The Fourth Courier, by Timothy Jay Smith

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Timothy Jay Smith, and Skyhorse Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review. 

After having been asked to read this book by the author, I could not wait to see just what Timothy Jay Smith had in store for his readers. This thriller, set in 1992 Poland, has all the elements of a Cold War classic without the Iron Curtain. However, remnants of the Soviet-era dominance remain, both in the story’s setting and its narrative delivery. The story focuses on a group of recently slain individuals who appear to have been smuggling nuclear material from the former USSR out of the country to help build weapons. While this would seem to be a local matter, FBI Agent Jay Porter arrives when the fourth victim is discovered, killed in much the same matter as the others. These victims or ‘couriers’ seem to have been contracted to help smuggle items out and deliver them to a physicist. Unfortunately, the scientist has also disappeared, making it all the more important to locate him and learn of the intended destination of the nuclear material. General Drako Mladic of the Yugoslav Secret Police soon hits Porter’s radar. Mladic is sadistic and ready to kill anyone who stands in his way, as well as residing in one of Europe’s most unstable regions. Porter will have to work alongside the most unlikely of partners to end the courier route and stop what could be a new international disaster. In a story that mixes thrills, espionage, and the darkest of characters, Smith offers the reader a glimpse into something terrifying, had it actually come to pass. Well-written and captivating, anyone with an interest in Cold War spy thrillers will likely want to add this to their reading list. 

I will be the first to admit that I had troubles connecting to the book at times. While Smith is a great writer and keeps the reader enthralled, I found myself weaving in and out of complete comprehension, though the gist did come to me and by the end. FBI Agent Jay Porter proves to be an interesting addition to the story, offering some interesting ‘American flavour’ to the newly freed Polish setting. His attention to detail as he struggles to get his feet under him proves to be highly entertaining to the attentive reader, not to mention the odd pairing he has when investigating. This is a case that challenges traditional police work and being in a foreign country only adds further hurdles. But, Porter pushes onwards and uses some odd connections to help reveal clues to point him in the right direction, even if it will take a miracle to close this case swiftly. Other characters help to shape an already interesting plot, adding conflicting personalities to a dark tale, which can muddy the waters unless the reader is able to focus their attention throughout. A decent premise keeps the story moving forward and the intrigue high. I was never a Cold War thriller reader, but I can see the allure, as there are so many layers to comprehend and many pieces to fit together. Smith does this well and keeps the reader wondering what is to come, as well as seeking to keep an eye peeled for anyone lurking in the shadows. I’ll surely keep an eye open for more by the author and may return to try this book again down the road to see if it leaves more of an impact.

Kudos, Mr. Smith, for a well-paced piece that kept my attention throughout. I hope many discover some of the nuances I missed this time around.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/…

Inspection, by Josh Malerman

Eight stars

Josh Malerman returns with another of his novels that bends the mind while captivating the reader’s attention from the get-go. Full of intriguing twists alongside layers of social commentary, Malerman has created yet another book that will have people thinking, even without a Netflix adaptation. A group of twenty-four boys live in a tall building, isolated from anyone else. These boys, each given a letter rather than a name—two boys, A and Z, are no longer with the group—were plucked from the jaws of death by undeserving or incapable mothers and placed in this fine-tuned social experiment. Honed to become geniuses in their fields, the Alphabet Boys are kept on a strict academic and social regimen, which includes no knowledge of the opposite sex. The leaders, known as The Parenthood, keep the boys isolated through lectures and literature that makes no mention of girls, as that would surely prove to be a distraction to genius behaviour. Regular ‘inspections’, which are both physican and mental tests, ensure the boys are in tip-top shape as they forge onwards to becoming the smartest they can be. However, there are some within The Parenthood who do not entirely agree with the social experiment, which has been going on for upwards of a dozen years, offering hints of the opposite sex in a piece of literature that is an epiphany and revelation rolled into one. Meanwhile, on the other side of the same isolated forest, someone looks up into the trees and sketches something that looks less arboreous and more along the lines of their own spired dwelling. Whispers begins and The Parenthood are alerted to the start of the disintegration of the social experiment. With the inspections come new truths and the Alphabet Boys have their blinders removed, as key members of The Parenthood scramble to herd their flock together. What will happen when all is revealed and will it change the dynamics of these young lives? Malerman does a fantastic job at keeping the reader guessing until the final pages, forcing deep thought while the reader is entertained by the premise. Recommended for those who have enjoyed some of Josh Malerman’s past novels that push the envelop.

I read Malerman before all the television hype, so I was expecting something with a great deal of controversy as I began this piece. I will admit that I was not fully enthralled when I started, but things progressed nicely and, by the halfway point, I was sold and needed to know how things would progress. There is so much to learn from Malerman and the characters he places in the middle of his story. While many of the Alphabet Boys play key roles, it would seem that J is the one the narrative chooses as a protagonist. A boy of twelve with high intellect, J seeks to better understand his surroundings without knowing anything different. What he does discover shocks many and leaves the reader quite interesting, pulling them deeper into the story. There are other key characters, though their exploration at this point would spoil too much. The premise of the novel was quite ingenious, pushing themes of scholastic focus and segregation of the sexes, using a social experiment as its foundation. One can only hope that Malerman has other books that push the limits. With chapters that go into great detail and offer up different angles of the entire situation, the reader is treated to a thorough analysis of the situation at hand and the fallout from the cracks that emerge. Truly some worthwhile food for thought, in this well-written piece that will have readers talking for some time.

Kudos, Mr. Malerman, for another winner. I cannot wait to find more of your work on which to feast and exercise my mind.

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

Death in Shanghai-La, by Yigal Zur

Seven stars

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

Approached by Yigal Zur to read this thriller, I jumped at the opportunity to expand my horizons. Set in both Israel and India, the story encompasses both cultures intensely, giving the reader a literary smorgasbord on which to feast. Dotan Naor enjoys life in Israel, running a somewhat profitable business returning individuals who have been displaced against their will. When he is approached by a long-time friend, Naor agrees to help, though his latest target is less than eager to make the journey back from India. As the story progresses, Naor returns from India, though he’s hit a snag when the target is incarcerated for trying to traffic drugs. Just as he gets settled, Naor is informed that a friend has been found in India, decapitated at the hands of a band of terrorists. It would seem that there are a few cases of Israelis being killed by this roving group of rogues. As emotionally attached as Dotan Noar feels, he refuses to return to India—a place about which he knows a great deal—happy to have two feet planted on Israeli soil. However, the story has been garnering a great deal of press and Naor is convinced to travel across the world to get answers. Armed with his journalist, Naor travels to the rural part of the country, crossing into the contested zone between India and Pakistan. Seeking answers, Naor finds himself in Kashmir, trying to understand the struggles and what might have fuelled a ferocious attack on his friend. Working through the cultural differences in a far-away land, Dotan Naor will try to bring answers home without becoming an Israeli statistic, if he can help it. An interesting thriller that seeks to open the reader’s mind, Yigal Zur has done a decent job. While this novel did not resonate fully with me, I can see the allure for others.

I always enjoy opening my mind to new authors and cultures, particularly when the story pulls me in from the outset. While I cannot say I am fully sold, the thrills were high and the banter such that many will surely find much to enjoy in Zur’s work. Dotan Naor proves to be an interesting character, whose experiences helping those in need shapes both his personality and development as a character. The reader will be able to find something of interest as they seek to better understand this man in both his natural and adopted environs. The other characters that surround him prop Naor up and fleshes out the nuances in his character. The story proves decent, serving to introduce the reader to the wonders of India, as well as the intricacies of the local political situation. Zur draws on both the caste situation in India and the religious clashes with Pakistan’s large Muslim population, both of which help to add additional flavour to the narrative. The thrills occur throughout, with a murder investigation in full swing. The reader is pulled into the middle of it all with this high-impact story. I did find myself less than fully enthralled, but it could just be me having an off day. I suspect that others will enjoy this novel, brief and full of action, even if I had my own difficulties.

