Killer Smile (Rosato and Associates #9), by Lisa Scottoline

Eight stars

Lisa Scottoline presents another novel in the Rosato and Associates series, impressing fans yet again. A unique story using one of the central protagonists keeps the reader in the middle of a mystery that mixes legal prowess and historical events close to the author’s heart. Mary DiNunzio has agreed to take on a pro bono case with a twist. The estate of a man whose Italian father was forcefully removed from his home during the Second World War wants justice. Mary is eager to take the case herself and travels around trying to piece the story together. However, there is more under the surface that could leave Mary in grave danger. With the help of her associates and even Bennie Rosato, Mary will have to get answers and stay ahead of someone trying to neutralise the investigative spirit. Lisa Scottoline does a masterful job getting the reader curious and in the middle of all the action.

While Mary DiNunzio is a hard-working lawyer in Philadelphia, everyone seems to think that she needs more social time. Having been a widow for a number of years, many choose to play matchmaker, sending Mary on more blind dates that she could have thought possible. While a few have some promise, nothing really works for her, making Mary wish she could return to her latest case.

Mary was approached by the Brandolini estate to help work on a legal matter. At the core of the matter is Amadeo Brandolini, who was forcefully removed from his Philadelphia home by the US Government at the height of the Second World War. An Italian-American, Amadeo was sent to an internment camp due to his family roots and deemed an enemy of the stature, though he committed no crimes and paid all his taxes. While there, he heard of his wife’s death and eventually committed suicide. The Brandolini estate wants reparations for the internment and asks Mary to take on the case. She agrees, working pro bono, which will require her to sift through many files to make the pieces fall into place.

Amadeo Brandolini was a fisherman by trade and did little to ‘rock the boat’, yet he was still targeted and sent to Montana. Mary digs deeper and takes a trip out West, where some interesting truths come to the surface, including something that may prove there was no suicide, but murder. When Mary return to confront some others who might have known Amadeo Brandolini, she is assaulted by one man who knew Brandolini before his untimely death. Could this violent reaction prove that there is more to the story?

When more people go missing soon after Mary is attacked, it appears as though there could be more to the story than a US Government trying to keep its enemies contained. Mary will stop at nothing to get answers for the family and try to discover what her own Italian heritage might have to do with the Amadeo Brandolini case. Mary’s stubbornness can be beneficial in the legal world, but it could also cost her everything if she does not play her cards correctly. A brilliant piece by Scottoline, always eager to push the limits to impress the reader, while educating them as well.

I have remained dedicated throughout this Rosato and Associates binge, which has never left me feeling anything but impressed. Lisa Scottoline uses a strong narrative to guide the reader through this tense story, offering strong pathways towards the answers everyone seeks. Building on things with great characters, including her handful of female protagonists, Scottoline offers up great angles and humorous perspectives on both personal and legal matters. The plot lines emerge effectively, touching on both modern and historical events, educating the reader while also keeping them transfixed to what might happen. I could not want more than what Scottoline presented in this piece, a perfect mix of legal drama and historical thrills, all rolled into one impactful book. I cannot wait to see what else Scottoline has to offer in the last few novels of this series!

Kudos, Madam Scottoline, for another stellar novel.

Dead Ringer (Rosato and Associates #8), by Lisa Scottoline

Eight stars

Lisa Scottoline returns with another legal thriller in her long-running Rosato and Associates series. While the books are piling up, the action and intensity have not taken a hit, nor should the reader feel as though things are getting stale. It’s all-impact all the time with this piece. Bennie Rosato is back in the central protagonist role, juggling running her firm with some of the foibles that come with being a lawyer to the everyday citizen. After one of her clients balks at paying a sizeable fee for trial, Bennie is left scrambling to see how she will stay afloat. She finds herself tangled into a class-action suit, which could pay out significantly, but will have to win in order to see the money. Trying to get herself named as counsel is one things, but she has another hurdle before her. Sightings of Bennie Rosato around Philadelphia have not been good, with her being accused of various foibles. All the while, her associates try to work and stay afloat. Scottoline does well with this piece, sure to pique the interest of curious readers.

While Bennie Rosato is a sharp-witted attorney in Philadelphia, even she has her limits. After a client balks at paying his sizeable fees in a high-stakes case, Bennie is left holding the bill and her firm is teetering on the brink of financial ruin. She finds an out, working a class-action lawsuit, but even that will be a gamble to ensure she gets the money needed to cover basic bills. After making a plea to serve as counsel of record, the pressure is on Bennie to ensure things go her way.

At the same time, there have been sightings of Bennie all over the city, committing crimes and getting into mischief. Bennie assures everyone that she is not the one they are seeing, and can only surmise that her estranged twin is back, wreaking havoc and trying to drag Bennie down. Juggling work and these issues, Bennie will have her hands full. It all ones to a head when her client is murdered with er as a suspect. Both her freedom and the class-action are in jeopardy, which is sure to have a domino effect.

With three associates trying to earn a living as well, they will have to cobble together enough work to stay afloat. While Bennie would release them from the firm if they want to explore other employment, these women are dedicated to the cause. With everything balanced precariously, Bennie will have to carefully ensure she does not lose her business, her life, or her friends! Scottoline does well to push the series along and kept me wondering.

I have been very excited throughout my Rosato and Associates binge. Lisa Scottoline does well putting together a strong narrative, filling the pages with exciting stories and legal matters that serve the reader thinking. Things flow well and keep moving in a forward direction, with character development adding some depth to the overall experience. Plot lines in this novel work well and the revisiting of Bennie’s sister leaves the door open for countless moments of confusion in this piece. I am eager to see how things resolve and what is on the way for Rosato and Associates in the next novel.

Kudos, Madam Scottoline, as you never seem to leave me unimpressed.

Black Heart (DI Jamie Johansson #7), by Morgan Greene

Nine stars

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

A great fan of Morgan Greene and his DI Jamie Johansson series, I was excited to be handed an early copy of the latest book. Full of great Swedish flavouring and dark criminal activity, Greene takes readers on an adventure in the rural part of Sweden once more. A number of teenagers have been committing suicide and leaving an odd mark on their bodies, but no one seems able to piece it together, When Jamie and her former partner, Kjell Thorsen, are called to come look into things, they reveal a dark situation tied to a famous piece of writing. With a message embedded in the writing and a potential killer on the loose, Johansson and Thorsen will have to uncover the truth, while also trying to deny the personal connection they have forged. Greene does a masterful job with this one, sure to impress series fans.

Gotland is a beautiful island off the Swedish coast, where many would surely feel that nothing could go wrong. However, after 22 young people commit suicide in a seventeen month period, something is surely wrong and yet there is no explanation. The local medical examiner notices no similarities in the deaths, save a black heart marking on each of the bodies. The media have been gagged from reporting on things and the police are without any leads. Kjell Thorsen receives a call from the ME, hoping that he can bring his former partner, DI Jamie Johansson, to help unravel the mess.

While it takes a little persuading, Jamie and Kjell agree to make their way to Gotland and poke around, though they remain pariahs in the policing community after their latest suspension. What they uncover is a mystery that appears to have no basis. That is, until Jamie receives a tip from one of the victim’s friends about a connection to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Could this be the missing link that everyone has been overlooking? Jamie and Kjell push onwards to uncover the truth, but are stymied when the National Police are brought in and the senior detective is anything but amenable to sharing the case.

Meanwhile, a father is on a mission of his own to find the person who killed his daughter, unable to live with the grief and demanding answers. His personal trek through the wilderness garners fewer clues, but a stronger determination to get to the truth, leaving the police to wonder if his vigilante behaviour could cause more issues. Jamie and Kjell push to help, but this father refuses to stand down, which only makes matters worse.

All the while Jamie and Kjell are trying to fight the magnetic connection they share. It has been shelved and left to gather dust, but others are noticing the tension between them, which could derail the case if it is not addressed. Will DI Johansson and Kjell Thorsen be able to find a killer without tripping over one another? How will working rogue mesh with a determined detective who wants all the glory for himself? All this and more is embedded in Morgan Green’s latest novel, which adds tension throughout this stellar story!

I have followed Jamie Johansson along her policing adventures since the beginning. Morgan Green has always done a stellar job at keeping the stories on point, localised, and full of action. When he moved things to Sweden (from the UK), I was not sure if the intensity would translate, but it did. Greene develops a strong narrative throughout and keeps the reader fully involved with the story at all points. The character development is ongoing and Jamie has never lacked for development, both professional and personally. This new love interest angle with Kjell Thorsen is sure to add something to future novels, though I am not sure how Jamie’s hard exeterior will allow too much of the mushy stuff. Greene adds great plot twists and multi-faceted approaches to keep the reader engaged, especially by offering up a variety of narrative angles to ensure the full impact of the piece is apparent. Without going over the top, there is something for everyone in here and I am happy to see that Jamie is back into policing, even if it is in a rogue fashion. What does the future hold for her is still up in the air, but when has Jamie Johansson taken the easy road?

Kudos, Mr. Greene, for asking me to read another wonderful piece. I cannot wait to see what’s next and how it will all come together.

19 Days That Shaped Modern Canada, by Aaron W. Hughes

Nine stars

While the history of Canada is surely long and convoluted, Aaron W. Hughes has chosen ten modern days that tell not only the story of Canada’s historical significance, but also how those days shaped the country and people we are today. Using great narrative style and poignant historical explanations, Hughes cobbles together a book that is sure to pique the interest of many and keep others skipping to the footnotes to see where they can learn more. The ten days are not only impactful, but also highly relevant to better understanding a 21st century Canada, still tripping on its feet and making a path to differentiate itself from the Neighbour to the South. Well-paced and wonderfully written, Aaron W. Hughes had me riveted from the very start.

From the outset, the subjective choice by Aaron W. Hughes as to which days were most important in modern Canadian history is sure to upset some. However by stepping back, the reader can see the thread of Hughes’ argument and follow how these days played into the larger narrative. Hughes chose ten days that explained how Canada defined itself and what progress could be made to better exemplify the compassionate and understanding country that some see us to be. While many would say Canada is completely docile, they would be missing out on some of the more poignant moments, such as when Canadian Prime Minsiter Pierre Trudeau enacted the War Measures Act in 1970 to ensure stability during the FLQ hostage crisis. Trudeau’s determination not to bow down to the ‘bleeding hearts’, but to quell what was becoming a disastrous situation helped define some ofhte iron-fisted views of early modern Canada. Hughes explores this effectively and lays the groundwork for many other situations in which Canad could shine without needing to shed blood.

Events such as the attempts Quebec made to secede through referendum votes in 1980 and 1995 also definite the Canadian psyche, both of which are thoroughly explained with backstory for the reader. The duality of Quebec shines through in the narrative, as the province seeks to definite itself, yet forget the uniqueness of some of its other inhabitants is a biting and sobering experience throughout the book. Hughes explores not only the event (October 30, 1995), but some of the sparks that led up to it and how the separatist movement in Quebec ran on dividing even the populace of the province into one group that mattered and a number who did not. This helps to show the pinhole view of the efforts and how things needed to be neutralized. Hughes effectively shows that the Canadian (read: federal) movement was not fully prepared for the fallout and ho closer things came on that October night, which would have surely torn the trouble apart without a second thought.

Touching on the feminist movement, gun rights, indigenous settlements, and even pop culture, Hughes examines ten strong dates on the calendar that helped put the country under the microscope and leave Canada looking less than fully pristine, as some would wish it to be. The fabric of the country is filled with these moments, when Canadian culture and history come together, woven into a tapestry that helps solidify the foundation of the country and its political, social or ethnic core. All this in an easy to comprehend book that educates readers without talking down to them.

This book caught my eye when flipping through a collection one day, While I wanted to read it, I was not sure when i would have the time. When a gap opened up in my reading schedule, I grabbed it and hoped that I could finish it quickly. I devoured the book’s contents, which left me wanting to know so much more. The bibliographical mentions and detailed footnotes herein helped me see that I have a lot more reading to do on a number of subjects, when time permits. I will surely take a deeper plunge to better understand many of these topics. With chapters broken down into analysis and backstory, the reader can get a feel for what is going on and then decide if they want to learn more. The book flows well and keeps the reader attune to the issues at hand, without subsuming them with information or baseless issues. There is truly something for everyone in this piece and I am so pleased that I took the time to read it.

Kudos, Mr. Hughes, for such an informative and thoroughly captivating piece. I cannot wait to take more time to explore more on some of these topics.

Courting Trouble (Rosato and Associates #7), by Lisa Scottoline

Eight stars

After discovering a short story by Lisa Scottoline, I became highly curious about the series to which it relates. Diving in, I have devoured seven of the novels in a week and the binge addiction is real. This is a series that mixes great legal topics with a strong thriller foundation, allowing characters to grow and present all sides of themselves for attentive readers. This novel presents another associate at the law firm of Rosario and Associates, complete with her dark backstory. Anne Murphy developed a stalker during one of the cases that helped put her on the map. When the man was incarcerated, Anne was sure that was the end to her troubles. However, a friend is killed in her home while Anne is away and everyone is sure it’s Anne who met her demise. Who wants her dead and how will Anne get to the bottom of it? She will have to reach out to her colleagues and boss to get answers, while staying off the radar, as she could be next, with a killer on the loose. Scottoline presents another unique case with legal implications that will have the reader highly impressed.

Anne Murphy is a great attorney, willing to bend the rules to get convictions, even if that means raising some eyebrows. However, one of her cases leaves a stalker to follow her, even after he is placed in custody for a long time. Moving to Philadelphia, Anne joins the law firm of Rosato and Associates, when Bennie Rosato welcomes her to the all-woman firm. When a friend of Anne’s is murdered while house sitting, it soon becomes clear that it was a case of mistaken identity. Laying low, Anne lets everything think she’s still dead, though she is determined to discover the truth. Reaching out to Bennie and her colleagues, Mary DiNunzio, as well as Judy Carrier, Anne will have to sneak under the radar to get answers.

Sure that this is her stalker back on the loose, Anne begins laying a trap, only to discover that a prison break in California leaves Anne’s ideas a distinct possibility. Fear and determination help Anne continue to work the awe, though she will have to be sure the actual victim’s family is aware of their horrible loss. Bennie, Mary, and Judy work hard to help, all while trying not to leave any crumbs in a case that is sure to garner many headlines, once the vultures of the press discover what’s going on.

All this, while a high-profile case is on the horizon and Anne has high hopes of winning in the courtroom. Anne thought dodging her stalker was enough, but the budding romance with the opposing counsel as well keeps things form getting boring. Forced to juggle it all at once, Anne will have to make her moves succinctly as she skirts danger at every turn. However, something will have to give if Anne is going to come out on top and live to tell the story. Scottoline does it again with a legal thriller that has teeth.

There is a great sense of excitement and interest that comes across me when I read the novels in this series. Lisa Scottoline does a masterful job offering up a great narrative, filling the books with details of the law, as well as a peppering of humour. There is so much action to follow and a significant amount of backstory for those characters who have already graced the pages of the series, particularly the female protagonists. Adding Anne Murphy to the group will create new flavourings and perspectives to enrich the larger story arcs of the series. Plot lines in this novel work well with some of the past sentiments and directions, but new ideas pop up in the best places. There is a richness to the series that emerges with each book and I cannot wait to see how things progress. As this portion of the series is almost done, I will have to devour the last few books before pushing into new and exciting ones to keep me entertained.

Kudos, Madam Scottoline, for never failing to impress!

Have You Seen Her, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

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

When it comes to Catherine McKenzie, I would not call myself an expert, but a fan of her work. McKenzie knows how to spin a tale and keep the reader in the middle of it all, injecting current trends whenever she can. This piece is no different, in that it takes the protagonist in a journey into her past, while peppering the story with some modern twists and provides the reader with a smorgasbord of events upon which to feast. Things flowed well and kept me connected as I made my through it. A definite winner for those who love McKenzie’s work.

Cassie Peters is ready to leave the hectic nature of her New York City life behind her and return to her roots, in a way. With a new job and basic phone in her pocket, Cassie returns to Mammoth Lakes, California and a life she has missed. Working Search and Rescue within Yosemite National Park, Cassie reconnects with other seasonal workers as she remembers an event that haunted her years ago.

Cassie is soon swept up in the summertime drama of her colleagues and finds herself feeling young again. She encounters Petal, a youth who lives in a trailer with an older partner. Petal has been keeping a meticulous diary of events within the park, which proves to be great reading. Cassie also finds Jada, a young and hip woman who has begun a cross-country adventure with her boyfriend and wants it all on social media for the world to see.

During that fateful summer, Cassie crosses paths with these two women and the past comes crashing into the present, where horrors and memories rule them all. As the story unfolds, Cassie will have to come to terms with the past, while Petal and Jada hold keys to helping her and the ability to trigger her even more. This is sure to be one summer job that Cassie will never forget. A stunning thriller that will keep readers up and guessing well into the night. Catherine McKenzie at her best!

For those who have not read Catherine McKenzie’s work before, this may be a great starting point. A strong standalone novel, McKenzie offers up a solid narrative foundation to guide the reader along the way. The story branches off at various points, but stays true to its core and the narrative leads the reader along the intended path. Decent characters provide some interesting flavouring to a piece that is full of moments of suspense. Plot twists emerge and kept me wanting to know more, even when things were developing in front of me. Mckenzie’s use of ‘modern spins on the fiction novel’ proves somewhat effective, though I am more a traditionalist than trying to cobble together perspectives through Instagram posts. All the same, it added a unique spin on things and enriched the final product. Catherine McKenzie is one to watch and I am happy to have read many of her books to date.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for a great thriller that is sure to impress many.

The Vendetta Defence (Rosato and Associates #6), by Lisa Scottoline

Eight stars

After discovering a short story by Lisa Scottoline one week ago, I have started a series binge that has me completely addicted. This is a series like no other and I am so very pleased to have found it, as well as the countless storylines and characters that fill the pages of these books. In this novel, the reader learns more about Judy Carrier, one of the lawyers at Rosato and Associates. She is tasked with defending an elderly man, Pigeon Tony, who has been accused of killing one of his longtime rivals. Pigeon Tony does not deny the killing, but explains that there is a vendetta that he had to settle. Working alongside Pigeon Tony’s grandson, Judy tries to cobble together a case, much to the chagrin of her boss, and dodges many threats from their victim’s family, said to be deeply connected with criminal element. A story that flows well and tells a poignant tale. Scottoline’s superior style shines through yet again.

Rosato and Associates is a well-run Philadelphia firm, handling many sorts of cases, most of which are cleared by the name partner, Bennie Rosato. When associate lawyer, Judy Carrier, agrees to defend Anthony Lucia for murdering his longtime enemy, things get quite intense. This is surely the case of her career and Judy does not want to mess it up. She works with the elderly pigeon racer, known to his friends as ‘Pigeon Tony’, trying to better understand why he would kill Angelo Coluzzi. Pigeon Tony refuses to deny that he committed the crime, though he tries to explain that there was a vendetta that had to be completed when Coluzzi killed his wife years before. Judy may have taken on more than she can chew with this one.

While Judy discovers that this decades long feud has kept Pigeon Tony eager to settle scores, there is a larger problem. The Coluzzis are also keen on revenge and begin to take action, which includes finishing off Pigoen Tony and anyone who defends him. Working with Tony’s grandson, Frank, Judy will have to cobble together a defence and protect the elderly man—and themselves— before something tragic can occur.

With the law stacked against her, Judy is forced to pull out all the stops in order to find a means of defending Pigeon Tony and ensuring that he does not end up in jail, or dead. However, the Coluzzis are always lurking and could strike again at any moment. This is one case that could make Judy Carrier’s career, but it could also end her life! Scottoline at her best with this piece.

When I read Pigeon Tony’s Last Stand a week ago, I knew that I wanted to read more Lisa Scottoline. Now, six novels later, I am still hooked and want more so that I can learn about the characters and their unique means of finding justice in the law. Scottoline offers up great narrative guidance in her piece, filling them with detail and the law, as well as some great moments of humour. There is so much I can learn from them and I never tire of getting a little more backstory about some of the female protagonists. There is a richness to the pieces that only gets better the deeper I delve in the series. The plots are well-crafted and appear to grow effectively, though never too dramatically. I am eager to see how things will keep progressing, as the characters shape things in their own way. This was a great story and complemented the aforementioned short story well. I can only wonder what is to come with Judy, Mary DiNunzio, and Bennie Rosato. I guess I better grab the next book to see.

Kudos, Madam Scottoline, for keeping me enthralled throughout this legal gem!

Moment of Truth (Rosato and Associates #5), by Lisa Scottoline

Eight stars

As the Lisa Scottoline binge continues, the stories remain of high quality. Scottoline develops her protagonists well and adds great adversity to keep them sharp and learning with the turn of each page. In this piece, Mary DiNunzio steps up to fill the shoes left by her vacationing boss, taking a murder case that could have many implications. While a fellow attorney confesses, Mary is not certain that it is as easy as that. As she pushes to investigate the crime, Mary discovers some oddities that point to another potential suspect, though the police are not yet ready to listen to anything. Mary will have to work to protect her client while ensuring the truth comes to the surface in time. Scottoline delves deeper in the law with this piece, sure to impress those who have enjoyed the previous novels in this series.

Returning home one evening, Jack Newlin finds his wife, Honor, dead on the floor. Being a lawyer, Jack understands the law and is fairly certain he knows who killed his wife, choosing to stage the scene to make it look as though he is the culprit and calls the police to arrest him. To round out a solid conviction, Jack hires Mary DiNunzio, of Rosato & Associates, to defend him. Mary takes the case, though she is a rookie in criminal defence, as her boss is vacationing and she wants to prove her worth. This looks like an open and shut case, at least on the surface.

Mary doubts her client’s pleas of guilt and begins investigating herself. What she uncovers is a set of facts that points squarely to another suspect. Weighing the ethics of trying to defend a man she knows is innocent but who is shielding another, Mary begins to push for the true murderer to come forward, though there is little help from Jack. Mary will have to use all her skills to coax out a confession from the true killer or send an innocent man to death row. There has to be a way and Mary is determined to find it, if only for the sake of justice. Another sensational book by Lisa Scottoline that pulls on all the strings to ensure a stellar piece of writing.

The varied writing style and plot presentation by Lisa Scottoline presents a great series for readers to enjoy. There is nothing like the perspectives offered up in these books to keep the readers on their toes and shows how versatile the legal profession ca be. A strong narrative base helps keep things moving, as the characters enrich both the story and their own development repeatedly. I could not ask for something greater, with plot twits and turns that help keep the book from being too predictable. There is so much going on, though it is not difficult to keep it all running smoothly, given a little mental effort. I am eager to see where things are headed, as I keep bingeing this series that is so rich with legal matters.

Kudos, Madam Scottoline, for dazzling once again.

Mistaken Identity (Rosato and Associates #4), by Lisa Scottoline

Eight stars

Continuing my binge of this series, I turned to the next novel by Lisa Scottoline. The characters and legal twists continue to impress as Scottoline prepares the reader for some great courtroom work. When Bennie Rosato is faced with a challenging case, she is doubly stressed that her client could be her twin sister, though she knows nothing of this. Still, Roasto will try her best to defend a client who professes to be innocent, pulling out all the stops and using her associates at the law firm. What follows is a tense and thoroughly captivating thriller that is sure to keep the reader hooked until they find out the truth, where all is finally revealed. Scottoline’s novels keep getting better and I cannot get enough of this series, full of twits and turns along the way.

Sharp Philadelphia attorney Bennie Rosato finds herself called to the local prison for a mysterious consult. Alice Connolly has been accused of murder and insists that Bennie be the one to defend her. Bennie is trying to find a way to decline, until Alice comes face to face with her. It’s like staring into a mirror, as Alice looks identical to Bennie and claims to be her lost-lost twin. While she is dubious, Bennie Rosato likes a challenge and begins investigating when she learns that there could be some police corruption involved.

As the case progresses, Bennie must try to help Alice, who is accused of murdering her partner, a former member of the police force, though there is something even more sinister going on. The deeper she digs, the more Bennie becomes a target, but she refuses to stand down. Working with her associates, Mary DiNunzio and Judy Carrier, Bennie must try to get to the truth before she is harmed or Alice’s innocence can no longer be supported by witnesses on the stand. As the courtroom drama ensues, there is little time for shenanigans, though Bennie does them so well. Using strong cross-examination and detailed evidence presentation, the truth will come to light. All the while, Bennie is trying to learn about her past, which remains shielded from her. After her mother passes, Bennie has no one who can help, or does she? Another winning novel by Lisa Scottoline, sure to impress those who have been following the series closely.

Lisa Scottoline shows her skills once more and keeps the reader in the middle fo the action. With a strong narrative and great characters, both of which develop throughout the story, there is little time to rest or catch one’s breath. The story progresses well and keeps the intensity high, as plot twists emerge to entertain and surprise the reader in equal measure. I have been impressed with each novel in the series to date and they keep getting better. I am shocked I did not begin reading them much sooner!

Kudos, Madam Scottoline, for keeping the calibre high.

Rough Justice (Rosato & Associates #3), by Lisa Scottoline

Eight stars

Having read the first few novels in this series by Lisa Scottoline, I find myself being quite connected to the characters and legal twists that emerge. Scottoline offers up some great stories with females in the protagonist chair, providing good legal tales told in unique styes. The reader follows the Rosato & Associates lawyers, struggling to make a name for the firm and claw their individual ways to the top of the large heap of Philadelphia attorneys. What follows is a story told in a short time span, but packed full of excitement.

