The Freedom Broker (Thea Paris #1), by K. J. Howe

Eight stars

My curiosity piqued by seeing a promotional poster on Goodreads, I had to give this one a look. K.J. Howe storms onto the scene with her debut novel that pulls together a number of interesting perspectives and keeps the reader on their toes throughout. Athena ‘Thea’ Paris is a world-renowned and respected kidnap and rescue specialist, working for Quantum International Security. Her team has been able to facilitate the release of numerous high-ranking CEOs and members of the business community, though rarely without bloodshed. Heading to Greece for the annual celebration of her father’s name-day, Thea is rocked when she discovers the deck of Aphrodite, Christos Paris’ yacht, covered in blood and the bodies of his staff lay dead in the scorching sun. An oil tycoon and ruthless businessman, Christos is definitely on the radar of many kidnappers seeking a high-price payout for his safe return. All that is left on the yacht his cell, with a cryptic Latin message that has Thea sure that this is no run-of-the-mill kidnapper. While Thea assembles her team and tries to keep the news from making its way into media outlets, someone else is being summoned to help with the investigation. Gabrielle Farrah, former CIA and currently on the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, is on her way at the invitation of Maximilian Heros, part of the Greek police forces and a one-time flame. Farrah has a great deal of experience working with hostages as well, especially during her mission to track down Ares, a kidnapper and weapon’s dealer who has made his mark all over the world. While Thea tries to find clues to her father’s kidnapping, Farrah and Heros foist themselves into the investigation, hoping to help in any way they can, though they are not privy to the inside scoop. Thea must also handle her brother, Nikos, who has been estranged from their father, but who has a kidnap history of his own and wants to get to the bottom of the ordeal. Taken for nine months as a teenager, Nikos remains scarred with the memories of his African captors, though has made a name for himself as a philanthropist and advocate against child soldiers. The further Thea takes the investigation, the more cryptic messages appear, all of which relate to famous quotes but offer little insight into where Christos might be held. Those closest to the oil tycoon seem to be dying off, particularly when they have knowledge of what might have happened, but never in time to share insights with Thea. With an important negotiation for Paris Industries to secure the oil rights in Kanzi, located in sub-Saharan Africa, Thea heads to the region to represent her father and try to track him down. Nikos has his own plan and seeks to secure the best deal to ensure there is a monetary incentive for all the strings he has pulled, but is thrust into memories of his childhood terrors. As Thea inches closer to learning of her father’s whereabouts, someone has slipped her all the relevant documentation tied to her brother’s kidnapping and captivity, which offers a new perspective and might fuel new motives for kidnapping. With Ares potentially behind the kidnapping and Christos Paris still missing, Thea must use all the resources at her disposal to bring her father home with as little bloodshed as possible. A powerful story full of drama, action, and attention to detail that shows how some authors have the knack when they hit the ground running in the industry. Well worth investigating by any reader with a penchant for exciting thrillers.

I mentioned in a recent review that an author’s first impression is key for me. If I like what I find, I will usually try to keep them on my radar, though a poorly crafted novel can leave me pushing away and on to find my next great author. Howe enters the thriller genre with an interesting approach; a kidnap-ransom theme and a female protagonist. Thea Paris is developed well throughout the novel, including some backstory and complex personal struggles, which helps the reader better relate to her as she races around the world to save the rich and somewhat famous. Howe has also been able to complement Thea with an assortment of other characters whose stories will surely continue to play well in the next few novels, should Howe decide to keep writing. The kidnap theme, while not new in many of the novels I have read, is a central focus and will therefore allow readers to see things from this perspective. The plot advances nicely and keeps the reader wondering, with drama and action on two continents, but does take time to develop the narrative. The reader does not feel a sense of literary whiplash as they race around the world, nor is there a feeling that kidnapping is all about jet setting from one posh location to the next. Of particular interest is how the backstory of the Nikos Paris kidnapping serves as a launching pad for the plot as well as flavouring a number of the characters found in the narrative. I would strongly recommend this book and do hope that the ‘Thea Paris #1’ in the title is indicative of another fast-paced novel in the works. I can only hope many others find Howe as interesting as I have.

Kudos, Madam Howe for a great debut novel. The praise on the dust jacket by some of my favourite authors is well-placed and I will surely promote your writing to anyone who will listen. 

Advertisements

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad #5), by Tana French

Eight stars

Tana French finds new ways to dazzle and impress me with the fifth Dublin Murder Squad novel. Readers familiar with Faithful Place will remember Holly Mackey, daughter of Frank Mackey, and Dublin Police floater Stephen Moran. Seven years later, Moran is now working on Cold Cases and receives an unlikely visit from Holly, who is now sixteen and enrolled at St. Kilda’s, an all-girls boarding school. Holly explains that the school has a wall where students can post anonymous comments about their lives without repercussions, called The Secret Place. Holly has come to Moran with one of the cards she found pinned to the wall, a photo of a young man from the nearby all-boys school who was murdered a year ago. On the back of this card, a message indicating that the card’s creator has information about the murder. Moran takes this and approached the case’s Murder Squad lead, Detective Antoinette Conway, in hopes of joining the investigation. Conway is leery, but agrees after Moran argues his rapport with Holly might be an asset. Trying to make headway, Conway and Moran encounter a clic of girls at the school, all of whom have sentiments about the victim, Chris Harper. This group of teenaged girls would make a murder of crows seem angelic, as they protect one another in one breath and roast the weakest links in the next. Holly is firmly rooted in one of these groups and the investigation shows how Harper used a number of these girls, emotionally and physically, before discarding them and moving onto the next conquest. The reader is given added insight through French’s use of a flashback narrative in numerous chapters, which fills in major gaps that Moran and Conway are not able to acquire. While it appears Harper sought to play the girls for his own benefit, which girl is ultimately responsible for his demise is not clear, nor is the witness who posted to The Secret Place. Perhaps the most challenging Squad case yet presented to readers, French does a brilliant job in drawing out the story and then showing how the murderer came to slay young Chris Harper. Fans of the series and new readers alike will find much to enjoy in his book.

As absorbing as these books have become, I sometimes find myself wondering when the other shoe will drop. Will French run out of ideas and have to replicate a plot or premise? I have yet to find that concern and her continued variety has me feeling constantly refreshed. Somewhat of a thriller and police procedural nut, I have been around the block and French stands leaps and bounds ahead of many other authors in the genre. Her constant rotation of protagonists proved even more effective here, as she broke the pattern of finding a minor character from the previous book and looked two novels earlier. She also chose to incorporate three past characters in the story, which forces series fans to remember the nuances that both Mackeys and Moran brought to the aforementioned third book in the series. The cast of school girls was also a significant feat and that it was done so well (and offered a variety of characters even within the group) speaks to French’s superior writing abilities. As with the past novels, I was able to extract a theme from the text, through the title. The ‘secret’ place has many meanings throughout the story, from the literal place that is used by the girls to air their private sentiments to the as yet unattainable Murder Squad job that Moran seeks. One might also find that these girls are seeking the secret place as a meeting spot to encounter Chris Harper or more metaphorically the ‘place’ in his heart. As the investigation proves intense and Frank Mackey makes an appearance, the reader might wonder if the ‘secret’ place could be thinking someone could be so dark as to travel down a path thought impossible before. However the reader chooses to interpret it, the dynamic between the girls, the police, and the overall mystery is formidable and should give the reader a high-impact mystery with the most unpredictable of characters. If it has not been clear up to this point of the review, or my sentiments in all books of the series, this is a must-read for anyone who has patience and interest in superior thriller novels.

Kudos, Madam French for proving how versatile you are and how the ideas seem never-ending. I am excited to get to the next novel, though it is a little sad that the binge is almost done.

Ill Will, by Dan Chaon

Three stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Dan Chaon, and Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In my first attempt to decipher the writing (ramblings?) of Dan Chaon, I was left with a bitter taste I am unable to mask. This novel, set in both the early 1980s and 2012-14 tells of two sets of unsolved murders, which sounds interesting enough. The first centres around a young Dustin Tillman, who spends much of his time with his cousins and adopted older brother, Rusty. Being much younger than the other three, Dustin is not privy to their drinking, drug-addled states, or promiscuity as they explore one another. He is, however, able to see an odd nature in Rusty, whose previous foster placement ended when the house caught on fire and the entire family died. Recounting events that include Satanic Worship (an apparent buzz word in the early 80s), Dustin lays the groundwork for horrific possibilities. On the morning before a family trip, the youths discover that their parents have all been murdered, though the killer is not immediately apparent. Chaon has the reader meander through the story to learn that Dustin did, eventually, testify against Rusty, who was sentenced to thirty years in jail for the crime. Fast-forwarding to a more present time, Dustin is now a psychotherapist who has done some work with Satanic worship, but was eventually drummed out of that and now does some run-of-the-mill hypnosis and projection exercises. When a patient brings an elaborate theory about a serial killer who chooses young men as his victims, Dustin cannot help but scoff. But, the more they talk, the more the idea germinates and soon Dustin is out on the road trying to piece it all together. Dustin’s wife and two sons are left to wonder and go through their own tribulations, as the reader witnesses the evaporation of the family unit due to illness and drugs. With these two narratives running parallel, the reader is forced to make sense of what is going on, though there is little of a sensical nature. The premise is there, but the delivery, as strong as an over-boiled noodle. Beware readers who get caught up in the dust jacket summary, as I did. You are in for a flop!

I have always found author first impressions to be very important. If I cannot find a groove with an author after reading one of their books, I am usually leery to give them a second chance. This book has left me so confused with its lacklustre delivery that I am forced to question if Chaon’s past literary awards were delivered in error. As I mentioned above, the premise is sound, or at least it could be. Two narratives telling of two sets of crimes; a protagonist who lives through both sets of crimes at different points in his life; the struggle to determine if that past accusation was an error and who might have committed the crime. All in all, Chaon is sitting on a potential thriller goldmine. He creates some interesting characters and surrounds them with a few plausible scenarios. But then, he pulls out all the stops to ruin a good thing. Paragraphs and chapters that end in the middle of a sen (note: purposefully done to prove a point), chapters that appear as columns on the page with each stretching over four or five flips (in which the reader must then return back the pages to begin the next column), transition between 1983 and 2012-14 between parts of the book, but not flowing seamlessly. One might presume that Chaon used his past acolytes to publish this, knowing that his reputation would allow sales to skyrocket (the James Patterson Syndrome). Some who loved it may troll on this review and comment that if I could do better, why don’t I write a book. Alas, I am not being paid to write a book (or for this unbiased review), so I can hold those who do make a living of this to a higher standard. All around, a literary train wreck with toxicity spewing from all sides. Fair warning with flashing lights, bells, and blaring horns. Steer clear and find a better pick!

Oh, Mr. Chaon, one can only hope this was an one-off gaffe. That said, you surely did some literary bed defecation with this one.

Broken Harbour (Dublin Murder Squad #4), by Tana French

Eight stars

Tana French continues to amaze with her fourth stunning Dublin Murder Squad novel, proving that binge-reading this series was a wonderful February treat. After playing a minor role in Faithful Place, Mike ‘Scorcher’ Kennedy is able to steal the spotlight and prove readers why he is the Squad’s star detective. Assigned to work with rookie Detective Richie Curran, Kennedy picks up a brutal assault/murder over in Brianstown, colloquially known as Broken Harbour. When they arrive, the detectives discover Pat Spain and his two children dead, with wife Jenny stabbed and barely clinging to life. Preliminary sleuthing shows that the Spains were deeply in debt, well on their way to insolvency, which might pose as the strongest motive for Pat to have committed this heinous crime. As he mentors young Curran on the ins and outs of homicide investigation, Kennedy wrestles to keep his history with Broken Harbour from surfacing; a mother who committed suicide over twenty years before. If that were not enough, Kennedy’s sister, Dina, has taken a turn for the worse. Her eccentric ways are not always handled completely with the medication she has been prescribed, leaving Dina to be a danger to herself and those in her immediate vicinity. Kennedy vows not to let Dina know that this case has brought him back to Broken Harbour, concerned that the mere mention of it might re-open the abyss of Dina’s deep-rooted mental health concerns. The high-profile nature of the case is making that more difficult by the hour, forcing Kennedy and Curran to work quickly. After staking out the home, Kennedy and Curran find Conor Brennan literally lurking in the bushes and bring him in for questioning. It is at this point that the case and the novel take significant twists, particularly as computer forensics provide Kennedy and Curran an interesting glimpse into the life of Pat Spain and his daily struggles. How closely tied is Brennan to the Spains’ demise and what truths lurk on the World Wide Web that could blow the case wide open? French toys with the reader throughout this story and paces her narrative in such a way that the suspense grows with every page-turn. Another fascinating glimpse into the world of the Irish police procedural that does not disappoint, no matter where you live.

While it may seem that I am rushing through these novels, I can assure everyone that they have my full attention. The art of novel writing is one that French has discovered and honed over a number of years, proving that she is worth every accolade presented. The use of a fourth different protagonist is not only a brilliant move to keep the story fresh, but it forces the reader to pay close attention and not gloss over some of the background development. With new characters emerging in each novel, French has been forced to craft them carefully and this novel does an exceptional job of linking their stories to the larger narrative. While the story progresses naturally, French uses the perfect amount of Irish brogue to give the reader a sense that they are right in the action, working out of Dublin Castle alongside Kennedy, Curran, and the other members of the Squad. She is also able to inject a theme that permeates the entire story and branches out as needed; in this instance, control in all its forms. While Kennedy might need to control his underling, Curran, he is also forced to offer a sibling protection/control of Dina when she flies off the rails. French also insinuates that there is a strong need for self-control among a number of characters, including Kennedy, Curran, and Pat Spain, though its success is measured in varying degrees throughout the story. One might also see control in the form of online research or technological devices scattered around the Spain household as Pat attempts to create digital omnipotence to battle the issue that arises throughout the narrative. Finally, the ever-present surveillance done by Conor Brennan shows an attempt to control the lives of others without their knowledge. French pushes that the more we seek to control a situation, the less we are able to manage it. In the end, it is an acceptance of a lack of control over minutiae that could save us from ourselves. I only hope that makes some degree of sense, as it rattled around my brain for much of the novel’s slow and steady momentum. I forge onwards to find out what French has in store for readers in the next instalment, though I will take a moment to absorb all that has been offered up and the power of a French novel to move me.

Kudos, Madam French for making this binge-reading adventure one that has helped me discover that I have no control when it comes to superior writing and the authors at the helm. I just may have found some of my best reading of 2017 in your collection of novels.

Faithful Place (Dublin Murder Squad #3), by Tana French

Nine stars

Another stunning novel by Tana French has me rushing to ensure I will be able to continue my binge reading without interruption. After proving his worth as Cassie Maddox’s handler in The Likeness, Francis ‘Frank’ Mackey is given his own novel, where the reader can explore the deep and emotionally-driven aspects of the man’s life. At nineteen, Mackey and his sweetheart, Rosie Daly, planned to leave their dead-end lives in Dublin and cross over to England. When Rosie did not turn up at their rendezvous point, Mackey slumped back home, only to find a ‘Dear John’ letter, which explained that she chose to flee alone. Feeling jilted, Mackey ran off, never to look back on his family or the life he hoped to soon forget. Just over two decades later, Rosie’s suitcase is found around the Mackey home and Frank’s emotions come rushing back after a call from his kid sister. Soon a body is discovered that bears forensic similarities to young Rosie Daly and Mackey tries to weasel his way into the investigation, much to the dismay of Dublin Murder Squad star-detective, Scorcher Kennedy. Not only does Frank have to come to terms with the murder of his first love, but he also must return to face his family and the issues he thought he left in his past. If that were not enough, his closeness to the victim and surrounding area has Kennedy blocking his access at every turn. Remembering not only the lead-up to his planned departure with Rosie but also the struggles he faced growing up in a tenement house, Mackey vows never to let his own daughter bear witness to the depravation that almost crippled him, while he juggles processing his lot who have not matured in the two decades since his absence. With Rosie’s killer potentially somewhere in the tenement project, someone else close to Mackey dies and all eyes shift on him. Could he have killed Rosie and then tried to cover-up when others began to poke around? Told in her brilliant form, French offers the reader a slow and methodical examination of a central theme while developing the story narrative throughout. A must-read for those who have tired from all the cookie-cutter “kill/search/find” police procedurals on the market today.

I am as gobsmacked as the next person that French has me speechless (save for this review) three books into the series. There is nothing commonplace about these books or the characters found herein. While I expected a series of cases with the same central murder squad, these books have taken twists and turns I could not have expected, pulling me well beyond simple admiration. This novel seeks to push away from the formal murder investigation as Frank Mackey takes the reins and does his own investigating, introducing readers to a handful (or a score, even) of local and less-refined Dubliners who have always lived in the shadows of tenement houses and blue-collar lives. French does not shy away from their boozing, beating, and belligerent nature, while shaping a story that uses this to her advantage. The narrative is slow as January molasses, but in so being, allows the reader to gaze at all that surrounds them and develop deeper bonds and curiosities. As with each novel, French offers a soap box for a central theme; this one being the role of family. Frank Mackey is forced to return to the childhood home and face the dysfunction that he sought to flee with two ferry tickets over to England. He must admit from where he has come while trying to shield his young daughter from mixing with his own blood. French effectively shows the less than desirable side of the Mackeys and the Dalys, but also the great socio-economic disparities in Dublin, without making a mockery of the entire thing. Class and standing play a central role in one’s upbringing, but forgetting one’s roots will never erase the past that has shaped the present. A stunning novel that has left me aching to get back over t0 Ireland sooner than later. I only hope the next story is as captivating, as I have discovered a pattern in French’s choice in protagonists.

Kudos, Madam French for yet another wonderful novel. I do hope my friends and family will find your work as riveting as I have, as I speak about it on a daily basis.

Broken Promises, by Nick Nichols

Six stars

After having this book recommended to me, I thought I would delve deeper into the legal mind of Nick Nichols. Having previously read one of his short stories, I was sure this would be a great legal drama, sharp and succinct as the reader holds on for dear life. Jack Adams is an Atlanta divorce attorney climbing the ranks of his firm in hopes of making partner by thirty-five. When two important cases fall on his desk, he can all but see the partnership solidified. One case proves challenging, with a woman bound and determined to take her husband to the cleaners for his adulterous ways. The other proves even more mind-boggling and Adams finds himself unsure how to react to the advances made by his client. What begins as simple flirtation soon turns into full-fledged scandal, as Adams is drawn into his client’s web. Learning her true intentions, Adams still finds himself violating ethical boundaries, which could cost him everything. A Bar suspension, a job in jeopardy, and personal ruin begin the downward spiral for Jack Adams, and yet this is not rock bottom. When something happens to his client, all eyes turn to Adams, though he professes that he is not involved. What follows might be the fight for his life, legal and otherwise. A interesting premise for a legal thriller that, unfortunately, does not past muster with this jury of one.

While others have offered much praise for this novel, I felt that Nichols missed the mark. He had all the essential tools in his quiver, but repeatedly fell short. The cast of characters was well constructed and varied, as were their backgrounds. This permitted the story to move forward, albeit limping on certain occasions. The premise was strong and Nichols did succeed in making divorce law something more than a mundane mud-slinging affair (no pun intended), but the way by which the narrative developed and presented the ‘spiral into disarray’ started a process of skimming the water, as if Nichols had much he wanted to address but someone was demanding the manuscript quickly. He rushed through the latter portion of the story and offered only the most superficial of courtroom or legal stories, where I could see much opportunity for dramatic flare. Tepid at best, I am left to wonder if an editor slashed and gutted the essential aspects to his work, as I have seen writing and a narrative exponentially better in his aforementioned short story. Perhaps a switch elsewhere will garner him better results (at least from me), if he is given the chance to flourish with another project.

A decent novel, Mr. Nichols that simply did not get deep enough or explore all the avenues at your disposal. Worry not, we all stumble at times. It is picking one’s self up again that separates the truly great authors from those destined for sub-par status. 

The Lion and the Leopard (The Lion and the Leopard Trilogy #3), by Brian Duncan

Eight stars

In his final instalment of the African trilogy, Brian Duncan gathers the plots from his previous two novels for an exciting finale. During the early part of 1914, there are whispers of an imminent war on the horizon, even on the southernmost part of the African continent. Alan Spaight and his daughters are headed back to their farmland around South Africa, hoping to settle on their land and avoid the conflict. Spaight’s cousin, Martin Russell, is also preparing to use his experience from the Boer War to help craft a strong set of military manoeuvres that could be useful should conflict erupt in the colonial lands across Africa. The winds of war have led the world to turn their eyes on Europe, where the Germans are flexing their muscle, but there are important holdings a continent away that could prove just as important for land acquisition. When war formally begins, the African colonies begin to draw their own battle lines, with German East Africa playing the role of central aggressor against their continental neighbours under the control of Britain, Belgium, and Portugal. While the Spaights and Russells are called into action, others in the area join the Allied forces to repel the Germans. As Duncan elucidates, it becomes a battle where the two European groupings are not the only aggressors, particularly with the addition of thick jungles and numerous bodies of water. Malaria-infected mosquitos attack anyone with a blood source and cripple forces in vast quantities. Additionally, the African locals have had their fill of suppression, turning to shed their oppressive yokes by entering their own midnight battles, predominantly against the British landowners. With strong war themes throughout, Duncan pulls the reader into the middle of the untold story of the African Theatre of the Great War. A powerful novel that educates and entertains in equal measure.

Duncan tells a wonderful story with true African flavour, pulled from his own experiences over many decades. Readers who are familiar with the previous two books will understand the richness of the narrative and feel right at home as the story moves from jungle battles to war room strategy sessions. With a number of strong central characters, Duncan is able to weave a masterful tale of the horrors of war alongside the wonders of the African subcontinent and its vast array of wildlife. War-based plots fill most of the narrative, from plotting, fighting, and casualties, but there is also a strong sense of character interconnectedness and development with emotional growth and even romantic encounters. Peppering both English and local African dialects throughout brings another realistic aspect to the story, which is full of symbolism as Duncan develops another avenue of the novel’s rich flavour. Readers who are familiar with another African author’s ‘Courtney’ and ‘Ballantyne’ series will find much enjoyment in this novel (as well as the other two in this trilogy). Those who have a piqued curiosity with the region and its history may also enjoy these well-researched books. 

Kudos, Mr. Duncan for developing this wonderful collection of historical novels. I am pleased to have been pointed in the direction of your novels and would recommend them to any reader with a keen interest in Africa.

The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad #2), by Tana French

Nine stars

After being stunned by Tana French’s opening novel, I was equally impressed with the second instalment of the Dublin Murder Squad. After being severely emotionally scarred during Operation Vestal, in which a young girl was murdered, Cassie Maddox left the Squad for the more structured world of Domestic Violence. After receiving a frantic call from Squad Detective (and current boyfriend) Sam O’Neill, she agrees to meet him at the scene of his latest case; perhaps her first mistake. Cassie arrives to discover a murder victim who bears a striking resemblance to her, with identification listing the victim as Lexie Madison. This startles Maddox and takes her back to days working Undercover, where Maddox used the same name. With no leads, O’Neill hatches a plan alongside Frank Mackey, Maddox’s handler from those days working Undercover, wanting to place Maddox back into the life of Lexie Maddox. Their long-shot hope, to lure the killer back out of the shadows, while also allowing Maddox to gather intel from the four roommates with whom Madison shared a house. Maddox re-establishes herself as an undercover plant, testing her skills as attempts to fit into a life she never knew. To smooth over obvious gaps in what Maddox is able to ascertain about this new Lexie Madison, she heads into the house armed solely with a sketchy backstory of amnesia and the recent stabbing. As Mackey and O’Neill push her, a few motives for the attack come to the surface, though Maddox is unable to substantiate any of them. Could the killer be in plain sight, fraternizing with Maddox on a daily basis, or does an ancient grudge held by the townspeople help to fuel a hatred strong enough to kill? Maddox has a limited time to find the truth before being discovered and the killer slips away. Told with as much deliberate pacing as the previous novel, French shows that she was not a one-hit wonder. Perfect for those who seek a less than conventional murder mystery and police procedural. 

I am still in awe that it took me so long to discover Tana French and her brilliant series. After pulling Adam ‘Rob’ Ryan into the spotlight throughout the opening novel, French turns to his (former) partner and best friend, using both her backstory and previous work in Undercover to develop this equally gripping story. Peppering the narrative with mentions of Ryan, French keeps him at arm’s length and away from making even the briefest of appearances. While some readers might have found the idea of a ‘lookalike’ entirely dubious for this or any other novel, French has a reason for pushing this idea, discussed below. French uses this ‘swap out’ to develop the struggles that Cassie Maddox had playing this faux character, as any undercover plant would while trying to hone in on what happened to the victim. The characters presented throughout the novel help to bring life and action to the plot, while also showing the strains of undercover work during the building of a watertight case against a handful of suspects. The latter portion of the explores the idea of imposters, which might explain the aforementioned use of the lookalike situation. French examines both the imposters angle that individuals use to fool others (a la Jekyll and Hyde), where a person takes on a false persona for their own benefit. Alternatively, there is the imposter that one plays against themselves, trying to pretend that they fit into another socio-economic bracket or general caste. Both are damaging and yet useful in one’s daily life. I would venture to say there is not a single reader who can completely divorce themselves from these situations in their own lives. French explores this theme extensively throughout the narrative, arguing that they appear on a regular basis, even if we cannot decipher them independently. Perhaps her greatest quality of French’s writing is her style of slow narrative momentum to stretch the story out while keeping the reader’s attention throughout. A stunning novel that is sure to garner scores of new fans for Tana French and provide much fodder for discussion. 

Kudos, Madam French for keeping me hooked as I delve deeper into the Dublin Murder Squad. I cannot wait to find out what you have in store with your third novel. 

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1), by Tana French

Nine stars

After much waiting and some significant ‘biblio’ peer pressure, I have finally decided to take the plunge into the world of Tana French and the Dublin Murder Squad. In the summer of 1984, three children went missing in the woods on the outskirts of Dublin. When authorities arrived, they found one boy, Adam ‘Rob’ Ryan, delirious and unsure what had happened to him. The other two were presumed dead, their bodies never found. Flashing forward two decades, Ryan has recreated himself, using his middle name, and finds himself working as a Homicide detective in Dublin. Partnered with his best friend, Cassie Maddox, they are used to the most gruesome of scenes. When Ryan and Maddox are called to an archeological dig site, they discover the body of twelve year-old Katy Devlin, buried under a ceremonial headstone. This sparks many disturbing memories for Ryan, as it is the exact location of his childhood trauma. While beginning to amass clues in the Devilin murder, Ryan is forced to revisit his past, told in a number of developing flashbacks. He tries to make sense what happened to his two best friends as he remembers the news they shared leading up to that summer afternoon. The deeper Ryan and Maddox dig into the possible motives for the crime, the more suspects they unearth who might harbour the necessary grudge to kill young Katy. Could the murder investigation hold the key to solving the crime from that long ago summer night? Ryan struggles to come to terms with this while also balancing the burden of having no means of helping the two people he loved the most. Simultaneously, his personal interactions with Maddox open paths of confusion and animosity that may be irreparable. French makes her debut in stunning fashion, sure to impress all those who enjoy a police procedural of the highest order.

While I have heard much of Tana French in the last few months, I had been inundated with new series in my 2016 reading journey that I was not sure I ought to add another collection to my list. However, the series held a few unique aspects, one of which was its setting in Ireland, a place I hold close to my heart. After allowing myself to try at least one novel, I discovered that French tells a story that proves as gripping as some of the great European series I have discovered in the past couple of years. The Rob Ryan character is both gripping and baffling, which caught my attention from the start. His work on the Homicide Squad and the struggles tied to his youth proved to be a thread throughout the story and remained relevant until the final pages. While French takes her time in the story’s progression, the drawn out development is done in such an effective way that the reader forgets the pace at which the story matures. The plot is both straightforward and convoluted, as the reader encounters twists and dead ends as they relate to motives for the crime. Strains between the characters help bridge portions of the investigation narrative, but might surge into being central plot lines for subsequent novels. French takes on a great deal in her debut piece but comes out of the experience firmly rooting herself in the genre by providing a unique flavour. I am eager to lose myself in her subsequent novels, which I hope are just as riveting.

Kudos, Madam French for blowing my mind and creating an instant fan out of me. I cannot wait to rush into the second novel, hoping that Ryan and the rest of the gang prove equally as compelling.

Deep Cover Jack (Hunt for Reacher #7), by Diane Capri

Seven stars

In her latest Hunt for Reacher novel, Diane Capri adds a new layer to the ongoing chase scenario that keeps the protagonists one small step behind their intended target. FBI Special Agents Gaspar and Otto continue their search for Jack Reacher, sent to Houston to follow-up on another lead. It appears that former DEA and ATF Agent Susan Duffy has been seen with Reacher over the past three weeks and might be able to shed some light on his whereabouts, or reveal his location, inadvertently. While in Houston, Gaspar and Otto learn that Duffy is on indeterminate leave and no one is willing to share anything concrete with them. Duffy’s apartment appears to have been emptied and her most recent partner is also highly defensive when it comes to sharing anything. Upon learning that she might have returned to Abbott Cove, a small community in Maine, Gaspar and Otto rush across the country in order to follow a trace that might lead to Reacher or provide some concrete leads. Within the confines of a large compound in the Abbott Cove area, a man by the name of the Diplomat is entertaining a number of rich men whose criminal capabilities are piqued by a new weapon on the market; one that can obliterate from such a distance that it is virtually undetectable. While following up leads in Abbot Cove, Gaspar and Otto learn that Duffy might be in the area, though she has gone missing after trying to locate another of her colleagues. All signs point to the aforementioned compound, where rumour has it women were being kept for an international human trafficking ring. The collective who seek to find and free Duffy must work together to remove her from harm’s way, which might permit essential clues about the whereabouts of the ever-elusive Jack Reacher. All this while the Diplomat seeks to sell his most lucrative weapon to date to the highest bidder and keep his trafficking ring intact. Succinct but full of drama, Capri knows how to lure the reader in and keep them interested until the next cliffhanger. 

This series has always been an interesting one for me, as I am an avid Jack Reacher fan. While Capri’s series is concentrated in a very small window of time and each books feeds immediately after the end of its predecessor, the stories remain fresh and highly entertaining. With plots that focus on finding Reacher, things generally spiral from the intended mission and a new mystery emerges. Using a few central characters and an ever-changing collection of those in a supporting role (a la each Reacher tale), Capri is able to keep the reader interested and curious about what is yet to come. Gaspar and Otto have grown in the short chronological period of the novels, with Capri adding new layers to keep the reader connected to them during each mission. I remain interested in the evolution of the series, though the nomadic Reacher character proves to be my greatest interest. 

Kudos, Madam Capri for a sensible addition to the series. Even if Reacher remains one step ahead, you are able to develop your characters effectively.