Kathy Fiscus:A Tragedy that Transfixed the Nation, by William Deverell

Eight stars

While scrolling through my library’s offerings one day, this book caught my eye and I felt intrigued to give it a try. Not onle to read about sensationalism in any form, I was temporarily hesitant, but changed my tune when I discovered that it was all about a little girl falling into a well. William Deverell does well to recount the story from many angles and keeps the reader involved throughout, never trying to candy coat what took place over those three days in 1949. A great piece and one that I devoured in a single sitting.

It was in April, 1949 that young Kathy Fiscus was playing with her siblings and cousins before she disappeared. A frantic mother scoured the local playground in hopes of finding her daughter engaged in some game, but little Kathy was nowhere to be found. Soon, here whereabouts was known when someone heard her small voice at the bottom of an open well, which began a major community effort to save her.

As Deverell recounts, these type of open wells were not uncommon in Southern California, though they were usually better tended to, ensuring that an event like this one could not occur. IN an area rich with water, these wells served a significant purpose, but al that was put arise as the rescue effort to save Kathy Fiscus began. The authorities sought to communicate with the little girl, successful speaking to her, before hatching a plan to get her out. Thoughts of using a rope were soon stymied because of the danger that Kathy might stranger herself trying to affix it to her body or an oscillating Kathy might come in contact with some protruding metal or rock along hr side of the shaft. It’s would b a slow process and one requiring many minds working in tandem.

As the hours turned into a full day, Kathy Fiscus was still in the well and no one was quite sure what to do. The event was gaining notoriety, both by massive numbers of spectators and media coverage. Still, noting concrete had been devised to help Kath out of the hole. Hours soon grew and things became somewhat silent, leaving many to wonder what was taking place. By Sunday night, over fifty hours since Kathy fell into the well, she was recovered, though the news was anything but joyous. The body of the little girl was brought to the surface, though she had died of causes never determined by Deverell. She might have drowned or lacked for oxygen, but it did not matter. Hearts across the city and around the country were broken at the news of Kathy Fiscus’ death. A tragedy that could likely have been prevented, though it was no time for finger pointing.

In a short book like this, narrative flow is key. William Deverell uses things effectively through the early pages and pushes onward as the story gains momentum. A strong story that grips the reader from the outset, there is much to share as time passes. Deverell hits on all the poignant points and keeps the reader engaged until the closing moments of the story. With many photos to complement to story being told, Deverell does well to bring the story to life for all those involved and makes it known just how much effort was put into helping Kathy Fiscus over those fifty-plus hours. While I may not rush out to read a great deal more about the subject, I was intrigued by what I did take away from this book and hope others feel the same.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for a highly informative piece that had been pushing forward as I sat and educated myself.

The Mystery of the Blue Train (Hercule Poirot #6), by Agatha Christie

Eight stars

Having recently become addicted with the Hercule Poirot series, I looked to another in the collection by Agatha Christie. While just as on point, this book was far ‘deeper’ and denser than others in the series to date, offering a great deal more backstory for those who want to see the build up to the crime. Christie offers much to the reader, in hopes that they will be able to piece things together, as Poirot does effectively. Another great mystery that has me reaching for the next in the series.

After long feeling that there is something wrong in her marriage, Mrs. Ruth Kettering admits as much to her father. He directs her not to waste time ending things, officially, warning Ruth that any delay could prove problematic for all involved. Still, she is not sure and will use her scheduled travel time away to ponder all her options.

After boarding The Blue Train, a luxurious travel experience like no other, Ruth Kettering encounters young Katherine Grey, who has recently come into money of her own and wants to live lavishly. After dining together, the pair say their goodbyes and turn in for the night. It is only the next morning that Ruth Kettering is found brutally murdered in her berth and Katherine Grey is sure it relates to her acquaintance’s marital worries.

As luck would have it, Hercule Poirot is also on board and helps begin the process of investigating the crime, complementing the work the French officials are doing. He pieces things together from interviews and his sharp eye for clues, slowly building a case to show who the killer might be and how it all happened. All the while, young Katherine Grey sees the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest detective” at work and how he uses deductive reasoning to make sense of all he sees, before a killer can escape for good. Katherine is happy to add her two cents, for what it’s worth, to bring about some form of justice. Another great story by the Dame of Mystery, which has me exciting to push onwards with this hefty series.

While I only began reading the Agatha Christie books recently, I have always wanted to do so. I find that her writing is straightforward and clear, even if she can sometimes take longer to reveal something than I might normally like. Her narratives flow well and create a wonderful pathway for the curious reader to enjoy, making sure that they are entertained. While the pile of books in the series is high, I am happy to chip away at them, one by one.

Hercule Poirot is an interesting character to say the least. While little backstory is ever really revealed about him, Poirot is surely one not to be trifled with at any point. He knows his stuff and uses a keen ability to sit and wait for all to fall into place, making him an even more alluring character. He seems to always appear when needed and is keen to let everyone know that he is the best they have. Surely, some Belgian ego fuels him, but he gets the job done. I am aware that he will soon be asked to work on another train-based mystery in a future novel and hope that tale stays ‘on the tracks’ as this one did.

Agatha Christie does not need my praise to show how effective an author she is, though I am happy to add to the pile. Her stories are always entertaining and usually steer away from the fluff that seems to fill many books in the genre today. Shorter and to the point, Christie uses a strong narrative to push the story along. Always using unique and engaging characters, there is never anything drab about what she has to say through the eyes of others. Well-paced plot twists keep the story on point and help the reader develop an attachment to everything going on. Christie’s books most likely could be read as standalone, but I am not sure why anyone would want to ruin a good series by doing so. Perhaps the better approach would be, as I am doing to read a few, walk away, then return for more. Either way, it’s a wonderful reading experience for all involved.

Kudos, Dame Christie, for a wonderful piece that kept me wondering how you’d tie this one up. I am eager to see what else you have in store for us!

And Every Word is True, by Gary McAvoy

Eight stars

After reading In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, I wanted to know a little more about the subject matter. Interestingly enough, I was given a book by an author friend of mine, which recounts his research and analysis into the story of the Clutter murders and how the truth was much more complicated than first revealed in Capote’s stellar book. Gary McAvoy sought to turn the hunt for the real story behind those slayings in 1959 into this wonderful piece of non-fiction. Riveting until the final page turn, McAvoy shows how versatile his writing can be, as this is nothing like those novels of his I have come to enjoy over the past few years.

White Truman Capote’s most popular book surely stirred up some interesting emotions since its publication in 1965, many are left to wonder if it is the full story. When Ron Nye reached out to Gary McAvoy, the two hit it off immediately and their thirst for knowledge around the slaying of the Clutter family began. Nye, son of the former head of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, had some documents that his father kept from the crimes, which told not only the public version of events that Capote documented in his book, but deeper and more troubling ideas. Nye and McAvoy worked tirelessly to peel things back and discover truths relating to the murders, the victims, as well as the two men collared for committing the crimes.

While all this seems reasonable and should open up new lines of communication, it would seem that Kansas officials wanted nothing to do with the investigation, nor were they forthcoming about releasing documents held under lock and key. As McAvoy posits, it was as though they did not want to truth to come out. The author delves deeper into the goings-on in the small Kansas town and makes some substantiated assumptions about how the Clutters lived their lives and the popularity they had around the community. There are also some curious discussions about how Dick Hickock and Perry Smith might have been raised to turn them into killers. These men were surely cold-blooded killers, but there is more to the story that never made it into Capote’s book. McAvoy shines a light on them and their motive throughout the latter portion of the tome.

McAvoy does not seek to smear anyone, or even point fingers at a cover-up, but the push back for information makes it clear that there are many who feel the case is closed and best left that way. Some might surmise that Kansas officials felt Capote’s piece went about as far as it should have in revealing what happened on that November night in 1959, choosing not to allow any further extrapolation to open new veins of analysis. The truth is out there and yet it seems stymied by some unspoken reason that McAvoy could not crack.

While I am so used to the Vatican style thrillers that Gary McAvoy has penned, I was highly impressed with this piece of non-fiction. It sought not to turn over stones for the sake of making a ruckus, but actually connect dots that have long been left hidden or unanswered. McAvoy presents his findings in a clear and concise manner, allowing the reader to follow what is going on with ease throughout. I am glad that I read In Cold Blood recently, as the arguments from that book are fresh in my mind, allowing me to draw needed parallels whenever possible and see how McAvoy connected his research to the public record. I am coming to really enjoy true crime and will have to read more of it, when time permits. McAvoy surely made this an interesting experience and he forced me to stop waiting around wondering about Truman Capote’s famous work.

Kudos, Mr. McAvoy, for opening my eyes to many of the happenings in this case of which I was not familiar. I am eager to see what else I can find to whet my appetite.

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

Nine stars

While I have heard a great deal about Truman Capote and this book, it is only now that I have taken the time to read it. Full of a wonderful narrative, the book explores a horrific murder in the American Midwest, as well as the hunt for those responsible. In this stellar piece of true crime, Capote also takes the reader into the justice and punishments phases, offering a well-rounded piece of writing that is sure to captivate and shock in equal measure.

The town of Holcomb, Kansas would never be the same after November 15, 1959. Four members of the Clutter family were found murdered in their beds, shotgun blasts destroying their faces. With the blood still congealing, the authorities began piecing together what happened and who might have been responsible. With no motive and few locals expressing a beef with the farming family, the investigation stalled in the early stages.

Capote takes the reader on a slow and methodical analysis of the case, the local lore surrounding the Clutter family, as well as those who did not belong around town. Two men, Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock, were two no one could readily place and whose time in the small community oddly matched the time of the Clutter murders. Exploring their backstory, Capote shows how reprehensible these two men were, as well as the trouble they brought with them to Holcomb.

Taking the reader through the events leading up to the murders, the night itself, and the aftermath that led to the capture of the men, Capote shows significant journalistic prowess. The reader can feel as though they are in the middle of the hunt before before offered a front row seat at the courthouse, while Smith and Hickcock await their fate. Told in such a way that the reader cannot help but delve deeper throughout the narrative, Capote shows stunning abilities and has left me wanting to explore more of his work. I am kicking myself for waiting this long to read the book, which held my attention throughout.

Kudos, Mr. Capote, for a riveting piece of true crime that has me wanting to reach for more in the genre, if only to feed a sadistic curiosity. What a pleasant surprise as I made my way through this book.

