Rembrandt Rides a Bike (Julia Fairchild #2), by PJ Peterson

Eight stars

When given an ARC for the latest PJ Peterson novel in the Julia Fairchild series, I was unsure what I ought to expect. Peterson writes ‘cozy mysteries’, which can be wonderfully exciting, but also pose of the problem of not being mentally stimulating enough for a reader such as myself. I chose to take the risk, but wanted to tackle the entire series to ensure context. Peterson won me over early with a young doctor whose sleuthing abilities are honed by her attention to detail. Having devoured the series debut, I forged onwards with this story, which takes the reader through much of Germany and into the Netherlands. Dr. Julia Fairchild is with an amateur dance troupe, but also seems to be surrounded by art thieves. Working with her younger sister, they try to piece it all together, while never missing a shuffle step or the chance to catch the sights! Another winner for PJ Peterson.

Dr. Julia Fairchild remains busy with her medical practice, but enjoys some of the more enjoyable things in life, such as tap dancing. Having taken it up in adulthood, Julia and a few of her friends signed up for a dance tour in Europe. Alongside her younger sister, Carly, Julia arrives in Frankfurt to join the rest of the tour group. They will be practicing routines most mornings and evenings, but have ample time to tour around the four cities, admiring the local art and history.

While out at a museum, Julia and Carly find themselves in the middle of a security breech, as someone has stolen an elusive piece of art. This is surely something a little more exciting that simply peering at paintings, though Julia and Carly cannot be sure what’s been going on. As they commence dance practices, some of the dancers meet one of their own, a Croat from New York City, who remains secretive and relatively shy.

It is only when the diminutive Irina does not show up for practice or one of their recitals that Julia worries. However, those organizing the tour are keen to point out that Irina mentioned having some issues and would catch up as soon as she could. While the tour moves along to another German city, so does the mystery, as another heist occurs. It is only when Julia meets a roaming American reporter that details of the robberies come to light, adding some intrigue to the holiday.

Never one to dismiss a mystery, Julia begins poking around as best she can, hoping to find answers alongside her sister. By the time the tour reaches Amsterdam, it’s intense and something is seriously wrong. Carly’s been kidnapped and held for ransom by a group determined not to let any amateur dancers stymie their plans. Julia will have to rely on those around her, while she tries to help the authorities crack the case wide open. Another Peterson winner that had me turning pages well into the night.

I was yet again captivated with the story PJ Peterson recounted without needing anything too complex and deep. The plot developed well, mixing humour with some nefarious activity and left the reader highly entertained throughout. There were moments of grit and hearty determination, offset by a lighter story about a dance troupe making their way across the European countryside. A cozy mystery right up my alley!

Dr. Julia Fairchild continues to work well as a protagonist in this series. A sleuth both at work and on holiday, Julia has a great intuitiveness, which emerges throughout the piece. Her backstory is minimal, but there are some moments of flashbacks, just enough to offer context at the right moment. Julia’s character develops well, again interacting with some heroic men, but also taking a leadership role when it comes to working the mystery before her. Truly a woman who enjoys her independence.

I have found a great book when able to devour it in a day or two. PJ Peterson offers up another wonderful cozy mystery, perfect for those who need something lighter to balance their hectic reading schedule. The narrative keeps its flow, offering the reader some momentum as they progress. The plot has a few twists to keep the reader on their toes and does not lag at any point. Strong characters and well-described settings help paint a delightful story. I cannot wait to get my hands on the next novel, sure it will pack the same punch.

Kudos, Madam Peterson, for another great novel. I’m glad to have stumbled on these books and hope others discover them as well.

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

The Apollo Murders, by Chris Hadfield

Nine stars

Exploring the Cold War through a new and exhilarating lens, this novel by former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has all the ingredients of a superior thriller. Examining the tensions of two superpowers, the space race is a poignant backdrop during the tense 1970s. When the Americans learn of a Soviet space satellite, they are less than calm. It will have to be destroyed before too many secrets can be conveyed behind the Iron Curtain. Doing so will require not only stealth, but also precise planning. With the launch of Apollo 18, there could be a chance for success, but nothing is guaranteed, as NASA has come to realise. When something goes terribly wrong outside the Earth’s orbit, it will take some quick decision-making to remedy it. All the while, focus within the White House and Kremlin is up into the stars, as both impatiently await news to share. Hadfield does a masterful job with this piece, stirring up emotions with every plot twist!

With space exploration still in its infancy, two political superpowers seek to earn the title of ‘master of the outer realm’. The Americans and Soviets have been fighting a cold, but focussed, political war on land and sea for years, but the battle to explore space is a new frontier. This is the premise of the novel, which takes readers as deep as they could possibly go.

NASA flight controller Kazimieras “Kaz” Zemeckis knows that all too well, as he helps prepare for the launch of Apollo 18. The Americans have had some success getting astronauts into space and onto the moon, but there is more to that with this launch. US Intelligence has deduced that the Soviets have a spy satellite orbiting Earth and transmitting news back to the Kremlin, something that could have dire consequences. Apollo 18 may be the only hope of destroying the satellite without drawing too much attention, but Kaz is not sure it will work.

After Apollo 18 launches into orbit, three astronauts receive word of their extra mission and are tasked with trying to neutralise Soviet spy power. It will be a delicate mission and no one is entirely sure how easy it will be to get the needed answers. Still, it is a must to protect America and every astronaut knows the importance of their patriotic duty.

When things go horribly wrong out in space, thing turn from a covert mission into one focussed on rescue. New protocols will need to be created and a loose ‘friendly coolness’ develops between the Americans and Soviets. Working together will be the only way to ensure the body count is minimal, while keeping the general public out of the know of any major mishap. Kaz and many others will have to rely on transmissions and limited capabilities of the astronauts while heading for the Moon, the still somewhat under-explored part of near space.

All eyes and ears are on the transmissions of Apollo 18 and its crew, as they seek to find needed answers swiftly and concisely. Holding their collective breaths, Washington and Moscow await news, putting aside their differences for a moment, but refusing to melt the chill in the air! A stellar piece of writing that pushes the Cold War to new limits!

Chris Hadfield’s experience as an astronaut comes through in this piece, which is full of great information about the space program. From a detailed narrative about the preparations for time in space to the explanations of procedures needed to survive outside of the Earth’s orbit, Hadfield presents a piece that educates as much as it entertains. The story is stunning in its detail and delivery, leaving me eager to keep reading as I discover things I had no idea existed. I can only hope there are more books to come in this vein, as I could not get enough.

The cast of characters is broad and each has something for the reader to explore. Hadfield has an array of those who could be protagonists in their own right, but I choose not to choose a single individual for this piece. Backstories are plentiful, as are the moments of development, when pressure and politics enter the equation as well. The reader will likely find someone with whom they can relate, or at least connect throughout the turbulent nature of the piece, making it an even more captivating story.

The premise of the piece was not only brilliant, but its execution was stellar from the opening pages. Chris Hadfield develops his plot in the early stages of the narrative and pushes forward incrementally in an attempt to paint a picture for the reader. With a great deal of backstory to use as foundation, the story must begin slowly, but soon takes on a mind of its own and leaves the reader demanding more as things progress. A cast of unique characters, as well as some known in history, provides the reader with something exciting and useful when offering context. Knowledge of the space program and space itself can be found throughout the story, aiding in the education of the layperson and not keeping them from understanding what is taking place. I can only wonder what else Hadfield has for readers in the coming years, as this was, if you pardon the pun, out of this world!

Kudos, Mr. Hadfield, for a great fiction debut. Don’t stop here, as I know you will have many who demand more space thrillers!

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

Blind Fish Don’t Talk (Julia Fairchild #1), by PJ Peterson

Eight stars

While I do enjoying thinking while I read, there are time when a cozy mystery works well to relax a busy brain. I was given an ARC for the latest PJ Peterson novel in the Julia Fairchild series, but thought it best to start at the beginning for some context. Peterson presents a great tale of a young doctor on vacation in the Caribbean who stumbles upon a dead scuba diver. While many are sure it was an accident, Dr. Julia Fairchild is not entirely convinced and works for most of her vacation investigating it, repeatedly putting herself in harm’s way. A quick read and highly entertaining, I will certainly be devouring the rest of the series in short order.

Dr. Julia Fairchild has her heart set on a romantic getaway with her new boyfriend, the elusive Tony. His delayed arrival leaves Julia to spend some time in the Caribbean alone. While she hopes to lap up the waves and work on her tan, things go awry from the start when the woman set to collect her at the airport does not show. Still, there’s nothing that will ruin this getaway and Julia hopes to get things going as soon as she settles in.

Tasked with meeting one of Tony’s friends to deliver a package, Julia tries to locate Linda Townsend. No one has seen her and she’s not answering her calls. Only slightly worried, as it was Linda who was to collect her at the airport, Julia continues looking. It’s only when she and a newfound friend go scuba diving that they locate Linda’s body. What looks to have been a faulty air tank does not sit right with the fair doctor and Julia continues her sleuthing. Nothing seems to make sense and yet no one else wants to really push for answers.

While she does balance her time investigating with some sun, Julia refuses to give up on the investigation. As Tony is repeatedly delayed, Julia finds herself seeking answers and receives unknown threats in the form of corny poems left on her rental car. Linda Townsend seems innocent on the surface, but Dr. Julia Fairchild is sure there is more to the story. While the threats increase, so does Julia’s determination to find answers, even if it costs her everything. A great debut to this series by PJ Peterson!

While some would say I have eclectic tastes when it comes to books, one things remains constant; the writing must pull me in. I found myself captivated with the story PJ Peterson told from the opening chapter, liking the lighter fare she had to offer. The details were constant and the plot development never lagged. I got just what I was expecting, as well as more when I could not stop turning pages well into the night. I am eager to see what the coming books will offer, with the author having sent me an ARC of her latest in the series.

Dr. Julia Fairchild works well as a protagonist. Her passion for answers parallels her medical career, though she is not one to forget having a little fun. While her backstory is minimal, save a little discussion about meeting Tony, I can hope that this will be addressed more in the coming novels. Julia’s character develops well throughout the piece, as she mingles with many of the men on the island, even allowing herself a little scandal here and there. I am eager to see how the character evolves throughout the series and will forge onwards.

It’s the sign of a great read when I can devour a book in just over a day (darn that my life and work get in the way!). PJ Peterson offers up just what she promises, a cozy mystery with all the intrigue of a great winter or beach read. The narrative flows well and gains speed when needed, offering the reader some momentum as they progress. The plot has a few twists and works well as it comes to a climax. Strong characters and well-described settings help make this a novel with just enough depth, while not trying to reach for heights it cannot promise. If I can make it through the rest of the series with the same ease, I will have the mental relief I seek from a busy week ahead.

Kudos, Madam Peterson, for a great series debut. I cannot wait to tackle more and see what Dr. Julia Fairchild finds as she continues her amateur sleuthing.

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

Count to Three, by T.R. Ragan

Eight stars

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

Seeking something with a little more chill to it, I turned to the latest publication by T.R. Ragan. In a story that tells of two kidnapped children over a span of time, the reader in thrust into the middle of the action, where the lead investigator has the memory of her own daughter’s disappearance to fuel her actions. With confusing leads that go nowhere and two storylines that leave the reader to wonder what’s really going on, Ragan spins a tale of deception and horror, while two girls remain missing, years apart. A gripping story that kept me turning pages and left me wanting more!

Dani Callahan had always wanted a child, but was faced with many roadblocks along the way. It was only through intense fertility treatment that she and her husband, Matthew, were blessed with little Tinsley. While Dani loved her daughter, she knew that there would come a time when she would have to let her earn some independence. On her first day of kindergarten, five-year-old Tinsley disappeared without a trace by the time Dani arrived to collect her. The teacher was sure Dani, or someone looking like her, had picked the little one up. Thus began the horror of Dani’s life.

Fast forward five years and Dani is now divorced and has earned her license as a private investigator. Tinsley is still nowhere to be found, but Dani will not give up hope. Working with a new assistant, Quinn, Dani takes on the case of a missing teenager who up and disappeared as well. While some are sure she ran away from home, Dani and Quinn have other ideas. A young boy says he saw Ali Cross being stuffed into the back of a van, though the details are somewhat vague.

While Dani and Quinn do all they can to find Ali, they are worried as the only evidence comes from this young boy, who is troubled in his own right. To offset the search, Dani thrusts herself back into the search for Tinsley, which reveals a few leads. Could this be the break in the case that Dani needs?

All the while, Ali Cross is being held in town by a man who has odd ideas of what will come of their cohabitation. He offers little things to Ali, but there is no doubt that she is his captive and, should he have his way, will be the love of his life. As Ali hopes to be found, Dani and Quinn take a dive deep into a sadistic man’s life, wondering what they will find. With Tinsley still missing, could the two cases intersect in some way? T.R. Ragan tells a wonderfully dark story that is sure to captivate many.

I believe I have read some of T.R. Ragan’s work in the past, though will have to look through my massive digital stack of reviews. The writing kept me wanting to learn more and plunge deeper into this mystery. The plot kept me wondering while also begging to be entertained, which occurred repeatedly throughout the process. I will have to find some time to read more of Ragan’s work, as it was just what I needed at this time of year.

Dani Callahan is a wonderfully complex protagonist. Her backstory is primarily fixated on the loss of her daughter, though there are moments when we see the struggles she had conceiving and the importance of this little one. In the present, Dani is forced to juggle her own feelings with those of trying to find a new missing girl and how that must weigh on the emotions of the family. There appear to be the seeds of a possible series here and I am happy to keep my eyes open to see what transpires.

There’s something about a thriller that pulls me in most of the time. I love the chills that run up my spine as I visualize what’s taking place before me. T.R. Ragan does that repeatedly and kept me eager to learn more. A strong narrative pushed the story forward and left me eager to follow along, particularly as the momentum increased. Strong characters and a complex plot kept me guessing throughout and I marvelled about how it all came together. While private investigator novels are quite common, Ragan adds her own flavouring and has me wanting to come back to see where Dani Callahan takes readers in the near future. The only downside was the end, which did not leave as many threads hanging as I might have liked to pave the way for another sure-fire novel.

Kudos, Madam Ragan, for a great piece of entertainment. I can see why you have achieved such popularity over the years!

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

The Coldest Case (Black Book #0.5): An Audible Production, by James Patterson, Aaron Tracy, and Ryan Silbert

Eight stars

Having recently discovered James Patterson’s experimentation in ‘direct to audio’ work, I was pleased to get my hands on this piece. It brings to life a new series that has a great deal of potential, working with collaborators Aaron Tracy and Ryan Silbert. The story is layered with a great plot and some sensational character interactions, which is intensified by the audio. While the Chicago PD is not known for its simple cases, this one is particularly tough. Thank goodness Detectives Billy and Patti Harney are working it as best they can. When Billy’s partner gets too deep while undercover, she needs to be extracted, but that only leads to added issues. Billy soon realises that there is a powerful list of names in a secret book, ones that could lead to the death of countless others if it falls into the wrong hands. Patterson wins with this one, in a story that comes to life through audio.

A sinister drug ring has been working in Chicago for years, something that Chicago PD Detective Billy Harney has been investigating. Working alongside his sister, Patti, they are trying to eke out some information about something big. When Billy’s partner, Kate, embeds herself into the group, there is hope that something will come of it. After a gaffe sees many turn up dead, Kate is almost revealed as a cop and she must be taken into protective custody, but not before an essential informant goes missing. Amongst all the chaos, a special black book containing key information has gone missing and the drug ring is hell-bent on finding it, no matter the cost. Key clients could be outed otherwise!

As Billy and Patti investigate the contents of the black book, they realise that it is more than meets the eye, with crooked athletes and corrupt politicians front and centre on the list. On the side, Billy and Patti discover the intense world of on-line gaming and how ruthless it can be. This helps them crack open a little part of the case, but also pushes them deeper into confusion as well. When the black book reveals a chilling secret that could lead to many deaths, it’s a race to get to the scene on time to prevent disaster. The fate of many rests in the hands of the Harneys. Patterson excites with ease as he creates a story many can enjoy in only a few hours!

While James Patterson has moments of greatness and others of frigidity, this was surely one of the greater publication, released solely through audio. The story was crisp and the plot flowed well, keeping the reader engaged throughout and eager to see how things would progress. Said to be the prequel of the Black Book series, this story works really well and offers listeners something exciting in a short period of time. Patterson and his collaborators develop a wonderful script and use a star-studded cast to bring it all to life.

The characters were all cast well and the multitude of voices surely brought things to a new level. I was able to follow things with ease, even if I had to listen very carefully to ensure I did not miss anything. The plot was on point and left me begging for me, as I learned a little more about the Harneys and how well they function together. While I do love a good book, this was an excellent alternative and gave me something special to enjoy amidst all the craziness I find surrounds me these days. A step above a simple audiobook, Patterson and his collaborators have left me wanting more!

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Tracy, and Silbert, for a great story and wonderful experience. I look forward to future collaborations, as they become possible.

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

The Guilty: An Audible Production, by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski

Eight stars

James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski venture into a newer medium for this piece, the ‘direct to audio’ production, where a handful of talented actors portray the story for the listener to enjoy. A play that no one knows anything about, a genius actor/director with a plan, and an audience that is lapping it all up. Welcome to ‘The Guilty’ and all that it entails. A unique approach to a murder mystery, but one I quite enjoyed, if only because it was a quick experience and permitted something different.

Osmond Box is a living legend, the King of Broadway some may call him, even if he is reclusive and few have seen him. His productions are always over the top and audiences have no idea what they are going to receive. The house is full and people await the stage lights for everything to begin.

As the evening progresses, things become more and more mysterious. What begins as an apparent reality show on stage soon turns dark, as Box accuses his fellow actors of heinous crimes. Is it all part of the script or improvisational? And when a stage gun turns out to shoot someone, who is the murderer?

With cell phones confiscated and the doors locked, no one can leave as things progress. Audience members gawk in awe and await some sort of resolution. When all is said and done, the police arrive to question many of those who witnessed the event. Was it murder? Has Osmond Box done it again and pulled off the greatest theatrical production of all time? A great piece that Patterson and Swierczynski concocted as they leave the listener guessing.

This was definitely an interesting spin for the master of storytelling, using one of his best collaborators to develop the piece for listeners. Told solely through audio, the story develops and keeps the listener enthralled as they try to piece it all together. Some may balk at having to listen, rather than flip through the pages, but it was certainly the experience that will keep people talking for months.

Told through nine episodes, the story progressed well and held my attention throughout. What is going on with the actors and how will things progress with each passing moment? There was just enough character development throughout to keep me satisfied and the plot advanced in odd ways, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. While dramatic reproductions are not always my thing, I did enjoy the different perspectives and voices telling this story, as it breathed some life into the piece and left me wanting more.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Swierczynski, for this interesting experiment. I felt it was a success and am eager to try some more of them soon.

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

2 Sisters Detective Agency, by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Seven stars

Working together yet again, James Patterson and Candice Fox present a standalone thriller with all the ingredients for success. Two unsuspecting women are thrust together and find themselves in the middle of something truly terrifying, only to learn that there are even more layers yet to be seen. Rhonda Bird is not naive in the least, but is truly shocked to learn of the fallout of her father’s death. She travels to Los Angeles and learns that she has a sister, one who is not used to following rules. When they get tangled up in tracking down a crew of privileged teens, the end result is nothing less than horrific, particularly when one of the group’s victims seeks revenge for what’s happened. Patterson and Fox show that they have some magic within them, using this piece to prove it once again.

Rhonda Bird is a juvenile public defender, working the system as best she can with clients who feel they are untouchable. When she receives news that her estranged father has died, she agrees to go to Los Angeles to handle some of the paperwork. It is only then that she realises something truly baffling, she has a half-sister. Baby Bird is an entitled teenager who does not like to follow the rules, making it even more difficult for Rhonda to take control of the situation. If that were not enough, they girls’ father was no longer the boring accountant he presented himself to be, but a private detective with an active business.

While Rhonda tries to digest all that is put before her, Baby wants nothing more than to keep living the life she’s been streaming online. This includes interactions with other privileged teens. When one acquaintance comes for help, he soon discovers that he does not want to involve Rhonda in what’s going on, leaving Baby somewhat concerned.

As she’s used to prying information out of teenagers, Rhonda soon discovers that the boy is part of a gang of youths who target those in need of a message, roughing people up and causing havoc wherever possible,. Their leader, a psychopath if ever there was one, relishes the power they have been able to exert and cares little for the fallout. As Rhonda and Baby resurrect their father’s agency to work the case, they find themselves enmeshed in trying to bring this group of youths down, knowing little of those that have been victimized.

What begins as a hunt for a group of entitled brats soon takes a darker turn, as one of the victims, with a sordid past of his own, decides to take matters into his own hands. With a killer lurking in the shadows, Rhonda and Baby will have to watch their every move, sure that no one is safe or can be trusted. Rhonda may have wished she never answered the call that brought her to L.A., but now that she’s here, it’s all hands on deck to protect a sister she never knew she had. A decent crime thriller that had its moments of intrigue.

I have come to enjoy both the collaborative and individual work of James Patterson, as well as Candice Fox. They have been able to create some fascinating characters, plots, and novels that usually leave me flipping pages for hours at a time. While I applaud the ideas, this book did not grab me as much as their previous work, though there were moments of intrigue and captivating writing. The jury is still out on this one and I am left to wonder if this is a new collaborative series in the making.

Rhonda Bird proves to be a gritty protagonist in this piece, offering up her no-nonsense side with capable mind throughout. I was intrigued to see the balance of her professional and personal life, as it came to light throughout this story and could only wonder if Patterson and Fox had more in mind for her in upcoming novels. Strong-willed and ready to make a difference when it counts, Rhonda must also juggle being a quasi-parent to her new half-sister, more trouble than it is sometimes worth.

I spent a great deal of time thinking about this book, trying not to compare it to others I have read of late, or even the past collaborative submissions of the authors. I am almost certain that it is tough on writers who have had success to always achieve the same standards in their novels, as readers come to expect stellar work. Patterson and Fox are great writers on their own, and together, but this one did not resonate for me as much as I would have liked. I needed something grittier, darker, with more seriousness and complexity. Instead, I got some teenage vapidness mixed with amateur sleuthing on a case that did not fully captive me. This is nothing against the authors or their hard work, as the narrative flowed pretty well and the chapters moved things along. I simply felt that there was a disconnect with the plot and what I needed at the moment. Perhaps the next one will be a return to their old ways!

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Fox, on a valiant effort. I know what you can do, so there is no point bemoaning or panning this one blip.

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

Head Shot (Marko Zorn #2), by Otho Eskin

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Otho Eskin, and Oceanview Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Otho Eskin returns with the second in his Marko Zorn crime thriller series. Taking a more international approach to this novel, Eskin provides moments of political intrigue and international coup plotting, while using a local murder to tie things to Washington, D.C.. Hoping for the same grittiness I found in the series debut, I was, at times, left feeling as though this was a ‘cozy murder mystery’, based on the narrative and ongoing dialogue. However, into the latter portion of the book, Eskin found his stride and turned on the proverbial engines to race towards the finish line, using a coup attempt to bring the story home. Entertaining and easy to read, Otho Eskin keeps readers turning pages.

Things do not begin well for Metro D.C. Homicide Detective Marko Zorn. A shot at him while outside his home leaves Zorn wondering who he’s upset now. Summoned to meet a man best left in the shadows, Zorn is tasked with protecting the new Montenegrin prime minister, while being reminded of some covert business he recently completed on a side trip to Chicago. Zorn is ready to help serve as part of the security detail, as long as it does not interfere with his day job.

Speaking of that, Detective Zorn is called to the scene of a possible suicide by gunshot, though many believe the dead actress may have been murdered moments after exiting the stage during a recent play. Zorn finds himself shocked to see that the actress is a woman with whom he has a past, though he seeks to shelve those feelings and get to the bottom what’s happened. This pulls him into the middle of a ‘dramatic’ world, where enemies are plentiful and the competition is ruthless.

While trying to focus on the murder investigation, the prime minister arrives in town and makes her way to the embassy. There, Zorn seeks to make introductions and lay the groundwork for how things will go during the state visit. He’s doubly tasked with protecting the international guest by a senior member of the US Administration, showing Zorn that people mean business.

When additional bodies close to the Montenegrin leader turn up strangled, Zorn realises that trouble is lurking. Things get much worse as attempts on his own life begin to occur in rapid succession. Zorn will have to use all his resources to locate the hired assassin, ensuring he neutralises them before more blood is spilled on US soil. All the while, the dead actress turns out to be part of a larger conspiracy, with Zorn in the crosshairs. A chilling story that, at times, proves to be as gritty as the series debut.

My recent discovery of Otho Eskin has proven fruitful as I found myself enthralled with this series. I devoured both books Eskin has published and am eager to see what is to come. Eskin builds on the Marko Zorn character, a gritty detective with a number of skeletons in his closet, adding more depth to the protagonist’s abilities and personality. Even with some shaky narrative moments, I am still eager to see what is to come for this rule-breaking cop!

Marko Zorn is still complex, working both sides of the law as he remains calm and collected throughout. There are some curious aspects to his backstory, revealed through some personal memories, as well as a strong focus on the law and how to protect those around him. Zorn is always ready to use his determination as a cop to get answers, even as it puts him in serious danger. While not a spy, he knows how to rub elbows with those lurking deep in the shadows and finds himself the target of the most ruthless international individuals. There’s a great deal more to discover about this man and how deep his connections go!

Otho Eskin proves himself a master storyteller, as I have come to see with these first two books. His debut was both gritty and full of mystery, with this one following suit, though it teetered on becoming a cozy mystery for a time. The narrative had moments of greatness, particularly when tackling the international angle, offset by some hokey moments at the theatre during the early stages of the plot’s development. The darker side of Marko Zorn is surely on display yet again, as some of his past handlings of events for nefarious people comes to light in passing. The reader remains invested in the process with some short chapters that tease major plot twists. International flavouring and layers of deception kept the story balanced and pushed me to keep reading well into the evening. I’m interested to see what’s next and how Otho Eskin will present it to readers.

Kudos, Mr. Eskin, for another strong piece of writing. Your experiences shine on every page.

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

The Reflecting Pool (Marko Zorn #1), by Otho Eskin

Eight stars

Otho Eskin emerges as a new writer on my radar, with a captivating crime thriller that left me wanting more. Set in Washington, D.C., the story is a mix of crime and politics, as a DC Metro Homicide detective seeks to find answers when a body is found close to the White House. Marko Zorn does his own thing, but strives to get results and ensure the criminal element are put away. While he is stonewalled during an investigation, Zorn uses all the resources at his disposal to learn more about the victim, as well as her possible involvement with a supremacist group. All the while, Zorn is given a mission by a shady individual, which will force him to put some of his police ethics aside for results. Eskin delivers with his series debut and I have the second ready to begin soon!

When called to the scene of a body found in the Reflecting Pool, DC Metro Homicide Detective Marko Zorn begins asking questions. He receives significant pushback from the start, as other branches seek to claim responsibility. However, Zorn is not ready to hand everything over, citing jurisdiction. When the victim turns out to be a member of the Secret Service, things take a definite turn and Zorn feels the squeeze once more.

While trying to investigate, Zorn discovers that there is more to the victim than meets the eye. She has loose ties to a white supremacist group, whose membership includes those within the White House. As the investigation proceeds, many try to shut it down and ensure that Zorn does not have access to what he needs. This only lights a larger fire under Zorn, as he pushes for answers.

All the while, Zorn is pushed into the middle of another investigation, this one thoroughly off the books. Someone with pull on the streets of DC is trying to make a place for a shipment of illegal arms. Zorn is told to handle it and finds himself a target for the duelling factions. He has to keep this hidden, as its discovery could ruin his life with Metro. While both situations come to a head, Zorn ha no choice but to make a play, ensuring that he will be in the crosshairs of some powerful people. A chilling story that flows quickly and proves entertaining for all involved.

I only discovered the work of Otho Eskin because I was granted early access to an ARC of the second novel in the series. Happy to discover new authors I can potentially enjoy, I rushed to get this book and see what it would be like. Eskin develops a gritty detective with a number of skeletons in his closets and a personally to boot. I was thoroughly intrigued throughout the book and cannot wait to see where this series is headed soon.

Marko Zorn is quite the complex character, tapping into some interesting personal and professional aspects throughout the novel. While there are some curious aspects to his backstory, leaving him to make questionable choices, Zorn is always ready to fight for what he feels he must in order to allow justice to prevail. His determination as a cop proves to be one of the key aspects of the plot, pushing people round to get answers and also showing off some of his more ‘interesting’ qualities. I am eager to see how he develops throughout this series, as he is certainly still an enigma to me.

Otho Eskin can certainly spin a a tale, as I have come to see here. His debut was both gritty and full of mystery, while always remembering the message it sought to make. The narrative pushed forward with ease, allowing the reader to experience some of the darker sides to Marko Zorn. With mid-length chapters, the reader is invested in the process and cannot help but push onwards to discover what awaits them in short order. A curious plot and layers of deception kept the story on point throughout and left me wanting, no, demanding more. Thankfully, I have that ARC ready to go as I explore more of the curious works of Detective Marko Zorn.

Kudos, Mr. Eskin for a wonderful debut. I am eager to see where things are headed.

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

State of Terror, by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny returns with high-profile story collaborator, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to create a strong international thriller that pushes the boundaries at every turn. In a story that has some subtle (and not so) references to the previous US Administration, as well as Clinton’s work as Secretary of State, the plot inches forward in a stunning manner. A few terrorist attacks in Europe turn the world’s eyes towards a group that seeks to topple all that is held dear. When the newly-minted Secretary of State is sent to handle the situation, truths emerge about future attacks on American soil, which could have drastic outcomes. Fighting against time and a blur of information, truths will have to emerge before America is again the victim of a horrible attack on its own soil. Penny and Clinton do well throughout this piece to offer up their own style, something I could not resist enjoying through to the final pages.

After a hard-fought primary and general election, Ellen Adams is rewarded for her service to the victor with the post of Secretary of State. As she assesses her position, she must come to terms with the fact that she’s accepted the role from her political rival, though someone she can at least stomach. The American political scene is somewhat dire, after four years of chaos under a seemingly incompetent president.

When a series of terrorist attacks in Europe begin to turn heads, Adams must assume the role of stateswoman and try to assuage the panic, while also taking a leadership role and get to the bottom of what’s going on. Tasked by the president to bring him news quickly, Adams assembles a team and they head to the region, only to discover that there is more to come. Someone (or a group) is preparing to attack America where it is the most vulnerable, as someone has taken the foot off the proverbial gas for the past four years.

Working behind the scenes and traveling covertly, Adams discovers that there is a plot in place to attack America at home. The details are sketchy and Adams will have to work alongside known enemies and some allies with questionable decision-making prowess to cobble together the truth. The world holds its collective breath, though many do not know what is coming. It’s a race to get answers, implement solutions, and bring stability once more. The key to is all may find itself in a small Canadian town, a place many know well. Penny and Clinton offer a great story that kept me guessing until the final pieces fell into place.

Political thrillers can be some of the most difficult books to write, particularly when the author takes an ideological side in their writing. They are sure to alienate some readers , simply by pushing their own fictitious agenda through plots, characters, and situations. This appears to be the case here, as Clinton and Penny have been panned by many, simply for the former’s political views or past work in a few US Administrations. While I am fine with free speech, it is the inane comments from those who refuse to read the books and simply offer vapid commentary that proves vindictiveness is an intoxication that does not require intelligence. That being said, there were many who could see some of the great storylines and writing, even if they did not agree wholeheartedly with the presentation in this novel.

The character development in this piece was quite complex and thoroughly enjoyable. Those familiar with Louise Penny’s writing will know that she creates strong characters in her novels that move from the page to the imaginations of the reader. Nuances and intricate details serve as part of the experience, which occurred throughout this piece. The imagery of the individuals playing various roles cannot be discounted, as they added depth to an already strong story and kept me wanting more.

While political thrillers and international terror plots appear to be plentiful in the genre today, there was something about this book that help elevate it for me. I am a fan of Louise Penny’s work and adore all things political, so this seemed to be the perfect mix for me. A strong narrative forged ahead throughout the piece and kept my attention until the final sentence. The plot evolved throughout, keeping it from being too predictable, with some wonderful twists that left me gasping at times. As mentioned before, it is the variety and complexity of the characters that made me take notice, as usual. The ending, and what a great one it was, left the door open for a sequel. I do hope this collaborative team can return for at least a little more, as the entertainment value was high and just what I needed this week!

Kudos, Madams Penny and Clinton, on a wonderful collaborative effort. You work well together, complementing each other’s strengths. I look forward to more in the coming years.

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