Murder at the 42nd Street Library, by Con Lehane

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Con Lehane, and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In an interesting mystery premise, Lehane takes readers inside the famed 42 Street Library to discover that there is more than reading taking place. As the novel opens, a man is murdered for reasons unknown and the only witness, Director of the Library, Harry Larkin, is unable to identify the assailant. This does not stop Ray Ambler, curator of the crime fiction collection, from honing his amateur sleuth skills. When it becomes clear that there is some connection between the murder and a recently acquired collection of documents from famed author, Nelson Yates, the plot thickens a little more. Ambler tries piecing things together, but is cautioned by a friend serving as homicide detective on the case. With numerous potential suspects, all tied to the library in some way, the case takes many turns and leaves the reader to wonder who could have the ultimate motive. After a series of events finds Nelson Yates killed as well, the suspect list intensifies and there are deep secrets that come out, some of which have been simmering for decades. At the heart of it all is the director, whose past life as a Catholic priest serves to offer more mystery than answers in the story. As Ambler works to follow the clues, he, too, becomes trapped in a web that he did not see and could find himself in a situation that none of his fictional counterparts could have seen coming. An interesting premise tackled by Lehane, though delivery has its own pitfalls, which might leave readers feeling tepid. 

This is my first experience with Lehane, so I am unable to judge this book against any of his other work. I am also not a professional writer or editor, so it is easy for me to toss out issues, having never fought the war to create a published work. However, as I have been asked for some honest sentiments about the piece, I would be remiss if I did not bring a few things to the reader’s attention (as well as the author and editorial staff). While it is enriching to have a number of characters in a mystery novel, Lehane fails to compartmentalise them, which has them popping up here and there, albeit briefly, and had me reaching for a scratch pad to keep them all straight. While this may seem like a weak criticism, tied to the second issue I will raise below, it does prove onerous on the reader who seeks to push through the novel and get to the heart of the matter. Secondly, and tied to the first, is the scattered use of all the characters in vignettes through each chapter. Rather that focussing attention on a small collection, building the drama and character development, Lehane plunges readers into these small dialogues or narratives best suited for stage plays, and confuses the reader rather than providing a much needed flow. I will admit, the ever-alternating scenes does have its place and when Lehane uses them towards the end of the story, it does provide dramatic effect to build to the murder revelations. I was not able to feel any connection to the characters, other than Ray Ambler and perhaps one other, whose mention here would prove to be a spoiler. On the positive side, Lehane is able to utilise a wonderful setting (both the library and New York City) to keep the story moving ahead. I would have liked more of a sleuth-centric novel, with Ray using his day job to offset his personal passion, rather than have him offer less than 100%. Call it a desire to see more of a Jessica Fletcher character (for those old enough to remember Murder, She Wrote) whereby the character is completely involved and offering the police crumbs as needed. While I had some issues in the early stages of the book, I was able to find enjoyment as the mystery unfolded and enjoyed how it all came together in the end, even with that little twist to keep the reader curious. Would I rush back if this became a series? I think I would give it a second try to see if I could find comfort in more of Lehane’s writing. As of now, I remain firmly rooted to the fence.

Kudos, Mr. Lehane for this interesting novel. While I can be a fickle reader, I do enjoy how you were able to present your story and think there is potential for more success. 

Playing with Fire, by Tess Gerritsen

Seven stars

In a break from her mystery novels, Gerritsen offers up a unique story that blends music with history to produce a chilling narrative that will touch readers at their core. While on a trip to Italy, violinist Julia Ansdell finds a unique and unpublished piece that piques her interest, in Incendio waltz. Upon her return to Boston, she begins to unravel its mysteries by playing it, or at least trying to do so. Each time she begins, the haunting dissonant tones seem to evoke disturbing results in Julia’s three-year-old daughter, Lily. Convinced the piece brings about sociopathic tendencies in the toddler, Julia tries to determine its history, while battling with her husband and medical professionals, none of whom can understand why Julia blames Lily’s behaviours on a piece of music. In a parallel narrative, Gerritsen tells the story of Lorenzo, also an accomplished violinist, who is living in Italy in the years before the Second World War. As Mussolini holds a firm grip on the country, he begins to mirror the efforts of his fascist counterpart and commences a vilification of the Jews. Lorenzo is torn from the life he knew and the woman he loved all because of this directive. Sent to an internment camp, he is chosen to serenade those who are kept as prisoners, a small ray of hope in a life that remains dreary. As Julia uncovers this, she also learns more about the Incendio, which is telling in its history. Gerritsen pulls on the reader’s heart strings in this shorter novel that tells a story more important than any Rizzoli and Isles mystery could hope to accomplish.

While I have been a long-time fan of Gerritsen and her mysteries, I took a chance on this novel, in hopes that it would be as exciting. While I was unsure where things were headed in the opening chapters, I soon realised the complexities of the story, told in such a succinct fashion. While the novel is a layers double narrative that does, eventually, meld into one, it seemed less developed or substantial than it could have been. Gerritsen taps into the historical mistreatment of the Jews, told from an Italian perspective, but it is the modern-day story that drew me in a little more. How a piece of music could cause such mayhem in a toddler seemed to be a hook in the story, though the eventual explanation seemed a let-down. I had hoped to discover more in the medical or musical realms, perhaps pining for more mystery than history. That said, it was a quick read and flowed nicely, with decent characters and believable dialogue. I think Gerritsen fans would enjoy this, if they are able to suspend a little of their mystery-centred passion.

Kudos, Dr. Gerritsen (do you still hold your medical title?) for this novel, which touches the heart and shows you put your all into your writing. I wonder what you have on the horizon to appease your loyal fans.

The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, by David Halberstam

Nine stars

In this epic piece, David Halberstam offers a thorough analysis of the Korean War and its effects on America. As is laid out in the introduction, there is little written or produced about the conflict, overshadowed by both the Second World War and Vietnam, bookends of opposing sentiment on America’s military capabilities. However, as Halberstam elucidates, this was more than military incursion across the 38th Parallel. It stood to represent much in an era of new ideas, emerging politics, and waning sentiments about the Asian region and its vast land-grab. Halberstam argues the importance of the Korean War through three separate but highly intertwined theatres: the political actors involved on both sides of the Pacific, the inherent political and ideological clashes taking place, and the military battles themselves. Working in concert, they significantly increase the importance of the War, especially to America, and proved a turning point in history, even if it has not been previously explored or argued with such vigour. Halberstam makes his case with strong examples, thorough analysis, and poignant backstories, all to sway the reader to give the Korean War a second examination. This better understanding supports that while temperatures on the open lands plummeted, the importance of this conflict rose exponentially behind the scenes. A fascinating look into a forgotten period that will leave readers in awe.

The ‘stage’ was set with a number of political actors playing essential roles on either side of the Pacific. The War was not simply about the leaders of North and South Korea, but those who influenced both sides throughout the conflict. Halberstam uses intermittent chapters of the tome to discuss the various backstories and biographies of the key players, offering the reader a more comprehensive look at the larger picture. By doing so, one need not feel parachuted into this war without the necessary context. The highlighted actors come from all walks of life: world leaders, politicians, cabinet officials, military leaders, and soldiers. While the importance of some actors surpasses others, Halberstam does not place anyone on a particular pedestal. Aside from simply denoting the actors and offering insight, Halberstam offers interesting interactions that some faced with one another, which provides telling stories themselves. Most notably, the analysis of the Stalin-Kim Il Sung relationship strengthened the imagery surrounding some of the core reasons for the North’s insurgence into the South in June, 1950. One cannot also leave a reading of this book without seeing clashes between Truman and General Douglas MacArthur, which led to the latter’s dismissal. The pompous approach taken, between Commander-in-Chief and military mastermind, exemplifies the power this conflict had to create kingmakers and ruin illustrious careers. Perhaps one of the more surprising conflict-filled interactions within key chapters of this piece comes from the Mao-Stalin clashes, showing the different takes on the communist approach, where the latter sought to criticise his ally as a ‘peasant-centric leader with little interest in the worker’. With wonderful tales and sentimental pieces to illustrate their states of mind, Halberstam allows the reader to relate to the key players, which provides a better foundation for sentiments going into the War and decisions made during the conflict. Halberstam effectively argues that there were many actors, each playing their specific role, that led to a build-up of tensions before the conflict and whose passions propelled Korea into a war, sustaining it for a significant period of time.

While the Iron Curtain fell during the Cold War, its presence at the centre of the Korean War helps explain the lead-up to key events in the region. The War was the first formal clash between the two Cold War superpowers, pitting Soviet Communism against America’s Capitalism. However, as Halberstam argues, there was a rift within the Communist family between Stalin and China’s Mao, which supports that this was less a direct Cold War fight, but one between the ideological variants, especially since the Soviets did not actively participate in the conflict by sending troops. Korea was less about the country falling to the communist forces than a delayed chance for America to flex its muscle and offer a stance against Mao’s Communist take-over in the Chinese Civil War. Halberstam presents a perspective that Truman sought a chance to voice, both to Congress and the world that America did have an issue with Mao’s removal of Chiang Kai-shek. This ideological war grew in importance both on the Cold War level, as well as within the United States, where Truman faced crippling attacks for letting China fall to the Communists. Halberstam shows how Mao’s victory and America’s failure to stop it fuelled the communist witch hunt in Washington and created great animosity within Republican circles as they sought to rally around a Democratic Party that had been leading the country since 1932. Korea was Truman’s (and America’s) chance to turn the tables on communism in the region, whose stranglehold was turning the map stronger shades of pink with each passing day. To call the Korean War the first and most important ideological clash in the early years of the Cold War era would not be an exaggeration, as victory would surely solidify a stance in this diametrically opposed World Order. 

Bloodshed and highly-choreographed movements on the battlefield played into success and failure for both sides in the conflict. At the heart of the conflict, there were those in the trenches (or open fields) who lost their lives fighting for the cause. Halberstam offers detailed narratives about the battles, the military manoeuvres, and the struggle to justify fighting in the desolate areas of Korea. Weary from intense fighting both in Europe and the Pacific, many in the US military could not understand their role or presence in the region so soon after victory. Troop size was down, morale was tepid, and organisation was top-heavy for the conflict. Korea proved not only to be a misunderstood war, but also one with troops who lacked the vigour to fight. While lines were drawn and ideological stances firm, there was little justification offered troops or the general public about the need to be there. Even with a weak UN Security Council Resolution, this did not buoy the spirits of the men sent to the region. Add to that, there was a vacuum in the power structure at the top as well, with many generals who had made names for themselves in the Second World War fighting for positions of importance, be it on the ground or in the ivory tower. Halberstam shows how the likes of MacArthur, Ridegway, and even former greats Marshall and Eisenhower (though fully divorced from the military by now) all had strong stances from a military point of view about the power structure of the military presence in the region. Citing that there were thousands pushing paper in Tokyo while hundreds of men fought to their bloody end along the frozen tundra helps to support that even the US military could not bring itself to staff the war effectively. With a massive Chinese Army holding firm, there did not seem any quick solution to the conflict, but it was resilience and determination that led to a neutralizing of the conflict, where both sides agreed to leave, their blood staining all parts of Korea. Halberstam pulls no punches and does not try to dress up these skirmishes, choosing instead to let the reader act as jury about how those with numerous stars on their shoulders handled directing men against those whose greatest interest was death for country and region. The struggle to justify the war to the American people turned it into ‘page ten news’ in an era before television news reporting. Though scattered and poorly organised from the top down, the Korean War was a military conflict at its foundation.

As with any significant tome that tackles a collection of historical events, its length is significant and content not always easily digested. Any reader who ventures into this book must do so at their own risk. The content is not superfluous, nor is the discussion found therein. This is surely one of the benefits, as Halberstam offers a sobering look into a conflict that changed so much about America, China, Asia, and the Cold War. While many may look to M*A*S*H as their dose of Korean reality, Halberstam seeks an academic exploration, complete with well-weighted arguments on both sides, as well as an explanation that many history books do not examine. Even as the nuances of battle formations and strategy come into play, the language is such that any reader can process the text with ease, which makes the book all the more inviting. I would surely recommend this to anyone with a passion for history, a curiosity for American politics, and those who enjoy learning a great deal. Powerfully written and sure to be a great addition to bookshelves to offset the supersaturation of analyses from the Second World War and Vietnam.

Kudos, Mr. Halberstam for this extremely powerful piece. I cannot thank you enough for the education you have provided with this sobering tome.

Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at: 

https://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/In this epic piece, David Halberstam offers a thorough analysis of the Korean War and its effects on America. As is laid out in the introduction, there is little written or produced about the conflict, overshadowed by both the Second World War and Vietnam, bookends of opposing sentiment on America’s military capabilities. However, as Halberstam elucidates, this was more than military incursion across the 38th Parallel. It stood to represent much in an era of new ideas, emerging politics, and waning sentiments about the Asian region and its vast land-grab. Halberstam argues the importance of the Korean War through three separate but highly intertwined theatres: the political actors involved on both sides of the Pacific, the inherent political and ideological clashes taking place, and the military battles themselves. Working in concert, they significantly increase the importance of the War, especially to America, and proved a turning point in history, even if it has not been previously explored or argued with such vigour. Halberstam makes his case with strong examples, thorough analysis, and poignant backstories, all to sway the reader to give the Korean War a second examination. This better understanding supports that while temperatures on the open lands plummeted, the importance of this conflict rose exponentially behind the scenes. A fascinating look into a forgotten period that will leave readers in awe.

The ‘stage’ was set with a number of political actors playing essential roles on either side of the Pacific. The War was not simply about the leaders of North and South Korea, but those who influenced both sides throughout the conflict. Halberstam uses intermittent chapters of the tome to discuss the various backstories and biographies of the key players, offering the reader a more comprehensive look at the larger picture. By doing so, one need not feel parachuted into this war without the necessary context. The highlighted actors come from all walks of life: world leaders, politicians, cabinet officials, military leaders, and soldiers. While the importance of some actors surpasses others, Halberstam does not place anyone on a particular pedestal. Aside from simply denoting the actors and offering insight, Halberstam offers interesting interactions that some faced with one another, which provides telling stories themselves. Most notably, the analysis of the Stalin-Kim Il Sung relationship strengthened the imagery surrounding some of the core reasons for the North’s insurgence into the South in June, 1950. One cannot also leave a reading of this book without seeing clashes between Truman and General Douglas MacArthur, which led to the latter’s dismissal. The pompous approach taken, between Commander-in-Chief and military mastermind, exemplifies the power this conflict had to create kingmakers and ruin illustrious careers. Perhaps one of the more surprising conflict-filled interactions within key chapters of this piece comes from the Mao-Stalin clashes, showing the different takes on the communist approach, where the latter sought to criticise his ally as a ‘peasant-centric leader with little interest in the worker’. With wonderful tales and sentimental pieces to illustrate their states of mind, Halberstam allows the reader to relate to the key players, which provides a better foundation for sentiments going into the War and decisions made during the conflict. Halberstam effectively argues that there were many actors, each playing their specific role, that led to a build-up of tensions before the conflict and whose passions propelled Korea into a war, sustaining it for a significant period of time.

While the Iron Curtain fell during the Cold War, its presence at the centre of the Korean War helps explain the lead-up to key events in the region. The War was the first formal clash between the two Cold War superpowers, pitting Soviet Communism against America’s Capitalism. However, as Halberstam argues, there was a rift within the Communist family between Stalin and China’s Mao, which supports that this was less a direct Cold War fight, but one between the ideological variants, especially since the Soviets did not actively participate in the conflict by sending troops. Korea was less about the country falling to the communist forces than a delayed chance for America to flex its muscle and offer a stance against Mao’s Communist take-over in the Chinese Civil War. Halberstam presents a perspective that Truman sought a chance to voice, both to Congress and the world that America did have an issue with Mao’s removal of Chiang Kai-shek. This ideological war grew in importance both on the Cold War level, as well as within the United States, where Truman faced crippling attacks for letting China fall to the Communists. Halberstam shows how Mao’s victory and America’s failure to stop it fuelled the communist witch hunt in Washington and created great animosity within Republican circles as they sought to rally around a Democratic Party that had been leading the country since 1932. Korea was Truman’s (and America’s) chance to turn the tables on communism in the region, whose stranglehold was turning the map stronger shades of pink with each passing day. To call the Korean War the first and most important ideological clash in the early years of the Cold War era would not be an exaggeration, as victory would surely solidify a stance in this diametrically opposed World Order. 

Bloodshed and highly-choreographed movements on the battlefield played into success and failure for both sides in the conflict. At the heart of the conflict, there were those in the trenches (or open fields) who lost their lives fighting for the cause. Halberstam offers detailed narratives about the battles, the military manoeuvres, and the struggle to justify fighting in the desolate areas of Korea. Weary from intense fighting both in Europe and the Pacific, many in the US military could not understand their role or presence in the region so soon after victory. Troop size was down, morale was tepid, and organisation was top-heavy for the conflict. Korea proved not only to be a misunderstood war, but also one with troops who lacked the vigour to fight. While lines were drawn and ideological stances firm, there was little justification offered troops or the general public about the need to be there. Even with a weak UN Security Council Resolution, this did not buoy the spirits of the men sent to the region. Add to that, there was a vacuum in the power structure at the top as well, with many generals who had made names for themselves in the Second World War fighting for positions of importance, be it on the ground or in the ivory tower. Halberstam shows how the likes of MacArthur, Ridegway, and even former greats Marshall and Eisenhower (though fully divorced from the military by now) all had strong stances from a military point of view about the power structure of the military presence in the region. Citing that there were thousands pushing paper in Tokyo while hundreds of men fought to their bloody end along the frozen tundra helps to support that even the US military could not bring itself to staff the war effectively. With a massive Chinese Army holding firm, there did not seem any quick solution to the conflict, but it was resilience and determination that led to a neutralizing of the conflict, where both sides agreed to leave, their blood staining all parts of Korea. Halberstam pulls no punches and does not try to dress up these skirmishes, choosing instead to let the reader act as jury about how those with numerous stars on their shoulders handled directing men against those whose greatest interest was death for country and region. The struggle to justify the war to the American people turned it into ‘page ten news’ in an era before television news reporting. Though scattered and poorly organised from the top down, the Korean War was a military conflict at its foundation.

As with any significant tome that tackles a collection of historical events, its length is significant and content not always easily digested. Any reader who ventures into this book must do so at their own risk. The content is not superfluous, nor is the discussion found therein. This is surely one of the benefits, as Halberstam offers a sobering look into a conflict that changed so much about America, China, Asia, and the Cold War. While many may look to M*A*S*H as their dose of Korean reality, Halberstam seeks an academic exploration, complete with well-weighted arguments on both sides, as well as an explanation that many history books do not examine. Even as the nuances of battle formations and strategy come into play, the language is such that any reader can process the text with ease, which makes the book all the more inviting. I would surely recommend this to anyone with a passion for history, a curiosity for American politics, and those who enjoy learning a great deal. Powerfully written and sure to be a great addition to bookshelves to offset the supersaturation of analyses from the Second World War and Vietnam.

Kudos, Mr. Halberstam for this extremely powerful piece. I cannot thank you enough for the education you have provided with this sobering tome.

Spike (VIRALS #5.5), by Kathy and Brendan Reichs

Seven stars

Another VIRALS instalment is sure to leave readers with a fuzzy feeling while showing off how Kathy and Brendan Reichs have mastered the art of young adult fiction. In this novella, Tory Brennan has finally met the day she doomed, her father is finally set to marry long-time girlfriend,Whitney DuBois, in the most lavish event that a Southern Belle could imagine. However, the day is fraught with issues: a missing garter, wilting flowers, and even a poorly assembled stage that almost catapults the bride and groom into the gathered audience. Luckily, the Virals are on hand to help, still able to use their heightened telepathy communication capabilities. Tory leads the way in trying to determine what or who might be behind all this, but spies something new, an errant caterer caught adding some substance to the wedding cake icing. After a struggle, they are able to detain him, but are no further ahead with a motive and mastermind. Enter Tempe Brennan, forensic master and always around for a cameo. Just as Tory helps unravel the mystery, she encounters a new one, related to her boyfriend Ben and his plans after the summer. A cute addition to the VIRALS series, sure to entertain the young adult in all of us!

Having been a long-time fan of Kathy Reichs, I joined the VIRALS train when it came to town. The stories are decent, geared for young adults/teens and fit the bill effectively. They read easily and offer a great variety of characters, offering the odd cameo by the famed Tempe, while progressing nicely. Reichs (both of them) offer a wonderful narrative and some interesting insights into this gang of innocent misfits, while curtailing the previously well-honed half-canine abilities they acquired early in the series. Of all the tales that have been presented, this was, by far, the most grounded and based in reality. A fresh approach, though it does leave the door open for many more adventures, just when I thought the series had tied itself off.

Kudos, Dr. And Mr. Reichs for this wonderful addition to the series. I am eager to see if you run with the bombshell you offered at the end of this piece or let things end with it.

Quick and the Dead, by Susan Moody

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Susan Moody, and Severn House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Moody opens a new mystery path with a highly energetic Alex Quick. A former member of the police, soured by a cheating husband and crippling miscarriage, Quick turns her interests elsewhere and finds herself in the world of writing. After a few minor pieces receive modest publication, she turns to the world of art, another of her passions. Eventually collaborating with Dr. Helena Drummond, they prepare to pitch an idea to a small publisher in rural England. When Drummond does not turn up, Quick is left to wonder what could have happened. Thinking back to the various off-hand comments Drummond made about a stalker, Quick is left to wonder if there is some truth to it. Upon arrival at Drummond’s home, Quick discovers a body, brutally massacred, with a striking resemblance to her friend. Using former police contacts, Quick is able to learn that the victim is not Drummond, but one Amy Morrison. Quick begins piecing together a backstory on Morrison while she continues to look for Drummond, who has seemingly gone on the lam. The more Quick is able to learn, the greater the chances that Dr. Helena Drummond might be a suspect in the Morrison murder. A manhunt begins, as Quick can do nothing but wait. Further investigation into the life and times of Amy Morrison turns up a sordid past and many people who have motive to kill her. When another body turns up, Quick must come to terms with what might have happened to Drummond while remaining fixated on solving the Morrison murder. An intriguing way to introduce a new character in what is sure to be an interesting series, should Moody continue on with it from hereon in.

This is my first experience reading Moody and if this is a testament to her abilities, it will not be my last. While keeping the story simple, Moody is able to move it forward in an effective manner. She pulls the reader in with some backstory on Alex, but also leaves much unsaid. Alex’s past does not flood the narrative, though there is also not a ‘crime fighting heroine’ that pervades the pages either. It is a wonderful mix of mystery, art history, and personal journey as one woman seeks to find the killer of a friend. Utilising a number of characters from many walks of life, the suspect list, though never formally large, is on offer and the reader can speculate alongside a sleuthing Alex Quick. When everything comes together in the end, it is no whodunit shocker, though there are some surprises along the way and the rationale is intriguing to the attentive reader. Moody effectively treats her readers to a great novel and potential series, with a raw writing style and an intriguing presentation style.

Kudos, Madam Moody for this introductory novel into the life of Alex Quick. I do not it is not your last, for I am eager to see what else you have in store for her.

Jack and Joe (Hunt for Reacher #6), by Diane Capri

Seven stars

Capri returns with another Hunt for Reacher novel, pulling in past history of Lee Child’s popular character with her own spin. Working alone at the start of this mission, FBI Special Agent Kim Otto head to Fort Bird, North Carolina to liaise with a former military colleague of Jack Reacher’s, at a posting that saw nothing but trouble develop for the elusive man. Learning little of interest on Base, Otto settles in for a quiet night at her hotel, but is roused by a shooting at the local strip club. She soon learns that her contact at Fort Bird, Colonel Summer, died in a horrific automobile accident on her way to Fort Bird. After meeting up with her partner, Carlos Gaspar, they head to Texas to follow a lead. It appears that while Jack Reacher was creating nothing but enemies for himself, brother Joe was the apple of everyone’s eye. With more dead ends related to Jack Reacher, both Otto and Gaspar feel it has been a wasted trip until they find a strong connection between Summer and Reacher back in 1990. Apparently they were closer than they let on, which opens new questions about the auto accident. The further the agents dig to discover anything tied to Reacher, the more a current military storyline comes to the surface. While Reacher ties everyone together, there are other corrupt practices that leave Summer at the centre of an investigation that goes all the way up the chain of command. Capri does well to keep her Reacher fans hooked and begging for more.

While I have long been a fan of the Jack Reacher novels that Lee Child churns out annually, using Capri as an additional source of entertainment never lets me down. She works wonderfully to spin the breadcrumbs left about Reacher’s past into a full-fledged series as the FBI continues its hunt for this most elusive of characters. Working a double story in this novel, Capri helps her readers feel a close connection to all that is taking place while staying true to the Reacher facts placed in previous novels. A wonderful and somewhat succinct parallel to the Child series, Capri continues to impress.

Kudos, Madam Capri for this story and your efforts to keep the Hunt for Reacher alive and well. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for Otto and Gaspar in the months to come.

A Fine Mist of Blood: A Harry Bosch Original Podcast

Eight stars

In this interesting podcast story written by Michael Connelly, the reader is able to sit through a thirty-minute narrative full of excitement. While awaiting a reinstatement appointment, Bosch receives a call linking a current case he and Jerry Edgar are working with one from 2002. As Bosch and Edgar refresh themselves on Diane Gables, the potential witness from both crimes, they realise the events tying her to the current case are fledging, to say the least. Gables finds herself in an area of LA far from her home, caught running a red light after filing a police report for a hit and run. The detectives seek to interview her to see if they can uncover anything else. Bosch senses that she is lying about something, as she does not reveal any role in the 2002 killing of a crooked gold trader, though he works solely on a gut instinct. When he returns to revisit Gables’ home, he learns the foundation of his case, as well as the one gathering mothballs from 2002. Connelly fans will rush to this piece, if they can get their hands on it, for their own little Harry Bosch fix!

As always, Connelly offers up a wonderful story, no matter its length. The reader is able to find solace with Harry Bosch and his instincts for police work. Be it a book or on the screen, Bosch is a character that is both loved and respected by readers/viewers, his life full of many entertaining vignettes. Connelly has perfected the character over two decades and keeps things fresh with each new instalment. Using Titus Welliver in this piece is genius, as was his casting for the television show (and audiobook narrator). I devour these pieces and cannot get enough of Connelly’s ideas, as they remain fresh and tied to new technologies in police work.

Kudos, Mr. Connelly for this wonderful 21st century approach to Harry Bosch. I am happy to see what else you have in store for your fans in the months to come.

Driving Heat (Nikki Heat #7), by Richard Castle

Seven stars

In another Nikki Heat novel, Castle paints some interesting imagery in another New York-based adventure. Newly promoted to Captain and Precinct Commander, Nikki Heat must work through the kinks of the new job while juggling an h Homicide team and her ever-spontaneous fiancé, Jameson Rook. When called to the scene of a murder, Heat discovers the victim is more than simply a kayaker shot in the head, but her personal therapist, with whom she has shared many personal details. While hiding this from her team, the investigation continues, only to show that the therapist’s files have been removed from his office! sending Heat into a panic. Further probing of security camera footage shows Rook leaving the premises in the days leading up to the fateful event. Suspicious, but harbouring her own secrets, Heat sits on this as her squad continues to probe. When a second victim surfaces, this time at an auto safety testing facility, with Rook hanging around to find the body, suspicion turns to questions of coincidence. While he does not want to reveal sources or too many contents of a story, Rook admits that he is looking into software glitches related to safety mechanisms in vehicles. Further exploration shows that there is a potential cover-up and admissions of guilt from one party to their therapist. With Heat and her team on the case, foraging into the depths of software malfunctions, a rogue former cop begins targeting them and an industry geek sheds light on the subject, while drones hunt them down and provide a major roadblock to progress. After a kidnapping of Jameson Rook offers some insight into the killer, Heat must piece things together, while trying to decide if her choice to marry Rook is beneficial to her long-term happiness. With flavours of hokey and crime-fighting alike, Castle offers up a decent story with some interesting twists. Great for fans of both the tv and book series.

