed and trying to return him to his maximum security facility in Mexico. The reader learns much about Creed’s background, including his true identity and why his memory is so fragmented. As the chase across France continues. Creed learns more about events seven decades in the past and how they continue to shape current events. There is something about Creed and this suit that traces back to 1944, though that is impossible, right? Still, the additional fragments he discovers about himself does not serve to complete Creed’s self-discovery, which has some startling revelations by the closing pages of this follow-up novel. Toyne offers this drawn-out second novel in the series, sure to fill some gaps for the reader. While there will be a number who enjoy the path of discovery Solomon Creed undertakes, others will be just as lost and wonder if the invested reading time could have been better spent elsewhere.

After being enthralled by Toyne’s previous series, I approached the first Solomon Creed novel with much excitement. However, things became too slow to develop and I could only hope that new series jitters kept Toyne from being on his game. However, I surmise I am just not in sync with the series, as I cannot grasp onto the story, the characters, or the overall presentation of the plot. The characters do present a number of interesting personalities, specifically Solomon Creed, whose life remains as solid as a puff of smoke. Slowly trying to grasp for pieces of himself, the reader sees slow realisations about the man. It is through the revelations of his psychiatrist that the reader garners the most information, which floods out in one giant narrative in the middle of the novel. Working on some of the other characters, Toyne reveals much, particularly about the Nazi treatment of prisoners and the Movement to quash them in the latter portion of the Second World War. While there are interesting characters who grace the pages of this novel, I felt little attachment to them, which fuelled my sense of disinterest with portion of the book. The story itself lacked much motivation for me, as I found myself stuck in the middle of the developing narrative, feeling a sense of swimming in treacle (the second such book in two days), and I pleaded to get to the end. The chase to keep Creed one step ahead of the authorities and the killer’s eventually discovery did little for me. Some will enjoy this approach, as well as the ever-revealed Jewish aspects of the story that date back to the 1940s. Toyne’s ability to write should not be lost on the reader, nor is his ability to spin an interesting tale, but I just cannot find myself enthralled with this novel.

Thank you, Mr. Toyne, for this second attempt at Solomon Creed. While your ‘boy’ can see, I seem to be blind to much of the novel’s development. Perhaps I’ll stay away and let your other fans revel in the series.

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


19 Souls (A Sin City Investigations #1), by J.D. Allen

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, J.D. Allen, and Midnight Ink for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Tapping into that interesting sub-genre of private investigator thrillers, J.D. Allen offers up this interesting tale. Jim Bean enjoys his PI work in Las Vegas, though is not all that impressed with the hours or seedy aspects of the job. When Cynthia Hodge contacts Bean to assist with locating her brother, the PI is not certain if this case has legs. Learning that Daniel Hodge has absconded with his mother’s life savings and has a penchant for drugs, Bean is sure there will be nothing left, even if the man can be located. However, with his retainer paid in full, Bean agrees to help Cynthia, though makes no promises. Little does Bean know, but the woman sitting before him is actually Sophie Evers, who has recently disposed of Cynthia, as well as many others who have kept her from the boy she fell in love with all those years ago. As Bean begins his search, he bounces around from Texas and out to Utah, only to discover that Daniel is living off the beaten path. When Bean describes his distraught client, Daniel clues in that it is not Cynthia, but the foster child who lived next door during his youth, Sophie. Now, Bean sees that he’s been played and must try to keep Daniel safe while locating Sophie before she gets her hands on the prize she has been seeking for years. With the help of the LVPD and FBI, Bean works to coax Sophie out of hiding, but is unable to do so with ease. Using his tracking skills, Bean leads the investigation down the rabbit hole to piece together who Sophie Evers might be and how she’s come to fix her crosshairs on Daniel Hodge. Leaving a pile of bodies in her wake, Sophie Evers will stop at nothing to ensure Daniel is hers forever. That said, Jim Bean is not ready to walk away just yet. Not all cases close with a satisfied client. Allen offers up an interesting cat-and-mouse game with this novel. There will be some who enjoy this piece, while others will surely find it lacked the grit and punch that could have made the story far better. I find myself firmly rooted in the latter category!

Having never read J.D. Allen, I was curious to see what he had to offer, especially as he places his protagonist in the middle of Sin City. Jim Bean is an likeable character, though his no-nonsense attitude leaves him a little rough around the edges. The story suits him, as he seeks to get to the bottom of his cases without all the flair and panache that some PIs might enjoy. Paired against the likes of Sophie Evers, who is a complex character in her own right, the story offers an interesting flavour. Evers’ struggles with locating the love of her life and the voices (demons?) in her head, keep the story twisting as the narrative picks up steam. The handful of secondary characters inject some humour at times, as well as the needed depth of law enforcement to make the story the thriller it seeks to be. The characters help push the story along, though the narrative has some issues of its own as it barrels down the tracks. While the premise is there and the delivery seems to present an interesting plot and collection of ideas, I felt things limping from the get-go. It might have been that the ‘false impression’ of Sophie Evers appears so early to Jim Bean or that the chase was slow to develop and became less about the thrill and more about how to gather mundane information, but this story seemed too diluted to really capture me. Use of short chapters and degrees of humour did help, but I felt as though I could have been waving my hand to propel things forward at a quicker pace on many occasions. If one seeks a book with potential mired in treacle, they need look no further than this piece. First in the series, it could be jitters or simply a lack of connection with the intended audience, though I cannot commit to returning to see what else Bean and Sin City Investigations has to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Allen, for your attempts with this book. All the pieces are there and the intentions are good, but there’s a need for some pizzazz injections throughout to keep the reader hooked!

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

The Traitor, by Jonathan de Shalit

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jonathan de Shalit, Atria, and Emily Bestler Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Turning to the dark and mysterious world of Israeli espionage, Jonathan de Shalit takes readers into a realm they may not know well. When Alon Regev approached the American Embassy in Rome one afternoon in 1983, he had a plan. Seeking to speak with the gentleman in charge of intelligence matters, Alon made a proposition. He currently served in the Israeli Government and would surely rise though the ranks. For a fee, he would gladly share all that he knew, including state secrets, if only to provide stability in the Middle East. Pondering this, the American consular official accepted this and submitted his plan to use Alon for the foreseeable future. However, unbeknownst to Alon, his American friend was actually a spy for the Soviets, or more specifically the Stasi. With the Soviet bloc teetering, East German espionage will soon go the way of the dodo, but with ‘Cobra’ on board, the Soviets could surely procure much needed information within the Middle East. Fast-forward thirty years, with the Stasi dead and buried, those who worked inside the organisation are quickly fading with age and not prepared to take all their secrets to the grave. There is mention of Cobra, which reaches Israeli Intelligence, who now know that they have a mole in the upper ranks of the Government. Who that person might be remains a mystery, but the hunt is on. Working both Russian and American angles, the Israelis play a game of cat and mouse, unsure whom they can trust and whether the feather ruffling will spook Cobra into deeper hiding. With extermination the only viable outcome, the Israelis begin their mission to destroy Cobra and thereby knock the Russians off their perch, once and for all. An interesting story by de Shalit, whose past has certain helped fuel the antics. Some who enjoy espionage thrillers may enjoy this one, but it seemed to lack suspense and depth for me.

Jonathan de Shalit’s real name remains hidden in the publication of this book, for security reasons, though he has been able to weave together a believable fiction based on his actual work with the Israelis. This is apparent throughout, touching on many of the interrogation techniques and sentiments to outside intelligence services. There are a handful of characters who play an important role in this book and whose appearance on the page is useful to keeping the story moving. Readers may enjoy the early Alon, as he barters away his country’s sovereignty, though once adopting the Cobra moniker, he is all but gone from the pages of the story. The agents who seek to find Cobra and sever his proverbial (or is it?) head play some interesting parts, though I felt there was too little backstory for my liking. I want to connect with characters, not be forced to watch them work and banter without knowing their roots. The story itself had much potential, but it became too much of a hunt and peck game, rather than a covert spy continuing to feed information and the world seeing action based on it, leaving the Israelis to scramble to plug the leak. The drama was gone, the more than superficial tactics were missing, and the people involved played only their part to gentle nudge information out of willing sources, save perhaps a few Russians. I like thrillers, especially those with some spying involved, but felt this one fell flat. Perhaps de Shalit was trying too hard to pull on the reins and not show readers what tactics are actually used, but the diluted result left me questioning if I will return for more by this author.

Thank you, Mr. de Shalit, for your effort. Perhaps spying is your strength and you can use a ghost writer to spice up the action. Either that, or stop worrying about pleasing the censors so much when you write the down and dirty portions.

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

End Game (Will Robie #5), by David Baldacci

Seven stars

David Baldacci is back with another in his hard-hitting Will Robie series, which matches an impactful thriller with some social commentary. After a harrowing mission in London, Will Robie is summoned to see the new Director of Central Intelligence. He’s met there by his sometimes partner, Jessica Reel, who has just come off her own mission that ended quite poorly. Together, they are informed that their handler, Roger ‘Blueman’ Walton, has gone missing during his annual vacation to Colorado. Armed with respect for their superior, Robie and Reel make the trip West in hopes of piecing this mystery together in short order. When they arrive, the two find themselves in the middle of a backwoods quagmire. The town is run by a tiny police force and populated by two distinct organizations: a collective of Neo-Nazis and a New Age group who refer to themselves as the King’s Apostles. As the investigation gathers steam, it is soon discovered that Blueman was well known in these parts, though his actual work was a complete mystery to the locals. Learning of a troubled childhood, Robie and Reel discover new respect for the man who has been leading them on numerous missions. After a significant run-in with the leader of the Neo-Nazis, Robie and Reel are barely alive, but must pick up the pieces and forge onwards, trying to locate a handful of prisoners who have gone missing. Robie and Reel soon discover that there is another group who find themselves hiding out in Eastern Colorado, armed with their millions of dollars and secretive condominiums in former military outposts, awaiting the End of Days. There are more questions than answers, leaving Robie and Reel to wonder if this mission might be beyond their capabilities. With little time to ponder what the future holds, Robie and Reel must act now and sort out their past connection later. Fans of the series will surely flock to this piece, which does not let-up until the very last page. Baldacci at his best and most energetic.

I have long enjoyed Baldacci’s work, even though he seems to keep his fans dangling by creating and then shelving a series just as it gains momentum. I have often wondered if he intends to create some series that meshes some of his most beloved characters together, though I am sure trying to juggle that many plots could prove too much of a pain. For this novel, there is decent character development in the two protagonists, though their progression differs greatly. Robie, who has always been seen as a cold and calculating assassin, seems to be trying to foster something with his partner, though she is slow to pick up on his subtle hints. The rugged man who beds the helpless woman is not missing from this book, though the reader is surely wondering if Robie and Reel will ever master the art of sharpshooting Cupid’s arrows, rather than dodging them. Reel is still a slow to emerge character for me, whose past is a jumble and present seems quite focused on the mission. She has a weak side, but does not reveal it easily, though when she does, it almost seems a let-down. Together, the sexual tension seems almost unbearable, but it does not detract from the plot and cutthroat nature of the mission. The story is strong, as can be expected with Baldacci. And yet, I was not pulled to the edge of my seat through each chapter. I could see things playing out and was impressed with the pace and forward movement, but cannot say that I was kept up late into the night reading or wondering. I enjoy Baldacci and his series, but can only hope that if he is losing his passion for these two, that he will tie things off and turn his gaze onto his well-developed newer series, which also packs a punch.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for keeping your readers happy by writing so well. I hope you have more magic in store, though I am never sure in which direction you will take things.

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

The Foster Child, by Jenny Blackhurst

Eight stars

Jenny Blackhurst is back with another captivating thriller that grasps the reader’s attention from the opening pages and does not let go until the final sentence. Imogen Reid has been put through the professional wringer. As a psychologist, she was a hard-working thirtysomething toiling away in London. However, an event with one of her patients has forced her and husband, Dan, to flee to Imogen’s grandmother’s home back in the rural English town of Gaunt. Imogen is still not sure how she will be able to reinvent herself, or if there will be work to keep her occupied. Little does she know, but Gaunt is also home to young Ellie Atkinson, an eleven-year-old foster child, whose entire family died in a horrific house fire. Ellie has been vilified by the locals for reasons that Imogen cannot understand, but witnesses first-hand during her first day back. When Imogen is hired to work as a counsellor-liaison with the local school, she is asked to tend specifically to Ellie. The previous counsellor left town under a mysterious shroud of controversy (the party line being “she left to get married) and the notes related to Ellie are both scattered and incomplete. As time progresses, other strange happenings occur in town and Ellie seems loosely tied to them, though there is nothing to put her at the scene. Imogen holds out hope and a soft spot for Ellie, wishing she could understand why everyone has created a monster out of this sweet girl. That said, Ellie has begun to notice that her own thoughts and dreams are not as innocent as she might have hoped. While Imogen harbours a secret of her own, can she keep her suspicions about Ellie’s antics to herself, thereby placing the entire community of Gaunt in more danger? Blackhurst has created a wonderfully dark and captivating story here, sure to leave chills up the spines of those who venture to read it. Those who enjoy a good thriller, full of twists, will surely flock to this one, likely offering much praise for the effort.

This is my first experience with Blackhurst and her writing, leaving me unsure what I ought to expect. My current position in Child Protection left me drawn to this book, wondering how the story might depict foster children and the entire social services industry. Choosing to develop the narrative through the eyes of both Imogen and Ellie proved to be a wonderful idea. Their characters differ greatly, but are able to complement one another in ways that pull the reader deeper into the narrative. Turning first to Imogen, the reader is left with numerous threads dangling during the early portions of the story. Her unspoken childhood in Gaunt and the events in London that left her without a job are keys to keeping the thrill aspect high and the mystery sustained. Imogen’s naïveté as it relates to Ellie and her ongoing harbouring of the great secret in her life help keep the reader wondering how innocent and positive she might be. This contrasts nicely with the Ellie character, who appears innocent on the surface but whose apparent anger-fuelled antics leave the reader to wonder how she could have caused such havoc without lifting a finger. The reader must follow these two protagonists throughout to hash through the many layers of the narrative. There is a strong supporting cast who shape the flow of the story and give the reader much to consider. From a protective foster sister to the girl who vows revenge for being caught in Ellie’s crosshairs, through to the school teacher who begins to stir up trouble, there are a handful of individuals who seek to portray both Ellie and Imogen in various lights. The story itself is strong and develops at a wonderful pace. The reader can form their own opinions in regards to the events around Gaunt. The abuse that Ellie suffers throughout and the vilification for being different flows through the story, balanced only by Imogen’s attempt to justify the need to accept and understand the already difficult life of a foster child. There are many twists throughout that may leave the reader curious about where Blackhurst is taking things, but this only adds to the strength of the novel. The story’s delivery is decent and short chapters keep the reader pushing forward to reach the ultimate reveal, a shocker in an of itself. Blackhurst certainly as a wonderful handle on the story and keeps the reader enthralled through to the end.

Kudos, Madam Blackhurst, for such a great piece of writing. I am intrigued to see what else you’ve penned, hoping it is as captivating as this story.

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

Crime Scene (Clay Edison #1), by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman

Eight stars

In another joint effort, Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman seek to hit the reset button after a miserable writing venture about monsters and other such inane topics. After taking a breather, this piece allows their true colours to shine through, crafting a superior series debut novel. Clay Edison has quite the life as a deputy sheriff with the county coroner’s office. Edison attends crime scenes to help move along the manner of death and working to notify families of loss, when appropriate. While the job has its macabre side, Edison can find small crumbs of interest, especially when a case takes on an unexpected twist. Attending the scene of an apparent fall, Edison encounters a distraught Tatiana Rennert-Delavigne, daughter of the victim, one Walter Rennert. Edison must calm Tatiana, who is sure that her father’s death was anything but accidental, citing an old murder from 1993 that bore similarities. Unable to provide any concrete answers at the scene, Edison assures the distraught woman that he will be in touch, his brain curious about the aforementioned murder from the nineties. The autopsy seems to back up the suspected accidental death from a fall, showing heart issues, but that only piques Edison’s curiosity even more. Medication prescribed to Rennert seems to have come from an unlikely source and Edison runs a little longer with this 1993 murder to see if there are truly parallels. There appears to be something, as Rennert was a psychology professor running an interesting study in years past, seeking to find a parallel between violent video games and the behaviour that came from it. When one of the test subjects, Julian Triplett, was charged and convicted with the murder of Rennert’s student assistance on the study, the academic exploration’s relevance seems to heighten. Now, all these years later, Edison must try to determine if Triplett could have something to do with Rennert’s death, while not being completely convinced that there was foul play at all. With a handful of cases cluttering up his desk and the desire not to get too involved with Tatiana, Clay Edison must remember the limits to his job and let those in a position of authority crack the case, if there is one at all. The Kellermans prove that they can work together to create a wonderful story and thriller, given the proper tools. I had written them off as a team, but must now rethink my critique, as long as they stick to series like this. Surely, crime thriller lovers will want to test the waters with this piece, which has all the ingredients for a successful novel.

I will admit to being a long-time Jesse Kellerman fan and have heard much about his father. Excitement spilt over when I heard they penned a novel together, but that turned to disappointment when I read the poorly crafted piece that significant undershorts the NYT Bestselling Author moniker both have procured. Slowly, I thawed to the idea of returning to one of their novels, seeing others praise this collaboration, and am now glad that I gave them the chance. Clay Edison proves to be an interesting character, packed full with a backstory that will lure the reader in a little further. A college basketball star who remained local, allowing is past glory envelop him for those who remember his court antics. Now, working in that job that straddles the coroner with police authority, Edison’s work pushes him to the limits and allows him a little chance to sleuth around, without the gun or cuffs. Pairing him with a few strong secondary characters, the Kellermans allow Edison’s various character flaws to come through, as well as the strength of his determination. The attentive reader will even see one of Jonathan Kellerman’s protagonists play a cameo role in part of the story, which seems to enrich at least that portion of the tale. The story itself is intriguing, though one cannot call it entirely unique. A killer potentially on the loose and seeking some form of retribution for his crime. It does have aspects of a beaten, dead horse, but it is the way the Kellermans present it that keeps the reader wanting to know more. I am curious, I will admit that, though I am still not sure how deep this series can go. I would like to see more before diving head-long into complete praise, but have seen a great deal of potential here.

Kudos, Messrs. Kellerman, as you embark on what I can only hope is a more successful and less asinine journey than Golem work. I am intrigued and hope the literary vapours that seep from your family will create more successful novels soon.

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

The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham

Seven stars

John Grisham is back with yet another new take on the legal profession, shining lights where there has only been darkness, while entertaining readers in equal measure. Law school is a tough beast that only the fittest can survive. However, when Mark, Todd, and Zola arrived, they felt that their determination would help them sail through. Perusing the land into their last semester, all they can see are mountains of debt and a soon-to-be useless diploma from Foggy Bottom Law School, one of the lesser (lowest?) schools, located in the DC area. Armed with few paths to success and crippling financial ruin, they try to find an out. A fourth musketeer shines light on a potential grand scam, but has not taken the initiative to act on it. Tragic circumstances force Mark, Todd, and Zola to rethink their futures and the wheels begin to turn. Seeing hucksters on every corner, the three agree to create their own law firm and run it, without completing school or holding valid licenses. As long as they can stay one step ahead of the process, nothing can go wrong, right? Listing their firm out of the top floors of a bar, the three begin perusing the vulnerable at hospitals and in the courthouse. It takes guts, but there may be some return, as long as no one catches on. When a few larger cases get caught in their flimsy net, it’s time to weight the options between being caught and a massive payout. Greed trumps sense most times, but all three soon learn that legal matters can be as fragile as spun glass and lives are irreparably changed with one false move. As the cock crows on their legal (and personal) futures, The Rooster Bar may not be as fortuitous as they once hoped. Financial ruin may be the least of their worries, should all those who want their pound of flesh succeed in filing legal grievances. Grisham does a masterful job of painting an interesting legal picture while pulling on the heart strings of the reader. Fans of his work will like this one, as another one-off analyzes the wonders of the legal world, pitfalls and all.

While some feel the need to take Grisham with a grain of salt, I like his varied approaches to the legal profession and feel that he has a firm grasp on many aspects that are forgotten in the genre. Grisham’s unique approach is what makes me come back for more, though the characters and story found herein are also quite entertaining. It is a wonderful collection of personalities that make the story all the more exciting. Three core law students who are trying to dodge their creditors and attempt to see above all that is crippling them helps lay the groundwork for the great bamboozling that is this novel. Varied in their backstories, Mark, Todd, and Zola all bring a strong core belief system to the story. The past they bring helps to individualise them, as well as injects some humour into what can sometimes be a string of serious aspects. Touching not only on the law, but on the struggles of students, Grisham does not candy-coat anything and wants only to offer the reader some insight into how horrid law school can be beneath the surface, when it comes to loans and repayment. The collection of other characters remain stellar, as Grisham brings even more to the table and forces the reader to go through all the ups and downs that accompany Russian Roulette legal practice. The story itself is intriguing, even if it does not tap into the core of legal conundrums (as Grisham has done in the past). There is something here that cannot be dismissed and building on all the varied aspects of the story to create a checkerboard of drama and entertainment, Grisham keeps the reader in the middle of all the action. Between the DC issues and those across the world, there is little time for the reader to sit back and relax, though there is also little interest in remaining passive. Perhaps not his most gripping story, but Grisham is sure to pack a punch when the reader invests the needed time getting to the root of the issues here. I can only hope that there are more flashy stories like this to come.

Kudos, Mr. Grisham, for all you do. I know it must be tough, up to your twenty-fifth legal novel now, but you do it all so well.

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

The Midnight Line (Jack Reacher #22), by Lee Child

Eight stars

Lee Child is back with the twenty-second high-impact Jack Reacher novel that pulls on various aspects of current affairs, while addressing some large tears in the military fabric of the United States. While strolling through a Wisconsin town, Reacher comes across a petite West Point ring from the graduating class of 2005. With little on his plate and nothing to lose, Reacher begins asking questions, in hopes of returning the ring to its rightful owner. Reacher discovers that there is a fencing operation going on that traces back to South Dakota and so a mid-length bus ride takes Reacher to the heart of the matter. In South Dakota, Reacher makes quite the impression with the local law enforcement community, but learns that there are larger fish to fry in the vast western expanse. Like the dedicated Army MP he was, Reacher follows the trail to Wyoming, where he begins a search for Serena Rose Sanderson, the rightful owner of the ring. It is there that Reacher discovers that the fencing was only a cover for a much-more lucrative trade, one in which people will get rid of whatever they can to procure something even more valuable, especially to a wounded veteran with little hope of a constructive future. A former FBI agent temporarily clashes with Reacher, sent by Sanderson’s twin sister to locate her, and the case takes a definite turn for the worse. After the dust settles, the additional news gives Reacher a chance to make some fundamental suppositions, which bring light to the larger issue at hand. Finding Sanderson is only the first step in a larger operation that was unveiled when Reacher started feeding his curiosity. Now that he’s hip-deep, he’ll have to see it through, before moseying on to his next personal port of call! Child is back, adding another chronologically-sound novel to the series and keeping Reacher fans pleased with the outcome. Perfect for dedicated series fans and those who like a slightly off-kilter thriller.

I have come to love seeing the announcement that a new Jack Reacher novel is coming off the presses. While Lee Child has had to struggle with some less than stellar novels, he redeems himself here. Reacher is that ever-loved vagabond who finds something to pique his interest in the oddest of places. Child’s constant evolution of the Reacher character is what makes the reader more drawn to the protagonist, pulling on an eclectic past and adding a significant amount of his unique style. Reacher wants nothing more than to let the world lead him, but when he’s found something of interest, nothing can dissuade him from wanting to get to the root of it. The cast of secondary characters are always complementary to Reacher and the story’s twists.The ever-changing group allows novels to remain unique and unpredictable. Turning to the story itself, what seemed like a simple ring return became quite the issue below the surface. Child is able to pull pieces from the news and integrate them into his novels, addressing concerns or perspectives that might force the reader to think a little more. Reacher is usually open-minded, so there is less a soapbox aspect to things than a synthesising of sentiments. Of course, when the US Military plays a role, Reacher has a strong opinion and does not hold back. This is an interesting aspect of the character and Child’s story presentation. Military veterans play a strong theme in many Reacher novels, particularly how they are treated. While I am not well-versed in this area, I can respect much of what Child, through Reacher, has to say about them and how the central plot of this book draws notice to the issue that has been exacerbated by post-tour abandonment of soldiers in some regards. Forcing the reader to think and process makes for a wonderful novel and creates much discussion, which I always enjoy.

Kudos, Mr. Child, for this lovely addition to the series. Jack Reacher lives on, strong and dedicated to the final sentence.

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

The Seventh Commandment, by Tom Fox

Seven stars

After a successful trilogy that encapsulated some interesting Vatican happenings, Tom Fox is back with this captivating novel that seeks to shake religion to its core once again. Something was surely wrong when the Tiber River began to run blood red. This was only exacerbated when gunmen opened fire in crowds across Rome, leaving many dead. Dr. Ben Verdyx, employed in the Vatican’s Secret Archives, is taken from the street, unsure what his captors have in mind. Dr. Angelina Calla, a tour guide in the city, is also taken, from another part of the city, and ushered off to the same mysterious location. It is only when they come face to face that their past connection becomes apparent. Calla was a doctoral student whose expertise in Akkadian, a dead language from Babylonia, and Verdyx is fluent as well, perhaps the only two who can help with the current conundrum that has hit the news. Swiss Guards have been sent to keep Calla and Verdyx contained as a mysterious tablet has been unearthed. Written entirely in Akkadian, the tablet speaks of a number of prophecies set to befall the area, the first of which is the river of blood. While Calla seeks to parse through the rest of the message, she becomes aware that Verdyx seems less surprised by the message. Might he have something to do with all of these goings-on? Meanwhile, the narrative explores a group of men, headed by a Belgian tough-guy, who seem to be plotting a way to bring attention to the vulnerability of the Church and susceptible aspects of the general public. Working together, they may be able to meet their final goal in short order, as long as nothing goes awry. With each hour, more of the prophecies comes to pass, leaving Calla and Verdyx to wonder if the seventh, and ultimate, prophecy will occur, which forebodes great evil. Fox pulls on his vast knowledge of the Vatican and surrounding area to fan the flames and add an element of suspense. Crime thriller lovers who can stomach some religious intrigue will surely enjoy this, particularly if they have raved about Fox’s previous series.

There is nothing like reading a book that seeks to poke even more holes into what has become a teetering foundation. While I respect much of the Catholic Church, many of its solemn aspects have taken a beating, as well as its secrecy. Fox seeks to dispel them and add his own mocking undertone, though respectfully. Calla and Verdyx prove to be two interesting, and yet different, characters. Fox does offer some backstory to them both, revealed at different times in the novel. The Akkadian connection is surely the primary aspect that ties them, but it is their teamwork that seems to work well. I hoped Fox would not turn things too sugary and find that the time they spend together turns romantic and therefore becomes a hero story. The reader can decide what they think about this as the chapters flow. The secondary characters, specifically those who have an ulterior motive, prove to be decent, though I glossed over much of their storyline, finding it weak and less than compelling. The evildoers need not be cackling in the background, but I like to see some bloodthirstiness or diabolical endgame. I found things a little too predictable for me. The story has interesting aspects, though I felt it a little clunky as well. Without giving away too much, while I enjoyed the tablet and prophecies, revealed only by those who can speak this ancient and long-dead language, the flip side left me feeling that things were a little too cat and mouse. Fox has a great premise here and could surely have worked hard to foster a stronger connection with the race to reveal (with his two experts), but it seemed to be more a ‘wait and see, then panic’ situation than ‘try to stop it beforehand’. Again, perhaps I am being overly critical, but I felt the story kept me interested just more than superficially, devoured more because Fox can write and propel things than the content. Will Vatican conspiracists rush to read this book and enjoy the outcome? Perhaps, but I think it is more a social commentary on the direction of religious trust and faith in this time of individual thought. Could a series of plagues be awaiting those who do not trust entirely in the Church? I suppose only time will tell!

Kudos, Mr. Fox, for this entertaining piece. I will surely read more that you write, when that day comes. I like your enthusiasm for all things Vatican and your style does hold a certain allure.

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

Origin (Robert Langdon #5), by Dan Brown

Nine stars

Dan Brown is back with another explosive addition to the Robert Langdon series, after a less than enthusiastic fourth book. When iconoclast and renowned atheist Edmund Kirsch speaks, the world listens. His premonitions along all fronts have been earth-shattering and by enriching his statements with the use of computers, Kirsch adds a level of 21st century to his Nostradamus character. Meeting with senior representatives of the world’s three major monotheistic religions, Kirsch tells of an announcement that he wishes to make to the world in which he will refute their importance. There seems to be a great deal of uneasiness at this, but the world has no idea what awaits them. At an exclusive and “who’s who” event at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Robert Langdon has been summoned by his former student to attend this announcement. It is here that Langdon meets Winston, his docent for the evening, who turns out to be one of Kirsch’s greatest creations and shows the new levels Artificial Intelligence is reaching. As the presentation begins, Kirsch lays out a strong argument against the need for religion to explore the world at its core. While computers are happy to say “cannot compute” when something has no firm answer, the brain turns to religion to fill the cracks and acts as a crutch to help the individual hobble through existence. It is this that Kirsch wants to dispel with his announcement. As the world watches, Kirsch is about to access his news, when an assassin’s bullet tears into him and kills the brilliant computer scientist. Rushing to his side, Langdon is accompanied by the museum’s director, Ambra Vidal. Both want to ensure the message of Kirsch’s presentation is revealed and the news not silenced by the bullet. Armed with Winston’s help, the two (point-five) of them rush to get out of the museum with Kirsch’s phone, where the final piece of the puzzle is locked away. Now, to crack into the 47-character password and reveal all. As Spanish authorities try to solve the murder, there are new issues, with Vidal having close ties to the Spanish monarchy and their ultra-Catholic views. As they flee, Langdon is determined to crack the code and let the world see what Kirsch wanted to reveal. Meanwhile, the assassin is still on the loose and two of the three religious leaders who know Kirsch’s valuable information have been murdered. All eyes turn to a Spanish schism in the Catholic Church and a group that has nothing to lose by annihilating all things that may turn the world away from religion. With time running out and the world waiting with bated breath, Robert Langdon may hold the key to removing the foundations of all things religious, creating a seismic void for vast amounts of the population. A brilliant piece that keeps the reader thinking throughout and learning in equal measure. There is little time for rest and Langdon fans will appreciate this jam-packed piece, even if it does get tangential at times.

Dan Brown always packs a punch with his novels, seeking to push the envelop, but does so in such a way that the narrative does not usually seem far-fetched. Those who have never delved into a Robert Langdon story may not be as well-versed with his nuances, but there is little character development in the true sense. Brown tends to pull memories or events from the past to complement the present story, rather than build a character who draws on these elements the further the series evolves. Langdon’s academic past and sharp mind help to develop a strong and likeable character, though he is surely the kid in school you’d punch in the arm for being a know-it-all. Another of Brown’s formulaic additions to each novel in the series is the young and beautiful woman, done here with Ambra Vidal. Vidal is not the helpless woman who requires saving by Langdon as much as a vessel into which the protagonist can pour his knowledge (thereby educating the reader as well). Vidal’s story is vast and quite interesting, giving the reader much to use to help form their opinion of the woman. Her character thread is long and can be seen woven into many interesting subplots. The vast array of other characters enrich the story and provide interesting storylines to keep the narrative moving forward in an interesting fashion. With such a large collection of characters, it is sometimes hard to remember all the literary crumbs that are being dispersed, but Brown does well to create interesting subplots to keep the reader curious.

The story’s premise is highly controversial and Brown seeks to fan the flames between religion and science. Long deemed poor bedfellows, Brown seeks to push the science versus religion debate to new levels by extrapolating the Darwinian issues over evolution and positing an argument about the beginning of human existence. This goes further than the Big Bang versus Genesis and Brown seeks to create a new and science-based argument to send the fragility of religion toppling over again. The open-minded reader will surely see all sides to the arguments made within the larger story and find a truth for themselves, but there is a strong push towards science and technology to better explain life and its origins. Does religion have any chance against this ocean of information, for it is trust versus fact that finds its way into this discussion? Brown does not parse words, but he also seeks to explore things from a perspective that the lay reader can likely understand. Yes, there are segments of the story that are jargon-filled, but it is done to teach and not speak above the head. Brown is also the king of the tangential storyline and inserts minutiae into the story to teach as well as entertain. That is plentiful here and the reader has much that can be taken away.

Brilliantly placed throughout the story, Brown shows his dedication to research and sharing of knowledge. There are so many parts embedded into this wonderful writing that the reader may bask in the smooth flow of the words on the page, the great deal of factual information that serves to substantiate the plot, or even the dedicated dialogue that is not as jilted as some popular authors of the genre. Some may say that the core story and the eventually revelation of the secret Kirsch had to offer are anti-climactic, which is their right. It is, perhaps, only a means to an end, as Brown wants to open the Pandora’s Box and let both sides bump chests to discredit the strength of the other. Whatever the outcome of the debate in the reader’s mind, it would seem that some symbiosis and a joint approach might fuel a more civilized and yet still fruitful discussion.

Kudos, Mr. Brown, for another wonderful story. I remained entertained and educated throughout, which serves the purpose in a piece of fiction. I enjoy the controversy as well and hope it will fuel many a discussion.

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