The Lost Boys (Esther and Jack Enright #8), by David Field

Nine stars

David Field offers up a final novel about the criminal element of Victorian England with Esther and Jack Enright front and centre. After both receiving promotions within Scotland Yard, Jack Enright and his uncle, Percy, are called upon to help with another significant case. Percy is told of two missing boys from a local boarding school, both of whom disappeared after catching coaches at the end of the day. These boys are related to two prominent British businessmen with ties to South Africa. At a time when the Boer War is still simmering, all eyes turn to the potential of German involvement. Approaching his nephew, Percy pleads for assistance, particularly since one of the boys had been booked on a ship sailing for the African continent. Jack agrees, but is busy with his own investigations, now working at one of the large English ports, where shipments have been going missing. When Percy seeks to press for more information at the school, he discovers that there is more to the coach story than meets the eye. Could the Matron be sitting on information key to the investigation that she’s refusing to share? Enter, Esther Enright, whose past undercover work helped solve a few important cases. Esther enters the fray and discovers a key piece of information, while Jack learns something from a sailor himself. Piecing it all together may help discover what’s happened to the boys, but who is behind it all? Therein lies the key in this final Enright mystery. Field puts together another great story, sure to keep the reader enthralled until the last page. Fans of the series will likely enjoy this last novel, as might those who love Victorian mysteries.

David Field has a writing style not only easy to comprehend, but provides the reader with historical context during the Victorian era. Settings and political events come to life throughout this well-paced series, which never falls flat. Field uses the story’s settings effectively, shifting from the port to school grounds, both key to the larger plot. Jack and Esther remain strong characters, though Field injects some new developments to create some disarray and leaves them to make some harrowing decisions about themselves and their future together. Their banter and ability to work together have been central to the entire series, something Field does not forget to include. Percy Enright plays another protagonist role, helping to push the story along, and has elevated himself from the other characters. All those who play a smaller role do well to fit into the narrative, helping to enrich the criminal investigation. Field keeps the story fairly straightforward, though does not dilute or oversimplify things for the reader. Rather, he effectively educates the reader while exploring some of the regional issues that plagued the country just before the turn of the century. These short reads can be digested in a single day without feeling cheated. One can only hope that Field’s collection of ideas does not dry up anytime soon, even if he is moving on to new and exciting ventures.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for a great end to this series. I cannot wait for your next series, which I have heard will take readers centuries into the past!

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

The Ring and the Crown: A History of Royal Weddings 1066-2011, by Alison Weir, Kate Williams, Sarah Gristwood, and Tracy Borman

Eight stars

The idea of a royal wedding still gets the general public twitterpated. Mass spectacles and media events surround the event, with hours of coverage before the event even takes place, particularly those in the House of Windsor. But these events have not always been such a grand affair, as the authors of this book explore in detail. British Royal Weddings have come a long way over the centuries and continue to evolve with the times. Alison Weir begins the discussion, tackling the largest time period from 1066-1714. In this time, Weir explores some of the early weddings, which were affairs that helped solidify more recent land holdings the British Crown defends as its own. In her unique writing style, Weir looks at many of the unions as being political or strongly related to territorial acquisitions. Throughout, there is a theme of the ‘hesitant bride’, forced into the union by her family to secure peace and normally a chaste virgin, who may have sometimes only met her husband the day before (or morning of) the wedding. Kate Williams tackles weddings from 1714 through to the end of the Great War, an equally interesting time. She builds on Weir’s view of unions as a means of land or political stability, as well as exploring hesitant players. In one example, she tells of George, Prince of Wales, who set eyes upon his future wife (Caroline of Brunswick), but felt she was too plain to marry. He was coaxed into the union and did bring about an heir, though wanted it known that he still preferred his mistress. This was also the era of Princess Victoria, whose wedding cake was massive, weighing in at over 300 lbs. Williams adds that it was Victoria’s choosing a white dress that began the trend that is still in use today. Sarah Gristwood handles nuptials from 1918 through to 1960, which launched a new era of weddings, where the public was not only aware of events, but played a more active role. With fewer unions for political necessity, Gristwood describes these marriages as being more love-related, allowing the public to see the royals as human beings. Still, the public was also able to participate by actively listening to the ceremony on BBC (and eventually viewing it). Gristwood recounts protest to the BBC airing the wedding of the future George VI to Lady Elizabeth Bowles-Lyon over the air, as any common person could be listening to it in a public house and still wearing their hat (!!). This was also the time of the future Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding, one of the early events in televised royal pomp and circumstance. Tracy Borman writes of the last era of royal wedding (1961-2011), in which scandal and curses overshadowed many of the unions. The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret began the era, followed by some of the lesser royals, until the Queen’s own children (Anne, Charles, and Andrew) all wed in the 1970s and 80s. Their marriages drew pomp, but fizzled for reasons the Borman discusses in her narrative. It was not until the latter part of this era, that royal weddings seemed to recover and find a strong foundation of love and commitment, which is where they ended when the book was published, awaiting Prince William’s union to Kate’s Middleton. There is no doubt that weddings of all sorts draw the attention of people, but it would seem those of the royal persuasion seem to pull people in and beg them to make a little something of the affair (no curse intended). Wonderfully crafted by these four female historians! Anyone with an interest in all things royal will surely enjoy this piece, if only to lose themselves for a few hours, or to find something to place atop the coffee table.

This guide through the world of royal weddings came out at the time that Prince William and Kate Middleton were engaged and awaited their big day. A wonderful collection of stories and images that helped personify the royal nuptials, as well as giving some well-known historians the chance to recount tales of the different unions. Collected in this book that I might call ‘coffee table literature’, it should not be discounted as having superficial writing. It is full of wonderful descriptions of events, just enough for the reader to have a general understanding without bogging them down. Tied to the writing, the book is full of sketches, etchings, paintings, and eventually photographs that add excitement to the stories being told. The authors have been able to accentuate their work with these colourful depictions, including some photos that take the reader back in time. Wonderfully collected, the four parts of the book read easily and the reader gets a general idea of what happened and how things progressed nicely. I can only hope that many will take the time to read this, if only for their own interest, to explore how royal weddings have progressed and some of the little-known facts that emerge. A great read that needs the printed book to give it the full impact, especially with all those photos throughout.

Kudos, Madams Weir, Williams, Gristwood, and Borman. This was the perfect compendium of royal weddings and I applaud you all for your dedication to this massive project.

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

The Chateau of Briis: A Lesson in Love (Six Tudor Queens #2.6), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

Alison Weir’s ongoing writing venture about the six wives of Henry VIII seems to be progressing nicely. While she is writing full novels of historical fiction related to each queen, Weir has chosen to add further depth to the series by adding short stories that bridge them together, while also accentuating events and characters of subtle importance to the story arcs. This piece takes the reader to France in 1515, where a young Anne Boleyn is serving at the Royal Court. While at a celebratory evening, Anne is approached by Philippe du Moulin, who asks her to dance. From there, a connection blossoms and Anne is as smitten as they come. When they travel to the countryside, where Philippe’s aunt and uncle have property, Anne spends as much time with Philippe as possible. A somewhat timid and quite orderly Anne—yes, there was a time before she became the scandalous lady at Court—could not help but wonder what Philippe intended with her, as he would often push the boundaries of their encounters. It was only when Philippe spoke of marriage that Anne became a little more ‘open’ and free with him, which still holding only her ultimate virtue. Seeking that Philippe follow the accustomed rules before a formal betrothal, Anne soon discovers that the connection is a little strained, particularly when the talk of nuptials comes up again. A solemn admission one day sours Anne to this young man who taught her how to love, even if she can only weep over the fantasy life she had in mind, living at Chateau de Briis. However, four years later, while back in the French court, she has an inkling that her luck may soon change, as the King of England is on his way! Another wonderful short story by Alison Weir that depicts some of the lesser-known tales of a key Tudor Queen. Recommended for those who love all things Tudor, especially fans of Alison Weir’s detailed historical fiction work.

I have long enjoyed Alison Weir’s stories about the Tudors, which include so many details on which the reader can feast. Even the main characters, who receive much attention, have stories of their own that are not as well-known to the general public. Weir seeks to capitalise on this—as well as the hunger of the curious reader who wants to know more about the Tudors—to create these short stories, which tease as much as they entertain. Anne Boleyn is surely one of the more popular—some may say, infamous—wives of Henry VIII, but much of her time in print has been part of a duplicitous or scandalous nature. Here, Weir seeks to show the softer side of Anne, touched by a new and exciting love that seems to leave her pained. The reader can see the progress of this love, as well as how it became unrequited, thereby leaving Anne feeling abandoned. It is hard to tell if Weir is seeking to insinuate that this was the start of her materialistic and highly vapid side when it came to love, but Anne’s depiction as a sweet girl in the French Court is not lost on the attentive reader. The story is a little longer, but its narrative richness makes it one Tudor fans can thoroughly enjoy. Strong storytelling keeps the reader enthralled until the final page turn, which helps lay some of the groundwork for Anne’s quick rise and fall in the eyes of Henry VIII. This series remains intriguing and I cannot wait to see what else Weir has in mind to recount. Bring on the queens (and more of these short stories that link them)!

Kudos, Madam Weir, for yet another short publication that keeps the reader committed while educating them a great deal. I see you have more pieces in the works and I am ready to see what else you can show me in regards to the Tudors.

