Ripple (Breakthrough #4), by Michael C. Grumley

Eight stars

Michael C. Grumley returns to further explore the evolution of mammals, as well as their interconnectivity in this stunning series. Pushing a little science fiction alongside his captivating narrative, Grumley takes the reader on a deeper and more intense journey with each new novel in the collection. The action is intense, as the Russians are now eager to get their hands on whatever is rocking the genetic world, while the Chinese remain on guard and want what they felt was theirs all along. While Alison and John try to settle in Trinidad, they realise that it is Africa (specifically Rwanda) that might hold the key to this life force, while also helping them to better understand the evolution of the human race all those millennia ago. There’s also some understanding of what the foreign DNA source can do for humans, which has both positive and negative side effects for all involved. This is surely another winner by Michael C. Grumley, perfect for series fans and those who want an impactful novel that will open the mind and eyes simultaneously.

There is no end to the chills that have filled the past two novels, particularly when the Russians realise that there is something going on under their noses. While one of their submarines was destroyed as they watched Chinese officials collect some plant life, they are certain that it can be something beneficial to them. The Russians, still lurking under the water, prepare to strike and take what they feel is theirs to possess, but they do not yet fully understand it or what powers it could possess.

The Chinese know all too well what this is and they want it back. In a new and intensified geo-political fight, Chinese authorities are ready to take what they feel was theirs to begin with, using force and whatever they can to ensure no one else gets hold of their prized biological (and botanical) find. It is sure to cause some trouble, but the Chinese are ready to do whatever it takes.

All the while, Alison Shaw and John Clay are part of a new and highly secretive team tasked with better understanding some of their earlier discoveries with communication, life outside Earth, and some of the aforementioned highly sought-after intel. When aliens came to Earth all those years ago, they left the lifeblood of humanity, weaving it not only into some early mammals, but also depositing it in a vault of sorts. This is why dolphins, gorillas, and humans have so many similarities, something that Shaw and some of her other biologists are discovering again as they watch the interactions with their respective subjects. Dolphins Sally and Dirk appear to be making headway in their communication with one another and Alison, but adding Dulce, a gorilla, to the mix opens even more avenues of study.

While Shaw and Clay concentrate their time in Trinidad, it is not long before they realise that it is the African continent that holds all the secrets they must uncover. Trekking there, it is first thought that Ethiopia is where they ought to be, but soon discover that Rwanda, still teetering on the brink from recent civil war, is where the true discoveries exist. Working to further some gorilla research that has taken place, Shaw and the IMIS team venture to the region, where they learn more about gorillas and their impact on the larger mammalian advancements on Earth.

The stakes are high with both the Chinese and Russians ramping up their efforts to take what they want and leave a massacre if that is what’s needed. Shaw and Clay are not safe, nor are the discoveries they have uncovered. Add to that, a young woman, Lei Na, remains a sought after commodity in her native China, as she possesses a unique strain of DNA inside her, saved by her father before he died doing what he felt was right for all. It’s more intensity in a series that has never lacked it. And there is so much more I did not cover, best revealed by the reader when they dive in!

Michael C. Grumley baffles many as he constructs a highly-detailed and easy to digest series with this collection of well-paced novels. Each book pushes the limits of scientific possibilities without becoming too ‘out there’, even as some readers whine because it is not cut and dry enough for them. Science fiction has never been my strong suit, but I have made an effort to relax my guard and allowed a moment to learn, which has been effective in allowing me to become highly addicted to this series. I am drawn to the plots with a great deal of action, particularly as they include strong characters. Grumley has discovered a great recipe of captivating plot lines, unique scientific discoveries, and much action to keep the reader fully engaged.

The book offers series fans many characters on which to connect, some being series-long protagonists, while others are minor folk who have stepped into the limelight. I thoroughly enjoy how Grumley has been able to balance development with an ever-complex plot, not losing the reader with so many personalities to juggle. Some great story arcs are emerging, both in the scientific world and personal development of some, especially Alison Shaw and John Clay. I continue to watch their advancements, as well as some of the interaction they have with others, all while trying to keep everyone straight and clear without a formal flow chart. It may be tough, but the challenge keeps me on my toes.

The secondary characters Grumley peppers throughout the story have become the political actors. They serve the primary role of advancing the ego-political clashes that technology that reap, keeping the reader who enjoys that aspect of writing on their toes. While I can never be sure if there will others, an American-Chinese-Russian political triangle can do enough damage and I am keen to see how Grumley will handle it.

Grumley keeps the story strong and the ideas flowing in another novel that interconnects with the previous three. The narrative advanced well and kept the reader seeking more with each chapter, providing moments of education in the scientific aspects of the plot. There is so much to digest, though it is not tossed at the reader simultaneously, permitting a great development over all four novels, though for some it might be a little much to take in. There’s great character development, both in the narrative and strong dialogue, allowing Grumley to craft those the reader will surely enjoy, while there are others who will surely be despised for their own reasons. Grumley again uses a mix of chapter lengths to trap the reader into staying up well into the night, stringing them along at key moments. I remain baffled as to why I am so enthralled with this series, but have no complaints whatsoever.

Kudos, Mr. Grumley, for another strong read. Where are you taking us next?!

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

Catalyst (Breakthrough #3), by Michael C. Grumley

Eight stars

Michael C. Grumley is back with another thrilling ride that further explores nature and the secrets it holds. Picking up soon after the previous novel ended, Grumley pulls the reader in with new excitement as geo-political conflict increases against a backdrop of a sensational new discovery in a remote jungle. With a handful of key players doing their part, it will be a race for answers, while keeping things somewhat secret until it can all be synthesised. There is action and even some sorrow, but something electrifying is pushing the story forward, into a world of extreme unknowns. Another winner by Michael C. Grumley that will have series fans on the edge of their seats, demanding more!

The tense nature of the previous novel’s end comes crashing into the opening pages of this piece, as the story kicks into high gear. The Chinese are baffled as to what’s happened to their warship and can only surmise that it must be the Americans who have tried to foil their plans. However, there is the added confusion as to what was going on in South America that has high-ranking officials even more confused. Someone’s been hiding something essential and it could mean weakness, even a political coup gathering momentum. To allow such a crack would be unheard of within the communist hierarchy.

On the other side of the world, someone’s killed a powerful man in South America likely because he knew something of some importance. While US Navy investigators John Clay and Steve Caesare are aware, they must dodge accusations that they might have been involved, while also getting to the root of the issue. It surrounds a group of capuchin monkeys, some of whom are showing some highly unique qualities pertaining to prolonged life. Could there be something in their DNA that holds the answers many have sought for centuries to locate? Caesare takes on the task of learning what he must, while dodging those who would do him harm all the while.

In Puerto Rico, marine biologist Alison Shaw continues to work with her two dolphins, Sally and Dirk, learning much about their life experiences through some of her high-tech communication software. Shaw has also discovered the healing capabilities of these two, when a young girl who has been diagnosed with a severe illness emerges unscathed from a swim in their tank. Shaw has also been working on expanding her communication tool, working with a young gorilla, Dulce, which has helped to expand the parameters of understanding between the species.

While John Clay travels to learn some of the secrets behind the veil of secrecy in China, Steve Caesare focuses his attention on the South American adventure. Both find themselves in a great deal of trouble as they peel things back a little more, understanding that the properties of some plant in the Guyanese forests could hold the answer for everyone. However, the revelations come with new risks and added dangers that could, and will, leave someone dead. This is sure to send shockwaves across the team and leave Alison to wonder if she has taken one step too many in her quest to better understand what’s going on in the world and how other animals can piece together than which humans do not fully comprehend.

And then there is the vault that’s been located on a remote island… and a second one that is filled with embryos. What is it and who built it? It’s a mystery that adds new layers of excitement and thrills to an already complex story!

Michael C. Grumley continues to construct a strong series that pushes the limits and possibilities, keeping some readers on the defensive. While science fiction has never been an area of particular interest for me, I’ve found myself drawn to the stories, plots, and even some of the characters. Grumley mixes together thrilling plots, curious scientific discoveries, and great development to keep the reader pushing forward.

The book offers series fans a great look at a number of protagonists, each pushing their respective plotline forward. John Clay and Alison Shaw have had some time in the limelight, but their growth continues in this piece, both in their own spheres and together. Each holds onto the reader’s attention as they progress through the story, captivating it with ease. Additing Steve Caesare to the mix provides some interesting flavour to the narrative and offers another perspective to keep the reader’s attention hooked. His grit and determination, partnered with some well-deserved humour, keeps things light when it serves him well, while never missing a chance to show his abilities.

The secondary characters Grumley peppers throughout the story keep things on point. Returning characters are especially important for this piece, as the action connects with the previous novel, though there are new faces and flavourings that keep the story from getting too repetitive. There are some who complement the political undertone of the story, while others make their impact through the science side of things. There is surely something for everyone in this piece, with a supporting cast sure to appeal to a large cross-section of readers.

Grumley offers more great plots and decent characters in this bridging novel. The narrative flowed well where it needed to keep the reader engaged and educated in the scientific aspects to provide a new spin and something a little ‘out of this world’. Wonderful dialogue highlights some of the strong characters Grumley developed, provided needed humour and moments of tension to enrich the reader experience. A mix of chapter lengths works to lure the reader in and strings them along, allowing them to feel a strong part of the building action. I continue to surprise myself by finding such an interest in this series, as sci fi is something I usually leave to others.

Kudos, Mr. Grumley, for another intense read. Let’s see what else is out there.

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

Invocation (Nick Ballard #2), by Anthony Steven

Eight stars

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

Anthony Steven returns with another explosive thriller that is sure to grip the reader from the opening pages. Building on his series debut, Steven takes the reader much deeper into the mind and troubles of Nick Ballard, with a few new faces to add depth to the world of premonitions and spirit communication. DCI Kate Garvey is still trying to come to terms with a close brush with death while apprehending a serial killer in Scotland. With a new superior, Garvey is tasked with working through a chilling case, as a handful of women are dumped on a rural road, after being tortured and brutally murdered. She seeks help from Nick Ballard, a man who can visualise those who are being attacked, but the man is not up to the game. With some issues in her own personal life, DCI Garvey will have to collect her thoughts in order to make it all work, all while someone is watching her every move and criticising each mistake she makes.

