A Gambling Man (Aloysius Archer #2), by David Baldacci

Eight stars

There’s something about David Baldacci and his writing that has me intrigued whenever I grab for one of his books. Always keen to depict a wonderful piece of sleuthing, Baldacci has a knack for bringing a story to life. In this series, he’s added a throwback angle, setting things in the early 1950s, which gives the reader another aspect to enjoy a great deal. Aloysius Archer has seen a great deal, having served in the war and spent a little time behind bars. Now he’s headed west, where he may have a job, working as a private detective, waiting for him in California. After a stop in Reno, where trouble and a few interesting characters find him, Archer’s ready to head towards the bright lights. There, he’s pulled into a case of blackmail and murder, which is just how someone wants to cut their teeth in the sleuthing business. A great story that shows just how versatile Baldacci can be.

It has always been Aloysius Archer’s dream to solve cases, even if he has no notable experience. He’s made it through the war and tried to come out of it a changed man. A few dust-ups left him to serve time for a crime he did not commit, but that is behind him. Now, it’s California that’s calling and a potential job working as a private detective under a man who has quite the reputation. All Archer need do is make it there and prove his worth.

Along the way, Reno, Nevada calls. Archer is no gambling man, but he agrees to take in the sights, if only briefly. After learning the art of gambling and risk taking, Archer and a new companion prepare for a venture west, but are hampered when a local man meets up with some trouble of the gambling debt variety. Archer’s big heart and wily ways help rectify the situation.

With the bright lights of California on the horizon, Archer proceeds to a small town to present himself, in hopes of solid work and something to show for himself. He’s pulled in for a quasi-interview, which turns into being tossed in the middle of a case. There’s an election for mayor and one of the candidates is being blackmailed. Archer will have to prove that it’s all nonsense and that the philandering is a smear campaign. Asking some poignant questions, Archer begins to see how the town runs and who is pulling the strings.

However, when a woman turns up murdered, Archer cannot help but take notice and suspects it is to silence her. Politics has always been a dirty business and Archer’s come to see that this is no exception. Delving into the darkest of corners, Archer must not only find out who has been blackmailing the mayoral candidate, but also why murder seems the only way to keep players in the scheme from talking. When a few others turn up dead, Archer realises that this is a case that will require much of his time and intuitiveness,.. What a way to begin life in the gumshoe business!

Versatility is key for any author who wants to stay at the forefront of writing. Readers can be fickle, or at least demand some new angle to keep them coming back. David Baldacci has done just that and it seems to work. Setting the story back in the early 1950s and working some more primitive angles (no smartphones here, gasp!), the reader can see how things were done when sweat and intuition served to grease the wheels of detective work. It all comes together nicely and I cannot say it was anything but a success.

Aloysius Archer has a laidback approach to life that makes him the perfect protagonist for this piece. Wanting nothing more than to live and let live—so long as it does not impede his ability to enjoy things—Archer does what he can on a daily basis. He comes off as gritty, yet not overly temperamental, seeking truth over trying to make trouble for others. Should the series continue, I can see myself wanting to know a great deal more about the man and perhaps more of his past, as well as what the future has in store. It’s sure to be an interesting experience for any reader.

Baldacci presents a handful of interesting supporting characters, all of whom set the scene well and offer a flavour to the story that helps substantiate its 50s throwback. There is a lot of work that went into this piece, the characters doing their part to help the reader feel fully involved. While some folks do come off as somewhat stereotypical, the story needed them to offset some of the bold and brazenness that emerges throughout the narrative.

While I have never been one to flock towards dime store novels that depict detectives and women who beg to be protected, this piece worked well for me. Baldacci paints a wonderful picture of life in 1950s America and things come together with ease. A strong narrative keeps the reader wanting to know more, while the characters add a certain depth to things that made me feel as though I were part of the action. The dialogue and vernacular certainly took me back, where I expected everyone to be smoking and the men donning fedoras. It worked and shows the versatile nature of David Baldacci’s writing. It’s certainly worth the gamble of any reader wanting something a little different.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for another winner. You have me intrigued with Aloysius Archer and I hope to see him again soon!

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

https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Behind the Wall: A Short Story, by Harris Kloe

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Harris Kloe for providing me with a copy of this short story, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review. Feel free to check out the book here: http://mybook.to/BehindtheWall

After a long day of travelling, Henry wanted a nice place to lay his head, choosing the penthouse suite of the Hill View Hotel. After a short bit of banter with the clerk, Henry is shown his room and wished a good stay. While the room is all he could have asked for, one of the walls seems out of place, a mental irritant that Henry cannot shake. Henry settles in and is soon fast asleep, but hears an odd dripping sound, something he cannot place.

After finding the clerk in the morning, Henry relays his concern and is told that it will be handled as soon as possible. However, when taken a short nap later that day, Henry hears the sound again, which precedes an even more disturbing realisation. The misplaced wall is soon the least of Henry’s worries, as he discovers something much more troubling.

Harris Kloe asked me to read this short piece, a story that took me a mere fifteen minutes to finish. The story flowed well and kept me intrigued until the final page, when everything came together. I was impressed with the writing, the plot, and even the story’s development. As this was the first in the collection, I am eager to see what Kloe has next for readers and how walls play a role throughout.

Kudos, Mr. Kloe, for leaving me curious and impressed as well. I am eager to see what the rest of the short story collection has to offer.

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

Rising Tide (DI Jamie Johansson #2), by Morgan Greene

Eight stars

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

I have been following Morgan Greene since his fist novel caught my attention. It seems that Greene has a knack for writing that keeps getting better with each story he produces. While Jamie Johansson has evolved, she has never turned into a predictable character, finding strength and grit in every situation. This book takes the story out of the ‘traditional’ police venue and places DI Johansson and her partner in survival mode. When aa murder on a Swedish oil rig requires some investigation, DI Johansson and Kriminalinspektör Wiik are chosen to take the trip over 500 kms off the Norwegian coast to find the killer. What begins as a simple investigation takes a turn for the worse quickly. As no one can get on or off the rig, the killer must be there, but who could it be? Johansson and Wiik become hunted prey as they try to survive until help can arrive, hindered by stormy weather. As the body count mounts, it will be a race to reveal the killer before Johansson and Wiik become victims themselves. Series fans will be eager to get their hands on this novel, as Morgan Greene dazzles throughout.

While DI Jamie Johansson remains seconded to Stockholm Polis, she is eager to keep working leads on who might have killed her father. However, her time to do so is short lived when summoned to begin a daring investigation. There’s been a murder on a Swedish oil rig off the Norwegian coast. Bolstad has called on Stockholm’s best homicide detectives to take the lead and catch the killer, thereby saving their teetering reputation. When Johansson and her partner, Kriminalinspektör Anders Wiik, are shuttled 500 kilometres out to sea, they can only hope it will take a few hours to find a killer, who must be among the crew.

However, arriving on the rig is the easy part, as DI Johansson and Wiik find themselves not welcomed by the crew from the outset. As the detectives try to get a handle on what’s happened, Johansson and Wiik find themselves targeted by someone who wants to snub out the investigation before it gains any momentum. However, with a strong intuitive sense, Johansson and Wiik are ale to dodge a few bullets—literally—while others are not so lucky.

Once DI Johansson learns that there may have been some tampering with the rig, it’s a matter of determining who hatched the plan and how the secret’s been kept. All the while, gale-force winds and stormy seas keep Johansson and Woiok from being able to receive any additional backup. It does, however, permit them a little time to discuss another matter, that being the impetus to see them take the case and how it connects to Johnasson’s own investigation into her father’s death. However, all that will be moot if they cannot make it back to land, something that becomes more unlikely with each passing hour. A chilling story where the hunters become the hunted and police work turns to pure survival!

There is something to be said of an author who can push outside their usual confines and still create a story that matches past publications. It would seem that Morgan Greene can do both with ease, keeping his fans flipping pages well into the night. There is much to learn and even more that remains hidden within these books, though each piece offers some crumbs that point the way to the larger picture. Greene is masterful and anyone curious about a unique take on police procedurals need look no further than this series with a strong protagonist in Jamie Johansson.

Series fans will see the growth that DI Jamie Johansson has made throughout, even if it is incremental. She has her eye on the prize and never strays from finding the truth. While policework is her primary interest, solving the cold case that is her father’s murder (covered up to appear like a suicide) proves to be the added momentum needed to keep the young detective on track. Greene has done well to craft her as both unique and intriguing, with just enough grit to keep her ready to push the boundaries of all that is set out before her. There’s so much more to learn, which I hope Greene will reveal in time.

As with most of Greene’s other works, the supporting cast makes the book come to life, complementing and contrasting with Johansson in equal measure. This is a story unlike many of the others, where the killer is right there, though their identity remains unknown. With nowhere to hide, it becomes a game of cat and mouse, forcing the reader to find clues in all those who grace the pages of this procedural. That adds depth and much intrigue to an already great story.

As Greene admits in his author’s note, the story seeks to reinvent the police procedural by moving the setting away from what many might expect. Like an isolated island or even a moving train, the setting forces the reader to examine all those in the confined space and posit who might be acting and for what reason. Turning the investigators into prey themselves, the dramatic approach is heightened and I am pleased to see Greene has done this so well. The narrative moved along well and there were few moments I felt it lag. Strong characters, witty dialogue, and a plot that kept me guessing are all parts of the overall story that will have me coming back for more. The story arc of the suicide that was murder has me wondering who is hiding something, particularly with that stunning epilogue that left the reader seeing new pieces of the puzzle emerge and fall into place in the closing sentences. Brilliant work… with another novel soon to come!

Kudos, Mr. Greene, for another winner. You have the gift and I enjoy how you pass it along to your readers with such apparent ease.

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

Shutter, by Melissa Larsen

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Melissa Larsen, and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Melissa Larsen brings much to this debut novel, taking the reader on a curious, as well as eerie, trip through the mind of a film director with a mission. A young woman has her sights set on making it big and heads to New York, where she knows but one person. After being introduced to a mysterious film director, Betty agrees to be cast in the leading role of an upcoming film, not entirely clear what it will entail. Later learning that this is an ‘act natural’ film, Betty soon discovers there’s more to it than she thought at first, pitting actors against one another, especially those unaware that the camera is even rolling. Well-paced and chilling at times, Larsen shows in Shutter that she has what it takes to stand above many in the genre.

It’s been a rough few months for Betty, which is why she has decided to flee her small California town for the bright lights of NYC. There, with only one childhood friend to call upon, Betty tries to make it big. She’s soon introduced to Anthony Marino, a film director with a new idea. Marino feels that Betty could be the perfect fit for his new project, but he is not yet ready to share any of the details.

Travelling up to a small Maine cabin, Marino, Betty, and a few others prepare to shoot the film on-location. It happens to be the Marino family cabin, where Anthony spent much time as a child. Betty is told that the film with be without script or actual direction, more an ‘act natural’ idea, where cameras are always rolling, hidden in rooms, on trees, and many other places. It is supposed to be a chance for everyone to just be and let the story evolve.

Betty is tasked with becoming Lola, a young woman with no clear backstory. She must also develop immediate chemistry with her leading man, Mads. While this may be the goal, Betty finds herself constantly drawn to Anthony, which will make building proper chemistry a little harder. Still, Betty is trying to come to terms with the literal and figurative transformation into Lola, its importance as yet baffling.

When Anthony announces that there will be a stalker element to the film, he introduces a new face, Sammy. This is a childhood friend of Anthony’s and an unknowing addition to the film. While Sammy appears inquisitive on the surface, he begins to gravitate towards Betty in odd ways. It is only then that the truth about the Anthony-Sammy connection is revealed, as well as the essence of Betty’s transformation into Lola. What’s not yet clear is what will happen when all these elements are put together in a bucolic setting, with the cameras rolling non-stop.

Melissa Larsen does a great job in her storytelling, pulling the reader into the centre of this piece with unknown elements coming together at just the right pace. With little revealed at the outset, the mystery is as present for Betty as it is for the reader. Slowly, things become clearer, which does not always make for a smooth ride for anyone involved. It permits a handful of key twists throughout the piece to shape a narrative that gains momentum with each page turn.

Betty is a great protagonist, in that she offers much to the story on both a personal and ‘professional’ level. Her desire to flee home is apparent throughout, as the reasons come to light throughout the novel. Her thirst for escape is only heightened when she feels that she can transform into a new woman by taking up the film project. However, while Betty would love to forget herself, it is not the change into Lola that fuels what she had in mind. All that being said, there is a great deal going on, none of which Betty could have predicted from the outset.

Larsen offers a number of intriguing secondary characters throughout the piece, all of whom bring something to the table to flavour the story effectively. While some complement Betty, others serve as obvious roadblocks to impede her natural growth. The underlying Anthony-Sammy storyline comes to a head and adds a needed depth to the plot, though things are less than smooth from thereon in. Larsen is able to portray the likes of Sammy, Anthony, and even Mads as different yet all tied together in one form or another. This keeps the reader entertained and curious about how the chemistry will develop, much like actors working on a script with the cameras rolling.

For a debut, I was quite impressed with Melissa Larsen’s efforts. While there were some small bumps, the overall experience was one that I enjoyed and would do so again without a second thought. The narrative flows well and gains momentum at just the right pace, with characters offering something to the experience without stealing the spotlight. Save for the opening chapter, each part of the book is short and keeps the reader wanting to know more, which is matched with an eerie plot that injects twists and confusing at key points. Larsen’s great use of dialogue keeps things feeling natural, which is an interesting parallel with the actual premise of the book, where the characters are to ‘be themselves’ while the cameras roll onwards. With a chilling end, Larsen leaves the reader wondering and thinking well after turning the final page, which is the essence of a strong thriller.

Kudos, Madam Larsen, for a great start to your writing career. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store when next you publish!

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

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/shutter/

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

Black Flag (Jake Keller #3), by David Ricciardi

Eight stars

With the ARC for the latest novel in this series waiting for me, I am thoroughly enjoying this David Ricciardi collection. Exploring yet another international political theme with which I am not all that familiar, Ricciardi takes the reader on a wonderful adventure that never stops building steam throughout. Jake Keller continues to make a great name for himself within the CIA and has been tasked with working on a case of international kidnapping on the high seas. While pirates have often been a part of lore, it would seem that the region around Somalia is rife with those who will stop at nothing to attack ships and pillage anything they can. Keller will not only have to be quick about it, but will have to prove just how wily he can be, connecting with a warlord to set a trap. His cunning will be tested at every turn, as well as his safety, in a region of the world where questions tend to bog down progress. All that before Keller learns of another horror that awaits the Somali people, unless it can be neutralised. Ricciardi proves masterful again in this third novel of the series, leaving me ready to tackle the ARC and add to the buzz!

While there are many stories about pirates flying the Jolly Roger on the high seas, pillaging and taking whatever they like, the 21st century has seen the rise of a new type of criminal. No longer is it riches and gold, with people walking the plank. Now, the world of high seas piracy is focussed on targeted specific ships weeks before they leave port, confiscating things when no one expects it, then causing both the vessel and crew to disappear. This stealthy activity has created much concern amongst the international shipping community, sending panic and queries in all directions.

While the focal point of the piracy appears to be in and around Somalia, no one has been able to catch the specific pirates at their game. Still, rumours emerge that there are many who are basking in riches and using teams to target ships in such a way that they are done before anyone notices the ships have gone missing. While an international issue, few countries are prepared to act, worried about how to broach the subject or what force they can exert without causing an international incident.

Enter Jake Keller, who is a highly trained CIA operative who appears to fear very little. Keller is prepared to travel to the heart of Africa to investigate, hoping to get the answers his superiors need. However, being as white as the driven snow makes it a little harder for him to work effectively in the region, forcing Keller to work alongside another operative who has an equal dose of passion in his veins.

Keller must not only find the correct warlord who has been orchestrating these attacks, but determine a future plan to ensure they are captured. This will require all the grit he has, as Keller poses as an investor and eventually tries to get onto the team of Somalia’s most feared pirate, a man who cares little for anyone else and has the scars to prove it. Knowing which ship will be targeted will help ensure he’s ready for the attack and can plan accordingly.

All that being said, Keller is not wanting to go into this completely blindsided, which leads him to strike up a connection with a Greek shipping magnate, with a vessel that might be perfect for targeting. Keller will have to keep both sides in the dark about his plans and work effectively to push them closer together, all while trying to synthesise his feelings about the heiress to the shipping fortune, who appears to fancy him.

There is sure to be blood in the water either way, but Keller must do all he can to stop the piracy and ensure international ships are safe as they traverse open bodies of water. The only way that will occur is by striking to neutralise the largest fish in the proverbial sea. This will take grit, gumption, and even a bit of patience. Keller has them all, but time is not a commodity that is plentiful at the moment. Is he willing to risk his connection to a wonderful woman by setting a trap?

All the while, Keller learns of something worse than pillaging on the open waters. One warlord will use the bounty he has collected to turn it on his own people, leaving the country even more devastated than before. Yaxaas is a truly evil man, as Jake Keller has come to notice from afar. However, it will take a calculated attack to neutralise the man and his mission before it’s too late. Working to bring this all to fruition, Keller learns that not everyone around him can be trusted. Will he have time to do all that must be completed before the Somali people are victims of another atrocious event?Only time will truly tell! Ricciardi proves that he is at the top of his game with this piece and I am eager to see what’s next.

I enjoyed so much about this novel, from well-crafted chapters through to the unique international content about which I know nothing. David Ricciardi presents his writing like no other in the genre and the reader is easily kept on their toes throughout. Ricciardi one to watch, able to stand next to some of the greats in the genre. He knows action, thrills, and political fallout, conveying it with ease to the curious reader.
Jake Keller remains strong throughout this piece, returning to being the key actor in the story’s success. Keller emerges with his usual grit and determination, always looking to overcome the obstacles put before him. While he is keen to get into the thick of things, there is another side to the man, one that does not usually surface when he is handling weapons or killing those who would bring harm to the masses. Ricciardi takes the time to show the softer side of Jake Keller in this piece, one in which loss fuels something else inside of him. This other side balances nicely throughout this piece, adding a spark to Keller and making him want to do what he can to help those in need.

The cast of supporting characters proved just as stunning as in the past two novels. There is an obvious focus on the African continent in much of the story, with a push towards Somalia. The country, its people, as well as the customs they possess, all come to the forefront here. However, that is not all, as Ricciardi spends a lot of time educating the reader about the shipping business and where power in that industry can be found. Those who find themselves as parts of the story help to enrich it, some complementing Jake Keller, while others serve as needed roadblocks to advance the plot effectively.

The story was, again, quite strong, and offered a unique perspective. While many in the genre use an apparent recipe for their pieces, Ricciardi tends to offer unique approaches to advance a complex story and keep the reader enthused. I had no issue with being fully attentive to what was going on and can only expect more of the same moving forward. There were more plots that focussed on international politics, at least on the high seas, but the added bonus was exploring Somalia and how it has become a vacuum, leaving power brokers on both sides of the law to fill the void. Ricciardi engages the reader throughout, making them feel as though they are right there, in the middle of the action at key moments. Short chapters help push the momentum along and the writing is strong, offering a narrative that flows with ease. Balancing the personal side of Keller with some of the things he is facing made the story resonate even more for me. With the ARC ready, I will delve in to see what David Ricciardi has in store for Jake Keller and what amusements await me as well.

Kudos, Mr. Ricciardi, for another great addition to the series. I can only hope others will soon find your work and bask in the excitement it brings.

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

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/black-flag/

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

Rogue Strike (Jake Keller #2), by David Ricciardi

Eight stars

 With  the ARC for the latest novel in this series waiting for me, I chose to experience the past books that David Ricciardi penned in this thriller collection. Enjoying a piece that has both action and political undertones, I was drawn to this book from the outset, which offers even more action than the series debut. After becoming more adept at his craft, Zac Miller has taken on a new identity, that of Jake Keller. Learning of a high-ranking meeting of al Qaeda officials in Yemen, Keller and his partner make their way there in hopes of derailing any future terrorist plots. They have a drone prepared to strike and obliterate those at the meetings, but something goes horribly wrong and the drone strikes innocent people in Saudis Arabia instead. This creates panic in the region and leaves the Americans as apparent aggressors towards one of their key allies. It’s a scramble to get to the truth and peel back who might be responsible for all this cloak and dagger activity. Meanwhile, terror plots are taking place across America soon after the drone strike, leaving some to wonder if this is all in retaliation. However, when a nuclear threat is revealed, American officials realise that there is more to this than simply punishment for an errant drone attack. Who can be trusted and who is the real enemy of America’s successes… and why? Ricciardi does a masterful job in this second novel of the series, which has me wanting to know more as soon as possible.

Zac Miller’s time as a CIA operative began well, but his future successes were definitely grittier than even he could have imagined. Now, sitting in Yemen, Miller has taken on a new persona, that of Jake Keller. News has come that the senior leadership of al Qaeda has arrived in country to plan future strikes and ensure Death to America. Keller and his partner are ready for this and have a plan to obliterate the leadership all at once, with a missile-toting drone targeting the meeting location. However, something goes terribly wrong and the strike hits a pilgrimage inside Saudi Arabia, close to one of its holiest sites.

While the American government denies any involvement in the attack, there is definite egg on their faces and a political panic ensues. Keller is not getting any support as he tries to determine what’s happened and who hijacked the drone. Fires burn towards the Americans, as it is assumed they have used their military technology to target a long-standing ally for no apparent reason. Keller must act quickly and stealthily to get answers before it’s too late.

All the while, small terror cells begin emerging across America and undertake attacks in random locations. People are dying and the authorities have no notice of what’s going on, making it all the more troubling. Are these in retaliation for the Saudi attacks or something coincidental? American political authorities cannot be sure and mass panic ensues before long.

While the Saudis try to determine what’s going on and who to trust, the Chinese see an opportunity to fill a void. With the Americans digging their own graves, it would make sense for the Chinese to ally themselves with the Saudis as soon as possible, capitalizing on the oil output and developing strength in a volatile region. Chinese government officials prepare to extend their hands to help, all this while fuelling the fires of discontent in the subtlest of ways. This could be a master political stroke, if timed properly.

While Keller is running out of time to get to the truth, the attacks on US soil reach a new level of panic, as nuclear attacks seem imminent. It’s all part of a massive plan, but who is the puppet-master and what’s meant to happen before too long? A race to the finish line can only have one winner, and nothing is guaranteed in international politics, particularly when nuclear weapons are in the mix!

I enjoyed so much about this novel, from its well-paced chapters through to the international political content that never lets up for a second. David Ricciardi crafts a piece like no other and keeps the reader on their toes as they see the development of keen action to get to the root of the issue, while juggling diplomacy at essential moments. Ricciardi is surely one to watch in the genre, as he appears to know what’s happening and how to transmit it effectively for the reader to feel as though they are in the centre of the action. 

Jake Keller is again a strong character throughout this piece, though I felt that he wasn’t the sole quintessential factor in moving the story along. Ricciardi uses him well and the reader learns a little more about him, but there is a great deal of maneuvering around to keep all the political actors playing their roles in this well-oiled machine. Each is essential and their importance emerges as the story progresses naturally, making for a fundamental piece of the plot in this political thriller.

The cast of secondary characters also served a key purpose. While the mix of major and minor characters can sometimes get lost in a pile of names, Ricciardi developed them all so well and kept things on pace without losing any of the momentum of the plot throughout. I hope to see some of these characters recur, in some form or another, while others are essential one-offs to push the plot through to its culmination. I enjoyed the contrast of characters throughout, all of whom kept me wondering as I got to the heart of the matter.

The story was quite strong and kept my attention throughout with ease. While this was less a Jason Bourne piece (as the debut turned into), there was a definitely race to get to the political heart of the matter, which makes strong political thrillers even better. Using strong international political plots and some gritty actions to get answers, Ricciardi does a masterful job of keeping the reader engaged at key moments. Short chapters and a building plot made for a thrilling ride on both sides of the world, as each part of the narrative gripped the reader at just the right moment. I cannot wait to see what’s to come with the series, as there is so much left to come and so many loose ends that require attention. I will reach for the third book now, in hopes of being blown away (figuratively and literally) with the premise.

Kudos, Mr. Ricciardi, for a stunning series continuation. I love your style and am eager to see what’s next in a series that never loses momentum.

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

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/rogue-strike/

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

21st Birthday (Women’s Murder Club #21), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Seven stars

The latest in this long series by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro offers readers something intriguing and somewhat unique, though twenty-one instalments can sometimes breed repetition. Full of minor character development and some fast-pace criminal work, the Women’s Murder Club has a new case that will pull all four of them in, using their specific skillsets, to catch a serial murderer. When a young woman and her daughter are reported missing, the husband is the prime suspect. While he has an alibi, others in his circle also turn up dead, leading the DA to move ahead with charges. The suspect decries his innocence and points the finger at another man, who apparently has a long history of murderous behaviour. It’s up to Sergeant Lindsay Boxer to turn over every rock to see if the lead comes to fruition. A decent addition to the series, which has surely shown its ebb and flow, though fans of the Club may want to check it out.

Cindy Thomas noticed the post on her news blog and knew it would be trouble. Even after taking it down, Cindy thought about the disappearance of Tara and Lorrie Burke, a 20 year-old and her infant daughter. When Tara’s mother arrives at the San Francisco Chronicle to follow-up, Cindy cannot shake the distraught woman’s pleas for help. Tara’s husband, Lucas, is the prime suspect and appears to have quite the hold on his young bride. Trying to appease the woman, Cindy calls in a favour with SFPD Sergeant Lindsay Boxer, who agrees to poke around a little.

With little to go on and no sightings of either Tara or Lorrie, Boxer must bide her time. Her background into Lucas Burke shows a reputable English teacher with no criminal history, though there were a number of calls to the police, which Tara dismissed as soon as anyone arrived. Still, Boxer has an itch that there is more to the story. She learns that Burke may have been stepping out on his wife with a teenage student, which does raise a few flags, but nothing criminal, yet.

When the body of Lorrie Burke is found along the shore, the case gains some momentum, especially when it appears the infant was smothered. However, Tara remains missing, which only adds to the mystery. A few more bodies emerge, all tied to Lucas Burke in some way, and the case begins to build. It is only when Tara is found murdered in her car, which had been dumped in the ocean, that Lucas Burke’s guilt appears all but certain. Even with an alibi, this is not something that can be dismissed as coincidence.

While Lucas Burke is brought it for questioning and arrested, he makes an explosive accusation, that his father is likely behind the murders. Evan Burke is a former Green Beret and may have been behind the disappearance (and murder?) of his own wife and daughter, as well as a string of others over the years. Lucas is certain he has resumed hunting for victims, but with little to substantiate it, the DA moves ahead with murder charges.

When the case goes to trial, ADA Yuki Castellano is set to take first chair. She has her own theory, one that she has shared with fellow Women’s Murder Club members, Boxer and Thomas. Still, Yuki will do things by the books and try to get a conviction on the evidence she has before her. Boxer works the Evan Burke angle, which has her racing to Vegas to track down the man and investigate the accusations. While there, things get dangerous for Boxer and her temporary partner, as they corner the elder Burke as he works his magic on a young woman.

With Yuki forging ahead in court and Boxer gathering evidence, it will only be a matter of time before Lucas Burke’s fate is determined. It will take all members of the Women’s Murder Club working together to solidify the truth, however murky and convoluted it might be. Then again, the Club has never sought to do things the easy way. An interesting addition to the series that reads well and shows that the collaborative effort of Patterson and Paetro appears to work well.

I have been a fan of the series from the start. This is one of the few Patterson collections that has been able to stand the test of time. While I am coming to see that some of these series may have lost their earlier momentum, there are moments of brilliance here, even as things wane. I have always wondered about rejuvenating things with a crossover between Alex Cross-Michael Bennett-Lindsay Boxer, still feeling it might do something for all three protagonists. Still, this book works well and could be read as a standalone, though I never counsel that in a series, as the reader misses so much peering only at a snapshot.

Lindsay Boxer’s character development ended long ago, even though motherhood always adds a new layer to her backstory. She is gritty and shows that she is able to work in any environment, something that is changed throughout this piece. Adapting as best she can, Boxer never loses sight of what matters, justice for the victim, and makes her mark repeatedly throughout the book. While the series may be getting a little old, Boxer’s abilities remain on point throughout.

The other members of the Women’s Murder Club also have their own moments of glory, though Boxer does rise to the protagonist role with ease. Each has a backstory and some development to offer, complementing the SFPD sergeant throughout. The handful of other key characters emerge throughout the story and offer the reader something intriguing to enjoy. There is no lack of action and suspense woven into the characters or their actions, though few standout as being remarkable.

The story was decent, as many have been in this series, though there was no shock factor. It’s a race to find the truth, muddled with accusations and false leads. Boxer and the rest of the Club try to work their respective angles, sometimes stepping on one another’s toes, but always able to find something worth discussing at their regular meetings. The story flowed well and the narrative kept its momentum throughout. Patterson’s trademark short chapters keep the reader pushing through, as I did yet again. Decent characters, believable scenarios, and the trademark connection to a specific number from the title, this is a series that has lasted over the years. I just wonder if the zenith has been surpassed and it’s time to sail into the sunset, making way for something fresh… or at least the aforementioned crossover.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro, for another decent addition to the series. While I know you are likely a novel or two ahead in the series, I would suggest heeding my idea. I know other series fans have echoed what I said… and it could really inject something into all three series.

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

The Study (Marlowe Flint #2), by Kathy Garthwaite

Eight stars

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

Kathy Garthwaite has certainly made a name for herself with these wonderful Canadian police procedurals, many of which are able to capture the small-town feel without becoming too hokey. The second in the Sergeant Marlowe Flint series is wonderfully developed and yet keeps a local feel to it throughout. While the small community on Vancouver Island is excited to gather at a local castle for a time capsule unveiling, everything slams to a halt when a man is found murdered. Sergeant Flint is not sure who might have wanted to do anything so drastic, but all is soon revealed, in this impactful thriller that takes readers on quite a ride. Garthwaite has a way with words and writing that is sure to impress many who give her a try.

The bucolic nature of Vancouver Island that has always impressed RCMP Sergeant Marlowe Flint, even if there is the odd crime to investigate. It’s an exciting day, as the community gathers to unveil the contents of a time capsule buried four decades before. However, before things can get underway, there is new that a man’s been found dead inside the castle’s study, having struck his head.

After some preliminary forensics, it’s determined that it was murder and the mayor—who happens to be Flint’s current beau— was seen leaving the study not long before the body was discovered. With a murder on site and little to go on, Sergeant Flint will have to piece things together delicately. She’s not yet ready to assume the witness was entirely correct, but there’s no discounting it either.

All eyes turn to motive, though nothing comes to mind. However, it is only after someone suggests cataloguing the contents of the time capsule that things begin to make a little more sense. Losses and gains soon become the theme and it is only a matter of time before all is completely revealed, leaving Sergeant Flint to hone in on the responsible party. A great thriller that reads quickly, allowing readers to discover the wonders of Kathy Garthwaite and her style of writing.

I stumbled upon Kathy Garthwaite last summer and devoured all the books she’d written, shining a light on Canada and offering some well-paced police procedurals. While many in the genre seek to utilise big city storylines, Garthwaite has used local haunts and, at times, smaller venues to tell her stories, as she did in this piece. The writing is strong and the descriptions like little else I have enjoyed before. It’s a treat for anyone who loves a good police procedural and wants the story tied up in short order.

Sergeant Marlowe Flint is back for another go-round in this piece, which offers readers something wonderful while also promoting women in a position of authority. Flint has a family, who are showcased here to balance against her gritty work within the RCMP. Flint leads a team effectively and does not let work interfere with what’s important, a daughter, though both are quite dear to her. Flint finds ways to keep her eyes on the prize and digs a little deeper throughout this book to find the killer, without causing mayhem during the investigation.

The handful of supporting characters that Garthwaite uses really resonate well for this small-town piece. Each individual has their own backstory and offers the reader some unique insights, all without getting too wrapped up in themselves. While there are many names to keep straight, Garthwaite does entertain the reader with the vast number of interactions that enrich the story here and throughout the reading experience. Some complement Marlowe Flint, which others add depth to the backstory and plot.

The story was well-paced and flowed well, showing that a police procedural can clip along and yet still hit all the marks. Kathy Garthwaite enriches the piece with her bucolic setting, adding description that helps it pop on the page. The plot flowed throughout the piece, building momentum as the narrative advanced. It had a true ‘Canadian’ feel to it, which may only be noticeable to those who have spent a great deal of time in this wonderful country. Gritty, without being over the top, and full of detail (while being light on the apologies)., this book checks all the boxes for a great read I have come to really enjoy Kathy Garthwaite and her writing, hoping that others will soon discover her work and enjoy future publications.

Kudos, Madam Garthwaite, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what’s next and how Vancouver Island will play a role in the overall story!

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

Hard Target (Alex Morgan #2), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

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

Leo J. Maloney is back with another adventure for the younger Morgan family member. Alex has become the rising star in Zeta Group, even though some cannot see the benefit in her role. When Alex and a handful of others are tasked with helping the NSA, things go wrong while they are in Chicago. An attempt on the vice-president’s life is foiled, but bodies are everywhere, with Alex the sole apparent survivor. Many feel that this is a Zeta mission and a manhunt is started to bring Alex Morgan to justice. She’s on the lam, just her and a motorcycle, but she won’t be able to do it alone. It’s fast-paced like you have never seen it before in this novella. Maloney fans will not be disappointed.

Whispers of a planned attack in Chicago reach the highest levels of US security, which causes worry when the vice-president is set to speak there. Zeta Team is sent in to help, seconded to other agencies, though there are multiple issues to tackle and little time to do it. When an explosion rips through an underground passage, many die and an ensuing shootout brings the body count even higher. When the smoke clears, it seems only one person is left alive, Alex Morgan. Rather than cheering this, US officials wonder if she was behind the attack and have started a manhunt to locate her.

Left with little to do but hide, Alex tries to make her way out of Chicago on her motorcycle, which is not the most conspicuous of transportation modes. She will have to be as stealthy as possible, but even that can’t be done alone. While traveling, she learns of a second attack on a uranium facility, sending Alex on another mission to protect her country. It won’t be easy, but she finds help in an unlikely source to make it a little easier. Meanwhile, her ever-protective father, Dan Morgan, is working with Zeta to save all involved before it’s too late.

This was a great novella that read family quickly. It’s got all the elements that Leo J. Maloney usually brings to a book, with strong characters, action that never stops, and short chapters to push the story forward. The reader familiar with the series and Zeta will know that there is little time to rest at any point, keeping a heightened level of excitement throughout. While only a short piece, Maloney hit the mark with this one. Teasers can only help fuel the interest in the next publication, something that I am eager to see, when it comes to fruition.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for another winner in this series. I have come to expect great things when you write and rarely am I disappointed.

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

Game Knight: A Novella, by Andrew Mayne

Seven stars

Having discovered and enjoyed a number of Andrew Mayne’s other books, I thought that I would give this novella a chance. I had a gap in my reading schedule and needed something to tide me over for the day. This book, a thriller of sorts, takes the reader into the odd world of medieval knights and sword-wielding foes. A young man wakes up and is unsure what’s going on, as a man is trying to kill him. He takes the opportunity and slays the man, only to have all the evidence disappear. A few more events occur, in a similar vein, leaving him to wonder if this is a cruel joke or some sort of drugged out game that someone’s playing. It may be of interest to other Mayne readers, but I really could not connect.

Kevin Miller regains consciousness mere moments before axe-wielding man decapitates him. Dressed in chainmail and donning a sword, Kevin does all he can, killing his attacker, unsure of his identity or how things progressed to this point. After Kevin helps a woman free, she assaults him herself and flees. It is only later, when the police saw Kevin in his garb, that he admitted what happened, even though it sounded equally troubling.

With no body to speak of, Kevin has no idea what’s going on or who is behind it. Odd things happen on a few more occasion, in the same vein, leaving him to wonder if his new meds have been spiked or the whole thing is a sick joke. However, the injuries he has suffered are not fictitious and he cannot explain it. However, there is surely some puppet-master out there, somewhere.

As I mentioned above, I am truly a fan of Andrew Mayne and at least two of his series. However, when I chose to read this novella, I had to second guess whether it was Mayne who penned it. The depth, the intrigue, the nuances… all of them were gone and I was left with something less than enticing. Thankfully, I did not begin my Mayne reading adventure here, or I may not have discovered some of the true gems out there.

While the writing was decent and the story had promise, I could not connect. It might have been the Kevin Miller character, the premise of the novella, or the lack of magnetism towards the plot. Whatever it was, I was not a fan. Thankfully it was short and I can use it as a blip on the reading radar, as I prepare to dive into a full-length novel soon. All I can say is that this is not the Andrew Mayne that I have come to know, so don’t use this as a proper baseline.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for the attempt to push outside of your usual writing zone. It did not work for me, but others may really enjoy it.

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