French Twist (Detective Luc Moncrief #3), by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

Seven stars

The advantage to a BookShots binge is that you can get through a variety of stories in short order, picking and choosing the genre or characters without needing to commit for too long. In the recent instalment of the ‘French’ series, I am able to bask in the work of James Patterson and Richard DiLallo, as they bring their Detective Luc Moncrief back for more fun in NYC. Armed with his partner (and potentially a romantic interest), K. Burke, Moncrief is baffled when they are called to investigate the death of a New York socialite while she is out shopping. There is no clear motive or cause of death, though the fact that this is the third death of a wealthy woman in short order has the top brass of the NYPD breathing down their necks. Without a concrete lead, Moncrief and Burke accept an invitation to attend the Kentucky Derby, where they watch the favoured horse come out well ahead of the competition. However, a threatening letter and murdered horse in the stables leaves the owners less than calm and Moncrief is prepared to take the lead on the investigation. With the next major race to be held in Baltimore, Moncrief can still keep an eye on things while returning to New York. Following up on some potential leads, Moncrief and Burke interview the hired help of the three victims, only to learn that these women appear to have nothing in their backgrounds that could cause any issues, but their marriages are anything but iron-clad. It it only when one of the ‘nannies’ is seen purchasing a clear baggie that Burke feels they have to do some reconnaissance of their own. Meanwhile, the Preakness is run and the horse storms out ahead again, leaving only one more race to complete the Triple Crown, an illustrious honour rarely seen in horse racing. With bookmakers tossing massive odds against a clear sweep and the pressure mounting, Moncrief and Burke had better find their killer in the Big Apple, allowing them the chance to watch horse-racing history and watch their favourite equine take a bite out of the competition. An interesting story by this well-established writing duo that will likely leave fans of this series wanting more, though I am not entirely sure if I would mourn the loss of Luc Moncrief and his stuffy-shirt antics.

While I find that James Patterson can be a little hard to stomach, some of the recent BookShots that I have read show potential. DiLallo helps to augment Patterson’s style of short chapters and to the point storylines. The characters remain somewhat annoying to me, particularly Detective Luc Moncrief, who is an annoying detective on loan from the upper echelons of France’s elite police system. Paired with a somewhat down to earth Katherine ‘K’ Burke, they complement (though rarely compliment) one another as they tackle some of the most obscure crimes in NYC. The story is fairly interesting, though Moncrief finds a way to make it seem a little sillier than first presented. Exploring what might be one of the real issues of the glamorous women of the world, the authors take the reader down a few rabbit holes before presenting a plausible and scandalous explanation for the list of victims. Interesting and surely one of the more productive BookShot duos, there is surely much to be said for a full-length novel option involving these two New York detectives.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo for keeping things interesting throughout. I can only hope that your partnership allows for more collaboration in the near future.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Medical Examiner (Women’s Murder Club #16.5), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Eight stars

Continuing a mini BookShots binge, I found myself gravitating to another piece that links one of James Patterson’s long-running series, The Women’s Murder Club. Working in collaboration with Maxine Paetro, Patterson has been able to keep these stories entertaining and usually of high quality, amidst a number of hit and miss attempts at writing. With Detective Lindsay Boxer on a much needed vacation, the Club is down to three active members. Dr. Claire Washburn arrives to work on Monday and finds herself scanning the weekend carnage that’s made its way into the Medical Examiner’s Office. When she hears a sound within one of the shelves, Claire discovers that one of the dead bodies is anything but deceased. After a time, Joan Murphy is able to explain that she has no idea how she was shot or who might have been found in bed with her. The faux death can be explained by catalepsy, a rare condition but one that has many people still confused. Claire is baffled by the entire experience and when the SFPD are called in, they begin trying to decipher what happened. News leaks to another Club member, Cindy Thomas, whose crime beat with the San Francisco Chronicle is sure to reach a number of people. Detective Richard Conklin discovers that the mystery man is a second-rate actor, but still Murphy denies knowing anything. When approaching the husband, Conklin learns that he and Murphy have a loving, but distant relationship. Further investigating reveals that Murphy and her ‘man’ were likely part of a hit deemed complete, so there may be someone out there waiting to kill Murphy once and for all. Cindy and Claire both make their way to Murphy’s home, independently, where more trouble awaits. With Lindsay out of the picture and the pieces not fitting together nicely, Claire and Cindy will be forced to turn into sleuths before the killer re-emerges. A great story that never loses its momentum and shines the spotlight on another of the Club members. Series fans will likely enjoy this bridge as they wait for the next full-length novel.

I am a fan of some of Patterson’s series and this is surely one that I have followed from the get-go. Paetro brings an interesting flavour to the writing and the stories are usually fairly well-crafted, full of humour and intrigue, even when the characters step aside and allow Lindsay Boxer to get much of the development. I applaud Patterson and Paetro for placing Boxer on the shelf and turning the attention to other Club members. While Claire’s backstory is not fully developed here, the reader can see some progress and curious nature in her personality, taking her out of the ME’s office, yet still on the job. I can only hope that future stories (BookShots even) will allow Cindy and Yuki to receive much of the attention, as it proves highly refreshing. The story itself worked well, introducing the reader to catalepsy and turning the tables on what was an expected double murder. While things sped by in this short piece, the reader is kept informed and forced on a quick adventure as the story develops. Told with the traditional short chapters for which Patterson is so well known, things come to a swift end with most of the threads tied off. Well presented and whetted my appetite for another Women’s Murder Club novel. Bring it on!

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro, for another great piece of collaborative work. I am impressed to see that the momentum has not waned and your work keeps readers interested.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Detective Cross (Alex Cross #24.5), by James Patterson

Eight stars

After a hiatus, I am back reading BookShots and revelling in some of the superior work that James Patterson has to offer with one of his original series, Alex Cross. While out running, Chief of Detectives Bree Stone (married to the aforementioned Dr. Cross) receives a call that a bomb is set to explode. She calls in resources around the National Monuments and helps diffuse the situation. Meanwhile, Alex Cross is serving his suspension and awaiting trial, having returned to his psychology practice for the time being. After Stone calls him, he drops everything and tries to offer a psych profile of the sort of person who might be capable of this. Narrowing in on a homeless military vet, Cross and Stone think that they might be making headway, only to have more bomb threats called in, forcing the evacuation of the area. Some are simply threats, but others pack an actual explosive punch, leaving the authorities to play roulette with how to handle things. Cross has been seeing a patient who has a military past working with IED (improvised explosive devices) and seems to have a means of helping the investigation. With a pattern emerging, the bomber is likely soon to be in the crosshairs, but then things take a definite turn and no one can be sure of the next move, even this illustrious Dr. Alex Cross. An interesting piece that speaks not only to Patterson’s ability to write independently, but also tackles an issue that is close to the hearts of many. Series fans will surely enjoy this as they wait for the looming trial of their favourite fictional character.

