The Vietnam War: An Intimate History, by Geoffrey C. Ward

Nine stars

As a reader who loves history, I turned to this book by Geoffrey C. Ward about the Vietnam War, an indelible mark on the American psyche. Pulled from some of the notes on a massive television documentary, Ward explores the war in new and engaging ways. His primary thesis, that Americans still argue and fight over the facts the war, shows that the largest military embarrassment in US history to date is highly divisive and multi-faceted. Ward takes an extremely detailed look at the war through the lenses of military campaigns, politics, and social reaction to provide the reader with something well worth the time invested. While I am no expert, I can say that I was enthralled with much of what Ward had to say, lapping it up and adding to my knowledge of events surrounding this time in American history. A superb piece that covers many of the bases for the history buff.

Ward chooses to explore the Vietnam skirmish, not only from the time that American entered the war, but rather the kernel of the issue in the region. He explores the French presence in the area, as well as how the Southern Asian actors all played their own role in building up tension. Vietnam was a Japanese plaything by the Second World War and soon became a hotbed of Cold War tensions, pitting the Communist North against the democratic South. The Americans saw an opening to push back the Red Wave and began pouring weapons and soldiers into the area. As Ward explores, those supporting the North did so with their own weapons and military prowess, but kept troop numbers to a minimum. Using talk of military decisions throughout, Ward shows how the Americans sought to treat this as another Korea, seeking a quick strike to make an impact, which failed miserably. This was not to be another swift battle, but rather one in a part of the world soldiers were not used to fighting. This was a new and unique military approach, which could have gone south on many occasions.

Exploring the Vietnam War through the political lens, it was a hot potato issue for the Americans that would simply not settle. As mentioned above, there was a significant push to make this another quick strike to quash Communist sentiments in Asia, a Cold War clash to flex political muscle. However, things were not as cut and dry, as Ward explores. The war served as a lodestone for many American politicians, especially presidents from Kennedy through to Ford, all of whom saw it as a thorn in their sides. Ward explores detailed decisions and sentiments made by those in the political arena, many of whom sought to distance themselves from the growing animosity the electorate had of the war. What might have been a ‘saving mission’ soon turned sour and there was no turning back, which only created more animosity. Ward effectively shows how things in Asia turned the tables repeatedly and left politicians to scramble to find the right side, which would connect them with the growing resentment of the public.

Ward’s greatest exploration throughout the book would have to be the social fallout. What began as a ‘war on the other side of the world’ soon became a means of dividing the American populace. The deeper the America investment in the war, the more resentment rose by the American people, particularly the young, who were on the list to draft. While it is no shock that the country’s fabric was torn apart by the war, Ward really gets to the root of the matter with repeated discussion around the blowback by the people, through marches, protests, outright defiance, and violence. The social divide was not only found within US borders, but there was a larger reaction around the world, as Ward mentions throughout. As the world watches on, many shake their heads.

While it is hard to synthesise such a subject in a short review, I would be remiss if I did not try to offer some sentiments that arose as a reader. Geoffrey Ward draws on so many sources to really make a difference as he explores the nuances and blunt reactions about the war. He offers sensational analysis and commentary, with first-hand accounts from those who were there or spoke as members of the media. The strains in the political realm became a constant theme of the book, showing just how troublesome things became, as politicians scrambled to cobble together support when their name appeared on a ballot. Impossible to compartmentalise, the Vietnam War would be a real blight for America and, it would seem by the details of the narrative, that it remains an issue four decades later.

To write something like this, Geoffrey C. Ward surely had to open the floodgates to offer a well-rounded piece. His narrative is full of well-documented sentiments on both sides of the arguments, without offering up too much on any single point. The detail provides a guide for how to following the detailed history that led to strong divisions within the American psyche. Long, thorough chapters provide the impetus for the reader to see just how much there was to consider, without getting too tied down into minutiae. I needed this depth to give me a better sense of what was taking place and how American truly well into an abyss, both political and social, with trying to show that their military might had not been decimated. While I have read a few books on the subject matter, I was unable to pull myself away from this book, lapping up everything that Ward had to offer. I will have to see what else he’s penned, both on this subject and others, to see if I might feel the same sense of education and entertainment in equal measure.

Kudos, Mr. Ward, for this stunning tome. I hope others take the time to educate themselves on such an important subject matter from the latter part of the 20th century.

The Perfect Season, by Stephen Roth

Seven stars

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

After being approached by the author and asked to read his book, I was curious to see what Stephen Roth had to offer. A book he said had elements of professional sports, racism, and even a degree of spirituality caught my attention and I could not help but want to delve a little deeper. Charlie Unger loves everything about the Detroit Tigers, especially the ins and outs of baseball. He’s made it his own religion, which also fills the gaps left by the death of his mother. When Charlie meets his neighbour and they connect on many levels, his passion for baseball only grows, as he learns to accept just how great life can be, one day at a time. Roth provides the reader with a thought provoking read in this novel, sure to impress many.

Charlie Unger may only be a teenager, but his passion for baseball is like no other. The statistics, the sound of the bat hitting a ball, and even the players play a part in his passion. He wants nothing other than to share his obsession with others, though few comprehend what goes through his mind, including members of the Detroit Tigers, Charlie’s hometown team.

Having lost his mother to cancer, Charlie’s focus is the Tigers and how he can make them a better Major League team once again. Supported by a doting father, Charlie tries to make his mark on the team by writing in with suggestions that will improve each player’s game. Around this time, he also meets his neighbour, Jasmine, who fled civil unrest in her native Cameroon. She brings a new perspective to Charlie’s life, seeking to show him the power of spirituality, which Charlie has a hard time comprehending with his scientific mind.

Together, their friendship blossoms, as Charlie becomes more involved with the Tigers organisation and proves an integral part of their late-season success. However, things outside of Charlie’s control lurk on the horizon, forcing everyone to put life into perspective. Stephen Roth takes the reader on quite the journey, entertaining and planting seeds in equal measure.

With no context as to his style, I entered this reading experience blind. That said, Stephen Roth caught my attention early on and I am happy to have taken the time to read this book. It stirred up a number of emotions for me, some good and others less positive, but that is for the reader to discover. Roth knows how to tell a story wioothout getting too caught up in the minutiae, while delivering some key messages throughout. A great plot and easy to digest narrative made this one book I will remember for a while to come. I am eager to see what else Roth may have out there for me to try, now that I have a strong baseline.

Charlie Unger is a great protagonist for this piece. He delivers a strong presence, offering a little backstory and some decent development throughout. Charlie lives and breathes his Detroit Tigers, but does so from a firmly scientific standpoint. His struggles with the emotional side of things could stem from some autistic tendencies, but there is a great deal of passion inside this teenager. The life experiences he has shape him as a person and help to create a foundation for others throughout the book. Roth has a handle on how to develop characters, which is shown throughout this novel.

A book that pulls on sports, racism, and spirituality in a single narrative is surely leaving itself open for trouble. However, Stephen Roth has tackled these three subjects perfectly, offering a much needed balance to keep the reader engaged and informed throughout. Roth uses an easy to comprehend narrative, peppers it with facts and baseball lingo, while utilising great plot twists and characters who help keep the momentum going. There are major life issues presented to the reader, as they synthesise all that is being said. I am eager to see what else Roth has published, or intends to put to paper, as this was an enjoyable experience, even if I found myself wondering in which direction things would go from time to time.

Kudos, Mr. Roth, for a great debut (for me at least). You have some strong elements in your writing and I hope others discover it soon.

The Petrus Prophecy (Vatican Secret Archives #3), by Gary McAvoy and Ronald L. Moore

Nine stars

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

Gary McAvoy never ceases to amaze with his stellar writing, one of the reasons I rushed to begin the latest novel in the Vatican Secret Archive series, featuring Father Michael Dominic. As McAvoy collaborates with Ronald L. Moore, they examine yet another mystery housed within the Vatican, while sinister forces seek to push the limits once again. McAvoy and Moore guide readers through a historical event shrouded in secrecy, providing plausible possibilities, which only amp up the level of curiosity. The story of the Secrets of Fatima is one known to many Catholics around the world. When Pope John Paul II revealed the third secret in 2000, he did so to dispel much of the hype that had built up over the past forty years, when his predecessors began refusing to share the secret with the general public. Now, an American priest and scholar is dead, and a group known as the Knights of the Apocalypse (KOTA) claim that the End Times are nigh, as they prepare to reveal the true text of the secret. Father Michael Dominic is pulled into the middle, seeking to find the true document and ensure the sitting pope is privy to its meaning, so that the Church can face its enemies, including those from within. McAvoy and Moore do a sensational job with the action and posit some intriguing possibilities for the reader to synthesise.

When three children saw a vision of the Holy Mother in 1917, their small Portuguese town was put on the map. The Three Secrets of Fatima became one of the major miracles chronicled by the Church. Two of the three secret, depicting premonitions, were revealed, though the third, so shocking and scandalous, was never publicly shared. Popes shied away from it, as its truths, speaking of the End of Days, were too problematic. Seeking to dilute the gossip and wonder, Pope John Paul II shed light on the secret in 2000, though many believe it was a false message meant to extinguish flames of speculation and curiosity.

When a priest and scholar working on a piece about the truth surrounding the Third Secret is found murdered in Chicago, a local police constable cannot help but wonder if there is a Vatican connection. When the name of Father Michael Dominic enters the discussion, said constable is keen to learn more from the man who heads the Vatican Secret Archives. A trip to Rome is in order, where the constable connects with one of her Italian counterparts to open an international investigation.

After approaching Father Dominic, he is just as confused as they are, but soon learns that there is more to the story than meets the eye. During the nefarious past few years, it would seem that the sitting pope was not given access to a key collection of documents, which include the Third Secret of Fatima. All the while, a group calling itself the Knights of the Apocalypse (KOTA) begins broadcasting news that they are in the possession of the Secret and will soon reveal it. This pushes Catholics around the world into a panic and places the Vatican on the defensive.

While Father Dominic and his core team race around Europe to locate a key that will grant the sitting pope access to a safe that contains the true documents, they are followed by those who would rather see them dead. Dominic soon learns how important these documents could be, as well as the importance to obtain the truth before KOTA wrestles control of the Vatican’s trust away from the world at large. What neither Dominic nor the sitting pope can know is just how far some people will go to discredit the Vatican hierarchy once and for all, tied to a handful of men who have been eyeing revenge for years. A brilliant addition to the series, which presents new layers of wonder related to Catholic truths and secrecy within the Holy See.

I have followed Gary McAvoy on this Vatican journey from the opening pages of the debut novel, which gripped me like few other series I have read. Many themes point to a Vatican that remains complex and multi-layered, which mirrors the Catholic Church in general. McAvoy brings Ronald L. Moore in as a collaborator, allowing them to find ways to bring the story to life and create gripping adventures, layered with historical events. The characters grow on the series reader as each story connects seamlessly. The authors provide a great series for all to enjoy, particularly the reader with an interest in all things Vatican.

Father Michael Dominic resumes his role as protagonist of the series, continuing to make his mark. His backstory remains complex and evolving, as series fans have come to discover. Devout in his faith, Dominic enjoys his work within the Vatican Archives, though he finds mysteries outside the walls of the Holy See that keep him constantly on the run. Danger appears to surround him, though he evades it with prowess, rather than pure brawn. The series has moved into some intriguing times, leaving the reader to wonder how Dominic will fit into the larger narrative, particularly with his revelation in the closing pages.

Gary McAvoy has long created a buzz around his stories and the collaborative effort with Ronald L. Moore once again puts the reader in the middle of the action. The narrative develops with each passing chapter, providing mysteries and curiosities sure to leave the reader hungering for more. As the authors intertwiine modern events with historical goings-on, explosive revelations add depth to an already strong foundation. Well-crafted characters, particularly those who reappear and build on their past developments, help create an emotional connection for the reader. While the theme may be the End of Days, once can hope McAvoy (and Moore?) have more to say on the matter, as things have reached a tense point in the series, with an obvious fork in the road towards future developments.

Kudos, Messrs. McAvoy and Moore, for another great piece in the series. You have captivated me yet again!

The Jealousy Man and Other Stories, by Jo Nesbø

Eight stars

Long a fan Jo Nesbø’s writing, I was curious about this collection of short stories and novellas. While I have come to love Harry Hole and how he emerges as an energetic character, as well as Nesbø’s standalone novels, I was not sure about handling a slew of the author’s creations in a single publication. This collection of stories is not only varied from the crime thrillers that many readers have come to love, but also offers a richness in its presentation, such that there is something for everyone. A great effort by Jo Nesbø, which is sure to appeal to many fans of his gritty writing.

While some might want a review, albeit short, of each story in this collection, I chose not to do so. I have always found short pieces are harder to synthesise without giving away too much, something many complain I do already with full-length novels (haters gonna, hate, right?). That, and I sometimes like to let the story roll around in my head, rather than have to be on point and take detailed mental notes. I will, however, address some themes and ideas that came to me as I listened to this collection, narrated by a number of well-established audiobook readers.

Nesbø offers up a wonderful cross-section of stories in this piece, exploring the human condition in a variety of ways. While jealousy and love appear to be key aspects to some of the earlier pieces, few stories take things in a straightforward manner, choosing instead to tackle the subject matter in a subtle or symbolic manner. From an opening piece about two individuals who travel on an overseas flight and discover much about their emotions to a larger piece about a post-epidemic world in which the struggle to survive is real, Nesbø delivers a great deal and forces the reader to think the entire time. Nesbø leaves the reader wondering as they make their way through each piece, discovering how characters handle the emotions that are put before them through a variety of plot twists.

The writing is typical Nesbø, which, for those who have read some of his work, will know is steeped in symbolism and a deeper analysis of the emotional being. Hidden meanings and ideas permeate the narrative, such that the reader may play close attention to get all that Nesbø presents in his writing. With stories that vary in length, it is even more important to pay attention, as there are times when a piece is over before it really begins, meaning the reader will miss what is being presented.

In a collection of stories that seeks to entertain as much as it educate, Nesbø delves as deeply as possible to offer something for everyone. Rich in its delivery, the stories appear to transcend the translation, as with many of the pieces, leaving the unsuspecting reader to remain baffled that these were not penned in English from the outset. The ease with which things transition is a credit to Nesbø’s writing and I cannot say enough about what he has to offer. The reader who is familiar with Jo Nesbø will likely enjoy the collection, even if it might leave them somewhat mentally exhausted by the final page flip. Then again, when doesn’t love a good book take a little something out of the attentive reader?

Kudos, Mr. Nesbø, for a great collection. While I am eager to see more Harry Hole, I enjoyed this piece quite a bit.

Quiet Wolf (DI Jamie Johansson #5), by Morgan Greene

Eight 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.

Happy to have the latest Morgan Greene novel in hand, I rushed to settle down with Detective Jamie Johansson yet again. Greene develops another great crime thriller in rural Sweden, where Johansson finds herself in the middle of a missing person investigation. Still living in Kurrajakk, Detective Jamie Johansson has found her routine as she helps police the community. When she receives a frantic call from her former partner, Johansson makes her way even further north to look for a missing family. What she discovers is something far more confusing and sinister. Greene develops this series so well and keeps the reader on their toes throughout.

Detective Jamie Johansson has found her groove in the northern Swedish community of Kurrajakk. One of a literal handful of police, Johansson and her partner, Kjell Thorsen, must keep the peace. When Johansson receives a call from her former partner about a missing family in an even more remote community, she can Thorsen agree to have a look.

When they arrive, the sole police officer says that he is unsure what might have happened and cannot see any foul play, something that Johansson and Thorsen contradict when they make their way to the scene. Human hair and tire marks litter the road, depicting a worrisome crime scene. Now, it is a matter of finding them, left to wonder if there is a killer on the loose.

With the local police officer vowing that nothing is amiss and that the family has turned up at a local church, Johansson is not satisfied. When she and Thorsen investigate, they discover a group who call themselves the Wolves and act in a very peculiar manner. Their views are steeped in the Bible, as well as turning towards a leader who has all the answers. Alas, while Johansson and Thorsen want to help the family, it would seem that no one is going anywhere without a little push, something that might require help from all the way in Stockholm. A chilling thriller that will keep series fans on their toes and new readers rushing to get caught up with all that DI Jamie Johansson has to offer.

Since I was first introduced to the work of Morgan Greene, I have come to build a connection to Jamie Johansson. The strong writing Greene offers up and the storytelling never disappoints, leaving me to wonder what else is to come. I am always eager to see where Johansson will find herself, as well as how her new revelations will shape the series.

Jamie Johansson has definitely transformed in the last handful of novels, coming into her own as she tries to carve out a niche. While much of the book is about the cases at hand, there are moments where some inner development occurs, much to the delight of the series reader. Johansson appears destined to remain in Sweden, feeling that there is nothing for her back in the UK. However, that could all change before long and Greene will have to keep his protagonist on her toes as she tackles many of the issues that arise.

Morgan Greene has a way with his writing, pulling the reader in from the opening pages and sustaining the intensity until the final paragraph. His mix of great crime thrillers, Scandinavian settings, and strong characters make the books alluring to the curious reader. The narrative remains strong as it pushes forward through succinct chapters. The plot thickens and takes the reader on quite the adventure into some dark themes, which only adds to the allure. Continued peppering of Swedish into the text adds plausibility, being set in rural Sweden. I am eager to see where things are headed for Jamie and the entire crew, as Greene has announced a few novels set to release this year.

Kudos, Mr. Greene, for another successful Jamie Johansson thriller. There is much to enjoy with this series and I cannot get enough.

All that Glitters (Australian Historical Saga #4), by David Field

Eight stars

David Field concludes this impactful tetralogy by expanding the focus on colonial Australia, while keeping the Bradbury family front and centre throughout the narrative. Jack Bradbury has continued to make a name for himself in the legal world, such that he is called down to Melbourne, as gold is discovered in the region. This begins a series of events that include a push for more democratisation and a free press. As the Bradbury family ages and tackles new challenges, Australia leaves infancy and wanders toward an awkward adolescence. Field is brilliant as ever, with this novel and the series as a whole.

Jack Bradbury has discovered his passion in the law, choosing to use it to balance the scales of justice. With the discovery of gold in the south, prospectors and workers flood the area, which is sure to cause the odd skirmish or two. Jack makes his way there to defend a man accused of attacking a police officer, who was himself assaulting a hapless immigrant worker. It is then that Jack gets a taste of the new Australia, where rules are not simply accepted by the masses, many of whom demand representation in order to have their voices heard. In the same vein, a free and published press begins voicing ideas, not altogether supportive of Jack and his legal maneuvers.

After settling his family around Melbourne, Jack watches his daughter, Emily, grow up and find a passion for education. First, in a small school house, where she cannot get enough of learning, and later as a teacher herself. The story moves to explore Emily’s maturity and how she handles being a woman in Australia, with suitors trying to force her to settle down and direct her. Emily pushes back, wanting to carve out her own niche, without compromising the Bradbury name.

As the years pass, both Jack and Emily forge onwards in their separate professions, all while Australia inches towards an awkward adolescence, still under the thumb of the mighty British Empire. Change is ever-present and the people of this colony watch to see what awaits them, with independence on the horizon and the 20th century set to bestow forced maturity. David Field has done much to keep the reader enlightened in this series and this culmination is a classic end to what has been a stellar presentation.

David Field exudes passion in his writing and desire to include the reader on a formidable journey. Field provides a strong narrative and plausible dialogue, leaving the reader feeling in the middle of the action. Each novel is vastly different from the others, with this being perhaps the most impactful from a character and plot development angle. Field has done much in a short period to offer up needed themes that put Australia the country, the colony, and the collection of people into context, educating the reader while keeping things somewhat light.

Jack Bradbury resumes the role as central protagonist in the early portion of the novel, but bows out to allow his daughter, Emily, to take over. Emily is growing up in a still as yet confused Australia, where British rule is strong, but new ideas and freedoms are on the horizon. Emily is independent, while still drawing on the life lessons her Bradbury family instilled in her, allowing the reader to see wonderful connections and new explorations. Liberation, democracy, and equality resonate from characters throughout the story, keeping the reader on their toes as things progress.

David Field has shown time and again that he is a master at whatever he presents in his books. This collection of four novels about the early Australian colony not only opened my eyes to the goings-on, but also including a well-balanced piece of fiction. A keen narrative depicts the struggles that many faced as British tried to keep its far off colony in line, counterbalanced with the need for democracy. Key characters make their presence known at various points, allowing the reader to connect with many of them. The plot, which offers historical events and fictitious happenings, proves to be perfect for the length of novel Field presents. While it is impossible to pull everything into a short tetralogy, David Field has done so well and I am pleased I took a few days to read these four books. I hope others will do the same, when time permits.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for such a a great series. You really do have elements of some other authors who have masted multi-generational series about colonial lands, but you stand alone in your delivery as well.

A Colony Divided (Australian Historical Saga #3), by David Field

Eight stars

David Field is one writer I’ll not tire of reading, hands down. He’s shown me, through his writing, that there is truly something for everyone amongst his array of novels. Field’s latest tetralogy explores the development of Australia, from penal colony to a settled country struggling to define itself. In this third novel, the focus is on Jack Bradbury, second generation Australian, and his attempts to define himself against the still unable nationhood of his homeland. Interesting enough, it parallels some of the struggles his own father, Matthew, had in the second novel, to step out from under the shadow of his own father. Jack is not interested in the family business, but has a passion for the law, wanting to bring justice to all, particularly the indigenous community. While working under a well-established Sydney lawyer, Jack learns the ins and outs of the trade, only to discover that those indigenous who are left as slaves and to live in small communes are disparaged when it comes to the law and accused of crimes before the evidence can be synthesised. Jack’s eyes are opened on numerous occasions, as well as his heart, in this telling story. Field does a masterful job and portraying the struggle in this, the most engaging novel of the series to date.

Jack Bradbury has grown up in his father’s shadow and expected to take over the family hardware business. However, Jack’s passions lie in law and justice, something he espouses regularly when speaking of the poor treatment of the indigenous community around Sydney. When given the chance to be tutored by one of the city’s esteemed criminal lawyers, Jack takes the chance and learns a great deal. He’s also caught the eye of Gwendoline Hannigan, his tutor’s daughter. She decides at her birthday celebration that they are to be engaged, leaving Jack shocked and betrothed when he cannot dispute it.

While working the case of a falsely accused indigenous man, Jack connects with a friend from his past, a young woman who grew up in the care of the Church when her mother died during childbirth. Lowanna is mixed-race, but also the first girl Jack ever loved, feelings that he cannot entirely hide, even after it has been years since they last saw one another.

When Gwendoline discovers Lowanna is back and appears to be with child, the aristocratic woman young assumes the worst and calls off the engagement, leaving Jack speechless and soon without a job. Forced to reinvent himself, Jack does just that and continues to work helping the indigenous as best he can. During a trip to the courthouse, he finds himself inadvertently chosen to defend Gwendoline’s new beau for conspiracy, something he struggles to do, but knows that justice is blind and he must put on the best case possible.

As he works through the case, something significant occurs and Jack is forced into hiding. It is only worth the help of Lowanna, who owes her people’s legal freedom to Jack’s dedication, that they are able to help the young lawyer return to society. A changed man who sees the error of his ways, Jack knows there is only one thing that he has yet to do to tip the scales of justice and societal correctness in his favour, but will he be able to convince others in the Bradbury clan? David Field does a sensational job in his novel that explores the legal and societal strains under which an awkward Australia must come to terms.

David Field shows a passion for writing on a vast array of subjects, as is demonstrated by his numerous short series. Field entertains readers with his flowing narrative and apt dialogue, while exemplifying a great deal of research on the subject matter. This novel was yet again a contrast to the other two in the series, offering up more social commentary at a time when Australia is trying to define itself, yet still yoked with many of the colonial ways of thinking. Field explores all of this, as well as a young man’s emotional well-being through a story that captivates and engages with each turn of the page. I have come to expect nothing less of David Field!

Jack Bradbury is the central protagonist in this piece, though one cannot discount Lowanna and her presence. While Jack explores the legal and judicial aspects of the country, Lowanna offers a refreshing look at how poorly the indigenous population is treated and how blame is shoved towards them without a second thought. There is a great deal of development for both of these characters, peppered with some backstory to offer context and strengthen their connection towards the latter stages of the book. Field has does a masterful job at portraying the struggles both face, without candy coating any of it. The attentive reader will likely need a moment, as I did, to reflect on what transpires and reflect on the current situation in some parts of the world.

David Field presents ideas in an easy to digest fashion, while adding impactful themes throughout. The narrative flows with ease, using varied characters and sentiments that entertain and engage on every page. Shorter chapters help construct the needed momentum and support numerous plot twists. As with the other novels in the series, there is a strong balance of fictional storytelling alongside historical happenings, which provides needed context at every turn. Field never disappoints and he has done so well with this piece. He continues to impress me and I can see glimpses of two other authors who have mastered the art of colonial exploration through multi-generational series. I am eager to see how he ends things in the final novel.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for such a well-paced series. I have been devouring these books and cannot wait to see how it all comes together in the end!

Eye for an Eye (Australian Historical Saga #2), by David Field

Eight stars

Since discovering his writing, I have been a fan of David Field and told anyone who would listen. Having penned a variety of series on numerous topics, Field truly has something for everyone. Field’s latest tetralogy centres around the development of Australia, going from penal colony to settled country with its own struggles. In this second novel, the focus is on Matthew Bradbury, first generation Australian, and his attempts to define himself. Matthew pursues his dreams and becomes a police constable, protecting the region to which he is assigned. When he takes on the case of a missing child, Matthew and the woman who seeks his help become embroiled in more than hunting down a kidnapper. It will surely have a long lasting impact, no matter which way things turn out. Field does it again, pulling the reader in which this short novel that educates and entertains in equal measure.

Matthew Bradbury has grown up in his father’s shadow for long enough. He wishes to definite himself by his own dreams and aspirations, but the elder, Daniel Bradbury, is having none of it. Having left the family home, Matthew takes up as a volunteer constable, in hopes of showing his determination. It’s only when his sister, Rebecca, pleads with him to come home, even for a brief time, that Matthew must face his family and decide what he wants to do.

Chosen to take over a constabulary near Sydney, Matthew agrees to take on the role, partially to fulfil his goals, but also to show his family that he is worth his mettle. When Matthew begins looking into some ghostly events around the community, he discovers Hannah Newcombe, long thought dead. She tells a heart wrenching story about how her husband was murdered by a gang of outlaws and her baby kidnapped. While Hannah has taken justice into her own hands, there is one member of the group left to kill, Phoebe Jackson. With a fire in her belly and Matthew willing to assist, they work to locate Phoebe and the baby.

Juggling his daily role and this special assignment, Matthew Bradbury finds himself connecting with Hannah in ways other than as a worried mother. Leery to share too much, Hannah remains guarded, but cannot deny the connection as well. When Phoebe crosses their path, it is a battle to the end, all in hopes of bringing some justice to a situation that has been filled with blood.

If that were not enough, Matthew must also contend with the rising sentiment of animosity by townsfolk towards the indigenous population. Unwilling to simply drum the original inhabitants of the land out to the bush, Matthew must walk a precarious line and keep order, or risk complete disarray. He hopes only to keep the peace and show his superiors that he has what it takes to maintain order for the time being. Field does a wonderful job at keeping the reader hooked and eager to learn with every page turn.

David Field is an author whose passion is evident in his writing. Having done a great deal of research to present topics so succinctly, Field entertains with his witty narrative and wonderful dialogue, leaving the reader feeling as though they are in the middle of the action.This second novel was vastly different from the series debut, but did much to show me how major issues are beginning to take shape in the new colony, with real struggles and worrisome social division. Exploring the second generation, one can only surmise that Field will use subsequent offspring to expound on evolving issues, as some epic authors have done before him in their own epic series about newly colonised territories. Field holds his own and I would say he stands among those authors of note.

Matthew Bradbury surely takes up the central protagonist role in this piece, though, like the debut, there is a strong female who also has a significant place and cannot be discounted. The character development and backstory of Matthew Bradbury and Hannah Newcombe is revealed throughout, as Field peppers the narrative with both. Their connection is undeniable, though it sees a little more strained than that of Matthew’s parents in the previous novel. Both Matthew and Hannah come into their own and complement one another well, leaving the reader to bask in the greatness of this budding relationship, even if both are hesitant to admit it from the outset.

David Field knows his stuff and presents it in a compact and easy to digest fashion. The narrative flows wonderfully, with varied characters that entertain on every page. Shorter chapters help with the momentum and complement the plot twists, which weave fiction with fact to create an entertaining mix. I have never been disappointed with Field or his writing and this series is shaping up to be something great. Bring on the next book, as I am eager to see where we are headed.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for such a good series to date. Australia has always been of interest to me and I feel right there (though I am scrambling to slip under a tree, with my freckled skin!).

The Jailhouse Lawyer, by James Patterson and Nancy Grace

Eight stars

James Patterson and Nancy Grace collaborate again on a pair of legal thrillers that are sure to keep the reader on their toes throughout. The stories stir up a great deal of emotion and intrigue in equal measure as they explore the legal world from new perspectives. The first story has a small town lawyer accept the job of county public defender, only to realise that the sitting judge has an agenda of his own. Many citizens are under his thumb and no one has the wherewithal to stand up to the man in the gavel. No one except Martha Foster. The second story turns the attention to Leah Randall, who leaves her Chicago firm to return home to Arkansas. While her primary goal is to assist her sick father, Leah is soon pulled into the middle of a criminal case with a suspect who has everything to lose. Exploring many facets of the law, Leah will have to work hard to ensure a young woman is not railroaded in a state where the jury is public opinion! A wonderful set of stories by Patterson and Grace that solidifies the power of their collaborative efforts.

The Jailhouse Lawyer

After leaving her job and looking for something more fulfilling, Martha Foster brings her son to Erva, Alabama. They are ready to take on the world and set up some roots, especially after Martha is offered the position of Public Defender for the county. While Martha tries to get her bearings, she learns that Judge Pickens is not only revered, but also might be feared around town. Still, Martha has a job to do and is prepared to accomplish it.

As she begins her work, Martha soon realises that Judge Pickens has a reputation for legal firmness around the county, holding many to a higher standard. This standard includes locking them away for small offences and using a ‘chair’ to ensure people follow the law, his law. While Martha can respect the bench, she cannot stomach anything that Judge Pickens has been doing. Now, she’s forced to stand her ground, which may mean upsetting the scales of justice and landing her in some hot water.

With little holding her back, Martha takes on Judge Pickens, hoping that she will be the one person who can stare him down. Pickens is ready for this and tosses everything he an in her direction, hoping to break her. That being said, Martha Foster is not one to bend to the will of others without a fight. Will this fight be more than Martha and her sick son, Andy, can withstand?

Power of Attorney

While Leah Randall has had a great deal of success defending insurance companies, she cannot stomach the slimy nature of the work and quits. This is fuelled not only by her conscience, but an odd message from her mother that she is needed back home in Arkansas. Leah learns that her father, a prominent attorney in the small town of Bassville, is sick and headed downhill fast.

When Leah returns to her hometown, it is as if nothing has changed. She is welcomed home with open arms, but eyebrows raised, as she gets reacquainted with everyone she left behind. While her focus is to help her father, Leah is soon pulled in to assist on a tricky criminal case. Amber Lynn Travis, a missing young woman, has recently resurfaced. First thought to be the only survivor in a house fire that was likely arson, Amber is soon at the centre of the investigation, the likely murderer of her cousin and his wife. While Leah is shocked to hear this, she is even more baffled at the simple nature that Amber portrays, which is substantiated by the fact that she has only a second-grade education.

With the court ruling that Amber must stand trial for the murders, Leah prepares a defence as best she can, stymied by the limited resources at her disposal. Amber wants the proceeds of her cousin’s will, which she vocalists repeatedly, though it is a contract that Leah discovers which proves more disturbing, especially since the elder Randall oversaw its creation.

While Leah can rely on no one else and Amber looks even guiltier the more evidence is presented, she will stop at nothing to ensure her client has the best possible defence. What Leah cannot know is just how much Amber knew or realised throughout her servitude at the hands of a cruel cousin for a number of years. As always, justice might be blind, but the courtroom has a way of twisting the truth.

Nancy Grace brings a strong legal background to these stories, which are vastly different, yet both well balanced. She complements the Patterson style of delivery and helps develop a great legal thriller (two, actually), for the reader to enjoy. Pulling on lesser discussed tactics, Patterson and Grace deliver something the reader can easily enjoy and use to whet their appetite for more legal thrillers. With a strong narrative in both pieces, Patterson and Grace capture the legal themes well and keep the reader hooked until they discover the crux of the story’s argument.

These two stories explore completely different legal elements, but use a strong female protagonist to do so. Both Martha and Leah have completely different backstories, though it is the development that each presents throughout the process that is sure to impress the reader. While these are likely one-off stories, Patterson and Grace have done enough to create some strong roots and have me wanting to know more about both women, whose gritty determination will not allow the pressures of the courtroom leave them weak in the knees. Wonderful characters in both pieces had me cringing and cheering at various points.

While James Patterson is not known for his legal thrillers, he has teamed up with some great individuals over his career to pen some formidable pieces. Working with Nancy Grace a second time here has proven to be a masterful choice on his part, as both these stories read as some of the better thrillers I have read in a long while. Paced well, with a narrative that pushes forward easily, the stories offer much for the curious reader. Using the underdog technique, both stories tap into the darker side of the law and how the ‘little guy/girl’ can sometimes be left to suffer because they are a single voice. Fans of courtroom thrillers will likely enjoy these, as there is a definitely uniqueness to them, which I usually find in some other authors, whose fame matches Patterson’s. Pleasantly surprised, I will surely keep my eyes peeled for more by this collaborative duo!

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Grace, for a great set of stories. Please do consider working together again, as you have a knack for great storytelling.

A Far Distant Land (Australian Historical Saga #1), by David Field

Eight stars


A great fan of David Field and his writing, I was eager to hear that he had started a new project, this time focussing on the historical beginnings of British presence in Australia. While I have read a little on the subject (a favourite author of mine penned a major trilogy), I was interested to see what Field had to say on the matter, looking to this, the first in the tetralogy. When Second Lieutenant Daniel Bradbury arrives in New South Wales, he is unsure what to expect. With a boatload of convicts, he can only hope that setting up a community will run smoothly. After numerous encounters with one of the female convicts, Martha Mallett, they fall in love and begin setting up roots. As the years pass, the colony grows, as do the responsibilities of Lieutenant Bradbury. What follows is the start of the saga that will include many others, as Australia begins to grow as a British colony. Field does it again with his writing, keeping me hooked until the final page.

Second Lieutenant Daniel Bradbury has high hopes as he sets sail with a boatload of convicts, on their way to the penal colony on the other side of the world. With plans to set up camp in New South Wales, Bradbury prepares for what would surely be a rough few years, but could not have predicted that he would cross paths with the feisty Martha Mallett. A female convict and fabulous actress, Mallett finds a way into Bradbury’s thoughts, which eventually leads to a spot in his heart and bed. As scandalous as it might have been, both knew that they were destined to be together.

In the years that follow, both Bradbury and Mallett make their mark on the colony and those around them. Bradbury finds himself able to connect well with the indigenous community, forging a loose form of communication to ensure peace. Mallett, while not yet free of the convict moniker, has been able to earn a special respect of the other soldiers and members of the British delegation. Still, she hopes for more, considering herself a petty criminal, only guilty of trying to stay alive.

With time, Martha is removed from her role as criminal and granted a place with Bradbury in the upper crust of colonial society. Bearing a few children for her husband, Martha is able to make an impact, but wants more. As Lieutenant Bradbury rises through the ranks and the years pass, he becomes a prominent member of the colonial hierarchy and has hopes that his family will continue to influence the settlements that expand across the still barren land. However, much has yet to be decided and the Bradbury name is being bandied about for higher causes. David Field impacts the reader effectively and keeps the reader wondering what is to come.

I have always found David Field is one author whose interest in a topic resonates from every word he puts to paper. Not only that, but his varied interests have proven effective in a number of well-developed series, quick reads all of them. This series debut is stunning in its depiction of the era, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and how the British sought to make their mark on a territory so far away. The characters are highly intriguing and will surely continue to flavour the narrative, as the series moves forward with three other books to come.

While there are many who mark their mark within this short novel, Daniel Bradbury and Martha Mallett are key protagonists throughout. Their backstories are developed briefly, but it would appear Field is more interested in laying the groundwork for character development and future roots that will impact the series as a whole. From vastly different ranks, Bradbury and Mallett find ways to connect, while also influencing the lives of those around them. I am eager to see how they, and their family, will make a difference as the series moves forward.

Since discovering the work of David Field, I have always had an affinity for his writing. Be it Victorian crime novels, Tudor scandals, or even an Australian epic saga, he never fails to deliver. While much more compact in his writing, Field reminds me of one of my favourite authors who (as I mentioned above) also penned a multi-volume series about the settlement of Australia. High compliments for that, as the narrative flows just as well, with wonderful characters to keep the reader entertained. Short chapters help push the story along and forces the reader to feel a part of the action. Interesting plot twists, both woven into the actual history of events and fictional occurrences, make the reader’s journey all the more delightful. I am eager to get my hands on the second novel in the series to see if it packs as much punch.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for another winner. I cannot say enough about this debut or all of your writing. I hope your fan base grows as people discover what a delight reading those books can be!

Cold Snap (Arliss Cutter #4), by Marc Cameron

Eight stars

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

Always a fan of Marc Cameron’s writing, I was pleased to get my hands on his latest in the Arliss Cutter series, set up in Alaska. When random body parts begin to appear on the shore, there is talk that a serial killer may be lurking in the shadows. While working as a US Marshal up in Alaska, Arliss Cutter agrees to help with the case, only to be pulled away for a random prisoner transport up in a rural part of the state. What follows is a harrowing hunt for a killer, and a transport that goes horribly wrong. Cameron dazzles again with his writing and keeps the reader on their toes throughout.

The move from Florida to Alaska is one that Arliss Cutter has never regretted, particularly as it has helped his family out a great deal. Still, there are days that he cannot help but wonder if the cold climate is worth the risk. As a US Marshal, he’s never bored, as the work is ever-evolving and he never knows what to expect.

When body parts begin to turn up on the shore, Cutter is stymied, as well as the local Anchorage Police. Alongside his partner, Lola Teariki, Cutter tries to lend a hand while the locals follow up on some leads. It would seem that the killer is targeting women who work as prostitutes, capturing them when no one would notice. Still, some others cannot help but mention the siting of a ‘Tall Man’, but the information appears to lead nowhere at all.

While Lola works closely with the Anchorage Police, Cutter is called away on a prisoner transport in the northern part of the state. Ready and armed for most anything, he heads out to bring a group of men back to Anchorage. During the flight back, the plane encounters some trouble and lands in the middle of nowhere, leaving Cutter and a few others to try surviving with some ruthless criminals. As temperatures drop and the wildlife in the region come out to scavenge, Cutter and the others will have to survive long enough for someone to rescue them, whenever that might be. A killer on the loose who dismembers victims with ease, a plane stranded in the middle of nowhere… there’s no telling what might happen. Marc Cameron keeps the tension high throughout this fourth novel in the series.

Marc Cameron has always impressed with his writing, mixing grit and determination with the uniqueness of rural Alaska. Using the US Marshals angle, Cameron is able to effectively explore the excitement of prisoner hunts with usual criminal activity that requires daily attention. A strong narrative and great characters, with some building sub-plots, Cameron impresses series fans with this piece, which pushes the story to a new level of excitement. By the end, there is a definite push for how the series might conclude, or move in new directions.

Arliss Cutter has evolved a great deal throughout the series, though much of it is in the form of character development, rather than backstory. Having moved to Alaska to help his sister-in-law after the death of his brother, Arliss plays a dual role as US Marshal and quasi-parent, though he does not wish to accentuate the latter. Convinced that he can find out what happened to his brother, who appears to have committed suicide, Arliss works hard to represent the Marshals and liaise with some of the local law enforcement entities around the state. Where things will go in the coming novels is anyone’s guess, but I am eager to see what Cameron has in store for his protagonist.

While crime thrillers can become quite repetitive, Marc Cameron has found the recipe to stand out. It could be the way he handles the ‘hunt for the killer’, or even that the Alaskan backdrop makes the story come to life, but whatever it is, Cameron has mastered it. His detailed narrative allows the reader to feel as though they are in the middle of the action, which takes things into the coldest parts of the state as well. Well-paced and full of action, the narrative pushes things along well, using characters to keep the story intriguing at evert page turn. A few strong plot lines push the story along effectively and permits the reader to remain engaged as truths come to light slowly, but consistently. While I am unsure where things are headed with this series, Cameron offers some breadcrumbs in the final chapter of the book, which could move the novels in a different ‘hunt for the truth’ direction.

Kudos, Mr. Cameron, for another winner. I hope others discover this series and find the same engaging nature in your writing.

The Shadow People (CD Jerry Pardoe and DS Jamila Patel #3), by Graham Masterton

Eight stars

Graham Masterton’s newest police procedural series has me eager to delve deeper into the dark world he creates. Tapping into some unique cases with perspectives I have not encountered before, Masterton grips the reader and presents something that will keep them up well into the night. When a number of homeless people around Tooting go missing, the authorities take notice, baffled as to where they might have gone. After discovering a large pile of bones, stripped and scorched, people begin to wonder if there is a group who have used the homeless in experiments, or at least feasted upon them. After DC Jerry Pardoe and DS Jamila Patel are called in, it appears that it is a sadistic cult with ties to an ancient deity. Pardoe and Patel will have to work with their colleagues to uncover it all before more bodies disappear. Masterton proves yet again that he is a master of the genre!

A handful of homeless across Tooting go missing, which soon reaches the radar of the local authorities. Where could they have gone, and what could make them depart? While working an unrelated case, some of the local police come upon a collection of bones, scorched and stripped down. While it is not entirely clear immediately, they are soon attributed to the homeless. Indications are that it could be tied to a religious cult, as there are markings close to the bones that are not easily identified.

When the case takes a significant turn, DC Jerry Pardoe and DS Jamila Patel are called in to assist, having worked on some of Tooting’s past complicated cases. While following some of the leads, Pardoe and Patel learn that there are potential ties to an ancient cult with roots in Pakistan, a place Patel knows much about from her family connections. Pardoe follows her lead, but is keen to carve his own niche into the case.

After a few others disappear, Pardoe and Patel speak to some of the locals and discover a young boy who has spent time with the group. He is unable to speak clearly, but rather grunts and appears unable to push out basic words. Is there a drug the group is administering to its captives or could this be a new language the group uses to communicate, protecting itself from others? Pardoe and Patel will have to work every angle to ensure they can locate the group and apprehend them. Trouble is, the ruthlessness of the leaders could lead to significant bloodshed. Masterton dazzles in a dark and sadistic fashion!

Graham Masterton keeps tapping into deeper and more complex ideas related to procedurals, layering history and ethnic references within an already strong narrative. I found myself drawn to the stories from the opening pages of the first novel and have not been able to stop as the series has progressed. There are well-developed characters throughout, shedding light on a number of intriguing perspectives, which educates and entertains the reader in equal measure. Masterton invests a great deal of time and effort to keep the stories unique, tied to historical goings-on, that permit the reader to explore more on the subject, should they wish to do so.

DC Jerry Pardoe and DS Jamila Patel remains constant protoganists with much to prove. They work well together while still providing their own backstories with regular moments of development throughout. Moments of personal growth finds its way into the narrative, including moments of personal connection between the protagonists, but this does not distract from the larger story. Both bring unique skills to the investigation, which offers perspectives that aid in solving the case at hand. The array of characters permits the reader to feel the depth Masterton surely hopes to convey.

Graham Masterton does have some dark and highly graphic ideas that make their way into each of his novels. However, it is not simply for the fear factor, but rather to help add to the impact to the case at hand. The narrative flows with ease, although there are surely moments when the detailed goings-on of the cannibal group forces a slow and meandering description. The characters have been created to pass along a message and Masterton is highly effective in this throughout. Plot twists fuel an already strong story and keep the reader flipping pages well into the night. Masterton offers historical references and social commentary for all to enjoy, forcing a moment to think and synthesise, rather than numbly reading.

Kudos, Mr. Masterton, for this unique reading experience. I am eager to see if you have more to offer for this series. I will have to wait for a time, I suppose.

The Children God Forgot (DC Jerry Pardoe and DS Jamila Patel #2), by Graham Masterton

Eight stars

Having recently discovered the writing of Graham Masterton, I eagerly continued this dark and twisted series. He uses a chilling horror genre and mixes in the perfect dose of police procedural to keep me reading well into the night as I wonder what lurks in the coming pages. A member of a sewage inspection team goes missing underground, only to reappear without legs or eyes. His colleagues are sure they saw something, but cannot put it into words. Meanwhile, multiple women are turning up with odd foetuses inside them, claiming not to have been pregnant. What begins as a mystery, soon has DC Jerry Pardoe and DS Jamila Patel working new angles to discover what freaking phenomena might be taking place. Masterton does it again, pulling me in as he offers up some of the darkest writing I have read in years!

When called to the scene of a sewer issue, the maintenance team decides to investigate. While they find what they expect, a build-up of fat suppositories, there is something else, almost eerie, that awaits them. When one of the team goes missing underground, the others can only listen to the freakishly loud screams he makes, but cannot locate him. This will mean calling in the authorities, who are just as baffled.

Meanwhile, women around Tooting are developing awful abdominal pains and end up at the hospital. Even more confusing is the fact that ultrasounds show that they are pregnant, while none of them can understand why. Some vow chastity of late, while others purport to have terminated pregnancies in the recent past. What makes it even more baffling is the horrific state of these foetuses on the scans; malformed and looking more horrific than can be put into words. When they are analysed, these foetuses begin taking on a life of their own, attacking others and killing them for no apparent reason. Those who witness the attacks speak of smelling lemon and smoke, as well as seeing some hooded woman who appears as an apparition and speaks of ‘nestlings’.

Brought back together after their unique investigation the yer before, DC Jerry Pardoe and DS Jamila Patel try to make sense out of it all, only to be more baffled than anything. The sewage maintenance worker is found, legless and without eyes, speaking of some demon he saw before being attacked. More women have these odd foetuses within them and there does not seem to be a logical answer.

It is only when piecing together some of the odd ramblings that the police discover a few old maps that could speak some truth to what has been going on. Could these foetuses be symbolic of something larger? DC Pardoe and DS Patel will have to find some answers or Tooting could again be overrun by some spirits that take no prisoners, leaving only death and destruction.

Graham Masterton proves himself to be more than your average horror writer, tapping into deeper and more complex ideas, while leaving the reader transfixed in a state of something not easily put into words. There is an obvious horror theme that offered needed chills, alongside a well-developed police procedural to keep the reader entertained and seeking answers. The narrative flows with such ease that some of the supernatural aspects are less sci-fi than part of the larger, gory, underlying theme needed to keep the story from getting too sing-song. Great characters provide glimpses into the various aspects of intended message, some dark and others highly relatable to the reader. Masterton does not hold back at all, providing the reader with just what they need in a story that offers subtle and oft direct messages about societal values and ethnic sentiments.

The protagonist roles are again filled by DC Jerry Pardoe and DS Jamila Patel. While they work well together, both have their own backstories and development that will likely appeal to the reader. There are moments of personal growth and connection between them, but it is their police work that takes centre stage throughout. Working the case in their own ways, both bring unique skills to the table and use those to crack the case wide open. The reader will likely want to pay attention to some of the underlying comments made throughout, as it helps see the connection these two have, even if they are not usually working alongside one another. Others who grace the pages of the book offer great contrast and will likely be useful for the reader who wants a well-rounded read.

Graham Masterton does not seek to use gore for the sake of reaction, but weaves it into the middle of the story to develop an effective plot that pushes forward. The narrative clips along with ease, though nothing is as smooth as one might expect, especially with such disturbing aspects that appear in almost every chapter. The characters play their roles well, offering the reader insight into the depth of depravity needed to impact the story effectively. There are spine-chilling moments, but also much to be learned from those who play their role well. Plot twists occur regularly and keep the reader from being able to predict too much, though there are times when things get a little over the top, even for me. I often found myself wondering how well this book would translate into a movie of the horror genre, though there are times I worry it might get a little too over the top. Masterton offers some decent historical references and social commentary for the reader to consider, something I will not reveal here, as it is part and parcel of the overall reading experience. I cannot wait to get started on the latest novel, which I can only hope will be as exciting as these last two.

Kudos, Mr. Masterton, for this unique reading experience. You never cease to amaze me and I hope your fan base counties to grow!

Downfall (Greene and Kennicott #6), by Robert Rotenberg

Eight stars

Loving all things crime and Canada related, I returned for the latest in Robert Rotenberg’s stunning series, set on the streets of Toronto. While many would believe Canada to be a docile place, nothing could be further rom the truth on Toronto’s streets. Someone is killing homeless people and leaving their bodies next to one of the high-end golf courses in Toronto, a self-proclaimed centre of Canada. While many refuse to take notice, roving reporter Alison Greene is happy to collect any scoops she can. When her father and head of homicide, Ari Greene, begins looking into things, he finds the latest victim was once prominent in Toronto’s legal community. The forensics and a letter left by the third victim point to two different people, but Greene will stop at nothing to ensure justice sees the light of day. Rotenberg taps into a dicey subject and one well worth mentioning in his latest police procedural, sure to impress series fans and other readers alike.

Homelessness has never been a pretty subject to discuss, as many politicians choose to sweep it under the rug. When two homeless people are found murdered next to one of Toronto’s elite golf courses, the press makes little notice of it, but newcomer Alison Greene is happy to take the scoop and run with it. She uses some of her key connections to the the first to air news about the killings and ensures that she leads the pack as the story gains momentum.

Alison’s father and head of the Homicide Division, Ari Greene, wants peace on the city’s streets and makes sure that his officers treat the case as they would any other. However, there is little to go on and that will make trying to find a killer even harder. Greene’s former protégé, Daniel Kennicott, takes the lead on the case, trying to piece things together with whatever he can find. When another victim is discovered, Greene and Kennicott see a pattern, but there is a difference. This victim was once a prominent legal name in Toronto, someone who had hit a rough patch. Her former spouse is currently a city councillor and seeking to run for mayor, making him an ideal suspect, with skeletons in his closet. However, a diary left by the victim points to someone else, with just as much motive.

As Greene and Kennicott parse their way through the evidence, Alison continues to air reports about the killings, sometimes critical of her father’s work. The Greenes are both are looking out for the city and juggle the perspectives that a killer of the homeless might have on the larger community. However, justice is said to be blind and the truth is all that matters to most, which pushes the investigation forward and leaves the killer vulnerable should any mistakes come to light. Robert Rotenberg stirs up some awkward truths in this latest thriller, which explores an oft-ignored part of Canadian (and international) big city life.

I discovered the writing of Robert Rotenberg years ago and was immediately impressed, eager to read as much of the series as I could. As each book hit newsstands, I made sure to get a copy, if only to see how the series would advance and where the characters found themselves. I have grown connected to them, as they use Canada’s largest city as a backdrop, making great Canadiana references that leave me feeling more at home with each page turn. The stories are always intense and tackle some unique aspect of the law or legal matters, while provided some needed social commentary that brings light to something many overlook.

The collection of key characters makes it hard for me to choose a single one to label as protagonist. Each works their own aspect of the story and adds something that connects the plot into a single and seamless final product. While the reader has been able to see a lot more of Alison Greene and her development, one would be remiss if they ignored Ari Greene or Daniel Kennicott’s contribution as well. All the characters add their own perspective and flavour the narrative in ways that series fans come to expect new insights with each novel, as the different faces share the limelight. This can be the best type of series, where no one gets too much attention and the reader expects much from all involved.

Rotenberg never shies away from controversial topics, or at least bringing light to things that are usually forgotten. He loves to get the reader thinking, mostly outside the box, and coming to conclusions based on what he puts into his stories. The narratives are usually easy to follow and move at a quick pace, much like great crime thrillers do, but also stop to allow for needed nuances to develop. As I mentioned before, the characters are key to each piece and serve to provide wonderful insights into the ‘personal’ side of the law and crime fighting. This story’s plot is multi-faceted, but uses twists to advance the larger story, rather than go on tangents. I have found, while reading this series, that it reminds me of one another favourite author of mine has penned in San Francisco, where characters share the spotlight and each advance in their own way as the books pile up. There;s something to be said for this type of series writing and only adds to why I enjoy Robert Rotenberg so much.

Kudos, Mr Rotenberg, for another winner. Where will you take us next in Toronto? I can only hope it is soon and that others, even non-Canadians, can experience these formidable adventures.

Ghost Virus (DC Jerry Pardoe and DS Jamila Patel #1), by Graham Masterton

Eight stars

New to the world of Graham Masterton, I was eager to accept a recommendation to see if it were for me. I love a dark thriller, especially when mixed with a police procedural, as they usually have me thinking well into the night while I cannot sleep. I was not disappointed with this series debut and am eager to read the next. It all begins with a young woman who took a bottle of acid and poured it over her head. DC Jerry Pardoe and DS Jamila Patel commence their investigation, curious to discover that it might have something to do with a jacket that she had purchased from a charity shop. Then, more odd murders occur, seemingly tied to items of clothing, leaving the detectives baffled. Is there something going on that could relate to these items or clothing, or is it something a little more mystical? Pardoe and Patel will have to carefully work their way through the evidence to find a plausible solution. Masterton pens a great thriller that leaves the reader thirsting for more.

A young woman is apprehensive about her upcoming arranged marriage, but is making the most of it. While gazing into the mirror, Samira pours a bottle of acid over her head, ruining her beautiful face and eventually killing her from the shock. What could have made her do this? DC Jerry Pardoe and DS Jamila Patel of Tooting Police are given the task to investigate the apparent crime, wondering if it might be an honour killing. However, what they discover is something entirely odd and out of sorts.

After a pathological investigation, there are odd fibres found on Samira’s back, ones that resemble a jacket found in the house. The detectives trace the item back to a charity shop, but nothing comes of it. When other odd events occur, including: a wife killing her husbad, a school teacher killing students, and a man who dismembers his significant other before eating her, Pardoe and Patel begin to wonder if there is some supernatural aspect to the crimes, all tied to various articles of clothing. Nothing else makes sense, even if it means they will be laughed out of the station. What does arise in each case is that the perpetrator denies being themselves, but rather another person entirely. Is this a case of dual identity? If so, things just got a lot more complicated.

With more crimes taking place, brutal and without explanation, DC Pardoe and DS Patel begin to work outside the box to get to the heart of the matter. The connection seems to be articles of clothing from charity shops, but that does not make sense. Could it be that the items of clothing are responsible? While Totting Police are baffled, answers may rest with a ruthless gang leader on the other side of town. Masterton weaves a dark tale that will have readers hooked until the final revelation, which only makes things more confusing.

Book recommendations can be a perfect way to expand one’s knowledge of what is out there for all to enjoy. I have had a great deal of success, as well as some epic failures, when I let others push books in a certain direction. Discovering Graham Masterton was definitely a great addition to my reading pile, mixing his love for detailed and dark stories with a strong police procedural. Masterton balances both genres well and has the reader on the trail of a killer, or at least a reason for this horrific crimes. I’m hooked and cannot wait to get to the next book, in hopes of being just as impressed

Sharing the protagonist role is DC Jerry Pardoe and DS Jamila Patel. While the novel focuses less on backstory than development, Masterton offers a great deal about each of them to develop strong leadership roles. There are issues of race, culture, and modern relations within one of England’s cities. Both Pardoe and Patel grow closer to one another in their own ways, working the case as best they can to find answers, even if none of it makes sense. There is a lot to digest her and other characters who emerge throughout the novel enhance the story in numerous ways.

While horror novels are a dime a dozen, developing something that has the reader squirm but feels is not simply graphic is much harder. Graham Masterton does well to provide a chilling horror theme with a strong police procedural to keep the reader entertained and curious throughout. There is a great deal here to keep the reader engaged, particularly since the narrative flows with such ease. Well-developed characters provide glimpses into the various aspects of the crime, some darker than others, and keep the reader wanting to know more. Plot lines weave together as the story gains momentum, forcing the reader to wonder how things will come together before the climactic ending. I love something that is dark, yet has some reason for being somewhat graphic, as it reminds me that not all crimes are simplistic, as well as cut and dry. I cannot wait to see what DC Pardoe and DS Patel have waiting them in the next novel.

Kudos, Mr. Masterton, for this unique take on a crime thriller. I will be recommending this book to many, hoping that the series will receive the same praise.

Sea Hawke (Alexander Hawke #12), by Ted Bell

Eight stars

A longtime fan of Ted Bell and his Alex Hawke series, I was eager to get my hands on this latest novel. Full of the same intrigue and espionage that I have come to know with Bell’s writing, I was pleased with the outcome and hope other series fans will be as well. With a new and powerful yacht in his possession, Lord Alex Hawke is made aware of situation brewing in the Caribbean. He makes his way there, with his band of merry men in tow, only to discover that things are a lot more complicated. There appears to be a secret alliance of Communist countries in the works, this one spanning the globe, which could surely put Hawke and many countries in the West on high alert. Bell is entertaining and brilliant in his delivery yet again.

Lord Alex Hawke has never been one to shy away from conflict, but is living a lavish lifestyle that suits him best. While awaiting the completion of his newest yacht in Europe, Hawke receives word that there is talk of new issues in Cuba, where a revolution is set to overthrow the American-backed government. it is led by another Castro, a name many know all too well ion the island nation. While it will take some time to cross the Atlantic, Hawke and his crew will be ready, fitted with the most up to date arms that anyone could need.

When they make it to that part of the world, Hawke is worried to see that other of his nemeses are part of the shenanigans, which will only make matters worse. As an attack seems imminent, Hawke ands his team prepare for the worst, hoping that it will be quick. They soon discover that there is more to this than a takeover of Cuba, back into the hands of communist rule. It is much more dangerous.

All the while, the leaders of China and Russia have been meeting to discuss a new Communist Alliance, which could be both brutal in his enforcement and highly troublesome for countries of the West. With Havana as the purported headquarters, a new Cuban regime could monitor things for these two great powers and serve as a backdoor into the American sphere, should armed conflict arise. Hawke will have to be ready, even if he has no idea what awaits him. Ted Bell does a masterful job with this piece and I am eager to see where things will go as the series continues to gain momentum.

Ted Bell has been writing this Alex Hawke novels for years, always looking for new ways to impress the reader, while also pulling on some modern day situations to flavour the story. He’s done it again, creating a modern James Bond out of Alex Hawke and using political happenings to shape his narrative, while using real life characters to fuel the action and some of the intrigue. Alex Hawke surrounds himself with many an intriguing character, which only adds to the depth of the novel.

As with each of the other novels in the series, Alex Hawke takes centre stage and provides the reader with a fair bit of entertainment, from his combat abilities to his eccentricities related to being a lord. Hawke always provides the odd anecdote, which builds his backstory, but it is his development throughout the series that has made the greatest impact on the reader. His connections to many people of varied fame cannot be overlooked, nor can his attention to detail. His is complemented by a handful of highly unique characters as well, well worth the reader’s attention as they may their way through the novel.

Ted Bell has captured all the elements of a great novel with this series, providing the reader with something highly entertaining from start to finish. The narrative flows well, taking the reader on an adventure from the outset. The characters emerge throughout to offer up a great flavouring to the overall story, keeping the reader wondering how they will fit together to add to the story. Chapters of various lengths keep the reader engaged with the story, though permits a little ‘give and go’ to see how interested they tend to be. As with many of the stories, there are some intriguing political aspects to the book, including cameos by Russian’s own tyrannical leader, Putin, which only adds to the story’s robustness.

Kudos, Mr. Bell, for another great story. I can only hope there are a few more before this series tied itself off.

Gwendy’s Final Task (The Button Box #3), by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Eight stars

Completing their collaborative trilogy, Stephen King and Richard Chizmar bring Gwendy and her mysterious button box back for another adventure, complete with a new challenge that could prove more daunting than meets the eye. After years living with her button box as a memory, Gwendy Peterson is visited once again by the elusive Richard Farris. After much secrecy, Farris mentions that he has one final task for Gwendy that involves the button box, which must be completed post haste. Peterson has made a name for herself, now a member of the US Congress and is headed on a space mission. With the button box in hand., Gwendy takes her task seriously and hopes that she can fulfil the final wish Richard Farris asked of her, saving the world one final time. King and Chizmar end the series with this great story that works well alongside the previous two.

At the age of twelve Gwendy Peterson was visited by a man in a black bowler hat. Richard Farris offered her a small box with many buttons, but warned that with this gift came a great deal of responsibility. Gwendy accepted this, as series readers know well from the previous two pieces, as she explored the powers of this box and what it meant for her.

Decades later, Gwendy has taken on many other responsibilities in life including as a sitting US senator, as well as being prominent around her home state of Maine. When she is asked to join a space mission, she is eager to see what that will mean and how she might be able to influence those around her.

Richard Farris appears to her with a task, to take the button box once again for a final mission. It would seem that the past seven holders of the box have met horrible demises and he is worried about the future of the button box. He asks Gwendy to take possession of it and take it along with her into space, where it can be disposed of properly.

After a few catastrophic events prove to Gwendy that the box still has negative powers, she prepares to take it up with her into space. Gwendy learns that there are others who want to get their hands on it, hoping to use the box’s powers to advance themselves in ways they could not accomplish on their own. Gwendy will have to make some serious choices, as she orbits Earth, hoping to make Richard Farris proud and ensure the world is a safer place. A great end to the trilogy, in which King and Chizmar left the reader thinking a great deal about the power of suggestion and how control can sometimes be too much for a single person to handle.

I remember picking up the novella that began this series, thinking that it was an ingenious idea by two established authors. The collaborative efforts of Stephen King and Richard Chizmar brought about this unique story that has many interesting twists to keep the reader engaged. Chizmar worked well on bridging the novella with a full-length novel and now both authors are back to tie everything off nicely. With a great story and some effective plot twists to keep the story moving along, King and Chizmar solidify their collaborative efforts with this series finale.

Gwendy Peterson has come a long way since her appearance at age twelve, when she was first handed the button box. She’s matured and developed a life of her own, which is paralleled by the added responsibilities put upon her by repeated time with the box. Her backstory and character development work hand in hand throughout this final story in the series, which pushes the reader to really come to understand Gwendy on many levels. Complementing her are some strong characters who pave the way for a climactic ending, just what the authors had in store for series fans.

When authors are able to work well together, the fruits of their labour are usually beneficial for the reader. Such is the case here, with Stephen King and Richard Chizmar. Both have established themselves before and bring this renewed connection to craft a strong story for all to enjoy. A great narrative pushes things forward, never sure where things will go, and the characters are usually quite unique. King and Chizmar keep the reader guessing with twists in the narrative, such that there is little time to rest and ponder, as something is always happening. Short chapters serve as teasers, while longer ones develop the storyline effectively. While there was a great deal of jumping around to provide context for Gwendy Peterson’s life, it is done properly and proves easy for the reader to follow throughout. It is sad to see the series end, but I wonder if this is the last we have seen of the King-Chizmar team!

Kudos, Messrs. King and Chizmar, for bringing a wonderful conclusion to the series. I like what I have seen and can only hope that there is something else brewing soon.

Anatomy of Torture, by Ron E. Hassner

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ron E. Hassner, and Cornell University Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always one to keep my brain sharp with some academic reading, I turned to this analysis by Ron E. Hassner. While talk of torture and ‘enhanced interrogation’ were buzz words a few decades ago, the topic can still bring out many opinions on both sides of the argument. Does it work? How effective is it? When (if ever) should it be used to garner needed information? Hassner tackles these and many other questions, while also exploring the ethics of torture and its analysis in this concise book that is full of information and opportunities for the reader to learn.

From the outset, Hassner explains that not much is known about modern torture, mostly because it is not documented publicly. Surely, the Americans used it quite significantly after September 11, 2001, but they used euphemisms and kept specifics locked away in classified documents, making any analysis all but impossible. Hassner also explores that different sources offer greatly varied answers when it comes to certain people who were detained, including types, frequency, and intensity of torture. Therefore, any analysis of modern torture is impossible and leaves the door wide open for speculative answers, which is not Hassner’s intention.

Instead, the book examines some of the torture that history has provided with a great deal of documentation. Hassner focuses his attention on the Spanish Inquisition, which used torture quite extensively and over a long period of time. There are also a great number of resources readily available to the curious academic that discuss torture of all kinds and its effectiveness. Hassner uses this for the foundation of his tome and explores how it brought about results, but not in the same way US sources cite torture is used.

The attentive reader will see that Hassner divides torture not only by the time period within the Inquisition, but also types of torture used. It was primarily used to extract information, not pigeonhole individuals who were of a different religious belief. Use of secondary information was key to corroborate views before torture might have been considered, rather than relying on pain to lead towards truth telling. In fact, Hassner explicitly mentions throughout that extreme pain was likely not an effective type of torture, as it would have the recipient say whatever was needed to stop the agony, rather than revealing needed truths.

After a few case studies and analysis, Hassner turns to the ethics of torture and reporting it in a modern, academic fashion. While there have been groups who have used torture for long periods, many sought to scare populations, rather than extract key pieces of information from specific people. This is key to better understanding the process and how torture can only be as effective as its application. Use it too broadly and it becomes moot, though some regimes seem not to mind the stick over the carrot approach.

Ron E. Hassner provides the reader with a strong and well-paced book on torture, exemplifying its effective use, as well las its key downfalls. He uses strong examples, both modern and historical, to support his arguments, but chooses to remain as neutral as possible on the subject, so that the reader can come up with some of their own conclusions. The chapters were full of information, both prose and tabular, allowing for effective and comprehensive understanding of everything on the subject matter. While some of it did get a little deeper than I would have expected (or, at times,could synthesise), I thoroughly enjoyed learning and took much away from this short tome. While I may not be rushing out to read a great deal else on the subject, it has piqued my interest to see what others say on the topic and how they contrast with the work Hassner presented here.

Kudos, Mr. Hassner, for a wonderful chance to better understand theins and out of torture, as well as how history has taught us its uses and downfalls.

Mimic, by Daniel Cole

Eight stars

Returning for another thriller by Daniel Cole, I was expecting a great deal. Having enjoyed his series work, I had high hopes that Cole would impress just as much with this standalone. When DS Benjamin Chambers and DC Adam Winters find themselves chasing a serial killer in 1989, they have hopes of rapid success The killer places his victims in artistic poses that parallel famous works of art. After an incident almost kills Chambers, the case goes cold and the killer seems to retreat. However, years later, he is back, with a new set of victims. DS Jordan Marshall receives some information and joins her colleagues, Chambers and Winter, on the case. The three hope to be able to nail down the killer before too many more lives are lost. What they discover both baffles and intrigues them, as art takes on an entirely new meaning. Cole does a masterful job with this one, penning a thriller that’s sure to send chills up the reader’s spine.

Police work in 1989 is more about following leads than anything, as DS Benjamin Chambers and DC Adam Winters know well. When they investigate a body found on the streets of London, they are baffled by its placement and pose. It’s only later that they realise it is set to match a famous piece of art. Tracking down leads does not go as hoped and Chambers is left clinging for his life, as the case goes cold and the killer appears to disappear into the shadows.

Years later, new recruit DC Jordan Marshall has risen through the ranks and wants nothing more than to make her mark. When she is given some new information on an old case, she wants to make it her own, but leans on the expertise of DS Chambers and DC Winters. The serial killer they had been hunting appears to be back, randomly posing new bodies in artistic fashion. After a little probing, there seems to be a connection, albeit loose, between the bodies.

With a name and apparent motive, Chambers, Winters, and Marshall begin their chase to locate the killer. A personal connection to the killer may help them track him down, but it is still a dangerous gamble and one that could have dire consequences. Still, there is hope as long as these three can stay one step ahead of the killer, at least until he strikes once more. A great thriller that checks all the boxes for me, proving that Daniel Cole still has it.

While I read a lot of thrillers, the earlier work of Daniel Cole definitely caught my attention. I was pulled in by his ability to present a story that not only intrigued me, but left me speeding through the novels to see how things would progress. This is another of those, pitting the police against a ruthless killer who uses intelligence as well as cunning to succeed. A game of cat and mouse like no other, Cole creates a great deal of drama as things reach their climax and a killer marks his territory. I am eager to see what else Cole has in store for readers, if not adding to this standalone to create a new series.

The three police detectives at various ranks make wonderful protagonists in their own ways. Each has a backstory that presents itself throughout the novel, though there is also room for wonderful character development. In an era pre-technology, the reader can see how each of these three Met detectives use their sleuthing skills to work on leads and piece the larger puzzle together. They work well together, but also have some decent independent moments for the reader to enjoy. Cole develops them such that I want to learn more as soon as possible, which has me hoping that this is true start of a series.

While the genre is supersaturated, there is something about Daniel Cole that helps him stand out. His attention to detail and research is evident throughout this piece, which creates a narrative that requires the reader to pay attention. Add to that, some well-developed characters that push the story along, as the recipe for success is well on its way. A plot that offers some twists, with a few tangents to help plump up the action, keeps the reader hooked until everything comes together by the end. Daniel Cole makes his mark again and forces readers to take notice, reminding them that he is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to dark thrillers.

Kudos, Mr. Cole, for reminding me how amazing you can be. I am eager to see what you have to come and how your fans will react.

Redemption, by Mike Lawson

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mike Lawson, Grove Atlantic and Atlantic Monthly Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Long a fan of Mike Lawson and his writing, I was eager to get my hands on his latest book. A standalone, rather than his long-running Joe DeMarco series, I wondered how Lawson would handle this chance to step away from the world of politics and ‘fixing’. Jamison Maddox had it all in the world of finance, but got a little greedy and it almost cost him everything. When he receives a random invite to join a company in the middle of nowhere, he is leery, but accepts the offer. What follows is a job where he does odd research for his boss, without knowing much of anything, nor is he allowed to share with anyone. After falling for someone in town and agreeing to flee, Maddox risks it all, his life included, to stay one step ahead of his crooked employer and those sent to find him. Lawson does a magnificent job with this standalone and offers the reader a real treat in his latest novel.

Jamison Maddox lived the high life of finance in New York, all before it came crashing down and he faced jail time. Able to weasel his way out of prison, Maddox seeks a new life to reinvent himself. When he is approached to join an elusive company in Redemption, Illinois, he reluctantly agrees. It is only then that he realises that this is not your usual company.

Tasked with completing research without asking questions about clients or colleagues, Maddox begins to wonder if everything is entirely above board. Still, he does the work asked of him, though he soon finds himself drawn to his colleague, Gillian Jamison, who happens to be the wife of his immediate superior. Together, they agree that something is off and they can no longer stay in Redemption, worried that they might get caught up in a web of lies and illegal activity.

While many would think leaving a job would be the end of it, Maddox and Gillian soon learn that the work they did was part of a larger criminal scheme, and death is the only way to ensure their silence. While they remain on the lam, both must dodge those sent to terminate them once and for all. Unsure who he can trust, Jamison Maddox tries to find safety and must devise a plan to share what he knows before he, or his family, face the ultimate consequence. Mike Lawson does a fabulous job spinning this tale and it is sure to keep the reader up well into the night.

I have long enjoyed the Joe DeMarco series that Mike Lawson has been developing for many years. Still, it was nice to get out of that framework for a new and unique thriller by the author. Lawson has invested a great deal of time and effort into making this as strong as his series work, succeeding in ways I could not imagine. A strong story with well-established characters, Lawson offers the reader a gem in this piece, which is sure to make a mark within the genre!

Jamison Maddox might not be entirely unique as a character, but his impact is seen throughout this story. His backstory is developed in the early part of the novel, which sets the stage for some great advancements. Lawson develops his protagonist well, without going over the top. There is much to the man and his skills, but also some of the weaknesses work well to establish relatable flaws. Maddox assumes the role of hero, whistleblower, and man on the run in equal measure throughout, while also falling into the odd trap when blinded by lust. Lawson has done well with him, as well as many of the other key characters in this piece.

Authors who are well-established can sometimes rest on their laurels and use fame to push them forward, Mike Lawson does not do that, choosing to keep reinventing himself with ease novel he releases. This was another winner, with a great narrative that flowed throughout the ups and downs of the story. Developing some key characters helped set the foundation for a strong story and permitted key plot lines to push the novel in various directions. Mike Lawson has something for everyone in this piece, which takes the reader on an adventure like no other. Those who love his series work will likely also enjoy this piece, which has some of the same high-impact action throughout its pages.

Kudos, Mr. Lawson, for another great novel. I can only hope others will see what I did and grab this book when time permits.

JK’s Code (Brooks/Lotello #4), by Ronald S. Barak

Eight stars

Ronald S. Barak is back with another explosive thriller that mixes politics, technology, and a dash of satire to entertain a the reader effectively. Jake Klein is a computer genius at only twenty. He scores a lucrative invite to a secret conference on election meddling and takes away more than a few pointers on how to rig an election, including backdoor access into a highly dangerous hacker’s computer. Jake soon learns of a plan by the Russians to once again influence and meddle in the upcoming 2020 US election, which is backed by the current POTUS. Trying to get the message out, Jake is soon discovered and two superpower governments seek to neutralise him for all he knows. With Election Day approaching, he will have to act swiftly, or face another four years of horrible leadership. Barak knows how to convey a wonderful story with a twist to keep the reader engaged.

Jake Klein knows his way around a computer, even at a young age. Known to those around him as JK, Jake finds himself tripping upon a private conference in Eastern Europe whose aim is to highlight how to rig elections through voting machines. When he scores an invite, Jake is ready to take the information and ensure it is passed along to those who need it.

While at the conference, JK takes the bold move of installing a tracker on the computer of a powerful hacker, just to see what he can discover. When he is back in the US, JK learns just how dangerous things can get, as he uncovers plans to infiltrate the 2020 US election once more. Led by the Russians, with full support of the current US Administration, the plan would be to use voting machines to skew results and leave a destructive leader in the White House. As JK trie to stop this, he is discovered by powerful sources in each government, making him a wanted man.

While JK tries to dodge those who are after him, he confides in his sister about what is going on. She, in turn, entrusts the help of others around her to locate and rescue JK before it’s too late. Talk of assassination, treason, and permanent incarceration circle around, while JK is being held captive. Knowing what he is doing is for the good of the many, Jake stops at nothing to ensure that the truth comes out, or that election results are not tainted ahead of this most important election for America. Ronald S. Barak does well to keep the reader engaged, adding his own spin on events in the not too distant past.

I stumbled upon the world of Ronald S. Barak a few years ago and was immediately hooked. His mix of law, politics, and satire had me wanting to know more as quickly as I could. This is another great book that packs a punch, while also conveying some of the seriousness that befell the US election system, with some spewing “fix” on both sides. A strong narrative and highly detailed plot keeps the reader engaged and curious as to how things will progress, which is just the kind of book I needed. Eager to see what else Barak has in store for this series, which took a turn away from the strict legal storyline.

Jake Klein (JK) plays a wonderful protagonist in this piece, offering up some great backstory and development throughout. Young and keenly aware of his surroundings, JK can tap into things with ease and expound on them. He is attune to the world around him, yet somewhat naive when it comes to life, as is shown throughout this piece. Relying on the help of others, JK makes his mark and uses his brains to face-off against two powerful entities, both with plans to annihilate him, given then chance.

Legal thrillers are definitely my cup of tea, given the chance to get lost in their storylines. Ronald S. Barak has done well with his past stories, but spins things in this one, while adding some satire to what was a highly tense 2020 US election campaign. His narrative in this piece flows well and kept me on my toes throughout, never sure in which direction he would take things. The plot seemed clear, but definitely had some twists to keep things interesting. Mixing chapter lengths, Barak tears the reader to “read a little more”, which was his stated goal in the author’s introduction. Adding that satirical side is sure to anger some who would don their silly red ball caps, but that is perhaps the point. I liked the blend of serious topic and lighthearted banter, which made reading this book all the easier for me.

Kudos, Mr. Barak, for another winner. Bring on more, as I am eager to see where things will go in this series.

Unhinged (DI Alexander Blix and Emma Ramm #3), by Thomas Enger and Jørn Lier Horst

Eight stars

Back to read the latest collaborative work between Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger, I had high expectations. The pair have crafted a great series that taps into many aspects of crime and investigation, using strong protagonists to get their point across. While at a speaking engagement, DI Alexander Blix receives numerous calls from one of his colleagues and his daughter. It is only later that he learns that a gunman entered their flat and killed the police officer. When Blix insists his daughter receive some therapy, things go awry as she is kidnapped from the office and held captive. Blix takes matters into his own hands and kills that man holding his daughter. However, questions arise as to whether this was the shooter, or if Blix was blinded by rage and simply shot a man for his own revenge. Horst and Enger work their magic again in this stunning piece!

While Detective Inspector Alexander Blix is speaking to a large group, he receives several calls on his mobile, both from Inspector Sofia Konica and his own daughter, Iselin. It is only after the fact that Blix learns of the horror they went through, where Kovic was murdered, execution style, and Iselin barely escaped the killer as she hid in her apartment below. Blix begins trying to piece it all together, working with crime reporter, Emma Ramm, only to learn that Kovic had been working on some corruption within the department.

After convicting Iselin to receive some therapy from one of the psychologists on staff, Blix feels slightly at ease, especially when Emma agrees to take her. Things get turned on their head when Iselin is kidnapped from the office and taken into custody, fuelling Blix’s desire to save his daughter at any cost. When he tracks down where Iselin is being held, things go awry as she is almost killed again and Blix shoots the man, unarmed, in the back. Thus begins a series of issues for the decorated officer.

While Blix is being interrogated by Oslo Police ,Iselin clings to life in the hospital. Emma, feeling guilty for not being there for Iselin, straddles both worlds and tries to help her friend as well as be supportive. It is only then that the truth comes out and Blix begins to discover that things may not be as they seem. Could the killer still be on the loose? Fuelled by a need for answers and a tragic turn of events, Blix does all he can to reveal the truth, once and for all. Another great novel in this new series that is sure to have readers intrigued.

Horst and Enger have shown that they can effectively work in collaboration without losing any of their personal style. I have long been a fan of Jørn Lier Horst’s work, but this was a refreshing spin on things, allowing me to see how the ideas can vary between the two popular authors. A gritty story that takes the reader in many directions, there is a little of everything to culminate in a stunning ending. While I do love Horst’s solo work, I have come to enjoy this series as well, hoping that there is more to come.

Alexander Blix and Emma Ramm share the limelight as protagonists once again. Personal stories flood the narrative, as the reader will discover, but there is a strong sense of character development within, even as Blix struggles with the friendship he has with Ramm. This is surely a darker story, one that taps into things that many authors do not reveal about their leads, but I felt it necessary to show the realism they share and the struggles that permeate just below the surface on occasion. I will gladly accept more development and backstory when the authors return for another instalment of the series, as I have come to really enjoy these two, working alone or in tandem.

This was likely one of the darkest Scandinavian noir books that I have read in a while, though not because of the crime being presented. Rather, it was more the angst and personal pain presented throughout and the attempt to set things straight once more. The narrative was strong and kept me wondering throughout, as things progressed and took turns I could not have expected. Great characters fit well alongside a plot that left me hooked as I read well into the evening. Short chapters offered a tease of what is to come and I could not get enough, even as I tried to put the book down doer a period of time. This is a series worth noting for those who love Scandinavian thrillers like no other. The translation was once again quite seamless, making me wonder how this could not have been a book penned in English from the outset. I am eager to see if Horst and Enger have more collaborative plans, as there is something to be said for two powerhouses working together to create something even better!

Kudos, Messrs. Horst and Enger, for another great story. Series fans are in a for a treat with this.

Smoke Screen (Alexander Blix and Emma Ramm #2), by Thomas Enger and Jørn Lier Horst

Eight stars

A longtime fan of Jørn Lier Horst and his writing, I was eager to see how this would translate into some collaborative work with Thomas Enger. The pair have come up with a great new series, with a Norwegian police officer and crime reporter working together to solve crimes. Alexander Blix and Emma Ramm are both at New Year’s Even celebrations in Oslo when a bomb explodes and kills many. Emma is able to help a woman who is in the water, only to realise that it is the mother of a young girl who has been missing for a decade. This opens up new questions about the kidnapping, which has both Blix and Ramm looking into things. What was presumed a kidnapping and murder may not be the case now, as new questions emerge. Horst and Enger pen yet another winner with this novel, which kept me reading until I got all the answers.

There is a buzz around Oslo for the New Year’s Eve celebrations and Emma Ramm is eager to witness it. At the strike of midnight, fireworks light up the sky, but there is also a bomb explosion, a suspected terrorist attack. In the mayhem, Ramm tries to help those in need and comes across Alexander Blix, a Detective Inspector with the Homicide division, with whom she has worked in the past. Noticing a body floating in the water, Emma rushes to help. It is only when the woman is brought to shore that she is identified as Ruth-Kristine Smeplass, mother to Patricia Smeplass, who was abducted at age two a decade before.

Emma’s journalist brain begins churning and she works with Blix to see if there are any new leads to follow. While Patricia has been kidnapped and presumed dead, someone may know something that could revitalise the case. When Emma receives some disturbing personal news, she is temporarily derailed and must trying to regain her focus. All the while, Blix ponders whether the bombing was terror related or if someone was targeting Ruth-Kristine for something.

As the investigation progresses, both Ramm and Blix work on leads that have them looking outside Norway for answers. Could Patricia Semplass still be alive? If so, where has she been for the last decade? A bomber is also on the loose, someone who may have answers that could shed light on the investigation and bring some peace to a family that has been in mourning for years. Horst and Enger work their magic again and have come up with a sensational thriller that is easily devoured in a few sittings.

I thoroughly enjoy books that work outside the cookie cutter outline for a police procedural. Horst and Enger do so effectively, while working two key angles throughout. Their writing is strong and keeps the reader engrossed in the story, without going too over the top. While I am always eager to read Horst’s independent work, this collaboration is refreshing and appeals to me as well!

Alexander Blix and Emma Ramm do well as joint protagonists. Both have their own personal stories that receive some attention throughout, but it is their collaborative efforts that create great character development, perfect as the series continues. They work well together, but also independently, allowing the reader to see how they bring their own spin to the larger case. This is sure to be a great series if both are highlighted with their strengths throughout.

Cold cases can sometimes be hard to keep ‘warm’, but the authors do well with this one. The narrative worked well, developing in a few directions and pacing itself so that the reader does not get lost, either in the present or flashback sequences. Great characters keep the plot moving and add a flavour to the writing so the reader is never left unimpressed. There is a strong sense of drama, which keeps the reader engaged and allows for some needed growth of the protagonists. The translation was seamless, leaving me to wonder how something that was not penned in English works so well. That being said, I have always found Jørn Lier Horst is able to write in such a manner as to make the narrative quite fluid. I have the next book in the series teed up and ready to go, so I will dive right in to see how I feel about it.

Kudos, Messrs. Horst and Enger, for another great read. I hope this series takes off and others enjoy it as much as I have.

The Mirror Man (Joona Linna #8), by Lars Kepler

Eight stars

Long a fan of Lars Kepler and the Joona Linna series, I was eager to get my hands on this latest publication. In a novel that is as intense as it is dark, the story pulls the reader into levels of depravity never thought imaginable. A young girl is kidnapped in plain sight and taken into custody, where she is locked away with a number of others. Years later, she’s found hanging in a playground, her past a great mystery. Now, a new girl has gone missing and Joona Linna is brought in to investigate. While Loona tries to piece it all together, a number of girls are being held captive by a man who is has elusive as he is cruel. Linna will have to work quickly to save these girls, though nothing is making much sense. Lars Kepler does it again with a novel that sends chills up the spine.

It was a sunny day when Jenny was abducted in plain sight, leaving her family wondering what had happened. As Jenny is taken to a nondescript house, she is locked away with other girls, all of whom are cowering in fear. Those who try escaping are met with severe punishment, at times far worse than they could ever imagine. Their captor is ruthless and will stop at nothing to keep order and fear.

When Jenny’s body is found hanging in a playground five years later, questions emerge as to where she has been and how she make it to the playground. Local CCTV offers some answers, though it is not nearly enough. It’s time for police detective Joona Linna to begin investigating, though his unorthodox style leaves some wondering how effective it can be. Linna finds an obscure parallel to a death that was deemed to be a suicide years before. Now, when a new girl, Mia, goes missing, Linna is sure that there is a serial kidnapper/murderer who has been targeting young girls and hopes to make a mockery of it all.

While Linna and the Swedish police begin trying to piece things together, Mia and her fellow captives are thrust into a world of torture and pain at the hands of a heinous woman. However, their greatest fears is bot her, but a man running the show, with a long history of psychiatric issues and who presents with a highly complex condition. As Linna follows all the leads available to him, he finds a clue that could help, but time is short and the lives of these girls seem readily expendable. Lars Kepler at their best again with another bone chilling tale that is sure to keep the reader flipping pages well into the night.

I have long come to enjoy the work of Lars Kepler, especially with the detailed narrative and strong storyline. There is something ‘unputdownable’ about the books, perhaps related to the depravity the antagonist presents throughout. The story flows well, even though it is translated, and the action continues throughout, keeping the reader on their toes during this dark journey.

Joona Linna is a protagonist like few others, with many of her personal struggles front and centre in the novel. While he is highly unorthodox, using illegal drugs to get through the day, his ability to investigate is like no other. Linna finds ways to get inside the heads of the most heinous killers and gets to the root of the crime. That being said, he cannot shake some of his personal issues, which shape all that he has become, making the stories all the more engrossing.

When I look for a strong police procedural with psychologistal thriller aspects, I need look no further than Lars Kepler. Each of the eight books have kept me hooked and I cannot say enough about them. The narrative is strong and keeps me connected throughout, with mid-length chapters to leave me demanding more. The plot is quite strong and the characters compelement it well. Sick and depraved antagonists round out the story well and keep me wondering just how far things will go until Joona Linna finds a way to solve the case. The fact that the story is translated always baffles me, as the writing flows with such ease. There is no hint of translation and I would swear it was penned in English from the beginning. Hats off the translator and Kepler’s ability to write so seamlessly. I would highly recommend these novels to anyone with time and a penchant for the darker psychologist thriller, alongside a police detective who will stop at nothing to get answers.

Kudos, Lars Kepler, for another sensational book in the series. What will you come up with next?

One for Sorrow (DI Callanach #7), by Helen Sarah Fields

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Helen Fields, and Avon Books UK for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Helen Fields returns with another great police procedural that pulls the reader into the middle of a chilling investigation with horrible outcomes. No one is safe and many characters in the series find themselves inadvertently in the crosshairs. After a tragic crime leaves DCI Ava Turner gutted, she has a hard time moving on. However, Turner forced to keep working as she tries to locate a bomber who appears keen to kill as many as possible with highly devastating weaponry. DCI Turner and her right-hand man, DI Luc Callanach, will have to crack the code before it’s too late, or face more bodies. Fields does a masterful job at pulling the reader into this fast paced thriller.

DCI Ava Turner has always considered herself one who can separate work from personal life, no matter how closely run. However, when a bomb explodes in the morgue and the chief pathologist is killed, DCI Turner has second thoughts. A life-long friend is dead and the bomb used was embedded inside a corpse ready for autopsy. When the call comes in to Police Scotland about another bomb set to go off, it’s a race to the scene.

While Turner and DI Luc Callanach prepare to handle the situation, a bomb inside a pregnant woman explodes, killing many of the emergency attendants in the area, including one of Turner’s team. This only spirals her deeper into despair with no leads to work the case and superiors ready to send her packing.

In a flashback sequence, a young woman begins a relationship with an elusive man, one who has been able to sweep her off her feet. When a video emerges to show that she was raped, an event she does not remember, things take a turn and the suspect goes on the defensive. With little hard evidence to tie him to the assault, he walks free, but there is a great deal of animosity towards Liam Cook.

As the bombings continue, DI Callanach tries to get inside the murderer’s head to see what they might use as motivation to commit these acts. It’s a dark and sinister pathway, one that is filled with twists. However, the truth is out there, with an explosive (pardon the pun) ending that ties it all together. Helen Fields has done so well with this series, keeping fans on the edge of their seat!

Helen Fields created this series with a great spin on it, using DI Luc Callanach to offset the typical Scottish flavour of the police procedural. She’s been able to effectively work through a number of issues, using the Scottish Frenchman effectively while pairing him alongside DCI Ava Turner, a one-time equal who has risen the ranks. The story turns more towards Turner and her personal angst with what is going on, while layering two time periods and crimes that are seemingly unrelated. With great plot building and decent characters that series fans have come to enjoy, Fields keeps the reader enthused and entertained without hesitation.

While much of the series has worked through the relationship, professional and personal, that DCI Ava Turner and DI Luc Callanach have forged, it takes a backburner to some of the inner struggles that these murders have created. DCI Turner has been personally impacted by the bombings and is trying to piece her lifer together because of it, making little headway. Her issues are compounded when she has to function and lead, as well as keep her personal life in balance,. DI Callanach does play a role in this one, though it appears to be more secondary, at least for most of the novel. Still, there is something series fans will enjoy, should they pay close attention to what Fields is offering.

While police procedurals are plentiful, the genre is always looking for a unique take or interpretation. Fields has used Luc Callanach as her niche, embedding his French upbringing into every situation. Fields has tackled many topics within the book, using her narrative to push the story along effectively. The plots, while seemingly independent, have some threads left hanging for the reader to tie off, though it may take some attentive reading to do so. The two timelines work well in this piece, allowing the reader to appear as though there are two sets of crimes taking place throughout. While Fields has presented some great standalone thrillers, this series is where she blossoms and I cannot wait to see what’s next and how it will work with a broken and troubled DCI Turner!

Kudos, Madam Fields, for another series success! I hope others find it as exciting as I have.