The Cutting Season (Washington Poe #4.5), by M.W. Craven

Seven stars

A long-time fan of M.W. Craven and all that he has written, I was drawn to this novella that serves as a series teaser before the next full-length book arrives. Craven’s Washington Poe series is addictive and alluring, which makes reading anything with this cast of characters just as great. This short piece does not have the same pizzazz as the rest of the series, but does well to remind readers of the two main protagonists and how well they work together; those being Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw. One, a DS in the National Crime Agency; the other, a quirky, tech-savvy woman who appears able to help in the oddest ways.

DS Washington Poe enjoys his team within the National Crime Agency, particularly when they can help chase down some of England’s worst serial killers. Working alongside Poe is a civilian who has been contracted to help, one Tilly Bradshaw. Tilly is very… unique, yet her skills are some of the best in the world. Her factoid knowledge is amazing and she always seems to have different ways to squeeze answers out of people, which makes Poe’s job a lot smoother.

When they body of a man is found tied to a chair, with only superficial injuries, it baffles Poe and his team, However, the ‘pound of flesh’ is soon revealed to have been part of a piece of retribution related to another crime. An apparent suicide by train may be more than it first seems, leading Poe and Bradshaw to dig a little deeper.

In doing so, Poe puts himself out there to get answers and winds up in the hands of a criminal enterprise, trying to convince them to reveal the truth behind the murder and apparent suicide. What follows is a quirky (yet to be expected) roll out of events at the hands of M.W. Craven’s brilliant mind.

While I usually go on for a few paragraphs about a book, I wanted to be brief, as Craven was with this story. The premise is great and I enjoyed a little teaser when it comes to waiting for a full novel. The short chapters had me reading this in one evening and I do not regret it. I did feel, however, as though Craven did not put the full effort into the depth and delivery of this piece. It seemed almost rushed and superficial, as though it was penned by a middle schooler who wanted to tell a lot without giving too much detail. While I enjoyed it, for sure, I hoped for more in the same number of pages. Great writing, wonderful characters, and a lot going on… but give me the depth Craven does in full novels (not length, but grip me by the collar and chill me to the bone)!

Kudos, Mr. Craven, on reminding me why Poe and Bradshaw make such a great pair!

Thunderstruck, by Erik Larson

Nine stars

When it comes to historical crime stories, one need look no further than Erik Larson. His ability to take non-fiction and turn it into something so very exciting is second to none, leaving readers begging for more. This story, which explores the lives of two men—Hawley Crippen and Guglielmo Marconi—takes the reader on a sensational journey through the late Victorian Era and into the early 20th century. Crippen, a popular doctor, devises a plan to commit the perfect murder and seems as though he might just get away with it. Marconi, a scientist and inventor, works to perfect communication through the air. Both men, while unaware of the other, are intertwined as it relates to this ‘’almost perfect murder’, which Larson recounts in a thrilling manner. Brilliant once again, fans of Larson’s work will not be disappointed.

Hawley Crippen was a man of some means, with a medical degree to validate many of his ideas. While the late Victorian Era was one where people turned to any possible cure for their ailments, Crippen was the peddler of new and innovative ones through the guise of homeopathy. He would make even the most confident snake oil salesman gasp with some of his antics. Outside of his work, Crippen found a wife who was just as eccentric as he, one Belle Elmore. Larson recounts their connection and how Crippen appeared to adore her for all the time they were together. However, Crippen’s eye soon turned elsewhere and he had to dispose of his wife, wanting her terminated and no longer a thorn in his side. Thus began a series of choices that Crippen felt would ensure he was in the clear, with a new lover by his side.

All the while, Guglielmo Marconi sought to revolutionise the world by delving into communication. As a scientist and inventor, he posited that he could create a system of communication whereby the message could pass from one device to another without the aid of wires. While the process was slow and cumbersome, Marconi set his eyes on being able to create a system where people could speak from far distances in the blink of an eye. Seen by some as part of the realm of the supernatural, Marconi worked hard to develop the technology, as others sought to steal it from him through patents of their own. Marconi showed that he could create such a device, adding practicality to it when he got it onto the transatlantic steamships who could now communicate with one another and posts on either side of the ocean. Marconi, likely suffering from some mental illness, saw this as his contribution to the larger scientific discovery of mass communication, in hopes of making a lasting impact into the 20th century.

The curious reader will want to know how these two men are tied together, seemingly from two different worlds. The details related to the final chase and apprehension of Hawley Crippen are not only chilling, but told in such a way that the reader will have to check that this is not a piece of fiction, with all the excitement coming from each page turn. All in all, it is a riveting story that shows how a seemingly innocuous invention could be at the centre of bringing a murderer to justice once and for all. Who would assume Hawley Crippen, who was ‘such a nice man’, of committing such a heinous crime and then lengths to which he would go to elude capture? Marconi’s relentless work on radio transmissions not only saw him rise to a certain fame, but also proved essential in the capture of Hawley Crippen right under the criminal’s own nose.

Larson does well to find the point at which both men’s lives intersected and uses this as lauding point for the crux of the tome. He works well to link the men, who were not acquainted beforehand, and weaves a story that captivates the attention of many while also turning it into a piece of criminal non-fiction. His use of historical events, both related to the men and the general goings-on of the times, helps put everything into context. The detail offered by Larson throughout the narrative breathes life into the story, without bogging things down too much. Clear explanations throughout help the lay-reader better understand what’s going on and how the information connects with the larger story, as well as the scientific discoveries of the day. Larson is to be applauded yet again for pulling the reader in with easy delivery and captivating perspectives. Chapters keep the reader wanting to know more and provide wonderful opportunity for those who need breaks to gather their thoughts after everything that has come to pass. I am eager to get my hands on another piece soon, as Erik Larson is one of those authors whose writing makes you want to learn more at the earliest opportunity.

Kudos, Mr. Larson, for another captivating tale of crime in history. Your abilities are not lost on me and I can only hope others see it as well.

Revolution Day, by Blair Denholm

Eight stars

After recently discovering the work of Blair Denholm, I have not been able to get enough. Having devoured his Australian police procedural series, I turned to this standalone, with rumours that it is actually a series debut. A gritty procedural inside Soviet-era Russia, the story exemplifies the hold communism has over its people in the waning days of the ideology’s grip during the Cold War. It’s only a short time before the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution and the country is preparing for major celebrations. Captain Viktor Voloshin, working for Moscow’s Militsiya Police, has been called to the scene of a grisly murder. An African student at a local university has been found murdered. Voloshin and his team must not only find out what’s been going on, but also try to quell riots to what could be a repeat of a similar crime 24 years earlier. Working through leads and clues, Voloshin has a few potential persons of interest, but will need to lock it down before spooking anyone. Time is running out, as this needs to be solved and shelved before the big celebration, as pressure mounts. Denholm shows just how fabulous a writer he is with this piece, taking the. reader well behind the Iron Curtain!

In late October 1987, plans are being finalized for the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Bolshevik Revolution. Russia is abuzz, with Moscow sure to be the centre of worldwide attention before long. All the while, Captain Viktor Voloshin of the Moscow Militsiya Police is called out to a grisly scene. A man, soon identified as an African student at a local university, has been found hanging, his genitalia missing. As if this were a sign of some sort, Voloshin and his team begin investigating.

Early on, they cannot help but remember a similar case when another student of African descent was found in 1963, leaving some to wonder if this is a repeat offence to denote a similar struggle,. Voloshin probes deeper, only to discover that there are a few students who had issue with the young Nigerian. While the case is running up against the clock of the Revolution Day celebrations, Voloshin runs into numerous other hurdles, including someone who has taken the body away.

With a few suspects on Voloshin’s radar, one in particular is proving harder to find than the others. He may hold the clue to everything, but has been able to stay one step ahead of the investigation. With time running out and pressures mounting, Voloshin will have to risk it all to bring justice to a man who had only scholastic ties to Russia and has made a point of stirring up trouble. Denholm does a masterful job at taking the reader deep into Moscow’s Soviet underbelly in this procedural that screams for a series.

While this is not the first novel of Blair Denholm’s that I’ve read, it was supposed to be. Through a series of gaffes, I was not able to get my hands on the ARC for this book, after it was recommended to me by another stellar writer. Still, I knew I would return to find it and am pleased that I have. While I thoroughly enjoyed another of Denholm’s series, this book was much more complex and highly entertaining. It left me feeling as though I were on the streets of Moscow as well, trying to find a killer while the world waited for communist celebrations to occur. Anyone who has read any of Denholm’s work ought to give this a try, as it will blow your mind. For those who have not heard of the author or tried any of his writing, this is the place to start. However, be prepared to read for long stretches and be amazed!

Captain Viktor Voloshin offers much as the protagonist in this piece. His personal and professional lives literally cross over one another, making it all the more impactful. He is a hard-working police detective who wants nothing more than to make his way through each day, but he cannot shake the issues that his work has on the relationship he is seeking to create with his young daughter. Voloshin tries to balance things, foiling horribly, but that is also much like Denholm’s other protagonist from the Jack Lisbon series. There is a lot more to Voloshin that has yet to be revealed, leaving me to hope that this was not simply a standalone novel.

Blair Denholm is a master at his craft and has proven it yet again. While I enjoyed the Jack Lisbon novels, this was something deeper and even better. Pulling the reader into the heart of Moscow during the Soviet-era, the narrative exemplify just how dire things were. The story grows from there, with strong characters and a plausible plot to keep the reader engaged. Adding some foreign flavouring, the story takes many twists throughout until all comes crashing together against the backdrop of Russia’s largest celebration to date. Should more come of this book in the form of a series, I will be first in line to read them, as Blair Denholm has intrigued me once again!

Kudos, Mr. Denholm, for another winner. I hope others take note and see what I have discovered. Stellar work worthy of much praise.

The Big Four (Hercule Poirot #5), by Agatha Christie

Seven stars

Back for another instalment of the Agatha Christie collection, I looked to the fifth book in the Hercule Poirot collection. Christie moves away from the whodunit and into the world of a thriller for this piece, which offers some vastly different things for those who have come to enjoy her sly writing style. Captain Arthur Hastings is back from some time away, only to find his old flat mate, Hercule Poirot in the thick of things. It would seem that he is alerted to the presence of The Big Four, a group of international criminals that many do not believe exist. When members of the group appear in England, Poirot works to identify them and shine a light on their existence, all while Hastings finds himself caught in the web of the Four and must act withou the Belgian’s assistance, at least for a time. A fast-paced story that leaves the reader panting to catch up. A different side to Agatha Christie to be sure.

Colonel Arthur Hastings is back in England after some time away. His first stop is to see Hercule Poirot, his former flatmate, the retired Belgian detective. While Hastings is eager to catch up, Poirot is preparing to depart for the other side of the world on a mystery. However, all that is stopped when mention of The Big Four enters the discussion. Poirot explains that this is an international cabal prepared to do their dirty work whenever time permits. While many governments and police authorities believe they are a myth, Poirot is sure they are real and committing crimes all over them lace, leaving calling cards in their wake.

After an apparent poisoning, Poirot is sure it is the work of the Big Four, noticing a note that has been left behind. Hastings concurs, but cannot simply accept things without more proof. Poirot does his best to provide it, while remaining one step ahead of the killers in hopes of catching them in the act. Hastings is along for the ride, worried about what might happen if the littler Belgian is left to his own devices.

With more bodies piling up, Poirot is sure that he is hot on the trail, only to have something monumental occur. When Hastings is alone, he receives a note stating that someone has his wife and that she will come to great harm if he does not follow immediately, Bringing Poirot could endanger everyone, something that Hastings does not want. It will take some sly work to ensure the Big Four are caught and that Poirot is alerted to the danger, but Hastings cannot be sloppy about it, forcing him to use all the wits he has about him to make the correct move in a timely manner. Christie does well yet again, though purists will surely bemoan the move away from the traditional work she has made popular with this series to date.

Agatha Christie has rightfully earned her title as the Dame of Mystery, though this novel shows how she steps outside the cookie-cutter nature of her writing to test out some new approaches. Some like them, while others prefer the traditional whodunit recipe for Poirot to use to his advantage. Still, it proves to be an entertaining piece that is full of adventure and intrigue. Strong plot ideas develop throughout the story, allowing the reader to enjoy some banter between Poirot and Hastings, who returns after some time away.

Hercule Poirot takes centre stage again in this piece, offering up more of his Belgian eccentricities. Christie has yet to offer a great deal about his past, though there is something offered up here with regards to his family. The reader can see how the suave detective moves throughout this piece, picking up some of the small clues in order to make a name for himself. His ego and pompous nature are, once again, on offer, and the reader must watch how Hastings seeks to wrest control of the situation at various points. I am eager to learn more about Poirot and hope the series offers new ways in which that can be accomplished.

Agatha Christie remains one of the best-known mystery writers of all times, using Poirot to help her keep this title all these years later. Christie uses strong narrative development to propel the story along, capturing the reader’s attention throughout. The characters are clearly defined, even more sinister than usual, and plots gain momentum in a straightforward fashion, yet still requires that the reader to pay close attention. Use of a second-person narrative in the form of Arthur Hastings offered a unique approach and leaves me wanting to learn more as the series propels itself forward at breakneck speed.

Kudos, Dame Christie, for a wonderful piece that kept me intrigued.

The Rising Tide, by Sam Lloyd

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Sam Lloyd, and Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Happy to finds new authors to enjoy, I turned to this piece by Sam Lloyd, as the dust jacket blurb caught my attention. Lloyd tells a gripping tale that is sure to make the reader take notice. While living in a seaside town, Lucy soon discovers that her family yachts is missing, as is her husband. When the boat is located, it’s empty and there’s no sign of her husband either. Thus begins a series of events that not only forces Lucy to take notice, but also leaves a chill running down her spine. How quickly things can change, changing a bucolic town to a place of worry. Lloyd weaves quite the tale and forces the reader to take note throughout this mysterious story.

Lucy is living the life that she always wanted on the Devon Coast, with a family that she loves and all the dreams she’s ever hoped to acquire.All comes crashing down and changes in the blink of an eye one day, forcing Lucy to rethink everything she thought that she knew.

A hard knock at the door changes it forever, when Lucy’s alerted that the family yacht has been recovered out in the water. There’s no trace of her husband, which sends Lucy into a fit of panic. However, it all comes into perspective soon thereafter and Lucy is forced to wonder whether her husband may have orchestrated something as part of a larger plan, one that she was not privy to at any point.

When the rescue mission begins, Lucy has high hopes that it will come to provide answers quickly and everything will prove to be a major mistake. However, a horrible storm blows in and Lucy discovers something that changes her mind in an instant. Still, she has hopes that it is all a bad dream, one from which she can wake soon and hit the rest button, once at for all. However, there is that lingering feeling in the back of her mind that emerges, leaving Lucy to ponder if she might be the one being played in all this. A chilling tale that proves Sam Lloyd has what it takes to develop a great thriller for readers to enjoy.

I’ve had a mix of success and disappointment when it comes to new writers over the past while. Even as some praise the work of a writer, I feel as though I might have missed the mark and am left to scratch my head. While I did enjoy Sam Lloyd’s piece, I am left feeling as though everyone else got something that I could not find, at least based on the reviews I have seen. Lloyd knows how to tell a story and keeps the reader in the middle, but it was not as impactful as I would have liked.

Lucy remains a wonderful protagonist, at the centre of the entire piece. Her early revelations of having the ‘perfect life’ left her vulnerable throughout the piece, something Lloyd uses to his advantage in the writing process. There is a grittiness to her, especially as the story unfolds, leaving Lucy one who refuses to stand down or deny what’s going on. She needs answers and will stop at nothing to get them, even as she is deceived with every step she takes. It is surely Lloyd’s superior abilities that puts all this on display for the reader to synthesise.

Thrillers are sometimes the hardest novel for me to enjoy, as I need a hook from the early stages to pull me into the middle. Many authors prefer the slow reveal, which may work for some, but I am overly fickle when it comes to narrative development. Lloyd does well to set the scene in this book, offering the reader something they can enjoy, while also keeping it innocent for the early pages of the book. A handful of well-developed characters keep the reader learning on a constant basis and forces the reader to attach early on. The plot was sound and kept me wanting to know more, even if things did not go in the direction I had hoped most of the time. I am curious to see how Sam Lloyd writes its other parameters and so I think that it might bode well to give the other novel out there a chance to see how it stands up to this one. All in good time.

Kudos, Mr. Lloyd, for a decent piece of writing. I am happy so many found it so impactful and wonder if I am the anomaly here.

Off the Record, by Peter Mansbridge

Nine stars

A fan of all things Canadian, I was excited to get my hands on this book by Canadian news icon, Peter Mansbridge. A collection of vignettes about the man’s storied career, from airport employee in Churchill, Manitoba to anchor of The National, Canada’s premier nightly newscast, Mansbridge tells of his various adventures in a way many Canadians have come to love. Showing how adored he was, no matter who crossed his path, Mansbridge brings something to the table to entertain and educate in equal measure while regaling the reader with factoids they had no idea existed.

Born in England, Mansbridge and his family moved around for a number of years while his father had posts in the British Civil Service. When they eventually made it to Canada, the Mansbridges were never a wealthy family, but filled their house with love and admiration of one another and anyone who crossed their paths. Peter speaks of his love for family and inquisitive side, which earned him a number of accolades by those who knew him in his formative years. His life led him along a number of interesting paths, none of which as exciting as when he was ‘discovered’ while announcing a flight in the tiny airport of Churchill, Manitoba, where someone from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) heard his deep baritone and offered him a radio job on the spot.

Mansbridge tells of his emerging in the world of media and reporting soon thereafter, climbing the ranks of the CBC as he made a name for himself. His love of people shone through and he was soon interviewing people of some importance all over the country. He continued to impress and was soon given key postings in television, making the Mansbridge name one that senior members of CBC could not deny.

Through a series of short entries, Mansbridge tells how he was given a great path to success and eventually handed the anchor seat of the CBC’s flagship news program, The National, the nightly summary of the day’s events. Mansbridge would serve as the chief correspondent for the CBC for years, making an impact on the viewer, as the likes of Cronkite, Jennings, and even Tom Broken had in the era when news was still a valued commodity, well before the 24 hour news cycle. These years would help make him into the respective journalist he was up until his retirement.

Mansbridge mixes work with pleasure throughout the piece, showing that he is more than a man behind the desk reading the news. His passion for family and those he loved made all the difference to him. Those stories that he shares about personal events touch the reader as much as reporting on major historical, political, and military goings-on in the world. It is, perhaps, this personal side that makes all the difference in the book’s delivery and helps the reader connect well with Mansbridge. While he was loved by many and respected by even more, it was his ‘real’ side that made him all the more affable.

While I knew some of the stories that Mansbridge offered up in the book, there were so many that were new to me. This ‘behind the curtain’ look at his life made the read all the more enjoyable and left me hungering for even more. I cannot say that I walked away with as many juicy tidbits in another book over the last while and yet I feel as though I want to know more. Those looking for salacious admissions can look elsewhere, but Mansbridge delivers with a hint of dignity and a great deal of grace, peppering his narrative with just enough humour to keep the reader smiling. I am not sure what to say, other than to recommend that those who know of Peter Mansbridge and The National will likely want to get their hands on this book to learn more about the man and the many stories he has to share. If I were a betting man, I would venture to say that there are MANY more stories that could fill numerous other volumes, given the time and energy.

Kudos, Mr. Mansbridge, for this brilliant piece. I grew up watching you on television and admire you even more now!

Splitsville (Splitsville #1), by William Bernhardt

Seven stars

Eager to try the newest series by William Bernhardt, I turned to this debut novel. Always one to push the limits of the law, Bernhardt delivers something exciting and full of thought-provoking writing. Kenzi Rivera has something to prove, both to herself and those around her. When she was passed up for promotion within the family law firm, Kenzi uses that to propel herself into a worthwhile career. When she is approached by a young scientist to help win a custody battle, Kenzi puts her all into the case. Things take an interesting turn and Kenzi is soon defending her client in a murder trial, which will surely push everyone outside their comfort zones. It’s a trial like no other for Kenzi and her client. Bernhardt delivers a curious series debut that will have readers eager to forge onwards.

After being passed over for a promotion within the family law firm, Kenzi River is furious. She’s an established divorce attorney, used to fighting for her place as a lawyer and woman. She’s ready to make an impact, though Kenzi is never sure what’s waiting around the corner.

When Kenzi is hired by a young scientist who wants to win back custody of her daughter, the case proves more complicated than meets the eye. Kenzi’s client is involved in a religious group with some dubious stances, including tattoos and domineering hierarchies. Kenzi is ready for a challenge but this might be a little too much.

After a major fire in town leads to a woman dying in the blaze, all eyes turn to Kernzi’s client. It would have made things much easier for her, though Kenzi thinks that there is more to the story, including the possibility of being framed to smear the custody case. Kenzi has no experience in criminal law, but will have to learn swiftly, as she’s being pulled into the middle of a life or death case that could put everything Kenzi knows on trial as well. A great story that has more twists that the reader might expect at first glance.

Having long been a fan of William Bernhardt and his books, I was intrigued to see this latest series. There’s something alluring about the story and Bernhardt weaves a curious tale that is sure to pique the interest in the attentive reader. With a strong narrative and some unique characters, Bernhardt uses his strong abilities to keep the reader on their toes throughout this legal thriller that is more than it appears to be on the surface.

Kenzi Rivera is a great protagonist with a great deal to prove. She’s had a great run as a lawyer, but is not happy when her father overlooks her abilities and offers managing parter to someone else. Keen to prove herself, Kenzi uses her experience as a divorce attorney to help those seeking to fight for custody for their children. She’s a single mom as well, which helps Kenzi understand her clients’ need for clear answers throughout the process. When Kenzi is pushed to the limit, she does all she can to help a desperate client, which includes working parts of the law she’s never practiced. There is a lot more to learn about Kenzi, which may come out as the series progresses.

In this series debut, William Bernhardt finds new ways to tap into unique aspects of the law, pushing characters well outside their comfort zone. With a strong foundational narrative, things progress with ease, keeping the reader on their toes throughout. Decent characters flavour the story as well, leaving the reader to find some to whom they can relate as the story progresses. With a mix of chapter lengths. Bernhardt pushes the reader to forge ahead throughout the reading experience. Bernhardt has done well in the past to create wonderful stories with unique legal angles. I can only hope that, should I invest more time in the series, I will see the same things for myself.

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for an intriguing series debut. I will have to look deeper into the series to see how I feel about it all.

Persist, by Elizabeth Warren

Nine stars

Often eager to exercise my grey cells with some political reading, I turned to this piece by Elizabeth Warren. Admittedly, I knew little about her, save that she ran for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 US Presidential Election, and sought to use this book to gain a better understanding. Warren admits that this is not a campaign memoir, but more a means of expressing some of the sentiments she expressed on the campaign trail, as well as using the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic to highlight some major issues America must face head-on. A great piece, full of great arguments about where America’s faults continue to lie and how the average American remains behind the political eight ball.

Warren has a great knack of being able to get to the heart of the matter, with numerous examples emerging throughout the book. She explores her early life in Oklahoma, as well as some of the struggles she faced as a school teacher, law student, and eventually a professor of law. Warren highlights the issues that women faced in the workplace, some of which were newly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. These struggles have been apparent, never truly dormant, though many chose to turn away from them and pretend that America could not have slipped back into something so troublesome.

Warren uses her experience in bankruptcy law to highlight many of the financial issues that America faces, going so far as offering some simple (sounding) solutions about how small tax increases on the richest could benefit the masses. While there are times that her arguments sound like political stumping, there is no ignoring the effectiveness of their delivery. How opening the wallet of those who make ridiculously large sums of money could help everyone seems simple, but the pushback has been enormous, even within Congress. It truly forces the reader to wonder whose interests the elected representatives value most.

In a narrative that mixes political, personal, and professional anecdotes, Warren effectively pushes for a change to the way things have been done in America. While she does not deny that the Trump Administration was a major blight, things were broken beforehand and have not been remedied since President Biden took office. Warren’s optimism remains strong, but she is not blinded by Democrat rhetoric that it is a work in progress. There is much that needs doing and it will only occur when the mentality of the electorate and their representatives care enough to take the plunge.

I am not ignorant to the fact that most political books seek to push a specific agenda, especially in an era where division is the only political speak known to American politicians. However, Warren’s arguments are also well-grounded and appear feasible. She has the education under her to show that the points have merit and seems clearly on the path to wanting solutions, rather than simply new ways of baking the same cake. An effective narrative pulls the reader in throughout, using a handful of clearly defined chapters to push key arguments about fixing the American social system. I found myself agreeing with her at various points, both aloud and in my mind, as she makes a great deal of sense without needing to tear others down to make her points. This book has me excited to explore more books of a political nature, which usually forces me to think outside the proverbial box to better understand the world around me. With hints that The Donald will try to steal another presidential election, it’s best to get into the mindset for more mud slinging.

Kudos, Madm Warren, for this enlightening piece of political writing. I will have to get back into the swing of things, as I always learn so much reading political non-fiction.

Shot to the Heart (DS Jack Lisbon #4), by Blair Denholm

Eight stars

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

Having binge-read the DS Jack Lisbon series, I have finally reached the ARC that Blair Denholm requested I review. Things have been a whirlwind, allowing me to discover a little more about DS Lisbon, both as a police officer in Australia and the sordid past he left behind in the United Kingdom. Finally able to visit his daughter in the UK, Lisbon arrives and sets out on quite the adventure with Skye. When she is kidnapped in plain sight, Lisbon is distraught, but knows that he must be very careful. It’s likely that some of those he upset before fleeing to Australia have planned this and seek long-awaited retribution. Lisbon will have to work off the books, including getting some assistance from a colleague Down Under, in order to bring Skye back safely. Denholm does really well to add new layers to the series, exciting readers who have been waiting for a novel like this.

After many years away from his daughter, DS Jack Lisbon has finally returned to the United Kingdom. While his ex-wife is leery, she allows them out for a few days together. While in a park, Skye is kidnapped in plain sight and this leads Lisbon to panic. His sordid past has likely come back to haunt him, when he was suspected of killing a prominent member of the boxing community. Could this crime have been planned for years, simply awaiting Lisbon’s return?

Told not to contact the authorities, Lisbon is left with few options, but refuses to stand idly by. He reaches out to a few of his contacts from before he left the country to help him locate Skye quickly. With a ransom demand and a time limit, Lisbon will have to follow all the rules, while panicking on the inside. A few clues help get the ball rolling, but Lisbon will be some trusted assistance from a colleague back in Australia, well off the radar of the kidnappers.

Inching closer to a likely location for Skye, Lisbon and his ragtag team begin to formulate a plan, but have little guarantee that it will work. Skye’s life likely hangs in the balance, as these criminals have no morals and are willing to do whatever it takes to get what they need. Lisbon makes his move, fuelled by the love of a father, in hopes that it will be all that Skye needs to be returned to him safely. Denholm ups the ante once again and makes this the best novel in the series to date.

Blair Denholm has done a great deal with this series in short order. While I was not sure what to expect when I started the books a few days ago, I have seen a great deal of progress with the series and DS Jack Lisbon, specifically. Strong writing and great plot lines have helped create a captivating collection of novels sure to attract the attention of the curious reader who enjoys quick police procedurals.

DS Jack Lisbon has come full circle in this series. Those who have followed the novels from the start will know that Lisbon fled the UK under tense circumstances, but little has been fully hashed out about it, save some mention in a prequel novella. Now, Lisbon is back and able to spend time with his daughter, Skye, who has always been simply a passing reference in other books. Seeing a more personal side to his character, Lisbon exemplifies the love a father has for his child, stopping at nothing to bring balance once again. Denholm has built things up well and this novel was just what the series needed to add new depth to a tense collection.

Blair Denholm has mastered the art of storytelling and uses this series to catapult DS Jack Denholm into a new realm. With a strong narrative that pushes forward, while using personal angst to flavour the writing, the story gains momentum as the hunt for a missing girl reaches new heights. Great characters leave the reader wanting more, while also complementing the protagonist throughout this piece. I have waited for this plot line, ever since early mention of Skye Lisbon appeared in the first novel. The inevitable heartache Lisbon feels with the kidnapping of his daughter is matched by the tension between the copper and those seeking to destroy him. Denholm impresses yet again and leaves the reader wanting even more. I can only hope DS Lisbon will be back soon for more suspenseful investigating.

Kudos, Mr. Denholm, for adding new tensions to a great series. Thank you for having me read this series, which I devoured in short order.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Hercule Poirot #4), by Agatha Christie

Eight stars

Back for more Agatha Christie, I turned to the forth novel in the Hercule Poirot series. Full of the same writing that Christie has made popular over the years, the book seeks to explore a murder like no other with a cast of suspects that only Poirot could analyze effectively. When the well-to-do gentleman, Roger Ackroyd, is found murdered in his home, all eyes turn to those who had seen him in his last hours. From maids to butlers and even a few family members, the list of suspects is high, as are the motives. It will take the keen observances of Hercule Poirot, retired Belgian detective, to piece it all together and come up with the guilty party. That revelation may be a surprise to many, as Agatha Christie proves why she is the Dame of Mystery.

King’s Abbot is a quaint English village, full of wonderful people. However, the locals are left aghast when the widow Ferrars takes an overdose of a drug and ends up dying. If that were not enough, a second body, that of Roger Ackroyd, is found murdered in his home not twenty-four hours later. While the local constabulary begins their investigation, nothing is coming together, leaving more questions than answers.

When someone suggests reaching out to Hercule Poirot, a retired Belgian detective, the police jump at the opportunity. Not only has Poirot made a name for himself, but his keen sense of detection is unlike anything many have seen. When Poirot arrives to examine the Ackroyd household, he begins developing some theories that might offer new leads. Roger Ackroyd was involved in many things, all of which could bode poorly for him and leads to a long list of suspects.

As Poirot whittles down the list to something more manageable, he makes a few key revelations that are not readily apparent from the outset. However, it will take some trickery and a little deception to coax the killer out of the woodwork and ensure justice is done for Roger Ackroyd and his family. Agatha Christie does a wonderful job in this, her most intense crime thriller to date. It’s sure to impress those who, like me, have come to enjoy the series.

When I began this series, I was not sure what to expect. Having surrounded myself with many mysteries over the years, I find myself to be somewhat of a expert reader on the subject. However, Agatha Christie takes things to a new level, creating pure and unadulterated stories that truly show crime thrillers as they were meant to be, without all the fluff and extemporaneous aspects to the story. Christie does well to delve deeply into the story and keeps the reader entertained throughout, without losing any of the momentum they would expect of a well-crafted tale.

While the story centres around the mystery of Roger Ackroyd and his murder, I did not feel that anyone stole the limelight in this piece. Poirot was ever-present, offering up his insights and ideas, but did not commandeer the narrative at any point. Rather, Christie offered a well-rounded collection of views and characters who flavoured the writing well and kept the reader informed of what was going on, which only made things better throughout the journey. I can only wonder if this will be the case for subsequent novels.

Those who seek a strong mystery at a time when the genre was just coming into its own will not be disappointed with this piece. Agatha Christie writes with such ease and makes the reader feel as though they are part of the action. She weaves her stories through a strong narrative and great plot lines. The attentive reader will pick up on some of the nuances embedded into the story, allowing them to enjoy things on a deeper level. Chapters are of a decent length and allow the reader to see how things play out effectively. I have read a few of the stories beforehand and so I am aware of how things develop, but I am still eager to see what is to come and how I will continue to enjoy all that Christie has to offer.

Kudos, Dame Christie, for another winner. Let’s keep going to see where it leads us!

Trick Shot (DS Jack Lisbon #3), by Blair Denholm

Eight stars

As I delve deeper into Blair Denholm’s DS Jack Lisbon series, I am more impressed with what I have read. Denholm spins another masterful tale, where DS Jack Lisbon and his team must crack open a case, using few leads. When a man is discovered next to a pool table, murdered and gripping a locket with his ex-wife’s photo, Lisbon and the Cairns CID try to piece things together. It would seem many have a motive to see the victim dead, though this does not make the investigation any easier for Lisbon, who must chase things down before making a final arrest. Denholm adds more depth to the stories and offers up some personal development for his protagonist, long overdue.

Detective Sergeant Jack Lisbon has waited long enough to see his daughter, Skye. It’s been four years since he left the UK for his new post in Australia. He’s got a ticket and is ready to fly, when the head of the Cairns Police calls him in on a personal favour. While Lisbon tries to weasel out of it, he is persuaded to stay a while longer and help with a pressing murder investigation.

Cameron Snyder was found murdered next to a pool table, clutching a locket with his ex-wife’s photo. He’s quite important and his murder cannot go unsolved for too long, especially with a Commonwealth meeting set to open in Cairns soon. DS Lisbon and his team are called in to help before things get out of hand and the press gets wind of the situation.

While DS Lisbon is keenly aware of the pressure that awaits him, leads are not forthcoming. He’s on a deadline, having changed his schedule by a few days, which pushes him to be as diligent as possible. It would seem that Snyder may have been popular in some circles, but also garnered many enemies. This leaves a long list of suspects and little time to cull them down to something that can be synthesized.

Working around the clock to solve the case, DS LIsbon and the Cairns CID follow a few key leads and determine a potential suspect, but nothing is quite as it seems. With Lisbon running out of time and patience, he’s determined to be seated on a flight to London by the end of the weekend, no excuses. Denholm does a wonderful job keeping series fans on the edge of their seats with this instalment, leaving readers hungering for more.

Blair Denholm has surely made a mark on my reading experience to date. After hearing much about him, I was pleased to be given the opportunity to read this series, which speeds along ad the reader becomes ensconced in everything that’s going on. Having not read any of his other series (though I have a standalone on my radar), I plunged in, not sure what to expect. Three novels and two novellas in has left me highly impressed and wanting more. The next is the ARC I was provided, which will bring this series full circle. I cannot wait to see what’s to come.

DS Jack Lisbon is back for another wonderful adventure, finally given more than a passing chance to develop his personal development. As a father who was forced to leave his young daughter behind in the UK, Lisbon finally has a plan to see her, though it is stymied by his superiors who value his detecting abilities. Character development is somewhat minimal, but the chance to see Skye has surely made a dent in trying to drum up some added opportunity to see more than the rough facade that Lisbon offers when working a case.

Blair Denholm has made the most of his writing opportunity, showing readers that he is the real deal. This story provides a narrative that is as fast-paced as the others and provides the reader with a strong foundation for the rest of the piece. Short chapters keep the reader forging on and makes ‘just another few pages’ turn into an hour-long binge read. Denholm again develops memorable characters, complementing the protagonist while linking the story’s numerous twists. A straightforward plot keeps things from getting too confusing, though there is a lot going on from one chapter to the next. I am ready for the ARC, feeling well-versed on all things DS Jack Lisbon. Someone said these could be standalone novels, though I dismiss this, as a series is meant to be enjoyed as a while, permitting the reader to feel the growth and development of everything as the books pile up.

Kudos, Mr. Denholm, for another winner. Do keep writing and impressing readers worth your ideas.

Shot Clock (DS Jack Lisbon #2), by Blair Denholm

Eight stars

Continuing my exploration of Blair Denholm’s DS Jack Lisbon series, I turned to the second full-length novel. This one was just as impactful as the series debut, with a similar dose of grit and suspense. When a man is struck by a passing vehicle, he is seriously injured and soon dies. What could have been an accident is soon ruled to be something more nefarious, as witnesses see the driver flee on foot to avoid being caught. Enter DS Jack Lisbon and his team, who soon realise that the man had ties to a local professional basketball league. Could someone have wanted him dead, or was this all a freak one-off by someone who is too scared to admit their mistake? Denholm piles on the mystery as he adds depth to the series throughout.

Detective Sergeant Jack Lisbon has settled into Australia quite nicely, though there are times he still misses life back at the London Met. He’s adjusting well and making a name for himself amongst the moments of his team, but there is nothing like home around the holidays season. Such is the plight of a man who had to start afresh after some troubles on the home front.

When DS Lisbon and others are called to the scene of a hit and run, where the victim was a pedestrian who was apparently targeted by a driver, things do not look good. Witnesses say that the driver not only appeared to target the victim, but also fled on foot once everything went down. Lisbon cannot help but wonder if there’s more to the story than a panicked driver who made one fatal mistake.

The victim has ties to the professional basketball league in Australia, which is not only full of talent, but also full of those who are keen to place wagers on various games. DS Lisbon cannot help but wonder if there might be something to that, where betting and high-stakes gambling could play a sinister role in causing the death of someone. Revenge has never been far from Lisbon’s mind, but there could also be an easier explanation, though it will take more investigating and searching for clues before anything deemed a ‘slam dunk’. Blair Denholm does a wonderful job with this second novel in the series, attracting the attention of many readers with ease.

I enjoy discovering new authors and was pleased when Blair Denholm crossed my radar. Having been recommended to me by another great author, I took the leap without much hesitation. Denholm cannot only write a wonderful novel, but he does so with apparent ease, keeping the reader entertained throughout as he spins a tale full of intrigue and just enough grit to keep the reader on their toes. I am eager to keep pushing ahead, as I cannot get enough of these novels and their protagonist, DS Jack Lisbon.

There is a great deal going on for DS Jack Lisbon, particularly as he tries to acclimate himself to life in Australia. Having left behind many dangers in the United Kiingdom—described in detail for those who read the two prequel novellas—Lisbon has put all his eggs into this basket, hoping for a fresh start on the other side of the world. I can only hope that Denholm will soon take the time to explore the connection between Lisbon and his daughter a little more, rather than simply using small parts of a chapter or two to acknowledge her presence in the United Kingdom and use that as an emotional thorn for the protagonist to remember. Surely, there could be something worthwhile by expanding on this, even if it is only a sub-plot throughout one of the upcoming novels.

Blair Denholm knows his craft and utilises all the tools at his disposal to develop a strong story worth the reader’s time. The narrative sets the momentum in the early chapters and this does not wane at any point thereafter. Denholm creates some memorable characters, who complement Lisbon in his protagonist role and serve to bridge the story through its various twists. A straightforward plot did the job and permitted the reader to forge onwards without getting too confused. Denholm shows that the series is well on its way to working effectively and I have enjoyed everything that has been published to date. Let’s see what else is in store for the reader with the coming novels, including the ARC, which led me on this journey.

Kudos, Mr. Denholm, for developing such an easy to reader series. Let’s see what else is to come.

The Lightning Rod (Escape Artist #2), by Brad Meltzer

Eight stars

Always a fan of Brad Meltzer’s work, I was eager to get my hands on this latest book. Full of twists and turns, Meltzer does well with this second novel in a newer series. When mortician Jim ‘Zig’ Zigarowski begins working to prepare Archie Mint for his funeral, things soon take an interesting turn. Making his way to Dover Air Force Base, Zig soon learns that Mint has a connection to a secret military group, which opens many doors and creates some mysteries. Zig’s acquaintance, Nola Brown also appears to have a connection, but she flees before it can be established. How does Nola fit into the story and what does her troubled past bring to the table with this covert mission that is slowly revealed? Meltzer does well with this novel and adds an impactful second instalment to the stunning series., sure to impress many readers.

Loving his job, Jim ‘Zig’ Zigarowski does all he can to love the best life possible. A mortician by trade, Zig works closely with the US Military, providing help with military funerals for Dover Air Force Base. While working on the body of army vet Archie Mint, Zig finds something that confuses him. Mint was said to be a wholesome family man, but there’s something more to the story here.

Zig travels to Dover for some answers, hoping that his contact there, military artist Sergeant First Class Nola Brown, might have some answers. Nola is mum about Mint, though she appears highly troubled by Zig’s bringing him up. Furthermore, she disappears before long, leaving Zig to wonder what the connections might be and whether Nola is harbouring a secret of her own.

It would seem that Mint was involved with a covert military operation, one that only a few have been read into beforehand. Stockpiling a number of vaccines and preparatory items for some sort of attack, this group was getting ready for something highly sinister. It’s now that Zig realises how problematic things can get and want answers. Might Mint’s death not simply been a home invasion gone wrong?

As the story picks up its pace, much is revealed and Zig finds himself in the crosshairs. Working as best he can, Zig uses Nola’s long-estranged brother to lure her out. The race to learn the truth takes many twists before things come to light. All the while Nola has some secrets of her own with are aure to come out if she is not careful. These could sink her reputation and make her even more vulnerable, forcing her to make some tough decisions. With a killer on the loose and secrets piling up, Zig and Nola will have to be careful not to fall into a trap, or risk losing it all. Meltzer does well to keep the reader in the thick of it all, as he builds a strong foundation for this series.

I have come to really admire all that Brad Meltzer brings to his novels, which are full of mystery and duplicity. There’s something amazing to be found in the pages of this book, written in such a way that the reader cannot easily stop getting hooked with the plot lines. Strong writing and intriguing characters provide a decent platform for all to enjoy, particularly those familiar with Meltzer’s work.

Zig and Nola are back for more fun, but neither is eager to take the limelight. There is a little more Zig backstory offered, though much of it can be found in the series debut. Still, Zig offers up some wonderful development as he probes deeper in tot the mysteries that are the US Military. Nola Brown has much to offer in this piece, full of the secrets she has kept for years, including a brother who has long been hiding in the shadows. The reader is taken on quite a ride throughout, allowing the protagonists to offer up tidbits while the plot takes off.

Meltzer’s work is something perfect for the reader who needs action to sustain themselves. His novels are always full of intrigue and keep the reader guessing with every page turn. The narrative moves along effectively and keeps the reader guessing what awaits them, using plot developments that are full of twists. Nothing is as it seems, which makes the novel all the more exciting. With a number of great characters throughout, Meltzer entertains the reader as they make their way through this strong piece. While the series can be a tad confusing, dedicated readers will lap it up and beg for more, as I am surely doing. Eager to see what’s next and how things will progress.

Kudos, Mr. Meltzer, for another smashing success. Don;t hold back, as your fans await more mind-tingling writing soon!

Take Down (Jack Lisbon #0.75), by Blair Denholm

Eight stars

Having been offered the second prequel novella in Blair Denholm’s DC Jack Lisbon series, I chose to dive right in to get some context. While making his way to exchange some money, off-duty Jack Lisbon finds himself in the middle of a hostage situation. He has no weapon and only his wits, hoping to use this to help diffuse a tense situation. Denholm does well to set the tone for what I hope remains a strong series.

Since arriving in Australia a number of weeks ago, DC Jack Lisbon is still trying to get his life in order. Leaving behind the drama of the London Met, Lisbon has a few loose ends to tie off, including a large amount of money he smuggled into the country. Feeling he ought to do something with it, Lisbon travels across the city to use a currency exchange where no one knows him.

While things appear to be going smoothly, he is soon pulled into the middle fo a hostage taking. Being off-duty and with no weapon, Lisbon will have to play it cool, while trying to diffuse the situation at hand. It will take all his patience not to blow his cover and bring things to a peaceful ending. Does DC Jack Lisbon have the ability to be a hero without violence? Denholm does well to paint more of the Jack Lisbon picture here, effectively keeping the reader intrigued.

There is so much that I have come to learn about Jack Lisbon in the short time I have been reading about him. Blair Denholm does an effective job at filling some of the gaps left by the opening novel, yet still keeps things open for interpretation. With this quick story, Denholm provides more insight into his protagonist, while also keeping much unaddressed as of yet. I can only hope that the three novels yet to come will provide me with more about this complex man.

Blair Denholm knows how to write and pulls the reader into the middle of each story with ease. I can see how I will come to enjoy more of his work, as it flows well and keeps me on my toes. I am eager to see how things develop and what Denholm has for the reader into the coming novels, as well as where this will lead things. The series is sure to be a success, given the time to explore it a little more. Bring on more DC Jack Lisbon!

Kudos, Mr. Denholm, for these novellas. Now, back to the meatier writing and more complex stories.

Fighting Dirty (Jack Lisbon #0.5), by Blair Denholm

Eight stars

After Blair Denholm asked me to read his DS Jack Lisbon collection, I thought it best to begin at the start to see how it all came to fruition. This novella sets the tone for the series and provided great context for me, after I finished the first novel in the series. Lisbon is working as a DI in London, but has some series issues in his personal life, all of which come to the surface. Might it be time for him to look for new options to salvage his career, and his life?

Detective Inspector Jack Lisbon was once a prolific boxer, having made a name for himself around the United Kingdom. While he has a wonderful job with the Met, he is also saddled with many skeletons in his closet and chooses to work outside the law when it suits him.

After confronting someone at a local boxing gym, Lisbon’s attempted shakedown goes awry and his temper gets the best of him. Unable to juggle it all, he turns to booze, hoping to drown himself, rather than face the harsh realities that await him. This leads to even more trouble and leaves his superiors to scream lee for options. Might DI Lisbon use this fresh start to better himself? Denholm does well to offer some backstory, while leaving many threads dangling for future exploration.

Blair Denholm has crafted quite the series already, and I am only one novel and this novella in. I enjoy how it all comes together quickly, leaving the reader to keep pace or risk falling behind. There are some great nuggets revealed throughout, but Denholm forces the reader to keep forging ahead, as there is much more to come.

DI Jack Lisbon is surely not the same man readers met in the series’ debut novel, but that is the joy of having this novella to use as comparison. There is a lot that took place before he ended up in Queensland, which only adds to the allure of the overall depth of Lisbon and his character. I will keep reading to see if more of the holes left with this novella can be filled, helping me to discover more about the man and his struggled to keep it together. There is still the question of his daughter to address, but I will leave that for readers to order on their own.

The thing about novellas is that they serve to bridge the gap between two novels, but also have little time to gain momentum. Denholm delovers from the opening pages and provides the reader with something amazing to help put it all into context. There is a great deal of character development here, permitting the reader to see how things went so horribly wrong in the UK, leading Lisbon to arrive in Queensland for a fresh start. While not overly deep in its storyline, it tells of Jack Lisbon’s struggles and provides the context needed for the attentive reader to look for more in this series, which has started off so well. There’s another novella awaiting me, which I hope offers more, as well as some great novels I am eager to try. Bring them on!

Kudos, Mr. Denholm, for making me want to learn more about DS Jack Lisbon.

Kill Shot (Jack Lisbon #1), by Blair Denholm

Eight stars

Having been asked by Blair Denholm to read the latest in the Jack Lisbon series, I thought it best to acquaint myself with the previous works. A feisty detective who is trying to make a life for himself in Australia, DS Jack Lisbon has a great deal going on, including some intense casework. When an abandoned vehicle turns up, it appears to belong to a gritty MMA fighter. With no body, DS Lisbon and his team must scour the area for clues and leads. What they discover is a far more complex situation, involving a handful of other fighters and revenge on the menu. Denholm begins things well with this series, sure to pack a punch as things progress.

Detective Sergeant Jack Lisbon has been through a great deal wince arriving in Australia. Having been a decent detective for the London Met, life came crashing down when he refused to ‘colour in the lines’, costing him most everything, including a relationship and little girl. Now he’s relocated to the other side of the world and is trying to make a name for himself, alongside a strong group of detectives.

When Lisbon is alerted to an abandoned vehicle with significant amounts of blood, he is unsure what to expect. Registered to a gritty MMA fighter, the vehicle is full of forensic clues, but no body. As Lisbon and his team commence an investigation, they discover that life in the world of MMA fighters is more than just train and brawl. There is a much darker side and one worth exploring a little more.

When a body turns up, having been a buffet for the crocs, Lisbon hopes that they ha cracked the case wide open and found their purported victim. However, DNA results are not as promising and the case opens up with new leads and some clues that relate more confusion. While Lisbon tries to stay on the straight and narrow, he cannot help but want to venture a little outside of his superior’s orders, if it will help solve the case.

When aspects of the darker side of MMA fighting come to the surface, Lisbon cannot help but push a little more, discovering many who would love to exact revenge on their opponents. Lisbon must narrow the suspect list quickly if he is to close the case, but cannot help wondering if he is missing something important. Denholm does well with this series debut, leaving the reader wondering about Lisbon’s abilities.

I always enjoy new authors and their strong series, Blair Denholm came recommended to me by another author whose work is stellar and so I was eager to give this series a try. Denholm does well to set the scene and keep the reader engaged, revealing just enough to keep the story moving along, yet adding degrees of suspense to keep everyone on their toes. I can see things going well with this series, so I will surely rush to read more, if only to discover some of the inner workings of DS Jack Lisbon.

DS Jack Lisbon has a great deal going on, even with only a single book done in the series. He is a keen detective, but not one to follow orders with any regularity. This is surely how he ended up on the other side of the world, away from his family and the job he loved with the Met. Still, Lisbon works his cases effectively and has a knack for making sense of the smallest clue, turning it into a larger lead that could open a case wide. I am eager to learn more about the man, and notice that Blair Denholm has a prequel short story on offer that could assist there. As the series progresses, this will surely be more about Lisbon that comes to light, just what I need to whet my appetite for another great police procedural series.

Blair Denholm has all the ingredients to create a strong series and puts them on offer here. I was pleased to see how the narrative set the pace early on and left me wanting to know more, as I forged ahead. Strong characters and a well-defined protagonist kept me connected to the story with each page flip. The plot was easy to decipher and worked well, without getting too bogged down in police work or tangents. I like a series that flows well and keeps a good pace, something Denholm does effectively here. I will rush to read the prequel short story and keep pushing ahead to learn more about this copper who’s sure to use much of his experience to solve more crimes.

Kudos, Mr. Denholm, for a great series debut. Bring on more DS Jack Lisbon and his rebellious ways!

Jack Knife (Hunt for Reacher #17), by Diane Capri

Eight stars

Enjoying all things Jack Reacher, I enjoy this spin that Diane Capri has taken, weaving together her own themes and plots to keep the reader on their toes. FBI Special Agent Kim Otto is hot on the heels of Jack Reacher, who is speeding out of Chicago. Unfortunately, her partner was injured again, forcing Otto to stay put for a time. Things get a little rocky when news comes that Reacher’s nephew is in trouble, sure to draw Jack from hiding to rush to his aid. It would seem some of Reacher’s past enemies have come to exact some revenge, putting everyone on edge. Capri keeps the action going as she pushes the series into new realms.

With the explosive ending to the last novel, FBI Special Agent Kim Otto has no time to waste. However, she’s suck waiting, as her partner is again recuperating in hospital after a Reacher-related skirmish. Still, it gives her some time to work through the leads she will need to move forward.

When news comes that Reacher’s nephew, Jake, is in trouble down in South Carolina, Otto is sure that this will be one thing that the nomad cannot ignore. She is ready to act as well, hoping that it will draw Reacher out and allow her to help a young man in need. This is not a simple money issue, but rather a kidnapping that could prove fatal.

As Otto inches towards South Carolina with her partner, she learns that one of Reacher’s old CO’s might have some intel that could help. It would seem that Reacher was in the middle of bringing down a drug ring years back and left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. Now, it seems those who got away have retribution on the mind. This ruthless gang will stop at nothing, keeping Jake Reacher and his mother captive in hopes of luring Jack out for a final hit.

With Otto ready to strike, she has to play her hand carefully, hoping not to ruin her chances at making a real difference. Jack Reacher is so close and this is no time to mess it up. Pulling on all her option, Otto prepares to set a trap, while helping the Reachers at the same time. Capri keeps things interesting in a series that never has the chance to catch its breath or lose momentum.

While I have a long history reading Reacher novels, I was really excited when I found the work of Diane Capri. She parallels the writing of Lee Child, offering stories that add to the original work. Great stories and strong narratives help shape the series effectively, while keeping fans coming back for more as each novel comes to publication. I am eager to see what direction things will take now!

Special Agent Kim Otto stays strong in the protagonist’s seat once again. In the brief timespan of the series, she’s had two partners, finally able to play the senior agent role. Otto has little time for silliness, but seems also to have to juggle a partner who wants to run the show himself, bending rules whenever it suits him. Otto has struggled with confidence in the past, but is more keenly aware of how she can keep hold of command without coming off as too abrupt, which will surely be an issue for her as she handles a renegade partner.

Diane Capri has kept the series on track with some really captivating stories that complement all that Lee Child as done to date. She presents a fresh and intriguing series, as the popular series receives some added depth at Capri’s hand. A strong narrative provides the reader with something to keep them excited, using many characters who entertain throughout. Capri finds ties to Lee Child’s work without it being too repetitive, always proving successful. I am eager to see where Capri will take things and how effective it will be for series fans

Kudos, Madam Capri, for a series that keeps evolving. I never tire of the adventures.

Autopsy (Kay Scarpetta #25), by Patricia Cornwell

Eight stars

Kay Scarpetta is back, after quite the overdue reprieve! Patricia Cornwell returns to the stratosphere to tantalize her longtime fans with another stunning novel in this powerful series. Scarpetta has made her way back to Virginia, hired as its Chief Medical Examiner. Working a stone’s throw from the Pentagon now in a post-pandemic world, Scarpetta will have to make the most of being new around the office once more. She’s called to the scene of a horrific murder by a set of train tracks, one that has connections to people from her past. As Scarpetta tries to piece things together from a medical standpoint, she’s joined by an old friend who is willing to turn over all the rocks for evidence that might locate the killer swiftly. All the while, Scarpetta’s appointment to the Doomsday Commission by POTUS sees them exploring a catastrophic event at a private lab in outer space. Might Scarpetta find parallels between the two cases that could make the investigations all the more troublesome? Cornwell does well as she returns to familiar ground in this superior forensic piece.

After being away for years, Dr. Kay Scarpetta has made her way back to Virginia to oversee the forensic community. Appointed to be the Chief Medical Examiner in an office rife with corruption and sloppy documentation, Scarpetta must try to make all the difference, while being seen as the new girl in town. Still, she’s ready to do her best and has the support of her husband, Bentley Wesley. Together, they live and work only miles from the Pentagon, which has its own ominous feel to it, especially in a still-pandemic world.

Only a few works on the job, Scarpetta is called to the scene of a gruesome find, where a young woman’s body is found close to the railroad tracks, her neck slit and body left to rot. Scarpetta cannot deny the graphic nature of the body dump and can only wonder if there is more to it than a single killing, particularly when a unique item is found on the tracks. After she learns the identity of the young woman, a scientist working on some cutting age technology, Scarpetta learns that her old friend and brother-in-law, Pete Marino, lived next door and knew her well.

After hiring Marino as an investigator with the Examiner’s Office, they begin peeling back all the evidence to see if there’s any way to wrap the case up with ease. Something is not adding up, but there is more to the story than meets the eye, which Scarpetta cannot shake. Her investigation takes on new importance when she suffers her own medical event, after being poisoned by a gifted bottle of wine from someone of great importance in the international policing community.

While work has not let up, Scarpetta must attend to her own major job that brought her back to Virginia, as a member of the President’s Doomsday Commission, which handles major events. When a private lab in outer space suffers what appears to be a major disaster, Scarpetta helps to decipher that the original ‘meteor shower’ hypothesis might not be what killed two scientists, but rather someone who wanted vindication for an old sleight. All this might also have something to do with the body Scarpetta has in the cooler, as it sheds new light on how the cases might be linked. All the while, a serial killer lurks in the shadows and Scarpetta’s intuitiveness could be one reason to remove her from the equation. Cornwell is back to her old self and stunning readers with another great piece, with two feet firmly on the ground.

While I have followed this series for many years, I always thought that Patricia Cornwell had a wonderful handle on things, particularly with her ever-evolving protagonist. However, as the books picked up, Dr. Kay Scarpetta began to lose her lustre and I wondered if it was time to turn towards retirement. Cornwell did shelve Dr. Kay for a bit, but brought her back in this novel, newly minted and ready to take on the world. Things are much crisper and the narrative flows smoothly once again, allowing series fans to feel a sense of confidence in Cornwell once more. I was leery about how things would go with this book, but am confident that there is new life in the series and Dr. Kay Scarpetta once more. Now to see if this was a one-off or return to series writing.

Dr. Kay Scarpetta is back and ready to work hard. Series fans will be familiar with many of her nuances, some of which are back front and centre. Others will find the new Scarpetta fresh and hungering for order once again. With some of her new responsibilities, she keeps her plate full, especially with the work involving the White House. I can only hope that there will be more exploration of this key aspect in her work, which remains up in the air. Scarpetta has made some great friendships and I am eager to see them renewed, with added strength, once more.

Very few series I have read can last as long as this one and still have the needed momentum to keep readers interested. Patricia Cornwell had her slip, but I feel that she’s righted herself once more, recreating the greatness that was Dr. Scarpetta. With a well-developed narrative and strong story, Cornwell treats readers to a piece on par with some of the early works of the formidable medical examiner. Things build, as the reader gets reacquainted with Scarpetta and new (returning) characters make their mark. A few key plot twists provide some thrilling action and leave the reader unsure where things might go, but alway hoping for the trademark spice and smarmy nature that Scarpetta can bring to a story. I was pleased to see Cornwell returning to her roots, leaving space exploration for another author, and can only hope that murder trumps what she’s been putting out over the past few years. Bring on more Kay Scarpetta and refine this series!

Kudos, Madam Cornwell, for returning to what many feel is your greatest work. I am a dedicated fan, but really feel Scarpetta is where you belong.

Deepfake (Zack Wilder #3), by C.J. Croft

Nine stars

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

Having discovered the novels of C.J. Croft during the COVID-19 pandemic, I could not get enough of them. When she approached me to become a Beta reader for a new series, I was eager to help, hoping to get an early glimpse at more captivating stories. This is certainly some of the best writing she’s done, and perhaps some of the strongest I have read in the genre for many years. When FBI Special Agent Zack Wilder is approached to assist a sitting US senator, he is shocked to learn that there is a scandalous sex tape that could bring a political career to an abrupt halt. Working alongside a select few, Wilder learns that this video is not unique, part of a collection of ‘deepfakes’ that appear highly authentic, presumably seeking to blackmail others and stir up the pot. When these videos surface, the consequences are dire, leaving many to riot on the streets and America to enter a nuclear standoff that could end in catastrophe. A stunning continuation of the series, showing that Croft is the real deal when it comes to such thrillers.

FBI Special Agent Zack Wilder has been harbouring a secret connection to the Fulcrum for years, an organisation seeking to enact change with strong ties throughout the world. Tied to that is his connection with US Senator Peter MacNally, who is also his brother. When MacNally approaches him to help with a delicate situation, Wilder is all ears. It would seem that someone has sent the senator a video that shows him in a compromising sex video. Problem is, MacNally purports that it is a fake. While Wilder can hardly stomach watching the video, he has to admit that it looks real, down to a birthmark on his brother’s body. Still, he trusts MacNally and vows to get answers.

Working alone for the time being, Wilder tries to piece the truth together, but surmises that he is out of his element. When he gets a little outside assistance, Wilder soon discovers that this is not the only video of its kind. Other ‘deepfakes’ have been surfacing, so realistic that they are fooling all the software available at present. As Wilder and his new connection, a tech guru, comb through the videos, an eerie pattern emerges. These are videos that can easily dupe others, making them feel that what they see is actually taking place. Wilder must protect his brother at all costs, without revealing their connection to the Fulcrum or one another.

As Wilder sees things snowballing, he brings his partner and superior into the mix, which opens up an official FBI investigation. All the while, more videos emerge, including news reports that North Korea is set to launch nuclear weapons at America. With both sides unsure what is truth and fiction, the streets fill with people ready to riot. All the while, someone is churning out more deepfakes and pulling the strings on what might soon be a catastrophic turn of events.

Using his connections to the Fulcrum, Wilder tries to make sense of what is going on, but is stymied by the realistic nature of the videos and lack of any opening to prove their fallibility. However, as with everything the Fulcrum does, there are powers they possess that might open a door to locating the creator and getting answers before things turn disastrous. Wilder will have to play it safe, while forging ahead once again to ensure tranquility. C.J. Croft amazes fans again with this piece, sure to keep the reader turning pages well into the night.

This series developed from a great novella and has not looked back. C.J. Croft has used some stellar writing and wonderful plot lines to keep the reader enthralled and positively baffled as to where things will go. Research into a number of topics is evident throughout the narrative, while the reader is left stunned at the intricate nature of the discussion, without being bombarded throughout the reading journey.

Zack Wilder has a great deal on his plate, as can be seen by those who have followed the series to date. He’s a determined member of the FBI’s New York Field Office, while also juggling the secret connection to the Fulcrum. Pushed to help his brother and others in need of assistance, Wilder does all he can and finds himself in heaps of trouble throughout. With a partner who accepts no nonsense and a need to set things right, Wilder pushes forward at every opportunity. Finding time to romance the pretty lady who crosses his path, Wilder has developed a reputation for himself, which may endear him to some readers. He’s one protagonist I am eager to learn more about, as the series gets better with each new publication.

C.J. Croft knows her stuff and seems completely in tune with the sort of American crime thriller that will sell,. She’s got all the ingredients for a stellar series and has shown that heaps of research into subject matter can go a long way. I was pulled into the middle of the narrative early on and never lost interest, as Croft added layers that made the story even better. With an array of strong characters placed into the story at key moments, things gain momentum and keep building throughout. Plot twists are plentiful and there are times when the reader cannot help but push onwards, as the breadcrumbs are just too tantalising. This is a series that has the potential to rise to the top of the genre, with amazing writing keeping it there for years to come. Croft is a master and it is time others see it as well!

Kudos, Madam Croft, on yet another successful novel. Please, keep them coming and I will keep reading about the trials of Zack Wilder, with The Fulcrum in the shadows.

Straight Jack (Hunt for Reacher #16), by Diane Capri

Eight stars

A great fan of all things Jack Reacher, I was pleased to stumble upon Diane Capri’s series that explores a race to find this elusive nomad. Capri explores the chase to find Reacher through the eyes of two dedicated FBI agents and adds a curious case to help them bide their time. Special Agent Kim Otto has been on the hunt for Jack Reacher for the past number of months, but she’s been delayed by her current partner, who is nursing his injuries. Meanwhile, Reacher is said to have been spending time with a recent prison escapee who has taken to being a part of a gang robbing ATMs. Now, the hunt is on to find Reacher, locate the criminal, and stop the heists before things get any worse. Capri does well to stir up all the excitement in this wonderful instalment of the series.

A group of criminals have banded together to use their respective skills to target numerous ATMs across the country. Hoping to hit a big payday, each criminal must rely on the others, but one is still new and fairly green when it comes to this type of crime. While the crimes occur with moderate success, they leave a trail of breadcrumbs for the authorities.

All the while, Special Agent Kim Otto waits in a Nevada hospital, where her partner, William Burke, is recuperating after a clash with the elusive Jack Reacher. Once he is ready to go, Otto and Burke resume their hunt for Reacher, which is sure to take many odd turns. The first stop is in New Mexico, where Reacher is said to have been in touch with a recent prison escapee, who might hold the key to finding the nomadic traveller. However, things go south when a body is discovered in a hotel, leaving Otto feeling that the hunt has taken on a new importance.

Following the bank heists that have shocked various communities, Otto and Burke seek answers and hope to find a man responsible for a murder, but who could also point them towards their ultimate prize. With some assistance from Otto’s former partner, Carlos Gaspar, the pair try to synthesise all they know about Reacher. It is only when the FBI pair make it to Chicago that they are able to make significant headway, in the form of an old acquaintance from Reacher’s past military experience. Might this finally be the moment Jack Reacher meets his match with Special Agent Kim Otto? Capri offers up perhaps her best in the series to date with this novel, proving that Reacher and all those around him still have what it takes.

While I have long loved all that is Reacher, I found new joy and excitement when I discovered the work of Diane Capri. She offers up some great writing to parallel the creations of Lee Child, offering insightful stories that complement the original work. With a great narrative and some well-developed characters, Capri shows how this series can serve to work with the Reacher collection, or stand on its own. I cannot wait to see what else Capri does while keeping things a step behind the great Lee Child’s roadmap.

Special Agent Kim Otto remains in the protagonist’s seat throughout this series. She has had two primary partners, but always seems keen to run things in her own manner. She takes the lead in the investigation and makes it her own, trying to finally crack the chase open and finally bring Jack Reacher in for questioning. Always a step behind, this is Otto’s time to prove herself to others and make the difference in this game of cat and mouse.

Diane Capri has done well for herself, though this is the only of her series that I have tried reading to date. Her ability to keep things fresh as the characters race to stay close behind Reacher’s nomadic wanderings makes for great reading, no matter how much is known about the primary series. A great narrative keeps the reader on their toes, with many characters to entertain throughout the journey. Capri tries to find ties to Lee Child’s work, while keeping it from being too repetitive, which is sure to impress those who know the Reacher series well. There’s something for everyone, it would seem, with some great story arcs that have lasted for a handful of novels, as well as others that have yet to be resolved from the series debut. Bring on the next Hunt for Reacher novel. I cannot wait!

Kudos, Madam Capri, for a series that never seems to get stale. I am eager to see what;s next and how things will evolve.

Silent Slipper (Julia Fairchild #5), by PJ Peterson

Eight stars

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

After recently discovering the cozy mysteries of PJ Peterson, I call myself an excited fan. Peterson presents a lighter mystery in interesting climates, which provides the reader with something to pass the time and feel entertained. Julia Fairchild and her sister, Carly Pedersen, have decided to travel on a vacation, leaving their troubles and love interests back home. While out on the beaches of the British Virgin Islands, they find a woman’s body floating in the water, with a lovely necklace and single slipper next to it. Things soon heat up, as Julia and Carly work with the local police to see what’s going on and how a criminal enterprise might be up to no good. Peterson delivers another great story that I devoured in a single day!

Julia Fairchild has a knack for finding mysteries and murder whenever she packs a suitcase. She promises her sister, Carly, that things will be different on this, their anticipated girls’ getaway to the British Virgin Islands. Ready for the sun and sand, Julia and Carly stroll along the beach, only to discover the body of a woman floating in the water. While she is an accomplished doctor, Julia can do nothing and decided that it is best to document the scene and alert the authorities. They notice that the woman has only a single slipper and a medallion of sorts that apperars to be religious in nature. The etching is nothing that either Julia or Carly can read, adding to the mystery.

When Julia and Carly approach the police chief, he orders an autopsy to get some answers. The toxicology shows significant drugs in the victim’s system, leaving many to wonder if there might be a criminal element using the island to distribute their product. While she is itching to help Julia stands down and allows the authorities to take the lead.

While Julia and Carly wait to see how they can help, they come across a group filming a moving along the coast. Intrigued, they make friends with some of the actors and hope to score roles as extras, if only for a day or two. The costumes and footwear worn by the cast bear a striking resemblance to those the victim had on when she was found. Might there be a connection?

When a few of the extras chosen for the film go missing, Julia and Carly can no longer sit on the sidelines, itching to help find out what is going on. It is sure to be dangerous, particularly in a part of the world they do not know, but the sense of adventure is more than either can ignore. PJ Peterson keeps the reader flipping pages well into the evening, as she did with me once again!

I discovered PJ Peterson’s work through the Reedy’s site, after another author spoke highly of her work. I was taken with how easily I could read and review the previous books in this series and can only hope they will continue in the years to come. Peterson mixes an easily digested story with some dazzling settings to provide the reader with something intriguing that is sure to keep them flipping pages. Everything flows well and the end result is a cozy mystery that has just enough spice to keep things interesting.

Julia Fairchild is again in the driver’s seat for this novel, though her focus is more on the case at hand than swooning any men. She is becoming very ‘Jessica Fletcher-esque’ as she stumbles upon a number of mysteries wherever she might be, while also keeping things on point with her witty remarks. I have seen much growth in her (and Carly) over the series and hope it continues into the future.

The key to a great mystery is to have all the elements in order without revealing too much at the early stages. PJ Peterson has it all and uses her skills well to allow the reader to become one with the story without feeling too bogged down. A great narrative that clips along keeps the reader in the middle of the action. Plot twists find themselves developing with ease, though the reader is not lost when things take place. Fabulous settings, described in an effective manner, keep the reader feeling as though they are part of the action, with local characters adding to the flavour. I have devoured all the books in the series to date and cannot wait for more, whenever they might arrive.

Kudos, Madam Peterson, for another winner in my eye. I am so pleased to have been shown your work and am happy to read anything you put in front of me.

Murder in the Neighborhood, by Ellen J. Green

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ellen J. Green, and Thread for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always curious about the world of true crime, I eagerly chose this book to enjoy. The story appeared straightforward and the premise clear, which only made it all the most intriguing to me. One hot, September morning in 1949, a young man walks along the main strip in East Camden, New Jersey and begins firing. Where the smoke settles, thirteen people are dead. While the shooter did not deny committing the crime, there’s a concern of mental illness, which forces the authorities to undertake significant testing. What follows is the story of the shooting, its aftermath, and a deeper exploration of what might have happened to lead a “quiet man” to commit such a horrific crime. Ellen J. Green does a masterful job at storytelling in this piece.

It was a muggy morning, that September 6, 1949, when Raymond Havens headed out to get a haircut. Little did he know, his life would change forever that day. While walking up the main road in East Camden, New Jersey, Havens heard shots and soon saw Howard Unruh wielding a gun and shooting indiscriminately. Blood flowed and bodies fell, leaving thirteen people dead after Unruh’s twelve-minute spree. This was the first recorded mass shooting in the United States and the authorities were baffled.

Unruh did not deny the shooting, allowing himself to be taken into custody. However, with the electric chair as a looming possibility, everyone wanted to make sure that things were clear, sending Unruh for evaluation to ensure he was fit to stand trial. All the while, young Raymond began piecing things together for himself, wondering if there were more to the story than a war vet who lost his way.

As the story progresses, the reader receives insight into the life of Howard Unruh, as well as the connection that he had with his family. His time in Europe was surely trying on him, as was the struggles he faced afterwards when he returned stateside. Deep psychological analyses helped professionals see a darker side to Unruh, one that few knew about, but which turned to fodder for the press and local gossip circles.

Raymond offers his own views on the shooting, having witnessed it, as well as some of the encounters he had with Unruh leading up to the day. Together, it may create a more comprehensive narrative as to why a twenty-eight year old man would turn from docile into someone filled with rage. The truth reveals much and paints quite a complicated picture of this small, coastal town. Ellen J. Green does a wonderful job with this piece, pulling the reader in from the opening pages.

While true crime is not my go-to genre, I do enjoy treating myself on occasion. I enjoy learning more about the crimes, the background, and the thought of the killer as they prepare for the event. Ellen J. Green did a wonderful job of telling this story, the first documented mass shooting spree in US history. She looks at the event from a number of angles and pulls on details that help shape the narrative in interesting ways. The writing is clear and flows well, keeping the reader a part of the action all the way through.

Green focuses her attention on Howard Unruh and Raymond Havens throughout the piece, though there are many others whose appearance helps shape the narrative. These two offer insights in the shooting itself, its backstory, and even the fallout thereafter. Green uses them and their views primarily to cobble things together for the curious reader. That said, she was a great job of providing needed backstory on the victims as well and how townsfolk handled the news and scandal of such a crime in their own backyards.

Green’s depiction of events in 1949 is not only clear, but also helps develop a wonderful foundation for the rest of the novel. Working with primary sources and small-town newspapers, she pieces the crime together, offering the reader some insights throughout the narrative. A well-paced story, told from a few angles, makes things come to life and provides the reader with the needed insight to come to some of their pwn conclusions as well. Exploring the lives of many, victims and townsfolk alike, helps breathe a realism into the piece that makes the reader want to delve a little deeper. While there were no major mysteries surrounding the shootings, it is the secret life that came to be discovered that makes this book all the more suspenseful. I will have to look into reading more that Green has to offer, when time permits.

Kudos, Madam Green, for a great piece you said was recounted to you by a family members all those years ago. You did it justice and I cannot wit to do some of my own research on the subject.