It’s been a rough go for Nick Ballard since he returned from Scotland. Self-medicating so that he can no longer have the visions that haunt him, Ballard has developed quite an addiction that has him in rough shape. Add to that, he has spent much time thinking about a woman who tried to help him with his premonition abilities, Susan Carver. While Susan is dead, her daughter has kept up a loose relationship with Ballard and introduced him to another fellow with some other eerie abilities. John Rennick seems to be able to communicate with those in the afterlife, a seemingly unique trait that has brought him mixed results.

DCI Kate Garvey is also reeling from the events in Scotland, lucky to be alive and have her son, Rob, as well. While she tries to put it all back together, DCI Garvey has to work with a new commanding officer, one who demands more each day. While Garvey has reached out to Ballard, he’s not responded at all, as though there is some animosity between them. When a handful of women are found on the outskirts of London, DCI Garvey must take the lead and could really use Ballard’s help to piece it all together.

Lurking in the shadows is a serial killer, the likes of which few have ever encountered. With a horrible childhood disfigurement and an appetite for vengeance, a ploy to lure young women away from the streets has been working, though the results are less a saviour of the troubled and more a means of scratching an itch that has been building for the killer. The latest target, a young woman with a baby she never wanted, proves to be one that will resonate with many, putting DCI Garvey on the defensive while she seeks to keep her professional demeanor. It will take not only a sober Nick Ballard to help, but also might require the help of another man, John Rennick, whose skills with those who have passed on are invaluable, to locate the killer and find justice for the vulnerable.

It’s a race to find a faceless killer, one who lurks on the dirtiest streets and has a message to broadcast, much like the Bible Verse Killer did in years past. DCI Garvey has her work cut out for her in this one, which demands leadership, swiftness, and attention to detail. The pressure’s on and the clock is surely ticking. Anthony Steven does well in this follow-up thriller that builds on the past novel, as well as two novellas/short stories, all of which provide needed pieces for this chilling thriller.

After stumbling upon the series debut, I was unsure what to expect. I was not blown away, but was happy to give Anthony Steven another try when he reached out with an ARC for the second novel. I can see much growth and the writing works well, particularly if readers have taken the time to also devour the two novellas that are available on Steven’s website (have a look!). There is depth and a great deal of action, leaving the reader to connect early and often with the likes of Ballard, DCI Garvey, and a few new faces that make an impact throughout.

Ballard and DCI Garvey are both in fine form throughout this piece, putting their personal and professional lives out there for readers. Both have suffered a great deal since their time in Scotland, though Garvey has been able to pick up the pieces, while Ballard has fallen down a dark hole and turned to Ativan. The struggles that both protagonists show are definitely not lost on the reader, though it is how they each find an effective turning point that truly excites things as the story progresses. Nick Ballard has much to prove to himself and those around him, though he remains his own worst enemy. DCI Garvey, on the other hand, must impress a new superior and juggle the strains of some jarring personal news that could knock her off her proverbial perch.

Steven does a wonderful job adding depth and flavour to the story with a handful of keen supporting characters. There is much to tell in the area of backstory and these characters do a masterful job at highlighting key plot points throughout the process. Some, like John Rennick, are memorable because they have already shone some of the limelight on themselves with a novella about their early exploits. Others complement Ballard and Garvey, while there are some who help keep the likes of Susan Carver (a minor character in her own right in the debut) alive through dialogue and memories. Steven definitely does not suffer from a shortage of characters, leaving it up to the reader to keep things in line.

Anthony Steven may be guilty of having too many balls in the air at one time, but he handles it a great deal better than he had previously. There is a great deal to process and handle, but I felt more prepared this time around. The narrative is strong and keeps the reader enthused as they inch their way into the middle of a major crime scene, interspersing the larger story with narratives directly about the serial killer. This approach offers wonderful eerieness to the story and kept me wanting to know a little more. The characters were on point and the plot evolved effectively for me as I made my way through this piece. A mix of chapter lengths left me wanting more and kept me pushing ahead, leaving it only to be work and the need for sleep that forced breaking this up a little more than I would have liked. I was quite impressed with this piece and will be keeping my eyes open for more by Anthony Steven in the coming years.

Kudos, Mr. Steven, for a great novel that will garner many fans for you, of this I am sure!

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

Six Weeks to Live, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Catherine McKenzie, and Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Emerging with another unique psychological thriller, Catherine McKenzie shows why she is at the top of her her genre. Mixing mystery with real-life situations, McKenzie presents the reader with a story that will surely hit home for many. Recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jennifer prepares to live her final weeks with family. However, she comes to discover something odd in a past blood test result and wonders if the cancer might have had some ‘help’ emerging, leaving her to speculate who might have targeted her to die. Another winner for McKenzie fans and those who love books with slowly revealed ‘aha’ moments.

Jennifer Barnes could not have expected the news when she went to the doctor about a series of headaches. Told that she has brain cancer and only a handful of weeks to live, Jennifer tries her best to come to terms with it and make the most of her time remaining. With adult triplets and a few grandchildren, Jennifer is ready to bask in the love they have for her as she wrestles for answers inside herself.

However, among the papers her doctor handed over, there is an old blood test result that denotes a spike in lead levels, something about which she knew nothing. When the doctor’s office has documented proof that they called her for additional tests and she communicated by phone that she wanted a second opinion, everything thinks it has to be related to her forgetfulness and a bout of migraines from last year. Jennifer in not convinced and begins digging a little deeper.

At the time of her aforementioned migraines, her husband had begun asking for a divorce, the next step after he had admitted having an affair and left the marital home. Might he be responsible for the anomaly in her blood test? Could he have wanted to kill her all along?The plot thickens as more is revealed and new layers of the family drama come to the surface.

While Jennifer’s time is running out, she refuses to take it sitting down. She must learn the truth and who has been trying to harm her over the last year. While the cancer progresses and she must make amends with the life she has lived, Jennifer refuses to die before knowing what really happened last May and who within her circle she can truly trust. Chilling and emotional at the same time, Catherine McKenzie keeps the reader guessing until the very end.

I have been a fan of Catherine McKenzie and her work for a few years now, having discovered her books while reading other reviews. Each of her books that I have taken the time to read proves to me that she is the real deal and knows how to spin a tale that will captivate the reader wholeheartedly. This is another stunning piece that seeks to weave a tragedy within a mystery and encapsulate it in a psychological thriller, where the protagonist cannot tell who can be trusted. A stellar piece, if ever I have read one.

Jennifer Barnes plays the presumptive protagonist throughout, offering the reader an insight into her life and how she’s come to have only a few weeks left. Her struggles as a mother, a wife, and a victim of adultery all come to the surface, while she refuses to lay down and let her world come crashing in on her. While she has only a limited time left, she is determined to discover the truth behind her lead poisoning and who could have acted so brashly as to try to kill her. McKenzie creates moments where Jennifer exposes the relationships she has with each of her triplet daughters, her own mother, and the husband who betrayed her, leaving everyone as a potential suspect, even if one name rises to the top throughout.

The collection of secondary characters are, to a degree, not as supporting as one might think. McKenzie’s storytelling is such that all three daughters could share the limelight with their mother and it not be a stretch. There is much to learn about them and their differences, even though they share a birthdate. Deception and duplicity are mixed with moments of compassion, as McKenzie contrasts how each connects with both parents in different ways. The story is richer for it and the twists even more impactful. This is the sign of a really great piece of fiction, where lines are blurred and the reader must decide who to like and hate.

The story itself was fantastic, which might help explain how I was able to read it in a single day. McKenzie tells things in such a clear manner within getting too wrapped up in the frivolous details. There is so much to learn and it comes out in a strong narrative that forges ahead, alongside great character development and quick dialogue. As is McKenzie’s style, there are many twists that the reader might not expect, which keeps the reader on their toes as they push forward to discover the truths that await them. Telling a multi-layered story is not easy, but Catherine McKenzie does it with ease, without revealing too much and letting the reader guess what is to come. I cannot say enough about this piece or the quality of Catherine McKenzie’s writing.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for another winner. You hooked me with the opening chapter and I could not stop reading from that point onwards.

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

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

Rennick (Nick Ballard #2.1), by Anthony Steven

Eight stars

As a means to promote his newest novel (which I was asked to read ahead of publication), Anthony Steven penned this short piece about one of the characters I suppose will play a role in the novel. Steven pulls the reader in from the outset and shows that those with special abilities can and do leave an indelible mark on others. A chilling tale of a boy who is labelled as mentally ill but whose connection with the other side could help solve a crime. Add to that, it’s free on his website, so have a gander.

John Rennick could not have imagined what awaited him when he attended his first day of school. An apparition made itself known, much like his Grandad, and offered a warning. Later that day, John returned home to discover tragedy in his house, which forced him into foster care. Before departing, John offers a warning to DC Andrea Davies and her partner, one that seems ominous and out of context. Still, it sticks with Davies for years to come.

When a boy goes missing in John’s group home, the police come around to investigate. DC Davies happens to be one the case and remembers Rennick, mainly because of his prophecy. When he tells of another communication with someone who’s crossed to the other side, Davies is keen to listen, in hopes that it might shed some light on the case.

I only encountered Anthony Steven last summer when I was asked to read one of his novels. I was impressed enough to be keen to accept the assignment yet again with the second novel in the Nick Ballard series. Before delving in, this short piece seemed the perfect introduction to what would be to come. Steven offers readers a great piece that begins with a bang and whose intensity never dissipates. There is some great character development and decent backstory that will surely serve me well when I tackle the novel in the coming days. Short chapters pushed the story along, while there were some wonderful cliffhanger moments. This has me excited to see how Steven has improved his writing style and attention to detail in the complemented full-length novel. A wonderful appetizer to whet the reading appetite.

Kudos, Mr. Steven, for a great short piece. You have me excited and ready to go.

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

The Buzz Boys, by Edward Izzi

Nine stars

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

Seeing a new novel by Edward Izzi always brings much excitement, as I have been able to enjoy each of his previous publications a great deal. While this piece does not delve into Vatican corruption or the legal world, per se, there is some Izzi magic in the piece that again centres around Chicago. Izzi tells a wonderful story of a group of five boys who are connected through their scholastic endeavours and common household issues as they come of age through the 1960s and 70s. When a tragedy befalls one in a parking lot in 2019, it is the introduction to a long and storied past that brought the Buzz Boys together, as well as highlighting how they were torn apart over the years. Another must-read for those who enjoy Izzi’s work, as well as the reader who finds something exciting in a ‘coming of age’ piece.

Marco Pezza had a long history with the Chicago PD the day he arrived at the bocce club to greet his father in 2019. Though they had been estranged for many years, the elder Pezza took the time to speak with his son, decorated and popular around town. What followed was a murder-suicide that rocked the city and left everyone shocked. Reading the news soon thereafter, attorney Robert Mazzara was saddened by what his friend had done, though by no means surprised.

Mazzara takes the reader on a slow and detailed journey back to the 1960s, where he grew up in a Chicago suburb. Attending parochial school, Mazzara soon befriended four other boys and they became the best of friends. Connected, not only by their attending the same school, these boys could recount a troubled upbringing of abuse at the hands of cruel fathers, some of whom were also molested. However, none of the boys let this taint their connection to one another.

This connection grew over time, as did the stories of abuse in their respective households. Eventually dubbed the ‘Buzz Boys’, each had their own unique take on life and the hand they had been dealt. As the years progressed, these boys became men, suffering their own problematic lives, with the pall of childhood abuse lingering over them. The narrative explores how each of the boys took matters into their own hands, with Mazzara there to pick up some of the pieces while juggling his own issues.

As the years progress, tragedy fills the narrative of the Buzz Boys’ lives, with Robert Mazzara there to do what he could to pick up the errant pieces. He uses all these stories gathered over the years as a salve to heal many of the wounds, while also pitying each of the others, including Marco Pezza, and the troubles they faced. Like a band of inseparable misfits, the Buzz Boys live on, even as they are all gone. It’s left to Mazzara to decide how to ensure the legacy is not erased, with so much to show over the past six decades. Heart-warming and tragic in equal measure, this is one story of Edward Izzi’s that will stick with me well into the future.

I have yet to encounter an Edward Izzi novel that I did not enjoy. Scrap that, as enjoy is too superficial a word, but rather, loved! His attention to detail and ability to pull the reader into the middle of the action is like few others. This piece takes the reader away from the thriller genre that has been central to much of his past writing, allowing for thorough exploration of the character development and coming of age of those central to the piece. For me, this is the litmus test that Izzi is not only a great writer, but that he can step outside the genre for which he has made a name for himself and truly shine!

While Robert Mazzara plays the narrative role throughout, he is not the only character who shines in this piece. Rather, it is all five Buzz Boys: Robby, Marco, Johnny, Petey, and Billy. Each grows throughout the piece, offering their own spin on life in their respective abusive households and how they handled it. The piece hovers not only around their individual growth and self-destruction, but also the connection the five made together, proving that friendship can sometimes help overcome all adversity. Each Buzz Boy had their own issues, walls built around them that could be traced back to the beatings and abuse suffered at home, though the reader is able to connect and mourn each of them as they years progress. By the end, with only Robert ‘Robby’ Mazzara left, the reader is forced to contemplate the impact these five had on one another and society as a whole.

Izzi does a masterful job at painting the picture of life in Chicago in those formative years for the boys. The abuse, the lack of action by families who wanted to turn the other way, and the Church that was the lifeblood of the community. Sorrow and grief emerge throughout the telling of the book, but it is the connection the Buzz Boys have that makes the story rise above the negativity. The connection, even as tragedy befalls everyone, is a glue that keeps these boys together. In true Izzi fashion, there are some ‘cameo’ appearances of characters from past novels, connecting the books in a loose manner.

While I usually turn to the more action-based novels, this was a refreshing departure for me (and Edward Izzi). I was able to slide into a strong narrative from the opening pages and develop a connection to the characters. Their individual stories are not lost in the larger storytelling, though it is their personal struggles that makes the Buzz Boy connection all the stronger. Told in a series of interconnected vignettes, the reader discovers much about the boys and their struggles as the years go on, with Robert Mazzara there to offer his spin, while he also portrays his own issues. Short chapters keep the reader coming back to learn more, as the years advance to the present. There is something within the story that makes it well worth the reader’s time, all while recounting the less than uplifting moments each of the five suffered in childhood, adolescence, and into their adult lives. Izzi is truly a master of his craft and this book proves to me that he has a magical ability to churn out winners, no matter the topic. I loved it, plain and simple!

Kudos, Mr. Izzi, for another winner. Thank you for allowing me to explore the more personal side of your writing and how character development can be a key ingredient to a sensational story. I see there are two more novels on the publication horizon and cannot wait to sink my teeth into them.

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

Bone Rattle (Arliss Cutter #3), by Marc Cameron

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Marc Cameron, and Kensington Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Marc Cameron is back with the third in his Arliss Cutter series, a collection of novels that get better with each new addition. Cameron’s background as a former Deputy Marshall serves him well in this piece, where the action is ever-mounting and the reader is pulled into the middle of a sensational story from the opening pages. Arliss Cutter enjoys his work on the Fugitive Task Force, but has no interest in any management position. When he and his team are sent to Juneau to help with a high-profile trial, things go south soon enough. Cutter is pulled into a situation and must find a young woman who is the target of a crooked businessman, all in rural Alaska. It’s a story that will keep the reader flipping pages well into the night. Another winner from Marc Cameron for sure!

Arliss Cutter loves his job as Supervisory Deputy Marshall up in Anchorage, though there are surely times he misses his native Florida. Working hard all day, capturing those who have tried to evade the law, Cutter and his team within Alaska’s Fugitive Task Force do all they can to help balance the scales of justice. There are bumps and scrapes along the way, but it’s all in a day’s work. When he returns home, it’s to help take care of his twin nephews and teenage niece, a handful on their own. Still, he would not have it any other way.

While there are some odd goings-on in Anchorage, Cutter and his partner, Lola Teariki, are sent to Juneau to help in a high-profile trial. The jury is about to be sequestered and the judge is in need of protection, as the defendants are part of a gang that prefer to take justice into their own hands. With the trial being covered by a sharp reporter, everyone is wondering where she’s getting her scoop. Lori Maycomb is not prepared to say much of anything, as she wants to keep her information under wraps and her informant out of the limelight.

When things at the trial go sideways, Cutter knows that he will be put to work hunting rather than simply protecting. There’s more to the story than a simple confidential informant, but a crooked business owner has plans of his own for the local territory and he’s not prepared to let anyone stand in his way. Even when a valuable artifact is found that might impede a money-making transportation venture, it’s no impediment to progress, as long as the right people can be silenced, permanently.

With a young woman in hiding up in the Alaskan hills, Cutter will have to work quickly to get to her, or at least keep those with a mission to scrub her out from arriving first. It’s a race against time and through a series of hurdles, including a mining area. Cutter knows it won’t be easy, but he’s not prepared to simply let a young girl’s life be silenced to pad the pockets of a corrupt individual. Justice must be done, no matter the cost!

I have long had an appreciation for Marc Cameron and his work, which pushes the reader to think outside the box. Not only is the Alaskan setting unique, but the writing delivers something that is not entirely in line with many novels in the genre. It is a different type of gritty, one that leaves the reader wanting to know more. So much is going on in this book, though it never feels overwhelming. This is definitely a series for those who love trillers and quasi-procedurals. While some applaud this as a decent standalone, I cannot think why anyone would not want to grab the previous two books to have the full context of this sensational series and its protagonist.

Arliss Cutter has grown on me over this trio of novels and there is nothing like seeing how his progression has developed. I love a mix of personal and professional growth in a character, something that Cameron offers in spades throughout. Cutter may be a saviour to his family, after the death of his brother, but he is also one who allows his sister-in-law to take on the primary role, while injecting some of his own familial life lessons when they are needed. On a professional front, Cutter works well with his partner, Lola Teariki, but does not force her to conform to what he does at every turn. The richness of the Cutter character develops well throughout this book and in the previous two novels, making him one that many readers can admire, given the time.

Marc Cameron has done well in this piece to really add some standout supporting characters. From those who recur throughout the series to the people who are one-offs to add depth to the story, there are few who do not make an impact. I thoroughly enjoy how Cameron crafts those who appear on each page, honing their personalities to flavour the narrative and enrich the plot where needed. There is something to love or hate with each person the reader encounters and this is precisely what I needed after reading some novels where things are brushed over too swiftly. While not a dense read, the book is by no means superficial and the characters help add some weight to the final product.

This is the second of Marc Cameron’s series that I have read, neither of which have left me feeling disappointed. The writing is strong and there is something that makes me want to keep reading every time I pick up one of his books. The narrative flows well, offering wonderful twists throughout, without tying the reader up in knots. The characters have depth and prove to be intriguing no matter what they have going on in their lives. Cameron teases the reader with shorter chapters at times, as if to coax them into settling down for the longer and more detailed parts of the book, which allow plot development. I enjoyed the banter through dialogue, which added something to the book and helped me imagine things playing out on the screen with ease. I cannot wait to see what’s next with Arliss Cutter, as there were a few threads left loose, which is another of Cameron’s great abilities, as the reader begs to understand what’s to come!

Kudos, Mr. Cameron, on another stellar piece. I cannot get enough of your writing and hope Arliss Cutter will be back soon!

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

Leap (Breakthrough #2), by Michael C. Grumley

Eight stars

Sticking with a strong recommendation by a dear friend, I chose to venture deeper into this series. Grumley is back with the second full-length novel in his Breakthrough series, sure to pique the interest of those who want something with a little sci-fi alongside some true action. Grumley has spent a great deal of time looking at how politics and biological issues meld together in a fast-paced book that is free from the tirade of profanity to express opinions. After a stellar series debut, Grumley returns to explore the expansion of linguistic interpretation between humans and animals, as well as something of international drama when a country is found to be secretly extracting items in the Caribbean. Grumley dishes out some wonderful storytelling and keeps the series on its toes, with a few more novels to follow.

