A Question of Guilt (William Wisting #15, Cold Case Quartet #4), by Jørn Lier Horst

Eight stars

While enjoying some well-deserved time off from police work, William Wisting receives an unmarked letter in his postbox. What he discovers on the sheet inside is a line that refer back to an old case from 1999. Wisting pulls the file and begins his own examination of the case, which is all about the murder of a young woman and the quick arrest of her boyfriend. While Wisting is intrigued, he soon discovers some gaping holes in the investigation.

When another letter arrives with a similar case reference, Wisting cannot help but look into it as well, soon seeing interesting parallels between the two cases, which were two years apart. Both have some troubling aspects and Wisting’s personal exploration soon receives the attention of those within the department, forcing a reexamination of the cases. All this, while a current murder investigation heats up as well.

As Wisting draws some intriguing conclusions, a keen reporter adds fuel to the fire and gets media attention on what might have been a wrongful conviction. However, evidence is sometimes harder to come by than supposition, making any true legal about face harder to accomplish. That said, Wisting’s work soon has some within the department taking a closer look at their current caseload and another open-and-shut case. A great story with some wonderful investigative work, showing that Jørn Lier Horst is on the ball!

It was years ago that I discovered the work of Jørn Lier Horst, not shying away from the fact that the novels were not originally in English. It was his William Wisting novels that got me interested in the Scandinavian Noir genre and I have not looked back since. Well-paced stories with great plot development help pull me into the middle of the investigation with little concern for the outside world. These four cold case novels, plopped into the middle of the larger series, proved just as entertaining and insightful as anything else William Wisting has tackled as a police detective.

William Wisting has a great backstory, though much of it has been hidden in novels that were never translated into English. That said, the crumbs that are available proved highly entertaining for series fans, as well as some of the great character development that has occurred. Wisting is sharp, on point, and relatively laid back as he works through the nuances of a case, never one to let outside pressures guide him. While there is little room for development within the novel, Horst allows the reader to see his personal side as he interacts with his daughter and granddaughter throughout his investigation.

Even without the proper context of the first six novels, this series has never missed a beat for readers of the English translations. As I have said before, the seamlessness of these stories makes it such that one would not readily know the stories were not penned in English at the outset. Horst tackles a great deal within his stories and the reader can see this in a strong narrative that keeps gaining momentum throughout. The plot evolves and keeps the reader in the middle of a great story, always tossing in twists to keep things interesting. Short chapters help push things along and the reader finds themselves devouring large portions of the book in a single sitting, begging to find out what is about to happen. I am eager to see where William Wisting is headed now and what mysteries await him as he returns to ‘present day’ investigations.

Kudos, Mr. Horst, for another stunning read. While you have your other series in full swing now, I hope you won’t forget your stunning detective in the coming years.

Storm Front (Alex Morgan #2), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

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

Leo J. Maloney is back with another thriller, keeping things in the Morgan family. His younger protagonist, Alex, is full of energy, as she tries to fill the shoes of her father while working for Zeta Group. After being the target of an attack by Ares, Alex Morgan realises that her life is in danger. What better way to protect herself than to agree to an undercover mission on a cruise ship, where Ares is set to strike? Alex will have to infiltrate those who seek to cause harm and wrest control back for Zeta before it’s too late. However, she is not the only Morgan on a mission, one that could end in death! Maloney does well to keep the action high and the twists plentiful.

Alex Morgan loves being an operative for Zeta Group, even if it means that she is sometimes compared to her father, Dan. When Alex is almost killed in an explosion at work, she comes to terms that it was likely Ares who are responsible, Zeta’s enemy, trying to do away with the young foot soldier. Faced with a security issue, Alex agrees to go undercover on a cruise ship in the Coral Sea, hoping to infiltrate the group and likely discover what Ares has in store.

After some rigourous training, Alex is placed aboard the shop and slowly works her way into discovering what is going on, which includes an attach on the ship by would-be pirates. However, she is not going to take this sitting down and shows true grit during the entire ordeal.

Meanwhile, Dan Morgan has learned of his daughter’s mission and has one of his own to handle in Australia. He’s working as best he can to uncover truths many would like buried, all while Zeta Group tries to juggle the intel that is flowing in. With two Morgans working so efficiently, Ares does not stand a chance, or do they?

Time is ticking on this mission and neither Dan nor Alex can risk failure, as it could cost them their lives. It will require patience and some real dedication, something that is woven into the fabric of the Morgans from a young age. However, one wrong move could prove deadly. Maloney does well developing this new generation of Morgan intel operative, which is sure to impress fans of his other works.

I have long admired the work of Leo J. Maloney and the attention to detail he puts into his books. There is something exciting with each piece, which they all tie into together nicely. This book flowed well, with an easy narrative and straightforward chapters. I found it waned at times for my liking, but it could be a slight reading slump in which I find myself.

Alex Morgan is a great character who has come into her own over the last while. She has been forced to live in her father’s shadow, at least since she knew about his work with Zeta Group. Now, she is on her won and facing danger every day. There is some great character development throughout the piece and the reader gets to know a little more about Alex, as well as how she ticks. I am eager to see more as time gores on and this new series comes into its own.

Leo J. Maloney uses this series twist to his advancing, easing Alex Morgan into the role of protagonist without pushing Dan out of the limelight completely. The narrative works well and keeps the reader on their toes, as plot twists arise throughout with great regularlity. Shorter chapters help keep the flow and things are never in a true lull. All that being said, I could not connect as effectively as I would have liked throughout this piece, feeling things weren’t as impactful as they could have been. Perhaps I am simply having a tough time of it lately, but I felt there was a missing link that I cannot properly identify. We’ll see if this was simply a blip when next Alex Morgan graces us with her presence.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for another great novel. I am eager to see what you have to come in the next few months.

Fear No Evil (Alex Cross #29), by James Patterson

Six Stars

Just as readers sometimes find themselves in a rut, the same can be said of authors who try to churn out something worthwhile. Many who follow my reviews will know that I have a love/hate relationship with James Patterson and his novels that appear to sell based on his name, rather than on any level of quality. I came into this book knowing that the Alex Cross series was one that had not been sullied with subpar writing or delivery. However, after reading this book, I am beginning to wonder if Dr. Cross may have overstayed his literary welcome and ought to hang up the cuffs for good. I could not connect with the book, the characters I have come to love, or even the action. Others may disagree, and I welcome it, but I am left wondering if it’s time to stop and let others fight crime. One of the cornerstone series for James Patterson, this one may have finally lost its steam and needs to be shelved for good.

While I usually offer a detailed summary of the storyline for other reviewers to enjoy, I can’t be bothered today, preferring to offer a quick summary of my sentiments so that I can move along. Patterson resurrects an old nemesis of Dr. Alex Cross’ and places the detective in the middle of a serious manhunt. Cross is his usual go-getter self, swooping in to help as best he can, while also rescuing his wife from danger as she investigates something over in Europe. The tension and action that is usually built up with short Patterson-esque chapters is gone, leaving the reader feeling flat and underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, there is action and some heart-thumping suspense, but I did not feel the push to keep reading well into the night or caring much about what was going on. I need that on occasion and this novel did not deliver.

While some authors can use their name to sell a book, I cringe at that, as the reader is left wondering if the quality is there. With another Cross novel on the horizon, I can only hope this was a stumbling block for Patterson (or if I am just out of sorts with my reading these days), and that Cross can return to his earlier glory. That being said, thirty novels may be a sign that Cross should enjoy time with the family and let the likes of Bennett and Boxer, other stalwart Patterson detectives, take the reins and keep things going. But, what’s do I know, right?

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, for finding new ideas to challenge your protagonist. It just did not impact me as I had hoped.

The Broken Room, by Peter Clines

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Peter Clines, and Blackstone for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

There is a great deal of excitement and mystery when I am handled a novel by an author with whom I have no history. Will I enjoy it, or will the style not meet all the expectations I develop when reading the dust jacket blurb? Such was the case when someone asked me to read this early copy of Peter Clines’ novel, which sounded right up my alley. Hector is minding his own business, when a young girl enters the bar he frequents and says that she was sent to find him. Baffled by this, Hector begins speaking with Natalie, only to realise that things are much more complicated than they appear at first. Now, Hector and Natalie are on the run from those who have been keeping the pre-teen girl and it does not seem as though they are much pleased with current circumstances. As Hector learns more, he discovers that Natalie could hold the key to something special, though he is not sure it’s being used effectively and wants to protect her from further harm. Clines does well to hook the reader at the outset in this sci-fi type thriller that mixes in just enough grit to be suspenseful.

Hector went by many names during his time working for the US Government. He could make a difference at the drop of a hat, though he was betrayed and this left a sour taste in his mouth. Now, to compensate, he medicates himself through the bottle, turning in one sour feeling for another and his no plans to stop.

When a young Natalie enters the bar he calls home base, Hector is leery. He wonders if this is some sort of set-up and can only hope that the prankster has no plans to do him in. However, as Natalie shares more, Hector realises that this is something even more troubling. Natalie has escaped from a facility, after being used for some odd scientific experiments. It reminds him of things he oversaw in the past and none of these were pleasant. Now, there are men out to get Natalie, which means Hector is a target as well.

As Hector and Natalie flee for safety, the young girl tells more of her story about experimentation and being subjected to ‘the broken room’, a place where radioactivity helps push test subjects to new heights. Hector soon discovers that Natalie has some powers that could prove deadly in the wrong hands and hopes to stay one step ahead of those who would recapture her and subject the pre-teen to more testing. However, it is not as easy as hiding out, as the others have guns and are determined to get their test subject back. Hector will have to use all his training and gumption to protect this girl he barely knows. Clines spins quite a tale here and leaves readers wondering throughout.

As I mentioned above, new authors tend to be a gamble for me, though Peter Clines makes a good case to add him to my list of those I follow. He develops a strong story and uses flashback sequences to tell of a past that is anything but pleasant, without overdoing things. While the plot is somewhat reminiscent of many novels I have read, the ideas are new and intriguing, with characters who bring life to the story throughout. Clines knows how to tell a story and uses that ability to get the reader eager to learn more with every page turn.

The dual protagonist roles surely go to Hector and Natalie throughout this piece. Both have their own stories to share, mired with angst and trouble, though this does not subsume the narrative. The connection between them is obvious from the get-go and any attentive reader will see that they bond as the story advances. While Hector has a lot to prove, he is also keenly aware that he is Natalie’s only hope for protection and must do what he can, which adds a parental level to this already busy story.

Peter Clines sets the scene for an intriguing piece and left me wanting more. Not that he lacked in development, but I remained curious about Natalie and Hector when I finished reading this piece, almost wondering if Clines had something else in the works to shed more light on their lives. His ability to create a strong narrative without skipping a beat of the action is present throughout, leaving the reader to delve deeper to learn even more. While the story is primarily about these two, there are some other characters that flavour the narrative effectively. Plots advance in a well-paced manner, even if some of the ideas are well-used within the genre. The reader is keenly aware of how things will likely progress, but cannot be entirely certain, which makes them all the more exciting. I would read more by Peter Clines, given the chance, if only to see what other ideas he has ruminating in mis mind and wishes to put to paper.

Kudos, Mr. Clines, for a great piece of fiction. I will see if I can get my hands on more of your work to see what I think whenever the chance arises.

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

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/the-broken-room/

The Dark Hours (Harry Bosch #23, Renée Ballard #4), by Michael Connelly

Eight stars

There’s nothing like a great novel by Michael Connelly to remind me of the power of a stellar police procedural. Transitioning from his stalwart protagonist, Harry Bosch, to a new and gritty detective, Renée Ballard, Connelly shows that police investigations come in all shapes and sizes. LAPD Detective Renée Ballard is working the New Year’s shift, hoping to catch a pair of serial rapists known as the Midnight Men. When a murder pulls her in another direction, Detective Ballard begins her investigation. It would seem some forensics ties the murder to an old case, one investigated by retired Detective Harry Bosch. Ballard and Bosch work together on both cases, peeling back deceptions and truths to find what really happened. Willing to risk it all, Ballard forges ahead to get the cases solved, mentored by Bosch, who still revels in being considered a pariah within the LAPD. Connelly dazzles again and kept me reading late into the night.

LAPD Detective Renée Ballard is used to seeing a great deal on her overnight shift, but nothing prepares her for the intense night that New Year’s Eve brings. While she is counting down the minutes until her shift ends, she’s called to the scene of a street party, where one man has been fatally shot, but no one seems to be talking. What a way to end one year and begin another!

If that were not enough, Ballard has been keeping an eye open for an attack by the Midnight Men, a pair of rapists who have been striking around each holiday. Ballard is not sure what to make of it all, but she’s keen to get some answers, when time permits. It is sure to be an exciting and exhausting beginning to January, but what does Ballard have to lose?

Some early sleuthing and forensics helps Ballard determine that the shooting victim could not have died from an errant bullet that fell from above, but rather a targeted attack that was meant to rile up the community. She traces the bullet back to a gun that was used in another unsolved murder years before. That case, though it remains cold, was investigated by retired Detective Harry Bosch, a friend of Ballard’s but surely not of the LAPD.

Working once again with the gritty and no-nonsense detective, Ballard and Bosch begin their own investigation, pushing the limits in order to put the pieces together. When they seek a little distraction, they discuss and work the Midnight Men case, which has some interesting facts piling up and potential pre-planning. Could the rape victims be anything but random attacks?

Ballard finds herself picking up more than simply investigation tips from Bosch, as she sees her time in the LAPD coming to a close. She has the grit and determination to bring down two sets of criminals, but it may require a slight bending of the rules to do it. Could Ballard be headed down the same path as her mentor? If so, does she really care all that much? Another classic police procedural that will leave readers begging Connelly for more and hoping that this duo is back once again soon.

I have long admired Michael Connelly for his work on this series, which keeps getting better with more twists than a soft pretzel. While Harry Bosch was a sensational protagonist, his stepping side for Renée Ballard has not lessened the impact of the novels, nor does it make me want to read them any less. There is a great connection between Bosch and Ballard, without causing either one of them to force the other to stand in the shadows. The stories are still as gritty as ever and the cases are strong with just enough humour to cut through some of the tension. Connelly had not lost his knack.

Renée Ballard has grown on me over the past few novels, having to fill shoes that are almost impossible to do effectively. She’s got a backstory, though Connelly has left this on the sidelines for the most part. Rather, there is her constant growth and development that comes to pass throughout the novel, as Ballard uses her mentor, Harry Bosch, to hone her skills and become a better cop, if not a more determined person. She has what it takes to make a difference and knows what she needs to do, even if that means crossing the line on occasion as well.

I am never disappointed when it comes to a Michael Connelly novel, as I can be assured of a strong story, great character interactions, and wonderful banter throughout. Connelly has developed these skills over a long period, with a narrative that is both dark and easy to follow, which builds throughout the process and uses twists to keep the reader guessing. The pace allows readers to become ensconced in all that is taking place around them, while finding something intriguing about the characters who set things up effectively for all to see. Plot lines are not always linear, which helps keep the story feeling fresh and some sense of wonder throughout. While I know Bosch was somewhat sidelined a few novels ago, his presence remains strong as Ballard utilises him for some of her own needs and keeps things fresh throughout. There’s something to be said for this duo and I can only hope Connelly has at least a few more novels in him where they can work together, even if that means pushing the LAPD to the side.

Kudos, Mr. Connelly, for keeping the Bosch spirit alive, while allowing Renée Ballard to rise up and make a name for herself as well.

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

https://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/

Don’t Get Close, by Matt Miksa

Seven stars

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

When handed this novel by Matt Miksa, I was not sure what to expect. Having never read the author, I entered this experience blind and ready for most anything. Miksa pens a decent novel with gripping storylines, sure to impress some readers as they learn a little more. When a ruthless cult re-emerges on the scene after a bombing, a new FBI agent is forced to piece things together, both about the case that the group as a whole. All the while, she hopes not to get sucked in as she discovers more about those responsible for significant harm. Miksa does well with this piece, proving he can weave a great tale for all those who are interested.

After leaving her lifelong dream of being an artist, FBI Special Agent Vera Taggart is beginning to wonder if she made the right choice. She has an unusual knack when it comes to working crime scenes, but this has not enamoured her to many within the Bureau. Taggart’s given the major assignment of investigating a set of bombings from years ago, hoping that a fresh look will provide new leads. Taggart combs through the evidence as it related to the Sons of Elijah, a cult with a penchant for suicide bombings. The Sons believe that they have special powers, having been reborn numerous times over the centuries. However, there’s something about them that has Special Agent Taggart curious and wanting to know more.

After a bomb destroys a Chicago restaurant, Special Agent Taggart knows the Sons of Elijah are back, ready to cause new pain to anyone around them. It’s then that Dr. Seth Jacobson becomes a key to the investigation. Dr. Jscobson is a renowned psychiatrist whose work with hypnotherapy has helped people tap into their past lives. Having had two of the Sons as patients before they began their bloody rampages, Taggart hopes that she can use Dr. Jacobson’s knowledge as a key to the investigation and open up new avenues to assist her. This sooon drifts into sessions of her own, where new truths emerge that rock Taggart to the core, while forcing her to question how well she knows herself after all. Mitka spins quite the tale here and leaves the reader much to contemplate.

It’s always tough to discover new authors, unsure if they will mesh with your style of reading or sense of adventure. Matt Miksa did well, showing that he has a great deal of promise with this novel. The premise of the book was strong and he used some interesting angles to prove his points, though there were times that I was not entirely sold on the final product. I enjoyed the book, but was not as enthralled as I might have hoped, based on the premise. Still, there is surely something in here for many, particularly those who enjoy thrillers that push a psychological angle at various points.

Special Agent Vera Taggart does well as a protagonist in the piece, offering up some of her backstory and developing well as the story moves along. She shows a penchant for wanting to impress, while also fighting against the current throughout the novel, something that is addressed in the early stages. As she becomes enthralled with her investigation, pieces of her past and present emerge and keep the reader curious until the final pages, when much is revealed. There is something about her that leaves the reader to want to know more, though this is surely something Miksa will have to decide in his upcoming writing projects.

A story that mixes past with present, crime fiction with psychological exploration, and a peppering of self-discovery is sure to have a great deal of success, which Matt Miksa hopes to have created here. He’s done well and keeps the reader curious as the story progresses. A decent narrative flows well and allows the reader to enjoy the journey. Chapters speed along, some swift and teasers, while others delve deeper into the story. I usually enjoy cults and how they work, as well as a good crime thriller. This piece had both, but seemed to have missed something to pull me into the middle of the story and not get enough. Perhaps it was me, but i will leave it to other readers to see how they felt, rather than pass sole judgment on the final product.

Kudos, Mr. Miksa, for piquing my interest. I am eager to see what you have planned next!

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

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/dont-get-close/

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

https://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/

Sea Storm (Underwater Investigation Unit #3), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

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

Andrew Mayne is back with another exciting story in the Underwater Investigation Unit series, showing how versatile his writing can be. Down in Florida, there are many parts to law enforcement, as Sloan McPherson knows well. Working as part of a dive team, McPherson and her partner answer a call when a cruise ship finds itself in trouble. What looks like a targeted crime soon becomes a highly volatile situation and Sloan McPherson refuses to let up until she has all the answers, even if it costs her everything.

When a distress call fills the airwaves, McPherson and her partner head towards a cruise ship off the coast of Fort Lauderdale. The ship appears to be sinking and there’s are thousands aboard. McPherson will have to act quickly to help them before things take a disastrous turn. She can see the panic in the eyes of many and this does not appear to be a simple malfunction, as smoke envelops the ship.

After examining the ship during an initial dive, it appears as though this was the act of an ecoterrorist, set to make a point. While Sloan uncovers more than could be of use to the investigators, she worries that an approaching storm could nullify all the evidence, thereby making any arrests impossible. What’s even more baffling is that no one appears to care much, leaving Sloan to worry that this is not a priority to anyone. If anything, many seem to be considering it as yet another protest move.

While she appears to be alone in this, Sloan pushes forward and discovers some new truths, things that could put the explosion into perspective and place a target on her back. Never one to back down, the investigation leads to the West Coast, where other things of a nefarious nature have been taking place. Sloan finds herself coming face to face with those in charge and her diligence must be stopped before all is revealed. With everything to lose and a determination to find the truth, Sloan McPherson forges onwards, not realising that she may have met her match. Mayne does well with this instalment, keeping the reader hooked until the final chapter with tension and intrigue.

Beginning this series when it came out was my introduction to Andrew Mayne and his writing. It was only later that others encouraged me to try some of his other novels, permitting me to see just how talented he was and the complexity to his stories. Mayne takes a unique approach to law enforcement with this piece, exploring the underwater domain as a place where crime is just as prevalent. Using a strong set of characters, he is able to keep the reader interested and also pushes something many within the genre have yet to attempt.

Sloan McPherson is back with a great deal to prove. She has an interesting backstory and great development in this piece, something series fans will surely appreciate. Her determination is second to none and she tries to find that balance between work and home life, though it is usually marred with a push to get answers as a member of law enforcement. Using her diving and scuba background, Sloan stands out as a character in the piece, pushing boundaries in order to get answers she needs. I am eager to see what Mayne has in store for her, as the series progresses.

The greatest ability of an author is to provide continuity to their stories and characters, something that Andrew Mayne has done repeatedly. He knows what he wants and weaves it into the narrative to get there. Strong momentum pushes the story along and keeps the reader from losing their way, while characters entertain and provide guidance throughout. A strong plot allows the reader to see where things are going, propelled by short chapters that tease them to try just a little more. While I won’t spoil it, Mayne has done some great crossover work in this piece, keeping his fans of all series entertained with a few small surprises. This unique series has kept me curious from the start and this is yet another reason why Andrew Mayne remains on the top of my list of authors to follow.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for taking the plunge and continuing this series. I can only hope there is more to come for this and your other powerful series.

Poirot Investigates (Hercule Poirot #3), by Agatha Christie

Eight stars

Having enjoyed a few novels by Agatha Christie, I chose to continue with Hercule Poirot. This third novel is actually a collection of stories, used to whet the appetite of Poirot fans and perhaps to pique the interest of those who are not as familiar with the Belgian detective. From a few murders through to some robberies, Poirot and Captain Hastings pursue many a criminal act, in hopes of shedding some light on all things illegal. Poirot and Hastings find themselves traveling around England, into France, and even over to Egypt. Throughout the process, Poirot uses his deductive reasoning to bring answers to the forefront, even if it takes time and dedication. Christie has done a wonderful job throughout these stories, which has me wanting to return for more in the near future.

When I recently discovered the work of Agatha Christie, I found myself fully committed. Of course, I had heard of the Queen of Mystery well before I opened one of her books, but I never took the time to see how well they were constructed. I have decided to stick with Hercule Poirot for the time being, but may branch out at a later time. Each of the stories in this collection flows well with a strong narrative and keen characters, all adding flavour to a great story. Poirot seems to find a number of unique cases that require his attention, which allows the reader to feel that same newness with each page turn. With a large pile of books to go, I will tackle more Poirot before too long, but I like to space them out, like a collection of high-end chocolates, best savoured slowly.

Kudos, Dame Christie for this great collection. I will be back soon and eager to see what else is to come.

The Chase, by Candice Fox

Seven stars

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

Usually a fan of Candice Fox and her novels, I eagerly accepted the latest book in audio form. Fox has a great ability to pull the reader into the middle of the story with strong writing and alluring characters. After a coordinated prison break in the middle of the Nevada desert, panic ensues and a plan is activated. The story follows not only the attempt to corral these men back into custody, but also an inmate’s journey to show his innocence before he is put to death. Fox draws the story out and adds her own spin to keep the readers hooked throughout.

During the annual baseball game between inmates and guards, something goes horribly wrong and six hundred of the world’s most violent criminals are soon on the streets. It’s mass panic across the Nevada desert, as any one of these men could use their freedom to create another bloodbath. It’s mayhem and the public’s ready to face a rude awakening.

Celine Osbourne, a dedicated Death Row supervisor and fugitive-hunter, is tasked with leading the manhunt. She has her own issues buried in the past, but won’t use this as an excuse, as she tries to locate the worst of the worst in hopes of ensuring her superiors do not fire her at the first opportunity. Still, there is a sense of defeat as time passes without any concrete solutions. She’s also forced to examine how all this happened and whether one of her staff might be the key to the prison break.

One of those inmates is John Kradle, found guilty of murdering his wife and child. Kradle is now espousing that he was innocent and simply folded to make things easier at the time. He’s ready to prove his innocence and tries piecing together facts that could change his outcome. Every step of the way is fraught with risks that could see him executed sooner than expected, should he be caught.

As Osbourne and Kradle play a crazy game of chicken, it’s only time before one of the makes a mistake that could impact things greatly. The hunt is on and no one is quite sure how it will end. Fox delivers an intriguing story, full of flashback moments, to keep the reader hooked until the very end.

Having read a number of Candice Fox’s novels, I feel somewhat connected about what she usually offers and the expectations tied to that. While she is great with crime novels and the search for criminals, I found a disconnect with this piece, at least from the caliber I have come to expect. The story was decent, with some intriguing plot twists and flashback moments. However, I failed to fully connect with it on a number of levels. It might have been the narration or slow pace of the story’s development, but there was a gap that left me feeling less than enthused by the final product.

The dual protagonists in this piece, Celine Osbourne and John Kradle, worked well in their own ways. With a story that flips from character development to layered backstory, Fox uses both these techniques to create a relationship with the reader. There are some intriguing points throughout, though I am unsure how effective it was for me, as I could not get past the slow pace of the story’s development. I tried to get enthused with the Osbourne/Kradle game of cat and mouse, but sometimes felt it was for the dogs, if you pardon the pun.

I have come to expect great things when Candice Fox’ name appears on a book cover, having seen just how impactful her writing can be and what her collaborative efforts can do in a series. However, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed here. I’m not sure if it was the writing, the narration, or even that things took much longer than needed, but there was something I could not entirely enjoy. Interesting plot twists did not save the novel for me, nor did an array of characters whose lives mesh together to add depth to the story. Every author deserves a mulligan, though it may also be me who missed the mark with this piece. I’ll see what others feel and hope that I am in the minority.

Kudos, Madam Fox, for a valiant attempt. I cannot wait to see you return to the gritty police procedurals for which you have come to be known.

The Darkest Place (Robin Lockwood #5), by Phillip Margolin

Eight stars

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

Phillip Margolin is back with another explosive legal thriller that is sure to keep the reader on the edge of their seats. Robin Lockwood has made a name for herself since leaving the life of an MMA fighter in the past. However, it all comes tumbling down after a personal tragedy befalls her. Robin retreats back to her hometown, where she can convalesce. At the same time, a surrogacy case heats up and Robin eventually agrees to take on a client, working her magic in the courtroom. Little does Robin know, there is more to this woman than meets the eye, including some antics back in Portland that will require legal attention too! Margolin impresses and keeps the reader flipping pages well into the night.

Robin Lockwood is happy to have a successful legal practice and some strong partners to keep things going. When she agrees to take on a pro bono case as a favour, Robin case show her courtroom magic and continue to grab headlines. However, it is all forgotten when someone close to her dies in the middle of the case, leaving her distraught and not wanting to go on.

Convalescing back in her hometown, Robin cannot see any reason to continue on, though there is something about Elk Grove that keeps her waking up each morning. When she sees a local woman has been taken into custody around a surrogacy situation, Robin finds enough spark to climb back into the saddle and agrees to defend Marjorie Loman. After entering a surrogacy contract, Marjorie gives birth to a healthy baby boy and has second thoughts about returning him to his parents. What follows is a case of apparent kidnapping and assault, but Robin thinks that she can convince a jury otherwise.

It soon comes out that Marjorie has been in Elk Grove under an alias and that she faces murder charges back in Portland, where she sure to face trial. Again, Robin agrees to come to her client’s rescue and takes on the case, fuelled by a desire to help this woman who has been down on her luck. While working through the case, Robin sees that some things just don’t add up and she begins to wonder if Marjorie Loman might have another side she wishes to keep hidden from everyone. A great legal thriller that speeds along, much like many of Phillip Margolin’s novels.

It takes a great deal to put together a legal thriller that is both succinct and impactful. Phillip Margolin has done that repeatedly in the novels that I have had the pleasure of reading. He’s always working a few cases and keeping his protagonist rushing from spot to spot, but there is never a sense of superficiality to the writing or her development. This was another winner in the series and I can only hope there are more to come.

Robin Lockwood has evolved a great deal throughout the series, effectively connecting with fans as the stories progress. Here, there is a curveball tossed into the mix and the reader can see devastation flow through the veins of the protagonist, forcing her to reinvent herself. Robin Lockwood is tough, but this is perhaps too much. With much grit and determination, Robin dusts herself off and shows why she is an amazing lawyer and woman, making an impact in many ways throughout this stellar novel.

While I have not read every novel his has penned, I have a good handle on the work of Phillip Margolin and can assure myself that the books keep getting better. He’s able to work with a strong narrative that builds as the story gains speed, working through plot twists and numerous character developments to culminate in a chilling ending. The pacing with short chapters is key and keeps the reader pushing forward, eager to see how things will progress throughout. I love a good legal thriller and can only hope that there are more, particularly with Robin Lockwood at the helm.

Kudos, Mr. Margolin, for another winner. You know just how to pen a great story that has me hungry for more in the genre!