Broken Ground (Inspector Karen Pirie #5), by Val McDermid

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Val McDermid, and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I am always pleased to find a new Val McDermid novel ready to be devoured, particularly because she has a few strong series that I have come to enjoy. After a devastating personal loss, Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie is back. Shuffled off within Police Scotland to head-up the new Historic Cases Unit (HCU), Pirie begins work on a rape/murder from three decades ago. With only the description of the assailant’s vehicle, Pirie begins combing through records well before thorough databases were created. Meanwhile, two treasure hunters are combing rural Scotland with a hand-drawn map, seeking the ultimate prize, two motorcycles from around the end of the Second World War. After locating the spot and digging through much peat, they locate not only the crates, but a body that’s suffered numerous gunshots wounds. What adds to the intrigue is that a number of artifacts on and around the victim date it back no earlier than 1995. DCI Pirie is called to the scene and thus begins her meatier case, trying to locate what might have happened. With the peat preserving the victim’s body, an identification is possible, as is some other history about the man left in the bog. With Pirie working this case, she must also juggle all that is going on with her other investigation, turning up many forgetful witnesses and belligerent individuals. However, Pirie is not one to give up easily and she soon creates a document trail that may solve both cases in short order, if only she can get a few key pieces of evidence to line up properly. That will require assistance from higher up the chain of command, always a daunting task. McDermid provides the reader with some excellent insight in this well-established series. Recommended for those who enjoy DCI Karen Pirie in action, as well as readers with a keen interest in cold cases.

It has been a while since I read Val McDermid, but doing so always proves to be a worthy task. She’s able to get to the heart of the matter in a timely fashion, while also building up her setting and characters effectively, thus keeping the reader fully committed. DCI Pirie proves to be a great character who has evolved since the beginning of the series. Still handling the death of her husband, Pirie is only now coming out of the fog. She’s able to keep her mind sharp and wits about her as she tackles some less than simplistic police work within the HCU. Added to that, there is the strain of a less than compassionate superior and Pirie must forge ahead just to stay above the fray. Many of the other characters found within the novel develop effectively over this time and show that their presence is not only essential, but entertaining for the reader. Juggling a few cases can be tough for both the police and the reader, trying to keep facts and witnesses straight, though McDermid writes in such a way that it is reasonable and usually straightforward. The reader is able to digest the larger story with ease, helped sometimes by short chapters that keep the narrative’s momentum. Those familiar with McDermid’s work will know she does well to keep the sarcasm high between intense moments, balancing the reading experience. McDermid’s writing holds out until the final sentence and readers will surely be pining for more in the near future.

Kudos, Madam McDermid, for another winner. I love your writing and ideas, hoping you have a few more pieces to dazzle your fans in the coming months.

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

The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #8), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny has taken another gamble with this unique novel in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. When a monk is found at a remote priory in the Quebec woods, Gamache and Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir make the difficult trek to investigate. Using this whittled down Homicide squad of the Sûreté du Québec, Gamache soon discovers that the priory is well-known for its chanting monks, who were headed by music director Frère Mathieu, the victim of a significant blow to the head that cost him his life. What could have happened at this idyllic priory and who among these monks could hold such disdain as to have killed one of their own? As they investigate, Gamache and Beauvoir also spend time alone, contemplating their lives. The tranquility is broken when Chief Superintendent Francoeur arrives, citing that he has the forensic reports for their perusal. While some might welcome a superior, Gamache has a hard time holding his animosity in check, sure that this is the man responsible for leaking videos of that horrible terror attack to the public, thereby branding Gamache in a light he wished he could avoid. While Gamache discovers personal clashes amongst the monks, he comes to see that many have reason to want Frère Mathieu out of the way. With a killer in their midst and another wolf in sheep’s clothing poking around, Gamache cannot afford to make a mistake. All the while, his second-in-command is tested by holding back a significant secret from Gamache, one that could change the team’s dynamic forever. Penny may have kept Three Pines out of this story, but readers can still count on significant development in this mystery. Highly recommended to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style. At this point, I would strongly suggest new readers begin where the series began and progress accordingly.

Louise Penny has never let the series turn into formulaic writing, always happy to offer up new twists and perspectives to her dedicated readers. Leaving the antics of Three Pines behind, Penny injects a new set of ‘villagers’ into this piece, as she isolated the Chief Inspector from the outside world. Gamache continues to wrestle with personal issues throughout the novel, partially related to the fallout of the aforementioned raid that cost many officers their lives. There is also a degree of introspection when it comes to personal faith and trust, though not of the religious type. Gamache has proven himself to be a well-grounded individual, but even his calm exterior cannot hide the fury and fear that rests below the surface. This contrasts nicely with revelations the reader discovers about Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir, who struggles not only with his attempts to understand why anyone would want to choose a life in a priory, but also with a deep secret he is keeping from Gamache. Both sentiments eat away at him, creating some interesting character development and backstory for the reader to enjoy, chasing away the statuesque past this man has exhibited throughout the series. The handful of monks fill the gap left by the Three Pines residents, though one cannot completely replace the zany characteristics of the villagers. These men may have dedicated their lives to God and music, but their personal foibles cannot be entirely removed and find their way on the written page. Penny successfully paints them with their own unique attributes and keeps the story flowing well with their inclusion in the narrative. Penny uses strong themes of dedication, loss, and cohesiveness throughout to shape a narrative that keep the story’s momentum. Some bemoan that the series has gone stale or rogue, though I highly appreciate the twists Penny has utilised to keep the stories fresh and evolving. I am pleased to have found this series and continue to feel pleased with my choice to binge through the novels until I am caught up with many who have been praising this collection for a long time.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for another unique piece. I kick myself for waiting this long to join the other fans, but cannot say enough about these pieces.

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

Street Legal: The Betrayal, by William Deverell

Eight stars

William Deverell is one author who is able to take the nuances of the Canadian legal system and put them into a well-developed piece that anyone can enjoy. I have read some of his stunning works and while this was not as powerful for me, I can see some of his wonderful style seeping from each page. Back in 1980, young lawyers Carrie Barr, Leon Rubinovitch, and Chuck Tchobanian were making names for themselves within Toronto’s legal community. After a man is charged with being the Midnight Strangler—raping and murdering women around the city—Barr is able to get him off on a technicality. While she’s flying high on this moral victory, she must come to terms with her philandering husband, who cannot seem to see what he is tossing away. After removing Ted Barr from their legal enterprise, these three young lawyers seek to make it on their own, armed with significant legal matters that find their way woven into the narrative of the book. Barr takes on defending a man whose ties to the criminal underworld and narcotics leave her wondering if she might have grasped for the first thing that came across her line of sight. She cannot help but hope that she will find something to help the situation before she is left with a bullet in her own head. Tchobanian is trying to push the limits of free speech in a pre-Charter Canada, with a client pushing pornographic novels who’s been threatened with numerous criminal charges. Perhaps most interesting of all is Rubinovitch’s work trying to defend a man who is peddling hate literature and trying to sell the world on the conniving nature of the Jewish population. All this, while more women are being murdered on the streets of Toronto, likely at the hands of the Midnight Strangler. What’s to be done and how will these young lawyers show that they belong in the cutthroat world of criminal law? Deverell does a wonderful job showcasing these young characters in a novel that was written to play the role of prologue to a highly successful legal drama on Canadian television in the 1980s. Recommended for those who like a darker legal novel with all the nuances of the Canadian system.

I stumbled onto Deverell’s writing last spring when I was reading his stellar Arthur Beauchamp series. While it took a while to get acclimated, the series grew on me and by the end I know I would have to try some of the author’s one-off work. Deverell paints his characters in such a way that the reader wants to love them, or at least get to know them before hating them outright. The three core lawyers in this novel all bring unique attributes to the table, but I do not feel as though Deverell sought to focus his attention on any one of them. There is the banter that Carrie has with her husband, while also delicately handling a client who has such strong ties to the underworld that she cannot make a single mistake. Chuck seeks to find that loophole in the Bill of Rights legislation to allow free speech in an era where constitutionally entrenched rights are still two years away. Leon seeks to hold his nose and hope his anti-Semitic client does not ruin things before they can find a way around some of this disturbing hate literature is read in open court. All three provide much entertainment and education for the attentive reader. The secondary characters fill the gaps these three leave, if only to push the narrative along in an interesting fashion. From quirky judges to members of the police community who feel that they are above the law, through to the criminal element demanding not only a day in court, but also that they be allowed to continue their lifestyles, characters fill the pages and Deverell shapes them all to be curious individuals. With a true Canadian flavour throughout the narrative, one can only presume that this novel serves to introduce the reader to the central characters in Street Legal, the television series Deverell wrote for CBC back in the 80s, which I vaguely remember seeing in the television listings as a youth. I did not watch it, but can only imagine how compelling it would have been, based on the intricacies that Deverell puts into his books. Deverell does great work pacing the narrative while educating the reader of the legal and social issues prevalent in Canada at the time. Balancing an interesting legal matter with highly complex characters, Deverell has penned a winner.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for a great novel. I am so pleased to get my mind working as I digest these Canadian legal thrillers!

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

A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #7), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

After a great deal of self-exploration in the past novel, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is back in another police procedural penned by the fabulous Louise Penny. After a long career as an artist, Three Pines resident Clara Morrow has secured a solo exhibition of her work at a high-end gallery in Montreal. Many of the big names in the local and international art scene have flocked to see what is going on, including Gamache and his second in command, Jean Guy Beauvoir. Eager to see the reviews the following morning, Clara heads out to collect the newspaper, but comes face to face with a body in her garden; someone she knew well from her past. After summoning Gamache and the rest of the Homicide squad of the Sûreté du Québec, all eyes turn to the guests at an exclusive party after the gallery showing. Top of the list would have to be Clara, when it is revealed that the victim, Lillian Dyson, was best friends with the local artist until a falling out decades before. No one can be entirely sure how Lillian made it to the party, or how she might have gone unnoticed. Gamache begins digging into the victim’s background, seeking to discover her ties to both Clara and the art community. However, it is a piece of evidence found near the body that proves most useful in the investigation, taking things on a winding tour into a world that Gamache could not have expected. There, Gamache encounters those he knows, but admits this is a side to them he could not have fathomed. All the while, Inspector Beauvoir comes to his superior with an admission, tied to that bloody shootout months before and how he’s had an epiphany. This revelation could shock not only the Homicide squad, but Gamache to the core. With a killer out there, Gamache must try to focus, without letting Beuavoir’s news derail him at the most inopportune time. Penny does so well to pull the reader in with fresh ideas and new angles to murder, without letting things go stale or rogue. Recommended to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style. At this point, I would strongly suggest new readers begin where the series began and progress accordingly.

Louise Penny has never rested on her laurels when writing novels in this series, as she seeks to find new and exciting ways to entertain her readers. She also has a wonderful way of not only coaxing out the changing seasons as a strong backdrop, but also hones the attention on a Three Pines resident and crafting a mystery around their life. Clara Morrow has never been a wallflower, though pushing the attention squarely on her works well in this novel, as the art world receives much of the attention throughout. From creation of art, distilling what works, and how reviews can make or break a budding artist, Penny pushes Clara to the centre of the spotlight and asks that she guide the reader through her own experiences. Morrow does well to explore her backstory as a young artist without getting too bogged down, though also showing how she and husband, Peter, have had to fight for recognition as individuals and a team. Gamache receives some wonderful attention here, though steps back to allow others their limelight. What is interesting is the ongoing exploration by the series protagonist to tap into who might be trying to bring him down—again—and how he can keep his Sûreté team in tact. Penny has Gamache wrestle with some personal issues throughout, though it does not distract from the story at any point, adding more flavour to the series progression, in my opinion. The handful of other characters continue to impress, adding some of their own nuances, including the somewhat stoic and statuesque Jean Guy Beauvoir. Series fans will likely enjoy what he brings to the table and how his revelations enrich an already complex character interaction. The story was well designed to provide the reader a look not only into the art world, but that of other areas where anonymity is crucial. Once the reader pushes through that barrier, they will discover something that Penny treats with much respect, though she injects humour at times, using Gamache as the test subject. With strong themes throughout and a narrative that keeps the story moving forward, Penny successfully tackles yet another mystery with much detail. I am pleased to have found this series and continue to feel pleased with my choice to binge through the novels until I am caught up with many who have been praising this collection for a long time.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for another stellar piece. I cannot believe I waited this long to join the other fans, but cannot say enough about these pieces.

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

Running in Circles (Lucy Lewis #1), by Claire Gray

Six stars

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

With this debut novel in the Lucy Lewis series, I had high hopes that Claire Gray would pull me in from the opening pages and not let go. The premise appeared strong and the cover offered some intrigue, paving the way for an interesting reading experience. Lucy Lewis is a journalist working in Thailand for a local paper, with hopes of getting a major scoop to advance her career. When a bomb explodes close to her hostel, Lucy and her editor, Steve, take a moment to shake off the shock before seeking to cover the story. Might this have been an errant explosion or could it have been an act of terror? With dust and debris scattered around the explosion site, Lucy and Steve begin asking questions in order to better understand what’s happened. Lucy finds herself face to face with another foreigner whose money lines the pockets of many, but when she tries to follow-up, he’s disappeared. Working both to understand what’s happened with the bombing and this mysterious disappearance, Lucy finds herself traveling a circuitous route, unable to get the answers she needs. Just as she feels she’s making progress, she falls victim to a conniving individual who wants nothing more than to shut down all Lucy’s sleuthing and keep this mystery buried under all the dead bodies. The truth will come out, though Lucy may not be around to see it. Gray does a decent job in spinning this tale, though I could not find myself completely connection to the story throughout. Perhaps others who enjoy the genre will find more than I did on the written page.

I found the title of the book to be spot-on, for numerous reasons. While I can see Gray has a few great ideas, I could not find myself connected or really ensconced by the style or plot. Lucy Lewis is a young journalist with much to prove, living and working on the other side of the world. She seeks to prove herself and show her editor that she deserves to be taken seriously. It does not help that she finds herself blurring the lines—at least in her mind—with her superior, which can only have dire results. The handful of other characters who grace the pages of the book made only a minor impact on me, though I could see that Gray was trying to develop them at every opportunity. There were supporters of Lucy’s efforts and those who sought to push her down when they could. Overall, it was a mish-mash of narrative circles. The story could have worked well, though it did not grab me. I cannot fault Gray, as I am not the easiest reader to impress, though but there was little within these pages that left me wanting more. I am sure others will laud this work and rush to get their hands on the sequel, but I will stand back and turn my attention elsewhere, at least for the time being.

Thank you, Madam Gray for your effort. While others may be sold, it just did not grab me, as the publishers likely hoped it would.

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

Th Hangman (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache # 6.5), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

A necessary re-read, now that I have completed the first six novels in Louise Penny’s stunning series. While I used this short story to test the waters, now that I have proper context, I chose to return and properly review the piece. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is back in Three Pines, bringing along with his the Homicide squad of the Sûreté du Québec (or ‘Quebec Provincial Police’, the first time Penny has anglicised the force) to investigate a man found hanging by a tree. The jogger who found him has been quite distant and uncooperative, leaving Gamache to wonder if he might be involved. After discovering the victim’s name, Arthur Ellis, the team finds that he’s been staying at the local bed and breakfast, formerly the Hadley House. Ellis left a fairly clear suicide note in his room, though Gamache is not entirely sold that this was how the act played out. While engaging with some of the locals, Gamache realises that the victim may have additional secrets that are only now coming to the surface. When the medical examiner notices odd ligature marks not attributable to a rope, it becomes apparent that there is a killer in Three Pines, but what motive might they have? Additionally, how could Ellis, a visitor himself, have pushed someone to kill him in such a public manner? Penny pulls the reader in with this stunning short story, easily finished in a single sitting. With nothing really spoiler-related within this piece, I suppose it could be enjoyed as a standalone, as I did the first time around. Fans of police procedurals and Canadian mysteries will also find something worthwhile.

I am happy to have found yet another Canadian author whose work falls within one of the genres I enjoy so much. Set in rural Quebec, the series is sure to have a lovely Canadian flavour, something that will enrich the reading experience and have it stand out in the genre. Penny provides the reader with some interesting exploration of Chief Inspector Gamache, though nothing new for the series reader. Gamache has a curious way about him, highly intelligent but also down to earth as he investigates the crime before him. He does not come across as condescending, but also gets to the root of the matter in short order and does not appear to suffer fools. Penny’s descriptive nature provides an interesting sampling of some other members of the Homicide team, though nothing sensational comes from the pages of this piece. The story moves quickly, as it must with its brevity, and the reader must follow the movements of both the characters and the plot. Penny keeps the reader in the middle of the investigation, dropping hints throughout as she pushes towards the reveal, which ties the entire experience together. With this ‘short case’ done, it is time to return to slower and more thorough plots in full-length novels. With a new novel set to come out later this autumn, I have no time to wait. Back to the binge!

Kudos, Madam Penny, for reminding me how a masterful storyteller hones her craft!

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

Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #6), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache must wrestle with the core of his being in this next novel of Louise Penny’s ongoing series. The piece opens with Gamache in Quebec City, ready to enjoy a winter carnival. He’s on leave, as is the rest of his Sûreté du Québec Homicide squad, after a brutal terror attack left many dead. While taking the time to hone his knowledge of Quebec history, the murder of local amateur archeologist, Augustin Renaud, creates quite the buzz. Found at the Literary and Historical Society, Renaud was said to have been trying to unearth the body of Quebec’s founder, Samuel de Champlain. Eager to offer his assistance, Gamache gains access to the investigation and begins to poke around, while also using his mentor and long-time friend to discuss matters of policing and personal politics. Without needing his compatriots, Gamache sends Inspector Beauvoir back to Three Pines to covertly reexamine the case of local resident, Olivier Brulé, whom series readers will know was arrested and convicted of murder at the end of the previous novel. Could it be that Olivier is innocent after all, as his partner, Gabri, has been touting in daily letters to the Chief Inspector? While there, Beauvoir interacts with Three Pines residents, many of whom have nothing but disdain for this man who chose not to support their friend. Beauvoir recounts to the locals some of the happenings related to the aforementioned terror event, explaining the step-by-step process that had Gamache in the middle of trying to save one of his new agents without ceding complete control to a farmer with a mission. In the present case, Gamache is trying to wrestle with the idea of his connection to the Quebecois, something that parallels a nationalism many feel for their country. Penny explores this struggle throughout, pushing her protagonist into the middle as he tries to find not only the killer, but to examine how the Literary and Historical Society—an Anglophone organization in the heart of French Quebec—has survived this long and what take they have had on Champlain and his role in Quebec’s founding. With three criminal investigations on the go within the single narrative, there is much to discover and explore, but nothing will be clear-cut, nor will happy endings be bountiful. Penny has really pushed the reader to their limits with this one, seeking to juggle multiple crimes in a series of time periods. Recommended to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style. At this point, I would suggest new readers begin where the series began and progress accordingly.

Louise Penny has taken a significant gamble at this point in the series and I can see where some might bemoan her decision, though I do not entirely agree with the criticism. This story straddles three cases, all of which reveal themselves in the narrative, though their timelines differ greatly. Additionally, Penny seeks to explore Quebec nationalism and paint her protagonist into a corner as he works in Quebec City. Let us first explore the characters who appear and evolve on the page, then tackle some of the narrative and other parts of this complicated novel. Gamache has grown so much over the past few novels that the series reader might not expect as much development as can be found in this sixth piece. Not only does the reader discover some of Gamache’s deeply held beliefs as a Quebecois, but also what drives him as a leader and a man. Penny does well to explore these most sensitive aspects of her protagonist, without pulling him from the job for which readers have come to love him. The other characters prove to be a mish-mash, receiving some minor development, but Jean Guy Beauvoir deserves a few lines here. His icy demeanour is one that series readers know well, so tossing him into the Three Pines community without the shield of Gamache was sure to prove entertaining. Beauvoir forged into the area, armed with trying to see if his own notions about the guilt of one resident could stand after exploring some evidence. This also forced him to engage with the locals, thereby testing his ability to work independently and stop the incessant judging of all things Anglophone. Penny does a decent job of coaxing out some development with this plot line. The story is actually three, as mentioned before. While I thoroughly enjoyed them all, I felt throughout that the ‘terror cell’ should have been its own story (novel or novella), as it kept things somewhat confusing. While series readers are an intelligent bunch and I am the last person to criticise an bestselling author, I felt things got too clouded throughout. Penny would have done well to explore the terror cell theme in a stand-alone piece (#5.5?) and allow oblique reference to it in this piece, rather than trying to juggle everything. Gamache still ends up in Quebec City for this novel, Beauvoir is still able to return to Three Pines on his own, but the reader has that intense storyline out of the way and free from constant flashbacks. A throughly enriching experience can be found in this novel, which taps not only into Canadiana, but plunges headlong into the depths of Canadian and Quebec politics on a level that is both complicated and much needed. I applaud the political dignity Penny utilises in this hot potato topic and hope she will not shy away from the Quebecois struggles within her protagonist as the series continues.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for keeping me enthralled. And now…your sole short story in the collection. Let’s have a look!

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

The Brutal Telling (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #5), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache makes another appearance in Louise Penny’s ongoing Canadian police procedural series. Things continue to get better as I binge my way through the well-developed novels, losing myself in the powerful narrative and peaceful setting. The calm nature of Three Pines is disrupted when a body is found within the town’s bistro. The owner, Olivier Brulé, is fingered as a potential suspect, but the evidence soon points in another direction. There’s no time to waste and the Homicide squad of the Sûreté du Québec is summoned, headed up by Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, familiar with this bucolic community. Surveying the scene, Gamache discovers that the victim is unknown to the locals and appears to be a vagrant, but one who takes care of himself. Unsure where to begin, Gamache and the squad take in the town’s changes since last they spent time there, including the Hadley House, once deemed haunted but now being renovated into a spa and retreat centre. When clues around the body point to it being moved, Gamache looks to some of the newer inhabitants of this community in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. There’s something just not right about them and Gamache is determined to get all the facts before he makes a final judgment. When a cottage is discovered in the woods, full of primitive living accommodations and with a significant amount of blood, all eyes turn to that discrete location as being the crime scene. It’s only then that Olivier begins acting strange again, as though there is more to the story than he is willing to share. While Olivier’s secret past begins to drown out the persona everyone knows, a killer lurks in the shadows, waiting to be found. Gamache cannot let this case slip through his fingers, even if it means alienating himself from some of his friends to turn over ever rock! Penny keeps the intensity high in this fifth novel, sure to shake the reader to the core. Recommended for series fans and those who enjoy Canadian mysteries full of national symbols.

Louise Penny continues to impress me with her writing style and unique plotlines. Chief Inspector Gamache remains a highly interesting character, whose development does not seem to take a break, even when new and exciting characters cross the page. His meticulous nature and attention to the crime scene keeps the reader connected to the protagonist, whose witty repartee offsets a dedication to police work. There is no apparent letting up of his dedication or leadership, even with strong supporting members of the Homicide squad. Said individuals prove great contrasts to their boss, each with their own stories that emerge slowly throughout. After a break from the residents of Three Pines, they are back as key members of this story, including the quirky poet, Ruth, whose duck left me shaking my head throughout this novel. As Penny has done before, we learn more about another of the residents, this time in the form of Olivier, who owns the bistro and is in a relationship with Gabri, the other half of a somewhat confident gay couple. The backstory and hidden traits that Olivier reveals throughout will fuel some interesting storylines into the future, though Penny’s focus here may create degrees of alienation by the other Three Pines folks. That said, if Ruth is still able to lure people for the oddest dinner party ever, surely Olivier will not become too much of a pariah in the short term. I felt that the story lagged at times, the first time I express this sentiment, but Penny did have to focus her attention on a subplot that builds as the novel progresses. It seemed as though much attention was paid to the many new characters, though they did not distract from the serious crime at hand. Penny foists the reader into the middle of the investigation, honing the many layers of the investigation before reaching the core standoff and discovery of the killer. I continue to love all the Canadian references, even if some non-Canadians will miss them in passing. I continue to enjoy this binge and will push onwards, as I have only a few weeks until the newest book lands on booksellers’ shelves.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for keeping me fully committed. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for Gamache and those who surround him on a regular basis.

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

The Unhappiest Lady in Christendom (Six Tudor Queens #3.6), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

Having long been a fan of Alison Weir’s novels, particularly those related to the Tudors, I was so pleased to hear of the Six Queens series. While Weir is a master at taking fact and fictionalising it on occasion to create novels, I was even more excited to hear that she would add some short stories to bridge the major novels in the collection. I came across this piece and devoured it in a single setting, having recently read the third book in the series, centring around Queen Jane. In this short story, Jane has just died and Princess Mary takes the narrative role. Mary explores her own sentiments about the death of her step-mother who worked so hard to calm sentiments between King Henry VIII and his eldest daughter. With the death of the queen, Mary must wonder if her return to Court will be short lived or if it might be a new and prosperous future for her. With Mary and Elizabeth comes a new child, Edward, who is heir to the throne. However, as a newborn, there is little he can do for the time being. The King has waited just long enough to mourn the death of his wife of seventeen months before realising that he needs another heir and must marry again. Questions arise as to where he might find a new wife, turning to political ties to strengthen the Protestant cause. While Mary worries about how this might dilute her Catholic background, she worries more about how her own life may be seriously harmed. Those around her remain sycophantic to the king, who seeks a wife rather than basking in the love that Jane brought him. When a potential wife is found in Germany, Mary can only hope that this Princess Anna of Cleves will prove a decent step-mother, even if she is only a year older and likely nowhere near as wise as Mary has been while remaining in England. Recommended for those who enjoy Weir’s work and have a soft spot for all things Tudor.

Weir never disappoints, even when she has a limited time to present her work. I found myself able to devour this piece quickly, yet noticed all the information jammed into the story. Offering things up from the perspective of Mary, recently welcomed back to Court, was a genius way of bridging the Jane and Anne marriages to Henry VIII. I had not given as much thought to the change in role that Mary had under Jane’s short reign, though hindsight has provided me many new ideas on the subject. Weir shows that Mary worries about her own future marriage to a worthwhile prince, surely sullied by her father’s ongoing shelving her and giving her a ‘bastard’ moniker. The Court is also going through many transitions, such that the key players close to Henry VIII are forced to shift their mindset to yet another round of irrational thoughts. The story may have been brief, but Weir packs a punch and keeps readers hooked throughout, pining for the release of the next novel, still many months away. I must admit that I am still a little upset that those outside of the United Kingdom cannot readily access these pieces and hope there will soon be progress to offer them to all fans of Alison Weir the world over.

Kudos, Madam Weir, for another wonderful piece of writing. The Tudors come to life under your pen!

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

Anonymity (DI Gravel #4), by John Nicholl

Eight stars

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

Any reader looking for a well-crafted psychological thriller need look no further than John Nicholl, whose two series have always kept me fully engaged and wondering what awaits me at the flip of a page. This novel was no different, though it takes a slightly different approach. Mia Hamilton is a popular author whose book sales continue to climb. When she receives an email from someone calling themselves her ‘number one fan’ she is, for a time, appreciative, but that loses its lustre when the messages do not stop. Just as Mia is able to assertively place this fan in their place, she receives a strongly worded message with threats to herself and her young daughter. Mia cannot help but feel that these are not idle threats and complies, though cuts some corners with the help of her sister. Displeased, the fan makes stronger demands and puts the fear of God into Mia, leading her to turn to a longtime family friend, Detective Inspector Gareth ‘Grav’ Gravel. Grav has been on sick leave and is out of the daily grind, but his passion to uncover this criminal pushes him to his limits. Meanwhile, the fan/stalker is none other than Mia’s sister’s fiancé, who enjoys the torment he can instil on Mia. Adam meticulously plans to stalk her with cameras and mind games, while Mia unwillingly relies on him to help her keep the stalker away. With Grav trying his best to help, he must overcome his own demons and loss of his wife, which push him deeper into an abyss and leave his superiors from allowing him back onto the force. With Mia worried for her safety, she accedes to Adam’s request to accompany her out of Wales in hopes of allowing the authorities to catch the stalker. Little does Mia know, she’s following the breadcrumbs provided to send her into deeper and more sadistic forms of hellish misery. Will Grav be able to locate the killer in time, or will Mia be the latest in a string of stalked and missing Welsh women? In a high-impact novel that shakes the reader to the core, Nicholl proves that he is at the top of his game in his crowded genre. Highly recommended for those who enjoy Nicholl’s work and readers who find pleasure in psych thrillers that cannot be put down.

I have been a fan of John Nicholl since first I read his work, which has strong parallels to my work in Child Protection. Nicholl works to develop both a protagonist and antagonist, such that the reader sees both sides of the coin throughout, in hopes of forecasting the clash that will lead to an eventual solution to the crime. DI Gravel remains a wonderful copper, though his struggles have overtaken him. With his removal from the police, he does not have the same supports, though his team does liaise with him and fill in the gaps whenever possible. He works his way through this piece effectively, though is not as sharp as in past pieces, for obvious reasons. Mia proves to be somewhat of a vapid character, though perhaps Nicholl wanted her to be this vulnerable. She proves to be a stereotypical victim in that she is too scared to stand her ground and tosses herself at others to help. In this case, into the arms of the man who is causing her grief (something revealed early on and therefore I would not call it a spoiler). Adam’s role is interesting, as he plagues his sister-in-law-to-be, turning her life into a living hell. If I can be critical of Nicholl here, the character lays too many clues out intentionally to have him caught. Without spoiling the story, Adam turns his attention on others in too many blatant ways, forcing the reader to question why it took so long to finger him. Still, the thrill of the case takes the reader through many twists and kept me curious until the very end, where Nicholl has a treat for the dedicated reader. The strong story is not hampered by knowing who is the antagonist from the opening pages, as things turn into more of a psychological game of cat and mouse. Readers can appreciate the attention to detail that Nicholl has placed in his novel and series fans can see much progress throughout the four novels. One can only hope Nicholl continues writing at this level, as there is so much to appeal to readers of this genre.

Kudos, Mr. Nicholl, for such a great piece. I am so pleased to have been given an early copy, allowing me to share some of my insights.

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