Death of an Old Girl (Pollard & Toye #1), by Elizabeth Lemarchand

Six stars

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

Asked to read and review this first novel in a long police procedural series, I leapt at the chance to delve into the world of Elizabeth Lemarchard and her well-developed Scotland Yard duo, Inspector Pollard and Sergeant Toye. During a reunion week at the Meldon School for Girls, Beatrice Baynes appears on the scene with nothing but criticism. From the layout of the garden to the freedoms exercised by pupils through to the scandalous artwork being created, Baynes has gone on the warpath. While others around her try to hold their tongues, there is an obvious animosity towards this ‘old girl’ and her less than laudatory personality. When Baynes is found murdered, the list of suspects is long and the motives equally as lengthy. The crime brings Pollard and Toye on the scene, dispatched from Scotland Yard to catch the murderer before the case gets cold. The investigation pushes the cops in numerous directions, though it is the careful examination of clues and insight that leads them to discover more than first meets the eye. With the killer somewhere amongst the reunion attendees, will Pollard and Toye be willing to finger someone, with the victim’s departure anything but a sorry loss to society? Lemarchand lays the groundwork for what surely became an interesting series with this debut novel. Some fans of police procedurals will enjoy it, though I found it hard to grip, even from the opening pages.

I have often said that first impressions of authors are hard to dispel, particularly when I have so many on my radar. Having this book put before me was likely the only way I would have read it, though I am sorry to say that I wish I had skipped the opportunity. I found the writing not to my liking and the story took too long to get going for me to thoroughly enjoy the end result. It was a tough read, peppered with my skimming at times to get through the experience in order to pen this review. Lemarchand does develop her characters well, offering them life and vigour throughout, but I simply could not find myself latching onto them or wanting to dig deeper. Surely, there will be many who have loved this series and have much praise for Lemarchand. To those folks, I tip my hat and praise the fact that I am able to disagree without it being scandalous. I would recommend anyone who reads the dust jacket to give the series a try, for it is perhaps my jaded perspective that left me unsatisfied. That being said. I take my gut reaction seriously and think it bears some merit in the larger reviewing community as well.

Thank you, Madam Lemarchand, for your large contribution to the genre and the writing community. Alas, it just did nothing for me!

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

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The Fifth to Die (4MK Thriller #2), by J.D. Barker

Eight stars

After his stunning series debut, talk about J.D. Barker and his 4MK thriller has many eager to get their hands on the next novel. Sam Porter is still trying to come to terms with the Four Monkey Killer, a.k.a. Anson Bishop, who rocked Chicago before he slipped through the fingers of authorities. With his own wife also dead, Porter had the case wrestled from him by the FBI without even a consultation with the seasoned detective. Now, in the dead of a Chicago winter, Ella Reynolds has gone missing. Missing Children is alerted and works alongside Chicago Metro until a body is found under the ice. The biggest problem? The water’s been solid for months and the body went missing only a few weeks ago. The buzz says that Bishop is back, but Porter cannot be sure, thinking that the killings are too different, particularly when the teen’s body is soaked in salt water. While Porter goes on a manhunt to find Bishop, he is left to follow a single lead and a hint that Bishop’s mother might hold the key to it all. When more teenage girls go missing, Metro rush to piece it all together, seeing some parallels to the previous 4MK deaths, though the oddity of the bodies leaves them baffled. Within the killer’s lair, the reader learns about an odd fascination with visions, which could be the key the authorities need to bring things together. As Barker pushes an interesting subplot with an old Bishop journal, the story takes on a new and bone-chilling perspective, while the bodies continue to mount. Barker does a sensational job of luring the reader in and finding new ways to create a stellar thriller. Perfect for those who loved the debut novel and readers who enjoy dark crime thrillers.

Barker’s return has been much anticipated and the wait can said to be justified. In a story equally as thrilling, the reader is taken on another journey down to the depths of a killer’s psyche and through some of the triggers that might have helped shape the man Anson Bishop became. The cast of characters is large, which can cause confusion, though those who are able to keep names and plots straight will revel in the detail used throughout the piece. Detective Same Porter definitely makes his mark in this book, though the dilution of storylines has him serving on but a part of the larger narrative. Bishop’s presence, both in the current story and through a detailed backstory in the form of journal entries, enriches the narrative and adds a dark flavour that Barker developed in the opening novel. The reader can better understand the man, while also being baffled by this new killer who has a penchant for teenage girls. The story is longer, but has also been broken into scores of chapters, making the narrative move at a clipped pace. Barker effectively breaks down not only the perspective, but a short timeline, to give the reader a true bang for their buck. Events flow wonderfully, though there is always a sense of panic, even over the short time period needed from first discovery until gruesome finale. Barker is an author not to be missed, as he haunts the reader with his style and skill, a sense that lingers long after the final paragraph.

Kudos, Mr. Barker, for another wonderful piece of work. I am eager to read more of your work, both in this series and in a collaborative effort with the distant relative of the author who honed thrill writing as a 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 Second Coming (The Shroud #2), by John Heubusch

Eight stars

John Heubusch stunned me with the opening novel in this series, mixing science and religion to posit what might happen if genetic material could be gleaned from the Shroud of Turin. Continuing where the drama left off, Heybusch furthers the story and explores the fallout of a Revelation-type End of Days situation inches closer to reality. After Dr. Jon Bondurant is able to remove the woman he loves, Domenika Jozef, from the clutches of the Demanian Church, a religious sect keen on pushing human cloning well into the future, they must come to terms with a personal loss. Domenika had been kidnapped and bore what the Demanians thought was the cloned Jesus, after taking DNA samples from the Shroud of Turin. However, a second sample of DNA was found on the Shroud, that of a Watcher, a fallen angel. This Watcher is the child left with the Demanians and who has begun his time on earth causing demonstrable havoc. India has been plagued with a devastating illness with no cure; something that puts the Spanish Flu to shame. With no known cure, health officials the world over are baffled as to how to handle it, as more of the world’s population succumbs each day. Knowing that they cannot stand idly by, Jon Bondurant and Domenika Jozef work alongside the Vatican to obtain a ‘pure’ sample of Jesus’ blood to clone their own offspring, the only one who might be able to save the world. Through some less than savoury acts, they are able to bring forth another child in Domenika’s womb and she bears this child, whom they call Christopher. As the years pass, Christopher proves to be a miraculous child and one who can perform many acts thought unknown, including curing the baffling illness plaguing India and elsewhere. Jon, Domenika, and Christopher all become targets of the Demanians, who have started to grow in popularity as the Vatican continues to wrestle with the ongoing issue of child abuse. With the Demanians holding their own weapon, the Vatican can do little but hope that Christopher grows into a man that has the ability to hold onto all that is pure. The stage is set for a battle of Good vs. Evil, Catholic Church vs. Demanian Sect, Science vs. Faith. A brilliant follow-up novel that keeps the reader hooked to the very end and leaves a tumultuous ending. Fans of a good religious thriller may enjoy this, though it is not recommended for the truly devout who wish not to have the Catholic Church knocked of its self-developed pedestal once again.

Heubusch used his first novel to present a foundation of science working alongside faith and the strains both possess as they seek to push to their limits. The ending left the door open with the Demanians in possession of a cloned and reborn Watcher, which sounds much more dramatic than the story presents. Now, it is time to see the fallout and how the key characters will move forward to process this and seek to rectify the imbalance. Jon Bondurant and Domenika Jozef are again great protagonists with much depth. Together, they offer the reader a wonderful means of seeing the narrative from the side of Good, though are by no means united in all regards. Bondurant has a secret, one that might fuel his strong atheistic views and shape the vigorous science-centred beliefs of his past and ongoing research. Domenika knows all about this, though has kept it from the man she loves, a secret sure to rot away at the foundation of their connection. They struggle throughout the piece not only to protect their ‘son’ Christopher, but to battle the inner demons that have created such a strain. Heubusch develops the Demanian Church more completely in this novel. What was a passing sect in the opening novel has now turned into the centre of a movement to dethrone the Catholic Church entirely. Heubusch weaves this narrative together effectively with key characters on both sides of the battle, all while injecting a flavour of End of Days being on the horizon. The remaining cast fits in nicely, all of whom add flavour and intensity to an already exciting narrative. Heubusch has crafted them perfectly and the reader cannot help but get lost in the well-grounded perspectives offers throughout the novel, which presents the theme from a variety of angles. The narrative does get bogged down at times with details regarding Christian history and Catholic dogma, but the story would not be as captivating with only superficial discussions of these topics. Heubusch has taken the time to get everything in order, creating a timely story at a time when Good and Evil seems to be ever-present. While some may look at the dust cover, the title, or even my summary and feel this is something that could only be enjoyed by the devout who want to hear all about their Saviour. It is not a ‘born-again’ piece of fiction with Jesus saving us all and the author injecting their own sermon on how to be saved in time. Rather, it takes much of the Christian foundation of End of Days and explores it through some strong arguments geared towards those who love a well-paced thriller. With a rapid pace and some subplots that demand answers, Heubusch shows that he has an excellent handle on his writing and can captivate the reader in short order.

Kudos, Mr. Heubusch, for another great piece that keeps the reader hooked. I can only hope there is more to come from you soon.

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

The Shroud Conspiracy (The Shroud #1), by John Heubusch

Eight stars

John Heubusch only crossed my radar during a recent trip to the library, where I noticed this interesting religious thriller. Always up for something that turns accepted religious fact on its head, I leapt at the chance to read this book and expand my knowledge base. Dr. Jon Bondurant is a world-renowned forensic anthropologist whose explorations and debunking of Christian relics has helped assign him the title of Vatican Enemy Number One. After years of trying to get permission to run tests of the Shroud of Turin, Vatican sources finally agree, though their regulations and demands are quite lengthy. The Shroud, said to be the cloth used to wrap Jesus Christ’s body after his crucifixion, has long been a controversial relic and never surfaced until the Middle Ages. Earlier tests disproved its authenticity, though new technology could offer an answer once and for all, thereby elevating the Shroud to new heights. Dr. Bondurant assembles some of the world’s best in their fields to examine various aspects of the Shroud, including a recent Nobel Prize winner whose work in ancient DNA has created a buzz around the scientific world. When the team arrives in Turin, they are met by Domenika Jozef, a Polish-born Vatican representative whose devout views clash with most of what Bondurant posits. During some of the key tests, Bondurant and Jozef come across proof that neither could have predicted, turning what may once have been rumour into all but concrete proof. Working on such a high-intensity project, Bondurant and Jozef are pushed together to the point that the tension becomes too much, though the playboy scientist makes his hasty escape before things get too real. While planning the final report for the world and Vatican, all aspects of Shroud analysis come together, though there is an anomaly with the blood analysis and a DNA chain that could not have been expected makes its way into the results. However, there may be more than science at play here, as a religious sect has been poking around and trying to use the services of this Nobel laureate to facilitate their plans for human cloning. As the world reacts to the Shroud news, there could be something equally earth shattering in store, as Domenika Jozef has gone missing. Heubusch creates much hype with this stellar opening novel in the series and leaves readers gasping with the ending, as they rush to find the sequel. Fans of a good religious thriller may enjoy this, though it is not recommended for the truly devout who wish not to have the Catholic Church knocked of its self-developed pedestal.

When it comes to books that seek to debunk religious tenets, there are many out there. It would seem that the Catholic Church, more specifically the Vatican, takes it on the nose when authors try to pry loose fact from faith-based fallacy, at least in the world of fiction. However, while some novels have earned their authors much success, it is difficult to find something entirely unique and yet interesting to a large cross-section of readers. Heubusch has succeeded, marrying science to a well-known Christian relic and churning out this highly entertaining novel. He has developed a lovely collection of characters that find ways to link themselves with the reader as the story progresses, without becoming too far fetched or standoffish. Jon Bondurant and Domenika Jozef prove not only to be two wonderful protagonists, but clash so completely as to complement one another perfectly. One is rooted in fact and refuses to make strong personal connections while the other finds solace in her faith and seeks deep personal connections. Together, they offer the reader a wonderful means of seeing the narrative through two lenses, both of which are highly enthralling. The remaining cast fits in nicely, be they scientists, religious scholars, or sect members pushing a newfangled set of beliefs, all of whom add flavour and intensity to an already exciting narrative. Heubusch has crafted them perfectly and the reader cannot help but get lost in the well-grounded perspectives offers throughout the novel,. The narrative does get bogged down at times with details regarding Christian history, Catholic dogma, and the sciences of analysis, but I surmise that the story would not be as captivating with only superficial discussions of these topics. Heubusch has surely taken the time to get everything in order, creating the equivalent to a well-oiled machine before letting the reader make their own decision. With as quick pace throughout and some subplots that are sure to become central arguments in the sequel, Heubusch ends this opening novel with a stunning revelation, one that could rock Christianity to its core, should it come to pass. Then again, it’s always fun to weaken a foundation and see how the tenets withhold the impact, no?

Kudos, Mr. Heubusch, for a great piece that keeps the reader hooked. I am rushing to get my hands on the sequel so that I, too, can learn how all this plays out.

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

A Measure of Darkness (Clay Edison #2), by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman

Eight stars

Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman return with another successful collaborative effort as they continue their new series. This comes after a disastrous effort that many readers still remember. A late-night shooting outside an Oakland home brings Clay Edison to the scene. An investigator for the Coroner’s Office, Edison spends much of his time trying to locate the next of kin while also working to better understand the rationale, paralleling some of the work undertaken by the police. While the deaths took place at a single location, bullets were not the only weapon of choice. Adding to the complications, Edison must try to identify the bodies, which proves harder than it might seem. The case branches out and forces Edison into the world of the transgender community, who protect themselves, erecting walls of privacy they feel prevents societal shaming. While Edison must walk on eggshells in this regard, it pales in comparison to some of the other mysteries of the case surrounding an alternative school with a history of bucking the mainstream. The further Edison digs, the more complicated things became. If this were not enough, Clay’s brother appears after a stint in jail with news of his own, enough to topple the apple cart for Clay and those close to him. The Kellerman men provide a fast-paced and highly entertaining piece that explores the criminal process from a unique perspective. Recommended for fans of both authors and their collaborative efforts, as well as readers who love a good police procedural.

I have read most of what Jesse Kellerman has written, though I soured on him after reading the aforementioned literary disaster. However, when I saw such rave reviews for the series debut novel, I took the plunge and was pleased with the outcome. The Kellerman men have a great grasp of writing that puts the reader at ease and keeps them connection to the cases at hand. Clay Edison, a college basketball phenom whose career abruptly ended, has adapted to life as a coroner’s investigator. He’s a great character whose off-hand approach to life and work keeps the story moving along well. He has a way about him that has the reader wondering where his mind is going and what he is thinking, keeping the narrative twisting in numerous directions. The reader sees much of his backstory emerging with the arrival of his brother on the scene. Bringing up memories of their youth and the different paths they chose at an important fork in the road helps the reader to relate a little better with him. Adding a collection of characters who differ greatly from one another, the authors inject an interesting flavour to the story, such that the reader will not likely become tired as the narrative progresses. Tackling a few poignant societal issues, the authors provide an interesting—and I would venture to say, ‘healthy’—discussion of the issues, choosing to offer a perspective that is respectful without being soap box-esque. This provides the reader with some insight that may not have been at their disposal before, perhaps opening the minds or sparking an ongoing debate. The story certainly flows well and reads like a police procedural, though without much of the gritty banter between authorities and witnesses. The seamless writing style of these two established authors is reflected in the ease with which the reader can progress in short order. I am definitely looking forward for more in this series, though understand personal commitments of both Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman may make another novel a distant dream.

Kudos, Messrs. Kellerman, for another stellar piece. You have great fan bases and I hope you’ll continue to cater to them for the foreseeable future.

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

Chaser (Jinx Ballou Bounty Hunter #1), by Dharma Kelleher

Eight stars

Dharma Kelleher returns with this debut novel in her new series, one that is sure to pique the interests of those readers who enjoy something a little grittier. Jenna Christina ‘Jinx’ Ballou is a well-respect bounty hunter in Phoenix. With eight years experience and time working for Phoenix PD, she has the intuition needed to hunt down criminals of all stripes and colours. She’s quite excited to be featured in a local news magazine, sure to highlight all her accomplishments. However, the journalist spins the article to reveal a personal matter she has kept under wraps for close to two decades; that she is transgender. While this has not proven to impede her abilities to work, it would seem that many in her line of work are a little less than accepting. Having been blackballed by many, Jinx is forced to peddle her wares and is given a one-time chance to locate a significant bounty in only five days. A teenage girl has been charged with murdering her mother and, while out on bail, has disappeared from her aunt’s custody. While the aunt vows that she has no idea where she might have gone, Jinx is not too sure. Rumour has it, she’s been scooped up by some random man, though details remain sketchy. Working with her boyfriend and fellow bounty hunter, Conor, Jinx uses all her contacts to locate this young woman, which takes her to the darkest parts of the city. Risking her life and limb every day, Jinx must juggle her work and background as she faces people with little regard for respect and responsibility. Time is running out and Jinx has to secure this bounty or face dire consequences in all parts of life. Kelleher does a fantastic job opening the reader’s eyes to the world of bounty hunting and acceptance of people in all walks of life. Those who have enjoyed Kelleher’s past work will likely find this piece of great interest.

While I do not usually read the type of books that Kelleher pens (bikers and bounty hunters), I find the quality and ease of understanding to be highly addictive. Kelleher invests time and energy to ensure that the reader, no matter their walk of life, can feel comfortable reading this material and, at times, develop an affinity for the genre. Jinx Ballou is a character that is sure to prove curious to the attentive reader. She is filled with layers of personality traits that complement one another, while also bringing much backstory to keep things from getting too mundane. A bounty hunter in a male-dominated field, she has grit and determination to differentiate herself from others, without going over the top. Kelleher handles the transgender angle respectfully and offers the reader education rather than feeling as through they are being inculcated with information. There is a delicate mix and Jinx juggles all parts of her life while also keeping the story moving forward. Some of the other characters serve to accentuate differentiate varying aspects of the story’s plots, be they the world of bounty collection, sexual acceptance, or personal growth. Kelleher has shaped these secondary characters as effective vessels to speak to the perspectives she wishes to portray throughout. Turning to the story, it is gritty and does not slow down at any point, but does alternate between plot and characters development. This is important, particularly if Kelleher wants to create a series, for it is connection to both that will have the reader wanting more. Pulling no punches, Kelleher tells things as they are, injecting saucy dialogue to create a degree of realism to the character interaction. This will surely offend or upset some readers, but that would likely be the crowd who’d not return nonetheless, so there is little lost keeping them on the wayside. I have been happily surprised to see all the pieces Kelleher has presented to date and hope she has more in store for her fans, no matter the topic.

Kudos, Madam Kelleher, for another winner. I can see so much potential and hope you’re getting the support from readers and writers alike to keep pushing forward with this venture.

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

A Noise Downstairs, by Linwood Barclay

Eight stars

Linwood Barclay can always be relied upon to put forth exciting novels that creep up the spine, leaving the reader questioning what they’ve just read. His ability to develop a psychological thriller puts him in league with some of the top in the genre, thereby strengthening his fan base. Paul Davis is a college professor who was out on a late evening drive. After coming upon the vehicle of his colleague, Paul stops to help, only to be attacked and almost killed. Eight months later, Paul is trying to come to terms with the head injury he suffered that night, while his wife, Charlotte, must try to acclimate to her husband’s constant forgetfulness. She purchases an old typewriter for him, in hopes that it will help him process some of the feelings and thoughts that came from the attack. Paul has also engaged the services of a therapist, Dr. Anna White, who is helping him come to terms with the entire ordeal. When Paul wakes in the night, hearing a clacking sound that could be no other than the typewriter, he rushes to see, but there is nothing there. Worried, Charlotte tries to help her husband come to terms with what must be his subconscious brain playing tricks on him. Dr. White goes so far as to concur, hoping that her patient will find solace rather than constant distress with this new form of therapeutic release. Meanwhile, Dr. White has another patient whose past is indicative of severe and inexplicable revenge tendencies, seeking to topple the apple carts of many others for his own peace of mind. The more she tries to help, the less it appears to work. With Paul’s ongoing traumatic situation, now morphed into messages spewing from paper left in the typewriter at night, one can only surmise that there may be something supernatural happening, which is only further supported when it would appear that it was the same typewriter as the man who attacked Paul; someone who had forced previous victims to write letters of apology before he killed them. With all this coming to a head, Paul forges on to make sense of it all, while Charlotte becomes increasingly worried. Has her husband lost all touch with reality? Could his memory loss be responsible for him writing these messages at night, but not remembering? And how can one completely explain that noise of the typewriter clanking in the night? Barclay leaves these and many other questions with the reader, who will likely want to dive in to better understand what is going on. Another brilliant piece by a psychological thriller expert. Recommended for those who enjoy Linwood Barclay’s work or the reader who finds solace in a novel that poses multiple mind games.

I can usually be assured of a top-notch novel when Barclay publishes something and this piece was nothing short of stellar. The mix of well-developed characters, a plausible plot, and just a touch of King-esque paranormal activity (so much so that the characters actually refer to what is going on as having come from a King novel), leaves the reader wanting to push onwards as things get even more complicated. Paul Davis is a wonderfully relatable character who has been through a great ordeal and is only now able to pick up the pieces. He straddles the line between recovery and deeper psychological issues, though there is little doubt that current events with his new gift have pushed him further away from sanity. He struggles to understand it all, though has been able to turn to Anna White to help him. While this does not always work, the reader can see glimpses of sanity in his sporadic activities and memory-debilitating daily life. Anna White proves to be another key character, juggling her own personal issues alongside those of a handful of clients, all of whom pose different risks to themselves and others. The reader will likely find the White character to be very grounded, though also a bit standoffish, as is usually the case when processed through the eyes of a patient. Paul and Anna find themselves in an odd dance to better understand the former’s mental state and while outward signs point to issues, there is surely something else at play. A handful of other characters prop things up and thicken an already strong plot, adding questions and intrigue while riding the narrative’s easy flow. The story is one that might not be entirely unique—an inanimate object takes over and causes a protagonist angst—but the way it is presented in Barclay style leaves the reader to wonder how it all comes together. Things flow well and the story does not get too out of hand, though the reader need keep an open mind until the final chapters to understand what is going on. Barclay has mastered his craft again and it is up to the reader to decide if they are prepared to accept what is on offer.

Kudos, Mr. Barclay, for another wonderful novel. I can only hope your ideas continue to flow, as I have eagerly anticipated many of the pieces you’ve presented in the last numbers of years.

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

A Killer’s Mind (Zoe Bentley #1), by Mike Omer

Eight stars

My first venture into the world of Mike Omer’s writing will surely not be one I forget. A serial killer novel that flips the genre on its head, Omer keeps the reader guessing throughout, in a piece that loses no momentum the deeper the plot. Dr. Zoe Bentley is an accomplished forensic psychologist with a passion for her work. When she is contracted to consult for the FBI, she leaps at the opportunity, getting neck-deep into a case that has been chilling Chicago to its core. While the local profiler scoffs at her ideas, FBI Special Agent Tatum Gray takes a liking to Bentley’s quirky side, though is kept in his place throughout the investigation. Someone has been murdering women and leaving them on public display, but not before embalming them, a unique act that has dubbed the killer the Strangling Undertaker. While investigating, Bentley cannot help but think back to a string of serial murders from her youth, which shocked her small town in Massachusetts. Bentley was sure she could identify the killer, but no one would listen to a teenager at the time. Back in Chicago, the killer seems to be getting sloppy and is almost caught, offering up a number of digital breadcrumbs on which the authorities can capitalise. When Bentley’s past and the current investigation collide, she cannot help but wonder if the horrors from two decades before might be rejuvenated, allowing a killer to whet their appetite again. Omer chills the reader to their core and provides the perfect mix of action and killer perspective to ensure the reader will come back for more. Those who love serial killer thrillers (what a tag-line for the sub-genre!) will want to keep this one on their list.

With the rise of certain television programmes, FBI profilers tend to be protagonists that are appearing throughout novels of this genre. That said, while anyone can spout out theories and ideas, it is the killer who deserves the praise, should they be thoughtful enough to provide a unique approach to crimes. Readers want to see new and intriguing ways to have their spines tingled, while trying to see what clues are left for synthesizing. Mike Omer does both very well and was able to keep me hooked, wondering throughout each passing chapter. Introducing Zoe Bentley’s character with such a backstory did much to convince me this would be a novel worth my time. I found her to be not only well-grounded throughout the investigation, providing both a serious and lighter side, but also to have a lovely, if dark, past as a teenager, which surely got her interested in all things serial killer. Omer balances these well and mixes them throughout the narrative, helping develop an attachment for the reader. Tatum Gray and some of the other characters laid the foundation for what could be a great series, should Omer continue with his strong FBI pairing, though there is likely a twist or two coming by next summer. The story was strong, yet did not get bogged down in too much psychological analysis, providing readers from all walks of life to feel comfortable navigating through the novel. Things flowed well and there were enough moments where the story took a twist so that the reader could not predict too much as things developed. Having not read any of Omer’s earlier work, I cannot comment on whether this venture into the genre is new or surprising, but I will say that he has made a fan out of me and I will keep my eyes peeled for the second Bentley instalment next July.

Kudos, Mr. Omer, for entertaining and educating in equal measure. You’ve made a fan out of me and I would venture that many others who take the time will sing your praises too!

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

The White Road, by Sarah Lotz

Six stars

This is my first venture into the world of Sarah Lotz and her writing, which is important to note from the outset. The story took me to new heights and offered some self-examination in some chilly conditions, something that I presumed at the beginning of this reading journey would prove exciting. Simon Newman is a thrill seeker of sorts. Not only that, but he likes to document those who seek thrills, but do not succeed, to the point that they lose their lives. Teaming up with a friend, Simon agrees to go inside a cave to explore, in hopes of finding—and documenting with video—a number of bodies of fellow cave explorers who perished. Macabre? Definitely, but when the exploration does not go as planned and Simon almost loses his life, he has an epiphany of sorts, as well as collecting a ton of emotional baggage. Simon turns to his next adventure, climbing the north side of Mount Everest, where there are surely many bodies are strewn across its paths. Lying to falsify his need to be there, Simon learns about an epic explorer, Juliet Michaels, who lost her life trying to be the first female to ascend to the summit. Through her journals (which the reader also experiences as a secondary narrative), Simon is able to learn that Juliet faced demons of her own, only to perish in the attempt to conquer them. With the climb moving forward, Simon meets a fellow climber whose story is closely tied to Juliet’s, all while he is on the lookout for new video footage to wow his website viewers back home. Struggling to come to terms with his past struggles, Simon realises that there is much more to the Juliet Michaels story than meets the eye, if only he will take the time to follow the path laid out before him. Lotz pens this interesting story, which may ‘pique’ the curiosity for some, though I found it to be an avalanche of convoluted writing.

I would suspect that the worst thing for an author is to have a reader spend time with a book and think, ‘Ok! So where is the point in all this?’ I felt that way throughout this novel and could not shake that it was not simply me in a poor reading mindset. I cannot criticise the writing, for it was quite well developed, or even the characters, as they did reveal themselves in a decent fashion. While the narrative was excessively long, I can see the Lotz wanted to condense each ‘happening’ into a single chapter, thereby making them long and somewhat convoluted (like a mountain trail?). I could not find myself caring much about the story or how the characters moved from one mindset to another. I like to learn and Lotz offers many chances to explore mountain climbing, going so far as to add a glossary of terms and peppering the narrative with ‘mountain-speak’. I just felt that the story left me feeling disconnected, like an old piece of Velcro that no longer has the ability to adhere to much of anything. Surely there are others who loved the book and praise Lotz for her writing. First impressions are strong and I simply could not find myself loving the book or the premise. Maybe I am just too jaded or want action rather than epiphanies embedded in a deeper meaning. Whatever it is, I cannot pretend that I am the problem, though perhaps I need my own hike away from the rest of the world to clear my head.

Thanks, Madam Lotz, for sharing this piece. I did not find it engaging, but I am sure others will lap it up.

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

Liar, Liar (Harriet Blue #3), by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Eight stars

The collaborative efforts of James Patterson and Candice Fox have brought about another winner in this third instalment of the Harriet Blue series. Picking up the action when the previous novel ended, the reader is thrust into a fast-paced crime thriller that has as many twists as it does lingering questions. With the revelation that Regan Banks is the actual Georges River Killer, it is time to capture Australia’s most elusive serial killer in short order. While Harriet ‘Harry’ Blue has always professed that her brother, Sam, is innocent, it was only after he was murdered behind bars and the evidence came to light that anyone believed her. With Banks on the lam, Blue has taken it upon herself to find him alone and put a bullet in his head in an act of vigilante justice, while lurking in the shadows and away from her colleagues. With the Task Force turning its attention to finding Banks, they must also worry about Blue, hoping she will resurface and let the authorities bring the killer in to answer for his crimes. With Banks in hiding, he is able to ascertain Blue’s personnel file, which includes much of her backstory from a life in foster care. Reaching out to Blue, Banks takes her around southern Australia to different locations of people important to her, leaving bodies as a calling card. Meanwhile, Blue’s friend and fellow cop, Edward Whittacker, has been given a new partner as they hunt down the likes of Banks. Vada Reskit is a rookie detective with a great deal of gumption, perfect to help with the investigation, though there is something about her that leaves Whittacker a little concerned. As the case pushes forward and the Sydney Police turn Blue into a criminal on the run, there is little hope for a peaceful resolution to all of this. While Banks and Blue continue their game of cat and mouse, all that remains sure is that there will only be one survivor and a lot of blood. Patterson and Fox continue this successful partnership, crafting a series that has all the elements of a good crime thriller. Perfect for series fans and those who love a crime novel they will be able to devour in short order, as they revel in an ending that no one could have expected.

In my long reading career, I have spent much time with the books of James Patterson. Some will know that I have a love/hate relationship with the author, who would appear to use his name to sell books, rather than focussing on quality (the James Patterson Syndrome). While that may be the case, Patterson does collaborate with a number of authors who seem to have a strong ability to create quality work, thereby showing that not all pieces that bear the Patterson name need be duds. Candice Fox is one such author, who is a well-established author in her own right that I have come to read and enjoy. As Patterson continues to churn out novels faster than I do reviews, those involving Fox should not be lumped with many sub-par pieces of writing. Those familiar with this series will know all about Harriet Blue and her dedication to clear her brother’s name, as well as bring the actual killer to justice. Her backstory is riddled with emotional land mines from a life in foster care, which is handled effectively so as to draw the reader closer to her, always wondering if there are new pieces that might better explain the protagonist’s life. This novel turns the focus of Blue’s character development to finding Banks and ensuring he receives the punishment he has coming to him. The reader will likely enjoy the rollercoaster of emotions Blue exhibits as she tries to stay off the radar of authorities while turning this search into a vendetta fuelled by personal injustice. Banks is another character who has taken some of the spotlight, showing off what may have driven him to kill so freely and without a second thought. The reader can, should they choose, find crumbs of compassion for the man, though he is crafted as a wonderful antagonist and one that can be hated with ease. A handful of others shape the story as it turns from a manhunt into a desperate search for a cop who has lost her ability to think rationally. This gripping storyline will keep the reader flipping the pages of each short chapter and likely polishing off the novel in short order. Patterson has kept the cliffhanger formula to drive the reader to push onwards while Fox’s Australian influence can be seen throughout the plot. Well worth the time invested, though it should not take a reader with a gap of time in their schedule long to complete this intense thriller.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Fox, for keeping this series moving. How a BookShot (short story) could have morphed into such a series, I could not have predicted from the outset. I hope your collaborative work continues.

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