Breakneck (Arliss Cutter #5), by Marc Cameron

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Marc Cameron, and Kensington Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

A fan of many novels Marc Cameron has penned, I was eager to get my hands on the latest in the Arliss Cutter series. Set in Alaska, the novel takes a unique approach the crime fighting and keeps the reader outside their comfort zone. With strong characters and a great backstory, Cameron provides the reader with something well worth their time. This was a wonderfully challenging piece, moving some of the story arcs along, while introducing new things to explore throughout. I’m eager to see where things are headed and can only hope they will keep progressing at a wonderful pace.

A small fishing vessel is found floating in the waters of the northern coast of Russia, with Alaska in sight. Aboard, the captain and crew have been brutally murdered with their bodies stuffed away. While there is little to indicate who might be responsible, some suspect the Bratva, Russian mob, which could only be the beginning of a much larger plot.

Across the continent in DC, Supreme Court Justice Charlotte Morehouse has been invited to attend a judicial symposium in Alaska. She’s making preparations to head there, alongside her daughter. While this will be a significant trip, it is not without its issues. First and foremost, the safety of the Justice, especially in the rural areas of America’s northernmost state.

Deputy US Marshal Arliss Cutter and his partner, Lola Teariki, have long called Anchorage home and will be heading up the local contingent of the Justice’s protective detail. Cutter is ready for what is sure to be a routine assignment, but things take a significant twists when the Justice and her daughter decide to leave the beaten path and travel along the Glacier Discovery Train, taking in all the sights that postcards cannot replicate. Little does Cutter know, but the Bratva have been eyeing the Justice and find this the perfect opportunity to strike, exacting a bloody attack that will receive significant press coverage.

In the scuffle, Arliss and Justice Morehouse narrowly escape the attack, but find themselves in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, with little protection and few supplies. With the Russians scouring the area, ready to strike at a moment’s notice, Cutter will have to rely on his skills and intuitiveness to stay one step ahead of these men, with his most important protectee offering up her own ideas.

All the while, Cutter’s sister-in-law, Mim, continues her sleuthing into the death of her husband, who may not have been killed in a freak accident after all. She takes a position at a rural hospital, which only opens up old wounds and leads Mim to discover that the man she married led a different life. Will Arliss Cutter have to pull her out of her own tragic situation, while trying to stay alive? Marc Cameron pulls it all together in this explosive thriller that keeps the reader on the edge of their seats throughout the experience.

The Alaskan wilderness is a great backdrop to any thriller, though Marc Cameron pushes things a little further by making the entire series centre around it. Rural, cold, and nothing like the streets of Florida where Arliss Cutter grew up, Anchorage has all the elements for keeping anyone on their toes. Marc Cameron uses a strong narrative to guide the reader throughout the wonderful thrills of his story, providing some great characters to offset the tense mements embedded throughout. Plot twists abound and provide unpredictable situations, allowing Arliss Cutter and those around him to discover their mettle and personal values. While there is a lot I did not know about the far north, the story works well and kept me intrigued yet again. Marc Cameron knows his stuff and keeps readers coming back for more, with crime thrillers like no other.

Kudos, Mr. Cameron, for another great piece. I cannot wait to see what’s to come!

Go Tell the Bees that I am Gone (Outlander #9), by Diana Gabaldon

Nine stars

I have long been a massive fan of Diana Gabaldon and her writing, something that surprises many. There is something about this series that pulls me in and keeps my attention through the various twists and turns. While I choose to sit through the romantic interludes, I gladly devour the dialogue and the wonderful history that builds on both sides of the ocean. In this, the ninth book in the Outlander series, Gabaldon dazzles once more in a story that pulls on the heartstrings as the Revolutionary War is brewing and the American colonies are taking shape. Full of powerful story arcs and entertaining vignettes, Gabaldon impresses readers, filling the novel with a great deal of development that paves the way for even more action.

Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall have been through a great deal since they met in 1743, a war brewing in the background. While that was a hurdle on their connection, they have significantly more standing before them in 1779 as they sit in the American colony of North Carolina. Their daughter, Brianna, is finally back with them, accompanied by her own children and husband, Roger MacKenzie. Settling on Fraser’s Ridge, everyone prepares for what history has in store for them, as both sides make their push towards battle. After perusing a history book that Brianna brought back from the 20th century, Jamie has some idea what is to come, but he cannot declare it to those in the colonies, for he would surely be seen as a crazed fool. Still, he cannot sit idly by to watch the British put more people under the boot.

As tensions in the colonies mount, Jamie and Claire must prepare themselves and those who abide on the Ridge for what is to come. Clashes between British Loyalists and the American revolutionaries are coming to a head, even amongst his own tenants. Jamie knows that his anti-British sentiments are well-founded but not accepted by all, though he cannot fathom that anyone would knowingly allow the British to gain a stronghold in the colonies by leaking information. Herein lies the struggle, alongside the daily tensions of running Fraser’s Ridge and attending to local business.

As Jamie works to keep the peace on the Ridge, Claire continues to dazzle the locals with her medicine work. Using her skills as a nurse and the medicaments at her disposal in the latter portion of the 18th century, she has been known far and wide as a healer and one whose knowledge is sought out for miles. Much can be learned from her ways, her exploration of local plants, herbs, and sundry processes undertaken at the time, keeping her busy from dawn to dusk. This includes tending to her husband, when Jamie can no longer dodge the foreboding battle!

All the while, Brianna and Roger MacKenzie have demons of their own to handle. Their return through the stones from the 20th century could have implications they could not have forecasted. While they are happy being with family in the 18th century, there is a nagging sense of unease. Surrounded by disease, war, and countless technological impediments, the MacKenzies cannot ignore that 20th century living could permit a safe and happy life, especially as their family grows. However, the bonds of family are strong and Roger has decided to set up some strong roots in the community. Having not yet been ordained due to a violent situation in the past, Roger sees this as his chance to help guide the locals to a happier and more satisfying ever-after by taking the step.

With a handful of other characters ready to build on their own revelations, the colonies are rife with change. There is little time to relax, though the connection that Jamie and Claire share is deepened, as is their love for those around them. The drums of the Revolutionary War are beating and everyone is looking to see what awaits them. Blood is sure to be shed and many will die, but the American colonies are at stake. Fraser’s Ridge will be transformed, controlled by an outside force, as Jamie watches over his brood. Who that force might be is anyone’s guess, but series fans know these folk never remain too far from the action. Diana Gabaldon weaves another stunning tale that will have readers buzzing as they revisit some of their favourite characters in this epic story.

Diana Gabaldon is surely one of the greatest storytellers I have discovered in all my years of reading. She spins a tale, adding depth and powerful characters with each passing page, but does not leave the reader feeling as though there was no purpose to it all. While some characters emerge for a time, others span years or even decades, returning to flavour the narrative repeatedly throughout this stunning series. There is so much to digest in this piece, both with the historical backdrop and through the ongoing character development. Each chapter is a vignette all its own, but connects to create a powerful story arc, all of which makes up the history that is the Fraser clan. Told with such detail that the reader can feel as though they are amongst the characters, Gabaldon treats the reader to something stunning and does not appear to be losing any momentum. I am in awe with what I have read to date and cannot wait for more, however many more books there will be. This is a monumental undertaking and while the size of the books does appear daunting, there is no way I would suggest plunging into the middle of things. Block off a year, read the books (and the Lord John Grey branch offs), and become a part of the action. Stunning is so underwhelming a word for this piece and I hope series fans will find their own storylines that prove sweet as honey for them.

Kudos, Madam Gabaldon, for another epic tale!

The Angel Maker, by Alex North

Seven stars

Having read a few novels by Alex North, I was keen to tackle this one. North has written some great pieces with a strong psychological angle, always impressing the reader with the depth to which he presents his plots and characters. This book had moments of spine-tingling revelation, but also some periods of little to no momentum for me, as though I was biding my time between fantastical situations. While not my favourite North novel, I was pleased to have read it and did enjoy the book. Hoping others can shine some light on things with their own sentiments as well.

Katie Shaw had everything going for her when she was younger. She lived in a bucolic English town, with a wonderful boyfriend and a loving family. Katie made sure to protect her younger brother, Chris, with a ferocity unlike anything else she could imagine. It was only just before her graduation from school that everything changed drastically, leaving an indelible mark on her and the connection she shared with Chris.

Fast-forward many years later, Katie is still struggling with the life that Chris has been living, an addict and always falling off the radar. Now with a child of her own, Katie’s fierce protective side is again front and centre in her mind, leaving her to do everything she can to keep her daughter safe. When the call comes in that Chris is once again missing, Katie cannot push the sisterly feelings aside and rushes to help.

All the while, the brutal murder of a notable philosophy professor has Detective Laurence Page baffled. The victim was loved by many, but oddly fired his entire house staff not long before he was found slain, creating a large suspect list. The murder proves even more troubling when two old cases resurface as being eerily similar to this one. One, an attack on Chris Shaw as a teenager, the other a series of murders committed by a serial killer years before. The killer was said to be able to see into the future, foretelling much of the present situation. How might it all tie together and could there be a copycat on the loose? North does well to offer readers a pile of questions, few concrete answers, and so many possibilities that they will be up late flipping pages to decipher it all.

A good psychological thriller has the reader wondering, while a great one has them stuck in place, refusing to move until they have answers. North straddles these two options throughout the book, providing the reader with something that can enjoy. The narrative flow is such that there is a lot going on, but mostly a clear direction to be followed. This helps pace things and offers the reader a sense of feeling in control of what is taking place. The characters are well-placed throughout the story, offering colour and flavouring to the larger storyline when needed. Plot twists emerge and are sometimes solved before new ones pop up, but not always. I found myself able to follow along for the most part, but also struggled at times to feel completely connected to the book. Some of this may have been what I have had on the periphery, but also a lack of connection with parts of the book, leaving me wanting more when it was not offered. Over all, a decent read that did not bog me down too much.

Kudos, Mr. North, for an entertaining reading experience.

And Union No More, by Stan Haynes

Eight stars

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

Stan Haynes is back with another novel rich in US history, providing her reader with something enticing that is also highly educational. There is change in the air and with the push to end slavery, parts of the US are not entirely pleased. Haynes provides readers with some context for the heightened political clashes ahead of the Civil War, focussing his attention on a key piece of legislation that appeared to draw deeper lines in the sand. With wonderful characters and an easy to follow narrative, the reader can see the seeds of discontent being planted and the kernel of irreconcilable distrust on both sides. Haynes serves this novel up as a preface of what is to be ‘no more’.

When Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, slavery remained at the heart of the matter. While many thought slavery’s expansion was stymied with the Missouri Compromise, this new piece of legislation opened the doors to further infect the still fragile country. Those in the South are gleeful to know that there could soon be additional states where slavery is permitted, while Northerners stand in awe that Congress could have been so ignorant as to leave the gate unlatched. Under the new law, the people will choose the state’s direction, a more ‘democratic’ means, forcing those on both sides to push settlers into the region ahead of any vote.

Monty Tolliver was once a member of Congress from Ohio, though he left before any of this politicking started. Rather, he is eager to help shape the country and moves to Kansas in order to drum up support for the free state option. His views are widely held, but people are very easily swayed, which could prove problematic for his cause. Two others, Billy Rudledge and Robert Gaddis arrive in Kansas for a new start as well. They find the country in turmoil and at the edge of disaster. Rudledge, a former Mississippian, can see the southern influence slipping into Kansas, though he refuses to believe that the people will fall into the trap. Geddis, hailing from Rhode Island, can only hope that Northern influence will keep Kansas free and out of the clutches of the Democrats, who seem to be on a path of locking down the slavery question with support all the way up to the White House.

In the lead-up to the vote, all three men encounter the likes of John Brown, a staunch abolitionist, who will stop at nothing to ensure his views are heard, even if they do not align with that of the federal government. Brown will soon have to face the courts, which are still locked into the old views of two classes of citizenry. His trial will prove to be a turning point in the push for freedom in the North, using Brown as a hero of sorts.

With politics taking on new and varied directions, one former congressman, Abraham Lincoln, arrives in Kansas to speak to the need for freedom. His classic debates with Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas are soon to come, but for now, the two men clash on their views surround the slave trade and what it means for America. Will these debaters help shape the vote in Kansas? It’s anyone’s guess, as both sides make their final push, using any tactic they can to ensure success. Three men from various backgrounds can only watch as the country waits to see how slavery will bear accepted. This serves as foreboding for what is to come, in a country that is fraying at the edges and rotting to its core over the issue of freedom and equality. A decent piece by Haynes, which elucidates some of the lesser known political struggles surrounding slavery ahead of the bloody Civil War.

When first I encountered the work of Stan Haynes, I was highly impressed. He is able to mesh fiction together with historical record, creating a piece that is well worth the reader’s time. A strong narrative foundation provides the reader with a roadmap for success, in hopes that they will be able to follow all the action that follows. Characters, some returning from the previous novel, and others new to the scene, emerge to offer their own perspectives and help flesh out the truths on both sides of the argument. While using history as a guide, there are some twists embedded within the larger story that help keep the reader not their toes. Haynes does really well to develop these plots and provides a precursor to the imminent destruction of the country.

Kudos, Mr. Haynes, for keeping me highly entertained and educated throughout this novel.

Private Beijing (Private #17), by James Patterson and Adam Hamdy

Seven stars

James Patterson and Adam Hamdy adds to the long-running Private series, taking Jack Morgan to Beijing. In a city full of mystery and suspicion, Morgan helps when the local team is decimated by an unknown killer. The authors work with many of the tools honed in past Private novels. Not as Sino-centric as I would have preferred, using past novels in the series as a comparison. Still worth a read by those who have enjoyed previous novels..

After an attack in Beijing sees a number of the local Private members killed, Jack Morgan knows that this is serious and rushes to get there from LA. While Morgan has no idea what’s happened, he knows that it must be serous. Some poking around to get a lay of the land does little to help, save find Morgan tossed in jail for a few hours after a disagreement with the local police. Once Morgan is out, he’s back on the trail to see what’s been going on.

Not long thereafter, two major events leave Morgan rushing to determine which way is up. First, The Private Beijing offices are bombed and completely destroyed, leaving fire and rubble. Second, an attack in New York sees one of the local Private members trying to piece together what has happened to his wife and all fingers point to a mysterious man of Chinese descent. Could the two attacks be linked?

Morgan can only surmise that Private as a whole is under attack and that the enterprise could be in danger. Working in China, Jack Morgan must rely on his local team to help him uncover the truth in a country where private investigation is not only unwanted, but somewhat illegal. Trying to get to the core of the matter could prove harder than it appears.

Back in New York, the local Private team looks into the kidnapping and potential destruction of the company. It appears as though a Chinese national has been sent on a mission to deliver a message that will not soon be forgotten, Jack Morgan will have to make a major decision that could impact Private in all corners of the globe. This is more than China, but an international affair worth Jack Morgan the central target. A decent addition to the series by Patterson and Hamdy, offering a little insight into Chinese policing, but more American perspectives than anything else.

Patterson’s development of the Private series has done well to highlight police work all over the world as well as bring new and exciting international authors into the fold. While this piece uses the Patterson-Hamdy collaborative effort, it still has a decent Chinese flavouring to it, making the book appear somewhat realistic. The narrative flow is decent, though I felt myself waving a hand in the air on occasion to get the momentum going. I sought something a little sharper and faster, but the book did not lag to the point of me tossing it in the corner. Decent and relevant characters pepper the pages of the book, giving the reader a sense of being in China, but the strong American angle also promotes some stereotypes that I cannot be sure are true to what actually happens. Decent plots emerge, though again there is more US than true Chinese focus on things, leaving me wishing that the authors had kept things in country or a local author cold have been used to really expand the China aspect. The series surely gains some traction and its roots are deepened here, though I am not sure what’s next or how Jack Morgan will expand his empire. Might this be close to the end of the road, or is Adam Hamdy working on something for Patterson to add his name to again soon? Time will surely tell.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Hamdy, for a decent addition to all things Private.

The Last Kingdom (Cotton Malone #17), by Steve Berry

Eight stars

I would consider Steve Berry to be one the great authors who can mix history with current events to create masterful stories that entertain the reader. While working through a series, Berry is able to cobble together a vast amount of not-too-well known historical fact and develop a full novel on those grounds. His writing is top-notch and his ideas take the reader on an adventure like no other. This piece is no exception, tackling the small kingdom of Bavaria and how it was subsumed into the larger united Germany. There are some interesting ‘American’ ties, something the reader will likely want to know more about when the dive into this piece. Crisp storytelling, wonderful characters, and a little wit to keep the reader on their toes. Berry at his best!

In the latter stages of the 19th century, King Ludwig II of Bavaria could tell that his time in power was waning. Before he was deposed and died a few days later, Ludwig II is said to have been on a mission to find a new kingdom, one where he could reign without the worry of German unification, which was afoot. He sought his own place of solitude, where he would not be faced with enemies and the push to have him follow rules he could not accept. Bavaria was slipping away, but he had high hopes. History does not tell us whether Ludwig II succeeded, but there are crumbs!

Flash forward to the present, where Cotton Malone has been called back into service, albeit without the approval of the new US president. Malone’s protégé, Luke Daniels, has intel on a new group trying to win Bavarian independence from Germany, which is sure to topple the country’s stability. Bavaria, the largest German state, is also one that is rumoured not to have been keen on unification and its people are still resentful to this day. Daniels has also been able to work with the current Bavarian prince, a title in name only, who is seeking some form of impactful monarchy and ensuring the Wittelsbach name returns to power. There stands before him a few obstacles, a duke, the elder brother of the prince, the German republic, and worldwide sentiment.

As Malone and Daniels explore the situation, they come upon a highly secretive and powerful deed that proves Ludwig II may have found his new Bavaria, far from the European continent. However, this document, should it be true, could cause major issues, as many powerful countries would love to lay claim to it themselves, utilising its geographic location, strategic placement, and access to various parts of the world. It is up the Malone, with Daniels’ help, to keep things calm and peel back the rumours in order to find the kernel of truth. 

As the race to find the last Bavarian kingdom heightens, both Malone and Daniels realise that they have taken on quite the task with this mission. Many would have them fail, only to take over control of the kingdom for themselves. It is up to them to act swiftly and succinctly, or have everything demolished and Bavaria returned to German control. A historically intense and baffling piece, which shows just how intense a Steve Berry thriller can be. Series fans will surely love it and be surprised by some of the content.

I never finish a Steve Berry book without shaking my head and picking my jaw up from off the floor! There is so much going on and Berry offers up dazzling history woven into his narratives, providing depth not found in many of the books I have read. There is a great flow to there story, both in modern and historical contexts, all of which is essential for the reader to remain captivated by what is going on. The characters, both modern and historical, are intriguing and I am curious to discover more about when when I have additional time. With an upcoming Luke Daniels-centred novel, I should be able to learn a little more about this operative, though I feel this may also be a new avenue Berry is entertaining, having Daniels play a more prominent role. The plot twists throughout kept me guessing, as did some of the historical pieces. Berry is known for his melding of fact and fiction, so I was curious to sit through his end piece, in which all is revealed for the patient reader. This is a powerful series and usually offers up something about which I had no previous knowledge. I cannot wait to see what is to come, as Steve Berry never disappoints.

Kudos, Mr. Berry, for another great novel. I am itching to see what’s next.

The Suicide House (Rory Moore and Lane Phillips #2), by Charlie Donlea

Eight stars

Charlie Donlea not only knows his craft, but can pen a stellar psycho thriller that is both addictive and chilling. The second novel in this series not only builds on the first, but has elements like no other and kept me devouring it in a single day. The two protagonists work well together, but also independently, keeping the reader int he middle of the action. This story differs greatly from the series debut, but is just as intense, showing me that Charlie Donlea has talent and I can only hope he will return to add to the collection soon.

Westmont Preparatory High School, a scholastic institution like no other in Indiana, runs on strict rules and deep traditions. Its students have a high success rate, but they also have secrets that they keep to themselves, not the least of which a boarding house buried deep in the woods. Used primarily for late-night hangouts and a place to drink, there is but one rule; don’t get caught by the Man in the Mirror.

A year ago, two students were brutally murdered there, which has led to a great deal of attention being turned on the school, including a highly popular podcast, The Suicide House. The focus on the podcast is to explore what happened, as well as update those who tune in, examining the arrest of a teacher for the murders and his own attempt to die by tossing himself in front of a speeding train. Soon thereafter, students who survived the brutal attack returned to the Suicide House and killed themselves, as though drawn to do so by their own guilt.

After forensic psychologist, Lane Phillips, is asked to take part in the podcast, he invites his girlfriend, Rory Moore, to join him. She reluctantly agrees and they begin trying too piece together what happened. Rory, a forensic reconstructionist, is eager to find the missing pieces and create a narrative that Lane can use when discussing matters with those who listen to the podcast. What she discovers is more mysterious than she could have imagined, including new secrets never revealed to the police and the aura that there remains sinister goings-on at Westmont Prep.

The Man in the Mirror may have been a game, but to some it is deeply rooted in a far more troubling phenomenon and Rory will stop at nothing until she has it all revealed. Working with crime scene photos, reports, and the word of those who are still around, Rory and Lane find new avenues that are essential to understanding what happened that fateful night and who might be behind it all. Could a man in a vegetative state hold all the answers, or is there more yet to be understood? Donlea masters the art of storytelling with this piece. Perfect for those who want a unique approach to crime forensics and the criminal mind!

Charlie Donlea lures the reader into his world with wonderful torytelling and masterful prose. His strong narrative offers readers a pathway into the dark and yet shines just enough to lead the way around what proves to be a truly grisly set of events. The characters are again perfectly suited to the story and add depth as well as flavouring to the overall experience. Plot twists and deception are front and centre throughout, forcing the reader to check their preconceived notions at the door as they make their way through this piece. I love the unique. approach to forensics Donlea offers his fans and how seamlessly all the pieces fit together, if you pardon the pun. I can only hope that there will be more in this series, as Charlie Donlea has me hooked!

Kudos, Mr. Donlea, for another great piece. Eerie is an understatement.

Some Choose Darkness (Rory Moore and Lane Phillips #1), by Charlie Donlea

Eight stars

After recently discovering the work of Charlie Donlea, I wanted to come back to explore more of his novels. A writer who not only knows his stuff, but can inject a significant chill to stories, Donlea captured my attention once more with a serial killer and a unique forensic approach to solving crime. Literally piecing things together one bit at a time, Rory Moore provides the reader an approach to crime solution that will have them re-examining every page of the book while the story progresses. Donlea’s storytelling is nothing short of brilliant in this piece, the first of what appears to be a duology, with perhaps more to come?

Crime is a messy business and things are easily overlooked, as Rory Moore knows all too well. A forensic reconstructionist, Rory examines crime scenes when the police are out of leads and tries to see things that others have missed. Her work is priceless to the Chicago PD, particularly when the heat is on to find a killer.

After an alarming call forces her to return to her father’s law office to settle his affairs, Rory is not thinking straight. What follows is an jarring phone call that jolts her out of her melancholia and forces Rory to confront a case the elder Moore had on his blotter years ago. One that she wants nothing to do with, given the chance to pass it along.

The summer of 1979 saw Chicago hit with a number of missing women. With no forensics at the scenes and no bodies left behind, police were baffled and could only wonder what sort of maniac they had on their hands. Dubbed, The Thief, the police could only wait and hope that no more women turned up missing. When a mysterious package arrived with clues that could help, the police leapt to speak with the sender, one Angela Mitchell. However, she, too, went missing before anyone could try to better understand her unique approach to the crimes and ideas about who The Thief might be.

Forty years later, Rory realises that she is on the hook to represent The Thief, who is being paroled for Angela’s murder. It seems a determined DA was able to at least pin that on him, but there was no body. With a judge ready to clear this case from his docket, he appoints Rory as the parolee’s trustee. When Rory meets her client, he insists that he is innocent of Angela’s murder and begs her to take the case to prove his innocence. If ever there was a crime reconstruction that would push the limits of Rory’s abilities, this could be one.

While Rory begins her reconstruction work, she turns to her lover, criminal psychologist and former consultant with the FBI, Lane Phillips. He has an algorithm that, while not entirely proven in court, has shown how to track killing sprees with a number of data points. While Rory uses it to plot The Thief’s actions, she discovers that there is another killer committing similar murders. Past and present collide as Rory continues her work, which might open things up and prove not only The Thief’s innocence, but the presence of a more deceptive killer who has yet to be identified. This chilling revelation only goes to prove what Lane Phillips has always believed, some choose darkness! Donlea dazzles in this crime thriller with so many dark nuances. Perfect for those who want a new approach to crime forensics and the criminal mind!

Charlie Donlea has a wonderful way of luring the reader in, perhaps like his central antagonist, sending them on an eerie adventure without a clear path. A sturdy narrative provides the reader some direction, but there are so many twists that one cannot rely on a linear reading adventure. Strong characters with wonderful backstories helped add something to the story I highly enjoyed. Those who read my reviews regularly will know I am always looking for unique forensic approaches to criminal investigation, something that Rory Moore offers as a reconstructionist. There are also plenty of plot twists throughout, which gives the reader a sense of surprise and prevents a quick ability to forecast what is to come. Donlea does that effectively, while adding layers of chilling revelation, flavouring the larger story. I enjoyed this one and cannot wait to read the sequel, in hopes of learning even more about story Moore and Lane Phillips.

Kudos, Mr. Donlea, for another great piece. Eerie is an understatement.

Terminal (Lomax and Biggs #5), by Marshall Karp

Eight stars

The binge of Marshall Karp’s LAPD police procedural series is back! I remain dedicated to the books, enthralled by the characters, and eager to see how Lomax and Biggs will solve their latest case. Karp has kept things edgy and allows readers little time to catch their collective breath, as there is so much to digest in this latest piece. Building on earlier story arcs and adding some new ones, the series takes off once more, keeping readers highly entertained.

During a routine medical follow-up, LAPD Detective Mike Lomax is shocked when gunfire erupts in the facility. Following the sound, Lomax comes upon a gunman who’s killed one of LA’s most prominent fertility doctors. No amount of cajoling can help the gunman, who soon turns the weapon on himself, in front of Lomax. After some preliminary investigation, Lomax is baffled, learning that there was absolutely no connection between the victim and the shooter.

When Lomax and his partner, Detective Terry Biggs, are asked to look into a routine traffic accident that led to a fatality, they are baffled once more. What looks to be a routine case of a pedestrian not paying attention and a hapless driver striking him soon turns into a murderous affair. Again, the victim and driver do not seem to have any connection. However, there is an odd connection between both crimes that Lomax attended; the killers were both terminally ill and attended them same support group.

While Lomax and Biggs begin probing into the support group, they find a common thread. These members are being recruited to serve as hitmen, targeting a select group. Not only that, there appears to be a connection to a large pharmaceutical group who has been putting out a tainted drug, one that has been killing many.

While the case races towards the finish, Detective Lomax struggles with his own health issues as he is faced with a daunting task. He can only think back to how he lost his wife a few years ago and wonders if he wants to put his family through the same. A major development on the home front has Lomax doubly worried and in a state of tension, hoping that he can stand up to protect those he loves. Marshall Karp has done a fabulous job with this piece, spinning stories and adding depth to the overall plot. One can hope there will be another case to come, though I know Karp keeps busy with many other projects.

Marshall Karp keeps finding stories to impress readers while tackling murder outside the box. The flow to the narrative makes reading the books easy and a handful of relatable characters keeps the reader wanting to come back for more. Mike Lomax has been a central figure throughout, allowing the reader to see his growth, as well as the daily struggles that burden him. While I have binge read all five books in just over a week, I have come away with something strong and feel fully a part of the series, as well as many who grace the pages of each chapter. A book filled its humour to offset some of the darker moments, this is one series that is perfect for those seeking something light and yet impactful.

Kudos, Mr. Karp, for another great novel. I hope you have more to come when time permits.

Blow Back, by James Patterson and BRenan DuBois

Eight stars

Having been on a slight James Patterson kick, I was eager to get my hands on this collaborative effort between the star-author and Brendan DuBois. Together, their spy thriller has some great twists and proves that there’s s no end to the abilities when Patterson enlists the help of great authors. A president who has let power go to his head, a CIA Director who tries to wrest control before the US enters a war it cannot win, and a number of operatives who are but pawns on the game board, all players in this piece. All this and a great deal more in this thriller that chills readers to the core, reminiscent of some of the great authors in the genre.

It is said that power corrupts, but it can also intoxicate. Such is the apparent fallout when Keegan Barrett assumes the role of President of the United States. A former CIA operative and Director, Barrett knows the Intelligency community, but he is also aware of its shortcomings. Intel must be acted upon and not left to gather dust on the shelf, which is why President Keenan has a plan. He wants to get a new CIA Director in place not long after his entering the Oval Office and begin a system of striking America’s most powerful enemies, both within and outside the borders of the US.

Barrett calls Agents Liam Grey and Noa Himel into his office to explain the plan, citing that it will be completely off the books and they answer solely to him. While the Agency serves at the president’s discretion, there is a pesky thing called the US Constitution standing the the way, something both Himel and Grey point out. However, President Barrett is clear that nothing will stand in his way of keeping the Chinese and Russians in his crosshairs, wanting them to act whenever and wherever he desires, sure that it will ensure there is no second guessing his plans fo the coming months and years.

While the plan begins to work somewhat effectively, there are those close to the president who start questing his authority. Any who dare sound the alarm turn up dead, adding fear to those who are left. A new Director of the CIA and some high-ranking congressional authorities begin to wonder what steps could be taken to wrest control away from this reckless president, but with an incapacitated vice-president and the Speaker of the House in her own hot water over a scandal, there is no clear successor, even though legislation is in place for such measures. Still, the blowback must begin, or President Barrett will keep holding power and push the US into a war with two enemies who will stop at nothing to destroy the Land of the Free, given the chance.

With a roving reporter trying to cobble together a story that will rock the country and lay the groundwork for Bennett’s potential removal, there is hope that all this covert action will come to light. However, with so many people dying, there is a chance that more will come if they speak too freely. Politics, intelligence, and global peace are all in jeopardy with a man drunk on power in the middle, unwilling to hand over the reins of power. Patterson and DuBois do a masterful job with this piece, standing alongside some of the greats in the genre with this novel.

The idea that much of this could take place is perhaps one of the most chilling aspects of the entire book, but Patterson and DuBois do not shy away from the realistic depictions found herein. The narrative, while slow at times, proves to move things along and offers up scary insights of what could be, while hinting at the train wreck that might have been under Trump (making mention of it throughout). Strong storylines are buoyed by the narrative, as is the handful of great characters who shape the story. Politicians, intelligence officers, foreign governments and their agents all play key roles as characters in the book, all of whom are depicted wonderfully. The plot is clear and its delivery is both transparent and forked, just what is needed to add depth. And political intrigue throughout. Patterson and DuBois have shown that they can work well together and this piece is another example of that. I am eager to see if they try more political and counterintelligence thrillers in the future, as this one was surely a hit!

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DuBois, on a strong collaborative effort!

Fatal Proof (Benson and de Vere #4), by John Fairfax

Seven stars

John Fairfax is back with another novel, mixing courtroom drama with some investigative work that is sure to keep the reader busy trying to process things. With a great burden lifted from William Benson’s shoulders, he can focus much of the attention on defending those who are accused of serious crimes but profess their innocence. His newest client is the daughter of a crime boss who has been accused of murdering her father’s fixer. While Benson knows little of the underworld, though he spent time in prison, he will defend Karmen Naylor as best he can. It will take finesse and some dedication, but Benson feels there could be a few ideas he can try for the jury. Meanwhile, Tess de Vere has been chasing a case of her own, which includes venturing into the long settled Britain-IRA skirmishes to look at some admissions a former soldier made about murderous raids during the height of the clash. Might there be some legal work to undercover there as well? Fairfax uses these two cases to fuel the momentum on his current novel, which does not seem to have the same edge or sharpness of the previous three, but there is something there worth grasping.

While William Benson has always said that he would help anyone in trouble with the law, he has one caveat; they must profess innocence. Much like what happened to him, Benson hopes to be able to help those who are unable to mount their own defence in a court system that is happy to eat the accused alive. Benson’s latest client is Karmen Naylor, who is the estranged daughter of a London crime boss with deep connections and enemies all over the place. Karmen is accused of killing her father’s fixer in order to stake out some of her own claim on the business. While Karmen is certain of her innocence, the world of gangs and underworld dealings is one that Benson will have to sift through in order to prepare a meaningful defence.

While Benson uses much of his time doing this, his legal partner, Tess de Vere, has been trying to process much of the news surrounding Benson’s definite innocence for a murder he was convicted of twenty years ago. The evidence and actual murderer came to light, leaving Benson free from any guilt. Tess must now process the feelings she has had for him during that time, free from the impediment that he may be guilty. This is not as easy as it may seem, which is why Tess is tossing herself into the case of a former solider’s admission to mass killing back in the 1970s, when the IRA-British clash was at its height, colloquially called The Troubles. Still, there is something going on that does not ring true for Tess, forcing her to turn over as many stones as she can to get to the honest truth. Should she be letting sleeping dogs lie or delve deeper to allow the truth to play out?

While Benson navigates through the trial, he’s tossed a wrench and a new charge, which must be defended before the jury can render its verdict. This is one case that can have no easy solution, particularly when Benson has been threatened to steer it in a certain direction. He works his magic while keeping his pride in check, hoping that it will also ensure he does not risk his life. All the while, Tess discovers something she did not expect and is left with shattered dreams that she must collect, in hopes of coming to terms with the truth. Fairfax packs a punch with this one, though the impact is less than I have seen in previous novels.

In all my years of reading, I have come to understand that authors are human beings as well. As such, they have good days and bad, which is to be expected. John Fairfax has had three stunning novels, all full of tense legal drama and wonderful multi-pronged storytelling, but this novel came up a little short for me. It would seem that all the drama outside the courtroom (Benson’s guilt for a 1999 murder, the politician who sought to strip him of access to the Bar, and his mentor’s secret) being resolved has made for less impactful periphery storytelling, which left all eyes on the courtroom. When Fairfax presented readers with a strong legal matter, it was to be expected that the case would sizzle and the plot would thicken from there. However, there were moments of plain neutrality throughout. Fairfax does well with the narrative approach, leading the reader through the matters of a murder and a woman falsely accused. However, things did not ramp up from there, but rather took a sideways approach. Crime bosses and criminal enterprises have the potential to be stellar, but this one seems to have fallen flat. Add to that, the narrative approach fro Tess de Vere’s storyline, which was decent at the outset, but lost its thread as well. Decent characters and some understated plot lines kept readers cruising towards the end, awaiting the monumental twist that would create a legal surge. It did not come for me, though I sought it out. I can only wonder if all the spark ended too soon in the last novel, meaning there was nothing to buoy the mediocre case throughout the entire reading experience. We all have our off days and I am eager to see how John Fairfax will bounce back, as William Benson has a lot more to give and series fans can surely handle more courtroom drama!

Kudos, Mr. Fairfax, for a decent addition to the series. I look forward for your return to form soon!

Shattered (Michael Bennett #14), by James Patterson and James O. Born

Eight stars

One of James Patterson’s strongest series surely includes the Michael Bennett thrillers. Full of great action and offset by the detective’s massive family, Patterson has built a strong collection that series fans flock to whenever something happens. There is great writing here, which can be somewhat attributed to James O. Born, his collaborator, which only adds definite intrigue to the series. I was highly impressed with this newest instalment and hope it means there is more to come from NYPD’s sharpest detective.

After receiving a cryptic call while on his honeymoon in Ireland, Michael Bennett is keen to see what is was all about when he gets back home. After being barraged by his ten (!) children, Bennett makes some calls, only to discover that his friend and colleague, FBI Agent Emily Parker, has gone missing in Washington. Bennett, a dedicated detective in the NYPD, is as loyal as he is hardworking and makes an agreement with his new bride, Mary-Catherine, that he will spend a few days in the nation’s capital looking for Emily.

Using a few leads and a singlet FBI agent who agrees to help him, Bennett follows the crumbs from the last investigation on which Emily worked, which includes speaking to an anarchist group with strong ties all across the country. While they appear to be quite dopey on the surface, this group is strong, well-educated, and connected, making their repeated encounters with Bennett anything but chance. Bennett must also push back on the other police presence who my not want him there, including the Metro PD and FBI, both of whom have their own views on Bennett’s work.

It is only when Bennett learns more about Emily Parker and her personal life that the investigation opens up even more. While she had a calm exterior, Emily liked daring things and found herself involved with some powerful men, something DC breeds. What Bennett discover when looking into the lives of congressmen, business tycoons, and even a US Supreme Court Justice is that anything goes and all are potential suspects. When news comes that it may be more than a kidnapping, Bennett is shattered, but refuses to stand down, even after multiple warnings, focusing his attention on the murder. If he is going to get to the bottom of this, Bennett will do it for Emily and face any consequence put before him. A chilling addition to the Michael Bennett series, which James Patterson and James O. Born have woven together flawlessly.

There are time that James Patterson shines and is not simply slapping his name onto the cover of a book. This is one of those occasions, surely due to the hard work of James O. Born. The two work well together to keep the story strong and the action ongoing. A great narrative flow, helped along by Patterson’s trademark short chapters, provides guidance for the reader as they navigate through the countless spins the novel encounters. Decent characters, flavouring the piece in depth and humour, help offset some of the darker moments of the piece. Plots are strong and leave the reader wanting more, which opens the door to the next book in the series. There are moments when I lost myself in the action, while others were great filler moments to offer character development or series broadening before moving on. I am eager to see where things are headed, as this is one series that has much potential. I will say that I was a little displeased that Bennett’s trio to DC could not, even in passing, have had some Alex Cross.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Born, for breathing new life into Michael Bennett.

Forced Confessions (Benson and de Vere #3), by John Fairfax

Nine stars

John Fairfax returns with another stunning courtroom drama, giving William Benson time to shine as the truth about his past is also simmering. I am fully committed to all the drama woven into the narrative and am so pleased to see Fairfax keeping multiple subplots moving so effectively throughout the series. The central case is again a murder, this time a doctor who may have some secrets that could destroy a family, with the husband as the accused for reasons that will become apparent to the reader. On the periphery, Tess de Vere pushes to learn the truth about Benson, who has risen through the ranks and was called to the Bar while still in prison for murder. What happened and could his initial pleas of innocence hold some merit? Tangential to this, the Secretary of State for Justice has his own plans to stymie Benson’s meteoric rise, but some revelations may put a pause on that, with political intentions coming to their forefront in Britain. Fairfax weaves this all together into a single novel, stunning those fans who have been following along throughout the previous two books. Not for those who want something superficial, but perfect for lovers of a courtroom thriller.

William Benson is still garnering headlines for his courtroom work, after being released from prison for a crime he denies having committed. Admitting to the crime to gain parole and be able to practice law, something he studied while incarcerated thanks to a secret benefactor, Benson is trying to remove the indelible mark that has split the country in how they feel about him. The Secretary of State for Justice, Richard Merrington, has been oscillating about how to handle things, but the ongoing support has him thinking it best to focus his attention elsewhere. When Benson takes on a new case, where a husband and wife are accused with murdering a Spanish doctor, the trial takes on a new life. It is alleged that Dr. Jorge Manderez has been working in London and sought the therapeutic services of Karen Lynwood. During their time together, the two appear to have forged a bond deeper than therapist/patient, which has led to a number of heated conversations, both within the Lynwood household as well as between the husband, John, and Dr. Manderez. Benson works his magic to hash out the truth of the prosecution’s case and insert some doubt before taking on the monumental task of trying to prove his clients’ innocence.

All the while, Tess de Vere, sometimes legal support to Benson, has been probing into her colleague’s past, sure that the pleas of innocence might ave some merit. There is an oddity at the crime scene, a bracelet that can be traced back to the Merrington family, which could open up many questions for all those involved. As de Vere probes deeper, she discovers a potential alternate set of events that could have led to the murder William Benson was convicted of committing. Can she bring it all to light without Benson knowing or distracting him mid-trial?

As Merrington tries to balance his role in Cabinet, he is eyeing a larger portfolio, possibly prime minister. However, some of the revelations within his family may derail that, unless he can get things in order. There is a polical waitng period and bluffing in order to get what he wants, but William Benson could be one pebble too many in his shoe. Talk of this family bracelet could cause Merrington many headaches, so it, too, must be explained away.

As the courtroom heats up and Benson presents his case, the alternate narrative comes to light, allowing the jury to ponder what could be true. Benson will stop at nothing to ensure it is all there for the court to see, even if it means taking some major leaps. In the end, the truth comes to the surface and no one is safe, as the jury is highly unpredictable. All that, with the truth about what happened the night Benson was accused of murder, offering new ideas on a case thought long resolved. John Fairfax is brilliant and had me reading well into the night (and early morning) to get the answers.

John Fairfax is one of those authors who crossed my radar by fluke, but must have been meant to enter my reading world. When first I read the series debut, I had little idea what I could expect, but was soon enthralled. Fairfax provides so much detail to all the subplots in the book, at times taking the reader on many journeys in tandem. The narrative is crisp and thorough, tackling all legal situations in their own way. Chapters build on one another and connect in ways I could not have expected. The two strong protagonists (William Benson and Tess de Vere) work their own magic and find ways of connecting, while pushing apart at the same time. Fairfax adds ongoing depth to William Benson, through his current legal career, as well as the apparent skeletons in his closet. Tess de Vere offers that investigative backstory that Benson cannot provide himself to get to the core of the past. The central legal plot is the courtroom case involving murder, which develops well, though is sometimes shelved for larger and more long-standing issues. With what came in the final chapters, I have no idea where John Fairfax will take things next, in the most recent publication. Stay tuned, as I am reaching for it now, hoping to devour it soon.

Kudos, Mr. Fairfax, for keeping me on the edge of my seat!

Playing with Matches (Riley Drake #1), by Julie Hyzy

Eight stars

Julie Hyzy has made a name for herself with a few great series I have had the pleasure to read. While they were somewhat quaint and more a ‘cozy read’, this book is anything but that. Riley Drake is a private investigator with grit and determination. She’s ready to take on the world and leave the slime balls at the corner. Hyzy constructs her protagonist and the mean streets of Chicago well, keeping the story moving, the mystery high, and the twists plentiful. While listed as a series, there has been no follow-up since this book’s release in 2015, making me all the more curious to see what it’s all about.

Living in Chicago, you’d have to be tough and gritty, something that Riley Drake has mastered. A private eye with a penchant for getting to the root of the issue, she’s been tasked with running background checks for her friend’s dating service to keep her coffers full. Interesting characters emerge on a daily basis, but none more than John Stratton, a local billionaire who has been suspected of murdering his wife. Stratton, who denies the claim, wants nothing more than to fix his image by getting back into the dating scene. Drake is having none of it, but is somehow lured into working for him to help clear his name.

Their interaction begins jaggedly, as Drake promises only the truth and is happy to send anything she finds to the police. Stratton, sure that there is nothing to find, tosses money her way, and is happy to let his PI turn over any stone, as long as she knows there will be some blips along the way. When someone who has taken a shining to Drake approaches her with some intel that could tarnish John Stratton even more, there is a moment of clarity. Could this mud be tossed simply to add to the fodder, or might there be something to the claim that John Stratton has other proclivities?

Stratton’s dead wife, Gretchen, has quite the story of her own. A pillar of the art community, Gretchen Stratton was laying the breadcrumbs for what could have made a number of people upset widening the list of suspects, though Drake will have to work at them to ensure John is cleared. It may take a great deal of work, as John Stratton is not used to taking direction.

If this were not enough, Riley Drake has a long list of active clients, including a television celebrity who is trying to redefine herself, a powerful entrepreneur whose own personal likes might blacklist him in the business community, and a drug-addled guy who is trying to get clean, but just cannot leave the drama that using brings him. All of this ensures that Riley Drake stays busy, but also finds herself in multiple ways of getting scorched, while playing with fire. Hyzy offers up an interesting one-off from her usual cozy mysteries, sure to shock (and perhaps impress) her fans.

While I have come to know Julie Hyzy as a more wholesome and ‘cozy’ author, this was a great move out of the comfy writing style. She builds a decent foundation with her narrative, offering the reader context to help them better understand what’s happening, while keeping things tied together with some decent characters. The plot twists that emerge offer some surprises, though nothing outlandish. I did not mind the book, but was not entirely sold on the PI/dating service approach. It did little for me and while I enjoyed Riley Drake’s grit, there was too much going on for a single book. I would have liked perhaps two cases running in tandem, which would have allowed more focus and less peripheral action. While I have no ides of this was something Julie Hyzy tried and shelved, I would try another book to see if the series connects with me. That said, anything by the author would be a great reading treat. Those who have not sought out some of her other work out to try it, as it has a great feel to it and is usually pretty easy to digest.

Kudos, Madam Hyzy, for branching out and trying new things/ I will keep my eyes open to see what else you publish soon.

Triple Cross (Alex Cross #30), by James Patterson

Eight stars

One of James Patterson’s cornerstone series has got to be Alex Cross. I have followed the adventures of DC’s great investigator for many years and can usually rely on something great. Patterson keeps things sharp in this piece and juggles numerous plot lines effectively, without getting too muddled. Fans of the series will likely enjoy this book and feel a sense of urgency, shelving the idea that Alex Cross ought to hang up the handcuffs for good.

There is a ruthless and very slick killer on the loose in Washington, DC. His focus appear to be families of many generations, leaving everyone dead with little remorse. There is no evidence on which to rely, forcing Alex Cross to wonder if this is a new level of killer. While he is strictly a consultant, Cross has his hands full and finds multiple cases filling in plate.

Cross is approached to handle another crime spree, this one with international implications. A killer appears to be committing crimes all over, though there is nothing tying them together. When a former literary editor reached out to say that she thinks an author with whom she has worked may be the killer. His international research trips and connection to the local police allow him to commit the perfect crimes. Cross is not sold on the idea, particularly when placed in awkward situations, but there is something sitting in the back of his brain that has him wondering if there might be something to it.

All the while, Cross’ wife is working some cases of her own, including a fashion designer who may have been using the models in an elaborate sex slave ring. As Bree Stone tries to get to the bottom of it all, she cannot help but wonder if she’s in way over her head, rubbing elbows with the super rich and well-connected. As all the cases reach their crescendo, the Cross/Stone family will have to up their protection or face possible attack on humoured fronts. Patterson dazzles with this book and has me newly impressed with a series I once thought had reached its limit.

James Patterson has been someone I respect and vilify, depending on the book and my mood. I have come to expect much from him, though there are times I am sure he uses his name to sell books, rather than investing in quality writing. His Alex Cross series has been fairly good over its run, with only a few later novels failing to meet usual standards. Patterson is back, with strong narrative flow and decent character development from the entire Cross family. He has breathed new life into the stories and keeps the reader guessing whenever they take the plunge. I am eager to see what is to come with this series and still hope that there might be some crossover work, perhaps with Michael Bennett or the Women’s Murder Club. That could make for some wonderful reading, especially fans of multiple Patterson series, all of which have stellar writing.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, for taking the effort to make things click once more.

Ali Cross: The Secret Detective (Ali Cross #3), by James Patterson

Eight stars

One of James Patterson’s cornerstone series has got to be Alex Cross. I have followed the adventures of DC’s great investigator for years, eager to see where things go. When Patterson introduced a series geared for younger readers, featuring the next generation Ali Cross, I could not help but want to read them as well. My son, Neo, has yet to reach for them, but that is a battle for another day. Patterson addresses crime issues from the perspective of a middle-schooler, doing so effectively and with pizzazz. A great piece that should smack younger readers between the eyes and cater to those who love a good crime thriller.

Ali Cross has large shoes to fill, with his father, Alex Cross, as one of the best known detectives in DC. Ali is so excited to follow in his father’s footsteps that he and some friends hack into the police dispatcher radio system so that they can attend some crime scenes. When doing so one night, they discover that a gang arrest goes sideways and one of the members is shot. This hits the news and churns up a great deal of banter.

At school, Ali faces many in his class who side with the people, that the police are never there when needed and shoot first when they arrive. There is merit to the concern, though Ali does not want every police officer whitewashed with this stereotype. As he tries to have himself heard, Ali becomes the scapegoat for the police, with many feeling he is only spouting what his father professes at home.

Refusing to stand down, Ali seeks to find a way to show that the police, and his father, are not a menace, but actually helpful in the community, What follows is a series of—albeit dangerous—trips to other crime scenes to gather needed evidence. Working on the sly, Ali Cross has to detect the truth and bring it back for the masses. Patterson shines here and hits his target audience with something great!

I will be the first to admit that my relationship with James Patterson books is hit and miss. However, with Alex Cross, I can usually get something great from the esteemed author. This branch-off into the world of young readers has worked well, with a strong narrative and short chapters to hold their attention. Poignant topics and writing that would connect with the younger crowd, Patterson does all he can to keep things ‘real’ and on point. While i do not read all of Patterson’s series, for adult or younger readers, this is one well worth my time and can be of particular interest to Alex Cross fans who need something lighter and shorter. I will keep my eyes peeled for more and nudge this series towards Neo soon!

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, for another great winner in the Cross collection.

Cut, Paste, Kill (Lomax and Biggs #4), by Marshall Karp

Eight stars

The binge of Marshall Karp’s LAPD police procedural series trudges on! I remain impressed with all it has to offer and can only hope others will take a look at these books. Karp offers up some great mystery reading and decent cases, enveloped in dry wit, realistic banter, and wonderful pacing. Perfect for a little light reading, which always helps me between deeper and more brain-twisting stories.

After socialite Eleanor Bellingham-Crump turns up murdered in a hotel bathroom, LAPD Detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs must take the case. The victim, responsible for the death of a young boy, has dodged any criminal changes as she claims diplomatic immunity. Not only was Bellingham-Crump found with a pair os scissors in her side, but there is a detailed scrapbook exploring the specifics of her crime at the scene.

When other victims turns up with the same clues—scissors and scrapbooks—Lomax and Biggs realise that there is a serial killer out there with a penchant for detail and lurid crime fighting, seeking to punish those who did not face justice for the crimes they committed. Working the scrapbooking angle, Lomax and Biggs learn of a covert purchaser who might be the best lead they have.

As the case reaches its zenith, the detectives think that they have something with which they can work, only to have a twist tossed into the middle of everything. There’s something that does not add up here and neither Lomax nor Biggs are ready to admit defeat. With some great personal drama befalling Lomax as well, this case could be a distraction from another case he must solve; how to add to his family at home. Karp does well building the drama and tension in this one, another winner for this series.

Marshall Karp keeps finding new ways to impress the reader with a unique take on murder cases. There is a definite flow to the narrative and a wonderful building up of character development, with Mike Lomax in the middle of it all. There is a great deal of personal growth for the senior LAPD detective in this book, as well as some thinking back to what was and what could be for his family. Decent secondary characters keep there story lively and offer banter to cut the tension throughout. A great novel that is as light as it is humourous, Marshall Karp has found the recipe for success and kept me flipping pages until the final reveal.

Kudos, Mr. Karp, for another great novel that left me highly impressed.

Flipping Out (Lomax and Biggs #3), by Marshall Karp

Eight stars

Continuing my binge of Marshall Karp’s LAPD police procedural series, I continue to be impressed with the books and how easy they are to digest. Karp provides the reader with a solid foundation and uses key events to push the story along. With well-developed characters and wonderful banter, Karp offers the reader something well worth their time when needing something a little lighter.

There is no doubt that LAPD personnel keep busy schedules, leaving their families to wonder about them and bide their time. A number of LAPD wives decided not to wait idly by and created the LA Flippers, a group dedicated to buying houses, having them renovated, and selling the end results for massive profits. In the middle of it is Nora Bannister, a bestselling novelist who uses her abilities to create the ‘Houses to Die For” series. After each book launches, a house of similar description hits the market, leaving investors laughing all the way to the bank.

When one of the investors is found murdered, LAPD Detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs are assigned the case, trying to find out who killed one of the larger police family. Digging into the victim’s life, some secrets turn up and leave more questions than answers. Could the Flippers be involved in something a little more nefarious?

As members of the LA Flippers are murdered, one by one, Lomax and Biggs up their investigative attention, trying to crack the case open, but come up short. Could it be an illegal worker with a vendetta? Someone who is not happy with the real estate market? Or perhaps someone trying to target cops through their families? When Marilyn Biggs, Terry’s wife, becomes the next logical target, the protection detail is increased and the case takes on a life of its own. Lomax and Biggs will stop at nothing to stop a killer, while the brass and mayor’s office are calling for heads while the media hot potato is tossed around. If anyone can solve the case, it’s Lomax and Biggs, but they are surely running out of time. Karp does well with this one yet again, keeping the reader in the middle of a great crime thriller.

Marshall Karp continues to impress, offering up another great novel in the series. Karp provides a grounded narrative to direct the reader through the crimes and how the protagonists seek to solve them. Mike Lomax appears to be the central protagonist once more, leaving me to believe that this will not change for the next two novels in the collection. As before there are some strong secondary characters who advance the story or flavour the narrative with needed banter. As always things are not linear, providing the reader with some necessary plot twists to keep things moving in a forward direction. While not a ‘deep’ read,these are surely great novels to pass the time and I am eager to sink my teeth into the next piece.

Kudos, Mr. Karp, for another great novel that left me highly impressed.

Blind Defence (Benson and de Vere #2), by John Fairfax

Nine stars

Having earned a number of well-deserved awards for his writing, the author John Fairfax returns with another stunning courtroom thriller. The William Benson series may only be in its infancy, but I am fully immersed in the drama and nuances that Fairfax has developed. Benson’s backstory is ever-changing and evolving, which is addressed throughout the novel, while the reader is left to wonder how Tess de Vere will handle what she knows and how she can either help or hinder Benson’s legal career. A great crime and stunning defense of a man who appears outwardly guilty as sin fill the pages of the book, but there is much to be done with Benson and his own legal issues. Powerfully written and full of legal trapdoors, as well as character development that can only be called brilliant, John Fairfax is an author for those who are serious about British legal thrillers and need something that will have them thinking as well as be entertained!

William Benson is still trying to make a name for himself, after going to prison for a crime he professes not to have committed. Later admitting to the crime solely to be granted parole and the chance to start his legal career, Benson does not deny his plan, but remains steadfast that he is innocent. While the country is divided about him, some in Parliament are prepared to do whatever they can to have him stripped of his ability to remain at the Bar. Stuck in the middle os Tess de Vere, who helped him along the way and has been sending clients in his direction. She, too, is facing pressure not to associated with Benson and has taken a step back, which has surely cost him billable hours and has creditors chasing him down. However, Benson is prepared to move forward and has a case fall into his lap that is sure to garner much attention.

With all the forensics coming together, it would appear that Brent Stainsby caught up to his one-time girlfriend in London and confronted her. What appears to have been a cordial encounter soon turned dark, when Diane Heybridge was found strangled and a blood orange wedged into her mouth. Stainsby professes that he is innocent and that Diane was suicidal, though much of the evidence baffles the police, who cannot see how this could have happened. William Benson takes the case and must try to find out how to defend a man whose guilt seem all but assured.

While he has been meeting with Tess de Vere regularly to go over the case, Benson feels things are somewhat strained. Tess has been trying to inch herself away, even though she sees it is costing Benson a great deal. She wants him to succeed but also needs to know the truth about him and what happened all those years ago. Counselling him as best she can without being sacked herself, Tess points Benson in a direction that might have some merit.

As Benson readies himself for trial, he learns more about the victim and her life in Dover. Diane may have been living a life that is more troublesome than it appears on paper. Her connections and criminal involvement could play a role in what happened to her, as could her personal history, all of which Benson will raise with the jury when he can. It will take monumental efforts to convince twelve people that Stainsby did see the victim on the fateful night, but had nothing to do with her death. That is something Benson is ready to do, with his sly means of cross-examination, honed while still behind bars.

As the pressure mounts in the courtroom, a move is planned to potentially banish William Benson from a legal career he built while living in Her Majesty’s Prisons, with Tess de Vere forced to decide how she will act. Nothing could be harder, though there is something that needs further exploration before Tess can make a decision. She wants to know the full story of that night in 1999, when Benson was accused of killing a man in a bar fight,. Probing a little on her own, Tess may have found a thread and must now follow it to the end, all while Benson dazzles in the courtroom. Another winner by John Fairfax that will have serious readers rushing to keep reading the novels in this series.

John Fairfax crossed my radar when first I read the series debut, but I had little idea what I could expect from his writing at that time. Fairfax provides a significant amount of detail to all the subplots in the book, but does not supersaturate the reader who is trying to make their way through things. There is wonderful narrative movement, tackling a number of situations and time periods to fill in the blanks throughout. Each chapter builds on the last and keeps the reader in the middle of everything that is taking place. With two strong protagonists (William Benson and Tess de Vere), the story branches out repeatedly to tackle their own struggles, as well as the central legal issue that weaves its way through the novel. Fairfax keeps adding depth to William Benson, trying to open up the can of worms that is his past, though there is just as much intrigue with his current work in the courtroom. Using Tess de Vere to tap into the Benson backstory helps the readers see how many secrets there are and what Benson will do to keep them shelved. The main plot throughout the book is the legal case involving murder, which develops well and gains momentum as both sides of the case present evidence and the witnesses offer their perspectives. I can only wonder what will come next, as I discovered that Fairfax offers breadcrumbs in his books about future storylines, of which there are many to choose based on the narrative of this book. John Fairfax is not for those who need a quick and light legal thriller, but surely impresses the reader who needs something with a little more ‘meat’ as they meander through the English legal process.

Kudos, Mr. Fairfax, for impressing me once again. I have the next novel ready to go and M keen to sink my teeth into it.

Bloodthirsty (Lomax and Biggs #2), by Marshall Karp

Eight stars

After taking the recommendation to read some of Marshall Karp’s solo work, I reached for this series. Enjoying the first novel in the collection, I was happy to continue, hoping the intensity would remain. This is a great police procedural set on the streets of LA, with gritty detective work, off-colour humour, and a great flow from one event to another. Karp dazzles once more in this piece, adding depth to areas he did did not expound upon in the debut and opening new doors to even better writing.

No one ever said that Los Angeles was not a tough city, something that LAPD Detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs know all too well. As these two bask in the fame that came their way during a previous murder investigation, there is talk of a movie or even a television series bearing their names. However, it is key not to let anything get to their heads.

After one of the industry’s most hated men does not appear for a Hollywood party, people begin talking. When Barry Gerber’s body is found dumped the following morning, Lomax and Biggs are astonished as to what’s happened to him. There is little time to ponder this, as the detectives must find the killer before things cool down too much. In a city when enemies are easier to find than one’s own shoelaces, the suspect list keeps growing by the hour. When Lomax and Biggs think that they might have a lead and the potential killer, he, too, turns up slain in the same odd manner. Now it’s clear that the killer is not only on the hunt, but has a motive.

As Lomax and Biggs delve even deeper, they come across a plot that chills them to the bone and proves to be far more sinister than simply killing one’s enemies. The problem is, there is no clear understanding as to who might be next on the killer’s list. A great follow-up novel in this series that will have readers flipping pages for as long as time permits. Marshall Karp keeps readers guessing until the very end once more.

Marshall Karp continues to dazzle with this series, offering up all the elements to a successful novel and laying the groundwork for a great series. Karp’s balanced narrative guides the reader through the action from the outset, building on the characters of the two protagonists in both their professional and personal lives. Lomax remains in the limelight throughout, with his own personal struggles the highlight of non-crime discussions, but Terry Biggs is not free from some of his own analysis. Some decent secondary characters help to advance the story, offering clues related to the crime, or simply a means by which to inject some banter. Needed plot twists appear at various points and shape the larger story. I am still quite attached to the series and hope to keep the momentum going, as I reach for the next novel in the collection. Marshall Karp has done it again and I cannot get enough.

Kudos, Mr. Karp, for adding more grit and humour to what could be a dark subject matter.

The Rabbit Factory (Lomax and Biggs #1), by Marshall Karp

Eight stars

Having read a number of novels in which Marshall Karp is a collaborator, I thought I would take someone’s recommendation and try my hand at reading some of his solo work. A great police procedural series, full of strong detective work, dry wit, and wonderful pacing, Karp proves that he can easily stand on his own and entertain readers effectively. I am eager to continue my journey through the series, hoping that the rest of the books are as entertaining as this debut.

Familyland is the modern amusement park for all ages, part of Lamaar Studios. Growing from a small animation house, Lamaar Studios is now a massive entertainment collective, including movies, television, and especially a massive theme park. After one of the actors who portrayed the cornerstone character of the Studio is found murdered on park grounds, it’s time to call in the LAPD. While Detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs are expecting something unique, nothing could prepare them when they found a massive Rambunctious Rabbit sprawled on the ground. While Lamaar Studios wants the case solved quickly, they are also keen to have the crime kept quiet, especially when it is discovered that the victim was a paedophile who fudged his records.

As Lomax and Biggs dig a little deeper, they learn that there is more to Lamaar Studios than meets the eye. This is solidified when a second employee is killed. It seems as though there has been a long-standing feud between some of the early members of the animation house, which could have everything come tumbling down if not handled properly. The killer gets bolder and soon kills again, with a demand that could put everyone in danger.

With a case like no other, Mike Lomax must also struggle to get his life in order. A recent widow with some unfinished business, Lomax tries to keep it together and prevent his slapstick partner from learning too much about life away from detective work. It will be a challenge, but Lomax has long been good at deflecting and keeping a work-home balance. A great series debut, showing that Marshall Karp has laid a wonderful foundation for a collection that is sure to garner many fans.

The key to a great detective story is to pull the reader in quickly and repeatedly throughout. Marshall Karp does this effectively in this debut, offering up a great set of crimes, strong characters, and a bit of dry humour to cut through some of the tension. Karp’s use of a strong narrative provides the reader with great guidance as they make their way through the novel’s many twists. Introducing the two protagonists early and often offers the reader a connection with those who are most important to the story. Mike Lomax is front and centre in this novel, which is a wonderful way to connect with the reader. I can only wonder if Terry Biggs will have added time in the limelight in subsequent books, but the personal side of the character offers a stronger connection and allows the reader to see the softer side, which may not be present in police procedurals. A handful of strong secondary characters also propel the story forward, offering the reader some lighter banter at times. Plot twists emerge throughout the book and help shape the larger story. This appears to be the longest and most intense of the series novels, perhaps Karp’s way of adding depth to his characters before offering up faster and more succinct crimes. Whatever it is, Karp proves not only that he has an handle solo writing, but that he is one author to keep on my radar, as I was fully committed from the opening pages.

Kudos, Mr. Karp, for this gritty police procedural that has me reaching for the next book.

Escape (Billy Harney #3), by James Patterson and David Ellis

Eight stars

James Patterson and David Ellis return with another in their Billy Harney series, offering up some great action in a fast-paced police procedural. Full of sarcasm and great narrative flow, Patterson and Ellis provide readers with a great deal of entertainment throughout the reading experience. While not the best of the Patterson’s attributed series, it kept me intrigued until the final page turn, with a cliffhanger of its own.

After five teenage girls are abducted in Chicago, all eyes turn to CPD Detective Billy Harney to find them. Following a few key leads, Harney and his partner travel to a rural home, where they hope to find the girls and solve the case with little issue. However, it’s a trap and the house is rigged, which leads to Harney’s partner dying and the kidnapper slipping through his fingers.

Harney vows not to stand down until the killer is caught and the victims are returned to their families. This is easier said than done, as this is one conniving individual, happy to stay one pace ahead of the rest. Harney’s sordid past and willingness to bend the rules help grease the wheels to ensure that nothing will keep CPD from catching the accused, once they are identified.

While the case ramps up, Harney cannot help but find distraction in his personal life, which could prove detrimental, but also somewhat necessary. Harney’s past collides with the present as he does battle with himself and the killer in tandem. Even when things appear to be clear-cut, there’s a twist and the story reaches a tense climax, with Harney in the middle. Patterson and Ellis offer up a decent piece of writing here, sure to find a number of readers eager to explore Billy Harney a little more.

While I have had some issues with James Patterson and his writing, he has certain collaborators who coax out some superior writing to which the popular author is attributed. David Ellis has done this repeatedly and this proves to be one of those partnerships. The narrative flow works well for this piece, which has moments of greatness and others that link two larger plot lines together. Decent characters pepper the story and provide entertainment throughout, though none standout as being stellar for me. Firm plot lines offer the reader some suspense and leave the book from being too predictable, helping to keep the book mysterious when needed. Patterson and Ellis have worked well together on this series and this is another positive outcome, proving that there is still something to be said of books that bear the former’s name.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Ellis, on a book I could enjoy with ease.

Summary Justice (Benson and De Vere #1), by John Fairfax

Nine stars

John Fairfax has an established, award-winning writing career under his given name, but has turned to a nom de plume to dazzle readers with this twist-filled legal thriller. While I read this book a few years ago, I chose to return to it, as I complete a series read of the William Benson novels. I am glad to have undertaken the refresher, as there is so much to pull from it. Fairfax weaves a chilling tale of murder, redemption, and a new courtroom case that is sure to keep the reader filling pages, as I did. There’s a great deal to handle in this book, forcing the reader to pay attention and take note, as the ride is sure to be intense!

William Benson has had an interesting life to say the least. Charged with a murder as a young man, Benson held firm that he was innocent, but agreed to plea to receive rehabilitation. A young legal student, Tess de Vere, attended the trial and took a shining to the defendant, having an epiphany to practice criminal law thereafter. After being sentenced, Benson kept his head down in prison, until he was paroled for good behaviour. While many men would have turned to a darker side, Benson chose to hone his skills and read law, earning his degree. While many felt this was hopeless, as he would not be called to the Bar, Benson proved them wrong, being taken on by a few barristers who thought he deserved a second chance.

After being supported by a secret financial backer, Benson spent a few years taking the legal scraps that were being offered. He opens his own shop, even though many still vilified him for his crimes. Knowing all the legal loopholes, Benson is is ready to help those who are pre-judged by society. When Sarah Collingstone approaches him to represent her in a murder in which she is accused of of stabbing a man to death with a broken bottle. Benson is prepared to mount the best defence he can, but will need some help with the media circus. In what can only be deemed a chance encounter, Tess de Vere re-emerges after some legal dealings in France and agrees to serve as his supervising solicitor. Together, they take the Collingstone case to trial, While Collingstone refuses to deny the evidence against her, she professed that she had done nothing wrong. Benson cannot help but wonder if there is more to the story than what his client is telling him.

As the trial continues, Benson is faced with continued adversity—both for his past crime and the evidence the prosecution had against Collingstone—but sees a great deal of himself in his client. While it would be easy to let the court system devour a hapless accused, Benson cannot turn a blind eye. Benson can only hope Lady Justice will look out for an innocent person, even when the evidence tells a cut and dry story. A fabulously crafted legal thriller that will keep the reader wondering about many of the storylines. Perfect for those who love a paced novel that does not skimp on thought-provoking moments.

Having never read John Fairfax, I was not sure what to expect with this piece, but am pleased that I took the time yet again. He has a wonderful way of laying out the scene and offering enough detail to pull the reader into the mix, without drowning them. The narrative floes well, taking on numerous time periods to cover all aspects of the novel, building up with each chapter. The important aspects of Benson’s past are not left to short snippets of backstory, but is developed throughout, in the preface and peppered in the early parts of each section of the book. The protagonists have their own stories, which propel the larger narrative forward, though it leaves the reader wanting more, particularly about Tess de Vere. Her return to London after some international legal matters in Strasbourg are only loosely addressed and will have readers begging Fairfax to offer more as the series progresses. Fairfax does a wonderful job at developing a multi-faceted William Benson, pulling on his vulnerabilities but also his strength and seeking justice for a woman who has little hope of acquittal. Fairfax is also stellar in his plot development through the legal cases, both inside the courtroom with wonderful testimony and outside as Benson tries to fend off those who would have him removed from the Bar. The revelations that come up during the trial are wonderful twists and turn the reader to wondering how innocent Sarah Collingstone just might be. I am pleased to see a series awaits me, which I can only hope will be filled with more legal matters and attempts to better understand the protagonists.

Kudos, Mr. Fairfax, for a wonderful story that kept me wanting more. I can see how you were awarded literary prizes and hope others discover your work in the near future.

Listen to Me (Rizzoli and Isles #13), by Tess Gerritsen

Eight stars

Tess Gerritsen returns with lucky book thirteen in this series, full of action and a gripping set of crimes. Rizzoli and Isles have been working together in their unique way for years, but the delay between novels has me eager to see what they have been doing. Gerritsen does a great job keeping her protagonists going and pushing through a new and curious case, with an added amateur sleuth in the form of Jane’s mother, Angela, working her own investigation. Full of all the needed elements for a great book, Gerritsen offers up a winner for series fans and general readers alike.

In Boston, you never know what you are going to get on a daily basis. Homicide Detective Jane Rizzoli and her best friend, Medical Examiner Maura Isles, can attest to this, particularly when a seemingly random murder falls in their laps. Sofia Suarez has lived a calm life, loved by many at the hospital at which she works, as well as her friends. A recent widow, she was transitioning to a new life alone, but has now been found brutally murdered in her home.

While Sofia seems straight-laced, she may be harbouring a pile of secrets, as her call logs in the days leading to her death are filled with random numbers to a variety of locations. It is only when Detective Rizzoli makes a connection to a recent hit-and-run victim that the case gets even more confounding. Whatever it is, the killer is surely trying to keep Sofia silent for what she knows.

Detective Rizzoli is not the only one investigating something suspicious. Angela Rizzoli has begun looking into new neighbours who moved onto the street. Something seems off, but Angela cannot put her finger on it. With a teenaged daughter who randomly disappears, Angela wonders of there is something going on behind closed doors, but she is shunned away by the family and Detective Rizzoli as well. Still, this is one gut instinct that will not go away. Angela’s determination appears to get her nowhere, but she refuses to stand down, hoping that someone will listen to her if she persists.

With the case ramping up, Detective Rizzoli and ME Isles appear to be trying to crack it open, but Angela’s insistence of something off causes added distractions. There is no time to waste, as Sofia’s killer is sure to fade away before long, leaving the case unsolved and more trouble. Gerritsen does a great job in this lucky novel, paving the way for more adventures soon.

I have long enjoyed this series by Tess Gerritsen, both the books and the television show that came of them. Not only are they highly entertaining, but Gerritsen writes in such a way that they are always informative. Her narrative style is clean and clear, which climbs to new levels in this book, with multiple perspectives. The reader can clearly discern the action in the book through multiple characters, adding a depth to the story. The strong core characters are back, allowing the reader to revisit the lives of Jane and Maura, as well as the ever-blossoming Angela, while also discovering a handful of new faces, used for this story alone. Plots develop in parallel and keep the reader entertained, particularly with two cases developing. Gerritsen proves that this series is back and deserves more added to it, with a thirteenth book offering up a long-awaited gem. I am eager to see where things are headed from here, as Tess Gerritsen is always full of surprises.

Kudos, Madam Gerritsen, for returning to this series and showing it still has some gas left in the tank.

Plot/Counterplot, by William Bernhardt

Nine stars

William Bernhardt returns with a stunning piece of fiction that strays from his usual legal thrillers. Using a bestselling authors as his protagonist, Bernhardt spins a tale about how those with wonderful ideas for crime thrillers can sometimes be the best weapon when they fall into the wrong hands. In a story that mixes fiction with the deadliest realities, Bernhardt provides readers with a novel unlike any I have read in a long while. Graphic depictions told in a highly realistic fashion, William Bernhardt proves why he is at the top of his game and eager to share his skills with readers!

The most creative stories of espionage and criminal masterminds come from the keyboards of top-notch authors, something Dylan Taggart knows all too well. The bestselling author has wonderful ideas fuelled by a childhood filled with anything but bliss. Taggart’s calmness is jolted one night when he and his girlfriend are taken hostage so that he can create the ultimate plan to steal a military weapon like no other. Fiction does truly turn into fact at this point.

While Taggart refuses to be a part of the charade, his mind is soon turned when he is tortured to the brink of death. Taggart’s ideas flow easily as he creates the ultimate story the captors use to help find a way to get into the military compound and get their hands on the deadliest weapon imaginable.

As the story progresses, Taggart is forced to make a decision that could have deadly fallout, all while trying to determine who is behind this event and what their ultimate goal could be. Many of those he meets along the way could be close to the top of the pyramid, but the elusive Supervisor remains in the shadows. Will Taggart be able to coax them out through his writing. More importantly, might there be a chance to take a stand before the ultimate act takes place, killing countless innocent civilians in this game of international cat and mouse? William Bernhardt does well to build up the action and has the reader desperate to find out how it all comes together.

There’s s something about William Bernhardt and his writing that leaves me wanting more each time I read one of his novels. He has such a strong ability to build a story up for the reader to enjoy, while keeping things poignant with today’s happenings. A detailed narrative that flows with ease proves essential to developing a strong novel, something that Bernhardt can do with significant ease. He uses great characters and a stunning collection of backstories to provide the reader a great roadmap as things get more intense. Plot lines emerge that take the reader in one direction, only to turn things around with another element couched in secrecy. I found myself captivated by much of what was going on throughout the piece and can only hope that there will be more stories of this calibre, be they one-offs or part of a larger series.

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for proving once again just how talented you are and wha you bring to the genre.

Out of Bounds (Billy Beckett #5), by Kelly Hodge

Eight stars

Kelly Hodge is back with another explosive thriller in the Billy Beckett series. Using the unique angle of a sports and music agent as protagonist, Hodge provides the reader with an interesting approach to an investigative thriller. Hodge has done well with this series, originally a collaborative effort with another author I quite enjoyed reading. Hodge has all the tools for a great series and I can only hope that he will keep things going.

Billy Beckett has had better days. While his successful agent business keeps attracting new clients, his father’s illness has taken a turn for the worse. Beckett is scrambling to make sense of it all, while trying to keep his head in the game. He has two new potential clients, both of whom would be great additions, but they need his attention.

Harley ‘Ace’ Winters is a golfer who has lost his drive, with winning tournaments a thing of the past. Eddie Pickett is a musician who has a bright future ahead as he climbs in the charts. Both men have skeletons in their closets that threaten to drag them down, which forces Beckett to spend more time helping their images than he should.

Beckett thrives to ensure his newest clients are safe and taken care of, but there is no guarantee that it will not come crashing down. As things intensify, there is an ongoing concern that both Ace and Eddie may prove to be too much for the agency, leaving Beckett to choose between his career and their personal livelihoods. The choice is not as easy as it may seem, especially for an agent who thrives on risk. Kelly Hodge pens another winner and leaves readers gasping as they seek answers to many of the issues presented herein.

I have long admired Kelly Hodge for his work on this series, the only books of his that I have read. Hodge has a great way of pulling the reader into the middle of the story with a strong narrative and ever-advancing momentum. Wonderfully crafted characters with backstories of their own provide some lighter aspects to the novel, offsetting the darker storylines that fill much of the content. Key plot developments are, as usual, perfectly fitting within the larger story and offer the reader some chilling realisations throughout the novel’s climactic build. I can only hope Kelly Hodge has more in store for Billy Beckett, as I am sure many fans are eager to see where things are headed.

Kudos, Mr. Hodge, for another wonderful book. You have a great handle on this series and I know Scott Pratt would be proud with the work you’ve done.

The Fire Killer (DI Barton #5), by Ross Greenwood

Eight stars

Ross Greenwood returns with another great story in the DI Barton series. There is a spark to things here, keeping the reader in the middle of the action throughout this short, but impactful, piece. DI Barton is always keen to help those around him, but one wrong move and everything could go up in flames. A strong story and a great plot helps Greenwood pull readers into the middle of the action until the last chapter is left to smoulder.

After a fire takes the life of a woman, DI Barton and his team are called in to see what’s going on. While there does not appear to be much to the fire, Barton is left to wonder if this was a childhood prank gone wrong or perhaps a targeted attack with racial undertones. Either way, it should be a quick investigation. However, something does not appear entirely above board, which has Barton wanting to push the ashes around a little more to see what flares up.

True to his instincts, DI Barton realises that there have been a number of similar fires over the last number of years, made innocuous during early investigating because of their sporadic nature. As a clue crosses his desk, Barton is eager to follow it up, but finds himself chasing things down a rabbit hole for a time.

After a tip from someone on the streets who is sure she saw the arsonist first-hand, DI Barton follows the trail to see if there is a killer out there using fire as the ultimate weapon. There is no rhyme or reason to it all, but Peterborough will not rest until this killer is put behind bars. DI Barton is left to put all his resources into the case, worrying that there could be more dead before long, and his case would surely go up in smoke! A great addition to the series by Greenwood, showing his abilities front and centre.

Ross Greenwood has held my attention throughout this series which is always finding new ways to impress. The novels, which are based on strong narrative foundations, provide the reader with a great dual perspective, the DI Barton investigation and the killer. It is as though there is a game of cat and mouse taking place throughout the experience. A handful of key characters provide entertainment and offer up some continuity to the larger story, while also baffling the reader when new faces come along. Great plot twists that force everyone to take a second look at the crime, the backstory, and the events that shape the kills, provide just what the reader needs to push through the story. I have enjoyed the DI Barton series since its inception and with one book left, I hope things end well before Greenwood moves on to a new adventure.

Kudos, Mr. Greenwood, for keeping the reader in the middle of things in this hot addition to the collection.

The Search for the Green River Killer, by Carlton Smith and Tomás Guillén

Eight stars

While I have never been a prolific true crime fan, I could not keep from wanting to read this book by Carlton Smith and Tomás Guillén, the reporters who covered the original Green River killings. Told in a clear and concise manner, the authors pull the reader into the middle of one of the most prolific murder sprees and decades-long hunt for the killer. Chilling and riveting at the same time, any who read and enjoy this book will see just how complex and time consuming the chase was to find the man who left dozens of women dead over that time.

Over the 1980s and 1990s, a number of women went missing and were found murdered around Seattle. Forty-nine women who were mostly prostitutes, turned up, leaving the local police to try deciphering who the man might be and what his motive could be. The hunt led to many dead ends and numerous arrests, but the killings continued and no one was stepping up to claim responsibility. Victims were dumped along the Green River in Washington State, explaining how the killer soon got that moniker, but was always one step ahead of the police. Even when serial killer Ted Buddy was consulted for a psychological profile, he could not offer one that would lead to a quick arrest.

Twenty years of killings and brutal discoveries left the police to wonder if this could be a team of men, targeting the vulnerable parts of the population, with a brutal message to send to others. It was only after a DNA hit and a number of clues pointed at one Gary Ridgway as the Green River Killer. As the book reaches its climax, the truth comes out, alongside some graphic admissions as to why things happened the way they did and the impetus for the killings. Ridgway stands with other prolific American serial killers like Bundy, Son of Sam, and John Wayne Gacy, all of whom showed a depravity to those they killed and a desire to stay ahead of the hunt. The authors provide wonderful accounts from their journalistic backgrounds and leave the reader enthralled as the truth slowly comes to the surface. I am interested to learn more and cannot wait to get my hands on some other books about this and other prolific true crimes, if only to open my mind to a genre I do not frequently read.

There is no doubt that Carlton Smith and Tomás Guillén deserved the praise they received while covering the killings for the Seattle Times when the Green River Killer was on the loose. With this book, they provide the reader with first hand accounts of events, offering perspective and key direction onto the narrative. While I had heard of the killings, I knew nothing about the specifics, using this book as a wonderful primer to educate myself. The authors explore all aspects of the crimes, the investigation, and the race to find a killer, leaving no stone unturned as they ramp up the action, I could not have asked for a better set of guides on this rocky adventure. In this updated version, the authors provide new information after Ridgway was caught and his confessions, which adds a new layer to the larger story.

Kudos, Messrs. Smith and Guillén, for such a rollercoaster of emotions throughout.

Red Market (Jinx Ballou #5), by Dharma Kelleher

Eight stars

Dharma Kelleher is back with another stunning book in her Jinx Ballou bounty hunter series! Full of action, social commentary, and great banter, Kelleher shows that she has all the elements of a great writer who does not shy away from topics many would not explore. This proved not only to be highly educational for me, but also quite entertaining. Anyone who’s looking for something outside the box and ready to read with an open mind, Dharma Kelleher is just the author for you!

Jinx Ballou has made a name for herself in the Phoenix area as a top-notch bounty hunter. While there is never an end to the workload, some cases prove to be a lot more troubling than others. Jinx is hired to apprehend a man wanted for selling cadavers and who got into an altercation with a family what did not appreciate his line of work. While this seems a little odd, what’s more troubling is the discovery of the man’s body when Jinx arrives to collect him. Immediately, Jinx is in the crosshairs for the murder and she has little means of explaining her way out of this one.

While she tries to stay one step ahead of the authorities, Jinx is pulled into the world of organ smuggling and illegal trading, something she had no idea was taking place, let alone in Phoenix. She’s forced to take steps on the other side of the line and put herself out there, if only to learn who might want to kill for the secrets they have. More doctors are involved and they, too, end up dead. Someone is trying to silence everyone and plug the leaks.

While trying to make sense of it all, Jinx is also working to protect a young trans girl whose father is anything but eager for the news. Tied to that, the Arizona State government has just past a law that gender-affirming care is a form of child abuse, which raises the ire of Jinx and her fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community. This is a life lesson that Jinx was not ready to handle, as trans rights are being trampled as quickly as they can, with no help from the courts. Jinx will have to fight to straighten things out or toss a young girl into a cesspool of hate for what she knows she is meant to be. Kelleher does a sensational job with this piece, keeping me wondering and turning pages right through to the end.

I have long enjoyed the work of Dharma Kelleher, who tackles tough issues without becoming preachy. She is the only author I have read who puts trans issues at the forefront and seeks to explain, rather than browbeat her readers, some of whom may not be entirely familiar with the topic. Using a strong narrative core, Kelleher is able to transmit her story to readers with ease. Utilising great characters on both sides—understanding and ignorant—she provides a great means of educating. As Kelleher mentions in her author’s note, she sought a trans protagonist who was not fixated solely on transitioning issues, but worked in a field of law enforcement and was happy to help others with questions. The plots that emerge here are both well-established and socially relevant. Kelleher does not shy away from the controversy, pointing fingers directly at the ignorant and making sure readers know how abuse of political power is making America more phobic and less in line with its constitutional values. While some may disagree that there is a need for alternative acceptance, I will let them pull out a soapbox and preach to me, to see what merits they can offer.

Kudos, Madam Kelleher, for another great read. Always eager to see what you have to say.

First in Line: Presidents, Vice-Presidents, and the Pursuit of Power, by Kate Andersen Brower

Nine stars

Many colourful things have been said about the vice-presidency of the United States; none of them good. Kate Andersen Brower takes the plunge to explore the role and how history has treated the men (this book came out before Kamala Harris assumed the role) who held the position, as well as what they did during their ‘waiting in the wings’. Brower does a masterful job at showing how the role, largely ceremonial and usually the whipping boy of the president, allowed some to rise to the occasion and others to wither into the abyss of American politics. With great references and a powerful collection of anecdotes, Brower keeps the reader enthused until the final page turn.

While the role of US vice-president has some of the most important aspects to it, there is no doubt that it is the ultimate waiting game. As Kate Andersen Brower explores in this book, the person chosen to stand with the presidential nominee is usually there to fill a gap and help propel the ticket into the White House. However, once the goal has been achieved, it is largely a waiting game or one where the individual is sent off to attend funerals, cut ribbons, and kiss the odd baby. Still, there is a certain aura, knowing that you are but one step away from being the most powerful person in the world.

Brower explores the history of the vice-presidency, at least the modern ones, and gives the reader a better understanding of the lead-up to selection, the late campaign, and time in the White House. There were some, like LBJ, who wanted nothing to do with it, feeling that it was the ultimate kick in the teeth. Others, such as George H.W. Bush, used it to make connections with leaders around the world to help him before he became president in 1989. Still others, like Gerald Ford, had it thrust upon them in a time of panic, unsure where they were and what was going on. The stories in this book help provide the reader with some context into the role, the stress, and the complete lack of a job description.

The book is truly a collection of backstories that shed light on some of the goings-on that few who have not dug around know very well. I knew a few of these stories, mainly because I have done a great deal of reading and biography scanning over the years, but many would not know just how painful some of the connections between the pair of men turned out to be. How Nixon hated Spiro Agnew almost as soon as he won the landslide in 1968, how LBJ could not stand JFK or RFK, calling them both the most colourful names I have heard when reading about politicians interacting, and even the strain Clinton and Gore had in the latter portion of the second term. It’s truly a thankless role and some, like Mike Pence, are left with egg on their face when the president is a complete abuser of power and no one can understand why anyone would stand by him. Brower tries to make sense of it all, doing fairly well, and leaves it to the reader to decide what they want to take from this book.

As I just finished Mike Pence’s memoirs, I was eager to grab this book and get a larger picture of life as the second-in-command. I have read a great deal about LBJ and George H.W. Bush, but many of the others who sat in the Naval Observatory (and before) remained elusive to me. I quite enjoyed how Kate Andersen Brower laid the groundwork in her book and provided the reader with wonderful anecdotes to put things into context. History has largely forgotten these men and this is a way of pushing them into the limelight, even if the notoriety is not entirely positive. The strains behind the scenes become apparent in the narrative, as presidents use their vice-presidents to run errands or get dumped on, then rage when things are not going so smoothly as they should. Still, the ceremonial role aside, these men (and now woman) have that precarious role of being one breath, one heartbeat, away from ultimate power, but sit there, like the understudy, waiting for someone to die or be incapacitated. What a job to have, eh?!

Kudos, Madam Brower, for this excellent look into the life of vice-presidents. I was enthralled from the get-go and am so pleased I took the time to read this book.

So Help Me God, by Mike Pence

Eight stars

In preparation for what is sure to be a busy 2024 presidential election season in the United States, I turned to this memoir by Mike Pence, former Vice-President under POTUS 45, The Donald. While I was always baffled how Pence could stay quiet during those four years and not want to tear out his hair, I was also keen to understand the man, his choices, and the life he lived before he came onto my radar in the summer of 2016. This book does a wonderful job at that, offering insights and views I had not considered, doing some in a mostly rational and calm manner. While I cannot agree with everything within these pages, I can respect the view that is told with fact and calm justification.

Michael Pence grew up in a religious family in a small Indiana town. His Catholic upbringing brought with it a connection to politics and an affinity for the likes of JFK. Pence speaks of how he admired the man and followed him however he could, through his mother’s passions for the president, even though Pence also saw some of the benefits of the GOP. Pence used that strong connection to God to guide him through a number of scenarios, including class choices and how he would do in a post-secondary world. While he was not entirely sold on the idea, Pence sat for his law school entrance exams and did, after a few stumbles, get access, where his mind would open to many other things.

It was his life on campus that really opened Pence’s eyes to a world in which God and Jesus could guide him. Pence explores his personal faith and how this connection, fostered through Bible study and prayer, helped lead him in a certain direction he still follows today. He studied hard, fell for a woman who held his same beliefs, and began making plans for a future he hoped would include a family and a further connection with his Higher Power.

Pence had his political epiphany with the election of Ronald Regan in 1980 and turned to the GOP for good. He felt the spark of political service and sought to run for office, after a few years of getting his feet wet within Indiana’s state process. While Pence was not successful, he did not let this deter him and eventually won a seat in Congress in 2000. With a family now, Pence had new priorities and tried his best to balance parenthood with serving his state and the country, which proved to be a struggle at times. Pence offers some great insight into life as a congressman, as well as how he stood his own against the likes of George W. Bush, never bowing when he felt he was right, but always keeping the respect of those around him. This would prove to be a key stepping stone in his political future and make him a name to be remembered on the national stage.

Pence also recounts the important decision to leave Washington when Indiana needed him most, chosen to hold onto the Republican governorship in the state. This would be a new challenge, with its own struggles, but Pence sought to serve his state as best he could, adding new and sometimes troubling responsibilities to his list of future qualifications. I found it interesting to see how Pence handled some of the issues, justifying his perspective and only mildly trying to vilify the left media, tossing out ‘woke’ when he did not fit with his agenda. However, he does this in a mostly respectful manner and leaves the reader to see that his perspective, while different, had some merit and should not be swiftly dismissed. This means of explaining things would prove helpful in the years to come, even if he appeared outwardly statuesque in the face of chaos.

Pence explores his preparing to run for re-election as governor and how that led to some interesting times in 2016, with a presidential race taking place. While Pence was not supporting Trump from the outset, his honesty makes the foible seem less problematic. Pence discusses meeting its Candidate Trump and how this led to him being considered for the ticket after the GOP nomination had been secured. Ever-humble and praying on matters, Pence agreed to be the vice-presidential candidate when asked and the campaign moved forward. Pence glosses over a great deal, it does make it seem as though he was no sycophant, simply able to let God handle the rough waters in which Trump tossed the ticket through to Election Night.

After winning election, Pence began a new journey, which he explains in the next portion of the book. From leading the Transition to taking the vice-presidential role, Pence offers tidbits of information, always showing that he and Trump were in agreement on issues and stances. Pence makes his role as second-in-command appear genuinely interesting and does not paint himself to be a lapdog, even though I surmise there is more to the story, which he chooses not to put to paper. His ‘here to serve’ comes off as slightly more ‘granola’, given the circumstances, but I only have Pence’s own words to use as reference.

As the book progresses, Pence begins discussing key policy issues, peppering in some of the larger issues around a shutdown and interactions with foreign leaders. Pence does a great job of showing how he served well to represent America’s needs, at least through the lens of what POTUS felt needed accomplishing. While this is admirable, there remains an almost naïveté when discussing things that arose in which POTUS could be flying off the handle or abusing his power. ‘He would never do that’ or ‘the left-wing media is fabricating’, became regular deflections in the book. Perhaps this is an ostrich sentiment, but the reader must also take into account that Pence, who may want to enter the 2024 race, cannot be too truthful so as to alienate himself from the base he hopes to appease For the nomination, This does contrast with his time in Congress, when Pence said he would serve not for what the party wanted, but what he felt was correct.

No book would be complete without some discussion of the COVID-19 response. While much of the narrative does follow the clear story that came out of the White House, Pence is keen to point fingers and pat backs to ensure that the Trump Administration receives the glory. While this is to be expected, Pence makes sure the reader sees the superhero tactics that Trump undertook and the foibles garnered by the Democrats as everyone was trying to figure out this pandemic. Pence uses an odd form of forecasting to dump on the Biden Administration’s handling of things (yes, the president AFTER Trump and who inherited the mess), as though that should distract the reader from what happened in 2020. It is unfortunate that Pence could not distance himself from his own president, whose actions were documented on televisions around the world and added additional panic to an already chaotic situation.

This blame game continued in the 2020 presidential campaign, which was mixed with new race riots across the United States. Rather than admit that things were getting out of hand and that police acted horribly, Pence chose to point the finger at the left to say that they were fanning the flames and making things worse. It is obvious that there were issues on both sides of the aisle, with protesting and law enforcement, but Pence refuses to offer clear-cut blames other than commenting that the George Floyd video was disturbing. As Pence peddles to law enforcement, in an attempt to have the support for his being tough on crime, he loses the larger view that America was in a struggling situation and was being led by a man who accepted White supremacists into his tent. Pence had the chance to stand up and say ‘NO’, but chose to criticise the as-yet victorious Biden Administration for not keeping control after January 20, 2021. Baffling but surely, again, in an attempt to keep a favourable view by potential supporters.

Campaign rhetoric itself was as per usual, both sides slinging mud and making accusations, with vote counting and outlandish stories emerging as they tried to explain how Russia did not do enough to corrupt another election for Trump’s victory. While Pence appeared to take the loss on Election Day in stride, he had to deal with the mayhem and chaos that is Trump. The accusations, the childish tantrums, and even the talk of refusing to accept the results. While Pence surely felt the defeat, he was, for the most part, happy to accept what the democratic process brought about. However, in his own words, he did violate the democratic process in one of his ceremonial roles, which is worth mention.

Perhaps the part of the book I was most interesting in read was how Pence handled the post-election fallout and his role as President of the Senate to preside over the review of the Electoral College votes. Pence had the role, as mentioned above, and was prepared to serve it. He did not let Trump or others try to push him into believing that he had more power than he did, for which he is to be commended. However, what did trouble me was Pence’s admission in those early days that he kept speaking at rallies and to candidates not to give up and to challenge everything until the last moment. Pence should not have been wearing his Republican candidate hat, knowing that he was to preside over the results. He should not have been involved in any discussion of vote counting, irregularities, or anything related to the election because of his role, albeit ceremonial, in the Senate on January 6, 2021. While it appears clear that he was not drinking the Trump Kool-Aid and seeking to overthrow the democratic process, he should have known better. That Trump did it in such a deplorable manner surely casts a great distraction over Pence’s actions, but they cannot be ignored.

This was a great and refreshing book, even though it was full of cringe-worthy moments of sycophancy and turning to prayer in order to solve all issues. Pence has experienced much and has a wonderful way of conveying it to the reader. While I do not agree with a great deal of his politics, I can see his perspective and sense of hands-off when it comes to governing. How he was able to stand with lips glued shut as the presidency became a joke, I will never know, but I applaud him for his attempts to make the most of it. Do I hope he runs in 2024? Most definitely, as he has a lot to offer the Republican base and appears to have himself grounded in a clear political way of thinking. Should he, given the option, agree to run on a Trump ticket? Absolutely not, as he has been sullied by his connection with the man and could do so much better for himself. A great book that forced me to step back and look at things from another perspective, though I worry Pence tried a little too hard not to upset the Trump applecart and curried favour with the GOP base who might be upset that someone within the party would criticise a leader.

Kudos, Mr. Pence, for an intriguing look inside the chaos that was the Trump Administration. I wish you the best of luck and will see how the future treats you.