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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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.