Cross the Line (Alex Cross #24, but should be #23.25), by James Patterson

Five stars

Patterson returns with another Alex Cross thriller, leaving series fans curious what is to come, especially after the high-impact ending of the previous story, a BookShot. As if nothing had happened at all, the story opens with Cross investigating an apparent case of road rage, a man shot and killed in his car. However, just as Cross is getting a handle on the situation, a call comes in, reporting an officer has been shot. Rushing to the scene, Alex realises that this is not only his former boss, the Chief of Detectives, but the mentor of his wife, Bree. The killer is out there, but no one is at the helm to guide detectives, until Bree is chosen for this illustrious job, now boss to the famed Dr. Alex Cross. While Bree is to wear multiple hats, she makes a decision on the killing to appease the brass, ignoring the instincts of her own husband. This puts a significant strain on the relationship and tears the Homicide Division in two, just at the time when unity is essential. A drug lab is attacked and many of those inside are left for dead, an apparent act by a group of vigilantes, which has Cross on high-alert. With no firm list of suspects and fluid motives, Cross must pound pavement and ask the right questions before more acts of retribution take place, while still letting the killing of the former Chief of Ds percolate in his mind. When more apparent acts of road age occur, Cross sees a pattern; expensive vehicles and people admitting they may have been skirting traffic laws. Could these killings be fuelled by someone who wants to enforce the laws of the road when no one else will? Pulled in many directions, Cross soon learns that the vigilante movement is stronger than he first thought and that there is a plan to deliver justice on a large scale, with Metro DC in the crosshairs. With all that is going on, one would think that Cross could not focus on his family, but a few issues on the home front force him to take a closer look and reinvent the foundation of the Cross family. An interesting premise for Alex Cross, though delivery seemed slightly strained for me.
I have long been a fan of the Alex Cross series, the only one that James Patterson has kept for himself. While I lamented some of his joint writing ventures, I could always rely on this series to deliver a punch. Perhaps that time has ended, for I felt this novel did not offer the excitement I had hoped. While Cross and the strong supporting cast continue to develop with their backstories, the cases are not pulling me in. Patterson litters the plot with a few cases and has the reader juggling them to keep things straight. Perhaps the best part of the story involves the personal strains in the Cross home, though I will not speak to these, leaving the reader to discover them peppered within the pages of this story. While there was nothing wrong, per se, with Patterson’s work, I could not find myself attaching or feeling any sort of compelling reason to read “just a little more”, as Patterson has always been able to do. Perhaps my mindset, but also likely that Patterson churns out so much that the quality has taken second place to quantity. I must address one thing that I pointed out in the opening, something that I know many series fans have been hoping to better understand. In the BookShot released earlier this year (Cross Kill, Alex Cross #23.5), there was an ending that offered a wonderful cliffhanger. I know many people commented on various sites about how Patterson might have to get the popular character out of the predicament in order to fuel a full-length novel. Without revealing too much, it was only when I opened the first few chapters of said BookShot after completing this novel that I realised that this novel (#24) is actually supposed to PRECEDE the BookShot. Call it poor labelling by the publisher or blame Patterson for not regulating things, the reader is still left to suffer. So now, series fans must wait to see if Patterson addresses things in a timely fashion or if we are to be considered dunces and expected to forget all that happened. Much like a bad season of Dallas in the 1980s. Interesting… but unfortunately baffling all the same.

Interesting work, Mr. Patterson, though I cannot praise you. Perhaps others will and I will give this another read down the road. While your BookShots are entertaining and your countless other series seem to churn out pieces, could it be time to halt the train containing your riches and focus on well-crafted books?

The Wrong Side of Goodbye (Harry Bosch #21), by Michael Connelly

Eight stars

Michael Connelly has done it again, with a stellar novel that follows the ever-evolving travails and work options of Harry Bosch. Out of the LAPD, Bosch is always on the lookout for something new and exciting to bide his time. An acquaintance reaches out to him, running a private security firm and has a favour to ask. Bosch learns that he has personally been requested to meet with billionaire Whitney Vance, though the specifics remains veiled in secrecy. Bosch hesitates, but is intrigued enough to head out to see the man and find out what this business magnate might want with him. During their meeting, Vance recounts the story of impregnating his Mexican girlfriend back in 1950, before his father ushered her away. With no knowledge of what happened and no living heirs, Vance would like to know if his bloodline continued over sixty years ago. Having lived a full life, Vance admits that, at eighty-five, he has started to think about his death and would like to leave the company to family and not the vultures on the board. Bosch begins poking around using old records and with little on which to base his investigation. His intuitive abilities lead him to a former home for unwed mothers, where the mystery thickens and Bosch is left with more questions than answers. The reader also learns that after his major run-ins with the LAPD, Bosch is now working for the San Fernando Police Department (the other SFPD) in their cold case squad. Due to significant budget cuts, Bosch is working without pay, on a reserve basis. As he juggles the Vance investigation, he is neck-deep into a serial rape case involving a perp called the Screen Cutter. Victims are attacked while in their homes and at the height of their monthly fertility. This baffles Bosch on many levels and he works angles as best he can, unsure of much and with only a few insights. While trying to dig further into the Vance case, Bosch finds himself surrounded with memories of his time in Vietnam and the struggles young men across the country had with strict army rules and loved ones left stateside. A old foot locker proves to be a treasure trove of information and helps Bosch learn about a potential heir that could put Vance’s mind to rest, but there is still much work to accomplish. As the Screen Cutter case heats up, Bosch is certain he has a suspect in mind, sending his partner out to add the final pieces to the puzzle. When she falls captive, Bosch’s guilt and desire to see the suspect caught propels him to break rules in ways only he can and bring some form of justice to those who need it the most. Just when he feels he might be able to relax, there is a twist in the Vance case and Bosch is forced to reexamine the truths he’s used throughout the investigation. Connelly does not stop with the action, pulling Mickey Haller in for a small role in this electrifying Bosch novel. Not to be missed by those who love the unconventional nature of Harry Bosch. 

While some authors tend to lose the momentum when series go on for too long, Connelly has been able to keep Harry Bosch alive and always pushing the envelope. No matter the mystery or things going on in his personal life, Bosch finds new ways to entice readers with his rule-breaking and unique sense of justice. Connelly surrounds his protagonist with strong supporting characters and references to those from his past, enough to bridge the old Bosch with yet another version of the man who is tackling police work from different angles. Of particular interest to me was another glimpse into the life of Bosch as a Vietnam soldier, memories of his time there and how it has made him into the man he is now. With a daughter away in college, Bosch is forced to live life on his own, not shackled down but also somewhat adrift. Connelly spins to his advantage as he continues to develop the Bosch character and adds his other great protagonist, Mickey Haller (half-brother to Bosch) to keep things light and somewhat legal. If I could offer a single issue that arose in my listening to this novel, it would be Connelly’s lack of literary flair when describing dialogue. Peppering the page like a errant cap gun the word ‘said’ sticks out like a sore thumb. I only noticed this in the latter few chapters, but it is as if Connelly can find no way to bridge lines of dialogue, which lessens the colourful nature of the narrative. Minute in its importance, true, but when you are working with such a great novel, it is the tiniest things that one grasps when looking for a flaw. Will readers ever tire of Bosch? Not likely, as long as Connelly continues to step up and produce gems like this. 

Kudos, Mr. Connelly for another wonderful novel. I was hooked from the opening chapter and cannot say enough about your abilities.

The Whistler, by John Grisham

Seven stars

In his latest novel, garnering many mixed reviews, Grisham seeks to offer readers yet another angle of the law in thriller format. Lacy Stoltz is gainfully employed with the Florida Bureau of Judicial Conduct, a branch of the state government tasked with keeping those who occupy the bench from stepping too far out of line. When Lacy and her partner, Hugo, meet with Greg Myers, he lets them know that he is acting as an intermediary for someone who has significant information on a corrupt judge, one Claudia McDover. Myers explains that McDover is apparently mixed up with a collection of men who call themselves the Coast Mafia, all of whom have pushed forward the building and maintenance of a casino, The Treasure Key, on tribal land belonging to the Tappacola. McDover and others have been receiving significant payments, contravening numerous laws. McDover is accused not only of ensuring that the casino moved forward, but oversaw a fabricated murder trial of one Junior Mace, a member of the tribe and strong advocate against the casino. With Mace out of the way, opposition by a segment of the Tappacola dissolved, paving the way for its construction and continued prosperity. With Treasure Key significantly in the black, McDover has been further compensated with a number of condominiums, another kickback for her steering judicial decisions in a favourable direction. Digesting all this, Lacy must await a formal complaint, understanding that it will rock the system if even parts of it can be proven. Myers agrees to get the wheels in motion, but warns Lacy about one Vonn Dubose, a member of the Coast Mafia and closely tied to Her Honor. Dubose has connections to men who could make people disappear or worse, which is why the actual whistleblower (or ‘Whistler’ in the vernacular) has yet to come forward themselves. Commencing her formal investigation, Lacy and her partner head to the tribal lands and begin asking questions about the casino and the trial of Junior Mace, who was convicted of killing his wife and close friend in an apparent fit of rage when they were found in bed together. Lacy learns that much of the testimony at trial was flimsy and that witnesses were given a great deal of leeway. While travelling home from their investigation, Lacy and Hugo are struck by a drunk driver, killing Hugo. In a coma for a time, Lacy is incapacitated and the investigation can go nowhere, the time limit for filing slowly ticking away. When Lacy is able to recover enough she has a newfound impetus to bring McDover down and have someone charged for killing Hugo. When Myers goes missing, Lacy realises that someone will stop at nothing to ensure this investigation withers on the vine and so she presses on, soon learning the identity of the Whistler. Now she has to protect this individual if she is to bring the full force of the Bureau of Judicial Conduct down on McDover, while using the additional resources of the FBI, who have jurisdiction on tribal lands when it comes to criminal matters. When the Whistler is apparently identified during monitored phone calls, Lacy must do all in her power to protect this person before all those who have the power to bring McDover down cease to exist. However, the Coast Mafia will do anything in their power to protect their greatest asset, the casino, and the judge who made it all come true. An interesting and unique take to the legal thriller, Grisham keeps the reader wondering throughout. 

I have long enjoyed and respected John Grisham for his varied stories as they relate to the law. While I have struggled with some of his more recent novels, I think that might have something to do with the nuanced aspects of the legal world being explored, rather than diminished writing capacity on the part of the author. As always, Grisham uses a wonderful collection of characters from many walks of life to flavour his story effectively, as well as another southern locale to keep things close to home for him. What I found lacking was something I cannot place; as if the Grisham Spark was missing. The story flowed well and the narrative did not drag, but I was not captivated as I had been in earlier novels, which might have something to do with a lack of ‘David versus Goliath’ mentality that Grisham used to inject into his stories. While there was certainly a Good versus Evil theme to the book, I lacked a connection to the story that I often find when exploring the world of John Grisham. I have seen others review this book and offer similar sentiments, so I know that I am not alone. How to give insight to those who will read this before choosing to read the book, that is something with which I struggle. However, veteran Grisham fans such as myself know when something is off and won’t stand idly by chalking it up to just a poor effort. I will admit, reading the prequel to this story, ‘Witness to a Trial’, did offer some interesting insight into the capital case of Junior Mace that plays a key role in the larger complaint against Claudia McDover. I am happy I took the time to do so and found it helped in that regard. Still, one can hope that this does not become the norm, where Grisham slides into James Patterson’s mentality and rests on his laurels to make millions while churning out less than his best.

Kudos, Mr. Grisham for a good book. That je ne sais quoi seems to have been lacking, which I hope can be found by the next publication. I know your loyal fans will forgive you for it… once.

Without Mercy (Body Farm #10), by Jefferson Bass

Eight stars

Bass sets out to stun and tantalise readers with the tenth novel in the highly-acclaimed Body Farm series. When Dr. Bill Brockton and his longtime assistant, Miranda, are called to an apparent crime scene in Cooke County, no one is quite sure what to make of it all. A large tree with a deeply gouged ring in its bark and a small pile of leg bones is the only signs of any crime, though even Brockton is unable to provide a timeline. It is only upon further investigation that Brockton is able to discern that a body was, at one time, chained to a tree, only to become human bait and devoured by a bear. This would explain the lack of bones and all but makes identification impossible. Back at the University of Tennessee, Brockton and Miranda begin work on the leg bones, which helps narrow the search to a male of approximately twenty years of age. Another item points in the direction of this being a hate crime, perhaps white on black, which sends the case into some interesting directions in the heart of the South. Brockton and Miranda spend time debating and researching the rise of hate groups in the region, only to realise that there are many whose ideologies converge on a decided vehemence towards the inferior races. Meanwhile, Nick Satterfield, a serial killer that Brockton helped put away two decades before, has been able to escape from prison and has but one item on his agenda; destroy the life of the fine doctor any way he can. As Brockton and the authorities make a poignant discovery in their chain case, everything points back to Satterfield, as if this was all an attempt to lure Brockton out into the open. With no chance he’ll rest while Satterfield is on the loose, Brockton must become bait to the one man that has haunted him for the past twenty years. However, revenge is usually served without a shred of mercy, which does not bode well for another tied to Brockton. Bass continues to shine in another novel that will keep the reader interested as they find themselves educated on the intricacies of forensics and crime fighting.

I have long been a fan of Bass and the Body Farm series, through its twists and turns, both in the present and in throwback novels. While Bass works with a core set of characters, those who make brief appearances always fit so nicely into the larger storylines and provide needed expertise to keep the forensics of each case as detailed as possible. Bass will also offer the reader brief biographies of these characters, which helps place them, as well as reminding series fans of how they fit into the larger Bill Brockton timeline. Offering both crime-related character development and that of a personal nature, Bass is able to keep the reader hooked on two levels, and series regulars have come to expect the dual progression. While the area of forensic anthropology lends itself to bones and the stories they tell, there is both a unifying and differentiating aspect to the science. Unifying in that we are all the same on a skeletal level; bones of the same colour and contour. It is only when examining more closely that our differences, both between genders and cultural groups, become apparent, at least in shape and measurement. Bass seeks to explore the unity aspect throughout this book when exploring his ‘man chained to tree’ plot line, but it does bleed into a classroom setting for a brief period of the novel. What begins as an apparent hate crime that echoes back to the 1960s turns out to have strong ties to a more recent hatred brewing between ‘Americans’ and immigrants. Without divulging too much, the argument about immigration over the decades and how hate crimes have shifted, somewhat, becomes a prevalent topic. There remains a strong narrative that we are all the same, underneath our skin and cultural practices, which weaves itself into the story without getting too sappy. On a lighter note, I can also express that Bass tends to truly bring the story ‘home’ by using linguistics nuances of the region, which substantiates to the reader that we’re in Knoxville and not the Brahmin neighbourhoods of New England. I find this approach unique and very much appreciated, even if I have to slow down to process on occasion. Refreshing in its presentation and highly informative on many levels. 

Kudos, Messrs. Jefferson and Bass for another great novel. I have to wonder if, due to some of the plots presented in this novel, things are either soon to dwindle or take a few new twists. I am eager to see where you take readers next. 

Trump vs. Clinton: In Their Own Words: Everything You Need to Know to Vote Your Conscience: A BookShot, edited by James Patterson and Denise Roy

Seven stars

** Pardon the excessive use of the colon, above. **

With the United States General Election on the immediate horizon, I felt it poignant to take a little while to look at this BookShot, a rare non-fiction piece edited by James Patterson and Denise Roy. It is entirely direct quotes made by the presidential candidates of both major parties, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Patterson and Roy divide the quotes into themes and then further break them down into smaller and more digestible sub-topics, all for the reader to synthesise. By offering their context, the reader can sometimes better place what is meant or considered by each snippet. Exploring these numerous topics, Patterson mentions in his editorial preface that he hopes to provide those who read this piece a better idea of those for whom they might cast a ballot on November 8, 2016. The world will be watching, though it is unclear if this collection will purify the waters at all.

Without delving too deeply, the academic in me must offer a few caveats to this collection. First and foremost, quotes can be highly misconstrued when they are taken out of context. Anyone reading one-liners can develop a certain view of any person, which might not reflect who they are as a person. Should anyone choose to cut and paste a number of the phrases I use in book reviews alone, I could really be in trouble with the outside world. It is all about context. Secondly, the editor’s pen and cutting room floor must not be taken out of the equation. While I am not trying to vilify Patterson or Roy, their personal viewpoints will bleed through the quotes they wish to include in this collection, as well as those whose impact were left as scraps or afterthoughts. No sane person can read or listen to every possible sound byte or piece of writing that relates to these two candidates. Therefore, the reader is expected to place their trust in the editors that the collection is comprehensive, which is impossible to do. Lastly, one can only wonder if this collection will sway anyone. It is quite well presented and offers some key aspects of what the electorate ought to think about as it relates to a Commander-in-Chief, but I would be remiss if I felt this was the ultimate guide that all Americans ought to read ahead of casting their ballot. It is more entertainment for those who wish to approach it. Whoever is chosen on November 8th, they will have much to do and I can almost guarantee the mud will fly, even after one side concedes to the other.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madame Roy for this collection. I cannot offer praise, for it does not lend itself to being persuasive one way or the other. That said, your dedication in gathering these quotes deserves at least a small golf clap.

Conclave, by Robert Harris

Nine stars

Harris returns with another remarkable novel of historical fiction, turning his narrative to the present as explores a highly pious and political event. THE POPE IS DEAD! This startling piece of news makes its way to the ears of Cardinal Lomeli in the early hours one October morning. Heading to the apartment of the Holy Father, Lomeli is met by a small group, who confirm the news and begin the proscribed acts required when the Vatican is without its Supreme Pontiff. As the news becomes public, Lomeli is tasked with preparing for the highly publicised, though extremely secret, event known as The Conclave. As Dean of the College of Cardinals, Lomeli must organise the election of the next pope, which is only a few weeks hence. During the intervening time, the funeral must take place and Lomeli handles sundry pieces of Vatican business ahead of the papal election. As cardinals arrive from all over the world to cast their ballots, Lomeli wrestles with a few issues surrounding cardinal electors, including one Cardinal Tremblay, the Vatican Camerlengo, its temporary leader, a French-Canadian who was apparently removed from all positions the night before the pope died. As if this were not enough to occupy his time, as 117 confirmed cardinals have arrived for Conclave, a mysterious figure appears and makes he known that he, too, is a cardinal eligible to choose the next pontiff. Vincent Benitez, Archbishop of Baghdad, was appointed a cardinal in pectore, ‘in the heart’, and was known only to the recently deceased pope and God. Seeing the documentation and meditating on this oddity, Lomeli grants Benitez access to the Conclave and the preliminary events commence. Even before being sequestered into the Sistene Chapel, there are a few front runners for the position, all of whom seek to solidify their supporters before the voting begins. Tremblay stands firm that he can speak best for the Catholic Church, being a North American without being from America; Bellini, the current Secretary of State from Italy, served the last pope well on the world scene and can continue with his liberal outlook in directing the Church; Adeyemi, a cardinal from Nigeria, seeks to lead the way for the Third World and present the Church with its first black pontiff; and Tedesco, Italian and pining for a return of a fellow countryman to the Throne of St. Peter, who will also remove the impediments that Vatican II ushered in, keeping the faith pure and the language of the Church equally so. These four men vie as best they can before cardinals place their minds in God’s hand to help them cast their ballots. Once the Conclave begins, Lomeli must continue running it by the strict orders laid out in the Apostolic Constitution, which includes specific rules and processes. While the outside world is left to wonder what is going on, receiving only the most minimal of news in the form of curling smoke from a chimney, inside the Sistene Chapel there is much politicking. Lomeli uncovers great issues with two of the front runners, whose power dwindles as the Dean uses the Constitution to keep the Conclave on track. As the ballots mount, surprises continue, and not even an act of terror can stop the cardinals from choosing the new Catholic leader. Voting continues until one cardinal receives the proscribed two-thirds of the votes, which seems almost impossible until impassioned speeches before the eighth ballot. Lomeli is on the verge of witnessing history, but even then, there is one more surprise that no one saw coming. The Catholic Church is set to change dramatically, though its congregants cannot know how deeply divided its upper echelon has become over a single decision. From the embers of the deceased pope comes the cry the world has waited to hear: Habemus papam (We have a Pope)! A thought-provoking thriller that keeps readers glued to the page until the very last sentence.

This is a brilliant piece that pulls together the most political event in the world, far exceeding the election of an American president (and this is from a non-Catholic). The intricacies and nuances with a Conclave are enough to drive any historian or political fanatic mad, but to create one in a piece of fiction is surely an even more onerous task. Harris develops a wonderful collection of characters to serve as cardinals and support staff, though he promises in his author’s note that none are based on actual people. Using these multi-dimensional individuals, the narrative moves in interesting ways to enrich the story the further it advances, using Lomeli as the central protagonist throughout. From what I know of Conclaves and the rules surrounding them, Harris has used everything at his disposal to create momentum in the most interesting of spots without dragging things out too much or weighing the story down in a constitutional miasma. Tackling the fallibility of each cardinal, the struggle between man and God, the views of the outside world, and the highly political event that is electing the Supreme Pontiff, Harris delivers a thriller that far exceeds any expectations and does so in under three hundred pages. Weaving dramatic interactions into the storyline, the reader is left to cheer on their favourite cardinal, in hopes that he will obtain the magic eighty votes. I cannot think of a novel that churned up so much political excitement in me or so flawlessly depicts this highly secretive event as a Conclave. Readers of all political and religious stripes will surely enjoy devouring this piece, which reads so fluidly and is timeless in its presentation that it could be read over the years without losing any lustre.

Kudos, Mr. Harris for entertaining, educating, and keeping the reader guessing until the very end. I cannot think of a better novel to read to contrast and compare with the circus of the upcoming US General Election.

The Bone Collection: Four Novellas (Temperance Brennan novellas), by Kathy Reichs

Nine stars

In this collection of short stories based on the highly popular Temperance Brennan series, Reichs allows readers to enjoy four pieces in a single collection. While three have been on the market before, Reichs includes one that speaks of how Tempe found forensic anthropology, surely of greatest interest to series fans. As I have read three of these before, I will paste my previous reviews on the date they were posted to GoodReads, and then expound on the never before published piece.

Bones in her Pocket (8 stars)

Fans of the Reichs series starring Tempe Brennan will love this short story as a teaser before the next major literary release. Reichs offers up a teaser of the upcoming novel Bones of the Lost (which I left untouched) to lure her most ardent fans into devouring this quick read. When few bones turn up in a lake, Brennan must use all her forensic anthropological skills to solve this whodunit. What looks to be a simple case of ‘identify those bones’ turns into a much larger mystery, which is more multi-faceted than it appears. The chase is on and another set of forensic clues leads to a second case, with an end that no one sees coming. Reichs is able to boil down her full-length novels into a short story, yet does not lose any of its excitement.

Reichs has proven her ability to present an equally exciting story without the character development and personal drama. Still filled with her poison-tongue writing style, peppered with humour as well, Reichs tells a gruesome story and uses her famed character’s abilities to crack the case wide open. When things veer away from simple bone identification, Brennan turns into a super sleuth and puts her own life in danger to tie up all the loose ends. A wonderful appetizer as fans wait for the next instalment of the Brennan saga, well worth the annual wait.

Swamp Bones (8 stars)

Reichs teases her readers with this wonderful novella ahead of her next full-length sensation. When Dr. Brennan heads to the Florida Everglades on a brief vacation, she’s called to help a long-time friend with a project fit for the birds. Learning more about the local Burmese python situation, the avowed foe of all animals of the Everglades, Brennan assists with a necroscopy that reveals something with which she is greatly familiar; bones from a dead body. Brennan abandons her vacation ideas and begins looking for clues as to whose bones these might be and how they might have died. Once she becomes sure that the victim met their match at the hands of a human and not the python, Brennan pieces things together in her sleuthing ways. Even with a name for the victim, little is known about the rationale or how to stop more killings. When more bones surface, it is up to Brennan and the local Miami-Dade Police to catch the killer before more bodies can slither out of sight. A highly informative story, filled with Brennan’s stubborn wit and great anthropological learning experiences.

Reichs rarely falls flat when she uses her Tempe Brennan character. No matter the locale or the crime, the story always expands in ways unseen at the beginning. Reichs uses so many ideas and finds gold in them all, showing how versatile and all encompassing forensic anthropology can be. I am eager to see if there are tie-ins with this novella and her upcoming book, meant for the most attentive readers and greatest fans.

Bones on Ice (9 stars)

Kathy Reichs uses all her skills in this unique novella, which sees forensic anthropologist Temperance (Tempe) Brennan involved in a cold case like no other, foul play atop Mount Everest. When Tempe is called in to work on a weekend, she’s less than impressed. Once she learns that she’s personally been requested to handle the identification of a frozen, mummified corpse, things get a little more interesting. While trekking up Mount Everest, Brighton Hallis perished amongst the elements, the rest of her crew finding her body on their descent. It’s been three years and Tempe must work with what she has to determine if this is, in fact, Brighton. With over 200 bodies scattered around the “death zone” area of Everest, it is anything but a foregone conclusion that these remains are those of Brighton. Reichs explores the world of mountain climbing, where individuals lose their identity and become known by their coloured clothing, the only differential when surrounded by snow and ice. What appears to be a simple body succumbing to the elements soon becomes a murder victim, leaving Tempe to piece it all together. Was it one of the climbing crew with a vendetta that wanted Brighton to die up where no one would find her, or perhaps a rival climber who wanted glory? All this leaves the legal argument of charging anyone in Charlotte with a crime that took place in Nepal. In her anthropological sleuthing way, Tempe pieces it all together, but finds herself more confused the further she digs. A wonderful novella to bridge the time until the next full-length Tempe Brennan novel hits the shelves.

Reichs remains the queen of her craft and is as entertaining as she is educational. Tackling forensics in ways no other author (outside the field) has ever attempted, she keeps the reader curious and wondering throughout this piece. From the medical terminology surrounding climbing to the legal matters of a murder on the other side of the world, Reichs leaves few rocks unturned in a short period. Pepper in some humour and a little character bridging between the two major novels and you have a wonderful novella that is sure to tide avid fans over, but not for too long.

First Bones (9 stars)

In this story, Reichs finally offers patient readers a glimpse into how Temperance Brennan got involved in the world of forensic science, as well as introducing a number of characters important throughout the entire series. As the narrative opens in the present day, Brennan is holding vigil for someone in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, their injuries serious, but still no inkling of their identity for the sake of the reader. At this point, the story shifts into an indeterminate past, with Brennan working at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, trying to finish her PhD with a focus in bioarcheology. Newly-minted Detective Erskine “Skinny” Slidell barges in and demands to see Dr. Becknell, whose experience working alongside the authorities makes her a hot commodity and the apparent forensic archeology of the time. With Becknell on sabbatical, Brennan reluctantly agrees to assist Slidell, examining some charred remains. What was left of a body was found at a fire inside the trailer of Dr. Keith Millikin, who has been running a free clinic for the homeless population around Charlotte. With Millikin missing for the past week, he appears to be the likely victim, though Brennan will have to positively identify him for the authorities. Brought to the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s office, Brennan meets Dr. Tim Larabee, who allows her to use the facility to complete her examinations, as well as tossing her some additional work when needed. While working with the limited collection of bones she has on hand, Brennan discovers a bullet hole in the back of the skull and surmises that the fire was not the cause of this man’s death. Dental records confirm that Millikin has not perished in the fire, which is substantiated when the physician appears after a trip south of the border, claiming that he needed some time away. However, Slidell is able to use his crass nature to present an alternate victim, a dentist who runs his own shop and has been cited for health code violations, who is also missing and ends up being a patient of Dr. Millikin. After a body is pulled from a car, left charred as well, Slidell cannot help but wonder if there is a connection. Two bodies, a murderer still on the loose, and Brennan is getting the hang of this forensic anthropology, with a real case on her hands. As Slidell works to nail down a suspect and motive, Brennan offers up a theory based on what she’s seen. After Millikin admits he may have a patient with motive to come after the two victims, Slidell and Brennan rush to a scene, in hopes of stopping any more bloodshed. The motive becomes clear and Brennan becomes more hands-on than Slidell could have imagined, or likely wanted. Moving back to the present, Reichs offers readers the identify of the person in the hospital bed, speculating on the randomness of crimes and victims, though the end result is sure to pull on the heartstrings of the series fan. A wonderful book-end short story for Tempe Brennan fans that solidifies the superior writing style of Kathy Reichs!

I remember beginning this series years ago and how drawn I was to the characters and the ideas behind it. Reichs has continued to develop her characters, both in Charlotte and Montreal, while keeping Dr. Tempe Brennan realistic and in touch with the changes in the field. Some authors falter the more they write in a series, though Reichs seems to get better, pulling on her own experiences. This short story offers that longed for answer of how Tempe got into the field while also permitting the reader to feel the intensity that comes with any case. Much can be learned from this story, as Reichs continues to teach her series regulars both inside the lab and in life’s crazy turns.

Kudos, Madam Reichs for never giving up on Tempe Brennan or your abilities. You dazzle and continue to impress. Please don’t take Tempe away from us, as she leave the television screen next spring.

The Bourne Enigma (Jason Bourne #13), by Eric van Lustbader

Six stars

In his effort to elongate the Jason Bourne series, van Lustbader continues to steer the protagonist in ways Robert Ludlum would likely never have dreamt or possibly wanted. In this ‘lucky’ 13th instalment, Jason Bourne is approached in Frankfurt with a present from a close friend; a coin, etched with a curious rebus. Upon arriving in Moscow, Bourne sets out to attend the wedding of a close friend, General Boris Karpov, who is a high-ranking official in the country’s FSB. Before Bourne has a chance to inquire about the coin Karpov sent him, the General is garrotted outside his wedding reception. FSB officials are prepared to arrest Bourne for the murder, as he found the body, though the elusive ‘man of mystery’ asks for a short reprieve to prove that he is innocent. Embedded in the wound is a gold Star of David, one that Bourne recognises as belonging to Israeli Sara Yadin. While Bourne’s past is somewhat fuzzy, he is well aware that Yadin is a Kidon assassin using the name Rebeka, though he cannot understand what reason she might have for killing the General. While pondering this, Bourne is left to wonder if the man for whom he has been searching over the past little while, Ivan Borz, might be responsible, and if this coin could play into the murder. Finding himself headed to Cairo in search of Borz, Bourne locates Yadin, who denies being behind the killing, but does admit her Star has gone missing. They begin examining the coin in Bourne’s possession and wonder if it might hold the key to Karpov’s murder. After coming head to head with Borz, it appears they have the assassin before them, but there is something even larger afoot; something that involves The Sovereign, the respectful name of the current Russian President. Once Bourne and Yadin are able to decipher the rebus, they realise that The Sovereign has been siphoning money from a secret account to terror cells, distracting the world from his own plans of renewed imperialism. Unless Bourne can stop the money train, world leaders will expend all attention and energy to fighting the likes of ISIS while Russian forces exact brutal takeover manoeuvres in hopes of recreating a 21st century USSR. Is this one mission Bourne will have to admit is too much for him to handle? Series fans may find much excitement in van Lustbader’s latest instalment, though purists may cringe or turn away.  

A few years ago I went on a Jason Bourne binge, reading the entire collection to that point. Some may remember this venture and how I saw a significant turn away from the Ludlum Bourne when Eric van Lustbader took over. This continues and, while the stories on their own might hold the reader’s attention, I feel they are not upholding what Ludlum created. Far be it from me to lament times past or previous incarnations of characters whose entire being is embedded in a bygone era, but I simply find myself unable to be drawn in by the ‘new’ Bourne or the adventures crafted by van Lustbader. The characters in this story are varied and, in true Bourne series fashion, offer both those who fill the upper echelons of ‘good’ and evildoers. The author is able to spin backstories of both individual characters and how Jason Bourne fits onto their larger radar. While early novels were always about Bourne staying one step ahead of the law and government agencies (a la Jack Reacher), it seems he is now on more of an international spy/sleuth kick (a rougher Cotton Malone). The story weaves its way across continents and develops plots that have agencies battling one another, forcing Bourne to choose his loyalties, which could be of some interest to the dedicated reader. However, I find myself less than enthralled or captivated by this and sensed myself drifting mentally at times. Why do I keep reading whatever van Lustbader churns out when it comes to this series? Perhaps I find myself wanting to simply finish that which I have started, in honour to Robert Ludlum. Still, there comes a time when things have outlived their usefulness. Could this series be ready to end anytime soon? For the sake of purists, one can surely hope, though van Lustbader has at least one more book coming. 

Thank you for your contributions, Mr. van Lustbader. Jason Bourne has grown and developed, but perhaps his ill-fitting britches are indicative that he needs to hang up his amnesia-riddled personality and retire.

Airport-Code Red: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Michael White

Eight stars

Patterson welcomes Michael White into the elusive (but growing) group charged with the creation of BookShots, a ‘take no prisoners’ form of short story writing that puts the reader in the middle of quick tales about a plethora of subjects. On a Tuesday evening in Bradford, in Northern England, a terror cell is hashing out the final aspects of a plot to wreak havoc on Europe’s busiest airport, Churchill London International (presumably a dressed-up version of Heathrow). However, while headed towards the English metropolis, authorities are tipped-off and a few base members are taken into custody. After some ‘creative talking maneuvers’ over a few days, a vague version of the plan is revealed, but there will not be enough time if everyone waits for official channel approval. On the Friday morning, at Churchill, former SAS Matt Bates and ex Delta Force Chaz Shoeman are prepared to meet for their annual vacation, a few weeks basking on the Greek Islands. As they rush to the Departures area, they trip upon the beginnings of the terror plot with its first unsuspecting victim. Remaining as calm as possible, and using the training for which they were so well known in their respective militaries, Bates and Shoeman hustle away and try to make contact with the outside world. In another part of the terminal, Hubab Essa has taken over for her husband as the cell’s leader (perhaps somewhat odd given that these are Muslim extremists), promising casualties like never before. A chemical weapon is hidden in the airport and all those guarding the hostages are ready to die for Allah. As Bates and Shoeman try not only to save those passengers whose lives hang in the balance but also communicate with British Special Forces, they must come to terms with the fact that the world is watching their every move. Time is of the essence, leaving no room for error. The type of story that BookShots was meant to convey, Patterson and White hold the reader enthralled until the very last page-turn.

Another successful BookShot, where the reader is never sure what they will get. Patterson and White infuse the right amount of dramatic effect and story into a piece that gives just the right amount of character backstory to keep the reader caring. With a setting that is sure to draw attention and a plot that has been done so may times, the reader receives little notice as to how easy it is to fall into the trap known as a good short story. I felt as though the Bates-Shoeman pairing could have come from a past novel, they work so well together and seem to complement one another well (without offering too many unmanly compliments, haha). If I could make mention of one thing that nagged at me as I read, it would have to be that the underlying theme is overdone to the point of being charbroiled. I have been reading thrillers for many years and since September 2001, it seems that Muslim terrorists is the flavour du jour, which has become old quite quickly. It is overplayed that duping the authorities seems almost impossible, what with racial profiling so high in airports and amongst police forces. On behalf of (I’m sure) a number of us who enjoy a good thriller, find a new angle. Fanatical Scandinavians, quiet but deadly Canadians, even ultra-feminists. The Muslim terrorist seeking to kill the infidel has had its time in the sun. Please, put the idea to rest and leave readers wondering if and how the next terror cell will ever be discovered and captured.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and White for another wonderfully crafted piece. While you have worked together on a full-length novel, this goes to show you have great abilities when developing a shorter story together as well.

The Women’s War: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Shan Serafin

Eight stars

Patterson brings Shan Serafin into his coterie of BookShot authors and develops this highly entertaining and unique story. Heading a covert and well-trained group of Marines, Colonel Amanda Collins has a single target in mind, drug lord Diego Correra. Working throughout Mexico, but happy to send his product up into the United States, Correra has been a thorn in the side of many, particularly Col. Collins. When Collins takes her all-female team on a mission to scrub him out, they discover he remains a step ahead, having evacuated his compound moments before, but leaving a significant gift behind to mock Collins. Using her continued intel from the elusive ‘Fat Man’, Collins hopes to have another opportunity to catch this most vile of drug paddlers. Returning stateside, Collins arrives home to discover a personal tragedy, one that has her leave the Marines and settle in the small community of Archer, Texas. Two years thereafter, Collins is working off the books but still have some of her team together, Carrera still in their crosshairs. Fat Man continues to provide intel about Carrera shipments, but Collins continue to feel as though they are draining the ocean with a teaspoon, breaking laws to derail this single drug pipeline. After a threatening visit by the DEA, Collins remains determined to remove Carrera herself and organises a mission to Mexico to destroy all his factories. That mission has some glitches of its own, but Collins can chalk it up to at least partial success. Feeling slightly cocky, she lets down her guard and is taken into custody before being left stranded in the heart of Mexico City’s slums. With a bounty on her head and a burning need for revenge, Collins and her team wage one final “Women’s War”, giving all they’ve got. A great story that keeps the reader enthralled throughout, this is precisely what BookShots should be.

I have come to really enjoy the BookShot collection for a number of reasons. While it does allow Patterson to continue crafting ideas with some authors with whom he has worked effectively before, it is also a a showcase of new and exciting talent. These stories are also highly varied, which enables the reader to see that not all will be showstoppers; there is gold and garbage in equal measure. Serafin surely ups his game in writing this story, developing a collection of gun-toting women who have a mission and work effectively to plod through the narrative in order to find some measure of success. The characters suited this short story and the plot kept things moving without issue. While there was a slight dramatic corniness in the “freedom fighting, tragedy, and capture” equation, Patterson and Serafin work around this by keeping the reader focussed on catching Diego Carrera and trying to rid the world of one more drug runner. Easily read in a single sitting for those who are inclined, this BookShot has flecks of gold. Readers should keep an eye out for Serafin in future, either on his own or in future collaborative efforts.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Serafin for developing a great story. I am eager to see if this pairing is something that could work in future, or if this BookShot is the only stellar piece we will see.