They Only Wear Black Hats, by Edward Izzi

Nine stars

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

Edward Izzi returns with another of his stunning thrillers, sure to captivate the reader’s attention from the opening pages. Taking this crime story down a dark rabbit hole, Izzi mixes history, murder, and a secret society to formulate a novel that will leave readers talking well into the future. Detroit PD Detective Mike Palazzola has enjoyed his work within the Third Precinct, but knows that crime will always be a part of his day to day work. When a string of odd murders are accompanied by the placement of black bowler hats, he’s sure a serial killer is on the loose. Little does he know the complexities tied to these killings, as a friend and journalist tries to uncover a group whispered to be called the Archangels. Directives will be made, people will die, and Palazzola will have to decide how to act before it’s too late! Izzi impresses once again with this scintillating story of secrecy and retribution.

Detroit has long been a place where crime runs rampant, something that DPD Detective Mike Palazzola knows all too well. Working out of the Third Precinct, he has been in the middle of a number of high-profile and gruesome murder investigations, some with children as victims. While the cases seem strong, when those accused make their way to court, they are released on a technicality, proving major flaws with the system. All Palazzola can do is grit his teeth and keep protecting his city. Soon thereafter, all those who were released turn up strangled to death, slices on their body, and a black bowler hat next to them.

While out with Justine Cahill, a gritty journalist, one evening, Palazzola notices a group of men wearing the same bowler hats entering the private back room of an Italian restaurant. Their mysterious nature raises some concerns with both Palazzola and Cahill, but the restaurant staff remain tight-lipped about who these men could be.

Unbeknownst to anyone else in the restaurant, these men are part of the Malizia Society of Detroit, an organisation dating back to 1927. While they use the cover of anonymous Archangels, doing charitable work around Detroit, they are actually a secret group doling out their own form of justice for those who slips through the cracks. Their meetings discussions are highly secretive and the use of three assassins to offer needed punishments keeps them from being identified.

Palazzola and Cahill begin their own sleuthing into who these Archangels might be and their history, the FBI leans on them to steer clear, as they, too, have been looking into them. While Palazzola knows when to take his foot off the gas, Cahill sees a story that could catapult her into national stardom, as well as revealing a group of murderous thugs no better than the mafia. These men are everywhere in Detroit society and it is not entirely clear who can be trusted.

As more bodies emerge, the story takes a darker turn, alternating between modern Detroit and the history of the Malizia Society, which has ties to a group from Italy back in the time of the Borgias. While Palazzola knows something must be done, he worries that one wrong move could mean a heap of trouble. He will have to act swiftly, but with extreme caution, not wanting to be the next person with a black bowler hat next to his murdered corpse. Izzi has done it again! A brilliant thriller that kept me intrigued until the final page turn, with something for patient readers in the last chapters.

It was a fluke that I discovered Edward Izzi’s writing a few years ago. While each of his novels is a standalone of sorts, this was completely independent from his loosely connected Chicago Vatican books. The writing is strong, with great plots that pull not only on duplicity, but also history to bolster their foundation. Izzi keeps coming up with strong ideas and I cannot recommend him highly enough.

Mike Palazzola plays a significant role throughout the novel, though he shares the limelight with Justine Cahill and one prominent original member of the Malizia Society. These three forge ahead, with their own backstories and development, working their way through the struggles they encounter. Therefore some wonderful revelations throughout the piece, as well as dicey moments when confronted by the truth of what these Archangels have been doing.

Edward Izzi seems never to run out of great plot ideas for his novels, which develop in numerous ways. The stories are usually dark and intense, with a graphic nature to them, but are not gruesome to the point of being stomach churning. The narrative flows extremely well and keeps the reader engaged, as much is revealed in due time. Chapters that propel the plot along are the centrepiece of the novel, with strong doses of history and flashbacks. While this will likely remain a standalone thriller, there is a chance that Izzi will utilise a technique he has for creating cameos of certain characters in other books of his. I would encourage anyone with an interest in a more complex crime thriller to check into some of his books, as you won’t be disappointed.

Kudos, Mr. Izzi, for another stunning novel. I may not be your loudest fan, but I can assure you, I am in the top five!

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

The Devil’s Advocate (Eddie Flynn #6), by Steve Cavanagh

Nine stars

Back for another adventure in the world of Eddie Flynn, I reached for the latest novel by Steve Cavanagh. There is a gritty nature to these tales, in which Cavanagh shows how his protagonist has left a life of crime to help those who are being railroaded by the state. When Flynn is approached by an acquaintance to help with a crooked D.A. in rural Alabama, he cannot help but take on the case. Known for sending people to the electric chair, even if the evidence is flimsy, Randal Korn has made a name for himself. When Flynn arrives to defend a young man who is accused of murder, there are clashes from the outset. It’s only later that the truth about Korn comes to light, though Flynn may be powerless to stop it. Cavanagh does it again with a fabulously entertaining legal thriller that kept me up late into the night!

Eddie Flynn may have been a thief in his past life, but he is more than making up for it now, serving as a gritty defence attorney. When Flynn is approached by someone with deep connections to the Federal Government, he is intrigued to hear about something happening in Alabama. A fixed-election hoisted Randal Korn into the role of District Attorney, but since taking over, Korn has abused his power and earned the moniker ‘King of Death Row’, as he has ensured numerous people find their way to the electric chair. These convictions are sometimes based on flimsy evidence and the governor seems happy to oblige.

A young man stands accused of killing a woman he knew, though the facts are not as cut and dry as they would seem. Flynn and his team agree to make their way down around Mobile to look into the case, but are greeted with a less than pleasant welcome. It would seem that many in town have already made up their minds, fuelled by the rhetoric that Randal Korn has been spouting. Flynn finds himself on the wrong end of the local law and order, ending up touring the jail cells for a time.

After securing himself as defence counsel, Flynn attempts to piece together a courtroom plan, but is stymied at every turn. Others turn up dead, their bodies strewn about and possibly murdered, though suicide cannot be discounted. Korn pushes to ensure Flynn cannot do his job, pulling strings in a way that his fingerprints will not be found.

As the trial opens, Korn and Flynn face-off, each counting on victory. However, neither man can fully comprehend how far the other will go to ensure a tick in the win column. All this, while Korn holds a deep secret that only a handful know, namely, the White Camellia. Not only is Korn prosecuting these cases, he is behind the crimes themselves. And, should he fail to watch himself, Eddie Flynn may be the next victim. A chilling story that kept me reading and wanting more!

I stumbled upon Steve Cavanagh’s work a few years ago and binge-read all I could at the time. Eddie Flynn proves to be such a great protagonist and the legal angles of each novel held my attention like few have in recent years. I could not get enough of the legal plots and how effectively they developed in short order. Cavanagh has proven to be one of the great writers in his genre and I am always happy to pick up one of his books when I can find them.

Eddie Flynn has a wonderful backstory, which is developed in the early novels of this series. While never forgetting where he came from, Flynn has turned his life around and tries to help those who truly need legal assistance. His grit is like no other, using brains but also allowing some brawn when the situation begs for it. He has a strong passion for his profession, but is not entirely devoid of emotion, though he prefers not to remember all he lost during those criminal years. There is much to this man, who risks it all for those he defends, and I can only hope there is more to come.

Steve Cavanagh may not be American, but his novels sure ring true to the US justice system. Powerful storylines emerge with strong characters, quick narratives, and plot twists that keep things interesting. While the US legal thriller is surely an oft-penned genre, Cavanagh finds a way to make the stories his own. I get lost in the narrative and find things as realistic as can be, without being overly predictable, layering ideas and offering strong social commentary. I have come to recommend him to many who love the genre and only hope others will see my reviews and squeeze onto the bandwagon that is his fan club.

Kudos, Mr. Cavanagh, for another great piece. A crowded genre, for sure, but your storytelling abilities help you stand out in the crowd!

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

The Missing Piece (Dismas Hardy #19), by John Lescroart

Eight stars

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

There is something captivating about the writing of John Lescroart, perhaps because he tackles legal matters from all angles. His series intertwine so well, using a strong core of characters, but never seem to run out of ideas along the way. Now that Wes Farrell is no longer the District Attorney, he’s turned to working for the defence, something that has him less than happy. As he ponders his future, he’s contacted by the father of a victim whose killer he helped put away. It would seem there is some concern that a murder has been committed. As Farrell takes the case and uses all his resources, things take a definite turn, sending the lead investigator down a path with many dire warnings. Lescroart at his best, sure to impress those who have long followed this series.

After an illustrious career, Wes Farrell knew it was time to end his tenure as District Attorney and find something new to fill his time. While it was not the best offer, Farrell chose to work for the defence, alongside his longtime friend, Dismas Hardy. However, Farrell’s been having second thoughts about defending those he feels are guilty and thinks that it might be time to call it a career. Hardy, having taken the plunge many years before, seeks to counsel his friend, but does not appear to be making much headway.

When a call comes into the firm, asking for Farrell to attend the local jail, he’s intrigued. It’s a man he knows well, the father of a victim whose killer was just released from jail by an energetic Exoneration Initiative. It would seem that Doug Rush is now being accused of killing his daughter’s killer, with an eyewitness who saw the murder. While Rush asserts his innocence, even Farrell cannot be sure of it, feeling that there was more than enough anger to fuel some retribution.

As Farrell begins his defence, he realises that he will be up against a mountain of evidence. He acquires the services of Private Investigator Abe Glitsky, former homicide detective with the San Francisco PD and best friends with Dismas Hardy. While Glitsky is ready to take on the investigation, he’s not too sure what it will reveal, particularly with Farrell sure his client his guilty.

When Rush does not turn up after being granted bail, everyone’s sure he’s on the lam. Glitsky works to uncover what’s going on with Rush, as well as trying to nail down an alibi. Things take a definite turn for the worse and Glitsky becomes trapped in a web of deception, double speak, and lies. He discovers that the Exoneration Initiative has done work across the country with some interesting results, though the fallout has much to be desired. Could all this pose significant issues for Glitsky, Farrell, and others around San Francisco. A great piece by John Lescroart that keeps the reader in the middle of the action.

Lescroart’s writing is so entertaining that varied that it owes not matter whose perspective the novel takes, the story is sure to be worth reading. Lescroart has built-up various offshoot series, using his core characters, all of whom work well together and keep the overall story arc intact. There is something about these stories that keeps me coming back, from the legal maneuvers to the investigative measure, as well as the dry wit that matches my own. When Lescroart publishes, I take note, having done so for the last two decades, since I stumbled upon this series.

There are a few central characters in this piece, making it difficult to choose just one. Wes Farrell and Abe Glitsky are the apparent protagonists, offering up their own views and development throughout. Both have had great backstories woven into their respective series in the past, but do not hesitate to always leave their mark at present again. There is a richness to the characters and great interaction between them, leaving series fans to bask in the banter that is a special part of this large and complex set of series.

As with many of his novels, I was pulled into the middle of this book in the opening chapters. Tackling some retribution issues proved to be only the tip of the iceberg, as Wes Farrell and Abe Glitsky forged ahead to make their marks on the piece. Strong narrative flow helped create a needed momentum, as the reader seeks to understand the complexities of the plot as it is developed. Chapters vary in length and perspective, keeping the reader guessing about what awaits them as things progress. As mentioned before, the web of characters and series that connect here have always impressed me, allowing some who play a major role to be but cameos at times, while others step into the limelight. I cannot wait to see what comes of this series, which has remained strong, even with the ever-growing number of books!

Kudos, Mr. Lescroart, for another winner. I eagerly await publication when I see you have another book in the works!

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

The Road Back (All Quiet on the Western Front #2), by Erich Maria Remarque

Seven stars

Erich Maria Remarque returns with a sequel to his epic Great War novel, exploring life after the armistice is signed and the German soldiers return home. While All Quiet on the Western Front depicted a strong war and ‘behind the trenches’ sentiment, this novel explores more the re-integration of soliders and how their time away served almost as a ‘time gap’ that left them wondering if they took a wrong turn on the journey. Remarque offers apt commentary through his prose to explore the struggles of returning home to settle, vilification by citizens, and trying to move forwards from what was seen on the battlegrounds. An eye-opening piece that complements the series debut well, even if I would not call it a classic.

It took four long and intense years, but the Great War has finally ended, with Germany on the losing side. Ernst and some of his fellow soldiers prepare to return home, hoping that things will go well, but worried about what awaits them. As they arrive, nothing is as it seems, from the tiny houses to the people who are less than eager to engage with them, while the rationale for war seems extinguished. This leaves Ernst wondering if it was a useless fight.

As they try to find their niche, Ernst and his fellow soldiers realise that peace may have been the worst thing for them., They are villains and mocked, Germany suffers dibilitating food shortages, and the political scene is anything but pleasant. Still, Ernst has to believe that the end to the fighting was propitious and strives to find himself in this new Germany. When something unexpected occurs, Ernst has an epiphany and discovers where he belongs in this world of unknowns.

It is always difficult to write a sequel to a highly popular and impactful novel, or so it would seem. Filling the boots of the highly-accliamed All Quiet on the Western Front is tough, to be sure, leaving Erich Maria Remarque in a difficult spot. While the book was surely not as strong or blatantly impactful as its predecessor, Remarque does well to leave the reader thinking and wondering throughout the story. Tales of war should leave the reader wondering things, particularly at this time of year. While the narrative was slow at times and I felt it did need a jolt, I was pleased with the message that resonated from its pages. It is too bad that some readers hold the books next to one another and pan this one for not being like its ‘cousin’. Alas, it is those who see past this superficiality that can truly learn what Remarque is trying to convey.

Ernst was a great protagonist to offer the reader a wonderful message of war and re-integration. I found myself eager to see what he found and his sentiments about returning all those years later. There is a great deal that is discovered by young Ernst, not the least of which being that life was sure never to be the same after the war. The people treated soldiers differently, the sentiment of the country changed a great deal, and the future looked bleak. Ernst does his best to push through this and make his own impact, only to learn that things on the battlefield might have been preferable, at least to a degree.

Remarque is surely a stunning writer in his own right. While I have only read these two books up to this point, the way he depicts the fighting and the societal re-integration left me wanting to know more. I have always enjoyed the politics surrounding the Great War, as well as the fallout for both governments and people from the four year skirmish. Remarque brings all that to light here and provides the reader with something intense and well worth the reader’s time. The narrative is surely not as impactful on a superficial level as the precediing book, but there are some stunning parts where the reader can see into the mind of the returning soldier or the citizen reacting to seeing them. Remarque does this so well and keeps the reader involved in the realisations that come of it. Broken into eight parts, the story shows the evolution of Germany in a post-war world and explores the changes that needed to be made, as well as the sentiments that would fuel the anger that led to the Second World War. I was quite taken by all of this and found myself wanting to learn more when I was able. I will also be checking out some of Erich Maria Remarque’s other books about wartime.

Kudos, Mr. Remarque, for another powerful narrative that left me thinking well past the time I closed the book.

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

All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque

Eight stars

Please enjoy the review after my annual re-read of this classic for this time of year!


This enthralling novel by Erich Maria Remarque provides the reader with a stellar look at a soldier’s life during the Great War. Told through the eyes of a young German soldier, the story pulls the reader in and personalises events in such a way that it almost seems palatable, without justifying or downplaying the atrocities at any point. All Quiet on the Western Front is sure to stir up emotion in those readers who have an interest in military discussions, as well as those who love war-time history.

This is the story of Paul Bäumer, a nineteen year-old fighting for the German Fatherland in France during the middle of the Great War. Having signed up voluntarily alongside a number of his classmates, Bäumer hoped things would be as exciting as they sounded. All that was dashed after the weeks of basic training, in which the young men are broken down and put through their paces before being tossed on the front lines, where the beauty of nationalism is replaced by the horrors of death. Now, these young men live in constant physical terror as explosions rock their every night.

The story explores the trials and tribulations the war brings to those who witness it first-hand. Bäumerl finds himself fighting to justify his presence in France and tries to survive on poor rations, barely enough for survival. He also witnesses how decimating the war can be, when only a handful of his training class survive after a short stint on the front.

Bäumer is also forced to sober up to the realities of life, which turns sensitivity on its head and permits pragmatism to surface. After a soldier dies in front of them, the fight is on for his supplies, something the surviving soldiers need more than the corpse. This creates a refreshing look at life and the lessons that come with it, leaving manners back in Germany when every day could be your last.

There are moments of harrowing action, as Bäumer accompanies the others to lay barbed wire and finds himself trapped under artillery fire. Scared and pinned down, the men talk about their own thoughts about how the war could be more effectively fought, as well as what might have changed the minds of the politicians who are sitting in their ivory towers, far away from the bloodshed.

When a bloody battle with enemy leads to men being blown apart with severed limbs and torsos, Bäumer sees the most gruesome part of the war, something that he was not told about when first he agreed to serve. Rats feast on the dead and Bäumer expresses a sense of being animalistic, trusting his instincts alone to save him. The casualty list is high and Bäumer tries to erase what he’s seen when he is given leave and encounters a few French girls, eager to help him forget.

Bäumer takes some extended leave to return home for a family visit. He feels like an outsider, unable to discuss his trauma with anyone. His mother is dying of cancer and she hopes that he can be proud of what he is doing, but wants him to come home as soon as possible. This surely pulls on his heartstrings and Bäumer is left to wonder what the fighting will really do, as he cannot be with family when they need him most.

After witnessing the horrors of a prisoner-of-war camp, Bäumer is determined to help bring the war to an end, vowing never to be captured or enslaved by the enemy. The months push onwards and the German army begins to lose control of its fate. Bäumer watches his friends die in combat, eventually leaving him as the only one left from his original class. By the fall of 1918, Paul Bäumer can see the end is in sight and hears much talk about an armistice, which would bring the bloody war to an end, something he’s wanted ever since arriving at the Western Front.

Erich Maria Remarque does a masterful job painting the image of war and how it truly gets into the pores of those who are fighting on the front lines. It is less about strategy and troop advancement than the blood and gore faced by those young men who were pulled from their schools in order to fight for their country. While many in the West see the Germans as the evildoers (in both World Wars), Remarque offers this wonderful look at the war through the eyes of one man, to show that there was nothing but pure fear within him. No matter whose sides was right, young men perished without knowing what they were trying to do. Their task, kill or be killed. Their horror, to be maimed or brutally injured. All this comes to the surface throughout this piece, which will surely shock the attentive reader.

There are many characters whose lives progress throughout the book, though I will not list them. Remarque seeks more to tell a story of the war through their experiences than to inject a deeper plot with the Great War as a backdrop. The horrors of war spill out from every page, as well as the senselessness of men who could barely shave being the pawns of an international political disagreement. This theme is echoed throughout, in twelve strong chapters. While many will likely turn away from the book because they disagree with war or have ‘read too much about it’, I would encourage everyone to give it a try to see just how deeply it affects you. Especially with November 11th just around the corner!

Kudos, Mr. Remarque, for this sensational piece that had me enthralled throughout. It has stirred up some real emotions within me.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

  • Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae

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

Darkness Falls (Kate Marshall #3), by Robert Bryndza

Eight stars

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

Robert Bryndza is back with another intense crime thriller with Kate Marshall at the helm. With a sordid past as a police detective, Kate has opened up her own investigative agency and is ready to take on the world. She’s given a cold case, where a journalist disappeared twelve years before. While there are some possible avenues to explore, the police have given up. All that being said, Kate and her partner begin finding a new and interesting connection with some other cold cases in the area, which could be the momentum they need to acquire answers.

Kate Marshall had high hopes when she worked for the Metropolitan Police, but addiction and other skeletons in her closet kept her from being able to stay on the right path. She’s taken her skills and turned it into something great, opening a private investigative agency, supplementing her time as a lecturer at the local university. Working with her partner, Tristan Harper, Kate is hoping to make a name for herself and earn a decent living.

When she’s given a cold case, Kate has high hopes that she and Tristan will be able to solve it. A journalist went missing twelve years before, one who was gritty and determined like few others. She’d brought down a sitting Member of Parliament for potential indiscretions, but he had a solid alibi for the time of the disappearance. Working through the police files given over by the family, Kate and Tristan come across some names that do not seem to fit.

Deeper digging reveals that these were young men who went missing in the years before the journalist’s disappearance. They frequented gay bars and some had a connection of a commune in the area. The more Kate and Tristan push, the stronger the potential connection of the disappearances. Could someone have been trying to write a story, connecting the missing men to someone around the bars?

All the while, a killer lurks just out of sight. Their target is one of the seedy bars on the outskirts of town. When a young man is found raped and murdered, Kate cannot help but wonder if there is a connection to the cold cases she has on her radar. Forensics makes some connections, but there is nothing to tie these disappearances to any particular killer. Still, things may be slowly coming together, but at what cost? Another great novel by Robert Bryndza that will keep readers flipping pages into the night.

I always enjoy a great thriller and Robert Bryndza has never failed to deliver. His attention to detail is like no other and he finds intriguing ways to keep the reader engaged throughout. The stories are not outlandish, but neither are they plain and easily deduced. This is the second of Bryndza’s series that I have tried, which is equally as intense and has me wanting more.

Kate Marshall has a major backstory that continues to reveal itself here. While series fans will know some of her past, Kate is still trying to come to terms with them, as things emerge to remind her of where she was all those years before. Bryndza allows for some wonderful character development here, both professional and personal, which offers Kate Marshall a new perspective as she is getting her life in order. I am eager to see where things will take her in the coming novels, as I am ready for more as soon as possible.

Robert Bryndza is an amazing writer with strong capabilities. He writes well and keeps the story moving along. The narrative builds from the opening chapter and there is no time at which I felt things dragged. The story evolved well, using short chapters to tease the reader into pushing forward just a little more. Tackling social and societal issues amongst the murder investigation, Bryndza does not shy away from topics and keeps the reader educated throughout the experience. I can only hope for more, as he has a knack when it comes to crimes thrillers!

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza, for another winner. Don’t keep us wondering for too long, as your fans surely love what you have to offer.

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

Hello, Transcriber, by Hannah Morrissey

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Hannah Morrissey, St. Martin’s Press, and Minotaur Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Hannah Morrissey impresses in this powerful novel, where a woman in a new position within a small police force takes on a significant role in a baffling set of murders. Thrust into the middle of it all, Hazel Greenlee moves from simply documenting the reports the police detectives make to being a key part of solving the case, all while getting herself into a great deal of personal trouble. With well-crafted plot lines and impressive narrative momentum, Hannah Morrissey ensures that readers take note of her style.

It’s never easy being new in town, even less so when everyone seems to know one another. Such is the case for Hazel Greenlee, who has recently moved to Black Harbor, Wisconsin. When she takes a job as a police transcriber, she presumes it will be all work and that she will have to sit on the secrets that flow into her ears, but it ends up being much more than that.

The death of a young boy from an overdose is bad enough to hear through the transcription machine, but when Hazel connects with one of the detectives, it take on a new horror. How someone could have coaxed a young boy to take pills and then later tossed him into a Dumpster is unreal, though it is all too true.

As the days progress, Hazel finds herself drawn to one of the detectives on the case, with secrets of his own. Risking everything, Hazel puts herself in the middle of the case, seeking to know more than is revealed to her in investigative reports. Soon, she finds herself having crossed many lines, some of which she cannot erase, which is sure to cause issues both at work and home. As a killer remains on the lam, it will take Hazel’s intuition and perhaps a little luck to stay out of the crosshairs, though she is already in a great deal of trouble away from the precinct. A great story that kept me wondering until the final chapter, proving that Hannah Morrissey is another author to keep on my radar.

I love police procedurals, as many who have seen a number of my reviews will know. However, many of these novels seem to use the same format, so I look for unique takes in order to really make them worth my while. Hannah Morrissey delivers with an angle I would have not thought could work, that of a transcriptionist who is seeing and hearing of the crimes and fallout through recordings she must put into typed words. Morrissey does well to add depth and flavour to the story throughout, keeping the reader guessing as to how things will go and where the plot twist will take things. I am eager to see where things go from this debut.

Hazel Greenlee is a great character that connects easily with the reader. She’s got some issues through which she must work, but is also keen to make her mark. With some backstory tossed in amongst a great deal of character development, Hazel works her way into the middle of the Black Harbor community with ease. There is still much about Hazel that has not been revealed, so I can only hope Morrissey has more to come before too long.

Unique takes on crime thrillers is a sure way to distinguish one’s self in a genre that is supersaturated. Hannah Morrissey does well to show that she’s not only here to make her mark, but be memorable in doing so. There is much to praise within this novel, not the least of which is a strong narrative that keeps pushing ahead. Morrissey develops great characters, some likeable while others are truly sinister, without getting too wrapped up in them so as to hinder the story. The transcriptionist angle was genius and adds depth to the plot, as long as the reader can stomach reading some actual dialogue that includes dictated sentences (complete with verbalised punctuation). This was a great novel that kept me wondering and I can only hope that Hannah Morrissey has more to come before long.

Kudos, Madam Morrissey, for a fabulous debut. I am eager to see where you go with this premise in the coming years.

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:

Amok, by Sebastian Fitzek

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Sebastian Fitzek, and Head of Zeus for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Sebastian Fitzek is a master of the sharp psychological thriller, pulling the reader into the middle of something, only to provide a massive twist to discombobulate anyone trying to following along. In this piece, there are layers of intrigue set against a fast-paced plot and a time limited narrative, where a killer has a handful of hostages and is broadcasting live over Berlin’s radio waves. With a criminal psychologist tasked with diffusing things, she has her own issues and finds the added pressure all too much. Explosive and chilling at the same time. Perhaps Fitzek’s best novel to date!

During the morning show on one of Berlin’s most popular radio programmes, a tour for winning listeners goes sideways when one among them decides to take the group hostage. He wants his demands broadcast live, on-air and is willing to use the show’s popular games to get what he wants. Listeners must answer when called and recite a precise phrase or someone will die.

All the while, renowned criminal psychologist, Ira Samin, is preparing to die. She can no longer handle the pain that has befallen her, but wants things done a certain way. When she is called into work as a hostage negotiator, her suicide plan must be temporarily shelved. Ira works to get to know the hostage taker a little better and takes his one demand very seriously, ‘find my fiancée and bring her to me’.

While Ira works to unravel a tense situation, she must also wrestle with some troubling news. It would seem the aforementioned fiancée has died months ago in an automobile accident. However, the hostage-taker will hear none of it. He knows she is alive and demands that she be brought to him. Ira does all she can, only to realise that there is another reason that she must end the hostage taking right away. While Ira works through her own issues, all of Germany is on high alert, awaiting the next call and hoping someone will pick up and say the right thing. If not, things could get much worse, live for all to hear.

While I only recently discovered the magic of Sebastian Fitzek, I cannot get enough of his writing. Twisted and highly entertaining, one can never decipher what twists await the reader as the story progresses. He is surely a master at his craft and has pulled me in with each of the novels I’ve read. There are so many layers to the stories that the reader must pay close attention, or risk being left behind.

Ira Samin is a well-developed and troubled protagonist, perfectly cast for this story. Her personal issues almost drown out the need for professionalism throughout the piece, but this only adds depth to an already intense story. Ira has come to terms with the end of her life, but seems almost put out that she cannot do what she wants most, to die, until she stops a madman from killing others. There is much the reader discovers about Ira as the story progresses, all of which is essential to her own larger narrative.

Fitzek opens the novel with a seemingly odd tangent, only to force the reader to realise that this is the crux of the novel. The narrative pushes forward and offers deceptive twists almost from the outset, keeping the reader guessing what is to come and how it will all play out. Using short chapters, Fitzek teases the reader to ‘read just a little more’ and captures their attention with ease. Chilling and not quite what it all seems, Fitzek delivers yet again, with an English translation that is as smooth as ever, not distrusting the flow whatsoever. I can only hope there are more stories like this to come, as I am ready and eager to see what’s next.

Kudos, Mr. Fitzek, for another winner. Where you get all these ideas is beyond me, but I am not complaining in the least.

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:

Sooley, by John Grisham

Nine stars

John Grisham, master of the courtroom thriller, is back with another of his standalone novels that leaves the law on the sidelines. Tackling a stunning story of a young African boy’s dream to play basketball and fostering a well-paced tale to exemplify that dreams can come true, Grisham offers up a jaw-dropping piece that is full of action, as well as emotional ups and downs. Grisham shows his versatility with this piece and pulls on some wonderful research while entertaining the reader until the final chapter.

Sam­uel Sooleymon loves to play basketball, but has not been able to hone his skills, as he lives in war-town South Sudan. When he is given a chance to travel to the United States to play in a tournament, Samuel leaps at the opportunity, leaving his family behind. The Sooleymon family are proud of Samuel and he soon becomes the talk of the town.

While Samuel and his teammates do a decent job, their eyes are opened to the opportunities that America has to offer. Through some fast talking by his coach, using connections that he has, Samuel is offered the chance to stay in America on a basketball scholarship at a small college in North Carolina. All this, while new violence erupts in South Sudan, leaving the Sooleymon family in serious trouble.

While he is panicked, Samuel is counselled to stay in America and pursue his basketball dreams, in hopes that he will be able to rescue his family at a later time. Samuel, who is soon given the moniker ‘Sooley’ by those at the college, works hard to better his mediocre basketball skills in hopes of playing. Hours of practice and motivation to save his family allows Sooley to focus all his attention on the court.

While the Sooleymon family are displaced because of the ongoing violence, they soon learn of Samuel’s successes and he becomes a hero for everyone. Hype and media attention grow, so much that those in the African nation take notice and use his success as a rallying cry for their own obstacles.

While Sooley and his teammates make an improbable run through an important basketball tournament, all eyes are on the tall, South Sudanese player who has captured the hearts of everyone watching. Sooley cannot do it alone, but he is eager to make a difference, while never forgetting his motivation, to save the family he loves so much. However, the rise to glory comes with a cost, one that Sooley may not be able to handle.

John Grisham has long captured my attention for great legal novels that push the limits of the justice system. There are times when he can dazzle while leaving gavels and closing arguments out of the narrative. This is one such occasion, as Grisham tells a heart touching story about determination and how one young man can make all the difference in the world, simply by putting his heart into everything he does.

Sooley is a well-developed character who sees a great deal throughout the novel. From his early days in South Sudan, Sooley learns the importance of hard work, as well as maturing and trying to make a name for himself. Themes of growing up, prioritising, and the pull of fame enter the story at various points, forcing Sooley to find his own path and make mistakes along the way. Many readers will surely find themselves drawn to the story and its protagonist, who is sure to go through a number of emotions along the journey, with an emotional ending.

Grisham packs a punch in this novel with a number of key moments throughout the narrative. There is so much to synthesise that I cannot even begin to list everything that happens. The narrative builds well and gains momentum as the plot takes a few twists. While I am used to cut-throat action, Grisham offers up some wonderfully warm and emotional moments to help push the story along. Mixing in some action and a great deal of thrills, the story moves effectively to its climax, which will have many readers captivated. While I will always love a good Grisham legal thriller, this was a refreshing example that some authors can step outside of their genre and still perform magically!

Kudos, Mr. Grisham, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what else you have brewing, outside of your legal thrillers.

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

A Deadly Game (Jack Calloway #2), by Carmen Cady

Eight stars

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

Always up for a crime thriller with a twist, I returned to the latest novel by Carmen Cady. This second book in the Jack Calloway series offers new and intriguing crimes as Jack juggles a few cases on the streets of Seattle. With his own private quirk, Jack works through some of his own demons as he tries to help reveal the darkest side of the criminal world while trying to track down a young woman. Cady offers up another winner with this novel, sure to captivate the attention of the curious reader.

Jack Calloway has a long history as a private investigator for whoever needs his services. He’s happy to travel and uses a penchant for criminal profiling to make him perfect for any crime scene. When he finds himself in Seattle, Jack’s working to help a woman who sent him a number of emails, fearing that she was in imminent danger. Working through this, Jack seeks to connect with a reporter who may know something important, but that man’s been murdered. All of this makes Jack feel as though there is more going on, leaving him eager to get started on the investigation.

While working, Jack is approached by a gruff Seattle PD detective to consult on another case; one in which a number of women are turning up dead, all with a unique tattoo on their shoulders. There seems to be a foreign flavour to this, as well as the removal of kidneys, as though this is a sign or part of a larger criminal conspiracy. As the victims mount, Jack realises that there’s someone out there who means serious trouble.

While Jack works both cases, he makes a troubling discovery that could tie the investigations together. This only adds to his worries, as time is ticking and those involved in the criminal acts are not known for their methodical antics. In a world where people are treated like commodities, Jack will have to watch his every move, if he wants to live to tell of the experience. A quick-paced story that kept me wanting to know more the further I got into the book. Carmen Cady has a knack and is sure to do well with those seeking a dark thriller.

While I have come across many types of thrillers in my reading career, those penned by Carmen Cady have got to be some of the most unique. While I am not a fan of the supernatural, the angle she takes in these novels offers just enough of it to keep me curious without feeling as though things are too far-fetched. Her writing is strong and the story moves effectively, while leaving the reader to feel the impact of the victim’s plight.

Jack Calloway is a strong protagonist with a complex backstory that is developed a little more here. As a vampire who has seen his family slain, Jack has many demons that he must confront, as well as trying to live in the modern world and keep his secret. Cady does well to keep this in control, but does toss some personal angst in front of her protagonist as he seeks to solve another sinister crime. Jack is a stellar investigator and does not shy away from getting to the heart of the matter, though works in a calculated manner. His determination fuels him to always find answers when the opportunity arises.

Cady caught my attention with the series debut a while back and I was eager to get my hands on this second novel. The narrative moves forward and pulled me in from the opening chapters, leaving me to wonder where things might go. Her use of mid-length chapters provides the reader with some momentum to push through, without getting too wrapped up in the small things that occur throughout. I was pleased to see how easily I could get into the book and the plot evolved throughout, while also shedding some light on the Jack Calloway backstory, which adds the supernatural angle to the overall reading experience. I do wonder what’s next and I am eager to see what Carmen Cady has in store for her growing fan base.

Kudos, Madam Cady, for another great book. You know how to balance crime and personal growth well, appealing to a larger reading audience.

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