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.