The Last Drop of Blood (DS Katie Macguire #11), by Graham Masterton

Eight stars

The binge is complete! While it took 39 days, the reading marathon was well worth the time invested. Graham Masterton proved sensational with his eleven novels and two short stories, pulling the reader deeper into the life and work challenges of Detective Superintendent Katie Macguire. The character development was great and the novels each packed a punch, while also offering some stunning story arcs that spanned multiple books. Masterton impressed me from the outset and never waned in his abilities, keeping me guessing how things would resolve themselves by the final page turn. A series well worth the time and full of stunning crimes for the reader to enjoy. So pleased I took the time for this series as the summer days sped along.

Detective Superintendent Katie Macguire is still stunned by the sexual assault she received at the hands of her superior, but refuses to let this derail her. There is too much going on and crimes in Cork will not stop while she picks herself up. When a blazing car fire contains the charred body of a respectable judge, the Garda are quick to open an investigation. Something seems off and DS Macguire has a personal connection to the victim, which makes this case all the more important.

While the case progresses, Cork is hit with an uptick in gang wars, as two rival groups plot bloody revenge on one another. The Garda sit idly by, trying to pick up hints of hits or possible acts of retribution. This is not lost on the media, who begin tossing DS Macguire under the bus, keen to show that she’s not kept her promise to quash criminal activity on city streets

One journalist in particular has targeted DS Macguire, creating sensational headlines and tossing mud in her direction, When salacious photos are also leaked, DS Macguire can only wonder if it is more than a journalist with a grudge. She pushes harder, only to learn that her reputation could be on the line.

As Cork buzzes with crime, the higher-ups in the Garda begin to posit that it might be time to end the DS Katie Macguire experiment in a position of authority. There is nothing more that can be done but DS Macguire is not yet ready to toss in the towel. As the series comes to a close, Masterton adds just enough spice to keep the reader hooked to the final paragraph. I am so pleased to see how things ended and can only hope that I find another great series to devour before too long.

Graham Masterton has made a fan out of me after reading some of his horror works, but this police procedural collection was even better. Full of nuances when to comes to crime, personal drama, and Irish lifestyles, Masterton has something for everyone. The series proved highly engaging, while also being full of character development that helped offer depth to offset the gruesome crimes that fill many of the chapters. I am sorry to let DS Katie Macguire and her Garda team go, but things ended on such a scintillating note that I am happy to recommend this collection to others.

Masterton has impressed me from the opening pages of the first novel through to the end of this piece, providing strong writing and deep character depictions that develop with ease. The good thing about reading a series in a binge format is that it permits the reader an opportunity to see character growth and storylines progress in short order, seeing the little things that casual readers may miss. The criminal aspect never left me feeling underwhelmed, as Masterton has shown he is able to chill the reader to the core. A police procedural thriller unlike any I have read before, the Irish flavouring adds something unique to my reading experience and I can only hope that others will flock to this series when time permits or they can find a way not to allow their TBR pile to topple down upon them.

Kudos, Mr. Masterton, for a great series and introducing me to some stellar Irish writing. Not sure what’s next but it will be hard to top this!

Blood Sisters (Shea Stevens #3), by Dharma Kelleher

Eight stars

Always pleased to get my hands on a book by Dharma Kelleher, I was happy to read the latest in the Shea Stevens series. Kelleher develops more grit and blood in this ‘biker thriller’, which has the reader speeding alongside as the narrative gains momentum. Kelleher pulls on a great deal of own experiences to entertain the reader effectively until the stunning conclusion. I am quite pleased to return to this series to see how Shea Stevens can pack a punch.

While running her motorcycle shop during the day, Shea Stevens is also an active member of the Athena Sisterhood Motorcycle Club. When a troubled woman approaches Shea and seeks the assistance of the Club, things take on a whole new angle. A dirty politician with a deep secret will stop at nothing to keep his transgressions from being known. This worries Shea more than anything. A visit to the state senator backfires and things turn deadly, all while Shea is seeking a truce.

All the while, a group from a rival gang area back for some retribution after they have been released from jail. It is sure to be a bloody affair, one that Shea cannot sanction with everything else going on. As the Sisterhood are trying to fend people off on two fronts, Shea has a personal issue that boils over and requires her attention as well. It’s sure to be a bloody mess, but Shea Stevens is not one to back down, even as her life hangs in the balance. Kelleher does a great job with this newest book in the series, sure to pique the interest of the open-minded reader.

I cannot remember how I stumbled upon the works of Dharma Kelleher, but I have not looked back since devouring the first novel. Her work is gritty, realistic, and impactful, without needing to be overly gruesome. The reader gets just what they need and can follow along with ease, as the narrative flows without issue. Great characters and issues that brings to the forefront topics that are only now seeing the light of day, Kelleher educates her readers as much as entertain them.

I always look for a strong opening to keep me enthralled with a book, something that proves to be central to this novel. Kelleher offers a strong narrative and provides the reader with something they can digest with ease. Key characters return for another round of fighting and self-reflection, which provides the reader with something entertaining as they get into some troubling issues. Plot twists emerge throughout, adding depth to the story and those characters in the middle of it all, which makes it all the more impactful try the closing pages. I may not know much about bikers or how they run their everyday lives, but Dharma Kelleher is surely a great teacher and I am ready to learn even more.

Kudos, Madam Kelleher, for a great piece that I could not put down!

Building Justice: Frank Iacobucci and the Life Cycles of Law, by Shauna Van Praagh

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Shauna Van Praagh, andUniversity of Toronto Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

For any reader who enjoys Canadian politics and legal analysis, this quasi-biography of Frank Iacobucci proves the perfect mix. In a piece that explores the life of a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Shauna Van Praagh does a great job of exploring Iacobucci’s life, his legal thinking, and the personal touch he brought to serving his country through the law. In her detailed piece, Van Praagh touches on many key points about how the Canadian judicial system was shaped by Iacobucci’s decisions, as well as the compassion he brought to the judgements he penned throughout his various years on a few of Canada’s courts. A highly informative piece that provides the reader with a great understanding of the man and how one person can make a difference in the lives of many, one stone at a time.

Part of Van Praagh’s narrative explores Frank Iacobucci’s early years, including living in Vancouver as a child of Italian immigrants. While his name would leave many to believe that he bantered in Italian at home, Iacobucci’s parents insisted that he speak English alone and bond with others in his immigrant neighbourhood. His passion for the law showed from an early age, as Iacobucci’s announced that he would be a lawyer at twelve. His acerbic wit would surely help him and fuelled many great moments of banter for the young Frank, who found his own before too long.

After significant academic dedication, Frank Iacobucci left law school ready to change the world, though that would mean a great deal fo additional work. The author shows how his hard work paid off with a number of jobs, including serving as a law professor at the University of Toronto. It was here that his passion to teach others blossomed and would be a key theme in his daily activities thereafter. The more impact Frank Iacobucci made on the Canadian legal community, the more significant his jobs became: Dean of Law, Deputy Minister of Justice, and Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Canada. All of these positions would pave the way for his greatest ‘$5 a day’ job, puisne justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

As Van Praagh explores, it was the ascension to the Supreme Court that allowed Iacobucci to do the greatest good. His compassion for those around him made him a justice that many admired. He sought not only to hear cases and decide on matters of law, but forge new pathways as Canada’s social and political agenda progressed. Iacobucci’s decisions were well-rounded and sought to explore Canada is it could be, rather than simply as it had been in the past. His is a fundamental means of proving that Iacobucci’s impact would be felt for many years.

Even after he retired from the Supreme Court of Canada, Frank Iacobucci helped shape Canada’s political and social landscape. He was asked to work with a number of groups and help adjudicate key issues , one of which, which is still resonating today. The handling of compensation for those who were forced to live in residential schools has long been a struggle and continues to haunt institutions responsible for this ‘scoop and run’. Iacobucci’s attention to detail made him a respected jurist for both the Canadian Government and the Indigenous community. While the wounds are by no means healed, it would appear that Iacobucci’s overseeing the progress has helped give a voice to those who were never asked for opinions, but rather served as sub-humans for decades, while having it legislated by others.

The premise of this book is strong, helping to educate the reader throughout the piece. It is also a great means of shining the light on a man who always liked to opera for others, rather than praise of his actions. The author uses one of Iacobucci’s tenets, that life is all about ‘building the cathedral’ that will be left for others, from the early stonecutter through to the assembly of a massive structure that can serve to help others. The author exemplifies this throughout the tome and helps argue that this is a style of living that does surely make the greatest impact.

Looking at the inner workings of the book itself, Shauna Van Praagh does well to outline the life and times of Frank Iacobucci. While I did not like the skipping around throughout the Iacobucci timeline, referring something more linear, I can see why she did this to make the greatest impact. The narrative was full of great detail, offering insights from others, both in passing and through detailed quotations. While this provided helpful, Van Praagh had an odd way of attributing quoted comments to those who made them, a means that appears (though I have never been a law student) to reflect legal texts than biographical ones. Chapters that build on one another, divided into three parts that mirror Iacobucci’s three stages of life, the shorty grew and created a telling piece for all readers to enjoy. While there are some heavier aspects, these are balanced by those of a lighter nature that easier to digest. This makes for a great read for many who are interested in the man and all he has done.

Kudos, Madam Van Praagh, for an insightful exploration fo the life and times of Frank Iacobucci. I learned so very much and am eager to learn more about him, with some additional research.

Begging to Die (DS Katie Macguire #10), by Graham Masterton

Eight stars

Forging onwards with Graham Masterton’s Irish police procedurals, I have reached the penultimate novel. Masterton dazzles with great crime stories and the stellar work of a handful of strong detectives. The writing shows wonderful flow and has significant Irish flavouring, which pulls the reader into the middle of the story and leaves them to feel as though they, too, are in Cork. A great read that has me eager to reach for the final novel in this series, especially with a stunning cliffhanger!

When a young girl is found begging on the streets of Cork, many wonder about her family. As she cannot speak English, the Garda are baffled as to how they will get any information. Even Detective Superintendent Katie Macguire is scratching her head, until a Romanian translator can be located. Though the information is slow to trickle out, DS Macguire and her team soon learn that the girl is alone and was brought to Ireland with a group of others to beg on the streets and given a merger cut of what they collect. A ruthless man, someone who has instilled fear into others, heads up this group, but his whereabouts remains a mystery.

Meanwhile, DS Macguire’s lover, Connor, takes on an undercover investigation to uproot an illegal puppy farm. He asks one too many questions and is severely beaten, to the point that his relationship with DS Macguire is put in jeopardy. The struggle is real, though no one is sure how to act and ensure a conviction is secured.

While DS Macguire inches closer to learning about the Romanian kingpin, she sees just how ruthless he can be, as bodies of other beggars are found with holes from a drill bit in their necks. Fear is an understatement and DS Macguire cannot convince anyone to break their silence. All the while, sick patients requiring emergency services are found dead, their life savings drained. There’s no shortage of work for DS Macguire and her team in this thrilling penultimate novel, which includes a stunning ending sure to shock many readers.

Graham Masterton shows his abilities with this well-paced novel, which keeps the readers on their toes until the very end. With a strong central plot line, the piece evolves effectively throughout and leaves the reader to wonder where things will end up by the final page turn. The series is rich with Irish references and idioms, such that there is no way the reader can deny feeling as though they are tucked in the corner of a Cork pub, watching things progress.

Masterton provides a strong horror background as he develops the crimes for this series, which may turn some readers away with their graphic depictions. Strong narrative development throughout helps build on an already great story, where characters find themselves developing with ease. Personal growth occurs for many of the characters, with DS Katie Macguire at the centre. Series fans will know she has overcome a number of hurdles from the first novel to this present story. There is so much Katie Macguire has shows readers and I am curious to see how Masterton chooses to tie things off with his star protagonist. Masterton weaves plot twists and cliffhangers into each story to keep the series evolving. I cannot believe how far things have come since I began reading this books earlier in the summer. Bring on the final novel and more crimes sure to chill the blood of many who are involved!

Kudos, Mr. Masterton, for keeping me enthralled at every turn.

The Avignon Affair (Vatican Secret Archives #4), by Gary McAvoy and Ronald L. Moore

Eight stars

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

Gary McAvoy is back with more stellar writing, the primary reason I rushed to read the latest novel in the Vatican Secret Archive series. McAvoy again collaborates with Ronald L. Moore and they examine a new mystery that forces Father Michael Dominic to pull out all the stops, while evil forcers seek to take full advantage. McAvoy and Moore guide readers through a historical event shrouded in secrecy and show how a modern happening could be directly tied to its interpretation. With politics, action, and a little romantic triangulation, McAvoy and Moore offer up a cryptic story that is sure entertain a great cross-section of readers.

While in Paris for a funeral, Father Michael Dominic is called to Notre Dame Cathedral for a mysterious reason. A crypt said to hold the body of a fourteenth-century bishop has been recovered during restoration processes. What’s odd is that the skeleton has a cardinal’s ring on one finger and has two parchments hidden within the vestments. Baffled as to who it might have been and what secrets the parchments might hold, Father Dominic is asked to take them back to the Vatican to investigate.

All the while, major acts of terror rock the streets of Paris and its outskirts, proving that there is instability within the government. A high-ranking aristocrat calls for the French president to step down and allow the democratic process to choose his successor, while the country stands in awe. In a political vacuum, anything goes and this could be the perfect time for anarchy to reign supreme.

While Father Dominic seeks to better understand their mystery before him, a new King of France emerges and tries to wrest control of the country away from the political leaders, who have themselves sought to impose martial law; leaving little space for anything democratic to flourish. It’s only when Father Dominic uncovers some of the key mysteries about the body and parchments that France’s political turmoil becomes a little clearer and the play for power is central to the story.

As Father Dominic deciphers what is before him and France is torn, glimpses of what might be come to the surface, both for the country and with some of those with ties to the Vatican. Will something that took place during a temporary seat of the Pope prove to be the end to the Vatican as we know it, taking a country down with it? McAvoy and Moore weave a scintillating story that adds to the greatness this series has produced to date.

My relationship with Gary McAvoy’s writing began when he asked me to read his debut piece of fiction, which gripped me from the outset. The numerous themes develop a Vatican that proves complex and multi-layered, even when events take place well outside of Rome. McAvoy brings Ronald L. Moore back to collaborate, which proves a great choice, as the story finds new depth and complexity without getting overly heavy. Great character development, especially with the key people series fans know well, adds another aspect as to why the book should be read in short order.

There’s long been a spark surrounding this series, which exposes so many truths, fallacies, and ways to blend them together. The collaborative addition of Ronald L. Moore keeps the reader exploring new avenues of mystery while keeping themselves highly entertained. Laying the groundwork from the opening chapter, the narrative develops with each page, balancing historical happenings with modern goings-on, all of which culminates in a strong story that pulls the reader in. Explosive revelations, both political and religious, add depth to a series that has never lacked for adventure. Strong characters, particularly those who are back yet again and build on their past, help create an emotional connection for the reader. While there were some tense moments in the last novel about whether things might be coming to a close, the authors have spun new themes to keep the series going without any sign of letting up.

Kudos, Messrs. McAvoy and Moore, for another great piece in the series. I await your next adventure!

Fallout, by Carrie Stuart Parks

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Carrie Stuart Parks, andThomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always a fan of Carrie Stuart Parks and her writing, I was pleased to receive an ARC of this latest novel. Parks always brings her background in forensic art to the novels, tapping into what, for me, has been a unique approach to crime and investigation. That being said, she is keen to collect other breadcrumbs and scatter them throughout, giving the reader an exiting experience as they comb their way through the story.

LaCrosse, Washington is known for little and Samantha Williams likes it that way, An art teacher at the local school, Samantha becomes a hero when an SUV careens into the school and many are hurt. Having been in her own vehicle at the time, Samantha must come to terms with what happened, though is stymied when she cannot produce any proof of her identity to authorities, as it has been removed from her purse.

Confused and relying on others, Samantha must try to piece together what’s happened and who is trying to keep her from herself. Some of these answers begin to emerge when a reporter begins asking questions and digging deeper into Samantha’s past. Samantha soon realises that there are other odd goings-on in the area, including sets of remains that were long thought buried. Is there someone trying to stir up trouble? Samantha finds herself at the heart of it all, without any answers to offer.

At a local recovery house, Clan Firinn, some others are also trying to set things straight. There appear to be a number of mysteries all tied to an old government nuclear facility close to LaCrosse and no one is quite sure what to make of it. It’s this that triggers Samantha and memories of her past, not always good. The fallout is a spiralling like no other, as the truth emerges for all to see. What secrets await Samantha on her journey and how could learning about her past be the key to understanding the present happenings? Parks offers an intriguing piece that never stops evolving.

I remember discovering the works of Carrie Stuart Parks and being instantly pulled in by the world of forensic art. It was a branch of investigation I had never considered and appeared to have ways of really stirring up the pot. Since then, Parks has evolved her stories into one-offs that pack just as much punch, but focus on other perspectives as well, including a peppering of biblical references. Parks uses her strong writing abilities to pull the reader into the middle of the story and forces them to confront whatever the narrative is spinning. This works well, as she has a depth to her characters, which adds flavour to the story and keeps the reader feeling connected to whatever is going on.

One essential to a successful story for me would have to be a clear and developing narrative. Parks offers this as she concocts what she needs to keep things progressing throughout. The story moves and has many moments where it can gain needed momentum, be that through the introduction of a new character, plot twist, or even revelation that was once deemed inconsequential. Parks has had success in crafting her stories with these ingredients and continues to do so throughout this piece. However, there were times that I felt a disconnect to the story or its progression. I was not as affixed to events as I would have liked or even expected. The investigation into the accident that opens the novel, Samantha’s past, or even how Clan Firinn fit into the larger story; all of this proved hit and miss for me. This, in turn, created a sense of confusion or lack of excitement as I flipped pages. I saw a gem in some of the foundational narrative, but did not feel the impact as strongly as I might have liked. While I have seen this book marketed as Christian fiction, that should not deter readers. It does have some biblical references, but I would not consider it fuelling the progression or flavouring of the piece. Perhaps it is my mind space at the moment that has me feeling lukewarm, which is entirely possible. I have much respect for Carrie Stuart Parks and would encourage others to red this, as well as her other books, to come to their own conclusions.

Kudos, Madam Parks, for another well-plotted novel. I hope others see some of the strong aspects I did while reading.

Ice Queen (DI Jamie Johansson #6), by Morgan Greene

Eight stars

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

I was pleased to be handed an ARC for this novel, the ninth in the Jamie Johansson collection and sixth in this DI Johansson series. Greene does a formidable job at advancing his protagonist effectively and keeps her criminal investigations on point. With some stellar narrative techniques and a story that never allows the reader to catch their breath, there is something electric about this novel, which is said to be the last in this vein of Jamie Johansson novels. Greene impresses and eager readers should devour the entire collection soon.

Tying off some loose ends from a previous case, DI Jamie Johansson is permitted to sit in on an Interpol interview. It is then that she realises that there is much more to the story than her investigation uncovered, with some whispers of new and brutal crime along the Finnish border. However, Interpol officials seem more interested in the Russian angle, hoping to nab someone swiftly.

After reluctantly being given the green light, DI Johansson and her partner make their way up to Leppasalmi, a town that does not see much light for three winter months. While the locals have come to accept the danger at night, locking themselves away at dusk, DI Johansson cannot accept this and uses her penchant for finding crime to see what’s been going on.

Local lore talks of an Ice Queen who hunts those who have committed some grievance, though specifics are never revealed to DI Johansson. However, the killings are both brutal and focussed, using killing tools from bygone eras and in different parts of the world. As DI Johansson inches closer, she is caught in the web of the Ice Queen and may soon become one of the bodies left as a deterrent to those who would think to dethrone Her Majesty. Scrambling for answers while juggling some personal struggles of her own, DI Jamie Johansson makes a move to help the residents of Leppasalmi, even if it is the last thing she does! Greene weaves a stunning story together and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat throughout.

I can be guaranteed of a great read when Morgan Greene is at the helm. It was a random ‘would you read my book?’ request by the author that got me hooked on Jamie Johansson and her criminal adventures, something I have never regretted. Greene has done so much to develop Johansson’s character, moving her from the UK to Sweden, where crimes are just as sadistic. However as mentioned in the author’s note, there is something new on the horizon for DI Johansson, which is sure to spice things up for series fans who have come to adore this gritty copper with a backstory like few others.

Greene uses his quick writing style to pull the reader into the middle of the story by the end of the second chapter. There’s so much going on and the action seems never to wane. Throughout the story, a handful of new and recurring characters make themselves known and keep the reader highly entertained. That said, as Greene admits in his personal note, he may have piled on too many things with too many characters to be easily digested in a single story. Great plot twists and a criminal vein of happenings keeps the story focussed and allows the reader to feel attached to what’s happening. With a smattering of Swedish and Finnish, the reader can feel as though they are in the middle of the case and in rural Sweden, where English is not common. I cannot say enough about Morgan Greene or the series, though I am interested to see what the new perspective will do for the series. While I have always said that there’s no need to fix something that’s not broken, I can see the advantage of the odd tweak to make things run a little more smoothly. I await the tenth instalment with anticipation.

Kudos, Mr. Greene, for another winning piece!

Dead Men Whistling (DS Katie Macguire #9), by Graham Masterton

Eight stars

My binge of Irish police procedurals continues with more novels by Graham Masterton. He continues to impresses with stories full of action, criminal goings-on, and strong detective work. There is a great flow to the writing that appears only to get better as Masterton weaves Irish-themed ideas to add an even more flavourful story for those who have followed from the beginning of this collection.

When the body of a Garda officer is found beheaded, many within the Cork police community wonder if it could be terrorism. However, the odd insertion of a tin whistle into the neck stump adds a curious angle to the investigation. Detective Superintendent Katie Macguire wants to get to the bottom of it, especially if someone is targeting her colleagues.

After another Garda is found murdered, with the same whistle placement, DS Macguire is sure this is a pattern. While she would love to deal solely with this, she has some personal matters that require her attention, namely her new lover. While he is a detective working on some dog fighting cases, he appears to have taken matters into his own hands after burning down the home of a known criminal.

When the two victims of the Garda attacks are confirmed as whistleblowers against their colleagues, things fall into perspective and DS Macguire is keen to see who might be targeting those who want to ensure everyone follows the rules. Three other whistleblowers are identified and placed into protective custody, but they are not entirely safe from whoever is targeting these Garda.

Juggling everything tossed at her, DS Macguire makes the best of it while trying to stay one step ahead of the hungry media folk who surround her at every turn. She is also receiving a great deal of pressure from her superiors, some of whom have voiced a concern at letting a woman climb the ranks of the Garda. A murderer (or group) is out there and DS Macguire will have to stop them, as she is about to ‘blow the whistle’ herself on some happenings that come to her attention. Masterton is brilliant once again and keeps the reader on their toes throughout this stellar piece of writing.

Graham Masterton weaves more Irish police procedurals in this intense series that uses graphic and sometimes gruesome murder as a means of catching the reader’s attention. Strong themes, set in the heart of Ireland, provide this series with a flavouring to which I am not accustomed, but thoroughly enjoy. The author is able to build on character development with ease and finds new ways to add depth to storylines that cross from one novel to the next.

Masterton blends his love of horror writing with a strong sense of mystery and police investigation. The strong narrative development is apparent throughout, as this book is only the latest in a collection of strong pieces. Personal and professional growth is apparent amongst many of the characters, especially DS Katie Macguire, who has had a number of hurdles in her way that require some attention. This is as it should be with a strong protagonist in a longer series, allowing the reader to build stronger ties as they read more. Masterton offers plot twists and cliffhangers to keep the series evolving, which has left me scrambling to get hold of the next book as soon as I can post a review. While there are only a few books left in the series, I am ready to tackle those that remain and see just how intense things get for DS Macguire and those around her.

Kudos, Mr. Masterton, for another great read.

Mystic Wind (Jack Marino #1), by James Barretto

Eight stars

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

When I noticed an ARC for this novel, I was intrigued to see if James Barretto could pen as stellar a legal thriller as the dust jacket blurb would have me believe. I was pleased to see how strong his story turned out to be, set in the early 1980s, but not lacking any of the great development found in more modern novels. Gritty and full of great legal drama, Barretto knows his stuff and has me curious to see where things are headed next.

Jack Marino had been enjoying working within the DA’s office as one of the star ADAs. However, after being attacked one night, he becomes a liability to his boss and is summarily fired. But, not before he attends a murder scene of a gruesome killing, where a man was shot, but no witnesses have come forward.

Two years on, Marino has found a place in corporate law, but is convinced by a judge to take a case of a defendant who spouts his innocence, even as the state is keen to put him away for life. This case is a hot potato, particularly because an immunized witness pointed the finger at the newly accused, a single father who has no forensic ties to the crime scene whatsoever. It also happens to be the case he attending on the day of his dismissal two years before. Is the new DA trying to make a name for himself and using a witness who cannot be prosecuted to spew falsehoods just to ensure a conviction?

As the pre-trial motions are coming to a close, Marino is blindsided when the prosecution files for the death penalty, forcing Marino to pull out every legal trick he can manoeuvre. With a judge who is anything but affable and a DA who is trying to secure election as governor, hoping to use this case as a show of law & order, Marino will have to be magical and keep the jury on his side for as long as possible. A brilliant series debut by James Barretto that should be noted by those who love a great legal thriller.

I love legal books, fiction and non-fiction alike. It’s the nuances of the law and how lawyers are able to make it work in their favour that has always interested me. James Barretto does a wonderful job at putting the law front and centre in this piece, using legal tactics and straightforward courtroom arguments throughout. The themes are strong and push the story along, which keeps the reader wondering how things will turn out when the foreman rises to deliver the verdict. I am eager to see how things progress with this series, as there is something about Barretto that has me thinking there is more to come and things won’t lessen in intensity.

Barretto offers a stellar narrative that keeps the flow moving forward with each passing chapter. Short chapters do not allow the reader to get complacent, as there is so I much to see and do throughout this book. Characters are plentiful, though the core ones do their jobs effectively, keeping the reader wanting to know more as the story progresses. Legal thrillers tend to have good plot twists, if done correctly, and Barretto knows his stuff in this regard. I’m ready for more and hope the wait is not too long!

Kudos, Mr. Barretto, for a stellar legal thriller. I am curious to see what else you have in store for your series and will keep an eye out.

Dead Girls Dancing (DS Katie Macguire #8), by Graham Masterton

Eight stars

Those who have followed me closely this summer will know that I am currently in the middle of an epic binge of Irish police procedurals by Graham Masterton. The author never ceases to impresses with a collection whose crimes prove as chilling and graphic as anything I have come across. The narrative flow is smooth and characters develop throughout the series, adding something for those who have followed from the opening novel. Masterton shows how he can use Irish-themed ideas to keep the series flowing, educating and entertaining in equal measure.

A fire in Cork’s downtown core leaves many dead, including an entire dance troupe. Of those who survive, one little girl is unclaimed and since she is not speaking, there is no way to track her. Detective Superintendent Katie Macguire works as best she can to help her, but there’s something not entirely right about the situation or this young survivor.

While the investigation turns to an arson inquest, DS Macguire is forced to deal with her own personal issues, which includes trying to understand what’s going on with her current lover. He has a secret he failed to share with her, but seems keen to make a future with her, no matter what the cost. Another love interest emerges and complicates the scenario, especially since there is a workplace aspect. Then again, DS Macguire never does things in a straightforward manner.

As the investigation takes on new importance, there is an IRA angle that could explain it all. DS Macguire and her team must be careful, as this could leave more bodies in the wake of these discoveries. The little girl could be the key to it all, though learning the truth about her identity could create even more trouble for the Garda. Politically rich and full of Irish flavouring, Masterton keeps the series strong with another stellar novel.

Graham Masterton has created something well worth the attention I have been giving it. With strong themes, set in the heart of Ireland, this is a police procedural that will tug on the reader’s lapels and not let go throughout. Themes related the political goings-on and regionalism prove successful in keeping the tension up, while providing the reader with something new and exciting. What luck I had in discovering this series and how pleased I am that things have been going so well.

Masterton is at the top of his game with this collection of novels, though he was a household name for many who love the horror genre over the last number of years. There is strong narrative development, both within the book and throughout the entire series, allowing the reader to get a sense of what is going on and stray focussed. Character development builds with each novel, offering a cast that is reliable and permits the reader to see growth. The development of DS Katie Macguire is most prominent, as should be the case with any strong protagonist, but it is primarily her personal life that keeps readers intrigued. Masterton supplies great plot twists and countless cliffhangers to leave the series ever-evolving, which has me rushing back to find the next novel as soon as I complete a review. I can see things getting more intense with these novels, which only means that Masterton is honing his skills even more.

Kudos, Mr. Masterton, for keeping me highly entertained throughout.

The Drowned (DS Katie Macguire #7.5), by Graham Masterton

Eight stars

I continue my epic journey through Graham Masterton’s Detective Sergeant (now Superintendent) Katie Macguire series, eager to get my hands on one of the short stories. While it is not entirely time sensitive, there are some breadcrumbs that show its place at this point in the series. Macguire is as busy as ever, but also has a great support team who work through a number of cases, including the one that will eventually be the crux of this short piece. Masterton does not lose his lustre with a page limit, proving just how strong a storyteller he can be and leaves me eager to forge onwards with the next novel.

When five young men do not return home after a night out on the town, their families reach out the the Garda for some assistance. Detective Superintendent Macguire has members of her team following leads, but no one has seen these young men since they left the club they attended. One piece of news surfaces that they were all involved in a sexual encounter that appeared to go somewhat sideways, but that does not explain where they might have gone.

When a search and rescue team locates a vehicle at the bottom of the river, it may be the best lead to date, but does not provide a clear answer. The Garda comb through the facts and seek to cut out any hoaxes that may muddy the waters (if you pardon the pun). However, it’s not long thereafter that something promising may come to light, though with each piece of news, someone else must suffer. Masterton brilliantly pulls the reader into the middle of this story and adds some depth to those characters who usually provide some of the minor roles within the series.

Without getting into too much detail, I will say that those who are interested in the DS Macguire series should not start here, but rather at the very beginning. If there are some who do not wish to commit to a full novel before they make the leap, they might want to check out the previous short story, which has fewer ties to the series progression at that point. Masterton’s strong writing abilities and detail when it comes to his characters is not lost on the attentive reader. Another gem that will surely prove a treat for those who have loved the series to date!

Kudos, Mr. Masterton, for another great piece! I am eager to get back to the full-length novels as there are some stellar cliffhangers that were not resolved with this piece.

Living Death (DS Katie Macguire #7), by Graham Masterton

Eight stars

Graham Masterton has held my complete attention with his DS Katie Macguire series this summer, well worth the bingeing I have been doing. Masterton impresses with this Irish police procedural collection, with crimes as chilling and graphic as I have ever experienced in a piece of fiction. There’s strong narrative flow and characters who build off one another throughout the series. Masterton never ceases to amaze with the ideas he uses in the books and finds wonderful ways to captivate the reader.

Personal matters continue to plague Detective Sergeant Katie Macguire, who does her best to carry on from one day to the next. Criminal goings-on in Cork seem to be at an all-time high, which means DS Macguire and her team are constantly pressed into action. After numerous dogs are taken from a rural facility, the confrontation leaves one of the criminals dead and the owner in a heap of trouble, as self-defence is not a foregone conclusion. DS Macguire focuses her attention on this case, as it seems to have some additional threads that could lead to something larger.

All the while, a young woman goes missing outside a club and no one has any clue what’s happened. Truth be told, she has been kidnapped by a ruthless group, who perform odd and gruesome tests on her, leaving her permanently maimed and paralysed. After another man is found to have undergone similar mutilations, DS Macguire cannot help but step in to aid in that search as well.

If that were not enough, a family member of a local criminal gang comes forward to speak anonymously with DS Macguire about a crime she is aware of, hoping that it will help bring her family to justice and keep her out of the limelight from all the accusations. Juggling all this and the newly homebound John, her former lover and fresh from his amputation injuries, DS Macguire has to keep things on the straight and narrow, while her romantic life heats up once more! Another busy thriller that proves Masterton’s abilities, complete with a cliffhanger.

Just when I am sure that Graham Masterton has shown me everything he has to offer, he pens a new and exciting piece that offers new pathways to successful storytelling. Masterton pulls the reader in, while keeping them on their toes with gruesome acts of barbarity, all wrapped into an Irish police procedural that builds as the series progresses. I remain amazed at the hard work the stories appear to show and how Masterton provides countless new and exciting twists to keep things from getting stagnant.

Masterton is a master storyteller and proves it throughout this series. Clear narrative direction gives the reader a path to follow as the series cements itself with depth and complexity. Strong character development that builds from novel to novel helps to offer something the reader can enjoy as they ‘check in’ on a handful of recurring characters, all of whom have a story of their own. While she does work hard, the development of DS Katie Macguire is most prominent in her personal life, which Masterton has perfected throughout these novels, offering drama and some tense moments of indecision. Masterton offers plot twists cliffhangers to keep the reader coming back, which has worked effectively for me. Peppered with Irish idioms, I am learning to speak the local slang and happy to forge onwards to see what else is to come with these chilling stories.

Kudos, Mr. Masterton, for yet another winner!

Where Secrets Live, by S.C. Richards

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, S.C. Richards, andCrooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After receiving an ARC for this novel, I was eager to see how S. C. Richards would grow on me, as I have heard of her writing in the past. A strong story and well-developed ideas emerges early on, leaving me to lose myself in all the action and suspense. I am pleased to have had the time to devour this book and am eager to find some more of Richards’ work soon to whet my appetite.

After losing their parents at a young age, Liz and Meredith McCallister are forced to rely on their sibling connection. All this takes a turn for the worse when Liz learns that her sister was murdered. However, this is not the only mystery that Liz must shoulder at present. While trying to find her sister’s killer, Liz discovers that Meredith had a deep secret, one that could have fuelled the motive for her murder. Liz must come to terms with the fact that her sister had a child in secret, who is now a teenager and asking questions.

While piecing together both these mysteries, Liz is forced to confront a past that she and Meredith thought was buried away. Liz cannot stomach digging into all these dark corners, but soon realises that secrets may have been the one constant Meredith had in her life over all these years

Seeking some help from her step-mother, Liz discovers that the secrets continue to emerge, both held by Meredith and others. Liz looks back at her life and wonders how much of it took place under a rock, while those around her lived secret or mystery-filled lives of their own. It could prove to be the key to learning about Meredith’s murder, but the truth has a way of also derailing the bucolic nature of some people’s everyday, as Liz is learning all too well. What other secrets will emerge and how might Liz handle them all before things come crashing down before her? Richards does a masterful job weaving this tale of deceit and deception.

I have always enjoyed a good book where mystery and deception fuel the narrative flow. S.C. Richards has a knack for making things work well and keeps the suspense high for those who like it. A plot that twists throughout and some characters with strong backstories help turn this book into an enjoyable reading experience.

Richards has strong narrative capabilities and keeps the reader wondering how things will progress throughout. The characters who emerge are both multi-dimensional and well placed, keeping the story on track throughout. I enjoyed how it all added depth to the plot and provided some needed mystery, and the story progressed with ease. Richards never lets up, keeping the reader wondering until the end as the mystery finally has some resolution. I’d try another S.C. Richards novel in the future, if only to compare to this addictive piece.

Kudos, Madam Richards, for a great introduction to your abilities. I will have to see if I can get my hands on more of your books soon.

Buried (DS Katie Macguire #6), by Graham Masterton

Eight stars

The DS Katie Macguire series has been my summer binge-worthy read of late. Graham Masterton dazzles with this collection of novels that take place in Ireland, with crimes that could only be pulled from the police blotter. Great narrative flow and a strong collection of core characters provide significant entertainment for the reader, as long as they come with an open mind. As I keep pushing through the books, I am constantly amazed at the quality of the writing and the new ideas Masterton provides to keep things fresh and enticing. Masterton has done it again with another thriller that pulls on two time periods.

Detective Sergeant Katie Macguire has been through a great deal in her personal life of late, all of which is simmering on the back burner as she tries to continue working. Crime in Cork does not take a break, with her current case surrounding illegal cigarette sales. The kingpin has quite the layer of protection around him, but DS Macguire hopes to penetrate it and stop the sales quickly.

After a botched arrest leaves one Garda dead and others injured, DS Macguire receives a stern warning to stand down or something drastic might take place, citing her ex-lover, John, as a potential target. While DS Macguire is smart, she also does not take orders from a crime boss and begins plotting her next step.

When John is kidnapped and taken in return for DS Macguire’s sgreement to stop the investigation, the pressure is amped up. A former Garda agrees to go undercover, partially due to a romantic connection to DS Macguire, but also because this may be the only way to bring down a significant criminal in Cork. It will take a task force and all the support of the Garda to make calculating moves and end a brutal hostage taking.

All the while, the bodies of an entire family are unearthed under an old home. The local lore was that the family moved to America over nine decades ago, but their support during the Irish uprising might also have led to their deaths. While there is no way the murderer is still alive, DS Macguire wants the crime solved and a name brought forth to put all to rest. When an ancestor learns of the crimes, he takes matters into his own hands and pulls the past through to the present, with new criminal acts that cannot go unnoticed. Some grudges are simply not buried and left to linger in the mist. Masterton does a wonderful job pulling things together and leaving some new cliffhangers for series fans to enjoy in this piece. I am ready to devour the next novel in short order.

While I have a large ‘To Be Read’ pile, I have been known to take a risk and pull a collection off the middle and hope that the hype that came when it was mentioned to me is still high. Graham Masterton’s DS Katie Macguire series is one of those for me, mixing a strong Irish police procedural with complex characters and crimes that jump off the page. Masterton has proven himself time and again, doing so once more with this novel. His balancing of many plot lines is seamless and leaves the reader hungering for more information about both storylines as the novel progresses.

Masterton has mastered the art of storytelling and puts on a show for his readers herein. The narrative works well and eases between the many crimes taking place, as well as the subplots that work to tell the larger story. Strong character development is at the heart of the novel, building from chunks in past novels, particularly the drama DS Katie Macguire has found herself handling. Masterton layers plot twists throughout and offers climactic revelations just before closing the story. This forces the reader to come back, which is also done easily by the quality of the published tome. His time living in Ireland is apparent, as the story is full of Irish idioms that add depth to an already stellar piece of work. This series is a must read, particularly those who were patient enough to begin with the opening novel. I cannot wait to see where things are headed and how DS Macguire with handle some of the new hurdles put before her.

Kudos, Mr. Masterton, as you make my summer reading experience all throw more enjoyable.

The Last Girl to Die, by Helen Sarah Fields

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Helen Sarah Fields, andAvon Books UK for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always a fan of Helen Sarah Fields, I was eager to get my hands on this book. Fields has developed a masterful police procedural series set in Scotland, but this is one of her equally powerful standalone novels. Fields uses her knowledge of the Scottish countryside, love of mysteries, and ability to cobble together a great procedural novel to provide the reader with something entertaining and highly addictive in equal measure. Not to be missed by those who love a ‘wee great mystery’!

Adriana Clark had been missing for days; eleven to be exact. While the police did not seem to be taking much of an interest, her family decided to hire a private investigator to uncover the truth. Enter Sadie Levesque, who arrived on a small Scottish island off the coast with little to go on but her instincts. However, it was enough to spark a fire in her belly.

While wandering around the island, Sadie could not help but wonder if there was a reason for the lack of police interest. She also had to wonder if her being a foreigner—from Banff, in the Canadian Rockies—could be playing into the cold reception she received. All that changed when Sadie found Adriana’s body in a cave, penetrated with a shell and mouth filled with sand. The authorities took note, but even then it was an investigation they had no interest in sharing with Sadie.

Not wanting to let up, Sadie continued probing in the murder, only to discover that there were those who preferred the bucolic nature of the island to remain that way, hushing up any waves. After the discovery of another teenage girl, Sadie was sure that this could not be a coincidence and began looking at the possibility of a serial killer.

With one suspect catching her eye, Sadie started uncover the truth, only to realise that she was in way over her head. As the story progressed, truths Sadie could not have expected came to light, only to provide more concern for everyone’s safety. Sadie would have to act quickly to ensure there were no more bodies piling up off the Scottish coast, or at least point the authorities in the right direction. Fields does a wonderful job with this piece, sure to appeal to many who have a love for police procedurals.

I have long enjoyed how Helen Sarah Fields weaves her stories together, using local lore and idioms to keep the reader feeling as though they are in Scotland on a man (or woman) hunt. While her series work is my favourite, I can also enjoy her standalone novels, as they do not lack any of the action, narrative strength or quirky humour. There is much to be said for the versatility of Fields and her fans are sure to see that they need not worry whenever she publishes something new.

Fields make sure to get the story moving from the opening pages, This narrative technique is sure to grasp the reader from the outset and keep them glued to the story until the final pages, which is especially important with this novel. Strong characters and a plot that never seems to stay still help the shape this story as well, keeping the reader on their toes throughout the journey. I felt as though I were in Scotland from the opening paragraphs, as Fields is able to imbue such a strong sense of setting throughout the novel. If I had one point of contention, it would be that Sadie Levesque, a Canadian from my neck of the woods, speaks and narrates with obvious Scottish idioms, which appeared out of place. Perhaps it is my Canadianness that led me to say ‘we don’t say it like that’, but it is worth noting, even if it might be a minor point. Overall, one cannot fault Fields for a stellar piece of work and I am eager to see what else she has on the horizon.

Kudos, Madam Fields, for another great standalone thriller. Keep them coming, as you have a great fan in me!

Eye for an Eye (DS Katie Macguire #5.5), by Graham Masterton

Eight stars

As I make my way through Graham Masterton’s DS Katie Macguire series, this short story fell in between two of the novels. At first glance, it does not appear to be overly time sensitive or revealing much that follows the fifth instalment of the series. It is a great look at how the Cork Garda work and how DS Macguire proves to be a highly effectively member of the local police community. Masterton is sure to reel in many who might dip their reading toe into this pool, as it is a wonderfully succinct example of his abilities.

DS Katie Macguire is called to the home of an elderly woman who reports that there is a dead priest in the garden. After getting over the whiplash shock of it all, DS Macguire goes to examine the body, only to learn that the priest was not only bludgeoned with a rock, but had a specific purpose for being in the garden. It would seem he was tasked with performing an exorcism.

As she learns a little more, DS Macguire discovers that a figure dressed all in black has been lurking in the yard, scaring the elderly woman into thinking this is Satan in all his glory. Who could have been organising such a task and taken it so far as to kill a priest? After looking into the area, DS Macguire has an idea, but it is stalled when the body of a young woman is found dead, possibly murdered as well.

It will take all of the Garda’s abilities to coax out a confession, but DS Macguire has some tricks up her sleeve that she wishes to enact. It could be risky, but there’s no other way to make it all fit together. A brilliant short piece by Masterton that proves he can spin a shorter tale and be just as successful.

I won’t go on too much about Masterton and his abilities, short of saying that readers ought to follow this series in order to get the full impact. I will admit that this short story works as a standalone, but caution those who approach it, as it will suck you in and leave you wanting more. There are five full-length novels awaiting you, all of which have aspects off gore but are highly entertaining as well.

Kudos, Mr. Masterton, for another great read!

Blood Sisters (DS Katie Macguire #5), by Graham Masterton

Eight stars

The gem that is the DS Katie Macguire series has become my latest obsession. Graham Masterton pulls the reader in from the opening pages of each book and presents a horrible crime and then spends the bulk of the story trying to have his protagonist piece it all together. In this novel, DS Macguire not only has a handful of cases to resolve, but also some major developments in her personal life, all of which are sure to come crashing down before her if she cannot bring order to the situation. Strong storytelling matched with wonderful plot twists keep Masterton at the top of his game and provides the reader with a stellar piece of writing.

Detective Sergeant Katie Macguire is still trying to come to terms with having brought her Chief Superintendent down in a flurry of illegal activities, which resonates throughout the Cork community. Paired with a personal revelation that her life is about to change forever, DS Macguire has little time for anything else. Alas, there are some new crimes in the area that beg her attention.

The bodies of many horses are discovered by locals, apparently dumped off a cliff and into the water. Sure that this is more than a freak accident, DS Macguire summons her team to begin looking into it, thinking that this could be a massive case of animal cruelty. Meanwhile, an elderly nun in a nursing home is found dead, which is soon labelled as a murder when she was violated with a small statue. DS Macguire cannot believe who would want to target an elderly nun, but is sure that she’ll use all the resources at her disposal.

When more nuns are found murdered, all from the same convent, DS Macguire begins to see that there might be a pattern here. The convent was once the home for unwed mothers and their babies, which may be a clue to connect the murders. When tiny bones are discovered in the gardens of the convent, DS Macguire begins to see that this could be the work of a former resident, perhaps seeking retribution for something done to her.

All the while, a teenager turns up drowned in a body of water, with ties to a pimp who has been working in Cork for years. DS Macguire has been trying to nail him for prostitution and other crimes for months and this could be her best shot, if she can find the evidence she needs. But all that is shelved when an old flame returns to Cork and hopes to reconnect with her, while DS Macguire holds onto a secret that could change her life forever. Will she tell anyone or harbour this for as long as possible? Masterton does a brilliant job once again with this Irish police procedural.

Many readers likely gather recommendations and sit on them, choosing to allow their “To Be Read” pile to grow high or gather dust. I read some of Graham Masterton’s other work and promised myself that I would get to this Katie Macguire series something soon. I am now kicking myself for waiting so long, as I have not been able to stop reading them. They are so full of action, development, and the type of police work I find highly engaging. Added to that, the gruesomeness of the crimes makes me want to know more and see how Masterton could dream up such happenings. I have only met a few other authors who can write so graphically and yet keep their books strong on the investigative end. Masterton adds great character development, particular to DS Macguire, allowing the reader to feel a connection to the protagonist with each passing chapter. This is a series well worth adding to the pile, but block off some time, as it is addictive.

Masterton provides a stellar storytelling ability and supports it with a clear narrative, as he has throughout the series to date. Things flow with ease, though the reader will likely need breaks to gather themselves, as Masterton does little to filter what goes on in the criminal underworld of Cork and environs. There remains strong character development, building from past novels into the present, particularly with some of the drama DS Katie Macguire has to face, both at home and work. Masterton’s ability to weave plot twists with his climactic revelations makes for an even more exciting piece of writing, which has become a staple of this series. The ‘Irishness’ of the stories transport the reader to the Emerald Isle and make them feel a part of the auction as linguistic twists pepper the dialogue. There is also an underlying theme here, this time the abuse nuns inflicted in their homes for unwed mothers, which adds depth to the overall reading experience. This series is a must read, but should be started with the opening novel, as there are threads best followed from their origin. With a short story next in the series chronology, I am not sure if it will build on the ending here, or branch off into something completely different.

Kudos, Mr. Masterton, as you keep me wondering and wanting more. What a way to spend my summer reading!

Murder Can Be Fatal, Kevin Scott Allen

Seven star

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

Always eager to get my hands on new authors or independent publications, I gladly accepted an ARC for this novel from Kevin Scott Allen. Laid out as a mystery, the story revolves around Igg Downs, a private investigator who has seen better days and finds himself in the middle of a dry spell. When approached to help a friend investigate a murder, our protagonist finds himself neck-deep in evidence but without a clear killer. All the while, a detective with the LAPD is trying to stir up trouble in the form of retribution. A decent read for those who like PI mysteries.

Igg Downs has had better days. Working as a private investigator, Downs is used to dead ends when trying to locate people or chase something down. However, he’s hit a dry spell with no clear end in sight. That could be why he reluctantly agreed to help with this new case, where a woman’s been murdered.

Wanda’s dead body is making Downs quite nervous, this being his first stiff. However, the potential for some income pushes him through as he tries to piece together what happened to her. Seeking to stay one step ahead of the LADP Homicide Detective is key, for more than one reason. It appears that Downs may have ruffled some feathers when he bedded the detective’s wife not long after she left her husband. This will surely add some complexities to the investigation.

While Downs follows the leads he uncovers, he comes upon more bodies, killed in brutal fashions. Could all the killings be connected, a means of shutting people up while the killer makes a break for it? While being bullied for his past behaviour and worrying that this paycheque might slip through his fingers, Igg Downs will have to act swiftly and identify the killer. Kevin Scott Allen does well with this, keeping the reader wondering with each page flip.

Kevin Scott Allen does well with what appears to be one of his first published novels. Pulling on a number of the needed ingredients for a successful publication, Allen keeps the reader enthused from the opening pages, Adding some great narrative twists to allow the reader to better understand Igg Downs, the reading experience is heightened. While I did find it difficult to connect with the flow at times, I can see how many readers will latch on this PI mystery and feel completedly at ease.

Allen keeps the narrative at the forefront of the story, permitting the reader to see things from a variety of angles at any one time. The story flows fairly well, introducing the reader to the protagonist in the opening sentences and not letting go until the final statement ends. The characters found herein prove not only to be realistic, but also well placed to better understand all aspects of the story. Allen uses some great plot twists to keep the story fresh and hooks the reader who is not entirely sure where things are headed. While I cannot put my finger on it, I found myself not as enthralled as I would have liked. The story seemed solid and the characters proved entertaining. It could be that I was caught during one of my more fickle reading and reviewing moments, but I do not feel this should reflect on Kevin Scott Allen’s abilities.

Kudos, Mr. Allen, on an appealing potential series debut. I am eager to see where you take things and how readers can enjoy more of your work.

The Cage (DI Tom McAllister #1), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Scott Mariani‘s writing tends to be highly addictive, at least many of the novels I have taken the time to read. While he has dazzled readers for years with his collection of Ben Hope novels, he’s taken a break to pen this novel with a new protagonist. Tom McAllister is a cop with a lot to prove, but also a large case filling up all his time. Using the tools he has at his disposal, DI McAllister will have to crack the case wide open or worry about keeping his job in this captivating series debut. Mariani fans ought to take note and see what they think.

Detective Inspector Tom McAllister has a great deal to prove working in Oxfordshire. He is a cop who does not do well colouring between the lines and has a pile of reprimands to show for it. When he’s assigned a new case, he puts himself in to the middle of it, if only to show that he is an asset to the team and not simply one who likes to rough up those he encounters. Someone has been killing recently released sexual offenders, as if sending a message to those who prey on young children.

While DI McAllister tries to work through all the facts, the community is highly divided. Some want this killer caught and brought to justice, while others think the vigilante deserves a hero’s welcome. DI McAllister must sift through all the evidence and speak to those who knew the victims to get a better understanding of who they were and what commonalities, besides the obvious, exist. All the while, the killings continue and the media are serving the local police up on a silver platter as incompetent louts.

While DI McAllister works to piece it all together, the killer lurks off to the side, with a plan all their own. Worse than the targeted killings that continue to occur is the significance of The Cage, which adds a new layer of depravity and concern for these pedophile and likely also DI McAllister. A chilling story that shows how versatile Scott Mariani can be. Perfect for his fans and those who want a stunning new series to follow.

Admittedly, I was not sure what to think when I saw this book hit the market. I had been so devoted and focussed on the work of Scott Mariani as he crafted countless Ben Hope thrillers. However, this book, listed as the first in a series, caught my attention, as I wondered if Ben Hope could stand to the side and DI Tom McAllister could rise to the occasion, giving readers a bang for their buck. Mariani weaves a story that is both highly transitional and well-grounded. Mariani uses his skills effectively and provides a stunning piece that forces the reader to take a side, both of which have their weaknesses. While I am reluctant to stray from what I know, particularly when an author has pulled me in over so many novels, I am eager to see where this series is headed.

Scott Mariani has long held my attention with his thrillers and yet there is something about this new book that has me wanting more. It could be the strong narrative abilities Mariani has woven into the story or even the great characters who emerge throughout, but I am hooked and need to know how DI Tom McAllister will work his way through things. Plot turns through the story emerge and keep the reader guessing, without getting too over the top. I admit, it is difficult not to try comparing Hope to McAllister, but they are so different and yet appear as though they might complement one another well. I will keep my eyes open for more DI McAllister, but trust Ben Hope is not on his way out.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for making a believer out of me. What do you have in store for your fans next, other than more Hope adventures?

Taken for Dead (DS Katie Macguire #4), by Graham Masterton

Eight stars

As I keep discovering more in this series by Graham Masterton, I am shaking my head for not having tripped upon it sooner. The story is strong, with underlying themes throughout, and I cannot get enough of the Irish flavouring of this police procedural. DS Katie Macguire has a knack of getting herself into some troubling situations, only to prove her worth and catch the killer. However, this story may prove to be her downfall, as the organisation is not only ruthless, but also highly connected with those in power. Masterton has done it again and keeps me wanting to flip pages well into the night.

Detective Sergeant Katie Macguire has been proving herself in Cork for many years, as the old boys’ club is strong and full of pig-headed members. While she and her team are following the movements of a notorious local pimp, they are pulled away to investigate a decomposing hard baked into a wedding cake. DS Macguire cannot help but wonder if a new and sadistic serial killer is on the loose in this community.

When a local businessman goes missing and a ransom for his return arrives at the family home, DS Macguire begins racing to get all the evidence that she can. After the ransom drop goes awry, DS Macguire cannot help but wonder if this is a group that takes no prisoners and seeks to kill without any clear motive. Even after the kidnap victim emerges safe, missing his teeth, DS Macguire cannot help but wonder if there is more to the story.

The group emerges to be calling themselves the High Kings of Erin, a collective with deep connections to Irish history. Said to have tried to keep Ireland pure at the time of English control in the region, the High Kings seek to rid the country of those who are not worthy. While DS Macguire tries to get to their core, she learns just how connected the group might be and how high up they go. With a new superior out to see her lose her job within the Garda, DS Macguire will have to fight even harder.

If that were not enough, new neighbours move in and begin their lives next to DS Macguire. In a highly toxic situation, both confide in Katie and seek her help, though it is not clear who is telling the truth. As she finds herself letting down her guard, Katie allows herself to get pulled into the middle of the mess and it could cost her everything. Does she had the patience to allow it to come together naturally, particularly when there is a band of killer on the loose? Masterton paints quite the picture with this piece and keeps the reader in the middle of it all.

Graham Masterton continues to develop this series and make it even more addictive with each passing novel. Masterton pulls on history and current events to keep his numerous plots highly believable, while straying at times into a graphic nature. His protagonist continues to develop and tosses herself into predicament after predicament, both professionally and in her personal life. It keeps the stories highly addictive and makes me want to read more, if only to see how things will play out.

Masterton presents a great storytelling ability that keeps the reader hooked. He sets the tone with a detailed narrative, while some of the criminal offences are graphic, meant to shock the reader. The strong characters continue throughout the novel, emerging at a variety of speeds. DS Katie Macguire receives so much character development and personal backstory, which is surely essential to foster a connection with the reader. There were numerous plot twists that keeps me wondering what awaited me as I turned the page. I cannot wait to see what’s to come and how DS Katie Macguire will dust herself off from some of the revelations that occur throughout the story’s climax.

Kudos, Mr. Masterton, as you delve deeper to add more to a series that is already quite rich with twists.