Rules of Engagement (Blake Jordan #4), by Ken Fite

Nine stars

Ken Fite continues to impress with a political thriller that hooks the reader in the early chapters. I discovered Fite by accident earlier this week and was blown away by his writing, which made reading the entire Blake Jordan series a must. Having decided to isolate himself from those closest to him, Blake Jordan is all but off the radar. However, a series of cyberattacks that come in the form of ransomware has Jordan making his way to the Washington Field Office for the Department of Domestic Counterterrorism (DDC), his former place of work. Awkwardly facing his former partner and love interest, Agent Jami Davis, Jordan tries to prove that he can help, having many of the skills to track down these hackers. When a bomb blast rocks the Field Office, Jordan is fingered as a potential suspect, though his contacts within the intelligence community soon prove that to be a false lead. It would appear someone is trying to target him, as he is tied to many of the events taking place across Washington and back in his native Chicago. When a New York Times reporter begins digging around and making some strong allegations, Jordan goes to his boss, President Keller, to diffuse the situation. It is then that he learns that he’s been deceived and that a high-ranking terror suspect, presumed dead in an attack from months ago, is actually still alive and being held covertly. It is then that the pieces begin to fall into place, Jordan’s being targeted by the Russians for his actions six months earlier and nothing but the return of the prisoner will end the ongoing attacks. There appears to be a mole within the Administration or the Intelligence community, feeding both the media and these Russian terrorists key pieces of information that could vilify Jordan and even end President Keller’s career prematurely. With Jordan on the run and Agent Davis trying to help, it will take nothing short of all they have to bring down the Russian cell and discover the mole. The president’s future depends on Jordan’s abilities, but sometimes the present is more important than what is to come! Fite does a masterful job yet again pulling together this novel and offers up a wonderful cliffhanger on which series fans can ponder. Easily read as a standalone—as is said in dust jacket blurbs, though I am beginning to doubt this assumption—but a wonderful complement to the previous novels in the series, should the reader wish to embark on a larger adventure. Highly recommended to those who love a good thriller, particularly the reader who has read the previous three books.

Ken Fite has an intensity to his writing that I have not seen in years! His mix of thrill writing and knowledge of the inner workings of American politics makes for the perfect recipe to appease those who enjoy political thrillers. Fite’s ongoing exploration of Blake Jordan provides the reader with something on which to latch, even without further backstory revelations. Blake Jordan may have isolated himself from others after feeling he is ‘cursed’, but his drive to solve those missions before him proves to be his greatest asset. While his amorphous position within the Administration could cause blowback, Jordan handles it with ease. Jordan and Agent Jami Davis pair up nicely, even though their strain has led to an ongoing theme in the novels. Their professional work is second to none, getting to the core of yet another terror threat. The other characters who grace the pages of the novel are a mix of returning vets and new faces, all of whom add flavour to the plot. Fite writes in such a way that each story can stand on its own, though I am beginning to doubt the ‘standalone’ theory that is peddled on the dust jacket. By this, the fourth novel, there are too many threads that connect the series to be able to recommend anyone dive into the middle of the series and try to find their way. I can only suggest that the new reader stop, take a breath, and begin with the first novel, which reads as smoothly as the others. Thereafter, all the side comments will make much sense. The pace of the novel helps make it stand out and will surely grab the reader’s attention from the outset, particularly with short chapters that use well-placed cliffhangers to propel the reader to ‘try a little more before stopping’. I’ve binge-read the series in four days, which speaks to how easily they can be tackled, should time permit!

Kudos, Mr. Fite, for a great series that has not lost its momentum. Now, the crash, as I wait for the fifth book to be published!

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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Tommo and Hawk (Australian Trilogy #2), by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

Bryce Courtenay continues his literary journey in the second of his novels dedicated to Australia, in which he continues the history lesson of its founding and what made it so great. Those who read the opening tome—The Potato Factory—will be familiar with Tommo and Hawk, as well as the importance they play in the Solomon family. Twin boys born of the gargantuan dockside whore—Spermwhale Sally—Tommo and Hawk could not be more different. While the former is a small white boy whose intellect was drowned after his extended capture at the hands of a madman, the latter is a giant of a child, whose skin is as dark as the midnight sky. Living with their adoptive mother, the boys grow under Mary Abacus’ tutelage. Both have suffered greatly and wish not speak of the horrors while kidnapped, but are trying to make the best of it while back at home. A skirmish there sends them off to explore the world, feeling the sense of adventure flowing through their veins. Both are hired to work aboard a whaling ship—like their biological fathers—and learn the ways of the seas, though it is anything but joyous. With alcohol being the only outlet after a hard day’s labour, they turn to it, though it is forbidden by the Quaker captain. Punitive action follows in the form of the whip, which leaves Hawk scarred for life, though he is to make another acquaintance with this form of punishment down the road, when a Maori sailor is injured. Forced to stand trial, the boys are locked away in New Zealand, where the Maori storm the barracks and take them back to their tribe, Rather than instil their own form of justice, the Maori adopt them into their ways and both soon become honourary members. When the Maori face the British colonial soldiers in the region, Tommo and Hawk fight alongside their brethren, whose ancient and somewhat primitive style of fighting, prove no match for muskets and other guns. These are the Maori Wars, where ancient lands were lost and taken by the British before formal colonision of what is now Australia and New Zealand. Agreeing to make their way to the Australian mainland—for both had settled with Mary in what is now Tasmania—the young men see the city life in Sydney before them, where an old compatriot of their adoptive father, Ikey Solomon, appears and has plans for them both. This is but the beginning of their adventures as men! While their lives diverge on numerous occasions, the brotherhood Tommo and Hawk share can never be broken and their love will surely withstand any challenge, including one embedded in the cliffhanger ending. Those who know and love Bryce Courtenay will likely enjoy this middle book in the Australian Trilogy. Its length ought not deter the reader, as the storytelling found within makes the pages melt away and will transport anyone on an adventure like no other. Highly recommended to one and all, as we continue the thorough discovery of Australia and the people who dwell there!

I have long been a fan of Bryce Courtenay and have yet to find a book that did not surpass my expectations. The writing is outstanding and the adventures on which key characters go are so well explored that the reader can almost picture them as they read. The story does offer significant focus on the twins, Tommo and Hawk, as well it should. These two are very closely tied and yet so different. Tommo, seemingly born with his American Indian (I use the word as offered in the text, not its modern equivalence) father’s blood, though not his looks. Tommo would seem to be the more sensible one and who is always looking out for himself, as he is much smaller and seems to be taken for granted. He is the talker that takes the twins on their adventures and barters when it comes to deal making. That said, he is also the first to succumb to temptations that cannot be stopped by his status. Addiction comes knocking at his door and he readily accepts it, finding himself wrapped up in what will become the opium malady from the Chinese who make their way to Australia. On the other hand, Hawk is a giant and stands out wherever he goes. Mute for a time, he relied on non-verbal communication and knows how to relay his message with fists, which becomes a theme throughout. He is more willing to storm off and act as he sees fit rather than listen to the common sense approach that Tommo has to offer. There are a handful of other key characters throughout, though their presence is more isolated to the section of the book pertaining to that piece of the adventure. However, as Courtenay has done in most of his books—and proves here—the attentive reader will see minor characters reemerge at key points, bringing their backstories into the narrative and weaving new tales. All those who play some role in influencing the lives of the twins also push the story along in some way or another and I can only imagine that the final volume will be rich with additional vignettes as needed. Much continues to be made of some of the descriptions and language Courtenay uses throughout this piece. While the opening novel had the derogatory mention of certain races and the blatant anti-Semitic sentiment, this volume tackles some of the same areas, with a significant focus on Hawk’s race, as well as treatment of the Maori. Courtenay is not looking to write a novel about the niceties of the people or their interactions with others, but to reflect the language and sentiments of the times. Australia was by no means a stuffed-shirt society of high tea and polo. Racism and class systems were rampant—much like Mother England—and Courtenay seeks to portray this. In order to tell the story as truthfully as possible, Courtenay uses the honest, though negative, themes to develop his narrative and peppers the dialogue with derogatory sentiments on almost every page. While I deplore racist language or actions, one cannot divorce the way characters speak or how society treated certain groups from the time in which they lived. Some will call the book racist or pig-headed but it is that naiveté that surely drove Courtenay to be as blunt as he was throughout. The world lost one of its best storytellers when Bryce Courtenay died, but his novels live on and I would easily call them classics that generations can enjoy!

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

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

In Plain Sight (Blake Jordan #3), by Ken Fite

Nine stars

Yet another strong political thriller by Ken Fite, with a story that finds its feet in the early chapters and never stops developing. I discovered Fite by accident and was blown away with his series debut, which forced me to locate the rest of the series—Amazon seems to have the exclusive market of these digital releases—and devour the novels in short order. In this third piece, Blake Jordan is settling into his position as a special advisor to the American president. While in Chicago visiting his former parter and apparent love interest, Jami Davis, Jordan realises that many of the situations in which he has found himself seem to go south, leaving him to wonder about a personal curse. Before they can begin a discussion on the matter, Jordan and Davis are made aware of a murder back in DC. What makes it all the more alarming is that the victim worked as a cyber analyst with powerful connections. Rushing back to Washington, Jordan learns of a cyberattack along the East Coast, one that paralysed the federal infrastructure for a time, which could only prove devastating in the future if the perpetrator can cripple communications indefinitely. After a show of might that includes a transportation disaster, the group responsible claims to have larger plans for the coming days. Jordan comes face to face with one of his past nemeses who appears to be connected to the upcoming terrorist act, but wants immunity before revealing anything. With little idea where and when regarding the terror strike, Jordan must team-up with various organisations in the intelligence community, including the Department of Domestic Counterintelligence (DDC), where he led the Chicago office until he was summarily dismissed. Much strong-arming finally provides intel that the act of terrorism is set for New Year’s Eve, though Jordan’s friend is being held at an unknown location as well. Information is being released at a trickle, with little time to spare, leaving Jordan, Davis, and the rest of the team in a panic. While Jordan and Davis try to crack the mystery wide open, they must also decide how they fit into one another’s lives. Either way, it will come to an explosive ending that will have series fans on the edge of their seats. Fite has done it again with a stellar novel that puts Blake Jordan in the middle of a nail-biting thrill ride. Easily read as a standalone, but a wonderful complement to the previous two novels in the series, should the reader wish to embark on a larger adventure. Highly recommended to those who love a good thriller, particularly the reader who has read the previous two books.

Ken Fite writes with much intensity and knows his politics, the perfect recipe for a successful political thriller. Fite continues to explore the world of Blake Jordan in his amorphous role within the West Wing. The backstory is minimal, but what the series fan will know helps propel Jordan to piece it all together while tackling the current issue. Blake Jordan is a man on a mission, no matter what it might be, putting America before his own safety. Jordan gets to the heart of the matter, discovering surprises bone-chilling information about the larger intelligence community that could shape the way in which America is governed. Jordan and Agent Jami Davis pair up nicely to get to the core of the terror threat, working as well on their personal connection, though time seems to be very limited on that front. The handful of other characters are a mix of returning vets and new faces, all of whom work to shape the plot in their own way. Fite is never short of political situations and uses his characters effectively to keep the reader connected to the larger narrative. The pace of the novel helps make it stand out and will surely grab the reader’s attention from the outset, particularly with short chapters that inject cliffhangers to propel the reader to read ‘just a little more’. I’ve binge-read the first three novels and will definitely be reaching for Book 4 to see what direction Blake Jordan takes, particularly with the revelation at the end of this book.

Kudos, Mr. Fite, for a great series that keeps getting better. Bring on more adventure for all!

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

Credible Threat (Blake Jordan #2), by Ken Fite

Nine stars

I love a good political thriller, particularly when the story gains momentum in the early chapters and keeps up that pace. I discovered Ken Fite’s first book by accident and was blown away, forcing me to rush to secure the rest of this series to date, four books at last count. I ended up steamrolling through each of the first two books, taking under a day apiece, and am waiting to get started on the next one. It’s almost Inauguration Day and Blake Jordan has made his way to Washington to be a part of the festivities, as well as join the West Wing team as a senior advisor to the new American president. Accompanying him is his former work colleague, Jami Davis, who is still working out of the Chicago office of the Department of Domestic Counterintelligence (DDC). Removed from his position there after a gaffe the previous summer, Jordan is pleased to start his new role, but enjoys the DDC updates. As they settle in the day before the event, Jordan and Davis are alerted to some chatter that a terror strike has been planned for the DC area on the day of the inauguration, though there is little else that has been revealed. All intel points to a cell of Somali terrorists who crossed the border, though even that has yet to be fully verified. As Jordan briefs his new boss, Agent Davis tries to liaise with other agencies to substantiate the threat. With a group working to bring down the Administration, someone targets Jordan to remove him from the mix, in hopes of neutralising the largest threat to a successful attack. Time is running out and it would seem no one is safe, nor can they be trusted! Stunning in its delivery, Fite stirs up the drama and pulls the reader in throughout this piece. Recommended for those who love a good thriller and particularly to the reader who thoroughly enjoyed the series debut novel. As some of the blurbs on the book report, this one can be read as a standalone, but complements the previous novel nicely.

Ken Fite is able to mix the intensity of a thriller novel with the ever-changing dynamic of American politics. Adding to some of the groundwork from the opening novel, Fite delves deeper into the world of Blake Jordan post-DDC and the amazing job he has before him. There remains little backstory on offer—but a few tidbits do emerge during a heated exchange in the latter portion of the novel— but it becomes readily apparent that Blake Jordan is a man on a mission, one who cannot stop until the job has been completed. Jordan is determined to get to the heart of the matter, full of surprises and with a need to leave no stone unturned. While no longer working together officially, Jordan and Agent Jami Davis pair up nicely to get to the core of the terror threat, leaving the reader to wonder if there is a future for these two away from work. Based on my quick reading of the first two novels, Jordan has much room to grow and develop as a character, though he continues to find ways to keep the reader interested. The handful of other characters who made their debut in the last novel and return here help to flavour the narrative, while a strong group of new faces shape the plot and keep the story unique. We shall see what other political and personal scenarios arise, based on how this novel ended, but Fite is sure to have some strong ideas and equally effective characters to help shape the series as it gets stronger. The pace of the novel helps make it stand out and will surely grab the reader’s attention from the outset. Short chapters leave little time to think on what is taking place, thrusting the reader forward and forcing them to ‘read late into the night’ as the dust jacket blurb hopes will happen. Either that, or a day-long binge as I undertook to finish, just so I that I could say I learned how things wrapped up. I will definitely be reaching for Book 3 to see what direction Blake Jordan takes as he moves forward.

Kudos, Mr. Fite, for a great continuation of the series. I cannot wait to see what else you have 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 Senator (Blake Jordan #1), by Ken Fite

Nine stars

I will be the first to admit, I love a good political thriller, particularly one that gains momentum in the early chapters and never stops racing until the end. Finding Ken Fite’s book almost by accident, I vowed that I would give the series debut a try to see if it lived up to all the hype. Boy, did it ever, and then some, which is how I ended up steamrolling through it in a single day. Illinois Senator James Keller prepares to accept the nomination of the Republican Party for President of the United States. In his hometown of Chicago, he makes his way to the United Center for the convention, only to be kidnapped inside his suite. Blake Jordan is the Special Agent in Charge with the Department of Domestic Counterintelligence (DDC), tasked with protecting Senator Keller. When news leaks that the senator is not late for his speech because of traffic, Jordan pushes things into high gear, vowing to find Keller before it’s too late. Meanwhile, Keller’s captor has a plan, which is altered slightly when a nosy journalist learns more than he ought to in short order. As Keller is paraded before the world and an execution date is set, Jordan must dodge accusations and bullets to save Keller, who is not only his charge, but a personal friend. With the hours ticking by, Jordan will have to find a way, as he pieces together the larger plot and seeks a motive. Fite does a sensational job in this series debut, which will have fans of political thrillers gasping for breath as they try to keep up.

Ken Fite is surely an author to watch, as he is able to mix the art of the thriller novel with the nuances of American politics. There is surely more to come, as the series has four novels to date, all of which look equally enthralling. Introducing the world to Blake Jordan and the DDC lays the groundwork for a stellar protagonist. While there is little backstory on offer—save that he was a SEAL and recently lost his wife—Blake Jordan is a man with a mission and whose choices are usually based on the moment. Jordan is full of surprises and stays one step ahead of those around him, even when flirting with insubordination. He has a job and that appears to be all that he wants to do. Working alongside a partner whose story remains overshadowed by his own, Jordan has much room to grow in the coming novels. The handful of other characters will surely play roles in the upcoming novels and served the debut well, helping to solidify Jordan’s place in the narrative. We shall see what other political and personal scenarios arise, but Fite is sure to have some strong ideas and equally effective characters to help push the story along. While the story is not entirely unique—politician of importance is kidnapped and must be saved—it is the pace of the story that makes it stand alone. The short chapters leave little time to think on what is taking place, thrusting the reader forward and forcing them to ‘read late into the night’ as the dust jacket blurb hopes will happen. Either that, or a day-long binge as I undertook to finish, just so I that I could say I learned how things wrapped up. I will definitely be reaching for Book 2 now, as I cannot get enough of Fite, Blake Jordan, or the content.

Kudos, Mr. Fite, for a great opening salvo. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for your readers!

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

Revenge, by James Patterson and Andrew Holmes

Eight stars

In a standalone thriller, James Patterson collaborates with Andrew Holmes to create a high-impact story that does not rest until the final sentence. David Shelley is ex-SAS with a penchant for always finishing what he starts. Years ago, he was working as personal security for a rich family when they were set upon by kidnappers. While the attempt was foiled, Shelley could not fathom how close they came and left the position in a cloud of shame. Fourteen years on, he fields a call that his former child protectee, Emma Drake, has committed suicide. Worse still, her life took a turn and she found heroin and starred in online pornography. While high and preparing for a ‘peep show’, she pulled out a gun and offed herself live. Now, her father, Guy Drake, wants to hunt down those who led his daughter down such a path and has asked Shelley to assist. While it looks to be a simple retribution strike, Shelley soon learns that there is more than meets the eye. The group behind Emma’s demise is not your typical rag-tag set of men trying to make a quid on vulnerable women, though there is no stopping Guy from getting his pound of flesh. In a story that goes from sorrow to cutthroat revenge, Shelley finds himself in the middle and must protect himself to stay one step ahead, as the bodies pile up! Patterson and Holmes have crafted a wonderful piece that will keep the reader wanting more and staying up to finish the piece in a single sitting. Recommended for those who like a well-plotted thriller that has all the elements of bloody revenge.

It’s always a hit and miss where Patterson’s name appears on the cover. Many will know my ‘Patterson Syndrome’ rant, and if you don’t, ask me personally. This book seems to break that tradition, as it utilises a one-off situation to craft a wonderful collection of characters, all of whom do well to fit themselves into place and develop a strong thriller. David Shelley proves to be a wonderful protagonist, with a rich backstory and connection to the victim, without being bogged down in excessive amounts of sympathy. He knows what has to be done and completes the task, injecting some conscience into the matter at hand to protect the larger group. His rough and tumble nature connects him to the reader, as does his sensible ways and ability to see the larger picture. The handful of other important characters serve as cogs in the wheel to push the story to new heights, keeping the action high and the twists coming. The banter, both in dialogue and flying bullets, allows the reader to find something they can take away from the piece, keeping them entertained throughout. The story is well developed and does not lose its momentum. A tale of revenge and the blinders a rich man puts on, not seeing the results of his actions, while dropping into a den of vipers. Patterson and Holmes keep the story moving, aided with the traditional shorter chapters that propel the narrative forward. While I cannot see this being anything but a single piece, there are crumbs left for the reader to wonder if David Shelley is set to make his return. Perhaps a BookShot would do well, as we have already seen Shelley in that capacity.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Holmes, for a great story. I enjoy your collaborative efforts and hope they will continue.

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

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

Nine stars

Bryce Courtenay takes readers on the start of an amazing journey, as he commences a massive trilogy dedicated to his adopted homeland of Australia. Weaving through history while using his masterful ability to spin tales, Courtenay offers up his own perspective of how the Land Down Under developed while still under the auspices of the British, populated by their social and criminal outcasts in the early part of the nineteenth century. Isaac ‘Ikey’ Solomon is well-known on the streets of London as a forger and counterfeiter like no other. While the authorities have him on their radar, they are not yet able to catch him with anything concrete to make an arrest. Working alongside him is Ikey’s wife, Hannah, whose cutthroat way of thinking has earned her a reputation as well. While she enjoys the spoils, she is wary of Ikey, ever the crook, and has made sure to keep a close eye on his antics. Sensing this strain, Ikey has allowed his heart and mind be captivated by an unlikely source, the lowly Mary ‘Abacus’ Klerk, who sought to better herself by using her brains, only to face the wrath of the male population who had other ideas of what a woman should do. Mary’s determination to better herself, using brains and a sharp wit, earns her Ikey’s respect, but also finds her tossed into prison and sent aboard a ship to the far-off land of Australia and into a penal colony. It is there that Mary comes of age and learns to use her quick mind to help others while laying the groundwork for a sensational business idea. Ikey, meanwhile, finds himself in a sting operation and narrowly escapes the clutches of the authorities, while Hannah is two-timed and left to suffer at the hands of the constabulary. Dodging the noose, she is shipped off to Australia—her children coming too—which pulls at Ikey’s heartstrings, only to have him duped. With all three protagonists in Australia now, the story takes an interesting turn, leaving them to battle it out in a part of the world not yet fully rooted and still with a significant stigma. Hannah’s simmering hatred of both Ikey and Mary comes to the surface, especially after they adopt twin boys who were conceived and born in the oddest of circumstances. Now, it is a battle to the end for the Solomon name. Courtenay has much to say about these three and offers countless mini-tales to pique the curiosity of the attentive reader. Those who know and love Bryce Courtenay will likely enjoy this book. Its length should not deter the reader, as the storytelling found within will transport anyone on an adventure that could not have been predicted. Highly recommended to one and all, as we commence the thorough discovery of Australia and the people who dwell there!

I fell in love with Courtenay’s writing years ago when i discovered his literary exploration of South Africa. The writing is second to none and the adventures on which key characters go cannot be matched by many others who call themselves authors. Laying the groundwork for these three protagonists has surely helped catapult them into what will be a sensational trilogy. Ikey is the slimiest of crooks, though he finds a way to fill his heart will love at the most opportune times. The reader will learn much about the man and his business as the story progresses, finding a way to love and hate him in the same breath. Hannah has little but a duplicitous nature to offer anyone, but she is determined to make life better for her children and punish the man who put her into such legal turmoil. She plots throughout, hoping to outmaneuver her husband with each scheme and see him perish, no matter the cost. Mary takes the show in this book, which portrays her as downcast and perhaps the least rooted, though her passion to make something out of the little she has is a driving force in the narrative. The story itself is complex and takes many a turn, as one would expect of a Courtenay piece, though each tidbit finds its way into the larger narrative. This being the first of the trilogy, scraps and crumbs dropped here could have significance later, forcing the reader to pay close attention. Much has been made of some of the descriptions and language Courtenay uses throughout this piece, so much so that the author addresses it in the preface. Anti-Semitic acts and language was commonplace, paired with a strong push to isolate the Jews, even as far back as the 1820s in England. In order to tell the story as truthfully as possible, Courtenay uses these themes to develop his narrative and peppers the dialogue with derogatory sentiments. While I am the second (Courtenay being the first) to decry racist language, one cannot divorce the way characters speak from the time in which they are living. Some will call the book racist or pig-headed (no pun intended), but it is for those whose naiveté drives them that this book was penned. As Courtenay is no longer with us, let us take his writing and allow it to speak volumes for the passion he has for people, his homeland, and his Australia.

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for making me proud to call myself a fan! While you have passed on, I feel your books will live on forever and could be called classics, as generations can learn of the world that was from the perspective you offer.

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

The Posing Playwright (Esther and Jack Enright #5), by David Field

Eight stars

Victorian England’s criminal element comes to life in the writing of David Field. The reader can be assured of another strong Esther and Jack Enright tale, chock full of mystery and intrigue. Having served Scotland Yard for a few years, Jack Enright is transferred into a new position in the Political Division, alongside his uncle, Percy. Together, they are tasked with protecting some of England’s upper crust and helping in similar capacities. It is around this time that playwright Oscar Wilde has brought suit against the Marquess of Queensberry for calling him a sodomite. The Enrights have been tasked with trying to collect additional information to support the claim that Wilde is anything but a friendly artist. An additional case has come to light, one that has Percy scratching his head. A member of the British Government, hailing from Ireland, has gone missing. Known not to support Irish Home Rule, he was last seen in his private rail car travelling on a train. Now, both the car and his lordship have disappeared into thin air, while the Fenian population remains coy about any recent actions. While Jack has been rubbing elbows with the ‘riff-raff’ and finding it harder to stomach the investigation into WIlde’s background, Percy is off learning everything there is about rail lines and how train cars are swapped at various points along the journey. Both are coming up short, though with a little insight from dear Esther Enright, the cases take interesting turns. With all eyes on the Old Bailey and the reputation of Wilde in the balance, there may be more than simply a missing politician gumming up the railway mystery. Another interesting tale with Field at the helm, as he entertains his readers with another quick read. Recommended for those who enjoy this series and the newcomer in need of a wonderfully crafted mystery that can be devoured in short order.

I was introduced to David Field and his work a while ago and feel that these novels have found a decent niche in the genre. I rushed through the first few novels in the series when contacted by the publisher, and knew that I would return as soon as more novels appeared in publication. Field uses Victorian England as his setting, though the focus seems less to be on the eerie aspects and simply on the type of character one might have normally found, tossing out the odd Cockney phrase. The story mixes in a handful of strong characters to propel this story forward, adding entertainment with a great dose of education, particularly as it relates to the way homosexuality was adjudicated at the time. Esther Enright, married and a mother of three (!!), again plays a smaller role, but she is used effectively as a voice of reason. Her banter with both her husband and uncle proves useful to counteract the sporadic and ‘fly off the handle’ mentality of the male Enrights. Jack and Percy are strong protagonists in their own rights. The reader is able to learn a little more about the way in which Victorian England handled sexual freedom, particularly male homosexuality, at the time. One must always remember the setting and time period before judging the characters’ sentiments too harshly. Field effectively reflects the time through Jack’s views and the experiences he has while investigating the case. Percy, on the other hand, becomes educated in the art of railways and all that can be contained within that vast area of knowledge. He is pleasant enough, though gritty when it comes to getting to the bottom of a case. Still, both men remain quite pigheaded, something that has driven them throughout the series and works well for the reader who enjoys a little entertainment. The secondary characters prove entertaining within the pages of this story, using clipped speech and salty sayings to take the reader inside the less refined parts of London while also allowing a sense of being in the middle of the action. The story flows well and can be said to have a unique flavour, while keeping a decent pace. As always, there is a mix of quick and longer chapters that never hamper the narrative from moving forward. Field has little time to develop his plot, but injects a mix of drama and humour at the right moments, with dialogue banter to keep the reader feeling in the middle of the experience. The writing leaves the reader wanting more, surely the sign of a well-developed story. Field has done a masterful job with these novels and I await another book in the near future. I can only hope that Field will continue crafting these addictive stories for fans who find them so enthralling.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for this wonderful novel. I am eager to read more Esther and Jack stories and hope others will follow my lead.

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

We, The Jury, by Robert Rotstein

Nine stars

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

Robert Rotstein has developed this unique legal thriller, told from the perspective of the other side of the courtroom. Rather than putting the reader in the middle of a courtroom drama, the story unfolds as the legal banter is wrapping up and the case is sent to the jury. David Sullinger is accused of having murdered his wife, Amanda, the day before their 21st wedding anniversary. According to David, he was subjected to significant and ongoing spousal abuse, which led him to act in self-defence at the time he plunged a pickaxe into her skull. Told from multiple perspectives, the book opens with the judge offering jury instructions, which are bumbled, and proceeds to the deliberations in the case. In a narrative that offers the jury members’ own perspectives on the case, as well as other officers of the court (judge, bailiff, lawyers) and even some outsiders, the reader learns more about what supposedly happened through recollections of evidence presented. Additionally, Rotstein offers some outside information on the judge, who is showing signs of mental distress due to personal matters, trying to hold it all together. With tidbits of testimony added within various chapters, the reader becomes a juror themselves, as they see the arguments made in deliberation, before a decision is made. Quite the story and highly unique! Rotstein is sure to impress those who enjoy legal thrillers with a different perspective, especially the reader who likes to be the thick of a courtroom drama.

I thoroughly enjoy legal thrillers and courtroom dramas, as they are not only entertaining, but highly educational. Rotstein peppers a little of everything in this case, which sees a man’s freedom hang in the balance. Spousal abuse against men remains a new defence, though it is one that has been rolled out here. Taking the perspectives of the jurors provides the reader with a unique glimpse into what they know, how they feel, and what influences their voting. The banter between these individuals—the least legally trained but with the most legal power in a case—is amazing and Rotstein infers a great deal throughout. The characters are plentiful and each has their own perspective, which allows the reader to watch as development and flavour mix to create the most entertaining set of individuals. The story is quite well done, offering great insight into how the same set of facts can be interpreted so many ways by a group of eight (see an early explanation in the story about how eight can serve on a jury in California) common citizens. With short chapters and a variety of perspectives, the reader will not get bogged down in the legal or personal minutiae of the characters, but will seek to see how things end up when the foreperson presses the red button, indicating a decision has been reached.

Kudos, Mr. Rotstein, for such a great book. I will recommend it to anyone who enjoys legal pieces, as you have a wonderful handle on the genre.

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

Us Against You (Beartown #2), by Fredrik Backman

Eight stars

I admit to being late for the Fredrik Backman love-in, but readily accepted the challenge to try Beartown. In doing so, I determined that the piece is much more than a story about hockey, but the way small towns take their sporting teams as seriously as a rise in taxes. Backman takes the reader back to Beartown in this sequel, as the town seeks to dig itself out of the quandary that all but decimated the junior hockey team. Buried in the forested part of Sweden, Beartown is isolated enough, but the fallout of Maya Andersson’s rape has deeply divided the locals. Many players and fans have turned to Hed, the next community over, where hockey is also a religion and whose team can surely vie for victory with greater ease. Yet, there are those who remain firmly rooted in Beartown and will do all they can to resurrect the team and its reputation. With new sponsors and a local politician injecting some new life into the team, Beartown hires a somewhat controversial coach to take the reins and work with those left to send a decent team onto the ice. In a novel that creates a competition out of most every aspect of small towns and their love of sports, Backman fuels the inner passion each person has to win when faced with adversity. He touches on so many social issues, from abuse victimhood to sexual orientation and even the politics of competing small towns, all in hopes of showing just how easily we seek to divide ourselves, rather than come together. With so much baggage from the opening novel, there is little chance for the reader to find anything uplifting and humorous in this piece, though there are sure to be moments of pride peppered amongst emotional angst and harsh realities. Fans of Beartown will likely want to get their hands on this piece, which serves as an elongated epilogue to the tragedies of the series opener, if not to enjoy more wonderful writing by Fredrik Backman. Recommended for all who love more character exploration and the presentation of a societal microcosm of many controversial topics.

I received a few private comments from people who felt that would not like this series—even though they loved some of Backman’s other work—because of its focus on hockey. I must say that I, too, was worried that the book would be hockey-centric and only really pique the interest of a small group of readers. After reading both books, I can assure those who sit on the fence that the story is one that transcends Backman’s native Sweden and could easily be supplanted here to small-town Canada, or anywhere for that matter. Any community that relies on a single sport to create its fabric is sure to see the parallels, as well as how its stars are more than people, perhaps even time-limited gods. The deification begins in Beartown, but continues throughout the narrative here, as the fallout of the rape and its quashing remains a stain on the community. Backman offers up a slew of new and interesting characters, alongside many names that return in this second novel. All these characters bring their own perspectives to the many struggles that face Beartown. Just as in the opening novel, there are so many characters who work together to create a clash of ideas, the central premise of the novel. The story transcends the ‘puck in the net’ mentality of a hockey novel, but creates strong divides for the reader to choose a side, as many of the characters navigate through the clashes inherent with trying to bring Beartown out of the ashes. Backman offers up more social commentary on sports, small towns, and the blinders people put on when things go wrong. He also seeks to add new areas of contention to show that polarised opinions can destroy the central fabric of a community, or make it stronger by a great deal of self-reflection. I hope a larger cross-section of the population can enjoy this book as they look past hockey and explore the social issues embedded within the narrative. There is so much going on within the pages of this novel, though much is spoiled if I say any more. An eventful story, Backman forces the reader to think outside the rink and turn inside themselves to find their personal labels.

Kudos, Mr. Backman, for another interesting exploration of society. You pull on heartstrings while pushing a strong message we all need to hear!

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