Marta Richter is an adept criminal defense attorney who always puts her clients first. She has been fighting a tough case in the courts, having just left the jury to deliberate. Marta feels that she is about to win an acquittal for her client, Elliot Steere, who has been charged with killing a homeless man in a carjacking. While they wait, Steere admits that his self-defense claim in this murder trial was fake and that he knew what he was doing. Marta sits, shocked, not sure what she can do. Steere knows that the jury will acquit and feels that this is the ultimate victory for him.

Marta cannot wait for justice to be besmirched and begins planning to prove her client is guilty. While she only has until the jury comes back to find something concrete, she is determined. However, Mother Nature has other ideas, tossing Philadelphia a blizzard like no other, keeping Marta scrambling to find answers. After some soul searching, Marta turns to two young associates in the Rosato & Associates firm—Mary DiNunzio and Judy Carrier—to help her on this legal gamble. Together, they try their best to find something, anything, that will prove Steere’s guilt in short order. DiNunzio and Carrier do anything they can, from scanning news articles and trying to reach witnesses. It seems there is something out there, if only the lawyers can find it.

Elliot Steere will not sit idly by, as his freedom is in jeopardy by his own attorney. He must ensure that his connections help him to keep the truth from coming out. With Marta bending the rules to help her own cause and Bennie Rosato—name partner and boss to Mary and Judy—tries to keep her law firm from being dragged in the mud when it comes to this case. The truth is out there, but time is running out and the jury is clearly ready to return with a verdict. Violence ensues and someone is left clinging to life as the weather gets no better. A fast-paced story is just what Scottoline needs to show readers that she has all the tools for a great thriller. This is one of the greatest books in the early portion of the series.

Lisa Scottoline does well to keep this novel moving and readers highly entertained. The story’s basis is great and builds on the need for speed and the legal findings that occur when people are pressed for answers. The characters, ever-expanding in this series, continue to dazzle and provide some of their own backstories, which is sure to be important as the series progresses. Plot lines grow with ease and the unique angles Scottoline offers in this piece had me flipping pages well into the night and I sought answers to some of the basic questions. This was a great find and I could not ask for more in a series and handful of great characters. Where will things go from now and how will readers react? Let’s see!

Kudos, Madam Scottoline, for another great thriller. No wonder people have been encouraging me to try this series for years.

Legal Tender (Rosato and Associates #2), by Lisa Scottoline

Eight stars

Having recently read a short story by Lisa Scottoline, I realised its connection to two of her legal thriller series. I was eager to give these full novels a try and enjoyed the debut, so it was time to forge onwards. Scottoline does well in the genre and prepares the reader for quite the adventure, full of legal maneuvers and some strong female protagonists. The reader is introduced to another of the Rosato and Associates lawyers, the name partner, Bennie Rosato. Her struggles are real and the novel takes quite the adventurous turn throughout, as Bennie tries to stay out of jail. A thrilling story provides a stellar backdrop for a series I am sure to enjoy!

Benedetta ‘Bennie’ Rosato is the name partner in a small Philadelphia law firm hoping to make a name for itself by watching out for cops who prefer to bend the rules to their favour. This has created many an enemy for Bennie, but she cannot deny that everyone has the right not to be maligned for something they did not do. She works hard and has high hopes for the law firm, though there are whispers that things could be taking a turn. When her former lover and soon to be ex-legal partner is found murdered, Bennie is the prime suspect. While she is adamant that she is innocent, her past issues with the Boys in Blue makes it all the more difficult to get someone to listen.

Refusing to take things sitting down, Bennie takes matters into her own hands and tries to get some answers, all while dodging the police and anyone who might recognize her. How she wishes that she could be out on the water, where she could row away her issues. In this case, she will have to remain incognito and get answers before her name is sullied throughout the press and any chance of practicing law, innocent or not, goes up in smoke. Another great thriller by Scottoline, which pulls on some great legal matters and expands the base of the Rosato and Associates series.

While I always have ave many books around me, I can rejig things a little if a novel or series is to my liking. I decided to try that with this collection and I have not been disappointed whatsoever. Lisa Scottoline does well to lay the groundwork and has been diligent at building on it, with two strong lawyers in the first few books of this series. Where things are headed next, I have no idea, but I am eager to see. Scottoline introduces readers to more great characters, some of whom I can only hope will reappear throughout the series. Bennie Rosato is well-placed and her sass is perfectly timed, making her someone I can see growing as the series develops. Plots come across as simple, but effective, allowing the reader to delve into them and provide some entertainment in what can sometimes be an intense reading experience. With two books down, I am eager to see what’s to come and how the two protagonists (Bennie Rosato here and Mary DiNunzio from the debut novel) will continue to flavour the series.

Kudos, Madam Scottoline, for another winner. You have me intrigued and ready for more!

Everywhere That Mary Went (Rosato and Associates #1), by Lisa Scottoline

Eight stars

After years of being at the mercy of partners in her law firm, Mary DiNunzio has high hopes of finally making it to the upper echelon. Philadelphia law firms do not yet see the importance of gender equality, forcing Mary to work all the harder to prove herself. When she begins getting prank phone calls, she tosses them off as wrong numbers, until they fit a pattern and leave her feeling quite ill at ease. When the calls begin as soon as she gets into the office and when she makes it home, Mary is certain that someone is watching her, though she has no idea why that might be.

After reading a recent short story by Lisa Scottoline, I discovered it was loosely connected to some of her series work, legal thrillers with a female protagonist. My interest was piqued and I thought I would give the debut novel a try, which proved to be just as intriguing as I might have hoped. A gritty attorney who has slaved away for years to make partner can see the light, but there are many obstacles still in her way. Meanwhile, Mary DiNunzio is being stalked by someone who appears to know a little too much about her. When an accident almost claims her life, Mary is certain that things have gone too far. Will this partner track prove to be the end of Mary, literally? A great debut by Lisa Scottoline, who had me curious through every flip of the page.

As the busyness of work is soon shelved with the ongoing stalking, things get out of hand when Mary’s secretary is run down and killed while they are out one night. With the police trying to discount this as an accident, much as they did when her husband died the year before, Mary cannot take the dismissals. She demands answers and will not rest until someone looks into the events that have been taking place. It’s a matter of investing time and effort into the case that seems apparent to Mary. Who is following her and for what reason? Mary DiNunzio may want to make partner, but she will have to survive to be granted that pleasure! Lisa Scottoline does a masterful job with this, her debut novel. I am hooked and ready to read on with the rest of the series.

While I always have a number of books piling up around me, when I discover an author to my liking, I can always make some time. This is a series that started out with a bang, keeping me intrigued as I push through the early moments of story and series development. The characters are well shaped and offer some decent backstory that is sure to grow as the series continues. With Mary’s unique family situation, this is surely something that Scottoline will add to as the novels progress. The plots remain basic, but there is some decent depth to them as well, keeping the reader wanting to move forward as things intensify. I am ready to grab the next book, in hopes that it will be just as exciting. I think I’ve found a new binge-worthy collection!

Kudos, Madam Scottoline, for the great legal thriller. Let’s see if you can keep the momentum going.

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

After reading a recent short story by Lisa Scottoline, I discovered it was loosely connected to some of her series work, legal thrillers with a female protagonist. My interest was piqued and I thought I would give the debut novel a try, which proved to be just as intriguing as I might have hoped. A gritty attorney who has slaved away for years to make partner can see the light, but there are many obstacles still in her way. Meanwhile, Mary DiNunzio is being stalked by someone who appears to know a little too much about her. When an accident almost claims her life, Mary is certain that things have gone too far. Will this partner track prove to be the end of Mary, literally? A great debut by Lisa Scottoline, who had me curious through every flip of the page.

After years of being at the mercy of partners in her law firm, Mary DiNunzio has high hopes of finally making it to the upper echelon. Philadelphia law firms do not yet see the importance of gender equality, forcing Mary to work all the harder to prove herself. When she begins getting prank phone calls, she tosses them off as wrong numbers, until they fit a pattern and leave her feeling quite ill at ease. When the calls begin as soon as she gets into the office and when she makes it home, Mary is certain that someone is watching her, though she has no idea why that might be.

As the busyness of work is soon shelved with the ongoing stalking, things get out of hand when Mary’s secretary is run down and killed while they are out one night. With the police trying to discount this as an accident, much as they did when her husband died the year before, Mary cannot take the dismissals. She demands answers and will not rest until someone looks into the events that have been taking place. It’s a matter of investing time and effort into the case that seems apparent to Mary. Who is following her and for what reason? Mary DiNunzio may want to make partner, but she will have to survive to be granted that pleasure! Lisa Scottoline does a masterful job with this, her debut novel. I am hooked and ready to read on with the rest of the series.

While I always have a number of books piling up around me, when I discover an author to my liking, I can always make some time. This is a series that started out with a bang, keeping me intrigued as I push through the early moments of story and series development. The characters are well shaped and offer some decent backstory that is sure to grow as the series continues. With Mary’s unique family situation, this is surely something that Scottoline will add to as the novels progress. The plots remain basic, but there is some decent depth to them as well, keeping the reader wanting to move forward as things intensify. I am ready to grab the next book, in hopes that it will be just as exciting. I think I’ve found a new binge-worthy collection!

Kudos, Madam Scottoline, for the great legal thriller. Let’s see if you can keep the momentum going.

Come November, by Scott Lord

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Scott Lord, and Greenleaf Audiobooks for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always one to enjoy great historical fiction, I turned to this novel by Scott Lord, which explores the creation of Israel at the United Nations, and a few young reporters who were there to watch it unfold. Lord uses a great deal of history and some memories from his mother to cobble together this piece, which keeps the reader connected to the events that caused a great deal of drama, with a peppering of a love story that spans decades. While I won’t deny I would have loved a more intense political lens, Lord does well to portray the situation and has me wanting to explore more about these times in 1947.

Jeanne has lived a good life and is shocked when she receives an email from an old friend, and lover, asking that she visit him in Italy. The trip is not meant solely to rekindle old flames, but to help pen a book about their shared experiences in 1947. At that time, Jeanne and John were young reporters, making their way from Chicago to New York for a monumental event at the newly functioning United Nations. Their journey there saw them fall in love, though there was so much more on the table.

At the heart of the United Nations agenda was a debate over partitioning the State of Palestine to offer the Jews their own homeland after the horrors of the Second World War. While some would see it as only fitting that the ancient lands of Israel be recreated, there are many who would rather die than see it come to fruition. Politics, religion, and regional squabbles come to the forefront here.

As Jeanne and John try to cover the events, they come across an assassination plot intended to skew the vote and ensure Israel never comes to be. The political actors all hold diplomatic immunity and hold harsh sentiments about the vote, making the investigation all the more problematic. However these two, brought together by a common passion to report the news and finding a deeper thread between them, must also work to understand the nuances of international politics on the grand stage.

Even as the vote goes ahead and Israel is created, the drams between the two reporters does not end. Spanning decades thereafter, the story explores their shared time in New York in November 1947 and the struggles to define what was and might have been. Ending in a quaint Italian town, the truth comes out and all is revealed in this story that is rich with romance, as well as some of the most intense politicking in the post-War world. Scott Lord does well with this piece, mixing politics, romance, and a connection through the ages to depict a well-crafted novel that many can enjoy.

I will admit, it was the politics that pulled me in when reviewing the dust jacket blurb on this book. I love a good thriller where there is a little struggle towards a larger political end. Scott Lord does well to depict this, using a strong narrative that spans decades, intermixing the storylines effectively to get his point across. There is a significant amount of development, both with the story and the characters, keeping the reader attentive so as not to miss anything. The characters are varied and well-placed throughout the book, providing something entertaining as their backstories come to life effectively. While based on historical events, the plots develop and keep the reader from knowing precisely what is to come or how it will settle, which offers up a great element of surprise. The depiction of time at the United Nations has me intrigued and wanting to know more, something I will have to look into when time permits. Lord does well to balance the romance, politics, and historical advancement, though I am always happy to see a political heavy thriller when time permits.

Kudos, Mr. Lord, for a great piece that has me eager to learn more!

Pigeon Tony’s Last Stand (We Could Be Heroes), by Lisa Scottoline

Eight stars

On a short story binge, I turned to Lisa Scottoline’s contribution to the We Could Be Heroes collection. In fact, I have devoured a few in the collection, as they are quick reads and very entertaining. Scottoline did not disappoint with her addition, pulling on some of the characters she made popular in one of her legal thriller series (of which I have not read, but must try soon). Pigeon Tony is well-known in his Philadelphia community for having pigeons that race with the best of them. When he notices that one of the neighbourhood boys is being targeted by local drug dealers, Pigeon Tony makes it his mission to send this once and for all, however he is able to use his 82-year-old body and mind. What follows is a stubborn man’s attempt to protect what he hold dear and the push back from those who feel they own the neighbourhood.

Pigeon Tony is part o a group of elderly Italian men who have many stories to share from their pasts. Pigeon Tony, whose name comes from his owning and racing a number of pigeons, has taken it upon himself to protect one of the young boys in the neighbourhood, whose grades are high but stature remains small. Local drug dealers have targeted him to be their messenger, pulling him into the the illegal acts that are tarnishing the streets of South Philadelphia.

While his friends want Pigeon Tony to stand down, the elderly man uses his wits and determination to take a stand, which includes a risky confrontation that raises more than a few eyebrows. Armed with a scoop of gumption and little fear, Pigeon Tony clashes with those who would sully his streets with drugs and other criminal acts, almost ending up hurt himself. Still, Pigeon Tony will not stand down or deny that he has a right to protect those he loves.

Turning to his legal representative, Mary DiNunzio, Pigeon Tony works through the possible outcomes before deciding on one that will involve the neighbourhood as a whole. It may be the last chance Pigeon Tony had to make a difference, but he will not stand down until he knows those around him are safe once and for all. A great piece by Lisa Scottoline, which has me wanting to know more about these characters.

While I know of Lisa Scottoline, I have read only one or two of her novels in the past, though they do not come to mind as I pen this review. She has a way with words and building her story that has me wanting to know more and delve even deeper. I am eager to see how she is able to build her narrative base, which proves strong and quick to establish in this short story. The characters are strong and keep me asking questions to myself about their backstories, which I suppose are developed in Scottoline’s series that includes many of them. With little time to develop them, Scottoline relies on what she includes here, which is enough to fill the gaps left with the narrative. Plot developments are clear and keeps the story moving along, keeping things from being too predictable. While the story moves swiftly and left little time to meander, Scottoline presents something well worth the reader’s time. I am eager to get my hands on some more books in this series, which will allow me to see how this short story fits in with the rest.

Kudos, Madam Scottoline, for a great story that left me wanting more. I will have to find that series and whet my appetite once more.

These Cold Strangers (We Could Be Heroes), by J. T. Ellison

Eight stars

Occasionally a fan of short story work, I turned to J.T. Ellison’s contribution to the We Could Be Heroes collection. The story of a roving reporter trying to track down the hero from a viral video will take her on an adventure she was not expecting. What appears to be a simple task soon unravels and leaves her wondering if hero hunting might have its downside. J.T. Ellison does well to take the reader on an unexpected adventure in this one, showing that nothing is quite as it seems.

Addison Blake is always on the hunt for the next big story. She’s got the writing abilities, but she just cannot catch a break when it comes to gripping stories. When an older man suffers some medical condition it is captured on CCTV. Everyone everyone passes him by on the streets of DC, leaving Addison watching in awe as one man appears to stop and help. The mystery man disappears before he can receive any praise, which seems odd. This video soon goes viral and has everyone wondering who the man could be. Addison appears to know him, caught on a freeze frame for a moment.

Addison’s theory takes her back to her hometown a few hours away. Having been plagued constantly with the memories that her entire family was killed by an ex-boyfriend, Addison is not eager to go. She must face her fears to see if an old high school crush could be the man who has become the secret hero throughout social media. While he admits to being the man, he refuses to become involved, saying it was an act of charity and he prefer the anonymity.

While she understands, Addison is not quite ready to let it all go just yet. As she prepares to depart the next morning, she runs into someone else from high school, who has another story she might want to follow. Women have been disappearing around the community, including one of the popular girls from school. Addison senses that there could be something here, though she’s going to have to use all her wits when she unearths a truth that she never saw coming. J.T. Ellison keeps things tense throughout and provides quite the thriller in this short piece.

Having not read anything by J.T. Ellison, I was surprised to see how quickly I became enthralled with the piece. There is a little something for everyone here, with great storytelling and adept development of the key characters. The narrative flows well and kept me wanting to turn pages, with little time to linger and see how things would develop. I was keen to see how Addison would present herself, especially with the horrible backstory she has had to face. While things appeared to be headed in one direction, a great plot twist or two kept me on my toes and wondering where things might be headed. I am eager to see if more of Ellison’s book have the same impact on me and will surely be looking around for some in the near future.

Kudos, Madam Ellison, for a great short piece that shows heroics in a different form.

Unknown Caller (We Could be Heroes), by Lisa Unger

Eight stars

Always one to enjoy a short story while outside for a while, I turned to Lisa Unger’s contribution to the We Could Be Heroes collection. It looks at a woman whose job puts her in the hero category, though she hides a dark secret that has been eating at her for years. Quick and punchy, Unger pulls the reader into the mix and then tells all in a multi-chapter saga.

Charlie Croft has enjoyed her work at a crisis centre, always one eager to help those who call in the middle of the night. She has many positive experiences, listening to stories and trying to make the caller feel important. She’s done so well that she receives a commendation by the town for some of her work, thrusting her into the hero spotlight, even when she did not expect it.

When she receives a call one night, Charlie’s forced to look closer at herself and the secret she has been holding onto. A time back in high school when one of her friends needed her most and Charlie turned her back. The thoughts haunt her and the repeated calls from this unknown caller have Charlie on edge. When she takes the drastic move to confront the caller in person, new wounds and insecurities open up, forcing Charlie to wonder if she’s a hero at all. Unger does well with this piece, showing readers that a hero can sometimes be a lot more under their proverbial cape.

While short and to the point, Lisa Unger’s writing is effective and gets the reader thinking. A strong foundation helps propel the story forward, with great direction. A few characters keep things on track, though it is Charlie Croft who remains central to the entire piece. A few key plot points help push things along, using two timelines to offer the reader the full story that emerges, leaving them to judge if Charlie Croft deserves the hero worship she has been receiving. Impactful and entertaining, Lisa Unger has a lot to offer readers who might be interested in more of her work. I am keen to see if I could enjoy a full-length piece and will have to scout her out soon.

Kudos, Madam Unger, for your contribution and keeping things moving in this short piece.

Sleeping Bear, by Connor Sullivan

Eight stars

Having been on a recent Cold War espionage binge, I turned to this novel by Connor Sullivan, which straddles both the 1980s and today. The disappearance of an Army vet in the Alaskan wilderness has the authorities treat it as a kidnapping. Little do they know, the woman’s father holds deep secrets from his past, things that the Russian Government has not forgotten. Trying to piece it all together, members of the US Government act swiftly, though they are wholly unaware of what happened those years ago and how James Gaines/Robert Gale might be at the root of everything. Sullivan does well to drum up Cold War sentiments throughout and entertains the reader effectively.

Still hurting from her husband’s sudden death, Cassie Gale needs some time away. She decides to take a trip up into the Alaskan wilderness to clear her head and get away from life in Montana. When she does not show up at work after a few days hiking in Alaska, many people begin to panic, including her father, James. With all of her things strewn about the campsite and her dog injured, Cassie’s disappearance takes on a new level of panic, with the elder Gale most concerned of all.

James Gale probes a little deeper and learns that Cassie is not the first to disappear in the region. While there are many ways people disappear, including wildlife and weather, something does not sit right, as the missing appear to be targeted attacks. What’s baffling is that these are everyday citizens with no known reason to be of interest to anyone.

When Cassie awakes, she’s in a Russian prison with no hope of escape. Pulling on her Army past, she will have to find a way to survive or face a horrible future. It soon becomes apparent that Cassie is a pawn as the Russians try to lure James Gale out of hiding and into their trap. His past proves to be the primary reason that Cassie sits imprisoned now, though the fallout could be catastrophic if not neutralised. As members of the US Administration are read into how James Gale, known during his past as ‘Robert Gaines’, worked for them as an assassin in the 1980s, the truth of the Russian plan comes to light and it is not pretty. Racing against the clock and with his daughter in mind, Gale will have to wake the sleeping Russian bear in order to pull Cassie from its jaw. A Cold War mission gone awry comes to life once more, where assassinations to ensure compliance were common, with the new actors just as determined to succeed. Connor Sullivan weaves a wonderful story with dark aspects that reminds the reader of a time from the past that could resurface again.

While I have not read anything by Connor Sullivan before this novel, I am well-versed in the genre. It is a wonderful story of two sworn enemies revisiting their past clashes and trying to make sense of things through a new lens. With a strong narrative base, Sullivan works in some key themes and keeps the reader guessing throughout. A handful of great characters flavour the narrative, which weaves and takes many a turn, especially into a CIA-KGB clash. Plots develop throughout and keep morphing into something more sinister, until the climactic end, where Sullivan puts the pieces together. This is a great novel for those who love a little mystery and espionage tied in with their thriller novel. There are many moving parts herein and the reader finds themselves in the centre of it all. With another novel by Connor Sullivan out there, I am eager to get my hands on it to see if it is as impactful as this story.

Kudos, Mr. Sullivan, for pulling on history to paint a gripping tale for those who enjoy something a little more suspenseful from a past era.

The Bucharest Legacy (Bucharest #2), by William Maz

Eight stars

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

A great fan of historical fiction and coming to enjoy the world of Cold War espionage, I was drawn to this second book by William Maz. Following up on the powerful debut piece, this one continues the action, with fallout in Romania after communism disintegrates across the region. Full of wonderful Cold War era espionage and double agent informing, Maz portrays a world where nothing is quite as it seems and duplicity is rife within the CIA. Could the KGB have planted a mole deep within the Agency, leaving Bill Hefflin to discover us who might be try to drive America into the ground? William Maz does a wonderful job here, not only with the story, but depicting a time when no one knew who they could trust or for how long.

As the fallout of communism’s failure continues to rock the world, news emerges that the CIA may have a high-ranking mole in its midst. The mole’s handler is none other than KGB informant Boris, known to one member of the Agency quite well. While Bill Hefflin left the CIA after witnessing the fall of Romania’s communist dictatorship, his connection to Boris leaves him in a vulnerable situation. When former colleagues come calling, seeking to bring him back into the fold, if only to get to the bottom of it all, he is forced to make a tough decision.

With Boris’ known connection to all of this, Hefflin becomes the prime suspect in the mole investigation, something he adamantly denies. Hefflin must put his family in jeopardy to prove himself and find the actual mole, worried that turning over any rock could lead him to dangerous truths.

Returning to Bucharest, Hefflin begins scouring the area to locate intel, as well as dredge up old memories from his past. It will be a painful hunt, but one that is necessary, if Hefflin does not want to be painted as a traitor, which comes its punishments like no other. Romania is still rife with corruption and duplicity, but Hefflin will have to soldier on if he hopes to reveal the truth and be able to put this all to bed once and for all. However, Hefflin has a significant piece of intel that could rock things to the core and open up new avenues of suspicion! William Maz delivers another knockout punch with this stellar piece of writing, sure to impress those who love a strong novel about Cold War era spy craft.

While I had never heard of William Maz before reading the debut novel, I am pleased this ARC forced me to discover his writing. Maz develops some stellar storytelling and great characters to capture the tensions of the time period. A strong narrative flow kept me wanting to learn more, as did some of the well-placed plots. While there were some amazing characters, as with the first book, many shone in their darkness, if that makes any sense. Strong plots emerge throughout, building on threads from the debut novel and development allows Maz to bandy things about. The reader finds themselves down many a rabbit hole before arriving at the end result, which is never quite as it seems. This is a wonderful novel that kept me wanting more, which I hope William Maz will present in the years to come.

Kudos, Mr. Maz, for showing me how much fun Cold War era espionage can be.

One Vote Away: How a Single Supreme Court Seat can Change History, by Ted Cruz

Seven stars

While there is no shortage of books on US politics, constitutional issues, or the Supreme Court, I took an interest in this piece by Ted Cruz. Currently a senator from Texas, Cruz has long had a history within the Republican Party of being one to turn issues into grandiose situations, much like the man he opposed in the 2016 Republican primaries for president. Cruz delivers an interesting book with arguments about the fundamental importance of keeping conservative views on the country’s highest court—Supreme Court of the United States—in order to keep the liberals from ruining things. While I applaud his ability to cobble together cogent arguments, his fundamental thesis falls apart in the introduction when he offers a keen example of how he would do this. From there, the book stares into an abyss, trying to fuel right-wing sentiment with half-truths, disguised in strong legal arguments. Entertaining more than willing to show both sides or the issues, Senator Cruz kept me listening to see what kernel of possible truth might be found herein.

In the opening pages of the introduction, Cruz argues that there was no right to allow President Obama to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the death of Justice Antonio Scalia in 2016. He makes the point that it ought to have been left to the people to choose their next president, who would then choose the next justice. While I do not agree with the sentiment, feeling that the constitution makes clear how this should be handled, I could see the argument. However, in 2020, when Justice Ruth Badger Ginsberg died, Cruz and his GOP cronies were the first to push for an immediate replacement in September 2020 (under two months before the election, compared to Obama’s nine), and made it seemed as though the argument had never happened four years before. Ignorance and stupidity were the shades of wool Cruz sought to yank up and somehow they did it effectively. His core argument was lost then and remains lost today, but Cruz wishes us not to see that sleight of hand, as it does not work well with his set of arguments. Politics, the law, and an apathetic conservative base played into the hands of Crux and the GOP, something he keeps peddling in this book.

Cruz explores how he was an up and coming lawyer in Texas before accepting a post as clerk to a Supreme Court justice—Chief Justice Rehnquist, truth be told—where he found his passion for the constitution and conservative politics. This proved to be the foundation of the views explored in this book, though it is not only that Cruz was one who sought to protect the rights enshrined in the document, but also that he wanted. to make clear how liberals were destroying things. Throughout the book, Cruz examines a number of key topics to show how he helped (or supported) key provisions to protect constitutional rights of Americans, all of which were cases that made their mark and won by a single vote, which would have been diminished had the liberals filled just none more chair in the group of nine. While I applaud Cruz for showing his perspective on topics such as recognition of international law, gun control, free speech, abortion, and school choice, he openly dismisses the views I see as being keenly represented in the words of the US Constitution, spitting in the eye of the language and massaging it to appease his conservative base. Well attempted but poorly achieved by those who can take a step back.

Politics is all about perspective and how one feels at any given time. The law is a close cousin to this, which is why they work so hand in hand. I do not hide my political leanings, nor do I try to pretend that I am a eunuch in this regard. It is my desire to explore those views that seek to offer up a wool tugging over the eyes of the reader and dismiss them, which I try to do as effectively as possible. That is not to say that I am always right and others wrong, but there needs to be another side to the coin. Cruz seeks to to shed light on the other side, solely his own. In doing so, he can garner support for many of his sentiments, which he effectively presents in this book. However, when he leaves such a gaping hole in his argument, it is not for me to sit idly by and let it pass.

I applaud books that are foundamentally and foundationally sound, no matter their perspective. Ted Cruz does offer some interesting perspectives in this piece, many of which I can see working for him. While I do not agree with his minuscule interpretation of the law and Constitution to make his arguments, he seems adamant to do so and trick the reader into only seeing one side. His arguments are sound and work for him, though they dismiss monumental views and leave large holes in the presentation of legal arguments. Cruz writes in an effective and open manner, never denying his perspective. His chapters are well organised and keep the reader wanting to push a little further. That they are meant to cater to a small population is clear, perhaps in an intent to fuel another run at president (which may help dilute the inane Trumpian silliness that is building). The book was a fun read and kept me entertained, though Cruz’s attempted inculcation missed the mark. I hate wool anywhere near my eyes, anyhow, and have never been a lamb ready for the slaughter!

Kudos, Mr. Cruz for an attempt to fan the flames. The only fire you are stoking is one trying to burn down constitutional truths you try to convince readers you hold dear.

The Bucharest Dossier, by William Maz

Eight stars

Always a fan of historical fiction, I was drawn to this book by William Maz. Not only does it depict the fall of the Ceaușescu Regime in Romania, but shows how the Americans were somewhat involved in the movement. Full of wonderful Cold War era espionage and duplicity, Maz depicts the Eastern European region as rife with corruption that even the Americans enjoyed. Well-plotted and paced, Maz develops a sensational thriller that is sure to impress the patient reader.

Bill Hefflin is holding onto a deep secret. Having been recruited by the CIA while in college, Hefflin is also a Romanian expat, having changed his name and identity many years ago, Now, with all that is going on in dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s Romania, Hefflin finds himself back in his homeland. He’s acting on intel from his KGB source. The kernel of an uprising soon expands and Hefflin finds himself in the middle of a country tearing itself apart as communism disintegrates all across Eastern Europe.

Hefflin seeks not only to track the uprising, but to find the woman he loved all those years ago on campus. She, too, has a secret, and their reuniting might come with some significant consequences. As Hefflin searches, he also tries to amass a dossier that could hold all the answers to what the Ceaușescus did with huge sums of money belonging to the state.

Hefflin soon learns that he is but a puppet in the larger game surrounding Romania’s fall. Both the CIA and KGB have been pulling strings to get rid of a leader no longer in line with the times, but Hefflin has no means of getting out, embroiled in a chaotic situation that should have dire consequences. As 1989 speeds along, the troubles increase, culminating in a Christmas surprise that will have the world watching and Hefflin wondering how he fits into it all. William Maz weaves quite the story here, perfect for those who love historical fiction and Cold War era politics.

While I had never heard of William Maz before, I am pleased to have stumbled onto this book. The first in what appears to be a series, Maz weaves some wonderful storytelling into an era that may be on the horizon once more, though with different actors. The narrative flow was strong and kept me intrigued throughout. Maz uses great characters, including Nicolae Ceaușescu himself, to depict the tones he wishes to convey. Strong plots emerge and develop with ease, as Maz takes the reader down many a rabbit hole before arriving at the end result. There is so much to be said about this book, but a sequel awaits me, so I hope to draw parallels and return with more in that review.

Kudos, Mr. Maz, for a stunning story that appears to have more to say!

The Vesuvius Bribe, by M. Wilson Athey

Seven stars

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

After being asked by M. Wilson Athey to review this book, I was eager for a number of reasons. As this is the first of the books by Athey that I have read, I was eager to explore a new author, as well as delve into some history at the same time. Athey does well to provide the reader with a historical thriller, full of insights and some great action. Straddling between two eras, the story transports the reader and keeps them on their toes throughout.

Traversing the countryside in the latter stages of the Second World War, a group of Nazi troops carry a priceless collection of art. As they travel, Mt. Vesuvius is actively erupting and sending ash and sediments all over. With San Sebastiano as their final destination, these SS troops hope to get all hidden away before the Allies locate them.

Fast-forwarding to 1975, Kate Evans discovers a note in her late husband’s possession that speak of this hidden treasure. This piques her interest and leaves Kate headed to Italy to discover the truth. Could she soon learn of the location of the hidden cache? If so, what can she do with it?

While Kate tries to come to terms with what is going on, she also has her son, recently discharged for medical reasons, back from Vietnam. He has stories to tell, none more intense as the ones that await Kate. With the Vatican eager to get their hands on the treasure and a ruthless black market dealer seeing a means of padding his pocket, Kate will have to stay one step ahead of them both. As INTERPOL gets involved, Kate finds herself on the wrong side of the law and trying to determine what she ought to do. The end result could be deadly, but who is the one who wants her neutralized the most? A decent thriller by M. Wilson Athey that is sure to interest historical thriller fans.

History has a way of developing both in reality and with the minds of the writer. It can be bent or morphed in many ways, which helps keep it on point and entertaining at the same time. M. Wilson Athey does well to build up the narrative foundation with strong historical events, some of which might be completely fabricated, while others could be rooted in actual fact. That is for the reader to discover as they journey along. The characters emerging from the book develop well and keep the reader wanting to learn a little more, even if that means taking the time to see them through a variety of lenses. Athey does not skimp on her development, though she does not take too much time on it, as they’re is much to accomplish with the book. Plot lines are clear and advance well, even if they can sometimes be slower than I would have liked., On the surface, there is so much that this book could be. I think it did well to present that though there was something not entirely ‘sparking’ for me. Still, I can only hope that the author has another novel or two in her to delve deeper into the various abysses that history has to offer. I’d likely return to see what else she writes.

Kudos, Madam Athey, for an entertaining read!

Trial, by Richard North Patterson

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Richard North Patterson, and Post Hill Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having read a number of novels by Richard North Patterson, I was eager for his return with a new and powerful legal thriller. Patterson does not disappoint, pulling on a number of key political and social issues that currently plague the United States, encapsulating them into this powerful piece of writing well worth the reader’s attention. Themes emerge that need to be addressed, even when they are less than pleasant, and Patterson handles them with ease and conviction throughout. This was exactly what I hoped for while I waited years for a new thriller into which I could sink my teeth. The wait was well worth it.

It all begins on a rural Georgia road one night. Malcolm Hill is a young voting rights worker, son of a local organizer who is well known to those in political circles. While Malcolm is trying to get home, he is admittedly under the influence, but wants no trouble. When a white sheriff’s deputy pulls him over, Malcom is scared and the routine traffic stop soon turns deadly when the deputy is shot and dies. Fearing for his life, Malcom waits there, trying to shake the blur of drunkenness from his brain and is found buy other deputies, who quickly arrest him and take him into custody. Even though Malcom says the shooting was part of an accidental firing, no one will listen.

Allie Hill knew something would happen, as her son is painted with the same brush as her, all for wanting to ensure the Black vote is not lost in the upcoming 2022 mid-term elections. While Malcolm has legal counsel, the fact that this first-degree murder charge could see her son face the death penalty forces Allie to pull out all the stops. She has a secret she has been harbouring and must act swiftly.

In Washington, DC, a motivated congressman from Massachusetts has his eyes set on the Senate. Chase Brevard is just what the country needs and could be the next big thing. However, as news from Georgia is splashed all over the television, Chase is contacted by Allie, who begs for his help. This opens up old wounds and memories from their shared time at Harvard, when things were a lot different. Allie held ono the secret that their time together led to something monumental, all after she left for Georgia again. Now, Chase is being pulled into the middle of the drama, with Malcom awaiting trial and potentially facing death.

As Chase makes his way to Georgia, he must face not only the past he knew nothing about, but also how he will help Malcolm. What follows is a courtroom battle that is about race, voting rights, and the right to refuse a police officer’s demands. The trial turns eyes all over the country and is sure to be pace-setting for the upcoming election ,with news off George Floyd still fresh in the minds of many. A stunning story that touches on the festering wounds of race and voter suppression, well into the 21st century. Richard North Patterson does a formidable job in addressing all this and keeping the reader hooked on the story at hand.

Readers familiar with Richard North Paterson will know that he does not write fluff. His novels, even the legal thrillers, are full of insight and social commentary that work well for the time at which they are written. Patterson seeks to bridge the divides and offer the reader something that will force them to think and act, rather that sit passively by and simply turn pages. This is one of those books and the narrative direction is precise throughout. The flow keeps the story moving, even when things do not seem to have clear direction. The characters are well-crafted and provide the reader with something onto which they can latch to get the needed direction. The plot developments are well honed and keep the reader involved, even if some of the plot points are easily seen a mile away. Patterson knows what he is doing and has used some of his knowledge of the issues at hand to craft this long-await piece of writing. With 2024 on the horizon, I will have to find a better means to follow his views as we head into another presidential election, sure to be full of vitriol on both sides.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, for a stunning novel that never disappoints.

The Last Good Year: Seven Game’s that Ended an Era, by Damien Cox

Nine stars

Damien Cox is a long-time journalist covering the Toronto sports scene, having covered my beloved Toronto Maples Leafs for many years. Fans of this celebrated franchise have been through years of glory as well as periods of painful sorrow, as the team never seems able to gel enough to bring home the prize. Cox looks back at the National Hockey League’s Campbell Conference Final in 1993, where the Leafs came within one game of making it to the elusive Stanley Cup Finals.

This series was more than a seven game battle, but one that sports writers could use as symbolic of the last time the Leafs were truly championship ready and worthy. Cox briefly describes how the Leafs entered the 1993 playoffs as significant underdogs, but were able to claw their way through a seven game series with heavily favoured Detroit. Thereafter, it was another gritty match-up with St. Louis, who ended up being no match for Doug Gilmour and the Leafs as they checked their way into a Conference Final against Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings.

Cox takes his time exploring each of the seven games in detail, discussing the major happenings and dramatic flair each game brought, while interspersing backstories about the clubs, their players, and some of the dramatic happenings that brought both the Leafs and Kings to this point. This was more than a series, it was the culmination of years of successes—as well as a few abject failures—that would shape the game for years to come. In a series that could have brought about an all-Canadian Stanley Cup Final, the Leafs fell into trouble on the ice in the latter stages of the series and fell in a gruelling seventh game, breaking the hearts of many, including yours truly.

This is more than a story about hockey, but a way of life in Canada’s largest city as it relates to sports and the business of professional hockey. Cox enthrals the curious reader with facts, anecdotes, as some of the key events that shaped this hard-fought series that many players, fans, and journalists alike call one of the greatest in modern NHL history. Recommended for Leafs fans, as well as those who love hockey and its history in the latter part of the 20th century.

I remember this series and the heartbreak that it brought for me. I won’t explore it too much here, as I know there are few I call friends who read my reviews that share this same passion. That being said, a quarter of a century later, I have come to see that while the pain has dissipated, my curiosity in discussing it has not. Cox develops a wonderful narrative that describes how these two teams came to face one another, as well as the on-ice animosity that showed itself over the seven games. There was no inherent long-standing feud between these two teams, but bad blood arose in short order. The star players each team possessed, combined with the enforcers used to protect these assets, turned the series into one of rough play, bloodshed, and rule enforcement—or ignorance—by the referees.

Cox offers great context to better explain these two teams and key members of both franchises. This puts the series in context, as well as offering some poignant editorializing about the NHL and how it turned from being business heavy into solely a money-making league, with hockey only a means to amass greater wealth for both owners and players. Cox pulls no punches and does not let his Toronto roots cloud his sentiments, as he offers the reader some well-rounded discussion. Seeking less to argue a point than to offer up insight, Cox succeeds in telling his version of events and how things got to that pivotal game before Los Angeles found themselves bound to play the Montreal Canadiens and the Leafs were forced to wait for their trip to the Stanley Cup Finals—an event that has not happened for fifty-plus years. Well-researched and thoroughly educational, Cox has left readers with a stellar piece of sports writing that serves its purpose. I was enthralled throughout and think many hockey fans who enjoy more than on-ice events will be as well.

Kudos, Mr. Cox, for bringing this series to light again, twenty-five years later, which has allowed me to revisit things through adults eyes and better understand some of the behind the scenes events that I would have missed as a young fan!

Never Never (Detective Harriet Blue #1), by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Eight stars

After their successful work together in a BookShot, Patterson and Fox combine their talents to expand on that short story, penning a great full-length novel. This is another collaborative team that has been highly successful, especially since each author has stunning independent abilities. Fox brings some great ideas and writing to this piece, which had me gladly returning for a re-read years later!

Harriet ‘Harry’ Blue is stunned when she learns that her brother has been arrested as the prime suspect in the Georges River Killer case, which has attracted much attention in the Sydney area. Acting quickly and knowing her predisposition to argue with her fists before mouth, Blue’s superior, Chief Morris, pulls some strings and has her sent to the Australian Outback to participate in an investigation of three missing miners.

Bitter and argumentative, Blue reluctantly departs Sydney and heads into the great desert lands of her own country, unsure how she could use her sex crimes knowledge on such a case. Paired with Edward ‘Whitt’ Whittacker , a man with secrets of his own, Blue remains highly suspicious of him and refuses to play nice.

Arriving at the temporary site, Blue and Whitt learn that three mine employees have disappeared over the past while, though the speculation is that they tired of the isolation and chose to return to civilisation. After the boot of one minor turns up, foot still lodged inside, forensic testing proves that he was dead before the foot left the body. With the staff refusing to help, feeling that there is nothing wrong, Blue and Whitt must conduct a hostile investigation, tapping into all parts of the mine, from its Head of Security, mining staff, through to the protesters seeking to close down the mine and the local prostitutes.

Lurking in the shadows, the killer, using the moniker The Soldier, stalks their prey and waits for the dead of night. Blue and Whitt have a few chance encounters, though narrowly escape, with significant scars to prove it. When the bodies of the missing are found down a makeshift shaft, Blue and Whitt realise they have a killer within the mining compound, or at least someone close by, though the barren nature of the area, dubbed Never Never, makes it hard to fathom it is not someone with whom they cross paths daily.

As more employees go missing, hunted down like animals, a request for a local forensic team and some police comes through loud and clear. As they continue to be stalked, Blue and Whitt try to whittle down their suspect list to something manageable, but time is running out. All the while, Blue is trying to keep her identity a secret as the Australian media outlets are splashing news of her brother across every medium possible. Will Blue be able to focus on this sadistic killer long enough to catch them, or will her personal troubles make her a choice victim? Patterson and Fox create a powerful page turner in this novel, sure to keep the reader up well into the night.

Aware of Fox’s own writing, I knew that I was in for a treat. Her work here with Patterson did not let me down, as her unique style permeated throughout the narrative and the story clipped along in a way that only Fox can deliver. Harry Blue is a wonderful character, though torn with her own secrets and inner angst. She does not want to open up to anyone, save her own Chief Morris, who has a mentor-mentee relationship with his star detective. That isolated nature works well in this story as Blue is foisted into a situation well outside her comfort zone, in the Outback, and partnered with a man she does not know or trust.

Fox and Patterson build on this strain while delivering a wonderfully rich crime thriller, with a killer hiding in plain sight. Even as things seem to be clearly pointing to one person, twists occur and the reader is forced to rethink their previous ideas. I can see a lot of Eden Archer in the Harry Blue character, as well as some of Patterson’s strong writing through short chapter cliffhanging moments. The reader will likely devour this wonderful book in short order. And, if there is a significant jonesing for something along these lines thereafter, Fox’s own series awaits the reader for even more enjoyment.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Fox for this great novel. While the BookShot pulled me in and kept me wondering where Blue would go in her character, I can say that I really enjoyed this and would welcome more collaborative work down the road.

Liar’s Candle, by August Thomas

Eight stars

Always eager to find new authors, I gladly reached for this debut thriller by August Thomas. She has a wonderful way with words and has used some of her own experiences to help shape the novel. Wonderfully paced and sharp witted with international political goings-on, Thomas provides readers with an adventure like no other. While I have not seen other publications attributed to her, I am eager to see what else August Thomas might have in the works.

After a Fourth of July event at the US Embassy in Turkey, Penny Kessler finds herself in the hospital with no memory. Now the morning of July 5th, Penny discovers that the Embassy was the target of a terrorist attack that killed hundreds. With little idea what happened, Penny tries to keep her calm, but a photograph of her standing in the rubble turns out to be the media favourite. While Penny hoped that her superiors would stand with her, they have stepped back and wonder if she might be a key witness to the attack.

What does Penny know and when did she discover it? This is the question on everyone’s lips, but Penny’s amnesia is doing her no favours. With jagged pieces of memory slowly returning, Penny learns that a young diplomat in the Embassy has gone missing and is being labelled as a traitor and the mastermind behind the entire mess. But Penny cannot believe that Zach Robson would do that, what little she knows of the man she’s taken a shining to all summer.

Penny cannot get ahead and is soon lumped in with Robson, as many suspect she could be a key element of the attack. With the CIA and Turkish officials wanting her dead, Penny must put her trust in an intelligence officer who is as gruff as they come. However, if he promises to keep her alive, Penny will gladly follow him to safety.

With the stakes as high as they come, Penny will have to risk it all to stay alive, while still trying to determine what’s happened and how she could be in the middle of a traitorous cover-up by unknown sources. There is no time to ask questions now, as her life hangs in the balance. A stunning thriller that is sure to put August Thomas on the map!

There is something to be said about an author who is able to captivate me so thoroughly with a debut novel. August Thomas does just that with her strong writing and wonderful story. The narrative flow of the book worked really well, guiding the reader through some harrowing events and using international politics as a stunning backdrop. The characters within the book prove not only believable, but also well in line with the various roles they play, offering up some added realism to the story. Some decent plot twists emerge throughout the book, providing not only tense, but highly captivating, moments for the reader to enjoy. There is noting like international espionage and terrorism to get the reader’s blood boiling, something that happens here with ease. I can only hope that August Thomas will return with more in the coming years, as this was a great debut thriller that begs for more.

Kudos, Madam Thomas, for keeping me hooked throughout and with a stunning ending that is sure to impress many.

Random Question…

List the people you admire and look to for advice…

Good question. I suppose I turn to those around me to offer advice and assistance. Friends tend to do that with ease, sometimes even offering things unsolicited. With family so far away, it is harder to choose them, but I am happy to be able to get ideas and advice when we speak.

Not given it much thought, but worth pondering once in a while!

Countdown (Amy Cornwall #2), by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

Eight stars

In another collaborative effort, James Patterson and Brendan DuBois provide readers a suspenseful thriller. Building on the series debut some years ago, the authors bring Amy Cornwall back for a new adventure. Fast-paced and full of action, the reader knows they are in for something that will have pages turning. Patterson and DuBois offer up another gem, helping me to see that this is a collaborative effort well worth my time.

Amy Cornwall is back in action, having left the Army and now with the CIA. While on a mission, Agent Cornwall enjoys her time off the radar. All that is tossed in the bin when a field operation goes south after an informant’s intel proves more troubling than first thought. A terrorist plot is revealed and this leaves Cornwall with only a handful of days to neutralise it, or face disaster. One thing about Amy Cornwall is that she thrives in the face of adversity.

While she is off the grid, Amy’s family remains in New York, oblivious to the issues at hand. Tom Cornwall is back to working as a journalist and following up on some leads to a new story, but what he learns could have dire consequences for many. He wishes that he could reach Amy and share what he’s discovered, but it could put them both in harm’s way.

While Agent Cornwall rushes across Europe to get to the core of the matter, she realises that even she might have a limit to the luck she has in stopping a terror attack inside the borders of America. Still, there is no time like the present to put all her eggs in one basket and hope for the best. It will be a race against time to save her family, as well as many others in New York, Trouble is, she must do all this covertly and without the help of the Agency. Patterson and DuBois work well together and this thriller pulls out all the stops.

Readers who enjoy Patterson novels take a gamble with each book. I have long said that collaborators can make all the difference, and have proven that through a number of recent reviews. Working alongside Brendan DuBois, Patterson helps craft a wonderful novel that builds as it pulls the reader in and does not let up. Amy Cornwall has been through a great deal since her departure from the Army. Her time with the CIA has proven to be just as rocky, but her determination has not waned. With other characters enhancing the story, there is a greatness to the narrative that continues through to the very end, when everything comes together. Patterson and DuBois offer up strong plots to keep the story moving forward effectively and without ceasing. The presented themes are surely not unique to the genre, but some of the approaches proved highly effective to differentiate this novel (and series) from others with like-minded ideas. A great addition to Patterson’s vast library of novels, with much thanks to Brendan DuBois for keeping things on track.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DuBois, for this second novel in the series. While I was not sure we’d see Amy Cornwall again, it was a pleasure once more to find her struggling to stay ahead of the trouble.

The Empty Kayak (Queen City Crimes #3), by Jodé Millman

Eight stars

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

Jodé Millman is back with another thriller in her Queen City Crimes series, pulling on a unique case to pique the reader’s interest. There is much going on and when a young man goes missing, all his secrets come spilling out. An empty kayak is all that’s left, but Ebony Jones is not convinced that it was simply an accident. She will have to peel things back, working in an industry when women are still better seen than heard, and hope to get to the bottom of this mystery. Millman does well to craft a great story for the reader, peppering her own perspectives in throughout.

Ebony Jones is a dedicated detective who goes outside the bounds of her job to help those in need. When she and her partner are called to the scene of a missing kayaker in the Hudson River, there are a number of questions. How did a woman make it to shore during a flash thunderstorm and her fiancé remain missing? The more Detective Jones probes, the more questions emerge.

When the victim is identified as Kyle Emory, Detective Jones is shocked and concerned. Kyle was the ex-boyfriend of her best friend, Jessie Martin, a lawyer who takes no prisoners. As Detective Jones probes for answers, she must approach Jessie to see what she knows, which only opens up old wounds and creates chaos. Was Kyle swept out in the water, his body still unaccounted for, or did somewhat have a role in some foul play? Detective Jones asks and receives little in the form of open responses from her estranged friend, who is now stuck being a single parent to a young girl.

When Detective Jones follows the clues coming from Kyle Emory’s life, she finds herself in some very dark places, where many would never dare to tread. Betrayals and risky business prove to be central to the discoveries, but the question remains, how much did Jessie Martin know about the man with whom she was so close for a time? Ebony Jones is prepared to put it all on the line, including her friendship, to get answers and truths that no one seems ready to share. A great story that pulls the reader into the middle, proving that Jodé Millman is at the top of her game!

Having experienced reading the work of Jodé Millman, I knew what I would be facing, pleasantly so. Millman works through her story effectively and keeps the reader in the middle of it all. As with some mysteries, the perspectives prove useful to provide context and help enrich the larger story. Millman’s narrative pacing works in this piece, where all is slowly revealed for those who wonder. The characters tell their own story, as well as filling in the gaps of the victim, to offer a complete piece that is sure to impress most readers. Plot development is key, as there is nothing like trying to decipher what’s going on. Ebony Jones is not the most subservient character, so she needs to really stand out as the plot thickens and things get out of control. I have been impressed with Jodé Millman in the past and hope others discover her work soon, as it is a wonderful escape from some of the heavier reading I have been doing of late.

Kudos, Madam Millman, for an intense thriller that kept me guessing throughout.

Eagle Bay, by Ken Cruickshank

Seven stars

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

Ken Cruickshank makes himself known with this chilling thriller. He weaves a story like no other as the story develops, providing the reader with something well worth their while. A family secret that does not align with anything citizens of Eagle Bay can comprehend is at the heart of the story. Still, there is something there and as the narrative progresses, Cruickshank leads the reader into a dark and intensely complex place to reveal it all, but could it be too late? A decent thriller that had me intrigued.

Eagle Bay, Oregon has long been called a sleepy town, though many would like that changed. Included in the list are Westbrookes, a town cornerstone as far back as anyone can remember. The town is shocked when they hear that Skye Westbrooke alleges that her husband, Thomas, is not who he appears to be, but rather a deprived killer. Awkwardness fills the town square and many are sure that Skye has dreamed this all up in some fantastical story to gain attention. Thomas is the town’s leader, its lifeblood, and these accusations of murder are so out of line!

While things may seem off the wall, no one, Skye included, really knows Thomas Westbrooke and the life he lived under a domineering father, who was as strict as they come. While Thomas appears to be an upstanding civic leader, he knows that his family’s wealth and power are tied to a number of relics connected to a cache of missing antiquities. These items are long fabled as having gone missing off a ship, but their providence seems lost to history, leaving Thomas’ possession of them but a blip on the radar. However, there is a darker history at play here, one in which two families vie for power and control, putting the Westbrookes in the middle of it all, with yet another secret.

Thomas seeks to shake off the struggle between the good and evil that rages inside him, hoping that Skye will come to accept the reformed man he wants to be. This will also keep suspicion off of him for his past and that of the Westbrooke clan in general. The next generation of Westbrookes, Johnny and Dakota, remain confused about their father and the stories about him, soon straining their already precarious relationship.

Skye wants nothing more than to understand what is going on in Eagle Bay and who the man she is married to could be. Suspicions arise as she tries to make sense of something that is not adding up. While Thomas promises that he has changed, Skye wants answers, something that could prove deadly the more she digs. Cruickshank offers up this eerie story that will have readers turning pages well into the night.

This is my first experience with Ken Cruickshank and his work, which puts me in an interesting position. My gut reaction is that he knows what he’s doing and has some wonderful abilities to craft stories that are sure to impress readers. The narrative flow worked well, using some flashback storylines and building on them to make their way to the present day. Characters are strong and provide great direction as well as context for the curious reader. There is a decent amount of plot development throughout, which helps put things into perspective, as well as capture the reader’s attention throughout the reading experience. While things started off a little slow for me, the momentum developed effectively and I was left impressed with the reading experience. I hope others feel the same about Ken Cruickshank when they read this or other things he has published.

Kudos, Mr. Cruickshank, for a reading experience well worth my while.

The Cornwalls are Gone (Amy Cornwall #1), by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

Eight stars

In their latest collaborative effort, James Patterson and Brendan DuBois offer readers an interesting thriller with elements of suspense throughout. The authors build on a great story and keep the action high throughout. This is a collaborative effort well worth praise, something that cannot always be guaranteed when Patterson’s name appears on the cover!

Amy Cornwall is part of Army Intelligence and has a keen sense of foreboding. When she arrives home to discover that her husband and daughter are missing, her panic boils over. Worried about the worst, Amy is contacted by the kidnappers, who offer up a plan to have her collect a man in a small Texas town before delivering him and getting her family back. Not caring about the consequences, Amy goes AWOL from the Army and leaves her Virginia home to trek across the country.

While on rural roads, she encounters a few troopers and her paranoia almost turns her into a murderer, wanting to get her family back above all else. This sense of determination drives her ti do whatever it takes to bring her family back together.

Meanwhile, the ragtag group of kidnappers seem clueless to the larger plan and bide their time, keeping Tom Cornwall and his daughter in relative discomfort, at least until they are told otherwise. Unsure if Amy is coming, Tom can only wonder what’s led him to be held captive and whether this could be in retaliation to something Amy did while deployed. Amy makes her way across the country and takes matters into her own hands, killing people to secure the target, but is then sent on another wild goose chase, with local police and the military tracking her down for their own reasons, as the Cornwalls remain separated in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse. A page-turner if ever there was one, Patterson and DuBois offer up a wonderful story that is full of entertainment until the very end.

Patterson novels are always a gamble, particularly when one never knows what awaits them. I have come to discover that collaborators can make all the difference,. Working with Brendan DuBois, James Patterson has crafted a wonderful piece that pulls the reader in and does not let go. Amy Cornwall, an Army vet, has much going for her, though there is a cloud looming over her from time overseas. She tries to put that in the back of her mind when she is forced to find her family without tipping anyone off to what’s happened. Gritty and determined to find success, Amy heads out on a mission whose end game is more important than anything else she has done in her life. Unsure of the rationale, Amy is determined to get to the root of the issue, letting that fuel a fire within her as she treks out to save those who matter most. There are a few other characters whose presence greases the wheels of the story, propelling it forward and keeping the narrative moving. Patterson and DuBois offer up wonderful plots to keep the characters working in harmony, those sometimes out of sync with one another. While the theme of the story may not be unique, its delivery is one that the reader will enjoy through to the very end, as they wonder what has led to this cross-country chase and who is pulling the strings. A great addition to Patterson’s vast library of thrillers, with much thanks to Brendan DuBois for keeping things on track.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DuBois, for this great novel. Whether we see Amy Cornwall again or this was a one-off, the book is sure to be talked about for a good while yet!

Solomon’s Song (The Potato Factory #3), by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

Bryce Courtenay is one of those authors who have made a life-long impact on my reading journey. Courtenay’s many books have touched on a variety of topic, all of which prove enriching and impactful. Courtenay chose to write an epic story to thank his adopted homeland of Australia, told in three, long novels. He concludes his trilogy, using his powerful way with words and a multi-generational exploration of the Solomons. Filled with themes and key characters in early Australian history, the story finally pushes past the date of federation, when Australia stood on its own, while still under the auspices of the British Commonwealth. This is not only a story about a number of characters who fill the pages, but of a country seeking to leave its infancy behind and stand independent. Brilliant seems too watered down a word for Bryce Courtenay’s efforts.

Picking up soon after the last novel ended, news comes that a body has been discovered in the harbour and the identification makes it seem to be Tommo Solomon. Mary and Hawk make their way to the coroner’s to identify the body and make the needed arrangements. As she is getting on in age, Mary requests—demands—that Tommo’s daughter be sent for, having moved to New Zealand to become a nurse. Hawk agrees to go find her, following the rumours that Hinetitama has fallen onto hard times. A ‘half-caste’, Hinetitama has her Maori roots, but is scorned in a country that still wishes to subjugate those they have colonised. When Hawk brings her back, he is able to convince Hinetitama to live and spend time with her grandmother, who wants nothing else than great-grandchildren before she dies.

In an effort to ensure this happens, Mary works her wiles on the one man who has held Hinetitama’s heart, the Dutchman Slabbert Teekleman, though he is anything but an upstanding gentleman. Bearing two children, Ben and Victoria, Hinetitama soon falls into the bottle once more and disappears, leaving Hawk to act as surrogate parent. Mary’s death also shakes the family to the core, but her choices ensure that the brewery is left in good hands.

It is around this time that the other branch of the Solomon clan reemerge, headed by David, who kept a life-long hatred of Mary for what she did in ruining his mother’s marriage to Ikey Solomon, head of this entire family. A business conglomeration does little to settle the score, though the Solomons are joined together in business, alternating power of the massive Solomon-Teekleman company, depending who is in possession of a majority of the shares.

Fast-forwarding out of the nineteenth century, Australia has been able to stand on its own and emerges ready to play a significant role on the world stage. When the winds of war begin to blow, and with David Solomon ready to die, his grandson, Joshua, emerges on the scene to serve in the military. Alongside Joshua, his cousin, Ben, is also ready for the military commitment, sent to battle under the auspices of fighting for King and country. Courtenay uses this decision—Australia’s Commonwealth commitment to the War—to serve as the major theme of the book. Ben leads a company of soldiers into training and eventually onto the European front, where they meet many an adventure and brutal bloodshed. So many young men, the premiere stock of future Australians, leave to fight for Britain’s interests and end up strewn across the battlefield. Ben served his country well and the story turns into a war novel, exploring the key battles of the Great War.

Bitter that he is watching those around him die, Ben is vilified by senior military officials, while Joshua is kept safe in England. All this comes to a head when they meet on the battlefield; two men serving the same country, but whose lives could not have been more different. It is here that Courtenay injects his most powerful storyline, as the Solomons must either bury their past, or use the animosity to fuel yet another skirmish, while Europe is torn apart. A brilliant end to the trilogy, Courtenay does things in this novel that I cannot begin to elucidate clearly. A master storyteller with a passion for his adopted Australia, it is a novel—and series—that should not be missed by any with a passion for inter-generational tomes.

I have long been a fan of Bryce Courtenay and have a great love of novels that explore inter-generational development within a family. The writing throughout the series is outstanding and places the characters in key situations against the backdrop of history to shape the narrative in many ways. There are a handful of key characters that shape the story at different points, perhaps none more so than Hawk and Hinetitama in the early portions and Ben in the latter segment of this massive tome. The struggle to shape the Solomon name is a task that neither Hawk nor Hinetitama could have expected would rest on their shoulders, but they do it so well. No one is perfect and no family is free from fault, but these two exemplify the pains of being minorities in a land that is still trying to find its feet, using horrible racism to fuel their individuality.

As I have said in the reviews of the other pieces, racism is rampant, though I think it serves to explore the pig-headedness of a new country and these two characters have faced a significant amount of the physical and verbal abuse. Ben Teekleman is a Solomon like no other, who chooses to rise above it all and serve his country without reservation. Courtenay depicts him as a strong, young man who does not get involved in the politics—familial, national, or racial—of those around him, but prefers to make a difference in the lives of those in his sphere. What Ben sees, especially when he is shipped to Europe, cannot be described with ease in this review, but readers who enjoy war history or depictions of the daily situations of soldiers will lap up much of the narrative.

There are a handful of other key characters throughout, fuelling key aspects of the Solomon family feuds and the struggles to shape Australia in their own image. Courtenay is known for his powerful themes and this book does not differentiate from that, though anyone looking for a novel about the niceties of people or their interactions with others should look elsewhere. There is little that leaves the reader feeling warm and fuzzy, but the narrative is so full of passionate storytelling that it should not be dismissed. All three novels have been stellar in their delivery and Courtenay’s best works that I have ever read.

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for a powerful novel and dominant trilogy as you explore the rougher side of life in and around Australia.

Tommo and Hawk (Potato Factory #2), by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

Bryce Courtenay is one of those authors who have made a life-long impact on my reading journey. Courtenay’s many books have touched on a variety of topic, all of which prove enriching and impactful. Courtenay chose to write an epic story to thank his adopted homeland of Australia, this being the second of the trilogy. The book deals primarily with Tommo and Hawk, twin boys born of the gargantuan dockside whore—Spermwhale Sally—they could not be more different. While the former is a small white boy whose intellect was drowned after his extended capture at the hands of a madman, the latter is a giant of a child, whose skin is as dark as the midnight sky. Living with their adoptive mother, the boys grow under Mary Abacus’ tutelage. The story explores how whaling helped form the Australian colony, as well as the Maori Wars of New Zealand. Tommo and Hawn matured under these shadows, but also found themselves in ways not easily summarized in a sentence of two. Bryce Courtenay dazzles and paints quite the picture herein, a perfect accompaniment to. the first book in the trilogy.

Those who read the opening tome—The Potato Factory—will be familiar with Tommo and Hawk, as well as the importance they play in the Solomon family. Both have suffered greatly and wish not speak of the horrors while kidnapped, but are trying to make the best of it while back at home. A skirmish there sends them off to explore the world, feeling the sense of adventure flowing through their veins. Both are hired to work aboard a whaling ship—like their biological fathers—and learn the ways of the seas, though it is anything but joyous. With alcohol being the only outlet after a hard day’s labour, they turn to it, though it is forbidden by the Quaker captain. Punitive action follows in the form of the whip, which leaves Hawk scarred for life, though he is to make another acquaintance with this form of punishment down the road, when a Maori sailor is injured. Forced to stand trial, the boys are locked away in New Zealand, where the Maori storm the barracks and take them back to their tribe.

Rather than instil their own form of justice, the Maori adopt them into their ways and both soon become honourary members. When the Maori face the British colonial soldiers in the region, Tommo and Hawk fight alongside their brethren, whose ancient and somewhat primitive style of fighting, prove no match for muskets and other guns. These are the Maori Wars, where ancient lands were lost and taken by the British before formal colonision of what is now Australia and New Zealand.

Agreeing to make their way to the Australian mainland—for both had settled with Mary in what is now Tasmania—the young men see the city life in Sydney before them, where an old compatriot of their adoptive father, Ikey Solomon, appears and has plans for them both. This is but the beginning of their adventures as men! While their lives diverge on numerous occasions, the brotherhood Tommo and Hawk share can never be broken and their love will surely withstand any challenge, including one embedded in the cliffhanger ending. Those who know and love Bryce Courtenay will likely enjoy this middle book in the Australian Trilogy. Its length ought not deter the reader, as the storytelling found within makes the pages melt away and will transport anyone on an adventure like no other. Highly recommended to one and all, as we continue the thorough discovery of Australia and the people who dwell there!

I have long been a fan of Bryce Courtenay and have yet to find a book that did not surpass my expectations. The writing is outstanding and the adventures on which key characters go are so well explored that the reader can almost picture them as they read. The story does offer significant focus on the twins, Tommo and Hawk, as well it should. These two are very closely tied and yet so different. Tommo, seemingly born with his American Indian (I use the word as offered in the text, not its modern equivalence) father’s blood, though not his looks. Tommo would seem to be the more sensible one and who is always looking out for himself, as he is much smaller and seems to be taken for granted. He is the talker that takes the twins on their adventures and barters when it comes to deal making. That said, he is also the first to succumb to temptations that cannot be stopped by his status. Addiction comes knocking at his door and he readily accepts it, finding himself wrapped up in what will become the opium malady from the Chinese who make their way to Australia.

On the other hand, Hawk is a giant and stands out wherever he goes. Mute for a time, he relied on non-verbal communication and knows how to relay his message with fists, which becomes a theme throughout. He is more willing to storm off and act as he sees fit rather than listen to the common sense approach that Tommo has to offer.

There are a handful of other key characters throughout, though their presence is more isolated to the section of the book pertaining to that piece of the adventure. However, as Courtenay has done in most of his books—and proves here—the attentive reader will see minor characters reemerge at key points, bringing their backstories into the narrative and weaving new tales. All those who play some role in influencing the lives of the twins also push the story along in some way or another and I can only imagine that the final volume will be rich with additional vignettes as needed.

Much continues to be made of some of the descriptions and language Courtenay uses throughout this piece. While the opening novel had the derogatory mention of certain races and the blatant anti-Semitic sentiment, this volume tackles some of the same areas, with a significant focus on Hawk’s race, as well as treatment of the Maori. Courtenay is not looking to write a novel about the niceties of the people or their interactions with others, but to reflect the language and sentiments of the times. Australia was by no means a stuffed-shirt society of high tea and polo. Racism and class systems were rampant—much like Mother England—and Courtenay seeks to portray this. In order to tell the story as truthfully as possible, Courtenay uses the honest, though negative, themes to develop his narrative and peppers the dialogue with derogatory sentiments on almost every page. While I deplore racist language or actions, one cannot divorce the way characters speak or how society treated certain groups from the time in which they lived. Some will call the book racist or pig-headed but it is that naiveté that surely drove Courtenay to be as blunt as he was throughout. The world lost one of its best storytellers when Bryce Courtenay died, but his novels live on and I would easily call them classics that generations can enjoy!

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for another stellar read. I have recommended your books to any and all who want a deeper and more thought-provoking read. Few have ever returned to tell me I was wrong!

The Old Lion: A Novel of Theodore Roosevelt, by Jeff Shaara

Eight stars

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

Having read a number of Jeff Shaara’s historical fiction novels based on various wars, I was surprised to see a biography of Theodore Roosevelt come from him. However, once I got a little deeper into the tome, I could see that Shaara’s powerful writing abilities shone through, illuminating the life and times of one great US President. While the book must be called fictional, it is merely due to the use of character dialogue that gives it thins moniker. Shaara does a fabulous job illustrating the life of Teddy Roosevelt and his various experiences, sure to impress the attentive reader.

Teddy Roosevelt was always a passionate person, who invested his time in many projects. Even in his youth, Roosevelt made strong connections with others and sought to always ask how the world worked, as well as what he could bring to it. Roosevelt used this passion to propel him forward, gaining access to Harvard, where he could study and enrich himself. That being said, he did not stick strictly to the books, choosing to look outside, to nature, to fuel his mind and open new doorways to potential future studies.

Even with his education, Roosevelt was always looking to add to his personal foundation. He headed into the Dakotas, where he helped develop nature preserves and establish a connection with others. Some saw him as a great advocate for the Dakotas, such that he should run for Congress to represent those who lived there. Roosevelt had not yet found his passion for national office, choosing instead to educate himself and those around him. He remained a name on everyone’s lips, which would prove fruitful in the years to come.

When he did take the plunge, Roosevelt served in New York, rallying the people around his ideas and sentiments, in hopes of better shaping the country as it inched towards the 20th century. One detour he took was to help settle the Cuban territory during the Spanish-American War, feeling that it was his duty to protect the small country and ensure its freedom, while also keeping American interests at the top of the pile. He did so effectively and without complaint, feeling that it was his duty to forge onwards and make a difference.

While his ascension to the presidency was a fluke, Roosevelt took on the role effectively and without criticism. He sought to shape America in the very early 20th century in his own image, as a place where people could learn and challenge the rules. While there was certainly blowback for many of his views, Roosevelt never shied away from making the tough choices, all in hopes of making a difference and creating a better America for the next generation.

While politics could be a bloodsport, something Roosevelt tired of quickly, he never lost his spark for discovery and used the post-presidential yers to find new hobbies and discover new adventures that could help him feel satisfied. He used nature as his playground and sought to open his eyes, as well as those of people around him, to see what they could do, rather than waiting for others to take up the task. This enamoured him to many, while it baffled others as well. Whatever people said, Teddy Roosevelt left his mark and will forever be remembered as someone who tried to make America greater for others, something Jeff Shaara makes sure is clearly visible throughout.

Jeff Shaara is one of the great writers of history that I have encountered in my reading life. Choosing to flavour his novels with a fictional angle through dialogue does not lessen the impact of what he has to say or the end result for the reader. His books, this one included, tell of history as pulled from the various tomes that have documented American involvement in all corners of the globe. Shaara uses his passion for storytelling to bring to life those vignettes he feels as worth the reader’s time. While this was not a comprehensive biography, choosing to skip across certain aspects and focus on others, Shaara does a masterful job at illustrating the life and times of Teddy Roosevelt. The characters who emerge, as well as the banter they share with one another, cannot be dismissed and should be noted for all to see. Teddy Roosevelt lived a varied life and his interactions with others proved fruitful, no matter where he was. The book’s progression touches on a number of great parts of the Roosevelt legacy, though does not dive too deeply into any of them. This is a conscious choice Shaara made and I applaud him for it. Short chapters help push the story along and provides the reader with a number of stopping points, or at least moments to regroup before forging onwards. I am eager to see if there will be others branch-offs from those epic war stories, or if this one-off was a treat for readers, before returning to the trenches. I suppose we will have to see.

Kudos, Mr. Shaara, for a great piece of writing that captured my attention.

The Potato Factory (Potato Factory #1), by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

There is a time in the life of an avid reader when one discovers an author that moves them. Bryce Courtenay is one such author for me and I have long enjoyed his books. After moving to Australia many years ago, Courtenay decided to write a ‘thank you’ story for his new country, wanting to pull on all its nuances. He did so in three volumes, the first of which is this book. Filled with wonderful 19th century history of the types of people who made their way to the shores of Australia, then a penal colony, Courtenay provides the reader with a sensational novel about Ikey Solomon and Mary Klerk, two completely different people whose lives in England are shaped such that they need a new start. What follows is an epic tale about their choices and the future they build for themselves, with literally nothing in their pockets. Bryce Courtenay’s best with more to come.

Ikey Solomon has made quite the name for himself in London as a highly successful thief and counterfeiter. His business dealings leave many in awe and with empty pockets, though Ikey is keen to stay one step ahead of the law whenever he can. His wife, Hannah, tries to keep track of him, especially with a growing family, but is unable to do so. However, in all his dealings, Ikey has discovered the art of upsetting others in the realm of criminal activity, which earns him a reputation. When one such thief decides to strike against Ikey, the plan sees the great thief in front of a judge and there is no way out. Could Ikey Solomon have finally met his match?

Mary Klerk has her own life journey to discover. A smart woman who has a passion for knowledge, Mary soon discovers that while her father taught her well, it is not much appreciated in the working world. Mary tries to score a position as a clerk in a number of businesses, but is strong armed by the men who vie for the positions as well, taking Mary and her unique means of calculating sums—an abacus—as their largest threat. They abuse her, leaving Mary gnarled and broken, forced to work menial jobs, though she also meets the famed Ikey Solomon during this time. While Mary and Ikey grow closer, there are some who dislike this team, primarily Hannah, and seek to tear them down. When she is brought before a judge for a long-ago indiscretion, Mary is sentenced to an Australian penal colony and shipped abroad.

As both Ikey and Mary find themselves headed to Van Diemens Land, a penal colony in Tasmania, they try to make the most of their new adventures. Mary connects with those aboard her ship and makes a strong name for herself in the world of medicine and business. Ikey, in his own way, continues to try working the angles to ensure that he will not be left behind, even in a new land. When Mary decides to take up a new craft, that of brewing, she learns the ins and outs of the business in a country that is still rife with entrepreneurial spirit. She creates The Potato Factory, in hopes of starting fresh and ensuring that she can make something of herself. However, Hannah has other ideas and remembers a hidden fortune Ikey spoke of back in England. Hannah begins plotting her own revenge, in hopes of ensuring that Ikey and anyone in his sphere fails horribly. All the while, Ikey comes upon two boys from the most unusual circumstance, adopting them with Mary and watching them grow. Tommo and Hawk accept the Solomon name, but this is only the start to their adventures.

Whenever I read a book by Bryce Courtenay, I am pulled into the middle of an epic story that captivates my attention. I cannot get enough of the setting, the characters, or the many plot twists that Courtenay injects into the piece, all of which prove highly entertaining. The foundation for this novel is the time spent from the streets of London to the arrival on Tasmania, as well as the journey the protagonists make to get there. As usual, Bryce Courtenay offers stellar guidance through his slick narrative, leading the reader on adventures while history emerges at the most opportune moments. Strong characters emerge and provide the reader with something stellar, especially Mary Abacus (Klerk) and Ikey Solomon. They are two pillars in this story and will prove to be essential as the series progresses. As with most Bryce Courtenay books, the types of characters are plentiful, enriching both the story and the humorous aspects of the narrative in equal measure. Plot twists are what keeps the momentum in this piece, which is how Courtenay keeps the reader’s attention. He provides wonderful direction before things fork at different occasions, only to surprise the reader repeatedly. I can only hope that the rest of the series will be as stunning as this opening novel. Long chapters and detailed descriptions provide a smorgasbord for the reader, allowing them to feast on true greatness!

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for delivering another winner. The world lost a great writer when you passed.

Simply Lies, by David Baldacci

Eight stars

Always a fan of David Baldacci’s work, I was eager to read his latest standalone thriller. When the body of a former mob accountant is found in his home, Mickey Gibson finds herself in the middle of a mess. However, there is significantly more to the story, including a woman who appears to have skin in the game. It’s a thrilling game of cat and mouse, with bodies piling up as the mystery progresses. Baldacci keeps the reader hooked throughout and provides an entertaining read!

There is no doubt that Mickey Gibson lives a busy life no superhero would envy. A single mom of two, she’s a former detective who now serves as an investigator for a global firm looking for those who try to hide their wealth. Mickey does the best she can, always looking for ways to keep things exciting while dodging toddler puke!

After receiving a call from a colleague to inventory a house that has recently been seized, Mickey thinks nothing of it all, rushing to make it there. Mickey has many questions when she discovers a body in the house’s secret room, more so when her “colleague” had never worked for ProEye. Who set her up and for what reason?

After convincing the police that she had nothing to do with the body, Mickey learns that the victim was Harry Lancaster, a former mob accountant who had his family in Witness Protection. Now Mickey had a case of her own making, intrigued as to who Lancaster might have been and who the caller could be. A true game of cat and mouse.

While the case has interest all the way up to the feds, Mickey receives threats from locals as well. Hunting down anything she can discover about the woman who now calls herself Clarice, Mickey will have to be careful not to ask too many questions to the wrong people, or have those she loves end up dead. A great piece that shows David Baldacci’s abilities and provides the reader with a stellar story.

There is something about David Baldacci’s writing that always gets me excited. His ability to spin a story and not come off as repetitive has kept me hooked for many years. Baldacci offers a strong narrative base, guiding the reader through the story with great pacing and expansive development at just the right time. In a standalone, there is always the need for quick character development to ensure the reader feels a connection to them, which Baldacci does effectively. Plot twists emerge and develop throughout the story, keeping things from being too predictable. While it was not my favourite Baldacci thriller, it was a strong addition to the series and kept me reading as I tried to get to the climactic ending. I’m eager to see what’s to come!

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for providing me a wonderful reading experience.

The Botanist (Washington Poe #5), by M.W. Craven

Eight stars

Always a fan of M.W. Craven and his Washington Poe series, I raced to get my hands on the latest thriller. Each novel in the series has been highly unique and this was no exception. Someone is killing people through highly complex toxins, though the means by which they are administered remain the greatest mystery. Washington Poe and his team work to decipher what’s going on and how they can stay one step ahead of a killer given the moniker The Botanist. A chilling story that reads so easily, proving Craven’s superior abilities.

While he works very hard, Detective Sergeant Washington Poe has few friends on which he can rely. His civilian analyst at work, Tilly Bradshaw, would surely be on top of his friends list. This is why it seems so odd when he receives a call from Estelle Doyle, the long-time pathologist. Estelle’s father has been shot twice in the head and she has gunshot residue on her hands. The authorities see this as an open and shut case, though Estelle espouses her innocence and hopes Poe can prove it.

What’s more baffling than anything, Estelle has been in the house with her father and a sprinkling of fresh snow remains undisturbed. All the while, a mysterious poisoner has been sending high-profile celebrities poems and pressed flowers, explaining how they will die. Their deaths soon follow, though no one can explain how it happened. Enter Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, who begin deciphering the poems, as well as the means by which this poisoner, called ‘The Botanist’, has been completing the task. No amount of police presence or surveillance appears able to help victims, which makes the killings all the more troubling.

The case will require the technical savvy of Tilly Bradshaw, the deductive reasoning of Washington Poe, and the patience neither of them possess to determine what they are missing. It’s a locked room case like no other, something Poe dislikes at the best of times. A thrilling conclusion by M.W. Craven is sure to keep the reader on the edge of their seat until the final page turn.

I have always enjoyed the work of M.W. Craven, as his mysteries push the boundaries of all things in the genre. He is able to effectively craft stories that keep the mind spinning, through use of a strong foundational narrative. The story moves well under his leadership, though it would be nothing without the likes of Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw. These protagonists offer countless moments of humour and deductive reasoning, while also providing a sense of entertainment just when things are getting too serious. Poe knows how to handle Bradshaw, a feat in and of itself, while also proving that he is not the most connected individual. The plot of the story develops well, offering moments of clarity and fogged confusion at the same time. There is so much to take into account that the reader will have to pay special attention to everything in order not to miss any clue or change in the story’s direction. I cannot wait for more, as the characters and the northern setting both appeal to be greatly. Like Tilly and Poe, patience is not my friend.

Kudos, Mr. Craven, for another exceptional read. I was hooked from the opening pages and could not stop.

An Unfinished Season, by Ward Just

Eight stars

Stumbling upon this novel by Ward Just, I thought I would give it a try. Reading the dust jacket blurb and doing a little background research of my own, I discovered a little more about the author and the types of books he like to pen. The book was a little of everything, which suited me well, allowing me a vacation from the drama-heavy pieces that have crossed boy reading desk of late. Just provides the reader with some special and political commentary of the 1950s, as well as some views into how a young man processed the ever changing world around him in post-war Chicago. I am interested to see about trying to another novel by the author soon, though I am not sure which one I will choose as of yet.

Wilson Ravan has been acclimating to post-war America by watching his father’s life take a significant turn. Living in the small community of Quarterday, just outside Chicago, Wilson watches as Teddy Ravan tries to come to terms with significant change. A strike at the his printing plant and new political views seeping in from all sides, both of which put a strain on the elder Ravan each day. While Teddy tries his best to run the family with his great knowledge of the world, it does not seem to be enough any longer. All the while, Wilson watches and tries to find his own foothold on society’s ever-changing views.

While Teddy deals with unions and their violent reaction to all things capitalist, Wilson’s summer before college leaves him on his own path, taking a job with a newspaper, which opens his eyes significantly. Wilson learns more about the world around him, as well as the struggles in his own community. Attending community events and countless soirées, Wilson soon sees the divide between himself and his parents, who are also becoming frigid towards one another. Amidst all the drama, Wilson finds himself falling in love with a young woman, Aurora, who has family issues that are just as rocky, though these can usually be shelved when it comes to spending quality summer nights with her new beau.

As time inches forward, Wilson sees his life transforming before his eyes, while America takes on new responsibilities. Seeking to synthesise everything, Wilson realises that he has been living in is bubble and that while he appreciates his upbringing in Quarterday, it was much too limiting when compared to the world around him. Teddy tried his best, but his son is just too strong headed, meaning changes will have to take place before too long, if everyone wants to live in harmony. A powerful story by Ward Just that kept me asking questions throughout.

To call the book wholesome or ‘granola’ may be a little too much, but it was definitely more grounded than many books I have read over the last while. Ward Just paints a wonderful picture of the struggles of postwar America and the shadow of the oncoming Cold War. His narrative style is quite clean and provides the reader with some strong themes to consider. The flowing writing introduces characters with ease, each contrasting well with others, which provides wonderful depth to the story. A few key plot twists allow the reader to feel a degree of surprise as they navigate through the book, though the story is less about shock and more the coming of age of a young Wilson Ravan. All this is accomplished effectively and kept me on my toes trying to see what was waiting around the corner. As I said above, I am eager to see if there are other Ward Just books that would interest me in the future.

Kudos, Mr. Just, for pulling things all together with such ease.

The Widowmaker (Black Harbor #2), by Hannah Morrissey

Eight stars

Hannah Morrissey returns with another story set in the fictional community of Black Harbor. While locals have been shocked with crime in the past, what they discover now has many concerned and highly tense, right around Christmas. When Morgan Mori returns to Black Harbor, she’s pulled into the middle of two mysteries as she tries to put the pieces of her life back together. This chilling story follows her and a cop, both digging for truths and running into proverbial walls. As Morrissey delves deeper, she takes many of her characters along for a ride like no other.

Clive Reynolds disappeared two decades ago from the small community of Black Harbor. A business tycoon and well-known to many, Reynolds’ disappearance was once quite the talk, but has since fizzled away. However, the name has long been associated with murder and criminal activity, as people tried to piece together what happened. Interest resumed when the vehicle Clive was driving is found with a body inside, buried in a body of water. All this, as the Christmas holidays inch closer.

Morgan Mori has come back to Black Harbor in hopes of putting her life back together. A down and out photographer, Morgan is invited to snap photos at the Reynolds’ Christmas party, in hopes of jump-starting her business. While she has a great time and hopes to impress, it is on the ride home that Morgan witnesses a cop being murdered while she fills up with gas. This crime and the fallout leave her stunned while offering some potential insight in the Reynolds matter.

With the cold case gaining new life and a cop killer on the loose, Investigator Ryan Hudson seeks to make a name for himself within the PD, new to the role. While Hudson tries his best, the periphery is full of distractions and leaves him unable to properly concentrate. Liaising with Morgan, Hudson gets some pieces he needs, but it only takes him deeper down a rabbit hole and into a new level of confusion. Will he be able to solve the case before things go cold once more? A great piece by Hannah Morrissey that left me wondering until the final page turn.

I discovered the work of Hannah Morrissey awhile ago and was quite impressed. The writing is strong and the story kept me on my toes throughout. In her return, things are just as eventful and I was left wondering until the very end. A strong foundation guides the piece along and kept me wanting to know a little more, as I sought to discover what was going on at every turn. Strong characters build throughout and new faces allowed me to feel as though there would be constant change as things progressed. A need for multiple plot twists kept me in tune with everything that was going on, lessening the need for me to dream up events to hold my attention. I was happy to return to Black Harbor and am eager to see there is another book on the way. Hannah Morrissey has a knack for writing and I will be back again soon.

Kudos, Madam Morrissey, for a great psychological thriller i did not even see coming.

Till Murder Do Us Part (Murder is Forever #6), by James Patterson, Aaron Bourelle, and Max DiLallo

Eight stars

Returning for another two short non-fiction pieces of true crime, I place my trust in James Patterson, Aaron Bourelle, and Max DiLallo. These three have crafted great pieces that keep the reader engaged and entertained from start to finish. Short pieces depict great character backstory, events leading up to the crime, and the fallout thereafter. Told with stunning clarity and chilly honesty, the authors keep the reader on the edge of their seat before all comes together with ease.

Til Murder Do Us Part (with Aaron Bourelle):

Love is a very mysterious thing, according to Kathi Spiars. When it finds her, Kathi does not think twice, even when she admits to not knowing a great deal about Stephen Marcum. As they spend time together, Kathi learns that the man is highly secretive and shares some outlandish stories with her, but who is Kathi to doubt him? They marry and have a number of wonderful years together, but she soon begins to feel that Stephen is not the man he purports to be. Kathi confronts him and all hell breaks loose, leading to a divorce and Stephen’s mental breakdown. When the police become involved, they determine that Stephen is a pseudonym and that he has been involved in a number of crimes and schemes. However, even with her ex-husband in custody, Kathi is not free of fear, worried that he could appear at any moment to seek revenge for her spilling all those secrets!

Ramp Up to Murder (with Max DiLallo):

In the late 1980s, the skateboarding community takes off and professional skaters begin popping up all over the place. Brandi McClain is a young teenager who admires these boys and is in awe of their ability to make it. After connecting with one who seems destined for success, Brandi makes the move from Arizona to California. However, things are not perfect and when the skating no longer pays the bills, Brandi is prepared to make it on her own. In a twist of fate, her one-time boyfriend sees the light and takes up a born-again venture to ensure the world knows the Message of Christ, further alienating Brandi from him. After Brandi goes missing, Sand Diego PD begin an investigation, which soon finds some traction after an odd visitor appears at the police station with a message of his own. What follows is a stunning and sobering set of facts that lead to a floodway of clues to help with the case.

I have always enjoyed Patterson’s shorter non-fiction pieces, especially when they deal with true crime. Both the stories in this collection develop well with strong narratives, offering the reader a great deal without spilling too much. Short chapters push things forward and force the reader to want more with each page turn. The characters serve a purpose and hep add depth. While these are non-fiction pieces, the element of surprise and the means by which the stories are told keep me wanting to read more. I have read a few of these between larger projects and feel they are wonderfully refreshing and chilling in equal measure.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, DiLallo, and Bourelle, for entertaining me so effectively with these pieces..

Murder Thy Neighbor (Murder is Forever #4), by James Patterson, Aaron Bourelle, and Max DiLallo

Eight stars

James Patterson submits a vast array of books to be published under his name, some of which are highly successful, while others appear to be less than stellar. Truly, his collaborators shape the content, crafting ideas before the Patterson name is affixed. He has a knack for developing great non-fiction content, and this is another collection of two true crime stories with impactful themes. Working with Max DiLallo and Aaron Bourelle, Patterson presents two cases that will leave the reader hooked and working up an appetite for more, as there is nothing mediocre here.

Murder Thy Neighbor (with Aaron Bourelle): Ann Hoover enjoys her community and takes pride in her home. However, when Roy Kirk buys the home next door, she soon finds herself filled with rage. Roy is a house flipper and strives to earn more on his investment with a little fixing up. These DIY projects are not quick, turning things into an eyesore and junk heap. As Ann tries to reason with him, Roy becomes less and less responsive, assuring her that he is on it. When push comes to shove, Ann takes Roy to court in hopes of lighting a fire under him. What follows is a gruesome retaliation that will stun everyone, the police included.

Murder IRL (With Max Dilallo): Jenelle Potter is highly social, but has issues connecting with people in front of her. She much prefers social media, where she regularly posts photos and waits for others to ‘like’. With overprotective parents, Jenelle has few opportunities to meet others, but when she meets Billy, she has flutters in her stomach. Doting on him, Jenelle can see this going somewhere, but someone forgot to tell Billy about it. When Jenelle no longer feels Billy is interested in her, she decides to take action in the only way she can. Turning to online posts, Jenelle turns social media into her means of retribution. When it bleeds into real life, things take a dire turn and Billy faces more than a painful smear campaign.

Another great collection of true crime stories. The authors work well to string together two gripping tales, pulled from the headlines. While they differ greatly, both stories are intriguing in their own way and keep the reader on the edge of their seat. Giving a decent amount of backstory, the stories build effectively and offer twists and turns throughout. In true Patterson fashion, the chapters are short and effective, pushing things along and keeping the reader flipping pages, if only to discover the truth behind each of these crimes. Both Bourelle and DiLallo have a long history with Patterson, showing their superior writing abilities here and providing the reader with something great and disturbing in equal measure. Dark and chilling, this is another great read that help me pass some time before embarking on a new and exciting reading adventure.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Bourelle, and DiLallo. True crime seems to be your bread and butter!

Midnight Atlanta (Darktown #3), by Thomas Mullen

Eight stars

Thomas Mullen’s historical fiction uses America and all its foibles as a strong backdrop. This series hones in on the race relations of the post-war era and magnifies how life in the Deep South proved to be dangerous and full of hate. Mullen has impressed me with the first two novels in this series, having me come back for another instalment, where things are changing in all regards. Atlanta is a hotbed for civil unrest and racial divide, but there has been movement, albeit slow. Creating a ‘Negro force’ to keep the Blacks feeling safe by some of their own appears to have been the solution, but there remains a strong resentment by whites, both citizens and on the force. Mullen tackles this and a number of historical events to provide a stellar third novel in the series.

Race relations in America remained precarious in the postwar Southern states. After much pressure to integrate, Atlanta Police developed a ‘Negro division’ in 1948, where Black officers were trained, but they had significant limitations surrounding their jobs and how they could effectively police. As resentment boiled over, these cops were stuck in Darktown, helping their own in an attempt to bring some form of judicial equality to Atlanta and serve as an example for others.

While some progress has been made by 1956, Atlanta is still teeming with racial unrest. Reverberations of Rosa Parks’ actions not to move back on a bus and the momentum young Martin Luther King Jr (an Atlantan himself) is receiving as he preaches for civil rights and equality has the country bursting at the seams. After Arthur Bishop, the editor of a powerful Black newspaper, is killed, questions surface as to what might have happened. Tommy Smith, who left the ‘Negro division’ to serve as a journalist, wants answers and is willing to come face to face with those white cops that tormented him to get them. Why would anyone want to kill Bishop? Might he have been sitting on a story that could blow things wide open?

Smith is not the only one trying to get answers. His former partner, Lucius Biggs, has been trying to work up an angle on Bishop’s murder, helped by white sergeant, Joe McInnis. Both men have issues of their own, especially after McInnis was sent to open the Negro division as a form of punishment in 1948, Now, eight years on, things are getting better and many wonder why he is still there. McInnis and Boggs must also try to deal with federal agents’ incursion into their territory, as many spout communist worries that could have been a reason Bishop met his demise. Neither Boggs nor McInnis are buying it, nor are they ready to play games around trying to loop young Martin Luther King Jr. up in some scheme to keep Atlanta peaceful.

When an arrest is made in the Bishop murder, it is his long-time wife who is saddled with the crime. It would seem the Bishops‘ marriage was on shaky ground and she could have wanted him out of the picture, with a new man on the horizon. While Smith works his own angle, Boggs tries to find actual evidence to show that Mrs. Bishop is being framed and that there is a larger threat lurking in the shadows. It’s midnight in Atlanta and all this could soon come crashing down, if answers are not forthcoming. Another great novel by Thomas Mullen that pits race against reality.

I love historical fiction, particularly when a great mystery is attached. Thomas Mullen has effectively done this for me, keeping things flowing with ease and providing me with something well worth my while. There are a number of strong themes that emerge here, as history begins to take shape in an America that still has not settled the racial divide after its Civil War. Mullen’s narrative guides the reader into all these nooks and crannies, in hopes of shedding light on something insightful, but still troubling for anyone who is not entirely aware of how bad things got at one point. Many characters continue to propel things in a number of directions, all to help the reader better understand what’s been going on and how things remain strained between the races. While both Boggs and Smith receive added character development, Joe McInnis, who was a minor character in the first two books, receives more of his own limelight and the reader can see his own struggles as a white officer who has no issues with the ‘Negro division’. Race is a dividing line and shuns those who do not ‘know their place’. Strong plots emerge and keep the story moving, while providing some wonderful twists and unpredictable moments. I cannot say enough about this book, this series, or this time period. Thomas Mullen has done so well and I hope other readers reach for this series, if only to enlighten themselves.

Kudos, Mr. Mullen, for shining a light on a truly dark subject. I cannot wait to read more of your work and hope additional books in this series are forthcoming.

The Conscience of a King (Medieval Saga #7), by David Field

Seven stars

David Field presents high drama in his 12th century series, exploring England’s growth. The era is controversial and the attentive reader will notice this. As the finale appears upon us, Field provides some insight into how the political and monarchical roads intersected in fine fashion, leaving the reader with this gem that actually spills into the 13th century. While not the best of the series, it is surely one of the stronger novels that offers up much action.

Simon de Montfort has been a dedicated and noble soldier during the Albigensian Crusade. While he holds no formal aristocratic role, returning from France has Simon with a key goal in mind, to see King Henry III and reclaim his family’s title and serve as Earl of Leicester.

As Simon builds his case, he proves to be one of the king’s most prized advisors, helping with political decisions and guiding the military on their various campaigns. This is further challenging when Henry III continues to make decisions that promote foreign power rather than English inner strength. Fellow leaders at court have reached their limit and rebellion is brewing.

Simon cannot fathom how the commoner can be so quickly ignored. A corrupt legal system sees those who cut corners receiving all the benefit. Justice may be blind, but Simon cannot stand idly by as England is torn apart once more, especially by a monarch who is supposed to unite them. While the struggle continues, Simon makes a move that will help benefit the masses, but could cost him everything. Keeping the king’s favour is the only way to ensure he does not lose his head, forcing Simon into quite the predicament.

David Field kept the action going all throughout this series, illustrating various themes through this collection of short novels. Political upheaval paves the way to change, something England faced significantly during this period. The great narrative effort guides the story, introducing characters who serve their purpose during this impactful transformation. Plots, fuelled by factual events and fictional flourishes, permit the reader to feel embedded in the action, ready to face whatever Field offers. It appears as though Field has tied this series off and moved to other projects, though he did well with these seven novels, proving that historical fiction can be both educational and entertaining.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for another curious series that taught me so very much.

Lightning Men (Darktown #2), by Thomas Mullen

Eight stars

Thomas Mullen’s historical fiction writing is probably some of the best I have read, using America as its backdrop. He impressed me with the series debut and I have come back to learn more about post-War Atlanta, where racism is rampant and the colour divide is unlike anything you could fathom. The city still needs a police presence in all corners, but a small group of Black officers are the only ones who receive no support from their white colleagues or those they encounter on the streets. With reemerging groups set to target Blacks, the need for order is like nothing else and there are major cracks within Atlanta PD, so much that it is like swimming against the current just to find justice. All that being said, each day brings new adventures and opportunities to succeed. Thomas Mullen proves his mettle once more and has me rushing to find the final book in this policing trilogy.

Race relations in America remain precarious in the postwar Southern states. Pressured to integrate and show all its citizens protection, Atlanta police create a ‘Negro division’ in 1948. These men are trained, but the resentment towards them is palpable, such that they have significant limitations surrounding their jobs and how they can effectively police. And yet, serve they do, primarily in Darktown, the seedier and Black-majority portions of the city.

“Negro Officers” Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith have noticed an upswing in crime and population on the streets of Atlanta. By 1950, the hatred and racial strain seem to be dissipating, such that integration is more common and people are ready to live and let live, to an extent. However, there are some who hold onto the belief that the races ought never to mix, hoping to find ways to re-segregate and keep anyone who deigns to speak out on the wrong side of a bloody punishment.

When a local group of Ku Klux Klansmen take matters into their own hands, a man is killed, forcing some of the white police to take notice. However, the victim was Black and the Klan is strong in the region. Does loyalty to the law or race hold a stronger grip? While they struggle, Officers Boggs and Smith refuse to stand down to the Klan and try to get to the heart of the matter, including finding the murderer and bringing him to justice. They will face violence like no other and are able to reveal that the law is not colourblind in Atlanta, but rather fuelled by Klan sentiment. Just as America tries to turn over a new page, it slips back into violence and fascist clashes where poisonous vitriol becomes the message of the day.

As Boggs and Smith deal with their jobs, they also have personal matters that take up much of their time. They cannot ignore the issues that bleed into their jobs, forcing them, too, to take a harder look in order to determine what’s important to them and how they will handle it all, while keeping Atlanta safe for all its citizens. Mullen does exceptionally well at keeping things on point and impactful in this second novel, paving the way for even more action.

I love historical fiction when balanced with a great mystery. Thomas Mullen keeps impressing me with his depiction of America through a number of lenses, all of which resonate throughout the story. Strong social and political themes emerge, pitting sides against one another as the tension builds with each chapter. The narrative flow is swift and yet lingering, keeping the story from getting too predictable, even if history has made clear what is likely to happen. Chapters of varying lengths keep the reader in touch with what is going on, sometime pressing a point and at other times leaving it to be but a passing sentiment. The characters are an essential part of the story, offering perspective and racial tension needed to keep the themes progressing throughout. Match this with the series debut and the reader can get a better picture of what is going on. Boggs and Smith both have significant development here, offering up context about heir pasts, the present in which they live, and where they see things going in the future. There is little time to rest, as the plot twists are substantial and keep the story on point at various times. I fell into this series by accident and am so happy to have discovered Thomas Mullen’s work. I cannot get enough of it.

Kudos, Mr. Mullen, for continuing to dazzle!

The Libyan Diversion (Marcus Ryker #5), by Joel C. Rosenberg

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Joel C. Rosenberg, and Tyndall House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Joel C. Rosenberg, thought to be one of the great prognosticators of Middle East political goings-on, is back with another novel in his Marcus Ryker series. Filled with wonderful geopolitical drama and on point writing, Rosenberg dazzles readers with his detailed stories that have a way of turning into newspaper headlines, while never skimping on action or extrapolating out of the realm of possibility. With a great deal left up in the air when the previous novel ended, Rosenberg offers series fans something intense and full of answers, while layering on more questions to ponder. Fantastic reading for those who have the time and inclination!

After locating one of the world’s more nefarious terrorist—Abu Nakba—Marcus Ryker is ready to make his move. He outlines his proof regarding the location of a man responsible for horrible bombings both within and outside the US, letting POTUS and the National Security Team decide to strike with a powerful drone. When the strike is done, all seems to be right in the world, until a news report shows that the intel was flawed and a number of disabled children in hospital ended up being killed when the strike took place.

While Ryker has been tasked with getting rid of the remaining members of Kairos, the most ruthless terrorist group with strong Middle Eastern ties, he soon becomes persona non grata as details of the drone strike surface. He is immediately suspended by POTUS, just before the Leader of the Free World is struck down by a horrible medical emergency, leaving the country in a political quagmire. What can Ryker do but face the music and remain sidelined, as he tries to understand how he must have been so wrong?

In response to the strike, Kairos is preparing for a retaliatory strike against the Great Satan, with a plan that will surely have reverberations all over the world. Keeping news of the president’s illness from the press, the vice-president must assume a role he never expected would be his, under the 25th Amendment. As new intelligence suggests that Kairos could not only be targeting America but be inside its borders, it is a scramble to crack the code before all is lost.

All the major players will have to make decisions well outside their comfort zones, in an effort to save the free world and keep the country safe from terrorist harm. With the clock ticking and a major event planned in the heart of the country, action must be taken. Will Marcus Ryder remain a benchwarmer, even with that major gaffe on his record? Rosenberg spins a story like no other and kept me begging to know more as I pushed through this book whenever time permitted.

Whatever the reader’s politics, Joel C. Rosenberg makes reading this book both enjoyable and thrilling. He has an insider’s view of the Middle East situation and uses it effectively with a strong narrative. There are so many moving parts to follow that Rosenberg relies on his key cast of characters to push things along before reaching the climactic moment. Mostly in the moment revelations, Rosenberg allows some of his characters to develop their backstories and progress, which is sure to appease series fans. Plot twists emerge repeatedly, with a number of events building on one another until the final event pits two opposing forces together. One cannot get enough of this, particularly as Rosenberg has a knack for predicting events in geopolitical spheres, unlike any other author I have read. With a number of threads left to dangle, the next in this series is sure to be even more impactful and I await its release.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg, for a stellar piece of writing and proof that political thrillers can be multi-dimensional.

Darktown (Darktown #1), by Thomas Mullen

Eight stars

Thomas Mullen impressed me with his debut novel and now I’m eager to return for more. This time, we delve into post-war Atlanta, a hotbed of segregationist sentiment and Black suppression. While the city needs policing, it is apparent that there are issues that will require a less uniform race. Still, as Mullen addresses throughout, respect and equality are not present, leaving a small band of Black officers to struggle as they try to keep the peace in the city’s predominantly African American communities. A murder leaves some aghast, while others could care less, forcing a handful of cops to try to find justice amongst all the hatred. Thomas Mullen does it again, in this series debut, sure to be a hit.

While the Second World War ushered in a great deal of change, the race wars of America remained strong in the late 1940s. After being pressured to show a more integrated force, the Atlanta police hire their first Black officers in 1948. These men are trained, but there is a great deal of resentment towards them, both from their brothers in blue and by the general public, many of whom feel they are no better than the scum that wander the street. With significant limitations placed on them, this small group of Black officers try to swim against the current and keep parts of Atlanta safe that many others would not deign to visit.

