On Harrow Hill (Dave Gurney #7), by John Verdon

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, John Vernon, and Counterpoint Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

The arrival of a new John Verdon thriller is sure to excite many who have loved past novels with Dave Gurney helping on yet another homicide investigation. Gurney, a former NYPD Homicide Detective with many years experience, has a way not only with coming to assist many of the rural New York communities, but also finds himself growing in unique ways. With this case, which has layers upon layers of oddity, Gurney agrees to head to the community of Larchfield, where his former partner is running the show. However, there is nothing routine or textbook about what he discovers, save the increasing number of bodies piling up. Verdon is at his best with On Harrow Hill, and this is one book sure to impress anyone who takes the time to read it.

Dave Gurney has been enjoying retired life, though he seems never to be able to get into the swing of things before he’s called upon to help with another homicide. When his former partner asks for a favour, Gurney cannot say no, remembering their time on the NYPD together and the night Gurney was almost killed. He agrees to come to Larchfield, a small community that has no experience with crime, let alone murder.

The town’s wealthiest man, Angus Russell, has been found murdered inside his mansion on Harrow Hill. During the preliminary investigation, forensics uncovered a print and some blood of the suspected killer, Billy Tate. This should make it a fairly simply open and shut case, save for the fact that Tate died in a freak accident the night before and is currently in a coffin, awaiting burial. Baffled by this, Gurney tries to deal with the widow, though she is anything but helpful, wanting to tie up all the loose ends so that she can return to the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed.

If that were not enough, there’s a disturbance at the morgue and the Tate coffin’s been opened. Analysis shows the baffling proof that it was destroyed from the inside out, which is substantiated by some surveillance video that show Billy Tate alive and well—at least as well as someone who was struck by lightning and fell from a church steeple can be—before he leaves the building.

Given barely enough time to wrap his head around that, Gurney and the local authorities discover that two more bodies have turned up, one likely murdered on the way to the Russell killing and one soon thereafter. Might Tate have been resurrected and begun an odd killing spree? The mysteries continue with a massive manhunt started.

As Tate’s involvement with a satanic movement comes to light, Gurney follows new leads to help put some order to the case. Fanning the flames is a religious movement committed to ‘saving the town’ from the zombie satanist, while a reality news website has made it their business to add as much glitz and spin to things as possible. Gurney must wrestle false leads away from these two sources, while also protecting himself, as his property is targeted at one point.

While Billy Tate remains on the lam, Gurney and the others will have it find a motive that explains it all, while also capturing the killer before more bodies turn up. From whispers about a sordid past through to opponents of Tate’s personal beliefs, there are no shortage of people offering themselves up as potential victims, though Dave Gurney does not seem dissuaded in the least to catch yet another sadistic killer!

John Verdon does a masterful job in yet another thriller in this series, pulling the reader into the middle of the case in the opening chapters. His attention to detail and wonderful subplot development makes this book one that the reader will want to devour as quickly as possible, as I did. Using a few tangential leads to keep things interesting, there is no lack of intensity as the narrative builds, right up to the final reveal that had me shaking my head.

Dave Gurney cannot catch the break that retirement was supposed to bring him. If it’s not being asked to help out yet again, he’s thrust into the middle of a new household project his wife has for him (this time an alpaca farm)! While personal growth and backstory may not be something to which he is subjected throughout, the reader can see how his methodical thinking helps to shape the pace of the story and solving the crime at hand. He is by no means indestructible, though he tries to take it all in and find the core issue, working it through to a reasonable conclusion. However, resurrection and satanic belief might be a little outside Gurney’s ability to comprehend, even with 25 years in NYPD Homicide.

Verdon develops a handful of key secondary characters in this piece, who are essential to the success of the novel. There is no shortage of personalities in this piece, all of whom work their own angles to enrich the plot and keep the reader wondering. While it is not a whodunit with a few potential killers the reader must suss out, there is much to be said about those who make up the foundation of a small community. Some complement Gurney and some prove to be essential roadblocks to solving the crime.

This was perhaps the best Verdon piece I have read, though I have loved them all a great deal. The flow of the story is perfect, revealing much as the narrative builds. Verdon has done well to develop this quirky, layered story that is not a simple A to Z crime thriller. Rather, the reader must wade through some distracting side stories (as Dave Gurney does too) to get to the heart of the matter. With a mix of chapter lengths, the reader gets hooked and then finds themselves sitting for long periods just to get a better understanding of what’s going on. While it is not your typical crime thriller, its uniqueness makes it one readers will want to explore and challenge themselves with throughout the journey.

Kudos, Mr. Verdon, for a book I could not stop reading. I hope others are ready for as wild a ride!

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://mysteryandsuspense.com/on-harrow-hill/

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

Triple M Murder (Jack Calloway Book 1), by Carmen Cady

Eight stars

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

While police procedurals and mysterious thrillers flood the fiction marketplace, Carmen Cady has been able to find a unique angle in this series debut. Jack Calloway is not only a private investigator and criminal profiler, but has a past that sets him apart from many. Few are aware of his great secret, something Calloway hopes will not change in the near future. When a serial killer stalks Seattle, Calloway is brought in to assist with the investigation, only to discover something sinister that floors him. A chilling start to what could be a great series. Recommended to those who enjoy unique takes on the crime thriller.

Jack Calloway has had a great deal of success as a freelance private investigator and criminal profiler, so much so that his name is bandied around many police organizations. His impetus comes from the fact that his family was murdered by a sadistic killer years ago, forcing him to hone his skills to find justice for all. When he is called to assist on a spree of killings in Seattle, Calloway returns to a city that holds many recent memories. Working alongside a forensic tech with whom he has a romantic history is daunting enough, but having to report to a detective who has no love loss for him makes things all the more difficult.

On the surface, the case appears somewhat cut a dry; young women have turned up murdered in Seattle. It would seem there are similarities in their age and the fact they all used a dating app, something that does not leap off the page for anyone. However, Calloway discovers some peculiar clues at the scenes, things that do not add up. Stymied, but not yet ready tho give up, Calloway follows his instincts and tries to make sense of it all.

While he’s trying to come to terms with his colleagues and they past they share, Calloway wrestles with another secret, something far darker and much more troubling. He has a long history—literally—and soon realises that the killer may have been targeting him for more than a few months, baiting him to get involved in the action. It’s soon apparent that Calloway could be a suspect in the killings, based on his connections to them, albeit in a vague manner. He must use this unique approach to his advantage in order to make sense of the victims, the killer, and the direction in which the crime spree will turn, all while trying to clear his name and hold onto the secret that could ruin it all.

Working the crimes without revealing too much about himself, Calloway tries to piece it all together and bring the killer to justice. However, there are delicate aspects that must be handled and clues that cannot be revealed to the general public, for fear that Calloway’s personal life comes to the surface. That would destroy everything, from his credibility through to his lifestyle. There is a killer on the loose, someone who has lured Calloway into this trap and must be stopped, after centuries of evil doing!

Carmen Cady does well to intrigue the reader with the premise of this story, without making things too supernatural. I choose not to reveal too much, permitting the reader to delve deep and see what they think. While the premise—killer must be caught by the protagonist—is traditional in nature, there are aspects to the story that make it a unique and curious read. Cady may be on to something here, if she can keep the momentum.

Jack Calloway is a great protagonist, revealing much about himself throughout the story. While he is a top-notch private investigator, there are personal aspects to him that come to the surface throughout this piece. Both his personal and professional lives come under scrutiny in the novel, with the reader receiving a front row seat to all the action. His secret remains his own, though Calloway will have to face many a demon throughout the story to make sense of what is before him, which only thickens the plot.

Cady offers up a wonderful cross-section of characters in the piece, each working in their own way to advance the plot. There are many subplots that develop, allowing Cady to hone her characters effectively and flavouring the narrative throughout. Calloway’s past and present are on full display here, with many complementing his character in their own manner.

The story, while not entirely unique in its approach, is great as the layers are peeled back. Cady knows how to build up some tension between her characters and uses plot to advance the story. The narrative, working in a number of time periods and through the eyes of numerous characters, proves strong and does not lose the momentum throughout. A mix of chapter lengths proves the perfect tease for the reader, goading them to keep going in order to piece the mystery together. There are many aspects to the story, appealing to a large audience, though their underlying truth about Jack Calloway drives the story along, forcing the reader to wonder just how long his secret will remain his own, and how that could turn the series on its head.

Kudos, Madam Cady, for an intriguing series debut. I will have to keep my eyes open for more of your work in the coming years. Jack Calloway certainly has me curious, as does his backstory!

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

A Promised Land (Presidential Memoir #1), by Barack Obama

Nine stars

The true mettle of a person comes from the ability to overcome adversity and present themselves in as positive a light as possible, or at least I think so. With so much that has happened over the last four years in American politics, one might be able to extend that to the world’s population, or at least those who spent any time impacted by the country in some way. When February began, I sought to spend some time looking at three men who had fought through the trenches of American politics and risen to the position of President of the United States. This memoir, the first of two parts, by President Barack Obama, serves as the final piece in this brief study. It was both refreshing and awe-inspiring, as well as whetted my appetite for the second part. While it is both laudatory and humbling, it does serve to prove that America fell into quite an abyss from 2017 until earlier this year, as we look back at the first term of a man who sought to change the rules and protect the country he loved while doing so. Some may disagree with this, which is their prerogative, though few can discount that the election of Barack Hussein Obama ushered in much change from the way things were done in Washington before. Gripping and enlightening, I was riveted with each page turn and cannot wait for the second volume to complete the story!

Born to modest means, Barack Obama was an outsider from the outset. With a Caucasian mother and Kenyan father whose relationship deteriorated early, Obama was never one to fit into any single group, which he mentions proved to be a yoke of his throughout those` ` formative years. Added to that, the boy who was born in Hawaii was soon travelling to Asia where he began his scholastic learning. He was passionate about education and did not allow himself to be shaped by the perception of others at any point.

When he finished public school in the United States, Obama had aspirations to make a difference, though he was also still in the mindset of many young people, wanting to balance fun with studying. He got passable grades and soon found himself before he landed in law school and found a passion he did not know was there. With the fire lit within him, Obama settled in Chicago and sought to make a difference in the lives of those around him as a community organiser, while also teaching at the law school. He met a lovely woman named Michelle Robinson, who changed his life and taught him the importance of being grounded. Obama speaks at length about their connection and quickly burgeoning relationship, which led to marriage, even if it was not always blissful.

As the Obamas laid down some roots and started a family, the enticement of politics soon crossed Barack’s path. While not the life she pictured for herself, Michelle supported her husband as best she could for his run for a seat in Illinois’ State Senate, a post he won. Balancing the workload with being a young father, Obama did his best to make a difference in the lives of many, while also trying to keep his narrative together. It was not always easy, but the Obamas made it work, somehow.

Testing the power of their relationship, Barack soon devised a plan to take his local advocacy onto a larger stage and sought to win a seat in the US Senate. Less than impressed and trying to carve out a career of her own, Michelle agreed to the venture, but set limits on campaigning and ensured that the Obama household would never have to come second to the electorate. Obama explores the run for a seat in DC and the struggles that he had to overcome, all while he was being noticed on the national stage. His invitation to speak at the 2004 Democratic National Convention proved to electrify a young Barack Obama, but also made a name for him amongst the heavy hitters in the party. He was a man whose name would cross their lips again soon.

The Obamas tried to get used to the national stage and life in DC, struggling at times with the dual households and added responsibilities. A newly-minted senator, Barack Obama had a great deal to learn, though received significant support on both sides of the aisle. Obama illustrates both the great help he received as well as struggles he was forced to overcome on such a large stage, all while trying to carve out his own niche. He sought to push for change, so much so that he would soon be a name people put forward for the 2008 presidential election, surprising because of his lack of experience.

