The Bones Will Speak (Gwen Marcey #2), by Carrie Stuart Parks

Four stars (of five)

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Carrie Stuart Parks, and Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Without having read Parks’ previous novel, I felt unsure how to approach this second book in the series. Gwen Marcey is a forensic artist, working piecemeal for the local sheriff , but is unable to make ends meet. While out with her dog, they discover a skull and eventually a body that bears an uncanny resemblance to Gwen’s own daughter. Pulled deeper into the mix, move victims emerge and Gwen finds herself visiting crime scenes she knows well from an artistic point of view. Honing her investigative skills, Gwen uncovers parallels between the victims and clues found at the scene, all of which lead back to a neo-Nazi group in the guise of a Christian church, the Phineas Priesthood. Gwen’s past forensic work may also play a role in her being a target, a case with deep religious and supremacist roots. With a killer out on the loose, no one is safe, especially Gwen and her daughter. Set in the Montana backcountry, Parks uses what she knows best and formulates a wonderful forensic mystery that develops in unique ways, luring the reader deeper with each passing moment.

Parks has a wonderful way of laying out a mystery in a clear and concise manner, which attracts the reader from the early stages. Without bogging the reader down with excessive forensic information, the story moves quickly. A unique approach, forensic art, keeps the main character distanced from many other attempts authors have made to create their respective niche in the genre. Parks builds on her characters slowly, but constantly. Use of a more rural setting allows the reader more of a personal connection to each person introduced, rather than having to flip back an reacquaint one’s self with the plethora of legal authorities. Also, use of short, sharp chapters pushes the reader forward, promising that they will ‘read only one more’ before completing a dozen. Parks has found her calling and with more novels using this style will surely allow her following to grow exponentially.

Kudos, Madam Parks for this wonderfully entertaining piece. I can only hope you’ll keep writing and finding new ways to use the Gwen Marcey character to your benefit.

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Eden, by Candice Fox

Three stars (of five)

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Candice Fox, and Kensington Publishing Corp. for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Fox presents a powerful crime thriller, pitting two unlikely homicide detectives together to battle crime in Australia. Eden Archer is a young and ambitious woman, with a dark interpretation of justice while Frank Bennett has seen too much and chooses to hide himself in the haze of pills and booze. Sent to investigate three missing women presumed murdered, Eden and Frank follow a lead to a farm on the outskirts of Sydney, where the girls were last seen. While Frank lives in a haze, he can clearly see the danger in the case and tries to talk Eden out of going undercover, living amongst the others to extract information. Eden’s stubborn side wins out, but she agrees to having surveillance in hopes of nabbing the killer before it’s too late. While Eden develops her persona, Frank is approached by Eden’s father, Hades, who has a private job for him, and is willing to pay for answers. As Frank suspends his apprehension of Hades, a known killer himself, Fox takes the reader through a series of chapter-long flashbacks to tell the story of young Hades and Sunday White. Agreeing to look for Sunday White, thought murdered decades earlier, Frank straddles his time keeping an eye on progress within the farm. Eden continues her ruse to uncover what really happened to those three girls and it is only when she befriends the owner’s plaything that Eden discovers the explosive truths she did not think possible. Frank struggles to keep his life on the straight and narrow while discovering the truths behind Sunday’s disappearance and the childhood Hades left behind. An interesting novel that forces the reader to leave their comfort at the door, before plunging deep into a world of death and despair.

Without reading the previous novel in the series, I wondered how much backstory Fox might provide readers. The novel was full of references to the previous adventure, which helps develop characters while also spoiling much for the new reader. Fox presents the sordid underbelly of crime in such a way that the reader cannot shy away, should they wish to forge ahead in the novel. Using two characters so different and yet so similar, Fox pushes the reader to choose one with whom to relate. While the split tasks Bennett undertook left me a little confused at times, I was able to push through and make better sense of the story, as well as the character development, while not entirely drawn to either protagonist. Told in blunt form, yet not on the verge of being disturbingly graphic, Fox engages readers but does not seek to lull them into complacency, which is key in a genre chock-full of novels in which the reader can remain a passive bystander.

Kudos, Madam Fox for this interesting novel and ever-evolving characters. I might have to check out HADES soon, though your filling in the gaps throughout the novel left many a spoiler in the open.

Broken Promise (Promise Falls #1), by Linwood Barclay

Four stars (of five)

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Linwood Barclay, and Penguin Group Berkley NAL for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Barclay is back with another of his psychological thrillers that keeps the reader engaged and wondering until the bitter end. David Harwood holds the short end of the stick; a single dad after the loss of his wife, a plum journalism job that falls apart as soon as he starts, and he’s forced to live with his parents to make ends meet. When his mother asks him to check in on a wayward cousin, still suffering from the recent loss of a baby, David is sure this will be a quick meeting and distraction from his dreary life. However, Marla Pickens has a surprise for David, a baby she claims was passed along to her “by an angel”. With a history of non-consensual baby acquisition from the Promise Falls Hospital, Marla could be up to her old tricks. It is only when a woman is found stabbed to death across town and her baby missing that the pieces fall into place in a resounding fashion, leaving David to wonder if his cousin might be a cold-hearted killer. Pleading ignorance and sticking to her story, Marla cannot understand what she’s done wrong and David’s reporter senses begin to buzz. What if someone else in Promise Falls is trying to set her up, preying on her pass weakness? As David begins to probe further, shelving the issues with his son and parents, there lies a truth he could not see coming. Barclay crafts a great story, told from multiple angles, to lure the reader into wondering what could happen next, then chooses a path that was obstructed and forges on. Not to be missed and surely the great opening to a series.

Barclay utlises a formula in his novels that fans know well: present many characters, use numerous storylines to keep them fresh, then tie off the main plot with a twist no one saw coming, even if you paid attention. Barclay then weaves in some thrills and spills, while keeping the reader in a crazed fit of needing to know. Even though the formula can be applied to all his thrillers, I get sucked in by the obscure path every time, and I love it. The stories are unique and the happenstance keeps readers from getting bored by the same stepped process. Readers can join the Barclay train at any time and not miss a beat, though his sometimes minute references to past stories are not lost on long-time fans. A stellar writer who has a style all his own, while not straying away from what he does best; confound the reader to the final period. 

Kudos, Mr. Barclay for this excellent novel. You make all Canadians proud, but also anyone who loves a good thriller and can handle a night of lamp-huddled page turning to find out how wrong preconceived notions can be.

Evil Never Dies (Lizzy Gardner #6), by T.R. Ragan

Four stars (of five)

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, T. R. Ragan, and Amazon Publishing Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Having no previous experience in the Lizzy Gardner series, I took the plunge into this series finale, unaware of the gem that awaited me. Lizzy Gardner Investigations has built a reputation as a stalwart firm in Sacramento, helping those in need. However, since the murder of Lizzy’s fiancé, justice and equality are stale concepts, replaced with the urge for retaliation and retribution. The investigative team amasses a list of Sacramento’s most despicable rapists and molesters before planting evidence to ensure they are punished and keeping their own hands clean. While the team works through the list, a sadistic criminal lurks in the shadows, committing heinous crimes and depositing clues to hint at his intentions. Lizzy is determined to unveil the Sacramento Strangler and save a missing teen before she becomes his next victim. If that were not enough, a well-known personality is using his power to lure young women into his clutches, before disposing of them and threatening harm to any who talk. With a handful of other cases to flesh out the story, this fast-paced end to the series has Ragan bidding adieu to a wonderful collection of characters from all walks of life, each with their own growth exemplified over six novels.

Parachuting into a series half a dozen books in can have its downfalls, both for the reader and the author. As a reader, you are left to pick up the random pieces of characters and understand how they made it to this point without feeling utterly and completely out of sync. For the author, without enough backstory, you may lose a new reader and suffer the chance that they will never connect and therefore seek not to look to the previous books. Ragan does both, not sacrificing the forward movement her regulars expect, but also building the characters with enough openness to reflect their personalities and personal growth. Ragan effectively handles multiple storylines and keeps pace throughout the novel, allowing sub-plots to grow at the pace of the main story, while not going chapters with no mention, so as to lose the reader’s interest. I felt able to handle the numerous characters throughout without having to flip back or pull out a cheat sheet just to remember what’s happened. Add to that, these are characters who show both good and evil, making them even more realistic. You cannot ask for more in a series, in a book, and especially in a finale.

Kudos, Madam Ragan for this entertaining piece of work. I am determined to see the Lizzie Gardner Investigations’ team grown through all novels and will, soon enough, trek backwards to see how they came to this ultimate place. You are not only a gifted writer, but you captivate without going overboard.

Radiant Angel (John Corey #7), by Nelson DeMille

Five stars (of five)

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Nelson DeMille, and Grand Central Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

DeMille creates a sensational story featuring his most popular character, John Corey; man of mystery, hated by many, and fearful of little. Corey is back on US soil, now employed by the FBI’s Diplomatic Surveillance Group (DSG). Corey and his new trainee, Tess Faraday, are sent to tail Colonel Vasily Petrov, a member of Russia’s UN delegation. When the target slips away at a scandalous dinner party, the worst Corey expects is a runaway colonel seeking a little more fun, although this cannot be taken lightly. While pondering his next move to reacquire surveillance, Corey is pulled in by State Department Intelligence and alerted to chatter surrounding a suitcase nuclear weapon, brought stateside by the Russians. Now the race is on to discover the target as well as the delivery method, both of which baffle Corey and the rest of the Intelligence community. Meanwhile, the Russians have crafted a plan to diffuse the nukes with the most damage, both physical and political. Hijacking a yacht, they work to complete their task on the morning of September 12th, putting the blame on the Saudis and instilling fear in 300 million Americans before obliterating Manhattan and the memory of the Twin Towers. With a resurgence of US-Russian animosity, DeMille tells a story in his unique style, peppered with dry wit that keeps the reader laughing and gasping in the same breath. Not to be missed by series fans and new readers alike.

Having followed the John Corey series for years, I was pleased to devour another instalment, chock-full of drama, sarcasm, and fast-paced action. DeMille steers away from other authors’ cookie-cutter plot that pits the United States against the Islamic world, highly overdone these dozen plus years later. Instead, he addresses the issue of the autocratic regime emerging in Russia, with Putin at its helm. Using not only New York, but the high concentration of Russian ex-pats, DeMille can craft a wonderful story while also ensuring that Corey’s numerous contacts and past storylines weave themselves into the narrative. Not only is DeMille entertaining, but he remains highly informative as he tells of the past historical clashes during the Cold War and predicts future issues in a second Frigid Aggression Movement. Utilising strong dialogue and a story that never slows, DeMille pulls his readers in and keeps them turning pages well into the night.

Kudos, Mr. DeMille for another great novel. Don’t water down the Corey character one iota, as he makes these novels even more enjoyable.

Eden in Winter (Martha’s Vineyard #3), by Richard North Patterson

Three stars (of five)

I wish to thank Netgalley, Richard North Patterson, and Quercus Books (US) for allowing me to re-read and review this novel, penned by an author for whom I have much respect.

Patterson completes the Martha’s Vineyard trilogy by returning to the present, and the inquest into Ben Blaine’s death. Adam, having taken over the role of shepherd to his directionless family, tries his best to steer suspicion away by sabotaging the evidence on file with the district attorney. Adam is also trying to make more sense of the revelations of his own family’s inner deterioration, both recently and over the past decade. Making an effort to get a better understanding of Carla Pacelli, the woman whose pregnancy lies at the centre of the ever-evolving drama, Adam soon discovers a close-knit friendship with her, as they bond over their respective life stories. While juggling his covert job and the legal matters sure to bury his family, Adam is drawn closer to this forbidden fruit and all she offers. Could building something with Carla be Adam’s best shot at getting back at Ben for all he’s done, as well as the family that’s left him to clean up their mess? Patterson concludes the Blaine story, somewhat unconventionally and in a somewhat anti-climactic manner, leaving some to wonder the impetus of the entire three-book series.

Perhaps it is the deeply analytical nature of this trilogy, or the complete turnaround taken in this writing style, but I am not as fond of this Patterson collection. While the middle book was outstanding and told a deeply reflective story, the first and third novels were less about the inner workings of the machine than a constant flitting from past to present. I felt little connection to these characters, even Carla, who bears all throughout the novel.While perhaps slightly harsh, I hope Patterson returns to the powerful political novels with which I am familiar. That said, it was a powerfully crafted and narrated book, worth examining for any reader seeking a deeper inner-look at family politics.
Kudos, Mr. Patterson for this novel and the entire trilogy. While not my favourites, they did force me to think outside the box in which I usually find myself.

The Reincarnation of Annie Brown, by W. Scott Mitchell

Three stars (of five)

When asked by the author to read and honestly review this novel, I did so with as little trepidation. I knew nothing of the man, his style, or even his capabilities. Having come through the journey, I am satisfied Mitchell knows how to captivate an audience with his prose and forces the reader to think, rather than permit mental neutrality. Eric is a recent university graduate in economics and philosophy, content with his studies, but unsure what his next step might be. Having developed a system of predicting market fluctuations, he becomes highly interesting to some of his professors, as well as to a secret organisation the A Priori Group. Eric finds himself in a new relationship with a dark poet, Erin, but it is placed on hold over the summer while she completes an internship, leaving Eric spends a great deal of time with his friend, Jill, who’s entered his life through her own relationship with Eric’s roommate, Gary. The time he spends with Jill allows Eric to see things in her that he had not seen before, and sense feelings that were long left dormant. In a period of discovering an romantic analysis, Jill and Eric begin to push down the walls of their friendship, exploring their deeper emotions, shelving the realities of their respective relationship. When Eric learns that the three people with whom he is closest are all A Priori recruits and that they are housed together for a period of time, he begins to wonder who he fits in and if anything is real. As Eric begins to pull away from Erin and moves towards Jill, things take turns neither of them expect, placing Eric in an emotional and philosophical game of tug-of-war, unsure where to turn. It is only when he is able to reflect back on his time with Annie Brown, lost to him years before, that Eric realises his pull towards both Jill and Erin, knowing he cannot have them both. Powerfully written with poignant themes and curious analyses of events most people take for granted, Mitchell can speak to the reader through his characters in a way I have not seen for a long time.

I was not sure how to approach this novel, nor what I would get out of it, but knew there was something worth exploring. I took away much from the story and even the development of the characters. Eric spoke to me, personally, in his struggles to handle love and mourn the loss of a past relationship. As the story progressed and Eric was faced with the battles both Erin and Jill brought to the table, I could see myself in the struggle as well, wondering how to handle it. Mitchell does not only instil empathy in the reader, but can truly tap into their lives and pull out poignant events, forcing an inner philosophical discussion. The A Priori discussion was less involved to me, but its presence cannot be discounted, as it is the thread that brought these four individuals together. While I cannot be sure Eric made the choice I might have, I can rest assured that I am left to wonder as I place his story against the framework of my own, and move forward from here.

I cannot leave this review without bringing up a significant flaw, one that any potential reader should be aware of ahead of time. When Mitchell presented this book to me, he admitted that ” I am far more interested in telling the story than I am in editing.” This should have been foreboding for me, as the novel is full of typographical errors, grammatical assassinations, and punctuation disasters. While I am a fairly lenient reader, if I pick up on multiple (we’re talking scores here, not a handful) issues, I find the flow the book is lost. Published work should have that refined feel to it, which this does not. I cringed and shook my head well into the night as I forged on, convinced it would be an early chapter anomaly. I suspect Mitchell either did superficial proofing himself or his editorial team forged their credentials. Highly annoying and problematic, this issue cost Mitchell the stellar rating and review this novel’s content deserves. Then again, you can’t always get what you want!

Kudos, Mr. Mitchell for this piece of work. I am curious to read some more of your work, but please do not approach me until after this reckless editorial error has been solved.

The President’s Shadow (Culper Ring #3), by Brad Meltzer

Five stars (of five)

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Brad Meltzer, and Grand Central Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Meltzer returns from his novel-writing hiatus with another gem! Beecher White is still working as an archivist within the National Archives, home to some of the country’s most prized possessions and deepest secrets. He also remains the newest a member of the Culper Ring, a secret group whose primary purpose, to protect the office of the presidency at any cost. The Ring dates back to George Washington and influence has not waned in over 200 years. When a severed arms appears buried in the Rose Garden, the President calls upon Beecher to help, in his capacity as a Ring member, in hopes of finding the person behind this high-security breech. Working through some of the preliminaries, Beecher discovers that this is highly personal, as a clue left at the scene ties specifically to his dead father’s military unit. After an altercation with Beecher reveals an important clue, Ezra Young becomes the man wanted for the mysterious body parts. Ezra remains elusive to authorities at all levels, known only by his white eyelashes. Young has also made it his mission to bring down the Ring at any cost, reviving its old rival, the Knights of the Golden Circle. Beecher works to uncover the Knights and determine their next move, just as another severed limb turns up at Camp David. The chase is on, taking the investigation to Devil’s Island, off the Florida Coast. The Island was once used to detain those behind the Lincoln assassination and, more recently, where Beecher’s father, Albi, is presumed to have died. As things reach their boiling point, Beecher faces Ezra and another nemesis from his past, Nico Hadrian, a psychopathic killer who served in Albi’s military unit. Nico is on his own mission, to punish those who ran experiments on his military unit three decades earlier, told in a highly informative set of flashbacks. With the stakes high for all involved, Devil’s Island could gain additional notoriety, if anyone makes it off alive! This is a fast-paced and stellar novel, sure to bring long-time fans flocking back for another political thriller.

After a longer than usual gap in his adult writing, Meltzer picks up where he left off with gusto! The content is gripping and the action does not let up, leaving the reader stunned at numerous points. Meltzer has long been a master at weaving the political into his novels and does not let up, layering it with obscure historical anecdotes that inform as much as entertain. Meltzer utilises his masterful character development, interesting plots, and sensational pacing to develop a novel that reminds his fans why he is so beloved. There is nothing quite like a Meltzer novel to get the brain working and the blood pumping, though the timing between them can surely leave fans wishing for more. Then again, that may be the ultimate point!

Kudos, Mr. Meltzer for another great novel. I look forward to more in the coming years!

The Fugitive (Theodore Boone #5), by John Grisham

Five stars (of five)

Grisham returns with another Theodore Boone novel that will have adults and youths alike talking and speculating. On his eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., Theo Boone spots a local criminal on the lam, a large reward tied to his recapture. Pete Duffy is wanted for murder back in Strattenburg, having fled during his retrial. During a brief reconnaissance mission, Theo is able to assist the FBI with Duffy’s recapture, using a disguise to protect his identity. If only that were the end of the story, Theo could rest easily. Back in custody, Duffy may formally face retrial for the murder, with a witness whose testimony will likely seal Duffy’s fate. Theo must convince Bobby Escobar, an undocumented worker, to testify while ensuring his identity remains shielded, as well as his own while Duffy’s goons seek revenge. As Theo watches the legal process in action, he learns a great deal about the rights of the accused and limits set forth in the Constitution. After receiving mysterious pressure to flee, Bobby Escobar does just that, leaving Theo to try coaxing him back without pressuring the State’s witness. Theo does all in his power to ensure Duffy does not get a second mistrial, a guaranteed dismissal of the murder charges. But, does this thirteen year-old legal beagle have what it takes to keep justice from flying off the rails? With a great narrative and some highly humourous moments, including a trip to Animal Court, Grisham presents a stellar tale of Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, and a cliffhanger that will leave readers screaming until next spring.

Having recently finished another author’s series dabbling into the world of young adult fiction, the difference is staggering. Grisham has a firm handle on the legal world and how to relay it to younger audiences without making it seem watered down or completely silly. Theo Boone is your typical (or as close to it) middle-school kid with his own interests and dislikes. The reader can relate to the situations presented and the legal matters are realistic, presented in such a way as to excite rather than bore the audience. Grisham’s annual foray into the Boone world is one I enjoy and cannot say I want to end anytime soon. With active dialogue, great narration, and a cast of interesting characters, Grisham has a series on his hands that could go on for years to come, without becoming stale. As he finds new ways to entertain his adult audiences, surely there are a myriad of cases that younger readers could find themselves fixated to as well.

Kudos, Mr. Grisham for another successful Theo Boone novel. Don’t stop the momentum.

White Death (Alexander Hawke, # 8.5), by Ted Bell

Four stars (of five)

Ted Bell is back with another Alex Hawke novella that will pave the way for his next full-length novel. During a rescue climb in the Swiss Alps, a member of the military’s alpine division comes across a severed head, free of its body or any trace of why it rests in a crevice. Enter Lord Alex Hawke, who is summoned by MI6 to investigate a series of illegal computer transactions that have jeopardised the holdings of the upper echelon of British society. Could this head, eventually identified as a prominent Swiss banker who recently returned from London, play a role in the hacking that has members of Buckingham Palace in a tizzy? Working with Scotland Yard’s Ambrose Congreve, Hawke heads to Switzerland, where he works with Baron von Stuka, ‘Wolfie’, an affable member of the country’s military who has been helping Swiss officials with the case. Speculation about who might be behind the hacks into the prominent accounts opens numerous options, but no firm leads. Hawke and Congreve agree to go undercover to crack open the case, supported by all resources Wolfie can allow. Working with a new romantic interest, young banking official Sigrid, Hawke begins looking into the mysterious disappearance of another banking officials from decades before. The Sorcerer, suspected of having fallen off a mountain while scaling it, could be hiding in one of the honeycombed area of the Swiss Alps, long-ago thought to have been sealed. As the trio investigate, they realise that Hawke must scale White Death, the only mountain in the area Hawke has failed to overcome, while Sigrid and Congreve extract information about the hackers on terra firma. Beginning his trek up the mountain, towards Murder Wall, where he lost his grandfather, Hawke is determined to find the Sorcerer and uncover the hacker before anything else goes awry. With a limited time before more hacks emerge, Hawke must rely on his oldest friend and a woman who warms his heart to track down the killer and stop the flow of illegal transactions. A great novella that opens the door to new characters and plot lines for Bell’s avid mind.

While the Hawke and Congreve characters can be somewhat pretentious as they pretend to be the modern incarnations of James Bond, Bell has been able to keep his stories chock-full of great adventure and drama. The characters are always witty and usually have far-reaching knowledge, which thickens the plot and allows for a vast array of adventure. With each novella, there is some useful tie-in to the subsequent novel, useful as a prize for those who take the time to read them. While I can likely predict what is to come, I chose not to read the teaser segment of PATRIOT, for I always let John Shea narrate the full novels for me, with his uncanny accents and presentation. Bell has a great repertoire and wonderful ideas, for which I am eternally grateful. Now, if only he could scale down a little of the hoity-toity nature…wait, that would ruin the Hawke character demonstrably.

Kudos, Mr. Bell for another great mini-instalment to the series. Keep this work coming!