The Naturalist (Naturalist #1), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

Andrew Mayne has proven his versatility within the crime thriller genre by putting out a number of highly intriguing series with unique spins. This in the third series that I started, hoping that it would pack as much punch as the previous two. Mayne does well by introducing Professor Theo Cray and developing a unique means by which of analysing the forensic area. When a former student appears to have been attacked by a bear, Cray arrives in rural Montana to offer his insights. While he believes the authorities at first, he soon realises that the attack was cover for a brutal murder. Using some of his academic knowledge, Cray uncovers a number of other bodies and is sure there is a serial killer out there, eyeing many others and hoping to blame the fauna for the deaths.

Very few people understand Professor Theo Cray or the academic realm in which he finds himself. A computational biologist, Cray studies the systems in which things live and analyses them on a high level to extract themes or norms that few others see. When he is approached as a potential suspect in the death of a former student. Cray goes on the defensive and is soon able to convince the authorities in rural Montana that the death is attributable to a bear attack.

However, as he explores the injuries and the location a little more, Cray second-guesses himself, discovering another body soon thereafter, that of a local drug-addled prostitute. While the police are sure it was a case of intoxicated bad luck and hungry wildlife, Cray is not so sure. He tests his theory by analysing the area and providing some data that leads him to a number of dump sites. While they are covered to appear like temporary spots for future feasting, Cray is sure this is a killer marking their territory.

He goes out on his own to look into the lives of these women who were killed and what connection they might have. From there, it’s a slow and methodical trip through the evidence of the potential killer’s life and mind, in hopes of discovering something that will lead the way back to the person who has been acting so strangely.

While Cray pushes harder, he is indirectly targeted by the killer and must take drastic measures to protect those around him. It may be the only way to save others, but will it mean the end for Professor Theo Cray before the killer is truly revealed? Chilling and fast-paced, this is one series debut that will leave readers demanding more in short order.

It was just over a year that I was introduced to the world of Andrew Mayne and his unique take on forensics within the crime thriller genre. Now, with a third series crossing my path, I cannot get enough of the author or how he interprets crime novels. This unique approach has me wanting to know more and demanding something that stands out from the large collection of novels that supersaturate the genre.

Theo Cray is nothing, if not unique. His approach to life and the study of biology has him sought after and a pariah at the same time. He knows what he loves and pursues it, but few others can actually comprehend what magic he has at his fingertips or how it can be used effectively. With a little backstory, Cray presents himself to the reader as both an academic and a passionate man, one who feels emotion, even if it gets tangled up in computer printouts and analytical data. His passion when he starts something is on display throughout this piece and there is so much more I hope to learn as the series progresses.

Andrew Mayne does a masterful job with his other characters, forming the story around those who find themselves emerging throughout the narrative. There is no lack of action or real progression throughout this piece, something that helps keep the reader enthralled with how things are going. Taking a snapshot of the rural Montana community and the locals as part of the murder investigation occurs with ease as Mayne crafts characters who are relatable and realistic for the reader.

While Andrew Mayne has been able to dazzle with his writing before, he never ceases to amaze me with his approach to crime thrillers. A crisp narrative that pushes along throughout the story, there is something for everyone in this piece that offers up some refreshing approaches. Readers who devour novels in this genre will like the uniqueness that Mayne offers, adding depth and intrigue while keeping the reader on their toes. Short chapters coax the reader to push further, if only to see what awaits them around the next bend. While Theo Cray is unique and somewhat awkward, his mental processes are proven and his is definitely an asset to those who utilise what they have before them. I am eager to read more, subtlely comparing the other series as I go.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for a brilliant launching point in what I have heard is a great series. I cannot wait to see where you will take your readers next!

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

The Magdalene Veil (Magdalene Chronicles #3), by Gary McAvoy

Nine stars

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

Always eager to get my hands on anything penned by Gary McAvoy, I was pleased to be handed an ARC of his latest novel, the final in the electrifying Magdalene Chronicles trilogy. While Father Michael Dominic and Hana Sinclair have been busy uncovering old biblical-era mysteries, there are some who want the secrets and possessions all for themselves. In this last piece, an old relic appears to have fallen into the hands of the Nazis, stowed away for decades. Now, a group seeking to revive old Aryan roots wants to utilise the artifact to create new and impactful change to the world. In a piece that spans two continents, McAvoy takes readers on his most intense journey yet. Perfect for those who have devoured the previous two novels, as well as the reader who needs a book that is unputdownable!

On his way to his execution, Jesus was stopped by a woman who helped wipe away his blood and sweat with a veil from around her head. Thankful for the act, Christ does so before being led to Calvary for his crucifixion. The woman, a devout follower, passes the veil along to Mary Magdalene, who ensures it is placed within the tomb where Christ is buried. When his disciples find the tomb empty three days later, there is the veil, complete with a facial outline of Jesus.

During the era of the Nazis, this veil was touted to be exactly what they needed to push forward and seek to vilify the Jews even more. When the veil was obtained by Heinrich Himmler, he made sure to stow it away in a secret location and left a riddle so that the next generation would be able to find it, though not with any ease. His plan was surely to revive the Aryan race through its most prominent member, Christ himself.

While in France for some educational purposes, Father Michael Dominic is approached by a young man purporting to be in possession of some significant information that could be of interest to the Vatican. Dominic soon learns that there is a diary of Heinrich Himmler that could reveal something significant. The young man, who admits his grandfather was a high-ranking Nazi who fled to Argentina, wishes to learn the secrets in the diary and perhaps uncover what is said to be a relic from the time of Christ.

Never one to turn down a historical mystery, Father Dominic broaches the subject with his friend, Hana Sinclair, whose job as a journalist is rooted in uncovering mysteries of all kinds. Working together, they locate the diary, which leads them to Argentina. They learn of a group, the Ahnenerbe, who pose as a social group, but have strong ties to Nazi-era membership. Whispers about possible neo-Nazi revival cannot be dismissed either. When Dominic and Sinclair are able to piece together the riddle left by Himmler, they learn that the secret, the Magdalene Veil, is hidden in an old German castle that was once a Nazi training ground.

Keen to retrieve the article for the Vatican, Dominic and Sinclair make arrangements to have it removed and brought to the Holy See. However, there are some who want it for themselves and will stop at nothing to retrieve it. When it falls into the hands of the Ahnenerbe, they hope to use it for their own means, as they develop a Kinderklinik, a place to foster a new era of neo-Nazis under the radar, while also using new techniques to begin genetic experiments. With the Veil in their possession, this group has plans to extract something and turn the Church on its head, while reviving old sentiments that will surely tear the post-War world apart anew.

While Father Dominic and Hana Sinclair are held captive, they learn that a high-ranking Vatican member might be pulling the strings to allow this power play, which could only ruin centuries of Church control of the message. It will take much determination and some key messaging to foil the plot and key the Magdalene Veil safely in the hands of those who cherish it, and wish to keep it secret once again. An explosive end to the series, but which direction will it take and how will the world change when all is revealed?

I stumbled upon the first book in this series last summer and could not put it down. When Gary McAvoy reached out to me to read the next two novels, I pushed all my other reading commitments to the side so that I could dive right in. I was thrilled and devoured the stories, as they tell such an alluring tale, so much so that I was up well into the night to flip pages and discover what was to come of the protagonists. It is that sort of story and a series not to be missed by those who love biblical mysteries of a kind.

Father Michael Dominic reprises his role as protagonist and does a masterful job. While his backstory is left mostly in the previous novels, the reader can see great development of his character throughout this piece. There is a gritty determination throughout, as he mixes his archivist past with a penchant for being a sleuth. His connections serve him well throughout this piece, though it is a sense of wanting to protect the Vatican that shines through, pitting secrets against keeping the peace for the Church.

McAvoy creates strong supporting characters throughout, using many of those who grace the pages of the book to connect the dots in history, as well as the revival of the neo-Nazi movement. There is a richness, not only in the characters, but also the history of which they speak, which flavours the narrative effectively and conveys the seriousness of the mission at hand. Spanning three eras, these characters tell a story that will pull the reader deeper into the plot as all is revealed in a timely manner.

The story was perhaps the more electrifying of the three novels, putting a sense of urgency front and centre. McAvoy’s ability to spin a tale is second to none and there were times I wished I had binge-read all three books back to back, if only to reconnect with all the nuances that appear in the text. However, this book packs enough punch and history to have kept me intrigued throughout. McAvoy uses short chapters to keep the reader propelling forward, peppering in history and anecdotes throughout to assuage the curious while still keeping a degree of mystery. The narrative moved at breakneck speed and there is little time for the reader to relax, as the story is not one that meanders at any point. McAvoy’s use of local language (Spanish, German, etc) helps to inject a sense of realism to the story, leaving the reader to feel as though they were right there. While things do come together in the end, it is the sense of panic and ‘what could be’ that keeps the reader wondering well after closing the book’s cover. McAvoy does ensure that those who wonder where fiction and fact come together are calmed with an Author’s Note to discuss it all. I can only hope that McAvoy has something similar for his next writing assignment, as I am hooked and want more of this sort of novel.

Kudos, Mr. McAvoy, for another stunning piece. With the trilogy done, I can only hope people will hear of these books and discover Father Michael Dominic for themselves. I am sure your fan base is about to swell very soon!

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

Turn a Blind Eye (Detective William Warwick #3), by Jeffrey Archer

Eight stars

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

The newest novel in Jeffrey Archer’s latest series is always reason for some excitement, at least for those who have a penchant for the author’s attention to detail. DI William Warwick has been through a great deal of late and feels that his actions might merit demotion or worse. However, his superiors at the Met have other ideas, using him to coax out those who have gone rogue. It will be a secret mission that could cost Warwick everything if he is caught, but ensure another promotion if he is successful. Archer at his best in this piece, which keeps his many fans on the edge of their seats.

As the case of Assem Rashidi, notorious drug lord, is set to go to trial, William Warwick is promoted for his work on the arrest. DI Warwick is not sure if he ought to be happy about this, or expect to be punished because of all the corners that were cut in the sting operation. Still, he’s happy to be a part of the action and will follow whatever plan is put before him.

DI Warwick is given a daunting task to help discover whether others within the Metropolitan Police have been acting in a corrupt manner. It will not only be difficult, but highly dangerous, as no one likes a leaker. Amassing his team, DI Warwick begins targeting a young detective who is surely living beyond his means, which is likely related to receiving kickbacks.

The Rashidi trial comes before the courts with DI Warwick as one of its key witnesses. Two others in the Warwick family are heading the Crown’s case—Sir Julian, the ever-present father, and Grace, his sister—prepared to put away this seedy character as soon as possible. The case will be difficult, with a strong defence headed by Booth Watson QC, but the Warwicks are determined, if nothing else. The case hinges on identification and Rashidi will do anything he can to lead everyone off his trail.

Meanwhile, Beth Warwick has been tending to her new twins while William is away working. She knows the life of a detective’s wife is anything but glamourous, but finds ways of keeping herself busy. Oddly enough, this includes spending some time wit ha new friend, Christina Faulkner, who happens to have been recently divorced from William’s greatest foe, Miles. When a series of events thrust Christina into a massive fortune, it becomes apparent that corruption inside the Met is much deeper than first expected.

Juggling the trial and some of his own sleuthing, DI Warwick gets to the heart of the matter, in hopes of rooting out those who would try to bring the Met to its knees. It will be a challenge, but there’s nothing that DI William Warwick holds closer to his heart than ensuring no one is turning a blind eye to justice. Well, perhaps family is a little more important, but that’s for another story!

Anyone familiar with Jeffrey Archer and his writing will know that there are numerous subtleties found within each story. Be they linking pieces that keep a series connected or off the cuff remarks that come back to mean something later, Archer keeps his readers on their toes throughout. This book is no exception, creating a series about William Warwick, a character who was mentioned throughout the Clifton Chronicles as being the main protagonist of Harry’s popular series. Now, the reader can see all the buzz that the novels created directly, as Archer takes on the role of Harry Clifton to breathe life into the idea.

William Warwick is a fabulous protagonist and grows effectively throughout the series. He has been promoted and works on showing his leadership throughout this piece. However, he cannot stop looking behind him, as there are those who would love to see him fall flat on his face. Added to that, Warwick a new father to twins, which forces him to divide his time between work and home life, never easy at the best of times. The reader sees some solid development throughout, perfect as things heat up ahead of the fourth novel.

Archer is never one to create flat characters, even those who are in a supporting role. The cast of this novel offer great depth and excitement throughout, as the story shifts to numerous plot developments and settings throughout. There are those who complement Warwick well, as well as individuals who flavour the narrative such that the impediments are clear. Never a shortage of action fills the pages of this book, with Archer providing wondering entertainment in the form of his minor characters.

The story itself was strong and began soon after the previous novel ended. This is always hard to do, as Archer must bridge the excitement that ended the last piece with a new sense of pizzazz immediately. There is no issue with the flow of the story or pulling the reader into the centre. I found myself lost in the story with a great deal of ease, leaving me to want even more with each chapter. The narrative pushed along well and kept me begging for more, with short chapters that teased as much as they propelled the story forward. Archer has a style I have come to love and I cannot get enough, so I am happy to know that the next piece is hot on the heels of this one, due out in November. What a treat that will be, as DI William Warwick has much to do in the coming years.

Kudos, Lord Archer, for another winner. You never seem to slump in my opinion, which makes seeing your books all the more exciting for me.

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

House Standoff (Joe DeMarco #15), by Mike Lawson

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mike Lawson, and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Returning with the fifteenth book in the Joe DeMarco series, Mike Lawson brings something new to the discussion to keep readers on their toes. While DeMarco has made a name for himself as the ‘fixer’ for Speaker of the House of Representatives, he disputes the title and the sentiment that he is under anyone’s thumb. After learning that a friend was murdered in rural Wyoming, DeMarco makes his way out there to do some investigating of his own. What he discovers is not as open and shut as some would believe. A great piece with just the right amount of grit to fit the DeMarco norm. Recommended to those who enjoy a looser crime thriller with a handful of potential suspects.

Joe DeMarco’s earned quite the reputation as a fixer for John Maloney, current Speaker of the House of Representatives. While the two men have worked together in the past, DeMarco does not want his reputation tainted, as many see the senior politician as troublesome. With the Speaker out of the country on official business, DeMarco hopes to be able to get some golf in and relax, enjoying the quiet.

However, he learns of the death of a long-ago friend, Shannon Doyle, in rural Wyoming. Doyle is a popular author who was said to be researching her latest novel when she was murdered in a robbery. The local authorities were convinced it was a trucker who might have been passing through and wanted to score something to pawn. DeMarco is not buying it and chooses to leave DC to begin an investigation of his own.

Upon his arrival in Wyoming, DeMarco realises that things are a lot different than in DC, with a slower pace and a greater deference for the law. DeMarco approaches the local FBI to explain his presence, as well as some of his sentiments, though he is stonewalled before he gets too far. It would seem the local authorities have their own ideas and do not want anyone from outside poking their heads around.

Once DeMarco gains access to Doyle’s cloud account, he discovers a journal that she’s been keeping about the locals, something that tells quite the story about all of them. It gives him a better idea as to who might have been ‘colouring outside the lines’ and what motives they may have to want her quieted. Working the angles as best he can, DeMarco hones in on a few possibles, only to uncover a larger crime. The murder of a Black Lives Matter protestor seems to have been neutralised, though Shannon Doyle had some proof that could upend things quite substantially.

DeMarco is not one to leave stones unturned and he goes blazing in, pointing fingers where he feels the need. The murderer is in town, of that DeMarco is sure, but trying to choose the correct person is important. It’s sure to cost him something or other, but one can only hope his life’s not in jeopardy.

I’ve been reading and enjoying Mike Lawson’s work for a number of years, always finding the mix of crime and politics to my liking. While Joe DeMarco does come across as a man who is happy to blur the lines, his dedication to justice cannot be disputed. DeMarco takes matters into his own hands with this piece, but is happy to fight for what he feels is right as he salvages the reputation of a woman for whom he cared a great deal.

Joe DeMarco is the perfect protagonist for this piece, mixing his gritty determination with strong sleuthing skills. His background with familial connections to the Italian community does not hurt his reputation, though he does not want to rely on it, as he tries to live the clean life. With a little backstory on his ties to Shannon Doyle, DeMarco’s character evolves slightly in the fight for justice. His investigative skills are on display throughout this piece, showing that a little attention to detail can go a long way, even if it causes some with the local police more than a few headaches.

Lawson creates some strong supporting characters for his protagonist as well. Moving the piece out to Wyoming, there are few recurring characters in the book, save for a few who receive passing mention, allowing DeMarco to rule the roost as it were. Those who help create the Wyoming flavouring to the story emerge throughout as key characters and ones that add depth to the story. The reader will likely enjoy this ‘small town’ feel, with locals who wish only to stick to what they have always known and frown on outsiders who try to poke their noses where they do not belong.

The story was well presented and left much of the politics out of the mix. This is more a crime thriller than anything political, allowing Lawson to expand his writing style. There is a little of everything in the piece, with some much needed humour to offset some of the darker revelations that come to the surface. Quick chapters balance nicely with a narrative that moves at a clipped pace. The reader is sure to get into the middle of the story with ease and find themselves devouring the book in short order. Who knows what’s next for Lawson and how he will approach the series. It’s done well for now, though I wonder if DeMarco is pining for more golf time than having to smash heads to get answers.

Kudos, Mr. Lawson, for another winner. I am glad to have found the series and an eager to see what’s to come!

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

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

Honor Kills (Angelina Bonaparte #3), by Nanci Rathbun

Eight stars

I was recently handed an ARC of the latest novel in this series, but chose to take a step back to read the series that led up to its publication. Nanci Rathbun builds an interesting collection of novels built on a strong PI, Angelina Bonaparte, working to help those in need around Milwaukee, while never forgetting her roots in the Family. Bonaparte is alerted when one of the men she has been tracking turns up mentioned in an obituary. However, the body is not that of the man, nor is the case as cut and dry as she would have liked. This pulls Bonaparte into a real sleuthing mystery and forces her to come to terms with a number of truths and emotions she never wanted to surface. As the Rathbun stories get better, the series continues to grow on me. Great reading for those who loved the past novels, as well as the reader who needs a lighter crime thriller.

Angelina Bonaparte (add the ‘tay’ on the last syllable if you want to save a shin kicking) has been enjoying the new success that her work has garnered over the last while. She’s got an associate and some great clients, as well as a strong relationship with a Homicide detective. It all seems to be trucking along nicely when an obituary appears in the local paper for Hank Wagner. He’s a man she’s been trying to find for quite a while. How will Bonaparte break the news to his wife after six years since his disappearance?

After speaking to a few contacts, Bonaparte comes back with some odd revelations that do not make much sense. Cirrhosis and a body that has seen years of heavy drinking does not sound that the man who left his family one night, to the point that Bonaparte wonders if there’s been a bait and switch. Some deeper digging proves that this is not the man everyone says he is, but what does that mean for the larger case? While all this is going on, Bonaparte continues to be building her relationship and wondering if she’s finally met the man who will make her forget the ex-husband who made it a habit to step out on her.

While Bonaparte tries her best to piece it all together, she realises that she might be in over her head. A mistaken identity opens a can of worms that has secret identity all over it. Further exploration shows that the disappearance might be tied to some scandalous connections on the East Coast, ones that cannot be easily forgotten. When Bonaparte turns to her father, he reluctantly agrees to talk with her about his ‘Family’ connections and the rule of omertà. No one is safe and it will take Bonaparte every fibre of her being to get to the real truth.

Along the way, MPD makes a move that could put Bonaparte and her relationship with Detective W. T. “Ted” Wukowski in serious jeopardy. Unwilling to lose their jobs or their love, the two must make some serious sacrifices in order to survive it all. While this is a strain neither of them want, if they can solve this case and yet not succumb to desire, it might work out in their favour at the end of the day. Rathbun is adding some needed depth to the series and just at the right moment!

I have always enjoyed the ability to binge-read a series, as it permits me a richer exploration of the plots and character development. It’s nice to be able to really get a feel for how an author sees a series progress, rather than having to wait for each instalment as it is published. While I was not entirely hooked by the debut novel that Nanci Rathbun offered readers, Angelina Bonaparte and the entire premise of this series has grown on me and I have adapted to a slight variation on the genre I have come to love over the years!

Angelina Bonaparte remains the strong protagonist who is forced to deal with a great deal yet again. While there is some decent character development throughout the piece, it is the keen focus on her back story and personal life that fills the pages of the book. A ‘Mafia Princess’ of sorts, Bonaparte must wrestle with this and the connections her father has amassed, while juggling the truths of omertà throughout the novel. There is also a strong development and forced regression in the Angie-Ted relationship, which could make things all the more interesting in the next novel, the aforementioned ARC.

Rathbun uses more of her strong secondary characters to keep the piece moving along. While the case is more a ‘hunt’ than a slow reveal of a mystery in which a number of people are potential killers, there is still a richness to the narrative that emerges throughout. The reader is able to collect a strong set of forward momentum with those given minor roles throughout, each adding their own perspective to the piece. The reoccurring cast helps the ground the piece, but there is something nice about a new set of faces at times to keep the novel on its toes.

I can admit that Nanci Rathbun’s novels are growing on me, the more I read them (another great reason to binge). It took me some time to find my pace with the middle-aged PI whose obsession with undergarments sometimes overtook the plot of the story, but it has all one together nicely. The book proved grittier and got into some of the darker parts of the Bonaparte character and a larger narrative, though there are still some saccharine parts that do not match. Not that a book needs to be cuss filled, but the dialogue sometimes comes across as a tad diluted. Rathbun shows decent writing throughout, trying to steer away from as much predictability. There’s a nice balance of short and longer chapters to whet the reader’s appetite throughout, though the pace is sure to keep the story moving along effectively. There are certainly some threads throughout the piece that were left dangling and kept me intrigued, leaving me to want to get my hands on the ARC to see how they might work themselves out. That’s the key to a strong series and Rathbun has my interest piqued!

Kudos, Madam Rathbun, for another winner. I think you may have found a fan in me, once and for all!

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

Cash Kills (Angelina Bonaparte #2), by Nanci Rathbun

Seven stars

When I was handed an ARC of the fourth novel in this series, I took a step back to discover the characters, the author, and the specifics of the collection. Nanci Rathbun continues to build an interesting collection of novels, with Angelina Bonaparte front and centre in this second piece of the series. A middle-aged woman with a spark for life and love of uncovering truths, Bonaparte is once again pulled into the centre of a curious case, this time involving a massive inheritance from a couple who appeared barely able to rub two coins together. When looking a little deeper, there is an entire organisation propping them up, which begs the question as to who they were and what they believed. Toss in some murder and you have the perfect story to keep the reader guessing. Rathbun does a decent job yet again and will appeal to those who enjoyed her debut novel.

Angelina Bonaparte (don’t forget the ‘tay’ on the last syllable) is still basking in the limelight from her last major case, which included discovering a new beau who works on the Milwaukee PD’s Homicide Squad. She’s tending to her own business when a referral crosses her desk. A young woman, Adriana Johnson, and her lawyer ask for some help to look into the mysterious inheritance that she was supplies by her parents, who were murdered. The Johnsons ran a small shop until their demise the week before, appearing to barley make ends meet. How did they come upon such money and is it legitimate?

Bonaparte is always up for a challenge and takes the case, thinking that there could be some fun challenges within the hunt for the truth. As she explores a little more, Bonaparte learns that the Johnsons (anglicising their name) were part of the Serbian community in Milwaukee, which is not alarming on the surface. However, there is an odd net cast around some within the group, including proof that they had massive monetary investments around the state of Wisconsin and used a few innocuous players as namesakes on these accounts. Additionally, Bonaparte discovers that the Johnsons had some extremely rare and seemingly valuable items hidden away, with some Cyrillic writing affixed to them.

While poking around, Bonaparte tips her hand, perhaps a little too readily, which creates some waves. Before she knows it, Adriana’s lawyer is missing and his secretary is found with her head blown in. This is, again, outside of Bonaparte’s usual work of following cheating husbands and fraudulent insurance claims. As she does some of her own research about connections to the former Yugoslavia, Bonaparte finds herself targeted specifically, which worries and angers her beau, Detective W. T. “Ted” Wukowski.

There’s something obviously wrong here and Bonaparte is not going to stop until she discovers the truth. She’ll have to play her cards right, not only to catch a killer and bring down an organisation, but to make it through to Thanksgiving, when her family hopes to meet this dashing new man in her life. It’s a jam-packed story with little time for wondering and high on the danger for the slick Angie Bonaparte.

As I mentioned above, I am pushing through the first three books in this series in order to get to the ARC before its publication date. While Nanci Rathbun’s style is not entirely in line with what I usually read in the genre, it is still quite good and on point when I need it to be. Not quite cozy, but with hints of ‘more refined grit’, Rathbun takes the reader into some of Milwaukee’s underbelly without getting too caught up in the darkest corners of crime, as some authors are eager to do.

Angelina Bonaparte is a strong protagonist whose life has tossed her many a curveball, though she is stronger for it. She is able to balance her work with a burgeoning love interest in Wukowski, which is on full display in some saccharine moments that will make some readers roll their eyes. While she admits that her age leaves her outside the realms of ability of some PIs, Bonaparte does not shy away from conflict or getting to the heart of the matter. Her ever curious mind leads her down many a path and the large ‘Sicilian-American’ family keeps her knowing that she is loved and protected. Her many facets keep the reader curious throughout this reading journey.

The collection of secondary characters is strong and varied, particularly in the discovery of the Serbian angle throughout. Rathbun not only peppers the narrative with those who hail from the former Yugoslavia, but she uses them as vessels to help educate the reader about the history and ongoing struggles as it relates to the region’s history. Add to this, a variety of names that grace the pages of the novel and the reader is in for a real treat. There is little time to rest, as the action is ongoing and the characters propel the story forward with ease.

As with many books, I like my review to get to the heart of the matter, the story as a whole. While I was of mixed sentiments with the first novel, this piece grew a little more on me. I enjoyed its flow and pace, though the somewhat dichotomous ‘grit and saccharine’ nature of the piece left me wanting more of the former and a scaling back of the latter. I admit that this second novel worked much better for me than the series debut (perhaps because I was expecting what I got?), but I am still hungering for more. Decent writing prevailed throughout, even with some predictability. The balance of short and longer chapters left me always wanting a little more, even if some moments had me rolling my eyes. I liked how Rathbun worked the history into this novel and kept the reader educated and informed throughout. Now to see what’s next, as Angelina Bonaparte is one who attracts drama, true to her Sicilian ancestry.

Kudos, Madam Rathbun, for keeping me intrigued. Onto the last of the ‘backstory novels’, before I can sink my teeth into the real job for which you sought me out.

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

Crucible of Fear, by D.W. Whitlock

Seven stars

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

Always eager to try something away from my usual genres, I agreed to read this ARC by D.W. Whitlock. The novel poses as a thriller, with a strong tech undertone, perfect for those who like exploring the darker underbelly of online cyber crimes. When an advertising executive is targeted, his life is turned upside down and he soon realises that nothing is off limits when it comes to getting a pound of proverbial flesh. Whitlock leaves the reader thinking throughout in this chilling tale of tech-based blackmail.

Dante Ellis thought that he had it made. A successful advertising executive whose career was still climbing, Ellis was sure success was in his back pocket. When he receives an odd text message one morning, he’s not sure if it is a threat or some joke. However, things soon spiral out of control and Ellis is faced with some chilling realisations. Someone is prepared to go quite far to flex their muscle and bury Ellis’ reputation at the same time.

As the story progresses, the reader is introduced to a number of other characters, all of whom are met some some similar, if less intrusive, attacks on their lives. The perpetrator is soon identified as the faceless ‘Dark Messiah’, showing that nothing is off-limits when technology is used. Through the seemingly harmless use of a dragonfly drone, Dark Messiah is able to keep an eye on those it targets, stirring up trouble or nuisances at the click of a button, with its drones always on scene.

While Ellis continues to get wrapped up in the sticky web that is spun around him, Dark Messiah ups the ante and targets the younger generation. A single parent, Dante Ellis soon has to worry about his daughter’s safety, as Dark Messiah crosses the line and targets the young girl. Her life on the line, Ellis is left to do whatever is asked of him in order to ensure his daughter’s safety.

Who is this faceless entity that calls itself Dark Messiah? What is the reason for targeting these seemingly unconnected group of people? All is revealed in a chilling story that D.W. Whitlock presents to the curious reader. This is one debut that will have many flipping pages well into the night, if only to see who is behind all the mayhem, all while peering around, looking for dragonflies or other ‘watchful eyes’.

I liked the dust jacket blurb of this piece and was sure that I would get sucked in by D.W. Whitlock’s story. While the book started with a bang and never gave me time to breathe, I am not sure I was as sold as some. The piece clipped along and left me wondering throughout, but it was also not as gripping as I would liked. However, I cannot place my finger exactly on what was missing or might have been a means of solving this reading dilemma.

Dante Ellis is surely the central protagonist in this piece, though the story does offer a large collection of characters with which the reader can connect. Ellis finds himself on full display, his life and reputation slowly torn apart throughout the piece. There are glimpses of backstory needed to fill in the gaps of the narrative, though it is the development (or dismantling) of the character that remains the core of the novel’s impetus as it relates to Ellis. The reader finds themselves trying to piece together who or what might want to target the ad executive, while feeling some degree of sympathy for his continual downfall. Whitlock does well to create this connection for those who enjoy linking themselves to characters.

There are plenty of characters and subplots for the reader to enjoy throughout this piece. While the early portion of the novel presents them as unconnected, there is a sense that Dark Messiah has a purpose. The villainous antagonist is ever-present throughout, providing the reader with something to dislike as the story progresses. That being said, there is surely a degree of respect for the evil doing, represented by the seemingly innocent dragonfly drones.

I liked the story to a degree, but was not sold entirely by the plot. As I mentioned above, I cannot pinpoint what was missing, but there was a disconnect that I desperately wanted to see throughout the novel. The premise was sound and the narrative kept moving along nicely, but I could not find myself fully enthralled or connected with what continued to occur. That others loved the piece is no surprise to me. Whitlock has a knack for writing and his crisp chapters pushed the story along with ease. Offering multiple perspectives proves refreshing and adds a layer of ominous sentiment to the overall delivery; that it is not a single person—Dante Ellis—who is suffering at the hands of this faceless entity. I’d likely read something else by D.W. Whitlock down the road, just to see if it might be me and my current mindset that left me less than fully committed.

Kudos, Mr. Whitlock, for a strong debut. I can see many who will thoroughly enjoy this piece, though there needs to be a balancing out. I suppose I am one who offers that, in review form.

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

Truth Kills (Angelina Bonaparte #1), by Nanci Rathbun

Seven stars

Having been granted an ARC of the fourth novel in this series, I had to take a step back and get acquainted with the characters, the author, and the nuances of the first three books. Nanci Rathbun creates an interesting debut to her series, with fiery Angelina Bonaparte in the driver’s seat. A self-proclaimed middle age woman with a penchant for snooping, Bonaparte is pulled into the middle of a murder investigation and must help clear the man’s name. Full of laugh out loud moments, this is a decent and quick read for those needing something a little lighter on their reading journey.

Angelina Bonaparte (that’s ‘tay’ as the last syllable) has lived quite the life, growing up under the watchful eye of the mafia, in which her father is a passive member. She was a good Italian girl and married before having her children. However, when her husband repeatedly stepped out on her, she kicked him to the curb and took up being a private eye. Now, she’s helping however she can, with a specialty in catching cheating husbands.

While surveilling Anthony Belloni for his wife, Bonaparte finds herself neck deep in a controversy. Belloni has been accused of killing his mistress, Elisa Moreno, which opens many cans of worms. Bonaparte’s client, the wife, begs her to take the case and work with Anthony’s attorney to clear the man’s name. Not her usual job, but Bonaparte is happy to use her skills however she can.

While she begins poking around, someone leaves her some nasty notes at the office, hinting that she ought to beg off the case or face significant trouble. This does not deter the fiery PI, who knows how to play the tough girl better than most.

Elisa Morano’s life has been anything but calm, which opens many potential avenues and suspects who surely wanted her dead. It’s up to Bonaparte not only to follow the trails that are being presented to her, but ensure someone is a more viable suspect than Anthony Belloni. However, it will mean working with a man she swore never to trust.

As I mentioned before, this is the first of the series that I am reading, permitting me to be up to speed on the series before I tackle the ARC. Nanci Rathbun’s genre is one I read often, though the writing is a little less gritty than I am used to, making this a slight challenge for me. However, the story flowed well and held my attention throughout, which is important, as I have three more novels to read.

Angelina Bonaparte is a decent protagonist who has seen a great deal over her many years. Not your typical PI, this white haired and slick woman is always up for a challenge and does not back away from a confrontation. While her backstory does enrich the novel, it is her grit and determination on the streets that is sure to engage the reader. I look forward to more development from the subsequent novels, as Rathbun has left a great deal for the reader to enjoy throughout this piece.

The collection of secondary characters is strong and varied, something that helps the book stay float throughout. While the mob angle is nothing new, Rathbun focuses her attention on a number of areas that mesh nicely and create a strong story. Having characters to prop things up makes for a great read and kept me eager to continue with the story until the very end. I am eager to see how many will be recurring and which characters offered their one-off in this piece.

Getting t the heart of the matter, the story as a whole, I am of mixed sentiments. I enjoyed the flow of the piece and the pace of the action, though something about it left me wanting more action and a deeper connection to the story. It could be that I had to space things out over a number of days because of work, but I did not leave with as strong a connection to the story or Bonaparte as I might have liked. The writing was decent, even if there were some predictable moments, and the mixed chapter lengths strung me along so that I was not tapping my toe to be able to put it down. Still, there was something that left me needing more, a means of getting deeper. I will stick with the series, as it was a pleasant book to have on audio, but I can only hope that debut novel jitters will pass and the reader can get to the heart of the matter.

Kudos, Madam Rathbun, for a good start to an intriguing series. Let’s see where Angelina Bonaparte takes us next.

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

Mother May I, by Joshilyn Jackson

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Joshilyn Jackson, and Harper Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

There’s little I find more exciting than stumbling upon another author whose writing is electrifying. While many others may know Joshilyn Jackson and her thrilling style, it was only when I received this book to review that I was pulled into the middle of a story that left me reading (listening) well into the night. When a baby is kidnapped right from under his mother’s nose, panic ensues. Bree Cabbat must come to terms with her loss and try to rectify it without alerting too many others. However, this kidnapper has a plan and Bree finds herself jumping through hoops to get her son back, only later realising the motive behind the madness. Jackson offers a chilling tale that will prove highly addictive, once the reader finds themselves fully committed to the story. Recommended to those who love a chilling thriller full of twists and ‘aha’ moments.

The day started off poorly for Bree Cabbat when she noticed an old woman dressed in black—the proverbial witch, if ever there was one—peering into her bedroom window. Alerting her husband to the intruder, Bree’s worries were dismissed as a lack of sleep and ‘baby brain’. Bree’s upbringing in rural Georgia may not have been ideal, but she has transformed those years into something special, turning out to be an amazing mother to two teen girls and a new baby, Robert.

While at the girls’ school one afternoon, horror strikes Bree. Robert is kidnapped when she’s distracted in the drama room, snatched from his infant seat. It is only later that the same witch woman is seen in the school parking lot. Bree enters panic mode and is ready to do anything to save her son. When a call comes in, Bree is prepared to do whatever it takes to save Robert.

Bree is directed to undertake a confusing act to prove her loyalty to Robert. She must drug one of her husband’s legal partners at the firm and slip away, waiting fur further instructions. Given the pills she must use, Bree follows the instructions she’s given, only to realise that the plan has taken a horrible turn. What should have only knocked the man out has killed him and Bree is left with the guilt, on top of not yet having Robert back in his custody.

Confiding in a former cop and family friend, Bree soon learns that there was another recent kidnapping of a little boy by the same woman, who insists that all this is being done with her daughter’s assistance. Bree uncovers something that may connect the two cases, though she is not yet ready to bring it to the authorities or any media outlet. The more she understands about a distant past, the clearer things become as to why these two families were targeted.

Confronting her husband, Bree learns about his college years and how he was not the man she thought he might have been. However, this stroll down memory lane is not bringing Robert back any faster. Bree must work within the confines of what she can do and try to locate this pair of vindictive women before Robert disappears for good. A mother’s dedication to her baby crosses paths with another’s search for justice, however twisted it might be. This is one explosive story that will leave the reader enthralled as they try to see which maternal instinct is stronger.

While I may have never read anything by Joshilyn Jackson before, I can see the allure. Her storytelling is second to none and the flow of the piece keeps the reader in the middle of the gathering momentum. The piece pulls on the reader’s heartstrings while also telling of a sordid past that fuels the present kidnapping plot. Which side is innocent is up to the reader to decide, though the tangled web presented herein makes that determination all the harder to decipher.

Bree Cabbat is a strong, if somewhat harried, protagonist. Her role as doting wife and mother is balanced nicely with a fearful woman who wants her family back. As she story unfolds and she learns of a past to which she was previously unaware, Bree finds herself acting outside of the realm she might usually be comfortable inhabiting. Her dedication to finding her son is fuelled by maternal instinct, though she is equally concerned about the issues she learns relating to her husband’s past. The reader will feel Bree’s determination throughout this piece, never stopping when it comes to doing what she feels is right, even as she knows it could have dire consequences.

Jackson has used a handful of strong secondary characters to fill in some of the gaps throughout the narrative. There is a chilling undertone in the narrative and one that requires a cast of characters to bring it to life. Jackson does so effectively by painting vivid narratives with key characters, all of whom complement the larger story. Characters play their chosen roles well and the reader is gifted with a strong story throughout.

While I was not sure what to expected as I started this piece, I came to see just how talented Joshilyn Jackson was when I allowed myself to connect to the narrative. A story that appears to be a simple kidnapping takes a turn when certain twists are added to the narrative. The reader is pulled into the middle and left to wonder what might happen and how baby Robert might be used as a pawn to exact some form of revenge for past wrongs. Working with mid-length chapters, Jackson portrays her characters effectively and builds a plot that is as vivid as it is chilling. This is one book that really kept me wondering throughout and I binged numerous times just to get a better understanding of what was going on. I will definitely be back for more Joshilyn Jackson in the coming months.

Kudos, Madam Jackson, for winning me over. Your writing style and story development are surely worth additional exploration.

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

Stung (Arthur Beauchamp #8), by William Deverell

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, William Deverell, and ECW 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 Arthur Beauchamp novel is always reason to celebrate. It shows that William Deverell has been hard at work, using his unique style to craft a truly Canadian legal thriller that has layers of strong plotting and even better off-the-cuff comments about the world in which we live. Deverell does not disappoint with this piece, which takes the reader on many an adventure, with a court case that is sure to pique the interest of those who enjoy such things. Highly recommended to those who love courtroom dramas, as well as the reader who has a penchant for all things Canadian.

It was all about the honeybee, or at least that’s what they said. Chemican-International is touting their new pesticide, Vigor-Gro, which has been useful to hep farmers and their crops, but has been wreaking havoc on the bees that try to pollinate. Rivkie Levitsky is working with a group of young eco-friendly people, all of whom are trying to make Chemican see the error of their ways. Their latest ploy is to get inside the Canadian plant outside Sarnia, where they will be able to stop things, at least temporarily.

All the while, Arthur Beauchamp (that’s “Beech’m”) has been enjoying life on his tract of land in Garibaldi, British Columbia. With his wife away serving as a Member of Parliament, he’s taken to enjoying the farm life and still thinking back on his many courtroom victories as a criminal defence attorney. Beauchamp has also been using more of his time to tend to local issues, which includes blocking an American company from mining the resources out from under him. While Beauchamp has a few minor dust-ups with the law, he’s peaceful for the most part.

Once Rivkie and her crew strike at the local Chemican plant, they cause quite the stir, which begins an extensive police investigation. The ‘Sarnia Seven’ are collected after the evidence is gathered and a few well-timed sting operations locate their lair. Helping out an old friend (and with the insistence of his wife), Beauchamp agrees to defend five of the members, prepared to use the necessity defence. While Beauchamp is not as familiar with it, he understands that arguing the act of sabotage was needed to protect the larger community—read: the bees—though this will be a hard sell.

In the lead-up to trial, Beauchamp must not only handle the cross-country travel to meet its his clients and co-counsel, but also handle some issue on the home front that he would likely prefer stay on the back burner. It’s going to be a lot to take on, especially as he has a long record of victories in the courtroom, matched against a Crown Prosecutor with an equally long string of victories. This is sure to be one trial no one wants to miss.

As the trial comes to a head, it will not only be a necessity defence that Beauchamp presents, but one vilifying Chemican-International. Fallout from the pesticide has not only been hurting the bees, but there are studies that show human consumption, albeit minutely, has been causing issues as well. Beauchamp must push this line of inquiry against the Crown’s insistence that it is futile, while the judge is keen to see things wrapped up swiftly. Add to that, there are issues within the jury that could cause things to topple over before closing arguments are finished. Beauchamp will have to use all his legal prowess, but even that might not be enough.

I discovered the wonders of William Deverell a number of years ago. His writing is not only detailed and highly addictive, but also layers the wonders of the Canadian legal system, putting a spotlight on its nuances, contrasting nicely with the supersaturation of American law in the genre. Of particular note, the Arthur Beauchamp series offers the reader a great escape into some true Canadiana with subplots that are second to none. Any reader who has the patience to sift through many of the tangential plot lines will not be disappointed with the series.

Arthur Beauchamp is a great protagonist in yet another novel. A brilliant legal mind, as is mentioned throughout the series, Beauchamp does not come across as pompous or egotistical. Quite the opposite, he struggles to sink into the background and enjoy retirement. Deverell places him in numerous sticky situations throughout the story, both of the legal and personal variety, which adds to the reader’s enjoyment. Those who have followed Beauchamp throughout the series will see how certain pieces connect in this novel, while others are new and exciting additions to an already full plate. Deverell does showcase the wonderful legal mind Beauchamp possesses, particularly in the courtroom, though the reader is not inundated with legalese that is sure to leave them befuddled.

The cast of secondary characters is quite complex and all encompassing, which adds to the depth of the narrative. The story takes place in various domains and tackles a few interconnected plot lines, all of which require strong characters to keep the momentum up. Deverell delivers unique and enjoyable characters, some of whom complement each other well, while not losing the reader in the tangential nature of the story. There are returning faces that add flavour to the story, as well as first-timers, some of whom I hope will return, should Arthur Beauchamp have more steam to offer in another novel.

The story itself was one of the best I have read from William Deverell. While it was a Herculean effort due to the details, most of his novels are, though they flow with ease. There is so much going on that the reader must almost keep a scorecard to set matters straight. Arthur Beauchamp is on display throughout, tackling so many interesting aspects of his life, as well as the case. The story is split into three narrative perspectives, which adds depth to the piece and keeps the reader pushing ahead. Add to that, Deverell has separated the book into chapters, as well as sub-chapters, which effectively serve to divide up the action for the reader. The flow of the book is not lost with the repeated divisions, though some may wonder why a more traditional approach was not taken. The narrative is sprinkled full of tongue-in-cheek moments, which lightens the mood in what is surely a high intensity piece. One cannot escape some of the science related to the topic at hand, though Deverell handles it effectively, educating the reader without drowning them in minutiae. I can only hope there is more to come, as Arthur Beauchamp is one character who never is at a loss for dramatic interactions.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for another stunner. I love the mix of courtroom, rural Canada, and flashy crime thriller aspects. You are in a league all your own and I hope others discover your magic. Pardon the pun, but there is a real ‘buzz’ in this piece, well worth the attention of the masses.

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

Black Fall (Jessica Blackwood #3), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

Andrew Mayne offers a unique spin on crime thrillers in both series I have read. There’s an electricity in the ‘off the beaten path’ aspect, something I highly enjoy and is sure to engage the reader throughout. In this third full-length novel, Jessica Blackwood is forced to wrap her head around a series of random events, all of which are tied to a long-dead academic’s apparent recorded prediction. Additionally, she’s targeted for murder again and must wrestle with the understanding that she has upset many with her past work within the FBI. As the case intensifies and Blackwood learns more, she discovers that one man must be pulling all the strings from his prison cell. It’s a man whose skill with magic and illusion tops even her own!

A small Colorado community vanishes off the face of the earth, or so it seems when a postal worker and delivery truck cannot locate it. While this seems odd, FBI Agent Jessica Blackwood is on a stake-out and trying to stay under the radar. When a woman appears at her door, Blackwood is baffled, not only by the bundle the woman carries, but that this mysterious visitor tries to kill her. Blackwood goes through a variety of emotions and it hits home that she is not safe, having offended many people during her years with the Bureau.

Blackwood is called into the field office to learn some baffling news. An hour after a recent earthquake across the Eastern Seaboard, a video surfaces that a well-respected academic predicted the event—to the day—years in the past. While this does not cause too many eyebrows to rise, the fact that the man died years ago and could not have recently cobbled the recording together has Blackwood a little more intrigued.

While trying to sink her teeth into the case, Blackwood learns that the woman who attacked her has since been found, murdered. Blackwood is torn between this investigation into the eerie predictions and finding out more about this woman and why she, Blackwood, was targeted. Might there be a connection between the two?

As Blackwood forges ahead, she learns a little more about a group calling themselves the Red Chain, a cult that seems to have got their hands on quite the weapon. Blackwood would not believe it had she not seen it for herself. Red Chain has apparently put out a hit on Blackwood for her past casework and one criminal has a special hatred for her.

As Blackwood better understands Red Chain and what they believe, she learns about the small Colorado town of Moffat, which has seemingly disappeared. It is the presumed home of the Red Chain, though it’s nowhere to the found. This could all be part of the larger ruse, one that is part of the cult’s activity. However, it is their ringleader that really sends chills up Blackwood’s spine, especially the way in which he communicates with his followers.

I have come to really enjoy the Jessica Blackwood series, which includes three novels and a short story to date. When I learned that Andrew Mayne was set to bring Jessica back for another adventure, this time working alongside another strong female protagonist, I wanted to get the backstory before diving in (and I will do the same with The Naturualist series soon). Mayne is able to really tell a story with great pizzazz and keep things highly unique, something that is sure to capture the attention of many readers when give this series a try.

This was another winner for Jessica Blackwood. She’s sharp and on point, mixing her past in the world of magic and illusions with a dedication to the FBI. The case develops before her and Jessica is able to balance more revelations in her backstory with some strong character development, sure to enamour the dedicated reader to her personality. Mayne does well to keep her on point, while also showing her vulnerabilities. I cannot wait to see what’s next for Blackwood, whose still got a great deal of pep inside her that needs to come out.

Mayne does well with his supporting cast again, keeping them both on point to complement Blackwood and set the scene for what’s going on. I cannot say enough about the detail put into those who enrich the story, as the piece never lags and the excitement level is high with a vast array of characters. Particularly telling in the Moffat-area revelations, the story’s intensity grows with the development of some key secondary characters.

The story worked and while it was not my favourite of the series, it did present extremely well. I cannot say enough about Jessica Blackwood and how her unique approach to the law and crime fighting keeps the reader enthralled. With a mix of chapter lengths, there is the ever-present pull in and exploration of the plot that keeps the reader wanting to know more. The narrative continues to gain momentum throughout and keeps things on edge until it all comes together in dramatic fashion. There were some political moments in the piece, he first real turn in that direction, but it did not derail the story or the plot whatsoever. I am eager to read more of Mayne work and, as I said above, cannot wait for Blackwood’s return in the coming months to play a joint-protagonist role.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for keeping me on the edge of my seat. I am excited to find and review more of your work soon.

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

Fire in the Sky: A Short Story (Jessica Blackwood #1.5), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

Andrew Mayne’s series with Jessica Blackwood in the protagonist seat has something for everyone, at least with the pieces that I have read to date. Mixing the world of illusion with crime fighting, the reader is able to see something from new and unique perspectives. In this short piece, Mayne takes the reader deep into the South, where Blackwood and her temporary partner are sent to appease the complaints of a man who has been begging for FBI investigative attention. While there, Blackwood discovers much about herself and the walls she builds around herself to keep others at bay. A great bridging piece that can be read as a standalone to whet the appetite of the curious reader.

It’s hot in Louisiana, which is yet another reader why Jessica Blackwood does not want to be on a houseboat along the Mississippi. She’s been sent here, alongside her temporary partner, to handle the complaints of a man who says he saw something flashing through the sky fifty years ago. His story has developed over time, to the level of myth, and Blackwood is sure it’s something easily attributed to the weather, a meteor, or even fuelled by the tea-infused moonshine of this man in his last months of life.

However, when bantering with the woman who joined her on the trip, Blackwood reveals that she has become so used to sleights of hand and misconceptions that there is no longer anything that cannot be solved through citing misdirection. Her propensity to dismiss anything other than what can easily be explained away has Jessica Blackwood coming across as closed-minded and refusing to entertain anything other than what she already knows. Tossing caution into the balmy winds, Blackwell agrees to follow up on the story and makes a curious discovery that puts the man’s story into a new realm of wonder.

I have been enjoying the Blackwood stories and thought this short piece would complement them well. It did so, focussing less on the crime thriller from the perspective of a former illusionist, but rather peeling back the layers of Blackwood’s life in a family of magicians. Mayne offers up some great backstory and development for his protagonist, which complements the larger series well. Short and to the point, this story is highly entertaining and revealing, as the reader is asked (much like Blackwood did as an illusionist in her past) to see things not as they are, but as they might be.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for a great piece that entertains as well as educates. Perhaps for that morning cup of coffee before getting started on a larger project!

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

Name of the Devil (Jessica Blackwood #2), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

My discovery of Andrew Mayne’s unique perspective to crime thrillers has made me an instant fan. After loving the first book in this series, I rushed to continue the magic (pardon the pun) with this second novel, which packs just as much punch. Jessica Blackwood’s time with the FBI may have started off being somewhat drab, but when she was brought along to help crack open a case of a serial killer with the power of illusion, she discovered her niche. Now, with The Warlock behind bars, Blackwood can bask in some of the fame, though there are new cases that require her attention. When a church congregation disappears in West Virginia, it looks to be something in the realm of magic. However, their discovery, dead, a few miles away, turns talk towards demonic forces. Blackwood and the FBI are there to piece it all together, though what lurks in the darkness is something no one could have predicted. Another stunning piece by Andrew Mayne that will have those who love a unique thriller up late into the night, turning pages.

While she enjoys the notoriety that finding The Warlock brought her, Jessica Blackwood wants something more out of her time with the FBI. When a case in West Virginia crosses her desk, she’s shuttled off to investigate. An entire congregation of a small church disappears into thin air, only to be found, dead, a few miles away. Markings in the area lead to discussion of ritual killing and demonic possession, something that does not go down well in this Bible-toting community.

Blackwood is used to dealing with the unusual, especially with her background as an illusionist. However, this is not all sleight of hand and puffs of smoke, but rather something with far darker origins. While demonic possession could surely play a factor, there has to be a human element to the crime, one that Blackwood must uncover before things get too out of hand.

The investigation takes Blackwood out of the area, as some sort of mild-altering drug may have been involved. Its origin in Mexico may be the key to uncovering what’s been going on. Blackwood makes the trip down there, only to find herself in the middle of other criminal activities. She’s forced to show a gritty side and bail before she becomes a crime statistic herself. However, Blackwood’s time in Mexico reveals some clues that might help with the larger investigation.

Back stateside, Blackwood returns to discover that there are secrets in this small West Virginia town that no one wants uncovered. Truths that relate to children and events three decades ago. Silence may be golden, but for some it takes on an obsession, one that could lead to murder in order to ensure its held in place.

As Blackwood slowly makes some revelations in the case and discovers what’s really going on, she realises that this might be tied to a terror group using new-fangled technologies. What appears clear-cut is simply an illusion, but one that could have significant consequences. No one is safe, including those at the highest levels within the Vatican. Blackwood must act quickly, as a papal visit to Miami is scheduled soon and the target is too large to ignore.

Andrew Mayne does it again with a stunning follow-up novel in this unique series. Pulling not only on the world of magic—read, illusions, not the realm of fairy tales—but also the demonic arts, Mayne pulls the reader into the darkest corners of the genre while remaining grounded in reality. This is a fast-paced story that will take the reader on a ride like no other, leaving them wanting more by the story’s end. Mayne does not skimp on detail or description, which is sure to impress many.

Jessica Blackwood is again in the protagonist’s chair, where she dazzles and shows her mettle. There are some added bits of backstory revealed in this piece, both from her time as a magician (illusionist) and growing up in the family business. There is also a great deal of character development for her, offering the reader a glimpse into how she has been able to bridge her past life with a career inside the FBI. Gritty and ready to risk it all, Blackwood shows that she stands out from many characters in the crime thriller, without too much of the smoke and mirrors that some need to make a difference.

Mayne surrounds Blackwood with some strong supporting characters, pulled from various realms to help accentuate the piece. Blackwood finds herself in a number of precarious situations in all corners of the globe, which begs for a strong cast to enrich the narrative in a variety of ways. Mayne does so in a masterful manner, keeping the reader on edge throughout this piece and leaving them wanting a little more.

Much as the first book flowed well, this one follows in its footsteps, offering a unique take on the crime thriller. Pushing the limits on magic, illusions, and flights of fancy, Mayne leads the reader down quite the rabbit hole and into control of the mind through a number of facets. Demonic worship does come into the story, though readers need not worry that this is a book all about the satanic rituals and pentagram branding. Rather, it takes the reader on a ride like no other. With a variety of chapter lengths, the reader is pulled in at times and taken on intense rides through other parts, all while the narrative gains momentum. There is little time to waste, as the story covers a great deal of ground in short order. All the twists surely pack a punch for the attentive reader and leave them wanting more. Thankfully, Mayne has penned another Jessica Blackwood thriller, which is where I am headed next!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for another winner in the series and genre as a whole. I’m a fan and cannot get enough.

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

Angel Maker (DI Jamie Johansson #1), by Morgan Greene

Eight stars

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

Morgan Greene made a name for himself with a strong prequel series, with Jamie Johansson taking centre stage. Now, moving things deeper into her career with the London Metropolitan Police, Greene pushes his protagonist into darker areas of her life and work, which can only provide the reader with more on which to feast. In this new Johansson series, the reader sees a new and much more troubled Jamie, one who doubts herself at every turn. When a case her father handled has a new victim, Jamie makes her way to Sweden to help, unravelling much of what her father discovered years ago and a new twist that could flavour the case significantly. Those who loved the early Jamie Johansson novels will want to move along to these ones and see how masterful Greene remains!

With a recent promotion under her belt, DI Jamie Johansson should be flying high. However, the elevation within London’s Metropolitan Police came at a cost, when she shot a suspect to protect herself. Muddled with the guilt, Johansson takes a leave to clear her head and reset things once and for all.

It’s during this time that Johansson receives an odd phone call. One of her father’s old cases, where they put away a serial killer, has resurfaced with a new victim. The original killer has been locked away in a Swedish prison for years, opening up new questions. Johansson rushes to join the Swedish police and help fill the boots her father left those years ago.

When she arrives, it’s like old home week for Jamie, as she recollects her early years in Sweden before being whisked away by her mother. Connecting with her father’s former colleagues, DI Johansson is able to join the team as a consultant and piece a few things together with ease. The first thing she discovers is the uncanny similarities between the former killings by the Angel Maker and the latest victim. Another young woman who appears to have been raped, tortured, and murdered, before tree boughs are inserted into her back to create makeshift wings.

While revising old crime scenes and interviewing witnesses seems tedious, it does provide some intriguing insight into a possible copycat killer. DI Johansson does not let this deter her, as some of the evidence points to a strong case of mistaken identity, or at least railroading someone into confessing to a crime they may not have committed.

Saddled with helping solve the Angle Maker case once and for all, DI Jamie Johansson must also face the truth about a father she only saw through the eyes of a child many years ago. His interactions with others and the notes he took during the investigation leads DI Johansson to come up with some truths of her own, all before she realises a stunning truth that everyone kept from her for many years.

I devoured the prequel trilogy in this series, loving how Morgan Greene presented his protagonist. Now, with a better understanding of Jamie Johansson, I am able to hash out the nuances of this more established cop in a series that is sure to offer some twists the foe dedicated reader. Greene continues to write effectively and has me begging for more at every turn.

DI Jamie Johansson is a wonderful protagonist in this piece, offering up some of her saltiness for which she became known in the past series. Her past in both the UK and Sweden emerges throughout the book, though the reader sees how ‘childhood blinders’ forced Jamie to see her father in only one light. Now, she is reader to face the truth, even if it is raw and gritty. DI Johansson uses her policing skills throughout the uncover pieces of the puzzle that were lightly glossed over b the Swedish authorities all those years ago, discovering what works for her and offers a much-needed voice for the victims of these horrible crimes.

Greene does well to keep the supporting cast strong throughout this piece, developing a decent connection with all the characters. There are revelation moments throughout this piece, mainly for Johansson, but also as it relates to the Angle Maker case. Juggling the two truths helps enrich the story and those who grace the pages of this book do well to make this an even more intriguing read.

As I have said about the other books in the prequel series, Morgan Greene can surely write and pull the reader into the middle of the story. There is always so I much going on that I cannot get enough of what Greene has to say. With a strong narrative and short chapters, the story flows with ease and keeps me wanting to devour just a little more to understand what’s going on. The reality of the Swedish experiences is heightened by use of the native language throughout, permitting the reader to get that feeling of being right there. Greene does well to balance it out and offers translation moments when needed to allow the reader to stay with the story. If this is what is to come, I am fully committed to this series and cannot wait to see what’s next. With a strong cliffhanger at the end of this book, I can surmise it will be a rough ride in the next publication.

Kudos, Mr. Greene, for a stunning series opener. You never cease to amaze me.

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

Angel Killer (Jessica Blackwood #1), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

After recently discovering the work of Andrew Mayne, I quickly became a fan of his unique approach to the crime thriller. Having heard much about Jessica Blackwood, the FBI agent with a past in magic, I could not help but check things out for myself. Mayne does well in this series debut, showing Jessica’s attention to detail and drive to solve crimes using her past experiences to crack open seemingly baffling cases. When a killer uses the same types of sleight of hand, Jessica’s ready to offer her input, hoping that it will help solve a case where the bodies do not seem to be disappearing, but replicating. A great beginning for those who love the mysterious side of the crime thriller.

Jessica Blackwood enjoys her work with the FBI, but admits that it is not the most exciting. Her joy comes from being able to hold onto the magic she grew up learning and passing it on to young children. When Blackwood is summoned to the office on her day off, she knows it is not to commend her for her work, though she cannot think what could be going on.

It would seem her magic past has not been overlooked by some of the higher-ups, as she is called upon to consult on a case that has those within the Bureau baffled. A woman’s body has been discovered, which does not seem all that unusual. However, the woman was declared dead and her body processed a few years early. In fact, this new body’s right around the gravesite, making things all the more eerie.

Blackwood soon realises that there’s been some trickery taking place, the type of illusion that magicians are known for using in their acts. Calling the killer The Warlock, Blackwood and the team slowly try to piece things together, only to be handed another mysterious case when a plane that has been missing for decades randomly appears, alongside its pilot. Blackwood must use her own experiences to piece things together slowly, but seems to be finding a pattern.

As The Warlock continues to show his skills, a woman appears in Times Square, made to look like an angel, though obviously dead. Her body and the location are obvious clues and Blackwood is able to detect how they will be able to make some sense fo the killings. However, this is not a killer who is lax when it comes to preparation. This is a deadly game of cat and mouse, where smoke and mirrors create an added illusion that could turn deadly at any moment.

I have become quite impressed with the work of Andrew Mayne so far, which delivers a strong story with a unique perspective throughout. Using magic as a supporting theme throughout not only adds to the mystery of the plot, but helps flesh out some of the backstory needed to better understand the life that Jessica Blackwood had coming into this piece. Mayne leaves the reader wondering what might await the protagonist, as long as she can escape the grasp of this most sinister killer.

Jessica Blackwood seems to fit the role of protagonist perfectly. She has a strong motive to help others and is shown to be compassionate as her character develops throughout the piece. There is also a great deal of backstory that comes to thee surface, both with her past as an experienced magician and growing up under the pressure of the family name. Mayne does well to develop her throughout this piece, but leaves many threads dangling, as though he hopes to lure the reader in the continue following the series.

The supporting cast works well to complement both Blackwood and the larger plot. Magic does play centre stage in this piece, though it is based not on the fantasy side of it, but the illusionary aspects of the craft that tends to baffle the general population. Using murder within the craft adds insight and those who play a part in the larger ‘act’ serve well in their respective roles to keep the reader on their toes throughout.

The story is strong from the beginning and never seems to lose its momentum. I was quite impressed with how things developed and Mayne’s use of a number of techniques to hook the reader from the early chapters. The story is strong and its use of magic makes it stand out from many others in the genre. There is a definite uniqueness to the plot, which flows well as the story gains momentum. I found myself quite intrigued by the use of magic and illusions throughout, which found its place at the core of the crime scenes. Mid-length chapters kept the reader wanting to know more and I was eager to see what awaited me around each corner, with a killer so adept at false trails. I am hooked and want to get my hands on the next book in short order.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for breathing new life into a genre that I love so much. I will definitely be keeping Jessica Blackwood’s adventures in my life as soon as I can.

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