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: