The Store, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

Seven stars

James Patterson and Richard DiLallo have collaborated on another piece that shines a light on the potential monopoly that could become the world with a turn towards mega-stores in the coming years. Jacob Brandeis and his family live in the ever-moving world of New York City. He’s a struggling writer, seeking to bring home the bacon with whatever small job he can score, but Jacob wants more. He has seen much of his life changed by The Store, a mega-facility that sells anything from fertiliser to chocolate, books to motor oil, and everything in between. With brick and mortar shops unable to compete, they struggle to stay afloat, as America has taken to turning to the mega-store and away from personal shopping. As The Store makes its presence stronger, Jacob and his wife decide to take the plunge and get inside the machine, if only to better understand what it’s all about. Accepting work with The Store in New Burg, Nebraska, Jacob takes his family and is soon witness to just how far-reaching his new employer can be. New Burg is a mix of Orwell’s 1984–complete with surveillance cameras and listening devices—and some Stepford community, where neighbours are devoid of emotion and want to help with everything. Jacob has come to see that The Store seeks to control all aspects and become the solution for the entire population. Not buying into the hype, Jacob begins to pen his own book about the truth behind the curtain, but is fully aware that getting the message out will be difficult, since The Store handles all book publishing too. Sacrificing his personal safety and that of his family, Jacob tries to make his way back to NYC, where an editor friend of his might be able to get the message out. Trouble is, even with a manuscript, how receptive with the public be to something Anti-Store? Patterson and DiLallo keep the reader thinking in this mid-length novel that keeps the questions piling up and forces a degree of self-reflection. Those who enjoy Patterson’s work may like this one, though it does not have the thrill or mystery aspect that I find suits him so well.

Having recently completed a piece about the importance of physical books, I entered this reading experience ready to see some similar themes. Patterson and DiLallo have worked together before and do some amazing work at not only entertaining the reader, but selling their ideas. While not an attempt to push readers (and the public) away from mega-store shopping, it does poke fun at what might be the over-Amazoning that has begun in the world. What was once a place for books can now provide the best condoms at a cheap price (and with drone shipping *flashing sign*). It keeps the reader thinking, if only for a moment, about how this all came about. Jacob Brandeis is an interesting enough character, though he does seem to have a generic sense to him; that man who is always fighting The Man in order to shed light on some evil. Still, the interactions and dialogue he has with both his family and friends helps pave the way to better understand those who are not entirely sold by point and click shopping. Some of the Stepford characters are just that, mindless drone-like beings who serve their jobs and likely go home for their meal pill before turning in for bed. But I think the authors were not looking for strong character connection, but rather a keen interest in the theme of this story. The book sells the idea of emasculating the shopping and owning experience, almost a communist collective where everything is in one store (and all clothes are beige), without pounding too hard into the psyche of the reader. Subtle approaches prove effective here and the authors do well to make their point, without dragging the reader to the trough. I enjoy this quick read and think it would make for an interesting morning filler, though is by no means one to be placed atop any pedestal.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo, as you have made a wonderful point here and sold me on the concept. Now then, to do some real-life shopping.

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

The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future, by Robert Darnton

Eight stars

Before I commence this review, I’d like it to be clear that I enjoyed this piece in its audio format and tracked progress using the electronic book version. With the content of this book, it is interesting to highlight this fact, for what it’s worth.

Robert Darnton undertakes an interesting argument in this series of essays, at a time when libraries are tightening their belts and digital production of books has become the norm. Darnton seeks to explore books and their publication throughout three generic time periods: future, present, and past (in that order). These thought-provoking pieces do weigh themselves down in academic analysis, but make some excellent points throughout this journey, exploring the greatest means of organised thought, the collection of writings into a single bound (or gathered) volume. While I originally thought this book would be the perfect ‘test review’ for anyone wishing to join Goodreads—what better way to test a person’s prowess about the world of books than to explore this tome all about their historical importance—I have come to see that Darnton’s passion may carve out an island that many may not prefer to visit or turn towards. That said, it is an excellent collection of thoughts in a succinct form.

As one of our strongest connections to the past, Darnton opens his collection by looking ahead to the future of books. Whereas libraries have made books somewhat readily accessible for hundreds of years, the sheer number of published works makes it impossible to find or ascertain specific documents. While this argument could be made of the curious fiction or non-fiction reader, Darnton’s lens of discussion is firmly with the classics and academic works, specifically research materials. Darnton makes some strong arguments about free sharing of scholarly results and outcomes across fields and between academic institutions, as well as Google’s push to digitise a handful of the rare books found on the shelves of many large universities. He does, however, make some interesting arguments about the true ‘pick and choose’ nature of digital creations and how those who rely solely on them can miss out on many interesting pieces that speak to the pulse of the time, citing pre-revolutionary fiction in France. Might the future of books be put through a filter of whatever Google or publishers wish to offer in a digital format, thereby leaving the printed book to wither away? Darnton also speaks of the future of books and the lack of ‘sight, sound, and smell’, something that some find comforting when it comes to reading, though there are others who push more for the text and content, not all that concerned about the aesthetics of the reading experience. While this piece was penned in the early years (months?) of ebook publishing, Darnton sees a great future in the field, mordernising the act of reading and the simplicity of retrieving books across the World Wide Web. For Darnton, the future of books can be promising, but surely full of questions.

Books at present (read: 2009 or so) are in a significantly precarious position. Looking at their development and transformation over time, books are still relevant. Libraries have not turned to burning the paper and sought to fill shelves with other things, nor are rare book rooms, for fear of a bad pun, a rarity. Books still exist because people have things that they want to say and publishers have a market to sell them. Again, through an academic lens, Darnton explores how some university presses that could once guarantee sales of 500-1000 books to cover all costs and scratch the itch in the specific niche are now barely able to break even. The cost of books has become lucrative for some and the justification to purchase them is surely a great factor. Taking my own lens here, I must ask myself, ‘do I really want that book for my own, or will I shelve it afterwards and likely not return for many years?’. While some are purists and mock the idea of empty bookshelves, I think the economic aspect of book acquisition is surely part of the drive to move away from the weighted item that binds paper together. Space and convenience are surely strong factors in this regard, as people no longer have personal libraries to dedicate to their collections. In reading this section, I came to see the warring factions that are emerging, purists versus convenience readers, both of whom have members who hold strong and grounded beliefs, though there are others whose ignorance runs more freely than ink on a wet page (and I have met some in recent years). The present place of books is surely uncertain, though Darnton makes a strong case that books are essential and cannot be entirely “Fahrenheit 451’ed”.

Books represent a documented pathway to where we have come as humans. Early thought went from public discourse into a bound version that people could collect and make reference to when it suited them. Surely, the printed text and creation of the formal book helped bring societies together and served to represent them to future generations. In this portion of the book, Darnton looks not only at how society was shaped by the book, but how the process of publishing books shaped their interpretation in comparison to the original text. Darnton uses some Shakespeare in his tome to explore what the earliest known publications of The Bard’s work presented and how, in a mere 10-20 years, a publisher might have ‘reworked’ the wording to clarify meanings or added some of his own frilly pieces to the prose, thereby altering it. Without the original, societies and generations must rely on the printed text to be as gospel as it came. The past cannot always be brought into the present, as books deteriorate rapidly if not stored properly, thereby destroying the connection to the past that Darnton feels is so essential to understanding past societies. Treaties and analyses of these writings helped to shape so much and the past is full of such strong arguments, from countries all over the world, which helped to influence major movements at different points in time. To look back is to learn, just as much as forging ahead can take a person to new levels of understanding.

While the topic under discussion can be thoroughly intriguing, Darnton’s academic position fuels this book’s perspective. I am one who enjoys digesting such arguments to better understand the world around me, but there will be many who might shy away from this, seeking more to grasp and understand of whether Bryce Courtenay’s massive novels are better read in book or digital form. Alas, the arguments cannot always translate from the academic ivory tower to mainstream with ease, though some of the points can be used, embedded deeply in scholarly discussions as they might be. Still, Darnton’s delivery is sound and his arguments are clear, if perhaps sometimes long winded. I would love to see if a newer edition with updated commentary might be available, as even now, nine years after publication, some of the ideas posited have collected dust and some discussions about this ‘new’ ebook format are so completely ensconced in the psyche of the reader that they no longer think it an innovative thing. As I look back at this, I think of my son and the world he is entering as a new reader. He has made the leap from paper to digital, though still loves that flipping feeling between his fingers. When speaking of books and the monumental growth that’s taken place, it is no longer Gutenberg that is the great accomplishment, but one of many in this ever-changing world of collective thought presentation.

