A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #4), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series continues to get better as I binge my way through the collection. The detail and bucolic nature of the pieces invite me to keep reading, as though I have developed an addiction for all that is Gamache. Chief Inspector Gamache accompanies his wife, Reine-Marie, to their annual retreat for a chance to recharge. Upon arrival at Manoir Bellechasse, the Gamaches learn that they will not have the solitude to which they are accustomed, as a family reunion brings much excitement and fills the rest of the rooms. It is only with the arrival of Peter and Clara Morrow—residents of Three Pines—that the Gamaches feel a connection to this larger group. The Finneys/Morrows are textbook dysfunctional, from their treatment of one another through to the odd way in which one of the children is kept isolated from others. As part of their reunion festivities, a large sculpture of the long deceased family patriarch is unveiled, which only adds to the tension. After a significant storm, the body of Julia Martin is found under the sculpture, though it is not entirely clear what might have happened. While many would expect Peter and his family to react, none are overly shocked or doubled by the event, soon deemed a murder. Gamache alerts his fellow members of the Homicide squad with the Sûreté du Québec, turning this quiet community into a hive of action. As the squad tries to peel back the layers on this odd family dynamic, they learn some of the core issues that have simmered below the surface for decades. Even Gamache is not immune to being roped in, as his own family has ties to the brood, in the most obscure way. With a killer surely amongst the group, it is not simply trying to find a motive strong enough to murder, but choosing which of many is most likely. Penny keeps the reader highly entertained throughout in yet another Canadian police procedural. Highly recommended for the reader who likes ‘quaint’, yet intense, mysteries full of Canadiana.

Louise Penny makes a reader’s full commitment to the stories and characters quite easy. The Eastern Townships prove an effective setting to promote a unique set of stories that are easily differentiated from much that is on the market at present. There does not seem to be an end to Armand Gamache’s development as the series protagonist, while not trying to do too much in short order. Penny releases some essential backstory again in this piece, balancing his ever-evolving relationship with Reine-Marie against some tidbits about his parents, who were killed when he was just a child. This personalisation by Penny will likely prove highly important, as the series reader will want to know as much as possible in order to fill much of the as yet unknown early years in Gamache’s life. Penny touches on some of the Homicide squad, as they continue to appear in the series. While I have not mentioned him before, Jean Guy Beauvoir, the second in command, continues to show shards of his personality. Closed off and highly judgmental, Beauvoir is the polar opposite to Gamache, though is able to extract needed information to help secure an arrest. With this group log suspects, Beauvoir may need to pull out all the stops, just to make sense of things. Without a full cast of Three Pines residents, it is the Finneys and Morrows who provide much entertainment and the odd cringing moment as the narrative progresses. The story moves at a decent pace, through by no means the best of the series to date. Penny keeps the reader in the middle of the investigation, though there are many layers through which one must penetrate to find how the victim and killer reached their climax. I love all the Canadian references, something that many non-Canadians may not find as alluring. Their placement makes me feel at ease and I hope others will enjoy them—eh?! Bring on more Penny and keep them coming, if you please!

Kudos, Madam Penny, for intriguing me greatly yet again. I cannot stop reading these books, a sure sign of being fully ensconced in the series.

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


The Mercy Killings (Esther and Jack Enright #6), by David Field

Eight stars

David Field presents readers with another novel about the criminal element of Victorian England in the latest Esther and Jack Enright piece. Jack Enright has accepted a Detective Sergeant position in Essex, wanting to get away from the politics of Scotland Yard’s Metropolitan Police Force. While Jack enjoys the new surroundings, he is less than impressed by some less than dedicated fellow officers. A series of babies have been found murdered around Essex, snuffed out soon after birth and placed in a variety of locations. Baffled as to how he might start his investigation, Jack turns to his uncle, Percy, who remains a Detective Inspector with the Met. There has been a rise in unwanted children throughout the urban areas, England’s orphanages are overrun, yet there are too few families seeking to adopt through legal means. This has brought about the rise in baby farming, where women are peddling abandoned children to finicky couples, but the ‘leftovers’ are disposed of in quick order. These women disappear as quickly as they emerge on the scene, leaving the Enrights to chase their tails. Meanwhile, Esther has been biding her time with three children while Jack is away at work, though has been filling her time promoting Church-based adoptions, though the stories she learns leave her highly distressed. As Jack and Percy need to develop a sting operation to catch one suspected baby farmer, they turn to Esther and a new member of the family, hoping that this will quell the number of babies found disposed of like rubbish. It’s surely a matter of dismantling the operation, beginning with the lowest rungs on the ladder. Field provides an excellent plot for this piece, against a controversial backdrop in English history. Fans of the series will likely enjoy this latest piece, as might those readers who love Victorian mysteries that are read in short order.

I make a point of promoting David Field whenever I can, as his writing is not only easy to comprehend, but provides the reader with some context into the goings-on during the Victorian era. London and environs come to life in these pieces, as do some of the political issues of the day, some of which are still matters of contention. I rushed through the first few novels in the series when contacted by the publisher, and knew that I would return as soon as more novels appeared in publication. Field uses the story’s setting effectively, shifting focus to Essex without losing the narrative’s strength. Jack and Esther remain strong characters and some new developments in their familial and character aspects help pull the reader into the middle of this latest story. With an ever-growing family, the topic of baby deaths surely hits home for the Enrights, though they do not allow this to derail their attention to the crimes at hand. Field does well to never leave the reader without some new aspect of this couple, who play off one another well, without becoming too predictable. Percy and some of the other supporting characters do well to ride the wave of the narrative, helping to enrich the criminal investigation and adding unique flavours that permit Field to explore the topic at hand from a variety of vantage points. Field keeps the story fairly straightforward, though can never be accused of diluting or oversimplifying things for the curious reader. While Victorian England was surely not a time of sexual repression, contraceptives were still not readily discussed, pushing abortion into an unspoken realm. This left England with a surplus of babies and no means of handling the situation effectively. Scores of unwanted babies, abandoned for lack of desire or ability to care for them surely became a major issue, though the authorities of the time could not turn a blind eye. Field effectively educates without pushing out a soap box on the issue, permitting the reader to create their own opinion. These short reads can be digested in a single day, as I have done here, without feeling cheated. One can only hope that Field’s collection of ideas does not dry up anytime soon, as these novels are perfect for a reader who enjoys historical fiction.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for another success. I see a few more pieces are coming down the pipeline and I anticipate their arrival!

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

Turning Points: The Campaigns that Changed Canada (2004 and Before), by Ray Argyle

Nine stars

I have long felt that people of a geographic area can best be described by their political representatives, particularly on a national/federal level. While many would disagree with this sentiment, in democratic countries, where the ballot speaks, representation follows suit. Ray Argyle seems to hold this same sentiment and has put together a collection of essays to describe the political situation, election campaign, and aftermath of a number of elections/referenda in Canada from pre-Confederation through to 2011. Each election discussed pulls on important aspects of political change in Canada and saw significant shift in the mindset of the electorate or political shift in the way Canada would be run. Exploring such elections as John A. MacDonald’s decision to keep Canada from moving into a free trade agreement with the Americans to the dichotomous decision by a later (Progressive) Conservative Prime Minister—Brian Mulroney—to forge ahead into such an agreement, Argyle shows how times change and parties flip on their past beliefs. There were also key election battles between Liberals and (Progressive) Conservatives discussed in this book, the two central parties that vied for power federally for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, with a few smaller parties playing key roles when necessary. There is the constant theme of the Quebec role in elections, a definite issue for parties to bring into the fold without alienating the rest of the country. Argyle goes so far as to discuss the 1995 Secession Referendum that almost saw the province leave the Canadian Union. Of greatest interest to me was some of the provincial election campaigns that saw parts of the country blow new winds into the overall political arena, particularly Tommy Douglas in Saskatchewan and W.A.C. Bennett in British Columbia, both of whom sought to shake things up and pull their respective provinces in opposite directions. Elections, whatever their results, are passion-filled and highly divisive, while also seeking to unite. An excellent primer for those who enjoy all things political in Canada. Argyle knows his stuff and has presented digestible essays packed with wonderful information.

I knew this would be a perfect book to help define who I am, as I am so curious about political history and live for the electoral process. While many outside of Canada may not rush to grab this book (and many within Canada would likely prefer not to read it either), there is much to be learned in this collection of essays. Those wanting to better understand Canada and how it has evolved politically would surely find something within this book to their liking. Argyle does well to lay out the issues of the time, providing key background information, both political and of the actors involved, before pushing into the election campaign and how things went for the major parties. There is surely not enough space for thorough explorations of the campaigns, but the reader will get the gist. From there, it is a push into the electoral returns, broken down by region, to give the full impact of how (at least with the federal campaigns) Canada moved in one direction or another. Some elections were close and others were not, but it is the metamorphosis of this change by an electorate swayed that makes all the difference. Adding provincial elections and two referenda were keys to substantiating the importance of this collection. Newfoundland (Canada’s tenth and final province) chose to enter the Union after many years as part of the United Kingdom, while Quebec (one of Canada’s first provinces) has twice flexed a muscle to leave, with additional rumblings in the making. Argyle effectively shows why and how things went the way they did, perfect for the student of Canadian politics. Elections may not define an individual, but they surely help define a country, sometimes for decades to come. His past as a journalist helps to substantiate much of what Argyle as to say which is masterfully presented in such a way that anyone can enjoy the essays. It is not only elections in the United States that matter, though it is sometimes hard to effectively make that argument. Making Canada Great is what elections are all about. There is no need for ‘again’, for, as Argyle shows, while we may not always agree, we remain confident in our ability to bounce back and learn from our experiences!

Kudos, Mr. Argyle, for such a thorough exploration. I am eager to see what else you have written and to read some of the essays of other elections you may have covered.

This book fulfills Topic #4: Who ARE You in the Equinox #5 Reading Challenge. Thank you particularly to Janice for the recommendation.

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

The Cruelest Month (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #3), by Louise Penny

Nine stars

Louise Penny dazzles with yet another novel in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. This is one binge-worthy collection that never seems to let up! During the Easter Season, the community of Three Pines—nestled in the Eastern Townships of Quebec—is full of colour and excitement, but there is also an evil presence. Some of its residents have sensed it for a long time and have an interest in pushing the spirts away. Of particular concern is the old Hadley House, where many horrific things have occurred over the years. When a psychic is brought to town to help connect some of the Three Pines residents with the spirit world, the opportunity to banish the Hadley abode of its haunting nature is too alluring to pass up. However, things seem to get a little too intense and Madeleine Favreau ends up scared to death, literally. The news hits the presses and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is sent with his team to investigate. It would appear that the higher-ups in the Sûreté du Québec do not always respect that Gamache may wish to spend time with family before their departure back to Europe. When Gamache arrives, he learns that Favreau’s death was not the act of a vengeful spirit, but rather a highly potent—and illegal—drug that has been found in diet pills. Who could have slipped this woman something to cause her heart to seize during the aforementioned event? While the Chief Inspector pulls out all the stops with his Homicide squad, there are other issues that begin to create problems for Gamache. It would seem that the Arnot case—a Superintendent within the Sûreté who was sent to jail for sanctioning murder by a group he was set to protect—is coming back to haunt him. Gamache was one of the few men within the Sûreté who wanted justice, crossing the Blue Line and fingering one of his own superiors. Now, with knives sharpened, someone is trying to push Gamache to the edge, using his family and media outlets to smear him. With a killer hiding in Three Pines and Gamache’s own family in some sort of crosshairs, the Chief Inspector will have to choose which is more important, as if there’s even a question! Penny does a masterful job yet again and keeps the reader wanting more in this rollercoaster of a police procedural. Highly recommended for the reader who likes ‘quaint’, yet intense, mysteries full of Canadian references throughout.

Louise Penny’s novels have proven to be wonderful for a binge, as I am fully committed to the stories and characters found therein. Using the peaceful Eastern Townships as her setting, the author is able to inject a less than chaotic nature to the narrative, but still packs a significant punch to the story. Armand Gamache receives a great deal of coverage here, as most protagonists should, tapping not only into his backstory, but also some character development that series fans may have been wanting. When the Arnot case was mentioned in passing during the debut novel, I was curious to see how Penny would bring it up in a more thorough manner. She chose this novel to do so, tossing Chief Inspector Gamache into the centre and using his love of family as an Achilles heel. Penny permits the reader to see where things went wrong for Gamache and how, all these years later, those within the Sûreté are still trying to hunt him. Penny’s ongoing exploration of the Homicide squad continues to evoke interest, especially with Gamache’s future in doubt. Who might take over and how will their current sentiments towards the Chief Inspector shape the way they handle this current case? All this receives decent attention within the narrative, as well as some character development that is top notch. However, as with each novel, it is the collection of Three Pines locals who steal the show! Their acerbic wit and banter with one another cannot be matched and the attentive reader will see many of the wonderful pokes they take at one another. Penny has kept them on their games and by doing this binge, I am able to see if she can keep the intensity high. The story moves well in this piece, with interesting subplots that keep the reader curious and highly entertained. Penny places the reader in the middle of the investigation, watching Gamache’s mind spin and his heart ache as life comes crashing down around him in the middle of an investigation. I love all the Canadian references, something that many outside of this country may not notice. Their placement makes me feel at ease and I hope others will enjoy them—eh?! Bring on more Penny and keep them coming, if you please!

Kudos, Madam Penny, for intriguing me greatly yet again. I have yet to find a ‘rogue’ move, as some readers seem to feel this series takes!

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

A Fatal Grace (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #2), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny returns with a second novel in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, just as riveting and captivating as the debut piece that offered the reader so much! While many of the familiar residents of Three Pines are in Montreal to shop for the holiday season, a newer family has begun to set-up some roots of their own in this bucolic town nestled in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. CC de Poitiers heads this family, a woman who takes no prisoners and seeks to crush those in her way, including a timid husband and emotionally abused daughter. CC is talk of the town, though not for anything she has done, even though she’d be happy to espouse her new-age way of living. During his annual Boxing Day Cold Case review, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache explores those cases the Homicide Division of the Sûreté du Québec might have overlooked. Embedded in the piles is a new case, that of a homeless woman who was found murdered just before Christmas. While not known personally to Gamache or his wife, her presence in Montreal’s downtown core could not be missed. When a call interrupts Gamache’s further exploration of the woman’s murder, it’s all hands on deck and back out to Three Pines, a journey about which the Chief Inspector has mixed feelings. When they arrive in one of the surrounding towns, the body of CC de Poitiers has been found, electrocuted. As Gamache and his Sûreté team begin digging through CC’s life, they cannot help but notice the truly Canadian surroundings, for this wretched woman died at a local curling event, having gripped the end of her chair, one that was seemingly attached to a sizeable generator. As Gamache and the others notice the raw distaste that others had for CC, they cannot help but wonder why much of CC’s life cannot be substantiated. Might she have been hiding something bigger, something even more disgusting than the tidbits she puts on display? And what of this vagrant woman that caught Gamache’s attention earlier in the week? All this and much more as Three Pines envelopes Gamache and the reader for another stunning mystery. Highly recommended for those who want a ‘quieter’ murder mystery with tons of Canadiana embedded in the narrative.

I am enjoying the early stages of my Louise Penny binge, having found something that is not only unique, but captivating in its descriptive power. Penny uses not only the peaceful Eastern Townships as her setting, but continues to provide the reader with some great character development of Armand Gamache, a man whose intellect is balanced with a compassionate side. The reader learns a sliver more about his family life, with a loving wife and an extended family who cannot comprehend his need to work so much. This slow reveal, sandwiched between the current cases, keeps me wanting to learn more, yet take a moment to see the protagonist develop before my eyes. Penny continues to explore the larger Sûreté Homicide team, including some quirks in the hierarchy and some new faces, sure to stir the pot in ways that might not have been expected in such a quaint novel. It is the collection of Three Pines locals who steal the show—as I was told they would by the friend who recommended this series—with their acerbic wit and jabs at one another. This patchwork quilt of personalities keeps the story from getting too dreary, though Penny does offer much in the way of backstory and character development, such that I am going to have to keep things straight to learn all their nuances. The story moves well in this piece, with a few moments of chronological disorder to lay some of the groundwork for the murder and how CC could be so horrid a woman. Penny ensures the reader is in the middle of the investigation, watching Gamache’s mind spin as more information comes to light at key moments in the narrative. I am well on my way to a successful binge, with a new novel set to come out soon. Bring on more Penny and keep them coming!

Kudos, Madam Penny, for intriguing me greatly. I am eager to see what else you have in store for this series.

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

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1), by Louise Penny

Nine stars

A strong recommendation from a friend helped me decide to embark on a binge of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, penned by Canadian author Louise Penny. Her writing style and setting this novel in the bucolic community of Three Pines, Quebec, pulled me in early and kept me enthralled until the very end. Local artist and retired teacher, Jane Neal, was loved by many, which made the discovery of her body all the more troubling. With no known enemies, Jane’s death could only have been an accident, though the small pool of blood and no visible weapon open many questions and require some police presence. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of Homicide with the Sûreté du Québec, is called to Three Pines to investigate. Alongside his regular team is Agent Yvette Nichol, so new that she has never worked a scene. Gamache is sure to have his hands full trying to teach her while wrapping things up swiftly. With Thanksgiving turkeys cooking in ovens across town, no one wants to spend much time on what looks to be an accidental shooting with an arrow. While this might be the case, Gamache is worried that no arrow was found at the scene—it having been removed from Jane’s body—and no one has come forward to admit to the accident. As Gamache and the rest of the Homicide Squad begin piecing things together, they are confronted with a number of local citizens, all with their own flavourful take on events and tidbits about others in town. Gamache must parse through what he is being told and, at times, sift through the lies that some present to protect the more vulnerable in this community. Still, with Agent Nichol bumbling along and ostracizing herself from her superiors and others pushing for an open and shut case, Chief Inspector Gamache must be thorough and patient, for that is how one catches a killer! Penny pulls the reader in with this stunning debut story, which has me eager to see what else she has in this lengthy series. I will definitely be grabbing Book 2 in short order. Fans of police procedurals and Canadian mysteries will also find something worthwhile.

I am so pleased 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 opens with a lovely Canadian flavour, something that will enrich the reading experience and have it stand out in the genre. With this strong debut novel in the series, Penny provides the reader with some interesting backstory and some character development of Armand Gamache that will likely develop more thoroughly as I delve deeper into the series. Gamache is highly intelligent and down to earth as he investigates the crime before him, but seems to expect much from his team, no matter their time under his tutelage. He does not appear to suffer fools, but can extract information out of an unknowing suspect while enjoying his Tim Horton’s coffee. Penny’s descriptive nature has me highly interested in learning much more about the entire homicide team, all of whom will surely play important roles as the full series develops, but have laid the groundwork for being full of their own nuances. The story moves slowly, but there is no lack of momentum as Three Pines comes alive with each passing segment of the story. 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 a new novel set to come out soon, I am happy to commence binge-reading to catch up in time to enjoy the latest release alongside series fans. I cannot wait!

Kudos, Madam Penny, for intriguing me greatly. I am ready to take the challenge and see what Gamache does 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

Penance, by Kanae Minato

Eight stars

Kanae Minato is back with another bone-chilling psychological thriller that will keep the reader guessing as they process the various angles of a similar event. When four young girls in a town along the Japanese countryside accept a new girl into their group the dynamic changes drastically. Emily brings a Tokyo flavour to their playing and the entire school class turns to her for guidance. While the girls are playing one day, a stranger approaches them and asks Emily to help him. Not sensing any danger, no one raises a red flag and it is only hours later, when Emily’s body is found in the boys’ change room, that these four girls begin to wonder what might have happened. Thus begins the panic, as no one can quite remember how to describe this man. Emily’s distraught mother vows vengeance if the girls do not come forward with information to find Emily’s killer, a pall that seems to hover over these four. As the story unfolds, all four girls are now women, telling their perspective of events and some of the fallout in their own lives since the killing. While each has a similar theme, there are strong differences, as well as the way in which this ‘curse’ works its way into their adult lives. Most haunting of all is that, at the time of the murder, Japan had a fifteen year statute of limitations on the crime, which is now only days away. Chilling in its delivery, Minato offers the reader a glimpse into how the innocence of youth can be negated with one wrong choice. Recommended for those who love something a little eerie and can handle a translated piece.

I discovered Kanae Minato and her debut novel this past summer, which had me highly curious. I could not put my finger on it at the time, but her multi-perspective narrative and quaint way of presenting the Japanese customs left me wanting to read more, yet not fully comfortable. In this piece, Minato returns with another story that uses four protagonists as they recount their own views on the murder of young Emily. Minato weaves together both a strong backstory and interesting character developments of all four girls/women, including the acts that might seemingly be part of the curse for not coming forward sooner. The reader is forced to parse fact from fiction while living through these events to get to the final truth. In a piece that flows so well and yet has moments of being quite dense, Minato lures the reader in and will not let go until everything is resolved, at least to her own liking. The writing style is unique and its translation into English has me wondering if it is the linguistic change that gives it the sing-song innocence or whether this is the traditional style of Japanese fiction work. I suppose I will have to investigate more, hoping other Japanese authors have themes similar to those found here.

Kudos, Madam Minato, for another great novel that had me unsure where things were going. I like this sort of blind ride, as it is a dose of something completely different.

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

The Dance of Shiva, by William Deverell

Nine stars

There are few who can weave a gripping legal and courtroom drama into a single novel and fewer still who can do so in a Canadian setting. William Deverell is one such man whose novels not only touch on the core of the Canadian legal system, but also inject social and political aspects that are unique to this great country. Maximilian ‘Max’ Macarthur is a young lawyer who has lived in his father’s legal shadow all his professional life. Working inside the Vancouver courtrooms in the mid-1980s, Macarthur seeks to push speech and expression rights to their limits under the new Charter. When he is approached by legal giant Arthur Beauchamp to second chair a highly-politicised murder trial, Macarthur jumps at the opportunity, hoping for some significant tutelage. Their client, Shiva Ram Acharya, was found at his commune, surrounded by his followers, most of whom had recently been slain by gunshots. Shiva is said to have been inviting his followers to die and attain some higher understanding. With fingerprint and eyewitness evidence stacked against Shiva, it would seem this is a slam dunk case. However, Macarthur is not ready to let the facts speak for themselves and makes a trip to the crime scene, where something comes to light and an alternate suspect may have been overlooked. Communicating with Beauchamp, Macarthur seeks to bring this information before the jury, even as the Crown is closely supported by a judge who has little use for the antics the defense has brought into the courtroom. Beauchamp is a masterful courtroom player and has the jury eating out of his hands while Crown witnesses are pulverised before they know what’s going on. When a freak accident sees Beauchamp out of commission, all eyes turn to Macarthur to take over and win the case for Shiva, who remains stoically silent, sputtering inane transcendental positions to his counsel at the least opportune moment. All the while, Macarthur is trying to keep his personal life from exploding and his firm from bursting at the seams in this entertaining legal piece. Highly recommended for those who love a legal thriller that is a little more ‘intellectual’ than those on the market, as well as readers who are familiar (and enjoy) Deverell’s work.

I stumbled onto Deverell’s writing last spring when I was reading the—of all things—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 does well to paint his characters in such a way that the reader cannot help but love them, or want to know more. Max Macarthur may be a newer attorney (five years since his call to the Bar), but he is energetic and has a strong inclination towards defending his clients. Juggling a troublesome attempt to keep his personal relationship on track as he seeks justices, Macarthur is a man many readers may admire, though he has little time for praise. The master, Arthur Beauchamp, is as exciting as he was in his own series. The reader will love (or hate) his incessant use of Latin to get the point across, drowning those around him with legalese and seemingly non-sensical blather to sting them. While Beauchamp has a seductive mistress in the form of alcohol, he is usually ready to slay the Crown witnesses at the drop of a hat. Many of the other characters who find a home on the pages of this book help to solidify the legal and courtroom aspects of the narrative, moving things along effectively. With a true Canadian flavour, both the legal proceedings and the indigenous witnesses provide something that few unfamiliar with the Great White North would effectively understand, though the story is not lost on the non-Canadian (or younger) reader, as the narrative is that well developed. Deverell’s masterful work at pacing the narrative while instilling a better understanding of legal and social issues is to be applauded, as well as trying to handle cults in a way that leaves the pejorative at the door. Balancing an interesting legal matter with highly complex characters, Deverell has penned a winner that I hope many explore at their leisure.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for another stunning novel. I am so pleased to have been able to get my hands on some of your non-series novels. Bring them on!

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

Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr, by Nancy Isenberg

Nine stars

There are some who know Aaron Burr solely for his role in a 1804 duel with fellow politician, Alexander Hamilton, while others admit to knowing nothing about the man at all. Before I cracked open this book, I admit I was in the former category, but only just. While Nancy Isenberg does not deny that Burr has received significant mention throughout history (usually for the duel and other treacherous activities), much of what has been written about him seems to have come from the pens of amateurs, cobbling together vignettes piecemeal to suit their needs. This sewing together of small tales may serve some, but does little to offer a piece that presents the man in a balanced manner. Isenberg chose to use her role as a professional historian to set the record straight in this comprehensive biography, leaving the reader to decide for themselves . Well-documented and wonderfully written, Isenberg makes a strong case that Burr was a man whose role in the early years of American statehood ought not be forgotten or dismissed.

Orphaned at an early age, Aaron Burr spent much of his young life with an uncle, before beginning his studies in the priesthood. This early career choice came from a history of important religious leaders on both sides of his family, though Burr soon saw that he was ill-suited for the pulpit and soon chose a legal career. Burr’s studies at Princeton allowed him to engage with other like-minded young men about the role that the colonies ought to play in a larger Britain, sparking a passion for all things political. Burr settled back in New York, but helped out in the War of Independence, having served as a key aide to senior military personnel, as Isenberg explores in the early chapters of his biography.

Another key theme that arises throughout the biography would be Burr’s strong desires for the opposite sex, including his luring of Theodosia Bartow Prevost into his marriage bed during the military actions. Theodosia was older than Burr and used this refined nature to help shape him into the man he was to become, though Isenberg does not dispute that Burr always had a strong libido and love of women. Burr’s reputation followed him after the warring ended, when he entered life as a lawyer before taking on political roles. Fellow New Yorker, Alexander Hamilton, became a key player in Burr’s life, first as a legal partner and eventually as a political foe. Burr’s start in the New York Assembly honed his skills to seek higher office in the form of a Senate seat. Isenberg effectively shows how this Senate seat helped fuel the ongoing feud with Hamilton, who felt offended that the young man would seek to create controversy in the political arena. While Burr and Hamilton worked to push forth key elements of the New York delegation’s views on a new Constitution, they differed greatly. In an era before political parties, these two men helped lay the groundwork for this formalised political schism in the years to come. Not even the death of his beloved Theodosia could extinguish his focus on work in the Senate, where he sought to represent his constituents and apparently flirted quite openly, but always in a classy manner. Isenberg discusses Burr’s various letters, full of coded stories rather than lewd admissions.

The height of Burr’s political footprint came when he ran for President of the United States in 1800. Burr entered what has been come to be known as the most intense election in US history, one in which the House of Representatives was forced to resolve. In the end, Thomas Jefferson emerged victorious, with Burr serving as his vice-president. Isenberg shows that Burr tended to be a strong statesman and served America well, overseeing the US Senate, as per his constitutional expectations. Burr made sure that Democratic-Republican laws were passed and kept an eye on the Federalists who sought to shape legislation and the young country in their own image. All the while, Alexander Hamilton continued his barrage and slanderous statements, through speeches and in the press, leaving Burr somewhat unsure how to handle things in a gentlemanly way. When he had reached his limit, Burr and Hamilton engaged in a duel—the way men handled their differences at that time—and this proved to be the event that history books knows best as it relates to Burr. While even Isenberg cannot be entirely sure who fired first, Hamilton was mortally wounded and died soon thereafter. His name seemingly cleared, Burr’s reputation took a serious hit and he was never to play a significant role in elected politics again. However, as Isenberg depicts so thoroughly, Burr looked to the West and sought to stir up some trouble in the newer states, fanning the flames for secession and almost cobbling together enough support to lead a third party into a future election. This led to further political crises that saw Burr tried for treason, with a full congressional court and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding. Isenberg does a masterful job of portraying the background and story of the trial itself, in which President Jefferson sought to ensure his former friend was annihilated politically and personally. Thereafter, Burr slipped into a quieter life as his public persona dwindled. Isenberg offers up a few nuggets that the interested reader can discover in the waning pages of this strong biographical piece.

While much of the summary above could likely be found in a number of sources, it is Isenberg’s attention to detail to gather it together that makes this book one that is well worth the curious reader’s time. Told not only in a somewhat succinct manner, Isenberg does not ignore the many vignettes that serve to define the life of Aaron Burr. Her writing style is quite easy to comprehend and the narrative flows quite well. Taking portions of Burr’s life, Isenberg creates sizeable chapters to describe them, while using smaller division to help portray the pieces of the larger whole, making the entire process all the more digestible. Her use of extensive research can be seen throughout, not only with the number of quotations, but that the narrative presents as smooth and not disjointed. Isenberg seeks to fill in many of the gaps left by others—including outrightly criticising Gore Vidal’s biography for being vilifying—while not pushing out her own soapbox to depict Burr as entirely worthy of honour or villainy. The reader is given much of the information and permitted to judge for themselves, which is something many great biographical tomes I have read seem to do. Wonderful in its depiction of the man and with a great deal of information of the other players in early American politics, Isenberg has correctly titled this piece to show how Burr was a Founding Father of sorts, even if he fell from grace in the history books. A wonderful biography for those who want to know more about the early actors in American politics and how their lives differed greatly from the depictions we have of the current group who vie for power and notoriety.

Kudos, Madam Isenberg, for a wonderfully researched piece that deserves all the praise I can offer. I feel more educated about the man and will look to see what else you may have published.

This book fulfils Topic #1: Just the Facts, Ma’am in the Equinox #5 Reading Challenge. A hearty thank you to Susan in NC for suggesting this topic!

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

Those Who Go By Night, by Andrew Gaddes

Six stars

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

I was keen to give the work of Andrew Gaddes a try, as it explores not only a mystery, but includes a dose English history, which can be highly entertaining. When a beggar is found murdered and placed in a compromising position on a church altar in Bottesford, panic ensues in the small English town. It is the mid-14th century and Rome has a firm grasp over its congregations. Worried that something will come to pass, the Bishop of Lincoln agrees to send an emissary, Thomas Lester, to investigate and report back. However, it would seem the Archbishop of Canterbury has his own man in the region, looking to explore whether the pagan rituals rumoured to be rife in the area might need a more powerful fist to quell them. Lester comes upon a community with many colourful characters, all of whom offer plausible reasons for being the killer. As Lester works, he must worry that the killer could strike again, all the while trying to protect this corner of England from being painted in a poor light. There is little time and Lester possesses an explosive secret that he cannot let the general public discover, as it could undermine his abilities to bring order to the region. Lester’s personal and professional lives clash in this piece, pinning criminal law against that of the Church, as well as personal morals that seem to conflict with ecclesiastical tenets. Gaddes does well to offer up a decent tale that will keep the reader wondering until the very end!

I enjoy historical mysteries, as they are usually able to mix curiosity with education in equal measure. Gaddes bit off quite a bit here and presented the reader with a decent narrative, though it missed the mark for me. Thomas Lester’s character has some interesting aspects, including his ties to the Church and ability to retrieve information from most anyone he meets. He may be a Church emissary, but he is human and his personal longings cannot be completely neutralised, even with a religious background. Gaddes portrays Lester as a gritty man who seeks the truth while trying to deflect his own personal opinion on occasion, which is a struggle throughout the piece. His Templar background is sure to offer some additional flavour to an already complex character, as the reader will see throughout. Many of the other characters serve to offer interesting perspectives to fill the narrative with different angles, sure to offer up a discussion amongst those who enjoy book bantering. Witchcraft, Church resistance, and wariness of outsiders prove to be themes embedded in the many characters Gaddes offers to the curious reader. While the story seems sound and the narrative progresses nicely, I could not find myself connecting with it throughout. I am no perfect reader, but something had me skimming rather than basking in a story that could have been so enjoyable. Perhaps it was the lure of the dust jacket blurb, but I expected so much more for my personal reading pleasure. It fell short for me, though I cannot expect that others will feel the same. Try it and offer your own opinions, for Gaddes certainly has the tools for a successful novel. Perhaps I am just not seeing the diamond embedded herein!

Kudos, Mr. Gaddes, for what certainly could be a stellar piece. I can only hope that others see something I did not. I will give you the benefit of the doubt and wait to see what you serve up next to the curious reader!

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