I’ve often said that Patterson can be hit and miss, particularly when he teams up with others. This series, his longest running, is usually quite good and goes to show that he still had ideas to keep the reader hooked. Alex Cross has been through much in the more than two decades that he has graced the pages of novels, though he seems to have a need to remain front and centre. Still, with his wife as Chief of Detectives, it is difficult to keep her too far in the background. The Cross-Stone connection in this story is one that proves they can stand on equal footing, as well as when Cross utilises his patient to help, rather than string her along for the ride. The story itself seems plausible, which makes it all the easier to swallow. The issue, veterans’ rights and the proper recognition of those who have come back stateside, particular those with debilitating injuries, is front and centre throughout the narrative. Patterson handles it well and gets to the core of the issue without trivializing things. My second book today that pointed the corrupt and ignorant nature of Congress on such fundamental issues, so there must be a theme here. Thankfully, I need not get in the middle of this contentious issue and can remain firmly rooted on my Canadian reader perch, enjoying the view.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, for enthralling your fans with this short story. While BookShots are supersaturating the market, it is nice to see that some are still of such high calibre.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Untangling the Black Web, by T.F. Jacobs

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to T.F. Jacobs for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

When the author approached me to read this ARC, I was highly energetic, having perused the dust jacket blurb and the topic at hand. Now that I have had a chance to devour it, I realise that I made the right choice in taking Jacobs up on his offer. David Higgins is the type of lawyer you love to hate. Employed by American True Care to write the clauses and loopholes that keeps the health insurance company free from paying for many of the medical procedures of its members, Higgins carries that burden around with him on a regular basis. After his wife, Lexi, is diagnosed with cancer, Higgins is able to see the other side of the coin and is not only saddled with paralysing debt, but her eventual death. Higgins pledges to bring American True Care down and works with a secret group of like-minded individuals to infiltrate the upper echelons on American True Care to weed out exactly where things are going and how to become the more powerful whistle-blower in the country. Finagling a job as a lobbyist, Higgins is forced to liaise with some of America’s high ranking congressional movers and shakers, all to ensure the passage of key pieces of legislation. These bills will not only benefit American True Care, but allows key members of Congress to line their pockets or receive favours in kind. As Higgins begins his work, he sees all too well the evils that Congress and Big Healthcare are pushing down the throats of Americans, all of whom are helpless to do anything. Higgins comes to see that things are even more powerful than he thought, particularly when some of those working alongside him are discovered and killed. Armed with much blackmail, Higgins returns to those congressional leaders with whom he met in the hopes of turning their support away from America True Care. However, it might be too little too late, as the monstrosity that is the American Healthcare Insurance industry runs things with a titanium hammer. Poignant and truly eye-opening, Jacobs lays out a well-crafted story that seeks not only to convince readers of his cause, but also to shine lights on areas many would prefer kept veiled in darkness. Perfect for those who enjoy a political thriller with topics pulled from current headlines. Sure to make ripples upon its public release!

I’d never read anything by Jacobs before he approached me, but I am very glad that he was able to find me and provide this book. As I sit on my perch in Canada, I can only shake my head at the mess US health insurance has become, exacerbated by a president who has lost touch with the grassroots Americans who elected him. David Higgins is a wonderful character, whose goodness is balanced out with the need to work. Everyone sells a little bit of their soul at times, but Higgins seems to have had his epiphany with the death of his wife. His ire comes more from the conniving way that procedures are declined and unnecessary appointments encouraged by members of the healthcare industry, crippling the ‘little guy’ for being sick (which is the whole purpose of health insurance, no?). Adding a wonderful collection of supporting characters, from doctors to health insurance executives through to medical professionals, Jacobs fleshes out just how much of a problem this has become and how spread out the deception is being perpetrated. From there, it is the laying out of the meticulous groundwork to show the reader how corrupt things have become and a race to reveal it all. I think many readers are away that things are broken or at least skewed away from the everyday citizen, who rolls the proverbial dice on a daily basis. With all that is going on in the United States, headed by a president who wants his legacy to be dismantling anything good in America, 140 characters at a time, this book hits home and goes to show that there is no one watching the big whigs in insurance or the politicians who benefit from key votes. Sadly, Jacobs shows that money talks and those who can yell will always have more power than the simple ‘X on the ballot’, which bastardises democracy at its core. It is also a clear argument that Americans are being held hostage, kidnapped if you will, by their own government and those who collect healthcare premiums on a regular basis. That is, perhaps, the saddest fact of all!

Kudos, Mr. Jacobs for this wonderful novel. While I know it is full of opinions and anything can be turned to favour one side, I have read and seen much of this already. Your book only goes to support the problems I knew were there. This might be yet another reason for an influx of people coming to Canada, or other countries where universal healthcare proves useful to the general public.

This book fulfills Equinox I (A Book for All Seasons) Book Challenge for Topic #4: A Book with Kidnapping

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Fear, by Dirk Kurbjuweit

Six stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Dirk Kurbjuweit and House of Anansi for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having never read Kurbjuweit’s work, I was curious to see how I might enjoy something a little different. Spurred on by having it fit into a current book challenge topic (a book translated from its original language), I thought it could serve a double purpose, as I toil through the dark and anger-filled German narrative. Randolph Tiefenthaler is a man who has lived in the shadow of fear for his entire life, beginning with the terror his mother felt while he was still in utero during the Cuban Missile Crisis and continued on while living in Cold War West Germany. Offsetting the political fear was the emotional instability at home, where a domineering father ran the house as he saw fit. Tiefenthaler, who takes the role of narrator through this piece, explores the fear of his marriage to Rebecca, as they grow further apart and appear to remain together solely for their children. However, it is the introduction of the downstairs neighbour, Dieter Tiberius, that evokes the most fear and anger in the story. In a narrative that constantly oscillates between the aforementioned past revelations and a current situation, Herr Tiberius begins a peaceable coexistence with the Tiefenthaler family, but things soon take a turn when handwritten love notes turn sour and allegations of child abuse are lobbed at Randolph and Rebecca. As Randolph seeks to quell the fires, his anger pushes him to the brink, particularly when he feels the law offers Tiberius carte blanche to continue his conniving ways. With hatred in his heart and a father who is a known marksman, Tiefenthaler must decide how to neutralise his fear once and for all. The narrative points to an end-game that was adjudicated by the courts, but a twist in the story leaves the reader somewhat shocked. An interesting exploration of German angst and anger in literary form, Kurbjuweit offers readers an interesting story, though I cannot say I was fully enthralled.

With no benchmark for the author’s work, it is hard to compare or contrast against some of the other stories that may have been published. However, the premise of the novel is interesting, particularly the ongoing struggle to come to terms with an offended neighbour whose personal agenda is unknown. Layering this struggle with the protagonist’s own life events, Kurbjuweit allows the reader to view some of the foundations of fear that emerge throughout. While the story does progress, the delivery of the backstory is a little tepid, almost detached and told in a less than involved manner. This could be due to the translation, but I felt as though Kurbjuweit was using the first person narrative to allow Randolph to deliver his life history is a speech format. ‘Here is what I have experienced, etc…’ While I have expounded the wonders of European mysteries whose translation into English makes them better than many North American pieces, this one does not meet that mark. I felt as though I was missing something throughout, waiting for the other part of the story to fall into place, even with some of the self-doubt woven into Randolph and Rebecca throughout the piece. Alas, the only ‘clunk’ I heard was my head hitting the table as I tried to shake some order into the story before writing this review.

Interesting work, Herr Kurbjuweit, for this piece, which speaks to the stereotypical German literary gloom and doom. It served its purpose for my book challenge, though I am not sure I will rush back to read more of your translated work.

This book fulfills Equinox I (A Book for All Seasons) Book Challenge for Topic #2: A Book Translated from its Original Language.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Boosted: A Shea Stevens Short Thriller (Shea Stevens # 0.5), by Dharma Kelleher

Eight stars

I discovered the gritty work of Dharma Kelleher earlier this year and devoured her two novels with Shea Stevens in the protagonist’s seat. With this recently released prequel short story, Kelleher takes readers back to see just how Shea’s youth shaped her into being the woman she is today, still obsessed with motorcycles and with a keen eye for business opportunities. At the age of sixteen, Shea Stevens seeks to carve out her own niche. Her father is the former president of the Confederate Thunder Motorcycle Club, a renegade group that has dodged the law for a long time. Added to that, Shea witnessed him kill her mother in cold blood, leaving Shea in the hands of DCS. While there is much money to be made in selling dope, she wants something with a greater reward. After hearing that she could make money delivering vehicles to the local chop shop, Shea and her girlfriend try to ‘apply’ for a job. However, no one seems to want to take the bait and she’s sent walking. With her silver tongue, Shea is able to convince the owner to give her one chance and is sent to heist a vehicle in short order. Zeroing in on the car she wants, Shea tries to hot-wire it and get it back for her fee. After learning that she’s taken the vehicle of Milo Volkov, a member of the Chechen mob, Shea rushes to return the vehicle to save her girlfriend’s life. Milo has other ideas and thinks that he can overpower Shea, but she has an agenda all her own. What follows is the early stages of grit and determination that series fans have come to expect in Shea Stevens. A wonderfully quick story that gives the reader a little more insight into the life of Shea Stevens and the start to what will surely be an interesting career, with Confederate Thunder casting a long shadow. Kelleher fans will enjoy this one, perfect for that morning coffee period.

As I mentioned before, Dharma Kelleher is a fairly recent addition to my reading library, but the gamble has paid off many times over. Fans of SAMCRO will likely enjoy this series and might enjoy the early years of She Stevens’ life. The story is short enough that there is little time for character development, but the premise is clear; Shea has always put herself first and is happy to blur the line between legal and illegal, as long as she ends up safe. The full-length novels reveal much about Shea and her entire entourage, but this piece is equally entertaining and shows that Kelleher is looking to hash out her protagonist to better explore how things turned around for everyone involved. Intriguing and full of bantering dialogue that is ideal for series fans, this is not a piece to miss. Plus, Amazon had it on for a single American cent (since we lost the penny in Canada).

Kudos, Madam Kelleher for entertaining me with all you write. I hope others come to see the great novels (and short pieces) you bring to the table.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Blackbird Season, by Kate Moretti

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Kate Moretti, and Atria Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having no previous knowledge of Moretti’s work, I was able to read this novel without preconceived notions. It is worth noting, though, I did falsely presume the premise of the story that would develop. When thousands of starlings fall from the sky in the sleepy Pennsylvania town of Mt. Oanoke, everyone is left baffled as to what it might mean and how it could have happened. The reader may feel ready to synthesise a story that plays directly into this phenomena, but the narrative takes an interesting turn, plunging into more heartfelt mysteries. Told from the perspectives of a few characters and using flashback chapters, the reader is able to meet Nate and Alecia Winters, who are struggling through parenting their autistic son, Gabe. Nate is the high school baseball coach and a teacher with whom many of the students have a close relationship. When an allegation arises that a high school student, Lucia Hamm, and Nate are having a sexual relationship, the town splits as authorities try to decipher what is going on. Added to the mix is the role of Bridget Harris, Lucia’s creative writer teacher, who has come to learn some of her darkest thoughts through an ongoing journaling assignment. As the story continues, the reader learns that this ‘starling’ event proves to be the dividing line between Nate’s apparent ‘institutional assault’ of Lucia and the fallout that leads to the girl going missing. Alecia is torn and unsure whether to support her husband, seeking to juggle the pointing when she is out in public with the realisation that Gabe might never be the ‘normal’ child she seeks. Lucia’s disappearance turns into an even darker mystery, one that will make the massive avian raining event seem like a distance memory. Moretti draws on the dramatic development of small-town living to create this thriller that leaves the reader wondering how things will come together. A great read for those who enjoy a sense of surprise enveloped in a mystery fuelled by fractured relationships.

There is a great feel to this novel and Moretti’s writing, as it pulls the reader in from the outset. Without being able to compare it against some of her other work, I am left to offer my own independent sense of how things developed. While the seemingly core event, the starling mass death, opens the novel, it can soon be seen to take a backseat to the dramatic development of the alleged sexual relationship between Nate and Lucia. Moretti builds up all the characters, both central and surrounding, to reflect the news of this event, but also fleshes out a strong backstory to individualise them. Woven throughout the novel is the angst felt by teenagers as they grow into their own personalities and the struggles of trying to raise a child who does not fit easily into society’s notion of normalcy. However, there is also the exploration of a couple torn apart because of their diametrically opposed interests in the family dynamic and the ‘third wheel’ friend/teacher, who is able to glimpse into the struggles of the student mind and the pain of seeing a colleague lose his way in his broken marriage. In essence, it is placing love in its various forms under the literary microscope. The mystery, which develops throughout the novel, is less the birds than the disappearance of a young student, one who has an agenda to divorce herself from the world and struggles to accept that she is not the most important person to the man she adores. Moretti ties things up effectively and yet tosses a curve at the end, leaving the reader wondering how it all developed and what could have happened to precipitate such a drastic outcome. A novel that forces the reader to play an active role and choose sides, Moretti is surely an author who deserves much attention by those who enjoy the genre.

Kudos, Madam Moretti, for taking me on this journey. I was left wondering throughout, both as it relates to the starlings and the larger town crisis.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Whipped (Arthur Beauchamp #7), by William Deverell

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, William Deverell, and ECW Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having finally caught up in the Arthur Beauchamp series, I can bask in the superior writing style that William Deverell brings to Canadian legal thrillers, peppered with some tongue-in-cheek commentary on current events. Lou Sabatino and his family were forced into Witness Protection after an explosive four-part series hit the newswires. Now forced to hole-up in a dingy triplex, Sabatino hides from the Mob and must make the most of his new life. Sabatino is shocked when his neighbour, a Russian dominatrix, shows him a secretly-filmed session with Alberta Member of Parliament and federal Minister of the Environment, Emil Farquist. Minister Farquist shows himself in full BDSM glory and Sabatino knows a scoop when he sees one. Copying the video when no one is looking, he must now find a way to release it to the public. Meanwhile, eminent lawyer Arthur Beauchamp is still rattled upon learning of his wife’s brief affair. It plagues him as he remains firmly rooted on Garibaldi Island, along Canada’s West Coast, as Margaret Blake spends much of her time in Ottawa, Member of Parliament and Leader of the Green Party of Canada. Blake focusses her ire on Minister Farquist and his environmentally disastrous plans for the country. Sabatino knows of this and seeks a secret meeting with Blake, where he plays her a copy of the video. Blake and her assistant are caught discussing the matter on an hot microphone days later, which is recorded by a conniving journalist, who seeks to track down the validity of the claim. Somehow, the recorded conversation leaks through Twitter and Blake is hit with a massive defamation lawsuit by Minister Farquist. Using his hometown of Calgary as the central point for the legal action, Farquist denounces the apparent smear campaign by Blake and promises to end her political career. With no one else to help her, Blake turns to her husband. Beauchamp has never fought a defamation suit, but trusts his wife when she says she saw the video. Trouble is, no one can find either Sabatino or the dominatrix, leaving the defence without a copy of the alleged video and seriously hampering their argument. With the trial in March, depositions are set for just after Christmas, forcing both sides to make their star witnesses available for preliminary questioning. Beauchamp has moved mountains before in his legal career, but he may have bitten off more than he can chew here, as he fights to save his wife’s reputation. Deverell remains on his game with this novel and pulls series fans deep into the legal, political, and humerous aspects of his storytelling. Rich with its numerous plots, Deverell remains one of the premier writers of this genre that I have had to pleasure to discover. Perfect for series fans and those who want a uniquely Canadian legal thriller.

While I was eager to read this novel, I am happy that I located and read the previous six books before delving in. Save for the opening novel of the series (which earned numerously ill-deserved awards, in my opinion), the entire collection of Arthur Beauchamp books have taken readers on a wonderful series through his legal career and paved the way for this hands-on piece. Deverell introduces so many characters to his stories, but is able to juggle them effectively, plotting their development throughout the entire series. Arthur Beauchamp and Margaret Blake have made significant progress in six previous books and this novel is no exception. Playing on their personal and relationship foibles, Deverell sketches out a wonderfully complex banter between the couple, both as a unit and individuals pushed together by this legal matter. The premise of the novel is highly entertaining and educational on many levels, pulling on some of the lower-brow commentary one might expect when BDSM graces the pages, but also injecting a degree of justification and, at times, all-out exploration of it being a mainstream activity. Deverell never shies away from his direct approach in the narrative, which might offend the prudish reader, but goes to show that he makes no qualms of telling things as they are. I found the addition of the political (read: parliamentary) angle to be exactly what I have been looking for in a novel for many years. Deverell speaks with (mostly) error-free confidence about life in Ottawa and within the hallowed walls of Parliament. Any reader who enjoys this most unique aspect of the Canadian experience will revel in all that is revealed in this novel. Brilliant in its balance between series legal matters and off-the-cuff humour, Deverell’s latest is not to be missed by those who seek literary entertainment.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell for such an enthralling piece that does not let-up until the final paragraph. Now that I have finished the binge, I wait patiently to see what else you have in store for readers.

Cold Blood (DCI Erika Foster #5), by Robert Bryndza

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Bryndza, and Bookouture for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

DCI Erika Foster is back, and none too soon for series fans. As Robert Bryndza continues to impress with his dark police procedurals, his fan base grows exponentially as chatter of the series calibre. When Foster and her team discover a suitcase submerged in the water, no one could have predicted what might await them. The dismembered body of an unidentified male sets the stage for the latest macabre case that Foster will head up, though there are nothing but questions surrounding it. Turning up blanks, Foster eventually discovers that a woman’s body was found stuffed in a suitcase a few weeks before. Could there be a serial killer on the loose? When the team learns that the male victim was carrying drugs in his stomach, the narcotics mule angle seems the most likely, though there is still nothing to point towards a killer or whether they will come looking for their stash in the coming days. As the story progresses, the narrative explores the personal struggles of one team member, where the seedy underbelly of London comes to light. The blowback from these struggles put Foster inadvertently in the crosshairs and leads to a brutal assault. Forced off the case, Foster returns to her native Slovakia to reassess her work and personal life, but there is a burning in her belly to remain in her job, protecting others from the world of killers out there. Once Foster is back, more bodies turn up and a clue turns the investigation on its head. Meanwhile, in a parallel narrative, the reader learns of the development and grooming of a pair of young people, whose down and out lives take a spin the closer they become. Their dislike of society spirals out of control and soon they have committed numerous crimes, with no end in sight. The kidnapping of twin girls proves to be the climactic event that pushes the case to the edge and a collective breath is held. Will Foster and her team stop the killings before top brass turn it into a cataclysmic event? Only time will tell in this gripping, dark thriller that will keep readers flipping pages well into the night. Series fans can rest assured the calibre of the writing is high and Bryndza’s genius remains firmly rooted.

I have long been a fan of Bryndza’s work and find myself rushing to get hold of any books he releases, which seems to occur with some regularity. Some have vocalised a concern that the stories are too closely tied to a ‘traditional cookie-cutter English police procedural’, but I would deflect that by saying that the caliber remains high and the stories thoroughly interesting as to distract from what might seem repetitive. Character development is high on Bryndza’s list of essentials for each novel, offering newness to most who grace the page. Erika Foster receives particular development, as her proverbial plate has been heaped high over the past four novels. There are many threads left bowing in the wind, some of which Bryndza ties off while others are tugged and lengthened a little more. I enjoy the balance between the professional and personal struggles that Bryndza presents in his novels, as well as the ever-evolving narrative that involves the eventual killer, another form of character development. Paralleling these storylines creates more of a cat and mouse game, leaving the reader to wonder when and how forcefully the two will collide. Bryndza may publish a new novel regularly, but he does not skimp on quality. The novels are always fresh and give the reader a sense of ongoing continuity, if that makes any sense. Always a treat when a new DCI Erika Foster novel hits the literary radar and I seek to dodge the numerous books that haunt my ‘to be read’ pile to get my hands on it. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys police procedurals, but one ought to begin at the series start, to get all the nuances delivered throughout the narrative.

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza for another stellar piece. I love the rush I get reading one, though will have to get ahold of my emotions as I wait for more news.

The Tiger’s Prey (Courtney Saga #16), by Wilbur Smith and Tom Harper

Three stars

Wilbur Smith brings Tom Harper along with him to create the latest in the Courtney saga, returning to the high seas of the 18th century. Tom Courtney is the son of the master seafarer, Sir Hal Courtney. The entire Courtney clan are well known for having control of the seas and have planted many deep roots, especially along the African continent. Tom is rumoured to have turned on members of his family to save his own honour and is rumoured dead. This is the narrative that young Francis Courtney holds close to his heart. When the last remnants of his family are killed, young Francis goes in search of Tom, hoping to discover if he truly has been killed. If not, he will undertake to complete the task and ensure his own father did not die in vain. Francis discovers Tom is alive and well, though has been keeping a low profile in South Africa. Francis lets his bluster get the better of him and Tom is prepared to turn the tables on this young Courtney. Instead, they agree to work together and set sail for the East Indies, sure to find adventure during the journey. What follows is a collection of storms on the high seas and interactions with other swashbucklers as Tom and his crew seek assistance when they arrive on shore. With Francis at his side, Tom engages the locals in more adventure than any man could handle… any man but a Courtney. Limping through to the end, the reader will be lucky to keep their bearings in this addition to what might be the weakest of the three sagas, that of the seas. Many pardons to readers of the review, as I will be the first to admit, my summary of the story is poor, hampered by not being able to connect with the piece, as discussed below.

I have long had an issue when an author passes away or ‘retires’ and another takes over the reins of a series. Many a collection of books have gone down the drain when the original creator no longer has control of their master work. Wilbur Smith’s turning the Courtney series over to others has been a recipe for disaster and yet books continue to be published. Having devoured all of Smith’s past Courtney saga novels (attributed solely to him) and loving them, this was yet another let down for me. One must be careful where to point fingers. It might be Harper trying to slide into the massive literary footprint or the fact that I am not a fan of the ‘Courtneys on the seas’ branch, but this book grabbed me as effectively as marble tossed on a Velcro wall. There was obviously some character development and action peppered throughout, but I just could not find myself grasping onto what was going on. It may also have been that the story was not adequately divided into chapters, choosing instead to be a single blob of writing that continued to flow from page to page (or for us audio listeners, minute to minute). I felt myself lost and without any form of help as I tried to push through this book. The sole redeeming beacon ended up being that the book ended and I could move on to something else. Alas, I feel that my reading the saga may finally have come to an end. I have little interest in continuing if Wilbur Smith feels that he must allow others to trifle with his work. Surely, he has lost that burning desire to create high-caliber work and only seeks the royalties for something that has his name plastered to the cover.

Oh, Messrs. Smith and Harper, how you have disappointed Courtney series fans with this. I hope many readers will not use this book as a benchmark for the entire series, which has had moments of brilliance.

Sing a Worried Song (Arthur Beauchamp #6), by William Deverell

Eight stars

William Deverell offers up another wonderful legal thriller, taking his protagonist back into the earlier days of his eventful legal career once again. By 1987, Arthur Beauchamp has made quite the name for himself as a criminal defence attorney. However, as with any challenging job, there are always new hurdles and adventures to overcome. When asked to act as prosecutor on the retrial of a murder, he obliges. Hoping for a three-day trial where he will again present the air-tight evidence, Beauchamp works against his long-time friend, Brian Pomeroy. The accused, Randolph ‘Randy’ Skyler, is said to have stabbed a down and out clown seven times while visiting Expo ‘86 in Vancouver. The legal approach taken to this apparently motiveless crime suggests that he was fuelled by the desire to commit and thrill kill. That the clown was a well-known homosexual may also have played a part, something that Beauchamp wants to jury to ponder during deliberations. Beauchamp learns of a murder mystery novel the accused and his friend are said to have obsessed over, which outlines the rush felt by the murderer in committing a random kill. Wanting to reach deep into Skyler’s psyche, Beauchamp receives a copy and synthesises it for himself. Using some of the key aspects of the narrative, Beauchamp storms into court and makes numerous accusations, paralleling the story and insinuating that the thrill kill had some similarities to the novel. While some less than legal tactics were used to get to that point, Beauchamp convinces the jury in record time and Skyler is sent away for murder, but not before uttering that he will exact his revenge at some point. Durning this time, Beauchamp is also wrestling with the ongoing infidelity of his wife, Annabelle, and learns that her choice of men is varied and might even cross into his own friend pool. Jumping forward to 2012, news crosses the wire that Skyler has been released on parole and has been making some utterances that he has some business that needs handling. Brian Pomeroy, repeatedly down on his luck (as series fans will know from past novels) surfaces to offer his friend, Beauchamp, some guidance and advice. Is Skyler on his way to Garibaldi Island to kill the man that put him behind bars? The possibility exists, as Beauchamp seeks to remain firmly rooted on the Island and keep to himself. Flashes from the past emerge, fuelled not only by his own memory, but a specific chapter of his biography, A Thirst for Justice. While Skyler has been seen working in Northern Ontario, there remains a strong paranoia that something could go awry at any moment. Should Arthur Beauchamp worry about this or anything else as he seeks to help those in the community, knowing that a murderer is potentially on the loose? And what about his own worries that his current wife is being unfaithful? All this and more await the reader in this wonderfully crafted sixth novel. A must-read for series fans and those who enjoy tongue-in-cheek legal thrillers.

William Deverell has mastered this series through a collection of well-plotted novels that develop the Arthur Beauchamp character in a slow and methodical manner. Working not only to advance the current Beauchamp, these flashback novels seek to allow the reader to fill the voids left by character trait breadcrumbs on offer in the first few novels. This story pulls on a well-established Beauchamp of the 1980s, whose career is rising with a strong reputation in the community. Going all-in with this rare prosecution, Beauchamp shows that he has a passion for the law, even when the case is not flamboyant. However, Deverell is clear to also add some angst to the mix as it relates to Beauchamp’s personal life, if only to keep that story from suffering bouts of tunnel vision. Series fans will know that Beauchamp struggled with alcohol abuse for many years, but it is in this novel that the kernel of his sobriety comes to the surface. Balancing things out with a wonderful modern narrative on Garibaldi Island, Deverell keeps his cast of characters exciting and playing their role in the larger story. The novels are rich with detail and humour, which helps propel the reader through them with ease. No one can say that Deverell lacks the ability to tell a story or that is pieces fall flat. Nuggets of literary genius pepper every page, as long as the reader is patient enough to coax them out. Brilliantly told and wonderfully written, this instalment of the series is yet another gem!

Kudos, Mr. Deverell for tantalising me repeatedly with all your wonderful stories, pulled on actual experiences from your legal career.

I Know a Secret (Rizzoli and Isles #12), by Tess Gerritsen

Eight stars

Returning with the twelfth novel in her popular series, Tess Gerritsen shows that she is still able to captivate audiences with her Rizzoli and Isles police procedurals. When the body of Cassandra Coyle is discovered, her eyes surgically removed, Detective Jane Rizzoli is concerns that there is a new and sadistic killer on the loose. The detail of the bilateral globe enucleation has even Dr. Maura Isles baffled, especially with no real clues as to who the killer might be. When another body is discovered a few days later, Rizzoli and Isles wonder if Timothy McDougal’s arrow riddled body could be the work of the same killer. With nothing linking the two victims, Rizzoli and her team try to find anything that might prove similar, finding a scrap of something in their funeral attendees. When Isles mentions the cases to a close personal friend, he makes the sweeping suggestion. Might these killings be tied in that both victims were killed in a way by which certain Catholic saints met their demise? Rizzoli cross-references the murders and makes some disturbing parallels, only further exacerbated when she makes another connection between them from decades past. Could there be a degree of retribution at play here and, if so, how might they locate the next victim? Meanwhile, Isles must come to terms with the realisation that her birth mother, Amalthea Lank, is a sadistic serial killer whose days are numbered as she suffers with end-stage cancer. Forced to come to terms with her feelings on numerous levels, Isles must face the reality that this is the last connection to her bloodline, real or adopted. As the case heats up and suspects emerge, Rizzoli and the rest of the Boston PD Homicide DIvision race to find a killer with deep-seeded resentments, but nothing is quite as it seems. Gerritsen returns to her former glory with this captivating piece that taps into the depths of the cat and mouse game found in superior police procedurals. Series fans will surely be pleased to see the caliber of writing is back and the plot is filled with twists to keep the reader guessing.

I have long been a fan of Gerritsen’s work, particularly with this series. I was a fan of the television programme when it aired as well, though did find myself trying to place the two protagonists into a small box as I watched or read, which might have hampered my ability to enjoy the characters in these two mediums. The banter between Rizzoli and Isles usually proves the most interesting aspect of the novels, working together and yet in their own sphere to solve these murders. What some might consider the greatest secret of all is how Gerritsen took a series that was beginning to turn stale and breathe new life into it. I was forced to play a little mental catch-up to reacquaint myself with the characters (not helped by the alternate development made on television) before I could feel entirely comfortable with the larger plot, remembering how I skimmed through the lesser quality novels preceding this one. Gerritsen does well to pace this story and keeps the reader wondering, while plucking breadcrumbs from the early narrative to spin wonderful branch-offs throughout. The story’s development is slow and methodical, taking the reader on a few major twists before revealing what seems like the true path towards the killer. These literary forks in the road serve to advance the story and keep the reader unsure what awaits them. While some past novels fell flat, Gerritsen seems to have found her groove and one can hope this will continue for as long as the series remains an active project.

Kudos, Madam Gerritsen for a wonderful novel that keeps the reader guessing and shows that you have not lost your writing spark.

The Babylon Idol (Ben Hope #15), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Returning to the series roots, Mariani pens this fifteenth novel in the Ben Hope collection in hopes of revisiting some past skirmishes to shape his current thriller. Still gathering their wits after a harrowing adventure in Africa, Hope and Jeff Dekker return to Le Val to revive the training centre and shape the future of tactical security. While tending to the grounds, Dekker is struck by a sniper’s bullet and clings to life. With Dekker in an induced coma, Hope cannot stand idly by, waiting for answers. He begins planning to seek revenge, which is derailed when he receives a mysterious letter from Italy. Within the letter is a message, indicating that rogue Italian archbishop, Massimiliano Usberti, is alive and plotting to exact revenge on many who foiled his early plot of a highly important alchemical secret. Usberti is still smarting that his organisation, Gladius Domini, was brought down by the likes of a single former member of the British SAS. Hope remembers Usberti from years ago, when he was still involved in the kidnap and ransom game. Seeking to contact many from that long-ago case, Hope learns that they have also been slain, which only goes to solidify in his mind that he was the intended target of that bullet. Hope rushes to contact Dr. Roberta Ryder, whose path crossed his during that original case, but also led to his matrimonial demise more recently as well. Sending her into hiding in Canada, Hope turns his attention towards Professor Anna Manzini, whose clashes with Ryder created much drama all those years ago. Locating the researcher in Greece, Hope makes his way there to learn of her latest book, which details a golden idol from ancient times. It was purported to be of King Nebuchadnezzar, though during one of the Babylonian conflicts, it disappeared. Now, new clues may provide hints to its location, which Manzini wishes to uncover. However, Usberti would do well with this priceless piece as well, fuelling him to hire a handful of men to kill Hope once and for all before locating the idol. As Hope and Manzini rush across ancient biblical lands, they must decipher the clues while dodging Usberti’s men, who will stop at nothing to destroy those they are tasked to find. When Hope falls into a trap, he and Manzini become prisoners and everything seems lost in the deserts of modern-day Syria. With a Civil War raging, their demise might come from a bullet aimed in multiple directions. Mariani brings new life to an early story in the series, impressing series fans with more Ben Hope adventures. Wonderfully paced and developed until the very end.

Having binge read the entire series, I feel a strong connection to Ben Hope and some of the things Scott Mariani has done to energize his protagonist. The arc of Hope’s life in the series has been significantly shaped by the fifteen novels and additional short stories that have comprised the collection. Interestingly enough, the end of my binge brings me back to where it all began (novel-wise, at least) for me, with Gladius Domini and the high-impact thriller that shaped Hope. After all the meandering throughout the series, Hope is back at Le Val and seeks solitude and normalcy, though neither are seen with much regularity for this man who attracts peril. Fuelled to help others and set things right, Hope will not rest until he feels balance has been restored, on his terms. Tossing in many former characters that have graced the pages of the novels, Mariani turns this book into a ‘homecoming’ of sorts, though there are times of despair that offset the joy of seeing old friends return. Turning to his old technique of ‘hinged narratives’, Mariani begins the novel with the dramatic shooting of Jeff Dekker and Hope’s desire to hunt down the sniper, but things soon turn on their head and he is off helping others. There is little time for rest or peace, though a lack of funds never seems to be a problem for either Hope or Manzini throughout the story. Balancing history, biblical storytelling, and a thrilling modern adventure, Mariani weaves together a wonderful story that will remind series readers why they started these novels at the outset. Exciting and leaving the reader wanting more, Mariani has proven himself as a master storyteller.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for keeping me hooked throughout these varied novels. I cannot wait for the next book in November, though it seems so very far off.

I’ll See You in My Dreams (Arthur Beauchamp #5), by William Deverell

Nine stars

Taking the reader on a heart-wrenching journey, William Deverell presents his fifth novel in the Arthur Beauchamp series and shows his literary brilliance throughout. With the recent release of Beauchamp’s biography, A Thirst for Justice, much has been made of the eminent lawyer’s first murder case in 1962. This becomes the premise for the story, as the reader is pulled back almost five decades to a point when Arthur Beauchamp was still extremely wet behind the ears. Handed the defence of Gabriel Swift, who was accused of murdering Professor Dermot Mulligan, Beauchamp is forced to swallow his pride and gut feelings. It appears that Prof. Mulligan was not only an acquaintance of Beauchamp’s, but his thesis advisor before the law became a more alluring mistress. Swift denies having anything to do with Mulligan’s murder, though does admit that he was employed to tend to the yard and did see him on the day of the alleged crime. With no body having ever turned up, Swift (and Beauchamp) cannot see how this sham of a charge can stick, even with a jailhouse snitch swearing he heard an out-and-out admission one night. An outspoken man with strong ties to his Native roots, Swift turns his attention to shining the spotlight on the disparity that has befallen his people at the time when the law and authorities would not only ignore their pleas, but intentionally twist the facts to convict and incarcerate Native Canadians. Working with what he has, a large pile of circumstantial evidence, Beauchamp tries to navigate his way through preparing for trial and the actual legal presentation of facts, only to hit the same wall. Pitted against a legal legend, Beauchamp cannot even use the confidence his second chair exudes to remain firmly committed to seeing the trial through and seeks to convince his client to take a plea, rather than face capital murder charges and hang for his alleged crime. Through a series of influential conversations with others, Swift takes the plea, but refuses to speak to the details of the crime, still holding firm that he is innocent. It is actually the release of the biography in 2011 by Wentworth Chance (series readers will remember him from an earlier novel) that lit a fire under Beauchamp to re-examine the evidence and to probe deeper into the crime, examining the life of Mulligan all the closer. With his wife busy in Ottawa and his friends on Garibaldi Island engrossed in some of these early stories about their favoured son, Beauchamp puts all his efforts into overturning the guilty verdict through the Court of Appeal. However, with so much time having passed and Swift in hiding in South America after an escape, is there any point? Deverell stuns the reader with raw truths and suppositions from the early 60s while portraying Beauchamp as a younger and more scandalous version of the man who has spoken frankly about his legal past. Not to be missed by series fans or anyone with a passion for Canadian political or legal history.

By now, the series reader has a firm understanding of Arthur Beauchamp and all he has done in his career, or so we are led to believe. Deverell’s thorough narratives in the past novels have brought out many of the praiseworthy and horrid pieces of his protagonist, but nothing will prepare the reader for what is inside the covers of this book. Beauchamp is young and naive throughout the novel’s flashback scenes, knowing little about murder, defending an outspoken client, or the struggles of Natives at a time when racism was rampant and accepted in this peaceful country. However, pairing that with his oft-hinted at obsession with drink and the reader can see the early foundations of a long career mired in booze to act as a crutch for a hard day’s work. By also pulling on a minor storyline about his parents, Beauchamp is forced to drag himself from under their smothering and critical ways, only to invent himself at a time when he is still highly impressionable. Deverell also layers much in this story, from the biography, two time periods, contentious murder trial, and in-depth discussion of Native residential schools, it is no wonder that the reader must pace themselves through this literary journey. I will not delve into these areas, for it is the reader’s chance to experience it for themselves and pass their own verdict on how things happened during those times mentioned throughout the novel. I cannot, however, stand here and not comment on how seamlessly the entire delivery ended up being, mixing excerpts from Chance’s own biographical piece with a narrative of the actual events leading up to the trial and then the ‘current day’ happenings as Beauchamp seeks to fix his most serious (known) legal gaffe. Brilliantly portrayed and sure to bring about much discussion amongst those who take the time to read this book. I can only hope that others enjoy this novel as much as I did.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for not shying away from the deep and dark areas of the legal and political past for which Canada cannot hide their blemishes. You have captivated me with all your work and this might just be the best one yet.

The Devil’s Kingdom (Ben Hope # 14), by Scott Mariani

Nine stars

Picking up moments after the end of the previous novel, Mariani has readers on tenterhooks in this fourteenth book, and for good reason. Explosive and brilliant in its delivery, Ben Hope fans can only wonder if this is the end of the former SAS hero. Having seen Jude carted off by General Jean-Pierre Khosa, a bloodthirsty Congolese warlord, Hope and his crew face significant issues. Hope has to decide if he will rage to free himself, thereby jeopardising Jude’s life, or play it calm and try to plot in his mind. Choosing the latter, Hope becomes a military advisor for Khosa, all the while trying to surmise how he and Jeff Dekker will be able to get out of this mess. Firmly in possession of the Star of Africa diamond, Khosa begins bandying around selling the stone to fund his own army and looking to enact a coup to gain even more power. While Hope and Dekker toil for the crazed man, Jude is hidden away, where he meets a young American journalist. After learning a little more about the region’s recent history, Jude discovers that there is an international mining aspect to the larger story, one that could present this country’s leader with many riches, while keeping the population firmly in a state of abject poverty. Plotting their escape, Jude and Rae Lee try to outmanoeuvre guards with little impetus to do their jobs, hoping that they can reach out to Hope before it is too late. All the while, Hope is suppressed and subjected to countless beatings. This has gone beyond a mere diamond or territorial grab, pitting one man’s soul against the other. However, when in the Devil’s Kingdom, the rules don’t matter. Perhaps the most impactful of all Mariani’s novels to date, series fans will surely flock to this after reading STAR OF AFRICA. I can see few being disappointed with it, as word of mouth will surely garner many new fans for Scott Mariani.

Pairing some of my comments from the previous review with this one, the reader can surely see much growth in Ben Hope. From a man whose concern was for his team while with the SAS through to a solo life thereafter, Hope has always known exactly what needed doing and how to accomplish that. However, with the introduction of Jude Arundel, the possibility of a change arose, only exacerbated when danger befell the son Hope never knew he had. These two novels force Hope to choose parental worry over self-preservation, or at least test that crossroads. When Hope chooses to save his son at his own peril, the reader can let out a cheer that things may finally be taking a turn and the shards of his recent self-destruction may be coming back together. Mariani pulls on the reader’s heartstrings repeatedly, bridging the relationship between the two men, even when they are not together. Continuing with some of the other characters in the novel, their personalities shape things significantly and allow the reader to tease out even more development by the protagonist. The brutality found in this novel surpasses most anything that has been seen previously. While some may criticise Mariani for creating a ‘savage mentality’ of the African soldiers (particularly Jean-Pierre Khosa), one need only look to news reports of clashes in the region over the past twenty years to see that this is a different type of fighting and brutality that ignores the treaties of humanity. Graphic, yes, but it pushes the limits of what the series has shown the enemy combatants capable of doing to get their own way. It also pushes Hope and his crew completely out of their comfort zone, which adds a layer of intrigue and thrill to the genre, needed to differentiate it from much on the market. The story is gripping and takes the reader to the depths of despair on many occasions, which is needed and appreciated by some series fans. Hope cannot always be expected to waltz in and crack a few skulls before scooping up the captive and prancing off. Blood will be shed and lives will be lost. It is only a matter of how patient and dedicated the reader is to see the story arc through to the end. Please pardon the pun as I say Mariani executed his intended delivery flawlessly and has cemented my dedication to his writing.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani stepping it up yet again. I am constantly surprised at your pool of ideas and cannot wait to see what comes next.

Star of Africa (Ben Hope #13), by Scott Mariani

Nine stars

There is much luck for series fans in Scott Mariani’s thirteenth novel in the Ben Hope series. In a novel that offers some tying-off of loose ends and a highly explosive plot, the reader has little chance to breathe as the action builds continually. As part of his vagabond nature, Hope finds himself back in Paris to sell off his home and free up some capital. Taking a temporary detour, Hope visits Le Val, the tactical training centre he created and gifted to his friend, Jeff Dekker. While trying to fill himself in on some news, Hope learns that Dekker helped Jude Arundel, recently discovered to be Hope’s son, secure a spot on an American merchant marine vessel currently in the Indian Ocean. Jude, tired of playing it safe, has chosen an opportunity to spread his proverbial wings. While Hope and Dekker find themselves busy at Le Val, Jude is in the middle of the ocean with the crew, though he can sense something is wrong. Learning that there is cargo more precious than the contents of the shipping containers, concerns rise that Jude might know too much. When a ship of marauding pirates appears on the horizon, Jude realises that there is much trouble to come and takes desperate measures to reach Dekker back in France. Upon learning of the ship’s issues, Dekker, Hope, and a crew of men rush to locate them, and covertly descend on the ship to handle the Somali pirates. When a storm hits and destroys the ship, Hope leads his crew and prisoners onto a life raft, where they seek assistance and final rescue. It is at this point that Hope learns about the calculated attack and that the Star of Africa, a precious diamond, is the central piece of cargo that many seek to take for themselves. When a rescue helicopter appears in the sky, Hope can only surmise that his troubles might be over, only to learn that General Jean-Pierre Khosa, a bloodthirsty Congolese warlord has his eyes set on not only the diamond, but to turn the tables and take a handful of hostages for himself. Pitting Hope’s love for his son against a general will to survive, the story pushes the decision to the limit, with a cliffhanger that will leave the reader rushing for the next novel. Mariani has pulled together many of the dangling threads form earlier novels to create this electrifying thriller, which entertains series fans and proves that Mariani has much in store for Ben Hope.

This Ben Hope binge has been highly informative over the past while, allowing me to see much growth in many of the characters, both central and periphery. As I have mentioned before, Ben Hope has undergone much change in the series to date, both progressive and regressive. It would seem that Mariani has surveyed the horizon and is seeking to mend some of these strained connections, or at least bring some resolution to them after Hope’s abrupt choice to kibosh his wedding two days before the ceremony. In this novel, there is much development of the Hope-Dekker relationship, which has always been a minor narrative mention, as well as a stronger and more emotional connection between Hope and Jude, paired together for a significant amount of time. This father-son connection was strained to begin, severed, and has since been resurrected as Hope seeks to play hero. However, Mariani adds another layer to the connection, forcing Hope to decide once and for all if he will choose Jude (thereby showing a parental side) or himself when the stakes are high. There are still a few character relationships that I hope Mariani mends, but the series is not over yet. Turning to the story in general, the excitement of this ‘terror on the high seas’ has me much pleased, as it adds levels of thrill that have been scaled back in some of the past novels. Looking not only to the seas, but the African continent and the search for an important diamond, Mariani pits his characters into a high-octane story that does not let up until the very end. There is truly a contrast in this novel, as the theme and location turns to the African continent, where social, political, and economic flavours differ greatly from the Euro- or Ameri-centric storylines that Mariani has used before. Depicted masterfully, the reader can feel the terror of Khosa’s bloody decisions that seek to exacerbate the already strained relations of the hostages.This is the first of a two-novel mini story arc that seeks to really flesh things out for all involved and forces the reader to buckle down for a detailed adventure that will pull on the heartstrings of many. The delivery is strong and the story development shows Mariani at his best and proves that his well of ideas is far from dry. I can only hope that there is much to come in this series, which has not dipped into going stale or off-putting, as can occur when authors seek to churn out books without careful plotting and slow development.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for keeping me hooked this far into the series. What a great choice for binge reading and there are still a few more to go.

The Cassandra Sanction (Ben Hope #12), by Scott Mariani

Seven stars

Continuing with a new-found vagabond lifestyle, Ben Hope tends to open the novel with more mystery, at the hands of Scott Mariani’s infinite list of ideas. Seeking again to live under the radar, Hope finds himself in Spain and witnesses a dust-up in a bar. Stepping in to help, Hope becomes acquainted with Raul Fuentes, who is trying to defend the honour of his sister, who seemingly committed suicide not too long before. The more Hope learns, the more he finds himself aligning with Raul’s belief that Catalina might be alive, her death part of an elaborate plan. Tracing her steps, Hope and Raul try to determine where she might have gone and for what reason. As they scour the European continent, Hope learns that Catalina Fuentes was known for not only her beauty, but the brains behind it. A solar physicist, her work related to sun spots was known within the academic community. Dodging a collection of men sent to deter them, Hope and Raul soon come face to face with the woman they seek, but this is only the start to their woes. Catalina tries to convince them to let her be, but when that fails, she expounds upon some troubling research that she has uncovered. What she knows might be more deadly to her that the world at large, though there is certainly enough to make headlines around the world. With one man seeking to destroy Dr. Fuentes at any cost, Hope must do all he can to save her before it’s too late. Another interesting science-based story from the archives of the master storyteller, Scott Mariani. Series fans will surely want to focus their attention on this one, as it charms and impresses on many levels.

The ongoing metamorphosis of Ben Hope has become a staggered process and one in which the protagonist struggles with shedding his past. Wanting a life free from of drama, Hope seems to be a magnet for it and cannot help but turn towards those in need. However convinced he is to himself, Hope cannot help but crack all mysteries and save all damsels. That said, there is only now a slow thaw as it relates to his family and what he did when he abandoned everyone two novels ago. This progression is an interesting contrast to the aforementioned lifestyle change he seeks. A dozen novels into the series, the story is rich in science and yet the thriller aspect is not lost on the dedicated reader. Things can get a little hung up and this might be one reason I was not able to push through with as much ease as I would have liked. However, that does not mean that its quality was lacking whatsoever. I am highly excited to see where Hope will go and how he will use some of his ever-evolving experience to tackle the next case. I yearn for more, Mr. Mariani and hope you have some real high-impact stories to come, both that address Hope’s need for thrills and his personal struggles that remain unresolved.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for keeping me hooked this far into the series. What a great choice for binge reading and there are still a few more to go.

Snow Job (Arthur Beauchamp #4), by William Deverell

Eight stars

Taking a different spin to this fourth novel in the series, William Deverell presents Arthur Beauchamp and the cast of other characters in a new light. Still savouring her by-election victory, Beauchamp’s wife, Margaret Blake, is enjoying life in Ottawa as the sole Green Party Member of Parliament. While basking in her success, Beauchamp, himself, is not as keen, pining for full-retirement back on Garibaldi Island, where he can farm to his heart’s delight. In an effort to pave the way for an Alberta-based oil company to win rights in the former Soviet satellite state, the Canadian Government are hosting a delegation from Bhashyistan. Deverell takes the reader inside the political heads and Cabinet room to show just how painful it is for members of the Privy Council to play nice with these less than refined men, with their forward ways and backwards thinking. Margaret is in her heyday, finding much that she can critique about these men and plays aghast that the Government would so blatantly allow themselves to be seen to curry favour with the environmentally unsound Bhashyistani representatives. While out walking one morning, Beauchamp comes across the security convoy that is shepherding the Bhashyistanis back to the airport, when it explodes before him. Flashbacks to fifteen years before and the country’s former leader, who was assassinated on Canadian soil. The alleged assassin at that time was found not guilty and this would be his ultimate second kick at the proverbial cat. In a state of shock, Canadian officials do all in their power to contain the situation, which includes knocking the Bhashyistani airliner from the skies for non-compliance with emergency security measures. What follows is a declaration of war by Bhashyistan and a Canadian Government unprepared for how the world will portray them. With the five Calgary oil executives taken prisoner in Bhashyistan, the Prime Minister must act quickly, starting with Operation Eager Beaver, in hopes of crushing this wayward state while the world’s opinion remains on their side. As they bumble through this, news that the aforementioned alleged assassin, Abzal Erzhan, was seen taken from the streets just outside his home have fuelled concerns that there may be a tit for tat taking place, putting Canada in the centre of an international diplomatic gaffe. Sitting idly by, Arthur Beauchamp swoops in to act as counsel for the missing Erzhan and his family, a pro bono gesture that takes him around the world. Meanwhile, as the country teeters on the edge from poorly executed extraction efforts, Parliament learns that it has been prorogued and a new election is forthcoming. Margaret Blake does all she can to hold onto her seat and help the Greens grow, while the ruling Conservatives must crush Bhashyistan and hope their efforts lead to a landslide victory. With a Bhashyistani propaganda machine being run through YouTube, the world watches, only to learn that three Canadian women may have inadvertently drifted into the country while on vacation. With eight Canadian hostages hidden away, the war between Bhashyistan and Canada reaches a head, though no one could have predicted the fallout. Deverell plants tongue firmly in cheek with this latest story, that adds a wonderful political flavour to things and keeps the reader hooked until the very end. Series fans may love it, though without that courtroom drama, there is a different angle of enjoyment whenever Arthur Beauchamp graces the page.

I have come to really enjoy all things Arthur Beauchamp, even when there is no courtroom to add a certain spice to the mix. Being a Canadian political nut, I have long sought out a novel that plays into the inner workings of the Canadian system and how effective the parliamentary system might be portrayed in a piece of fiction. Deverell does a masterful job here, painting Beauchamp as a wonderfully supportive husband who is still miserable in all he does. He seeks to make sense of what is going on, but does not hog the entire narrative. The cast of secondary characters, both those known to series readers and new ones that emerge in Ottawa, offer up a wonderfully entertaining connection to all things political and military, as Canada is thrust into a confrontation that rivals the opening day of Roll Up the Rim (you must be Canadian to understand) at the local Timmy’s. The story is wonderfully developed and delivered, placing a mockery of all things political in docile Canada. Still, Beauchamp is able to advocate for his client and meet many an interesting character along the way. I can only hope that with the results of the election, there is more excitement for both Beauchamp and Margaret, whose mission to create a greener (and Greener) country might come to pass before long. Paced beautifully and injected with enough humour to keep the reader hooked, Deverell has outdone himself here.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for keeping things light while addressing some interesting situations. I can only hope that you have more to come in the next Beauchamp instalment.