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.