A Dark Lure (A Dark Lure #1), by Loreth Anne White

Eight stars

In this stunning series debut, Loreth Anne White takes readers into rural British Columbia to discover how a small town can bring back horrors of a life erased and be the perfect spot for a serial killer to continue the hunt. After being abducted, raped, and tortured, Sarah Baker escaped her kidnapper, a serial killer with a penchant for ‘hunting’ his victims in the spring. She put that life behind her a dozen years ago, as she did the baby that grew inside her. Re-invented as Olivia West, she now works in a rural British Columbia community, on the Broken Bar Ranch. There, Olivia invites guests who wish to stay in the chalets or camp in the secluded woods, employed by the wealthy and elderly, Myron McDonough. In the lead-up to Thanksgiving, Olivia prepares to welcome a handful of guests, while also discovering a secret her boss has been keeping. Myron is dying and has little time left, but refuses to tell his estranged children. On a whim, Olivia tracks down Cole McDonough and makes sure he knows how dire things are at Broken Bar. Meanwhile, Olivia welcomes some people for the weekend, including Gage Burton and his daughter, Tori, as well as an older couple who are up from Arizona. This rag-tag group interact intermittently, while Olivia is forced to deal with the McDonough drama, especially Cole who is just now realising how little he knows about his father. When news breaks of a horrible murder outside Vancouver, many notice the similarities to the Watt River Killer from over a decade before. Olivia has flashbacks to the killer she was sure had been caught, yet this new victim was found in much the same way as those women she saw ‘hunted’. Gage remembers working tangentially on the case in which the Watt River Killer was apprehended, yet this seems all too familiar. Could this be a copycat or is the real killer still out there? With all the hype, there is someone lurking in the shadows, waiting for the perfect time to strike again, having located ‘Sarah’ after all these years. Will the hunter get his chance yet again, or is the prey wily enough to escape a second time? Drama mounts as the story progresses, in which past lives come crashing together and victimhood takes on a whole new meaning. Fans of a slow-developing thriller will want to check this out, with its Canadian flavour on full display.

I turned to this book because I was offered an advance copy of the second novel in the series. I like to start at the beginning and am pleased I did, as the author develops a stunning lure (pun intended) for her reader in this thriller. The story begins slowly, but picks up the pace as the pieces begin to push together, offering wonderful descriptions and great characters. Olivia West holds her own, forced to stuff her past away and try not to relive it. However, the outward scars and flashbacks are hard to hide, even in this remote community. With the revelation of new killings, she cannot keep it all bottled up, though she tries. Her interactions with Cole McDonough offer some interesting insight into both their characters. White uses this time to tap into her past as a romance writer, developing a complex web of love and lust between them, without removing the thrills of a killer from the plot. Cole is a complicated man himself, having left the riches that his father had once he was banished for his own error. Living the care-free life, Cole must come to terms with what is going on in his own backyard, with a dying father and choices he made that will forever overshadow his decision-making abilities. Others within the story have their own interesting quirks, from a cancer-riddled cop to a teenager trying to come to terms with her mother’s death, keeping the reader attentive to follow all the storylines. White effectively weaves these characters together in a story that will send chills up the spine and keep the reader forging ahead in the Thanksgiving snow just to see how things turn out. With this debut, one can only hope that there is more to come in the second novel, which I am rushing to begin right away!

Kudos, Madam White, for keeping my attention throughout. I am so eager to see what happens and how you will ‘lure’ me in yet again!

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

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13-Minute Murder: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Shan Serafin

Seven stars

Note: This is a review solely of this short story, not the collection of three BookShots found in the published work bearing the same name. Please search each of the other two stories individually, as they were read and reviewed previously, also independently.

It is always nice to curl up with a BookShot to pass an hour or so, watching James Patterson and his collaborator try to sell the reader on their latest short story, with limited space for character and plot development. In this piece, Patterson invites Shan Serafin to join him on a journey into he world of hit men. When Mike Ryan and his associate are given a hit, it could net a payout that allows them to hang up their guns and live an honourable life. They find themselves on the campus of Harvard University, plotting the takedown of the son of a Croatian mob boss. Weighing all the factors, Ryan gives the green light, but things go horrible backwards, forcing him to scramble and try to make sense of what’s going wrong. This spirals into a manhunt for the person who ordered the hit, something that will cause much bloodshed as the body count mounts. When things get personal, Ryan finds himself willing to risk it all to find answers he never thought important before. Racing around Boston, Mike Ryan will cross paths with some of the more ruthless men to get answers, risking life and limb with little regard for anyone. An interesting story that develops in short order, but is not as gripping as I would have liked. BookShot fans may like this one, though the collaboration is far from Patterson’s best work.

I find myself drawn to BookShots, more because they are quick to digest than their stellar writing or plot development. James Patterson can be hit or miss with them, as he tends to be with all his writing, leaving the reader unsure what to expect when they start. This was a strong mediocre piece, with some interesting character presentation and a somewhat plausible plot, but I had hoped for something more gripping, with the premise laid out before me. Mike Ryan has been in the business of killing people for over a decade and has it down to an art. He sketches out the kill, the escape, and the blow-back fairly well, developing a great plan while also promising his wife that he will make an honest man out of himself before long. When faced with this last kill, things go wrong and the reader can see how he handles the unknown, while rubbing elbows with mob men who have no heart when it comes to killing those who cross them. Other characters are peppered throughout the piece and they move the story in somewhat of a forward direction, though some of the grittiest characters lack the sharp edges one would expect. It could be the limited space or the need to limit the plot, but I was left wanting much more from many of these characters. The plot had possibilities, especially when dealing with the criminal underbelly, but there was an noticeable lack of grit and action, as Mike Ryan sought retribution and tried to make this final kill one that would mean something. Shan Serafin does well to complement the Patterson juggernaut, though I was not entirely sold on their collaborative effort.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Serafin, for a decent output. I can see a lot of potential between you two, though I was not sold on the end product here.

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

The 45th, by D.W. Buffa

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, D.W. Buffa, and Polis Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

At a time when presidential politics suffers an indelible stain comes a book by D.W. Buffa that will shake the core of American political leadership. In the midst of a divisive campaign for the Republicans to choose their next presidential candidate comes a dramatic turn of events that few could have predicted. Majority Leader of the Senate, Louis Matson, leads the Michigan delegation to the Republican National Convention with the power to serve as kingmaker. When Matson is chosen to chair the convention and offer its keynote address, both candidates—Trump and Cruz, no less—seek to pander to him, in hopes that he will offer them the needed delegates to win. Matson is unsure what he ought to do, but knows that it is time to make a big splash with his speech. Knowing his limits, Matson turns to a long-time friend and current political recluse, Julian Drake. A visit to Drake’s California home leads to long-winded and deep political discussions with Matson, helping to shape what will be the speech of a lifetime. When Matson returns with the speech Drake penned for him, he refuses to let anyone see it ahead of its delivery, knowing that it has the ability to blow the field wide open. On speech night, a set of events begin that sees the speech delivered and minds opened. The content of this speech not only puts everything Republicans have held in jeopardy, but also seeks to reexamine how politicians interact with the electorate and Americans on a larger scale. Drake leaves the convention a new man with a mission, leaving traditional politics behind him. With the role of 45th President of the United States on the line, it is anyone’s game, though the rules have changed dramatically. A thought-provoking novel for any who have an understanding of the US political system and its hypocritical nature, Buffa leaves the writer with much to process. Recommended for those who wish to read and think outside the box with a political thriller of sorts that is as diametrically opposed to the current Administration.

Political thrillers tend to focus on the machine and how it is manipulated in order to churn out the most conniving and ruthless winner. Buffa seeks to suspend this norm as he posits what might happen if someone had the knowledge and ability to buck the trend and offer some insightful thoughts on the US political system. Pushing views long held in philosophy and in ages past, Buffa challenges much of what the reader understands of the current political system and what it chooses to label as important. With much of the book’s focus on Julian Drake and his return from obscurity, the reader is able to learn a little of what drove the man to disappear in the middle of a congressional campaign and how he used a decade out of the limelight to develop thoughts and skills that many would say are from a bygone era. With a determination to speak the truth rather than spin, Drake comes across as somewhat idealistic, perhaps what Buffa prefers at a time when many are jaded. His desire to look to the past to shape a future for America is likely the most refreshing aspect of the novel, though it may be lost in the need for mudslinging. There are others who make their mark in the novel—thankfully, Trump and Cruz make only brief cameos—and help to push this alternative mentality forward throughout. Buffa uses his cast as vessels to show all that is wrong and could be changed with the system at a time when it seems the rule of law is but a phrase sewn on a throw pillow. The story was surely not what I expected, particular with the title and early mention of the GOP’s two Neanderthals from 2016, but shaped up into something that resonates with me as I look forward to 2020 and all that is to come. Refreshing and quite controversial at the same time, Buffa delivers something that will have readers talking well past the book’s publication.

Kudos, Mr. Buffa, for keeping me thinking throughout and wanting to get my hands on more of your work. Well done, indeed!

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

Sovereign (Matthew Shardlake #3), by C.J. Sansom

Eight stars

C.J. Sansom continues to develop his great set of historical mysteries, all set during the Tudor era. With Thomas Cromwell executed, Matthew Shardlake is in definite limbo, trying to distance himself from his one-time superior while keeping a legal practice running effectively. The Cromwell void is filled soon thereafter when Archbishop Cranmer turns to Shardlake and asks that he make his way to York, where King Henry VIII will soon travel. Still reeling from the clashes with the Crown, York is a political zone that simmers with uncertainty, requiring that Shardlake and his new assistant, Barak, always watch themselves. Arriving in York, Shardlake senses that things may not be as troubling as Cranmer posited, seeing a community ready to celebrate with their King. However, when the death of a local glazier appears to be foul play, Shardlake and Barak cannot help but look into it, for the sake of the country’s safety. The victim appears to have fallen from a ladder, but there is surely more to it, which is substantiated when Shardlake discovers a box of documents. He and Barak ponder how to get into them and, once opened, the cache reveals something that Shardlake could not have imagined. Documents discussing the Tudor bloodline and some mention of the past King Richard, a close descendant to the current Henry VIII. Before Shardlake can process what he has glimpsed, he is attacked and the documents disappear. With two mysteries to occupy his time, Shardlake begins his own investigation, though tries to keep the peace when the King arrives to celebrate with his subjects. Dodging death on numerous occasions, Shardlake begins to wonder if the murderer has a determination that will not be sated and seeks to reveal a stunning truth about the legitimacy of the Tudor line. With Barak by his side, Shardlake tries to piece it all together without becoming another victim, while York remains a volatile spot for any southerner. A well-developed mystery that holds the reader’s attention until the final pages, allowing Sansom to use history to his advantage. Recommended for those who love a historical mystery, particularly the reader with a passion for all things Tudor.

This is a wonderfully deep and more intricate mystery series that forces me to think while also enjoying the narrative. Steeped in history and developments of the time, C.J. Sansom chooses to educate while entertaining with a nuance-filled narrative. The story helped to open my eyes to some of the Tudor history, particularly that during the War of the Roses, with York at the centre of all. Sansom also hinted at a little more of the backstory related to Matthew Shardlake, a welcome addition to any piece. A gritty and determined legal mind, Shardlake finds himself in the middle of upheaval, with Henry VIII getting rid of the stain of Thomas Cromwell as he advances on his tumultuous search for a male heir by lusting for anything with breasts. Shardlake must hold his tongue and forge onwards as best he can, hoping that he is one step ahead of his critics throughout. Sansom shows a man still humbled by his hunchback when exploring Matthew Shardlake, taking some time to talk about a childhood that was tough, when seen through the lens of other children, less understanding of difference and wanting to carve out their own identity. Still, Shardlake faces adversity in this new land—York—where many challenge his veracity and capability, as though his back is indicative of feeble mindedness. Shardlake develops a strong attention to detail when it comes to the law, as well as being a wonderful investigator. Having moved the story so far away from London, there are countless others whose presence throughout the novel help enrich the narrative, particularly the contrast between northern and southern sentiment about many things. These characters serve various purposes and the banter is highly educational while also keeping the reader from getting too serious about the reading experience. Sansom has a wonderful way of weaving his characters into a glorious tapestry and will not disappoint. The novel is strong and well-paced, opening yet more Tudor and English history, while questioning what many feel they know. Sansom captures these intricacies while offering a stellar mystery to keep the reader enthralled. The novel is by no means out of the realm of any reader, though its depth and analysis can sometimes give it a ‘deeper’ and more ‘intense’ feel. Peeling back the layers of history and the pace required to digest it all, this is a wonderful story for the patient reader. I am eager that I gave the series another chance and want to get to the core of the Sansom reading experience, with Matthew Shardlake at its centre.

Kudos, Mr. Sansom, for keeping the story strong and highly entertaining. I cannot wait to see what you have in store next, so I’ll rush to get my hands on another novel.

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

When No One is Watching, by Joseph Hayes

Seven stars

Joseph Hayes puts forth an interesting premise in his novel, which sees two men—once best friends—take drastically different paths after a horrible night. After winning a significant legal case, Blair Van Howe and Danny Moran are celebrating together, allowing the champagne and anything else to flow freely. It is at this party that Van Howe divulges that he plans to announce a run for Congress the following morning. On the ride home, Blair sits behind the wheel, while Danny is barely able to stay conscious, both highly intoxicated. A near miss on the road turns fatal when a family swerves and slams into a tree, eventually killing the driver. Panicked and with Danny unconscious, Blair checks in on the victims before fleeing the scene, knowing full well that this will ruin any political ambitions. With a history of drunken stupor, Danny is the perfect scapegoat for the accident and is left to face charges. Blair announces his candidacy and is swept away by the political machine, while Danny faces ruin and is subsumed by the guilt of tearing a family apart. Danny accepts guilt for everything, choosing to turn his life around after serving jail time, even though some who were investigating are unsure of the truthfulness of the narrative. Meanwhile, Blair’s meteoric rise to fame continues until he has his eyes set on the White House. A sure winner, it is only a matter of time before ‘President Van Howe’ will be elected, though begins making noise about the accident and what may really have happened. Two men, one night, a brutal crime. One has served the punishment, but will the real criminal ever be brought to justice? Hayes leaves the reader wondering in this thriller that evolves over a decade. A decent quick read for those who like novels where all is known, it is just a matter of getting from A to B.

I have read a few of Hayes’ books over the last while and enjoyed them all. The characters push the story in some interesting directions, forcing the reader to live through their lives in order to get to the root of the plot. While Blair Van Howe and Danny Moran open the novel as the purported protagonists, it is Moran who takes the lead. The reader is able to see his spiral down after a single night of drinking, where rock bottom has cost him everything. Saved by the help of AA, Moran is able to put the pieces of his life together, though he never forgets the pain he caused one family. Still, he has shouldered the blame for it all, not thinking twice about his former best friend, Blair. Hayes creates a soft and sweet character here, perhaps the vessel that all things can be right if you find yourself and something on which to connect, in this case, AA. Meanwhile, Blair rides success from a run for Congress, a gubernatorial race, and then sets his eyes on the one place every politician dreams of finding themselves, the White House. However, as clean a life as he has been known to have, that one secret in his closet may be come out at the worst possible time. He seems detached from it all, ready to let others clean up the mess and hope for the best. His rise is literally handed to him over a number of pages, with no development, leaving the reader cheated of what could and should have been wonderful development. Others grace the pages of this book and provide the reader with a decent push forward, though there is nothing that will prepare them for the final handful of chapters in the book, when things get real, while still lacking the needed grit with the fodder Hayes has in waiting. The novel has a great premise and decent delivery, but there was so much time spend on Danny ‘finding himself’ and so little on developing the Blair rise to power, something was missing, as if the political aspect was tacked-on later to give it more pizzazz, but was not polished properly. If it had to be done in a single book, there needed to be more meat throughout, as this one seemed to meander for a bit, push forward a number of years, and then slowly develop some grit with too few chapters to really make sense of it all. Hayes does well, but it lacked the knockout I know he can deliver. A decent read for a beach day or when the rains keep the curious reader inside.

Kudos, Mr. Hayes, for a great novel. It needed just a little more teeth to make this novel sensation.

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

Dark Fire (Matthew Shardlake #2), by C.J. Sansom

Eight stars

Continuing this Tudor-era series, C.J. Sansom develops the foundation for what many will likely call a great set of historical mysteries. Still jilted after an awkward investigation for Thomas Cromwell, Matthew Shardlake is happy to keep his legal practice running with a handful of clients. However, when he is approached to defend Elizabeth Wentworth, Shardlake is not entirely sure he wants the case. Wentworth is accused of killing her cousin by pushing him down a well, but will not enter a plea. Rather, she stands silent, even when brought before the court. With a torturous punishment for not entering a plea awaiting her, Shardlake tries to get Elizabeth Wentworth to at least utter two words, to no avail. In a miraculous turn of events, the case reprieved temporarily by Thomas Cromwell himself, who seeks the assistance of his great investigator. Unable to refuse, Shardlake makes his way to see the King’s counsellor, learning that there is quite the scandal brewing. During the dissolution of the monasteries over the past few years, someone has found a small collection of ‘Greek fire’ a powerful weapon from centuries ago, so powerful that it is said to be able to burn on water. Shardlake is sent to retrieve the instructions to make this weapon, so that it might be presented to Henry VIII after he sees its public display in the coming weeks. Hesitantly, Shardlake agrees to act as emissary and makes his way to the countryside, where he discovers that the two brothers in possession of the Greek fire have been killed and their weapon is gone. What should have been a quick turn of events has since opened into a cataclysmic panic. While Shardlake and his newly assigned deputy scour the communities to locate not only the killer but this volatile weapon, his actual case takes on some interesting twists. While it would seem that Elizabeth Wentworth’s guilt was all but certain, Shardlake discovers something that could turn the case in her favour, but he needs to get her to speak. From investigator to target, Shardlake must dodge an unknown killer and their wrath while keeping the knowledge of Greek fire a secret from the general population. Even as things come to a head, major news comes from Court, something that could change England forever and leave many scrambling for cover. Sansom delivers another winner in this complex-thriller that never loses its momentum. Lovers of Tudor history and mysteries will likely want to add this to their collection.

This is sure to be a wonderful series in the making, though it is a deeper and more intricate type mystery than I am used to reading. Steeped in history and developments of the time, C.J. Sansom educates as he entertains with a narrative that is full of nuances. The story really kept my attention and I hoped to learn a lot more about Matthew Shardlake. The man may be simple in his desires, but Shardlake is far from basic in his presentation throughout the novel. Humbled by his hunchback, Shardlake is forced to deflect many who feel he could never make a name for himself, let alone be a successful solicitor. His attention to detail when it comes to the law is one thing, but Shardlake is happy to see many things that others miss when it comes to investigating, which creates a stronger and more complex narrative for the reader. One can presume that he is irritated at being constantly sought after by Thomas Cromwell, but there is surely a reason for this. I can only hope that future adventures for Matthew Shardlake will be as detail oriented, as I am looking forward to learning much about the man and his development. There are others whose presence throughout help enrich the story and keeps Shardlake from running away with the show. These characters serve various purposes and one can only wonder if they will reappear in future stories, as Shardlake’s interactions seem not yet finished. Sansom has a wonderful way of weaving his characters into a curious tapestry and will not simply allow for minor appearances. The novel is strong and well-paced, set against English history during a time when nothing stayed the same for long. Henry VIII is processing the demise of his fourth and trying to find a fifth wife, which proves to be an interesting backdrop for Tudor fans who are committed to this novel. Sansom captures these intricacies while offering a stellar mystery to keep the reader enthralled. I am eager that I gave the series another chance and want to find out where Sansom sees the story and his protagonist going in the next handful of novels.

Kudos, Mr. Sansom, for a wonderful continuation to the series. I have so much I want to learn and you keep me entertained throughout.

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

The Ripper Secret, by James Becker

Seven stars

Popular author James Becker (one of his many pseudonyms) brings readers an interesting take on the Jack the Ripper murders, injecting his own speculation into this piece of fiction. While traveling through Jerusalem in 1870, Charles Warren comes upon a spectacular find that will surely flourish in the right company. However, this menorah is anything but an innocent artefact, particularly when another man, Alexei Pedachenko, had hoped to take it for himself. Fast-forward to the streets of London in 1888, where Pedachenko has been able to catch up to Warren, who is now a commissioner with the Metropolitan Police. Rather than simply ask for the menorah, Pedachenko wishes to create havoc for the man who caused him such distress. After reading about the murder of a prostitute on the streets of Whitechapel, Pedachenko devises a plan that will not only get him the sacred menorah, but also push Warren out of his job. While penning notes to Warren under an alias, Pedachenko shows that he is serious, by killing women in the dead of night and leaving mocking notes. Warren is aware what is going on, but refuses o budge. As the spring turns to summer, the bodies continue and Warren is racked with guilt, but still unable to find it within himself to cede the treasured find. Pedachenko is happy to let the blood flow under the guise of Jack the Ripper, masking his crimes with all sorts of errant clues, all in the hopes of pushing Warren to the brink. It will be a game of cat and mouse, though Pedachenko shows no hint at ending his spree and Warren must decide how to retaliate. An interesting bit of fiction, which allows Becker to entertain rather than solely educate. Those who want a quick read may enjoy this book for its entertainment value.

Unsolved crimes are always fun to think about and James Becker has added a little fuel to the fire. While neither purporting to have evidence about Jack the Ripper, nor wanting to discount much of the history that has been created, Becker develops this piece of fiction to suit his own needs and entertain the reader in equal measure. Charles Warren is a decent character, a man whose stubbornness and cowardice fuel a string of murders throughout 1888. While he watches London go mad with worry, he sits on the one thing that could stop the killings, waiting this murderer out while investigating through official channels. Alexei Pedachenko is a much more interesting character, seemingly fuelled by the desire for a sacred item and yet turning to murder to get it for himself. Both men offer an interesting push and pull, keeping the story moving without being all that sensational in their own right. The story was decent and full of what one presumes are factual bits of information about the killings. Becker has done well to educate the reader as they make their way through the story. That being said, I was a little put off that the idea of the Jack the Ripper murders surrounded a menorah and that revenge was the sole rationale behind it all, though I suppose stranger things have come to pass when it comes to motives. While surely not one of Becker’s stronger novels, it was a quick read and allowed me to fill some time between more stimulating undertakings.

Kudos, Mr. Becker, for a decent book that educates and entertains. I may have to look into another of your ‘alternate history’ stories, though might wait a bit before getting too committed to that idea.

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

Cold Kill (Steven Hunter #2), by James Becker (as Tom Kasey)

Eight stars

Long a fan of James Becker (which appears not to be the author’s actual name), I chose to read one of his earlier novels. Written under another pseudonym—Tom Kasey—the excitement did not wane whatsoever, allowing me to enjoy the reading experience. Steven Hunter is back, still seconded to the FBI but separated from the woman about whom he cares so much. Now in New Mexico, Hunter is sent out to investigate an odd slaying of a cow in a farmer’s pasture. However, when a human body turns up, all his focus shifts in that direction. The body of a young woman would be enough to raise a red flag, but when it appears her internal organs have been removed, things take a definite twist towards the bizarre. A few other cases that seem similar in nature lead Hunter and the local sheriff to feel that not only is there a serial killer on the loose, but that this person is harvesting organs. While many of their leads are coming up dry, Hunter refuses to toss in the towel. He looks towards those who might work in the medical field, especially with some of the drugs found in the system of the victims. When someone close to Hunter disappears, the case goes from professional to personal in short order, demanding results before scalpel meets skin yet again. Kasey offers up an interesting story that keeps the reader guessing in this criminal game of cat and mouse. Those who love a good procedural will surely want to grab this quick read, as well as readers who have enjoyed the work of James Becker (or his other pseudonyms) for many years.

The series is only two books to date, but the level of intrigue is surely high, taking the reader on an adventure that has little time to lose momentum. Much more compact than the debut, Kasey uses the novel to help add additional grit to his characters and create a mystery that will capture the attention of a wider audience. Steven Hunter continues to bring his British mannerisms to the story, as well as a gritty approach to crime solving. Less the police officer than a man who will do whatever it takes to solve a crime. Strong and determined, Hunter also has a compassionate side, wanting the truth for the victims’ families and his own peace of mind. His backstory is still somewhat shelved, but Hunter does offer a determination that appears to propel him through the story, leaving no lead blowing in the wind. Other characters help to develop this fast-paced novel, whose plot remains strong and quite focussed, though there is always room for a few tangents, when time permits. The reader will surely enjoy the banter throughout, though humour takes a backseat when dead bodies continue to appear. The premise of the book is great, highly tuned to a single storyline, for the most part. Kasey offers up a wonderful narrative that pushes forward and keeps the reader wanting to know more. His use of short and longer chapters pulls the reader into the middle of the story and leaves them hanging at various points, begging for ‘just a little more’, which is usually possible. I have enjoyed both novels in the series and am left to wonder, were these simply re-publications, or is there more to come from this author whose sub-genre branch-offs are as plentiful as the names under which he writes.

Kudos, Mr. Kasey, for another great novel. Whatever you call yourself, I am happy to keep reading what you offer up.

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

Trade-Off (Steven Hunter #1), by James Becker (as Tom Kasey)

Eight stars

Long a fan of James Becker’s work, I chose to read one of his earlier works. Written under the Tom Kasey pseudonym, that did not scale back any of the excitement that I have come to expect in the author’s work. When a body is discovered in rural Montana, local officials are baffled, less because of the murder than the fact that a human femur is lodged into the skull. Willing to admit that they are out of their depth, the FBI is called in to investigate. Agents arrive with a seconded Steven Hunter, who has spent much of his time in the British military, seeking to find answers. Nothing seems to be flowing as smoothly as Hunter would like, when he is alerted to another baffling case that involves women of a child-bearing age going missing in the region. As Hunter’s partner goes missing, he begins trying to get to the core of the matter, which appears to trace all the way up the chain of command. As Hunter uses his stealth and gritty determination, he soon realises that there is some project, code named ‘Roland Oliver’ taking place around Nevada, but is completely unsure what it all means. With a killer on the loose in the region and women disappearing as part of this project, Hunter will have to take matters into his own hands, or die trying. Becker offers up an interesting story that does not slow until the final page, keeping the reader in suspense throughout. Recommended to those who enjoy a great thriller, particularly fans of James Becker.

This was a great start to a new (albeit small) series by James Becker, who can always be counted on to entertain his reading base. Set entirely in the United States, the novel explores corruption at the highest level while offering a rural feel to the story not seen in many of his past work. The introduction of Steven Hunter is sure to keep the reader guessing what will come next. Hunter brings not only his British mannerisms to the story, but also his approach to police work. Add to that, a military background offers survival and covert skills that prove useful when being sought by the highest ranks of the US Government. Hunter leaves no stone unturned and shows that no one is beyond his target list, so long as it brings about a timely solution. There is much to this man and the reader receives only a glimpse in this first novel, but the tease factor is one that will surely help readers return for more. Other characters find their way into the story and help to offer a better all-around story by complementing or clashing with Hunter throughout. The reader will surely enjoy many of the plot lines that develop, especially with a cast of diverse characters to propel the story forward. The premise of the book is great, with a few storylines running in parallel throughout. The reader can feast upon them all or choose one to their liking, keeping the novel moving at a fast pace. With a killer on the loose and a government program running under the radar, Becker piques the interest of the reader from the outset, but does not take things in expected directions simply for the sake of it all. While I admit I was taken aback by one of the end results, Becker substantiated it enough to lessen my eyebrow raise. His use of short and longer chapters pulls the reader into the middle of the story and leaves them hanging at various points, begging for ‘just a little more’. I cannot get my hands on the follow-up novel fast enough to see what else is in store for Steven Hunter, as he leaves his indelible mark throughout.

Kudos, Mr. Becker, for another great novel. I can only hope that you’ll keep churning out ideas to entertain your reading base.

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

Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake #1), by C.J. Sansom

Eight stars

In the debut novel of this Tudor-era series, C.J. Sansom lays the groundwork for what could be a great set of historical mysteries. After King Henry VIII enacted the dissolution of all monasteries across England, Thomas Cromwell sent commissioners out to ensure the rules were followed in short order. After one such man, Robin Singleton, was reported slain at the monastery in Scarnsea, Cromwell calls for an investigation. Turning to Matthew Shardlake, Cromwell entrusts him with returning after having located the killer and finishing the work that Singleton could not. Shardlake makes his way to Scarnsea, in hopes that this will be a quick legal matter, but soon discovers that there is more to the monastery than meets the eye. While a killer is on the loose, there are other matters that require his attention, including struggles with the transition to the Church of England and with the personal lives of those who work inside the monastery’s walls. Shardlake must also come to terms with the means by which Singleton was killed, decapitation by sword, and stifle the memories of seeing young Anne Boleyn executed not long before in that manner. As Shardlake inches closer to finding the killer, more bodies turn up, leaving him to wonder if this is a single killer or a group who have been targeting individuals for a variety of reasons. Pressured to return to London, Shardlake realises how life outside the big city differs greatly from monastic life, though murder knows no different. Sansom does well with this first in the series, keeping readers curious about what is to come. Recommended for those with a love of all things Tudor and readers who enjoy a well-balanced mystery.

I admit that I struggled trying to read this book years ago, such a shock to many that ripples appeared across those who follow my reviews. I decided to return to see if Sansom might have grown on me, which I must admit must have happened. The story kept my attention and I was curious to see where Matthew Shardlake would go to find a killer out in the country. Shardlake is an interesting protagonist, even for Tudor times. A solicitor by trade, Shardlake is known less for his legal mind that the significant hunchback he possesses. This feature has led many to comment on his abilities, as though posture denotes the ability to compute information. Shardlake may have been sent by the Crown to investigate, but he shows that he is able to explore matters at his own pace and with an attentiveness that gets things done. He is sly and astute without being offensive, particularly towards those who are already on edge. There is surely much more to learn about him, which will come in the next few novels. Others prove wonderful additions to the story, including monks, monastic assistants, and even members of Court who seek Shardlake’s quick responses to get to the bottom of events. Sansom weaves them all together wonderfully and pushes to develop key relationships throughout that will help propel the story forward. The premise of the novel is strong, set against the events in English history that brought Henry VIII much power of the monasteries in his attempt to weed out those who would speak against the Church of England. With the execution of Anne Boleyn and the most recent queen dead in childbirth, there is much going on, even behind the scenes. Sansom captures this while offering a stellar mystery to keep the reader enthralled. Full of information and small details that grow as the narrative develops, Sansom thrusts his protagonist into the middle of it all, while also offering up base reactions to the dissolution of the monastic life, important at the time, though rarely reported. I am eager to see where the series goes and am pleased I took the time to return to the piece. I will try things by audio, as it may have been my trying to trudge through the book alone that left me soured the first time I tried to digest the plot.

Kudos, Mr. Sansom, for a wonderful beginning to a series set during one of my favourite times in history. Let’s see what other mysteries await and how Tudor life will shape it.

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