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: