Lamentation (Matthew Shardlake #6), by C.J. Sansom

Eight stars

C.J. Sansom is at the top of his genre with this set of Tudor era historical mysteries. By mixing legal conundrums with controversies of the time, the reader is easily transported back in time and enveloped in stories that resonate throughout the centuries. England is at war again, though it is no sovereign state that has declared its opposition. Rather, there is a religious clash that continues at a time when Henry VIII seeks to reunite with past foes. While the Catholic/Church of England clash remains controversial, the emergence of new and troubling Protestant organizations has English folk questioning their neighbours. At the heart of things is Queen Catherine Parr herself, who has penned a manuscript about her own struggles, The Lamentations of a Sinner. In it, Queen Catherine reveals many of her thoughts on religion, which could not only anger her husband, but pave the way for her execution. The queen calls on Matthew Shardlake to attend her at Court, where he is tasked with covertly trying to discover what’s happened to it, as it has gone missing. More troubling, a local printer is found murdered with one of the manuscript’s handwritten pages in his hand. Shardlake realises that he must not only find a murderer, but the written document, doing so under veil of secrecy. With a young man having joined the office to better understand the law, Shardlake may use him for investigative purposes while training him in the law. As Shardlake and his assistant, Jack Barak, seek to find this manuscript, they soon discover more bodies and eventually make the connection to a controversial religious group whose views prove to be at the heart of the religious clash. Adding intrigue to the entire situation, Henry VIII is getting sicker by the day, meaning that both religious camps have the chance to make a play for the coming heir, Prince Edward. Which side will prove victorious and can the highly scandalous writing keep Queen Catherine from losing the respect of her dying husband? In a piece that explores some of the lesser-known aspects of Tudor England, Sansom proves to be a rose amongst patches of clover. Recommended to those who have come to love all things Sansom and readers who enjoy Tudor history.

There are so many pieces to the machinery of a Matthew Shardlake novel that the reader will have to pick and choose which suits them best. C.J. Sansom offers much on which the reader can feast and develops storylines throughout this well-paced series. Keeping history and mystery competing throughout, the reader can find what works best for them as they learn more about the era and the series protagonist. Matthew Shardlake is a wonderful central character whose development has not waned over the series. While there is little mention of flashbacks, Shardlake has enough in his present to keep the reader enthralled. A wonderful legal mind, many refuse to see this side of Shardlake, choosing to focus on his hunchback and writing him off as permanently impeded. Struggling with memories of a horrible naval disaster that still haunts him and trying to define the relationship he has with Queen Catherine so as not to find himself jailed, Shardlake forges ahead with a preliminary case that usually finds itself taking a a backseat to the more controversial events evolving throughout the narrative. The reader is able to see many returning characters whose lives continue to develop, while also seeing new faces enrich the story as they shape the plot’s direction. The story was strong and kept my attention throughout, instilling wonder as England tries to define itself for a second time under Henry VIII. Politics, religion, and regional power are intertwined in this piece, allowing C.J. Sansom to effectively educate and entertain simultaneously. While the series continues to develop, its key elements are in question and there is a sense of sectional finality by the epilogue. A recently published seventh novel will surely help explore some of the questions left unresolved in true Tudor form.

Kudos, Mr. Sansom, for keeping Tudor history alive in this piece of historical fiction. I hope new fans, like me, will discover this and lose themselves in the mastery you have of the genre.

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

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Necessity, by D.W. Buffa

Eight stars

In this novel, my second political thriller by D.W. Buffa, I expected much. The scandalous premise alone was enough to make me want to dive in and see how he would spin the plot. Buffa did not disappoint, either from a legal standpoint or with political implications that resonate in today’s America. Scandal arises when President of the United States, Walter Bridges, arrives in San Francisco and is murdered aboard Air Force One. Things only get more troublesome when the murderer admits what he’s done, claiming it was needed to save the Republic. The murderer is none other than US Senator Kevin Fitzgerald, a favourite son in California and perhaps the entire country. The buzz in the air could not be louder, though criminal defence attorney Joseph Antonelli expects the other shoe to drop soon. It does, when he is recruited to defend Senator Fitzgerald in open court. With political and social nuances surrounding both the trial and defendant, Antonelli prepares as best he and waits as the world’s eye shifts to San Francisco. While the prosecution tries to nail home the fact that there is no doubt about who committed the assassination, Antonelli works diligently to split hairs and reveals that things may not have been as straightforward as first expected. A lingering sentiment of the law of necessity—where sacrificing one can save the greater whole—becomes a theme in a case that reveals just how disliked President Bridges might have been and how his election came through ties to a foreign power. As Antonelli fights for his client, he knows this will be the legal battle of his life, where losing could be an act of treason all its own. A wonderful novel that fits nicely into the current political climate of the United States and exudes #realnews from the get-go. Recommended for those who love political thrillers that seek to shake the system to the core.

I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to D.W. Buffa and cannot say enough about this book. He offers a thinly veiled sentiment about the US political system in both novels, though this one was as blatant as they come. Working through treason, assassination, and top-secret intelligence, Buffa provides the reader with a stellar piece of writing that will leave them wondering until the final pages. Joseph Antonelli is a wonderful character whose down to earth nature and sharp wit when it comes to the law cannot be missed. I realise that Buffa has a seven-book series dedicated to the man (yet this was not included??), so I will have to go back and see the character develop from the early stages. That being said, there is something about this man as he seeks to defend what has to be the most well-known defendant in California in recent memory. A well-paced courtroom demeanour, Antonelli is able to extract the key elements of a witness’ testimony without causing everything to come tumbling down, at least until the time is right. A handful of other legal and political characters offer up a wonderful flavour to this book that leaves little to the imagination. Much is revealed about a presidency mired in scandal and illegal vote-getting, though this is one man who refuses to believe the vote tally as being anything but skewed against him. There is no way parallels to the Trump Administration can be lost on the reader—nor should they—and it is wonderful food for thought at a time when many options are being considered about how to handle the quagmire that is presidential politics. With twists revealed throughout, the attentive reader will discover that there is more to the story than one politician killing another and admitting it, though much is kept locked away and information that never sees the light of day becomes the impetus for action. Brilliant in its execution, this is one book sure to ruffle at least a few feathers.

Kudos, Mr. Buffa, for a thought-provoking novel that keeps the reader on their toes. Not for the casual reader, as this book is intense from the outset.

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

Heartstone (Matthew Shardlake #5), by C.J. Sansom

Eight stars

C.J. Sansom dazzles with his great set of Tudor era historical mysteries, mixing a few legal conundrums with controversies of the time to keep the reader hooked. England is at war, though its citizenry is less than enamoured with the idea. France remains a thorn in the side of King Henry VIII and he has done all he can to prepare the country for battle, including debasing the already fragile currency. Matthew Shardlake watches and wonders what is to come for his country, when he is not spending time at the mental institution visiting a new friend, Ellen Fettiplace. Her time under lock and key is reaching two decades, though she espouses innocence for the charges levied against her. When Shardlake is summoned to Court, he meets with Queen Catherine (Parr) and discovers a new case on which to work. One of the Queen’s former ladies has a legal matter that will require some attention. Her son was a tutor in a household where two young wards of the state were placed. This tutor indicated that there were issues in said household, but before any formal reporting could be done, the tutor was found hanging, though some wonder if it might have been murder. This will require Shardlake to visit the Court of Wards, seeking not only an injunction against the placement of these two wards, but to discover what has been going on. To do so, Shardlake and his assistant, Barak, will have to venture out to interview all involved. Shardlake is prepared for this, as it will give him the chance to learn more about Ellen’s circumstances as well. The Court of Wards handles the mentally infirm as part of their oversight and Ellen’s residence before incarceration was along the route Shardlake must follow. With war coming and soldiers preparing for battle, Shardlake’s inquiries will prove explosive in all senses of the word. Might Ellen not have committed murder as she is said to have done? Could the fire that destroyed the foundry on which she lived not have been of her own doing? And what of these wards, who are apparently not safe in their current placement? Shardlake is ready for anything, including a French invasion, in this stunning novel. A scintillating account of events by C.J. Sansom, who uses history and dramatic effect throughout the piece. Those who have loved the series to date will surely want to continue with this novel.

After a stuttering step on my part, I have come to see that C.J. Sansom educates and entertains the reader with each passing story. As my work involves Child Welfare and Protection, this story was especially interesting to me, as I was able to explore how things were done five centuries before. Matthew Shardlake continues to defy logic and pushes to better understand the Tudor world around him, pushing the limits whenever possible. His adventures take him all over the country, though he cannot shake much of the criticism and mockery, no matter where he goes. With a strong affinity for Ellen Fettiplace, the reader can see a softer side of Shardlake’s character, though there is still something holding him back. While the ‘ward’ case seems less to shine a light on what SHardlake feels, the reader gets more of Barak’s personality shining through, with his wife carrying their child. Series fans will know the monumental nature of this and respect its addition in the story a little more. Shardlake remains a keen legal mind and appears to have the respect of many senior officials at Court, which is significant with the history he possesses. The reader will likely enjoy many of the plot and character advancements found within this piece and I applaud Sansom’s subtle attention to both. Mixing a few characters from the history books alongside a handful of entertaining newbies, Sansom develops a wonderful cast to propel the story forward in many directions. I have said it before and will repeat myself, Sansom has a wonderful way of weaving his characters into a glorious tapestry and will not disappoint. The novel is well-paced and offers more English history with a Tudor flavour, as the country prepares for another battle. The novel is by no means out of the realm of any reader, though its topic and analysis can sometimes give it a ‘deeper’ and more ‘intense’ feel, alongside the long and intricate chapters that may be red flags for some readers. The patient reader may enjoy peeling back the layers of history required to digest the larger plot. I am eager that I gave the series another chance and want to get to the core of the Sansom reading experience.

Kudos, Mr. Sansom, for keeping me wondering as I learn much about the Tudor dynasty. I cannot wait to continue learning with 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

The Last Chance Lawyer (Daniel Pike #1), by William Bernhardt

Eight stars

The legal thrillers penned by William Bernhardt never cease to grab the reader’s attention. This debut novel in a new series has all the elements of a powerful courtroom drama mixed with the social issues of the day, sure to fire up all who take the time to read it. Daniel Pike is a lawyer who puts justice before all, meaning that he is invested in any client who is able to pay. After some courtroom antics sees a sketchy client waltz through a loophole, Pike is pleased and the payout is forthcoming. His law firm does not hold as loose a set of morals and he is tossed out on his ear. However, he is not unemployed for long, when a mysterious message is sent for him to meet at a nondescript location. Less a law firm than a relaxing place for the inner child to enjoy themselves, Pike is surprised when he is offered a position with the ‘Last-Chance Law Firm’, which specializes in helping those who are at the end of their legal rope. Pike tosses caution out the window and agrees to sign on the dotted line, more curious than anything. His first (and only) case is to help a young girl whose immigration status is a little grey, though deporting her back to her country of origin could mean certain disaster. A guardian is set to take her in and Pike must get the wheels rolling on the adoption. However, no sooner is the ink dry on the application to adopt, the guardian is fingered for a killing during a gangland massacre on the tough Florida streets. Feigning ignorance, Pike must presume his new client is innocent, even while the murder weapon appears in her backyard. Knowing a young girl’s safety rests on getting his client off for the murder, Pike uses all his resources to help a woman who awaits certain death if she is convicted. If ever there was a last-chance situation for two clients, this would be it. When the case is expedited and heads to trial, Daniel Pike kicks it into high gear and faces the greatest adversity he has ever encountered, but he cannot let his own fears serve as a hurdle. He must present the best defence he can. A stellar debut by William Bernhardt, full of legal intrigue and passionate advocacy for the immigration issues in America today. Recommended to those who love all things courtroom related and with a passion for the underdog.

