Body Breaker (DI Avison Fluke #2), by M.W. (Mike) Craven

Eight stars

After devouring the first two novels in M.W. Craven’s thrilling police procedural series with Washington Poe at the helm, I wanted more. Digging up an earlier penned duology under the name Mike Craven, I wanted to see if some of the earlier writing was just as exciting. Thankfully, Craven’s work has been stellar from the beginning and this piece pulled me in deeper. With a little knowledge of DI Avison Fluke and his crime fighting abilities from the series debut, I was ready to dive right in. When DI Fluke and his team are called to a golf course, they are unsure what to expect. A severed hand soon leads to a collection of body pieces in the nearby wood. Fluke accompanies the oddly dismembered body to the post-mortem, only to have the case intercepted by the London Met. Simmering yet somewhat curious, Fluke acquiesces, but is eager to get some answers, as the body belongs to an old military friend of his. While at home in his isolated cabin, Fluke and his new girlfriend are interrupted when a young woman comes knocking at the door. She admits that Fluke’s name and location was provided to her, should her boyfriend not return. Sure that he is simply away, the young Jinx is happy to bide her time. While Fluke has no idea who Jinx might be, or the man she claims is her boyfriend, he soon discovers the link and is stunned, as it is the same man whose body is now at the morgue. Hiding what he knows, Fluke begins learning a little more about Jinx and her way of life, discovering that she lives in a nearby commune as a fellow new-ager. Fluke uses some of his down time to do a reconnoiter of the area, where he discovers a potential killer. He also learns that there may have been some undercover work taking place, but for what reason Fluke has yet to be made aware. After a few dust-ups with the Met, Fluke is brought onto the case, as he has some great background knowledge of the victim. In a parallel narrative, the reader discovers more about Fluke’s military work in Northern Ireland during The Troubles and how he made some fairly formidable enemies amongst segments of the IRA. Working as covertly as possible, DI Fluke and the team hone in on their suspected killer within the commune, only to discover that there is much more to the story, with larger foes still at large. Another wonderful piece by Craven, who seems to have a wonderful ability to dazzle with whatever he pens. Recommended to the lover of police procedurals that have a twist, as well as the reader who has enjoyed Washington Poe novels and awaits the next instalment with some degree of impatience.

A lucky error brought this series to my attention. I had been wondering about Craven and noticed that a new novel in the series that got me hooked was still a few months away. I located both novels in the Avison Fluke series and thought I ought to give them a try. I am happy to have followed my intuition, as both books packed a punch from the opening pages. DI Avison Fluke is quite the character, with a great deal of backstory offered throughout this piece. A man who has battled both cancer and the IRA, Fluke does not seem to stand down for anything at all. While cancer was the central backstory in the debut, the reader learns a great deal more about Fluke’s military work during The Troubles and his connection to a few of the characters who appear in this piece. There is still a great deal of mystery and secrecy in the novel, including how he juggles these secrets and still interacts with the outside world. His police work is also quite involved, allowing Fluke to show off a gritty side that is not to be missed. Tactical and ready for whatever is before him, DI Fluke leads a team into battle, even when faced with some squabbles over jurisdiction. Other characters serve to complement Fluke and enrich the reading experience, doing so masterfully in both books. They create wonderful banter in their dialogue and are just as gritty as DI Fluke, yet have personalities all their own the reader can enjoy. The story was wonderfully paced and kept me wanting to know a little more, especially with the flashbacks to Northern Ireland. Setting the story in Cumbria, Craven is able to concoct a tale that is impactful while also being somewhat more relaxed. I know there are two Washington Poe novels in the works, but wold love to see more Fluke, should time permit. Heck, even some crossover work could be fun to read!

Kudos, Mr. Craven, for dazzling the reader at every turn. I look forward to whatever else you have in mind for your fans.

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

Dark Harvest (Dark Harvest #1), by David L. Thompson

Nine stars

This is a re-read before tackling the second book in the trilogy, to ensure I have the needed continuity and most up-to-date information for a thorough understanding!

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

In a political thriller with strong terrorist themes, David L. Thompson dazzles readers with an intricate storyline and well-developed characters. After terrorists attack a Montreal church, the world takes notice. The FBI wonders from across the border if a prominent terror cell may be behind the attack. When a major explosion rocks the bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, all eyes turn to the Feds, apparently asleep at the switch, especially after events the previous day. As a Deputy Director, Bradley Parsons is forced to take much of the blame, though he tries to make it clear that he has been working with limited resources. The terror group, SCIMITAR, claims responsibility for the attack, and there is more to come. One of its leaders, Mustafa Suleyman, warns of a major attack on the D.C. area, which will likely include Sarin gas. Mass panic ensues as Parsons tries to mobilise and discover where the attack is centred. As numerous smaller cells begin to lay the groundwork for the attack, Parsons debates taking the ultimate steps that will neutralise SCIMITAR once and for all. With other attacks around Europe and into the Arab countries, Parsons convinces the US President to begin Operation: Dark Harvest, a multi-state initiative that may be the only hope to end the violence. With the help of Europe and Israel, it may work, but there remains the problematic attack slated for D.C. Time is running out and Parsons has more than himself to worry about, forcing him to work in conjunction with others to ensure the region is safe and SCIMITAR disappears once and for all. However, terrorism is more like the Hydra, resuming its efforts as soon as one cell is dismantled. Parsons will have to act quickly and with all the force he can to ensure success. Thompson does well to keep the reader engaged throughout this high-impact thriller. Perfect for fans of terrorism novels, especially those who like a new spin on an overworked theme.

I was intrigued when David L. Thompson approached me to read this piece. A fellow Canadian, I was sure to get a new and unique perspective on the terrorism theme within the thriller genre. While much of the story is set in the U.S., Thompson offers up some grit without the usual approach that has been woven into the American psyche by past administrations and their departments. Bradley Parsons proves to be a great protagonist, forced to fight against the larger FBI hierarchy. While he is saddled with much of the blame for the early SCIMITAR attacks, he works diligently to get to the root of the major plots being hatched. With a spouse who works within the Agency, Parsons cannot risk everything or be overly self-centred. The Parsons character contrasts nicely with the likes of Mustafa Suleyman, whose connections and ability to bring about chaos knows no end. With a past connection to Parsons, the story revolves around them and trying to flex their respective muscles in times of crisis. The terror threats seem unending and multi-faceted, making the clash between Parsons and Suleyman all the more intriguing. With a large cast of characters, Thompson enriches his story with a robust collection of individuals who advance the narrative in many ways. All support the aforementioned two key characters in their own ways, allowing Thompson a wide berth to develop his plot. In a story that seeks to stand out from the various novels on an over-worked terrorism theme, Thompson finds new ways to keep the reader enthralled. Adding his Canadian flavour to the story, Thompson is able to compete in the genre without using too many of the usual themes that have gone stale years ago. With five primary chapters that work as ‘parts’ of the novel, Thompson uses ‘sub-chapters’ to develop his plot effectively. Some are short and offer wonderful teasers while others are longer and much more detailed. This lures the reader in and then hooks them as the plot develops over time. I am eager to tackle the second book to determine what else Thompson has to offer this trilogy. This was a stellar introduction to his writing, which is both tight and full of life.

Kudos, Mr. Thompson, for asking me to read this wonderful piece. I can only hope that others will discover this novel and be as impressed as I was throughout.

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

Born in a Burial Gown (DI Avison Fluke #1), by Mike (M.W.) Craven

Eight stars

After discovering the wonders of M.W. Craven’s thrilling police procedural including Washington Poe, I went in search of more. Digging up an earlier penned duology under the name Mike Craven, I wanted to see if the author’s stunning writing had evolved. In this series debut, the reader can see Craven’s earlier writing was just as gripping as some of the more recent work, with wonderfully crafted plots and interesting characters to keep the pages turning. DI Avison Fluke has just returned to work in Cumbria, battling some personal and medical demons. His first homicide case is truly a baffling one, when a woman is discovered stuffed in a bag and tossed into an open hole. With few identifying marks, Fluke and his team have the dual tasks of identifying the victim and locating a suspect. A hesitant junkie, who alerted the authorities to knowing something, has clammed up, partially out of fear and likely also as withdrawal takes over. Fluke is not yet dissuaded, as he uses every angle he can to make some headway, while pressure from on high increases. Drawing on some minute evidence found by an intern during the post-mortem, Fluke learns a little more about the victim and is soon able to identify her, though the motive for the crime remains somewhat of a mystery. When another police report by the victim, on an unrelated matter, comes to Fluke’s attention, he is able to sketch out a better idea of what happened and a list of suspects begins to take shape. Juggling all this, Fluke must also come to terms with his ongoing health limitations and some decisions he took to return to the force that might put others in jeopardy. Just as the case seems to be sailing towards an arrest, a wrench is tossed into it all, leaving Fluke to second guess everything he and the team have uncovered up to this point. A gripping first novel in the series (and perhaps the first publication by Craven?) that will keep the reader guessing and wanting to learn more. Recommended to those who like a police procedural that offers plot and character development continuously, as well as the reader who has enjoyed Washington Poe novels and awaits the next instalment with some degree of impatience.

It was a fluke, if you pardon the pun, that I came across this series. I had been wondering about Craven and noticed that a new novel in the series that got me hooked was still a few months away. I located both novels in the Avison Fluke series and thought I ought to give them a try. I am happy to have delved into this novel, as it packed a punch from the opening pages. DI Avison Fluke is quite the character, with a great deal of backstory offered throughout this piece. Former military and with a gritty way of handling situation, his police work is almost as intense as the battles he has faced in his personal life. Almost trying to be invincible, Fluke tries to compartmentalise that which impedes on his ability to do his job, somewhat unsuccessfully. However, he is determined to get answers and refuses to be blocked by anything else, which helps propel both his character and the larger story throughout. Other characters serve to complement Fluke and enrich the reading experience. I have a few on my radar that I hope return in the second book, as they create wonderful banter in their dialogue and are just as gritty as DI Fluke. The story was wonderfully paced and kept me wanting to know a little more. Set outside the ‘big city UK’, Craven is able to concoct a tale that is impactful while also being somewhat more relaxed, using Cumbria as the setting. I am eager to see what Craven has in store for Fluke and the others, as this debut piece was gripping until the final pieces all fell into place.

Kudos, Mr. Craven, for dazzling the reader at every turn. I knew I had not made a mistake in becoming a fan and this piece proves to me that you are not a flash in the pan.

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

The Wise Friend, by Ramsey Campbell

As I did not complete this book, I will not offer a star rating, out of fairness for the author!

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ramsey Campbell, and Flame Tree Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Exploring a new author in Ramsey Campbell, I thought to see how much of a horror story this book provided to me. In a story that focuses on the artwork of a woman who subsequently took her life, the reader learns a little more about what might have influenced her. Patrick Semple knows that many thought his aunt was different and her art led her to many odd places. He has memories from his youth about visiting her and trying to understand her thoughts and way of being. Years later, when he son, Roy, discovers some of the books about her work, he becomes highly interested. Patrick tries to rebuff him, but the teenage will not relent. Opening this could really pose to be a problem. However, this is as far as I made it, since the book lost my interest up to this point. I leave it to others to forge onwards and determined the ‘horror’ nature of the piece, as the narrative and story up to this point turned out to be horrific enough for me.

I respect that many people have their own opinions about books and what makes a good story. That being said, at a time when things are so chaotic outside with the COVID-19 pandemic, I look for books that will hold my attention and keep me wanting to turn the pages. Surely, some will love Campbell’s writing and the way he tells a story, but I could not find myself enthralled enough to stick it out. I will be eager to read reviews of those who complete the book and offer something enlightening. Perhaps I will return to this novel down the road, as I find that I can sometimes enjoy a book under a different circumstances. That being said, I am not holding my breath.

Kudos, Mr. Campbell for trying to lure me in. I may be in the minority, but wanted to voice my opinions frankly.

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

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

Payback (Brooks/Lotello #3), by Ronald S. Barak

Eight stars

Ronald S. Barak is back with another of his wonderful thrillers, taking the story away from the streets of DC and into a unique setting. Balancing his two protagonists well, Barak delivers for the reader at every turn. When retired judge Cyrus Brooks receives the gift of a lifetime for an anniversary present, he cannot help but get excited. His doting wife has registered him for Thriller Jubilee, a massive writing symposium to help hone the skills needed to ‘write that first big book’. Brooks and his wife are accompanied by personal friends, DC Homicide Investigator Frank Lotello and his own wife, headed off the coast of Spain. While the thrills may be high, someone has something a little more sinister planned, but blends in with the crown for the time being. As Brooks gets ready to attend all his sessions, Lotello and the ladies become tourists and bide their time. Brooks discovers that a few of the key panellists and members of the Thriller Jubilee team do not show up for their assigned leadership roles, which is quickly explained away by organisers. However, Brooks is less than sated by the news and brings Lotello into his thoughts that something is going on. The two approach some of the organisers, only to learn that the cover story being told to participants is just that, but that there are now three people who have gone missing. As Brooks and Lotello work to help the Thriller group, knowing full well local police involvement will be slow and perhaps non-starter, they uncover some interesting clues, but still nothing concrete. The disappearance of one Thriller participant turns things on its head, as a killer could now be targeting those without any foreknowledge. As the Board debates what to do, pressure comes from a list of suspects to offer blanket apologies. Meanwhile, a jaded author watches as things unravel and hopes to cause as much chaos as possible. Will Brooks and Lotello be able to put all the pieces together in time for the end of Thriller Jubilee? Might they become the next victims for sticking their necks out too far? Barak spins this tale together effectively and keeps the reader. wondering until the very end. Recommended to those who have enjoyed Barak’s past work, as well as the reader who likes a crime thriller set in less than usual locales.

I stumbled upon the work of Ronald S. Barak a few years ago and was hooked form the opening pages. His characters seem to jump off the page and the story keeps developing until its final reveal. Cyrus Brooks and Frank Lotello are perhaps not the typical partners, but they have worked well together, solving crimes and legal issues effectively. While there is little room for backstory here, the reader can see some of their character development, which shows how Brooks wants to advance his retirement by finding a new craft to call his own. The handful of other characters help to enrich the story in various ways, bringing their unique flavouring to the overall story, which allows the plot lines to develop effectively. Barak does toss a number of people into the mix, forcing the reader to keep track, while also trying to make sense of who this killer/kidnapper might be, based on the clues being handed out occasionally. The story as a whole held my attention throughout and while it was less legal than the past two pieces, it remained intense and made me want to push through faster, if only to get to the climax. I encourage anyone seeking something interesting to add to their reading list to try Ronald S. Barak, but note that this piece is much shorter than the others. So brace yourselves for a longer adventure.

Kudos, Mr. Barak, for another winner. I hope you have some more wonderful ideas brewing, as I am eager to see what’s in store next.

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

The Pardoner’s Crime (Sandal Castle #1), by Keith Moray

Seven stars

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

A great fan of Keith Moray, I was interested to try this piece, completely different from his other work. When the publisher approached me, I thought there was no better time to give it a go, hoping for the best. The year is 1322 and Sir Richard Lee has been sent to Sandal Castle by the king, Edward II. A Sergeant-at-Law, Lee will preside over the local court and determine some of their legal matters. Along the way, Lee encounters a band of outlaws, headed by one Robert Hood. Permitted to pass, Lee is warned not to cause any trouble. However, a man’s body is soon found murdered, with an arrow through the eye. Lee cannot hep but wonder if this Hood character might be involved. When other crimes occur that could be tied to the group of outlaws, Lee demands that Robert Hood be brought before him to face questioning. That may be easier said than done, in this medieval tale of law and heroism. Moray paints quite the story here, far removed from many of the pieces of his I have read before. Recommended to those who enjoy all things medieval, as well as the reader who enjoys crime fiction of a more regal nature.

This was a walk on the wild side for me, as I am not used to reading much in the medieval realm. That which I have read has left me feeling less than impressed, but I wanted to give Moray the chance to convince me. The story flowed fairly well and those who enjoy the time period would get a lot more out of it than I did. I wanted to see Moray as he used this new period to see if he could enthral me as much as he does with his Scottish mysteries. The characters find themselves in the middle of much goings-on and it served the story well to have so many different perspectives. While I found a lack of connection to any of the particular characters, I was able to follow the plot well enough to feel I can speak confidently. Moray does well spinning this tale and kept me feeling as though I were right there, at the inquest as well as at court. I am not sold into becoming a true fan of the book, the series, or even the time period, but I made it through and I hope others find it to their liking, as Keith Moray has lots to say!

Kudos, Mr. Moray, for a decent novel. I will stick to your modern Scottish work, but I hope you acquire a fan case for this piece.

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

Red River Girl: The Life and Death of Tina Fontaine, by Joanna Jolly

Nine stars

There are times that I like to go outside my comfort zone and read something with a little more grit. True crime tends to do that for me, even more so when the crime was committed in my hometown. I noticed this book at the library a while ago and when it was digitally released to me, I could not give up the opportunity to learn a little more about Tina Fontaine and the story around her murder. Joanna Jolly is a British reporter who took an interest in the case and travelled to Canada to explore the murder of this young teenage girl of Indigenous descent. Offering up some interesting backstory into the life of Tina Fontaine, Jolly tells the reader about her less than stellar upbringing, in which she was surrounded by addiction and abuse before being taken into the care of Child and Family Services. However, even when in foster care, Tina’s life was anything but simple, as she was drawn away from small-town Manitoba and into the lights of Winnipeg, where drugs, sex, and trouble awaited her on the streets. She fell into a crowd that accepted her but, at some point, crossed paths with Raymond ‘Frenchie’ Cormier. Jolly paints a picture of how this much older man served to provide Tina with drugs and a place to party, which might have led to something more. When Tina’s body was discovered submerged in the water and wrapped in a blanket, Winnipeg Homicide Detective Sergeant John O’Donovan traced a convoluted path to Cormier, who denied having anything to do with Tina’s death. Jolly builds the narrative around how Cormier seemed to check some of the necessary boxes, but his guaranteed role in the murder of this teen could not yet be solidified. Using the auspices of Cormier’s incarceration for another crime, O’Donovan and his colleagues wove an undercover web to lure Cormier into admitting things that only the killer might know, while keeping much of their intel from anyone else, including those who loved Tina and await news of her killer. As Jolly builds the story up, she documents how Raymond Cormier made a few significant errors in his admissions to undercover police and eventually stood trial. O’Donovan’s hard work cam out in court, permitting the jurors to sift through it and determine what to make of Raymond Cormier’s pleas of not guilty. Another life snuffed out long before it should have been, Tina Fontaine’s will surely be one remembered, if that is a small piece of vindication. Jolly ensures that this is one case many will remember, while scores of other missing and murdered indigenous women remain but statistics. Recommended to those who enjoy true crime stories, as well as the reader who wants a Canadian feel to the genre.

While I grew up in Winnipeg, the gateway to the Canadian Prairies, I left long before the case of Tina Fontaine found its way into the headlines. Still, it was interesting to take a stroll back as Joanna Jolly depicts the city and its darker parts throughout this piece. The cases of missing and murdered indigenous women is a plight on the Canadian justice system, as many have simply disappeared and nothing is done about it. Jolly not only shines a light on the case, but also shows how proactive Winnipeg Police were in trying to solve the crime, highlighting the work of Detective Sergeant O’Donovan, who is one of the three central characters of the book. Jolly weaves together a wonderful backstory about Tina Fontaine’s life, which might have been short but was full of excitement (albeit not always the positive kind). Her interaction with others varied from peaceful to highly confrontational, fuelled by a childhood where stability was nowhere to be found. Injecting Raymond Cormier into the mix, the narrative takes an interesting turn towards the seedier life of men seeking to use their age and connections to ply things from young women (and girls). While Jolly surely did not intend to make Cormier out to be a shining beacon of light, she painted him effectively as a slimy man whose antics were surely nefarious, even if they were not premeditated. Jolly offers up the story in a strong narrative and tries to keep things chronological as best she can, though some flashback moments are needed to substantiate parts of the story. With highly detailed chapters that explore the backstory, crime, and judicial process, Jolly paces things out so that the reader can enjoy the build-up before things finally come together. Surely not a piece that is uplifting in its truest sense, but one that shed light onto some of the hard work being done to help the ongoing stigma surrounding indigenous women in Canada. If only more could be done to find answers, rather that two sides pointing fingers.

Kudos, Madam Jolly, for telling this story and using all your abilities to make it one the reader can enjoy, not another statistic.

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

Call of the Raven (Ballantyne #0.5), by Wilbur Smith and Corban Addison

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Wilbur Smith, Corban Addison, and Bonnier Zaffre USA for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Taking the daring task of setting the scene with a prequel to one of his most popular series, Wilbur Smith collaborates with Corban Addison to create a stirring tale set in the 1840s. Before the Ballantyne family rose to notoriety, Mungo St. John was a young man with ambition and intelligence, studying in England. There, his family’s slave ownership soured many young men and Mungo finds himself trying to defend the possession of others. When he returned to America, Mungo discovers that slave owning is the least of his problems, when his family’s land is foreclosed upon and everything seized by a greedy man who all but killed the elder Mr. St. John. Included in the seizure is a young slave woman, named Camilla, someone Mungo holds in very high regard. As Mungo seeks to regain his family name and rush away from some of the trouble he has caused, he lies and changes his name to earn a spot on a ship sailing for Europe. Little does Mungo know the true purpose of the ship, or the horrors that await when he arrives on the other side of the Atlantic. Back in Louisiana, Camilla and many of the other slaves are moved to a cotton plantation, where they work to the bone by a ruthless slave owner, one who enjoys exerting much of his power over the women. He fancies Camilla and takes her as his own, only to leave her feeling used and abused, before she discovers that she is with child. Trying to use the pregnancy to keep herself alive, Camilla finds that she can do much more, given the opportunity and sly skills that she has acquired. When Mungo discovers that he is in the middle of a slave trading ship, he tries to hold his own, only to find himself in the middle of a rebellion on the trip back to America. Not wanting anything to do with the captain and crew who have employed him, Mungo does little to help them and saves his own life, but just. He vows that he will one day bring honour back to the St. John name and find Camilla, if only to see if they still have a chance to be happy. One more trip, under his own captaincy, to Africa sees Mungo St. John attempt a new life as a trader, this time of goods. Mungo does all he can to stay focussed, but he cannot shake that he must find and free Camilla, once and for all. The clash will be great and the risks high, but Mungo St. John is a man of his word and one who will die to ensure honour is kept. An interesting story that held my attention more than many of the other flashback tales in this series. Smith’s work continues to impress and I am glad to have taken the time to read this piece. Recommended for those who enjoy the Ballantyne series, as well as the reader whose interest in pre-Civil War America and nautical tales is high.

I fell under the spell of Wilbur Smith a number of years ago, particularly when I discovered his two series set in somewhat modern Africa. The stories were so full of adventure and discovery that I could not put them down. While he continues to build upon them, his extending the family tree sometimes went a little too far back for my liking. Smith discusses wanting to lay some groundwork for one of his minor characters in the Ballantyne series, Mungo St. John, in response to the request of many readers. Mungo was a highly controversial man who has a soft side, should one be able to find it buried under a lot of the other layers. He is an interesting man with much to prove and a great deal of passion. This emerges throughout the piece, as he is put into many situations he may not always enjoy. That being said, the reader can learn much about him in this piece, from his gritty determination through to his desire to make all things right. He may harbour a violent side, but he is also highly protective, which comes in handy on occasion as well. Others who find themselves complementing Mungo do well throughout this piece, as Smith and Addison add depth to the story with their supporting characters. Giving the reader some context about the time, these characters paint wonderful stories (though not always positive ones) about the time when slavery was waning in Europe but still going strong in America. The story itself was well paced and developed effectively for the time period. It held my attention for the most part, though did not offer up too many new nuggets of information about which I was not somewhat aware. Smith’s intention to lay some of the needed backstory and groundwork is done with ease and anyone entering this series will have many of the needed tools to find themselves fully ensconced before long. I look forward to more from Smith and his various collaborators when the chance arises.

Kudos, Messrs. Smith and Addison, for this wonderful piece of writing. I can only hope the Ballantynes continue to develop for as long as there are ideas to put to paper.

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

Final Judgment (Samantha Brinkman #4), by Marcia Clark

Eight stars

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

After a hiatus, Marcia Clark is back with another strong Samantha Brinkman legal thriller that hits home more than the other books in the series. While on vacation with her boyfriend, Niko, Samantha is rushed back to LA to deal with an investment issue. It would seem that Niko’s mother was taken in by a cryptocurrency scam that saw her lose a great deal of money. While they two men heading up the investment are apologetic, they are not confident about being able to reimburse their clients. Niko takes this less than calmly and Samantha soon sees a darker and more intense side. When one of the investors turns up dead in his home, all eyes turn to Niko, as the cause of death is internal decapitation, skill Niko knows well. All the same, Niko proclaims that he is innocent, though admits he is trained to kill when needed. Samantha agrees to represent him and the search for the truth begins. While Samantha handles some of her other legal work, the office team begins digging a little deeper, only to discover that Niko has a past in Chicago that he likely did not want discovered. As Samantha must digest this, things begin looking worse for her client as the court date approaches. Lies and deceit are nothing a defence attorney likes in their client, but when it’s a boyfriend, it is exponentially worse. Samantha will have to make a few choices as Niko’s guilt looks more likely. Will she choose wisely for all involved? A wonderful story that keeps the reader guessing. Recommended to those who have enjoyed this series (and all of Clark’s work), as well as the reader who needs a legal thriller that can be digested with ease.

I have long enjoyed Marcia Clark’s work, as she reinvent herself after the infamous trial that made her a household name. She works hard to create relatable characters and stories that can be easily enjoyed, even if they touch on some controversial subjects. Samantha Brinkman has been a wonderfully complex character, as the four novels in the series have come to show her. She is strong-willed, but also vulnerable when it suits her. She is gritty and determined without being cold. This story pushes her into a realm she might not have known before and requires that she make choices that will clash with her emotional well-being. Other characters help to push the story forward, while complementing Brinkman in a variety of ways, which enriches the overall experience. The story is strong and kept me pushing forward. Perhaps it is that there has not been a novel in a few years, but I was hungering for as much as I could get in short order. A mix of chapters kept me wanting to push ahead and I was impressed with all Clark had to offer. I hope there is more to come soon, as this is one fan who is not as patient as some.

Kudos, Madam Clark, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what’s next for Samantha or your other projects.

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

The Last Alibi (Jason Kolarich #4), by David Ellis

Eight stars

While my exploration of David Ellis’ series starring Jason Kolarich has come to an end, it surely did not wane with this fourth novel. A story in which Kolarich finds himself in the crosshairs of a killer is only made better when our protagonist is tied up in knots and left as the accused in a murder trial. After a series of highly troubling events that left Jason Kolarich addicted to pain medication, he tries to hide all this from those around him. However, he is caught up by a new courtroom stenographer, Alexa Himmel, with whom he is soon in a heated relationship. Kolarich is approached by a man who says that he might soon be framed for the murder of a woman and wants advice. A new challenge for Kolarich, but one he is happy to decipher for his hourly fee. It would seem that James Drinker feels that someone is out to pin a number of murders on him, leaving Kolarich to help him creat an alibi that will be useful should the authorities pay him a visit. However, with each subsequent visit by Drinker, Kolarich comes to feel that his client may be a serial killer who is using attorney-client privilege to all but confess. Ready to break all the rules and ensure Drinker is taken into custody, Kolarich violates the state bar’s ethics and points the police in his direction, all while distancing himself from his law firm and falling down the rabbit hole of addiction and a trust with Alexa. However, even Alexa has her limits and she soon creates a situation where Kolarich chooses to keep her at bay. Their rough patch is documented in texts, emails, and voicemail messages. When Alexa turns up dead in his apartment, Kolarich is sure Drinker is behind it, but has no concrete proof. This game of cat and mouse gets harder when Kolarich is put on trial for the murder, forcing his partner, Shauna Tasker, to show off her legal skills. Kolarich is fighting for his life, while the elusive James Drinker hides in the shadows and uses the legal advice he received to exact bloody revenge. Might Jason Kolarich finally have met his match? Ellis does a formidable job with this piece, which keeps the reader guessing in this multi time period narrative. Recommended to those who have loved the series, as well as the reader who needs a legal thriller of the highest caliber.

David Ellis is an author I should have discovered long ago. He keeps his story strong and his characters ever-evolving in a genre that is so crowded with writers these days. As the series reader will know, Jason Kolarich is an evolving character whose backstory and character development never takes a break with Ellis in the driver’s seat. From the loss of his family through to some of his less than stellar relationship choices, Kolarich has always been able to use his gritty work ethic to rise to the occasion. However, with this piece, the tables are turned and Kolarich must rely on others as his life hangs in the balance. While Shauna Tasker has been a secondary character throughout, she peeks through to get a stronger role in this novel, receiving her own narrative perspective. This gives the reader additional first-hand information about the protagonist and some backstory that might have been missed with Kolarich off-hand comments in past novels. The handful of other key characters help propel the story forward and keeps the reader full enthralled with the progress of all things related to the piece. Ellis does well with this story, painting the characters into some interesting corners before pushing out and weaving together perhaps the best story to date. There is no point in the book when there narrative wanes and the mix of chapter lengths works well to give the reader something they can thoroughly enjoy. While it seems David Ellis has moved to working in collaboration with a popular author, I would love to see more of this series or read other standalone work, as this was a wonderful treat for me to discover!

Kudos, Mr. Ellis, for a series that is surely binge-worthy. I will be back for more of your work as I can get my hands on it.

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

The Wrong Man (Jason Kolarich #3), by David Ellis

Eight stars

As my journey through the standalone work of David Ellis continues, I remain highly impressed with all he has to offer. His pieces shine and keep me wanting more, as they explore the legal world with a peppering of current events to keep the plot even thicker. Jason Kolarich has earned his reputation for being a gritty lawyer, mainly because he will go to the mat for his client, no matter their plight. When he is approached by a woman seeking help for her nephew, Kolarich is intrigued, but cannot fully commit quite yet. Tom Stoller is a former Army veteran who is now living on the streets. He is accused of killing Kathy Rubinkowski with a shot to the head. He was found with her belongings on his person and was apologizing for the act, an all but certain ticket to conviction. However, Kolarich sees a great deal of PTSD in Stoller and hears that he was involved in a shooting of a young girl while overseas. Could this be plaguing him after all this time? While Kolarich agrees to take the defence, he is visited by someone with ties to the local mob, asking some highly hypothetical questions. Kolarich is also coming out of his shell on a social level, creating ties with a woman who could prove more useful than a romantic tryst for him. Unable to push the trial into a continuance, Kolarich seeks to pry into the PTSD, but his client clams up and will be of no assistance with that. However, some background on the victim shows that her work at a law firm had her wondering about representation surrounding some highly intriguing substances, things that raise many a red flag for Kolarich. Might Kathy Rubinkowski have been killed for what she knew, leaving Tom Stoller as a scapegoat? Working as hard as he can, Kolarich seeks to convince others of this theory, even as the ADA seeks a slam dunk conviction, to no avail. In the background, something is going on that could make the trial and any verdict matter less than a hill of beans. A great piece that pulls on the heartstrings as well as keeping the reader fully committed. Ellis does so well with this and I’d recommend it to all who love gritty legal thrillers.

David Ellis is an author whose individual work I should have discovered long ago. His attention to detail and ability to pull the reader into the middle of it all cannot be missed. Jason Kolarich remains an integral part of the books and leads the story throughout. His grit and determination help him defend his clients as best he can, without getting caught up in the minutiae of their lives. His legal antics remain aboveboard, but tend to push the case in some interesting directions. He is not afraid to use his silver tongue in court and then pull out some needed fists to combat injustice as he sees it. Other characters help to add depth to the novel in ways that are highly effective. I found the story taking many turns and the strong characters made it all the more effective as the journey continued. The story took on some interesting topics that I feel Ellis handled well, without losing the legal angle that makes these novels so much fun to read. Layering situations and plot lines atop one another makes for some great storytelling and has me reaching for the final book in this series.

Kudos, Mr. Ellis, for more great legal writing. I will do my best to forge into the final novel right away.

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

Breach of Trust (Jason Kolarich #2), by David Ellis

Eight stars

Continuing my journey through the standalone work of David Ellis, I can see that he is able to hold his own, not needing a popular author to prop him up (which is how I have read his work in the past, a collaborative effort). This legal thriller is another example that there are gripping series right under my nose that I should be discovering and devouring. Jason Kolarich was surely a complex character in the opening novel and suffered much. As this book begins, the reader gets some more backstory on the case of State Senator Hector Almundo and corrupt practices that led to the death of a store proprietor. This was also around the time that Kolarich lost his wife and daughter in a freak auto accident. Saddled with this, Kolarich’s spiral into depression saw him try to isolate himself. However, he has the legal spark inside him and found a way to dust himself off. When the wife of one witness from the Almundo case comes to see him, asking that he help find out why her husband was killed, Kolarich is interested, though he is not sure if it will open a Pandora’s Box best left locked. Almundo is so thankful for the exoneration that he helps Kolarich score a lucrative job vetting state contracts in which kickbacks are going directly to the governor’s campaign coffers. While Kolarich is keen to stay on the up and up, someone alters his memo and the US Attorney is prepared to charge him in the scheme. However, there is a way for him to save his hide, by acting as a confidential informant and offering up bigger fish. Kolarich agrees, somewhat hesitantly, and begins working on the inside, only to discover this is a highly dangerous venture. In an operation that sees Kolarich climb the rungs of power within the state, he discovers that there is more to the Almundo case than he thought and that targets may be tied to a ruthless man in the governor’s mansion, with many around him equally as dirty. If only Kolarich can get what he needs to clear himself, and get answers for a grieving widow as well! Ellis has done it again, pulling me in and making me want more. Recommended to those who love legal thrillers that are anything but cookie cutter cases, as well as the reader who likes a side of gritty in their books.

David Ellis does so well on his own, though I can see what some of his more recent work is tied to a popular author, where he can still write and ensure some higher royalties as well. Ellis crafts strong legal stories with plot lines that never stop. Jason Kolarich continues to be a worthwhile protagonist with a past that is more thoroughly revealed in the opening section of this book. His grit and determination emerge throughout as he puts himself on the line to help others (while trying to stay out of prison himself) and he never stops playing all the angles. While he may not always make the best choices, he stands by them and works himself out of the corners into which he paints himself. The reader learns more about his post-family life with a law partner and a practice that is mildly successful, alongside a peppering of other characters whose presence serve the purpose of the narrative. More grit than courtroom acumen in this piece, Ellis and Kolarich both exemplify the darker and more troubling side of the law and legal antics. The reader encounters many writing flavours throughout, blended to make a stellar final product. Never losing momentum, Ellis offers the reader something they can enjoy, as they contemplate reaching for the next novel in the series.

Kudos, Mr. Ellis, for another great thriller. I am bingeing the series, so I will grab for the next book right now!

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

Sucker Punch: Getting Killed Can be the Least of Your Problems, by Jim Carroll

Eight stars

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

I was recently contacted by Jim Carroll to give his book a try, as he thought it would be right up my alley. Taking the reader into the middle of the Vietnam War, Carroll looks less at debating troop presence and political choices than to offer the reader a behind the scenes look at things from the air… in a helicopter. John Mack is a young guy whose recently finished some of his Basic Training and learned a little more about flying helicopters on Uncle Sam’s dime. It’s 1970 and Vietnam is calling him, but he has yet to be deployed. After making one wrong move too many, Mack draws the ire of a general and is shipped off to ‘Nam and sent on a mission that is full of danger. He will not only be behind enemy lines, in an area not officials sanctioned for Americans, but will be acting as a mole to inform on a blackmarket scheme that is brewing. Deemed ‘Slick’ by those around him, he flies a medevac chopper with bullets flying by all the time. Slick is unsure if each time the rotors spin will be his last flight, but he is ready to forge ahead. With so much blood and death, Slick cannot be sure how he will find the time to discover who is involved in the smuggling without being discovered himself, but thirty years in jail is a strong motivator. Meeting many soldiers, nurses, and those in between while flying in Vietnam, this is one experience John ‘Slick’ Mack will not soon forget. A great piece that takes a different spin on war and leaves the reader enthralled at the adventure. Recommended to those who like a military thriller without all the talk of troop movement, as well as the reader who needs something gritty as they delve deep into the literary jungles this book offers.

I am hesitant when it comes to new authors or books about which I know nothing. I have had some real duds and find myself wondering if I can be one who leads the way when forging down a reading path. Carroll does a masterful job at renewing my confidence and making me want to read more books of this genre. John ‘Slick’ Mack remains a wonderful character, if a little naive. In his early 20s, he is still trying to discover himself while he pushes into another part of the world. His experience with helicopters may be there,, but this is an entirely different theatre, one in which the rules no longer matter. Faced with situations and characters he could not have dreamed up, Slick must keep his focus and not mess up, as it is more than his own life in his hands. Other characters help to support wonderful development throughout this piece and kept me wanting more. There is a technical aspect to the book, as the reader learns a great deal about how helicopters work, which exemplifies Carroll’s research and ability to convey things without boring the reader with minutiae. I found myself wanting to learn the mechanics and wondering how it all fit together. With a mix of short and longer chapters, I was highly impressed and cannot wait to see if there is more to this larger story. Carroll has a fan in me and I am pleased that I took the plunge, as it was a glorious adventure, and not a napalm-esque disaster whatsoever.

Kudos, Mr. Carroll, for a great piece. I hope others discover this and I am able to read more of your work!

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

The Hidden Man (Jason Kalorich #1), by David Ellis

Eight stars

Choosing to begin a new series, I turned to David Ellis, with whom I am familiar through his collaborative writing. Focussing on his standalone work, I turned to this legal thriller, which kept me riveted throughout the process and begging for more (thankfully, there are three more books). Little Audrey Cutler is taken from her bed one night in 1980, stolen from under her mother’s watchful eye. The police turn their attention immediately to Griffin Perlini, a known paedophile in the area. However, Perkins denies having anything to do with it and Audrey cannot be found anywhere on the premises. Twenty-six years later, Audrey’s older brother, Sammy, runs into Perlini in public. Soon thereafter, Perlini is found murdered and Sammy is the most likely suspect. When criminal lawyer Jason Kolarich is approached by a mysterious Mr. Smith to defend Sammy Cutler, he is not sure he wants the case, A best friend to Sammy in their childhood, Kolarich remembers the tragedy well and is not sure if he can be of proper assistance. However, this Mr. Smith is quite convincing and Kolarich agrees to take the case, but is forbidden to seek any continuances or additional forensics. Under great pressure, Kolarich begins his defence prep, trying not only to ensure his client’s innocence, but build a case against Griffin Perlini, if only to give Sammy an out for having committed the crime. In the midst of the preparation, Kolarich learns that his brother has been nabbed with guns and drugs, likely facing a long time in jail. Juggling these two cases simultaneously, Kolarich learns that there is more to each case than meets the eye and that Mr. Smith may not be a Good Samaritan, but a man with an agenda all his own. Fighting against the clock and the legal hurdles before him, Jason Kolarich will have to show his acumen as a defence attorney, or someone will surely suffer, both emotionally and physically. A wonderful start to an intriguing series, David Ellis has me hooked. Recommended for those who love a well-plotted legal thriller as well ad the reader who enjoys getting lost in the fast-pace of a great novel.