I have often struggled with the silliness factor embedded in the Castle novels. While there is a place for a character to shed some off-hand remarks that leave the reader rolling their eyes, the constant less than dedicated nature of Jameson Rook gets under my skin. That said, Castle is able to portray this character while pushing a decent story ahead and leaves the reader wondering as twists present themselves. For that, I am grateful and highly intrigued. As is addressed briefly in the novel, Nikki Heat’s presence outside the Squad Room and out fighting crime left me curious; is this not something she would give up with a higher rank? I suppose her promotion would come at a cost to readers and the storyline, leaving Castle to fudge some of the realities to make it happen. However, there may be a remedy on the way in the next novel, if some of the latter narrative is to be believed. Well-crafted with a decent narrative and dialogue, as well as the personal and workplace hurdles one can expect of a reformulated Homicide team, Castle captures some of the essence needed to keep the reader’s interests piqued.

Kudos, Mr. Castle for this. I am eager to see what the next novel brings, even if I have to suffer through more Jameson Rook. 

Her Final Breath (Tracy Crosswhite #2), by Robert Dugoni

Nine stars

Dugoni brings Detective Tracy Crosswhite back for another adventure on the streets of Seattle. After a hiatus from the big city, Crosswhite is back with her team and ready to solve another homicide. While at the shooting range, someone leaves a noose dangling from a tree, perhaps a sign related to a case she’d been working that was mothballed by her Captain and nemesis, Johnny Nolasco. Crosswhite picks up a case of an adult dancer whose body was found in a seedy motel room, strangled with a noose from an indeterminate piece of rope. All the more chilling is that the victim is hog-tied leaving the noose to tighten only when her legs drop. While poking around for clues, Crosswhite discovers a case with a similar MO from a decade ago, but sporting two distinct problems: a man has confessed to the crime and it was a case handled by Nolasco. After Crosswhite convinces her boyfriend, lawyer Dan O’Leary, to begin investigating the facts of this case, holes in the original investigation begin to surface, with an eyewitness unsure of what she saw. Crosswhite takes the lead on a task force only when more dancers turn up killed by the same method, but she cannot shake the fact that Dan has uncovered some damning evidence, where an innocent man might be serving time. Crosswhite keeps his investigation under the radar and turns to DNA in her current cases, hoping to determine if there is anything the killer is leaving behind. The coil of rope proves fruitful and a potential suspect brought in for interrogation. Things do not pan out as Crosswhite might have hoped and she is forced to release him. When witnesses from a decade ago begin asking questions about the covert investigation, Crosswhite’s antics are revealed and she is sent packing, left to the doldrums of administrative work while Nolasco takes the lead. Refusing to look at evidence that falls in the grey area, Nolasco zeroes in on the apparent killer and brings the spotlight on himself as he seeks to make an arrest. With Crosswhite in the apparent killer’s crosshairs, a violent event brings the case to a climax, with Nolasco basking in his role as leader. However, nothing is quite as easy as it seems, forcing Crosswhite to keep all avenues open to determine if the true killer’s been revealed. A wonderfully fast-paced novel with twists at every turn, sure to entertain readers.

Dugoni has a wonderful way of telling stories that lures the reader in from the early chapters. His mix of quick narrative and realistic dialogue leaves the reader feeling as though this case is not only pulled from the headlines, but has a degree of reality. With numerous cliffhangers and twists that keep the reader from predicting too much, Dugoni shows how he is able to craft a superior novel. While there have only been two novels and two short stories, the reader’s connection to Tracy Crosswhite seems long-standing and intimate on many levels. This is a telltale sign of a wonderful series, which has time to grow and will surely garner scores of followers as more writing becomes available. I cannot wait to get my hands on the next instalment, to see where Crosswhite takes things.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni. You have surpassed my expectations with this and I hope you have much more to come to satisfy my Crosswhite addiction.

The Golden Lion (Courtney #14), by Wilbur Smith and Giles Kristian

Seven stars

The Courtney saga draws to a close (at least based on the number of published work) with author Giles Kristian taking control of the ship and returning to the high seas. Henry ‘Hal’ Courtney is back for another seafaring adventure, this time in the early days after the passing of his father. The novel opens with Angus Cochran (nicknamed the Buzzard), nemesis of Hal’s father, Francis, washing up on land, missing a hand and eye, clinging to life. Cochran is nursed back to health and then enslaved by Maharajag Jahan, the ruler of Zanzibar. Jahan wishes to see Hal Courtney killed for his antics in the Ethiopian War, which saw the Muslims defeated and Allah displeased. Kristian returns to this sub-plot throughout the novel, but also focusses on the protagonist, young Hal. While sailing with his crew and new wife, Courtney is challenged by a Dutch vessel, seemingly unaware that England and Holland have calmed their disputes. Courtney is able to overtake the ship and its entire hold, including a prisoner, an Englishman named Pett, who is haunted by a mental apparition. Pett speaks regularly with this figment of his imagination, which directs him to murder Courtney. Working alongside an enemy of Courtney’s, Pett tries to murder Hal, but is killed instead, alerting the Captain to the price on his head. When Courtney discovers that his wife, a famous Ethiopian general before her marriage, is pregnant, he is elated in hopes of having an heir to carry on the Courtney name. Working to fulfil his side of the bargain with Jahan, the Buzzard is able to capture Judith and imprison her as they sail back to Zanziabar. Courtney stops at nothing to find his wife and return her to the safety of his ship, though even doing so does not end the danger that awaits him. In a last-ditch effort to bring Courtney’s head to the Maharajah, the Buzzard hopes to attack Courtney at the site of his buried treasure, gathering more rewards than he could have previously imagined. This will be a battle to the bitter end, pitting one man’s honour against another. An interesting addition to the Courtney series that has enough action to keep Smith fans interested.

While the book is labeled as the fourteenth instalment in the Courtney collection, it might better be called “nine and a half”, fitting nicely between Birds of Prey and Monsoon. The novel examines Hal Courtney and his connection to Judith, who receives scant mention in Monsoon. While the story follows Smith’s general maritime adventure outline, complete with all the essential elements, there is a distinct flavour loss when Kristian takes up the pen and seemingly ghost writes the novel. I have read different sources on whether this was a joint venture or a new author using one with a great deal of NYT Bestseller experience to advance his cause. Either way, the idea is strong enough and does dabble into the life of Hal Courtney that was missing from Smith’s earlier third series novels, though its depth and attention to detail seems a little too light for my taste. Swashbuckling and gory battles, alongside anti-Muslim sentiment and excessive description of female anatomy make the transition from Smith’s own writing somewhat seamless, though Kristian ought not seek to quit his own job as a writer and continue on with the Courtneys, Ballantynes, or other series that Smith has made popular on his own. Decent enough, but surely not Wilbur Smith or the Courtney family at their best.

And so I have come to the end of my epic read-a-thon of the Courtney saga’s fourteen novels and the Ballantyne tetralogy, over 105 days of pure enjoyment. Throughout, I have been able to garner a wonderful idea of life in Africa, as well as the historical happenings throughout the continent. Unlike other authors, whose focus has been on a certain area or country, Smith expands his stories across much of Africa, while using the Courtneys and Ballantynes to hash out the wonders of colonial growth and tossing of said shackles to promote independence. Smith does offer a wonderfully exciting view of 19th and 20th century politics, especially as it relates to South Africa and Rhodesia (eventually Zimbabwe) as well as the grip the English, Germans, and Dutch had on the region, perhaps the most transformative of the novels in the entire series (see Courtney books 1-8, 12-13) and all four Ballantyne novels. Powerfully written and told from a variety of perspectives, so as not to label everything as Eurocentric in its narrative. Well worth my many days of invested time and I can only hope a few readers have followed my reviews and found great interest in what I have to say, as well as wanting to see what Smith says on the continent, its people, and most importantly, its development. WONDERFUL COLLECTION.

Well done, Mr. Kristian for this final novel in the series. I can hope you realise that this series is untouchable and should not be picked up by another, seeking to fill in the gaps left by Smith, even if the pre-eminent author has given you carte blanche to do so.

Assegai (Courtney #13), by Wilbur Smith

Nine stars

Smith ups the ante in this Courtney novel, lucky number thirteen, which has very fluid ties to its predecessor. Set in British East Africa (subsequently Kenya), the story centres around the life of Leon Courtney, son of Ryder Courtney. After a court-martial finds Leon removed from the British military, he becomes a professional hunter, taking many important men on big game safaris through the tribal lands. Approached by his uncle, Penrod Ballantyne, Leon agrees to help keep his eyes and ears open as it relates to news regarding German East Africa, after rumblings in the European theatre indicate that military build-ups have commenced. After leading former US President Teddy Roosevelt and his son on a large safari, Leon’s reputation grows and he is visited by two distinct visitors, Otto von Meerbach and his beautiful mistress, Eva von Wellberg. Meerbach is a businessman, whose company builds aircraft and vehicles for the Kaiser’s ever-expanding military. Tasked with learning all about Meerbach’s plans, Leon finds himself distracted by von Wellberg, who tries to keep her distance, but is equally enthralled. When von Wellberg admits a dark secret to Leon, he must process the news as he continues ‘befriending’ von Meerbach. A rash decision finds Leon chastised by his uncle and von Wellberg sent back to Europe with an injured von Meerbach. As the Great War begins, Leon learns an important piece of information that could save British territories in Africa, but when Eva Von Wellberg returns to Africa, all bets are off. With his typical highly-detailed narrative of the African way of life, Smith does not disappoint while placing everything in context of historical goings-on within the region and around the world.

Smith has created another wonderful piece of fiction, which works well as a continuation of the Courtney saga or as a standalone novel. Smith provides the reader with some excellent storytelling as the Courtney saga returns to its roots, at least where the second series began. With the intricacies of the Courtney backstory, Smith has a great deal on which to build and does so effective, which still injecting a newness to the story and unique angles to build on the rich foundation. This tale moves effortlessly between history, geography, and character development, while staying true to the formula for literary success. The series reader will enjoy the dusting of returning characters who make their own cameos throughout the story while new readers are sure to be sucked in and scramble to read as much of Smith’ work as they can, which one can hope includes the entire Courtney/Ballantyne sagas, as I have done.

Kudos, Mr. Smith on another successful novel. I can only hope the last (to date) novel in the Courtney series, which awaits me, is as detailed and enjoyable as this.

The Girl in the Ice (Konrad Simonsen #2), by Lotte and Søren Hammer

Eight stars

Siblings Lotte and Søren Hammer return with a second police thriller translated from the original Danish. When Konrad Simonsen is called to investigate a body found amidst the ice in Greenland, he is unsure why he has been summoned or how to solve a mystery with a crime scene so vast and frozen. Returning to Copenhagen, Simonsen calls on the Homicide Unit to begin piecing together the life of the victim, Maryann Nygaard, who perished while working as a nurse in Greenland back in 1983. Simonsen begins to develop a better understand of Nygaard’s life when he learns that she served at a base alongside an early missile detection outpost (DYE-5) run by the Americans. Suspects begin to emerge, though one in particular rises to the top of the list when the victim’s appearance matches a number of other murders over a long period of time. With Andreas Falkenborg in the crosshairs, Simonsen must build a case to substantiate his claims. After an interview at headquarters shows Falkenborg to be more infantile than sinister, Simonsen cannot fathom how this man could have pulled off so intricate a plan. However, the evidence continues to mount and soon all eyes focus on him. After two women go missing, one of them a member of Simonsen’s team, the race is on to stop Falkenborg before he can add to his body count. In a wonderful follow-up novel, the Hammer siblings offer a thrilling story that readers will enjoy through to the final sentence. 

While I expressed some concerns with their first novel, the Hammer siblings created something much more palatable in their second piece. The story is full of twists and the characters much more involved. Even using a larger collection of central characters has not caused too many issues as the reader navigates through the story. While there are certain aspects to the story that flow as nicely as mid-winter molasses, most of the plot finds its way firmly associated with the murders and backstory of those under investigation. While I have read a nice cross-section of Scandinavian police procedurals (Kepler, Larsson, Horst, and Nesbø), Hammer does not disappoint, even if the writing is not as crisp. The translation from Danish does provide a superior product, leaving me to wonder how novels penned in English seem to pale in comparison. With original ideas and an interesting dark flavour to the narrative, the Hammer siblings keep the reader curious throughout and promise to continue offering insight into the man that is Konrad Simonsen.

Kudos, Mr. and Madam Hammer for such a great novel. I can only hope the next novel is as exciting and offers as many comments on society as a whole.

The Tumor: A Non-Legal Thriller, by John Grisham

Three stars

In a break from his usually thrilling legal novels, Grisham dusts off his soap box and presents this piece on cancer and focused ultrasound treatment. The reader is introduced to Paul, a father of three living the idyllic life until he suffers a seizure, which ends up being the early indicator of a brain tumour, a glioblastoma. Paul undergoes the best available treatment in 2015, has the invasive tumour removed, but it recurs and he is eventually forced to come to terms with the end of life. Paul dies and Grisham presents the cost of treatment while stressing that the agony of his family cannot be priced. Grisham postulates that Paul’s outcome could have been much different, had he been born and diagnosed ten years later, in 2025. In that time period, a procedure called focused ultrasound treatment would be the mainstream accepted means by which tumours, both benign and malignant, are treated. With this technique, sound and various other waves are used to permeate the tumour and surrounding areas, thereby reducing the intrusive nature of surgery and helping to limit recovery time. Repetitive use of the treatment, for recurring tumours, can be done with ease and Paul would live at least another 50 years to see his children grow. Plain and simple…life is good and the reader can see the benefits of this treatment that remains new and effective. Grisham spends the latter portion of the book arguing that medical and technological logjams are keeping the procedure from reaching those who need it most, at this time, so everyone ought to learn more about it and push the discussion into the mainstream forums, so we can all utilise this procedure with ease. A happy story all around on which everyone can pride themselves for doing their part.

