Rattle (The Bone Collector #1), by Fiona Cummins

Eight stars

Fiona Cummins’ debut novel has all the ingredients of a captivating thriller and keeps the reader hooked until the final chapters. After Clara Foyle is abducted outside a sweets shop, the community is swept up in the panic and a search commences. Detective Sergeant Etta Fitzroy is used to this panic, but must work quickly to nail down some leads before the trail goes cold and Clara is all but forgotten by the public. As she pokes around the crime scene, DS Fitzroy comes upon the skeletal remains of some animal, something she eventually learns is a rabbit. Affixed to the rabbit’s foot is a message, some code that might refer to a biblical passage, related to bones. There is surely an abductor out there, but no leads to offer anything concrete. Fitzroy is still haunted by another child abduction on her plate, one that has yet to be solved, though the family remains hopeful. When another young boy disappears, this time from his hospital bed, Fitzroy discovers another set of rabbit bones and is certain there is a connection. Who might have done this and for what reason? The only connection between Clara and Jakey Frith is their age…and that they both suffered from a bone anomaly. Poring over the evidence and family histories, DS Fitzroy concludes that the abductor must have an interest in bones. Meanwhile, lurking in the shadows, the Bone Collector has both children held captive, prepping them to add to his macabre personal museum, passed on to him by a curious father. With Clara and Jakey almost ready for their induction into the bone museum, DS Fitzroy has no time to lose. The smallest clue could crack the case wide open, but one false move and two children may soon become medical specimens. A brilliant novel that exemplifies just how ready Fiona Cummins is to break onto the scene. Fans of a ‘bone chilling’ thriller will flock to this and stay up late trying to race to the finish.

I always enjoy discovering new authors who seek to push their way onto the psychological thriller scene, perfecting their craft with a few strong novels. Cummins has done so with this single novel, laying the groundwork for a wonderful series with detailed plots and strong characters. Etta Fitzroy is a decent cop who has been trying to come to terms with a work-home balance and failing miserably. However, home is but a distraction as she is elbow-deep trying to trace the path of a serial killer/abductor who has an odd fascination. This drive pushes Fitzroy to break away from the mould her father—also a copper—left her, in a world where female strength is still in its infancy. The Bone Collector, that curious man in the shadows, has an interesting backstory and drive to continue his work. Able to plant himself into society, he has a history that is as detailed as it is horrific. Trying to continue his work, the Collector seeks to find the most interesting cases and display them, though only the most macabre will ever come to view the specimens on offer. The story is strong and flows easily from chapter to chapter, helping the reader to find their footing in short order. Short teaser chapters with time prints bridge the larger and more exploratory ones, all in an effort to keep the reader engaged until the very end. Cummins does a magnificent job and has left things hanging, if only to keep the reader begging for more. Depending on the depth that Cummins wishes to explore, I can see this series developing into something addictive for readers who enjoy the darkest side of police procedurals.

Kudos, Madam Cummins, for introducing fans to your work and showing that you belong in this genre. Your ability to spin such gruesome tales could catapult you shifting to the top, amongst some of the best in the field.

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

Macbeth (Hogarth Shakespeare), by Jo Nesbø

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jo Nesbø, Hogarth, and Crown Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Contributing to the Hogarth Shakespeare collection, Jo Nesbø has created a modern retelling of the Bard’s Macbeth. Set around 1970, the story opens with a police raid on a local gang running narcotics. When the authorities bungle things exquisitely, leaving blood and bodies scattered around the clubhouse, heads must roll within the police force. During the shake-up, Macbeth is brought on as the new head of Organised Crime, set to turn his men into a respectable arm of the force. Learning of her husband’s new position, Lady Macbeth encourages her husband to continue his climb, which is further supported by a high-level crime boss, Hecate. During one of Macbeth’s visits to Hecate, three substance-altered prostitutes foresee Macbeth’s rise to the position of Chief Commissioner, at the top of the entire police force. With a number of officials ahead of him, Macbeth is unsure how he will accomplish this, happy to run Organised Crime for the time being. Lady Macbeth can see a clear path to the top and knows her husband has it in him, if only he will bend the rules to better his chances. She convinces her husband to murder the current Chief Commissioner and frame another official, which he agrees to do while under the influence of narcotics. From there, one murder begets others to cover-up the trail being left. Even when the sought-after position is achieved, neither Macbeth or his wife are satisfied. However, their paranoia force more cover-ups and the need to constantly look over their shoulders. It would seem that power is the most addictive drug of all, one that cannot be sated by a simple snort or needle. Might the rise to power lead to a devastating crash into oblivion? Nesbø weaves quite the tale, using the framework Shakespeare made famous, providing his fans and those who enjoy the Bard’s work quite a great story. Hogarth did well picking Nesbø to explore this dark tale.

Nesbø has quite a dark side when writing for his adult audience, though is also well-versed in creating police thrillers that keep the reader engaged. Some love his writing—as well as the darker side of crime that emerges from the narrative—while others find his work too dense to enjoy, as it is not easily digested. I found myself straddling both camps here, though was able to forge ahead when I gained enough momentum (and time to read!). Macbeth is, of course a central character in the piece and Nesbø does a wonderful job portraying this man as someone who is in touch with his passions, but soon becomes swept up by all the power that is laid at his feet. One can only presume that it is the influence of his power-hungry wife and the influence of narcotics that led him down such a difficult path, one that would be paved in gold, only to reveal tarnished brass by the end of the book. Other characters emerge to support and block Macbeth’s climb to power, adding depth and flavour to the narrative, including those who see Macbeth for the corrupt leader he becomes. The story is strong and ties nicely into the original narrative laid out over four centuries ago. Using the same characters and most of their fates, Nesbø stays true while also modernising the story in an effective manner. Fans of Shakespeare will surely find their own weaknesses, but in an effort to entertain effectively, Nesbø is spot-on with his storytelling. Mixing short and longer chapters, the reader is able to develop a connection to the story and its characters, as long as a steady momentum is kept. As with all Nesbø pieces, the translation does not take away from the power of the message found within and, if anything, provides an even stronger piece.

Kudos, Mr. Nesbø, for another excellent piece of writing. While your style is an acquired taste, those with the patience for it are surely in for a wonderful adventure.

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

Wave of Terror, by Jon Jefferson

Seven stars

Jon Jefferson has created this intriguing science-based thriller that stirs up some interesting possibilities for 21st century terrorism. While completing some research on the Canary Islands, astronomer Megan O’Malley is angered to see that her telescope images are blurry and the placement of the instrument is constantly bumped out of place. However, when she places some calls, she is baffled to learn that there are not anomalies with the telescope and no seismographic documentation to explain any earth tremors, the usual suspects for such erroneous images. Megan is sure of what she’s seen, the photos acting as concrete documentation that something’s happened, no matter how minute. Digging a little deeper and running some of her own tests, Megan soon learns that the official seismic information has been altered online, helping to hide the actual tremors, but from what? Discussing these findings with a British academic, Megan learns that there has been chatter about some tsunami-like waves bound for the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Security experts have downplayed this as hogwash, as there is nothing to suggest that there are any seismic shifts that could bring this about. FBI Special Agent Christopher ‘Chip’ Dawtry seems to feel that there is more to Megan’s story than many will admit and begins to follow the trail, even when he is ordered not to give it any credence. Tracking her down and coming to offer his assistance, Chip works with Megan to reveal the truth before they can be targeted for extermination. As they learn just how deep the plot runs, Chip and Megan must convince the authorities before the seismic technology creates an act of terror that would make September 2001 seem like a warm-up act. Jefferson does a decent job with this End of Days thriller, mixing the right amount of science to keep the reader wondering about how plausible this might be in the coming years. Those seeking a lighter fare in their reading may enjoy this piece.

I have read a number of Jon Jefferson novels, though he was always collaborating with William Bass in the Bone Field series (with their great ‘Jefferson Bass’ moniker). The story proved to be entertaining and the premise quite engaging at a time when terrorism has become stale and any mention of ISIS or Al-Qaeda has many readers walking away. Jefferson creates quite an interesting character in Megan O’Malley, whose passion for the skies is matched by her inability to get her point across in social situations. Megan remains the academic damsel in distress, unable to defend herself effectively when the guns and blades come out. She comes across as passionate, even though the reader may find it hard to connect to her throughout the narrative. Equally complicated is Chip Dawtry, who has a dedication to his work and a passion for security that clouds his ability to be as open and engaging as the reader may like. Sticking the two together, and peppering many other secondary characters, makes for an interesting story that keeps a decent level of energy throughout. The premise of the story is decent, a new form of terrorism hidden within scientific occurrences, as well as some developing organisations to strike against the Americans, though I felt that the overall piece failed to grip me to the extent that I had hoped. The story had some decent foundations, though it seemed only to skim the surface when it came to creating a thriller sensation. The science is strong but the narrative needed more to push things into full-fledged panic mode. Perhaps I am trying to compare Jefferson’s solo work against his collaborations, which I enjoy tremendously. Jefferson’s past work with Bass is surely a stronger effort, though I am sure this is only an anomaly and there is more to come in the next novel. Catastrophic thrillers do tend to have a hard time not becoming too cheesy in their delivery.

Kudos, Mr. Jefferson, for a valiant effort on your own. I like what you have and hope you’ll be able to sculpt something even better next time around.

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

The Kremlin Conspiracy, by Joel C. Rosenberg

Nine stars

Joel C. Rosenberg is back with another stellar novel that explores the current international political climate with stunning accuracy, leaving the reader to wonder just how close to non-fiction the story might become over the next few years. Aleksandr Ivanovich Luganov is the prime minister of Russia in 1999 when numerous apartment bombs have been exploding across Moscow. With an ailing president, Luganov assumes the role and chooses Oleg Kraskin to be one of his senior aides. Kraskin, shocked by this, is honoured and admits in the early narrative to be dating Luganov’s daughter. He hopes to marry her in short order and broaches the subject with Luganov in the early chapters. Working with Luganov, Kraskin sees his boss assume the role of President of the Russian Federation with hopes of putting Mother Russia back in her place of prominence. Across the globe, young Marcus Ryker is living in Colorado and hoping to make a name for himself. When he witnesses the attacks on September 11, 2001, he sees a chance to serve the United States in its military efforts. A courageous mission sees him almost lose his life and he decides to find new (and safer?) ways to serve. With a wife and a young son, Ryker joins the Secret Service, hoping to find his niche. While Ryker is rising the ranks and protecting significant political players, Kraskin is back in Russia and watching President Luganov begin a game of political chess as he seeks to reclaim some of the old Soviet territories, with an eye on Ukraine and some of the other breakaway republics. Kraskin becomes leery of his father-in-law, particularly when even those closest to him seem expendable. A devastating crime in Washington forces Marcus Ryker to rethink his future, and pushes him to a crisis of faith, if only for a time. Ryker has much to offer, but is rudderless and drifting around in a mental fog. After devising a plan to strike three NATO allies and keep the Americans in the dark, Kraskin can no longer watch Luganov flex his political muscle. With the Russians prepared to begin their military attacks and armed with significant nuclear weapons, Kraskin must make a decision. Ryker is offered an interesting job that sees him use some of his past experiences, though no longer formally employed by the American Government. There, Ryker faces a decision could not only affect his future, but that of the entire US Administration. Can either man risk everything to save their respective countries from a nuclear End of Days that not even the Book of Revelation could have predicted? Rosenberg delivers a brilliant piece that fans of his novels will surely enjoy. As always, new fans will likely flock to this book, which may foretell an interesting next round in geo-political manoeuvres.

I have long enjoyed Rosenberg’s novels, not only for their content, but also because they have been close to spot-on with their predictions. He understands all the actors and the political temperatures, putting it all into a digestible novel for those who love stories ripped from the headlines. Here, Rosenberg provides what most will see as a veiled story of the rise of Putin in Russia, though there are enough vague descriptors to leave the reader some leeway in their interpretation. Ruling the country with an iron fist, Aleksandr Ivanovich Luganov proves to be not only a new Russian Czar, but also one who is prepared to poke the hornet’s nest in hopes of pushing the world to a new war. And while his predecessors may not have been ready to push the red button, Rosenberg creates this czar as happy to do whatever it takes, nuclear obliteration or not. Kraskin is an interesting character as well, though his timidity seems to work only at certain times. There is surely much to this man who tries to juggle his personal sentiments with the knowledge that his father-in-law is becoming a dictator as ruthless as Stalin. Trying to do what he feels is right may come at the ultimate cost, though Kraskin may be ready to lose it all, including his family, to save Russia. With both strong parallels and sharp contrasts, Marcus Ryker is the third central character in the novel. As Rosenberg shows throughout, Ryker grew into himself through a number of key life moments, all of which shaped the man he became. Like Kraskin, the reader is able to see Ryker’s development over the years through to the tumultuous climax of the novel. Personal loss and extreme emotional strain met Ryker head-on, though he never shied away from bearing it all in an effort to bring justice to a world riddled with disparity. The story is not only on point, but Rosenberg’s writing helps pull the reader into the centre; as though they are in the middle of each meeting, participating in every dialogue, and able to feel each sentiment the characters exude. Politically powerful, the ideological divide is clearly on offer, as is the attempt by Luganov to resurrect the Mother Russia persona in his own image, much as is being done currently within the Kremlin. Rosenberg is a staunch conservative and admits as much, but even he could not create a POTUS that would align with the Russian Czar and for that I am eternally grateful. We need some degree of fiction and this was surely a portion of the novel that does not parallel the current political situation. Rosenberg’s writing is some of the best I have read in the genre, though some readers will want fair warning that he also pushes a strong Christian theme throughout. Prayers, reference to Scripture, and even the occasional crisis of faith (whereby the character must turn to God and Jesus to overcome something). While I prefer to steer clear of this, Rosenberg has toned things down and no longer inculcates us heathen readers with seeing the Light as we try to enjoy a political thriller. Many of Rosenberg’s predictions in past series have come true, alarmingly not long after a book is released. If the same can be said of this piece, the world had best be ready for quite the showdown. Then again, should the US attack, who’ll be there to troll social media and corrupt another American election?!

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg, for your thorough analysis and poignant arguments on this subject. I will recommend it to any and all who love a well-crafted political thriller, and hope your other series tempt them as well.

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

The Escape Artist, by Brad Meltzer

Eight stars

Brad Meltzer is back with another thriller to appease his adult fans. With a story that dazzles and characters whose lives enrich the storytelling, the wait for this gem seems justifiable. Jim “Zig” Zigarowski works as a civilian mortician at the Dover Air Force Base, having seen much during his long career. After a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness, the bodies begin their return for final preparation before being released to the families. While one of the victims is the Librarian of Congress, a close friend of POTUS, Zig is most interested in Sergeant Nola Brown. Memories from his past flood back as Zig remembers Zola from an excursion with his now-deceased daughter. Nola was a very quiet girl with a troubled past, though Zig remembers her heroics above all else. Zig’s investigation and preparation of the body seems to raise some red flags and a rushed identification leaves him to wonder if someone is trying to participate in a cover-up back in Alaska. Add to that, a note in the body’s stomach and Zig is sure that Nola is not the one before him, but why?! When the body is intercepted at Dover and the actual Nora emerges, Zig realises that there is a significant mystery surrounding the plane crash and those on the passenger list, including three individuals whose names have ties to the famous Harry Houdini. With Zig and Nora working together, they discover that something called Operation: Bluebook, which could be the impetus for the crash. The original Bluebook refers to a plan hatched by Houdini when he travelled into towns with his own team in the audience, garnering information to be used on stage. Learning that both their lives remain in danger, Zig and Nora work to uncover what’s been going on before they suffer the same fate as the others. Tying the clues together and discovering the Houdini inference, Zig and Nora try to remain one step ahead of this US Government covert sleight of hand. Another well-crafted novel by Meltzer that is recommended to his fans and those who want a little magic with their reading experience.

I have long enjoyed Brad Meltzer and his writing style, though I did sigh and shook my head when he turned to writing more for children. However, looking back on it, the anticipation of his thriller novels builds and this one was worth the wait. I am eager to see what else he has in store for Zig in the coming years, should this novel receive the praise it is due. It would appear that the Zig character is the start to a new series, which has some real potential, mixing civilian and military aspects quite effectively and Meltzer’s attention to detail is a significant help. Meltzer does a wonderful job creating a thorough backstory for Zig, especially as it relates to his daughter and the tragedy that befell her. The reader can feel a strong connection, while also being at ease with Zig’s current position as a mortician. Nola Brown’s character receives significant backstory throughout this novel as well, usually in the form of flashback chapters, which flesh out some of the nuances in her personality and explain that sense of independence. Her development in a ‘foster home’ becomes a central thread, as does her development into the woman she began when Zig met her again. There is surely much to be said about Nola and her resilience. Secondary characters are peppered throughout, which provides the reader with a pathway for better understanding how the story will develop. Meltzer adds his own flavour to these folks, injecting historical aspects as well as his own unique characteristics. The story and its delivery are stellar and keep the reader connected throughout, weaving together a few storylines to keep the reader guessing until the very end. Meltzer uses his love of history and intricate detail to fuel this piece, educating the reader as often as possible while not burdening them with too many intricacies that might slow things down. Well-paced chapters and those powerful flashbacks of Nola provide all that the reader needs to feel drawn to the story while hoping for another one in the near future. This is a successful reemergence for Meltzer, whose adult fans are surely pleased to see him back!

Kudos, Mr. Meltzer, for another wonderful piece of writing. I can only hope you’ll capture the attention of your fans and remind them why you are top of your genre.

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

The Good Liar, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Catherine McKenzie and Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Catherine McKenzie is back with another novel that pushes the reader to think while enjoying this fast paced story. On October 10th at 10am (Triple Ten), an explosion rocked a building in Chicago, leaving more than 500 dead and destroying many families. This story surrounds the lives of three women with intimate ties to that explosion and the personal tragedy that befell them. Cecily has spent the last year coming to terms with the loss of her husband, Tom, and how she will raise two children on her own. Not only does she have that on her plate, but she was on her way to see Tom when the explosion occurred and her face was caught by a freelance photographer, making her the ‘face’ of the tragedy. Cecily has been forced to endure the faux-celebrity of being ‘that woman’, personifying the Triple Ten event for the last twelve months. Franny Maycombe has become a friend of Cecily’s over the last year, as they both sit on the compensation board for the families of the victims, in hopes of bringing some financial stability during these trying times. Franny lost her biological mother in the blast, an event that is still hard to digest. Franny was adopted as an infant and just recently discovered her birth mother who lived in Chicago, only to see her killed after such a short reunion. Franny’s story emerges in a series of interviews conducted by an eager filmmaker, trying to create a documentary of the Triple Ten event a year later. The more the reader learns of Franny, the more mysterious she becomes. The third woman who plays a key role in the story is Kate, who has relocated to Montreal and tried to put the events of Chicago behind her. Kate has a secret that no one knows and a family that presumes she is never coming back. With the anniversary of the Triple Ten, Kate is forced to come to terms with what happened and her role in the larger scheme of these. Cecily, Franny, Kate… three women who have suffered, though all have also been holding onto a lie from that day; a lie that could destroy them. Keeping it under wraps might be the only way they can come out of this as a good liar, if such a thing exists. McKenzie offers up another wonderful piece of writing that is sure to attract the attention of many, as it is thought provoking and leaves a definite aftertaste. Those familiar with her work will likely enjoy this piece, though new fans are sure to emerge as well.

I can admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, even if I felt there was something holding it back. I kept thinking to myself that this book is on the cusp of being ‘great’ for me, but lacked something on which I cannot place my finger. As though superb is on the other side of a thin cellophane wall, but I was kept from it by McKenzie holding something back with the story and her characters. The three women who spend much of the time in the spotlight could not be more different and similar at the same time. Cecily is struggling with digesting Tom being gone and the strains within her marriage. Franny wants nothing more than to connect with her biological mother’s family, as well as slide into the middle of the drama that is Triple Ten mourning. Kate hides herself away, though has an interesting backstory for leaving and choosing to make her way up to Canada. All three propel the story forward, working with a handful of well-crafted secondary characters. The story is rich in both backstory and character development, a strong suit for McKenzie, and said pieces help form a strong foundation on which the story can rest. There is something eerie and yet heartwarming about the story and the way it develops. Struggle is woven throughout, though each of the three protagonists comes at it from a unique perspective. Added to that, the constant theme of lies and deception helps to imbue a strong sense of distrust between characters and forces the reader to judge the actions of those on the printed page, while also trying not to be too harsh. McKenzie uses some interesting techniques in the book to pull out the plot, with the direct approach that Cecily portrays, the more ‘interview-centric’ release of information that Franny utilises, and Kate’s thoughts and flashbacks to deliver her own personal angle. All three work effectively, as does the documentary that pushes the story along, though there seems to be something missing that kept me from proclaiming that this was another masterpiece. I suppose the slow development that led to an abrupt end, as though the reader was expecting a climax and had the carpet pulled out from under them. However, McKenzie’s writing is so strong and alluring that some weaknesses cannot take away from the overall pleasure that comes from reading this novel.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for dazzling and keeping things fresh throughout. I have encouraged others to read your work in the past and will continue to do so.

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

All-American Murder: The Rise and Fall of Aaron Hernandez, the Superstar Whose Life Ended on Murders’ Row, by James Patterson, Alex Abramovich, and Mike Harvkey

Eight stars

Capitalising on some ‘pulled from the headlines’ impetus, James Patterson collaborates with Alex Abramovich and Mike Harvkey to bring readers into the troubled life of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez, exploring his rise to fame before he stumbled and crashed into a legal quagmire that would eventually lead to his suicide in 2017. While football may not have been the first thing people considered when mentioning Connecticut, anyone who had heard of Aaron Hernandez might feel differently. A powerhouse in high school, Hernandez excelled both on the field and along the basketball court. His phenomenal rise to fame saw college scouts attending many of his games, hoping to secure his talents with lucrative financial offers. However, Hernandez was not all about football in his small community. Both he and members of his family had ties to gangs and drug dealers, something that Hernandez used to his advantage throughout his high school career. After graduating at seventeen, Hernandez made the leap to college ball, choosing the University of Florida over local UConn, where he obtained an early taste of stardom. He could walk around town and be noticed, receiving freebies at every turn. Additionally, he could waltz into clubs and be the centre of attention, though this might sometimes lead to a flair in that Puerto Rican temper for which he was so well known back home. After numerous dust-ups and shady ties to local dealers, Hernandez began to subsist in a life away from football, where guns, weed, and other illicit items crossed his path on a daily basis. Still, as a star player, some of his failed drug tests were swept under the rug so that Hernandez could remain on the field. When it was time for the NFL Draft, Hernandez went in a later round, much to his dismay, but was chosen by the illustrious New England Patriots, a team on the verge of creating a dynastic powerhouse. His playing days were filled with receptions and his star continued to rise, still being protected by the team. However, Hernandez began to run in some very troubling circles, dodging being fingered at brawls and shootings by mere minutes. When a disagreement with an acquaintance went too far and the man lay dead from gunshot wounds, Henandez ended up with literal blood all over his hands and tried to play it cool, only to lead police to his doorstep. In a shocking revelation, the sports world was abuzz when Aaron Hernandez was arrested for murder, forcing the NFL and Patriots to rush in the other direction, their attempt to disassociate with him at soon as possible. Hernandez left evidence at the scene and created a tepid alibi soon dispelled by the prosecutor. Stunned, football fans watched as Hernandez went to trial for over two months before a verdict came in. From there, the spiral down seemed never-ending, with an abyss awaiting him, his future forever tarnished. While the NFL had dealt with many errant active players, the Aaron Hernandez situation might have been its largest stain to date. The authors run with this story and have created a wonderful read, easy for anyone with a passing interest to digest. Less the traditional Patterson fare, but still highly entertaining and a great filler read.

I have noticed that Patterson has been busy as he branches out in many directions of late, tapping into the world of non-fictional crime to broaden his horizons. Working alongside Alex Abramovich—a collaborator on some of his BookShot short pieces—and Mike Harvkey, Patterson brings to life this second famous individual who found a life of crime too tempting to leave on the shelf. Aaron Hernandez is the central character, obviously, and his rise to fame is shown effectively in the early parts of the book, as this young phenom gets an early taste of the limelight. His play on the field could not be discounted, even if individuals knew all about his extra-curricular activities. However, this quick intoxication and seeming ‘untouchable’ status is shown as the book progresses, allowing the reader to revel in the continues foibles. The authors illustrate this on numerous occasions as the reader can see red flags popping up throughout. The narrative builds effectively, offering the reader more detail with each chapter—short, in the Patterson style—and culminates in Hernandez’s personal realisation that he had lost it all, though the epilogue does open a new set of questions. The writing style is effective in a non-fiction sense and keeps the reader wanting more, without getting too outlandish. There are a significant number of facts layered throughout, though the pile is not overwhelming and permits the reader to digest it all. The impact of this helps push the story through to the end, attempting to secure the reader’s belief that Hernandez was guilty and deserved his incarceration. Unfortunately, in a way, there are many superstars whose lives could be detailed in such a book, leaving me to hope that Patterson will find more to publish in the years to come.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Abramovich, and Harvkey. This was an wonderfully entertaining piece and I hope more collaborations will permit readers to see other cases like this receiving their time in the spotlight.

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

The 17th Suspect (Women’s Murder Club #17) by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Eight stars

A longtime fan of the Women’s Murder Club series, I was pleased to get my hands on its seventeenth instalment. James Patterson and Maxine Paetro have been able to keep the momentum up throughout the years and keep the reader highly entertained. When ADA Yuki Castellano learns that a man is seeking to press charges of rape against his female superior, she’s intrigued and ready to take it to the Grand Jury. Believing that she can make the case, Yuki puts all her efforts into selling it, hoping to dispel the stigma that surrounds sexual assaults with male victims, while bringing justice to someone who feels violated. Meanwhile, on her way to the office, Sergeant Lindsay Boxer encounters a homeless woman who shares a disturbing tale; other transient people have been gunned down over the past month and the police are doing nothing. Boxer begins to look into this, only to discover that two homicide detectives appear to be dragging their feet due to the less than upstanding nature of the victims. Boxer is prepared to go to war and will stop at nothing, even when it dredges up old family politics. When Yuki heads to trial with the rape charge, she is left wondering if she made the right choice, as the evidence begins to muddy the original narrative, though she is not ready to give up just yet. Boxer seeks justice for the homeless, even as the killer lurks in the shadows and has developed a personal vendetta against her. With Lindsay and Yuki both facing personal issues of their own, they cannot let their home lives cloud the cases before them, for these are women who refuse to be victims. Patterson and Paetro deliver a wonderful addition to the series and keep fans quite impressed with the annual gift of another thriller. Recommended to those who enjoy the Women’s Murder Club, as well as readers looking for something light and entertaining.

While this series has been developing for years, it has not lost its lustre. Fans will enjoy having seen the foursome who dub themselves the ‘Murder Club’ grow and develop on their own. Patterson and Paetro not only keep their characters fresh, but also the crimes that fill the pages of each book, taking an interesting spin on events in San Francisco. Lindsay Boxer is, as always, the central character in the series and her dedication to the badge is never in question. She shoots from the hip and gets to the core of the matter, while always having something going on in her personal life to show the reader that she’s human as well. More personal development and a few spikes to keep her character interesting occur throughout, though the reader may be seeking a real shake-up before too long. Yuki Castellano moves to the forefront here, showing her legal skills and trying to impress not only her boss but the others in the Club. While usually a hardworking wallflower, Yuki has made a name for herself and keeps the reader hoping that she will succeed, even when things do not appear to be going her way. Some personal life struggles keep her from being the confident woman her friends know is within her, but it is surely within her grasp, given time. The story was decent and just what one might expect in a Women’s Murder Club piece. Two narratives running parallel that keep the reader entertained and the characters busy, helps pass the time, without taxing the brain too much. Incremental personal epiphanies help shape the central characters and have allowed the authors to keep stacking on new angles with each passing novel. Those familiar with the series (and Patterson) will be pleased to see those short, cliffhanger chapters that propel the story forward and keep the reader wanting to indulge in just a little more. Pleasantly, this is one series that Patterson has not allowed to go stale, with fresh ideas and a great collaborator working alongside him. One can only hope that as the novel count mounts, the stories will remain just as exciting.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madame Paetro, as you dazzle with yet another collaborative success. I am eager to see what else you have in store for us, Club or BookShot related.

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

Sleeping Beauties, by Stephen King and Owen King

Eight stars

Having long been a fan of Stephen King, I was curious to tackle this novel, which pairs the King of Horror with his Prince of Thrills (?), Owen. Working together on this massive piece, the reader is able to see the Kings’ respective writing styles and notice how well they mesh together. In the town of Dooling, the discovery of two meth cooks are found murdered seems to be a day like any other, though a stranger may be behind this bloody mess. Normalcy ends in this community when women around the world are going to sleep and not waking up. While in these comatose states, they are discovered with an odd growth on their faces, spindly white thread that soon becomes a cocoon that surrounds their bodies. Panic ensues and those who seek to remove this cocoon from family and friends are met with a rabid response, sated only by the violent murder of anyone who dare disturb the woman’s slumber. This odd occurrence is tied to sleep—but only of women—and is soon labelled Aurora Sickness. As the folks of Dooling do all they can to understand this phenom, the women are taking matters into their own hands to stay awake. Chaos reigns as caffeine and other stimulants—both legal and illegal—are sought by anyone possessing the XX chromosome, in an effort to remain awake. When rumours hit the internet about a scheme to ‘torch’ the cocoon-bearers, this only adds a new layer of concern in Dooling, where riots and vandalism have changed things for the worse. Tucked away in the prison is that aforementioned stranger, Eve Black, who appears to be immune to the cocooning and enjoys restful sleep without consequence. Does Eve have something to share with those left awake in Dooling that might bring an end to the madness? What happens to those who remain asleep in their cocoons? These answers and more await the reader as they flit through this massive novel—like moths on a summer night—and are enveloped in a story that has all the markings of a King classic. This joint effort should leave fans of the elder King quite pleased and raise interest in Owen’s own writing.

Having never read Owen King before, I must use my knowledge of his father’s writing to provide comparative analysis for this review. I will be the first to admit that reading Stephen King is not for everyone, though his novels as not as horror-based as they might once have been. Their uniqueness lies not only in the number of pages used to transmit a story, but also the numerous tangents taken to get from A to B. While that might annoy me with some authors, I find solace in the detail provided on the journey when King is at the helm. As King is wont to do, he supersaturates the story with scores of characters, all of whom play their own part in the larger narrative. While this may annoy some readers, I find it—bafflingly—exciting as I keep track of all the mini-stories that develop throughout. That being said, a few characters rise to the forefront in this piece and help bridge the story together. Lila Norcross proves to be a pivotal character, both in her role as sheriff and a level-headed player in town when chaos begins to rear its head. Lila has much going on and her character must face many struggles throughout the story, but she never backs down from what stands before her. Clint Norcross, Lila’s husband and prison psychiatrist at the women’s facility in town also plays an interesting role, in that he seeks to explore the lives and thoughts of those incarcerated, as well as serving as an important liaison for Eve Black, currently being detained in the ‘soft room’. Eve Black remains that character that King uses in most of his novels, the unknown individuals who brings chaos to the forefront while remaining calm and even endearing. No one knows anything of Eve, though her character becomes significant as the story progresses. Turning to the story at hand, it is both complex and simplistic, allowing the reader to pull something from it that might appeal to them. The curiosity surrounding the cocoon remains at the forefront of the plot throughout and why women are the only one’s being saddled with this remains a mystery. Both Kings seek to have the characters explore this anomaly throughout the novel, while also facing some of the concerns of a town disintegrating at the hands of its female population falling by the wayside, particularly when Eve’s immunity becomes common knowledge. There are many wonderful plots to follow within the story, which develop throughout the detailed chapters. The reader will likely have to use the character list at the beginning of the piece to keep everyone clear, though the detail offered allows a quick refresher for the attentive reader. The writing style is clearly elder King, with its meandering way and a narrative peppered with commentaries. It is for the reader to sift through it all and find the gems that will help them better appreciate the story. Chapters are broken up into numbered breaks, assisting with the literary digestion process, which allows the reader to better appreciate the magnitude of the story before them. I enjoy this style of writing, though am not entirely clear what flavour the younger King added to the story, as I am ignorant to any of his past published works. That being said, the collaborative King experience was one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Kudos, Messrs. King, for this excellent collaborative effort. I found myself enthralled until the very end and hope you’ll consider working together again.

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

The Bishop’s Pawn (Cotton Malone #13), by Steve Berry

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Steve Berry, Minotaur Books and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Steve Berry is back to provide readers with another instalment of the Cotton Malone series. In this piece, things go back to the beginning, before Magellan Billet, when Malone was still a lieutenant in the Navy and working for the JAG. After a failed attempt to help a friend finds Malone tossed in a Florida jail, he’s approached by one Stephanie Nelle from the Justice Department. She can make the arrest and any charges disappear if he will help her with a secretive and very important mission. He must retrieve a rare gold coin and ensure it is returned to her as soon as possible. Having nothing to lose, Malone ambles down to the waterfront, where he finds the item, alongside a number of documents that appear to be highly classified. Etched with ‘Bishop’s Pawn’ on the cover, Malone is curious and soon discovers that these files are highly sought, when an agent of the Cuban Secret Police comes to fetch them in a less than courteous manner. From that point, Malone learns that there are many seeking the documents, including the FBI, who will stop at nothing to ensure they are not seen by anyone else. Malone soon realises that he’s stumbled into the middle of the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination conspiracy and that these documents may reveal a narrative no one expected. Could there be more to the assassination than first thought? Might this ‘Pawn’ document prove that J. Edgar Hoover was behind the entire operation to exterminate King while the race riots and civil rights movement was heating up? As Malone dodges blood-thirsty people on both sides of the equation, he must decide if working for Justice and retuning the documents to Stephanie Nelle is the right move, or whether burying the narrative from the public is the best choice of all. Another brilliant piece by Berry, who digs up loose threads in history and weaves his own narrative in a magical way. A wonderful addition to the Cotton Malone series, it will keep series fans quite content. Those new to Berry and the series need not shy away, as it builds the foundation of a wonderful set of novels and may whet the appetite of those looking to explore this phenomenal collection.

I have read and enjoyed Berry’s work for as long as I can remember, having enveloped myself in the nuances of the Cotton Malone series and the tweaks to history for the entire journey. What sets Berry apart is that his writing and storytelling pits fact against fiction in such a way that it is sometimes indiscernible to the reader, forcing them to refer to the ever-present piece at the end it find out what was based in reality and where Berry sought to bridge things with some of his own creative writing. With this being the dawn of Malone’s appearance with Justice, there are none of the other characters that series fans know so well, allowing a stronger focus on the protagonist. Malone is given some brief backstory at the beginning and it builds throughout. His reckless ways are still fairly new, though his intuition is strong and the reader can see some of the early crumbs of what will become his unique personality in the novels to come. Malone is determined to do what he feels is right, though admits that he does try to follow orders, when they suit him. The narrative hints repeatedly at the issues in his marriage, something that develops in the series. This introduction to such a wonderful character paves the way for some wonderful future revelations by the reader, should they take the time to enjoy the entire collection of novels. Some of the other characters work well to build the dramatic effect within the story, serving as high-ranking members of the government or agencies central to the King assassination at the time. Shedding light on those tumultuous times, Berry utilises these people to expound on an America at the crossroads of internal disaster and race disintegration, with the apparent stop-gap measure before them. Turning to the story itself, Berry imbeds so many interesting pieces as they relate to the King assassination, as well as providing the reader with some interesting insight into what might have happened. While the entire event was seemingly an open and shut case, there were many whispers over the past fifty years that receive their due mention in the narrative. At a time when race relations are again teetering, Berry’s novel opens up the discussion and explores how those days in the 1960s changed the way the world looked at civil rights in America. And with the fiftieth anniversary of the King assassination on the horizon, Berry fuels the fires of discussion and analysis once again. Written from a first-person narrative, Malone’s story receives a much more personal touch, allowing Berry to introduce the man who has been so important over the years. The narrative, mixed with documents and references to flashback moments in King’s life, proves a rich story on which to build this modern piece. Additionally, placing the story in and around 2000 permits both Berry and the reader to look both back and ahead, straddling history and using that unique perspective of hindsight and forethought. I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of this piece and can only hope that others will also find something worthwhile.

Kudos, Mr. Berry, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what you have in mind as you keep Cotton interesting and ever-evolving, even in his rookie days.

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