I have long known of David Ellis as one of the stronger collaborators with a very popular author, but I wanted to see some of his work where he might be able to come out from the shadows. Ellis does well on his own, crafting powerful legal thrillers that never stop developing. Jason Kolarich is a wonderful protagonist, whose life has not always been very easy. Growing up in an abusive household, Kolarich learned early to fight his own battles and protect those closest to him. This determination served him well when he and Sammy Culter were kids and spilled onto the football field when he made it to college. However, anger may have clouded his judgment, something that Kolarich had to nip in the bud in order to properly defend his clients. Gritty and stopping at little, Kolarich is ready to defend those who need him, while pushing others out of his way. Other characters serve to develop the plot well, impeding Kolarich ruthlessly, but also helping to extract the best information possible. Ellis has created a handful of wonderful characters who enrich the novel in many ways. The reader is treated to countless flavours throughout the book, all of which blend together effectively. With a strong plot and a few legal cases that are time sensitive, Ellis pulls the reader into the middle of the story quickly and never loses the momentum to keep the piece on track. With a mix of short and longer chapters, the reader is ready to tackle “a little more”, which ends up being a sizeable chunk. This series debut has me wanting a whole lot more, something that bodes well as I binge this series.

Kudos, Mr. Ellis, for this fabulous legal thriller. I am not sure why I waited so long to read your solo work!

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

Time to Pay the Piper, by Andrew Mooney

Eight stars

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

After struggling with a few attempts at reading the work of new authors, I entered this experience with some trepidation. However, after finishing a few chapters of Andrew Mooney’s book, I could not stop reading this political thriller that pushes the envelope in all ways I enjoy. Special Assistant Director of the CIA, David Seagull, has a secret that he wants to share with the President of the United States (POTUS), which could alleviate many of the financial woes facing America. Pulling on knowledge his father garnered during World War Two, Seagull convinces POTUS to target those who utilise the American welfare system, a major drag on the financial pursestrings. POTUS authorizes a Nazi-tested disease be placed in the flu vaccinations mandated for all those using the welfare system, thereby ensuring that many of America’s poorest will die in short order. Seagull has covered his own ass by secretly investing in stocks that will benefit him in the worst possible case of insider trading. While he is careful, Seagull’s antics are discovered by two men running an online journal across the Atlantic. Meanwhile, China takes the bold move to stop funding America’s financial shortfalls and will no longer buy treasury certificates, as well as a few other major fiscal policies that rock the world. Back in America, Seagull tries to stay one step ahead of those who are trying to find him, especially since his master plan is wavering. The same anonymity cannot be offered to POTUS, who is implicated in this scheme to kill many of his own. Will America be able to weather the storm and become great again? Mooney leaves it to the reader to discover in this well-paced political thriller. Recommended to those who love a political story with some great spins, as well as those who enjoy something with traces of ‘End of Days’.

What a way to end ‘debut’ slumps, as Andrew Mooney blows this book out of the water. I could not stop reading once I got started and wished this could have been longer and more detailed. With a few great storylines, I could not find a definite protagonist, though David Seagull could be one worth the moniker. All the characters in the piece came together in their own ways to create a wonderful story that pulls the reader in for quite the journey. Mooney seeks to keep things relatively realistic with this piece, tapping into a few financial crises that spin out of control with each passing chapter. While a few of the scenarios developing at a pace and with outcomes I would not expect, the reader will have to suspend some of their preconceived notions and ride the wave of this story. With some strong writing and short chapters to propel the piece forward, I could not help but devour large portions of the piece in one sitting. That being said, I could see how this political thriller could have been turned into a series, even a trilogy of sorts. Mooney could easily draw out aspects of this book to lay the foundation for something longer, delving into the China plot over one book, the hunt for Seagull in another, as well as the political fallout that POTUS faced. That being said, the compact nature of the book left me excited and wanting more. Less a doomsday story where the apocalypse is here and people are eating one another, this piece packs a punch and should not be missed by those who like political thrillers with strong characters and a great deal of action.

Kudos, Mr. Mooney, for this great piece. You won me over and I am eager to see what else you pen in the years to come.

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

20th Victim (Women’s Murder Club #20), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Eight stars

James Patterson and Maxine Paetro are back with another instalment of the Women’s Murder Club, keeping fans entertained throughout with their insightful plots and character development. San Francisco is buzzing with an odd series of sniper murders, which forces Sergeant Lindsay Boxer to take notice. What’s worse is that these sniper killings seem to be happening all over the country, timed to occur simultaneously. While Boxer and the SFPD work to track down a killer or at least a motive, Chronicle reporter Cindy Thomas is contacted anonymously by someone with information about the crimes and predicts some of the future attacks. While she runs down her own story, Boxer seeks to better understand the victims, soon learning that they are all small-time (and somewhat secretive) drug dealers in their own right. Boxer’s husband, Joe, has his own plate overfilling when a best friend has some information about a local doctor that could have large implications. While all this is taking place, one of the cornerstone members of the Club receives horrible news that could derail her and cause the four central members to fall apart. With a killer communicating through an interesting fashion and calling soldiers to arms, Boxer and her team will have to work quickly to shut it down before the blood keeps flowing. A well-crafted piece that will have readers eager to race through to the end, where truth is apparent. Recommended to series fans, as well as those who need a lighter crime thriller.

I have often struggled with Patterson’s work, as many will know. I find that too often he sees to churn things out too quickly, leaving his collaborators to suffer my wrath as well. After a less than stellar 19th novel (many felt the same), these two have been able to redeem themselves and put on a wonderful instalment of the Women’s Murder Club. The stories were well developed and kept the reader’s attention, which makes the book flow all the better. Countless sub-plots keep the reader entertained, even when there was little movement on the main murder theme. Patterson and Paetro use some of the backstories of these core characters to their advantage, allowing for a little growth or at least some advancement in ongoing plots, without bogging things down too much. I would love to see something truly earth shattering that would force the group to rethink their place and how the Club works, though I am not sure if the authors are ready to pull out such a major event quiet yet. With short chapters and a story that has no time to catch its breath, this book serves as a treat for those who are dedicated to the series, as well as potentially making new fans want to go back and piece this complex web together for themselves. I cannot wait to see what else is on the horizon for this series, and yet would love to see Patterson meld his three great series (Boxer-Cross-Bennett) into a well-timed crossover. That may be too Herculean an effort, but I am hoping.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro, for a great piece that adds to this series that has been part of my reading experience for many years.

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

The Girl in the Game (Ray of Darkness #3), by John Manchester

Out of respect for the reader and publisher, because I did not finish the book, I will not provide a star rating.

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

Always eager to try new authors, I turned to John Manchester, who seeks to follow in his father’s footsteps and carve his way onto the literary scene. While the elder Manchester dazzled me with his historical tomes, John seeks to tap into another of my favourite genres, psychological thrillers. Reedsy offered me this third book in the series, though I did try at the beginning. I made it just over 12% in and restarted to see if I needed a mental reset. However, this second read of the first book failed to grab me. I turned to this third book, in hopes that it was just a failed plot that could not draw me in. However, I stumbled here and decided that I am just not able to grasp this series at this time.

The style of writing is strong and I can see how Manchester would lure readers in with the premise of his piece, with a man who is trying to become an author while living in a spooky museum-type residence. I had hoped to like the book and the series, as it does have a certain eerie nature that can really work well. Manchester seems eager to toss a lot in the lap of his protagonist, Ray, though I could not find myself connecting with the man or his various foibles. I am sure there is a group out there who are able to devour and laud these books, but I cannot count myself among them. For now, I will stand aside and let established or more patient fans of John Manchester read and review these books. I may, for now, have to still to the elder Manchester when I return to books by authors with this surname. Then again, everything is worth another look a few months down the road.

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

By Order of the President, by Michael Kilian

Eight stars

In a great political thriller, Michael Kilian takes the reader on an adventure like no others, positing numerous things in an era before the 24 hour news cycle, when information had to be scraped together. Many are eager to hear the thoughts of the President of the United States (POTUS) when he makes a speech at Gettysburg on a sunny afternoon. However, no one could have expected the chaos that followed. A gunman opens fire, shooting POTUS before he is thrust into the limo and whisked away. The Secret Service shift into action, firing back, but only make the bloodbath worse, when an innocent reported took a bullet and died on scene. Both the assassination attempt and the death of the reporter were captured on news reel, which is now being played repeatedly. Out in California, a reporter is following all this with much interest, particularly since he cannot be sure if what he is hearing—POTUS is recovering under guard at Camp David—is entirely true. His analysis of the video from the scene leads to some speculation about how severe the wounds might have been. With a Honduran national is deemed to be the killer, some wonder if this runs deeper and whether there was a Central American plot to destabilize the region. The now former head of the Secret Service cannot sit idly by as he is blamed for exacerbating the situation and finds himself making some connections in Honduras, El Salvador, and even Nicaragua, where sentiment towards the Americans is tepid at best. While all this is going on, a curious vice-president is unsure what is going on and how he ought to act. As a national emergency is declared, should he be leading things for the time being, or simply biding his time as his boss apparently recovers. No one will let the VP see POTUS, which raises questions, while the US public is being fed a line. Everything must come together, though at what cost? Kilian pens a great story set in a time when truths and falsehoods rested on word of mouth, rather than over-analyzing tapes and Tweets. A wonderfully refreshing piece from years past, that will keep the reader thinking and reading more. Recommended to those who love a good political thriller that develops with multiple plot lines.

I have had much trouble with Michael Kilian books in the past, having tried two on multiple occasions. However, I wanted to give this one the benefit of the doubt and am pleased that I did so, as it flowed much better and kept me intrigued from the opening pages. The premise of the piece is a 1980s/early 90s assassination attempt on POTUS and the cover-up on both sides surrounding it. Kilian weaves these multiple storylines together to keep the reader guessing and wondering where truth and falsehood meet. I was eager to see so many characters developing throughout, though I am hard pressed to find one I prefer to call the protagonist. There is a wonderful amount of politicking in a Cold War era here, sprinkled with some past romances that resurface just enough to add intrigue to the overall story. With some wonderful political spin, the reader is able to see how the walls go up on both sides—those trying to keep the situation of POTUS from the world, as well as those seeking to shut-down the assassination doubters—which only makes the reader want to know more. Kilian paces things well with his long chapters, as they seem to fill the reader with needed (and sometimes superfluous) information to keep them wondering. I will have to go back to see if I cannot get hooked by the other Kilian pieces, as this one surely made me a believer yet again and kept me from having to hear about Tweets, cyber-bullying, and other tech-savvy things that seem to supersaturate the genre these days.

Kudos, Mr. Kilian, for a wonderful piece that kept me thinking throughout. I love this era when politics and deception can be just that, straightforward and sinister.

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

A Killer’s Wife (Desert Plains #1), by Victor Methos

Eight stars

Victor Methos is back with another captivating thriller that mixes crime and the law, with a dash of serial murder. Jessica Yardley is a US Attorney in Nevada with an interesting past. Once married to a sadistic serial killer, Yardley is trying to distance herself from that past—one about which she had no idea—and raise a teenage daughter on her own. When she is approached by the FBI about a set of murders, she is stunned to see they replicate those of her ex, Eddie Cal. After agreeing to serve as a prosecutor overseeing the investigation, Yardley cannot get it out of her head that someone is trying to lure her back into a state of vulnerability with these gruesome crimes. If that were not all, Yardley’s daughter is brilliant but making all the wrong choices and finds herself mixed-up with the wrong crowd. Juggling both a personal and professional life, Yardley finds the momentum she needs and isolates something that connects the crimes, only to realise she knows the killer. When the accused is brought to court, Jessica Yardley can only watch, told that she is too close to participate in the courtroom. However, this accused is wily and a legal powerhouse, shredding the US Attorney prosecuting at every turn. With a killer set to be freed and double jeopardy sure to take effect, Jessica Yardley will have to do all she can to prevent disaster yet again, no matter whose help she seeks. Methos does it again with a thriller that pulled me in and kept the story strong. Recommended to those who love quick paced legal thrillers, as well as the reader familiar with Victor Methos and his work.

I discovered Victor Methos and his wonderful collection of novels last summer and have not been able to get enough. He mixes the thrill of a legal story with the sharpness of a great set of crimes, finding that healthy balance that keeps the reader wanting to know more. Jessica Yardley takes the protagonist’s seat and does so in fine form. Her wittiness is balanced with a work ethic like no other. She is in it for the long haul, not the praise or adoration. That she has had much placed at her feet in years past is another thing that keeps her going, though she is careful to conceal that as much as possible. Sharp in the courtroom, Jessica hates those who do not take the law seriously or seek to protect the weak and vulnerable, but she is also aware that she cannot save the world. Other gritty characters find themselves in the web of this book, developing their own backstories and complement Jessica’s effectively. I am eager to see how things progress, as this is supposedly the debut of a new series. The story was quite strong and took some wonderful turns that kept me guessing, as the court case seems almost to come apart on numerous occasions. Methos tells the story so effortlessly and left me wanting to know more, while pacing things out so that I am not too sure what to expect next. This is a great legal thriller and those who dislike serial murders may actually be able to put them aside for the great narrative and short chapters that push things along so effectively. I am eager to see what else this series brings, though I realise that I will have to be patient.

Kudos, Mr. Methos, for another great thriller. I am surely keeping an eye out to see what else you have in mind for your fans!

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

The Brightest Fell, by Nupur Chowdhury

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

I was approached by the author, who commented on my past reviews and large online friend base, to read and review this book. She talked me up with a spin of political intrigue and a dash of fantasy, hoping that it would pull me in. While Nupur Chowdhury offers both of these elements, I could not get interested in the book, giving it two tries on consecutive days. While I can see much potential here and some decent narrative work, alongside strong dialogue, I was not captivated. A country at war with terrorists holds some serum or injectable item that could make them docile. The country’s government ministers are torn about it, which causes a chasm like no other. Sure, it sounds as though it could be a blockbuster, but it fell flat for me. As I did not finish, I will respect the author and the publication, leaving a star rating blank.

Kudos, Madam Chowdhury, for taking the time to write this and search me out. I may be the odd reader in the mix who could not get hooked, but I prefer honesty rather than false platitudes.

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

Killer’s Bible, by Calvin Loch

As I did not finish this piece, I will not offer a star rating!

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

Always eager to try new authors, I had my eye on this one for a while. Calvin Loch, who chose to write as anonymous, pens this piece that seeks to lure readers in, as he describes his life of a killer who is able to mask his identity. While that may work for some, I made it 25% in and could not handle it. I tried a second time and made it to the same point before I chose to toss in the towel. While some would say that I ought to give it an ‘old college try’ for an Advance Reading Copy (ARC), I have always told myself that if I cannot get hooked after trying it twice, I will admit defeat.

In a story that opens with a recent interviewing by the FBI on the grounds of a US Embassy in a foreign country, the reader is expected to be wowed and impressed that Calvin Loch is being questioned. How could people have apparently died innocently and yet the forensics say otherwise? Loch tries to spin the story away from him, knowing the entire time that he was to blame? From there, a rewind and flashbacks to when Loch first got a taste to kill and how he sought to use that as an alcohol of sorts to sate him. For as far as I got, Loch played big man on campus as he sought to chill the reader with his blazé nature. It did not work for me and I was highly disappointed.

This novel could and should have been much more in my eyes. I did not find the writing to be poor or even the structuring. I just could not link myself to anything on the page and felt it was a little too vapid for me. While Reedsy expects 400 words in a review, I am not sure if I will get there, as I have been left with such little impact. And, perhaps he is trying to be cute by penning the piece as anonymous and then using his name (I understand it could be a pseudonym) seems cocky to the max. Use a fake name on the author line if that is your ploy. I am sure others will love it, but it was not for me and I am thankful I received a free ARC, as I would surely be queuing up to return this, had I paid anything.

Kudos, Mr. Loch for your efforts and apparent awesomeness for being an active killer. To me, you come off as a tool.

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

A Son of the Circus, by John Irving

Eight stars

Returning for a second novel by John Irving, I was transported to India, where the culture shock was massive and the storytelling proved to be quite non-linear. All that being said, with patience and perseverance, I made it through this unique piece of writing and even feel that I enjoyed it. The circus is preparing for its next performance and, as always, there is something going on that is of interest. In India, the use of Achondroplastic dwarfs is quite common in the circus, allowing for some of the tricks to seem even more death-defying. However, it is not that which interests Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla. Instead, he prefers to locate a gene that might identify this dwarfism, trying to do so every time he returns home to Toronto. That Dr. Daruwalla is an orthopaedic surgeon seems of little concern to him or anyone else, though his medical specialty is also relevant at times. As Dr. Daruwalla is unable to locate a dwarf genetic marker, he is back for more blood testing, in hopes of being lucky this one time. While dining with a friend at the private club, Dr. Daruwalla is alerted to a murder on the golf course, where someone has been struck by a club. Unable to decipher what has gone on, Dr. Daruwalla uses some of his intuition to deduce what could have happened. Little known to anyone, Dr. Daruwalla is the author of a series of screenplays about an Inspector Dhar, one of India’s most renowned film stars. This is truly the central premise of the book—finding out who murdered the club member on the ninth green—but there is so much backstory to decipher about a handful of characters and how their interactions over the span of forty years has led to this point. Irving weaves many highly intricate storylines together, most in India, to tell of how the elder Dr. Daruwalla taught his son, Farrokh, some of the ins and outs of orthopaedics and what a chance filming of a horrible movie in India did for the community, as well as how it enriched the next generation of people who come to play their part in this book. From child prostitutes to accepted (and praised) alternative lifestyles, all of these flavourings of India come together to create this massive tome that has quite the story to tell, as long as the reader is patient and attentive in equal measure. Well-crafted, but not for all readers, I found this to be yet another winner by John Irving. Recommended for the type of reader who can handle tangential writing, as well as those who love all things Indian.

I will be the first to admit that this book will not be for everyone. I read this book and found myself stuck within the story, but could tell that had this been my first Irving, I likely would have pulled the plug. It does not read in a linear fashion in the least, leaping from different timelines in order to fill in many of the cracks and offer backstories for the characters. Irving has so many characters that I chose not to hone in on one to be labelled protagonist. Rather, he fills the chapters with a wonderfully complex and non-linear story that has more tangents than a high school math class. It is by focussing on these stories as central building blocks to the larger narrative that the reader can see how things piece themselves together. I found myself able to devour large chunks of the story at once, if only to better comprehend how things fit together. Irving’s style of detailed discussions will surely cause some readers to feel drowned while others will relish the experience. With long chapters that are broken into small vignettes, the reader can digest Irving’s massive undertaking in more manageable bites. With a unique story and many strong characters, this piece by John Irving is not to be missed by those who have the patience and fortitude.

Kudos, Mr. Irving, for this wonderful piece that challenged me from the start and throughout.

This book serves to fulfil the March 2020 requirement of the Mind the Bookshelf Gapreading group.

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

Fake Truth (Ian Ludlow #3), by Lee Goldberg

Eight stars

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

Lee Goldberg returns with another novel in his off the wall Ian Ludlow series. While the story reads as a little less than serious, the tale moves well and will keep most readers entertained. As Ludlow is still coming to terms with how his last book predicted a real-life event, he has newly-defected Chinese Actress Wang Mei with him. The CIA are eager to learn a little more and hope that Ludlow can use his astonishing powers to predict yet another international event. However, Ludlow seems to be coming up blank, sufferings from writer’s block and unsure how to solve it. Even some steamy trysts with Wang do not help his writing juices flow any better (no comment on any others, though Goldberg does not spare the reader). Meanwhile, a conservative talking head has been fanning the flames about Mexican incursion along the southern US border, in hopes of creating something even more chaotic. Little does anyone know but Dwight Edsey is actually part of a Russian sleeper cell, trying to create new issues as they infiltrate new fake news. When Ludlow stumbles upon what could be a unite story idea, two American tourists falling to their death while taking a selfie, he and his assistant head to Portugal. What looks like an innocent accident might have more daunting implications on both sides of the Atlantic, but Ludlow will have to find the thing that ties it all together. As he is targeted for what he discovers, Ludlow learns that, yet again, his desire to write a bestseller could have international implications for which he was not aware. An interesting piece that entertains more than it stuns, Lee Goldberg does well to keep he fans satisfied. Recommended to those who like a lighter thriller, as well as the reader who needs something with some corny storylines.

I stumbled upon this series and found it to be perfect for when I need a lighter piece that will still entertain. Lee Goldberg does well to keep the reader in the middle of the story, offering both intrigue and some slapstick humour to balance out some of the larger and more chilling ramifications. Ian Ludlow is again a key character in this piece, finding himself in the middle of a major catastrophe without meaning to. His writing skills have garnered him much praise in the past, though he is looking for more. The reader can see some more of his creative efforts throughout, though he seems also to be tapping into a more physical and superficial side. Goldberg does well to offer different facets of the character, though none of them are especially deep. Goldberg uses other characters to enrich the plot and the storyline, though most of the them remain at the same caliber as Ludlow. This collection of characters complement one another well for this piece, which seeks to tell multiple stories before tying them all together. The overall piece was decent, offering the needed entertainment that I have come to expect with this series. However, there is a superficial nature to the piece, almost a hokey or corny sentiment. While I can only surmise that this is Goldberg does this intentionally, it makes for a harder read at times, as I seek something a little deeper. Still, there is an entertaining value to it all and I suspend some of my expectations in order to enjoy this quick read.

Kudos, Mr. Goldberg, for another great piece that fit nicely into my reading journey this week.

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

Rain Will Come, by Thomas Holgate

Eight stars

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

Hooked by the dust jacket blurb, I eagerly read this novel by Thomas Holgate, which mixes a sadistic serial killer with a cop whose process is a tad unorthodox. While Paul Czarcik was once a proud member of the Chicago PD, his time there came to an end prematurely. However, he accepted a role in the Illinois Bureau of Judicial Enforcement, an experimental group of detectives whose skills are a little too unique for the CPD. When a couple is found brutally tortured and murdered, Czarcik takes the case. He cannot understand the brutality he sees before him, but there is something more. When he is able to see a link between this killing and the brutal murder of a judge in Texas, Czarcik thinks that he may be on the path of a serial killer. Meanwhile, the killer, one Daniel Langdon, is plotting his next murder. He has the files and knows his victims, but must plan things effectively. When not gathering the needed information for his next kill, Langdon is dealing with crippling headaches, all a part of the tumour that is growing inside his head. When Langdon sees Czarcik is on the case, he decides to pay the detective a visit. Letting Czarcik in on his plan, Langdon all but baits the detective to follow and catch him. After Czarcik is contacted by Langdon’s wife, who fills in many of the gaps, they work together to find and save the ‘victims’ before their heinous acts receive the vengeance that Daniel Langdon feels is his to offer. It will be a race across America to catch a killer, but Czarcik has nothing to lose. A twisted story that pulls the reader in on many levels, as Holgate entertains throughout. Recommended to those who love a police procedural that follows none of the rules, as well as the reader who enjoys something a little more gruesome than the usual crime thriller.

I always love reading a new author and discovering that their work is right up my alley. I find that Thomas Holgate writes in such a way that I cannot help but want more in short order. The detailed writing is not only helpful in building up the crimes, but creates a series of wonderful characters the reader will enjoy throughout the novel. Paul Czarcik seems quite the odd character as the novel begins, with his penchant for cocaine and his predilection for escorts, whom he pays to have deep conversations. However, the detective has deep-rooted connections to his work and seems always to find the unique approaches to solving crimes. As the novel progresses, the reader sees much growth in Czarcik, both in the current-day narrative and the flashback case from his time as a CPD officer. One can hope Holgate will be able to create a series from this and that reader can see more Czarcik growth. Other characters prove as enticing and curious as the protagonist, all of whom help the story develop and the narrative move at a quick pace. The story has some typical police procedural aspects, as well as great uniqueness, which sets Holgate apart. The reader can bask in both worlds and determine what they think of the overall presentation. With a mix of mid- to full-length chapters, the story progresses slowly, but never lacks the momentum to fully enthral in a mystery where both good and evil are known throughout, playing a game of cat and mouse that will leave only one winner, or perhaps two strong losers. Thomas Holgate is an author to watch and I have added him to my literary radar.

Kudos, Mr. Holgate, for this fabulous debut. I will ensure the world knows all about your work and cutting style!

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