Officers Boggs and Smith are two of these men, having grown up in Black America from vastly different families. Still, they share the inability to be taken seriously, while trying to patrol the streets of Darktown, the predominantly Black community. After a black woman turns up fatally beaten, her lifeless body triggers a memory in the two cops. They saw her recently accompanied by a white man and being slapped around. While this might trigger action in many other parts of the country, APD’s white officers could not care less, feeling that it is one fewer Black roaming the streets at night. As Boggs and Smith try to investigate, they are stonewalled by a wily cop named Dunlow, who has control of the streets and much of the APD force.

As the story unfolds, Boggs and Smith learn more about the victim and determine that her past may have come up to bite her, though this is no reason to dismiss her murder as anything less than a crime. As Dunlow tries to shut down the operation, he makes it clear that these Black police officers should stand idly by and simply serve as window dressing, leaving the real work to the white majority, none of whom could care less about the murder. Still, there is something to be said about dedication and perseverance, including a determination to keep the streets free of crime, no matter the colour of someone’s skin. Mullen keeps the reader guessing in this novel, which touches on race relations, policing, and the need for colourblind justice, even in the Deep South.

I am a great fan of historical fiction, particularly when mysteries are woven into it. Thomas Mullen has impressed me with what little of his I have read, always able to transport the reader back in time and touching on some of the issues of the day. Strong themes emerge in the solid narrative, which lays the groundwork for a stellar story, developing with each passing chapter. The characters are also highly important, fuelling the racial divide effectively and keeping the reader in awe of the treatment handed down by both sides. Plot twists emerge, as in many other mystery novels, but they are all locked in race and cultural divisions, adding something new to the book that kept me flipping pages well into the evening. I can only hope the next book in this series proves to be as exciting, as I have so much more than I would like to learn, both about Boggs and Smith, as well as the growth or recession of Atlanta’s police force.

Kudos, Mr. Mullen, for laying the groundwork for a stellar series.

Murder of Innocence (Murder is Forever #5), by James Patterson, Max DiLallo, and Aaron Bourelle

Eight stars

James Patterson has great versatility when it comes to what is published under his name. I have long felt that it is the collaborators who drive the content, shaping ideas and having them ‘blessed’ by Patterson before they go to the publisher. All that being said, this allows James Patterson to have a great variety of works attributed to him, both fiction and non-fiction. This is another collection of two non-fiction pieces about criminals who sought to have it all and keep their victims in the dark. Working with Max DiLallo and Aaron Bourelle, Patterson presents two cases that will shock and stun the reader, both of which are entirely true and pulled from the headlines. I find that Patterson usually excels with his non-fiction work and this was no exception, offering up some chilling revelations for all to see.


Andrew Luster is one of those men from whom women cannot turn away. His good looks and charm are matched by a significant wealth that makes his California lifestyle one that keeps him partying and with an ever-rotating list of women in his life. The flip side to this is his penchant for targeting young women, all of whom are caught up in his charm and desire to push the envelope. While many agree to his suggestion of GHB, Andrew takes it to the next level when they have passed out, raping them and filming it for his own pleasure. While he comes across as kind and romantic, it is the treasure trove of videos he has of these women, all of whom are clueless to what they have done, that keeps him going. When one woman chooses to report the encounter to the police, it begins a snowball effect that Andrew Luster and his attorney could not have seen coming!

A MURDEROUS AFFAIR (with Andrew Bourelle)

Having dreamed of working for the FBI, Mark Putnam is excited when he is given his first assignment in Kentucky. While Agent Putnam is building his case, he finds that he can use the help of Susan Smith as an informant, who will help him locate one of the state’s most wanted criminals. When the case ends, Agent Putnam and Susan continue their connection, moving things into a more personal realm. Soon, Agent Putnam is making excuses to his family and finds himself neck-deep in a relationship with Susan. When she turns up pregnant, he panics and she disappears. Agent Putnam denies knowing anything about the disappearance, but all the signs point to something sinister and rookie agent soon becomes prime suspect.

Patterson’s shorter non-fiction pieces have always been of interest to me, particularly because I do enjoy a bit of true crime. Both these stories develop well with strong narrative foundations, preparing the reader for what is to come without revealing too much at once. Short chapters help propel things forward and keeps the reader on their toes. The characters, who appear throughout the story, serve a purpose and hep add depth to an already great piece of writing. While these are non-fiction pieces, the element of surprise and the means by which the stories are told keep me wanting to read more, in hopes of cracking the case wide open before the final sentences. I have a few more of these collections to read and will pace myself, adding them between larger and more intense reads.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, DiLallo, and Bourelle, for a great set of stories that sent chills up my spine and turned my stomach. Criminals can appear so cunning, but their stupidity is also baffling.

The Last Town on Earth, by Thomas Mullen

Eight stars

Thomas Mullen dazzles with his debut novel, taking readers on a unique journey, at least at the time of publication. With the Great War waging in Europe, the small community of Commonwealth has another battle on its mind. A major flu epidemic is crossing America and this town wants to keep it at bay. Choosing to quarantine themselves, citizens of Commonwealth notice how the decision could have long-lasting effects on them and those they love. This is the story of two wars raging in tandem and how a small band of citizens reacts to the major changes around them.

Buried deep in America’s Pacific Northwest, the newly incorporated town of Commonwealth thrives and relies on its tight-knit nature. Reliant on wood from the surrounding forests to fuel work in the mills, the citizenry ensures nothing will keep the men from making their livelihood. Teenager Philip Worthy is especially thankful for Commonwealth, as he lost his parents years before in a freak automobile accident.

While the Great War rages on In Europe and fills newspaper headlines, the citizens of Commonwealth have been able to dodge it all, watching to see if President Wilson will begin trying to get Americans to fight alongside their British brethren. All the while, a major influenza epidemic is racing across the country, strong and more virulent than most, leaving death and destruction in its wake. The town leaders want to keep the evils they are reading about away from their doorsteps and take the bold step to quarantine Commonwealth by block access to its roads, thereby ensuring that no stranger can enter to spread disease. Not everyone is in favour of this. but some see it as having the added benefit of keeping German spies from infiltrating the streets of the town as well.

While guards man the roads into town, this separation could have long-lasting effects that could create other issues, given time. After being tasked with guard duty, Philip makes a rash decision when a weary and apparently ill soldier begs for assistance. Granting him access only makes things worse for Philip and sees the toying man tossed in jail alongside the soldier. While there are no outward signs of illness in the stranger, locals begin to get sick. The town doctor treats them as best he can, but nothing is easily referenced in medical tomes in 1917. Slowly, illnesses turn to deaths and Commonwealth has a war on their hands.

All the while, conscription becomes a harsh reality and. Recruiters come to gather all the able-bodied men to serve. For a town that relies on its workers to keep the mill running, Commonwealth is doubly crippled and many are unsure what to do. Philip must maker a choice of his own and resist the outside pressure, though it mounts. Patriotism in a harsh medicine for some, while others cannot volunteer their services fast enough. How will Commonwealth handle both wars that have crept to the town’s border and who will prevail? A brilliant debut novel that plucks on the heartstrings of the reader and forces everyone to take a step back for a moment.

I received an email recently about the new book from Thomas Mullen, unsure why it would be directed to me. However, I began looking into the author and discovered a treasure trove of novels, many of which would appeal to me. I chose this one, a stand-alone, to see if I could whet my appetite. That it was Mullen’s debut was only later known to me. Mullen does a fabulous job developing the narrative and provides key aspects to the situation at hand. I felt as though I was in the middle of America’s Pacific Northwest in the early 20th century, with all that was happening on the outside. The characters are strong and provides wonderful contrast between one another, all of whom added depth and impactful commentary on the world at large. The plot twists developed so wonderfully and kept me wanting to know more. It is worth noting that this story, while centred on the Great War and the emergence of what would be called the Spanish Flu, has some eerie parallels to the way things were for some communities during COVID. Mullen is said to have drawn some of his depictions of Commonwealth from a number of little-known towns that did exactly that during those two world events. A truly masterful debut novel and I will return to read some of his other works, including a police procedural trilogy that looks amazing while tackling another part of America’s. sordid history!

Kudos, Mr. Mullen, for keeping me enthralled until the very end with this stellar piece.

Matthew Flinders’ Cat, by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

Master storyteller Bryce Courtenay returns with another of his formidable stories, again set in Australia. Courtenay offers a wonderful mix of a strong narrative foundation with stellar characters who colour each page, while providing some insight into Australian history and societal norms throughout a period in the country’s history. Never one to skimp on the details, Courtenay offers up a majestic journey through the story’s complex pathways, leaving the reader in awe at every turn.

Billy O’Shannessy was once well-known in the legal community, but has since let himself go, lost in the bottle. Now living on the streets, he makes every day his new adventure to conquer. While he sleeps on a bench in the park, he’s close to the bronze statue of Trim, the cat who accompanied Matthew Flinders on his many adventures exploring and discovering Australia. Billy has a connection to Trim and is said to speak with him on occasion, learning all about the feline’s countless adventures on the high seas.

A chance encounter with a ten-year-old Ryan has Billy thinking more about his life choices. While he regales Ryan with Trim’s adventures, Billy knows that he must change his ways if he hopes to survive. While it is apparent that Ryan has secrets of his own, including family problems and severe neglect, Billy hopes to be able to act as a support. That will require a strong determination and rehabilitation to stop drinking and become the role model young Ryan needs.

While Billy and Ryan enjoy the stories of Trim, there is a more modern and impactful adventure that awaits them as they seek new lives to better themselves. This is the story of their connection, encountering many interesting characters along the way, as they try to change their pasts to project a more positive future for themselves. Touching on a number of key themes and social issues of the time, the tale offers readers a sensational look into it all with Bryce Courtenay at the helm, a captain anyone would hope to have lead them.

While Bruce Courtenay has penned many novels—all of which I have read—none is a repeat of any other. The themes that emerge are both impactful and educational for anyone who takes the time to digest these longer stories,. Led by a strong narrative, Courtenay takes the reader on adventures and into the nooks of life wherever he sets the story. While there is obvious meandering, nothing is superfluous in Courtenay’s writing, as it all comes back to be an essential part of the larger piece. Characters abound and each has their own flavouring to add to the book, usually from all corners of the earth. Plots develop and become important whenever Courtenay needs them, but there is an underlying theme of social exploration in each, offering up a gem or two for the reader to enjoy. Educational moments abound, leaving me wanting to know more about so many subjects. While the world lost one of its great storytellers, the novels of Bryce Courtenay live on and seem timeless. As I have said before, these are some of the only books I could re-read and always feel a new adventure awaits me. Any of his books are must-reads, though readers who want a larger challenge might want to try some of his trilogy or duology works.

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for another brilliant piece that keeps me on my toes.

Fire with Fire, by Candice Fox

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Candice Fox, Tor Publishing Group, and Forge Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Candice Fox has long been a strong crime writer and is proving herself once more with this latest novel. The story is strong, unique, and moves effectively, keeping the reader engaged until the final pages. There is something about her style that pushes me to want to read more and get deeper into the case at hand. Fox is able to use some of her Australian background and superimpose it on an American setting, providing something that stands out, and creating a stellar reading experience.

Ryan and Elsie Delaney are at the end of their rope. After their daughter, Tilly, disappeared two years ago, they received no help from the police and the forensics remained tied up in a pile of ever-growing cases that had not been processed. They have taken matters into their own hands, holding those in the lab hostage until Tilly is found. To add something to the mix, they will destroy one sample an hour until a resolution is found.

While the LAPD is scrambling to put it all together. Detective Charlie Hoskins decides to take on the case himself. Having been undercover for years before his cover was blown, Hoskins has something to prove and takes the Tilly Delaney case for himself, working with Lynette Lamb, a police officer for a day until something horrific happened, which she still says is not her fault.

As Hoskins and Lamb join forces, albeit awkwardly, they begin to see that there is more to the case than meets the eye. Who was watching Tilly the day of her disappearance at the beach? Why are stories not matching up and who could have been planning something from the start? While hostages are in danger and LAPD resources are spread thin, Hoskins and Lamb find their own path towards the truth, away from the chaos that is the forensics lab.

As tensions mount and time ticks on, Hoskins and Lamb cobble together a theory on this cold case. Their working together has its bumps, but both have

something to prove to themselves, to others, and to the LAPD. It will surely be something to behold and Tilly Delaney’s case deserves answers, even if the little girl will never make her way home. Candice Fox does a wonderful job putting this piece together and leaves fans itching for more in this explosive novel.

I have long enjoyed the writing of Candice Fox, who always seems to have something to say. Her stories are on point and she has an acerbic wit that keeps the reader from falling into anything too predictable. Strong narrative guidance provides the reader with direction and keeps them wanting to learn a little more, all while feeling as though they are part of the action. The characters emerge throughout with their own perspectives and keep things light when needed, while also digging deeper into the case at hand. The plot derives from well-founded ideas and moves on from there, offering twists and turns at just the right times. I can only wonder how things might have gone had Fox not been so adamant about advancing the many storylines as well as she did. I admire the hard work and dedication that went into the book and applaud Fox, who has shown a propensity for nailing a strong crime thriller both in her native Australia and using an American setting. she is also keenly aware of police procedures, bringing the reader in for a strong police procedural. It proved to be a wonderful reading experience and I hope others will take the time to acquaint themselves with one of the best in the genre! Only question remaining, is this the start to a series?

Kudos, Madam Fox, for another great piece of writing!

23 Hours to Midnight (Women’s Murder Club #23), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Eight stars

James Patterson and Maxine Paetro return with yet another instalment of the Women’s Murder Club. Packed with great storytelling and a decent few mysteries, the authors craft a story well worth the time of series fans. A serial killer emulates the crimes of a recently incarcerated mass murderer, hoping to lure Detective Lindsay Boxer and her SFPD team into a game of cat and mouse. As the action mounts, revelations are made that could have dire consequences, when one of the Club’s own is tangled in the web. A nice addition to an already busy series.

One of Detective Lindsay Boxer’s greatest feats as part of the San Francisco PD was putting serial killer Evan Burke behind bars. Burke’s murder spree was long and complicated, allowing everyone to breathe a sigh of relief. Fellow member of the Wommen’s Murder Club, Cindy Thomas, uses her crime reporting skills to work with Burke to write a tell-all book about the killer’s life and some of the gruesome acts he committed. Now published, the book is selling like mad and Cindy has been on the book signing junket, in hopes of garnering even more press.

After a disruption at one of the book singings, Cindy is thrown off her game. Soon thereafter, a body is found and the victim has been killed in a way very similar to one of the Evan Burke murders described in the book. This has Detective Boxer and her team quite confused, even more so when a mysterious message reaches her from someone claiming to be Blackout, a fan of Burke’s murders. The killings are set to continue as long as Cindy Thomas keeps touring around.

While CIndy refuses to stand down, the killings continue and Blackout begins a deadly game of cat and mouse with Boxer and the others. What is the connection and how could the killer be so swift to strike? It is only when Cindy is kidnapped by Blackout that Boxer and the SFPD realise just how serious things are getting. The hunt for Cindy who could be the next victim, is on, leaving Detective Lindsay Boxer on guard and leaving no rock unturned.

All the while, fellow Murder Club vet, Yuki Castellano is, in court, working on a case with its own dire consequences. A man is accused of depriving his wife of the necessities of life after chaining her up in the basement of their home. While Yuki is sure that this is a slam dunk, the accused tells a story of depravity committed against him and how he was out of his head. Something’s got to give as the case (and Cindy’s kidnapping) come to a head in this electric tale of crime, murder, and the connection of the core four. Patterson and Paetro do well to progress the series and keep me wondering what’s to come.

I have long enjoyed this series and the characters who find their way inside its pages. There have been some definite ebbs and flows to the series though nothing is as refreshing as seeing a strong novel in the series. The authors spin a tale and keep the reader involved throughout the busy narrative. Key characters emerge as needed and provide the reader with something to enjoy, as they can trace their development throughout the book and series at large. Plots emerge and develop as well, twisting and spinning at will. The series has a new life and I am eager to see what;s to come with it. I will still put it out there that some crossover work with other Patterson series is in order, though coordinating it could be the issue,. Then again, what else has Patterson go to do, with all his collaborators writing?

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro, for a great addition to the series.

Fairy Tale, by Stephen King

Eight stars

It is always a treat to pull a Stephen King novel from the digital shelf to peruse. King not only can call himself a master storyteller, but also has a way of spinning a story that keeps the reader hooked. While there have been some less than exciting novels that I have come across, most, like this one, held not only my attention, but also left me to marvel at where the ideas emerged. A story about a young man who straddles two worlds in search of peace, happiness, and to understand what has been thrust before him are all parts of this piece. King shows his abilities as he mixes fact, fiction, and a little oddity together.

Charlie Reade has tried to be as regular a high school student as he can be. An athlete in both baseball and football, Charlie has a knack for all things physical. However, he holds onto a dark past, when his mother was killed a decade before and his father took the plunge into alcoholism soon thereafter. While Charlie was able to keep things in order, it was more than any young child should have to face. He did encounter a dog, Radar, when he turned seventeen and soon found a connection to the canine’s master, Howard Bowditch. While helping the elderly man convalesce after a fall, Charlie and Howard create a bond where many refused. Howard Bowditch’s house had long been called one where only oddities took place and the locked shed in the backyard could be called nothing but downright spooky, especially when noises emerged from it at all hours.

As Charlie and Howard grow closer, the connection to Radar also increases. It is only after Howard dies that Charlie realises just how close he was to them both. Having been willed not only the property, but also ownership of Radar, Charlie takes on the Herculean tasks of trying to get the house in order and keep things running. He discovers a cassette tape—no one ever called Mr, Bowditch technologically savvy—on which Howard professes a connection to another world, one that Charlie must go visit. It all seems a bit much, but Charlie is both intrigued and dedicated to the cause.

Now, with Radar in tow, Charlie finds a way into this other world. While he is armed with his hero complex, Charlie cannot help but see parallels to some old Grimm fairytales in this land—the original, scary versions, nothing sanitized for child consumption—where good and evil press up against one another. As Charlie travels with Radar, they must complete a mission to ensure neither side tips the balance. As the battle continues Charlie discovers that it is not only this world that could be impacted by the overtaking of evil spirits, but his own. Armed with direction and dedication, Charlie brings Radar along to see who and what he will find, all in an effort to make sense of things as yet completely baffling. King at his best, tossing in confusion with a protagonist who refuses to stand down from adventure.

While some will call Stephen King the Monarch of Horror, I prefer to look at him as a powerful storyteller with a great deal to say and who refuses to remain on the path, His storylines have always been unique and told with such vigour that I cannot put most of them down. Varied, though never too far from the road of the odd, King keeps the reader hooked with his tangential narrative styles, which upsets some but dazzles others. His ability to wind a story around a seemingly innocuous kernel is not longest on me, but in doing o, he coaxed out so many interesting aspects to his characters and those who serve as building blocks for the larger piece. There re sensationally developed individuals who cross the pages of this book, some of whom I could never have conjured up in my mind. Plot toasts emerge and disappear throughout, though it is the dedicated reader who will see what’s really going on, well below the surface. While some might call this piece more science fiction than anything, it is grounded in a mission that a young man must make in order to better understand himself and the world around him,. I am eager to see what’s next for King, who never seems to run out of ideas, no matter the topic at hand.

Kudos, Mr. King, for a refreshing look into your tangential storytelling abilities.

Storm Rising (Hayley Chill #3), by Chris Hauty

Eight stars

Chris Hauty is back with a third Hayley Chill political thriller. Expanding the exploration of the Deep State and picking up where the previous novel ended, Hauty illustratess just how intense things are getting and how his many plot twists need some form of resolution. Working with political and social events pulled from the headlines, Hauty provides a strong novel to show just how complex the political situation can be and how enemies lurk around every corner, foreign and domestic. Having read all three of the novels and the novella, I am fully committed to the series and cannot wait to see what’s to come.

After leaving the employ of the White House, Hayley Chill intends on focusing her attention on an old passion of hers. Honing her skills, she begins training for the MMA, but finds herself not quite as sharp as she used to be. This is only a temporary distraction, as she still hopes to better understand what happened to her father and why he was living under the radar for so long before committing suicide. A document hidden inside the man’s house may provide some answers, but it also opens up many new avenues that Hayley has yet to explore.

Having spoken with her Deeper State handler, Hayley is granted permission to explore the angle of her father’s life a little more. She stumbles upon a troubling revelation in the US military, one her father was involved in and could have led to his demise. This leads to proof that there is a movement to create a new group of states seeking to leave the United States. Before a new Civil War can emerge, Hayley will have to use her skills and connection within the Deeper State to stop things in their tracks. However, she has a number of personal issues that could keep her from acting too swiftly. She’s a valuable asset to the Deeper State, but Hayley can see that there might be more to life that she wants, other than racing around protecting the US Constitution. But, might that all be a ruse best left to others? Chris Hauty develops another stunning thriller that keeps the reader guessing and on thee edge of their seats until the climactic end!

There is nothing like a great political thriller to keep the reader engaged and asking questions. This is the third full-length novel in the series and perhaps the most impressive one to date. A great narrative flow is balanced with characters who are constantly developing, which helps add depth and flavour to this impactful novel. Some of the plot twits in the novel help advance the larger political themes of the series, but there is something about the personal development that Hayley Chill experiences that keeps the reader hooked. The politics are on point and left me begging for more. With a fourth book on the horizon, I cannot wait to see how some of the cliffhangers will be resolved and what is to come for Hayley as she has some major choices to make.

Kudos, Mr. Hauty, for another winning piece of writing. Don’t stop, as the momentum is just getting revved up!

Insurrection Day (Hayley Chill #2.5), by Chris Hauty

Eight stars

Choosing to sandwich a novella between two of the major Hayley Chill novels, Chris Hauty recounts the story of how a single day almost led to the end of the American Republic. Told with his usual sharp wit and attention to detail, Hauty provides the reader with something entertaining as the action is kicked up to a new level. Perfect to bridge the second and third novels in the series, there is a little here to tide the reader over before returning to the explosive story that kept readers in awe.

After visiting a friend in the hospital, Hayley Chill has a plan to make her way to the Capitol to watch a motion pass in the Senate Chamber increasing sanctions on the Russian Republic after their puppet fled the US presidency. Along the way, she notices that something is brewing, led by a large contingent of white supremacists. After seeing the power of a group determined to cause trouble, Hayley is taking no risks and rushes to alert the authorities.

When Hayley enters the Senate building, he hopes that she will be able to forewarn those who need to protect the area and those working inside. However, the insurrection soon gets out of hand and spills inside, causing chaos and mayhem as things are destroyed. This is the perfect opportunity to strike, as another group has plans to dismantle America one brick at a time. Once Hayley realises the ruse, she must work to neutralise both groups before all is lost. All this on a single day in DC. A great story that kept the action high and the politics flowing throughout.

While there is no doubt that Chris Hauty got the idea for the novella from the January 6, 2021 insurrection, he made it work with is own themes. I recently returned to the series and found myself unable to stop reading the Hayley Chill books, which are full of politicising and great action. The narrative flow, even for a novella, is great and kept my attention throughout There are some wonderful characters who emerge, adding depth to the story and helping to connect things ahead of the third novel. Hauty offers some plot twists that help keep the reader on their toes and provides them with something entertaining as they pass the time reading this piece. Some character and story arc developments are present here, adding to an already strong series. I am even more determined to push onward with the third novel now, eager to see what happens next for Hayley Chill.

Kudos, Mr. Hauty, for this much-needed deviation in the series. It added much and kept me wanting even more.

Savage Road (Hayley Chill #2), by Chris Hauty

Eight stars

Chris Hauty is back with the second in his Hayley Chill political thrillers. Gripping and captivating, it explores the deep state and all that plays into that premise. Hauty provides the reader with a great story that packs a punch as it tackles issues torn from the headlines. While slow and clunky at times, Hauty provides some intense writing and thought-provoking plots worth analysis by the attentive reader.

Hayley Chill is in a unique situation within the White House. The Chief of Staff to a powerful members of the President of the United States’ team, Hayley has an in with whatever is going on. She’s also employed by the ‘Deeper State’ to keep an eye on all things taking place within the Oval Office. Thankfully, she has POTUS on her radar, a man who was placed in the role by the Russians but whom Hayley is turning to America’s favour. Still, it is a precarious position and requires the utmost secrecy.

As if her day were not busy enough, a series of cyber attacks are causing havoc across the US. Hayley his tasked by the ‘Deeper Stse’ to find out who is behind them and have it neutralised. Many feel that it is the Russians, flexing their muscle in the eye of another clash between superpowers. Knowing that, Hayley will have to be careful as she works the double-agent POTUS to garner intel. The Russians are not sitting idly by as accusations are tossed in their direction.

Hayley will have to work all angles to ensure that she is not taking the country down a rabbit hole, with World War III looming. She has to get POTUS to make a move, but one that will not upset either side and still provide needed information to bring own a hacker. There is no time for games or silliness, but Hayley Chill is never one to dawdle. In the midst of trying to save her country, Hayley is forced to look inside herself as things in her own sphere change drastically and the truth she was sure she knew about her family comes tumbling down. One move changes everything and leaves the plan in tatters! Hauty provides some great development in this piece, sure to keep the reader hooked until the final pages.

Stories of this nature are surely not dreamed up in a void. While there are some interesting parallels to what could have been taking place not too long ago, Chris Hauty is sure to create some strong fictional elements to keep his piece on point. There are moments of greatness within the narrative, as it weaves from one topic to the next. The reader can see how things are developing while also feeling that the piece is on solid ground. The characters are well positioned to provide the best impact within the story, some with strong backstories and others who are simply there to transition from one topic to the next. Hauty does well to keep things moving along, as the pilot twists are also quite abrupt and keep the narrative from getting too drab. I can only hope that there will be more to build upon as Chris Hauty left some great sprinkles within this piece in the form of a strong cliffhanger. A great political thriller that has me wanting more before I move onto another great story.

Kudos, Mr. Hauty, for this strong second novel, which has all the elements of a well-crafted piece of political gold.

The Hollows, by Mark Edwards

Eight stars

British psychological thriller writer Mark Edwards is back with another of his novels that are sure to send chills up the spine. Set in Maine, the story explores urban legends and the connection a teenage daughter has with her father, while they spend much of their time half a world apart. Edwards entices the reader with strong writing and a decent plot, providing a methodical approach to the piece and keeping things moving along well. A book worth my time, though not as scintillating as I have seen from Edwards in the past.

After his divorce, Tom Anderson saw his ex-wife and their daughter flee the comforts of the UK to settle in America. Now, with his own career as a music journalist in free-fall, Tom makes his annual trek across the Pond to see Frankie, in hopes of reconnecting with his fourteen-year-old daughter. Tom hopes to push away the distractions of the outside world and chooses the small resort town of Hollow Falls, Maine. Praying that this will work to rebuild their shaky connection, Tom and Frankie begin their escape.

There is something definitely off about Hollow Falls. The wind speaks through the trees, wind chimes ring out randomly, and there is an aura of mystery. All this is confirmed when Tom meets his neighbours, true-crime podcasters David and Connie. It would seem Hollow Falls had a gruesome killing take place there two decades before, something the locals want to keep hidden and folklore has helped build into a crippling worry. With the crime still unsolved, many flock to the region to see where it all took place and posit as to what happened all those years ago.

While Frankie has befriended Connie and David’s son, Ryan, Tom is determined to get to the heart of the matter. Working through what he can decipher, Tom begins preparing to write a lengthy article about Hollow Falls and the murder case. However, there are forces that would keep him from doing just that, as well as flashbacks that tell of how things came to be that fateful summer. As Tom tries to keep Frankie safe and yet still uncover the truth, he is faced with the struggle to choose one or the other. How could such a bucolic community have such a disturbing secret? Mark Edwards spins the tale and keeps the reader guessing about what awaits them in the shadows of Hollow Falls!

I discovered Mark Edwards a number of years ago and have not looked back. His writing is both chilling and well-paced to keep the story evolved. With a clear narrative, Edwards guides the reader through the story easily, offering up wonderful elements that were sure to draw the reader’s attention. A handful of strong characters and situations that help develop their depth, there is much on offer, as well as countless pathways of development. The plot inches forward with both mystery and psychological chills, providing the reader something they can ponder as the climax emerges. While not my favourite Mark Edwards piece, it was a stronger one and the author does well with an American backdrop, showing his writing versatility.

Kudos, Mr. Edwards, on another strong piece that is sure to general some chatter among your fans.

Central Park West: A Crime Novel, by James Comey

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, James Comey, and The Mysterious Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

James Comey made many headlines during the lead-up to the 2016 US presidential election, and the fallout with former President Trump. Now, Comey has moved into writing fiction and hoped to make a splash, ending up on the New York Times bestseller list and away from a place above the fold. A great crime thriller that pulls on some great policing, as well as strong courtroom drama, Comey keeps the reader hooked as the story progresses. Wonderful writing and laying the groundwork for something series-based, Comey is sure to garner some great publicity, as Trump remains above the fold in shackles.

Having worked on a case against a powerful mobster that has spanned many years, Assistant US Attorney Nora Carleton feels that she can finally put things to rest with this one witness. However, things take a turn when the defendant passes along a note, promising some information on a local case. The murder of a former New York governor, pinned on the man’s current wife, could see a new accused, should the mobster’s intel be substantiated. Nora cannot ignore this and approaches the news delicately, but with vigour. What follows is an investigation that could change the direction of these two cases significantly.

When the murder of Dominic “The Nose” D’Amico comes to light, Nora is sure that this is a message that his leaking information could not go without notice. Nora works to find the real killer of the disgraced former governor, apparently a mob hit, even as the evidence points to the wife. When she is able to nail something down, she will not only have to convince her superiors, but the prosecution, who are sure they can get a conviction in state court. Working all the angles, Nora secures an arrest, but will have to take the case to trial, in hopes of showing that the deception and treachery committed were all part of a larger scheme to enforce a message on a politician who had deep pockets and no morals.

As the case reaches its climax, Nora’s family is threatened and a new tactic must be taken to ensure a conviction. Nora works her courtroom magic, while keeping an eye over her shoulder as the pressure mounts. With a drastic change coming to her personal life and an attempt to process everything taking place, Nora will have to find a way to convict the accused and bring this mess to a close before anyone else dies. Comey does a great job, illustrating the investigative and judicial side of a case throughout, keeping the best for last in this stunning debut thriller.

There are many who have had their time in the limelight that try their hand at writing. Some are successful, while others fall flat. James Comey had a wonderful history working within the FBI on both criminal and legal matters, though his firing left him with a fair bit of time on his hands. This venture into writing has shown that he is capable of spinning a story and keeping the reader enthralled. A powerful narrative that moves at a swift pace, balancing courtroom drama with the underlying investigative prowess, proves to be the cornerstone of this great piece. Strong characters, some of whom with great roots that could develop into a strong series, emerge throughout the book, leaving the reader begging to know more. There are various plots twists that build and keep the reader wanting to learn just a little more as they make their way through the story. For his first work of fiction, James Comey has all the elements of a great novel. I can only wonder if there will be more, Nora Carleton or another powerful protagonist. Whatever the future holds, I will keep an eye out for more by Comey, as he is surely at the top of his game in this crowded genre.

Kudos, Mr. Comey, for a great debut piece of fiction. I am eager to see where things go and how you will impress readers with your next published work.

The Family Frying Pan, by Bryce Courtenay

Eight stars

Bryce Courtenay has long been one of my favourite authors of all time. His stories are always so detailed and keep the reader actively involved as things progress through a variety of situations. There is nothing like reading his accounts of events, which usually take readers on a journey like no other. While this book differs greatly from many of the Courtenay novels I have read, it was still enjoyable and full of history. Said to be at least partially based on true events, Bryce Courtenay dazzles once more, this time in a series of short stories.

Mrs. Sarah Moses was a character like no other. Apparently the grandmother of Bruce Courtenay’s wife, the author recounts some of the unique things this woman of Russian heritage did as she fled the Motherland during the early push towards communism. Moses left with little, save the clothes on her back and a family frying pan, one that could create the most sensational meals and has absorbed all these stories. This is a collection of the stories Mrs. Moses collected during her time trying to flee war-torn Russia at the beginning of the 20th century.

While i will not recount each of the stories here, the detail in which Courtenay recounts each piece is stellar. Mrs. Moses not only gathered foods in the forest, but was able to gather stories and vignettes about the lives of those with whom she fled. Some told tales of wedding nights gone miss, while others spoke of having special gifts that they could use when the time was right, and others still spoke of far-off lands where thing were vastly different. All of these stories would be told around the fire, as Mrs. Moses’ frying pan created marvellous meals that would fill the bellies of those around her.

Each story is rich in Russian history and flavouring, offered up to provide the reader with some great entertainment. While many get quite deep into life of a Russian peasant, it permits the reader to see how others lived and the depth to which people pursued their passions. Bryce Courtenay, a bystander and self-professed transcriber of these stories, was able to breathe some life into the pieces, though he is sure that Mrs. Moses was a much better storyteller than he will ever be. If that’s the case, I would have loved to have met this woman!

It was recommended that I read something by Bryce Courtenay years ago. Since then, I have not been able to stop, devouring any and all books to which he puts his name. While the author has since passed away, his are surely some of the only stories that I can read repeatedly and never tire. I have my eye on a few longer and multi-volume stories, each of which offers up his tell-tale uniqueness, as well as a richness of narrative flow. This piece, which centres around Russia, is much different from the other pieces I have read, but is equally impactful. Great narrative foundation sets the tone and strong characters emerge throughout the piece. Mrs. Moses is the key narrator, but she also hands control over to her fellow travellers, who spin their own tales for all to hear. I can only wonder what it would have been like to live through these moments, but am offered something special with the writing of Bryce Courtenay. Many have panned (if you pardon the pun) this book, but I found it quite enjoyable, though not the typical Courtenay fare.

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for a unique story that helps us remember how much we have and the power of a good meal!

Smokey Joe’s Cafe, by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

There is nothing like Bryce Courtenay for the reader looking to explore sensational writing and stories that are sure to transport them to various parts of the world. Likely one of the greatest storytellers I have had the honour of reading, Courtenay can spin any tale into an addictive piece of writing the reader will not want to put down. This was no exception, in one of the shorter pieces about a topic that is highly controversial. While I read this one years ago, I needed a reset and this hit the spot.

Thommo is an energetic young man who has lived quite the life already. Having served in Vietnam with the Australian Army, Thommo has stories that could fill a million notebooks. But when he made it back home, he could not find work, having been turned into a pariah for his service. However, he’s found one thing that brings him happiness in the form of a young woman, Wendy. While many wonder if Thommo and Wendy can make it, they defy the odds and even find themselves with a little one to boot.

While little Anna is a blessing to them, she develops leukaemia and is not given a great diagnosis. The only thing Thommo and Wendy can do to distract themselves is to run the town’s small restaurant, Smokey Joe’s Café. Known for its great music and stellar food, Smokey Joe’s is talked about for miles around.

When Thommo receives a visit from a number of his Vietnam vets, they have a proposal for him, all in the hopes of raising money to pay for Anna’s treatment and surgery. While Thommo and Wendy are touched, the risk is high and will require significant planning. However, it’s for Anna and so some of the illegality is diluted by the need to keep the little one alive. Thommo is willing to do it, but there is always more to the story when the Dirty Dozen are involved.

All the while, Thommo has many a flashback to his time in Vietnam. Some great stories but also a significant number of traumatic events fill Thommo with emotion. Wendy can only wait patiently as the man she loves is forced to relive some of the most horrible moments of his life. Bryce Courtenay proves he is a master and provides the reader with a great deal of entertainment and education in equal measure.

I remember discovering the writing of Bryce Courtenay years ago. I could not get enough of the writing, the characters, and the way it is all woven together. Courtenay has a way with words, such that the narrative takes on a life of its own, guiding the reader along with sensational detail. Alongside the wonderful storytelling are multi-dimensional characters, all of whom have a life of their own. Courtenay paints them with attributes and personalities that flavour the story and keep the reader feeling as though they are right there. Plot twists emerge and develop with ease, permitting the reader to feel a part of the action. As with most of his novels, Courtenay provides social commentary and emotional connection on a number of issues. I found myself fully committed early on and feel so happy I took the time to indulge in one of Courtenay’s shorter pieces. Now to decide if I want to take the full plunge into one of his epic books.

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for a stunning exploration fo Vietnam from the Australian perspective and the power of a father’s love for his daughter.

3 Days to Live, by James Patterson et al.

Seven stars

While James Patterson appears keep to keep collaborating with others, his choice of ‘second chair’ usually helps to explain the calibre of the published work. In this collection of novellas, Patterson teams up with three authors to create stories that differ greatly from one another. The titular piece is first and strongest, though all three have elements worth exploring and the reader is surely in for something completely different, should they read them back to back (to back). Proof that Patterson’s work differs greatly and that collaborators influence the final product more than not, this is something for readers to debate as they dissect each piece.

3 Days to Live (with Duane Swierczynski)

When Samatha Bell-Drexel arrives in Berlin for her honeymoon, she expects time to recharge and spend with her husband, Kevin. However, things soon turn on their head when Kevin is killed by some form of poison in their hotel and Samantha in infected with the same toxin. A former CIA agent, Samantha can only wonder who might have struck, targeting her for past indiscretions. When her doctor gives her only 72 hours to live, Samantha goes on a rampage, trying to discover who killed Kevin and how she might defy the odds as she must face her past head-on. No one is safe and nothing is quite as it seems.

Women and Children First (with Bill Schweigart)

Chase Weldon was a successful tech executive working in Washington. As with any business, there are highs and lows. Some can weather the storm better than others. After someone takes offence to his decisions and orders him to kill his family, Weldon knows that he’s in deep. Working to stay one step ahead of these crazed fools, Weldon thinks back to his life in the military and decides to turn the tables hunting down those who would have him lose it all!

The Housekeepers (with Julie Margaret Hogben)

Dr. Elizabeth Parks is a respected doctor in Los Angeles, who’s taken the time to set up a facility for those in hospice. When she is approached by two LAPD detectives to discuss the murder of one patient, Dr. Parks is baffled. However, this is minor compared to the crimes being committed right under her nose by the two women she employs as housekeepers. These women have been working for the wealthy over a period of time, stealing their jewelry and pawning it for money. When the ruse is discovered, Dr. Parks is targeted to silence her, leaving the two Russian women to vie for control of the property and its riches. They did not expect the Russian mob to enter the fray and turn a bloody mess into a massacre.

What a varied collection within this publication. Each of the three authors who collaborated alongside James Patterson brought their own flavouring, which is readily apparent when reading the pieces. While all three have merit, I would say that the strongest is surely the first, the titular novella for this collection. Patterson and Swierczynski appear to have a great handle on things and keep the reader in the middle of the action throughout. The middle piece is highly technical and while it has some decent plot movement, the narrative can get bogged down and leave the reader looking for an escape hatch. Patterson’s work with Hogben on the first piece was decent, with some potential in the narrative and plot emergence, but was not as gripping as I would have liked. A decent filler for me, though I like the explosive pieces and something with more meat. I applaud James Patterson bringing many authors together to showcase their wares, but would love to leave this ‘bestselling’ author to do his own thing to show quality and stop selling based on name recognition alone, while others create the foundation of the writing .

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Swierczynski, and Schweigart, as well as Madam Hogben, for keeping me entertained. I enjoyed the varied approaches taken, even if I was not gripped by all three pieces.

Death of the Black Widow, by James Patterson and J. D. Barker

Eight stars

Some of James Patterson’s strongest collaborations come when he works alongside J. D. Barker. Fabulous stories and sensational writing emerge, keeping the reader hooked until the final page turn. In a story that spans a few decades, the authors present a crime thriller that offers up something somewhat supernatural, while also highly intense. A killer is on the loose, but her elusive nature baffled many and has become a massive woman hunt, though no one around Detroit is safe in the meantime. Patterson and Barker prove a formidable team and have me hoping they will collaborate again soon!

During his first night on patrol, Detroit PD Officer Walter O’Brien attends a crime scene with his veteran partner. What they find is a murder that leaves them both baffled. A man lays mutilated on the ground and a 20 year-old woman pleads that she was kidnapped and did what she could to get loose. What follows is a moment of disbelief, as the woman not only plays the victim, but eludes the officers and ends up on the lam, shoving rookie O’Brien as she does. O’Brien cannot help but think that he may have been duped by the woman, who is likely a killer working her own angle. This is one case O’Brien won’t soon forget, or drop.

As the years progress, O’Brien makes detective, though his desire to find the mysterious woman has not waned. Thinking that he may have spotted her one day, O’Brien renews his search, much to the chagrin of his new partner and those working alongside him. Still, O’Brien cannot shake that this woman could be committing murders without regard for anyone but herself. As a number of bodies emerge with odd markings on them and missing fingers, O’Brien is sure this is the work of the woman. She has gone by a variety of names over the years when people spotted her and it is only recently that things appear to be falling into place. These monikers are all the names of female serial killers from earlier times, black widows who went around killing men and taking all they had. While O’Brien has yet to catch up to her, he’s hopeful and willing to take whatever method is needed to stop a killer.

O’Brien discovers the killings may not be isolated to Detroit, having found other victims as far away as Atlanta. She continues to leave victims in various states of mutilation, none with any recognisable connection to the others, save an interaction with her. O’Brien continues to age, eventually tossed from Detroit PD for his own vices, but will do anything he can to stop the killings and neutralise the killer before she can spin a larger web. This is one black widow who has little regard for her victims, but lures them in with a variety of charms. A chilling story that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat as they try to decipher what’s going on. Patterson and Barker work so well together, offering up a story that will resonate with readers as they make their way through the many twists.

I have long expressed that the work of James Patterson can be a real hit and miss, depending on the day and those who are collaborating. As I have read a number of novels J.D. Barker has published in his own right, I knew what to expect and was not disappointed. Barker appears to take the lead here, with his rich narrative and strong foundation setting. Patterson’s crime ideas emerge, though he is surely letting the master work his own magic. Characters are well-developed and never appear to wane as they engage with one another. Plot twists come early and often, providing the reader with something on which they can feast. The longer and more complex chapters are surely a Barker doing, as Patterson’s quick delivery is shelved in order to create a more impactful story. The case is on and both authors find ways to leave their own flavouring with this piece, but the reader’s greatest takeaway is a story that leaves more questions than answers.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Barker, for providing yet another winning novel that has unique and supernatural elements.

The Boys from Biloxi, by John Grisham

Eight stars

There is nothing like a John Grisham novel to get the blood pumping. One of the great writers of the legal thriller, Grisham sets out to dazzle and impress readers with his varied approaches to the law. This piece mixes wonderful legal maneuvering with some generational competition, while highlighting the city of Biloxi, Mississippi. A great story that develops throughout, Grisham takes readers on an adventure like no other.

Biloxi, Mississippi has long been known for its beauty and commercial value in the South. Its residents speak of the inviting nature they possess, while those in business have long mentioned the great industries that pepper the town, as well as deep roots that families have set down over the generations. For many, Biloxi is the ideal place to live and raise a family.

Keith Rudy and Hugh Malco were prime examples of the Biloxi community spirit. While growing up on the Little League fields, Rudy and Malco were inseparable, seen as two of the great baseball stars of the time. However, as they grew older and their interests diverged, it became clear that these boys from Biloxi would be able to show just how varied the city could be. It was then that things got even more interesting.

Hugh Malco came from a family who wanted to use the industrious nature of Biloxi to their advantage. Hugh’s father, Lance, worked in the city’s underbelly, providing strength to the more criminally minded individuals. Clubs, booze, and skin were all part of the Lance Malco business plan, making sure that those who owed a debt never forgot to pay up. Hugh admired his father in a roundabout way and sought not only his approval, but also a chance to have a piece of the pie. Biloxi’s criminal element could not work without Malco muscle, leaving many to steer clear unless they could settle their debts swiftly.

Keith Rudy took another path when he reached his teenaged years. Living in the shadow of a father who cobbled together what little he could and attended law school, Keith had high hopes for himself. Now, with the onslaught of a massive hurricane, many around Biloxi are devastated and no one is there to help. Taking on the big insurance companies, Jesse Rudy vows to clean up the Coast from lying and cheating companies who see Mississippi as just another backwater state whose residents deserve little. Making a name for himself in the legal community, Jesse Rudy becomes synonymous with keeping everyone in their lanes and putting the law first. This helps him win the post of DA and has some wondering if he will climb all the way to the Governor’s Mansion.

When a major clean-up of Biloxi is proposed, it’s Malco and Rudy who will face-off in the courtroom. It is sure to be a dangerous endeavour, but there has to be some risk in order to find significant success. Keith and Hugh can only watch as their fathers work their angles to ensure the decision that works in their favour. These boys from Biloxi have seen a great deal in their time, but this is sure to be something monumental and worth significant repercussions for years to come!A significant event turns the case that the clash on its head, forcing Keith to reconsider his future, for the love of family.

Every John Grisham novel brings with it a uniquely alluring exploration of the law and Southern charm. This book explores not only the Mississippi flavor of growing up, but also the litigious nature of trying to keep the state clean. Grisham’s narrative abilities are on feature here, with strong direction and great foundation. Characters emerge throughout, rich with their unique personalities and flavourful banter. While plot twists may not seem plentiful, there are great aspects that emerged and are sure to keep the reader on the edge of their seats, as Grisham knows just when to toss in a surprise. Great themes and true Southern flavouring are sure to transport the reader to Grisham’s backyard.

Kudos, Mr. Grisham, for another stunning thriller that left me wanting more from the people of Biloxi!

China: A Novel, by Edward Rutherfurd

Eight stars

Any reader looking for an epic, multi-generational story about a city or region need search no further than Edward Rutherfurd. His latest novel takes on one of the most intense settings to date, tackling China and all its history. Rutherfurd confines his narrative time beginning in the mid-19th century, but loses none of the intensity or historical impact. The Great Dynasty is better understood in Rutherfurd’s writing and keeps the reader hooked throughout. Stunning in its delivery and full of powerful history, Edward Rutherfurd proves his mettle with this epic novel.

China’s power could not be denied in 1839, as the First Opium War pushed across Asia. The British may have a powerful hand on parts of the continent, but it was China’s control of opium that could not be ignored. Trade hinged on control of trading routes and the most sought-after items, of which opium was surely a key. Pitting the three major world powers—China, Britain, and America—against one another to control opium, Rutherfurd explores how they were able to deceive one another while pushing an addictive substance onto the masses.

As time progresses, exploration of China’s deeply-rooted dynastic adherence and tradition of cultural castes, as well as some of the key roles within the Emperor’s own court. From generational traditionalism to household roles, and even the place of eunuchs in the larger power structure, Rutherfurd shows the mentality of the Chinese and how set rules trumped any outside progress as the world changed. Those not entirely familiar with the traditions will likely scratch their heads, but it is the intricacies of each tradition and the detail to which they are described that makes their adherence better understood. These are surely the building blocks of the Chinese mentality of long-standing belief, though the reader can see that they hold a larger and more revered purpose as well.

By the 20th century, power bases were changing, but the Chinese were more concerned with their own internal structure, all without lagging behind. Power remained internalised, but this would help the Chinese to prepare for outside change, with politics emerging as a key wind for change. China’s fight to control its political future came to a head with the Boxer Rebellion, which would surely help usher in a new movement and create an appetite for increased power. While Mao was still little known, there is little doubt that he had begun planning what would be his epic revolution of the country.

There is no doubt that Edward Rutherfurd is at the top of his game in this multi-generational piece of historical fiction. While my review explored some of the larger themes and did not delve into specific characters, the reader can rest assured that much of the teaching done in this tome is through the vast array of fictional characters. Rutherfurd offers up some stellar narrative flow and provides excellent character development, all while keeping numerous storylines in tact. There is something about this type of storytelling, tandem narrative that do not regularly intermesh, that keeps the reader on their toes throughout. There is no doubt that the many plot developments and twists throughout will entertain and educate the reader in equal measure, leaving much to the imagination as time progresses. Rutherfurd’s detailed research and intricate placement of many of these stories cannot be ignored, nor should they be dismissed. While I remember waiting so long for the publication of this book, I can see now that the delays were well worth it, as Rutherfurd provides something as powerful as it is beautiful. China’s history is so much more than the communist state that provides a strong counterbalance to the capitalism many Westerners have become accustomed to in their own countries. The richness of the beliefs and strength of the various perspectives leaves readers in awe and has me wondering what is next in Rutherfurd’s vast array of multi-generational novels.

Kudos, Mr. Rutherfurd, for making the long way all the more worthwhile.

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.

The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top-Secret Military Research Agency, Annie Jacobsen

Eight stars

Far away from anything the general public understands, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) lurks. These are the technological inventions the US Department of Defence use to further their abilities on the world scene. As author Annie Jacobsen posits, some of the technology is used by the US military two decades before it becomes public knowledge, leaving me to wonder what’s being worked on now. Jacobsen uses her exceptional research and writing abilities to provide the reader with a sensational look well behind the curtain and into the secrets the US Government has been using to further its stronghold around the world. Readers who enjoy this type of analysis will surely want to take detailed notes as they make their way through this book.

The need to be technologically advanced became essential for the US Government with the onset of the Cold War. As Jacobsen explains in the opening chapter of the book, secret tests for a new hydrogen bomb took place soon after the Second World War and the results were astronomical. From there, exploration into what other types of military and defence advancements could be done became the task of the day. As Jacobsen explores further, the bomb testing had some fallout no one could have expected, when cancers and other radiation-based diseases emerged in many of the scientists involved in the testing.

With the onset of wars in Asia, US Defence began looking at new strategies to defend against the enemy and scare Soviet-backed countries into submission before things got out of hand. While this might look good on the surface, as soon as technology is released, it can (and is) copied by others, meaning that US strategies to use bombs or chemicals would soon be met with an equally potent weapon by the opposition, making technological advancement essential. Jacobsen cites the emergence of napalm and other chemical weapons key to US success, though there was a need to be careful not to come across as violating war treaties and killing tons of innocent civilians.

This was also the era of new weaponry, which could be utilised and leave no outward scarring. Psychological warfare was becoming a key to successfully learning about the enemy and how to break them down. Jacobsen explores this and how the US military tried to find ways of extracting intel without leaving any permanent damage, though it would not be met without resistance and a form of retaliation by the North Vietnamese. Torture of the physical variety was effective and the North Vietnamese were happy to work with it, as it yielded the same results while offering a more permanent reminder to victims.

Moving through some of the new tech put in place to create stronger battlefield readiness, Jacobsen moves into the 21st century with discussions about the new enemy the Americans had to battle, the stateless terrorists. Using the over-flogged September 11, 2001 narrative, Jacobsen discusses DARPA’s reaction and how it needed to tighten the monitoring abilities to be hyper-aware of what was going on around the country (and the globe) to ensure that no one would be plotting anything of this magnitude again. While it remains somewhat murky in the book’s disc cushion as to whether DARPA or other agencies were fully aware of September11, the significant amount of egg left on America’s face was one that no one wanted to see again. Overriding the rights of the individual for the protection of the masses became a major issue and is still prevalent today,. Jacobsen does a masterful job at addressing it and keeps the reader’s plate full with all sorts of information.

In the latter portion of the book, as Jacobsen continues to reveal some of the stunning technologies, she touches on robotic advancements, used not only to spy on enemies, but also potentially to neutralise them when something is being done. Constructed to look like hummingbirds, dragonflies, or even beetles, DARPA is able to control these miniature drones to gather intel or serve as tiny bombs to kill those who are causing harm. It is so inventive and yet eerie to learn about this, leaving me to wonder what sort of detailed analysis I will undertake when next out on a picnic or talking a walk in the community.

While intelligence and military history is not of particular interest to me, I am always keen to see what going on ‘behind the curtain’. Knowing that the Americans are always on guard to be five steps ahead, I was keen to see what Annie Jacobsen could reveal from the many interviews she undertook for the book. The flow the the narrative and topics discussed proved to be the perfect fit for this book, keeping me well informed and always hungering for a little more. Chapters flowed well, one topic into another, and I could see how military intelligence and battlefield readiness would be important to Americans and likely some of their allies. With the world scene changing on a daily basis, it is interesting to see what’s available, even if what the public sees is usually two decades old. I have enjoyed other tomes by Annie Jacobsen and will likely return to see what else she has penned before too long. This was an eye opening experience and I am eager to see what others think of it as well!

Kudos, Madam Jacobsen, for another great book that taught me so much.

Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, by Alex von Tunzelmann

Nine stars

I have often wondered about the history surrounding the creation of the independent country of India and how it split with the British Empire. When I saw that Alex von Tunzelmann had penned a thorough history of this, I was quick to find a copy so that I could educate myself a little more. There is no doubt that von Tunzelmann does a spectacular job with this book, educating the reader throughout and keeping the story moving. With so many actors and moving parts, it can be somewhat daunted to try deciphering everything, but the book sets itself up to be both thorough and clear in its delivery, making the experience all the more enticing for me. I cannot say enough about Alex von Tunzelmann and how pleased I am to have found this book.

India’s complexity is nothing if not daunting. British historian Alex von Tunzelmann makes this clear in the opening chapters of the book, as she tries to offer readers some context as to how the jewel in the British Empire became one of its most troubling children, with a number of players who sought independence as soon as it was possible. The reader discovers Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Louis ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten. all of whom played central roles in the development of the mature Indian state and its push for independence. But events did not emerge one sunny day, without context, which is why von Tunzelmann spends the first few chapters providing content about these men and their upbringing, as well as how this fit into the larger Indian narrative. The reader can see how each had their upbringing that would shape their political and social opinions for decades to come, all coming together in the independence of India in 1947.

As the history progresses, it becomes clear that Gandhi and Nehru sought independence for Indian from different perspectives but pushing for the same reasoning; India deserved to rule itself and its people sought control of their own politics. Nehru used parliamentary means, with his stunning prose and ability to negotiate effectively, as the narrative reflects at numerous points. Gandhi, on the other hand, chose acts of defiance and publicly drew attention to himself for the cause. He would have fasting periods in order to seek Indian independence, trying to blackmail the British into doing something that would ensure India received what it deserved. When Mountbatten came into the scene, as India’s viceroy, he served to represent the Crown, but could see that his role was being watered down by local sentiment, no matter how hard he tried. The jewel in the British crown was loosening and it was only a matter of time before there would be nothing left for the British to hold onto, no sense of connection or population wanting Britain’s protection.

While the inevitable was happening, India was not in pristine shape. It had countless issues within its borders, with vast swaths of different social and religious groups, each wanting their own voice and potential independence from a central government. The Muslim heavy area of the country sought their own state (what would be Pakistan) and the Sikh population also wanted something of their own. The British could see that the new Indian state would not rush off without issue, but stepped back as a swift August 15, 1947 date approached for handing things over. As von Tunzelmann explores, the Indian preparatory stage was wrought with bumps and bruises, trying to see what would be ‘India’, what would go to Pakistan, and which parts would declare for themselves. The narrative clips along by this point, providing some interesting asides as plans for the Royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip fast approached, casting some shadow in Britain on the dismantling of the Empire.

In the final section of the book, von Tunzelmann explores the infancy of India and how it sought to keep together. Britain was not prepared to keep the training wheels on, nor did some within India want them. However, there were struggles to get a unified message of independence out to the world, as the USSR—living almost in the geographic backyard—looked for allies in the brewing Cold War. This could prove to be a key challenge, but India appeared keen to keep its support focussed on the US and UK, rather than turn to the Soviets. This would be one country that could be a real powerhouse, depending on which way it chose to offer its support. The key actors died for their causes, though each was able to see India move into a successful country,. The next generation moved in and filled the void, pushing the world’s largest democracy towards the 21st century.

The greatest thing about reading a book for me is what I will discover within its pages. Alex von Tunzelmann makes sure that I come away with something, in this case, a great deal, to contemplate and synthesis for myself. I do enjoy learning and there was a great deal of that in this tome, as the history moved along at breakneck speed. The narrative flow worked well, usually pushing forward in a chronological fashion, while the reader is forced to pluck bits of knowledge along the way. Chapters within the book are well themed, but also keep the reader in suspense, at least for those who are not familiar with the history of the region or India itself. To say that a great deal happened in a short period of time would be an understatement, but von Tunzelmann provides thorough accounting of everything and left the reader with so much to digest. I got so much out of this book and can only hope that others who take the time to read it will do the same.

Kudos, Madam von Tunzelmann, for educating me in a way that proved entertaining as well!

Haunting Pasts (Mabel Davison #3), by Trevor Wiltzen

Eight stars

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

After I discovered local author Trevor Wiltzen and his writing not too long ago, I was hooked. When WIltzen offered me an ARC of the latest in the Mabel Davison series, I could not agree fast enough. The series takes Mabel, a diner waitress and motel owner, out of her comfort zone and turns her into an amateur sleuth and private investigator. Her sole focus has been to discover the whereabouts of a number of missing girls around her part of Washington State. Add to it the fact that it’s 1987, away from a great deal of the tech seen in more modern thrillers I read, and the story takes on new dimensions that I cannot help but love. Wiltzen has a great following and I am pleased to be one of them, as this novel adds more tension, excitement, and mystery to a really great series.

Mabel Davison has a great deal on her plate, both literally and figuratively. Running a motel and diner in her small Washington State community, Mabel has been pulled into the middle of an investigation to find a number of missing girls. The case has gone cold but Mabel is not letting the local authorities deter her from getting to the root of the mystery. Juggling three kids at home and a husband who’s recently returned to her life, Mabel has little time to stop and think.

She’s keen to keep looking for the two remaining missing girls who have yet to be accounted for. This leads Mabel to the local jail, where one of the gang members she helped put away on another crime is willing to share a little intel. While there is a great deal of bravado and likely some lies, there’s a truth buried in there that Mabel cannot discount, leading her to open new pathways in hopes of locating these girls.

Scouring over the details, Mabel discovers that the man who could be behind this is not only a potential serial killer, but could also be someone she knew from her past. As Mabel tries to keep her family safe, she refuses to stand down, no matter the threat, in hopes of putting the final pieces together and solving a case many thought too inconsequential. These girls are out there, in some form, as is the man said to have been involved. Mabel will have to tread carefully, as she points the finger at someone and gathers evidence to convince the police to act.

Trevor Wiltzen is one of those authors who has a good thing going, but modesty keeps him from wanting to shout from the rooftops. I am not afraid to do that for him, as this series is a great collection and keeps readers on their toes throughout. Mabel Davison, like Wiltzen, just wants to get the job done, but deserves some praise for her dedication. She fits in nicely with the strong narrative and reveals much about herself as the story advances. A few plot twists emerge and keep the reader guessing where things are headed. Perhaps the best part of the story for me is the pre-tech boom sleuthing that takes place, where rotary telephones and microfiche are the dazzling items of the day. Wiltzen has a winner here and I hope others will take the time to read this series, if only to learn more about Mabel and those around her.

Kudos, Mr. Wiltzen, for keeping the series strong and providing readers with something amazing.

The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams, by Stacy Schiff

Nine stars

Stacy Schiff has always done a masterful job at writing about people whose lives shaped world history, but about whom little is concretely known by me. She returns with another great piece, this time about Samuel Adams, who is not just a name slapped on a beer label. Schiff explores the man and his importance to colonial America, outside of simply being one of those men bandied around when mention of Washington, Jefferson, and Revere enter the conversation. Great storytelling and a keenness to provide little known facts help Stacy Schiff stand out from others who seek to pen great biographies.

Samuel Adams lived his early years in Massachusetts, under the tutelage of parents who taught him right from wrong. His passion always appeared to lay with educating himself, though the mid-19th century did not permit too many options for a poor family. Still, Adams was able to secure a spot at Harvard College and excelled in his studies, ruminating over what his thesis ought to be, while others pondered more mundane topics. This passion to learn and express himself showed the early signs of the man he would become in the American colonies.

After marrying Elizabeth Checkley, Adams knew that he would have to make a name for himself, or at least find a way to provide for his family. Adams became a collector of debts, making sure those who were behind faced swift retribution. As Schiff mentions, the irony that Adams could get monies from others and yet fell deeply behind in his own debt repayment is not lost on historians. Adams did as well as he could, especially as his family continued to grow. However, tragedy did not pass him over, as Elizabeth died not long after one of her numerous stillbirths, an event that shook Adams to his core.

While Samuel Adams was once again a bachelor, he caught the eye of a second woman, someone who appeared to be the perfect match for the young Adams. Schiff pulls on some commentary by Samuel’s cousin, the famed John Adams, who cited that Elizabeth Wells was just the type of woman Samuel deserved and it appears that later letters between the two would show just how in love they were with one another. It was around this time that things in the Massachusetts colony began to get more intense, as Britain passed the Stamp Act and would soon expect not only stamped insignias of the Crown on all published documents, but a tax to be paid to the Crown. Calls of ‘no taxation without representation’ began to echo through the streets across the colonies, though Massachusetts appeared more willing to appease the Crown than others. Adams noticed the sentiment against the British growing and could feel that something was on the horizon, though it had yet to foment into full rebellion.

While Adams wanted to keep the calm, he knew that the British were upping the pressure and trying to press the colonies to become even more subservient. Schiff mentions around this time that Britain had not taxed the colonies before because of their ‘infancy’ but that the time was right to do so. One can only surmise that this lit a fuse under many, both within and outside Massachusetts, which starting creating added animosity and tension. British soldiers, the embodiment of the London Government, became the target of attacks, at which time they retaliated. There are numerous mentions in the text at this time about skirmishes and how Adams was there, even if he was not firing or tossing stones. Animosity was building and it was only so long before it would boil over completely.

Adams’ ability to write and communicate made him a precious commodity when the colonial leaders wanted to express themselves. As Schiff explores, Virginia was the centre of the colonial attempts at rallying to unite, but Massachusetts had strong-willed individuals who would be perfect for the cause, Samuel Adams being one of them. He was spoken of fondly by his cousin, but could also be said to possess his own character worthy of being remembered. Samuel Adams came to realise that the colonies were no longer being respected by Mother England or the Crown, but rather treated as a toddler and kept under thumb. There was talk of considering pushing away, especially when not given a chance to speak or participate in debate over issues that would regularly affect those in the colonies, as well as trying to etch out a set of rules by which colonial residents would live with their own governing body, albeit local and loosely enforced. When Britain scoffed at any independence or voice for the colonies, Adams and his compatriots knew something was in the air. Add to that, England was still pushing taxation and high fees on colonial residents while refusing to let them have a say at the bargaining table.

In an intense progression through the latter portion of the book, Schiff shows how the animosity between the British and colonies, with Adams in the middle of the fray. While colonial leaders knew they could not back down, they would have to play it safe or risk being crushed. Adams and some of the other leaders were able to create a tension amongst locals against the British, such that there was no question of relenting. As the narrative builds, Schiff shows how Adams grew into his “revolutionary” moniker honestly, as he rallied everyone to the need for British remove and the yoke of oppression to be cast off. While it would not be swift, it was necessary and proved to be one of Adams’ greatest moments, using great oratory and written documents to light a fire under those who had the ability to bring about change. From pushing the British to surround Boston for a massacre in 1770 through to the Tea Party in 1773, Adams is said to have been instrumental in building up animosity through is writings. While I could go into great detail, I prefer to let the reader delve into the detail Schiff provides here, which only adds to the moment. When the dust settled, a new republic, albeit still trying to find itself, could be said to have emerged; a united group of colonies who would call themselves states!

While the book proved to be an attempt to cram a significant amount of history into a single document, Stacy Schiff did so effectively and with great passion. Samuel Adams came to life and emerged as a hero, both for the colonies and for Massachusetts specifically. Throughout his life, Adams used his passion for expression and some key political connections to make his mark, staring down the oppression of the British and stopping only when the final result worked in his favour. Schiff builds each chapter on the last and provides a strong narrative to push the reader along. Great anecdotes pepper the tome, giving those with a basic understanding of American history better context, while educating those, such as myself, who are clueless to all but the most basic aspects. Easy to comprehend but still detailed enough to provide needed context for those who want something with depth, Schiff has done it again. She takes a great approach to the Boston Tea Party, something that I knew only about in passing, and puts it into a great context to better understand how this could be seen as one of the pivotal moments in the revolutionary movement. She builds on the clash between the Massachusetts colonists and the English, which was surely a microcosm to the larger colonial struggle. Adams found himself in the middle of it, at least as a spokesman for the colonial position on the matter. When protests turned violent, Adams may not have drawn up the specific plans, but he surely did not distance himself from the acts, feeling that there was a sense of justification in the destruction as a symbol of tossing off the yoke of English control. This proved to be one of the final acts of aggression that fuelled the move for independence by the colonies.

Kudos, Madam Schiff, for dazzling in this account and proving once more you are a historian who cares about educating the common reader.

The Road to Runnymede (Medieval Saga Series #6), by David Field

Seven stars

David Field infuses drama in his 12th century series, hoping the various sides of England’s growth. The era is rife with controversy and the attentyove reader. Will enjoy everything that is on offer. As things appear to be moving to a finale, this novel offers some real action and historical significance. England stands at a crossroads in its political and monarchical development. Field does everything he can to keep the series exciting for series fans, proving he is just the author for the job.

England again finds itself in a precarious situation when its king dies. The English throne falls to John, Richard the Lionheart’s brother, who is staunchly supported by his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. John has no love loss for his brother, keen to return to some of his tyrannical ways to ensure that England is run effectively and free from those who would dare speak out against him. One rival cannot be silenced, which has John somewhat concerned. Arthur, now a duke, is raising support for his own rightful place on the English throne, especially when Richard named him as his rightful heir.

It would seem that Arthur is not alone in his claim, especially when it comes to the law. Many novels and those familiar with the law feel that Arthur should ascend and will do whatever it takes to make sure this happens. King Phillip II of France is also a staunch supporter, which could push things to the brink, if negotiations cannot bring a peaceable solution.

John’s iron grip on the country continues to create more enemies than loyalists and he does not appear to care much. Still, he will stop at nothing to exert his own power, others be damned. In a conciliatory moment, John agrees to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede, in hopes of finding a lasting peace between the Crown and the protesting barons. For a time, it appears to work.

However, John cannot keep to his word and begins his tyrannical ways once more. When Prince Louis of France comes to invade, the country is once again in shambles, without a leader who can unite the people of England and defend the land. With John on the throne, England is in peril, though there does not appear to be any solution from within. Field builds to this climactic moment in order to keep the reader in suspense as they await another novel in the series.

David Field has not stopped with the action since the start of the first novel and keeps building upon themes and historical events. There is a great deal to discover in this book, from political upheaval to new bonds made and even some plotting to keep the treachery at its height. A great narrative helps push the story along, mixed with characters who serve their purpose and know how to highlight the various faces of England’s transformation. Plots with a balance of fact and fiction are peppered throughout, allowing the reader to feel as though they are in the middle of the action, ready to face whatever Field has to offer. I am eager to see how things will go from here, wondering if this might be the penultimate novel in the series. Whatever Field has next will surely be even more stunning, as readers await a new dawn for England in a century that has been anything but dull!

Kudos, Mr. Field, for keeping the action high throughout.

How Democracies Die: What History Reveals About Our Future, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Nine stars

Democracies are living and require air to breathe, according to authors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. This book seeks to explore how democracies can die if not given the proper elements for success. The authors present this in a cogent and thorough manner, looking not only to the United States in 2016, but also to a number of worldwide issues that have arisen over the years. The authors posit some interesting arguments that will leave the reader to think a little more about democracy and how easily (or subtlety) in can be snuffed out until there is nothing left. A must-read for those who enjoy history, politics, and exploring the world that has emerged of late.

While it would be easy to say that democracy is the lifeblood to all healthy countries, this is not the case. Some countries work well without democracy, though through the lens of those who love this form of government, it is utter failure. That being said, while democracy may be the best form of government—besides all others, as Churchill commented—it is precarious in its footing and can be easily toppled. Authors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt explore this in a tome that is sure to open eyes to many of the issues that have befallen democratic forms of government over the last number of years.

The coup, or forceful takeover, would be the most common form of ‘death to democracy’ that could occur. Many would look to military take-over, where generals wrest control of the government away with guns, murder, and mayhem. While Levitsky and Ziblatt argue that this is true, it is not the only form of democratic death that takes place. Sure, violently taking control and suspending all forms of voting, elections, and consensus building is a means by which democracy dies, but it is also one that can end just as swiftly with another clash of swords or penetration of bullets. The authors seek to explore the more subtle means of taking over and letting democracy wither on the vine.

Levitsky and Ziblatt offer up a list of four main areas in which the death of democracies can occur without being blatantly violent or appear to be overthrowing the rule of law through military takeover:

1. Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game,

2. Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents,

3. Toleration or encouragement of violence,

4. Readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media.

From there, the discussion goes through some of the more popular democratic takeovers of the 20th century, using the rubric. Analysis is both comprehensive and tied to strong examples to prove the cases, spanning different parts of the world, from Italy to the Philippines, to Chile, and even into the US in both the Reconstructionist and New Deal eras. Levitsky and Ziblatt do an amazing job to educate readers throughout, allowing them to see how the rubric fits in each case.

The authors would be remiss if they did not touch on the impetus for their book, the 2016 US presidential election and its aftermath. While I have never hidden my contempt for the less than democratic way in which Donald Trump served in the White House, the authors’ rubric helps to substantiate the claims. I will leave it to readers to explore the arguments, though few will likely be able to dodge the truth without pulling wool over their eyes. To counter this, I point to the aforementioned analysis of other (read: Democrat) examples of flagrant abuse of the democratic system. If only both sides could readily admit their own foibles, rather than play ostrich.

Democracy is surely a delicate system that must be nurtured in order to ensure its success. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt work tirelessly in this piece to push those arguments effectively. Their chapters are clear and flow well, keeping the reader involved in the discussion without drowning them in minutiae. There are clear examples from all over the world and even multiple examples of US events on both sides of the aisle. While there will always be those who decry a lack of democracy, the rubric used to truly assess political shifts proves helpful and should not be dismissed as biased or solely there to poke holes at a single elected individual. With the 2024 US presidential election machine warming up, it is a great time to review these arguments before standing behind anyone who may not have the country’s best interests in mind, even if they veil it as a faux return to greatness.

Kudos, Messrs. Levitsky and Ziblatt, for this stellar book that compacts the arguments effectively. I will have to look for more of your writing soon to see what else I can enjoy.

The Absentee King (Medieval Saga Series #5), by David Field

Six stars

David Field builds more drama in his 12th century England series. His strong narrative takes the reader through an era with which they may not be familiar and provides direction, while offering up a handful of key characters whose importance becomes apparent. Field is winning me over, slowly, as I try to get into the time period and become connected to those who appear across the pages. England has never been more intensely divided and I am pleased to be in the middle of the action.

England has a new king in 1189, but some people are not pleased. Richard the Lionheart had ascended to the throne, but his obsession with the crusades in far off lands keeps him from tending to his people back home. This is not lost on many, and grumbling has commenced to have him ousted, by any means necessary.

As England teeters, it is left in the hands of Richard’s trusted few, some of whom have only their own change purses in mind. But, there is someone who has a plan; someone who could pull England back out of the quagmire and set things right. Richard’s brother, John, is ready to step up and take control where Richard has let things wither.

John has a great deal of bitterness towards his brother, not least of which comes to the surface when he is not chosen to be Richard’s successor, but rather Prince Arthur, a young nephew. John’s temporary control of the country while Richard is away is tainted with brutal rules under an iron fist. John will rest only when he is legitimately in control of England and Richard is put aside.

While judicial masters are exploring John’s attempts to usurp the throne, news comes that the Germans have captured Richard and will hold him for ransom. England is in a perilous state and its future hands in the balance. No one can be quite sure who will come out on top and how England will face its next dozen years! Field ramps up the action in this piece, sure to keep the reader flipping pages to finish in a single sitting.

David Field has helped bridge the gap for what I do not know about this time period. he sheds light on much that is going on and keeps me on my toes with a strong narrative that pushes through, even when I cannot fathom how things will progress. Strong characters help connect with what is surely a busy story and make me feel as though I am in the middle of the action. England is surely going through a great deal of transformation, but I am not left behind, as Field propels things forward, while tossing in some great plots. Mixing fact and fiction, the reader is left to decipher which is which, while remaining highly entertained throughout. I am eager to see how things progress and with the sixth book calling my name, I will have to try that soon. Surely the most action-filled novel of the series to date, I am glad that David Field is leading the way!

Kudos, Mr. Field, for showing me England’s resilience during these trying times!

The Daughters of Yalta: The Churchills. Roosevelts, and Harrimans: A Story of Love and War, by Catherine Grace Katz

Eight stars

Catherine Grace Katz takes an interesting approach with this book, turning a key meeting of the three major Allies from the Second World War into a highly unique exploration of the history and goings-on. Three women proved to be key players, albeit behind the scenes, at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, but their presence cannot be discounted. Katz explores these women, both their personal lives and time along the Black Sea, as well as how they noticed certain things in Yalta that have not been widely reported in history books up to this point. A great story that not only highlights the three, but also puts a new spin on Yalta, sure to impress the reader.

Preparations for the Yalta Conference in February 1945 had to be perfect, as the ‘Big Three’ would arrive to discuss the end of the Second World War. While Josep Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill get a great deal of mention in the history books, one would be remiss if some attention were not made of three key women who accompanied their fathers. Catherine Grace Katz explores each of these women in depth before setting out how the conference proceeded and what they saw, which might differ from the ‘mainstream’ tale of events.

American Ambassador to the USSR, Averell Harriman, had his daughter, Kathleen, with him to prep the Black Sea resort town for the meeting. Kathleen Harriman was a champion skier, war correspondent, and well-versed in all things political, having been with her father for the last few years. Her attention to detail made her the ‘leader’ of the three, when they came together for the conference, though she was not without her own opinions on matters, sometimes shared in private.

Anna Boettiger (nee Roosevelt) accompanied her father to the conference,. As Katz explains, this created quite a stir back home. While Anna was FDR’s only daughter, her selection ahead of her own mother, Eleanor, would not go over well within the family. Anna had a family all her own, but it was perhaps not her political prowess that brought her to Russia, but that she could (and did) keep her father’s darkest secret, namely that he was dying of heart failure and surely did not have long left to live.

Sarah Churchill, accompanied the British PM, serving as an astute political mind for her father, as well as having been a popular actress back home and having served in the RAF during the early part of the War. She had ideas and made her her father knew them, but was keenly aware that things were fluid and required analysis, rather than a knee-jerk reaction.

As the book progresses, Katz takes readers through some of the highlights of the Conference, including the agreements and clashes between the Big Three, as they sought to divide and retake Europe from the Nazis. She intersperses the events of the conference against views that these three women had, or their own personal struggles with the lives they have come to live. A detailed exploration of Katherine, Sarah, and Anna may not be possible, but Katz introduces the reader to them sufficiently that there is always room for more reading, should it be something of interest.

A piece like this is always hard to encapsulate easily, but it is a brilliant idea for a book. Catherine Grace Katz provides the reader with a great event in history and layers upon it new flavourings through the eyes of these three strong women. The narrative moves along, divided by chapters that tell of each day of the conference. The struggles found within are real and the backstories may not be well-known to readers, as they were not to mr. I thoroughly enjoyed the drams, humour, and little vignettes that emerged throughout, allowing me to learn and stay entertained as I made my way through the piece. I am eager to see what else Katz has penned and how I might learn more from her, in this unique way of discovering history.

Kudos, Madam Katz, for berthing life into history and keeping me attentive throughout.