The Missing Hours, by Emma Kavanagh

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Emma Kavanagh, UK Random House, and Century for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Kavanagh offers an interesting perspective in this mystery novel, pulling the reader in from the opening vignette. After the mysterious disappearance of Selena Cole from a park while out with her young daughters, the case is assigned to DC Leah Mackay, still working out the wrinkles of the position and processing some personal issues of her own. The more DC Mackay digs, the more confusing things become, as there are no clues or leads. Once DC Mackay learns that Cole and her recently deceased husband ran a ‘Kidnap and Ransom’ business, finding themselves jet-setting all over the world to handle highly controversial cases in dangerous domains, sinister potential motives surrounding retribution begin circulating. While Cole remains missing, the body of a solicitor surfaces, leaving authorities to wonder if there could be a connection. Assigning DS Finn Hale to the murder, the narrative advances as he tries to get a handle on what’s taken place and who might be on the list of prime suspects. With relationship issues central to the murder, Hale seeks to put the pieces together and solve the case before things unravel. Kavanagh spins an added layer to the story by revealing that Hale and Mackay are siblings, working together but independently on these cases. The deeper the story progresses (complete with case summaries from the Cole company’s various files), the stronger the possibility that the murder and disappearance might be related, with an employee whose life touches into the spheres of both victims. When Selena Cole does return, as mysteriously as she left, she remembers nothing about her time away, or what may have happened. DC Mackay seeks to bridge these missing hours, as questions about retribution for a past kidnapping begin to surface, with DS Hale close-by to connect the dots. Kavanagh leaves the reader to discover even more mysteries while positing how it all ties in together in a story that has more twists than a kidnapping retrieval attempt. An interesting tale, complete with curious personal background drama, sure to leave readers demanding more from this author.

This being my first experience with Kavanagh’s work, I can only judge her abilities based on this book. With short chapters and characters that offer a little of themselves away from their roles in the larger narrative, the reader is able to understand the complexities of those who appear on the written page, without getting too wrapped up in the backstory. In addition to the narrative at hand, use of ‘case file’ documents helps to flesh-out the story and builds on the development of the rationale behind the Selena Cole disappearance. I would venture to say that Kavanagh’s novel would fall short without these more detailed glimpses into the Kidnap and Ransom background. Kavanagh is able to weave a productive story and keep the reader wondering as the chapters continue, without getting mired down in technical explanations. She succeeds in selling the story and the genre, as well as her vast abilities. 

Kudos, Madam Kavanagh for allowing me access to this wonderful story. I am intrigued in your writing style and can see myself looking for more in the months to come.

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The Prisoner’s Gold (The Hunters #3), by Chris Kuzneski

Nine stars

Kuzneski reunites The Hunters for a third adventure, still reeling from the dramatic ending that saw the team fray at the edges. Brought together to locate the hidden treasure of Marco Polo, the team of ragtag experts are forced to complete covert acquisitions in Italy, synthesize significant documentation from the 13th century in China as well as parse through journals with vague descriptions of a European trader. With a group called the Righteous and Harmonious Fists hot on the trail of the Hunters, there is no time to bask in the history or the scenic nature of the territory. Men have died and more blood will be shed as the mystery expands to Tibet, where ancient manuscripts reveal more curiosities than concrete responses. However, the team remains standoffish as they question who has hired them to find the treasure and whether they are more than pawns in the grand scale of things. While the Fists will stop at nothing to obtain the treasure and kill the team, the Hunters have more on their plate than a simple mission. Kuzneski adds drama and humour to this high-impact tale and will keep the reader on the edge of their chair until the final sentence, which is explosive in and of itself.

I am a long-time fan of Kuzneski and all his writing. He stands on his own and crafts wonderful stories imbued with a great deal of history. His style does have hints of Steve Berry’s historical nuances and Nelson DeMille’s dry wit, but Kuzneski stands at shoulder height with these fiction giants. His attention to detail and well-developed narrative finds support with varied characters, all of whom flavour the larger plot in their own way. There is little of fault within these stories and Kuzneski knows how to mix lighthearted banter with serious adventure. This novel and the larger series will surely help develop scores of fans, especially as word gets out about the high-caliber writing found therein. 

While I do not usually do this, I would be remiss if I did not mention the narrator of the audiobook version I completed. Andy Caploe not only tells the story in such a way that the reader hangs on each sentence and will surely binge listen just to get to the next great part, but the use of numbers voices to differentiate each character helps provide a sensation permitting the listener to distinguish one speaker from another. These aural traits help shape the book in ways that reading alone cannot. I trust this technique can be utilised by more who handle narration, as it adds another layer to the story that helps the reader sink deeper into the plot.

Kudos, Mr. Kuzneski on another successful novel. I cannot wait to see where you take your readers and what sorts of twists you will inject into your stories to keep readers on their toes.

The Postbox Murders, by Edmund Glasby

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Edmund Glasby, and Endeavour Press Ltd. for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Glasby presents readers with a very interesting premise in this short story/novella. Someone is murdering locals in small-town England and stuffing their bodies into postboxes, as the title suggests. Where things become interesting lies in the momentum these killings, which do not take place at the same box or even in the same town. The authorities are baffled, especially Detective Chief Inspector James Holbrooke, who cannot define a motive or anything rational. Onto the scene comes Richard Montrose, a horologist by profession, but also a man who has a deep obsession with crime, particularly murder. Montrose pretends to be a journalist, seeking answers to the murders as he goes to each town and the crime scenes. By interviewing the locals and eventually attending the funerals, Montrose is trying to put a face to the Postbox Killer. As the townspeople become more vigilant, Holbrooke may finally have a lead. As the authorities descend, Montrose’s name is also being bandied about and the date for another killing is fast at hand. Glasby sends readers into a spiral as they grasp to understand who the killer might be as well as a sensible motive.

This is my first time reading Glasby and I was impressed with what he had to offer. I will admit I did feel the story lacked the depth that it could have had, but as a short piece of writing, it was succinct in all the right places. I could see where an author could have expanded and drawn things out over 300-400 pages, crafting the murderer in anonymous narrative while also exploring more of Holbrooke’s struggles and Montrose’s intricacies. That said, it had a wonderful feel to it and paced itself nicely. The reader is left feeling Montrose is a little off, Holbrooke cannot utilise the power behind the police, and there is someone out there killing strangers for no apparent reason. Thoroughly enjoyable and well worth the invested time.

Kudos, Mr. Glasby for this wonderful short story. I hope you have more out there, both short and full-length writing, for I am curious to see what directions you take you other work.

Love is for Tomorrow, by Michael Karner and Isaac Newton Acquah

Five stars

Michael Karner and Isaac Newton Acquah approached me and asked that I read and honestly review both their short story and novel. I completed a review of the short story towards the end of last year, leaving me with this longer piece. The story’s focus is Antoine, a man who was an agent with the CIA, left for dead after a failed mission. Using his connections he is able to resurrect himself in a secret life, far from his wife and child, situated now in Austria. However, the Agency learns of his existence and sends a hit squad to rub him out for good. Meanwhile, Antoine and his network learns of a major terror plot in Russia, one where a renowned terrorist seeks to cause massive damage in her own country. Working to neutralize the bomb and keep the target from succeeding in other means is at the heart of Antoine’s mission, even as he dodges bullets meant for him. An interesting tale by Karner and Acquah, scattered as it ended up being. Perhaps worth the inexpensive investment at Amazon, though I am not sure this is at the caliber of what I am used to reading.

The premise is strong and readers who take the time to digest the short story beforehand will have a little better understanding of the entire Antoine premise, though even then, you have to be on your game. For me, I surely was not. Perhaps it is stuff on the periphery of my life that kept me from investing the needed time and attention into this novel. I could not easily follow its flow, I found it scattered and jilted and really out of sorts I am not sure if it is me, or the authors, but I feel it might be a bit of both. There is much to be excited about in here; the novel does move ahead and make a semblance of sense. I must admit I did thoroughly enjoy the use of quotes and the beginning of each chapter, only to have them included in the story at some point. Brilliant move.

Decent work Messrs. Karner and Acquah, though this did not grab me as I would have liked. Perhaps there is a kernel in here, and I suspect other readers will find it. For me, it did not POP.

The Crossing (Bosch #20, Haller #6), by Michael Connelly

Nine stars

Connelly returns with another high-impact story, matching his two most popular characters, half-brothers Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller, into a single thriller. After yet another scandalous action, Bosch seems himself scrambling to retire from the LAPD before they could fire him. When he approaches Haller, the Lincoln Lawyer, for some help suing the Department, Haller agrees, but wants some help of his own on a case he is defending. A known gang member sits in jail for murder, as the evidence shows an iron-clad case. Bosch agrees to poke around a little, though this will require him to make the crossing; to turn on those with whom he has worked his whole life and question that in which he has believed while he’s served. There is no coming back from this, but the stakes are too high for a man who claims he has been set-up for the crime. As Bosch pokes deeper, he realises that there is a cover-up taking place and those who impede this smooth sailing case either end up dead or forced to the sidelines. However, one piece of evidence proves to be more important than any other, a quirky piece that does not make any sense. Bosch follows the threads and things begin to unravel…making the crossing all the sweeter. As he comes to terms with another crossing, his daughter from girl into womanhood, Bosch remains stoic and somewhat aloof, which endears readers to this character flaw. A powerful story from a master writer that will have new readers becoming fans as series regulars nod in approval.

Harry Bosch is the quintessential character, who has been through it all. Connelly has crafted him in a score of novels, honing certain attributes while letting others wane alongside past cases. Injected Mickey Haller into the case, Bosch is on his toes, more to assert his authority as a main characters within the chapters, as well as offering readers a tug-of-war situation; is this a police thriller or a legal one? Connelly’s ability to weave through cop-speak, legalese, and a powerful case pulls the reader in deeper, while sacrificing nothing in its delivery. While Haller is present in the story, I feel this is a Bosch-centric tale, but permits character growth for all, while fostering a deeper connection to the reader. Adding the likes of Titus Welliver to the narration of this book and the characterization on-screen adds further dimensions to allow readers to find a deeper interest Harry Bosch. I could not have chosen a better suited Bosch had I tried. Fast-paced, detailed, and filled with off-beat humour, Connelly delivers a knock-out punch that will leave readers obsessed with Bosch and demanding more.

Kudos, Mr. Connelly for this wonderful piece of work. I cannot praise you enough, nor can I get enough Harry Bosch. Keep ’em coming!

Brute Force (Jericho Quinn #6), by Marc Cameron

Seven stars

Cameron brings the continuation of his high-impact story to a head with this great piece of action. After a devastating biological attack, America is in political ruins. The President of the United States has no real control of the country, bowing to terrorists and a vice president, Lee McKeon, who has his finger on the pulse of what is needed while he forges into new and devastating battle to sink the country once and for all. With Special Agent Jericho Quinn on the lam, he is unable to stop what is sure to be a horrible stand-off with the Chinese. Two Chinese terrorist have escaped from their Pakistani prison and are headed homeward, where they possess the ultimate of weapons, the Black Dragon. It is only when Quinn learns of this weapon that he realises the extent of the trouble America faces. Meanwhile, with key members of the former cabinet either in hiding or custody, a plot to remove the Administration is underway. However, use of an ultra-vigilant security agency keeps the POTUS and VPOTUS firmly in power. Quinn uses connections within the Chinese hierarchy to help propel him back to America, where he alone might be able to stop the atrocity before America succumbs to the ultimate political defeat. A powerfully written piece that will keep Cameron fans itching for more.

While I had some trouble getting into the novel, I suspect it was more my mindset outside of being a reader than anything else. Cameron utilises his usual recipe for success, with strong characters, humour, and high-paced action all set against the ongoing dilemma of the American political system. In this novel, he expands the reader’s mind with knowledge of back country Chinese goings-on and the nuances of the arms war between America and China. With succinct chapters and interesting plots, Cameron is able to steer the story as easily as Jerico Quinn might one of his specialized motorbikes. Well written with just enough to keep the reader wanting another novel, to push the story further.

Kudos, Mr. Cameron for another Jericho Quinn thriller. I have been a fan for a while and do not see myself shying away soon.

Partners: A Rogue Lawyer Short Story, by John Grisham

Eight stars

Grisham makes his mark with this wonderful short story, riding the coat tails of hi popular novel, Rogue Lawyer. Thomas Ray Cardell, aka Tee Ray, is having a hard time making ends meet. He takes a sketchy job as a drug mule for a local dealer and appears to be having much success. However, one night while walking through the projects, he is chastised by a cop, who draws his weapon and begins shooting. Only once Tee Ray has been injured and on his knees does he draw a weapon and shoot the officer, eventually killing him. The State pushes for capital murder and Tee Ray is in need of representation. Enter, Sebastian Rudd, whose legal skills are second to none, even though his clientele and antics may leave much to be desired. Rudd works to piece the story together, fighting a city prosecutor who has the officer’s partner fabricating a story of his own. At trial, Rudd puts it all out there, in hopes of salvaging at least some of Tee Ray’s life. With a defence strategy based on truth and honesty, Rudd must convince a jury that the prosecution is representing a police force bent on a vendetta as it is filled with guilt. A great read with succinct chapters and legalese only Grisham can bring to the table.

Grisham redeems himself with this story, after blundering through a pamphlet-style story approach to new tumor research earlier this year. His legal mind is crisp and the chapters offer the reader quick doses of the trials and tribulations of building a capital murder defence. While only a teaser of potential future Sebastian Rudd work, Grisham handles it effectively, offering advantages to both sides of the trial prep. However, Grisham finds a way to link Rudd and the previous Rogue Lawyer story in the end, which wraps the entire tale up and brings it home for anyone with an hour to spend reading this piece.

Kudos, Mr. Grisham for another legal success. While the stories need not always have the underdog winning, it is nice to see the world is not always stacked against the poor.

The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It, by John W. Dean

Nine stars

John Dean offers this insightful look into the build-up of the Watergate affair, and the subsequent demolition of trust in America’s political core. Dean presents not an argument from his own perspective, but cobbles together a narrative that includes actual conversations caught on the infamous Nixon taping system, as well as diary entries of the POTUS and his closest advisors. Dean does parachute into the narrative at times, offering his own perspective, but allows the conversations and entries to speak for themselves. The narrative builds from Nixon learning of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee in June, 1972 through to the realisation that those within his inner circle were complicit in sending directives or sullying their hands during this and one other break-in. Building from there, Dean offers the fast-paced scramble that took place once Nixon realised what was going on and how to create a buffer for himself, while trying to protect some of his key advisors, with ideas of immunity or pardons. As the political damage deepens and Nixon is searching for a scapegoat, he turns to his counsel, Dean, and throws him to the lions, forcing Dean’s resignation, in hopes this will quell the storm. Dean remains stalwart as he is called before the grand jury and the Senate Committee tasked with investigating the Watergate events. Told in such a way that the reader is left in awe at some of the admissions made in private to obfuscate justice and protect a few men. Not to be missed by the political fanatic, especially those who are opened minded to the taint that politics can leave on certain people and how power acts more as an intoxicant than aphrodisiac.

The seamless nature of the narrative remains one of the book’s greatest assets. It reads as fiction, not because it is so bombastic, but due to the smooth nature of the delivery and flow from day to day, character to character. Dean has removed the choppiness one might expect in even a quasi-academic piece, where quotes from the telephone conversations or diary entries would leave the pace jilted. Instead, it is a collaboration of paraphrasing and, when important, direct quotes, that allows the reader to forge onwards so effectively. Breaking the narrative down into smaller and more digestible pieces, both segments of importance and individual days, Dean allows all the actors to have their time in the spotlight and implicate themselves thoroughly. There are too many to name here, but the list of men whose choices, insights, and decisions helped shape the decision by Nixon to cover-up what he knew and when goes to the core. Equally effective is the brash nature that Nixon takes to all this, that he can sweep it under the rug or delegate whipping boys to take the fall. The amount of detail is staggering, but not crippling to the lay reader, whose interest may be the scheming but not the intricate political or criminal details that could be trudged up by a legal mind. Minutiae is left to the law review articles, while Dean offers up the most comprehensive collection of summaries I have ever come across to develop an understanding of who knew what and when, as well as the fabrication of events and documents to protect certain people and flay others. Brilliant and sinister all in one collection. 

I would be remiss not to address certain key elements of the overall presentation of this book. The attentive reader will realise that one cannot approach any piece of non-fiction that deals in history or document interpretation without understanding the inherent bias in a narrative. Add to that, an author who has been seriously scorned and betrayed by some of the key players in the story, and you have red flags at every chapter break. The reader must invest so much trust in Dean’s accounts, both that they are not marred in the passage of four decades (as recollections tend to get at least become partially foggy after that time) and that the paraphrasing of tapes, or inclusion/exclusion of certain passages will not skew the larger narrative. While Dean is clear to elucidate in the preface that he scoured the tapes and their transcripts, there is a certain degree of scepticism necessary in any reader, unless one chooses blind faith. Even then, it remains solely one man’s interpretation of events. Not to get too philosophical here, but isn’t that the foundation of history, biased interpretation? That being said, the reader must take this all in with a grain of salt and see where things go during the analytical process. Surely, there will be some gobsmacked moments as well as the raising of at least one eyebrow during certain passages.

Dean pulls no punches, but does not seek to exonerate himself while leaving others to hold the blame. As the title suggests, he tries to give the reader a chance to see what Nixon might say he knew or did not know as it related to Watergate. Additionally, it might give the reader some insight into what the Senate Committee might have discovered, or both Houses discussed, if impeachment had moved forward. Whatever the take, it is an eerie view into how dirty politics could be. The reader must thank the late President Richard Nixon for installing this taping system, leaving hours and hours of incriminating evidence on hand for synthesizing. Power corrupts, but it also gives a false sense of infallibility and living above the law. Thankfully, people like John Dean (and David Frost) can poke the bear and force it to dance for the people.

Kudos, Mr. Dean for this wonderfully crafted book. I cannot praise you enough for all you hard work and dedication to offer up a well-documented approach to Watergate and Nixon’s implicit guilt therein.