Justice Redeemed, by Scott Pratt

Four stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Scott Pratt, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In this stand-alone legal thriller, Pratt brings as much gusto as can be found in his popular Joe Dillard series. Darren Street is a compassionate criminal defence attorney, as oxymoronic as that may sound. He fights for the little guy and will not permit injustice to permeate an already jaded society. As Pratt opens the novel, Street is in the midst of fighting for his uncle’s release after a lengthy time in prison for a crime he did not commit. In vacating the conviction, Street makes a major enemy with the D.A., who is hellbent on exacting some form of revenge. After Street meets with a potential client, he discovers a man who is flippant about his potential role in a double murder of two young boys and refuses to defend him. This refusal has consequences and Street is faced with threats against his son. Reacting in a paternal knee-jerk fashion, Street approaches one of his former clients to ‘handle the situation’, but rescinds the request after his conscience wins out. Unfortunately, the wheels have already started turning and the former D.A. is now working for the US Attorney’s office, ready to find a way to corner Street and put him away. When the potential child killer’s body is found and the evidence points to Street, there is no hope for justice, even as the determined lawyer works with a young but passionate attorney to clear his name. Street is sent away for a crime he did not commit, with little hope of ever getting out. In this stunning novel, Pratt pushes the legal system to its limits and leaves the reader wondering if Darren Street will be yet another number in the US Penal system sporting shades of orange for the rest of his existence. Not to be missed by Dillard fans and those who enjoy a legal thriller.

I have been a Pratt fan for a long time and always enjoyed his Joe Dillard novels. Even though this is a break from the well-tuned series, any reader familiar with Pratt’s style will find that the setting (Tennessee) and the genre (courtroom thriller) fit perfectly. In this novel, Pratt looks less at the courtroom as the final setting, with a crime and a trial planning build-up. Instead, the reader is treated to the injustice that some of those with the backing of the government have over the accused and how, with the right evidence and power of persuasion, they can bring about a jaded form of justice. Pratt takes the reader inside the penal system and gives his own view of incarceration, as well as the slow pace at which any legal matters of convicted felons can move, all while exemplifying the horrendous treatment that takes place. While it is not told in a soapbox fashion, Pratt does not hide the cynicism he has for the System and how it is easy to get lost when facing the Goliath known as the US Government. Peppered with humour, despair, and the smallest hint of romance, Pratt pulls his readers in and will not let them go as he seeks to find justice in a jaded system, whereby the little guy can get his proverbial day in court. Excellent character and dialogue usage to propel the story and keep things fresh throughout, Pratt shows that he can work outside the Joe Dillard parameters with which he is very comfortable.

Kudos, Mr. Pratt for this wonderfully crafted novel that does not wane and seeks to pile on more twists to keep the reader intrigued.

The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas, by Alison Weir

Four stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Alison Weir, and Ballantine Books for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In a style that she has made popular, Weir chooses a lesser known member of the the English monarchy (more times than not, a Tudor, as is the case again here) and gives a thorough account that leaves amateur enthusiasts astounded and begging for more. Answering that key question, ‘Who was Margaret Douglas?’, Weir offers the reader an explosive look into her life, filled with an assortment of dramatic and politically monumental events. Born to a Scottish earl and Margaret Tudor (sister to the famed Henry VIII) in England, Douglas spent much of her early years in Scotland, living under the reign of her half-brother, James V. Weir depicts a somewhat rebellious Douglas, who became a thorn in her father’s side as she sided with the English in the ongoing skirmishes with Scotland, which was further exacerbated when she entered into an unauthorised engagement to Thomas Howard which saw her uncle, Henry VIII, send her to the Tower of London. Douglas was able to return to her uncle’s favour in her young adult life and served within the court to some of her step-aunts, though left for Scotland later in her adult life to make roots of her own. Marrying the 4th Earl of Lennox, she secured a place in the Scottish aristocracy, while remaining on the cusp of being in line for the English throne. It was while Elizabeth I ruled England that Weir presents a new round of trouble for Lady Lennox, whose son was set to marry the famous Mary, Queen of Scots. With Elizabeth I ill-prepared to stomach deception, even by her cousin, Lady Lennox was forced before a tribunal to face charges related to this potential union. When Mary gives birth to a son, the future James VI of Scotland and James I of England, the key player in Weir’s story secures her place in English history, as both a mother and grandmother to an English monarch. As Weir paints an interesting portrait of Lady Lennox’s waning years, the reader can bask in the depths to which this lesser known Tudor truly reached in her life and the number of key players in history who owe some success to her influence. Weir’s recent effort is to be lauded by amateur historians and Tudor fanatics alike, as she brings to life a seemingly obscure character and solidifies the extreme importance of a previously unknown Margaret Douglas.

Weir’s ability to tell such an intricate story should be applauded on numerous levels. First and foremost, the intricate detail found within the pages of this biography comes from painstaking research and obscure document retrieval. As the scores of footnotes exemplify, Weir relies on first-hand accounts and not solely previous published works to give depth to her book. Secondly, that this is a biography can be lost on the reader at times, as the prose is less a dry presentation of facts, but a well-plotted story, whose narrative flows as seamlessly as a piece of fiction. This could be why Weir is so accomplished at turning some of her non-fiction pieces into works of fiction as well. Her voice flows through the text and the story comers to life, almost allowing the reader to illustrate the goings-on in their mind as they read. Finally, she not only highlights key events in English (and European) history, but places her seemingly lesser-known key figure into the mix and shows how they shaped history and proved to be highly important in the larger narrative. Events well known to the reader are fleshed out and the influences are better understood when told through this narrative.

Weir has been a formidable figure in English history, specifically during the reign of the Tudors. For many years I have found myself flocking back to her tomes to learn more about the family, the dynasty, and the legacy that this one family left the English people. That Weir is able to complete thorough and captivating biographical pieces of these figures never ceases to astound me. I will gladly recommend this and all her other pieces of fiction and non-fiction alike to any reader who seeks to better understand the Tudors and those within their tangled family tree who influenced change during their time on the English throne.

Kudos, Madam Weir for this fascinating biography. The forgotten and lost princess is surely a wonderful title, though Margaret Douglas is soon seen to be a powerful force in the Tudor court.

The Survivor (Mitch Rapp #14), by Kyle Mills

Four stars

In the long-awaited return of Mitch Rapp, Kyle Mills tries to fill the enormous shoes left with the passing of Vince Flynn. When former CIA ace Agent Rick Rickman stole a large collection of highly classified documents, panic ensued. The identities of a number of agents and missions spanning all four corners of the earth were now in the hands of a man who sacrificed himself to the Pakistanis. Director Irene Kennedy has little choice but to release her star field agent, Mitch Rapp, to intercept Rickman and get the files back. However, little does she know that even with Rickman’s death, the headaches are far from over. Somehow, documents are being released electronically, through some timed release format. While Rapp and his team have been highly reactive, trying to protect those in grave danger, they are unable to proactively ascertain the location of the files and how to stop this ever-growing headache. As Rapp searches the world for the documents, he must also deal with the Pakistanis, whose impetus for learning and obtaining this mountain of secrets could put them in a position to become the first Muslim superpower, with nuclear capabilities. As Rapp works diligently and Kennedy’s hold on the CIA lessens, the reader is left to wonder if Rapp has finally met his match and will go down with guns blazing. Mills does a wonderful job at the helm, injecting the same sass and gumption into the Rapp character as ever before.

In a recent review, I spoke about Kyle Mills and his ability to take on a series whose foundation was laid by a great author. Here, as Mills is handed the Mitch Rapp series, he must not only continue with the CIA-themed plot, but also fit himself behind the control panel that IS Mitch Rapp. With countless nuances within the Rapp character, Mills must deliver to a collection of fans who have been ravenous for a novel depicting their beloved Rapp. As the title suggests, Mills did complete his task with his head held high and is assured of being adopted into the larger Vince Flynn fan club.With fast-paced action and a great attention to detail, Mills write a seamless fourteenth novel in the series, whose authorship is unclear, the novel reads so well. A must-read for series fans, especially those concerned about the transition, for few will find fault in what they are presented.