I have long loved the legal and courtroom thrillers that William Bernhardt has penned, which are full of humour and intensity. While he has taken some time off to work on his teaching of new writers, it is always a pleasure to see when he is able to work on his own craft and provide his fans with something to read. Daniel Pike is a wonderful protagonist and someone who will certain continue to grow on series fans, provided that Bernhardt offers up more of the same. One who loves to work on his own timetable, Pike forges ahead with justice as his impetus, no caring who is paying his fees, as long as he feels a wrong needs advocating. He is not a ‘kick you in the shins’ type, but will not stand back and let the justice system dictate the rules. Witty and domineering in the courtroom, Pike takes no prisoners as he tries to get to the bottom of every witness’ narrative to shape the larger story. The rest of the last-chance lawyers prove to be an interesting collection of legal minds, with their own quirks that will surely push this series forward for as long as Bernhardt desires. The characters mesh together effectively and play off one another with ease. Their passion for the law is apparent, even if it is sometimes buried under layers of chicanery. The secondary characters help to make this a wonderful legal thriller, full of just the right conflict and pressure to find justice amongst all the testimony. There is also a a strong push by Bernhardt to highlight some of the issues with the current immigration situation, reactivated by the current US Administration. One would have to be daft not to see the social commentary found within the pages of this book, though it does not overshadow the wonderful writing that Bernhardt is known to use when telling a story. The narrative is crisp and the dialogue on point, allowing the reader to relax and enjoy, while remaining astute to all that is going on. I cannot wait to see what else Bernhardt has in store for readers with this series. What a treat awaits those who liked this debut!

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for another wonderful novel. I can see much potential here and await news on the next novel.

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

Quiet Fury (Billy Beckett #2), by Kelly Hodge

Eight stars

Kelly Hodge penned a wonderful series debut (even though I feel it fell under a slight shadow of controversy) that had me rushing to find this sequel, where the reader is treated to the same high quality. Billy Beckett is a sports agent with a passion for the job and has been making quite a name for himself with a number of headline-grabbing clients. With a past life in the legal field, Beckett knows the pitfalls of dealing with agreements and negotiating settlements, as well as trying to keep clients from jumping at the first sign of money. Beckett is still reeling from the drama to years before when a college football superstar was kidnapped from his own property. Now, he finds himself in rural Tennessee, fly fishing with a man he’s just met. Eric ‘Sheriff’ Sampson has quite the pitch for the agent extraordinaire; represent his up-and-coming granddaughter, MMA fighter Cassie Haynes. The world of mixed martial arts is still fairly new and one in which Billy is not entirely comfortable, but he’s happy to meet with her to see what might be done. However, Billy is called back to Knoxville when one of his clients is arrested for first-degree murder outside Houston. A rookie pitcher for the Houston Astros was seen arguing with a man on the owner’s property and allegedly tied him to the back of his truck. When all was said and done, the victim had been dragged to his death. While the Astros want their rookie sensation to help the franchise, they are less than willing to provide him with stellar legal representation. Billy rushes to help, seeing just how inept things are for his client. As the case is shaping up, things take a tragic turn and Billy is left to wonder if he can prove his client’s innocence posthumously. Licking his wounds, Billy heads to Las Vegas to see his potential client fight in the octagon, hoping to help her create an image as she seeks to climb the rungs towards winning the title. With Sheriff in the crowd and by her side Cassie Haynes has much potential, but a handful of family secrets, both in the past and at present, may unravel a career that is just getting started. Billy Beckett cannot know what awaits him, though he should be ready for any pitfall, even those that masquerade as bumps in the road. Another stellar novel in the series that will have fans of the debut wanting to get their hands on this one. Recommended for those who like something a little different in their mysteries.

Just as I devoured the series debut, I was able to finish this piece in a single day. Hodge has the skill to stand on his own and will surely become a wonderful author in his own right. The recent loss of his mentor (part of the aforementioned controversy) has left Hodge to fend on his own, but this publication shows that he has what it takes to compete with others in the genre. Billy Beckett is a great protagonist, dedicated to his craft and enjoys rubbing elbows with the sports elite. He shows the ability to juggle many clients and their myriad of issues all at once, which benefits the reader seeking a few sub-plots to propel the story forward. There is much to learn about Beckett’s backstory, though tragedy showed itself in the debut novel. Hodge focuses his attention on development, both as an agent and a man seeking to define himself in this novel. Love, dedication, and passion for what is right drive Billy Beckett on a daily basis. Others make their presence known in this series that is full of unique characters who enrich the story in their own way. A handful of athletes in their own situations provide the reader with a cross-section of interesting personalities that flavour the narrative at each page turn. The premise of the series was a little wobbly for me in the debut, but Hodge has defined it here in this novel that is much stronger. Sports agent may sound flaky for a protagonist, but the storylines work well together, meshing and compartmentalising themselves when it is needed. With short chapters and a great sense of influence by his mentor, Hodge offers readers a wonderful style and develops plots with ease. I can only hope that Hodge will keep writing and creating more Billy Beckett intrigue, as I am a real fan of these stories, two novels in!