After having relocated to Puero Rico, marine biologist Alison Shaw and her team have been taking in all the publicity they can handle. Sally and Dirk, two dolphins who are able to communicate through a piece of high-tech software, have been enjoying their time and ability to interact freely. However, there is a new challenge on the horizon and it will not be easy. As humans are closely related to gorillas, it would make sense that they communicate with one another. This has been possible through some tweaking and with new technology. Affixing a vest to the wearer, it’s now possible for humans to speak with their primate cousins, something that has caught the attention of a billionaire with a mission in mind for Alison and her crew.

Down in South America, the US Navy has become alerted to an experimental submarine, part of Russia’s fleet, having resurfaced off the coast of Brazil. Thought to have been dismantled, this sub is still fully functional and ready to show off what it can do. US Navy officers John Clay and Steve Caesare arrive to investigate and report back what might be going on. Clay and Caesare discover much, none of it uplifting, during their short time in the region. Clay and Caesare learn that a handful of soldiers have been disappearing into the jungle at night, using the cover of darkness to masquerade their true intentions. When a Chinese warship becomes part of the situation, it’s a new level of panic for all involved. This is sure to rock the Navy as they try to determine what’s next.

While Alison and her crew embark on a mission to save a fellow scientist and locate a monkey, there is more to the story than meets the eye. Technology is sometimes a richer commodity than money and its capabilities can be deadly if they land in the wrong hands. All the while, Clay and Caesare realise just how troubling new discoveries can be, particularly when they are done in secret and the scientific realities are not revealed to the general public. Some significant decisions will have to be made to fend-off what is sure to be a massive international clash in the coming days. Tensions are high, as this is something that could change the world as we know it, forever!

Michael C. Grumley has been working hard to develop this series and this book surely pulled me in a little deeper. Science fiction has never been an area of interest for me, but this book has something that I cannot explain, leaving me wanting more and needing to get to the bottom of what’s going on. Grumley spins a tale and peppers it with some great science, as well as a dose of drama, all while keeping the political and international thriller angles in high gear for those who love that sort of thing.

The book is split between Alison Shaw and John Clay, whose adventures are mostly separate but do venture together on occasion. That these two have an interest in one another cannot be dismissed, but both have grown throughout this piece and the series to date. There is a great deal of character development within the pages of this book, keeping the reader curious about how they feel about Shaw and Clay. Hints of where things may lead can be found throughout, helping to enrich further development in the novels to come. I am keen to see how things transpire and where these hints will go, as well as what blossoms.

With a handful of central secondary characters, Grumley keeps the reader connected to the series throughout. There are those who have returned from the debut novel, though the new faces are just as exciting and provide the reader with more to enjoy. I found all those who made an appearance added to the story on some level, though there were some i hope never to see again, as they did little for me. Mixing the various genres in this book, the type of characters cannot be blended into one. There were some strong political characters that will surely keep things going into the forthcoming novels, but it is the science that really has me curious, especially since I am by no means well-versed with that realm.

Grumley does well to keep the reader on their toes throughout this piece, offering up some great plots and a decent collection of characters. The narrative flowed well and kept me intrigued until the very end, left to guess in which direction things would develop. Strong characters pushed the piece along, using wonderful dialogue to keep me learning as I forged deeper into the piece. A mix of chapter lengths had me rushing to learn more on some occasions, while I was pulled into the story with the more detailed sections as well. I am surprised to be so interested in this series, since this is not a genre to which I flock regularly. That being said, you can never judge a book by its cover, or dust jacket blurb..

Kudos, Mr. Grumley, for another captivating piece! I cannot wait to see what’s to come.

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

In Her Tracks (Tracy Crosswhite #8), by Robert Dugoni

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Dugoni, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Robert Dugoni is back with another Tracy Crosswhite police procedural procedural, but adds a certain twist to keep the reader guessing. It’s been a tough go for Seattle PD Homicide Detective Crosswhite, but she is not one to let bumps in the road derail her work. Returning from maternity leave, Crosswhite is forced to take a position she does not want, but tosses herself into the work. She discovers an intriguing case that appears to be without strong leads. When Crosswhite is pulled into an active case, she finds her spark again, much to the chagrin of a captain who wants her under his foot. The missing and presumed dead have a voice in Detective Tracy Crosswhite, but she will have to breathe life into their cases before they go cold.

While she loves motherhood, Tracy Crosswhite cannot wait to get back to work. Returning to the Seattle PD’s Homicide Team, Crosswhite hopes to have her position back. However, her wily captain has other ideas, citing that they need to fill the spot while she was on maternity leave. Offering her a position as the cold case detective—one that everyone is sure Crosswhite will decline—it’s a chance for Tracy to decide what she wants next. A pep talk with the retiring detective leaves her willing to give it a shot, if only to scuttle the plans of her nemesis for a while longer.

Crosswhite scours the list of cases and finds one that piques her interest. A little girl went missing when her father took her to a corn maze and was never seen again. Part of a bitter custody battle, the little girl made numerous comments about how her parents fought before the separation. As a beat cop at the time of the disappearance, the father pulls on the heartstrings of Crosswhite, but she must remain objective.

Working on a few of the leads that go nowhere, Crosswhite is pulled into the middle of a fresh investigation with her former partner. A young jogger has gone missing in a local park and no one saw anything. Canvassing the neighbourhood, Crosswhite comes across three brothers who live together but seem to be hiding something. With nothing concrete to assert her claims of guilt, Crosswhite will have to pursue a few options on the sly.

While her missing girl case is going nowhere fast, Detective Crosswhite finds herself fixated on this jogger and how she could have disappeared into thin air. There’s something that is not adding up and those who know Tracy Crosswhite understand that she is not one to let opportunity slip through her fingers. She’ll use all her resources to get to the bottom of it, even if it means putting her future in jeopardy with a captain who wants her head on a platter.

There’s something about this series that has always kept me fully engaged and wondering. Robert Dugoni has crafted a stellar cast and writes so fluidly as to keep the reader on their toes. New ideas emerge with each novel and the series gets better the deeper into the characters Dugoni pulls the reader. I can see this being one series that will not get old any time soon.

Tracy Crosswhite is a stellar detective in her own right, having grown effectively over the last number of novels. Her grit and determination are like no other and she keeps her eye on the prize throughout, hoping to make the most of what is offered to her. Balancing work with motherhood has been tough, but Crosswhite has found a balance, even though it has come at the cost of her preferred job. It will take all she has inside her to solve the cases placed at her feet, while dodging the obstacles of suspects and a captain with an ax to grind. There is mention throughout her cold case investigation about how a missing child can tear a family apart, something Crosswhite knows all too well from her sister’s disappearance. Guilt is nothing new for Detective Tracy Crosswhite, which makes her all the more intriguing as she strives for truth.

Dugoni creates a string of strong secondary characters in this piece that complement Crosswhite when the need arises. Pulled from a variety of sources, those who fill the gaps and keep the reader intrigued offer their own spin on these missing persons cases. Some are straightforward while others prefer to present deceptive fronts, all of whom work well to keep the reader wondering what’s to come. The recurring cast is always welcome, but I also enjoy how Dugoni has created new and one-off characters that keep things exciting for all readers.

There’s something to be said for the novels in this series, as they take police procedurals to a new level. While there are the essential elements found throughout, Robert Dugoni uses his strong writing abilities to create a certain magnetism that pulls the reader into the middle of the case and won’t let go. The narrative pushes along effectively and keeps the reader on their toes until the very end, when the pieces finally come together. It’s a piece that may reveal itself slowly, but once the momentum is started, there’s not tapping on the brakes. Short to mid-length chapters propel the reader forward and keep the story on track, as much is revealed with each page turn. I can only wonder what’s to come and how Dugoni will continue to shape his core set of characters with new and exciting hurdles.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, for another winner. Your work is some of the best in the genre and I can only hope you have many more ideas to share soon.

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

Breakthrough (Breakthrough #1), by Michael C. Grumley

Eight stars

Working off a strong recommendation by a dear friend, I chose to venture into the world of Michael C. Grumley and this series. Having sped through the prequel short story, I was intrigued to see how it would all come together. It’s hard to slot this book into a specific genre, as it is part science fiction, part action, and even part biological. However one might label it, Grumley did well in its delivery and has me wanting to know a little more. Alison Shaw has been working at an aquarium for the past five years, focussing on two dolphins. Slowly, but surely, a scientific breakthrough is made that could change the way humans see the dolphin world, but it is still too soon to reveal it all. Meanwhile, a nuclear submarine goes missing and the US Government is keen to learn more. Might the technology that Shaw and her team possess be essential to finding the sub and learning what happened? Grumley certainly piques the interest of the attentive reader with this first novel in a jam-packed series.

Deep in the ocean, a US submarine goes well off course and no one aboard can tell what’s happened. It’s panic all over the place and there is nothing that can be done. Radar shows the anomaly and yet no one can properly explain the phenomena. It is only later, when two Navy Seals find an odd ring on the ocean floor that possible theories begin to emerge.

Alison Shaw has been working at a Miami aquarium for the past five years, hoping to make something of herself. Her work with two dolphins looks promising, so much so that the latest project has her highly excited about what is to come. By recording and synthesising much of the communicative speech patterns, Shaw and her team have been able to effectively engage in two-way dialogue with the dolphins. Through a high-tech computer, basic interaction between humans and dolphins seems possible, which will surely create a stir in the scientific community, as well as with the general public.

When members of the US Government learn of the dolphins’ abilities, they come knocking, if only to tap into this new resource. Using the dolphins to probe what might be taking place deep on the ocean floor could have a numerous benefits, particularly as there is now a means by which communication is possible. However, Shaw and her team are not ready to rent out the dolphins to the highest bidder, making them more of a circus act than they appear to be to attendees of the aquarium.

On the other side of the world, a massive ice quake rocks Antarctica. A number of scientists are killed and early detection explores the possibility of a major tsunami that could rock both sides of the Atlantic, should something not be done. Early signs point to a phenomena that is not quite understood, though it might all relate to that ring on the bottom of the ocean. Who is behind the ring and what will it mean for those in military and political power? Is there a new enemy emerging, one the Americans have yet to fully respect? Grumley poses this and many other questions in this thriller that pulls on many interesting threads while keeping the reader engaged throughout.