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

The Blackened Heart (Six Tudor Queens #1.5), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

Alison Weir has set about on a new venture, a series about the six wives of Henry VIII. Weir has chosen to add further depth to the series by intersperse the novels with short stories that bridge them better together. This piece introduces the reader to Margery Orwell, an energetic young girl who was sent to work for Sir John and Lady Peche. There, Margery learns how to serve and act as a lady while honing her skills about being around those of importance. While in the employ of the Peches, she finds herself interacting with young men: dancing, carrying on, and finally in a tryst that sees her with child. After Sir Peche helps her with the predicament, Margery is sent to court with a recommendation to serve Queen Katherine. There, Margery discovers that the Tudor Court is like nothing she has ever seen, especially with the philandering Henry VIII roaming around. When Katherine learns that the King wishes to annul their marriage, she refuses to accept it, which also goes for her retinue of ladies-in-waiting. Margery stands by her Queen, even as Katherine is banished to a rural dwelling. Staying with Katherine through it all, Margery makes a shocking discovery one day in the market. As she returns to spend time with Katherine, Margery is able to stand tall, knowing that she has made the right choice when it comes to the politics of Tudor marriages, even if many at Court refuse to admit the same. Another wonderful short story by Alison Weir that depicts some of the lesser-known characters in the larger Tudor saga. Recommended for those who love all things Tudor, especially fans of Alison Weir’s detailed historical fiction work.

I have long had a passion for the writing style Alison Weir uses, especially as she pens pieces about the Tudors. While many may know of these six wives Henry VIII took, there are those characters who stood in the shadows, while still being highly important. Margery Otwell was one, with a passion to learn balanced with the inevitable curiosity of teenage womanhood. Even as Margery finds herself in a bind, she refuses to give up and is able to ascend to the Tudor Court and in a position to serve Queen Katherine. Many of the others who find themselves on the pages of this short story influence the narrative and add flavour to an already strong piece. The curious reader will find much of interest within this story, weaving together interesting bits of Tudor history, though Weir remains coy about just how much is fact over fiction. With an easy to comprehend storytelling ability, Alison Weir is a delightful author for those seeking to wade into all things Tudor. This series has begun with a strong foundation and is sure to remain riveting, based on the many other books I have read that bear the author’s name. Bring on the queens (and more of these short stories that link them)!

Kudos, Madam Weir, for another wonderful story that connects two of the strongest wives of Henry VIII. I can only imagine there is a great deal more to come with future publications.

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

Arthur: Prince of the Roses (Six Tudor Queens #0.5), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

As Alison Weir tackles her latest book series about the six wives of Henry VIII, she has chosen to intersperse them with some short stories that bridge these books with some of the lesser-known characters whose actions played a role in the respective queen’s life. The first of these is a preface book to the series all about Prince Arthur, the heir to the English Throne who was betrothed to Katherine of Aragon. The birth of Arthur was highly symbolic, uniting the Houses of Lancaster and York, as well as their ‘roses’. Arthur came to represent this unity and was expected to be a strong start to a Tudor dynasty. As a young boy, he was quite precocious, asking questions and learning from those around him. When his father thought him old enough, Arthur was taken around the kingdom to learn of all its holdings, as well as being primed to hold the title of Prince of Wales. Arthur was always aware of his younger brother, Henry, who was just as curious but also mischievous. At a time when political unions were strengthened through marriage, Arthur was told of an arrangement with the Spanish, who would send Katherine, ‘the infanta’, to help in a tumultuous Europe. While he waited, Arthur fell ill, coughing and being forced to bed for a period of time. His parents worried that he might not be well enough to meet his betrothed, but Arthur was determined to do so. When the infanta was called upon, after arriving from Spain, Arthur and his father made their way to her chambers for that ever-important first meeting. What followed has long been documented in the history books and occurs as the story ends. A brilliant launch to the Six Queens series, this prequel short story whets the appetite of the curious reader. Recommended for those who love all things Tudor, especially fans of Alison Weir’s detailed historical fiction work.

I have long had a passion for Alison Weir’s writing, as well as all things Tudor. From non-fiction to fictional accounts of this English House through to television programmes that straddle both entertainment and documentary foci. Weir is able to develop a great story in short order with this piece, injecting a great focus on Prince Arthur and his early years. Arthur is shown to be a curious child who grown and becomes aware that he is truly the symbol of English calmness and perhaps the savour to all warring in the country. Paired off as a teenager, Arthur has little time to process the act before he is thrust to meet his bride, the infanta, later known in history as Katherine of Aragon. Weir keeps her narrative strong and brief, setting the scene effectively while adding some presumptive dialogue to keep the reader interested. The story paves the way for what is sure to be a wonderful opening novel in the Six Queens series which (spoiler) sees Arthur pass away and sets his younger brother Henry on a martial warpath to appease his every need. With an easy to comprehend storytelling ability, Alison Weir is a delightful author for those seeking to wade into all things Tudor. This series will surely develop into being a powerful collection of novels, based on the many other books I have read that bear the author’s name. Bring on the queens (and more of these short stories that link them)!

Kudos, Madam Weir, for a stunning piece that packs a punch in a handful of pages. I am eager to see how you develop things in all your writings within this series.

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

Camelot’s End: Kennedy vs. Carter and the Fight that Broke the Democratic Party, by Jon Ward

Nine stars

Many have heard the Kennedy family referred to as living in a modern Camelot. Powerful patriarch, Joseph, and his sons strove to make a difference in the political realm. But when did it all come to an end for them and how did America turn away from this glorified view of the Kennedys? Perhaps they never have, though Jon Ward argues that the political Camelot came crashing down with the 1980 Democratic National Convention, dragging the Party along with it. All this primarily due to an embittered campaign for a presidential nominee. Incumbent President Jimmy Carter took the stage at Madison Square Gardens to seek the formal nod by delegates to take the Democrats into the campaign to face the electorate in November. Standing in his way was Edward ‘Teddy’ Kennedy, the last of the political brothers and a powerhouse all his own. Ward takes the reader on a journey to see how these men destroyed their political bases, the Party, and all but handed Ronald Reagan the presidency in 1980, leaving the country in awe during a time it needed solace the most. Opening with great biographical narratives told in parallel, Ward discusses the upbringing of both men—Kennedy with a silver spoon lodged in his mouth, while Carter sweated it out picking peanuts—and how different they were. Kennedy had politics in his blood, but the shadow of his two brothers seemed to stymie his ability to stay on the beaten path. Carter, a respected Navy veteran, sought to promote his progressive ways in the Deep South, where segregation and racism were the lifeblood of politics. Coming up through the ranks, both men had their foibles, which lingered with them, though Kennedy’s 1969 Chappaquiddick driving debacle that left a young woman dead would seem to have overshadowed much of Carter’s aligning himself with racists in order to secure both the Georgia governor’s mansion and a 1976 run for president. While both men knew the other only in passing, they remained on one another’s radar. Kennedy passed up the chance to run in ‘76, but many felt that he was gearing up for ‘80, though he remained uncommitted. Meanwhile, Carter sat in the Oval Office and faced economic disaster at a time when the American people could not accept anything less than the prosperity they felt the world’s superpower deserved. While Carter had some international successes, these were overshadowed by long gas lines and protests by the American people. Kennedy toiled in the US Senate to create needed legislation for healthcare reforms and tax breaks that would help the middle class. As they geared up for the 1980 campaign, Carter and Kennedy both sought to take the Democratic Party in their own direction, though it was the latter’s decision to challenge a sitting president that left Carter promising to ‘whip his ass’ even before the last Prince of Camelot had formally entered the race. Speaking of entering the race, Ward goes into detail about a CBS special on Teddy Kennedy before he announced, which depicted the man as one who could not dodge the Chappaquiddick disaster from a decade before and had no clear reason for entering the race, even though he was seen as an odds-in favourite and wanted to shape policy in new directions. From there, the primary season began, allowing both men to claw at one another and make gains in different ways. Kennedy stumbled out of the block and found financial limitations paralyse his progress, while Carter was trying to juggle the Iran hostage crisis, which was yet another black mark on his reputation. Even when Carter had the needed delegates to win, Kennedy would not concede, crafting an idea about releasing delegates from their primary commitments when they arrived in New York. Bloodied and bruised, they arrived for the convention to a raucous, yet highly divided Democratic base, all while GOP candidate Ronald Reagan sat back and basked in the knowledge that he would obliterate either man, come November. Ward offers a wonderfully detailed description of the goings-on at the Democratic Convention, including Kennedy’s last attempt to wrestle control away from the sitting president. However, nothing could outdo the events surrounding the last night, when Kennedy handed Carter the snub seen round the world. From there, it was a rocky push through the general election campaign, where Reagan all but handed victory to Carter, who fumbled many chances to bury the ‘television lightweight’. In the end, with Carter trounced and the Democrats in disarray, both men turned away from the presidential limelight. Carter was shunned by his party and turned to a life of humanitarian aid and writing, while Kennedy spent one final decade as a philanderer, while honing his skills as a senator and helped bring the institution together before his death. While it is impossible to know what might have happened in 1980, had things been a little different in the primaries or during the election, there is no doubt that the 1980 left a sour taste in the mouths of many watching the implosion of the Democratic Party by two men who refused to compromise. Camelot is gone, left crumbled by a bumbling third son and other relatives who have passed on. Gritty political battles are also a thing of the past, at least those played out on the convention floor during prime time. But, as we continue to see today, tearing a party apart remains a game that some play for the fun of it, leaving some to wonder if the GOP will resurrect the bloodbath this book depicted in 2020. A powerful narrative that engages the reader with anecdotes and historical accounts, sure to educate and entertain in equal measure. A must-read for political fanatics such as myself, especially those who love American politics.

While I am a fan of political history, particularly as it relates to presidential politics, this book stood out as something even more exceptional. Jon Ward delivers not only a description of the battle for the Democratic nomination in 1980, but serves to present a well-rounded biographical piece of the two main contenders. Mixing in many of the political flavours of the time, Ward supports his claims that this was to be the true litmus test of how the Democrats could meld two of their major factions ahead of another clash with the Republicans. Vowing not to be as criminal as Nixon or as blazé as Ford, the Party wanted to build on its successes, while also trying to ignore some of the domestic disasters that had befallen the Carter Administration since January 1977. In doing so, two men who refused to bow to one another began a battle that would ensure no stone was left unturned and allowed the world to watch as they destroyed one another. Unity was second to victory in August of 1980, with a sitting president being forced to fight for his own party’s stamp of approval, though it was from the last man in a family that had owned the Democrats for decades. Ward uses not only press coverage, but interviews, behind the scenes candid depictions, as well as poll sentiments at the time to develop a narrative that permits the reader to feel right in on the action. Vicious attacks were lodged and stubbornness helped disintegrate any form of coming together before the prime time disaster that encapsulated the Democratic Party coming apart. Who was to blame for all of this? Ward offers some suggestions in his powerful prose, though it is up to the reader to decide in the end. With powerful chapters full of research, Jon Ward offers readers that detailed look into the political goings-on leading up to the 1980 Convention and how it took years for the Democrats to recover and unite to defeat their GOP opponents, at least for the White House. I am so pleased this book found its way onto my radar and hope to find more in line with this style soon.

Kudos, Mr. Ward, for a great story of political undoing in the modern age. I will have to find more of your work, especially if it is as easy to comprehend.

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

The House Next Door: A BookShot Collection, by James Patterson, Susan DiLallo, Max DiLallo, and Tom Arnold

Eight stars

I have long enjoyed the venture James Patterson undertook, writing short stories with collaborators and calling them BookShots. While some are released as individual publications, Patterson will, at times, combine a few together, as he has done here. Working with Susan DiLallo, Max DiLallo, and Tom Arnold, Patterson has created three pieces that will force the reader to think as they discover the wonders of short pieces and how they can be just as effective as full-length novels. From a mysterious next-door neighbour to the distraught wife of a serial killer, and even communication with life outside of Earth’s atmosphere, Patterson and his collaborators provide much needed entertainment in this busy world of reading.

The House Next Door (with Susan DiLallo)

Laura Sherman lives a less than exciting life, though she has agreed to at least some of the sacrifices it takes to run a household. Her mundane housewife life is interrupted when a man and his son move into the house next door. Vince reaches out by asking that Laura help by driving young Vinny to his soccer practices on a weekly basis. From there, the connection between Laura and Vince grows at an alarming rate. Laura cannot believe that Vince is the man she has long wished her husband, Ned, could be. However, there is something off about Vince and Laura cannot seem to put a finger on it. When things begin going horribly wrong, Laura begins to wonder if she could be the root of all the problems.

The Killer’s Wife (with Max DiLallo)

Detective Andrew McGrath works in the small community of San Luis Obispo, normally quite the bucolic town. However, the disappearance of four teenage girls has rocked the community and left everyone feeling panicked. There is a suspect, local high school vice-principal Michael Pierson, though McGrath cannot act without some concrete evidence. When McGrath and his partner find Pierson luring another teenage girl into his car and catch him as the girl’s drugged body is being dumped, they are sure this is the break they need. Working some background, McGrath connects with Pierson’s wife, Ellen. She is adamant that her husband must be innocent, though McGrath is working the angle, hoping to uncover irrefutable evidence that will ensure this serial killer is put away. McGrath and Ellen soon develop a protective relationship, as she shields her from the press. It is only then that things take a turn and McGrath is able to understand a little more about what is going on, and how they will solve this case.

We. Are. Not. Alone. (with Tom Arnold)

Dr. Robert Barnett may be a washed-up astrophysicist, but he thinks that he’s stumbled onto something. Using some of his own personal technology, Barnett feels that he has recorded communications from out in space, thus proving not only that there is life amongst the stars, but that these beings wish to communicate with Earth. Little does he know, but Barnett may have stumbled upon something with National Security ramifications and he’s now being sought for questioning. Dodging officials at every turn, Barnett must ensure these recorded communications are made public, while government officials seek to detain him and obtain the recordings for themselves, citing a larger security situation. Meanwhile, someone is on a mission of their own, which could drastically change the dynamics of things in the blink of an eye.

As with many of Patterson’s short stories, they can be strong in their delivery or fall miserably flat. The collaborators in this case have helped buoy the stories and created strong pieces that will pull the readers in from the beginning. Both DiLallo pieces pose prologues that offer ‘flash forward’ reveals, though it is how the story arrives there that makes all the differences. Arnold’s piece fell flat for me, which can happen sometimes, even when riding a reading high. Call it a disinterest in space stories or the general lack of thrills, but I was left speeding my way through it, promising myself that I would read and review the collection. With characters who develop across the quick-paced narratives, these stories leave little time for character development, though there is a strong theme of connection between those who grace the pages. Patterson’s overarching theme in this collection would have to be deception, something that finds its way through each of the pieces and leaves the reader wondering what waits around each corner. Wonderfully crafted and delivered, James Patterson has chosen well with this stellar collection of three BookShots. One can hope there are more to come of this caliber.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, DiLallo, and Arnold, as well as Madam DiLallo. What a great collection of stories to keep the reader occupied for a short time.

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

The Katharina Code (The Cold Case Quartet #1), by Jørn Lier Horst

Nine stars

I have always had great admiration for Jørn Lier Horst and his William Wisting series. A Norwegian homicide detective, Wisting seems able to pace himself through his investigations while always extracting just what is needed at the right time to solve a case and bring the perpetrator to justice. However, there are those cases that slip through the fingers, such as the one of Katharina Haugen. Wisting has never been able to solve it, but pulls out the case files each year on the anniversary of her disappearance. Now twenty-four years on, Wisting goes through the same routine: examining case notes, photos, and trying to crack a scribbled code that she left on her table before disappearing. Part of the annual process is to visit her husband, Martin, who remains lost without his wife. However, Martin is nowhere to be found when Wisting visits this year, adding curiosity to the number of other emotions rushing through him. When a detective from Kripos, the Norwegian national police service, pays Wisting a visit, there is something interesting to share. Another mysterious cold case, the disappearance of teenager Nadia Krogh many years ago, has new life. Re-evaluating the ransom note left by her apparent captors shows fingerprints belonging to Martin Haugen. Could there be a link here? Wisting’s daughter, Line, has been itching to get back to work as a journalist, unable to make her maternity leave pass fast enough. With the Krogh case returning to prominence, Line begins a podcast related to the crime, seeking to eke out new details that could open the case wide open. With Kripos wanting to observe Martin Haugen for the time being, Wisting helps extract information from the man he has come to know over the past two decades, in hopes of solving both cases. However, nothing is quite as easy as it seems and Wisting will have to find a way to lure the killer out. A masterful branch-off of Horst’s work, this ‘sub-series’ could get really interesting as series fans get to see William Wisting in a new light. A must-read for series fans and those who love a good Scandinavian police procedural as ‘noir’ as they come!

Jørn Lier Horst is one of the great Scandinavian police procedural writers I have had the pleasure to read over the years. His stories are well-paced and develop effectively for the reader, while also adding wonderfully colourful characters and strong plots. As a protagonist, William Wisting proves to be both entertaining and effective in his delivery as a superior sleuth. While not published in English (yet!), the first part of the series is said to develop in such a way that the reader can see a strong husband and equal partner in a great marriage, something that is hinted at in each book that has been translated and acts as a lingering backstory. His wife gone and children grown, Wisting works hard to put his work at the forefront of his life, compartmentalising the past that can no longer be changed. Wisting’s development comes in the form of chasing the killers that lurk in the shadows, as well as living life as a grandfather and effective parental helper to his daughter, Line. Others within the story find a way to make their mark, keeping the reader highly entertained. There is much to say about them, as they not only shape the entire series, but what is sure to be this collection of revisited cold cases. New ideas injected into old cases alongside Wisting’s strong and demanding approach can only help things move along effectively. I am looking forward to seeing what Horst has to offer and how these new faces will change the dynamic of a strong series. The story here is one that is by no means unique, but works so very well. Looking well into the past, Wisting is forced to come to terms with the limits on his detective abilities with a case that has stumped him. Even with fresh eyes, there are sometimes limits to what can be accomplished, until a spark ignites the entire investigation. With new pathways and potentially new approaches to old cases, Wisting and the rest of the group can retake control and put things to bed once and for all. I am eager to see how this quartet of cold case novels works and whether it will be the swan song for William Wisting, or breathe new life into this well-established detective. Hints of his retirement are embedded within this piece, so it will be interesting to see what comes of it after all four cold case novels have been completed. With a mix of shorter and elongated chapters, Horst pulls the reader into the story and then teases them as the pace quickens, heading towards a high-paced finale when all is revealed. I have said it before and will do so again, Horst’s work is not lessened by a translation. The fluidity of the work is still strong and seems almost to have been penned in English. There is no jolt or loss of intensity when moving from Norwegian to English, at least not that I can tell. Bring on more for the reader, as the teaser chapters at the end of the book hint at more cold cases that bring fresh sleuthing to long forgotten motives!

Kudos, Mr. Horst, for another winner. I am excited to see where you take your readers and hope you can lure new fans into this long developing series.

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

Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe, by Serhii Plokhy

Nine stars

While many know that Chernobyl is synonymous with nuclear meltdowns and severe radiation poisoning, few laypeople are surely clear on all the lead-up and fallout (pardon the pun) related to this horrible event in a small community within Ukraine. Serhii Plokhy delves deeply into the events from April 1986, as well as how things developed from there, turning an accident on a night shift into an international disaster that helped pave the way towards the end of the Cold War. With the USA and USSR each drawing a line in the sand during their decades-long stand-off, nuclear weapons were always something both sides agreed should never get out of hand. The Americans flexed their muscles in Japan to end the Second World War, but also sought to utilise nuclear power effectively in domestic situations. Not to be left behind, Soviet governments rushed to utilise the same power source, aware that it held many dangerous possibilities. Plokhy discusses the Soviet desire to rush building and using nuclear power plants around the USSR, cutting corners when needed to meet deadlines. The Chernobyl plant was one such facility, whose turbines were built beginning in the late 1970s. Early in the hours of April 26, 1986, night shift workers began powering down Turbine #4—the most recent addition to the Chernobyl plant, opened in 1985—for a scheduled test. However, as protocols commenced, the turbine did not follow its expected process and pressures increased, as did the heat. This caused explosions and fires which spewed up a great deal of radiation, invisible to the eye. When workers and fire officials sought to put out the fires, they had no idea that the extensive burns they were suffering could not solely be attributed to the heat and steam, but deadly radiation which commenced causing great sickness. Local and Ukrainian officials began looking into this, communicating with their Moscow counterparts, who downplayed the radiation leaks and chose not to inform the public. Thus began the early stages of a cover-up, in which locals in the town of Prypiat and its surrounding area had no idea of the horrors that awaited them. It was only on April 29th, when a Swedish facility began noticing higher readings coming from particles in the wind, that people began wondering what was going on in the region. Soviet leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev, were forced not only to tell the world what was going on, but deal with the massive scale of illness that began showing. Soviet citizens were seeing how their governing bodies had been hiding the news from them, thereby blocking them from fleeing the region or taking precautionary measures. Plokhy describes in detail the horrors that befell those who were close to the fallout, dying from radiation poisoning, which may have been treated had general news been shared, if not prevented entirely with proper warning. The world was able to peer behind the Iron Curtain with news about the Chernobyl accident and see just how ignorant Soviet officials sought to keep everyone, hiding the disaster as only a small glitch. Soon thereafter, birth defects or major deformities began showing up in humans and animals alike, images that are devastating in their depiction. These revelations, posits Plokhy, helped weaken the Soviet hold on their people and prevent any form of trust with the West. The international condemnation was only the beginning, as there was a need to clean-up and reinvent the nuclear wheel for the region, who were dependent on the energy and the work provided by the plants. In the day of 24-hour news cycles and social media, this form of cover-up would surely not happen any longer, but it is worth a thought by the reader. Serhii Plokhy does a masterful job with this piece, offering not only a historical account of events, but giving the reader some of the social and political fallout of events. Peeling back the mystery that had been sought, Plokhy’s book is one that anyone interested in the Chernobyl disaster ought to read.

I am always keen to read about events about which I have a passing knowledge, particularly if they are being handled by someone with knowledge of the subject matter. While I was a little too young to remember seeing Chernobyl news on the television, it was soon thereafter that the word and international event found its way onto my radar, particular in discussion of birth defects. Having read one of Plokhy’s previous tomes on Ukrainian history, I flocked towards this book, hoping that it would shed some light on the happenings in the area. Plokhy effectively sets the scene with some local history, giving the reader the needed context and how lax Soviet safety protocols appeared to be, even when dealing with nuclear energy. The description of events on the night/early morning hours of April 26, 1986 help the reader to better understand how the event came to pass. Layering descriptions with needed scientific terms and levels, Plokhy develops a strong narrative to lay the groundwork for just how troublesome things were and how quickly they turned disastrous. While sickness continued to mount, Plokhy’s discussion of the politics around the disaster was of great interest to me, showing how a cover-up was sought at the highest levels to quell international reactions to events. Even when Chernobyl was uncovered, Soviet propaganda continued, downplaying events and situations for as long as possible. Using a chronological depiction of events, Plokhy effectively argues how Soviet handling of events eroded trust by its people and with the outside (particularly Western) world, thereby hijacking any progress made to denuclearise and create a tepid environment in the waning years of the Cold War. While not the only reason, Chernobyl surely played a part of the fall of the USSR, as is argued persuasively throughout. With detailed chapters on a subject that cannot effectively be handled superficially, Serhii Plokhy presents the reader with a highly informative piece, without drowning them in information. Understandably, there is a great deal of technical information herein, which helps give the reader the needed context of events and how grave things became. Just what I needed to pique my interest in the topic without getting lost in academic minutiae.

Kudos, Mr. Plokhy, for another stellar book about an important time in Ukrainian history. I will have to keep reading what you have written, and hope others will discover your work in short order.

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

The Eighth Sister, by Robert Dugoni

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Dugoni, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

While Robert Dugoni is the author of two successful series, his standalone novels grip the reader just as effectively. There is something refreshing about an author who has so many ideas and whose name is indicative of stellar writing and plausible storylines. Charles Jenkins has been out of the spy game for many years. After serving as a CIA field agent in Mexico City, he left abruptly and eventually began work on his own security company. Four decades on, Jenkins has found solace in his wife, Alex, as well as a son, with a second child on the way. When a former Agency colleague pays a visit, Jenkins knows that it is not a friendly check-in, especially after all this time. Jenkins soon learns that a number of Russian women are turning up dead in and around Moscow. While this is nothing concerning on the surface, they were all feeding secret intel to the Americans, part of a group called the ‘Seven Sisters’. While these women were excellent at their jobs, none knew they were anything but isolated individuals defying Mother Russia during her time as the USSR. With the rise of Putin and a new authoritarian regime, whispers of the Seven Sisters re-emerged, especially since Putin was once a KGB officer and keenly interested in the rumours. Now, it would seem that there is an eighth sister working for Putin and the FSB; one who is tasked with sniffing out these traitors. Enter, Charles Jenkins, who is being sent to Russia under cover of checking up on one of his client’s former offices, to seek to have the newest sister reveal herself and let the Americans take it from there. However, when Jenkins’ mission is compromised, he becomes the hunted inside Russia, while the CIA denies any knowledge and will offer no help. Back in America, Alex is given instructions by her husband to leave their home and seek out David Sloane, a friend and established Seattle attorney. While Sloane and Alex know nothing of what is going on, they can only hope that Jenkins still has the antics he possessed forty years ago to extricate himself from this mess. Little does he know, his fight to get away from the FSB is only the start to the headaches that await him. Another stunning novel by Dugoni that reignites old Cold War drama, alongside some stunning legal developments. Recommended for those who love stories of espionage, especially the reader who is a longtime fan of Robert Dugoni’s writing.

I always flock to a new Robert Dugoni novel, knowing that I will not be disappointed. Even his standalone pieces keep me intrigued, helping to fill the void that arises when I have to wait for the next instalment of his popular Tracy Crosswhite series. Dugoni enjoys filling his novels with details that are more poignant than fillers, keeping the reader educated as well as entertained from the opening paragraphs until the tumultuous final sentences. The development of his protagonist, Charles Jenkins was quite effective, hinting at a past within the Agency without offering up too many details. Pulling on this and linking it effectively to the Cold War-esque storyline helped the reader see the connection, as well as seek to know a little more. As the story progresses and Jenkins finds himself on the run, the reader learns a little more about Jenkins and his family, a core part of why he has stayed off the grid for so long. The story also tests Jenkins’ resolve to better understand just how far he can go as an agency plant to extract needed information with ease. Working with that is a handful of characters, both in Russia’s FSB and back in America, trying to help Jenkins flee the trouble in which he finds himself. Dugoni effectively juggles both sets of characters, developing a strong espionage theme throughout as the race to safety (or elimination) mounts with each passing page. Of particular note in the inclusion of David Sloane into the story. Longtime fans of Robert Dugoni will know that this was the author’s first series protagonist and an effective lawyer he was. I cut my teeth on that series and respected Dugoni the more I read of it. Sloane, still a Seattle attorney, plays an effective and essential role, giving fans a jolt of excitement to see him back on the page. The story was quite strong, particularly in an age when Russia is back to play a key role on the international political and spy scene. Dugoni keeps the chapters flowing and the action mounting as the struggle for freedom becomes more desperate. Dugoni is on the mark with this piece and it goes to show just how masterful an author he has become.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, on another splendid addition to your writing list. I am always eager to see what you have in store for fans and was not disappointed with this effort.

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