Kudos, Mr. Darnton, for you have inspired me to explore the larger arguments in favour and against physical books. I can see how I might open a can of worms on Goodreads, which is never a bad thing.

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

Dark Territory (Dan Morgan # 6.5), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Leo J. Maloney, Lyrical Underground, and Kensington Publishing Corp. for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Leo J. Maloney has made a name for himself with his Dan Morgan thrillers, keeping readers enthralled and flipping pages well into the night. While Morgan may be a thrill seeker, he’s passed the passion along to his daughter, Alex, who plays a central role in this short story. Alex Morgan is a well-trained sniper and is sent to Russia to take care of a North Korean nuisance. After her mission, she needs to reach her exfil site, on the other side of the country, without being noticed. The most discreet way to make it there is a three day trip aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway. Unbeknownst to Alex, a few interesting characters are also aboard, each with their own agendas. Former Serbian mercenary, Maxim Kreesat has taken it upon himself to take possession of a Russian satellite, armed with nuclear warheads, ready to deploy at the push of a button. Kreesat is prepared to stand down for a massive sum of money, letting both the Americans and Russians know the timeline before he will obliterate their capitals. As the train continues its uneventful trip, Alex discovers the plan and that Kreesat has a hostage to ensure his play cannot go wrong. After being tipped off by American officials, Dan Morgan rushes to save his daughter and neutralise the threat, though must be covert and sneak onto the train at one of the scheduled stops. However, as soon becomes apparent, the Russians are not ready to roll over with a terrorist making threats in their own country. While locked on the train, Kreesat is surely a sitting duck for Special Forces… or is he? Maloney does well to ramp up the action in short order as he keeps series fans sated until the next full-length novel, though the protagonist remains in doubt, based on events above. Those who have followed Dan Morgan throughout the series will surely enjoy this piece, as well anyone with a passion for military thrillers.

Maloney is always a wonderfully refreshing writer who has a firm handle on the thriller genre. Always finding a unique angle to his stories, Maloney utilises some interesting characters and locales to develop the series in remarkable ways. Handing the protagonist role to Alex Morgan, the story explores life through her eyes. Surely left to mature in her father’s shadow, Alex has much to offer and seems to be an entertaining character. Her determination and coolness under pressure have been seen before, but she has never been able to grow and learn on her own, until now. With Dan Morgan half a world away, the reader can see another side of him, panicked father, who chooses to rush to help Alex. While this does pose a slight ‘damsel in distress’ situation, I think Maloney was trying to exhibit a father who will move mountains rather than a means to save the lowly girl. Many of the other minor characters work well in this piece, though there is little room to develop effectively. The story is a wonderful mix of thrills and chills, as the setting is primarily aboard this massive train, waiting for it to cross the Siberian wasteland. Maloney does a wonderful job of pulling the reader into the setting and leaving them to feel as though they, too, are aboard and trying to stay one step ahead of the danger. This is a great series that is always entertaining and challenging in equal measure. Those with an interest should dive in at the start and see just how strong a writer Leo J. Maloney has become over time.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for this wonderful piece. I loved the teaser to keep series fans excited and hope your next novel is on its way down the pipeline soon.

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

The Fairy-Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm #1), by Michael Buckley

Seven stars

Needing something a little shorter to fit into my reading schedule, I turned to this series debut by Michael Buckley, which takes readers behind the scenes and into the stories of the Brothers Grimm. Sabrina and Daphne Grimm have been shipped off from one foster home to another for many years. What they’re told that their paternal grandmother has agreed to take care of them, though Sabrina becomes very dubious, having heard that the woman died many years ago. However, after meeting the slightly eccentric woman and seeing family photographs, the girls are more apt to believe these tall tales. The transition from NYC to Ferryport Landing is a shock, though not as much as the truth behind their ancestry. Grimms have long been around to ensure that Everafters are protected, but also abide by all the rules, keeping humans from locking them away. That being said, the form of protection offered is isolating them in their current township and not permitting any further exploration. Surely a factor in all the resentment. Grandma Grimm explained further that she is a form of detective, working to puzzle together some of the odd happenings around Ferryport Landing while also battling the sinister ways of Mayor Charming, once an English prince and now a power-hungry fool. With Sabrina and Daphne on board to help, they come across a house that’s been flattened by what one can only presume is a large boot, beanstalk leaves surrounding the property. The girls watch their grandmother in action as she opens up the investigation and begins positing what might have happened. However, as luck would have it, a giant returns to the scene—large boot and all—where he scoops up Grandmother Grimm, leaving the girls in a sense of panic. A new mystery on their hands—how to retrieve their grandmother—the girls seek the assistance of other Everafters, while dodging some of the more nefarious characters who cross their paths. One can only hope that this will have a happy ending for all. Buckley uses some strong fairytale references, sure to entertain the young adult or teen reader, surely the target audience for this book.

Sometimes you need a reading break, but are not fully prepared to turn to the newspaper funny pages. In those cases (or when I need something shorter), I turn to YA books, where I can usually suspend my belief system and yet still be entertained. Buckley provides that here with this first novel in what looks to be a fairly developed series all about the Sisters Grimm and their detective capabilities. Mixing the story of two humans in a community full of Everafters (read: characters from fairytales), Buckley is able not only to provide the reader with some semblance of a connection to previous well-known stories, but also twist the character to suit the story, such as the sheriff who was once one of the three pigs but has since become a corrupted and hoofed authority figure. Buckley seeks not to create fully believed scenarios, but at least entertain with the characters who pepper the pages of this story. The plot is decent for what it is and I was impressed with the flow, keeping the story moving without getting too bogged down in silly humour (though what might be right in line with the age range for the piece). It served its purpose for me and I will try to use the age-appropriate filter here, seeing Neo return to these books in a few years when he is a strong individual reader and criticising my review for being off the mark.

Kudos, Mr. Buckley, for such a wonderful debut piece. I think I may return for more in the future, as there is something fun about these stories.

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

Murder Beyond the Grave (Murder is Forever, Volume #3), by James Patterson, Aaron Bourelle, and Christopher Charles

Seven stars

During a recent binge of James Patterson’s BookShots, I came across his newest series of short stories, non-fiction with a criminal twist. Murder is Forever—now apparently a television program—shows off some real-life crimes that have been committed by dumb criminals and rolls them into bite-sized reads. In this third volume, Patterson teams up with Aaron Bourelle and Christopher Charles to bring two more tales where murder plays a central role in the final outcome of the criminal experience. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Murder Beyond the Grave (with Aaron Bourelle)

Danny Edwards is a low-level drug dealer who cannot do much of anything right. After being busted for large quantity possession, he turned on his supplier in a sting operation, but even then could not wait for the cocaine to appear before uttering the code word. Down on his luck and money, Danny has a plan; kidnap the local millionaire and keep him for ransom. In order to ensure that Stephen Small does not foil his own kidnaping, Edwards constructs a coffin of sorts to bury him, but provides an oxygen source to ensure that no one will find Small until the money’s been provided, but he is sure to stay alive. Using his unknowing girlfriend—Nancy Rish—to take him to and from the scene of the burial, Edwards places phone calls from pay phones that summer of 1987, hoping to get the Small family to pay up. Edwards thinks he is so smart, alternating pay phones, but does not realise that they can be traced. Soon Edwards and Rish are both apprehended and the police use some tactics to strong-arm Danny into admitting what he’s done and where to find Stephen Small. It is only then that things take a terrible turn for the worse.