Kudos, Mr. Zur, for this interesting novel that spans two very different cultures.

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

War of Shadows (Dan Morgan #8), by Leo J. Maloney

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Leo J. Maloney, Kensington Books, and Lyrical Underground for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I have been a fan of Leo J. Maloney since he began the Dan Morgan series years ago. The stories are a mix of military-type thrills and international espionage rolled into one. That being said, sometimes things take an odd turn and the story falls flat, as it did this time for me. Dan Morgan is on his way to his Massachusetts home when he sees it explode before his eyes. As a husband and father, panic sets in, with the potential that his wife and daughter are inside. However, his Zeta Group mind kicks into high gear and he knows that he must find the perpetrator immediately, as this could be the first in a series of attacks. While neighbours scramble to make sense of the Morgans home, Dan slinks away and follows an unrecognised vehicle, following it towards the local Zeta Group HQ, which subsequently explodes as well. Who is targeting Morgan and how will he be able to stop this before he, too, is killed? As Morgan begins to assume the worst, he cannot let the likely death of his wife derail him. Fighting for answers, Morgan soon discovers that his daughter—and fellow Zeta Group agent—Alex, is alive and well, having been warned out of the house by her mother’s voice. Dan tries to make sense of this, presuming Alex is having a break with reality, but there is little time to contemplate this. As the Morgans realise that someone is trying to dismantle Zeta Group, they scramble to safety, only to be taken across the world on a mission to get to the core of the situation. Garnering much information in Taiwan, Dan Morgan discovers that there is an anti-Zeta Group seeking to replace them, with a potential mole inside his own organisation. This group is dead-set against leaving anyone or anything to chance, hoping to exterminate Morgan and his team in short order. Vowing not only to seek revenge for those who would see Zeta Group destroyed, but also to bring Jenny’s killers to justice, Dan Morgan will do all he can to ensure retribution is both final and bloody. A decent addition to the series, though things got a little too tech-heavy for me in this piece. It’s a toss-up if series fans will applaud or speed through this latest novel.

As I said above, I have been with Maloney throughout this entire journey. Most of the stories are well-crafted and quick to impress, though there is the odd one that seems to focus on a mission that does not pull me in. Dan Morgan remains an interesting character, who has only recently admitted his actual Zeta Group position to his wife and allowed Alex to join the crew. His loves his family more than anything, even the country he vows to defend, but there is something that pushes him to continually forge ahead and risk his life. With little to lose, Dan seeks retribution, though a paced and calculated one in this case. Series fans have come to know Alex Morgan a little better throughout this series. From the young girl, Alex has matured into a powerful force in Zeta Group, using her skills to offset what some might say is a lack of raw strength. Her presence is felt throughout the book, allowing the reader to witness her ongoing character development. Like her father, Alex has all the grit and determination that one could expect in a strong protagonist. There are many other characters, both regulars and one-offs, who serve to help push the story forward. While Maloney has chosen well, the presence of these individuals does not always clarify the tale, but rather adds confusion during my reader experience. With an interesting story that seeks to weed out a traitor, the excessive travel and numerous sets of characters did little for me. However, I can see how some would enjoy this and to those people, I say, ‘you have just what you want’. Not a bad read, but not one of my favourites in the series.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for keeping the Dan Morgan series alive. I see a teaser chapters included, so there is surely more to come sooner than later.

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

A Good Enough Mother, by Bev Thomas

Six stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Bev Thomas, and Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

The title and premise of this novel caught my eye from the outset, as Bev Thomas pulls on the heartstrings of the reader while offering up a mysterious tale of love and loss. Ruth Hartland is a psychotherapist at a highly specialised facility in London, handling severe cases of trauma. Her professional life is full of accolades, both those that adorn the walls and the high regard in which she is held by those around her. However, there is something deeper and darker that she shares with no one; the disappearance of her son, Tom. Ruth has waited two years for something, but there is no news, not even a notice that he may be dead or hiding away from her. Ruth’s marriage is being held together by a thread and her daughter has made herself scarce. Could the bubbly exterior soon falter as Ruth’s inner self is riddled with trauma of its own? When Ruth agrees to take on a new patient, she is soon left with a sobering realisation that Dan is so very much like her disappeared Tom. Can Ruth keep her professional boundaries high enough to be able to help him without sucking Dan into her own drama, replacing the missing Tom with his new-found presence? Much will be revealed in this piece that pushes the limits of a mother’s love with a need to come to terms with loss in a therapeutic manner. Likely of interest to those who like a deeper and more emotional mystery, though I struggled throughout to make sense of much.

One should never judge a book by its cover. While this is used primarily about criticising a book deserving of one’s time, I seek to offer up that not all books that seem to be ‘unputdownable’ are just that. I struggled from the outset with Bev Thomas’ novel and never felt that I truly found my way. Meandering throughout, I picked up only the barest of literary crumbs in order to formulate some semblance of order with this book. Ruth Hartland proved to be the struggling protagonist who wants nothing more than to appear placid while she tears apart her insides, seeking something to right her way. Be it the loss of her son, alienation of her other family, or that she cannot practice what she preaches, Ruth is the epitome of hypocrite and it shows from the reader’s omnipotent perspective as they read. Others who grace the pages of the book prove to be interesting secondary characters, pushing the narrative to its limits while offering the story some flavour, though I still found it somewhat difficult to navigate. Perhaps it was the style of writing or that I could not connect to the characters from early on, but I struggled repeatedly to find my groove in this book. Thomas has no issue stringing together ideas and placing them in a seemingly cohesive manner, but I found myself floundering to make sense of the story, the nuances found within the narrative, and could not affix myself to any of the characters. I struggled to care throughout, making this read all the more tiresome. While I see others found nothing but praise for the piece, I suppose I could have missed out on what many others found. Alternatively, Thomas may just have failed to hook me in my efforts to ride a wave of sensational books. Either way, it’s a toss up for the curious reader.

Kudos, Madam Thomas, for seemingly winning many others over with this piece. I suppose there have to be those outside the trend to balance things.

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

Crashing Heat (Nikki Heat #10), by Richard Castle

Seven stars

In the latest instalment of the Nikki Heat series, Richard Castle continues to weave interesting tales about his two protagonists, while peppering the narrative with an entertaining mystery. Still enjoying married life, NYPD Captain Nikki Heat and Jameson Rook are at an awards ceremony, though they itch to find a private place to ‘express their love’. After Rook wins another award for his gritty journalism, he and Heat must come to terms with the fact that he will be leaving for upstate New York on a teaching assignment for a semester. Before they can lament this, burgeoning journalism student Chloe Masterson comes to express excitement that he will be one of her academic and journalistic mentors in the coming weeks. Loving the attention, Rook promises to touch base with her while he is there, glad to have a fan hanging on his every word. After Heat and her team get a case, Rook agrees to stay in touch, making his way out of town. Heat is surprised to hear from him so soon afterwards, though it is anything but good news. Rook appears to have come into contact with local law enforcement, after young Chloe’s naked body showed up in his bed, murdered. Heat drops everything and heads to help her husband, not asking the obvious question that burns in her mind. When Heat arrives at the local precinct, there is quite the surprise awaiting her, one that will stretch the understanding she and Rook have with one another. Bound and determined to clear Rook’s name, Heat begins working with the locals to uncover what Chloe Masterson may have been investigating and how Rook could possibly be involved. In a case that will take Rook back to his student days, Heat must find a way to explain what’s happened to the victim and exonerate her husband, while also trying to see if their relationship is as strong as she thought. Sometimes the greatest secrets reveal much about a person, as Rook and Chloe know all too well. Corny at times in its delivery, this is a decent addition to the Heat series, one Castle has been building over the last number of years. Recommended for those who want a quick read in the mystery genre, as well as fans of the series.

There is the old adage that one should never compare books to their cinematic interpretations. The same can be said about books and their respective television shows. I was a fan of the Castle program when it aired, waiting for a new book to drop each season to see how it tied into the storyline. However, I became a little startled about just how corny and cheesy the books became, particularly as the love interests of the books’ protagonists paralleled those on the show. Stepping back, I can see that these books are pure entertainment and that tying myself up in knots can only serve to annoy me, rather than allow me to fully enjoy what is going on. Nikki Heat has climbed the NYPD ladder for the past number of books, having secured a spot as captain. Her ascent has been well documented and based on courage and merit, something that she brings to work on a daily basis. Her abilities are great, though she could not do it without the help of her author sidekick and husband, Jameson Rook. Turning to the affable and punny Rook, there is something about his worldliness that helps solve cases, though he is able to grate on the reader’s nerves without trying. Rook seeks to show just how in touch he is with things, even when he is the one in the hot seat. The handful of other regulars almost take a backseat in this one, particularly because the central case is out of NYC. Still, Castle peppers the story with some interesting one-offs, none more than someone from Heat’s long-ago past. The reader may enjoy some of the banter that ensues, though it barely covers some of the cheesy dialogue that serves to help ensure one’s eyes are still able to roll upwards. The idea for the book was decent, offering something for the reader to enjoy, though the stories do not lend themselves to being blockbusters. A good read, as long as the reader knows what they are getting themselves into. Perfect for beach or travel reading, with just a touch of audible sighing.

Kudos, Mr. Castle, for a great addition to your series. It served the purpose I hoped it would and for that I am ever grateful.

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

Perfect Crime (DI Callanach Thriller #5), by Helen Sarah Fields

Eight stars

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

In a series that keeps finding new ways to impress, Helen Fields captivates the reader’s attention yet again. While on a short holiday from work, DI Luc Callanach finds himself at a care facility, where he comes face to face with one of the residents, riddled with dementia. The reason for the visit is to allow Callanach to confront one of the two men who raped his mother many years ago. Barely able to hold his emotions in check, Callanach wants to make it clear that he will never forget the horrible things his mother was forced to endure, even if he may be facing his biological father at present. Upon returning to Police Scotland, Callanach and DCI Ava Turner are called out to a crime scene next to a castle wall. They are baffled to discover why they might be involved in what appears to be a clear-cut jump. How quickly suicide turns into a homicide, as some of the injuries discovered in the post-mortem are surely the work of someone else. Seeking to better understand the victim’s backstory, Callanach and Turner learn he visited a counselling centre to help with suicidal thoughts, but this brings them no closer to understanding what took place. When a second victim turns up dead with another suicidal presentation, Callanach and Turner wonder if there is a killer on the loose, seeking to turn thoughts into action. Meanwhile, the man Callanach visited turns up dead the same day as the aforementioned visit, smothered with a pillow. Could Callanach have taken out his aggression on a man who could not fight back? DCI Turner seeks to keep her underling’s ties to the victim off the radar, but does wonder if a temporary leave may help from muddying the waters too much. When a third victim is discovered, Callanach and Turner know that they must act fast, not only finding the killer, but also honing in on potential targets before their psychological worries cause a loss of life. Might there be someone lurking in the shadows who acts as a conduit for those who seek death already, or perhaps someone with a sinister game-plan, seeking only pawns in their sadistic adventure. Another stellar addition to the series that will have readers rushing to learn more. Recommended for those who have come to enjoy the nuances of the series, as well as those who love multi-layered police procedurals.

I remember randomly stumbling upon Helen Fields and this series, seeing much of the hype it was getting. As soon as I allowed myself a chance to delve in, I was hooked. From its interesting cases through to its characters who offer multi-faceted approaches to make the narrative even better, there is something for everyone . DI Luc Callanach again takes centre stage in this piece, working through some of the revelations of his personal life, while also trying to advance his career in Police Scotland. Series fans will know he is the ‘pretty boy’ of MIT, but his dedication and determination are second to none. His ongoing interaction with his friend (and now superior) DCI Ava Turner gives the reader something to enjoy as a secondary storyline in this novel, serving as character development for both. Ava Turner proves to be an interesting character in her own right, offering the story new and interesting flavours as she seeks to come to terms with a handful of conflicting emotions as they relate to Callanach. Turner is also trying to keep her team together, even as the commanding officer looks for any holes to tear her apart. With interesting characters who serve in many capacities, Fields keeps the reader’s attention throughout, helping to enrich the story’s growth. The story was a wonderful spin on the usual police procedural, with a killer whose intention is to offer a ‘shove’ for someone already on the precarious edge of life. Adding some development in the Callanach saga can only have interesting fallout for the protagonist, in this and future novels. One can hope that there are more books in this series, whose momentum never stops.

Kudos, Madam Fields, for another wonderful novel. I cannot wait to see where you will take DI Luc Callanach in the near future.

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

The Terminal List (James Reece #1), by Jack Carr

Eight stars

Having agreed to read this book on the recommendation of a friend, I was unsure what to expect from Jack Carr. Using elements of his past work experiences in the military, Carr creates and develops a wonderful character in James Reece, adding a thrilling adventure to propel the reader into the middle of something quite memorable. While serving as a Navy SEAL, James Reece watches much of his team die in an ambush ordered by a ruthless imam. Able to escape, Reece’s orders to return stateside cannot come soon enough. Before he is shipped back, an army doctor notices a tumour in his brain, something about which Reece is completely baffled. Landing in Southern California, Reece puts the idea of the tumour out of his mind, wanting to see his family before anything else. Arriving home to a ‘break-in gone wrong’ leaves his wife and young daughter dead, devastating Reece. With little left to do, he reports to his commanding officer and discovers that he is being blamed for the ambush. Meanwhile, those in the highest levels of the US Administration have been trying to keep some of their most covert plans under wraps, but Reece knows too much and must be eliminated. When Reece partners up with a keen investigative journalist, they soon discover an experimental medical program being tested on SEALs, something that creates a great deal of animosity and is the likely cause of the tumour. Add to that the murder of Reece’s family, and this SEAL is ready to eliminate all those who have used and abused him. Reece creates a payback list, vowing to hunt down everyone with a connection to destroying his life. Dodging the law and those contracted to hunt him, Reece is fuelled by passion and determination, using his past training and covert measures to bring some semblance of order to his life. A wonderful debut thriller, Carr pulls the reader into the middle of this story and does not let up. Recommended to those who enjoy military thrillers with a strong protagonist.

While I have an eclectic taste when it comes to books, I thoroughly enjoy novels that are well-written and filled with detail. Jack Carr uses much of his military background to develop a story that is both believable and full of nuances that allows the reader to feel in the middle of the action. Carr admits in the introduction that he has used much of his past to shape both the story and his protagonist, James Reece, but that he has freely used some literary freedoms, as well as the redaction requirements of the Department of Defence. Reece proves to be quite the character, who is a mix of military hero and scorned man who has seen much of his life come apart at the seams. His training makes Reece a man not to be messed with, though when his emotions cloud his mind, one can never know what will transpire. Reece pushes through all his adversity and focuses much of his attention on retribution, which becomes the central tenet of the novel. Other characters offer interesting flavours to the narrative, both military and civilian individuals. Carr utilises these characters well and thickens the plot throughout, keeping the reader enthralled. The story may not be entirely unique in its plot, but Carr does well in keeping the tale believable and full of intrigue. From the military parlance through to the grit of a man wanting justice, the novel takes the reader on a mission with only one goal, revenge. Gritty and emotional in parts, Jack Carr delivers a debut novel not soon to be forgotten.

Kudos, Mr. Carr, for an entertaining opening novel in this series. You have a wonderful way with words that is sure to keep the reader hooked.

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

The Amendment Killer (Brooks/Lotello Thriller #1), by Ronald S. Barak

Nine stars

I chose to re-read this piece after reading the series prequel, oddly released AFTER this book. Highly recommend doing things in that order, as this novel offers new and rich additions with the understanding of ‘The Puppet Master’.

Ronald S. Barak presents readers with a sensational novel that delves into the world of US constitutional politics, kidnapping, and a developing courtroom drama. When a girl is taken from off the street on her way to school, no one seems to notice. The country’s attention turns towards Washington, D.C., more specifically the US Supreme Court, where a monumental case is about to be argued before the nine justices. The premise surrounds the introduction of the 28th Amendment to the US Constitution, which seeks to tighten the responsibilities of congressional members. The controversy surrounds not only the content of the amendment, but that it was not introduced by Congress and the state assemblies. The National Organization for Political Integrity (NoPoli) chose to hold a constitutional convention with delegates of its fifty state branches, crafting and passing the aforementioned amendment. Having made its way through the lower courts, it is now time for the nine justices to rule not only on the right of Congress to sue on constitutional grounds, but also on the content of the 28th Amendment. With such an impact on the future of America, the case is being carried live on television for everyone to see, as it develops. During the Chief Justice’s opening remarks, Justice Arnold Hirschfeld’s cell phone buzzes with a text; his granddaughter, Cassie, has been kidnapped and the only way she will be returned safely is when the amendment is quashed. Panicked, Justice Hirschfeld must follow the rules laid out for him, but makes some veiled contact to ensure that his family is aware of the situation. While not wanting to tip his hand to what’s going on, Justice Hirschfeld reaches out to have an investigation commenced, though the burner phones being used and lack of substantial clues makes finding Cassie all the more difficult. Lawyers for NoPoli and Congress battle it out, exploring what the Founding Fathers might have meant with Article 5 of the US Constitution and trying to parse out a modern day solution, all in a compacted oral argument setting, where justices openly hurl questions at the attorneys, who seek to maximise their allotted time. While arguments continue in the Court, Cassie is being kept in a secluded location, unsure why she’s been targeted. What she does know is that her diabetes will not remain under control if this lasts much longer. Bonding with her captor, Cassie is able to soon learn that her grandfather’s role in the current set of legal arguments could lead to her freedom, or untimely demise. Working off the radar while media outlets start sniffing around, Metro Homicide Detective Frank Lotello tries to craft an agreement to ensure that Cassie is released and Justice Hirschfeld can sway his colleagues. However, the constitutional arguments are compelling, forcing many to wonder why oral arguments show Hirschfeld speaking against everything he appears to hold dear. In the shadows, someone is trying to push for this amendment nullification, but at whose request? Will the Court rule properly on this monumental case and allow young Cassie the freedom she deserves? Barak has stitched together this wonderful novel that captures the reader’s attention from the outset and does not release its grip until the final pages. Highly recommended for those who love legal thrillers with a constitutional flavour, as well as the reader who find crime thrillers to their liking.

A friend of mine recommended this book to me the first go round, feeling that I might enjoy both its legal and criminal aspects. I had it sitting on my TBR list for a while, wanting to find myself in the right mood before diving in. Why I waited so long I will never know. As stated above, this book really should be grabbed after its more recently released prequel, in order to get the full impact. Barak is able to pull the reader into the middle of this book, whetting an appetite for detailed discussion of constitutional practices, as well as using the US Supreme Court as a central tool to deliver some of the important impetus to keep the narrative flowing. Barak utilises the subplot of Cassie’s kidnapping to keep the story balanced and allow the reader to enjoy a well-rounded piece, as though to dilute some of the legal and constitutional arguments that fill many chapters. Barak effectively crafts a set of characters who mesh well together, but whose individual stories come together in a seamless manner. This gives the reader the chance to better understand those they find interesting and push aside those who do not pique their interest. In a story full of legal tangents, Barak keeps the reader guessing and wondering how things will resolve themselves. Fast-paced with a narrative benefitting both short and longer chapters, Barak paces the story well with time stamps, showing the slow (and quick) progression of the case before the Court’s expedited decision. With Cassie’s life on the line, the reader will surely push through this one to discover the monumental finality of this first-rate novel, as well as all the hints peppered throughout relating to the previous novel.

Kudos, Mr. Barak, for such an impactful story. I will have to find some of your other work and devour it in short order. I’m eager to see what else you can bring to life with your superior writing style.

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

The Catherine Howard Conspiracy (The Marquess House Trilogy #1), by Alexandra Walsh

Eight stars

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

Alexandra Walsh storms onto the scene with this intriguing piece of historical fiction that opens new questions about the Tudors and Catherine Howard. While attending a dig, archeologist Dr. Perdita Rivers is alerted to some startling news; her estranged grandmother, popular Tudor historian Mary Fitzroy, has passed away. Even more alarming is the fact that Perdita and her sister, Piper, are now the rightful owners of Marquess House, a massive estate that Perdita never knew was part of the family. Surveying her new property, Perdita begins sifting through everything her grandmother left behind, including massive amounts of research relating to the Tudors. The deeper Perdita delves, the more she discovers. Of particular interest is an unpublished work on Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife. The story flashes back to the time of Catherine’s life, exploring her time as a lady at Court. Catherine surrounded herself by Anne of Cleves, the foreign princess sent to marry Henry VIII. Young and quite beautiful, Catherine catches the eye of the king, especially when his hastily arranged marriage goes stale soon after it is solidified. However, Henry VIII is anything but a compassionate lover, using violence and his title to demand submission, both in and out of bed. Once Henry VIII is in search of a new wife, Catherine is the obvious choice. She soon fears for her life when the violence escalates as she is not quick to produce an heir. As Perdita reads more, she begins to piece together some highly controversial information. Could it be that Catherine Howard was never executed? If so, who stood in her place and what happened to this young woman? While Perdita seeks to uncover more, additional mysteries behind her grandmother’s death and a group that has been following her are revealed. This further explains the estrangement between Mary Fitzroy and her granddaughters for a quarter of a century. Filled with adventure and historical revelations, Alexandra Walsh pulls the reader into the middle of this opening novel in an expected trilogy. Recommended for those who love historical mysteries and fiction, as well as readers with an interest in all things Tudor.

I eagerly accepted the chance to read Walsh’s debut novel, as it provided me the opportunity to explore some Tudor history intertwined with a great historical mystery. Walsh develops the first of this trilogy with an interesting premise, whose importance becomes more apparent the more the story develops. Dr. Perdita Rivers proves to be a wonderful character who comes into her own throughout this piece. An archeologist by training, Rivers is well-versed with historical discoveries, though is quite surprised when she uncovers much of the research her grandmother left her. The reader learns a little more about the estrangement period, as well as Rivers’ own backstory and some development, both familial and personal, throughout the piece. Walsh lays the groundwork for some interesting future adventures, both as they relate to the Tudors and life within the Marquess House. Others help to flesh-out the story effectively, none more than Catherine Howard herself. Long deemed flighty and quite promiscuous—like her cousin, Anne Boleyn—Catherine Howard’s brief marriage and eventual execution seem a foregone conclusion. However, Walsh injects some interesting twists into the story, while building a wonderful narrative to offer new and potentially insightful aspects to Tudor history. The story worked quite well and serves both to entertain as well as educate the reader. There is much development of a mystery, both in Tudor times and during the present period. Readers are left with many questions, sure to help lure them into wanting to find the next books in the trilogy. Walsh has definitely offered much on which the reader can posit, including secret societies created to protect and veil those historical anomalies that have not made it into tomes. I am eager to see what Walsh has coming down the pipeline and will keep my eyes peeled for the second book when it has been published.

Kudos, Madam Walsh, for a wonderful opening novel in this series. You have me curious and hoping the intensity stays high throughout the trilogy.

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