The Midnight Line (Jack Reacher #22), by Lee Child

Eight stars

Lee Child is back with the twenty-second high-impact Jack Reacher novel that pulls on various aspects of current affairs, while addressing some large tears in the military fabric of the United States. While strolling through a Wisconsin town, Reacher comes across a petite West Point ring from the graduating class of 2005. With little on his plate and nothing to lose, Reacher begins asking questions, in hopes of returning the ring to its rightful owner. Reacher discovers that there is a fencing operation going on that traces back to South Dakota and so a mid-length bus ride takes Reacher to the heart of the matter. In South Dakota, Reacher makes quite the impression with the local law enforcement community, but learns that there are larger fish to fry in the vast western expanse. Like the dedicated Army MP he was, Reacher follows the trail to Wyoming, where he begins a search for Serena Rose Sanderson, the rightful owner of the ring. It is there that Reacher discovers that the fencing was only a cover for a much-more lucrative trade, one in which people will get rid of whatever they can to procure something even more valuable, especially to a wounded veteran with little hope of a constructive future. A former FBI agent temporarily clashes with Reacher, sent by Sanderson’s twin sister to locate her, and the case takes a definite turn for the worse. After the dust settles, the additional news gives Reacher a chance to make some fundamental suppositions, which bring light to the larger issue at hand. Finding Sanderson is only the first step in a larger operation that was unveiled when Reacher started feeding his curiosity. Now that he’s hip-deep, he’ll have to see it through, before moseying on to his next personal port of call! Child is back, adding another chronologically-sound novel to the series and keeping Reacher fans pleased with the outcome. Perfect for dedicated series fans and those who like a slightly off-kilter thriller.

I have come to love seeing the announcement that a new Jack Reacher novel is coming off the presses. While Lee Child has had to struggle with some less than stellar novels, he redeems himself here. Reacher is that ever-loved vagabond who finds something to pique his interest in the oddest of places. Child’s constant evolution of the Reacher character is what makes the reader more drawn to the protagonist, pulling on an eclectic past and adding a significant amount of his unique style. Reacher wants nothing more than to let the world lead him, but when he’s found something of interest, nothing can dissuade him from wanting to get to the root of it. The cast of secondary characters are always complementary to Reacher and the story’s twists.The ever-changing group allows novels to remain unique and unpredictable. Turning to the story itself, what seemed like a simple ring return became quite the issue below the surface. Child is able to pull pieces from the news and integrate them into his novels, addressing concerns or perspectives that might force the reader to think a little more. Reacher is usually open-minded, so there is less a soapbox aspect to things than a synthesising of sentiments. Of course, when the US Military plays a role, Reacher has a strong opinion and does not hold back. This is an interesting aspect of the character and Child’s story presentation. Military veterans play a strong theme in many Reacher novels, particularly how they are treated. While I am not well-versed in this area, I can respect much of what Child, through Reacher, has to say about them and how the central plot of this book draws notice to the issue that has been exacerbated by post-tour abandonment of soldiers in some regards. Forcing the reader to think and process makes for a wonderful novel and creates much discussion, which I always enjoy.

Kudos, Mr. Child, for this lovely addition to the series. Jack Reacher lives on, strong and dedicated to the final sentence.

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 Seventh Commandment, by Tom Fox

Seven stars

After a successful trilogy that encapsulated some interesting Vatican happenings, Tom Fox is back with this captivating novel that seeks to shake religion to its core once again. Something was surely wrong when the Tiber River began to run blood red. This was only exacerbated when gunmen opened fire in crowds across Rome, leaving many dead. Dr. Ben Verdyx, employed in the Vatican’s Secret Archives, is taken from the street, unsure what his captors have in mind. Dr. Angelina Calla, a tour guide in the city, is also taken, from another part of the city, and ushered off to the same mysterious location. It is only when they come face to face that their past connection becomes apparent. Calla was a doctoral student whose expertise in Akkadian, a dead language from Babylonia, and Verdyx is fluent as well, perhaps the only two who can help with the current conundrum that has hit the news. Swiss Guards have been sent to keep Calla and Verdyx contained as a mysterious tablet has been unearthed. Written entirely in Akkadian, the tablet speaks of a number of prophecies set to befall the area, the first of which is the river of blood. While Calla seeks to parse through the rest of the message, she becomes aware that Verdyx seems less surprised by the message. Might he have something to do with all of these goings-on? Meanwhile, the narrative explores a group of men, headed by a Belgian tough-guy, who seem to be plotting a way to bring attention to the vulnerability of the Church and susceptible aspects of the general public. Working together, they may be able to meet their final goal in short order, as long as nothing goes awry. With each hour, more of the prophecies comes to pass, leaving Calla and Verdyx to wonder if the seventh, and ultimate, prophecy will occur, which forebodes great evil. Fox pulls on his vast knowledge of the Vatican and surrounding area to fan the flames and add an element of suspense. Crime thriller lovers who can stomach some religious intrigue will surely enjoy this, particularly if they have raved about Fox’s previous series.

There is nothing like reading a book that seeks to poke even more holes into what has become a teetering foundation. While I respect much of the Catholic Church, many of its solemn aspects have taken a beating, as well as its secrecy. Fox seeks to dispel them and add his own mocking undertone, though respectfully. Calla and Verdyx prove to be two interesting, and yet different, characters. Fox does offer some backstory to them both, revealed at different times in the novel. The Akkadian connection is surely the primary aspect that ties them, but it is their teamwork that seems to work well. I hoped Fox would not turn things too sugary and find that the time they spend together turns romantic and therefore becomes a hero story. The reader can decide what they think about this as the chapters flow. The secondary characters, specifically those who have an ulterior motive, prove to be decent, though I glossed over much of their storyline, finding it weak and less than compelling. The evildoers need not be cackling in the background, but I like to see some bloodthirstiness or diabolical endgame. I found things a little too predictable for me. The story has interesting aspects, though I felt it a little clunky as well. Without giving away too much, while I enjoyed the tablet and prophecies, revealed only by those who can speak this ancient and long-dead language, the flip side left me feeling that things were a little too cat and mouse. Fox has a great premise here and could surely have worked hard to foster a stronger connection with the race to reveal (with his two experts), but it seemed to be more a ‘wait and see, then panic’ situation than ‘try to stop it beforehand’. Again, perhaps I am being overly critical, but I felt the story kept me interested just more than superficially, devoured more because Fox can write and propel things than the content. Will Vatican conspiracists rush to read this book and enjoy the outcome? Perhaps, but I think it is more a social commentary on the direction of religious trust and faith in this time of individual thought. Could a series of plagues be awaiting those who do not trust entirely in the Church? I suppose only time will tell!

Kudos, Mr. Fox, for this entertaining piece. I will surely read more that you write, when that day comes. I like your enthusiasm for all things Vatican and your style does hold a certain allure.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Origin (Robert Langdon #5), by Dan Brown

Nine stars

Dan Brown is back with another explosive addition to the Robert Langdon series, after a less than enthusiastic fourth book. When iconoclast and renowned atheist Edmund Kirsch speaks, the world listens. His premonitions along all fronts have been earth-shattering and by enriching his statements with the use of computers, Kirsch adds a level of 21st century to his Nostradamus character. Meeting with senior representatives of the world’s three major monotheistic religions, Kirsch tells of an announcement that he wishes to make to the world in which he will refute their importance. There seems to be a great deal of uneasiness at this, but the world has no idea what awaits them. At an exclusive and “who’s who” event at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Robert Langdon has been summoned by his former student to attend this announcement. It is here that Langdon meets Winston, his docent for the evening, who turns out to be one of Kirsch’s greatest creations and shows the new levels Artificial Intelligence is reaching. As the presentation begins, Kirsch lays out a strong argument against the need for religion to explore the world at its core. While computers are happy to say “cannot compute” when something has no firm answer, the brain turns to religion to fill the cracks and acts as a crutch to help the individual hobble through existence. It is this that Kirsch wants to dispel with his announcement. As the world watches, Kirsch is about to access his news, when an assassin’s bullet tears into him and kills the brilliant computer scientist. Rushing to his side, Langdon is accompanied by the museum’s director, Ambra Vidal. Both want to ensure the message of Kirsch’s presentation is revealed and the news not silenced by the bullet. Armed with Winston’s help, the two (point-five) of them rush to get out of the museum with Kirsch’s phone, where the final piece of the puzzle is locked away. Now, to crack into the 47-character password and reveal all. As Spanish authorities try to solve the murder, there are new issues, with Vidal having close ties to the Spanish monarchy and their ultra-Catholic views. As they flee, Langdon is determined to crack the code and let the world see what Kirsch wanted to reveal. Meanwhile, the assassin is still on the loose and two of the three religious leaders who know Kirsch’s valuable information have been murdered. All eyes turn to a Spanish schism in the Catholic Church and a group that has nothing to lose by annihilating all things that may turn the world away from religion. With time running out and the world waiting with bated breath, Robert Langdon may hold the key to removing the foundations of all things religious, creating a seismic void for vast amounts of the population. A brilliant piece that keeps the reader thinking throughout and learning in equal measure. There is little time for rest and Langdon fans will appreciate this jam-packed piece, even if it does get tangential at times.

Dan Brown always packs a punch with his novels, seeking to push the envelop, but does so in such a way that the narrative does not usually seem far-fetched. Those who have never delved into a Robert Langdon story may not be as well-versed with his nuances, but there is little character development in the true sense. Brown tends to pull memories or events from the past to complement the present story, rather than build a character who draws on these elements the further the series evolves. Langdon’s academic past and sharp mind help to develop a strong and likeable character, though he is surely the kid in school you’d punch in the arm for being a know-it-all. Another of Brown’s formulaic additions to each novel in the series is the young and beautiful woman, done here with Ambra Vidal. Vidal is not the helpless woman who requires saving by Langdon as much as a vessel into which the protagonist can pour his knowledge (thereby educating the reader as well). Vidal’s story is vast and quite interesting, giving the reader much to use to help form their opinion of the woman. Her character thread is long and can be seen woven into many interesting subplots. The vast array of other characters enrich the story and provide interesting storylines to keep the narrative moving forward in an interesting fashion. With such a large collection of characters, it is sometimes hard to remember all the literary crumbs that are being dispersed, but Brown does well to create interesting subplots to keep the reader curious.

The story’s premise is highly controversial and Brown seeks to fan the flames between religion and science. Long deemed poor bedfellows, Brown seeks to push the science versus religion debate to new levels by extrapolating the Darwinian issues over evolution and positing an argument about the beginning of human existence. This goes further than the Big Bang versus Genesis and Brown seeks to create a new and science-based argument to send the fragility of religion toppling over again. The open-minded reader will surely see all sides to the arguments made within the larger story and find a truth for themselves, but there is a strong push towards science and technology to better explain life and its origins. Does religion have any chance against this ocean of information, for it is trust versus fact that finds its way into this discussion? Brown does not parse words, but he also seeks to explore things from a perspective that the lay reader can likely understand. Yes, there are segments of the story that are jargon-filled, but it is done to teach and not speak above the head. Brown is also the king of the tangential storyline and inserts minutiae into the story to teach as well as entertain. That is plentiful here and the reader has much that can be taken away.

Brilliantly placed throughout the story, Brown shows his dedication to research and sharing of knowledge. There are so many parts embedded into this wonderful writing that the reader may bask in the smooth flow of the words on the page, the great deal of factual information that serves to substantiate the plot, or even the dedicated dialogue that is not as jilted as some popular authors of the genre. Some may say that the core story and the eventually revelation of the secret Kirsch had to offer are anti-climactic, which is their right. It is, perhaps, only a means to an end, as Brown wants to open the Pandora’s Box and let both sides bump chests to discredit the strength of the other. Whatever the outcome of the debate in the reader’s mind, it would seem that some symbiosis and a joint approach might fuel a more civilized and yet still fruitful discussion.

Kudos, Mr. Brown, for another wonderful story. I remained entertained and educated throughout, which serves the purpose in a piece of fiction. I enjoy the controversy as well and hope it will fuel many a discussion.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Templar Brotherhood (The Lost Treasure of the Templars, #3), by James Becker

Eight stars

James Becker is back with his third novel in this fast-paced thriller series that focuses on the Knights Templar. While much has been written about the subject, Becker is able to keep a great pace and use an array of characters to bring the story to life. David Mallory and Robin Jessop have made it back to England, after some harrowing experiences in Cypress and Switzerland, tailed by a group of Dominicans, who want them dead and possession of the Templar secrets. Having smuggled a chest that once belonged to the Templars off the continent, Mallory and Jessop begin the slow and pain-staking process of searching for clues to continue their journey. A script of sorts appears on the chest, though it is not immediately apparent what it means or how it might be translated. Back in Rome, those within the Vatican have a vested interest in this chest and the riches that may await anyone able to decipher the coded text. Choosing first to bug Jessop’s flat and eventually beginning a full-scale game of cat and mouse, the Dominicans are sent to scrub out the likes of Mallory and Jessop without asking questions. When a possible message emerges, Mallory takes the lead and they flee for another part of the British Isles, looking to properly interpret a message that has not only been penned in Latin, but written over seven centuries before. Happy to slam a bullet between the eyes of Mallory and Jessop, the Dominicans put up the fight of their life, especially after some form of treasure appears. By the end, something will be revealed that changes not only the lives of many, but the flow of the story’s narrative. It is up to the reader to forge onwards and enter into this most epic of battles to discover the truth. Becker has done well to lay the groundwork for another wonderful novel in the series, though the ending opens pathways while closing doors at the same time, sure to frustrate series fans and those who enjoy all things Templar alike.