Kudos, Mr. Mills for this novel with does immortalise Vince Flynn and the Mitch Rapp character so completely. Please do continue with the storytelling and, in true character development fashion, begin to morph things and shake things up where you can.

The Morgenstern Project (Consortium Thrillers #3), by David Khara

Three stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, David Khara, and Le French Book for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Khara returns with the third instalment if the Consortium Thrillers series, turning things around and placing the focus on one of the main characters. As series readers will know well, Eytan Morgenstern has a complex backstory that has remained the central focus to date. Working alongside Jeremy and Jackie Corbin, remembered from the opening novel in the series, Morgenstern seeks to bring the Consortium down once and for all. After the US Government puts a bounty on their heads, Morgenstern and the Corbins must remain active, alongside two other associates who hold great importance to Morgenstern. The Consortium have begun working with the US army to create a new league of soldiers, based on the concept of transhumanism, the creation of a human whose prosthetic limbs hold super strength. Could the Consortium be helping create this ultimate army as a prototype before moving on to look at the larger population, pitting countries against one another? As Morgenstern realises that he is being hunted by the Consortium to resume medical testing, he vows to bring them down before any further damage can be done. With key flashbacks to the creation of Morgenstern as a killer, post-Nazi medical patient, Khara offers an enriching view of this most complex character within the entire series and turns the medical advancements to the present day, exemplifying the horrors that modern-technology could reap on an unsuspecting populace. A great addition to the Consortium Thriller series that may leave readers satisfied or screaming for more.

Having read all three Consortium Thrills consecutively, I have a better idea of what is going on and the flow Khara places within the series. While not his best work, Khara does instil the same horror in the reader as they see the development of what is to come in the world of biological warfare and nanotechnology. The characters are decently presented, though it is only Eytan Morgenstern who receives much backstory. I also felt the constant flitting from present to Morgenstern’s past somewhat distracting, though I can see why Khara presented things in this manner. The plot and premise of the novel are sound, but are not stelar by any stretch. I felt the dialogue and some of the narrative seems a little hokey, which has been an issue throughout the series. That could be from the translation or simply that the book has some inherent stretches to the imagination. Whether this was the last of the Consortium novels or not remains to be seen, though Khara does offer some degree of finality within the story, but as readers of thrillers know well, the Phoenix can always rise from the ashes. 

Kudos, M. Khara for this decent addition to the series. I am still using your opening novel as a yardstick, which was highly enticing and cannot help but measure the others against it.

Marine One, by James W. Huston

Five stars

Huston offers readers an explosive legal drama with strong political undertones that keeps its pace to the final sentence. When the President of the United States insists on heading to Camp David in the middle of a hail storm, his Secret Service detail have strong reservations. Once POTUS demands that it be done in Marine One, his private helicopter, levels of concern escalate. Who could be waiting at Camp David that is so important? While travelling to the Maryland countryside in the storm, Marine One falls from the sky in a fiery crash and kills everyone on board. With the leader of the Free World dead, all eyes (and fingers) turn on WorldCopter, the company responsible for building Marine One. The company is bombarded with bad press and numerous federal investigations, leaving them highly vulnerable. The company’s insurance company hires Michael Nolan, a civil lawyer with a past as a Marine chopper pilot. As Nolan tries to sift through the wreckage, both literal and legal, he works to determine what went wrong and whether it was a malfunction or an act of terrorism. Pitted against a highly successful class-action lawyer who represents the widows of the crash, including for former First Lady, Nolan and his team work tirelessly to learn all they can about WorldCopter’s product and the intricacies of its assembly. As Huston weaves this tale, he injects powerful courtroom scenes and legal negotiating that keeps the reader hooked until the bitter end. What happened during the storm and who was expecting the President so urgently? Huston is a master storyteller and keeps the reader guessing.