Kudos, Mr. Hodge, on a great continuation of the series. I noticed you pushed out two novels in short order and have been silent for almost three years. More to come?! I heard a rumour you were taking over for your mentor and developing some of his unfinished work.

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

Deep Threat (Billy Beckett #1), by Scott Pratt and Kelly Hodge

Eight stars

Having long been a fan of Scott Pratt, I was sorry to hear of his passing last year. That being said, it would seem his family and Kelly Hodge have worked tirelessly to get some of Pratt’s final manuscripts published for his adoring fans. This books proves to be the debut in a series that could (?) span at least a few books, should Hodge and the powers that be allow it. Billy Beckett is a sports agent with a passion for the job. Having once worked in the legal field, Beckett knows the pitfalls of dealing with agreements and negotiating settlements. Beckett has been trying to pave the way towards signing college football superstar Jarvis Thompson, sure to make it in the NFL. After a decisive upset win now Saturday, Beckett’s brother, John, is found in a pool of blood and Jarvis was the last person seen with him. While John is somewhat vague about what happened, the cocaine found on his person tells quite a story. Add to that, Jarvis Thompson is nowhere to be found. Was there some drug-related skirmish or has something happened to the college star? Not wasting any time, Billy Beckett takes up the search, which leads to interesting evidence and whispers about a mob boss in New Orleans. As the country holds its collective breath, Billy must find his potential client while uncovering a larger plot that puts him in the crosshairs. An interesting launch of a new series that permits Scott Pratt to go out with a bang. Those who have come to enjoy Pratt’s work will likely enjoy the collaborative effort and want to get their hands on this piece.

It’s always troublesome for a reader to discover that an author they enjoy has passed away, particularly when there is a body of unfinished work. A few authors I follow have had others pick up the torch and ruin a series, as if they were ‘Bourne’ to act as kamikaze author. Hodge seems not to be intent on ruining much of anything, having shaped and sculpted this debut in Pratt’s image. The humour is there, as well as the quick wit and great narrative delivery. With a potential series in the making, one needs to focus some attention on Billy Beckett, who has all the tools to serve as an interesting series protagonist. He is surely dedicated to his craft and enjoys rubbing elbows with the sports elite, wooing them at every turn. However, a connection to the mob, albeit tangential, could prove to be a fallback for Beckett as the series progresses. There is much to learn about Beckett’s backstory, which I hope Hodge will develop throughout the coming novels, but the fact that I am curious serves to show that there is potential here. Others make their presence known in this series that is full of unique characters who enrich the story in their own way. Pratt’s use of Tennessee is here in spades, with many holding onto that southern passion. There are a handful of characters whose stories I hope will be built upon, as they would make wonderful supporting characters, given the time. The premise is still one that I am not sure I am sold on, though how does one use a sports agent to serve as regular investigator. I am sure Kelly Hodge has a plan and I am willing to give him a chance to show it, if for no other reason than I thoroughly enjoyed the work of the late Scott Pratt.

Kudos, Messrs. Pratt and Hodge, on a great start to the series. You will be missed, Scott, and I can only hope this will get others interested in checking out some of your solo work, as well as seeing where Kelly takes things!

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

Revelation (Matthew Shardlake #4), by C.J. Sansom

Eight stars

C.J. Sansom continues with his great set of Tudor era historical mysteries, tapping into some of the controversies of the time to spin intricate tales sure to keep the reader enthralled. Matthew Shardlake has taken on quite a complicated case when asked to defend a young man who has been locked away in a mental facility. His crime, excessive praying and zealousness, leaves many wondering what is to be done. At a time when religious fervour is punishable by death when not in line with the Church of England, Shardlake must get to the bottom of this before things get out of hand. However, there are other issues, particularly when a friend is found murdered. As is often the case, Shardlake cannot steer clear of a mystery, though the King’s Coroner is quick to shut down the investigation. Shardlake is determined to get answers when asked by his friend’s widow. When Shardlake is approached by Archbishop Cranmer, he discovers that there may be more to the murder than meets the eye. It would seem that there are more murders with similar attributes, but those at the highest levels of Court do not want it known publicly. Shardlake examines what little evidence and documentation he can find, only to discover that the killer seems to be following a portion of the Book of Revelation, where death and destruction is rampant. Even with a list of the forms of murder, the interpretation is quite significant, not to mention the choice of victims. It would seem someone is trying to get rid of radical reformers, choosing brutal killings to make their point. When Shardlake and a few others are targeted by someone wanting the investigation stopped, it would seem he is on the right path. While all this is going on, Shardlake cannot forget his client, whose mental state remains as fragile as ever. Something must be done to quell the dramatic reaction of many in England, with ongoing questions at Court at what Henry VIII will do in his search for a new—sixth—wife. This may be one case that Matthew Shardlake wished he had left well alone. Brilliant in its delivery, C.J. Sansom taps into both the era and its intricate scandals to create a mystery like no other. Those who have loved the series to date will surely want to add this to their collection.

This is a great series for those who love their mysteries steeped in history and controversies of another era. C.J. Sansom does well to educate while entertaining the reader in a nuance-filled narrative. The story digs deeper than most of the Tudor history with which I am familiar, usually Henry VIII chasing a new wife or his offspring—Elizabeth—seeking to rule in ways never thought of before. It looks to the religious reformation within England and how powerful entities shaped the development of England and its Church at a time when things were still fairly new and shaky. Sansom continues to offer a little more of the backstory related to Matthew Shardlake. Gritty in his way of thinking, Shardlake faces much retaliation as he defends a religious zealot and comes to terms with his own beliefs in the face of a killer who wants to rid the country of non-traditional believers. The thread of religious dedication is an interesting sub-plot that Sansom has added to create more flavour to the Shardlake character. Shardlake remains a keen legal mind and wonderful investigator, working alongside his assistant, Barak. With a few characters from the history books, Sansom injects what many will already know about the heavy hitters of the era, but also finds time to shape new and unknown people to push the story forward. These characters serve various purposes and help to offer a more ‘down to earth’ approach to the story, with a topic that is anything but peaceful. Sansom has a wonderful way of weaving his characters into a glorious tapestry and will not disappoint. The novel is well-paced and offers more Tudor history as England comes into its own from a religious perspective. The novel is by no means out of the realm of any reader, though its topic and analysis can sometimes give it a ‘deeper’ and more ‘intense’ feel, alongside the long and intricate chapters that may be red flags for some readers. The patient reader may enjoy peeling back the layers of history required to digest the larger plot. I am eager that I gave the series another chance and want to get to the core of the Sansom reading experience.

Kudos, Mr. Sansom, for keeping me curious and wanting to know more. There may be many who write about Tudor times, but your mysteries offer a wonderfully unique angle.

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

Last of the Magpies (The Magpies #3), by Mark Edwards

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mark Edwards, and Amazon Publishing UK for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

The series that first pulled me into the web of Mark Edwards’ writing is finally coming to an end. Perhaps one of his most eerie psychological thriller series, The Magpies, pushed an unsuspecting couple—Jamie and Kirsty Knight—to the brink. After a harrowing few pieces, this novella seeks to tie it all together. After their horrible experience at the hands of their neighbour, Lucy Newton,, Jamie and Kirsty are no longer on speaking terms, having gone their separate ways. Jamie is still trying to bring closure to things, made all the more difficult when Lucy escaped from prison in a past story. Now on the lam, Jamie seeks to find her, trolling through the various fan sites that have arisen, parsing through the comments of the ‘Newtonites’ to find the woman who has wreaked such havoc. Jamie turns to a podcaster with much experience bringing justice in a world where knee-jerk solutions appear to be the norm. As Jamie and Emma Fox begin their trek to find Lucy, the official story remains untold, at least from the victims’ perspective. Lucy published her tell-all, citing innocence, which the public devoured in short order, but Jamie has yet to really seek to tell his version of events. When he approaches Kirsty with the idea, she is anything but happy, even though she would love nothing more than to put the Lucy narrative to rest. When Emma follows a lead and falls off the grid, Jamie cannot help but wonder if she has finally found Lucy. Now it’s time to decide, follow the digital breadcrumbs and potentially face Lucy, or ignore it and hope Lucy truly does disappear forever? The choice is surely not easy! Edwards does well with this finale, though using the novella format, he may have inadvertently rushed things and left series fans a little deflated. Still, I’d recommend this one for fans of the Magpies collection, if only to get a sense of closure.

Mark Edwards does well with his writing, usually able to pull the reader into the middle of things from the get-go. His Magpies series seems to have garnered the most fame for him, as I have seen scores of people speaking about it and anticipating new work on the subject of Lucy Newton. He’s gone so far as to reference her in his other work, for the attentive reader. With this piece, Edwards must not only tie-off loose ends, but also work to deliver new information to keep the reader hooked. Working with the Jamie Knight and Kirsty characters, their past pain and anguish is less of a discussion point here, but rather the attempt to get closure. The reader has little time to really see what they have been doing to bide their time since the last instalment, as it would seem trying to bring normalcy is the sole item on the agenda. Lucy Newton’s character finally gives us some of the context series fans have been searching for. Edwards injects unpublished chapters of her memoir into the novella, offering backstory about her childhood and courting by Chris Newton. While brief and sometimes only tangential, the curious reader can learn something here and is able to find a nugget or two on which to feast. The story flowed well and seemed rapid, taking the reader on quite the ride in a short time. That being said, I almost would have liked more meat, more spine-chilling action as things progressed to a final reveal, where all is decided once and for all. I cannot say more, for it would spoil things, but perhaps the haste to get this to readers left Mark Edwards churning out something swiftly between projects, rather than a stunning and mind-blowing psychological thriller we all expected. Still, it was enjoyable, with its short chapters and teasing about the backstory of Lucy Newton.

Kudos, Mr Edwards, for a great finale. Maybe I am alone in my criticisms, but it does not detract from the pleasure I have for this novella and series in general.

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

The Dark Bones (A Dark Lure #2), by Loreth Anne White

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Loreth Anne White, and Montclair Romance for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

At a time when the thriller genre is supersaturated by authors who wish to peddle their wares, Loreth Anne White enters with a few unique qualities, one of which being the novel’s setting in rural Western Canada. Add to that, the slow development and eerie quality of her writing and the reader is in for a treat as they devour this, the second novel in her new series. The disappearance of two local teenagers two decades before has always been a cold case that nagged at Noah North, a retired cop. When he came upon some new information that may lead to a re-opening of the case, he wanted the world to know, including his daughter, Rebecca, who now resides in Ottawa. When Rebecca speaks to her father, he tells her, a little less than sober, that he knows she was not telling the truth those twenty years ago about what she and a friend were doing. Dismissing it, Rebecca returns to her life, only to receive a stunning call that her father’s committed suicide, shooting himself in the head with a shotgun. When Rebecca returns to her rural British Columbia community, she sees that much has changed and much remains the same. Trying her best to understand what’s happened, Rebecca is pulled into the middle of the case she thought everyone had forgotten, particularly when there is evidence that her father might have been drugged and therefore incapable of killing himself. Opening the old case file, Rebecca begins to piece a great deal together, including examining her friendships and relationships at the time. With the locals all coming to pay respects and opening a past she had compartmentalised, Rebecca North faces many harsh truths, while trying to see if the rumours of a pregnant teen girl fleeing to California still holds weight. With mounting evidence that someone is trying to silence a resurfacing of the case, Rebecca must race to get answers, if only to put her father’s death to rest. White stuns readers yet again with this great follow-up thriller that will please those who enjoyed the debut, and likely hook a new set of readers. Recommended for those who love a thriller that paces itself nicely and keeps the reader wondering.

I read the series debut quickly so that I could sink my teeth into this advance copy. Both proved to be stellar reads for me, my first experiences with Loreth Anne White’s work. The story was strong and developed without losing momentum, while the reader learned more about a new collection of characters from this remote community, while also getting updates on those from the debut. Rebecca North takes centre stage in this piece and keeps them reader enthralled with her development. In a novel that straddles two time periods, Rebecca’s backstory and character development occur almost simultaneously. A teen struggling to find herself, she fled for the other side of the country, only to be pulled back with her father’s death. The reader can see the great contrasts, as White uses her narrative to show both time periods. Other characters find their way onto the page and build both the present and 1998 narratives effectively, from teens to responsible adults who have made something with their lives. White plants wonderful characters of many flavours to add depth to the story and these people feed off one another so well. White uses a different technique here, with short chapters and interspersed flashbacks to a time that is then revealed in the present story. These quick chapters worked well and contrasted nicely with the debut novel, which sought to use longer chapters with smaller ‘perspective break’. The reader will surely enjoy the momentum gained by these brief story breaks that propel the larger narrative forward. Much is revealed and the reader will surely enjoy the underlying mystery that proves to entertain and educate in equal measure.

Kudos, Madam White, for another stellar novel. I am eager to see if you will build on this series, as you have a real fan in me. I hope others discover this series soon!

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

A Dark Lure (A Dark Lure #1), by Loreth Anne White

Eight stars

In this stunning series debut, Loreth Anne White takes readers into rural British Columbia to discover how a small town can bring back horrors of a life erased and be the perfect spot for a serial killer to continue the hunt. After being abducted, raped, and tortured, Sarah Baker escaped her kidnapper, a serial killer with a penchant for ‘hunting’ his victims in the spring. She put that life behind her a dozen years ago, as she did the baby that grew inside her. Re-invented as Olivia West, she now works in a rural British Columbia community, on the Broken Bar Ranch. There, Olivia invites guests who wish to stay in the chalets or camp in the secluded woods, employed by the wealthy and elderly, Myron McDonough. In the lead-up to Thanksgiving, Olivia prepares to welcome a handful of guests, while also discovering a secret her boss has been keeping. Myron is dying and has little time left, but refuses to tell his estranged children. On a whim, Olivia tracks down Cole McDonough and makes sure he knows how dire things are at Broken Bar. Meanwhile, Olivia welcomes some people for the weekend, including Gage Burton and his daughter, Tori, as well as an older couple who are up from Arizona. This rag-tag group interact intermittently, while Olivia is forced to deal with the McDonough drama, especially Cole who is just now realising how little he knows about his father. When news breaks of a horrible murder outside Vancouver, many notice the similarities to the Watt River Killer from over a decade before. Olivia has flashbacks to the killer she was sure had been caught, yet this new victim was found in much the same way as those women she saw ‘hunted’. Gage remembers working tangentially on the case in which the Watt River Killer was apprehended, yet this seems all too familiar. Could this be a copycat or is the real killer still out there? With all the hype, there is someone lurking in the shadows, waiting for the perfect time to strike again, having located ‘Sarah’ after all these years. Will the hunter get his chance yet again, or is the prey wily enough to escape a second time? Drama mounts as the story progresses, in which past lives come crashing together and victimhood takes on a whole new meaning. Fans of a slow-developing thriller will want to check this out, with its Canadian flavour on full display.

I turned to this book because I was offered an advance copy of the second novel in the series. I like to start at the beginning and am pleased I did, as the author develops a stunning lure (pun intended) for her reader in this thriller. The story begins slowly, but picks up the pace as the pieces begin to push together, offering wonderful descriptions and great characters. Olivia West holds her own, forced to stuff her past away and try not to relive it. However, the outward scars and flashbacks are hard to hide, even in this remote community. With the revelation of new killings, she cannot keep it all bottled up, though she tries. Her interactions with Cole McDonough offer some interesting insight into both their characters. White uses this time to tap into her past as a romance writer, developing a complex web of love and lust between them, without removing the thrills of a killer from the plot. Cole is a complicated man himself, having left the riches that his father had once he was banished for his own error. Living the care-free life, Cole must come to terms with what is going on in his own backyard, with a dying father and choices he made that will forever overshadow his decision-making abilities. Others within the story have their own interesting quirks, from a cancer-riddled cop to a teenager trying to come to terms with her mother’s death, keeping the reader attentive to follow all the storylines. White effectively weaves these characters together in a story that will send chills up the spine and keep the reader forging ahead in the Thanksgiving snow just to see how things turn out. With this debut, one can only hope that there is more to come in the second novel, which I am rushing to begin right away!

Kudos, Madam White, for keeping my attention throughout. I am so eager to see what happens and how you will ‘lure’ me in yet again!

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