As Obama explains, it was the idea of running for president that almost derailed his relationship. Michelle was wholeheartedly against it, having enough trouble keeping their girls away from the spotlight. It was a stressful time, as Barack wanted a larger taste of the limelight and knew he could make a difference. Backers and political heavyweights continued to press for him to run and Michelle did eventually agree, but set strict guidelines for any run. Thus began the monumental run for president by a man who would smash glass ceilings along the way.

Obama does not hold back about the 2008 campaign for the Democratic nomination. It was a gloves-off affair, with a number of well-known heavy hitters, including: Hilary Clinton, Joe Biden, and John Edwards. They all had experience and name recognition on the national scene, though Obama had something that appealed to voters throughout the campaign. Keen on making himself known and advocating for what he believed was right, Obama was able to capture the nomination with some difficulty, as is described at length in one portion of the book.

The stage was set for a run against John McCain and the Republican base for the role of president. With the George W. Bush presidency entering its final year, the heat was on for both men to explain how they would bring America into a new era. No one could have predicted the issue that hid in the shadows, the massive financial crisis, though Obama explores it at length and how it shaped the campaign that summer and into the final stretch. Both Obama and McCain had their own way of handling it, walking a fine line as President Bush tried to wash his hands of it. Grit and determination balanced against pure vilification of the current administration’s choices in the final weeks, while Obama and McCain locked horns. When all the ballots were counted, America had chosen its first African American president and change was on the horizon, the campaign slogan of “Yes, we can” resonating around the world. However, winning the position was the easy part, or so it seemed.

From the day he was president-elect, Barack Obama was in the hot seat, asked how he would now handle the burgeoning debt and bailouts that President Bush was leaving for him to solve. While Obama seeks to take the high road and tackle solutions, there is a degree of finger pointing and a somewhat high-brow blame game directed not only at his predecessor, but also the congressional Republicans who attempted to stymie progress on getting the country on its feet. Efforts were made to seek change, even during that interim time between the election win and Inauguration Day. It would not be an easy road for Obama as he started as America’s leader, as seen in some of the early meetings with Republican leadership.

Amidst much of the blood, sweat, and tears in the middle of the memoir, Obama does take some time to recount his swearing-in, a monumental event for the country as a whole. While some could still not accept the idea of an African American as POTUS, many celebrated the event and the day took on an special excitement. There is wonderful explorations of sentiments as well as depictions of how Washington prepared for the big day, including the flubbing of the Oath of Office. It was significant, to say the least, but only one day of reprieve before returning to making a difference.

Obama discusses some of his early international summits and sentiments about his new ‘international friends and foes’ in the form of world leaders. It is clear that some would be stronger allies than others, but Obama presents it as an attempt to get to know where he could turn and which leaders might be hiding knives up their proverbial sleeves. It is no shock which leaders fell into which categories, but I will leave it to the reader to uncover the list and Obama’s sentiments throughout the tome. Either way, there is an excellent exploration of international diplomacy as some of the world’s issues take the forefront of the discussion, including: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as global shifts in politics and those nations who sought to exert their own form of control.

Obama sought to create new and lasting relationships on the international front, including thawing of relations with some countries whose enemy status could not be disputed. Iran proved to be one such country, though the frigidity of the late 1970s and into the 80s would not be easily forgotten. Obama sought to engage along nuclear energy terms, with the Iranians remaining sceptical and tepid throughout. However, there was a determination for America to lead, rather than vilify and point fingers, which appears to be what Obama did.

The book contrasts this nicely with talk of some domestic issues, though the most recollected ‘home-based’ policy Obama had from his first term haunted him into the reign of America’s Autocratic Whiner. Healthcare had long been a sticking point for American administrations, especially something that proved to be affordable. He sought to walk the fine line, particularly as there was a need to ensure congressional passage of the legislation, though Obama was determined to make a difference. As a Canadian, I was enthralled with the rhetoric that emerged on both sides, as though the idea of affordable healthcare for all (let alone, universal) was as inviting as cutting one’s throat with a rusty tin can. Through some tugs and pulls, as well as serious negotiating to protect from a Republican filibuster in the Senate, a plan emerged with majority support in both houses.

Equally as troubling within America’s borders was how to handle the economy post-2008. Obama spends significant time exploring how he sought to rebuild America, through a stimulus package that could help the country get back on its feet. From disdain over corporate bailouts to helping the ‘little guy’ who was sucked into the mortgage market and left with nothing. While there was a degree of compassion to the Obama program, there had to be strict rules, some of which would not impress those within the Democratic Party. However, shouldering ahead was needed, while also trying to tackle many of the other issues left on the agenda.

This first volume of the memoir did not seek to defend Barack Obama as being correct all of the time, even when others refused to listen, but rather to give the reader a broad view of events and how they were seen from within. There were foibles throughout, something that Obama readily admits, but there were also some concrete plans to make things a great deal better, even if others blocked growth or success. Obama showed grit and determination, even as he admitted to being verbose. While the Obama Administration was sandwiched between two staunchly aggressive Republican presidents, they took action, rather than simply wandering around with a broom and dustbin. I believe that is one of the takeaways from this piece for me.

Much like his love to talk, Barack Obama shows that he enjoys putting words on the page. This is by no means a quick read, nor should it be. There is a significant amount of detail throughout the piece to educate and entertain the reader. Facts, perspectives, and raw sentiment cover many of the chapters, giving the reader the man’s personal view on things from congressional battles, world leaders, and international diplomacy. Blunt and surely peppered with some honest to goodness language, the book may turn some away who seek to paint murals of the 44th POTUS, but it is the honesty that sobers the reader throughout this journey. With strong chapters and a personal touch on each page, this memoir tells the story without the flourishes and filters, while making the wait for the second instalment all the more painful. Still, I’ll do it, as this book was so impactful, I cannot imagine what is yet to come!

Kudos, President Obama, for leading from the front. You made the hard decisions and did not rely on any news network to dictate how the winds were blowing or sycophants to pat your ego.

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

The Beirut Protocol (Marcus Ryker #4), by Joel C. Rosenberg

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Joel C. Rosenberg, and Tyndale House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Joel C. Rosenberg is back with another of his nail-biting thrillers that pulls together many of the current goings-on in the Middle East and their delicate political interactions. Special Agent Marcus Ryker is in the region as an advance team with the Diplomatic Security Service, scouting things out before the signing of a major peace treaty. However, things go terribly wrong and he soon becomes a pawn of a ruthless regime seeking to flex its own muscle in the region. Rosenberg aptly covers all the perspectives with strong actors and leaves the reader feeling as though they are in the middle of the action in The Beirut Protocol. Recommended to those who have loved his work in the past, as well as the reader who cannot get enough of political thrillers.

It seemed like an easy mission for Marcus Ryker and his team, all part of the US Diplomatic Security Service, as they worked ahead of the upcoming peace treaty signing between America and the Saudis. However, along the Israel-Lebanon border, Ryker and his team are captured by Hezbollah and taken to a compound. It’s only later that Ryker’s identity is discovered after some brutal interrogating and torture techniques.

While no one in the White House is yet aware of what’s happened, the news travels to Tehran quickly. Iran is in the middle of its own political vacuum, with the Grand Ayatollah having died and a new man about to be chosen for the job. Whomever assumes the role, their support of Hezbollah is almost guaranteed and having Ryker will prove to be a gift no one could imagine.

While Ryker tries to get himself out of the clutches of Hezbollah, he musty act quickly. He’s a wanted man, having scuttled a number of plans by America’s most ardent enemies. It will require a great deal of planning and determination if Ryker hopes to make it out alive. Still, the rewards could be monumental, particularly if it means the Americans and Saudis can move ahead with their peace treaty, which is sure to open the door to more tranquility in the region.

Joel C. Rosenberg has long been a favourite author of mine, not only because of his political thrillers, but also since he knows just how to lay the groundwork for a plausible story. Many who are familiar with a number of his series will recall that he predicted some of the major events in the region in the late 1990s and into the 20th century, almost foreboding the events that would lead to clashes that pit countries and regions against one another today.

Marcus Ryker has been a great protagonist throughout the series. Rosenberg has been able to develop him effectively throughout the series, mixing a strong determination with some key personal backstory. The series has become more intense because of Ryker’s presence and one can only hope that Rosenberg is not entirely done with this man, who seems at ease no matter where he finds himself in the world, or which enemy awaits him.

Rosenberg’s creation of strong secondary characters is like few others I have seen before. Each actor plays a key role in the larger narrative and keeps the reader enthralled as they learn about how political and social situations are seen through a number of lenses. While it can be hard to keep the countries and their politics straight, Rosenberg has a great list at the start of the book to provide the reader just what they need to keep the plot flowing with each actor and the flavour brought to the narrative. While there are usually a large number of actors being used, Rosenberg is always spot-on about how he hopes to effectively utilise those who push the story forward.

The overall story was, as usual, amazing and well-paced. Rosenberg understands the nuances of the region to provide the reader with something to keep them on their toes. The writing is of high caliber and keeps the reader interested throughout the story, with key moments of dialogue to paint an even more intense picture of how the machinery of Middle East politics works. With short chapters that push the reader to keep the story going, Rosenberg jams much into his writing and does not let the reader rest on their laurels at any time. With a plot that is well-paced and full of twists, the reader is never left knowing what is to come, which helps to add new layers of thrills to an already stunning piece.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what you have next for your fans and how the future of the region will shape your writing.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/the-beirut-protocol/

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

Everything is Mine, by Ruth Lillegraven

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ruth Lillegraven, and Amazon Crossing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

There’s nothing like a little mystery to keep a family on its toes. Such is the case in this latest piece by Ruth Lillegraven, in which a couple is pulled apart not only by their work, but a long-standing disinterest in one another. When a man is found murdered at a hospital, one is fingered as the prime suspect, only to profess their innocence. Everything is Mine is an apt title for this piece, though one wrong move and it could all disappear.

Clara and Henrik have a somewhat quiet life on the outskirts of Oslo, where they enjoy time with their twin boys. While they seem to have a routine between them, neither is all that happy in the relationship, or so it seems. Henrik is a doctor in the A&E, specialising in paediatric medicine, while Clara is a politician with a bright future. Their independent spheres serve them well, as the narrative depicts throughout.

When an angry father brings in an unconscious young boy directly to Henrik at work, something is amiss. The father insists that it was a fall from a tree, but something is not adding up. A major brain bleed and countless bruises of various ages cover the boys body. Rushed into surgery, everyone tries their best, but the boy cannot be saved. Henrik knows it was child abuse, but allows his mind to drift and does not report it to the authorities. During a brief confrontation, Henrik directs the father to a prayer room, what little good it will do him.

When the authorities arrive soon thereafter, Henrik is kicking himself, sure that they are here to discuss the abuse. However, it is the murder of the father outside the prayer room that has everyone buzzing. Henrik has not hidden his disdain for the man, but says that he knows nothing about the murder.

Meanwhile, Clara has been trying to get a piece of legislation through parliament that deals with protecting children of abuse. While it is scuttled by the Minister of Justice and Prime Minister, Clara cannot help but wonder if there is something more going on. She is determined to ensure it sees the floor for debate, but is stonewalled at every turn.

When another body turns up close to where Henrik found himself after his shift, he is taken into custody and questioned extensively. While there, more bodies turn up, at a time when Henrik could not have acted. Could his innocence hinge on these ongoing murders? How will Clara react when she learns the truth and what can she do to keep her job from overtaking her? Lillegraven reveals it all as the story reaches its climax.

Having never read anything by Ruth Lillegraven previously, I was intrigued to see how things would go with this book. I found myself highly impressed with the writing, even in translation, and sped through the book to see how it all came together. This is certainly an author well worth my time and I will have to see what else she has to entertain me.

Henrik proves to be the central character in this piece. He struggles with his life, not only as a doctor, but a father and an almost forgotten husband. He is by no means innocent in the marriage, having been stepping out for a long time, though feels it is justified because of how poorly Clara treats him. When faced with adversity, Henrik buckles down and shows his true colours, though they are sometimes muted by those around him.

Lillegraven uses a strong cast of secondary characters to tell her story, pushing a gripping murder mystery into the middle of a busy emergency room. She’s apt to pull on a great cross-section of characters throughout the piece, many of whom come together nicely to fit into the nooks and crannies of this piece. The reader need not worry about a lack of perspectives, as many of these characters offer their own narratives throughout.

The story was easy to follow and kept me entertained throughout. I cannot say that there was a time I was checking my watch or tapping my toe. Lillegraven constructs a powerful piece on chid abuse and builds it from there, keeping the reader wondering throughout. With a strong narrative that takes in the perspectives of many, the story pushes forward through short chapters. Questions arise at various points in the story, answered only by forging ahead and waiting to see what else is to come.

Kudos, Madam Lillegraven, for a thrilling mystery like no other. I cannot wait to see what else you have written and whether they match up to 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

A Matter of Life and Death (Robin Lockwood #4), by Phillip Margolin

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Phillip Margolin, St. Martin’s Press, and Minotaur Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Phillip Margolin has his newest legal mind, Robin Lockwood, in the middle of her most harrowing case yet. When a man is accused of murdering a judge’s wife, the evidence seems almost irrefutable. As the death penalty stares them in the face, Robin and her indigent client must do all they can to prove that this was not only a miscarriage of justice, but that there’s a larger scheme at play, even more dangerous than anyone might imagine. In A Case of Life and Death,, Margolin does a masterful job and keeps the reader enthralled throughout. Recommended to those who love a good legal thriller, particularly the reader who has come to enjoy the work of Phillip Margolin.

Things have not been going well for Joe Lattimore of late. Technically homeless, with a wife and little one, Joe is forced to scrounge for money wherever he can and remember his past as a boxer. When he’s offered a chance to make a quick buck, he takes it, though it’s a dubious venture. He’s told that there’s a fight club where he can make a decent amount of money, which Joe thinks might be the pot of gold for which he has long been waiting.

While he wins the fight, it’s no-holds-barred and Joe’s opponent is left clinging to life. Joe’s told the man died and is ushered away. Told that there is a video of the event, Joe knows it could be used against him should he not follow directions to the letter of the law. When Joe’s sent to a house and told to go inside, he enters, only to find the body of a woman who has been beaten to death. His prints are all over the walls as he tries to scramble away, only to be caught fleeing by the victim’s husband, Judge Anthony Carasco.

Once Joe’s been apprehended, after an anonymous tip, things go from bad to worse. The State has some damning and seemingly irrefutable evidence, pushing for the death penalty. Robin Lockwood, who knows Joe in passing, agrees to take his case, feeling that someone’s been pulling strings to frame an innocent man. However, nothing seems to add up and the evidence points strongly to Joe’s guilt. However, beneath it all, there are secrets that people are keeping, from the fight club to the victim’s suspicions about her husband, and even the judge’s alibi on the night of the crime. Robin knows that capital cases require not only dedication, but persistence in the face of adversity. She’ll need it all in this situation, as it’s the difference between a man’s life and his untimely demise.

I enjoy a well-crafted legal thriller at the best of time, something that Phillip Margolin never fails to deliver. I discovered his work primarily with the launch of the Robin Lockwood series, but have come to find that he is a master of the genre and has much to say without being overly repetitive. The plot is alluring and the writing hooks the reader from the opening pages. This is what a legal thriller should be.

Robin Lockwood does well as protagonist once again. Her presence adds something to the story and keeps the reader wanting to know even more. With a backstory as an MMA fighter, Robin knows the world of fame and glory, though is also keen to help those who cannot help themselves. Her legal acumen is second to none, as she finds one dangling thread and is apt to yank on it, hoping to unravel the truth. Gritty and all in, Robin works for her clients like no lawyer would, wanting truth to reign over the easy way out.

Margolin’s use of a handful of strong secondary characters in this piece helps to develop a great story that uses a few subplots to advance the larger narrative. There are those within the pages of this book who will impress the reader, while others will show their true mettle as the story advances. Everyone has their role, even if it does not seem apparent at the outset. Margolin’s development of these individuals helps keep the story flowing and the plot twists fresh in the reader’s mind.

The overall delivery of the piece was something I thoroughly enjoyed. I cannot say enough about Phillip Margolin or his work, both of which left me highly impressed. I like a story that is full of twists and a legal thriller that uses the law to peel back to the truth, both of which are on display here. The reader is treated to a quick narrative that pushes the story along, with some credible dialogue along the way. Short chapters force the reader to feel the momentum of the piece and get carried away as the story pushes towards a verdict where punishment is at the heart of it all. A little murder, some deception, and a handful of blackmail situations all create the needed intensity for the reader to see just how talented Margolin is with his writing. I cannot wait for what else this series has to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Margolin, for another winner. While some may need a comlex courtroom drama to appeal to them, your action-packed story has just what I needed to pass the time.

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

Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics, by Joe Biden

Nine stars

Having read a number of great political books a few months ago while the US election approached, I took a little time to get to know the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. After the race and the formal acceptance of the results by the majority of the electorate, Electoral College, and congressional members (even with an attempted coup by the Whiner-in-Chief), I wanted to hear more from the man himself. I remembered that he had penned a memoir of sorts ahead of his 2008 run for president and thought it would be great to take some time hearing Biden talk about his life.

With President’s Day just around the corner, I chose three men who have ascended to the position. Reading their biographies/memoirs, I felt it would let me know a bit more about them. This book is the second of three and I could not wait to sink my teeth in the story of Joe Biden as told by the man himself. With great vignettes and a frank admission to not being perfect, Biden shares his highs and lows over a storied career as a little guy from Delaware who saw a chance to make a difference in Washington. Biden’s time as a senator, where this book ends, was electrifying, and those who have followed him up to the present will know the difference he made post-2008 as well. So, let’s get to the heart of the matter and learn about a man who knows the hard work needed to keep America on track and watch as he cleans up the mess left to him. America has always been great, even if it took a four year hiatus and handed the reins of power to a man drunk on power and fuelled by 280 character decrees.

Biden opens the discussion about his birth in 1942, the eldest son of two great parents. Living those years in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. developed strong connections to others while solidifying an Irish Catholicism like no other. When the family was forced to relocate to Delaware for the elder Biden’s work, young Joey had to reinvent himself.

As the narrative advances, Biden touches on his adolescent and young adulthood, where a strong social life and penchant for girls became the core items on the agenda, though he never forgot his family. Joe Biden was the first to attend college, which brought great pride and some trepidation to the family, though they supported him along the way. Having overcome a strong stutter, Biden knew the importance of overcoming adversity and looked a challenge in the eye whenever it crossed his path.

Biden recounts a short holiday he took while in college where he met the woman who be his wife, making it clear that was the woman of his dreams. Biden and Neilia Hunter were inseparable after that jaunt to the Caribbean, so much so that Joe chose Syracuse (New York) for his legal studies. While never at the top of his class, Biden remembers his happiness with Neilia and how they grew closer throughout that time.

After Biden and Neilia returned to Delaware, they began to set up some roots. Biden was fresh out of law school, but still trying to define himself. He soon discovered that politics ran through the state and the law was no exception. While he was an ardent Democrat, some of those who supported the GOP had their own agenda. This did not jive with the Biden view of helping the ‘little guy’, so Joe Biden hung out his own shingle and found a niche in local politics when time allowed. The Bidens started their family around this time and Joe made repeated mention of the importance of his own roots. The Bidens had two boys in quick succession, Beau and Hunter, as Joe eyed the next hurdle to overcome, national office.

While Delaware had pockets of support for both parties, Biden knew that the long-serving US Senator Cale Boggs was a Goliath who could not be stopped. A favourite within the GOP, both at the state and national level, Boggs seemed unstoppable. This did not deter Biden from deciding that he would do all he could in 1972 to create a name for himself. After a number of coffee events, Biden toured the state, speaking about how he could make a difference for Delaware in DC. Biden offers a great build up in the narrative and shows how grit can lead to success, beating Boggs in that race and became a US senator at age twenty-nine. While not yet the constitutional age to serve, Biden would come of age later in November and became the second youngest man ever to win a Senate seat.

Preparing to serve, Biden made arrangements to relocate for his next big life experience. News came one December night of a tragic accident, in which Neilia and their new baby, Naomi, were killed. Biden spends some time describing this horrible moment in his life, now a widower and single father. There was no waffling, Biden would quit the Senate before he’d even served and tend to his family. Biden struggled greatly with the loss, though he received some sage advice and the support he needed, from family and Senate colleagues alike. With some sacrifices by everyone, Joe Biden eventually agreed to represent Delaware in Congress, citing his sons as a mitigating factor.

Biden used his first term in the Senate not only to learn, but also to shape policy. Some in the Chamber did not appreciate this approach, but they respected the feisty side of the man who knew no other way of living. Biden honed his passion for civil rights to challenge Senate stalwarts and soon endorsed the Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter, as the 1976 Democratic candidate for president. Biden was making a national name for himself, but also found himself drawn to former model Jill Jacobs, a woman with no love of politics. Their long and drawn-out courtship led to marriage in 1977, at the insistence of Beau and Hunter.

Biden compacts much of his early Senate years into some short vignettes, though there was no lack of national spotlight shone on him. Biden was often talked about as a potential presidential candidate, but declined in 1980 and ‘84, citing his young family. However, he thought that 1988 might be his year. Biden tossed his hat into the ring and began the arduous task of campaigning during the spring of 1987. Biden soon found himself in the ‘big leagues’, where nothing was off limits. Biden admitted that he was spread too thin, serving on a controversial Senate Judiciary Committee as its chairman, while also forced to defend a plagiarism gaffe that would plague him throughout the campaign.

Biden admits that he was not prepared for either the Bork Supreme Court fight or the battle to clear his name as a free-spirited academic in law school. Both weighed him down and the narrative explores not only the intensity that both situations caused, but also the strain on his body. Biden made national headlines for less than glamorous reasons and ended up having a stroke, which debilitated him for months. Without the support of his family, Biden may not have made it.

Biden spent the early 1990s focussed on his work with the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He sought to help make America a role model on the world scene, working with both Presidents Bush (41) and Clinton to carve out a niche for the sole superpower to lead the path towards freedom and democracy. Biden took countless trips to war-torn areas and had meetings with some world leaders who could not espouse similar values, all in an effort to bring about change. While Biden does not outrightly say it, this helped develop his skills as a statesman. The book solidifies a foundation for this at length and shows how Biden added to his already long resume for another run for the White House.

With the election of Bush 43 came a new America, emerging in a post-September 11th world. Biden was forced to stand firm and develop a friendship with a president who surrounded himself with two diametrically opposed camps, one wanting to instil peace and the other trying to exert authority. Biden discusses actors from both camps and offers his opinions on their insights. This is surely to prepare a plank for his 2008 run, while also being open about his sentiments, both as an American and a statesman. Biden and many of his Senate colleagues found themselves led down the garden path by the George W. Bush Administration, finding Afghanistan and Iraq wars as yokes around their necks. This was the basis for Biden’s choice to run again, as he had promises to keep with his family, as well as America.

I entered this piece after having seen the end result of the 2020 campaign, one where new highs and lows made themselves known. Those reading this review long after I penned it may need to look to the history books to see what I mean, but many will never forget January 6, 2021 and the culmination of a four year period of political and social darkness. Earlier in 2020, I read a stunning biography of Joe Biden and hoped that some of those stories would be hashed out in this piece as well. I needed another meaty and educational piece about Joe Biden. I got that and more as Biden placed me in the middle of his life, highlighting much of what he had accomplished. While the journey was significant, the book makes it flow while remaining comprehensive and detailed. The stories provide the reader with needed insight to understand the politics and passion of the man. I have no doubt that Joe Biden loves his country and his family.

This is no fluff piece, though it is surely something published to help pave the way for the 2008 campaign. Whether Biden wrote it or someone else took the reins is irrelevant, as it gets to the core issues. While detailed exploration of the man and how he sought to grow over his more than forty years of public service proves to be the undertone, it is presented in well-paced chapters and is relatable for the layperson to understand, enjoying the tangents along the way. I cannot say enough about Joe Biden, his views, and his passions, particularly as I look at the writing in 2021. America has a lot of healing to do and Joe Biden is here to help, even in the face of adversity and the residue of authoritarian pig-headedness.

Kudos, Mr. Biden, for this wonderful piece that elucidates your views, your life, and your visions. Your sentiments in 2007 could not have prepared you for your time as president, but let’s hope you are up to the task.

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

Two White Queens and the One-Eyed Jack, by Heidi von Palleske

As this book was marked as unfinished, it will not garner a star rating, out of respect for all involved.

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Heidi von Palleske, and Dundurn Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Eager to sink my teeth into this book, especially after giving the dust jacket blurb a glance, I found myself greatly confused. Heidi von Palleske lays out in her introduction how she had chosen a number of important events and people in her life and crammed them into this story. While that may sound good, using ‘what you know’, it did not work for me. I tried a few times to connect with the characters and the story, but failed to do so.

Others may find something that compels them within these pages, but I could not. I chose to take the high road and let others bask in the story, reviewing it as they wanted. I tried and it did not work for me, so I left it after twice making it close to a third of the way through the piece. I hope to return to it down the road, but for now, I will slide it back onto the shelf.

Kudos, Madam von Palleske, for writing what you know. I just ended up not being someone who could follow the path you laid out before you.

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

Dreidel to the Grave, by Yoel Bereket

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Yoel Bereket for providing me with a copy of this novel, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having enjoyed Yoel Bereket’s debut novel, I happily accepted a request by the author to read an early copy of this book as well. Bereket mixes history with politics in a quasi-thriller that pits a man with a troubled past against the behemoth known as Nazism, with a figure at its core that is the embodiment of hate. This journey takes the reader across two continents and explores post-war sentiments about fascism while seeking to close the book on one of the darkest moments in 20th century history. Entertaining and gritty, Bereket’s book will likely appeal to those who like dabbling with a little alternate history while garnering thrills and spills along the way.

David Gal has a unique talent for being able to infiltrate groups to which he would not usually have access. Gal’s sole focus is to extract information and kill those involved, particularly if they still hold firm to their national socialist views. It is nine years since the fall of the Third Reich and many of those men who espoused the eternal nature of Germany’s new way of life are on the run, but still collaborating as best they can. Gal’s goal is to eradicate them as best he can, no matter the amount of bloodshed.

When called to meet with Israel’s prime minister and a handful of others, Gal is tasked with taking down the greatest threat of all; Adolf Hitler. It would seem his suicide in a Berlin bunker was a misdirection and the Führer is still alive, hidden away in Argentina. Armed with his determination, Gal finds his way there and is given a local errand boy to help traverse the vast terrain.

As they hunt, Gal and his companion learn a little more about one another and the intensity of the battle ahead. Hitler’s whereabouts is not widely known, nor is it advertised on roadsigns. Gal will have to use his intuition and some violent outbursts to follow the trail into the rural environs, determined to put a bullet into the head of the man who espoused such hatred. However, there is more than nationalistic pride on the line, as Gal reveals throughout. This is personal and nothing short of complete annihilation will be accepted.

Yoel Bereket does well pulling all the needed elements together in this piece. Part alternate history, part adventure story, the novel keeps the reader connected throughout the narrative. The entertainment value of the story provides something for the reader to enjoy without getting farcical out outlandish. There are certainly some strong sentiments throughout, which become more prevalent as the story advances to its climactic revelations.

David Gal is a strong protagonist and the reader discovers much about the man throughout the narrative. His sole focus is the extermination of the Nazis left over and in hiding, though he is calculating in his approach. Bloodletting is no concern to him, though he seeks to be discreet, so as not to alert too many to his plan. With a more personal undertone woven into the story, the reader gets a glimpse of a delicate backstory that helps propel the larger plot forward.

Bereket also peppers his piece with some strong secondary characters, each of whom plays an essential role in the larger story. Revealing much about the history of the time and the sentiments around Nazi hunting, Bereket develops these characters to push the story along and reveals certain sentiments that are important to better understanding the themes of the novel.

The story itself is a mix of serious and lighthearted, with a definite darkness as it relates to world history. Bereket does well to balance both, while telling a thrilling story that keeps its momentum throughout. With a mix of chapter lengths, the reader is pushed forward, hoping to be a part of this hunt for a ruthless dictator, while also seeing some of the side trips that the protagonist is forced to take. The narrative flows well and there are certainly some moments of gritty dialogue, which only adds to the realism of the overall piece. While this is not high-brow literature, Yoel Bereket can surely entertain throughout, which is surely his primary goal with this piece. I am eager to see what else he has in store for readers in the coming years!

Kudos, Mr. Bereket, for an entertaining piece. I have enjoyed both your novels and hope others soon find out why for themselves!

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

James Monroe: A Life, by Tim McGrath

Eight stars

With February upon us, I thought that I would delve into a subject that I truly love, presidential biographies and memoirs. Dusting off this fairly new piece by Tim McGrath, I chose to dive into the life and times of James Monroe, America’s fifth president and a man about whom I know little. McGrath does a masterful job at painting a complete picture of Monroe, who was one of the Founding Fathers and made an impact on the early republic. Through a strong narratove and detailed research, Monroe’s life proves intriguing, particularly to those with a penchant for presidential biographies.

Born in rural Virginia, James Monroe grew up in the colonies under British rule. His early life was not overly exciting, splitting his time between school and farming to help his family subsist. His time at school helped him forge a relationship with an older student, one John Marshall, who would come to be highly influential in Monroe’s life, as well as that of the republic. Forced to leave school when both his parents died by age sixteen, James Monroe and his brothers were sent to live with an uncle, who introduced them to the world of politics.

While still too young to fully understand, Monroe listened to his uncle tell tales of the Virginia House of Burgesses and was eventually introduced to other prominent Virginians, such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. These introductions planted the seeds of political and social change in the young Monroe, who would turn to these two men during his formative years.

McGrath explores the unrest in the colonies and how Monroe sought to make a difference, leaving college to join the Revolutionary Army, where he served under General Washington. Details of the battles fill some of the early chapters, in which McGrath creates a firm foundation for a man who sought to toss off the yoke of British control, which would be important in the years to come. These were also the days of Monroe’s best eduction, not only on the battlefield, but also with Thomas Jefferson as a legal tutor, helping to hone the young man’s mind about the law and the legal rights of the colonists.

Monroe used his passions for law and freedom to serve as a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, where debate and discussion around the new American nation took centre stage. Monroe was keen to have his voice heard, as McGrath illustrates, but he opposed the ratification of the US Constitution, worried about Virginia ceding too much control to the central government. While he was vociferous in his opposition, Monroe also understood the tenets of democracy and open debate, which helped breathe new life into the infant nation that had been under British rule not so long before.

McGrath explores Monroe’s personal life as well, marrying Elizabeth Kortright and starting a family. They had three children, born as James Monroe rose in the ranks of the new American government. It would appear that even through tragedy—particularly the death of their middle child, James Spence Monroe, at sixteen months—the Monroes held strong and loved one another. This is exemplified throughout the piece, including Monroe’s reaction to his wife’s death in 1830.

Monroe made his mark on American politics by serving as a US Senator, replacing a man who died while in office. Monroe shone as a congressional leader, supporting Thomas Jefferson during the rise of the Democratic-Republican Party. Monroe fought hard to recognise the importance of freedom and supported the French in their revolution. This led President Washington to send him as American Ambassador to the new French Republic, where Monroe made some strong allies.

McGrath explores the Monroe influence in France and a new realm of American politics for the up and coming politicians. Monroe honed his skills and became increasingly noticed during his time in Europe, but ever lost his connection to his native Virginia. Monroe was so popular that he returned to assume the role as governor, once the legislature elected him. Monroe now had a taste for leadership and knew it was where he belonged, as some of the other Founding Fathers bickered and political lines were drawn.

After ascending to the presidency, Thomas Jefferson had Monroe help negotiate the purchase of Louisiana from the French, thereby expanding the US territory in the early 19th century. Monroe remained a diplomatic heavyweight, being sent to Great Britain by Jefferson to represent America. Monroe negotiated peaceful trade with the former enemy, expanding an earlier treaty, but President Jefferson refused to allow the Senate to ratify it. While Monroe’s hard work was for naught, the younger statesman stayed allied with his mentor. He had presidential ambitions, but quelled them and allowed James Madison to rise to the presidency, agreeing to serve in his administration.

McGrath explores Monroe’s cabinet-level service under Madison as being a key stepping stone into the realm of presidential politics. Seeking to head off the antics of the French and British towards American sailors, Madison tried to use Monroe’s influence to quell this disputes. However, this appeared to backfire and the War of 1812 soon developed, which left Madison fleeing as Washington burned in a Trump-esque destruction of the American seat of government.

When the smoke (literal and figurative) cleared, Monroe knew that it was his time to strike, feeling that he could serve his country best in the highest seat of power. Monroe ran in the 1816 presidential election and won a hard-fought battle to become the Commander-in-Chief. McGrath explores the campaign and shows how Monroe was able to use his experiences to shape a worthy candidacy, with electors turning to him to put America back on its feet.

Monroe’s two-term presidency appeared in line with those who preceded him, at least in McGrath’s telling (and from what I know from other historians). There were the good times and the poor, as the infant country grew into adolescence. Many historians have deemed McGrath spends time overseeing this time period, with specific focus on two items, one in each term. The Missouri Compromise—the legislative event that was codified in a bill to allow Missouri into the Union as a slave state, even being Northern in its geography—served as Monroe’s first major test and one upon which historians have focussed greatly. One might call it an early indication that the country was fraying when it came to slavery, though Monroe appears to have handled it as best he could. The other, the eponymous Monroe Doctrine—a policy supporting countries seeking to rid themselves of the imperialistic past of European countries and become sovereign—proved the legacy that the fifth president left for America and proclaimed a hemispheric tossing down the gauntlet on geographic procurement.

McGrath summarises some of Monroe’s post-presidential years as being full of active service, likely pining for the busyness that he had as a politician and executive, while being riddled with extensive amounts of debt. Returning to Virginia, Monroe served on the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia, as well as representing the state at the Constitutional Convention of 1829-30. When Elizabeth died, Monroe left his native land and moved to New York, where he lived with his daughter and her husband until he passed in 1831. A life well lived and an impact made!

Tim McGrath proves to be a comprehensive historian in this presidential biography, offering a significant arc from birth until his death at age 73 (the third president to die on July 4th). His attention to detail and ability to paint a vivid picture emerges throughout the narrative, offering the reader insight into the life of James Monroe, though it would seem those well-versed in the man’s life may find this book less than thorough. McGrath is detailed in his writing and pulls on extensive research, tying Monroe’s life into major events in early US history. This is ideal for the curious reader who may have heard about Monroe, but knows little about what he did for the early republic. With thorough chapters and well-documented vignettes, McGrath leaves the door open for those so inclined to add to their knowledge base. While I am no expert, either on presidents or American history, I took much away from this piece and am happy to have finally taken the time to explore James Monroe, fifth president of the United States and Founding Father. His life appears highly respectable and reputable, which is more than can be said for at least one of the more recent inhabitants of the office.

Kudos, Mr. McGrath, for sharing such a wonderful piece and educating me on the life and times of such an impactful man. I will have to look for your other work, though I hear it stays greatly from this subject matter.

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