This Was a Man (Clifton Chronicles #7), by Jeffrey Archer

Nine stars

Archer completes his heptalogy in fine form, coming full circle with the Cliftons and Barringtons, while peppering the narrative with other key characters and their plights from 1978-92. As the novel opens, the reader is left to wonder what has become of Karin Barrington, revealed to be working with the East German Government and in the clutches of her step-father and handler. Shots ring out and a body falls, but it turns out that MI6 has Karin protected and the ultimate traitor lies bleeding to death. While Karin’s revelation is key to opening the novel, her importance fades as husband, Lord Giles Barrington, forges ahead in the House of Lords. Crippled by a Labour loss in the General Election and subsequent backing of the wrong candidate to take over the Party, Giles is shuffled to the back benches to live out his meagre political life. However, while they are unable to wrest the reins of power out of Thatcher’s Conservatives, failure at the top breathes new life into Giles and offers an opportunity to serve in the Shadow Cabinet, with a new opponent in his crosshairs. Meanwhile, Emma Clifton has been enjoying her time as Chairman of Barrington Shipping, but when there is a takeover offer, the money cannot be ignored and she sells the family business to a competitor, which leaves her open to rise amongst the ranks of a hospital board, acting as Chairman of the largest NHS hospital in the country. Emma immerses herself in the intricacies of the hospital while remaining on the radar of PM Margaret Thatcher. Seeing potential in her friend, Thatcher elevates Emma into the Lords as well, opposite her brother, who is only too happy to show her the ropes before he vows to hang her with one of the political variety. Emma is given Undersecretary of State for Health and the entire NHS program rests firmly at her feet. While she seeks to steer a major piece of legislation through the Lords for the Government, Giles will stop at nothing to see Labour triumph as he bandies the legislation around and bullies the sister he knows all too well, leading to a face-off of epic political proportions. Harry Clifton, patriarch of the family, remains pleased resting his his wife’s shadow, waging his own form of war with the characters in his latest novel. Deciding to fulfill a lifetime promise to his mother, Harry embarks on writing his magnum opus while coming to terms with the passing years around him. The idea that germinates is one that he uses to weather personal storms in his own life, things he wishes not to reveal to the rest of the family. Sebastian, son to Emma and Harry, continues his meteoric rise in the banking industry, though he is called on to make a play for a major company, filled with nemeses from his past, in order to protect the virtue of a young woman who is gifted shares in a Last Will and Testament. Sebastian straddles time on both sides of the Atlantic in order to see truth and virtue restored, while keeping Lady Virginia Fenwick from sullying the reputations of anyone else, but more on her in a moment. Sebastian’s precocious daughter, Jessica, has an eye for art and finds nothing that can stand in her way. Nothing, that is, until a Brazilian man turns the future of this nineteen year-old into something that comes crashing down in short order. Jessica’s life goes to tatters and teeters on the precipice, all she has worked towards lost after a night of bingeing and recklessness. There is a glimmer of hope, which comes in the least likely of relatives. While Jessica tries to right herself, Lady Virginia Fenwick continues to plot in order to elude the taxman and his hefty fines for past legal and financial transgressions. As Lady Virginia barely survives the scandal of her faux pregnancy at the hands of a rich American, she sinks her teeth into the 13th Duke of Hertford. Lady Virginia weasels her way closer to fortune, though the Duke’s family can smell a rat, especially when Lady Virginia makes a quick play after a rushed codicil to the Duke’s will. With her long track record of deception and few friends to call her own, Lady Virginia might have to pull out all the stops to keep herself from flirting with financial ruin and becoming destitute. As Archer meanders through his various characters and uses history as a backdrop, he takes the narrative down some truly interesting avenues, which allows him to remind the reader of how far things have come in the last seventy odd years, including putting to rest the lingering question of Harry’s parentage. Offering his three central characters one last encore at centre stage, Archer lays the groundwork to end the Clifton Chronicles, ensuring that there is not a dry eye left in the house… or wherever the reader chooses to devour this truly amazing piece of writing. A powerful novel to end a stellar series, it will be one that readers will want to revisit repeatedly and recommend at every opportunity.

Jeffrey Archer is more than a man! He is surely one of the twentieth century’s greatest storytellers with his vast array of plots and countless characters that breathe life into his ideas. The Clifton Chronicles became an epic seven-novel series that needed every page to deliver the impact that it had to offer. Rich characters who survived against a backdrop both of history and personal growth, strong narratives that meandered across continents, and dialogue that kept the story moving at a clip that was both comprehensive and realistic. Archer told his epic story that took characters seven decades to present and offered lingering after-effects in which the reader sought just a few more chapters of delightful storytelling. While potentially hinting at his next writing assignment, Archer drew parallels between Harry Clifton and himself at times, teasing the reader, and left the door open for all to wonder. The smooth writing style and attention to detail throughout the series attracted scores of new fans in addition to those who have admired Lord Archer for decades. While some may bemoan that things became too predictable in this final novel, lacking the essential thrill to get them out of bed and grabbing for their copy, these are the same people who spend all their time looking for errant acorns in the wilderness as the vast majority enjoy the majesty of the forest. To have had the chance to read such a wonderful series and feel for all of the characters within, I was not surprised when I found myself tearing up at points, especially towards the end. This was a man, a family, a series, and an epic journey. Do consider embarking on the adventure from beginning to end and lose yourself in Lord Jeffrey Archer, as you raise a pen in literary victory.

Kudos, Lord Archer for never letting your readers down. While there will be naysayers, it is likely an inherent need to play the role of Lady Virginia that fuels their bitterness.

Cometh the Hour (Clifton Chronicles #6), by Jeffrey Archer

Eight stars

Archer has much to offer in this penultimate volume of his heptalogy, pushing the Cliftons, Barringtons, and a slew of other characters into the centre of dramatic events of the 1970s. As the novel opens, Emma Clifton awaits news on a libel suit that may see her forced to hand over control of Barrinton’s Shipping, as the Board is divided over her actions. While she is able to weather a rather choppy storm, her prowess is not ignored as she joins more directorships and is kept in the inner circles of the Conservative Party and its rising star, one Margaret Thatcher. As these events progress, Lady Virginia Fenwick will not take the loss in her proceedings with Emma Clifton sitting down. She is prepared to continue her scheming in order to remain in good standings with those around her. Sinking her teeth into a wealthy American, Lady Fenwick devises a plan that will link them and help fund her lavish lifestyle, but only if she can pull off a ruse of enormous proportions without being caught. Her former husband, Giles Barrington, has been busy with his own life since being disgraced during his sister, Emma’s, trial. Giles must admit his affair with a translator in East Germany, Karin Pengelly. This news is splashed across the tabloids, including whispers of a pregnancy, which stymies a return to the House of Commons. Luckily, the PM has secured a spot for him in the House of Lords, where he can make a difference and still hold a Cabinet post. Karin holds a secret from him, which she does not reveal even after they marry; she is an East Germany spy, alongside her step-father, who are keeping the Stasi and Communists informed. However, Karin’s dealing are being closely watched and her future is in jeopardy if she does not turn against the Germans. While the reader may wonder greatly about Sebastian Clifton, son of Harry and Emma, he has his hands full with a collection of issues. After he remains unable to reconnect with his daughter, Jessica, he must focus on the woman who holds his heart at present, one Priya Ghuman. Chasing her across the world, in defiance of her parents, might be the only way he can find true love, though nothing comes as easily as that and plans go drastically awry for the man who has timed everything perfectly. He is forced back to England, empty-handed, and left to handle his job in banking, where a merger is about to turn the tides on how things are run. When a group works behind the scenes to cripple Sebastian’s efforts, he is left to scramble, while one of the key players faces legal proceedings that could end his career and freedom. All this while Sebastian makes another stab at connecting with Jessica and her mother, Samantha, a woman from his past. While he must choose wisely, the precocious Jessica will stop at nothing to unite her family once and for all. Finally, as if he wants nothing more than to sit in the background and write for a living, Harry Clifton continues to fight for the publication of Uncle Joe, a manuscript he prepared for his friend and former cellmate, Anatoly Babakov. While Clifton is sent on a book junket, it is less the content and more his ability to remember large passages that seems to appeal to the American media. However, Harry will stop at nothing to ensure his friend receives all the merit coming to him, even as the Soviets keep him detained in Siberia. When Babakov’s book receives the ultimate award, Clifton takes the reins even after Babakov is unable to attend the ceremony, creating a new movement in the Cold War clash. All this and more await readers who wish to soak up Archer’s powerful novel that lays the groundwork for an exceptional end to it all. Gripping and captivating, with some cliffhangers that show Archer is as cruel as he is a literary genius.

Jeffrey Archer is a man whose writing and ideas never seem to end, even after three-plus decades. He has been able to pull readers into his works by appealing to a large cross-section. Mixing politics with history and adding just enough family drama, Archer knows how to pace a story that keeps the reader wanting to learn a little more. History as a backdrop not only provides a wonderful pace-setter, but also forces the characters to move in a forward motion, no matter what they have on their respective plates. While Archer has been able to use a key collection of characters, he does offer fresh blood in the form of new generations and characters whose importance emerges through the delicately balanced narrative. One would be remiss if they ignored this, as Archer is forced to keep the backstories straight while providing new ideas to keep the reader curious. The mix of a strong setting, powerful narrative, stellar characters, and powerful dialogue creates a dramatic series that pulls the story in so many directions while keeping the reader firmly grounded. And there is still more to come, in the final volume. While I could expound on this novel and the series for days, I have one more novel left to finish it all off. Shall we continue the journey through to its completion?

Kudos, Lord Archer for yet another wonderful novel. Your ideas amaze me, but I have grown to expect to be shocked with every passing publication.

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (Charlie Bucket #2), by Roald Dahl

Seven stars

After the hair-raising adventure that Charlie Bucket underwent in the opening novel, Dahl picks up right where he left off, ready to entertain young readers again. When last we spoke of Charlie, he was loading his entire family into the glass elevator from his newly-acquired chocolate factory. With Willy Wonka and Grandpa Joe helping at the controls, Charlie welcomes Mr. and Mrs. Bucket, Grandpa George, and Grandmas Josephine and Georgina into the machine before it blasted off. Heading up, up, up into the sky, Wonka explains the wonders of his machine, which can go in any direction and into any room whatsoever. Wonka is eager to show off the elevator’s prowess, blasting it into space, where the group is spotted by a US rocket ship full of astronauts. Reporting back to the White House, these astronauts speak about the peculiar nature of the unidentified ship in front of them. The President of the United States is sure they are astronaut spies that cannot be trusted, even from afar. As Wonka and Charlie dock the elevator onto the International Space Hotel USA, more drama ensues when an extra-terrestrial being is seen wandering around. Knowing much about space and its inhabitants, Wonka helps protect the aforementioned US ship and the containment pod carrying workers for the hotel, before blasting back towards earth. Upon arrival back at the factory, Wonka seeks to enliven Charlie’s grandparents, in hopes that they will get out of bed and help run the factory. Stubborn and old, George, Georgina, and Josephine refuse, but are subject to a product that Willy Wonka has been using inside the factory walls; a pill that can reverse the aging process. When the three greedy grandparents take matters into their own hands, Wonka must use another product, with the opposite effect, to calibrate their ages again. Just as Charlie thinks the drama might be done, there comes a special letter from Washington, with another round of adventures for everyone to enjoy. Dahl’s creative juices were surely flowing and shall never be bottled as he creates more fun for the young and those who feel it in the bones.

While not as crafty as the first Charlie Bucket story, Dahl brings readers into the fold with another outlandish tale that pushes the limits of the imagination. That said, it does clip along nicely and utilises some of the minor characters from the opening tale (grandparents) in a more hands-on role, which is sure to pique the interest of the reader. Dahl chooses to focus more on the action-adventure in this book than the slowly evolving adventure that touches the heart, which I did not care for as much, but still remain happy to see how things developed. The novel poses fewer themes and lessons than pure, silly entertainment for the reader. I can see what this was never picked up for a movie (to the best of my knowledge), but can only hope that if it is, Johnny Depp is kept away from the project, as he left a new generation with a sour taste in their mouths that no Oompa Loompa could fix. While the ending does leave room for more adventures and the characters could make for an interesting mix within the factory walls, the passing of Roald Dahl in 1990 has made that a natural impossibility. But, with a score of other novels for children to explore, there is hope that the new generation will look back to what entertained their parents and grandparents, finding richness in stores that did not require vampires, wizards, or even Middle School.

Kudos, Mr. Dahl for touching so many lives across the generations with simple ideas that flourish into magic.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Charlie Bucket #1), by Roald Dahl

Nine stars

Before there were amorous zombies, sleuthing twelve year-olds, or even a teacher who traipsed around in his underwear, children turned to Roald Dahl for their literary entertainment. I thought it the perfect time to zip through time and relive one of my childhood favourites, in hopes that I might soon introduce my son to the wonders of Willy Wonka and his glorious factory. Dahl opens by presenting the reader with Charlie Bucket and his family, confined to a small cottage on the outskirts of town and as poor as can be. Charlie’s one true love is to receive a bar of Wonka’s chocolate on his birthday, which he savours for a month. When news comes that the famous Willy Wonka will open his factory up for five children to tour, the world goes mad. Five golden tickets have been placed in random bars of chocolate, leaving everyone to buy and tear through the wrapping in hopes of finding that glistening entry pass. One by one, tickets emerge when children purchase bars upon bars: first Augustus Gloop, then Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teavee. Much press coverage is made of these four, though there remains a single ticket left out there, waiting for a pair of grubby hands to grip it by the corner. On a gamble, Charlie uses a coin his discovers and purchases a bar of chocolate that does, miraculously, hold the final ticket. After choosing to attend the factory with his Grandpa Joe, they set off. Arriving at Wonka’s delectable abode, all the children and their chaperones enter and begin learning of the wonders of chocolate making, from the rivers of chocolate to the rooms filled with nut-cracking squirrels, through to experimental chewing gums that will replace the need for meals. All this is overseen by a collection of small people, the Oompa Loompas, whose poetic verses are as exciting as their appearance. One by one, the children flock to something they cannot do without, slowing falling prey to the machinations of the tubes, trapdoors, temptations, and televisions within the factory, leaving Charlie and Grandpa Joe alone as the tour comes to a close. Wonka’s revelation of this fact leads him to make an offer to Charlie that is more than any child might dream and turns the future of Wonka’s factory on its head. Surely, Dahl will expound on that in the sequel, on which I will firmly place my hands like a gluttonous child looking for a golden ticket. Oh, to be a child again!

I will never forget growing up with Roald Dahl’s books around me. Many of his stories are household classics for me, as is the 1971 movie of this book, where Gene Wilder brought Willy Wonka to life. As an adult, I can see some of the themes that Dahl seeks to instil in his readers, about fate, greed, gluttony, and patience. Told in such a fabulous manner as to entertain rather than inculcate, Dahl does not go for the pizzazz and hoopla of some drivel authors use now to lure readers into their novels. I am quite sure everyone wonders about an Oompa Loompa on occasion, which is enough to make me want to return to these books on a regular basis. One cannot criticize Dahl’s work without upsetting a generation or two of readers, in its simplicity and complex themes offered up simultaneously. I would venture to say, the reader and listener (adult and child, alike) will take something from this book and find magic in the formulation. Brilliant in its crafting and heart-warming in the delivery. 

Kudos, Mr. Dahl for touching so many lives with your creativity and awesomeness.

Field of Fire (Jericho Quinn #7), by Marc Cameron

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Marc Cameron, Kensington Books, and Pinnacle for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In his latest Jericho Quinn novel, Cameron takes readers back to the frozen tundra of Alaska for an explosive thriller. When a deadly nerve agent is released at a high school football game in Dallas, all fingers point to a branch of ISIS, especially with the perpetrators dressing the part. The President’s National Security Advisor calls on Jericho Quinn and others within the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) to stop the threat before it blossoms. Chatter links the gas, called New Archangel, to a Russian chemist, Kostya Volodin. During a trip from his homeland to Alaska, Volodin and his daughter, Kaija, have apparently sought to defect. Before everyone can be properly sorted, Volodin and Kaija disappear and are hiding. Russian officials are seeking to find their rogue scientist before he can release any more news about the gas. The narrative exposes that it is the Russians who are responsible for the gas and its attacks, with primary blame falling at the feet of the Black Hundreds, a terror organization seeking the purity of Russia. Quinn is tasked with finding Volodin within Alaska while Jacques Thibodaux and Ronnie Garcia, two others from the OSI, are sent to New York, where the scientist’s son has apparently been sent some of the New Archangel by accident. An attack in Los Angeles makes the mission even more important and shows that the next attack could happen at anytime, anywhere. While Thibodaux and Garcia team up with an old friend in NYC, Quinn is set to work with Thibedaux’s cousin, Specal Agent Khaki Beaudine of the FBI as they travel through Alaska seeking out the senior Volodin. Quinn’s mission takes them into the tundra, involved in a winner-takes-all game with a Russian sniper, known locally as Worst of the Moon. Needing to secure Volodin as soon as possible, Quinn and Beaudine soon discover that some will stop at nothing to keep them from completing their mission. They traverse cold and open tracts of land to find Volodin, only to discover that Anchorage might be the location chosen for the next attack and that someone close to Volodin could be masterminding the entire Black Hundreds. While Thibodaux and Garcia seek to infiltrate the underworld to keep the gas out of the hands of anyone in the Big Apple, Quinn will use all his strength and determination not to fail, though every man has their physical limits. A wonderfully fast-paced story that turns the cat and mouse game into one of bear and seal. Series fans will surely enjoy this story while newcomers will likely become hooked and clammer for the rest of Cameron’s work.

The story is by no means unique, but Jericho Quinn does not seek to be completely one of a kind. However, it is not only the handful of strong characters that keep the novel pushing forward so effectively, but the attention to detail and drawing the reader in from the get-go that strengthens the narrative. While Cameron places his protagonist in a situation that might breed something repetitive, the use of Alaska and its barren hinterland served as a unique approach, especially when venturing into field traumatic medicine and tactical sniper calculations, allowing the reader something new to digest. Add to that, Cameron has seen that the ISIS and Islamic terror cell is becoming overdone in thrillers and shifts his villain base over to the emerging (and re-discovered?) Russian criminal, who drives home ruthless hatred for capitalist America and new-found money to fund such act of significant damage. Surely there is something beneficial in that as the majority of writers continue to flog an idea developed fifteen years ago. Keeping some of the wonderful dialogue and unique settings for his novels, Cameron delivers another decent piece that should appease readers without lulling them into any form of repetitive normalcy.

Kudos, Mr. Cameron on another successful novel. Jericho Quinn has a lot to offer and you’ve left much to be discovered or expanded upon, when time permits.

Woman of God, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Seven stars

The Patterson-Paetro partnership returns with a one-off novel that seeks to explore faith, religion, and the strength in both that one woman possesses in the modern world. Brigid Fitzgerald has been working in South Sudan, serving as a doctor and trauma surgeon in a war-torn corner of the country. After the medical facility is attacked by guerillas, many are slaughtered, including the local priest and Brigid’s mentor. As she struggles to come to terms with this, Brigid, too, is attacked and left for dead. She sees a collection of visions and is left to wonder if she is communicating with God. Brigid wakes in an Amsterdam hospital and learns that she has been brought back from death and from thereon in has an odd and strengthened communication with God, from visions to complete conversations. As Brigid’s life progresses, she continues to have a strong connection to God and uses this relationship to shape the lives of those around her. Tragedy offsets triumph and Brigid learns that God’s decisions are not always pleasant, though there is surely a larger plan to which she is not always privy. After forging a friendship with Father James Aubrey, they weather a scandalous event and find that the Roman Catholic Church remains rooted in its archaic ways. Platonic ties soon turn romantic and Brigid works with Aubrey to create the Jesus Mary and Joseph (JMJ) Movement; a church seeking to modernise some Roman Catholic views as they relate to worship and those who are welcome in the flock. Of course, traditionalists rage against such blasphemy, though Brigid and Aubrey refuse to stop preaching. After a blessed marriage and birth of a daughter Aubrey and Brigid face yet more tragedy, enough to turn anyone from God. Brigid is now head of a movement, one that seeks compassion and openness, while there are still those out there seeking to rid the world of her proselytising. The rumbles of the JMJ Movement continue, with churches popping up all over the world, and leads to an audience with His Holiness, Pope Gregory XVII. What follows is a powerful narrative that turns the foundations of modern Catholicism on its head. An interesting read for those with open minds and seeking to explore the parameters of individual faith.

The premise of the novel is surely grounded in something other than most Patterson fans might expect. While crime and legal dramas have filled bookshelves, there is a softer and more wholesome story found within the pages of this novel. What Patterson and Paetro seek to offer the reader is an exploration of one woman’s faith and struggles that surround it, while also examining the delight that can come from such a connection. One might also say that the authors are depicting Brigid as a modern-day Job, testing her faith with innumerable hurdles as the chapters progress. While the argument towards strength of faith is key, there is also a strong undertone that remains highly critical of the Roman Catholic Church and its principles. All this develops and digresses throughout, complete with a Conclave that emerges with Brigid on the lips of many cardinals. Putting aside the ignored rules and regulations surrounding this, the soft and dramatic events leading up to this are meant to touch the heart of the reader, while pushing them towards hoping that Brigid can shepherd in change. Using a plethora of strong characters, the authors develop a strong protagonist that sees the story take many twists before its ultimate set of revelations. While the story is strong for its messaging, I found it hokey and even melodramatic in spots, with a narrative that gets gushy and eve smarmy. However, it does what it seeks to do, push women and the Church to the forefront, while also allowing the fairer sex to hold the reins during numerous crises of faith. For that, Patterson and Paetro cannot be faulted. Well-crafted for those who want a break from Patterson’s tepid writing, which exemplifies that Paetro is able to save yet another story from ruin. 

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro for this book that touches the heart and soul of many. While I was not moved to speak out, I enjoyed some of the less than subtle attacks on the Holy See’s arcane views. 

Shantaram (Shantaram #1), by Gregory David Roberts

Nine stars

Returning to read Gregory David Roberts’ epic novel again, I found myself drawn to the complexities and nuances embedded throughout the text. As the novel opens, the reader is introduced to Lin, a man who has escaped his Australian jail and arrives in Bombay, hoping to hide in India’s vast populace. Early on, Lin is forced to realise that India is a beast unlike any other; culturally, racially, and economically. It is, however, home to many who have the same idea, hiding from their criminal pasts elsewhere. These include Karla Saarinen, a woman who occupies Lin’s mind and dreams from the moment he lays eyes on her. As Lin befriends others who have recently arrive in country, seeking to blend into the billions around him with vague and beige backstories, he meets a tour guide, Prabaker (Prabu). Their connection is almost instantaneous, soon becoming an entertaining pair throughout the narrative. Prabu is able to help Lin make numerous connections in and around the city. While they venture out to better explore Bombay and eventually other parts of the state, Lin learns the culural differences between India and his Australian upbringing. As Prabu and Lin continue their adventures, the latter finds himself living in the city’s slums and opens a medical clinic to cater to the poorest population, where Lin becomes involved with the shady underworld and black market living. Throughout the book, Lin crosses paths with those whose simple conversations turn philosophical and force him to digest complex analyses to the universe’s most basic concepts. When offered a position working in forged passports by the Bombay Mafia, Lin accepts, if only to explore new pathways to survival. His living in the slums of Bombay prove not only eye opening, but life changing in ways that the reader can only understand by being enveloped in the larger narrative. Even as Lin is able to build himself up in his new homeland, he is broken by the cruelest and most sadistic Indians, especially when his identity is learned and extradition considered. Roberts offers so much in this narrative that it is hard to summarise or believe that this is the life of a single man on the run. However, where truth ends and fiction commences, the reader is permitted a front seat for everything and the chance to change alongside Lin throughout. A must read by any and all who want to offer up all they feel they know, only to finish the book and question everything.

Set in the early to mid-1980s, the story weaves together a collection of vignettes within Lin’s Indian life, while also telling an overarching story of change and progress. I have read that some criticise Roberts for being too free with his truths and duping the reader, though I must say that fiction is all about embellishment or at least working with a clay and forming it into an image of your choosing. Roberts’ writing style is so blunt and yet smooth that the reader cannot help but get lost therein. The daunting size of the book should not deter the interested reader, as the vignettes play out easily and the characters are rich in their backstories and mesh well with the larger tale. Roberts has certainly held back little in this account of his ‘life on the run’, but also offers gaps significant enough to keep scores of questions floating in the minds of the attentive reader. Will these be resolved and if so, how does it all play into the narrative Roberts presents? The second volume of this quasi-memoir should tell more, though the bar has already been set quite high. I am eager to see how the detail will continue and what Roberts has to say with the handful of characters still involved in Lin’s life. This is a brilliant piece of work and I can only imagine what is to come.

I cannot finish this review without commenting on the narrator of the audiobook version of this massive tome. Humphrey Bower brought the story to life, from his melodious Australian accent in the narrative to the countless accents that he brought out to give characters their personality. I adore Bower’s work and his dedication to another favourite author of mine made me wonder, when first I listened, if this was that writer using another name. Powerful and daunting, Bower deserves a shout out for his reading of this piece. I am worried that the second volume, which I must physically read (gasp), will prove much more difficult without Bower at the helm.

Kudos, Mr. Roberts for this epic story. With simplistic writing and complex threads, a vast array of readers will surely enjoy this book. Onto the sequel, which one can hope is as exciting and life-altering.

Exodus (Dominus #2), by Tom Fox

Eight stars

After a stunning thriller in the form of DOMINUS, Fox returns to continue the series with this short story, whose plot commences two months after the previous novel’s conclusion. Embroiled in the most graphic and disturbing nightmare of his life, Alexander Trecchio wakes to discover he is home, but unsure how he made it there. Employed again as a journalist, Trecchio has been burning the midnight oil after the sensational and highly disturbing events inside the Vatican. This nightmare, though murky, had vivid symbols that leave Trecchio unsure how to process them. When a call comes from a trusted friend within the Vatican Museums, Trecchio agrees to meet him on site. Arriving at the Holy See, Trecchio receives access to the Sistene Chapel, desecrated with blood and symbols, things Trecchio can trace back to his nightmare. As Trecchio is able to foretell other events yet to occur, the Swiss Guard place him under arrest for terrorism and soon murder, after the body of a woman is found deeper in the Museums. With no clear motive or suspects, officials have only a single slip of paper with which to work, emblazoned with the word REVENGE. Who could be seeking retribution on the Vatican with complete access to the grounds and how does Alexander Trecchio sit into this larger narrative? Fox weaves through a biblical undertone as he progresses the story against the backdrop of a bomb, waiting to explode inside the Vatican, its timer slowly ticking downward. A brilliant follow-up to his thriller, Fox has found his niche, though the series could hang in the balance with an epic cliffhanger.

Some who may have read my earlier review of Fox’s first short story in the series (Genesis) will remember that I criticised the author for flipping between the present and past as the story progressed. Here, Fox seems to have learned to hone the skill and utilise it to thicken the plot rather than confuse the reader. The story is layered primarily with a set of events perpetrated by a man seeking some form of retribution or revenge on the Vatican and its hierarchy, offset with the present exploration of these events and discoveries of the sinister plot. Peppered throughout is a philosophical viewpoint on sleep and life from the perspective of Alexander Trecchio, the story’s protagonist. As mentioned above, after the scarring events inside the Vatican two months before, Trecchio is left to sift through the ashes of his memories and rebuild his own personal strength. However, someone seeks to begin their own Exodus away from the Vatican, perhaps paralleling the journey series fans know Trecchio himself took when he abandoned the priesthood. Fox uses strong characters to construct this tight short story and a plot that gains momentum with each passing (brief) chapter. It would seem as though Fox has learned from stumbling out of the block with Genesis on how to construct a strong story and lure readers in from the get-go. While one could likely read this story independently, some of the subtleties found in the previous two pieces, specifically DOMINUS, would certainly accentuate the character connection required to fully understand some of the backstory nuances Fox lays throughout the narrative.

Kudos, Mr. Fox for another wonderful piece of writing. I am eager to see if your cliffhanger has resolution or if fans will be pulled into a new set of characters when next you grace us with your work.

Dominus (Dominus #1), by Tom Fox

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Tom Fox, and Quercus (US) for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

As if heeding the call of reviewers and fans after his initial short story in this series, Fox delivers in spades, again diving into conspiracies as they relate to the Catholic Church and the Vatican. When a stranger appears inside St. Peter’s Basilica, everything seems to stop. The Swiss Guard fall to their knees as the stranger approaches, allowing him to pass and approach the Pope, crippled and wheelchair-bound his entire life. In an event paralleling happenings in the New Testament, the Pope rises and is able to walk when summoned to do so. Thereafter, the Supreme Pontiff ushers this man away into his private residences to talk and espouse the miracle that has just taken place. As amateur cellphone footage of the event begins blasting its way online, former priest-cum-journalist Alexander Trecchio is assigned the task of trying to determine what happened within the Vatican and pinpoint the identity of the man of mystery. No one is talking and no leads are forthcoming, forcing Trecchio to turn to his own research. After tracking down two academics who, through the world of the 140 character rebuttal, have been speaking out against the miraculous events seen by most of the world, Trecchio ventures out for answers. Before he can arrive to speak to them, both been brutally murdered. Unsure where else he can turn, Trecchio contacts Inspector Gabriella Fierro of the Polizia di Stato, a former romantic interest and partner on another Vatican-based investigation two years before. While Trecchio is sure there is something that is being covered-up, Fierro is shackled by her superiors and told not to investigate whatsoever. However, she agrees to meet Trecchio and they commence their own sleuthing, not deterred when they become targets in a high-velocity shootout. Suddenly, a collection of blind children are spontaneously able to see and a group of terminally-ill cancer patients show no signs of disease moments after the Pope speaks publicly of his healing. Pundits the world over are convinced that this ‘stranger’ must have some power, with miracles cropping up since he his initial appearance. One final event, a dead girl coming back to life, divides the world; divine acts or complete hoax? Meanwhile, Global Capital Italia’s CEO, Caterina Amato, sits in her offices, surrounded by a cabal of men who seek to capitalise on all these events, hoping to penetrate deep inside the Vatican to its most vulnerable core. Trecchio and Fierro soon find a link between the miracles and a powerful arm within the Vatican, hoping to unveil it, but Amato will stop at nothing to ensure her plan comes to fruition. As the race to reveal truth becomes central, Fox takes the reader through a fast-pace exploration of the inner workings of the Holy See and attempts to place faith and proof under the proverbial microscope. A fascinating thriller that will pull readers in from the opening pages, Fox delivers and shows his potential as a first-rate writer in the genre. 

I love a good Vatican conspiracy thriller, as I mentioned when reviewing Fox’s previous short story. Where there were significant issues with presentation and layout before, this story rectifies that and offers readers something substantial on many levels. Fox takes a strong foundational premise and develops it in numerous ways. The characters are strong, stemming from the two protagonists whose backstory is fleshed out a little more. Working with Trecchio and Vierro, the reader develops a necessary connection, while also remaining piqued by this stranger who appears from nowhere. While it may have a slightly predictable spin, the strong and devious antagonist also helps keep the novel’s pace moving and forces the reader to wonder just how deeply this ‘plan’ runs to infiltrate the Vatican. Fox uses a strong narrative and credible dialogue to propel the story forward, while also honing the short-chapter technique that fits perfectly with the numerous cliffhanger moments embedded throughout. Alongside these ingredients for a great thriller, Fox presents the reader with the inevitable religious/faith spin, while also pushing a ‘seeing the light’ moment, but does so in a relatively tame fashion, keeping those from all (or no) faith bases appeased enough, understanding full-well that the Catholic-centric nature of the discussion is expected. Fox developed a wonderful full-length novel in this story, picking up many of the loose threads left dangling in the prequel. Can he follow this great piece with another winner? We shall soon see, as the sequel (also a short story) is next on my reading list. 

Kudos, Mr. Fox for a great book. I am pleased that I gave you a second chance to redeem yourself and show your true colours.

Genesis (Dominus #0.5), by Tom Fox

Six stars

Fox presents readers with this interesting prequel to his full-length work, diving into conspiracies as they relate to the Catholic Church and the Vatican. After receiving reports of small donations going missing at a tiny parish church in Rome, Polizia di Stato assigns Agent Gabriella Fierro to investigate. Unsure of the importance of a few misallocated euros, Fierro nonetheless begins looking into the small parish and its priest, Father Alberto Agostini. Unbeknownst to Fierro, a former acquaintance has been dispatched to investigate as well, former priest turned journalist Alexander Trecchio. He appears at the church, creating a stir for Fierro, though neither is able to locate Agostini, who made an appointment with them both. Reluctantly working together, Fierro and Trecchio discover that many of the missing funds have a similar alphanumeric code build into their transactions, one that refers to something prevalent in the Scriptures; GENESIS. As they try to track down Agostini, the narrative offer a glimpse into a scene where a man is being tortured for information and another where a Cardinal in Venezuela is targeted for his views within the Vatican, both seemingly part of a larger issue that might tie-in to the funds. What is Genesis and how does using a small church in Rome to funnel monies play into the larger plan? Fierro and Trecchio must speak with Agostini to get some answers before the conspiracy has a chance to grow. However, those in positions of authority can sometimes lay their own traps within shell games, all in an effort to distract from a larger plan. Fox lays out this short story nicely to hint at what is to come and how Genesis might only be the beginning of a plot more sinister than anyone could have imagined. A quick read that piques at least some interest in the reader.

While I am always up for a good Vatican conspiracy thriller, presentation and layout are a must. Fox has the foundation for a great story to captivate the reader, but the way in which the story is told lessens that delivery. While there are some good characters, each with their own backstories and a connection between the two protagonists that is not fully explored, the narratives bounces from past to present to closer past and back to the present again, all in such a way that the reader is left somewhat confused and perhaps slightly irritated. Additionally, the resolution of the Genesis plot seems too basic or swift, though there is surely something afoot that arises in the final chapter of the novel. One can hope that Fox will use a full novel to explore more as it relates to the inner workings of this cabal and how their power could topple the upper echelons of the Vatican, adding politics to an already veiled system of power. There is potential here and the patient reader might just be rewarded, should they stick around a while longer.

Decent work, Mr. Fox. I am pleased to see some potential here and hope that it flourishes into something greater with this next novel.