I am the first to admit that science fiction is not usually my cup of tea, but this piece had something that pulled me in from the get-go. It might have been the realism that Michael C. Grumley presents, or even that there was a grounded science and even loose political aspect to the piece, but I am happy to have accepted the recommendation to read this book and want to know more. Grumley pushes reality up against the supernatural and presses a case for what might be out there and how current technology may be on the cusp of greatness, which boggles the mind and makes it all the more exciting.

Alison Shaw serves as the likely protagonist in this piece, pulling on much of her work to guide the book’s plot. While she has been snubbed by the US Navy before, stymying her research, she tries to keep an open mind when it comes to using this linguistic technology. She is adamant that her dolphins are not playthings for use by the highest bidder, but she is also keen to help where she can. Her drive for success can be seen throughout the piece, never overshadowed by stardom. It is a push for the truth over all else that keeps her in the middle of the story and I am eager to see what comes of her character in subsequent novels.

Grumley certainly develops a strong supporting cast in this piece to keep the reader on their toes throughout. There is so much going on throughout the various subplots that the reader is forced to entertain many names and characters whose roles play a vital part of the overall story. Grumley does well to differentiate them one from the other and never loses the momentum needed to keep everyone of interest to the reader. There are hints that some may appear throughout the series while others are surely one-offs, used to propel the plot forward.

The story was great and kept my attention throughout. While I am not fully engaged with writing that pushes things too far out of the realm of reality, I allowed myself a little reprieve in order to entertain what Grumley wanted to pass along to his readers. There is much to learn from the story and the themes emerge throughout. A strong narrative guides the story along, layered with strong characters and realistic dialogue. Grumley uses a variety of chapter lengths to keep the reader engaged, filling them with knowledge at some points and rushing them from point to point on other occasions as well. I am intrigued with where things are headed and can only hope that Grumley has something equally as exciting to come in the next novel, for which I am reaching as I finalise this review.

Kudos, Mr. Grumley, for this intriguing perspective that gets the story going. I have many questions that I hope begin to receive answers as I push forward.

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

The Soul-Breaker, by Sebastian Fitzek

Seven stars

After enjoying my first venture into the world of Sebastian Fitzek, I thought that I would return with something equally chilling. Another psychological thriller that appears to have divided the reviewing world quite effectively. A mysterious person kidnaps women and leaves them in a state worse than anyone can imagine, psychologically empty and apparently soulless. Now, in a psychiatric facility, the perpetrator is loose and there are plenty of victims on which to ‘feed’. Souls will be broken, but will anyone be able to put them back together?

A spree of three missing women who turn up in a catatonic state, each with a riddle. They were not killed or raped, or even tortured, but one dies soon after being found. The psychopath who did this appears to have pushed them into a vegetative state, more chilling than anything seen before. It’s all the rage across Germany and yet no one has any answers.

Labelled ‘the Soul-Breaker’ by media outlets, this person lurks in the shadows, awaiting their next victim. After being transported to a psychiatric clinic in a snowstorm, the Soul-Breaker is set to strike again, unbeknownst to those inside. With a handful of patients and staff locked in, it will not only be a battle to protect those who are trapped within, but a race to neutralise this psychopath before more souls are lost and additional damage is wrought.

Add to this, another narrative that includes a group reading the summaries years later, under lose medical watch. Might the Soul-Breaker case be one that will be studied for years by those in the field, or is this just an experiment performed on clueless students?

I needed a little something to bridge my audiobook listening selections and thought this short novel would do just the trick. Using the Audible dramatisation, I figured the story would come to life for me. It did, to a degree, though I appear not to be as riveted as some who got their hands on the actual text. Fitzek does well with the premise, offering something eerie and chilling, though perhaps my listening as I did what I usually do while streaming an audiobook lessened the impact. All that being said, I liked it for the most part and will surely listen to more Fitzek to see if I can continue to enjoy his work.

Kudos, Mr. Fitzek, for another good publication. While I have only the Audible dramatisations to use as reference, you do seem able to really offer a chilling tale with a number of key characters offering varied perspectives.

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

Genesis (Breakthrough #0.5), by Michael C. Grumley

Eight stars

After receiving a strong recommendation to try this series “for something completely different”, I eagerly sought out this prequel piece by Michael C. Grumley. Never one to turn down a challenge or something different, I dug in to see if it would grab me. While marine biology and ocean life has never been something for which this Prairie boy has had much affinity, I was intrigued by Grumley’s teaser piece and have decided to give it a plunge, if you will.

Alison Shaw loves her research in Costa Rica, working with sea turtles. When she receives word that her funding and research are being terminated by the Office of Naval Research, she’s at a loss for what to do. A friend reaches out and offers her a chance to come see what’s being done with marine life in Florida. Alison packs up and hopes for the best, with nothing to lose.

While helping some of the marine life after a boating incident, she realises that she has a connection with many species and finds her apparent niche. A tall and mysterious gentleman notices her work and approaches Alison with an idea, one that he hopes will not only change the world, but shine a needed light on one particular member of marine life, dolphins!

As I said before, I am no marine expert, nor can I say that I have a passion for that which lives in the water. That being said, the series comes highly recommended and I was impressed with Michael C. Grumley’s writing in this prequel piece. If this is anything like what is to come, I can tell that I will be in for a treat. Great writing, strong dialogue, and something that piqued my interest. I’m in for the time being… so let’s see what Grumley has to offer!

Kudos, Mr. Grumley, for this intriguing start to your series. I’ll see if Book One keeps my attention and make a better decision thereafter.

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

Blood Kills (Angelina Bonaparte #4), by Nanci Rathbun

Eight stars

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

Having devoured the three previous novels in this series in order to reach this ARC, I was pleased to get my hands on the latest instalment of the Angelina Bonaparte mysteries. Nanci Rathbun continues to develop a great collection of novels built on the tenacious PI Angelina Bonaparte, working around Milwaukee and helping those in need. Counting down the last days of her forced separation from a lover, Angie has ordered a special piece of art to commemorate their reunification. When she arrives to collect it, she discovers the artist’s body in his shop. One thing leads to another and his seedy past comes to light. Hired by a fellow business owner to get to the bottom of things, Angie has an eye on the likely murderer, but needs to connect the dots, as more bodies pile up. This will be one case that requires additional caution to keep her alive! A great addition to the series for fans of Rathbun’s work.

Angelina Bonaparte (add the ‘tay’ on the last syllable if you want to save a punch to the mouth) has been in agony since she and her lover, Detective W. T. “Ted” Wukowski, have been forced apart by Milwaukee PD brass. However, the days are dwindling down and she has a special treat in store for him, aside from the usually flirtatious lingerie she flaunts. While visiting a local metalsmith to collect a piece, she discovers Mick Swanson’s body. Some preliminary sleuthing provides some insight in the form of a letter from Swanson himself, pointing the finger at his own cousin.

While the murder has rattled Angie, the local business owners in the cooperative are equally jarred, worried that the recent violence will cause sales to plummet. One such owner, Debby Hill, admits that she is also Swanson’s executor and worries that she will be targeted. Angie agrees to take her on as a client and they begin to unravel the darker side to Michael (Mick) Lebedev Swanson, whose service in the Russian military opens up new and troubling facets to the investigation.

When Angie and Wukowski get an MPD reprieve on their complete separation, they are able to work together, albeit in a strained fashion, on the case. Detective Wukowski provides some added insight that Mick’s DNA was found at the scene of an Illinois politician’s murder, citing that the metalsmith was actually involved in the Bratva, the Russian Mob. Realising that she will make no headway with her paramour, Angie is forced to take matters into her own hands.

More bodies pile up and Swanson’s own attorney is attacked, with the probate documents stolen. Whatever Swanson has on his cousin must be significant and rests primarily on their time in the Russian Army during the invasion of Chechnya. Angie discovers that there is some family history here that could be playing into the larger motive for murder, but worries that it will all be erased before she can get to the bottom of things. Racing against time and tossing caution into the wind, PI Bonaparte will have to take some risks to bring the truth out, much to the chagrin of hard-headed Detective Wukowski. Will there be a romantic reconnection after all?

I enjoy binge-reading a series, as it permits me to explore the plots and character development on a deeper level. When handed this ARC, I chose not to dive right in, but rather get an understanding of the series and all that Rathbun had done to date. I am pleased that I did, as it permitted me to connect better with Angelina Bonaparte, though I admit it took a while. While I was not entirely hooked by the debut novel that Nanci Rathbun offered readers, Angelina Bonaparte‘s unique approach did eventually sink in for me, giving me a deeper appreciation of her style and I was rather excited to get my hands on this novel.

Angelina Bonaparte stays the course as a strong protagonist, forced to take on a great deal yet again. While there are some moments of familial backstory peppered throughout, the main focus appears to be character development, both professional and personal. Bonaparte is a risk taker, but she appears to ground most of her actions on fact-finding and strong sleuthing. Pulled into the case, she uses many of her connections in the field to reveal truths, though her stubbornness does sometimes lead to some hot water moments. Flirty and focussed on rekindling her love affair, she has her moments of cringe-worthy saccharine one-liners, but those are par for the course.

Rathbun continues with a strong collection of secondary characters, many of whom she admits come from people she actually knows. Those who grace the pages of the book help push the story forward and keep the reader entertained throughout. While there are always criminal elements in the novels, much of the plot development comes from understanding various angles these seemingly minor characters provide the story, only adding to the greatness of the overall piece. Rathbun has some recurring characters and a bunch of new faces, keeping the reader intrigued while learning what’s going on as well.

I can finally admit that Nanci Rathbun’s novels are growing on me. While it took me some time to find my niche, trying to wrap my head around this middle-aged PI‘s obsession with undergarments, the fact that there is a strong thriller is not lost on me. The book added some grit and looked again into some recent history to add a depth and flavour to the plot, while keeping the action coming in each chapter. Rathbun’s writing is engaging throughout, usually able to steer away from predictability, though there is an undertone of slight hokines, which works in this regard. There’s a decent balance of short and longer chapters to whet the reader’s appetite throughout, with wondering pacing. I enjoyed the mix of backstory from previous novels and the newness of this mystery, a great balance that is sure to keep the reader wondering what’s to come. While it was an advantage to binge the series, I know I will have to wait for a while now to see if Angelina Bonaparte is back with more Milwaukee fun!

Kudos, Madam Rathbun, for a winner. I am glad I took the gamble on the series and feel you have a fan in me!

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

Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes

Nine stars

This story by Daniel Keyes means a great deal to me, though I have never read it. In fact, my introduction to Charlie Gordon and Algernon came from seeing the stage play of this novel many years ago. It holds a number of personal memories for me that go beyond the story or its characters. To have finally read Daniel Keyes’ piece has brought things full circle and I cannot say enough about the piece. When a man with intellectual disabilities (not the word Keyes uses, but I will keep it politically correct) is experimented upon to increase his IQ, things change drastically for Charlie Gordon, as well as the lab mouse, Algernon. Charlie sees a new self after a major operation, though this new intelligence comes at major costs, to both man and beast. A sentimental journey that is sure to touch the heart of many readers.

Charlie Gordon loves his life, at least what he knows of it. Born with intellectual disabilities, he has been living in a facility, away from his family, for many years, holding down a basic job in a bakery. When he is chosen to take part in a highly experimental surgery to increase his intellectual capacity, Charlie is not sure what to expect. Both Charlie and a lab mouse, Algernon, are set to undergo a procedure and have their intelligence monitored through a series of tests. Charlie will also be journaling his experiences, as best he can.

While there is some confusion on Charlie’s part in the pre-surgery period, he is excited about being able to ‘get smart’ and hopes the process will work. After a gruelling operation, Charlie wonders why he is not instantly different, forced to wait for progress. Using technology of the day, Charlie is able to coax his brain to open like a budding flower, soon beating Algernon in tests that were once seen to be much too difficult.

While Charlie gains intelligence, he realises that those around him no longer see him in the same way. He is no longer treated like the ‘dimwit’, though this has polarising results depending on his social circle. Charlie is soon absorbing topics that were once though impossible and takes a keen understanding in the science behind his own advancements. All the while, he is discovering the world in new and adult ways, from love to sex and even the nuances of daily conversations.

While the intelligence pushes him to genius-levels, Charlie soon has a raging epiphany, both about his past and the future he has forged for himself. Charlie Gordon may be much smarter than he was, but he is also a different man and not one he always enjoys. When changes in Algernon occur, Charlie is left to wonder if this is a harbinger of things to come. Has Charlie Gordon finally become intelligent enough to see how easy life was before, when he did not know any better?

As I said above, there are many emotional ties this story brings to the surface for me. I knew the premise going into this reading journey, though some of the parts of the novel that were not addressed in the stage play kept me riveted to see how things would end. Daniel Keyes writes a poignant novel about a man’s increased self-awareness and how that can be the root of all trouble, loosely paralleling the biblical Garden of Eden. The struggle to become better should not always run parallel with one’s heightened intelligence.

Charlie Gordon is a stunning protagonist throughout this piece. The reader is easily able to see his progression, as much of the book is told through his eyes. Charlie’s simpler beginnings may have been fraught with teasing and suffering, but they were also less complex. The ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach recurs throughout this piece, which helps echo themes for the reader. There is much personal and character growth in this book, sure to touch the reader in some form or another. Charlie’s journey is central to the story and the reader is there for the entire ride.

Keyes uses a strong collection of characters to bridge all of Charlie’s feelings throughout. Filling the narrative with key actors who not only flavour the piece, but help Charlie see who is was/is/will be is key to Keyes’ ongoing plot development. Some characters will anger the reader while others will soon become favourites, but there is a central theme that runs throughout the book; Charlie’s influence on them changes with added intelligence, and not always for the better.

This is a touching story about a man who is both test subject and experimenter, seeing his life literally change before him. The narrative depicts the struggles that are overcome when a man has a life-changing surgery, only to find new ones emerge and added hurdles brought into his way. Raw and honest throughout, the writing is reflective of Charlie’s change from the opening sentences until the final paragraph of this well-crafted book. With a mix of narrative, progress reports, and personal insights by Charlie Gordon, the reader can see the peaks and valleys before the truth comes to pass and everything connects. Daniel Keyes does a masterful job throughout, keeping the reader wondering what will become of Charlie Gordon and how his personal insights will come to shape the man he has become. Stunning and a must-read for anyone seeking something introspective.

Kudos, Mr. Keyes, for a book that will stick with me forever. I wish I had read this sooner, though the personal connection remains strong for me all those years later.

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

Legacy of War (Courtney #19), by Wilbur Smith and David Churchill

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley,Wilbur Smith, David Churchill, and Bonnier Zaffre USA for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having followed the Courtney saga for many years, I was overjoyed at the release of another novel. While Wilbur Smith has been using the assistance of other authors over the past while, the books are usually still of high caliber. With the Second World War ended, the most everyone is breathing a collective sigh of relief. However, it is still a time of and for change. Not everyone in Germany is happy with the new divided country. Additionally, there are rumblings of independence along the African continent. Smith and David Churchill bring readers another great piece in this long saga, providing much for the reader to enjoy throughout.

As the world is still coming to terms with the end of the Second World War, there are a number of truths that cannot be ignored. The largest of which is that German dictator Adolf Hitler is finally dead and Europe can relax, to a degree. While the Nazis are no longer a threat, Europe has been taken over, in a sense, by the conflicting ideologies of American capitalism and Soviet communism. Saffron Courtney surveys things from London and is relatively pleased. Her husband, Gerhard, is free from a concentration camp, and they can focus on their connection once more. However, Konrad von Meerbach, Gerhard’s brother with strong affinity for the Nazis, seeks to regain power and bring a new wave of national socialism to his native land.

While all this envelops Europe, the African continent is becoming more boisterous. The colonial empire has developed cracks, particularly in Kenya. There, the locals have begun trying to drum up support for a complete overthrow. Their current target are those who are sympathetic to the British. Blood will flow and that is sure to cause issues for the Courtney family, all the way up to the patriarch, Leon. As Kenya balances on the precipice, the Courtneys must wonder what the future holds for them in the country of their forbearers.

When Konrad arrives in Kenya to pay a visit to Gerhard and Saffron, it is anything but cordial. He has a plan and wants nothing other than to instil fear. Could a simple visit begin a chain of events that leads to Gerhard’s demise once again? With Kenya less than stable, there are many factors that could easily cause issues for all involved. The Courtney family is in serious trouble and Saffron may be the only means by which things do not completely unravel. A nice addition to the series that proves there is still something left to explore in this series, which has entertained for over a generation.

While I was quite late to the party when it came to the Courtney series, I loved the early novels that spun wonderful tales of mystery across the African continent. However, as Wilbur Smith aged, he chose to partner up with others, sometimes lessening the impact of the novels and diluting what has been a strong Courtney saga. David Churchill appears to do well in complementing Smith’s work, keeping the 20th century series alive and well. At least that’s something series fan can look forward to with this piece.

Saffron Courtney does well as a protagonist in this piece, offering the reader some great insights into how to handle living in both Europe and Africa. The story uses her experiences on both continents, as well as some historical events that developed in the background. Saffron reminds readers of the richness of the Courtney family over the decades, as well as her own personal growth. There is some wonderful character development to be had and series fans will likely enjoy how all the pieces have come together.

Smith and Churchill have used a strong collection of supporting characters as well, all of whom enrich the story in their own way. Be it the rise of independence in Kenya or the residue of Nazi support in Germany, those who grace the pages of the book prove highly entertaining for the reader. There is a lot to cover in the book and these secondary characters do well to keep the reader on point throughout.

As it relates to the overall story, I found myself enjoying parts of the book and seeking to skip over others. There is a definite richness in the narrative, particularly as it relates to historical events, pulling the reader in and keeping the story on a strong pathway. However, there are other times when things appear to drag and left me wanting to hit the ‘turbo’ button to get back to the action. The character development and richness of the Courtney saga cannot be ignored here, as those who have followed the collection have come to know. All that being said, this is not a book (or a series) that can be started at any point. There is too much backstory that emerges to ‘catch up’ in a single book. With short to mid-length chapters, the authors keep the book moving and the action growing. There’s much to discover for the curious reader, even if the writing style and delivery can sometimes not match the traditional Wilbur Smith approach.

Kudos, Messrs. Smith and Churchill, for another instalment of this strong series. While I may not like all of them, I have come to enjoy the ongoing drama!

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

Dark Pattern (The Naturalist #4), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

Andrew Mayne proves yet again to be one of the most captivating thriller writers that I have had the pleasure to read. His novels are easy to comprehend while tying the reader up in knots with complex plots that are quite unique. The versatility he exemplifies creates a reading experience where one can never be sure what awaits them around the bend. This series, my third, utilises some of the most thought-provoking stories that I can recollect ever encountering, mixing thrills with science and peppering in some humour when time permits. Mayne’s protagonist, Theo Cray, is highly unique himself and never shies away from controversy, which only adds to the experience. After being sprayed with an unknown toxin at the end of the last novel, Cray is off his game and wondering if he is infected with Hyde virus. He is handed another unique serial killer case and heads to Louisiana to see if a nurse is responsible for a series of deaths across a number of hospitals. What looks like a simple case grows exponentially more complex, leaving Cray on the wrong end of the authorities and a jail cell! Mayne dazzles yet again in this thriller.

Theo Cray may be a talented computational biologist, but he cannot shake the feeling that something is very wrong. After being sprayed with an unknown toxin a while back, he cannot help but wonder if it was Hyde virus. The virus is said to turn the rational brain into that of a killer for no apparent reason. While he is not showing any outward symptoms, Cray is not taking any chances and has been receiving brain scans to check for any anomalies.

While he feels less than ready to tackle another case, one falls into his lap down in Louisiana. Cray is sent to look for a nurse who appears to have been killing people, children included, and leaving a wake of disaster. Always able to sneak off before he’s been discovered, this nurse is out to kill, likely hundreds, without justice being served. Cray is on it, sure that he can find the pattern.

When he arrives in Baton Rouge, Cray receives some confidential material to which he is not legal entitled. Using it, Cray is able to create a graph that shows the killer’s progress through a number of facilities. While Cray is eager to offer up some answers, he must tread carefully. Inching towards an answer, Cray does all in his power to name the killer, sure that this will impress everyone and return him to hero status once and for all.

However, things go awry and Cray finds himself on the wrong end of a legal probe into his actions. He is able to escape, barely, but a hefty fine lingers over him. During a visit by one of his former professors, Amanda Paulson, Cray realises that he has been looking at the case through too narrow a scope. This new insight opens the door to new data plotting and reveals that the killer may be using additional resources to cover their tracks.

On a whim, Cray travel outside of the continental United States and makes his way to an old facility in the Caribbean, only to realise that American justice is a tad more patient than here. Cray finds himself awaiting for the wheels of justice to turn, as a killer continues to lurk in the shadows. It is sure to take Cray more than a little luck to finally solve this case and ensure his safety.

Andrew Mayne seems to keep getting better the more he writes, particularly in this series, With the less than ‘normal’ The Cray, Mayne has developed quite the series, leaving no rock unturned and helping to educate the reader on the nuances of the lesser known sciences that can help in the forensic battle. It is hard to believe this is the final in the Theo Cray series to date, though there is a treat that awaits Mayne fans later in 2021, where two stellar protagonists will come together.

Theo Cray may be off his game, but he remains as sharp as ever throughout this piece. His scientific mind is like no other and appears to spin in some really interesting directions. Cray is keen to impress, while also worrying that he may be infected with a horrible disease that could turn him rogue. Balancing that with a burgeoning personal life, The Cray has little time to rest on his laurels. This may not be one of his most harrowing cases ever, but he certainly has the most riding on it.

Mayne does a masterful job with his supporting cast yet again, coaxing out some great banter that fuels an already strong narrative. As the book moves through various parts of the United States and into the Caribbean, those who encounter Theo Cray add a wonderful depth to the experience. There is a great deal going on and Cray sees many faces, each a little more daunting than the last. There is little time to stop in the book and these characters enrich the story perfectly, flavouring things effectively throughout the journey.

As always, the stories are on point and perfectly paced. Mayne has a wonderful way of getting to the root of the matter and impacts things with his strong writing. The narrative pace keeps the reader wanting to learn a little more and the dialogue banter provides some needed entertainment between the serious portions. Mayne has always made a point of showing his reader more of the protagonist as the story advances and this was no exception. Short chapters keep the reader moving forward and wondering what awaits them. While Mayne likely has some other plans for Cray in the coming months, I cannot wait to see him evolve and become an even more endearing, if not awkward, character for the masses to enjoy.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for another piece that connects things just enough for the reader to want more. I am glad to have had this series recommended and can only hope there is lots more to come.

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

Murder Theory (The Naturalist #3), by Andrew Mayne

Nine stars

To call Andrew Mayne one of the most engrossing thriller writers that I have read would not be a leap. He is not only easy to comprehend, but his versatility makes for an exciting adventure each time I get my hands on another of his publications. This series, in particular, has come up with some of the most thought-provoking thriller reads that I have found in longer than I can remember. Mayne’s unique situations and captivating protagonist, Theo Cray, create a new layer of intrigue that keeps getting better the more I read. Cray has settled down a little, working in a lab. He’s been contracted by the Department of Defence to handle some analytics and seems in his element. However, something’s going on at the scene of the Toy Man’s burial ground, a serial killer Cray helped uncover. While some feel that it is just an anomaly, the FBI calls on Cray to investigate. He finds a chilling pattern and soon realises that someone is out there, not a serial killer in the traditional sense, but rather someone who is creating them before they are unleashed on the world. A stunning piece that leaves the reader gasping for breath by the end, with a cliffhanger like no other. This is Mayne at his best, full stop!

Theo Cray is a talented computational biologist, studying the systems in which things live and finding patterns to describe actions. He’s also been able to use this background to bring down two stunning serial killers, both of whom eluded the authorities with their conniving ways. After having set up a lab in Austin, Texas, Cray has a team and they are synthesising data, including a fairly hefty program for the Department of Defence (DoD). It’s a great deal of work, but Cray has the support he needs and even a lab manager who seems capable.

When news comes to him that there is something taking place at the burial site of the Toy Man, the second of the aforementioned killers, Cray is intrigued. A forensic technician was collecting samples and seemingly had a psychotic break, killing those around him. While he is in custody, the oddity of the action baffles everyone, as the technician was known to be docile. Cray is called in by the FBI to have a look, as nothing is adding up. While it baffles Cray as well, there’s surely something there to be found, given a little time and some analysis.

Cray digs deeper, only to discover that there is something on the medical scans that appears troubling. Could those who killed have been infected with something that pushed them in that direction? While Cray has seen it in the insect world, there’s nothing documented about a neurological toxin that turns a human into a killing machine, or is there?

Someone is out there and it is up to Cray to coax them out of the shadows, if only to determine who they could be. Coining the term ‘Hyde virus’ to denote the flip side personality that emerges, Cray seeks to determine its origin. Cray decides to take the giant leap and create his own murder scene to lure the ‘killer’ out to see what happens. All the while, he is bound and determined to see what is being used to infect the brain. It’s a risky move, as the authorities are sure that there is a new killer on the loose, with a pile of bodies that Cray has left out. Shoddy prep work points to someone having provided Cray with the materials, leaving him in trouble with the law and facing potential jail time. Still, he must get to the bottom of this before it’s too late.

Working every angle he can, Cray finds something in the DoD files that could help him better understand the Hyde virus, but it will take more than dusty reports on yellowing pages to catch this serial killer creator, negating the neurological blowback and the additional fallout. This may be the largest case ever for Cray, who once considered himself a humble introvert with a side of arrogance. This is a chilling novel, though even that seems to be an understatement, particularly when referring to the final few paragraphs of this book, which offer up a cliffhanger like no other.

I have never read an Andrew Mayne novel and felt underwhelmed or anything bordering on indifferent. There is so much to absorb in each book that the reader takes something away. Add to that, the completely different path each series follows and the reader is treated to something even more stunning. I kick myself for having waited this long to discover Mayne’s work, after a few great friends have been hinting that I need to give his books a chance. The Theo Cray series alone has pushed me to my limits and keeps me enthralled throughout each piece. I can only wonder what the next book will bring.

Theo Cray remains unique while also growing on the reader in this series. Having almost fallen in to the world of serial killer hunter, Cray uses his academic background to find things that are elusive to many others. His work in Montana and Atlanta returns throughout this book, at least in passing mention, while he discovers nuances and clues that point in a particular direction. Mayne has not only honed his protagonist’s skills, but also given him a complex personality, which is on offer throughout. Building his professional and personal lives in tandem, the reader is able to see a fully three dimensional character who springs from the page with ease, something that few series can do so readily in a supersaturated genre.

The secondary characters in Andrew Mayne’s novels are not simply window dressing, as this series proves repeatedly. Like an errant fibre or piece of blood spatter in most novels, everything (and everyone) serves a purpose. The larger narrative is enriched and flavoured by those who grace the pages of this book, some complementing the protagonist, while others seek to impede progress. Either way, it is a wonderful experience and adds significantly to the novel’s connectivity. There is so much going on, but it never feels tangential and useless, as Mayne spins a web that is only later fully revealed and understood. I cannot wait to see what awaits the series, as there is something brewing, even amongst the secondary cast of characters.

Andrew Mayne is one of the great crime thriller storytellers, hands down. While he may not create eerie killers who sit in their homes plotting and using their own narrative perspective to add chills, there is definitively something to be said about how he constructs his novels. The stories build off one another (so I will bluntly say, ‘yes, you have to read the novels in order and from the beginning in this series’) and the action ramps up with each chapter. Theo Cray gets better the more the reader discovers and the narrative pushes him to the limits throughout. All that being said, there is a sense of realism throughout that keeps the reader from feeling things are getting too far off track. All this could happen and yet it is also so mind boggling. Crisp writing in short chapters keeps the reader forging ahead and the twists begin to pile up. The story has layers like no other and I cannot say enough about the momentum the plot injects into each page. This is surely not a book for those seeking a quick read that will soon be forgotten. Mayne’s pieces are like ear wigs that stick with you, but that’s a good thing, as you need to remember what’s happened to see where the path leads next.

With one more novel in this series (to date) and an upcoming publication including Cray and Jessica Blackwood together, fans of Mayne’s work have much in which to revel. Stellar writing has never been so addictive and I can only hope others discover Mayne soon, as I would love to dissect his work with other newbies and long-time fans!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for another wonderful piece. You never cease to amaze me with what you have to say about the world through your writing. I can definitely see a fan base growing exponentially if your writing continues to be as strong.

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

Instinct, by Jason M. Hough

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley,Jason M. Hough, Gallery Books, and Skybound Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always one to try something a little different, I excitedly grabbed for this novel by Jason M. Hough, which mixes the intensity of a thriller with the mystery of small-town America. When a police officer in a small Washington community is thrust into a leadership role, she begins to notice that the locals are not acting as they should, or at least how she expects they would. Is there a reason or is this all something wonky about small town life? Hough keeps the reader guessing throughout and makes quite the impact in doing so.

After leaving Oakland PD, Mary Whittaker is still trying to acclimate to life in Silvertown, Washington. It’s small—population 602, small—and the locals seem happy to keep to themselves, but also come up with some typical issues. Learning all she can from the local chief, Whittaker is determined to make her impression on the town and its citizenry. It won’t be easy, but it’s one challenge that Whittaker is bound and determined to overcome.

When the chief takes an unexpected leave of absence, Whittaker is left to run things on her own. She takes a call out of town when a hiker is attacked by a bear, unable to understand why he did not react. After interviewing his companion, it would seem that the man who had little love of nature simply gave up and waited for fate to take its course.

There are other oddities around town, like the introverted teenager who loves gaming but chose to wander out into the woods and died. Or the woman who loves her twins and yet left them at home while frolicking in town. Some call it a reaction to the new cell tower that was erected, but Whittaker thinks that there is more to it. This is one mystery for which she’ll not let the gossips create a narrative.

As she tries to piece things together, Whittaker discovers what might be involved in all the shenanigans, but she is not yet ready to commit to that response. She probes a little deeper, only to see that losing one’s instinct is the least of the town’s concerns, though she might not live long enough to report it to others. A chilling piece that keeps the reader thinking until the very last page flip.

I have never read anything by Jason M. Hough and I am kicking myself for that. In a piece that is full of action and intrigue, I found myself fully committed throughout the process and could not wait to see what was coming next. Hough keeps things on the mysterious side, without venturing too far out of reality. Still, there’s something a little eerie in the story and how things play out.

Mary Whittaker is a strong protagonist in this piece, keeping the reader informed of both her back story and how she develops throughout. Still trying to get used to country or small town life, Whittaker must tackle policing on an entirely new level. While she struggles at times, the reader can see some wonderful development throughout, which enriches the story as well as advancing the narrative.

Hough offers up some wonderful supporting characters in this piece, all of whom do their own thing to make the story all the better. While small town life is not always full of excitement, there is something about the various characters in this piece that flavour the narrative effectively and keep the story moving. Those the reader thinks they know are soon showing another side, which only adds depth to the piece and keeps the reader wanting to discover a little more.

The story itself sounds typical small town, something is going on and the townsfolk are acting oddly. However, Jason M. Hough takes it a step further and delves into some interesting discussions, both on a character level and with the psychology of a person. What makes someone do something and can override those instincts or inhibitions? He tackles this with a strong narrative that progresses throughout, easily taking the reader on many a journey. Additionally, there are some wonderful ‘aha’ moments, as the reader tries to make sense of things with the numerous reveals throughout. The plot stays intense and there are no lack of twists as the piece progresses. A mix of chapter lengths has the reader begging for more, as they read well into the night. I cannot wait to see what else Hough has penned, so that I can compare and enjoy things in the future.

Kudos, Mr. Hough, for a great piece that has me curious. You are definitely on my radar.

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

Looking Glass (The Naturalist #2), by Andrew Mayne

Nine stars

Andrew Mayne is more versatile than many other authors I have read over the last few years. While he remains within the crime thriller genre, Mayne uses unique situations and protagonists that keep the reader on their toes and wondering. While I devoured two of his other series already, I was eager to get my hands on his Theo Cray novels, as I hear they are quite different, even by Mayne standards. Professor Theo Cray is still buzzing from his discovery of a serial killer in rural Montana, but is not all that keen about people using him for his skills alone. When Cray is asked to help locate a missing boy in Los Angeles, he reluctantly agrees, which only opens a complex web that he could not have predicted. One of the better crime thrillers I have read over the last number of years, Mayne proves that he is miles apart from others in the genre. Perfect for the lover of unique novels in the genre, as well as Mayne fans alike!

Theo Cray prides himself on being a computational biologist, one who studies the systems in which things live, but his past discovery of a serial killer in rural Montana is what everyone remembers. After leaving academia because of a somewhat problematic set of decisions, Cray finds himself working for a company that seeks to predict terrorist activities. However, Cray soon sees that he is being used for what he knows and his sentiments are not taken into account. It’s surely not the life for him, though he needs something to occupy his time.

Cray’s notoriety has left him having to dodge many people who want his help locating their loved ones, using his unique tracking measures. When a man approaches Cray for help locating his son, the biologist-cum-crime solver wonders if this might be a sign. There is no trace of the boy and the authorities have decided that it is not worth their time. The poor Los Angeles community has also given up hope that there will be anything they can do. All that’s left are some drawings that might mean nothing.

As Cray begins to look into things, he makes a valiant effort not to offend anyone, though his style of investigating is unique and not always pleasant. He is abrupt and direct, while also bending the rules as he sees fit. When Cray uncovers that there are other young boys that have gone missing, it all comes back to the drawings they made of a Toy Man, someone who gives presents to young children, but is said to punish the bad.

When Cray uncovers another interesting trait about the children, he is on a mission to solve the crime. The case takes on new meaning and gains momentum as Cray travels across the country to follow traces of the Toy Man and what might be really going on. It’s a race to uncover the truth, even if everyone else has given up on what matters most, the life of a little boy!

Since discovering the world of Andrew Mayne, I cannot say that I have been disappointed in the least. His unique take on forensics and crime detecting leaves the reader with something exciting as they delve deeper into the novels. This third series of his has proven to be anything by usual, offering up some wonderful spins on the traditional approaches, helping him to stay apart and be noticed.

Theo Cray is definitely unique as he tackles life and the criminal element. He is happy to pursue what makes him happy, using a unique skill set to find answers where others cannot. While he refuses to ‘colour in the lines’, Cray gets results and so many have come to accept his ways, if only for the time being. His grit and determination have shone through in this novel again, as he chases after clues that appear to take him further into danger. It’s a chilling story that leaves the reader wondering what else they can learn about him.

Andrew Mayne does a masterful job once again developing a supporting cast. There is so much to learn about Cray’s interaction with others, as well as how these characters present themselves. The story comes to life repeatedly and the reader is able to use these strong secondary characters to see where things are headed. The action is non-stop and it is those who grace the pages of the book that make them all the more exciting for sure.

Andrew Mayne never ceases to amaze me with his approach to storytelling. A strong narrative that pushes along throughout the story, there is something for everyone. Many will like the uniqueness that Mayne offers, particularly the momentum seen throughout the narrative. Short chapters leave the reader pushing further and wanting more, if only to see the next twist on the horizon. I devoured this piece and cannot wait to see what’s next in the Theo Cray series.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for a brilliant novel that will have me telling anyone who will listen about all you have done in the genre.

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

Passenger 23, by Sebastian Fitzek

Eight stars

In the world of mystery writing, there are many ways in which a body can disappear, as noted in the massive collection of books in the genre. Sebastian Fitzek pushes the reader to think outside the box with this thriller, which takes mystery to a new level and places the story on the high seas. While a handful of passengers who travel by boat go missing every year, they are mere statistics. However, to one man, they mean a great deal, as he lost his wife and son in such a way and then never turned up again. Five years on, a missing girl reappears aboard one of the large ocean liners, holding a relic from the past. Where has she been and how might her disappearance be part of a larger plot? Fitzek stirs up something inside the reader and keeps them guessing throughout.

Martin Schwartz is still trying to come to terms with the loss of his wife and son. Their disappearance aboard a pleasure cruise still haunts him five years later. When no trace could be found of them, it was determined to be a sick sort of murder-suicide, where they went overboard. The phenomena of missing passengers on ships has a name, Passenger 23, attributed to the number of people who go missing in this manner every year. Now, Schwartz has been summoned aboard the Sultan of the Seas, a massive ship travelling from the English Coast over to New York. When he boards, he is greeted by an old woman who is known for her fiction writing. However, she has a story to tell that may change Schwartz’s mind about what happened to his family.

While the ship lumbers out into the open waters, a girl mysteriously reappears, looking haggard and highly confused. What’s more, Anouk Lamar was declared missing while travelling aboard. She’s clutching something highly intriguing, the teddy bear Schwartz’s son had during his journey on the open waters. Schwartz, a trained police psychologist, tries to learn what’s happened to Anouk and discover who may have been holding her captive.

While the results come back that Anouk was raped, it is the crew of the Sultan that want to keep the news under wraps. Schwartz is tasked with trying to figure out what happened to Anouk and who may be responsible, all before they make it to shore. Schwartz is baffled at the cloak and dagger games, but does his best to discover where Anouk and others may have been held, as well as who might be responsible for it all.

Meanwhile, someone has Anouk’s mother captive, another supposed victim of Passenger 23. There is a game of cat and mouse—more like spider and fly—taking place and the elusive captor has a plan. Stopping at nothing to instil fear and push various forms of torture on the broken woman, someone has a plan that may be larger than this single woman. Time is running out and the ship is massive, leaving every door a possible spot to stow someone away, in a sick game that few know is even taking place. A chilling story to say the least and proves that Fitzek is on his game.

It takes a certain type of writer to really get to the heart of a chilling tale and grip the reader throughout. Sebastian Fitzek has proven capable of that with his unique take on the crime thriller, using the open seas as the primary setting. While the story progresses as many others might, it is the compartmentalization of the entire group aboard a ship that gives the story a new sense of urgency and thrill. Fitzek builds the narrative up and keeps the reader guessing what awaits them, as the piece is full of twists and turns that no one could have seen coming.

While Martin Schwartz is the presumed protagonist, he shares the important portions of the story with many others. Schwartz has an interesting backstory, both with the police and the loss of his family. Schwartz works tirelessly when he is aboard the ship to better understand what’s happened and get to the root of the issue. However, things take many a turn and Schwartz ends up learning a great deal about himself as he pieces the mystery together. I have no idea if Fitzek writes standalone only, but Martin Schwartz would be intriguing to see again, allowing his character to develop a little more.

The vast array of supporting characters provides an intriguing flavour to the narrative. From those who work aboard the Sultan of the Seas to the passengers who have their own backstories, the collection of people who grace the pages of the book help to enrich the reading experience. I can see Fitzek developing them throughout, as each plays a key role in the larger story. There is definitely not a skimping when it comes to constructing them to effectively tell the story needed to better understand what is going on.

The book itself flows relatively well, with little when it comes to poor pacing. The fact that it was translated is not obvious, as Fitzek’s writing has surely been placed in the hands of a professional. The story flows with ease and the mystery builds throughout, adding twists at just the right time to keep the reader guessing until the final pages. Strong narrative movement and a plot that is somewhat unique let the book stand out from many in the genre. A mix of chapter lengths help tease the reader into wanting to get ‘just a little more read’ before putting it aside at any one time. I am eager to see some of the other work that Fitzek has penned and hope they were as exciting as this novel.

Kudos, Mr. Fitzek, for intriguing me a great deal. I hope to find some of your other work soon and compare it with this stunning piece of writing.

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: