The Guilty: An Audible Production, by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski

Eight stars

James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski venture into a newer medium for this piece, the ‘direct to audio’ production, where a handful of talented actors portray the story for the listener to enjoy. A play that no one knows anything about, a genius actor/director with a plan, and an audience that is lapping it all up. Welcome to ‘The Guilty’ and all that it entails. A unique approach to a murder mystery, but one I quite enjoyed, if only because it was a quick experience and permitted something different.

Osmond Box is a living legend, the King of Broadway some may call him, even if he is reclusive and few have seen him. His productions are always over the top and audiences have no idea what they are going to receive. The house is full and people await the stage lights for everything to begin.

As the evening progresses, things become more and more mysterious. What begins as an apparent reality show on stage soon turns dark, as Box accuses his fellow actors of heinous crimes. Is it all part of the script or improvisational? And when a stage gun turns out to shoot someone, who is the murderer?

With cell phones confiscated and the doors locked, no one can leave as things progress. Audience members gawk in awe and await some sort of resolution. When all is said and done, the police arrive to question many of those who witnessed the event. Was it murder? Has Osmond Box done it again and pulled off the greatest theatrical production of all time? A great piece that Patterson and Swierczynski concocted as they leave the listener guessing.

This was definitely an interesting spin for the master of storytelling, using one of his best collaborators to develop the piece for listeners. Told solely through audio, the story develops and keeps the listener enthralled as they try to piece it all together. Some may balk at having to listen, rather than flip through the pages, but it was certainly the experience that will keep people talking for months.

Told through nine episodes, the story progressed well and held my attention throughout. What is going on with the actors and how will things progress with each passing moment? There was just enough character development throughout to keep me satisfied and the plot advanced in odd ways, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. While dramatic reproductions are not always my thing, I did enjoy the different perspectives and voices telling this story, as it breathed some life into the piece and left me wanting more.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Swierczynski, for this interesting experiment. I felt it was a success and am eager to try some more of them soon.

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

2 Sisters Detective Agency, by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Seven stars

Working together yet again, James Patterson and Candice Fox present a standalone thriller with all the ingredients for success. Two unsuspecting women are thrust together and find themselves in the middle of something truly terrifying, only to learn that there are even more layers yet to be seen. Rhonda Bird is not naive in the least, but is truly shocked to learn of the fallout of her father’s death. She travels to Los Angeles and learns that she has a sister, one who is not used to following rules. When they get tangled up in tracking down a crew of privileged teens, the end result is nothing less than horrific, particularly when one of the group’s victims seeks revenge for what’s happened. Patterson and Fox show that they have some magic within them, using this piece to prove it once again.

Rhonda Bird is a juvenile public defender, working the system as best she can with clients who feel they are untouchable. When she receives news that her estranged father has died, she agrees to go to Los Angeles to handle some of the paperwork. It is only then that she realises something truly baffling, she has a half-sister. Baby Bird is an entitled teenager who does not like to follow the rules, making it even more difficult for Rhonda to take control of the situation. If that were not enough, they girls’ father was no longer the boring accountant he presented himself to be, but a private detective with an active business.

While Rhonda tries to digest all that is put before her, Baby wants nothing more than to keep living the life she’s been streaming online. This includes interactions with other privileged teens. When one acquaintance comes for help, he soon discovers that he does not want to involve Rhonda in what’s going on, leaving Baby somewhat concerned.

As she’s used to prying information out of teenagers, Rhonda soon discovers that the boy is part of a gang of youths who target those in need of a message, roughing people up and causing havoc wherever possible,. Their leader, a psychopath if ever there was one, relishes the power they have been able to exert and cares little for the fallout. As Rhonda and Baby resurrect their father’s agency to work the case, they find themselves enmeshed in trying to bring this group of youths down, knowing little of those that have been victimized.

What begins as a hunt for a group of entitled brats soon takes a darker turn, as one of the victims, with a sordid past of his own, decides to take matters into his own hands. With a killer lurking in the shadows, Rhonda and Baby will have to watch their every move, sure that no one is safe or can be trusted. Rhonda may have wished she never answered the call that brought her to L.A., but now that she’s here, it’s all hands on deck to protect a sister she never knew she had. A decent crime thriller that had its moments of intrigue.

I have come to enjoy both the collaborative and individual work of James Patterson, as well as Candice Fox. They have been able to create some fascinating characters, plots, and novels that usually leave me flipping pages for hours at a time. While I applaud the ideas, this book did not grab me as much as their previous work, though there were moments of intrigue and captivating writing. The jury is still out on this one and I am left to wonder if this is a new collaborative series in the making.

Rhonda Bird proves to be a gritty protagonist in this piece, offering up her no-nonsense side with capable mind throughout. I was intrigued to see the balance of her professional and personal life, as it came to light throughout this story and could only wonder if Patterson and Fox had more in mind for her in upcoming novels. Strong-willed and ready to make a difference when it counts, Rhonda must also juggle being a quasi-parent to her new half-sister, more trouble than it is sometimes worth.

I spent a great deal of time thinking about this book, trying not to compare it to others I have read of late, or even the past collaborative submissions of the authors. I am almost certain that it is tough on writers who have had success to always achieve the same standards in their novels, as readers come to expect stellar work. Patterson and Fox are great writers on their own, and together, but this one did not resonate for me as much as I would have liked. I needed something grittier, darker, with more seriousness and complexity. Instead, I got some teenage vapidness mixed with amateur sleuthing on a case that did not fully captive me. This is nothing against the authors or their hard work, as the narrative flowed pretty well and the chapters moved things along. I simply felt that there was a disconnect with the plot and what I needed at the moment. Perhaps the next one will be a return to their old ways!

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Fox, on a valiant effort. I know what you can do, so there is no point bemoaning or panning this one blip.

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

Head Shot (Marko Zorn #2), by Otho Eskin

Seven stars

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

Otho Eskin returns with the second in his Marko Zorn crime thriller series. Taking a more international approach to this novel, Eskin provides moments of political intrigue and international coup plotting, while using a local murder to tie things to Washington, D.C.. Hoping for the same grittiness I found in the series debut, I was, at times, left feeling as though this was a ‘cozy murder mystery’, based on the narrative and ongoing dialogue. However, into the latter portion of the book, Eskin found his stride and turned on the proverbial engines to race towards the finish line, using a coup attempt to bring the story home. Entertaining and easy to read, Otho Eskin keeps readers turning pages.

Things do not begin well for Metro D.C. Homicide Detective Marko Zorn. A shot at him while outside his home leaves Zorn wondering who he’s upset now. Summoned to meet a man best left in the shadows, Zorn is tasked with protecting the new Montenegrin prime minister, while being reminded of some covert business he recently completed on a side trip to Chicago. Zorn is ready to help serve as part of the security detail, as long as it does not interfere with his day job.

Speaking of that, Detective Zorn is called to the scene of a possible suicide by gunshot, though many believe the dead actress may have been murdered moments after exiting the stage during a recent play. Zorn finds himself shocked to see that the actress is a woman with whom he has a past, though he seeks to shelve those feelings and get to the bottom what’s happened. This pulls him into the middle of a ‘dramatic’ world, where enemies are plentiful and the competition is ruthless.

While trying to focus on the murder investigation, the prime minister arrives in town and makes her way to the embassy. There, Zorn seeks to make introductions and lay the groundwork for how things will go during the state visit. He’s doubly tasked with protecting the international guest by a senior member of the US Administration, showing Zorn that people mean business.

When additional bodies close to the Montenegrin leader turn up strangled, Zorn realises that trouble is lurking. Things get much worse as attempts on his own life begin to occur in rapid succession. Zorn will have to use all his resources to locate the hired assassin, ensuring he neutralises them before more blood is spilled on US soil. All the while, the dead actress turns out to be part of a larger conspiracy, with Zorn in the crosshairs. A chilling story that, at times, proves to be as gritty as the series debut.

My recent discovery of Otho Eskin has proven fruitful as I found myself enthralled with this series. I devoured both books Eskin has published and am eager to see what is to come. Eskin builds on the Marko Zorn character, a gritty detective with a number of skeletons in his closet, adding more depth to the protagonist’s abilities and personality. Even with some shaky narrative moments, I am still eager to see what is to come for this rule-breaking cop!

Marko Zorn is still complex, working both sides of the law as he remains calm and collected throughout. There are some curious aspects to his backstory, revealed through some personal memories, as well as a strong focus on the law and how to protect those around him. Zorn is always ready to use his determination as a cop to get answers, even as it puts him in serious danger. While not a spy, he knows how to rub elbows with those lurking deep in the shadows and finds himself the target of the most ruthless international individuals. There’s a great deal more to discover about this man and how deep his connections go!

Otho Eskin proves himself a master storyteller, as I have come to see with these first two books. His debut was both gritty and full of mystery, with this one following suit, though it teetered on becoming a cozy mystery for a time. The narrative had moments of greatness, particularly when tackling the international angle, offset by some hokey moments at the theatre during the early stages of the plot’s development. The darker side of Marko Zorn is surely on display yet again, as some of his past handlings of events for nefarious people comes to light in passing. The reader remains invested in the process with some short chapters that tease major plot twists. International flavouring and layers of deception kept the story balanced and pushed me to keep reading well into the evening. I’m interested to see what’s next and how Otho Eskin will present it to readers.

Kudos, Mr. Eskin, for another strong piece of writing. Your experiences shine on every page.

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

The Reflecting Pool (Marko Zorn #1), by Otho Eskin

Eight stars

Otho Eskin emerges as a new writer on my radar, with a captivating crime thriller that left me wanting more. Set in Washington, D.C., the story is a mix of crime and politics, as a DC Metro Homicide detective seeks to find answers when a body is found close to the White House. Marko Zorn does his own thing, but strives to get results and ensure the criminal element are put away. While he is stonewalled during an investigation, Zorn uses all the resources at his disposal to learn more about the victim, as well as her possible involvement with a supremacist group. All the while, Zorn is given a mission by a shady individual, which will force him to put some of his police ethics aside for results. Eskin delivers with his series debut and I have the second ready to begin soon!

When called to the scene of a body found in the Reflecting Pool, DC Metro Homicide Detective Marko Zorn begins asking questions. He receives significant pushback from the start, as other branches seek to claim responsibility. However, Zorn is not ready to hand everything over, citing jurisdiction. When the victim turns out to be a member of the Secret Service, things take a definite turn and Zorn feels the squeeze once more.

While trying to investigate, Zorn discovers that there is more to the victim than meets the eye. She has loose ties to a white supremacist group, whose membership includes those within the White House. As the investigation proceeds, many try to shut it down and ensure that Zorn does not have access to what he needs. This only lights a larger fire under Zorn, as he pushes for answers.

All the while, Zorn is pushed into the middle of another investigation, this one thoroughly off the books. Someone with pull on the streets of DC is trying to make a place for a shipment of illegal arms. Zorn is told to handle it and finds himself a target for the duelling factions. He has to keep this hidden, as its discovery could ruin his life with Metro. While both situations come to a head, Zorn ha no choice but to make a play, ensuring that he will be in the crosshairs of some powerful people. A chilling story that flows quickly and proves entertaining for all involved.

I only discovered the work of Otho Eskin because I was granted early access to an ARC of the second novel in the series. Happy to discover new authors I can potentially enjoy, I rushed to get this book and see what it would be like. Eskin develops a gritty detective with a number of skeletons in his closets and a personally to boot. I was thoroughly intrigued throughout the book and cannot wait to see where this series is headed soon.

Marko Zorn is quite the complex character, tapping into some interesting personal and professional aspects throughout the novel. While there are some curious aspects to his backstory, leaving him to make questionable choices, Zorn is always ready to fight for what he feels he must in order to allow justice to prevail. His determination as a cop proves to be one of the key aspects of the plot, pushing people round to get answers and also showing off some of his more ‘interesting’ qualities. I am eager to see how he develops throughout this series, as he is certainly still an enigma to me.

Otho Eskin can certainly spin a a tale, as I have come to see here. His debut was both gritty and full of mystery, while always remembering the message it sought to make. The narrative pushed forward with ease, allowing the reader to experience some of the darker sides to Marko Zorn. With mid-length chapters, the reader is invested in the process and cannot help but push onwards to discover what awaits them in short order. A curious plot and layers of deception kept the story on point throughout and left me wanting, no, demanding more. Thankfully, I have that ARC ready to go as I explore more of the curious works of Detective Marko Zorn.

Kudos, Mr. Eskin for a wonderful debut. I am eager to see where things are headed.

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

State of Terror, by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny returns with high-profile story collaborator, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to create a strong international thriller that pushes the boundaries at every turn. In a story that has some subtle (and not so) references to the previous US Administration, as well as Clinton’s work as Secretary of State, the plot inches forward in a stunning manner. A few terrorist attacks in Europe turn the world’s eyes towards a group that seeks to topple all that is held dear. When the newly-minted Secretary of State is sent to handle the situation, truths emerge about future attacks on American soil, which could have drastic outcomes. Fighting against time and a blur of information, truths will have to emerge before America is again the victim of a horrible attack on its own soil. Penny and Clinton do well throughout this piece to offer up their own style, something I could not resist enjoying through to the final pages.

After a hard-fought primary and general election, Ellen Adams is rewarded for her service to the victor with the post of Secretary of State. As she assesses her position, she must come to terms with the fact that she’s accepted the role from her political rival, though someone she can at least stomach. The American political scene is somewhat dire, after four years of chaos under a seemingly incompetent president.

When a series of terrorist attacks in Europe begin to turn heads, Adams must assume the role of stateswoman and try to assuage the panic, while also taking a leadership role and get to the bottom of what’s going on. Tasked by the president to bring him news quickly, Adams assembles a team and they head to the region, only to discover that there is more to come. Someone (or a group) is preparing to attack America where it is the most vulnerable, as someone has taken the foot off the proverbial gas for the past four years.

Working behind the scenes and traveling covertly, Adams discovers that there is a plot in place to attack America at home. The details are sketchy and Adams will have to work alongside known enemies and some allies with questionable decision-making prowess to cobble together the truth. The world holds its collective breath, though many do not know what is coming. It’s a race to get answers, implement solutions, and bring stability once more. The key to is all may find itself in a small Canadian town, a place many know well. Penny and Clinton offer a great story that kept me guessing until the final pieces fell into place.

Political thrillers can be some of the most difficult books to write, particularly when the author takes an ideological side in their writing. They are sure to alienate some readers , simply by pushing their own fictitious agenda through plots, characters, and situations. This appears to be the case here, as Clinton and Penny have been panned by many, simply for the former’s political views or past work in a few US Administrations. While I am fine with free speech, it is the inane comments from those who refuse to read the books and simply offer vapid commentary that proves vindictiveness is an intoxication that does not require intelligence. That being said, there were many who could see some of the great storylines and writing, even if they did not agree wholeheartedly with the presentation in this novel.

The character development in this piece was quite complex and thoroughly enjoyable. Those familiar with Louise Penny’s writing will know that she creates strong characters in her novels that move from the page to the imaginations of the reader. Nuances and intricate details serve as part of the experience, which occurred throughout this piece. The imagery of the individuals playing various roles cannot be discounted, as they added depth to an already strong story and kept me wanting more.

While political thrillers and international terror plots appear to be plentiful in the genre today, there was something about this book that help elevate it for me. I am a fan of Louise Penny’s work and adore all things political, so this seemed to be the perfect mix for me. A strong narrative forged ahead throughout the piece and kept my attention until the final sentence. The plot evolved throughout, keeping it from being too predictable, with some wonderful twists that left me gasping at times. As mentioned before, it is the variety and complexity of the characters that made me take notice, as usual. The ending, and what a great one it was, left the door open for a sequel. I do hope this collaborative team can return for at least a little more, as the entertainment value was high and just what I needed this week!

Kudos, Madams Penny and Clinton, on a wonderful collaborative effort. You work well together, complementing each other’s strengths. I look forward to more in the coming years.

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

They Only Wear Black Hats, by Edward Izzi

Nine stars

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

Edward Izzi returns with another of his stunning thrillers, sure to captivate the reader’s attention from the opening pages. Taking this crime story down a dark rabbit hole, Izzi mixes history, murder, and a secret society to formulate a novel that will leave readers talking well into the future. Detroit PD Detective Mike Palazzola has enjoyed his work within the Third Precinct, but knows that crime will always be a part of his day to day work. When a string of odd murders are accompanied by the placement of black bowler hats, he’s sure a serial killer is on the loose. Little does he know the complexities tied to these killings, as a friend and journalist tries to uncover a group whispered to be called the Archangels. Directives will be made, people will die, and Palazzola will have to decide how to act before it’s too late! Izzi impresses once again with this scintillating story of secrecy and retribution.

Detroit has long been a place where crime runs rampant, something that DPD Detective Mike Palazzola knows all too well. Working out of the Third Precinct, he has been in the middle of a number of high-profile and gruesome murder investigations, some with children as victims. While the cases seem strong, when those accused make their way to court, they are released on a technicality, proving major flaws with the system. All Palazzola can do is grit his teeth and keep protecting his city. Soon thereafter, all those who were released turn up strangled to death, slices on their body, and a black bowler hat next to them.

While out with Justine Cahill, a gritty journalist, one evening, Palazzola notices a group of men wearing the same bowler hats entering the private back room of an Italian restaurant. Their mysterious nature raises some concerns with both Palazzola and Cahill, but the restaurant staff remain tight-lipped about who these men could be.

Unbeknownst to anyone else in the restaurant, these men are part of the Malizia Society of Detroit, an organisation dating back to 1927. While they use the cover of anonymous Archangels, doing charitable work around Detroit, they are actually a secret group doling out their own form of justice for those who slips through the cracks. Their meetings discussions are highly secretive and the use of three assassins to offer needed punishments keeps them from being identified.

Palazzola and Cahill begin their own sleuthing into who these Archangels might be and their history, the FBI leans on them to steer clear, as they, too, have been looking into them. While Palazzola knows when to take his foot off the gas, Cahill sees a story that could catapult her into national stardom, as well as revealing a group of murderous thugs no better than the mafia. These men are everywhere in Detroit society and it is not entirely clear who can be trusted.

As more bodies emerge, the story takes a darker turn, alternating between modern Detroit and the history of the Malizia Society, which has ties to a group from Italy back in the time of the Borgias. While Palazzola knows something must be done, he worries that one wrong move could mean a heap of trouble. He will have to act swiftly, but with extreme caution, not wanting to be the next person with a black bowler hat next to his murdered corpse. Izzi has done it again! A brilliant thriller that kept me intrigued until the final page turn, with something for patient readers in the last chapters.

It was a fluke that I discovered Edward Izzi’s writing a few years ago. While each of his novels is a standalone of sorts, this was completely independent from his loosely connected Chicago Vatican books. The writing is strong, with great plots that pull not only on duplicity, but also history to bolster their foundation. Izzi keeps coming up with strong ideas and I cannot recommend him highly enough.

Mike Palazzola plays a significant role throughout the novel, though he shares the limelight with Justine Cahill and one prominent original member of the Malizia Society. These three forge ahead, with their own backstories and development, working their way through the struggles they encounter. Therefore some wonderful revelations throughout the piece, as well as dicey moments when confronted by the truth of what these Archangels have been doing.

Edward Izzi seems never to run out of great plot ideas for his novels, which develop in numerous ways. The stories are usually dark and intense, with a graphic nature to them, but are not gruesome to the point of being stomach churning. The narrative flows extremely well and keeps the reader engaged, as much is revealed in due time. Chapters that propel the plot along are the centrepiece of the novel, with strong doses of history and flashbacks. While this will likely remain a standalone thriller, there is a chance that Izzi will utilise a technique he has for creating cameos of certain characters in other books of his. I would encourage anyone with an interest in a more complex crime thriller to check into some of his books, as you won’t be disappointed.

Kudos, Mr. Izzi, for another stunning novel. I may not be your loudest fan, but I can assure you, I am in the top five!

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

The Devil’s Advocate (Eddie Flynn #6), by Steve Cavanagh

Nine stars

Back for another adventure in the world of Eddie Flynn, I reached for the latest novel by Steve Cavanagh. There is a gritty nature to these tales, in which Cavanagh shows how his protagonist has left a life of crime to help those who are being railroaded by the state. When Flynn is approached by an acquaintance to help with a crooked D.A. in rural Alabama, he cannot help but take on the case. Known for sending people to the electric chair, even if the evidence is flimsy, Randal Korn has made a name for himself. When Flynn arrives to defend a young man who is accused of murder, there are clashes from the outset. It’s only later that the truth about Korn comes to light, though Flynn may be powerless to stop it. Cavanagh does it again with a fabulously entertaining legal thriller that kept me up late into the night!

Eddie Flynn may have been a thief in his past life, but he is more than making up for it now, serving as a gritty defence attorney. When Flynn is approached by someone with deep connections to the Federal Government, he is intrigued to hear about something happening in Alabama. A fixed-election hoisted Randal Korn into the role of District Attorney, but since taking over, Korn has abused his power and earned the moniker ‘King of Death Row’, as he has ensured numerous people find their way to the electric chair. These convictions are sometimes based on flimsy evidence and the governor seems happy to oblige.

A young man stands accused of killing a woman he knew, though the facts are not as cut and dry as they would seem. Flynn and his team agree to make their way down around Mobile to look into the case, but are greeted with a less than pleasant welcome. It would seem that many in town have already made up their minds, fuelled by the rhetoric that Randal Korn has been spouting. Flynn finds himself on the wrong end of the local law and order, ending up touring the jail cells for a time.

After securing himself as defence counsel, Flynn attempts to piece together a courtroom plan, but is stymied at every turn. Others turn up dead, their bodies strewn about and possibly murdered, though suicide cannot be discounted. Korn pushes to ensure Flynn cannot do his job, pulling strings in a way that his fingerprints will not be found.

As the trial opens, Korn and Flynn face-off, each counting on victory. However, neither man can fully comprehend how far the other will go to ensure a tick in the win column. All this, while Korn holds a deep secret that only a handful know, namely, the White Camellia. Not only is Korn prosecuting these cases, he is behind the crimes themselves. And, should he fail to watch himself, Eddie Flynn may be the next victim. A chilling story that kept me reading and wanting more!

I stumbled upon Steve Cavanagh’s work a few years ago and binge-read all I could at the time. Eddie Flynn proves to be such a great protagonist and the legal angles of each novel held my attention like few have in recent years. I could not get enough of the legal plots and how effectively they developed in short order. Cavanagh has proven to be one of the great writers in his genre and I am always happy to pick up one of his books when I can find them.

Eddie Flynn has a wonderful backstory, which is developed in the early novels of this series. While never forgetting where he came from, Flynn has turned his life around and tries to help those who truly need legal assistance. His grit is like no other, using brains but also allowing some brawn when the situation begs for it. He has a strong passion for his profession, but is not entirely devoid of emotion, though he prefers not to remember all he lost during those criminal years. There is much to this man, who risks it all for those he defends, and I can only hope there is more to come.

Steve Cavanagh may not be American, but his novels sure ring true to the US justice system. Powerful storylines emerge with strong characters, quick narratives, and plot twists that keep things interesting. While the US legal thriller is surely an oft-penned genre, Cavanagh finds a way to make the stories his own. I get lost in the narrative and find things as realistic as can be, without being overly predictable, layering ideas and offering strong social commentary. I have come to recommend him to many who love the genre and only hope others will see my reviews and squeeze onto the bandwagon that is his fan club.

Kudos, Mr. Cavanagh, for another great piece. A crowded genre, for sure, but your storytelling abilities help you stand out in the crowd!

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

The Missing Piece (Dismas Hardy #19), by John Lescroart

Eight stars

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

There is something captivating about the writing of John Lescroart, perhaps because he tackles legal matters from all angles. His series intertwine so well, using a strong core of characters, but never seem to run out of ideas along the way. Now that Wes Farrell is no longer the District Attorney, he’s turned to working for the defence, something that has him less than happy. As he ponders his future, he’s contacted by the father of a victim whose killer he helped put away. It would seem there is some concern that a murder has been committed. As Farrell takes the case and uses all his resources, things take a definite turn, sending the lead investigator down a path with many dire warnings. Lescroart at his best, sure to impress those who have long followed this series.

After an illustrious career, Wes Farrell knew it was time to end his tenure as District Attorney and find something new to fill his time. While it was not the best offer, Farrell chose to work for the defence, alongside his longtime friend, Dismas Hardy. However, Farrell’s been having second thoughts about defending those he feels are guilty and thinks that it might be time to call it a career. Hardy, having taken the plunge many years before, seeks to counsel his friend, but does not appear to be making much headway.

When a call comes into the firm, asking for Farrell to attend the local jail, he’s intrigued. It’s a man he knows well, the father of a victim whose killer was just released from jail by an energetic Exoneration Initiative. It would seem that Doug Rush is now being accused of killing his daughter’s killer, with an eyewitness who saw the murder. While Rush asserts his innocence, even Farrell cannot be sure of it, feeling that there was more than enough anger to fuel some retribution.

As Farrell begins his defence, he realises that he will be up against a mountain of evidence. He acquires the services of Private Investigator Abe Glitsky, former homicide detective with the San Francisco PD and best friends with Dismas Hardy. While Glitsky is ready to take on the investigation, he’s not too sure what it will reveal, particularly with Farrell sure his client his guilty.

When Rush does not turn up after being granted bail, everyone’s sure he’s on the lam. Glitsky works to uncover what’s going on with Rush, as well as trying to nail down an alibi. Things take a definite turn for the worse and Glitsky becomes trapped in a web of deception, double speak, and lies. He discovers that the Exoneration Initiative has done work across the country with some interesting results, though the fallout has much to be desired. Could all this pose significant issues for Glitsky, Farrell, and others around San Francisco. A great piece by John Lescroart that keeps the reader in the middle of the action.

Lescroart’s writing is so entertaining that varied that it owes not matter whose perspective the novel takes, the story is sure to be worth reading. Lescroart has built-up various offshoot series, using his core characters, all of whom work well together and keep the overall story arc intact. There is something about these stories that keeps me coming back, from the legal maneuvers to the investigative measure, as well as the dry wit that matches my own. When Lescroart publishes, I take note, having done so for the last two decades, since I stumbled upon this series.

There are a few central characters in this piece, making it difficult to choose just one. Wes Farrell and Abe Glitsky are the apparent protagonists, offering up their own views and development throughout. Both have had great backstories woven into their respective series in the past, but do not hesitate to always leave their mark at present again. There is a richness to the characters and great interaction between them, leaving series fans to bask in the banter that is a special part of this large and complex set of series.

As with many of his novels, I was pulled into the middle of this book in the opening chapters. Tackling some retribution issues proved to be only the tip of the iceberg, as Wes Farrell and Abe Glitsky forged ahead to make their marks on the piece. Strong narrative flow helped create a needed momentum, as the reader seeks to understand the complexities of the plot as it is developed. Chapters vary in length and perspective, keeping the reader guessing about what awaits them as things progress. As mentioned before, the web of characters and series that connect here have always impressed me, allowing some who play a major role to be but cameos at times, while others step into the limelight. I cannot wait to see what comes of this series, which has remained strong, even with the ever-growing number of books!

Kudos, Mr. Lescroart, for another winner. I eagerly await publication when I see you have another book in the works!

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

The Road Back (All Quiet on the Western Front #2), by Erich Maria Remarque

Seven stars

Erich Maria Remarque returns with a sequel to his epic Great War novel, exploring life after the armistice is signed and the German soldiers return home. While All Quiet on the Western Front depicted a strong war and ‘behind the trenches’ sentiment, this novel explores more the re-integration of soliders and how their time away served almost as a ‘time gap’ that left them wondering if they took a wrong turn on the journey. Remarque offers apt commentary through his prose to explore the struggles of returning home to settle, vilification by citizens, and trying to move forwards from what was seen on the battlegrounds. An eye-opening piece that complements the series debut well, even if I would not call it a classic.

It took four long and intense years, but the Great War has finally ended, with Germany on the losing side. Ernst and some of his fellow soldiers prepare to return home, hoping that things will go well, but worried about what awaits them. As they arrive, nothing is as it seems, from the tiny houses to the people who are less than eager to engage with them, while the rationale for war seems extinguished. This leaves Ernst wondering if it was a useless fight.

As they try to find their niche, Ernst and his fellow soldiers realise that peace may have been the worst thing for them., They are villains and mocked, Germany suffers dibilitating food shortages, and the political scene is anything but pleasant. Still, Ernst has to believe that the end to the fighting was propitious and strives to find himself in this new Germany. When something unexpected occurs, Ernst has an epiphany and discovers where he belongs in this world of unknowns.

It is always difficult to write a sequel to a highly popular and impactful novel, or so it would seem. Filling the boots of the highly-accliamed All Quiet on the Western Front is tough, to be sure, leaving Erich Maria Remarque in a difficult spot. While the book was surely not as strong or blatantly impactful as its predecessor, Remarque does well to leave the reader thinking and wondering throughout the story. Tales of war should leave the reader wondering things, particularly at this time of year. While the narrative was slow at times and I felt it did need a jolt, I was pleased with the message that resonated from its pages. It is too bad that some readers hold the books next to one another and pan this one for not being like its ‘cousin’. Alas, it is those who see past this superficiality that can truly learn what Remarque is trying to convey.

Ernst was a great protagonist to offer the reader a wonderful message of war and re-integration. I found myself eager to see what he found and his sentiments about returning all those years later. There is a great deal that is discovered by young Ernst, not the least of which being that life was sure never to be the same after the war. The people treated soldiers differently, the sentiment of the country changed a great deal, and the future looked bleak. Ernst does his best to push through this and make his own impact, only to learn that things on the battlefield might have been preferable, at least to a degree.

Remarque is surely a stunning writer in his own right. While I have only read these two books up to this point, the way he depicts the fighting and the societal re-integration left me wanting to know more. I have always enjoyed the politics surrounding the Great War, as well as the fallout for both governments and people from the four year skirmish. Remarque brings all that to light here and provides the reader with something intense and well worth the reader’s time. The narrative is surely not as impactful on a superficial level as the precediing book, but there are some stunning parts where the reader can see into the mind of the returning soldier or the citizen reacting to seeing them. Remarque does this so well and keeps the reader involved in the realisations that come of it. Broken into eight parts, the story shows the evolution of Germany in a post-war world and explores the changes that needed to be made, as well as the sentiments that would fuel the anger that led to the Second World War. I was quite taken by all of this and found myself wanting to learn more when I was able. I will also be checking out some of Erich Maria Remarque’s other books about wartime.

Kudos, Mr. Remarque, for another powerful narrative that left me thinking well past the time I closed the book.

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

All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque

Eight stars

Please enjoy the review after my annual re-read of this classic for this time of year!

LEST WE FORGET

This enthralling novel by Erich Maria Remarque provides the reader with a stellar look at a soldier’s life during the Great War. Told through the eyes of a young German soldier, the story pulls the reader in and personalises events in such a way that it almost seems palatable, without justifying or downplaying the atrocities at any point. All Quiet on the Western Front is sure to stir up emotion in those readers who have an interest in military discussions, as well as those who love war-time history.

This is the story of Paul Bäumer, a nineteen year-old fighting for the German Fatherland in France during the middle of the Great War. Having signed up voluntarily alongside a number of his classmates, Bäumer hoped things would be as exciting as they sounded. All that was dashed after the weeks of basic training, in which the young men are broken down and put through their paces before being tossed on the front lines, where the beauty of nationalism is replaced by the horrors of death. Now, these young men live in constant physical terror as explosions rock their every night.

The story explores the trials and tribulations the war brings to those who witness it first-hand. Bäumerl finds himself fighting to justify his presence in France and tries to survive on poor rations, barely enough for survival. He also witnesses how decimating the war can be, when only a handful of his training class survive after a short stint on the front.

Bäumer is also forced to sober up to the realities of life, which turns sensitivity on its head and permits pragmatism to surface. After a soldier dies in front of them, the fight is on for his supplies, something the surviving soldiers need more than the corpse. This creates a refreshing look at life and the lessons that come with it, leaving manners back in Germany when every day could be your last.

There are moments of harrowing action, as Bäumer accompanies the others to lay barbed wire and finds himself trapped under artillery fire. Scared and pinned down, the men talk about their own thoughts about how the war could be more effectively fought, as well as what might have changed the minds of the politicians who are sitting in their ivory towers, far away from the bloodshed.

When a bloody battle with enemy leads to men being blown apart with severed limbs and torsos, Bäumer sees the most gruesome part of the war, something that he was not told about when first he agreed to serve. Rats feast on the dead and Bäumer expresses a sense of being animalistic, trusting his instincts alone to save him. The casualty list is high and Bäumer tries to erase what he’s seen when he is given leave and encounters a few French girls, eager to help him forget.

Bäumer takes some extended leave to return home for a family visit. He feels like an outsider, unable to discuss his trauma with anyone. His mother is dying of cancer and she hopes that he can be proud of what he is doing, but wants him to come home as soon as possible. This surely pulls on his heartstrings and Bäumer is left to wonder what the fighting will really do, as he cannot be with family when they need him most.

After witnessing the horrors of a prisoner-of-war camp, Bäumer is determined to help bring the war to an end, vowing never to be captured or enslaved by the enemy. The months push onwards and the German army begins to lose control of its fate. Bäumer watches his friends die in combat, eventually leaving him as the only one left from his original class. By the fall of 1918, Paul Bäumer can see the end is in sight and hears much talk about an armistice, which would bring the bloody war to an end, something he’s wanted ever since arriving at the Western Front.

Erich Maria Remarque does a masterful job painting the image of war and how it truly gets into the pores of those who are fighting on the front lines. It is less about strategy and troop advancement than the blood and gore faced by those young men who were pulled from their schools in order to fight for their country. While many in the West see the Germans as the evildoers (in both World Wars), Remarque offers this wonderful look at the war through the eyes of one man, to show that there was nothing but pure fear within him. No matter whose sides was right, young men perished without knowing what they were trying to do. Their task, kill or be killed. Their horror, to be maimed or brutally injured. All this comes to the surface throughout this piece, which will surely shock the attentive reader.

There are many characters whose lives progress throughout the book, though I will not list them. Remarque seeks more to tell a story of the war through their experiences than to inject a deeper plot with the Great War as a backdrop. The horrors of war spill out from every page, as well as the senselessness of men who could barely shave being the pawns of an international political disagreement. This theme is echoed throughout, in twelve strong chapters. While many will likely turn away from the book because they disagree with war or have ‘read too much about it’, I would encourage everyone to give it a try to see just how deeply it affects you. Especially with November 11th just around the corner!

Kudos, Mr. Remarque, for this sensational piece that had me enthralled throughout. It has stirred up some real emotions within me.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

  • Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae

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