Murder in Paradise (with Christopher Charles)

When Jim and Bonnie Hood came upon a potential fixer-upper property in the hills of California, they had differing views. Where Jim saw a cesspool of wasted money, Bonnie saw some potential and set about to make it a wonderful getaway. However, the more time and money she spent there, the more anonymous threats that she received. After a clash with some local loggers at the saloon, Bonnie thought she might have to take some drastic action and made some thinly veiled threats. When, after a tryst with one of her employees, their cabin was attacked by an intruder, Bonnie was left dead, leaving Jim to break the news to his children. After locating a suspect and going to trial, Bruce Beauchamp was found not guilty, forcing the Hoods to fear that he might seek retribution. What came next was truly the twist in the story, which shows that justice does not always follow the most obvious path.

These are two more stories that show the criminal element cannot always get away with a crime that seems almost foolproof at the start. Patterson has a knack for finding some interesting cases and presenting them in an intriguing short story format, which keeps the reader curious and wanted to forge onwards until the end. Using two well-seasoned collaborators, Patterson strengthens the storytelling and keeps the reader wanting more, which is sure to come in the next instalment of the Murder is Forever series. For now, those readers with the option can tune in to see Patterson’s television program on a weekly basis.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Bourelle, and Charles, as you recount these interesting tales. I like the style and the succinct nature used to present these stories and cannot wait to see what other cases make their way into the print version of this series.

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

The Gallery of the Dead (Robert Hunter #9), by Chris Carter

Nine stars

Chris Carter is back with his ninth instalment of the Robert Hunter series, keeping the story as captivating as ever and the serial killing as gruesome as one might expect. A cell phone call beckons Robert Hunter away at the most inopportune time. A detective within Ultra Violent Crimes (UVC), the most exclusive branch of the LAPD’s Robbery Homicide Division, Hunter and his partner, Carlos Garcia make their way to one of the most gut-churning crime scenes they’ve ever encountered. The victim has had her hands and feet severed and all but a small portion of her skin removed. Upon that untampered piece of flesh, a cryptic message in Latin about beauty. Sure that they are dealing with the most sadistic killer ever to cross the desks of UVC, Hunter and Garcia begin trying to decipher what it all means. Soon, their squad room is filled with three individuals from Washington, as the FBI has a keen interest in the case. Could it be that this killer has more victims outside of Los Angeles. Working for the first time alongside the FBI on a case, Hunter and Garcia learn that the killer—called The Surgeon for the attention he has paid to each victim—has committed at least three murders across the United States, his message only slightly different on each body. While the authorities try to put their heads together, another victim turns up in Arizona, forcing the team to leave the confines of Los Angeles. Hunter has some theories, though every discovery opens new and baffling aspects about this killer. Lurking in the shadows, the man called The Surgeon has more targets in mind, chosen for a specific purpose; to add to his gallery of the dead. Carter offers up one of his most convincing pieces yet with this series that does not stop. Series fans will love this piece and it ought to fuel new readers to begin this collection without delay, especially with the cliffhanger that awaits.

Perhaps one of the greatest psychological thriller writers I have ever discovered, Chris Carter has a masterful way of pulling the reader in during those crucial first chapters and then refuses to let go. How something so disturbing can—like a gruesome car wreck—leave the reader unable to turn away, I will never understand, but Carter does it each time. While the novels no longer focus their attention on protagonist backstory, Robert Hunter continues to thrive with is dry sense of humour and constant delivery of factoids, which enhances the story and educates the reader in equal order. As with each novel, Carter introduces a powerful collection of secondary characters, who not only serve their purpose in the narrative, but also offer a slice of backstory to keep the reader intrigued by them. Some develop in the novel and others remain needed bridges to larger story arcs, all of which tie together by the end. Carter’s utilisation not only of a strong narrative and dialogue, but peppering the story with explanations about serial murder, forensics, and police procedures brings the story to life in a way that few other novels can, placing the reader in the middle of all and on the frontline of any surprises that emerge. These novels, as I have told many people who are seeking something intense, are not cookie-cutter thrillers, in that the serial murderers and the means of killing do not repeat. Each novel provides new and exciting avenues for fans and pulls them in with the simple discovery of a body in some sadistic set-up. It is that addictive factor—that cannot be explained—which serves to turn this series into something so explosive.

Kudos, Mr. Carter, for never letting us down with your writing. I cannot wait to see what Book 10 brings, especially with that ending you provided in this piece.

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

The Take (Simon Riske #1), by Christopher Reich

Eight stars

Christopher Reich is back with the debut novel in a new series, which has much potential to grow into something electric and throughly entertaining. After a well-orchestrated heist in Paris leaves a Saudi prince’s convoy disrupted and a large sum of money stolen, the thieves realize that they have an added prize for their efforts; a letter containing security secrets that could be fatal if they fell into the wrong hands. When a member of the American Government arrives in London to speak with Simon Riske there is little interest in taking on the case of recovering the letter. However, once the name of the lead thief is revealed, Tino Coluzzi, Riske changes his tune. With a sordid past of his own, Riske crossed paths with Coluzzi when they were both part of the Corsican Mafia and ran the job that saw an armoured case robbery go awry and Riske take the fall. Now, RIske wants nothing more than to retrieve this mystery letter, if only to help the country of his birth and exact some form of revenge on Culuzzi. As Riske searches, Coluzzi has begun trying to contact the Russian Government, hoping to sell them the letter, but there seems to be little interest. That said, both Riske and Coluzzi are in trouble, as the SVR—Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service—is happy to collect the letter and exterminate these two in the process. As Riske works with a member of the Paris police, he offers just enough information to receive the assistance he needs, remaining one step behind Coluzzi but in the crosshairs of the Russians. This might be one adrenaline rush too many for Riske, long since out of the business. Reich does a masterful job at keeping the story clipping along and providing readers with proof as to why he is a master of the genre. Perfect for those who love a good thriller that mixes espionage with a dash of police procedural.

I have long admired Christopher Reich as a masterful storyteller, both for his storylines and the characters he uses. There is little doubt that this new novel will lay the groundwork for an exciting series, using this debut to develop a strong character who has straddled both sides of the law. Simon Riske’s backstory is on offer here, as Reich returns to shape him throughout the narrative. Abandoned and shipped off to France as a teenager, Riske turned to the only family that accepted him, the Mafia, to make ends meet. However, his epiphany came at a time when he could weigh his options and make a life-changing decision to use his past to effect change. Fuelled with this animosity, Riske is sent on a collision course to clash with his former friend in a case that leaves no stone unchecked. Some of the other characters peppered throughout the narrative provide key elements to the story that advances effectively. Even with a large number of characters, Reich is able to juggle the many storylines and deliver an effective narrative that does not bog down or leave the reader flipping back to recollect how everyone fits together. There are many loose ends woven into the story and this leaves the reader to wonder what might be coming next, while also providing Reich with an opening to explore them further in future novels. Reich is succinct in his writing and keeps the reader wanting to know more, pushing onward with these well-paced chapters. The technical jargon is present, more to inject realism than to drown the reader in minutiae. Readers can easily lose themselves in the story and yet demand more, leaving Reich to decide if this is a pathway he wants to continue, having laid such a powerful foundation.

Kudos, Mr. Reich, for such an explosive debut novel in the series. You are sure to captivate scores of new fans with this piece. I cannot wait to see what other ‘risks’ you’ll take with your next publication.

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

The Witness (DI Ray Mason #1), by Simon Kernick

Eight stars

Having read some of Simon Kernick’s recent work involving DI Ray Mason, I wanted to go back to where the first feature-length novel started. After a violent home invasion leaves Anil Rahman and his wife dead, only one witness survives. Having cowered under the bed during the attack, Jane Kinnear has a fragmented story to tell the police. Kinnear recounts how Anil was asked about a terrorist attack that was in the works and vaguely recollects that the killer was white. Other than that, nothing else of significance has occurred to Kinnear while she convalesces. With the killer still on the loose, Kinnear is transported to a safe house for the time being, kept under constant watch. Acting on the information that Kinnear remembers, and with a potential terror cell plotting an attack, DI Ray Mason is called in to help with the larger investigation. This includes trying to find leads on Anil Rahman’s murder, an informant for MI5. An experienced Counter-Terrorism agent, Mason has his eye on a specific cell that’s been chattering within the United Kingdom. However, as he and his partner approach them for answers, no one seems to have anything useful. However, Mason has come to realise that sometimes you need to push a little harder, only to discover a plot that could have brought the country to its knees. Mason remains baffled as to how Anil Rahman might have known anything beforehand, based on the narrative Kinnear has offered police while situated in her safe house. Throughout the narrative, Jane Kinnear reveals more about a sordid past in South Africa and the United States, which thickens the plot, as she has come face to face with some unsavoury characters. When the killers reach out to Mason and demand to know where the safe house is located, the case takes on a new level of concern, with Kinnear a potential new target. Rushing to piece it all together, Mason must fight against the clock and the fact that he has blood all over his hands in his latest pursuit for justice. A wonderful piece by Simon Kernick, who shows that he is able to entertain and keep the reader flipping pages well into the night. Recommended for those who love a good police procedural with a few poignant twists.

As I mentioned before, I discovered Kernick quite by accident and was drawn into his Ray Mason character from the start. When I realised that there was an earlier novel, before the Bone Fields, I knew I would have to find it so that I might better understand Mason and what made him tick. Mason’s character is not only thoroughly captivating, but the backstory on offer is rich with foreboding throughout the present narrative. A family life that would have left most anyone jaded, Mason fought off all those issues to become a stellar member of the police, fighting terrorism at home and abroad. Some of the other characters prove rich additions to the story, particularly as Kernick offers three perspectives in alternating chapters throughout the piece. It all enriches the experience a great deal and keeps the reader juggling information. The story itself was top-notch, with twists and information delivered to the reader at key moments. While it was apparent that something was amiss, until all the pieces fell into place, the reader was likely left guessing. With this Ray Mason foundation, I do hope to read more by Kernick, especially since it has come highly recommended.

Kudos, Mr. Kernick, for another wonderful story. I hope others come upon your novels and find a place for them on their ‘TBR’ shelves.

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

Redemption Point (Crimson Lake #2), by Candice Fox

Nine stars

Candice Fox is back with another thrilling story from the Australian Outback, building on her highly successful novel, Crimson Lake. Ted Conkaffey is still trying dodge the public eye and live off the grid, professing his innocence to the crime that has chased him from Sydney. The abduction and rape of 13 year-old Claire Bingley is still causing a stir all over the country. When Conkaffey is attacked in his own home by Claire’s father, pain surrounding the event resurfaces for both parties. Having been compiling any and all leads he can, Conkaffey offers up a folder, but it is rebuffed. When Conkaffey is summoned to a crime scene by his partner, PI Amanda Pharrell, he is intrigued to see what she’s found for them. It would seem that they’ve stumbled upon a new case, the murder of two bartenders, slain in the hours after work. Unsure whether the police will be able to do their job, a distraught father turned to Pharrell and is demanding answers. Rookie Detective Pip Sweeney is working her first case, having rising through the ranks after a number of her colleagues were implicated in a major crime spree. Armed with only her academy training and trying to run the scene, Sweeney turns to Conkaffey and Pharrell more than she ought to at times. While Pharrell is happy to pull in leads and play mind games with Sweeney, Conkaffey is trying to piece together some shards of his past life: a marriage that has all but disintegrated, a daughter who is scared of him, and no means to clear his name. Returning to give an interview on the crime and accusations, Conkaffey is railroaded by a news presenter who seeks the headlines before checking her sources. Luckily, there is a growing number who are certain that Conkaffey had nothing to do with Claire Bingley’s rape. Interspersed throughout the novel are diary entries by Kevin, which show a man’s personal obsession with young girls, including admissions that may be the key to Conkaffey’s exoneration. With two bodies and a crime that seems to have no concrete suspects, Conkaffey and Pharrell must work quickly before the case goes cold. Fox has outdone herself again with this piece, which exemplifies why she is top of the genre and sure to be a force for years to come. Recommended to those who love her work (solo and collaborative), as well as readers who love crime thrillers.

