Once a Thief (Simon Riske #4), by Christopher Reich

Eight stars

Back for another stunning thriller by Christopher Reich, I was ready for a great read! Reich did not disappoint with this piece, which mixes action with some international espionage. There is action from the outset, which does not die down until the final page turn, providing the reader with something entertaining throughout. Another stellar piece by Reich.

Simon Riske finds himself in California, helping to facilitate the massive purchase of a vintage vehicle that has recently been restored. However, things take a turn when Sylvia Bettencourt demands that the sale be halted until the car’s original gearbox can be found, Riske finds himself in a panic. He does all he can to pave the way for the sale, but trips on an old Russian enemy that could surely prove troublesome. He’s back in Europe, but those are not the only memories he has at the time.

With the gearbox in the hands of a ruthless criminal, Riske will have to bend the rules in order to appease the mystery buyer, all the while thirsting himself into a great deal of trouble. Riske is about to secure the gearbox, when Sylvia shows him something highly prejudicial that could put Riske in jail for murder, forcing the man to work, if only temporarily, for Sylvie. It’s money lauding at the highest level, something that Riske vowed he would never help facilitate. However, what other choice does he have if he is to stay on the right side of the law?

All the while, a car bomb explodes and kills a Swiss banker. His daughter is baffled by what’s happened and begins investigating on her own. What she learns is intriguing, but there are those with eyes on her, hoping that they will be able to silence this amateur sleuth before she learns the truth. Riske is pulled into the middle of helping her as well, as he tries to dismantle the money laundering operation at its core. Reich does well with this piece, amping up the action at every turn and keeping Simon Riske extremely busy.

I have always enjoyed the work of Christopher Reich and find that he gets to the heart of the matter with ease. His writing is fast-paced and usually on point, keeping the reader enthralled until the final page turn. Just what I needed as I pushed through the weekend.

Simon Riske is a great protagonist, offering up a little more of his backstory and a great deal of development. Riske has done it all and thought that he could turn away from his life in the criminal world, but it would seem that he has to blur the lines ones in a while. Riske shows off his abilities well and keeps the reader wondering what they will discover next, which only adds to the greatness of the story.

Christopher Reich uses all the elements to create a stellar piece and develops in through a strong narrative. The story flows with ease and keeps the reader guessing as things take many twists throughout. I find that his use of varied characters keeps things exciting and intriguing in equal measure, forcing the reader to follow many paths and keep things straight. A mix of chapter lengths has the reader intrigued throughout, allowing them to wonder what’s next for this fast-paced spy with a past he wishes could stay hidden. I am eager to see what’s to come and how series fans will be surprised in the next novel. Always a great reading experience.

Kudos, Mr. Reich, for an entertaining reader. You never fail to impress!

Movieland (Eve Ronin #4), by Lee Goldberg

Eight stars

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

Always eager to get my hands on the latest publication by Lee Goldberg, I turned to the new Eve Ronin novel. Working on an intriguing angle, Goldberg helps progress his protagonist’s development while reminding readers of some important backstory. With an intense crime thriller woven into the larger narrative, the book takes many twists until its culmination, while also offering a few tantalizing subplots to offset the main themes. Goldberg shows that he’s well worth the time invested in this novel.

Eve Ronin has never had it easy within the Los Angeles Sheriff Department (LASD), having risen to fame after an amateur video depicted her defending a helpless individual. The animosity of her quick promotion has surrounded her, as she’s been unable to work with any of her colleagues, save one. Her current partner, Duncan ‘Donuts’ Pavone, has stuck by her, mostly because his retirement is only weeks away.

When Ronin and Pavone are called to the scene of a shooting, they are left baffled as to what’s happened. Two campers were shot in the field of a property used by some movie studios, one dead from her injuries. Ronin works as many angles as she can, trying to determine who might have wanted these women killed and why. Unbeknownst to her, the surviving victim is an active blogger who has amassed a number of enemies in the social media world.

As Ronin and Pavone try to make headway, other shootings from the past come to light, leaving them to wonder if this might be part of a larger crime spree. The evidence has yet to confirm that and the forensics are sparse, leaving the LASD detectives to pull at any threads before them. When a prominent leader in the community is shot, things ramp up to a new level of intensity, forcing Ronin and Pavone to take a second and third look at the evidence before them.

All the while, Ronin is trying to juggle work with the news that her life story and crime fighting is being turned into the latest direct-to-streaming television program. With writers trying to paint her in ways that are not entirely realistic to parents who have come out of the woodwork to offer up their own services, and even Pavone who wants in on the action as a creative consultant. Ronin will have to keep it all in check, as a shooter and killer remains at large. Could it all come crashing down before it’s even started? Goldberg does well with their fourth novel in the series, showing that there is a lot left to discover about Eve Ronin and those around her.

Having been saddled with a number of heavier reads in the last few weeks, I needed something a little lighter. Goldberg’s piece was the perfect pick, as it mixes a quick narrative with a captivating story that kept me entertained throughout. While it may be a but of irony, I could see the novel (and the rest of the series) working well as a television program, with the perfect balance of crime thriller and humour throughout. Goldberg has a great deal of experience when it comes to writing in all forms and it shows with this piece, which is both an easy and quick read for those seeking something light.

Eve Ronin has been through a great deal, as series fans will known. While Goldberg does summarise much of it in this book, the entirety of the series shows how Ronin has struggled to defend her position within the LASD. She’s been forced to juggle an intense workload with some interesting goings-on in her personal life, always keeping her on her toes. While she may never win over all those within the LASD, Ronin tries to stand tall and do her job without letting the politics drag her down. Still, there is more to Ronin that the reader has yet to discover, and I hope Goldberg will keep pursuing her development in upcoming novels.

While not all books are created equal, there are times a reader just needs something light and entertaining. This is one of those pieces, allowing the reader something exciting and fast-paced without requiring too much thinking. Goldberg uses a strong narrative and good plot development to hook the reader, while adding great characters and a story arc that provides something else to enjoy. I discovered Goldberg through another series, but find myself completely enthralled with this one as well, which inserts just enough humour to keep me coming back and excited whenever I see publication news about a new instalment.

Kudos, Mr. Goldberg, for helping ease me into the summer months with the first of what I hope are many great ‘beach’ or ‘travel’ reads. I look forward to whatever else you have in store for your fans.

I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year, by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker

Nine stars

Having thoroughly enjoyed their original collaboration, I turned to this unexpected follow-up tome by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. Full of wonderful journalistic nuggets, the authors use their credible sources and varied perspectives to paint quite the picture of the last year Donald J. Trump served in the White House during his term as president. Touching on a number of powerful themes and using the support of many within the Trump inner circle, the authors portray things as chaotic as they appeared in reports by the mainstream media throughout 2020 and into 2021. Not to be missed by those who want a strong piece that has been substantiated by the reporting of many others, a well the reader who needs an inside look into how power can create delusions of grandeur for those who become easily inebriated by it.

While there is much Leonnig and Rucker have to report throughout 2020, perhaps the most pervasive throughout the year would be the events surrounding COVID-19 and its handling by the Administration. Downplayed from the outset, Trump and his closest aides refused to see the storm that was brewing. Medical professionals sought to develop a plan to protect the public, but Trump was more about appearances and stopping any limitations that might befall his voter base. Even the Secretary of Health and Human Services tried to appeal to the safety concerns for the general public, but it seemed as though Trump was ready to call this a simple flu-like event and scoffed at any further concern. This sentiment bled into many other parts of the book, including the campaign for reelection, and was not stymied when Trump, himself, contracted COVID in the weeks before the election. Social distancing, masks, and any precautions seemed to be a waste for the man who thought himself Superman amongst the commoners.

As mentioned above, Trump used 2020 to push his own agenda, which included attending many more of his mega (MAGA) rallies. These events, which gave POTUS a chance to spout lies and half-truths to people who could not drink the Kool-Aid fast enough, turned out to be the place to stir up drama and trouble for everyone. Trump thought these rallies were the lifeblood of his presidency, though they were all scripted to ensure his supporters heard him speak on the latest theory that passed his desk and seek to defile anyone who might have a voice to the contrary. The authors show how these events became even more troublesome when the election preparation was in full swing, as people would not follow protocols and infected one another with ease. All to hear lies forced down their throats and chants that would leave some to question to extent of the First Amendment.

Amidst all the other goings-on in 2020, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement solidified a chance for the president to bring the country together, though he failed miserably. Instead, it was more pandering to his base and vilifying peaceful protesting in hopes of discounting the issues at hand. As the authors discuss in passing, Trump had no interest to address issues that would push him away from his base, choosing to ignore the violence or point fingers on the left for being the sole troublemakers. As the tensions rose, Trump politicised the clashes as being a fight for truth, all while pushing lies onto his base, most of whom knew no better, an issue unto itself.

The 2020 presidential election was perhaps the central event that year, though it touched on so many other aspects the book professes. Trump was sure that he was headed to a massive reelection victory and wanted the world to know it. He tossed verbal grenades at anyone standing in his way and downplayed the need to alter how things were done. Social distancing meant that voting would take on a new face, with many choosing mail-in ballots ahead of Election Day. While Trump downplayed this as a means of ‘falsifying’ results, he kept at his whirlwind rallying and trying to run things within the West Wing. When Joe Biden was chosen as the Democratic nominee, Trump lashed out at the man, trying to use unfounded views the stir up controversy, as only he can with ease. The authors do a masterful job looking at the election events and how Trump thought he could steamroll through things, creating doubt in the results even before they came in. At the end of the day (or a few days), the dust settled and Trump had lost. As many readers will know, Trump does not handle NO or LOSE well, which led to another whirlwind that proved to be the most intriguing part of the book; Trump’s swan song.

From the news that certain states (read: Arizona and Georgia) were not firmly in the Trump column on Election Night, the White House knew there were to be issues with POTUS and his handling of the results. As the authors depict in detail, Trump challenged the validity of the results as soon as they began coming in, crying foul and making sure everyone knew it was fixed. This led to days of conspiracy theories, even as all states recounted and a formal announcement of Biden’s win came across the airwaves. What followed was a collection of lawsuits, accusations, and false bravado to explore what appeared to be some sort of breach in the democratic process. Many readers will remember the soap opera-like dram that ensued and the flimsy lawsuits that were, almost literally, laughed out of court. Still, it was only when the formal certification of the results in Congress took place that things go really problematic. Building up to it in the final chapters, the authors clearly show events of January 6, 2021 as being a true insurrection on the Capitol and an attempt to hijack the democratic process, led by a man whose drunkenness on power baffled even those within his inner circle. Democracy had been tested and yet it withstood, for the most part, its most ardent foe sitting in the White House. America returned to a form of greatness, not because of the events from January 20, 2017- January 20, 2021, but in spite of it!

While i love politics and history, there are some events that are so enshrined in both that I cannot help but read about them over and over. While I lived through the drama of the Trump Administration (and worry there may be a second if voters do not get their poop in a group), I cannot help but sit, jaw slackened, when I read about all the antics that took place. Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker have used their two books to do just that, offering up sensational writing, reporting, and narratives about events and how things played out. The storytelling is almost fictional, as there is so much that just does not seem real, but the authors substantiate it with interviews, comments, and source material to keep it fresh for the reader. This book, which chronicled only the last year of the Trump Administration, proved to be a powerhouse in all forms, leaving the reader to feel enthralled by the detail, fearful by the events depicted, and curious about the future. Well-developed chapters tell the story in a clear fashion, while sources help prop up the goings-on, even when certain sycophants choose to forget what happened before them. I cannot say enough about the book, the authors, and the events depicted therein.

While I took many, many things away from this read, one that jumped off the page and slapped me in the face repeatedly would have to be the level of belief surrounding unsubstantiated accusations or the enshrinement of a false narrative that many tied to Trump have (including the man himself). Dictators of the future take note, this is how you spin things and indoctrinate others!

Kudos, Madam Leonnig and Mr. Rucker, for an sensational piece. I can only wonder what’s next for you both, collaboratively or individually. You’ve proven yourselves to be stellar journalists and apt political commentators.

She’s Mine, by A.A. Chaudhuri

Eight stars

Having read and enjoyed other books by A.A. Chaudhuri, I was eager to get my hands on this one. Usually full of great twists throughout the narrative, Chaudhuri impresses readers with the style of writing that develops thrills from the opening pages. This book proved to be a little different from the others and I could not feel the same connection developing, though I know many will flock to it, as it is told in a unique and captivating fashion.

Christine Donovan took a call that ought to have been ignored twenty years ago. While she turned away to speak, her daughter, Heidi went missing at the playground. Distraught and unsure what do do, Christine spiralled out of control. Heidi has not been seen since, though her memory lingers for Christine.

Christine and her husband, Greg, have two other children, which might be a silver lining in all of this. However, the guilt and responsibility weigh on Christine, so much so that she’s sought therapeutic help to work through the emotions of the event. Tied into it all is the secret of the phone call that had Christine turn away from Heidi, which could be devastating, should anyone else find out who was on the other end of the line.

As Christine tries to rebuild her life and make inroads with her new therapist, a note appears to offer a piece of news that will turn everyone on its head. Heidi is not dead and has been growing up with another family all this time. Who could have taken her and kept it under wraps for this long? What will Heidi feel when she comes face to face with her mother after all this time? Behind it all is a handful of truths that no one could have expected to come flooding out, as well as a chance for Christine to come to terms with everything that’s happened over the past two decades. A.A. Chaudhuri does well to keep the reader engaged and provides a few ‘aha’ moments to keep them on their toes.

I enjoy a thriller where things are less than linear, forcing the reader to pay close attention in order to follow what’s taking place. A.A. Chaudhuri does just that in this piece, addressing a number of issues across the backdrop of a long period of time. Her writing style is strong and the ideas appear to flow with ease, creating an entertaining outcome that many will enjoy. While not as stunning ad some of her past work, I did enjoy this move away from what I have come to expect.

THe story centres around Christine Donovan and all she has had to overcome, but there were many whose lives have been impacted by the kidnapping. Chaudhuri offers up numerous perspectives in the piece, enriching the reader’s experience with a number of moments whereby there is both backstory and development. Christine’s struggles, Heidi’s coming to terms with what has happened, and even the new family who raised a toddler. The emotional strains of all three of these perspectives arise in the story and keep the reader wondering how they will mesh together. Chaudhuri does well to paint her characters in such a light that it makes sense and impacts the reader quite effectively throughout the reading experience.

A strong story cannot rely simply on a few ingredients for success. Rather, there has to see something to captivate the reader from the get-go and sustain that impact throughout the experience. A.A. Chaudhuri does that well and keeps the reader guessing what is to come through a narrative that packs quite the punch. As mentioned above, there are some formidable characters that add depth and flavour to the piece, as well as plot twists that keep the reader guessing. Told through a number of perspectives, the piece offers up angled storytelling that gives a fuller and more exciting reading experience for everyone involved, which is something I truly admired. I’ll keep my eyes open for more by the author, which is sure to be a treat for me in the moving years.

Kudos, Madam Chaudhuri, on another successful piece of writing. I am eager to delve deeper into more of your work, as they are published.

Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost, by Michael C. Bender

Nine stars

Since anytime is a good time for a book on politics, I eagerly grabbed for this piece by Michael C. Bender to explore things a little more. Bender, who had been following Donald J. Trump since he announced his candidacy for President of the United States (POTUS) in 2015, originally set out to write a book exploring the 2020 presidential election campaign. Using his role as a political journalist for the Wall Street Journal, Bender soon saw his tome morph into an insider’s look at the Administration’s handling of all things COVID-19 and preparation for an election like no other. Bender’s insight and closeness to many of those who spoke with regards to the book allows the reader a front-row seat into the thinking, actions, and policy delivery that had only been speculated about by many other news sources. Sure to be panned by those who suckle at the teat of Trumpism as yet another #fakenews fabrication, one must ask just how large this apparent conspiracy must be if Bender’s interviews substantiate much of what has been reported over the last few years.

Bender’s connection to US politics is by no means peripheral. His role as a senior political reporter for the Wall Street Journal allowed him to follow Donald J. Trump from the inception of the man’s campaign for POTUS in 2015. Bender opens by exploring some of the early memories of those days when Trump fought tooth and nail with his own unique style to win-over many Republicans (GOP) voters in the primaries. He does not delve too much into the Russian hijacking of the results, but that is surely for another book outside the purview of what he wishes to cover. Still, there was a buzz around Trump, an aura of something other worldly that, at the time, could not have easily foretold the mess that would be the next number of years.

While Trump made the uncanny decision to announce his reelection campaign almost as soon as the ink dried on the 2016 results, Bender explores this as a means to ensure the political fundraising never stopped. While there were some issues with this (politically knowledgeable folks will know what I mean by the Hatch Act), Trump went with it and turned his campaigning into something unlike anything others had seen before. Mass rallies of supporters, coming to hear the message their leader told, even if it could not be substantiated in fact. These rallies and gatherings would become the crux of the issue in the years to come, particularly when a few other elements were added to the mix.

With the formal 2020 election season getting underway, Trump sought to crush anything that stood in his way, though Bender shows that he could not have predicted some of the hurdles. The emergence of COVID-19 was something that could not have been predicted in the most fanciful pieces of political fiction, though here it was in reality. Trump used it not as a means to unite the country, but divide and alienate those who wanted to protect their health before everything else. Bender cites numerous times when Trump and his inner circles tried to curtail responsible leadership around the virus and used their own personal views to lead a people who were dying or getting sick en masse. Mass gatherings, unfounded (and dangerous) cures, and refusal to take things seriously all led to infection numbers (and deaths) much higher than they needed to be, while Trump downplayed the issue repeatedly. Even some within his inner circles (and, gasp, Fox News) began to wonder if Trump understood the gravity of what was taking place before him and how his leadership failed abysmally.

Other issues that arose in the 2020 campaign included the continual push towards understanding and synthesizing the civil rights movement, reinvigorated by a number of police brutality cases across the country. Trump, who apparently wanted to offer sympathy to the victims, soon turned things on its head by leaving the messaging and appealing to his base, by refusing to point fingers at obvious problems. This fuelled the fires and led to much animosity amongst large portions of the population, as well as turning the events into political fodder to further divide the country. Bender offers countless examples of how Trump and his inner team tried to turn things on the protestors as being violent insurrectionists that he needed to trample, all in an effort to show law and order, while being anything but the leader needed at the time. While this should surprise one one at all, seeing it substantiated yet again is truly shocking.

Bender uses the latter portion of the book to explore his original intent for the book. The election campaign was full of rallies, one-first statements, and attempts to bully any number of those who might be the Democratic Party candidate. Once Joe Biden emerged, Trump turned to a new level of mockery and tried to use his past accusations against the candidate’s son, Hunter, to gain traction. However, as Bender repeats, Trump often forgot that these accusations and the financial fallout of political bullying a foreign government got him impeached the first time. With great analysis of the presidential debates, Bender explores how much of a mess the Trump Campaign sought to make things, as though drama should supersede truth in an attempt to convince voters of their best choice. Standing firm to polls and accusing those who tried to contradict them ass #fakenews advocates, the drama continued, even after the country chose Biden.

The last portion of the book explores the zany challenge to election results, which culminated in the January 6th, 2021 riots on the Capitol. While Bender tells it so well, much of what he says has been discussed at such length that it does not bear repeating in this review. Sour grapes and a refusal to grasp with reality become themes of the book’s culminating chapters, which also served as the swan song for, perhaps, one of the country’s most controversial leaders. Bender leaves the door open as to what 2024 holds, which could be a return for yet another round of embarrassing Kool-Aid drinking and fabricated realities. I’m ready, popcorn in hand, to see what is to come!

While I have not read anything by Michael C. Bender before, I found his writing to be not only clear, but levelled. He is obviously one of the respected journalists that Trump has allowed into his inner circle, as well as one who has earned accolades for his work. The telling of the stories here was both clear and detailed, with source substantiation throughout. I felt as though I were right there, inside the White House or sitting in on key conversations. While I did not always agree with the angle, I could see Bender’s perspective and respect that a great deal. The reader can see how things progress nicely, provided perspectives on all sides of the story. What they do with the facts presented is up to them, but I applaud Bender for his strong writing style, well-paced chapters, and wonderful narrative throughout. I will certainly look for more by the author to better understand American politics, should time permit.

Kudos, Mr. Bender, on a stellar piece of work. You’re on my radar for political non-fiction and i am eager to see what else you have to offer.

Crux, by Robert Hamilton

Six stars

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

Having stumbled upon this book by Robert Hamilton, I was eager to give it a chance. It was the dust jacket blurb that piqued by attention, as it seemed Hamilton would use this book to explore a number of intriguing platforms. While he does do that effectively, I was not as mesmerized as some other reviewers, feeling as though I could not connect with parts of the writing and themes presented to me.

The premise of the book is that America is fraying at the edges and being left on the brink. From the vein of religiosity that flows through the country through to some of the barbaric means by which animals are treated to put food on the table, the country is teetering on the brink. The story’s central character, Dr. Thomas Pickett, wrestles with these issues and how he sees the country turning away from being a leader to covering things up for the almighty dollar. At the heart of the matter is the strain this puts on democracy, in its truest form, taking control from the voter to those with power and influence. Nothing new there, but the concept is as blunt as can be.

While the writing was easy enough to comprehend, I was not pulled in by it and felt the aforementioned blurb was more scintillating than what I was presented with throughout the reading experience. I can see what Hamilton sought to do, using fiction writing as a worthwhile soapbox to air his concerns and ideas. There is no doubt that Hamilton understands many of the issues he discusses, going into great depth at various points of the narrative. For me, it fell short and left me wondering if I had missed something. I noticed others lauding the book and its themes, but I cannot let others steer me into thinking I am the issue.

Short chapters worked for Hamilton, helping to gain momentum throughout the reading experience. I was able to sit and read chunks at a time without issue, but kept hoping something would resonate within me and leave me wanting more. This could be a one-off or just my personal struggles at this point in time. Whatever the reason, I remain unsure if I will seek more by Robert Hamilton to avenge this novel’s lack of a spark for me.

Kudos, Mr. Hamilton, for your efforts, even if it did not work for me. I hope others continue to find greatness in your writing.

22 Seconds (Women’s Murder Club #22), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Eight stars

James Patterson and Maxine Paetro are back for another explosive instalment of the Women’s Murder Club. Detective Lindsay Boxer packs a punch in this piece, alongside her friends, as they unravel numerous mysteries, including a major shipment of drugs and arms fro Mexico. Tossing caution into the wind, Boxer will have to uncover just who’s dirty and protect her family at the same time. Another great piece in the series, showing that the Patterson-Paetro collaboration works wonders.

Word on the street is that a major shipment of drugs and guns have made their way into San Francisco from Mexico, led by members of a dangerous cartel. Detective Lindsay Boxer leads the SFPD portion of a task force into cracking the mystery wide open, while also discovering who is the head of the snake. What she uncovers is baffling and quite worrisome. Not only are the illegal items finding their way onto California streets, but people are being murdered in an apparent attempt to silence any leaks.

It would seem that there are crooked cops all through the shipment’s route, turning head or greasing wheels to ensure these illegal items make their way onto the streets. As Boxer and her husband, a veteran of various US Agencies, work to discover the truth, they come to the realisation that they could be putting themselves and their family at risk.

As the dead bodies mount, there is a troubling sense that this is one fight that cannot end peacefully. All the while, others in the Club tackle their own issues, from the body of a young girl found in a ditch to the daunting task of writing the memoirs of a serial killers. Patterson and Paetro impress with another novel in a series that seems to be working well!

This series has been one of the more reliable collections with Patterson’s name affixed, leaving readers able to predict that something good will come of it. The premise is simple and the delivery quite accurate, especially when there are usually numerous plots taking place in a single novel. Patterson and Paetro offer up some decent writing and keep the characters progressing nicely, something that is surely difficult this far into the series. I’m always eager to see what is to come with Lindsay Boxer and her Women’s Murder Club. This novel solidified that for me.

Twenty-two books into the series. an make it difficult to find development or new backstory that has not been discussed. While the pile of novels is high, the central characters appear to find ways to make things exciting. There is always the progression within Lindsay’s family and the odd mention of certain personal details surrounding the other three, all of which permits the series fan to feel connected to all that is going on. I read, not only for the mystery, but also to see how things will progress with the characters, and am rarely left disappointed at any point. I do wonder what awaits me in novels to come, especially how some of the breadcrumbs left in the narrative will come to fruition.

While the writing and plots are rarely something that I would call stellar, the books are reliable when it comes to entertaining. There is always somehting going on and I can usually get some great action within the pages of the story. A well-plotted narrative keeps the story moving along, as well as some keen twists to keep things from being too predictable. I can usually count on something decent when it comes to character development, all strung together in short chapters, as per Patterson’s trademark. While there have been so many novels, things have yet to go stale, which is nice for a series reader such as myself. I have said it before and will repeat myself here; there needs to be a decent crossover with some of the other Patterson series, pulling together some great detective work with a cast that many fans of Patterson’s work can enjoy.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro, for another decent addition to the series. Where will you take these ladies from San Fran next, I can only wonder.

The A.B.C. Murders (Hercule Poirot #13), by Agatha Christie

Eight stars

Agatha Christie pens perhaps one of her most exciting pieces yet with this story, tossing Hercule Poirot into the middle of an investigation with a serial killer on the loose. The story takes many twists and keeps the reader enthralled until the very end, as Poirot is up against his most dashing criminal yet in a piece that offers no reprieve from the action. Some call it Christie’s best work and I would say it is one of the best I have read to date!

After Arthur Hastings returns to see his longtime friend, Hercule Poirot, the retired detective gets a letter in the post from a mysterious individual. The letter states that there will be a murder in the coming days and signs it with the elusive ‘A.B.C.’. Intrigued, Poirot waits and soon a report that Alice Asher has been bludgeoned in Andover comes across the wire. At the scene is an ABC Railway Guide, as if it is a clue to the foreboding letter. Poirot and Hastings can only wonder if there is more to come and how they will track this killer down.

While it is a while after Alice Asher, another body emerges with the same ABC guide next to it, similar alliteration accompanying the murder scene. Poirot is baffled and wonders if this will continue throughout the entire alphabet. While Hastings watches his friend work, he cannot help but wonder if Poirot has met his match.

After another murder, the police remain on edge and Poirot is stymied. More mocking letters arrive, but no clues accompany them, leaving the Belgian to grasp at straws. Still, there must be a connection to the victims, the locales, and the killer, even if Poirot cannot connect the dots. Twenty-six potential victims is too many and with four already complete, it will be a bloody mess should Poirot not clue in soon. Christie pushes her protagonist to the limit with this one, perhaps the most challenging piece to date.

Agatha Christie has rarely disappointed in the Poirot series, though her stories can sometimes ebb and flow as the novels pile up. This was a great one that had all the elements of a successful story and keeps the reader engaged until the very end, with a most mysterious murderer on the loose. A strong narrative with some interesting twists embedded in the telling, Christie delivers just at the right time to keep the reader wanting more.

As I have said many times before, Poirot is a great detective, but the reader learns little about him as a person or his life throughout these novels. While this is not turned on its head in this piece, there is a degree of testing the man’s mettle by developing a strong game of cat and mouse in this story. Poirot is not used to being toyed with, but there is no way he can escape the game set out for him. How he reacts provides the reader with a little more about the man’s patience and determination, even if one cannot call it true character development. Christie has certainly upped the ante when it come to her prized detective and I hope there is more pushing him out of his comfort zone soon.

Serial killers play such a prominent role in modern crime thrillers and mysteries, but this was the first time Agatha Christie used one for Poirot. It worked well and allowed for some interesting developments throughout. Christie’s narrative is strong and Arthur Hastings takes over for his first person telling of events, though there is an odd set of chapters that profess a third person, offering the reader insights not found in past books where Hastings led the recounting. I am not sure how I feel about it, as the overall story was great, even with these awkward moments. Short chapters propel the story forward and the characters found on each page provide some entertainment for the curious reader. I can only hope that there will be more of the recurring characters, as they bridge past novels with this one, though it is always worthwhile to see new faces add a certainly flavour to the piece. I am eager to see if Poirot will find more serial killers as the series progresses, or if a single killer and a key event will again be ruthless recipe for success.

Kudos, Dame Christie, for a new perspective. I am eager to see what’s coming and how you will top what you have already written.

Death in the Clouds (Hercule Poirot #12), by Agatha Christie

Eight stars

Taking to the skies, Hercule Poirot challenges himself in this next Agatha Christie mystery. Having utilised her protagonist in so many ways, Christie pushes the envelope and places the Belgian in a contained airplane when someone is murdered, forcing him to show that sleuthing is not just something done with feet firmly affixed to the ground. Christie uses her skills once again to dazzle the reader in this piece, sure to impress many.

During a flight from Paris to London, a passenger is found dead on board, a tiny puncture in her neck. While some might think that it could be the result of a wasp sting, Hercule Poirot can tell that it is more nefarious. While seated onboard, he has the perfect view of a number of the passengers and helps deduce that it was no sting.

When a blow dart is discovered in the plane, it is presumed to be the weapon used for the murder, Tipped with a deadly poison, the dart could have easily killed the woman before she had a chance to take her next breath. But who could have the motive to do such a thing? Poirot is not entirely sure, but he is ready to begin sleuthing, given the chance.

While the entire group is put through a coroner’s inquest, evidence emerges that helps put things into context. Using what is discovered to his advantage, Poirot pieces it all together and begins to get a better understanding of what happened and how the victim might have been one who was not liked by all. Slowly, the truth comes to the surface, where Poirot awaits to connect it with what he has discovered, all while using his little grey cells. Christie does well with this piece, pushing into new technologies and ideas in this piece that has a little of everything.

Agatha Christie does well to create new and exciting ways to impress readers of this detective series. She is able to use technological advances, as well as unique murder options, to keep the reader on their toes. While those who sit to enjoy the book in the 21st century may not feel as ‘electrified’ by the events, they are surely on point and mind-blowing for the time of original publication. Christie checks all the boxes with this piece, which uses a great narrative and some wonderful plot twists.

Poirot remains a alluring detective, able to pull theories out of the air, only to show how they are established as foundational. His egotistical nature is surely something that not all will enjoy, but Poirot is nothing if not a tad stuffy. He uses his silence to absorb all the clues before standing on his soap box and showing how all the pieces come together effectively. Once again, there is little outside the current events of the story that shape Hercule Poirot, which baffles me in a way. Perhaps some other readers echo my sentiments about wanting more depth and story related to this unique Belgian, rather than sticking to the periphery. Oh well… it does little to ruin the story, which I did enjoy a great deal.

Air travel is new and exciting for this novel, which Christie explores effectively. She pushes some great plot ideas for the reader and develops a strong story that develops in short order. A well-paced narrative keeps the reader engaged throughout, which is complemented by a handful of unique characters, all of whom could be the killer at one point or the other. As the story gains momentum, the plot finds itself developing at a pace perfect for the reader who have come to enjoy past mysteries. I am eager to see what else Christie has to offer and will delve a little deeper as I locate the next in the series.

Kudos, Dame Christie, for another great piece. Let’s see if you can keep pace with the next story, as Poirot is surely ready to show off once again.

Three Act Tragedy (Hercule Poirot #11), by Agatha Christie

Seven stars

Another Agatha Christie mystery is sure to bring out my sleuthing side. The Hercule Poirot series serves to challenge me on a regular basis, forcing me to think outside the box and use my “little grey cells” repeatedly. While not the best of Christie’s pieces in this series, the story is strong and flows well, making it an entertaining piece to pass the time.

The town is abuzz when Sir Charles Cartwright assembles a small dinner party at his home. The one-time leading start of London’s theatre community, Cartwright is sure to make all the effort to entertain his guests in Cornwell. Especially with the guest list he has in mind.

The assembled thirteen are from a number of professions, making the gathering all the more exciting. While some would presume the number of guests will prove unlucky, it is not until Reverend Stephen Babbington chokes on his cocktail and dies that things take a true turn. After a fit of convulsions, Babbington toppled over and questions arose as to whether one of the group could be a murderer. However, laboratory analysis proved that there was no poison, leaving the official cause of death as being natural, at least for a time.

With one of the guests being the famed retired Belgian police detective, Hercule Poirot, clues are sought and relationships unveiled. Trouble is, Poirot cannot find a motive for anything and is left baffled. It is only later that pure nicotine is fingered as the untraceable poison used, and another body turns up dead at a similar party. Might the killer have struck again, perhaps to silence someone, or even readjust the target?

When Poirot returns to compare the two murders to one another, he begins to find subtle clues as to what they could both mean and how a motive could soon emerge. It will take Poirot’s intuition and dedication to the truth to learn everything there is to know and catch a killer before it’s too late. Christie uses many of her skills to plot this piece out and entertain her reading public.

I always enjoy challenging myself when Agatha Christie has another Poirot novel for me to read. I find myself learning a great deal, not only about England at the time, but the nuances of detecting, while I read through these books. Christie is sharp with her delivery, succinct in her storytelling, and poignant with the characters she uses. I’ll eagerly continue the series to see what other mysteries I can uncover and how Poirot grows on me.

As I have said in past reviews, Hercule Poirot is quite the character, though he prefers to live in the present. His detective work is second to none, though the subtleties can sometimes be a little too slow going, as I want answers in short order. His impact in this book was the presence and discovering the murderer, rather than offering added backstory or development of his own character. I’m hoping for something more in the coming novels, as I do like my characters to have depth and no remain static for long periods.

This novel was divided into three acts, a tongue in cheek reference to the fact that one of the main characters is a popular London stage actor. While the book’s division seemed intriguing, it did not properly separate things as I would have liked. I hoped for something more symbolic throughout. All the same, the narrative did flow nicely and moves from one scene to the next, offering up a handful of strong characters who did their jobs effectively. Mid-length chapters served to keep the reader engaged with the piece and did not deter me from reading larger chunks at a time. I’m ready for more Poirot and whatever adventures he discovers.

Kudos, Dame Christie, for proving that you are the Queen of Mystery. I hope there is more action to come soon and Poirot can make a great impact.

Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, by Erik Larson

Eight stars

A great fan of all things Erik Larson, I turned to this piece, which is slightly different from many of the other books the author has published. Rather than using history to tell of a dastardly criminal, the piece is all about a coming hurricane and how one man, Isaac Cline, sought to forewarn others. As the meteorological event advanced and eventually hit land in a Texas community, the destruction in its wake was like nothing ever seen in the US to that point. Larson offers a gripping description of events, painting the scene as few authors are able, without ‘drowning’ the reader in excessive minutiae. Well worth the time invested in this piece of non-fiction.

Isaac Cline loved his job with the US Weather Bureau. Serving as the resident meteorologist in Galveston, Texas, Cline surveyed the area for anything weather related and made sure those around him knew all about it. It was 1900, meaning that both tracing and reporting on any weather-related phenomena was still quite primitive, though the reader will likely be quite amazed at what they could do at the time. Cline noticed that weather disturbances as far away as the Caribbean and Florida would have some effect in Texas, though many others dismissed his claims as coincidence.

On the morning of September 8, 1900, the day began like any other. Then, Isaac Cline began to notice some odd readings and took note of deep-sea swells in Galveston. It was only later that his predictions of weather patterns from other parts of the Northern Hemisphere began to take shape. A full-blown hurricane was on its way to Galveston and the town was neither prepared, nor could a plan to save themselves be put in place. As winds rose and water pelted the seaside community, Cline and others could only watch the destruction mount, as they waited to see the after effects.

While six thousand people died, most unaware of what was taking place, the story has an ominous and personal angle for Isaac Cline, who suffered a tragedy all his own. While he was calling for help, his pleas fell on deaf ears, as no one could fathom that Cline’s predictions were rooted in possible truth. This is the story of those mounting concerns and how this hurricane helped shape the future of the US Wether Bureau and meteorological predictions for decades to come.

As with all of his books, Erik Larson dazzles the reader with the detail infused into the narrative, as well as the ease with which the story progresses. Larson uses a handful of first-hand accounts—telegrams, letters and field reports, as well as the testimony provided by those who survived the Galveston hurricane—to sketch out the timeline of events, as well as the advancing storm in ‘real-time’. Isaac Cline’s struggle is surely real and effectively presented by Larson in his easy to digest writing style, leaving the reader to feel as though they, too, are battling the winds and gales that September day in 1900. Providing not only the facts, but a personal narrative throughout, the reader can latch only all that Larson has to offer and this becomes much more than a piece of historical non-fiction, trying to inform the reader as to the goings-on in a personable context that permits a degree of empathy. This was another great read by Erik Larson and I will certainly be back for more soon!

Kudos, Mr. Larsen, for more stellar history storytelling. You find the greatest and most obscure stories to share with your fans!

And There He Kept Her, by Joshua Moehling

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Joshua Moehling, andPoisoned Pen Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

New to the work of Joshua Moehling, I thought that this book would make for an interesting read. I was pleasantly surprised as to how smoothly things went, with a dark thriller that carried me through to the final page and left me wanting more. Moehling does well to paint a sinister picture with this story and has me wondering if I ought to return to explore more of his work in the months to come.

When two teens target a house in a remote community, they are hoping to score something to help with their drug high. Little do they know what awaits them there, or that the proprietor has a plan of his own. Wanting to keep the past hidden, Emmett Burr will stop at nothing to silence the teens and keep the past cemented there.

Ben Packard hopes a fresh start in Sandy Lake, Minnesota will help his demeanour. Working as a sheriff’s deputy, Packard hopes to bring security to the community and rewrite his own personal narrative. Leading the investigation to to the two missing teens, Packard is prepared to pull out all the stops and show how effective he can be. With few clues and leads drying up faster than he can process them, Packard will have to rely on his gut and intuition, which is anything but stellar.

As the story reaches its climax, those involved show how a spine-chilling tale can truly grip everyone. A mystery and thriller like no other, Moehling shows that he has what it takes to stand next to others in the genre and make himself known. Easily the best thriller I have read in a while by an author worth of more attention.

Joshua Moehling may not have been on my radar before, but this novel has surely made me take note. I enjoyed the perspexctive he offers throughout and the dedication to the genre exhibited in the story. An eerie tale with some strong character development, Moehling taps into the inner soul of both character and reader, offering a story that will make people take note and want to know more.

While it would be easy to focus all my attention on Ben Packard, I found that there were a handful of great characters who emerged throughout the reading experience. There is a little backstory involved, as well as some great development, all of which feeds into the larger =narrative to keep the story moving, Moehling does well to proponent the reader with something worth their time, without bemoaning too much of the personal lives of the characters involved. I am eager to see how he addresses his characters in other publications, as I was left feeling as though it was a unique approach to much of what I have read lately.

The key to a great story is pulling the reader in from the opening pages. I was hooked before things got too far along and could not get enough. The narrative clipped along and left me fully engaged by the first few chapters, though I was able to steer my way through the plot with some ease. Great characters, developed effectively, kept me on track and the twists came just as I needed them. I am eager to see what else is out there by Joshua Moehling and how this compares to it. Hoping others will discover and devour this book as well, allowing the conversation to grow swiftly.

Kudos, Mr. Moehling, for a great piece. I am pleased to have stumbled upon it and cannot wait for more!

Steal (Instinct #3), by James Patterson and Howard Roughan

Seven stars

In this third instalment of the Instinct series, James Patterson and Howard Roughan work together to develop a great thriller with a unique twist. Psychological at times with some gritty crime aspects, the collaboration works well, as the previous two novels did for those who took the time to enjoy them. Patterson appears to mesh well with Roughan, which is a pleasant surprise, as books bearing the former’s name flood the marketplace on a weekly basis. A worthwhile reading experience.

It was a shock to everyone who glanced at social media to see that Carter van Oehson planned to kill himself. Even his Abnormal Psych professor, Dylan Reinhart, was taken aback. Now, a whole day later, Carter has still not turned up, but neither has his body.

While the hunt is on, there is no trace of Carter, at least until his boat turns up on the water, empty and with no signs of a struggle. People begin to wonder if Carter went ahead with his vow or could this just be a means of getting some attention? While people speculate, one person is sure that there is something nefarious going on.

Carter’s father, Mathias von Oehson, is sure there is more to the story, wondering if his fame and popularity might be the reason for an abduction. There is a family secret that could be used as leverage, allowing whoever is behind this to blackmail the van Oehsons and cause chaos. Without being able to turn to the police, Mathias needs answers and knows just who to ask.

Dylan Reinhart is ready to assist, but had no idea it would mean being in the middle of such a massive secret. He’ll need every fibre of his being to locate Carter, but must also rely on his connection to NYPD Detective, Elizabeth Needham. Together, Dylan and Elizabeth turn over rocks and investigate clues that could lead them to Carter, or send them to the darkest parts of the globe where additional trouble lurks. A chilling story that Patterson and Roughan develop effectively, keeping the reader hooked until the final page turn.

While I find James Patterson’s excessive publications too much to handle, particularly when I seek a decently penned book, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Working alongside Howard Roughan, Patterson has developed a decent series that has potential. While the book had some slow moments, the narrative carried things effectively through to the stronger segments of the story. I am keen to see if there is more collaboration by this pair, be it with this series or elsewhere.

Dylan Reinhart and Elizabeth Needham have grown throughout the series, both personally and professionally. While they try to keep work and personal lives separate, there are times when things blur together, leaving the reader to wonder what might happen. Both have strong development throughout the series, though I did not feel as connected to them in this novel. They are worthwhile characters with much to offer, leaving me to wonder what’s next for this duo.

James Patterson has so many collaborators with whom he works, it is hard to keep them straight, as well as which offer high caliber writing. Based on my reviews from the past books in this series, as well as though that have his name attached, Howard Roughan is one of the ‘decent ones’. The narrative of this book worked well, though there were a few slow moments that left me tapping my finger as I sped through the chapters, though the overall experience was worth my time. Short chapters, what I consider Patterson’s trademark, worked well to keep the momentum going and left me able to focus on the endgame without getting too caught up in the aforementioned slower segments. A decent plot kept me curious and some characters served to flavour the writing in ways that made it a little more enjoyable. As I said before, I am eager to see what else is to come with this series.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Roughan, for a decent read. Eager to see what you have coming out soon.

Backstory, by William L. Myers Jr.

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, William L. Myers Jr., andOceanview Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Happy to read another book by William L. Myers Jr., I turned to this standalone, which packs just as much punch as his Philadelphia legal thrillers. Myers shows that he is versatile in his writing and grips the reader from the opening pages with this story that has a number of twists to keep things on point. Fans of his series will see some of the same spark in this piece, which will surely solidify their admiration for William L. Myers Jr.

It is all a blur to Jackson Robert Hunter, but when he opens his eyes outside a bar, all he has to show for it is a sore head and no memory. He’s soon told that his wife has committed suicide, but Hunter has an inkling that it was staged as part of a murder plot, with the killer still out there. He’s determined to find out who was behind this and ensure justice is served.

As he begins to investigate, Hunter realises that his amnesia has been cover something even more problematic, namely his own sordid past. His marital history is anything but pristine, with betrayal towards his wife and a lover he left hanging on at least one occasion. Broken hearts are only part of the issue, as there are a number of dirty cops who turned the other way, ready to exact their own revenge on him. Could his wife’s murder be the cost of it all?

From a small community in Kansas, Hunter finds himself in various parts of the US, discovering family secrets he did not know existed. His hopes of tracking down the killer is mired in his own dark past and those who remember all too well what he did to them. His chase intensifies as he realises that he is also trying to piece together his own life, which is anything but reputable. Myers offers another winner that is sure to keep the reader flipping pages well into the night.

There is something about Myers’ writing that pulls me in every time. His direct approach and wonderful storytelling makes for a great reading experience, no matter the topic at hand. A clear cut narrative offers the reader something wonderful to use as a guide and provides ample time to get excited about the experience until the final page turn, when all comes crashing together. Whether this is a deviation from his Philadelphia series or the start of something new, I am eager to see what else Myers has to offer in the coming years.

Jackson Robert Hunter is a wonderful character whose life is full of gaps, primarily related to the amnesia he suffered when his wife died. He progresses throughout the book, offering both personal backstory and some development in the hunt for his wife’s killer, providing the reader something of a larger picture. Hunter’s struggles are real, though he does not know them all, leaving him to meander through a darkness he cannot easily navigate. Myers effectively creates and dismantles his protagonist throughout the story, leaving the reader to judge what sort of man they have before them.

I have always enjoyed William L. Myers Jr. for his writing and the spin he places on his stories. While I am used to something highly legal in nature, this was a great move away from it, offering the reader a different flavouring. A strong narrative is complemented by great characters and a stirring plot. The chapters are succinct enough for the reader to want to push through, though also offer the chance to take a momentary rest. Myers spins a tale like few others I have known and makes the reading experience enjoyable. I am eager to see what he has next on his publication radar, hoping it will be just as enticing.

Kudos, Mr. Myers, for another great piece. You shine like few in the genre.

Snowstorm in August, by Marshall Karp

Eight stars

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

While I have read a bunch of his collaborative work, this is the first time I have had the opportunity to see what Marshall Karp can do on his own. This piece is intense and full of great character development, making the experience one that I hope to repeat again soon. Touching on a number of pertinent issues with enough action to keep things moving, Karp shows that he has what it takes to stand on his own and impact the genre quite effectively.

A freak snowstorm in August is all New York City needs. When Central Park is transformed into a winter wonderland, many wonder if it is an environmental situation. However, as people begin to suffer the consequences of the falling flakes, it’s soon revealed that this ‘snow’ is actually uncut cocaine, falling from the sky. Thousands die or are seriously injured and someone will have to pay.

Trying to untangle it all is left at the feet of Danny Corcoran, whose time as a captain in the NYPD recently came to an abrupt halt. With a handful of other retired cops, Corcoran is being anonymously funded to get to the heart of the matter and solve it before anyone else gets hurt. It turns out that Joaquín Alboroto, a powerful drug load feared around the world, is responsible for the carnage and will stop at nothing to keep it going, as long as those who stand in his way refuse to bow down.

While Corcoran and his team work as many angles as possible, the truth behind Alboroto’s plan comes to fruition. It will take ruthless behaviour and strategic planning to bring the kingpin down, but Corcoran has nothing to lose. He’s ready for a fight and this is sure to be one that will only end when someone’s body is gathering dust on the ground. Karp’s intense thriller kept me hooked until the final page turn.

While I discovered the work of Marshall Karp reading the James Patterson NYPD Red series, I could tell that there was something there worth exploring. Karp is one of the few collaborators whose work I have never had issues reading and actually come to enjoy when I see publication dates approaching. His book had all the elements needed for a great thriller and added some grit to the mix, making it even better. A strong narrative and substantial character development kept me hoping for a great story, which came in time. I can only hope that there are more books in this vein for me to enjoy before too long.

Danny Corcoran proved to be an entertaining protagonist throughout the. reading journey. Not only does he have the gumption needed to be a great investigator, but the personal side of his life is on full offer. Corcoran offers an intuitive approach to the investigation and provides the reader with a great adventure throughout while also providing some emotional insight, both into a past with his wife, as well as with some familial issues that prove to be an interesting sub-plot. I would be interested in seeing more of Danny Corcoran, should the chance arise.

Marshal Karp is truly a talented author in his own regard. His writing is crisp and style is just what I would expect in this genre. A well-paced narrative offers the reader the necessary roadmap to successfully make their way through everything taking place, with a handful of strong characters to offer intrigue and keep things interesting. Short chapters propel the book forward and permit the reader to feel as though they could easily devour the book in a sitting or two. I am eager to see if this was a standalone or if Karp will be back with more Corcoran. It is sure to attract many readers, such as myself, who have never read any of Karp’s own books.

Kudos, Mr. Karp, for a great novel. Now that I know you can spin a formidable tale, I will be adding you to my radar.

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


Mercy (Atlee Pine #4), by David Baldacci

Eight stars

Always eager to read the works of David Baldacci, I chose the latest in one of his most intense current series. Atlee Pine has long been searching for her twin sister, abducted one night when they were six. As things come to a head, Baldacci paints a tense and thrilling story that series fans will surely enjoy. There’s something about this series that is sure to spark intrigue for the curious reader and proves that Baldacci has all the ingredients for ongoing success.

After her twin sister was abducted from their childhood home at age six, Atlee Pine has been searching for her. With added tools as an FBI agent, Atlee has been able to stay on the trail, though it’s been fairly cold. Mercy’s disappearance left not only Atlee in an emotional state, but led her parents to turn away from their surviving child. After a time, Atlee was left to fend for herself with a great deal of confusion and piles of questions left unanswered.

After years of slowly trying to find answers, Atlee has something with which to work. The explanation not only puts into perspective what her parents did, but proves that Mercy is still alive and was able to get away from those who kidnapped. Her. It will be a race to turn these answers into something more, but Atlee Pine is nothing if not determined.

So close to getting answers she’s sought for decades, Atlee will have to locate Mercy to see what’s become of her. All the while, Mercy has been living under an assumed name and has no idea that Atlee has been missing her. There is a lot going on and Mercy’s past is anything but pristine. The final chapter of this familial horror story is full of twists and dangers that neither Mercy nor Atlee could have expected. Now, it’s time to see how it will play out and whether this will be the happy reunion of two long-lost sisters. Baldacci does well to keep the story moving and the reader engaged.

In my many years reading David Baldacci’s work, I have often found myself in the middle of the story, wondering what awaits me around the corner. Baldacci does well with this latest instalment of the Atlee Pine series, keeping things engaging and full of mystery. Strong writing and a plot that is anything but predictable, Baldacci proves why he is at the top of his genre and never seems to run out of ideas. I can only wonder if there is more to the Atlee/Mercy saga after finishing this story.

Atlee Pine has developed quite effectively over the four novels of this series. With a sister torn from her life at age six, Atlee remembers the night of the abduction vividly, which emerges at various points of the series. With the backing of her FBI tools, Atlee shows a great deal of grit and determination throughout, making her someone the reader can enjoy watching as the series progresses. While there is no telling what awaits her in the future, Atlee Pine is someone well worth the invested time readers have put into the series.

I have long enjoyed the writing of David Baldacci, as series emerge and develop from numerous ideas. His writing is on point and shows that there is a great deal to be said in the genre, using a formula that is anything but ‘cookie cutter’. Baldacci’s narrative is always developing and he appears to have a clear path, though he purposely tosses in some twists to keep things from being too predictable. This novel in the series introduced many characters, both to flavour the story and offer some foundation for the topic at hand, while the plot builds throughout. I can only wonder if there is more to the story yet to be revealed or if Baldacci is onto new and better stories. Either way, it’s a great instalment in the Atlee Pine series and proves just how solid Baldacci is at his craft.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for another successful novel. You have been a reliable go-to when I need a book that I can enjoy and this was no exception.

Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service, by Carol Leonnig

Nine stars

Always one to gravitate towards books of a political nature, I have come to enjoy those penned by Carol Leonnig. While I have read some of her collaborative work previously, this was my first foray into her independent writing, which was just as captivating and revealing. Many would think of the Secret Service as the protection detail behind the scenes, saving those of some political ilk from threats and keeping the riffraff away. However, Leonnig explores not only the new ‘poltiical protection’ role of the Secret Service, but also some of the gaffes in which they have been involved, which brought some unwanted attention to the role. Leonnig does a masterful job in her explanations and description analysis of the Secret Service, choosing to educate the reader, rather than use it as a tell-all or smear piece.

The Secret Service are by no means a new arm of the US Government, but their role as political protectors has really come to fruition in the last number of decades. Carol Leonnig explores when the shift took place to move the Secret Service from primarily involved in the realm of the US Treasury to being point people for political figures, especially the President of the United States (POTUS). The significant shift can be traced back to the Kennedy Administration, though this was also the start of the major gaffes in which the Service found itself, namely the Kennedy assassination in 1963.

Leonnig moves through each of the presidents from Kennedy to Trump with some cursory explanation of the evolving role of members of the Service, as well as some detailed discussion of any major assassination attempt made or plot revealed regarding POTUS. Leonnig opens the reader’s eyes to just how busy the Service tends to be, chasing down leads and keeping things straight for all those involved in the preparation of trips, both foreign and domestic. In addition to protection, Leonnig explores some of the ‘secret keeping’ roles that members of the Service had to keep, from Obama’s smoking to Clinton’s nightly rendezvous with a variety of women. While readers may not be shocked to read about this, substantiating media rumours solidifies much of what is known about a number of those holding the highest office in the land.

In the latter portion of the book, Leonnig explores the three most recent Administrations with additional analysis, including some of the more scandalous sides of the Secret Service. Leonnig seeks not to out those who worked on the various details, but to offer some substantial explanation as to just how rampant issues and abuse of power can be, which may not be well known to the reader. Use of taxpayer dollars to drink, cavort, and put the protected at risk because of a lack of acuteness cannot be lost on what comes out in the narrative, though there is a need to understand that these men (and some women) are human and will likely ‘play while the cat is away’. Leonnig offers up some raw and straightforward explanations from what she has been able to garner, putting the Secret Service under the microscope to se how effective they have been and could be into the future.

No shock to the attentive reader, when it comes to Trump, things within the Secret Service took a highly political direction. As Leonnig discusses, Trump uses the Service as a private security force and made sure the taxpayer footed the additional bill. Using blind loyalty to ensure job security, in an organisation that is to be apolitical, Trump soiled things to the point of making another mockery of a core American institution. Leaving bitterness and destruction in his wake, Trump left the Service divided and forced America to clean up the mess, riddled in falsehoods.

I was not looking for a tell-all book or something that would seek to dismantle the structure of the Secret Service. Carol Leonnig did not provide that either. Instead, she left the reader feeling well-informed about what is taking place within the Service and how the machine works, both when well-oiled and as the wheels are falling off. Her frank narrative opens up many questions, but also seeks to educate the reader as to what is going on, which proves highly educational. Seen mostly as being the wallflowers they hope to be, members of the Secret Service have a special role, particularly when protecting POTUS on a day to day basis. However, in being given that responsibility, there is a high standard that must be met, something that Leonnig discusses on a regular basis. Lengthy chapters offer great insight into what has been going on and how things have evolved (and perhaps devolved) since the Kennedy Administration. Leonnig takes the reader on a ride like no other and substantiates much of what she says through interviews and detailed research. As with the other books of hers I have read, I leave this experience with a great deal more knowledge and a thirst to obtain more, as time permits.

Kudos, Madam Leonnig, for shedding some light on this most interesting topic. I look forward to reading more of your work soon.

Dream Town (Aloysius Archer #3), by David Baldacci

Eight stars

David Baldacci is back with another Aloysius Archer story that pulls the reader back to the early 1950s. A true gumshoe story that keeps the reader engaged and provides an entertaining tale of times when detective work was much simpler. Baldacci shows his versatility with this series, which is outside his usual style. Great narrative and strong plot makes for another successful addition to this series. Baldacci is on fire and shows no signs of fading.

As the clock ticks down towards 1953, Aloysius Archer makes his way to Los Angeles, where his friend, Liberty Callahan, awaits him. While they are getting comfortable and prepping for a lovely evening, one of Liberty’s acquaintances, Eleanor Lamb, calls to seek Archer’s assistance. While he hoped to have some quiet time, Archer won’t turn down detective work that may help bring in a little extra money.

A number of mysterious and creepy events have taken place, leaving Eleanor feeling as though she is being targeted. She wants to hire Archer to look into the matter as soon as possible. Sure there is more to the story, Archer reluctantly agrees to poke around, making plans to come by her home the following day. When he does, Eleanor is nowhere to be found, but there’s a body in the house, leaving Archer to wonder if she might have been responsible.

Archer wants nothing more than to solve this murder and brings Callahan on side to assist, as well as his partner, Willie Dash. As they investigate, things send Archer back to Vegas, where he has had some dust-ups in years past. Archer learns a little more about Lamb and her past, which includes rubbing elbows with some of the darker characters in town. When the investigation sends him to Hollywood, Archer is convinced he has a lead that could prove fruitful, all while Eleanor Lamb remains missing. Could someone have dealt with her as they did the body that started all this? Baldacci spins a tale that is both entertaining and captivating in equal measure.

In my two decades reading Baldacci novels, I have rarely been left feeling underwhelmed. Baldacci is just too great a story teller, no matter the topic or genre he presents. This is another example of that versatility, as he pens a story that is pulled right out of the gumshoe era, which differs greatly from many of his other series. There is so much going on and yet the reader can slide into a level of comfort easily, leaving them ready to learn more with every page turn.

Aloysius Archer has been a great character since he was first introduced. His backstory is always coming up, but it is the great character development that keeps the reader enthralled. The reader learns a little more about his interest in both detective work and as certain lucky lady, both of which come to a head by the closing chapters of this book. Archer remains down to earth and ready to impress, asking the right questions and yet always finding ways to get into just enough trouble to prove worrisome. I am eager to see where things are headed for him and how Baldacci will continue to shape Archer’s character in the years to come.

Many authors seem able to perfect a genre and work within it, even if they create a few series to keep readers entertained. Baldacci has done this and more, churning out great novels in a variety of sub-genres, all of which are of the highest caliber. I have loved many of them and contusion use to hope for more. This book has a strong narrative that left me feeling the pulse of the story from the opening pages. The plot advances effectively and finds ways of keeping me on my toes throughout, which can sometimes be a daunting task. Set seven decades i nthe past, there will always be interesting characters with which to contend and Baldacci finds ways of keeping them interesting until the very end. I see a number of loose ends left blowing in the wind and can only hope that Baldacci will address them before long, as my curiosity needs some sort of answer. While there is little chance Aloysius will have any crossovers with characters in Baldacci’s other series, I see a lot of great possible interactions as the series progresses.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for this wonderful throwback piece. Keep them coming, as they offer a great contrast to much of what is in the genre nowadays.

Murder on the Orient Express (Hercule Poirot #10), by Agatha Christie

Nine stars

All aboard! Perhaps one of Agatha Christie’s most popular books in the Hercule Poirot series, this is one novel I have been eager to reach in my exploration of the collection. Christie excels in this story, offering a deeper and more complex mystery that keeps the reader on the edge of their seats. I can see why it got so much hype, as it is well well written and offers the reader an in-depth look into the analytical brain of Poirot. If there are other books int he series of this caliber, I am eager to find them, as Christie had me from the opening paragraph.

As the Orient Express makes its way across Europe, a snowstorm creates havoc. The passenger train, full of people from all over the world, is stuck in the Balkans with no clear guarantee of moving anytime. By morning, the luxury liner has more than snow to contend with, as Samuel Edward Ratchett is found murdered in his private compartment. While many of the passengers are in a panic, one of them is ready to lend an hand to find the murderer. Hercule Poirot is on holiday, having hoped to enjoy his trip from Istanbul to London.

The narrative develops and the reader learns much about the victim, many of the suspects (surely, it has to be one of the passengers), and the clues that Poirot is able to deduce throughout the investigation. Ratchett was not a popular man, having been responsible for a crime back in America. All that being said, there is surely a deeper motive for at least one of the suspects aboard the Orient Express.

By the latter portion o the novel, Poirot is narrowing the list of potential killers and runs through some of the suspects a second time. He is almost ready to finger someone, but a twist in the tale takes things in a new direction and leaves the reader gasping by the end. Who killed Samuel Edward Ratchett and for what reason? All will be revealed in time, though some will surely wish the story could have gone on forever, with its gripping aspects. Agatha Christie at her best!

The series finds new ways off getting better with each passing novel and I cannot devour them fast enough. Poirot makes a wonderful impact yet again as the narrative flows with ease. I would say that this was my favourite book to date, pulling on all the best parts of a mystery novel and keeps the reader guessing until the final page turn. I cannot wait to see what is to come in this sensational series.

Poirot shows how great a character he is and presents himself in top form throughout the book. His ego, while usually front and centre, appeared to be somewhat muted, which made for a more enjoyable read. With little backstory on which to base the character, Poirot lives in the present and uses his interactions to add depth to his personality. His sleuthing in this piece is some of the best and most on point, leaving me to hope there are more like this to come.

Christie delivers her most sensational novel to date, providing readers with a stunning mystery, well worth the praise it has received over the years. Christie’s writing is free from the extemporaneous details found in many books that supersaturated the genre to date. Strong narrative aspects provide a strong foundation for a novel that has so much going for it. Wonderful characters prove to be the cornerstone of this piece, which is full of personalities that will either impress or anger the reader. I could not get enough of the plot twists and surprise ending. I cannot wait to get my hands on a movie version of this to see how it compares. I’ll take a short break from Poirot, but will return, energized and ready for more!

Kudos, Dame Christie, for your most intense novel to date. I am super impressed.

Lord Edgware Dies (Hercule Poirot #9), by Agatha Christie

Eight stars

I am still working my way through the Hercule Poirot series and find myself impressed with each passing novel. While each story stands on its own, Agatha Christie offers small nuggets that can connect the novels, which attentive readers will discover throughout the adventure. Poirot is again presented with a unique situation and uses his ‘little grey cells’ to help unravel the crime. Working alongside his longtime friend, Captain Arthur Hastings, Poirot fingers the killer by the final chapter as readers watch in awe. Christie offers a stunning novel, sure to entertain all those who take the time to read it.

While Hercule Poirot and Captain Arthur Hastings are out one day, they are approached by none of their than the famous American actress, Jane Wilkinson. While she expects them to be in awe, she admits that she needs help trying to ‘get rid of’ her husband, Lord Edgware. Wilkinson wants a divorce, hoping to marry someone who can love and respect her without leaving her feeling controlled. Baffled and yet not interesting in getting in the middle of a marital spat, Poirot declines and continues on his way. He and Hastings are left to discuss the gall of Americans and their forward nature. However, soon things will take on a new urgency when Lord Edgware turns up murdered.

Jane Wilkinson was seen leaving the marital home around the time Lord Edgware was said to have been killed, making her the prime suspect. However, Wilkinson has a solid alibi, having been in the middle of dining with friends at the same time. Poirot is flummoxed, but not ready to give up on the mystery. Slowly and thoroughly, the retired Belgian detective begins building a case, learning more about both Wilkinson and her late husband, as well as those both had confided in leading up to the murder. When more bodies turn up, Poirot is sure that he will have to act swiftly to neutralise the killer.

Was someone trying to stymie a chance to ensure a smooth divorce between the two? Could there have been someone trying to pretend to play the role of Jane Wilkinson in order to frame her? Poirot cannot be sure but slowly learns that there is a deeper and much darker narrative taking place here. He will have to use all his grey cells and ask for the help of others to put all the pieces together effectively. Agatha Christie does a brilliant job making this one of the best in the series to date.

The series keeps getting better as I learn more about Poirot and the writing style that Agatha Christie made popular all those years ago. The narrative flows so well and keeps the reader hooked as the plot develops through the mystery’s development. Christie has shown herself to be one of the greatest in the genre and makes no effort to lessen the impact. With many books to go, I can only hope that the momentum is not lost as I keep reading.

Poirot remains a great character and uses his ego to his own advantage. Without the need for a developed backstory, Poirot lives in the present and uses his interactions to tease out new tidbits about himself. Readers will likely love much of what they know, or hate his haughty attitude. Either way, there is nothing like a great mystery and a detective who knows how to get to the core of the matter. I am eager to see what else there is to learn about him in the coming novels.

Christie delivers another winner and provides readers of the series with a strong mystery, free of fluff and filler. A strong narrative creates a foundation for a mystery that is full of twists and turns throughout. Wonderful characters provide the reader additional entertainment to contrast with Poirot’s serious nature. With one of the most popular stories in the series next in line, I feel ready to tackle such a popular story and hope that I can revel in all that is set to be revealed.

Kudos, Dame Christie, for crafting so many wonderful stories. I am addicted and reader to push onwards.

Beneath Cruel Waters, by Jon Bassoff

Seven stars

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

Never one to shy away from adding new authors to my radar, I willingly agreed to try this book by Jon Bassoff. A psychological thriller like no other, Bassoff weaves a tale that is sure to capture the reader’s attention from the opening pages. Holt Davidson thought that he left his hometown in the rearview mirror, but receives a startling call one day. His mother has committed suicide, forcing Holt to make his way back to Colorado. What he finds is a collection of items that opens up a world of pain for Holt, as well as a pile of questions, some of which include his institutionalised sister. What follows is a secret that Holt may have wished he’d never tried to solve. Bassoff does well to keep the reader intrigued throughout, proving that he has something worth noticing.

While Holt Davidson has made a name for himself, he’s not returned to Thompsonville, Colorado, for years. All that changes when he learns that his mother committed suicide. Holt returns, in hopes of attending the funeral and making a quick exit back to Kansas, but that’s not in the cards. Instead, a night in his family home turns up some new mysteries.

Holt finds himself trying to make peace with his mother and the childhood he fled. When he finds a gun, a gory photograph, and a love letter from someone he does not know, the mystery only thickens. Holt will have to piece it all together, in hopes of learning what his mother did all those years ago.

If this were not enough, the mystery extends to Holt’s sister, who has been institutionalised for years. What role might she have played in the mystery and could sue hold additional clues as to what Holt has stumbled upon? Dark secrets re-emerge at the worst possible times, forcing Holt Davidson to face them before returning to his life in the Midwest. A great story that keeps the reader guessing until the final page turn.

While I love all things psych thriller, not all books are able to capture the essence of a chilling tale. Jon Bassoff does well to present his story in a straightforward fashion, while keeping the reader on their toes throughout the process. A strong underlying story is complemented by decent writing that adds the addictive factor many seek in books within the genre. While I was not as gobsmacked as many others who appear to have reviewed it, I can see strong writing abilities emerging throughout the reading journey.

Holt Davidson proves to be a worthwhile protagonist, holding his own as his life is turned upside down. He’s fairly level headed from start to finish, taking only a little time to appear shocked and in awe, particularly when things take turns he could not have predicted. Holt appears unsure how to handle much f what he learns, particularly when his memory of his childhood is fogged by a certain belief system. Bassoff does well to keep the reader wondering about this man and how his past collides with the present he thought he knew, keeping the narrative strong and the character development ever-present.

The sign of a great writer is one who can capture the reader’s attention from the early pages and hold it throughout. Bassoff does that here with a strong narrative style that does not stop, irrespective of what is going on around him. With strong characters and the ability to have them weather different timelines in the narrative, these individuals pop and come to life throughout the reading experience. Bassoff knows his craft and presents it well. Leaving me wondering things on numerous occasions. While I was not as stunned by what I read as many others, I appreciate the strength of the author’s ability and will look to see what else he has out there for me to try in the coming months.

Kudos, Mr. Bassoff, for a great piece that piqued my interest from the opening pages.

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


Peril at End House (Hercule Poirot #8), by Agatha Christie

Eight stars

Working through the Hercule Poirot series, I am constantly amazed at the work Dame Agatha Christie has put into the stories. Each seems able to stand on its own, though there is something exciting about reading a series in order, as the reader picks up small breadcrumbs left by the author throughout the experience. Poirot is in fine form, accompanied by his friend, Captain Arthur Hastings, as they explore a unique mystery while on vacation in the English countryside. Christie dazzles once again and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat.

While on vacation along the coast, Hercule Poirot and Captain Arthur Hastings encounter a young and quite beautiful woman. Nick Buckley is able to converse with the retired Belgian detective easily and reveals that she his the mistress of End House, a massive piece of real estate set up along the cliffs of St. Loo. Poirot is enthralled, both with the description of End House and by Nick herself, which has Hastings wondering if the mighty detective could be falling in love.

Poirot is keen to learn that Nick has been full of luck lately, having dodged numerous accidents that came close to killing her. After another occurs while they are seated together, a shot rings out in her direction that passes through Nick’s hat. Poirot is all but sure that these are anything but accidental happenings. Rather, they are likely clues that Nick Buckley is the target of some crazed killer.

Poirot takes it upon himself to investigate End House a little more and to learn precisely what’s going on, as well as how Nick Buckley could play into it all. He learns of the property’s darker side, including many who live there. As Poirot investigates, more goings-on occur that lead him to believe that Nick, and others, could be in grave danger, should he not reveal the killer swiftly. As always, Hastings is sure that if anyone can find the culprit, it will be Hercule Poirot. Agatha Christie does a fabulous job at spinning yet another story for all to enjoy!

I have become addicted to the many stories Agatha Christie offers up in this easy flowing series. A well-developed plot finds itself within a strong narrative. Poirot’s encounter with many characters keeps the reader entertained, while forcing them to wonder what awaits them around the next corner. Even though there is a great deal left in the series, I am eager to forge onwards to see how things progress with the stories, the characters, and what clues I might gather as I piece together the larger Hercule Poirot character.

Poirot keeps his ego in check, letting it out only every other page. His relaxed nature is always on offer and there is no shortage of wit flowing from him as the stories progress. With little backstory, the reader is forced to love in the moment with him, as he pushes through to drop small hints about his personality and ideals. This is one Belgian whose keen commentary about the world around him is worth noting every time he speaks.

Christie delivers again with a strong story that does nort take much time to develop. Readers of the series are treated to a strong mystery without too much fluff as things take shape. A strong narrative provides the pathway for a sensational mystery, full of twists and turns that few could have seen coming. A set of worthy characters provides just what the reader needs to remain entertained, while Poirot pieces everything together. I am eager to see how things will progress, as it is only a matter of time before Christie is sure to run out of ideas. Then again, the Dame of Mystery appears to have a great deal to share, so one can surmise that Poirot is far from being a boring old Belgian just yet!

Kudos, Dame Christie, for another strong mystery. I’m reaching for the next to see if it dazzles just as much.

Black Coffee (Hercule Poirot #7), by Agatha Christie and Charles Osborne

Eight stars

In a twist within the Poirot series comes a novel that was once a stage play penned by Agatha Christie. Years later, Charles Osbourne took the play and turned it into this novel, one in which Hercule Poirot shows off his abilities once again. His wit is sharp and his deductive reasoning like no other. By the end, the reader will see once again how important using grey cells can be when finding a killer among a group of individuals with plenty of motive. A great story by Christie with Osbourne’s skill at putting it into novel format.

While enjoying a quite breakfast, Hercule Poirot is alerted to a phone message that he ought to return. It would seem that one Claude Amory requires Poirot’s assistance right way. Amory, an inventor who works with atomic energy, has had the plans to his latest creations nabbed before the Department of Defence could take possession. Amory wants Poirot to come and finger the thief in a subtle way, asking that the Belgian rush to his home.

While Amory has some guests at his home, the plans remain missing. Alerting the guests that Poirot is on the way, Amory offers everyone in his home the chance to come clean. He locks the door, turns off the lights and promises no blowback if the plans are returned. However, things take a turn when the light come back on and Claude Amory is dead from a dose of poison in his coffee.

Arriving with the body recently discovered, Poirot begins working all the leads, which includes a poisoned mug of coffee that Amory consumed. The killer is surely in the house and Poirot is ready to use his time to crack the case. Working alongside his old friend, Arthur Hastings, Poirot susses out the truth and collars a murderer at the same time. However, it will take patience and determination to piece it all together. A wonderful piece by Agatha Christie, with Charles Osbourne offering up the novelisation, that is sure to keep the grey cells buzzing.

I have come to enjoy many of the pieces that Agatha Christie presents in this series, tapping into unique approaches to murder and criminal activity. She has a knack for developing a stirring narrative with plot line, which Charles Osbourne has been able to replicate with ease. While the story is not complex, it is highly entertaining and kept me guessing throughout. I enjoyed this unique approach to storytelling and am eager to see how things progress with Poirot and all those he encounters.

Poirot remains sharp and edgy throughout this piece, pushing the boundaries of what the reader has come to expect from the Belgian detective. Working in the moment, Poirot seeks to use nuances and small clues to work towards the larger picture, all while he reminds those around him how great he is at his job. Without the need to worry about backstory, the reader can focus on enjoying Poirot in the moment and see how things progress from there.

There’s something about the approach used in this piece that has me highly intrigued. I am not sure if it is Christie’s turning a Poirot mystery into a play or Osbourne’s seamless ability to make it another novel, but I was hooked throughout the reading experience. A great narrative worked well to keep the reader on track throughout the piece and allowed for some wonderful plot twists. I enjoyed how the story moved around a number of key characters, including the return of Captain Arthur Hastings to keep things fresh. While Poirot is a beast like no other, it is his slow and methodical nature that keeps things highly entertaining for all those involved in the mystery. Let’s see what else is to come in this series!

Kudos, Dame Christie and Mr. Osbourne, for another winner. I am eager to see how the series progresses and how past novels might loosely tie in to what is to come.