Fully Loaded: Thrillers, by Blake Crouch

Four stars (of five)

This is an interesting collection of short stories by thriller/horror writer Blake Crouch. Gathered from previously published works, Crouch shows a great deal of his versatility in both his writing style and story ideas. Well crafted and highly entertaining for a reader looking for a brief sojourn from the fast-paced nature of the everyday.


Four stars

Crouch is an epic storytelling, with his dark side pushing through in each tale. In this short story, the mystery and thrills have little time to develop, but come to a gentle boil at just the right moment. Tim and Laura West enjoy their time together as a married couple. One Thursday night, Laura discovers an odd message on their voicemail, some form of pocket dial from a cell phone. The message, full of choppy conversation, is thick with criminal innuendo and may be the recording of a murder. Unsure what to do, they try the old *69 to trace the previous call, but are interrupted and cannot retrieve the number. Worried that a killer is on the loose who knows them and will soon realise his error, the Wests ponder their options. Will it be too late to save them?


Four stars

In Crouch’s Remaking, nothing is quite as it seems, especially in small communities. Mitchell has an eye for odd situations. A young boy sits in a small-town diner with a man purported to be his father, but something feels off. Mitchell follows them at a distance and soon approaches the boy and poses as a police officer, promising to help young Joe. When the boy obliges, worried that he might upset the authorities, Mitchell begins acting on a scene he’s scripted for months. Unfortunately, Mitchell’s story may not have a happy ending, at least for the entire case of players.


Three stars

As winter sweeps into the mountain ranges, four men set out in the latter part of the 19th century, trekking from one mountain town to another. When the weather turns poor and a blizzard blows in, they are stranded and must begin making dire choices to survive. Nothing and no one is safe as discomfort turns to a disparaging level of hunger. When the snow settles, only the strong survive and complete the journey, but at what cost?


Four stars

During their annual camping trip, Roger and Sue are finally living the empty nest life. As they set up camp and enjoy the solitude, a mysterious man appears and tries to befriend them. Donald seems affable enough and joins them for an evening of cards and storytelling. When the conversation turns to family, Donald admits he lost his daughter to a hit and run car accident six years earlier. The further the story progresses, the more Roger remembers that fateful day and how he sat behind the wheel. What follows is a panic as Roger waits for Donald to leave and admits his secret to Sue. To what lengths will Roger go to ensure his crime is kept under wraps?


Four stars

Ron and Jessica Stahl are the ultimate power couple; he a successful plastic surgeon and she the cut-throat lawyer everyone fears. Choosing to take a trip to the scenic mountain areas in Colorado, they are forced into Lone Cone, a blip on the map, where they seek refuge from the weather. What begins as an awkward set of events turns horrific as the sun drops below the horizon. The Stahls soon realise that Lone Cone is anything but quaint and its inhabitants will do anything to protect themselves from outsiders. Will the Stahls be able to alert the authorities to the horrors they’ve seen, and live to recount their tale for years to come?


Five stars

Never have I penned a review longer than the original text. That will be the case here, as the story is a mere 25 words long. Hint fiction at its best, the Newton boys prepare for a rafting trip, having all the gear they need to photograph all they will see. Alas, they have little idea that this trip might be their last.


Four stars

Peter is weather obsessed, to say the least. A disgraced former meteorologist, he drifts into town in his winnebago, looking for storms along the side roads of rural Kansas. After a day of spotting, he finds himself in a small diner, where Melanie ends up being his friendly waitress. They form a bond and end up out one day, chasing down a tornado. The adrenaline pulsing through them both, things take a turn neither expects and the tornado takes control. No ruby slippers, no Tin Man and, unfortunately, they are STILL in Kansas. Yet again, Crouch shows signs of tapping into Stephen King’s early years persona, where quirky characters come together and form odd alliances. A short story that both entertains and keeps the reader wondering what lies ahead.


Five stars

Told as a set of monologues between a father and son. Set against the backdrop of a father recollecting his son’s growth and a young man reflecting back on a life he could not live. Crouch taps into the parental bone in those lucky enough to have children and the terror of seeing your child’s life come to a premature end…though who is to be held accountable? Therein lies the rub!
Enjoy this collection, as a whole, or pick out a few to pass the time!

A General Collection of Thoughts on the Outlander/Grey series

I wish to take a little time to pause and reflect on the complete OUTLANDER and Lord John Grey series that I have finally completed. It has been a 91-day affair, spanning over 13 412 pages, or more accurately 427 hours and 36 minutes (taking the audiobook route appears just as impressive and exhausting when you consider that’s over 17 days straight of narration). When I began this undertaking, I felt it a massive task, and was not incorrect in that assumption. Those who have kept up with my reviews in this series will know that Gabaldon weaves together massive story ideas with small patch-work vignettes. In stories of this length, the reader can enjoy both and not be pulled in any single direction. Additionally, Gabaldon takes the reader on numerous tangential trips, most blatantly the Lord John series, which hashes out a prominent character who appears so many times throughout the entire Outlander collection of novels and novellas. The dual series collection tackles a great deal of history along with romantic undertones, able to entertain a vast group of people from all walks of life. I thoroughly enjoyed talk of the battles both on the fields of Scotland and in the Thirteen Colonies, which are rich with detail and historical characters. Whether they are entirely accurate is for the historical buffs to discuss, though only a fool would lament precise information in a book claiming to be nothing save fictional. A few matters worthy of note include the Scottish/Gaelic language that is not peppered as much as it is marinaded throughout the book. Gabaldon must not only keep all her characters straight (as they appear in minor vignettes and then reappear thousands of pages later as a major character), but also the proper use of the Gaelic language. Gabaldon is American and while she can surely research all she needs to create a ‘true to form’ novel, the amount of work that must go in to making it all flow well and correctly deserves major mention. Again, I am no linguist (nor is she), so if there be a fault here and there, please queue up to bitch where no one else can hear you, as the whining is distracting.

Similar detail is presented in the fields of medicine and pharmacology, both in its 18th and 20th century varieties. Gabaldon educates the reader on ailments, procedures, medicaments, and likely outcomes in both time periods, effortlessly providing the juxtaposed differences in scientific and medicinal advancements with complete ease. A passing reader might not find this impressive, but for someone who has undertaking this monumental task, seeing how in tune she is with the story and its scientific emergences, it cannot go unmentioned. As with the above invitation, let he or she who is without scientific blunder cast the first beaker of sulphuric acid.

The attention to detail Gabaldon undertakes is also impossible to ignore. One must remember that this is more than a simple series, but two series combined into a massive literary collection. Keeping storylines straight, characters in order, history from becoming bastardised, and even past situations in line with her future ideas is a massive undertaking. Since the book is quite ‘in the moment’, in that it does not skip months or years with each chapter, the pace is slower and the details quite plentiful. This does explain the arborous paralysation in the books’ size. These vignettes and a substantial amount of detail fill pages, which might deter some of the less patient readers. While I know not where Gabaldon seeks to take the books (does she, even?), a substantial time has been spent on the War of Independence in the United States. Might this be a way of keeping her American readers enthralled and not losing them to the extensive Gaelic chatter and Scottish historical references? Perhaps I can pose that question to her.

Tangentially related to this, I read in a recent review posted by a fellow Outlander fan that trying to write a review for any of the novels, especially the latter tales, is close to impossible in under 8000 words. So much happens and so many twists arise that trying to review or encapsulate them all becomes close to impossible. Those who have read some of my review thoughts will realise that I choose only to skim the surface of the summary capabilities. By doing so, I not only keep spoilers from ruining the text, but also keep myself from being bogged down in too many nuances, thereby boring the review reader to the point of being turned off the full novel. That is not my intention, and I know I tend to be verbose in my daily life.

The issue of the Standing Stones and time-travel arises throughout the series and is addressed in small portions with each passing book. The central plan is not revealed in the first book and left to be utilised from thereon in, but slowly discovered as the characters use it. What appears to add a degree of science fiction to the novel is by no means flaunted with aliens or oddities that pull away from the story. If the reader can suspend reality and accept the Stones, they can enjoy learning about them. Gabaldon poses the Stone question throughout, with Roger and Claire being the ones whose journeys and questions come up the most. While parallel travel worked mostly for Claire, allowing her to reunite with Jamie after 20 years, Roger did not have the same luck, where he ran into his grandfather-in-law and fresh-faced 22 year-old father, Jerry MacKenzie, at one point. This only thickens the plot and adds history to the novel. Knowledge that gem stones and the solstice dates are of the most importance, but there is surely more to it. Also, Brianna’s discovery of the plotted family tree and the other research her ‘father’ Frank completed keeps the reader referring back to the document as the story plays out. So much rich history and time travel adds to the series’ power, rather than distracting.

I cannot have gone this far without offering some thanks and kudos out to Davina Porter and Jeff Woodman. While the latter remained at the helm for the Lord John novels alone (and even then, missed out on one), his encapsulation of Lord John Grey was a wonderful addition to the series. Those ‘two decades sans Claire’ allowed Woodman to create a character who seems so minor to early Outlander readers that the branch off novels are a treat and addition, where many readers have chosen to ignore them until later. However, the Lord John character becomes highly important and Woodman kept him alive and well for a period. Porter deserves more praise that I can put into words for all her narration and the time she took to bring the stories to life. From accents to Gaelic pronunciations through to the hours of reading and shaping the text. Had I the chance to meet her, I would offer the most sincere thanks. Admittedly, I doubt that I could read Gabaldon’s novels in book form (paper or electronic) and Porter has made that possible, injecting action and inflection where needed.

Speaking of seeing people, I am eager that I scored a free ticket to see Diana Gabaldon when she comes to town on August 13, 2015. I have so much I would like to ask and since I have completed the entire collection, my questions will be as pertinent as anyone else who has read the entire collection. I may even peek through the excerpts of Book Nine and ask something related to that.

And so we have it… my wordy summary and some thorough thoughts for anyone who has taken the same journey. I would love to chat at length with anyone else (no matter how far they made it) and can only hope I am not alone. Time for some lighter reading… oh wait, I ought to get some biographies under my belt and who better than some of the Founding Fathers. FORWARD MARCH!

Matt Pechey

July 2015

A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows (Outlander #8.5), by Diana Gabaldon

Four stars (of five)

What ever happened to Jerry MacKenzie, father of Roger, whose plane went down during the War effort? As Gabaldon mentions in the story’s preface, discussion of Jerry opened in An Echo in the Bone, where Claire admitted that the story Roger knew was not entirely true. With Roger finally encountering Jerry in 1739, something must have happened related to the Stones, but the story is again not flushed out. Gabaldon chooses this point to offer a real account of events, just in time as Outlander fans are surely tearing their hair out with wonder, as the cliffhanger found no resolution within Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. Spitfire pilot Jerry MacKenzie is approached by MI6 (and Frank Randall no less) to help in the execution of a covert mission behind the Iron Curtain. While out on reconnaissance, Jerry develops engine trouble and crash lands somewhere in Northumbria. As Jerry seeks to get his bearings, he discovers that he’s been propelled into the past, but has no explanation for events. When he comes across a mysterious character, a little is revealed, including how to get back, but no clear understanding of the Stones is made known. Returning to modern times, Jerry comes across his wife, Marjorie, but is not in a position to reach her to discuss his revelations. Filling a few cracks in the Outlander storylines, this short story fits nicely, yet leaves much to the imagination. 

This is the final instalment in the Outlander collection to date. I have endured much of Gabaldon’s long-winded and detailed writing. This story is a definite treat to flesh out some of the minor vignettes which received little printed space in the epic Outlander series. However, with the publication of Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, Jerry MacKenzie’s disappearance becomes much more important and knowing the backstory becomes of great interest to the reader and series follower. That a Randall had something to do with it, loosely, is of no major shock, nor is it that the Stones played a role. That said, Gabaldon never ceases to amaze with all her dangling threads and how she chooses to tie them together or add additional literary fraying.

I would like to take some time to write my thoughts on the entire OUTLANDER series and will do so, but feel adding it to the review of a short story is not the place. Readers are welcome to check it out in a separate blog entry.

Kudos, Madam Gabaldon for a sensational series to date. I am totally enthralled and completely gobsmacked by all the hard work and literary effort you’ve put into this collection and hope you have a little more left to offer. I know BOOK NINE is in the works, and even a prequel, both of which I will devour.

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (Outlander #8), by Diana Gabaldon

Five stars (of five)

In the final full-length novel to date, Gabaldon has to deal with some of the most exciting cliffhanging to date, left for the reader to stew upon at the end of Echo in the Bone. Series readers will recollect that Jamie was presumed dead in a nautical accident, which led Claire to wed Lord John Grey to protect herself. With Jamie’s re-emergence, everything is turned topsy-turvy, sentiments included. Claire seeks to justify her decision to an angry Jamie and Lord John flees the wrath of a close friend. Gabaldon deals with the fallout and the emotional baggage for the entire first part of the novel, while peppering the narrative with the revelations on William’s discovery of his true father. If that were not enough to keep the reader hooked, in 1980 Scotland, Jem has been kidnapped by a ruthless murderer intent on finding the gold Jamie alluded to in one of his time-travel letters. Brie must battle a murderous gang alone as she tries to keep her family safe. Once Jem appears, Brie makes the hard choice to travel back with her children to seek the protection of her parents, but does not know if she will again see Roger, who’s overshot on his trip through the Stones, landing in 1739. There, he discovers distant relations on both the Fraser and MacKenzie side, including one that proves highly awkward and rewarding at the same time. As the War of Independence continues, Jamie gets a plum position in Washington’s army and uses it to his advantage, but soon tires of the fighting and is faced with a momentous medical emergency that solidifies his desire to keep his family safe. When a fire obliterates the Fraser abode (second time, hope they have insurance!), a great deal is lost, including one of their own. With sad hearts, the Clan heads south, first to Savannah for Jamie’s printing press, where the attentive reader will remember Jamie and Claire first landed when they arrived in the New World, and eventually back to Fraser’s Ridge. One cannot ignore the Lord John or William additions to the story, as they weave their way through battles and serve on the British side. Gabaldon uses portions throughout the novel to further discuss the Stone’s power and how time travel may work, keeping the reader begging for more, but getting only a few grains of information. With a focus on the Quaker situation; ‘cameos’ by Washington and Benedict Arnold; as well as further details surrounding the War effort, this novel is perhaps one of the best novels in the series. Gabaldon treats the reader to an explosive amount of information as she opens new pathways of curiosity and leaves her usual collection of threads dangling for future reference.

I have undertaken the massive task of reading the entire series consecutively, to which I owe myself much thanks. The characters continue to come to life in the novels and the storylines flow effortlessly from book to book. However, Gabaldon’s ability to leave a reader guessing must be a horrible tease as they wait from one publication to the next. Gabaldon’s research efforts cannot be discounted in this novel, not only the historical necessities surrounding the War of Independence, but medical and religious issues and perceptions of the time, to keep the story as true as possible. The vignettes are not as plentiful, but larger storylines weave their way throughout the divided parts of the novel. Using three timelines (1739, 1778, and 1980), Gabaldon need juggle not only her characters, but storylines that see individuals at different points of maturity within the larger story arc (if that makes any sense). Gabaldon’s rich writing style and entrenched story makes picking up a novel part way into the ‘journey’ a wasted effort. When one peruses the length and size of these missives, this may be a blessing and a curse simultaneously.

Kudos, Madam Gabaldon, for you sensational story-writing abilities. I cannot believe we’re nearly done, with one short story to flesh out a side tale hinted at within this tome.

Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee

Four stars (of five)

After the discovering of this manuscript, written over 55 years earlier, the literary world was abuzz about what else Lee might have to say about Jem, Scout, and Atticus. Penned years before the famous To Kill a Mockingbird but set two decades after that fateful summer, Lee offers the written an interesting glimpse into Maycomb in the heart of the 1950s. Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch is back for her annual trip to Alabama, travelling from New York City for a two-week sojourn from the lights and noise. While she seeks only to rest, she encounters many Maycombians from her past, including Henry Clinton, who holds her heart and played a key role in her life in the years after the reader left Maycomb last. Allowing the story more freedom by removing Jean Louise from narration responsibilities, it flips between flashback moments from Jean Louise’s youth to the present summer life in Alabama’s south. Jean Louise plays watchman of sorts, taking in all she sees of her hometown and sermonising to her family on all its deficiencies. With a new round of civil rights on the horizon, Jean Louise is appalled to see the townsfolk, including affable Atticus Finch take a stand around minimalising black rights, and downplaying the importance of the NAACP. With Jem gone to a heart attack and Henry firmly ensconced in the local mantra, Jean Louise is on her own, fighting for equal rights in a town where colour remains synonymous with class. When the Finches cross swords over the issue, both Atticus and Jean Louise present their case, leaving the reader to act as jury. Lee shows the struggle between the races that, one hundred years after the divisive war, remains firmly rooted, with geography still dictating sides.

Lee’s unearthed novel did not bode well when first she sought to publish it and has received mixed reviews in his release. With a number of the same characters, many readers seek it to be a sequel to the famous Lee novel that tore a country apart for decades. It is not that, per se, and should not be treated in that manner. It stands alone as a decent social commentary on the early years of civil rights, with Brown v. Board of Education freshly decided and the South still firm in its opposition. Lee shows how the North, personified in Jean Louise, cannot abide by the backward way of thinking and seeks to inject its own form of justice, while Alabama chooses its own path and road to acceptance with Atticus offering his own flavour to the discussion. The novel also seeks to fill the cracks in Scout Finch’s story between the end of her eighth year and the present, with her as a refined 26 year old. Its title, pulled from a line of Scripture, allows her to become a surveyor of all she knew and push it through the filter of her current set of beliefs. Contrasting the two proves highly entertaining for the reader and disproves the adage that you can remove someone from a place, but their heart remains therein.Those who seek a sequel or a novel with as much vigour and deep meaning will surely be disappointed, though the novel stands nicely on its own. Lee cannot be criticised for her efforts, though, with the publication of TO KILL, it cannot measure up to its published predecessor, should this novel not be seen as a standalone. 

Kudos, Madam Lee, for this great piece of writing. It opens eyes and minds, in a way Lee did on her first go-round.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Four stars (of five)

Revisiting Harper Lee’s classic piece of American literature added new dimensions to a story that has highlighted one of America’s darkest times, as well as built the moral foundation for scores of children not censored by bigoted school boards or ignorant libraries. The story plays out in Maycomb, Alabama where the Depression’s lingering effects prove daunting. Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch and her brother, Jem, live a modest to poor life with their father, Atticus. The elder Finch makes his living as a lawyer and seeks to create a just world for the county folk and his children alike. Scout narrates from her perch as she explores life as a young tomboy, carving out an understanding of life in the South as only a young child might; with blissful ignorance and a thirst for knowledge. Unable to understand the need for order and rules, as dictated amongst the adult population, Scout and Jem find themselves in numerous situations ripe for a life lesson and Atticus always there to offer his wisdom. A house at the end of the block, the Radley home, holds much curiosity and speculation for the Finch children, though there are never able to coax its most elusive inhabitant, Boo, outside to dispel the myths that surround him. When Atticus takes on the case of a negro man accused of raping a white girl, the town applies labels to Atticus and the Finch children learn the true meaning of Southern hospitality, where you are judged by the company you keep, not the purity of your heart. Once the jury returns with their verdict, childhood innocence leads Jem and Scout to believe justice is blind and the truth will set you free. The fallout divides the town and leaves the Finch children to wonder if all their beliefs are paper thin. As Lee pushes the novel towards its completion, the reader learns a little more about the resiliency of the Finches and the lengths to which some will go to plant seeds of hatred. As complex as it is simple, Lee offers an approach that weighs idealism against realism, hoping they might one day coexist!

When I chose to revisit this novel, twenty-one years later, I was not sure what to expect. I decided before I tackled Lee’s second novel, I ought to refresh myself, and it was a good thing I did so, as much had faded from my memory. Lee offers up a simple story, woven into a complex set of vignettes, whose purpose only becomes clear once the reader takes a step back. A social commentary as much as it is a quasi-biographical piece, Lee pulls no punches in her telling, which explains why the literary world lauded such praise on her while her neighbours sought to vilify her and suppress her message from reaching youths of the time. A book that opened the eyes of many to the injustice that was going on and sanctioned for so long became the symbol for the oppression it sought to defeat with many trying to sweep its message under the proverbial rug. While it tended to be wordy in places and lacked some editorial polish, Lee’s story is one of justice, though its ending does not appear that way. As Scout learns early on, justice is not always found, but the admission that it exists is a battle worth having, no matter the consequences. A powerful piece whose message need not be ignore or forgotten for generations to come. History cannot change if humans cannot learn from their follies. Alas, these follies have begun reemerging in the South, so let this serve as an extinguisher of ignorance and a beacon towards societal acceptance.

Kudos, Madam Lee, for this powerful novel. I cannot wait to see how the prequel/sequel plays out with some of the same actors.

White is the Coldest Colour, by John Nicholl

Five stars (of five)

When I received a strong recommendation to read Nicholl’s first novel, I was not sure what to expect. As the note to readers clearly states, the content is anything but lighthearted, though it pervades society in every city around the world. Dr. David Galbraith is a renowned child psychiatrist in Wales, whose practice sees many referrals from Child Protection social workers. While helping his patients with their various issues, Galbraith seeks his next conquest at the hands of those who are victims of abuse and forms of neglect. As the reader soon learns, besides expanding his practice by providing services for vulnerable children, he is at the head of a paedophile ring that spans all across the region. Enter, Anthony Mailer, who’s been sent by his general practitioner to help deal with the psychological issues of his parents’ recent separation. Galbraith preys on young Anthony and concocts a treatment plan that will allow complete domination over the seven year old, while demanding parental compliance. Nicholl paints a picture of a family in crisis and a mother willing to do whatever she can to help her son. When kidnapping attempts by Galbraith prove unsuccessful, he must rely on his ring of friends to help complete the ultimate act, an abduction. Unsuspecting and somewhat complicit through her ignorance, Galbraith’s wife, Cynthia, chooses to ignore her husband’s acts and remains highly submissive to his verbally abusive ways. With all the tools to meet his needs, Galbraith attempts an abduction while the authorities begin putting the pieces together. Other children begin to come forward, telling horrific tales of abuse at Galbraith’s hands. Will Child Protection Services and the local police act in time to save Anthony and cut the head off the paedophile serpent or will Cynthia Galbraith insulate her husband yet again? Nicholl leaves the reader vulnerable and yet totally in control as the chapters fly by and the horrors pile up with each passing page. A sensational debut novel, whose disturbing content will parse the number of readers able to stomach it, but those who persevere are richly rewarded.

Actively working in the Child Protection field, I have seen some of the horrors that can, and do, take place behind closed doors. Nicholl uses his own expertise in the field to depict some of the worst events in this novel, as well as touching on an important theme: trust. It may be hard to believe, paedophiles come in all forms, from the dregs of society to those in positions of trust and authority, but Nicholl illustrates how trust can be the most intoxicating drug of all for the sexual exploitation of children. Nicholl illustrates this throughout the novel, but also shows the large network trying to uncover them and help the most helpless victims. However, the system relies on information and the testimony of the victims, which can also be the paedophile’s greatest defence. Fear and the sense of not being believed work against the victim, a wall best removed by having society encourage disclosures and taking the victim, especially a child, at face value. While Nicholl’s choice of novel topic is highly disturbing, there is a great sense of hope buried within these pages. Hope that will only see the light of day as long as those investigating crimes against children receive the support and access they so badly need. If there is one downside to this novel, it would have to be the punctuation and proofreading issues that pervade the text. I sense that it is an issue at the editorial level, where individuals did not read the novel as best they should. If I, as a reader, can catch them on the first read through, I can issue nothing but shame to those who let them pass in the proofing stage. Perhaps I could ask for part of your paycheque to offset your lack of professionalism and completion of a simple task. Alas, it is Nicholl who looks the fool, though his novel is so well crafted, I can put it behind me.

Kudos, Mr. Nicholl for your sensational novel. I cannot wait to read the sequel, to which you allude in the author’s note. I hope it is as explosive as this novel!     

The Space Between (Outlander #7.5), by Diana Gabaldon

Four stars (of five)

In this novella, Gabaldon chooses two lesser characters and send them on a journey mentioned towards the end of An Echo in the Bone. Young Joan MacKimmie, step-daughter of our beloved Jamie Fraser, heads to Paris to answer her calling and train to become a nun. Sent on her way with Jamie’s nephew, Michael, they travel through the streets of Paris in a short and jam-packed story. While Joan seeks to make herself a bride of Christ, she wrestles with voices only she can hear, which offer both advice and glimpses into the future. As she prepares for her entry into the convent, she begins to question everything she has come to believe, which led her to this point. Michael, who may have been sent as a bodyguard, fights his own inner demons on the trip, part related to his growing feelings for this young woman as well as the knowledge his Aunt Claire gave him about the not too distant civil uprising in France, with Paris at its heart. Michael and Joan struggle to balance their responsibilities with what the heart desires, creating a space between logic and emotion. They must also fend off the plans of a sinister man who seeks revenge for Claire Fraser’s antics when last she spent time in Paris. Learning of the connection Joan and Michael possess to La Dame Blanche, they are spun into a web of deceit and potential disaster. With a sprinkling of time travel discussion (of course, no Outlander story can ignore the Stones), Gabaldon moves her major sub-story forward while keeping a little more of the full time movement situation for the final novel. Brilliantly composed with just enough to keep the reader wanting more.

As the number of remaining Outlander stories dwindle, I am left to pay special attention to these tales. Having taken the time to re-read the entire collection, I have taken away so much and learned a great deal, both about the history of the time as well as the intricacies of the characters Gabaldon has set before the reader. As mentioned many times in previous novels, Gabaldon may introduce minor characters throughout, whose importance is only known much later. This novella is a wonderful case in point, where the likes of Joan and Michael receive only passing mention in earlier stories, but now play central roles. One could say the same for Comte St. Germain, who acts as a Stephen Bonnet or Black Jack Randall of sorts. Wonderfully spun in such a way to entertain and intrigue simultaneously.

Kudos, Madam Gabaldon, for another great addition to the collection. Much yet to read with so many questions I need to answer, and so I trek forward.

An Echo in the Bone (Outlander #7), by Diana Gabaldon

Four stars (of five)

Gabaldon left readers with a stunning conclusion in A Breath of Snow and Ashes. The MacKenzies are forced to pass through the Stones to save their newest addition, Amanda; Jamie and Claire barely survive a house fire at Fraser’s Ridge; and Jamie’s illegitimate son, William, arrives in the colonies to fight for the King. As the seventh tome opens, the narrative is split amongst these three important storylines. While still hopelessly unaware of his true father, William arrives in the colonies to fight with the English, stumbling through a number of unfortunate events and does not see battle until an important clash at Saratoga, where he is able to show his true mettle. William does engage in some fighting at this point and ends up in a skirmish in which his biological father takes an accidental shot in his direction. William’s adoptive father, Lord John Grey, tries to keep an eye on William and ensures that the secret of Jamie remains hidden for as long as possible, though Gabaldon weaves the story in ways that spill the proverbial beans. As this takes place, Jamie and Claire continue their movement through America, hoping to make it to Scotland before they become embroiled in any major battles. Claire uses her historical knowledge to stay away from any direct battle, but in a moment of weakness, a shot from Jamie’s gun almost kills William, forcing the Frasers to move up their plans to return to Scotland before the young soldier dies at the hand of his illegitimate father. While in Scotland, Jamie and Claire spend time with Jenny and the elder Ian, where they learn of all that’s been going on during their absence. In a troubling missive, Claire is summoned back to Philadelphia to handle a sick family member and brings Young Ian along with her. Jamie follows soon thereafter, bringing the newly widowed Jenny alongside him. However, news reaches Claire of a disaster at sea soon after Jamie confirms passage by letter, which causes her much grief and leads to a poor decision on her part. Flashing forward to the 20th century, Roger and Brianna have settled at Lallybroch and try to shield their past from those around them. Receiving word from the Frasers in a collection of letters left for them in a massive wooden chest, they read of the adventures and discover information on a secret cache of gold whose whereabouts only Jem knows. Brianna takes a job at a hydro-electric plant, which has its own issues, but none more troubling than a curious colleague who discovers the letters and uses Jem to get at the treasure. With only letters left in a large chest to follow Jamie and Claire’s progress, Roger and Brianna are left with a one-sided conversation in hopes of learning how their family fares throughout the battles. Thinking themselves free of the Stones, time travelling occurs in both directions, as Roger encounters an old foe-cum-friend. As the novel comes to an end, many question hang for the reader while others receive answers, only to complicate the narrative even further. A must-read to better understand what is sure to become the most explosive novel yet, and the last one in the series (to this point)!

The attentive and well-read reader would be hard pressed to discount Gabaldon’s abilities after finishing this novel. She has been able to push three completely different narratives forward while using the historical time period of the American War of Independence. Perhaps no Shaara in her fictional depiction of specific characters within such a massive military event, but she draws on swaths of information to thicken the characters’ foundations, while pulling at the heartstrings of the reader with every passing page. Segments herein that speak not only of the War, but the aboriginal (Indian) aspect of life on the land with European and colonialists invading alike is brilliant and offers the reader some in-depth views into the life Young Ian led while he was ‘away’ from the Fraser Clan. The novel moves away from the single-chapter vignettes, seen in earlier books while remaining stationary in Scotland or North Carolina, and more to an overarching narrative which forces the reader to keep many stories straight as time and location shift, depending on the characters involved. Complex while also easy to grasp, Gabaldon has bitten off quite a bit in this novel, but must keep forging ahead to keep the stories fresh and the characters from losing their lustre. In that, she has unlimited success.

Kudos, Madam Gabaldon, for this powerful novel. Perhaps it’s a good thing that a novella follows, chronologically, to offer my mind a very brief reprieve to prepare for what is on the horizon.

Identity Crisis: The Murder, the Mystery, and the Missing DNA, by Jefferson Bass

Five stars (of five)

Bass published this non-fiction novella (can it be called that?) ahead of the ninth Body Farm novel, in hopes of shedding light on one of the interesting forensic cases undertaking in years past. The case of identifying the remains of a partial skeleton, believed to belong to Leoma Patterson took up periods of time for Bill Bass and some of his other forensic friends, each working in their respective field. Bass illustrates how this set of bones, limited by scavengers and eventually deterioration in a casket, opened some doors to identification, but slammed others shut, due to the time passed. Bass and his various crew members felt they had a slam-dunk identification, only to have members of the family (and parts of the scientific community) dispute or prove otherwise. By weaving through various areas of forensic technology (facial reconstructions, DNA, bone measurements, etc), all of which have been featured in Body Farm novels, Bass was able to eventually give concrete proof surrounding his identification project. If nothing else, it gave the family some semblance of closure. A wonderfully penned short summary of the case perfect for Body Farm fans and those who enjoy forensic science.

I am an avid fan of the Jefferson-Bass writing duo and have devoured the entire Body Farm series. I have also made it a point to read all of the non-fiction work that they’d put out, so as to better understand the real science behind it. Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell seek to impress (and do) with their respective work, but there are times to talk REAL cases and ACTUAL results. Bass goes so far as to continually debunk the CSI effect, where laymen use the show and its popularity to presume they know everything. Bass presents this case with its facts and struggles right alongside. There are some highly technical areas, though they are not handled in an overly academic way, leaving the reader to struggle through enzyme plasmosis or osteorazification (ok, I made those up to illustrate a point). The story reads in a highly informative manner and educates while also entertaining, as Body Farm novels do as well. This case has appeared in the other non-fiction work and its return allows the reader to spend a little more time on the case and understand it. Attentive readers may also see portions of Body Farm narratives in the actually happenings in the story. What a treat and one I wish they’d replicate again soon on another case. Surely, Bill Bass has enough to fuel many a fire.

Kudos, Messrs. Jefferson and Bass for shining a light on this interesting case and showing the variety of forensic branches there are working together.

The Last Town (Wayward Pines #3), by Blake Crouch

Four stars (of five)

Hell hath no fury like a god-complex imbued man scorned. Crouch lays this theme out at the beginning of the final Wayward Pines novel and forges ahead with the massive struggles left for the world’s only human inhabitants. After Sheriff Burke revealed the truth about Wayward Pines and its ‘creator’, David Pilcher, to the entire town, things took a dramatic turn and people starting thinking independently once again. Pilcher, feeling that all he’d created was no longer under his sole control, began wreaking havoc in hopes of decimating those who’d previous worshipped him and owed their life to his ingenious plan. Pilcher began removing all that he’d done and left the townfolk to fend for themselves, in a 39th century abyss covered with aberration being whose only means of survival is violence. As townsfolk turn to Burke for protection, he assumes the role as head organiser to deal with the invading throngs and tries to reason with Pilcher the self-proclaimed deity. Burke soon comes to terms with his role in the larger game Pilcher played, making him a pawn in a sick societal game that brought a number of people to Wayward Pines. With time running out and an apocalypse on the horizon, Burke must once again battle with Pilcher to save the town, or see its ultimate demise; the last town left on earth. Crouch brings the series to a crashing conclusion, leaving questions out there with no clear answers, except in the reader’s extrapolating mind.

Taking up this book and series on a recommendation was a giant step for me. While I enjoy a little suspended reality (pardon the pun for series fans) a la Stephen King, I worry that they will soon turn the way of King’s own UNDER THE DOME when television executives got a hold of it. However, Crouch uses his wiles to craft not only a book that forces the reader to step back and watch a quaint town turn into a killing field, but also play an active role in learning about its various inhabitants and the power structure in keeping it together. Part societal microcosm, part Orwellian surveillance state, Wayward Pines tells the story of love, politics, corruption, and complete adherence to a single master plan. It mocks society while addressing its deepest strengths and weaknesses, as only a talented writer can do and still hold onto a semblance of reality. Crouch uses quick chapters (at least in this final instalment) to tell the three layered story of Wayward: before its creation, its inception, and its current destruction. The reader cannot help but follow along and wonder how things will end, or if there is a trapdoor to save humanity. Rigid readers need not pick up the series, but those who thirst for something more than a ‘find the murderer’ thriller should raise a glass (and an eyebrow) to this trilogy.

Kudos, Mr. Crouch for keeping me on my seat from start to finish. I will recommend this to others and be sure to try out some of your other novels and series to whet my appetite for reading.

Wayward (Wayward Pines #2), by Blake Crouch

Four stars (of five)

Welcome to Wayward Pines! Come see the lonely bus stop, the nightly variety hour, and the collection of picket-fenced homes. The town sounds ideal and one would expect to see pies cooling on every window ledge. However, pulling back a bit and the reader notices the electric fences surround the town’s perimeter, snipers at the ready, and millions of aberrations looming outside the town. It’s all the creation of David Pilcher, who sought to bring this Utopia to the middle of nowhere, but at a significant cost; total acceptance of his control. Sheriff Ethan Burke is new to the helm, but knows most of the town’s secrets, having stumbled upon them as the reader will recollect in PINES. When he comes upon a murdered woman while out late one night, questions begin to surface. He’s directed to investigate a group of misfits, who seek to rock the tranquil town with questions about their former lives. Sheriff Burke needs not only to penetrate this group, but also wrestle with his own struggles living in Wayward. Can he overcome his own burning questions and toe the line, or will he soon join this group and turn on his neighbours? Crouch explores new and exciting angles of his ‘model train town’ and injects the biblical fight for control between good and evil. A powerful middle novel to keep the trilogy alive for the avid reader.

When I began the novel, I was not sure how Crouch could move the story forward. He offered the crux of the town in the latter chapters of Pines and made his social commentary perfectly clear. However, a new layer of commentary emerges surrounding power struggles, while a fast-paced murder storyline emerges from the narrative. Ethan Burke remains a high-calibre character whose integration is anything but complete, even as he puts on the ultimate facade to fool his higher-ups. By telling more of the Wayward Pines backstory and how the world was reduced to a few hundred people, Crouch whets the appetite of the avid reader to learn just a little more before closing their mind on the subject. The threads left dangling in the final chapters will make for an explosive end to the series, which Crouch has planted masterfully.

Kudos, Mr. Crouch. I remain intrigued and highly energised for the final instalment. Do bring your ‘A-game’ to tie it all off.

Pines (Wayward Pines #1), by Blake Crouch

Four stars (of five)

This being my first novel-length introduction to Crouch, I was not sure what to expect, nor am I still. Ethan Burke awakens on the side of a river with no recollection of how he made it there. Burke does know he’s a Secret Service agent and was sent to Wayward Pines, Idaho to investigate the disappearance of two fellow agents. He also remembers being in a horrific car accident, but anything more remains a complete blur. Nothing seems to add up and Wayward Pines appears to be a form of Twilight Zone with Burke its newest inhabitant. Unable to reach his wife in Seattle, Burke begins trying to piece everything together, running into roadblocks along the way. As Burke peels back the layers of this bucolic town, he soon discovers that there is no way out, its perimeter surrounded by electric fencing. The town deals with those who try to leave in a harsh manner, leaving Burke to wonder how he’ll ever make it to his family again, but that’s the least of his worries. A social commentary as much as a thriller, Crouch introduces the reader to a curious town in which everything has its place, even if it seems jilted and without order.

As I read this novel, all I could think of was a twisted storyline that Stephen King might create and force his group of characters to meander through, at a pace not solely their own. Crouch has a wonderful way of layering the thrills, drama, and character development that leaves the reader highly intrigued and wanting more with each passing chapter. How can a dreamy town in the middle of nowhere become such a house of horrors and what can be the ultimate meaning. Crouch addresses that in a soapbox sermon manner, pushing beliefs while spinning the story to the cusp of science fiction means the Stepfords. An interesting concept that is sure to expand as the second novel in the trilogy seeks to open new pathways. I am piqued to see what Crouch has in store for the reader next.

Kudos, Mr. Crouch. I am intrigued, which is a big step for me. Keep writing and impressing your audiences, but try to stay away from browbeating everyone in the first novel.

Hunting Season: A Love Story, by Blake Crouch and Selen Kitt

Four stars (of five)

Crouch and Kitt serve up this interesting short story about the strength that high school love holds, even when two people are separated for years. Ariana Plano was swept off her feet in high school by young and athletic Ray Koski. They had a fairytale romance until rich and poweful Bud came along and stole her away. While she became a trophy wife to a game hunter, she also remains firmly embedded under his thumbnail and faced the consequences for her actions. Over the years, Adriana has been tasked with taking Bud’s spoils out to Ray’s butcher shop, more to rub it in his face than anything else. Dutifully, Ray and Ariana do the dance of non-communication and transact business in a painful manner. One winter afternoon, Ariana arrives to deliver her latest carcass for processing and becomes trapped in the freezer with none other than Ray. They break the proverbial ice and learn a great deal about one another, some of which rekindles that old spark. But it is the lengths to which they both go to express that flickering flame that will leave the reader gasping. Well written and a sure quick read, Crouch and Kitt have a handle on the genre and how to lure the reader in from the start.

While there is no surprise to the story’s ending, it was interesting to see how they authors would bring the story around. The narrative is clear and the dialogue flows well, as does the premise. Crouch and Kitt are able to express their desired message with ease, while also creating the smallest hint of gore well suited alongside a Stephen King thriller. It impressed me enough to want to explore both authors a little more to see what they have written solo.

Kudos, Madam Kitt and Mr. Crouch. I am intrigued, which is a big step for me. Keep writing and impressing your audiences.

Kissing Games, by Mark Edwards

Three and a half stars (of five)

Edwards offers a short, yet chilling, look into his mind with this quick read. Ben and Ollie are tired of their lives and the lack of excitement they bring. On a dare, they agree to sneak out at night and explore a decrepit building in the woods, formerly used as an asylum. Loaded up with supplies, they make the trek, unaware that one of the former residents, Alice Johnson, still frequents her old home, still plagued by her need to seek revenge young boys. Her form of revenge includes killing boys and stealing a kiss from their cold lips. As Ben and Ollie arrive, things take a definite turn for the worse. Hot on their trail is Ben’s mom, Lydia, who’s roused herself from a drunken stupor and remembers Alice from her own childhood. Can Lydia save Ben from the clutches of Alice’s embrace or is this all a twisted sort of game, destined to play out. A great quick read to pass the time, showing Edwards less than savoury side.

Always a fan of Mark Edwards and his ideas, especially as he strings them together in a little thrill and horror. While this was not as scary or as spine-chilling as some of his other pieces, it does provide a glimpse into his inner Stephen King and the horrors that reside within his thought processes. Highly entertaining and a great way to pass an hour.

Kudos, Mr. Edwards for this short story to tide me over. Always happy to see your fans are recognised for their loyalty.

Consenting Adults, by Mark Edwards

Four stars (of five)

Edwards brings back one of his characters from a recently released thriller to hash out a little more background story on PI Edward Rooney.

After bemoaning his life, Rooney must pull himself up by the socks and realise that life is not fair and others around him are enjoying it as he works himself to an early grave. When a woman of considerable means enters his office and asks that he locate her ‘daughter’, Rooney predicts this will be an open and shut case. However, as he begins poking around, he soon discovers he’s in uncharted territory (at least for him). Young Christina Navitski is involved with a man whose passion for S&M leaves her on the receiving end of his personal delights. The further Rooney digs, the more apparent it becomes that this is a case of murder and her missing person status can be changed to victim of crime. However, nothing is as it seems, as Edwards makes known in all his stories, and Rooney is left wondering if an open and shut case is really what he has on his hands.
A new short storyby Mark Edwards piques the interest of his fans and leaves them wondering what else is bouncing around in his head. I am a huge fan of Edwards, as well as the use of other pieces of writing to further flesh out a smaller characters backstory, which is done effectively in this short story. I hope Edwards will continue with this format, when time permits, and continue entertaining his vast number of fans.

Kudos, Mr. Edwards for another wonderful piece of writing. Keep them coming!

The Breaking Point (Body Farm #9), by Jefferson Bass

Four stars (of five)

Jefferson Bass returns with a throwback novel that hold the thrills to which series fans are accustomed as it further educates all about the wonders of forensic anthropology. After celebrating his 30th wedding anniversary, Dr. Bill Brockton, creator of the Body Farm, is summoned by the FBI and sent to the outskirts of San Diego. After bidding goodbye to his wife, Kathleen, Brockton heads west where he’s asked to identify the remains of a well-known philanthropist, whose small plane crashed on a routine flight. As Brockton heads up the difficult identification of a body having been through tremendous force during the crash, media inquiries begin to cast the spotlight on the FBI and NTSB, demanding the results be made public. Brockton’s discoveries lead to a positive identification, though it’s rushed by those in power, which he delivers as the inter-Agency politics heat up. Talk of a drug delivery angle emerge as Brockton leaves the scene and heads back to the University of Tennessee and his loving wife, in the heart of Knoxville. Brockton’s return is anything but calm as a local reporter begins poking around the premise of the Body Farm and asks difficult questions regarding the humane treatment of the bodies on the premises. These inquiries succeed in getting local politicians to wonder about the need for the Farm and threats of massive funding cuts leave the University scrambling. If that were not enough, a serial killer from his past has Brockton worried for his life, as well as that of Kathleen. When Kathleen delivers her own news, it is too much for Brockton to handle and he begins a swift mental and physical unravelling. With the case in San Diego blowing up and proving Brockton was completely wrong, he must face the music while juggling everything else and make it right, or face a permanent strain between himself and the Bureau. A wonderful story that fills gaps in the Bill Brockton narrative, entertaining as it teachers the reader more about the wonders of forensic anthropology.

WhenI began this novel, I could not wrap my head around why it had to be set in 2004 and not the current day. The more I read and using my powers of memory (this is not the only series I read, so I had to pull crumbs from past novels to recollect how things played out) I realised on ingenious Bass was in setting the novel in this time period. Much of Brockton’s growth as a character takes place in this time period and this novel illustrates that better than any of the others. Kathleen and her struggles, as well as the constant queries about the necessity for the Farm are not lost on the attentive reader. With other crumbs useful for the novels set in the present day, Bass treats the reader to a thoroughly exciting and jam-packed novel. Perhaps too jam-packed, as some storylines fall silent in order to keep the book under 500 pages. If I could offer one suggestion, choose two storylines and focus on them. Write an additional novel down the road to return to the issues and add to the creation. And for God’s sake, don’t make us wait so long the next time for new material.

Kudos, Messrs. Jefferson and Bass for this wonderful novel and the ideas woven therein. I am so pleased to have taken the time to read it and hope more ideas make their way to the publisher soon.

A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Outlander #6), by Diana Gabaldon

Five stars (of five)

Gabaldon continues the epic historical series as the narrative inches closer to the American War of Independence. An early crime sets the Frasers and MacKenzies on edge, leaving Claire shaken to the core. This does not deter her prophetic commentary ahead of the key battles in the War and allows Jamie to forge his own path in the coming clash, pitting honour to the Crown against a known final outcome. Amidst the preparations for War, Gabaldon peppers the text with numerous vignettes that flesh out more characters, with the key players continuing their familial growth. Claire uses her time to explore her role as traveller through the Stones, having encountered others who have undergone the same fate at various points in her ‘new life’. These others will educate her in the ways of the Stones, as well as the varied portals that exist to move people from the 20th to 18th centuries with relative ease, while taking a major toll on their lives. Roger, who seeks to find his own niche in the 18th century, takes up the cloth and becomes a Presbyterian minister for the Ridge, drawing on some of his adoptive father’s life lessons before he crossed into the past. Facing numerous quandaries and legal battles of their own, akin to a soap opera at times, those on Fraser’s Ridge forge ahead while the colonies around them seek to carve out their own history and future apart from Britain. However, what story would be complete without another visit by Irish pirate Stephen Bonnet, who tries to take what he feels is his, Brianna. While she awaits assistance, she turns the tables on this lout and attempts to end his marauding activities once and for all. As the story winds down and the Clan expands, a medical issue may force the Frasers and MacKenzies to separate, a decision no one takes lightly. Gabaldon continues her story with such pizzazz that avid readers are left begging for more.

Gabaldon has used the War of Independence as a key event towards which the series marches. As the months draw closer and the prophetic article in the Wilmington Gazette offers a date for their death, Jamie and Claire must wrestle with their history, future, and love for one another, as well as bringing the entire cast of Fraser’s Ridge forward in this sensational sixth novel in the series. Gabaldon finds new historical spins on which to focus and keeps the chapter-based tales fresh and highly interesting. The continued exploration of science and medicine in a comparative fashion between both centuries proves highly informative to the reader, as well as using history as a forward-looking guidebook rather than a collective of past lessons. Gabladon also forces Claire to face truths about her original fate as a Stone traveller and what that might mean about her as a person and how many others might have made similar journeys, scattered all over the world. Claire and Jamie continue to connect on many levels, but have stepped aside to next subsequent generations take centre stage and deliver a story all their own. Masterfully told and sensationally intricate, Gabaldon amazes fans with her long and drawn-out narrative, holding the interest of true fans from beginning to end.

Kudos, Madam Gabaldon, as you continue to dazzle readers with your ideas, plots, and smaller storylines. I am in awe at how much you can tell, and yet how much remains a mystery for future novels. 

Bones on Ice (Temperence Brennan #17.5), by Kathy Reichs

Five stars (of five)

Kathy Reichs uses all her skills in this unique novella, which sees forensic anthropologist Temperance (Tempe) Brennan involved in a cold case like no other, foul play atop Mount Everest. When Tempe is called in to work on a weekend, she’s less than impressed. Once she learns that she’s personally been requested to handle the identification of a frozen, mummified corpse, things get a little more interesting. While trekking up Mount Everest, Brighton Hallis perished amongst the elements, the rest of her crew finding her body on their descent. It’s been three years and Tempe must work with what she has to determine if this is, in fact, Brighton. With over 200 bodies scattered around the “death zone” area of Everest, it is anything but a foregone conclusion that these remains are those of Brighton. Reichs explores the world of mountain climbing, where individuals lose their identity and become known by their coloured clothing, the only differential when surrounded by snow and ice. What appears to be a simple body succumbing to the elements soon becomes a murder victim, leaving Tempe to piece it all together. Was it one of the climbing crew with a vendetta that wanted Brighton to die up where no one would find her, or perhaps a rival climber who wanted glory? All this leaves the legal argument of charging anyone in Charlotte with a crime that took place in Nepal. In her anthropological sleuthing way, Tempe pieces it all together, but finds herself more confused the further she digs. A wonderful novella to bridge the time until the next full-length Tempe Brennan novel hits the shelves.

Reichs remains the queen of her craft and is as entertaining as she is educational. Tackling forensics in ways no other author (outside the field) has ever attempted, she keeps the reader curious and wondering throughout this piece. From the medical terminology surrounding climbing to the legal matters of a murder on the other side of the world, Reichs leaves few rocks unturned in a short period. Pepper in some humour and a little character bridging between the two major novels and you have a wonderful novella that is sure to tide avid fans over, but not for too long.

Kudos, Madam Reichs for all your hard work and entertaining writing. I am a true fan and cannot wait for more Tempe.

Follow You Home, by Mark Edwards

Five stars (of five)

Mark Edwards is back with a new thriller sure to keep reader up late into the night, especially if they travel by rail. While on a tour of Europe, Laura and Daniel are robbed in the rural townships of Romania, their passports and tickets lifted from their bags. Romanian border guards toss them from the train, along with a young woman, Alina, who sought to defend them. In the middle of nowhere, Alina trudges off and Laura and Daniel soon follow, trying to find her, but only discovering a discarded boot. When they come upon a dilapidated house in the forest, Laura and Daniel explore, which is where they plot thickens immensely. Edwards moves the story forward, back to London, where Laura and Daniel sit on a secret they discovered in Romania, one that has left them emotionally and somewhat physically scarred. Neither will talk about it, but they soon drift apart and find themselves on separate tracks as they try to deal with it. Anyone Daniel tells portions of the story to ends up dead, leaving him to wonder if he’s being hunted in order to keep quiet. Laura struggles as well, seeing ghosts surrounding her, which pushes her to the brink. Alina’s own story adds to the mystery and her appearance in London leaves Daniel to wonder the true and complete story of that house in Romania. Edwards adds layers of thrill and psychological chill in his latest novel, with a cliffhanger or two to blindside the reader as well.

Edwards has a knack of building up a happy facade on the periphery of his stories, with a deeper and darker truth to them, the further the book progresses. Once the reader is halfway into the novel, like a masterful web, they cannot escape and must read on to discover what lies behind the next corner. With an interesting background pulled from history, Edwards seeks to thrill the reader into submission. One of his best solo pieces to date, readers will flock to this and devour it more in fear than necessity.

Kudos, Mr. Edwards for your sick and twisted ways as you try to keep the reader guessing until the bitter end.

Pales Horses (Jade de Jong #4), by Jassy Mackenzie

Three stars (of five)

In the latest Jade de Jong novel, Mackenzie continues her informative description of life and crime in South Africa. Jade de Jong is hired by a wealthy trader to investigate a suspicious death of a close friend, Sonet Meintjies. During a base jump, Sonet died attempting to parachute from a skyscraper. Could there be more to this than a simple miscalculation or equipment failure? Jade begins digging deeper, which uncovers that Sonet had an extensive charity portfolio and worked closely with impoverished communities as they tried to rebuild their farming base. Jade goes to inquire, but finds one community whose name is all over Sonet portfolio completely razed to the ground for no good reason. Working at arm’s length with Superintendent David Patel, Jade peels back the mystery and soon realises that there is a plethora of evil lurking under the surface, with unknowing Africans as blindsided victims. While still wrestling with her emotions for Patel and the news he delivered months earlier, Jade must forge ahead to save the community and Africa as a whole from the grip of a multi-national corporation bent on building their profit margin on the backs of farming collectives. Gripping in its telling and content, Mackenzie taps into the reader’s curiosity to deliver a wonderful addition to the series.

While some have lauded Mackenzie for always delivering a new and more thrilling novel, I was not as impressed with the fourth instalment of the Jade de Jong series. There were moments of intrigue and wonderful sleuthing, but the narrative impetus and thrill factor seems to have dissipated as Mackenzie rests on her laurels a little, leaving Jade and Patel to fend for themselves. The subject matter appeared a little to intrigue, but not tear the reader away from their respective issues and push crop modification front and centre in their lives. The ideas were fresh and the approach ever-evolving, but I am not sure how I truly feel about the Jade de Jong story here, or the lack of personal development. It appears as though too much came out in the last novel and there is nothing on which to build in this novel.

 Kudos, Madam Mackenzie for a good piece of writing. I would love to see another novel come into this series, if you have new and impressive ideas to share.

The Fallen (Jade de Jong #3), by Jassy Mackenzie

Four stars (of five)

Resuming my ongoing interest in Mackenzie’s series, I rushed to learn a little more about Jade de Jong and the mysteries in rural South Africa. Attending a scuba holiday with her love interest Superintendent David Patel, Jade is able to finally relax in her surroundings. She’s left Johannesburg behind her and can focus on rebuilding the strained relationship. However, earth shattering news brought by David adds new angst to Jade’s life and dissolves any possible relationship she and David might hope to share. These romantic questions soon dissolve when a young scuba diving instructor is found stabbed to death in her soon. Jade and Patel must work together with the local authorities to learn how such an unlikely victim found herself on the wrong side of someone’s rage. A random postcard turns up, citing 813 and The Fallen, which leads Jade down a winding path to learn more about environmental politics in South Africa, and the world over. Amidst her search, Jade takes some time out to further investigate her mother’s death and the mysteries surrounding it. The narrative she has believed her entire life may hold but a peppering of truth, controversies her father took with him to the grave. With a fast-paced story and wonderful ending, Mackenzie treats series fans to a wonderful novel that builds momentum on so many levels.

The story has its moments and does fork off in many directions on numerous occasions, but this does not entirely lessen the impact of the narrative. As I reader, I found myself led down a certain path, destined to see the story play out, only to discover that it was but an educational side-trip, with little key probative value to the larger story. However, once the pieces all come together, the reader is transfixed and races to the end, much as Jade does in the story, only to discover how wrong they might have been. This is the sign of a great author, able to lure the reader in with a simple writing style.

Kudos, Madam Mackenzie for another great novel. I am pleased to have taken the gamble on this series and all you bring to it.