When I stumbled upon this book when perusing Amazon, I was unclear what this was all about. I took the time to access it, for free, and chose to read it in a single sitting. It reads easily and is fairly clear. It is, however, not a Grisham type book. By that, I mean that it does not develop characters or use a strong narrative with nuances that pulls the reader in and makes them feel at one with the topic. Where Grisham has shown readers the troubles with capital punishment, segregation, the falsely accused, and class-action lawsuits, this book fails to do so in a strong fictional (or non-fictional) manner. It reads like a middle school book, complete with hokey photos and diagrams, using easy to comprehend jargon and short explanations. At times, I pined for a subtler approach by Grisham, who could have used a booklet like this as a primer for a wonderful short story and offered the same end result, with the writing flair for which he is so well known. Even if Grisham had ghost written this for the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, I would have had little issue. However, this is not Grisham at his best or even his worst. This is him standing atop a soap box and being preachy without the filter of a well-crafted story to veil the force-feeding approach.

Before I submit this review, I would like to clarify one thing. The poor star allocation that I have offered this piece should not denote my disinterest in cancer treatment or recovery. I must use the quality of Grisham’s past work as my threshold, which forces me to allocate so low a mark for this piece. I fully support technological advancements in medicine, especially those who alleviate pain, suffering, and the chance of death. However, writing pamphlets should be left to those who have something to peddle, not New York Times bestselling authors. This is a case of James Patterson Syndrome, where something will sell not for its content, but because a famous author has put his or her name to it. It dishearten me to see that neither the Focused Ultrasound Foundation nor John Grisham himself would have remained truthful and kept this technique from sullying the message.

For shame, Mr. Grisham for using your name to advance something in such a deceptive manner. The cover peddles your celebrity nature and you choose to denote that this is “the most important book I’ve ever written”. While that may be, it was by no means the one with the greatest impact.

Hunt for the Enemy (The Enemy #3), by Rob Sinclair

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Rob SInclair, and Clink Street for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In this captivating finale to the Enemy trilogy, Sinclair pulls out all the stops as he offers up Carl Logan at his best. While Logan was once the gem in the JIA (Joint Intelligence Agency), he has become a pariah and persona non grata over time, leaving him with little support and even less protection. On the lam in Russia, Logan is fleeing former friends and foes alike, all of whom consider him a traitor after a number of JIA agents and high-ranking officials have been murdered. Framed for these murders, he turns to the only person he feels can help him, Angela Grainger, with whom he has a mixed passed. While they remain under the radar, Logan and Grainger are forced to reach out to certain people to move out of Russia and towards safety. Meanwhile, the new head of the JIA is trying to piece together what has happened while his predecessor was at the helm and what secrets remain. With the CIA still trying to pull the strings, he must communicate with Logan and ascertain if this rogue agent is truly as problematic as he seems on paper. While Logan dodges traps and pitfalls, there is something that is not entirely clear; who is framing him for murder and why? Sinclair treats readers to a lightning-paced novel in which twists dominate throughout.

This trilogy fits so nicely together and offers up a wonderful addition to the thriller genre. As I commented in a past review, there is so much more to Carl Logan than is offered up, but Sinclair has given the reader a glimpse into the life of this agent and some of the turmoil that surrounds his employ with the JIA. By using a few flashback stories, Sinclair ties Logan’s previous missions to this finale and ensures the reader gets a better sense of the man and his dedication to the outfit, even if members of the JIA, CIA, and Russia’s SVR have him on their kill lists. Logan is able to foster a relationship with Angela Grainger, who was central to his being vilified, and uses that trust to move indiscriminately through Russia and beyond. While there is so much more that Sinclair could have done with Logan, perhaps there are other projects on which he wishes to work, keeping Logan an ever-elusive character whose return is a possibility. For now, readers must rely on this well-crafted piece of work that keeps the pace quick and the plot filled with action.

Kudos, Mr. Sinclair for this wonderful trilogy. It kept my attention from the start and I look forward to seeing what else you have in your quiver.

The Triumph of the Sun (Courtney #12), by Wilbur Smith

Eight stars

As the Courtney series trudges along, Smith moves the story ahead to the latter decades of the 19th century, leaving the previous three novels and their context up to the reader’s imagination. Smith sets the novel in the Sudan, which is being ruled by the Egyptian Khedive, though the narrative hints that things are mishandled under an iron fist in Cairo. Locals turn to the Mahdi, the ‘Expected One’ to toss the shackles of subservience and return the region to Arab control. Ryder Courtney, a British subject and trader in the region (not to mention the kid brother of Waite, whose sons play a key role in the first series of Courtney novels), finds himself trapped in the capital city of Khartoum, alongside the British Consul-General, David Benbrook, the Consul-General’s three daughters, and Captain Penrod Ballantyne. While plotting an escape from the region, both Courtney and Ballantyne find themselves romantically drawn to and involved with the eldest Benbrook daughter, Rebecca, though neither can completely claim her heart. After the Mahdi raises a significant military force, the Arab soldiers raid Khartoum and seize the foreign inhabitants while permitting the locals to live under a more relaxed governing structure. While Courtney is able to flee the region with one of the Benbrook twins, Saffron, the others are not as lucky. A British military insurgence is unable to push the Arabs back and they take many prisoners, but slay a number of others. Rebecca and Amber Benbrook are two chosen by the Mahdi to serve in his concubine, which is a pivotal part of the story, as Rebecca becomes ensconced in her new way of life and eventually becomes a Muslim wife to the Caliph. Ballantyne suffers greatly, though is able to escape and encounters Courtney, who returns to retrieve those with whom he forged a bond before Khartoum fell. Smith offers an interesting end to the novel, which solidifies that it is the Benbrook women, and not either a Courtney or Ballantyne, who play a central role in the overall plot. A powerful addition to the Courtney series, that can also be read independently and thoroughly enjoyed.

Smith has created a complex novel that stirs up much interest and controversy all at once. He finally makes a connection to the first series of novels by introducing Ryder Courtney, though there is but passing mention of Waite and his sons, Sean and Garrick. Penrod Ballantyne is surely a relative of those who sailed from England and settled in what became Rhodesia, but there is no firm connection to Robyn et. al., leaving the reader to speculate. The three Benbrook girls (and eventually women) play a central role, though their introduction in the early sections of the book does not hint to their eventual importance. Each of them chooses a groom and their lives change accordingly, though by the end there is no clear connection to the furthering of either the Courtney or Ballantyne series. In the case of Rebecca’s children, Smith offers a narrative that seems to encompass their entire lives in a few paragraphs, leaving the reader to wonder if the final two Courtney novels will veer off into another direction. One area that came to fruition and cannot be missed (as it has been a theme in the entire third collection of Courtney novels) is the presents of Arabs as the key antagonists. The attentive and cognizant reader will see that the time around when Smith penned these novels parallels the rise and Western vilification of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Just as in the more current newsworthy stories, Smith depicts these Arabs as ruthless and willing to inflict horrific tortures on their captives, while also forcing their arcane beliefs on women. I noticed this throughout and wonder, while historically accurate, if use of this group as villains helped sell books and propel Smith to offer up his own soap box sentiment about issues in the headlines as he sat composing these novels. It is worth further investigation in book club and reading circles. Overall, a very powerful piece that forces the reader to think while offering a new and insightful angle of colonial subjugation.

Kudos, Mr. Smith for offering such a wonderful piece of work that kept me on the edge of my seat while leaving me wanting more. Thankfully, we still have two novels to go in the series.

House Revenge (Joe DeMarco #11), by Mike Lawson

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mike Lawson, Grove Atlantic, and Atlantic Monthly Press for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

As Lawson brings Joe DeMarco back for another ‘fixer’ experience, the stakes are higher than ever. This is no Washington political mess that needs rectifying or an international scandal that might sully the President’s reputation, but an issue of a local nature. During a meeting in his congressional district back in Boston, Congressman John Mahoney heard the plight of Elinore Dobbs, an elderly woman who is being forced out of her apartment against her will. Project developer, Sean Callahan, is behind the attempted eviction but Dobbs will not cede her dwelling, no matter the recompense. Mahoney knows Callahan well, both as a powerful contributor to his past campaigns and a thorn in his side. When a discussion leads Mahoney nowhere, he calls on DeMarco to head to Boston to iron out a solution. It is at this time that DeMarco comes face to face with the McNulty brothers, small-time enforcers who have been sent by Callahan to resolve the Dobbs issue. After a few run-ins with the brothers and learning of an ‘accident’ that befell Dobbs, DeMarco takes things into his own hands and seeks to remedy the McNulty issue. However, upon turning up that stone, a larger issue emerges and DeMarco must end Callahan’s bid to continue his massive project. Using the oddest assortment of connections, DeMarco tries to bring down Sean Callahan while his boss watches on, cursing from the sidelines. An excellent story combined with fast-paced action keeps Lawson at the top of his game and DeMarco a champion in the hearts of readers!

As I am used to the audiobook versions of Lawson’s work, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the story flowed and swiftly the action dissolved chapters. Any reader used to Lawson’s style will know that DeMarco’s adventures can take many tangents, which keeps everyone guessing and the plot from getting stale. In this story, which moves away from traditional politicking, Lawson utilises some interesting angles while keeping DeMarco’s rough exterior in tact. Additionally, the three tiered storyline keeps DeMarco on the move and the reader is able to keep everything in order, while not losing interest. The Dobbs situation is handled nicely, though not as the reader might hope, which flows nicely into a DeMarco-McNulty brothers clash, complete with just enough violence to keep series readers from doubting DeMarco’s abilities, and finally a clash to cut the head off the beast as DeMarco seeks to bring Callahan down. Put together, the pace never lessens and the characters used in all three parts keep the story alive. An interesting summation to the story leaves a few threads out there for Lawson to utilise at a later date, though it is clear that DeMarco is always stepping into unforeseen situations that require less than orthodox solutions. A great novel that should keep Lawson fans excited for another year, but pining for a further adventure.

Kudos, Mr. Lawson for this refreshing look at Joe DeMarco and local politics. I enjoy your take on things and hope to read many more novels in the years to come.

Blue Horizon (Courtney #11), by Wilbur Smith

Seven stars

In the eleventh instalment of the Courtney series, Smith continues to lay the early foundation of the Courtney family in South Africa. This novel moves the story to the next generation of Courtney children, specifically the sons of Tom (Jim) and Dorian (Mansur). In the early portion of the novel, the reader learns of Jim’s fascination with Louisa Leuven, who appears on a prison ship that docks close to the family settlement. Louisa’s story is one of pain and severe abuse, which Smith recounts in graphic detail, including the crime that sees her unjustly sentenced. When Jim helps free Louisa from the ship, they escape into the African wilderness, fleeing colonial authorities. During their adventure, Jim and Louisa fall in love while finding a way to allow their feelings to grow, hampered by Louisa’s past and issues of trust. When the colonial governor learns that Tom has been aiding in his son’s activities, the entire Courtney family is blacklisted and they must leave their home, for fear of further retribution. At their new settlement, the story shifts to focus on Dorian and Mansur, who still hold onto the former’s past life as the adopted son of the Prince of Oman. When the current Caliph of Oman seeks revenge on Dorian for all he did while living with the family in Zanzibar, death seems the easiest solution. However, after Dorian’s wife, Yasmini, is killed, these Courtney men refuse to turn the other cheek and will stop at nothing to avenge her death. Dorian chooses to take back the Caliphate and must wrest control from the evil Zayn al-Din. While beginning their trek, Mansur meets Verity and falls madly in love. It is only later that Mansur realises that she is actually his cousin, daughter to Tom’s twin brother, Guy. While Verity has been told much about her family, she learns that all she knows are lies and falsehoods. Verity chooses Mansur over her own father, who vows to bring the Courtney family down in any way he can. While Dorian fights for his honour, Mansur must face-off against his uncle to protect the woman he loves, spilling Courtney blood no matter what. A powerful novel that Smith uses to enrich the further generational saga of the Courtneys, told in intricate detail.

Moving away from the nautical battles that played a central role earlier, Smith is able to offer up an exciting and multi-faceted story that is sure to keep the reader’s attention. Filled with the excitement of battles of the heart and freedom, Smith advances the Courtney story with new characters and significant twists, some of which were bound to come to the forefront and others whose genesis only add to the epic adventure on which this family has embarked. As I presumed, the departure of Guy in the previous novel could not be ignored, as he appears in the form of a bitter man who hates the family he left in England, only to exact his own form of revenge. With so many plots and characters to keep balanced, Smith does a stellar job at ensuring the reader is not left bored or confused. With much to keep the series momentum looking forward, Smith catapults the Courtneys into yet another adventure, as he expands the family tree, forcing the reader to plot something out, in order to keep things clear for the twelfth novel.

Kudos, Mr. Smith for another great novel in which you keep a quick but constant pace for all your characters to grow and develop. 

I am Death (Robert Hunter #7), by Chris Carter

Nine stars

Carter offers readers another chance to see Detective Robert Hunter at work, crossing paths with the most sadistic killers LA has to offer. When a mutilated body turns up next to LAX, Hunter and his partner, Carlos Garcia, are sent to investigate. Little do they realise, but the signs of torture and sexual assault are the least intriguing pieces of the puzzle. A note lodged in the woman’s throat introduces the Ultra Violent Crimes detectives to their latest serial killer, who refers to himself as ‘I AM DEATH’. When another body turns up, the only similarity is another note from I AM DEATH, leaving Hunter to wonder what kind of killer changes his MO and killing style so radically. In a parallel sub-plot, an eleven-year-old is kidnapped and severely abused, to the point of breaking down, and given the moniker SQUIRM. Degraded and with no hope of escape, Squirm is forced to live alongside the killer and witness unspeakable horrors. As clues slowly trickle in, Hunter does his best to analyse the notes to find something that ties them all together, hoping to stop this killer before the bodies continue piling up. As sadistic as any novel in the series, Carter leaves nothing out of bounds and pulls the reader in from the outset, begging them to try walking away before the final turn of the page. 

As with all Carter novels, this one pulls the reader into the core of a psychological mystery and will not let go. Be it the strong connection to Robert Hunter, the graphic details of crimes and criminal behaviour, or the short chapters that leave the reader wanting more, something keeps the novel pushing onwards without losing any momentum. Carter is at the height of the genre and knows how to navigate the nuances that keep the reader from straying. The gory details may not be for some, nor will the highly disturbing description of some situations, but for those who can stomach this, the story comes to life and makes for a sensational read. Carter stands alone with his gift for fluid storytelling, even if he does enjoy living outside the reader’s comfort zone.

Kudos, Mr. Carter for such a riveting piece of work, tapping into the darkest corners of the genre.