I have not read so powerful a legal piece that keeps the action flowing non-stop for a long time. The political undertones also propel the book to new heights while the intricate knowledge of helicopters and Marine One is without match. The reader can follow the plight of Mike Nolan as he fights insurmountable odds to defend his case and seeks a needle in a haystack to salvage what little reputation WorldCopter has left. Huston’s succinct dialogue keeps the story moving effectively and courtroom scenes keeps the reader feeling as though they are in the middle of the action. With twists and turns at every juncture, Huston offers up a dazzling piece of fiction that remains so plausible that it could happen at any time.

Kudos, Mr. Huston for this wonderful piece. I was with you the entire journey and barely took time to breathe along the way.

The Shiro Project (Consortium Thriller #2), by David Khara

Three stars

In Khara’s second Consortium Thriller novel, the reader learns much more about Eytan Morg,after the stunning revelations revealed in the latter chapters of the opening book. With the facilities of the Bleiberg Project destroyed, those who run the Consortium are left scrambling to assert themselves on the world scene. Their target remains Eytan, whose super strength and inability to age could come in handy, should they be able to turn him, even temporarily.By kidnapping a man close to Eytan, the Ubermensch agrees to work with his nemesis and for the Consortium to complete a single mission. Eyton must explore the occurrences in a small Czech town where all its citizen are mysteriously killed and burned alive. Eyton discovers that it is some form of biological weapon with ties back to wartime-Japan, controlled by a group who make the Consortium seem tame. Eyton rushes from the Czech Republic to Japan to piece it all together, Khara takes the reader on another historical ride to see how scientific experimentation by the Axis powers could be more deplorable than first thought possible. An interesting second instalment in the series that may entertain the reader curious in passing a little free time.

While it might be the translation or simply the premise, the story is not as thrilling as the opening novel, though the potential remains. Khara does a decent job depicting Eytan in this struggle to find himself after being a Nazi experiment in his Warsaw ghetto. As Eyton plays a central role in the story and offers the reader more insight into his backstory, the pace of the novel was somewhat subdued and did not have the same propelled action as I would have hoped or expected. The reader is offered some horrific historical glimpses into the Japanese atrocities inflicted during the War and can only speculate as to the sadistic nature of the experiments undertaken in the name of science. Khara has surely done his research in that domain.
Kudos, M. Khara for another interesting instalment of the series. I hope the next novel has more action and stamina, to return the series to its thrilling status.

Charles de Gaulle: A Biography, by Don Cook

Four stars

In an attempt to look outside of North America, I sought to educate myself about a man who played a key role in the European Theatre during the Second World War and in the decades thereafter. Having already looked at Churchill and Hitler, it is time to wade into Don Cook’s world of General Charles de Gaulle. In this detailed biographical piece, Cook seeks not only to tell the story of de Gaulle’s life, but portray the man in three distinct fashions, which are elucidated throughout the numerous chapters on offer. Cook presents the General as a life-long militarist, a staunch nationalist, and an ardent leader. These three roles intersect on numerous occasions and in a variety of ways, as Cook explores some of the key events in de Gaulle’s life, as well as showing how Europe changed dramatically following the Second World War. Cook utilises a great deal of research as well as his vast experience to offer the reader a strong piece that presents the great role de Gaulle played in ensuring France was not forgotten after shedding its Vichy cloak, as well as pushing France to the forefront of the continent’s economic and trade policies well into the 1960s. Definitely a book for readers who seek a deeper understanding of a key European player in the political and military spheres.

To call de Gaulle a life-long militarist would not be an exaggeration on Cook’s part. From as early as he could be accepted, de Gaulle entered military training and scholastic endeavours, with the backing of his parents. Receiving much of his training on the cusp of the Great War, de Gaulle served France during some key battles, but was injured and away from fighting for much of the conflict. He was sent away to a prison camp by the Germans and left there to ponder his fate, which he did until his release. Thereafter, his life within the military was secured as he rose the ranks, crossing paths with the likes of Philippe Pétain, who would one day lead the Vichy Government under Nazi occupation. As de Gaulle rose within the military, his passion for his native country grew, as shall be documented below. Becoming a general, de Gaulle readied himself for the Second World War, though he was seemingly emasculated during France’s early capture. Working of his own volition, de Gaulle refused to cede to the Vichy Government and its puppet nature, choosing to strive for the Free France movement. That de Gaulle did not seek to plot military strategies is not lost on Cook, though there was a strong push to ensure a powerful military and political force waited to resume power in the vacuum that was post-Vichy France. Cook argues that de Gaulle played that role well and plotted his return more than a military effort to keep the country in order. Even after his triumphant return to France, and in the years of his leading the country as a political head of state, de Gaulle did not flex his muscle and create a military state. As Cook exemplifies, de Gaulle sought the peace and order any military man might expect in times of calm and the ability to strategise in times of crisis. These traits, though somewhat nuanced in the larger picture, show that de Gaulle remained a life-long militarist, whose fight for France did not end when the Nazis were repelled from his homeland. 

There is no doubt that de Gaulle loved France or sought to keep it from complete dissolution. Cook depicts the struggles de Gaulle had for years, living in exile in Algeria, while the British and (eventually) Americans fought to push the Nazis back and free France from Hitler’s clutches. General de Gaulle remained adamant that he play some role, more political than military, in the Free France movement and became the face of the French Resistance. Cook depicts, in detail, the strain Roosevelt and Churchill were under in dealing with de Gaulle, who was the only ‘government in exile’ that would not sit back and wait for the removal of the Nazis from their native soils. These struggles left de Gaulle bitter towards Roosevelt and at regular odds with Churchill, but, as we shall discuss momentarily, could have helped secure his place in the European political arena in a post-war world. General de Gaulle sought to ensure France got its piece of the pie and was not given an Allied puppet government to replace the Vichy organisation, though his pushing could at times fall on deaf ears. Even in the early days of France’s freedom, de Gaulle sought to rally his people and ensure that they knew he had been with them all along. Radio addresses kept him in contact with the French people and all the colonial inhabitants she possessed, with de Gaulle as its de facto leader. France always came before Europe or even the Allied cause for de Gaulle, as Cook exemplifies in the numerous clashes at the end of the War and into the Cold War period. That de Gaulle would not allow France to fall prey to its allies is also strongly laid out throughout the book. While the Soviet sphere of Europe fell behind the Iron Curtain, de Gaulle would not allow anyone to bully him into standing silently, especially when the integrity of France was at stake. As he pushed to reinstall France’s honour in Europe into the 1960s, de Gaulle would not cede anything to diminish France or its importance on the world scene, showing his nationalist colours at every turn.
The leadership qualities that de Gaulle held were honed over a long period, but remained deep rooted. The qualities Cook shows repeatedly include de Gaulle’s tenacity to keep France from falling into the hands of its enemies a second time, from being dissolved, and from political neutering at the hands of the Allies. As Cook shows, de Gaulle remained a thorn in the side of the Big Three (Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin) as he advocated for France, but also appeared to be a ‘kicked dog’, seen but often abused, by others. He sat patiently during the Free French movement, though would not sit idly by. His tours of French colonies and BBC broadcasts, as well as meetings with the Big Three went far to show his leadership abilities and ensconced a strong hold on the country into the 1950s, when he could lead France in a quasi-civilian manner. He never shed his military title, though France was not run by a military government at any point post-1945, which is a true curiosity to the reader. When de Gaulle made a triumphant return to the French presidency, he restructured the constitution into the Fifth Republic and ran as a president with string political powers, keeping the country on track to flex its muscle in the European arena. Blocking Britain’s entry into the European Common Market, developing a nuclear program, and insisting on standing toe to toe with some of the world’s most influential leaders did dampen de Gaulle’s ability to act as a fervent leader of his people. Even in his waning years in power, de Gaulle pushed the envelop and wreaked havoc with two major countries. As Cook depicts in one chapter, de Gaulle’s pro-Arab stance froze relations with Israel at one point, though de Gaulle did not stand down or change his views, looking to even the playing field. Additionally, while on a state visit to Canada during the country’s centennial, de Gaulle fanned the flames of the separatist movement and called from Montreal’s City Hall balcony “Vive le Quebec Libre!” an blatant step to exemplify Quebec’s occupied territory status within the larger Canada. And yet, as Cook explores for the rest of the book, he did not apologise, for that was not in the de Gaulle nature. He was a man without fear and one who spoke for his people, which Cook insinuates made him the wonderful leader he was until his retirement.

Would de Gaulle have become so prominent a man had the Nazis not invaded and taken over France? Had he waited for the Allies to liberate the country before pushing for a new and fresh start, could de Gaulle have become the powerful leader that changed the face of France? Cook does not speculate, though the narrative and the detailed analysis of historical documents, as presented in this book, leads me to think not. General Charles de Gaulle left his imprint on France and the world because of his adamant fight to free France from its shackles and used that rallying cry to shapes popularity. He forged a relationship with the Big Three and pushed his way to the table thereafter all because he was heading up a Government in exile, though he did little to wait for his rescuers. That de Gaulle was proactive and would not stand idly by helped shape the man who rose to power, for it was in his genes. A fighter to the end whose passion for France was second to none, de Gaulle would not allow anyone or anything stand in his way to return France to its greatness of centuries past. As Cook shows throughout, de Gaulle inherited a country rife with political insurrections and change, wrestling it from its past foibles to set it on track for future glory. Has the de Gaulle legacy withstood the test of time? It is hard to say just yet, though the country does remain a major player in Europe and on the world scene. 

As early as the introduction, Cook shows how de Gaulle adopted the phrase French monarchs used for centuries, “L’État c’est moi!”. However, de Gaulle did not seek to use it to show that he was the be all and end all of France, but more to show how interwoven he was with the country and its people. That is, perhaps, the true legacy that Cook leaves with the reader. Charles de Gaulle left his blood, sweat and tears in France, giving it his all, as a true military man would do, fighting to the end for the country he loved.

Kudos Mr. Cook for this fabulous biography of a true European powerhouse politician. I have a new respect for the man and hope to explore more of his influence in the years to come.

An Evil Mind (Robert Hunter # 6), by Chris Carter

Five stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Chris Carter, and Atria/Emily Bestler Books for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Carter returns with his most thrilling novel yet, pitting LAPD Detective Robert Hunter against another devious serial killer. When two severed heads turn up at a small-town diner, the locals turn over the case to the FBI as fast as possible. With an unresponsive suspect, the Feds can do nothing to move the case forward. That is, until he gives them an out; send in Robert Hunter. Reluctantly, Hunter agrees to help when he realises that he has a personal connection to the suspect, his old college roommate, Lucien Folter. What begins as an attempt to rectify an apparent mistaken identity soon becomes the most horrific case that Hunter has ever come across. Spanning over 25 years, there are many bodies at countless murder sites, with proof at every turn that Folter is responsible. It is only when the possibility that a live victim remains that Hunter and his FBI counterpart, Agent Courtney Taylor, begin to race against the clock to crack the case wide open. If only they knew of this when the whole farce began. Carter ramps up his writing and morbid description in this story that will shake the reader to their core. As chilling as any Hannibal Lector novel, Carter delivers with a punch, right to the gut, in this fast-paced psychological thriller.

I stumbled upon Chris Carter, expecting an entertaining few novels that sought not only to intrigue, but also to pique my ever-growing interest into the macabre. With each successive novel, I was pulled deeper into the chasm of psychopathy and serial murder. Not only entertaining, but also highly disturbing, Carter leads the reader by the hand, then lets them drown in the detail, forcing all those who have taken the journey to rush to the end (part out of enjoyment, part to release themselves from its clutches). Just when I thought the books could get no better, Carter returns with something even more sadistic, hitting closer to home. An added bonus, as Hunter is closely tied to the killer, the reader gets more glimpses into this reclusive man’s past and what he was like prior to joining the LAPD. With short, teasing chapters, the book flows so well and left me to want “just one more chapter” before putting it down. Carter paints characters in such a way that the reader cannot help but want to learn more and delve deeper into the tale, all in the hopes of solving the crime and the mystery around it. Carter outdoes himself and will surely garner a number of new fans with this masterful piece of work. 

Kudos, Mr. Carter for such a thrilling novel and so detailed a writing style. I could not put it down, worried that Hunter would get lost and taken over if I stepped away.