I am always excited to delve into a Candice Fox novel, as they tend to wrap me up and not slow their pace until the final sentence. Fox has the ability to use her native Australia and dazzle the reader with both description of the setting, as well as provide strong characters that offer unique backstories. Those familiar with the first novel in the series will know much about Conkaffey and Pharrel, who are central, yet quite diverse characters. In this piece, Fox delves more into Conkaffey’s personal situation and struggles to survive, still seen as one of Australia’s more horrid paedophiles. These struggles envelop him and the reader can see the struggle to simply live, veiled in the knowledge that he cannot clear his name independently. Pharrell shows off more of her zany style here, exemplified in her ongoing flip-flop about opening up and playing games with those around her. Introducing Pip Sweeney proves to be an effective means of bridging the two protagonists, allowing Conkaffey to know that his partner is still focussed on the case at hand while he battles his own demons and fights to clear his name. The other characters within the story help to complement the larger narrative and provide the reader with some entertainment while forging onwards to discover who may be behind both the double murder and Bingley’s assault. The story picks up soon after Crimson Lake left off, keeping the pace and development that series fans have come to expect. With quick chapters that leave the reader pushing onward late into the evening, the story reads extremely quickly and leaves them wanting more. Fox has laid the groundwork for future novels, sure to explore more of rural Australia.

Kudos, Madam Fox, for another stellar piece of work. I cannot praise you enough for your style and delivery. I hope many others discover your writing in the months to come.

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

The Wolves of Winter, by Tyrell Johnson

Eight stars

In his debut novel, Tyrell Johnson storms onto the scene with this curious post-apocalyptic piece that pits a rural family against the Establishment. Lynn is a 23 year-old who has seen much in her life. The Wars turned America into a nuclear war zone and forced her family to flee to Alaska when she was still a child. However, along with the bombs came a debilitating flu that knocked out large portions of the remaining population, one of whom was Lynn’s father, not long after she turned twelve. Living now in the Yukon Territory, the remaining family members subsist off the land, forced to forage and hunt when the ground is covered with ice and snow. They are isolated not only because of the drastic drop in population, but also to steer clear of Immunity, a group dedicated to find and annihilate any remaining flu carriers, or use them as test subjects to inoculate the healthy. When Jax appears on their terrain, Lynn and her uncle, Jeryl, take note. They soon discover that Jax is one of the good people, also fleeing from Immunity, but with a number of secrets of his own. As Lynn and Jax get closer, they learn a little more about one another, including things that could jeopardise their safety. Struggling to remain one step ahead of Immunity, they take a chance that could have dire consequences. All the while, Lynn is forced to come to terms with some half-truths her family has kept from her for all these years, at a time when every day could be her last. Steeped in drama and some violent clashes, Johnson’s piece is sure to get people talking for a long time to come. Perfect for those who like a little struggle and angst in a world decimated by political arm wrestling.

I had heard much about this book before I chose to take the plunge. I am happy that I did so, as Johnson’s piece does not read like a debut whatsoever. His attention to detail and wonderful story development is clear throughout, while he provides a social commentary of where the world is headed in the near future. Perhaps one of the great aspects of this novel is that it keeps a few characters moving throughout, rather than forcing the reader to juggle huge numbers, remembering names and backstories. Lynn and Jax develop throughout the piece at an astounding rate, while also pulling their backstories along to add depth to their characters. Both have suffered much in their young lives, but they refuse to lay down and let the world roll over them. Rather, they build on these issues and create an even stronger foundation for themselves. The rest of those who grace the pages of the book serve their purpose, flavouring the narrative with their unique personalities. While some may look at ‘post-apocalyptic’ and see something a little too out of this world, Johnson keeps things realistic as events develop, allowing the reader to wonder ‘what if’ rather than ‘if only’. The pain felt through each revelation is something that can hit home as a young woman struggles to find her own place in a world that is hanging on merely by a thread. The story reads so easily and the narrative flows off the page, with countless incidents of symbolism that speak directly to the reader. While there will be those who gasp at blood and language peppered throughout, those who can handle it will be glad they took the time to enjoy this wonderful novel.

Kudos, Mr. Johnson, for stunning the literary world with something so palatable. I am pleased to see you dropped the odd Canadian mention throughout this piece and hope fans on both sides of the border (and worldwide) discover all you have to offer.

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