The Matchmaker, by Paul Vidich

Eight stars

When handed the ARC of Paul Vidich’s latest novel, I was not sure what to expect. A spy thriller set in the dying days of the Cold War, Vidich transports the reader to a divided Germany, where tensions still run high along the seam of the Iron Curtain. Anne Simpson receives word that her husband’s wallet has been found along the banks of the river, but his body is nowhere to be found. Sure that he is away at work as a piano tuner, she is baffled, but the local American consular official makes it clear that something is amiss. As the investigation continues, Anne learns that her husband may have been working for the Matchmaker, an East German counterintelligence official, someone the CIA has been hunting in relation to a Soviet defector. Now, Anne must wonder if her entire marriage was a farce and how her husband plays into the larger narrative of a Cold War game of political chess! Vidich does a great job of stirring up emotions and political intrigue with this piece. Perfect for those whose love spy thrillers with political flavouring.

It’s 1989 and Europe is about to make a seismic shift. In Berlin, things are teetering on the brink and the Iron Curtain is fraying as the year advances. When Anne Simpson receives a knock on the door, she is by an American consular official with news about her husband. Thus begins the whirlwind of truth and emotions.

It would seem that the wallet belonging to Stefan Koehler has been found on the banks of the river, but no body. Anne is baffled, but cannot think of why her husband would be there at all, as he’s been away tuning pianos across the West. When the CIA and West German Intelligence become involved, she begins to worry, not only about Stefan’s whereabouts, but her marriage as a whole.

It’s soon revealed that Stefan may have connections to the Matchmaker, an elusive East German counterintelligence official wanted by the CIA for his known association with the KGB. It’s a race to discover the truth about Stefan and what he might have known before his apparent death.

As Anne wrestles with the truth about her husband, an apparent spy, she is thrust into the middle of the CIA’s investigation, the only person who has actually seen the Matchmaker years before when she was introduced to Stefan. Now she comes under scrutiny as the Agency pushes for answers while Berlin becomes the symbolic epicentre of a crumbling Communist empire. A chilling tale that pulls the reader into the middle of a web of lies, while showing just how masterful Paul Vidich is within the genre.

While spy thrillers have never been one of the genres I turn to with any regularity, I was eager to see how I would feel about this piece. Paul Vidich not only paints an intense picture with this words, but he places the reader in the heart of the East-West divide in the waning days of the Cold War. With a great narrative and powerful plot twists, the story comes to life and all is slowly revealed by the final chapter. This surely lives up to the standards of Graham Greene and John le Carré, as denoted in the dust jacket blurb.

Anne Simpson is the apparent protagonist throughout, though the craftiness of her husband surely helps share the spotlight. The reader is thrust into the middle of the mystery surrounding Stefan Koehler and who is truly could be, while Anne is left to question everything about the life she’s had with the man. As Anne delves deeper into the past few years, tidbits of the narrative surrounding their marriage and chance encounter become key parts of the puzzle around the plan set in motion by the Matchmaker. Vidich uses this effectively and builds up his characters in stunning fashion, developing a story that will keep the readers adding their own suppositions about each individual who graces the pages of the book.

While I have never read Paul Vidich’s work, I can see he that he’s a master of his craft. A strong narrative that keeps pace with the ever-evolving plot helps the reader become lost in the story. There are so many layers that must be revealed, it is not for the reader who seeks a quick and simple read, but rewards those who want something that adds tension and confusion. Well-developed characters bring much to the story and there is substance to each, adding depth to the political side of things at a time when tensions ran high between the East and West. Vidich does well to remind the reader of how things were in the closing months of the Cold War and uses some effective ideas to keep the tension alive. I am eager to look for more of Vidich’s work soon to see how it compares.

Kudos, Mr. Vidich, for an entertaining read that left me reminiscing of the days of the Cold War.

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 Flicker in the Dark, by Stacy Willingham

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Stacy Willingham, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In this debut thriller, Stacy Willingham makes a major impact on the genre, taking the reader down a twisted path of memories and revelations. Chloe Davis lost the innocence all children of twelve deserve when six girls disappeared and turned up dead and a police investigation revealed that Chloe’s father was responsible. Now, two decades later, a new batch of young girls go missing and their bodies appear around town, all with loose connections to Chloe. Is someone trying to dig up the past, or could this copycat simply be coincidental? All is revealed in this chilling thriller that is sure to make its mark.

A small town in Louisiana is rocked when six young girls go missing over one summer, their bodies turning up during the ensuing search. Chloe Davis, all of twelve, knew them, at least tangentially, and has to be concerned that she may be next. However, what’s worse is that by the end, Chloe’s father is arrested and charged with the murders based on evidence she discovers in the house. As the Davis family tries to pick up the pieces, Chloe must wrestle with the stigma of being related to a serial killer.

Two decades later, Chloe has established herself as a psychologist and enjoys a prosperous practice. She’s also about to be married, something that has her more excited than anything. Living in Baton Rouge, Chloe thinks that the past might finally be behind her, only to learn that a new set of girls has gone missing and their bodies are turning up. This has the makings of something sensational, though Chloe wants to steer well clear of the limelight.

When a nosy reporter emerges to write about the Davis family, things snowball from there and Chloe finds herself pulled into the web of emotional struggles she hoped would never resurface. Clues related to the girls begin to land on Chloe’s lap and she cannot deny how eerily similar things are to her childhood. Could this be the work of a copycat killer, taunting her, or her own paranoia tied in with coincidence of the highest order? While many around her know little about her past, Chloe cannot help but wonder if the delicate balance may come crashing down around her, leaving jagged pieces to scar her anew. A riveting debut novel by Stacy Willingham that will have readers beginning for more!

I love discovering authors who are just getting their start, as it allows me to feel as though I am part of the wave, rather than trying to paddle to catch up to others. Stacy WIllingham is one I am happy to have tripped upon, as she writes so convincingly that I will have to add her to my author tracking radar and see how things progress over the next few years. This is a captivating thriller that taps into a number of areas that caught my attention. She can spin a tale effectively and keep the reader guessing, while also providing a great deal of detail throughout. Just what I needed!

Chloe Davis proves not only to be an effective protagonist, but one who impacts the narrative with everything she does. Scarred by the past revelation that her father was a brutal serial killer, Chloe tries to pick up the pieces and help others who need assistance with their lives. However, she cannot dismiss her past and wrestles to make sense of it, as new crimes emerge on the periphery. Seeking normalcy and finding only glaring questions, Chloe must make sense of all that surrounds her without extrapolating her past into the present. Her backstory is plentiful, as is the development of her characters throughout the book, leaving the reader to put the pieces together to get a more complete idea of who she has become. Chloe’s being taunted, targeted, and perhaps even teased. What she does about it all could prove to be life-altering.

Stacy Willingham roars onto the scene with this book, leaving me to wonder if this could actually be a debut. It’s so put together and strong, from the well-paced narrative to the characters that make the reader want to learn more and keeping reading to ensure they do not miss a thing. There is an eerie sense throughout the book, as truths pop up like gators in the bayou, forcing the reader to surmise much has yet to be revealed. Chapters that beg to be devoured in short order and a plot that has just enough twists to be impactful, Willingham knows how to grip the reader and refuses to let go. She’s definitely one to watch in the foreseeable future.

Kudos, Madam Willingham, for a solid debut. I hope others feel the same and your following grows.

Operation Wormwood: The Reckoning, by Helen C. Escott

Eight stars

Picking up the action where the series debut ended, Helen C. Escott delivers another stunning novel. Hitting on some disturbing themes with a medical twist right here in Canada, Escott will have the reader riveted throughout the experience as Operation Wormwood continues to baffle many in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as around the world. While Dr. Luke Gillespie is responsible for a unit treating a number of patients with ‘Wormwood’, a mysterious illness that seems only to target those with a past in pedophilia, he soon discovers that the criteria for sickness has expanded. Sergeant Nicholas Myra of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary is feeling the pressure to bring an end to things and capture those responsible for heinous crimes, as well as determine how Wormwood is targeting them, not yet ready to believe this is a plague of God. While both men work mercilessly in their own way, others are lurking in the shadows and continue to cause havoc, creating new and unseen issues. Escott has outdone herself yet again with this piece and continues to bring a unique Canadian perspective.

After a series of mysterious symptoms brought many flocking to seek medical attention, Dr. Luke Gillespie discovered an odd commonality. All those with unstopping bleeding noses, bitter tastes in their mouths, and rapid deterioration have histories as pedophiles. What’s even more baffling is that it is not solely around St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, but rather across Canada and soon in all corners of the world. The hype has turned this into some ‘plague by God’, nicknamed Wormwood from a passage in the Bible. Whatever it is, Dr. Gillespie and his staff are completely baffled.

This extends to Sergeant Nicholas Myra of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, who must stop those who are committing the crimes, while also try to find the root of the illness, which must be trigger by someone or something. Myra’s stress is high and he’s put on leave after a clash with one of his superiors, only to continue working the case from home. Who is leaking list of known offenders and who are only those responsible getting sick?

Myra’s determination has earned him a number of enemies over the years, including those who have been under scrutiny as part of the Wormwood investigation. When someone he values becomes the target of retribution, Myra cannot handle the fallout and chooses to begin his own vendetta, all while trying to keep his team focussed on finding who might be responsible for the poisonings that lead to slow and painful deaths.

After some toxicology reports come back with a clue, it’s possible that there are a list of suspects close at hand, but it will take some great police work and determination not to tip their hands too soon. If it is not God who is bringing Wormwood to those who are vile, could his soldiers on earth be part of the process? If so, how? Myra and Gillespie will have to work together in their own way to find answers as the epidemic spreads, with a larger victim base. A chilling story that never slows throughout. Helen C. Escott knows what she’s doing and can keep the reader engrossed until the final page.

While Helen C. Escott asked me to read her first novel, which happened to be the debut in this series, I readily rushed to get the next one quickly. I could not get enough of the Canadian themes, great writing, and powerful plot twists that emerged throughout. This novel followed suit and kept me wanting to know more as I found myself devouring the story in short order. There is something about her writing that is honest, yet unique, which I soon discovered was partially because she writes based on real people and the experiences they have brought to her. While set in Canada’s easternmost province, the story can resonate for any reader and hold their attention with ease.

The Sergeant Nicholas Myra-Dr. Luke Gillespie dual protagonist role is back and continues to work effectively. These men are respective in their fields and work hard to couture to grips with what is taking place. Myra is riddled with stress and guilt, as well as being married to the job, which cost him his wife. Gillespie struggles with what he sees daily on the ward, baffled as to how targeted the outbreak appears to be. Both work tirelessly for answers, which come piecemeal and opens new doors along the way. Their development is quite different, but will surely prove intriguing to the attentive reader.

While never the most upbeat subject matter, I never said that I was one to flock towards sunny stories. Escott does well with a difficult subject, turning things on their head in the most baffling way. She weaves a tale of depravity and those who seek to rectify it, while added elements of mystery throughout. The narrative flowed really well, keeping the momentum going throughout the piece, while they lot took some interesting turns and left me wondering how things might resolve themselves by the end. With some tense moments and subject matter that left me feeling a tad awkward, Escott delivered and brought some needed resolution to the story she penned as the series debut. I hope others will read both books and come up with some views of their own, as I look for more Escott to whet my appetite for this type of writing.

Kudos, Madam Escott, for another winner. You don’t shy away from the tense parts of society, but deliver a balanced and well-paced story to allow readers to digest it all in stages.

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

Fatal Silence: A Short Story (Shades of Secrets #2), by Harris Kloe

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Harris Kloe for providing me with a copy of this short story, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

This is the second independent, yet interconnected, short story that Harris Kloe provided to me. It offers the reader an eerie look into how secrets can sometimes be right under our noses and deception spins things quite effectively. When a family moves into a new home, little do they know that the community and their residence are part of a larger secret that has the town buzzing. Kloe does well to keep the suspense throughout here.

Josh Wood and his family were looking for a change, which is why they moved to the outskirts of town. While the house was large and offered all the amenities the family could want, there was a creepiness to it. When Josh makes a discovery in the basement one night, he’s left to wonder if there is more to this house than meets the eye.

Visiting the library soon thereafter, Josh learns about a mining concern that has plagued the town over the past few years. While it makes for good reading, Josh wants to know more and visits one of the locals who appears to have some knowledge about it all. It’s only then that the story takes on a new and secretive twist!

Harris Kloe asked me to read this short piece, a story that captured my attention from the outset. The story flowed well, with some great build-up, and kept me wondering until the final page turn. While it was a short story, the reader can connect with Josh throughout and surmise what he will discover before too long. I am eager to see what else Kloe has in this collection of short stories, released slowly to keep the reader hungry for more.

Kudos, Mr. Kloe, for leaving me curious yet again. Keep it up and your fan base will surely grow.

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

Death Chorus (DI Jamie Johansson #4), by Morgan Greene

Nine stars

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

Always eager to read the newest piece by Morgan Greene, I rushed to settle down with his latest Detective Jamie Johansson novel. Moving the series along, Greene spins another great crime thriller in rural Sweden, where Johansson finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. Having settled in Kurrajakk, Detective Jamie Johansson hopes the peace and quiet of a town not known for crime will suit her better. All is fine for months, but the discovery of a boy in the woods turns into a horrific murder and Johansson’s dream is shattered. With a new partner who does not know the area, Johansson will have to acclimate to his ways, as well as trying to solve a case that has stirred up old folklore for the residents. A sensational thriller by a master of the genre!

After a great deal of chaos, Detective Jamie Johansson was happy to make the move to Kurrajakk, a small community in northern Sweden. She’s been working in the community for four months with little more than having to handle minor disturbances. However, all that changes one morning when the body of a teenage boy is located in the woods. He’s been sliced multiple times and has a crow shoved down his throat. This is surely not the work of your typical killer after a skirmish.

Johnasson’s superior is set to retire and does not trust that she can do this alone, so he brings in a pompous detective to help with the investigation. While Kurrajakk may be a small town, Johansson is not yet ready to share policing duties with someone else, though Kjell Thorsen has other plans. He’s heard much about Jamie Johansson and her work, knowing that she puts a violent spin on things, which may not work so well in a rural community. Still, they work together as best they can to crack the case wide open.

After some initial inquiries, Johansson and Thorsen discover that the victim was not quite as docile as some of would believe. Felix Nordahl was running quite the pill business in town and keeping teens supplied, much to the chagrin of their parents. Many have a beef with him, though no one’s yet surfaced as a prime suspect.

Norahl’s death has stirred up some old folklore about Kråkornas Kung, the King of Crows. This is an old legend that has the locals all in a tizzy. As Johansson and Thorsen try to weave their way through truths and myths, appearances of the King of Crows around town adds to the confusion of the investigation. There is surely a drug angle here, though it is not becoming overly apparent to any involved.

As the town begins to riot over the return of Kråkornas Kung and how inept the police appear to be in finding a killer, Johansson and Thorsen will have to provide them wrong. It is sure to be a case unlike anything either of them has ever seen, with a killer lurking in the shadows and waiting to strike again. Another brilliant piece that kept me up we’ll into the night. Morgan Greene knows what he’s doing and takes the readers on a stunning adventure.

Since discovering the work of Morgan Greene, I have not been able to stop reading anything with Jamie Johansson. The writing is strong and the storytelling never ceases to amaze me. I am always shocked to see the angles and perspectives that emerge from the books and find myself pining for the next novel as soon as I complete the latest. Greene has released a schedule of upcoming pieces, which has me excited for 2022, distractingly me from another winter of calamity when it comes to pandemics.

Jamie Johansson has surely transformed herself over the last handful of novels, working her way up the ranks and being challenged at every step. Her grittiness is something like no other and she has made a name for herself in the policing community, both in England and, more recently, in Sweden. Her dedication to the job is like no other, though she takes little guff from anyone, preferring to get the job done and enjoy some time for herself. There is much that she discovers about herself, some of it not entirely to her liking, in this piece, which is sure too impress the reader.

Morgan Greene has a way with his writing that pulls the reader in from the opening pages and does not let go until the final paragraph. His mix of great crime thrillers, Scandinavian settings, and strong characters make the books alluring to anyone who takes the time to read them. The narrative is strong and pushes forward with each passing chapter. The plot thickens and takes turns that keep things interesting throughout, adding folklore and educational moments to add depth for the reader. More recently, the peppering of Swedish into the text gives it even more plausibility, being set in rural Sweden, and makes it an enjoyable piece for me. With a handful of upcoming releases in 2022, I know I will be busy and surrounding myself with great reading experiences. I just hope others discover Morgan Greene as well.

Kudos, Mr. Greene, for another winner. Jamie Johansson is such a rising star and i cannot wait to see what’s to come!

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

What I Never Told, By Dawn Goodwin

Eight stars

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

Intrigued when a new author appears on my radar, I eagerly agreed to read the latest novel by Dawn Goodwin. A tale of deception and suspense straddling two time periods, Goodwin pulls the reader into a mystery from the opening chapters and builds on things from there. With a strong narrative and captivating plot, the story gains momentum and leaves the reader begging for more, as all is revealed. A decent story that kept we wondering!

Helen Whitmore does her best to keep a work/home balance in her small English community. Living in her ancestral home, Helen has a blended family full of strong-wiled individuals. She’s doing her best tp keep the peace, which can be harder than it seems.

When Helen’s step-son, Matt, brings a guest over to the house one evening, it ruffles many feathers for various members of the family. Diana is not only beautiful, but has a conniving side that leaves many turning away from her. Helen also notices that Diana may be more mischief than a new sweetheart for Matt.

All the while, Helen is struggling when an old photograph emerges, as well as some taunting secret notes that make idle threats. The two girls in the photo are well-known to Helen, she being one of them. The other is a girl Helen knew in her past, who died in a mysterious manner.

While Helen has numerous flashbacks to her own youth and how Tracey Deane fit into it, she musty also deal with present-day drama. Diana has turned up dead and everyone in the house has a motive for it. While the authorities scramble for answers, Helen must piece it all together to see who might have taken the ultimate step to silence the deceptive Diana. It will bring a flood of old emotions to the surface again, forcing Helen to confront sentiments she long ago buried. Goodwin spins a tale and keeps the reader gripped as things progress at rapid speed.

Dawn Goodwin masters the dual timeline in this piece, telling two independently, yet interwoven, stories, with Helen Whitmore at the centre. The piece flows well and keeps the twists coming until the final chapters, allowing the reader to engage in both the plot and the characters that push it along. While I found myself struggling at times, I chalk it up to a busy mind rather than less than stellar writing. I enjoy stories like this and Goodwin does well to develop things at a pace most can digest with ease. The mystery builds and the tension heightens until all comes crashing together at the climax.

Helen Whitmore is surely a strong protagonist, straddling both timelines throughout this novel. The reader learns much about her and the struggled she has overcome, as well as the layers of secrets she has been forced to keep. for so long. The novel is written in such a way that the reader gets pieces of teen and adult Helen throughout, allowing one to build an idea of how she has become the woman she is today and just how secretive she remains. While there were times I wanted the backstory to be condensed and a focus on the current timeline, I can see why Goodwin presented things as she did, hoping to allow for a thorough explanation to develop, as it relates to modern events.

I struggled, not with the story or its plot, but with some of my own personal connections to the narrative. While things did move along well, I found things lagging at times and I wanted to get to key twists faster. That being said, I think a lot of it had to do with my personal state of mind, rather than Goodwin’s writing. The narrative was strong and moved along well, keeping both timelines progressing throughout. Key characters emerged in both stories and connections could be found where they were needed, with strong development emerging throughout. The plot held together well, offering mysteries and jolting realities in equal measure. I would love to try reading more of Dawn Goodwin’s work to get some comparisons, so I will add at least one more novel to my toppling ‘to be read’ list to see how I feel.

Kudos, Madam Goodwin, for a great story. Your first impact on me was a good one, though I will be sure to read the next of your novels with a clearer head to get a better sense of my overall sentiments.

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:

Letters From Father Christmas, by J.R.R. Tolkien (a great holiday re-read)

Nine stars

Another wonderful annual re-read!!

A masterful piece of writing by J.R.R. Tolkien, which is a collection of the letters he penned as ‘Father Christmas’ over the years of his children’s upbringing. The letters are in response to those sent by the Tolkien children over the years, in which Father Christmas explores some of the drama he had up at the North Pole. With a handful of splendid characters who add even more excitement in a way only Tolkien can do, this is the perfect collection to read each and every year. I highly recommend the audio version, as it increases the excitement even more!

Kudos, Mr. Tolkien, for another great piece. I may not be a fantasy nut, but this book was right up my alley!

The Homecoming, by Earl Hamner Jr. (a great holiday re-read)

Nine stars

An annual reading tradition for me that I am happy to share again with readers.

No holiday season is complete in my household without remembering the story of The Homecoming. When, on Christmas Eve, Clay Spencer has not returned home from his forty mile trek for the holidays, the entire Spencer household is on edge. Olivia pines for her husband’s safe return, but cannot put life on hold as she waits. With a brood of eight, she turns to Clay-Boy, her eldest, to take up the role of ‘man of the house’ at the tender age of fifteen.

As the story progresses, Clay-Boy is not only playing the role of man, but also must engage in a trek to locate his father and bring him home for the holidays. As Christmas Eve turns to night, the Spencers engage in their own family traditions, meagre as they may be in the midst of the Depression. It is not Santa for whom they wait this Christmas of 1933, but Clay and his safe homecoming to spend time with those he cherishes most. Sure to become an annual tradition for holiday reading lists, Hamner Jr. entertains and depicts the era so effectively.

I grew up watching The Homecoming as part of the annual Christmas preparation. The book was on hand, but I never took the time to read it until a few years ago. Doing so, I came to realise how special this story is and the tradition is one I will continue. I wish not to stand on a soapbox, but the holidays are about love and support, not the material things. Hamner Jr. makes that known throughout this novel, as well as in Spencer’s Mountain. Do take some time to read them and enjoy all they have to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Hamner Jr., for instilling in me the annual reminder that love trumps all. Merriest of Christmases to all!

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued his Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits (a holiday re-read), by Les Standiford

Eight stars

Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale is surely synonymous with the holiday season, from its spooky mention of ghosts to its endearing message of love and understanding. However, the story behind this shorter novel is almost as intriguing as the prose itself. After reading a fictitious version of events, I looked to Les Standiford, whose non-fiction account, The Man Who Invented Christmas, offers curious readers something on which they can chew to better understand the background. Highly educational and enlightening, this is a great piece to accompany the Dickens classic. Recommended to those with a love of the holiday season, as well as the reader who may want to chase the Scrooge out of their heart after a horrid 2020 (and 2021).

Charles Dickens may have been a popular author throughout his life, but that does not mean that he enjoyed a positive upbringing. Having come from a childhood of poverty, Charles Dickens was forced to pull himself up by his bootstraps. These early years of scrounging and being forced to rub two pennies together proved helpful when he penned some of his earliest novels, including Oliver Twist. As Standiford mentions throughout, it was his astuteness to his surroundings that gave Dickens ideas for his plots and characters.

Of interest to some readers, Standiford explores how Dickens used to write his novels piecemeal, submitting them for serial publication. While they could appear long as a final product, the short pieces that found their way into weekly or monthly collections made the stories seem a little more palatable. Standiford uses this contrast when discussing the creation of A Christmas Carol, which would not be as long as these other pieces, but had to be completed over a shorter time period.

Dickens had come off a less than stellar publication of a novel that was not getting the excitement his publishers had hoped. With the holiday season creeping up, Dickens was tasked with writing a Christmas story in a short period of time. Pulling on examples from all aspects of his life, Dickens wrote about a man—Ebenezer Scrooge—who hated the joyousness that Christmas brought, but who underwent a significant epiphany after being visited by four beings. The end result proved to be eye-opening for all involved and created a new buzz around the Christmas season.

Strandiford explores the Christmas celebration throughout the book, from its traditions to how it was only minimally celebrated through the centuries. It was the Victorian Era that pushed England to shed its neutrality to the celebrations and breathe new life into this most powerful of feast times. From the Germanic influence of trees at Christmas to the buzz of gift giving and the appearance of Father Christmas, England grew more accepting of the holiday, something that appears in Dickens’ story. While I think it would be a tad hyperbolic to say that Dickens alone breathed life into the holiday season, his story certainly explored some of the less commercial aspects of the season.

I only read A Christmas Carol for the first time in the 2019 Christmas season. While you try to catch your breathe and step back in shock, I will let you know that I have seen the movie and know the premise, but the story itself takes on new meaning when using the author’s actual prose. Pairing the actual story with Standiford’s book (as well as a piece by Samantha Silva, do check it out), offers a great understand of Victorian times and how the holiday evolved. There is a great deal for the reader to understand that will permit a thorough and comprehensive exploration of the themes and ideas. Standiford does a masterful job at shining some light on this for those readers who wish the context.

While there are portions of the book that are quasi-textbook, the information garnered from the pages of Standiford’s book is second to none. Understanding how Christmas was once passed off as just another day and what the Church did to counter the rise of pagan rituals is quite ingenious. Using that backstory and some of the Victorian traditions, the reader can see how it all comes together as Scrooge makes his way through his one sobering night. These nuggets proved useful and provided some additional takeaway, something I always enjoy when it comes to reading. With short chapters, full of great information, the reader is surely to find something that interests them, as it relates to the story. If only this were not such an isolating holiday season. I would love to regale people with ‘did you know?’ moments. Oh well, it just means I have another year to practice and study!

Kudos, Mr. Standiford, for a wonderful piece that entertained and educated in equal measure.

Taking Down Backpage: Fighting the World’s Largest Sex Trafficker, by Maggie Krell

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Maggy Krell, and NYU Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

While there are many deplorable criminal acts that take place on a daily basis, few are surely as horrid as sex trafficking. It would seem to be something that could be easily caught by the authorities, but those behind it are not only sly, but also know how to hide things in plain sight. With the emergence of the World Wide Web, people have turned to websites to move and sell people for their own profit, one of which was After learning about this and doing her best to comprehend what was taking place, Maggy Krell went on a mission to close down the site and have those who run it brought to justice. This is her story and some of the battles she faced along the way.

Maggy Krell was a young lawyer who sought to make a difference in her own way. She saw some of the horrible crimes of child exploitation and sexual abuse crossing her desk and wanted to make a difference. She came upon, a website with a variety of things for sale, but also large ‘escort’ and ‘adult services’ pages, one that was rumoured to be a front for sexual slavery, where people could post and sell young women for a price and the authorities would be none the wiser. Working in California to get the ball rolling, Krell started her hunt to ensure that those at the top knew exactly what was going on.

As she worked more, it became apparent that the site was used almost entirely to sell young women into sexual slavery, with the other parts of the site there as a shell or front. Krell began pushing for more and seeking evidence that she could use to show that those who ran the site were knowingly participating in human trafficking and profiting off of it. It was slow, tedious, and sometimes horribly graphic work, but Krell stuck to her guns and made things stick.

The latter portion of the book explores bringing those in positions of real power to justice and having the courts decide their fates. While defence attorneys sought to put an arm’s length distance from the events or First Amendment defences forward, Krell and her team did all that they could to ensure the dots connected. This would be a major coup if the judge could see the clear-cut argument and rule in their favour. But, those running Backpage would not go down without a fight.

While Maggy Krell was successful in her endeavour, this is only the beginning. Just because a platform for illegal activity is closed down does not mean things stop. Women, men, children, and many others are being exploited on a daily basis and there is little that can be done, provided it is all committed on the sly. Exploitation and human sex trafficking (in fact, trafficking of any kind) is horrible and leads to many victims. It is the dedication of Maggy Krell and many like her that promise to do their best to remove key bricks in the wall, in hopes that each loosened brick will mean the wall will one day come crashing down.

While I do not read books of this nature with any regularity, I do find myself drawn to learning things about which I know little. Disturbing though it may be, I come away with a major sense of education and preparedness when I scan the news headlines on a regular basis. Krell writes in such a way that I can take things away from the narrative without feeling as though it is all above my head. She educates throughout, providing details and explanations to make sure things are well understood and their impact is not lost. I needed a book like this to open my eyes to the truths that occur around me. Well-documented chapters provide the reader with a pathway of understanding, as well as some photos to personalize the experience. As I mentioned before, this is a horrible topic, but I feel better knowing a little more about it and how it fits into the larger picture of criminal activity.

Kudos, Madam Krell, for your hard work and dedication to ensuring the reader understands what’s going on behind the scenes.

Water (Zack Wilder #1), by N.J. Croft

Eight stars

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

I was yet again excited when N.J. Croft asked me to read a beta copy of her latest publication in the Zack Wilder series. This one proves just as exciting as the novella series debut, with a massive mystery and a number of potential suspects. When FBI Special Agent Zack Wilder has something go horribly wrong during some undercover work, he’s whisked off to help with a case of water contamination that has claimed the lives of many. Confused as to why he might have been personally chosen, Wilder works with a local EPA agent to get to the bottom of things. What begins as some corporate finger pointing turns sinister, especially after the chairman of the local company thought responsible turns up dead by an apparent suicide. Wilder receives anonymous texts demanding that he shut things down or his secret will be revealed. When more mass water poisonings take place, Wilder is sure there is something more to the story. He’s equally worried that someone will learn of his position within the Fulcrum, an organisation he has been a part of since age 4. Working both cases, Wilder discovers that nothing is quite as it seems and he may be the prime target. A brilliant piece by N.J. Croft that kept me enthralled throughout.

FBI Agent Zack Wilder is working undercover with his partner, but things go horribly wrong when a botched raid leaves her dead. This is the second of his partners who have died in the line of duty over the last few months, leaving him a little leery. What’s worse, he is quickly shuttled off by his superior to help with a water contamination case, something about which he knows little.

As Wilder begins working with EPA Agent Dr. Olivia Bishop, they learn that the contamination in the water could not have been a simple dumping from the local factory, as its concentration levels are far too high. Rather, it must have come at the hands of an individual seeking to make a point. Dr. Bishop’s ex-husband is part of an environmental group and has a motive, but she is sure that he was not involved in any of it. Wilder receives an anonymous text warning him to close things down or his ‘secret’ will be revealed to all, which likely means his role in the Fulcrum. Wilder wants to keep that under the radar and does his best to close the case, just as a local businessman commits sluice and claims responsibility for the contamination.

No sooner than that case is closed off, than another contamination takes place and Wilder rushes off with Dr. Bishop and his newest partner. Things continue to make no sense, with contamination levels higher than could be naturally occurring. When another business owner suffers a brutal and apparently self-inflicted death, Wilder is told again that he must shut things down. Is there someone out there who knows of his role in the Fulcrum? Could all of this be Fulcrum related and there is a rogue member seeking to end him?

After being given a lead that Hoover Dam might be a subsequent target, Wilder rushes there, only to find himself caught in the middle of a trap. He’s left to protect himself and almost dies when concrete comes crashing down around him. Now, Wilder is sure that someone wants him dead and that there has to be a Fulcrum connection. Reaching out for help, Wilder learns little, but knows that he will have to watch himself or risk dying. Who is behind all this and how will Wilder uncover the truth? A thrilling piece by Croft that has me begging for more!

I have long have an interest in the work of N.J. Croft, as she pushed me outside of my comfort zone while tackling issues of science and scientific discovery. There is a degree of science to this book, in that the discussion of water contamination weaves its way into the early portion of the book, but it is not technical, nor are the issues overly complex. Rather, it is a book filled with a wonderful narrative and strong character development, while also allowing the reader to delve a little deeper into the Fulcrum and what that means for Zack Wilder. After reading the opening novella, I was very eager for this piece and am happy that I got to read it so quickly.

Special Agent Zack Wilder is back with more and keeps the reader highly entertained with both his curious backstory, as well as some wonderful development in the present. His lack of relationships may leave some baffled, but he is by no means a stranger to the ladies, as things progress in an interesting manner within the pages of this book. All that being said, his focus in the job, as well as keeping his secret about being part of the Fulcrum. Grit and determination fuel him throughout and his is not prepared to let anything stand in his way from getting answers, while always being leery about who or what awaits him around every bend. I cannot wait to learn more about him in the next year or two.

As with the introductory novella, there was much action throughout to keep the reader attentive and curious about what is to come. The limited backstory served to keep Zack on point and yet there is much about the Fulcrum that Croft will have to share in the coming novels. A swift narrative keeps the reader engaged from the outset and allows them to wonder about what awaits for Zack and others. The plot was complex enough that it could not be easily predicted, while not tangling anyone up in knots as they made their way through it all. Short chapters keep the reader on point and forging ahead, allowing me to say “just a little more” on numerous occasions. I cannot wait to see what else is to be revealed for all to see in the coming years and. how the Fulcrum will play a key role in it all.

Kudos, Madam Croft, for a great series that keeps me curious and wondering with each flip of the page.

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

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (a holiday re-read)

Eight stars

What a way to continue my annual Christmas reading…

If there is one story that is synonymous with Christmas, it would be Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. How I have gone so long in my life never having read this story, I do not know. I quite liked the movie from the early 1950s and always used that as my benchmark for what the story is all about, but chose to take the plunge and read Dickens’ actual words, yet another tradition that comes from the Victorian era. 

As miserly Ebenezer Scrooge heads home late one Christmas Eve night, he is visited by the apparition of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, dead seven years. Marley’s apparition tells that Scrooge will be visited by three ghosts who will show him essential things that he needs to know. 

While Scrooge scoffs at the entire process, he is startled when the first ghost appears to take him into the past. This experience shows Scrooge some of the events from his past and how he became the man he is today. A second ghost explores current decisions Scrooge has been making, including some of the most miserly choices he could have made. Quite startled by this point, Scrooge does not want the third visit, but must see life as it would be after his passing and how others will speak of him. This is enough to help bring about an epiphany for the elderly Ebenezer, who sees the world for what it could be. A Christmas classic that I will definitely add to my annual read list, this one is recommended for anyone eager to explore Christmas and its true meaning.

Many of my friends on Goodreads have read this book and are as astounded as me that I had never done so myself. I found myself enthralled from the opening sentences and remained captivated throughout. I will admit that I chose to let the stellar voice of Tim Curry guide me through the Audible version of this tale, which brought the experience to life for me and will be used each December, of that I can be sure. Dickens is a master storyteller and many renditions of this story have emerged over the years, all of which have their own spin on the story. The themes that come up as Scrooge explores his life are sensational and there is little about which any reader could complain. Divided into five distinct staves, Dickens pulls the reader in and keeps their attention until the final sentence, never letting things lose momentum. I can only hope to find more exciting tales in the years to come, to add to my December collection.

Kudos, Mr. Dickens, for a stunning story that touches the heart of each reader in its own way.

The Truth You’re Told, by Michael J. Clark

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Michael J. Clark, and ECW Press Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having read Michael J. Clark’s debut novel a few years ago, I was happy to return for another crime thriller. Set around my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, I can enjoy Clark’s writing not only for the genre, but also because it reminds me of things from my youth. When a woman settles down in a cabin to get the literary juices flowing, she comes upon an old family mystery that she never knew existed. How well did she know her father and the past he was said to have lived? Sam Hutchings and her teenage daughter begin poking around, only to learn that there is more to family folklore than meets the eye, including something with traces to the Cold War. A great piece that shows how well Clark can recount a tale and keep the reader enthralled!

Having spent the last number of years as a newspaper journalist, Sam Hutchings receives her walking papers and must reinvent herself. Choosing to live the cabin life outside Winnipeg, Sam decides to start a writing career, while balancing a summer with her teenage daughter, Meg. While they iron out the wrinkles and learn to live the simple life, they remember the stories of Sam’s father and his enjoyment of the area.

After a small accident opens new questions to the life Gerry Hutchings lived, Sam and Meg begin poking around a little more. Could he have been more than the accountant he claimed to be? If so, what did he do and how did it change the reality for their Hutchings family? Sam’s curious journalist brain goes into overdrive and Meg is happy to tag along, as best a teenager can.

With flashbacks throughout the novel, the reader is also pulled into the middle of the story and how Gerry lived a life about which few knew a thing, growing throughout the latter decades of the Cold War. It was only a matter of time before danger and risk met a brick wall of reality. However, the truth can be more painful than the familial fairytales that are told to calm others. Might a fake story be more appealing than the harsh reality that awaits Sam and Meg? Clark does a wonderful job throughout to keep the reader guessing, though somewhat informed as the truth is peeled back for all to see.

I always enjoy finding books that not only showcase great writing, but have a Canadian flavour. I am proud of where I live and enjoy when I can feel that much closer to the action. Michael J. Clark not only highlights the ‘eh’ nature of the humble Canadian, but also brings Winnipeg and surrounding environs into the narrative, allowing me to remember growing up in Manitoba’s capital and passing through some of the rural communities. I was tickled peach (or pink) throughout and could not help but smile, partially by these memories, but also because the book was so captivating. I just hope others feel the same when they give it a chance.

Sam Hutchings proves to be a great protagonist. Having been through a great deal over the past number of years, her backstory comes to light in this standalone thriller. Clark ensures there is enough of her past mixed into the present character development to keep the story moving and leave readers begging for more. Surrounding herself with great supporting characters, Sam is able to tap into her investigative nature while also fanning the flames of her own memories. While I know this is a single-novel experience, I almost want to see more of Sam in order to delve deeper into her life.

Canadian crime thrillers are surely plentiful if you dig deep enough, but I was pleased to have this one fall into my lap. Clark does well from the opening chapters to set the historic scene for a wonderful story. Weaving past and present into flashback narratives, the story moves forward effectively and kept me guessing as more truths surfaced. The characters were on point, infused with just enough Canadianness to assuage me (Canadians alone may understand what I mean here, eh), I was happy to see many locales that warmed my heart and left me smiling. With just enough twists to keep the story from being too easy to decipher, Clark makes the reading experience rewarding for all, from start to finish. I loved the debut, found this one intriguing, and will gladly add Michael J. Clark to my ‘authors to follow’ list for more Canadian (read: Manitoba) flavour in the future.

Kudos, Mr. Clark, for a wonderful reading experience. I miss Winnipeg and area very much. You sparked some of the reasons why yet again. I cannot wait to read more!

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

Waiting for Santa, by David Baldacci (a holiday re-read)

Eight stars

Tucked away in the back of Baldacci’s The Christmas Train, he offers up an extremely short and touching piece around the holidays. After losing his wife in childbirth and his day-old daughter, Sara, on Christmas Day, the narrator recounts how he would take the annual trek down to the mall to watch the children queue up with parents to whisper their desires into the ear of the ever-patient Santa. Eight years into this experience, he meets Sara, who has lost her parents in an accident. While they wait in line, Sara tells of how she misses her parents a great deal, basking in the love they had for her, even if she cannot remember them as people. Sara wants nothing more than to be adopted and have new parents, a wish she has been telling Santa for as long as she can remember. With an aging grandmother, Sara is not sure what her future brings, but hopes she can eventually feel the love of two families, the one she lost and the one out there for her. This touching experience leads our narrator to explain how he found love and had a son of his own. When he arrives at the mall to introduce young Timothy to Santa, he remembers his encounter with Sara and feels the connection his life has, as well as the love of two perfect families. A great story that I never noticed in all the years I read (and listened to) Baldacci’s holiday classic. A wonderful read for the reader who is looking for something as the coffee (or cocoa) cools slightly on December 25th.

Baldacci shows another side of himself in this Christmas story, seeking to pull on the heart strings of the reader who is used to fast-paced crime and thriller pieces. He is able to pull the reader in with so few words, exemplifying how wonderful a writer he has become. This piece was sandwiched between his entire writing career and, while penned over a decade ago, still evokes emotion and curiosity in the open-minded reader.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for yet another piece I will add to my annual collection of Christmas stories to read. I am thankful for the family I have and this story helps solidify these sentiments.

The Christmas Train, by David Baldacci (a holiday re-read)

Nine stars

I love this holiday classic, even if it is totally cheesy. It is one of my annual reads at this time of year and I hope it can be added to a holiday TBR list for others as well.

Baldacci brings his readers a holiday classic sure to stoke the fires of the heart and keep the holiday season on track. Tom Langdon is on a mission, to get from New York to LA in time for Christmas. After a slightly intrusive and highly problematic search by airport security, Langdon finds himself on a red-flag list, still needing to get to the City of Angels. As a seasoned journalist, he tries to make the most of his issue and decides to take to the rails aboard Amtrak’s best and brightest, writing all about his adventures. His multi-day journey puts many interesting and unique characters in his path, as well as some highly humourous adventures and even a mystery or two. As the miles fly by, Langdon discovers that there is more to the train than a slower means of getting from A to B. When someone from his past appears on the journey alongside him, Langdon discovers true meaning of the holidays and how the heart is the best guide on any of life’s trips. A nice break for Baldacci thriller readers, the book is a wonderful addition to the annual holiday traditions.

I would be remiss if I did not agree with many that this book is not cut from the usual cloth Baldacci presents. That said, its hokey nature is offset by the wonderful story Baldacci tells and the humour he is able to weave into the larger narrative. I have read this book many time before and love it each time, finding some new aspect to cherish. Baldacci is a master at storytelling and this book is proof positive that his flexible ideas can stand the test of time and genre diversification.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for this holiday treat that ranks right up there with shortbread and eggnog.

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

Twenty Years Later, by Charlie Donlea

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Charlie Donlea, RB Media, and Recorded Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having stumbled upon this latest novel by Charlie Donlea, I thought that I would take the risk and hope for the best. This is a curious story that straddles two time periods and is highly impactful throughout its development. An investigative reporter returns to New York to look into some new DNA technology that has uncovered the identity of a new victim from September 11, 2001, but there is more to the story. Victoria Ford was accused of killing her lover in a brutal manner, but all that was forgotten when the Towers fell. Now, Avery Mason is keen not only to get to the bottom of the case, but also uncover truths that were left to dissipate when the world turns its attention to the terrorist attack. She is determined to find truths, even two decades later! A great story that has me wanting to find more Donlea novels in the near future.

While the events of September 11th, 2001 are etched on the minds of many, the number of unidentified remains continue to pose an issue for those tasked with bringing closure to the lives of grieving families. After new technology emerges and a fragment of Victoria Ford is identified, it’s newsworthy. Avery Mason, host of a popular television newsmagazine wants to air the discovery around the time of the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack.

As Avery digs a little deeper into the life of Victoria Ford, she uncovers a goldmine. Victoria was accused of murdering her married lover by hanging him over a balcony, left to appear like a kinky sex act gone wrong. However, after her arrest, Victoria proclaimed her innocence and sent a final voicemail to her sister on the day of the attack, pleading that she was not guilty of he crime. Now, Avery has a copy of the recording and is keen to discover what actually happened and how the truth might have been buried.

Hoping to make this a smash hit for herself and the ratings, Avery contacts the former investigator in the Victoria Ford case and has him return to New York. The case seems pretty open and shut, but Avery refuses to believe it is that simple. She digs deeper and revisits much of the evidence, only to learn that nothing is quite as it seems. She’s hoping that she can blow things wide open and show that a greedy state’s attorney pushed the case along without examining the evidence properly.

While Victoria’s DNA is all over the crime scene, something does not seem right and Avery is keep to find that missing link before someone else does. All the while, she is juggling keeping her own past a secret so that she won’t have to admit hard truths that have loomed over her for years. When Avery uncovers an old and dusty manuscript, something clicks and she racing along to see if that might be the beginning of something that could exonerate Victoria Ford once and for all. This is more than ratings or stardom, it’s the honour of a woman whose life ended on September 11th, but left a family behind tarnished by the accusations. A chilling tale by Charlie Donela that has me hoping for more soon and kicking myself for not discovering his writing sooner.

I often surprise myself when i discover a new author, only to learn that they have been writing and impressing others for a long time. Such was the case with Charlie Donlea and this thriller. There is so much to enjoy with this piece, from the well-paced narrative to the great plot twists that took time to develop. I can only hope that many of his other books are as intense and I will surely find some soon, adding them to my list of must reads (rather than simply to be read).

Avery Mason is a wonderful protagonist with a great deal to offer the reader. Her backstory is both complex and ever-evolving throughout the novel, leaving the reader to see some of the struggles she faced and how she tackles them now. She does, however, not simply live in the past, but finds herself developing throughout the novel, presenting struggles both with the mysterious murder before her and the need to carve out a niche for herself in the world of television news programming. She can hold her own throughout this piece and I would love to see her in action once again, even if one-offs might be more Donlea’s style.

A great thriller uses a foundation of strong writing to begin, building on that to entice the reader throughout. Such can surely be said of this piece, as Charlie Donlea provides a stellar piece of writing here. His ideas layer together well and keep the reader on their toes as they progress throughout the piece. The mystery grows as the narrative gains momentum, allowing the plot to lead the reader down many a curious path. I cannot say enough about the ability that Donlea has to spin multiple plot lines together and keep the reader curious until it all comes together effectively. I wondered and guessed my way through this book, filled with teaser chapters that begged me to keep reading a little longer. I am quite eager to find more books by Charlie Donlea and am open to suggestions by those who have some to make!

Kudos, Mr. Donlea, for a fabulous novel. I cannot believe it took me this long to find you. I won’t wait too long before I return, of that you can be assured.

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

The First Christmas: A Story of New Beginnings, by Stephen Mitchell

Eight stars

Always one to enjoy some unique reading during the festive season, I turned to this short piece by Stephen Mitchell. It pulls upon the Nativity story, told in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and offers a more thorough and first-hand account of some events surrounding that period. While Mitchell explains that these are some of his own thoughts put into dialogue and a well-paced narrative, something resonates in them and it makes sense.

Mitchell captures many angles of the Nativity narrative, from those major players many will know (Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men), as well as some who were surely essential but receive only a mere mention in biblical passages (the ox and donkey). These perspectives weave together not only a well-developed narrative, but provides the reader with some insight as to how each felt about the event, a well as some of the lead up to things that occurred that cold night. It leaves the reader to ponder a little more what they know and surmise about that story that, for many, is so well known.

Between each chapter (and on occasions, within them) Mitchell offers some of his own analysis of events and how they fit into the larger story. This is almost an annotation or extensive footnoting for the reader to better understand why he wrote things a certain way. I was please to have this, feeling it added to the overall experience and left me feeling a bit better if there were parts I did not understand.

While I am no scholar or expert on the subject matter, I count myself as someone who knows the story fairly well. I was eager to see this approach to better understand the story without being made to feel that this was an academic piece or even one that required heard thinking. I do enjoy challenging myself from time to time and will not stop with this piece. I’d love to see if Mitchell (or others) have other pieces like this, where I can explore new perspectives on long-told and remembered stories from my past.

Kudos, Mr. Mitchell, for a great piece that I devoured in a single day. I’ll keep my eyes open for more of your work and see if I cannot latch onto it as well.

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

The President’s Daughter, by James Patterson and Bill Clinton

Nine stars

Never sure what to expect when his name dons the cover of a book, I reached for this James Patterson thriller with some trepidation. After reading just a few pages, I was hooked and could not get enough of this collaborative effort with former US President Bill Clinton. The story was both intense and well-structured, with details that added to it throughout. Patterson and Clinton write well together and keep a political, emotional, and dastardly high throughout the plot, leaving the reader to wonder what’s to come. I could not put it down and can only hope that they will collaborate once more, in the coming years.

The presidency of the United States is a delicate balance of decision-making and appeasing the masses, as Matt Keating has come to discover. On one fateful night, while trying to extract some soldiers in a far-away land, President Keating made a fateful mistake and caused a gaffe that resonated around the world. The fallout of this led to his own vice- president challenging him for re-election and Keating was sent packing from the White House.

With a new Administration in control, the Keatings return to some semblance of order in New Hampshire, trying to recapture a life of solitude and normalcy. However, Matt Keating’s past can never entirely separate itself from him. While out hiking one day, Mel Keating, the former First Daughter, is come upon by a group of men. They take her into their custody an set off a series of panicked calls. Mel Keating has been kidnapped and the Secret Service meant to protect her has failed.

What begins as a small panic soon turns disastrous, as ransom demands are made by a powerful terrorist group, claiming retribution for an attack in Libya years before. Matt Keating is beside himself and does all he can, but the new POTUS stands firm with her decision not to negotiate with terrorists. After a video of Mel Keating’s execution is broadcast, things turn dark and the world takes notice.

As a former Navy SEAL, Matt Keating cannot sit idly by and wait for fate to take its course. He vows to do al that he can to find the man responsible for the kidnapping and murder of his daughter, seeking his own form of retribution. Working back channels and avenues no politician could be expected to know, Keating travels to the far reaches of Africa in search of a man who has also lost a great deal. Two fathers, a similar sentiment in them both… one fate. A stellar piece of writing from both Patterson and Clinton, which kept me flipping pages and gasping.

While I have had mixed results when it comes to novels by James Patterson, this was one book that did not disappoint in the least. The writing was top-notch and the story continued to develop throughout the reading experience. I could not get enough of things and kept pushing to learn more with each moment I had to enjoy. Patterson and Clinton make a formidable duo and their style is sure to impress many who enjoy the thriller genre. Mixing politics with personal passions, the story was truly impactful and sure to be talked about well into the future.

While Matt Keating is the obvious protagonist, the story pulled on the first hand accounts of many throughout the experience. The struggles of being a world superpower cannot be dismissed, but it is Matt Keating’s role as father that fuels much of his development in the novel. Having had to make some tough decisions, it is all on his shoulders to right a wrong, or at least save his family from the fallout of his choices. His grit and determination is like no other, as he faces down many who would again wish him to fail. The love of a father cannot be overlooked, on both sides of the coin.

Experiences drawn from the Clinton White House surely flavoured parts of this book, but they can only go so far to create a stunning thriller. The writing must take the reader that extra step and create a story that is worthy. Patterson and Clinton do that here quite effectively, pushing the limits with political backstory and emotional development. The narrative worked well to drive things forward, gaining momentum with each passing chapter. The plot did not remain stagnant or follow a linear path, but rather twisted at the right moments and kept the reader on the edge of their seats. Strong characters on both sides emerged, as well as a third party with their own ideas on how to capitalize on the situation, making for added intrigue when the time was right. I could not get enough of this piece, which still included the Patterson-esque short chapters to tease the reader throughout. I can only hope there is more to come by these two men in the foreseeable future.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Clinton, for a winner. Just what I needed to pick me up at this time of year!

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

The Crusader’s Cross (Ben Hope #24), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

It’s a great day when I can get my hands on a novel by Scott Mariani, particularly when it advances the Ben Hope series. While the novels continue to pile up, there is no lessening to the action or Ben Hope’s determination to protect that which he holds dear. After an accident, Ben is home for Christmas to protect La Val, his training facility. A group of thugs chooses to target him and take one of the prized possessions he recently discovered. What a mistake, as Hope has more gumption than patience. When the dust settles, a single thug has escaped and there are bodies all over. Hope takes matters into his own hands and hunts him down, crossing France and into Corsica. Armed with determination and a desire to get back what belongs to him, Ben Hope will stop at nothing to right a wrong. Mariani does a masterful job once again and kept me hooked until the final page turn.

After an accident left former SAS- soldier Ben Hope in a cast, he’s taking it easy this holiday season. He’s recently discovered a passageway under his rural training facility, La Val, which includes a valuable item from the time of the Crusaders. This cross, while also being quite old, has value in its decorative nature and secret weapon. It would seem that news of the cross made its way to town, and beyond, as a carload of Corsicans choose to target La Val when they know Ben will be at his weakest.

Doing his best to fend off the attackers, Ben is able to defend himself and neutralise the gang, save one, Petru Navarro. Using violence and a ‘shoot first’ mentality, Navarro steals the cross and is able to flee before Hope can catch him. Now, all that’s left around the compound are dead gang members and number of dogs that Hope held dear. This lights a fire inside Hope like nothing else, as he is determined to seek revenge, alone!

Tracing Navarro across the rest of France, Hope tries to make headway and stay under the radar. He removes any impediment he has and follows Navarro to Corsica, knowing that this will make things much more difficult. However, Hope is not afraid and has nothing to lose. He will not allow someone to come onto his property and get away with killing. Slowly and methodically, Hope will find Petru Navarro and delivery justice. An electric novel in the series that goes to show that some characters can stand the test of time and many adventures.

I discovered Scott Mariani and the Ben Hope series a few years ago and have not been able to get enough of them since. I usually mark my calendar when a new book is set to be released, knowing that I will be in for a treat. The action is always high and the impact on point, leaving me to lose myself in the well-paced narrative. Scott Mariani seems never to run out of ideas or scenarios for Ben Hope, in an ever-changing world.

Ben Hope remains a strong protagonist and has certainly grown on me over the years. Much of his backstory has been developed and he is free from too much change nowadays. Still, his grit and determination remains high, choosing to help those who matter to him. Ben is eager to discover relics or things of value, but his true investment is defending what belongs to him. I am eager to see how the series will continue, as this was almost a Ben Hope solo affair, while there are many others who impact the series in their own way.

Less a holiday novel than one that happens to occur over Christmas, this is yet another powerful instalment of a series that never seems to lose its momentum. Mariani develops a strong narrative that pushes the story along and keeps the plot twists coming, this time using a continental chase between Hope and a crazed Corsican. The character development enriches the story, though this one was more about Hope versus Navarro than many of the others who have graced the pages of past books. A strong story that clipped along had me enthused to keep reading and learning more about Hope, his situation, and how he would remedy it. I cannot wait for what is to come and how things will work themselves out.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another winner. You never seem to tire of putting Ben in situations that seem almost ‘hope’less, if you pardon the pun.

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

The Opus Dictum (Father Michael Dominic #5), by Gary McAvoy

Nine stars

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

Always eager to read the work of Gary McAvoy, I rushed to begin the latest featuring Father Michael Dominic, which did not disappoint. Exploring another angle of Vatican-based politics and sinister goings-on, McAvoy takes readers through a historical event and provides strong modern action to support it. In this case, all relates to a more recent event, where a mysterious briefcase finds itself in the Vatican Archives. What it contains could not only reveal the existence of a powerful group thought defunct, but also change the path of the Catholic Church forever. It will be up to a handful of dedicated individuals to stop this before it’s too late. Another winner by Gary McAvoy that will have those ho love a good thriller on the edge of their seats.

It was early morning one June day in 1982 that Roberto Calvi was discovered hanging under a bridge in London. A man with quite the reputation, some called Calvi “God’s Banker,” for his ties to the Vatican Bank, though it was some of his other connections that left many to wonder if he had upset the wrong person. Missing from the scene was an important briefcase Calvi had the night before, filled with important documents that could cause a great stir if they were revealed. The mystery was never solved, leaving many to wonder if these incriminating documents might still be out there.

Fast forwarding to today, Father Michael Dominic is excited to have a new assistant working with him in the Vatican Archives. There are so many documents in need of reviewing and digitizing that he cannot be sure where to begin. When the Calvi briefcase turns up, it opens quite the conundrum for all involved. Father Dominic knows a little about the briefcase and upon discovering some of its contents, he is eager to learn more. There is proof that a powerful Catholic organisation, Opus Deus, and an outlawed Masonic group P2, have been working together. Not only that, but a safe deposit key could hold the answers to a great deal more.

Working as quietly as they can, Father Dominic and his team try to uncover the mysteries from the briefcase, discovering a cache of diamonds and gold, as well as digital breadcrumbs to more. Before they can make their move, others learn of the discovered cache and make their move to get it back, hopefully to silence any chance that the secret will come to light.

While Father Dominic must head to Geneva to help rescue an old friend, one of his nemeses finds a way out of prison and plots revenge on the priest. With the backing of Opus Deus and P2, Father Dominic’s life could be in danger, especially with what he knows. Upon the discovery of a document called the ‘Opus Dictum’, a truly horrifying plan could soon be in motion, which will deeply change the Catholic Church for the foreseeable future. After the surprise announcement of a new conclave—the election of a pope—causes a stir, Father Dominic knows that his time is limited. Should the Opus Dictum come to fruition, the face of the Church will forever change, and not likely for the better. As cardinals gather and the ceremony begins, two men stand at odds and hope to become the new voice for the Church. Gary McAvoy does a sensational job with this piece and left me eager for more. I cannot wait to see where things go from here.

I have followed Gary McAvoy on this journey since its inception and never found myself straying. The themes that emerge are on point and I am regularly pulled in by the approach of his plot lines. The Vatican is a complex and multi-layered organisation, as is the Catholic Church in general. McAvoy finds ways, through history and artifacts, to bring the story to life and create thrilling adventures for all to enjoy. His characters grow exponentially throughout and the stories connect well together. This is a series that gains momentum with each novel and never seems to lose its way.

Father Michael Dominic continues to impress as the protagonist of the series. His backstory is a little complicated, as series fans will know well, but it is matched by some of the awkwardness he hides in the present that keeps it all highly exciting. A devout Catholic who loves working in the Archives, Dominic finds mysteries fuel him and will stop at nothing to uncover the truth before him. While he may not hunt out danger, there are those around him who seem to attract it, creating an adventurous journey through each of the novels in this series. I am eager to see, with some of the revelations made in this book, how things will change for Father Dominic moving forward and whether there will be a significant shift in his role.

The key to a strong thriller novel is whether the reader can feel themselves begin a part of the action, rather than a passive bystander. Gary McAvoy creates an electric buzz around his stories and puts the reader right in the middle of everything that is going on. His narrative builds with each passing chapter, developing more mysteries and curiosities, while the plot twists repeatedly to keep anyone from knowing exactly what will happen. Intertwining modern events with historical goings-on makes for an explosive story that could go one of many directions. Strong characters, particularly those who reappear and build on their past developments, help create an emotional connection for the reader, as they are swept up in everything that is taking place. While McAvoy packed this book with history and highly descriptive settings, I know this is not the end. While I will have to patiently wait for the next instalment, it will surely be well worth it to see how things continue to play out for all involved.

Kudos, Mr. McAvoy, for another stunning story. You never cease to amaze me with your writing.

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

Next of Kin, by Kia Abdullah

Eight stars

Kia Abdullah returns with another chilling thriller that is sure to stir up many sentiments for the attentive reader. Pulling on some family emotions, the story centres around two sisters and a tragedy that tears them apart. Leila Syed is a busy woman, but helps her sister whenever possible. When she’s asked to take her nephew to nursery, Leila obliges, which is when things go horribly wrong. Forgetting young Max in her vehicle when a work emergency arises, the little one is left to overheat. He succumbs to vehicular hypothermia and a manslaughter case begins. Now, Yasmin Syed must wonder if her sister did this on purpose as a means of retribution for having no children of her own. Leila is charged and a court case is pending, where the truth will come out, slowly, for all to see the truth behind the dynamics between the Syed sisters. Abdullah does a masterful job in this piece, sure to leave the reader torn between which side they feel could be telling the truth.

Since raising her younger sister for most of their formative years, Leila Syed has tried to make a name for herself. Now a successful architect in London, Leila remains busy with her life, but is still fairly close to Yasmin. When Leila receives a call from her brother-in-law, Andrew, asking that she help by taking young Max to nursery, Leila obliges and collects Max for the short drive. Only later, when Andrew calls to say that Max never arrived at the nursery, does Leila realise her horrible mistake. Young Max was left inside her vehicle for the entire time, on the hottest day of the year.

After trying to revive him, medics rush Max to the hospital, where he soon succumbs to vehicular hypothermia. With a dead child on her conscience, Leila cannot face what will come. Yasmin is beside herself with grief and baffled as to why Leila could be so careless. While Leila vows it was an accident, some begin to wonder, what with her lack of children and a marriage that recently turned rocky. Leila is soon charged with manslaughter and a court date is set for all to be sorted.

When the trial begins, Leila is put on the defensive from the outset, as her personal life is magnified for all to see. While Leila did raise Yasmin after her parents’ death, some begin to wonder if the strain on having to be a quasi-parent might have been too much. Other truths come to the surface that only make it more apparent that the elder Syed had a great deal of animosity within her. Still, could Leila actually have left her nephew in the car to perish as an act of retribution for the bitterness in her own life? The truth will come out eventually and justice must be served, though it is not entirely clear on which side it will land. It is only after the trial that other, more sinister realities come to the surface. Kia Abdullah mesmerizes the reader with this stunning story that tears a family apart and opens up a plethora of new questions.

Since discovering the work of Kia Abdullah, I have been an ardent fan, trying to get my hands on each of her novels as soon as they are available. This was no exception, as the writing is intense and the story is as heart-wrenching as one could imagine. The familial bonds are torn apart with his piece and the reader is forced to watch it all play out, leaving them to play the role of ‘thirteenth juror’ in a way, asking that they weigh the evidence of Leila Syed’s guilt in the matter of her dead nephew. I found myself transfixed by the story and rushed to find out what happened and how it all came together. Perhaps one of Abdullah’s best pieces to date!

Leila Syed does play a central role in the story, her life put on trial for all to see. Leila struggles with some of the experiences she has had, not the least of which having to raise her sister, Yasmin, after the death of both parents. While there are some great moments of backstory development, it is primarily the mindset that Leila has in the present that remains the crux of the novel, putting her on trial for her apparently careless act. What transpires is a complete analysis of Leila as a person and the struggles she has to keep it all together.

A novel’s impact is one of the key ingredients I look for when I read. If the story lingers and the characters resonate within me, I feel that I have found something worth recommending to others. I have had that happen many times when reading Kia Abdullah’s work and this was no exception. The narrative flows well and takes a turn at just the right moment, thrusting Leila Syed into the spotlight for reasons she would likely prefer not have happened. The plot advances well and twists at poignant times to leave the reader unsure of their sentiments towards all those involved. Could Leila have been simply careless or was there more to it? As the story advances and truths surface, the reader must use their own intuition and pass judgement on what might have happened and who could be to blame for it all. The final portion of the novel exposes real truths that never made it into sworn testimony, which adds new flavour to an already explosive thriller.

Kudos, Madam Abdullah, for another stunning novel. Your writing keeps getting better the more I read.

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

One Will Too Many (Julia Fairchild #4), by PJ Peterson

Eight stars

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

When I received an ARC of this novel, I could not help but be both excited and uncertain. Usually, it is the complex, hearty crime thriller or mystery that piques my interest, though I have found a few gems when I can turn off my brain and let a ‘cozy mystery’ entertain me. I took the leap, though chose to read the three previous novels beforehand, devouring them in a handful of days. Peterson won me over early and I could not stop the momentum of this quick read series of novels. Dr. Julia Fairchild is home and enjoying her medical practice, when she’s asked to attend a fundraiser at the local theatre. Learning of some controversial goings-on at the event, a local banker is soon found dead in his home. The situation surrounding the death proves to be suspicious, fatal alcohol poisoning, but not the variety usually found on the liquor shelf. Further inquiries show that there may have been many who had a beef with him and with the reading of his will, things could get really messy. Always the sleuth, Julia dons her cap again to help get to the bottom of it all in short order. Peterson does a masterful job at impressing the reader once again with this piece.

Dr. Julia Fairchild enjoys jet-setting, but sometimes there is nothing better than staying close to home. When she is inviting to fill a last-minute vacancy at a charity auction in town, she hesitantly agrees, but not for the reasons one might think. While there, she rubs elbows with some of the local upper crust and discovers a little more about a local banker, Jay Morrison. His life is full of secrets and being recently divorced, those skeletons are sure to march out of the closet.

Morrison’s girlfriend calls Julia the next day to say that she cannot reach him. Julia is happy to help and they go in search of Jay, who seemed to be having quite a good time at the fundraiser. It’s only then that they discover Jay’s body in his home, dead for reasons unknown. What could have been a massive medical incident is soon ruled a homicide by the coroner, opening up some interesting discussions with Julia in the centre. Always one keen to unravel a mystery, Dr. Julia Fairchild is on the case, albeit in an unofficial capacity. What did Jay Morrison do to cause such grief to someone that they may have wanted him dead?

Working on the assumption that it was some type of alcohol poisoning, Julia tries to piece it all together, only learning that the secrets Jay held were even more complex than first thought. His ex-wife has no love loss for him, there are some who held him responsible for massive losses with certain accounts at the bank, and someone emerges to claim a family connection and seek restitution for being kept out of a previous inheritance. Who was Jay Morrison and what was he keeping from everyone?

All this, while Jay Morrison’s will is about to be read and monies dispersed. Julia will have to work fast, using a nephew who is on the police force, to find the killer before it’s too late. Money has a way of mucking things up and this may be the messiest situation Julia’s come across yet! PJ Peterson pulls the reader in and entertains them in short order once again. Brilliant and just what I needed this week.

PJ Peterson succeeds yet again with one of her novels, without needing a complex storyline to keep the reader enthused. A simple story with great characters and a plot that never rests on its laurels, Peterson presents the reader with something well worth their while. I can only hope that there are more of these books in the works, as I cannot wait to learn more about Dr. Julia Fairchild or some of those around her.

Dr. Julia Fairchild continues to develop as a strong protagonist, using more of her backstory to shape the novel and flavour the narrative. Series fans will revel in learning more about her personal life in this piece, though there is also much to be said about her development throughout this piece, particularly with the story’s focus in Parkview, Washington (yes, we finally learn when she lives!). While Julia is the ultimate amateur sleuth, she is also trying to solve the mystery of her personal connection in a romantic sense, as the reader is introduced to Alex, her latest beau. There are some key moments around this relationship, which Peterson handles well as she uses it to formulate a decent subplot. A well-rounded character who seems full of surprises for the attentive reader.

PJ Peterson offers up another strong cozy mystery, which competes well with many of the other books that fill the genre. It’s highly entertaining without being overly frilly. There is a depth to it that keeps the reader wanting to know more, though does not drag on, allowing its completion in a day or two. The narrative flows well, as did the other novels, building from the opening pages. This early momentum serves as a great pace and keeps the reader turning pages while losing track of time. The plot offers a few twists and is not overly predictable, without blurring the lines between plausible and far-fetched. Strong characters and quick dialogue make for an enjoyable read. Peterson can surely write and keep the reader’s attention until the final page, where a cliffhanger teases at more to come soon. Overall, it makes the reading experience all the more enjoyable and guarantees that I will reach for the next novel as soon as it becomes available!

Kudos, Madam Peterson, for another winner. Thank you for reaching out with this novel, as it allowed me to discover a new series that I have placed on my reading radar!

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

Pickled Pink in Paris (Julia Fairchild #3), by PJ Peterson

Eight stars

I recently received an ARC of the latest PJ Peterson novel and found myself excited, yet unsure what I ought to expect. I usually look for the complex, hearty crime thriller or mystery, though I have had some success when turning off my brain and letting a ‘cozy mystery’ entertain me. I took the risk, but stuck to my guns and found the other novels in the series, which I could try first. It helps with context and a little momentum building. Peterson won me over early in the first novel and here I am, having read the first three in short order. I made it through to this, a story set in Paris, where young doctor, Julia Fairchild, and her sister are spending a week, alongside a friend of Julia’s. While there, the ladies attend a cooking school, while Josh attends to some business. When a man turns up poisoned in the hotel and eventually dies, Julia’s amateur sleuthing skills come in handy. Who would have wanted him dead and for what reason? This is only the tip of the mystery, as a week in Paris turns into a major investigative event. Peterson pulls out all the stops here and dazzles repeatedly.

Dr. Julia Fairchild knows how to balance her professional and personal lives quite well. After making arrangements to meet an old friend in Paris, she heads over the Atlantic with her sister, Carly. They are to meet Josh, a businessman, who may have caught Julia’s eye a while back, especially since they reconnected in Amsterdam the previous year.

While Paris has all the excitement that Julia looks for in a city, it is not only the art and nightlife that have pulled her in. She and Carly agree to attend some cooking classes at a Cordon Bleu school, honing their skills and seeking to impress the people back home. While they meet a small group of English-speaking students, it is their instructor, Francesca, who makes a real mark. She agrees to help them create some dazzling items for a small party Josh is hosting back at the hotel.

After a successful cocktail party, one of Josh’s partners goes missing, only to be found, collapsed, in the hotel bathroom hours later. Rushed to the hospital, all he can utter is ‘mushroom’, one of the items at the party, but not something Julia or Carly created. It would seem that Francesca brought a tray of stuffed mushrooms, though no one else got sick. A mystery begins to develop, which is only heightened when the victim dies from acute poisoning.

As Josh tries to salvage a business deal, Julia and Carly begin to poke around to discover what’s taken place, only finding themselves more tied up in knots. Someone was trying to kill the businessman and Josh seems to be a primary suspect. How do mushrooms tie into it all and where does Francesca connect the dots, especially when her name and number appear on a piece of paper in the victim’s pocket? It will take all their energy and remaining time to piece it together, but Dr. Julia Fairchild loves a good mystery. Peterson does it again and held my attention throughout this piece!

I was yet again dazzled by PJ Peterson, without needing a complex storyline. The plot sustained itself as the narrative gained momentum and the reader found themselves in the middle of the story without needing to stretch their imaginations too much. Peterson appears to coax the reader into something effortlessly, which makes for a smoother delivery and more exciting piece of writing. These cozy mysteries surely have pulled me in and left me wanting more!

Dr. Julia Fairchild is a wonderful protagonist, using some of her past life experiences to shape the novel effectively. Series fans will have known a bit about her personal life, though it is still not really revealed here. References to the past novels and ‘holiday mysteries’ occur, adding some depth to the character, though a great deal is spent on development within this piece. Peterson focuses some of the attention on the Julia-Josh connection, though it does not get overly saccharine, helped along by Carly, who is not there for romance and gushiness. Julia’s sleuthing skills continue to impress and her ability to get information from people helps to keep the story moving. One might call her a modern Jessica Fletcher though, as death seems too follow wherever she might be.

PJ Peterson offers up another stellar cozy mystery, which offsets some of the heartier mysteries on the market today. It’s fun and intriguing without being too silly or sugary. There is a nice depth to it, though the story is compact, therefore it can be read in a day or two. The narrative flows well from the opening pages, setting the scene and getting right to the point. The reader can use this early momentum to pace their progress. The plot offers a few twists to keep from being overly predictable and yet does not become too far-fetched. Strong characters that are highly relatable make for an enjoyable read. Peterson can write and keep the reader’s attention, which is an added bonus. It makes reading these pieces in short order all the more enjoyable and has grabbing for the next one a foregone conclusion.

Kudos, Madam Peterson, for a story I thoroughly enjoyed. I made it to the ARC and am prepared to dive in, hoping it is as impressive as these past three novels!

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

Over My Dead Body (Detective William Warwick #4), by Jeffrey Archer

Eight stars

Jeffrey Archer is back for another thrilling adventure with William Warwick at the helm. This series, rich with plots and character development, is sure to catch the eye of the reader who enjoys a ‘full in’ experience, using wonderful narrative twists to keep the story advancing until the final paragraph. Warwick is ready to tackle a new adventure, or a few of them, as a new ‘cold case’ squad is assembled within the Metropolitan Police. There, he will travel around Europe, trying to piece together some of the cases that no one else has been able to solve. All the while, one of his greatest nemeses continues to work off the grid, seeking to build an empire while appearing to have already died. Archer does a masterful job of taking the reader along for the ride and showing that he is a true master when it comes to writing.

While every police officer must work hard to earn their keep, William Warwick knows the importance of rest and rejuvenation as well, choosing to take his wife on a cruise across the Atlantic to New York. During their voyage, Warwick and his wife, Beth, encounter some drama, as the ship liner’s owner dies aboard, potentially in less than innocent circumstances. Befriending a young man who seeks to follow in his footsteps, Warwick helps to uncover some truths that might not have been revealed otherwise, showing that a detective is always ‘on duty’.

Warwick has seen a great deal during his time with London’s Metropolitan Police, but he is never sure what to expect when he arrives at the office each day. Upon his return from holiday, he’s put into a new and intriguing Unsolved Murders Unit, known colloquially as ‘the Cold Case Squad’, to help bring to justice those who have slipped through the cracks. Working with a former undercover agent, Warwick begins tackling the pile of cases, in hopes of earning the favour of his superiors.

At the top of the list is trying to nail down the elusive Miles Faulkner, a millionaire with nefarious ideas who is said to have died a few months before. Warwick cannot deny that many can attest to the man’s death, but something does not sit right with him. Duplicity was never something from which Faulkner strayed and there’s something off about what’s been going on of late.

While Warwick finds himself racing across Europe to work through the cold cases, he’s always on the lookout for new or clues as to where Miles Faulkner may have landed, as well as how he is trying to build his empire anew. Warwick must act swiftly in order to earn his keep, but also try his best to be aware of how he might entrap his greatest nemesis once and for all. A brilliant piece that keeps the reader enthralled until the very end, as per a usual Jeffrey Archer story!

I have long been a fan of Jeffrey Archer’s writing, shelving any of the personal controversies people may bring up in conversation. His stories are not only well-plotted, but they have a great deal of adventure and build off one another effectively. There is a richness to them and this series has not lacked any of the impact throughout its development. With a proposed eight novels in the series, Archer has penned half of them, with a lot of ground to cover yet. I am eager to be a part of it, as I know there are many twists yet to be revealed.

William Warwick continues to climb the ranks within the Met, even if some of those around him are sure he will stumble. It is his tenacity that makes him alluring to the reader, though he also has a great wit and numerous detective skills needed to showcase his abilities. Warwick’s personal and professional growth in the novel is apparent, allowing series fans to see changes in him as the novels progress, while also dazzling those who are new to Warwick and many of his nuances.

Anyone entering a Jeffrey Archer novel should be ready to succumb to a vast array of narrative twists, sub-plots, and truly dazzling writing. There is much that comes to light in each novel, requiring a great deal of attention as the story progresses. Archer develops his narrative quickly and does not stop throughout the story, adding momentum with each plot twist and character development moment. Always adding layers of new characters, Archer provides more names to following and connects them to the larger story arc. There is a buzz around this series, as I can never tell what is to come and how William Warwick will react to what’s put before him. Still, it’s great to know that Archer has ideas and drafts of future novels ready, showing that it is only a matter of time before my curiosity is sated.

Kudos, Lord Archer, for another winner. I am eager to see what is to come!

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