The Take (Simon Riske #1), by Christopher Reich

Eight stars

Christopher Reich is back with the debut novel in a new series, which has much potential to grow into something electric and throughly entertaining. After a well-orchestrated heist in Paris leaves a Saudi prince’s convoy disrupted and a large sum of money stolen, the thieves realize that they have an added prize for their efforts; a letter containing security secrets that could be fatal if they fell into the wrong hands. When a member of the American Government arrives in London to speak with Simon Riske there is little interest in taking on the case of recovering the letter. However, once the name of the lead thief is revealed, Tino Coluzzi, Riske changes his tune. With a sordid past of his own, Riske crossed paths with Coluzzi when they were both part of the Corsican Mafia and ran the job that saw an armoured case robbery go awry and Riske take the fall. Now, RIske wants nothing more than to retrieve this mystery letter, if only to help the country of his birth and exact some form of revenge on Culuzzi. As Riske searches, Coluzzi has begun trying to contact the Russian Government, hoping to sell them the letter, but there seems to be little interest. That said, both Riske and Coluzzi are in trouble, as the SVR—Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service—is happy to collect the letter and exterminate these two in the process. As Riske works with a member of the Paris police, he offers just enough information to receive the assistance he needs, remaining one step behind Coluzzi but in the crosshairs of the Russians. This might be one adrenaline rush too many for Riske, long since out of the business. Reich does a masterful job at keeping the story clipping along and providing readers with proof as to why he is a master of the genre. Perfect for those who love a good thriller that mixes espionage with a dash of police procedural.

I have long admired Christopher Reich as a masterful storyteller, both for his storylines and the characters he uses. There is little doubt that this new novel will lay the groundwork for an exciting series, using this debut to develop a strong character who has straddled both sides of the law. Simon Riske’s backstory is on offer here, as Reich returns to shape him throughout the narrative. Abandoned and shipped off to France as a teenager, Riske turned to the only family that accepted him, the Mafia, to make ends meet. However, his epiphany came at a time when he could weigh his options and make a life-changing decision to use his past to effect change. Fuelled with this animosity, Riske is sent on a collision course to clash with his former friend in a case that leaves no stone unchecked. Some of the other characters peppered throughout the narrative provide key elements to the story that advances effectively. Even with a large number of characters, Reich is able to juggle the many storylines and deliver an effective narrative that does not bog down or leave the reader flipping back to recollect how everyone fits together. There are many loose ends woven into the story and this leaves the reader to wonder what might be coming next, while also providing Reich with an opening to explore them further in future novels. Reich is succinct in his writing and keeps the reader wanting to know more, pushing onward with these well-paced chapters. The technical jargon is present, more to inject realism than to drown the reader in minutiae. Readers can easily lose themselves in the story and yet demand more, leaving Reich to decide if this is a pathway he wants to continue, having laid such a powerful foundation.

Kudos, Mr. Reich, for such an explosive debut novel in the series. You are sure to captivate scores of new fans with this piece. I cannot wait to see what other ‘risks’ you’ll take with your next publication.

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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The Witness (DI Ray Mason #1), by Simon Kernick

Eight stars

Having read some of Simon Kernick’s recent work involving DI Ray Mason, I wanted to go back to where the first feature-length novel started. After a violent home invasion leaves Anil Rahman and his wife dead, only one witness survives. Having cowered under the bed during the attack, Jane Kinnear has a fragmented story to tell the police. Kinnear recounts how Anil was asked about a terrorist attack that was in the works and vaguely recollects that the killer was white. Other than that, nothing else of significance has occurred to Kinnear while she convalesces. With the killer still on the loose, Kinnear is transported to a safe house for the time being, kept under constant watch. Acting on the information that Kinnear remembers, and with a potential terror cell plotting an attack, DI Ray Mason is called in to help with the larger investigation. This includes trying to find leads on Anil Rahman’s murder, an informant for MI5. An experienced Counter-Terrorism agent, Mason has his eye on a specific cell that’s been chattering within the United Kingdom. However, as he and his partner approach them for answers, no one seems to have anything useful. However, Mason has come to realise that sometimes you need to push a little harder, only to discover a plot that could have brought the country to its knees. Mason remains baffled as to how Anil Rahman might have known anything beforehand, based on the narrative Kinnear has offered police while situated in her safe house. Throughout the narrative, Jane Kinnear reveals more about a sordid past in South Africa and the United States, which thickens the plot, as she has come face to face with some unsavoury characters. When the killers reach out to Mason and demand to know where the safe house is located, the case takes on a new level of concern, with Kinnear a potential new target. Rushing to piece it all together, Mason must fight against the clock and the fact that he has blood all over his hands in his latest pursuit for justice. A wonderful piece by Simon Kernick, who shows that he is able to entertain and keep the reader flipping pages well into the night. Recommended for those who love a good police procedural with a few poignant twists.

As I mentioned before, I discovered Kernick quite by accident and was drawn into his Ray Mason character from the start. When I realised that there was an earlier novel, before the Bone Fields, I knew I would have to find it so that I might better understand Mason and what made him tick. Mason’s character is not only thoroughly captivating, but the backstory on offer is rich with foreboding throughout the present narrative. A family life that would have left most anyone jaded, Mason fought off all those issues to become a stellar member of the police, fighting terrorism at home and abroad. Some of the other characters prove rich additions to the story, particularly as Kernick offers three perspectives in alternating chapters throughout the piece. It all enriches the experience a great deal and keeps the reader juggling information. The story itself was top-notch, with twists and information delivered to the reader at key moments. While it was apparent that something was amiss, until all the pieces fell into place, the reader was likely left guessing. With this Ray Mason foundation, I do hope to read more by Kernick, especially since it has come highly recommended.

Kudos, Mr. Kernick, for another wonderful story. I hope others come upon your novels and find a place for them on their ‘TBR’ shelves.

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

Redemption Point (Crimson Lake #2), by Candice Fox

Nine stars

Candice Fox is back with another thrilling story from the Australian Outback, building on her highly successful novel, Crimson Lake. Ted Conkaffey is still trying dodge the public eye and live off the grid, professing his innocence to the crime that has chased him from Sydney. The abduction and rape of 13 year-old Claire Bingley is still causing a stir all over the country. When Conkaffey is attacked in his own home by Claire’s father, pain surrounding the event resurfaces for both parties. Having been compiling any and all leads he can, Conkaffey offers up a folder, but it is rebuffed. When Conkaffey is summoned to a crime scene by his partner, PI Amanda Pharrell, he is intrigued to see what she’s found for them. It would seem that they’ve stumbled upon a new case, the murder of two bartenders, slain in the hours after work. Unsure whether the police will be able to do their job, a distraught father turned to Pharrell and is demanding answers. Rookie Detective Pip Sweeney is working her first case, having rising through the ranks after a number of her colleagues were implicated in a major crime spree. Armed with only her academy training and trying to run the scene, Sweeney turns to Conkaffey and Pharrell more than she ought to at times. While Pharrell is happy to pull in leads and play mind games with Sweeney, Conkaffey is trying to piece together some shards of his past life: a marriage that has all but disintegrated, a daughter who is scared of him, and no means to clear his name. Returning to give an interview on the crime and accusations, Conkaffey is railroaded by a news presenter who seeks the headlines before checking her sources. Luckily, there is a growing number who are certain that Conkaffey had nothing to do with Claire Bingley’s rape. Interspersed throughout the novel are diary entries by Kevin, which show a man’s personal obsession with young girls, including admissions that may be the key to Conkaffey’s exoneration. With two bodies and a crime that seems to have no concrete suspects, Conkaffey and Pharrell must work quickly before the case goes cold. Fox has outdone herself again with this piece, which exemplifies why she is top of the genre and sure to be a force for years to come. Recommended to those who love her work (solo and collaborative), as well as readers who love crime thrillers.

I am always excited to delve into a Candice Fox novel, as they tend to wrap me up and not slow their pace until the final sentence. Fox has the ability to use her native Australia and dazzle the reader with both description of the setting, as well as provide strong characters that offer unique backstories. Those familiar with the first novel in the series will know much about Conkaffey and Pharrel, who are central, yet quite diverse characters. In this piece, Fox delves more into Conkaffey’s personal situation and struggles to survive, still seen as one of Australia’s more horrid paedophiles. These struggles envelop him and the reader can see the struggle to simply live, veiled in the knowledge that he cannot clear his name independently. Pharrell shows off more of her zany style here, exemplified in her ongoing flip-flop about opening up and playing games with those around her. Introducing Pip Sweeney proves to be an effective means of bridging the two protagonists, allowing Conkaffey to know that his partner is still focussed on the case at hand while he battles his own demons and fights to clear his name. The other characters within the story help to complement the larger narrative and provide the reader with some entertainment while forging onwards to discover who may be behind both the double murder and Bingley’s assault. The story picks up soon after Crimson Lake left off, keeping the pace and development that series fans have come to expect. With quick chapters that leave the reader pushing onward late into the evening, the story reads extremely quickly and leaves them wanting more. Fox has laid the groundwork for future novels, sure to explore more of rural Australia.

Kudos, Madam Fox, for another stellar piece of work. I cannot praise you enough for your style and delivery. I hope many others discover your writing in the months to come.

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

The Wolves of Winter, by Tyrell Johnson

Eight stars

In his debut novel, Tyrell Johnson storms onto the scene with this curious post-apocalyptic piece that pits a rural family against the Establishment. Lynn is a 23 year-old who has seen much in her life. The Wars turned America into a nuclear war zone and forced her family to flee to Alaska when she was still a child. However, along with the bombs came a debilitating flu that knocked out large portions of the remaining population, one of whom was Lynn’s father, not long after she turned twelve. Living now in the Yukon Territory, the remaining family members subsist off the land, forced to forage and hunt when the ground is covered with ice and snow. They are isolated not only because of the drastic drop in population, but also to steer clear of Immunity, a group dedicated to find and annihilate any remaining flu carriers, or use them as test subjects to inoculate the healthy. When Jax appears on their terrain, Lynn and her uncle, Jeryl, take note. They soon discover that Jax is one of the good people, also fleeing from Immunity, but with a number of secrets of his own. As Lynn and Jax get closer, they learn a little more about one another, including things that could jeopardise their safety. Struggling to remain one step ahead of Immunity, they take a chance that could have dire consequences. All the while, Lynn is forced to come to terms with some half-truths her family has kept from her for all these years, at a time when every day could be her last. Steeped in drama and some violent clashes, Johnson’s piece is sure to get people talking for a long time to come. Perfect for those who like a little struggle and angst in a world decimated by political arm wrestling.

I had heard much about this book before I chose to take the plunge. I am happy that I did so, as Johnson’s piece does not read like a debut whatsoever. His attention to detail and wonderful story development is clear throughout, while he provides a social commentary of where the world is headed in the near future. Perhaps one of the great aspects of this novel is that it keeps a few characters moving throughout, rather than forcing the reader to juggle huge numbers, remembering names and backstories. Lynn and Jax develop throughout the piece at an astounding rate, while also pulling their backstories along to add depth to their characters. Both have suffered much in their young lives, but they refuse to lay down and let the world roll over them. Rather, they build on these issues and create an even stronger foundation for themselves. The rest of those who grace the pages of the book serve their purpose, flavouring the narrative with their unique personalities. While some may look at ‘post-apocalyptic’ and see something a little too out of this world, Johnson keeps things realistic as events develop, allowing the reader to wonder ‘what if’ rather than ‘if only’. The pain felt through each revelation is something that can hit home as a young woman struggles to find her own place in a world that is hanging on merely by a thread. The story reads so easily and the narrative flows off the page, with countless incidents of symbolism that speak directly to the reader. While there will be those who gasp at blood and language peppered throughout, those who can handle it will be glad they took the time to enjoy this wonderful novel.

Kudos, Mr. Johnson, for stunning the literary world with something so palatable. I am pleased to see you dropped the odd Canadian mention throughout this piece and hope fans on both sides of the border (and worldwide) discover all you have to offer.

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

Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens (Book 1), by Alison Weir

Seven stars

Alison Weir is back with another well-researched biography of English monarchy, but takes a new and exciting approach. Rather than a single biography of a past English monarch, Weir turns her focus onto a collection of medieval queens, many of whom followed one another onto the throne. In this first volume, Weir turns her attention to the Norman queens, who shaped what would eventually become the Plantagenets, a ruling dynasty all their own. Remembering the time period—beginning in the mid-11th century—the reader must remember that these were not entirely independent rulers, but also not the ‘wet behind the ears’ women who nodded and curtsied towards their husbands. Rather, they were women who lived during the modern creation of the England that became a key part of the European realm. Weir explores five key queens who sought not only to support their husbands, but vie for the English throne at a time when it was still unheard of for a woman to rise to power. While there was always a strong political and monarchical struggle—especially in pushing for the true role of primogeniture (eldest child, rather than solely eldest son)—within the realm, the idea that queens could be compassionate to their subjects begins to emerge. From those who sought to build connections with the common folk to the queens who would establish themselves as compassionate to the sick and dying, Weir exemplifies these women as those who knew how to curry favour with the entire English populace and not solely those at court. With additional focus on the genealogical connections between them, the reader can see how some of these issues persist from one generation to the next and how bloodlines fuel battlegrounds for the true right to ascend the English Throne. England fought a Civil War over the question of succession to the throne and lost a potential Queen Regnant who was not strong enough to vie for her blood right. Fans of Weir’s non-fiction work may enjoy this piece, rich in history and social commentary of the time, as well as those with a curiosity in England’s medieval monarchs. I did enjoy it, but find that this period in English history may precede the time period that fascinates me most.

Weir’s work is surely an acquired taste, as I have said to many people over the years. She is one of the few authors I read who is able to write in both the non- and fiction realms at an equally high calibre. Her attention to detail and passion for the subject at hand appears in every book, though some of her non-fiction work can become quite detailed and therefore a little dry. For me, the subject matter usually plays a key role in what will draw me to the book and I fully admit that medieval history can be a little too far back in time to fully enthral me. That being said, Weir makes not only a valiant effort to show how older history can be exciting, but also that there are strong ties to modern themes found in these early queens. The role of women in the English monarchy is a theme that Weir explores, discussing the three types of queens—regnant, consort, and dowager—and how history interpreted this when it came to certain members of the royal family. As always, primogeniture played a strong role in the understanding of who could ascend to the English Throne. Her research is strong and helps propel the narrative of the piece in such a way to offer the reader something they must consider before blindly accepting what happened in history. Weir does enjoy the minutiae, which may not appeal to many, but these fragments of information that may not have been seen or effectively pulled together before help to shape her strong arguments throughout. While I remain baffled as to how Weir can effectively juggle two multi-volume series simultaneously, unrelated to one another, I am eager to see where else she will go with this series. I may return for another volume, though my reticence is only the subject matter and not the quality of her writing.

Kudos, Madam Weir for such a wonderful introduction into this historical exploration of the early Norman queens. I can see there is much to say about them and you are the best person to be handed the reins.

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

Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens (Book 1), by Alison Weir

Seven stars

Alison Weir is back with another well-researched biography of English monarchy, but takes a new and exciting approach. Rather than a single biography of a past English monarch, Weir turns her focus onto a collection of medieval queens, many of whom followed one another onto the throne. In this first volume, Weir turns her attention to the Norman queens, who shaped what would eventually become the Plantagenets, a ruling dynasty all their own. Remembering the time period—beginning in the mid-11th century—the reader must remember that these were not entirely independent rulers, but also not the ‘wet behind the ears’ women who nodded and curtsied towards their husbands. Rather, they were women who lived during the modern creation of the England that became a key part of the European realm. Weir explores five key queens who sought not only to support their husbands, but vie for the English throne at a time when it was still unheard of for a woman to rise to power. While there was always a strong political and monarchical struggle—especially in pushing for the true role of primogeniture (eldest child, rather than solely eldest son)—within the realm, the idea that queens could be compassionate to their subjects begins to emerge. From those who sought to build connections with the common folk to the queens who would establish themselves as compassionate to the sick and dying, Weir exemplifies these women as those who knew how to curry favour with the entire English populace and not solely those at court. With additional focus on the genealogical connections between them, the reader can see how some of these issues persist from one generation to the next and how bloodlines fuel battlegrounds for the true right to ascend the English Throne. England fought a Civil War over the question of succession to the throne and lost a potential Queen Regnant who was not strong enough to vie for her blood right. Fans of Weir’s non-fiction work may enjoy this piece, rich in history and social commentary of the time, as well as those with a curiosity in England’s medieval monarchs. I did enjoy it, but find that this period in English history may precede the time period that fascinates me most.

Weir’s work is surely an acquired taste, as I have said to many people over the years. She is one of the few authors I read who is able to write in both the non- and fiction realms at an equally high calibre. Her attention to detail and passion for the subject at hand appears in every book, though some of her non-fiction work can become quite detailed and therefore a little dry. For me, the subject matter usually plays a key role in what will draw me to the book and I fully admit that medieval history can be a little too far back in time to fully enthral me. That being said, Weir makes not only a valiant effort to show how older history can be exciting, but also that there are strong ties to modern themes found in these early queens. The role of women in the English monarchy is a theme that Weir explores, discussing the three types of queens—regnant, consort, and dowager—and how history interpreted this when it came to certain members of the royal family. As always, primogeniture played a strong role in the understanding of who could ascend to the English Throne. Her research is strong and helps propel the narrative of the piece in such a way to offer the reader something they must consider before blindly accepting what happened in history. Weir does enjoy the minutiae, which may not appeal to many, but these fragments of information that may not have been seen or effectively pulled together before help to shape her strong arguments throughout. While I remain baffled as to how Weir can effectively juggle two multi-volume series simultaneously, unrelated to one another, I am eager to see where else she will go with this series. I may return for another volume, though my reticence is only the subject matter and not the quality of her writing.

Kudos, Madam Weir for such a wonderful introduction into this historical exploration of the early Norman queens. I can see there is much to say about them and you are the best person to be handed the reins.

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

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

Nine stars

Kathryn Stockett has created this wonderful story that depicts life in America’s South during the early 1960s. A mix of humour and social justice, the reader is faced with a powerful piece on which to ponder while remaining highly entertained. In Jackson, Mississippi, the years leading up to the Civil Rights Movement presented a time where colour was a strong dividing line between classes. Black women spent much of their time serving as hired help and raising young white children, while their mommas were playing ‘Society Lady’ as best they could. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan may have been part of the clique, born with a silver spoon in her mouth, but she held herself on the periphery, at times looking in. Skeeter was unwed and with few prospects, though her time away at college left her ready to tackle the workforce until an eligible man swept her off her feet. Skeeter returned to Jackson, only to find her family’s help left under mysterious circumstances and no one was willing to discuss it. Skeeter sought a job as a writer, prepared to begin at the bottom rung, but not giving up on sleuthing around to determine what might have been going on in Jackson. Skeeter scored a job writing an informative column in the local newspaper, giving cleaning tips to housewives in need of a little guidance. Who better to offer these tips that the hired help of Jackson?! Skeeter fostered a slow friendship with one, while building up a trust, and has an idea for a book that could offer a unique perspective in Mississippi’s divided society. Skeeter sought to write a tell-all from the perspective of the hired help, in hopes of shining a light on the ongoing domestic slavery taking place within a ‘freed’ America. With secret meetings taking place after working hours and Skeeter typing away, a mental shift took place and the idea of class became taboo, at least to some. Full of confessions and struggles in Mississippi society, Skeeter’s book may just tear the fabric of what has been a clearly demarcated community since after the Civil War. However, sometimes a book has unforeseen consequences, turning the tables on everyone and forcing tough decisions to be made. Stockett pulls no punches in the presentation, fanning the flames of racial and class divisions, as she depicts a way of thinking that was not only accepted, but completely sanctioned. A must-read for anyone ready to face some of the treatment undertaken in the name of ‘societal norms’, Stockett tells it like it was… and perhaps even still is!

Race relations in the United States has long been an issue written about, both in literature and pieces of non-fiction. How a country as prosperous as America could still sanction the mistreatment of a large portion of its citizens a century after fighting a war on the issue remains completely baffling. While Stockett focusses her attention on Mississippi, the conscious reader will understand that this sort of treatment was far from isolated to the state. One might venture to say that racism continued on a worldwide scale, creating a stir, while many played the role of ostriches and denied anything was going on. The characters within the book presented a wonderful mix of society dames and household help, each with their own issues that were extremely important. The characters bring stereotypes to life in an effort to fuel a raging fire while offering dichotomous perspectives. The interactions between the various characters worked perfectly, depicting each group as isolated and yet fully integrated. The household help bring the struggle of the double work day (triple, at times) while the society dames grasp to keep Mississippi from turning too quickly towards integration and equality, which they feel will be the end of all normalcy. Using various narrative perspectives, the characters become multi-dimensional. Additionally, peppering the dialogue with colloquial phraseology pulls the story to a new level of reality, one that is lost in strict textbook presentation. Stockett pushes the narrative into those uncomfortable places the reader hopes to keep locked in the pages of history, pushing the story to the forefront and requiring a synthesising of ideas and emotions. This discomfort is the only way the reader will see where things were, likely in a hope not to repeat some of history’s worst moments in America’s development. However, even fifty years after the book’s setting, there remains a pall of colour and class division promulgating on city streets. While racism is not as sanctioned in as many laws, it remains a strong odour and one that cannot simply be washed away by speaking a few words. This book, as entertaining as it is in sections, is far from fictional in its depiction of the world. The sooner the reader comes to see that, the faster change can occur. All lives matter, if we put in the effort and have the presence of mind to listen rather than rule from our own ivory towers.

Kudos, Madam Stockett for this wonderful piece. I am happy to have completed a buddy read on this subject and return to read what was a wonderful cinematic presentation.

Untangling the Black Web, by T.F. Jacobs

Nine stars

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

When the author approached me to read this ARC, I was highly energetic, having perused the dust jacket blurb and the topic at hand. Now that I have had a chance to devour it, I realise that I made the right choice in taking Jacobs up on his offer. David Higgins is the type of lawyer you love to hate. Employed by American True Care to write the clauses and loopholes that keeps the health insurance company free from paying for many of the medical procedures of its members, Higgins carries that burden around with him on a regular basis. After his wife, Lexi, is diagnosed with cancer, Higgins is able to see the other side of the coin and is not only saddled with paralysing debt, but her eventual death. Higgins pledges to bring American True Care down and works with a secret group of like-minded individuals to infiltrate the upper echelons on American True Care to weed out exactly where things are going and how to become the more powerful whistle-blower in the country. Finagling a job as a lobbyist, Higgins is forced to liaise with some of America’s high ranking congressional movers and shakers, all to ensure the passage of key pieces of legislation. These bills will not only benefit American True Care, but allows key members of Congress to line their pockets or receive favours in kind. As Higgins begins his work, he sees all too well the evils that Congress and Big Healthcare are pushing down the throats of Americans, all of whom are helpless to do anything. Higgins comes to see that things are even more powerful than he thought, particularly when some of those working alongside him are discovered and killed. Armed with much blackmail, Higgins returns to those congressional leaders with whom he met in the hopes of turning their support away from America True Care. However, it might be too little too late, as the monstrosity that is the American Healthcare Insurance industry runs things with a titanium hammer. Poignant and truly eye-opening, Jacobs lays out a well-crafted story that seeks not only to convince readers of his cause, but also to shine lights on areas many would prefer kept veiled in darkness. Perfect for those who enjoy a political thriller with topics pulled from current headlines. Sure to make ripples upon its public release!

I’d never read anything by Jacobs before he approached me, but I am very glad that he was able to find me and provide this book. As I sit on my perch in Canada, I can only shake my head at the mess US health insurance has become, exacerbated by a president who has lost touch with the grassroots Americans who elected him. David Higgins is a wonderful character, whose goodness is balanced out with the need to work. Everyone sells a little bit of their soul at times, but Higgins seems to have had his epiphany with the death of his wife. His ire comes more from the conniving way that procedures are declined and unnecessary appointments encouraged by members of the healthcare industry, crippling the ‘little guy’ for being sick (which is the whole purpose of health insurance, no?). Adding a wonderful collection of supporting characters, from doctors to health insurance executives through to medical professionals, Jacobs fleshes out just how much of a problem this has become and how spread out the deception is being perpetrated. From there, it is the laying out of the meticulous groundwork to show the reader how corrupt things have become and a race to reveal it all. I think many readers are away that things are broken or at least skewed away from the everyday citizen, who rolls the proverbial dice on a daily basis. With all that is going on in the United States, headed by a president who wants his legacy to be dismantling anything good in America, 140 characters at a time, this book hits home and goes to show that there is no one watching the big whigs in insurance or the politicians who benefit from key votes. Sadly, Jacobs shows that money talks and those who can yell will always have more power than the simple ‘X on the ballot’, which bastardises democracy at its core. It is also a clear argument that Americans are being held hostage, kidnapped if you will, by their own government and those who collect healthcare premiums on a regular basis. That is, perhaps, the saddest fact of all!

Kudos, Mr. Jacobs for this wonderful novel. While I know it is full of opinions and anything can be turned to favour one side, I have read and seen much of this already. Your book only goes to support the problems I knew were there. This might be yet another reason for an influx of people coming to Canada, or other countries where universal healthcare proves useful to the general public.

This book fulfills Equinox I (A Book for All Seasons) Book Challenge for Topic #4: A Book with Kidnapping

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

The Gathering Murders (Torquil McKinnon #1), by Keith Moray

Seven stars

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

In this series debut, Keith Moray takes the reader deep into the Hebrides to recount this Scottish murder mystery sure to impress with its local nuances. Torquil ‘Piper’ McKinnon heads up the West Uist Constabulary, a quiet force of three bracing for two significant events coming to the island for the weekend. The Gathering includes a bagpipe competition for which Torquil has been preparing al his life and shows off the true Highland nature of the Scottish cultural persona. The West Uist Literary Festival brights authors and book-lovers alike together to celebrate the written word in all its forms. When a Gaelic poet is found murdered, Torquil begins investigating, but cannot find many who might have wanted him dead, save for those who respect true poetry and hated his sub-par attempt. However, when author Fiona Cullen is found floating off the coast, the list of suspects is plentiful. Cullen’s novels seek to explore a thinly-veiled attack on certain people who have been involved in her life, usually causing quite a stir. Torquil must suppress the romantic relationship he had with Cullen and seek to find her killer. With an apparent serial killer on the loose in this quiet community, Torquil will have to act quickly, as suspects are soon to leave for the mainland. Trying to find a common thread between the victims, Torquil intensifies the investigation just as another body emerges. Will West Uist soon receive unwanted police presence from the Hebridean Constabulary to clean-up a mess that the locals cannot handle? Moray has a wonderful way with words and spins a decent tale here. Surely a series that will gain momentum as readers flock in its direction. Wonderful for those who want a murder mystery with much Scottish heritage woven throughout.

When the publisher approached me to read and review this piece, I was pulled in as soon as I took the time to read the dust jacket blurb. Moray transports the reader to a rural Scottish community and offers all the traditional descriptions, including a peppering of Gaelic phrasing. Torquil McKinnon proves to be a very interesting character, weighing his personal connection to the community against his desire to serve as one of its police officials. The reader will discover much of this man in the narrative, from his passion for bagpiping through to his fairly straightforward approach to policing. Added to that, the struggle to stay on the path when one of his love interests has been slain provides the story some interesting flavour. Many of the others who appear throughout the story are well presented and have their characteristics woven into the story in an effective manner. The story itself is actually quite well done, though its brevity keeps the reader from getting too far off the beaten path. Moray crafts his story in a succinct manner and keeps the story flowing well. While some may be familiar with ‘big city’ and tangential police procedurals, the reader can enjoy this close-knit story that fills the pages with Scottish lore! I’d gladly read another in this series, if only to learn more about McKinnon and the West Uist community.

Kudos, Mr. Moray, for this wonderful debut piece. I enjoyed the story and its brevity, which proves a refreshing alternative to much of what I have been reading.

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

Clean Sweep, by Michael J. Clark

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Michael J. Clark, and ECW Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having stumbled upon Michael J. Clark’s debut novel, I was eager to see if the story met the hype of the dust jacket summary. Winnipeg may be in the heart of the Canadian Prairies, but it has a seedy underbelly. With the Heaven’s Rejects as the most notorious biker-gang in town, the city is constantly buzzing as criminal activity lines the pockets of a few well-connected individuals. Pastor Tommy Bosco uses his homeless shelter and ‘born again’ nature as a front, allowing him to help those who wish to disappear with few questions asked. However, he may have met his match when Claire ‘Claire-Bear’ Hebert seeks his help. Hebert, a local prostitute, and Bosco’s ex, killed one of the gang’s higher-ups and is in possession of a ledger filled with pages of indecipherable numbers. Not only is the ledger a hot commodity, but the Reject’s want retribution for her act of self-defence. While Bosco tries to stay one step ahead of everyone, Robbery-Homicide Detective Sergeant Miles Sawatski is looking to bring Hebert in for her crime. However, he’s also been tasked by an anonymous source to obtain the ledger and hand it over before the Winnipeg Police Service or anyone else can confiscate it. Torn, he must balance the pledge to protect the city with the knowledge that someone has him dead to rights. This faceless entity is trying to initiate one of their own operations, Clean Sweep, which could have dire effects. No crime story would be complete without a crime desk reporter—David ‘Downtown’ Worschuk—who wants his own shot at fame, no matter who gets burnt on the way to print . Clark offers an excellent debut novel that pulls on all aspects of the criminal element, putting Winnipeg on the map for all its less than shiny attributes. Those with an open mind when it comes to language and with an interest in a well-constructed crime thriller may find this to their liking.

Having grown up in Winnipeg, I was quite happy to get my hands on this book, to see how Clark would depict my hometown. Surely not the city I remembered, but definitely a story that mentions many of its landmarks, I found it easy to follow and paced well. Pulling out all the stops to highlight the criminality, Clark utilised many characters to depict the darker side of the ‘Peg. Bosco comes across as an interesting character who uses his ‘reformed’ front to serve him well, trying to steer clear of crime where he can, but still with a penchant to help those who can pony up the money. The character contrasts nicely with Detective Sergeant Miles Sawatski, who is trying to keep his nose clean but has been boxed into a corner with this nameless ‘Voice’ over the phone, appearing to pull his strings. Hebert and her fellow prostitutes pepper the novel with their unique style and racy language, bringing an element of reality to the story that Clark is able to capitalise upon throughout its progression. The story is somewhat unique, and not only for its location. There is a sense of cat-and-mouse to it, with the criminals seeming to be less problematic than those who are trying to snub them out, but there is still a sense that the law must prevail. Clark explores the criminal element from all angles and brings it to life on the page. To the story more generally and its delivery. This is surely not your rosy crime novel that simply explores some of the seedier aspects, but parachutes the reader into the middle of them. Language, descriptions, and some graphic depictions pepper the story, but I find them to be fitting and not gratuitous (though I am sure some will bemoan it!). It all lays the groundwork for some realistic writing and Clark seems to have the right delivery for it. Chapters are not too long and they flow nicely into one another, keeping the reader wondering and wanting to push on just a little further. Where I have some issue myself was with the ‘over-Winnipegisation’ of the novel. Yes, we understand that the novel takes place in Winnipeg and Clark is surely proud of his city (as I am of my hometown), but it would seem he chose EVERY opportunity to street or location drop, which creates a stop-and-go nature in the narrative. Perhaps it is because I know all these places too well, but the need not only to say that someone grew up in a certain housing project, but also cite the street on which it was located seems excessive. Cross-streets for coffee shops may be something intriguing once, but few readers want to hear the intersections each time (even if you were to include a street map pullout at the beginning of the novel). It would seem that Clark got a little too overzealous and editors gave too much freedom in keeping those bits in that would better be used to plug holes in the cutting room walls. Still, it’s worth noting to help him grow as a writer and with a solid story foundation, this can surely be polished for future editions and novels.

Kudos, Mr. Clark, for a great debut piece. I am happy to see something of such high calibre and hope it gets rave reviews, both within and outside of Winnipeg. I’ll be sure to let you know when I come to the ‘Peg and we can grab a Timmy’s since I never was a Sal’s fan, lol.

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