A Burning Obsession (Abby Mullen #3), by Mike Omer

Eight stars

Mike Omer brings out a final novel in the Abby Mullen series, which has been impactful throughout its short run. There is much to solve and reveal, which Omer does in short order while keeping his protagonist on her toes. Adding some time with Zoe Bentley, Omer shows how he can mix his series protagonists together, while battling demons that Abby Mullen thought that she put to rest. A fiery end to the series will force Mullen to face her fears and Bentley to realise that she does not know it all. Mike Omer at his best, sure to impress series fans,.

A number of suspicious fires burn houses down and produce heated graves for victims, which is something that triggers NYPD hostage negotiator Abby Mullen. Having grown up in a cult where fire was the predominant means of asserting authority, Mullen knows the power the flame, and leader Moses Wilcox. Having long been thought dead, Wilcox has re-emerged and is leading his flock across the country, burning houses down in a form of ‘second baptism’ to show willingness to adopt the cause.

Sending one of its best to the crime scene, FBI criminal profiler Zoe Bentley is on hand to catch the killer through a series of psychological analyses. Bentley is sure she has a lock on the killer, but Mullen has the inside scoop and tries to insist that she knows Wilcox better than anyone. While the two women clash, they see their parallel desire to bring Wilcox to his knees and forge a truce, albeit a tentative one.

As Mullen confronts the past she kept long-buried and Bentley uses her textbook knowledge of all things criminal, both will have to complement one another if they want to catch Moses Wilcox once and for all. It will be an explosive end to things, but one could expect no less with Mike Omer in the writer’s seat. Series fans will surely rush to get their hands on this one, if only to see how Abby Mullen finds a sense of closure.

I discovered the work of Mike Omer by fluke, but have been excited to push through two of his stellar series. The writing is gripping and the themes prove addictive, as I tried to make sense of how two strong women, Bentley and Mullen, function in tandem while adding their own perspectives. He keeps the reader front and centre throughout the process, but never gives too much, hoping to shock and surprise the reader at every turn. There’s so much to take in with this book and fans of both Mullen and Bentley will be rushing to find solace in discovering how it all ends.

The Abby Mullen series requires a quick pace to get through all that there is a great deal to tackle. Mike Omer knows his audience and what makes them tick, presenting a piece that not only ties up loose ends but also adds new questions to the mix. Abby Mullen has to face some of her deeply buried childhood memories, which allows for some great development, but also helps contrast with the significantly professional Zoe Bentley who is out for her own pound of analytical flesh. These two women work well together, but also want to teach one another something, which adds a competitive edge to the piece. Strong plot twists and a race to the finish help the story and series achieve the greatness that Omer surely sought. I am not sure where things are headed for Omer or his two protagonists, but I am keenly aware that I will be there, impatiently waiting, to see what the coming years have to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Omer, for another success. You have me so curious and yet so ready to wait for your next stellar project.

Long Shadows (Amos Decker #7), by David Baldacci

Eight stars

David Baldacci returns with another novel in his highly successful Memory Man series, sure to attract many. Amos Decker has evolved and helped readers know him a little better, but there is a great deal of change for the behemoth in this piece, which takes the story down to the humid climate of Florida. Baldacci offers some great storytelling and builds a new protagonist, sure to fill a needed spot in the series. While he has many series on the go, David Baldacci has not waned in the least with Amos Decker and the gang!

After the death of a close friend and a piece of personal news that could real turn south for him, Amos Decker agrees to take on a new case far from Washington. Working with a new partner, Frederick White, Decker heads to Florida, where a federal judge and her bodyguard have been brutally murdered.

While Judge Julia Cummins seems clean, with no one she’s riled up and no known skirmishes around town, someone surely had it out for her. Decker and White scour the area and look into the judge’s background. Happily divorced and without many waves in her life, Cummins’ death baffles everyone around the area. However, Decker is not quite convinced that things are as bucolic as they seem.

Working a side case while down in Florida, Decker learns a little more about Cummins and the community, which will prove helpful when he needs to return his findings to the higher-ups within the FBI. Still, there is something not quite kosher and Decker cannot put his finger on it. All the while, White is struggling with her new partner and seeking to juggle single parenthood with children who are growing up fast. This case is something else and the Decker-White pairing could be both a dream and nightmare rolled into one. With a killer out there, Decker and White will have to put the pieces together before it’s too late, as their plates are full with personal matters that require their attention. Baldacci proves his worth yet again with a stunning novel that advances the series effectively.

Having been a fan of David Baldacci for many years, I am always excited when he publishes something new. The stories are always top-notch, with characters and plots that never fail to impress. Baldacci has the ability to write in so many styles that the reader need only show up and let the magic consume them. I can only hope that there is more to this series, as Baldacci left some loose ends that will soon need solving if things are to move forward.

Baldacci has long proven that he is a storyteller, able to concoct ideas and massage them into stellar pieces of wonder. His narrative approach eases the reader into the piece and then gains momentum effectively. With great characters and some plots to pique the interest of the curious, Baldacci has the reader hooked before they can back out. The introduction of Frederica White will surely add something needed to the series, though it is hard to tell how Amos Decker will react. Not that he doesn’t have some stuff of his own that needs addressing. I have longed for some more crossover work amongst Baldacci’s series and hope to see it again soon, as there is something about mixing his protagonists together that has me giddy.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for a sensational piece that had me gripped until the very end.

The Loyal Friend, by A. A. Chaudhuri

Did not finish

While I have been a fan of numerous pieces by A.A. Chaudhuri, I cannot say that I find myself in this position. I tried to read and listen to the book on a few occasions, though I could not find myself connecting with either the story or the characters. While I would normally just stop reading and erase any mention that I had started the book, I felt that owed it to the author to pen something and acknowledge the effort.

Chaudhuri spins a tale that has a great deal of potential, mixing numerous timelines with some apparently strong characters. Add some murder and you have all the ingredients for success. I tried to latch onto the various perspectives, or at least find something enjoyable with the characters, but I failed at every turn. Perhaps I sought something harder in a crime thriller genre, but in not finding that, my attention waned and could not be found anew.

For those who did like the book, I would highly recommend some of the others Chaudhuri has written, as they are strong and full of wonderful development. She has a way of spinning a story that keeps the reader in the middle of the action, offering hints and what’s to come. I do hope some of those novels are in the pipeline, as I always enjoy a good story and Chaudhuri has shown that she can write well.

Kudos, Madam Chaudhuri, for what may be a strong thriller for some. Alas, I cannot count myself in the group that has great things to say.

A World of Curiosities (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #18), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny returns with another sensational story once again highlighting the characters of Three Pines, Quebec. While the town may be quaint, the people are feisty as ever, kept together at times by Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. When a case from his past rocks him and resonates into the present day, Gamache cannot help but remember and try to bring new closure before those around him and affected once more. Penny spins her storytelling web and reminds me why I love this series so much with each new novel.

While the community of Three Pines, Quebec is known for its bucolic nature, there are deeply troubling moments that emerge at the least opportune times. Armand Gamache and his son-in-law, reputable members of the Sûreté du Québec, have done well to keep the peace, but when two young people return to the area, it sends them into a tailspin of panic and memories.

These two were children when their mother was brutally murdered, which was only the tip of the iceberg. Revelations soon emerged about countless amounts of abuse, which crippled those working the case. Some wonder just how innocent they were at the time of their mother’s death.

When Gamache discovers an old letter that speaks of a major secret in Three Pines. Soon thereafter, a secret room in one of the community’s buildings is discovered and the whole town wants to be part of the action. Some speculate about what awaits them, while others simply want a glimpse to whet their appetite. All the while, an old foe of Gamache’s makes his return, resonating deeply and forcing the senior Sûreté detective to take notice. Nothing could prepare Gamache for what he learns, or the blowback that awaits him. There is so much to handle and little time too wonder in this chilling mystery that will turn Three Pines into a place of panic once again. Penny does a masterful job in yet another addiction to this highly addictive series.

There are few authors I have discovered over the years who can write so fluidly and enticingly about Canada than Louie Penny. She knows her stuff and keeps the reader in the middle of each story. Strong writing and powerful plots are complemented by characters who evolve and devolve simultaneously, but never to the point of disappearing completely. While Three Pines may be a lovely destination, it is anything but boring with Louise Penny’s pen.

The narrative flow of the book is matched only by the other novels in the series. Penny sweeps in and hooks the reader with the opening phrase, refusing to lessen her grip until the final sentence resonates. Characters with depth and sassy intrigue fill the pages as well as a setting that is second to none. Great plots and complex journeys to follow them is the key to Penny’s writing, which forces the reader to enjoy or be left behind. The Canadiana in the book is like no other, giving me that warm feeling without becoming stereotypical. There is so much to enjoy here and I cannot help but find myself excited to see what’s next for a writer who never seems to run out of ideas!

Kudos, Madam Penny, for proving that Canada does deserve its placate on the map of strong settings for stellar mysteries!

Deep Fake, by Ward Larsen

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ward Larsen, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

New to the world of Ward Larsen, I was eager to see how this political thriller would sit with me. Larsen has a wonderful style of writing and ability to inject political flavouring into the text that left me able to see what was going on, while also witnessing some of the ‘new Cold War’ themes he wishes to put forward. The curious reader will surely enjoy the approach and the ease with which the plot develops. Ward Larsen is yet another author I need to add to my radar, as this was a wonderful first impression.

The Ridgeway household has been through a great deal of change over the last number of years. Bryce was a long-serving soldier in the Army, making his mark on superiors and earning a number of commendations before he was injured and sent back home. Thereafter, he agreed to run for Congress, easily winning a set in the House. His wife, Sarah, has always been the dutiful spouse, but secretly has wanted something a lot simpler. This is stymied when Bryce foils a terrorist plot at a Republican fundraiser and becomes a household name in an instant. Bryce Ridgeway is not only a hero, but may be the GOP’s answer for the upcoming presidential election. Bryce is not certain, neither is Sarah, yet both agree to let fate take them where it will.

With a weak incumbent, the race is on and Bryce seems to be the easy choice to secure the nomination and a spot in the White House. However, Sarah begins to feel something is off about her husband and the campaign in general. His memory loss is worse than it ever was when he returned home after his injury and Bryce appears to be acting even more strangely than usual. Sarah seeks some advice from a friend with connections to research and surveillance, opening up a private investigation into Bryce Ridgeway, candidate for US President.

Soon, Sarah comes to realise that her fears may not have been that far off, as Bryce’s actions are completely unlike the man she married. Sarah will stop at nothing to get to the truth, even as those around her try to dismiss her claims. But there is more to the story than this, as a group of Russians hiding in the shadows are watching their plan unfold and the future of the United States crumble, one day at a time. They must ensure solidarity to the cause, which means silencing anyone who could spoil things. Sarah Ridgeway might be their greatest hurdle, but with her bombastic comments, she’s sure to be laughed out of any situation she faces. Still… one can never be too careful. A chilling story by Ward Larsen that had me wondering if this could happen with ease, even more subtlety than the Trump ‘puppet of Russia’ scenario.

I enjoy a well-crafted political thriller as much as the next person, but there has to be an element of reality to hold my attention. While Ward Larsen’s story does appear to have a fanciful element on its surface, reading the book proves just how subtly the actions could be to have ultimate success. Larsen builds his story with ease and keeps the reader guessing until the final piece falls into place. I was hooked and could not stop myself from binge reading, just to see how things would play out. Truly a sign of a great writer who knows his stuff.

With a strong narrative flow, the story builds in all the right places and keeps the reader wanting more. Momentum develops throughout and keeps the reader riding the wave, with strong characters who offer side-stories and flavouring the main themes. Plot twists are key to this piece and Larsen knows just when the develop them and how to tease the reader. While I did not enjoy the original story about which this book is surely based, I can see how Ward Larsen has adapted it to make it work and proves the new Cold War could be even more troubling.

Kudos, Mr. Larsen, for such a great novel. I can only hope that other novels you have penned are just as intriguing.

Lest We Forgive (Detective Liz Moorland #1), by Phillipa Nefri Clark

Eight stars

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

Having read and enjoyed a previous novel by Phillipa Nefri Clark, I eagerly grabbed for this ARC. Clark spins a great crime thriller with this novel, combining a police manhunt with a family struggling to put the pieces back together. Set in Australia, there is an added flavouring to the story, though the setting is enough of a backdrop that the novel would work in any locale. Impactful until the final pages, Clark proves that she is one to watch in what appears to be the debut of a new series.

After a horrible car accident claims the lives of her parents, eight-year-old Melanie is left in limbo. Having been in the vehicle at the time, she suffers a number of physical and psychological injuries, but will also need a guardian to take care of her. Melanie’s grandfather, Vince, is a former detective and has disappeared into the bottle since his wife’s death, alienating his own daughter in the process. With Melanie needing someone, Vince steps up to help, thinking that family is Melanie’s best option.

While Vince begins to wonder about the crash and whether it might have been a targeted hit, he has an inkling that his son-in-law’s business partner could be up to no good. When Vince reaches out to Homicide Detective Liz Moorland, she is anything but pleased. With the recent escape of a murderer from the local jail, Moorland has her hands full and does not need any half-baked ideas clouding her focus. Vince refuses to stand down and does his own exploration into things, including the night of the fatal crash.

While Vince is trying to help Melanie acclimate to a life with him, he’s able to make some headway on the case. Detective Moorland is willing to take another look, though her attention remains focused elsewhere, as new bodies pile up the more the manhunt intensifies. The pieces begin to come together, as Melanie begins to come out of her shell. She remembers things about the night of the crash, things that could implicate people to a larger crime. Vince will not rest until he gets to the bottom of what is going on, whether Detective Moorland wants to help or leave him to his own devices. The truth is out there, though someone is lurking in the shadows, wanting to tie off any loose ends that appear, even if that means wiping Melanie off the map. Clark offers up a chilling story that mixes the hunt for justice with the slow and methodical healing of a little girl.

There’s something about an author that can juggle multiple themes effectively in their writing that has me very impressed. Phillipa Nefri Clark does that with ease as she tackles a debut novel in this series, sure to be crime thriller based. Clark uses all the tools she has to paint a great picture of what is going on in a small community, as well as the struggles for truth and healing that are inherent when an accident harms a handful of people. A great balance of police procedural, mystery, and emotional connection, Clark weaves them all together to keep readers impressed throughout the journey.

With a strong narrative base, the story is sure to impress many who are looking for something that will capture their attention. Clark does well to keep things moving and never lets the momentum wane as the story and its plots become more involved. A handful of key characters keep things exciting for the attentive reader, offering multiple perspectives to enrich the story. I can only hope that Clark keeps the same recipe for the next book in the series, as I am eager to see what is to come of Detective Liz Moorland and the rest of the Melbourne Homicide Squad.

Kudos, Madam Clark, for a great start to the series. I cannot wait to see what’s to come.

In the Blood (Terminal List #5), by Jack Carr

Eight stars

Jack Carr returns with an explosive thriller that is sure to keep the reader biting their nails as they flip pages well into the night. Writing from his own unique perspective, Carr pulls the reader into the middle of a thriller than spans the globe and offers chilling realities of the goings-on well under the radar. Carr depicts the world of espionage as one that races along, taking guilty and innocent lives alike in a battle for stability. Carr has a superior ability to depict these struggles through his writing while offering the reader a bird’s eye view throughout the journey.

In the African country of Burkina Faso, a plane is blown out of the sky, killing everyone. Among the passengers is a woman who was contracted by the State of Israel to complete a hit on a known target. The media coverage of the crash hits the airwaves soon thereafter, stunning many, including former Navy SEAL James Reece.

Reece cannot shake that he knows one of the names of the dead. He remembers her from an old Mossad mission and cannot help but want to learn a little more. Reece owed her so much and sets about cobbling together a team of contacts around the world to help track down her killer. This is sure to ruffle a number of feathers and revive some old animosity, but Reece is determined to act.

While this may be a noble mission, Reece has made a name for himself the world over as an operative who takes no prisoners and is ruthless in his handling of the enemy. This bravado may well serve to endanger him even more than he knows. With a potential trap awaiting him, Reece will wade into the depth of international espionage and counter surveillance to find a killer whose primary mission has been to remove stability. What follows is surely the most dangerous game of cat and mouse imageable, especially when a cliffhanger at the end changes everything for Reece. A brilliant addition to the series by Jack Carr that has me wanting even more.

I was hooked from the opening pages of the first book in this series and Jack Carr has made it an amazing journey up to this point. Using some of his own experiences, Carr illustrates just how little the common person knows about what happens around the world. Full of grit, drama, and a dose of reality, Carr takes readers on an adventure like no other as he traipses across the globe in search of a ruthless killer. This alone should be enough to lure readers to rush to get their hands on this book.

While he purports to be nothing more than a retired soldier, Jack Carr has some great writing abilities. His narrative not only takes readers along a journey that is fast-paced and full of detail, but the direction is one that always leads to something more waiting around the corner. Strong characters and a number of humours personalities pepper the book and keep the reader from getting too serious about what is happening around them. Plot lines emerge, as they likely would on any mission, and keep the reader guessing until all comes together, sometimes in a bloody shootout. Carr does not dial back the action for one second and this leaves the reader trying to catch their breath as they meander through countless twists to get to the final reveal. I cannot say enough about this book, this series, and this author!

Kudos, Mr. Carr, for another great piece, I will have to check out the PRIME television show to see if it matches the intensity you create on the written page.

No Place to Run, by Mark Edwards

Seven stars

As it has been a while since I picked up a book by Mark Edwards, I thought that I would take a leap with this one. Edwards has been known to impress me with his thrillers, many of which explore the darker side of humanity. This piece, while offering moments of tense storytelling, did not hit the mark for me, leaving me wanting more and wishing that things could have been like some of the past novels Edwards has written. Still, I gave it my best and can only hope others find something alluring with the story.

During a trip to Seattle two years ago, Scarlett disappeared while visiting her brother. Aidan spent the follow years trying to track her down, running into countless dead ends and a handful of shrugs from those around him. When Aidan receives a tip that a young woman matching Scarlett’s description was running for her life in Northern California, he latches onto this and the search resumes. But, could it really be Scarlett after all this time?

Aidan makes his way to the location, only to be greeted by a fire-ravaged community filled with missing person posters. The locals are mum about anything going on, but Aidan is sure there is more to the story. He is about to give up once more, but locates a woman willing to talk. Lana helps Aidan as best she can, but they find themselves in deeper trouble when they try to learn too much. Deep in the forest, a number of teenagers thought missing have been living and working, but they are by no means free. Aidan tries to find Scarlett, which only creates more issues and helps endanger him, with Lana by his side.

With everything to lose and little time, Aidan and Lana make their move, in hopes of freeing many who have been held captive, but at some great risk. These are eco-terrorists who have indoctrinated many to follow their belief system and push back against many who might try to steer them in other directions. Scarlett means the world to Aidan, but will he be able to wrest control of her away from this group with little regard for the outside world? Edwards posits this in a thriller than has moments of brilliance.

I have always enjoyed the work of Mark Edwards, as it is chilling to the core and usually leaves me with more questions than answers. However, this book left me with the wrong type of questions as I tapped my toe for wanting to get to the point. Edwards weaves the story along, only to leave the reader wanting more and wishing that the journey could have been different. I am eager to see if he can rebound from this and return to his glory.

Edwards uses his quick narrative style to draw an image of the goings-on for the reader, which helped give me an initial interest in the piece. However things appeared to wane soon thereafter, not saved by some good character development or strong descriptive skill. Edwards offered some drama at just the right moments to keep things on pace for a decent novel, but I was missing the spine-tingling thrills to which I am accustomed in his novels. Lots of bluster and little impact for me, though I am sure many others found something with which they could relate.

Kudos, Mr. Edwards, for a decent read, but not at the calibre I have become accustomed. Better luck winning me over next time.

Damages Intentions (Abby Mullen #2), by Mike Omer

Eight stars

Mike Omer returns with another Abby Mullen thriller, sure to keep the reader thinking as they speed through this tense novel. Dealing with a number of important issues in this newer series, Omer takes the reader on a ride like no other and keeps them in the driver’s seat throughout. Abby has a lot to discover about herself in this novel with situations that would test the mettle of any typical individual. How the reader handles this will surely be a part of the excitement of the novel, as this is by no means a passive read.

Abby Mullen spent her early childhood within the Wilcox cult, still scarred by how it all went down in flames. She’s back in North Carolina to get answers, though this does not go as well as he would have liked. She’s got a full life in front of her now, so lurking in the shadows does not make much sense. Still, she needs answers in order to put that part of her life in the past.

As a mother and one of the best hostage negotiators the NYPD has on their payroll, Mullen cannot let distractions cloud her judgment, This becomes even more important when a local conspiracy theorist group calling themselves, The Watchers, decides to strike once Abby returns home. Looking to the local high school, where they are sure sex trafficking is rampant, The Watchers take a number of hostages, including Abby’s own daughter, Sam.

Trying to keep her wits about her as she deciphers the expectations of this group, Abby remains laser focussed and intent on getting everyone out without bloodshed. However, The Watchers have their own narrative and ideas, none of which can be derailed with a simple negotiation tactic. Abby will have to talk her way through this one, while also unravelling the truth behind a myriad of secrets. How does this all tie into her past with Wilcox? Abby will have to use all the resources at her disposal to get answers before Sam or the others face a grisly end to this tense stand-off. Mike Omer dazzles as he ups the ante with this novel, sure to keep the reader gasping with every page turn.

It was a few years ago that I discovered the work of Mike Omer, which is full of great narrative style as well as superior storytelling. Pushing a strong theme throughout his novels, Omer weaves a story that is sure to keep the reader guessing until the final page and even then, he offers cliffhangers or questions that cannot be easily put to rest. Great characters who all live their intense lives along differing paths, Omer produces stellar novels that are sure to be the talk of those who read them for months. A great find and an even greater reading experience.

The Abby Mullen series demands fast narrative development to stand on point and Mike Omer delivers. There is little time for lollygagging, especially with all that Omer wishes to cover, forcing the reader to strap in as the adventure begins. Adding to this, many characters find their way into the tale, including Abby Mullen herself. There’s so much to discover about this woman and how she can be cool under pressure with all that she has lurking in her personal closet. The plot twists that emerge throughout prove to help the already strong story, allowing the reader to be an active bystander to everything that is taking place throughout this piece. Omer has crafted a tale that is sure to garner a great deal of praise, while also pointing out just how angering conspiracies can be when fuelled by misinformation and a delusional leader who dictates the line between truth and fantasy. Sobering in its delivery and depiction, making this one of the best Mike Omer novels that I have read!

Kudos, Mr. Omer, for keeping me intensely involved in this read and all others you have published.

The Maze (John Corey #8), by Nelson DeMille

Nine stars

Nelson’s DeMille brings his politically incorrect protagonist, John Corey, back for another adventure that is sure to get the heart pumping. Having seen it all during his time with the NYPD and Feds, Corey is happy to relax in rural New York, but that is sidelined when he is pulled into an undercover operation like no other. Corey brings his specific skill set and ‘fear nothing’ attitude to the case, while trying to keep his zipper up and eyes off the ladies. DeMille masters the storytelling once more and proves that he’s still got the spark needed to impress readers.

While still the target of many Russian and Islamic terrorists, John Corey tries to use time at his uncle’s rural New York cabin for some much needed R&R. However, others did not get the memo, so when Corey’s former colleague and lover, Beth Penrose, shows up, there is sure to be something work-related to this. Penrose talks about wanting Corey to take a job with a local security firm, Security Solutions, hoping that it will help him transition to his next set of life skills. Corey, who is still trying to make his way through the minefield that has been work with the NYPD, FBI, and CIA, is not so sure. Still, a pretty face and a willingness to rekindle a past flame has him listening.

What begins as an apparent new job soon turns into something much more complex. It would seem that this security firm could be involved in something much more disturbing. One of the past private investigators who asked too many questions appeared to commit suicide, though speculation lingers that she could have been murdered for what she knew. A case of nine unsolved murders on Fire Island appears to be at the core of the matter, where sex workers’ bodies have been found and no one has yet been fingered as the serial killer. Could Security Solutions be the key to discovering who has been doing it, or at least leave a trail of corrupt breadcrumbs in the cover-up?

While Corey digs deeper at his own pace, he meanders through the plethora of women, corrupt acts, and scintillating discoveries to see if Security Solutions has been protecting a killer or at least killing those who get too close to the truth. With Corey working alongside Beth Penrose once more, both can only hope that this will be something that helps crack a case wide open, if not bring them closer together. Still, John Corey is not the most chivalrous man, always willing to bend the rules to his favour and to pave the way to sexual conquering. How will it all work out? Nelson DeMille shows just how stellar his writing can be with this piece and an addition to this must-read series, all eats for those with an open mind to Corey’s salty delivery.

I cannot remember when I first began reading Nelson DeMille’s novels, but I know John Corey has been a favourite series of mine since first I discovered his filterless delivery. DeMille has all the needed ingredients to make his thrillers both enticing and full of dry wit, things I appreciate when reading (or listening) to books. The stories are always on point and full of detail that proves DeMille uses a great deal of research to create these gems. He is also well-versed in the lingo to leave the reader feeling as though they are part of the action throughout the process. While some may cringe at the rawness of Corey’s comments, the realism that emanates from the text makes them all the more enjoyable today. I cannot wait to see if John Corey will be back soon, in another adventure where his zipper leads the way!

A strong narrative succeeds when a book is able to capture my attention, something with which Nelson DeMille has never struggled. The pace of the book, while it would seem slow because the true ‘crime’ element did not enter into almost halfway through, is perfect and the detail discussed proved essential to better understanding all the working elements. DeMille brings John Corey back, alongside some familiar faces, as well as a great deal of new characters, to keep the story lively. These characters all add their own perspectives to the larger story and enrich the experience for the reader. Plots develop as quickly as John Corey’s libidinous thought processes, keeping the reader entertained and chuckling throughout. While the book is aptly titled for many reasons, the reader will see the plots can be a maze until the final reveal puts it all together. I cannot say enough about Nelson DeMille or this book, hoping that others share my positive sentiments and this keeps John Corey alive for at least a few more novels.

Kudos, Mr. DeMille, for another great novel that had me laughing throughout. What’s next for your adoring fans?

Trace Evidence (Michael Flint #2), by Diane Capri

Eight stars

Having spent years reading Diane Capri’s Hunt for Reacher novels, I discovered this series, almost by accident. Michael Flint appeared in the latest Hunt for Reacher novel, impressing readers, but has his own story, which is just as exciting and even more riveting. Capri has sculpted this protagonist to be one that readers can enjoy with ease, while also being able to devour the novels in short order. This second book in the series delves deeper into the the Flint backstory and touches on some emotional and very personal sides to the man, all while battling a case or two in the present day. Capri shines in this series and has me eager to get my hands on another Michael Flint novel in short order.

When a woman of some means reaches out to Michael Flint for help, he cannot turn her down. Desperate to save her young son, Veronica Beaumont implores Flint to do what other investigators have been unable to do. Jamie Beaumont suffers from an illness and has been able to find no matches, but his biological father, Josh Hellman, might hold the key. Trouble is, Hallman has been missing for the last six years since his small plane went down on a fishing trip.

While Flint learns more about the plane crash and how the body of two men were found at the bottom of an icy lake, he wonders why there is no trace of Hallman. Did he walk away from the crash? Autopsies on the bodies showed non-crash related injuries that led to their deaths, leaving some to wonder if Hallman killed his friends and has since gone off the radar. Whatever’s happening, Flint wants answers. However, when he revisits the scene, some of the men he encounters, who were there at the time of the crash, are vague and appear to be hiding a secret of their own, including a former client of Flint’s.

The exploration for a lost parent sparks an interest in Flint to finally find out who his parents were and what happened to them. While files were spotty at the time, Flint learns that his potential mother may have been murdered by a man on death row, whose execution is imminent. With little time to waste, Flint works this as a side-job, hoping to get some of his own answers before it’s too late.

With a parallel narrative depicting what happened at the time of the crash, readers can see things from Josh Hallman’s perspective as well, including some of the secrets that Michael Flint is slowly unearthing. The mystery behind Hallman’s disappearance remains complicated, but there are some leads begging to be revealed that could help Flint find the key to saving the life of a young boy. Capri does so well with this piece that she will have readers praising her for the foreseeable future.

I discovered Diane Capri as the author of a great Jack Reacher spin-off, which I have long enjoyed. I knew she had some other series being published, but I never took the time to explore them. After Michael Flint’s appearance in the latest Reacher tale, I decided that I ought to expand my Capri reading knowledge. How pleased I was to do that, as Michael Flint turned out to be even better than any Hunt for Reacher novel I read. It’s nice to discover new aspects to an author you and long read and enjoyed.

Capri has a sensationally strong and detailed narrative base in this novel, which juggles numerous timelines and perspectives at the same time. The story gains further flavouring by a handful of one-off characters, who both enhance the larger story, as well as the Flint personal saga that proves to be a great undertone throughout. The Michael Flint backstory is captivating and keeps the reader engaged as a partial distraction from the Josh Hallman plot. The varied plot lines are entertaining throughout and keep the reader on the edge of their seat, as they seek to explore how Flint will be able to help others while doing the same for himself. This is surely the best Capri novel I have read to date and I am eager to see how the third novel in this series proves to be when it is released later this year.

Kudos, Madam Capri, for providing ongoing entertainment for your loyal fans.

No Plan B (Jack Reacher #27), by Lee Child and Andrew Child (Grant)

Eight stars

Jack Reacher, everyone’s favourite nomad, is back for another adventure, allowing Lee and Andrew Child to use their brilliant writing abilities one more. Reacher finds himself involved in an incident that spans across the US and gets him into trouble with a new collection of corrupt officials. The authors keep the action high and dry humour flowing in this novel, which has much more zip than some of their past collaborative efforts. Nice to see Reacher is back in fine form, with no signs of waning.

After arriving in a small Colorado town, Jack Reacher witnesses a young woman tossed in front of a bus, before the purported killer left with her purse. While others think they saw the woman leap, Reacher is sure about what he saw and tells the authorities as much. After a brief confrontation with a few men who might have been part of the killer’s group, he gets a glance inside the victim’s purse, where he learns a little more about her, including that she is far from her Mississippi home, where she works in a prison.

Painted as a target who might know too much, Reacher could find himself in a great deal of danger, but he refuses to stand down from trying to get to the root of the murder. Little does he know, but the killing is part of a larger conspiracy by a group who have even more nefarious plans that span across the country.

While Reacher and another Colorado local try to peel things back, which include a trip to Mississippi, a young boy has begun a trek across the country to flee a troubled home life. He finds himself involved in his own set of troubled circumstances and could use some help. When Reacher crosses paths with him, they find a common interest and appear to connect on some level. Still, both are on their respective missions, which could be intertwined, even if neither is quite aware of it yet. As Reacher is ready to put it all on the line, he must watch out for those who have him on their target list, prepped to leave another body if it keeps the silence. The Child brothers know how to keep Reacher at the top of his game and series fans can revel in another wonderful thriller.

I have followed the Jack Reacher series since its inception, which is why I was a tad leery when Lee Child invited his brother to collaborate. Things began a little shakily, but they appear to have righted themselves with this explosive thriller once more. Reacher is a nomad, but connects well with characters and the reader, given the chance. There is a lot to enjoy in this novel, offering series fans a glimpse at past greatness that just might be on the horizon once more. I’m eager. to see how the Child (Grant) brothers will handle Reacher in the future, as well as whether they foresee an end of his nomadic ways.

Much like its protagonist, the narrative style of this series has meandered all over the place, but captivates the reader on a repeated basis. The story keeps gaining momentum through the well-paced narrative that the authors develop so well. As always, there are many one-off characters, some of whom are able to connect with the reader in a short order and make for a more enjoyable experience. Wonderful plots help keep things sharp and on point throughout, something that Reacher appears to enjoy as he makes his way across the country. The authors have kept the series moving along, though anyone could easily pick up a book at any point in the series and be perfectly content. I am eager to see where things are headed and what location Reacher will discover next.

Kudos, Messrs. Child, on another enjoyable reading experience.

Blood Trails (Michael Flint #1), by Diane Capri

Eight stars

After spending years reading Diane Capri’s Hunt for Reacher novels, I was introduced to another of her series that packs just as much punch. Michael Flint, who appeared in the latest Hunt for Reacher novel, has a story all his own and one that many readers will surely find quite alluring. As Flint finds himself looking for a woman who is set to inherit a large sum of money, he’s faced with just how hard some people want to keep from being found, and the ghosts that lurk in their past. Capri shows her versatility with this piece, which capture’s the reader’s attention.

Michael Flint has spent the last number of years tracking down those who are set to inherent something or other. However, heir hunting is not as easy as it seems. While Flint brags that he can find most anyone, he may have met his match.

After he is called to a Houston skyscraper, Flint is tasked with finding Laura Oakwood, who has inherited her family ranch, which sits atop a massive (and as yet, untapped) oil field. Laura knows nothing of these riches, but two oils tycoons want her found or the land signed over for exploration. Laura has been missing for 28 years, not long after she was fingered for being part of a robbery gone bad that left people dead and her wanted in connection with the crime.

While Flint is ready for the challenge, he could not have known it would be this difficult, forcing him to battle henchmen on both sides trying to one-up each other, as well as the multiple dead-ends that the search garners. Flint will have to brave the cold of rural Saskatchewan, in Canada, to locate Laura Oakwood and potentially her offspring, who disappeared with her. Will Flint have enough time before the clock runs out and the land goes to someone else? Flint will do all in his power to bring another heir into the fortune they deserve. Capri keeps the reader enthralled until the very end and shows just how varied her writing can be.

As I said before, I have always known Diane Capri to be the author of a Jack Reacher spin-off, but I knew she had some other series in her quiver. When Michael Flint made an appearance in the latest Reacher tale, I thought that I would give his series a try, if only to compare it to what I had read for so long. Capri shows she has what it takes and kept me guessing until the very end of this crime thriller.

With a strong narrative base, Capri adds depth to her story through a string of strong characters, none of whom appear to get along completely with their neighbours. While there is some great development, it is the backstory of Michael Flint that provides the most interesting aspects for the reader to enjoy. With more to the series, one can only hope there will be moments to add to this character, who has my attention already. Great plot twists, in a story where locating a missing person is high on the agenda, proves highly successful and keeps the reader wondering how things will progress. I’ll set aside some of the foibles in the narrative as they relate to Canada and allow readers to focus on the larger story. I found myself quite enthralled with how Capri presented things, as I tried not to compare things to their other series. There is a lot to enjoy herein and I hope to enjoy the rest of the series in short order.

Kudos, Madam Capri, for keeping me entertained, no matter what you’re writing.

The Final Equinox (Theo Cray and Jessica Blackwood #2), by Andrew Mayne

Nine stars

Andrew Mayne brings two of his most complicated protagonists together once more for an adventure that is, literally, out of this world. Dr. Theo Cray and FBI Agent Jessica Blackwood explore the world of space and a few murders on Earth, trying to see how they might be interconnected. Cray uses his highly scientific mind to posit answers while gent Blackwood sticks to the facts to convey her thoughts. Mayne does a wonderful job, though the reader will have to remain attentive to catch all the banter found herein. A great addition to the series.

When Dr. Theo Cray is contacted to be a part of a highly secretive project, he is leery. The computational biologist has seen his share of fraudulent activities and is not entirely sold, but proves interested when presented with proof that a signal has been noted at the edge of the solar system. Other scientists have been brought in to consult, though it appears only Cray is completely grounded in analytical and provable thoughts to date. This leads to a trip down to Guatemala, where proof might be further presented and Cray is eager to see what awaits him.

Billionaire Thomas T. Theismann is at the heart of the project, having invested large sums to explore other intelligent life on other planets or in various galaxies. Cray follows along as well as he can, but enlists the assistance of his partner, FBI Agent Jessica Blackwood, to investigate the presumed murder of a previous scientist at the lab. Agent Blackwood soon discovers some mysterious goings-on at a recent conference and wonders if someone has been trying to cover something up from the authorities.

As Cray and Blackwood try to combine their investigations, they discover that Theismann’s life appears to mirror a poorly penned 1970s sci-fi horror novel. Could this be his plan, to use money and as-yet understood technology to bring his dreams to fruition? There are some troubling things that both discover, leading them to wonder if there is a more sinister aspect. With a cult-like group at the heart of things in Arizona, both will have to work their respective magical abilities to find the truth before they are the next victims. Mayne dazzles and invests a great deal into this latest novel, which is of the highest calibre.

I enjoyed my discovery of Andrew Mayne a few years ago, learning much about both these protagonists in their respective series. He has a way with any topic he chooses, pulling the reader into the middle and keeping them captivated throughout. Truth be told, the Cray series (and this one) are heavy on science, though Mayne tries to present it in such a way that the reader can digest. A strong story, full of great asides, kept me captivated until the final pages, as I tried to decipher just what Cray and Blackwood discovered and how the pieces fell into place.

While narrative flow is alway essential to a great book, I feel Mayne must also juggle trying to utilise the vast amount of science he wishes to include while staying ‘layperson’ enough for the reader. There is so much going on and so many angles that need addressing, keeping it straight and not losing the reader are much more difficult tasks. Mayne does so relatively well, using Jessica Blackwood to ensure that Theo Cray does not fly into too many feats of fancy (though he still does). Putting the Blackwood and Cray protagonists together has proven to be a great addition, creating a series that permits many more characters of differing backgrounds to pepper the pages of each novel. Mayne’s use of many and complex plot twists will surely work for some readers, though things do flirt with the line of being ‘overly technical’ at times too. I have thoroughly enjoyed all books that I’ve read by Andrew Mayne, though I do need to be at the top of my game to process them. Eager to see what’s next and where it will take things!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for keeping my non-scientific brain sharp as I try to decipher what’s going on whenever Theo Cray has something to say.

Desert Star (Renée Ballard #5, Bosch World #36), by Michael Connelly

Eight stars

Michael Connelly returns with the latest in the Bosch/Ballard series, which has been getting better with each book. Both protagonists know their place and have been able to effectively make their marks on the series, as well as this story in particular. Working different angles in a ragtag group examining cold cases, Bosch and Ballard captivate the reader and keep them guessing until the final truth comes to light. Connelly shows that he has a wonderful direction for this series, with some monumental news in the latter portion of this book. A must-read for series fans (and if you were going to skip it)!

After a scandalous departure from the LAPD, Renée Ballard is back. The Chief of Police offers her a new start, to which she agrees, but leaves her colleagues behind to resurrect the Cold Case squad within the LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division. Tasked with a handful of volunteers, Ballard is able to bring Harry Bosch back as an investigator. Bosch has an agenda all his own, as he battles with a case that has nagged him for years, where a psychopath killed an entire family.

The killer appears to be free in the wind, though Bosch is sure it’s only because he did not have the resources to work it when full-time within the LAPD. Now under Ballard’s approval, Bosch does his best to tackle it with fresh eyes, allowing a few others to offer their insights. Ballard is happy to have Bosch there, knowing that she could learn a great deal from him. All the same, Ballard remains leery that this will be a case that could suck the life out of her former mentor.

As Bosch makes some headway, he relies on Ballard to clear the way for him to make his move, in hopes of adding a positive stat to the LAPD column. However, anything can (and does) happen on the rough streets of LA, something both Bosch and Ballard know all too well. It’s the final chapters that impact the story most, sure to pique the interest of Bosch fans. Connelly proves to be a master with this chilling story that accentuates two of his well-developed protagonists.

I remember discovering the Harry Bosch series and not being able to get enough. This passion helped me devour many of the books, as well as the television spin-offs that came from them, keeping me highly entertained over the years. Bosch’s grit and Ballard’s no-nonsense advocacy keep the series strong, particularly while they are still working together. Time will tell what will come of it.

Those who have read novels in the Bosch series will know that Michael Connelly knows how to spin a story. They see it from the outset in a narrative that both sets the scene and carries the reader throughout the journey. This is no exception, as both Bosch and Ballard are at their respective crossroads and need something new. Those who surround themselves with these two enrich the story and offer some light humour to a dark and troubling story. Plot twists in the cold case keep things from getting too mundane and Bosch has a way of turning over many rocks to unleash adventurous moments. I have seen Harry Bosch transform over the years and even Renée Ballard has made some significant changes in her short time in the series. I wonder what’s to come and how these two will keep readers on the edge of their seats, particularly with the cliffhanger Connelly offers.

Kudos, Mr. Connelly, for another stellar piece. Keep them coming, as I know many who love this series in all its forms.

Graveyard of Empires (Ben Hope #26), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Scott Mariani returns with another high-octane thriller with his gritty protagonist, Ben Hope. In this twenty-sixth installment, Hope returns to work with some SAS members in the ruthless Afghan countryside. Searching for an old acquaintance, Hope will soon find himself grasping to find stability in a country where it’s never been a high priority. Mariani proves his superiority once more in this addictive series.

Ben Hope has made a name for himself over the last number of years, proving to be a dedicated hero to those who need him, while also a keen teacher so that others can defend themselves. When Hope receives a call that a long-ago acquaintance, Madison Cahill, has gone missing in Afghanistan, he wants to help. He is too keen on living to voluntarily return to that part of the world, citing his apologies for not being able to assist.

When Hope is visited by a former SAS superior soon thereafter, he discovers that he is being put back into action, though without the commanding rank. Hope is being sent to Afghanistan to instil some stability with the Taliban back in power. It’s not a mission he relishes, but when called to duty, Hope won’t look the other way.

While trying to acclimate in-country, Hope and his comrades begin their mission, soon locating Madison and learning of her own mission in the country, which includes trying to save a number of items from Alexander the Great. Sure the Taliban will destroy anything they find themselves, Hope and his comrades begin helping Madison retrieve anything they can To get it out of Afghanistan. All while trying to protect a many with royal connections, another enemy of the Taliban. With no rules and few friends, Hope will have to tap into all his skills while staying as quiet as possible if he hopes to leave the country alive,. Mariani impresses once more and keeps the reader flipping pages well into the night.

Since discovering the work of Scott Mariani, I have been highly impressed with the series as a whole, as well and many of the individual books. Mariani uses his strong writing ability to entertain the reader while providing a significant amount of history to prop up the fictional side of the story. There is so much for the reader to enjoy and pique an interest so that they might explore more information on their own. These are stunning thrillers that never lose their impact.

Strong narrative foundations keep the reader on track for a successful experience. Mariani weaves truth and fiction together, forcing the reader to guess which is which. Great characters, mostly new and likely one-off, keep the story intriguing and add a humorous and gritty aspect that is needed to offset some of the more painful realities the subject matter begs exploring. Plot twists and historical moments keep the reader entertained and have them wondering what is to come, without feeling as though things are too predictable throughout the experience. I have loved these novels for many years and Mariani keeps them sharp, even this deep into this stellar series, which shows no signs of fading!

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another sensational thriller that left me gasping for breath.

Lone Star Jack (Hunt for Reacher #15), by Diane Capri

Eight stars

Diane Capri is back with the next Hunt for Reacher novel, trying to stay fewer than ten steps behind the elusive nomad. Turning to Texas, Capri tackles some curious situations and adds a few new characters who have caught my attention. FBI Special. Agent Kim Otto has remained front and centre in a series that appears to evolve with each new novel. I am eager to see where things are headed and whether, one day, Otto and Reacher will come face to face.

While Jack Reacher remains on the lam, Special Agent Kim Otto has not stopped looking. However, even she needs a reset and finds herself back in Detroit with family. When she learns that her sister, Sunny, has a new man and that he’s stationed in Texas, Otto wants to know more, However, her impatient boss, Cooper, has tired of the Reacher delays and collects her for the next phase of their mission. Interestingly enough, they are headed to Texas, where Reacher has left a message and directed Otto to meet a lawyer from his past.

Cooper has his own agenda and hopes Reacher will fall for a trap. Still, Otto wants to play it safe and see what the nomad has in store for her. Otto meets members of the Double Death Task Force, who have been investigating murders whereby the killer dies as soon as the act is committed. This could be part of a larger issue, particularly when a riot breaks out at a politician’s funeral.

All the while, an unwitting Pilar Inez Mendoza finds herself in Texas. An illegal migrant who was promised a job in Texas, she finds herself in the middle of a plot that could never have come to her, even if she had been told about it beforehand. How will her desire to get to Pecos, Texas intersect with Reacher and Otto, all while remaining under the radar? Otto teams up with Michal Flint, an unlikely partner, to get to the core of what’s happening as she continues her hunt for Jack Reacher.

I have long enjoyed these novels by Diane Capri, partly because she mirrors some of the work by the great Lee Child in the original Reacher series. Using Child’s Echo Burning as a basis, Capri weaves a story that has some wonderful elements and exciting twists. Capri has long ago proven her abilities and this is enough example of her great skills, sure to impress Reacher fans and those who enjoy her work, simultaneously.

The narrative style of these books reminds me a great deal of the early Lee Child novels, which makes reading them all the more enjoyable. Capri uses her narrative to guide the reader through many a scenario, all of which keep developing until the final reveal, which is in itself only a prelude for the next adventure. Great characters, some returning and others new or one-offs, keep offer the reader something different to enjoy as they make their way through the race towards Jack Reacher. The themes and plots that emerge from both this book and Child’s previous novel help keep things exciting and enticing through to the final page turn, when the reader will learn so much about immigration an the struggle that is real on the American border. Plus, after meeting Michal Flint in this novel, my curiosity is piqued about learning more about him, through the two novels to date that Capri has penned with him as protagonist. I suppose that will be my next adventure. Bring it on!

Kudos, Madam Capri, for another stellar piece of writing.

NYPD Red 7: The Murder Sorority (NYPD Red #7), by Marshall Karp

Eight stars

Marshall Karp takes over sole writing responsibility on the NYPD Red series, after collaborating on the previous novels with James Patterson. With intensity being a key element of the series to date, Karp has large shoes to fill, but does so with ease, keeping things on par with past publications. A gripping set of crimes, great character development, and some humour where it matters most, Karp is sure to impress series fans and has me wanting to explore some of his other solo work.

After a highly-publicised trial rocks Manhattan, what follows creates utter havoc. The defendant is killed by a sniper’s bullet while on the courthouse steps and his brother is murdered across town a short time later. Enter NYPD Red, the team assigned to the highest-calibre cases in the city, where the most prominent have their worries handled by the likes of Detectives Zach Jordan and Kylie MacDonald. While these two are well-versed in homicide and how to handle people with kid gloves, nothing will prepare them for what they discover on this case.

It would appear that there is a group of trained assassins on the loose around New York, killing those who are on a secret list. The Kappa Omega Delta (Killers on Demand) troll the city and fulfil needed hits, while secreting themselves away from the eyes of the authorities. While Jordan and Macdonald begin looking into things, they are sidelined when a more personal shooting takes place. Detective MacDonald’s boyfriend is shot and left to bleed out, for no apparent reason. It’s may be a distraction but Red have honed their skills to not allow anything to derail them while on a case.

Chasing down the Killers on Demand will require astute abilities and a sense of commitment, though both detectives go through some significant personal roadblocks that they cannot ignore. Still, once the clues begin falling into place, it will be a race to the finish, to neutralise these killers before NYC becomes a city with blood flowing through the streets, at least more than usual. Karp does a masterful job steering this novel on his own, keeping series fans excited for what is to come.

Collaborations with James Patterson tend to be a mixed bag, which I have long said when reading a book with his name on the cover. Marshall Karp has done really well to elevate this series since its inception, gripping me and keeping the series at the top of my list. Karp has been great at using poignant topics to entertain his readers and has yet to run out of ideas for cases. If his own writing is as exciting as these collaborative efforts, I am in for a treat when I tackle one of Karp’s own series later this year. Stay tuned for that in the coming months.

The narrative flow of this series has long been one of its strongest attributes. I find the momentum of the writing is dictated by the clipped pace on offer. Karp builds on this throughout, keeping the reader attentive as they make their way through the novel. Strong characters with some decent development help add something for series fans to enjoy, as there are some key aspects discussed in this seventh novel. The plot twists and story arcs presented keep the reader engaged and ready to learn more, stopped only by the limitations of Karp’s ability to publish future pieces. I can only hope there is more to come soon, as this is one series well worth my time!

Kudos, Mr. Karp, for keeping this series going with another great novel!

Sea Castle (Underwater Investigation Unit #4), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

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

Andrew Mayne returns with his somewhat unique series, set in the heart of Florida. Using a forensic diver as his protagonist, Mayne is able to tackle a different angle to most crime thrillers I have read, while keeping the reader intrigued until the final page turn. Adding some serial murder and cult-like behaviour, Mayne shows that he has all the ingredients for a great novel, sure to keep the reader enthused.

Sloan McPherson has made quite a name for herself in Fort Lauderdale as a member of the Underwater Investigation Unit’s forensic diver. When the body of a young woman’s body is found along the shoreline, Sloan immediately presumes it’s murder, while others ponder the possibility that she might have committed suicide. The clues do not make sense and Sloan is baffled as to what she is seeing in front of her.

Sloan begins poking around, but she is stonewalled by the authorities, as they are sure this was a simple miscalculation by a novice swimmer. Enter Gwen Wylder, who is quite rough around the edges and an outcast with the Miami Police. Wylder is happy to help Sloan, but for a price. Sloan must help by offering her own insight into some cold-cases that Wylder has been amassing, all part of what could be a serial killer who has been conniving while they traipse across Florida without detection.

As Sloan soon sees, her victim fits perfectly into the larger case study and there is proof that a killer could be travelling across the state, killing young women. Another woman goes missing, leaving Sloan and Wylder to race out so they can stop a killer from striking again. As things get more intense, both women find themselves involved in something they could not have expected, where they are not able to extricate themselves with ease. Mayne creates an intense story and keeps the reader hooked with some of his unique perspectives throughout.

It was the first book in this series that alerted me to the work of Andrew Mayne. Since then, I have not been able to get enough, having devoured a few of his series, while always remaining in awe. Mayne knows what he’s doing and keeps things fresh, unique, and on point. Whenever I see a new publication of his, I cannot help but rush to get it, knowing that it will be a stellar piece of writing.

Mayne develops his narrative in such a way that the reader wants to learn more. He knows how to present a tale that balances the criminal element with some strong backstory, all of which is essential to the final product. Great characters, some of whom build their development throughout the novel, provide the reader with some entertainment as they continue with the journey. The forensic perspective, mixed with the plot development, offer something unique, though this book steered away from underwater exploration and more to the chase for a killer. While this is not as enticing as some of the earlier novels, Mayne is still able to keep the reader in the know and dazzle with his writing style!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for another great piece of writing!

Livid (Kay Scarpetta #26), by Patricia Cornwell

Eight stars

Patricia Cornwell returns with another chilling novel in her long-running Kay Scarpetta series. Full of all the action and sharp wit that the series possessed in its heyday, Cornwell keeps readers highly entertained and thoroughly captivated. Scarpetta finds herself in the middle of one of the most challenging cases of her career, which only adds to the intrigue. A crime thriller with so many twists and turns, I could not always tell which way was up in Cornwell’s best novel over the last number of years. A must-read for those who have endured throughout the series.

Kay Scarpetta has been a forensics pathologist for many years, though she’s finally met her match. Having inherited a case that is now making headlines and drawing a large television audience, Scarpetta must separate truth from fiction as all eyes are on her. Both sides are equally divided and prepared to act violently if the correct verdict is not rendered.

Two years ago, the victim’s body washed up on the shores of Virginia. She had been out with her fiancé, who claims he has no idea what happened to her. When the authorities questioned him, through immediately tossed him in jail, where he sits today. Scarpetta holds the key to the forensic evidence and her word, should it be taken serial by the jury, could free a man or condemn him forever.

While the case sits with the jury, the judge’s sister is found dead in her home. Possibly a sign by one of the side that they mean business, Scarpetta is not ready to sit back and wait, even though she has been banned from investigating. Working with her long-time friend and colleague, Pete Marino, Scarpetta tries to get to the core of the matter, while keeping some of her past involvement with the judge out of her way. Scarpetta and Marino discover some odd burn patters that could mean something even more problematic, as everything points to a new age weapon.

As tensions mount for the case to be decided, Scarpetta must determine who is out there, lurking in the shadows. When POTUS arrives in town and an attempt is made on his life, Scarpetta knows that this is not your run of the mill killer, but rather some terror cell out for something larger. Someone is surely trying to send Scarpetta a message, while making an impact on the television news cycle as well. It will take everything in her being to keep Kay Scarpetta from letting justice be perverted, though everything comes together to unveil the truth about another crime that has haunted her for the past few years. Cornwell does a masterful job in this piece to resurrect some of her past greatness in the Scarpetta series.

I remember discovering Patricia Cornwell and this riveting series, which started with a binge read of the first number of novels. The attention to detail and means by which she could weave a tale left me in awe of Cornwel’s abilities and kept me coming back for more. While there was a rough patch when Scarpetta appeared to be on the verge of disaster, Cornwell returned to her greatness and has kept the protagonist from going stale or leaving series fans to beg for her retirement.

Working with a solid foundation, Patricia Cornwell keeps readers intrigued with a solid narrative that moves as quickly as any book I have read. Keeping the reader in the heart of the story, Cornwell adds characters who enhance things in their own ways, while never letting their presence overtake the momentum of good writing. Plot twists emerge throughout that help accentuate the thriller angle, leaving the reader gasping at times. With strong themes building throughout the short chapters, the reader feels propelled towards a climactic ending that has all the ingredients for a stellar novel. I am so pleased that Patricia Cornwell is back and can only hope there are more Kay Scarpetta novels to come of this calibre.

Kudos, Madam Cornwell, for keeping Scarpetta as gritty as she has been for years.

Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America, by Maggie Haberman

Nine stars

Readying myself for what is sure to be another intense presidential election period ahead of the 2024 vote, I have begun looking into things political once more. This biography of sorts by award-winning journalist Maggie Haberman proves not only insightful, but also offers context to how Donald J. Trump rose through the ranks of business and entertainment to achieve fame, whereby he squandered it all during a troubling term in office. With his attempts to regain power in 2024, it seemed apt to revisit some of his story, as well as analyses of his time in office, through the eyes of a journalist who was one of those allowed into his inner sanctum the most.

Haberman offers a look into the early days of the Trump family, where young Donald was groomed by his father, Fred, to become a man of business. Fred was anything but ethical in many of his dealings, but this is perhaps where Donald acquired his ‘cutting corners’ and ‘Trump means business’ mentalities, even if they only served to create resentment. Trump began tossing his name and borrowed money around, only to discover that he could get what he wanted through acts of bullying and name calling. Haberman clearly explains that while he got things he wanted, Trump was scoffed at behind his back, creating airs of resentment that would follow him like a bad odour.

While Trump sought to grow his empire, his eye was never far from looking for his next conquest. This is by no means shocking to anyone who has read recent pieces about the man, though it is enlightening and disconcerting at the same time to see a man who saw women as possessions, much like the real estate Trump bandied around whenever he felt like it. Misogyny drips from many of the anecdotes Haberman offers, which have been substantiated by many of those she interviewed for the book.

Dabbling into the political arena, Trump always sought to support others who wanted to get into the mud, rather than dive in himself. Trump sought to back those he felt could do him favours or owe him for financial backing. This served to be a mixed bag, as Trump never really was able to find a surefire way of picking a winner. Still, he made himself known and offered many critical moments for those who held the reins of power.

When Donald Trump decided to toss his hat into the ring, it was a hot mess that only got worse. Haberman explores the 2016 presidential campaign that gripped the country, with many of the famous Trump asides that had filled columns and books over the past member of years. Trump sought to make his mark and, at times, use bombastic actions over substantive policies to win over an electorate seeking something different. Haberman explores a number of theories leading to Trump’s victory, but keeps things as evidence-based as she can.

With Haberman front and centre covering the Trump Administration, she is able to explore some of the day to day moments that shaped his presidency, including how he would use Cabinet Secretaries as puppets to push some of his outlandish views. Some did so willingly while others held their noses (and tongues) as best they could until it was too much. Piling up gaffes and a refusing to follow diplomatic or policy views cemented in the American political way of life, Trump sought to carve out his own niche, always saying that it is what the people wanted.

Haberman offers a succinct but impactful exploration of the 2020 presidential campaign, where Trump lost and yet refused to believe it. The conspiracies mounted and Trump did all he could not to let the defeat sink in, choosing instead to scream ‘foul’ and surround himself with sycophants who would do the same. Haberman illustrates the desperation that followed, including how Trump grasped at straws to have his own vice-president try to defy constitutional and congressional rules to supplant a defeated president into office for another term. Readers can baffle at the gumption of the man.

Maggie Haberman chose not to make this about another smear campaign against the 45th president of the United States, but rather offer some context that all readers ought to heed. Trump was not born out of the swamp and became this aggressive man in 2015 when he chose to run for office. Rather, it was instilled in him for years and he grew into expecting the entitlement to follow him, so far that he wanted everyone to bow down and kiss the ring. Through well-document chapters, Haberman spins wonderful tale of success and failure, substantiated with many interviews from others who have their own opinions. While the book is longer, its detail helps to push it to the top, so that readers can feel a sense of education throughout the experience. Some will love it, others will not. Either way, its educational and entertainment value cannot be dismissed. Maggie Haberman shows why she is award-winning, and one can hope she has more to write soon.

Kudos, Madam Haberman, for pulling no punches and keeping the reader informed throughout the journey. I could not have asked for more.

Cat and Mouse (Helen Grace # 11), by M.J. Arlidge

Eight stars

Another chilling story in this great series by M.J. Arldige is sure to keep the reader flipping pages well into the night. A crazed killer whose acts do not appear to have any sense of explanation, a beleaguered murder squad headed by Detective Inspector Helen Grace, and families who demand answers for this losses; all these parts of a great piece of writing. Arlidge weaves the story to keep the reader on their toes and adds intensity to the narrative momentum. While the series has certainly grown over the last few years, Arlidge has not yet run out of ideas to keep the reader enthralled.

A brutal murder by an axe-wielding killer sendsDetective Inspector Helen Grace to lead the investigation. While her team is on point, they are going through some readjustments, forcing Grace to juggle things a little more than she might like. Still, there are clues to uncover and truths to reveal before things get even more out of hand.

After a young man is struck in his home, Grace and her team rush to piece things together while another family grieves. One solid lead takes Grace to a shipping port, only to be left on a wild-goose chase. There’s something about these seemingly independent killing that does not sit right with Grace and she is bound to discover it, even if it puts her in the path of danger.

When a clue falls into place, DI Grace and her team cannot believe where it leads and how it will connect to some of their own personal struggles. Could this be the motive they have been searching for, with everything pointing to a form of revenge. DI Helen Grace will stop at nothing until she gets answers. and brings a killer to justice. M.J. Arlidge does a fabulous job in his later thriller.

My discovery of M.J. Arlidge was both fortuitous and exciting over the last number of years. His Helen Grace novels have taken me on a whirlwind tour of crime in the UK, as well as inside the lives of those who try to keep the criminal element at bay. With strong storylines and well-developed characters, the stories gain a life of their own on the page and keep things moving throughout. I can only wonder what series fans have to look forward to in the months to come, as more Helen Grace is surely on the agenda.

Arlidge has a wonderful narrative style that pulls the reader into the core of the story from the opening sentences. The crimes described are gruesome, but handled in a respectful way, allowing the reader to dig a little deeper to understand what they are taking in. Strong characters who have their own backstories pepper the pages of the book, offering some updates in their lives and mannerisms. Arlidge uses short chapters to tease the reader throughout, as the plot thickens and veers off onto some differing perspectives. I found myself quite surprised as the story progressed into something gritty and suspenseful, without losing any of its momentum. I can only hope there will be more before long, as the wait proves troubling for those who are fully invested.

Kudos, Mr. Arlidge, as you continue to dazzle in your series work.

Alligator Alley (Joe DeMarco #16), by Mike Lawson

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mike Lawson, and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Mike Lawson returns with another stellar Joe DeMarco novel, allowing the ‘Bagman of Congress’ to expand his investigative wings down in the Florida Everglades. Lawson provides his protagonist with a difficultly case, trying partner, and intense moments of action throughout, sure to impress the reader. Lawson provides an entertaining backdrop in this sixteenth novel in the series, proving that the DeMarco momentum has not waned one iota.

After a young employee of the Department of Justice’s Inspector General’s Office is found murdered in the Florida Everglades, suspicion surrounding her murderer is high. Young Andie Moore had been following two FBI agents who were tasked with investigating Medicare fraud, but the case had gone sideways for no apparent reason. When Joe Demarco, a bagman for the Speaker of the House of Representatives, is sent to Florida to look into it, things take an interesting turn. DeMarco is not alone and his partner is surely not someone who enjoys taking second chair.

Working alongside the gritty Emma, DeMarco helps to explore the FBI agent angle, though these two are as tight lipped as they come. Still, Demarco and Emma think that there’s more to the story than simply two buffoons wanting their payday for screwing up the case. Emma has contacts all her own and calls on them to help with some of the digital and forensic know-how, which opens new perspectives. Trolling the crime scene in the Everglades, known to locals as Alligator Alley, Emma and DeMarco find some key evidence that shows that the kickback plot is a little more complex than first presumed.

With the apparent leader of the group proves elusive, DeMarco and Emma will have to work quickly and diligently to nail down the killer and ensure that Andie Moore did not die in vain. DeMarco will discover a few new things about himself and how to work alongside the rigid Emma, who has little time for any of his shenanigans. Mike Lawson keeps things strong and uses his abilities to impress the reader once more.

Since discovering the work of Mike Lawson, I have never failed to be impressed by all he adds to his stories to keep them on point. While the political aspect is secondary, it offers some interesting backstory to the larger narrative. Lawson has a great writing style and keeps his pieces moving at a quick pace, entertaining the reader from the opening pages.

With a strong narrative that does not rest for a moment, Mike Lawson lures the reader in from the opening pages. Strong criminal storylines provide something intriguing for the reader, while adding some humour at just the right moments. Great characters who add their own flavouring help Lawson move the story along with ease. A few plot lines fuel the story’s underlying greatness without impacting the momentum the narrative offers. While DeMarco is never doing the same thing, the continuity is there and series fans can be assured of a stellar piece of writing. Lawson is to be applauded and I am eager to see where things are headed next.

Kudos, Mr. Lawson, for a wonderful addition to the series, You never fail to impress.

Oath of Loyalty (Mitch Rapp #21), by Kyle Mills

Eight stars

Kyle Mills returns to extend the series first developed by Vince Flynn, doing so in masterful style. Mitch Rapp is a gritty operative with the scars to prove it. Now, things have taken a new turn as Mills creates exciting plot lines for one of the genre’s best-known protagonists. A gem with all the ingredients for a stunning novel, proving you can trust no one!

Mitch Rapp has faced many enemies throughout his career, but none more shocking than the man who currently wants him dead. Newly-elected US President Anthony Cook is sure that Rapp is a significant threat to both the CIA and country as a whole. CIA Direction Irene Kennedy is forced to try building a bridge between them, in hopes that no blood is shed in this intensifying clash. Rapp is told he must leave the country but remain within sight at all times during the Administration’s time in the White House. In return, there will be no hit placed on Rapp’s head.

While President Cook seems interested on keeping his side of the deal, others with his ear convince the president that Rapp cannot be trusted. After leaking the true identity of Rapp’s current partner, Claudia Gould, they watch as many security operatives seek her out and thereby place Rapp in mortal danger. As Rapp tries to keep Claudia protected, a new team of assassins makes itself known, headed by the elusive Legion. They will stop at nothing to capture and kill Gould, happy to neutralise Rapp in the meantime.

With Legion hired by someone unknown to him, there is no way to stop the wheels once they are in motion. As Rapp seeks to keep Gould safe at any cost, even though he knows she her existence is a thorny issue for many, he will have to fend off attacks from all sides. All the while, the US President sits idly by, wondering if he will be able to get rid of Rapp once and for all. A political thriller with ramifications throughout the world and surely one that will shape the future of this series. Kyle Mills shows why he was the ideal successor for Vince Flynn’s wonderful series

There is nothing like discovering an author who can spin a tale. When they retire or pass along, those who were significantly invested inthe series, as I was with Mitch Rapp, are left to mourn not only the author but the protagonist who is sure to walk into the sunset. When Kyle Mills was chosen (handpicked, I believe) to continue to series, I was a little leery, but soon came to see that he fit into the writing style of Flynn’s Rapp novels with ease. Mills’ stories work so well and the impact is just as strong as it was the from opening pages of the first Rapp novel. I could not ask for more from Kyle Mills, who presents just how Mitch Rapp would think in his latter days. I can only wonder what’s next or if the series has finally come to a close.

Kyle Mills uses the momentum that this series has. Developed over twenty-one novels to keep the reader on a world ride. There is so much going on, but the series fan will have come to expect this. Character development occurs throughout, with new and returning faces to balance the stellar writing. Mills keeps the plot twists coming and provides the reader with something exciting that is sure to keep things from getting stale, even so many novels into the series. There’s so much worth exploring for any reader who has yet to sample the series. I would (as always) encourage those who want to try out, to start from the beginning.

Kudos, Mr. Mills, on another success. I am eager to see what’s to come!

Shameless (Splitsville Legal Thriller #3), by William Bernhardt

Eight stars

William Bernhardt is back with another novel in his <i>Splitsville</i> series. While divorce law has never been one I get excited reading about, the twists that Bernhardt puts on the series make it well worth my time. With some strong legal matters and a quick pace, the novel has all the right ingredients for a stellar piece of work.

Kenzi Rivera has done a lot at the family law firm and made a name for herself, but also remains in her brother’s shadow. That said, she is a sharp divorce attorney, who has also been dabbling in criminal and civil law, as well as broadcasting her meteoric rise through social media. When her father’s decision to divorce proves headline-worthy, Kenzi agrees to help, if only reluctantly.

Soon thereafter, things get even messier, as her step-mother is charged with murder. The victim, Mr. Rivera’s mistress. This is one case from which Kenzi cannot run, but the fact that her father wants her as lead defence attorney is both baffling and awkward. While Kenzi preps for what will be a trial unlike any other she has presented, she’s left to wonder just what happened.

Working through the endless facts and forensics, Kenzi can only wonder if she’s agreed to help a hapless client, especially as the truth about the relationship and a sordid past come to light. Kenzi is one to defend her clients to the bitter end and this is not something she is willing to sidestep. Rather, she will give it her all, with her father watching from the courtroom. A powerful piece with all the elements of a great legal thriller.

William Bernhardt has long been a stellar writing of the top legal thrillers that have crossed my path. He is thorough and clever in his writing, as well as how he crafts the legal arguments, all while keeping the reader front and centre throughout. This is the third series of his that I have found highly addictive and I am never at a loss for words when Bernhardt is in the writing chair.

William Bernhardt has a style that many other authors could gladly replicate for stellar novels. His narrative is strong and begins with a bang. He’s always looking to build the drama and momentum throughout, keeping the reader along for the ride. His characters are complete, but already able to build on themselves throughout the series. Readers will beg to know more about them, which they are privy to as the series progresses. Plot twists and legal manoeuvrings appear throughout, keeping things from being too predictable, but never to the point that the reader is lost in the shuffle. I can only hope there are more books along these lines to come, be they in this series or elsewhere. William Bernhardt is surely one author to watch!

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for another great legal story that had me glued to my seat!

The Drift, by C.J. Tudor

Seven stars

Having read a number of novels by C.J. Tudor, I gladly accepted this ARC. The dust jacket blurb intrigued me, pulling three stories together into a single novel, forcing the reader to tug at threads to put together an impactful story that is full of chills and thrills. Tudor focuses on the darker side in her narrative, but is able to entertain the reader with ease, keeping them flipping pages as the plot thickens.

Waking up to significant chaos, Hannah finds herself surrounded by blood and glass. The bus on which she was travelling crashed during a snowstorm while leaving her secluded boarding school. She’s trapped inside with a few survivors, an unknown virus, and no way to reach out for help. Deciphering that they will have to work together or face the reality of perishing with the others, Hannah rallies the troops, while trying to keep the secret The Retreat has from the outside world.

In the same snowstorm, Meg awakens, dangling in a cable car. As a former detective, her instincts are strong and Meg is sure something is off. With a number of strangers around her and one dead body in the cable car, Meg is unsure what’s going on. All she can remember is that she was on her way to The Retreat. Noticing a familiar face amongst the strangers, Meg begins piecing it all together, and it’s anything but good news.

Carter is safe from the blizzard in an abandoned chalet, spending time with his friends. They are working on a life-changing vaccine and trying to stay alive long enough to ship it out. With the power going out intermittently and the generator on the fritz, nothing seems certain. A shadowy appearance in the depths of the chalet could mean something nefarious awaits anyone who strays too far from the group. When all sources of power fizzle out, only the strongest will survive, but is Carter one of them?

All three of these storylines come together in unexpected ways to create the larger narrative that is this novel, where working together becomes essential and may be the only way for the truth to come out. A chilling piece by a master of the genre, C.J. Tudor shakes the reader to their core with this novel, sure to be the talk of the winter season!

I have come to expect a great deal from C.J. Tudor, though I am never sure what awaits me when I start one of her books. The ideas are unique and the approaches even more so. Tudor offers readers some crumbs and then leads them on quite the adventure, where the end result is anything but clear.

C.J. Tudor has a wonderful way of building up the narrative with plenty of detail and intense description. The story comes to life, though the reader remains slightly confused as the story opens on three independent fronts. As things progress, there are small bits that connect each storyline, with key characters in each setting making themselves known. By then the plot as been developing and keeping the reader guessing, which serves to bind all three narratives together. The momentum is unstoppable by this point, as is the falling snow, which adds an eerie sense to it as well, keeping the reader completely at Tudor’s whim. While I struggled with parts of the development, I can see what Tudor was hoping to offer readers as the story’s perspective became clear.

Kudos, Madam Tudor, for another unique success. Keep them coming!

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

The Night Man (William Wisting #5), by Jørn Lier Horst

Eight stars

Finally, one of the early books is published in English!

Back for another chilling thriller from the world of Jørn Lier Horst, I found myself standing alongside William Wisting as he followed a case that has social and international implications. Horst is able to bridge the language divide and provide a stellar piece of writing that kept me reading well into the evening or around the house when I could spare a moment. This series, which is as addictive as it is well-paced, is sure to keep readers talking the world round, no matter what language of the text they read.

The severed head of a girl is found on a stake, ruffling the feathers of everyone in the small Norwegian community. Inspector William Wisting is sent to investigate, though there is little in the way of clues to determine much of anything, save for the fact that she is not Norwegian, but rather from somewhere in Asia. Surely there is a message here and Wisting is baffled as to what it might be. Thankfully, his daughter, Line, is a sharp reporter with skills of her own, hoping to kick over a few stones to get some answers.

While Line cannot hope to get all the answers at once, she is determined to do it without using her father’s intel or appear to be his lapdog. When Line does find something, she’s surprised that this is not just the killing of a foreign national, but part of a larger criminal enterprise, headed by the Night Man. He’s a dangerous ring leader with powerful reach, both Line and Wisting himself will have to play their cards carefully.

Stirring up leads from a few loose lips, Wisting soon realised that the Night Man has plans to fuel his drug empire by using hapless foreigners to peddle his wares, or bring them into the country. However, Wisting hopes to neutralise this before things get even more out of control. More bodies emerge and this only pushes Wisting to make his move. That said, the Night Man is no wallflower and is ready to strike back at any time, making William Wisting an easy target for a new message; don’t mess with the Night Man! Horst dazzles as he spins this tale and takes readers on an adventure like no other.

Whenever I discover a new novel by Jørn Lier Horst, I find myself slightly more excited. I have come to realise that his books are always jam packed with action, great stories, and there is no sluggishness, even though the text is originally in Norwegian. Horst has been able to really make me care for both William and Line Wisting, especially as they evolve throughout the series. I can only hope that there’s s more to come, as I cannot help but wonder what William Wisting has waiting around the corner.

Scandinavian crime thrillers are usually successes for me. It would seem that whatever the authors drink, it helps them formulate strong plots and great storytelling abilities. Jørn Lier Horst shows repeatedly that he has the magic to come up with some stellar pieces, always pushing himself to outdo his previous publications. The narrative flow is there, keeping the reader fully informed, as they venture deeper into the piece. A handful of key characters, who develop and evolve throughout the series, leave the reader something familiar onto which they can latch as they progress. The plots, while never completely unique, are poignant with the times and always keep the reader guessing as to where things are headed. With a translation as seamless as anything i have read, I am often left to wonder if Horst actually write this in English, as it is so smooth. I can only wish that publishers would finally grab the first few novels in this series and translate them, as I am eager to get an early snapshot of how William Wisting developed before the loss of his wife and estrangement by his son. I keep asking and hoping, but nothing quite yet! That said, this is the fifth and previously untranslated piece, so perhaps more are on the way!!

Kudos, Mr. Horst, for a dazzling thriller that is sure to keep series fans talking for a while.

Yuletide Splitsville (Splitsville #2.5), by William Bernhardt

Eight stars

A holiday short story that fits nicely in the middle of his most recent series, William Bernhardt offers some joy during a busy time of year. Providing the reader with some great storytelling through the eyes of his strong characters, Bernhardt helps pass the time. Grab a glass of eggnog (homemade, if you can) and a biscuit, before you enjoy this piece, sure to bring a little of the holiday spirit back to your life.

Kenzi Rivera is eager to spend some quality time this holiday season with her work colleagues. However, when her assistant, Sharon, receives a call from her parents, Kenzi agrees to accompany her over there. It would seem that a family heirloom has gone missing and without finding it, Sharon’s parents could be headed to an end of matrimonial bliss. As Kenzi enters what soon becomes a war zone for her, she sees just how tense things are between all members of the family. With Kenzi’s intuitive nature, the holiday season could be saved, but it will take a great deal of work. William Bernhardt offers up a nice story to warm the heart without too much time invested.

I have long enjoyed the writing of William Bernhardt. He knows what he’s doing and keeps the story on track to be worth the reader’s time. With strong characters and an easy to understand narrative, things flow with ease. While this was not my favourite series, I enjoyed some of the development that took place within. I’m eager to read the last novel in the series to catch up, but this is surely one that helped me pass a little time with the Christmas rush in my rearview mirror.

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for a great piece that reminded me of the importance of family. Hoping others fins this to be the dame type of gift.

Operation Masonic, by Helen C. Escott

Eight stars

Helen C. Escott dazzles readers with her strong police procedurals, adding a Newfoundland flavouring, which makes the Canadian setting all the more intriguing. This latest piece pushes the limits of both policing, as well as the mysterious world of the Masons in the heart of St. John’s. Escott tackles some great social issues as well, while layering them with a strong procedural that centres on the murder of a man with a complicated past. As Escott makes her mark again, I am left to wonder where she plans on going next and how she’ll be able to top what she has published to date.

When Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers are called to the scene of the Masonic temple in the middle of a snowstorm, they find more than a pile of snow inside. The body of the Most Worshipful Grand Master, Mortimer Williams, turns up, likely a murder suspect. Inspector Nick Myra and his team begin polling around, unsure if this was a Masonic ritual gone awry or someone out for blood.

Bringing a new hire, Constable Donna Whiffen, along with him, Myra begins digging into the Masons, as well as those who belong to the local chapter. There is more to the story than simply a man and his interactions with others, Rather, a secret past away from anything Masonic, lurks in the shadows, as well as the death of the victim’s parents decades before. Myra and Whiffen begin to wonder if someone is trying to divert attention from the true motive, or if everyone might be spinning their own web of lies to ensure they are not caught.

When Myra and Whiffen seek the assistance of a local historian, they discover that the Mason are deeply embedded in architectural events throughout St. John’s, particularly some of the most important churches in the city’s core. Myra also learns of secret passageways and rumours of a buried treasure, all of which might hold strong reasons for wanting to kill someone at the head of the organisation. Still, there are a few nagging feelings about who could be behind it all and how the murder took place. Myra and Whiffen may have busy lives at home, but they are not about to let this derail them from getting to the core of the most important search of their careers, as a murderer sits idly by. Escott keeps the reader hooked until the very end with this stellar piece. I am so pleased to have reconnected with the series.

There is something about how Helen C. Escott writes that pulls me in. Surely, the Canadian angle appeals to me, with some nuances that only those who know the country will understand, but it is also a strong ability to spin a tale and keep the reader engaged throughout. Escott uses her intuitive researching abilities to help support a strong story and keep plots from getting too too predictable. I can only hope there is more to come, as the series and its characters have grown on me.

Escott crafts a wonderful story and develops a strong narrative to guide the reader. Full of historical details about both the Masons and the city of St. John’s, Escott shows the reader that she is interested in reality with a dash of fictional creativity. While keeping the momentum going, Escott pulls on some characters from past novels and adds a new one for the reader to enjoy, as well as weaving in the struggles of home life and the hurdles found therein. The investigation takes on many angles and keeps the reader guessing, as the plot lines diverge at times, keeping the predictable nature of some novels at the door. Escott addresses many social and personal issues, as is usually the case, providing her reader a platform to better understand things and perhaps spark an interest in doing some of their own research. I am eager to see what is in the pipeline for Escott and this series, as each book works so well to develop strong themes and builds on where the previous story ended.

Kudos, Madam Escott, for a look into the mysteries of Freemasonry and more about your beloved St. John’s. I feel the pull to visit, if only to learn more about the historical side of the city that serves as an ideal setting for your novels.

The Ninth Month, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

Seven stars

First read of 2023!

Needing something a little lighter, I turned to this collaborative effort that James Patterson and Richard DiLallo published. While I have made my sentiments known about the former, I find there are some gems when he chooses the right collaborator. In a story that surely defies “write what you know”, Patterson and DiLallo offer readers something with a little thrill, some introspection, and just enough NYC to keep things gritty. A decent novel, though it did not grip me by the lapels and shake me into heightened excitement.

Emily Atkinson has been taking New York City by storm. Her powerful job and oodles of money to do with as she pleases make for quite a life. However, every electric high must be countered with a death-defying crash. Emily’s comes in the form of a hospital visit, when her rampant alcoholism and unexpected pregnancy stop her in her tracks. Faced with what to do next, Emily must sober up quickly and decide how to handle the news, while she’s lost her job and is left with shards of her life littered across the floor.

Trying to get her mind readjusted, Emily turns to her nurse and new friend, Betsey. Together, they seek to make the most of the situation and help Emily on her way towards motherhood. All that seems minor, when Emily discovers that others in her social circle begin disappearing. This raises the hairs on the back of her neck, as Emily must wonder if something is going to happen to her. Could that man at the park be staring a little too long? Did the lady at the grocery store glare mischievously?

As the story progresses through the entire pregnancy, there are flashforward chapters about an apparent murder in the present day, with Emily at the centre of it. Could someone have caught up to Emily, making her fears realized? With NYPD involved, the story gains a darker side and the mystery heightens. Emily Atkinson may have been a hot mess in her pre-pregnancy life, but did she deserve to be a crime statistic? Patterson and DiLallo present a decent story, easily digested for a quick read experience.

I turn to Patterson’s work when I need a lighter and easier read, which seems to help offset the more involved novels on my list. The quick chapters and easy to see plot path gives the reader something they can enjoy. Richard DiLallo is here to add his own collaborative flavouring, though I am baffled how two middle-aged men could want to create a pregnant protagonist. All that being said, fiction is about thinking outside the box. With a decent story and some great wit embedded into the narrative, the authors surely succeed in what they are trying to accomplish. Not the most stunning Patterson novel I have read, but I’ll take it as a decent piece to pass the time.

Patterson novels are not known for their complex narratives or plot lines that leave the reader gasping. Still, both are present here and the reader can follow the direction throughout. Some great character development provides the reader an entertaining experience, to the point that I might have been able to picture them throughout. There is a lot going on, through a number of timelines, which makes it a little more difficult to juggle at times. I admit I was not enthralled with the story, but it’s not a total loss. Made for a great filler before my next great read!

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo, for a decent collaborative effort. Eager to see what you two have for us next!

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder

Eight stars

A refreshing re-read to end the year, as I gear up for another two years of rhetoric from a tyrannical American trying to locate a path to steal power back!

“History does not repeat, but it does instruct,” is the opening line of Timothy Snyder’s short work on tyranny. How apt this is and the examples throughout the piece of writing goes on to further explain what the author wishes to convey. Pulling from examples throughout the 20th century, Snyder effectively argues that the situation in America has some loose—perhaps still germinating foreboding—concerns from the rise of authoritarian regimes in history that sat on both sides of the political spectrum in decades past. Snyder warns the reader not to ignore these, as there are times when waiting makes change too late. He also effectively draws parallels between the lulling into complacency that leaders mastered—using false rhetoric and duplicitous nationalism to appear patriotic—and the goings-on at apparent ego rallies when not on Twitter. Snyder has strong examples that fit, things that the layperson will like have heard about in their general knowledge of world history. Can it be stopped? Snyder feels there is the potential, but only by heeding the warning signs now. While the 2020 presidential election is around the corner, the electorate cannot be duped into thinking that this is a nightmare the US Constitution or the other branches of government will rein in. Alas, that only works when the actors in the system agree to the rules and do not supersede them to fit their needs. Thought provoking and a wonderful fill between books, Timothy Snyder’s piece did just what it sought to do; leave me wondering about how the past should be a yardstick for success, not just a bunch of words in a tome that could never happen again. Recommended for those with strong political interests who wish to explore some of the pressing issues of 21st century, as well as the reader with a keen interest in history’s repetitive nature.

This book was slyly passed along to me by a good friend, wanting to see how my politically minded brain might process it. It’s short (even by academic publication standards) and yet packs a major punch. Snyder uses concrete examples, specifically from the national socialism (fascism) found in Nazi Germany and the communist countries of Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe. At first, the parallels with the US Administration were simply presumed, but Snyder blunts his comments when he eventually uses POTUS and America by name, perhaps his way of ensuring the point is not missed. The chapters (points) can be as quick as a few lines, or as length as a couple of pages, but all twenty resonate to the attentive reader who will likely see things as soon as they are pointed out. I know there will be trolls and those who disagree, which is their right, though I would really enjoy someone trying to talk their way out of the case Snyder makes. Then again, what do I know, a mere Canadian?

Kudos, Mr. Snyder, for a sobering look at tyrannical reign in the American republic. Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln (all men POTUS thinks he is like) would roll over in their graves if they saw the republic today!