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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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:

https://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/

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

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons