Denial (Jilly Truitt #2), by Beverley McLachlin

Nine stars

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

Having served a long and illustrious career in the Canadian legal field, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin, has not been resting on her laurels in retirement. Rather, she’s come up with some amazing legal thrillers that keep the reader flipping pages to get to the core of the case. Jilly Truitt is an established lawyer, getting her practice in order and can finally choose her clients, rather than take whatever scraps are tossed her way. When an acquaintance asks that she take on the case of his wife, Jilly is sceptical. Vera Quentin is accused of killing her mother with a legal dose of morphine, though she denies the charges. Two previous defence attorneys have quit and the judge is not likely to grant another continuance. Jilly reluctantly agrees to the case, which opens many issues, both with the legal preparation and the law towards assisted suicide in Canada. The further Jilly explores, the more twists the case provides, which only fuels her to get to the truth. Another stunning piece by McLachlin, whose fiction writing is as riveting as the judgements delivered from the bench.

After a rocky few years, Jilly Truitt is finally making a name for herself in Vancouver’s criminal defence community. She’s established herself as a gritty lawyer with nothing holding her back. When she is approached by Joseph Quentin, she is intrigued, particularly because the man is a no-nonsense legal mind who has been dealing with some family issues of late. Quentin’s wife, Vera, is on trial the the murder of her mother, Olivia Stanton. While Vera denies this, she also refuses to take a plea being offered by the Crown’s Attorney, Cy Kenge. Jilly really does not want the case, particularly since two other attorneys quit in the lead-up to trial, but there’s something here.

Jilly agrees to meet with Vera and is persuaded after their frank conversation. While Olivia Stanton felt strongly about her right to die, having suffered from cancer and being in constant pain, Vera has outwardly refused to take such measures. Still, on the night of Olivia’s death, Vera was the only other person in the house. Jilly must find a crack in the story that the Crown is presenting and show that Vera’s adamant behaviour is her own defence. However, Vera has issues of her own, including mental health, which creates a sense of denying the truth on occasion.

While working the case, Jilly has been doing some pro bono work and helps a young woman who is fleeing human trafficking. However, not all of Vancouver’s criminal element feel so fondly about Jilly, meaning that there are many who would have painted a target on her back. Still, Jilly cannot let that deter her from doing good work, either in the courtroom or for those who need help as victims of horrible crimes.

When Jilly finds a new angle to approach in the case, she rushes forward, learning that Olivia may have been making some significant changes to her estate before dying. Could this has fuelled someone to take drastic action to stop things in their tracks? It’s only when the case goes to trial that Jilly is handed a significant set-up, as additional secrets about Vera’s life come to the surface and truths paint a new picture about what might have happened that night.

Working every perspective and trying not to enter any traps set by Cy Kenge, Jilly works her legal magic and tries to stay the course, even as personal tragedy befalls her in the middle of presenting her case. Vera Quentin may be espousing her innocence, but the facts left to the jury are nowhere nearly as clear cut. Denial of the truth could be the one weakness Jilly and Vera must overcome before this ends. A stunning thriller that will keep the reader hooked until the very end.

Having followed the career of Beverley McLachlin for many years, I was excited to see that she was able to make the shift from Chief Justice of Canada to a published author. Not only that, but her writing is gripping and riveting, something that not all lawyers and judges can do when moving into the world of fiction. McLachlin spins a tale with a great Canadian flavour and keeps the reader turning pages with ease. I can only hope that there are more Jilly Truitt thrillers to come before long.

Jilly Truitt remains a wonderful protagonist in this piece. She builds on her past from the series debut and grows quite nicely in this piece. Working to carve a niche for herself in Vancouver’s busy legal community is surely not easy, but she has done it with ease and flair, something that shows throughout the book. Her gritty determination shines through, as does her desire to protect any client for whom she works. There are moments of weakness for her, as depicted in a subplot of the book, but she comes out determined to set things straight, as best she can.

McLachlin uses strong supporting characters throughout the piece to keep the story moving and complement Jilly effectively. There are angles of the story that depict legal issues in Canada, familial squabbles, and even personal interactions, all of which are effectively covered through the numerous characters introduced throughout. McLachlin has paved the way for a wonderful novel and builds on her stellar debut piece with both new and returning characters sure to impress the reader.

I have long loved a good legal thriller, but find it hard to find ones set outside the big domains of the US and UK. McLachlin has done well to present the Canadian angle, which differs from both without being too off the wall. The narrative flowed well and keeps the reader enthralled throughout, using strong characters and a paced plot that gains momentum as the story builds. A mix of chapter lengths serve to fuel the story, teasing the reader at times while also pulling them in for a legal or personal exploration at times. I found myself reading and not wanting to stop, which is not always an easy feat. However, there was something about this book. Some bemoan that McLachlin ought to have stayed with her courtroom work, but I am sure it is only that they did not take the time to allow the story to really sink in. I cannot wait for more!

Kudos, Madam McLachlin (not sure what title I ought to use), for another wonderful piece. I cannot wait to see what Jilly Truitt will discover next and how that will add to the greatness of this blossoming series.

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

Dead Ground (Washington Poe #4), by M.W. Craven

Eight stars

It’s always such a pleasure when sitting down to read a crime thriller by M.W. Craven. His work is so detailed and fast-paced that the reader cannot help but be swept away. Back with another book in his primary series, Craven offers fans another crime thriller set in the north of England. Detective Sergeant Washington Poe wants nothing but the quiet life, but that’s been turned on its head and he faces eviction by the county. In the midst of the trial, Poe is called away to a local brothel, where a man has been bludgeoned with a baseball bat. Poe works with his partner, computer programmer Tilly Bradshaw, and they try to decipher what’s going on and why senior intelligenc officers care so much about the case. The deeper they dig, the less it makes sense, particularly a small trinket left at the murder scene, which can be traced back to a mysterious bank heist years before. Another great story that will keep readers hooked until the final reveal.

Detective Sergeant Washington Poe might love the fast pace work of police investigations, but he’s also a fan of the quiet solitude that a cottage in the country can provide. When Poe is brought to count and faces eviction, he calls on his partner, the socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw to defend him. While they appear to be making headway, Poe and Bradshaw are soon called away on a case in Carlisle.

When Poe and Bradshaw arrive, they discover it’s a brothel and the victim’s been bludgeoned with a baseball bat. While this has certainly been a murder, it does not reach the caliber of what Poe is used to working. It’s only when Poe and Bradshaw are whisked away to meet with British Intelligence that things begin making sense, though only slightly.

Discovering that the victim was former British military and had been hired to transport VIPs to a trade summit, the case takes on a new interest for Poe and Bradshaw. While nothing seems to make sense, a small ceramic rat that was left at the scene of the crime seems highly out of place. After some deep searching, Bradshaw traces it back to an old bank heist with an odd twist.

As Poe and Bradshaw dig even deeper, they learn of an old military group whose ‘mascot’ of sorts was a rat. It’s soon discovered that there’s so much more at play here, with the FBI and MI5 having their own interest in getting the case solved. That said, Poe and Bradshaw will stop at nothing until they reveal it all and bring justice to the man who was killed.

Who’s been targeting old military personnel and for what reason? Can Poe and Bradshaw catch the killer before it’s too late and more bodies pile up? Are there secrets that the Americans and British do not want revealed and has Poe inched his way a little too close to the truth for their liking? All this and much more in revealed in this whirlwind thriller that is sure to keep the reader guessing.

I’ve come to really enjoy the work of M.W. Craven over the past few years, as his writing is both quick and highly detailed. The stories never fail to impress, even if they can get a little complex as the web is woven. All that being said, fans never leave bored or with a case that is simple to solve. Rather, it’s a ride like no other, which will surely keep me coming back for more.

Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw do well as joint protagonists throughout this piece. There is much going on and it keeps the reader on their toes throughout, forcing them to experience the intense banter between the two. While Poe is slightly sarcastic and cold, Bradshaw is too literal for her own good and naive to the intricacies of nuance. Still, they work together masterfully to solve crimes and leave no stone unturned throughout the process.

Craven has added some wonderful supporting characters in the novel, some of whom are friendly faces, while others are new to the action. While many of these complement the protagonists well, it is the banter that they all have that helps enrich the reading experience. Poe is determined to get to the answer and will move anyone in his way, while Bradshaw is highly inquisitive and seeks the synthesise data completely. With pressures from all sides, there is no way to find a happy medium.

The story may not have been my favourite in the collection, but it certainly packed a punch. I was happy to get well into the novel and see what twists arose to steer the story in many directions. I thoroughly enjoyed the pace of the narrative, which gained momentum where needed. The characters worked well to push the story along, travelling through the plot effectively. Craven mixes things up with chapter lengths, leaving the reader unsure what is to come and how things will progress throughout. Things did get a little chaotic with plot lines and tangential pasts that seek to connect to a larger puzzle. Still, I could not stop reading this piece and am pleased I took the time to devour this book in short order.

Kudos, Mr. Craven, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for series fans in the months to come.

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

Mastermind (Theo Cray and Jessica Blackwood #1), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

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

After developing some strong series, Andrew Mayne has tried something few authors dare to attempt. In this novel, he’s combined the power of FBI Agent Jessica Blackwood—former magician and illusionist—with the analytical prowess of Dr. Theo Cray, a computational biologist. These two protagonists have done amazing things on their own, but when combined, the story takes on an entirely new depth and excitement. After Manhattan appears to disappear in plain sight, Jessica Blackwood is called to the scene, hoping that she can deduce what’s going on. She’s baffled, but wonders if her nemesis, Michael Heywood, could be behind it. Many within the Intelligence community have a list of individuals who may have assisted Heywood in his plan, including one Dr. Theo Cray. Blackwood travels around the world to find him, which only leads to more ‘blackout’ moments as they spend time in Asia. What follows is a series of events that neither Cray nor Blackwood can explain, though it all points to trouble, particularly if Michael Heywood is involved. A chilling tale that is full of thought-provoking moments, showing just how sharp Andre Mayne’s writing can be.

While she has grown up loving magic, even Jessica Blackwood cannot fathom what’s happened when she is called out to help find Manhattan. Having disappeared in some form of electronic pulse, combined with a fog, the city seems too have been carved from the map. Everyone has Michael Heywood—The Warlock—on their minds as a possible suspect, with his recent escape from custody. However, he could not have done it alone. Many suspects are bandied about, but there’s one that catches Jessica’s eye, Dr. Theo Cray.

After travelling to the far side fo the world, Blackwood locates the doctor, who’s been trying to vaccinate local population so they are not murdered by their own government. While noble in his actions, Cray is not seen as a hero by many and has been tossed in a putrid jail cell. Blackwood is able to help him and uses her own form of deception to get him out of the country, while explaining about Manhattan. When two more ‘events’ occur in Asia, both Blackwood and Cray decide to stay in the region to work through what’s going on.

It’s soon clear that the ‘Void’ moments are only a distraction for what’s really going on, the theft of massive amounts of data. While Blackwood and Cray cannot understand what it’s for, this has Michael Heywood written all over it. They undercover some truly horrible science experiments in both Thailand and Ukraine, which could possibly open up new and disturbing outcomes, but the data is not comprehensive enough to offer any concrete answers.

Returning to the US, Cray and Blackwood must jump through some Intelligence hoops to remain on the case, while being goaded by Heywood to decipher what he has in mind. Slowly, but intentionally, they make some progress and learn that something huge is in the works, a plan that would truly help Michael Heywood shed his ‘Warlock’ moniker for another… Mastermind! A captivating novel that had me guessing at every page.

Since stumbling upon Andrew Mayne, I have learned so very much about a wide variety of subjects, whether it be magic, biology, or even police sleuthing underwater. Mayne is so full of ideas and means by which crime can be solved, allowing his books to open new pathways within the genre while keeping his fans entertained throughout. This protagonist amalgamation was ingenious, something I often encourage authors of multiple series to attempt. The premise was strong, working well alongside the novel’s pace and constant revelations.

One essential area in a book is its characters and how they come to life on the page. With established stories for both Jessica Blackwood and Dr. Theo Cray, it was less about building them up, but sustaining what series fans knew about them. Working alongside one another, it is the character chemistry that is essential, something that Mayne did really well. Neither knew much about the other, allowing for some brief mentions of their respective backstories, but it is the strong connectivity that kept the book going and how they are able to feed off one another, developing themselves as individuals and a unit simultaneously.

While there were many characters who helped move the story along, it was the science that stole the show in many regards. Mayne has never shied away from analysis of events through different lenses and this book was full of that. Exploring biology, computer analytics, virology, and even some currency issues, Mayne floods the narrative with ideas that could spark curiosity amongst readers. I found myself lost in the discussion at times, though was able to surmise some of what was being said, through poignant questions the characters asked throughout the discussion.

There is so much going on within this book, it is difficult to determine where I ought to begin. The premise of the piece was quite strong and kept things moving from the outset. Mayne may appear to be taking things in one direction, only to steer them on a completely opposite pathway before too long. The narrative gained momentum throughout and kept me wanting to turn a few more pages. Chapters of varying lengths kept the story on track and left things dangling at the right times, forcing the reader to push onwards to satiate their curiosity. While the science was intense at times, it all came into perspective and Mayne did a wonderful job of keeping the reader engaged and informed. I can see this Blackwood/Cray partnership being one that I will enjoy, as Andrew Mayne keeps the stories coming.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, on this stellar collaboration between two of your key protagonists. There’s a lot more to explore and you are sure to impress many of your series fans.

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:

Enemies and Allies: An Unforgettable Journey Inside their Fast-Moving & Immensely Turbulent Modern Middle East, by Joel C. Rosenberg

Eight stars

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

As a former student of politics and a lover of political thrillers of all stripes, I have come to really enjoy the work of Joel C. Rosenberg. I do not profess to know a great deal about the intricacies of the Middle East or its precarious political situation, outside of the primary tenets developed in the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st. Rosenberg’s fiction has been quite telling, at times predicting events that did occur, which has always left me paying close attention when he spins a tale. In this, a piece of non-fiction, Rosenberg not only offers his opinions about progress in the region, but he provides first-hand accounts of discussions and scenarios with the various actors who have/will be responsible for peace in the region, as well as the emergence of religious freedoms, namely for evangelical Christians. It’s a telling piece and eye opening at the same time.

Rosenberg makes clear in the opening portion of the book that he is no soothsayer or prognosticator of what will happen in the region, but has been able to engage in key meetings with various high-ranking officials to get their opinions on situations, as well as forecasting what is likely to come in a reform movement. Israel is no longer an automatic pariah to countries in the region, though it is not a one-sided situation where Arab and Muslim countries are prepared to simply ‘take a knee’ and let Israel have what they have wanted since 1948. As with anything, there is a balance, albeit precarious, to a peace in the Middle East and the harmony that will occur thereafter.

While not seeking to name drop or put himself on a pedestal, Rosenberg makes clear that he has been given some unique access to various world leaders in the past few years. Organizing delegations as a Jewish evangelical Christian (you have to read the book to understand) and Israeli citizen (in all honesty, a joint US-Israeli citizen for the past number of years), Rosenberg has broken new ground in getting leaders of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and even Saudi Arabia, to sit with him and share their visions for the future. These include both within the country, as well as throughout the region. All include a view towards a peaceful interaction with Israel and a stronger connection to the evangelical Christian base Rosenberg espouses.

As the title asserts, there are also enemies in the region who would seek to stymie progress, or who are not helpful to the peace process. Iran and Turkey are two of these countries and their leaders, while perhaps eschewing their own version of the truth, have taken a hard-nose approach to both Israel and the United States. Rosenberg is clearly critical, not only of these actors (tossing Russia in there as well), but also points to a lack of definitive political bullying by the Obama Administration when they had the chance. While there are moments of sycophantic, pro-Trump rhetoric, the book does not make the past president appear to be the saviour of the region or that his views are the only hope for peace.

Rosenberg uses the last portion of the book to explore the possibility of religious freedom in the region, particularly for evangelical Christians. There appears to be a move towards such freedoms, citing that a number of the leaders to whom he spoke were happy to allocate a portion of the country to open Christian religious practice, as well as the building of churches. This is, according to Rosenberg, progress that parallels the emergence of a peace with Israel, inching forward slowly but notably.

While a piece of non-fiction and surely meant to convey some of the region’s history and current political turnaround, the book is not a dry recollection of events. Rather, it is Rosenberg’s personal interactions and conversations with leaders in the region over a period of years. While there are moments of necessary paraphrasing, it is full of strong quotes and explanations that readers without a thorough understanding of the region of its leaders can digest with ease. I found myself flying through the chapters, as they are intriguing and offer insights I had not considered, even if it is clearly seen through the lens of the speaker at times and not always analyzed through every angle. Backed by substantive endnotes, Rosenberg shows that this is not a soapbox diatribe, but rather work supported by documentation to which the reader can refer if they choose.

I will continue reading many of the fictional accounts of the region that Joel C. Rosenberg develops in his novels, as they tell a story that few other authors can present. The nuances woven into their narratives are not to be dismissed as off-hand or fairytales, as Rosenberg has shown that he knows the region, its actors, and the possible fallout. Fans of his work may enjoy this to see where some of the ideas for his past (and future) novels come from, though this is also a great piece for those who enjoy a perspective or two on Middle East politics and the upcoming perspectives of key players.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg, for an intriguing look at the other side of your writing. I enjoy seeing your non-fiction writing, as it complements those novels I have come to enjoy for the past many years!

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

The Corpse Flower (Heloise Kaldan #1), by Anne Mette Hancock

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Anne Mette Hancock and Crooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having never read anything by Danish author Anne Mette Hancock, I leapt at the chance to get my hands on this, her first book published in English. The title alone pulled me in, though once I got into the story, I found other facets that kept me intrigued until the final page. After a Danish journalist is close to losing her job, she finds herself in an awkward position. Soon thereafter, Heloise Kaldan begins receiving cryptic letters from a woman who claims to be a sought-after suspect in the slaying of a high-profile lawyer. What follows is a chance for Kaldan to piece the crime together and try learning what the elusive Anna Kiel might want with her. By the end, the chilling truth is revealed. A great debut novel and one that had me pining for more of Hancock’s work!

The autumn rains may be refreshing for the people of Copenhagen, but journalist Heloise Kaldan is too busy worrying about her future. One of her sources has be revealed to be fabricating all they offered up, making Kaldan’s reporting look not only flimsy, but completely unreliable. It’s an issue, as reporting is what Kaldan does best and it is about to be taken away from her.

While she wallows in her own self-pity, a mysterious letter arrives for Kaldan, one that she cannot fully understand. The sender, Anna Kiel, does not try to conceal herself, but rather greets the harried reporter with open arms. Kiel has been on the lam for three years, a key suspect in the murder of a lawyer back in Denmark. Hiding somewhere in France, Kiel tries reaching out to Kaldan and expresses that she is not the evil person many have made her out to be.

With little to lose and curiosity fuelling her desire for the truth, Kaldan begins poking around the murder case and tries to decipher what might have happened. Along the way, using the cryptic letters sent to her, Kaldan learns that there is more to the story than meets the eye. Throughout the sleuthing ordeal Kaldan is sidetracked when someone in whom she confides is brutally murdered. Might Kiel be sending a message not to get too close?

It is only after Heloise Kaldan travels to see her father that all the pieces come together and the truth about Anna Kiel can be discovered. The story gets highly personal and past truths about the Kaldan family come to light. While there is chaos around her, Kaldan seeks the truth and to pacify things once and for all, as if knowing it will serve as a… lullaby. A brilliant thriller that will have the reader on the edge of their seat by the end.

I quite enjoy Scandinavian thrillers and this was no exception. Anne Mette Hancock has a way of pulling the reader into the middle of the story and leaving them to piece things together. It’s a wonderful journey, filled with many tangents and learning moments. With a deeper theme running through the story, there are a number of impactful moments the reader is forced to digest, as awkward as they may be.

While it took a while for me to connect with Heloise Kaldan, I am pleased that I did. She is both a straightforward and complicated character, one that the reader will enjoy getting to know throughout the novel. Her passion for reporting comes to light, as does her thirst for the truth. However, it all comes crashing down when she discovers a family secret that her father kept, something that will surely shape Kaldan as the series progresses. I am eager to see how Hancock uses these truths to shape the protagonist moving forward.

There are a number of strong secondary characters, many of whom help prop up the story in needed ways. The police element serves to inject some needed crime solving, though Kaldan does well to uncover things on her own. There are those in the upper echelon of Danish society who offer their own truths, as well as some of those who inhabit the lower rungs of the society ladder. All are needed to provide the full picture of this complicated story. Hancock does well to bind them together in this piece, providing the reader with something well worth their time.

While I have a long history with Scandinavian crime thrillers, I would not call myself an expert. I can say that they tend to take some time to process, which could be related to the translation from their mother tongue into English. I did struggle with connecting to the narrative for the first portion of the story, feeling that it was all over the place and did not pull me in as I would have liked. However, once I got a feel for Anne Mette Hancock’s style and way of conveying things, I was intrigued. The narrative moved along well after a bumpy start and the chapters began to gather momentum, revealing truths and leaving the reader wanting more. By the end, there was that needed plot twist that turned the entire experience on its head and had me needed more information. While this is the only book published in English, I see there are a few more in the series. I hope this is rectified soon, as I am intrigued to see where Heloise Kaldan finds herself in the coming years and how this family secret might shape her future reporting.

Kudos, Madam Hancock, for a stellar debut. I cannot wait to get my hands on more of your work, just as soon as they are translated into English.

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

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

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

Truth or Dare (Helen Grace #10), by M.J. Arlidge

Seven stars

M.J. Arlidge is back with another stunning novel in the DI Helen Grace series, pitting one of Southhampton’s best crime fighters against a series of crimes that appear unrelated and truly baffling. While the COVID 19 pandemic continues to ravage the community, Grace will have to use all her abilities to solve these crimes, even as tensions within the police come to the surface. However, she has a feeling things are not quite as random as they seem… could there be something to this? A gritty addition to the series that keeps readers guessing throughout.

Southampton has been ravaged by many crimes of late, something that keeps DI Helen Grace on her toes and constantly busy. While her team works to put the pieces together, there are some certain cracks that preclude the needed unity to solve these cases with ease. Grace as a romantic history with one of her colleagues that ended badly and which could only exacerbate an already tense situation if the MIT superiors were to discover what happened.

From an arson attack that leaves a man clinging to life, through to a carjacking that has all the elements of a random crime, there appears to be nothing but a bunch of people committing crimes as COVID 19 continues to envelop the world. Is this the new normal, when people are hidden behind masks on a daily basis, lurking in the shadows? Worse yet, crime reporter, Emilia Garanita, is on Grace, hoping to document her latest trip-up and leave her smeared across the printed page. The aforementioned soured romance could be added fuel.

While DI Grace will have to find the common thread, she’s battling demons from all sides. Once she does come across something that could prove to be a solid lead, she’s baffled with the truths that begin to emerge. This may not be a collection of random crimes at all, but rather the work of a brilliant criminal mind with no means of stopping, forcing DI Grace o take things to the next level, or fear exponential repercussions. A great addition to the series, leaving fans to hunger for more.

There’s something about this series that has pulled me in from the outset. While many police procedurals on both sides of the Atlantic have piqued my interest over the last number of years, the work of M.J. Arlidge has always proven to be some that I find the most intriguing. This series usually hits home for me, leaving me eager to pick up the next book in the series, whenever I can.

DI Helen Grace has come a long way throughout this series, though sometimes to her own detriment. Grace has struggled throughout, while always relying one her trusty motorcycle to keep her grounded and the few people she can call friends. However, there are some struggles for her, both within the police force and outside, leaving her less the grounded at a time she must be sharp. Her struggles are well documented here, alongside a passion to solve crimes and bring peace to the community.

Arlidge uses some of his key supporting characters to bring the story to life yet again. Some work primarily to advance the case at hand, while others appear more keen to chop away at the fragile facade of the protagonist. All said, this is a story that pushes the limits of both a baffling crime novel and one where certain characters show new or deeper colours. All of this through the actions of the supporting characters, who serve this piece well.

While I found myself struggling with the novel at times, I am pleased that I stuck with things and found my feet. It may be that there were many random crimes, rather than a central one on which the story focussed. I have always enjoyed this series and enjoy the twists that Arlidge uses to propel the story forward. While I needed a little grounding at times, I found it and was able to enjoy the momentum used to keep the narrative on track. Arlidge uses short chapters to push things along and deviates only when there is a rich bit of storytelling adds to the plot, taking the reader deeper to feel the intensity of the piece. The character development was great and retuning to some of the struggles that some face throughout the series was a wonderful recap to keep the series fan on their toes. I don’t find things lagging or out of place, even as some bemoan that this series is “not like X or DCI Y”. I’ll leave it to them to realise the flaw in their logic there.

Kudos, Mr. Arlidge, for another winner. I have long been intrigued by your work and cannot wait to see what’s next for DI Helen Grace.

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

Mercy Creek (Jo Wyatt #2), by M.E. Browning

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, M.E. Browning, and Crooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I can always be guaranteed an intense read when I choose one of M.E. Browning’s novels and this was no exception. Focussing less on the razzle-dazzle of the big city, Browning takes things into a more rural setting and turns her attention on the story, with its strong characters and ever-evolving plot. In Echo Valley, Colorado, Detective Jo Wyatt is still trying to make a name for herself, seeking to step from the shadow her father’s cast. When a young girl goes missing, it’s more than a case, but a trip down a bumpy part of the past. Wyatt is forced to relive a time when she lost a good friend to a jealous accusation and has never been able to settle things. Now, as time passes and the girl is nowhere to be found, it’s a race for answers and truths in a community that almost seems indifferent. The truth is out there, but Wyatt will have to peel back layers of emotion to get to the core of the matter! Another great story that is sure to impress many readers.

In Echo Valley, Colorado, there’s nothing like a fair. The midway, the animals, and even the county competitions stir up intrigue in this small community. However, when young Lena Flores does not show up on Sunday morning, some begin to wonder what’s going on. Her mother, Tilda, is beside herself and cannot get the police out to the house fast enough. Lena’s older sister, Marisa, is sure her sister is only seeking some attention, but this soon turns to worry, when the eleven year-old appears to have simply vanished.

When Detective Jo Wyatt is called to the scene, it’s more than just a job. Wyatt grew up in Echo Valley and has been trying to make a name for herself on the police force, seeking to dodge the reputation her father delivered from a long career on the force. Wyatt’s also got a long history with the Flores parents, dating back to their time in high school when things went horribly wrong. Still, this is a missing child case and Wyatt will do all she can to bring Lena home safely.

Combing through the fields and any video surveillance they can, Wyatt and her partner finger a few possible suspects, including the girl’s father, Lucero. Digging a little deeper, Wyatt tries to piece together what might have happened and who could have wanted to abduct Lena. All the while, she is trying to deal with the politics of a new chief and his plans for Echo Valley.

Working as many leads as she can, including a carny who took an unhealthy interest in Lena, Detective Wyatt tries to make headway in a case that is slipping out of her grasp. With little on which to go and the clock speeding ahead, this could soon morph into a case of a different sort. When a call comes in that some hikers found something along a trail, it sends a frigid jolt down Wyatt’s spine and opens another can of worms best left shelved, as well as a new line of questioning. A strong story and gripping ending shows that M.E. Browning has what it takes to make an impact.

I’ve enjoyed each of the novels M.E. Browning has penned, as they get to the core of the matter in short order and seek to develop a strong story without all the glitz and glamour that some authors feel must decorate their writing. Gritty and heartfelt in equal measure, Browning tells a story and keeps the reader on their toes throughout the experience, trusting the strength of her writing. I powered through this book in short order, as it was that good and found myself connected to the story.

Jo Wyatt is again front and centre in this piece, working through her own issues to serve the community of Echo Valley. She’s got big shoes to fill, something those around her never fail to mention, yet she is always trying to better herself and help those in need. The reader is able to see a glimpse of her personal struggles from a past that had many issues, as well as some growth in her professional career. I am eager to see more of her in the coming years, as she comes across as a no-nonsense cop with a great deal to prove, both to herself and all readers.

Browning develops strong supporting characters throughout the piece, keeping the story moving along without being derailed by too many sub-plots. Things develop effectively with those who complement Detective Wyatt well, as each storyline links together at some point in the larger narrative. Shedding light on both the investigation and an earlier time in Echo Valley, these characters offer something needed to the story without over complicating the delivery.

There’s something about a focused and gritty procedural that gets me every time. M.E. Browning delivers a great deal in this second novel of her new series. With a strong narrative, the story flows well and each subplot finds its place. Gaining momentum through a string of mid-length chapters, the story keeps a good focus and yet develops both plot and character without needing to add unnecessary flourishes. Browning has proven herself yet again and can hold the reader’s attention throughout, using small town settings to hone the basics of the story. I’m eager to see where things will go from here, as this is a series that caught my eye and has so many loose threads yet to be tied off. Let’s hope M.E. Browning feels the same way!

Kudos, Madam Browning, for another great piece. I hope others take notice and find themselves as enthralled as I was throughout.

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:

The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne

Seven stars

When my coworker asked me to read this book, I was intrigued, while also being somewhat sceptical. I am not one who looks to psychology or self-help when it comes to reading or inspiration, but was willing to give it a try. I’m looking for a new approach with work and my life, so why not give this book (which has been buzzing around for years) a read to see just how much of it might apply to me?

Rhonda Byrne summarizes ‘the secret’ as being simple and yet highly complex at the same time. The premise, that the Law of Attraction works wonders when someone puts it into practice, seems basic enough. However, as Byrne and her countless contributors assert, it is a multi-layered process that can be applied to many aspects of life. Byrne and others take the reader on a journey through a mental recalibration and explain how it can all come together, given the right tools and inner guidance. I don’t want to go too far into it, as the book is short(ish) and tackles many areas on which I can work. Perhaps I will revisit this review in a few months to report my progress.

Byrne’s easy writing style is one that I could digest with ease. The snippet quotes, from both contributors and historical figures adds some depth and credence to the overall experience. With detailed explanations of The Secret and how it can be applied to everyday life make the idea simple enough for anyone to try. However, it does take some dedication and promise to focus, on many levels, to achieve true success. While there is no fee, other than self-determination, the cost is that the brain is filled with so many minute parts that move in synchronicity, leaving the reader unsure where to begin. While her name does adorn the title page, the text is more snippets from contributors than assertions Byrne with supporting evidence, which would be my primary concern. This is not Byrne, with some support, but rather the attributed author as the shepherd, leaving her sheep to do most of the work throughout. If the reader can put that aside and is ready for some mind twisting, it’s time to uncover The Secret today. I’ll let you know how it went for me!

Kudos, Madam Byrne (and others), for opening my eyes and mind to this. I’m eager to see if it can help guide me to a better understanding and positive pathway towards the future.

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

The Pandemic Plot (Ben Hope #23), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

When first I discovered the work of Scott Mariani, I could not get enough of the action and great plots of his novels. Now, with the 23rd novel in his Ben Hope series, I still feel the same excitement, something that is rare when things have gone on this long. Hope finds himself in another mess, as his son has been arrested for a murder in England. Hope travels from France, in hopes of untangling the web, only to have the young man land in prison and await trial. Hope traces the murder back to an investigation the victim had been undertaking, which leads to a mysterious journal. Within the pages of this book lies the cornerstone of a secret that could change the face of history. While Hope is baffled by what he discovers, it is more important to find the killer and clear his son’s name once and for all. Mariani pens another winner that had me riveted throughout.

Ben Hope may be former SAS, but even he likes the idea of some downtime on his property in rural France. All that is shattered when he gets a call from his son, Jude, who has just been arrested for the murder of a man staying at the family estate in England. Hope rushes to help, only to find a cocky Jude unwilling to abide by the legal rules. Jude is tossed into jail ahead of his trial, as Hope tries to get to the root of what happened.

Hope soon learns that the victim is a Canadian investigator who’s been hired to look into some family events. At the centre of it all is a journal from almost a century before. As Hope tries to peel back the layers, others who are involved in the investigation turn up dead, leading him to believe that there is cover-up taking place. As he tries to get a handle on what’s taking place, Hope connects with a police detective who is not quite convinced that Jude is guilty either. Together, they try to pry open some doors and figure out what could be fuelling this murder spree.

As Hope reads the journal in question, he learns of a young woman’s path into the criminal world. These petty crimes culminate in the theft of a rare book, which proves to be more than simply a piece of literature. Between scouring the pages of the journal, Hope connects with a man who has much to share about the pharmaceutical world, admissions that could pave the way for ruthless criminals to get their hands on debilitating weapons. These two storylines connect, albeit loosely, to open the door to questions about the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and what one company might have known all those years ago.

While Hope tries to help exonerate Jude, the young man finds himself making both friends and enemies behind bars. An act of bravery earns Jude the thanks of a ruthless gang leader, who organises a prison escape. Now, with Jude on the lam, Hope must worrry about his son and a killer who is sure to strike again soon. It will take everything Hope has to keep everyone safe, while ensuring he lives long enough to present the truth to the authorities.

While there are some authors who write long series and tend to run out of ideas, Scott Mariani seems to be on point deep into his Ben Hope thrillers. The stories are poignant to the day and the action is never diluted. I have found few series that can say as ‘fresh’ after so many adventures, but Ben Hope seems always to find new ways to entertain readers with his antics. I enjoy whenever I hear of a new novel by Mariani, particularly when Ben Hope is in the middle of yet another adventure.

Ben Hope has lost none of the lustre of the early novels in this series. Passionate about those who matter to him, Hope always finds a way to help them while thrusting himself into the middle of a troublesome situation. The reader usually sees him traversing the globe to find answers, but this novel keeps our protagonist within the confines of England for the most part, using his brains and brawn in equal measure. Hope is fuelled by trying to help his son, a connection that is still fairly fresh for him, as series fans will know well. I can only hope to see more of the softer side of Hope in the coming novels, though his love for the few family members he has shines through this novel.

Mariani offers up a strong cast of supporting characters, both those in a returning role and new faces to keep the story flowing. The reader is able to see things in a new light, particularly in the flashback sequences and those characters who carry the story along in the 1920s and 30s. There is a nice balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ individuals to keep the plot moving along, something that permits the reader to contrast and compare with ease.

The story was a well-balanced piece of work, something that I enjoy so deep into the series. The narrative flowed well, developing the plot effectively in the two timelines. A mix of chapter lengths allow the reader to get ensconced in all the sub-plots before being thrust into action and cliffhangers as well. All of this permits for a thoroughly enjoyable read. As Mariani is apt to do, there is a spin on history that forces the reader to open their mind, as they wonder how much could actually be truth as opposed to fictional supposition to add spice to the story. Many will ask, can the book be read as a standalone? While I suppose it could, I will repeat what I often do when asked this question. Why would you want to miss out on the nuances that pile up throughout the series and culminate here? Series fans will surely love this one, as it is another winner. Those who are new to Scott Mariani had best decide how much of a ride they want. I’d highly recommend getting their proverbial feet wet at the beginning, as it is an excellent series worth the investment.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what Ben Hope has coming up in the future!

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:

The Burning Girls, by C.J. Tudor

Eight stars

C.J. Tudor can never be said to follow the beaten path with her stories. Each finds a unique way to express things with an eerie undertone and strong messaging throughout. This was no exception, mixing chilling revelations with a bucolic setting in rural England. When Rev. Jack Brooks arrives in Chapel Croft with her teenage daughter, neither is sure what to expect. The new vicar of a handful of parishes, Brooks has fled a disturbing past only to be thrust into a community with a long history of darkness. While she tries to settle in, there are a number of goings-on that unnerve her and leave Brooks to wonder if she might have been better off staying put. Now, as truths come to the surface, it will take more than a prayer or two to remedy what’s gone awry, though some would like to add to the trepidation, rather than soothe the wounds that continue to fester. Another great piece that had me thinking throughout.

Chapel Croft seems like a bucolic place on the surface, which is exactly what Rev. Jack ‘Jacqueline’ Brooks hopes to find with her teenage daughter, Flo. They’ve recently relocated from Nottingham, leaving behind a scandal and seek to reset where no one knows them. However, this community has a long history of trouble as well, dating back to the time of Queen Mary’s purges on the Protestants. At a time when anyone who was not Catholic could be severely punished, many in Chapel Croft were killed, including a few small girls, who were burned at the stake. Their images appear to some at random times, leaving sightings of the Burning Girls as the lead topic amongst the locals.

While Rev. Brooks tries to settle in and help take control of a handful of small parishes, her past comes rushing back. Many of the locals have heard why she fled her last posting, the death of a little girl, and wonder if everything they’ve read is true. This forces Brooks to face truths she wanted shelved, all while she discovers ghosts and mysteries in this new place as well. Alongside the long history of the Burning Girls is the mystery of two teens who disappeared three decades before and a community with their own ideas as to what might have happened.

As Flo also tries to find herself, she’s forced to come to terms with the fact that her teenage life has been turned upside town. All her friends are hours away, their connection solely through text and social media, as well as a new group of mean peers, one of whom wants nothing more than to make her life miserable. However, as Flo befriends on of the town’s outcasts, she learns more about herself and Chapel Croft, including dark secrets many no longer wish to discuss.

With a mysterious entity lurking in the shadows, no one is entirely safe. Chapel Croft may be targeted for a new round of evil doing, though it’s not entirely clear just yet. There’s much to uncover, including the apparently suicide of the last vicar, though something is just not adding up. Rev. Brooks is trained in theology, not crime detection, but she may have to do a little of both to stay one step ahead of those who wish to see her fail in this new placement. A great story that pulls the reader in many directions!

There’s nothing like a story that has all the elements of a great mystery without needing the traditional characters to solve it. No police force or nationwide criminal investigators to poke their heads in, but simply a handful of townsfolk who come together and reveal their own ideas. C. J. Tudor does well to build up these sorts of stories and this was another winner. Gripping, yet still realistic, there are elements of the occult within that keep the reader slightly jarred throughout the slow reveal of this novel’s central theme.

Jack Brooks offers readers a great protagonist role with much that pushes the boundaries of what’s to be expected. The name alone screams ‘unwilling to conform’, but that is only the start. Having fled some problems in her past parish, Brooks must reassert herself here and try to fend off all the spins the media has put to print, keeping her parishioners from pre-judging her too harshly. Alongside that, she’s working to help shape her daughter’s future without the assistance of a second parent, something that is discussed throughout the book. With all this and the mysteries of Chapel Croft, Rev. Brooks may have bitten off more than she can chew throughout this experience.

C.J. Tudor presents a handful of exceptional secondary characters who not only complement the protagonist, but also add depth to the story as a whole. The community is trying to come to grips with a long history of troubles, many of which they cannot solve on their own. Still, there is something about a small community that adds layers to the narrative, troubling and enlightening in equal measure. Tudor does well throughout to keep the action high and the revelations coming, using her characters effectively throughout the storytelling process.

I quite enjoyed the story, as I often do when C.J. Tudor is leading the way. These are not your traditional crime thrillers or procedurals, but rather pieces where the reader must pull back the layers as the narrative gains momentum. New characters each time force the reader to connect and seek to explore each personal backstory they find intriguing, as the chapters flow and the story takes on a mind of its own. Great character development allows the mysteries of Chapel Croft to come to life, while history rears its ugly head throughout the experience. Standalone novels appear to be the way C.J. Tudor chooses to go, showing the reader how effective they can be in the hands of a stellar writer.

Kudos, Madam Tudor, for another winner. I can always be promised something thought provoking when I pick up one of your books. I only wonder what’s next and wait with anticipation.

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

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too), by Gretchen Rubin

Seven stars

When my manager asked me to read this book, I was intrigued. I am not one who usually turns to psychology or human analysis, but was told this book could open me up to new ways of thinking. Gretchen Rubin has found a way to divide people into four main tendencies, which not only dictate their lives, but also the interactions they have with others. I was curious to see where I fit into the mix and how I might be able to determine a label for others, which might help me see why I interact with them in certain ways. While it was not groundbreaking reading, I came away with some interesting views and am happy I took the time to read it.

Rubin has done a great deal of research and analysis into her four tendencies, which are broad enough to fit most everyone, yet still quite telling. Rubin defines people as follows:

⁃ Upholders: respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations

⁃ Questioners: question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect they respond only to inner expectations

⁃ Obligers: respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations

⁃ Rebels: resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

The book seeks to explore these four tendencies to see where the reader might find themselves, but also explores interactions that each tendency might have with the others, helping to better understand personal and professional relationships. Rubin offers many ‘aha’ moments in this analysis and kept me on my toes throughout, allowing me to better understand the world around me from a new perspective.

Rubin’s easy writing style is one that I thoroughly enjoy, as she makes the analysis come to life without too much in the realm of technical talk. She’s on point and keeps things relatable throughout. Without a throng background in psychology or human analysis, I cannot offer any deeper analysis on the content, but will assert that I felt comfortable throughout and could comprehend the analytics with ease. I’d recommend the book to anyone looking to explore themselves a little more. I was truly shocked where I ended up with I took the quiz, but I suppose I can see it now!

Kudos, Madam Rubin, for some great thought provoking moments. I may have to look for more of your work soon!

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