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.