While it was not Becker’s series here that first got me interested in the Knights Templar, I will admit that when he started these novels, I was excited to see his spin. Those who know Becker’s Chris Bronson novels, which mix religious symbolism and stories with modern crime thrillers, understand that there is something about the cryptic and symbolic nature of the world that requires closer inspection. Becker has been able to take readers on an interesting journey with David Mallory and Robin Jessop, both of whom have strong dedication to the cause and slowly develop something for one another. Becker’s constant placement of the protagonists in the line of fire is surely meant to foster both their resolve and personal affinity for one another, which shines through. Using the Vatican as an antagonistic being is by no means new, though personifying it through the Dominicans (religious henchmen) does offer a darker perspective. The cat and mouse game that has played out through all three novels may be repetitive, but it is the determination of all parties to learn what they can about the Templar secrets that keeps the reader enthralled. Turning to the story itself, Becker keeps the narrative flowing well, as his characters slowly peel back the layers of the Templar mysteries to find new and dangerous ways of getting to the core of the Templar riches. Becker has used a great deal of research to develop this series and it shows, but for those who are Chris Bronson fans, the added bonus of seeing some of the information gleaned in that latest series instalment and placed within the story here is even more enriching. I find myself learning a great deal by reading James Becker, rather than simply gearing down to a mental neutral as I flip pages. Becker has shown that he can handle this fast-paced thriller, though I am still not sure if there is more to the story yet to come, or if this series ended with a dive off the literary cliff. I suppose time will tell!

Kudos, Mr. Becker, for such a riveting piece that kept my attention as I sped through it. Keep writing at this calibre, in whatever series suits your fancy.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Bach Manuscript (Ben Hope #16), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Scott Mariani returns with this sixteenth novel in the Ben Hope collection, after a highly-anticipated wait that was only exacerbated by my binge-reading the previous fifteen. Straddling the past and present in the storylines, Mariani opens new pathways while also trying to fill in previous blanks in the Hope story. After returning to Oxford for a reunion, Hope runs into an old friend, Nick Hawthorne, who has become a renowned classical organist. After agreeing to attend a private lunch hosted by Hawthorne, Hope is shown a rare manuscript by J.S. Bach, complete with a unique stain (coffee?). Hawthorne regales how he found it for a steal, though surmises that it must be a fake. During his time in Oxford, Hope must also come to terms with the memory of his lost love, Michaela, those twenty-plus years ago. Series fans will know the secret she kept from him during their time together. When Hope returns back to his dorm after the luncheon, he tries to put the Michaela situation to rest. Hope receives a call in the middle of the night from Hawthorne, who suspects that he is being robbed. By the time Hope arrives, he sees Hawthorne being tossed from his balcony and landing in a way sure to have killed him. As the authorities arrive to investigate, Hope tries to push himself into the mix, only to be shunned. Hope soon learns that the manuscript seems to have been the only thing taken from Hawthorne’s home, leaving him to wonder who might want it. As Hope undertakes his own investigation, he learns that there is a tie to an old friend of Hawthorne’s, a professor who has unintentional connections to a Serbian gangster. Travelling to the Baltic region to track down the manuscript, Hope comes head to head with a ruthless killer, while teaming up with an American woman whose dedication to finding the manuscript matches his own. In a region where tortuous death is child’s play, Hope must not only locate the manuscript, but fight to rectify a decades-old injustice related to its ownership. All that, while trying to stay alive for one more day. Mariani does well to flesh-out a little more of the Ben Hope backstory while thrusting him into new and perilous adventures. A wonderful addition to the series, sure to impress series fans and crime thriller addicts alike.

While I do not consider myself a Mariani expert by any means, I feel that I have a strong connection to, and a passing knowledge of, Ben Hope. This comes from the binge-read I did throughout the summer of all books in the series and helped fuel my impatient wait for this novel to roll off the presses. Those familiar with the series will understand the complexity of the Hope character, which has been shaped significantly by numerous revelations. Some have helped the reader better understand Hope’s childhood, while others offer some insight into the personal relationship struggles that have become part and parcel with the man. However, most interesting of all is the middle ground, the ‘Jude situation’ as I call it. A thread that was spun over twenty years ago and which began weaving itself into Hope’s present life over the past few years relates to his connection with Michaela Ward (eventually Arundel). While this storyline is minor and plays only in the early part of the story, it’s something I found highly entertaining and engaging, as Mariani reveals much. Other characters create an excellent flow to the story and keep things from getting stale, while also breathing some unique light to the plot’s progression, as Mariani steers clear of typical criminals in this terror-centric era of thriller writing. The story is also one that departs some of Mariani’s past work, not looking for a key or cipher in an object, but rather showing its historical importance to someone. This not only personalises the story, but also offers Hope a chance to foster his goodwill side, rather than the kidnap and rescue or ‘secret codex’ aspect that has permeated the narrative throughout this lengthy series. The stories are not becoming stale, nor in the Hope character. I trust that Mariani continues to have some strong ideas that he wishes to put to paper, which will keep fans such as myself nervously awaiting the next instalment.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for keeping the quality high and the excitement riveting in this series. I tell whoever I can get to listen about how much I enjoy these novels.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

When It Grows Dark (William Wisting #11), by Jorn Lier Horst

Eight stars

Jorn Lier Horst returns with another William Wisting novel that takes the reader into rural Norway and a calmer form of Scandinavian crime thriller. After over three decades as a reputable police officer, Chief Inspector William Wisting is set to address some new recruits at the police academy. He is handed a letter, one that takes him back three decades and sparks a memory of a case that got away. The story then travels back to 1983, where Wisting is a beat cop with a young wife and twin newborns. Working the night shift, Wisting discovers many interesting, though rarely overly exciting, cases in the small community outside of Oslo. When called to the scene of a night safe robbery at one of the local banks, Wisting and his partner follow a lead, in hopes of finding the burglars. However, all that is left is a car that has been set alight and a cottage with some errant items. The burning vehicle is close to a large farmhouse that Wisting and his friend had been scouting out before, having located an abandoned vehicle from 1925. Wisting has taken a fancy to this car and tries to locate not only the barn owner, but also who might have left the car there. Closer exploration by Wisting shows two bullet holes in the door and a newspaper from 1925. This spurs the young police officer to poke around on his own time. Discovering the owner of the vehicle opens the door to a new mystery, one in which a large sum of money and the car’s driver disappeared during a secret mission bound for Oslo. The deeper Wisting gets with this case, the more interested he is in solving it. However, with the bank robbery unsolved and many cases piling up, something from six decades before must take its place on the back burner. Wisting lays the groundwork for his incredible detective future, balancing his love of policing with a young family back home. Horst fans will likely enjoy this flashback novel that seeks to show where William Wisting got his start and how that curiosity germinated over three decades of uncovering various crimes and mysteries.

I cannot remember what got me interested in Horst or his Wisting series, but I know that I was hooked from the get-go. The series reads so easily and Horst seeks to develop a great story without the need to pad it with excessive plot lines. Fans of the series will know that Horst only started English-language translation of his series after the fifth novel, starting with an established Wisting who had adult twins and a dead wife. From here, he has been able to amble forwards, though there is so much backstory that only Norwegian (and perhaps other) readers have been privy to exploring. This flashback not only gives the reader a glimpse into the early Wisting, but is the first chance to meet Ingrid, who appears to have shaped his life quite significantly. Line, the female twin, cannot play her investigative journalist role in this story, but her attentive nature is documented throughout the piece, as Horst gives the wee one quite the role when interacting with young Wisting. The story is interesting, as it seeks to explore a case of the day (1983), as well as one that had long gone cold by then (1925), both of which capture the reader and Wisting quite easily. Paths to explore both cases are laid out effectively by Horst and each chapter brings the reader a little closer, but there is the knowledge that something remains unsolved, as hinted at in the preface. It is also worth noting how smoothly the narrative flows, even after being translated from its original Norwegian. That is the test of a truly strong story, that it is not lost when forced through a set of linguistic gymnastics to appeal to a larger readership. Horst has left the door open for many more books, should he wish to look back with Wisting, even without opening the early series books to his English readers.

Kudos, Herr Horst, for this wonderful novel. I loved the look back and really hope you will work with English publishers soon to allow us Anglo fans to explore the series’ first five books

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The People vs. Alex Cross (Alex Cross #25), by James Patterson

Seven stars

After an apparent snafu with all the Alex Cross and BookShot releases to confuse many fans of the series, Patterson attempts to set things back on track with this much-anticipated novel. Alex Cross is on trial for two counts of first degree murder, stemming from an apparent unjustified shooting of a number of Gary Soneji lookalikes (see BookShot ‘Cross Kill’, eventually labelled properly as Alex Cross 24.4). However, he has been able to stay out of jail for the time being and is serving a suspension, allowing Cross to open a temporary private counselling practice. News hits the DC Police that blondes are being kidnapped, their photos eventually posted on the dark web, sometimes in apparent snuff films. Cross becomes personally involved when a patient comes to him, seeking help to locate his daughter, whom he feels may still be alive. Working under the radar, Cross learns more about the case and begins following up leads, much to the chagrin of his wife and Chief of Ds, Bree Stone. With the trial set to open, Cross is confident that he will be able to tell the truth and go free, but previously uncovered videos of the event prove highly damning, to the point that Cross begins to doubt himself. However, there are those within the Cross clan that will stop at nothing to prove Alex innocent and there has to be something within the footage and the forensic evidence to shed light on this travesty of justice. Meanwhile, a teenage girl hangs on by a thread, uncertain what awaits her and a killer with a strong dislike of certain hair colours continues a rampage that could dispel the myth that blondes have it better. A decent addition to the Alex Cross series, allowing fans to get some answers after a mess of poorly timed releases in Patterson’s attempt to pad his gold-lined pockets.

I have said it once and I will say it again, James Patterson can write well when it suits him, but he seems to use his name to sell books and not think of the readers who adore his series. I ranted previously about the muck that became the Alex Cross series with the novels and BookShots intermingling and keeping series fans leaping back and forth, worried that they had missed something. Timing is everything with this series, as the number of novels continues to climb, but it is only the patient and dedicated series fan who will not have tossed in the towel or f-bombed dear JP by now. When writing alone, Patterson can concoct some great characters, which he has done here, though Alex Cross may be looking to hang up those cuffs and turn to something more psychiatric or counselling-based to appease those of us who know he cannot be a spring chicken. Characters like Nanna Momma continue to inject much needed humour into the story, though there are times that I cannot help but dislike all the precocious and ‘gifted’ genes that Cross has somehow been able to find in his offspring. The dual (at least) premise of the story keeps the reader juggling both the trial and the search for the latest serial killer, which works well inside these short chapters. Patterson paces things well and in true fashion, one thread is tied off and leaves a single focus for the final 30 chapters. The trial premise worked decently, though the reader can always expect that Perry Mason moment when evidence that was previously missing someone comes together, but will it work in Cross’s favour this time around? I have stopped setting the bar so high for Alex Cross books, as I turn to them when I need a quick read and a rest from mental gymnastics. It served its purpose, but I am happy to say that I acquire these in such a way that I am not forced to pad the royalty cheque that dear James Patterson receives.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, on another decent addition to the series. One can hope you and your publishers will pay attention to series fans who raged about the out of sync release dates on this series.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, by Dee Brown

Nine stars

Dee Brown takes the reader on a thorough and quite disheartening journey through the military and political journey to settle the Western frontier of the United States of America. There is much within this piece of non-fiction that pushes the boundaries and Brown does not hold back in his delivery. The central premise of the book is to explore many of the Indian (and I use this term, as it is peppered throughout by Brown, though I acknowledge is a derogatory term in Canada) settlements and the government’s plan to push tribes off the land on which they have subsisted for generations. The tribal violation continued when the displaced Indian population was forced to settle on lands newly branded the possession of the white man, who sought to develop economic strongholds throughout the westward growth of America. From the Sioux to the Utes and even tackling the more infamous Sitting Bull tales, Brown offers a graphic description of what happened during these battles (labelled ‘wars’) and how both sides took no prisoners, each trying to fight in the way they knew best. While America grew under the watch of numerous Congresses and with the direction of many presidents, Brown shows that no matter their political stripe, land acquisition and further expansion trumped all else. It would seem that only Lincoln and Grant lessened the bloodshed and sought to build connections with the Indian leaders, though treaties drawn up with legalese that did not translate clearly and gun-toting soldiers shot first and asked questions later. The entire book is a sad depiction of the historical progression (regression) of American values and attempts to add to their imperial quiver, which has sadly not stopped into the 21st century, when more dreamed up needs for ‘taming the infidels’ emerged and left future generations full of hate and to carry the burden of being tarred and feathered. Not for those whose hearts are large or skin thin, Brown tells stories of the clashes, battles, and eventual swindling of the Indian population by the white man. Those with much curiosity about the subject can rely on Brown to offer raw and realistic depictions of an indelible stain on (North) American history.

This is my first book by Dee Brown, read as a favour to a great friend in her choice to initiate me into her book club. Brown’s gut-wrenching honesty is apparent throughout the various chapters, drawing on official documents from both sides (Americans and Indians), as well as historical tomes. The story, if one can divorce one’s self from the narrative and pretend there could be a degree of fiction, reads easily, though is by no means quickly synthesised. That there are elements of gore and ruthless violence is clear, but I feel that to hide or water it down, while perhaps the choice some readers would have sought, could only harm the book. It is important not to hide behind veils in order to pretend things did not happen and for this reason, I feel it is important for many to pick up this book and at least attempt a portion of it, to better understand what generic history tomes might attempt to neutralise. The depth of the research seeps through on every page, as does the premise that western expansion, while a political ideal to grow the foundation of the country, might have been sought while some in Washington were still inebriated on the victory over the Confederacy. I must say that I enjoyed as each chapter opened with a historical snapshot to allow readers to see what else what going on in the world at the time, drawing parallels and dichotomies in equal measure. To say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book would send the wrong sentiment to some readers, though I can appreciate much of the description and feel I am better for having taken the time to read it.

Now that we have put the formal review to bed, I turn to another piece that arose in me while I tackled this book. I had to ask myself throughout, what purpose Brown had for creating this book, especially with a re-release on the thirtieth anniversary in 2000. Being from Canada, we have been inculcated from a young age that we (the white settlers’ ancestors) are bad and that the aboriginal population have been maligned and harmed, such that apologies are only the tip of the iceberg. I have sat through public school, post-secondary, government jobs, and now the daily news (as well as my current position in the world of Child Protection) learning that the ‘white man is bad’ and that ‘we should rectify things’. Alas, I will dust off my soapbox and climb atop it here, so please skip to the end of you prefer not to hear my opinions. If Brown wanted only to add to the cognizance of the populace and exemplify some of the evils that were done to the Indian population, this book does a stellar job, which is why it won my praise above. If there is an attempt to bash the reader over the head with how bad the American settlers were and to light a flame under them (as has been force-fed Canadians, at least), I cannot express how angry this book makes me. History is a wily beast, though we are taught to always learn from it and build on its foundation, making ourselves better and trying to discover how we can find teachable moments. We have done it with imperialism (to a degree) and with human rights violations (to a lesser degree), but, with the plume in the hands of the victors, history is shaped with a certain flavour. Yes, there are those who are oppressed, perhaps without rhyme or reason, but for as long as the world has existed, the winners of the battles dictate the terms, however unfair as it may be. We can whine and bitch about it, going so far as to cry foul, but it is one of the bittersweet aspects to winning; that you can decide how the future will go. I think that the Canadian example has shown that governments are too worried about pussyfooting around and want to coddle those who make a stink. You lost… it was unfair, but you lost. We could assimilate you entirely and take the Indian out of you (and yes, Canada tried that), but you lost, so you should expect no less. We watched it happen in Africa and Asia for centuries, but no one thought to toss off the shackles when South Africa’s white minority assumed power. We complained and tossed financial penalties, but by and large, we let it happen. And, I must say here, by WE, I mean ancestors and governments around the world. We watched tribes scrubbed out and their language replaced with English, French, Portuguese, and others that still seem to find their way into the daily forms of communication. And yet, do we go in and remove those imperial stains? No, we accept them and hope that the community can, through their own desire, foster strong ancestral ties. Laying down and saying “we won, you keep whatever you want and take more to punish us for toppling your applecart” is not only asinine, but completely defeats the way history has run for centuries. And yet we sit here and twiddle our thumbs, hoping that the defeated will only take enough pie to satiate themselves and leave us, the victors, not to starve. There, rant done! Thank you Dee Brown for giving me a vessel to express them in a quasi-academic format.

Kudos, Mr. Brown, for bringing renewed attention to this subject in a rooted fashion. I hope that this book (and review) begin a discussion and keep the high-brow conversation developing.

This book completes my first project in the Diversity in All Forms Book Club, under November Bonus Reads.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today (Six Tudor Queens #2.5), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

In this short story that bridges two of the larger novels in Weir’s Six Tudor Queens, the reader is able to focus a little more attention on Anne Boleyn. Jo Maddox is tour guide around the Tower of London whose groups are always complimentary of her knowledge. As a historian, Jo is happy to have found a special guide to provide some of the history of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. Leading her group towards the Tower, they encounter their guest, whose resemblance and attire parallel Boleyn quite strikingly. As the group follows and learns much of the history of this woman’s final days, Jo continues to see another woman whose dark hair and eyes are also quite like Boleyn. It is said that the Tower holds many ghosts of those slain, but could Anne Boleyn truly be appearing amongst many other tour groups? This is only the first surprise that befalls Jo Maddox. The rest is for the reader to discover herein. Weir does a wonderful job with this extremely short piece, which complements the Six Queens series and keeps fans waiting for the next full-length novel.

When I say that this is a short story, I literally mean ‘short’. A mere seven electronic pages, Weir teases the reader with a narrative that dispels many of the myths attributed to the young queen. Fans of Weir will know that her attention to detail and renowned status as one of the United Kingdom’s preeminent historians has not been offered up lightly. The piece proves entertaining and insightful, weaving fact and fiction onto the printed page. One can only hope that Weir’s full-length novels will captivate the reader as much (teaser chapters for all three full novels find their way as a sort of afterward). While I cannot find any fault with this story, I wanted to take a moment to chastise Amazon (Canada and US) for not getting in synchronicity with their UK counterpart and providing access to these lovely ‘between’ stories. It has taken me a period of real literary gymnastics to get my hands on this one and I cannot see why Weir fans across the Pond are not able to bask in the greatness of these short pieces as easily. Please remedy this soon!

Kudos, Madam Weir, for providing a lovely reprieve from the hectic aspects of life with this piece. Perfect for that morning coffee or evening tea, this story left me wanting more.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Bad Seeds (Jade de Jong #5), by Jassy Mackenzie

Eight stars

Jassy Mackenzie is back with another Jade de Jong thriller that will push the reader into the dark world of nuclear power and the instability of its components. When Jade de Jong is hired by a senior representative of the Inkomfe Nuclear Research Centre, she is somewhat confused. As South Africa turns away from traditional electricity generation to the more reliable nuclear power, de Jong is left to wonder why she, a lowly private investigator, might be tasked with such an important job. Tasked with following Carlos Botha, a member of the Inkomfe team, de Jong finds herself in the middle of a murder scene at a seedy motel, where one victim is a former high-ranking government official. Could Botha be at the centre of this, as he was seen near the room during de Jong’s reconnaissance. While de Jong seeks to hone in on her target, his vehicle explodes, leaving de Jong to wonder if a contract on his life is the next layer of this convoluted mission. The plot thickens and Botha goes from mouse to fellow cat as de Jong confides much in him after her cover is blown. Meanwhile, the police are baffled by this double murder and try to pieces things together, though their leads are slow to develop. As she continues to struggle with a relationship that turned sour, de Jong must bring Superintendent David Patel into the mix, only to learn that he is juggling news that a potential terrorist has been spotted across South Africa. Discovering that Inkomfe might be weak from inside and that enriched uranium ingots could be stolen and sold on the black market at any time, de Jong must determine who she can trust and how these murders might play into the larger question of nuclear weapon production. Full of twists and dramatic build-up, Jassy Mackenzie’s absence for a few years can be forgiven with this superior piece. Fans of Jade de Jong will be pleased to see another instalment and those fans who enjoy a thriller set deep in the Southern Hemisphere may enjoy a break from the ISIS-centric storylines that supersaturate the genre at present.

I enjoy a vast array of thrillers that tap into all parts of the world, for they enrich my reading experience and permit me to understand world issues through various lenses. Jassy Mackenzie arms this novel with her great knowledge of South Africa and weaves the local lore into her narrative, while also presenting readers with some of the political and economic issues that weigh heavily on the country. I found myself highly entertained and educated by these aspects, as well as the nuclear power discussions in general, which have been lacking in writing since many writers took up the War on Terror theme that has been beaten to death. While the Jade de Jong character is by no means unique, her ongoing struggles as a former criminal and attachment to a high-ranking member of the police prove to be useful in developing her backstory. That she is a little jaded (pardon the pun) adds to the story and keeps the reader pushing ahead to see how things will resolve themselves. As mentioned above, the story is decent and poignant, as South Africa seems to be turning towards new and exciting (though dangerous) technologies to better themselves. The Republic of South Africa is a powder-keg and surely one I enjoy being used as the setting for novels. I find myself learning so much and Mackenzie is a wonderful guide. Rich and highly entertaining, the book reads well and advances easily, leaving the reader to beg for more by the climactic end.

Kudos, Madam Mackenzie, for another wonderful addition to the series. While I have been waiting a while to sink my teeth into this latest novel, the wait was worth it!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons