Lord John and the Custom of the Army (Lord John Grey #2.6), by Diana Gabaldon

Three stars (of five)

It all begins with an electric eel party and a duel that goes horribly wrong. A night of apparent debauchery leads our famed Gabaldon character in a heap of trouble everywhere he turns. In an attempt to hide himself while he is persona non grata, Grey agrees to act as a character witness for a friend facing court martial, in CANADA. With an additional familial matter to handle while he is away, Grey embarks on an adventure to the New World and mixes it up with the British Army (currently at war with France in Quebec), while he hunts down a man keen on abandoning his duties. Gabaldon shows the reader another humourous side of Grey who, without Jamie Fraser around, is quite a civilised gentleman.

Gabaldon does a great job in keeping the LJG series moving forward. With some great storytelling, time appropriate characters and wonderful narration, anyone who is a fan of the Outlander series or the full-length Lord John Grey books will not be disappointed. This book sits nicely as a stand-alone, hence its unofficial non-labelled nature between many of the other pieces of writing in the series.


Great work, Madam Gabaldon. While I love your epic novels, these can be fun to devour as well!

Lord John and the Haunted Soldier (Lord John Grey #2.5), by Diana Gabaldon

Three and a half stars (of five)

Gabaldon continues to weave the Lord John tales with another novella, set months after Brotherhood in the Blade ended. The gun crew to which Lord John belongs is brought before a board of inquiry to answer for their actions and a cannon mishap that has cost Lt. Philip Lister his life. The cannon burst injured many, including Grey, who possesses the shrapnel carved out by surgeons. When the remains of the cannon goes missing, Grey ends up with the only remaining evidence to substantiate poorly constructed weaponry, which could exonerate Grey and the rest of the crew. While certain members of the board seek to discredit Grey, going so far as to order a secondment, Grey perseveres in order to get to the bottom of the investigation and clear his name. As with any Lord John story, our protagonist engages in numerous sleuthing activities, looking for Lt. Lister’s fiancee and child and investigating a blackmarket distribution of gun powder. Gabaldon also peppers the story with some Grey sentiments surrounding the ever-elusive Jamie Fraser, sure to thicken future storylines. Building on some of the storylines developed in the preceding novel, Gabaldon entertains the reader with every page and keeps them wanting more.As part of my listening pleasure, I stumbled upon a note by Gabaldon after the novella, which puts the entire LJG series into perspective. As the Gabaldon fan will know, many of the OUTLANDER novels came to be long before Lord John received more than passing mention. However, the divergence of Lord John and his development as a stand-alone character has led to some very curious denouement in the larger Outlander series. Grey’s ties to Jamie Fraser and the fact that the entire collection to date takes place in that two-decade period when Claire was gone weaves interesting storylines and leaves Grey (especially) with an interesting outlook into what might come to pass should the two renew their acquaintance. Much to come should create even more interesting options.

Kudos, Madam Gabaldon for this addition to the series. I see many interesting developments on the horizon.

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (Lord John Grey #2)

Four stars (of five)

Gabaldon moves the Lord John series forward in this wonderful novel, which opens in 1758, as the Seven Years War continues pulling Britain into the fray, now fighting for Prussia. Lord John and his brother, Hal, enjoy life as soldiers. When the discussion turns to the death of their father, both begin to remember the events that led to that fateful day. Seventeen years earlier, Lord John’s father, the Duke of Pardloe, died from a pistol shot and accusations of being a Jacobite sympathiser swirling around him. When Hal receives excerpts from the Duke’s missing diary, the mystery resurrects itself and leaves both Greys to wonder if the secret will become public knowledge, tainting their respective images. These secrets taunt Lord John and his family, leaving him to consult a known past Jacobite and his former prisoner, Jamie Fraser. Frissons on both sides reveal a little more about this Ardsmuir-based relationship and help the reader understand both men that much more, based on their encounters in Gabaldon’s VOYAGER. Amidst these concerns, Grey’s mother is set to wed again, bringing a new and exciting step-brother into his life. Percy Wainwright piques Grey’s interest on many levels, forcing the two young men to explore their magnetism and deep-seeded passions. While the reader is left with little doubt about Grey’s proclivities, it is Wainwright who is trapped in a bit of military hot water when he is caught and charged with sodomy after an encounter with a Prussian. Will Grey stand by Wainwright and ensure he is kept from punishment or will he continue to hide his own passionate interests, which have included Wainwright himself? What assistance might Jamie Fraser bring to permit Grey to solve his family mystery and remove the stain from the Duke’s reputation? Gabaldon has done well to paint many important pictures in the Lord John series, which answers some queries, but open new and exciting doors for future instalments.

Gabaldon, who has already spun many wonderful tales with her Outlander series, creates a much thicker and convoluted backstory for Lord John Grey, especially in this novel. While past mentions of Grey’s personal life leads the reader in a certain direction, little doubt is left from hereon in, especially with Percy Wainwright crossing paths with our protagonist. While some readers may find this trivial or useless in the larger storyline, I would argue to its essential nature. While Claire and Jamie’s passionate encounters are not the motivating factor in OUTLANDER, it does play a key role in better understanding the characters. Lord John remains a mystery to many, but with more novels of this nature, light is shed and the reader finds themselves more drawn to learning even more. With Jamie Fraser as a strong bridge between the two series, there is sure to be a great deal the reader can learn and will leave many flocking to digest these massive missives.

Kudos, Madam Gabaldon for this revealing LJG novel and helping the reader procure a greater understanding of the issues that pull at his heartstrings on a regular basis.

A Sentimental Traitor (Harry Jones #5), by Michael Dobbs

Four stars (of five)

Dobbs finds his groove in a great mystery thriller sure to win back some fans left unimpressed with previous Harry Jones stories. A missile decimates a plane over London, killing all on board, including thirty-seven children. The UK and US governments begin questioning who could be behind this and for what reason. When an Egyptian national is fingered, he’s located and covertly captured by Russian officials. Interrogation leads to his death in custody, without revealing the entire story behind the attack. The case seems closed, but the motive remains unknown and the West demands answers. Member of Parliament and former military hero Harry Jones begins investigating at his Prime Minister’s request, but comes up empty. Soon, with an election on the horizon, false assault charges are brought against Jones and the electorate show signs of skepticism towards his behaviour. Jones also finds his personal finances are non-existent. Someone has obviously begun pulling strings to sully Jones and besmirch his reputation. However, Jones has a few tricks up his sleeve and tries to learn the truth about the crash and Russian involvement before he’s eliminated. A lone, but powerful employee of the European Union, cached away in Brussels, may hold the truth to it all, leaving Jones in a heated confrontation with Patricia Vaile in a last-ditch attempt to salvage his reputation. Dobbs returns to his stellar style in this fifth instalment of the Harry Jones series.

As though he read my reviews and ideas, Dobbs injects a great deal of politics into every aspect of this novel. There is great parliamentary commentary, interesting UK-EU interactions, and the ever-flogged Middle East terrorist theme that fill the pages of the book, alongside Jones’ usual sleuthing and burgeoning love interest. Dobbs creates a highly personal Harry Jones, showing the depths of his vulnerable side, with just enough gumption to ensure the reader sees a ray of hope at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Well crafted to the final page, Dobbs has found himself and keeps readers wanting more Harry Jones.

Kudos, Baron Dobbs for your work. A great rejuvenation in your storytelling has me hooked anew.  

Lord John and the Succubus (Lord John Grey #1.5), by Diana Gabaldon

Four stars (of five)

Lord John continues his adventures as a soldier and highfalutin sleuth. Away from the busy streets of London, Grey finds himself in Prussia, acting as an English liaison officer and settling disputes for some of the locals in the town of Gundwitz. Local lore professes to the existence of a succubus, who is said to have visited a number of townsfolk and is blamed for the death of a Prussian soldier. Skeptical, yet curious, Grey goes to the graveyard to investigate and stumbles upon an English soldier with whom he is acquainted. While trying to quell another round of superstitious behaviour and solve the murder, Grey finds himself fighting his attraction to Hanoverian Captain Stephan von Namtzen, an elusive ‘agreement’ with Jamie Fraser the main impediment. Grey must also dodge advances by the beautiful young widow Louisa, Princess von Lowenstein, who seeks to lessen Grey’s daily tensions. While Grey seeks to solve the case logically, something sinister keeps him from presenting a quick. All around him the battle is raging on and the Seven Years War has only just begun. Gabaldon is wonderful in her storytelling and keeps Grey fans wanting more.

Gabaldon offers another gem in her Lord John series, which hones in on Grey’s sleuthing capabilities as well as his past with one Jamie Fraser. The attentive reader will tease out nuggets to add to the Outlander series, in which the entire LJG series serves as a bridge in time during the Jamie-Claire hiatus. Lord John is sure to continue playing a key role in this series (obviously) and the larger Outlander one, in the books to come. While I have read this novella before, new crumbs as they relate to the larger double series emerged, making this an all-around enjoyable feat. Not to be missed as part of the larger reading experience known as Gabaldon’s Outlander mega-series.

Kudos, Madam Gabaldon for adding to your already interesting character. How can I not love Grey and his dry wit as he solves crimes in what seems to be his spare time?

Lord John and the Private Matter (Lord John Grey #1), by Diana Gabaldon

Three and a half stars (of five)

Gabaldon reacquaints readers with Lord John Grey. In Grey’s first full-length novel set in 18th century London, nobility and the rabble cross paths, while whores and dukes solicit one another. Grey is an active soldier, living the good life, as Great Britain fends off France on three continents. Emerging from his club one June morning in 1757, Grey possesses a secret that may permanently damage his family, should the wrong person learn of its nature. As this plagues him, the Crown sends him to investigate the murder of a fellow soldier, who may have had treasonous intentions, opening up the suspect pool exponentially. Working on two investigations simultaneously, Grey and his newly hired valet, Tom Byrd, seek to bring matters to a head without alerting too many individuals. The more they investigate, on both counts, the more sordid things become. Grey must follow a poxed person’s proclivities (try saying that five times!) in order to help his own family, but ends up solving both cases utilising his sharp logic while traversing the seas in search of a woman in green velvet, who may hold the key to everything, or prove yet another wasted journey away from Mother England. This novel set in the early days of the Seven Years War and post-Jamie Fraser first encounters offers the reader much historical insight while also setting the scene to further the story told briefly in Gabaldon’s VOYAGER.

In his role as military Sherlock Holmes, Grey seeks to close all doors and solve the cases put before him without rocking the proverbial boat. This can prove highly difficult, when 18th century London is the setting, as anything goes and usually ends up happening. Grey uses his sleuthing abilities to show his multi-dimensional character seen already in VOYAGER and a novella, which is likely expanded in the rest of the LJG collection. Gabaldon has such a firm handle on all her characters that the attentive reader may look for more crossovers or crumbs mentioned in one series and resolved in the other. Just when I wanted to listen and enjoy, I have to be on my toes!

Kudos, Madam Gabaldon for this wonderful tale, full of intrigue and sleuthing. I look forward to learning more and seeing how one Jamie Fraser plays a keener role in the larger story.  

Lord John and the Hellfire Club (#0.5 Lord John Grey), by Diana Gabaldon

Three stars (of five)

Those readers familiar with Gabaldon’s Outlander series will remember mention of Lord John Grey twice in VOYAGER. In the early portion of the novel, Grey is assigned to time overseeing things at Ardsmuir prison, where he and Jamie Fraser crossed paths. This novella is set in and around the time of Grey’s period there, with loose references to Fraser and Grey’s attraction to him. Grey receives word from an acquaintance that he wishes to pass along some information. However, said acquaintance is murdered before he can deliver his news. Grey takes on an 18th century Sherlock Holmes role to solve the case, which leads him to the seedy underbelly of a gentlemen’s club with odd rituals. Quick witted and full of both detail and historical narration, Gabaldon does a great job for those wanting context for Grey’s life and a quick read. Bring on the rest of the Grey series to better hone that context.

The Lord Grey series, which begins with this novella, is a wonderful collection best read after completing the first three Outlander novels (should the reader wish to undertake this herculean task). Grey makes an appearanc twice in VOYAGER, at very different times in the novel and time itself. A little backstory on Grey can only help the avid reader gain a better perspective and possess a more detailed knowledge of the man and his role in the larger OUTLANDER storyline. When he returns to Gabaldon’s Outlander collection, any reader who has tackled the entire Grey series will be better prepared and have a stronger context for the nuances sprinkled throughout.

Kudos, Madam Gabaldon for this teaser novella. I look forward to learning a great deal more about Grey’s life, his past, and his proclivities, as well as the true nature of his connection with Jamie Fraser. 

Voyager (Outlander #3), by Diana Gabaldon

Four stars (of five)

Claire is back in the 20th century! Jamie is not dead! These two statements provide the foundation for Gabaldon’s third Outlander novel, where the drama continues to build. The attentive reader will remember that Jamie sent Claire through the Standing Stones as he prepared to fight at Culloden in the latter part of the second novel. After the separation, Jamie fought and survived the battle, before escaping the grasp of the Red Coats. Eventually found, he was sent to Ardsmuir, where new warden, Lord John Grey renews his acquaintance with the prisoner. After securing parole, Jamie tries to make a life for himself, pining for Claire, but certain that they will never see one another again. In the present era, Roger, Brianna, and Claire learn much more about Jamie and his progress through history. Gabaldon’s narrative expounds on the time of Claire’s return in 1948 through to 1968, helping to provide much sought context for the curious reader. Once Roger uncovers that Jamie is likely still alive in 1765, Claire calculates that she could find him, should she pass back through the Stones. Brianna hesitates, but soon accepts that her ‘parents’ ought to be together and helps with preparations. She and Roger will have to use historical documents to follow their progress, unsure if they will ever see Claire again. A successful passage back finds Claire in 1765 Edinburgh, as she searches for Jamie. Claire finds him working in a position ill-matched to what she knows of he husband. After much heartstring pulling and romantic reincorporation, Claire shares details of Brianna and thrusts Jamie into the precarious position of being a father of a daughter without knowing it. Jamie and Claire must also wrestle with how their lives have changed in twenty years, at times a harrowing and highly uncomfortable experience. While addressing this, Claire and Jamie must also begin adventures in the heart of Edinburgh, crossing paths with many a character, old and new alike, before their major adventure comes to pass. Young Ian, the last of Jamie’s nephews, is captured by pirates and taken to the Caribbean. Jamie must devise a plan to rescue him from band of pirates, whose interest in Ian boggles in the mind. With Claire at his side, Jamie sets sail for lands unknown with a crew to handle the day-to-day running of the ship. One passenger on board, the new Governor of Jamaica, may prove to be more a thorn in Jamie’s side than a help with the cause. However, as with all Gabaldon novels, the fastest route from A to B never applies, as the characters meander all over, filling page with countless adventures and plights. Come along for the adventure, undertaken in two eras, as Gabaldon captivates the reader yet again.

Gabaldon’s series is plentiful, both in its narrative and character development, which keeps the reader from losing interest. The number of characters who appear in the pages of the first three novels may baffle the reader. Minor characters, whose importance rival bay guano, re-emerge to play a more important roles chapters or entire books later. This is another of the fascinating aspects of Gabaldon’s collection, as it forces the reader to recollect not only storylines, but also characters who flit from scene to scene and make their mark on the smaller vignettes in which they star. Being able to read (or listen) to the entire series in one (enormously-long) swoop will help bridge some of those characters in my mind and keep the story as enticing as possible. That being said, a hiatus is upon us, allowing Claire and Jamie’s passion to simmer before it boils over yet again! 

After three epic Outlander novels, Gabaldon has the reader brace themselves for a number of Lord John Grey adventures, as I follow the chronological layout of the entire collection of works. Having been briefly introduced to Grey in VOYAGER, it is time to shift focus and give him the limelight, as he does play a crucial role in the larger Outlander storyline. Let us prepare for a more 18th century Sherlock Holmes, as Grey has been dubbed by some, to determine just how competent this young man can be and perhaps learn a little more about how he got himself embroiled in running Ardsmuir Prison. Come along, away from the romance and into the mystery. I promise to bring you back for more Fraser time travel, in a little while.

Kudos, Madam Gabaldon for this highly intriguing novel. By the end, I was ready for any and all twist you had to offer.

Old Enemies (Harry Jones #4), by Michael Dobbs

Three-and-a-half stars (of five)

A young woman is tossed from a helicopter in Switzerland and her boyfriend is taken captive. The kidnappers reach out to the family from an undisclosed location, putting out a demand followed by a hefty ransom. While devastating, it has little to nothing to do with Harry Jones, or does it? The young captive, Ruari Breslin, has a mother with a scandalous history as it relates to Jones. He and Terri had a sordid affair that ended poorly and almost cost Harry his marriage. In true Harry Jones style, he agrees to help the authorities with the investigation and swoops into action, agreeing to locate Ruari and bring him home. While Jones and the boy’s grandfather take up the search, much is made of a certain political diary, whose contents could bring down many powerful leaders should it reach the press. Could its destruction be the key to Ruari release? How will Harry react to the roadblocks created to keep Rurari from being rescued and will his past indiscretions come back to haunt him? And how are the kidnappers aways one step ahead of the authorities in the search for Ruari? All is revealed in this Dobbs novel, pitting Jones into the more precarious situations with little chance of success.

Dobbs has steered away from the political Jones and thrust him into the action-figure on whom everyone relies. While there is a strong parliamentary aspect to the story, and a job offer that could drastically change his life, Jones remains on the fence and dodges having to face it. Continuing with the Bond-esque persona, Harry Jones becomes the ultimate ladies’ man, leaving broken hearts all over the world. Will this continue to fuel the stories presented, or has Dobbs another angle he wishes to pursue? I do pine for more political-savvy Jones, if he might come back, for I became hooked on that character, but Dobbs may have other plans for his swashbuckling hero.

Kudos, Baron Dobbs for your work. I am excited to see all you have in store with the next novel and hope it moves Jones in new directions.  

The Reluctant Hero (Harry Jones #3), by Michael Dobbs

Three stars (of five)

In the third Harry Jones adventure, Dobbs moves away from the political and into the courageous side of the protagonist’s abilities. When Jones learns an acquaintance is being held in an underground prison, he knows that he must act. For this acquaintance, Zac Kravitz, was once a close friend and saved the life of the first Mrs. Jones. Jones posits how how he will get deep in the heart of Ta’argistan, a former Soviet republic in order to extricate Kravitz from certain death. As a maverick MP and former military man, Jones uses some of his connections to weasel his way onto a parliamentary trip to the region, keen on breaking Kravitz out on the sly, no matter the cost. Upon arrival in Ta’agistan, Jones and fellow MP Martha Riley hatch a plot to work with local dissidents to aid in Kravitz’s release, while trying not to tip their hands to the local authorities. Their plethora of questions make Jones and Riley highly suspicious to Ta’argic officials. In the escape attempt, Jones ends up replacing himself with Kravitz in the prison cell, as Riley rushes the dilapidated prisoner onto a flight bound for the UK. Jones faces the most depraved people he’s ever encountered, in a place where human rights are unheard of, with little chance he’ll ever see the light of day. Jones must find a way out and back to the United Kingdom, before he is used as the veritable replacement for Kravitz and his crimes. It is only upon great reflection and a slip of the tongue that Jones realises that Kravitz’s incarceration is only the tip of the iceberg, and that his own Government may have a vested interest in the region. An interesting adventure for the formerly political-savvy Harry Jones, sure to interest fans of the series.

Dobbs does a decent job, again, in telling his story and putting forth some interesting points of view. He is, however, guilty of a somewhat superficial approach, especially using Jones and Riley to enact the caper. I recently saw someone compare Jones to Fleming’s Bond, which could not be further from the truth. Jones has little suave nature and the women are less drawn to him because of his power than happenstance. True, Jones does seem to have a way with the ladies, but is far from the swooning hero one might expect to see. The idea is well presented and parts of the story are just as keenly executed, but it seems the frozen tundra of the setting seeps into the writing style at points throughout.

Kudos, Baron Dobbs for your work, a decent attempt all around. Not as gripping or stellar as I would have hoped, but innovative nonetheless.  

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2), by Diana GabaldonĀ 

Five stars (of five)

Gabaldon returns to the OUTLANDER series with another stellar piece of historical fiction. The story open in modern day, 1968, much to the confusion and chagrin of the reader. Claire finds herself in the Scottish Highlands, but is not alone. Alongside her is the copper-haired Brianna Randall, her twenty-year old daughter. Working with Oxford historian, Roger Wakefield (the attentive reader will remember him from the opening section of Outlander), Claire and Brianna continue the research of the recently deceased Frank Randall who sought to flesh out his family tree.To lessen the time segue awkwardness, Gabaldon briefly addresses some of the commentary related to Claire’s ‘disappearance’ from 1945-48, but does not delve into too much detail at this point. Both Roger and Brianna notice Claire’s significant interest in the second Jacobite uprising, more than any amateur historian might logically possess. An internal debate raging, Claire confides in them both and reveals much of what she did during her ‘time away’ and how it relates to the Scottish Highlands. Gabaldon allows Claire to drop some bombs and leave Brianna staggering. Gabaldon takes this dramatic pause to shift the story back to the 1740s, where Outlander ended and the reader is ready to continue the tale. Claire is alive and well with Jamie, the Scottish sentiment growing in support of the Jacobite cause. Hidden away in France, Claire and Jamie gather support for the cause, communicating in cipher whenever possible with fellow supporters of Bonnie Prince Charles. Claire’s medical knowledge is pushed to its limits, as she works with what she has on hand to help those in need especially when the battles begin and the casualties mount. Claire also grapples with carrying Jamie’s child, an excitement for them both as they connect on deeper levels. New characters emerge and friendships are forged, some of whom will play key roles in the story’s many twists. Jamie and Claire cross paths with ‘Black Jack’ Randall repeatedly, well known to the reader. These encounters play a pivotal role in how Claire wrestles with her ‘modern life’ and love for Frank. History may be set, but Claire and Jamie discover that it is pliable in the moment. The foreknowledge of what is to come guides them both, while immediate circumstances open new and time-altering possible solutions. With the outcome of the Jacobite uprising a foregone conclusion, Claire and Jamie might face difficult choices related to their love and how to protect Claire from the coming danger. Gabaldon addresses these tough choices and offers the reader a final glimpse into modern-day Scotland, where new and heart-stopping revelations shake Roger and Claire to their cores. Another great work by Gabaldon that leaves the reader begging for more (thankfully we know how much awaits), as Jamie and Claire continue to create a life together.

Gabaldon’s attention to detail adds another layer of wonder to this novel. Juxtaposing 1968 goings-on with the denouement of activities in 1745-48, the reader sees how these two worlds feed off one another. Documented fact plays an interesting role as history acts as narrator, but it pales in comparison to the daily development of life, perhaps too minuscule or mundane to address in academic tomes. Gabaldon effectively argues these points and more as she illustrates a detailed account of Claire and Jamie’s lives together and individually. Bending history’s one rule, that it accounts for the master narrative, plays a stronger role in his novel than the last, though hints of more to come leaves the reader to wonder how far from the mainstream path Gabaldon intends to take the reader. Let the series expand from here in whatever way suits the larger story.

Kudos, Madam Gabaldon for another wonderful novel, rich with detail and filled with character development. I look forward to the rest of the story, as long as it might take to reveal itself.

The Edge of Madness (Harry Smith #2), by Michael Dobbs

Three stars (of five)

Dobbs thrusts Harry Smith back into the fray with another high-octane thriller, filled with politics and intrigue. As the world rests on its laurels, deep within the upper echelon of the Chinese Government a war is in the making. There are no missiles, no guns, and certainly no bombs. Even without active hostages, everyone is at risk; it’s a cyber-war. Deep in a Scottish castle, and under a veil of extreme secrecy, the British Prime Minister hosts the US and Russian presidents; a veritable 21st century Potsdam Conference. Trying to determine how to stop a cyber-attack by China, in which everyone is vulnerable because of world reliance on technology, remains at the forefront of the discussion. Each leader has a trusted deputy with them, Harry Smith acting in such a capacity for the PM. When outward acts of violence and military build-up begin appearing on television, the three leaders know they must do something, but remain unsure how to strike at the core and ensure they are successful. As they ponder, a nuclear reactor within the UK is about to make Chernobyl pale in comparison. In these new-age wars, little can be done to stop the aggressors, whose religion is silicon-based with followers facing towards the motherboard.

Dobbs’ idea is quite good, as the world still simmers from the ongoing wars with excessive price tags. As the world becomes even more reliant on electronics, it is no stretch to think that those who control the cyber world would have the upper hand. That being said, the approach and delivery of the book leave much to be desired. The characters, with all their political might, seem neutered of any abilities, almost damsels in distress. Even the conversations and plotting seems watered-down and less than believable. The ending not only does a 180 in a matter of pages, but lessens the impact the entire novel built towards. I can only hope that such an approach can be revised by others (or Dobbs) down the road, giving the plot and characters the teeth they so badly need. One interesting side story, though only two books into the series, Dobbs’s desire to personalise Queen Elizabeth II is highly humourous. While many see her as a detached monarch, Dobbs paints her in such a way as to be highly compassionate and opinionated. One can only wonder if he has a fan base within Buckingham Palace for this portrayal.

Kudos, Mr. Dobbs for this curious story. I was hooked and intrigued by the theme, but hoped for some stronger character support throughout.

Outlander (Outlander #1), by Diana Gabaldon

Five stars (of five)

Outlander provides the reader with an intimate view of the early journeys of Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser, sure to be highly energetic and heart-wrenching, all created from the stellar mind of Diana Gabaldon. Claire and Frank Randall begin the tale on their honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands, during the latter part of 1945. Together, they explore the countryside and use free time to hone Frank’s amateur genealogy skills, as he searches for the stories of his numerous ancestors in the region. While out and about on her own, Claire ‘falls through’ a collection of stones and finds herself tossed into the middle of a struggle between British Red Coats and Scottish outlaws. It is only after she’s taken in by Clan MacKenzie that Claire learns that she’s actually travelled through time back to the 1740s. Claire’s nursing skills prove useful, but raise many questions within the Clan and those in surrounding areas, none more than fellow clan adoptee, Jamie Fraser. He remains on the lam from the Reed Coats and Captain Jonathan Randall, his arch-nemesis. This revelation stuns Claire, as Randall is Frank’s six-time great-grandfather and has crossed paths with her early on during her time after the ‘cross-over’. While Claire is an Outlander, or Sassenach in the Gaelic tongue, she  soon forges a relationship with Jamie. Their interest is briefly platonic but quickly blossoms into more and eventually they are bound to one another, for the safety of both parties. It is only at this point that the spark between them ignites and the story moves into its duel purpose narrative; to show the historical differences Claire faces and build the passion between the two main characters, both of which Gabaldon does effectively. As Claire travels and forges a life with the Clan (and Jamie), she learns that her fate as it relates to a twentieth-century life is anything but certain. The connection with Jamie is undeniable and their passion soon spills over onto the page, where love and lust co-mingle with survival and personal growth. Can Claire not only survive two centuries before she’s to be born, but also keep herself alive with all the medicinal knowledge she possesses? Gabaldon lays out an extremely powerful openly volume in what seeks to be an epic collection. A must-read for history lovers who can handle a lot of passionate descriptors of personal growth (pardon the pun).

Any sensible reader would take a look at this book alone and steer clear of beginning the Outlander series. However, with some Gabaldon experience, I can assert that while the novel (and its subsequent volumes) is massive, the story plays out both as a large themed work and a collection of vignettes or personal encounters both Jamie and Claire have with a number of different characters. The attentive reader can tackle the smaller occurrences and then weave them into the larger narrative. This fosters a better understanding of how Claire and Jamie portray themselves as characters and theme-builders. With a number of other characters peppered throughout, the story builds momentum without ceasing as each page passes, leaving the reader enmeshed in the middle of this wonderful story, which has only just begun developing itself. Patience is in order for any reader, like me, who wishes to scale the mountainous collection, but it is that perseverance that makes it all worthwhile.

Kudos, Madam Gabaldon for opening my eyes and mind to such a wonderful idea. Let us continue this epic journey and see what you have in store, with the sturdy foundations laid.

14th Deadly Sin (Women’s Murer Club #14), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Four stars (of five)

The annual Women’s Murder Club (WMC) submission is here and does not disappoint! A number of cheque-cashing establishments have been held up and bodies are piling up, as the crew makes off with large sums of money. The perps are not identifiable, save for SFPD windbreakers, but this does not mean anything definitive. Could this be an inside job or is someone impersonating the police, adding a chill factor to an already problematic investigation? While at their weekly WMC gathering, Lindsay Boxer tries to make sense of these robberies with a homicidal streak, and is called away to the scene of a random crime; a woman is stabbed in a crosswalk with no forensics to tie anyone to the murder. Boxer confides in a close contact to help, when it is brought to her attention that there are a string of unsolved murders on the same date, every year. The Windbreaker investigation becomes more complex as a drug den is struck and millions in money and narcotics are taken. Should that not be enough, WMC member Yuki has left the DA’s office to pursue a job with the Defence League, helping those less fortunate against the city’s Goliath legal ways. A teen with questionable intelligence may have killed a number of drug dealers before he’s killed himself while behind bars. With seemingly loose threads blowing in the wind, the cases always fall together and force a monumental ending that impresses the attentive reader. Patterson and Paetro weave a wonderful tale together, sure to keep series fans breathing a sigh of relief, with a substantial cliffhanger to tide them over for another year.

Patterson’s writing does, as my past reviews show, ebb and flow, depending on the content. While WMC novels are normally well written, there have been some duds in the mix. Some might say that fourteen novels is well-past a series’ expiry date, but there is something that keeps them fresh, be it the sub-plots or the short time between novels, or even the ever-evolving development characters undergo. With short chapters and interesting storylines, readers will likely breeze through this and hope for more. Alas, a year is the usual wait time for instalments. That said, if Patterson and his flock of co-authors could work on a CROSS-BENNETT-BOXER trifecta, we’d be in business and bring some of his best characters together.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro for a great novel that keeps the reader hooked until the final sentence, which is an invitation to more questions.

Virgins (Outlander #0.5), a novella by Diana Gabaldon

Four stars (of five)

I have taken the (un)enviable task of embarking on a long and winding literary journey  over the next few months. Although I’ve read most of the Diana Gabaldon material previously, slowly and methodically, I thought it best to re-read both the Outlander and Lord John series, in chronological rather than publication order. I want the full Jamie Fraser/Claire Randall experience, peppered with Lord John Grey and all the nuances found therein. Additionally, as a captive fan of the series currently airing on television, I want to catch some of the crumbs I may have missed and, reading the entire series back-to-back-to-back etc, I will latch onto some of the smaller characters as they reappear from one book to the next. I have done this (complete series reading in a consecutive fashion) with other collections and find it quite enjoyable. Looking at the size of the work at hand, over 13 412 pages (yes, I counted!), I will have my work cut out for me. However, I am ready. Bring it on my friends.

To begin my journey, I chose VIRGINS, a novella penned by Gabaldon years after she made Jamie Fraser a successful protagonist in the Outlander series. In it, Fraser and his friend, Ian Duncan, embark on the life of young mercenaries, well away from Scotland. It’s 1740 and the boys, aged nineteen and twenty respectfully, find themselves out in the world, experiencing all that it has to offer. While Duncan sees that his friend is holding onto a secret, nothing prepares him when he learns the truth. Captain Jack Randall came to Lallybroch and embarrassed Fraser, along with his entire family, leaving Jamie banished from his own estate. Jamie uses the attack and belittling to fuel his fire to become a man in a hard-knock world. Along the way, Jame and Ian learn about fighting, sex, and what it means to be independent, all while crossing paths with many a clan unlike themselves. These ‘life virgins’ soon learn the ways of the world while vowing to protect one another. The novella opens the door to what is sure to be a wonderful series, at least for Jamie, as he hones his skills and returns to face Randall in the years to come. The awkwardness that he will encounter (as Outlander fans know all too well) should make for an ever-changing flood of sentiment in the man’s brain…but we have many many pages to learn all about that.

Let us begin this epic journey through the 18th century and the life of one Jamie Fraser, as we see who and what crosses his path, as well as learning about the sordid affairs that have helped shape him into the man he becomes.