Spin (Captain Chase #2), by Patricia Cornwell

Seven stars

Master storyteller Patricia Cornwell is back with the second book in her Captain Chase series. Pulling the reader into the middle of a cyber-tech thriller, Cornwell uses the exciting world of space and the threat to NASA as a whole to keep readers on the edge of their seats. Building on the momentum from the opening novel in the series, Quantum, Cornwell utilises her masterful way of developing a plot to make Spin a novel that is a must-read for those who love her style.

A member of the US Space Force, Captain Calli Chase is following up on a lead involving a murder at a NASA testing facility. Trapping in the middle of a snowstorm, Chase finds herself feeling testy and significantly on edge when she is targeted by a potential killer and saved only when her twin sister, Carme, appears out of nowhere.

Before Calli knows what’s going on, she’s drugged and whisked away to a facility, where she is given more upgrades that she knows how to process. Emerging as a sort of Bionic Woman, Captain Chase is now armed and ready to work at new levels, as she seeks to assemble all the pieces to help her crack the case wide open.

With everything literally at her fingertips, Calli is tasked with locating a young boy who has hacked into NASA and procured a special computer chip, one that could have significant consequences if it falls into the wrong hands. While the lad denies being guilty of anything, the jury is still out. With this chip, control of the internet and other significant technologies could be changed forever. Calli learns that one woman, Neva Rong, has sinister plans when she gets her hands on the chip and will stop at nothing to get it.

As tensions mount, Chase will have to protect the boy and try not to show her cards before it’s time. Rong’s power has already been seen, as she is likely the culprit behind the murder at the NASA facility. Rong’s power in the aerospace world and connections all the way up the political ladder makes her even more deadly, while Chase seeks to reveal all before it’s too late.

There is no doubt that Patricia Cornwell did extensive research for this book, having proven that she understands the topic throughout both novels. She is also not one to slowly offer what she knows, for spoonfeeding has never been what she does best. That said, it is also not presented in a condescending manner. Rather, space becomes exciting in this tech-thriller, for those who have a penchant for all things scientific.

Calli Chase is a likeable character, or so it would seem. She is on point when it comes to her navigation throughout the book and she handles much of what is tossed before her. While she wrestles to understand how she fits into the larger picture, Calli does well to dodge the major issues that occur throughout this piece. The reader will find her learning much about herself, as well as a past she did not know existed.

Cornwell does well to develop a number of other characters throughout the piece, keeping them all complementary of Captain Chase, but never putting the protagonist on too high a pedestal. Cornwell develops her characters to entice the reader, contrasting well with one another at various points. The reader can learn much about the story and Captain Chase through those who cross her path throughout this piece.

While many have come to know Patricia Cornwell for her Kay Scarpetta character, this is far from that domain. While both women thrive on action, Captain Calli Chase is nothing like literary predecessor. Cornwell has taken things in a significantly different direction here and thrives on making waves in a new and exciting domain. Some will love it and others will likely find it too ‘techy’ for their liking. The writing is comprehensive and the plot is somewhat easy to decipher. However, if the reader’s interest is not space, technology, or artificial intelligence, this book may implode before the plot is able to capture their attention. With mid-length chapters, Cornwell develops her story well and tries to keep things on the level, but it missed the mark for me, in that I could not find myself wholly invested. I enjoyed parts of it, but felt out of my element in others. Still, it was a decent effort, even if it’s not entirely my sort of book.

Kudos, Madam Cornwell, for a great leap away from the type of writing I have come to expect from you. While it did not engage me as much, I hope you find many fans and keep your readers guessing where things are headed next.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Ickabog, by J.K. Rowling

Eight stars

Whatever you think of her, J.K. Rowling is back with another story aimed at her younger readers. This is not Hogwarts and there are not Quidditch matches, but the piece works well as a fairytale, albeit slight grim (or, shall I say, Grimm) at times as well. Rowling pulls together a great story in which many children can find enjoyment (and those who are younger at heart), as it adds some of the traditional world of knights and kingdoms to a meaningful tale. Well-paced for the intended reading audience and entertaining enough for me.

Life in the Kingdom of Cornucopia is splendid for many, ruled by a happy, if not eccentric, King Fred. Many of the inhabitants are pleased and show it through their creation of lovely foods and the area’s vast riches. King Fred is pleased to see how happy everyone is and does all he can to keep his subjects pleased, which makes for peace within all the land. The king’s positive outlook is helped along by two sycophants who use flattery to ensure all flows smoothly and with ease.

However, not everything is wonderful in Cornucopia. Those who live near the northern Marshlands are very poor and have taken to concocting a story about a monster called the Ickabog. This creature apparently resides in the marshes and eats sheep, as well as the occasional person. King Fred vows to take action against this creature, which will cement his place in the history books. King Fred leads his Royal Guard along to hunt down this creature, which will end the mythical stories and ensure that Cornucopia turns to him as their fearless leader.

As a thick fog envelops them, King Fred insists to his men that the Ickabog lurks just beyond their sight. A skirmish ensues and one of the men is shot, but Fred refuses to admit that it was human error and returns to his throne with the concocted idea that the Ickabog is to blame. Fred is paralyzed with fear and grief, leaving him to hide away and let others run the kingdom.

Working on the fear of the others, one man pushes the myth to the limits and begins creating stories of Ickabog attacks, as well as pushing a new tax to ‘defend’ the kingdom, all the while pocketing much of the money for himself. This leaves the locals on edge and poor, which stirs up resentment and added worry. As the myth story grows, some locals decide to take matters into their own hands and reveal the truth behind the Ickabog once and for all. It may not be easy, but it is surely something worth exploring, if truth still matters in Cornucopia.

While some appear to have created a boycott on Rowling because of a character in one of her books, I won’t stick my head in the sand and let vapid accusations distract from the heart of the matter; I picked up this book, to read and enjoy. Like the underlying premise of the piece, there is something that people are stirring up to start a movement, but it’s surely being blown out of proportion, for those readers who seek a story to escape. Believe what you will about a character in a book, but leave your social tar and feather pots at home when reading enjoyment is the name of the game.

While the story was aimed at a younger audience, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The piece was not overly juvenile and kept me entertained throughout, offering up some great moments of intrigue and suspense. The fairytale nature of the piece gave it a mystical flavouring, with a peppering of some darker and more violent action, which parallels those tales children have had diluted to make them more palatable. Rowling does well with that and keeps the reader involved throughout.

There was most definitely a strong plot and well-paced characters in this piece. It is harder for me to properly analyze it, as I am so used to books geared towards the older crowd. Even the Potter series sought to instil a deeper storyline and meaning, though Rowling does well to keep her readers engaged. With wonderful artwork by young children, the story pops off the page and can be read repeatedly, as I am sure myths of the Ickabog were told over and over to young children.

Kudos, Madam Rowling, for a great piece. Whatever your haters say, just write and those of us who are interested in a story will be back, while people will too much time on their hands (and no enjoyment of reading) can paint placards of their own.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Future is Yours, by Dan Frey

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Dan Frey, Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine, and Del Rey for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

What would you do if you created a piece of technology that could peer into the future and demonstrate what life would be like, scanning emails you have yet to write and seeing search engine results for events that have yet to occur? Such is the premise of Day Frey’s novel, The Future is Yours. Two young men create a system that can project ahead, hoping that it will help people see the path they are bound to take, a likely goldmine. However, the road is fraught with unforeseen (or ignored) paths, such that the future is more likely to ruin, rather than reinforce, life as you know it. A thought provoking piece that touches on the technology, while offering an insight into why one might not want to peer behind the elusive curtain. Recommended to those who love a little tech in their thrillers.

Ben Boyce and Adhvan (Adhi) Chaudry had an irresistible bond in college, fuelled by their love of technology. They worked together on an idea that would create a system that could look into the future, allowing the user to forecast what lay ahead for them and the world at large. While many scoffed at the idea, Ben and Adhi forged on, using their determination to make it work.

Money proved to be elusive, but this could not deter the two men from pursuing their dreams. Ben was the business-minded one, while Adhi worked through the quantum computing, finally coming up with something that could be feasible. Their system, dubbed The Future, caught the eye of many in the tech and business worlds, though there was still a great deal of reticence by those who did not like dabbling into the future.

After Ben brought his wife, Leila, on to act as legal counsel, everything appeared to be running smoothly. However, the system itself needed some strong parameters in order to function well. Could seeing into the future allow someone to alter their destined path? Might this glimpse allow for illegal and unethical decisions to be made? Falling into the wrong hands, might this prove to be an issue of national security? Ben and Adhi are forced to wrestle with this, as well as some of their own personal quibbles, all while The Future rises in prominence.

As emotions run high and business decisions are made, someone will get left in the dust. It becomes a bloodsport to juggle The Future with what the months ahead will bring, including being summoned before Congress to answer for the technology. Ben is armed with foreknowledge of what is to come, but nothing will prepare him for The Future, including the future itself.

This book caught my eye when I saw the dust jacket summary, as I am always intrigued about what forecasting ahead would do for the world. While America has just gone through a political abyss where they wished to see how to make America great after authoritarian rule, many have not seriously thought or hoped to know what awaits them on the other side of the proverbial horizon. Dan Frey offers readers an insight without getting too tech-heavy or delving into the world of sci-fi.

Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry offer up wonderful co-protagonists in this piece. While they come from vastly different backgrounds, their passion for technology and looking into the future binds them together. There is some backstory woven into the narrative, mostly to explore how the two met and what brought them here, with a great deal of the focus in the present (and future, to a degree). Ben is the business-minded one whose eye is on the prize, while Adhi struggles with being the tech-savvy geek who is pushed aside and forgotten. These two men grow, independently at times, together in other instances, but surely apart as well. Their personal and professional struggles are front and centre in this piece, as the reader is forced to choose which of them is the more relatable and perhaps liked.

Frey does well to develop some strong supporting characters, some of whom emerge throughout the piece, while others are blips on the radar of this book. The present/future mix allows the reader to see how certain people will influence things throughout the novel, steering the story in directions for a time before letting fate take the lead. This is done so effectively and many of those who grace the pages of the book become influencers of the story’s future, in a unique manner.

While I am not usually a fan of sci-fi, this book really connected with me. It does have the element of looking into the future and using technology to dictate the path, but it does not get too heavy in that regard, keeping it readable and fun for the masses. Frey writes in such a way that concepts are easy to understand and fun for the reader throughout. This is not your typical story, in that it is retold through emails, memos, congressional testimony, and text messages. The narrative flows well using these forms of communication, exhibiting the emotion one might expect from strong narrative and dialogue. The plot is strong and pushes ahead, forecasting and foreboding throughout, as Ben and Adhi face professional and personal struggles throughout. If Dan Frey’s novel says anything, it is that his future is sure to be successful, and one need not look into any piece of technology to predict that!

Kudos, Mr. Frey, for a strong piece of writing that captured my attention throughout. I am eager to see what others think of it and where you will take readers next. The future awaits…

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Shadow Man, by Helen Fields

Eight stars

After developing a strong DI Luc Callanach series, Helen Fields sets about dazzling her readers with yet another superb standalone novel. The Shadow Manis not only a great police procedural, but also pushes the genre to the limits with one of the most unique serial killers I have come across in all my years reading. Steeped with action, suspense, and some psychological chills, Fields proves that she is a force to be reckoned with when she puts her mind to it. Fans of her past work the genre in general will surely find something captivating in this piece, though it will also keep them up well in to the night.

Dr. Connie Woodwine has been called in to help work a case within Police Scotland’s Major Investigation Team (MIT). An American, Woodwine brings her experience as a forensic psychologist to a baffling case and is teamed up with DI Brodie Baarda, based in Edinburgh. A woman’s found slain in her bed and the best friend who had arrived to see her is kidnapped from the driveway. Woodwine and Baarda have no idea where to begin, as the forensics are scarce and the leads non-existent. 

After word comes over the wire that a teenage girl was abducted in plain sight by a gangly, skeletal man outside a library, Woodwine and Baarda try to determine if this is another abduction or an extrapolation of their own case. Still, there is little on which to go, save the eerie description by another youth. Still, it’s something for the time being.

Meanwhile, in an undisclosed location, the two victims begin to see that they are playing parts in a sick a sadistic game with a man who fancies himself already dead. His emaciated body is disgusting enough, but the ‘play acting’ he has them perform while in captivity takes things to a whole new level. He almost encompasses the role as head of a family, one that meets his every needs. As the kidnapper continues to add to his brood, his more violent side comes out, making him a threat in an entirely new way.

Woodwine and Baarda begin to piece things together, though extremely slowly. It is nothing that will guarantee solving the case, but this sliver of information could help expand the search parameters, while they wrestle to comprehend the killer’s physical and psychological anomalies. They’ll need to stay on top of things if they hope to save those who have been taken and find justice for those whose lives have already been extinguished.

I got a kick out of reading the comments made by some about how ‘pleasantly surprised’ they were to see this novel come from Helen Fields. In my humble opinion, this is Fields in and out, pushing the boundaries and bringing police procedurals to life with strong narratives and stellar characters. Set again in Scotland, the reader gets that brogue feel within the banter as a killer seeks to exact their own form of tortuous behaviour to allay their own fears.

Connie Woodwine and Brodie Baarda definitely share the spotlight in this piece, with the former’s ‘foreignness’ definitely receiving a little added focus. Woodwine’s own backstory adds something to the story, after she suffered a brain injury as a teenager and ended up as an achromat, unable to see colour whatsoever. Living her life in black, white, and shades of grey, Woodwine is able to get to the core of the case with her exceptional determination throughout the piece. Her banter with Baarda’s whose past seems much less exciting, proves to be a key element to the novel’s success. This is a duo that works so well together, one can only imagine if it will spin into a series to rival DI Luc Callanach.

By and large, the secondary characters are wonderful with the central antagonist, Fergus Ariss, proving masterful. His body is plagued with an illness that is only revealed in the latter part of the novel, though his mental rationalisations prove baffling throughout. Ariss uses those who fall into his clutches so well and creates this secondary world that readers cannot help but discover in the well-paced narrative. Ariss does well to keep the flow of the story going as he tries to build up his familial empire one victim at a time. There’s little time to rest as the story’s flavour gets deeper and more alluring as the chapters flow. Those who support both the protagonists and the antagonist find themselves perfectly placed, developed effectively throughout.

Kudos, Madam Fields, for another great read. I am eager to see what else you have in store for your fans.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Kingdom, by Jo Nesbø

Eight stars

Jo Nesbø is back with a new standalone thriller that has the reader thinking from the outset. A tale that binds two brothers with a sordid past, Nesbø creates a great backstory and development throughout The Kingdom, though it is up to the reader to determine who rules and where the subservient will find themselves at various points in the narrative. Dark and complex, like much of his past writing, Nesbø offers a great piece for those who are patient enough to peel back the layers of this story. Recommended to fans of the author, as well as those who fancy some Scandinavian noir in their reading diet.

Roy and Carl Opgard live in rural Norway, a place called ‘The Kingdom’ by their father. When the Opgard parents die, Carl takes his leave and flees across the Atlantic, ending up in North America to make a name for himself and leave the family name behind. Roy stays behind and revels in how to define himself, surrounded by the people and scenery he’s known his entire life.

When Carl returns years later, he brings with him a successful wife and plans to revive the small community with a major hotel, aptly named ‘Kingdom’. While Roy is not entirely sure how to process all of this, Carl and his wife, Shannon, speak fondly of the venture and hope to win over the locals. Some appear eager to breathe new life into the community, while others are skeptical, knowing the Opgards and the stories that surround them.

As the story progresses, Roy reveals much about their past, including abuse and treachery that the family sought to hide. There are crimes and other vagrancies that Roy and Carl hope never see the light of day, though they are all whispers on the lips of the locals. The Opgards are no strangers to struggle and self-protection, something that will resurface throughout this intense story.

As Roy finds himself drawn to his brother’s wife, the biblical parallels to Cain and Abel cannot be dismissed by the reader. Struggles with the outside world and from within take over the narrative until a final act seals the fate of all involved. Nesbø uses his mastery of the plot twist to keep the reader guessing throughout, saving his most explosive reveal for the latter stages of the story. Roy and Carl may have drifted apart, but their blood bond cannot be dismissed.

A longtime fan of Jo Nesbø, I was eager to get my hands on this one. I admit, I was not paying attention when I picked it up and was expecting a new instalment of the Harry Hole series, though things soon proved to shake me from my reverie. Instead, this is a complex standalone novel that pulls on themes of family, abuse, deception, and betrayal. Jo Nesbø uses his mastery of language (I am still baffled every time I read one of his books that it was not penned in English, as the flow is not lost in translation) to tell a story that will impact all readers, however differently.

Roy and Carl prove to be highly intriguing joint-protagonists. Their similar upbringing binds them and the time apart enriches their personalities as well as the connection they share. Both have suffered in the past, though are not willing to roll over and accept defeat. Rather, they use these experiences to grow and become greater men. Each has a personality that provides a needed uniqueness, though the backstory of abuse at the hands of a horrid father serves to connect them, as they envelop themselves in the secrets of their childhood.

Nesbø develops wonderful supporting characters throughout his piece, playing on the complementing role that these individuals usually play in stories. There are some who exact new narratives through their dialogue, while others serve only to steer things in a pre-ordained direction. The reader may latch onto some of them and discard others, but that is true nature of the beast in such a complex story that has so many twists.

While Jo Nesbø’s writing is not for the impatient reader, there are gems within the narrative that make it a wholesome and well-crafted thriller. As others have said, this book took some time to get moving, though once it did, there was no stopping the action and revelations. The narrative begins darkly and never seems to crawl out of that hole, though Nesbø does so well at keeping things intriguing without providing much happiness throughout. Chapters slowly progress, but never lag, and the plot gets better the more time the reader permits. This is certainly not for someone seeking a quick story to tide them over. Rather, it forces the reader to look at the underbelly of family life usually hidden behind well-hung curtains and hushed at the front door!

Kudos, Mr. Nesbø, for another chilling thriller. I love how seamlessly your writing flows, without getting too uplifting.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Fight for Free Speech: Ten Cases that Define Our First Amendment Freedoms, by Ian Rosenberg

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ian Rosenberg, and NYU Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

When it comes to discussions surrounding free speech, Americans look to the First Amendment to their constitution to protect themselves. Ian Rosenberg explores the nuances and elasticity of this part of the US Constitution to show just how versatile it can be, as well as how it has been used and adjudicated over the last number of years. Free speech and expression is surely a hot button issue today, not only in America, and Rosenberg does a masterful job of presenting key legal arguments in lay terms, such that anyone can easily understand and process the topic, should they choose.

Ian Rosenberg has a legal background and has used some of the more recent goings-on in America to explore they hot button issue of free speech and how it came to be defined. He chose ten recent situations, from Madonna’s outburst that she would like to blow up the White House to Colin Kaepernick’s ‘taking a knee’ during the American anthem, as well as a woman offering President Trump a ‘friendly finger’ while jogging to the Complainer-in-Chief vowing to sue for libel when the late-night shows speak poorly about him. These are all highly intriguing issues and worth a deeper look.

Rosenberg does not only dissect the current issues and put them into context, but looks back in time to see what major legal battles occurred to permit (or limit) the various forms of free speech in America. Rosenberg effectively presents the full story of each case before delving into the legal battles that led to historic decisions that shape First Amendment use in America today. Some issues turned out I would have expected, while others were surely cloaked in historical context, such as US patriotism during the Second World War or Vietnam. In all ten instances, a thorough exploration of the legal and societal matters provides a wonderful narrative for those who may not be professionally or scholastically well-versed in all the minutiae.

Using twenty legal vignettes over ten chapters, Rosenberg tells of the various uses of the First Amendment, from its wide interpretation in some regards to strict interpretation in the highest American court. There were some highly humorous aspects, particularly when the ‘stuffy shirt’ Justices heard the case of a man protesting the Vietnam War with ‘Fuck the Draft’ on his jacket. What some would call the most basic right of a free and democratic country is not as black and white as it might seen. That being said, Rosenberg makes it easy to comprehend and keeps the reader engaged throughout. His extensive use of endnotes, while sometimes appearing overbearing, shows that he is determined to provide the most detailed information possible, relying on many outside sources. Yet, the writing is clear and easy to digest, making the book much more relatable for the lay person. There are countless revelations throughout and a handful of ‘aha’ moments that showed me that I am not as knowledgeable as I might have thought. This pleases me to no end, as I love to learn new things about topics that appeal to me.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg, for a well-paced book that stirs up the political, legal, and societal arguments around expression in all its forms. I will keep an eye out for more of your writing in the coming months.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

NYPD Red 6, by James Patterson and Marshall Karp

Seven stars

James Patterson and Marshall Karp are back to look at how the elite of New York live and have their crimes investigated. In NYPD Red 6, the story looks at how a bride’s kidnapping at the reception turns into a hunt for a deranged man with an agenda all his own. The detectives on this elite squad do all they can and cut corners wherever possible to bring justice to those whose notoriety can be seen across the daily headlines. A story that gains momentum throughout, fans of Patterson can rest assured that this is not another of his flops, likely due to Karp’s collaboration. An intriguing piece in a supersaturated genre.

There’s nothing like a socialite wedding in New York to bring out the cameras. Erin Easton is well-known in the celebrity world and her marriage to a man with deep financial pockets has many wondering about her motives. However, when she is kidnapped while changing at the reception, all Erin leaves behind is a bloodied wedding dress on the floor.

NYPD Detective Kylie MacDonald is pulled into work mode immediately, having been invited to attend. When she brings her partner, Detective Zach Jordan, in to join her, they begin an intense hunt for Erin and whoever might be behind her abduction. With few leads to follow, it’s a waiting game, at least until videos begin emerging, with demands that they be broadcast live.

Meanwhile, Erin and her abductor are hidden away, safe from the prying eyes of any authorities. Things appear to be wrapped in some form of fantasy, where Erin would run away with her abductor and raise children together. This outlandish narrative may be the one things that helps Erin stay alive, as long as she can bide her time and not refuse any of his demands. Still, it will take an act of great courage for Erin to toss off her restraints and return to the man she claims to truly love.

As Detectives MacDonald and Jordan fight to make headway in the case, they are distracted by a second matter, involving EMTs entering the apartments of well-off New Yorkers, only to ransack them and leave bodies in their wake. As bad as this is, nothing can distract from the case at hand, which is broken wide open by a frantic call fro mother victim herself.

Rushing to locate her and make sense of what’s next, NYPD Red will have to act swiftly to instil calm in a city whose lifeblood is gossip and flashy headlines. All the while, the bodies are piling up and the truth remains elusive. That’s never stopped MacDonald and Jordan before. With a twist awaiting them, these NYPD detectives will have to stay vigilant.

It’s always nice to find a book that not only fills time between two larger reads, but is entertaining in its delivery. I have long bemoaned the ‘James Patterson Syndrome’, where books sell not for their content, but because of the name that fills the cover. Collaborators are left with their share of profits, but the quality goes down the tube. This book should not suffer this fate and Marshall Karp can rest assured that he has a winner on his hands. One of the decent series that James Patterson continues to help write, NYPD Red remains on point and a decent read for those whose interest has not yet waned with Patterson.

Detectives Kylie MacDonald and Zach Jordan remain the central characters in this book, delving a little more into their development, with a peppering of backstory. Their gritty determination is on point and they strive to solve the cases put before them, without letting their own lives muddy the waters. There is a sliver of personal story sandwiched into this piece, enough to show that they are real people and not solely dedicated to the job. Working effectively, both MacDonald and Jordan are able to find justice wherever it may be hiding and protect those they are tasked with serving.

There are a number of strong secondary characters throughout the piece, including the central victim, Erin Easton. Each plays their role well to keep the story on point and moving forward. The reader is able to see, albeit superficially, how the rich live and what their lifestyles mean to them. There is also an interesting perspective from the abductor’s point of view, as his flights of fancy and long-standing obsession spill into a form of reality that is only truly understood in the latter part of the novel.

It is usually quite difficult to gauge a Patterson novel’s impact until the very end. The stories are good, but the delivery is sometimes a little hokey or lighter when it comes to narrative style. This book did hold my attention throughout, though I did not receive the impactful piece I had hoped to find, after a significant hiatus from the series. That being said, things flowed well and the narrative pushed things along fairly effectively. Patterson’s short chapter signature is on display here, pushing the reader to move forward just to see what awaits them. Marshall Karp surely helped shape this into a decent read, as he has done in the past with this series. Where things are headed next, I have no idea, but I am still interested to see what MacDonald and Jordan have to discover.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Karp, for a decent police procedural. While I used this as a bridge between two larger reads, I am pleased to have taken the time.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Searcher, by Tana French

Eight stars

Tana French is back with another unique novel, her second consecutive standalone. Those not familiar with her work may have a little trouble grasping everything, but long-time fans will see a glimmer of something that only French can provide in her writing. A retired cop decides to settle in rural Ireland, hoping to put his work life and failed marriage behind him. However, when someone approaches him to help locate a young man that no one around town seems to care has gone missing, Cal Hooper takes up the cause, only to realise there is more to the story than meets the eye. Tana French is masterful with this slow mystery, which is full of rich narrative but never in a hurry to get there, which is delightful for a reader such as myself. The book is aptly named The Searcher, as it is both Cal and the reader who seek to find their home way throughout this piece. Highly recommended to the patient reader and those who love a good dose of French’s Irish storytelling!

Cal Hooper spent many years working for the Chicago PD as a detective. However, upon his retirement, he’s discovered that not only is he unsure what to do with himself, but that his marriage has disintegrated for many reasons. On a whim, Cal purchases a home and moves to rural Ireland—the fictitious town of Ardnakelty—where everyone is as local as can be. Cal bridges the divide as best he can with the locals, some of whom are interested in his backstory, while others want him to mind his business, so they can pry into his.

When Cal is approached by Trey Reddy to help locate the tween’s older brother, it seems like something a little too taxing on his retirement. However, Trey is insistent and takes things to a new level before Cal agrees to poke around and ask a few questions. How could Brendan Reddy, spry at nineteen, have up and disappeared without anyone taking notice? Furthermore, how could no one take an interest in this at all? Cal soon learns that no one really cares much about the kids from his family, a household of scholastic truants if ever there was one.

As Cal digs a little deeper, he discovers many possible outcomes as to what might have happened to Brendan, though no clear and single option that supersedes the others. Surrounded by the bucolic countryside, Cal makes some progress and discovers a thread that opens many other doors. There is certainly something to this missing individual, but it will take effort and a passion to bring it all to light. Uncovering something dark and troubling, Cal discovers that while no one care about Brendan Reddy, there are many who will act violently about anyone who dares press the matter.

I remember when I discovered Tana French and her writing. It was certainly much different than anything else I had read in a series and police procedural. While some bemoan the tangential style of writing, I relish it, as it sticks out and makes the reader take note. There are so many small things buried in the narrative that French provides the reader, though they cannot and will not be spoon-fed. It is the reader’s responsibility to pledge their dedication to join the adventure.

Cal Hooper is a wonderful protagonist, with his backstory and character development on offer throughout this piece. Choosing to reinvent himself after a life in Chicago, Cal finds himself the new and untrusted individual as soon as he arrives. Feeling as though he is sometimes on Mars, Cal must forge friendships and see how he can make himself approachable, which has him reflecting back on the foibles he made with this own family. Struggling not to push too hard, yet also be likeable, Cal sets himself up to succeed while helping a family no one thinks about at any point in their day.

The handful of key secondary characters is helpful to better understand the larger story. French injects them throughout, providing unique and usually Irish personalities, some of whom clash significantly with Cal Hooper. French leaves the reader feeling as though they, too, are in the Irish back country, with personalities and linguistic quirks. Some of these folks offer the reader insight into the larger plot, while others seek to impede with progress however they can.

This is a wonderful story throughout. While I would not call it complex, it is far from simple. The narrative develops slowly and the reader must face that head-on throughout the reading experience. There are times for plot development and those for character enhancement. This is not a quick read for the beach of aboard the plane, though some readers think they can do that. Rather, it takes time and that should not be rushed. The reading experience is always enhanced with paced and contemplative understanding of Tana French. It is the impatient reader who usually tosses their hands in the air and says French is not up to the caliber of others in the genre.

Kudos, Madam French, for another winning novel. I am always eager to see what you have to say and how you get it across.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Deep into the Dark (Detective Margaret Nolan #1), by P.J. Tracy

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, P. J. Tracy , St. Martin’s Press, and Minotaur Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After thoroughly enjoying the development of the Monkeewrench series, I was eager to see P.J. Tracy return with a new publication. A standalone, or perhaps a germinating series, this book differs greatly from the cold streets of Minneapolis. Rather, it’s a hot mystery set inside LA, with a killer who targets women and a recent Afghan vet whose battle with PTSD is one that is not going well. Tracy offers up a quick mystery with some interesting development, though Deep Into the Darkfails to resonate for me yet, as the Monkeewrench novels did repeatedly.

Sam Easton is back in the States, after a harrowing time serving his country overseas. What he saw and experienced in Afghanistan is enough to leave any man with wounds, something Sam does not lack. However, it is the marks that cannot be traced with a finger that cause Sam so many issues. His PTSD is severe, causing him horrible nightmares and blackouts that no amount of prescribed medication or visits to his psychiatrist can aid.

Sam’s taken up a job tending bar while he tries to piece his life back together., The city’s abuzz with a string of killings, as young women are found brutality killed in out of the way fleabag motels. While the LAPD are on the case, it’s a giant mystery as to where they ought to begin.

LAPD Detectives Margaret Nolan and Al Crawford are tossed the case, though they are slow to make any progress. After a few more bodies are found, one Sam Easton becomes a person of interest, as his ex-wife is one of those left slain. While Easton eschews his innocence, offering up a flimsy alibi, he cannot be sure where truth ends and possibility begins. His bouts of terrors and blackouts continue with increased intensity, forcing him to wonder if he could be living two lives, as he acts out what’s seen in these vivid dreams.

As Detective Nolan tries to give Sam the benefit of the doubt, she cannot ignore all the evidence that stands before her. However, there seems to be something that no one can ignore, which includes someone lurking in the shadows, almost seeking to pin the crimes on Sam as a distraction for a larger plan. While Sam’s terrors become all the more vivid, he will have to find a way to push the target off his back, or go down as a scapegoat.

I usually really enjoy the work that P.J. Tracy puts out. The moniker referred to an explosive mother-daughter team throughout most of the Monkeewrench series. When the elder passed on, it morphed into a fine-oiled machine headed by an experienced writer who knew her way around the streets of Minneapolis. With this new series, things seem a tad disjointed still, though there is the possibility that a fresh approach is still working out the kinks. I’d like to stick things out to see how the characters develop and whether Tracy can keep the momentum going.

While reading, I was apt to call Sam Easton the protagonist, as his bouts of PTSD cannot be ignored. However, it would see the reader should be focussing their time on Margaret Nolan and her glass ceiling breaking experiences within the LAPD. There are a number of building blocks P.J. Tracy has laid out to develop her character, including her fight to make a name for herself as the struggles with PTSD inside her own family. Nolan was not, for me, as memorable or central as I would have hoped a protagonist to be, though her presence cannot be ignored. Tracy has begun developing the Nolan character carefully, though there is still a great deal that needs to be done to showcase her effectively.

The use of a number of secondary characters keeps the story flowing. As I mentioned before, Tracy confuses things by offering Sam Easton more of the spotlight than a supporting character might normally receive, but I was pleased to see how intricate the development was to add depth and flavour to the story. The reader is able to see interesting side perspectives of veterans returning from the battlefield and how things are mishandled, leaving many to medicate (either under a doctor’s care or on their own) to dull the pain. The reader is treated to a number of other characters as well, all of whom provide something to keep the story from going flat.

Looking at the overall reading experience, Tracy provides the reader with an interesting mystery and an intriguing police procedural. While the narrative focuses more on the Sam Easton angle, there are moments that Margaret Nolan is permitted to shine in her own debut. The writing is strong and pushes the story along quite effectively, helped with short chapters to capture the reader’s attention. With a narrative that seeks to guide and dialogue that helps to show the way, P.J. Tracy lays the groundwork for what could be a decent series, though her fans will surely play the comparative game against the long-established Monkeewrench novels, as I did. In the end, it’s a great start and there is a lot of room to grow, perfect for those who need something that will intrigue, yet not full engross them just yet!

Kudos, Madam Tracy, for a nice start to something new. I’ll stick around to see what else you have in store for us soon!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

When a Rook Takes the Queen, by Edward Izzi

Nine stars

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

Edward Izzi is back with another explosive thriller set on the streets of Chicago. The highly controversial mayor of the city has been assassinated in her backyard and the media circus is only beginning. Alongside the hunt for a murderer, a keen reporter trips on a connection between a local crime boss and an highly activist priest. Might there be something there that no one’s yet realised? Izzi spins a tale like no other in his latest thriller, When a Rook Takes the Queen, that is sure to captivate the reader’s attention.

In the heart of the summer, a gunshot rings out and Chicago Mayor Janice Kollar lies dead in her garden. A controversial politician in her own right, Kollar had many enemies around town, on both sides of the law. However, it’s an investigation the CPD rushes to begin. With such a list of suspects, it will be hard to pinpoint who might have wanted the city’s first openly gay mayor lying in a casket.

As the story hits the wires, Chicago Tribune reporter, Larry McKay, rushes to make sense of it all and begin following leads. While the murder attracts a great deal of attention, McKay learns of a weekly chess match at St. Simeon’s Church between Fr. Colin Fitzgerald and organised crime boss Anthony ‘Little Tony’ DiMatteo. This baffles McKay, as Fitzgerald is known to be a staunch political activist and a former grand chess master. What business he has with a powerful mobster seems to make little sense. A few calls ruffle some feathers, but McKay is not dissuaded from proceeding.

Inside these weekly chess matches, it would seem ‘Father Fitz’ has been able to serve as a new family consigliere, providing inside and guidance to Little Tony in an advisory role. Their discussions look to how one might control the powder keg that Chicago is becoming with the murder of Mayor Kollar, turning to force and violence to quell things before a new incarnation of Black Lives Matter comes to fruition.

As McKay digs deeper and peddles his views to a fellow television reporter, his life is in danger. This unlikely ‘Chicago Gambit’ want nothing more than to silence McKay and keep their association off the radar. McKay cannot back down, especially with a killer still out there. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

Edward Izzi does a masterful job tying in his thrilling political story with a criminal angle. Adding his usual flavourings of organised crime and the Catholic Church, the story gains momentum throughout and keeps the reader guessing how all the players will turn the plot throughout the piece. As always, there are some wonderful twists that only Izzi can deliver in his great style.

While the story is split between a number of storylines, Larry McKay does appear to hold firm to the role of protagonist. His gritty style and unwillingness to bow to the pressure only adds to his character. I admit, if he was a character in a past Izzi novel, he was minor, so I have little backstory for him. However, he grows on the reader with ease and is able to make an impact throughout with great development. His interactions with others, both major and minor characters, helps create a story that does not stop until the final page turn.

Izzi has always used an interesting technique for his secondary characters. As I have mentioned in past reviews, Izzi positions minor characters to have their time in the spotlight before fading away. Some are mentioned in passing and receive their cameo in a novel, only to slink back away, while others prove prominent and are paid lip service in subsequent novels. Here, there are a number of ‘has been’ prominent people who receive mere mention, as well as a few heavy hitters whose presence makes the book what it is. Izzi’s ability to use this technique, which I have seen elsewhere done almost as effectively, provides a standalone option for his novels, while luring fans to stick around and read them all, to tie the threads together.

The book itself was well paced and full of exciting plot development. While there are Catholic and organised crime themes throughout, their stereotypical presentation does not turn this into a mob novel. The story flows well, with a strong narrative that keeps the reader moving along. Short chapters can easily be devoured, allowing things to develop quickly and remain intense throughout. Edward Izzi is an author I only recently discovered, but I cannot get enough of his books. It could be the stories, the writing, or the ease of flow. Whatever that might be, I love when I see that another is ready for me.

Kudos, Mr. Izzi, for another winner. I am excited to see two more books in the pipeline and will gladly clear my schedule when that time comes!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons