The Lords’ Day (Harry Jones #1), by Michael Dobbs

Five stars (of five)

Dobbs entertains the reader as a new-age Jeffrey Archer, penning novels that encapsulate the intricacies of the British parliamentary system. The novel opens on Lords’ Day, the official opening of the British parliamentary session. Amid all the pomp and circumstance, former Cabinet member and military hero Harry Jones is handling some less than wonderful news in his personal life. At the height of the day’s importance, Queen Elizabeth II enters the House of Peers to deliver her speech, as part of the day’s events. Chaos ensues as a group of foreign nationals hold all those in the room at gunpoint. Among the hostages are the British Prime Minister, his son, members of the British Cabinet, international dignitaries and the son of the US President, not to mention Her Majesty and the Prince of Wales. The story proceeds in two sphere, inside and outside the room. While the hostages settle in, the reader can witness some of the more philosophical narratives amongst those held captive, including worry and a better understanding of the event’s rationale. Outside the room, tension ramp up as British officials ponder security options to free those inside. The Home Secretary is the most senior member of the government not being held, and she assumes control of the British government. Her hard-line approach ruffles the feathers of her make-shift cabinet as well as the POTUS, seeking to ensure her son’s freedom. As Harry Jones uses his military background to assist the British response, he stumbles upon some information that might explain who’s behind the hostage-taking and a motive for the disaster. How it all turns out depends on many actors, all of whom want to play the starring role. Dobbs exemplifies his abilities and captures the reader’s attention until the closing sentence.

Dobbs takes a brilliant idea and builds a powerful political tale around it. Dobbs addresses some key themes, throughout the novel, including: British sentiment towards the monarchy, the monarch’s view of their role, reaction to the Afghan and Iraqi Wars, American hegemonic intoxication, the role of state sovereignty amongst allies, and British parliamentary succession. Tapping into the nuances of the British system, Dobbs introduces readers to Harry Jones and his abilities, which will likely become relevant in the future novels of the series. Spanning just over 24 hours, the plot’s stakes are high and the tension even higher, leaving Dobbs to fill pages with great narrative and political intrigue. An idea I’ve wanted to read about for a while finally comes to life in epic proportions. A must-read for political and thriller junkies.

Kudos, Baron Dobbs for your wonderful work. House of Cards was sensational and this goes to show you have paved the way for more great literary ideas.

Memory Man (Amos Decker #1), by David Baldacci

Four stars (of five)

Another new Baldacci series, as fresh as many of his past collections. Amos Decker has suffered much in his four decades but steered himself away from disaster. A football accident left him with a number of neurological conditions:  razor-sharp mental acuity, photographic memory recall, and grapheme synesthesia (less glamorous than the run-of-the-mill superhero). While conditions proved somewhat helpful during his time as a police officer, it also hindered him socially, akin to those with Asperger’s. Arriving home one night to find his family slaughtered, Decker detached from all he knew and blended into the world of the homeless. A man’s confession to the murders gives Decker some hope of closure, however faint, while the rest of the force handles a school shooting. Issues with the confession leave Decker wondering if there are others behind the murders, using this man as a pawn. His time on the force remembered, Decker helps piece together some key aspects of the shooting, whose randomness disintegrates the more Decker explores. Leading the team across the country, Decker soon learns that both sets of murders may be interconnected and that he may know the killer, without knowing how. A powerful new thriller series that tackles neurological issues and medical anomalies, Baldacci finds new ways to refresh his writing and keep readers wanting more.

Baldacci has had a productive career, penning numerous thrillers which have climbed the bestseller lists around the world. He is a fan of series writing and seems to know just when to choose the road not taken, before his characters get stale and the readers turn away. With the introduction of another series, readers can look forward to some fresh ideas and angles of approaching similar cases. Amos Decker brings a flavour I’d most likely find in one (or two) of the Camel Club members, rejuvenating one of Baldacci’s earlier and highly successful series. The writing style is fresh and the humour as dry as ever, with a few teachable moments to leave the reader a little smarter when all is said and done.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci for your wonderful addition to the mystery and thriller genre. I look forward to seeing what Amos Decker has in store in the years to come.

The Venus Trap, by Louise Voss

Four stars (of five)

Voss returns with another psychological thriller, tackling another angle of the horrors of love. When Jo Atkins wakes up in her own bed, everything seems fine, at least until she moves. She is shackled to her bed and her head swims in a lake of confusion. It is only then that she is able to begin the slow process of realisation; she’s being held captive by her date, Claudio. Jo is given an ultimatum, ‘fall in love with me in seven days, or I will kill you’, which does not seem like an exaggeration when Claudio says it. Voss leads the reader through the following days, as Jo recounts her past: from her first interactions with Claudio, her marriage to Richard and their daughter, the flirtation and relationship that promulgated her divorce, and a horrific memory Jo’s documented in her diary in 1986. As Jo’s resolve appears to diminish in the hopes of being freed, Claudio ramps up his antics to win the heart of the woman he’s loved for upwards of twenty-five years. Voss continues to make a name for herself and her ever-evolving thrillers. A must-read for fans and a great launching point to win over new readers alike.

Voss has mastered the art of the psychological thriller, and this novel is no exception. It illustrates just how sadistic some people tend to be when it comes to infatuation. Voss examines love and personal growth through the eyes of a woman who was scarred as a teenager, but who saw fit to work through that and forge a life for herself. Crossing paths with Claudio was more a happenstance occurrence, though the reader discovers the root of this romantic curiosity. Voss also returns to a previous theme from Forward Slash, in which she discusses the pros and cons of internet dating, while also addressing the post-divorce return to the dating world. Well written and spiced with just enough humour to take the raw edge off, Voss masterfully captures her audience and will not let them leave until all is resolved… or ends horrifically.

Kudos, Madam Voss for another stellar piece of work. I am a fan of the highest order, hands down.

Sons of Anarchy: BRATVA, by Christopher Golden

Two and a half stars (of five)

Christopher Golden revs up with his own concocted story about the Sons of Anarchy, a great television program whose recent end left fans yearning for more. After a large contingent of the SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original) were recently released from prison, there is a power vacuum in and around Charming. Jax Teller, the Club’s V.P., is trying to keep a low profile, while also taking time to ensure the lucrative gun- and drug-running business does not pass them by. When a call from Belfast reaches him, Jax learns that his half-sister, Trinity, is entangled with Russian BRATVA gangsters and she’s now living in Nevada. Trinity’s gone missing and her mother is out of her mind, worried that no good can come of her recent associations. With the Russian Mafia likely behind the kidnapping, Jax and a small crew head to Nevada to search for her and seek revenge for an earlier SAMCRO issue. Working with the Nevada Chapter of the Sons, Jaxs discovers that this is a Russian turf war and the BRATVA will do all they can to win the battle, even if it costs Trinity her life. As with the show, the Sons go blazing in to save one of their own, regardless of the body count. A decent depiction of the show, though nowhere near as spellbinding as tuning in on a weekly basis.

Golden’s past published work is vast and his accolades lean towards the sci fi genre. Why he would choose to pen a book about SAMCRO would surely baffle fans of the show and the dedicated reader. Golden does a decent job illustrating some of the key players in the story and even ties storylines in effectively to the show, but there is something missing. Some… je ne sais quoi that keeps this from being an explosive book and one I’d recommend to series fans. I suppose it putters along and makes the point that the Sons have always been violent and surely will not change. However, the gusto is gone and the intricate drama, even in the plots is sorely missing. Perhaps Golden should return to what he knows best.

Tepid work, Mr. Golden, even if it is only my opinion. You cannot win them all, and for me, I am pleased to have at least tested your wares before buying the farm.

Forward Slash, by Louise Voss and Mark Edwards

Five stars (of five)

Another stunning thriller sure to force people to think twice about internet dating. Amy is confused and concerned when her sister, Becky, emails her to announce plans for a trip, on a whim. Even more troubling is the message that follows, “don’t try to get in touch with me.” Amy worries that something has happened to Becky and begins talking to those closest to her. When Amy finds a fellow sleuth in Becky’s neighbour, Gary, she begins exploring the darker and more secretive side of Becky’s life, online dating. Spurned by an abusive boyfriend in the past, Amy is leery of dating at all, but sees that Becky has tossed herself into the middle of the dating world and pushed its limits to the more strings-free sites that offer easy hook-ups. Could Becky have fallen in with the wrong man, who’s killed her? When Amy begins getting messages from Becky, asking that she stop looking, the search kicks up another notch. Amy will stop at nothing to find her sister, even if it’s only to put her mind to rest. Once the police locate a body on a deserted piece of land, the case becomes more official, but that’s only the beginning of the sadistic crumbs on offer to the reader. Powerfully written and told from four narrative perspectives, the reader will be pulled deep into the world of the internet and social media, questioning just how safe the faceless dating world can be.

Voss and Edwards have some of their best work in this novel. The thrills never end and the psychological aspect ramps up with each passing chapter. While not using the novel to make a whole-hearted soapbox speech on internet dating, they do sell their point effectively, which is a throwback to parents’ warnings geared at their children; you never know who’s out there and if people are who they claim to be. The race to find the missing Becky does not let up, nor do the twists throughout. While I was perceptive enough to see some of the pitfalls, others left my jaw dangling as I tried to read ‘just a little more’. Anyone who begins this Voss/Edwards journey here will want more and is surely in for a treat. Settle in and prepare to be chilled…

Kudos, Madam Voss and Mr. Edwards for your recent addition to a powerful set of novels.

Miracle at Augusta, by James Patterson and Peter de Jonge

Three and a half stars (of five)

Patterson and de Jonge return with the sequel to their golf-themed inspirational novella. After a surprising win at the PGA Senior Open the year before, Travis McKinley   basks in the fame. McKinley may be living the good life, but cannot shake that he does not belong among the greats, which is supported by a lacklustre second season on the Tour. After getting into a skirmish after one event, McKinley finds himself suspended and heads back home to spend time with his family. Pining for a return to the Tour and dreaming of playing a round at Augusta National, McKinley soon discovers that his talents need not go to waste. When a neighbourhood boy, Jerzy, finds himself on the wrong end of bullies’ wrath, McKinley takes him under his wing and introduces the game of golf, where the fiercest competitor and enemy tends to be one’s self. McKinley painstakingly works on perfecting Jerzy’s stance and honing in on an already impressive swing. Inflating Jerzy’s confidence through hard work and determination, McKinley promises him a gift of a lifetime if he’ll face those bullies; the chance to play a round at Augusta National. True to his word, McKinley plans for a trip down to Georgia, where all the miracles begin. Patterson and de Jonge inject more humour and less hokeyness into this sequel, peppered with golf references and just the right amount of inspiration.

In comparison to the first book, this instalment is the proverbial hole-in-one. It builds on the golf-centric nature of the story and keeps the heartstring plucking to a minimum. McKinley is no longer out to shed a tear or rekindle his love for family, but instead looking to show a young man that there is much to be gained from the game of golf. Add to that, de Jonge is yet another author helping Patterson to resurrect his fledging writing (which, as the attentive reader will know has suffered a quintuple-bogey with a series of subpar novels [ok, enough puns!]) and finally impress readers with something decent to say. The narrative is clean, the story clear, and the delivery quick paced. Just want the reader needs for a shorter Patterson novel.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and de Jonge for this sequel that surpasses the original story. Anything else in that bag of tricks for longtime fans? Preferably not nineteen years from now! 

Miracle on the 17th Green, by James Patterson and Peter de Jonge

Three stars (of five)

Patterson and de Jonge offer up a heartfelt story about a man looking to pursue his passion. Travis McKinley finds himself in a rut, at a job he hates, in a marriage gone stale, and with children whose connection to him appears to be fading. His one solace is on the golf course, where McKinley plays the round of his life one Christmas Day. When he loses his job, McKiney decides to chase his dream, playing on the PGA Senior Tour. After attending qualifying school, McKinley earns one year on the Tour where he finds himself rubbing elbows with the greats of the game, all while his family takes a backseat to his dream. McKinley earns the right to play in the PGA Senior Open at Pebble Beach, the most prestigious of events. McKinley’s threesome on the final day includes his heroes, Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd, after three days of gruelling play. It is here, on the 17th Green, that McKinley sees the world from a new perspective, which changes things forever and helps him put it all into perspective. A quick read well-adapted for fans of the sappy side to Patterson’s writing.

The novella is Patterson at his sappiest, not something I tend to enjoy. That said, as I was in need of a quick read to fill a little time. The story has degrees of hokeyness that can be seen a mile away, but its central tenet is strong enough to propel the reader to forge on, knowing it will be a short journey. Catchy and at times mildly humerous, Patterson and de Jonge keep the reader at least somewhat curious, especially as they’ve recently penned a sequel. This golf-flavoured story seeks to motivate and keep a tear firmly housed at the edge of the reader’s eye.

Decent work Messrs. Patterson and de Jonge, though not likely to receive rave reviews for its content.

The Whites, by Harry Brandt

Three stars (of five)

Brandt lures readers with his raw style and no-holds barred approach to life as a member of the NYPD. Billy Graves has been on he job for a number of years, following in his father’s footsteps. Early in his career, the younger Graves befriends  number of young cops looking to make a difference and seeking justice on the rough and tumble streets. They refer to themselves as the Wild Geese and become as close to Graves as his actual family. Over the years, the Wild Geese spoke of the ‘Whites’, those criminals who were surely guilty but were able to dodge the evidence to keep them on the outside. These are the criminals who haunt the dreams of every cop, with little chance for legal retribution. After a few unsavoury choices, Graves ends up as the sergeant of the Night Watch, a collection of cops who work overnights, sweeping up the criminal detritus and connecting with inner-city neighbourhoods. When the Night Watch is called to a stabbing at Penn Station, the victim ends up being the ‘White’ of his closest friend and fellow Wild Geese member, who traded in the shield long ago. As Graves investigates, he discovers that more ‘Whites’ may have met similar ends, with no answers to point him in the right direction. On the home front, someone is lurking the shadows, causing Graves’ family much grief but leaving little in the form of concrete evidence. Once his children are approached and his father briefly abducted, Graves has no choice but to investigate, poking around on his off-hours. Brandt creates a curious sub-plot with Milton Ramos, who receives inter-chapter vignettes throughout the story. As Graves progresses throughout the novel, it is only a matter of time before Ramos must cross his path, decades in the planning. Brandt offers up a highly intriguing, if not overly confusing snapshot of life in the crime-heavy Big Apple.

Having a hard time digesting the review up to this point? Trying reading (or listening) to the novel firsthand. When first I attempted to tackle the book, I found it scattered and without a clear thread. It was only when I gave it a second attempt, pressing myself to be highly attentive, that I found my niche and was able to digest all that was on offer. The backstories mesh so fluidly with current events, leaving the reader to categorise what has happened, will happen, and is happening, all in an attempt to enjoy a crime novel. However, with patience comes the gift that Brandt has quite the story to tell and that, given the chance, Billy Graves may even grow on you. Fighting crime by night and the saintly life of raising a family by day, Graves and his wife offer the reader a wonderful insight into New York and all it has to offer. Interesting sub-plots, but definitely too ‘busy’ with cases and calls, Brandt illustrates the down and dirty like no one I have seen since Will Beall presented L.A. Rex. 

Kudos, Mr. Brandt for all your hard work and captivating plot lines. A far cry better than any James Patterson attempt at NYPD work, but still a little too confusing for my liking.

The Patriot Threat (Cotton Malone #10), by Steve Berry

Five stars (of five)

Berry returns with another explosive novel in the Cotton Malone series. Full of interest and intrigue, it will keep the reader pondering key questions well after closing the book’s cover. During their only face-to-face meeting on December 31, 1936, Andrew Mellon and FDR discussed their growing animosity towards one another. As the conversation disintegrated, Mellon shared that he possessed a few shocking secrets that might stun Roosevelt and cause havoc to the Republic. Mellon left the President with these secrets and a piece of paper covered in numbers. Moving into the present day, Cotton Malone is back, temporarily with the Magellan Billet, tasked with following a US Treasury official on a cruise through Europe. The official is apparently in possession with illegal copies of memoranda that relate to the 16th Amendment to the US Constitution, documents that are of great interest to Treasury and could pose many concerns if they fell into the wrong hands. Also aboard the cruise is a member of North Korea’s ruling Kim family, who have held an iron fist over all inhabitants since the country’s creation. Kim Yong Jin has been disinherited from the line of succession, but wishes to embarrass his family and destroy America all at once, which can easily be done if he comes into possession of these secret documents. While Malone tries to save the documents from falling into the hands of the North Koreans, members of the Magellan Billet investigate allegations related to the 16th Amendment stateside, uncovering some less than kosher facts about Philander Knox, Secretary of State in 1913 and the man who formally declared the 16th Amendment ratified. And what of the Mellon secrets? It all ties together in the larger picture, as Berry opens many lines of inquiry. The book is so detailed and the storylines so intricate that it is best left to reading or listening to garner the full effect.

The central tenet of the book is quite captivating on its own: did Philander Knox falsely report that the ratification threshold for the 16th Amendment was met? If so, how did he do this and what is the fallout to this act? Berry builds on this, exemplifying the many ways in which the 16th Amendment is key to the United States’ stability, perhaps more so than the First, Second, or even Fifth. Berry takes this premise and creates a powerful web of plot lines that branch out and build independently, but who tie in nicely together at the end. The research in the book is extensive and the means by which it is presented forces the reader to open up to the possibility of a great conspiracy. With numerous characters from history making appearances, the story holds interest for historical fiction buffs and Malone thrill seekers alike. It also allows Berry to focus on some of the less glamorous aspects of the world, specifically North Korean prison camps and the treatment by the leadership of the citizenry. This is not the first author who has used North Korea as an important sub-plot in a novel recently, nor will it be the last. However, it does make some of the hoopla found within the Berry novel pale in comparison to the plight being suffered with no end in sight. 

I wanted to take a brief moment to add a tidbit to the review. I took a gamble and listened to the “writer’s cut’ version of the audiobook, which was an added treat for an audio addict like myself. Where fans of Berry’s books are used to his closing chapter, when truth and fiction are revealed, in the writer’s cut Berry narrated some facts and tidbits at the end of a number of the chapter; little crumbs that the reader may not otherwise know, which brings the story to life on yet another level. Berry’s narrative, offset by Scott Brick’s wonderful reading, made this book even more of a treat.

Kudos, Mr Berry for this wonderful novel, which made me think even more, as I have recently been reading William Martin’s Peter Fallon novels.

Killing Cupid by Louise Voss and Mark Edwards

Four stars (of five)

Voss and Edwards tap into both the light and dark sides of love in his joint venture. Alex Parkinson finds himself fancying his creative writing teacher, Siobhan McGowan. Author of a single bestseller, Siobhan is trying to pass along her gift to a collection of curious adults, budding in the profession. Alex uses some of his abilities to commence a stalking campaign, leaving graphic messages on her doorstep and wilted flowers,but soon turning to a hardcore obsession, making purchases with Siobhan’s own credit card. A rival love interest crosses Siobhan’s path, leaving Alex to take drastic actions to ensure his love is the only option Siobhan considers. In a moment of instability, Alex professes his obsession to Siobhan, who rebuffs him and takes the defensive approach. Alex concentrates his interests elsewhere after realising that his obsession in one-sided. However, that is where the story takes a curious turn and the reader muct brace themselves for what lies ahead. With Alex no longer stalking Siobhan, she begins to resent his lack of interest in her and does all she can to cause him grief. Filled with wonderful prose, told in a unique double journal narrative, readers will surely see that the Voss-Edwards connection is bound for success.

As Voss and Edwards clearly illustrate, love can be as horrible as it can be lovely. This novel depicts the growth and withering of two characters, as their lives intertwine through an obsession. Using journal entries to tell the story, Alex and Siobhan offer their personal insights into events that overlap but also diverge a great deal. Voss and Edwards offer less the spine-chilling side of obsession, but do not shy away from the horrors of jealousy and infatuation. Should this be the reader’s first foray into the joint writing of Voss and Edwards, it will likely not be their last. Both authors bring much ability into this project and keep their readers hooked until the final page. And, as usually, the story ends with an open cliffhanger, as though the reader were handed the pen to complete the story.

Kudos, Madam Voss and Mr. Edwards for this masterful piece. I can only hope you have more of these types of stories up your sleeves. Love can make for the ultimate tales of thrills and spills, with the proper spin.